There was a long silence between them. What could they tell Kanra? A dozen feet away lay the door to the bar, muffling the sounds of music and cheery, excited laughter. Kanra would be in the back room, waiting.
“We have to tell him what happened,” Harley stated.
“Are you kidding?” Matthias was wide-eyed, rubbing his bruised neck. “We can’t do that! If a war starts, he’ll blame us! They’ll turn us over to the Crimson Serpents! We could... We could die.”
She folded her arms. “But if they incite something, he’ll find out either way. Besides, it was self-defense. We weren’t trespassing, and they might have killed us otherwise.”
Iziah looked back and forth between them. Conflict raged inside his mind. All he wanted was for this to be over. The stickiness on his hands was making him sick. “Kanra hates me,” Iziah rasped. “He’s been looking for a reason to get rid of me. This would be the last straw.”
“Well it’s your fault!” Matthias whirled on him. “If we had run in the first place, this never would have happened! If anyone takes the fall, it should be you!”
Iziah glared at him. “I didn’t see you running. You could have, you know. I didn’t make you stay.”
“Shut up! You’re so insufferable!”
“Don’t fight!” Harley snapped, looking agitated. “We have to figure this out before someone comes out and finds us.”
“Guys, please don’t say anything,” Iziah pleaded. “I’ll give him the drugs and say we had a little skirmish. If he finds out it was anything more, I’ll take the fall. But...I don’t want to invite trouble. Let’s just keep it quiet for now.”
Matthias was still glaring at him, and Harley looked doubtful. But Iziah knew neither of them wanted to get mixed up in this.
“It’s risky,” Harley said. “It shouldn’t be hard to pull the wool over his eyes, but if he finds out that we were keeping a secret from him... We wouldn’t have any protection from our gang. Kanra’s afraid of the Crimson Serpents.”
“But if we tell, he might just turn us over. It’s better this way,” Iziah insisted. “Please? I swear, I’ll take the blame if he finds out. I... I didn’t mean to... I just...panicked.”
They were silent for a long moment.
“I’ll keep quiet if you guys do,” Harley said, grinding the toe of her sneaker against the concrete. “I mean...they might not retaliate, right? We’ll just have to be careful in case they come looking for us.”
Matthias glared between them, then spat, “Fine. I won’t say anything, but I still think this is a terrible idea.” He shot Iziah an accusing look. “You’d better make sure that Kanra gets the package. I’m going to get a drink.” With that, he turned and walked into the bar. Iziah watched him go.
Harley shifted back and forth, wiping sweat from the back of her neck. She looked at him through probing eyes. “Do you...want me to go with you?”
He glanced at her, offering a faint smile. “No. Thanks.”
She nodded, pulling the bag out of her pocket and handing it to him. Then she walked toward the bar.
“What?” She turned to look at him.
“I...I’m really sorry,” Iziah said, his voice thick with regret. “I didn’t mean to get you guys into this. I won’t let anything happen.”
“Don’t worry about it. Those guys were itching for a fight more than you were.” She walked through the door.
Iziah stood there a long moment, just breathing. He hadn’t meant to pick a fight... All of this was just a game! Not something to be taken seriously! Things like this weren’t supposed to happen.
A wave of nausea washed over him, and he ran a shaking hand through his hair. He was soaked with sweat, and there was a splatter of blood on the front of his shirt. He had to calm down if he was going to lie to Kanra. One false move and the leader of the Faceless would see through him.
Iziah walked around back to a spigot and rinsed his shirt. After squeezing it out, he put it on and zipped up his jacket, shivering.
It was several minutes before he mustered himself to go inside. He wiped away the sweat and walked with his usual cocky demeanor, and no one gave him a second glance. The bar had settled down a bit. Harley sat nearby, glowering over a bottle of beer, but Matthias was nowhere to be seen. Iziah walked to the back room. The bartender had rented out several rooms to the Faceless. One was used to store drugs and medical supplies, and the other was for Kanra and his druggie friends. A burly boy stood at the door, barring Iziah’s path.
Iziah took a deep breath and said, “I’ve got a delivery for Kanra.”
The guard scowled and stepped out of the way. Iziah put his hand on the icy doorknob and opened the door. It was dark inside, and it took Iziah’s eyes a moment to adjust. People lounged about the room, pot smoke coiling around them. The scent was so strong that Iziah almost gagged. They looked calm and docile. Kanra sat near the wall, propped up by a pillow, his eyes at half-mast. He was lean, in his early twenties, and he wore a pair of black, fingerless gloves. His wan complexion was marred with acne scars, and his light blond hair blended into his skin. He had the look of a man that wanted to appear more intimidating than he really was.
