Copyright 2015 Christopher Waltz
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Praise for Ivy League
To You, the Reader
The Show Must Go On
Times, They are A-Changin’
Going Out With a Bang
Ann “Oakley” Ellis
An Old-Fashioned Armed Robbery
Matters of the Heart
Back to the Middle
A Familiar Face
A Broken Home
God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise
A House Divided
Just Like Brothers
A Flare for the Dramatic
Closed Eyes Still Look Forward
Minutes to Midnight
You Would Have Gone Far, Kid
His Story Repeats Itself
A Sneak Peek of Loose Ends
About the Author
Praise for Ivy League by Christopher Waltz
“Ivy League… is a story that is not a story, because it’s a completely realized version of multiple truths and lies woven together to make a dark and gritty section of the world we’re not used to seeing…”
-David James, author of *][*Between the Stars and Sky
“…Truly embodies the struggles of a young man while he decides what’s important in life and what’s worth risking everything.”
-Allura, Blogger at Teacups & Bookends
“Ivy league… is definitely an intriguing story. [Jamie] struggles with right and wrong, protecting those he loves, and risking his own life. He goes from being an innocent bystander to a cocky S.O.B. He will learn quickly that his decisions will affect more than just him…”
-Scandalous Book Blog
“Ivy League is definitely worth the chance. [Waltz] managed to write a book that is… packed with some hard choices, tough love, and major consequences.”
-Dani Morales, Blogger at Crazy Book Chicks
(To You, the Reader…)
This one’s been a long time coming…
As always, I need to thank anyone and everyone involved with helping Old Habits become a book and not just dozens of pages of notes on what I hoped it would eventually become, especially you, the reader. Because, being honest, I almost didn’t write the sequel to Ivy League. After all, though the ending was ambiguous, it still worked in a way that could be called “final.”
Then I started listening to the things you had to say, and a lot of them revolved around wanting to know what was going to happen to Jamie and Gabe next… And while I was so happy to read and listen to the comments you had about Ivy League, I also felt very stupid for even considering not finishing the story and giving the readers, even if they are few, the ending they deserve, to not just Jamie’s, but Gabe’s story, too.
Since I first started writing this series in 2010, the characters within the pages have become a part of my life, and whether for better or for worse, have also become a part of my family. And while you may not have the same connection to them I do, you have a connection to them.
So, for this, I have to say THANK YOU. You’re the reason I do what I do. I hope you truly enjoy part two…
March 5, 2015
(The Show Must Go On)
When I was in fifth grade, I pushed Justin Gallagher down the stairs.
Our class at Hastings Elementary was putting on a play and Justin had gotten the lead, while I was cast as his understudy. On one hand, it was a prestigious award, since if Justin were to become sick (or fall down the stairs due to some horrible accident and unprecedented act of nature), I would become the lead. But on the other hand, if Justin were to remain healthy, I would merely get to stand in the background, dressed as a tree.
So, at the time, the choice was clear: Justin had to go.
Looking back, it really wasn’t a big deal. Justin recovered after having to wear one of those ridiculous black boots on his leg for six weeks, while I replaced him in the play, and coincidentally forgot my lines twenty minutes into the first performance. In the end, I hadn’t turned out to be the star I thought I would, but I still got what I wanted.
As Gabe and I rode down the interstate in our stolen black mobster-van, Justin Gallagher and his injured leg floated into my mind. Had that been the beginning of it all? Had pushing him down the stairs for my own, personal gain set off a chain reaction eventually lead to me being responsible for ruining my own life, not to mention the lives of everyone I had come into contact within the past few months?
I couldn’t know for sure, but for some reason, it gave me a small sense of peace to think if I could somehow develop the ability to travel back in time to 1996 and not push Justin down the stairs, then I never would have started selling drugs with Gabe, never would have gotten in over my head, never would have gotten my best friend Airic killed, and never would have had to flee my hometown with the one person I was most terrified of in life. Maybe had I not pushed Justin down the stairs, my little brother wouldn’t have been exposed to the world of crime at the age of thirteen, my girlfriend Riley wouldn’t have watched as both our lives disintegrated around us, and four people wouldn’t have been shot in the living room of my parents’ house.
Those were the thoughts crossing my mind as we fled Hastings, but by the time we had passed through Kansas and Colorado, I’d realized time travel doesn’t exist, and the past cannot be changed.
And though, according to The Terminator, the future is not set in stone, I was still doing a pretty good job of screwing mine up. As Gabe and I set up shop in California, trying to escape our separate pasts and make a new life for ourselves, our connected past found a sure-fire way to catch up to us, and things were about to go from bad to worse; much, much worse.
(Times, They are A-Changin’)
Business was slow, and by that, I mean no one was surfing in Behler, California because it had been raining for thirteen straight days, something I hadn’t even thought possible until I witnessed it for myself. Having grown up in the Midwest, I was taught California didn’t actually get weather, at least not in the sense we were used to back in Hastings, Indiana.
Of course, I was no longer in Hastings, so it was probably about time I stopped comparing everything in my new life to everything in my old life, as I had spent the past fourteen months pretending I had never even been farther east than Nevada. I had created an entirely new life for myself, one I had jotted down in a notebook and studied each and every sleepless night until I finally got a doctor to prescribe me Ambien.
In my made-up life, I was Airic, an only child whose parents had perished in a car accident while skiing in the Canadian Rockies when I was only twelve-years-old. Afterwards, I had been raised by my mentally unstable aunt who kicked me out the door the second I turned eighteen, as she thought I was more of a burden than anything, but had dutifully agreed to adopt me in the event of my parent’s untimely death simply for the fact she thought it would never happen. This story was elaborate and a little farfetched, but covered up the fact I had no ties to anyone in my past, including my relatives. In my story, I didn’t associate with relatives because they were all either dead or insane.
The truth, of course, was I had cut off all ties to my friends and family in the Midwest because I was wanted by the police for murder. I didn’t actually kill anyone, but the way my partner in crime, Gabe, and I had left things, it definitely looked like I did. And even if the authorities had figured out by now I hadn’t actually murdered anyone, I was still an accomplice who had fled town with the actual killer when I could have just as easily turned myself in, told the truth, and maybe (probably) gotten away with just a slap on the wrist.
But when you’re surrounded by dead bodies and your life is in ruins, sometimes it’s just easier to leave it all behind. But then again, sometimes it’s not.
The tropical storm, Angelica, was moving up the coast and keeping every surfer locked up inside their hotel room, and was raging full-force when the bell hanging above the entrance to my and Gabe’s surf shop startled me out of a mid-afternoon nap. I was so shocked by it, I rolled off the couch in the back room and nearly busted my head open on the cheap, IKEA coffee table I had found for ten dollars at Goodwill.
I stood up and tried to look like someone who worked/owned a surf shop, half-expecting to see a tourist or two who had ducked into the shop to hide out from the rain, but relaxed when I realized it was just Eileen, the mailwoman.
I strolled onto the sales floor and flashed Eileen my bright, white smile. She was in her mid-fifties and had been delivering mail in Behler since before I was born. “Eileen, make it stop raining!” I urged as she pulled several envelopes out of her bag. I was expecting a letter, but decided to make small talk so I didn’t look too anxious.
“You’re not the one walking around delivering mail in it, Airic. Trade me places for a little bit, and I’ll see what I can do,” she scoffed. She wore a postal service-issued hooded jacket that had protected her, for the most part, from the rain. But still, she looked somewhat miserable.
“I think I’ll pass,” I laughed.
She shook her head at me and handed me the shop’s mail. I searched through the envelopes, one by one, seeing the messy handwriting on the front of one that stood out to me immediately. It was written in blue ink, as it had been every time for the past six months, and there was no return address.
“The shop’s pretty dead today,” Eileen observed, looking around and realizing we were the only two people in the building.
“Yeah, rain,” I said, pointing out the front window as a rumble of thunder banged in the distance. Two girls ran past the window hiding under a shared umbrella. In Behler, you knew the weather was bad when people actually bothered to carry umbrellas with them.
“You know, I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Eileen began. “You’ve been here, what, a year or so?”
“Yeah, just a little over a year,” I answered.
“Well, how exactly did you stumble into owning a surf shop?”
The question was simple, and there was nothing accusing in Eileen’s voice, but I froze nonetheless. Gabe and I had kept to ourselves since we’d settled in Behler, and we’d even created elaborate stories to cover up we were on the run. I knew I’d come up with a reason for owning the surf shop at the ripe, young age of nineteen, but it was lost in my mind as I began to panic. I’d written it down, practiced it repeatedly, but no one had really ever asked how I came to own the shop.
Eileen stood, waiting for me to reply as I contemplated how long had passed since she initially asked the question. If I waited too long, she’d know something was wrong.
“My parents…” I began, trailing off and furrowing my brow, trying desperately to remember the lie I’d so easily concocted. Eileen gave me a confused look. “My parents left me a lot of money when they died.” Yes, it was coming back to me. “It was put into an account for me to have when I turned eighteen, and since owning a surf shop was something I always wanted to do…” I trailed off again, letting the rest of the story tell itself.
The real story behind the surf shop was when Gabe and I fled Hastings, we’d left in a vehicle that had a suitcase with over two hundred thousand dollars in it. We came up with the plan to buy some kind of business as we traveled from state to state. When we arrived in California and found this shop, it seemed almost too perfect to be true.
We feared the legalities of buying the shop would be complicated, but we soon found out that when you present a briefcase full of cash to a retired, bankrupt beach hippie, the typical paperwork doesn’t apply. As far as I knew, the building itself was still “owned” by Smitty Daniels, but he was one hundred thousand dollars richer, and never to be heard from again. For all I knew, he was living out his life’s dream of sailing around the world on a small houseboat with his long-time girlfriend, Harlequin (yes, that was her real name).
Eileen processed the story in her mind momentarily and I knew she was about to call me out on some fragment of the lie I’d messed up on. I had this gut feeling she was seconds away from telling me I was full of shit, and she’d seen my face on the news the night before. The police were probably already on their way.
She put her hand on her hip and gave me a wide smile. “That is the nicest thing I’ve ever heard.” I breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m glad you had the guts to follow your dreams. Do you think I had plans of being a postal worker for the rest of my life when I was your age?”
“Probably not,” I admitted.
“Damn right, probably not. I wanted to be a pageant queen! But three kids and two cesarean sections later, that is just not going to happen.”
I nodded my understanding at her and tried to keep from imagining short, plump, salt-and-pepper haired Eileen in a sequined evening gown, holding a bouquet of roses in one arm, a pageant sash on the other, with a glittering tiara on her head. Sometimes my imagination was too vivid for my own good.
From out of nowhere, the door to the shop burst open, and Gabe came rushing onto the sales floor. He was soaked and carried no umbrella, though it had to have been raining when he left earlier in the morning. He, as usual, seemed extremely frustrated.
“Hi, Kevin,” Eileen said cautiously. She was a friendly woman, but there was obviously something about Gabe that made her distance herself from him. His facial expression was almost always intimidating, and though I could tell Eileen wanted to put him in his place, she always chose not to, finding a reason to leave any time he arrived.
“Hey,” he said, marching into the back room and grabbing a towel from the small closet we used to hold almost everything that needed stored. It was a ridiculously small apartment attached to the shop, but we had gotten used to living in such closed quarters.
Eileen glanced to me as if to ask what his problem was, but I simply shrugged my shoulders innocently. Gabe, or Kevin, as he was now going by, had been noticeably discontent for the past couple of months, finding any reason to complain about anything. He wasn’t happy in Behler.
“I’m going to head out and deliver the rest of this mail. Good luck with that one,” she said, rolling her eyes towards Gabe, who currently had a towel covering his entire head. She then turned and walked out the door, pulling her hood up and rounding the corner onto the next street.
I took a moment to slide the hand-addressed letter under a book sitting on the counter, and walked into the apartment, prepared to confront Gabe about his attitude and get to the bottom of what was actually bothering him. I was pretty sure I knew the answer would revolve around everything we had hoped, and failed, to accomplish in the past year.
He was still drying his hair with the towel and working on slipping his sopping shoes off his feet when I sat down on the couch across from him. “What’s wrong?” I asked with a concerned tone. I was genuinely concerned; an unhappy Gabe meant life would be miserable for everyone.
“Don’t worry about it,” he grumbled, finally getting his left shoe off.
“Hello, we’re business partners. Is your anger business-related or business-related?” I urged, wondering if he was mad about something involving the surf shop or our weed-buying customers.
He dropped the towel on the floor and glared up at me. “All of it,” he answered. “But mostly business-related. You’d think pot would sell better in a surf-town. You’d think since I’m an experienced grower, I’d be able to actually grow here, but I can’t. And don’t even get me started on those jackasses we’ve been buying from recently. Their pot is complete ditch, and they raised their prices again, which means we have to raise our prices again.”
“It can’t be that bad,” I offered, not able to think of anything more encouraging. In all honesty, I’d reverted to running the surf shop, and Gabe had been dealing with most of the marijuana business. Not to mention, I generally had never been good at comforting people in bad situations.
“It’s that bad. We’re floundering.”
“We’re not floundering…” I began.
“How much of Harrison’s money do we have left?”
I wasn’t sure, but I knew we had gone through a lot of the cash, spending nearly half of it on the surf shop and another large chunk towards storing Harrison’s stolen van in a garage for the time being. “We have plenty,” I simply answered.
Gabe snarled at me unsympathetically. “The last time I checked, ‘plenty’ meant ‘hardly any.’” He pulled his other shoe off and tossed them into the corner. The hardest part of being on the run was sharing a small apartment with a complete slob.
“We’ve had expenses, Gabe,” I said, trying as hard as I could to get an attitude with him. I wasn’t the best at defending myself, which was part of why we had gotten into this situation in the first place. “We bought the surf shop, we’re renting the garage, and we’ve had to restock on weed every couple of weeks. Not to mention the fact the shop has expenses, too.”
“Is this what you want to be doing, running a meager shop across the street from the ocean, striving to make it month to month, when we could be the biggest drug-dealers in the tri-state area?” Gabe’s tone was more serious now. His true frustration was coming to light. Even before we left Hastings, Gabe’s master plan had been to become a Midwestern equivalent to a drug lord. He knew what he was doing, but simply didn’t have the patience to wait it out until he made it to the top. Selling weed in Indiana was one thing, but the ballgame was entirely different on the west coast; there was bigger, more experienced competition to deal with.
“We’re laying low!” I argued. “We can’t make a name for ourselves when the police are looking for us in every state between here and Indiana! Do you want to go to jail for murder? Do you want to spend the rest of your life behind bars? At least this is something.”
My last question caught Gabe off guard, and he narrowed his eyes at me in hatred. We’d had several arguments since we’d arrived in Behler, but this was going to take the cake. I knew now that he was angry because instead of rising to drug-dealing stardom, we had reverted to running a cover business and buying our supply from amateur growers upstate.
“I grow grade-A marijuana and sell it to a loyal customer base! I don’t buy from ditch-growers who double the price just because they can!” He was practically screaming now.
I could feel my cheeks turning red with anger. Only a few short months ago, I would have held back this anger, choosing not to respond and risk throwing Gabe into another fit of rage. However, times had changed dramatically.
“You grew grade-A marijuana. If you hate it here so much, you should just leave!” I shouted. The words came so ferociously I could see a spray of saliva leave my mouth as I yelled them.
“You took the words right out of my mouth,” Gabe said, narrowing his eyes at me bitterly. “Jamie,” he added coldly.
I opened my mouth before having actually thought of a response, but didn’t have to worry about making something up off the top of my head. Our argument was interrupted by a tall, shaggy-haired teenager standing in the doorway to the shop, staring at both of us. His skin was tan and his hair had the kind of sun-crisped texture to it was that was a dead giveaway he was someone who spent the majority of his time in the ocean. His board shorts and loose-hanging hooded sweatshirt, along with the fact he wore no shoes, practically confirmed he was a surfer.
“Is everything okay in here, guys?” Ford asked, leaning against the doorway and crossing his arms over his chest. He was only sixteen but appeared more mature than both Gabe and myself at the moment. He was a runaway become local, much like us, and a surf enthusiast who we paid under the table to work in our shop. It was true I enjoyed running the shop, but since Gabe showed no interest whatsoever, hiring a part time assistant who actually knew a lot about the business had been the smartest thing we had done since settling in Behler. Ford also knew about the pot business, but stayed out of it for the most part.
Gabe threw himself into the armchair across from me and let out a low growl, “We’re fine.”
“It’s just a little business-related disagreement,” I agreed, glaring at Gabe. “It’s over now.”
“No, it’s not,” Gabe urged with wide eyes.
I held up my index finger to Ford, as if telling him to hold on a minute while I finished my conversation with Gabe. And I did intend to finish it. His attitude had to change, or else things were going to fall apart for us. “Gabe, let’s just talk about it later; not in front of the kid,” I said in a hushed tone.
Gabe didn’t speak, but only glared at me and then at Ford. The two of them had never particularly gotten along, though Ford had never done anything to make an enemy of Gabe. Ford was a product of us buying the shop, and thus hated by Gabe for that simple fact.
As Gabe continued to sulk in his chair, I slid the curtain dividing the surf shop and our apartment closed, leaving him to stew in his own anger and resentment. As I walked back towards the cash register and the letter I had left hidden there, Ford eyed me sympathetically.
“He’s a little more pissed than usual today,” he stated, not bothering to choose his words wisely. He knew he could speak freely around me.
I paused before answering him. “I would venture to guess he isn’t very happy here.” Ford simply nodded his agreement; there was nothing else to be said about it. “But don’t worry about it. He may not be committed, but I am. I love this shop, and nothing is going to bring it down.” I paused again. “Even if he decides he doesn’t belong here anymore.”
Ford bit his lip awkwardly, not sure what to add to the conversation as I subconsciously slid my hand towards the book I had hidden the letter beneath a few minutes before. I knew who it was from and could feel the need to open and read it tearing at me from the inside. But I couldn’t, not until Ford walked away, and I was sure I was alone. Though the contents of the letter were sure to not be dangerous, it couldn’t be opened until the room was clear.
As if on cue, the bell above the entrance clanged and two girls walked through the door, soaking wet and oblivious to the fact when it rains in California, bikini tops are generally replaced with t-shirts and jackets. They were cold and dripping water all over the floor.
I saw a hint of a grin appear on Ford’s face and decided to take the opportunity to sneak out and open the letter. “I’m stepping out. You can handle the shop?” I asked, nodding my head subtly towards the two new customers.
Ford nodded in agreement and happily answered, “That, I can.”
“Good,” I said, casually sliding the letter from underneath the book and holding it tightly in my hand as I made my way for the door. If Ford had noticed the letter or thought it odd, he didn’t speak up, but instead immediately addressed the two new, scantily clad customers; I had already been forgotten, just the way I wanted it.
Once outside, I positioned myself beneath the shop’s awning, shielding myself from the rain, and still acquiring at least a sense of privacy. Without hesitation, I tore the envelope open, pulled the single piece of notebook paper from inside, unfolded it, and began reading.
Sorry it’s been so long since my last letter. Do you ever get the feeling someone’s watching you? I guess that’s a stupid question, but here lately, I’ve just been really nervous about it. Each time I write a letter and walk to the mailbox to send it, something makes me change my mind. I can’t exactly say what. I even mailed this one from school instead of from home. Maybe I’m just being paranoid.
For the most part, everything is going pretty well here. May was a little tough, since the town held a candlelight vigil for the one-year anniversary of what happened. School was tough that day, and I felt more like an outsider than ever before, even more than right after it happened. I have good friends though, and all of them stood up for me. None of them know the whole truth of what happened; I never told anyone, just like you said. I did almost talk to Harper about it (I guess we’re officially dating now?), but I decided the time wasn’t right. It may never be.
I also wanted to tell you that Mom and Dad are living together again. I told you last time they’ve been talking and even went on a “date.” Well, three weeks ago, Mom broke the lease on her apartment and moved back in. It’s weird, but good-weird, you know? I kind of found myself wondering if it would have happened the same way if you were still here. I know that sounds harsh, but I think you know what I mean. Would they have gotten back together had all the bad stuff not happened?
I don’t know if I should tell you this part of not, but I guess I will. I saw Riley the other day. She picked me up and took me to lunch. She said she wanted to check up on me before she headed back to Bierce for the fall. I guess it was really nice of her to do that, even though it was a little awkward for both of us. She asked if I’d heard from you, so I lied, of course. She cried when she hugged me goodbye, and told me that I was starting to look a lot like you. I don’t think so, though.
Oh yeah, I wanted to tell you that I went to a Track & Field camp this summer and that the coach signed me up for the cross country team. I didn’t even have to try out; he said I was that good.
How are things going? How is the shop? Is ‘business’ good? Is Gabe still around?
Write back soon,
My heart ached.
My little brother and I had been sending letters back and forth to each other for a little more than nine months, being extra careful not to include too much information and never leaving a return address. I had sent the first letter after thinking I might go insane with feelings of guilt after running away from Hastings, and truth be told, I never expected to get a response.
Less than two weeks later, Kip’s first message had arrived in the surf shop’s mail, and we had been writing consistently ever since, me making an extra effort to not let Ford or Gabe know it was going on. Ford would likely understand, but Gabe’s wrath would be far worse than anything I had seen out of him before.
I read and re-read the letter multiple times, breathing heavily and fighting back any visible emotions that might cause Gabe and Ford to begin asking questions I didn’t want to answer. I only glanced up upon seeing the sleek, black Lexus pull to a stop at the curb, the engine still running as a tall, blonde woman in eye-catching clothes got out from the back, walked around to the other side, carrying an umbrella, and opened the other door. A tall, dark-complected man in his mid-twenties stood from the car and walked heavily towards the surf shop as the woman held the umbrella above both their heads.
“Can I help you?” I asked inquisitively as he completely ignored me and entered the shop.
A shocking thought entered my mind seconds later: this man was definitely a Malvado.
I would have thought this was one of those situations where time seems to stand still, but by the time I had folded Kip’s letter, shoved it into my pants pocket, and re-entered the surf shop, the man from outside had already stated his intentions and was now standing face to face with a very angry and shocked-looking Gabe.
Ford and the two female customers who had entered only minutes before were now standing in a small huddle, watching curiously as the events unfolded before them. One of the girls looked slightly more anxious than the other.
“What are you doing here?” Gabe asked. He had changed out of his wet clothes, but was still without shoes.
I cautiously raised my right hand into the air as if sitting in English class and asked, “What exactly is going on here?” No one answered, but Gabe shifted his eyes to the ceiling as if annoyed I had even spoken. The woman who had been carrying the umbrella eyed me, smirking only for a second at the fact I had been ignored.
The tall man continued speaking to Gabe as if I hadn’t even said a word. “How have you been, Gabriel? Long time, no see. I hear you’ve made quite the name for yourself. I hope it’s not too forward, but I feel like I can take some of the credit for that.” He wore expensive clothes, a dark blue button down shirt, charcoal tie, and matching slacks. His shoes alone probably cost more than all the clothes I owned. His hair was the same deep shade of black as Gabe’s, only pulled back in a ponytail that scraped against the back of his neck.
“I was sent to deliver a message to you.” Gabe’s eyes widened at the words, but the man only laughed. “Not the ‘break your legs with a sledgehammer’ kind of message; I wouldn’t be here myself if that were the case. You know that. Harrison just wanted me to let you know you’re still in debt to him, and he expects his debt to be paid back… with interest.”
As the two girls made their way to the exit in a hurry, Ford crossed the sales floor and stood next to me. Though his face was curious, there was no surprise written on it. “You know,” he whispered. “I always knew there was something shady about him. What do you bet he has years and years of gambling debts and this guy is some enforcer sent here to make him pay them back? Did you have any idea about any of this?”
I stood, stone-faced, trying not to miss any interaction between Gabe and his visitor. “Yeah, I had an idea,” I said monotonously.
Gabe’s fists were clenched, and he was trying his hardest not to come apart at the seams, I could tell. Whoever this guy was, Malvado or not, Gabe didn’t like him. Not that Gabe disliking anyone was out of the ordinary.
“Get the hell out of my shop,” Gabe stated with more hatred in his voice than I had ever heard before. “I don’t know how you found this place, but you’re not welcome here. And we don’t owe Harrison shit. He tried to rob us and ruined our lives.”
“You sure have grown up a lot in the last five years.”
“I suppose you want to take credit for that, too, Garret?”
Garrett. I’d heard the name before, but couldn’t specifically place when or where.
Ford opened his mouth to speak again, but I quickly brought my hand to his face, silently telling him to keep quiet. He obeyed, turning his attention once again to the tension-filled conversation happening across the room. I had never been in a situation like this, but I knew background commentary wasn’t likely to help out.
“You think you’ve made it, don’t you?” Garrett asked. “You think this is the big time. You’re selling half-ass product through a sham surf shop in southern California. This is about as low as it gets. Now, back in Hastings, that’s when you had potential. You screwed up big time.”
The room was silent for a moment as Gabe composed himself, trying not to say something he’d later regret. In all our time together, I couldn’t remember a time I’d seen him so unnerved by something, or in this case, someone. The two of us had stood in a room where four people were shot, three of whom died, and speaking to this man still seemed to strike more fear into Gabe’s heart.
“Get out,” Gabe said through clenched teeth and clenched fists.
Garrett turned to leave, his umbrella-holder close behind, but stopped directly next to Ford and me, which, for some reason, made me incredibly nervous. He turned back to Gabe with a belittling smirk on his face. “I talked to Mom and Dad a few weeks ago. Did you know Dad hasn’t tried a single case since you took off? He’s convinced he can find you and get you off the hook for everything that happened. But, what can I say? The man was always a fool.”
With that, he marched through the entrance to the shop, not even bothering to acknowledge me and Ford as we stood, staring in shock and amazement. Ford turned to me, confusion running rampant on his face. I couldn’t even imagine the thoughts going through his head; I had most of the story and still had no idea what was actually going on.
I crossed the room, ready to interrogate Gabe about what had just happened, but stopped in my tracks when I saw the tears welling up in his eyes.
“Don’t,” he muttered angrily.
“What the hell is going on?” I asked in the nicest tone I could muster. I grabbed him by the shoulders as if encouraging a young kid. “We can’t make it through this if you leave me in the dark.” I realized how after-school-special I sounded and removed my hands from his shoulders and crossed my arms in front of my chest.
Gabe nodded, but looked at Ford cautiously. He had never liked nor trusted him since they’d met.
I turned to Ford and said, “Can you give us a minute? I need to talk this out with him in private.”
Ford shook his head in disbelief and started to walk towards the backroom apartment. “I deserve to know what’s going on here. Something big is happening, and I’m not stupid. I’ll figure it out,” he said.
His words struck deep, reminding me of how my own little brother had threatened to uncover the truth about my drug-dealing activities with Gabe the previous year. That hadn’t turned out well at all, so I stopped Ford before he was out of earshot. “Give us a minute. I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version, okay?”
He nodded and stepped into the apartment, pulling the black curtain separating the two rooms so as to give the two of us some more privacy. I turned back to Gabe and waited for an explanation of some kind.
“He’s my brother,” he began. “Five or six years ago, my parents sent me to live with him in Chicago because I was… a little out of control. Little did they know, he had plans of teaching me about his business. He taught me everything I know about drugs and selling them.” Gabe seemed ashamed, almost as if telling me this was breaking some kind of secret code between the two of them. Maybe he just didn’t like talking about his past.
I waited for more, but nothing came. “That’s a good story, Gabe, but it doesn’t explain why he was here giving you the shakedown. And he mentioned Harrison. How does he know Harrison?” I urged.
“Geet is Harrison’s right-hand man. If Harrison sent my brother from Chicago to deliver a message, we can assume it’s big, and we can assume they’re words directly from Harrison’s mouth. He doesn’t screw around when he sends Geet on assignments.”
I took a deep breath. If Harrison had personally sent Gabe’s brother to speak with us, to threaten us essentially, then he had to have found out where we were hiding out. “How? How does he know we’re in California?” My voice was probably more panicked than I wanted to admit. I was also wondering why Gabe had never mentioned his older brother worked for our worst enemy, but I figured I’d take the question-answer session one step at a time.
“I have no idea.”
The first thought to pop into my mind was Kip. He and I had been writing back and forth to one another for months. What if Harrison had somehow intercepted or tracked a letter and found out where we were that way? What if he had gotten ahold of Kip and made him tell? The last letter was at least three days old; anything could have happened between then and now.
I found myself needing more than anything to ask, “Our families. Would Harrison have gone after anyone? Would he think he could get to us through them?”
Gabe shook his head. “Harrison’s a businessman above anything else. He’s smart, and he has money. He’ll use those avenues first, but I don’t think he would ever actually hurt anyone unless he had to. He has too much to lose. Of course, I can’t be sure about—“
I cut him off. “Be sure.”
Gabe nodded his assurance. “He wants us, not them. He might have sent some goons, asked them some questions, but they’re all safe, I’m sure.”
I leaned against the counter out of exhausted relief. For the few short moments I thought my parents, brother, or even Riley might have been in danger, and I could feel the numbness creep through my body was almost excruciating. Knowing they were likely all safe and well made the process of deciding what we would need to do seem at least a little more bearable.
“What happens next?” I asked, terrified of the answer I knew was coming and even more terrified I was, once again, turning to Gabe as leader of our pack.
Gabe bit his lower lip and stared at the ground, frustrated. In a whisper barely loud enough for me to hear, he said, “We have to run.”
(Going Out With a Bang)
“No. No. Absolutely not,” I argued, slamming my fist on the counter. Gabe watched me as if observing a toddler throw a temper tantrum, knowing if he waited it out, it would soon pass. “We’ve worked too hard, and I love this shop. I’m not leaving it.”
Gabe glared at me through angry eyes. “Suit yourself. You stay, and when Harrison sends someone back to ‘collect the interest’ we supposedly owe him, you can find out what it’s like to have your fingernails ripped out.”
The possibility caught me off guard, but I managed to spit out, “You said he wouldn’t use violence. I thought he was a businessman?”
“He wouldn’t have put anyone in harm’s way to find us, but now that we’ve been running from him for over a year, and he knows where we are, you can pretty much count on as much violence as he wants. In his eyes, we robbed him, spat in his face, and disappeared off the face of the planet for fourteen months. Expect violence.” As Gabe spoke, he moved through the store, me close behind, and spun the small, hand-written sign that read OPEN to the opposite side, showing the surf shop was now CLOSED.
His words were harsh, but I knew Gabe knew what he was talking about. We weren’t safe, but I wasn’t ready to give up the surf shop so easily. In my eyes, it was a tribute to Airic. He had died because of my choices, and part of me thought I would die before giving up the shop. This store was a dream of his, and in turn, had become a dream of mine.
“You know what this place means to me,” I pleaded, knowing it was likely useless.
“I do,” Gabe acknowledged. “I get it, I understand, and I think you had great intentions, but if we die, nothing that happened in the past year and a half was worth anything. Do you want to die?”
I shook my head, knowing full well Gabe had turned on his magical charm and would be talking me into anything he wanted me to do. For all I knew, we would end up in Russia next. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Gabe suddenly had a connection in Moscow, ready to set up our next drug-adventure inside the Kremlin.
“Good, because I don’t want us to die either.”
I shook my head again, fighting back several emotions and wanting more than anything to cry. When we had first left Hastings, I would cry any time I found myself alone. Now, I found it the most difficult thing to do. Being an outlaw had hardened me to the point of being nearly void of emotion.
“You know we have to do this.”
I nodded this time. “I’ll go talk to Ford.”
Gabe patted me on the back as I walked away and slowly slid the curtain between the surf shop and my and Gabe’s apartment open. Ford was waiting on me, sitting on the edge of the coffee table. This was the deepest in thought I had ever seen him, forcing me to wonder if he had overheard our conversation.
“Airic, what’s going on?” he asked. Sometimes I forgot Ford still knew me by my fake name. “Is this something to do with the pot? What did Kevin do? Why did that guy call him Gabriel?” he asked. I could tell he was spitting the questions out just as fast as they were coming to him. He had every right to be angry and curious, but sometimes Ford couldn’t help but come off as a little stupid, even though I knew better. His care-free, surfer appearance brought out the worst cases of “judging a book by its cover” in most people, most of the time.
I sat down on the couch across from him and tried to think of a way to explain everything without a) terrifying him and b) royally pissing him off. Ford was a friend, one of the only real ones I had other than Gabe, and if he was interested, I would have been more than willing to bring him with us to wherever we would be fleeing to next.
“My name’s not Airic,” I began. Ford’s brow furrowed, proving his instant disbelief of my statement.
“What are you talking about? Of course your name’s Airic. I’ve seen your driver’s license.” I shook my head. “My name is not Airic; it’s Jamie. Jameson Alexander Brewer. Kevi-- Gabe and I fled here from Indiana, changed our names, started a new life and, as it turns out, this new life is a lot like our old lives.” I put my face into my palms as I contemplated how to continue the story and exactly how much to tell Ford. I raised my head again, my hair partially obscuring it from Ford’s view. “We sold pot in Indiana just like we do here. We were just a little better at it back then, I guess, but then things went bad, fast. People died, and the two of us were—are--wanted for murder. But it wasn’t our fault. We’ve been on the run ever since, settled here in Behler, and thought everything was going to be okay.”
It felt good to have everything all out in the open, but Ford didn’t speak. His eyes seemed distant, as if he was actually in some faraway place. When he finally did speak, the only thing he was able to say was, “You lied to me?”
There was no way around it. Almost everything Ford thought he knew about Gabe and me was a giant lie. We’d done it for both his and our own good, but now that he knew, I felt pretty bad about it.
“Yes, but now you know. I told you because you’re a part of this. We don’t want anything bad to happen to you. You needed to know the truth,” I said.
Ford opened his mouth in shock. “What do you mean I’m a part of this? What do you mean you don’t want anything to happen to me? You haven’t told me what’s going on! Who was that guy out there? What did he want?”
I tried to think of a way to sum it up without scaring Ford even more. “It’s hard to explain, but whatever he wants, it’s not good for any of us. His boss is the reason we had to run away. He thinks we owe him something, and that something is probably our lives. There was money involved back in Indiana, a lot of money. Gabe and I ended up with it… but Harrison thinks it’s still his.”
“Can’t you just give it back? Where is it?”
I looked around and raised my hands in a gesture as if to say, “here it is!” Ford only let out a deep sigh and averted his gaze so as to not make eye contact with me.
At that moment, Gabe walked into the room, looking a little more alert than either of us were used to. “Is everything good in here?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, hoping he would go away so I could continue speaking with Ford.
“No! It’s not!” Ford exclaimed. “You’re a liar. You’re both liars, and I don’t even know what to think of it right now. I don’t even know you.” He was obviously disgusted. “This money that may or may not belong to you… that you apparently bought this shop with… is it how you’ve been paying me this whole time, too?”
Gabe shrugged his shoulders and patted Ford on the back. “Sometimes shit like that happens, kid,” was his only form of apology. He then walked over to a pile of his clothes on the floor and began scooping them up. “Jamie, my duffel bag?”
“It’s on the top shelf of the closet, along with a couple hundred dollars in emergency money,” I said, pointing towards the closet with my eyes. Even through all this mess I had made sure the two of us had an escape plan, even if Gabe didn’t know about it. Four hundred dollars wouldn’t do much, but it would get us the hell out of California. We’d worry about new names and fake I.D.s when the time came.
“So, where are you going?” Ford asked. He looked as if he was being abandoned.
“We,” I said, putting emphasis on the word, “are getting out of California. That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll decide where we’re going once we’re on the road. We want you to come with us, Ford.”
Gabe stopped in his tracks and turned away from the closet where he had been digging through our belongings, pulling out what he considered to be essentials. Had we not been in panic mode, the look on his face would have been priceless. “No, we don’t,” he said matter-of-factly.
I had a feeling he would react this way, but I was determined to bring Ford with us. We’d lied to him about everything and dumped the truth on him all at once. He deserved the right to leave town with us, if he really wanted to. After all, his life was probably in just as much danger as mine and Gabe’s. The look on his face, however, didn’t make me think he would be traveling with us.
“Yes, we do,” I said to both of them. Then, to Gabe, “He won’t be safe here. If we leave him and your brother comes back looking for us, what do you think will happen to him? He’ll be as good as dead.”
Gabe rolled his eyes and stepped away from the closet, gorlwing in my ear, “Not our problem.”
“Yes, very much our problem!” I blurted. Gabe was taken aback, but still didn’t seem to waver on his stance. He turned to Ford, who was still sitting on the coffee table, tapping his foot on the floor nervously. “Look, it’s up to you whether you come or stay. You know I don’t like you, never have, and I’m pretty sure you feel the same about me. But, for some reason, Jamie here thinks you’re his little brother and wants you to tag along. It’s your call.”
Ford stood up as if to leave, but stopped himself before exiting through the curtain. “Can I have some time to think about it? I can’t just drop everything and go, you know?”
I nodded, and understood completely. The last time I had fled, I didn’t get a chance to change my mind before it was too late. As much as I wanted Ford to come with us, I had to accept the fact maybe it wasn’t the best decision for him.
“Of course,” I said calmly. “We leave in the morning—“
“Tonight,” Gabe said, cutting me off.
“Okay, we’re leaving later tonight. If you’re here when we go, you can come with. If not, then we’ll know what you chose to do.”
Ford acknowledged my invitation and said, “I’m going for a walk. I need some fresh air. I need to surf, but I doubt the weather will allow that today. I’ll be down at the beach if you need me for anything.”
Moments later, he was out the door and crossing the street. I turned to Gabe to see if he had anything else to add to our conversation before we parted ways and made plans for our great escape. For the most part, it looked as if Gabe had crammed the majority of his possessions into the duffel bag and was ready to flee. I, however, still had to pack, and decided I desperately needed to write a response to Kip’s letter. He needed to know it was no longer safe to send messages to the surf shop, and that after tonight, there would be no one there to read them.
“We’re going to need money,” I said flatly, looking to Gabe for suggestions.
He smiled. “I have a plan for that. As of last inventory, we had about fifty ounces of stock in the garage. It’s not great quality, but it’s us, so I can pass it off as pretty good stuff. I’ve got a few hours and a few connections, so I’ll see if I can make one big sell. I’m figuring I can get us twelve-five, at most for it on such short notice, but it’ll be gone.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said monotonously.
Gabe sighed. I could tell he wanted nothing less than to make me feel better about what was happening, but he also knew we were a team, and it was about time he started being a team player. “Look,” he said. “I figured for another two or three thousand, I could throw in the van and the keys to the garage. We’d be officially cutting all ties to everything that happened when we go this time.”
As much as I hated to admit it, the offer was pretty enticing. Having the black van we had stolen and fled town in locked in a garage a couple of blocks away had felt like a ball and chain clasped around my ankle the entire time we’d been in Behler. If we really were making a run for it, I’d much rather flee in the crappy Honda Civic we’d bought with surf shop money rather than the stolen mob-van we’d brought with us from Indiana.
My face brightened just a little. “Do it,” I agreed.
“That’s what I was hoping to hear!” He exclaimed. I could tell he was excited about leaving town; he’d never liked it here and had only stayed because of how easily everything had seemingly fallen into our laps. The fear of death aside, Gabe was happy to be starting over yet again. “I’ll work on making the connections while you stay here and square things away with the shop. Sound good?”
“Sounds good,” I said, hoping he’d leave sooner than later. As he marched out the door, I called to him, “Take the car?”
“No, I’ll walk!” he shouted back and vanished around the corner. Even in a rainstorm, no one actually wanted to drive the Civic unless they had to; the thing was a hunk of junk. Luckily for Ford, though, the sky had cleared up a little as the day had gone by.
I waited less than two minutes, just to make sure Gabe wouldn’t be coming back sporadically, and pulled a sheet of notebook paper from a pad we kept next to the cash register. We had originally kept it to write down the contact information for drug-clients in the area, but it was now possibly my final communication to Kip for a very long time to come.
I cannot stress how important it is you follow my instructions in this letter. Something has happened. I’m okay. Gabe’s okay. But we’re leaving town tonight. We’re not safe anymore.
DO NOT SEND ANY MORE LETTERS TO THE SURF SHOP!
I don’t know where we’re going, but when I do, I’ll write you. It might be days, or weeks, or longer, but I’ll write you.
Be on the lookout, as always. With us disappearing tonight, Harrison’s people will be looking for us again. They might try to get you to talk. Don’t stay out late, and just be aware of your surroundings.
I’m sorry. I know this all sounds very paranoid, but it’s real. If things start to get out of control, if you feel like you’re being followed, if you just don’t feel safe, I want you to tell Mom and Dad EVERYTHING. If you have to, go to Officer O’Kelly, but use him as a last resort. Keeping my secret is not worth your safety.
I’ll write as soon as I can.
[[I love you,
I tri-folded the letter and shoved it into an envelope, quickly scrawling Kip’s name and address across the front and pulling a stamp from my wallet. I put no return address, as always, and walked towards the front door. Normally, I wouldn’t use the mailbox at the surf shop’s street corner, but I knew I wouldn’t have time to take it any further. I had no idea when Gabe would be back from talking to his “connection,” and couldn’t risk him catching and interrogating me about the letter.
