Chase Mitchell sat on the rough stone as his feet dangled carelessly over the edge of the cliff. True, it was only 20 feet or so down to the small stream, but he often times liked to think that, millions of years into the future, that very spot where he spent almost every evening, watching the sunset, would be the site of the next Grand Canyon, the small river carving spectacular architecture through the stone walls over time.
He looked up at the sky and stared in awe at the lights winking over head. That was one of the reasons why he loved living on a farm, 10 miles from nowhere. There were no bright city lights to ruin the beautiful magic of the stars on the night sky. As all boys, he went through a phase where he wanted to be an astronaut. It didn’t last long. When he was 11, he realized he was too much of a dreamer for that. Sure, his imagination knew no limits and such a fertile mind often gives birth to man’s greatest ideas. But he was useless at anything that even remotely hinted at math. An astronaut he would never be. But that didn’t stop him from dreaming.
At 17, he was often considered kooky by his classmates, but he didn’t really care. It wasn’t as if they had much opportunity to spend time together outside of school, so he didn’t mind keeping mostly to himself when in school. Sure, he liked having friends. He remembered how it was when he had lots of friends, back before his mother dragged him to his grandparents’ place when he was 13. No explanation, just packed bags, a cab ride and a flight from Boston to San Antonio, followed by a long car ride in the company of a surly old man who barely spoke a word outside of “I’m your grandfather, get in the damn car.” Then he was there. Or here, he thought. The place he’d come to think of as home. He found solitude fit him just fine.
He had his daydreams and his eccentricity, as some considered it, made him popular with the girls. Living so far out from real civilization, it was hard to have much of a social life, but he still went on a date every couple of weeks. In short, he had everything he wanted.
“The boy isn’t right in the head” his grandmother Sally would often tell his mom, while his grandpa Jack just grunted, flipping the page in his book de jour. “He spends too much time with his head up in the clouds. This isn’t a place for dreamers.” Chase would just shrug, grab a sandwich and sprint out the back door, as his mom would shake her head, the corner of her mouth turning upwards in the smallest hint of a smile.
Yes, he didn’t care. He’d never be an engineer, he’d never be good with his hands and build a better mouse trap, but he liked to dream big and found his release in writing. And his teachers thought he was good at it. Now, his biggest dream, looking up at the stars, was to make it to Hollywood. Be a writer. It was silly, he knew. Walk into a café and you’ll find a dozen people, laptops open, each of them writing the next big novel or next big screenplay, in hopes of making it big. It was stupid beyond words to think even 1% of them actually made it big. But hope keeps the spirit alive. ‘Hell, even if 1% of them at least get their work in the hands of a producer, that means I have a shot’ he thought. He had recently entered a writing competition. If he won, he decided it would be a sign. He’d get his hands on every book instructing him on how to properly write a screenplay and then he’d get to work. He wouldn’t rest until he saw Hollywood’s biggest stars in a movie he wrote.
He started laughing, imagining riding back into town in a stretch limo. The absurdity of the image conjured up made him laugh even harder. He bounced up to his feet, leaned over the edge of the precipice and spat down, waiting to hear the splash. He never did, but it was his ritual. He started walking slowly towards the house, almost a mile away. He still had 30 minutes until his grandma would start freaking out over his absence. She didn’t particularly like him wandering around in the darkness, even as he maintained that he could take care of himself.
After all, he was 17 now. Almost a man. He wasn’t tall, just 5’8”, but he was well-muscled. Wrestling was the one extra-curricular activity he had dabbled in at school and he found he liked it. So, he stuck with it through high-school. School…It was March. Not long before school was over. He had already decided he wouldn’t go to college and no one in the family seemed particularly upset over it. The results of the writing competition would decide his future for him. It was as good as a coin flip and he often thought that leaving things to chance is the best way to go. So making decisions based on the result of a coin flip was just another of his eccentricities. If he wins, he gets on a bus and goes to face the world, hoping he’d come up on top. If he loses, he stays home on the farm, maybe marry one of the girls from school, the ones who drool over his deep green eyes and jet-black hair and square jaw. Yes, he definitely had good genes. On his father’s side, that was. A father he barely remembered anymore. His mom was short and red-haired, just like his grandmother. He was thankful for his appearance and frequently thought about what his kids would look like. Maybe settling down and raising a family within a couple of years wasn’t all that bad. But he just felt it deep inside. Felt that such a decision would haunt him later in life. He was destined for something greater, he just knew it. Which is why he chose the competition result as the deciding factor. If he won, then that would prove him right. Prove that fate has reserved something great for him.
