Wind brushed through my hair, sweeping it past one ear. Sarah was right, my hair had gotten long.
I fixed it myself, brushing a loose strand away from my face. A nibbling want in the back of head was asking for Sarah to do it for me.
And I could have. She was right there.
Seemed like it would have been too much, though.
The sun shined without a single cloud to block its rays. A week had passed since the rain and clouds greyed the skies. Now, it was a clear blue that pierced through.
Outside, sitting by the storefront of a cafe. I was exposed to the elements, but it was something I could weather.
Cold air nipped, but it didn’t bite. I could still feel the tip of my nose, my face as it got warm when I looked. Outside, but I hadn’t gone numb. Just the opposite, really. I was in a flutter.
“Is this a good spot?”
I was already looking at her when she asked.
A bright red hat, or a beret, whatever she called it. It was petite in size, and it didn’t look goofy when she wore it. I could imagine it looking stupid on me.
She had round shades that framed her face, a scarf that bundled around her neck. A black sweater and coat made her outfit even more trendy and chic. She didn’t have to go all out today, but she did, but it was hard muster any disappointment when she looked that good.
A pair of jeans had completed the look, but I couldn’t see them from where I was, across the round metal table chair we were sharing. But I had already stolen a glance or several on our way over here.
Oh right. There was a question I had to answer.
“Should be,” I said, finally getting to it. “It’s not like we can move now. You already got a coffee.”
“We can move,” Sarah said. “Do you want to move?”
“We don’t have to. This can work.”
“But it can be better. If you want to, we can go somewhere else.”
“I said it’s fine.”
“I want to do what you think works best.”
I glanced up at her, trying to wear the most annoyed expression on my face. Trying, because it was only an attempt.
Sarah was across from me, holding her cup, covering her mouth with it, as if she was hiding behind it. From how her eyes crinkled at the corners, I could tell she was wearing a knowing smirk. It immediately broke through any facade I had.
As I thought, it was only an attempt.
Me. Sarah. The very idea that we could even fit in the same sentence. Sarah and I.
A week, and I still couldn’t wrap my head around it.
That slow day had been extended into seven more, marked with late nights and later mornings, waking well after the sun had already gotten up. It was a routine of sorts, and I wouldn’t have minded if it actually became routine. I could absolutely get used to the pattern we were falling into.
It did leave me with a nagging thought, however, like how fragile everything was, or how fragile I perceived everything to be, and how that affected my approach in things. This. The longer this went, the more scared I was that this could get ripped away from me. My whole existence, I felt, was a shaky and tumultuous one, not exactly the best foundation to start building… anything. At the very end, it might be akin to stacking a house of cards. It would be easy, for this to crumble.
I didn’t want this to crumble.
It made me second-guess myself. Just how serious was I supposed to take this? Was this a real thing, or was this just the current state of affairs?
Where did Sarah stand? Did it matter? Did I want it to?
Why was I always overthinking things?
I looked at Sarah again, like a habit, a routine. I thought it would a certain effect, but I found the opposite. My heart raced even faster.
From behind that cup, I could see the edges of her expression, the corners of her lips, turned up. So bright that there needed to be something to block it. Couldn’t be faced straight on.
But, at least in this very moment, those concerns seemed to melt away. There was only this, and if I could get myself to sit here and enjoy this, I might be able to relax.
It was a promising dream.
Sarah placed her cup back into the saucer. It was a smooth, practiced movement. Cool. Something I could never hope to replicate, myself.
What wasn’t cool, was when the wind tried to intrude on us again, blowing stray strands into my eyes. I had to fix my hair and glasses both.
“Let me get that.”
A hand reached for me, fingers brushing into my hair, pushing it to one side. It didn’t seem to help much, as the wind came back to try and undo most of the work. Maybe Sarah had the right idea, wearing a hat today.
I wasn’t about to complain. I didn’t even have to ask, that time. I’d let her take the lead. A small part of our routine.
Finally, the wind relented, and Sarah could start making some progress on me. Or my hair, rather. I angled myself forward, so she could have an easier time with it. It was only a few stray, but she fussed over it for much longer than she really had to.
