What have I done?
Adam could not look away from the body. Its warm blood continued to drain from the neck. Adam dropped the glass shard from his hands, having cut himself in the moment. The blood spread toward his feet, but he could not even step away.
A masked man had broken in somehow through the window. Once inside, he charged at the boss with intent to kill. In a panic, Scarlet swiftly reached for her gun in the desk. Adam’s body reacted before his mind knew the situation, seizing the boss’ glass of water, breaking it on the desk, and then impaling the assassin’s neck with the largest shard. After that, Adam was completely frozen, collecting his thoughts. Scarlet on the other hand, was singing his praises, but there was no one home to hear it.
The others in the room discussed how one man could scale the building and come so close to Scarlet without detection. They were on the second floor, in a building protected by snipers on the roof, and plenty of guards surrounding the perimeter. The building, once an elementary-middle school, was only a street-crossing away from the houses in the neighborhood. Scaling it was a possible feat; it was bypassing the guards which should have made it impossible. Regardless of how this happened, the other men present commented on how Adam already look unfamiliar. One laughed, “I bet your hair would be standing straight up, if you had any.”
“Not bad, boy,” said Scarlet. She displayed no sign of disconcert or shock, nor grief over the life that had just left this world.
Emilio ‘The Sicilian’ entered the room, followed by three of his men. He was a veteran member of the clan, serving Scarlet Lancaster since she attained power, and was known for his bald head and inability to smile. He waited silently as the boss spoke again to Adam.
“Didn’t think you had it in you.” Her subordinates promptly moved to carry the body away while one dealt with the mess it left behind. Adam, still shaken, unconsciously started undoing the top buttons of his shirt, then redoing them.
“How the hell did he get so close to me?”
“Not sure, ma’am,” Emilio answered.
Adam saw the spilled water on the desk, then absentmindedly rushed to find a towel to clean it with. Scarlet watched him while responding to Emilio: “Never heard that before. You’re always sure, unless you fuck up.” She glared at the others present, enforcers and bodyguards alike. “How did no one see him?” she screamed.
“He might have taken a house,” said Emilio. “Or he hid in one, camping out until the right moment to strike. We found tools outside from where he climbed up.”
Adam could still see the body there – now the second life he had taken. There was no growing accustomed to being a killer. Never any justification. Murder and guilt; that was the price of his commitment to the clan, and the drive to become a valued member. Or, just a member. No doubt, he would get his wish now. He would become one of them. Finally, the family he always wanted. He earned it. But part of him died with the man whose life he ended. At minimum, he had earned the respect of the other members, even the veterans.
Scarlet commanded him to clean the blood, which reminded him of his place, whether he made his bones or not. He was a butler, a steward, a secretary, a lowly servant, and nothing more. In a shrill, satisfied voice, the boss asked him, “You want to be part of my family, don’t you?”
Don’t abandon hope just yet, he told himself.
Adam finally mustered enough attentiveness to turn and face her. Merely seeing the drooping skin in her cheeks and neck made him feel nauseous. “Yes, ma’am. Absolutely.”
Upon completing his task, Scarlet extended a palm, pointing him to the chair before her desk. “My apologies for not remembering this, but… How long have you been with us?”
“Only a few months.” She’ll want a precise answer, thought Adam. As he sat in the chair, he corrected himself. “Uh… Four months, I think.”
“Emilio took you in, didn’t he?”
“You were laying in the middle of the street, like roadkill.”
Adam wasn’t sure if Scarlet meant that as a statement or question. “I was in my car, ma’am, not on the road. I was… Uh…” Damn it, she doesn’t care for useless details!
“What were you doing? Why were you out there, waiting to die like that?”
His eyes found the others present, all watching him like they were in an interrogation room. He hoped Emilio, a far more confident man than himself, would speak on his behalf. The questions made him abhorrently nervous, causing him to sweat. “I…” His words escaped him. “My father.”
“What about him?” Emilio interjected.
