Bonus Chapter [2.3]
What I was about to do was undoubtedly stupid, absolutely crazy, deadly even… and the future version of me was most definitely going to regret it, but with every second I stayed hidden, with every bullet that was fired around me, the amount of pressure I felt increased.
I felt as though I was suffocating, trapped in this vacuum of right decisions on the brink of going wrong. The fact that all this was happening swaddled me like a blanket of darkness at nighttime, I couldn’t take a breath without the weight bearing down on me.
This whole mission failed because of me. As illogical as it sounded, I couldn’t block out the whispers in my mind and I couldn’t stop listening.
I could have died just now, and that was probably what Sabrina had hoped would happen. She probably wanted to use my death to cover-up the fact that she was a terrible leader, and maybe if the Ciscos were in a good mood, they’d accept her anyway—money or not.
At this point though, I couldn’t care any less about joining a gang.
I hadn’t even crossed over the threshold of the Ciscos’ Headquarters yet, but my life was already in danger of being snuffed out.
Obviously, the gangster lifestyle wasn’t meant for me.
I wasn’t cut out for violence. I had lived my whole life pampered and I had never denied it.
But... What would Frank say when he found out?
He was the only person I knew who had the confidence to place his hopes on me. Me: the unwanted son, the ‘rich kid’, the pro Equality brat. And I messed up.
Frank gave me a place to live and even gave me his precious knife, while all I had to do was this one thing to prove that I deserved it.
He pulled strings and called in so many favors just to get me here, throwing in the towel at the slightest sign of trouble would only make me look selfish and ungrateful.
Besides, I wasn’t used to failing so badly.
You’re doing it now, aren’t you? a voice hissed in my mind.
I ignored it and shut my eyes, willing my heart to calm down.
This wasn’t the time to doubt myself.
Even though I couldn’t return the package to the Ciscos, I could still get the money. If I did that, this mission would still be a success, Sabrina and the others would be accepted into the gang, and maybe we would all end up being friends.
If they’re still alive.
I pressed my knuckles to my forehead and reached for Frank’s knife. When I wrapped my fingers around its hilt, I felt a burst of confidence.
Frank’s lucky knife. Never missed a mark. Never lost a kill.
It boasted everything that could be cherished about a blade. I just wished some of its luck would rub off on me, even if it was just for a moment.
Slowly, I shifted forward to take a peek at the gunfight unfolding in front of me.
The coast was as clear as it could be with bullet casings and writhing bodies littered on the floor, and I was able to spot the man with the backpack full of money almost immediately.
Surprisingly, he was still alive.
I leaned my weight on my toes, the time it would take for me to get to him already calculated in my mind.
How I would actually get the bag from him was still an issue, but I’d consider it a small win if I got there without getting pumped full of bullets.
But just as I was about to stand up and begin my sprint, a hand landed on my shoulder.
I spun around and found that it belonged to a man. A very stern looking man.
For a moment, I was reminded of my father, but a second later the image faded and I was looking into a set of unfamiliar eyes.
My fingers curled tighter around Frank’s knife.
I prepared myself to attack.
The stranger pulled his hand away, but I couldn’t help but feel like he was more dangerous this way, with both his hands free.
He didn’t exactly look like a bad person, but what would a good person be doing anywhere in the Down District?
I backpedalled until my back hit the concrete slab behind me. The briefcase still clutched to my chest, I pulled the knife free and pointed it at him.
He remained silent and still.
Our staring contest continued unhindered with only the occasional gunshot and furious scream interrupting the otherwise silent moment.
I only took my eyes off him when someone started running in our direction.
One gunshot later and she was on the floor, dead, a bleeding hole in her forehead.
I tore my gaze from her panicked expression and returned my attention to the man standing in front of me.
Now that I was no longer locking gazes with him, I realized that he was dripping wet, like he had just taken a swim with his clothes on.
There was a small pool of water at his feet, formed by whatever was dripping down his trench coat, and his shoes seemed to be seeping out the same liquid.
It was only when I raised my gaze from his damp, rainbow-striped socks that I realized that he had a gun aimed at me.
I blinked, shocked.
“You—” I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to say.
He must have been the one who killed the woman but I had been looking at him the whole time. When did he shoot the gun and how did he do it so fast?
I took a quick glance around then let my attention snap back to him. I had no time to dwell on the fact that seeing someone die should have bothered me more. The only thing I focused on was the adrenaline flooding my veins.
