Day Four [Part VII]
The sound reverberated through me, everything in me silently acknowledging that I would never ever be faster than a bullet.
My fingers tightened around the burner phone. Daniel was right, I couldn’t leave Olly here when we were close enough to danger to hear gunshots... when I couldn’t be sure whether he’d get to safety in time.
The accelerated beating of my heart within my chest, the heaving of my lungs to compensate for the stress I felt, fear was putting my body through a race it couldn’t afford to run.
“Olly...” I walked up to him and took his hand.
I couldn’t bring myself to be the Kayden that was nothing but Daniel’s shield. My two lives had collided with each other, leaving me stranded in the middle of the chaos.
Drop off the streets. Move through the alleys. Avoid fights. Avoid the police. Keep your head down. Don’t cause trouble. Frank’s mantra flashed through my mind and the sting of his cane teased the exposed skin of my fingers. What I needed to do now had been burned so deeply into my memory that my muscles ached to be put into action.
“Yes?” Olly didn’t pull away like I expected him to.
Even though we’ve held hands a couple of times already, I was always left with the feeling that I was being too forward, that any second now I’d scare him off and that’ll be the last time I’d ever see him.
“I…” I stared at his hand, much smaller than mine, cold and soft. Completely different from the last memory I had of them, wrapped in bandages and smeared with ointment.
He took a step towards me, close enough now that I could feel the warmth of his breath.
I felt his gaze trace a path along the bruises splattered along my jaw and cheekbones. There was no longer enough distance between us to keep them hidden and I could almost see the questions whirling about in his mind. Suddenly, the weight of my lies felt too much and I hadn’t even told them yet.
Just three more months, Kay. Just three. But that didn’t stop the ache building up behind my eyes. I pressed the heel of my palm to the bridge of my nose and tried to clear my mind.
Looking into his eyes, at the sea of green blinking back at me, I forced myself to breathe. Things are going to be fine. We’re far enough from the grocery store. We still have time. “I... want to buy flowers.”
His eyes drifted away from me towards the ground, and for a moment I thought he would ask why but he just smiled and said, “Okay.”
Before the word had even left his lips, Daniel plucked the burner phone out of my hand and laced his fingers through mine.
Even without him saying anything, I could tell that he was happy that things had gone his way. Smart as he was, he should have known that this made things worse for him. Why was he so eager to have Olly and Arleen around?
With us three holding hand, Arleen stood a little far off her arms crossed and gaze downcast as she pretended to be occupied with watching the snow. I could tell that she wanted to ask exactly how I and Daniel knew Olly but she held her tongue out of politeness.
I also knew that she wouldn’t agree to us taking Olly with us and leaving her behind.
I couldn’t just tell her that Olly was covered in my scent, Daniel was a target and she was just collateral that didn’t need to be caught up in this mess, and even if I could, she seemed like the type to get offended at being left out.
“I want to buy flowers,” I repeated myself, just so she could hear me. “We’re all heading in the same direction anyway, so a little detour won’t change things. Right?”
All around us people still went on their way, darting in and out of shops and sipping on coffees while trudging through freshly fallen slow. I wasn’t the only one who recognized that first gunshot for what it was but it had been too far away for anybody to bring themselves to care about it.
If it didn’t affect their lives, most people wouldn’t be concerned. As long as the gunshots weren’t anywhere near them, they’d be fine.
The problem was, it was never just one gunshot. One bullet wasn’t enough to end this sort of blood feud. We needed to get us off the street before the real thing started.
“I guess so.” Arleen shrugged and spun on her heel to point at the shop I and Danny had just passed. “That one is open, right?”
I nodded and she led the way.
If we were unlucky enough to cross paths with any of the Carmosinos before reaching the train station, they would try to kill us or use us as leverage against Ron. If things came to that what would she do? Sacrifice us, lose the war to save us... Or send Alex to handle it?
Let Alex loose during a war and there’d be no way to keep his antics out of the news. He was too methodical and precise, it was either death by headshot or a slit throat. It wouldn’t take the authorities long to figure out that it was one person dropping all the bodies.
And losing the war isn’t even an option...
“Who are you buying flowers for, Kayden?”
I stared at Danny, watched a coy smile stretch his lips when he noticed my gaze on him. You know exactly why I’m buying flowers, Danny.
When his eyes shifted to Olly, I shrugged and forced out an answer. “I just want to.”
He smiled at Olly. “Do you like flowers?”
“I… I guess so?” Olly echoed Arleen’s words from earlier words and it was enough nonchalance to hint that the topic needed to be dropped. Danny got the idea and winked at me before zipping his lips and tossing the key behind him.
We reached the shop just as the gunfight escalated.
Arleen looked up at the sky, gloved hands shoved deep into the pockets of her pink jacket. “Isn’t it too early for fireworks?”
Shaking his head, Olly turned in the direction he and Arleen walking in before they met us.
He shook his head and answered her. “It’s gunfire.”
The city’s alarm sirens interrupted the conversation, drowning the question with a loud, distressing wail that made the street explode with panic.
All around us, people started to run and scream. Some fell to the ground, not because of ice but the bullets now lodged in their chests. In a handful of places, snow began to turn red but I only felt myself grow calm.
The war had officially started.
Arleen glanced around the buzzing streets, eyes wide with fear. “Terrorists?”
“Terrorists?” Danny shouted. “What?”
I had no time to explain and so I just shook my head and asked him to open the door.
“Sho-- Shouldn’t... we be running?” Arleen asked when we got inside.
