25. The Icarus Syndrome

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Doyle died simply. Or so they told me. The actual truth of it didn’t come out until later. I was simply told that he was dead. Case and point.

Translation: I am free.

Or am I?

How did he die? We’re not sure…there were so many possibilities. I knew because Serkis told me. Another late night visit, another blood-covered girl. It was all the same.

Doyle was beaten, broken, stabbed, shot…you name it and they found it in him. Sylum was at the head of the investigation. It wasn’t a long case – rival drug dealers burst in during the night, kicked the shit out of him, and left him for dead. Open and shut.

At least that’s the story we told the fans.

When it came to Doyle, nobody was all that…adoring.

            Things were far from simple. Things were insanely far from simple. It was a few weeks later when this all surfaced. I was getting along with Sylum better, but I couldn’t seem to charm my way into getting out. I tried everything I had up my sleeve. And when that failed, I pulled out the last ace.

I’m young. I’m cute. And I’m stuck here with a guy.

I spent every waking moment with him, poking and prodding and trying for any sort of leeway. No such luck. We were sitting around one night, talking about, I’m not sure…and smoking. He always shared. I was next to him. He wouldn’t touch me. Serkis’ warnings are always cashed in if broken, he told me. Knowing her, I believed him.

It was late – we’d been up all night talking. At the moment, I couldn’t remember what was so interesting. Sylum had gotten up a while ago to take some medication for a headache. I remember having to shift position. He had come back and I’d curled up next to him. I only remember vague bits and pieces of events. Nothing solid. Nothing continuous.

“If you did touch me, you think Serkis would ever know?” I asked softly. I had the tone of a child, asking a friend, hypothetically, if I could get away with my crime before the parents got home. He shrugged.

“I’m not risking anything with her. She is vicious, that one.”

I smiled at him. “Mr. Big Bad Law Man is afraid of little ole Serkis. That’s funny. You’re scared of a girl.”

“You’re trouble, you know that? And I’m not afraid of her. And that girl is far from little. And you damn well know it. What are you playing at?”

“I don’t play games. I just lead the distraction.”

“Oh, that’s right.” He poked me in the side, a childish sort of motion. “Happy now?”

I laughed and shrugged. It was a foreign concept for him to be with people – that was obvious. He was alone in his little steel cage and it suited him. He was safe and nothing could hurt him. He had security on all sides – anything he needed, Doyle provided. I brought this to his attention. He just got quiet.

“And you know everything, do you? You’re the expert on my life?”

“I’ve been kept prisoner in your apartment for weeks. I’ve had massive amounts of time to formulate my theory. It holds water.”

“Does it?” He was trying to outwit me. I smiled wider.

“You lock your bedroom. What the hell am I going to do to it?”

“Everyone has a right to privacy.”

“How come you never bring anybody over?”

“I have you here.”

I laughed. “My room locks. From the outside. And don’t pretend you didn’t know that.”

He was losing ground and he knew it. He got all huffy, took in a deep breath and started. “I don’t think my lifestyle is any of your business and if I want to be alone and it suits me, you should respect that. This is my territory and you are just a visiting guest, the traveling show. And who are you to lecture me on or about anything? You’re just…a child.”

I jumped up and kissed him. To shut him up. To prove my point. And he didn’t stop me. Everything in him shook for a moment. But he didn’t push me away. I was right and he was wrong. And he knew it. Loneliness is a disease.

Needless to say, I finally saw what his room looked like that night. And I got to sleep in a real bed for a change, instead of my makeshift deal down the hall. For the first time in weeks.

Serkis showed up the next morning. She had news. Doyle was dead. And I was going home. I would leave my newfound security. I would leave Sylum and I would stay away. I would go nowhere near him. There was an investigation going on. I had to let him do his job.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to kick and scream. Serkis said that Doyle was dead. She said that Sylum knew this in advance but had kept the information from me. Serkis had requested to tell me herself. I felt betrayed. I was thrown back to the hellish little group that I had started with, my misery packed over my shoulder. I wanted to cry and kick and scream. I wanted to tell Serkis that this wasn’t fair and why. But that wasn’t possible. That would mean Sylum’s condemnation. Then again…he betrayed me first.

But then again, I’m an adult. I made the choice and I should stick by it. It is done and it can’t be taken back.  Every so often, I forget that I’m no longer the child that I used to be. I’m all grown up, there’s no going back. There’s no use longing for what’s gone. I’d swallow my pain and I’d follow orders because it benefitted the family. The family that was killing itself from the inside. Sweet, huh?

Serkis brought me back to my old place above the bar. They’d been keeping it up for me, she said. Everything was clean and exactly as I’d left it…maybe a little neater than I’d left it. Laundry was done, folded, put away. There was nothing that needed cleaning, fixing or relocating. She was at my side, patiently waiting. I hugged her close.

“Thank you.”

She smiled. “It’s good to have you home. Where you belong.”

Something about her words got under my skin, making every faculty of myself cringe. There was something ironic, almost sardonic about what she said. Serkis’ words were always well thought-out and intentional. She never said anything that didn’t have better purpose.

“It’s a crime to waste words, we only have so many,” she’d told me once. I didn’t understand her then, and I’m not completely sure that I understand her now. But it’s the fact that it was said at a point.

I sat down with Serkis across from me. She was a good distance away. I was paranoid that if I stayed too close to her for too long, she’d see right through me. She’d find her way through the deceit and tear the honesty out of me. She was just that good.

“So, who killed him?”

She laughed. “He killed himself. He got too big for his crown. The Icarus syndrome, I call it. He built wings to fly because he wanted to defy the laws of God. There are some laws you just can’t break. Hence, you drown.”

“So who helped him? Who tampered with the wings, held him under water? Who?”

She smiled a dry little grin, getting up as she did so. She shook her head, looking for words then shot me a little glance. “There’s only two killers in this family. And I swear, on everything and nothing, that it wasn’t me.”

And she turned with that smile and walked out, leaving me sitting there dumbstruck.

Damn. I was ready to get up and tear the place apart when I found what I needed sitting on the table in front of me. Smokes. Ha. The family just might be good for something. There was an envelope there too, and in it, notes from everyone telling me the latest or what they could do for me. Some of them made appointments. Serkis would be a very busy girl – I wasn’t working until a few days from now, Layne would be over today to make sure I was okay. Cassidy wrote that his services were always at my command. Grey wrote mockingly if I wanted to go for a relaxing drive in the future. Pandora sent her regards, explained that she was too busy at work to come by, but she’d see me there soon. And who’s left?

There was another slip of paper in the mix, with words simply stated.

“Nobody helps themselves. Family takes care of each other.”

It was written in broad sweeping letter, black and thoughtful. At the bottom were scratches in a dark red tone – two R’s, sweeping and intertwining. I wracked my mind, but could come up with nothing. The words were familiar but vague – so much had happened. So much to consider.

And yet I could never remember to forget this.

Only forget to remember what mattered.

It took me hours of pacing and consideration. Layne dropped by while I was ranting like a fiend to myself. I nearly attacked him.

“Who the hell is ‘RR’?”

He smiled. “You okay, kid? Sit down, come on, you’ll feel better.”

“I feel fine! Who is it? I’m sick of the games.”

“They’re just beginning. You know that. Everything is just part of the show.”

“This’ not fair.”

He grabbed hold of my shoulders and pushed me to the couch until I’d sit; he took a seat beside me. Close, but not too close. “There. You were making me dizzy with all the pacing.”

“Layne, the truth?”

He looked down at the ground and back up at me. “You know I can’t do that. There’s a lot going on. Let this settle out and then we’ll discuss it, okay? I promise.”

I didn’t want promises. I didn’t want to wait. And he knew it. My silence made him apprehensive. He patted me on the shoulder, got up, walked out, and came back. He had my guitar and his.

“Come on, I’ll teach you a new song.”

I wanted to laugh. He had this big dopey smile on him like a child that just found their birthday cake. He had that proud aura of someone accomplished whom wanted to share. I took my guitar from him and got comfortable, with him across from me. And he proceeded to teach. I would never deny him the chance to teach me a song – I think it made him happier than it made me. Either way, it was a mutually beneficial relationship. I didn’t mind spending time with him, and the music was good. So what the hell? The details of Doyle can wait. For now, all I need is the music and the talent that it takes to play it.

Every so often you get a good one. And when he throws you out, you can borrow someone else’s good one to teach you a song until you feel better. I don’t know…it made sense to me. But then again, I might just be insane. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise.




24. End of Intermission

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The story concluded – I sat in silence. A cloud of smoke had settled overhead. The ashtray needed emptying, actually…we needed more cigarettes. What was I supposed to say? He had given me a piece of his life. A tragic piece – sharp and dangerous. What was I supposed to do with it? Was I supposed to bury it? Pretend this never happened? Console him? No. He was an adult – he didn’t need comfort. Even if he did, it wasn’t my place. I just so happened to be here at the time. A quirk of fate. Nothing more.

There was that uncomfortable stretch of time when you don’t really know what to do. Nobody talks because you’re both listening strenuously for the slightest sound to clue you into the truth. We were waiting anxiously for something to snap.

“Happy now?” he muttered. His head was low, the smoke trailing from the cigarette held carelessly in his hand. He kept his eyes pinned to the floor, on my feet. I shrugged my shoulders and got up, pacing around slowly, forcing him to move if he wanted to keep his eyes on me.

“Now we’re even.”

“Why does it matter?”

I turned back at him. “It doesn’t. That’s the point.”

He shook his head. “Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?”

I turned and smiled at him. “Sometimes.”

“And the rest of the time?”

“I make it up as I go along and try to move quick enough for nobody to notice.”

And he laughed a little to himself, a reserved laugh that hid behind his pain, behind his misery. A laugh that showed his weakness, or that showed his lack thereof. He hadn’t laughed in ages. When he did, it was hidden in other emotions, buried too deep to get out.

“You’re not scared of anything, are you?” he asked. He dared to look up at me for a moment. I thought about it for a bit.

“I never was too crazy about spiders…”

And he laughed again, louder this time, coughing on the smoke. I smiled as best as I could manage. As much as I resented being here, being under containment, it wasn’t the worst situation in the world. Things could always be a lot worse.

There was a child captive in the man’s body, a younger, bolder self – dying to be free. We all had one, but his was visible on the surface, screaming through his eyes. I finished my smoke and went back to where he was to put it out. I was within arm’s reach; the usual chill ran down my spine. I hated being closer than I had to be. It was just…intolerable. He reached a hand out to touch my arm. I jumped and he pulled back quick.

“Touchy?”

“Slightly.”

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, his eyes returning to the floor. I shook my head defiantly.

“No reason to be.”

He shook his head, but it was more of an absentminded nod. He was still looking at the ground. He agreed in barely audible tones and the topic dropped. He got up and shifted past me carefully, staying out of reach. I was out of range and so was he.

“I’m going to sleep,” he said finally, after he’d gotten past. I nodded and watched him go, sitting myself back down to think.

He wasn’t a scumbag. He was human in there. He had a heart and soul and cared. But then again, he was working for the enemy. He was playing both sides. Unless he had an ulterior motive. Unless he was only on this side of the line to gain something.

