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By ShaiCotten All Rights Reserved ©

Drama / Thriller

Chapter One

“I’m sorry, Stephen.  I think I’m going to have to bail."

“What?  What are you talking about?”

Henry switched the phone between his hands, putting his keys back into the ignition.

“I can’t do this.  Sorry.”

 “Wait, wait, just… hold on.”

Henry turned on the engine.  He froze with his hand on the key.  There was silence on the other end of the line.

“I’m listening.”

“I know you’re scared about going back there….”

“That’s not the problem, Steph.  I told you, if I walk back into that building, he’s going to think he still owns me.  He thinks that anyway right now.”

“You’re your own man, Henry.”

“Fuck you.”

“C’mon, don’t be an ass.  You know, sooner or later, you were going to have to deal with this guy.”

“Making a last deal with him isn’t my idea of dealing with him,” Henry growled, turning the engine back off.

He held the bridge of his nose between his fingers, staring through the windshield.  He was parked across the street from a massive brownstone factory, a relic of the last century.  The wind which blew off the Hudson stirred the garbage and dead leaves around the pier.  The place was completely desolate.  About a block away, Henry could see a gas station, old and tagged with graffiti, its fluorescents flickering.  The only other lights that shown in this part of the city were in the windows of the factory itself.

The building had been abandoned as long as Henry could remember.  For as long as Henry could recall, it had always been presided over by Alby MacAwley and the Sons of Saints.  It sometimes seemed as though he had spent half his childhood within those halls, bagging, picking up, and pushing Alby’s coke and weed.  The graffiti had changed.  But it never really differed.  The factory looked just as he had left it, five years ago.

And it put knots in his stomach.

“It’s not your deal,” Stephen was assuring him, and Henry’s sigh crackled through the line.  “It’s mine.  You’re just the messenger.”

“Don’t play semantics, Steph.  Alby’s been known to shoot the fucking messenger.”

“I won’t let that happen.”

“That’s a fucking nice thing to say, when you’re sitting comfortably a thousand fucking miles away.”

There was a long pause on the other side of the phone.  Henry sighed again, pulling off his beanie and raking his fingers over his shaved head.

“Are you finished?”

Henry didn’t say anything.  He glowered at the lit windows up on the factory’s top floor.  Alby’s office.  If he stayed parked here much longer, someone would probably notice him.  If they hadn’t already.

“You need to talk to this guy, Henry.  You need to set him straight.  You’ve done your time.  You’re cleaning up.  This is the last favor you’ll be doing him, and now you’re calling the shots, not him.  He doesn’t own you.”

Henry bowed his head, putting his hand over his eyes.  He took a long, deep breath.

“I can’t keep my family going on blood money, Steph.  I just can’t.”

“Hey, c’mon man.  It’s alright.”

“I won’t anymore.”

“You don’t have to.  It’s just like I told you, this is to get you back on your feet again, so you can get a job and take care of Holden.”

Henry wiped at his eyes, propping his head up on the center console.  He took another sharp breath, staring up at Alby’s office.

“I don’t know what to do here, Steph.”

“I know.  I know.  That’s what I’m here for, Henry.  I’m here for you.  You’re my big brother, I’m not gonna let you down.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about….”

Stephen sighed.

“Carmen and Holden are gonna be fine.  Mom and everyone else are going to be fine.  But you need to take this step first.  You need to face what you’ve done before you can move on from it.”

“Please don’t ‘shrink’ me, Stephen, it’s just pretentious,” Henry grumbled, rubbing at his eyes once more.  There was a long silence over the phone.  Henry drummed his fingers against his bearded chin.  He understood what Stephen was saying.  For these last five years, the thing that he’d been dreading most about his release was meeting people again.  Prison had let him hide from his past.  He hadn’t been expected to work for his family.  It had given him an excuse to escape the Saints.  In those years, although he’d worn the blue, and held a job doing the entire prison’s dirty laundry, he had never felt cleaner.

He didn’t want to lose that feeling.  But there was no longer a prison sentence between him and Alby’s dirty work.

Henry unlocked the car door.

“If I don’t call back in an hour –”

 “Don’t worry.”

“Call police.”

“Don’t worry, it won’t come to that, Henry.  You’ll be in, you’ll give him the case, you’ll be out again.  You won’t have to break parole.”

“By doing this, I am breaking parole,” Henry growled.

“You know what I mean.”  Stephen paused.  “Thank you for doing this for me, Henry.  You have no idea how much it means to me.”

“I just wish you weren’t doing this shit anymore, Steph.  You’re too smart for pushing.  You were supposed to get out.”

“I did get out, Henry.  I’m onto much better things.”

Henry picked up the briefcase from the passenger seat.

“It’s kinda light,” he remarked.


“You’re package.”

“It’s still quality, okay?  Don’t worry.”

