Chapter 11, A Devil Keeps Us Safe
[BY XAVIER JILTEN]
She’s alive. You made it on time.
Even though I’m trying to look cool in front of Marigold, my thoughts are in disarray. In the two minutes it took me to get to the docks, I kept picturing myself arriving too late. I knew keeping Marigold by my side would be dangerous in this world, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the idea that one day I might arrive too late.
“You’re such a show-off,” Marigold smiles - I don’t miss the tension she has in her shoulders. I’ll have to remember to give her a massage later... It’s the least I can do.
“Come on, get in. Jane will undoubtedly have more people coming after us. Especially once she hears about one of her prisoners escaping,” I warn. Nessa and Daniel come running over, but Marigold frowns at my words - the oceans in her eyes going quiet.
“One?” she asks.
I feel heavy guilt dragging my very soul down at my own failure. I really wanted to get both Blake and Owen back... I really wanted to give Marigold that relief, but... “Blake wasn’t there... I only have Owen, but he’s unconscious. I think they gave him sedatives,” I answer. I keep my voice low as I hang my head in shame. Marigold deserves someone better...
When Marigold can’t reply, it only makes my chest tighten even more.
“Come on, can’t ye hear those cars gettin’ closer? We better stuff ourselves in this wee little car like our lives depend on it!” Nessa interrupts once she’s right up in my face. “I say we leave Danny behind. He’ll be the perfect bait while we make a break for it. And the car will be lighter - he’s gotten fat.”
“EXCUSE ME?” Daniel calls out.
“No need to apologize, Daniel. Ye can’t help being the dumb, fat one. We graciously accept yer sacrifice,” Nessa smiles.
“No one’s getting left behind. We all better tuck in tight!” Marigold suddenly says - grabbing everyone’s attention. I move my seat so Nessa and Daniel can get in the back - Nessa being a little too excited about the fact that she gets to have unconscious Owen on her lap. Marigold rushes over to the passenger seat and once everyone’s inside, I race away.
“There’s four of them. They’re catching up,” Marigold says after peering out of the window.
“Give me two minutes and I can get us in Northern Territory,” I answer.
“Will crossing the border help? We infiltrated their territory so they might be inclined to do the same. We’ll only be safe once we get to Isabella’s,” Marigold reasons. She still hasn’t made a comment on the topic of Blake remaining in enemy hands and it’s not helping my anxiety.
“I haven’t been meeting up with lower gangs for nothing. We’ll have protection once we’re North. Besides, the Northern upper gang is a lot bigger than just it’s inner members, Marigold,” I answer.
Sure, we don’t even come close to what the current Southern Sterling has, but we have a few cards that we can play... With Owen on our side, we might be able to take the Eastern gang back - if we make a valid case for ourselves. We have the unwavering loyalty of the North and... some of the other upper gangs might support Marigold as the true Sterling heir... If only we could get Blake back, we’d have a better argument to present to the international community... We’d have ex-leaders of the East, West, Sterling and the current North. That makes four of the seven major upper gangs in this country... The international community can’t ignore that fact...
But... I couldn’t find Blake... I’ve failed... And this will only add to the already large pile of things gnawing at my Marigold.
“Xav!” I hear one of the twins call over the walk talky.
“We’ve still got footage from traffic cams. One of the pursuers are going to try and cut you off at the traffic lights ahead. Take a left in about twenty meters.”
I follow the directions the twins send my way, but with four tails, it’s hard to stay ahead.
“There! Just past that bridge!” Daniel calls out from the back.
“Yeah, I know where Nothern territory begins,” I say, but as the words leave, I start to doubt myself. Marigold might be right. They’ll follow us into our territory.
As expected, once we cross the bridge, the persuing cars don’t seem to be slowing down. Damn those-
A sudden explosion nearly makes me lose control of the car. For a second I’m confused about what just happened and slow down to see why there’s so much smoke behind us. With the night sky and only two street lights in view, it’s hard to see what’s past all the smoke. And with each passing second, my chest only grows tighter and tighter until... When the smoke clears, I step on the breaks and reverse back before curing off the engine. Without even really thinking, I get out and stare at the scene in front of me. Where there once was a bridge that marked the entrance to Northern territory, there’s now nothing but rubble.
The bridge was blown up...