As I walked down the sidewalk, getting closer and closer to the mailbox, the rain beginning to pour harder, I saw Ford jogging towards me. His face held concern, but in all honesty, I was happy to see him back.
“Ford,” I simply stated, trying not to let any emotion show in my voice. For all I knew, he was coming back just to let me know he wouldn’t be joining us. I was excited, however, to see the backpack slung over his shoulder. “Air-- Jamie, I have to ask you a huge favor.”
“Anything,” I said, opening the mailbox and dropping the letter in, hoping he wouldn’t notice. He obviously had a lot on his mind, and hopefully, my letter to Kip was the least of his worries.
Thunder cracked in the distance, but neither of us made an attempt to get out of the storm. Instead, we began to walk back towards the surf shop at normal pace, as if there were no rain, and it was a sunny day in Behler.
When he spoke, Ford was out of breathe; he had likely run the entire distance from his shitty apartment. “Can I borrow the Civic?”
“Ford, listen…” I hesitated.
“Jamie, I’m coming with you guys. I hope you trust me enough to believe me, but I just need to tie up some loose ends before we go.”
I ran my hands through my rain-soaked hair and looked to the sky. “What do you need it for, and for how long?” I asked.
He let out a loud sigh and shoved his hands into his pockets, definitely nervous about what he was going to say. “I need to drive up to Herron and try to patch things up with my mom before we go. If we’re… fleeing, I’d like to at least say goodbye to her, let her know I’m still alive.”
I paused, not sure what to say.
“I’m sure you of all people can relate to me right now. I swear I’ll be back in two hours, three tops, hopefully before Gabe. He doesn’t have to know. I won’t tell my mom anything about all this, but I just need to see her, talk to her before we leave.”
I thought about the letter I’d just dropped into the mailbox and wished I could drive two thousand miles to Hastings and patch things up with my mom before fleeing, yet again. On top of that, I wished I could drive backwards in time and never leave Hastings to begin with.
I pulled the keys out of my pocket and held them up for Ford to take. “Listen, you’re back in two hours, no longer. If Gabe gets back before you, I had no clue you were taking the car. Got it?”
He snatched the keys out of my hand and grinned awkwardly. “You have no idea how much this means to me.”
“I actually do,” I said, adding, “I just mailed a letter to my brother. I’ve been writing him for months.” I said it without thinking and instantly felt a sense of both relief and regret was over me.
“I know,” Ford simply stated, giving no further explanation. I didn’t ask for one.
As we made it back to the shop, Ford kept walking as I stopped at the entrance. He climbed into the beat up, orange Civic and rolling down the window.
“Straight there and straight back,” I warned, not sounding threatening at all.
He saluted me jokingly and turned the key in the ignition as I turned to walk back into the shop. I still had to finish packing, clear the cash register of everything we’d made for the day, and spend the rest of my time alone unwinding from the day’s events I never saw coming.
And that’s when the car exploded.
When I opened my eyes, trying to recover from the blinding pain and sudden loss of hearing, I was lying flat on my back, surrounded by broken glass, metal, and chunks of burning wood. I was also now inside the surf shop.
The scene around me was exactly what anyone would expect after a car bombing; the entire store front had been ripped off (or blown in, I suppose) and was completely unrecognizable. I suspected the connected shops had also suffered indescribable damage. Most of the shop’s merchandise had also been knocked over, crushed, or was in the process of burning. The room was quickly filling with smoke, mostly billowing into the building from the charred, twisted remains of the Civic.
I tried to climb to my feet, knocked instantly back down by a red-hot sensation running through my right leg. I lowered my hand and upon review, it was covered in thick, crimson blood. More than anything, I was terrified I would look down to see my leg had been sheared off by a chunk of rogue car or building.
Peaking only from one eye, I glanced at my leg to see it luckily was still attached, but had been compromised by a triangular sliver of window glass about the size of my palm. Surprisingly, there was little pain when I didn’t try to stand on it.
As I got enough nerve to examine the wound with both eyes open, Gabe appeared at the store front, out of breathe and with an expression of utter shock on his face. He dashed into the remains of the shop, climbing over debris, and knelt down at my side, seemingly not fazed by my recent wound. Had we switched places, I would have surely been screaming and crying at the sight of a shard of glass sticking out of his leg.
“What happened?” he asked, exasperated, but still calm. Gabe was almost always calm.
I winced again as his knuckle accidentally brushed against the shard of glass. “What do you think happened? Our car just blew up!” I screamed.
A flaming surf board fell from the wall, crashing against the floor as Gabe simply asked, “How?” However, before I could answer, he was positioning himself behind me and hooking his hands under my arms in order to drag me to a safer location.
As I slid across the floor, fighting the intense urge to throw up, I tried my best to answer what I felt to be Gabe’s ridiculous question. “My best guess is your brother! Ford came back, asked to borrow the car for an hour or two before we left; he said he was coming with us. He got in, turned the key, and then… Well, look around.”
We came to a stop on the opposite side of the curtain where I noticed our apartment was amazingly untouched by the explosion. Nothing seemed out of place, aside from the fact the entire room had been a mess before the bomb went off. Gabe immediately ran towards the bathroom, returning with a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a package of unopened bandages.
“No,” he said confidently. “Geet wouldn’t have done this. He’s cold, yeah, but he wouldn’t have killed Ford.”
He lifted my leg, propping it up on the coffee table as I let out an excruciated scream.
“Open your eyes, Gabe,” I growled through clenched teeth. “The car was ours. Your brother, or whoever it was, was not aiming for Ford. That bomb was meant for one, if not both of us.”
He unscrewed the lid from the bottle of alcohol and carelessly threw it across the room. I couldn’t help but imagine I was in some kind of war movie as he warned, “This is going to hurt.” The burning building around us might as well have been the trenches of some World War II battlefield. We’d stormed the beaches of Normandy, and I was likely going to lose my leg as a result.
I closed my eyes as tight as I could, as if this would actually help with the pain, and he immediately began to pour the alcohol onto my leg. I writhed in agony, trying desperately not to move too much, but couldn’t shake the thought of what was coming next. As I grabbed my own thigh with both hands to steady it, Gabe swiftly wrapped his bare hand around the glass and tugged as hard as he could. The shard came free a lot easier than I expected, but with the new gash in my leg also came large amounts of blood pouring, and for a brief moment at the beginning, spraying out.
“Shit,” Gabe murmured under his breathe.
“No,” I argued. “Not shit. Make it stop.”
He tore the bandages from the box and applied pressure to the wound with both hands. On the bright side, the need to vomit had passed, but unfortunately had been replaced by a strong urge to pass out.
From the other side of the curtain, I could hear the beginnings of muffled shouts of both horror and confusion. The initial blast had likely caused everyone in the area to take shelter, but now several minutes had passed and people were starting to get curious. Whether anyone had braved the destruction and entered the surf shop, I hadn’t a clue.
Gabe continued to hold both hands against the wound until finally deciding to wrap the entire lower half of my leg in gauze. The burning pain from the alcohol was beginning to wear off, but the stabbing pain of the wound itself had also started to takre over. My leg was numb, and a small part of my mind still wondered if I did make it through the trauma, would I be able to keep the leg? I was by no means a doctor, but I’d heard stories of spreading infection leading to the unavoidable reality of amputation.
I leaned my head back against the floor and closed my eyes, unaware of my own actions until Gabe shook me by the shoulder, smearing my own blood all over my shirt.
“Stay with me,” he urged. “We aren’t out of the woods yet. Stay awake, Jamie.”
The voices outside were drawing closer, and I thought I could hear sirens in the distance. The sound of sirens still made me nervous, just as they had any time a fire truck or ambulance passed me on the street. No matter what the situation, I always had a fear in the back of my mind they—the cops, Harrison, whoever—were coming for me. All things considered, I would have thought the police and fire departments would have arrived instantly, right after the explosion, but it wasn’t everyday a bomb went off in Behler, California.
Another fiery blast rang through my ears, presumably coming from the still-burning car outside, and several people let out cries of terror. The apocalypse was happening mere feet away, yet all I wanted to do was sleep.
“Talk to me!” Gabe demanded, sounding a little more panall things icked than he probably intended. I wasn’t aware of my own condition exactly, but I could feel my eyes rolling into the back of my head. The room around us was hazy. The lights flickered and went out completely with the next bang, the darkness begging me to just close my eyes and sleep it all off. When I woke up, or rather if I woke up, it would all be over.
I half-opened my eyes for just a second, saying, “This is all our fault,” before giving up and passing out cold.
(Ann “Oakley” Ellis)
I woke up in the passenger seat of the black van, buckled in for safety, my head resting against the half-open window. I was groggy and still in a fair amount of pain, but ignored it while I surveyed my surroundings, trying to figure out exactly where I was and how I’d gotten there.
Gabe, of course, would have had to have carried my unconscious body to the van, but it had been locked in a storage building at least a mile (or more) away from the surf shop. How had he gotten me out of the burning building and to the storage facility without being noticed, or even stopped? This at least partially explained how I’d gotten to where I was, but I still was completely clueless about my actual location.
The van was parked on the edge of a dirt road lined with trees as far as I could see. The trees looked thick, blocking out a large amount of the light shining down. I couldn’t be sure what time it was, but it seemed like later afternoon. The sky was still overcast with clouds as well, but the rain had stopped, at least momentarily.
I unbuckled my seat belt and opened the van door, swinging my legs around and carefully climbing out of the vehicle. I could barely stand to put pressure on my wounds, and didn’t even want to pull up my pant leg, unwrap my gauze, and see what a mess I was in. At that moment, I realized I was no longer wearing the ripped, bloody pants I had been before. Gabe must have also found the time to put clean jeans on me before we left.
I limped to the front of the van and continued to look around, trying to find some trace of where Gabe had gone. At first, I saw nothing.
After hobbling around to the rear of the van, I opened the back doors to reveal all the weed we’d advance-purchased from our providers up north. It was packaged nicely, wrapped up and placed in the type of shopping tote bags an Earth-conscious hipster would use at the grocery store. Upon further inspection, I noticed that each bag was emblazoned with the words “GO GREEN!” in bold, black font. I had to hand it to Gabe, sometimes his wit was almost too much for me.
I put the bags back as I had found them and closed the door. The best I could figure was Gabe had brought us to a meeting point with his contact. We were going to sell the rest of the weed and have enough money in our pockets to hit the road and never look back… again.
“Hey!” I heard Gabe yell as I leaned against the back of the van, trying to take some weight off my injured leg. “What are you doing walking around?” he asked, emerging from the trees, brushing leaves from his shirt. I couldn’t tell if his voice was angry or concerned.
With him, Gabe brought a short woman, dressed in a tank top and faded jeans. She also wore a dusty, faded cowboy hat on her head. Her hair was long and dark brown, her eyes were big, and as much as I tried to ignore it, her chest was huge. She smiled widely at me and waved, though I had never seen her before in my life. Giving my best guess, I would say she was about thirty-years-old.
“Who’s this?” I asked, adding “Who are you?”
The almost-psychotic smile never left her face as she responded, “I’m Ann Ellis, but you can call me Oakley! I’m a friend of Gabe’s. It’s so nice to meet you! Are you Jamie?” She spoke a mile-a-minute, and though she hadn’t asked any tough questions, I found it hard to keep up. It probably didn’t help her voice was comparable to Minnie Mouse’s.
“I’m Jamie, yeah,” I said, bewildered at first. “It’s nice to meet you, too, Oakley.” I shot Gabe a glance that hopefully read, ‘Where the hell did you find this one?’ as Oakley jogged up to me, holding onto her cowboy hat, and shook my hand vigorously.
Gabe cleared his throat and spoke. “Oakley is going to buy the rest of the weed. She has a cabin back in the woods where she grows her own product, but her last harvest didn’t work out so well, so we’re doing her a huge favor.”
“Now, Gabe, we’re doing favors for each other! You need to unload this extra Mary-Jane, and I need all your product and the van to make my deliveries in! It’s a perfect trade off!”
I eyed Gabe and mouthed the words, ‘The van?’
Oakley continued to speak enthusiastically. “See, I make edibles and deliver them to dispensaries in Los Angeles. I’m not a dealer, per se, but I do make a nice living off my baking skills! My mint-chocolate-weed cupcakes are to die for!”
“I bet they are,” I agreed, eyeing Gabe again. I assumed he had promised Oakley the van when he originally made the deal, not too long before our only other mode of transportation exploded. I figured I’d leave it to Gabe to break the news the van wouldn’t be included in the sale.
Oakley immediately began scoping out the van; peeking through the windows, kicking the tires, even opening the driver side door and hopping in, making sure it was up to her standards. She honked the horn once, letting out a small squeal of excitement before jumping out of the van and rejoining the two of us.
“Gabe, this is too perfect!” She cooed.
“I’ll say it is,” I replied under my breath, nudging Gabe with my elbow. He shot me a glance saying he had the situation under control, but I was genuinely curious to see how it played out. Part of me couldn’t help but imagine Oakley’s reaction to the news.
“Look, Oakley, we might need to renegotiate the terms of our deal, here,” Gabe began. “There was an incident earlier today, and it left us a without a car, more or less.”
“More,” I said.
“What are you saying?” Oakley asked.
“The van; we’re going to have to keep it. But the weed is all yours!” Gabe stated, throwing the silver lining out there for her.
“We had a deal. I need the van to make my deliveries.”
“I know, and I’m sorry, but our car, well… it kind of blew up. Actually, it really blew up.”
Oakley stared at the two of us, standing there with our dicks in our hands. I bit my lip and shrugged my shoulders at her as Gabe continued trying to diffuse her anger, or at least I assumed it to be anger; her voice was as chipper and kind-sounding as ever.
“You know any other time I’d be a man of my word, but there are extenuating circumstances at work here. Jamie and I are leaving Behler tonight, and we can’t get out of town without wheels.”
“What did you do?” Oakley asked, crossing her arms over her enormous chest. Her body language said she was being cautious, but her voice was curious.
Gabe was good at lying, but I found myself in a state of figurative shock when he started spewing out the truth. All things considered, it really didn’t matter who knew about what happened, as we’d likely be changing our names and appearances within the next twenty-four hours.
“There are bad people after us. We didn’t do anything anybody else wouldn’t have done given the situation, but they want us dead. They planted a bomb in our car and killed our…” he paused, “friend, Ford. If you don’t believe me, look at Jamie’s leg. He got pretty banged up in the explosion.”
I dutifully raised my pant leg to reveal the bandage, complete with seeping blood stains. “He tells the truth,” I added.
Oakley mulled the explanation over in her head for a moment. “How do I know you didn’t blow up your own car to, I don’t know, get rid of some evidence or something? I don’t know the two of you very well, but based on what I do know; trouble seems to follow you around like a plague.”
“We’re telling the truth,” I said. “Ford was my friend, and now he’s in a thousand pieces.” I was being sincere, and it was possible the gravity of our situation was just sinking in for the first time. I found myself holding back tears, hoping if anyone noticed, they’d assume it was from the pain in my leg.
Oakley hesitated. “I need the van…”
“We don’t have time to buy a new car, especially not in Behler,” Gabe urged. “The police have probably already come to the same conclusion you did. They’ll think we set off the bomb and killed Ford, and they’re probably already looking for us. Plus, buying a car with cash isn’t always the easiest task to accomplish.”
“You’re not getting the whole twelve thousand for just the pot.”
“That’s fair. How much can you give for the weed by itself?”
I was worried about Gabe’s desperate tone, but let him keep the reigns. He liked being in control, as I’d learned upon first meeting him, but if Oakley could sense just how badly we needed to get out town, she might try to screw us out of the money we needed to make that happen.
“Seven thousand,” Oakley offered.
“Oakley!” Gabe shouted. “There’s more than fifty ounces of quality product in the back of that van! We’re desperate, but we’re not that desperate.”
“Take it or leave it, sweet cheeks. I only agreed to the trade because of the van. I can get product anywhere, and let’s be honest, the quality doesn’t make as much of a difference in baked goods.”
“Oakley,” I began. “You seem like a very nice, compassionate, caring person. Please level with us on this,” I begged.
“Take it, or leave it.”
“Eight,” Gabe argued.
Gabe scowled at Oakley, who seemed to be losing her backwoods, California charm quite fast. “Let me talk it over with my associate.” Gabe marched towards me, grabbed my elbow, and led me to the other side of the van, me limping as quickly as I could to keep up with him. I felt like a disobedient child being led away by an angry parent. “We need the money,” Gabe said, stating the obvious.
“I agree, but is it worth the price cut?” I asked. “Can you make another deal with someone who will pay a higher price?”
Gabe rolled his eyes, more in annoyance at the situation than me, for once. “Yes, but we don’t have time. I think we should take it and run,”
I knew the decision had basically already been made, but tried to think if I had any other questions or suggestions for us. Seven thousand dollars would get us pretty far, but we still weren’t sure how we were supposed to make money once we had settled. The last time we had fled, we had obtained a lot more money, enough to allow us time to build a customer base and open up a small business. “I don’t think we have much of a choice,” I said.
Gabe and I made our way back around the van to a waiting Oakley, who smiled at us charmingly. “And?” she asked.
“Seven thousand,” Gabe said, happiness not evident in his voice.
Oakley clapped her hands together in excitement, prancing forward and embracing Gabe in a bear hug. I would have laughed, but was caught off guard as she did the same to me, even taking the time to kiss me on the cheek. “I knew you’d make the right decision! Now, come on! We’ll finalize everything back in my cabin.”
As Oakley immediately began to make her way through the thick foliage in front of us, Gabe nodded his head towards the van, motioning for me to grab some of the weed. I obeyed, grabbing three of the bags and handing the other two to him, wondering how painful the trek through the woods would be, and exactly how far out Oakley’s cabin was.
As it turned out, the cabin was about three quarters of a mile into the woods, which became less ominous and branch-filled the further we went. After the first half of the trip, I found I could walk easily, and the ground had leveled out for the most part. The trip wasn’t easy on my leg by any means, but I managed to make it to the large clearing that held Oakley’s cabin without breaking a sweat or complaining too much.
“This is it!” Oakley exclaimed, though I was the only one who hadn’t seen the place before. It was, however, nice and secluded, a perfect place to run a drug-oriented business. Behind the cabin, I could make out the makings of a small field that had recently been tilled, but nothing was currently growing in it.
We entered the cabin through an unlocked door, and I immediately began to assess my surroundings. From what I could tell, the cabin only had one room, set up as a living room, bedroom, and kitchen. I didn’t even want to ask where she used the bathroom. However, I guessed living in the middle of the woods had its perks for those who were more “outdoorsy.”
The place wasn’t exactly tidy, with household items strewn about like discarded toys, but it seemed safe enough. I saw nothing too out of the ordinary until my eyes settled on a man, about Oakley’s age, sitting nude on the couch, his feet propped up on the coffee table. He was fast asleep. He had shoulder-length hair and was, luckily, pretty fit. The only thing worse than walking in on a naked man lounging on a couch, was walking in on a naked, fat man lounging on a couch.
I nudged Gabe and nodded towards the man, but Gabe merely smiled, as if to remind me he had already been here once today.
Oakley turned to face us, obviously witnessing me gawking at the naked man, and laughed heartily. “Oh, don’t mind him. That’s just my husband, River.”
“They’re nudists,” Gabe stated dryly.
Oakley nodded her agreement and added, “I’ve gotten into the habit of putting on clothes when company stops by, which isn’t often, but River is a traditionalist. ‘You don’t like it, get the hell out of my cabin,’ is what he’d say if he was awake. But don’t mind him anyway,” she added, using her best “angry male” voice when impersonating her husband, a pretty funny attempt, considering her mousy voice.
Oakley walked to what I assumed acted as the kitchen table and pointed to a pile of neatly stacked cash.
“This is it?” Gabe asked.
“Yes,” Oakley answered, taking four stacks of the money and separating them from the rest. “The bigger stack is yours, and I’ll keep the rest.”
Gabe took in a long draw of breath and sat his Earth-friendly shopping bags on the table, emptying the contents of one in order to fill it with the cash. I followed him in setting my bags down and watched as the cash vanished into the bags. Oakley picked up the discarded pot and squeezed the plastic-wrapped packages in her hands, taking a moment to raise them to her nose and smell them.
“You’re sure this is quality? It smells a little… musky.”
Gabe nodded, not bothering to explain anything to Oakley. I’d learned in the past year or so, one thing Gabe hated was being questioned, especially when the question involved his talent or integrity. And while the pot was severely below-par, it was highly likely Oakley wouldn’t figure this out until we were long gone. For the first time ever, we were ripping off one of our clients, a fact I knew was digging away at Gabe as we spoke, even though Oakley, herself, had said the quality of weed in edibles wasn’t all that important.
Oakley took another sniff of the package and shrugged, adding a chipper “Well, I trust you, Gabe.” As she said this, I diverted my eyes, trying hard not to let any tell-tale signs of exasperated relief become visible on my face.
A tense moment came and passed as no one spoke. The transaction was technically done, but it seemed as if no one knew what to do next. I looked from Gabe to Oakley, then inadvertently to Oakley’s still-naked and passed out husband before quickly dragging my eyes back to Oakley. “Well, it’s been a pleasure doing business with you, but we should probably hit the road, right?” I asked, gesturing towards Gabe who nodded his agreement.
“Yeah, Oakley, it’s been nice seeing you, and truth be told, it’ll probably be a while before we get to see you again.”
Oakley smiled sympathetically and embraced us both in a simultaneous bear hug. “You two be careful, wherever you’re going. I don’t know all the details, but I have a feeling this isn’t just your spontaneous need to relocate. Just… watch your backs.” Her words were sincere, and I could tell she genuinely wished us safe travels. I also didn’t mind the fact she wasn’t asking too many questions about why we were unloading our product and skipping town, aside from knowing what Gabe had already explained to her.
As Oakley walked us towards the door, out of the corner of my eye I could see River stirring on the couch. He pulled the television remote from between two couch cushions and proceeded to turn on the T.V. without even bothering to ask who we were or introduce himself. Maybe he was used to Oakley’s constant flow of drug-related guests.
Oakley opened the door to usher us outside, smiling and saying, “Safe travels, boys,” but her words were interrupted by River’s startled and somewhat excited shout from the couch…
“They’re on TV!”
I stopped in my tracks, realizing Gabe was already on his way across the room. He knelt down in front of the TV screen as I passed by Oakley, walking up behind Gabe. I felt the pain throbbing in my leg again as the rest of my body went numb, and the horrible sensation of being about to pass out crept up on me, only slower than it had before, in the surf shop.
The majority of the screen was taken up by an aerial shot of the burning shop, a smoldering mass of twisted metal that had once been our car sitting not too far away, surrounded by firefighters. Inset on the screen were two photos, one of me and one of Gabe (where the news got them, I’ll never know), and below the photos were the words:
[Kevin Richardson & Airic Frye (Aliases)
Suspects in homicide/arson, considered armed & extremely dangerous]
(An Old-Fashioned Armed Robbery)
An hour after seeing our faces on the evening news, Gabe and I had made our way onto Interstate Five and were heading north towards… well, I didn’t exactly know where. As usual, Gabe was driving and seemed to have a destination in mind. He was obviously nervous, making me nervous in turn; Gabe liked to hide his emotions, and when he couldn’t, it usually meant bad news.
The black van was running rough, probably from spending the past year locked in a secluded garage. I was worried we wouldn’t make it out of the state, let alone to wherever we were going. Though I was smart enough not to say it, I was really hoping for Canada. The more I thought about it, the more impossible leaving the country seemed, as neither of us had valid identification or passports. But I could still dream.
The sun was sinking fast towards the west. Though I wasn’t sure how long into the night we would be traveling. We had less than two hours of daylight left, which may or may not have been something working to our advantage. I’d somehow managed to forget most of the details of our first attempt at fleeing, but now wished I’d paid more attention to our habits. Had I known, I would have at least taken some notes.
“Do we know where we’re going yet?” I asked quietly from the passenger’s seat. We were in the middle lane of the interstate, but cars were passing us on both sides. Gabe was choosing to drive the speed limit so as to avoid being pulled over for any reason.
He tightened his grip on the steering wheel as if the sound of my voice grated on his nerves, but I really didn’t care. Our “friendship” had fallen apart long before this new adventure, but as he had told me more than once before, we were stuck with each other.
“Seattle,” he answered monotonously.
“Did I stutter?” He glared at me momentarily, trying to keep his eyes on the road.
I bit my lip, choosing not to pick this battle, though it was hard for me to understand why exactly he was so upset with me. I knew he blamed the entire mess we were currently in on me, but we both made mistakes leading up to this moment. There had been so many mistakes made that keeping count of who was to blame for most of them had become kind of pointless.
“No, you did not,” I stated coldly, shifting in my seat and staring at the passing scenery through the window. To be honest, there really wasn’t a whole lot to look at.
Gabe rolled his eyes, both annoyed and remorseful. “Look, I’m sorry, but friendly car-chat isn’t going to make this situation any better. I need some time to myself. I need to think this through. I need to figure out what we’re going to do once we get to Washington.”
I turned back towards him, furrowing my brow, frustrated. “There seems to be a whole lot of ‘I’ in that response, and a giant lack of ‘we.’”
“So, you’re saying you can come up with a working plan for us? You know what we should be doing?” he asked.
I opened my mouth to respond, but words did not immediately come. Through everything, he had never admitted how little he thought of my opinion and ability to make decision, but here it was, out in the open. Of course, I’d known all along, but it felt a little different hearing the words come from his mouth, no matter how he’d said them. “I’m not saying I can come up with a plan, but we can come up with one together, Gabe. This isn’t ‘you against the world.’ We’re both a part of this, like it or not.”
Gabe, not speaking, shifted in his seat so as to better reach the pack of Virginia Slims in his right pocket. After nearly a minute of trying to squeeze the pack from inside his jeans, he got them out, sighing in disgust as he glared at the package in front of him. I’d seen the look a hundred times before and knew if Gabe wasn’t already lighting his cigarette, he was out.
“I’m out,” he confirmed, signaling the van into the right lane as we a passed a sign showing we could exit the interstate in two miles.
“What are you doing?” I asked, dumbfounded. We were on the run, less than fifty miles from the town we were fleeing, and Gabe wanted to stop off for more cigarettes. I knew he was addicted, but this was a whole new level of dependency.
“I’m out,” he repeated as if I hadn’t heard him the first time, signaling again as we veered onto the exit ramp, leaving I-5 behind us momentarily.
Not wanting to piss him off any more, I considered keeping my mouth shut, but decided better of it. No one had proclaimed him the leader of our dysfunctional duo. As far as I was concerned, as petty as it may have been, the decision should have been for both of us to make. “Do you think this is a good idea?” I asked.
Now off the interstate, we turned onto a side street of the dumpy little town we’d pulled off to. The road sign had read Food, Fuel: Next Exit, but hadn’t listed the name of the town, if it even had one. It seemed unlikely the police would be looking for us in this place, this soon, but Gabe had still made the decision to stop, likely out of spite, without consulting me.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” he asked, keeping his sentences short and accusing.
“We’ve barely made it out of Behler, and we’re on the news as criminals. The whole area is going to be crawling with police soon. We shouldn’t stop this soon.”
Gabe considered my concerns, or at least pretended to, and shrugged his shoulders. We’d pulled up in front of a gas station, Gabe killing the engine. “Do you want to ride all the way to Seattle with me if I’m out of cigarettes the whole time?”
I rolled my eyes, knowing in a way, he was right. Gabe without cigarettes was a version of the apocalypse I’d rather not have to witness. “Fine,” I said annoyed. “Run in, grab cigarettes, but then we’re on the road for the next seven hours. No stopping until we’re out of California, at least.”
Gabe opened the van door and walked around to my side, lightly tapping the door with his foot. I opened it, giving him a questioning glance. “What?”
“I’m tired, when I come back, you get to drive for a while.” He said it so nonchalantly, smiling because he knew he was still in charge.
I scoffed. “You’re kidding. You’re tired… and I just had a giant shard of glass stabbed into my leg by an explosion! Is this your way of proving you’re still the boss? We’re not equal partners because what you say goes?” I was really getting angry.
Gabe lowered his voice and moved closer to my door. “No, that’s not it at all. You’ll understand in a few minutes, but right now, I really need you to get out of the van, walk to the other side, and get back in the driver’s side.”
“No,” I stated flatly.
Gabe clenched his fists in anger and took a step away from me as I continued to sit in the passenger seat, not budging. “You’re acting like a toddler!” he grunted in a hushed, yet furious tone. He slammed his fist against the side of the van and took a deep breathe. “Do you not realize I’m trying to help us here?”
“Do you not realize you’re treating me like I have nothing to do with this?” I asked, surprising even myself at my own lack of discretion at how angry Gabe had become.
He bit his lower lip. “What do you want?” he asked.
“God, you really don’t listen to a word I say,” I said. “Keep me in the loop, Gabe! Tell me what’s going on instead of just barking orders! It’s really not that much to ask.”
“Fine,” Gabe said flatly. “We need money. We’re robbing this place.”
I could only imagine the look on my face when he said it. Though I knew Gabe was closer to insane than sane, even this was a bold step for him. Last year he had beaten one of his own drug clients nearly to death with a baseball bat before my eyes, but this was different. Last time, there were no witnesses. Now, the gas station was hustling with early evening commuters stopping on their way home from work.
He smiled at me, knowing how the news made me feel. “You wanted to know.”
“You’re crazy,” I said in disbelief. “There’s no way we’re robbing a convenience store this close to home. The police will be on us in minutes.”
I hadn’t noticed at first, but the two of us had begun walking towards the entrance, slowly, but surely, as we argued.
“We have how much money to our name? Eight thousand dollars at most?” he asked.
“Seventy-four hundred,” I responded, ashamed at the point he was using me to make.
“How far do you think that much will get us?”
I stopped, grabbing Gabe’s shoulder and spinning him towards me. “It’s enough to keep us from having to rob a gas station,” I said as a young mother and her six-year-old son entered the store a few feet away from us. “These places don’t keep cash here anyway. Everyone pays for gas with credit cards.”
Gabe pointed to the neon yellow sign hanging in the store’s front window without saying a word. The bulbs flashed off and on, advertising Money Orders Sold Here! Even I knew Money Orders were often paid for in cash and consisted of large dollar amount transactions. People sent hundreds of dollars all across the country and around the world all day long, meaning if we did rob this place, there was a good chance we’d run into a considerable amount of money, or at least enough money.
“No,” I said sternly.
“Are you going to wait in the van or not?” he asked me. As I shook my head ‘no,’ he pulled two mesh stockings from his pocket and held one in each hand, as if providing me with some sick decision. Choose to go down the rabbit hole… or choose to go down the rabbit hole wearing a slightly darker shade of stocking over my face. Each mesh stocking was a shitty decision I didn’t want to make. “You’re lucky I plan ahead. Put it on.”
I shook my head no again, desperately fighting back tears.
“Look, this is happening, Jamie, like it or not. Now you have two choices; you put the stocking on, come inside with me, and then we get the hell out of here, or you wait here and don’t even think about getting back in the van with me when it’s all said and done. How far do you think you’ll make it without me?”
I swallowed back my anger and snatched the mesh stocking from his left palm, quickly pulling it over my face and following him into the store. The bell above our heads rang, not drawing too much attention at first. A man in his mid-thirties, wearing a charcoal suit and looking far too stylish to be anything but passing through the town, noticed us and quietly gasped, “Oh, God.”
Slowly but surely, the other patrons took notice of us, each of them freezing amidst what they had originally been doing as they stared at us in fear. The man in the suit stood motionless next to a display of cigarette lighters. A teenage girl and boy stared blankly at us as the boy pulled a bag of candy out of his pocket, placing it back on the shelf from which he had stolen it. If he was going to die tonight, he wanted to do it with as clean a conscience as possible. A tired-looking woman with a gallon of milk in her hand silently crouched down behind the aisle she was in, still peeking out just to see what would happen next. The mother we had seen enter the store moments before took a step in front of her young son who wrapped his arms around her legs, not sure what was actually going on.
“Let’s go,” I urged quietly.
“It’s too late for that,” Gabe chuckled as he pulled a handgun from inside his jacket and pointed it at the ceiling. I hadn’t even known he had the gun on him. It was like he had planned this whole thing out before we had even left Oakley’s cabin.
I think even I was in shock as he marched towards the cash register and pointed the gun in the attendant’s face. “You know the drill…” he said, taking a second to look at the man’s nametag. “Eduardo.”
I surveyed the room as Eduardo immediately began piling cash from the register into a paper sack for Gabe to carry back to the van. I half-expected to see each and every person on their cell phone, calling 911, but no one was. No one wanted to be that one person risking their own life for the greater good. For all they knew, for all I knew, Gabe would murder them on the spot for calling the police.
Eduardo emptied the register and raised his hands as if to say he wasn’t going to try anything stupid. “That’s a-a-all of it,” he stuttered.
Gabe pushed the gun closer to his face so it rested against his forehead as tears welled up in Eduardo’s eyes. “I know you’re lying to me, Eddie. There’s more money, isn’t there?”
“There’s more money,” he answered, tears now spilling over his cheeks. “Please don’t hurt them. Please don’t hurt me.”
I watched, terrified.
“That’s the fun part,” Gabe explained. “You give me all the cash, and no one gets hurt. You forget any, and well, that’s how people get shot.”
His voice was cold, calculated, and disturbingly calm, as if this was something he did on a daily basis. I couldn’t tell through the stocking, but part of me knew he was smiling, probably even excited by the whole series of events.
Moments later, Eduardo had emptied the contents of the store’s safe into the brown paper bag and took a step back, still utterly terrified. He couldn’t have been older than Gabe and me.
“You did a very good job, Eddie,” Gabe said, “But I need one more thing from you. I need a few cartons of cigarettes. Virginia Slims.”
Eduardo eyed Gabe, confused, most likely by his choice in tobacco products, but wisely chose not to question the request. He turned cautiously towards the rows and rows of cigarettes behind him and grabbed as many packs of Virginia Slims as his hands would allow him, also dumping them into the paper bag.
“Thank you,” Gabe said. He scooped up the bag and began to walk towards the exit as I breathed a sigh of relief, thankful no one had gotten hurt in the process of our robbery. It seemed as if the whole thing was over more quickly than it had even begun. Our argument in the parking lot had taken longer.
Just as we were about to walk through the door, Gabe stopped one more time and spun back towards the crowd. “I almost forgot!” he shouted excitedly. “Each and every one of you is going to hand over your photo identification to my partner in crime here,” he said, gesturing towards me. “This way, we will have your name, address, and we will even know if you are an organ donor. This way, we will know who to hunt down and how to find you if you decide to talk to the police about what you witnessed this evening. And let me warn you, if we find out anyone talks to the police, there will be no organs to donate. Is this understood?” Gabe added.
Not sure what to do or say, half the room nodded their understanding and began pulling their ID cards from their wallets and purses. The rest followed suit as I slowly began walking around the room, taking the cards from their hands, stacking them into a nice pile in my hand, and sliding them into my jeans pocket. I had tried not to move upon entering the store, hoping no one would notice my limp, but that attempt had now failed miserably.
As we walked through the parking lot and re-entered the van, Gabe patted me on the back and told me how I had done a good job. He thought the way I just stood there quietly was extremely intimidating. He then asked me to pull the ID cards from my pocket so we could look at the names of the people we had just held hostage for ten minutes.
I slid them from my pocket and stared down at them silently, contemplating what we’d just done, and what I had just been a part of. We were back on the interstate less than a minute later.
“Well, read them.” Gabe urged with a laugh. A cigarette hung from his mouth and smoke moved softly through the cab of the van towards the cracked window, out of which it was quickly sucked.
I hesitated, wondering if he was serious. After seeing the excitement and joy on his face, I started at the top of the stack, saying “Boyd Fletcher, thirty-four-years-old.” He was the man who had seen us first as we entered the gas station. “Jessica Morrison, twenty-seven-years-old.” She was the woman with the gallon of milk who hid behind the aisle. “Bethany Burts, sixteen-years-old. August Sennett, seventeen-years-old.” Obviously, the two teenagers in the store. “Eduardo Muniz, nineteen-years-old. And Julia Burke, twenty-nine-years-old. Obviously her son didn’t have an ID to take.”
Gabe nodded his head in approval. “Good, now hand them over,” he said, holding out his free hand.
“Why? What are you going to do with them?” I asked, almost scared.
Gabe snatched the cards from my hand before I could react and glared at me as he tossed them out the window. The sun had almost completely set, so I couldn’t tell where they landed, but part of me worried someone would find them and in turn, find us. “You didn’t think I’d really hurt those people, did you?”
I didn’t answer.
Gabe’s face turned cold as he realized I had no idea what he was capable of or what his limits were. “Jamie, I’m not a killer.”
“You’ve killed before,” I said, not taking my eyes off the windshield. He clenched his teeth and stared at me, hurt. “That was different. I didn’t have a choice. If you don’t recall, we were in a life or death situation, and I did what I had to do. I’d never kill anyone unless not killing them would get me --or you-- killed.”
I turned in my seat and rested my head against the window, knowing I wouldn’t fall asleep, but still hoping to at least doze off for a few minutes. Shortly before closing my eyes, I saw the sadness in Gabe’s eyes as he glanced down at me. He quickly looked back at the road, yet no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t force myself to feel bad for him anymore.
“Gabe?” I asked, not moving from my resting spot.
“When we get out of California, I think it’s a good idea for us to split up.”
He paused for a moment. I knew this would be the moment he either decided to show anger or sadness, but all he said was, in a somewhat bothered tone, “What?”
“We can split the money. You can keep the van; I’ll find another way around. I think we should go our separate ways tomorrow,” I said.
For the first time ever, Gabe didn’t say a word.
(Matters of the Heart)
We rode in silence for another couple hours; me pretending to be asleep the majority of the time, though every now and then, I would pretend to wake up, checking out Gabe’s facial expression, a never-changing mold of stone-cold determination and drive. Never once did I see him take his eyes off the road, and never once did he try to start a conversation with me.
Part of me, even if only a very small part, expected him to attempt to tell me why we should stick together and how I’d likely get myself caught or killed if we split apart. But he didn’t. The only time his mouth even opened was when he was smoking, something I’d noticed he had barely done since leaving the convenience store.
As we continued on, Gabe’s driving became more erratic and his eyes began to grow heavy. I could tell he was exhausted, but wasn’t sure how to point it out to him. On one hand, I thought he would pull over when he realized he was tired, or maybe even ask me to drive, but on the other, I knew he wouldn’t.
“It’s getting late,” I said, not necessarily succeeding at making conversation, but pointing out a fact. We’d been on the road for hours, Gabe driving the entire time. There was no way he wasn’t about to fall asleep at the wheel.
He didn’t speak or acknowledge my words, but kept pushing forward, his eyes on the road.
I tried again. “Gabe, maybe we should just pull off the interstate for the night. I’m tired. You’re tired. Let’s just stop and start back up at sunrise.”
He reacted briefly, glaring at me out of the corner of one of his eyes. Moments later, in response, he pushed his foot harder on the gas pedal, causing the van to lurch forward, moaning under the strain he was putting on it. We were pushing ninety miles per hour, and the van was not impressed.
“What are you doing?” I asked, more confused than anything, tiredness apparent in my voice.
“I’m getting you to the California-Oregon border,” Gabe stated coldly.
I opened my mouth to respond, but stopped. If I spoke now, my words would be angry, and I didn’t want to start another argument. I figured with Gabe rushing me to the border, if I tried to contradict him, he might just pull over and kick me out of the van in the middle of nowhere.
I rolled my eyes out of habit. “Gabe, it’s late. We’re at least an hour from Oregon, so let’s just pull off and sleep for the night. We’ll get there early in the morning and you can be done with me, alright?” I pleaded.
“Done with you?” he scoffed.
I paused momentarily. “Yeah?” It was more a question than a statement.
“You did this, not me.”
“I know,” I agreed solemnly.
“So don’t make it sound like this whole thing is my idea. You want to split up when we get out of California, so I’m getting you there as fast as fucking possible. You can’t stand to be around me anymore, so I’m putting this partnership out of its misery… for you.”
He immediately pulled a cigarette from his pack and lit it while holding the steering wheel with his knees. The van swerved wildly for a moment, but it wasn’t as if anyone else was on the road with us. No one was around to call the police to report an impaired driver.
Anger began to build inside me, but I tried my hardest to keep it in its place.
“That’s not how it is, Gabe. I’m just trying to think of a solution that will be good for both of us. We’re not working well together. We’re getting on each other’s nerves. We hardly even speak unless we’re fighting… Things just aren’t the same anymore.”
Gabe took a hit from his cigarette and blew the smoke through the cracked driver’s side window. “That’s a pathetic excuse. You can’t handle it anymore, so you’re bailing.”
“That’s not it!” I urged, though it kind of was.
Before I knew it, I was slamming forward, making contact with the dashboard and slamming back again into my seat, crying out in shock and pain. Fiery pain shot through my leg as it slammed against the seat, and for just a second, I thought we’d had an accident. As the shock wore off, however, I saw Gabe had slammed on the brakes, and the van was now sitting motionless in the middle of the interstate.
