The Red Mist, Patrick Dutton thought—now that would have been the drink of choice at this time. The deep, smooth whiskey blend, a play on the Blood and Sand mix, was the pricey lure of well-heeled metropolitans. According to urban legend, if Patrick could remember it correctly, the drink got its start at the long-defunct Jacksonian bar, but it showed up everywhere just a few years ago. Everywhere but here, he reluctantly accepted. Ordinarily, he would have complained about that, but this time he just settled for a bottle of beer, instead. The beer was admittedly a little trite for his taste, too uncivilized for the palate, but after a few of them, there was no way that he would have known the difference.
This had been a day of days, and all that Patrick wanted to do was escape it. First, there was the news of Antonio’s car accident a little under twenty-four hours ago. That had brought back the emotions of uncertainty and fear he had not experienced since the deaths of his own parents. Then, like everyone else in the city—and thanks to modern communications, everyone else in the world—Patrick watched as demonstrators turned violent at the foot of the Kennedy Palmer building. He was worried about Bryan and how those events must have been affecting the Kennedy family, but he knew that there was nothing that he could do to help them, either. He was quite useless to his friends right now, and he was frustrated by that fact. Consequently, Patrick just wanted to get away from it all and find peace at the bottom of some alcoholic beverage.
“Can we talk about it?” The soft touch of Tya’s fingers against his cheek gave him a reason to smile.
Patrick made a real effort to speak over the blaring hip-hop music. “Not really much to talk about, Tya.”
“If that was true, then you wouldn’t look so down,” she told him.
True enough, he thought, and so, after a second of contemplation, his smile widened.
“That’s better,” Tya replied, “even if it is fake.” Then she surveyed the crowded dance floor, and asked, “Can you dance? I mean, can you really dance? I don’t mean dancing like a white boy, no offense—but dancing with some degree of rhythm.”
Patrick laughed at the question. “Yes, I can dance. I have an honorary ‘black man’ card, and it ain’t set to expire for a while.”
“Spoken like a true white boy,” the young white girl replied, jokingly. “Well, since you can groove, ‘bro’—let’s go out there.” She pointed at the dance floor. “You ain’t afraid, huh?”
Patrick was not afraid of very many things these days, but he was no less cautious. While he might have jumped at the opportunity to blaze a trail on the hardwood anywhere else, he told Tya that he was not about to do it here. Just hanging out in a random westbank nightclub seemed a bit reckless on its own—especially for someone of Patrick’s newly appointed stature, which he did not mention to Tya. He was not interested in doing anything to draw undue attention. “I think that I’m good at this table, Tya,” he told her, though he was quite aware of how disappointed she would have been.
“You said that you needed to get away tonight, Patrick. Well, you are away now. There is no one here who knows you, no one here to bug you. There is none of the bullshit here,” Tya remarked. “You might as well let your hair down and stop worrying.”
Patrick did not have anything to say, except that perhaps Tya did have a point. When he had gotten her text message earlier in the evening, Patrick had wasted no time accepting her invitation to hang out. In fact, he had promptly called her back, and had joined her on the westbank within the same hour. Tya was exactly the kind of distraction that he needed, he had told himself—and maybe this was just the place the two of them needed to be right now, millions of figurative miles away from his own world.
“A’ight, I’ll dance with you,” he acquiesced, “but I am going to need another beer before that.”
That made Tya’s face light up, and she jumped to her feet. “Well, I’ll go and get you another one,” she said, but Patrick protested. Then she added, “Relax, please. One beer will not break this cashier.”
“Well, um, make it a Bud Light,” he told her.
Tya made her way to the bar, and told the bartender what she wanted. The whole exchange, a ritual performed a thankless number of times per night by these bartenders, took only a matter of seconds, and Tya was on her way back to her table, when…
“Yo, hey, girl! Where you going like that?” A brutish man, both rough and stocky in his physical appearance, seized her by the arm. “You’re acting like you don’t even know a brutha no more. W’sup with that, huh?”
“Whitney,” she called the man by his name. Then she graced him with a smile, making it apparent that she felt no fear for him.
“What’s up?” the man in his late twenties asked her. “Why don’t you come back to the bar and talk to a brutha?”
The attractive redhead pointed to her table. “I cannot, Whit. I am with someone.”
The man seemed to scoff. “Aw, I ain’t worried about that white boy,” he told her. “Now come with me.”
Tya may not have feared this man, but she was still smart enough not to arouse his temperament. Without another protest, she followed him to the bar, where he met a friend, a man strikingly younger than him and who seemed familiar to her. Curiously, she wondered why, when this place was filled with available women, did Whitney choose to harass her. She watched the brute whisper something into the ear of the teenager, and then the young man smiled at her. Tya knew immediately that, whatever it was, it was not good. Luckily, she remembered that there was Mace in her purse; she would at least put up a good fight if she had to.
“What is the story on that dude?” Whitney asked Tya.
