21 - Do Your Worst
Hacker Rule #1: Hackers are truth exposers. But the truth is rarely pleasant.
Tiana leaned her head against the car window as she scrolled through pictures of her and her best friend. It had been days since she last heard from Shae. She never needed her so badly. She wished she could tell her everything that was going on in her life. But after watching David get shot just from trying to search for her, Tiana realized her life had become a lot more dangerous than she was anticipating.
“We’ll be there in about an hour or two.” Darren sat in the driver’s seat, maneuvering the van down the dark streets out of Manhattan towards upstate New York. She had rarely seen him outside of base camp.
“Two hours... jeez...” Tiana sighed. “Good thing I brought snacks.”
Darren chuckled as he sped down the highway. “The guys are keeping Roger at an abandoned warehouse in some rural part of upstate New York. Somewhere off the grid. We wanted to make sure there wasn’t a way for him or anyone on his team to track back to our base,” Darren explained.
“That makes sense,” Tiana said, looking back down at her phone.
Darren glanced over at her to see her brow furrowed as she scrolled through her phone. “Are you okay?” he asked.
Tiana shrugged. “I guess I’m just a little nervous. I haven’t felt very useful these past few days to get everything reconfigured for this particular assignment. The guys are the ones doing all the work. And I still can’t open this damn file on Dante’s drive. Shit...”
Darren chuckled. “Don’t stress that, Tiana. A part of me is thinking that maybe that file was never meant to be opened, ya know?”
“Really?” Tiana smirked sarcastically.
“At least I have to tell myself that so I don’t go crazy!” he laughed.
“Ah! Now that makes sense,” she teased. She played with the dog tags around her neck and looked at Darren to see his body was a bit tense. “What about you? You nervous?” she asked.
“Actually, yeah,” Darren admitted. “But not just about this Roger guy, but about the boys. Owen, Jason, and Tyler.” Tiana looked at him confused. “They’ve been obsessing over finding Dante’s killer for so long,” Darren said.
“Well, you all have, haven’t you?” she asked.
“Yea, Tiana, but...” Darren sighed. “You haven’t seen them... not like I have. When they get really violent. When they totally lose control...”
Tiana anxiously bit her bottom lip. “...that doesn’t happen a lot does it...?”
Darren loudly exhaled as he looked out the side window. “The last time the three of them lost control was when they found Dante’s body. Tyler beat the shit out of 13 guys at a bar, and he was sober. Jason completely wrecked a garage and sent 15 guys to the hospital. And Owen...” Darren stopped himself, wondering if he should continue.
“Owen what?” Tiana persisted.
Darren shook his head. “I don’t really wanna talk about it… I don’t wanna be the reason why you see him differently...”
Tiana frowned as she sat back in her seat. “But the guys have him now. They have Dante’s killer. So...”
“I need you to do me a favor, Tiana,” Darren said. She looked at him, waiting for him to continue. “I just need you to help me... keep them in control. I hate this Roger guy just as much as everyone else, but... they’ll kill him. They say they won’t, but I know them... I know them too well. And if they kill him, we’re fucked. That’s something we can never come back from,” Darren said, tightening his hands on the wheel.
Tiana’s shoulders slumped slightly as she looked down.
“I know it’s unfair to ask this of you,” Darren continued. “I know I’m basically asking you to help me save the life of the man who killed your brother. But I’m not doing it for him, I’m doing it for them. I’m trying to protect them. And I can’t do it alone.”
Tiana nodded. “I understand.”
“I’m not really sure how much they’d even listen to me at this point,” Darren chuckled nervously. “They’ve been such emotional wrecks. They’ve gotten way more unpredictable. But at least with you around...”
Tiana looked at Darren to see him smiling at her. “Darren...” she said embarrassed.
Darren chuckled. “I like you, Tiana. I really do. But Jason, and Owen and Tyler... they’re like my brothers. They’re family. I don’t want them to do something they’ll regret. And I know that if you’re there... they’ll at least think twice.”
Tiana felt the weight on her shoulders. This thing she had going on with the guys felt weird as hell. She still didn’t understand why or how they all seemed to have a thing for her. She was quite content being alone, but now she had 3 men in her life who seemed intent on claiming her as their own. And now here she was expected to help rein in their emotions.
“Tiana?” Darren called, trying to snap her out of her thoughts. “I really need you on this.”
“Yea... I got it, Darren...” she sighed.
Roger slowly opened his swollen eyes as he stared down at a blood-stained cement floor. He winced as pain radiated from the back of his head, his lip and several parts of his body. He tried to move, but soon realized he was tied to a chair with his arms restrained behind his back.
“The piece of shit is awake.”
Roger heard an eerily deep robotic voice echo above him. He struggled to look up when something roughly grabbed him by the hair on his head and violently yanked his head back. He struggled to breathe as his neck bent backward awkwardly. He looked up into a disturbing mask with lighted neon eyes that flashed symbols at him.
“Definitely not as hot as Jamie Lannister, even if you do fuck like him,” the masked man chuckled.
“Cut the shit,” another one said.
The masked man released Roger’s head and moved out of the way for Roger to see two other hooded, masked men standing in front of him. He panicked when he caught the dangling chain in one of their hands and the baseball bat in the one that let him go. Swallowing hard, he tilted his head up to look at them.
“...You’re RaVage...” he said lowly.
“Ding. Ding. Ding,” the man said, clapping his gloved hands in front of him. “What’s his prize?”
