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 Chapter 1

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PostSubject: Chapter 1   Wed May 09, 2007 5:18 pm

Shu Li's phone rang at 7:00 AM, and though she was tired and undressed, she answered it before the second ring. A quick glance at the number confirmed that it was one of her contacts.

"Yes, go." She replied in Chinese. She listened intently, and then closed the phone without so much as a 'thank you.' Her contacts only took their thanks in green bills, and asked for nothing else.

The news was strange, but not unusual. One of the high-level Hornets had gone missing last night. Shu Li knew that most gang members went off the radar once in a while. Usually it was only for a day or two, and then they'd be back on the streets, causing trouble like always. But the fact that the network was buzzing like this was a sign that this wasn't your typical disappearance.

The phone rang again, and Shu Li was quick to hit the button. The Hornet's leader, known throughout the district as "The Shield," had pointed his finger squarely at Chinatown.

Her first thought was that Nagano would want to know, but she quickly dismissed it. She trusted her sources, but this was still only a low-level threat. She would take care of it completely without Nagano's assistance. She could handle this one on her own.

She lifted the phone and pressed a button on the speed dial.

"What do you need, miss?"

"I need some freelancers. Two or three should be good enough. But make sure they're good ones. I don't need just any gangbangers. These guys should be good."

"When?"

"Today, four-o-clock."

"That limits me a little, but I'll take care of it."

Shu Li clicked off the phone. She walked into the bathroom to take a shower. Today will not be fun, she thought.
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Thu May 10, 2007 3:45 pm

Why did they always run?

Dru took off down the alleyway after his mark. He'd been after this little punk for the better part of three days and he wasn't going to get away now. The mark turned down an alley and bolted to the fence. His initial leap almost had him halfway up before he started to climb. That was the only reason he'd been a problem for so long, he was too damn athletic.

Not this time

Dru took his pipe section out of his belt and hurled it full force, it caught the kid between the shoulder blades and he crumpled to the ground, out like a light.

"I oughta just beat the shit out of you now for what you put me through." said Dru. He knew the mark couldn't hear him but what did he care? He kicked the mark in the gut once before picking him up and hoisting him over his shoulder. The sun would be up soon and he needed to get to the drop off point with the Vice Lords. One didn't miss a meeting with them.

He flipped open his phone on the run and dialed the number they'd given him for contact. When the other end picked up he had learned to listen first and not speak. "You have him then?" said the voice.

"Yeah, and..."

"Good. We'll see you at the drop in twenty minutes." The line went dead. Dru hated dealing with these cloak and dagger thugs. Not that the Vice Lords really were but man did they keep secrets well.

Twenty minutes later Dru was on the edge of town in Vice Lord territory, he had beaten the little thug a few times to keep him sedated and now he was just waiting for his contact to show up. No sooner had he thought it than a black car dove up to him on what little road there was out here. A big burly guy and someone that looked like a weasel got out of the car. The bulky guy threw the kid into the car while the weasel handed him three grand for the job. Apparently this kid had been giving them trouble and they were too busy to dirty their hands on this guy. Which left Dru wondering whose kid he had just beaten.

The weasel smiled and said thanks, if "Don't get killed out there" was to be interpreted as that.

Dur got back into his part of town at around noon, and it didn't take him long to get wrapped up in the hustle of things. He had sat down at a bar to get some lunch, or breakfast if you went by when his last meal was, when he overheard some of the local thugs talking at the bar.

"You hear that Hornet kid got picked up last night?"

"The cops?"

"No, kidnapped you idiot. And this time I guess he didn't even do anything as far as I know"

"So is Shield lookin for him"

"Well duh, she put out a call for freelance help"

Dru didn't wait for anyone to take his order before getting up and moving in to the city. This was bound to be a big job, with a nice payday to match. Besides, his name would get a little recognition among the higher level gangs if he was the one who brought back the kid, or at least the head of who got him.
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Thu May 10, 2007 6:15 pm

Tommy kicked down Dagny’s stand, and shed his riding gloves. His face wore satisfaction well. There was no bragging as he entered the lobby of the Brimstone Hotel, a run down place that had become the home of The Devil’s Crew. There was nothing to brag about really; it had been an easy raid. The trucker, whose name was Joseph, actually seemed happy to find his truck surrounded by motorcycles. He had pulled over without even being signaled. A rumor had spread through the trucking industry that the Devil’s Crew would make it worth the while if one didn’t give them any trouble. All Joseph had to do was help Tommy’s crew move the computers into their truck, take a carefully placed blow on the head, and Joseph would wake up with a large chunk of money magically placed in his wallet. He could then almost honestly say that he couldn’t remember a thing; no names, no faces, not a thing. Joseph would walk a way with a very expensive goose egg, and the Devil’s Crew would stay completely under the radar. Of course, those more motivated by ‘doing the right thing’ than the dollar, received a less carefully placed blow to the head. The end result was usually the same.

“Hey Tommy,” Collin strolled out of one of the offices, and into the lobby. He wore blue jeans that were smeared with grease. The tight wife beater, that had once been white, clung to the aging muscles of a man in his late 40’s. The old wallpaper of the Brimstone had almost completely peeled off, and the carpet had been stripped away revealing the concrete foundation beneath. This building no longer functioned as a hotel.

“Dad.” He tossed his gloves onto a chair in the corner.

“Everything go well?” he didn’t need to ask.

“Of course.”

There was a short pause.

“How would you like to make some friends in China Town Tommy?” Tommy’s father, Collin Finn, knew about Tommy’s aspirations. Tommy had been born at the top the Devil’s Crew; he never had to earn his place. Life had been too easy for him. Tommy wasn’t satisfied; he wanted to be at the top of Rockport.

Tommy didn’t say anything; he just smiled and waited. It was not a really a question. It did not really need an answer.

“Shields’ boy DJ went missin’ last night.” Tommy’s eyes narrowed. DJ was a hot mark. Not because DJ was anything special himself, but because DJ was close to Parker Shield. It was not a good idea to mess with Parker Shield. Collin continued, pleased at how interested is son had become. “Shields is pointing the finger at Chinatown. You know little China, they don’t like messes. Shu Li is looking for some people to clean things up, she wants the boy found, and the blame placed on somebody else’s shoulders.”

“Who do I call?”
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Fri May 11, 2007 12:56 am

Joe’s bar, a dilapidated, diminutive structure which serves as the home and retreat of the Vice Lords. Although the bar’s appearance looks worse than hell itself, never did it fail to serve alcoholic beverages to the midnight walkers during their vampire hours. In short, this shabby brick house still held business air tight and was a living monument of the slums on the corner of Cherry Point Avenue. Upon entering worn-out bar the pungent odor of sweat mingled with alcohol was the first thing that greeted your nose, quickly accompanied by the sight of a few prostitutes being slobbered down by their customers. Despite the fact that the inside could serve well as a pornography film, bums and civilized people alike still knew where to get wasted at and that was Joe’s Bar. Some people say that it was by Divine decree that the bar stayed in business, others said it was mere luck on Joe’s part, however, Lulu, the only female member of the Vice Lords and the youngest, who sat at the far corner of the bar with a cigarette jutting out of the side of her mouth, knew better.

Joe, who was of course the owner of the bar, had been long time friends with the leader of the Vice Lords, Magnus a.k.a Sweet Tooth. People called him sweet tooth because they said he had a sweet tooth for selling drugs and getting into trouble. This was where Joe came in, Magnus’s partner in crime. He always found a way to bail Magnus out of whatever imminent fate he was about to suffer at the hands of the streets. In turn, Magnus kept the bar alive, supplying it with the sufficient amount of money, well, illegally obtained money that is. It was no big surprise really. Anyone who lived in this area or in Rockport City were undercover crooks in some way. Seldom you’ll find a decent man wending his way through the alleys and down the streets of Rockport or these slums. Then before you know it, boom, he’s dead because he did not have enough street smarts to survive.

Yeah, that was the story of the slums of Rockport City, and Lulu knew the code like the back of her hand. The only thing she could be grateful to for this wonderful piece of knowledge, which enabled her survival, was her street smarts. This was what it all boiled down to. It wasn’t easy being the only female of a gang which was predominantly male. And, like all males, females were the object of their most base desires. No, she wouldn’t be purchased with small talk or chump change. She was nothing like that and she would never be anything like that. She just needed protection, and the Vice Lords, no matter how much testosterone floated amongst them, provided that.

“Joe would you turn the television on, I’m bored to tears,” Magnus called out from the other end of the bar opposite of Lulu.

Joe was hefty fellow of fifty-three with a lot of pocketed fat around his midsection. Rumor has it that the fat was just a sad excuse for a beer belly, however, throughout most of the years Lulu had spent her life in the bar, she could not recall Joe ever putting an alcoholic beverage to his lips. She concluded that it could only be old age spread and nothing more. Wiping the counters with a muddy white rage, Joe looked up at Magnus and grunted.

“Do I look like one of your b*tches Magnus? Get your lazy a$$ and turn the television on your damn self. Can’t you see I’m cleaning?”

“Keep scrubbing old man,” Magnus chuckled. “You know this bar is always going to remain a sh*thole”

Lulu smirked. Magnus was right. Joe always tried to clean up the place, sporting his hair net and crisp apron and all, but no matter how much he tried, it was like the sins and filthy lifestyles of many permanently tainted Joe’s bar. Lulu guessed it was the price he had to pay for keeping it thriving illegally for so long.

Joe heaved a sigh a shifted his attention onto the television set that was fixed along the junction of the wall. He tip toed to press the power button, after having lost the remote for the tv ages ago, and swiftly spun around to proceed on cleaning the countertop. Denial at its best.

The door of the bar suddenly flung open, the wooden door forcefully slamming into the wall. Curly and Scrawny walked in with a youth dangling half conscious from their arms. The big bulky one was Curly, due to curly blonde hair that sat atop his head like a rug, and the small diminutive figure was of course scrawny. He really served no purpose of being with the Vice Lords. He could not fight and he damn sure could not ride motorcycle for his life. However, what landed the toothpick a free ticket into the gang was that he was Magnus’s cousin. And of course as the saying goes, “blood is thicker than water.”

The two members flung the youth into the red leather coated seat opposite Magnus. Magnus smiled with utter delight at the two men for a job well done. Little did he know that they paid Dru Valentine to catch the man for him. Lulu knew because she had overheard the phone call Curly had had with Dru earlier that day, whining like a piss ant to Dru about how he could not catch the athletic Rabbit. Dru was known for specializing in that type of stuff, but of course, his work did not come cheap, and Magnus was in for a big surprise when he realized a large sum of his money was missing.

As for the youth, it was James Duvall, the trouble maker and the snitch of Rockport City slums, and the Vice Lords were greedy to get their hands on him for a long time. Why? Let’s just say he trespassed upon their territory, leaking information that he had obtained to opposing gangs about the Vice Lord’s strategic drug trade. Yup! Dude was getting iced for sure.

Lulu uplifted herself from her resting spot and slowly walked over to where Magnus and the youth sat. She knew her part, and she knew it well. She had to be the standing threat to the youth to make him piss his pants, so that he would tell Magnus everything he needed to know. Duvall’s eyes were half moons under his eyelids as he stared at Magnus, obviously he had been beaten into slight stupor. Lulu slowly removed her metallic bat and began to tap the end of it in her right hand.
Magnus had smiled at her, clearly pleased at her ability to catch onto to things without him even having to utter a word.

“Now Duvall,” he began. “I heard some things about you. Things that aren’t all too pleasing to my ears…”

“I swear I didn’t tell them anything,” the boy cried out. “I swear! You know me Magnus! You know I wouldn’t do anything to conflict with the Vice Lords!”

“What I know is you’re a rat Duvall,” Magnus lowered his voice to a whisper. “And do you know what I do to rats Duvall?”

“Oh God please! I swear on my mother’s grave I did not tell them anything.”

“Don’t give me that shit Duvall. You don’t even know your mother.”
The boy fell silent at these words, hanging his head low as if he had just been punched directly in the gut. Lulu had to admit it that was a low blow indeed, but snitches get stitches and loose lips sank ships.

Magnus folded his arms, “What do you think I should do to you young man? Hmm?”

“Let me go.”

Not only Magnus, but the whole entire bar laughed, including Lulu. It was such a feeble answer, which was totally unexpected.

“Well, young man that ship has already sailed,” Magnus managed to voice through his laughter. Then his face dropped into a more serious expression. A gloomy expression and Lulu as well as Duvall knew what was coming next. “Finish him Lulu.”

With a nod of her head, she uplifted her bat ready split the boy’s skull into two, but then he had panicked. And like always he sung like a canary.

“Wait,” he yelped. “I could help you get the money you lost, I know a way.”

Magnus massaged his unshaven chin, “Illuminate me young man, just how will I make the money you made me lose all back?”

“DJ”

“You mean Parker’s boy?”

“Yeah, he was kidnapped,” Duvall’s voice was cracking under panic and pressure. “Parker is gathering all the help he can find to retrieve DJ. I- I bet the Vice Lords can do it. If anybody could find him, I bet it’s the Vice Lords. And I heard he was paying a handsome reward as well. He suspects the Chinatown district.”

“Hmm. Shu Li? I like. Where did you hear this?”

“Word on the street,” Duvall was clearly gaining confidence now that he could see Magnus’s interest in the matter. Lulu was interested as well. Parker Shield paying a handsome reward to anybody who found his boy DJ? Lulu knew Parker, leader of the Hornets, wasn’t a Welch and he would hold up the end of his bargain. All the Vice Lords had to do…. No, all she had to do was bring little DJ back safe and sound, and the money was as good as hers. Then she could finally move the hell out of Rockport City and start her career outside this dump as a writer, or maybe even an artist? Hell, whatever it was, she would finally be out of this hell hole. Even if it meant turning on her own gang, Lulu was prepared to do anything to obtain that money. Yeah, that’s what she would do. She would use the Vice Lords as her support, and in the end she would keep the money for herself, fleeing town before Magnus knew what the hell happened.

“Very good, but unfortunately your time has expired. Lulu will you?”

Duvall’s face dropped, and before he knew it, his brains were all over the table. She needed to get away from this, she needed to stop killing. Only then could she have a clear conscience. Parker Shield was her ticket out of the city.
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Fri May 11, 2007 10:36 am

Though the junkyard was usually the Hornets' quiet hangout, abandoned by both the owner and the police long ago, you wouldn't have known it by the action there tonight. A gloved fist shattered a car window, but none of the Hornets even flinched. Anyone could see how pissed Parker was, and everyone among them knew the reason.

"Damn!" Parker gripped a loose tire, and easily launched it across the clearing, slamming it into a chain-link fence. "How much do I have to put up, here?"

The thriving drug trade in Woodland Valley had been cornered quite easily, but even Parker Shield knew that it couldn't last forever. What with Rockport's shipping companies faltering, and downtown falling to crime more and more often, Parker had taken to heart the idea of creating his own renegade "police force."

He knew that the RCPD had abandoned three of their stations last year, and that there was no real help coming. The state had already explained to the city council that though there was a rising crime rate, there was no need to enlist outside involvement unless there was actually rioting in the streets. At present, Rockport was in a state of "controlled anarchy", in that the gangs kept one another in check, and with no actual rioting in the streets, that was good enough. It made northern Rockport, in the public view, much more dangerous than the rest of the city.

