There was a flash, coming at me from behind. I spun and caught it out the air.
“Snowball fight!” D said, a few seconds too late.
She shouted from across the parking lot. I could pinch my fingers together and have her fit in the space between.
“You actually got it?” she called out.
I lifted the white package above my head, showing her that I indeed ‘got it.’
“Wow, that is legit super rad!” D exclaimed, skipping as she headed my way.
“I thought we were heading to one of your ‘jobs,’” I said, tossing the brick back as she approached. “Shouldn’t you be taking this more seriously?”
D had to jump to catch it, or the brick would have flown over her head.
“Oof,” she said, as she got it secured. “And relax, we’ve got time.”
Her reply was dismissive in tone. Something I’d have to get accustomed to.
She passed Hleuco as she approached, who had been waiting outside the whole time. He moved in step with her, eyeing her closely, a very curious creature. But D had no idea.
“And it’s better to be on time than be early,” D added.
“And why’s that?”
“So you’re not a sitting duck, and people won’t get the jump on you.”
“You don’t seem to have much trust in the people you work with,” I said.
“That’s just the nature of the game,” D said, smiling. “You always have to watch your back, no matter who you’re playing with.”
Was I supposed to take that as a joke, or a warning? It was hard to tell, coming from her. Everything she said or did seemed like something I wasn’t in on, or I had to look at it a different way to catch the true meaning. Maybe that was just in her nature, to playfully jest. Maybe she was playing me.
But, she had her use, and I needed someone useful.
“Message… received,” I said, as D met me at the van. We were right outside the forsaken apartment complex, in a parking lot that was home to more vehicles that didn’t work than did. I was standing outside with my mask on, but it was too dark for anyone to notice, and even if anyone did notice, would they even be able to connect the dots? I wasn’t dressed as the Bluemoon. To them, I was just any random masked weirdo.
“Is this job anything I need to concern myself with?” I asked. “Or involve myself with?”
“No and no. Just delivering some toys to some lucky kids. And while I’m at it, I’ll ask about Benny, see if we can’t pick up anything already.”
“Doesn’t sound too bad.”
“See? Oh yeah.” D reached down at her feet, picking up an actual brick. “Try this next.”
She held it out, then dropped it. I would have let it fall, but it would have hit my feet, and I didn’t have the room to back up. The van was a foot behind me.
My hands moved, and I grabbed it out of the air.
“Relax, you had a fast reaction the first time, and that was when I threw something at you, when you weren’t looking.”
“I saw it coming from the window, I can get blindsided, for your information.”
“But you still had enough sense to react. Most people would have ducked for cover after it collided with the window.”
She was just messing around.
I lifted the brick to her face, a small reminder for her sake.
“Anyways, what’s with the bricks?” I asked.
D’s eyes lit up.
“Break it in your hand!”
I looked at D, then at the brick. Both with confused looks.
“Is there something I’m missing?”
“Come on, you have superpowers, don’t you? I want to see you use them. It’s so cool!”
I let my disappointment show. I loosened my shoulders, and slouched. My arms fell beside me.
“They’re not cool,” I said.
“Uh, yeah they are, and you know it. They’re like magic tricks, except real.”
“And me chasing after you on foot wasn’t enough?”
D pouted, but it felt off. Rehearsed. As if she knew she was a kid, and was using that to play up the act even more. It was eerie.
“That’s different,” she said. “I was trying to run away, but now that you have me I wanna see it up close. Now come on, crush the damn thing!”
I brought my hand, and the brick, up again. I stared at it for almost a minute.
There was nothing to gain from crushing a cement brick with a single hand. Could I, even? Probably, but what would that prove? I’d just be doing this to entertain a little girl. Magic tricks, as she so aptly put it.
But, damn me. She had the keys. She knew how to drive.
As if I need another reminder.
And we apparently were early. Nothing else to do.
I put the brick back in front of D’s face. She gave me some space.
I wrapped my fingers around the brick.
Without much effort, my thoughts went to Benny. To the world.
I channeled that energy, through every individual digit. It coursed.
Then, I applied the necessary pressure.
Cracks through cement. Whole, then fractured. I felt the brick begin to crumble in my hand.
