The paint on my right shoulder blade is masterfully done. Fox had applied some transparent substance as a protective layer and asked me to air dry it for at least twenty minutes. I glance at the clock on the wall. It is a quarter to five and Burner has yet returned from his side trip.
“Know anything about the event I am supposed to show up tonight?” I yell at the backroom, where Fox is still busy cleaning up the supplies.
I hear a loud clank of something dropped on the floor followed by a series of curses. “How would I know?” He finally yells back after the disturbance quells down. Before I can reply, a scream slices through the air from the other side of the street. I leap onto my feet, hurrying over to the half-frosted glass door.
“Jesus.” Fox appears from the backroom, narrowing his eyes at me like I was the source of the noise. “What the fuck?”
Outside, people are flooding out from the Italian restaurant across the street. Another shriek. “Something happened in the restaurant,” I say, not tearing my eyes away from the scene. “I’m going to check on it.”
“People are screaming, Princess. That means danger.” He warns, already crossing the room to me. Heedless of the paint on my shoulder blade, I shrug on my jacket.
“So we have to go take a look and see what we can help.”
“I am sure help is on the way already. And what possibly can a teenager and a tattoo artist do... hey wait!” He catches the door just before it slams right into his face. After bending down to hook my heels with two fingers, I jog across the gravel bare feet. There is a small outdoor area outside the restaurant and crowded with panic-stricken customers. I push past them to the windows and peer inside the space.
“Dame you, Chen. I say...” Fox comes to a halt beside me. I hush him with one finger, inclining my head to the windows. The restaurant is almost vacant, only four people are left standing in the middle. Two of them appear to be the staff and the taller one is holding a gun. Across from them is a man holding a girl in his arm. His other arm is outstretched toward the other two men, a gun in his hand.
“What in the fucking universe... come on, Princess. We need to leave. I can’t let your dad know I expose you in danger.” Fox urges, pulling at my forearm. I swap at his hand. The captured girl is clawing at the arm locked on her throat desperately and her eyes are fixated on the floor. I follow her gaze and see an inhaler lying a few inches away from her feet. My blood drains from my face. “She has asthma,” I whisper, appalled.
“There is a piled-up on the road. The police might be delayed.” A woman behind us exclaims.
If someone doesn’t do something right now, the girl might die of hypoxemia before the police arrive. I turn, meeting Fox’s rounded eyes.
“No shit.” He hisses under his breath. “Don’t give me that run-headfirst-into-the-fire face. You are not going to interfere.”
“I am.” I hiss back. There must be something I can do, but I have to compose myself first. Dad had taught me when you are dealing with a crisis, you have to follow the OODA rule. Observe, orientate, decide, and act. I quickly scan around my surroundings and gasp when my eyes land on the gun in the offender's hand. “That’s a Glock,” I say, squinting my eyes. It’s hard to tell which model it is from the distance.
Fox grunts. “How do you know? And how’s that helping?”
“Dad has a predilection for weaponry.” I explain impatiently, leaning closer to the window. “See the side of his right palm.”
Fox gives me an incredulous look before turning to the man in the restaurant. “It’s smeared.” He says with a shrug.
“It’s pencil mark, which means he is a righty."
“He is holding the gun leftie and he has no intention to switch hands.”
Jesus Christ. “Seriously, Fox? Brighten up. He doesn’t switch hands because he probably has no intention to shoot at all. And look at the side of the gun.” Fox leans forward the window obediently. “There’s no serial number on it. A stander-issued Glock has a number on both the slide and the barrel. Now, look at the grip. It has no finger grooves. I think the gun is a fake and there's no ammo in it.”
Fox blinks at me as if I were speaking Mandarin.
I sigh, shoving my heels into Fox's hand.“I’m going in.” I push through the people gathering at the front door and stop when a hand closes around my wrist. I turn around, expecting to see Fox. But it is a man with the most stoic face I have ever seen as if his entire face was carved out of stone. Everything about him is pale: Pale blond hair, pale blue eyes, pale skin slightly flush under the blazing sun. Just looking at him sends a chill down my spine.
I blink, tugging at our connected hand. My jacket falls off my right shoulder, displaying the intricate tattoo. Maybe I mistake it, but I think his eyes flicker when my jacket comes off.
“Let go,” I say curtly. The man is relatively large, and well-built despite the sick look he has on his face. There’s no hope of getting out of his grip unless he releases me. He tightens his grip and yanks me closer to him. Then he presses lips almost against my ear. My entire body shivers at the proximity.