But to those that lived in Woodland Valley, they knew better. They knew that as long as they paid their "taxes", they would be well protected by The Shield. Parker Shield was known as almost a hometown hero, especially after he'd cleaned the Outsiders and the Steel Wolves out of the area. Though some would still complain about having to pay a fee, they realized that no help would be coming to them from the Rockport Police Department, and so the Hornets were the only hope they had for protection.

With that crisis behind him, now Parker had been ready to focus on clearing out some of these other gangs. The Devil's Crew, The Vice Lords, The Dragon Tails, even the Pharoahs... Parker wanted all of them either on his side, or shut down completely. He figured that there was a chance for an alliance with the Vice Lords, especially if they could integrate themselves with one another. Parker was a smart man, especially in the ways of power, and he knew that this was the next logical step.

Now, though, Shu Li had made her move. DJ... Just the thought of it drove Parker crazy. Why in the world would she take a Hornets member? And DJ, out of all of them? He knew that Spider and Skillet liked to frequent Chinatown, and if one of them had been nabbed he probably wouldn't even have been angry. Either of them would have probably deserved it. But he knew that DJ was a good-hearted kid. Something just wasn't right about this whole situation.

But there was no way that he could look weak in front of the rest of his gang. Jester, he knew especially, always had an eye on him. If he were to not act, Jester would call him out, and that would only cause further anarchy in the middle of an already hostile situation. The Shield was smarter than that.

"Fine," he said out loud. He looked over his crew of four. The four leaders who he could usually count on. Jester, Tyson, Quinn, and Wristwatch. "We're going to take them down tomorrow night. Shu Li, and her whole gang. Let's rattle the cages, dogs, and she's gonna see what's what after messing with this crew!"
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Sun May 13, 2007 7:52 pm

Dru made his way through the slums to the home base of the Hornets. It was a long abandoned and decrepit junkyard that Parker and his miscreants called home. He walked slowly in past the chain link fence that had been recently rattled by a tire thrown from within. There was either a brawl going on inside or Parker's gang was having a hissy-fit about their misplaced member.

"Fine," he heard Parker start a speech. "We're going to take them down tomorrow night. Shu Li, and her whole gang. Let's rattle the cages, dogs, and she's gonna see what's what after messing with this crew!"

"From what I hear on the streets Parker you're looking for a little help accomplishing just that. For a small fee I could be the muscle you want." said Dru, leaning against an old Camero. Pity the thing was beyond repair.

"What the hell makes you think we want your help?" yelled back Parker, trying to control his temper.

"Like I said, it's just word on the street. People like me have to rely on that for work most of the time."

"Alright then. But before we accept your help it might help to find out just who you are." said Parker

"I'm Dru Valentine. And you have this situation backwards. You don't accept my help. You hire me for my services."

"So then what do I think I'm paying you for this 'service'"? Parker had gotten his temper entirely under control. Dru knew that the Hornets weren't as rich as the Vice Lords, but the protection fee they collected from everyone around here should be enough that he wouldn't feel guilty in over pricing himself.

"One point five sounds good. I'll even make you a deal. Give me a grand now, then if I find the kid I'll collect on the other five.

"Bull. The way you see it you could just walk away and never come back with an extra "g" in your pocket."

"Then it's two thousand when I find you the kid and nothing now. I need some sort of incentive."

"Deal. You've got a week before we end our partnership. Now if you'll excuse us we have some work to be done." Parker turned away and ended the conversation. Dru turned around and walked out. He needed to get to Chinatown and have a little conversation with Shu Li. Dru found it hard to believe Chinatown would do something like this without a reason. So if that was the case, he may just end up getting paid twice for the same job.
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Mon May 14, 2007 2:22 pm

Her phone rang sharply at 8:30am which had the immediate effect of putting her in a foul mood. She never got off before 3am and never made it back to her flap before four, so waking her at the butt crack of dawn was not only completely inconsiderate but just plain wrong in her opinion. An opinion she had let anyone who had dared interrupt her sleep before know all to well by making sure they were missing at least one tooth at the end of the conversation.

However today was to be different, as she sat up in bed throwing back the rose colored silk sheets, her blurred vision through mahogany hair caught the view of the demanding phone which she soon realized was not the land line at all. Only one person would call on her cell at this ridiculously early hour, of that she was certain.

Whipping out her hand and snatching the phone, on the second try, she flipped it open and said in slightly groggy Chinese, “Good morning mistress, how may I be of service?”

“Good morning Kleopatra, I wish you would not be so formal.”

“I am sorry mistress.”

“Never mind, I need to ask a favor of you.”

“Anything.”

“Good, the Hornets had a member kidnapped last night and are making accusations toward Long Wei. Normally we would not so much as bat an eye as you know but since it was Parker’s son…”

“DJ”

“Yes, DJ. We can’t simply ignore this misplaced blame since he will no doubt want to deal with this swiftly and publicly.”

She thought back to just last night when she had seen him. She didn’t remember anything unusual at all, he was promptly there for her opening act, and stayed through her last one just as he did almost every night. She’d almost thought him a stalker when she began to notice the trend and was going to end the annoyance by inviting him back one night. But he was so young and sweet with the waitresses that she came to think of him as more her biggest fan than anything. Not that she fraternized with him in any way; he was part of The Shield after all.

“So you want me to prepare the others for an incursion? Strike them first before they get to us? And beat the fact that it was not us at all into their thick skulls?”

“No, I want you to find him. Or rather, lead the small group I am assembling to do so.”

Kleo was dumfounded. The ‘small group’ meant that this was not to be an inside job at all. She had lead groups before, but only of their own people who she already had the respect and loyalty of, this was something very different.

“May I ask why this is being handled outside of Long Wei?”

Of course it wasn’t until after she asked that she figured it out for herself. Shu Li was not entirely sure that her search would not lead straight back to Long Wei itself, and if word got out that Shu Li was starting to prod around asking questions, things would get dicey within the organization quickly.

“We must ensure that the kidnappers are captured and DJ is found. There is no reason why we need trouble from Parker at the moment. It is absolutely imperative that the spotlight not be on us at the moment for our other more important and sensitive endeavors to succeed.”

“Yes mistress, when may I begin?”

“Be here at three, we will see who has shown for the job by four. You may choose your group from those.”

“Once the task is complete are we to follow the standard payment process for their cooperation in keeping their silence about this task?”

“That is uncertain, but I would not make friends. Oh and Kleo…”

“Yes?”

“You needn’t dress for the office. You should blend in with the help, as you are known to do.”

“Thank you mistress.”

She knew Shu Li was not too fond of what Kleo enjoyed wearing out on her jobs for Long Wei. But she thought that using every possible edge she could get her hands on was key. And it’s not like it was her fault she was born looking this way, besides, if like they say is true and looks can kill, than she was certainly going to dress to the nine’s.

----

The conference room, Kleo thought, was pretty ordinary. The walls were covered from top to bottom in wood work, maple wainscoting mixed in this several different chestnut symbols each depicting different animals for the many different years. The floor was a brazilian marble that shown a deep red gleaming with the light, almost like huge square garnets all placed in a row.

The oversized modern conference table was made from one huge piece of glass sitting upon yet another ample piece of cylindrical glass that displayed an enormous amount of Koi swimming about. Each of the twenty reclining leather swivel chairs could be turned to behold not only the four guards placed in each corner like potted plants, but also the other four, two to a door, at each entrance to the simple room.

It was in this room that that the group had already been called into and awaited the one who would offer them a job. And wait they did, for there was no clock in this room. But as the time ticked by, in the room right above, they were already being graded on their performances through the one way mirror the entire ceiling was comprised of.

Not a patient woman, but rather a dramatic one, Kleo took full use of this opportunity to make as grand an entrance as possible, and to give yet another test. Two of the guards opened the far doors without any prompting, as if they simply knew she wanted to walk through. And there she stood waiting half a beat before strutting into the room with each hip swinging to an inaudible beat.

She had her dark chocolate hair pulled back in two tight circular braids on the top of her head held by two thin silver spikes. Her two smoky mocha eyes played well with the large tear drop sapphires she wore on each ear. The matching silver necklace contoured and dipped with one long chain into the deep V of her chest that she displayed ending with yet another teardrop.

The cobalt camisole she wore might as well have been painted on for it would have given off the exact same effect. Only paint would not have been able to hold up those black thigh highs that this particular number was managing to do with its built in garters along those long legs. Her skirt somehow seemed to not only ride low enough to display the Chinese symbols for Long Wei encircled by two twin dragons that were tattooed at the base of her back, but at the same time it was able to ride high enough to still show some of the tanned skin of her thighs.

Her boots were seemingly the most deadly part of the ensemble, with their sharp lethal looking heels. Yet the twins that brought the most danger into the room were not at her heels but were in fact dangling at her hips. Each one attached to a belt that crisscrossed across her crotch in almost a guarding gesture.

She sat down in the right hand chair from the head chair; she pulled out one of her silver batons and crossed her legs without even giving a glance down the table. As Shu Li made her way into the room with a disapproving look on her rather straight face watching Kleo absently play with her weapon. She walked up to the table with grace and authority in a suit that seemed to be tailored in such a way as to breathe power.

Sitting down at the head of the table, she opened her notebook, arranged her papers, than looked down and around the table at the group sitting before her. Kleo spun in her chair so she was now facing toward the new employees and away from the boss. Then began to rate each and every one on there look, attitude, and countenance.

Shu Li began, “I think we are all aware of why each of you was called here.”
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PostSubject: The Industrials   Mon May 14, 2007 5:49 pm

Kofo and Mos were firing up for an epic battle. The war between them had started when they were five and there was no end in sight. As usual this particular skirmish began in one public place and had been brought to a more private location where they would have an opportunity to humiliate and rip each other to pieces in a convenient centralized location. Mos began by kicking in the door after Kofo tried to lock him out.

“Shut up and listen to me, ma,” he shouted.

“No, you shut the f*ck up. I can’t believe you would say some stupid sh*t like that to me. To my face. Are you serious? I would never sell anything I had to any other gang. Who do you think you are? And get out of my g*d damn house!”

“I can come in here if I want to. My money built and paid for this place.”

She was bristling now. They were very competitive and she wasn’t going to let him to get away with saying that anything that was hers was truly his. “No, n*gga I pay for just about every thing that you have. Why? Because you buy the drugs that I make. If I didn’t make them you’d be standing on the side of the street peddling flowers or Girl Scout Cookies or frolicking around with the Lipstick Boys selling your a$$ for cash. Now this is the last time I’m going to tell you to get out of my damn house.”

He grabbed her and pushed her against the stove. She slapped him and pushed him back. She almost dropped her groceries, he caught them before they hit the ground. They paused. His move. Strategic retreat. He opened the paper bag and put the milk into the refrigerator.

“Look, I’m just relaying the word from The Answer,” he said. “That is what he heard and he wants me to warn you that the Pharaohs around town—they believe it.”

“They wouldn’t believe it if you told them what really happened. You’re The Truth. They believe everything you say. So tell them it’s a lie.” She sounded exasperated, as she should—this conversation had clocked in at the two hour point at that very moment.

“I’m not saying that you’re lying, I’m just saying that two Vice Lords were caught with fifteen pounds of prime Nimbus. Blue as the ocean, not a speck of white, not laced with sh*t. Now how did they get that? I wonder?”

“You know what, I don’t want to have another one of these stupid battles with you.” She sounded mechanical, tired. Her voice trailed off and she finished half talking to herself. “I said it was a lie. It wasn’t me. I didn’t do the sh*t. Now get out of here.”

“You think you can tell me what to do just because you go to that stupid college with all those high class peckerwoods? Do you dance around for them in class like their little slave? Let them play in your hair and keep confusing you with Oprah or Condoleezza or mammy? Or, wait, you’re depressed because you’re about to come out of the closet… as a republican? No response? Why do you have such a f*cking attitude today? Late for your study group or is masa waiting for his suppa?”

“You don’t have to worry about “masa” anymore. You can stop playing me for being in college. It’s old. Congratulations, crab, I’m back in the f*cking barrel.”

He was quiet for a second. There was no sarcasm. She wasn’t joking. She was just slamming cans into the cabinet. He watched her for a moment. She kept dropping things. “You’re shaking, why are you shaking?” He didn’t seem concerned, just accusatory. He crossed the small, wooden kitchen where she was leaning on the countertop. “I know you make the stuff but I’ve never seen you use it,” he said. “You’ve been chasing clouds?”

She wouldn’t turn toward him. “I lost my scholarship. It was last month, I didn’t tell you because you, of course, would have jokes. And make me feel like sh*t. You can start rubbing it in my face at any time. I don’t go to school anymore. I’m not getting a degree. I have to pay all that money back.” She was quiet for a long time, staring out of the window across the room with a view of another window. “You think owing The Answer money is bad? The government is vicious. It doesn’t matter anyway. The spoiled b*tches in the lab have all my books, my formulas, everything. So if someone’s selling my stuff, I wouldn’t be surprised…”

She pulled a bottle of rum from the cabinet and started to drain it.

“You drink?”

“Mmm.”

“No, no, no, you can’t drink and chase clouds. It’s not a good idea,” he tried to pry the bottle away from her. She was strong but her voice was quivering as she told him to leave her the f*ck alone. “What’s—what are you? Crying?” he asked. He felt like he was staring at a mermaid, a unicorn or something as impossible. Kofo Sunil, wonder girl, Athena’s apprentice, the woman of steel was crying. And not just a few tears, she was blubbering.

He was speechless. “I—I.” He couldn’t get himself together. If anyone was stronger than he, it was she. She always stood so straight and proud but now she was a crumpled paper bag. She had shattered.

He had no idea what to do. Half of him wanted to gloat. Half of him wanted to run away, terrified. She was pained. He was impatient. He was no good in these situations. She would never take his money so he did the only other thing he knew.

He pulled her toward him. She rested her forehead on his shoulder and sobbed. Her skin was soft. He touched her chin. Thought about all the fights they had had, looked at the lips he had always been curious about but never let himself think of. He tried to kiss her and she pulled away from him as if the spell were broken.

“I don’t love you,” she said.

“That’s not what this is about.”

It wasn’t a romantic kiss. It was as if she were drowning and he happened to be there to save her. But it was enough, she wouldn’t die. Maybe she could hold on to this sh*tty life for a little longer if she didn’t think she were in it alone.

He carried her to the bed. Undressed them both. Found that there was a gymnast hidden behind a thin veil of baggy jeans and stripped shirts. Took the ribbon out of her locks and felt their silky fingers spread gently across his chest.

He was her anchor in the sea. But it wasn’t as gentle as that. It was like tipping a stone down a mountain. They didn’t think before they started rolling it down because once they started they couldn’t make it stop.
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PostSubject: Industrials   Mon May 14, 2007 5:54 pm

11:30?

She never slept that late. Her alarm was supposed to go off at six even on the weekends. She seemed to remember a hand resting on hers as she reached over. And then those same arms wrapping around her.

No. It was a dream, she thought. Just a nasty dream. A weird, freaky little dream. No way in the world could she do anything with him. She closed her eyes. “Don’t be here, don’t be here, don’t be here. Just a dream, just a dream, a dream,” she whispered to herself or God or whoever.