One more push of pressure, and I closed my hand completely.
“Whoa!” D said, astonished. She seemed genuine. “Ah shit, I wish I recorded that!”
“No recording anything,” I said, patting my gloves together. “Now, are we done, or do you want me to crush that, too?”
I quickly pointed to the white, tightly packaged block in her hands.
D pulled it closer to her chest, slipping into her jacket. “No way, I actually need this one.”
When she moved her hand out of the jacket, she was holding a ring of keys.
“Alright, that’s enough playing around, for now. Hop in.”
She moved to the other side of the van, unlocking it from there. We got inside, both of us having to move teddy bears in order to find our seats.
After we settled, D worked to put the key into the ignition, turning it. The van activated, but only after some fits and starts. It soon got to a low, even rumble, and D stepped on the gas.
Or, more accurately, she stood on it.
I watched D as she drove the van. I couldn’t help myself. I was as curious as I was concerned we might hit something.
As I expected, she wasn’t tall enough to see over the wheel if she were to take a seat. She had to stand, placing herself between the seat and the wheel, with the seat adjusted farther back to provide her some room to move around. She was buckled in, but the strap that was supposed to go across her chest was tucked back and away, leaving only the waistband part that hugged her stomach. As an added measure, she had a stack of phone books propped up behind her.
I observed her every time she shifted her weight from each foot, moving from gas to break, or just coasting. Glancing from the wheel to the cracked windshield, signaling when needed. For someone who shouldn’t even legally be behind the wheel, she was doing pretty well for herself.
I wanted to find something to critique, as if I was a driving instructor myself, but that assumed a level of experience I didn’t have. And she seemed to be doing a decent job. The ride was smooth, and she was aware of what was happening around her, checking her mirrors and blindspots. If she was skilled enough to race through the city, drifting and performing other stunts, then she was better than me.
It was a sight for sure.
D glanced to her side, and noticed me watching.
“Are you that impressed?” she asked.
“Can you blame me if I am?” I asked in return, my eyes still trained on her. “It’s something I’ve never seen before. Kind of like a magic trick.”
“Hah, kind of, if you wanna look at it that way. But I still think the whole ‘crushing a brick with your bare hands’ thing has me beat.”
“Mm,” I said, shifting my focus to the street ahead. The cracks in the glass had spread, but D was managing fine. If nothing else, I was more concerned over the van itself than D’s driving.
“So, what’s your deal?” D asked, her eyes to the road.
“Don’t act like having superpowers is the most normal thing in the world. You had to get it from somewhere. So spill the beans. I wanna know.”
My memories on that day were of broad strokes. Like skipping through scenes of a movie I had already seen before. I got most of it, but I was glossing over the details.
A party. A walk. A barn. A girl.
And I didn’t really need to know more than that. The broad strokes were enough.
“Sorry,” I said. “But I’m not up for saying.”
“Aw, that’s no fair. But hey, you know, we just met. We can work up to that.”
As if, I thought.
Part of me wanted to get back at her the same way.
I asked, “And your deal is?”
“Don’t act like being a thirteen year old van-stealing, delinquent drug dealer is some normal thing.”
“Hey, let’s get something straight. I’m not thirteen.”
“How old are you then?”
She grinned, and left it there.
If she was going to be like that, fine, I was being the same way. I could even make a decent guess from there, anyways.
But, damn, I really wanted to pin her down, have her figured out.
I continued a stream of questions.
“Where are your parents?”
I had already asked that, but she being smart with me before, and there were more pressing matters at hand. Now? D said we were early, so right now we had time.
And, like the last time I asked her, there was a moment’s pause.
“Didn’t I already give you a jokey answer? Wasn’t the bit funny enough the first time?”
Oh. That was harsh.
Definitely struck a nerve, there.
“Guess they’re not around,” I whispered, so she couldn’t hear me. It was probably the best assumption. D lived alone in that apartment, aside from Macy, but I could barely consider her a roommate. And if she did have parents that were around, they would have to be majorly fucked to let a child run free, doing…
My thoughts went to Shiori.
“You said you’re free to do whatever. I’m guessing you don’t have school to keep you busy during the day?”