“I attacked my father, because he killed my mother with a ten-pound dumbbell. It killed her instantly.” How can I say this in a tough-guy way? he thought heavily for a second or two. “So, I crushed his skull with the same object like it was nothing.”
“Like it was nothing?” asked Scarlet, not fazed by his loss in the slightest. “You didn’t regret it or feel shame?”
“Well… There were… There were about twelve of us total. My parents… Um… One of my aunts… The rest were just friends of ours. Hiding for so long, we kind of had a lot of drama going on. You know how it is… You know, backstabbing and gossip. I was just tired of it.” He looked at the others again. “So, when my drunk piece-of-shit father killed my mother…” At that moment, Adam realized, I didn’t answer her question…
“You wanted a better family? A family that would have your back.”
He nodded. “You could say that.”
“Would you do it again?”
“Do what?” Is she asking if I’d kill my own father again? How sick!
“Would you take a life for me, of course?”
“Well, I just did, didn’t I?” he nervously laughed. The others chuckled as well. “Uh…, yes, ma’am.” He viciously scratched his thigh.
Scarlet laughed. My hesitation is amusing, apparently, he figured. “Well, young man,” she began. “Give it time and you might have a new family to call your own. I’m sure you don’t want to just wait on me forever. I’ll give you a glimpse of what my people do around here. And … as for now, I have some records to examine. Bring me everything I have on the Solomon family.”
False promises, and then back in his place, like always. His moment of glory quickly extinguished. It was hardly as phenomenal as he dreamed. Only guilt, without a silver lining. Could a reward diminish his shame, anyway? He wondered.
Adam swiftly paced to one of several bookshelves; he knew which one. The boss had spoken of that name before: Solomon. The unfamiliarity had him assume it was a smaller family in the area, or somewhere outside the city limits. He tried to recall the names of the four strongest underworld families of the Portland area. Scarlet, boss of the Lancasters… Then, the Marsdens, the Verbecks, and… The final name slipped his mind. The fourth family isn’t the Solomons. Well, it might be… Who are the Solomons if not the fourth family? He recounted the three names in his mind again. Finally, the name returned to him when he noticed someone approaching. A tall, sturdy man entered the room, wearing his usual black leather coat that extended past his knees. The Krohns…
Ethan Krohn – Scarlet’s favorite pet. Adam saw him as an enviable example of what it means to command respect. His face was a bit boyish, which seemed unusual for someone with such notoriety. Despite that, his face was in a constant solemn state; utterly intimidating. He would have been a handsome man had he chosen a different lifestyle. He carried a heavy build, far more than anyone who served Scarlet, like a human tank, but still maintained a slim figure that allowed him to be swift and agile. He had seen Ethan deal with Scarlet’s enemies before. The man was built to kill.
Not once had Adam seen Ethan without that coat, or the serrated hunting knife concealed at his hip. He was now wearing black Kevlar gloves and steel-toed boots, which could only mean he was preparing to leave on a mission. No gun, though. As far as he knew, Ethan never carried a gun.
But even stranger was that Ethan wasn’t even a member of the clan. Not officially. The boss trusted him completely, though. Ethan had been with them since before Adam arrived. Why he resided with a different clan than his own, Adam never figured out. He couldn’t even guess. All four of the stronger, larger clans in the city were headed by women, widely called the Matriarchs, among some other, less flattering titles. A civil war erupted between them only a few months previous. Whatever caused the war, Adam thought… If Ethan can live with Scarlet, it must mean their clans are on good terms.
Adam respected Ethan the most, above all others under Scarlet’s command. He admired Ethan primarily for his fighting ability. Adam always had flimsy arms, since birth. He had studied martial arts at some point in life, but was never serious enough to excel at it. Protecting the boss was Ethan’s primary job, and he was the best at his occupation. Scarlet was too careful to allow non-members in her presence to be armed, except him. Ethan had somehow made himself an exception, which only made Adam admire the man more.
“Where have you been?” scorned Scarlet at the Krohn.
“The roof,” he replied. “Someone outside had a message for you.” Ethan’s disregard for conversation always amused Adam.
