A Late-Night Touch of Death by Patrick Whitehurst

Punk Noir Magazine

Wet and sleepy as fuck, he staggered down a solitary path near the Golden Gate Bridge sometime after midnight.

Sam wanted nothing more than a stiff drink and two days of dead sleep. Sea water dripped from his ears as made for Lincoln Boulevard. Never knew where his line of work would take him. Tonight, he ended up in the bay. Not how he saw the day playing out, but these things happened when you pimp yourself out for “odd” jobs.

Sam planned to cut across the grass to Washington, and out of Presidio Park, when a dark shape emerged ahead of him. A person dolled up in black.

He played it cool. Someone wanted to fuck with him that was their business. He didn’t have to take part. Just keep walking. His lower back throbbed. Wasn’t easy swimming fully dressed and he’d only just caught his breath.

Ahead of him, the lithe form ducked into the shadows. Fucking job. Hired muscle work didn’t have a lot of perks, but it sure as shit paid the bills and kept his daughter entertained with the latest TV channels, or apps, or whatever the hell they were. He knocked back thoughts of his fucked-up trade and patted the wet roll of bills tucked away in his soggy Dockers. Once he got that cash in the bank he could lay low for a week. He called that a perk.

Plenty of downsides in the business. Too many. He’d had his ass handed to him more than once. And here he was, out on the streets in the middle of the night, with a waterlogged cell and no weapons. Being out past the Witching Hour, tired and helpless, isn’t the brightest idea in a big city. Hell, any city, even the small ones. Might as well be a tethered goat waiting for a T-Rex.

Only this T-Rex wore black tights. And seemed pretty nimble.

Wasn’t a soul around besides the two of them. Did he expect a beat cop strolling about with a lantern and a whistle? Sam narrowed his dog-tired eyes, letting them adjust to the darkness, and realized his trail buddy stood about forty feet away, still as a board. Watching him.

He’d had enough. Hadn’t seen any metal. Nothing to indicate a weapon, but that didn’t mean shit. “Just trying to get home. Want no trouble.”

He couldn’t be sure, but the weirdo looked compact. Smaller and thinner than him. His bloodshot eyes might be playing games.

“I know something you don’t know,” whispered a quiet voice. The words sent a chill down his spine. “I know how to kill you.”

A woman’s voice. Clear as a bell.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

She ignored the question. “Why are you all wet?” 

“Go where the work takes me. Boat ride tonight. Tomorrow probably be on fire.”

She sprang off to his right, withdrew behind a tree, then reappeared from the blackness a moment later. Bouncing in the dewy grass like a fawn, she came closer and closer, with one arm raised. In the moon’s glow, he saw she held her black-gloved index and middle fingers together. They pointed at him like a pistol.

Woman was out of her damn mind. 

Sam walked in reverse, fixing his attention on her. She wore a nylon mask over her head, also black, which showed the dark crevices of her eyes. Every step he took, even backwards, brought him to the edge of the park and closer to civilization.

Twenty feet apart now. Her two fingers still poised. “I know the touch of death.”

City drove everyone insane eventually, that or it did its best to bury them. Some took their cracked minds in stride. Sam might be an ex-journalist-turned-thug-for hire, but at least he didn’t run around the park dressed like a fucking ninja.

“Don’t need your kind of crazy tonight. Try it on someone else,” he replied. “Not interested in your shit.”

“Dim mak. Press artery. I know it.” The woman held her fingers to her temple in an awkward sort of salute. “These two fingers can kill you. Won’t break a sweat. Dim mak.”

“Find a seagull or something. Bastards deserve it.”

Sam remembered the so-called touch of death from his childhood. Every kid on the block talked about that damn skill. Sam himself tried to find it on some of his friends, a secret martial arts knowledge they said, one he and his buds hoped to stumble across by repeatedly poking each other. When they got bored with that, they made nunchakus from wooden broom sticks and U nails. Legend had it Bruce Lee himself had been “touched,” which led to his subsequent death.

The death touch could kill him instantly, he remembered, or lead to cascading organ failure. Might not do him in immediately, might even take a week, but her love tap would be the cause. Were the legends true.

“Shit isn’t real,” he told himself.

Weirdo started circling him, dancing and swaying like a ballerina on the stage. Exhaustion creeped into his tender back. He might have admired her lithe figure were he not ready to drop. He could see a gray mist pushing through the darkness behind her. Fog rolling in.

He just wanted his bed, but somewhere a bottle of meds missed their owner. 

“Paralysis. Sleep. Arousal. Death. These fingers know the secrets.” She twirled, her gloved digits held outward, and ended with another up and down hop. 

A breeze kicked up, making Sam’s water-logged body shiver. The touch of death. What if it were real?

“Do you feel the energy? The vibration?”

Sam shrugged. “Only in my bones. Listen, Killer. Let’s not do this. I’m just trying to go…”

She lunged. 

Sam dodged her fingers by inches. He could hear her breath, surprised at his quickness, close to his own mouth. Something connected with his ankles, a fucking swipe kick, which sent him tumbling. Gravity dropped him into a wet heap of black flannel and dockers. The volume of back pain cranked up to a ten.

Her padded feet danced around him. Sam let her dance and got to his feet with a groan. Even the cold grass felt like a mattress. Forty winks called out to him and he knew Little Sam would be up in a few hours. She hated being left alone. 

Back on his feet, Sam clenched his fists and waited to see what else she’d throw at him. City ever needed a mascot, this lady fit the bill. Mysterious, bat shit insane, faceless, and ready to kill a fucker.

Weirdo cocked her head and laughed. Her fingers poised, the moon glittering in her eyes. “Dim mak,” she repeated.

“Yeah. Dim mak.”

She thrust her hand at him. All thoughts of death vanished. He’d already gotten within spitting distance of the grave once tonight, didn’t need some asshole in tights to finish the job. He leaned back, her two fingers darting for his chest, and blocked her thrust. His fingers clamped over her deadly index and middle fingers. They felt small and bony, like holding a baby bird.

“You may know the touch of death, lady, but I know something too. How to break bones.” He twisted his wrist, keeping the vice grip on her two fingers, and gave a quick tug. With a grinding snap, her gloved extremities bent backward, and flopped like dead guppies.

To her credit, the weirdo didn’t scream. She grunted and struggled against his hold. Sam let her go. Stumbling, the woman cradled her broken fingers in the crook of her arm. She breathed heavily.

“You’ve not seen the last of me,” she gasped. “Touch you. Dim mak. You’ll see.”

“Tough talk, Killer. Like a damn movie villain. I’m a real-life bad guy and you don’t know the kind of night I’ve had.”

Weirdo retreated, muttering under her breath, and dissipated into the misty night. He watched her disappear into the darkness before moving on. Five minutes later he emerged from the trees and found himself back on asphalt and concrete. The glow of downtown beckoned to him. Blinking red lights, icy whites and blue, and a distant, indecipherable clamor, topped with the smell of moldy dumpsters and rotting meals. The stink of the city. Kind of place that gave birth to madness. City would be the death of him yet.

Sam tucked his hands into his wet pants. 

“Fuck you, San Francisco. Try harder next time.”

Patrick writes both fiction and nonfiction, the latter of which includes the books “Haunted Monterey County” and “Murder and Mayhem in Tucson.” His stories range from true crime to thriller fiction reminiscent of Tales from the Crypt. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, including Shotgun Honey, Pulp Modern, Hoosier Noir, and Switchblade Magazine. He’s been featured in the anthologies “Bitter Chills,” “Wild Violence,” and elsewhere. His reviews and author interviews appear regularly in Suspense Magazine.