Again, no complaints there.
“There,” Sarah said, seemingly satisfied with the results. She sat back into her seat. I was still sitting forward, lingering there, with something on the tip of my tongue, that nibbling want returning. I was hoping she would get that, too.
She didn’t, but I couldn’t fault her for it.
It hit me, where we were again. Outside, sitting at a cafe, people watching. Meaning that there were people around us.
Was I being too obvious?
I sat myself back, feeling a touch flustered over it. Stupid.
She was watching me, now. Or maybe she had been, this whole time.
I could answer that honestly.
“Of course I am. Of course.”
I touched my hair. Then I realized it was the third time I had done that.
“But?” Sarah ventured.
I let out a breath.
“It’s not, it’s not any one thing, there’s just a lot on my mind, right now. But hey, isn’t everyone like that?”
“Sure, but you are not everyone. You are you.”
“I guess I am. But there’s more to it than that. I, um, sorry, I’m not trying to be lame right now.”
“We have time for lame.”
I really wasn’t trying to get into this now. But, we did have the time, I supposed. And we had to fill it with something. I supposed.
Sarah knew how to draw this stuff out of me. It was a dangerous power.
I started with a question.
“How does it taste? Your coffee?”
Sarah’s reaction was crucial. I watched for it.
There wasn’t one. Too muted and understated. She took it completely serious.
I found some comfort, in that.
Another part of our new routine. Whatever she tasted, she would share with me. We couldn’t exactly share a meal, so this was the closest thing we had.
Sarah lifted her chin, slight, lifting a finger to tap a steady rhythm as she thought. She was playing it up, I knew that much, even that was crucial to me. Sarah wanted me to know that she was putting in that effort. And that said so much to me that I couldn’t even begin to translate it. I knew how it made me feel, though. It made my eyes all watery.
Good nights, better mornings.
“Well, according to the menu, these beans were from South America. Columbia. So it has a tendency to be more sweet, not so acidic. But, it can have a nutty hint to it.”
A soft chuckle. “Nutty, huh? Sounds nutty.”
That prompted something similar from Sarah. “Sure is.”
“What else?” I asked. “You added, like, sugar and cream, right?”
I wanted to know more, demanded it. I wanted to savor every detail she could give me, I wanted to be selfish.
She said we’d have the time. She would have to indulge me.
“I did. There’s a natural sweetness to it, but, coffee is coffee. It’s always going to be bitter by itself. I had to punch it up with some sugar, some cream. Not too much, though, I didn’t want to spoil its original taste.”
“Can’t have that,” I said. “But I know how much of a sweet tooth you have.”
“I guess you do,” Sarah said. Then she smiled. “Am I describing it right? Or am I just boring you?”
“Not at all,” I replied. “I can’t get enough, really.”
“You are you,” she said, as if it was a matter of fact.
“And coffee is coffee,” I said, in much the same way. “Thank you so much, Sarah. I probably wouldn’t have been able to make it through this week if it weren’t for you.”
Sarah’s smile was warmer than the weather.
“I think you’d do just fine. But you know, not as fine if I wasn’t around.”
Her smile turned into a smirk. That effect had yet to diminish on me.
“I will not disagree with you there,” I said.
Our surroundings stirred, passing us by. People, cars in the distance, the wind. But there wasn’t anything to be concerned over. Not for a little while longer. It was just us, sitting here, stationary and completely in the moment. It was almost like nothing else mattered. That I could just… be here, and do this. With Sarah.
This, this right here? It wasn’t for V, and it sure as hell wasn’t for Alexis Barnett. This was mine, and mine alone. Wendy.
I knew it would be fleeting, and would escape from my grasp like sand from an hourglass. But for now, I’d use every ounce of my enhanced strength and hold on for as long as inhumanly possible.
“Once things start picking up again, it’s going to get harder to slip some time in during the day,” I said, “For stuff like this.”
“You’re right,” Sarah said. “It will be a hassle. But I doubt it’ll turn into a mess.”
“I hope not.”
“Which means I probably shouldn’t be coming over as often.”
