All eyes were on Mixer.
“Alright,” said Stone. “What’s your idea?”
Mixer took a step forward. “Om’bai kept saying he had to put up these ‘theatrics’ to get the shit in the safe, right?” He looked at everyone in the room. “So, like, he don’t have it yet.”
“What’s your point?” asked Stone.
“Well…” Mixer paused for effect. “Anybody thought to maybe check the safe to see if shit’s really missing?”
Stone frowned, “Hero said—”
“Fuck what Hero said,” Ace snapped. He turned and looked squarely at Stone. “If all you know how to do is what Hero says, how are you gonna take his place?”
Olivia nodded and looked at Stone. “Come on. Maybe what Hero needs right now is the people who love him to admit he’s wrong.” She looked at Ace. “You know I’ve got the combination. Let’s go down and take a look.”
They went down to the basement and huddled around the safe.
“Here goes,” sighed Olivia. “One, two…”
Everyone held their breath as she got to the final digit. She pulled down the handle, and the sound of the lock disengaging echoed through the room. She pulled it open…
…And burst into hysterical laughter. Inside the safe, there was another safe.
“Okay—okay—” Wildcard’s eyes were full of fear. “I’m sick of this confusing-ass shit. Where’s the part where we start shooting people?”
Stone looked at Olivia. “What is so funny?”
No one else was laughing. Except Kang’ju, who just followed Olivia’s lead.
“Come on, you guys!” Olivia laughed. “No one else finds this funny? Like how incredibly convoluted this whole situation is? None of you!?”
“I almost shot you in the face tonight!” Ace spat. “Are you fucked in the head?”
“Yes,” said Olivia. “I think that’s pretty clear at this point.”
Mixer started to chuckle too.
“There,” said Olivia. “Someone else is starting to see the humor in this.”
“I’m just picturing Pansy’s face when she opened the safe and found that,” smirked Mixer. “She underestimated my hy’ung.”
Olivia looked back at the second safe. “Okay, this one seems to be fingerprint locked. Which makes sense – that’s what smart people would do.” She looked at Kang’ju. “Come here, munchkin. Put your finger right here.”
Kang’ju placed her finger on the lock, and after a couple short beeps, voila. Open sesame, and there it was. All of it. The baggies, the bundled cash, the ledgers. Everything.
Now Ace started laughing. “Oh, thank God.” He frowned. “No wonder Hero was so mad when Kang’ju was in the house.”
Stone’s jaw went agape. “But how—how did Hero know someone opened it?”
Olivia held up a tassel hanging from the door of the combination safe. “He must have had this sitting on top of the inner safe. If someone pulled the door open, it would fall. When he opened the safe and saw it had fallen, he knew someone had opened it. Pretty goddamn clever.”
“Alright,” sighed Stone, scratching his forehead. “Mixer, now that we know we have all the money, how is that gonna help us get Hero back?”
Mixer was still smirking. “Om’bai is helping Pansy because he thinks he’s gonna get all that shit in there. But she don’t got it. That means Pansy’s gonna want to keep Hero alive as long as possible until she figures out how the fuck she’s gonna get out of this mess. So we got more time than we thought.”
Ace stared at Mixer. “When did you get so smart?”
Mixer smiled. “I always been smart, just do a lot of drugs is all.”
Ace frowned. “Then stop it.”
Wildcard held his arms out. “Okay—alright—I think I got most of all this now, alright – Pansy got the combination from shorty here, Hero thought it was Olivia that opened it ‘cause of the construction worker shit, but – why the fuck did Hero make such a goddamn big deal out of the fucking combination and go through all this fucking trouble if everything was in a goddamn fingerprint thing?”
Olivia looked at Wildcard. “Because Hero is psychotically paranoid about whether or not someone can be trusted.” She looked back at the innards of the safe, and closed it. “Especially a woman.” She stood up. “It was never anything but a trust game. And finding out who he could trust was worth dying for.”
Stone looked at Olivia. “So how do we find him? No Blade is gonna know where he is, and certainly no Dragon is going to help us.”
“That’s easy,” said Olivia. “Who is the one person who knows all the dirt on both gangs?”
Olivia insisted on going into A’pa Sei’s alone. No guns, no boys, no bullshit. Even despite needing help to find Hero, Olivia and Falynn had unfinished business.