“Is it necessary?” the boss asked. “I just sat down.” Because you nearly got shot, thought Adam.
“No need to stand; your guys told her to get lost. She reported suspicious activity, though.”
“Who is? And what does ‘suspicious’ mean?”
Emilio spoke up. Adam had nearly forgotten he was there. Apart from never smiling, the man rarely made a sound. He stood like a statue. “I heard of that too,” said the Sicilian. “Someone’s causing trouble a few blocks down. They’re gaining a sizeable following, growing larger every day. Seems serious.”
“Who’s reporting this to us?” asked the boss.
“Don’t know about Ethan, but I heard it from some douche bag who lives on his turf,” answered Emilio. “Never caught his name.”
Scarlet sighed. She slumped her weight back in her chair, burying her face into her palm. “Well,” she said after a pause, “if you think it’s important… Bring him to me.” Both Ethan and Emilio turned to leave, but Scarlet stopped them, adding, “Emilio, you stay. Ethan, you take Adam.” She pulled her gun and set it on the desk. It took a moment before Adam realized it was meant for him.
Ethan left without waiting. Adam had forgotten about the file on the Solomons right there in his hands. He flopped the folder on Scarlet’s desk, almost in a panic, swept up the gun, then ran to follow Ethan before he was out of sight. He remained further than arm’s reach from Ethan, feeling both unsafe and unworthy to stand so close to the man.
As they proceeded to the south end of the first floor, Adam was reminded of the man he had killed. It was the smell; the hallway was easier to breathe in. He had already adjusted to the smell of decanting blood from a warm corpse. No one cared, he thought. That’s almost inhuman. He began to justify it: The man was attempting to commit murder…
Ethan opened the door which lead into the playground area behind the building. A couple dozen feet to their left was the baseball field. Straight ahead lay the neighborhood, their destination. Ethan stopped and turned toward the watchers on the roof. “Who’s available?” he asked, gaining their immediate attention.
Adam couldn’t help but think that at that moment, any one of them could shoot him. Their rifles made them as frightening as bears, though most of them had weak stature. They could shoot Ethan too, he thought. Ethan commanded more fear and respect, inexplicably. His presence invoked more fear than all the roof guards combined. They feared him, despite the fact he didn’t even carry a gun.
“How many do you need?” asked a sentry.
“Five.” Ethan’s reply sounded like an apathetic guess.
“All right,” said the guard, who waved a signal to the others up there. “Coming down.”
Ethan idly waited, staring far off into the distance. The way he stood, Adam could have mistaken him to be a machine. When the five had joined them at ground level, Ethan turned and walked toward the neighborhood.
“What are we doing?” asked one.
Quick to answer, Adam said, “Someone’s trying to compete with Scarlet’s power. We’re gonna find him.” He felt more confident already, having rushed to reply to feel more valuable to the group.
“We deliver him, preferably alive,” Ethan said, sounding annoyed.
Daylight waned. If Adam had kept track of time like he had in life before the Collapse, he would guess it was 5 o’clock. For his sake, he prayed the light would last them the mission. Who would care if I die out here? he thought. His life was of little importance to anyone. The others knew the area well, and were seasoned in nocturnal conflicts, whereas he had no experience. Even at the school, when night fell, he was cautious of Scarlet’s soldiers and bodyguards. Sharing quarters did not imply friendship. Scarlet was the sole woman in the clan, and nobody would attempt to take advantage of the boss. With all that fat and her old age, who would want to? He, however, was small and had never been in a fistfight. If the guys wanted some fun, or felt inclined to assert their alpha male status, he couldn’t defend himself. When he slept, he slept as lightly as possible, but out there, being fully alert provided him little comfort. He half-expected to be shot for being a potential liability.
Ethan led them three streets down. Rather than following the road, they passed through yards. The others held their weapons high. Adam had no firearm. He was reminded of Ethan’s lack of one as well. Does Ethan even own a gun? he wondered. Adam observed Ethan more than his surroundings, even adjusting his posture to walk like him.