I had to talk to Layne. I had to find out the truth. But while I was here, that was impossible. How long would they hold me here? How long would my life be put on hold for the assumption of investigation? How would I know when it was clear to go? I trusted my freedom to someone else’s word.

Serkis would come. She’d fight this. She’d have to. She was the great Serkis Draft. Now and forever.

I gave up on thinking and trudged off to sleep myself. There was no point in trying to figure out the obvious. There would be plenty of time to think, there wasn’t anything else to do in this steel box. Nothing but think. My own mind would be my only comfort and closest friend.

Oh goody.

I went to sleep and woke up without interruption. Sylum was gone, as usual. We spent a lot of days like that. Weeks crept by. Serkis didn’t surface until we were three weeks into it. Sylum happened to be home that day. I was curled up in my room, writing aimlessly, when I heard the knock at the door. Nobody ever visited. Nobody came in or out except Sylum. I jumped up and ran out into the living room. Sylum crept to the door gun in hand. He looked through the peephole, saw nothing, and opened slowly. He had a gun leveled at his head.

“Nice to see you again, Officer Bishop.”

“Don’t you have any manners?”

Serkis edged herself in, pushing Sylum back with the gun. He was smiling, ironically. She smiled too, closed the door neatly behind herself, and gestured to Sylum.

“Drop the gun, it’s not nice to threaten a lady.”

He smiled wickedly at her. “You show me a lady and I won’t threaten.”

She laughed, clicked hers onto safety and tucked it into her waistband. She kissed him on the cheek while sneaking his out of his hand. She dropped it somewhere and led him over to sit down near me. “You taking good care of my kid?”

“Your kid?”

She left him where he sat and edged herself next to me, an arm wrapped around me proudly. “Yeah. Mine. You got a problem with that?”

“Should I?”

“Good,” she replied, nodding her head. This could go on all day. I think we all knew it. Serkis turned and looked me up and down, inspecting me carefully.

“Satisfactory?” Sylum asked. Serkis smiled.

“Maybe. But we’re to go have a little talk, her and I. I know you won’t mind.” She got up abruptly and I with her, following her to my little nook. She stood in the doorway for a moment then consented to relocate things in the room. The mattress was heaved up, turned, and left in the doorway. This way, the door couldn’t close and we couldn’t be locked in.

“You know how this place works, don’t you?”

She was still smiling. “I’ve been here before.”

I was going to ask more questions, but it would have been a waste of time, patience, and effort. She would merely smile. She was good at that, the infamous smile that left you dying for more. But you never got it. She knew just when to take and just when to give. And I loved her for the mystery of it all.

Serkis sat herself on the floor, curled up like a child. She patted a spot next to her, which I seated myself at. She was eying me carefully.

“Are you really okay?”

“Yeah. Course.”

“You wouldn’t lie to me, right?”

“Why would I do that?”

Serkis shrugged nonchalantly. “He hasn’t touched you, right?”

“Right.”

“You’d tell me if he did, right?”

“Serkis, what’s wrong?”

She shot her eyes to the ground, then back up again. Blink, and you would have missed it. “I’m just worried. I’m allowed to be worried about you, aren’t I?”

“But what’s with all the questions? How much trouble can I get in while I’m here? He’s never home and when he is, he stays as far away as possible.”

“Good. Try to keep it that way.”

“I don’t understand.”

“He’s a guy, kid. He’ll do whatever it takes to get what he wants.”

“I still don’t understand.”

“Just…be careful. Guys are jerks. He plays both sides of the line – he’s a traitor by nature. His morals aren’t exactly clear-cut. And being a cop, he can get away with murder. Almost literally. He’s gotten away with a lot as is. Just…don’t be thrown off by the charming exterior. Always be on your guard. Always.”

“Yes Ma’am.” I saluted her halfheartedly. She laughed and poked at my side. I laughed and things were better.

“Keep your nose clean. It’s…tense times now. And it’s only going to get more complicated. Keep your head down and stay as far away from him as you can.”

“Will do.” I always spoke in as few words as possible, as if my own words scared me. My thoughts ran rampant without me, going on and on, spanning invisible millennia of madness. I nodded and we both got up. She kissed me on the cheek and roughed up my hair.

“Be good, kid. I’ll be seeing you soon.” She looked around with a slow glance. “Keep your bags packed…okay?”

I nodded and she wrapped her arm around me and led me back out. Sylum hadn’t moved. If anything, he’d lit a smoke in the meanwhile. Serkis was all types of close to me – she was one of the few people I could tolerate it from.

“Remember everything I told you,” she whispered to me before stepping back into the room to Sylum. He looked up at us casually as we approached.

“Back already? I though you’d be in there for ages, I was going to go in and ask if I should prepare for more company.”

Serkis grinned at him. “You know I wouldn’t stay here even if my life depended on it.”

And he smiled back, to match her. “Thank God it doesn’t, right?”

Serkis stepped away from me and made her way to the door, edging past him. She stopped when they were face to face. She crept as close as she could, speaking so that her breath brushed his face.

“You lay a hand on her and I’ll kill you.” She paused, smiled, and kissed him on the cheek. “Do you understand?”

He nodded, smiled wider, and she slipped past. There was sweat slipping down his forehead. From his reaction, I take it that he knew she wasn’t kidding. She was in the doorway when she turned around to face him.

“I nearly forgot, here.” She produced his gun…I don’t know where she had it. She spun it around a few times on a finger and tossed it to him, closing the door just as it reached his hands. He turned it around idly. She’d taken the clip.

“Isn’t she something?” I said. He looked at me, realizing for the first time that I was still there. He took the gun and aimed it at me; I heard the click when he tried to fire. There was nothing in it.

“She took the round out of the chamber.” He looked around, amazed. “She doesn’t leave anything behind.” His eyes rested on me. “Keep your bags packed.”                    




23. Reverence

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She was young. As we all are. And she was in pain. That’s how everything starts. We hurt and hence, we heal. My sibling, my sister. She was young and foolish, as we all start out. Headstrong and stubborn. I was never right in the whole time I had her. Not once. You learn as an adult, with those younger than you, no matter how hard you try you’re never going to be right. She was young, sixteen or so. She would’ve been eighteen now. Old enough to be a statistic. Old enough to vote. But even then, it wouldn’t have been enough.

She wouldn’t listen. I often wonder – if I were her would I have listened to me? Of course not. That’s how life goes. And ends. She was young and foolish and I did all I could. I did everything in my power.

She got into trouble, as kids do. You name it – she did it. Drugs, sex, rock and roll, right? She was my baby sister. All I had. The parents gave up and put me in charge. I’m her brother, they told me. I should be able to help her, they told me. I’m a cop, they told me. Look after her, they told me.

I told them I’d try. I told them – no promises. I told them that I’d do everything I could. I warned them. Did they listen? No. If kids know everything, parents know everything plus one.

All I did was try. Did I succeed?

In the end, did I care?

She went out late, stayed out, did what she did and came home when she wished. The school dealt with my folks, when and if she chose to go at all. She was out of control. I took steps. I put locks on the doors. She found new ways out. I locked down everything I possibly could – everything.

I told my family this. They didn’t care. They disowned me anyway. I screamed it at the top of my lungs when they tried to drag me out of the funeral. I screamed and kicked…and was thrown out anyway. I went after her owner, my sister’s. I went after him. And after everything I’d gone through…it was just more beneficial to drop it.

If you can’t beat them…join them.

I was in league with the enemy for a long time. On the silent side. I monitored Max, made sure he kept on task. When he started slipping, I made sure the man knew.

The man of course being Doyle. He survived this game. How, I’ll never know. But he lived to retirement, to take care of bigger, better concerns. He’s the top of the food chain now. And I got on his good side.

I tried to avenge baby sister. But after a certain amount of beatings, the idea sinks in. You give up. Quit. It’s over. She was looking for trouble anyway.

There was no way that anybody could have stopped her. This I told myself repeatedly. This I told myself over and over because it got me to sleep at night.

My baby sister was Layne’s first girl. She was younger than him, smaller. And he went away. And left her here alone. And she snapped. This I found out later. When he came back with Serkis, my baby sister couldn’t take it. She came home to me that night.

I remember her tears. I remember her pain. I remember because I could feel it shaking my entire being. Tearing at me from the inside – out. I knew this would end badly. I tried to help her. She wouldn’t let me touch her. She lit a smoke in front of me and took a few hard pulls. I watched her pace around, silently. She looked around the place, analyzing her options. I looked at her, watching her young mind work.

“There’s no way out. You’ll deal somehow,” I told her. She glared at me.

“There’s always a way out.”

She smiled at me, such a wicked little grin as smoke snuck out from her lips. I shook my head. I didn’t know what to do with her. I didn’t know how to care. I was out of options. I was sick of her; she was driving me crazy with her uncaring attitude. I got up, shrugged my shoulders, locked everything down, and went to sleep. I thought she would be safe.

I thought.

Something I seldom do anymore.

I woke up in the middle of the night to the smell of fire. I went running out of the room like a madman. Her room was ablaze. How the fire hadn’t spread rampantly I wasn’t sure. But it hadn’t. I tried the door but it was no good. I heard sirens and knew they were already en route. It would be a waste to call them. I threw myself against her door as hard as I could but it was wasted. I got it to burst open just as the firemen came flying in.

Empty. The room was empty.

And a young girl’s body was on the street below.

According to the coroner’s report, she sat in her room and wrote to no avail. And then she set fire to what she was working on. But she kept working. She worked through the smoke and ash. And when she was just about to pass out, she slid out the window. She probably passed out on the way down. There was nothing to be done. The fire wasn’t as rampant as I’d imagined. It was contained. My apartment had stood up especially well.

The place built for interrogations. It has a concrete foundation. There might be steel in there somewhere. My apartment is part of an old police complex. But it just so happens to be mine. Coincidence?

My sixteen-year-old baby sister killed herself. And I let her. Because I didn’t care. I didn’t talk to her. I didn’t even pretend to try. I may as well have pushed her out the window myself. She died on my watch. What do I have to say for myself?

I’m always gone when you need me.

She was a punk anyways. She was an up and coming street demon. She would have been in jail or dead by now anyways. Trouble walking. And they always get theirs.

One big enough screw up can throw the works completely out of whack. As I learned. My stupidity led to my solitude. You adapt, you change to suit the environment.

My home, my shelter, is a home of forgotten pain and madness. I still see her eyes – they haunt me in my sleep. Tears clenched back tight, daring to escape, as she looked me dead in the eye. She was telling me. She was screaming at me at the top of her lungs in those eyes. And I blinked. And I walked away. I let her go.

Compassion died with her. Now I just follow orders. Ironic, considering the few important things my folks ever asked me to do I managed to fuck up. Oops. But you can’t write “Oops” on my baby sister’s headstone. Her story is still falling together in parts and pieces, all this time later. But it’s a story that I must hold and cherish. That will haunt me in my sleep.

Now and Forever. Always and Never.

Passed on to another girl, slightly less lost than my baby sister. It’s not fair. That this one should get another chance. You can try again and make it right.

Fair.

What do you call love and devotion when it hurts this much? When you pay for it in blood and tears? I’ll tell you what you call it.