He kept walking, a big smile on his face, his hands in his jeans’ pockets, his jacket unzipped. It was fairly warm, after all. As he crested the small hill just next to the farm, he stopped in his tracks and his breath caught in his throat. The barn was on fire. And there was no one outside. How could that be? Surely they weren’t all asleep. He wanted to run, to scream, to get his family out of the house and out of harm’s way. The blaze illuminated the whole area and he noticed two SUVs parked in front of the house. He didn’t know why, but a chill ran down his spine. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong.
He made his way as quickly as possible towards the house, but keeping to the shadows. He crouched behind a small bush, about 100 yards from the house and peered over it. There was a man standing near one of the cars, wearing a dark suit, smoking a cigarette.
“What the fuck’s taking Vince so long? We should get the hell out of here.”
“Relax.” Came a second voice and another man stepped from around the car, zipping up his pants. He’d evidently just relieved himself against the tire, like a dog would. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. Who the fuck’s gonna see the fire?”
“It just makes me nervous. Couldn’t he wait to burn the pace down until after?”
The second man shrugged. “Intimidation tactic, I suppose.” A loud bang rang from inside the house. “Speaking of which…” the man went on, grinning, as his companion started laughing nervously.
Chase’s blood ran cold. His grandfather taught him how to shoot and he knew full well what that sound had been. A 9mm, he was sure of it. He didn’t know what to do. He was sure the two men standing guard were armed, but he couldn’t just let his family be killed. He said a quick prayer, crossed himself and got ready to rush the men. They were both facing the house now, so he might just catch them by surprise. Hit the first one hard and take him out, then fight it out with the second one, hoping he wouldn’t have enough time to draw a gun.
The front door of the house burst open and Chase’s mom flew down the stairs, as a bald, extremely tall man came striding behind her.
“Victoria!” screamed grandma Sally, being dragged by two other thugs. Even in that situation, her first thought was of her daughter’s well-being. That’s why Chase loved her, despite her statements regarding his foolish dreams. The tall man stopped in his tracks, turned to face the older woman and backhanded her across the face. Blood spurted from her nose and she remained quiet, but the scowl on her face looked deadly.
“Vicki, dear…” the man said as he walked down the stairs and to Chase’s mother. “I don’t want to cut our reunion short, but I’m in a hurry. So, once again, tell me what I want to know.” Victoria kept her mouth shut, staring defiantly at the man. “Do I need to kill your mother as well in order to make my point?”
She stared up at him, as she lay on the ground, then slowly got to her feet and spat into his face. “You’re gonna kill us anyway. So fuck you!”
“I’ll skip over that, if you don’t mind. But as you wish.” He turned to the two men holding grandma Sally and nodded. They pushed her down to the ground and one of them pulled out a handgun. He shot her in the back of the head and Chase wanted to scream, but his mother beat him to it. He managed to restrain himself. He still wanted to run out and help his mother, but he knew it was pointless. He’d only get himself killed. He hated thinking like that. It was selfish and cowardly, but he knew his mom would want him to live.
“I’ll kill your son.” The tall man told Vicki.
She laughed mockingly. “If you had found him, he’d be here right now. He knows this place better than anyone, except maybe my father. But you made sure he couldn’t help you by killing him, didn’t you? You won’t find Chase. Someone’s gonna notice the smoke in the morning and you won’t be able to stick around then. And there’s no way you’ll find him in the dark. So, do your worst. Kill me. My son will live and so will my sister and her kids.”
“We’ll see about that.” The man said, setting his jaw and narrowing his eyes. “Put her in the car.”
“She’s right. We won’t find the little brat. And he’s the only thing that’d make her talk. So, we keep her alive. Sooner or later, the kid’ll show up, then she’ll talk, and the surviving Samuels will be mine.”
“Vince, are you sure we should be wasting so much time and money on this? We’re barely holding control of the crew and Henson’s out for blood.”
“We’ll do as I say, got it? I won’t rest until I see that bitch and her pups dead. I don’t care if it takes me the rest of my life, I’ll have her head. And as long as I’m paying you, I expect you to do as you’re told.”
“Okay. You know we’re with you. We’ve been with you from the start. I just thought…”
“Stop thinking. You’ll only hurt your brain. Give me a pen and paper.” Vince said, sticking out his hand.
One of his men dug through his pockets, coming up with the desired objects. “Boss?” he asked, handing them over.
“I’m leaving a note for the kid. Why waste my time looking for him?” He scribbled down something on the paper, then walked back up the stairs to the house and stuck it in the screen door. “Time to go.” He said, as he got into one of the cars, as his men roughly pushed Vicki into the other. Finally, they all got in and drove away, leaving only a trail of dust behind them.
