Mainport Tales: A Rite of Passage

Mainport Tales
A Rite of Passage
by Anonymous

“Look, if you can't do it, then maybe you shouldn't graduate at all.”

As much as Marina hated to admit it, she knew she was right. “Just give me few a minutes, okay?”All this pressure was making her nervous. She'd been through tougher situations before. Her graduation exam had to have been the hardest thing she'd ever had to do in her life. Why would this make her nervous?

Charice turned around and looked at her, “girl, it's three beers. You can drink three beers in a heartbeat.”

It wasn't the beers she was worried about. “Why don't you two come with me?”

Shenelle and Charice looked at each other and then at her, “That's not the point, Mari, you know that.”

The butterflies in her stomach had butterflies. “Who's going to know if I don't do it?This time they didn't even respond. “What if the Sade Squad is in there?”

Shenelle put the car in park, jerking them all forward slightly, “Uncle Mahi practically owns the Sade Squad, they're not going to hurt you. Plus we got their 'safe-word' remember?”

Marina looked up at the neon-lights. Only half of them worked, making the sign look like absolute nonsense. A hundred other women had done it before. Now it was her turn…but still… “they're going to know my Driver's License is fake.”

Charice looked coldly at her. “Get your ass out'the car!”

She knew it was a weak excuse and finally stepped out of the car onto wobbly legs. It stood before her, black bricks, smudged windows, vomit-stains and all. Old as the city itself. She took a deep breath and walked forward. Sharice rolled down the window, “Remember, we'll be here when you need us, okay? And bring back the bottlecaps or we'll know you didn't do it!” As she rolled the window back up, Marina felt more alone than she'd been in a long time.

She pushed open the door and saw a seven-foot tall man with a chest as wide as the hood of their car and fists the size of hubcaps. She wasn't sure it was real at first.

“Welcome to the Barrel's Bottom Pub, no cover tonight,” his voice was the deepest she'd ever heard. He picked up a rubber stamp and stamped her hand. It was so small in his big hands that she didn't know how he held it. “Frier's on the fritz so no food, just booze. Don't go upstairs or downstairs unless you're a VIP. Lemme see your weapon…” How did he know? It was in a small compartment in her purse. “Come on, everybody checks 'em at the door.” She sheepishly fished out her desert eagle and handed it to him. “Am I gonna have to pat you down?” Marina could take on anyone and win in any unarmed combat situation…if they were her size. She pulled out the small blade tied under her hair and the knife in her boot. “What do I put these under?”

“Excuse me?”

He sighed a sigh that sounded like it was coming from some giant ogre in a mountain somewhere. “What name do I list these weapons under?”

“Oh, uh…Alice. Alice Lacey.”

He bowed his head and looked at her. He could see right through her. But he proceeded to not care and focused his attention on the little table in front of him, picking up what looked like a ship in a bottle and pushing little sticks inside. There was something wrong with his lower lips. Little nubs protruding at either end…were those tusks?

“You got a problem lady?”

“Oh, no. Sorry.” There was a pause there and she didn't know what to say. “Aren't you going to check my I-”

“Hey Louie!” yelled the giant man, “Where's Frank?”

“What?” said some voice from another room. Probably Louie's.

“I SAID…WHERE'S…FRANK?” Marina's ears actually hurt from his yell.

“He's in the basement!”

“You gotta be kidding me, REALLY?” With no effort at all, the man stood up. He practically covered the room before storming out of it behind a curtain hidden until now behind his massive back.

Marina heard the sound of some nameless jazz-piano tune coming from the bar-room just beyond. She walked into the smoky room expecting to just walk in buy three beers and walk out.

Just as she'd been told from her graduation instructor, the Barrel's Bottom was a veritable who's who of criminals in Mainport's underworld. The Gentleman, Agent S. and Ermine stood at the bar, sipping classy looking drinks. The Hood and White Mask sat at a table in a dark corner deep in whispered conversation. Shark King was playing poker against Crescent and Loner Luke. And the Hexed Man was in a corner sobbing into a pitcher of beer. Apparently it was his fourth.