“I heard your deduction.” He says. His voice is so low I can barely catch it. "I think you are right."
“So you have to let me go inside. The girl can’t hold up any longer.” I hiss back, dimly aware of the people watching us.
“I’ll go. You stay.” He simply orders and releases me all of a sudden. I stumble a little before catching on to his forearm again. Before he opens his mouth to snap back, I cut him off.
“What do you think he will react if a big-ass man like you marching into the restaurant? He might not have a fire gun but that doesn’t mean he is harmless. I look less threatening than you do and I have a plan.” I say swiftly, making sure he looks at me the entire time. “You can detain him when I am done.” With that, I push into the restaurant without a backward glance.
“Let go of the girl or I will shoot.” One of the restaurant staff hisses at the man. From the apron fasten around his waist and the uniform, I surmise he is a waiter. His hand is shaking violently. Despite how menacing he sounded, he is scared shitless.
“Then I will blow up your face first. Give me the money in the safe and the girl walks free.” The criminal counters. His words are thick with an Irish or Scottish accent (I can never tell the difference).
“Hey, wanker.” I say, strolling further into the deadlock. All eyes turn in my direction. I raise my hand at the waiter when he is about to bark something at me.
“One step closer and I’ll shoot you.” Says the criminal, his Glock trained on my face. His voice cracks a little, which is good. Because it means he is nervous. Nervous men tend to make a lot of mistakes.
“Nobody is shooting anyone.” I say calmly, giving a pointed look at the waiter with a very real Smith & Wesson M&P. “Less than five minutes the cops will show up.” I put on the facade of calmness I see my father use when dealing with uncertainty. Dad can sedate the whole room with his low, assuring voice and a mildly disinterested expression. I had witnessed him single-handed shut down an outrageous dispute between a group of ruffians and the mall security. “And you will be arrested, no matter you kill everyone in this room or not.”
“Don’t be smart on me, lassie.” The criminal hisses, tightening his hold on his captive. So he is Scottish then. The girl's knees go weak a little. Her eyes roll back in her sockets. Shit.
“But it can be different if you have me as a hostage.” I say quickly. “My dad is a police captain. He is on his way here. If you have me instead, you can strike a deal with him.”
The man cocks his head a little, rattled by my lie.
“The girl is dying anyway.” I incline my head to where the girl is heaving helplessly in his arm. The man belatedly realizes the deteriorating condition of his captive and shows a flash of panic across his face. I need to keep talking. The man unhinge is prone to be more amenable, especially when I am making sense. “She is no good to you dead. Have me and you have the chance to leave here unscathed.”
After an intense silence, he nods jerkily. “Come here. No trick or I will kill this bitch.” He jams the barrel into the girl’s head in emphasis. I walk steadily, keeping eye contact all the way to the man. He pushes the girl away when I am close enough, fixing the Glock on me. “Quickly.” He commands, gesturing with another hand. I swallow hard and send a prayer to the sky. I close the distance between us swiftly. Before he can turn me around, I drive my knees up to his crouch. Not expecting an assault from me, he doubles over and drops to the floor with a pained howl. I step on his wrist with my whole weight and his grip on the weapon loosens. I kick the gun away and grin smugly. It’s too light to be an authentic firearm. My theory is confirmed right.
“You cunt.” The man spats, already on his feet. Before he can lurch forward, he is yanked back by the blond man I saw at the door. Disgusted by his filthy mouth, I reach into my pocket in search of my go-to weapon.
“You might want to look away.” I tell the blond man before pulling out my pepper spray. “This man needs to learn his lesson from more pain.” With that, I spray a healthy amount of spicy water into the bastard’s eyes. He lets out another series of colorful curses and howls.
“You are suicidal.” Fox is beside me, pulling me away from the crime scene. The police have arrived, taking over the place quickly. I notice the girl on the floor with several EMTs around her. She looks better when she stares up at me with tears in her eyes.
“Thank you.” She says, her lips trembling with the aftershock.
“No worries.” I smile and return my gaze to where I had faced down the Scottish man. He is surrounded by the police and the blond man is nowhere to be seen. I blink several times before Fox jams me in the side with his elbow. I huff annoyingly before following his gaze to the two very familiar men at the door. And both of them look equally livid. I swallow hard.