“Hey, Kanra.” Iziah forced a grin. “I got the stuff.”
Kanra turned slowly and squinted. “You got it?”
“That’s right.” Iziah tossed it into his lap. “You’re welcome.”
“Just a little skirmish. No big deal.”
Kanra stared at him a moment, then nodded. “Good.”
Iziah blinked. Could it be that easy? Drooping with relief, Iziah stumbled back out the door and down the hall. A smile blossomed across his face. His timing had been perfect. Once the pot wore off, Kanra would have the drugs, and he wouldn’t think twice about the incident. Iziah sat at one of the tables, leaning forward and pressing his forehead into the stained wood. His heartbeat slowed, and his breathing steadied. He whispered, “Thank goodness.”
Things would be all right after all. This was the last they’d hear of the incident with the Crimson Serpents.
The Crimson Serpents were based in the south end of town. Along the border, it was easy to smuggle illegal drugs without being caught. There were numerous empty warehouses that had been used for farming. Rusty, unused equipment lay falling into disrepair. They met in a warehouse settled in the center of Crimson Serpent territory with the number three etched over the door in red, peeling paint. While the Faceless spent their time at clubs and bars, the Crimson Serpents needed space where they would be unseen.
It was midday, and there weren’t many people in the warehouse. The current residents were scattered about the room, smoking and talking in hushed tones. The room smelled of rust and pot. Bulbs hung from the high ceiling, and electrical wiring laced the walls. White light came through a hole in the roof.
Shawn Davis sat in the corner, holding his wounded forearm. He’d bandaged it a couple weeks ago, but the cut still stung. Curses rose to his lips as he glowered. Shawn was a pudgy, baby-faced boy who always wore shorts and knee-high socks. His glasses turned his eyes into thin slits of color.
Iziah had given him the cut in a fight between the gangs. They had been enemies since foster care, but now they could really take it out on each other.
Usually, the foster kids didn’t bother Shawn because they stayed out of his way. If anything, their miserable lives made his failing grades and dumpy figure appear acceptable in his parents’ eyes. Iziah, however, was different. He was a quiet, good-looking boy who studied hard and kept to himself. Shawn instantly hated him. Hated his imperious gaze and cocky stance.
Shawn did everything he could to torment him, spending hours thinking up demeaning comments and shoving him every chance he got. Iziah rarely retaliated, but there was a growing hatred in his eyes. As the enmity between them grew, Shawn blamed Iziah for taking food and sneaking out of the house, getting him grounded numerous times. Finally, Iziah threatened to expose Shawn’s late-night smoking sessions.
“I know you smoke pot in the evening,” Iziah said calmly, looking at Shawn through narrowed eyes. “My bedroom window won’t close, and I smell it almost every night. It’s so thick, I almost think it might strangle me sometimes.”
That was when Shawn decided to end Iziah’s stay.
When Shawn’s father began grumbling about smelling pot in the back yard, Shawn hid a baggy of the stuff in Iziah’s dresser. He could barely contain his giddiness as his parents searched his room, then Iziah’s. The unsuspecting boy sat on his bed, doing homework, while they went through his things. Shawn took in the doorway, grinning. Then, Mr. Davis pulled the small paper bag out of Iziah’s dresser and took a sniff.
Iziah looked up, and his eyes widened with shock and anger. Scrambling to his feet, he said, “That’s not mine.”
Shawn almost laughed.
Shawn’s mother shook her head with a look of disapproval.
Iziah opened his mouth to speak, but Shawn beat him to it. “That stuff is in our house?” He feigned a look of horror.
Iziah shot him a hate-filled glare before grinding out, “It’s not mine.”
“I took you into my house, and this is how you repay me?” Mr. Davis’ eyes were narrowed with rage, the way they were when he had too much to drink or came home from work with a temper.
“I said, it’s not mine,” Iziah snarled. “Why can’t you get that through your thick skull?”
“Why you...” Mr. Davis stood in front of him, the bag clenched in one hand. Then, out of nowhere, he lashed out with a slap. Iziah stumbled, catching himself on his bed.
Shawn frowned as unease swelled inside him, but he pushed the feeling back. Iziah deserved it. After he’d been kicked out, things would go back to normal.
“You will not disrespect me,” his father hissed. “Not in my house, you asshole.”
Iziah straightened himself, quivering with rage. “I didn’t put it there! It was your idiot son!”
Shawn’s jaw dropped, and he prepared to defend himself.