“Oh thank God Tim’s timing wasn’t off,” someone says from across the road.
I look over and it’s one of the lower gang members. “Fluke, is that you?” I ask. I remember when he was just knees and elbows - desperate to make a quick buck. Now the kid’s grown up and has some meat on him. Though, his hairstyle is still questionable. Never did I think someone could have braids and a mohawk at the same time.
“Yeah,” Fluke smiles as he walks over. “Don’t forget about us little guys. The twins sent everyone a text letting us know of the situation. And well, Timothy has been dying to use the illegal explosives that his gran got him for his birthday.”
I walk over to shake Fluke’s hand. At the same time, a scrawny middle-aged man who I assume is Timothy comes lurking out of the shadows to join us.
“We’ve got explosives fixed all around the Northern border and the other members are keeping watch. Just one text and I’ll blow up any Southerner that steps foot in our territory,” Timothy says. I watch Fluke throw his arm around Timothy and they joke around for a bit.
“I’ll remember today,” I grin at the two men. Though I might not agree with damaging any roads or neighborhoods, we are in a bit of a delicate situation and it can’t hurt to be a little more cautious.
Fluke lets out a laugh that I’m pretty sure belongs to some sort of animal, but I guess it’s part of his charm. “Yeah, I haven’t forgotten all the times you came to deliver canned food to my neighborhood. And you paid the hospital bills for Tim’s sister. I don’t care what you ask of us. We’ll do anything for the boss as long as you don’t forget us.”
“The North has two leaders now,” I politely correct.
“Eh, I heard some lady stole your heart. But you’ll always be our boss,” Fluke grins. He doesn’t mean any harm by it, but I can’t help a small warning gnawing at the back of my mind.
“I’ll have to introduce her to you guys once things have settled. You’ll come to see her as I do,” I reassure Fluke and Timothy. They don’t seem very convinced and perhaps to avoid the topic, Fluke just repeats himself and asks that I don’t forget about him. “The North is family,” I answer, “and I couldn’t ever forget family.”
Before I could go back to getting it into Fluke’s head that the North has two leaders, I return to the car. There are more important things to be concerned about right now in any way. The North will come to accept Marigold. They’ll love her. But right now I need to make sure Owen gets to Isabella safely and a doctor looks him over.
While in my thoughts, I didn’t even notice Marigold getting out, but she’s leaning against the Ferrari with a smug smile. “You better invite me to these things next time. I’d love to deliver canned food,” my future wife smiles - unaffected by the fact that some Northern members might not see her as their leader yet. And even though tonight wasn’t a complete success and we nearly died, the universe seems to shine a little brighter.
“There’s no way I’d invite you. You’d end up eating all the food,” I dismiss as I walk past her to get into the driver’s seat.
Marigold immediately starts protesting and doesn’t stop all the way to Isabella’s.
When we arrive at the gates, I’m relieved to see more gang members patrolling the area. It’s reassuring to be reminded that the North isn’t just a handful of people. We pass the gates after guards open it for us and I can’t help deciding that even though the wall surrounding the property is pretty sturdy and two meters tall, I’ll want to build it even higher. I’m not letting anyone get near my family.
Once I have the car parked, I ask some men to take my Ferrari for a check-up. Normally I’d ask Sean since the guy likes cars so much and he’s pretty decent, but... Nobody’s heard from him for a couple of months now. Marigold still asks the twins to look into it, but they can’t find anything. We can only hope he decided to leave all this behind.
I watch Nessa order Daniel to carry Owen to her room and the twins rush out of Isabella to make sure Amber’s alright. I instruct my butler to call for a doctor and he leaves without another word. In a bit of a daze, I head for the house. Mindlessly, I ask the first two maids I see to help prepare dinner for about fifty men. The maids decide on soup and start preparing four large pots. To distract myself, I go to chop potatoes.
I couldn’t get Blake back... If something happens to that guy... Marigold will... How many bodies are piled under my feet? How many corpses are laid beneath me to give me this view? And... How many of those who’ve fallen does Marigold take responsibility for? I can’t stand seeing the universe in her eyes dull.
“Need some help?”