I called her…Sacristine.

And I always will. Even if she can’t hear me. Because how do you make amends to the dead? You keep their memory living on. You keep it alive. You learn from it. You make it scream as loud as it can until it hurts everyone around you. And even then, you make it scream louder. Never back down. Make up for time forfeited.

Here’s a beginning for you baby sis. It’s your end, but we can always work backwards. Then again, maybe some things are better left to rest.

I hope you’re well, baby girl. It’s a hell of a ride up here. Keep a place for me?

I’ll be seeing you, kid.




22. A Rebellion Named Harley

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I walked until morning came, the gun heavy in my hand. I tried tucking it into a pocket, but it was out of place everywhere I put it.

After my scene at the bar, I went home. I left the gun next to the bed; there was no point in trying to hide it now. Besides, all that remained was a chamber of blanks. They bore the appearance of security. Comparable to the family. Our family.

I was barely asleep when strong hands tore me from my bed. I was being dragged out, fighting and kicking in the night. I expected this. Well, not exactly in this form but one way or another. I was brought to Doyle. And he brought me to the roof.

“Pandora sleeps,” he whispered. That was his explanation to me. I knew better. He didn’t want interference. I’d screwed with the works. I’d pay the price. He looked at me wearily. His lackeys left, I was permitted to stand free of assistance. He paced around me.

“Feeling okay?” He was playing the part of caring adult, just enough to get the truth.

I nodded. “Fine.”

He pulled out a smoke and lit up, looking me up and down. “Funny word, but I’ll take it. So…I think you owe me an explanation.”

“You? Nobody else?”

He laughed. “For right now? If you make it through me, you’re mostly in the clear. I’m your biggest threat. I’m responsible for this group – the cops are going to ask questions with bodies turning up at random. If you had a problem, you should have come to me. Never take matters into your own hands that can be placed in hands already stained with blood.”

“So am I explaining myself because I killed him wrong or because I killed him?”

He smiled wide. “Clever girl. Sometimes. There’s still much to resolve. Fortunately, Sylum found him.”

“Sylum?”

“Officer. Don’t you remember?”

I blanked out. No. I didn’t remember. I wanted to rant and rave and tell him this. I wanted to explain to him in my irrational tones that nobody clued me in. I merely shook my head, a confused look on my face. It conveyed everything in one solid motion.

“Officer Bishop. He found the body. He’s running the investigation. But you’ll deal with him over this.”

“I don’t understand. No harsh reprimand? No sort of punishment?”

And he smiled sinisterly at me. “I never said all of that. You screwed with my command. Nobody dies around here without my say so. No guns are fired without my knowing it.” He was behind me at the moment, he reached out and dug into my shoulder, as Serkis had done. But his hand was larger, the fingers digging deeper. He kept at it until my knees buckled under me. “This is for your own good. So we know the incident doesn’t repeat.”

“And the good Officer Bishop is going to help you cover this up without a qualm?” I coughed out. I was in pain; I wanted to crawl away. He wouldn’t free me.

“I didn’t say that either.” And he let go. I collapsed onto my hands, heaving from the pain. He circled around – I could see his feet moving. And another set of steps, even and calm, approaching. I looked up from the pain.

“Meet Mr. Bishop, kid.” Doyle’s voice was sinister and full of loathing. I had screwed with his authority. I made him look bad. And now the tables turned. He was going to prove to me that in the long run, we were all his. Every last one of us. Doyle dragged me to my feet and threw me into the man’s waiting arms. He held onto me loosely at first, but tighter when I tried to pull away. Rapid steps and two more figures burst into the scene.

Serkis. Pandora.

“Get the hell off her!” Serkis screamed. They were closing in when Doyle produced a gun and leveled it at them. I felt the cop move and a weapon put to my head. Everyone froze.

“Don’t do anything foolish,” Doyle whispered. He was aiming at Serkis mostly. Her body was frozen, tensed up, still lurching forward without her. She glared at him from afar. Pandora was calmer, more collected, biding her time. She was slowly shifting herself closer, escaping his notice. She’d had practice with such maneuvers.

“She made a mistake, leave it alone.” Pandora’s voice was even, urging. She was trying. Doyle glanced at her lightly.

“Someone’s got to pay the cost of this. There’s blood lost here. Something must be taken to balance the cycle.”

Serkis stepped forward. “And what are you going to take? You won’t take blood for it. What else? What would make up for the scumbag that Gothik was?”

He shifted his attention directly at her, trying to see through her, past her. He couldn’t make it work. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend this wasn’t real. I didn’t belong here. The negotiations went on for a while longer, the voices rising and falling in turn in my mind. I couldn’t stand it any longer and I screamed out for release. All eyes turned to me. Sylum let me go and I hit the ground. Serkis tried to come over but Doyle cocked the gun.

“Stay,” he whispered.

“I’ll pay the cost,” I muttered. The other two just looked on, dumbfounded. I got up shakily. “This’ my crime, I’ll pay the cost.”

Doyle smiled, a triumphant grin. “Good girl.”

“She’s the child! You’ll ruin her!” Serkis was beyond annoyed.

“Will I? I don’t ruin anyone, darling. They ruin themselves. You would know that, wouldn’t you? Or should we ask your dear sister?”

He was on thin ice and he knew it. But she didn’t attack him. He wanted an excuse to hurt her; he was pushing buttons to see if she’d fight. She took a few slow steps to him, walking in her careful little line. She crept up as close as she could. He was still smoking. He blew it in her face. She just smiled at him.

“This is a family, right? Be careful where you step. You’d be surprised how unsteady things are these days. Things aren’t always as they seem.” She stopped to look at me. “Looks like we breed killers. I wonder where she got it from. Must be your influence. Your father was a murderer too, wasn’t he?”

And Doyle bit his lip and took a step back. They’d each come from families that had stories of their own. Doyle’s father was the worst of all and he knew it. Pandora’s father was insane, but Doyle’s was about a thousand times worse. He knew when he was beat. She played the game better than he did – she’d learned from the best. He clicked the gun to safety and dropped his arm to his side.

“Go. Now. You’re beginning to bother me.”

And she smiled and walked out. She shot me a glance before she left.

“I’ll be seeing you kid; I promise.”

And she was gone. Pandora shook her head and retreated shortly after. Doyle looked around, rolled his neck around to crack everything into place, and nodded to Officer Bishop. I was dragged off haphazardly.

“We’ll be seeing you in awhile, kid.” Doyle patted me on the back. “And be nice to the good man. He keeps you out of the jailhouse. You’re much too young and pretty for that.” He smiled again, kissed me on the cheek, and walked off, trailing smoke. I wanted to kill him.

And I was carted away. Not…carted, per say. But I was kindly escorted off the roof, down countless stairs, led out to the street and into the patrol car. I sat up front. Nothing was said. The drive continued in silence. I just sat there and stared into space. I couldn’t feel. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to feel. When he stopped, he got out and opened the door for me, edging me out. I got out and walked without assistance next to him. A hand was planted on my lower back anyway, just in case. Silence continued.

The good officer lived a few floors up in a decent little place. He lived by himself, the apartment shared only with what surrounded him. He waved his arm around the place as we stepped in, dropping the keys on a small table and removing his coat.

“Make yourself at home,” he whispered. His voice was soft, as if it scared him. I turned to face him with my left hand cradled my right elbow. I looked down at his feet, following up to his face. I couldn’t hold my eyes there long.

“Home? This isn’t my home.”

“It will be.”

“For how long?”

“Excuse me?”

I took a step closer to him. “How long? How much time is it worth to make up for Gothik’s wasted life? How long am I your prisoner? For what span of time did Doyle rent me out? What length of time ensures my freedom?”

He took a step back and folded his arms. “You’re nobody’s fool, are you?”

“No. How long?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t? And who does?”

The man shrugged his shoulders. “I was told to keep you here until this is all settled out.” “Right. That’s cute. And if I leave?”

He smiled halfheartedly. “Either you can stay here with me, or with Doyle. And he’ll keep a much closer watch on you. And you know it. I don’t give a damn what you do as long as I have an apartment to come back to. This wasn’t my choice of options, but it keeps you out of the way for now.”

“Fuck.” I walked away from him to pace around, digging through my pockets. I had no smokes. I couldn’t deal with this without smokes. He watched me pace around – I could feel his eyes in my back. I wheeled around. “Can I help you?”

He was closer to me than I thought. I hadn’t heard him move closer. He had a hand close to me, almost touching me, a pack of cigarettes outreached. I took one and used the lighter tucked inside, breathing the smoke out slowly. He smiled.

“Feel better?”

I exhaled again, the shakes calming down. “Yeah. Thanks Officer.”

“Sylum.”

“Huh?”

“My name is Sylum. You can call me Sylum. If you want.” He was speaking in a tone that was laced with…irony. I didn’t have to bend if I didn’t want to. I had choices and options. He wasn’t like the others. I took a step back to look him up and down. He was a cop – an officer of the law playing for both sides. He was probably a demon in his time. But right now, he was my captor. But looking at him, and the way he treated me, you’d never know it. He pointed over my shoulder. I kept my eyes locked on him.

“Your room is there. This was set up kind of quick, but they had clothes and stuff brought over from your place. It should be all right. If you don’t mind, I’m going to sleep.”

I watched him edge past me and proceed deeper into the apartment. I looked around. We’d been standing in the doorway the entire time. I was afraid that if I stepped in too deep, there would be no salvation. Maybe I was just being foolish.

I finished my smoke and looked around…it wasn’t all that bad. Things definitely could have been worse. I’d have to stay here until things blew over. That was the nice story. The padded truth. I looked around like a child in a bright room. It was…cozy. It was habitable. A guy lived here, obviously. I couldn’t begin to attempt to understand what kind of guy I was dealing with. So screw it. When you have the opportunity to sleep, never pass it up. You never know when it’ll come again. Sleep is a luxury. A very rare and precious commodity.

I went to where I was directed, looking the room around. It was…quaint. It looked like a reformed storage space. I didn’t care. There was something soft to collapse onto. That’s all that really mattered. I laid back and stared at the ceiling for a while. This was my prison. There were no bars. No guard outside the door. The only thing keeping me here were words. Myself.

I was asleep before I realized how tired I was. I never dreamt, so such interruptions played no part in my slumber. I was simply unconscious, everything was dark and black and nothing mattered. That’s all it was. And when the first rays of day crept in through the small window I was allotted, it wasn’t a big ceremony either. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes hard, trying to shake the days’ events. It had been a long branch of time. At least I had a good night’s rest under my belt to attack it with. I moved to investigate what was brought to me from home. I found my guitar case leaning against a chair carefully. A piece of paper was attached.

“There’s food in the fridge, coffee in the pot. Will be back later. Smokes on the table. And this…to keep you company.”

It was signed simply as “Sylum”. Not Officer. Not Mr. Bishop. Just…him. I wandered outside to explore the apartment with eyes more aware. Sure, a guy lived here, but it was tidy. It wasn’t the picture of meticulous perfection, but it was better than most guys. I would be entrusted to stay here alone for the day. He barely knew me and he was going around trusting me. If I took off, he’d be screwed. So would I, but at least I wouldn’t go down alone. I paced around and checked everything.

