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Ghosts (18+ violence, language, adult themes)
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Simon Toews
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 15, 2019 8:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Simon stared at Anna, heartbroken for her but also for himself. They had a son. Somewhere out there was a boy he'd never known. His flesh and blood. It took a moment to process. Anna wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, pushing away the tears that streamed down her cheeks. She ran her fingers through those red locks, pushing them behind her ear and regaining her composure.

"They patched me up, got me healed and the next thing I knew, I was out on the street." Anna told him. "No...taunting. No goodbyes. Nothing. Just went to sleep and woke up in an alley in middle of nowhere. I tried to find him. To rescue him from that son of a bitch. But he'd gone. The old factory was empty. Completely cleared out. I spent the next 2 years trying...but after a while, I had to give up."

"Jesus, Anna..." Simon muttered, reaching out and clasping her hand. "Why didn't you come find me?"
he asked gently.

Those glossy green eyes turned up to him. "I didn't want to drag you back into it. I thought you'd be better off not knowing. You were safe."

"We could have gone after him together." He insisted. "Taken him down and gotten our son. We could have had a life with him."

"Simon. How? Storm whatever fortress Falk built for himself? Have you kill a dozen or so men or die trying?"

"If I had to." He said it as if it were common sense. Anna sighed, her face falling into a frown and shook her head.

"I didn't want that for you." She said. Her brow creased, images of their escape had never left. "You know...when I saw what you did to Stills...and then to that...that man...I was scared."

"I'd never have hurt you." He said.

Anna smiled sadly, a shake of her head loosening a few strands of those red tresses. "I wasn't scared for me."

"They had it coming." He insisted, a darkness in his countenance.

Anna's eyes closed, a bitter laugh escaping her. "See...that is exactly what I'm talking about. I didn't want you to become...THAT. This cold...distant...killer. You're better than that."

Simon seemed confused, his hand leaving hers. No. Not confused offended. "You don't know that. You don't know what I've done."

"Simon..."

"No. You want to know who I am? You think I'm the good guy? This is what I do. People come for me and I make goddamn sure they don't get a second chance. I've taken down *** empires, Anna. I've killed so many men I lost count."

"Yeah?" She asked him. "And how's that worked out for you?"

"Pretty damn good." he said defensively.

"And there's always another one. Isn't there?" She said quietly. "Always more violence. Always more death. Always more blood on your hands."

"I do what I have to."

"Oh, ***." She said. "You know what happens when you surround yourself with violence? When you go out looking for the next fight? And the next. And the next? And the next?" Anna asked him. "You find it or it finds you."

"You don't know that." He shook his head obstinately.

"Oh, I don't?" She nodded bitterly.

"They came after you and me. I took care of it. They killed a terrified woman, just trying to escape her piece of *** abusive husband. And I took care of it. I had a girlfriend and they came for her. Took care of it. They took my..." His voice caught in his throat. "They murdered my daughter. My sweet, baby girl. And you know what I did? I wiped out every. Single. Last. One of those mother ***, and I'd do it again in a *** heartbeat."

Anna softened visibly at the mention of Cici. "I didn't know you had a daughter."

"Her name was Cici. And in a world full of darkness, that kid was a *** light brighter than the sun. She was innocent and she was good, and they killed her like she was nothing and made me watch. All because I helped some scumbag criminal's wife. So I did the same to them. I sent those bastards screaming to hell. Because THAT is who I am."

Anna blinked, quiet a long moment. "I'm sorry." She said. "I'm sorry that happened to you. MY heart sincerely breaks for you, Simon."

"I tried, Anna." he said sadly. "I really did. But I didn't know anything else. When we got separated, I wound up running with a couple crews, getting into that life...but when I tried to get out, something always just pulled me back in."

"Don't you see?" She asked him gently. "You went right back into it. Running with crimelords and criminals...You could have gotten your daughter away from all that. You could have gotten help. For Cici, for that woman you mentioned. You could have run. Gotten somewhere safe. And I'm not saying you're to blame for her death. But you chose this life. You chose to surround yourself with violence and death and darkness. I've been there, Simon. I know. It's all we had. But that life only begets more pain. More blood. You need to break that cycle or one day, it is going to catch up and consume you and everyone you hold dear."

He didn't know how to respond. The defensive part of his brain wanted to contest it, but she was right. Every single time something bad had happened, it was because he'd exacerbated a situation into a needless, bloody conflict and it ended up hurting the people around him. Paige had implied as much.

"You can be better." Anna told him. "You can be SO much more. I know you have it in you. You always have. You just have to see it in yourself, like I do. You have to want it."

"I can't." He said simply, his voice breaking.

"Simon." She said, taking his rough hands in her's. "Look at us."

She stared into his eyes, her face marred by scars that seemed dim compared to the ones people couldn't' see. "Look at what what he made us. How much more do we have to give before we stop letting him control our lives?"

Something in the core of him ached. It sounded so easy when she said it. He wanted so very much to believe it was possible to well and truly let go. To put Falk and everything he'd taken from them behind. But he couldn't. The hatred, for Jakob Falk and for himself was too much. He didn't deserve peace.

