One thing I quickly missed was the convenience of a normal, daily life. I had taken for granted how easy it was to go with the flow. To go to school, hang out with friends, go to practice, then go back home to eat, sleep, then do it all over again. It was a structure, monotonous in its design, but familiar, and even necessary. As a whole, people needed structure, it kept them focused, it kept them busy.
And I had a lot of time on my hands.
But that was not to say that I was not busy. I had to get a proper plan together for the Ghosts, to get them out of a rut and to start thriving. This wasn’t going to work if we stagnated for too long, letting some unknown, unexpected force roll over us. No, these first few, formative weeks were critical for the group moving forward, and I needed to be at the head of that momentum, taking charge.
A lot of time, and I was spending it by going shopping.
I was in the Realm, the higher end mall closer to the upper districts of the city. There was a sizable crowd moving through the mall, even though it was a weekday, and a school day at that. People were checking out stores, trying on clothes, walking around with smoothies in hands.
It was all so normal.
Being here, it wasn’t for anything recreational, but I needed a few things to help better ease myself into my new life as Wendy. And a better headspace meant a clearer focus. That was important.
D had dropped me off. I asked if she wanted to join me, but she declined. Apparently, she wasn’t supposed to be showing her face around here. She left before I could ask for a better explanation.
But, I did have her number. I could call her when I was ready.
I checked my phone.
A new phone. A smart phone, with no buttons, Wi-Fi access, and it didn’t flip. D helped me get one through the more unofficial markets, but it was functional, untraceable, and a hell of a lot better than my old one. It actually felt nice to have a good phone. It made me feel connected, my only line to the normal world I had left behind.
I looked at the time on the display. Half past one. I-
The stream of people shifted, and I almost bumped into someone. I turned just in time to avoid them, but I put pressure on my phone.
When the crowd thinned somewhat, and I got more room, I checked it again. It was fine, but I could easily imagine this thing getting crushed in my hand, or falling out of my grasp. I’d need something to protect it.
I’d need a case for this thing.
Without really thinking about where I was going, I wandered into a store.
Immediately, my eyes were barraged by a sharp, bright color. Pink. Everything was pink.
Pink shirts, pink bags, pink bras. All pink everything.
Where the hell was I?
I walked over to a stack of shirts, and flipped the logo over. The font was strange, it could either be read as ‘Flash’ or ‘Fresh.’
Seemed gaudy. Who would actually want to go here?
Whatever, maybe they have something worthwhile.
I decided to look around.
The place was larger than I expected. For a boutique with a cutesy aesthetic, the amount of space was almost aggressive. Not a single square inch was wasted. Racks were lined up with long, flowing dresses and tight jeans. Jackets, shirts and sweaters were stacked in shelves that covered a whole wall. Necklaces, bracelets, anklets, jewelry were showcased around every corner.
And pink, pink, pink.
Perhaps in another life, this would have been my paradise. Now, though, among all the dazzling, ritzy pieces, I felt stranded.
I passed a table near a corner by the display window, and I stopped. Something caught my eye.
Frames of different shapes, sizes, and color were on display. Not all of them were pink. Most were, but not all. And one in particular stood out to me.
Circular, metal frames. Gold. The lenses were big, not comically so, but they were stylish.
And they were different enough from everything else in here.
I picked it up. I found a mirror right by the table. I tried them on.
I wasn’t used to seeing my face with glasses, I never had a need for them before. My eyesight was always fine.
It was probably just me, but it sat awkwardly on the bridge of my nose, like I was wearing a prop for a costume, instead. Or a disguise. It didn’t feel right.
I kept staring at myself, tilting my head one way.
Benny had described me as looking thinner, paler than she imagined. I could see that.
My cheekbones were more pronounced, and I had small bags under my eyes. I hadn’t been eating, and I hadn’t been sleeping much either. There wasn’t a lot of color in my cheeks or nose, too, even though the cold should have dashed a bit of red on there. White as a ghost, and I supposed the expression fit.
Physically, however, I felt good. Strong. Who else could stop a moving truck and feel fine afterward?
My hair had changed as well, but that was conscious choice. The sides and back were cut shorter, letting the top stay a few inches longer, brushing just past the tops of my ears and eyebrows. A bob, with an undercut, but I made sure to still look like a girl. I wasn’t going to give up that part of my look.
I also had it dyed, too. It was a lighter brown, now, instead of the darker color it naturally had. It took some time getting used to, but I’d grown to like it.