“I thought that you weren’t ‘worried about that white boy’.” Tya reminded him. Then she looked back to the table, and found Patrick distracted, watching the dance floor. “There is no story, Whit. He’s just this guy that I know. Why?”
Whitney’s friend chimed into the conversation. “I’ve seen him before with John Harris, and the word is that John went and made some white boy his right-hand. That’s him, huh? That’s John’s lieutenant?”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that.” Tya knew that she had to be lying. After all, even though it was never discussed, she had met Patrick in the company of John Harris. She only hoped that her sudden unease did not betray her words to these people, lest Patrick was surely dead.
“I don’t believe you. I know it’s him,” the teenager replied.
“And I told you that I don’t know anything about that!” she shouted.
“Fuck that, you bitch—“ The young man was ready to erupt, perhaps even slap the girl into submission, but Whitney stopped him.
“Tya,” Whitney began with a sinister grin, “how stupid are you, baby? Don’t you know who basically owns this place? Don’t you know who put his money up to keep the doors opened?”
Da Baron, she suddenly realized. “Oh my God.”
“Yeah,” Whitney replied. “You’ve gone and delivered that lamb to the slaughter, girl. How stupid are you, huh?”
Tya tried to maintain her composure. She could not believe that she had, albeit inadvertently, walked Patrick Dutton into enemy territory, and if he truly was involved in this war, these people were going to kill him. Hell, she thought, even if he was not, they were going to kill him.
“Why don’t you go and bring him outside for us?” Whitney instructed her. “We don’t want this kill to be too public. It’d be bad for business, you know.”
Needless to say, Tya was reluctant. “I don’t want nothing to do with this.”
That was obviously not the right response. Whitney grabbed her tightly by the arms and pulled her close. Then he whispered something ominous into her ear: “You choose, baby—him or you.”
Now Tya was gripped by fear.
When he released her, Tya returned to her table without ever saying another word to the two men. Upon arriving, she graciously handed Patrick the beer. Then, as she took her seat, she made her fateful choice. “You wanna leave?”
Patrick was understandably surprised. “But I thought you wanted to dance.”
“Yes, I guess I did, but now I have other things in mind for tonight—better things.” Tya was attempting to be subtle and seductive, in spite of the anxiety swelling up inside her.
Patrick smiled at the simple inference of another night of great sex. And Tya knew that, to this guy, her body was her only redeeming quality. She would have never fit in his world, anyway, where the women were gorgeous, intelligent, and rich. He was not her white knight; he was not the man who would take her away from this place. And that thought made it easier for her to sacrifice him.
“Um, okay,” Patrick said. “If you really wanna leave, Tya—let’s go.”
She smiled politely at her suitor, but her expression was largely vacant. With his words, she led the way out of the nightclub, confident that Patrick’s enemies were never far behind them. The attractive redhead imagined for a moment that there was enough time to get away, or that Patrick might have had enough firepower to fight off these men. But then she wondered if she should even risk it. Should she risk telling him? Was there really enough time? And even if there was, what could he possibly do about it, except get them both killed? Tya was not ready to die, and Whitney had made her choice simple enough. She had to deliver Patrick into the hands of his enemies—and that she did without another consideration.
When they finally made it to the parking lot, Tya turned abruptly and planted the most passionate of all kisses on Patrick’s lips. It was a moment of sheer ecstasy. And when it was over, after a few seconds that could have been mistaken for minutes, Patrick was mystified.
“Wow,” he uttered, faintly.
She looked deeply into his eyes, and she told him, “I’m so sorry.”
Patrick was confused. “Sorry? Why? Sorry for—”
Before he could finish his questions, or ever get an answer, Patrick heard the loud, pounding footsteps racing toward them. Instinctively, he knew something vicious was afoot, and he quickly turned around to face whatever it was. But it was too late. Before he could act, he suffered a thunderous blow to the temple, and he hit the concrete with enough force to render him unconscious.
“Where the fuck am I?”
The simple answer was the trunk of a car, Patrick realized. The broader answer, however, was not so simple. The young man’s hands were bound behind his back, and his head was throbbing far worse than any hangover he had ever felt. There was no way for him to have known how long he had been out, and there was no way for him to know where he was being taken. Patrick did not have his wallet, his cellphone, or his gun. They had taken all of those things, and he did not know how many people “they” actually were. Only one thing was clear to him: he was probably going to die.
For what it was worth, Patrick recounted the moments just before this attack. He quickly realized, though without surprise, that Tya set him up. Her kiss, as incredible as it was, was really just a diversion. Her random apology, as confusing as it was then, was her sad attempt to distance herself from what was to come. “That bitch!” Patrick shouted.
Unfortunately, even he realized that anger was going to do nothing to save him.
Patrick felt the car rolling to a stop, then the engine disengage. This must have been the end of the line, he thought. His heart began to race swiftly, and he fought like hell to overcome his burgeoning emotions. There was no way that he would have died a punk. If he was going to be executed, he told himself, then it was going to be without a single tear in his eyes.