Roger barely turned his head when he felt a fist slam into his face, nearly knocking his jaw loose. Blood splattered on the ground as Roger felt the entire left side of his face start to throb.
“Shit... That looked like it hurt,” the third guy chuckled as he folded his arms across his chest.
Roger spit the blood pooling in his mouth out before he glared at the masked men in front of him. He noticed that though they all wore the same mask, hoodie, and vest, they had slight variations. The guy with the bat had a yellow stripe on his shoulder. The guy who clapped right before Roger got his jaw rocked had a red stripe. And the guy standing next to him with his arms folded across his chest, holding a chain had a green stripe.
“What the fuck do you assholes want?” Roger sneered.
“Your head... and your body... in two completely different locations,” the guy with the green stripe said menacingly.
Roger looked at him wide-eyed when the first guy with the bat and the yellow stripe started laughing hysterically. “Shit! That’s dark, bro. Even for you,” the yellow-striped guy answered.
Roger tried to blink the sweat out of his eyes as the guy with the red stripe walked towards him. He crouched down in front of him and looked up at Roger with such an eerie silence it set Roger on edge. “What do you want?!” Roger growled.
The red-striped guy cocked his head to the side before quickly grabbing Roger by the throat, choking him. Roger struggled to breathe as his eyes started to bulge. He looked at the red-striped man, thinking he was going to kill him until he finally spoke.
“Get excited... It’s your judgment day.”
“This is it?” Tiana asked, getting out of the car. She looked up at the large, dark, and foreboding warehouse with only a small light coming from one of the lower windows.
“Yea,” Darren said, grabbing a bag from the trunk. “This place has been abandoned for over a decade.”
“Not that hard to see why...” she muttered. She heard Darren grunt and looked over her shoulder to see him pulling duffel bags out of the trunk. She quickly rushed over to help him.
“This place is untraceable,” he explained as they headed towards the building. “It’s one of the few buildings that don’t show up on police scans. No homeless people come here. No cartels. Nothing. It’s perfect for what we need to do.”
“You mean torture a guy,” Tiana said.
Darren stopped walking and looked at her. “Our ways may seem... unconventional...”
“That’s an understatement,” Tiana sighed. “But, you don’t have to explain yourself to me, Darren. I get it.” He twisted his mouth with uncertainty before he continued walking. Darren unhinged the door to get inside. Tiana immediately coughed at the dust around them. It looked like something out of a horror movie.
“I’m trying to remember the order of people of color that die in horror movies. You know... just so I can get my black ass ready in this Blair Witch Project lookin’ ass building,” Tiana said, looking around.
Darren smirked as he led her down a dirty, dark hallway. “You’re good, Tiana.”
“Yea, you say that cause it’s probably your ass who’ll make it to the end, while I’m being gutted by Michael Myers,” she said as Darren laughed.
“Asian guys notoriously die in American horror movies cause they find us disposable,” Darren smirked. “Stereotypically smart. Stereotypically nerdy. Stereotypically dead.”
“Can relate,” Tiana said. “Except for the smart part. We’re typically the ghetto hoochie mamas snapping our fingers and smacking our gum until we get a machete to the chest. They really expect me to believe that someone who spends their time watching Boyz in the Hood is hanging around a bunch of white kids trying to raise their dead grandmother with a Ouija board? Come on Hollywood. Do better.”
“That’s what happens when you have no people of color in the writer’s room,” Darren shrugged. “Now, if you wanna see a good horror film, you gotta watch Japanese or Korean horror.”
“Okay, see no,” Tiana protested. “At least with American horror, I’m like ‘wow they’re stupid! Totally deserved to die’. Asian horror makes me re-evaluate every life decision I’ve ever made since I was a child that might lead me to be haunted by a woman who can transform from water and appear in my faucet. I can’t do it, bro!”
Darren threw his head back, laughing hysterically. “That settles it. After this, we’re binge-watching Asian horror films.”
“Nooo! Come on, Darren!” Tiana whined as Darren continued laughing. They arrived in a dark, deserted room that only had a long table and a few scattered chairs. “Is this place haunted, Darren? Be real with me, boo, cause my negro instincts are telling me ‘BITCH, RUN’!” Tiana said, refusing to take another step.
“I swear you are just like your brother,” Darren laughed. He grabbed her hand and dragged her inside. They set their bags on the old table and Darren immediately started removing equipment. “The guys should be setting up camera equipment in the room they’re holding Roger in. Anna and Joey are on their way after dealing with his clients. You and I will survey the footage and handle the gas,” Darren said.
“Gas?” Tiana asked. “What gas?”
Darren turned to her, holding a medium-sized blue container. “Some might call it a truth serum.”
“Bitch! What is this? Harry Potter?!”
Darren chuckled. “It’s a gas I worked on with Dante for a while. It’s harmless. It just has hallucinogenic pathogens that relax the mind. Make the user more malleable to saying things they wouldn’t normally want others to hear.”
“Interesting...” she said, eyeing it.
“I need you to run a basic physical on Owen, Jason, and Tyler so we can keep track of making sure they’re not affected by the gas once they release it in there.”
“‘Medical doctor’ was not on my resume, Darren,” Tiana said with a quirked brow.
“It’s just the basics, Tiana,” he insisted. “Record their heart rate and check their pupils.”
Tiana sighed with a nod. “Alright...”
Roger looked up to see the yellow-striped and red-striped guy hooking up cameras to different corners of the dirty, dark room he was being held hostage. His eyes slanted over to the green-striped guy standing motionless in front of him. His arms were folded over his chest as the chain dangled from his fist. “Do you ever move?” Roger said snidely.