Chase’s heartbeat slowed down somewhat, but he still felt as if his heart could burst out of his chest at any moment. He walked on unsteady feet until he was next to his grandmother’s body. He fell to his knees and pulled her in his lap, not even taking note of the gore. He rocked back and forth, tears streaking his face. He had no idea how long he sat there, like that. A loud crash brought him back to his senses. The barn was collapsing on itself. He gently placed his grandmother’s corpse on the ground and got up. He ambled up to the house and took the note. “ACES MOTEL. BE THERE BY TOMORROW AT NOON.” He crumpled up the piece of paper in his fist and walked inside. He barely glanced into the kitchen. The table was overturned and a pool of blood was on the floor. He had no doubt that his grandfather lay sprawled, lifeless, behind the table. He didn’t have the strength to face that sight. He walked up the stairs, his hand on the rail, as he could barely stand, his legs shaking with fear and rage both.
He made it into his room and glanced in the mirror. His shirt was covered in blood. His grandmother’s blood. He ripped it off him, screaming in anger. His jeans were also stained. He stripped completely and walked into the bathroom. He let the cold water run over him, trying to think. He should call the cops was his immediate thought. But he couldn’t. Those men were after information about his aunt. His mother had only painted a broad picture of his aunt Dana, whom he remembered from when he was far younger, but she made it clear that she was in danger and in hiding. But she had a way to contact her. A cell number. She had made him memorize it, in case something ever happened and he needed to contact Dana. No, he wouldn’t involve the police.
He finished cleaning up, got dressed, then packed a duffle bag and went into his mother’s room. He took a moment to look around and inhale her scent. Then he walked to her dresser and pulled out the roll of money from where she had hidden it. He didn’t count it. He simply stuffed it into his pocket. Then he picked up the house phone, since cells had such bad reception there and dialed the number.
On the third ring, a weary voice answered. “Hello?” the woman spoke. Chase didn’t know what to say. “Sis? Is that you?” the woman’s voice became more alert. “Who is this? I only gave this number to one person.”
“Aunt Dana?” he said, his voice trembling with emotion.
“They have her. And they’re…they’re dead.”
“What? Chase, tell me what happened. Slowly and clearly.” And so he did. He recounted everything he had witnessed.
“What do I do?”
“Pack some clothes.”
“Do you have money?”
“Can you drive?”
“Get your grandpa’s car and drive back to the city. Get on the first plane to Chicago.”
“Chicago? Is that where you are?”
“No. I’m sorry, but it’s best if I don’t tell you where I am. Chicago is the best place for us to meet.”
“But what about my mom?”
“You can’t do anything for her. Not on your own. We’ll figure something out once I get you. But that’s our first priority. Get you safe. Your mom would agree with me.”
“But won’t they kill her?”
“Not as long as they think she can use her to get to me. We’ll save her, Chase. But first of all, you need to get out of there.”
“O-okay.” He said, sniffing.
“You’re gonna have to do something else before you go…”
So Chase dragged his grandmother’s corpse into the house and covered the blood in front of the house with dirt, hoping to mask it as best as possible. Then he set fire to the place. Even if the small town sheriff brought in a fire marshal and discovered it was arson, there would be little left to identify the place as the scene of a gun-inflicted double homicide. Not for a while, anyway. It gave Chase enough time to get away and there wouldn’t be enough pressure from authorities to make Vince think it’d just be better to get rid of a witness and kill his mom.
He drove away as the flames roared in the rearview mirror, consuming his home. Chase tried to control his emotions, but a tear slipped away as he went ahead into the unknown.
Myke Henson stood leaning on the door frame, his arms crossed, watching his son exercising. He was coming along nicely after almost half a year of recovery. He was almost back in peak condition. Henson thought back to the day when he almost lost him. He was a hard man. He didn’t show emotion, but he had come to greatly appreciate Evan. Respect him. In a way, maybe even love him. He’d never say that, but staying by his side for these past 6 months showed it.
When Christian had pulled the gun, Myke had his ready and shot first. He had a suspicion on the drive to the abandoned warehouse. He had liked Christian, but the boy was too ambitious for his own good. If only he had patience…Then Myke rushed inside and up the stairs, where he found Eric standing over Evan’s crumpled form. The young man had been shot once in the leg and once in the arm. But the traitorous bastard Eric had thought that the steps coming up the stairs were Christian’s so he hadn’t expected Myke to walk in. He hadn’t even glanced up from Evan. Myke could have shot him then, but he wanted to see his eyes. So he called his name and squeezed the trigger as soon as Eric’s gaze darted to him. The man hadn’t even had time to register surprise.
Myke remembered how he had dragged Evan to the car, pushed out Christian’s corpse and sat in the blood-covered seat as he drove to the home of a physician he kept on staff. Evan’s wounds had not been life-threatening, though he had lost a fair amount of blood. Still, he required a lot of physical therapy to get back to his former self. And now he seemed ready to get to work. And work was simple: kill Vince Ricardo.