“What are you doing?” I yelled, rolling up my pant leg and checking my bandages to make sure they hadn’t ripped or started to seep blood.
“You’re a fucking liar!” Gabe accused, his voice cracking as he did.
I threw my hands up in defeat and reached to open my door. It was a bold move, but at this point, I had had enough. I had better chances of surviving walking through the middle of nowhere than being in a vehicle with an emotional, unstable Gabe. I jumped out of the van, winced again as pain shot through my leg, slammed the door shut, and began walking north on the road, flipping Gabe off as I passed through the beam produced by the van’s headlights.
Gabe threw open his door and leapt out of the van, running as he hit the ground and catching up with me quickly. He spun me around, nearly knocking me off my feet.
“Don’t walk away from me!” he screamed. His voice was dramatic and angry, but there was something else there, too. It was almost as if he was begging me not to go.
The look on my face had to have been priceless as he stood there, holding me by my shoulders, near tears. I’d seen him angry. I’d seen him upset. But I’d never seen him like this. I was equal parts intrigued and terrified about what could happen next.
I planted my palms on his chest and pushed him away, more aggressively than intended in my mind. “Get your hands off me,” I demanded, turning to walk away again.
“Where do you think you’re going to go?” he shouted as I continued my trek away from him.
I glanced over my shoulder. “Honestly, I don’t even care right now.”
There was a brief moment of silence as I walked, kicking up dust on the side of the road and passing through the thick clouds. I wasn’t walking fast, but had still put a good fifty feet between myself and Gabe and the van. As far as I was concerned, there was no turning back now. I had planned to split up from Gabe once we were into Oregon, now the situation had changed, and I was on my own a little ahead of schedule; alone and clueless about where I’d go next, but free from my tyrant.
“You’re a coward!” Gabe yelled, making an obvious last-ditch effort to get a reaction out of me.
I kept walking, hoping the distance between us would grow so large I wouldn’t be able to hear Gabe yelling at me. The farther I got from him, the more hopeless and pathetic his shouts sounded. But then—
“This is all your fault! Airic is dead because of you!”
I stopped on the spot, turning and sprinting back towards Gabe and the van. Dust filled my mouth and covered my face, getting stuck in my hair as I made it back just as Gabe was finishing calling me a “pathetic, whining murderer.” The pain in my leg was searing, but I couldn’t force myself to care.
I hit him hard, knocking him first onto the hood of the van and then onto the ground, sending up another cloud of dust as he slammed onto his back, coughing and choking on his own surprise. Before he could even react, I was on top of him, holding him down with my weight and punching him repeatedly. I don’t know exactly what I was saying as I beat him, but my words came with such ferocity Gabe’s face was soon streaked with my saliva as it flew out of my mouth with angry force.
“IT WAS YOU! IT WAS YOU!” I screamed repeatedly as my fists made contact with his cheeks, nose, and chest. My next punch knocked Gabe’s head sideways and a small trail of blood erupted from his mouth and onto the dirty ground.
“Tell me!” he shouted through garbled speech. In the moment of excitement, his accent began to grow thicker, as if on a normal day he focused on Americanizing himself, but in the heat of the moment, let his Puerto Rican lineage come through in his speech. “Tell me how you feel!”
I hit him again, not sure if the noise he made was a bloody gargle or some kind of sick and twisted laughter. “Airic is dead because of you! My life is ruined because of you! We could have stayed! We could have told the truth and been able to stay in Hastings! You treat me like shit! Ford is dead because of you! It’s ALL YOU!”
He held his hands up, trying to shield my blows, but it was useless. I had already bloodied his nose and lip before he regained some composure and realized he was going to have to fight back. As I continued pummeling his face and chest with clenched fists, a stomach-churning pain rang through my body as Gabe’s knee connected with my groin.
I rolled off of him and onto my back, wrapping my arms around my stomach and trying not to vomit. As the nausea began to fade slowly, I rolled onto my stomach and began to crawl towards the edge of the road, putting at least a little distance between us, hoping he would have trouble reaching me. I knew once he did, my life would likely be over. Beating the shit out Gabe had felt good for the moment, but the payback would be torturous.
Gabe pulled himself to his feet, using the van door as a crutch, and began to limp his way towards me. I let out a small whimper and continued crawling, making my way off the road and into the small ditch running next to it.
Seconds later, Gabe was towering over me, staring down like a rabid wolf about to pounce on its meal. I could practically see the saliva dripping from Gabe’s lips, though in reality, it was probably blood, a fact that made the situation even more terrifying. “I’m sorry,” I moaned. “I-- I-- I…”
“You’re not sorry,” Gabe stated, holding his hand out towards me. I stared blankly at him, not sure what to make of his gesture. “Take my hand.”
Cautiously, I did as told, wrapping my hand around his as he lifted me out of the ditch and helped me steady myself on my feet. His face was smeared with his own blood and his bottom lip was split almost in two, yet he still managed to smile at me, blood streaked across his teeth as well. Looking down at myself, I realized I was equally haggard, dirt and ditch water staining my clothes. I was also drenched with sweat. I’d also bloodied my fist in my attempt at breaking Gabe’s face.
Neither of us spoke for close to a minute, but instead just stood in the light cast from the van’s headlights. Not a single car had passed since we stopped in the middle of the road. I chose to speak first, stuttering as I did. “I-- I’ll go,” I stated, shaking.
Gabe shook his head. “Get in the van,” he commanded in monotone.
“But, I just—“
“Get in the van.”
I did as told, not sure whether or not I should be expecting my own execution soon, or if this had been our way of patching things up. As I thought about it, it became more obvious Gabe had not fought back until I’d lost control, and even then, he held back. He wanted me to release my frustrations on him. Maybe he knew he deserved it.
I sat down in the passenger seat and waited for Gabe to put the van into gear and begin driving again, but he didn’t. He sat silently, taking a moment to use his t-shirt as a rag and wiped the blood from his face, though his lip was still bleeding pretty badly.
“My lip might need stitches. Do lips get stitches?” he asked, oddly amused at his own disheveled appearance.
I tried not to laugh, but failed. “I don’t know, but I’m not sewing you shut this time,” I added.
“Did it feel good?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I stuck with honesty, saying, “Yes, it felt great.”
“Are we good? Are we okay?”
I shook my head. “Probably not,” I said. “But it’s a start.”
That was enough for Gabe, as he re-started the van, put it into drive, and pressed down on the gas pedal to get us moving again. We were soon back up to a normal speed, and I cracked my window to let some fresh air flow in. As it turned out, beating the crap out of each other made both of us smell like crap ourselves. I gathered a piece of my t-shirt and brought it to my nose, recoiling quickly and fighting the urge to throw up.
We were only back on the road fifteen minutes before I noticed Gabe signaling and exiting the interstate. I’d begun dozing off, and by the time I fully woke up, we’d passed the sign saying where we were exiting. At this point, I could assume Gabe had grown tired and wanted to sleep for a few hours, but I couldn’t be sure. For all I knew, he’d gotten angry with me again and was pulling off the interstate so I could leave again. Or maybe he just wanted to fight some more.
“What’s happening?” I asked groggily, wiping a chunk of dirt-caked hair out of my face and cringing at the residue left on my hand.
We came to a rest at a stop sign just off the interstate. The sign to our right let me know we were at the intersection of Historical U.S. Highway 99, an oddly familiar road, but I still had no clue which town we were in.
“We’re stopping for the rest of the night,” Gabe said matter-of-factly.
“Where are we though?” I asked.
Gabe turned right onto the road, heading towards the town. Since he hadn’t answered my question, I decided to check street signs and landmarks to see if anything looked familiar. By the looks of things, we were in a pretty small town, possibly one we’d seen on our way to Behler at some point. But truth be told, we’d passed through hundreds of small towns, and after a while, they all begin to blur together.
We turned right onto Alamo Avenue and continued driving, crossing Park Street and turning onto Main Street. All the street names were familiar, as if I’d visited this place long ago; I just couldn’t figure it out.
“Gabe, some information, please?”
Gabe laughed. “How soon they forget,” he said, adding, “I thought you’d recognize this place as soon as we pulled off. Where did we spend the majority of our time on our way out here? Where did we live for almost two months?”
My stomached dropped as we turned onto Gilman Avenue and I suddenly realized we were in Weed, California.
“No,” I stated.
“Yes,” Gabe smiled. “We need a place to crash, and you know this is our best bet. Fuchsia will set us up nice for the night, and who knows, you might even get some action.”
Before I could retaliate with more than a thousand reasons why we shouldn’t be in the ironically named town of Weed, the van pulled to a stop in front of a small, yellow house that seemed to glow in the moonlight. The shutters were painted dark blue, but they looked black at this time of night. The front yard held no decorations other than a wooden sign reading Madame Serena: World Renown Psychic. The yard was, at least, well maintained.
“Why are we here?” I asked, biting my lip.
Gabe didn’t speak. He knew how uncomfortable this was for me, but continued to smile anyway. He must have wiped his bloody teeth with his t-shirt, because they too seemed to glow in the moonlight.
As we exited the van and walked towards the front door of the house, I felt fear growing inside my stomach. I caught myself attempting to wipe grime from my clothes and face before we got to the door. Gabe glanced at me and said, laughing, “You look fine.”
I gave him a not-so-playful shove as we stepped onto the porch of the house.
“It’s late,” I pleaded. “She either isn’t home or won’t answer.”
Gabe rang the doorbell anyway.
After five seconds of waiting, I turned back towards the van, stopped only by Gabe who grabbed my shoulder, spinning me back towards the door.
“She’s not home,” I argued.
Gabe rang the bell again and a light to our left switched on, sending a soft glow cascading onto the front lawn. I saw two fingers separating a section of the mini-blinds in the window and a scrutinizing eye trying to make out who we were, waiting outside her house. I knew it was Fuchsia.
I took a step behind Gabe as the sound of the front door unlocking could be heard. The door swung open only about three inches and a young, tired face pushed itself against the opening, asking, “Can I help you?”
“Fuchsia, it’s Gabe… and Jamie. Can we—“ Gabe was cut off by the door slamming the rest of the way open. In the doorway stood a girl, about my age, maybe a year or two older (I never asked). Her blonde and blue hair was pulled into a messy bun and she wore a revealing nightie that really didn’t bother to cover up much of anything. She was still wearing makeup, meaning she hadn’t been asleep for long, and her smile outshined Gabe’s by a hundred watts.
“Gabriel Malvado and Jameson Brewer,” she chuckled. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”
She stepped aside as Gabe welcomed himself into her house. The living room was decorated just the way it had been a year ago, with mismatched furniture and a broken television.
“Sorry, Fuchsia,” Gabe began. “We were on the road and didn’t realize how late it was when we pulled off the interstate. Do you think we could crash here the rest of the night and hit the road again in the morning?”
She smiled and ruffled Gabe’s hair. “Of course you can!” She then made her way to me as I stepped into the house and awkwardly closed the door, sealing us inside with her. “How are you, Jamie?” she asked me, looking me up and down and recoiling slightly at my ghastly appearance.
“I’m good,” I said monotonously. “I see your dad still takes care of the lawn.”
She laughed heartily as she led us into the kitchen, flipping the light switch and causing two of the three lights in the room to spring to life. I squinted at the brightness, as Gabe and I had been riding in the dark for hours.
Fuchsia was a girl Gabe and I had met when first traveling through California. Spending our cash wisely and trying not to leave a paper trail, we’d found ourselves squatting in an abandoned motel on the outskirts of town. This arrangement worked out just fine until Fuchsia and three of her closest friends decided to randomly crash in the same room as us one night.
We had been there to sleep and lay low, while they had come there to hide out from the cops, one of whom happened to be Fuchsia’s father, and do drugs.
We decided to share the space, as we had nowhere else to go, and Fuchsia claimed they couldn’t get high at her house, because her father, the sheriff, was also her landlord. I didn’t ask, but apparently the rest of her friends were either homeless or living with her.
The night grew increasingly uncomfortable as Fuchsia and the others started out smoking weed, and quickly moved on to other, more life-altering substances. Long story short, Fuchsia became angry as her “friends” attempted to pressure her into trying harder drugs when all she really wanted to do was smoke pot. Gabe and I intervened, driving Fuchsia home while the others stayed behind to snort coke, smoke crack, and according to the newspapers the next morning, attempt to build a meth lab that would burn down two-thirds of the abandoned motel.
Out of gratitude (and possibly the fact that all her friends were now either in jail or the burn unit), Fuchsia offered to let us stay with her for a few days, until we decided to hit the road again. Of course, a few days turned into a few weeks turned into a few months. And of course, things between Fuchsia and I grew more serious over time, or as serious as any relationship between a drug-dealer on the run and pot-head woman who works as a “psychic” out of her house can be.
She got clingy, and I got bored. When Gabe and I left Weed behind, I promised to write, call, and let her know where we were staying, something I failed to do, and never thought would have any consequences until this very minute.
Gabe stripped off his shirt, wadding it into a ball and holding it between his hands. “Shower?” he asked.
“It’s right where you left it,” Fuchsia said, motioning with her head towards the hallway. “Leave some hot water for Jamie; he reeks too.”
Gabe sprinted down the hallway, leaving Fuchsia and I alone.
“You missed the fire,” Fuchsia said.
I was a little confused. “What are you talking about?”
“The wildfire. Right after you left. It wasn’t more than two weeks after you were gone, and then so was half the town. People called it the Bole Fire,” she said, not meeting my gaze. “Part of me wondered if you had something to do with it.”
“I didn’t,” I said, but in my mind I wondered if the Bole Fire ripping through Weed and the explosion that took out part of a city block in Behler were proof that destruction followed me no matter where I ended up. At some point, the lives of all those I touched would get burned.
“You didn’t call or write,” she said, wasting no time in entering the long-overdue, awkward conversation.
“I didn’t,” I admitted.
“Can we talk about it?”
I hesitated. I knew we’d have to, even if Gabe and I were only staying for the night. But the truth was I didn’t want to. Fuchsia was flawed, this I knew, but she really wasn’t a bad girl. She was loyal, caring, compassionate, and a great kisser. But deep down, I couldn’t find myself attracted to her because I’d only really been attracted to one girl my entire life, and that attraction ended up ruining Fuchsia for me.
“Can we talk about it in the morning?” I asked.
Fuchsia looked forlorn, but nodded. “I’ll get up early, make us some breakfast. I don’t have any readings until after noon.” Living in an extremely small town aside, “Madame Serena’s” psychic business seemed pretty popular.
“You should get back to sleep. I’ll wait for Gabe to finish showering, take one myself, and then I’ll sleep on the couch,” I said, leaning forward against my better judgment and kissing her on the forehead.
She smiled and turned to walk down the hallway to her bedroom. Without facing me, she said, “Let Gabe take the couch; you can stay in my room if you want.”
Moments later, Gabe exited the bathroom wrapped in a towel. He was an exceptionally fast shower-taker. Combing his wet hair back, he glanced in my direction and whispered, “How’d it go?”
I ignored him, stepping into the bathroom and locking the door. I half-expected Gabe to try to enter in an attempt to badger me about the conversation that had just transpired between Fuchsia and I, but he didn’t.
As I turned on the shower, letting the water heat up, I stripped off my muddy, bloody clothes and stared at myself in the mirror, wondering what exactly had happened to me and what my life had become.
(Back to the Middle)
Fuchsia and I slept together that night, something I realized, in retrospect, was probably a mistake. We just slept though; nothing else happened.
Despite the parade of thoughts running through my mind, I had fallen asleep rather quickly, cuddled against Fuchsia, Gabe audibly snoring on the couch. It had actually been my intent to stay awake, at least for a little while, planning out what I would say to her in the morning as we ate eggs and toast. However, as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out like a light. The events from earlier in the day must have left me understandably exhausted.
The sleep was not long-lived though.
I awoke suddenly, not sure what had stirred me, but startled nonetheless. I rolled over, realizing Fuchsia was still out cold, and checked the alarm clock resting on the floor next to the mattress we shared. There was no bed, just a mattress. Fuchsia wasn’t one for lavish furniture. The clock read 5:48 AM and I groaned, hoping to fall back to sleep easily.
And then I heard it again; a noise I couldn’t make out entirely, but still foreign. It didn’t belong. Something wasn’t right.
I threw the sheet off myself and stood from the mattress, trying to force my eyes to adjust to the darkness of the room. In the time since Gabe and I had been on the run, I had developed the habit of sleeping fully clothed, just in case we had to make a quick getaway. Gabe called it being paranoid, while I called it not having to make a run for it in my underwear.
I crept to Fuchsia’s bedroom door, being careful not to wake her, and slowly opened it in hopes it wouldn’t creak. Though I had no idea what was actually going on or why I was being so quiet, the last thing I wanted was to make myself known to possible intruders. Once out of the bedroom, I tiptoed down the hallway towards the living room where Gabe still snored, oblivious to anything going on around him.
I stood still in the middle of the room, moonlight casting a white glow over everything around me, and listened. A car backfired down the street, but other than that, I stood alone in nearly complete silence. Shaking my head, I found myself embarrassed at how paranoid I truly had become. It would have been one thing had I felt uncomfortable in Fuchsia’s house, but this had been a nightly occurrence for months. I would sleep a few hours, wake up, check the apartment and surf shop to make sure all the doors were locked and secure, and then go back to bed, not sleeping a wink until I repeated the same routine the next night. I’d been averaging three or four hours each night, and that number had been quickly shrinking.
I’d known for months the moment everything would fall apart had been coming, no matter how hard I’d try to deny it and pretend like everything was fine. And though I couldn’t have known Gabe’s brother would show up in California and quite literally blow our world to smithereens, I’d known something was coming, and I’d known there was absolutely nothing I could have done to stop it from happening.
Gabe stirred on the couch next to me, moaning gently and sitting up. He rubbed his eyes and leaned forward, trying to make out who I was in the moonlight.
“What the hell are you doing?” he asked groggily.
I paused and turned towards him. “I couldn’t sleep. I guess I thought I heard a noise, but it was probably just you snoring,” I answered with a smirk.
“I don’t snore,” Gabe said, and I wondered if he actually believed this statement or if he was just trying to be funny. After a short pause and the realization I wasn’t going to joke back with him, Gabe motioned towards the seat on the couch next to him. “Something’s up. Sit down.”
I shook my head. “I’m fine. Go back to sleep,” I said.
As I turned to walk back towards Fuchsia’s room, I was surprised to see Gabe standing from the couch and following me. At first, I tried to ignore him, but was left unable as he grabbed me by the shoulder and stopped me. I was surprised by how firm his grip was. I didn’t turn back to face him as he spoke. “Talk to me,” he said, somewhat frustrated.
Standing silently, I wasn’t even sure what my problem was to begin with. I’d only started walking around the house because I was paranoid and thought I’d heard a noise. Was I having a minor freak-out concerning what my life had become? Yes, I was, but I was ninety-nine percent certain talking to Gabe about it would only make the situation worse, not better.
Letting out a sigh, I decided to humor Gabe. “There’s—“ I began, turning back to face him. “—a man with a gun behind you.”
Standing directly behind Gabe with a gun drawn and pointed at the back of his head was a tall, shadowed figure I could barely make out in the moonlight. For a brief second I thought it could have been my overactive imagination playing tricks on me, but as the man smiled, revealing two rows of perfectly straight, white teeth within his sinister grin, I knew we were, once again, in real danger.
Gabe let go of my shoulder and quickly glanced over his, rolling his eyes as if to say, ‘You have got to be fucking kidding me,’ as his eyes once again met mine.
“Turn around slowly,” the shadow man instructed, not lowering his gun. He added a firm, “And raise your hands above your head.”
Both of us did as instructed, bringing our hands into the air. As Gabe spun around, faster than I was comfortable with, he said, “Do we even need to bother asking why you’re here?”
The man with the gun snarled. For someone with such perfect teeth, his face looked incredibly haggard, as if he’d lost a few too many fist fights in his life. And if he’d won, I’d hate to have seen the other guys’ faces. He had a shaved head and as the moonlight hit him just right, I realized several long, jagged scars running across his scalp and down his face. Maybe the lost fights had actually been with rabid wolverines instead. His suit, however, looked nicer than anything I’d ever owned, confirming my thoughts he was somehow in cahoots with Gabe’s brother and Harrison.
In a moment of pure confusion, two other suit-wearing and gun-wielding men entered the room from the kitchen and the hallway. How long had they been in the house without us knowing? How many more of them were there? I cringed yet again as one of them turned on the living room light, revealing herself to be a woman and not a man, though the mistake was easy to make. Her hair was pulled into a tight ponytail, and her muscular build mixed with the suit she was wearing made her easily mistakable for the opposite gender.
‘This is how we die,’ I thought as the three of them closed in around us, as if we actually had somewhere to run to. The room was small, and the only doors to the house were the front door, blocked by one gunman, and the kitchen, blocked by the woman who had turned on the light. Gabe and I weren’t going anywhere, and would likely receive a bullet in the back of the head if we tried.
I suddenly found myself concerned for Fuchsia. She was fast asleep on the mattress in her room and had no idea what was going on. If she heard a noise, or even decided to get out of bed for a drink of water for that matter, she would walk into this situation and likely be shot.
“Should we take this outside?” I found myself asking, hoping we could leave the house before anything bad happened inside it.
The second gunman, not the woman and not the one with the scars on his head, chuckled at me. His gun was still raised at us when he replied with, “You’ve proven to be too much of a flight risk to step outside. We’re going to handle this right here, and right now.”
Gabe’s eyes widened a little as if he realized the code they were speaking in meant our immediate deaths. “Before we make any rash decisions, gentlemen… and lady, I want to remind you that Garrett Malvado is my brother,” he said in a hushed tone.
“Congratulations,” the woman laughed, obviously not caring at all who his brother was. We’d caused Garrett and Harrison enough trouble, and it likely wouldn’t have mattered if one of us was related to the Pope. We were about to die.
I glanced up and saw Fuchsia peeking through the doorframe of her bedroom, careful not to be noticed by the others in the room with us. Though I was confident they knew she was in the house, maybe if they thought she was asleep, they would leave without hurting her. It was wishful thinking, but I had to tell myself something to keep from passing out right then and there.
I subtly leaned my head to the right, as if to tell her to go back into the room and act like she wasn’t there. I wasn’t sure at first if she understood, but a moment later she was gone from sight, and I was feeling at least a little relieved.
Now that she was gone, I focused my gaze on the gunman closest to the door. “Just get it over with,” I said coldly.
All three of them laughed in unison. “As much as we would love to do that,” he answered, “We have been given strict orders to return you to Harrison alive. I’m guessing he wants to torture and kill you himself for all the trouble you’ve put him through in the last year.”
I tried to keep my eyes from widening at the thought of being tortured by a drug lord as the woman slowly walked across the room, passing me, and bringing her face in very close to Gabe’s. He stood in only his boxers.
She brought her hand to his face and stroked it gently. “I’ve heard Harrison can make dying a very, very slow process,” she said with a grin.
“I’ve heard this record before,” Gabe said angrily.
The woman pulled her face back, revealing a solemn expression, and before I could even react, raised her gun into the air and slammed the butt of it down onto Gabe’s head. His eyes twitched in an almost cartoon fashion, less than a second before he grunted and fell to the floor. I spun towards him, leaning forward in an attempt to make sure he was okay, but a solid arm wrapped itself around my chest, holding me back.
“You said Harrison wanted us alive!” I squealed, worried Gabe was already dead. He moaned weakly from the floor and rolled onto his back, clutching at his head.
“Alive, yes,” the woman stated. “In good health, not so much.” She quickly brought her foot back and connected it with Gabe’s head, sending him rolling onto his stomach yet again. This time, he made no sound and did not attempt to turn himself back over. He was out cold.
I waited nervously, not making a move or a sound. The three henchmen seemed almost confused by this, not sure what to do in the event I didn’t put up a fight. If I tried to defend myself, plead for mercy, or even tried to make an escape, the rules became simple for them; they were to knock me out and keep me from possibly messing up their master plan. But I stood, solemn, defeated, and only terrified on the inside. Causing confusion or not, I wasn’t about to do anything to put myself, Gabe, or Fuchsia in any more danger than we already were. Not that I had any idea what I would have done to save myself anyway.
The man with the scarred face, possibly the leader of the pack, spoke up, gesturing towards Gabe. “Load Malvado into the truck.”
At his command, the third man in a suit walked forward, bent down, and grabbed Gabe by the wrist of one arm and the ankle of a leg. He lifted Gabe up and heaved him over his shoulders, seemingly with ease. Moments later, the two were gone, vanished out the front door, into the night.
I remained silent.
“I’ll escort Brewer out, and you get the girl,” Scarface ordered.
My muscles clenched and my mouth opened before I even realized completely what was happening. “The girl?”
The female goon smirked at my attempt of playing dumb. “You know, the one you were all cuddled up with a little while ago,” she said, turning towards the bedroom. She walked with purpose into the room as I waited for any sounds or signs of a struggle, but moments later returned with her hand around Fuchsia’s wrist. Her face showed defeat, but she hadn’t put up a fight, a fact I couldn’t label as good or bad at the time.
“Look,” I began. “Just take Gabe and me; leave her out of this. She doesn’t even know what’s going on.”
Scarface shook his head, annoyed. “I don’t think so, kid. Now let’s go. Walk slowly to the door, exit the house, and find your way to the truck parked out front. If you give us any trouble, I’ll shoot you in the kneecap and then shoot her in the head.” He gestured towards Fuchsia with his gun, saying his words so nonchalantly, it was as if he was explaining a very basic and simple process not involving guns, kidnapping, and possible murder.
“She doesn’t have anything to do with this,” I urged, stepping forward. I raised my hands to show I meant no harm, but Scarface raised his eyebrows questioningly. Though his face itself showed no true emotion, his eyebrows spoke volumes to me. He, in some way, saw me as a threat, and was ready to kill Fuchsia in an instant.
With sudden death looming, I began weighing any and all options, though they were few. I could make a break for it, but then what? Gabe was already being loaded into a truck out front, and the second I tried to run, Fuchsia was as good as dead. Even in the off chance I made it outside the house, the third thug would likely be waiting outside. Harrison had obviously ordered Gabe and I brought to him alive, but I also believed the thugs had been allowed the use of any means of torture to get us to our destination. I was no expert, but it seemed as if for every way of killing us, there were at least fifty more to make us suffer, but keep us alive.
The other options basically boiled down to fight and likely get my ass kicked, or comply with Scarface’s demands. I chose the least painful of the two.
“Alright, I’m going,” I said.
Both Scarface and the woman smirked at my choice, though neither of them seemed particularly happy or sad about it. I wouldn’t have been surprised had they wanted me to try to fight, just to have a reason to inflict some pain for the hell of it. Nevertheless, a couple of minutes later, I was loaded into the large, black Yukon parked on the curb, wondering how on Earth these mobsters drove around in such noticeable cars they claimed were so inconspicuous. Although, in their defense, never once before my life turned to shit did I see a big, black van, Escalade, Yukon, or any other vehicle and say to myself, ‘Hey, I bet gangsters are driving that!’ However, since that time, I had thought that about pretty much every car I’d seen.
Once all of us were in the car and headed out of town, my mind began to race with scenarios of what would happen once we met with Harrison in person, if we even would. All along, he had seemed like the type of drug lord nobody ever met; after all, Gabe and I had never dealt with him personally, because he had always sent his employees, or thugs, or whatever, to do dealings with us. Maybe since he had gone through so much trouble to abduct us, we might get to actually see the man’s face for once.
“Where are we going?” Fuchsia asked in an annoyed voice. I worried at first if Scarface and the others might not be too happy about her tone, but they only smiled and answered her question.
“We’re going to the airport,” Scarface stated flatly, not bothering to shift his gaze away from my face. I averted my eyes to the window in order to not stare directly into his. It was still fairly dark outside, though the sun was beginning to rise over the mountains to the east.
Fuchsia opened her mouth to speak again, but seemingly couldn’t think of words. She rolled her eyes and placed her head on my shoulder, staying that way for the duration of the trip, though it only lasted about fifteen minutes.
Before I knew it, the Yukon was pulling into the Weed Airport, a small, one-runway facility with only a few hangars and planes to be seen. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t even a control tower, meaning the flights in and out of this place had to be minimal.
“This is our stop,” the female thug said, unbuckling her seatbelt and opening the passenger door. A second later, she was opening the back door of the Yukon, motioning for us to exit the vehicle.
As I stepped out, I realized we were parked directly on the runway, only about five hundred feet away from a small, personal jet, poised for takeoff. “You’ll be boarding Harrison’s jet, en route to Chicago. Try anything funny, and it’s a bullet in your ass.” She motioned for the three of us walk towards the jet as if this was all normal. I had only flown a couple of times in my life, but never before had I boarded a plane directly from the runway. As I looked around, there was not another person to be seen outside of our group. No baggage people, no air traffic controllers, no one.
I paused momentarily before stepping onto the small, metal staircase leading into the jet, but Gabe nudged me from behind and simply muttered, “Just go.” I couldn’t help but notice how small and defeated his voice sounded. I think it was at that moment I realized we likely only had a few hours to live.
I took a deep breath and boarded the jet, looking around to survey my surroundings. Everything seemed as normal as could be expected, aside from the fact I had never been inside a private jet, and was not expecting the cramped row-seating of a regular plane to be replaced by leather couches. At the rear of the jet, a small kitchen had been erected, complete with a full-size fridge, a dishwasher, and marble countertops. Near the cockpit, I could see individual reclining chairs, made from the same leather as the couches. In the furthest corner was a bar, stocked with any and every type of alcohol imaginable.
As Fuchsia and I took in our surroundings, Gabe threw himself onto one of the leather couches, putting his bare feet up onto the oak coffee table that had been bolted to the floor to keep it from tipping over mid-flight. He folded his hands behind his head, revealing several dark, painful-looking bruises on his torso where the woman had kicked him. He was good at hiding his pain though, never once wincing.
Scarface closed the doorway onto the jet, leaving the other two thugs outside, and casually walked into the kitchen, opening the fridge and pulling out a pitcher of water. “Beverage?” he asked, turning to one of the cabinets and removing several expensive-looking glasses.
“I’m good,” I said, shock evident in my voice.
Fuchsia simply shook her head, implying no.
Gabe did nothing.
Scarface shrugged his shoulders, pouring himself a glass of water and placing the other cups back into the cupboard. “Suit yourself, but I suggest you have a seat. We’ll be taking off soon, and we’re in for a long flight, about six hours, to be as exact as possible.”
‘Great,’ I thought. ‘We’re going to be trapped with this lunatic for six hours, waiting to die.’
Fuchsia and I took seats on the same couch as Gabe, buckling our safety belts, and a few minutes later, we were in the air, soaring higher and higher above California every second. My stomach churned as I realized everything I had worked towards in California was gone, and I would never see it again. Ford was dead. The surf shop was now a smoldering pile of rubble. And as for my life in Indiana, it had been gone for a long time, but now I was certain I would never get to see my parents, Kip, or Riley ever again. The thread of hope I’d been clinging to was thin, but it had existed up until now. This plane was going to land, the three of us would be taken to Harrison, killed, and, I don’t even know, dumped into Lake Michigan? We may even be dumped into an incinerator, that way no one would ever be able to find our bodies…
“Snap out of it,” Gabe said to me as I stared out the window. We’d stopped ascending and the plane had leveled out.
“I’m not snapped into anything,” I said.
“You are. You’re thinking about all the things you’ll never get to do again. Just stop it.” His voice was calm, but still defeated. He was now sitting with his elbows propped on his knees, holding his head in his hands.
“What about you?” I asked. “You seem pretty accepting of the fact we’re about to die.” Fuchsia gasped lightly as I spoke, but when I gestured towards her, trying to explain myself without words, she stood from the couch and walked quietly to one of the reclining chairs.
Gabe smirked at my question. “Look at it this way, Jamie, at least you’re not going to die in your underwear.” He pointed to his plaid boxers and laughed, something that seemed completely out of place given our current situation. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to get me to laugh or if he was pointing out an actual fact to ease my mind, even if only slightly.
I thought for a moment, looking around the jet as Scarface watched me intently. Gabe and I were speaking in hushed tones, but I couldn’t be sure whether he could hear us or not. “Maybe we can get out of this,” I suggested.
Gabe shook his head.
“No, listen. We outnumber him. We can use something as a weapon. We can take him out.”
“And then what?” Gabe asked. “The plane is still going to land in Chicago. Harrison is still going to kill us. Unless you plan on taking out the pilot and landing the plane yourself, I’d say our fates are pretty much sealed.”
I bit my lip in anger. “Since when do you give up this easily?”
“You call this giving up easily?” he asked me angrily. “We ran for over a year. We almost made it, but now we’re sitting ducks, thirty thousand feet in the sky. Tell me we have options.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but was cut off by the cockpit door slowly sliding open. Before anyone could exit, Fuchsia rose from her reclining chair and made her way quickly back to the couch, taking my hand in her own.
The man who stepped out of the cockpit had blonde hair. It was slicked back, but was still a little longer than I expected it to be. In fact, his whole appearance was slightly off from what I had imagined. He wore a grey polo shirt and nice, probably designer, blue jeans. An expensive watch decorated his wrist and a pair of aviator sunglasses hung from the neck of his shirt. He looked to be about forty-years-old and wore a solid black ring on his left index finger, emblazoned with a silver letter ‘H.’
“Gabe,” he said with a smile and a heavy British accent. “It’s nice to see you again. Jamie, and Fuchsia, I’m told; It’s nice to meet you, finally. Now, if the three of you are ready, I’d like to sit down and discuss our futures.”
I stood outside my new apartment building, one of the most luxurious in Chicago, and breathed in the cool air. Around me, people bustled down the sidewalks, dressed in light jackets, some wearing hats to shield their hair from the clutches of the Windy City. Fall, my favorite season, was on its way, and I was going to live to see it.
I was still alive.
It had been about two months since Gabe, Fuchsia and I boarded Harrison’s private jet back in Weed, California, certain our lives as we knew them were over. I could still remember the extreme sense of fear washing over me as Harrison exited the cockpit, sat down, and began discussing our “futures” with us. He had said a lot, but really the only sentence I can remember exactly is, “I should kill you for what you’ve done, but I’m a businessman, and my business-mind tells me I should utilize you to your full potential.”
I mean, seriously, what do you say to that? How do you respond to someone who is only going to let you live because he thinks you’re a good drug-dealer?
The three of us said nothing, but the look on Gabe’s face told me he wasn’t buying Harrison’s campaign for a second. When the entire situation was boiled down, we had fled with a lot of Harrison’s money, and had eluded him for over a year. The only logical choice was for him to murder us, probably slowly, but as we careened through the sky that morning, he explained to us otherwise. He explained to us how he was in the market to expand his business, and Gabe and I were just the two people he thought he could use to get things off the ground. Fuchsia, of course, was now involved, but owed Harrison no real debt. She was just along for the ride.
At one point, Gabe had spoken up and demanded Harrison explain himself and stop playing games with us. So he did. He told us he and his “people” (whatever that meant) had developed a new type of drug, something unlike anything the world had ever witnessed, and he needed the two best dealers to help him sell it. The arrangement would be for us to work off our debt and then keep any money we made thereafter, if we chose to continue working for him, and he was sure we would after seeing the amount of profit we would be raking in.
He called it Manic, and said it would bring in fifteen times the price of anything he had ever sold. I couldn’t be sure, but I found it easy to imagine Harrison had sold pretty much anything and everything at some point in his career.
Gabe and I told Harrison we needed to think it over. We told him we didn’t like the idea of working for someone who had seriously been considering killing us.
He told us our choices were work for him or die, pretty much sealing the deal for us: It looked as if we’d found a new job.
We made the obvious choice, and about an hour after landing in Chicago, the three of us were set up in two apartments; Gabe and I shared, while Fuchsia got her own across the hall. They were the nicest living arrangements I had ever seen, yet alone dreamed of living in.
And now here I was, walking down the street in my new clothes, compliments of Harrison, as everything Gabe and I owned had either been burned or left at Fuchsia’s house the night of our abduction. I looked like a young businessman on his way to the first day at his first job. I carried a white envelope in my left hand, my first letter to Kip since the frantic “you’re not safe” note I had sent the day the world blew up.
I’m sorry my last letter was so dire. I just had to make sure you knew to stay safe in case something happened to me. As you can probably guess, I’m fine now. Gabe and I had a close call, but it looks like things are getting back to normal… Whatever normal is anyway. That’s why it took me so long to write; I wanted to make sure everything was definitely going to be okay before I took the risk.
I can’t tell you exactly where I am, but it’s not California. The surf shop is gone, along with the entire life Gabe and I built around it. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d seen something about it on the news in Indiana.
Speaking of, everything you’ve probably heard is a giant lie. The last I saw, the news had labeled me as a murderer and described me as “armed and dangerous.” None of that stuff is true. Bad things happened… again, but I was more of a victim than anything.
I understand if at this point you don’t take a word I say seriously. I’m actually beginning to wonder if I’ve been lying to myself this whole time. Maybe I am just as guilty as the news and police say.
Anyway, as you’ve probably noticed, there is no return address on this letter. From here on out you won’t be able to write me back. It’s probably safer for both of us that way.
I’ll continue to write, even though you won’t be able to respond. I hope that’s okay.
I love you,
I breathed a heavy sigh of relief as I dropped the letter into the mailbox at the corner of LaSalle and Huron streets. Though things had only changed slightly for me, this time I knew I wasn’t in as much danger. I would still be in big trouble if I was caught communicating with Kip, but no one was looking for me anymore. I had been found. There was no more running, which meant dropping a letter into a mailbox was a lot less likely to get me murdered than it once had been. It also meant I could drop the letter in the closest mailbox to my home, without the need to walk several miles out of fear of being discovered. It may have been strange, but I considered this one of life’s little celebrations.
Was I one hundred percent in the clear? Of course not, but at least I was a little bit in the clear.
After nonchalantly leaving the letter to be mailed to Indiana, I continued my walk west on Huron where I would I turn south on North Orleans Street, taking it all the way to the Franklin-Orleans Bridge where I would meet with my first customer since relocating to Chicago. I wasn’t completely familiar with the area, but I had visited Chicago multiple times in my life. This part of town was not where I had been expecting to make my deals, even if Harrison had claimed Manic’s clientele were of a “higher standard.” I was smack in the middle of downtown Chicago, on my way to sell the latest and apparently most impressive club drug on the market since Molly.
I slid my right hand into the breast pocket of my jacket, just to make sure the small plastic bag containing the single blue tablet was still there. Of course it was, just as snuggly tucked into the corner of the pocket as it had been when I had placed it before leaving mine and Gabe’s apartment fifteen minutes earlier. The bag hadn’t moved. It hadn’t slid through an undetected hole in my perfectly tailored blazer. And I was glad.
I was glad to be back doing what I, quite frankly, did best. The past two months of getting settled, learning what little Harrison was willing to tell us about Manic, and continuing to go over what Geet affectionately called “salesman protocol” had been driving me crazy. I wanted to be back out on the streets, selling drugs and making money, and now that I was, my head seemed clear. My senses were heightened. I was alive again.
I stopped at the edge of the Franklin Street Bridge and took it in for a second. I had seen it before, but I wanted this place to be remembered as the location of my first new transaction. My days of selling weed in the high school bathroom were over. Manic was the new drug on the menu, so this moment was going to be one for my mental scrapbook.
The bridge was an elegantly designed 1920s style bascule, built to allow boat traffic up and down the Chicago River. The leaves were currently lowered, allowing car and pedestrian traffic to cross, but a couple hundred yards down river, I could see a small tour-yacht making its way towards the bridge, meaning the leaves would soon be lifting to let it pass through. Before this happened, I pulled the prepaid phone from my pocket a snapped a quick photo, letting my mind be amazed for a moment at how far prepaid phones had come since the time I got my first cell phone when I got my driver’s license back in Hastings.
Before sliding the phone back into my pants pocket, I read the most recent text message from the number I had marked as Harrison in the contacts. I was pretty certain he wasn’t the one sending information about new clients, but I had no idea who was on the other end of the phone, so Harrison was my closest guess when it came to a name to be assigned to the number. The message read: B. Bradley. Franklin-Orleans Bridge. 6PM. It wasn’t exactly a lot of information, but it reminded me of old times, of the nearly useless messages Gabe would send me when we first started selling pot.
I stood at the edge of the bridge, leaning against the metal guard rail there to keep me from tumbling into the river below and waited. There wasn’t a lot I could do with the information given to me in the text, so I had to hope the person I was looking for, B. Bradley, would be able to find me. The last thing I wanted to do was advertise myself, so I simply waited, acting as if I was taking in the crisp air and enjoying my evening walk through the city.
“Are you Jamie?” the voice asked me as my eyes momentarily widened. I hadn’t expected the client to know my name.
“Maybe,” I responded. “Who’s asking?”
