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From Nothing Edit

By Ben Maunder

“Don't touch me.” I shrugged Haynes off as he reached down to pull me from the gutter, instead forcing myself to stand on shaking legs. A numb feeling claims my body, a black mist my mind, everything from the night before is a faded dream, lost to whatever happened.

“Elliot, this isn't a request. You're coming to the station, like it or not.” There's a degree of threat to his voice, it's almost funny. Once more he offers a hand, something to steady myself on, I lean on the wall instead.

“Who took him? Where?” If he's right and the Gregories took Mike, we don't have time to stand around filling in forms. He must know that, despite his clean shirt and shaven face, he's still from the “Gates” no matter how well he hides it.

“I don't know, still hunting leads.” Something tells me I'm one of them, there's no way he'll let me leave then. Fine, can't fight him, it'll waste time. He knows I don't have a choice. “Let's go, we'll get you a coffee at the station.”

I don't bother hiding my contempt as he leads me from the shadows into the lucent blaze of his cars headlights, his partner, Burdock lurks in the car, embers of a cigarette throwing lines over his aged face. I pile in the back, once more pushing Haynes away as he tries to help. The two of them talk, I'm not listening, I'm trying to piece my memories back together once more. It's an exercise I had hoped to have mastered by now, but I'm still woefully ignorant of my own past.

Pain, that comes rushing back, but that's nothing new. I've woken up more than once with a dozen wounds that I can't explain. But there, deep in the fog, I hear the scream, an inhuman roar reverberating deep in the meat of my mind, it ripples over me, chilling me to the core. But what tattered memory spawned it?

Cold metal drew my attention back to the car, a pair of handcuffs had appeared on my lap. Burdock had somehow twisted his portly figure around to face me, tired eyes watch me with a half amused expression.

“You high or something Thomas?” Clever. I hold the cuffs up, turning them in the air and raising an eyebrow in his direction.

“Not yet. Why cuffs?” He chuckles, Haynes shifts uncomfortably. Looks like I'm a prisoner then, I'll remember this Haynes. “No chance.” The cuffs drop to the floor, a scowl takes Burdock, but he clearly knows when not to push it.

The rest of the drive is in near silence, Burdock tries to smoke again but a unsubtle grunt from Haynes stops him, like an old married couple. When we pull up outside the station day's broken, a wave of sunlight leaking through the cracks of nearby tower blocks and glinting off of the tinted windows of the car.

“Detective Haynes, coming in with Mr. Thomas,” Haynes mutters into a dash mounted receiver, once more keeping his gaze far from me.

“No problems Detective, I'll release the main door.” A woman, receptionist I assume.

“Cheers.” He moves to leave, hand on the door when the speaker goes off again. “Miss Mendez is here as well Detective, I've asked her to wait in your office.” Haynes face drops at the name, whilst Burdock's glows, a perverse grin poking out from his patchwork beard.

“Thanks Becs, we'll be right in.” Burdock looks far too happy, but the cringe his comment brings from Haynes even makes me smile. It's a little painful, but more than worth it. Haynes slips from the car without a second word, the door slamming shut behind him. My door opens and I clamber into the damp London air, Haynes waving for me to follow him as Burdock flicks the lock on the car.

“How do I look Thomas?” Burdock chimes as he steps in behind me, slicking his hair back with spit. Haynes glances over his shoulder, catching my look of indignation, a painting of hopelessness across his own features.

“Leave it Burdock.” Haynes hisses as he takes the stairs, nodding politely to a couple of uniformed officers lurking nearby. One of them looks familiar, I'm sure I've seen him drunk as a sailor in the Pit before, the look he gives me confirms the suspicions.

“Come on Haynes, me and Fran have a thing, you can't deny it!” I'm ushered past Burdock as we reach the door, stepping into the uncomfortably moist air of the Police Station. A woman greets us, smiling over a remarkably clean desk, a legion of uniforms to her back with a library of data on the inhabitants of London. She and Haynes exchange a few words, to my side Burdock is arguing with an older chap, trying their hardest to mask the clash and subtle exchange of bank notes. Good to see corruption still nestles in the bosom of law.

We don't linger long, the moment Haynes finishes talking we move again, weaving through the maze of offices and corridors, once or twice he looked back, mouth open on the verge of saying something. I'm glad that he knows when to stop.

It isn't long before we reach his office, the misted glass hiding all but the shadow of the woman hiding within.