“Nah,” she said, with more pep. “School’s for chumps. I learn by being outside, by doing. And if there’s anything super technical I want to know, I dunno, I can just grab a book, or something.”
I wouldn’t question her methods, considering they got her this far. She seemed more capable than any kid her age. Probably more capable than some adults.
“So you do this all day?” I asked.
D checked a mirror, and made a turn.
“Eh, not really. Before I picked up this gig, I was getting into a lot more trouble, just for the fun of it. That’s all well and good, but I learned pretty quickly you need some structure. This helps center me, keeps me busy, all the while giving me a chance for that sweet, sweet upward mobility.”
“You want structure, but no school?” I asked.
“Nope. It’s for chumps.” She took a hand off the wheel, pressing a button on the center console. Heavy metal music started playing, at an almost unreasonable level.
“Maybe I am still looking for trouble,” she said, barely registering over the noise.
The music played, and it put up enough of barrier to stop any more conversation, which was fine by me, I wasn’t here to soul-search with a little kid. My eyes drifted to the side, watching the streets go by. I found Hleuco in the skies, spinning and rolling through the air, zipping ahead, only to spiral around and do it again. His great wings pushed with a sense of strength. Power. Freedom.
It was a fantasy, but how could I be so envious?
It had been but a handful of days, but I was already drained from having to play Alexis Barnett. It was a role I had little enthusiasm towards, a mask I didn’t want to wear. Some of her connections were needed, like her experiences as Blank Face, but they came with trite, superfluous information. I didn’t need to know about how she got into volleyball, I didn’t care to know about the intimate details of her first kiss. But that was the draw, they came with the more useful bits.
And it is going to stack, dilute your thinking, until you’re a little less you, and a little more her.
I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to disappear.
It made having to find Benny all the more imperative. That was me, and me only. A goal I would see to the end, and not Alexis.
And what happens after we get Benny?
I didn’t know. Would I disappear? Like a robot, after it fulfilled its programming. Would I shut down, waiting further instructions?
I didn’t want that.
I couldn’t let myself be stuck to Alexis when I was done. Chained. To be shackled back in that apartment, haunted by phantoms of a past I wanted nothing to do with. To have bits of my mind chipped away, until my very self faded to a dark nothing. What would happen to me, then? Where would I go?
Pressing a finger to my chin, I fixed my mask.
No no no.
I couldn’t let that happen to me. Couldn’t let that be my fate. I wasn’t going to let her win. I wasn’t going to let her connections tie me down.
Her friends weren’t mine, her family wasn’t mine, and I hated wasting the effort to pretend. I hated it, and I hated Alexis.
I wanted to be up there, with Hleuco. Free.
After Benny, then, shall we-
“Yo, here we be.”
D’s word provided a needed distraction. I looked through the broken glass ahead.
We were entering a parking garage, near a larger department store. Familiar, but I stopped my mind from going down that route. No more connections than were necessary.
There were other vehicles on the first floor, but none as D drove us up to the higher levels. We passed by the third, the fourth, then the fifth. As we reached the sixth, lights drew towards us.
D took her foot off the gas, steering us through the vans, people, and dogs.
The windows were tinted, they wouldn’t see us. But the eyes still put me on edge.
D positioned us so we parked in one of the few empty spots, the front of the van facing the gang. In a way, our backs were against the ropes, since the end of the parking spot was lined with metal cables, towards open air.
She put the van in park, and relayed the plan to me before I could get a voice in.
“Alright, you’re gonna have to stay in here and sit tight. I’ll handle all of this, and see what info I can squeeze out in the meantime. Just stay low, and we’ll be one and done before you know it.”
“This is a lot more people than I expected, and I’m not liking how cornered this is making me feel,” I said. “How do I know you’re not leading me into a trap, by leaving me in this van?”
D gave me that look again, like I asked something stupid. “You can fight your way out, can’t you? You’re strong.”
She then reached across to my side, opening up the glove compartment. A black handgun made itself very well known.
“In case of trap, pull trigger,” she said.
She closed the compartment, and then she was out, leaving me inside the still-running van.
I had my suspicions of D, and while I was confident in myself and my own abilities, this was playing too close to the fire. I might recover from the burns, but I’d still have been burnt.
