Martin unlocked the basement door, revealing a room I’d never been to before. A wooden bunker filled with guns and ammo. A thin layer of sawdust covered the entire floor.
Rifles lined the walls neatly. Cases, no doubt holding more weapons, were stacked almost as high as the ceiling. I had no idea why Martin kept this from me. He grabbed two silver cases and directed me to do the same. My eyes and hands were drawn to a shotgun. I put the butt of the gun to my shoulder and aimed it at the empty wall.
“Too bulky, Bruce. Put that away.”
“I thought we were going for intimidation. If we all walk in with big guns, make demands, they’ll have no choice but to listen to us and take us seriously.”
“We’re gonna leave, take someone, and not get noticed. That’s the idea.” His voice shook with mania as he overloaded his arms with another case and made his way upstairs. I took the shotgun anyway. Martin already told me that shooting people was a last resort for his gang, but how could he truly believe that if he had a full bunker of guns? He just collected them for fun?
“What if we took them out? All of them. One night. Boom.”
“No,” he stated in a clear, dark voice. It wasn’t like we were short on ammo. We had enough to start a small war.
“Because if we do, they’ll pummel us. We’d be the ones in the wrong. The one’s on the attack. Put that back.” Reluctantly, I put the shotgun back with the rest.
“But we already are. We’re stealing one of them.”
“Yes, but they have Felicia.”
No they didn’t.
“How exactly do you plan on doing this?” I asked. His intense, wide eyes made me take a step back. I couldn’t remember the last time I spent more than a few minutes alone with Martin. There was still a creeping possibility that he knew all along that me and Joe were the reason his wife was dead. It sort of put a dampener on our partnership.
“I plan on stealthily taking the first one I find. If push comes to shove, I’m armed to defend myself. It should be a quick and painless matter. It’s possible they’re keeping her somewhere… Tomorrow, I’ll let them know we have one of them. Then we’ll get her back. Seamless.” Tears filled his eyes. “I could have her back as soon as tomorrow.”
I wanted to roll my eyes at his mad thoughts but gave a consoling pat to his shoulder instead. Maybe telling him the truth would be less painful… No it wouldn’t.
Aside from me, he could only get two of his least reluctant gangsters to go along with his plan and drove to the Patrick’s castle. Jack sat next to me. His knees jumped in the seat. He was too tall for the car and when I glanced up at him, he smiled nervously back.
“Have you guys ever done anything like this?” I whispered. He sighed, rubbed his hands together and looked silently in the other direction. I took that as a no. Judging from Martin’s mania and Jack’s anxiousness, this was not a regular part of the job description.
I knew Martin was holding me back from aspects in his gang. As if to save my innocent child mind. I’d been drugdealing since I was ten. Not much would surprise me. But I seriously doubted hostage exchanges happened every day if ever at all.
The terrain was rocky as we got closer to the castle rather than the smooth-ish pavement in the city. The tires against the gravel made the slightly incriminating crackly sound as Martin snuck up to the estate. He parked under the safe shade of a tree around the corner and turned the ignition off ever so slowly with a barely audible click. As if turning the key inside the car would be what got us caught.
The man sitting next to Martin loaded his gun and turned back to me and Jack with a smirk. I could understand why Jack would want to come. He was a kiss ass. But this other guy, I was sure only came for an opportunity to shoot someone.
“Name’s Ezekiel. I heard of you. The druggie-kid, right?” he said with a laugh and scratched his chin with a gun. I could hear my father’s words ringing in my ears. Never point a gun at your face! Martin was crazy for doing this and crazier for allowing someone like him on his team.
“He works with politicians to keep their names clean,” Martin explained. Ezekiel slapped Martin’s back and they both laughed as if at some sort of invisible joke. “He’s one of the best.”
“Blackmail?” I asked. They both went silent, but I was still interested. I didn’t want to stay stuck mapping out drug routes for the rest of my life. Blackmail seemed more personable and not as stale. Silence was broken by more loud laughter. I tried to laugh along but didn’t see what was funny. Jack remained silent.
“When we go in, no more joking around, alright?” Martin asked. He coughed and chuckled one last time. We got out and mirrored Martin’s movements. He shut the car door like it was made of thin glass. We all did the same. We walked in the soft grass because it was quieter. He handed me a ski mask after putting one on himself.
I didn’t normally get nervous on the job, but my heart thudded hard in my ears. It made it difficult to understand Martin’s instructions. As if he gave any clear instructions at all.
We made it to a hedge a few meters from the porch when he started tasking us with different things.
“Jack, I need you to be the one who restrains and brings our captive back to the car.” He handed Jack a roll of duct tape and some rope.
“You want me to hogtie someone?”
Martin smiled and gave a slight nod. He gave Ezekiel specific instructions not to kill anyone but to be on the constant defensive. All this while going through his case and deciding which gun he wanted.