They stopped at the third street. Ethan inexplicably knew where to bring them; but Adam didn’t dare question how. Shattered bottles covered the road, side to side, end to end. Hollow bullet shells were dispersed among them. The houses all bore evidence of raids. No one in sight, though. “I recognize this,” said one among them. “The glass keeps cars out. It used to be meant for cops, though. What are the bullets for?”
“Warning,” said Ethan.
“Or, they mean something happened here, like a battle,” said another clansman.
“Quiet, all of you,” Ethan ordered. “We’ll find the woman near here.”
Adam, trying to keep up with Ethan, asked, “Did the woman say anything else, like what part of –”
“Quiet!” Ethan’s scorn silenced Adam utterly. “We’re splitting up. Find her.”
How am I gonna know when I found her? Adam prayed someone would ask that for him. But, everyone was already proceeding in different directions. I’m the only guy that didn’t see this woman. Maybe if I just ask… No, they won’t bother.
He went on his way as well, knowing this will get over with if he moves faster. Never had he wished for a gun more than this moment. You’ll be fine, you’ll be fine, he told himself.
After he passed through a yard and onto the next street, he saw a face in the house directly ahead, peering out from a window, its attention fixed on him. It was the face of a child. A little boy. Adam’s eyes met the boy’s, which scared it away. Orders are orders. He hesitated. Ethan’s orders had nothing to do with finding children, but Adam couldn’t resist the compulsion to check on the boy. It was the least he could do. After checking his surroundings, he adjusted his hair and clothes to be more presentable, then walked toward the house with his hands up.
He knocked once, then a few seconds later, again. For several minutes, there was no answer. Nearly leaving, he heard activity inside, and stayed his feet. A gentle voice came from the other side. “Who is it?”
Adam wanted to answer, but failed to think of something to say. Gently, he knocked again. After hearing a chain lock being placed the front door slowly opened. A woman, with a hunched back and wheezy breathing, stood before him, pointing a shotgun at his head. Three young ones, with fear covering their faces, watched from a few feet back.
“I won’t hurt you,” said Adam calmly, though shaking.
The woman seemed to struggle standing. She was leaning her shoulder on the door post. “What do you want?” Her arms couldn’t hold the weapon steady. She must have been half-starved; her children were like skeletons.
“I just need information. My name’s Adam.” Words escaped him for a moment. The woman’s frailty started to affect him. “Where’s their father?”
She gasped, turning frantically toward her kids. “Go downstairs! I told you not to let him see you!”
“You don’t need to be alarmed, miss. I won’t hurt you. Is the father here?”
“Why? You think I can’t defend myself or my kids because I’m a woman?”
“No, miss. I ask because you don’t look healthy. I’m concerned, is all.” He looked down the barrel of the 12-gauge. “To be completely honest, I’m also concerned for myself.”
The woman lowered her weapon. “I’m sorry.” She opened the door, gesturing him permission to enter. He politely stepped inside. “Joann,” she greeted, extending a hand to shake. Adam gently shook it. “We’ve been here since everything went to hell… Are you a cop? Or, a former cop?” She closed the door tightly and locked the knob and bolt.
“Never was, I’m afraid.”
She stumbled toward the living room, dropping onto the couch. “Then, why are you here? Who are you?” Adam heard the scratch in her throat with every word she spoke, pitying her.
His attire was more friendly and comfortable than his colleagues’, at least. It was fortunate they weren’t present. The last thing he could bring himself to do, though, was admit who he belonged to, but he didn’t want to lie either. His fingers started readjusting the buttons on his shirt again, almost on their own. ‘I belong to the mob,’ he imagined himself saying. He wanted to appear as if he were there to protect her family. Ethan did not venture out there to protect the woman who reported to the clan; if anything, he intended to use her as bait. She might be that woman, he thought. “Miss, has anything … happened lately?”
Adam didn’t respond. Too many thoughts rushed through his mind, until he had ultimately lost track of the present and froze.
“You always do that?”