She'd been taught about all of them, their strengths and their weaknesses, at the Mainport All Girl's Cadet School, but to see these legends with her own eyes. She walked over to the bar, a grin growing across her face.

“Oui?” the bartender was a balding man with a thin mustache, portly belly, balding head, and a lazy eye.

“I'd like a beer…ahem, please.”

The bartender didn't move. Did he know she wasn't twenty one yet? “There are over forty beers here, miss, what do you want?”

“Ummm…a Stoors…a Stoors Lite.” She couldn't tell if he was looking at her or not, but he could swear he was scowling as he turned away. In less than two seconds, he had already uncapped a Stoors Lite, smacked it on the top of the bar, and turned around to go back to whatever it was he did. Did she do something wrong?

“That's his default, babe,” came a voice from her right. “In all his years of business he's never shown anyone a better bedside manner than that.” The woman had a spiky black and purple pixie cut and wore aviators. She was wearing a loose leather jacket…with no shirt on underneath. Marina turned to her beer and began her quest to finish the required three and get out of there. “What's wrong…shy?”

“Sorry, it's my first time coming here,” Marina looked over at her. The woman was all skin and bones and paler than a sheet.

“Well, welcome to the Barrel's Bottom Pub and Grill,she leaned back, exposing her breast, but there was black tape there in the shape of an X over her nipples. “It hasn't had a working grill here in years though. They should call it the Barrel's Bottom Pub and Fryer, though I guess that's not working either. I'm Double X by the way,”she held out her hand for her to shake it, “But you can call me Dubs. Better than calling me, Ex. Hah!”

Marina shook it, and sipped from her drink. “So…are you new here in Mainport?” She had never heard of Double X before.

“Nah, I don't know. Two or three years. I came here for college, but, uh…” she looked at her drink and smiled, “Life got in the way.”

Marina felt so awkward. Double X started rubbing her legs together. She was wearing leather hotpants. “What did you study?”

“Quad-state polymers, neo-element bonding, programmable molecules, boring stuff really.” She leaned forward and chewed on her straw. “What about you?”

She remembered what Sensei Kadhar taught about avoiding being caught in a lie. Tell the truth. “Military and political science. There was some hard science stuff here and there, and some psych stuff, but not enough for a degree.” That was close.

“You went to the All Girl's Cadet School, didn't you?”

Oh shit. She finished her first beer right then and there. “Yeah. But I took it to college with me,” lied Marina.

Double X leaned back on her chair, resting her elbows behind her back with a shocked look on her face. “That's like, West Point for girls who's dads have other people's money in Swiss Bank Accounts. Who are you related to?”

She didn't know what abilities Double X had, but she figured she could grab the vodka bottle, a bar rag, and her lighter to create a diversion. Getting past the bouncer at the door would be hard, so the windows near the top of the stairs were her best bet since they didn't have bars on them. She could conceivably make it from the pool table, onto the railing of the staircase and out the window if she tucked her body in quick enough. The fall would hurt, but there were garbage cans outside to break it. The question was, whether Shenelle had the car still running or not, though it probably wouldn't take too much time to-

“Geeze, relax. I won't tell anyone. Your secret's safe with me,” she held a finger up to her lips and smiled. “So, I heard that they give you a puppy on your first year and you have to kill it to graduate to your second. Is that true?”

Marina breathed a sigh of relief and ordered her second beer. “No, nothing like that. But I have broken a lot of bones though, and not all of them were mine.” Marina smiled for the second time since coming in here.

“I bet you've broken a lot of hearts too,” Double X smiled and licked her teeth. Her hand moved back and forth across her inner thigh.

“Oh please, honey, can't you tell she's not interested?” came a lilting voice from behind her. There in a muscle-shirt resembling a tuxedo and in tight spandex short shorts was the infamous sexual activist Dr. Hotpants.

Double X turned around and flashed a forced smile, “I didn't realize they let you out so early. What was it? Good behavior?”

