It's not originally what she thought it would be.
Inside the warehouse, there was nothing but opened and unopened boxes with dust over them; large and small, all lined up in perfect single lines. The air smelled of old things and dust. But Nova guessed it was the perfect coverup. The perfect illusion for anyone who stumbled inside the warehouse. One wouldn't think it was a spot for a gang, but if you venture further, past the white blinds, you might shatter the illusion.
When you step past the normalcy, you find chaos. Men hovering around a large room, all ripped and huge. Some lounge on a couch, drinking, and smoking. Others were playing video games, punching bags, or loading guns and putting them in crates. It wasn’t just guns, but there are money counters that were making awful noises and teddybears being ripped open in the stomach, putting something powdered inside before sewing them up.
It was something she had always seen on the screen of her tv, but what she was seeing right now was the reality. There were people who do stuff like this and she was right in the center of it. Because that was where fate decided to put her at.
When eyes started to pay attention to her, Screw became her safest place; it was him she rushed to stay close to, her hands shaking, and careful not to touch anything that might leave her fingerprints behind in case the police ever raided the warehouse.
These men weren’t here to play around; they were here to put down anyone that was a threat to them, and they were looking at her as if she was the dirtiest thing in the room.
Nova gets it though. Among all these men, she was the only woman. That was bound to make her unpopular, also the most unlikable. It was a good thing she didn’t give a single fuck, but Ghost had to rethink his decision in bringing her here. She was fully content with just getting shit done without being trapped in a cage with lions.
They walked down a long hallway. Some of the lights in here have died and only a few remained alive. There were cracks and graffiti on the wall. Most of the doors were ajar to small rooms that held more stacked boxes and tables. She peeked into one of the rooms and wished she hadn't. Because as soon as she did, she became trapped in an unmoving expression that never faltered. It sent a shiver through her skin.
She doesn’t know what people consider him, but Mario could easily be an angel of death. Except, putting his name and angel in the same sentence didn’t feel right. And she wasn’t going to say he didn't just put a long-barreled shotgun on his shoulder the minute their eyes connected as a threat. He was making a statement.
He stood and her breath catches. He started to approach and her heart startled, then he was slamming the door on her face.
Screw had been watching her go through her rush of emotions from the opened doorway. With the same look of mystification on his face, he hollered with a laugh, "Did you get yourself into Mario's shit list? Damn, girl." He disappeared inside another room, and she took five steps inside.
It was one big spaced room that had a wooden table and chairs. The windows shutters were closed and the air conditioner was blasting off. In front of her was a whiteboard that was at least seventy-two inches in size. Names, dates, and locations were written on them, although, most of them had been crossed off. This took Nova back to the text she had stumbled on Ghost's phone. Assassinate, she remembered it said. Seeing her name up there, she hoped she wasn’t going to be assassinating anyone.
"Are you usually this annoyingly quiet?" Screw's words bounced into her ears, and she slipped him a glance to find him standing at the corner with his arms crossed.
"No, I'm usually talkative and fun when I get blackmailed to work for a gang," she snapped. She didn’t mean to. His indifference to her situation was maddening to Nova. But what did she expect? Pity? These people didn’t do pity or mercy. If they were merciful people, they would have forgiven Grant, and she wouldn't be standing here, about to take on a job that will land her in prison.
His eyebrows furrowed. "Yea, sucks to be you."
She gave him her deepest glare to date. "What am I doing here, Screw?" She took the chance of asking, just in case he obliged her with an actual answer. "All I know is that you're going to show me how ‘things work’ or whatever, but I don't know what that means. I don't know how to do whatever you guys do."
"Really?" he asked, his voice pitching on the last syllable. "Didn't he give you the key to the kingdom?"
Nova knew who he meant, so she shook her head instead.
"But he put the crown on you so that basically means he gave you the key to the kingdom."
"Wait," she almost screeched, doubling over. "Ghost? Ghost is your boss? The boss?" Her heart shattered into a million pieces. Hope gained wings and took flight. Her lungs felt punctured, cutting off her circulation. Every second the arrow on the clock moved, it was her lifespan that decreases.
"Hold up! I didn't say he is the big boss." Screw was quick to add with a slight nod. “Yeah, he is the boss because he handles shit down here in this neighborhood. We're spread throughout the city, and this is Ghost's territory."