Falynn put a box of Twinkies on the counter. Olivia chuckled to herself as she watched through the window. Twinkies. Yeah, and I’m the queen of France. Twinkies might be saturated in hydrogenated oils, but not enough to make the box that heavy. Olivia opened the door.
Falynn twisted on her heels as she heard the door ding. For a moment, the two women made heated eye contact. The following seconds happened in strange, bullet-time speed, and before Olivia was even conscious of her instincts and how they moved her body, shots were fired, and she was on the ground.
A jar of pickles exploded next to her head. She grunted in childish complaint before shouting, “Why are you shooting at me!?”
Falynn’s gun stayed pointed. “Because usually when I shoot at people, they go away.”
Falynn shot rounds down the aisle, but Olivia wasn’t running away, nor was she running toward the door. She outran the shots all the way to the counter, and on the next shot, what should have been a bang was an empty click.
Falynn turned to the Twinkie box to grab more rounds, giving Olivia just enough time to tackle the woman to the ground. This didn’t dissuade Falynn, who simply flipped the tiny girl in the black mini dress onto her back and clasped her fingers around her throat.
“The Dragons took Hero,” Olivia choked. “They took Hero.”
Falynn froze. Her arms relaxed. Her eyes went wide, but for just a short moment. She jumped back, and leaned her back against the opposite aisle, looking at the ceiling.
“How the fuck could you let this happen!?”
“What!? Me!?” Olivia cried, climbing onto her butt. “You’re the one who—fuck—you know what? Just fuck you. If you hadn’t hired the Shank to kill those Cunnington boys, I wouldn’t have spent last night bound and gagged.”
“Who said I’m the one that hired the Shank!?” Falynn put her head in her hands. “You retard. Don’t you fucking get it yet? I didn’t hire the Shank to kill those kids, alright? I hired him to find Seneka’s killer.”
“What? Who else would have done it!?”
“Pansy did it. She did it herself. For her little plot to work, to break Hero’s heart and make you a traitor, she naturally needed him to be, like, alive, right? She hired the Cunnington kids to kill Seneka, to beat the hell out of her, and kill Hero at Oregon Park. Then, she hired the Shank to kill them before they could do their last task.”
“You knew all of this!?” cried Olivia. “And you never thought to tell anyone?”
“My business was putting guns in the kids’ hands and putting a blade in the Shank’s,” said Falynn. “I’m a weapons dealer. Not a philanthropist. You seemed so damn gung ho about being Hero’s little angel, I thought for sure you would have had a better handle on things than this. I overestimated you.”
“Do you know where Hero is right now?”
“Of course I do. Fuck if I’m gonna tell you.”
Olivia glared at her.
“So,” said Falynn, beginning to get up. “I guess we’re done—”
Olivia’s voice rose from her throat in a deep, sinister bellow. “Not so fast.”
“For all the shit you gave me,” said Olivia, “for treating the Blades like a roller coaster and not giving Hero the respect he deserves, you got a lot of fucking nerve. You thought I was too scared to buck up and make a choice? Look at you. What’s it going to take for you to admit that Hero is your friend? Not just a customer—a friend. For all your posturing, street-wise bullshit, there’s a human being in there that doesn’t want Hero to get killed. You wouldn’t be so pissed off at me if that weren’t the case.
“I took your advice. I made my choice. I gave up my big mansion and my Westcliff life and I committed myself to Hero. This time, my highly pigmented princess, the action you take down here will follow you home. So how many skeletons do you think you’re gonna have in your closet before this is over?”
Falynn stiffened, took a breath, and tilted her head. “Touché .”
“Damn right, touché.”
Falynn sighed. “Look, the only reason Om’bai has let Hero live this long is because he wanted the bliss. Now that he’s got that—”
“He doesn’t ‘got that.’ He thinks Pansy has it, but we have it all.”
“Well, that’s good news.” Falynn’s eyes were on the floor. She reassembled her thoughts. “In that case, Pansy’s going to stretch her time with Hero as long as she possibly can, because as soon as she’s done with him, and Om’bai finds out she’s full of shit, well… let’s just say the Dragons don’t have the same code that the Blades do about women.”
“What do you reckon this ‘time with Hero’ entails?”
“Torture, I’d bet.”
Olivia’s blood went cold.