“More like, really good behavior, am I right? Mmmhmmhmm,” he sipped on a glass filled with some light blue slushy looking drink with four umbrellas in it. “Nah, no prison can hold me. But you on the other hand,” he pointed at a man in some old military uniform…Potrovich, who was playing cards “can hold me all you want.” Potrovich shook his head and went back to what he was doing. It felt so weird to Marina for some reason that Potrovich played cards.

The Bear walked up, he was a bearded muscle-man wearing a union shirt and jeans. “Honey, the stuffs over at the bar.” They pecked each other on the lips.

Double X and Marina shared a smile and a giggle.

“Thanks bitch,” Dr. Hotpants sipped on his drink. “Ooh! Dubsy, I forgot to tell you! Tricky Dicky's messing with your moped.”

“What?!” Double X stormed out of the bar, leaving her drink and her weapons behind.

The Bear and Hotpants sat down across the room to watch the Shark King beat Crescent at pool. Marina finished her second beer and ordered her third.

“Do you know why they call this place the Barrel's Bottom, little girl?” said a deep raspy voice. She looked to her left. A man with a white cloth covering his head in a pinstriped robe/jacket stood there. An ashtray held his smoking cigar and a shot-glass held his liquor. The White Mask! The White Mask was talking to her!

“Uh…I…it's,” Marina felt so stupid. She'd had a crush on the White Mask for three years now.

“When Mainport was nothing more than a shipyard and a bunkhouse, the bartender's great great grandfather had a side-business,” he paused to puff on a cigar. What accent was that? Was that Israeli? Greek? “During the day, he sold spirits and liquor to the dockworkers, but at night, at night they would bring bodies in through a tunnel into the basement. The barman would break their limbs and snap their necks so they could fit inside his barrels, which found their way out to the sea. He disposed of the bodies that accumulated throughout the week. Finding yourself at the Bottom of the Barrel found a new meaning in Mainport.” She didn't know that. She set down her beer and looked over at him. “When Dalton and De Gracy took control and truly built the city, he was kept on. And business only…got…better,” he lifted the shot-glass with a small straw in it and drank. Marina didn't know what to say so she waited. “Each successive generation disposed of the bodies of the people who had displeased the people in power. Do you know why I'm telling you this?”

She didn't even have to nod or say a word to let on that she was confused.

“Because some men are born for this life, Marina DeFrancis, but not all men” said White Mask, she immediately looked to see if anyone was listening, but nobody paid them any mind, “some men have it thrust upon them, but not all men,” she felt her chest get tight. What was he going to do? “And some men will live their life only imagining what this life is like, but unfortunately, not all men,” he puffed on his cigar again. “Why are you here?”

There was no point in hiding it. “A rite of passage. All the graduates from the All Girl's Cadet School eighteen year program sneak into Barrel's Bottom to drink three beers the night before their graduation.”

“But why,” he leaned in close, “are you here?”

She stammered. “My…my family.”

He held his hand up for the bartender to fill his glass again. “Your mother is Jerica DeFrancis. One of 'Mahi's Angel's.' Does this make you an Angel too?” She didn't know what to tell him. She'd met Mr. Mahi a thousand times before, but he'd never discussed business in front of her, or let on to the fact that he'd hire her on one day. What was she doing here?

“I…I don't know.”

Cigar smoke drifted up through his mask and out of his eye-holes. He pointed to his mask. “These scars. The ones I hide. I did not get them pretending to be a hero, or playing at grandeur like some of the men who frequent this place. I got them because of what I am. What are you?”

“I…I…”

Machine-gun fire zipped over their heads breaking dozens of bottles. Marina and White Mask ducked under the stools.

The gun was held by a man in a black leather mask and jacket with a pink shirt underneath. He was flanked by three others with similar masks and jackets. “Alright, where is she?” The Sade Squad.

Bulletproof glass panels quickly slammed onto the top of the bar as the bartender hurried into a backroom and slammed the door shut behind him.

“I am looking for, a little girl…” Marina's life was over. This was it. Bullet to the head. “…a lost little girl…” she went to stand up, “…called Crescent.” She froze and slowly set herself back down.