“I’m Ben. I was told to meet you here at six. Sorry I’m a few minutes late.” The guy couldn’t have been much older than eighteen, not a complete shocker to me, but gave off an air of being much older. His long blonde hair was pushed back behind his ears, and he wore a light scarf wrapped around his neck, tucked into his gray jacket. The temperature was cool, but Ben seemed a little overdressed for the weather.
I hesitated for a moment before continuing our conversation. “Yeah, I’m Jamie,” I said casually.
Ben smiled, revealing two rows of perfectly straight, white teeth. Putting together his styled hair, expensive clothes, obvious dental hygiene, and even his oddly-cheerful-yet-still-scowling expression, I couldn’t help but notice how much he looked like a model, or maybe a mannequin. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a non-surprisingly expensive looking leather wallet. “So, you just brought the one tablet, right? That’s six, right?”
I thought for a second about how I hadn’t been told how much Ben owed me before being sent on this sale, but I had been told this new drug would be bringing in exponentially more money than the high-grade pot I’d been selling before. Six dollars for a tablet wasn’t even worth my walk and the coffee I was planning to buy on my way back home.
“Are you serious? That’s it?” I asked, dumbfounded. Ben stammered through his next sentence. “I- I’m a college student. I-I-I know it’s a little less than what you all normally charge. I made a negotiation with Garrett since I’m a f-first-time customer. He said six hundred would be enough this time. I might be able to get more, but it might take me a few hours…”
Six. Hundred. Dollars. For one, tiny blue tablet. DONE.
“No, no,” I stated, trying to sound professional. “I forgot Garrett told me he’d made a deal for you. Six hundred for the first-timer.”
Ben counted the bills out from his wallet and handed them to me as if he was handing a homeless man a five dollar bill on a street corner. I looked around nervously, hoping no one had taken notice to what was going on, and more so hoping no police were nearby. I was only slightly shocked to see not one single person giving either of us a single look as the drug deal went down. No one could care less about what was happening right next to them.
I stuck the money into the same breast pocket in which I kept the tablet, sliding it out in the money’s place and handing it to Ben, who only inspected it momentarily before stuffing it into his own pocket. He nodded at me, not sure what else to do, and started to turn to walk away.
“So this is your first time?” I asked.
He nodded cautiously, turning back to face me as if being recognized by someone he really didn’t want to speak to.
“Mine, too.” His gaze shifted away from me. He definitely thought I was crazy, but I decided to keep going with our conversation. “Can I ask you a little about this stuff? I’m kind of in this business arrangement to sell it, but I don’t know much about what I’m selling… and my boss isn’t exactly the type of guy I can ask questions to.”
Ben opened his mouth, but words didn’t come at first. After a second, he said, “I don’t know a lot about it. I’ve heard some things. I know some people who’ve tried it. That’s about all.” He was being courteous, but obviously wanted to get moving as quickly as possible. Fraternizing with his drug dealer wasn’t at the top of his to-do list.
“Excuse me for being so forward, but why the hell would you just drop six hundred dollars on a drug you’ve only heard a few good things about? I get you’re probably rich, but even this seems a little excessive to me.” My brain considered stopping me from saying anything at all out of fear of possibly losing the sale, but part of me simply needed to know. Maybe this Ben kid could give me the answers I hadn’t been given from my business associates and, for lack of a better word, boss.
Ben smiled shyly, though there was honestly nothing shy about him. He took a few steps towards me as if to say he knew he wasn’t going to be able to go anywhere until he’d answered my questions. He leaned against the rail of the bridge, stuffed his hands into his pants pockets, and shrugged. “I’m eighteen. I’m rich. I live in Chicago.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“Well, we rich kids, we’re under a closer microscope than other people our age, but that doesn’t stop us from having fun. Generally speaking, we live a little more than most people,” he began. “Our parents, they’re CEOs, senators, other various powerful and closely examined men and women. They’re in the news on an almost daily basis, usually for their faults, not their good sides. Is this making sense?”
I mulled the idea over in my head for a minute. “Some of them are probably in the news because their kids get into trouble.”
“Exactly,” he said with another smirk. “I spent sixth through twelfth grade at a boarding school in Connecticut; I just got back a few months ago. Rich kids know how to have fun, but they have to be careful about it.”
He continued to discuss the many different types of parties he had been to since age thirteen and the pharmacy of different drugs he had experimented with in the same amount of time. Simply put, rich kids like Ben got into more trouble (and got their parents into more trouble) because they had the money to blow on creative, expensive, and in my case, new drugs. He explained to me how three of his friends had been sent to rehab in the past year, and all of their names had showed up in the news, causing their parents to drop large amounts of money on cover ups, or at the very least, charity events to earn back their good names.
“We’re expected to spend six hundred dollars on the most talked about new drugs, basically, because we can,” he said to me. Whether he was trying to or not, Ben sounded smug.
“I guess it’s out of the question to spend that money on something like college?” I asked, thinking back to my own ruined reasons of getting into the drug business.
Ben laughed. “Are you kidding? I’m on a full ride to Bierce.”
My blood boiled momentarily as I thought about the fact Ben was attending my dream college for free and squandering away his parents’ hard-earned money on hallucinogenic drugs while I had blown any ounce of a chance at attending Bierce by actually trying to earn my own money to pay for the school itself.
He must have noticed my frustrated expression, saying next, “Don’t worry about it though. I’ve heard Manic is the best of the best. It’s not addiction-forming. The high, supposedly, is incredible. It was made for people like me… wealthy people with too much time and money to waste. I mean, my roommate at my old boarding school got his hands on one of the first formulations, before it was even perfect; he wouldn’t come out of our dorm for a week because he thought gravity stopped existing and everything in the world had turned orange.”
I was lost. “And that’s a good time for you?”
“In certain situations, yes. Parties, raves, those are ideal times for stuff like Manic,” Ben stated. “Jamie, I’ve done almost everything there is to do in my short time on Earth. I’ve seen all seven wonders, climbed mountains, met presidents, dated a few celebrities, and practiced nearly every religion in its country of origin for a short time. This is just the next level for me. This is what I’m going to try since I’ve done everything else, and when something new comes along, I’ll move on to that.”
My stomach lurched at this sudden shift in attitude. Ben was bordering on narcissistic, though almost rightfully so. Manic was a goal for him to conquer, an Everest for him to climb (since he had probably already reached the summit of the real thing). I was annoyed by his circumstances, mostly because I was jealous of them.
“So, when I was a kid, all I ever wanted was to do something impossible, like be a dinosaur when I grew up. Manic is your dinosaur, then?” I asked.
“No, Manic is the thing that comes after the dinosaur.”
I nodded half-heartedly.
“Look,” he said, taking out his cell phone. “You seem like a cool guy, but you seem less than convinced. Give me your number and I’ll text you the address of the party I’ll be at this weekend. You can see how all this works for yourself.”
Shaking my head, I answered, “This phone is really only for business use. I could get killed if I start using it for personal reasons.” I wasn’t sure if he knew how literal I was being.
“This is for business. There will be dozens, maybe hundreds of people at this party with money to spend on psychedelic helpers. You could easily make a couple grand in one night. Trust me.”
I held my phone in my hand as if I was actually considering exchanging numbers with Ben, but only stared at it incoherently as he waited. “I really can’t,” I said.
With a look of triumph, Ben snatched the phone from my hand and began programming his number into it. Handing it back to me, he said, “If you change your mind, text me, and I can let you know where to meet me. It’ll be a good time, and it could really help you with your business. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a politician’s son, it’s that you have to mix business and fun sometimes… or in my case, all the time.”
I stood speechless, not sure what to say, or if I should say anything at all. Ben seemed like someone I could get along with as a friend, and he had a very good point that if I did attend the party, I could likely gain several new customers from the experience. However, my mind could only travel to two places: Airic and Ford. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t in the market to make any new friends out of fear they might end up dead.
As Ben turned to leave, he smirked at me one more time and said in a voice full of confidence, “I’ll look forward to hearing from you.”
(A Familiar Face)
The next morning, I woke up early, pleased with the job I had done the day before. I made my way through the apartment, and, even after more than two weeks living there, I was still shocked by the view. Standing against the floor-to-ceiling windows running the entire length of the apartment, I could see nearly the entire city, shining with the glow of sunrise in the distance.
“It still gets you, too, eh?” Gabe asked, walking up next to me and holding out a full coffee mug for me to take. It was black and had a large, silver H emblazoned on the side of it, a subtle reminder that no matter how safe and protected this new life felt, Harrison was still there, likely watching our every move.
I took a drink of the coffee and recoiled slightly at its bitterness. Gabe had never been the best at making it back in California. “I wonder how far you can see from up here,” I said quietly.
“Well, from our height, and taking into consideration it’s a pretty clear morning, I’d say we can probably see a good forty or fifty miles. But I’m no mathematician.” I stared off to the southeast, not responding to Gabe’s answer, but as if he was reading my mind, he responded, “You can’t see the past, no matter how high up you are, Jamie.”
I chuckled half-heartedly. “I just wonder if things would have been different had we stayed. I wonder if…”
“Stop there,” Gabe said, interrupting me. “It doesn’t matter. We made the choices we made, and that’s all there is to worry about. We’re alive, and our families are alive. We have to live with the hand we’re dealt, and stop worrying about all of the ‘what if’ scenarios you’ve got running around inside that head of yours.”
I knew he was right, but there wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t spend at least some portion of it wondering what life would have been like had we not left Hastings, or better yet, had I never started dealing drugs with Gabe in the first place.
“You’re right,” I forced myself to say. “What we’ve got going right now, well, it could be a lot worse. We lost the lives we had back in Hastings. We lost the surf shop and everything we had going for us in Behler, but living on the top floor of a skyscraper probably isn’t the worst thing in the world.”
I knew it was true. I also knew that only two weeks before, I hadn’t even expected to be alive right then. Maybe everything hadn’t worked out the way I wanted it to, but I was, for lack of a better term, lucky my life had played out to this point at all.
“How did the sale go yesterday?” Gabe asked nonchalantly changing the subject.
“You know, it actually went pretty well. You would never believe the type of kid I sold to though.” I said as Gabe raised a questioning eyebrow. “He was this rich politician’s son who basically lives to break the rules and achieve new highs.”
Gabe’s eyes rolled. “He sounds like a loser to me.”
“I thought so at first, too,” I said. “But after a few minutes, he started to grow on me.” I paused for a moment, contemplating whether or not to bring up to Gabe the fact that Ben Bradley had offered to introduce us to new clients at one of his parties.
“And?” Gabe asked, knowing there was more to the story, as there always seemed to be.
“And he offered to introduce me—us to some new clients. He seemed like a part of some rich kid inner circle who likes to spend all of his parent’s money on drugs.”
Gabe nodded his agreement. I wasn’t sure if I expected him to think it was a good idea to have Ben introduce us to possible new clientele or not, but he seemed to be going along with the idea. In this new situation we were in, a new customer was a new customer, and would only make us that much closer to paying off our debt to Harrison. And technically, being that much closer to paying off our debt meant we were that much closer to being free, though I had my doubts Harrison would actually let us go when all was said and done. After all, if you have a girl who can spend straw into gold, you don’t get a little gold and send her on her way; you lock her up in a dungeon and make her spin gold until she dies from exhaustion… or something like that.
“If this kid says he can get us some clients, I say get in close with him and make us some more money,” Gabe said, taking a swig of his coffee and pretending it didn’t taste horrible. “Does he go to school here?”
I paused. I knew mentioning that Ben went to Bierce was a bad idea. Gabe knew Riley went to Bierce, which meant I should probably stay as far away from the campus as possible. Not only did we not want Riley Frazier knowing I was alive and well in Chicago, but the last thing I needed in the world was to see her face to face.
“Yeah, he goes to college here,” I said, not lying.
Gabe eyed me. “Which college?”
He opened his mouth to protest, but I quickly cut him off. “It’s fine, Gabe. Bierce is a very large campus. I won’t run into her.”
Gabe thought it over for a second. “You know what, if you say it’s okay, then it’s okay. We’ll go to one of these parties at Bierce, and we might meet some new people to sell to. I trust your judgment.”
“Thank you,” I said as Gabe took one final drink of the tar coffee. “I have a question for you, though.”
Gabe didn’t speak; my signal to go ahead and ask.
“Why do you even bother pretending your coffee doesn’t taste like shit?”
Gabe laughed as he took another drink, spitting the coffee back into the mug and wiping his chin with his free hand. “You’re right. It does taste like shit.”
I patted him on the back and sat my still-full coffee mug on the kitchen counter. As I began to walk back towards my bedroom, I threw out one more piece of information to Gabe. “I don’t have much on my schedule today, so I think I’m going to go scout out some possible buyers before I talk to Ben again,” I said.
Gabe shrugged. “Have fun. Be safe. Don’t wonder into any bad parts of town.”
I couldn’t tell if he was being serious or not, but we seemed to be getting along, at least for the moment. “Okay. Have dinner on the table when I get home,” I said.
Gabe let out a laugh, saying, “You fucking wish.”
Less than an hour later, I had showered and changed, and was on my way out of the apartment building. I walked in the direction of the Bierce campus, but found myself feeling slightly guilty. I hadn’t technically lied to Gabe about going to Bierce to scout for customers, but I hadn’t told him the entire truth either. I knew he would be fine if we were on the campus together, but I wasn’t sure if he would want me there by myself.
I didn’t matter all that much anyway. Gabe was no longer the boss of me, and he never should have been in the first place.
It only took me about twenty minutes to walk from the apartment to the gates of Bierce University. In Chicago, it seemed like everything was a short walk or bus ride from everything else. I hadn’t taken the trains since arriving in the city.
The campus sat on the only island in Chicago, a small spattering of man-made land called Goose Island, positioned between the North Branch of the Chicago River and the North Branch Canal. The island had once been an industrial hub of the city, but had eventually been bought out by Andre Bierce, who planned and built what would one day become one of the most prestigious colleges in the country.
The college that I had planned to attend for most of my teenage years, the college I had started selling drugs to be able to pay for.
I crossed the bridge and walked through the campus gates, staring around in awe. I had seen pictures of Bierce in brochures and online, but had never actually visited the campus in person. The entrance to the college was both welcoming and humbling. A life-size copper statue of Andre Bierce stood surrounded by fountains that shot water from one to the other. The fountains were surrounded by benches, tables, and shrubbery, making the commons area look very expensive. The mass of students walking around in designer jeans and jackets only added to the prestige of the area.
Positioned just in front of the Andre Bierce statue was a metal pole with dozens of different signs all pointing in different directions, each showing the way to a different school within the campus. Bierce School of Medicine, Bierce School of Law, Bierce School of Education; the list went on and on.
I tried to use the signage to my advantage, wondering which area of the campus would have the most likely buyers of Manic. It was a party drug, but a party drug for the rich only. I could easily assume everyone on the Bierce campus was rich, but which students would be most likely to use something like Manic?
I thought back to the beginnings of my days selling weed with Gabe. He had tested me, giving me only a name of a buyer and a location, but not telling me exactly who I was looking for. I had to spend time in the location until I finally figured out who I was actually selling to. I would likely have to do the same thing at Bierce, only with less information to go on. I would have to scope out the area and actually talk to people. I had to find out who might be interested in Manic.
I looked around, trying to figure out who I should speak to first. There were hundreds of students walking through the area, but they all looked the same. No one stood out from anyone else.
Without much rhyme or reason, I chose a girl who was standing (not walking) with her back to me. It looked as if she was trying to dig something out of her backpack, and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for me to approach her. I wasn’t sure what I would say at first, but maybe if I just tried to get to know her, pretend to be a student, she might open up to the point I could eventually ask about Manic.
“Excuse me,” I said, reaching out my arm and tapping her on the shoulder.
The girl spun around, startled, and looked me directly in the eye. I hadn’t noticed at first, but she had long blonde hair that hung around her face in beautiful curls, and a smile that would light up a dark room.
She started to speak, but suddenly seemed to lose her voice, stuttering out only a few, incomprehensible syllables as her mouth slowly gaped open in shock.
My mouth dropped open as I took a step back, not sure what to do or say.
Standing in front of me, face to face with me for the first time in over a year, there she was. Riley Frazier, the girl who’s life I’d ruined in the process of ruining my own.
She dropped her backpack onto the ground and continued to stare at me as if she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. To her, I had become a ghost who vanished into thin air. For all she knew, I had died after escaping Hastings. But no, here I was, standing right in front of her, on her college campus.
How was this even possible?
“Riley…” I began. I’m not even sure if it came out as a statement or a question.
Her palms slammed into my chest, pushing me backwards as an angry groan escaped her mouth. It sounded as if she was crying, but I could see no tears.
“Stay the HELL away from me!” she shouted as I nearly toppled over backwards. For a small girl, the force behind her shove was almost as strong as being hit by Gabe. I caught my balance and tried to think of words to say, anything to say that might calm her. But truth be told, I was in as much shock as she was.
“Riley…” I started again.
“How DARE you come here! How DARE you show your face here!”
Saying Riley was furious would have been the understatement of the century. I knew running into the girl I had once (and still) loved would cause a near-cataclysmic event if it ever happened, but I honestly never believed in a million years I would ever see Riley Frazier again.
“Please calm down,” I begged as people around us began to turn and stare. “I never thought I would run into you here! You have to believe me. I would never put you through that on purpose.”
She let out the angriest laugh I had ever heard. “You’ve got to be kidding me. You’d never put me through something like that on purpose? What about the last year of my life, Jamie?”
I tried to think of anything I could say to keep Riley from punching me in the face and storming off, but I had a feeling my efforts would be futile. Of everyone I had hurt since abandoning ship in Hastings, Riley’s life had been one of the most altered. I’d spent the majority of my time since running off trying to justify and rationalize the hell I’d put her through in the short amount of time we’d been together, while she had likely spent the same amount of time trying to forget I had ever existed.
Just then, I realized just how many lives I had changed for the worse since leaving. Riley’s life had been torn apart, yes, but so had the lives of my parents, my brother, my now-dead best friend, his family, Gabe’s family, all of our friends, and countless others.
I was Jamie, life-ruiner.
“I understand how you must feel about me now,” I began. “But those feelings are nothing compared to the way I’ve felt about myself since leaving. You have to believe that.”
Riley eyed my nice, new clothes and shook her head. “You look like you’ve had it really rough,” she said sarcastically. “And you don’t understand anything.”
I shifted my gaze to the ground, trying to control my emotions. I was sad Riley had become so cold towards me, but also angry. She didn’t seem to understand what I had been through was just as bad, if not worse than what she had experienced. My best friend had died. I hadn’t seen or spoken to my family in over a year. My life had become only a shell of what it once had been. Nice clothes or not, my life was shit.
“I lost everything,” I whispered.
“You left everything,” Riley stated bluntly, not an ounce of empathy or remorse in her voice. I suddenly realized this new, cold, hateful Riley was my creation. She no longer cared about me or trusted me because of me.
I tried to think of a new way to get her to at least listen to me without dismissing everything I had to say with angry comebacks, but was coming up short. She stood, arms crossed over her chest, waiting for me to try to win her over.
“I know I’ll never be able to fix things with you,” I began. She opened her mouth to speak, but I didn’t give her the opportunity. “I know I was stupid for even thinking for a second you might consider hearing me out. And to be honest, all I really want you to know is that I completely acknowledge my fault in everything. I ruined dozens of lives, but there is nothing I can do to ever change that now. I fucked up.”
“You did,” she said more calmly.
She wasn’t yelling at me, so I decided I should try to say as much as I could before she started again.
“Look, I’m going to be in town for a little while, but not by choice. I’ll do my best to not run into you, but I’d appreciate it a lot if you didn’t tell anyone you saw me. I’m not exactly the most popular person on the planet right now,” I said, ashamed.
Riley sighed deeply. “I won’t tell anyone.”
“You promise?” I asked.
She stared at me for a long moment, but I couldn’t be sure why. Was she considering what I had just asked? Was she trying to remember my face in case she never saw me again? Was she still in shock from running into me in the first place?
“I promise,” she said quietly, tears in her eyes.
“Thank you,” I said as I turned and started to walk back towards the entrance to the college. I had decided trying to find new clients for Harrison could wait another day.
Before I was too far away, Riley said my name just loud enough for me to hear. I stopped and turned back to her slowly, not sure what to expect.
She paused momentarily and said, “Jamie, if I ever see you again, I’ll tell the police I saw you. I’ll tell them you’re in Chicago.”
I nodded at her, knowing she was telling the truth.
(A Broken Home)
The walk home from Bierce was, as it turned out, a giant metaphor of my life. The once sunny day turned to clouds and had opened up into a torrential rainstorm by the time I had made it to Larrabee Street. At first, I thought the rain might let up after a few minutes, but instead, it began to come down heavier and heavier as pedestrians began opening umbrellas to shield themselves from the sheets falling from the sky.
Somehow everyone but me had seen the weather forecast before leaving home.
I realized quickly trying to shield my head with my jacket was futile, and soon broke into a sprint, running down the street, trying not to bump into any passersby who all seemed to think that because they had umbrellas, walking at the slowest possible speed was a good idea.
“Excuse me,” I tried to say as I slipped between two people (both with umbrellas) who were obviously walking together. The thought crossed my mind that one of them might lend me their umbrella, as they could both easily fit under one. However, I had to tell myself not to laugh out loud at the idea before the question had even crossed my lips.
The world was a dog-eat-dog world, and if you didn’t have your own damn umbrella, then you were screwed.
By the time I made it back to the apartment building, I looked and felt like I had been pushed into a swimming pool, rainwater dripping from my hair and into my eyes as I tried to enter my security code into the building’s lobby doors. Harrison owned the building (and likely everyone living in it), and it was impossible to enter unless you had a five digit code to enter at the door and an I.D. badge to show the doorman once you entered the main lobby. As luxurious as the apartment was, getting into the building felt like going to work at some government office in Washington, D.C.
My passcode was accepted and the door unlocked with a low, thudding click. As I opened the door and walked into the brightly lit lobby, fishing for my I.D. badge in my pocket, the doorman, who sat at a large, circular desk, smiled at me modestly.
“Did you forget your umbrella, Mr. Brewer?” He was older, probably in his sixties, and his voice reminded me of every stereotypical British butler from every stereotypical movie with a British butler in it.
“Apparently I did, Mr. Stone.”
“Please, how many times do I have to ask you to call me Samuel,” he said as he pulled a white, fluffy towel out from under the desk and held it out for me to take.
I took the towel happily and immediately began drying my hair. “I wasn’t expecting a rainstorm today,” I said, making small talk.
“Oh, Mr. Brewer, one is hardly ever prepared for a storm, even when they’re expecting it,” he said, smiling widely.
I paused momentarily, curious if Samuel was making an observation about my life, or if he, too, was just trying to make small talk. “Samuel, how did you end up working here, for Harrison?” I asked, assuming he knew who Harrison was.
“Oh, that’s a boring story, Mr. Brewer. Mr. Harrison and I go back a long way. When I was down on my luck, he offered me a job where I wouldn’t have to do much other than sit behind a desk all day. I’m not as spry as I used to be, you see.”
I smiled, wondering if he had any clue what kind of businessman Harrison actually was.
“No action for you, then?” I asked, continuing to dry off my clothes as best I could with the towel.
“Oh, no. After so many years on the frontlines of the action, I thought it a good idea to work a job that was a little less… messy.” He laughed heartily for a good fifteen seconds and then held his hand out for the towel. “Let me take that, Mr. Brewer. I’ll see to it that it makes it to the laundry room so you don’t have to trouble yourself.”
“Thanks,” I said cautiously, handing him the towel and trying not to think too hard about what he had just said to me. But on the other hand, what the hell had he meant by messy?
Lightning flashed outside and the lights in the lobby began to flicker ominously as I made my way towards the elevator. I looked up at the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and pointed towards the elevator.
“What do you think?” I asked Samuel.
“Better take the stairs,” he said as thunder rumbled outside.
“Better take the stairs,” I agreed, walking away from the elevator.
While taking the stairs might have saved me from potentially getting trapped in the elevator if the electricity went out, by the time I got to the top floor, I felt as if I should have taken my chances. My shoulders slumped as I unlocked the apartment door and entered, automatically thinking the power had gone out in the short amount of time it took me to exit the hallway and enter the apartment.
All the lights were out, and dark clouds from the storm made it feel as if it were actually a lot later than it really was.
“Hello?” I called, trying not to freak myself out. I had seen way too many horror movies as a kid and knew walking into a dark, seemingly empty house was a death sentence. Of course, yelling “hello” upon entering a dark, seemingly empty house usually wielded the same result. “Gabe?” I added.
Lightning lit up the apartment, causing me to jump and have to remind myself I was actually not in a horror movie. Shaking the ridiculous fear out of my mind, I made my way through the dark, planning on making it to my bedroom where I could change out of my water-logged clothes. However, before I made it to the kitchen, I stopped in my tracks as my shoe came into contact with broken glass on the floor, causing a deafening crunch to ring through the silent apartment.
I lifted my foot, trying not to make another sound.
Thoughts raced through my head. Why is there broken glass on the floor? Where is Gabe? Where is Fuchsia? Why is the electricity out in the apartment but not in the hallway? What if someone’s in the apartment right now?
I calmed myself as much as possible and tiptoed backwards, away from the broken glass. While on the run with Gabe, I had been prepared for the worst of the worst when it came to situations like this. One day, I knew I would come home to the surf shop/apartment we shared and find Gabe dead, or the same thing could have happened to him involving me. However, now that we had successfully (or unsuccessfully, depending on how it was looked at) moved past the “on the run” chapter of our lives, I was completely shocked and terrified to find the remnants of what I could only imagine to be a very violent struggle.
This would have happened back in California, but not here. We had been found. Harrison owned us now. Why would anyone break into the apartment to hurt us? And how? The steps it took to get into the building were more effort than it was worth to hurt someone. It would have been way more beneficial to wait for one of us to be alone on the street.
I continued to examine the area, looking for any clues as to what had actually happened. Broken shards of glass littered the ground, and from the looks of it, they had come from a vase of flowers that had once sat on the countertop. Some of the shards of glass had blood on them, but I had no idea who the blood belonged to. I hated to think the worst, but if I didn’t find Gabe, then I had to assume the blood was his.
As I treaded lightly through the dark apartment, I came across other signs of a struggle. Pillows had been thrown from the couch. The coffee table had been tipped on its side, the contents strewn through the living room from, I assumed, the force of the table being tipped. More droplets of blood made a trail through the living room, towards the room we had started calling the study, though neither of us ever used it.
Before I had a chance to examine the trail of blood leading to the study, a muffled whimper drew my attention to the bedrooms behind me. I couldn’t be completely sure, but the noise sounded more frightened than menacing, like someone in a panic, trying not to be heard, but unable to keep their terror a secret any longer.
I turned from the living room and cautiously made my way back through the kitchen to the hallway leading to mine and Gabe’s bedrooms. I didn’t know from which the noise had come, so I stopped in the middle and listened again, hoping for some kind of clue to lead me in the right direction. I didn’t know what I was looking for or what I would find, but I was hopeful it would be either Fuchsia or Gabe, safe and alive.
The whimper echoed through the hallway again, muffled, but clearly coming from my bedroom. I walked in the direction, my back to the wall so I could more easily be aware if an attacker was trying to sneak up on me, and quickly pushed the bedroom door all the way open. No other sounds came from within the room and nobody came out, but I was sure I had heard something or someone twice already.
“Who’s there?” I asked, trying to sound as menacing as possible. In honesty, I was just glad my voice hadn’t cracked out of fear.
The bedroom, like the rest of the apartment, was nearly completely dark. The wall of windows faced east, which meant even the small amount of sunlight penetrating the storm clouds outside was barely able to make its presence known from the west. The room was also a mess, and though I knew I hadn’t bothered cleaning up (we had a cleaning lady who visited four times per week). I also knew I hadn’t left it in quite the state it was in now. Nearly everything had been shoved off my dresser, and the lamp that sat on the nightstand next to my bed lay shattered on the floor. The room looked nothing like the rest of the apartment, but nothing good had happened either.
Once inside the room, I stood quietly, listening for any more whimpers or noises. Faintly, I heard from behind the closed closet door, “Please, please, please, please…”
Placing my hand firmly on the door knob, I pulled the closet door open to find Fuchsia huddled in the corner, her face buried in her hands. She continued to utter the chant of, “Please, please, please,” without even looking up to see who had discovered her hiding place. Stepping into the closet, I knelt down next to her and placed my hands on top of hers, trying to let her know she was safe.
“Fuchsia, it’s me, Jamie,” I said as quietly and calmly as I could.
She flinched at first, but soon peeked one eye from behind her hands, and before I could react, leapt into my arms. I nearly toppled completely to the floor, but managed to maintain my stance. She let out a cry of relief and immediately began sobbing into my shoulder.
“Fuchsia, what the hell happened here?” I asked, not sure if she could even hear my over the sounds of her own wales.
She continued to cry for another minute or so before composing herself enough to speak. She looked into my eyes, tears still streaming down her face, and began recounting what had happened in the apartment. “I was so scared, Jamie! I thought I was going to die! I knew I was going to die!” She sobbed.
“It’s okay,” I said, holding her. “You’re alive. Everything is okay now.”
“Some guys came rushing into the apartment,” she continued. “Three or four of them. I didn’t get a good look at them. I was in the kitchen, and when I saw the look on Gabe’s face, I ran for it. I could tell something was wrong, so I didn’t want anyone to know I was here. I had just come across the hall to see if you were home yet, but since you weren’t, I was going to fix some dinner for the three of us…” She trailed off.
“What happened? What could you hear from in the closet?” I asked, not particularly caring about her dinner plans for the night.
“I couldn’t hear much. I could hear them arguing, Gabe and one of the guys, but everything was too muffled. I couldn’t make out what they were saying to each other. It sounded heated. And then…”
She cringed, still shaking in my arms. “I heard breaking glass. I heard yelling… not like angry yelling, but painful yelling. It lasted for a few minutes, but sounded like it got farther away. It sounded like they left the living room and went into the—“
I cut her off, remembering the trail of blood I had seen on the floor. “They went into the study.”
“I don’t know, maybe,” she said.
I turned to exit the bedroom, but Fuchsia wouldn’t budge.
“Are you coming? Do you know if they left with or without Gabe?” I asked.
“I don’t know. After a while, maybe an hour, it just got quiet. I heard them leave, but I don’t know if they took him. I’ve been too scared to leave the closet. I was afraid they might come back…”
“It’s okay,” I said, only slightly frustrated with the lack of information she was providing me. “You stay here, and I’ll go check out the study.”
Fuchsia’s returning panic startled me. “Don’t leave me here alone!”
“I promise, you’ll be fine,” I said, trying to comfort her as I started to walk out of the bedroom. I paused momentarily, staring back at her, but her face was still panicked and afraid. Nothing I was going to say was going to make her more comfortable, so I decided to make my way across the apartment as quickly as possible.
The door to the study was only slightly ajar, but I could see a dim beam of light cast across the middle of the room. I hesitated to push the door open, not sure what I would find, but I decided I would eventually have to. And as I did, a low, raspy breathing could be heard from within.
“Hello?” I asked quietly, hoping that whatever or whoever was in the room wasn’t the person who had broken into the apartment.
The only response was a guttural noise that could only be described as HNNNGGGGG. My mind automatically thought of the noises comic book characters made after being punched or nearly killed.
The beam of lighting shining through the center of the room came from a flashlight that had been left on the large oak desk sitting against the left wall of the study. The light didn’t illuminate much, but I could see a figure sitting in the overly expensive armchair (usually unused) in the corner of the room. When lightning lit up the apartment again, I could tell for a brief second whoever it was, was not just sitting in the chair, but had been tied to it.
When lightning flashed another time, I could make out long, seemingly wet hair hanging around the person’s face, a dark colored t-shirt appearing to be ripped, and blood stained white jeans.
I grabbed the flashlight from the table and rushed to the chair where Gabe had been tied down. I could tell immediately he was not in good shape. His wet hair was actually matted with blood, his shirt had been ripped because someone had been putting cigarettes out on his chest, and his jeans were stained with blood that looked like it had come from his hands.
“Oh god, what happened to you?” I asked.
Gabe was barely conscious, unable to form words to answer my question. He let out a couple more guttural sounds, but no actual words crossed his lips. As I untied the ropes that bound him to the chair, he slumped to one side, unable to hold his own body upright.
“Gabe, you’ve gotta stay with me,” I instructed as calmly as possible. On the inside, I was a screaming, crying mess, but I tried as best as I could to not show it on the outside. I had no idea what had happened to Gabe, but my only concern at the moment was keeping him awake and as alert as possible.
He breathed in deeply, still slumped over, and it sounded as if his lungs were filled with water. His throat gurgled, and his eyes fluttered as his chest heaved out and then in very slowly. He was breathing, but barely, and it seemed haggard and almost too difficult for Gabe to do.
“Can you tell me who did this? Can you tell me anything?” I asked as Gabe tried to lift his head.
Gabe coughed, a small amount of blood spewing from between his lips, which were both busted. I hadn’t gotten a good look at his face on account of the straggly hair hanging in front of it, but when I got a glimpse, I saw that both of his eyes were black, the bridge of his nose was busted, and he had three long gashes along his right cheek.
Then, though in a strained voice, Gabe let out one word, a name.
“Geet,” he said, pained.
“What about him?” I asked. “Was he here? Did he do this?” My voice was becoming panicked. Someone had tied Gabe up and, by the looks of it, tortured him to near death. The thought that the person who did it could have been his brother brought the largest of fears into my heart. If Geet was capable of doing this to his own brother, what would he do to Fuchsia? What would he do to me?
Gabe gurgled a few more strained breaths, trying to pull together his strength before speaking again. Now untied, he made a meager attempt at standing, but made it less than an inch off the chair before slumping back down.
“Maybe you should take it easy,” I suggested.
“He did this,” Gabe whispered. “My brother nearly killed me.”
I pulled my cell phone from my pocket. “I’m calling 911,” I said, not caring if the call would be traced back to the disposable phone I had been given by Harrison. When it all boiled down, Harrison was in charge and had likely given the order for Geet to attack Gabe. Harrison was the boss, and Geet was the muscle.
Gabe raised his hand in an attempt to slap the phone away from me. He failed, but I lowered it nonetheless.
“NO,” he managed to almost yell, panic evident in the word.
“Gabe, this is too much. Your brother tied you up and beat the shit out of you!”
Gabe’s eyes fluttered again. His condition didn’t seem to be worsening, but he also wasn’t getting any better. He was still too weak to stand, and his bloody hands were shaking. I grabbed his left hand and examined it. The blood all seemed to have come from his fingers, but I couldn’t see any wounds.
“What did he do to you?”
Gabe managed to roll his head back and stared me directly in the eye, though his were almost swollen shut. “He shoved playing cards under my fingernails.”
Gabe’s eyes trailed to the opposite side of the chair where on the floor I could see four blood-soaked playing cards. The blood was still wet and had left several streaks across the marble floor. Each one was an Ace from each different house: clubs, diamonds, spades, and hearts.
I was speechless. I was sickened. The thought of Geet beating Gabe half to death was bad enough, but knowing he had actually used old-school mobster tactics on his own blood relative made me want to vomit. “Why?” I asked.
Gabe coughed, spitting more blood onto his already ruined shirt. I noticed the cigarette burns up close and realized how many more of them there were than I originally thought. An ashtray left next to the flashlight on the desk told me Geet had lit and put out at least three dozen of them on Gabe’s flesh.
“He was looking for you,” Gabe spat.
I couldn’t tell if he was angry or not. He seemed void of all emotion, as if he was as devastated and shocked about what had happened as I was. He added, “I tried to tell him you were out finding new clients, but he didn’t believe me.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and managed to say, “We’ll figure this out. We’ll come up with some kind of plan. He can’t get away with something like this.”
Gabe let out a terrifying, pained laugh and looked away from me. I couldn’t be sure, but it looked like a tear was trying to escape from his swollen eye. I had never seen Gabe Malvado cry, but something told me if it ever happened, it meant the odds were stacked against us.
“We’ll do something,” I said, trying to comfort him in some way.
“I already know what we have to do,” he answered coldly as another bolt of lightning lit up the Chicago sky outside the window-covered wall of the apartment.
I was afraid to ask, but still managed to let out a quiet “What?”
“We’re going to kill Harrison.”
(God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise)
Six days passed, and not one word escaped Gabe’s lips. He was a silent creature, sure, but as far as I knew, he had never gone this long without talking. Day in and day out, he sat in his room, usually in an armchair, staring out the wall of windows lining the east wall of our apartment building.
It was no secret he was contemplating just when and how we were to kill Harrison.
On days two, three, and five, a nurse had been sent to the apartment, presumably by Harrison himself, but each time Gabe had refused to see her. Each time, she made an attempt, each more meager than the one before, but he sent her away without so much as uttering a syllable. On her last visit, she pulled me aside and stared at me sternly.
“I’d like to help you out with this, I swear,” I said. “But when Gabe sets his mind to something, he doesn’t back down. And it seems like he has set his mind to not being seen by anyone right now.”
She shook her head angrily. “I wasn’t told what happened, but your friend looks like he’s in bad shape.” The woman was tall, thin, and in her late forties. She wore her hair in a tight bun on the back of her head and seemed exactly like any stereotypical nurse from the movies. “His hands are in bad shape, and I’m worried about infection setting in. The swelling has gone down in his eyes and cheeks, but he needs antibiotics just to make sure he doesn’t take a turn for the worse.”
I shrugged and let my jaw slack open, not sure what to say to her.
“I get it,” she said. “He’s stubborn, but your boss keeps asking me to come back and tend to him. Each time I tell him I couldn’t do my job, the less happy he is.”
Something about her words made me think she was asking for my help in more ways than one. Yes, she was a nurse who had a job to do, but she was also a nurse hired by Harrison. And from the looks of things, no one hired by Harrison was completely unaware of his power. This nurse knew she wasn’t completely safe, even if she didn’t know why.
“I’ll try to talk to him, but you said it; he’s stubborn. If he doesn’t want treatment, then he’s not getting treatment. Believe me, I know,” I said, thinking back to the time Gabe practically forced me to sew a stab wound shut for him as opposed to going to the hospital and risk being questioned by the police. However, as much as I hated to admit it, he was much worse for wear this time around.
The nurse shook her head again and sat a small amber vial of pills on the kitchen counter. “There’s two weeks’ worth of Levofloxacin in there. If you can’t talk him into taking it, try mixing it in with his food. I’m assuming he isn’t well enough to be up making his own meals.”
I nodded to her, signaling I would do my best to help her out. She picked up her purse from the table next to the front door to the apartment and let herself out, not saying another word to me. She was likely planning what she would tell Harrison after yet another failed attempt at getting Gabe to allow treatment.
I let a couple of hours pass after the nurse left before approaching Gabe. If there was one thing I had learned since meeting him, it was things had to be done on his terms. If Gabe didn’t want to talk for six days, then Gabe wasn’t going to talk for six days. If Gabe wanted to refuse medical treatment and risk dying of an infection, then by God, he was going to refuse medical treatment and risk dying of an infection.
I decided to make some soup to take him for lunch, and contemplated mixing one of the antibiotics into the meal before serving it to him, but somehow, I knew Gabe would know. He wasn’t stupid, and I wasn’t stupid enough to try to go behind his back, even if it was for his own good. Instead, I decided to try my own way of doing this, the way I knew Gabe would respond to most, if he was going to respond at all.
Carrying a fancy metal tray I had found under one of the kitchen counters, I knocked on Gabe’s slightly ajar bedroom door with my foot. He didn’t respond, but his lack of telling me to go away led me to believe it was safe for me to enter his sanctuary.
“How are you feeling?” I asked.
I sat the tray on the end table next to the chair Gabe was sitting in. He was dressed in a plain white t-shirt and a pair of black basketball shorts. His face and hair were now clear of all blood, but he still looked fractured. The nurse had been right about the swelling going down in his face, but it still didn’t look like Gabe sitting across from me. The still-busted lips, the yellowing bruises on his face, the fingers wrapped in individual bandages; they all made him look like someone I had never seen before. They made him look violated.
“The nurse gave these to me,” I said, sitting the vial of antibiotics down on the tray next to the bowl of soup and half sandwich I had made for him. “I know you’re not going to, but she wants you to take two a day, with meals and a full glass of water.”
I decided not to push my luck with Gabe. He had been through a lot, and if he didn’t want to talk about it, no one was going to be able to force him. I left the food and the medicine on the table next to him and turned to leave the room. As I walked through the doorway, I stopped momentarily, not sure if I should bother saying anything else. Taking a chance, I said, “I’m glad you’re okay.”
I didn’t wait for Gabe to answer; I knew he wouldn’t, but at least he knew someone was on his side. Even though we had been through a lot together, I felt like he needed to know I was still there for him.
Two days later, the nurse had stopped coming by to check on Gabe, and I found myself, at least in the back of my mind, hoping Harrison had simply stopped asking her to come. Part of me worried something else had happened to her. It was hard not to after your roommate had been attacked and tortured by his own brother. However, I had to learn to push things like that out of my mind if I was going to make it through the next indefinite amount of time working for Harrison without driving myself insane. In a world where crime was the only law, I had to accept the fact that some people weren’t going to stick around the entire time. Some people weren’t going to make it out alive.