I had assumed foolishly. His room was locked. The door was locked from the outside. Any windows I could reach were either shut permanently or had nothing outside them to help me. He trusted me just enough for me to almost trust him. Almost. I helped myself to coffee and a smoke, laughing to myself along the way. At least he’s not quite the fool I made him out to be. And he knows I’m not the child they make me out to be either. Clever boy.

I showered, changed and paced around some more. There’s only so much to see. When my new surroundings bored me, I decided to practice guitar. I had been slacking with my lessons, but I could still strum a few things here and there. He would be back later. He purposely withheld the time, so I wouldn’t be waiting for him. He was smart after all. Or at least…attentive. Smart might be giving him too much credit.

Besides guitar, there was nothing to do here. Nothing but stare at the clocks and count the ticking until your mind explodes from the infernal noise. What was left now, what more was there to be done? I had dug my own grave though it’s useless complaining about it now. I tried to make myself comfortable, tried to make sense of this awkward situation. This was house arrest…in someone else’s house. Kidnapping? Perhaps. I’d have to check the law, find out the penalties for this, if there were any. I gave the place another sweep. No communications. No way to call for help. No phones within reach. No computer. Nothing. All wires led to his room. This was set up. No apartment can be rewired like this at the drop of a hat. There was something more to this than met the eye. I’d have to talk to dear Mr. Bishop.

He came home late in the night; I was still awake, pacing around idly for something to do. He locked the door behind him, hanging his coat up as he went. The keys landed with the same clink that they had the day before. He watched me for a moment. I stopped to look at him.

“This place is like a domestic fort.”

He nodded, smiling at my observation. He was pleased. I raised an eyebrow.

“This couldn’t have been set up overnight. How does it work out that you just so happen to live in a security cell? What have you been hiding up here?”

He shook his head for a minute, his hands in his pockets. “What would I be hiding?”

“You tell me. There are reasons that the locks are so meticulously arranged. There’s no way out but down.”

“Don’t I know it,” he muttered.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing.” He looked at the ground, around the room, avoiding my eyes. He shook his head, as if he were convinced. “Nothing.” He moved to go past me to his room. I grabbed hold of him.

“You kept someone here, didn’t you? Not something. Someone. You want me to cooperate, you want me to trust you and be a good little girl until this all blows over? Then I want the truth. I’m sick of stories and games. I’m sick of the show and the act. I want what happened. You have an advantage on me; my entire life on display.”

“And I’m supposed to let you have an advantage over me?” he questioned. He shoved my arm away from him, taking a few steps before stopping. I glared at his back, at that spot between his shoulders, the top center of his back. I watched his shoulders rise and fall in a heavy sigh as he turned to face me.

“You have impeccable timing. Did you know that?”

“No. Well? What happened?”

He dug for a smoke and lit up, offering me another one, which I lit from the one that was going out as we talked. Time flies when you’re having fun. If fun is what you could call it. One way or another, there we were. I sat myself down across from him, out of reach. Always stay just out of reach. Even if it is by a little bit. It’s still out of reach.

“I lost someone close to me awhile back. Today’s their birthday.”

“How old?”

He smiled. “Not enough.”




21. Holy Sins & Deadly Commandments

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Thunk.

That’s a very definite sound, when you get right down to it. When all else fails it’s the final sound that decides the end of an action.

Suicide is contagious. I think the idea is entirely wrong. I think it is death in general that is contagious. In all its forms and ways. Death is intoxicating. And nobody wants to be alone.

And it’s a great power to end someone’s life.

Just a slight pull. A soft squeeze, that’s it. Nothing more than that. And someone dies. Someone you love. Someone you hate. Someone you never met. Someone you always knew.

Thud. Shiver. Gasp.

“Aren’t you tired of being weak?” I whispered.

“This is taking back what you’ve stolen,” I whispered.

“It’s always darker in my eyes,” I told him.

“You judged me and now you are me,” he replied. In coughs and gasps. I merely smiled.

“I did it all for you, Hun.”

And I walked away. For the first time in my life, I walked away. I would have to pay the cost of my…madness, but I didn’t care any longer.

I left him there to die. I walked away as he bled to death.

Goodbye Art. Burn in Hell, Gothik.

And what led to this fateful point? What brought the child, the good kid, to kill her master? Why did I sign my own damnation? Why bite the hand that feeds you?

Because it was choking me.

How to explain, how to explain…

Things settled down. But I couldn’t sleep. I don’t know how it came to light – I guess I just wasn’t doing my job up to par. But Gothik was sent to stay with me. I didn’t realize the extent of my problem until I woke up in his arms a few times. He said I was a mess. Did I believe him? No.

I knew that the problem was serious when I missed my cue at the show because I dozed off backstage. I woke up at home. Happenings like that were more common as time passed. Serkis would make sure that someone was always around to take me home. But when times were busy, we’d have to resort to Gothik. And as much as he was her partner in show business, he was still changing. He was a guy. And I trusted him about as far as I could throw him.

The more time I spent with him, the less I could tolerate. He had his moods, his ups and downs, but he reminded me too much of Doyle. He changed the bandages for me. But there were days when he was cold and cruel. When he pushed buttons because he could. Handling the situation was having a physical toll on me. I was healing, but time was against me.

Gothik started drinking. And he became violent. Push came to shove too many times. And I covered it up. I saved him. If word got out, I’d never get better. There was enough going on without this. I smiled, and I dealt.

And then he just pushed too damn hard.

Being sick takes up everything. It’s comparable to addiction; my manner is comparable to that of a junkie. If you lose focus of the truth for one second…it’s over. Distraction must be avoided at all costs. Gothik was a risk to my mental stability.

Step back – what was mentally wrong with me?

Requiem’s death marked the beginning of an overwhelming paranoia that followed me at all times. I kept it to myself, telling the family very little. I was old enough to be a political statistic. But they were slowly catching on. I was an adult. I finished high school along the way. There would be no continuing education. I was the adopted child of a family of street demons. There was no hope for opportunity. I’d learn the trade or be forever dependent.

Doyle’s reach was so broad that the only evils we faced were ourselves. Gothik was bent on causing damage. I think he was jealous – by establishing a mutiny, he could step up and take charge. He was a figurehead, but he had no real power due to his…irrational nature. And he never would. So he decided to be childish and throw a fit. I was fortunate enough to get in his way. And I stopped his little temper tantrum once and for all.

Killing Requiem made my faith in the family waver. Everything was filled with doubt. My own weakness bothered me. Serkis or Pandora would have taken action a lot sooner. They’d never stand for the emotional/physical abuse, right? They’re too proud, too big, and too strong – they’d never bend to an ignorant fool like Gothik.

He was my dearest friend once. As Art. When he could create, when he could make gorgeous work in whatever style he desired. I respected him as my fellow artist – free and genius; his raging mind could never be restrained.

I got the gun from Cassidy. If you’re cute and fluffy enough, guys will do half of anything for you. He was good at keeping things to himself. It was a gorgeous piece.

Gothik was something else when it came to pushing buttons. And one person can only take so much. And you snap. It’s part of the human condition to kick and scream. It’s only human to cry and be upset. There are limits – there are always limits. The right combination could be fatal – as Gothik learned.

I’m young. I’m a girl. I’m supposed to cry when I don’t get my way – not physically tear myself apart. “Supposed to” is like “should” – never real. Reality is always questionable, especially in our game. We’re all mortal, young, invincible – we might be the least real of all. Or are we the least human?

This is my defense. This is my story. It’s the best I can do.

You poke the sleeping tiger hard enough, long enough…you might just lose fingers.

Or something more important.

When Gothik got bored, or too inebriated, his favorite game was trying to see how much he could make me cry. But there are limits. There’s a point where enough is enough. And I had it. You can tear me to pieces, you can do anything you want; I have no compassion for myself. But when you cross into my family, into my blood family, and you insult them…well then you’re just bowling for trouble.

Mom and Dad died when I was smaller. When I was sixteen. When I was young and innocent. And free. Was. Past tense, as in – no longer am.

I wanted him to see this, I wanted him to feel this; I wanted him to cry, to kick, to hold screams in and suffocate for the sound. I want him to know what it is to die that little bit each day. I wanted him to feel pain that never dies, never sleeps. If you’re going to toe the line of disaster, he’d better be prepared to dance. Cause it’s a long way to Hell from here.

I had nothing left to lose, or so I told myself. And that made me dangerous. Or so I told myself. I told myself a lot during that branch of time. The most repeated line?

I am justified.

He pushed too hard – I just couldn’t take anymore. He laughed too loud about something that I could never stop crying about. And one night, enough was enough.

I told him to go. I told him to get out. And he laughed. And he pushed more buttons. I locked myself away from it, trying to ignore the sound. Trying to block out the sound of his pounding on the door. I tried and tried but it wouldn’t go away. He stayed there, like that, for hours. And then he quit. He left. He told me so. I listened for the door to slam. I edged out carefully, looking around.  He was gone. He was having too much fun, he’d go drink off his disappointment in my…unwillingness to play. I grabbed the gun, my coat, and went out after him. I caught up with him in the alley. I was far behind him.

I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t remember. But I screamed his name. In one scream I put all my pain. My past, my present…I put the pain and madness, everything I had, into his name, howled from the depths of my chest. And he turned, wheeling around to face me. And I shot at him. Once, sailing over his shoulder. He froze.

“Are you insane?” He screamed at me, as if I were ages away.

“Possibly.”

He started to move toward me but I squared off. He laughed.

“You’re signing your death warrant.”

“I don’t care. I’ve had it. You’re a threat to the family.”

“Am I?” he questioned. He was smiling, his arms outstretched. “Come on, kid. Kill me. Kill your best friend. Kill your own keeper.”

“You keep nothing, especially me.”

And he smiled wide. He was smoking; he reached to take the cigarette out of his mouth, his arms outstretched again.

“Give Requiem my regards.”

Click. Bang.

Thunk.

And this is where we started.

Remember?

“Aren’t you tired of being weak?” I whispered.

“This is taking back what you’ve stolen,” I whispered.

“It’s always darker in my eyes,” I told him.

“You judged me and now you are me,” he replied. In coughs and gasps. I merely smiled.

“I did it all for you, Hun.”

And I walked away. For the first time in my life, I walked away. I would have to pay the cost of my…madness, but I didn’t care any longer.

I left him there. I walked away from my tormenter. I walked away and didn’t care. I wouldn’t let him hold me back anymore. The consequences would come. Someone would find him. I walked to the bar. It was late.

Pandora was there, cleaning up. I was dirty, beaten, battered. I had the gun clenched in my bad hand. My right hand. Cassidy was hanging around somewhere. Layne was putting away his guitar, Serkis with him. I looked around. Doyle was in a corner too. The whole crew was here. Grey was in a corner, helping Cassidy strum away on a guitar. I looked around.

“Reunion?”

Doyle looked up and smiled. “Concert. You should have been here. I think that’s the best I’ve heard in ages. Flawless. It’s been a good night.” He looked me up and down, his eyes resting on the gun as he spoke to me.

