Engage 4.07

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Seattle, in those later years, had cultivated a reputation as a city of cosmopolitan refinement, evidenced, among other ways, in the aesthetic diversity of the alcohol dispensaries dotting every block in the dense urban center. There was an environment for every occasion: elegant and quiet places with clean lines and hard liquors for late evening luxuriating; grimy, noisy places with subcultural stickers providing a cheap decor to accompany the cheaper ales; amiable and cheery places with substantial dining options for the family-laden drinker.

The alcohol distribution establishment on this particular corner of a little trafficked cross street sported a tropical theme – surfboards and uniforms constructed from dead grass – trying to be something more than a place to drown the world in alcohol, an oasis in the sea of concrete.

Kid turned always from the blinking neon representation of trees not native to this geographic region and leaned against the cold brick of a store, closed, that sold artisanal borders for wall mounted art. As the last light from the sun faded in the western skies, he took several slow, deep breaths, tasting the salt as the bay breeze stirred the branches of the trees lining the sidewalk. Beneath the wind whirled branches Kid could see the gleaming reflection from the streetlights highlighting the cars parked along the curb.

Kid stood clear of line of sight from a group huddled where some stairs met the top of a long concrete ramp stretched in front of a window painted bright yellow and blue. A quick peek had counted six youth packed on and around the stair, including both the young men Kid remembered from the other night.

Frank and Bean.

So now we …

Woop-dee-woop.

Right. Annoying enough to make them chase us.

But not just shoot us.

Stay close to the corner. They reach for guns, good signal to run.

Right. Ready to do this?

Not sure whether being ready matters.

This is exciting. I can feel our heartbeat in our ears.

Beside Kid, the mouth of the dead-end alley yawned wide enough for the refuse reclamation trucks to empty the dumpsters therein, and just across the sidewalk a pair of dark sedans framed the alley’s entrance. The rearmost of the two sedans blinked, yellow parking lights flashing once, and again.

Kid took one last breath, and rounded the corner to approach the stairs, turning into the rich scent of deep fried chicken cut by the stringent aroma wafting from the vehicle refueling station across the parking lot. The six boys sprawled across the five steps like a mottled swath of blue on white on brown. The spindly jumper from the apartment complex slapped the back of his hand against the clean leather boot of the youth sitting atop the stairs, saying something Kid couldn’t hear. Kid stopped, and forced a smile.

“How’s the leg, Frank?”

The whole group stood, shifting and splitting to allow the one at the top a clear view of Kid, Frank a level down to Kid’s right, and Bean another level lower. After a still moment, the person atop the stair spoke.

“What thefuck,” Shaved head, tattoos crawling across his head to his ears, and behind, “are you doing here?”

“Stoopid,” one of the others added, maybe the dark denim jacket drooping over dark denim jeans.

Kid replied, “Just wanted to make sure you got Big’s message,” raising his hands wide, palms facing the crew on the stairs, “In case you didn’t last night.”

Kid grinned at the thick one. Bean.

“What message?” The ink-domed leader demanded.

You know, I’m pretty sure there is something specific we are supposed to do with our fingers. Like a sign.

Do you know how to make it?

Well, there’s one hand sign we know.

Kid curled his hands, all but a single finger each, into tight fists.

“That you can all go fuck yourselves.”

After a stunned moment, four of the stair boys reached beneath clothing, and Kid took off running, hearing feet slapping concrete behind him, and a voice bellowing:

“GET THAT LIL BITCH!”

Kid charged past the window featuring intricate carvings on various wood frames and snuck a peek over his shoulder to make sure his pursuers saw him round the corner into the alley. Flashing past some dumpsters and a couple doors, Kid reached the end of the alley, hands pressed on the hard brick wall closing his path.

Turning to face the splatter of feet at the mouth of the alley, Kid saw five thugs spread across the alley, and a sixth that came limping into the scene. Kid raised his hands, taking a slow step away from the wall serving as boundary for both this alley and the furniture store on the opposite side.

This would be a great time…

Here they come.

Behind the now measured approach of the spread group, the two cars parked at the alley’s mouth opened their doors, spilling almost a dozen more people into the streetside, dark metal winking from tight grips as the crew left the cars to bunch into two groups behind the still unsuspecting young men closing on their presumed prey, forming a cluster near each edge of the alley, barrels leveling.

Kid cocked a head to the side, raising a single extended finger in the middle of a closed fist, with a little smile. As the approaching crew reached back into their coats and belt lines, a riot of explosions burst from raised muzzles scant meters away. Two rival gang members, one with a hurt ankle, fell to the ground as the world around Kid slowed to a familiar crawl.

One of the group finding themselves under sudden assault, with a close shaved head and a jacket speckled for a tundra assault, spun a quick circle to fling hinting steel end over end through the flared muzzle-light toward Kid, who followed the arc of the throw all the way from the hand it left to where it met his sweater. Dull impact just below his ribs blossomed into sharp pain as Kid collapsed, hands clasped around the handle of a knife protruding from his stomach.

Gunfire filled the alley, echoing violent caroms off the walls of the buildings. One of the group closing the mouth of the alley dropped, and now three of the group caught in what was now the middle, including the one who had limped late to the party, and the one who had been so quick with a knife, were laying prone. The three still capable of standing scrambled behind the available cover, one in an inset doorway, the other two behind the alley’s lone dumpster.

Um, there is a chance that we aren’t dead.

The ropes worked!

Maybe.