For just this moment, D had me stuck. I was forced to watch as she took things from here. A wary spectator.
D walked in front of the van, cutting through all the heavy beams of light. The dogs barked as soon as they laid eyes on her, their teeth snapping. Only held back by leashes, and the armed men holding them.
Some of the lights got cut, giving me a clearer view of the scene. D had her back to me, facing a man twice her size. The right side of his face was patched with bandages, the other I could tell was swollen. He’d seen some action, or at least, got his ass kicked.
His mouth moved, but I couldn’t catch the words. The dogs were too loud.
D gestured in response, but I had no way of picking up the meaning. She flipped open her jacket, showing him something, then she jabbed a thumb over her shoulder, briefly turning around. I could have sworn she was looking right at me.
I took off my seatbelt, and tried to make myself smaller.
The man nodded, then shook his head. He raised his chin.
The dogs stopped barking. Some whimpered before they completely went quiet.
D and the man continued talking. I could hear them, now, but I couldn’t understand them.
Glancing to a button on my side of the door, I considered pushing it, cracking the window open.
My entire body tensed as I moved my hand, a finger hovering over the button.
Teeth gritting together, I barely gave it so much as a tap.
“-very lucky that I’m letting you walk away without a fuckin’ scratch.”
“Lucky? Please, L-Boy, you’re not going to last if you don’t have a stream of revenue, and no one in this town is willing to do business with you. Well, no one except me. You should be considering yourselves lucky.”
There. I had an ear in the conversation. It was faint at best, but it was something.
“You’re just doing this to spite me,” the man said. “To rub salt in the wounds you caused.”
“You’re such a heartless bitch.”
D brought her hands behind her back, and tapped her foot on the ground.
“Aw,” she said, tapping her foot again. “I like the sweet talk, Lawrence, but it’s not sweet enough. Just having me work with you is best deal you’re gonna get. The price stays.”
“Yeah yeah, you heartless bitch.” The man, Lawrence, took a step to pass D, and she moved, walking with him. “You really got this stuff from him?”
They were coming towards the van. Towards me.
All night, I had been keeping a mental note of where my knife was, at all times. Now, I made of note of the gun in the glove compartment.
‘In case of trap,’ she said.
“Who else am I gonna get it from?” D replied.
“But you understand why I’m hesitating, even when I’m desperate. If you stole shipment from-”
“Relax, it’s gonna be fine. He’s not even really going to miss it. It’s from an older stash, meaning the quality isn’t the best-”
D murmured that last part.
“-and there isn’t much. But, you said it yourself, you’re desperate. So you’ll take what you can get, and you and your Ghosts can go on to haunt for another day.”
“Stop. I’m tired of finding reasons to call you a heartless bitch. Just let me and my boys walk with some dignity.”
I lost sight of them as they came around to the driver’s side. I ducked even lower. Ready, if this really was a set up.
The door slid open. Not the driver’s door.
“Too late for that, L-Boy. Here’s everything, you can-”
I heard a commotion.
Grunts, a startled shout, a thud of metal on flesh. The sounds of a struggle.
Some dogs started barking again.
Before I could make sense of what was happening, D reappeared from the back row, jumping into the space between the driver’s seat and the wheel.
Every dog was gnarling and gnashing teeth.
“What did you-” I started, but D once again cut me off.
“Fuck fuck, mission abort,” she said, clutching the gear knob. “Either you buckle in, or you find us another way out of this.”
And then she pulled on the gear knob, and she stomped.
The van jerked, then flung.
But not forward.
The van accelerated backwards, and immediately hit the metal cables. But we were going at a decent speed, and the cables already looked weak, unattended to.
Looks weren’t deceiving, in the case.
I heard them snap. The van continued.
She’s sending us off the edge of the building.
I turned to D, her hands still on the gear, her foot still planted down flat.
No words. My body just moved on its own.
D had curled herself into a ball around the gear, protecting it with her body.
I thrusted out my hand, squeezing it between her and the gear. I found her chest. I shoved.
D was practically lifted into the air, the gear shifting and her foot taken off the gas. As she came back down, she covered her head, to not hit the wheel. Her small body fell into the space where the driver was supposed to put their legs.
But the van kept moving. Toppling.