“I’m not,” Henry said, opening the door and sliding out of his seat.  His sneakers crunched onto the gravel.  “Not about that.”

“MacAwley’s expecting you, so –”

“He’s expecting me?”

“Well no, not you, but he knows someone’s coming with the case.  You tell him that you’re with Xavier –”


“And that this is the package he talked about over the phone.  You open it up, show him what’s inside, and you take the money.  Then you get out, for good, you tell him this is the last thing.  You’re out.”


“You got this, Henry.  I look up to you man.  I know you can do this.”

“Alright, you don’t have to lay it on thick.”

Stephen laughed.  Henry closed the car door behind him.

“Talk to you in an hour, bro,” Stephen said.


Henry hung up the phone and put his hat back on.  Suddenly, without Stephen’s voice in his ear, he felt naked.  All the reassurance he had just been building up felt stripped from him.  He was alone, in the middle of a Saints neighborhood, with nothing but a track phone and Stephen’s briefcase of drugs.

He zipped his hoodie up to his chin and stuffed his fist into his pocket.

“Alright,” he said.

In the same way someone rips off a band aid, Henry forced himself to walk forward, briskly, towards the front door.

He smelled the cigarette smoke before he saw the guy who was lurking under the doorway.  As Henry drew near, he saw there was a throng of them standing on the threshold, talking amongst themselves.  The first man looked up as he heard Henry’s step.

“Martin, is that you?”

The rest of the guys turned.

Henry Martin?” one of them called.

Henry stepped into the doorway and gave a small smile.

“Hey guys.”

The man with the cigarette flicked it to the ground and pulled him into a rough embrace.

Heeeeey, Henry!” he cheered.

Henry patted him on the back.  A couple of the other guys crowded around them, thumping him on the shoulder or the back in congratulations.  Henry pulled back and looked at all the faces surrounding him.  He barely recognized them.  A lot of them looked like young, new faces.  Henry felt a sinking in his stomach.  They always recruited so young.  The man who had been smoking put an arm around his shoulder.  It took a moment for the name to match the face.

“Hey Donahue.”

Donahue grinned at him.  He had always been a thin guy, but with his arm pulling Henry in tight, it felt as though he had lost another twenty pounds.  It looked as though he was still using.

“I didn’t know you were out, mate,” he said.

“I am.”

 “Didn’t forget about me, eh, you bastard?”

 Henry chuckled.

 “Are you kidding?  I don’t remember any of your names.”

 The group of them laughed out loud.

 “I’m glad you’re out mate,” Donahue said, slapping him on the back.  “What a joke charge.”

 “Yeah, I know,” Henry said, rubbing his neck.  He didn’t meet Donahue’s eye.

 “You went to the slammer?”

 It was one of the younger guys.  Henry could have sworn he wasn’t older than sixteen.

 “Catch on quickly, don’t you, you plunker?” Donahue teased.  Another man cuffed the boy on the side of the head.

 “Oi!” he complained.  “I only meant, what for?”

 “Possession,” Henry answered him, before Donahue could interfere.

 The boy scoffed.

 “What?” Donahue snapped at the kid, his tone vicious.

 “What do you mean, what?”

 Donahue grabbed him by the ear and pushed him back against the wall.

 “You makin’ noises at my good friend, here?” Donahue snarled.  The guys gathered around chortled, watching with interest.  Henry took a step back.

 “What?” the boy spat again, his voice cracking.  He was holding his act together by a thread.  Donahue leaned forward and bit him on the ear.  The boy howled in pain.  The rest of the guys howled with laughter.

 “You implying something?” Donahue growled as he pulled away, holding the kid against the wall with his arm, grinning.  There was blood on his teeth.

 “No!  Jesus!”

 “It certainly sounded so.”

 “I meant nothing by it, Donny!” the kid screamed.

 “Its fine, Donahue.”

 A couple of the guys looked Henry’s way.  His knuckles were gripped white around the briefcase.  He tried to force himself to look relaxed.

 “Don’t worry about it, Henry,” Donahue said over his shoulder.  “You gotta bite a bad dog on the ear to show it whose boss, that’s all.”

 “Yeah,” Henry said, swallowing thickly.  “I know.”

 Donahue shoved the boy down to the ground and gave him a kick.  Henry watched, his jaw clenching.  A thick sweat was building up along his spine.  Donahue turned to him and grinned.

 “Remember those days, huh, Henry?  We used to be the plunkers.”

 Henry could feel his hands begin to shake.  The men weren’t disinterested anymore.  They were all looking to him to fill the gap like he might have once – with a goofy story, a deal gone wrong, a tale about some crazy person he’d met peddling on the street.  But the only thought he had in mind was of how much he really did not want to be there.