Things might be going well?

What do we mean by ‘well’?

Three bullets ripped into the wall above where Kid lay curled raining wall fragments down on his head and shoulders.

Those could not have been fired by the bad guys.

Or at the bad guys.

How bad are we hurt?

Not that bad, I think.

We need to get out of this alley.

How high are the walls?

Too high on the framing side.

The bar though…

Kid rolled over a shoulder, springing to his feet with a flip, and bolted through an alley now being salted with liberal doses of lead, experiential distortion making it feel as if he was watching a slow motion version of himself. He scampered up the corner with a quick wall walk in the darkened end of the closed alley, three steps and a grab of the red brick edge, a sharp pull saw Kid to the top of the roof, an enclosed balcony for the establishment attached to the wall, tables and potted trees spotting the flat open space, a cross hatched screen-roof offering shelter to the area around the empty corner bar, and the door.

Kid took a limp jog toward the sound of movement from the alley below as another pair of shots rang out. He peered over the lip of the wall to see the two guys who had been seated at the top of the stairs huddled by the dumpster, which sheltered them from the sight of his compatriots sheltered at the alley’s maw.

You know what this would be a great time for?

Cookies?

What?

It’s cookies isn’t it? You can smell them through the air vents, too, right, and you think it would be criminally awesome to be the badass who brought cookies to a gunfight?

No. Not cookies. I was thinking this would be a great time to be useful.

Much better idea. What can we do?

Cookies can be useful.

Kid whirled to scan the tools at his disposal. The balcony featured a clutch of tables with dark green plastic chairs scattered in loose arrangement among them. The pseudowicker roof offered an imitation of shelter or shade to a portion of the balcony, potted trees sitting by the wooden posts supporting the wood weave.

So…

The tables are too big, and that thick wood is going to be HEAVY.

The chairs are too light, they wouldn’t be useful even if we took the time to sharpen the legs.

Sharpen the… Nevermind. I guess that makes the pots our goldilocks.

Kid approached one of the potted trees. The pot was more of an inverted pyramid, widening from a base about as wide as Kid’s waist to a mouth almost as wide as the full span of his arms near hip-high. The tree reached at least twice Kid’s height from the potted soil, and had about half his girth. The whole concoction had to be at least ten times Kid’s weight.

Wait, in what way does this not count as too heavy?

Watch.

Kid tipped the pot onto a side, catching the trunk in one hand while the other balanced the highest edge of the planter, and he began rolling the tree, walking the pot from corner to corner of the small base as four more shots punctuated the night, whining ricochets piercing the night. When Kid reached the wall, he squared the edge of the pot to the running bricks, and took another peek over the wall.

The two youth sat, backs against the metal of the dumpster, one leaning out to offer his own combustive contribution to the contest. Kid tilted the tree and shifted it a little to rest a pot-corner on the brick wall. Hopping to the other side, Kid wedged a shoulder beneath the pot’s edge to shove the second corner onto the wall. Spinning around to the potside furthest from the wall, Kid planted his feet beneath him, back flat against the pot. Straining, Kid leveraged the huge weight of soil, cedar, and clay up to rest on the edge atop the wall, the top of the tree poking out over the alley for anyone at all to notice and cry the alert.

If anyone ever looked up.

We ready to do this?

Well, I can’t think any way to get this tree off the wall that doesn’t crush either us or them, so.

Isn’t there something you’re supposed to yell when a tree is falling.

Pretty sure that’s just so people can get out of the way.

So?

We don’t want them to get out of the way of this one.

Right. Here goes.

Kid surged, legs and back straining against the weight. The smooth lacquered finish of the pot scraped across the uneven brick with a sharp, brief screech as the weight reached the literal tipping point and Kid dropped the tree down onto the huddled thugs below, watching the fired clay burst over their heads and shoulders with a shattering that rivaled the gunfire for volume, and seeing them collapse into dirty spoons curled around each other, tree tipping again to settle on the alley floor at their feet.

In the sudden shock of silence filling the alley, the last remaining bluecoat tossed his gun to the asphalt where tree branches settled and held his hands over his head. Kid saw his gang file out from the edges of the buildings they’d been using for cover, stopping to kick each of the opposition in the head on their way down the alley.

Kid rolled onto the ledge from which he’d just spilled arboreal doom, and flipped to drop down to the edge of the dumpster lid, then dropping to the ground. Big slugged the lone opposition still standing into unconsciousness, as the others collected fallen guns. Twitch flounced over to Kid’s side with an even wilder grin than was his usual, rubbing Kid’s head and giving him an exuberant shove before hopping over to collect one of the fallen pistols. Sound returned to the alley with sudden urgency, sirens announcing the imminent arrival of the law enforcement officers as Big called out directions.

“You lot, circle left,” gesturing toward the car to his right, and then toward the one on his left splitting the group in rough halves, “and we’ll hook right, meet a’the place in thirty. Go!”

Everyone sprang into action at once, piling into the designated cars. Where just a moment before the alley had dropped into a slow, stretched, timeless hole in the world, now the world rushed at breakneck pace, everyone yelling and running and guys on the ground screaming and writhing, those who could. Kid ran around one of the cars and hopped in the front seat, pulling closed his door as the car pealed away from the curb with a violent jerk. It wasn’t until the car took the sharp right around the corner that Kid turned to see at Ilk behind the wheel. Kid glanced in the mirror at the three guys in the back seat, none of whom he recognized.

Twitch was not in the car.

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