I felt us tipping back.
We were going to fall.
Had to do something.
My body moved on its own, again. No thoughts, just action.
I pushed myself up, my hands on the seat itself, my feet on the back part. I lifted my head to see the window.
It was cracked. Could I break through it with a strong enough impact?
The gun. Could I use it to give me an opening?
As if in response, the van swayed back, and I felt my stomach leap.
No time for that option.
I steeled myself.
Using the back of the seat as a platform, I sprang from the seat. My arms over my head, bracing for the shattering of glass.
I heard it, I felt it.
Glass shattered all around me. The sounds of glass, barking, and shouting.
I felt the open air, the rush as I knew I had to continue to work, and work fast.
The van and I moved in opposite directions, all at the same time. It made it easier for me to get over the hood.
Hard, my landing on solid cement. I landed, but I didn’t collapse. I didn’t let myself.
I sprung back up, turning around. I went straight to the van. I could see the underside of the thing, already.
Throwing out both hands, I scrambled for a hold underneath the grill of the van. It was the only place I could get a good grip.
I had to dive to get that grip.
I grabbed a hold of the van, but now I was moving with it, too. It’d bring me over with it, if I didn’t do anything else.
My hands still in place, I pushed my body up, using my hips. I went a bit into the air, and I used that to throw my legs and feet under me, getting some footing.
I got it, but I was still sliding, inching forward.
I needed to get us to stop.
Planting my feet down as hard as I could, I tried pulling the van towards me, all the while pushing the vehicle down. If I could get the damn thing down flat, it might save me some trouble.
Not much progress in that regard. Cement moved from under me.
My muscles in my arms hurt, my legs screaming in pain. I already went through the wringer, earlier in the night, with this very same van. With the very same person behind the reason why.
I couldn’t take much more.
But I kept pulling, even if every second made the effort harder. More in vain. I kept on.
I screamed, as if that would accomplish anything.
I tossed my head back, trying to pull more. More of the same.
Through squinted, sweat-soaked eyes, I saw something.
A pillar dividing one section of the floor to the next. Between two parking spaces. As I was sliding, I was passing it, getting closer.
I could reach it. But…
We can’t reach the far end of it for a hold. Too far.
That couldn’t stop me. The next best thing, then.
Which, really, was an absolutely terrible idea.
Which shows just how fucked I was. If the the next best thing was a terrible idea.
I took a hand off the van. The closer one. The left.
I punched the cement pillar.
I wasn’t sure what broke first. My hand, or the cement.
But I got a hold.
I had made a hole in the pillar, but my fist stayed inside. About half of my forearm was within the thing.
An intense, blinding pressure. A tug, all focusing onto my elbow.
My arm went taut.
And I used it to keep myself in place, with the van in hand.
I screamed, not because it helped, but because it hurt so fucking god damn much.
The weight of the van tore at me, threatening to separate me from my arm. It was probably even feasible.
My head was about to be split open, my eyes about to burst out of their sockets.
Hold out for a bit more.
Easier said than done.
My fingers on one hand dug into metal, and there was no feeling in the fingers of the other. Just pressure from that elbow, up to the rest of my arm, my shoulder, then my whole fucking body.
Metal kept digging, and in turn, I kept pulling.
Something was bound to break. Probably me.
D said there was a lead to Benny, here. Let this go, and I’d lose everything. I had to salvage this somehow.
With my last remaining strength, I drew my arm back, and as hard as I could possibly manage.
I felt it bend.
My arm was moving. My grip on the van.
Perhaps negligible, but there. I felt it.
And it seemed to be enough.
The van creeped, bit by bit, away from the drop, its metal belly scratching the cement edges.
Come here, come here, dammit.
Tiny, but usable centimeters of progress, but I could only do so much, like this. I did have a breaking point. Someone else was going to have to pick up my slack.
I screamed again. But there was a purpose in my tone. Not just raw expression. A calling.
The sound of movement, the shuffling of feet. Shouts.
A man came running to the van, stopping right where I was. He had a length of chain in one hand, extending somewhere behind us.
He searched around for something he could do, somewhere to apply the chain. Couldn’t help him there. I didn’t have the voice.
