Are we sure we want to be doing this without Twitch?
I think that’s part of the test, maybe?
What do you mean?
I mean they gave the task to us, and he didn’t tag along.
Thanks. But maybe it is a little about proving that we can be useful without needing him to hold our hand? So we should at least be able to get to the place without needing an escort.
Right. So quit stalling and let’s do the thing.
Kid emerged from a bathroom at the far end of one of the lower levels of the market, joining the ebbing tide of humanity circulating during the evening hours, eyes flicking across the flashes of faces through the flickering screen of limbs and torsos.
Maybe slow down, minimize the limp?
And try to find a family with kids to tuck alongside.
Got it, just be on alert for people paying attention to us, or following us, or wearing familiar clothing styles.
Just make sure to check a window display every now and again to get a look behind us.
We got this.
Kid floated with the push and pull of the tourist tide up the second ramp and through the alcohol and chocolate manufacturing areas to emerge by the hammering titan before the towering tiers of tinted textures comprising the museum of art, aesthetic brilliance of the interior almost matched by the architectural brilliance of the exterior, the shimmering spine at the heart of the Gem of the West.
The blocks closest to the market were still thick with pedestrians even in the twilight hours, and Kid followed the densest collection of bodies he could find heading uphill. A few blocks up and then another turn toward the older part of the downtown where the ratio of tourists to transients began to tilt in the other direction.
Ok, even banged up a little we should be able to make a dash to the, um what do we call it?
Right. Any case, we should be able to get there in time to get help, so we can maybe dial down the hyper attention to the crowd.
Right. Cool. We just walk for last block or so. Be cool.
As much as our leg will let us.
Kid rounded the corner to see a clearing open before him as the tangle of angled streets created a rhomboid opening where none of the intersections aligned, claimed by a copse of mature trees almost forming a canopy over the plaza, a small gazebo in the midst of scattered wrought iron table and chair sets.
The chairs were empty, for the most part, at this time of day but the gazebo had begun to fill with those staking their rain-shielded location for the the evening’s repose. Kid passed the micro shelter to wend through the memorial for those who defend the city from succumbing (again) to her fickle fiery foe when he saw the small set of stairs descending beneath the courtyard.
There’s a metro stop right here?
We know how to get to the metro tunnels!
This is a lot closer to the. . . HQ? Than the market.
Right? And we saw some of the buildings on the block had fire escapes. Cool. We can for sure find a way to be able to get to work without having to risk assault every trip.
Good. This whole getting our ass kicked thing? Not a fan.
Kid rounded the corner to see the double wide alley spill out before him. Broad buildings rose on each side of him, a windowless expanses crossed with pipes and tubes, wires and cords, broken by variations on the fire escape theme – here an encased ladder rising uninterrupted in a tubular enclosure, there a series of grate-floored platforms connected by zagging sets of stairs.
Anyone think it’s weird that our building is the only one in the alley with windows?
I think it’s because all these other buildings are facing the street. Our building looks like it was built to face the alley. Which, yes, I find weird.
Huh. Well, curious as that is, um, do we recognize the guy at the door?
No. I mean, no, right, Whiny?
The man posted up by the door in a skin tight shirt and baggy pants with a camouflage pattern in shades of burnt crimson looked up from the flare of his lighter as Kid approached. The hand holding the lighter curled into a fist to bang a distinct rhythm on the metal door that wasn’t the same as the last time Kid had come with Twitch, but the door began to shudder open anyway.
Well, he seems to have recognized us.
We’ll consider that a good thing.
The metal door rattled shut behind Kid, and he limped across the warehouse trying to look at nothing in particular. Cards slapped on the table that had held the tile game last time Kid was there, a group in the corner spitting words at each other to the rhythmic beat a cell phone bumped between them. Benji slouched on the couch, gave a nod as Kid made brief eye contact. Kid nodded back.
Um. Were we expecting that?
No. Definitely not.
Take it, though.
Kid stuck to the most direct route to the recliners in the back, taking a chance and throwing a nod at the enflamed guy in the back, leaning against the back door. The guy looked at Kid for a moment, smiled with just the corners of his eye, maybe the smallest of chin thrusts back in Kid’s direction. Kid managed to smother most of his grin before Big spoke.
“I know you woul’n’ be so stupid as t’walk in here wi’out havin’ done what you were tol’,” he said, voice low and even, not a question.
Not alarmed, or angry. Nothing at all to indicate that he was holding a gun, presumed loaded, and pointed in a direction that at the very least could not be called away from Kid.