The mirror was long, to show off entire outfits. I took a step back.
My clothes were also different. Different from what Alexis would have normally picked out. A black leather coat, with a white sweater under that. Black skinny jeans, with black boots to match. I probably went too far trying to get away from the usual inclinations, but styles evolved over time. I could find something in the middle.
I posed, hands on my hip, trying to see how I looked with these glasses, whether or not it complimented my outfit.
I think it does. I think.
I certainly didn’t look like Alexis. I doubted anyone would mistake me as her, if they saw me now.
My reflection continued to stare back at me, and started to worry it might blink, twitch, or otherwise move on its own.
I walked away from the mirror.
But, in my last glances, the glasses didn’t look that bad. I could probably get used to it.
I stopped before I bumped into someone. Their reaction was a touch more delayed, though, and they hit me instead.
I reached and caught them before they tumbled backwards.
One of the employees. She had to be, going from the nametag. Julie. She was wearing a fuzzy red sweater, white jeans. Even her hair was red. She didn’t seem out of place, here.
She was also tall. If I didn’t have the kind of strength I had, we would have both fallen over when I tried to catch her. Instead, I was standing upright, and she was too, firm in my grip.
“You okay?” I asked, letting her go. “Sorry about that.”
The girl shook her head. “It was my bad. Anyways, can, can I help you with anything?”
I was about to give her the standard response, that I was ‘just looking,’ but I remembered that I did come in here with a goal in mind.
I removed the glasses. “I was looking for a phone case, but, can I check the price on this?”
Julie took the glasses from me. “Sure, follow me. We have cases at the front if you want to look there, too.”
I followed her to the front counter. There was a line, but Julie brought me right up ahead. The counter was long, and the line was being handled by another employee. None of the ladies in wait seemed to pay me any mind.
Or, if they did, I didn’t care.
Julie tapped away at the computer on the counter. There wasn’t a tag on the glasses, so she’d have to look up the price herself.
“It comes out to… one fifty.”
“As in, one dollar and fifty cents?”
She looked at me like I was insane.
“One hundred and fifty dollars,” she reiterated, saying it slow.
“I see,” I said back, just as slow.
“Is that going to be alright?” she asked.
Well, no, it wasn’t, but I couldn’t tell her that.
I reached into my coat pocket, taking out my wallet. I took a look inside.
“Do you take cash?” I asked, eyes still on my wallet.
“We can,” she said, slow. But, it wasn’t an insult this time. She was being cautious.
“Cash it is,” I said, taking out two bills. Her eyes glimmered the closer I brought them to her.
Two hundred dollars.
She took the cash, wordless, then opened the register.
“Oh, and this too.”
By the register was a small rack of phone cases. One was leather, with a cover that sat on top of the screen. I picked it out from the rack, and flipped over the cover. On the other side were slots where I could put in credit cards or licenses. I wasn’t going to carry purses around, so I could benefit having some extra pockets.
I took the case, and handed it to Julie.
“Um, okay,” she said, ringing that up too. “Anything else?”
“I think I’m good,” I said.
“Then that comes out to… your two hundred should do it.”
She put the bills in the register, with no change to return to me. She took out a bag from under the counter, opening it.
“The frames come with a case, do you want me to put them in there, or do you want to wear them now?”
“Uh, you can put it in the case.”
Julie nodded, and put them in the bag, along with the phone case. She handed the bag over, and gave me a smile.
“Thank you, and come again,” she said.
Now she’s nice.
“Will do,” I lied.
I put my wallet back in my pocket, and stepped away from the counter.
Bag in hand, I left the store. My feelings were mixed as I fell back into the stream of people. Happy that I had gotten something, sad that I had to spend a lot of money. It left me with butterflies in my stomach.
Had to get used to that. I was living on my own, now. No adult supervision. I had to make my own decisions, and live up to the consequences.
It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be well worth it.
I walked around the mall, checking what else was here. The Realm was the heart of fashion in the city, with everything from streetwear to fancy, casual to formal. All trendy. Serious cash was needed in order to get anything out of a visit here, but there was value to just looking around.
Putting pieces together, mixing and matching different clothes. Putting a costume together, in my head.
I looked at windbreakers, heavier ponchos with hoods on them. Denim and cargo pants. Even army surplus clothing. Anything that could last, that could handle the wear and tear.