He bent down, working the chain under the van, right by my hand. He figured it out himself.
The man worked fast, he was already up and running away. Another person took his place. A female, with chains of her own. She was about as fast as the first guy, tying the chain somewhere underneath the grill. She was up and out in a flash.
I watched, the chains slowly lifting off the ground. Getting tight.
The chains stretched into straight, parallel lines, and then the van started moving forward.
There was a transfer of power going on, between me and the chains. The van moved, and I felt the pressure on my body lessen. The metal dug into my fingers a little less, my arm in the cement pillar getting a little looser. The strain on my body was easing up.
Which gave room for the pain to sweep in and make itself known.
The soreness, the throbbing. It hit my whole being. As if stretching a rubber band as far as possible without breaking it, when the pressure was alleviated, the band was left loose and flaccid.
I felt like rubber. Stretched-out. No cuts, I wasn’t bleeding, but I was still hurting. The healing process started, but it was within me. Reconnecting muscles and joints. Making them firm again. Feeling things worm inside me.
I almost lost enough of my senses to laugh. Of all the things I inherited from Alexis, it just had to be her penchant for self-abuse.
Fuck you, Alexis.
The van moved some more, the grill pressing into my chest and face. Moving me along with it, but I was still elbow-deep into the cement pillar.
I waited a bit, the van pushing me more. Positioning myself.
When I found myself at a decent position, I yanked my arm out of the pillar. It fell beside me, and I fell onto my back.
I couldn’t get a good look at my arm, but I could guess how mangled it had become. The van kept moving, rolling over me. I was small, I didn’t get run over.
I was breathing hard when the van was secured, people moving about. I needed to be present.
The desire to stay down and mope in the pain, I pushed it aside.
I forced myself up, propping myself up with my okay arm.
My healing was working all this time, and I was feeling somewhat better by the time I was on my two feet. I checked the arm I used to hit the pillar. The jacket sleeve was still decently intact, but the glove was tattered. My fist looked compact, more like a ball of flesh and bone than separate digits and parts.
I hitched in my breathing at seeing that, and I put my arm down. It’d heal, in time. I just didn’t want to look at it anymore.
Shit. After the first accident earlier tonight, I could have went another night without needing to feed. Now, I had to get something to drink before I returned to the apartment.
It’s fine. You’ll find something.
Arms at my side, I approached the van. Every door was wide open, with teddy bears spilling out. Some of the dogs were tearing them up, fighting each other for their own to chew up. One was licking a man by the cheek. A bandaged cheek. He was sitting on the ground, a distance away from the van. Rattled.
Their boss? He was in the van, too?
Other dogs noticed me, and went to barking.
It brought the gang’s attention to me.
I already had my arms up before it was a solid thought in my head. Even the bad arm, or the one that was more worse off.
“None of the macho stuff,” I said. “I think I just saved your boss. Let’s call it a truce, and we can settle this with words.”
The gang members looked among each other. They turned to me, all nodding. They tugged at their hounds, getting them to zip it.
Good. They weren’t stupid.
D collapsed out of the van, heaving for air. She stayed on her back. She had the handgun, clutched to her chest.
One of the gang members closed in on her, weapons ready. She immediately brought her gun up, but she was pointing more to the ceiling than anyone here. Her arms were too stiff, if she had any intention of pulling that trigger.
“Get away! Back off! It’s Lawrence’s fault, he tried to short me! You don’t fucking cheat me! You can’t!”
The gang members stopped. I walked over to D.
“D,” I said, looking at her. “You’re safe now. No one’s going to hurt you. Relax. I don’t know why, but I got you. I saved you.”
“Thank, thanks you,” she said, between heavy breaths. Hiccups.
“Thank you,” she said again, correcting herself.
Funny. It was in this situation when she acted most like a kid.
“What the hell were you thinking, doing that?” I asked.
“I know, I knew what I was doing. The next building over was only two levels lower. I woulda made it, I would have.”
As she fell over her words, Hleuco came to my side. Browsing the scene, he squawked at the few dogs that couldn’t keep calm.
She’s as crazy as the rest of us.
“Can you get up, or do you need help?” I asked.
“I’ve got it,” she replied, but she soon shook her head. “No, can you? Please help?”