Which was, in fact, a precise description of what he was doing, all vocal indications to the contrary. The sound in the room dimmed, as though a bubble had been dropped around them, trapping Kid inside with Big, his monster, and his gun.
I deeply regret that Twitch is not here.
Um. Yup. This might not go well.
Kid looked at Big, did not look at the huge man in the second recliner, who could not be called a boy no matter how generous one was in their consideration of youth. Did not look at the gun.
“Nope,” Kid replied when the pause became long enough that he felt obligated to end it.
“Heard ya gatcho aaathh bea’, li’l fuck,” the man-beast spoke, spitting the words from fat, slobbery lips, gold glinting from behind. “Di’n’t e’en ge’tha’ shi’ dun.”
is a problem.
I don’t like him. Do we hate? Can I hate him?
Wait. I’m sure he’ll give us a reason.
But we don’t have to like him, right?
“Did you?” Kid asked, and shrugged, flicking a glance at the big man, “You heard wrong.”
One side of a lip flared in a snarl as the fat
Thick. Not fat. Large, sure.
The large man began to rise to his feet, arms surging in sudden transformation from just-thick to serious bulges of muscle as he thrust himself out of the deep recliner, only to hold at a casual wave of the gun to his left.
“What I think Ilk here means is, please go’on.”
Big settled the gun back on his lap, pointing maybe a bit less not-away from Kid, than before. Maybe.
“Coz y’sure look like y’gatcho ass beat.”
Really? Ilk? That’s its name?
Ilk dropped back into his chair, glowering. Kid kept his eyes trained on Big, and touched the bandages on his nose and jaw with light fingers.
“I mean, half-wrong,” Kid said, “I might have got my ass beat, but I got the job done.” Big didn’t say anything, so Kid continued, “I went back later that night and finished the block.”
Big just kept looking at Kid, and Kid might have noticed that there seemed to be more people hovering at the edge of their bubble, but he didn’t look away from the gun waving crime boss.
“You wen’ back?” Big’s eyebrows went up, “That night?”
“I thought that they weren’t going to be out there patrolling,” Kid said, “after beating me earlier.”
“Shi’s prolly fuggen gon’ na’,” Ilk slobbered, leaning forward with a kind of growl.
Did he just lick his lips?
“The tags were still there when I checked on my way here.”
Kid responded to the monster’s words, but directed himself just to Big. Someone outside the bubble laughed. Kid risked a quick glance. It might have been Benji.
Might have been someone else.
Big stared at Kid, weaving small loops with the barrel of his gun. Kid did not pay attention to the flinches of the crowd outside the bubble as the gun twisted in their direction. Big cracked a short, then a longer laugh. Kid could feel the tension leaving the room, like the walls themselves exhaling a held breath.
I can’t believe this worked.
Most of it was even true.
What do you mean?
I don’t think 4:30 in the morning is what he would consider later that night.
And we don’t really know if the signs are all still up.
There are some we couldn’t see from the available rooftops.
I think there are enough to- hey, why are you arguing, we won this!
Ilk leaned over to snarl something in Big’s ear, something lost in the collective shift of all the feet not daring to move a moment earlier. Big leaned forward, and the bubble tightened again, blocking out the rest of the room.
“M’man here has got a point, though. Y’did getcho ass beat,” Big said.
The gun was no longer pointing anywhere in general, but rather at one place in specific, the same place Big fixed with his stare: Kid’s right knee.
“Can’t be losing fights righ’ na, makes it harder t’keep fucks from comin’ roun’ our new turf. Ge’s in’a way o’wha’ we’re tryin’a accomplish,” the sharp report of snapped fingers cut through the room, “Coun’erproductive, is the word.”
Um. I think our victory celebration might have been a little premature.
We are still in a real bad place if he shoots our knee. Um, or, well, anything, really.
I don’t want to get shot!
Do you think he might give us a second chance?
Doesn’t seem like the type?
He can’t JUST SHOOT US!
You see anyone thinking about stopping him?
“Fuggen tell’a rez’ o’it, y’fuggen t’ick lump,” someone called from the back group, which shuffled and split to let the speaker through.
Twitch slouched, relaxed, one eyebrow bouncing and the opposite eye drifting, pausing just a bit on different faces in the group, grin lazy.
“M’boy, he dun go’hi’ shi’wreck, b’aien li’e they poppin’ a faggen cal’a’ oni’,” Twitch flipped up the collar on his own shirt, slinking into the cleared space around Kid. He nodded at Big. “Y’hea’ wha’ li’facka di’a Rat?”