Adam realized he was exercising his compulsive habit, and stopped at once. “Sorry.” He shook his head, piecing together how to speak of the matter. “I meant … to any of you.”
“We’ve been robbed. A couple times, actually. I was… Well, they never saw my kids. My husband tried to stop them, but…”
“I understand,” he said before she finished. “The people who break in… Is it always same people?” She nodded slowly, staring at the floor. “I… I heard there’s a gang causing trouble around here. Were you the lady that reported this to us?”
“Did I what, to who?”
Clearly not, then. “Never mind. I was mistaken.” He leaned forward as he spoke more candidly. “Well, my, uh, boss, wants this gang dealt with.”
The mother looked up at him. “So, you belong to your own gang? I should have known. You look clean for being in a gang. You belong to that woman who took over the school, don’t you? I don’t want to tell you anything if it’s going to start some kind of war. My family has nowhere else to hide.”
Adam couldn’t deny her assessment or her fears. “We don’t want to make a mess. It’s this gang’s leader we want. We’re not going to kill him, just take him. If there’s going to be any kind of war, it will be on our turf, not your neighborhood.”
“I’m not interested. Please leave.” She cringed, forcing her legs to straighten as she tried to stand. Adam helped her. “No! Don’t! Just leave.” She limped her way back to the front door.
Adam pondered a moment, observing how she walked. He winced when he ascertained what was wrong with her. “Joann…” he said, keeping calm. “They’re not just stealing from you…?” It was bold, but he had to speak his mind. “They’re hurting you, aren’t they? You let them so they won’t hurt your kids…”
The woman stopped before opening the door, though her hand remained on the knob. Her pause confirmed Adam’s fear. Adam’s heart sank. “Wait here,” he said, wasting no time to take action. “I’m going to find you some help. We can stop this.”
“No!” Joann waved her hands, but lost her balance and fell onto him. “I can’t.” She flailed as she tried to find the right footing. “If they find out…”
He straightened her balance but kept his hands on her shoulders. “We’ll catch them before that happens. That’s why I’m here. This needs to stop. This gang is victimizing the whole neighborhood. I’ll do what I can to stop it. I promise.” He helped her to the wall for her to lean against, then hastily left through the front door.
It had taken nearly a half hour before he was able to meet up with the others. Ethan was not with them, but they said he would be back soon. They were gathered outside a house, smoking fresh salvaged cigarettes on the front porch. The others had met up with each other after failing to find anything, even leads. By that point they assumed the report wasn’t entirely true – an exaggerated story from a paranoid woman.
“So, you think you found our guy?” one of them asked.
Adam had to feign certainty, but he couldn’t have been more unsure of himself. His right hand found its way to the lowest button on his shirt. “Either him, or people under him.” He looked down the street, noticing the daylight was almost completely gone. It was nearly time to use flashlights. “Why isn’t Ethan with you?”
“He insists the report was tangible, so he’s still out there somewhere looking for our guy. He should know better. This wouldn’t be our first false report. Oh well, fuck it. At least it didn’t come from our own guy this time.” The man puffed and as he exhaled the smoke, he complained, “There’s nothing in this damn neighborhood.”
Adam kept his eyes on the street. “There’s plenty of people alive here. Everyone’s just hiding in their basements and attics. I think the report was true.”
“Yes. And once night falls, this neighborhood will become a lot more active. We’ll definitely find our guy then.”
Right before he finished speaking, Adam noticed Ethan approach, empty-handed and completely intact. The man’s posture and ease of step almost caused Adam to think Ethan had gone for a stroll. When Ethan came up the steps to the porch, he told them, “I found her.” Adam was surprised. A good tracker too? I see why Scarlet likes him.
But Adam remembered Joann. “I found someone too,” he interjected. “She could lead us to -”
“No,” said Ethan, looking away.
“She has kids. She’s attacked every night. If we just wait at her house…”
“No! We have a reliable lead.”
“You don’t understand. Please, I-” Ethan kneed him in the stomach then threw him down the steps. His breathing became labored, but he refrained from crying out.