I look up and Marigold takes the knife from my hands. “You’ve barely chopped two potatoes and I already went to change,” she says. I look her over and her all-black attire is replaced with paint-stained jeans and an orange sweater. That golden hair of hers is thrown into a messy bun and I kind of feel like tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
“I’m not that good at chopping potatoes,” I lie with a goofy grin.
“Yeah, if these potatoes were enemy fingers though, it would’ve been a different story,” Marigold smiles. “Go get dressed and then come back down. Tonight has been... a lot.”
“I still have to take dinner to everyone keeping watch outside-”
“And you don’t have to do it in a suit. Put on some jeans for food’s sake.”
I don’t dare to argue with my future wife and instead do as told. It takes me longer than it should to head upstairs and dress into something warm and casual. I avoid the mirror. After brushing my teeth and splashing my face with water for a bit, I feel a lot better however and get back downstairs just as Marigold helps the maids finish the soup. Without saying much, I help distribute the soup into containers and pack them into a box.
“Should we go get-”
“No, I’ll deliver the soup myself,” I interrupt the maids. They smile and nod before walking off.
“Do you always do this?” Marigold asks, “Feed your men?”
I can’t help a guilty chuckle as I brush my hair out from my eyes. I might need to get a cut soon. Unless gelled back, my hair gets into my eyes way too much. “I can’t always do it personally, but I try to see the people in my gang as much as possible. They’re not just pawns to be used. They’re real people. That’s why I prefer getting less honorable gangs to do the dangerous work,” I explain. I wonder if Marigold would be willing to cut my hair for me?
The smile that Marigold hands me is soft and yet, it’s as if I can feel the warmth she wishes to convey. “I’m glad I’m getting married to someone like you,” she says.
The comment catches me off guard and I can’t help but blush. “Uh, well of course. I’m amazing,” I say to try and brush it off.
“Let’s go,” Marigold laughs before helping me carry the boxes to one of the cars waiting.
I dismiss the driver and instead let Marigold drive us to the gate. We make sure to hand out soup to everyone around Isabella. Everyone is happy to see us and some take their time to introduce themselves to Marigold. Though my co-leader has seen her fair share of meetings and greetings, this is the first time that she’s personally meeting the lower rank members of the North. I can see she makes a genuine effort to get to know everyone. I don’t even think it was necessary for me to tell her these men aren’t pawns. Marigold is the last person who’d think that.
At one point when Marigold and I head back to the car to get more soup, I take her hand and look her in the eyes. “Marigold... About Blake, I-”
“It’s not your fault. We got Owen back without casualties thanks to you. There will be another opportunity to get Blake, so please don’t take the blame for this,” Marigold interrupts. She squeezes my hand tightly and I don’t think she even knows how much those words mean to me.
It takes us two hours to get to our final stop. The Eastern-most road that leads into our territory has about seven armed men patrolling.
“We brought soup for everyone!” Marigold calls out once we have the car parked. It’s amazing that she hasn’t lost even a drop of energy after meeting dozens of people tonight. But... Even I have to admit that the Eastern border are a tough crowd to handle. They’ve had to deal with the brunt of the situation for the longest time.
“We don’t have time for soup. We caught a spy,” One of the men answers back. I leave the soup as I walk over to the men that formed a small circle around a limp body. It’s hard to tell by just the light of the moon, but it’s still clear that the red glint on the wet pavement is that of blood.
“A spy?” Marigold asks as she rushes over as well.
“Yeah, a spy. Are you deaf?” Marcus sneers.
I feel my hand clench into a fist, but Marigold is quick to grab my hand and calm me down.
It’s okay, she smiles.
They were disrespectful, I sigh.
Marigold smiles some more, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. I still need to earn their respect, she seems to say.
Before I can try to make another argument, Marcus speaks up again. “We found this little shit sneaking around the area - asking about the wedding. When we asked where he lived, he lied and said it was up North. We went ahead and called the first number on his call list and his wife picked up. Turns out the guy lives close to the Southern docks. Anyone from the South asking about a Northern wedding is a spy.”
“I say we kill him before he leaks what he’s learned,” another guy answers - I think his nickname is Moony.
"I think we should let the boss take him back to Isabella’s and find out what he knows. We could flip the situation around,” Hellen says. It’s hard to forget the name of a woman that looks like she could beat up half the guys in Tygerwell.
“It’s up to the boss,” Marcus says and looks over at me - the rest of the group murmer their agreement.