“Wait out here.” He motions to a nearby chair, smoothing his hair back, absentmindedly wiping the thin layer of sweat from his brow. He's nervous, a woman is waiting for him and he's panicking.

“The fuck Haynes?” I growl, repressing the urge to drag him from the building and back into the streets. Away from the stress of a relationship. He rounds on me, confusion clear, though his face shift when he looks me over. Despite my wounds, the ache that consumes me, a dim, unrelenting fury still holds strong, it's evident in every way.

“Really?” My eyes flick to the door, “Mike needs help, I'm not waiting for you here.” He moves to open his mouth once more, white teeth glinting from behind his lips. “You piss about, I'll work.” I turn, steadying myself on the wall, my body begging for rest. He doesn't shout back to me, but the sound of a door opening and closing cements him in my thoughts. I thought more of him.

I stalk back through the corridors, avoiding eye contact with those I meet. Sadly I don't get far before the pain reclaims me and forces me to halt, collapse into a seat with a look of defeat. In this state I'm no good to anyone, much less Mike if there's a legion of Gregories between me and him. The thought causes the knot of tension in my gut to tighten, a spike of dull anguish boils inside me, causing me to contort and warp in upon myself, cursing and swearing as I push my hands against the flesh of stomach.

What should have passed in an instant, burned on. A fire racing outwards from my centre across my entire body, turning my bones into napalm and forcing me to bite down the scream that tries to hurl itself from my lungs. It takes all of my will to remain seated, to not drop to the ground and surrender to the agony slowly consuming me but I manage, pain is only ever temporary, weakness is to be abhorred, hated.

“You okay there mate?” The voice cuts through the pain, dimly recognisable, I cast a glance off to see the man who had been speaking with Burdock. He looks concerned, not sure why, he doesn't know me. I growl in response, trying to straighten up and fight through the pain.

“Fine.” I grit my teeth, pushing off from the chair and turning to pass the Officer, stumbling onto another as a bolt of agony rips across my left leg. The chairs scatter when I impact, more pain, uncontrollable now, as if my whole body seeks to tear itself apart. A pair of hands wrap under my arms and seek to drag me to my feet, invading upon my skin, I lash out.

“Get off!” I shout, barley managing to pull myself back up. The man takes a step back, hand almost immediately inching towards the pistol on his hip. Reflex or threat, I couldn't tell.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” He spits as he talks, my eyes focusing in on the red edge of his spittle, becoming overtly aware of the dregs of blood crawling out from his mouth. A line of crimson fleeing the black abyss carved into his shallow, rotting skin, leaking out like a river to crash about his feet. The ghoul steps forward, a single flesh stripped hand reaching out.

“You need to come with me.” My eyes are open, I can feel the lids pulling back into my skull. Every drop of blood that torrents from him screams out to me, begging for release from their prison of meat. The pain remains, a billion knives in me, the air in my lungs turns to ice water, breath becomes nothing, absent. I break, my first rule falls under it's own weight and I turn heel and run. My feet pound the cracked tiles as more and more dead things pile in the building, screaming at me and begging for an end I could give them. I keep running, my heart pounding in my ears as I slam past another, sending it into a wall where it howls in anguish.

Heavy rusted doors slam open as I fling myself into them, the world beyond opening up to me, the collective heartbeat of a city forces itself into my head, drowning out all other sound. I run, moving as far and as fast as my body allows, the ache of my bones fading with each step. I pass hulks of cold red iron crewed by horrendous mockeries of men that cackle and scream as I lumber by. Hordes more descend upon me, forcing me towards an alleyway where they do not pursue, but still haunt it's edges, blank pitiless eyes staring me down from afar as I crash fearfully into the filth.

Encompassed in shadow I wait, pulling long gulping gasps of air back into me, waiting for the wrongness beyond to stabilise and return to a semblance of rationality. This is not true, it cannot be, I know this, but the grating howls from the world around me causes me to doubt myself.

Micheal. I repeat the name, time and time again, like a mantra. He's out there somewhere, assailed by the scum of this city and I need to find him, regardless of what lies in my way. I won't lose anyone else. Not again. The pain has dulled, my bones no longer ablaze allowing me to stand without support, I cast a glance out of the alley, husks of flesh move about before me, their heartbeats still ringing in my ears. I continue to mutter his name, stepping forth into the throngs of death once more, keeping my gaze to the ground as they shamble past, focusing only on the path I must take.