He heard a deep chuckle from the green-striped captor. “How about I move this chain across your noggin and smash your fucking head to pieces?”
Roger sat back as the green-striped guy took a menacing step forward. But the red-striped guy grabbed his shoulder before he could make a move. “As tempting as that sounds... be patient until the others get here.”
The green-striped guy relaxed his shoulders slightly as the yellow-striped guy checked his phone.
Tiana nearly finished setting up their small dark room into a somewhat decent looking computer lab. “Good job, Tiana. You’re a natural,” Darren smiled. “The guys are on their way up. The room they’re holding Roger in is downstairs.”
“Okay,” she said, scribbling on a notepad as she headed towards the door. “Does this place have a bathroom? I guess that would require plumbing... Does this place have plumbing?”
“I’m not so sure about that,” Darren chuckled nervously.
“Y’all motherfuckers outchea makin’ a girl use a fucking cup, bro?” She sucked her teeth as she opened the door. “Nah, fam-” She froze when she saw two masked men standing in front of her and screamed as she nearly jumped out of her skin.
“Relax, Tiana. It’s just the guys,” Darren said. She turned around to hear the third one chuckling as he walked up to her.
“Did we scare the shit out of you, T, or what?” the red-striped one chuckled.
“Yea, can you not?! There’s no plumbing here!” Tiana blurted. The yellow-striped guy threw his head back laughing. He reached for her but she quickly backed up. “Can you guys... please take those things off? It’s creeping me out...” she said.
“What? You don’t like this, baby girl?” the yellow-striped man teased.
“It’s freaky,” she said. “At least take off the masks so I can see your faces.” She apprehensively stumbled backward as the green-striped man walked up to her, backing her into the wall. He cocked his head to the side as he eyed her up and down.
“But, I like making you tremble...” his robotic voice said lowly.
“This asshole must be Tyler,” she said, shoving him back. “Cut it out, you jerk. Jeezus.”
She heard him chuckle as he pulled back from her and took off his mask. He shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair before he set his chestnut brown eyes on her. “Are you... okay?” Tyler asked with a bit more softness in his voice.
Tiana looked at him surprised and slowly nodded. “Yea... Thanks for the texts... and checking up on me...”
“Would you guys hurry up and kiss so we can go back to beating the shit out of that son of a bitch?” Jason said, taking off his mask.
“What?” Tiana said startled. “I thought you guys were going to start off soft.”
“We did,” Owen said, taking off his mask. “When we kidnapped him. Time for Phase 2.”
“Are you guys sure about this?” Tiana asked, apprehensively. “Maybe if you just try to talk to him-”
“There is no fucking talking,” Tyler snapped. “He killed Dante. He gets one fucking shot.” Tiana looked at Tyler surprised to see how quickly he went from practically giving her googly eyes to cussing up a storm. Talking about her deceased brother always seemed to turn the guys into something else less... loving.
“Relax, T...” Tiana felt a gentle touch against her arm and looked to see Owen gently caressing her. She immediately felt her cheeks flush as he smiled that dazzling smile that always made her weak. “Darren said you were going to check our specs,” Owen said, nudging with his head.
“Um, yea,” Tiana said, looking at Darren.
“There’s an emergency first aid kit over there in the corner,” Darren pointed while he tapped at his computer. “You can use the stethoscope to check their pulses.”
Tyler leaned against the edge of the table with his arm out as Tiana held his large wrist in her hands. He watched her quietly as she squinted, listening to his pulse with the stethoscope. She quickly leaned over to record the numbers. “Can’t even tell if these numbers are normal,” she chuckled nervously.
“Doesn’t matter. Only if it changes,” Tyler said.
She bit her lip as she grabbed a small flashlight to check his pupils. It unnerved her to see his eyes intently search her own.
“I still make you nervous, Tiana?” he asked.
Tiana pretended to scoff as she pulled the flashlight away. “No. You never did,” she shrugged.
“Really?” Tyler said, raising an amused brow. He lightly ran his fingers along her arm, feeling the goosebumps rise on her skin. “Then... why do you tremble so much every time I touch you?” he asked, his eyes probing her.
“It’s only natural, Tyler,” she said. She tried to pull away from him, but he grabbed her arm again and pulled her towards him. He wrapped both of his hands around her waist, locking her in his embrace. He looked at her eyes that were trying to avoid his own and rubbed his lips against hers.
“Is it natural for you to resist me?” he asked, trying to catch her eye. “Is it natural for me to want you like this?” Tiana swallowed hard as she finally looked into Tyler’s eyes. “Yes, I fucking want you,” Tyler said, answering her unspoken question. “You know I do.”
She breathed out nervously as he took her lips with his. He tightened his grip on her waist and tried to push his tongue inside her mouth when she gently pushed him back. A million thoughts floated in her mind with one at the forefront. Tyler looked at her confused as she breathed out. “... I- I don’t think you guys should do this, Tyler...”
Tyler looked at her taken back and scoffed annoyed. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
“I just think-”
“Dante was your brother, Tiana. Shouldn’t you of all people want this the most?” Tyler said firmly.
She knew that was more of a judgmental statement than an actual question. “But… there has to be other ways...”
“We’ve tried other ways, Tiana. This is the only way,” Tyler said, catching her eye. “There’s no point trying to talk us out of it. It’s too late for that now.”
Tiana looked at him helplessly. “I’m just trying to look out for you guy-”
“Don’t,” Tyler abruptly cut her off. “We’re not fucking children. We don’t need a damn babysitter. We’ll fucking handle it.”