As I stood in the kitchen, preparing another meal for Gabe that would inevitably end up not eaten (just like the rest of them), I found myself surprised to see him limp slowly out of his bedroom and around the corner. He looked solemn, not as solemn as he had been for nearly the past week, but solemn enough.
“What?” he asked, using the countertop for support and popping a mini carrot into his mouth.
“Nothing,” I said, trying to act normal. “I just wasn’t expecting you to be up and about yet.”
Gabe laughed. It sounded fake, but it was still a laugh. “I figured I needed to stop moping around and get back to normal. I thought if I hit the one week mark of sitting in my room and staring out a window, I might not stop. Is that lunch for me or for you?”
“It’s for you. I already ate,” I said.
“That’s too bad. We’re going out,” Gabe said. He was dressed in normal clothes and had a jacket slung over his arm. It was hiding the bandages on one of his hands, but I wasn’t sure if it was on purpose or not.
I stopped putting together the sandwich on the plate in front of me and stared at Gabe cautiously. “We’re going out to where?” I asked.
“It’s a secret,” he answered quietly, bringing his bandaged index finger up to his lips as if to tell me to shush. Even though he was broken and beaten, there was still a little bit of that Gabe Malvado charm and secrecy left in him.
I wasn’t sure how to react to this information, or lack of information. Just a few hours before, Gabe had been barricaded in his bedroom, and now he was showered, dressed, and ready to take me on some kind of secret outing. One on hand, I thought it might give us an opportunity to talk about things. Gabe had told me we were going to kill Harrison, but nothing had been mentioned about it in the days following the attack. I knew it wasn’t safe to discuss murdering your boss inside the apartment he had provided for you, but at the same time, I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to discuss it at all. I was a lot of things, but had still not turned into a murderer.
“Get your coat,” Gabe instructed, eyes wide.
“Don’t ask questions. Follow my lead.”
I threw my arms into the air, not even bothering to put up a fight. A few seconds later, I had hastily put the lunch into the fridge and was putting on my jacket. Gabe marched towards the door, still limping, but trying to make his injuries seem less painful than I was sure they were.
“Where are we going?” I asked as Gabe swung the door to the apartment open and jumped back, only slightly startled by the man standing outside, seemingly waiting for one or both of us to try to leave.
“Yes, where are you going?” Geet asked, folding his arms over his chest and smiling widely at his younger brother.
Gabe took a breath and swallowed, as if trying to gain his composure. I could only imagine the shock of seeing the person who had savagely beaten you only days before standing in front of you, unexpected.
“Well?” Geet asked.
“We’re going out to scout some new clients. I’ve been… a little under the weather and wanted to get a jump on work now that I’m feeling better,” Gabe answered coldly. We all knew the truth about what had happened, but he still decided to play it cool, not giving Geet the satisfaction of telling the real reason he hadn’t been working.
Geet clicked his tongue inside his mouth as if examining Gabe’s story and firmly planted his hand on his brother’s shoulder. Gabe flinched only slightly, but anyone could see his breathing had gone shallow and his hands were shaking. “I’m glad you’re feeling up to getting back in the saddle, little brother, but are you sure you’re well enough to be running around the city?”
“I think I know what’s best for me,” Gabe answered.
Geet nodded his head. “I’m sure you do. Just be careful out there. You don’t look like you’re back to one hundred percent just yet. Whatever put you under the weather must have been pretty powerful. Maybe you should take another couple of days to recoup.”
Glancing over at Gabe, I could see fire in his eyes. “Let’s go, Jamie,” he said, not taking his eyes off of Geet.
I followed Gabe down the hallway after he had shoved past Geet and was happy to see the elevator doors open as soon as I hit the call button. As we got on, I glanced down the hallway back towards our apartment; Geet stared back, smiling wider than ever.
“You can’t let him get under your skin like that,” I said once we were out of the building and getting into one of the cars Harrison had supplied to us, a silver Lexus.
Gabe scoffed. “Sometimes you have to let Geet think he’s won. Him thinking I’m pissed stopped him from asking more questions.”
“So you’re not pissed?” I asked.
“Oh, I am, but I’m usually better at hiding it than I was back there. Geet can’t have any idea we’re not going out to really work today though. Letting him have that small amount of satisfaction got us out of the apartment without too much trouble.”
I sat silently.
“You have to know Harrison’s watching every move we make, right?”
“You really think so?” I asked.
Gabe didn’t answer, but only stared at me out of the corner of his eyes as we pulled out of the parking garage and onto the street. A few minutes later, we were on the interstate, heading northwest, out of the city. The skyscrapers passed us in a blur as Gabe punched the accelerator, not bothering to abide the speed limit. I was somewhat surprised, however, when Gabe signaled to exit the interstate. I was even more surprised when we pulled the car into a parking spot at the Jefferson Park Transit Center.
“What are we doing, Gabe? Where are we really going? Are we running again?” I asked, the questions flowing from my mouth like vomit.
Gabe opened his door and got out of the car, not speaking to me.
“Gabe!” I shouted, still sitting in the car.
He leaned down and stared at me, somewhat annoyed.
“Walk and talk, Jamie. We don’t have a lot of time to work with here. Harrison undoubtedly has tracking systems in all of his cars, so we can’t really drive anywhere without him knowing exactly where we are,” he said.
I did as told, exiting the vehicle and following Gabe as he entered the station. He walked up to the ticket counter and, smiling at the attendant, said, “Two tickets to Shelby, please.” He put a credit card and his I.D. on the counter for her to take.
The woman, one of those women who was probably a little bit younger than she looked, checked her computer monitor. She grinned. “You’re in luck, Mr. Richardson,” she said. I shook my head slightly as the attendant said Gabe’s fake last name, Richardson. His I.D, like mine, still held his on-the-run alias. “The next bus leaves in about fifteen minutes.”
“No trains?” Gabe asked.
“No, if you wanted a train, you would have to wait about three hours, and you’d have to transfer to a bus later on. The trains don’t run all the way to Shelby.” She seemed concerned this news might cause Gabe to become angry with her. I assumed having people angry with her was a large part of the attendant’s job.
“The bus will be fine, then,” Gabe said, still smiling.
The attendant typed on her computer, entering in Gabe’s false information, and printed two tickets for him. She handed them across the counter and said, “I’d hurry if I were you; the bus is probably already filling up pretty fast.”
Gabe nodded to her. “Do you know how long the trip is, by chance?”
She bit her lip, nervous again. I couldn’t tell if she was just extremely nervous about getting yelled at by a customer or if Gabe’s overall appearance made her stand on guard. “The trip is supposed to be about two and a half hours, but you can count on three, if you want me to be honest.”
Gabe turned away from the counter and handed me my ticket without another word to the attendant. “Shit,” he said. “Three hours one way is going to make today pretty hectic for us.”
“Why are we going to Shelby?” I asked, still extremely confused.
“I’ll explain more once we get there,” he said as we rushed through the terminal.
I wasn’t at all surprised when Gabe barely spoke for the entire three hours and fourteen minutes we were on the bus. However, as we exited the city and made our way into the unremarkably Midwestern-looking portion of Illinois, I had plenty of time to think about how much it all reminded me of home, and how much I missed it back in Indiana. If not for passing signs with names of Illinois towns on them, I could have easily imagined myself on a road trip back home with my family. However, though I was equally as bored as I would have been on any road trip from my past life, this one had me confused and somewhat worried.
Unfortunately, I also found myself pondering for the millionth time since leaving, what everyone was doing back in Hastings. I had communicated with Kip minimally, but other than the few pieces of information he would give me in his letters, I had no idea how everyone was doing, if they had completely recovered from Gabe and me blowing their world to pieces, or if they even thought about me as much as I thought about them, though I tried not to.
I went over a mental list in my head.
I knew Kip was doing okay, even if he had struggled at first. He was going out for track and seemed to be his old self, if not a little more mature in his letters.
I knew Mom and Dad were back together, at least for the time being, and it seemed as if me skipping town had, to some extent, helped with that happening.
I knew, because of my run-in with Riley, that she was doing as well as could be expected. Her bitterness and hatred aside, she was still in school and seemed to be succeeding at college and life.
But there were still little things I didn’t know that bothered me to no end. How were Airic’s parents holding up? It had been over a year since he died, but I had no way of knowing if they had made a full recovery after losing their only son. Had they stayed in Hastings or made their way back to California, desperate to get away from the town where their son had lost his life? Had they helped the police try to find me, or had they just gone on with their lives, all too happy to pretend as if I had never known them?
Was Dad still teaching?
Was Mom still writing?
What had happened to the few other friends I had left behind?
“Are you coming?” Gabe asked, standing next to me as I continued to stare out the bus window. I noticed immediately we were sitting in another terminal and the sun had shifted in the sky, letting me realize the first leg of our journey was done.
“Of course,” I said, trying not to make it too noticeable I had been in a complete daze.
The seven other people who had exited the bus with us made their way to the entrance of the Shelby Bus Station, but Gabe turned and began to walk towards the road. I followed, but was, of course, as confused as ever.
“Can you give me some information now?” I asked as we began our trek down the road.
Kicking up dust as he walked, Gabe turned to me and pointed towards a bridge in the distance. I was probably about a mile away, and sitting behind it was a large factory with smokestacks pumping out white plumes of pollution into the sky. From what I could tell, Shelby consisted of little more than factories and bridges. “Do you see that?” he asked.
“Yeah, it’s a factory. Are we going to a factory?” I asked, still unsure of what he was trying to tell me. “Why would we go to a factory?”
“We’re not going to the factory. We’re going to the bridge,” Gabe stated, without saying anything else.
Twenty minutes later, we had reached the edge of the bridge that crossed a small river separating the factory from seemingly everything else in the area. No cars crossed the bridge in either direction, but it seemed as if the factory was the only thing in the world on the other side, so why would anyone need to cross unless they worked there?
The factory, itself, looked like any other factory would, gray, dismal, dirty, and somewhat abandoned. Had the smokestacks not been working, I would have thought this place had long since been condemned.
“What is this place?” I asked. At this point, even I was getting annoyed with my own questions, but Gabe hadn’t given me any new information since before speeding out of Chicago on a bus.
“Come over here,” Gabe instructed as he climbed down the edge of the hill by the bridge leading to the churning water below. He held onto the edge of the bridge for support, but soon let go as he climbed beneath it, steadying himself on the rocks below.
I followed, wobbling as the rocks shifted below my feet, hoping I wouldn’t lose my footing and tumble into the less-than-clean-looking water that was now just to my right. “Gabe, don’t freak out on me, but you’ve been acting really, really weird ever since… well, you know,” I said cautiously, not wanting to actually mention his beating.
“Isn’t this place kind of cool?” he asked, looking around and picking up several of the rocks. He tossed them into the water where they made splashing sounds and sent a couple of fish swimming in the opposite direction.
I hesitated. “It’s a bridge,” I said, not sure what else to say.
“I know this all seems really strange, Jamie, but I had to get away for a little while. We’ve been under complete surveillance since the minute we left Weed. Doesn’t that bother you? Don’t you feel like you’re part of some science experiment or something?”
Truth be told, I didn’t completely agree with Gabe. It was a fact Harrison had likely been watching our each and every move as of late, but he had also spent more than a year looking for us after we fled Hastings. The man felt we owed him a debt, so it wasn’t completely unbelievable he wanted to keep us under close tabs, you know, in case we decided to run away again. However, through all of it, there hadn’t once been a time where I felt like I was being watched. I knew I was, but I didn’t feel like it.
“Believe me when I say I’m not justifying anything this man has done, but I think he’s done a pretty good job of keeping his surveillance a secret from us. I mean, I’m sure he knows we know we’re being watched, but at least he does it from a distance. I haven’t even seen him once since we got off the plane in Chicago,” I said.
“He’s watching us constantly.”
“I know, but it just doesn’t feel like he is, you know?”
Gabe shook his head. “Why do you think Geet came looking for you at the apartment the other night? He was looking for you because of something he saw you do, Jamie,” Gabe said cruelly.
My stomach sank into my feet. “You got hurt because Geet couldn’t find me?” I asked.
“Sort of. I stood up for you, lied for you, but that’s not the point. The point is you didn’t know you were being watched, and you screwed up big time.”
I had a feeling I already knew what Gabe was talking about, but I decided to ask him anyway, trying to play dumb.
“You ran into Riley at Bierce last week,” Gabe said flatly. “And you struck up a conversation with her.”
I immediately tried to think of ways to defend myself. At the time, trying to talk to her seemed like the smartest thing I could do, but I also didn’t know that Geet must have been there, watching everything happen, watching Riley attempt to leave several times and me doing whatever I could to make her listen to me.
“I didn’t know I would see her there,” I said quickly. “I only talked to her because I didn’t want her running to the police and telling them she had seen me at her school. I was trying to do some damage control, I swear.”
Gabe nodded. “I believe you,” he said. “But why Bierce? There are dozens of colleges in Chicago, and you picked the one school where you might run into someone from our past. You picked the school Riley Frazier goes to, Jamie!”
I knew the answer to this question without missing a beat, and I knew Gabe did too, but I explained Ben’s connections again anyway. Ben, thought a little over-privileged and egotistical, knew a lot of kids on campus with the money to spend on Manic. I had intended only to go to Bierce to find those kids. Running into Riley had just been a very unfortunate side effect.
“Look, I know you think this Ben kid is alright, but I don’t think we need his help selling Manic. The last thing we need is another new face working with us. Look what happened to Ford,” Gabe said, not bothering to sugarcoat the fact hiring Ford had been my idea, too, and it had gotten him killed.
I shook away the thought. “I’m sorry about what happened with Geet, but you’ve barely spoken to me since it happened. I know he… tortured you to get information about where I was or who I was talking to, but isn’t that a little bit of an extreme reaction to me talking to Riley for five minutes?” I asked. “And you still haven’t explained why we’re at this weird old factory, sitting under this tetanus-trap bridge.”
“It was an overreaction, but it was purposeful. He was letting me, and you through me, know not to step out of line again. You’re just lucky you hadn’t come home by the time he showed up, or I’m sure you’d be sporting some nice bandages and taking antibiotics right now, too.”
“And the bridge? The factory?” I asked.
Gabe let out a sigh that told me he wasn’t sure how to continue on with our conversation, but he had brought us here for some reason. What was it?
“This bridge is a special place for me,” he began. “But the factory is also very important. The factory is how we’re going to kill Harrison.”
I had somewhat forgotten about that part of the plan. I still wasn’t on board with killing Harrison, but the more Gabe talked to me, the more I agreed with him that we weren’t as safe as I had originally thought we were. “Are you sure we need to kill him?” I asked.
“Jamie, we have to,” Gabe said sternly. “Harrison will never let us go. He owns us right now, and even though he says we’re as good as free after we pay off our debt, there’s no way it will ever happen.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I know how Harrison works. I’ve never mentioned it to you before, but I lived here, with Geet, a few years ago, before we ever met. Geet had just recently started working for Harrison, and I got to see some of the inner workings of his business while I was here. That factory across the river, that’s where Harrison makes all of his drugs. He runs it as a giant cover, says he manufactures some brand of whiskey or something… But I promise you, for every bottle of whiskey coming out of the factory, a hundred times more drugs come out.”
I began to wonder immediately how this factory had anything to do with how we were going to kill Harrison, but it seemed as if Gabe was reading my mind. He continued to speak before I could even say a word.
“Once a month, Harrison pays a visit to the factory in the middle of the night. He comes alone, and believe me, Harrison never goes anywhere alone. He drives here from downtown and does a walkthrough to make sure everything is running smoothly.”
“That’s when you want to do it?” I asked.
“It’s the only time we can do it,” Gabe stated. “Any other time, Harrison has at least five armed guards with him. He’s a very powerful man, even if most of the world doesn’t know he’s a drug kingpin.”
The thought that Gabe had apparently spent the past six days contemplating the perfect way to kill our boss and captor terrified me. It made me realize just how serious he had been when he originally told me it was what we had to do.
Gabe leaned back on the rocks, staring up at the bottom portion of the bridge. He seemed relaxed now that he had explained to me what we had to do. As he lay there, I saw on the stone pillar behind him helping to hold up the bridge a large G.M. scribbled in black paint. It looked worn and faded, but I knew he had made the mark years before. Next to Gabe’s initials were two more letters, B.D. He had said this place was special to him, but I still had no real idea why.
“I can guess the G.M. stands for your name, but who is B.D? Why is this place so special to you?” I asked.
Gabe smiled sadly. “That’s a story for another time.”
We sat in silence for nearly a full minute before I decided to ask the next hard question.
“So, what? We sneak out of the apartment, come to the factory, and… How do we do it?”
I couldn’t believe I was going along with this. I had no idea how I was even entertaining the idea of murdering a man. I knew Harrison was a terrible person, probably a murderer himself, but I still couldn’t wrap my head around what Gabe was suggesting we do.
“I guess shooting him would be the easiest, fastest way to get the job done,” Gabe said dryly.
“Okay,” I whispered. “Do you really think this is going to work?”
“God willin’ and the creek don’t rise,” Gabe snorted. He seemed almost amused with himself, but I could tell he was at least a little bit concerned, too.
I didn’t respond.
“Look, Jamie, I know you’re not ready for this. I know you can’t kill anyone. But I’ve done it before. I thought my insides were going to explode when I shot that thug and Officer Jerkoff back in Hastings, but at least I’ve done it before… I think this time it will be a lot easier for me. This time, I know the person dying is a bad guy.”
“What are you saying?” I asked.
Gabe sat up and stared directly into my eyes.
“When the time comes, I’m the one who kills Harrison.”
(A House Divided)
We managed to make it back to the city and to our apartment without too much trouble. Geet, once again, met us outside our door, but asked few questions and seemed at least somewhat accepting of the story we had been out trying to find new buyers for Manic. After giving us a sly smile and stepping aside, Gabe and I were able to enter the apartment, closing ad locking the door behind us.
As Gabe walked towards his bedroom, a thought dawned on me. I knew we shouldn’t be talking about our plan inside the apartment, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep without having at least some kind of an answer for my question.
“Gabe?” I asked. “What are we going to do after?”
He thought for a second. “Well, if everything goes well, I guess we’ll be running off again. I mean, there could be reasons to stay, but I think it’s safe to say we won’t be in Chicago anymore.”
“Always running,” I said, more to myself than to Gabe.
“That’s the life we chose. Even with Harrison out of the way, we won’t be free men. Not now, not ever.”
I nodded my understanding.
“We’ll need money.”
I didn’t speak, but waited for Gabe to explain what he was planning. I could see the wheels spinning in his head, formulating another plan.
“We’ll have to start dipping into the money we make selling Manic. It’ll have to be discreet, and even then, Harrison might figure it out, but we can’t run off without anything to keep us alive. We’ll take a little bit from each sale and set it aside. Hopefully within the next few weeks we’ll have enough to get us new identities and a way out of town.”
“What if we don’t?” I asked.
“We always figure something out,” Gabe laughed. He walked into his bedroom and closed the door behind him.
I knew I should have been exhausted after spending over eight hours running around Illinois with Gabe, plotting our great escape, but I felt wide awake. The moon shone through the wall of windows to my left, and I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping for a long time, if at all. And as if on cue, my mind immediately began to wonder towards thoughts of what would be happening in my life within the next few weeks. I willed my brain to stop, but it wouldn’t. Thoughts of everything that could go wrong flooded through me, and I found myself thinking, ‘Who else is going to die, other than Harrison?’
It wasn’t a question of whether anyone else would die, but who they would be. A list of names fluttered through my mind; Geet, Fuchsia, Gabe, me? I realized quickly the list of names was much smaller than it would have been just over a year ago.
A knock at the front door startled me out of my own thoughts, and I glanced at the wall hanging in the kitchen. It read 12:44. Who would possibly be knocking on the door at almost one in the morning? Who would possibly be knocking on the door at all, actually?
I opened it cautiously, realizing instantly Fuchsia was standing on the other side. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was still curious as to why she would be wanting to see me so late at night.
“What’s up?” I asked.
She ran her hand through her hair shyly. “I can’t sleep,” she said.
“I haven’t tried yet,” I said, opening the door the rest of the way for her so she could come inside. “But I have a feeling I’ll be in the same boat.”
She walked through the apartment, her hair swaying from side to side, and I watched her, trying to take in her beauty. But as she sat down on the couch, I began to wonder why I would never be able to feel the same way about her as she felt about me. Ever since the night we met, Fuchsia had been head over heels for me, and I had treated her more like a rebound than anything else. I never allowed myself to get too close, or close at all for that matter, but I couldn’t really figure out why.
Anyone who knew me would be able to say it was because of my feelings for Riley, but I had very much accepted whatever I had once had with Riley was dead and gone. She hated me, and I deserved to be hated.
“Are you going to sit down, or are you just going to stand there?” Fuchsia asked.
I walked to the couch and sat down next to her, closer to her than I would have had I not been thinking about my feelings. I wanted to feel the same way for her as she felt for me, but I didn’t know if I could force myself. And should I even try to if it involved being forced?
The view from the couch was extraordinary. It faced the windows, giving us a full view of the city, which at night was exponentially more mesmerizing than it was during the day. The glow of the buildings lit up the room as if candles had been placed throughout, and the lights on the Hancock Center antennas blinked off and on, creating an almost hypnotizing rhythm.
“Something’s on your mind,” Fuchsia stated coolly. I shook my head with a small, forced laugh and realized she was staring into my eyes.
“When is something not on my mind?” I asked.
“That’s a good question. I guess it’s all part of your mysterious nature,” she chuckled, laying her head on my shoulder. Automatically, my brain told me to shift my body so she would have to move, but I ignored the thought and let her continue talking. “You roll into town, sweep me off my feet, disappear into the night, and then come back a year later. You’re a mysterious, enigmatic jerk.”
“Oh, I’m a jerk now?” I asked playfully.
“You’re going to tell me you disagree with my statement?”
“I didn’t say that,” I said. “But you didn’t have to put it out there in the open like that.”
We shared a laugh, knowing full well I had earned my “jerk” title, and had likely done enough to hold the crown for years to come. I still couldn’t figure out why Fuchsia seemed to care so much about me.
She sighed and pulled her feet up on the couch, using me as a pillow.
“Why do you put up with me?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
I decided to put it out there on the table. “I’ve never treated you particularly well, as you just pointed out, but you stick around. All that on top of this situation Gabe and I are in… Any normal girl would have been on their way out of town the second all this started happening.”
Fuchsia thought about it for a moment, staring through the windows at the city. “I guess I’m not a normal girl, then,” she answered.
“That’s the truth, Madame Serena.” We laughed again as she gently punched me in knee. “Ow,” I said.
“You deserved it,” Fuchsia said with another laugh.
We sat in silence for a few minutes after that, and while I don’t know for sure what Fuchsia was thinking, I had thought about how little she really knew about me, and how even she, a self-proclaimed “not-a-normal-girl,” would want nothing to do with me if she knew how much pain I had caused everyone in my life. She would be on the first flight back to California if she knew every meaningful relationship in my life, not counting whatever I had with Gabe, had crumbled and imploded, all because of me.
“You’re thinking deep thoughts, again,” she said, breaking the silence.
“What are they?”
“You tell me. You’re the psychic,” I said, giggling.
She grabbed my palm and immediately began feeling creases in my hand as if I was an actual paying customer at her shop back in California. In the dim light, I could see her brow furrow, and glanced up at me with a look of concern on her face. I knew at least part of her took the psychic-thing seriously, but I couldn’t be completely sure if she was acting or not.
“You’re very, very stressed,” she said quietly. “And you’re worried about what’s going to happen in the very near future.”
I tilted my head in surprise, but told myself someone pretending to be psychic could get pretty much anything right if they used vague comments and pried information out of their clients. “You’re going to have to do better than that,” I said.
She continued rubbing my palm and closed her eyes. “You’re worried about Gabe. You’re worried he’s going to do something to put you both in danger.”
I was a little shocked. “That’s pretty close,” I said, waiting for her to continue, but she didn’t. She let my palm go and raised her head off my shoulder, turning it towards my face. I turned to look at her, and she kissed me, square on the lips, deep and passionate.
As she pulled her face away from mine, she looked down, saying, “You can’t let him make decisions that can get you hurt, Jamie. You have to stop doing what’s best for Gabe, and start doing what’s best for you. He doesn’t care about you as much as you think he does.”
I let out a frustrated sigh and looked away. For some reason, my eyes were beginning to water, and I didn’t want Fuchsia to see. “It’s not that simple. It’s never been that simple. Gabe has a way of making his ideas seem like the only ideas.”
“You’re going to get yourself or someone else killed,” she said.
I was shocked by her words, but decided to be candid. “I already have gotten someone killed. Multiple someones.”
That’s when it dawned on me: I wasn’t allowing myself to get too close to Fuchsia because I didn’t want her die.
She took my hand in hers again, this time not holding it to “read my palm.” She looked at me with so many different emotions I couldn’t tell them apart. “You’re not a bad person,” she said, as if actually reading my mind. “I know I don’t have the whole story, and I don’t need it. I know how I feel about you, and I know you might not feel completely the same way, but I’m in this with you, until the very end.”
“Gabe’s planning for us to kill Harrison, and I don’t know what to do,” I blurted. I wasn’t sure if we were going to tell Fuchsia or not, since we hadn’t discussed it.
While she seemed oddly calm for being someone who had just found out the guy she had feelings for might be a murderer within the next few weeks, she still looked a little worried. “You don’t think it’s a good idea?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said honestly. I had no idea whether or not killing Harrison was a good plan or not. I was torn as humanly possible on the topic.
We sat silently again, staring through the windows. I couldn’t be sure in the dark, but it looked and sounded as if a storm was rolling in. A storm always seemed to be rolling in.
“You can’t do it, Jamie,” Fuchsia said, breaking the silence once more.
“I think I have to,” I answered.
“I’m serious,” she said. “I have a lot of free time now that we’re in Chicago, and you and Gabe are working all the time. I hear things. I see things. Harrison is way too powerful for the two of you to go after him. You don’t know what you’re doing, and you’ll die.”
I put my arm around her shoulder and pulled her closer to me, squeezing her arm only slightly. “It sure seems likely, doesn’t it?” I asked.
Thunder began to roll ominously in the distance.
“I don’t want you to die,” Fuchsia said quietly.
“I don’t want me to die either,” I said.
A few minutes later, Fuchsia had fallen asleep and was snoring softly. I thought I would be awake all night, staring out the windows as the rain began to pour, but before I could think too much about the decision I would have to make in the coming weeks and how it would affect mine, Fuchsia’s, and Gabe’s lives, I dozed off and did not wake up until morning.
The next few days went by like any other, but both Gabe’s and Fuchsia’s words had stuck with me and were driving me crazy. Gabe wanted to kill Harrison, and he wanted to save up enough money to flee Chicago afterwards by stealing from Harrison. Each of these ideas on their own could get us killed; combining them together pretty much guaranteed it.
Fuchsia, on the other hand, wanted me to ignore Gabe’s plan and… what? She hadn’t had much of a plan of her own, but she had made it clear I shouldn’t be trusting Gabe, at least not as much as I had been.
And, to no one’s surprise, least of all my own, I had no idea what to do.
I paced back and forth through the apartment, quickly realizing my own home was beginning to feel like a prison. Despite the open view of the city, knowing Geet Malvado was almost always just outside the door, waiting to question me any time I wished to leave, made me uneasy. And even if I did wish to leave, I had no other reason than to sell Manic and find new clients to sell Manic to. I had no social life. Gabe and Fuchsia were my only friends, and even being around each of them made me nervous at times, but for completely different reasons.
I paced the length of the apartment two more times before it dawned on me I had to get out of the apartment, or I’d likely go insane before the day was over.
I grabbed my coat and walked to the door, not surprised at all when Geet was standing on the other side. Since I had run into Riley at Bierce, and since Gabe’s beating, he or another thug had been stationed outside the door pretty much 24/7.
“Where are you headed to?” he asked. His black hair was pulled into a ponytail, like always, and he wore a crisp, expensive suit, like always.
“Out,” I said, trying to rush past him.
He put his gigantic hand against my shoulder to stop me. “You know that’s not an applicable answer. We wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt because we can’t tell the truth, do we?”
I curled my lip in disgust at him and took a step backwards so his hand was no longer touching me. “If you don’t want anyone getting hurt, then you might want to stop beating the shit out of them,” I said.
Geet smiled. “Just tell me where you’re going, Small Fry, and then we don’t have to talk to each other anymore, because believe me, I really don’t like talking to you.”
“I have a lunch meeting,” I said casually. I did not have a lunch meeting.
“His name is Ben Bradley. He’s a customer who might have some potentially useful contacts for finding some new clients.” I said. Ben’s name was the first to come to my mind, as I had not sold much Manic since getting to Chicago, and had really only liked speaking with Ben anyway.
Geet thought about my answer before speaking again. “You’ve sold to this guy before? How did he feel about the product?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him since, but he seemed pretty eager to hook me up with some other people his age with enough money to blow on Manic. I can ask him how he liked it when we talk… If you let me leave.”
Geet stepped aside and gave me another smile. “Have a nice day at work, Mr. Brewer,” he said, adding, “Try not to get yourself into any trouble while you’re out today.”
“Believe me,” I said. “I’ve learned my lesson. I wouldn’t want anyone else to get playing cards shoved under their fingernails because of me.”
I walked away from Geet before he had the chance to speak again, deciding to take the stairs at the end of the hallway instead of waiting for the elevator. Once outside the apartment building, I welcomed the bustling, loud city street.
I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and opened the contacts folder. There was only one name: Benjamin Bradley. I hit he call button and waited to see if he would answer.
“Hello?” he said, sounding a lot groggier than I had anticipated.
“Hey, Ben, it’s Jamie.” Ben didn’t answer. “Uhm, you know, from the bridge…”
“Oh, hey, Jamie. Sorry, you woke me up. I had to think about who you were for a minute,” Ben said. I could hear him rustling around as if he had just rolled out of bed.
I checked my watch. “It’s past one in the afternoon,” I said.
I didn’t know what to say, but assumed, based on our previous conversation, that Ben had stayed up all night partying, drinking, and taking drugs he probably didn’t even know the name of. For all I knew, he had been jetsetting from country to country since the last time we spoke. Such was the life of someone with more money than he knew what to do with.
“I was thinking about some of the things you said when we met. You said you might be able to introduce Gabe and I to some more people who might be interested in buying Manic?” I wasn’t sure how to phrase and ask the question, plus I sucked at small talk, so I decided to just jump right into it.
The rustling sound on the other end of the phone continued. “Yeah, definitely. In fact, there’s a party on campus tonight. You and Gabe should come, we can meet up, and I can let you talk to some kids who are itching to blow some of their parents’ money. What do you say?”
I paused. The party was at Bierce, and so was Riley. But, what were the chances I would run into her again? She had never been the partying type back home, so why would she even be there? On the other hand, I hadn’t expected to run into her when I visited the campus the first time.
“Great. We’ll be there!” I blurted without thinking.
“Good!” Ben said excitedly. “Be sure to bring plenty of Manic. I have a feeling you’ll be making a lot of dough tonight.”
I smiled nervously, glad we would possibly be bringing in some cash, but scared about where and how we would be doing it. The last thing Gabe or I needed was more drama and trouble from Harrison.
“Where should I meet you, and what time?” I asked.
Ben gave me the address of a house on campus where I assumed the party would be happening, and said to meet him there at ten o’clock. I committed the place and time to my memory and hung up the phone and immediately sent a text to Gabe telling him our plan for the night, assuming he would be happy.
Eight hours later, after finding numerous reasons not to go back to the apartment and face Geet, I was meeting up with Gabe to talk about Bierce. He, while happy about the money we would likely be making, had his reservations about going back to the location where we had already experienced enough trouble for a lifetime.
“You’re sure this is the best idea?” he asked.
I wasn’t used to Gabe asking my opinion, but welcomed the change with open arms.
“Yeah, I think it should be fine,” I said. “Geet doesn’t know exactly where we are, and I’m not worried about running into Riley at the party. We just go in, meet up with Ben, sell some drugs, and leave. We won’t even be there more than a couple of hours.”
Gabe nodded, but didn’t speak.
“You’re not convinced,” I said.
We continued walking down the street towards Bierce.
“I didn’t say that,” Gabe finally answered. “I just want to avoid any more ominous run-ins with my brother. The last one didn’t end up so nice for me.”
“I get it,” I said. “But we have nothing to worry about.”
“You don’t know much about this Ben guy.”
“I know he’s rich, and I know he seems to want to help us out. That should be enough, right?”
“Actually, no, but I’m going to trust you on this one.”
“That’s all I ask,” I said while smiling.
A few minutes later we were standing in front of a large, three story house on the Bierce campus. Giant, wooden Greek letters hung over the front door, and dozens of college-age kids were already scattered around the front yard, talking, drinking, smoking, and laughing. Instantly, I spotted Ben sitting on the stone railing of the porch, smoking a cigarette and wearing a tacky, crushed blue velvet blazer. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to be ironic or if this was how rich kids really dressed. Either way, I waved to him and jogged up the steps to the porch to talk to him.
“Well, look who made it!” he yelled over the blaring music coming from within the house.
“We made it,” I said as Gabe walked up behind me. I motioned over my shoulder to him and added, “This is Gabe.”
It’s nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard your name around campus. You’re quite the popular drug-dealer,” Ben said, stretching out his hand for Gabe to shake.
Gabe ignored it and gestured towards the house. “This seems like a pretty huge party.”
Ben mistook Gabe’s comment as a compliment. “Yeah! I’m guessing there are about two or three hundred people here. By midnight, there will probably be double that many.” Finally, Ben understood the look on Gabe’s face. “But parties aren’t really your thing, are they?” he asked.
“No,” Gabe answered simply.
I turned to Gabe and whispered angrily, “Be nice, please.”
“It’s okay. It’s okay,” Ben said. “I promise you’ll be happy you came.”
He turned to lead us into the house. All around us, drunk and high college students were dancing and laughing. I suddenly wondered if this is how I would have been spending my nights had I ended up attending Bierce. Maybe, had things gone differently in Hastings, I would be at this exact party for an entirely different reason.
Ben looked over his shoulder at us as he stopped at the bottom of the large staircase, decorated with balloons and streamers. “I told three people who were interested in Manic to meet you upstairs in the last room on the left. Their names are Heather, Nolan, and William. Each one has more money than most people will ever see in their lives, so they should be good to go as far as payment goes.”
Gabe mounted the stairs without another word, but I turned to Ben casually. “You didn’t say how Manic worked out for you. Were you pleased?”
Ben’s jaw dropped open in amazement. “Jamie, my friend, that little blue pill you gave me changed my life. It resulted in the single highest high I have ever experienced in my life, and that includes climbing Mount Everest.”
I smiled at him, but had to ask, “What’s it like? You know, what was your experience?”
“You’ve never had tried it?”
“I don’t sample the product,” I said coolly.
Ben laughed loudly, causing several party-goers to stop and stare for only a moment. “Well, you should start,” he said.
I was surprised when Ben followed me and Gabe up the stairs and into the bedroom at the end of the hall where the three potential clients were waiting, and Gabe’s quick glance from Ben to me told me he was both surprised and didn’t approve.
I opened my mouth to say something to Ben to get him to leave, but before I could speak, he was already talking.
He gestured to each of them, saying their names, and then said, “I have promised you the single most amazing drug that ever has and ever will be created, and these two gentlemen are the ones who are going to give it to you.” The three college students, all sitting on the edge of the bed as if they were waiting for us to read a story to them, smiled eagerly, looking at each other excitedly. The girl, Heather, had long black hair and wore thick, yet tasteful makeup. The two guys- I didn’t know which was Nolan and which was William –were about as opposite as I could imagine them. One had such short hair he might as well have been bald and wore a blazer similar to Ben’s, while the other had scraggly long hair that looked as if it hadn’t been washed and wore a faded t-shirt. The second one reminded me more of Gabe than he did the other students at the party.
Ben gestured towards me and I realized he was running this deal like some kind of game show. He was the host, William, Nolan, and Heather were the contestants, and Gabe and I held the prize: Manic.
I looked to Gabe, who held up his hands as if to say, ‘This is all yours.’
“Well, thank you for coming tonight and taking Ben’s word on how great Manic is. I think you’ll all be very pleased with the effects,” I began. “Each tablet costs seven hundred fifty dollars, but I’m sure you’ll find the price matches the product.” I remembered selling Ben his tablet for six hundred, but decided to up the price for these three clients, hoping he wouldn’t spill the beans. When I had sold to Ben, I hadn’t known the price, and he had been promised a discount.
Heather raised her hand like she was in class and said, “That’s a pretty penny for something none of us have tried before. Don’t we get a sample or something?”
I nodded. “I understand your concern, but because of the price, we don’t have the ability to give out freebies.”
Ben stepped in eagerly. “But I can assure all three of you… this drug is spectacular! I’ve done everything out there, and I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
I wasn’t exactly happy about Ben assigning himself the role as salesman, but I decided to go with it. “Ben, in fact, just got done telling me about how the high he got from Manic was better than the time he climbed Everest,” I said, trying to use his words as a type of sales pitch.
Gabe continued not to speak, but I decided to ignore him. If he wasn’t going to be useful, then I could easily pretend like he wasn’t there.
One of the guys spoke up. “What can you tell us about it, then?”
“I’m glad you asked, Nolan,” Ben said. I made a mental note that Nolan was the one who looked like he shared a stylist with Ben. That meant William was the burnout Gabe lookalike. “I tried Manic the night Jamie sold it to me, and at first, I was wondering if it was going to kick in at all. I thought I’d been cheated, but after about thirty minutes, everything started to slow down. I literally watched the hands on my clock slow down and finally stop. Then- this sounds completely idiotic –but everything turned different shades of blue. My skin was sapphire, my hair was cobalt, the walls were… I can’t even think of a blue to describe them. They were like something you’d see at Mardi Gras. “And then, even though time had slowed down, I was still moving at normal speed. So, nothing was moving the way it was supposed to except for me. It was terrifying at first, but after a minute, I realized I could do pretty much anything. I had to have scared the shit out of my roommate.”
Ben continued describing how Manic had affected him as Nolan, Heather, and William stared at him in awe. Hell, even I was staring at him in awe. Gabe, though trying to act nonchalant, was also visibly interested in Ben’s explanation.
“Then what?” Nolan asked.
Ben smiled. “You have to try it for yourself to find out the rest.” He turned away from them and gave me a subtle wink as if to tell me to seal the deal.
I stepped forward. “Is anyone not convinced?”
No one spoke, but Heather immediately pulled a wad of cash from her pocket. I smiled, took her cash, and pilled one of the small plastic bags from my pocket holding a single blue Manic tablet. She took it from me, slid it into her own pocket and immediately left the room without another word. Nolan soon followed her actions, and Gabe and I were immediately fifteen hundred dollars richer, not counting what belonged to Harrison, which was technically all of it.
“What about you, William?” I asked.
He stood from the bed and stepped toward me, and for a small moment, I was intimidated by him in the same way I was normally intimidated by Gabe.
William stared me in the eye, and without showing a bit of emotion said, “I’ll take two.”
Trying not to seem surprised, I fished two plastic bags from my pocket and took the cash William had handed me. He slid one of the plastic bags into his own pocket, opened the second, and tossed the pill into his mouth without as much as looking at it. For all he knew, I had just sold him two Tylenol at a one million percent increase in price.
William turned to walk towards the door, stopped, turned to us and said, “If anyone needs me, I’ll be hopefully tripping balls outside.”
Gabe stifled a laugh, and my jaw dropped in amazement. Seconds later, William was gone.
The three of us left in the room stood silently for a moment, not sure what to say to one another. Ben, of course, spoke up first.
“Well, gentlemen, I hope I was helpful to you tonight. With any luck, not that you need it, I’ll be seeing a lot more of you around here. There are at least four parties like this each week at Bierce. Rich kids like their house parties.”
“Thanks,” Gabe said, finally speaking up. “Are you wanting some kind of commission or something?”
I was only slightly shocked by Gabe’s words. I could tell from the start he was uncomfortable with Ben helping us out, but never once had he mentioned wanting any kind of payment for introducing us to new Manic clients.
“No, no,” Ben said. “You’ve got it all wrong. I just liked the product and wanted to help you guys out. I’ve got enough money to last me the rest of my life.”
“Good,” Gabe said.
I decided to try to ease the tension as much as possible. “Thanks, Ben. We probably wouldn’t have been nearly as successful tonight without your help.”
Gabe rolled his eyes.
Ben started to walk towards the door, stopping just before walking out. “Jamie, if you decide you want to keep in touch, I’m sure I can hook you up with more buyers.” He glanced to Gabe with a smile that could have easily been mistaken as a smirk, and opened the door.
William came busting into the room, nearly knocking Ben to the floor.
“Cops!” he said in a panicked whisper.
“Excuse me?” Gabe asked, a look of shock on his face.