Anna could see it in his eyes, sadness settling in as she released his hands. She'd never give up on him, but he had to want her help if she was ever able to make a difference.

"Do me a favor?" She asked.

Simon glanced up to her.

"Stay." She said. "Just a few days. And keep an open mind. Think about what I said."

Simon nodded slowly. "Okay."

"Yeah!" That smile returned, bringing out his own. There was still some kind of love in those green eyes. Some affection. "It really is good to see your face again."

The weary fighter ran a hand through his short cropped hair. "You have no idea."
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2019 11:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The snow-covered city sprawled outside the window of Falk's office, a crackling fire giving warmth while outside, it was frigid. Was hunched over his desk, going over reports of some kind. The sort of business Miles found terribly dull and uninteresting. He was a physical creature, with not much of a mind for numbers or the complicated ins and outs of running an operation like Mr. Falk's. His role was simple. Go there. Hurt that person, or bring back information. He didn't need a degree to do that. He'd had his education growing up under Falk's watch.
Ruby sat, her Italian Leather booted foot propped upon a vintage, ornately carved coffee table as she sharpened the little flip-out knife in her hand. The whetstone scraped along the sharp edge of that blade, ending with a "shink!" each time. The sound was beginning to grate on him. Miles knew she did it on purpose. If one didn't know the truth, they'd think it was almost flirtatious. But the reality was that there were rules to working for Jakob Falk. In-fighting amongst his inner circle was forbidden. No matter the ill will. Those who broke the peace paid for it dearly. So, they skated the fine line. Passive aggressively poking and prodding each other in small ways. Part of Miles thought it was in the attempt to get him to slip up and try something stupid. Give her permission to put him down.

Miles was elsewhere today. His mind on the blonde pop star he'd be seeing tonight. On things far more exciting and fun than standing around in dreary silence. The scribbling of pen mixed with the ticking clock and the "shhhhhhhink!" of Ruby's knife. Over and over again, seemingly onto infinity.

Falk cleared his throat and closed his ledger finally., leaning back in his chair, hand going to his forehead as he sighed. Heavy weighed the head that wore the crown, Miles supposed. He turned to his boss.

"Alright?" he asked.

Falk swiveled around to face him, eyes upturning to the young man. "Mr. Grieger is short again."

Miles knew what that implied, what would need to be done. Those who didn't come through on their debts faced a varying scale of retribution. Jonathan Grieger was a wealthy CEO of a failing company. Falk had seen to it that he had the funds to keep going...for a bit of a kickback. Thus far, the good Mr. Grieger was not living up to his end of the bargain. Twice before, he'd failed to pay up on time. This was strike 3.

"You and Ruby." Falk nodded to the assassin on the couch. Those predatory, hawk-like eyes glancing up from her blade, sweeping that a bit of hair from the short bob behind her piercing-riddled ear.. "I want you to go talk to him. And if there are any issues...make it quick. He's a friend. We owe him as much."

Friend. A swift death was the mercy being Jakob Falk's friend earned you. Ruby closed the knife and slipped it into her back pocket, standing up from the couch. She was always game for a hit. But, Miles...he had a date. Falk saw the hesitance on his young protege's face, his head tilting curiously.

"Something troubling you, my boy?" He asked him, those eyes burning into his very soul,that laser focused intensity that leaving him feeling utterly exposed..

Miles snapped out of it and shook his head. "No. No...just...um. I had a thing."

"A *thing*?" Falk's eyes narrowed slightly.

"He wants to go off and plow the Barbie doll." Ruby smirked, pulling on her suit jacket. Miles shot her a dangerous look. Dangerous for her...and himself.

"Miss Bradley." Jakob said and nodded slowly, rising from his chair. "You've become quite close, is that right?"

"Yes,sir." Miles said, his nerves on-edge, a terror growing at what Falk might do.

"That's good." Falk smiled to the young man, patting him lightly on the shoulder. "In this life, we must take what pleasures and joys we can. They're so easily snatched away."

Something about the way he said that chilled Miles to the bone. Falk walked to the window, hands clasped behind him as he looked out over his domain. "I worry though, that you have misplaced your priorities. Ms. Bradley has not yet outlived her usefulness to us, Miles. Toews lives. Until we can dispose of him, he is a danger. We will need...leverage. The girl is that leverage."

Miles smirked, putting on a false bravado. "Didn't seem too tough to me."

Falk turned to him, he did not look amused. "You were lucky. You caught the man off guard. Next time, you won't be so fortunate."

"I can handle him." Miles was almost insulted, his eyes narrowing.

"You aren't listening. Do you have any idea what Simon Toews IS?"

Even the LOOK on the man's face had Miles take a step back. He just shook his head in response. He'd heard bits and pieces about Simon Toews. The boy who'd dominated in the ring. The one who'd escaped. Falk had done a good job of keeping the rumors and legend at bay, lest they inspire some other misguided kid to try the same. Now, though, he was confirming every rumor Miles had ever heard.