I swung the chamber out and pulled out the round. I pulled the empty shell out and put it on the bar. I swung the chamber back in, took a look around, and walked out.

There was only one shot in there to begin with. One real shot. The rest were blanks.

Here’s to gambling with blood.

Lives.

All you lose is you, right?

Dedicated to a legend long since dead. Rest well, Miss Ransom. Here’s to you.




20. Eyes of a Fallen Angel

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She did it all for you.

Requiem’s death would haunt us all for ages. It wasn’t something that comes and goes like the passing of seasons. She didn’t have family because Serkis didn’t have family. She had us. And we’d killed her.

I wondered for a long time if she knew. If she had the faintest clue that something was going on. I wondered if she cared. She, like Serkis, liked to flirt with disaster. She was undermining Serkis’ authority. I wondered about a lot of things for a while.

Before Requiem’s untimely death, she arranged new connections with the police. We had ourselves a cute, young cop, fresh into the job. Right off the street. He was one of the elders from Doyle’s days – old friends. Requiem did him a few favors and he didn’t mind being our connection. Due to this fact, I doubted Doyle’s command of Requiem’s death. He would never kill family. Beat, sure. Never kill.

Serkis was gone for days at a time, “talking” to Doyle. Layne was a mess, chain-smoking like a fiend. I went back to work, and the show – it got my mind off of the more obvious. They were each other’s, but Doyle liked to bend the rules. I think he got off on the pain of others. He enjoyed watching people suffer. But she came back. She always came back. She never spoke about it collectively, but I’m sure Layne might have dragged it out of her. Then again, this is Serkis…nobody knows. And that’s the point.

Our new officer was a Mr. Sylum Bishop. He was the law, but he was Doyle’s hand under the table. He played both sides – hopefully not against the middle. He seemed too straight edge, too clean cut…well above and beyond all this. But he was here. He probably owed old favors. Or he was dealt a bad hand, what can I say? Doyle was the top of the chain and everybody knew it. And those who didn’t fall in line, hung by said chain.

Doyle Merrick. He was a legend in himself. From birth, he was damned. He was born into the greatness of his empire. His father’s name still rung quietly in the hearts of those that remembered him. Most of his closer associates were dead. Most…probably all of them.

Pandora’s father was another living legend.

As was Vagrant Ransom.

The two most dangerous families in the world. And the most dangerous man in the world that both families wish they could claim. Vagrant and Draven were lost to each other; they’d live and die chasing each other. Draven couldn’t be expected to sit around here, fit into the usual routine. No way in hell. He’d go out and move and do. He raised Pandora until she was old enough to take care of herself. Which is ironic, in a way, I’m sure that she was always able to take care of herself. As a freak in times and places like these, you learn sufficiency at an early age. It was just part of the routine.

I couldn’t deal with Requiem’s death as well as the rest of them. They pretended it didn’t happen, that she never was. We only talked about her in hurried whispers. Her name wasn’t mentioned unless it absolutely had to be. And why would it ever have to be? Doyle’s word was that Requiem’s death was “accidental” and that it was tragic to lose her. Nobody cried. Except me. I couldn’t understand what kind of insane family we were running here. What kind of a freak show kills off its own members? And doesn’t care? I mean – did they really even give a damn?

There’s something emotionally unsettling about the death of a person that no one mourns. It stirs emotions deep down that would otherwise never surface. It’s hard to explain. Death’s such a…it’s necessary, but there’s something about it that never sits right with me. Everybody wants to be loved, in life, and especially in death. Nobody wants to go alone; nobody wants to leave this world with no one on the side. And when someone does leave this world like that, it brings out an additional sorrow to overshadow the passing. It’s hard to explain…but you’d know it to feel it. Someone who dies alone versus someone who is surrounded by loved ones. Someone who dies with the knowledge of imminent death…or the junkie who accidently overdoses – there’s variances.

Then again, maybe it’s just me.

It’s possible to argue that I’m just simply insane.

I used to think that everyone considers things like that. About life, about death. Then again, maybe you have to be something. Young, a sufferer, an artist…I don’t know. Something. Or maybe you just have to be suicidal.

Cassidy, who you’d think would have been distraught, was fine. He was better than fine. Business was up, his troops had a good stretch of territory, but he didn’t have his girl. He didn’t have his other half. But he didn’t care. He was Mr. Cassidy Brogan. All he needed was himself. Always. He took charge. Doyle let him have more control, assuming that this was how he’d deal. It all worked out for the best, I imagine. Even though it made no sense what so ever now.

Nobody knows what exactly Requiem was shot up on. I’m not sure if anybody really cares to know. Whatever it was, it took its time. We were all on a cloud before she was dead.

Maybe I’m the only one having trouble with this. Maybe, being the child, I’m supposed to. Maybe. That’s all anything can be reduced to.

I was still the ringleader of the show. They’d come to know me. They’d come to expect me. I heard that my absence hadn’t come easily.

I went back to my life and everything resumed as it was meant to. We got by. Nobody talked about the passage of events, the family itself. And things became routine. Things became typical and boring.

But routine can only last for so long until things get thrown out of whack.

Counting down…in ten, nine…eight…seven…seven…




19. Requiem for the Lost

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We had our big get-together of sorts later on, sometime in the late night/early morning time of day. This way, the bar was closed and we could hang out as much as we wanted. Pandora had elected someone else in charge, just in case. Something was up – everyone knew it. You could feel the tension in the air, if you were lucky, you could cut it. The family was together.

The deal with Gothik…he was turning into Doyle. He was at the point where he didn’t care and he’d do whatever needed to be done. And he didn’t play fair. I don’t know what changed in him, when, why or how, or maybe if it was me. He was my other half most of the time. But as I got older, I found that I couldn’t stand to be around him. The thought of him sent shivers down my spine. He stood in the corner alone. Doyle had beaten him up for losing control. For hitting me. Doyle was protecting me from another version of himself.

Pandora stood opposite him. They were like columns, rigid in their composure; they weren’t expected to talk unless they absolutely had to. Serkis was curled up in Layne’s lap, as expected. Requiem was with Cassidy. Grey was lurking around, fidgeting like a child. He stayed near me most of the time. We all stood around and stared at each other for a while.

“So, what brings us to this pleasurable reunion?” Requiem questioned. She yawned and curled back up with Cassidy. He was holding her tighter than usual. Serkis got up slowly and moved to the center of the room, spinning to address everyone.

“A lot’s gone on lately. We’re all stressed. We’re all in some sort of pain. I figure that we should celebrate.”

“Celebrate?” Requiem sounded skeptical, but in a sing-song kind of way. She was asking questions because she was supposed to, not because she actually cared. A trip to the clouds would suit her just fine.

“Cassidy’s whipped up a fun batch of stuff, special for the occasion. And this is a new beginning. Being as how the kid’s all grown up, big and 18 and all now, we should restate the obvious.” Serkis stopped to look around. “Everybody gets fixed.”

I looked at the crew. This was their idea of proving devotion? No. This was trust. Getting screwed up and hanging out with your family in the hopes that they’ll protect you. I knew this game. I knew just what was going on. I didn’t want to play. From the look on Pandora’s face, I don’t think she wanted to either. Her and I were on the same wavelength – we didn’t take well to chemical persuasion. Serkis was smiling, there was more to this.

“Come on. And as a test of our good faith, nobody helps themselves. Family takes care of each other. We up for it?”

Nobody agreed or disagreed. We all knew without saying that Serkis would get her way, she always did. I felt uneasy, and I saw the others all shift as well. But it would get done. Everybody sat down in little groups, trying to get comfortable. Layne and Serkis. Cassidy and Requiem. Grey decided to stay with Pandora. And that left me with him. Gothik.

Cassidy went, got his tools, and came back. He smiled wide as he did it. He sat down behind Requiem, like he did with me. She was first. We weren’t going to start until he was through with her. I knew this game. Something was wrong here. He kissed her on the cheek and worked on her quietly. She smiled a little back at him with her head back against his shoulder. And he shot her up. She didn’t even flinch. Funny – the needle had come from one of Cassidy’s pockets, whereas the rest were kept in a little bag altogether. Cute.

We watched, one by one, overlapping. Requiem wasn’t gone enough yet to prevent her from handling Cassidy. Pandora and Grey got through without a hitch. Serkis got Layne. And I sat there with Gothik. I didn’t know what I was doing. Serkis wasn’t gone yet. She came over to us. She looked from one to the other, and finally consented to take care of Gothik herself. She pushed me away from him slowly, moving into a corner.

“You don’t have to do this, you know.”

I wanted to cry. I wanted to go away. I wanted this to be another world away. Another time and place. Another life. But I wasn’t that fortunate. Nobody is.

I shook my head resolutely. She hugged me close, despite the pain that we were both in. Layne had wandered over idly. I sat down on the ground. Layne sat down behind Serkis, who was curled up behind me. I stared straight ahead, trying to be above this. Serkis crept as close to me as she could.

“You’re sure?”

I shook my head. I don’t think she got the news flash about the events with Cassidy the first time around. She cut off the blood flow, being as gentle as she could. She was trying – I’d give her that. But there’s only so much you can do for the damned. And she shot me up.

I was still here when Layne got to her. She was the last to go. Of course she was, she was the most responsible. She was everybody else’s keeper. Even when she was on a cloud, she made sure that she or Layne were around me at all times. That I had someone to box me in. I had someone to protect me. This was set up. At all times, Gothik was kept far away. Layne held me for most of it. Serkis couldn’t be restrained. This we knew.

I lost track of time, as I usually tend to do. It happens when you’re on a cloud. I don’t know, chemicals and I don’t mix half as well as you’d think. Everybody else handled it just fine, Pandora included. I don’t think she was too supportive at first, but Serkis did have a good plan. We all needed to relax and just…breathe. Otherwise, we’d drown in this. This. Now.

I woke up at home. I remember slipping in and out of consciousness for a while. But I was really awake at home. Completely awake. The clouds were gone and there was nothing to deny – this was real. This was my life; there was no way out of the truth now. I rolled around to try and get comfortable, in a wasted effort to return to sleep. It was day. I think.

“You okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Good.” Serkis got up from her chair and came over to me. I was on the couch. This I realized now. “Because I got news.”

“News? What kind?”

“The bad kind, and there’s really no good to it.”

I rolled my eyes. “Now that’s fun.”

“Requiem’s gone.”

I fell off the couch, or almost did. She caught me and straightened me up. “What?”

“Dead.”

“How the hell did that happen?”

And Serkis smiled, that evil little grin of hers, eyes blazing. “I guess she just caught a bad fix. Oops.”

“Oops? She’s dead, you…you knew. You set this up, didn’t you?”

“Me?” she replied, her voice full of childish wonder. “Why would I want to kill dearest Requiem? Hmm? Family’s family, right?”

“She got too big and bad too fast. So you stopped her. She was a danger to everyone because she was irrational.”

And Serkis smiled, a hand on my shoulder. My good shoulder. “You are clever, I’ll give you that. You don’t miss a thing, do you?”

“Your own flesh and blood…” I muttered.

“Blood? I’m an only child, darling.”

“Layne told me different.”