I walk for an hour, the abominations around me slowly reforming into the men and women I know them to be. The vision passes over time, though its inset still terrifies me. I have suffered black-outs and hallucinations before, my lifestyle practically invites them into my skull, but this was different. Not a drop of alcohol is in my system, sadly, nor any form of opiate, painkiller or other drug. My mind dwells on the distant memories of screams from the night before, guttural and primal yet eerily familiar. What is happening to me?

Effort is required to move the thoughts, refocus on what's important, finding Micheal is all that matters now. He has a family to go home to, I'll make sure he does.

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Thistle Lane sits on the outskirts of what used to be Central London, whatever it used to be called has been long since forgotten, now it exists as a nation unto itself. It took two hours to walk here from the Station, significantly less if you can afford the Underground then leads directly into the Gates. Someone once said to me “If the Gates are Hell then Thistle Lane is where you wait for entrance.”, a clumsy explanation but an accurate one. No-one who lives here wants to and as I walk across the boundary, thick perfumes and heady aromas assaulting my nostrils, I'm reminded why I left.

As soon as you enter, your senses are assaulted from all angles, perverse smells, sights and sounds dominate the street as a horde of life masses in the wide street. Vendors and grifters man stalls anywhere space allows, pawning discount and stolen goods to anyone fool enough to buy them, whilst pick-pockets ghost at their pockets,borrowing what they may. The puissant stench of opium wafts from windows, the moans and laughter of whores and their patrons mixing with the crowds endless droning. I move within the throng, another faceless man with little in his pockets and less time to waste on distractions. A woman, barely dressed, tugs at my coat as I pass, a swift invitation passed to my ear on honeyed lips. She's ignored. I have somewhere to be.

I come to a stop outside a mostly derelict housing project, the skeletal structure of a much larger vision clinging to its walls. At the front several women brazenly stand, beckoning to any man, woman or child who catches their eye, above them lies a banner “Welcome to all lost souls”, once it meant something different to what it does now. I used to live here, several years ago. Many of the women still know me, a few of them even like me, it takes all kinds I suppose. Of the five at the front, one catches my eye, a redhead by the name of Trish. I make my way from the surge of people, moving a man trying to sell me a watch to one side.

“Trish!” I call out to her, almost smiling when she notices me, removing her attentions from a bewildered looking youth and making her way down the steps towards me, loose clothing billowing behind her.

“Elliott you bugger.” She smiles, crisp white teeth contrasting with the black lipstick. “It's been months.” When she reaches me she drapes herself around me in an embrace, there's a warmth in it that I miss. “Where have you been?” Concern lies in the green of her eyes, her young face matching it.

“Around. Surviving.” I return the smile, best I can.

“Keeping out of trouble?”

“Always.” I lie, the slap to my chest shows me she knows. Behind her the other girls begin to take notice, two of them I know, the others are new.

“Don't lie to me Elliott! I know full well what the hell you've been doing.” Concern turns to anger, her mood matching her deep red hair. “You've been in the Pit, haven't you? After all the times we told you not to, that it wasn't worth it.” People around us start to take notice, a few chuckling at the sight.

“I did what I needed to.” Wanted to was closer, but I'm not lying. Without the money from the fights I'd likely still be here, working the same grim streets. Trish's expression lessens, but the anger still remains, like me it was an emotion that claimed her far too easily.

“Mhm.” Pursing her lips she turned, “Come on, lets go inside, not liking all these ASSHOLES GAWPIN' AT ME!” She shouted at the few men lingering nearby, watching with perverted fascination as she stands in plain view thin layers of fabric barely covering her modesty. The two of us headed back into the building, I nodded to one of the women I remembered and was rewarded with a smirk.

The inside of the Brothel hadn't changed, sure a new lick of paint covered the pocketed walls and a few new flowers dotted the tables, but the soul of the place wasn't any different. It still reeked of desperation, sweat and shame. I watched as Trish guided me through the all too familiar hallways, her gait as efficient as ever, never looking back nor glancing into the rooms we pass, no matter the multitude of sounds that oozed from open doors. We quickly found our way to her room, if it could be called that, a singular bed with stolen silk sheets surrounded by a few small boxes filled with personal items. Still, it was a roof.

I'd barely closed the door before she started.

“Why now Elliott?” She was pulling a long shirt over herself as she spoke, “You've been gone for months and now you walk back up here, bold as brass! Why?” I had to give it to her, she was sharp.