Big cocked a brow, looked at Kid, and Twitch shook his hand low in front of his waist like he was prepping a paint can, and continued.
“Faggen blasted a load,” Twitch stepped close and swung his arm up in a violent arc toward Ilk’s face, who jerked back, just a hair, and looked around as if daring someone to notice, “O’ pain’ righ’ in the li’l fucker’s eyes.”
Twitch held his hands about a can of paint’s length apart.
“Fro’ abou’ that fuggen fa’ away,” the braids knotted atop his head bobbled as he laughed, “He’s fucked. Doan think a’yone o’er ther’ fuggen twee’in’ ‘bou’ thi’shi’.”
Do we have a plan here? In case he shoots?
Unless we think that dodging bullets is something we can do.
Ah, I think bullets are pretty fast. Like, I think ‘faster than a speeding bullet’ is a saying because people aren’t.
That doesn’t make sense. Are we not dodging then?
No. Still dodging. Just don’t expect it to work.
Big looked at Kid for a moment and leaned back, still not moving the gun. Kid took a deep, slow breath. And Big raised the gun to rest on his shoulder, Kid’s gasping release of air lost in the simultaneous exhalations of everyone else in the room. Ilk did not look away from Kid for a long moment, then rolled his neck and sat back in his chair, pulling out his phone.
Big said, “Well, that shit ain’t great, but at least it’s fuckin’ funny.” He cracked a half a smile, “We can give you another shot. Hang out, kick it for a bit. I’ll make sure Twitch lets you know when I think of something for you to do.”
He kicked his chair to spin around and face the television on the wall behind him, and Kid turned to face Twitch, Benji walking up to stand next to them.
“Um, glad you showed up?” Kid tried.
I am pretty sure Twitch just real-world, actual fact type of way, um, saved our life.
Do people hug here?
Twitch looked down at the boy who was still a head and a half shorter than he was, and shared half a grin and what was either a shrug or a just a jump of a shoulder.
“Bitch a’tha bar wa’n’t gonna fuck me,” Twitch said, “So di’nt’ hav a’ythin’ bette’ t’do.”
Benji laughed, “Fat ‘Landa?”
“Sheeeit, y’faggen kna she li’e t’be call Big ‘Landa!” Twitch buried his face in his hands, “Tol’ me sh’alsa li’e ‘girfy,’ I’on’t e’en kna wha’ tha’shi’ mean.”
Twitch peeked through his fingers, dragging them down his face in mournful despair. Benji looked at Kid.
“You really fuck up Rat?”
Kid looked over at Twitch, gave half a shrug.
“I’m not real sure,” Kid said, looking back to Benji, “I did spray him right in the face. He might not have closed his eyes.”
“He di’n’t!” Twitch chimed, loose eye swirling.
“And even then,” Kid continued, “I don’t know what spray paint does to eyes.”
“Fuggen wrex’em!” Twitch chuckled.
I think that might have been a cackle.
Benji clapped Kid on the arm, and squeezed.
“‘At’s a good look, man,” he said, “that fucker did my dude, a minute ago. I been feelin’ some kinda way about that.”
I’m not sure how to process being thanked for maybe blinding a kid.
File him as a bad dude and not worry about it. He beat on us twice, for no reason at all.
Not sure it works that way.
Looks like we might get another friend out of it, though.
Again, I think we call this a win?
We seem good at finding the painful wins. Is that part of our style?
“Hey, um. About the other day…”
Kid drifted off and started to look away when Benji shook the arm he still held in a pushing release.
“Aw, shit, don’ worry about that,” Benji laughed, looked over at Twitch, “I was there, worried I ‘as gonna break this little kid, right, an’ he comes flipping off the damn pole.”
He bobbed back and forth in a micro mimicry of Kid’s sudden change of direction.
“Like a fucken ninja,” Twitch grinned as Kid shot him a quick glare.
Benji laughed and flicked his head over his shoulder, back toward a corner where some of the smaller youth had gathered.
“Com’on. Meet som’a th’other guys.”
Both of the younger boys looked at Twitch, one from above, one from below.
Twitch brushed them away with sweeps of his arms, and he turned toward the guys spitting lyrics at each other in the corner, bouncing along with their beat as he walked.
So, think we are about to get more friends?
I wonder if we can do it without more fighting.
I wouldn’t place any bets.