She opened her eyes. That warm thing she was hanging onto wasn’t a pillow unless pillows were men. Okay, so Moses was here. That didn’t mean that anything had happened. He was her neighbor, right? He could have just come over. For some sugar. Yeah, if by sugar she meant…

Her legs were sore. But hadn’t she walked all the way over here, though? Her hair was messed up. Half the sheets were off the bed. Someone had broken her kitchen table. A nightmare. It wasn’t a dream it was a nightmare. She sat up. The sun shone peppermint white stripes across the red sheets of her bed. Mos lay with his arms above his head as if caught in a web. She swung her legs off her side of the bed and buried her face in her hands. She thought she heard the phone ring. It was her head. “Oh lord, what the f*ck,” she breathed.

The bookshelf was turned over. The shower was half running. Kofo was meticulously clean. This was making her skin crawl. “Who the hell broke into my house?”

Mos laughed behind her then yawned. “I didn’t break this stuff myself. You helped.”

Then it all started rushing back to her. The booze, the crying, the clothes ripped off and still lying there. His shoulders were scratched up, they had glistened with sweat. Now she remembered the clouds, that solid pretty sort of white haze everything floated in. Everything had been carefully packaged in comforting, warm billows, happy feelings. Abandon, padded with satisfaction.

“My floor is wet.” It had gotten so hot they had to open the window, it was still open and it had rained.

“Last night, that wasn’t the only thing,” Mos said, making no move to exit, but instead getting even more comfortable under her sheets. “What do you put in your bed? Are there two mattresses? It’s comfortable.”

“Shut up, Mos. Whatever you think happened here did not.”

“Oh, but it did. About five or six times. It was a bought for the ages. I lost twenty pounds in the fray.”

She was shaking her head. “Then you made me. There’s no way in g*d’s name I would say yes to you.”

They were competitive about everything. One time they had had an extensive conversation on who would die first. Neither could be convinced that they would live longer and drew up an elaborate analysis about exactly how and why they would perish before the other got the chance to beat them to it.

Mos didn’t miss a beat. “I remember a point in time for about thirty minutes where you couldn’t seem to say anything but yes.” She blushed. He snickered.

If they were going to go there she would not be outdone. “That must have been before I decided to put it on you because when I did, you screamed like a little old lady at a garden club meeting.”

“Hell nah, I ain’t no little old lady. But you must be Spiderwoman because you sure did figure out a way to climb up the shower wall backwards. I still don’t see how you managed that covered in soap.”

“Was that before or after I blew your back out on that table over there? You can’t keep up with me, Mos, you’d need fifteen Red Bulls and a team of stunt doubles… and a dick.”

“Owww damn!” Mos said crying laughing. But it wasn’t about to be out. “The jokes never quit. I think I had more than enough of that. Do you remember this—hey wait…”

“What?” she turned around.

“Something’s wrong with your leg.”

“What are you talking about?” She stood up.

Mos jumped out of the bed and threw his arms up into the sky. “Praise the Easter Bunny! It’s a miracle! The quadriplegic has been healed! Thank you Lord, alleluia!”

“What are you talking about, clown?”

“You might not remember this but last night I had you so good, you nearly passed out. No wait, you weren’t completely paralyzed, one of your legs was shaking and I think through the pillow you were begging me to stop or get a doctor or something. I guess you might have been enjoying yourself or… suffering a mild stroke. Your eyes had rolled to the back of your head. It was like something from the Excorists--I didn't know we were making a horror movie.”

Now she was mad. She did remember that. “No, it was a Western. And you must have been moved by all this because right after that incident, I climbed on top of you and you cried like a hoe while I rode you like John Wayne's horse. Now why don’t I tell all your gangsta little Pharaohs about that?”

“Okay now, you took it too far,” Mos crossed his arms for a second then got up and started finding his clothes. “I do not cry. That's you. I had something in my eye. Probably a fang of yours or a stray piece of fur from your pelt.”

“You’re so damn, sensitive,” she mumbled. “You can go on and on about what you did to me but as soon as I say—“

“Listen woman, like you said, none of this happened. I know way more information about you than I needed to know. Not that there is anything I don’t know about you but—still it’s creepy and we should keep this sort of creepiness contained.”

Mos did actually know every single detail about Kofo’s non-existent love life. Every guy she had dated, had a crush on, or was even talking to. It wasn’t like she did this ever—just crawled in bed with someone. It was more like this was a freak occurrence that should never happen again. As bad as their personal relationship was adding something like this was ridiculous, dangerous and prone to cause flash fires.

Besides, he had come here with an agenda and he had allowed himself to be so distracted by her that he had forgotten to carry out his plan. And if he didn’t do this now Kofo ran the risk of becoming to him what she was: chocolate and habit forming. And that he could never admit.

“Fine, then we’ll shake on it. We’re not going to discuss this again,” she said. “No jokes, no digs, not a word.”

“A word about what?” he said sliding his flip flops on.

“How you look like you’re staring directly into the sun when you—“

Mos couldn’t help it. “Hush woman, you were as powerless as the backwater swamps you came from.”

“Which are as empty and dense as the back of your head. Okay it’s all out. Now we can shake,” she said. And they did.

Mos’s phone rang. He went into the kitchen to talk.

“Don’t leave yet.” She called to him. “We have to eat breakfast. I was very surprised you were here when I woke up but…” she was straightening her bedroom. “It’s a thing. You made it this far, you have to stay now.”

“Ah,” Mos said cupping his hand over the phone. “So will there be pancakes?”

“We eat waffles around here.”

“Fair enough.”

Kofo went about the business of tidying up her room. Just like the chemistry lab, everything in life had its right place. When it was wrong, stupid, careless things could happen. There was a knock at her front door.

“Mos, will you get that?”

She didn’t hear anything. The knock came again, louder.

“Mos, open the d*mn door.”

When she crossed her bedroom into the kitchen she saw that he was gone and so was any sign that he had been there. She pulled her bathrobe closer to her and cracked open the door. Blue uniforms and batons.

She tried to shut the door quickly but the chain snapped like a candy necklace and the door collapsed. “Police!” the two men shouted. “Any resistance will result in casualties.” She glared at the two of them, both looked like walking hogs.

“What the hell are you doing in my house?” she seethed.

“I think the question is… what the hell is this doing in your house?”

There on the counter amidst her breakfast supplies was every illegal substance known to man.

“Still making drugs, little girl, or did the tooth fairy leave this under your pillow last night?”

“It was a fairy all right. And he won’t have his teeth for long.”
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Tue May 15, 2007 3:41 pm

A soft, yet familiar creaking noise echoed through the sparsely-decorated studio apartment. The wooden floor seemed to just reverberate the sound throughout the room. Street lights filtered their glow through the slits in the window blinds, reflecting off of the glass trophy case in the corner, and onto the heavy bag that never seemed to completely stand still. The bag was large, worn and weathered, the victim of countless assaults over nearly every inch of its leather face. Soon it would join its brothers at the town dump when a new bag was purchased.

The creak continued as the speed bag on the wall continued to swivel slowly back and forth. Movement upstairs continued to cause the bag to move, ever so slightly, yet just enough to make a noise. Various posters decorated the walls, of publicized boxing and wrestling matches. Some had even been held at Rockport's Dante Theatre downtown, but those days were over.

A light flicked on, and a brown leather jacket was thrown onto the kitchen counter, followed by a set of keys. White light poured out as the refrigerator door was opened, and a carton of milk was quickly emptied, the box thrown into an empty garbage bin.

The cleanliness and neatness of the apartment was only upset by a set of workout clothes hanging on a wall hook, yet even those seemed to fit somehow. It was obvious that the owner of this apartment led a clean, simple life. A drastic difference from the chaos that seemed to surround his neighborhood.

There was a knock at the door.

"Yeah," came the gruff, base voice in reply.

"C'mon, Griffs, open up, man."

Griffs walked to the door and opened the latch. There stood three men. Griff could have named them without even opening the door. BK was the hispanic one with a goatee, the same goatee that Griffs had made fun of from the first day he'd shown up to the gym with it. Nate was the grease monkey. The guy was white, which was totally out of place for his job an apprentice mechanic down at Beck's Automotive. But he got along fine with the culture down there, though he never seemed to get the oil out from under his fingernails. The third was Ronny, the young one. As the only black guy in the group, he always stood out among the four, especially since he'd bleached his 'fro until it was white. He'd even done the eyebrows. When Griffs asked him about it, he'd said "for intimidation". Griffs had just laughed.

"You busy?" Asked Ronny as he walked in. He had a pizza in his hand.

"You know I don't eat that stuff, Ronny," replied Griffs, opening the door wider. "Not when I'm training."

"Oh yeah," said BK. "Duh, your fight on the fifteenth."

"I told you guys," said Nate. "Didn't I say next week? Didn't I?"

"Yeah, yeah," said Ronny as he sat down on the couch. He flicked on the TV and helped himself to the box. BK looked at him strangely.

"What?" Said Ronny as he took a bite. "He's not going to eat it."

Nate just rolled his eyes. "So what's up, Griffs? It's like we don't see you anymore."

"Been busy," replied Griffs. He leaned against the wall next to the speed bag.

"You train like your life depends on it, bro," replied BK. He'd sat himself down and was now lifting a slice out of the box.

"It does," said Griffs.

"Yeah right," said Ronny. "You were already third on IBF, and the sponsors still want you. Ain't you still on the Brickman tab?"

"That ended last month, Ronny." Griffs lightly jabbed at the heavy bag. "I haven't had a check since then."

"So what?" Replied Nate. "What are you worried about? You average twenty-grand a fight as it is, Griffs. Once a month is more than enough."

"Yeah, I know," said Griffs. "I'm just tired of all of it."

"But you're in your prime!" Said BK with a grin. "You can't just pull out now!"

"I ain't pullin' out," replied Griffs. "Just thinking about long term." He glanced towards his trophy case. "Just long term."

*****


The others had invited him to come, but Griffs didn't really have much interest in pounding the streets tonight. They'd told him about one thing that was pretty interesting, though.

Apparently The Shield over in Woodland was offering big money to anyone who could find his boy, DJ. Parker blamed Chinatown, which immediately grabbed the boxer's attention. Griffs made it a point not to get himself involved with the gangs of Rockport, especially since he already lived in Vice Lord territory. Still, though, the idea bothered him.

Two years ago, just after he'd moved into The Pointe apartments, he'd gotten into a scrap with three of the Vice Lords. From their total lack of technique and flailing style, Griffs had guessed that they usually relied on their numbers to keep them out of trouble. They'd wanted his money, and he didn't want to give it up. It was really as simple as that. In the end, Griffs had nothing but a couple bruises on his arms, while they each had had at least a black eye and bloody lip. He'd left them their in the alley, especially because he knew no paramedic in his right mind would come down into North Ridge after a gang fight.

For a while, Griffs had had to knock out at least one V-Lord a week, because apparently, he'd gained a little popularity, and the North Ridge gang scene had a pool going as to who would take down "The Boxer."

But still, Griffs never fell, and he was really no worse for wear. These were just common street thugs, more talk than anything. Even though they were the "baddest of the bad", Griffs was only defending himself each time, and he never went too far. As soon as the opponent was down, he'd leave him to his pals. Even the infamous Sweet Tooth could see that Griffs wasn't a threat.

Finally, the ruckus had calmed down, and Griffs was allowed to go back to his normal lifestyle. He'd gone back to the North Ridge gym as an instructor, and had even started training a number of the guys who he'd dropped, as they began to filter into west side of North Ridge. His only rule was that the gym was neutral territory, and that everyone needed to respect that. So far, there hadn't really been too many problems.

But with Chinatown getting the blame from The Shield, and with his boys all excited about it, Griffs could tell that it was only a matter of time before the Vice Lords were involved. Because of that, he could only wonder what might happen next.

He grabbed a blue "Ironfist" hoodie from the wall and pulled on a pair of gloves. He needed to figure out what was going on.
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Tue May 15, 2007 3:57 pm

The room was a little cold for his liking. Tommy sat, uncomfortable, in a comfortable chair in a conference room in the middle of Chinatown. He didn’t like the feeling that the giant mirror on the ceiling gave him, the feeling of sitting upside down. If he looked long enough he almost forgot whether he was sitting on the floor, or the ceiling. Tommy also figured that there would be several eyes watching him through that mirror: Another unpleasant thought. He shifted in the red leather chair, and turned his attention to the fish in the giant fish tank in the center of the table. There was something about watching those fish that made the rest of the world disappear. Unfortunately, that feeling didn’t last long. Tommy was growing restless; he had already been there for twenty minutes. He pulled out his mobile phone, and checked the time; there was still five minutes before the ‘meeting’ was supposed to start.

Tommy looked around the room at the other people who had shown up, there were seventeen of them. Tommy knew that most of them would not be used... this many people would bring too much attention, and whoever had taken DJ would know they were after them. He figured that by the end of this meeting there would only be three or four hired. Tommy sized all of them up in his mind... he liked his odds.

“Would you knock that off!?”

Tommy was surprised to find that he had been drumming a beat with his knuckles against the glass table, something he often did when his attention span was stretched. Tommy laughed as a sign of apology.

“Sorry Bro.” He started cracking his knuckles instead.

“I ain’t your Bro...”

His name Tiger, but he was built more like a Hippo. Tommy knew who he was. He had seen Tiger around and had heard his name tossed around on occasion. Tiger was 24 years old, and had never really found his place. He grew up as one of those bullies who always picked on the smaller kids as a compensation for his own insecurities. A lot of people used Tiger for their dirty work, he was good at it. But nobody wanted him in their gang because he could not be counted on. He had some serious issues.

“My bad...” answered Tommy. “Sorry Sis.

Tiger jumped out of his seat, so did Tommy, and raised his giant fist. “Who the hell do you think you are!?” he screamed.

Tommy stared a little too long and then said as a matter of factly, “Tommy Finn.”

Sometimes Tommy wondered what it would be like to have to defend himself if he wasn’t who he was. But Tiger was huge, and Tommy didn’t want to make a mess in this conference room. So he gladly took advantage of his name, something that he wasn’t hesitant to do. Tommy figured that name dropping was the quickest and easiest way to get what he wanted.

Tiger lowered his fist quickly. “Oh...” he sat down.

As Tiger sat, the doors directly behind him were opened by the guards, as if they were ushering in royalty. They might as well have been. Tommy forgot to sit down as he admired the living art that had just breezed through the doors. She seemed to walk, no, float in slow motion. There’s someone I wouldn’t mind having my butt kicked by... Of all the things Tommy found attractive about this girl, no... This woman, no... This queen, her confidence was the most appealing thing about her. Unlike most of the other men in the room Tommy did not find himself staring at her cleavage, her butt, or her legs, he was looking into her eyes. She owned this room, and everybody in it. She sat, and then he sat, just as Shu Li entered the room. Tommy did not notice her until she began speaking.

“I think we are all aware of why each of you was called here.”
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Tue May 15, 2007 5:48 pm

Upon arriving in Chinatown it wasn't really all that difficult to see where the action was headed. He followed some thugs down a few alleys until they came to Shu Li's headquarters. Not that it was really hers. Li only ransecond fiddle in this part of Rockport. But for all intensive purposes, at this moment in time Shu Li was God, and all her followers were getting ready for a little get together.

They were ushered into a large conference room, very expensive and very Chinatown style. That is, if you had the right connections. Dru leaned up against the wall and took stock of the room. People began to filter in slowlyand fill the seats. Most of the people who showed were new to the streets, or at least looked it. Greenhorns looking to make a name for themselves. But there were a few here that were easily recognizable. The part man mountain part tank known as Tiger was in a seat on the far side of the room. He was eyeing another one of the potential crew members who was unconsciously rocking out with his knuckles. Finally Tiger just couldn't stand it any more.