I frowned at the prospect of that.
“That doesn’t sound fun at all.”
Sarah frowned, too, but it was a sympathetic one.
“I know, but there’s fun and there’s being realistic. People are starting to ask questions.”
She lifted a shoulder, nothing too committal.
“I’m kidding. Well, Reggie, even Tone. There’s only so many times they call me up for drinks and I’m not available, and I’m running out of excuses.”
“Just say work has been holding you up or something.”
“I don’t think that will fly so far when we all work for the same boss.”
“Well that sucks,” I said, plainly. There was a bit of sadness in those words that I didn’t expect, and I hoped they didn’t ring out, clear enough for Sarah’s ears to pick up.
I wanted her, I wanted this. And it sucked how fragile and how easy this could slip out of my hands. Or like it could get yanked away by a string.
I pressed my lips together and huffed. Hard enough to mess up my bangs, my hair.
I was overreacting.
“We’ll just have to pace ourselves,” Sarah said. As though she knew what was on my mind. “I’m still coming over tonight.”
I tried to stop myself from showing something on my face, but I didn’t have a cup to block Sarah’s view of me.
From what she showed on her face, she saw. Darn. But whatever. I didn’t really care.
“Sweet,” I said.
This… I could have spent the rest of the day doing this. Another thirty minutes here, just chatting, then we could go to the Realm and look at clothes, maybe do some shopping. Then we could either go for dinner at the food court there, or a nearby place, or just take something and bring it back to my apartment. We’d watch a movie, maybe two, and just hang out until it got too late for Sarah to try and drive back home.
And then we would…
We’d do other stuff.
Thoughts crystallized in my head as they came to me. Too much to say out loud.
Before either of us could say something else, though, a new scene arrived. Not to pass us by, but to interrupt.
A car squealed as it swerved around a corner, music booming out of the open windows. Loud enough to turn heads, even ours, and I recognized it in an instant.
The gears turned in my head. Like I had put on my mask. The objective reason why I had come out, today.
“They’re here,” I said.
I remained seated, only watching as the car straightened onto the new street. The street the cafe was on. It was a silver muscle car, with black stripes running along the edges of the machine. It sprinted down the length of the street, squealing again as it came to a halt. The front of a general store on the other side.
The muscle car sat in park for a minute, rumbling with power, as if to flex what it had. They definitely weren’t shy about their presence.
Other people started to move on, going about the rest of their day. For me and Sarah, this was part of our day.
Doors on each side opened, people getting out. Four of them, not the driver, the car was still rumbling, alive.
They circled around, going into the store. It was a small detail, hard to see from a distance, but I saw it. A sign on the store’s entrance flipped to ‘closed.’
“I hate those guys already,” Sarah said. I heard her fingernail tap against her cup, irritated. “Cutting into our date like that?”
“Don’t worry,” I told her, kind of happy to hear Sarah call this a date, “If anything, we’re the ones that’ll do the cutting. We were waiting for them.”
“Figured that much, but what should I look out for?”
“You don’t have to do anything. We’re just here to confirm things.”
“And that’s it? Just for that?”
Sarah had raised the pitch of her voice. It made my face get all warm and dumb.
“And our date, of course,” I stammered.
“That’s all I wanted to hear.”
“Lame,” I said. “So so lame.”
We both shared a small laugh.
I kept my watch on the car ahead, though, the store. Nothing we could glean from this position, but we weren’t here to find out what they were up to. We just needed to know that they were here in the first place. Our territory.
According to D, who had gotten it from Nathan, some of youth who happened to live within our borders were becoming more and more… displeased with the changes happening around them.
Looking at it from their perspective, I could see it. The Thunders and the Royals had been rooted in the community, they had grown from it. And, from somewhere in the dark, those roots were ripped out, and another group moved in to fill in the cracks and gaps. How we operated was different than how they worked, pushing different weight, tagging different tags, and stamping out threats in different ways. My way.
It would make sense for the younger ones to want to rebel. With everything that was going down in the city, not unlike a downward spiral, their home was the last the place they wanted to start breaking apart, not making sense. They’d work to take it back, or they’d try, at least. I could give them that.
