When the noir of night falls, he stalks the rooftops in search of the unjust. He is a vigilante by trade, and the most infamous in New York. Those who have seen him call him a ghost, and those who fear him call him the Manhattan Deadman.
The following work is a short story I made to introduce a character in one of my larger stories. His name is Ryan Rhied, who goes more often by the name of The Manhattan Deadman. The story was heavily influenced by the film noir genre and has a place in the steampunk / dieselpunk world I'm creating for the larger story.
The streets were crowded that night, as they usually were-- cars raced by on the distant street while the shadowy, ant-sized silhouettes that stalked the roadsides could only barely be recognized as people. Their shadowy forms were only occasionally, and only dimly, revealed by neon signs and the odd car’s headlights. He stood high above, looking over the edge of concrete at the bustling night-dwellers below. His tail swished behind him, vaguely ginger and striped, and his snout was mostly hidden by the shade of his wide-brimmed, dark grey fedora. He wore an equally dark grey trench coat that was tied tightly around his form, the collar drawn up to shade his features ever more. In his right paw, he clutched a 9mm pistol, one black and notched along its stalk with scratches, each that marked a kill. It was a fine night in the smoke-choked, concrete jungle of Manhattan, and he would take full advantage of it.
Turning away from the edge of the building, he marched toward a door on the far side of the roof, one that lead into the side of a taller portion of the skyscraper he stood upon. As he walked toward it, he glanced up into the smoggy night sky, barely catching a glimpse of the moon and stars beyond the rising smoke of the city. He breathed in the night air, tasting the tinge of vehicle emissions upon it-- he loved the scent of home.
Approaching the door, he clutched the handle and turned it. Much like he expected, the door was locked. He wasn’t phased, and instead closed his reflective, green eyes and focused his mind. In an instant, he evaporated into a burst of grey, cigarette smoke, sliding under the frame of the door and into the room it protected. He reformed in the middle of a dark hallway, lit only in portions by moonlight from shaded windows that lined the right side. He held his pistol by his side but at the ready as he silently walked down the corridor, glancing left at each door he passed. The doors beared glass windows with names upon them, but at first he couldn’t find the name he was looking for. It took a moment of walking before he rounded a corner to the left, stopping abruptly as his gaze rested on the back of another man’s head. He leaped back without a sound, hiding his form around the corner again and listening.
“Would ya hurry it up?” asked the man he had nearly run into, his tone rushed and somewhat anxious. “He could be back any minute.”
“I’m goin’, I’m goin’.” a voice responded from within an office, the door of which hung ajar.
He peeked out from around the corner, reading the name upon the door and cursing silently when he realized it was the one he too was looking for. He watched as the man in the hall, who held a drummed submachine gun in his grasp, walked into the office a short distance, saying something more hushed to the other person within. The ghost took his opportunity and silently approached, standing directly behind the man with the rifle. He waited a moment, watching as the man in the room, who was a grey tabby, rifled through file cabinets and drawers, tossing papers over his shoulder as he did.
“It’s gotta be here somewhere.” the man was muttering. “You should be keeping watch.”
After saying this, the man in the room looked up to address his friend, only to flinch when he saw the person standing behind him. The ghost responded with a quick tip of his fedora before he slammed the base of his pistol into the neck of the man before him, dropping him to the ground. The man in the room flew into a panic and drew a pistol from his brown coat, turning it upon the ghost. Despite what most people thought, he was very much a living being. He ripped away into smoke and flew away from the door a ways, reforming near the corner he had first emerged from.
A moment later, the tabby thief came racing out of the office with a file clutched under his left arm, his right aimed toward the corner where the ghost stood. He fired, missing twice but sending the ghost dodging away. He then raced down the rest of the corridor to his left and made a turn around a corner. The ghost raced after him, pausing at the corner to dodge another couple bullets as the thief pelted away. The thief reached a door at the end of another hall, kicking it open and racing through. The ghost whipped forward in a cloud of smoke, appearing in front of the door and firing two shots after the thief, both of which missed. The thief was racing down a flight of stairs, several dozen more below it. The ghost had a pretty good idea where his thief was headed, and only one of them could have their hands on that file.
The ghost raced for the first staircase, diving over the railing and evaporating into grey smoke. The smoke raced downward after the thief, following him out a door as he burst through it. It streaked in front of him as the thief threw a glance over his shoulder, allowing the smoke time to reform into a man. The thief ran directly into him and fell backward onto the cold concrete roof. They were outside again, the dark, smokey sky above meeting with stark, art deco metal and concrete. The ghost stared down at the thief, his gun aimed forward and at the tabby man’s head; the trilby he once wore was now on the ground, as was his gun.
“Oh god…” the thief breathed, staring up at the shaded face of his pursuer. “... it’s you, it’s really you. The Deadman.”
“So they call me.” the Deadman said, his jaw faintly visible as it moved to mouth his words. “And you’re about to become one too, if you don’t hand over that file.”
The man glanced at the file that had fallen at his side, looking between it and the Deadman. A moment later, his eyes flicked to the pistol that lay just within reach.
“Don’t even try it.” the Deadman growled, sensing the thief’s intentions. “You’ll be tasting lead sooner than you can twitch a finger.”
The thief was frozen with fear, looking back at the Deadman’s reflective eyes-- they were the only part of his face truly visible.
“The file,” the Deadman repeated. “Now.”
The thief hesitated again, before grabbing the file quickly and handing it to his knaive. The Deadman reached for it with his free left hand; as soon as he did, however, the thief sprung. He swiped up his gun, flinging it forward and firing off two shots. The first hit the Deadman in his shoulder, causing him to stagger into a dive as the second shot narrowly missed. The file went flying into the air, sending papers and photographs scattering into the breeze as the Deadman went down. He hit the ground on his wounded shoulder, clenching his jaw at the pain, and angled his pistol toward the thief as he was leaping to his feet. He unloaded six shots, all of them piercing through the tabby man’s body with splashes of scarlet. He collapsed with a screech, the blood in stark contrast to the grayscale world of Manhattan.
Cursing, the Deadman stood back up, sheathing his pistol in his coat and swiping for a photograph as it drifted toward the edge of the rooftop; the other pictures and papers had scattered, falling down into an alley far below. He brought the one picture he had saved into view, scanning what it contained. It was an old military photograph, one containing a group of two dozen combat engineers dressed in jumpsuits. The background suggested the photo had been taken in the engine room of an airship. What was most striking about the photograph was the red circle of ink that surrounded the head of the one of the engineers, a woman, with an arrow pointing from this circle to a name written in the same ink: “Sable”