 “I have something for Alby,” he said, the words coming out fast and harsh.  He saw Donahue’s expression change, if only subtly.

 “Oh,” he said, his eyes glancing towards the briefcase for the first time.  “On business.  Didn’t just pop in to see this beautiful face, did ya?”  He smiled, and this time, Henry knew it was forced.

 “Is he upstairs?” Henry asked, trying to keep his voice from shaking.  He tried to revive the jovial air that he had just wrecked with a wry smile.

“Always is,” Donahue said, jerking his thumb up the stairs behind him.  “C’mon, I’ll give you the tour.”  He knocked his knuckles against the side of Henry’s head.  He looked directly into his eye.  “Refresh that shit memory of yours.”

 Henry made himself look back with smiling eyes.

 “Lead on.”

 As Donahue shoved through the group, Henry switched up the suitcase in his hands, wiping the sweat off on his jeans.  He wasn’t even out of earshot when the lot of them started beating into the kid where Donahue had left off.

 The stairs creaked underfoot as Henry trailed behind Donahue.  He put a hand on the wall to steady himself.  On the second landing, Henry paused to look around him.

 “You remember this place, now don’t you, pal?” Donahue sniggered, slapping a hand onto Henry’s back.  He began to push him forward, his nails digging into Henry’s skin.

 “Yup,” Henry said, exhaling thickly.  They passed rooms full of tables, surrounded by kids of a high school age and up, stuffing Alby’s goods into plastic baggies.

  “Hard to forget them long nights,” Donahue said, as he guided Henry past, his hand never moving.  “But still, the money was good, wasn’t it?”


  As they mounted the second staircase, Donahue let out a sharp laugh that made Henry’s bones jump.

  “You’re looking a bit peaky there, Henry,” he sneered.  He clapped his hand onto Henry’s shoulder now, burrowing his nails into the flesh of Henry’s neck.  “What s’matter?”

  Henry felt his stomach turn sour.

  “Getting over a cold,” he said, forcing a smile that seemed to fight against the muscles of his face.  “Nothing that bad.”


  Donahue’s hand slipped from his shoulder, and Henry felt his body flood with relief.

  “Well don’t spread it, eh?”

  Henry grinned at him as they climbed onto the third floor.

  “What?” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.  “I told you it wasn’t that bad.  Just been vomiting every night for the past week.”

  “Blegh.”  Donahue wrinkled his face up in disgust.  Henry laughed at him.  But as they walked through yet another hall of poured cement from ceiling to floor, and lit only with old fluorescents and camping lanterns, his innards still felt cold with dread.

  There was something very hard in Donahue’s eyes, a sneaking suspicion, Henry guessed.  From the moment he’d announced he was here on business, Donahue had begun to suspect him.  The man had a good intuition.  And Henry had a lousy poker face.

  The next staircase they neared was completely destroyed.  An enormous gap between the two floors had been smashed out, the wooden steps demolished into little more than splinters.  The familiar sight washed Henry over with a whole new icy terror.  He had completely forgotten about this.  Although the stairs looked accidental – the decay and rot of over thirty years – they were missing by design.

  Donahue walked over to the elevator at the end of the hallway, yanking the metal gate open.  He grinned back at Henry.

  “Ready for the ride?”

  Henry smiled back, holding the briefcase with both hands to hide the tremor in his fingers.  This elevator was the only way in or out of Alby’s offices.  The elevator itself was old and the machinery worn out.  It took forever to reach its destination, and with a great deal of noise.  There was simply no way to sneak up on Alby while he was at work.  Henry had always thought it was rather ingenious, when he used to push for him.  Now he knew it meant that he had absolutely no chance of a quick exit should any kind of shit hit the fan.

  Donahue pulled the gate closed behind them with a loud, metal shriek.  He wrenched the lever up, and with a protesting groan, the box lurched upwards, shaking like a pressurized soda can.

  “I always hated being inside this fucking thing,” Henry grumbled, watching from between the bars of the metal grate as the third floor slid painfully away.  His words were nearly lost in the screeching of the elevator car against its rusted tracks, but Donahue still heard him.

  “So you remember this part, do you?”

  Henry turned to Donahue.  The man was smiling at him with a Joker-like grin that was purely feral.  Just as Henry opened his mouth to speak, the elevator lurched up a little further, and they were plunged into total darkness.

  Henry could feel Donahue’s figure in the dark.  His presence had a definite shape to it.  But he had no idea just where he was.  It felt as though he was drawing closer.  He could barely hear the man breathe.  Cold air brushed against the back of Henry’s neck.  A hard shudder wracked his body.

  Goddammit Stephen, he thought to himself.  Motherfuck.  What’ve you got me doing?

  As the car emerged onto the top floor, the light streamed in again.  But as Henry stared into the light, blinking, he saw that Donahue was no longer there.