"Would you knock that off!?" he yelled. Most of the room stopped to look. There was an impolite exchange of words and Tiger leapt up from his seat ready to charge. Dru tightened his fists. Tiger had just picked a fight with Tommy Finn. Suicide if word ever got around to his fellow men. Dru moved from his watchful post against the wall toward the empty seat next to Tiger.

“Who the hell do you think you are!?” he screamed.

Tommy took the time to tell him just who he was indeed, and Tiger quickly and quietly deflated. Even that idiot knew that a bruised ego was better than a bruised...well everything else when it came to the Finn's and their crew.

Tiger took his seat again and Dru slid into the one adjacent to him. "Damn Tiger you sure know how to pick a fight don't you."

"He was getting on my nerves. If he wasn't a damn Finn he's be halfway up..."

Dru never found out exactly what Tiger was going to send Tommy halfway up had his lineage been different. Tiger let his mouth drop as the doors opened and in walked the first ten most of these guys had seen in a lifetime. At least the first ten not for sale to the highest bidder. The skin tight outfit worked so as to say, "Look at me and my goods, they're the last things you'll see before I beat the sh*t out of you." Cautiously eyeing the girl as she sat and started playing with her weapon of choice Shu Li walked in and commanded everyone's attention.

“I think we are all aware of why each of you was called here.” Shu Li was dominant in this room. Everyone, probably even Finn knew what power Shu Li had behind her, even if she wasn't top gun just yet. Dru cracked his neck and sat there listening attentively to just how he was going to get paid twice, possibly quite lucratively, for the same job.

Every muscle man's dream.
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Fri May 18, 2007 4:01 pm

Viktor was going to kill that little punk. If there was one thing you never did, it was steal from a thief. Especially, he thought, if you were some halfwit puissant like the Shield’s boy.

Course he knew it was partly his fault. He knew the kid had no business learning the trade, but his father thought the kid had no merit, and had told him so each time he saw the brat. So Vic thought it his personal duty to go out of his way to prove him wrong; as did tradition dictate.

He’d never taken on a partner, no that wasn’t really it, an apprentice, no that wasn’t even right; an… assistant gopher he decided was more like it, with delusions of granger. Or at least the delusions became apparent, and at the worst possible moment, in the middle of the f’ing job. Idiot, you never take anything you can’t easily fence, rule number two. Not that he himself hadn’t already broken rule number one, no partners, but they were there to take one thing, not a bunch of other baubles that were impossible to sell afterward.

They were his old man’s rules though, so he was more inclined to break them, but he had learned many times, and after many stints in juvie, that they were rules for a reason; even if the kid was an assistant not a partner. But why did DJ have to go and get him thrown in the pen barely dodging suspicions of his involvement in the theft, and then get nabbed with the damn merchandise on him. That last tidbit was the more interesting thing though, he knew it was no coincidence that they were separated, and he was picked up the same night they made off with it.

He wasn’t quite sure what to make of that particular point. Long Wei knew about the operation, they had too; it was suicide to think about stealing something on their turf without asking for at least permission first and paying a decent kick back. Both of which he had not only done, but done indirectly through Shu Li.

Granted they had never met in person, or even given names, but he knew it was her or at least someone who worked for her. But if they had in fact taken him, why call this meeting at all? They would already have him and the stuff. It just didn’t add up, and Viktor didn’t like getting involved with people that didn’t add up.

If only the moron hadn’t stolen the damn thing from him then he wouldn’t have to deal with them at all. Now he was going to have to find him, hurt him and perhaps others, and get it back just to break even for all this trouble. At least he would have help, he thought looking around the room. Though he hoped that not all the joker’s in the room were going on this job, but he doubted it.

Finally after a little pissing match, the doors did open and Kleo came out. It was to see how most of the room seemed to react to her, but he figure it was just that many hadn’t been to the club before. If only these poor sods releized that she was more deadly than beatufitful, then correcting himself he decided beautiful was not the right term, sexy was probably the one that made the most sense; more deadly than sexy.

He did have to smirk at the way she handled them though, rubbing her fingers up and down her baton was a nice touch. He guessed she wanted to see who she could get a rise out of, and who was really here to focus on the task at hand. And with that he seemed to be the only one to notice Shu Li enter the room and take her place at the head of the table.

She was quite a different looking drink of water than her protégé, but he knew that her power was far greater, and what was worse, he knew she was quite aware of this fact as well.

Shu Li began, “I think we are all aware of why each of you was called here.”

“A handful of you are needed for a task that must be dealt with swiftly and quietly. If you do not know what either of those words mean, it would be easier for you to simply leave now,” she stopped looked around the room than continued.

“Understand that whoever of you goes on this task will have no help given by the Long Wei. You may think this not an issue but keep in mind that there is no doubt you will run across some rather upset members of Shield, not to mention others that Shield has sent in search as well.

“So if you have any affiliation with them at all, or do not want to join their black list, I suggest leaving.

As some began to leave, Tiger was quick to perk up, “So how much is da job, cause it might be worth the trouble with dem Shields?”

“Ten grand, each,” Shu Li responded but quickly followed up with, “provided all of the criteria of the agreement are met.”

“Uh…” was all Tiger seem to manage with a stupid look on his face.

“Idiots need not apply,” Kleo responded and followed up with, “leave.”

“I’m not an idiot!” he bellowed kicking back the chair and slamming his fists on the table.

Kleo casually rose from the table walked the short distance in front of Tiger with a grin on her face as if to say how she approved of the macho force the ape was showing off. His anger seemed to dissolve with each sway of her inviting hips as she touched the fingered the stone that rested within her cleavage.

Drawing near, she trailed her finger down from the brute’s chest drawing lazy invisible circles all the while making her way further and further south. Waiting for just the right moment when his eyes began to widen with anticipation to let her baton fly with the other hand from just outside his peripheral and smash into his temple causing his eyes to roll back into his head and allowing his fat a$$ to promptly fall to the ground where it belonged.

The room now clear save the three with balls still sitting at the table, two guards came over and took an arm each dragging Tiger out of the room only stopping when Kleo said, “Take him to holding room one, I am not finished with him yet.”

“Yes you are, you have more important things to do,” Shu Li snapped back showing a tiny shred of emotion before returning to her stony disposition.

“Yes mistress,” was all Kleo said with a bow and returned to her seat replacing her baton and changing her demeanor to match that of Shu Li’s.

“As I was saying before that little scene, you were free to go, but seeing as there are only three of you left, it would appear as though our handful has been picked.

“Therefore if there are no objections, I will leave the remainder of the brief to the one who will be spear heading this operation,” she said looking at Tommy, Dru, and Viktor in turn before turning he
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Sat May 19, 2007 11:03 pm

With almost a dozen promises on her lips, Lulu had finally convinced Sweet Tooth to allow her to go solo on the mission to find DJ. Luckily for Sweet Tooth, Duvall had paid his debt in full with his life as well as with a side order of huge beautiful green numbers, which was in turn Lulu’s ticket out of Rockport City. Sweet Tooth’s agreement only assured her that the game was playing in her favor; however, lady luck had a tendency to be very fickle at times, so she had no choice but to play her cards carefully in such situations. And carefully meant meeting with long time friend as well as associate Howard Rockport, a man she hadn’t seen in over two years. Of course his name wasn’t really Rockport; he decided to change his last name in order to shroud his past in mystery. Well, judging by the fact that his past had already been the darkest of mysteries to Lulu, changing his last name was only a mere action of making it even darker than before. Although he knew so much about her past life and her aspirations, never did she pose any penetrating questions in hopes of shining some light on the deserted place of his past. She wasn’t the type to delve into the personal lives of others. However, she did know one thing about him, and this was that he had a wife once and death had claimed her at a very young age, which was the underlying reason as to why he collected many different breeds of cats. Unfortunately, Lulu had shared a similar trait. Only difference between the both of them was that she collected father figures instead of cats, with him being lucky number one.

He didn’t give himself the last name of Rockport just for sport. On the contrary, he tagged himself Rockport because he knew everything there was to know about the city. His knowledge ranged from the numerous gangs and their leaders all the way up to the Mayor and his family. There was not a dark alley or corner in Rockport that Howard did not have knowledge of, and if he didn’t, he would surely look into the matter.

Lulu stood in front of a rickety, old apartment building with the golden numbers 323 gleaming brightly in the morning sunlight. She wrapped the upper part of her black leather motorcycle jumpsuit around her waist, revealing the crisp wife beater beneath. She knew her meeting was not going to be peaches and cream with Howard, none of her meetings ever were. Having not seen him in over two years, or even wanting to see him for that matter, only added to the burden. Tying the upper part of her jumpsuit, she figured, was a gesture well needed for comfort if she was going to bear Howard’s whip of fate.

She slowly walked up the concrete stairs and gave the heavy wooden door a little nudge. To her immediate surprise, it creaked open. Something was up. This was the slums of Rock port City and leaving your door open was like begging for death. If you were one of the lucky ones, then the goons of the early morning would just leave you with a bloody grill and a few stolen possessions. However, those occurrences seldom happen around these parts of town.

She crossed the threshold of the doorway with caution, her eyes searching the area for anything which might be out of place. She silently cursed herself for not visiting him in two years because he could have changed his whole damn apartment around without her knowledge. Therefore, everything would be out of place. She sighed with relief when her little red head poked into the kitchen, which came first in his backwards apartment, and she saw him sitting at his little wooden table eating breakfast.

He was a well built man with a thick head of gray and black hair dressed in a worn out T-shirt and striped baby-blue pajama pants. He had to be on the wrong side of his thirties now now, judging by the thin lines that began to appear at the edges of his eyes.

“I would like to think this visit is to see how I was doing,” he said, scooping up the eggs in his plate. “But I’m not that naïve.” He shoved the eggs into his mouth and began chewing. When his eyes finally fell upon Lulu, his gaze was like ice. It stabbed through her very being, causing her to feel a subtle pang of guilt. She knew she should have visited him to at least see how he was doing, but she also wanted to bury the feelings of far off future of being a writer and artist, and he was somehow connected to that all.

“I’m sorry,” was the words she managed to voice through her guilt, and he snorted. He was the only person she could say sorry to and not regret doing so.

“Get yourself a beer and sit down. We have much to talk about.”

She leveled herself with his miniature refrigerator, pulled the door open, and smiled when she saw only one Corona sitting next to the milk. Her gaze darted in his direction, landing on the broad smile he was sporting. He never looked up at her, but she knew he knew that she was coming and thus prepared for her arrival in advance, which would explain the open door and of course her preference when it came to beer.

“You know me too well,” she said. She grabbed the Corona from the shelf and flipped the cap off with the help of the edge of his countertop. She took a swig of the alcoholic beverage directly from its narrow neck. “That could be dangerous in the future,” her eyes flickered flirtatiously. She took a seat just opposite him and a black cat hopped into her lap almost immediately. It was the one he had named after her and his favorite.

“ ‘In visions of the dark night, I have dreamed of joy departed--But a waking dream of life and light, Hath left me broken-hearted,’” he whispered as he poked at the remaining eggs on his plate with his fork.

“Edgar Allan Poe. “A Dream”,” she answered his unasked question and he smirked.

It had been so long since that day she had told him of her dream of being a writer and an artist. She had told him that her aspirations reminded her of the poem “A Dream”, written by Edgar Allan Poe, which was why he stated a portion of the poem. It was his way of asking why she had come here, and she had answered yes.

“So I heard through the grapevine that DJ was kidnapped and Parker is offering a $20,000 profit to whoever finds the kid?” he asked, finishing the remainder of food on his plate.

“Yup,” she confirmed.

“And you want that $20, 000?”

She nodded again in confirmation.

“Okay, I haven’t seen you in over two years and you think you can waltz your little ass over here asking for my help? I could have been dead.”

“But your not,” she took another swig of her drink. “So let’s talk business.”

“Oh so I see you’re all grown up now huh? Got yourself all tatted up.” He gestured to the tattoo that reached from her lower back all the way onto her left shoulder.

“Listen Howard I didn’t come here for this. All I want is your help, if you’re not going to supply me with that, then don’t waste my time.”

“Please sweet heart, spare me the bullshit,” he got up from where he was sitting, throwing his dish into the sink. “You have no time to waste. And you know as well as I do that I’m your only help in finding this boy.”

He had the gift of making her blood boil. Lulu hated to be checked, and he knew just how to do it, managing somehow to piss her off in the process. The damn man was right. He was her only reliable source of information, and it put him at an advantage. It was just like him to torment her before actually giving her what she wanted. She had a theory that it turned him on in someway.

“Okay, big boy,” she shoved the cat from off her lap. “What loops do I have to jump through before you give me the info I want on this kid?”

He smiled and folded his arms arrogantly. “None Red.”

He flexed his jaw muscles, brushing his hair back from out of his face. He took a pack of cigarettes from out of his T-shirt’s breast pocket and popped one of the cancer sticks into his mouth.

“You have a lighter?” he asked after moments of feeling around his attire for his.

She uplifted herself from the chair, taking the golden lighter from out of her pocket and igniting the edge of his cigarette. He inhaled deeply before beginning.

“Word is the kid visits the gentlemen’s club down on the corner of Duhill and Vermont almost every night to catch Kleo’s opening act. If you ask me, the kid has a fetish for the feline,” he chuckled while recalling his own visits to the club. “I mean the chick does have some moves.”

“You’re such a pervert Howard.”

“No I’m a man with needs kid and don’t you forget that. Anyways, I’m guessing the kid got nabbed somewhere over there so your best bet would be not to search in that area.”

“Why?” She took the cigarette from out of his hands and took a pull before returning it.

“Because no jackass is stupid to stay in the area of his or her crime.”

“Do you think Chinatown is responsible for the capture?” she asked.

“Shu Li? Nah, that’s not Shu Li’s style. Trust me, I seen what the bitch could do and it ain’t pretty. Especially her assistant Kleo. That’s a badass right there. Such a waste though. The chick is like walking sex, but no man could get close enough to tap that you get my drift? Besides, Shu Li is hiring a group of her own to investigate the kidnapping. She is searching to clear her name of what The Shield is accusing her of.”

“So you suspect there is a higher power involved?”

“Bingo kid. A higher and more powerful power at that. If I was a smart man, I would suggest you not get involved. To me it seems like this is the beginning of a gang war. And a gang war is not that pretty my friend.” He exhaled the smoke from his lungs and it coiled into the air like snakes before evaporating.

“You know I can’t do that Howard.”

He heaved a sigh, “Yeah I know kid. I used to be young and ambitious like you, look where it landed me.”

It was true, he did live in a dump, but the same fate did not await everyone who chose this path and Lulu didn’t dare think of giving up. An opportunity presented itself as clear as day, and she would be a fool to pass up such an offer.

Howard had stepped in front of her, looking into her eyes with the cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth.

“‘DARK eyed, O woman of my dreams, Ivory sandaled, There is none like thee among the dancers, none with swift feet’” he whispered, taking hold of her chin. His eyes were filled with an affection that Lulu could not comprehend. Never did she see his eyes display such an emotion toward her. Never had he ever touched her in such a way, but she allowed herself to play the role he had placed upon her. And then, almost as if by accident, she had felt a similar emotion fill her heart.

“Ezra Pound. Dance Figure,” she whispered.