And she stopped. Was she going to try and tell me that Layne lied? Was she going to try and prove to me that she wasn’t a fake, a fraud? Was she going to look me straight in the eye and tell me, honestly, that she had nothing to do with it? And better – would I believe her?

“Requiem killed your uncle, kid. I cleaned up her mess. And I screw up because guys are weak, and do you think she helped me out? She went running to Doyle with it. Almost got me buried. And I’m supposed to love her, as family? And she cleaned it up because that was the only way to stay in God’s favor. To serve him, absolutely. You have no idea.”

“No, because nobody would tell me!”

“You’re barely 18!”

“And I’ve been in this game with you for two years! I think it’s time you all came clean and stopped treating me like an infant!”

I was annoyed with her. I was annoyed with all of them – the lies, the games, the deceptions. I had enough. No more. The show could go to Hell. No more drama. No more.

Serkis’ eyes shot to the floor. “We were only trying to protect you.”

“From what?”

And she lifted her shirt in the front, standing to show me her battered rib cage. She turned to show me her bruised back. I could feel myself crying.

“From this. You grew up in the backyard of Hell. It was bound to come looking for you eventually. We tried to keep you safe from it long enough to teach you better, but it was too late. You’d been exposed, as we all were. We were only trying to protect you.”

“Did I ask for your protection? Do I need it?”

And she glared at me with such a look, and grabbed hold of my bad shoulder and dug her fingers in, twisting until tears were streaming down my face.

“God feels no compassion. He makes use of all that he has. He has compassion for none. Do you understand?”

“No,” I cried. I didn’t get it. She dug deeper.

“He’ll use you until you have nothing left. He likes to gamble. He likes to make deals. Don’t ever play the house – you’ll never win. Never. Do you understand? Gothik’s next.”

And she let go. I fell off the couch and rolled around on the floor. I wanted to beat her, but she’d already been beaten. I wanted to kick and scream and make this pain end. But it was merely beginning.

“And Cassidy?”

“He delivered the poison. He wanted to be part of the family. And now he is.”

“He’s the street boss, he doesn’t need us.”

She smiled. “You’re right, but we’re good backup.”

I was still on the floor, my words coming out in chokes and coughing gasps. I was in pain. She was in more pain. It hurt her to move, to stand or turn – to breathe. But she was still kicking. This was Miss Serkis Draft. Nothing could hold her back. Nobody could hold her down. Ever.

She curled up next to me on the floor. I didn’t want to look at her. She tried to calm me down, to be soothing. Like a mother with a child. In her eyes, I would always be the child. No matter how old I got. Or how big and bad I could be. Whether I could take care of myself or not was irrelevant. I’d always be hers.

“Why me?”

“What?”

“Why me?”

“What do you mean, kid?” She wasn’t condescending…she was real. But she was bigger – this was the ultimate big bad of the crew. She was everybody’s keeper. And nobody was hers. Even Layne couldn’t hold her leash tight enough to claim her.

“Why me? You walked into that bar with Layne on your arm and you picked me out. Why? Why not anybody else?”

“You lived this. You’re been through all kinds of stuff with your family. It’s the neighborhood, the place. This town is full of legends. And you’ve been witness to many of them, whether you want to believe it or not. Your uncle knew them all – he was friendly with all the demons. When he went kind of crazy, they tried to be supportive. You came up here. You know the stories. You know how things work. And you were young enough to care about it. They hadn’t killed you yet. You had life. You had spirit.”

“Spirit? Is that what you call it?”

“Yeah. It is.”

I tried to analyze the ideas in my mind; comprehend what brought us to this point. All I was left with was truth. She’d picked me because I was real. I wasn’t in denial. I wasn’t insane. But that’s not true. My uncle was insane. And I was in a lot of denial about it at the time. I don’t know. Maybe they’re right – maybe I’m not supposed to know. Maybe I’m supposed to always be sheltered. I just don’t understand – it seemed like a one-way situation. Like I was hers, she looked out for me, she dealt with me, she cared and worried and tried…and what did I do for her?

I gave her someone to care about. I gave her someone to look out for. I satisfied her maternal instincts. I don’t know. There had to be something more than this.

“Funeral?”

“Hmm? Oh, Requiem. No. That won’t be necessary. Who’d come?”

“We would.”

“Would we?”

Silence. Doyle would be fuming over this. Somebody would have to pay the piper. Unless it was Doyle’s command in the first place. Wouldn’t that be something? I don’t know. In my mind, things weren’t adding up. Gothik was a liability. But until Doyle gave the word, he wasn’t going anywhere. What was I supposed to think? What was I supposed to do? We were all relatives of legends – we were born and bred into this. We knew all the stories because most of us were part of them in some way. Everyone had started here – sure, the show traveled, but they belonged here. The show. Work. I hadn’t been at either in ages.

I got up off the floor abruptly. I went to my room and changed, despite pain, despite all else. My head felt like it was being torn apart. I wanted to scream out my resistance to this madness. But no scream came. Nothing but tension, nothing but stress and madness. And this. What was this? Where would we go now? Requiem…was dead.

All bets made in flesh.

All prices paid…in blood.

She made a gamble she couldn’t afford. And she cashed in. Lady Luck’s a bitch.




18. Quarantine

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I went to the bar. Serkis would have work to do, so I assumed I might as well start at the most obvious locations. I was off of work for a while. I think. I’ve lost track of time. I couldn’t bring myself to care.

Layne was sitting in the furthest corner, the darkest. Vagrant’s corner. Nobody had dared to sit there, even if the place was packed. He was drinking idly, plucking at the guitar across his knee when the mood struck him. He seemed absorbed in thought, his mind elsewhere. I crept over uneasily and sat down with him. He looked up, smiling. I hadn’t seen him smile in awhile. Or maybe it just seemed like awhile. It had only been a few days. Everything had gone insane in no time. I coughed to try and draw attention. He was in his own world, even though he was looking at me, not the guitar.

“Hey kid, what’s up?”

I looked away from him. “How’s Grey?”

“Just fine. Pride’s a little beat up. Gothik’s command is questionable. He’s back on the streets working, just like before.”

“Where’s Serkis?”

He coughed for a minute. “She went to have a talk with Cassidy.”

“Oh. Um, Layne?”

He looked up completely from the guitar, resting one hand on the top. “Yeah, kid?”

“Um, what’s the deal, with Serkis and Requiem?”

“What do you mean?”

“The two of them could be each other sometimes. I don’t understand. Why don’t they get along as well as they should?”

And he laughed. He laughed long and hard for a bit. He swung the guitar into its case and slung it over his shoulder as he stood up. He reached out an arm, gesturing for me to go with him. And we went for a walk. A walk to nowhere, the same place we all go to.

“What’s the deal with the girls, right?” he questioned. His voice had its old life back to it. He laughed like it was the most obvious thing in the whole world. I couldn’t understand.

“This is going to be a story in itself. But you’re big and bad enough to know it I suppose. If you can take the bumps, you might as well know why.” He looked up at the sky, shook his head and looked at me. “As you found out, the girls came into this because their family couldn’t gamble. They’re sisters.”

“What?” I almost fell over; I felt Layne’s hand on my back to catch me. He laughed harder, that wicked smile on his face.

“You alright there, kid? Should I carry you home?” He laughed in that tone typical of Layne Solace. It made more sense. Layne and his brother. Serkis and her sister. But Serkis wasn’t a family type of gal.

“I don’t understand.”

“Obviously, Serkis is the elder. She taught Requiem all she knew. When Daddy couldn’t pay up, Doyle decided he’d bend favors to suit what was available. He took the girls on. And at a very young age too. Doyle’s a jerk sometimes, but he’s got morals in there somewhere. The girls were real small at the time. I’d like to say neither one of them was over 10 yet. And they grew up with this. They were raised with this. Serkis always had this independent, self-sufficient kind of thing. And she taught it to Requiem. Doyle kept them as sheltered as he could by letting them run simple jobs. For the most part, they didn’t know what they were doing. Someone raised the kids, and Doyle, being the busy man he was leading the gang…I don’t know. They were everybody’s kids. And a gang’s no place for small kids.”

“So that’s why they’re not as close with Cassidy, or at least, why Requiem and her go different ways?”

“Ha, the girl learns. Serkis was always bigger. Always had more strength. So Requiem went the other way. Serkis sided with the distraction, the flashing lights and signs. Requiem stuck to her gang core. Hence the separation when operations moved. Sibling rivalry to the extreme. The very extreme.”

“And the gang took care of them?”

Layne rolled his eye, dropped his voice down. “It’s a man’s world, kid, you know that. There were problems, but nobody talks about them. Doyle beat the shit out of anybody who laid a hand on the girls.”

“And who monitored the man?”

And Layne smiled wider. “The girl learns.”

We walked in silence for a while. I was putting the pieces together. Layne coughed.

“Doyle always liked Serkis better. But she liked me. There was a lot of competition. Requiem interfered as much as she could. She didn’t want Serkis to have anything of her own. As you can see, she didn’t succeed. But there’s always been tension between the three of us.”

“Layne, there’s something else going on here, isn’t there?”

And he smiled at me, wide and fake. “Whatever would make you think something like that? Family’s family.”

“Who killed my uncle?”

And he got very quiet. We walked a few blocks without a word. His body shook, his muscles twitched – but not a word.

“It was Requiem.”

“You promise, and swear…on everything?”

And he looked dead at me and grabbed me. He spun me to face him, locked onto my shoulders. There was a moist appearance to his eyes, but he wasn’t crying. “Don’t ever promise and swear on everything, don’t promise at all, if you’re not prepared to pay up.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Just, trust me.” He was shaking, and his shaking shook me. I knew that him and Serkis had done all kinds of things for each other. Doyle had morals, sure, but he was a gang leader. You don’t live long enough to retire on luck alone. You have to be cold. Heartless – you have to be a damn good businessman. And he knew how to cut a deal. I nodded my consent and Layne let me go. He shook himself off and straightened out again.

“Layne?” I whispered.

“Yeah, kid?” he replied, his voice softer.

“Serkis is up to no good, isn’t she? She’s the most dangerous one of the pair, right?”

And he nodded slowly. “Guys like me, we always get ourselves wrapped up in trouble walking. Otherwise, what’s the point of being big and bad? You’ve got to have something, someone…to show for it.”

And we kept going in silence. I had never had to deal with Layne about important facts, and I only halfway expected him to be honest with me. But I had what I needed to know. Now I had to find Serkis. I had to find the rest of the crew. I had to figure out what the hell was going on here. The show was falling apart – all the balls were in the air, but nobody was paying enough attention to catch them. And the first one would be hitting the ground soon.

We were wandering, talking about whatever came up – the weather, politics, anything. I don’t know how it worked out, but we bumped into Serkis and Cassidy along the way. I don’t know about Layne, but they were a little bit too friendly for my personal tastes. Maybe it’s just me. But there was definitely something amiss. Layne put his arms out.

“Hey angel.”

She smiled her wicked little grin, and sliding away from Cassidy, dove into Layne’s arms. He closed her in and spun her around, like a child. I wanted someone to take a picture, or draw the portrait. The two big bad freaks, the power couple themselves, spinning around like toddlers in a park. Cassidy couldn’t help but laugh. He edged over to stand next to me to watch them. He leaned in to whisper in my ear.