  Henry lurched forward with a cry, falling against the opposite wall.  He heard obnoxious laughter behind him.  He turned quickly, the color draining from his face.  Donahue had snuck up behind him in the dark.  He was leaned against the wall now, clutching his sides, his face twisted with laughter.

  “You little shit,” Henry snapped, his words drowned out by the shrieking elevator.  Donahue’s howling picked up a notch.

  “You didn’t remember!” Donahue wheezed in between laughs, bending over and clutching his stomach.  Henry bent down and picked up the briefcase from where he had dropped it, praying silently that nothing had been broken inside.

  “Har, har,” Henry said, smiling shakily.  “Very funny.”  He took a swing at Donahue.

  “Ow, oi!” he hissed, still breathless with cackling.  He shoved Henry back.  Henry felt his cheeks flaming with embarrassment as the car screeched to a stop.  This was a game he and all the other pushers had played on the ride up to Alby’s.  This was the reason why he’d always hated the elevator car, but he hadn’t remembered why.  He had always been too easily scared.  It invited all the other guys to call him out for a coward.  Here he was, a grown man, and the story still hadn’t changed.

  Still sniggering, Donahue slid the gate open.

  “Welcome home.”

  Henry stepped out.  There was a stark contrast between the fourth floor and every other room of the factory.  The décor was gaudy, the walls crimson red and the molding gold.  It reminded Henry strongly of a hotel, except the floors were still dark, moldy wood.  The carpeting barely hid it.  Donahue slammed the gate behind them, and Henry felt the sound rattle in his muscles.

  They were standing in a long room.  The previous walls had all been knocked down long ago, and vintage couches placed around for people to wait in.  There was a gaping hole in the floor to their left where the stairs had been knocked out, and a tarp nailed across it.  It sunk and rose steadily as pockets of air ballooned underneath it.

  Donahue strode towards the doors at the opposite end of the room and rapped his knuckles sharply on the wood.  Henry stepped forward warily, feeling his heart beating very solidly in his chest.  He heard murmured voices on the other side of the door.

  “It’s Donny,” Donahue called.

  There came another murmuring.

  Donahue glanced at Henry over his shoulder, throwing up a hand as he took a step forward.

  “Just a sec,” he said, opening the doors up a crack and sliding his body through.  Henry stared blankly as the doors thudded gently closed.  Quiet engulfed the room.  The moment it settled, he could feel the fear gnawing at his bones.  He stuffed his hand into his pocket again, trying to stop his fingers from tapping, or his wrist from flexing, or any of the other nervous ticks he felt prone to.  But even with his fist curled into his hoodie pocket, he could feel how rigidly he stood, how often he bit the inside of his cheek.  He dropped his hands down by his side.  Made himself still.

  On instinct, he glanced up at the far corner.  There was a security camera lurking there, half in shadow.  He could see its red eye blinking.

  The doors creaked open.  Henry turned his head.

  “C’mon,” Donahue said impatiently, beckoning him in.

  Henry strode forward, his steps leaden with dread.  Donahue swung the door open for him.

  “’Parrently, he was expecting you,” Donahue said, his eyes darkened with loathing and curiosity.  Henry couldn’t look him in the eye.  As he shouldered open the door, his face was frozen – it didn’t know whether to smile or frown.

  Godammit Stephen, he thought violently, his pulse thrumming.  You were wrong.  You were motherfucking wrong.  I can’t do this.  I can’t –

  Donahue closed the door behind him.

  Alby sat behind his oak desk, bent over a mirror.  Two men flanked him on either side, bodyguards.  Big brutes with beards and tattoos.  One of them had his pistol shoved down the front of his pants, right out in the open.  Henry tried not to meet their eye.  He glanced back at Alby.  He watched his fingers dart over the powered coke with a razor blade.

  “Just one sec,” Alby said, not looking up.

  Donahue motioned towards a chair.  Henry sat down on the very edge of it, balancing the briefcase on his knees.

  His heart began to beat in tandem with the sound of Alby’s cutting.

  Tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tut –

  Alby paused.  He put the razor blade down to look over the desk at Henry.  He nodded at the briefcase Henry clenched.

  “Is that what I think it is?” he asked.

  He was a man at least twenty years Henry’s senior.  He’d been in his prime when Henry had first gotten involved with pushing, raven-haired and corded with muscle.  His eyes had an obsidian sheen that had never dulled.  But like Donahue and all the other guys Henry knew from his days with the Saints, the years had changed Alby.  He’d aged.  His hair line had receded, he was fat around the face, and he’d built up a gut.  Yet he still wore the same white muscle shirt to show off his tattoos, now gone flabby.

  Henry nodded, clearing his throat.

  Alby chuffed.  He pushed his coke mirror aside, clapping his hands to clean them.