“I never thought I could stir such an emotion in you Lulu, and I decided to take a chance,” he smiled only faintly. “I’m worried about your involvement in all of this. It’s too dangerous and I fear for your life.”
What? Howard liked her? Loved her even? This was preposterous. Howard was like a father to her, never could she cross those limits with him. Could she? He wasn’t her real father after all, but where had these feelings come from? Maybe she had buried them like she buried most of the feelings within her. Maybe they were just alike in that aspect too.

“When you’re done with this. Come back to me okay? Think of it as a motivation to stay alive because I’m not done with you yet,” he smiled and took the cigarette from out of his mouth. He lifted her chin and planted a gentle kiss on her lips that made her body shiver. She didn’t push him away. Somewhere deep down inside she wanted this. She waited for this and she finally got to have it. He probably never expressed the emotion to her two years ago because she had been way too young for him. However, she was legal now and all his.

He pulled away with the kiss leaving utter fire and passion in its wake.

“Promise me,” he whispered.

“I promise,” she said with a smile.

Then he turned around and walked out of the kitchen and into the living room, leaving Lulu alone with the mission of her
dream.
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Sun May 20, 2007 2:00 pm

Her head was sizzling like a fried bologna sandwich.

An hour passed. She was alone again. Her stomach ached like an ape was jumping around inside. She couldn’t see the color blue anymore. She was sick.

Maybe it was because she was laying flat on the floor with her hands over her eyes but an officer came in to check on her. He spoke to her once but she didn’t catch what he said and instead, groaned and moved away from him. “Are you high?” the question came again.

“I was,” she said slowly.

“Oh, then this will be easier than I thought.” He locked the door of her cell.

“What?”

“I think I’ll just leave you in here until you come off of that stuff. You’ll be a lot easier to deal with, then.”

“Wait, hold on. I—I you got to let me out of here. I don’t feel good and I can’t see.”

“Excellent. Now you’ll know exactly how all your customers feel. Sick and sightless.”

She was thirsty. It felt like she had swallowed her tongue, dry and spiky. That was a bleak image. Did people really feel this bad if they didn’t take Nimbus for a while? No, the drug she made was easy to quit. It didn’t do this to you. It was the Pharaohs that had to add this extra stuff. She would kill Mos.

Twenty years seemed to go by. She threw up more than she had ever eaten and when she didn’t have anything else to throw up she just kept spitting. Her hands itched, her feet were swollen. She was cold all over, deathly cold as if she were an iron sheet in an envelope of ice. She kept banging on the door, asking someone to come, but no one would help her.

She was alone. She had to get more of the sh*t. If she didn’t hurry up she’d die. She’d go through times when things would move really fast and other times at an imperceptive pace. She couldn’t see some colors, her fingernails and her hands were the same shade, her toes the green of the linoleum they stood on. She curled up into a ball and shivered. There weren’t enough blankets in the world. She needed the warmth of Nimbus. The security of clouds. No, not after this, this hurt almost as bad as it had felt good. Snot ran out of her nose, she went to wipe it on her bathrobe but realized that she had left it with her sanity across the room.

“Do you know why you’re here, Miss Sunil?”

She was startled but didn’t let it show, rather she gathered the folds of her robe around her and sat on the stool as if it were her thrown and the interrogation room, her kingdom. It was bad, yeah, but her mom had always said that you couldn’t let anyone see you sweat. They couldn’t take you unless you were tired.

She started getting bossy again. “It’s not sun-isle, like sun-dial. It’s Sunil. It rhymes with Chanel, you know, the clothes.”

“And what lovely clothes you’ll be wearing in prison. I mean a curvy, pretty girl like you. Such long hair, such pretty eyes. Why, I would imagine that a lot of cigarettes and soap would change hands over you.” The man standing over her had hairy forearms and a bit of a mustache. He leered at her and opened a soda that he poured for himself leisurely. It took her a moment to realize it was really a woman.

A beacon of light was shining directly in her eyes as if the rapture was upon her and her alone. But Kofo was a scientist and did not believe in God, or His influence and so she could rest easy, knowing her place in eternity was not a question, but an inevitability. For a person like that, fear is a gigantic part of life when something is out of control. The only thing that was keeping her from being completely terrified was the distraction of thinking of all the cruel things she would do to Mos when she saw him again.

“Are you ready to talk to me, Miss Sunil?” the he-woman asked.

“Not necessarily. It depends on what you want to talk about. I like to talk about investigating chemical compounds, for example or cold fusion. You know, small talk. Breezy things.”

“Don’t be flippant. I could make this easy for you or hard. Now which way would you like this to go?”

She paused for a moment and carefully tied her bathrobe around her. She wasn’t wearing anything under it and her butt was freezing on the metal chair. She sighed. “Define hard.”

“Hard would be me taking you as you are now, in your housecoat and g*d knows what else down to the station and depositing you into the yard around lunch time. See how long it’ll take to make a man out of you.”

“Well if you’re any indication of what can be done by time in jail, I would say you were a fine man, indeed.”

The woman scuffed. “So you like to joke? There won’t be anything funny to talk about in prison. In fact I imagine half the time you’re their your mouth will be busy doing other things.”

“You seem a little preoccupied with me going to jail,” Kofo stretched. “I can’t imagine why.”

The woman sighed and turned away from her. She disappeared once she stepped out of the light. Kofo just sat there for a fifteen minute eternity, waiting.

A plaid-shirted white man came in. His hair was white. He looked and moved like a mantis. The second before she was going to say “The f*ck you looking at?” he opened his mouth. “I understand you have a handle on chemistry, is that true, young lady?”

He seemed nice enough, he smiled like a little boy. She decided not to break his balls. She nodded stiffly with one eyebrow raised and one hand guarding her robe should the old man try to get feisty.

“And that you sell drugs that reach a great deal of the Industrial population?”

She didn’t respond to that but rather stared at him with the blank concentration of a child watching cartoons.

“Smart girl. Well I have a proposition for you that will make you a lot of money.”

“I’m listening,” she said.

“I want you to create a drug, a drug that puts people to sleep, a lot of people at the same time. I want it to be cheap and made out of things that anyone could get. This is my test, do you think you could do it?”

“Here’s the deal. I don’t pay the time for the crime, I don’t work in my own house, you move my mother out of the ghetto first and I need a fifteen thousand dollar advance before I do anything.”

“Very forward.”

“I prefer focused.”

“Done. Except about your mother. Moving her would raise too many questions. She is a pillar in your community, is she not? At every PTA meeting, the first lady of the church, a star citizen if there ever was one. No, I can give you all those things but that. Do we still have a deal?”

Kofo bit her lip and stared off in space, which was par for the course when she was thinking about something. The old man did not try to rush her.

“Okay but then it’s a twenty five thousand dollar advance. And you get me out of here in the next five minutes.”

“Why would a girl like you need so much money?”

“Medical breakthroughs are expensive. So are student loans.”

“You have until next Tuesday,” the old man moved toward the door. His blue eyes shined a bit as he left a hundred dollars on the table beside the soda.

“Who are you?” she said as his shoes squeaked toward the door.

“Let’s not worry about that,” he said. “This money is to ensure that you never mention that you saw me—not to anyone. Is that understood, Ms. Sunil?” He said her name correctly, not like he’d tried to read it off a piece of paper. He must have talked to someone.

“Sure. What is all this for?”

“You’ll see.”

“Can I go now?”

“No, I believe that the officers are not done with you, yet. I on the other hand, am. But they will keep you here until you tell them what they want to hear. I suggest you play dumb and you really will be released in the next few minutes. And stop scratching your arm.”

This time a man came back to talk to her.

“Miss Sunil,” he began incorrectly

“It rhymes with the clothes. Chanel. Like Chanel Number 5. Sometimes people call me Coco Chanel because it sounds like Kofo Sunil, you see? Or Sunny Boy or Sunshine.”

“Who calls you Sunshine?”

“The Truth.”

“Who is The Truth?”

“I donno. The Truth will set me free,” she laughed.

“It will. So start talking to me.”

“I’d rather just keep throwing up, if that’s all right with you.”

“Do you make drugs?”

“In my spaceship, yes. I make drugs and eat them. And sell them with broccoli. And tar.”

“Spaceship? You mean a lab?”

“Those are for aliens. I use a can opener for my drugs. And a cauldron. I like bubbles.”

The lady smiled mechanically and stepped out of the light. Chattering.

“Okay Miss Sunil, you’re not who we are looking for.”

“Who are you looking for? I am who you are looking for.”

“Not, quite. I think we have you confused with someone else. Have a good rest of the day, be careful out there.”

Kofo kicked herself for not playing stupid sooner and took a bizarre bus ride across town in her bathrobe, alone.
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Sun May 20, 2007 2:23 pm

Kofo opened the door to her apartment and immediately closed it back. No. F*cking. Way.

If it had looked like she had been robbed before—now her house looked like it had been marauded by pirates.

If a human being could spontaneously combust, this would have been the only opportunity for it to happen.

Nothing was broken, everything was misplaced. Her chairs were upside down, everything in her cabinets was on the countertops. Her dishes were stacked on the floor. Her bed was stripped of all the covers and the mattress had been opened and poorly closed again. Her window was shut when it hadn’t been before and now it seemed that anything that could be backwards was.

She hadn’t been robbed, she was being investigated. Someone had come into her house and combed through everything she owned. She opened her jewelry box and nothing was missing, but her diary was gone, so was her address book and all the money was left in her purse but everyone that had called her in the last week had been called back.

She sighed. She was going to have to clean all this up, even though she knew they’d be back again. They were trying to give her a chance before they decided whether or not they were going to kill her—no they couldn’t kill her she made them all her money. Before they decided to punish her. Severely. The Answer was not a forgiving individual and did not deal in “I’m Sorries.”

Dummies. If they wanted to find out if she was going behind their backs they should have gone to the source or asked her directly.

She called Mos. He sent her to voicemail. It didn’t matter, she was going to light his ass up. “Who the hell do ya’ll n*ggas think ya’ll are? CSI? Nobody named Grissom f*cking works for the Pharaohs. Don’t you ever come in my house again you scrotum faced hoe! I’ll wreck you on sight, Moses Altune! And you won’t see me coming.”

Now that last part was a bit dodgy because Kofo couldn’t fight, but she could mix up a mean cocktail. Molotov, that is.

Two buses, a change of clothes and a shower later, Kofo stepped out into the pavement of Chinatown. She had a backpack full of bombs and she was on a mission. She was going to find Mos and blow his face off.

She walked less than two blocks before she saw the neon sign of a strip club. That’s where he would be, chasing a case of crabs. She saw a VL bike parked in front of a building and paused. Maybe he was already there talking to them about her. Was Mos setting her up? No. They’d been enemies since kindergarten… but if someone was going to take Kofo down, Mos would want to do it personally.

Gut check. She was here, she’d parked her bike, she couldn’t punk out now. She straightened her cut off jacket, re-tied her black Chucks and smoothed her tangerine polo to double check where her razors were. If this got ugly, she was going to make sure someone got their face cut.

Smoke was everywhere when she walked in the club. Gyrating, butt shaking, titty popping hoes were dangling themselves like chandeliers from poles.

“Want an application, sweet cheeks?” a fat man leered from behind the bar.

She gave him the stankest look possible.

There, across the bar was a Vice Lord. She had red hair and a dragon tattooed across her back.

She sat down beside her. “Look, let’s cut it to the chase. You punks have been selling Nimbus. I make that and I don’t give the sh*t away for free and I definitely didn’t sell it to you. So do you have the sh*t or not, because if you do you need to give it back or it's gon' be some furniture movin up in this b*tch.”
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Thu May 24, 2007 7:06 pm

If DJ's disappearance was the source of these new problems, then Griffs figured the easiest way to resolve it would be to simply find the kid.

As he'd made his way through the streets, Griffs hadn't really turned anything up. He knew that there was something coming, though. There was just a buzz in the air that seemed to echo through the entire North Ridge borough. It'd been confirmed as he'd overheard part of a rather interesting conversation between two rather unsuspecting Vice Lords.

"Yo, you hear about Sheild? Jazz told me the Hornets are heading to Chinatown tomorrow."

"What fo'?

"Shu Li thinks that Shield capped her old man, so she went and nabbed DJ two nights ago."

"A little payback, huh?"

He took a swig from the bottle in his grip.

"Yeah, but Sheilds says he don't got nothing to do with it, so he's taking his crew in to take DJ back."

"Ah, yeah. Sounds like some sweet action headed our way, G..."

"It ain't cool, dawg. I don't like this..."

It was then that they'd noticed him. Griffs hadn't exactly been hiding, but he hadn't been talking, either. He'd just been watching. Now, though, they'd seen him.

"Hey, you! What you want?"

"Yeah, we're talking some important business here. Take your ass somewhere else!"

Griffs just chuckled slightly to himself. These two weren't worth it.

"What, you think you funny?"

"Alright, fool, laugh on this!"

The gang member lifted the bottle in his hands, intent on smashing it into Griffs face. Griffs dodged the blow as the glass shattered against the wall. He followed with a double uppercut, one to each chin, lifting both Vice Lords off their feet, and throwing them to the alley floor.

"You son of a... You dead now, boy!" They bolted towards him, but Griffs was more than ready. His hands itched for it. His muscles wanted a good scuffle, and he needed a real all-out sparring match. The first came at him again, with just bare fists, but Griffs was plenty ready for the amatuer's wild swings. He blocked a jab and a cross, and followed with a left hook to the body and a right swing to the nose. The Vice Lord literally spun, hitting the street again. Blood was on Griffs' knuckles.

POW! A punch nailed him from his left. He'd forgotten about the other one. Using the momentum, he spun, and scored a gut punch, rattling the kid's stomach. He dropped his guard for just a split-second, and that was when Griffs struck. One-two, and an uppercut, and the second Vice Lord hit the curb.

Griffs didn't intend to finish them off. That wasn't his style. Instead, he needed some information. He walked slowly to the first gang member, rolled him onto his back and gripped his collar. As Griffs lifted him up, the boy winced, waiting for the coming blow.

"Where's the DJ kid?"

"Wha... You a Hornet?" The Vice Lord responded incredulously. Blood was dripping out of his nose and into his mouth.

"Just a concerned party," replied Griffs. "Where?"

"No clue, dawg! Word on the streets says he was picked up in Chinatown ...down at the strip club in Chinatown."

"Enough for me," said Griffs. He dropped the kid, letting his head crack against the asphalt. Time to talk to Kleo. He walked out of the alley and disappeared into the night.

*****


The hazy sun pierced the smog of Rockport City, and Griffs was already building up a sweat. He liked to train early, while the gym was barren. He worked the heavy bag with a seven-hit rotating combination, repeating the sequence over and over, his body taking over as his mind took a back seat. He'd completely forgotten about the dark bruise under his left eye.

A pulsing rock beat echoed through the room, along with the sounds of his bag gloves striking the leather. But even as his powerful punches continued to soften the cowhide, he couldn't fully concentrate. The three-minute bell sounded, and Griffs took a breather. A quick glance at the clock on the wall confirmed that the 6:30 class would be showing up soon.

He walked over to the round timer and switched it off, and muted the gym stereo before slugging down a few mouthfuls of water. A towel wicked off the sweat trickling down his buzzed head.