“Let’s go,” said Ethan. The others tossed their half-smoked cigarettes away and followed.
Adam forced himself to stand. He frisked his pants for his gun then limped toward the others. A revelation came to him. Ethan isn’t even human. How could I have ever wanted to be like him? Respect, admiration… It had all vanished. Ethan was nothing Adam wanted to be. The reality of his situation came at him full-force. There was nothing worth having in such a group. It was no family. I should just stick with being Scarlet’s bitch, nothing else. No… I shouldn’t stay at all.
The group stealthily advanced on the target house. It was smaller than the others surrounding it, and still in somewhat fine condition. Ethan had Adam and the other five positioned at the side yards, where they would wait for the right moment to enter. What kind of plan is this? thought Adam. We’re waiting for this woman to be assaulted first? He nearly chose to confront Ethan, who was crouched directly ahead of him, hand firmly gripping his sheathed knife. Adam slowly came to his senses the more time went by. If these are the men hurting Joann, at least she’ll be safe after tonight. I can only hope… “I’m sorry I never came back, Joann. I hope this helps you.”
The voices of more than one man sounded. Adam counted two, but was unsure. They were entering the house, conversing and bantering as if they were about to compete in a sport. Adam could feel his blood boiling. Within moments he had grown to disdain his comrades, but right then he thought, At least I can help put these rapists away.
Ethan advanced when they could hear the woman inside struggling, signaling the others to do the same. Ethan acted first, and he was swift, jumping through a window already broken, while Adam and the others worked together to kick down the door. When they got inside, Adam ran ahead of the others toward the source of the noises – the basement. He was determined, as if the woman were calling for him. Once he and the others made below, Ethan had forced the two assailants off the woman, leaving them writhing in pain on the floor. What did he do to them… and in such a short time? For only a moment, Adam was reminded of why he had always respected Ethan.
The group pinned the rapists to the floor as Ethan proceeded to ask them one question: “Who are you?” His voice lacked emotion. Neither of them answered, so he repeated his question. Again, no response.
Ethan’s men beat the assailants, with their fists and the butts of their guns, until one snapped. “Wesley! My name’s Wesley!”
“All right then,” said Ethan, kneeling down to his victim’s level to speak face-to-face. “Who calls the shots on this turf, Wesley?”
“He does! Aaaaah!” A foot was pressing his face into the floor. The man seemed to mean his colleague.
“What’s his name?” asked Ethan, looking at the other.
“Karl. It’s Karl!”
Karl became livid. “Fuck you!” he screamed at Wesley. “I’ll fucking kill you!”
Ethan sighed. He gestured his men to take both hostages away. Karl continued to struggle though Wesley had wisely surrendered. Adam felt more useless than ever, standing there, failing to help much. It seemed everyone forgot the woman, who was curled up in a corner, quivering.
Karl nearly broke free of his suppressors, but Ethan drove his fist into Karl’s abdomen, projecting saliva and mucus from his mouth, crippling him with pain. The men carried their hostages up from the basement.
Adam stepped toward the frightened woman slowly, wanting to provide comforting words, but he heard Ethan shout, “ADAM!” Even then, he was reluctant, but ultimately forced himself to leave her. He hoped she had family or friends to fall back on when they left.
The group walked through the neighborhood cautiously. Others had emerged from their houses, watching them. Adam made sure he kept close to his group, in case those watching them decided to strike.
Ethan walked ahead of them, his eyes forward. Adam saw that Karl was directly behind Ethan, likely imagining getting the jump on him. Halfway across the field, the ground and roof guards shined their lights on Ethan, then lowered their weapons. As they reentered the school, Ethan led his men to where the clan kept prisoners – a room devoid of anything but walls and air. With no prisoners currently occupying it, Ethan said the room would be used for questioning. He turned to Adam. “Inform Scarlet.”