“We have two leaders,” I correct.
The group barely gives Marigold a glance before looking back at me for an answer. Unwavering loyalty has its faults. The North refuses to acknowledge anyone other than me as their leader.
Without seeming even a little phased, Marigold crouches down to inspect the bloodied pulp of a spy. It’s clear that he might have a few broken bones, but to be honest he’s lucky he’s still alive. With things as tense as they are in Tygerwell, spies from either sides won’t be treated lightly. Especially not with the wedding around the corner.
“Can you talk?” Marigold asks the man.
“Don’t you think we already tried getting him to talk?” Marcus scoffs.
If I was wearing my maroon watch right now, Marcus would probably have it worse than the spy, but... As much as I want to defend my queen, the best course of action would be for her to defend herself. She needs to win over the lower members of the gang as well. They make up the majority.
“Can you talk?” Marigold repeats.
The bruised man looks over at Marigold with complete hate before spitting at her feet. “I’d rather die than help you Northern scum!” he shouts.
Mooney goes to kick the man, but Marigold extends her arm to stop him.
“What do you think you’re-”
“Has he hurt anyone?” Marigold interrupts Mooney.
“He hasn’t lifted a hand, but the punk tried to run away so we had to get him to stop moving. But if he’d gotten away and leaked valuable information, his words would hurt a lot of people. I don’t think you’d want your wedding to turn into a funeral little miss,” Hellen snickers. Her tone is so clearly condescending, but she keeps pushing her luck.
What will Marigold do? The way she handles this situation will determine what kind of leader she’ll be to the North.
“This man isn’t just a spy,” Marigold says simply before heading to the car. She returns with a bowl of soup and kneels down in front of the man. “He’s also a husband and to be honest, probably an innocent civilian that has been forced into this situation because of the feud between gangs. A feud that I should take partial responsibility for.”
“I’m still not talking,” the man sneers as he pushes Marigold away. Some of the soup spills onto Marigold’s lap, but it doesn’t seem to bother her.
“What’s your name?” she asks, “You can lie if you want to.”
The man eyes Marigold for a moment before answering: “Stephan.”
“Stephan, would you please tell me what it is that you found out? No matter the answer, I promise that I won’t hurt you or your wife. If you answer truthfully, I’ll let you go,” Marigold says.
Everyone’s too shocked to really stop her.
“You swear?” Stephan asks.
“On my life.”
Stephan contemplates the words, but with Marigold’s genuine smile and the soup that still extended towards him, he gives in. With a sigh, he takes the soup. “It’s about the wedding’s location. You sent out invitations that say it’s at Isabella’s. You even sent them to the Leaders of Southern Sterling. But there’s another location going around. It’s a lot more hush so I was sent here to find out where the second location is. But all I found out is that it’ll be held at Isabella’s,” Stephan explains.
“He knows the truth, we have to kill him!” Moony says.
“I gave him my word!” Marigold argues.
Everyone is quiet once again.
“But he’ll reveal that the wedding will actually take place at Isabella’s and not at the second location that’s a fake!” Hellen argues.
“It doesn’t matter,” Marigold says as she stands up and faces the seven gang members. “If I go back on my word, it would mean nothing. And even though hurting this man that has done nothing might prove I’m a good gang leader, it’ll also just show that I’m a bad person. And I feel like we have enough bad people leading good people into war.”
For a moment, the group looks at Marigold in a different light, but then Marcus says, “You’re running a gang, not a country. Stop making your illegal business sound noble. We follow Xavier, because he’s the devil. And that is what keeps us safe.”
Marigold nods - acknowledging that what has been said has truth to it. “I’m sorry that I can’t be the devil. Not in this situation in any way. But if someone so much as even touches one of those I care about, and that includes you guys, I’d become someone even the Devil would be too afraid to cross. So I’ll ask you this once, to trust me and let this man go back home.”
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Marcus sends me a glance and I bow my head in answer. “Just this once,” Marcus says. “But I’ll let you know that you’ll never survive this world unless you become the devil. Kindness won’t get you anywhere. You’ll realize it when it’s too late.”
And so, we let the spy go.
The man seemed grateful - like Marigold’s mercy might keep him from revealing what he learned.
But only once the wedding starts, will we find out that it was not the case.