“And of course, Bruce. Why did I bring you along again?”
“I can search for Felicia while I’m here,” I said. Martin smiled with watery eyes.
“I know you boys were close to her. It gives me peace of mind to know someone like you is on her side. Be on the lookout and find her,” he said softly while handing me a pistol. I already had a gun. I always kept it with me. I took the extra gun anyway and tried to smile as sincerely as I could even though I was annoyed. They were going to wipe the floor with the four of us. We were intruding on their property with the intent on stealing one of them. Martin had a bunker of weapons, but the Patricks’ specialized in it.
Ezekiel grabbed more mags, complaining that we didn’t have long guns with us. We would if Martin didn’t make me put mine back. With Ezekiel’s arm around Martin’s shoulder, they walked on while Jack stopped me.
“Someone’s got to keep him from going in there,” he whispered. The ski mask he was wearing threw me off and I couldn’t take him seriously. He looked so ridiculous.
“Go ahead and try. You’re twice his size.”
“He’s my boss and I’d like to get paid tomorrow. I also don’t want to get killed tonight.”
Without a second thought, I made a promise. “If we don’t die but Martin fires you, I promise you’ll have a job with me.”
“I just don’t want to kill anyone. Ever since Felicia ran away, Martin’s lost it. You know, now that I think of it, he was a little controlling over her. If I were married to him, I’d run away too. But she just got what she always wanted… Why?” Jack was trying to figure it out, but I interrupted him before he could think much further.
“Women,” I scoffed. “Can’t keep them, can’t find them when they run away. When we’re done here, do you think we can get some hot breakfast and coffee?”
“If we survive, coffee in the morning for you and Joe.”
I watched as both the men snuck inside. Ezekiel held the door open while Martin went in first. Jack crouched down behind a hedge with his rope and tape still in his hands.
“You’re not going in?”
“I’m not helping him get himself killed,” Jack stated, finally confident in his decision. Giving him less man power only made him outgunned and didn’t aid him in the slightest.
“Coward,” I mouthed, too afraid to say it out loud. I took the roll of duct tape and rope and reached for my pocket gun, doublechecking that it was still there. Reassured, I was able to go inside. Still, leaving Jack’s side was like leaving a protective barrier against the world. To think that he was choosing now to not be there for me burned just a little.
Inside, I didn’t see Martin or Ezekiel anywhere. I crept close to the wall, doing my best not to bump into anything in the almost complete darkness. I could make out silhouettes of objects, but nothing was clear. My hands prodded the room looking for a light switch. When I finally found one and flicked it on, there was a table full of people. They were drunk and passed out but I made a quick turn out of there. Only to bump into someone else.
“I couldn’t let you go in alone,” Jack whispered while crouching down. He pushed me in the opposite direction from the table of passed out Patricks while he turned the light back off. We hid behind the stairs, rope and duct tape still in my hands. The stairs only gave us cover from above.
“Remind me to promote you when we get home,” I said. I was relieved to have my wall again but still kind of mad that he didn’t walk in with me in the first place.
Above me, I heard unfamiliar footsteps. It could be Ezekiel. I didn’t know him well enough to memorize his foot patterns yet. I clutched my gun to my chest and took a deep breath. I should’ve taken Martin’s Thunderbird and left him to fend for himself. I should’ve talked him out of coming here in the first place.
As soon as the stranger turned the corner and looked at my masked face, I didn’t hesitate. My fingers tensed around the gun, including the trigger and I shot a Patrick point blank in the face. A disgusting amount of blood splattered on me and I was for once grateful that I was wearing a mask. Still, some of the blood soaked into the fabric of my mask and shirt.
“Bruce!” was all Jack could manage to yell. It wasn’t a scold. It was worse. It was the voice of disappointment. Someone must’ve heard the gunshot or Jack’s yelling because lights turned on.
Martin zipped around the corner. His face was first inquisitive until his eyes landed on the dead body bleeding out on the marble floor. Then Martin was angry. He glared at the gun in my hand and pursed his lips.
“Now you’ve done it,” he said. He shook his own gun at me like he was wagging a judgmental finger.
“It was me!” Jack defended. He stepped in front of me and created a protective shadow. From the table of passed out drunks, came angry men. After seeing the dead guy on the floor, they seemed to sober up slightly and wanted a fight. I was able to kick the first one and he drunkenly tumbled away but there was too many after that. Jack protected me from the rest. At the sight of him, they ran off. Probably to warn others or get better weapons.
Through the same door that I walked in, three armed Patricks barged through. Jack hooked his arm around my stomach and carried me past the stairs as shots were fired.