You’re going to be next.
I inched to the side.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” the man said, his voice quiet and deep.
I stared at him and stopped moving.
I was more than aware that he had just shot someone without blinking—and that made him no different from Casper, McCoy or Sabrina—but I had a feeling that he was trying to warn me, as strange as it sounded.
“Are you going to kill me?” I asked, most of the question stuck in my throat. Did he even hear me?
“Depends,” he answered almost immediately.
“If you have a death wish.”
That. . .made sense.
I felt myself calm down. “Are you with them?”
“Who?” He cocked his head to the side. “The McCoys. . .or the Kais?”
“No.” He lowered his gun and a bead of water rolled down its barrel to splash on the ground.
“Are you one of the Ciscos?”
He considered the question for a moment then took a glance at something behind me. His expression hardened. “Leave.”
Before I could ask what he meant, he was already gone.
If not for the fact that there was a little stream of water and a trail of wet shoe-prints making their way past me, I would have thought that I hallucinated the whole encounter.
And what an hallucination it was. I rose to my feet. A killer wearing rainbow socks.
The warehouse was mostly empty space and by now most of the gang members on both sides were either dead, injured, or retreating.
I stepped over the woman’s corpse and stayed close to cover, managing to spot the man who had the money after scanning the area three times.
He was on the floor now, in a pool of his own blood with the backpack still strapped to his chest.
For a moment, my thoughts drifted and I wondered if dollar bills with bullet holes still held value.
In that short space of time, Casper had reappeared.
He shot at the warehouse’s entrance a few times while dashing to his fallen gang member.
When he reached the man, the first thing he did was take the backpack. Next, he checked the man’s pulse then cursed loudly when he obviously didn’t find it.
I risked a glance around the warehouse and found nobody holding a weapon or looking the slightest bit threatening. They were probably taking cover or reloading.
Whatever their reason was, this was my opportunity.
I ran as silently—and quickly—as I could to where Casper had been, crouched immediately then hid.
When I looked up, I found him maneuvering through the maze of junk and cardboard boxes packed at the back of the warehouse.
I watched him until he disappeared into my corner of my vision then let the tension in my muscles fade.
From what I saw, Casper was injured and limping, and the trail of blood leading away from me and his friend’s body was proof enough.
By the time I decided that there would be no harm in following it, the gunfight behind me had already resumed.
With one hand clutching the briefcase to my chest and the other wrapped tightly around the hilt of Frank’s knife, I forged forward.
Somehow, I went relatively unnoticed until I reached the end of the trail.
I looked up from the last drop of blood on the floor to search the area around me.
Where is he?
My question was answered when I was shoved from behind then whacked with something hard.
The briefcase fell first and I followed it.
“Following me, brat?”
I had found Casper. Or he had found me.
I blinked back the spots in my vision and slashed the knife in the direction of his voice before he could hit me again.
I heard him hiss in pain and managed to get to my feet again.
Somehow, we had switched positions. He was on the floor now, clutching his bleeding ankle, and I was the one standing with the knife’s tip aimed at him.
Casper grinned. He was obviously in pain but he was still smiling. “What are you going to do with that, punk?”
I ignored the ringing in my ears and glared at him. “You know what I can do.”
“Oh?” His smile widened and he pulled himself to his feet. “This little cut can’t stop me.”
“Stay where you are.”
He was swaying now, but standing.
“Why did you follow me, kid? Your little friends left you behind and now you want revenge, is that it?”
“I want the money.”
“It ain’t yours to have.”
“This was supposed to be a deal.”
He looked at me like I was the crazy one. “Well, deal’s cancelled.”
“The package was delivered. You reneged on the deal. You need to hand over the money,” I told him as calmly as I could, but I was anything but calm on the inside.
I either had to hurt him bad enough that he’d give me the backpack, or knock him out and take it myself.
Logically, if we fought, I was more likely to be the winner.
Logically, you shouldn’t be homeless.
I blinked and he had already lunged at me.
I blinked again.
Now he was screaming.
Slowly, my gaze shifted to my hands.
Somehow, Frank’s knife had lodged itself into the crook of Casper’s neck.
Reflexively, I yanked out the blade and hot blood splashed across my face.
I felt bile crawl up my throat.
There was no somehow about it, I had known what I was doing. I had known how to kill him and I had done it.
When Casper collapsed to the ground, I doubled-over and my non-existent lunch forced itself out of my mouth.