"He's a bomb waiting to go off. He's the storm that leaves ruin in his wake. You have no idea what he is capable of."

Miles had never heard Falk speak like this about someone. The man was always so self assured and confident in his untouchability. Falk feared nothing, but he was afraid now.

"Toews was like you once. Groomed for the position you now hold. A man of singular purpose. Focused. Determined. He's brought men of immense power to their knees and wiped entire empires off the map." Falk looked him in the eye and spoke quietly, but gravely. "We live in a world of gods and monsters and the only thing I truly fear is Simon Toews unleashed. Do you understand me?"

Miles swallowed hard and nodded. "Yessir."

"You would be a fool to underestimate him." Falk said. He reached out and placed his hands on the young man's shoulders, looking him hard in the eye.

"You'll continue your relationship with her. Keep her as close as you wish. But...when the time comes, I expect you to do your duty.." That steely gaze never left him. Falk was capable of terrible things. With a word, he could see Miles dead in the gutter or just flat out disappeared. As if he'd never existed. He hated the idea of using Tessa. To make her a pawn in this game just felt wrong. She was sweet. Innocent. She deserved better.

"You will call her on your way. Reschedule, yes?" Falk asked him, though it wasn't a question. Miles nodded again, slowly. "And then. You will go and do your job."

Miles pushed the doubt deep down as he'd done many times in his young life. With one last nod to Falk, he turned and walked out into the hallway to join Ruby.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2019 12:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Joan Jett blared in Tessa's dressing room, the blonde bopping along to "Bad Reputation" as she dressed for an interview. Simon had broadened her musical tastes quite a bit and lately she noted a different style creeping into the songs she wrote. It caused arguments with the label, but she was determined to take control of her own life.

The music was interrupted by the incoming call, Tessa getting annoyed before she saw Miles' name on the screen. A smirk crossed her face as she picked it up. "New phone, who dis?"

Miles snickered. "Hey, Tess." She could hear the sound of a car engine in the background, he must have been busy.

"This is. Who is this?" She said playfully. On the other end, Miles grinned.

"That really, really...ridiculously handsome guy from the other night. Remember?" He played along.

"Mm....no. Doesn't ring a bell."

"Alright, alright. I'm the toothless hick who wouldn't leave you alone." He said, pretending to clarify.

"Oh, MILES!" She chuckled. "What's up?"

"Listen, uh...I've got some bad news, babe." He said. "I can't make it tonight."

"You're standing ME up?" She said with mock offense. "I'm KIND of a big deal, you know?"

A rueful smile crossed his lips. "Yeah, so I've heard. I'm sorry. I hate to bail on you, but...I gotta work."

To say she was disappointed was an understatement. She could only guess as to what that "work" required of him. Whatever it was, she was certain it wasn't pleasant. Still, she kept a stiff upper lip. She liked the boy. Something about her putting her at ease. He was the perfect blend of dangerous and sweet that just hooked her in, made her want more. "Well, you'll just have to owe me a night out, then won't you?"

Miles breathed out a laugh. "Guess I will. Alright, I gotta go, but I'll call you later, yeah?"

"You better." She said before hanging up.

Miles stared at the phone in his hand a long moment. He could feel Ruby's eyes on him, that mocking little smirk. "Oh, Miles, you big knight in shining armor" She said in a high pitched, mocking voice. "Let me come over there and suck your cock and *** you on my Disney princess bed sheets!"

"Shut up." He glared at her, no playfulness to him at all.

"You're *** disgusting." Ruby said. "What is she, like 12?"

"17." Miles responded, an annoyed tone in his voice.

"Yeah? You like 'em young, huh?" She smirked. The girl was only two years his junior, but she loved to push his buttons. "Tell me...what's it like getting Toews' sloppy seconds?"

"I said shut the *** up." Miles snapped at her. "You say another word about her, I'll *** kill you."

Ruby scoffed, that taunting little sneer on her face. She pulled the wheel, turning down the long road to Grieger's mansion. "Yeah. That'll be the day."

The car rolled to a stop out front of the posh estate. Ruby slid a clip into her H&K USP compact, slipping it into a holster mounted on the back of her belt. "Put your game face on. Don't need you going all pussy in there."

"I know my role." He said simply.

Ruby side-eyed him. "Yeah. We'll see."

Once inside, they were greeted by a doorman. A tall, polite man in his sixties. Every bit the stereotype. He ushered them into the parlor to wait. Ruby immediately plopped down onto a huge, comfy looking couch, her feet unceremoniously propping up on a disgustingly expensive looking coffee table. Miles looked about the pristine, white room, scanning over the sparse, modern decor. They must have spent a fortune on so little, he thought. People like this made him sick.

"Hello." Came the voice from the room's expansive archway. Johnathan Grieger was a handsome man, y'all, in fantastic shape. His dark brown hair kept short and perfectly coiffed. He had a five o'clock shadow that Miles was certain was deliberate. The loose, linen shirt exposed the hint of chest hair rising from beneath. Everything was image. Everything was false. The man was rich, yet he couldn't fulfill his financial obligations to Falk? ***. It was nothing less than pure, stubborn impudence. And Jakob Falk did not stand for disrespect.