William was almost out of breath, as if he had just finished running a long distance, though in the time that had passed, he couldn’t have even been outside before he had to turn around and come back. “Four police cars just pulled up. They’re grabbing anyone and everyone they can. Handcuffs first, questions later,” he said.
“Shit,” I said, closing the door and noticing it didn’t have a lock.
“What do we do?” Gabe asked.
Ben was surprisingly calm. “I’m sure it’ll be fine,” he said. “Police break up parties like this all the time around here. Nothing ever comes of it.”
“We can’t get arrested,” I said, my eyes widening. “We don’t have millionaire parents to buy our way out of going to court and getting prison time.”
Ben shrugged. “Then we’ll have to create a diversion.”
Gabe looked to me with fury and panic in his eyes. “If we get arrest, it’s all over. The cops figure out who we are, and we go down, maybe for life.”
“Life?” Ben laughed. “At the most, you’ll get a couple of months and some community service. You can’t even be twenty-years-old yet.”
I swallowed and tried to hold back the panicked tears fighting to spill from my eyes. “No, he’s right. If we get caught, we’re not getting out of prison. We have… complicated pasts.”
William scuttled around the room, looking for some kind of escape route that didn’t exist. He quickly pulled the second Manic tablet from his pocket and swallowed it. The first tablet hadn’t even set in, and here was throwing back another one. What was this guy thinking?
“Well, then it looks like we’re back to the diversion idea,” Ben said. “You two wait here. When you hear me outside the door, go out the window. It’s a bit of a drop, but we’re only on the second floor, so you should be able to recover pretty quickly and run off. Now, if there are cops outside, then you’re on your own, but I can distract the ones inside long enough for you, and probably some other people to get away.”
“You can’t be serious,” I said. “You’ll go to jail.”
“Remember my rich parents. They’ll figure something out,” Ben said, still smiling. I couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like he was getting off on this.
“Let’s go,” Gabe sad, jerking on my arm as he made his way to the window. He opened it and looked down, whistling at the drop. “He’s right; it’s a drop, but I think we’ll be okay.”
I hesitated. “I’m just getting over my last leg injury. The last thing I need is to break something after jumping out a second story window.”
“We don’t really have any other options!”
While Gabe and I bickered, William rushed to the window, climbed into the frame, stuck his legs through, and let his body slide out. A second later, he was letting out a pained groan as his body connected with the ground. I peered down at him, seeing a crumpled mass rolling around, but he seemed like he would be okay.
I turned back to Ben to thank him for offering to distract the police and subsequently get himself arrested for us and was shocked to see him standing next to the closed door, completely naked. His hand rested on the brass knob, and he had a gigantic smile on his face.
“What the hell?” I asked.
“If I’m going to get arrested, I’m going to do it style this time,” Ben answered.
He didn’t say anything to us, but instead flung the door open and ran into the hallway, completely naked and screaming, “Come get me, you pig motherfuckers!” Three police officers immediately came rushing down the hallway and went right past the bedroom we were housed in as Ben ran down the stairs, still screaming.
I looked to Gabe and couldn’t help but smile as I said, “The things we get ourselves into.”
He shook his head at me, trying not to smile as well, and glanced back to the window. “After you.”
I climbed into the window, just as I had seen William do moments before, let my legs dangle for only a moment, and without thinking too much about it, let my body drop, trying to tuck and roll as I hit the ground. The pain in my back and shoulder was intense, but I successfully rolled across the lawn and was able to climb to my feet without too much trouble. Gabe fell from the window next, gracefully rolling onto the lawn and standing with much more ease than I had.
“You’ve done this before?” I asked, but he merely shrugged.
As the two of us ran towards the street, partygoers flew past in every direction. I glanced in every direction, trying to get a good look at where the police were at, but the only two I could see were preoccupied; one was chasing a still very naked Ben, and the other was in the process of placing handcuffs on William, who looked less than pleased at how his jump from the window had turned out.
Gabe and I ran until we were well away from the Bierce campus, and then decided once we knew the police were not after us, to stop to catch our breath. And as we stood at the corner of Wells and Division, Gabe bent over with his hands on his knees, I felt something very strange come over me. I tried to hide it as much as possible, knowing Gabe wouldn’t approve at all, but it was admittedly difficult.
The feeling that had come over me, surprisingly enough, was satisfaction.
(Just Like Brothers)
One week had passed since the party at Bierce, which meant there was only one week left until Gabe and I were supposed to kill Harrison, thus freeing ourselves from spending the rest of our lives, however long that may be, working for him and selling Manic.
But there was a problem, because, well, if I had learned anything over the past year and a half, it was there was always a problem.
As much as Gabe continued to insist he and I were prisoners, being forced to work for a tyrannical drug lord until he decided we were no longer useful and killed us, I wasn’t sure if I agreed.
Yes, Harrison had brought us to Chicago against our will, but everything since then had been pretty alright, aside from Gabe’s violent run in with Geet. But at the same time, as much as I hated to admit it, he and I had joined a line of work where things like beatings were bound to happen from time to time. We weren’t doctors or lawyers or business professionals; we were criminals, and sometimes criminal work got a little bloody.
My own thoughts made me feel like a terrible person, but hadn’t I accepted that fact long ago? Hadn’t Gabe? When we were leaving Hastings, his words to me were, “One day, we’ll all become monsters.” Well, this was it. We were monsters, and I wasn’t hating it as much as I thought I would.
I had decided, whether it was a good idea or not, to try to talk Gabe out of killing Harrison. On top of everything else, the last thing I wanted was more blood on my hands. And even though Gabe had asked to be the one to pull the trigger, I would still be a part of it. I would still, in my eyes, be a murderer. Again.
I pulled a notepad of paper from one of the kitchen drawers and fumbled around until I found a pen. My thoughts were jumbled and conflicted, so my first response was to write a new letter to Kip. Of course, he had not been able to write back since I had gotten to Chicago, but being able to write to him made me feel better. I put the pen to the paper, only slightly worried about when Gabe was supposed to be home.
I hope you’re well. You not being able to write me back has been a little tough, I admit it, but I just have to keep telling myself it’s all for the best. I can’t have you at risk, for any reason.
Things are still going alright here, and I know it’s only been a couple of weeks since my last letter, but I just needed to put my thoughts on paper. It only made sense to kill two birds with one stone and write to you again.
I’m worried about Gabe. He’s been coming up with some pretty insane ideas, and I don’t know exactly how to handle them. He wants to do things that could potentially put us back in danger. I feel safer right now than I have in months, but he seems to think making some more changes would be best for us.
I know you have no idea what I’m talking about, but the main idea is I’m torn. I don’t know if I should go with my gut or go along with Gabe to keep him at ease. He gets a little out of hand when he doesn’t get his way.
I’ll just have to sit down, think about it, and see what happens. Don’t worry; I’ll let you know how it all goes.
I love you,
I quickly signed the letter, folded it, and slid it into the pocket of my jeans, happy Gabe hadn’t walked into the room unexpected.
As if on cue, Gabe opened the door and walked into the apartment, closing the door and raising his middle finger to the wall.
“I’m guessing Geet’s still on watch outside.”
“He is,” Gabe answered. “And he’s acting weird.”
“What do you mean?”
Gabe paused for a second, thinking. “He stopped me as I was unlocking the door, and he asked me if I had anything I wanted to tell him.”
I agreed with Gabe. That was weird, even by Geet’s standards.
“What did you say?” I asked.
“I didn’t say anything. I ignored him.”
“Well, do you think he’s suspicious of us?”
As part of our plan to have some getaway money after killing Harrison, Gabe and I had been shorting what we turned in as our Manic sales. Since the party, the two of us had made a little over forty thousand dollars combined, and had been pocketing one hundred dollars from each sale. It was a slow process, but in a week, Gabe and I had withheld five thousand dollars from Harrison. The plan was to do the same thing in the week leading up to our confrontation at the factory, making our “rainy day fund” about ten thousand dollars.
Gabe grunted, “I see how he could be. I mean, one hundred dollars adds up pretty quick. It won’t take them long to figure it out if they haven’t already.”
“You sound worried,” I said.
“Of course I’m worried. We have seven days left. We just have to keep Geet off our backs for seven days, then we can be rid of this whole situation.” Gabe was pacing, stroking his chin as if convincing himself instead of me.
“I guess this is as good a time as any to bring this up,” I began. “Maybe it’s not worth it.”
Gabe stopped in his tracks and glanced up at me. His stare was icy, and his hair hung around his face, reminding me of how crazy he had looked at times back in Hastings. “What are you saying?”
I hesitated. “I’m just saying we don’t really have it all that bad right now. We may not have the best boss in the world, but we get everything we need provided to us. This apartment, all our clothes, all our food; Harrison provides it all to us, and now we really are stealing from him.”
Gabe walked closer to me, holding up his hands, showing his newly unbandaged hands. “Look at me, Jamie. I refuse to answer a few of my brother’s questions—Harrison’s questions, and I get tortured. I still have bruises on my face! I just took the bandages off my hands this morning!”
I instinctively took a step back, not sure if Gabe realized he was coming towards me, and said, “I know what happened to you was terrible, but look at the bigger picture, Gabe.”
“What bigger picture?”
“We can’t keep running our whole lives. We ran from Hastings because we felt like we didn’t have a choice. Now, we want to do the whole thing all over again. We want to run away when that’s not our only option. And, on top of that, you want to kill a man and steal his money in the process.”
Gabe’s face burned red. “He stole from us first! And what we’re taking from him is only a fraction of what he took from us! He stole our lives, Jamie!”
“That is the most kindergarten logic I’ve heard in my life. He took our money and made us flee town, so now you want to literally end his life.”
Gabe marched toward the kitchen and slammed his fist into the marble countertop, and part of me knew he did it only to keep from slamming his fist into me. He was throwing a tantrum, because I didn’t agree with his ideas. When things didn’t go Gabe’s way, the world had to pay.
“He deserves this,” Gabe said almost quietly.
“Have you ever stopped to think maybe we deserve this, too?” I asked.
“We aren’t half as bad as Harrison is.”
“But we’re getting there,” I said. “Fuchsia doesn’t think it’s a good idea either.”
I could see Gabe getting angrier by the second. At the mention of Fuchsia’s name, he spun towards me, giving me the vilest glare he could muster. He hated me right then, because I was trying to talk some sense into him.
“You told her the plan?” he asked.
“She’s a part of this, too,” I said. “What did you think, we were going to kill Harrison, run away, and just abandon her here, like we did in Weed?”
“Don’t pretend to care about her now that it’s convenient,” Gabe spat.
His words struck a nerve much like mine had with him. Gabe knew as well as I did my feelings for Fuchsia were confusing, but to insist I didn’t care for her at all was insulting and completely untrue.
“I do care.”
“No, you don’t care about her, Jamie. Fuchsia is nothing but a means to an end for you. She’s a warm body to hold at night, but you’ll never feel anything for her more than necessity. And do you know why? She’s not Riley.”
I saw red briefly. “Don’t you dare say her name like you know anything my situation.”
“Why not? We’re being honest with our feelings, aren’t we?” Gabe said matter-of-factly.
“I do care for her, Gabe. Fuchsia is a great woman, and she doesn’t deserve to be kept in the dark about something like this. If we leave Chicago, we’re taking her with us if she wants to go. She’s not going to get involved in something she doesn’t understand and end up dead.”
Another nerve had been struck.
“Exactly like Ford,” I answered.
Gabe laughed maniacally, smiling at me as if he had somehow just won the argument. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the counter he had punched minutes before.
“Why does someone dying always have to be the answer for you?” I asked.
“Because, when it comes to what we do, someone always dies, and the way I see it, better anyone else than me,” he answered honestly.
“You always have to be in control, don’t you?”
Gabe smirked again. “I enjoy it, yes.”
“And you just can’t handle it when things don’t go your way. Things went south in Hastings, so we blew town. Bad shit caught up to us in California, so we left again. Now, Chicago isn’t what you thought it would be, so you want to cause a little more chaos and start over one more time. How many times are we going hit the reset button, Gabe?”
“If we stay, Harrison is going to kill us. I told you that.”
“But we’re still alive. We’re bringing Harrison in forty thousand dollars each week. That’s more than either of my parents make in a year. Have you ever thought maybe he sees how good we are and might want to keep us around?”
“Do you really want to take that risk?”
I turned to leave the apartment, needing desperately to catch my breath and organize my thoughts. I had always known this day would come, but never thought it would happen so abruptly. Gabe was dangerous, I had always known that, but his attitude towards killing Harrison and having everything go his way was becoming more frightening by the minute. If I stayed, I knew he would eventually end up taking a swing at me.
“Where are you going?” he shouted.
“I have to go,” I said. “And I just want you to know you’re not as in control as you think you are. There are things about me you don’t know, and if you did, you’d realize just how little control you’ve had over me this whole time.”
As I placed my hand on the doorknob to leave, Gabe laughed at me, following me towards the door. “Then who is?” he asked. “Because it’s definitely not you.”
I held my breath momentarily, but decided to let loose. Without turning around, I said, “I’ve been communicating with my little brother since we left Hastings. We’ve been writing letters back and forth for over a year, and you never knew.”
“You’re lying,” Gabe said. “Even you’re not stupid enough to put us in that much danger.”
I hastily pulled the folded letter from my jeans and held it up for him to see, still without turning around. I didn’t want to see the look on his face, though I could easily imagine it. I just hoped he wouldn’t attack me right then and there for what I had been doing.
“You stupid, lying bastard,” Gabe breathed, disbelief clear in his voice.
“Still think you’re running the show?” I asked.
“They’re better off without you.”
I heard the statement, but couldn’t function enough to react at first. Lava flowed through my veins as what Gabe had said registered in my brain, and I suddenly lost control of myself. I spun to face him, panting angrily. He smirked, knowing he had said just the right thing to get my attention.
And I lunged at him.
I was on top of him before I could even realize what was happening. I was no longer in control of my hands; they had been taken over by something deep, dark, and primal inside me. I punched Gabe in the face repeatedly as he tried to wrestle me off, but I had become stronger than I ever knew possible. I was an avalanche, burying Gabe deeper in the snow with every swing.
He coughed, blood spraying from his mouth.
I thought back to the brawl we had had back on the interstate in California. Then, Gabe had let me beat the shit out of him as a kind of repayment for the way he had treated me, or perhaps as a way to get me to do what he wanted, but this time, I was in complete control. He was barely fighting back because I wouldn’t allow it.
Without even realizing, I stopped punching him and slid my hands to his throat, squeezing as tight as I could.
Gabe’s arms flailed to my left and right, but never actually made contact with me. He struggled beneath my weight, but couldn’t seem to move me. As each second passed, my grip became tighter, and Gabe’s attempts of escape grew weaker.
“Jamie!” he managed to gurgle, but I squeezed tighter. If there was anything I wanted to gain from choking Gabe, it was for him to keep his mouth shut for once in his life.
His legs kicked. His left shoe flew off and skidded across the floor. His face turned blue.
I felt the hands gripping my shoulders, but didn’t react as Geet pulled me off of Gabe. He flung me across the floor like I was an old sock and leaned over Gabe, who was still conscious, but barely.
I lied on the floor, panting and drenched with sweat, watching as Geet helped Gabe get to a sitting position, patting his younger brother on the back. The situation seemed dire, but I could see Geet chuckling as Gabe struggled to regain his composure. He was shaking, and at this I smirked.
“I swear,” Geet laughed. “You two are just like brothers. It reminds me of the good ole days when you and I used to fight like that.”
Neither of us responded.
Geet stood and held out his hand for Gabe to take, pulling him to his feet as well.
I stayed on the floor, still panting, still covered in sweat.
“He’s fucking insane,” Gabe managed to say, his voice raspy.
“I guess you’d know,” I growled.
Geet rolled his eyes. “Well, if the two of you are over this little squabble, Harrison asked me to relay some information to you.”
“What kind of information?” I asked, climbing to my feet, using the countertop as support.
“Well, inventory reports compared to the cash you’ve been turning in seems to show the two of you are shorting Harrison quite a bit of money. Five thousand dollars, to be exact. You’ve got twenty-four hours to get your shit together. I’ll be stopping by tomorrow to collect the money you owe.”
Without another word, without asking if Gabe was alright, Geet waltzed out of the apartment, leaving the two of us to figure out what our next move would be.
“You have to give the money back,” Fuchsia said, her voice calm, but her face showing the true level of concern she was feeling. She was draped across her bed, wearing an oversized sweater and a pair of leggings. She looked like she belonged in an Urban Outfitters ad.
After mailing my latest letter to Kip, I had returned to Fuchsia’s apartment instead of the one I shared with Gabe. I was nervous about seeing him again (I had tried to strangle him, after all.), and I wanted him to be just as nervous about if and when I would return to the apartment. A larger part of me than I’d like to admit found joy in the thought of him watching the front door, jumping at any small sound he heard until I actually came back.
Gabe Malvado deserved the pangs of fear he was undoubtedly feeling after our altercation.
Fuchsia’s apartment was a mirror image of mine and Gabe’s, but was admittedly a lot messier than ours. I was a neat freak, and Fuchsia was more “live in the moment.” I moved a pile of dirty laundry from the armchair across from her bed before throwing myself into it and propping my feet up on her dresser.
“Believe me, I would love to,” I began. “But some things are easier said than done.”
“What do you mean?” Fuchsia asked, rolling onto her back and staring at the ceiling.
I watched her movements, trying to force myself to see her as sexy, but truth be told, Gabe’s words had struck home with me. I wanted to love Fuchsia, but there was a part of me, deep down, that knew I would never feel that way for her. She was beautiful, kind, outgoing, and just the right amount of eccentric, but in Gabe’s own words, she wasn’t Riley.
I shook the thought from my head saying, “Well, Gabe has the money.”
Fuchsia let out a troubled sigh, but didn’t say anything to me. I wanted her opinion about this, because I honestly didn’t know what to do. I had made my opinion about killing Harrison perfectly clear to Gabe, and he had reacted in about the worst way imaginable. Of course, I hadn’t thought about the fact Gabe had been keeping the money we’d been hoarding from Harrison under his mattress. I had left the apartment, but not taken the money with me. He had it, and he was in control of what happened to it. For now.
“Say something?” I asked her.
“Well, that’s probably about the worst thing that could happen. If Gabe has the money, he’s not going to give it back without a fight, right?”
“Right,” I said.
Fuchsia thought about this for a minute. Part of me was hoping she was coming up with some kind of miraculous solution to my problem, but another part of me wanted her to have nothing to do with it. She had been dragged into mine and Gabe’s problems without being asked; I didn’t want her becoming a key player in something that could potentially get her killed.
“Well, what are you thinking?” she asked.
I mulled the thought over in my mind, trying to come up with something, anything that might help me get the money back. In Gabe’s eyes, keeping the money from Geet and Harrison was an act of rebellion, a way to show them he was in control. In my eyes, keeping the money from them meant basically signing a death warrant. Harrison knew the money was gone, which meant he knew we were likely planning something. If we gave it back now, we’d have some ass-kissing to do, but we may eventually be able to earn our way back into Harrison’s good graces.
“I could go to Harrison,” I began. “I could explain to him I didn’t have anything to do with taking the money. You know, blame it all on Gabe.”
“So you mean lie?” Fuchsia asked, saying what I hadn’t wanted to.
“If you really want to look at it that way…”
Fuchsia frowned, sitting up on the bed and staring at me. “Gabe’s a bad guy, and I don’t like him, never really did, but if you lie about your involvement with taking the money, you’ll get him killed. In my eyes, that’s just as bad as following through with the plan to kill Harrison.”
“Are you saying we should kill him?”
“Of course not,” Fuchsia said, sneering at me. “You have to find a way to give the money back. It’s the only way.”
I turned to look away from her; I couldn’t stand the thought of her being upset with me. I’d put her through a lot ever since abandoning her when Gabe and I left Weed, and the last thing I wanted was her thinking I was going to make a decision that would put all of us in even more danger.
“I don’t think I can do that,” I said honestly.
“And why not?” Her tone had changed dramatically. She was no longer worried, but angry.
It was tough to come up with an answer. I felt like any decision I made about the money, and Gabe, and Harrison was going to be a huge gamble. My goal was to take the gamble with the lowest risk, and finding a way to steal the stolen money back from Gabe in order to return it to Harrison seemed like one of the riskier ideas.
“It’s too dangerous,” I said flatly.
Fuchsia stood up from the bed and walked to her closet, immediately pulling several shirts from the hanger and tossing them where she had just been laying moments before. As if she had been planning on something like this happening, she dragged a duffel bag across the floor and began piling the shirts inside it.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
She looked at me darkly. “I had a feeling it would come to this, Jamie. I was terrified when we left California on that plane, but once we got here and I realized we weren’t going to be shot in the head, I started feeling better about things. I tried to tell myself not to get too comfortable, but I guess hindsight is twenty-twenty, isn’t it?”
I tried to decode her message, but was having trouble.
“You’re leaving?” I asked.
She turned to me, tears in her eyes. “The choices you make, they’re cataclysmic. I adore you, I swear I do, but I have to keep my own life in my mind. You’re going to do something big, and you’re going to bring death down on all of us.”
I was in shock, but was having trouble finding the right words to say, as was becoming normal for me. “Where are you going?” I managed to ask, my voice cracking.
“I haven’t decided yet, not for sure. I’ve missed being Madame Serena, so maybe I’ll find somewhere to get that started back up. I mean, I’m obviously not very good at telling my own future, but maybe I can still manage to do it for strangers.”
“You can’t go,” I said, angry at myself for not being able to say something more profound, something that might actually stop her.
“I have to go, Jamie! And if you’re not going to do something to stop Gabe, then you should too. When Harrison doesn’t get his money back, bodies are going to start piling up, and let’s be honest, I’m expendable.” She said it so matter-of-factly, it took a moment for the words to register with me, but deep down, I knew she was right. If Harrison or Geet was going to try to get to me, they would start with Fuchsia. She was the only connection I had other than Gabe at this point.
I paused for a moment, but opened my mouth as she continued piling clothes into her bag. “Can I come with you?” I asked.
She pursed her lips, more tears welling up in her eyes but never spilling down her cheeks. “No,” she said. “I’ll never be safe with you. I never was. After everything you told me, I’m surprised it took me so long to realize it.”
“To realize what?” I asked.
“You’re death, Jamie.”
My eyes widened and my heart sank. Fuchsia had just told me the one thing about myself I had been fearing for over a year. I didn’t want her to continue, but she did. “Everywhere you go, no matter what you do, someone always dies.”
“It can’t be me this time.”
I didn’t have anything else to say, and even if I did, the words wouldn’t have found their way out of my mouth. I couldn’t argue with her, because I had no argument against her. Instead of drawing the situation out longer, I stood from the chair, nodded a last goodbye to her, and walked out of the room without a word.
Though I half expected her to follow me, try to keep me from leaving, perhaps even apologize to me, none of these things happened. Instead, I continued walking through her apartment, walked through the front door, and entered my own. Gabe or no Gabe, I couldn’t stay with Fuchsia any longer. Perhaps if she left soon enough, I would be able to stay in her apartment, but until then, I was stuck with Gabe.
Luckily, as I looked around the dark room in front of me, it was obvious Gabe wasn’t home. He had likely left trying to avoid me, but I decided I would have to be there when he got back. I had to talk to him about the money and the plan to kill Harrison one more time. I had to try to stop him, because if he didn’t, I was out of options. We were both as good as dead.
But at least Fuchsia would be safe. And as much as it pained me to admit it, that was really the only thing I had going for me.
Because Gabe wasn’t home, I immediately made my way to his bedroom, throwing back the covers and lifting the edge of his mattress. Though the hiding spot was predictable, the money had been hidden there since we began skimming off the top from Harrison. Maybe he had chosen under the mattress because sometimes a predictable hiding spot was the perfect place to put something you didn’t want found.
But the money wasn’t there.
I slid my hand from side to side, wondering if Gabe had put the cash closer to the middle of the mattress, but I found nothing. Angry, I grabbed with both hands and flipped the mattress off the bed completely. There was nothing underneath.
I moved through the room, checking under anything and everything that stuck out to me as a possible hiding place. I emptied drawers and decimated his closet, but the money wasn’t there.
“Always one step ahead,” I mumbled as I left the room, not bothering to put things back the way I had found them. It was a bold move, making it completely obvious I had rummaged through his belongings, but the moment I had attacked Gabe, a switched had flipped inside of me; I didn’t care anymore.
Though I had no idea if or when Gabe would return, I decided to wait. I wanted to ultimately get him back on my side long enough to return the stolen money. I also wanted him to know I had no intentions of becoming his bitch again. As far as I knew, he was afraid of me, and I wanted it to stay that way. I had almost killed him, after all.
It was almost three hours later when he finally, slowly, walked through the front door into the dark apartment, but I sat in an armchair, waiting for him to appear the entire time.
“Welcome home,” I said in a sinister tone. Gabe didn’t bother turning on the lights. Maybe he was too startled. Maybe he didn’t want to see my face.
“Is this you trying to be scary?” he asked. “Because if it is, you really need some practice.”
I smirked, though he couldn’t see it. “I figured nearly choking you to death was scary enough. I didn’t want you drop dead of a heart attack before I had the money back.”
“You’re not getting the money back,” he sneered.
He stayed near the front door, not bothering to come further into the apartment. Reading Gabe’s emotions was one of the most impossible tasks, but I had a feeling he was more frightened of me than he wanted to let on. Of course, there was a small possibility he wasn’t, but it flattered me to think the tables had turned for once.
“Let’s talk about this,” I said.
“There’s nothing to talk about. We had a plan, and I’m sticking with it, with or without you.”
I ran my hands through my hair, a sign of frustration and exhaustion, but I wasn’t going to let Gabe win this one so easily. He was used to always having his way, and I had a feeling if I refused to let up on him, I might actually be able to break him.
“There’s too much that could go wrong,” I said bluntly. “If we try to kill Harrison, we’re as good as dead.”
“Nothing can go wrong. I planned this out. I’ve been planning it since we got here, Jamie.”
I laughed. “If you think nothing can go wrong, then you’re completely delusional. Something always goes wrong.”
“Not this time.”
“Why do you want this so badly?” I asked. Gabe was a determined individual, but there was something about this plan that was one step further than determination. Gabe didn’t want to kill Harrison, he needed to.
He leaned against the door, still not coming further into the apartment, and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’ve already explained it to you. I’m no one’s slave, and if we stay with Harrison, that’s exactly what we’ll be for the rest of our very, very short lives.”
I contemplated different ways to convince him this was a bad idea, but I knew nothing I was going to say would work. I stood from my chair, and Gabe immediately tensed up, uncrossing his arms as if ready to fight if he had to.
“So it comes to this,” I said.
“I guess so.”
“Why are you smiling?”
“Because next time, I’m going to have to make sure my errand boy doesn’t grow a pair of balls,” Gabe said. He was trying to sound hard, but I knew he was still scared.
I shook my head in amusement at him. “Whose idea was all this? How easily we forget.”
“I was always in charge.”
I knew this was pointless. I hated cat and mouse games, and I knew every word I said only gave Gabe what he wanted. He knew I was pissed, and that made him feel more powerful. I crossed the apartment, opening the door into his shoulder to get him to move out of my way.
I stared directly into his eyes as I started to walk out the door.
“Was,” I said.
The next morning was spent thinking of places Gabe could have possibly hid the money. I knew he wasn’t stupid enough to keep thousands of dollars on him, so he had to have put it somewhere he considered safe.
If I could figure it out in time, I would be able to take the money back to Geet, potentially saving our lives. Of course, our twenty-four hours were over half up, and I had no idea where to start searching.
I laid on my back in Fuchsia’s bed; I had left the building to get a cup of coffee and clear my head after speaking with Gabe, and by the time I returned, she was gone. The bed was lonely without her, but I had to keep my head in the game and focus on what mattered most at the moment, finding the money.
My cell phone rang, and I jumped at the sound. I wasn’t used to hearing it ring. In fact, I wasn’t sure if had done so the entire time I had been in Chicago. Harrison’s drug deal jobs always came via text.
“Hello?” I asked groggily. I hadn’t slept.
“Hello, Jamie,” Geet said. His voice sounded weird over the phone, more cheerful than I was used to. Maybe his terrifying presence caused his voice to sound scarier in person.
“I wanted to remind you I’ll be by the apartment in a few hours to pick up Harrison’s money. I trust you’ll have it.”
I bit my lip, thinking of what to say. “I’ve honestly been working on that little problem all night,” I said.
Geet laughed, “Little problem.”
“Gabe and I aren’t exactly seeing eye to eye on how to handle things. I’m sure you know what I mean.”
“My brother can be very stupid sometimes.”
I considered asking him for an extension on getting the money back, but knew better of it. Instead, I waited patiently to see if he was going to say anything else. He did.
“There’s another sale to be made. I trust you can handle making the deal without stealing any more money from your boss?”
I paused, not sure how to respond. If I didn’t manage to return the money within a few hours, Gabe and I were as good as dead, but Geet was asking me to make another Manic sale. This confused me, but I decided not to ask questions. If Harrison trusted me to make a deal, maybe he knew Gabe was the real reason the money hadn’t yet been returned.
“Of course,” I said.
I could practically hear Geet smiling through the phone. “You’ll need to meet up with Robert Shank. He owns a pawn shop on the south side. I’ll text you the address when I hang up.”
“How much will he need?” I asked.
“Just one tablet. It’s a small deal, but he’s been a regular customer for some time. He and Gabe go way back, actually.”
I waited for more information, but Geet did not speak. “I’ll get it done,” I said.
“Jamie,” Geet said, “I know you have a certain respect for my brother, but Harrison greatly appreciates your loyalty. Maybe, if things go badly, he’ll keep that in mind.”
“Thank you,” I said. “But I really don’t have any respect for your brother.”
“Even better,” Geet said before hanging up the phone. Minutes later, he had texted me the address of Robert Shank’s pawn shop, and I was leaving the apartment and catching a southbound train.
Sitting on the train, I began to weigh my options as far as the next few days were concerned. However, my thoughts quickly derailed and turned into question about how I could actually manage to survive the coming days. The main question boiled down to: How do I survive when Gabe refuses to return the money to Harrison?
By the time the train arrived at the 75th street station, I still didn’t have an answer.
Robert Shank’s pawn shop was only about a mile from the station and was marked only by a simple neon sign above the door that read “Pawn.” The windows were covered with metal grates, and a sign almost as large as the one over the door hung in the window, advertising that the premises was being monitored by security equipment.
A tiny bell above the door rang as I walked through the door, and a man standing behind the counter raised a hand to me in greeting. “Help you?” he asked, seeming only slightly annoyed by my presence.
“I’m looking for Robert,” I said coolly. I was admittedly in what could be considered a “bad” part of town, though I had been in more unwelcoming places.
“I’m Robert, what’s it to ya?” He looked to be only a few years older than me, but something told me he was actually much older. His face was filled with red stubble, though his hair was about as blonde as it could be.
“My name’s Jamie,” I said. “I was told you were looking to buy some Manic.” I tried not to cringe at my delivery; I was usually a lot more discreet, but my mind was in other places.
Robert eyed me cautiously, walking towards me behind the counter, but staying behind the counter all the same. “That’s a hell of a sales technique you’ve got there. Take a tip from someone who owns his own business and work on the way you talk to your customers.”
I nodded to him. “Sorry,” I said, “It’s been a long couple of days.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “And you can call me Bob.”
I looked around as I pulled the small plastic bag and Manic tablet from my pocket. The store was stocked with anything you would imagine a pawn shop to be stocked with: DVDs, older electronics, guitars, drums, keyboards, and weapons.
The weapons ranged from anything from your ordinary, everyday handguns and knives, to more eccentric options like razorblade playing cards and throwing stars. They all sat behind locked glass cases and a handwritten sign hung on the wall behind Bob reading ALL LEGAL PAPERWORK MUST BE FILLED OUT BEFORE PURCHASING ANY WEAPON!
“See something you like?” Bob asked, shaking me out of my trance. I stood slack-jawed, not sure how to respond. “I only carry the highest quality weapons; the throwing stars are stainless steel, and everything is legal in Illinois. I can’t guarantee any other state.”
“Thanks,” I said. “You’ve got a nice selection.”
“You a weapons collector?”
“Most of the people your age who come in here drooling over the weapons are collectors of some kind. You’d be surprised how many kids like to collect these things. Most of ‘em look a little nerdier than you, though.”
I shook my head. “No, I’ve only ever held a gun once. They freak me out a little.”
Bob nodded, smirking slightly beneath his red beard. “They’re nothing to be afraid of if you know how to use ‘em. Not that I would condone using ‘em on anyone, but if you’re gonna buy one, you need to know how to use it properly.”
I nodded again.
Bob walked to the case and unlocked it, much to my surprise. From it, he pulled a small black handgun and held it out for me to take. “This is the Steyr M9-A1, a very underrated gun, if you ask me. It’s small, but powerful, like all guns are, I guess. But, that’s what it’s all about, you know?”
“Power,” I said quietly. I did not take the gun.
“Exactly. People, especially all the gangbangers, make a big deal out of big, flashy guns, but this right here is where it’s at. Small, easily concealed, but powerful enough to get the job done… whatever job it might be.”
“Do you see a lot of gangs around here?” I asked, trying to make casual conversation that didn’t lead to me being asked why I would be interested in a gun anyway, aside from the obvious fact of being a drug dealer.
“Nah,” Bob said, sounding almost sad. “Not since all the gentrification. You got fancy coffee shops and day spas moving into all the abandoned buildings around here. Rich kids using their mommy and daddy’s money to avoid getting a real job. Gangbangers have all moved on to other neighborhoods, places like Park Manor.”
All this talk of gangs and guns made me wonder how I fit into the spectrum of criminal activity. I wasn’t, nor had I ever been in a gang, but I’d done some pretty terrible things and was currently working for a drug lord. I sold drugs and had graduated from marijuana to something, in the police’s eyes, was probably far more sinister, but I’d never killed anyone, at least not directly.
I was an upper-middle class gangbanger.
Bob slid the gun back into the case, and just when I thought he had finished trying to get me to hold dangerous weapons, he pulled a knife out, holding it out with both palms of his hands.
“This is what we call the Straightedge,” Bob said, sounding proud. “Black carbon steel, hard sheath, seven and a half inch blade; this thing is a beauty. Perfect for hunting.”
“Hunting what? A bear?” I asked.
“Hunting anything you might need to hunt,” Bob laughed.
The knife was both frightening and beautiful, but as far as I knew, I didn’t and would never need anything quite so destructive, even if it wasn’t a gun.
Or would I?
If I failed to find Gabe or the money in the next few hours, I was as good as dead, so wouldn’t I need some protection? I had no intentions of going down without a fight, as pathetic of a fight as it may be, so having something like the Straightedge might just give the advantage I needed if worse came to worse and I found myself fighting to the death against one or more of Harrison’s men.
I extended my hand and took the knife from Bob’s hands and stared at it in my own. It only weighed about a pound or a little more, but something this sleek and powerful felt as if it weighed twenty.
“It’s nice, right?” Bob said.
“How much?” I asked.
Bob took a step back and laughed. “Now hold on there, partner. You can’t just buy a knife like the Straightedge over the counter. There’s paperwork and background checks that go along with these things.”
I took a deep breath, still examining the piece of steel in my hands. I was not familiar with weapons and definitely didn’t consider myself a violent person, but I liked the way it felt against my palm.
“I’m here to sell you drugs, right?” I asked. “Are you telling me there’s no way around all the paperwork and legalities if I wanted to buy this knife right now? What if it meant you got a significant discount on what you’re buying from me today?”
Bob mulled the thought around in his mind, opening his mouth to speak, but not actually saying anything at first.
“Look, if I don’t buy this right now, I probably never will. I need it, but I’m not someone who has the time or patience to wait around for paperwork and background checks.”
“What do you need it so badly for?” Bob asked.
I continued to stare at the knife’s black hilt and blade. “Protection,” I said.
I slide the Manic tablet across the counter towards Bob and smiled. “Half off,” I said.
Bob smiled, knowing this was a good deal, saying, “I think we can work something out.”
(A Flare for the Dramatic)
I rushed back to the apartment after making the deal with Bob and immediately hid the Straightedge blade in my bedroom, happy that, though he had been home, Gabe completely ignored me as I marched through our home.