  “Good to see you, kid,” he croaked.  His voice had always been gruff, but Henry heard five more years of cigarette smoke clinging to the man’s vocal chords.  It made Henry feel strangely sad.

  “You too,” he said, a smile flicking at the corner of his mouth.

  “You look like crap.”

  A surprised laugh jumped out of Henry’s mouth.

  “You’re the first to say so,” he chuckled, rubbing his neck.

  “I mean it kid.  You look like you haven’t seen the light of day.”

  Henry could hear the floorboards creaking as Donahue stood just behind his chair.  He could feel his stare against the side of his head.

  “Well…,” he said, swallowing thickly.

  “You know, I hear a lot of things about the fellas who go to Lincoln,” Alby began, drumming his fingers against the top of his desk.  “I like to keep tabs on all my guys.  Like to know that they’re not getting their brains fucked outta them.”

  Henry felt his face flush.  He looked up at Alby’s bodyguards self-consciously.  They stared back at him with hard, mocking eyes.

  “That’s nice of you,” Henry replied absentmindedly.

  “Hm.  I heard a lot about you, in the beginning.  I heard that you went ape shit.”

  Henry eyes snapped back to Alby.  The man was staring at him with a questioning look.

  “It’s a bit of an overstatement,” Henry replied, forcing a dry chuckle.


  Henry froze a moment, caught by Alby’s gaze.  It couldn’t be any more clear that Alby didn’t believe him, and his stare made Henry feel pinned to the spot.

  “All the stories from Lincoln get blown out of proportion.”

  “Well, that’s curious.”  Alby leaned back in his chair scratching his sideburns.

  There was a moment of terse silence.  Henry fingered the clasp to Stephen’s briefcase, wondering if now would be the time to change the subject.

  “Because whatever you did,” Alby interjected, ruining his chance, “none of my guys would touch you.  They wouldn’t even go near you.”

  Alby’s tone was purely accusatory.  Henry didn’t know what to say.

  “I could have given you protection, you know.  You didn’t have to play the freak.  If you was in a spot, my fellas could have gotten you out.  But you know, you haven’t really talked much to us, in all these years.”

  Henry could feel his temperature rising in fear.

  “Yeah.  Well, it all worked out… okay.”

  “Okay,” Alby echoed.  His eyes flicked down towards the suitcase Henry held.  “And now you’re finally back.”

  “Yeah,” Henry said, breaking into a nervous smile.

  “But you’re not here for me, are you?  You’re here for the “X” guy.”

  Henry’s smile faltered.  His brows knitted together in confusion.

  “X… Xavier?”

  It took him a moment to recall the name from his conversation earlier.

  “Don’t know much ‘bout your new boss, do ya?  He’s bit of a freak.  Just like you, I suppose.”

  Henry felt as though a fist had closed around his heart, and was wrenching it dry like a dirty towel.  His words wavered.

  “He’s… he’s not my boss.”

  “You’re his man,” Alby growled, leaning his arms on the desktop.

  “No –”

  “That’s who they said they’d send.  One of Xavier’s men.  Imagine my disappointment when Donny tells me you’re the one with the case.”

  Henry held up a hand to plea.

  “No, c’mon Alby…”

  Donahue bent down and leaned on Henry, digging his elbow into Henry’s shoulder.  His rank breath pressed against Henry’s face.

  “Don’t talk,” Donahue said, his voice carrying a tremor of mock gentleness.  Henry stared straight into his crooked, yellow teeth as he spoke to him.  “Just listen.”

  Alby motioned forward with one hand.

  “Give me the briefcase,” he said gruffly.

  Hesitantly, Henry moved to open it up for him.  But one of his bodyguards, the one with the pistol in plain view, snatched it from his hands.  Henry sighed exasperatedly as the man set it before Alby.

  “This is unnecessary, Mr. Alby.  I meant no disrespect to you or your men.”

  “Damn straight you didn’t,” Alby grumbled, undoing the clasps on the case.

  “You guys’ve been like a family to me.  I thought you’d be happy I’d come back to do this, as a favor.”

  Alby slammed his hand against the top of the briefcase, squinting at Henry in rage.

  “Favor?” he snarled.

  Fuck, Henry swore.  He kept his trap shut.  It was Stephen’s choice of wording, and he’d been talking out his ass.

  “Fucking favor?” Alby went on.  He continued to glare at Henry.  Without the briefcase to keep his hands busy, he dug his nails into his knees.

  Still balanced painfully on Henry’s shoulder, Donahue leaned in closer, breathing into his ear.  Henry felt his tongue trace his cartilage, and forced himself not to flinch away.

  “Little pig,” he growled, low and guttural.  Henry gritted his teeth.

  “I don’t need you to do me a fucking favor, kid.  You’re on the fucking payroll!”