Miles glanced over, his jaw tightening. "Mr. Grieger. Good afternoon."

The rich man made his way over, shaking hands with the goon Falk had sent, making certain to squeeze extra hard. This was his house and he would not be intimidated in his home. But when the young punk squeezed back, it was like his hand was in a vice. It took every ounce of restraint to not flinch, let alone yelp in pain.

Those piercing blue eyes stared at him, Miles letting him know exactly who was going to be in charge here. A wave of relief rushed over Grieger when The boy released him from his grasp.

His face dropped at Ruby, lazily reclining on the couch and those boots on his furniture. "Excuse me, young miss?"

Ruby shot him a narrow eyed glance, the corner of her mouth screwing up into smirk that just chilled him. He thought better of asking her to remove her feet from the table.

"Can I fetch either of you a drink?" He course corrected, trying to reclaim what scraps of dignity he had left.

Miles picked up a round, perfectly smooth stone ball from a decorative glass bowl. It's surface was polished, black and white marbling throughout. What purpose did this even serve? How much money had the supposed millionaire pissed away on this thing. He turned his gaze to the man, staring a moment before shaking his head slowly.

"Mr. Falk is very unhappy with you." He said quietly.

Grieger put on something vaguely resembling remorse, his head hanging low. "Ah. Yes. I apologize. Money is rather...tight these days."

Miles cracked a grin, approaching the man. "Is it?" He looked around the room seems like you're doing pretty well for yourself to me."

Those dark eyes rose to meet Miles'. "Appearances are not always what they seem. I've dealt with labor difficulties and the constant badgering of shareholders. Not to mention renovations and the bloody, goddamned lawsuits. Now, I will pay what I owe to your employer. But it will take a while. I have to move some things around. I just ask Mr. Falk to be patient."

"Mr Falk has been patient. Time and again. He's tired of waiting." Miles said, locking eyes with him.

"I don't have the bloody money! What do want me to do? Pull it out of thin air?" Grieger insisted.

Ruby chuckled to herself. "Aw, would you look at that? He thinks we're here for money."

Grieger's face paled noticeably, his dark eyes flicking back and forth between them. "Now, now, now..this doesn't need to turn so grim. I can grab my checkbook-"

"You had your chance to pay up." Miles shook his head. "No more chances."

Grieger set his jaw, a grim look upon his face. "I had hoped we could be civilized about this. That we could settle this as gentlemen."

Four armed men, clearly mercs, stepped out behind from the two exits. They wore tactical vests and carried automatic weapons. A smirk formed on the millionaire's face as Ruby shot up to her feet, no longer wearing her trademark grin. "But you wouldn't have that. Would you?" Grieger said triumphantly.

Miles glared, his adrenaline suddenly flowing, his blood pounding in his ears. Ruby eyed the mercs one by one, calculations and trajectories running wild through her head. Miles glanced back at her, those sharp, alert eyes of Ruby's connecting with his. An entire conversation had in an instant, silent, between the two of them. As one they moved, Miles grabbing Grieger with one arm and pulling a pistol from behind with the other while Ruby drew her blade and let it fly without looking. The merc's opened up, perforating Grieger's chest with a burst of bullets and knocking Miles onto his back. Ruby's blade sank into a merc's throat before he could get a shot off, but the man beside him let loose. Ruby was already dropping dlow behind the couch as the bullets tore through the upholstery, shredding the couch like tissue paper.

Miles leaned up, still behind his gasping, bleeding human shield. Grieger was dead, he just didn't know it yet. Miles opened fire on his foes, making them duck for cover as the bullets ripped into the drywall, sending dust and debris flying about the formerly pristine room.

Ruby's remaining enemy turned his sights on Miles, the younger man laying back and aiming as best he could with his vision upside down. Ruby was already on the move, propelling herself off the coffee table, over Miles and Grieger, and dropped into a roll. Mile's pistol discharged one shot, two shots, three, connecting with the lone merc's armored stomach, chest and then finally, connecting with his thigh. Ruby came up on one knee, drawing another blade just as the remaining mercenaries came back for the kill. She redirected the first man's weapon skyward. She stabbed upwards through the back of his arm, slicing through flesh, muscle and severing his brachial artery. The other wheeled around on her, ready to blast her full of holes. Ruby ducked under his bleeding, agonized comrade's arm and behind him just as the trigger was pulled. The force of the gunfire, knocked them both against the wall, her human shield's body armor absorbing the burst of gunfire. She grabbed his arm, still clutching the rifle and forced him to fire upon his teammate.

The last remaining mercenary, stumbled back against a pillar as Ruby ripped the blade free. Before he could recover and fire upon her, she stabbed upward through his jaw, a gurgling scream rent from the man. Ruby glared at him, blood spattered and vicious, and then struck the handle of the knife with her palm, slamming his jaw shut and driving the blade up into his skull. The mercenary dropped, his lifeless body twitching involuntarily.