But his father was too angry to notice, roaring, “Shut up!” Mr. Davis swung again, his fist catching Iziah’s cheekbone. Iziah cried out, dropping to his knees, tears filling his eyes. He touched his reddened cheek. Mr. Davis’ fingers tangled in Iziah’s hair, hauling him to his feet. “I’m just about done putting up with your shit. You know why you don’t stay in one place more than a year at a time? Huh?”
Iziah gripped his arm, glaring.
Mr. Davis gave him a jerk. “Because you’re a worthless little shit, and you always will be.”
That was, apparently, Iziah’s limit, because Iziah braced one foot against the floor and kicked Shawn’s father in the groin. Mr. Davis yelped and dropped to his knees, releasing Iziah. Furious tears streaked the boy’s face.
Iziah shouted, “That’s not true!” and bolted across the room. He plowed past Shawn, knocking him to the floor, and ran out of the house. If not for his irritation, Shawn would have laughed. This was a clear and decisive victory.
He hadn’t known it would come back to haunt him.
His main reason for being in the gang was to have quick access to pot, but he joined the weekly fights on occasion. A few weeks ago, he’d signed up for a fight only to have his old enemy step into the circle. Iziah had worn a vicious grin on his face, and Shawn immediately knew he was screwed. Shawn wasn’t a good fighter to begin with, and Iziah left him bruised and bloodied. The way Iziah had laughed and paraded around the circle after his victory made Shawn quiver with rage.
Losing had cost his good standing in the group, and he was trying to find a way to earn it back again. The only reason he’d been able to join in the first place was that stolen money from his parents helped finance the group’s escapades.
Gang members gave him mocking looks as they passed. Shawn scowled, his face twisted with rage. If it hadn’t been for Iziah, none of this would have happened. The bastard had been waiting for him to step into the circle.
His brow furrowed. He hadn’t known that Iziah joined the Faceless. After Iziah ran away, the police had looked for him without success. His parents had been angry, since they no longer received funds for Iziah’s care, but Shawn was relieved.
They still didn’t know about Shawn’s involvement with the gang. Now that he’d graduated High School, he had his own car, making it easier to get around. Not to mention, both his parents worked, so he could leave without being questioned about his whereabouts.
Shawn looked around, his head ducked. There wasn’t much happening right now, but Gray stood nearby. Middle-aged, there were silver streaks in his dark hair, but he had a gawky, youthful face. He wore ironed clothing and a loose tie. He was responsible for most of the illegal drugs shipped into the city, and the only reason he could show his face in public was that he had dirt on the police department and judicial court. Gray spoke to another man Shawn didn’t recognize. The guest had tanned skin and greasy hair, his nice clothes a little rumpled. A briefcase hung from his knotted, gnarled hand.
“I apologize for the disturbance,” Gray said. His eyes were cool, and he had a political air about him. “Usually we are left alone on this end of town.”
The stranger just nodded.
Two other gangsters stood nearby, looking disgruntled. There were brownish specks on one of their shirts. Gray looked toward them and asked, “Who was it? Do you know?”
“I’m not sure,” the first man said. “There were three, and I think they belonged to the Faceless. We tried to make them back down, since they were close to the border. They were just kids. It wasn’t supposed to be any trouble. There was a chick there, and we thought we might have a little fun. But the next thing we knew, the boy stuck a knife in Mike’s throat.”
Gray rubbed his hand against his chin, his eyes dark.
Shawn listened with intrigue. The Crimson Serpents were rarely attacked, especially in a group.
“I will not tolerate that sort of bullshit from the Faceless,” Gray snarled. “Who do they think they’re dealing with? I don’t mind little skirmishes here and there, but the moment they start killing us is the moment they’re going to pay...starting with the bastard that did it.”
The gangsters nodded, looking eager.
“Kanra had his chance to cooperate. It’s time we took things into our own hands...” Gray paced back and forth for a moment, then continued, “We need to figure out who it was... What did he look like?”
“Looked young, seventeen or eighteen... Black hair. Pretty in the face.”
“Pale,” the first gangster added. “Kinda lanky and desperate looking.”
“He had a fresh cut across his lips.”
“He was threatening us when we attacked, but we figured he was harmless.”
Shawn listened to the conversation with a growing smile. That had to be Iziah. He remembered seeing him take a hit during the last fight.
Iziah killed one of their members? The thought surprised him...yet it didn’t. Iziah looked unhinged with that creepy grin. This was the perfect opportunity for Shawn to regain his standing in the group. And he wanted to get back at Iziah for humiliating him.
Shawn stood. “Mr. Hanes? I know his name.”