Shawn lugged a large crate across the warehouse with aching arms, sweat beading on his forehead. Through the cracks in the high roof, he saw the dark evening sky. The cavernous place was dimly lit by a few bulbs suspended from the rafters. Electrical wiring laced the walls like black worms, tangling and coiling. Voices echoed through the building.
Shawn glanced over his shoulder, glowering. He’d come here to hang out for the evening, not to work. But the Crimson Serpents had received a strange shipment, and Gray wanted it unloaded. The truck was pulled up by the entrance, growling and sending out fumes. Gray stood by the door, talking to the man that had been there on the night when Shawn identified Iziah. He’d overheard the men making some sort of business transaction, and then they’d started talking about Iziah.
An uneasy frown wrinkled Shawn’s face. From a few of his “friends” – the other kids that were laughing and talking and hauling creates – he’d heard that the man was an illegal weapons dealer.
Shawn lugged his crate into the next room. It was smaller than the main section of the warehouse, half-filled with crates of drugs and automatics. Mud coated the floor, dried in the shape of footprints and scuff marks. Shawn dropped the crate on the floor and walked back through the door, turning to one side so several people could slip past.
It was strange. In the bars where the Crimson Serpents spent their time, there were mostly teens, but here there were adults. Real criminals. It filled Shawn with dread. Usually he came to the warehouse to take on jobs or to get pot, but something about this was beginning to feel wrong. They wanted something real.
All Shawn wanted was to play the game.
He walked back toward the open double doors. Gray and his companion were still talking. The weapons dealer’s hair was greased back, and he wore an eager grin.
Shawn’s mind drifted back to that night when Iziah came after him, and he scowled, staring at the floor. Iziah had appeared out of nowhere in the middle of his high, furious. Violent. They’d always hated each other, but that was different. There had been a desperate hatred in his eyes. Shawn couldn’t really hold it against him. Iziah had obviously figured out what he’d done. Shawn rubbed his hand against his face, taking a deep breath.
It wasn’t fair! It was a stupid accident! Yet, despite his anger toward Iziah, he couldn’t absolve himself of what had happened, and the guilt gnawed at him.
He let out a stream of curses under his breath as he walked into the cold night air. Goosebumps rose on his arms. Two men in the truck shoved crates around, grunting with effort. A group of people gathered beneath them as they waited to haul crates. A huge, empty parking lot stretched in front of the warehouse. Beyond were several lines of unused warehouses. As Shawn waited for another crate, he glanced over his shoulder, digging the toe of his chucks into the gravel.
Ian leaned against the wall of the building nearby, smoking, talking to one of his buddies. His thin lips were curled in a nasty leer as if his friend had told him a joke.
Why were they so determined to kill Iziah anyway? It didn’t make sense. Usually, when someone disrespected the Crimson Serpents, they dealt with the problem through blackmail. A beating if it was serious. So why didn’t they let Iziah walk away? Hadn’t they put him in his place? Maybe it was the fact that he’d interrupted a meeting. Maybe that was why Gray had been discussing it with the weapons dealer. The dealer was a criminal, likely wanted by the police, and he was trying to keep a low profile. But Iziah had seen him.
This wasn’t about making an example of him, this was about disposing of the evidence.
Shawn’s eyes widened, and he looked back at Gray. If the police found out about this, the Crimson Serpents would lose everything – the drugs, the weapons, the hangout. And if they discovered an illegal weapons dealer in town, that would make it all the worse. They had to kill Iziah just in case he could identify the dealer. Just in case he could give them away. As for Iziah’s friends...they hadn’t managed to identify them. That was information they’d extract from Iziah before they silenced him.
So this wasn’t really Shawn’s fault. Iziah had been the one to stumble across the ordeal. Hell, he’d killed a man!
Shawn rubbed his hand against his face as cold shivers ran down his spine. He was getting in too deep. All he wanted was a good time, a distraction, something to remove him from his unpleasant daily life. But this was developing into rising crime rates and illegal drugs and murder. Before, these people had given him a sense of security. But now he was afraid of what they would do if he accidentally ticked them off. He didn’t want to play their game anymore. There were no safeguards here, nothing to keep him from getting hurt.