Miles ripped Grieger's body from him. The man was still alive, gasping and wheezing. Miles checked himself for wounds, finding only Grieger's blood staining his clothes. The mercenary Ruby had stabbed through the arm clutched his wound, bleeding freely. The androgynous assassin took up a rifle and put him down with the merciless pull of a trigger.

"You good?" She asked Miles, businesslike.

"Five by five." He responded, glancing back to Grieger. The mortally wounded man was crawling to the couch, leaving a bloody trail behind him, with a great deal of effort, managing to prop himself up and lean back against it. His eyes flicked wildly about. Everything he'd planned, every bit of power he'd THOUGHT he had was up in smoke. Miles knelt before him.

"John? Can you hear me?" He asked. "John."

Those eyes snapped to him. Miles frowned, watching him gasping his last breaths. "This could have been avoided. I'm sorry it had to end this way."
There was a sudden panic in his eyes then...but he wasn't looking at Miles. The young fighter glanced over his shoulder and back at Ruby. Behind her was a woman, her blue eyes wide with terror, and behind her, a boy no more than 10.

"Daddy!" he screamed.

Miles heart sank. This was not part of the plan. The family was supposed to be gone. Ruby whipped around as the mother ushered her son down the hall as fast as she could. Ruby didn't think. She just shouldered the rifle and stormed after them.

"Ruby!" Miles called after her. "RUBY NO!"

The sound the rifle burst echoed through the cavernous mansion...followed by a pair of thuds. Miles stared in wide-eyed horror at what had just happened. Ruby, though...she thought nothing of it. Miles tried to control his heartbeat and breathing.

Calm down. Find your center. Don't panic.

Grieger finally died with a bottomless, unfathomable sadness upon his face. He'd watched his family murdered just before he finally slipped away.

Ruby regarded Miles coldly. "You going to sit there and gawk or are we getting the *** out of here?"

Miles despised her more than ever in that moment. The way she looked at him was so cold, emotionless, like she was reading his mind. For a moment, he thought she might use that weapon on him. He could see she was considering it, her finger leaving the guard and hovering over the trigger.

"I said-"

"I heard what you said." He snapped. Now was not the time. "Let's get the *** out of here."
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2019 5:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Anna woke up before the sun rose, as she always did. She showered and dressed in a lavender colored sweater and faded old blue jeans, readying to wake Simon. She had to admit a playfully antagonistic eagerness to wake her surely spoiled and lazy city-dweller old friend to acclimate him to life here. Anna pulled her hair back into a ponytail and stepped out of the room.

"Simon?" She called out, opening his door a crack. But Simon didn't answer. She gave the door a little push, stepping inside. The bed was made and he simply wasn't there. A chill of disappointment ran through her then. Had he really gone already? That was when it hit her. The smell of coffee.

She descended the staircase and walked into the kitchen. Simon was stood at the counter, a dark grey sweater clinging to his slim, athletic form as he poured cream into his cup. Anna had to admit, she was impressed. Her old friend glanced over his shoulder. "Morning. Coffee?"

A smile tugged at her lips, she walked in. "Please." Anna made her way to the table, sliding into a seat.

"You're up early." She noted.

Simon sighed, pouring for her.. "Yeah. I know." He said with a chuckle. "I spent some time on a farm a year or so ago. Got used to the early mornings. Now I can't sleep past 4 or 5 most days."

Anna narrowed her eyes in mock suspicion. "Man, what IS your life?"

"Chaos?" He responded, turning around with their cups and walked over, setting it front of her.

"How'd you like it?" She asked.

"Honestly?" he said. "Best time I've had...while it lasted."

Anna didn't need clarification of what probably happened. She could guess.

"Having that kind of structure and...purpose every day was the most peaceful I've ever felt." Simon said, taking a sip from his cup.

"What?" She feigned offense, tucking a loose strand of red behind her ear, "Our time in and out of motels, running from our captor WASN'T peaceful?"

That little smirk crossed his lips. "Not exactly."

Anna put her hand to her chest and gasped. "I'm heartbroken."

Simon snickered and shook his head. "How the hell'd you end up out here?"

Anna eyed him over the rim of her mug. "Our mutual friend. Was still kinda busted up from...well. I was in bad shape. Heard tell of people going to men of God in their moments of need. Mulcahy helped me out. Guy was a wreck after what happened to you."

Simon pitied the old priest. He never wanted that for him

"I think he was just happy to have someone visit and confide in him again. Someone who hadn't even heard the rumors." Her finger trailed along the ceramic rim, thinking back. "Anyway. He got me healthy again. But once he figured out where I'd came from something changed. He was scared. Took a while before he told me about you."

"You tell him about us?" Simon asked.

"Not specifically." She admitted. "Wasn't even sure it WAS you, and I didn't want to pry."