“Mike, he's been taken.” I spoke plainly, leaning on the door and allowing the weight of those words to wash over me. “I don't know who by, but the Gregories were involved. I need more info...” The last few words were more for me than her, it occurred to me I had very little idea where to start.

“Jesus.” Her muted anger melted into concern, slumping down on the edge of her bed. “What did he do?”

“Nothing, it's what I did.” I shifted in place, the room was a little too familiar for my liking. “There were a few fights I was supposed to lose, I didn't.” She shook her head, just like Mike.

“Sounds about right for you.” She blinked slowly as she spoke, as if fighting sleep. “You always put your fucking pride first.” As usual, she was far from wrong. In the past I had spent a couple of years living in the same building I stood in now, though then I worked here rather than stopping by. Used to be I was the closest thing this dump had to protection, though that was on the good days. Bad days were different, caused by me saying the wrong thing to the wrong people, stepping up to those I should have bowed to. Left me in rooms like this, dressed like her. Never again.

“Well, do you have anything to go on? Any idea where he could be?” I shake my head, I have little more than nothing.

“No, few ideas though. Need to be quick, ask people who might know. But I need somewhere to lay low, just in case.” She watches me for a moment, carefully judging, like a cat eyeing her cub.

“Okay, whilst your looking you can stay with me.” a light smile plays on her lips, “But you'll need to make yourself scarce in the day, I still have to work.” I nod, there's not a lot more to say, moreover I don't know what to say. It's been a long couple of days and I hadn't planned to return here, ever if I'm frank, too many bad memories. Trish knows this, how could she not.

We share the silence for a few minutes before she offers to collect some food, not that she waits for an answer, jabbing a finger at a nearby wash basin as she passes. I clean myself off, enjoying the feeling of hot water on my skin, several months of dirt and grime wash away into the drain, I then take my shirt to the water and wait for Trish to return.

When she does she does so with soup and bread, hot and fresh, the best thing I've eaten in weeks. We eat in silence again, every now and then Trish opens her mouth to speak and quickly changes her mind, it isn't long before the bowls lie empty.

“You look exhausted.” I don't doubt it, “We should get some sleep.” It's hard to disagree, I spotted an armchair outside the door when we came in so I stand and go to get it.

“Where are you going?” She asks, already half into her bed. It's small, inviting, familiar.

“Chair outside, I'll sleep there.” I open the door and move to step outside when a shoe catches me in the back of the head, glancing around I see her readying to launch another. “What the hell?”

“Come here you prick.” She parts the bed covers for me, her posture slackened and tired. “Just sleep here, it's fine.”

I linger at the doorway, all too aware of the eyes at my back as I watch Trish, a host of feelings long since forced into the darkness struggling to break free. I close the door and twist the lock in place, slowly lowering myself into the bed besides her. The warmth of her skin on mine is comforting, even as we push our backs to one another, I keep my eyes on the wall, noting the hole in the plasterboard I had put there months before.

My eyes close and the echoing howls in my mind begin again, lashing out in the grim emptyness in my skull.

“I missed you Elliott.”

The screams relent, pushed back into the dark by a torrent of regret.

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I dress and leave before Trish wakes up, she looks peaceful in her sleep. Far be it my right to wake her. As much as I try to slip out others in the brothel notice me, some take me for a John, others know otherwise, not sure which is worse.

Taking back to the streets I begin my hunt, information on the Gregories isn't exactly hard to come by, but the right information is expensive, both in currency and action. I start with the homeless I know, those I've seen around bin-fires or shelters, a few of them offer rumours and conjecture, but nothing solid, nothing that leads me any closer.

The Prostitutes on street corners are much the same, unsurprisingly they don't know Mike's name and kidnappings aren't exactly uncommon on Thistle Street or the Gates. Drug dens and Pawn shops ask for more in return than I can offer, though one gives me food and drink for the road “Services rendered” he says, can't recall what he's talking about, not sure I want to.

It isn't until I met a child, or more precisely, a gang of the little buggers that I get anything useful. One of them recognised me in passing, calling out to me and stopping the one in my pocket from stealing Haynes phone, which would have been a problem fairly immediately. The boys name was Matt, according to him I had stepped in when some big shot “pimp” was beating on him and his sister, breaking the bastards leg and two of his ribs. It sounded like something I would have done, never been a fan of people throwing their weight around, especially when children were involved.