“You okay?”

I nodded, afraid that words would shatter the scene. He edged closer.

“Headache?”

I looked at him, and all he could do was smile. I don’t think he got yelled at loudly enough. Requiem knew. I don’t know what he was trying to pull. I looked at the kids; they were watching us. I tried to smile. Serkis had a grin on her that lacked words. She crept over and swung an arm around me, leaning in to Cassidy.

“And what are you two conspiring about?”

Cassidy smiled real wide, right on cue. “Nothing.”

Serkis’ head tilted toward him, her eyes shining. She knew he was up to no good. What’s more, she might have been up to something worse. Judging from the shine in her eye, conspiracy was definitely in the air. The trend of the season.

“I think we should hold a small family gathering.”

“And who’s going to attend?” Cassidy smirked.

Serkis rolled her eyes like a child. “Oh, I don’t know, you, me, Layne of course, the child,” she looked over at me for once, “Grey, Gothik – if he can behave himself, Pandora…and of course, Requiem.”

Cassidy’s smile never faded. Never wavered even a little bit. He was in step with her perfectly. This was a dance, a game. They were putting on a show. I looked over at Layne. Where was the audience?

Cassidy nodded and wandered off to round up the troops. Serkis gestured for me to join with them, and I did. We went to the bar and told Pandora that there would be a meeting after work. She nodded her consent. She kept most of her words to herself, where they were safe. Locked inside her mind, nobody could judge her. Except herself. And she was her own worst enemy. She inherited the problem.

And information was sent out – the horsemen raced to the four corners of the globe. And they returned with a number of freaks and lunatics; rejects from the asylum, runaways from reality. This was home. This madness and dysfunction. This “family” was ours.

What other family could we go to? This was all we had left. Loose ends were dangerous.

Here is my life. Neatly tied and bound, put on display here for your approval – or my own disapproval.




17. Redrawing Boundaries

I got out to the hallway when Pandora caught up with me. Where she’d been during the entire episode, I’m not sure. Whether she cared or not, I’m not sure. Times were rough, there was a lot going on. If she wasn’t careful, she could have found herself next in line. And I knew it. She grabbed me from behind and walked me out, leading me back to the bar. Who the hell ran it in her absence I might want to check into.

She led me to the back and started fixing things up. Where she learned this, I didn’t ask. Draven was legendary. And you learn all the big stuff from your parents. You are where you come from. She had me patched up in no time flat, with barely a word uttered.

“Why didn’t you stop him?” I muttered when she was done. She glared at me.

“If there was ever anything I learned from my father, it was to know when to act and when to observe. Understanding the difference could keep you alive.”

“And what about the people you care about? You’re supposed to let them die?”

She shook her head nonchalantly. “He wouldn’t have killed you.”

“You were willing to bet my life?” I coughed.

She merely smiled. “Family.”

And she got up and walked away. I sat there for a while, getting used to the new pain, pain that would ultimately heal. It was merely physical. But the emotional pain, the forfeit of my trust…that would be impossible to replace. What’s done is done. I had proof – I would have a scar. Family. Cute. What family shoots its members? Or kills its elders? I needed to talk to Serkis. Direct. No more interference. But I was too tired to find her tonight. Enough had gone on, I was in enough pain. Update on everyone’s location later.

For lack of better words, I went home and slept. Home being above the bar somewhere. Or so I think. I went to sleep because the world had stopped making sense. I went to sleep because I had enough of this madness. I went to sleep because logic and reason were dead. I went to sleep to dream. I went to sleep to hope. I went to sleep to lose myself. I went to sleep to lose this nightmare. I went to sleep to pretend. I went to sleep to sleep. I went to sleep to start again. Renewal, tradition, continuation – that is the only unbreakable source.

And its primary agents?

Life. And death.

I slept soundly. Not without guilt or pain, but as soundly as one might expect. I woke up and changed. I couldn’t use my arm it hurt that badly. I would learn to deal. Do or die, right? There’s not much you can do to change the present. It’s always too late.

I swear, nobody in this crew knocks or uses doors like normal people. Serkis was hanging out at the table with a cup of coffee, browsing the newspaper idly. I don’t think I get the news – she must have brought it herself. She had a cup set out for me across from her. I sat down after I’d changed, feeling very…out of place. How I could feel out of place in my own home, I don’t know. Life’s weird as all hell.

“Hey kid, how’s the arm?” She didn’t even have to look up from the paper.

“I might ask the same of you.”

She shrugged, although the gesture was uneven, she didn’t care. She was in pain. There was no sling, nothing to hold her arm where it should have been. She turned the pages idly.

“We have to talk,” I muttered. She looked up at me, taking only a moment’s glance.

“What about?” she replied. Her voice was very sing-song, as if she honestly didn’t have a clue. Like a child pretending that they weren’t home when the vase broke. That clueless gaze.

“This. Everything. Max. My uncle.”

She shrugged again. Oh man, Serkis graduated charm school with honors. She was a pro at this, and after this long in the game, I’d be disappointed otherwise.      

You never could be sure about the inner workings of Serkis. She was definitely a study in herself most of the time. She killed Max – there was no two ways around it. And she knew it. She knew that she couldn’t smile her way around the truth. But my uncle, that was another story. What was the point of killing him anyway?

“What makes you think your uncle was killed?”

“People just don’t stop breathing for no reason.”

She smiled that typical wicked grin. “Sometimes.”

“Why?”

She leaned back in the chair, taking a sip from the cup. She looked at me idly. She didn’t care, or she wanted it to seem that way.

“What makes you think I would have killed the old man?”

“There’s only one killer in this family.”

She raised an eyebrow and leaned closer to me. “That so? Says who?”

“Doyle.”

And she laughed. Serkis let out such a wicked laugh that I could feel my skin crawl across the table. I wanted to get up and walk out. I wanted to cry. She was laughing and all I could feel was this pain. Nothing more. But I’d stick it out. Because I was the child. Because I was hers. And she was mine.

“Big Daddy, huh? And he knows everything, does he? The man himself. He would never be led astray, right? If he was so clever, he’d know it’s always better to have a backup.”

“Who?”

“This’ a family. You’re growing up on me, kid. Coming into your own. It’s about time you learned the rules. It’s about time you learned to play the game, before it kills you. There are limits. There are always limits. And to get ahead, you learn from the best. The very best.”

“Who?”

“You get right to the point, don’t you?” She laughed. She found it all hilarious. It was all a show. They were right. Just a show. And she was having a ball. It was her show, after all. Serkis Draft.

“Who?”

“Who do you think?” she whispered, her eyes lowered to my own. I shook out my confusion. She smiled wider.

“Nobody’s going to give you all the answers all the time. You’ve got to think every so often, no matter how hard it hurts. Come on, you’re a bright kid, I know you can figure it out.”

“Requiem?”

“Ha, clever gal. Can we give the girl a prize?” Serkis’ smile never faltered, she held the cup to her lips and sipped quietly. She held all the cards – I had to play the game how she wanted to get ahead. And she knew I had caught on. You have to play by the rules. Or else you forfeit.

“I don’t understand.”

“Allow me to enlighten you – your uncle was, no offense, crazy. That man was half a set short of a full deck. But he tried. Max screwed up. And your uncle started slipping up. He didn’t want to play anymore. We tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t have it. Requiem took it upon herself to make drastic changes. Doyle beat the hell out of her for it later, but your uncle was already dead. There’s no changing the finite. She learned from the best. But she still screwed up. And we were there to clean up for her.”

“Family, right?” I coughed.

“Yeah. Family. It goes both ways, Hun. I’m sorry for what happened, but we still have us. And we have a lot of damage to be fixing.”

“What do you want from me?” I whispered.

She edged closer to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “Loyalty. Nothing more than devotion. Stick with me kid and things will work out just fine. You’ll see. Every dog gets its day…unless it’s able to run faster.”

“And Requiem?”

Serkis got up, all sweet and slow. And she narrowed her eyes at me and helped me out of my chair. “That dog is getting put to sleep.”

And she winked in her evil little way, and she was gone. I stood around considering my options, thinking about what to do with the rest of my day. Requiem was getting out of hand. I needed to learn how or why. Serkis was the only one who could provide such information.

Or Layne.

Because Doyle doesn’t play fair.




16. General Unrest

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The story I got was this.

Serkis went, with Layne, to talk to Max. The talk didn’t go over well. Layne stepped out for a smoke. In the time he was gone, the conversation became physical. Shots were fired. He rushed in to find his father on the ground bleeding out and Serkis curled up elsewhere. He pulled her up and took off. Word traveled fast. On their way out, they bumped into Cassidy on his way around. He figured out what happened, called Requiem. She went over and cleaned up the mess. Cassidy, figuring his job halfway done, takes a walk over to Doyle. Doyle is in the middle of a “talk” with Gothik – a talk involving fists. He bursts in and delivers the news. Doyle’s given no order for this kind of thing. Naturally, he freaks out. Cassidy is sent to the bar, told to act natural and to tell Pandora. A call is made to Requiem to check her status – she’s still cleaning bloodstains. Doyle’s fuming at this point. He puts a call in. He wants Serkis brought in. Layne talks her into going. Gothik is carted away, laughing like a fiend. He’s locked somewhere for the time being, until we could deal with him properly. And Serkis arrives at Doyle’s around the same time I arrived at the bar. Layne was told to wait outside, which he did. The boy had been shaking for ages. He was given something to calm his nerves, told to sit down and be patient. He tried.

Doyle and Serkis had an interesting talk. Layne waited there until Requiem showed up, and she escorted him home and told him not to worry. Serkis is a big girl and can take care of herself. Serkis didn’t leave until sometime late the next morning, wearing half of Doyle’s clothes and an interesting collection of bruises. Her decisive nature cost her, and she put out. From what I heard from the crew, her ribs were in sore shape, her back, naturally her arm – but she could walk. She could operate all right. She’d grin and bear it, and she would survive. She’d charmed her way out of the worst of it. We all knew what kind of charms she’d employed too. She walked out of there though. She wasn’t helped out. She wasn’t carried out or wheeled out. She walked. Of her own free will.

Requiem told me all of this before I dozed off to sleep. She was the busiest of the bunch. The show was on a touch and go basis – the crowd mostly took care of itself these days. I went to sleep when I got home and stayed out for a while. Gothik would be kept away for a while; Doyle had fixed him as promised. And Cassidy probably got a tongue lashing too. I should explain to them that I asked him, that it was my decision, not his. At some point.

The first reunion we all had as a family was Max’s funeral. Who told me about the funeral in the first place is beyond me. But I got there somehow. Serkis was covered, or as much of her as she could manage. The bruises were hidden, but Layne held her close anyway. There was pain in his eyes. Whether it was from his father’s loss, his girl’s unfeeling nature…the family’s torn status…nobody knew. He held her to him though, as if she could disappear at any given moment. Requiem and Cassidy stood side by side, wrapped in each other. Pandora and Doyle were the same. Gothik stood on the sidelines, some of Doyle’s lackeys on his sides. He’d lost control, he’d lost grasp of what mattered. Doyle would have common sense beaten back into him. At some rate. And I was there, in my own little world. Miles away from all of this.