But that was as much as I’d give them.
Whatever it was they were planning, they wouldn’t get far. The Fangs were already onto them, ready to bite. We just had to keep an eye on them, wait until they were about to make a move, then we’d would go and pay them a visit. Give them a good enough scare as V so they wouldn’t try anything again.
It was a simple plan, but this was a simple problem. Just part of the process of holding onto a territory. Mundane, in all honesty.
I looked at the sign above the store and tried to read it. Tried, because I couldn’t read those characters.
Chinese, definitely not Japanese. But it was a store owned by someone from the Asian community.
A small detail, but it was too early to draw any conclusions with that.
For now, I’d watch. With Sarah.
“Any thoughts so far?” Sarah asked.
“Thoughts? I think we’ll be able to handle this. It just some unruly kids. Nothing I haven’t dealt with, myself.”
I thought of D when I said that. Not so much Isabella.
“I can imagine,” Sarah said.
“Yeah, and it looks like you picked a good spot for us, after all. We have an eye on them, and we’re at a safe distance. And I can hear all about your delicious coffee.”
“You still haven’t had enough?”
“I am always up for more.”
“Well, you know, I’m just trying to do my part.”
She sounded pleased with herself.
“And you’re doing great,” I said.
“Are you referring to anything in particular?”
“Everything,” I said.
It was a moment that ultimately came and went, but I managed to get a hold on it, if only for a short moment.
The moment passed, and then it was back to work.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. I kept my eyes on the store and the car as I got it out, only glancing to check the new message.
My heart skipped a small beat.
“Done with your coffee?” I asked Sarah.
“Just about,” she said. “Why? We’re heading out?”
“Just about,” I answered. “Got a text from Lawrence. Looks like the committee has come to a decision, and they’re ready to tell us.”
“We’re about to see if we’ll get a seat at the round table, and be among the leaders of the biggest gangs in Stephenville.”
“If it works out, sure,” I said. “Lawrence must be freaking out over it.”
I am, too, but I can’t tell you about it.
Pangs of guilt. There had been one when I considered Lawrence, but now…
I hated the thought of hiding this from Sarah. My real plan with the city and the Fangs. She was in the dark about all of it, and it hurt.
Was there a way of getting her out, before it was too late? Bring her with me? Would she even want to be there, when it all fell down? At my side?
It hurt, thinking about it.
There was still this, though, this moment. If I could hold it…
“We should get ready for when Lawrence calls for us again,” I said, “No need to stick around anymore.”
“We got what needed from here?”
The two of us prepared to leave, gathering our belongings, and for my part, gathering my thoughts.
The Fangs, the table, Lawrence, Sarah. When all was said and done, what would be left? Who would still be around?
The thought of being alone, it froze me cold. Worse than the weather around us.
“So the rest of our day is put on hold?” Sarah questioned. Disappointed.
I was, too.
“Doesn’t have to be,” I said. “We should have some time before then.”
Sarah looked relieved to hear that, in a way that set me at ease.
“Then let’s not waste any more time.”
I nodded, unable to suppress a coming grin. I’d let it get plastered on my face, even if it looked stupid. Because with Sarah, it was the only time I could show some stupidity, without any real consequences.
“If it’s you,” I said, “I don’t want to waste a second.”
“You’re right on time.”
Mrs. Carter didn’t sound impressed as she addressed us.
“Not a second late,” Lawrence said. “Wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
This was it. The moment of truth.
Ironic, since we had to cover up the truth to get here.
We were back at the table. It was round, yet Mrs. Carter somehow managed to find the head of the table and position herself there. Part of the effect could have been attributed to the fact that she was standing, angling herself so she looked down on everyone, even Styx, but I figured it was more simple than that.
She just commanded presence.
Everyone was on edge. Or, it was either that, or I was so on edge that I projected that onto everyone else. Every scratch, itch, cough, shake of the head. Every low chuckle from Styx.
I could feel my stomach twist into knots. Knots into knots. The tension was so tight that it might snap.