I had a feeling the two of us wouldn’t be speaking much until whatever was going to happen actually happened. I was alright with this.I rummaged through my room, looking for the perfect place to hide the knife, but every time I thought I’d found the place, a different “what if” scenario popped into my head. The last thing I wanted was for Gabe- or anyone else- to find the knife before I even had the chance to use it; not that I wanted to use it at all. And truth be told, I had given Bob a significant discount on his Manic purchase in exchange for the knife, which meant Gabe and I had now stolen almost six thousand dollars from Harrison. Geet would be coming for the missing five thousand any minute, and if he asked for the money I had made from Bob Shank earlier that day, I was screwed. I continued to dig through my bedroom, finding myself slightly annoyed at how neat and tidy it was; if it was a messier room, I might have had an easier time finding a hiding place for giant hunting knife. As I looked around, out of ideas, my eyes settled on a large painting hanging above my bed when I moved in, and I decided if the knife would fit, sliding it between the canvas and the wall would be as good a hiding spot as any. The painting depicted a naked man and woman (maybe dead?) lying on a brick floor, draped by an American flag in a way that made the red stripes look like blood. It was a dark painting, to say the least, but I had grown to like it. “Jamie, get in here,” Gabe called from the other room. I rolled my eyes, ignoring him. Whatever he wanted; it could wait. I grabbed the canvas and pulled it away from the wall far enough to place the knife behind and was pleased to find it fit perfectly. When I turned back around, Gabe was standing in the doorway, eyeing my suspiciously. I couldn’t be sure if he had seen me hiding the knife or not, but by the way my body was positioned, I thought I had blocked my actions from his line of sight. “We have a visitor,” he said. His face was far from amused, and I could tell he was talking about Geet. “I’ll be right out,” I said calmly. My goal was to remain as cool and collected as Gabe, if not more so. Moments later, I was standing next to Gabe, opposite Geet, waiting to find out what was going to happen with the missing money. If I had any kind of luck, Gabe would miraculously decide to hand it back over to Harrison, but I knew the chances of it happening were less than slim. “How are you, gentlemen?” Geet asked, smiling widely. As I looked from him to Gabe, it became clear to me how much the two actually looked like brothers. Both shared the same thick black hair, though Geet’s was pulled into his signature ponytail. Their eyes and facial structure was also almost identical, and because Gabe hadn’t shaved in a few days, their facial hair was even similar. “Cut the crap, Geet,” Gabe said, obviously annoyed. “You’re here for the money, but you’re wasting your time.” My heart sank as Gabe spoke. There was nothing about the sound of his voice nor the words coming from his mouth that told me he was even considering giving the money to Geet. “Can we talk about this? Like, really sit down and talk about this?” I asked, trying to stop any kind of violence from happening before things got too serious. “I think we’ve talked enough, to be honest,” Geet said, cracking his knuckles. I turned to Gabe, knowing talking any kind of sense into him would be practically impossible. “Is this worth dying over?” I asked. “It’s not even that much money.” “It’s not about how much money it is,” Gabe growled, not taking his eyes off Geet. “It’s about how we’ve been treated like slaves since we were brought to this place against our will. We were robbed by Harrison back in Hastings, Jamie. Never forget that.” Geet let out a laugh. He seemed pleased. “You know it’s true,” Gabe began. I cringed at the thought of him going off on another angry tirade, but at the same time, the longer he talked, the longer I got to live. “I set up a deal with Harrison personally. His two employees were to meet up with Jamie and I, and we were to trade cash for weed. You know that’s not how it went down! You both know we were not in the wrong. Things went south, so we took the money and ran, just like anyone else would have done, but that doesn’t change the fact Harrison was going to rob us first.” Geet nodded his understanding. “Yes, baby brother, but when you ran, you took the weed and the money. That’s where this all comes back on you two. You went into hiding with both ends of the deal in your pockets.” I stepped in. “In our defense, we took the van without knowing the drugs were in the back. We just needed to get out of town before more police showed up. It wasn’t our intention to…” “How about those police, Jamie?” Geet asked. “It was awfully convenient how they showed up just as the deal was being made. The fact Harrison planned to rob you aside, how would the police have known where to be, and when to be there?” I glanced to Gabe, trying to hide the shame on my face as he looked at me questioningly. The thought might have never crossed his mind, but if it hadn’t, he was now curious as to how Officer O’Kelly had busted into my house that day. “So, where’s the money?” Geet asked. “Fuck off,” Gabe responded. I let out a defeated sigh. “I guess we get to do this the fun way then.” Geet walked to the front door and opened it, motioning another man in a suit to come in. He walked across the room towards us, and I recognized him immediately as the henchman with the disfiguring scar running along his face who had helped in the capturing of me and Gabe back in Weed. He gave me a sadistic nod and smile as he continued past Geet, coming closer and closer to the two of us. Before either of us could react, Scarface had placed Gabe in a chokehold and Geet had grabbed me and forced my arms behind my back. He continued to zip tie my wrists together, making escape about as possible as thinking we would actually make it out of this with our lives. “Wait!” I yelled, but before I knew it, I was being ushered to a chair across the room, watching helplessly as Gabe struggled to breath with Scarface’s bicep pressing against his throat. He tried to cough, but couldn’t even manage to do that. “Let him go! You’re going to kill him!” I yelled. Geet forced me into a sitting position and immediately began securing my ankles to the legs of the chair with two more zip ties he had pulled from his pocket. I made an attempt to squirm my way out of the chair, but before any progress could be made, Geet slammed his palm against my chest to keep me still. After a second or two, I knew resisting wouldn’t end well for me, so I sat still. “Geet, please…” I almost whimpered. “I think you’re going to need the duct tape for that one,” Scarface said smartly. Geet smiled and walked over to a small backpack Scarface had tossed onto the counter upon entering the apartment. He returned with a roll of silver duct tape and pulled off a piece large enough to cover my mouth. “Don’t make me cover your nose, too,” he said as he stuck the tape to my mouth. Scarface lugged Gabe’s almost unconscious body to the chair next to mine and proceeded to use the roll of duct tape to bind his arms and legs to the chair as he lolled his head from side to side, trying to speak, but only making low, mumbling noises. Geet entered the kitchen and removed a pitcher of water from the refrigerator, bringing it into the living room, standing in front of Gabe’s lifeless body; he had stopped lolling his head and had now gone limp. “Don’t go to sleep, little brother,” Geet said kindly. “We only had to knock you out because we were worried you’d put up a fight and end up getting yourself killed. We need you alive for the moment.” Gabe remained motionless, prompting Geet to take the pitcher of water and dumped it over his head, drenching him in an ice cold shower and causing him to let out a startled shriek as his body jerked awake. I had seen people use cold water to wake others up in movies, but had no idea it would actually work in real life. “Stay awake, Gabey, or you’ll find our other methods of waking you up won’t be so friendly,” Geet said. “Now, we can stop this torture before it starts- because I am going to torture you if you don’t talk- if you just tell me where the money is.” Gabe, water dripping from his hair and face, his teeth gritting together in both pain and anger, glared up at his brother, but didn’t say a word. “Really?” Geet asked. I saw Geet raise the pitcher into the air, but was powerless to do anything but squirm in my chair and make moaning noises beneath the duct tape over my mouth as he brought the pitcher down and shattered it against the side of Gabe’s head. Shards of glass sprayed across the room, several of them landing in my hair and lap, and Gabe’s head jerked to one side, a small amount of blood dripping from his mouth when it came to a stop. Despite his injuries, Gabe managed to raise his head and let out a small laugh. “You’re starting with the big guns, aren’t you?” he asked. Geet shook his head. “If you think that was a big gun, you’re going to break a lot quicker than I thought you would,” he said. “Where’s the money?” Gabe spat more blood onto the floor, but refused to speak yet again, welcoming more punishment from Geet. As Geet pulled a book of matches from the backpack and lit one, Scarface spoke up momentarily. “What about the other one? What if he’ll talk?” “He doesn’t know anything, or else we would already have the money back,” Geet said, then instructed, “Leave his mouth covered, but make sure he watches. I want him to see his friend suffer for what they’ve done.” The torture went on for what seemed like hours. After each method, each slightly worse than the one before, Geet would ask Gabe the same question, “Where is the money?” But each time, Gabe would refuse to speak. He managed to keep his mouth shut through being burnt with matches, having lit cigarettes (his own) put out on various parts of his body, having three of his fingernails ripped out, and even made it through a homemade version of waterboarding before I thought I was going to either pass out or vomit from merely watching. As Geet grabbed Gabe’s left index finger and placed it between the blades of a pair of pliers, I let out a muffled shriek from beneath my duct tape gag, effectively getting both men’s attention. Scarface violently removed the duct tape from my mouth while Geet stared at me blankly, still holding Gabe’s finger between the pliers. “What?” he asked, exasperated. I looked at Gabe’s broken body, still conscious, but only sitting up in the chair because he had been tied to it. His shirt had been removed and small burns covered his torso. His right hand was covered in blood from having lost his fingernails. Sweat poured down his face, but he still managed to look at me as if saying “Don’t be stupid.” There were times I hated Gabe, but no one on earth deserved this kind of treatment. “WHAT?” Geet roared. “I-I-I know where the money is,” I stammered with panic more than evident in my voice. “Gabe told me where it was hidden before you got here today. I can take you to it, but only if you stop.” “You’re lying.” “I’m not.” “Tell me,” he demanded, dropping Gabe’s hand. “Tell me now, and he keeps his fingers.” Gabe raised his head slightly, staring at me, wondering what I would possibly say since he had in no way, shape, or form given me even the slightest clue where the money had been hidden. He furrowed his brow at me, but I ignored him. Even if a small part of me thought he was getting what was coming to him for being so stubborn about the money, I knew I couldn’t stand to watch him be tortured any longer. “There’s a bridge,” I began. “There’s a bridge just outside of Shelby, where Harrison has his factory. Gabe buried the money under the bridge.” Without another word, Scarface was cutting my zip ties and lifting me out of the chair by my shoulder. He ushered me towards the front door as Geet made sure Gabe was effectively tied to the chair and that he wouldn’t be able to escape. Minutes later, I was being shoved into the back seat of a black SUV. Geet turned around from the driver’s seat and grinned at me. “You’re taking us to the money, and if we find out you’re lying, I promise you everyone you love is going to die.”
Everyone I loved was going to die. Kip, Mom and Dad, Riley, Fuchsia. Hell, even Gabe.
Everyone. All dead.
I had effectively caused the deaths of each and every person I had ever cared about in my life. All because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut out of fear Gabe was going to get a couple of his fingers cut off.
Geet probably wouldn’t have gone through with it anyway.
Who was I trying to kid; of course he would have gone through with it. With glee.
The SUV I had been packed into only moments after being untied from an armchair while my best (and only) friend was tortured next to me was speeding down the interstate, northeast of the city, less than an hour away from Shelby, Illinois. Geet, and Scarface knew exactly which bridge I was talking about, but wanted to bring me along as a form of collateral, just in case they found out I had lied.
Gabe, however, was still tied to his chair and likely unconscious; they knew he wasn’t going anywhere. But had they left me there with him, even tied up, there was a chance I wouldn’t be there when they got back, with or without the money.
“What happens when we get there and the money is exactly where I told you it would be?” I asked, trying to sound confident.
“If the money is buried under the bridge, then we’ll take you back to Chicago, and you’ll continue working for Harrison as planned,” Geet answered.
“And Gabe?” I asked.
“He’ll be dealt with.”
“Well, I can’t make that call, but Harrison has killed for far less.”
I decided to try to appeal to any humanity Geet held inside himself. “He’s your brother,” I said.
“Gabriel and I haven’t been brothers for a very long time,” Geet said matter-of-factly. “Betrayal runs deep in the Malvado family, and Gabe is always the first to dig a knife into someone’s back.”
“Et tu, Brute,” I sighed.
“Continue being smug, Mr. Brewer, and you’ll see exactly how far it gets you in situations like this,” he warned.
I found it hard to believe, even for a thug and likely murderer, Geet could be so cold. I tried to imagine throwing Kip’s life away so easily, but even the thought of him being in danger made me want to puke.
“You won’t hurt my family?” I asked, not sure where the words had come from or under what circumstances they pertained to.
“If the money is under the bridge, they’ll be fine. If the money is not under the bridge, they die.”
Scarface let out a muffled laugh, and Geet glared at him.
I glanced over Geet’s shoulder and saw he was driving the speed limit, though it felt as if he was going over one hundred miles per hour. The city outside my window had faded into countryside, and the modest farm houses and barns we drove past seemed to fly by at lightning speed.
I decided talking to Geet and Scarface was only going to raise my anxiety, so I segued to staring out the window for the remainder of the car ride. And what seemed like only minutes later, Geet was signaling to exit the interstate at Shelby, and I knew the time of reckoning was near.
They were about to find out.
Maybe they already knew and were just toying with me.
We drove past the Shelby bus station, and I could see the towering factory in the distance. The only thing separating us from the factory was about a mile of road and a bridge.
Geet steered the car off the road before we hit the bridge and killed the engine. He and Scarface exited the SUV, each making his way to either back seat door, making any attempt at escape practically impossible for me.
Scarface opened the door closest to the river and motioned for me to exit the vehicle. The entire area was pitch black except for the dim light glowing from the factory across the bridge and the city lights of Shelby a few miles in the other direction. I was surprised Scarface hadn’t held onto me as I got out of the SUV, but if I tried to run, where exactly would I have gone anyway?
“Where is it?” Geet asked as we walked down the incline towards the water. The sound coming from the river seemed much louder at night than it had when Gabe and I had been there before.
“Over there.” I pointed towards the shoreline, just to the right of the bridge.
Geet gave my shoulder a push, nonverbally telling me to lead the way. When we reached the edge of the water, I was relieved to see the shore was more sand than rocks. It would have been pretty hard to explain how Gabe had buried the money under a pile of rocks.
Of course, I was just delaying the inevitable. Geet and Scarface were going to find out I had been lying within minutes, and then my life, as well as the lives of those I loved, was as good as finished.
Scarface left us and returned to the SUV as if he had forgotten something. I looked to Geet for an answer, but he only stared back, quiet and emotionless.
“What if the money isn’t there? What if Gabe moved it?” I asked calmly.
“I already told you; if the money is not exactly where you say it is, then people are going to die,” Geet sighed.
“What about me? Would you kill me first or wait until after you’ve killed all my friends and family?”
“You know, the way you’re talking makes me think you already know what’s going to happen tonight.”
I stood silently as Scarface returned from the SUV with an older looking, rusty shovel. He held it out for me to take. They were going to make me dig the hole.
“And just for the record, we would take you with us. We would go to each and every house of the people you love, and we’d make you watch as we killed them. Then we’d kill you. Any other questions?” Geet asked.
“No,” I said quietly.
“Then dig,” Scarface commanded. He hadn’t spoken much, and it surprised me he would give the “dig” command as opposed to Geet.
I took the shovel into my hands and stared at it, not sure what to do next. There was nothing to dig for. The money wasn’t there. If I did dig, I was only prolonging the inevitable.
I gripped the shovel tighter, shaking in fear, anxious.
“It’s only five thousand dollars,” I pleaded.
“Dig,” Geet growled.
“When the money isn’t there, this can be the start to your grave,” Scarface laughed.
“Or yours,” I said under my breath.
Without hesitation, I lifted the shovel and slammed it into the side of Scarface’s head, sending him reeling to the ground in a shout of both surprise and agony. He rolled onto his back, bringing his hands to his face as Geet lunged towards me, intent on subduing me before I could get another blow in on either Scarface or himself.
I dodged, causing Geet to lose his footing and trip over Scarface’s sprawled body. He hit the ground hard, and I went in for another blow, not caring who I actually hit with the shovel.
I brought the blade end of the shovel down, connecting with Geet’s chest as he let out a howl. He attempted to get back on his feet, but I slammed the shovel into his left kneecap, sending him back to the ground with an “oof.”
“You son of a bitch!” Geet screamed.
Scarface had rolled over and was now on his hands and knees, clearly disoriented. The blow to his face had nearly knocked him out, but he was persistent.
I hit him again, throwing him onto his stomach where he coughed and choked on the dust his body had blown up from the ground.
In a moment of panic, I raised the shovel over my head, ready to deliver a potentially deadly blow as Geet grinned up at me from the ground. I expected him to raise his arms or attempt to roll away, anything to protect himself, but he didn’t.
“Do it,” he laughed.
I stopped, panting and sweating.
“Do it,” he said again. “You’re turning into Gabe: pure evil. Kill me now and you surpass him.” His voice was raspy and pain-filled.
My memory flashed to the night Gabe had nearly beaten one of our clients, Alex Kiefer, to death with a baseball bat. I had been horrified. Gabe had been pleased with his work.
In Geet’s place I could see Alex lying on the ground, blood matting his thick red hair, eyes already swollen shut from the beating Gabe had delivered.
I dropped the shovel, and it clanged against the hard ground as I took a step away from the two men I had just nearly killed.
“What’s wrong? You’re not the devil you thought you were?”
I didn’t answer, couldn’t answer, but turned to run instead. I knew if I didn’t finish the job, it wouldn’t be long before both Geet and Scarface would catch up to me and make me pay, but I couldn’t bring myself to actually kill someone, even in self-defense.
I climbed up the hill and onto the road, stopping momentarily to make sure Geet hadn’t left the keys in the ignition of the SUV. He hadn’t, of course, so I decided to keep running, adrenaline pumping through my veins.
I ran down the road, towards the faint lights of Shelby, trying to calculate how long it would take me to go the three miles to the town. I was in shape, but three miles was a long run for someone who had just beaten two men with a shovel.
I was already almost out of breath.
My heart pounded. Sweat poured down my face, back, and legs. My muscled burned.
‘You’re a goner,’ I thought as I passed a signed that read SHELBY: ONE MILE. [‘No. No. you’re almost there. Be positive.’
__]Ten minutes later, I was entering the Shelby city limits, but had no idea where to go or what to do next. My first thought was to find the police station, but I quickly realized this was a terrible idea, as I would definitely be arrested, and Geet and Scarface would almost definitely be able to get away before being captured.
And if they were captured, Harrison would almost certainly be able to get them out of any kind of trouble they would be in. My assumption was Harrison had lawyers who made more on the hour than my parents made in a year.
The first business I saw was a small diner on the corner of two very unfriendly looking streets. The building could have been abandoned for all I knew, but a bright blue OPEN sign blinked in the window, meaning this was my best hope.
I busted through the door and into the diner before even trying to gain my composure, causing all four of the patrons and the waitress to stop what they were doing and stare in complete shock at me.
I saw an older couple in the far corner of the diner, the man with a forkful of roast beef frozen about three inches from his mouth, a younger, haggard-looking woman with her hand covering her mouth in shock, a thirty-something man in a tie who stood from his chair as if he was going to have to fight me, and the waitress, clad in a black button down shirt and white apron, her mouth agape.
The waitress was the first to react.
“Oh lord,” she gasped, looking me up and down. She was about forty and seemed as if this was the only job she had ever know. “What happened to you, sweetie?”
I took a second to look at myself in the fluorescent light, noticing my sweat and bloodstained shirt and jeans. Dirt covered my hands.
“I need the bathroom,” I gasped, thinking my best option would be to use my cell phone to make a call while hiding in a locked stall.
“Sit down right over here, sweetie. I’m going to call the cops right away.” The waitress motioned for me to take a seat at the bar near the man in the tie who was still standing on guard.
“I need the bathroom,” I said again, adding, “now.”
She sat the pot of coffee she had been holding on the counter and pointed toward the back of the diner where I saw a beige door with an old-looking printed sign reading “LAVATORY” about halfway up.
Without hesitation, I ran for the bathroom and was happy to see it consisted of a single room containing a toilet, a urinal, and a sink; I would not have to worry about one of the diner patrons barging in on me for the next few minutes. After sliding the lock across the door, I backed into a corner and slowly moved my body into a squatting position, bringing my hands to my face, trying not to concentrate too hard on how severely screwed I truly was.
I pulled the cell phone Harrison had given me from my pocket and immediately began dialing a very familiar number. Though I hadn’t needed to call it in over a year, the number was still as fresh in my mind as ever.
The phone rang on the other end of the line.
Someone—I’m assuming the waitress—knocked on the bathroom door, asking me if I was alright. I replied with an exasperated “Yes,” hoping she would go away.
The phone rang again in my ear again.
Mid-ring, I heard a small click and a woman’s shaky voice filled the receiver.
“Hello?” my mother said.
I froze. How could I talk to her? After everything I had put her through, what was I supposed to say? How was I supposed to tell her she, my dad, and Kip were all in immediate danger?
“Who is this?” she asked.
I didn’t speak. I couldn’t speak.
“Look, you sick bastard, if this is who took my son, you talk to me right now! You tell me who you are and what you want!”
I nearly dropped the phone in shock.
“We don’t have much money, but we can get whatever you want. Please, we’ve already lost one son. If you have Kip, just tell us what you want, and we’ll make sure you get it. No cops. We just want our son back!”
I hung up without saying a word and immediately began dialing another number. It was a long shot, but if I could get in touch with the right person, I might be able to end all of this, and save my brother.
The phone rang five times before someone answered.
“They have my brother,” I said, not waiting for the person on the other end to speak. “I need your help.”
(Closed Eyes Still Look Forward)
The sun was just rising over the eastern edge of the lake as I stood against the ropes of the pier, waiting for Riley to arrive. I was nervous, terrified even, and the fact I’d just spent the past six hours escaping and evading two men who meant to kill me only added to my paranoia.
But I had to warn her.
She approached from the south, looking none too impressed to see me. After all, the last time we had spoken, she vowed I’d never see her again, and if I did, she’d made it abundantly clear she would turn me in to the police.
It was early, but she looked as beautiful as ever, her hair pulled into bun on top of her head, a bandana covering her forehead. She was jogging towards me, earbuds in her ears, oblivious to the world around her.
At first, I thought she would run right past me, but she slowed to a stop, breathing heavy and pulling the earbuds from her ears. I could hear the faint hum of classical music coming from them as they dangled from the top of her jacket.
“I don’t know how I feel about this,” she said. Her facial expression said this (and more) for her, but I hoped it was due in part to being worn out from her jog.
“You listen to classical while you run?” I asked, avoiding her statement. I knew she felt uneasy about meeting with me. I felt uneasy about meeting with her. What if we were being watched?
She stared at me blankly for a moment. “It helps me concentrate. I run longer and harder when I listen to Bach or Beethoven. What’s this about?”
She wasn’t up for small talk, and understandably so. My phone call to her had been short and urgent:
“We need to talk. I’m in trouble,” I had said to her only two hours before.
Her voice was groggy; she’d been asleep. I hadn’t even thought about the time of night, as I’d been awake for hours, traveling to Shelby and beating the hell out of Geet and Scarface. “What? Who is this? What time is it?”
I grimaced, thinking she hadn’t left my number programed into her phone. She had no idea who she was talking to.
“It’s Jamie,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t hang up immediately. She didn’t.
“What kind of trouble?”
“I can’t talk about it over the phone. I’m using the phone they gave me. If they’re listening… If they know I called you. I just don’t know what could happen. Can you meet me?”
I probably sounded like a paranoid schizophrenic, but I didn’t care. I was in the back of a cab, somewhere between Shelby and downtown Chicago. I knew I couldn’t go back to the apartment yet, but I had no idea where I could go.
She hesitated, but eventually said, “I can meet you. Just this once.” I couldn’t tell for sure, and I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up; I wanted this call to be as short as possible, but her voice sounded softer, sweeter. Then she added, “Are you okay?”
“Currently, yes,” I said. “But that’s why we need to meet. I’ll text you the place and time.”
She had barely said, “Okay,” before I hung up, sent her where to meet me, and tossed the phone out the cab window, hoping it would smash into a thousand pieces as it slammed against the freeway. I caught a glimpse of the cab driver eyeing me in the rearview mirror, but ignored it. I had cash to pay him with, and he didn’t know the first thing about me, so I didn’t have to worry too much about him.
Unless he was somehow working for Harrison. It seemed ridiculous, but at this point, I had no idea who I could trust, so I chose to trust no one.
The cabbie dropped me off on the near north side, and I walked the two and a half miles from Seward Park to the pier, even though it was one of the coldest nights of the year so far.
When I arrived just before 5:00, I decided to wait for Riley, though she wasn’t due to meet me for another hour.
I stared at her as she waited for me to respond to her question. She was already impatient, but I wasn’t sure how to explain to her what had happened without scaring the shit out of her.
“Something’s happened,” I whispered.
“Obviously,” she responded. “Is this some kind of scheme to get me to meet with you again? Because I told you it wasn’t going to happen. I meant it. The only reason I came was because…”
“You’re in danger,” I blurted, instantly regretting it.
Riley’s jaw dropped, but she managed to regain her composure fairly quickly. After everything that had happened in Hastings, I was surprised she didn’t burst into tears. When one of your friends is murdered and your boyfriend goes on the run for over a year, you take things like “you’re in danger” pretty seriously, or so I imagined.
She didn’t speak, so I continued. “The man I’m working for, the reason I’m in Chicago, he made a threat. He said people I loved were going to die.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” she asked, sounding more furious than I had expected. I thought she might be scared, or angry, or upset, but not completely pissed off. “I appreciate the gesture, but let’s be completely honest here; you don’t love me. I don’t love you. We dated during a really weird time of your life, and I’ve moved on with mine. I know it sounds harsh, but… there’s never going to be anything between us. I’m not a part of this.”
I suddenly couldn’t think of words. My mouth went dry and the world seemed to float away around me.
“Jamie, talk to me!” Riley shouted, looking around to make sure no one was close enough to hear her. We were alone; none of the shops at the pier had opened yet.
“It’s a very long story,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t make me explain the whole thing while also trying to push aside the comment she had just made about there being nothing between us. “Gabe—Gabe and I—stole some money from our boss. He’s basically been holding us against our will here, and we thought it would be a good way to have the money to make an escape.” I left out the part about Gabe’s grand plan to kill Harrison in the process.
She crossed her arms over her chest, waiting for me to continue.
“He found out, and when Gabe wouldn’t give the money back, he said people I loved were going to die. Soon. And believe it or not, Riley, despite the short amount of time we shared, I do love you, yes.”
Riley nodded, seemingly keeping her emotions in check. Her eyes told another story, but she didn’t yell at me. “And you called me because you’re worried about me? Not because you need help?”
“Yeah,” I barely said.
Her shoulders slumped, showing she had let her guard down, at least a little. “Maybe he’s bluffing. Maybe he just said all that to get the money back.”
I shook my head, trying to hold back tears.
“What?” she asked.
“I called home, just to give them a heads up. I didn’t care if they found out where I was and called the police on me; I had to warn them, but I was too late,” I sobbed. Tears were running freely down my face now, stinging in the cold October morning air and wind from the lake.
Riley put her hand on my shoulder. “Are they…”
“No,” I said. “At least I don’t think so, but they have Kip.”
Riley choked back tears of her own, and I knew she was genuinely worried, not for me, but for my brother. One of the biggest facts I had gotten from Kip’s letters was he and Riley had become somewhat close during her breaks from school, when she returned to Hastings to visit friends and family.
“We’ll do something. We can help him,” she said.
She shook her head, not sure what to say to comfort me, or maybe not sure I deserved to be comforted.
“I’m so sorry.” I was losing control of my own emotions. I knew it wouldn’t solve anything, but being with Riley at one of my most vulnerable moments in recent memory made me not care as much. I knew she would never love me again, (and maybe she never had) but she was here, and that was all I could ask for.
A black car pulled up to the curb at the end of the pier, only about fifty yards from us. I eyed it suspiciously, and my suspicion caused Riley to raise an eyebrow as well.
“It’s probably nothing,” she said. “How many random black cars are there in this city anyway?”
I took her by both shoulders and stared her directly in the eyes, trying to keep my own tears at bay long enough to tell her what I needed to say.
“You have to get out of here for a while. Lay low, go home for the weekend. Do whatever you have to do to stay safe.”
She didn’t break my gaze, but a sense of uncertainty seemed to wash over her. “Jamie, I have classes…”
“You have to forget about all that. Your classes won’t mean anything if they kill you. It’s harsh, I know, but you need to not be in Chicago for a few days. This will all be over soon, I promise. I’m working on a way to make everything okay, but I need to know you’re safe before I go through with it.”
“Jamie…” she began, but I cut her off.
“You won’t see me again. I won’t contact you. I won’t ask you to meet me. Nothing. Just promise me you’ll get out of town.”
“I promise,” she said quietly. She knew I cared for her, and she also knew I would never do anything to purposefully put her in danger, but when someone you care about is put in danger, the circumstances leading up to it don’t really matter all that much. Purpose had nothing to do with it.
I turned to walk away from her, wanting to leave our exchange with the promise she would get as far away from Chicago (and me) as she could, but she stopped me one last time.
“Don’t do anything that’ll get anyone killed,” she said.
I swallowed hard, letting the tears spill over my eyes again, and only nodded to her before turning in the opposite direction and running away at full speed.
I pushed my way through the early morning pedestrian traffic on Grand Avenue until I got to State Street. It wasn’t the route I would normally take, and I hardly paid attention to street signs, but somehow managed to make my way back, using the towering apartment building in the distance as my guide. As long as I ran towards that building, it didn’t matter how I got there. In fact, it was probably better if I took an alternate route, just in case I was being watched.
It only took me fifteen minutes to make it all the way back to the apartment building, but as I was just walking through the door, a hooded figure grabbed me by the wrist, pulling me away from the door and around the corner of the building.
I panicked, thinking one of Harrison’s men had been waiting for me, but as I grabbed the figure and pushed it against the brick wall of the building, it let out a small ‘oof’ that told me it was definitely not someone sent to do me harm.
“Fuchsia?” I gasped, catching my breath from the quick defensive move I had done, trying to keep her from dragging me into the alley and killing me.
“Yeah, you jackass,” she said, pushing me away from her and taking a few steps away from the wall.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I thought you were here to kill me. And I wasn’t expecting to see you again, to be honest.”
She removed her hood, and I immediately saw how weathered and worn out she looked. Her hair was a mess, and makeup ran down her cheeks as if she had been crying. She didn’t seem injured, but I couldn’t tell for sure, because the coat she was wearing was so baggy. She hugged me.
“They’re following me, Jamie. I don’t know what happened, but they’re following me. Everywhere I go in town, I see their cars. No one ever gets out, but I know it’s them…” Her voice was frantic, shaky.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “It’s not your imagination?”
“No!” she shouted at me, then looked around as if someone hearing her would cause flanks of Harrison’s men to appear out of nowhere and carry her away.
I tried to calm her down, pulling her into a brief hug. I didn’t want her to think I was trying to make a move on her, especially after having just seen Riley… not that seeing her for a few brief moments meant anything at all.
“It’s alright. You’re safe now,” I said.
“I know I left you; I know I said some terrible things to you, but I need your help.”
Part of me was still angry with Fuchsia for the things she had said, but I remembered how scared she had been, how scared she still was, and I knew I had to do whatever I could to help her. She continued looking in every directions as she waited for me to respond.
“Alright,” I said, not sure what to do. Fuchsia was depending on me to have all the answers, but in honesty, I hadn’t had any answers for a very long time. “Go up to my apartment. Gabe should be there, but he may be tied up. He may be unconscious. When he wakes up, tell him what’s going on, and he should let you stay.”
She looked at me, terrified, but I ignored it. If she wanted help, she had to do as I said and not ask too many questions.
“What about you?” she asked.
I paused, not wanting to explain everything to her. “I have some things to do,” I said. “I’ll come back when I’m done, I promise.”
She nodded and turned to enter the apartment building, but I called after her. She stared at me questioningly, making me feel even sorrier for her. She hadn’t asked for any of this, yet here she was. Even after she had tried to make an escape, she wasn’t safe from the fallout of my life.
“When you get to the apartment, don’t talk to anyone but Gabe. Don’t call anyone. Don’t answer your phone. Don’t answer the door unless it’s me,” I instructed.
“I won’t,” she said, nodding almost frantically.
With a small, final hug, she entered her code into the pad at the doors and walked through them, ready to flash her I.D. card to Mr. Stone. It was impossible to see her through the tinted glass or to know if Mr. Stone, an employee of Harrison, would even allow her access to the apartments. From this moment on, I just had to hope she would be okay.
For the next few hours, all I could really do for any of us was hope. Hope we would make it through this day. Hope I could come up with some kind of plan to keep Harrison and the others at bay long enough to escape this situation with our lives, if nothing else.
I waited at a table in the dingy bar for nearly an hour before he showed up, but I knew better than to leave without speaking to him. Back at the diner in Shelby, I had experienced a moment of sheer panic after listening to my mother begging for Kip’s life, and I had called him and exposed everything to him, my location, what I had been doing (aside from the fact I was technically working for Harrison), all in hopes he would show up to help me.
I was desperate.
I was worse than desperate, if such a word even exists.
I sipped my water and stared around the room, taking in the morning drinking crowd and trying not to judge them. It was barely nine in the morning, and there were at least eight people with assorted alcoholic beverages sitting in front of them.
I wasn’t even sure the bar would be open at this hour, but apparently they served a mean Bloody Mary, so the morning crowd was larger than one might expect.
The bartender walked past my table and asked if I would be ordering anything other than water, giving me a disgusted look when I said, “Not right now, but maybe later.”
Nervously, I twiddled my thumbs under the table, equal parts afraid he might not show up and worried what would happen if he did.
“It’s a little early to meet at a bar, don’t you think?” he asked, sitting down across from me. I jumped, not expecting him to come from behind me since I’d been facing the door, watching every person who walked past the building outside.
“You scared me,” I said quietly, intimidated.
“Good,” he said. “I’ve been watching from the back to make sure you didn’t have anyone else coming to ambush me. Lord knows underestimating you is something I’ll never do again.”
Emmett O’Kelly, or Officer Jerk Off as I had once been so used to calling him, folded his hands together in front of him as if waiting for an explanation from me, though I had no idea where to start. Hours ago, the words had spilled from my mouth like vomit, but seeing him in person made me clam up worse than I ever had before.
“I’m not sure where to start,” I said honestly.
He eyed me, and even though he seemed angry, his face also showed a small amount of despair for me. He knew I was in deep shit, and had probably been more excited than he cared to admit when he got the call from me asking him to meet me in Chicago.
After all this time, he would have a chance at capturing Jameson Brewer, the one that got away.
“Well, let’s start with how intrigued I am you decided to call me, of all people. I have every right to arrest you right here and now,” he said. He was dressed in civilian clothing and was considerably balder than I remembered him being the last time I saw him. He had also lost a fair amount of weight, no longer sporting the hanging belly he had been notorious for back in Hastings.
“You’re a little outside your jurisdiction, aren’t you?” I asked, immediately regretting how bold I sounded.
“Don’t get cocky,” he warned. “I’m pretty sure Chicago P.D. would be more than willing to help me sort out the technicalities of arresting someone who’s been wanted for murder and drug-dealing for over a year. Not to mention the connection you likely have to that car bomb in California.”
I stared at him blankly, shocked.
“You made national news, Brewer,” he said.
“That bomb was meant to kill me; I didn’t set it,” I said, angry.
“It doesn’t matter; even if a jury didn’t convict you of anything concerning the bomb, you’ll be going away for a long, long time.”
I nodded, acknowledging the fact he was probably right. As much as I hated to admit it, sitting there, speaking with Officer O’Kelly, it reminded me of being back in Hastings. I had once seen this man as an enemy, or at least someone who could put a stop to the illegal things I’d been doing, but now it was comforting to be able to confide in him. In some weird, twisted way, it felt like old times.
And to think, he’d warned me about all this. He’d said spending too much time with Gabe was going to end up getting me in trouble.
I hadn’t listened, even though I was fairly sure even he would never have guessed how far things would go.
“You still don’t know the whole story,” I offered. “No one was ever meant to get hurt that day, especially not Airic.”
He laughed, rolling his eyes. “What are you telling me, your best friend was collateral damage?”
I thought back to Ford and how he had also been an innocent, unnecessary death, a form of collateral damage in the war between Harrison and me. No matter where I went, people died.
“Nothing went the way it was supposed to back in Hastings or in California.”
“Yeah, I know,” O’Kelly said. “You and Gabe were supposed to make out with a couple hundred thousand dollars and no one was supposed to get hurt. You can’t possibly tell me you were surprised when bodies started falling.”
At the time I had been completely surprised, but after O’Kelly brought it up, I knew he was right. It shouldn’t be shocking when you become a teenage drug-dealer and people close to you start to die, but somehow it was.
The bartender stopped by our table again, offering O’Kelly an opportunity to order a drink. O’Kelly said, “No thanks,” and the bartender once again walked away, mumbling under his breath.
“Look,” I began, trying not to lose my patience, “I understand how you’re still angry about what happened, but I’m here to make it right.”
“How could you possibly make it right?” he asked.
I knew what he wanted; he wanted to take me into custody, and Gabe too if he could manage it, but I needed his help. My brother’s life depended on it.
“I know you know who Harrison is, but what do you know about him?” I asked.
O’Kelly rolled his eyes as if to tell me I was an idiot. “Harrison is one of the biggest drug lords in the country, maybe the world. But nobody can get their hands on him because he’s so good. He hides in plain sight as a businessman. Why?”
“I work for him,” I blurted.
I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do to prove it. As far as I could tell, Harrison was a ghost. He managed his drug dealings from an office in the city under the guise of being a legitimate businessman. He had to be completely untouchable, or else he would have been arrested long ago.
I decided to recount everything that had happened since I left Hastings. I told O’Kelly how Gabe and I had traveled to California, met Fuchsia, and set up entirely fake lives to live while running the surf shop and selling weed from behind the counter. I explained how Harrison had caught up with us, and how Gabe’s brother had likely killed one of my only friends in an attempt to kill me. I explained all about fleeing Behler, getting caught, and basically being forced into slavery to pay back Harrison all the money he said we owed him.
O’Kelly stared at me in both amazement and disgust. The last time he spoke to me, I had been a small town kid, afraid his pot-selling business partner was getting too dangerous. Now here I was, working for one of the most notorious drug kingpins in the world.
I’d come a long way in only a year and a half.
“You’ve explained a lot to me, but why am I here?” he asked. After everything, I still hadn’t told him about Kip.
“Harrison has my brother,” I said.
“He has Kip?”
I was somewhat surprised to hear Officer O’Kelly calling my brother by his name. I wasn’t sure, but something told me he had been keeping an eye on my family since I left.
“Yes,” I said. “Things went south here pretty fast, and I was told people I love are going to die. I called home to warn my family, but I was too late.”
O’Kelly stared at the table in front of him, not knowing what to say or how to respond. He glared at me across the table and said, “You know you brought all of this down on the people you say you care about.”
“I know,” I said, not even trying to deny how much pain I had caused everyone in my life. “I’m not asking for forgiveness. I’m not asking you to turn a blind eye to the fact I basically just confessed to countless crimes. I just need your help getting my brother back.”
“I’m going to arrest you,” he said.
“I was counting on that,” I said. “But I need you to wait until Kip is safe.”
“What do I need to do to rescue him?”
“Gabe and I will be at Harrison’s office building tonight. If you show up, you can have all three of us. I can’t promise Gabe will come quietly, but I will.”
O’Kelly thought the idea over, not sure how to turn it down. “You’re telling me you’ll show up at Harrison’s office tonight, and if I’m there, I get all of you?”
“Yes,” I said. “But you have to make sure Kip gets away safely first. People are going to die tonight, and I only called you here to make sure Kip survives. Hell, I might not even survive, but it doesn’t matter as long as Kip lives.”
O’Kelly knew the ideas was ludicrous, but how could he pass up being able to arrest someone like Harrison? He could easily take me into custody right then and there, but if he waited just twelve more hours, he would become the man who shut down an international drug trade.
eHe would be a hero.
“Okay,” he said, not smiling but obviously pleased with how this was playing out. “Tonight, I’ll save your brother, and you and Gabe come back to Indiana in handcuffs.” Despite the change in appearance, O’Kelly was still the same old Officer Jerk Off; he couldn’t resist an opportunity to look good.
He stood from the table and leaned over, whispering in my ear, “And if there’s any funny business, you’ll be the one getting shot this time.”
He left the bar, and I sat there alone again. I considered leaving, but decided against it. The minute I left the bar, everything was going to change. I had only a few hours to convince Gabe we had to kill Harrison that night. As much as I knew O’Kelly wanted to arrest him, there was no way the man who kidnapped my brother was going to make it through this night alive.
I might die, Gabe might die, but we’d be taking Harrison with us.
I stopped the bartender as he walked past my table again. “I think I’ll take that drink now,” I said.
(Minutes to Midnight)
After two drinks at the bar and a long walk around downtown, I returned to the apartment at 12:00.
I always enjoyed spending time walking around downtown; it was the highlight of every drug deal I had made in Chicago. I usually decided to walk, even if it would make more sense for me to drive or take the train.
Even when the world was falling apart and I was almost definitely going to die, walking around downtown made me feel better.
I walked to Water Tower Place, to the Chicago Theater, to Buckingham Fountain and all the other places in the city I had been too busy to see over the past month.
Chicago was the most beautiful place I had ever been, and I had been too busy selling drugs and figuring out how not to get murdered that I hadn’t even explored the majority of it. If a sale wasn’t scheduled to go down near a famous location, I hadn’t been there.
I got back to the apartment at 12:00 and the place had been demolished. Shattered glass littered the floors, the art that had once adorned the walls had been torn down, and no piece of furniture had been left unturned. Someone had been there, and they had probably been looking for me.
“Gabe!” I yelled, not even considering the possibility whoever had ransacked the place might still be there. “Gabe! Are you here?”
No one answered, and I considered the possibility Gabe was still unconscious, though it had been hours since I was carried away by Geet and Scarface.
After finding the chairs we had been tied to both completely empty, I ran from room to room, looking for any sign of Gabe’s fate. Anything could have happened since the night before, including Gabe’s escape, or even his execution.
And though I was worried, I found myself confused about why I was so worried about him. Our friendship flip-flopped back and forth from simply putting up with each other to feeling seething hatred for one another, but as I realized there was a good chance he could have been killed, I felt tears welling up in my eyes.
I had never hated Gabe as much as I told myself I did, at least I didn’t think so. He had the ability to be a completely terrible person, but we had managed to stick together since the very beginning, and facing the idea something might have actually happened to him made my stomach churn.
“Gabe!” I cried.
I made my way from the living room, to the den where I had found him last time, to each bedroom and bathroom in the apartment, but I was alone.
‘What the hell have you done?’ I asked myself as I sat down on the couch. The cushions had been ripped apart and cotton was strewn across the room. I assumed Geet had been looking for the missing money and decided to destroy everything until he found it.
Realizing I was completely alone, I cupped my hands over my face and let the tears roll. Every connection to my past life had been severed long ago, and now my only real connection to my new life was gone, too.
The surf shop was gone, Ford was dead, Gabe was likely dead, or at least captured by Harrison and very close to becoming dead, and Fuchsia was gone, too.
Fuchsia; where was she?
I had instructed her to come to the apartment and hide out with Gabe until she heard from me, but she was nowhere to be found either. And truth be told, Fuchsia was more expendable than Gabe, meaning if he was dead, she was definitely dead.
‘What have you done?’
I raised my head up and wiped away my tears as I heard a strange noise coming from down the hallway. Standing up, I immediately looked around the room for something to defend myself with, but surprisingly found nothing of actual use. Tiptoeing into my bedroom, I sighed relief when I saw the painting hiding the knife I had purchased from Bob still hanging on the wall, not even slanted as if someone had made an attempt to move it.
The painting was heavy, but I manage to pull it off the wall completely, but cringed as the knife clattered against the wood floor, sounding more like shattering glass in the silence of the apartment.
I picked it up, trying to decide how to hold it to best defend myself if one of Harrison’s men was still in the apartment. I heard another noise from down the hallway and decided as long as I held the blade away from me, it would probably get the job done if I needed to stab anyone.
The hallway was dimly lit, as the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling had been shattered, the glass littering the entire length of the hallway as if it had been smashed by a baseball bat. I continued tiptoeing towards Gabe’s bedroom, a room I had already checked once, realizing my attempts to be quiet were ill. Each step I took echoed more broken glass throughout the entire apartment.
Gabe’s bedroom door stood completely ajar, and I walked in, holding the knife like a serial killer in a slasher movie. I felt like an idiot, but had no idea what I might soon be facing.
I heard the noise again and turned immediately towards the closet. The door was closed and the wooden slats were closed. I couldn’t see inside.
I froze. Should I tell whoever was inside I knew they were there and to just come out? I should fling the door open and attack? Should I run down the hallway and out the front door before I ended up getting myself killed? I honestly had no idea.
I took a breath and tightened my grip on the knife, telling myself I would be ready to defend myself, though I knew I was lying. I reached towards the door handle, noticing how much my free hand was shaking. As my hand moved closer and closer, I decided I would stab first and ask questions later. The way things had been going, I couldn’t afford to take chances.
Before I could even touch the handle, the closet door swung open and the figure hiding inside lunged at me, knocking me to the floor and the knife out of my hand. It clattered across the floor and slid under to a stop against the far wall.
“Shit!” I screamed, rolling onto my stomach, trying to crawl towards the knife before whoever had attacked me pulled a gun and shot me dead.
I stopped mid-crawl and rolled back onto my back. Gabe stared down at me, holding a wire hanger in his hand, his mouth slack-jawed.
“Gabe,” I gasped.
He rolled his eyes and dropped the hanger to the floor, holding out his hand to help me back to my feet. “What the hell are you doing?” he asked, out of breath.
“What the hell am I doing? What the hell are you doing?”
I felt anger wash through my body as I regained my balance and let the terror of thinking I was about to fight for my life leave my mind. Gabe may hate me, but I had bought us a little time by lying about the location of the money, and I doubted he would go so far as to kill me right then and there, especially not after pulling me up from the floor. It was a small gesture, but it was a gesture nonetheless.