  Henry kept his tongue clamped down.  He didn’t say a thing.  He could feel the anger pointed towards him from all over the room.  He clenched his knees a little tighter.

  His mouth still twisted grotesquely, Alby flung the briefcase open.  Before Henry’s eyes, his face transformed.  His eyebrows flew up and his face stretched in awe.  Henry frowned as he watched the man stroke the contents of the case, as though he coveted them.

  “Jesus, motherfuck,” Alby said to himself.

  Henry felt the pressure on his collarbone alleviate a little as Donahue craned his neck to try to get a look at the contents.  The two guards behind Alby were equally wide-eyed.

  “What?” Donahue asked.

  Henry had the same question in mind, but he kept his mouth closed.  He himself had not checked the contents of the case.  Stephen had asked him not to.  It was supposed to be a simple pick-up and drop-off. Stephen had sent him a rental car, and then Henry had driven to retrieve the case from Stephen’s P.O. box.  It had to be some new line of weed or cocaine.  That was all Alby dealt in.  Unless that too had changed.

  Alby glanced up at him, his face darkening again.

  “How much is Xavier paying you to deliver this?” he asked.

  Henry swallowed.

  “He didn’t really specify.”

  Alby snorted, clearly not believing him.

  “If you took anything less than fifty-fifty, you’re a fuckwit.”

  Henry felt his face boil.  Stephen had promised him the same fare he would’ve gotten from pushing.  A very low fee, by Alby’s standards.  Donahue snickered in his ear.

  Alby sighed with pleasure, reaching into the briefcase.  He pulled out a stoppered vial and held it towards the light.  It was filled with a thick, amber liquid.

  “What is that?” Henry blurted out.  Alby glanced at him sharply, his brows raising.

  “It’s coca cola.”

  The guards behind him sniggered.  Donahue leaned in again and nibbled gently on Henry’s ear.  He jerked away.

  “I’m being serious, Alby.”

  “So am I.”

  Henry stared at the amber vial blankly.

  “That’s coke?”

  “Liquid coke.”

  Henry’s face twisted with incredulousness.

  “That’s not even possible.”

  “That’s what I said to your new boss, when he told me he could deliver,” Alby said, holding the vial up to his eye.  “It’s a freak of nature, it is.”

  “Alby, it’s not even possible.  Coke is a solid at room temperature.  There’s no way that’s coke.”

  Alby jabbed a finger at Henry from across his desk, his lips pulling up in a snarl.

  “Ya tellin’ me Xavier’s trying to con me?”

  Henry faltered.

  “No… I mean…”

  Alby tossed the vial at him.  In surprise, Henry scrambled to catch it in the air before it fell.

  “Look at it for yourself.”

  Henry caught it between his thumb and forefinger.  He stared at it in shock.  The vial was warm to the touch, as if it had indeed just been heated up from a rock.  Henry had been watching people inhale and inject the stuff for as long as he could remember.  As far as he could tell, by his naked eye alone, the liquid inside the vial was the same as if someone had emptied it off their heating spoon.

  “Looks like you’re the one who was conned, kid.”

  Donahue sniggered, taking the vial from Henry’s hand and looking at it for himself.  Alby motioned with his hand and Donahue tossed it over.  Alby opened up his top drawer and began rummaging inside.  Henry saw loose stacks of dollar bills being brushed aside carelessly.

  “This is going to revolutionize the business,” he said.  “And it’s not a cheap trick, kid.  It’s been tested.  This Xavier has a whole lab, somewhere down in Mexico I’m told, manufacturing the stuff.  The high is supposed to be like you wouldn’t believe.”

  Henry watched tensely as Alby took out his metal kit and removed the syringe.  He dipped the needle into the cork stopper and sucked up the liquid from within the vial.  As he rolled up his sleeve, Henry tried not to cringe.

  “If I’m being conned out of anything here, it’ll be that I’m not the first one to put it on the market.  He promised I’d be the first, but he seems like a greedy motherfucker to me.  Gotta move fast.”

  One of Alby’s guards helped him tie a tourniquet around his upper arm.  Henry looked away as he slid the needle into one of his veins.  He heard Alby sigh, long and pleasurably.  His chair creaked as he leaned back in his seat.

  “That’s good,” he sighed.

  Henry felt Donahue by the side of his head again, grazing his teeth against his ear.

  “Little pig,” he whispered.

  Henry snapped, shoving him away.

  “Would you cut that shit out?”


  Henry and Donahue snapped their heads around to look back at Alby.  He was staring at the arm he had injected the coke into, his eyes bulging slightly.

  “What?” Donahue asked.  “What is it boss?”

  His hand shaking, Alby dropped the vial back into the briefcase.  His face was twisted with consternation.  He pressed his thumb against the mark in his arm, as though he was trying to stem the flow of blood.  When he removed the finger, Henry could see a small raised bump where the needle had been inserted.