Tiana sighed in defeat as she completely gave up. “Fine, Tyler. I’m not arguing with your stubborn rude ass,” she said, turning away from him. But, he quickly grabbed her arm and yanked her back towards him as she slammed into his chest. “Tyler!” she snapped annoyed.
“I’m... sorry. I didn’t mean to snap,” he said annoyed without letting her go.
“You’re always snapping at me,” she huffed. “Even when I’m trying to help. I don’t understand why you have to be such a fucking jerk-”
“I get it, alright,” he said, holding her still. “I’m trying to work on it. I just... it doesn’t come that easy for me...”
She looked up at him. “... work on what, Tyler..”
Tyler bit his lip as he tried to find his words. “Controlling my temper... not being so-”
“Defensive?” Tiana said quickly. “A complete and total jackass?”
Tyler gave a small smirk. “Yea... that...”
Tiana calmed down a bit as she looked into his brown eyes. “And why would you want to do that, Tyler...?”
Tyler probed her eyes as he leaned in. He firmly gripped her waist and pulled her body flushed against his. “...you know exactly why...”
“Just so you know you have two other contenders...”
Tyler smirked knowingly. “They have great tastes. I don’t mind sharing...”
Tiana couldn’t even wrap her mind around what he had just said. She felt Tyler’s hands slide down to her buttocks and softly caress them before squeezing firmly. She breathed out as he firmly grabbed the back of her neck and slammed his lips into hers. “Speaking of tastes... I have yet to taste you...” he said against her lips.
Tiana immediately pulled back from him and stared at him wide-eyed. “Shit, Tyler,” she muttered. She tried to calm her rapid breathing from how horny he just made her.
He merely smirked. “You look kinda hot and bothered, princess. Did I make you a little we-”
“Tyler!” she said, covering his mouth.
Tyler put his hands up in surrender as he smirked. “Raincheck, then.”
“Raincheck,” she muttered. She rolled her eyes and headed towards Jason.
Tiana eagerly downed half a bottle of water. She scribbled on her notepad, walking towards Jason. “Doctor Tiana... Now why does that sound like the start of some really kinky ass foreplay,” Jason smirked. He put his phone in his pocket and leaned against the wall.
“Don’t start with me, Jason. I just need to check two things,” Tiana said, putting the notepad down.
“Then check me, baby,” Jason smirked. “I’m all yours. Do I need to take off my shirt? My pants? Your panties?”
“Can you be serious for once,” she groaned, grabbing his wrist to check his pulse.
“I’m trying to be, but I keep imagining you in a sexy nurse’s outfit. And now, I just wanna fuck the shit out of you wearing only a stethoscope,” Jason said, grabbing her waist.
“I will stab you with this pen,” Tiana threatened him. “Be serious!” Jason smirked as he gave her his forearm. Tiana lightly traced her fingers over his skin and frowned when she saw a growing bruise. “How did you get this?” she asked.
Jason looked at it and shrugged. “Probably when I was throwing that asshole into the back of the van. Had to knock his ass out a few times.” Tiana looked at Jason apprehensively and took a step back. But he quickly grabbed her hand. “Hey?” he said confused. “You know I’d never hurt you.”
“I know that, Jason,” she said frustrated. “I’m just worried about you guys hurting yourselves.”
“We’re not the ones tied to a chair,” he grinned.
“That’s not what I mean,” she sighed. “Darren warned me that when it comes to this stuff... you guys get a little...”
“He’s exaggerating,” Jason chuckled as he pulled her close. “We’ll be fine.” Tiana frowned, feeling unsure until Jason placed a finger underneath her chin and tilted her head up. “It’s cute that you’re worried. Not a lot of people in my life worry about me,” he said. “But I promise... I’ll just keep my mind on you...”
Tiana couldn’t help but smile as Jason leaned in. She eagerly placed her lips on his as he worked his tongue into her mouth. What was meant to be a simple kiss quickly escalated as she felt the uncontrollable hunger in Jason’s kiss. She stumbled back against the column as he wrapped his hands around her thighs and lifted her onto his waist. “Jason,” she breathed out as he pressed her up against the column and attacked her neck with his mouth. She let out an erotic moan as she felt his erection pressing into her core.
“Fuck, I miss you,” Jason groaned into her neck.
“I’m right here, Jason,” Tiana panted.
“Fucking you, baby. I miss fucking you and that sweet, tight pussy,” he smirked as he sucked on her neck.
“Hello?!” Tyler clapped at them.
Jason reluctantly put Tiana down as she tried to catch her breath. She looked up at Tyler and felt her cheeks flush. “I um... I need some air,” she said, clearing her throat. Jason abruptly slapped her ass and she jumped with a squeal before she briskly walked away.
“Goddamn, Jason,” Tyler muttered as he watched Tiana leave.
“What? Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve tasted her? I’m fucking deprived,” Jason said, watching her. Tyler shook his head. “Besides,” Jason said, looking at Tyler. “Thinking about her keeps me from wanting to rip that son of a bitch’s head clean off his shoulders.”
Tyler nodded with a sigh. “..Let’s just get this shit over with...”
Tiana finished guzzling down another bottle of water when she walked back inside the warehouse. She looked up when she caught Owen slipping brass rings onto his knuckles. She stopped in her tracks as he looked in her direction. “Don’t freak out, T. It’s fine,” he smirked at her.
“I’m sure those rings aren’t for wedding purposes...” she muttered anxiously.