Ezekiel barreled down the stairs, hollered something incoherent, then ran back up. I pushed myself off Jack so I could fire at the Patricks. I ran back to the slight cover of the stairs where Martin met back up with me. I could hardly look at him, I hated him so much.
I felt a breathtaking burn in my shoulder. I realized quickly that I was shot and held it. The warm wet feeling that trickled down my arm coupled with the excruciating pain made me scream. Before Martin could react, Jack pulled me back again. I felt another one go through my leg. The panic of not making it out alive set in and I might’ve overreacted.
“Martin! You little bitch! You did this to me!” I shrieked as loud as I could.
There was a crash and then a thud that seemed to stop the world for a moment. Ezekiel had fallen over the banister on the stairs and fell to the hard ground. I was doubtful he was still alive.
Martin fired off the rest of his ammo then booked it out the other end of the castle. Jack followed, carrying me as if I were a doll. I was dropped haphazardly in the back of the car while Martin drove off like a maniac.
“Oh, no. Oh, no,” Jack repeated over and over until the words lost meaning. I was always terrified of being shot. As if it would be the end of me. It by far, wasn’t pleasant, but wasn’t nearly as deathly painful as I imagined. Jack seemed to freak out more than me.
“This is what happens when you behave recklessly, Martin!” Jack yelled while putting immense pressure on my leg wound. It was as if he wanted to pinch my leg off.
“What are you? My mother!” Martin screamed from the front.
“Blood is so gross,” I whispered. I wanted to yell, just to match the atmosphere, but I felt too weak to do it. Jack exhaled on an exhausted laugh while he shook his head.
“Yeah. It is. Are you putting pressure on that arm?”
My hand was sticky but it was still difficult to keep my hand on my arm. It was difficult to stay awake. Jack started shaking me and my eyes shot open.
“Am I going to die?” I asked with a croaky voice.
“Don’t be so dramatic, Bruce. You’ll never die,” he answered me seriously. I just felt so sleepy. With his words, I drifted off.
I woke up to Joe tapping on my arm bandage. When I turned to glance at him, he flinched away and stared at me with big eyes. He shrunk back in his smallness and stayed silent. Somehow, my arm and leg were sorer than they were originally.
“How long have I been out?”
“A million years,” Joe said mystically. If I had the energy, I’d hit him.
“I’m being serious you moron!”
“It’s felt like a million years is all I’m saying!”
“Two days,” Jack said from the shadows with a grimy looking man beside him. His glasses were the thickest I’d ever seen and his face and hands had a visible layer of filth. His clothes, I would guess, hadn’t been washed in the better half of a century. Amazing. He matched the rest of the city.
“That’s Dr. Frankenstein!” Joe stated excitedly, pointing his little hand at the nasty man. I prayed to any God that doctor was a playful term and no one gave him a degree.
“We call him Benny for short. He fixed you up,” Jack said with a smile. He patted Benny on the shoulder and I wanted to throw up.
“We call him Dr. Frankenstein because he can give you body parts and stuff,” Joe whispered. “I asked him for a robot arm and he said next Christmas.” I didn’t mind him filling my brother with childish ideas. I did mind someone like him treating me, though.
“Are you an independent doctor or are you part of Martin’s gang?”
“I’m mostly independent. Although, a good portion of my income comes from gang related operations. Not that Martin has a gang anymore.”
I sat up, pushing up on my good arm. Jack supported my back. I wanted to shoo him away but didn’t have the energy.
“What do you mean Martin doesn’t have a gang anymore?”
“With Ezekiel presumed dead and you shot up like this, he still wanted to go back there and look for her. Surprisingly… I suppose the better word is unfortunately, no one wants to work under a madman. I tossed your name into the ring. Everyone’s sort of disbanded. It’s almost like I’ve lost my family.” His words drifted off as he spoke despairingly. What did he want me to do? Become Martin?
“What does Martin think?”
“He’s sorry you got hurt. Paid for the whole thing.” His eyes wandered up to an IV bag that was stained yellow. I hadn’t noticed it before and when I did, I wished I hadn’t. I pulled the thick needle from my numb wrist.
“I don’t like Martin,” Joe said seriously with his little arms crossed.
“He got you hurt. I told him we don’t work for him no more and he just laughed. But I’m really mad.”
“He laughed because you can’t make those calls. But you’re right. We’re done working for him.”
I drove Joe to school but spoke seriously with Jack afterwards. Obviously, the gang was never going to be the same ever again. There was no doubt about that. But even I knew you couldn’t just quit a gang.
“What if I got rid of everything else except for the drugs and the warehouse and ran the gang that way?”
“Someone needs to offer job security to everyone else or they’re gonna kill the both of you.”
I hadn’t even considered it. But I couldn’t hire everyone. I wasn’t even sure who everyone was.
“What exactly does the gang entail? The whole truth. Don’t try to cover anything up.”