Oops, seems like you’ve killed another one.
I blinked back the tears stinging my eyes and cleaned the spit and bile staining my lips with the back of my hand, well aware that I was spreading more of Casper’s blood over my cheeks.
I didn’t care.
I don’t care.
“I told you to leave.” I was pulled up by the arm.
I stared at the man holding onto me, my mind in chaos. “You wear rainbow socks.”
He frowned. “So?”
“Why would I listen to—” My gaze drifted over his shoulder and landed on McCoy, who was very much alive and holding a gun.
“Watch out.” I pulled on the his arm and tugged him behind me but in a split second he was back in front of me, his own gun aimed.
The two gunshots rang out almost simultaneously.
McCoy fell to the ground soundlessly.
The strange man slumped against me with a muffled groan.
“Shit,” I cursed and stared at the spot of red growing on his soaked shirt. “Why did you do that?”
He looked at me, more blank than pained. “Why did you?”
“I just killed a man,” I blurted out.
His gaze shifted to Casper, an almost lazy action that I somehow felt guilty for. “He isn’t dead,” he said and raised his pistol.
I watched him pull the trigger, my mind not really registering what would happen next.
Casper’s body twitched when the bullet sunk into his heart.
“Now he is.” The man’s hand fell to his side.
“How could you—”
He took me by the arm and we started walking.
“Who are you? What are you doing here? Why are you killing everybody?” I couldn’t stop asking questions and it was only when we were outside that I realized that the backpack was still on Casper’s corpse.
I stopped, and the man let out another groan.
“I have to go back,” I told him. It was a courtesy I could afford to extend to someone who had decided to stand between me and a loaded gun.
When I turned to leave, he grabbed my sleeve.
I looked back at him.
“Why?” he asked, his gaze boring into me.
“I’ll have nowhere to go if I don’t have it,” I admitted quietly.
“Wha—” I was about to ask, but he was already gone.
I watched him dash into the warehouse, and not more than a minute later, watched the building explode.
I took a step back and hid behind a corner as glass rained down from the large windows.
“What?” I whispered to myself, but almost immediately, things started to make sense.
I took another step back, then another, until I was deep enough into the alleyway to only see smoke rising into the dim horizon.
I leaned against the wall behind me and sunk to the ground. I hugged my knees to my chest, not able to believe what had just happened. “He knew about the explosives. . .”
Leave, he had told me. Twice.
“So why did he...”
I shut my eyes and bit down on my arm to silence what would have been a scream.
Oops, seems like you’ve killed another one.
“Shut up.” I repeated the words in my mind and chanted them softly under my breath but it did little to silence the voice.
Startled, I looked up and found a shadow looming over me. “You’re,” my voice trembled, “alive.”
He tossed the backpack at my feet then sat down next to me. “You’re crying.”
“Oh,” I hurried to wipe my face.
A raindrop landed on my hand, then another and more until the sky began to drizzle. “It’s raining.”
He hummed then looked down at his chest. I looked down too and found his bloodstained hand pressed against his side.
“You need medical attention.”
“I. . .can help.”
He stared at me without a drop of emotion in his eyes. “Why?”
“You saved me.”
“You did first.”
“That doesn’t count. And you got me the money,” I told him with a frown. “I’m Kayden.”
“I don’t give out my names.”
“Oh,” I wore the backpack and grabbed his arm, “we have to get you out of the rain.”
“I don’t like being touched.” He got to his feet on his own, using the wall for support.
We started walking.
“Where are you taking me?” he asked after the silence got too heavy.
“I’m guessing you don’t want to go to the hospital?”
“Then I’m taking you to whoever can help,” I said, feeling a little smug. “Or is there somewhere you’d rather be?”
He stumbled before he could answer but I managed to catch him before he fell on his face.
“You okay?” I asked and tightened my arms around him.
He mumbled something.
“My name is Alexiares.”
"Alexiares.” I repeated, testing the name on my tongue. “I thought—”
“This time,” he cut me off, “I’m making an exception.”
I couldn’t help but smile at that. “I’m an exception?”
He squinted at me, looking a little annoyed now. “If I ever regret it, I could just kill you.”
I laughed at that. “I’m not afraid of someone who wears rainbow socks.”
“What’s wrong with them?” he muttered.
“Nothing,” I told him, not able to stop my smile from growing. “I think it’s. . .unique.”