It probably would, if this went on for any longer-
I nearly jumped out of my seat.
Something tapped my leg, by my thigh. Stiff, I looked in that direction.
Sarah passed me a glance. It was only through her eyes, there were too many others on us for anything else to be shared.
I’d take it, though. It helped.
My eyes went back up to Mrs. Carter, and I scrounged up the confidence needed to just shut up and let Lawrence do the talking.
Lawrence did the talking.
“So should we move along with the… with the proceedings? It would be naïve of me, us, the Fangs, to assume that this is the most important part of your night. This meeting.”
“Naïve, yes, but this does deserve the appropriate weight. To not do would be rather… ignorant of us.”
Styx chuckled again, from his far corner. Off to the side, but his presence was still known. It seemed fitting. His voice had a harrowing note to it.
Lawrence nodded. It was shaky, uncertain.
“Then, what’s the verdict? The suspense is, uh, killing me.”
“It’s not suspense that’s going to kill you, boy!”
Styx hollered from across the space. The crackling noise rattled my very bones.
Mrs. Carter remained cool and calm. It was wonder that they seemed to work together, that she even tolerated him at all. They were the polar opposites, representing the different parts of the crime that gripped Stephenville. From the grime of Styx’s domain, to the upper echelon that I could associate Mrs. Carter with. And yet, there wasn’t any friction, not from what I could see. Then again, I didn’t exactly have a good view on things. Not from this seat.
She let Styx settle before she took back control of the room again.
“What he is implying, is that we operate in a volatile world, where nothing is guaranteed. This whole time, you’ve only had a taste of just how changeable it really is. Complacency is the enemy of survival. Even I believe you all need a reminder of that. Everyone at this table.”
Everyone at this table exchanged looks. Not to us, though. Everyone who was here to represent the Fangs were too frozen to move.
Mrs. Carter was still facing forward, eyes trained on us.
“But, it’s a lesson we will all learn. As part of this table.”
There was a pause. Lawrence was supposed to say something, but he didn’t.
He let the moment hang. The appropriate weight.
“As part of this table?” Lawrence repeated.
“Yes,” Mrs. Carter said. “Everyone here, me and Styx excepted, have already taken their vote. Those seats you’re sitting in now? You’ve earned them. Congratulations.”
We heard that word, that confirmation. It still didn’t feel real.
I almost couldn’t believe it.
“We’re in?” I asked. The first words I’d spoken since walking into this building.
“Yes. Of course, there’s still a significant discrepancy between yourselves and the rest, but nevertheless, you now share common ground.”
You now share common ground.
I noted the distinction. Separating herself from everyone else at the table. Mrs. Carter wasn’t seated, she was looking down at us. On us.
But I could forgive that. Because we got it, we were here. The Fangs were now considered among the top gangs of the city. The snake was allowed among the rats.
“That, well, that’s… that’s good news,” Lawrence said, breaking his own silence. His own voice broke a little.
“Don’t let the new height you’ve reached make you dizzy,” Mrs. Carter said. It sounded like something of a warning. “As I mentioned, there is a difference in might between you and the rest here, and it is very real.”
“We’ll keep that in mind.”
“And you were put here on a vote. And it wasn’t unanimous. In fact, it results were more narrow than the initial one.”
That was worth noting. I looked at the faces around us. D’Angelo. Arthur. Inez.
Of everyone here, D’Angelo seemed the most pleased about this development. Could we have counted on him to have voted in our favor, again?
Wait. D’Angelo had helped in swinging the vote our way, last time. It couldn’t have gotten more narrow than that. If we had somehow cut it that close, then who had broken the tie, this time?
Styx chuckled, low. It was like he thrived on keeping me on my toes, unsettled.
No, not like. He absolutely did.
“Then we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” Lawrence said.
“Yes, you do,” Mrs. Carter said. “We all do.”
“I don’t suppose those results are confidential? We were here for the initial round of voting.”
Mrs. Carter gestured, spreading her arms.
“You’re here now, aren’t you? As a word of advice, I would just focus on that work you ahead. Work produces its own results. Use that.”
“I suppose we will. Is there, is there anything else you need from us?”