“But Om’bai wants Hero in one piece, alive,” said Falynn. “So he can hang him off the edge of one of the towers. Publicly. So 8th Block knows the Dragon Blades are back together with one man, Om’bai, at the top.”
“So they’re at 8th Block?”
“Bingo.” Falynn stood up. “I’m gonna get those bullets from the counter. We’re gonna need them.”
Stone’s Escalade, with Falynn’s truck not far behind, rolled into the gates of the Thomas Chaucer. Officer Gates, who had already had a trying afternoon, wobbled to Stone’s driver’s side door.
“Good evening, Stone,” he said. “You know the drill, I’m gonna need you to step out of the car-”
Stone pointed his gun at the officer’s head.
Olivia looked over from Stone’s passenger’s side. “If you truly want peace here at 8th Block, you better go ahead and let us through.”
The officer’s hands were in the air. “Go on through, son.”
Stone smiled, and drove right on by.
The crew stormed through the courtyard of Thomas Chaucer, guns ready and exposed. Fearless. There were a few standers-by, but no one, black or Asian, made a move. Everyone was stoic. Respectful.
“You’re sure Kang’ju is alright?” Stone asked Olivia.
“Don’t worry,” said Olivia. “She’s taken care of.”
A young black boy sat outside the gate of the north tower. “Yo, Stone! They in here!” He pointed up the stairs. “They got Hero on the top floor!”
A woman’s hands came through the door frame, grabbed the boy, and pulled him inside. “Dammit, didn’t I tell you don’t…” Olivia heard him whine something like “mom” before he disappeared into shadows.
She looked around the perimeter of the building. A crowd was beginning to form. Blacks, Asians, kids, adults, all looking up at the ominous yellow window light at the tip of the tower. The blinds were wide open, but it was too high up to see what was going on inside.
As Stone began to push into the room, the kid escaped his mother’s grasp and grabbed Stone’s pant leg, speaking in an ominous, hoarse whisper. “They gon’ know you coming.”
The crew marched up flight after flight of stairs. Focused. Silent. Olivia could barely stand the smell. She stared at each step as they past, her heart pumping lightning bolts through her body. The stairs were endless. She was beginning to believe she would never reach Hero. It felt like she would die first, if only to meet him on the other side.
They got to the door. Olivia almost wanted a moment, some handful of seconds to prepare, but this wasn’t so intimidating for Stone. This wasn’t the kind of thing he was unfamiliar with. Regardless, his hand was on the door handle in milliseconds.
They shoved the door open, only to find a nearly empty and decrepit project apartment and Hero tied to a chair. There were four armed, faceless Dragons to either side of him, Pansy on her knees in front of him, and the Shank stood behind him. He had a dagger under Hero’s nose. Om’bai, who sat at the end of a dirty, tattered kitchen table, stood up, and the Dragons pointed their weapons at the Blades.
Pansy wept. “Just do it!”
The Shank pressed his knife deeper under Hero’s nose. Blood trickled down his lip.
Stone looked to Om’bai. “Stop this. Pansy is lying and she doesn’t have the bliss or the money. Hero will be dead and you will have nothing.”
“He can’t prove anything!” Pansy shouted. “Do it, Shank! Cut his fucking nose off! I want him to die ugly!”
Om’bai lifted his hand. “Pansy knows the rules. Hero doesn’t die until we have the contents of the safe.” He looked at Pansy. “You know the rules, don’t you?”
Pansy’s bottom lip was quivering. Her eyes filled with tears.
Stone pulled his phone out of his pocket and slid it down the table. A photo of the open safe was there.
“Look at the date and the time,” said Stone. “That picture was taken twenty minutes ago. Pansy doesn’t have shit. She lied.”
Pansy began to whimper with fear. “I…”
Om’bai looked at her with cold, dark, calculating eyes. It was impossible to say how his look would end, but Pansy wasn’t brave enough to find out.
She dashed for the door.
Guns changed their direction. The Dragons pointed at Pansy, Stone rushed after her, and the Blades fired at the Dragons. Olivia hit the ground and took cover, and in seconds, other bodies joined her. Two Dragons with cracked skulls, and Om’bai with a knife in his stomach.
Two Dragons remained, guns pointed, shaking in fear.
Falynn pointed her gun straight forward. “Fuck off.”
The Dragons stepped over their dead leader and fumbled out the door.