There was always a euphoric feeling to working out that Griffs could never seem to find anywhere else. He wasn't one for Blaze, Yellow Jackets, or any of the other drugs making their ways around the streets of Rockport, but from what the users described, Griffs could tell that the stuff was just a cheap imitation. The surges of adrenaline as he would bench three hundred pounds off his chest, run a three-minute flurry, or score a fourth-round knockout, were more than enough of a rush to keep him from screwing up his head with even something as "harmless" as Nimbus.

Recently, a few of the boys had come in with a buzz about this new "pure" form of Nimbus. While Griffs made it a point not to get involved with the various gangs, he knew that Nimbus was the hottest stuff on the market, especially if you could get the stuff pure. It was pricey, and whoever was manufacturing was probably making a killing.

Literally, thought Griffs. While the drug was toted around the streets as non-addictive and relatively easy to quit, Griffs knew that it couldn't be as true as everyone seemed to believe. Things rarely were, after all. Instead, he was convinced that there was something more to the whole situation. In fact, he was convinced that the drug trade was the real source behind most all of the problems in this town.

After a quick shower, he pulled on his jeans and tennis shoes before pulling on a clean collared shirt. He wanted to be sure that he made at least a decent impression in this place. After all, Chinatown wasn't exactly the friendliest place in Woodland Valley. A quick nod to Terry at the booth, and Griffs was on his way.

He elected to walk, which may have taken longer, but it was a relatively good day, and Griffs didn't exactly want any "extra property" along with him on this visit. For some reason, cars seemed to disappear when a visitor was unwelcome or at least less than accomodating, and Griffs had specific intention of being both. If Chinatown was the lead, then he'd get what he needed, get DJ back to his crew, and stop this bloodbath before it even started.

He turned a corner, and noticed some wanted posters. They were obviously old, but just as obviously untouched. From the look of them, they'd been on this wall for months. One was for a guy named "Sweet Tooth", another for a James Duvall, and even one for Parker Shields, all mixed in among the collage of Rockport City's northern crime rings. Griffs was sick of all of it. He walked by the photos in disgust.

What is wrong with this town? He mused. He could have moved out of here years ago. Either to Vegas, or New York, or even to L.A., where his training pal Jake had invited him. But something kept him here. For some reason, he felt he needed to stay. Mostly, Griffs thought about the kids. These punk kids needed lessons to fit in on the streets. Usually, they couldn't pay their bills, with either cash or otherwise. Griffs taught them anyway. He'd struck a deal with Bobby Lawrence, the Grandmaster of Lawrence Dojo, that both would work together to help these kids who really had no idea how to defend themselves from the more organized criminals in the city. Griffs reasoned this was why he stayed in this hell hole day and day again.

Finally he saw it. Because it was midday, none of the neon lights were lit, but the place was still in good repair. Chinese lettering adorned the walls of the surrounding buildings, and there were the smells of dim sum and even chow mein being prepared in the streets. Chinatown. A few turns and twists, and Griffs found the door he was looking for. He walked inside, noticing the well-kept Suzuki leaning against its kickstand.

There on the wall was the picture of one of the most famous strippers in Rockport. Her name was signed with a silver pen at the bottom of her glamour shot. Kleopatra. Griffs never seemed to see what the big deal about Kleo Toliver was anyway. He'd never really had the notion to talk to a stripper, even one as famed and beautiful as Kleo, and though there was something that seemed to set her apart from others of her trade, to the boxer, a show girl was a show girl, and that was that.

Griffs thought he'd lingered on the portrait for just a little too long, but the fat man at the front didn't even give him a second look as Griffs walked towards the bar.

"What'll you have?" Asked the bartender.

"Just a beer," said Griffs. He caught the bottle, and opened it, but didn't drink quite yet. He had to give the appearance without losing his senses. Griffs had found at a young age that he was extremely unable to hold his liquor, and even a single beer could get him drunk if the hops were potent enough. However, in order to get information in a place like this, you had to make certain sacrifices.

He started to look around the bar.

Seated at the far end of the bar was a pretty distinct young woman. She had red hair and a dragon tattooed across her back. Griffs recognized a Vice Lord when he saw one. She seemed to be sitting alone, and after a couple looks, he thought she might be the best one to ask.

But someone else beat him to it. Another girl walked right over to her. To be honest, Griffs hadn't even seen her walk in. The girl was dark, direct, and smooth as sandpaper. It seemed she knew exactly what she wanted and wasn't wasting time.

The girl sat down right next to the Vice Lord. “Look, let’s cut it to the chase. You punks have been selling Nimbus. I make that and I don’t give the sh*t away for free and I definitely didn’t sell it to you."

Neat little coincidence, thought Griffs with a smirk. He swirled the beer in his bottle and continued to listen.

"So," continued the new girl. "Do you have the sh*t or not, because if you do you need to give it back or it's gon' be some furniture movin up in this b*tch.”

Griffs almost wanted to say something, but he knew that he needed to wait. There was bound to be more information.

But just then, he watched as a group of Hornets rounded the corner. He knew that they were totally out of place here in Chinatown, and that there was only going to be trouble. Another group of strangers walked around the opposite corner, all right in front of the bar windows. It was a drink and a show.

Pleasantries were exchanged in haste before weapons were drawn. Griffs just watched, waiting, until he noticed a pair of familiar faces in the crowd. Ronny and BK were there, behind the Hornets. Instantly Griffs curiosity turned to a potent concern.

He didn't like where this was going, but this fight wasn't his.


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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Thu May 24, 2007 8:10 pm

“As I was saying before that little scene, you were free to go, but seeing as there are only three of you left, it would appear as though our handful has been picked.

“Therefore if there are no objections, I will leave the remainder of the brief to the one who will be spear heading this operation,” she said looking at Tommy, Dru, and Viktor in turn.

Shu Li was gone, and with her the air of power that had entered the room when she did. Nobody talked just yet, probably because they were waiting to see who Kleo would beat up next for being insolent. Tiger never did learn to keep his da** mouth shut.

Kleo gave them a brief rundown of their situation. But he already knew a lot of it from his meeting with Sheild. Well, he knew someone was missing anyways. What she basically did was give him the scene, a reminder of the paycheck - and though she didn't need to after the display she and Shu Li had put on - make it painfully clear who wore the pants in this room. They had suggested everyone with a party loyalty to the Hornets leave. Some of them had. But Dru just couldn't pass up the job of a lifetime.

So they found themselves at a strip joint in Chinatown, supposedly right where DJ was grabbed after wathing a show. It wasn't much help looking for signs of a struggle, they happened constantly around here. So any eveidence short of DNA would be useless. And Shu Li probably didn't have the capabilities to handle that anyway. Maybe her boss, but it was hard to find someone that scientific left in Rockport not selling drugs.

It would have helped to have a little bit more time to look around, but Dru's run of good luck just couldn't wait to turn against him. The sounds of a bloodthirsty mob came n around the corner, starting low, then beginning to grow. Although Dru knew this would be just a little bit worse than the Grinch when the two groups met up.

Parker and her crew walked around the corner and Dru with Kleo. Synapses fired and conclusions were made.

"You lying filthy b******!" yelled Parker. "You work for me, not this kidnapping ho!"

Kleo shot him a look and Dru shot one toward her baton. Things were probably about to get ugly, and nobody was going to be on Dru's side for this one.

Aw hell. And this was such a nice day. Dru tightened his grip around his chain and club. This wouldn't end well at all. No matter who won.


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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Thu May 31, 2007 3:06 pm

Kleo saw Parker and the Hornets walking in the same direction as her crew, and just kept on walking. Parker though took one look at Dru then to her, back to Dru, before he spoke up. That would have struck her as odd until he open is ugly yap.

"You lying filthy b******!" yelled Parker.

Kleo shot Dru a look and almost chuckled, she was planning on using that little tidbit of info against him later if he got out of hand, but it looks like that ace in the hole was now gone. The question should have been who was he really working for, but since Parker seemed to not be thrilled with the idea of him working for the Hornets any longer; it looked like he only had one way to go. Trouble was while she quickly sized up the numbers and knew she had little choice but continue to rely on him considering it was already at least four to one and now he had one more reason to defend himself.

"You work for me, not this kidnapping ho!"

Calling Kleo a ho was exactly like signing one’s own death sentence in almost all cases. However, in this instance she seemed to be able to hold back enough to think about what would happen if she did bash in the f’ing fa####’s face. More than likely it would mean more trouble for her family, both now and later, and doing so now in front of the club in the middle of her neighborhood only meant even more destruction of the place she cared about. So she couldn’t help but be torn for at least 10.7832 seconds which, insolently, was the exact time it took Viktor to formulate a quick stupid idea that he hoped would defuse the situation.

Viktor was never one for combat, being someone who sneaks about for a living, he tried to stay out of any nasty business like physical violence and instead would try any means to either avoid the situation, or at least postpone so he could then ambush later. This not being a time for an ambush as he watched the Hornets begin to make a cozy circle around them. He had to think fast, and Parker’s stupid comment seemed to trigger one.

“Ho?” he began stepping cautiously right between Parker and Kleo.

“Why, I think that anything but the truth sir,” he said and turned back to Kleo.

“I assure you madam that both Mr. Valentine and myself are anything but whores, men for hire to be sure. But we always work exclusively for one client each night. And I know for a fact that both he and I had you booked down for a threesome tonight. So I’m not quite sure what Mr. Shield is talking about when he said Mr. Valentine is working for him.

“Dru,” he said and rather effeminately swung his hips and sauntered over to Dru.

“Did you double book yet again? What have I told you about that.”

Turning back to Parker who seemed more than unglued as the atmosphere around the group seemed to now be that of confusion and discomfort he continued, “I am truly sorry for this sir, but since we are with the madam now, you can either wait or rebook.”

“Now Ms. Toliver, we are charging you by the hour so if we are done chatting,” Viktor said and motioned toward the club.

Kleo didn’t know that this kind of rage was even possible. She felt as if she could literally just explode and take everyone within a three block radius with her. Of all the stupid ideas that seemed totally implausible he was spouting this dribble about her! And it actually seemed to be stupefying their audience!

Viktor could see feel the holes she was already drilling into him, he only hoped she could see why he was doing it as he motioned for Dru to follow as he started for the club.

“Let me get this straight…” Parker started before Kleo cut him off.

“WHAT THS F&*^ ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, YOU GOT DAMN SON OF A B$%#@!” she began and started toward him.

Reeling back she continued with, “I’M GOING KICK THE EVER LOVING S%^$ OUT OF…”

He managed to barely dodge the blow, but she still connected ruining his plan. Since he was closer to the line of Hornets, his ducking lined up another poor fellow who was now lying on the ground with blood oozing from between the hands pressed against his face. And in that next instant, as he watched the guy twitch on the ground, he knew that the blow had just acted like a ringing of the bell, and saw the intensity that everyone held explode.
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Fri Jun 01, 2007 1:41 am

He was running through a forest. A forest of mahogany trees. Neat, spirally vines. There were no branches. They stood as soldiers do in ordered rows. Looking up into the sky he saw the cosmos, the solar system, clouds. God’s playground.

There was an echo through the branches. A soft sigh, like a woman satisfied. A flirty giggle or was that the sound of a bird’s wings? The trees moaned in the breeze but it wasn’t a lament, it was something else. Something stronger.

He walked gingerly through the warm, soft columns at first. Then he picked up speed and jogged with all his might through them. They wrapped around his body like delicate pretty fingers, they gripped his shoulders and lay against him, exhausted. He wove his hands through them, remembering how soft they felt in his palms. How lovely they were.

He heard a thud somewhere in the forest. He turned to see who was there. This was his private sanctuary. The dream he dreamt almost every night since he was fifteen. This was where he was safe from everything, his mistakes, the streets, the drugs, the guilt. He heard another sound. Intruders. He had to defend this place. No one would take it from him. He forced himself to turn again and woke up in someone else’s bed.

The room was dark, the window was open, Kofo had taken all the covers. He saw the source of the sound immediately. A man had a heavy club an inch away from her neck. Mos leapt up and put his knee in the man’s chest. He crashed back into a lovely bookcase that tottered in the wake of the blow. He tried to push the shelf back upright before the books scattered. That’s when two other men stirred in the shadows.

They advanced toward him, no, toward her. Mos pulled a sheet around his waist and raised his hands. He had to retain at least some of his dignity.

“Who is the only one that can stop a Pharaoh?”

They staggered and responded together. “A Pharaoh.”

“And how can a Pharaoh reign eternal?”

“He must guard his heart, harden it and empty it of everything, sadness, cheer and love, until it is more hollow than his grave. He will transcend death.”

“Then what is his only weakness?”

“Himself,” the three said together. They bowed because they were in the presence of The Truth and had never met anyone so far up in the ranks of the Pharaohs. Aside from that they were each terrified because they had been taught the passes but had never been required to quote them. One mistake could have cost them their lives.

“Who sent you?” Mos demanded.

“We were told not to tell anyone.”

“You can’t even tell The Truth?”

They looked to one another and shook their heads.

“Then tell me this, did The Answer order this hit?”

“No, he did not.”

“Tell me the details of the hit, don’t leave anything out. Do you even know who you are about to kill?”

“No, sir, we were told to kill Uncle And. We would still get paid if we broke his hands, though. Only Yat knows who Uncle And really is… we would have asked her but she’s out of town. I don’t even think our hirer knows who Uncle And really is, just what he does.”

“Well what does he do?” Mos asked shrewdly what he already knew.

“He makes Nimbus. He double crossed The Answer and sold to someone else.”

“And what does Yat have to do with this?” Mos asked.

“Nothing, she just delivers the stuff. We were told Uncle And would be at Yat’s place house-sitting. Yat is only going to be out of town for tonight. We were ordered to kill Uncle And then clean up the mess before Yat got back. You know she can’t stand her house to be messed up.”

Mos sat down on the bed. Kofo started to turn over but he covered her with a blanket. The three men leaned in to sneak a peek but were disappointed. “I cancel the hit and absolve Uncle And. Tell the Pharaohs also that any bodily harm done to Yat will result in their sure death.”

“Yes sir,” one said. All three headed toward the window quickly and quietly. It was the last one that hung back a moment longer. “Sir, if Uncle And is house sitting and he is in that bed… why are you in the bed with him… naked?”

“The f*ck you talking to?” Mos stumbled to find his fasces to chop the guy to bits. Before he could get his hands on them, they had practically broken their necks to get out of the window.

Mos walked back to the bed and got back under the covers. He hadn’t meant to stay, in fact he wished he’d never came at all, but then he regretted that. If he weren’t here, she would be dead and everyone would know that Uncle And was not a man at all but a young girl with three names. Yat, Kofo, And. All the same person but only two people knew that. As long as everyone kept thinking Kofo delivered Nimbus but didn’t make it, she would be safe. But who had led them straight to her house, even with a bogus lie about why Uncle And would be there?

If those three idiots were gunning for Kofo then there was no telling how many other people were. Now he had to stay. To make sure she’d be alive to argue with him another day. So he could get to the bottom of this.

Maybe she really had done this. Maybe he was protecting her for no reason. She didn’t know what he was sacrificing for her. She never did.

Then it sunk in. Everyone was going to think he was gay. He was going to have to talk a good game tomorrow about how he wasn’t.

He was justifiably annoyed when he gathered her in his arms. The coils of her hair brushed gently against his face. She smelled like vanilla. Familiar. It was then that he realized what his dreams had been about. All those nights that he had been running, he had been running through her hair. He laughed to himself. Now, that was crazy. It wasn’t like that with them. No.