The trunk lid opened, and there stood someone with a bright flashlight. “Ah, the motherfucka’s awake,” the man said. Patrick did not recognize the voice, but that did not matter. He knew that this man would kill him, anyway.
That man was Whitney, and soon his young friend joined him at the rear of the automobile. Whitney struck Patrick several times with the heavy aluminum flashlight, before they pulled the eastern Dreytonite from the trunk. Then they ushered him to the front of the vehicle, into the path of its headlamps, and then several yards ahead of it.
Patrick was in pain, but he still tried to notice his surroundings. They were in an unremarkable brownfield, some industrial site that looked as if it was abandoned a generation ago. There was nothing recognizable, here, among the rusting scraps of metal. Patrick did hear the sound of a distant locomotive, but in no direction could he see the bright and towering lights of the metropolis. There was no life remotely close to them; Patrick could not even see the road that his assailants used to get here. With his hands still bound, and now with Whitney’s gun at the back of his neck, Patrick marched on, believing that any hope that he had was gone, if it ever existed.
“Patrick…Patrick, I am so sorry,” The cry was loud and the voice very familiar.
The young man turned back and found Tya standing near the car. He wondered, why was she here? Why was she still spouting off apologies? Why, if she cared so much, was she not doing a damn thing to help?
“Fuck that!” Whitney exploded, and he kicked Patrick behind the knee, dropping him to the ground. “He’s gonna die right here.” Then his pointed his gun to Patrick’s head.
“No, Whit!” the teenager protested, while even grabbing his friend’s weapon. “These bastards shot my bother—my little, fuckin’ brother! He was fourteen! He didn’t have shit to do with our beef, and they shot him!” He paused for a second to restrain his grief. “I want this son of a bitch to suffer. I want him to know pain before he dies. I swear to God, I want him to hurt bad.”
Not good, Patrick thought—this is not good. It was one thing to be executed for his associations, but it was quite another to be tortured to death for John Harris’s desperate and questionable assaults on those innocent people. In the moments that the older man seemed to be considering his friend’s request, Patrick could only shake his head, praying that he would just wake from this terrible dream, because, if he did not, these two men were going to punish him in an unthinkable way.
“Okay,” Whitney told his friend. He helped Patrick to his feet, and then he began to untie him. “He’s all yours, dawg. Beat his ass.”
That was all that the teenager wanted to hear. The lad removed his shirt and his watch—and then his gun from the back of his jeans—and tossed all of it aside while he psyched himself for this fight. But the move was careless on the part of the young man; Patrick’s thoughts focused singularly on that gun, free and unattended. If he could get to that gun…
Unanticipated, the first blow came with tremendous force. “I’m gonna kill you!” The teenager continued to lay into Patrick with uncompromising rage.
Patrick took each lick like a trooper, never losing his footing. He finally realized that his hands were no longer bound and that the older guy was returning to Tya’s side at the car. This could have been a fair fight, he reasoned; he could have beaten this kid. And so, Patrick began to fight back, until it was blow for incredible blow. His heart raced and body ached, but he vowed that, if there was even the most remote chance of survival, he was going to take it. There was no way that he would die on this night—not like this.
Nevertheless, this teenager was a seasoned fighter, and those skills, coupled with his limitless anger, made him an insurmountable opponent. It was not long before he dropped his victim. Unfortunately, what he might have possessed in skills did not translate to his intuitiveness. Patrick hit the ground within arm’s reach of the firearm—and that was it. With three shots, the life of the teenager was over.
Patrick immediately climbed to his feet. There was no time for astonishment or regrets or even the cold realization of guilt. He felt all of those things, but there was no time to stop. He knew that he had to take another life if he was going to preserve his own.
Consequently, he turned to the car, the gun gripped tightly in his hand, and there he found the older man with a hostage. He was holding his gun squarely at Tya’s head, demanding that Patrick drop his own. But Patrick did not seem to be running the show now; his adrenaline was fully in control, and he was not stopping. With the gun still before him, Patrick began to approach them slowly.
“Back the fuck up! Back the fuck up—or I’m gonna kill this bitch!” Whitney shouted.
Patrick Dutton was totally despondent. He might have heard Tya’s screams and the man’s shouts, but he was unfazed. These were largely inaudible sounds now. His singular intention was his own survival, and to accomplish that, he told himself, he would have to kill this man. There was no choice.
“Fuck this!” Whitney cried out. He put a bullet through Tya’s skull, but before he could turn the gun on Patrick, the eastern Dreytonite fired two shots of his own.
Just that quickly, it was all over. Patrick dropped the gun in disbelief. Everyone was dead, and yet he had found a way to survive. His heart could not stop racing, and his body seemed to be in shock; however, none of that matter now. He had to get help, and he had to do so quickly. Patrick raced to the car and searched for a cellular phone, perhaps even his own, if these people had not been so daft as to keep it. When he found one—not his own, of course—he placed the call for help.
“John…John, it’s Dutton…Dude, something’s happened,” he uttered into the phone. Then he paused. “I am…I am gonna need your help.”
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