She dropped one arm to her chest, along with the gun. She extended a small hand my way.
I took her hand, using my worse one. My healing really did wonders for me.
I helped her up, while checking my surroundings. And we were surrounded.
All hostiles, with only a temporary, shaky truce keeping them back. I had to maneuver through this – through them – carefully, if I wanted to be able to walk away with no further harm done.
Coming around the front part of the van, I saw the man D was talking with. Lawrence. One of his men was helping him, getting him to stand. He managed, but he still had to rely on his lackey.
Much like this parking garage, he seemed familiar.
It made me realize I was still holding D’s hand. I let go, and heard a faint whimper.
I walked to him, Hleuco coming with. The gang members reacted, and as if by routine, I raised my hands.
The truce remained.
“Lawrence,” I said, voice raised. “You tried to sabotage the only good thing going for you and your gang. Why?”
I made it a point to phrase it like that, to get everyone up to speed, while making Lawrence out to be the offended. It might shake his gang’s faith in him. Anything to get an edge in this.
“I didn’t sabotage shit, she was the one constantly talking shit. You don’t know her like I do, this has been going on so fucking long. From pranks and shit, and when El Carruaje disbanded, she kept going, after me.”
“Because you make it too fun,” D said. She moved behind me, holding my jacket.
“Shut up! She fucked with me when I tried to build up the Ghosts, and now I have to buy from her if I want my boys to continue holding a presence in the city. I swear she planned out this whole damn thing from the beginning.”
“Not now,” I told D, pushing her back with my arm. I returned to Lawrence. “And you wanted to get back at her? At a little girl?”
“I’ll do what I can to survive, I’ll bite that bullet. But if I one up her, then sure, fuck it. I just didn’t expect…”
I filled in the blank for him. “Me?”
I scanned the people around, and looked back to Lawrence. “Your gang’s on the skids, and you put everyone at risk by trying to pick a fight with a girl half your size. And you still lost, you would have died if I wasn’t there to do something about it. Tell me, was it worth it?”
I didn’t intend for the question to hang, but Lawrence let it, not answering for a good minute. But his silence was saying a lot for the others. Exchanging looks, lowered weapons, an overall down disposition. Even the gang member Lawrence was holding onto shifted, almost as if he was trying to pull away from him. Doing the minimal effort required to keep him up.
“You’re not a gang,” I continued, “You’re scavengers, picking up whatever scraps possible, hoping to see the next day, and you fucked up the last bit of scraps you’re ever going to get. Let that sink in.”
I reiterated the same point for effect. It did sink in. Lawrence dropped his head, and everyone else in his gang felt that. They were all in this together, and they were struggling. I didn’t have any knowledge of the Ghosts before this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone gathered was all the gang had to offer.
“But,” I said, “There is a way to turn it around. There is someone you should direct your anger to.”
All eyes were on me.
“Benny,” I said.
Lawrence lifted his head, eyeing me. “Benny?”
“Yes. You were part of her old gang, were you not? But after her plans failed, the one that necessitated all those weapons, The Chariot fell apart, and you, Lawrence, tried to pick up the pieces for yourself. To scavenge.”
“So what if I did?” he asked.
“It would have worked, for a time, if Benny didn’t decide to shoot up a school.”
Various looks from all around. Mostly concern.
“She did do it,” Lawrence said.
“Yes, she did, and that’s probably a reason why the Ghosts are losing traction in the city. No one wants to associate with someone with too much dirt on their hands, even with a few degrees removed. Shit sticks, and then it spreads.”
“Okay? What does that have to do with us?”
“It has everything to do with you. Benny slipped away, but she’s still in the city. There’s a nice prize for her head. Find her, and you might be in a better standing. Your gang earns a seat at the table.”
Lawrence glared at me, a puzzled expression.
“Why are you suggesting this to us?”
His question gave me pause.
Why was I suggesting this? Benny was mine, but I was telling a branch of her old gang to go after her.
Because I couldn’t do this myself, because it was something Alexis would have never resorted to.
Because it would be a nail in her coffin.
And we need all the nails we can get.
Glancing at Hleuco, I found the confidence I needed to say my next piece.
“Because, I’m thinking we should team up.”