It was a police funeral, standard style. Doyle had an appointment with important officials about the investigation. Serkis slept with him to secure her innocence. No matter how close they got, Doyle would do anything and everything for her. It was in stone now, no maybe, no arguing. I wondered if Pandora knew. I wondered if she cared. Look at her father. She shouldn’t have morals…yet she’s the most upright of the crew. It all added up, and yet, it didn’t. And here we stand. Does it matter anymore? What happened to the simple illusion we started with?

It changed. Into the illusion of family.

We all parted after the funeral, going our separate ways. I never felt so alone in my life, turning to walk away. I hadn’t lost respect for any of them – they did what had to be done. Except maybe for Gothik…Art. He was better than this. He was more than this. I couldn’t bring myself to go to any of them; I just walked away. What more could I do? Nothing. Not a damn thing.

I got home when it was dark. I was soaked, cold, tired, shaking. All I wanted was to go back to sleep. I walked in, emptying my pockets as I went. I stood to watch the puddle collect under the change and keys. Oh well. I kept going. I was almost to my room when there was a knock at the door. Turn around, opened up. Hello Layne. Hello Serkis.

She crept in first, with Layne’s hands planted on her shoulders from behind. He pushed her in gently, but still with authority. He closed the door behind them, pushing her again, this time into a chair to sit down. I was still soaked. Layne looked me up and down.

“Cold?”

I shook my head, water still streaming down my back from my hair. I was shivering – I could feel it. Serkis’ eyes were pinned to the ground. Layne was standing at her side, staring on patiently. I nodded and moved off to the bedroom to change. They would sit there and wait for me. I knew they would. And I didn’t care. I took my time.

I came back out and like I said, they were where I left them. I found myself a place to sit down. Serkis wouldn’t be talking – I could see that from her expression. Layne tried to make himself comfortable.

“We want you to understand what happened.”

“Why?”

He looked down. “We’re a family. Remember?”

“Cute. Wicked cute family.”

“My father wasn’t the best man. He wasn’t exactly what you thought he was. He had issues. I know you liked him and he seemed nice enough, but there was more to him than meets the eye.”

“I know. Grey told me.”

“Grey is a street demon. He lives in his own world. He says what he has to and he survives. He’s learning his own lessons. He likes to cause trouble.”

“And you’re going to set the record straight?”

“Yeah. I am. My father was going to get caught. He was buying. Why is still unknown, and will remain as such. Mom left when he made the deal. He was in business with Grey’s crew, which is Doyle’s crew. And they started catching up to him. They needed to be repaid. So they gave me up. My father had them come take me from my bed. I met Serkis the night they came to claim me. She came in, smiled, kept me distracted – and a few guys dragged me out. They tried everything and I wouldn’t go. They tried to make me a fighter, a dealer, all manner of things. Nothing would work. Serkis charmed Doyle into letting me live. The deal was done, they couldn’t go back after my father for it. I resented him for it anyway. We traveled and I learned to adapt. This was my new life, my new home. And I came to love it.”

“Love’s a funny little concept.”

He took a few steps and sat down next to me. This was the most he’d ever spoken to me, continuously. I edged away.

“I was stolen from my life. From stability. And thrown into a world of drugs, sex, crime…you name it and it was going on. And the crew traveled, far away from here. And when I came back, I wasn’t me anymore. And nothing mattered except Serkis. She helped me through. She was brought into this like I was, only younger. Her family sold her into this as well. Her father couldn’t pay for his…risks either. Requiem came in the same way. Most of us did. And you kick and scream and fight. And they beat the resistance out of you. And you deal. You do what you have to. You survive. Only the foolish ones came into this willingly.”

Serkis and Requiem had similar morals, it was easy to figure out which one was the teacher of the other. That’s why they mirrored each other. The pieces started to add up. Serkis taught Requiem everything she knew. And in return, Requiem tried to break free of the traveling show. And she was punished for it. She didn’t come back – she was brought back. And she had the bruises to prove it, artfully covered.

I sat in silence. There were no words to say. Doyle had Grey and Gothik locked away. Grey would be free now, allowed to walk around – if he could. He’d learned his lesson. For his freedom, Layne had promised them his loyalty. His contract was nearly out. His renewal, his promise to damnation had been his brother’s salvation.

What was I supposed to say? What was I supposed to do? Max was dead. He had been like a father to me. My uncle was dead. Max was dead. Who let these kids loose?

“Who killed my uncle?”

Layne coughed, Serkis did too. They thought the little girl wasn’t paying attention. They figured that they give me enough and I’d never see the truth. If they shined enough lights at me, they could slip right by. But I was a step ahead of them. I had been for a while.

“You both heard me. Who killed him? And why.”

“What are you talking about, don’t be ridiculous. Your uncle died naturally,” Layne’s words were mocking in their own little way. I shook him off.

“No. There was nothing physically wrong with my uncle and you damn well know it. Someone helped him lose his breath. Someone stopped his heart for him. I want to know. Now. While we’ve got all the cards on the table.”

“We can’t get involved. That’s a game you’ll have to play with the man.”

“That so?” I got up off the couch and moved to the door. Serkis jumped up and grabbed hold of me. She held my arm hard, my coat clenched in my hand.

“Don’t.”

“Why not?”

She was bruised and in pain, it was obvious from her motions. More than pride was hurt here, though that was included. Layne moved over to her.

“He doesn’t play fair.”

I smiled at her. “Nobody does.” I pushed her off and went out the door. They let me go. Enough was enough – I wanted the rest of it. They wouldn’t save me, wouldn’t stop me now. I would always be the child, and they’d always be there to catch me or help me up if I needed it. But I had to learn. And they knew it. I had to experience it and see how things turned out. I had to learn on my own. I had to fall and scrape my knee to know what blood feels like. What it tastes like. Experience is the ultimate teacher.

I don’t know why I bothered changing – I was soaked again in record time. It was a trip to Doyle’s. He was parental over me because I was the child. But I was 18 years old. I was big and bad enough to decide for myself. And I would.

I went to Doyle’s. I climbed the stairs and knocked on the door. I would decide. I would get the story and it would work out. No matter the cost. As expected – Pandora answered.

“Is he in?” I muttered. She nodded and stepped away, closing the door quietly. I moved in. Doyle was sitting at a table with a few lackeys having a talk. Gothik was among them. They all got up and addressed me. Doyle waved them all away, holding the girl back.

“Look who it is, come on in, angel. My friend here has something to tell you, don’t you boy?” Doyle pushed Gothik forward, a hand digging into his shoulder.

Gothik stepped over to me, head slightly hanging down. “I’m sorry,” he muttered. Doyle dug his fingers in harder. “And it’ll never happen again…under pain of death.” Doyle let go.

“That-a boy. Everything’s all fixed up. You’ve got a show to run, go to it.” He pushed him in Pandora’s direction – she promptly let him out. He grinned at me wickedly on his way out the door. Doyle stepped closer.

“Now, what brings you out this far all by yourself?”

“I want the truth. No more games.”

“That’s a bold request.”

“Doyle. The truth.”

He heaved a sigh and waved Pandora out of the room. She left without a word of complaint or question. He gestured that I sit down, which I did. He sat down at my side.

“You grew up a lot with the group, I’ll give you that. You’re not the kid we all like to think you are. A lot’s going on, and I’m sorry for it. You can’t control people. You can’t pen them in or make them jump through hoops for you. That’s just how it goes.”

“Stop stalling. Who killed my uncle?”

“So that’s what brings you to me?”

I glared at him. “What did you think brought me here?”

He shrugged nonchalantly, settling back in his chair. “He died. What am I supposed to tell you? You know the story better than anyone.”

“That’s the point, all it was is a story.”

“Can you prove otherwise?”

“Can you?”

And he smiled that wide grin, leaning over the table toward me. I leaned over to get closer to him. I reached down and pulled the gun out of his waistband, hidden neatly under the tabletop. I pushed the barrel to his knee.

“Are you willing to swear that what you told me was the truth?”

“What are you going to do about it? What makes you think I’d leave a loaded gun where you could reach it?”

“Are you trying to tell me that a smart fellow like you would walk around with an empty gun in reach? In times like these? I could do a fair piece of damage from here. Now. The truth.”

“What do you think happened?”

“I think someone helped him stop breathing.”

He winked at me. “The girl learns.”

“I don’t have all night.”

And Doyle smiled, sitting back in the chair. “I do.”

I clicked the safety off and pushed harder. “There’s more important things I could shoot at, Mr. Merrick.”

“Now, now, kid. Pulling out the big names, talking tough. You’re not ready for this game.”

“Willing to bet something important?”

He smiled, leaned low, and flipped the table out of the way. He jumped up, pulled me forward, turned me around and pulled the gun from me. I was being held with my back to his chest. He put it to my head.

“Don’t come here and pull out the big guns if you can’t take the shot.”

“You wouldn’t kill me.”

And he laughed, kissing me on the cheek. “No, I suppose I wouldn’t.” He pushed me away from him and put the gun to my upper arm and fired. I yelled out but he held me up.  He held me against him.

“Now, like I said, you have to be ready to pay up. You’re a bit young for this. You’ll always be the child. Your uncle was a danger to the operations. We did everything for him. Provided anything and everything. And it wasn’t enough. So we had to get rid of him.”

“Who?”

“Come on kid, you don’t want to play the game. You’re bleeding all over me. Call it quits and you can go home.”

“Who?” I yelled, trying to stay standing. Blood ran down my arm.

Doyle held on tighter and put his face next to mine. “We’ve only got one killer in this family. So much easier to take care of, just in case.” And he kissed me on the cheek and shoved me away. I lurched away from him and spun around, tripping over the table. I landed flat on my back, holding my arm, looking up at him.

“She wouldn’t.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t she? The things we do to stay ahead. Like I said, you have to be ready to pay the price. You draw the short straw – you pay up. Don’t roll the dice if you can’t pay. She drew a card, she wanted something she couldn’t have.”

“What was that?”

He smiled. “Don’t you know? Layne.”

“I don’t understand.”

“He worked for me. Nothing goes on that I don’t know about. Nothing at all. He was mine, by accordance of Max’s agreement. He worked for me. But he was rebellious. They both were. They wanted each other’s freedom to each other. They wanted me to allow them to work together, exclusively. No more games. She would only be his and he hers. That’s all they ever wanted. It’s been my trump for years. My ace up my sleeve for an eternity. Understand, child?”

I had started to stumble up off the floor – he helped me.

“This is a family. We preach devotion, absolute, without limits. We are a business as well. A show. But always a family. Family first.” He helped me up and pushed me toward the door. “Go home. Go to sleep. We’ll talk more tomorrow if you want. I can come to you if you want, you’re the child after all.”

I nodded my consent. I had a headache. I didn’t care. I just wanted to go home. He watched me stagger away. “And kid?”

“Yeah?” I said, turning to see him. He held the gun still. He aimed and fired at me. Blank. I didn’t even blink.

“Careful, the big dogs don’t play fair. And the bite hurts like hell. Might want to check and make sure you’re up to date on your shots.”

“Yes sir.”

And I left.

Game. Set. And point.

But to which side?