He started walking around the silent room. Everyone gave him annoyed looks. He pulled out a picture of her, what looked like a mugshot.

“She hasn't been in here all night,” said Potrovich. “But if she walks in here, we'll let you know.”

The man in the black mask laughed. It must've been Skinner. Their leader. He handed the machine-gun over to one of his friends. “Now, that…is a good poker face,” he pulled out a pistol and shot Potrovich in the head. Everyone jumped. “Believe me, folks. It's Potrovich. He'll be fine. But I don't think the rest of you have the ability to duplicate yourself. So…where…is…Crescent?”

Nobody said a word. The music even stopped, though at what point it did, Marina couldn't be sure.

A voice came over a PA system. “You boys know you're not allowed to do that in here.” It was the voice of the bartender. “Leave now, or I'll call down the wrath of god on you.”

Skinner laughed again and invited others to laugh with him. “I can't believe I forgot! I've defiled the sanctity of the Barrel's Bottom, the only Holy Ground for people like us in Mainport City. Well, Rene, call down the Wrath of God! Or maybe you can come down here and I can teach you a little something about being holy!” He emptied his clip into the PA, silencing Rene the bartender.

Marina's mind was racing for an exit strategy, but she was so flustered she couldn't think of one. She looked over at White Mask but…he was gone.

Something made a soft thump noise across on the pool-table. It was small, black, and…a stinger grenade. This was going to hurt.

“Shit!” said one of Skinner's friends. He didn't have time to say anything else as the entire bar hit the deck and the grenade went off, throwing rubber balls across the room. Sharp painful stings hit a spot on her forearm and one on her back, but it could've been worse.

She stood up to leave, but before she could go the bouncer charged into the room like a rhino knocking Marina to the floor. He threw Skinner's pistol across the room and proceeded to punch him over and over again in the head. The smallest of Skinner's friends pulled out another one, but Shark King kicked him in the back. Before she could stand up properly, the entire room was in a riot. Loner Luke had one of the Sade Squad in a headlock. The bouncer had lost Skinner, but was wrestling with a very drunk Hexed Man who had jumped onto his back shouting, “Kill me! Kill me!” The Bear and a taller Masked Man were wrestling over the machine-gun, while the Gentleman held one against the wall and Agent S. ran upstairs out of sight.

Marina crawled in the prone position towards the door. The confiscated weapons spilled all over the place. She didn't need her glock or knives. They weren't hers anyway. Charice and Shenelle stood at the doorway. Charice had a bulletproof vest on with a telescoping baton in her hand, and Shenelle already had another grenade ready to throw.

“Come on!” yelled Charice, but this was a hard task as Skinner had just kneeled on her back.

Marina let out a howl of pain. What was the Sade Squad safe-word again?

“Bahamut!” she yelled as loud as she could through the pain.

Skinner looked down at her, grabbed her hair, and looked her in the eye. “We changed the safe-word last night. Bahamut won't get you anywhere…”

Charice's baton struck him between his cheek and his ear collapsing him backwards. “Come on, girl,” she helped her up. “There we go.” Shenelle started the car.

Marina, almost through instinct, heard a gun hammer being pulled back behind her. She grabbed Charice's baton, whipped around, and struck Skinner across the temple. He dropped the gun and fell to the ground.

The three drove home in relative silence until they reached the gated community where they lived. As they neared Marina's house, Shenelle looked in the rear-view mirror and saw Marina's disheartened face. “Do you think he knows who you are?”

Marina shook her head.

They pulled into Marina's driveway. Shenelle gave a sad smile, “Did you drink your three beers?”

Marina gave a similar smile and held up the three bottle-caps. But as she walked up to her front door the smile faded. She was afraid when the White Mask asked her whether or not she was up to living the life her mother had given her. She was afraid that she wasn't up to the task. That she wouldn't want it. That she didn't want it. That everything she'd live for would come down around her. That she wasn’t like him.

But now, she understood what White Mask was trying to tell her.

She was born for this life.

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