Before I could take a breath, Gabe’s arms wrapped around me in a bear hug, and I found myself in more shock than I had ever been in my life. He held onto me for what felt like ages and let out a sigh of relief after letting go and stepping back.
I stood, speechless.
“Sorry,” he said, embarrassed. “I just thought you were dead.”
“I thought you were dead, too,” I managed to whisper, a lot happier he wasn’t than I was letting show.
“How are you not dead?”
“It’s a long story. How are you not dead?”
“I hid,” Gabe said, still embarrassed. “I got loose from the chair about thirty minutes after they left with you, and when they broke back into the apartment, started destroying everything, I hid.”
I tried to picture the scene in my head; Gabe making a run for it as Geet and however many others came rushing through the front door. I imagined Gabe taking refuge in the closet with only a wire hanger to defend himself, but one question remained in my mind.
Gabe shook his head, his messed up hair flowing everywhere. “She showed up and told me you’d sent her to stay with me until things got better or worse or whatever. When Geet showed up, I made it into the closet before he and the others saw me, but she didn’t. I don’t know what happened, but if she’s not here, we can assume it wasn’t good.”
My heart sank. I had sent Fuchsia to the apartment, if foolishly, for protection, and now I was almost sure she was dead.
“I’m sorry,” Gabe said. I couldn’t be sure, but in true Gabe fashion, I felt like he was apologizing for more than just failing to save Fuchsia.
“Me, too,” I said quietly.
“So,” I began, not sure how to ask if the two of us still hated each other or if we were going to bury the hatchet for the hundredth time.
“What you did, when they were torturing me, that was completely stupid, but you might have saved my life. Thanks.”
I was lost for words; Gabe’s face showed true gratitude for what I could only assume to be the first time in his life. I thought back to him being tortured and cringed. His body still looked worse than it ever had before, but he was alive, and according to him, at least in part due to my actions. His body and mind had been through more in the past month than I had my entire life, but he was alive.
“You moved pretty quickly with that hanger for a guy who had some of his fingernails ripped out and cigarettes put out on his chest last night,” I said. It wasn’t meant to be a joke, but for some reason sounded hilarious when the words left my mouth.
“Whatever it takes to stay alive, right?” he asked.
I didn’t respond.
“So, what are we going to do?”
I stared at him in shock, not sure what to make of him asking me what our plan was. Gabe had never been one to take my advice, or even ask for, but him asking me in this very pivotal moment proved to me we had set our differences aside, even if just until the smoke cleared from our latest catastrophe.
“This might sound crazy,” I said, “But we have to kill Harrison.” I couldn’t believe I had even said it; I had been telling myself for weeks this wasn’t the way it needed to go down. But he had my brother, and I was going to do whatever it took to get Kip home safe.
Gabe smirked, obviously happy to finally have me completely on board with the plan.
“And we have to do it tonight,” I said.
“Right,” Gabe agreed. “I’m not at one hundred percent, though. I need you to promise me you’re not going to back out. I’m going to need you to keep Geet and any others at bay while I kill him.”
I nodded, agreeing, but had to ask, “Why do you want to be the one who does it so badly? I don’t want to do it, believe me, but you’re very adamant about being the one who actually kills him. Just tell me why.”
Gabe tensed up, but let out a sigh. “I lived with my brother for a while a few years ago. He was already working for Harrison, I was having a really hard time in school, and our parents sent me here to live with Geet. They had no idea what my brother was doing, or they would have never made me come.
“Harrison took me under his wing, and believe me, it didn’t take much convincing. But things got out of hand, and he killed one of the only friends I ever had.”
I suddenly felt more remorse for Gabe than ever before. I had lost Airic because of getting involved with Gabe, and Gabe had lost his friend because of getting involved with Harrison. I never would have guessed the two of us had such similar stories.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “When all this goes down, I’ll make sure you get to take him out. I promise.”
Gabe forced a smile onto his face and wiped at his cheek, though I hadn’t actually seen a tear fall. The last thing he wanted was to seem vulnerable. “We’re going to need some guns,” he said. “There’s nothing left here.”
“Don’t worry. If you have the money, I know a guy who can help us out,” I said, thinking of Bob and his fully-stocked pawn shop.
“What?” I asked.
“You know a guy,” he said. “Man, you’ve become a professional.”
“Don’t seem so excited; we might still die tonight.”
Gabe and I spent the next half hour or so plotting out our exact game plan for the rest of the day, possibly our last day. We would leave the apartment and make our way to Bob’s pawn shop with the stolen money; we had a feeling five thousand dollars would get us plenty of guns, maybe even more than we needed. We would then make our way to Harrison’s office building. We had never been there, but we had a feeling if we just walked in like we owned the place, we would get taken into custody pretty quickly. That, or we would be shot on the spot. Harrison still saw us as valuable and hopefully would let us live long enough to make his point known. Guys like Harrison always had to talk your ear off before they killed you, or at least they did in the movies.
I didn’t tell Gabe about Officer O’Kelly.
Officer O’Kelly was the only part of the plan I honestly felt like had a possibility of working out. No one would be expecting him, nor would they be expecting the dozens of Chicago police officers he would hopefully be bringing with him.
I had accepted the fact I would either die or be arrested when all was said and done, but it didn’t matter to me anymore. The only thing that mattered was that Kip got out alive.
No matter what happened within the next six hours, the only variable that couldn’t change was that Kip survived. If he didn’t, then I didn’t.
I would walk with open arms into a hail of bullets if something happened to him.
After we had planned everything out as best we could, Gabe painfully slipped on a leather jacket, giving me an angry glare when I asked if he needed help. “Are we ready for this?” he asked.
“No fucking way,” I answered.
I opened the apartment door, prepared to go out and get this over with as soon as possible, and froze in fear as Geet swung a baseball bat, hitting Gabe square in the stomach, sending him spiraling backwards and onto the floor.
I looked down at him and saw he was out cold and immediately tried to make a run for it. I managed to duck and roll past Geet, but was met by Scarface as I got to my feet.
“You’re lucky Harrison wants you alive,” he said as I tried to judge the probability of making it past him and into the elevator before being taken down by him.
I took the chance and tried to run past him, but before I could even move, Scarface’s closed fist slammed against my nose, sending maroon blood spraying against the wall as I slammed against it and slid to the floor. I tried to crawl away, not even caring I was moving in the opposite direction than I needed to, away from the elevator.
I was dizzy. The punch had disoriented me. My brain could barely function enough to tell my arms and legs to “MOVE!”
Scarface’s mud-caked boot slammed against my ribcage, sending my rolling onto my back, immobilizing me. I looked up at him as he smiled, his grey scar more visible than it had ever been.
His boot connected with the side of my head, and everything went black.
(You Would Have Gone Far, Kid)
Coming to after being knocked out via blunt force to the head is one of the strangest experiences I could ever attempt to explain. Though no one on Earth remembers being born, it’s the only connection I can make; it’s the type of thing people have to experience for themselves, or else it just doesn’t make sense.
The world was cold and foggy, but I knew I was inside. Each time I attempted to open my eyes, not only did the light bring unbearable pain, but the pain coursing through the rest of my body also seemed to awaken. If I could just keep my eyes closed for the rest of forever, I would probably be alright.
I knew moving any part of my body would also bring torturous pain, and even if I wanted to move, I quickly realized I couldn’t. I was tied to something at both the wrists and ankles.
I squinted my eyes open just enough to see the chair I had become one with due to the duct tape wrapped around each leg and wrist. I hadn’t even realized I had been sitting until that moment.
“Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey,” Geet chuckled when he saw me moving slightly. I opened my eyes the rest of the way, trying my best to ignore the lightning bolts of throbbing agony pulsing through me. Geet was standing from the couch and walking towards me.
It was dark outside and mostly dark in the apartment. The only source of dim light came from a solitary lantern glowing in the kitchen. I couldn’t figure out why the lights in the apartment weren’t on.
I grunted in response, still unable to form actual words.
“Don’t try to speak,” Scarface said. I couldn’t see him, but assumed he was lurking in the shadows somewhere nearby. “The pain must be excruciating.” His voice was filled with more joy than I had ever heard come from him before. He was a pretty solemn guy, but my predicament seemed to brighten his day.
Geet let out a low laugh, kneeling down in front of me. “I’m guessing the pain might be similar to being attacked with a shovel. If it’s anything close, then you probably wish you were dead right now.”
I thought back to the encounter the three of us had in Shelby and wondered how long it had taken them to make it back to the city and if they had gone searching for me before. Part of me was angry for not finishing them off when I had the chance, but I quickly brushed the thought away. What was done was done, and I wasn’t a killer.
“How long do we have to wait?” Scarface asked, not specifying what they were waiting to do, though I could only assume it was to experiment with countless new torture techniques on me.
“Not long,” Geet answered. “Harrison will be here shortly. He wants to talk to them, and then we’re free to have a little bit of fun.”
Them. Geet had said them.
I hazily rolled my head to each side, noticing Gabe on my right, also duct taped to a chair and still unconscious. His head hung low, his chin resting on his chest. His hair was matted with blood and more ran down the side of his face. As far as being beaten and bloodied, Gabe had had a rough couple of months.
“He’s your brother,” I managed to say, though I wasn’t sure if I had been loud enough for Geet to hear me. My throat was sore, and it hurt to speak.
He nodded. “That, he is. I begged Mom and Dad for a little brother, and when they finally had one, I was ecstatic. Then, he grew up to be Gabriel.”
I sneered at him.
“You can understand my disappointment,” he said, shaking his head and looking to Gabe.
Gabe began to stir, waking up a lot quicker than I did. He realized he was restrained and immediately began trying to move his arms and legs, to no avail. His grunts and groans echoed through the apartment as Geet watched and Scarface came into the living room from the kitchen to see what was going on.
“Good morning, sunshine,” Geet said, patting Gabe’s shoulder. “You slept a little longer than I thought you would.”
“When I get out of this chair, I’m going to kill you so hard,” Gabe growled, still struggling with the chair like a restrained wild animal. Being tied up was one of Gabe’s biggest fears: a lack of control.
“I don’t think you’re in any position to be making threats.”
I tried to swallow, but my throat was dry, causing me even more pain. I knew it was no use trying to escape my confines, especially with Geet and Scarface in the same room as me, so I decided to try to compromise with them. I knew it was a ridiculous idea, but it was all I had.
“What do I have to do to get Harrison to let my brother and Fuchsia go?” I asked.
Geet stared at me with a puzzled expression on his face, and Scarface let out a hearty laugh from the other side of the room.
“It’s a little late to start making deals,” he said. “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. Harrison will be in charge of deciding what happens to who when he gets here, which should be any minute now.” He pulled out his cell phone and checked the time, sliding it back into his pocket and smiling.
I hung my head with no idea what to even say next. I glanced over at Gabe who had stopped struggling with his restraints. He stared at me sadly. He was broken, defeated, and looked like he was ready to have this all over with. I had never seen him with so little fight left.
I waited for him to try to convey some kind of escape plan, but he looked away, letting his head hang low again.
Five minutes passed, and there was a knock at the door. Geet immediately marched to the apartment’s entrance, glanced through the peek hole, and opened the door. He spoke to the person on the other side, Harrison, but I couldn’t hear what they said.
Harrison walked into the apartment and across the room, stopping only inches in front of me and Gabe. He wore black slacks and a light blue shirt. His fingers were adorned with rings, as usual, and his hair was slicked back. He looked as if he had just come from a nice dinner with his wife and kids at an upscale restaurant downtown.
I found myself wondering what type of man Harrison was outside of work. Was he a family man or a loner? Did he spend his downtime schmoozing with socialites and politicians, or did he try to stay out of the limelight as much as possible? Did he even have downtime, or was being a drug-lord the only thing he did?
“I don’t know what to say,” he whispered. His voice was stern, but remorseful, as if the entire situation was out of his control. He was the parent who might as well have been saying, “I’m not angry, I’m disappointed.”
I used the extra effort to lift my head, trying to look him in the eye, but he knelt down between the two of us before I could muster the strength.
“This was never going to end any other way, was it?” I asked.
“On the contrary,” he said, shaking his head, “This was supposed to go the exact opposite way, Jamie. Don’t you see that?”
He grimaced. “You would have gone far, kid.”
“Excuse me?” I asked. “What are you even talking about?”
Harrison let out a sigh, as if trying to convey how frustrated he was with me. “When I brought you here, it was to pay off your debt to me,” he began. “But once that was taken care of, I had goals for you. You were going places, both of you. But you had to go and make things as messy as possible. You had to go and get yourselves killed.”
We were the star pupils who were on the fast track to stardom, but we had gone and fucked it up, and now we were being expelled.
“That’s bullshit,” Gabe spat from Harrison’s other side.
Harrison turned his head towards Gabe. “No, Gabriel. I saw the same promise in you as I saw in your brother. But you were too erratic, too angry. It was as if you had a death wish. You stole from me, and you knew the payment for something so witless would be your life. You did it anyway; you spat in my face.”
“You were going to kill us either way.”
“You’re wrong.” Harrison’s voice was the type of angry-calm that gave me goosebumps. “Oh, the chances you had. To make it right, to save yourselves. But you just kept pushing.”
I decided to speak up, because it was obvious Gabe wasn’t going to be able to get us out of this with only his words. “You’re going to kill us, I understand that, but the only thing I ask of you is you let my brother and Fuchsia go. They had no part in this. They didn’t do anything wrong.”
Harrison nodded, and the look on his face told me he was contemplating what I had asked. He was thinking of the right words to say, but I didn’t care. As long as he told me Kip and Fuchsia would survive, I no longer cared what would happen to me.
“Fuchsia will be fine, I can assure you that,” he said.
“That, I can’t promise.”
Harrison nodded towards Geet, who immediately walked to the front door of the apartment. He opened it again and brought someone in, though I couldn’t tell who it was due to the lack of light in the room.
“Who is it?” I asked.
“I apologize. The electricity in the building went out about an hour ago. A storm must be coming. The light is minimal,” Harrison said. “Come closer, darling.”
Out of the shadows and into the dim light of the kitchen lantern walked Fuchsia, completely unharmed and not restrained in any way. She had changed her clothes since I last spoke to her that morning, and she looked entirely less frightened than she had been before. Her makeup was fresh and no longer smeared. This was not the face of a woman who feared for her own life.
My jaw dropped.
“I’m sorry, babe,” she said, stopping next to Harrison and placing her hand on his shoulder. Something about her seemed deadlier than it ever had before. “It wasn’t supposed to go down like this.”
I couldn’t speak. I didn’t even know what words were. What the hell was happening?
“You see, after you abandoned me back in Weed, Harrison tracked you to my house. Of course, by the time he got there, you were already long gone, but he convinced me it was very important he find you. You know how bad I was hurting for money, Jamie. The whole psychic thing wasn’t bringing in enough to pay my bills.” Her face said she was sorry, but her voice gave no signs of remorse.
“You sold me out for money? You’ve been working for him this whole time? Nothing we had was ever real?” The questions flowed from my mouth faster than I could think of them.
“Oh, it was real, but like Harrison said; things were supposed to end up differently. You were supposed to follow the plan and never find out he had paid me to track you down.”
I glared at her. “I hope he paid you a lot. I hope it was worth it.”
I took a second to glance over at Gabe, who hadn’t spoken since before Fuchsia entered the apartment. He kept his gaze on Geet, but behind his back, I could see he had been trying to free his hands from the duct tape, and had almost succeeded.
I looked away, trying not to draw attention to him. “What happens next?” I asked Harrison.
He glanced to Scarface who made his way to the back half of the apartment where the bedrooms were. “Well, Jamie, let me make this very clear to you; you’ve betrayed me, and you’re definitely going to die tonight, but you’re going to get one more chance to save your loved ones.”
The blood drained from my face and I nearly passed out from shock as Scarface reentered the room, escorting two people with their hands tied behind their backs and duct tape covering their mouths. He shoved them in front of me, and both of them tumbled to the floor but were ushered onto their knees by Geet and Scarface.
Harrison took the liberty to rip the duct tape from both of their mouths, and Riley, through sobs, said, “Jamie, you have to do something!”
Kip didn’t speak.
They knelt in front of me, their faces looking towards the floor, execution style.
Geet and Scarface pulled guns from their belts, Scarface holding his to Kip’s head and Geet holding his to Riley’s.
Tears welled in my eyes as each of them tried to look up at me, unable to because of the metal pressed against their heads. Riley continued to sob, but Kip remained strong, trying to show as little emotion as possible.
I flashed back to the last time someone I loved was dragged into my actions against their will.
I saw Harrison’s employees, Sonny and Cher, holding their guns on me and Gabe in my house.
I saw the doorknob turning and Airic walking into the house like he had hundreds of times before.
I saw him slamming backwards into the door, blood splattered across his chest and face.
I saw him in my arms, taking his last breath.
My chest heaved in panic, and the tears spilled from my eyes, and I waited to find out what I would have to do to save the two people I cared most about in the world from meeting the same fate as my best friend.
“Untie him,” Harrison commanded.
I saw a confused expression flash across Scarface’s face, but he did as told, walking around behind my chair and slicing the duct tape holding my wrists with a small knife. He soon followed with my ankles.
I stayed in the chair, not wanting to risk being killed if I made the wrong move, or any move for that matter.
“Get up,” Harrison commanded.
I did as told, glancing to Gabe one more time to see how far he had come on getting his hands free. He was close, but still hadn’t succeeded.
Harrison pulled a small handgun from the back of his pants and placed it in my palm.
“What is this?” I asked.
“Well, if you want them to live,” he began, gesturing towards Kip and Riley. Kip’s face was stone cold, but Riley had continued to cry, her tears dripping onto the floor as she waiting on her knees, the gun still pressed against the back of her head.
I stared at Harrison without flinching.
He nodded towards Gabe. “If you want them to live, you have to kill him.”
(His Story Repeats Itself)
“You’re insane,” I said, still holding the gun in my hand. I hadn’t moved it from my palm, refused to place my finger on the trigger.
“It’s a simple task, Jamie,” Harrison said. “In order for Kip and Riley to live, you have to shoot Gabe in the head. He dies, they live. Simple.”
Harrison smirked. “The simple answer is because I said so, but I have a feeling you want the longer version. The answer is because Gabe is the reason for all our troubles. Everything would have been perfect had Gabriel not made the choices he made. For that, he is going to die, and you, for being his accomplice, are going to carry out the task. Your reward is your friend and brother survive.”
I tried to imagine how this would go down, but I didn’t have long to make a decision. If I shot Gabe, Harrison would supposedly let Riley and Kip go. But what if he didn’t? What if he was just screwing with me and was going to kill them anyway. I already knew I was going to die. What if he wanted me to kill Gabe and then he killed Riley and Kip in front of me, bringing me to my lowest only moments before my own death?
Gabe stared at me, his expression unreadable.
“I can’t,” I said. My hands were shaking. My entire body was shaking.
“That’s unfortunate,” Harrison responded. He turned to Geet and, gesturing towards Ridley, said, “Kill her.”
Geet pressed the gun against Riley’s head harder and began to squeeze the trigger, but I heard myself shout, “Wait!”
He smiled at me, but kept the gun where it was as Riley’s tears flowed harder. “Don’t do it, Jamie,” she said. “He’s lying. We’re all dead, no matter what you do. I want this to be over with. Just let him do it.”
“No,” I said quietly, turning to Harrison. “If I do it, you promise you’ll let them go.”
“Scout’s honor,” Harrison said, holding up his hand and forming the Boy Scout’s sign with three fingers.
“You have to prove it. You have to keep me alive until they’re back at home, safe and sound.”
Harrison contemplated the idea for several seconds as I decided to prove my dedication by pointing the gun he had given me directly at Gabe’s face. Gabe took a deep breath, but his expression stayed the same.
“You know what, Jamie, you have yourself a deal. Kill Gabe right now, and I’ll see to it that you personally escort your brother and the girl back to Indiana with Garrett.” Harrison grinned at me, hoping I would take the bait.
“Fine,” I said, trying to steady my hand at the same time as I tried decide if I would actually go through with murdering Gabe Malvado. The entire time, I stared into Gabe’s eyes, urging him with my mind, ‘Do something! Do Something!’
But Gabe didn’t flinch. Standing in front of him, I couldn’t tell if he had gotten his hands free or not. But if he had, he made no move to save himself.
“Go on, Jamie,” Gabe said. Fear was not evident in his voice. “You gotta do what you gotta do. I understand. Pull the trigger.”
This was it. I was about to murder my only friend, buying myself only a few more hours of life, but ensuring, at least I hoped, that Riley and Kip would get to live.
“Do it,” Kip said under his breath. It killed me to hear him sound so sinister, but in his situation, I couldn’t say I would have acted differently. “This asshole is right; this is all Gabe’s fault. Everything from the beginning!”
How had my life come to this? A year and a half ago, I was a high school student trying to come up with a way to pay my tuition to college. Now, that idea was long gone, and I was about to take someone’s life. I was about to shoot the person I had gone to for help when I decided I wanted to be a drug dealer.
Of course, people had already died because of my actions. I had never physically killed anyone, but Airic and Ford were dead because of me. I might as well have shot Airic and set the bomb that killed Ford myself.
I closed my eyes and tightened my finger on the trigger, feeling it begin to slide in. “No, it’s not,” I said calmly.
“Thanks,” Gabe said.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
The door to the apartment busted inward, flying off the hinges and landing in the middle of the floor. Splintered wood flew through the air, and I faintly heard a deep voice booming, “Go! Go!”
Everyone in the room jerked their attention in the direction of the chaos, even Kip and Riley. Scarface and Geet moved their guns towards the door, and the sound of gunfire filled the room.
I stood, frozen, the gun still in my hand, pointed toward Gabe’s face. My jaw dropped; what the hell was going on?
Riley screamed as Kip threw his weight towards her, knocking them both to the floor, mostly out of harm’s way. “Get down!” he yelled, still tied up, but doing his best to cover Riley’s body with his own.
Before I could react, Gabe was grabbing the gun from my hand. Duct tape still clung to his wrists and ankles, but he was free from the chair and ready to defend us. Without emotion, he commanded me to move and aimed the gun at the back of Harrison’s head, who was focusing his attention on the ambush coming from the front of the apartment.
As I dove onto the floor, trying to cover Kip and Riley with my body, I caught a glimpse of at least six SWAT officers clad in black riot gear. I had to assume one of them was Officer O’Kelly, though I didn’t know how he had found me, since I had instructed him to come to Harrison’s office, not mine and Gabe’s apartment.
In a moment of dizzy chaos, I realized we had been being watched the whole time. O’Kelly and the SWAT team had cut the power to the building and had been waiting for the right moment to make their move.
“What’s happening?” Riley shrieked as bullets whizzed through the air above us.
“I don’t know. Stay down. Just stay down!” I shouted, out of breath and utterly terrified. I used my hands to cover both of their heads, concerned at the moment for their safety and no one else’s.
Whatever was going on above was the problem of the people standing up; the people with guns.
I peered under the couch, trying to catch a glimpse of what was going on, but all I could see were Scarface’s and Fuchsia’s bodies crumpled on the floor, both covered in blood and bullet holes. I covered my mouth to keep from puking and turned my head away, pressing it against Kip’s back.
Bullets smashed through the glass wall of windows that ran the length of the apartment, sending shards flying both into the apartment and into the sky outside. Sirens were already blaring on the street below, though I couldn’t hear them until the windows had shattered.
Feathers from the pillows on the couch flew through the air as bullets ripped through them.
Chunks of plaster separated from the walls, spraying across the room and covering the floor.
Anything and everything that had been sitting on tables or hanging on walls was exploding into a million pieces, flying through the air almost in slow motion.
I squinted my eyes as dust began to fill the room, trying my hardest to find Gabe and Harrison, or at least trying to see if either of them were still alive. I saw Harrison with his back against the kitchen wall, barely out of reach from the gunfire. Geet stood next to him, reloading his gun.
Gabe lay on the floor about ten feet away from them, clutching his shoulder, blood pouring through his fingers and onto the floor. He looked at me through clenched teeth as if to say, “What did you do?”
I peeked under the couch again and saw at least four police officer’s bodies lying near Scarface and Fuchsia. As far as I could tell, it was now two police against Harrison and Geet; a pretty fair fight, all things considered.
They were currently in a stalemate.
Then I saw Harrison opening a large briefcase on the kitchen counter, pulling out a very large semiautomatic weapon. As he began to load it, I felt my body moving across the floor, towards the kitchen and hallway.
Kip called from behind me, “What are you doing? Where are you going? Come back!”
I crawled across broken glass and plaster, feeling the shards cut my hands and knees, but ignored the pain as best I could. At this point, all my body knew was pain. As I glanced back, I saw who I assumed to be Officer O’Kelly grabbing both Kip and Riley and helping them to their feet. He escorted them towards the door and they disappeared around the corner, safely into the hallway. I hoped he would usher them to the stairwell at the end of the hall as the last remaining SWAT member continued to battle Harrison and Geet.
I didn’t have time to breathe a sigh of relief as I kept crawling across the floor and into the hallway, not even sure exactly what I thought I was going to try to accomplish.
I glanced back and saw both Harrison and Geet peering around the corner of a wall, completely unaware of my escape; they were focused only on taking down the heavily armed and protected SWAT officer.
Once successfully in the hallway, I rose to my feet and ran the rest of the distance into my bedroom and frantically began looking for the knife Gabe had knocked out of my hand hours earlier. I found it lying against the bed, untouched since I left it there before.
I picked it up, the grip cold against my hand, and ran back to the living room, shocked to see what had apparently unfolded in the sixty seconds it had taken me to find the weapon.
Gabe stood, one shoulder slumped to the side, blood still running down his arm, the gun he had taken from me pointed directly at Harrison’s head.
Harrison, with his back to me, had his gun pointed at Gabe, reciprocating the threat Gabe posed against him.
The last SWAT officer lie motionless on the floor, dead.
Officer O’Kelly, his SWAT helmet lying on the floor behind him, finally revealing his face, stood with his gun pointed at Harrison.
Geet’s gun was pointed at the back of O’Kelly’s head.
The four of them were all stuck; whoever decided to pull their trigger first would definitely be shot in return.
“Isn’t this quite the predicament?” Harrison asked, still managing to smile, though his hair was filled with plaster dust and his shirt was torn at the sleeve. Blood was splattered down the sleeve, but it was more likely he had been cut by flying glass than shot.
I had two options. The first was to stand back and wait to see how the situation played out. However, no matter what happened, it was likely both Gabe and Officer O’Kelly would end up shot. No matter who made the first shot, everyone else would follow, meaning Geet, the only one without a gun pointed at him, would be the only one completely safe from being shot.
I didn’t like those odds.
I didn’t think; I just acted.
Without thinking, I ran into the living room and buried the blade of the knife into the back of Harrison’s head at the base of his neck. His gun fell from his hands immediately, and his body went limp, falling to the floor as I let go of the knife handle. Blood began to pool at my feet, drenching my shoes.
In slow motion, Gabe’s expression turned to rage, and he immediately began screaming, “What have you done? Jamie, no!”
Geet lowered his weapon, his face more confused than mine as Gabe continued to yell. He grabbed Gabe by his good shoulder and pulled him towards the apartment door, as Gabe continued to scream at me in anger. The last I saw of them, Geet had wrapped his arms around Gabe’s waist to keep him from reentering the apartment, and they disappeared around the corner.
I expected Officer O’Kelly to chase after them, but he pointed his weapon directly at me and screamed, “Don’t move!”
I held my hands in the air and stepped towards him. “It’s okay. It’s over now. We did—“
Before I could get the sentence out, however, Officer O’Kelly pulled the trigger of his gun and shot me square in the stomach.
Holding my abdomen as if I had just been gutted, I collapsed to the floor and clasped my hands over the wound, trying to stop the blood, but within seconds, my hands were covered and I could see dark red liquid beginning to puddle in front of me.
I tried to speak, tried to ask Officer O’Kelly why he had shot me, but I could feel my eyes going unfocused. My body went cold, and my hands began to tingle like when they begin to fall asleep.
Pins and needles, they call it.
Riley and Kip were safe…
My body was numb…
Gabe was gone…
Harrison was dead…
I tasted blood…
I tried to focus on anything to keep me awake, but the apartment around me seemed to exist less and less each time I blinked my eyes. I felt as if I was waking up from being knocked out, only backwards.
And then there was only blackness.
I opened my eyes to dim yet blinding fluorescent light shining down on me. I winced, turning my head to shield myself, and winced again as searing pain shot its way through the back of my skull. It felt like a thousand hammers bashing against the back of my brain, breaking from the inside out.
I took a moment to gain my composure, holding in a squeal as my body ached relentlessly against my attempt to adjust myself in the bed.
I was in a bed.
As I looked around, my surroundings were foreign yet completely familiar. It was a setting I’d seen in countless movies and television programs; the eggshell-colored walls, the new yet retro chairs sitting at the end of the bed, the curtain mounted to the ceiling directly to the right of my bed so as to give me privacy if pulled, even the dim bulb hanging above me. Clarity hit me as I noticed the IV in my arm and the beeping machines I was hooked up to, blood pressure, heart rate, and countless other factors being monitored.
I was in a hospital.
Trying not to move my head too much, I saw a set of buttons and speakers embedded in the thick plastic railing of the bed, and though I wasn’t sure what over half of them were for, I knew one of them was an emergency call button that would summon a nurse to my room. I thought momentarily, concluding if I could manage to hit the button, someone would come running and might be able to explain exactly what had happened and how I had gotten there.
At the moment, I knew the basics. I knew there had been a showdown inside mine and Gabe’s apartment.
I knew Scarface and Fuchsia had died during the showdown, but I had no idea who had killed them. It could have been Gabe, or it could have been one of the SWAT members who had escorted Officer O’Kelly into the building.
All of the SWAT officers had been killed, at least the ones who had entered the apartment. I had no way of knowing how many had been waiting outside in case the battle moved out of the apartment and into the hallway.
I also knew I had stabbed Harrison in the head.
Everything had unfolded so fast, but I was sure I hadn’t stabbed Harrison out of pure spite, though the possibility had crossed my mind at first. He had put everyone I cared about in danger for a second time, and nearly killed Gabe, Kip, and Riley. So, I did what anyone in my position would do; I killed him instead.
And that’s when everything went blank. If I was in a hospital, at least momentarily confined to a bed, almost unable to move, bandages wrapped tightly around my aching waist, then what had become of everyone else?
A glimpse of Geet rushing an injured, furious Gabe out of the apartment flashed in my mind, followed by a masked SWAT member doing the same with Kip and Riley.
I raised my hand to press the call button, hoping to get some answers, but my hand stopped about three inches short of actually hitting it. I reached again, feeling a cold, metal pressure against my wrist as my hand refused to move further once again. Craning my neck, I saw briefly the two pair of handcuffs, one latched around each wrist and connected to either side of the bed railing.
I was trapped.
I tried one last time to reach for the button, hoping the cuffs might miraculously give way, allowing me to call for a nurse, but no such luck was mine. Relaxing, I took a second to focus my blurred eyes on the window across the room and saw by the skyscrapers outside, and the sound of cars whizzing by, I was still in Chicago.
I heard the door to my room slowly unlatch and fluorescent hallway light crept across the linoleum floor as the door slid open. In a panic, I pressed my head against the pillow and closed my eyes, seeing the digital wall clock’s readout of “03:18AM” less than a second before my attempt at playing possum.
I heard boots shuffling across the floor, trying desperately to be quiet, but the room itself was lacking sound to the extent even a pin dropping could be heard from the hallway. Luckily, it sounded as if the shuffling boots belonged to only one person, not three or four of Harrison’s men coming to finish the job of sending me to meet my maker. Of course, with me handcuffed to the bed, it really wouldn’t have taken more than one to kill me.
The boots came to a stop at the foot of my bed and the frame creaked as the owner leaned forward, placing his or her palms against the mattress.
I kept my eyes closed, making sure not to squeeze them too tight. This was it.
“Jamie, Jamie, Jamie…” The voice belonged to Gabe, but there was something about it, something sinister, sinister even for him, that caused me to keep my eyes closed. For some reason, I wanted to know what he was going to say before revealing to him I was actually awake.
“Look what you’ve gotten yourself into,” he continued. “You’re bruised, broken, and almost bled out from a gunshot wound. You’re also chained to a bed. Not to mention you smell like death. I guess the nurses were instructed not even to give you a sponge bath. You’re probably too much of a risk, killer.”
He took a deep breath and lifted his hands from the bed, walking around the room. I could hear his boots again, but couldn’t tell for sure where he was going. I thought he was near the window.
“Wow, no one’s even sent you any flowers or anything,” he said with a little laugh. “I bet no one’s even come to see you. Who would?” He paused as if waiting for me to answer and then began to speak again.
“I know up until this point our working relationship hasn’t been the best. Yeah, I have some anger and control issues, but I’m not entirely to blame; you said it yourself. We make a plan and you always seem to do something against it, like you’re trying to sabotage us or something. If I didn’t know you better, if I didn’t know what an idiot you are, I might think you did all this on purpose. I might think you never wanted us to succeed at all. But no, I know better than that. I know you’re just as into this as I am. We’re the same.”
I fought to keep my eyes closed, resisting a strong urge to respond to Gabe’s harsh words. He was never one to mince his words, but there was something in his voice I had never heard directed towards me before: hatred.
“The good news is Harrison’s out of the way. We wanted that. But the bad news is you didn’t follow the plan, as usual. You see, and I really hope you’re not in too much of a coma to hear this, I was supposed to kill Harrison. I never even bothered to tell you how the ‘Harrison’ job title works. You kill Harrison, you become Harrison. That job was meant for me, and you took it. You didn’t even mean to, but you took the only thing I had going for me.”
I couldn’t believe my ears and wasn’t entirely sure I was comprehending Gabe correctly. If what he was saying was true, and I was Harrison, then I was also now the biggest drug lord in Chicago.
I cautiously opened one eye and saw Gabe sitting on the window ledge, gazing at the city outside, encased in a whirlwind of white snow.
The shootout had taken place on Halloween night, and it was snowing. How long had I been in the hospital?
“The way I see it, you saved my life that night. I was seconds away from dying, and you saved me. But in the process, you just went ahead and stabbed Harrison in the head. Very creative, by the way. Points for that.
“Now you’re him, at least for a little while. As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t kill you just yet. As much as I want to just take one of these pillows and hold it over your face, you saved me, and I’m letting you live, which in my book makes us even. I’m not one for sympathetic gestures, but you deserve at least a fighting chance…” He trailed off as if in deep thought.
I heard him stand and begin to walk back across the room as every muscle in my body tensed. He continued past my bed and stopped momentarily at the door.
“Tonight, you get to live, Jamie—I mean Harrison,” he said with an almost-forced laugh. “But after this is all over and you get out of those handcuffs, and you will, I’m going to hunt you down, and I’m going to kill you.”
Though my eyes were once again closed, I knew he was smiling the way only Gabe Malvado could.
He said before walking out the door for good, “I don’t leave loose ends. I promise.”
Ivy League Trilogy…
Coming in 2016
“Freedom is the open window through which pours the sunlight of the human spirit…”
Herbert Hoover, the 31st President, once said this, and I find myself thinking about it from time to time. I find myself thinking about it as I wake up each morning, bathed in the light from the sunrise I see from my bedroom window.
I’ve recently gotten into the habit of setting an alarm for about fifteen minutes before the sun rises so I can wake up, sit in my bed, stare out the window, and watch the beginning of each new day as if it might be my last.
Each time you watch the sunrise, you never know if it’s going to be the last time you do it, so why not enjoy it?
After I watch the sunrise, I climb out of bed, get dressed, and go downstairs to brew a pot of coffee. I’ve always been a fan of coffee, but I never appreciated it as much until I stopped buying it from chain diners and started brewing my own each and every morning. It doesn’t even matter what brand it is as long as I make it myself.
While the coffee’s brewing, I walk outside, pick up the newspaper, and browse through it for anything interesting. However, most days the news is all doom and gloom, so I usually don’t stop browsing until I reach the funny pages. I’ve loved reading the comics since I was a kid, and even though I’m grown now, I still can’t get enough of that talking cat and dog that can’t seem to get along.
I can smell the coffee coming closer to being ready, so I fold up the paper, tuck it under my arm, and make my way back to the kitchen.
I pass a man sitting in my living room with a shaggy Mohawk, a black t-shirt, and tight, grey jeans on, but when I close my eyes really tight, he’s no longer there. I want him gone, so I make him gone. I wonder for a second if I’m going crazy, but I know crazy people don’t actually question their own sanity, so I must be okay.
Back in the kitchen, I remove the coffee pot from the warmer and pour myself a cup. I can never decide if I want to drink it black or add cream and sugar, so I compromise and just add cream. I drink my coffee this way every day, but I always stop to consider if I should change it up before drinking it.
Through the window over the sink, I see my parents strolling through the back yard with my younger brother, Kip.
Kip’s almost fifteen now, but to look at him you’d think he was old enough to drive, maybe even vote. In the back yard, he takes a drink from a bottle of water while my parents hold hands. I never stop to wonder why they’re awake so early and just strolling through the yard like it’s a park.
When I turn away from the window, Riley is standing there, leaning against the wall with her arms crossed over her chest, but not in an angry way. She takes a drink from my coffee, smiles, and kisses me on the cheek as I walk past.
There’s a knock at the front door, and I open it with a smile on my face. He stops by at the same time every day, and it’s probably the happiest I am all day long, even after watching the sun rise.
Airic stands in front of me, holding a skateboard. He says he’s taking up skateboarding because there’s nowhere to surf in Indiana. We share a laugh, but he does not come inside.
I hear a ringing in my ears, the kind of ringing you hear when you know a really bad headache is coming up on you. The headache hasn’t arrived yet, but I know it’s coming, and I press my palm to my forehead as if this will help fend it off.
“You okay?” Airic, Riley, and Ford ask simultaneously. Ford is standing with them now, smiling, though his clothes are charred and he has smut smeared across his face.
“You okay?” Gabe asks just off synch with the others.
I turn to see him standing next to me. He takes my coffee mug from my hand and downs the entire contents as if they’re a shot of Jack. He hands the mug back to me and smiles the way only Gabe Malvado can smile.
I turn back towards the kitchen to get more coffee, only slightly annoyed, but it now sits at the end of a very long hallway, a hallway so long I think it might never actually end.
Riley stands in the kitchen, and I think she’s crying, but she’s so far away I can’t tell for sure.
I turn back to Airic, but he’s no longer standing outside the front door. Instead, he sits slumped against it, his head sagging to one side, blood splattered across his face, his shirt, and the door behind him. Blood drips from his mouth, and his arms lay limp at his sides as if he’s questioning why he has to sit in this ridiculous position, pretending to be dead.
Fords sits on the couch, almost unrecognizable from the burns covering all of his exposed skin. His clothes are marginally more burned than they were moments before, and smoke pours from them as if they’re still burning.
The room begins to shake, but not like there’s an earthquake. The shaking is more like when an old movie is almost over and the film is about to come off the projector.
This movie is almost over.
I look to Gabe, because he is the only one left in the room with me, but he’s still smiling that stupid Gabe Malvado smile. He looks at me, amused, and simply says, “Wake up.”
Every morning, I jolt awake from the same dream, lying on my cot, my blanket about four inches too short to cover my feet. The room is dark, and my bunkmate snores loudly, letting me know it’s not quite time to really be awake.
I close my eyes and try to fall back to sleep for however much longer I have until the guard comes past, yelling “Wake up! Wake up! Rise and shine! Chow’s in ten minutes!”
Trying to fall back to sleep is no use, so I lay awake thinking about a quote from the 31st President, Herbert Hoover: “Freedom is the open window through which pours the sunlight of the human spirit…”
Sometimes I think about the quote for hours at a time; I read it in a book somewhere. But I always come to the same conclusion: my prison cell doesn’t have a window.
(About the Author)
Christopher Waltz grew up in Columbus, Indiana and has had a passion for writing since penning (and illustrating) a sequel to the movie Jumanji at age eight. Some of his influences range from authors Stephen Chbosky and Chuck Palahniuk, to his high school journalism teacher, Kim Green.
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education from Indiana University in 2011 and currently lives in Indianapolis with his pit-bull, Theo, and is currently working on the finale to the Ivy League Trilogy: Loose Ends.
He has never used or sold drugs in his life.
Jamie Brewer thought he had escaped a life of crime when he fled his hometown after a drug deal gone awry left his best friend dead and his life in ruins. But ‘Old Habits’ die hard… After taking on new identities in California, Jamie and his partner-in-crime Gabe can't hide from old enemies for long, and after being captured and transported to Chicago to work off their debts to the drug kingpin Harrison, the two hatch a plan big enough it could finally ensure their freedom for good, but at what price? Filled with twists and turns, Old Habits continues the journey of Jamie Brewer, a high school student turned drug dealer, who must decide between continuing in a business he’s grown to love and putting the lives of those he cares about most in danger in order to get out. Old Habits is the second book in the trilogy reviewers are calling "dark and gritty" and "unique YA.”