Owen shook his head and motioned her over with his hand. “Come here, T.” She walked over to him, eyeing the weapons on the table next to him. “Don’t worry about that,” Owen said, distracting her.
“How can I not worry?” she said, slightly panicking.
Owen gave her a soft smile as he rolled up his sleeve and gave her his wrist. Tiana exhaled as she put the stethoscope in her ears and checked his pulse. He could see her slightly shaking as she went to record his numbers in a notepad. “Relax, T...” he said, rubbing her shoulders comfortingly.
“How can I relax, Owen? This shit is crazy what you guys are doing!” she snapped. Wrapping his hands around her waist, he pulled her between his legs and leaned back against the table. “Owen, stop,” she said annoyed.
“Look at me, T,” he said, grabbing her chin. “Stop it and look at me.” She loudly exhaled before she raised her dark brown eyes to meet his light blue ones. “We’ve been doing this for years-” he started.
“But, Owen, that doesn’t mean-” she said, getting upset again.
“Tiana,” he said, trying to calm her down.
“I’m just saying-!”
“Tiana!” he said more firmly. “Look at me, baby.” Tiana groaned as she looked at him again. “You trust me, right?” he asked, looking into her eyes.
“Owen, that’s not-”
“Do. You. Trust. Me?” he asked more firmly.
Her shoulders fell. “... of course, I do, O...”
“Then relax,” he smiled at her. “You have nothing to worry about. I promise.” He heard her whimper slightly as she looked at him helplessly. “Come here, baby...” he said as he enclosed his arms around her. She looked at his perfect lips that she saw turn up into a smile. “Kissing is better than staring, T,” he teased.
She rolled her eyes and hit him in the chest. He reflexively grabbed her wrist and pulled her forward, eagerly pressing his lips against hers. Tiana shivered against Owen as he stroked her sides, his fingers pressed into her skin as his tongue ran over her lips.
“Open for me, baby… let Daddy in...” he whispered against her lips. Obeying, she parted her lips and moaned out loud as his tongue tangled with hers.
“Look at this shit,” Jason said, walking in and playfully swinging his bat. “Beauty and the Freak-a-leek. Wrap it up. We got shit to do.”
“Jason...” Owen muttered annoyed.
“If Ty is going to cockblock me, OBVIOUSLY I’m going to cockblock your Jekyll & Hyde ass,” Jason smirked.
Owen rolled his eyes before he set them on a giggling Tiana. “I promise that no matter what... I got you,” Owen said, caressing her cheek with his thumb. “You know why?”
Tiana looked up at him. “...because you love me...”
Owen smiled. “Fiercely.”
Tiana couldn’t help but smile back. “I love you too, O.”
Tiana stood back with Darren as she watched Jason, Owen, and Tyler put their masks and hoodies back on. The creepy feeling returned as she eyed their intimidating RaVage look. “You guys have the gas hooked up?” Darren asked.
Tyler in the leather jacket with the green-stripe nodded. “Cameras are linked as well,” his robotic voice reverberated throughout the room.
Tiana rubbed her shoulders, trying to rid herself of her anxiety. She glanced at Owen in the leather jacket with the red-stripe as he gave her a thumbs up. “Don’t let Tiana watch too much,” Owen’s robotic voice rang out. “Especially if things get...”
“Yea, I got it,” Darren said, looking at Tiana who sighed in frustration.
“Don’t miss us too much, babe,” Jason said in the leather jacket with the yellow-stripe. His LED neon mask winked at her and that was the only time it ever looked somewhat cute and harmless to her. Tiana took a deep breath and waved as they headed back to the room where Roger was being held captive.
Tiana played with the dog tags around her neck as she watched Owen, Tyler, and Jason interrogate the strange guy tied to a chair. She didn’t know what unnerved her more, how terrifying they looked in those masks and hoodies, or how unapologetic they seemed to be in how they wailed on the guy’s body.
She cringed when she saw Owen shove his brass-knuckled fist into Roger’s stomach until he coughed up blood. “I don’t see how this tactic is providing results...” she said anxiously.
“They have their ways...” Darren said, staying focused on the screen. Tiana flinched again when she saw Tyler knee Roger in the face right before Jason slammed the bat against his back. “Maybe you shouldn’t watch,” Darren said quickly.
Tiana didn’t even protest. She nodded and turned to the computer she was working on. Sifting through several files, her fingers continued to tease the dog tags hanging around her neck. “I know I said not to watch, but I don’t think obsessing over that file is any better,” Darren teased.
“Listen, Darren. Don’t come for me, bro,” she smirked at him as he laughed out loud.
Roger coughed up more blood as his bruised body hung over limply. “You can make this very simple for yourself,” Owen said. “But you’re a stubborn little piece of shit.”
“There’s no point lying,” Tyler added. “We already have enough evidence against you.”
Roger started coughing again as he hacked up more blood. His cough quickly turned into laughter that reverberated off of the dirty walls. “What the fuck is so funny,” Jason said tilting Roger’s chin up with the baseball bat.
“You,” Roger chuckled. “All of you. Are so fucking pathetic. HeaTWave has always been better than you. Better than RaVage. Always multiple steps ahead. You and your fucking moronic vigilante shit, hacking government officials and corporations like the losers you are.”
“Because attacking middle-class workers and helping corrupt politicians and dirty corporations are so much better,” Owen mocked snidely.
Roger immediately burst out laughing as he threw his head back in hysterics. “You guys are fucking children!”
