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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?

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