He leaned on his elbow and uncovered her face. She was fine, not in a sappy way, but if she weren’t herself he would actually look at her twice. She was too short to model, too mean to date. But there was something about her. Too bad you could only see it when her eyes and mouth were closed.

He stared at her for a while. Sort of ashamed of himself because it occurred to him that what he was doing was creepy.

Something came over him. He knew she was okay now. That the reason that this all had started anyway was because he had no idea how to give a pep talk and that the moment had passed a few hours and a roll of condoms ago. But he thought about the dreams he always had, the sound that wafted through the trees. If it was really her hair then… he had to know.

He just went with it. She pushed him away at first, after all she wasn’t drunk anymore, but he knew exactly what he was doing and it only took him a moment to find the exact spot that would convince her to let him work. He had to know if that was her voice that he heard in his dreams. He had to pull it out of her and this was his only chance to ever find out.

He turned her protests to short pants. On her lips he left kisses softly. Her arms wrapped around him, she held onto his shoulders. She lay against him. He wove his fingers through her hair. Focused on her. Then a whimper turned into a moan and he knew. He listened to the sound for as long as his body would let him. He wrung her out from it, she went limp in his arms and when it was over she clung to him like death. He couldn't sleep but she didn't waste any time.

It was her voice in the trees. Had his every good dream been about her? The touch of her, the fragrance she wore, her temperature, her taste. He knew it already.

He felt guilty. Stared at her in the darkness.

He could never tell her about this. That maybe this was more than physical. Maybe it was metaphysical. Maybe it was destiny.

[part 2 on the way]
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Mon Jun 04, 2007 2:52 am

She was slender and petite, and carried a unique old style type of beauty like that of Grace Kelly or Ingrid Bergman. Her dark, ebony eyes housed a charmingly mischievous look that only added to her already alluring appearance. Atop her smooth olive complexioned skin was a head full of short dark brown hair tied back into a neat bun of soft curls. She wore a silk black cocktail dress that hugged the exquisite contours of her body effectively with matching black heels. Looking as if she walked out of a man’s fantasy, she was undoubtedly a sight for sore eyes. However, this one of a kind feline possessed a vice that most women of her beauty fall victim to: excessive drinking and smoking.

She sat at the far corner of the gentlemen’s club in Chinatown with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a cigarette hanging out of the corner of her mouth. Although she was a victim of such an ugly habit, she could sincerely say that her reasons for such an abuse of the good old cancer sticks, and the throat burning liquid were that of a unique one. It was quite simple to her actually, life had lost its colors and wasn’t really worth living. Well, that’s how it was until something interesting enough was worth arresting her attention, only then did the alcoholic beverages become less frequent. As for the cigarettes, she never planned on giving that up. She considered it a habit carved in stone with her. She once said that cigarettes would be the one and only thing that would be the very cause of her death. Funny, one would think that would be the very reason of dropping such a bad habit, however, she was a different case. A more special case that is. Granted, the dame had a stomach of iron. She could hold her herself well when it came to alcohol. Drinking it before breakfast, or any other meal for that matter, was like a walk in the park, so why even try to pass up such an offer when your body was already so accustomed to it.

Opposite of her sat the owner of the bar in the club, Bill Jenkins. He was a round man with broad shoulders and a curly black beard that hung from his chin like an upside down Christmas tree. He would always accompany the femme fatale to her seat and speak to her about his past conquests with many various colored hair women, in hopes of earning a spot in the bed with her. She knew his intentions and quite of few times took the liberty of playing upon them only for sport. Sometimes, however, she would be zoned out, staring at the up and down motion of his mouth, wondering how he could possibly talk with that anvil hanging from his chin. She did enjoy his company though. Well, it wasn’t like she had a variety of suitors to choose from anyway, so why complain. She wasn’t exactly looking for Mr. Right; she figured he would stumble upon her someday in one of those playful mishaps that always seemed to occur in those old black and white films that she adored so much. Maybe it was because she resembled that old style beauty and found herself in her dream world there in those old movies. Too bad she lived in Rockport.

“Lily!” Bill screamed out, shattering her reverie. “You weren’t listening to me again.” He folded his hairy, barrel-sized arms and snorted. “You never listen to me anymore.”

“I’m sorry if you feel neglected dear,” her voice flowed from her lips as sweet as honey, soft, raspy and seductive. “Surely those were not my intentions.” She allowed her finger to trace the rim of her glass delicately as she drew on her cigarette.

“You damn right I’m feeling neglected and a bit unappreciated,” she saw him cast a fleeting smirk before looking away again. “You know one day you’re going to have to pay for that somehow.”

She knew where this was going, and she was not in the mood to be a flirtatious, even though it came to her as natural as breathing. She just lifted her glass of whiskey and regarded the amber fluid inside.

“You ever wondered who invented alcohol Bill?” she asked pursing her cherry red lips.

“I don’t have to wonder doll, I already know.”

She moved the glass from her line of sight and raised an eyebrow inquiringly.

“Me!” he exclaimed before bursting into laughter.

She sighed, placing the glass back down on the table.

“Very funny dear. If I was as naïve as most of these young broads out here, I probably would have believed you,” she said.

“Hey, don’t forget. You’re young yourself doll.”

“That’s right. Twenty-one dear and counting,” she smiled, displaying those gorgeous set of straight teeth. “However, I know a lot more then most of these wannabe dolls out here.” She blew a smoke ring into the air and watched it float to the ceiling before it evaporated.

“Where’d you learn that?”

“My dad taught me. He was pretty rough on the cigarettes too, might I add. But he was a charming young fellow that one.” She cupped her chin in her hands and gazed at the far end of the bar reminiscently, when suddenly she noticed Parker Shield and his posse march into the bar with weapons that could put a whole army out of its misery. Kleo and her posse marched in through the other side in quick succession. A few derogatory words were exchanged and then an all out brawl seemed to take its place.

“Did I miss something?” Lily asked without taking her eyes off the brawl.

“Nothing really except that Parker is missing his youngin’ DJ who was kidnapped last night,” he said, spinning in his seat to serve as an onlooker to the chaos as well.

“Quite intriguing. Would you mind telling me more dear?” she asked as utter curiosity flooded her countenance.

“No problem. You see Parker is offering a huge profit for anyone who finds his boy DJ you see, but he has already placed the blame on Shu Li because, well, she is Shu Li of Chinatown. And the boy happened to disappear here, so I guess this is the result of sides taken to retrieve the boy as well as prove Shu Li’s innocence of such a crime. Maashee?” He smiled and looked at her. “It’s an Arabic word I picked up in the halaal meat market down the block from my house. It means understand.”

Lily rubbed her chin before finishing off her drink in one gulp. She then uplifted herself from off of the chair, flicking her cigarette expertly to the ashtray at the corner of the table.

“And where do you think you’re going miss?” Bill asked.

“I’m going to get involved dear,” she said playfully. “What? Did you think I would just sit around?”

“But you’re a lady. You shouldn’t get involved in matters like this. Especially if you don’t have a gang to back you up. You get my drift?”

“I’m a lady in need of some cash,” she corrected. “Besides, what’s the worse that can happen dear. I’m already slowly committing suicide. What’s it to you if I care to speed the process along. Life is a very dull place Jenkins, devoid of colors. You better take care of yourself and not allow it to pass you by.”

With that as her last statement she walked, no, more like floated away with the graceful sway of her hips. Bill watched in sadness at what he could never conquer. His eyes glided along her beautiful body one final time before he found his way over to the bar again.

Lily made her way over to the man who was sitting alone watching the brawl just as she had done before walking over. She daintily sat down opposite him, managing to dodge a few fists from the fighting crowd, and elegantly folded her hands upon the table. He seemed to be the athletic type, judging by his attire and the evident past scars upon his face.

She looked into his eyes and smiled warmly.

“Would you mind if I sit here until this mayhem decides to calm down a little?” she said raising an eyebrow. “I assure you I will not disturb you in the least.” Her expression took on the look like that of a child asking an adult if he or she could play with big kids.


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PostSubject: Morning Prayers   Tue Jun 05, 2007 11:00 am

He didn’t waste any time. If Mos was ever in doubt he went straight to The Answer. But first he had to give Kofo the slip.

He opened his phone and jogged down the stairs of her brownstone. He clasped the gate shut gently to keep it from squeaking. He began his daily commute to his own home. It took about fifteen seconds. It would have probably been faster to crawl from Kofo’s bedroom window into his own, and he had done it many times before, but he couldn’t risk it with her there straightening everything. He didn’t have long before the police arrived at her door, anyway.

He opened the door to his own brownstone and stayed low until he made it to his window and closed the curtains so that Kofo wouldn’t see him there.

The phone was still ringing, he locked his door. That’s when The Answer picked up.

“Go on,” he said.

“Four guys came by Yat’s house yesterday to kill her. Do you know anything about this?”

There was a pause on the other end. “What are you really asking? Tell me what is on your mind and I will answer you.”

“All right. I think it’s foolish for you to think that Yat would double cross you. She’s always been loyal to you, she’s always been faithful. I hate her but she’s never lied to any of us. She’s always been honest. And because of that we’ve always protected her.

“Making her a Pharaoh was your idea,” Mos went on. “You wanted me to extend her an invitation yesterday. I mean she practically is one—she has two names and everything. She knows almost all our secrets, signs, passes. The idiot knows more than me, sometimes. Lord knows what she could tell the police.”

Mos tried to catch his breath. The Answer was still silent on the other end. “Look. If you scare Yat—if you scare her… I don’t know what she’ll do. I’ve never seen her afraid before. But I know that she will protect herself. She doesn’t know people are trying to kill her. If she finds out she’ll do what she can to take down everyone responsible. That’s what I’m saying. That’s what’s on my mind.”

The Answer waited in silence to see if Mos had more to say. Then came a response. “You think my methods are unfair. You think these are my methods?”

“I don’t know what to think. Do I believe you would send someone to kill Kofo? Yes. Do I think you would do it personally? Yes.”

“She’s a security threat. A problem. That’s why she has her name. Uncle And. A Necessary Danger. But I’m not so sure she’s so necessary anymore.”

“But she is!” Mos was shouting, he lowered his voice. “And I wanted to convince people that she was a he just so no one would ever come after her. Just so that she would never be in danger. Just so we wouldn’t push her in a corner like you’re doing now.”

“You seem very passionate about this. You can’t stand her. Why the change?”

“There is no change. I’d still like to beat the crap out of her most of the time but—”

“Prove it. Correct her.”

“Correct her? How? Hello? Hello!”

Mos threw his phone across the room. He wouldn’t be satisfied with this order until he had broken something into three pieces with his heel. His stool was closest. When it wouldn’t snap he picked up his fasces and chopped it to bits. By the time the chair looked like a debilitated spider, he had gotten himself together. He sighed. What did he always tell Kofo when she flew off at the handle?

Remember your ABCs. Always Be Cool.

And that’s what Mos was. Cool. Not emotional. Not prone to outbursts. Destroying property was more Kofo’s style. He buried his head in his hands. What had she done to him?

He peered out of his window into hers. Two cops were putting her into cuffs. She wasn’t fighting with them. She was as calm as he always was. Probably thinking of local places she could get him stuffed and mounted.

He retrieved his phone and got dressed. There were a thousand things he needed to do. He kept them in his fedora on a short list. Somehow they all involved her. Now for the most important thing.

He washed his hands, face and feet and started his morning prayers. The only spot in his brownstone that was clean was the place that he said them. The only thing that was clean was his sajjada.

“God is most great
I bear witness there is no god but God
I bear witness Muhammad is the prophet of God
Come to prayer
Come to wellbeing
Prayer is better than sleep
God is most great
There is no God but God
Taslima.”

After that he went down the list. First he thanked his creator for the people in his life and for this opportunity to live. He prayed that one day his crimes would end before his life ended. That the good deeds he performed would outweigh the bad. That he would be forgiven for his many sins and shortcomings and that Allah would be patient with him through the spring of his life so that his winter could be long.

But most ardently he prayed for Kofo. Because she didn’t believe and because, he feared, she never would. He hoped someday she could redeem herself and that she would find something to believe in.

He prayed for her as if he were praying for himself. He always asked Allah to give her the things she lacked the most. One of those things was faith, the other, hope. Hope that she would return to school and the courage and cunning to stay alive long enough to make it happen.
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Tue Jun 05, 2007 11:27 am

Mos almost left with his clothes in his hands. He was going to do what he did every morning. Wander over to Kofo’s house on the pretense that he needed to borrow her iron. Then he would just “notice” that she had made breakfast. Somehow he always managed to weasel a meal out of her and get her to put his clothes in the dryer with hers so they’d be pressed by the time they were done eating.

Since she was gone and he really didn’t have an iron, he’d have to wear something wrinkle-free. He had on some black seersucker pants; a white undershirt and a fresh green button up when he opened the door to his Beamer. The Chariot. That’s what he called it. Kofo called it The Rotten Apple because it was gold on the outside and white on the inside. Golden Delicious would have been too nice.

He should have gone to bail her out, but there was no sense in that. Kofo wouldn’t stay with him if he asked her to without giving her a good reason and he couldn’t let on to what The Answer was doing. He’d have to handcuff her to him and somehow he felt she’d probably gnaw his arm off at the wrist at this point. Somehow he had to clear her of all of this. That or he’d have to listen to Mother Sunil speak a teary eulogy at her youngest daughter’s funeral.

Somehow Mos felt like all of this was his fault.

That sounded narcissistic. There was no way everything could be his fault—that would mean that he had control of everything. And if anyone had control of everything it was Allah not him. He shook his head and turned down the street toward China Town. He would use what little power he had to turn this around.

moskofomoskofomoskofomoskofomoskofomoskofomoskofomoskofomoskofomoskofomos

He went into the strip bar that was one of the main attractions in China Town. To him, paying a woman to take her clothes off for you was silly when you could just get her to do it for free. That was until he walked into the club and saw the buffet of flesh presented to him. At first he was a little shocked but when he finally got his eyes back to a normal size he could find the money for the cover to get in.

He walked into a wall, trying to find the backroom he was looking for. Yes, here it was. He opened the door. Two guys and a woman were sitting at a table. One of the guys was stuffing his face with chicken wings. The other guy was watching a stripper give the remaining girl a lap dance. Mos thought to himself that the guy was concentrating so hard on the two of them that he could have probably amputated his left arm without him twitching based on the numb look on his face.

Mos clapped his hands together. “To business.”

The rotund olive toned man paused for a moment to find more ranch dressing to go with his wings. He was Hawaiian with a cloud of wavy black hair, a big laugh and a tattoo of cakes and ale on his arm. Everyone called him His Cake. He stood up when Mos entered and as respectfully as he could sucked the bar-b-que sauce off his fingers before making the Pharaoh’s sign.

The light skinned guy who was mesmerized by the strip tease slowly craned his neck toward Mos but made no effort to stand as he entered not because he wanted to be rude but because no one wanted to see what he was hiding in his pants. His name was Monolith and he was a lady-killer. He carried a man bag, wore Rayband sunglasses and would not leave the house in anything but Gucci, Dior or Versace. Somehow this drove women wild. It was hard to tell if he was black or Latino so he told people he was blatino and kept it at that. His hair was long and wavy; he had small green eyes, flawless skin and a perfect smile with a body to match. He was the model metrosexual.