“Keep laughing and I swear I’ll carve that smirk off your fucking face,” Tyler snarled, roughly grabbing Roger by his shirt.
“Droid,” Owen ordered. “Come here.”
“Just let me knock his teeth loose,” Tyler growled, raising his fist.
“Dammit, Droid, NOW!” Owen said more firmly. Tyler sucked his teeth as he released Roger from his clutches. He walked back to Owen who grabbed him by the shoulder. “Let’s just stay focused on the questions,” Owen said. Tyler subtly nodded as he stood next to his brother.
Roger smirked as his eyes switched from Tyler’s mask to Jason’s to Owen’s. “Guessing you’re the leader of the group,” Roger said, eyeing Owen.
“There is no leader,” Owen said.
“Oh right,” Roger smirked. He let his head fall back and looked at the ceiling. “He’s dead isn’t he...”
Tyler instinctively tensed up as Jason shifted his bat between hands. “What the fuck did you just say?” Jason threatened.
“Dante Morris. Also known as Silos of your little hacker shit. Yea... I know all about Dante...” Roger smirked.
Owen pulled Tyler back as he stepped forward. “What do you know about him?” Owen demanded. “What did you do?”
Roger shrugged with a chuckle. “Why are you so concerned about him? Shouldn’t you be more concerned about your mother? Not much of a fighter is she with the way she’s been getting her ass kicked in prison...”
Owen felt all the air leave his lungs as his heart beat furiously in his chest. He shook his head, not really sure if he heard what Roger said correctly or if he was being affected by the gas.
“Fuck,” Tiana said, staring wide-eyed at the screen.
“Holy shit...” Darren muttered. He and Tiana quickly turned around at the sound of the door opening to see Joey walk in.
“Hey,” Joey said, putting his bag down on the floor. “Sorry, I’m a little late. Anna is wrapping some shit up. How are they doing?”
“Not good,” Darren said, looking back at the screen. “I think... Roger just admitted he had something to do with the fights targeted towards Owen and Tyler’s mom.”
“What?!” Joey blurted. “Holy shit! That means they know who we are!”
“Fuck,” Darren muttered as he sifted his fingers through his hair. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
Tiana swallowed hard as she leaned back and looked at the boys on the screen.
“What the fuck are you talking about?! What did you do?!” Owen had grabbed Roger by the hair on his head, but the little demon was still laughing as if he had just told the most impressive joke.
“The same thing I had done to that whore sister,” Roger chuckled. “Such a great actress. I’ve seen her work. Think she’d do much better in the porn industry seeing how well she can take a cum sho-”
Before Roger finished his sentence, Jason had thrown his bat over his shoulder and tackled Roger to the ground. His gloved fist met Roger’s face repeatedly.
“I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU!” Jason growled.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Darren said, shooting up to his feet. “They’re gonna kill him!”
“Guys!” Tiana screamed into the mic. “Guys, you have to stop!” But when Tiana looked at the screen, she saw all three guys pummeling Roger’s body still tied to just a sliver of wood from the chair that was now broken into pieces.
“We gotta go pull them out,” Joey said. He grabbed a mask and tossed one to Darren. “They’re fucking gone. We gotta get them ourselves.”
“Let me com-” Tiana started.
“NO!” Joey snapped at her. “You stay here. Darren and I will go,” he said, putting on his mask. Tiana watched nervously as Darren and Joey pulled their hoods over their heads and rushed out of the room.
She turned back to the screen to see splatters of blood all over the floor. Roger’s body was barely visible from the three men in a violent fury. Two other bodies quickly entered the room and roughly yanked the guys off. Joey and Darren seemed to have a hard time controlling the three of them. Neither of them had on mics, but she did hear through the other mics, Joey mention “Dante” and Darren say “your girl” a few times before the guys angrily walked out of the room.
Seconds later, Tiana heard yelling as the guys stormed into the room. “Just take a 5-minute break,” Joey insisted.
“WE FUCKING GOT IT!” Tyler shouted angrily as he threw his mask halfway across the room. Tiana jumped when she heard a crash as she saw Jason’s baseball bat go flying and smash against a window.
“Do we need to take you guys off this shit?” Joey asked. “Darren and I can take over.”
“No,” Owen muttered. He anxiously rubbed his fist that was shaking uncontrollably.
“Seriously, Owen,” Joey said. “It’s no problem. We can finish up, and-”
“I FUCKING SAID NO!” Owen growled as he shoved his fist into the weak wall. “WE GOT IT!” Joey sighed with resignation. He looked at Darren who only shrugged in defeat. “We just... we need a fucking minute, alright?!” Owen snarled. He leaned on the table trying to control his anger.
Tiana looked at Tyler pressing his forehead against a wall breathing heavily. Then she looked at Jason sitting on the floor with his head in his hands. She’d never seen them so distraught.
Tiana glanced at Darren. “Can you check their specs again?” Darren asked. “Make sure they’re not being affected by the gas? Check for yellow spots in the eyes.” Tiana nodded nervously as she turned to grab her notebook, stethoscope, and flashlight. She didn’t see the point as all of their heart rates were up. Their pupils were constricted, but thankfully no yellow spots.
“Jason...” she said softly, trying to pull his hand from his chest. “I need to check your pulse...” He gave her his wrist, but he didn’t look at her. She looked at Jason’s face and had never seen him so angry before in all her time knowing him. When she finished jotting down his numbers she looked up at him and bit her lip. “Maybe... maybe you guys should stop,” she said meekly. “Darren and Joey can-”
“We’re fine, Tiana,” Jason said firmly. He pulled his hand away from her and walked to the door. Tiana couldn’t remember the last time she heard Jason address her by her first name... if at all...