"Your gang is that big?"
He laughed as if her statement was the biggest joke of the century. “Mama, we're the biggest gang in Portland." He grinned from ear to ear. "We run this city through and through, and we make your shitty-ass leaders quiver."
"Being a criminal is not an achievement."
He shrugged with dispassion. "'Tis what puts food on our table. I ain't got no problem doing things out of the law book." His eyes held her gaze, but his face was indecipherable. She twisted an errant hair back behind her ear and looked away, landing on the whiteboard.
"Why is my name up there?"
"Right!" He stood and walked over to the board, slapping his palm next to her name. Screw’s knuckles were covered with tattoos and rings. “This is your schedule—you're going to make deliveries every Tuesdays and Fridays, and you will find the package on your doorstep on your respective days. Note down the addresses and times. When the week is over, you're gonna come back here for a new schedule."
Her face pitched enough that she felt it.
"If you're dealing with problems, or you've fucked up, this is the SOS number." The number was the largest thing written on the board as if to make a bold statement. Screw smiled when he continued, "This isn't a hotline for Ghost, or me. Be straight up about your problems when you call. Kane doesn't like people or phone calls. He will leave you high and dry, and if that happens, you're fucked and he won't be held accountable."
A snort came up from Nova. “Lovely customer service. He sounds like someone who is liked by everyone," she asserted, sarcastically. Peering up at him, prodded earnestly, “Is that all?"
Screw picked something from his pocket and threw it across the table, landing perfectly next to her. “This is a burner phone. Do you know what a burner phone is?"
Nova’s retort came in sharply, “I'm not stupid."
"No, you're not." He paused, straightening a little, his eyes growing more alert. "Someday, you might be called in for an extra job that is a little different and out of your specialty. Let's hope you don't receive a call from it."
"Please, try not to hold back from scaring the shit out of me."
"I like you, Nova. I hope Ghost keeps you around for a while."
"I hope not. I'm only doing this until I can pay back the money we owe him,” she remarked, feeling like bouncing on her feet to contain her annoyance for being reminded of the reason she was here.
"Ah, Grant,” Screw mused, his voice rough and low. “I'm surprised he's still breathing. Ghost isn't known for mercy, pity or forgiveness."
"How..." Nova stopped, feeling her chest snap. She gritted her teeth hard, but it didn’t do any good. “How did he get into your gang?"
"How do you think? You will be surprised at the length people can go to earn some cash. Desperate people always the dumbest people. Your brother was selling for a lowlife dealer and he wanted to up his game, work for the big league.”
Screw made sure Nova noted down the addresses and time on her phone before he walked her out of the room. They headed down the same hallway they came from and into the first room she saw. All massive heads turned their way. One guy and Mario’s communal head shot up too; Mario resigned himself to his usual nasty glare. The whole room had gone tensely quiet.
In an instant, heads were turned away again. Ghost’s cousin was out of his seat, nodded his head to the guy he was talking to before he sauntered away. The rest of the guys ignored us.
Screw whistled. "That was fast. You sure know how to make Mario clear out from a room. Do you have a contagious disease I don’t know about? Or are you the half-sister he hates with his guts?" He bit back a laugh, jostling his shoulder with hers.
"I don't care about him, but why the hostility from everyone?"
"It's not you, but you share blood with Grant. That automatically gets you into their hate list. I wouldn't worry about it too much." He kept his eyes on her expression. "They're a tough crowd to break. They think you're just like your brother. You gotta show them you ain't."
"In all honesty, I'm not trying to get anyone to like me. I'm not here to make long-lasting friendships." She took her eyes away from them, fully giving her attention to him. "So, this is what you do? Dealing guns and fake money? Drugs?"
"Amongst other things,” he replied quickly before changing the subject, starting with a cruelly charming smile. He motioned to her. “Come on. I will try and answer some of your questions, and before you ask; Yes, we have six more delivery people. The smaller the number, the more shit won’t get fucked up, and none are women. Although, we have Don. She handles the money that comes in.”
Nova followed him, at a reluctance pace, as he walked to a room that looked like an office. It was neat and cozy. It was exactly what an office would look like. Screw went to the far wall and pushed a button. Two doors slid open, revealing an entire bar built into the wall. As he poured a glass of bourbon, he turned and lifted the glass to her, but she shook her head.