The girl being a willing suffocation victim in the stripper’s titties was petite, Thai and probably the most dangerous member of the quartet. Her name was Changing Faces. Her interests were flower arranging, knitting, and scrap booking. In her spare time she collected seashells, scarves and girlfriends. She had a healthy sense of justice and anyone who wronged her, even in the slightest would end up in thumbscrews by the end of the day. She had a habit of fighting a person every time she saw them on the street until they gave up and became her personal servant. That was how she kept her lawn so immaculate. She made indentured servants out of her foes. It gave her more time to spend in the strip club. She pushed the hoe off of her and stood up.

The Pharaoh’s sign was made by pressing your middle and ring finger against your thumb while leaving your index and pinkie erect. The same was done with the other hand and then it was crossed over your chest by the wrists. It symbolized the watchful gaze of the jackal-headed god of the dead, Anubis. The space between the fingers being the two, all seeing eyes of the Pharaohs.

“Right,” Mos said. “Young lady, if you wouldn’t mind leaving us.” The stripper gathered her lubes, but not before getting Changing Face’s number.

“All right. Faces, Mono, Cake you have been selected as the jury of peers for Yat’s trial. This is not debatable. You all will be charged with finding her guilty or innocent of crossing The Answer. If she is found guilty you will also be… the party that is hired to kill her.”

Cake dropped his drumstick. “Kill Yat? Why the hell would we do that? I mean sure, she went behind The Answer’s back but…”

“Well frankly I don’t believe she did anything wrong. There’s no proof that she sold the drugs to the Vice Lords anyway. I mean it’s not exactly like she’s rolling in money,” Faces said.

“Exactly. That girl has such poor taste in clothes—in everything. If she had some money from somewhere else you’d think the she’d wear it,” Mono said cleaning under his fingernails. “She’s just a makeover waiting to happen. I think if she put on some heels her head might explode, poor child. But the angels would rejoice, have you seen the legs on that b*tch?”

“And that a$$... like a chocolate gazelle,” Cake added. He licked his lips.

“Double true. Man, I wish I could have turned her out,” Faces sighed.

“You tried it?” Mono asked, his eyes aglow.

“Hell yeah I did. What girl wouldn’t? I think I scared her more than anything. She just stared at me and buttoned her shirt back and then walked in a quiet and orderly manner out of the room. I’ve never seen her make that little tricycle she calls a bike move so fast. I kept inviting her back over back to watch movies again. She pretends like she’s sick every time I call her,” Faces laughed.

Mos rolled his eyes. If Faces only knew.

“How did you even get her to go over there in the first place?” Cake asked clearly trying to plot.

“I said I wanted to have a movie night with some of my friends. I didn’t mention she was the only friend I invited. Besides… porn is a movie, right? I didn’t do anything wrong,” Faces said.

“You ever try to get a taste of that, Mos?” Mono asked. “I mean as much as you guys fight… angry sex is the best kind, you know…”

“With Kofo?” Mos recoiled as believably as he could. “Look I wouldn’t let Kofo touch me if she were wearing a scuba suit,” he said quickly.

Cake laughed. “Oh, I’d let her touch me all night long. If she didn’t want to take the suit off, fine by me. We can do it in the pool.”

“Yeah if you want to get your hair frizzy and stupid the next morning,” Mono sighed, rolling his eyes.

Faces sucked her teeth. “Just give up the act, Mono admit it. You are the gayest person in the world. And I know gay.”

“Shut up, Faces,” came his dazzling retort.

“You are the gayest person since gay came to Gaytown. And speaking of gay,” she cocked her head, “Mos, I heard you were snuggled up quite comfortably with Uncle And last night,” she leaned in on her elbows.

“Heard that, too,” Cake said draining a beer.

“Yes, do dish,” Mono checked his teeth in the reflection of the stripper pole.

There was a profound silence in the room. “That’s a lie,” Mos uttered.

“It’s okay if you’re on the DL. You know the down low. There are plenty of homo-thugs around. I mean they practically keep the Vice Lords in business,” Faces laughed.

“No, those guys were lying. I was not in bed with Uncle And, nor was I naked, nor were we snuggled up. I was merely trying to keep his identity secret and keep all these rumors about him—“

“In the closet,” Faces chimed in.

Cake fell off his bench, laughing. Mono clapped him on the back and wiped his eyes.

Mos was trying to remain professional but he couldn’t help himself. “Shut up His Cake, you know all the romance you get is between you and an open taco. Last month you got Playboy blocked so you could masturbate to the Food Network instead. And you can shut the hell up, too, Monolith because I’m pretty sure I saw you waxing someone’s balls on Queer Eye yesterday.” He was about to dig on Faces but she beat him.

“I knew it!” she shouted. “You watch Bravo. That’s the nail in the coffin, my man. 100% gay.”

He was about to respond to that but Faces had the tendency to enslave people so he chose his words carefully. The conversation was over, though. A fight was going on outside the door.

“I’m going to check it out,” he said figuring this was the best escape he could hope for.

“We’ll all go,” Cake said sucking the last piece of meat off the chicken bone.
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Tue Jun 05, 2007 11:35 am

“Let’s cut to the chase.”

“Cut it, then,” the girl said spinning around in her chair. She brushed her red hair back and took a sip of her drink.

“You punks have been selling Nimbus.”

“Is that a fact? You wouldn’t have any evidence would you?”

“I make that and I don’t give the sh*t away for free.”

“What’s that got to do with me?”

“I definitely didn’t sell it to you.”

“Look, your whole story is bullsh*t. Everyone knows that Uncle And makes Nimbus. Uncle And is a man. Keyword uncle. It’s not Ghetto Baby Mama And. You look like a woman to me, or a freaky sort of tranny. So stop lying and get to some sort of point. I’m trying to drink here and you’re killing my buzz.”

Kofo’s lips were so tight her dimples showed which wasn’t at all gangster yet still seemed serious. “Do you have the sh*t or not, because if you do you need to give it back.

“Who do you think you are to make demands? I’ll give you the back of my hand,” the girl said reaching back.

Before she could let loose a slap the balance of the room changed. The girl grabbed her drink and started to get up. Both of them were about to bail but they were surrounded and had nowhere to go. Kofo had the feeling she was going to be on the eleven o’clock news twice in one day.

She should have expected to see Kleo here, after all this was her place. Still she was a bit thunderstruck. She was always so beautiful. It was as if she were made of plastic—but Kofo knew from first hand experiences that she wasn’t. Still the first time they touched she felt like she’d get a paper cut from the magazine page she must have rolled out of. She was too perfect. An angry Barbie. And old flame. But the thing was that Kofo, unlike most people, never felt inadequate standing around her. But she did know that she was prone to violent outbursts and that she might get the wrong idea seeing her chat it up with some girl at the bar in her club.

If she wanted to escape, she couldn’t. The two groups locked around her. Kleo was a firecracker but everything she was doing was probably about to blow up in her face. The Hornets were fishing for trouble and had probably just caught a shark in four-inch heels. It didn’t look like either party was going to back down and Kofo could see the weapons start to come to life as they waited to take it.

Twitching in anticipation, the fear and adrenaline pumped through the room like oxygen in a casino. They were all taking a gamble. Anyone who traveled with so few people was probably packing an equalizer. Anyone who had an army had to feed them—there was a lot of money behind a group like that.

It occurred to Kofo that she was sitting directly in the no man’s land of a street war. It also dawned on her slowly that she was soon going to become what she feared the most—one more member of the talented tenth swallowed by the insatiable, indiscriminate jaws of the streets.

For a second death’s shadow darkened her vision. She closed her eyes. Maybe death was the moment a skeptic could find God. Death was certain enough. She wouldn’t risk it. Believing that is. She had a hunch she could dodge it a second longer when one of the boys in Kleo’s crew revealed that they were actually prostitutes for hire. That was after one of the men in the other gang had called her a hoe. Kofo shook her head and collected her purse.

These stupid turkeys. The only thing they knew how to do was stay alive long enough to find a creative way to die.

She tried to slide from the bar before they could lay her in a straight box. Right in front of her whizzed the sure, wide arc of death’s scythe. The pipe missed her. It fell pretty, silent and cold as it came and passed like a December snow. It could have transformed her head from a ball to a crescent. Could have made a red head out of a brunette. Cheeks rouged with blood, eyes whiter than lines of crack, a dry tongue that peeked through a cavern of broken teeth.

Did God or the devil tilt the pipe ever so slightly to the left? Who had shouted so loudly she jumped and fell sharply into the chair she had tried to escape. She hadn’t tripped, her shoes were tied.

Then she saw a man, a fully functioning human being, a man—turn into a body. A body that they would yellow tape off and draw chalk around. He looked at her but saw nothing. His forehead was inverted. His brains were soaked in sweat and spit. His head was a bowl seeped in blood.

Kofo gagged. Blood was on her shirt in a gnarled slant that looked like a child’s finger painting. She couldn’t stop looking at him because he couldn’t stop looking at her. Her mouth was full of spit, she wanted to throw up but she couldn’t breathe.

In the moment before the two groups could clash he came to her as if out of the fog. He grabbed her by the collar and pulled her through the crowd. She stepped over the dead man. Stumbled and stepped on him. Her hand brushed through his hair. Her green Chucks were brown with his blood.

She couldn’t move. He was dragging her. That wasn’t working. He picked her up. He bumped into a table where two people were talking. Her limp red fingers ran across Griffs’ shirt, over his heart. She hadn’t fainted she just wasn’t talking. She could still feel the man’s eyes watching her leave. She could still see that their expressions were the same. Mild shock, concern, disbelief.

He put her down in a booth.

“You listen to me,” he said. “Are you listening?”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t move from this spot.”

“Or I’m next,” she said what he did not say.

“Don’t speak that into existence.”

She laughed absent-mindedly as if she could remember that anything had ever been funny. “Shouldn’t you be telling me that it’s not up to me. God has a plan and all that?”

Mos furrowed his brows. “Not now, Kofo. We’re not fighting right now.”

“Then what are we doing?”

“Trying to keep you alive long enough to keep you alive. Are you hurt?” He took a handkerchief out of his breast pocket, wet it and wiped the blood off her hands. “Do you have any cuts on you? I need to cover them to make sure you don’t catch anyth—Kofo answer me.”

“No… I no…”

“Close your eyes.”

He had faced her away from the fighting. They were still going at it. He didn’t need her to close her eyes to wipe her face. He had told her to do it because he didn’t want her to see any more of this.

He took her polo off, she always wore two shirts. He put his button up on her, wiped her shoes with her orange shirt then threw it away. “Lay down in the booth so no one can see you. Don’t move from this spot,” Mos said. “Do not move.”

She saw the glint of his axes as he walked away.

Mos approached the bar, his fasces poised to fight. “Who was the punk bitch that killed this man?” He saw Kleo and glared a hole into her head. “And you leave Kofo the f*ck out of this. You always get her in trouble. You always have. I told you about being around her. You don’t want to pull the Pharaohs into this. This is your last warning.”

His Cake stood behind him, chain saw in hand. Changing Faces unlatched her nunchukus from her belt and spun them so fast they were invisible. Monolith, always fashionably late, pulled his machete from his man-bag, and checked his reflection in the blade, waiting for someone to make their move.
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PostSubject: Re: Chapter 1   Tue Jun 05, 2007 5:24 pm

The boxers didn’t even notice Griffs, so focused was their bloodlust. Griffs watched, somewhat embarrassed for the three in the center. This would probably be over quick. What interested him most, though, was the woman at the center.

She was dressed differently, of course, but after another quick glance toward the front of the club, there was no mistaking Kleopatra Toliver. What in the world is she doing? While he knew that this woman was an assassin, he’d always assumed that she only did her work behind the privacy of a closed curtain. Rumors said that every “customer” died with a smile on his face. Griffs wasn’t so sure.

Words continued to be exchanged just outside the large window glass, when suddenly the rage exploded. Most of the action was hand-to-hand, but the flash of a dagger confirmed that this was going to be more than just a common street fight. Someone was really going to be hurt here. A woman sat down next to Griffs just as Kleo and her two friends were forced cornered into the bar entrance.

“Would you mind if I sit here until this mayhem decides to calm down a little?” Griffs didn’t really say anything. He didn’t really know who this woman was, and frankly didn’t care. The cigarette in her fingers and the glass in her hand convinced him that she probably didn’t even know where she was. What kind of a female drunk ends up in a strip club, anyway?

She seemed to take his lack of response as a denial. “I assure you I will not disturb you in the least,” she continued. Her expression took on the look like that of a child asking an adult if he or she could play with big kids. Griffs couldn’t have cared less. She didn’t even seem to register that an all out bar fight was going on all around them.

“Whatever,” he said. “Sit where you like.”

Griffs ducked as a chair was launched towards them, and flinched slightly as it crashed into a wall. He took his bottle and drained it out on the table. The bartender was long gone, and what was another puddle of brew on a floor that was already rapidly being covered with much dirtier debris?

The fighting erupted even more as the patrons began to enter the fray. As is the case with most bar fights, random blows were exchanged with no other reason than they happened to be in range. In a drunken stupor, men who seconds before had only been interested in beer and bimbos suddenly had battle on the brain. Griffs, thankful that he hadn’t taken so much as a sip, watched quietly, and noticed that some of the more sober guys had bolted for the door.

Suddenly there was a table headed right for his bar mate. Griffs stepped in front of her, and reached out, catching the flat end and deflecting it into the bar, effectively shattering it into splinters.

“Lady,” he said, not really turning his head. “Maybe you ought to get out of here.”

He continued to watch, but his focus was actually on his two friends. BK and Ronny were back to back, determined grins on their faces as they dispatched patron after patron. To them, this was just a game. Three men lay at their feet, but Ronny kept glancing toward the three targets in the middle. Griffs noticed the lead pipe and chain being swung wildly, and wondered how no one had been killed in all of this.

In a flash, Ronny had dispatched his opponent with a well-placed uppercut, sending the drunken man into one of the doors that lined the back of the room. He then bolted towards the man wielding the pipe. The guy looked like a biker, especially with the jacket. To Griffs, the guy seemed oddly familiar. Blows began to be exchanged.

Another girl was right in the fray, but it was obvious that it wasn’t by choice. If fact, it was the same girl who had been so concerned about the Nimbus, earlier. The Vice Lord with her was right next to her, right in the thick. Griffs ran towards the Vice Lord first, and pulled her out of the way of the swipe of a hunting knife. She struggled slightly, but Griffs held her firm, dropping her just out of harm’s way.

“What the ****…!!”

There was no time for answers. He spun to grab the other girl, but instead, noticed a lead pipe headed right for Ronny. His bleached hair turned slightly, as his focus wasn’t even on the pipe at all. Instead, he noticed Griffs, who wore an expression of wide-eyed horror. The connection split Ronny’s head like a cantelope, blood drenching the girl who was able to only dodge the blow, but not the carnage. Ronny fell to the floor. Griffs hands tightened into fists as he began walking right into the inferno. His eyes burned into the face of the man who had killed his friend.

A hand gripped his shoulder. It was BK. “We gotta get outta here, man,” he said. A siren sounded in the distance. Griffs knew that police didn’t usually come around Chinatown, but there were definitely exceptions to the rule. Apparently the fuzz was on the way. Griffs knew that there would be nothing but a jail cell for a boxer involved in a barfight.

“You’re dead,” he looked right into the man’s eyes, and then followed BK out the back way of the bar. His friend was laid in the middle of the Chinatown strip club, and suddenly today had become a living nightmare.
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