“You ready?” Tyler asked, grabbing his mask. Jason nodded as he grabbed his mask and bat.
Owen went to put his mask back on before Tiana grabbed his hand. “Don’t, T,” Owen said quickly.
“You’re bleeding,” she said, looking at his knuckles. They were shredded from punching the wall.
“I’m fine,” Owen said, pulling his hand away from her.
“Can you please just let me dress it at least? Please?” she pleaded. Her cries coming more from a place of apprehension at how this was affecting them than his actual hand. Owen looked at her and swallowed hard before he slowly nodded. She heard Tyler sigh as she quickly walked to the table to grab the first aid kit. Using a cotton swab, she dabbed at Owen’s wounds.
“You guys told me to trust you,” she said out loud without looking at any of them. “If I’m going to do that... I need you to not lose yourselves to this... to him...” She wrapped Owen’s hand before placing the glove back on. “I don’t know just how important I am to any of you. But, I’m hoping it’s enough for you to remember what I’m asking.”
She wrapped her arms around herself and looked up at them. She felt her heartbeat quicken to see all three of them looking at her, each expression completely unreadable. All she received was a subtle nod from Owen before he signaled with his fingers for them to go.
Tiana let out a quick breath as she watched them put their masks back on and head back outside. She caught Joey typing on a tablet while Darren fixed the guys’ communication equipment. “Joey?” Tiana asked.
Joey looked at her and gave a nervous smile. “...hey, Tiana..”
“Where have you been?” she asked. “I haven’t seen you in a while. And have you seen Shae? I’ve been trying to contact her, but I get nothing. I saw a note back at the apartment that she’s away or something? Do you know anything about that?”
Joey hesitated before he averted his eyes. “Yea... she’s back actually...”
“SHE’S BACK?!” Tiana blurted, quickly pulling out her phone.
“But, I think you need to give her a minute,” Joey said quickly.
Tiana looked at him confused. “Why?”
“She’s got a lot going on... family stuff... Just give her some time. I’ll let her know you’re looking for her,” Joey insisted.
Tiana scoffed a bit annoyed. “She’s my best friend, but she feels more comfortable telling you what’s going on but not me?”
“It’s not like that,” Joey said quickly. “She... she doesn’t know how to explain it to you without freaking you out. No one is closer to her than you, Tiana. Just... give her some time okay?” Tiana frowned, not understanding why Joey was being so obtuse. But she was happy with that one bit of good news for the day. She nodded and let him go back to what he was doing.
Tiana sat back in the room of computers. Joey and Darren spoke to the guys before letting them go back inside. A part of her felt disappointed that she wasn’t able to talk them down the way she had hoped. But as Darren said... They were like his brothers. She had to trust Joey and Darren to handle it.
She played with the dog tags around her neck when she heard the door open and saw Anna walk in. “Hey, chica...”
Tiana looked at Anna and saw that the overtly pretty Latina who always looked perfect had the most defeated look on her face. “Hey, Anna...” Tiana said. “Are you okay?”
Anna shrugged. “Joey sent me a text of what’s going on. Caught me up to speed. If the puta messed with Owen and Tyler’s mom and Jason’s sister... there’s no doubt that he killed...” Tiana frowned as she looked down. Anna sat down next to her and grabbed Tiana’s hand. “I’ve had so much hatred,” Anna said. “Because I felt like Dante was taken so abruptly from me. I thought I’d be happy that we finally caught his killer, but I’m... just tired. Now, I just want some peace... and some justice for the man I fell so fucking hard for.”
Tiana squeezed Anna’s hand comfortingly and smiled at her. “Me too.”
“WOW! FORREAL, DANTE! YOU CHEATIN’ ASS NIGGA!”
Dante snickered like the Joker himself as he dribbled the basketball around Tiana. He took a shot, and it swished through the hoop. “AYY!!! WHAT’S GOOD, BABY!” Dante boasted as he flicked his shirt.
“You swear you think you the shit,” Tiana smirked as she grabbed the basketball.
“Sis, I KNOW I’m the shit. Watch your big brother now,” Dante said, doing the crip walk.
“You a whole ass fool. You know that, right?” Tiana said, dribbling the ball.
“Says the hater to the G.O.A.T.,” Dante teased as he grabbed the ball from her.
“Alright, you know what... I’m done with you,” Tiana said, jumping on her brother’s back.
“FOUL! FOUL! Somebody get this crazy-ass off me!” Dante laughed. Tiana got her brother to the ground as she tried to pull his shirt over his head. “YO, CHILL! CHILL! DAMN SON!” Dante laughed. “You almost ripped off pop’s dog tags!”
Tiana smirked as she sat on the ground and watched her brother rearrange the dog tags around his neck. “I miss him...” she said, staring at them. Dante looked at her fondly and gave a sad smile. He removed the dog tags from around his neck and put them on her. “No, wait, Dante-” she protested.
“Relax, sis...” Dante said, placing them over her head and around her neck. “When I start missing him like crazy... I just hold them... and I can feel him again. Hear his voice... Especially that funky ass impression he used to do of Uncle James.”
Tiana laughed out loud. “Sounding like a Northern ass Barry White.”
“Right?” Dante grinned. He watched his sister smile down at their father’s dog tags. “One of these days, I’mma pass those on to you for good,” Dante said a bit more seriously. Tiana looked at her brother confused. “It’s gonna help you answer a lot of questions,” he added. “So, take care of them.”