  “What?” Donahue demanded.  “What is it?”

  “The fuck?” Alby gasped.

  Everyone in the room stared at him, confused, as he began to shake out his arm, as though he were trying to brush something off.

  “Boss?” one of the guards chimed in.

  Henry slid a little farther out of his seat, feeling the tension freeze within the room.

  “Alby, your nose.”

  Alby wiped at it and blood came away on the back of his hand.  He threw a hard, panicked look at Henry.

  “The fuck did you give me?” he screamed.

  Henry stared back at him in shock.

  “I didn’t…”


  Alby’s body convulsed, his head snapping forward.  Henry watched as blood began to gush from his mouth, going cold from head to toe.  His skin flushed yellow.  He threw his head back again, a scream croaking out of his mouth, and began to rub at the pink spots that had begun to show up on his arms.

  At his touch, the flesh sloughed off, exposing a red, second layer of skin.

  “FUCK!” Donahue screamed jumping back.  Henry leapt out of his seat.  Alby’s guards started to back away.

  “FUCK!  FUCK!”

  Alby screamed, blood gurgling from between his lips, making a pink foam.  He stared up at Henry with wide, bloodshot eyes.  He reached out towards him, standing up from his desk, the skin around his face sagging.

  “HELP ME!” he shrieked, gasping for air.  He made to claw out at Henry, but collapsed from behind his desk.

  Head spinning, Henry backed up, bumping into Donahue.


  Henry felt Donahue’s hand grasp the back of his neck.  He shoved him forward, smashing his head onto the edge of Alby’s desk.  Everything went black for a moment.

  Henry heard blood rushing through his ears.


  He could feel Donahue’s rage boiling over him, could sense him moving forward to get in another blow.  Henry reached out behind him blindly, panicked, his fingers finding Donahue’s face.  He dug his nails in, scratching at Donahue’s eyes.


  Henry threw his full weight back against Donahue, knocking them both down to the ground.  Out of the corner of his eye, as he flew back, he could see one of the bodyguards extracting his gun.

  “SHOOT HIM!” Donahue screamed, nearly drowned out by Alby’s shrieking.  “FUCKING SHOOT HIM!”

  Henry elbowed him in the throat, rolling off of Donahue’s body as the man gasped for air.  There was nowhere to run.  He wrapped his arms around Donahue’s neck, yanking him to his feet, putting his body in front of him.  The office swum before his eyes as he stood to face the guards.

  “I’LL KILL HIM!” Henry shouted, his voice cracking with fear.  “I’LL BREAK HIS FUCKING NECK.”

  His ears exploded with the sound of gunshot, and a spray of blood burst into his face.  Henry stood, shocked, blinking it out of his eyes.  Donahue sagged, a dead weight in his arms.  When he turned his head, he could see a gaping hole piercing Donahue’s forehead.

  The next shots came rapidly, deafening him.  The shock of it blew him backwards, and he landed on his back, still holding Donahue’s limp body as a shield, feeling it shudder in his grip as it was chewed up under a hail of bullets.  Alby’s suffering had become a piercing wail.

  Gasping for breath, Henry dragged the body and himself to Alby’s desk.  There was a pause in gunfire, and Henry heard the guards’ step as they walked around to adjust their aim.  He reached up and grabbed the first thing his hand came across – a heavy paperweight from the desk.  As one of the guards came around, Henry smashed the paperweight onto his foot and heard the man howl.  Then Henry cracked it into the back of the guy’s knee, bringing him to the ground.

  Grunting, Henry jumped on top of him, smothering him to the floor.  He pinned the man’s arm down, and smashed the hand with the gun in it.  He heard the bones crack like stale bread.

  A shot was fired, and struck him square in the upper arm.  Henry fell back, the paperweight falling from his hand.  His head struck the floor hard, blinding his vision with a band of white.  A pained moan escaped his lips.  In his peripheral vision, he saw the gun being raised.

  At that moment, a savage roar erupted from underneath him.  The man he had pinned down picked him up and shoved him back against Alby’s desk.  Before Henry could scramble free, the guard grabbed his head in his hands and began to smash it back against the desk, over and over again.

  “MOVE BACK, DANIEL! MOVE BACK!  You’re ruining the fucking shot!”

  Through the red that had begun to cloud his vision, Henry searched one-handedly for the gun the guard had dropped.  Or anything that he could fight back with.  His fingers felt only rug beneath his touch.  His head was smashed so hard against the desk that he blacked out a second time.  When he recovered, the guard was holding him by the neck, still sitting on the floor.


  As he felt his windpipe crushed, his eyes bulging, Henry saw it.  The Glock where it had been dropped, right by his feet.  Gasping, he kicked it closer to him.  The other guard saw.