Anna sipped her coffee and sighed. "Anyway. He told me I couldn't stay. That being with him was dangerous. But he knew a guy out west, farmer with a wife. They owned this land. Good people. Took me in gave me a home in exchange for my help around the place. When I got old enough, I started bringing home what he called 'strays'."

"People in trouble." Simon pieced it together. "And these people, they didn't mind this?"

Anna shrugged. "Not really. They saw how much it meant to me."

Simon grinned. "So, you got them hidden around here, or what? I'd love to meet them."

Anna's eyes turned downward. " Would if you could. They were older, he was sick. Six years after I showed up, he passed, and after that...well. She wasn't far behind. Left me everything. Time went on and I developed a bit of a rep."

"The savior of the ass-end of nowhere." Simon said theatrically.

Anna snorted, finishing off her cup. "I do what I can."

Simon couldn't help but smile. Her life had become real, whole. Something he'd spent decades chasing and never could quite get ahold of. "Are you happy?"

Anna looked around, catching sight of the orange sun peeking out of the horizon, a warm smile forming upon her lips. "Yeah. Yeah, Simon, I am." She returned her attention to him. "Are you?"

He knew damn well she knew the answer. His silence was all the response she needed. "Come on." she said, pushing off from the table. "Let's get to work."
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2019 12:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jakob was talking to some politician Ruby didn't recognize when she arrived. She didn't keep up with such things, nor did she care who the man was. They were pawns. Objects in Falk's grand game to be moved and utilized as he saw fit. Disposable.

Falk caught sight of her and immediately excused his guest, shaking his hand with that winning, fake smile before sending him on his way. Ruby's predatory eyes followed him coldly out the door before returning to her boss. Falk leaned back against his desk, smiling pleasantly to her.

"So?" He said.

Ruby raised her brows. "Done." she told him. "Son of a bitch laid a trap for us. Knew we'd be coming. He had some boys waiting for us."

"Given that you're here talking to me, I assume it went well." Falk said.

Ruby nodded, screwing her mouth a bit. "It got messy. Wife and kid saw it."

That didn't sit well with him. It wasn't panic on his face, but there was concern there. "And?"

"They won't be talking." She assured him. He knew exactly what she meant by it.

"Unfortunate." He said. "But necessary. Where's Miles?"

"Said he had something to take care of." She said distastefully. "Jakob...I don't get what you see in that kid. He's weak, and that girl is only making him weaker. Sooner or later he's gonna be a liability."

Falk's expression darkened. "The boy is loyal. He's earned his place at the table."

"He shies away from what needs to be done. He hesitated. That *** should NEVER have been able to call in his mercs. And when the kid and Grieger's wife showed up? You should have seen the look on his face." She said. "I almost put him down right then and there."

"You will not lay a finger on him unless told to." Falk said. "I have use for the boy. And I will not have you fowling up my plans, do you understand me?"

"Jakob-"

"No!" Falk slammed his palms on the desktop and stood up, suddenly cutting an imposing figure. "You do not ask questions. You do as your told. As does the boy. If and when his usefulness to me is at an end, then...and ONLY then will he be cut loose. Until then...you will not touch him. Is that understood?"

Ruby didn't like it. Nor did she like the way he was talking to her. But she was aware of the hierarchy. She respected it. Finally, she nodded.

Falk turned and walked to his window, calming himself. "That will be all."

Ruby watched him a moment. Miles would get him killed someday, she thought. And it would be all his fault.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 12, 2019 10:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Her mother and Tony had gone for the night. Since Miles put them in their place, they gave Tessa a wide berth. She preferred it that way. Tony's eyes stayed off of her when she was around and her mother barely spoke to her at all. The conversation was not missed.

She sat in her room, strumming her acoustic guitar. Tessa was learning a new song she wanted to cover, her fingers plucking the strings slowly. Her voice lowered a bit, smooth and warm. "Tell me somethin' boy..."

She ran her tongue across her lips. "Aren't you tired tryin' to fill that void?"

The song put images of both Miles and Simon in her head. "Or do you need more...ain't it hard keeping it so hardcore?"

She took in a breath, eyes closing slowly. " I'm fall-ing...and in the good times, I find myself longing...for change."

Her eyes opened then, looking out the window at the chilly city. "And in the bad times, I fear myself..."

Before she could belt out the chorus, a knock came from the door to the hall. Instantly she was taken out of the song, a grimace on her face. She hated interruptions. With a grumble, she rose off the bed and walked down the penthouse steps.

As she peered out the peephole, her heart leapt. Tessa threw open the door lunged forth, her arms wrapping around Miles's neck. "Hey, you!"

He didn't seem prepared, stumbling back and barely managing to avoid crashing to the ground as they collided. As she pulled back, she didn't see a man happy to be there. No, he looked pale. There was a pain in his eyes she didn't expect. A far cry from the fearless, cocky boy she'd been spending time with. "Miles? What's wrong?"

A voice deep inside of her was certain he'd come to end things. She almost didn't want him to answer. His eyes finally met hers. Something had changed in him. Something was broken.