Looking around, I picked together a decent draft of a costume from different pieces, from different stores. Decent quality stuff, which meant that I couldn’t afford it, even with the pocket change I still had from Hleuco, from the days as Blank Face. If I wanted that costume, I’d have to work for it. I typed the different pieces into a memo on my phone. A wishlist.
Couldn’t find a mask, though. That might come last.
I pulled myself away from the constant, moving mass of people, and found a large leather seat. Someone was already sitting, but there was enough room. I took a seat at the other end, taking a break.
I took out my new phone case from the bag, and put it on my phone. A perfect fit. I took out the case for my glasses next. Nervous, but still willing, I decided to try them on again. I fixed its placement on my face by looking through my phone’s front-facing camera.
I kept blinking, even though they weren’t prescription lenses. I set my phone down, trying to do some people watching, well aware of the weight on my nose and ears.
Mostly people in their twenties, strolling around without a care in the world. There were a few people who deviated from the average age, though. Teens who were probably skipping classes to be here, and adults in suits, more focused on their phones than what was in their immediate surroundings. Busy, even on a weekday.
I saw parents, moms, walking with their kids, too young to be in school yet. I saw teens, walking and laughing together, wide smiles on their faces.
It gave me a moment to think.
Did I miss it? The answer was more complicated than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I missed the idea of it, having time to go off and enjoy myself. Being with others, not worrying about pressing issues and stresses. To take my mind of stuff that mattered. Peace. It sounded nice.
Did I miss Shiori, or Katy and Maria? Coach Tilly, and the rest of the team? Again, complicated. I did not, and could not, feel any sort of connection towards them. I couldn’t claim that, it wasn’t mine, and it wasn’t me. Maybe it was callous, but I felt like I was suffocating when I was around them. I was better off without them, and they were better off without Wendy.
Still, I wouldn’t mind having some quiet time in the middle of everything. Sitting down, relaxing, watching others go through the flow of their own lives. Peaceful.
But, my only option for people to hang out with was D… I’d have to work on that.
A lot of time, and not much structure. I’d have to find something to do during my days off.
A shadow fell across my face. I had to look up.
Three, actually. A guy was standing in front of me, blocking the light, with another guy to his left, and a girl to his right. They each had their own fashion style, the guy directly ahead had baggier clothes than the two beside him, but they all matched in their colors. Black and white.
And from the greeting alone, the singular word, I knew who they were.
They’re with me.
I looked at the guy in front, to the other guy, then the girl. “Um, Reggie, right? And Tony and Sarah?”
The guy in front nodded. “Reggie it is, boss.”
“Pardon me, boss, but it’s ‘Tone,’ actually,” the guy beside him said. “One syllable, no ‘Y.’”
“But you got my name right, boss,” Sarah said. She looked happy to hear that I was correct.
“Two for three isn’t bad,” I said. “But, am I hearing that right? You guys are saying ‘boss’ funny.”
The three of them exchanged looks with each other.
Reggie explained. “It’s ‘Voss,’ with a ‘V.’ We thought it fit.”
I nodded, taking that in.
“It kind of does, actually,” I said. “It has a ring to it. Has it caught on with the others?”
“Not yet, but hopefully it does.”
“I hope so, too. Wait, does that make D, ‘Doss?”’
Reggie made a pained expression. “Thinking of her as above us is a harder pill to swallow.”
“Well, get used to it.”
I said it as an order.
D and I were here for the long run, and if that didn’t get it through their heads now, we’d have trouble later down the line. Couldn’t afford that, at a time like this.
Reggie nodded. “Yes ma’am.”
“That’s what I like to hear. Now, what’s up?”
Sarah answered that one. “D asked us to come look for you, make sure you were okay.”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
She shrugged. “Just to be careful? It’s actually convenient for us, since we kinda need you on something.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “On what?”
Tone filled me in. “Couple of assholes are trying to short us on a deal. They paid half for a regular amount of dope, and they’d pay us the rest later.”
I frowned. “I don’t remember hearing about this. What kind of deal is that?”
“It was before the merger,” Reggie said. “Before you and D. We were really hurting for cash at that time, and being desperate leads to dumb deals.”
“Now, we have some legs to stand on,” Tone said, “And some real muscle on those legs.”
“Terrible metaphor there, Tone,” Sarah said.
“Fuck off. Anyway, Voss, we were wondering if you could come with us, help knock a few heads together.”
I took a glance to my side. The person who I shared the seat with was gone.