  “The gun!  Don’t let him get the fucking –”

  Henry fired a shot straight into the man’s chest, blowing him away.  Then he placed the barrel under his attacker’s chin, looking straight into his eyes.

  He saw terror there.  And the moment he pulled the trigger, Henry screamed with horror.

  Blood and skin flew into his face.  The body collapsed onto his lap and Henry dropped down onto the floor, falling back against the desk.  His ears rung.  He kept his scrunched eyes closed, waiting for the sound to dissipate.

  His pants felt wet.  When he looked down, he saw that the guard’s face balanced on his thigh, bottom jaw blown off, soaking him through.

  With a shriek, Henry threw the body off of him.  He scrambled to his feet and fell onto his knees with dizziness.  The Glock was still clutched in his hand.  He spit blood and flesh out of his mouth, and his stomach wrenched.  He bent over and began to retch.

  The office had become deadly quiet.  He couldn’t hear Alby’s screams any longer.  But as he wiped the bile from his lips, he heard footsteps pound through the halls below, and people shouting.

  With a groan, Henry pushed himself to his feet.  He looked numbly around the room, swaying where he stood.  Blood decorated the walls as thickly as though they were being given a fresh coat.  Alby’s antique carpet was soaked purple.  Donahue’s body was slouched beside the desk, with so many holes through his corpse, he looked like Swiss cheese.

  Feeling nauseous again, Henry began to stumble to the door.  That was when he heard the elevator shriek into gear.

  He froze.  He glanced at the doors and back to Alby’s desk.  It was the boys from down below.  Of course, they had heard everything that had just happened.  They would be up here in a minute, with more guns.  Henry put a hand to the bullet hole in his arm, stemming the blood, tears running down his face.

  “Fuck…,” he murmured, shuffling back towards Alby’s desk.  “Fuck, fuck.”

  He glanced over the suitcase.  There was a Styrofoam lining inside, packed with vials of the liquid coke that had killed Alby.  Swallowing, Henry placed the vial Alby had sampled back into its slot and slammed the briefcase closed.

  A hand slammed onto the desk.  Henry jumped back.

  It was Alby.  His fingernails had gone black.  The force it took to lift his head and hold onto the edge of his desk made the skin of his fingers peel off.  He glared up at Henry with bleeding eyes and a wide, red mouth.

  “I’ll find you…,” he wheezed, falling back onto the floor again, his jowls sagging with jaundice.  “You fucker…”

  Feeling faint, Henry picked the briefcase up and turned away.  The elevator continued to screech to the top floor.  Henry looked around the office vainly for something that could help him.  Panting, he opened the doors and stared at the elevator at the end of the hall.  A thought occurred to him.

  He took the lamp on Alby’s desk and ripped it from its socket.  When that was done, he tore out the wire from the base.  He went around the room, going to all the electrical appliances – the coffee machine, the TV Alby had mounted on the wall, and ripped out as much electrical wiring as he could.

  As he was rifling through Alby’s desk drawers, he pulled one clean out.  Piles of cash came tumbling out, wrapped up in rubber bands.  Henry glanced at Alby, still making gurgling noises with his face pressed into the floor.  He opened the briefcase back up and began to throw as many stacks of cash as would fit inside.

  With the briefcase and the guard’s Glock in one hand, he walked up to the elevator.  He tied each of the wires around the gate and the metal doorway.  The chamber within began to fill up with sparks as the car drew nearer.  Gasping, Henry raced back to Alby’s office and picked up his chair, the one that had been chewed to smithereens in gunfire.  He pushed it up against the gate.

  Standing back from the elevator, he let out a growl in frustration.  It had seemed like such a good idea at first, barricading the elevator door, but now that he looked at it, he knew it wouldn’t hold.  Not for more than a few seconds.  His face wet with tears and blood, Henry picked the briefcase back up and began to pace.  He glanced at the elevator again.

  With those few seconds, he could camp here and shoot at the men who came up the elevator, like rats in a trap.  But there would be more.  Much more.  And the pistol was shaking in Henry’s fist.  He was not a good shot.  He merely knew how to fire the gun.  If the bodyguards hadn’t been in such close range, he wouldn’t have gotten so lucky.

  He had never even shot a man before.

  Henry let out a long, pained breath.  His arms and leg shook with panic.

  “What do I do… the fuck… do I do…?”

  The screeching filled up his ears.  He saw the top of the car climb into his sight.  Jumping back, he ran to the office, thinking of barricading himself inside.  But then he saw the tarp in the middle of the hall, swelling with the air from below.  His heart aching with terror, he walked to the edge of the hole, where the staircase had once been.  He bit off a chunk of his lip, deliberating.

  The elevator car slammed into position.  Henry heard the shouts of many confused and armed men.

  Without thinking, Henry leapt forward, falling onto the tarp and plunging down.

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