"Miles?" She said again, her voice small and afraid. Those strong arms wrapped around her and pulled her close, his mouth pressing to her's. The kiss was desperate, needy and passionate. Whatever was on his mind, he needed to escape.

Tessa was a bit confused at first, but eventually instinct took over and she reciprocated. They backed into the room, furiously making out, hands tugging at clothing, baring flesh as they went across the lavish penthouse. The moment they hit the big, cozy couch, all her worries and concerns went away. She'd worry about that look in his eye another time. For now, it would just be about them. Coming together in a moment of need that was solely for themselves.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 13, 2019 1:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Anna stepped into the stables, finding Simon already hard at work. A brush was in his hand as he groomed one of her horses. The man never ceased to amaze. She tugged her brown suede, wool-lined coat shut and crossed her arms watching him, a crooked smile on her face.

"Well. Look at you." She said.

Simon glanced back at her, grinning. "Hey."

"You look right at home." She told him, walking over to the horse and running her hand along its neck before giving it a pat.

"One of my jobs when I was on that farm." He explained. "One of my favorites."

"You're good with him." Anna said. "You ride?"

Simon made a face and wavered his hand, so so. "Let's just say I won't be entering any competitions any time soon."

The grin that formed on Anna's lips unsettled him. She stepped past him and the horse to a chestnut and white mare, leading her out from the stall. "Come on, Nevy. That's a girl." She cooed to the giant beast.

Simon cocked a brow up at her. "Going for a ride?"

"Yes." She said. "We are. Saddle Brutus up. Let's go."

She took a sort of sick enjoyment at the look of slight panic in his eyes them. She wanted to see just what other fun secrets her old friend was hiding. "I mean..." he said. "There's a lot of work to do..."

Anna rolled her eyes, pulling herself up onto horse. "All work and no play. Come on, Sally. Let's go!"

With a "Yah!", she kicked the beast into motion, galloping out of the barn into the snowy field. Simon watched her as she went, a rueful look on his face. "Yeah. This is a good idea..." He muttered sarcastically and pulled himself onto Brutus's back and chased after her.

Snowy chunks kicked up behind him as he pursued after Anna. Despite the chill in the air whipping by him , it didn't bother Simon. The property was huge, Anna leading him across the sprawling snow covered fields. As he pulled beside her, she glanced over with that crooked little grin on her face. Simon couldn't help but laugh. She was loving this.

Suddenly, she broke off to the right, Simon struggling to follow suit. Brutus made an annoyed sound as he turned. Simon swore he shot him a dirty look over his shoulder before taking off again.

Anna and Nevy shot into the woods, following a trail. She'd clearly run this path before, ducking under twigs and branches before they even came close. Simon barely escaped getting clotheslined by a branch.

"Heads up!" Anna called out teasingly behind her. The pair of them tore through the wooded trail, Simon catching up alongside her. He had to admit, it was exhilarating. Anna's face was aglow. This was where she belonged. Finally they burst out of the tree line, heading up a hill. When they finally came to a stop, Simon looked out over a vast canyon. Winding and impossibly deep into the earth, a brilliant display of reds and browns, forged by millennia upon millennia.

Simon's breath left him in a mist, the sight overwhelming him. He'd never seen anything quite like it.

"Helluva view, isn't it?" Anna said breathlessly. Her green eyes were shining, possibly from the cold, but also the sight. "This is where I used to come when I first came here. It just made me feel like, everything we went through was just a blip in time and everything would pass. It gave me hope."

Simon was happy for her. She deserved something like this. Looking out into the winding valleys and cliff faces, he completely understood. "It's beautiful."

"Yeah," She said with a wistful smile. "It is."

For a moment they sat and took in the splendor of it all. Soon after, they were riding back at a leisurely pace. "You ride well," she told him.

"Not as good as you." Simon snorted. "When did that start?"

"I was about...17 I think?" She looked to him. "Sam and Maggie saw how much I liked the horses, so Maggie started taking me out."

"Well, you clearly took to it." He said.

Anna laughed bitterly. "Took my fair share of falls. Got tossed a couple times. Spent about a month with a busted arm thanks to one particularly ornery horse."

"Eeesh..." Simon responded through clenched teeth.

"Yeah. Not fun." She said. "Brutus likes you. I think you made a friend."

Simon chuckled "Yeah, right. I think he was about to dump my ass into the canyon."

Anna rolled her eyes. "Oh, he was not. You're pretty good. I half thought you'd have him walking backwards half the way there."

"No, I'm not THAT bad." He snickered. "He's a lot of animal to move around."

"Yeah." Anna smiled. "He's my big boy."

"You ever miss the city life?" Simon asked.

Anna shrugged. "Not really. The city's a place of bad memories for me. Out here, it's peaceful. Safe."

He could understand that. How different would his life have been if he'd found her earlier? How much pain would he have avoided if he'd just left with Cici?

"Plus, you'd probably piss a few people off racing a nearly one ton animal down Main Street."