Much like the others Matt didn't know Mikes name, admittedly he didn't even know mine until I told him. What he did know though was interesting, according to him and a few of his friends there was a man by the name of Bakara who ran a butchers shop nearby, word was that there was little that happened with the Gregories that Bakara didn't know about, even more-so when kidnappings were involved. It was the closest thing I had to a lead all day, so I thanked him and and offered the food I was given earlier in payment, thankfully they declined, said it was the least they could do.

With that I headed back to the brothel, passing an off-license on the way and thumbing the few notes still in my pockets. As I stood outside the voices began worming their way back into my ears, followed by a pang in my gut that demanded answering, Mike had kept me distracted for the day, but we all have our demons. By the time I stepped foot on the stairway into the brothel the Whiskey bottle was empty, the last of my money pissed away. It barely dulled the voices.

Trish's room was locked when I got there. Others within the building seemed to have gotten the idea who I was by this point and didn't bother offering their services, not that I would accept. The sounds of moaning and forced exhalation rang through her door, the grunts of a man not used to any form of excursion hammering outwards. A year ago, who knows what I would have done. Now I simply sat beside the door, keeping a vigil for the sound of violence, the liquor in my veins making me wish for an excuse, a moment of catharsis. I'm unaware of how long I was there before I fell asleep, but I awoke with a blanket draped over me.

Once more I left at daybreak, my body aching from the poor sleeping position and lack of stimulants. My dreams had been as they always were, black and red, with intermittent horrors filling the air.

The butchers itself was easy enough to find, it sat less than two blocks south of Thistle Street with a garish green sign pronouncing it's presence to anyone looking for it. “Al Bakara Butchery, Halal and Otherwise” pressed between a hairdressers and estate agents it was unassuming enough, rubbing the ache in my arms away I muttered a silent prayer that Matt hadn't lied to me.

The doorbell rang as I entered, a pleasant chime. Almost immediately the smell hit me, raw meat lined the walls hanging on all manner of hooks for display, with all kinds of flesh on display for the eager carnivore. Barring myself the store was empty, though a radio blared on across the room, a counter separated me from it, a large nondescript carcass lying on its top, bloodied cleaver embedded next to it.

“...vessel was carrying supplies from the lunar colonies is scheduled to arrive later today, British forces have since scrambled to secure the airspace around London. Experts suggest that....” The radio filled the relative silence, before I cut it off.

“Hello?” I call out, my own voice echoing about the room as I stalk its edges, inspecting the cuts of meat surrounding me. The man is good with a knife.

“...CEO of Solarus industries has yet to issue a statement, though one is expected later today. The main thing that has arisen...” This time it's shut off and I turn to see a large man stood behind the counter, a bloody rag in his hands as he wipes them clean. A broad smile plasters welcoming features, a thick handlebar moustache hanging on his upper lip, his eyes latch onto me with interest as I meet his gaze.

“Hello friend!” His voice is deep, jovial, like he means to make the title stick. “How can I help you today?”

“You Bakara?” I approach, wary of the blade close to him. Though he simply nods in place of anything else, a pleasant change.

“I hope so, otherwise I'm in the wrong shop!” He laughs at his own joke, is this really the man I'm looking for? “Now friend, what are you in the mood for? Just carved some fresh steaks, or some pork if you're the type?”

“Information. Not food.” His face doesn't shift, even remotely. “Gregories.”

“'Fraid you lost me friend, I'm a butcher. Not some sort of information broker.” His eyebrow raises quizzically as he speaks. “Besides who would want to get mixed up with the Gregories? Dangerous people, or so I hear.” He leans on the counter now, his hand right next to the cleaver in a worryingly direct movement.

“They took someone, Micheal Steinbeck, a friend.” I now stand in front of him, the counter our only separator. “I have to find him. Quickly.” I could jump it if needs be, kick the blade away and get in close. Only preparations, I don't want to invite the red in, I can keep this civil.

He sighs, his smile fading to be replaced with passiveness and defeat.

“Persistent, about what I'd expect from you Thomas.” I never mentioned my name, I tense, ready, civility seems to have died. He notices my posture shift and smiles again.

“Don't shit yourself, I've seen you fight is all. You look different not covered in blood and crap.” He produces a set of keys from his pocket and throwing them at me. “Go lock the door, we'll have a chat about your friend then.” I glance behind me, the path back to the door isn't exactly long, but it's open, no cover between it and him.