I let go of Olly and Danny and ushered them away from the windows, aware of the two groups of men dressed in black making their way down the street as they fired at each other and docked for cover. “They aren’t anywhere near us.” Yet.
“How do you know that?”
“Arleen,” Olly tugged on her sleeve, a pleading look in his eyes, “stop.”
“I just want to know why we’re in here buying flowers when terrorists are out there killing people.”
“No, Olly. I’ve been caught up in this before. I don’t want to go through it again. You know, Carlos? He’s still in the hospital because of what happened on Friday.”
Friday. It felt like a lifetime away but it was on that day that Alphaz went a killing spree in hopes of starting a war and coming out on top when the dust settled they found their rivals dead
One way or another, their wish had been granted. The Ciscos and Carmosinos weren’t recovering from this anytime soon.
“Just trust him.” Danny patted Arleen on the arm and offered her one of his charming smiles. “It’s what I do.”
“No, I won’t trust some—”
“Sorry, we are still in the process of opening,” the owner started to say as he strolled into the room but cut himself off when he saw me. He picked a crown of gardenias off his head then ran his fingers through his strawberry blonde hair.
“Amae,” I said in greeting and with a sigh, he turned around and set the gardenias on the shelf behind him, “didn’t you hear the gunshots? I doubt you will be getting any more customers today.”
He stared at me for a moment, wiped his hands on his apron and tapped on his right ear. “You know my hearing is not very good, my friend. How can I help you?”
I waved my hand at a bouquet of roses. “How much?”
A brittle laugh left his lips and he looked around his shop before nodding. “For you, my friend, it is free.”
I offered him what I hoped was a disarming smile. “You have my many thanks.”
He walked over with the roses and I took note of the bracelet on his wrist, one that he had once bought from me, stripped blue, pink and white. “These flowers are nothing in comparison to what the Ciscos have done—”
“Yes, yes,” I let my voice drop to a whisper, “I will inform the boss of your loyalty, Amae, but I am not working today.”
Feeling him relax, I took a step back and allowed him hand the flowers to Olly. “You should close early today, for safety. The streets are getting to be dangerous.”
As if to illustrate my point, someone was ran into the shop’s window and as they fell to the floor, left a smear of red on the glass.
“Thank you for the advice, my friend,” Amae smiled, “I hope the roses serve you well.”
“They will,” I told him quietly. “We need to use your backdoor.”
His eyes full of understanding, he pointed a finger behind him and I nodded in gratitude.
“That was so weird.” Arleen turned to get a last look at Amae while he stood there in the room full of flowers. She wouldn’t be able to see the gun strapped to his thigh, its holster covered by the apron. “Wasn’t it?”
We were now in the alley behind the building. Being surrounded by walls in all three directions made me feel safe. Of all the places in the city, the Mid District was the place I knew best.
“You… You didn’t have to,” I heard Olly say, his voice even and gentle. “The flowers.”
I looked away from the street and turned to him, wondering whether he was scared or not. He didn’t look it and he didn’t seem bothered by the gunshots and the bodies but I knew how good he was at hiding things. “I’ve been busy these couple days so just accept them. They’re my apology.”
“Hey!” Arleen cut in and squeezed herself into the space between us. “Where are you taking us? And why are you giving him flowers?”
“Yes. He’s your new friend that you never told me about,” she snapped.
Over her shoulder I saw Olly bury his face into the roses. “I was going to tell you. Really,” he whispered.
She shook her head but didn’t stop glaring at me. “Just forget it.”
I took in a deep breath and considered the amount of time it would take for the Carmosinos to send reinforcements to their men. How long did we need to leave the area before then? Not long. We still have time.
“It’s better to move through alleys than streets right now. I’ve gone through my fair share of attacks and I’ve come out relatively unscathed. So, Danny was right when he said you should trust me.”
“Is that how you got those bruises?”
I rubbed my jaw, really wishing I could wind back the clock and avoid some of those punches and kicks. “Let’s just say that I understand where you’re coming from and I know which direction we should be walking in.”
That seemed to be the right answer because she let her shoulders fall and relaxed her guard. “That makes sense… but we can’t walk far, Olly twisted his ankle.”
I hadn’t even noticed.
“I’m fine, Arleen.”
“You’re not.” She shot him a worried look then buried her head in her hands. “This was seriously the worst time for something like this to happen.”
“We could always go to his apartment, you said it was close,” Danny said.
“We can’t,” Olly mumbled.
Before I could ask why, Arleen supplied the answer. “He lost his key. If he didn’t we wouldn’t have headed to the grocery store for painkillers. I was trying to convince him to come stay with me today.”
“Sorry, Arleen. I didn’t mean to cause you any trouble.”
She frowned and shook her head. “I wasn’t blaming you. I’m just stressed. You know? And it’s my fault you’re hurt in the first place.”
“Sorry to interrupt.” Danny slipped through the tight space in the alley to grab my scarf. He unwound it from Olly’s neck and tossed it to me then took the two by their hands and started pulling them deeper into another alley before they could think to struggle.
Soon I could no longer hear their footsteps.
I stared at the scarf in my hand before wrapping it around my neck and reaching into my boot for Frank’s knife.
Danny had heard something too far away for my ears to pick up and made a decision he thought was best for the group based on it. He took Arleen and Olly away, knowing that they would have only slowed me down and he tossed me back my scarf so that it could no longer contaminate Olly’s scent.
The roses would cloak their scents for a while, but I had to hurry and dispatch whatever was heading this way before they crossed paths with trouble Danny couldn’t solve with poison.
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