Once again, the urge to walk away filled his mind. But he didn’t know what the Crimson Serpents would do if he left. Would they let him go? Or would they get rid of him too? After all, he’d been around long enough to know things that they wouldn’t want getting to the police.
Shawn waited to haul another crate, stuck in his own web.
* * *
Nicolas made numerous preparations for the meeting. The first thing he did was rent a car to drive to the meeting. If they glimpsed his vehicle, it would make him easy to track down, and he had no desire to lead them back to the apartment. The next thing he did was research the area where they’d be meeting. Just as he thought, it was dingy and far enough from city life that an explosion wouldn’t hurt any passersby. He planned to drive the rental car and park nearby. Then, on the way back, he would take the car to a lot blocks away from his apartment. From there, he would walk through a nearby hotel and sneak out the back door, following a maze of alleys before returning to the apartment.
Normally, he wouldn’t take all the precautions, but there was too much at stake this time.
His guns were cleaned and loaded, with one pistol in the desk for Iziah. Iziah was quiet about the project, and Nicolas tried not to involve him. Though Iziah looked curious, Nicolas didn’t want him to worry. The stress could be detrimental to his mental state.
Nicolas wondered if he should send Iziah away while this was happening, just in case. But that wasn’t a viable option. Neither of them had any family nearby. The only person he trusted was Martha, and he hadn’t spoken to her in so long... Besides, it could potentially put her in danger, and he couldn’t risk that. Once again, he considered getting the police involved, but that didn’t seem like a good idea either. Gray Hanes had influence over everything in the city, and he would find out if Iziah went to the police. They would have to handle this on their own.
The evening of the meeting, Nicolas ordered pizza. It arrived around nine, an hour before he had to meet Gray. They waited for a good forty-five minutes, and Nicolas assumed the delivery boy must have gotten lost. Already stressed out and in a bad a mood, he gave a meager tip and dropped the box on the kitchen counter. By that time, the pizza was cold and unappetizing.
Not that either of them had an appetite. Iziah sat by the coffee table, twirling one chess piece between his splinted fingers. They were both exhausted and afraid.
“You going to eat?” Nicolas grumbled, opening the box and looking at the pizza with distaste.
“No,” Iziah murmured. “Thanks.”
“You’re wasting my money, kid.”
Iziah smirked faintly, leaning back against the couch and looking at Nicolas through tired, anxious eyes. “I don’t see you eating.”
Nicolas shrugged. It was very dark outside the window. He saw the lights in other complexes coming on and the steady stream of headlights on the road below. His stomach twisted in knots. Usually this sort of thing didn’t bother him. He glanced at the clock again. Earlier that day, he’d gone to the alley and hidden explosives inside the walls of surrounding buildings. There was plenty of time, but he wanted to get there early so he could choose his position.
“When do you have to go?” Iziah asked.
“Hmm.” The boy looked down at the chess piece again.
“You know where the pistol is?” Nicolas searched the boy’s heavily guarded expression.
“I shouldn’t be more than an hour or so. Just keep the door locked and lay low.”
Iziah issued a faint snort, looking up at him through amused eyes. “I’m not ten.”
Nicolas rolled his eyes as he pulled on a jacket. His pistol, nestled in the holster, was a comforting presence under his arm. Still, it felt wrong to leave the kid here.
Iziah was watching him closely, his body awkwardly propped into a comfortable position, his jaw tight.
“You’re sure this is a good idea?” Iziah asked with an anxious tone. “We could just leave.”
“I think it’s better this way,” Nicolas said. “I would rather get this resolved so we aren’t on the run.”
Silence. What was there to say?
Nicolas slipped into his boots, looking around the apartment for the hundredth time. Nothing was out of place. Iziah would be holed up with a locked door, plenty of hiding places, and a gun. He picked up his keys and a large bag – which concealed his rifle – and turned toward the door.
Nicolas stopped, glancing over his shoulder.
Iziah had tensed, his eyes round. He stared at Nicolas a moment before grinning. “If you die out there, I’ll kill you.”
Nicolas chuckled. “That’d be some trick.” After a moment of quiet, he said, “Just hang tight. I’ll be right back.”
Steeling himself, Nicolas walked out the door and locked it behind him before starting down the hall. A wave of foreboding came over him. He didn’t know if he was doing the right thing, but he had to keep his promise to Iziah.
I shouldn’t be gone more than an hour or so.