He shrugged and the door closed again. Nova saw the slope in his shoulders. There were bags under his eyes and a tired softness around the corners of his mouth that she didn’t see before. She hadn’t been paying more attention to the details.
"What are the 'amongst other things?" she probed, watching as he leaned against the desk and crossed his legs.
"That is top-level shit."
She scoffed. "Fine. Have you ever been shot?"
He lifted an eyebrow, his smirk knowing. "In my line of work, what do you think?" He seemed to debate something before pulling down on the collar of his shirt. In the middle of his upper chest, was a bullet wound and he lifted his sleeve up to another. "Came pretty close to being dead multiple times."
Nova struggled with that information. She was trying to collect rational thoughts and push out the horrifying images that were crowding her brain. She couldn’t imagine escaping death multiple times and still pursuing that kind of dangerous profession. If that wasn’t the case, she would still be emotionally scarred. But Screw didn’t seem bothered at all.
"It happens often?"
"On occasion," he answered with caution. "But the bullets rarely reach their target."
Feeling her throat growing raw, she rasped out, "You don't have a knife wound." It was a random question that had slipped past her lips.
“Ghost is always the one running into bullets or knives," he countered. "It's a miracle he still stands."
Her eyes widened a fraction of an inch. An emotion flared before she stomped it down. She doesn’t tell him how she almost killed his boss, because Ghost might find out about it, and when he does, the ungrateful asshole would try to get her to compensate him for that.
"How the hell does that even happen? I didn't think the police carry knives."
Screw tilted his head to the side. "You think we get shot and knifed by the police? Nah, you kidding, mama." He leaned forward, his eyes boring into hers. "Rivals. We piss people up frequently. Jealous mofos wanting what we have. It's a tough business." There was a twinge in his voice. Exhaustion? She heard it now.
"Heard that name from him, did you? They tryna make a name for themselves by screwing with us. I admit we started the fire by stealing their shit worth ton of money—" He cackled. "In terms of resources, they got a lot, but we got the brains and guys. It's easy to cripple them."
"You guys are crazy." She shook her head in disbelief. "I don't think I'd ever want to be part of this—" She looked around with a sour face. "Anything that puts my life in jeopardy isn't worth shit. I don't care what you say, but that's not living."
He raised a hand, rubbing his forehead before letting it fall to his sides. “Hmm," was all he was able to say to her, which she really gets because this way was how they all survived, to put their lives in danger constantly.
Nova was starting to feel really comfortable around him and it irked her. “Are we done? Can I go home now? Or do I have to wait for Ghost to give a go ahead?”
"You know, I don't know how you got that nickname for him, but it suits him,” he stated with his shoulders high and his mouth pulled into a tight-lipped grin.
"Well, I have to call him something since I don't know his name, but I get the feeling you want me to like you, so here's your chance, Screw. Tell me his name right now." End that mystery that surrounds his name, she doesn’t add.
He answered without hesitation, crossing his arms over his chest. “I'll do you one better, I can tell you my name."
"If only I'm interested.”
He smiled and breathed out a laugh, and she finally broke into a small smile too. “Rude. But since I'm nice, I can tell you his name ends with an s."
Her left eye twitched. He really thought that was helpful. Nova couldn’t imagine the tons of names out there that ended with an S, and she was not about to dive into that. She gave him a middle finger, and he laughed it off, but Nova knew he was just as confused as her as to why Ghost was hellbent on keeping his name away from her. Enough that he had to tell his own men too.
When she got back home, sitting in the middle of the bed, she stared at the burner phone. She looked at her other phone that hadn’t blinked since morning. What did she expect? That he was going to call her? Explain to her what the hell was up with the burner phone, and that Screw hoped she never received a call from it?
Her thumb ran over the buttons. She wanted to call Grant, to see what he was up to, but she doesn’t do it. She put the phone on the nightstand and snuggled in bed. The burner phone stayed with her. It felt warm and heavy against her cheek.
She had a dream that she got a call from it.
And she got swiped away by the darkness it carried. She had screamed and yelled, but no one had come to her rescue.
Then she faded away.