“I'm not going to shoot you in the back friend, bad for business.” No choice but to trust him, I walk to and lock the door, my back tensed the whole way, still expecting a sudden explosion of buckshot to follow me. None came, it was reassuring to see my paranoia was just that.

“See friend, trust is a valuable commodity these days.” He stepped over to a break in the counter, opening it up and inviting me through. “Come come, let us talk in the back, it's a bit more private.”

I followed him cautiously, still pays to be wary after-all. He left the cleaver in it's place, rounding into the back room where several more carcasses hung, rivulets of blood collecting at their base, pooling into small red rivers that flowed into one another and massed in the indentations of the floor. Each step through here was accompanied by small voices, the demons beginning to claw back out, now is not the time so I do what I can to block them. The blood ripples as I pass, reaching out towards me, this much I swear.

We stop in a small room, sectioned off from the killing floor and windowless. He closes the door behind me, I catch one last glance of something emerging from the pools of crimson.

“Well then Mr. Thomas.” Taking a seat he inclines for me to do the same, I oblige, I hear scratching at the door. “You are in a bad place, aren't you. No one really goes looking for the Gregories, much less with a look like that in their eyes.”

“Just tell me where to look. I don't need more.” He smirks to himself, at the door the scratching comes to a halt, only to be replaced by a low moan.

“Oh I'm sure...” A mobile phone is placed on the table and Bakara absentmindedly thumbs in a pass code. “Now lets say, I did know where your friend Steinbeck is...” Twice now he's gotten a name before I say it, he knows far too much. “...what benefit is there in me telling you 'ey? What will you give me in exchange?” This was the part I had dreaded, I have noting to offer him, less than nothing for that matter.

“I have nothing. No money or information.” I fight the urge to grab his phone and run, he shakes his head, chuckling.

“Then why bother coming? I don't run a charity I run a business, fair exchange is the cornerstone of everything I do. If you want to find your friend you better come up with something I want.” The phone goes dark whatever he was looking at vanishes into nothingness. I grimace, in truth he was right I hadn't planned for this, stupid, short-sighted, ignorant I should have known better, planned ahead. My error could cost Mike so much more than it'll cost me.

“I doubt I have anything you want.” Hollow laughter echoes in my ears. “But a man needs saving and I will do whatever I need to, to make sure that happens. With or without your help.” I move the chair back, bringing myself up to my full height. “No time for this.”

“Sit down Elliott.” Bakara says, his voice taking a harsher edge than his normal tone. A chill runs up my spine and I lock eyes with the man, he's pushed the phone across the table to me, an address clear on the the screen. “We are going to have one quick chat, then you can run off and play hero.”

This is unexpected. I sit down again, checking the address on the phone “Hayward Logistics, Canal Docks” I know the place, not far, less than two hours walk.

“You should know in advance he's not alone, one of the Beetles is calling in old debts, your friend has more than a few bills to clear from what I've heard.” Dammit Mike, he'd never mentioned being in with the Gregories, much less one of their leaders. Bakara watched me with morbid fascination, his dark brown eyes scanning my face for any sort of reaction.

“Why?” I question, memorising the address and pushing the phone back. “I cannot give you anything in return.” That bloody smile returns.

“Because I know when to make an investment.” He pockets the phone once more; “You look to be a good one. Plus, it's always good to help those less fortunate than you.” He leans in, getting as close as he can without standing. “However, don't get this twisted Elliott, as I said equal exchange is all part of what I do. Call this a loan of information, not a lot more.” The words that come next ring like a death sentence. “You owe me.”

This is what I expected, debt is nothing new to me, but still, this rings ill. Drug dealers, Madame's and thugs, I have been in the books of all of those, bound to them by poor judgement and action on my part. Bakara seems different, like he's been waiting for me to turn up empty handed at his door, begging for scraps. For Mike, this is for Mike.

I can't fail again.

With grim resignation I incline my head to Bakara, who continues to smile, wrapping his fingers like some cartoon villain. I say nothing more and take my leave, my last sight of the butcher is as he picks up the cleaver once more and sets into the carcass on his desk. As soon as the door closes behind me I break into a jog, considering returning to the Brothel, no time, no time, she'll understand. The weight of my phone shifts in my pockets, my mind wanders to Haynes, I should tell him, he can bring one thing I cannot, guns and men who can use them. If what Bakara says is right, I will likely need them.

I punch in the number, bringing the phone to my ear and listening to the tolling bell of the dial tone and I charge down the street.

Pick up Haynes, I need you.