“Why do you have to sound so cryptic?” she asked.
Dante smiled softly as he grabbed her hand. “Because you’re the smartest person I know, T... and though I may have my hiccups... my faults and my mistakes... you’re better than me. And there’s nothing... nothing you can’t do.”
Tiana looked at him curiously before she broke out into a grin. “You sappy ass negro,” she laughed as she tackled him backward.
Tiana snapped out of her daydream. The laughs of her and her brother years ago still echoing in her mind. She looked down at the dog tags she had been playing with all day when her eyes widened. She quickly removed them from her neck and looked at her dad’s serial numbers lined at the bottom of the tags.
After sticking Dante’s thumb drive into the computer, she eagerly searched for the file she found impossible to open.
“39045..” She clacked the numbers from the tag into the password as her heart beat fast in her chest. Her finger trembled when she hit enter. Several files popped up from the once locked file. “Oh my god!” she gasped. “It’s open! It’s open!! I opened it!!”
Anna, who was leaning against a chair going through pictures of her and Dante on her phone, suddenly looked up. “What’s open?” she asked.
“The file! The fucking file we’ve been trying forever to extract! It was just my dad’s dog tags!” Tiana’s eyes quickly scanned all the documents within the file. Then she felt her stomach drop. “...holy... fucking... shit...”
“What is it?” Anna asked, getting up. Tiana looked at Anna and quickly closed the laptop before Anna could look at it. “Tiana?” Anna asked, confused.
“I... I need to find Darren. And the guys! I... I-” Tiana quickly ran out of the room and dashed through the old decrepit hallway.
Roger eyed the three masked men standing in front of him, their bodies evident of how difficult it was to remain calm. He glanced at the one with the yellow-striped leather jacket dragging his bat on the ground while staring at him as if ready to knock his lights out. The one with the green-striped leather jacket shoved himself further to the left so as not to tempt himself to put his hands on him. The one with the red-striped leather jacket seemed to be managing all of them as he kept his face towards Roger.
“You seem upset...” Roger smirked. “Did I strike a chord?”
“I’d shut the fuck up if I were you,” Owen sneered.
“You’re one second away from getting your head smashed in,” Tyler added. Roger shrugged nonchalantly.
“We just want you to fucking admit that you killed Dante Morris,” Owen said, trying to control his rage.
Roger sighed with boredom. “Aren’t you even wondering how we knew how to find your mother and sister?”
Tiana ran into the room where Joey and Darren were talking. “DARREN!” Tiana shouted.
“Tiana?” Darren said, confused. “You okay?”
“Get them out of there!” she screamed as she pointed to the screen. “Tell them to get out now!!”
“What?” Joey asked. “Why?”
“JUST GET THEM OUT!” she yelled frantically.
“Tiana, what are you-” Darren started, but Tiana already grabbed a key and ran out of the room. She ran down the stairs and headed straight for the room the guys were locked in with Roger.
“Tyler Evans. Jason Davis. Owen Evans...” The three of them looked at Roger startled. “How else would we have known about all of you if we didn’t have an ’in man’?” Roger smirked.
“What the fuck are you saying?” Tyler blurted. Jason dropped his bat as Owen stumbled backward.
“...he’s... he’s saying... Dante... was a part of... HeaTWave...” Owen breathed out.
Tyler looked at Owen in complete and utter shock before he turned back to Roger. “YOU’RE FUCKING LYING!”
Tiana swung the door open, all out of breath as a rush of gas came at her face. She panted frantically as she looked at the four of them. “What are you doing in here?!” Owen shouted at her.
“She’s here because she knows... Don’t you, Tiana?” Roger smirked knowingly at her.
The three of them turned to look at Tiana. She swallowed hard as she touched her dog tags swinging against her chest. “I... I was just coming to tell them... to tell you,” she stammered. “That-”
“That Dante played us all for fools,” Roger said, sucking his teeth. “He was supposed to be our friend. He was one of the most brilliant members of HeaTWave. And then he played us. Just like he played you. Playing double agent is what got him killed.”
The guys couldn’t believe what they were hearing. They didn’t want to. It didn’t feel real. “I bet his sister is in on it too, right Tiana?” Roger glared at her. “He told us an awful lot about you. How you helped him.”
Tiana tried to blink the tears out of her eyes. “I did not. I would never.”
“He was your brother. You guys were so close,” Roger said, cocking his head to the side. “How many different projects did you guys work on together that helped my team?”
Tiana blinked furiously as she remembered all the documents she saw in the unlocked file labeled HeaTWave. A file containing all the different computer science projects she worked on with her brother. She took a step back as all three masks slowly turned to look at her. Unable to see their expressions, she had no idea what was going on in their heads. But whatever it was, she knew it wasn’t good.
“Tiana... did you...?” one of them asked.
She couldn’t even tell who was asking because her tears were quickly blurring her sight. She reluctantly nodded and felt her stomach drop to see the three of them react as if she had just stabbed them in the chest. “Guys...” Tiana said, taking a tentative step back. “I swear I didn’t know. I would never do anything to hurt you on purpose. I swear!”
“Funny. That’s the same thing Dante said to me,” Roger butted in. “I bet they were both playing us. Her and her brother.”
“SHUT UP!” Tiana screamed. She rushed towards him with her hand raised, ready to strike, before one of them caught her arm. She looked up at the unnerving mask with anxiety as it slowly shook its head at her.
“Never trust a fucking Morris,” Roger sneered.