“At this juncture, I do not. For now, just work on getting yourselves in good standing and position here, and I can handle the rest.”
What ‘the rest’ was, Mrs. Carter didn’t share. If I wanted things to go my way, we would have to get ahead of her, too. Find out what her plans were.
Added to the pile of work ahead of us. But the results would be worth it.
“We can definitely do that,” Lawrence said. It was the most certain he had sounded all night.
“Good. Then the only word I have left to say is… welcome.”
With another gesture, and a step back, Mrs. Carter was done. She relinquished control of the room, and the whole table was free to move about.
People got up from their seats. Some went to chat with each other, mingling, while others kept their focus on us, guarded, as if we were liable to strike at any moment.
We would, just not in any way that would be clear to them.
Lawrence stood. Sarah and I joined him.
“Shit,” Lawrence gasped. He exhaled the word. He leaned away when he scratched the side of his neck.
“Shit,” I said.
Sarah commented. “What you guys said. You did it.”
“You had a part in this too, Sarah,” I said. “Don’t count yourself out.”
“I guess I can’t then.” Sarah smiled. “Shit.”
I would have smiled, too, looking at her, but the pangs were even sharper, now that I was getting so close.
“I think I’m about to have a panic attack,” Lawrence said.
We had gotten good news, the best turn our gang had taken since getting started. Upward mobility, as D had mentioned once, a long while back.
Good news, and Lawrence looked like he had been told that a close friend had passed.
He was sweating, his forehead glistening, dots of white reflected from the lights above us. For his part, he was smiling, but it was weak, underselling how relieved he must have really been on the inside.
Lawrence was dressed sharp, but he still wasn’t looking his best. It had been a week since he gave us a scare, and he didn’t seem to like like he had improved. He was going through his own pangs.
“Next thing on our list is going to be an intervention,” I said. I had to keep my voice low. “You can’t keep going like this, Lawrence. This isn’t healthy.”
“I can manage,” Lawrence protested. He coughed, despite himself.
“That is a dangerous game you are playing, Lawrence. You said it yourself, you hate half-hearted bullshit. You loathe it, to use your own words. You have to put in the proper effort, or we might end up losing everything.”
“Yeah? Like how I asked you to keep digging into the source of your powers? What’s inside you? How is that going?”
Those questions were like a slap in the face. Too stunned to give a proper reply.
But Lawrence continued.
“Just as I thought. Motherfucker. Unless you have a real answer for me, I really don’t want to hear it.”
Sarah pleaded. “Guys, not now.”
Lawrence didn’t stop.
“And you know, you’re so certain that it was someone else who gave you your powers. Another monster, another vampire. Where are they now? Did they fuck off and go into hiding? Or did they get hunted? What if someone got to them? And what happens when that someone decides that it’s your turn to be hunted? It would only be a matter of time, Wendy.”
Sarah hissed at him.
“This isn’t the time, and it definitely isn’t the place. So please, just leave it be.”
Sarah was sticking up for me. I couldn’t even speak for myself.
The idea of being hunted…
Lawrence stared at Sarah. There was a mad look in his eye, like he had to process the fact that she was even here at all.
He wanted to say more, I could see that, too, but we were interrupted.
D’Angelo was as flamboyant as ever, walking with his cane, using his limp to give more swing in his stride. As he grinned, I could have sworn it was brighter than lights reflecting off Lawrence’s skin.
“Yes sir,” I said, not wanting to show any hint of the previous argument. No one needed to hear that.
“I just wanted to personally congratulate you all for passing the test. You did good work, and it you were rewarded for those efforts.”
“Thanks. Feels like we barely made it, though.”
“There’s nothing else to feel at the moment but pride.”
Can I really be proud over having seen to the deaths of two journalists?
I’d let that question remain a passing thought. The pangs were sharp enough as they were.
“Would it be safe to assume that you casted your vote for us?”
Lawrence went straight to it.
D’Angelo laughed, a hearty timbre.
“You would be, but I’d rather not speak for anyone else. Trust is a rare commodity, in our line of work, and betraying that is akin to a death sentence.”