I looked back at the trio. “Is it something that really needs my attention?”
“Maybe. Word isn’t exactly out about our new management, and those assholes might think they can still fuck with us.”
I felt my glasses fall on my face. I fixed it with a finger. Another thing to get used to.
“Hm, what about Lawrence and D? Have you told them about this?”
“Lawrence is handling other business, and he’s still injured. And D… is just a girl.”
“I’m a girl,” I said. “Sarah’s a girl.”
“D’s a kid. I don’t want to involve them in case things get hairy. And you have…”
Reggie waved a hand over me.
“Powers, and shit.”
There wasn’t much to think about. These people needed someone to lead them, and I was the only one available to fill that role.
I stepped up.
“A way to show people that we’re not to be messed with, and that things are different, now. You know what, I like it. Take me with you.”
All three of them nodded, satisfied.
They led the way, with me following behind. We moved as a group.
As we left the mall, Sarah slowed, until she was by my side.
“Voss, I like your glasses,” she whispered. She smiled as she said it.
I was made aware of them again, and I pushed them back up.
“Thanks,” I said, flustered.
We got to the house in about an hour.
An hour too long, I thought.
Not that I didn’t enjoy the ride here, but I didn’t know these people, even if they were my people, and there was a dynamic between them that I wasn’t accustomed to, yet. I was the one in charge. Was I supposed to make small talk, get to know them? Or was I supposed stay quiet, keep an air of authority and power?
In an odd way, my indecision towards an answer gave me one, regardless. I was silent the whole trip.
Tone parked the van, the signal for everyone else to step out. Reggie moved around the van, opening the door on my side. He extended a hand to help me down. I took it.
I checked around.
We weren’t in the suburbs. I knew that for sure.
The hood, past Eastside, away from the city. Wasn’t much here beside chain-link fences and shoes tied on telephone lines. The glamor of The Realm was nowhere to be found here.
Lawrence knew where I was. I texted him the details, and he gave me the okay to handle it on my own. I tried to update D on the situation, but I didn’t hear back from her. She was usually good about responding quickly. I couldn’t help but worry.
It was middle of the afternoon, not too cold, but it was dusty, the wind kicking up dirt that got into my eyes, fudging up my glasses.
I resisted the urge to rub my eyes as I asked, “So, this is it?”
“Yes,” Reggie said.
“How many are we dealing with here?”
“Dunno. I do know that this is where he is. Arturo. Latino kid, short. I can point him out better when I see him.”
“Alright. You sure they’re in there?”
“Very sure, I know these fools. Ain’t got better shit to do.”
We approached the fence, and the gate that should let us in. Should, since the lock was wrapped in barbed wire.
“They don’t really want visitors,” I commented.
“They don’t want us,” Sarah said.
“Do we gotta hop the fence?” Tone asked. He was tall, taller than me, and the fence was around his chest. Relative to me, the fence reached my chin. We could hop it…
“Not necessary,” I said, putting my hands on the wire. My palms were immediately pricked and cut. Sharp.
“Voss-” Reggie started, but was interrupted as I pulled, the wire coming apart. The gate came free, swinging open.
“Holy shit,” Sarah said. “You okay?” She took my hands after I dropped the wire.
“I’m fine,” I said, looking away from her. My eyes were on my palms. Small lines of red, bits of blood. No cuts.
“You just have to know where to hold it,” I said. “Come on, let’s move.”
I took the lead this time, my crew falling behind me. We approached the door, or the screen door in front of the real door, rather.
“Need a gun, Voss?” Reggie asked.
That question made me come to a sudden realization. I was walking into this unarmed.
Didn’t have my knife, didn’t have my mask. I might not need the latter, but it helped, and having a knife always gave me a bit of security. I wasn’t expecting my day to end up here, doing this.
Mistake number one.
“Why not?” I said, turning around. Reggie’s hand was out, holding a pistol, the grip facing me. I grabbed it. It was heavy in my hand.
I have no clue how to use this thing, I thought.
I hadn’t gotten around to learning. It couldn’t have been that hard, aiming and pulling a trigger, but of course there was more to it than that. Handling the recoil, the sound, being aware of the safety. The consequence that would arise if it gets fired. Taking a life.
I had a weapon, but I didn’t know how to use it, and I didn’t want to use it.
Mistake number two.
I knew enough to check if the safety was on, though. It was. I put the gun down, holding it by my side.