“Ugh…” As Falynn lowered her gun, she revealed the blood dripping down her arm
“You alright?” asked Ace. He touched her arm. “Did you fire that shot with a round in your fucking arm?”
“I’ll be fine,” said Falynn, nodding to Olivia. “Untie Hero.”
Olivia dove onto Hero’s ropes.
Falynn had a bandana sticking out of her pocket so Ace tied it around her wound. “Nice shooting.”
Falynn shrugged. “No big deal. Longer barrel. Higher muzzle velocity, so—”
“Flatter bullet trajectory,” nodded Ace.
Falynn and Ace smiled at each other.
Olivia looked at Hero as she fought with his bondage. “Do you trust me yet?”
Hero was silent.
“It’s okay,” she said. “You don’t have to say anything.”
The Shank pulled his bloody knife out of Om’bai’s stomach . “My apologies, old friend. You were outbid.”
He dragged Om’bai to the open window, pushed the dead man’s torso over the windowsill, and proceeded to the shove his entire body right over the edge. He looked over, waiting for a satisfying thud. He enjoyed the sound, along with the screams of the crowd. He then turned around, and smiled fiendishly at Falynn. “Let’s go find Pansy.”
Ace nodded in agreement. “Olivia, you got Hero, right?”
Olivia smiled. “I always have.”
The others fled the scene, and Hero and Olivia were alone with two Dragon corpses. She finished untying Hero, but his arms flopped to his side lifelessly.
“Hero, don’t give up,” said Olivia. “Come on. Get up. You have work to do.”
“You wanna know…” He was barely speaking. “You wanna know… why I like flowers so much?”
Hero’s shirt was soaked in blood. Olivia lifted up some of the fabric. He was covered in slices.
“I know why,” said Olivia, pulling the shirt back down. “It’s because something beautiful can come from nothing. You told me.”
Hero’s eyes began to close.
“No, no, no, Hero, wake up,” said Olivia. “You did make something beautiful out of nothing. You made your daughter. So you have to get the fuck up. Right now.”
A presence came toward the door. Ace. “Olivia. Come here.”
“Olivia. Please. Come over here.”
Olivia followed Ace a couple doors down the hall. The door made an ominous creek as Ace pushed it open. She could hear Mixer crying.
Stone’s eyes were open, but no light of life shone through them. The back of his skull was cracked open, exposing bloody lumps of brain matter. His hands were limp, his knees bent, twisting his body into a contorted, empty corpse. The pool of blood beneath him was fresh, still moving, still flowing, still draining.
“She killed him,” spat Wildcard. “That fucking bitch killed Stone.”
Olivia was stunned. No synapse she could fire in her brain would allow her body to move. She could barely make herself form breath.
“Where did she…” Olivia managed.
“No one saw where she went,” whispered Ace. “We gotta get Hero and get out of here.”
“We can’t just leave him here, hy’ung,” sobbed Mixer.
Falynn moved toward the body.
“Get the fuck away from him,” Wildcard snapped.
They lingered too long. Hero was in the doorway.
“Hero, no,” Olivia moved toward him. “Get out of here, you can’t—”
“Don’t fucking touch me,” snapped Hero, and he dove toward the body. He collapsed to his knees, his blood meeting his friend’s. “Stone, no. No. Not you.”
Olivia began to cry. “Hero—come on.”
She grabbed his arm, but he pushed her away and erupted in furious weeping. He pulled up Stone’s body, cradling him in his arms. “I told you I fucking needed you. Don’t fucking leave me now.” He covered the hole in his friend’s head with his hands. He pressed his fingers into his bloody, matted hair, desperately trying to put the pieces of his skull back together. “You always saved me. I gotta save you back.”
The sound of shifting weight broke the silence of mourning. A thump. From the closet.
Ace pulled out his gun, cocked and ready. Hero’s eyes shot lasers at that closet.
“Mixer,” bellowed Hero. “Open that door.”
Mixer did. Pansy poured out like liquid, quivering and gelatin-like. Her gun rattled with terror as she attempted to point it at Mixer. He jerked it out of her hand with ease.
She fell onto her stomach, her palms on the ground. “I defended myself! He was gonna kill me!”
No one said anything.
She lifted her head and looked at Hero with pleading eyes. “You can’t kill me. I’m the mother of your child.”
Hero stared at her. His eyes were blank, lifeless, but coated with a thick layer of rage.
