Tenet number one in the Book of Stanton.
For ten years, it had been etched into the pathways running between Ernie Bowen’s amygdala and hippocampus. He’d spent the better part of two decades bouncing at bars and nightclubs all over the Western Confederation, finding success and salvation in the commandments set forth by the most revered bouncer of the before-times–Jerry Stanton.
But something went wrong tonight.
Tenet number two says: Be kind until it’s time to not be kind.
That’s where the rub is for most Stantonites and why so many of them never make it to the Cooler priesthood. It’s one of those invisible lines that takes a patient, learned mind to feel–almost like a single strand from a spider web brushing against your cheek. Ernie thought he was there. He had the title. Had the vestments. Had the respect of his congregation.
How would he explain what went down?
The music had stopped, all the bright white overhead lights were on, and Ernie’s mind was a jumble as he looked down at the four men splayed across the sticky floor inside of Luna Loca, the most popular club in New Las Vegas.
Three of them were big. Bigger than Ernie on a good day and without an ounce of fat. They were all on the ground, still breathing, but in various states of incapacitation.
It was the fourth body which was a cause for concern. That man’s neck had been snapped so thoroughly, his head hinged until his nose touched his shoulder. Gelled black hair fell across his open eyes like feathers.
Then there was a woman, but she was gone.
To Ernie, it all went down in a blur and now he was faced with two problems: This wasn’t just anyone lying dead on the floor. And assuming he could deal with that little issue successfully, there were still the Stantonites from whom Ernie would have to beg absolution.
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