We were at the door, now. No lock on the screen door. I opened it.
I paused, briefly.
Should I knock? Announce myself? Should I ask them what to do, here?
Fuck. I was still new to this kind of thing. I didn’t know how to proceed.
“No need for pleasantries, Voss,” Reggie told me. “We already gave them their warning.”
I started with the doorknob. Didn’t open.
By force, then.
I had never done this before, but it couldn’t be that hard. I had the strength.
I lifted my foot, positioning it by the doorknob, the lock.
The door flew open, almost torn away from its hinges. The bang as it hit the wall was violent.
“Shit!” Sarah cried out in shock.
I turned back to face them, and gave them a nod. They fell silent, and responded in turn.
We moved in.
The house looked like it hadn’t been taken care of in years. It looked like it hadn’t been lived in. Dust, cobwebs, dirt and grime. The interior had the feel of a sepia-tone photo.
To our right was a dining room, a table set. Signs of life. The table was probably set from the night before, though, dirty plates and utensils were left there to sit, a fly zipping between forks and spoons.
We passed the kitchen. I signaled with my hand, and I heard a shuffling from behind. I checked, and saw Tone move in there. The rest of us continued into the living room.
Nothing, no one. The place wasn’t in the best condition, with torn furniture and dusty coffee tables. The room smelled of sweat and smoke and cheap perfume, as if whoever tried to freshen up the place didn’t think of cracking open a window.
All the furniture was pointed to the TV, which was the nicest and cleanest object in here. Not a speck of dust was on the screen.
Someone sits on that couch, someone watches television. Someone lives in this house.
“Arturo!” I called out. “It’s the Ghosts, time to pay up!”
Behind me, Reggie and Sarah spread out, taking more of the living room. I walked over by the coffee table at the center, gun still at my side. Reggie, Sarah, and Tone had their guns raised, ready for action.
We got into position, and in the time we moved, I didn’t a response. I tried again.
“The Ghosts have appreciated your continued patronage, Arturo, enough so that we offered you a nice deal when we weren’t at our best. You betrayed that trust, so we’ve come to collect!”
No response. Either no one was home, or they thought they could short the Ghosts a second time.
Not this time.
“Tone,” I said, “Anything in the kitchen?”
I didn’t need to ask Reggie or Sarah, I was in the living room with them. I saw for myself.
I called out more orders.
“Spread out some more, check the rooms, call out if you run into anything. Be careful.”
We all moved, taking to different hallways, different rooms. I went towards the back door, to the yard. Beside it, there was a hall that went left. I headed down the hall.
It certainly felt strange, being the one to lead, having to take point, especially with strangers. I was working with them, but I didn’t know them. Would they have my back if the situation went south? For my part, I’d do what I could.
So many things that I needed to get used to.
I stayed focused on the task at hand. Two doors in the hall, one to my left, and one at the very end. Both closed. I slowly went over to the closest door.
I put my free hand on the doorknob, the other went behind my back.
I decided to put the gun away, stuffing it in the waistband of my pants.
If the situation fell apart, I didn’t want one hand full with a tool that I wasn’t confident in using. I was more comfortable without it. I was fast, and I was strong. A gun meant trouble, and that went both ways. At least I’d have better control of myself if I wasn’t holding one.
I twisted the knob, then let go. The door opened on its own.
I stepped inside when the gap in the door widened.
The master bedroom. The bed wasn’t made, and one blanket was in a heap on the floor. Too small for a person to hide under, though, I didn’t even bother to check. A tray was by a pillow in the middle of the bed, smeared with something red, but mostly white.
Someone lived here, and they used drugs. Arturo had definitely been in this house.
But, damn, my place was nicer than this.
It smelled worse than the living room, like something had died and they tried to cover up the smell with candles and, again, perfume.
The smell of something had died… or someone. I’d rather not consider the latter.
I checked the closet, under the bed, the bathroom. If something – or someone – had died in here, I didn’t see it.
Taking another look, I-
“Fuck you, move!”
“Down on the ground, asshole!”
“Drop your gun!”
I ran out of the room.
Living room, commotion. Shouting. So loud that I needed a few seconds to take in the scene as I entered it.
Everyone was yelling, guns pointed. I’d been in this situation too many times.
Reggie, Tone, and Sarah were screaming at a man, who was walking at a measured pace, hands above his head. He was in sweatpants, no shirt. If this was Arturo, he didn’t look like how Reggie described him.