“Coke, you know that. Prostitutes and dancers at the club. Although, technically, they’re waitresses and what adults choose to do in their free time is their business.” Jack stared at me as if he was waiting for me to ask something. I had long suspected that there was some sort of prostitution ring in Martin’s gang.
“There’s the Midnight USPS. Code for blackmail basically. It’s stupid. We made it up when we were kids—”
“That! I want to do that! Teach me how to do Midnight USPS!”
“It’s simple. It’s a trade with something you want for not doing something the other person doesn’t want. For example, in exchange for eleven thousand dollars a month, we’ll refrain from giving away compromising photos of a certain politician.”
“And who takes the photos?”
“We hire people. Ezekiel was one of the best.”
We spoke until Joe was done with school. I had no idea how expansive it all was. I wouldn’t be surprised if half the city was employed by Martin.
When the herd of children was let out of the school building, I could immediately pick Joe’s big smiley face out of the crowd. He got in and sat shoulder to shoulder with me, squeezing between the two of us. Normally, Joe would take the whole back seat to himself.
“What’s your deal, stupid?” I asked and nudged him away. I was surprised that he didn’t start crying.
“I just missed you picking me up is all.”
How could I be mad at that? I ruffled his hair with my good hand and went home to the warehouse. I was surprised to see it packed with people. Some I didn’t even recognize. I self-consciously straightened my jacket and rolled my shoulders back. I wore a tough face to compensate for how young I looked. The more that people took me seriously, the better. There had to be at least a hundred of them all crammed in my warehouse. Normally I was good at reading a room, but I couldn’t tell what was going on. No one was working on packaging and it was too early for anyone to be in and working anyway. It was a supreme waste of time.
“We heard Martin made a million dollars off of you. Jack was convincing with his case and talked us all into seeing you. Also, we want you to show us how to be millionaires.” David said. I’d met him once or twice, but I still couldn’t tell if I should expect a congratulations from them or an attack.
“I don’t like talking about money so openly like this but it wasn’t just a million.”
Behind me, the doors blew open and Martin barged in. At least half of them drew their guns and I did the same. Martin had his gun drawn and pointed at me. He’d never before given me any reason to believe that he’d really hurt me. But I knew that even with all the guns in that warehouse, no shots would be fired. It was the only thing that distinguished the Patricks from the Martin Gang. It made me an outsider.
“You’re a murderer!” he yelled and I held my breath. I held Joe close just in case.
“You killed Ezekiel,” Jack rebutted at Martin. Joe growled and I covered his mouth. I didn’t need him going six-year-old beast mode killer on someone.
“It was Bruce! He did it! You all weren’t there! Bruce is a murderer!”
Everyone was silent. Guns were still on him. The last thing I wanted was to see Martin hurt. With my fresh wounds, I knew exactly what a gunshot felt like.
“Martin, I think you need a break. You’re not thinking straight. No one can blame you for that. I think we can all agree that, given the circumstances, you shouldn’t be running a gang.”
Without my knowledge of where it came from, Joe pointed a handgun at Martin. “I’ll kill you if you ever go near my brother ever again,” he snarled, the gun in his little hands. I hated the sight. To have a gun was one thing, but to threaten a sick man was another. I didn’t make him take back his words though.
Martin’s face of betrayal was painful to watch. He backed up to the heavy doors and reached for the handle with one hand, still holding his gun up to us.
“After all I did for you? I saved you from the streets! I saw something in you, Bruce!”
I said nothing but watched him leave and when he was gone, I put a bar across the door’s handles.
“You don’t need me to make money or keep you employed. I’ll run the coke business, same as usual, but you don’t need me.”
“But we’re a gang!” someone shouted from the back. I couldn’t see them.
“If one of us suffers one week, the rest of us pick up the slack. That’s how it works! We can’t do it on our own. It’s not a very secure business!” David yelled, his hands running wild as he spoke.
“And what exactly do you do?”
“I’m an artist,” he stated proudly. I was confused. How did he fit in? He rolled his eyes. “Scam artist, alright. We already trashed Martin’s house, he’ll never be able to live in it comfortably again. If you want the job, it’s yours, alright? I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of a kid your age being in charge of a gang of men, but maybe that could work in our favor. Who’d arrest a kid on thug charges, eh?”
“A police officer,” I scoffed. A low laugh passed through the crowd. “If none of you threaten to kill me for losing my mind, I’ll help you out with your gang. Fore Gang. Patricks are our strongest competition and they unite under a family name. Are we any different? If it’s my gang, it should have my last name because we’re all family. Are we not?”
I was expecting some kind of agreement, but they all just stared at me. I was afraid I lost them. Jack started clapping and everyone followed. It was a wonderful feeling. The greatest painkiller I found over the years was mass appreciation.
Part 6 coming Thursday