Adam understood, and obeyed. When he reached the boss’ office, he felt better inside somehow. It seemed to have been due to leaving Ethan’s presence. He informed Scarlet of their hostage, and though she was hardly in the mood, in time she waddled to the first floor. Aside from Karl, Ethan was the sole occupant of the room, who established a small table at the center with two chairs. Ethan put Karl in one chair, and Scarlet sat in the opposite. Adam assumed he should leave, but Ethan said, “Stay. Stand between them.” Ethan walked to the far end of the room as Adam slowly brought himself to stand at the table, strongly resisting the urge to touch his shirt.
“Who do you belong to?” Scarlet asked the prisoner.
“I belong to Karl Garret. No one else.” His tone made it clear that he either didn’t know who he was among, or was too stupid to care.
“Who belongs to you, then?”
“Would you like a list? We might be here a while.”
Adam glanced at Karl. “Answer her,” he said, but his voice was pathetically soft. He was only trying to be of use.
Why does Ethan even want me in here? lingered in his mind.
“I reckon I control Prescott and Mason, from Grand Avenue to Ninth, and all the people in between. More on the way.”
Eight blocks, Adam figured.
“What’s that come down to?” Scarlet asked Ethan. “Eight blocks? Nine? It doesn’t matter, because that’s nine too many. You’re in my back yard, Karl. I’m uncomfortable with that.”
“Taking me wasn’t a good idea … ma’am. My men will come for me, and they won’t hesitate. They’ll do whatever it takes to get me back.”
Scarlet stood, smiling confidently. “You have neither the numbers, the supplies, nor the experience to fight me.”
“Don’t you see, woman? The world needs people like me now; and people like you. We keep the troops off everyone’s back. We keep the people free from oppression. Are you going to kill me because I … what, didn’t pick a better place to settle? The troops won’t risk overrunning anyone’s turf, because it would reignite the war. Admit it: you need me. I’ll be an ally, not one of your … underlings. Besides, you don’t know what I’ve got.”
“I don’t need to. And with you here, it seems your men lack a leader. I have you, now I have them.” She took one step closer to Karl, glaring into his eyes.
“Your men,” he began, “will be lacking a leader too!” Karl sprung up, pulling a knife that had been concealed under his shirt. Adam threw his body at Karl, knocking him off balance, the only way he knew to inhibit him. Ethan reacted more swiftly in the split second Adam provided, drawing his knife, coming from the opposite side of the table, and pinning Karl’s hand to it with the weapon. Karl screamed. His hand could not move at all despite his efforts, which only caused more blood to drain.
Scarlet looked surprised, but not shaken. “Guards!” Her voice could have carried across the city. She waited for the door to open. Two of her men entered the room. “My guest needs a lesson in etiquette.” They freed Karl’s hand, then carried him out.
“How dare you gamble on my life!” the boss shrieked at Ethan. “You thought he could protect me?” Adam’s muscles tensed and he began to sweat profusely. His fingers, having found their way back to the buttons, locked in place.
“No, I wanted to see if he could. Karl had no chance.”
Adam wanted to step back, but kept his ground, shaking in terror.
“You won’t do it again.”
“You think I can’t protect you from idiots, now?”
“Out! Both of you. I’ll deal with you later, Adam.” They obeyed.
Adam, drenched in nervous sweat, was relieved to be excused from Scarlet’s presence, though he was likely far from safe. What is the punishment for failure? He knew the answer, but he hoped for something less severe.
“One more thing, Ethan,” the boss called out. “Your friend. Bring him to me.”
Ethan has friends? thought Adam. Oh, him…
“Yes, Ethan. Shane!”
“He’s doing his job, out scavenging to feed your fat ass.”
“Don’t fucking disrespect me, Ethan! I don’t care if you’re Phoebe’s kid.” She calmed enough to explain, “Shane has been neglecting his duties. Find him and bring him to me.”
If there was any more to the conversation, Adam did not hear it. He was long gone, walking through the halls to the second floor, retreating to the room he shared with other low-class members of the clan. There, where he slept at night, he was still the lowest one of the bunch, and he still needed to watch his back, but at least it was somewhere to be a little safer. He found himself in the most dangerous position of his life.
How do I get out of here?