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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.

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