I’ve missed service day at the orphanage, the day the children did good things for the neighbors to get good memories plus food, snacks, and sometimes clothes. Mr. Fredrick called it giving back to the neighborhood that donated for our well-being every year, and they tried to keep up the tradition because we never ran out of food or clothes to wear, even if they were thrift pieces.
Being here again, helping the children plan for the day was uplifting, it helped me think of something else, aside the underworld. It also brought Victoria and we felt closer than ever. The children complimented her often about her beauty, they also mentioned our names together often. Mr. Fredrick welcomed us happily, giving us my old bedroom till we left. The new occupant had changed everything in there, but the crack still remained and I was hit by nostalgia when I entered the room.
We dined with the children, but we did not eat the regular food, I ordered pizza and ice-cream for them, everyone had enough to satisfy their little bellies. I led the children out to check out the truckload of toys and new clothes I had gotten for them; they were so happy to get such new things and thanked me. Even little Lily forgot about her sadness and had fun with the other children.
“You are good with kids, sweetheart,” Victoria had said as we lay in bed that night.
“I had experience and lots of help,” I replied with a smile.
Today was service day and all the children were outside, going from houses to house in twos with a teenager in charge, helping the neighborhood. Some swept shops; some washed the public toilet and some toilets in the restaurant.
I help in repairing the furniture and ceilings with Mr. Fredrick, while Victoria helped with washing the clothes with some of the teenage girls—it was fun filled.
Suddenly we heard a scream from a little girl; we all turned to see a guy in a mask pick up Lily and started running. Immediately, I sprung into action, racing after the guy, he moved fast, but I was familiar with this neighbor than he was and I was more athletic. Soon, I cornered him in an alley, with Lily held roughly as she sobbed. He brought out a knife and held it at her throat.
“Don’t come closer or she dies!” he shouted.
“C’mon man, just let her go, she is a little girl,” I tried to reason with him, but he did not listen. I was scared for Lily; having to experience this at an early age was not something she should go through right after losing her mom.
I deftly picked up a piece wood and flung it at him. He duck and let go of Lily, I drew her close to me and gave the guy a round kick to the face. He crashed to the ground, and his knife slithered away. Seeing that he was disarmed, he turned and fled. I froze when I saw the symbol of the Chaos on his wrist; the Chaos members were known to tattoo the symbol of their gang on their bodies, while we Horus used special business cards.
My mind recollected those kids huddled together at Argos warehouse, and I imagined Lily among them, drugged. It was not something I would wish on anyone, but I was glad I got here in time to save Lily. Was this what the Chaos did? Did Derek know about this? Was this what I’d gotten myself into? I asked myself series of questions as I returned Lily back to the orphanage; everyone must be worried about her.
They were glad to see Lily unharmed, and they called me a hero, but I did not feel like one. I was part of the gang that took this sweet little girl. I wondered if by saving her, it made me better than others. Have I been always running a fool’s errand? The successful transactions, the profit I was getting, were they all from kidnapping children, hurting teenagers and killing people?
The realization that my indirect actions might have resulted into the death of people was like a knife piercing my heart, it felt so real enough for me to gasp out loud; my hand trembled, and I dropped the spoon I held. It hit the ground with a loud clang, and everyone turned to my direction. We were in the big hall having an early dinner. Mr. Fredrick thought it was best if we closed service day early and have the children in bed.
“Michael, are you okay?” Victoria asked, rubbing my back.
I felt uncomfortable being the center of attraction, so I stood up. “I am fine. Please excuse me,” I said.
I ran out of the hall and went outside, a fresh air should do well to calm my troubled mind. I stood outside, staring at the stars, the evening breeze which was blowing softly calmed my mind, but it did not take away the worries. But it gave me a clear head to think properly.
“Are you okay, son?” I snapped my head to see Mr. Fredrick coming to join me where I stood. He was probably worried about me and came to ask what was wrong; it was something I could not share with anyone. How would he look at me after he found out that I joined the underworld, I have shot people and I might be responsible for Lily’s kidnapping. I did not want to see the look of horror and disappointment that would be on his face.
“I met one of the children in the picture Mr. Pablo had on his wall,” I said instead. This was something we had in common and could relate to.
“That is wonderful news. How is this person? Is he living a good life?” The question struck home. Were we living a good life?
“Yeah. He is my new boss, I quit working at Chico’s.”
“Oh. I’d wondered where you got the money to buy those things. Are you happy there?” he asked like he has always done—to look after my well-being.
I was happy, but now I was not sure that was what I wanted to say. “I am happy,” I replied. “I know the reason why Mr. Pablo left the orphanage,” I added.
“What is it? That old goat never told me.”
“It turns out one of the children was given to sadists for parents and they maltreated him. My boss is that child, is name is Derek and he said Mr. Pablo did not run a thorough investigation into the background of the family,” I narrated.
“I know Derek, a trouble that one, but maltreated by his adoptive parents is something I am not sure about. I helped in investigating the family, they were lovable and kind. Too bad they died from a gang attack,” Mr. Fredrick said. I looked at him in shock.
“Are you sure, Mr. Fredrick?”
“Certainly. I would never let any child into such a home on my watch,” he said with conviction. Did Derek lie to me? Why? Then why did Mr. Pablo act along with the accusations? What was going on? I’d been played for a fool, that was certain; everything I knew about Derek was a lie, everything.