Myke’s phone started vibrating in his pocket. He answered and listened, only grunting in response every few seconds. He snapped the phone shut and called to Evan, who stopped kicking the heavy bag and walked up to his father.
“Ricardo was spotted in Texas. I have no idea what he’s doing there…”
“He’s looking for Alexi.”
“Maybe. But whatever his reason, this is as good an opportunity as we’re gonna get. Not all of his men are okay with what he did to Samuels. But he still has enough of them to make this bloody. Out there…”
Evan nodded. “When do we leave?”
“You sure you’re ready?”
Evan stared levelly at his father. “I told you once already. I’d do anything for Alexi.”
“But you don’t even know where he is.”
“I’ll find his sooner or later. What matters now is that Vince doesn’t find him first. I’m going. The question is – are you going to let me?”
Myke chewed on his lip for a few seconds, thinking the question over. “When you walked away from me, I fully expected you to be back. I thought you were weak. I…I was wrong. I’ve come to know you better over the past 6 months. I don’t pretend to fully understand you, but…I appreciate you. You’re my son. I don’t know if we can ever have a normal relationship, not after what I’ve done to you. But I am going to help you. Including with finding your little boyfriend.” Myke smirked.
Evan grinned. “Not to mention the fact that you want Vince dead as much as I do.”
“Well, there’s that too.”
“So, again, when do we leave?”
“A plane’s waiting.”
Evan’s grin was positively evil.
The bar was loud and filled with smoke. Hunter coughed and pushed away a drunk who was trying to grope him. He kept looking around, but he couldn’t see Alexi anywhere. He swore under his breath and walked to the bar.
“This place have a back exit?” he asked the bartender. The guy nodded and pointed Hunter in the right direction. After walking through a corridor stinking of piss, he found the door with the busted exit sign over it and he pushed it open, walking outside.
The alley was dark, but the moans were loud enough to give him a general idea of where to go. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, then walked, carefully avoiding the puddles, not knowing which was rain water and which was urine.
Backlit by a yellow street light, he could make out two dark shapes. One of them had his back to the wall, head tilted back, moaning in pleasure, the other with his head in the first one’s crotch.
“For fuck’s sake, Alexi. When are you gonna stop this crap?” Hunter asked, anger in his voice.
The young man leaning against the wall turned his face to Hunter and spoke. “What the fuck do you care?” The other man never stopped sucking.
“Because enough’s enough. Evan’s dead. So’s my dad. We’re hiding in fucking Toronto and you need to get over it. This self-destructive shit needs to end.”
Alexi pushed the man away, zipped up his pants, grabbed his cane and turned his back to Hunter, walking towards the street.
“Don’t you fucking walk away from me! I’ve been here for you every single minute and watched you go from grieving to catatonic and then angry asshole and suicidal moron. You need to accept reality and move on, in a healthy way.”
Alexi stopped walking. “You think I’m suicidal?”
“What are you, then? You’re rarely home, you’re always drunk or high and hooking up with guys of all ages. In dark alleys, for fuck’s sake! What if you end up dead?”
“Home? It’s a fucking motel room. A new one every week. You wanna talk about healthy? How is the way we’re living healthy?” Alexi spat, whirling around to face Hunter. “Maybe I should just kill myself, get it over with.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“No? God knows I live in constant fear that the people who killed Evan will find us. And is all the misery worth it? When you have nothing and especially no one to live for?”
“You MAKE a reason to live. That’s what people do. Fight for that something or someone. And even if he’s gone you still have me and mom. And…and you’ll find someone else.”
“I don’t fucking want someone else! I loved him. I still do.” Alexi finished softly, his eyes watery.
Hunter walked over and took Alexi in his arms. Hunter was slightly taller than his foster brother, so Alexi ended up burying his head in his chest, sobbing. Hunter hugged him tightly and brushed his lips over Alexi’s short hair. He had hoped it would take far less time for him to get passed what had happened to Evan, but he knew that was a vain hope. After all, he still felt an empty and cold spot in his heart, thinking of his father. No, just “getting over it” and “moving on” were silly concepts. He wasn’t sure they’d ever be able to get past it all, but he had at least been coping with it better than Alexi. In a way, he understood. Alexi had lost what seemed like everything for the second time in his short life, and all in just a few months’ time span. It was far more than he himself had experienced and more than anyone should endure in their life. But now he needed Alexi to pull himself together. So, he let him cry for a few more minutes, then kissed his cheek and spoke.
“I know it’s easy to simply say get over it. And I don’t really expect you to. But I do need you to get a grip and pull yourself together. So does mom. Something’s happened.”