“Noted,” Lawrence said.
Tapping his cane, D’Angelo pointed in the direction of others.
“Why don’t you ask them yourselves? You are one of us, now.”
I examined the faces across from us. Arthur and Brian were conversing with one another, Cassius, Edward, Forest and Gary were holding their own discussion as well. Hayden was on her own, and Inez was, too, looking right at us. Firm.
None of them looked particularly… inviting.
Lawrence lowered his head, seemingly bowing at Inez, and she turned to Hayden, saying a word to her.
From here, it was hard to tell who voted which way. But I could venture a guess for some of them.
“We’ll introduce ourselves on our own time,” Lawrence said. “I’m more interested in what it means to have a seat at the table. Mrs. Carter didn’t exactly make that clear.”
“To help maintain an equilibrium,” D’Angelo explained. “Crime, like business, is a fine art, and is supported by many people who not only work for their own interests, but for the longevity of the game. There’s a reason why feuds can be dangerous, they can threaten the whole system that’s been set in place. Are you aware of a Xander L. Granon?”
“Still in my nightmares,” Lawrence said. “Our gang had gone up against his. We beat him, somehow.”
“So I’ve heard. See, Mr. Granon tried to muscle into our arrangement by violence and force. He wanted to come in and crash everything around him, and rule over the debris. You, on the other hand, have certainly made an impact, but I find your approach more… respectable.”
“I appreciate the kind words,” Lawrence said.
D’Angelo gave him a nod. “So, with Mrs. Carter and the likes of Styx, we officially maintain the delicate balance that keeps this city standing tall.”
“And Mister?” I asked. “Are we ever going to meet with him?”
“That would be for him to decide.”
So close, yet he kept us at a distance. We’d- I’d need Mister, in order to fully and completely destroy that balance we now had some responsibility to maintain.
“Hopefully it’ll be soon,” I said.
“For your sake, maybe,” D’Angelo said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll have to take my leave. And once again, congrats.”
“Thanks again,” I said. “Really appreciate it.”
D’Angelo tapped his cane again, and gave us one more smirk before taking off.
Of all the gang leaders that I’d come across, D’Angelo seemed to be the most eccentric, yet the most… agreeable. It was almost a shame, that I’d have to bring him down, too.
It was back to the three of us. We reconvened.
“Well, we got what we came here for,” I said. “We ready to head out?”
“I am,” Sarah said.
“Sure, I think,” Lawrence said. “Any ideas on our next move?”
“Wendy and I had plans to watch one or two if we had some time left. I wasn’t aware you wanted to join us.”
Lawrence looked at Sarah.
Sarah’s eyes went wide.
“Oh. I thought you said movie.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Hey,” I said, voice back to being low, “Let’s… not. How about this? We’re at the table, but we still need to establish an individual rapport with each of them. D’Angelo? He’s a good start.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Sarah said.
I continued. “Not everyone voted for us to be here, so we should find out who they are, see if we can’t convince them that we’re the real deal.”
“Do you think that’ll work?” Lawrence asked.
“It’s better than them continuing to doubt us,” I said.
And it gives me an idea on who to go after, first.
“Okay, I don’t hate that.”
“Good. So we’ll catch up with D, gather all the info she got on each of these guys from the past week, and we’ll go from there.”
“Okay,” Lawrence said.
Wary, I looked up at the ceiling, past that lights. I wore that expression, made it obvious.
Then I saw Styx, watching him watch me.
By the huge windows that overlooked the city, where water had cascaded down the glass the last time we were here. For someone who could stick out like a blade in my back, Styx could blend into the background just as well. A ghost in the shadows.
His face twisted up, and I could hear that sound in my head. A low cackle.
He looked up, too, at the ceiling, then back to me. He brought a finger to his lips, face still twisted. Still cackling.
No one else saw that. It was for me only.
Me only, because D wasn’t actually here. Like we’d risk putting her in the same position as last time. I had to learn from some of my mistakes.
D got what we needed from our first visit here. It was time to use that information.
We’re at the table. Finally. Now we had to prep the fire.