I walked over to him. Sarah kicked him from behind, and he dropped to his knees, hands still up.
“House cleaning,” I said.
He wasn’t in the best position, but he still found it within himself to scowl at me.
“Who even is you?”
“The Ghosts,” I said, speaking for all of us. “We’re ready for a haunt.”
“Fuck you, where’s Lawrence?”
“Lawrence isn’t here. Right now, you answer to me.”
“Hey, I’m telling you now, so don’t be surprised later.” I looked to Reggie. “This him?”
He shook his head. “One of his friends.”
“Could have started with that, Reggie.”
“Never mind.” I turned my attention back to the man. “Where’s Arturo? We just want to have a talk with him.”
He didn’t answer, instead staring at me with a scowl.
“The tough act isn’t gonna save you here,” I told him.
Again, no response. He just stared.
After what felt like a minute, he opened his mouth.
“It might not,” he said with a sneer, “But it’ll sure fucking help him.”
Whoever tried to warn me didn’t get to finish, or I didn’t get to hear it. The attempt was swallowed up by something larger, louder.
Everyone hit the floor. I dropped down, crouching, head swimming from the noise. I was not a fan of loud.
I had to gather myself, get back to what was happening now. It took a second.
I didn’t get hit. No, it wasn’t that bad.
I checked the others.
They were all moving, didn’t seem injured. But they were in a bind.
The man had gotten to his feet, and was scrambling to get away. Tone tried to stop him, but he was too close to use his gun, and the man kept swinging. He backed up, almost tripping over a table behind him. The man moved closer.
Before Tone could get socked in the jaw, Sarah jumped forward in an attempt to tackle the man. But, he didn’t see her coming, and was already drawing his arm back. His elbow hit her right in the cheek, below the eye.
I moved before things could get worse.
He wasn’t wearing a shirt, my hands touching sweat and skin as gripped his neck. I squeezed just enough to feel something get crushed.
He seized, curling up. He fell back, and I let him go. He wasn’t going to be an issue anytime soon.
I brushed my hands on my pants.
“Shit, is everyone okay?” I asked. “Sarah?”
She answered, slurred, while rubbing her cheek. “I’m okay, but shit, he got me real good.”
“No gun,” I observed, looking at the man’s hands. “Who fired?”
“Not us!” Reggie said, already moving. “Him!”
I followed his line of sight. The door to the backyard was ajar, and I saw a small dot of a person running, then going over a fence. Wood. The only fence I’d seen that wasn’t chain-linked. Of course it was.
“That’s Arturo!” Reggie shouted, “We can still-”
I took two steps, and I already passed Reggie, beating him to the door. I barked out more orders.
“Check that guy, make sure he doesn’t die on us! Check the rest of the house too, see if you can’t find the cash! I’ll meet with you guys later!”
“We can’t stay here though! We-”
“Then I’ll find you!”
“I will find you!”
Then I was gone, out the door, crossing the yard. They’d listen. They had to.
In the few seconds I saw him, Arturo had trouble getting over the fence. It was taller than him. Than me.
I got over it easy, a single hop.
I landed, my heels immediately being snapped at.
A dog. Rottweiler. Fuck.
I had to swing my foot forward to avoid getting bit. The dog was right at my heel. I stumbled, then tumbled.
I threw my hands forward, into the grass, to stop myself from falling completely.
The dog didn’t get my leg, but my arm, instead.
The sleeves of a coat and sweater weren’t enough to protect against the wild gnashing of teeth.
The dog bit, and it bit hard. I felt teeth dig into my arm, breaking skin, then bone.
On impulse, I looked around, piecing together more information.
The dog was huge, heavy, and kept me pinned down, bent over in an awkward position. I could see length of chain following behind him. It was broken. Did Arturo break it? Was it already broken? How did he manage to slip past the dog? Or did he catch the dog unaware, escape, leaving the dog ready to catch someone else?
None of those questions mattered.
The dog’s head thrashed, whipping my arm around. Shit. He was angry, growling as he tried to rip my arm off. Like he wasn’t operating on an instinct to simply attack. It felt more deliberate, like he had every intention to harm me.
I was stuck, I was hurt, and I was losing Arturo. Not the best way this could go.
This was supposed to be a simple shakedown, now we could possibly lose our ground if I let Arturo get away.
Not being aware enough of my surroundings, letting Arturo and his friend distract us. My third mistake. And I couldn’t afford another one.