“Is anything the matter, Michael?”
“Nothing, Mr. Fredrick, I must have heard wrongly,” I lied. I knew what I heard and saw. Who is Mr. Pablo and why would he lie with Derek? “I am sorry, Mr. Fredrick. Victoria and I would be leaving tonight.”
“Are you sure? You can leave tomorrow, the children would not mind,” he tried to convince me.
“No, it is important that we leave today, I have some unfinished business.”
“If you say so. And that girl is a rare find, take care of her,” he said and went inside.
I drove swiftly through the streets, with Victoria beside me. She did not say anything, but I could feel her watching me, waiting for me explain why I suddenly wanted to leave. She was angry also, she had to watch as Joey cry when I announced I was going. Lily was uncontrollable, she wrapped her little arms around my leg, begging me to not leave like her mom did. I felt bad leaving, but it was for the best, I needed to find answers and Derek was the best option for that.
“I know what you are going to say, but please hold it till we get home,” I begged and she sighed.
I continued to maneuver the car on the lane, breaking through the final street that led to the main road. It was a silent night, there were no cars on the road except ours; we drove alone for miles, the silence between us our only company. I turned to watch Victoria; she was facing the window, watching the streetlights wave as we passed it.
Suddenly, the car shook, and surged forward. Another car appeared from behind and rammed against the back of the car. It surged forward again, I moved to the side to allow the driver to pass, but it follow us, hot on our tail. The driver of the car drove forward again, hit our rear and Victoria screamed. If we were not careful, we would have an accident. I moved to the side again, and the driver followed; that was when I knew something was not right. I hit the accelerator and drove faster, the driver of the other car picked up speed too.
I moved to the side, and he moved too. We began to move around each other, twisting on the road, our tires made screeching noises any time we stepped on the brake. Victoria held her seat tightly to balance herself as I made a sharp turn around a roundabout; we were lucky to be the only ones on the road. The driver was relentless, he continued to pursue us for a long time.
I picked up speed again, and when I saw him pick up speed, I moved to the other lane and reversed until our cars were side by side, then I used the body of my car to hit his car. He pushed back against my car; I could not see his face because his window was tinted. I pushed back, the body of our cars scratching each other. Up ahead was a column dividing the two lanes. I saw the opportunity to escape, I pressed hard against his car, pushing it so both the heads of our cars would face the column.
At the last minute I jerked to the right, and he was forced to move left. I turned into the first turning I saw, leaving the driver at the other lane, he would have to either go back or turn at the end of the column.
“Are you okay?” I asked Victoria when we were far from our pursuer.
“Who was that psychopath?” she shouted.
“I have no idea,” I said, but I had an inkling it was the Chaos. I could not go home, so I drove Victoria to her apartment. When we got there she was a lot calmer, I told her to go on without me that I wanted to see Derek. She was shaken up a bit, so she did not dispute; she kissed me on the lips and went inside.
I called Derek with the burner phone, and he picked on the second ring. “Meet me at Central Park, we have a lot to discuss,” I said into the receiver.
“Okay.” He did not argue because rarely did I call him on the burner phone, it was only used when there was an emergency and this was an emergency. I parked the car in the underground park of Victoria’s apartment building, took a cab and went straight to the park.
Derek was a viper, that was certain; I might have called him that a countless time in the past but I always meant it figuratively. The way he acted that day at Mr. Pablo’s apartment was enough to win an award; now I could not say I knew the person who had taken care of me for so long. My throat clogged as the feeling of betrayal surged through my veins, I felt cold, vulnerable and lonely yet again.
“We are here, sir,” the driver said. I got down and paid him with my memory chip, gave him a tip for his quick delivery. It felt good doing something good once more, he smiled with gratitude and I returned the smile.
I looked at the empty park, memories of the first night I met Derek and my bold stance against a solid mountain all came back. He must have had a reason for lying; I just had to listen to his reasons.
“What’s up, kid?” Derek asked from behind me and I turned to see him with his signature smile, hands in his shorts and a turtle neck top.
“Why did you lie to me, Derek?” I hit the nail on the head; I was not here for our usual banter.
“You found out, huh?”
“Obviously, I would find out. I am from the same orphanage as you. Come to think of it, why don’t I remember you?” This question had plagued me, I never knew Mr. Pablo because he never visited the orphanage, he was more of a volunteering caretaker, but Derek lived there as I did.
“I was adopted before you got into the orphanage. I was not adopted at twelve, but some year earlier. My adoptive parents were the best, they loved me so much and I loved them too, but that night happened.”
“What happened?” I asked quietly, most of my anger gone; the matter was clearly sensitive to Derek.
“We were coming back from our regular Friday movie night,” he said with a sad smile, his eyes twinkling from the fond memory. “There was an accident on the road and my adoptive dad went out to check what happened, he was always a caring human. My adoptive mom and I heard a gunshot and his scream, and then laughter. Mom went out to check what happened, but she never returned. There was a gang fight that night, the Chaos versus a rival gang from another area, and we were just unfortunate to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“What happened to you?”
“I was twelve when it happened. I could not go back to the orphanage, so I ran and was later found by Sylvester, he took me in and trained me. But I saw something that night that made me not to ever want to go back to the orphanage. Mr. Fredrick would take me in, but at that moment it was the best choice.”
“What did you see that night?”
“The face of a monster dressed as an angel.”