Ace pointed his gun firmly at Pansy’s head. “Hero, say the word and it’s done.”
“You can’t kill me, you’re a Blade!” Pansy shouted. “A Blade can’t hurt a woman! Punishable by death!”
“Hero,” said Ace, firmly. “We’ve made exceptions to the code—”
“And look where it got us,” said Hero, cradling Stone’s body in his arms. He closed his eyes. “I just wanted to make something out of nothing. What did I make?”
“Hero, snap out of it,” hissed Olivia. “This was not your fault. It was her – it was all her.”
Tears flowed down Hero’s cheeks. “I can’t. A Blade can’t harm a woman.”
A voice of crystal clear wisdom rose above the haze of emotion.
“He’s right,” said Falynn, raising her eyebrows. “A Blade cannot harm a woman. It’s in the code.”
Olivia looked at Falynn. “Not you too.”
“But at the same time…” Falynn said, smirking devilishly at Olivia. “…a woman can’t be a Blade.”
They looked at each other. Falynn took her revolver and pressed it into Olivia’s hand. “It’s all yours, snow bunny. But remember. The shit you do down here will follow you home.”
Olivia gripped the gun tightly. “I am home.”
She looked at Hero. He looked back. Stoic. Approving.
Club Lanka. After hours. The Dragons and the Blades hadn’t shared a table since Seneka’s birthday party, and there they were again. This time they weren’t drinking or partying. This time they were silent as death. At the center of the table were two framed photographs of Seneka and Stone.
Hero stood up and addressed the table. Olivia looked up at him, her face aglow with pride.
“As you’re all well aware,” said Hero, “some serious changes were made in our organization last night. It’s come to my attention that the way we’ve been doing things down here, to put it simply, doesn’t fucking work.”
“I want to propose some changes to the code,” continued Hero. “First of all, no more pimping. In Sequoia Grove a woman’s body is her own fucking business and she will have one hundred percent of the fruits of her labor. The girls can handle themselves. On that note, a woman sure as fuck can make just a good a Blade as any man.”
Falynn smiled at Olivia.
“Secondly, I appoint Mixer, Wildcard, Ace, and Olivia my personal council who will at all times have access to Blades finances. They’ve earned this right by proving the content of their character.
“Things are going to get harder before they’re going to get better. There may even be more violence before there’s peace. But that’s the way it’s gotta be. It ain’t gonna change that this is the right way to go.”
The Shank smirked.
“Until today, this has been an organization built on racism, sexism, bigotry, and deceit. Tonight, we’re gonna write a new code. Johnny Law leaves us alone down here. In Sequoia Grove, we can build whatever world we want to. We owe it to ourselves and each other to make it a new one.”
Hero sat back down.
Wildcard looked up. “Does this mean we’re gonna like, vote and shit?”
Hero stared at him blankly.
“Alright.” Wildcard looked down. “Maybe not.”
Margaret tilted her head. “Umm… honey?”
Dan relaxing on the couch watching TV as Margaret went through the mail. She tightened her lips, reading the latest bank statement.
“What’s the matter?” asked Dan.
“Our joint account is a lot lower than I expected…” Margaret said. “There’s a withdrawal in here that’s… well… it’s pretty large.”
“Well, it costs a lot of money to have an Asian gang leader assassinated, dear.”
Margaret scoffed. “I’m being serious.”
“I just wish you would talk to me if you’re going to buy something that expensive. I mean, I’m not going to ask you what you bought or anything.”
“I mean if you want to tell me, that’s fine too. Whatever you want to do. I just don’t—”
There was a knock at the door.
“I got it.”
Margaret was still talking, but Dan didn’t listen to it before opening the door. Standing there was a beautiful four year old Asian girl. She was doe-eyed, confused, and holding a ballerina doll. Her other hand had a small note. She held it out to Dan.
Dan frowned, took the note, and unfolded it.
Try Again. Love, Olivia.
Dan held the note tightly in his hand, looked at the little girl, and then back at the note, his face pinched with thought.
“…I mean this is the joint account, after all, so maybe we should talk about these purchases together. Dan, are you listening to me?”
“Uhh, yeah,” said Dan, folding the note and putting it in his pocket. “I want a divorce.”
Thank you for taking this crazy journey with me over the past three and a half years.
Now I gotta go write the movie.