"Yeah, there's always that." she laughed.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 13, 2019 10:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tessa lay, pressed up against Miles' side, her head resting upon his chest, just listening to his heartbeat. Her fingers trailed along a scar along his ribcage, one of many that rose here and there upon his body. A rough thumb stroked her shoulder gently. For how aggressive and passionate the night had started, now he was incredibly tender. Those blue eyes peered up at him, taking him in. Miles stared up at the ceiling, looking lost in thought.

What was going through that head? What had charged him up so much that he needed this so badly? It took a moment for him to sense her gaze, his eyes flicking down to the blonde wrapped in his arm. A warm smile spread across his face, the mask back on. His lips pressed to her forehead. "Hey, there."

Tessa's eyes closed, a contented smile upon her lips. "Hi."

"You okay?" He asked her.

Tessa rolled over, her arms draping over his chest, her chin upon her hands. "Mmhm." She nodded. "Are you?"

Miles made an odd face, a little scoff leaving him. "Yeah, I'm good."

"Good." She grinned. "Can I ask you something?"

"Shoot."

Tessa licked her lips, working up to the question. "Not that I'm not completely satisfied with it...but...what brought this on?"

That smile of his faltered just a hair. It was almost imperceptible, but she caught it. He mulled it over in his head before finally speaking. "I just had one of those days...where nothing goes quite right. I wanted something...perfect."

Her brows rose. "Perfect, huh?" She smirked. "Lil' ol' me?"

Miles grinned and shrugged. "Eh. You're alright."

She swatted his chest. "Dick."

Miles chuckled and adjusted his position, getting more comfortable. Tessa rested her cheek upon his chest. "Is everything alright?"

"I think so." he nodded. "Just a bad day."

Tessa's brow furrowed in concern. "You'd tell me if it wasn't...right?"

Miles' fingers ran through her hair. "Yeah...Yeah."

Nothing in his tone exactly convinced her, but he clearly didn't want to talk about it. She lay there and tried to quiet her mind. She didn't know what he did for Jakob Falk, but she was certain it had something to do with all of this.
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 15, 2019 7:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Paige tried the number once again. For days, she tried to get ahold of Simon, but the man was a ghost. A long talk with Coleman left her ill at-ease with how they'd parted. Words had been said that stuck in her head. He didn't deserve them, least of all from her. In her heart, she knew the kind of man Jakob Falk was. The rumors persisted for decades as he built his stranglehold over the city.

Over the intervening days since his departure, she was able to piece together what must have happened. Fall played Simon like a fiddle and she, with her coworkers, was a pawn in this game. It had worked. Simon was separated from those closest to him. God knew where he'd gone to hide and regroup, but it didn't take a psychic to figure out what would come next. War would break out in the streets, and Simon would be leading the charge. It was only a matter of time.

Contacting Toews was an exercise in futility. Corrine's shoulders sank with a heavy sigh, the phone pressed to her forehead as she shut her eyes. In her fantasies, she could convince him not to go through with it. She could spare him more pain and blood. She knew better. Once Simon Toews set his mind to something, he saw it through to the bitter, blood soaked end. Even if she didn't, he wasn't picking up.

"Is Teen popstar, Tessa Bradley off the market?" She heard from the television. Corrine's attention was pulled to the screen, some gossipy garbage entertainment news show showing video of the girl singing on stage.

"Sources have spotted her with a mystery man getting cozy at popular night spots throughout the city for the past few weeks. But who is he?"

Paige's breath caught in her throat. The boy with her looked just like a young Simon. She had to rewind and pause the image. It was the eyes. She knew those eyes. As quick as she could she pulled up his number, listening to the ring anxiously.

"Pick up. Come on, Toews. Pick up the *** phone!"

"This is Toews. Leave one." She'd heard that damn voicemail message a hundred times. Left messages that were never returned.

"Toews, it's Paige. You need to call me back! I know I *** up, you need to hear this! Call me back."

She ended the call, knowing full well he wouldn't. Her head was spinning. She needed more. She needed something else. Corrine went to the first name that made sense.

""Yello?"

"Jordan." She said as the girl who worked as the clerk and bookkeeper at the agency picked up. "I'm sending you a picture. I need an ID."

"I don't exactly have all my files..."

"Just do what you can. Please. This is important."

It was a long shot, but Jordan knew her ***, and research was like her drug. She knew how to dig up dirt. It was just a hunch, but if it meant what she thought, it could change everything.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 19, 2019 12:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Simon sat at the kitchen table across from Otis. The man was built like a wall, arms as big as Simon's head. And that face was stoic as a statue. His cards were dwarfed by his huge hands, the big guy just staring. Simon studied him in vain. Otis betrayed absolutely nothing.

Those sharp blue eyes, shot to his hand. Full house. Good hand. Otis stared like he was looking at a hidden image poster, waiting for everything to become clear. Simon chewed lightly on the inside of his cheek and made his decision. "Welp..." he said. "Call up Danny Tanner...cuz, it looks like we got ourselves a Full House."

He laid that full house on the table. The moment Otis saw his hand, his facade cracked, those brows rose and a cocky smirk came to Simon's face. That was...until the slow, low laughter started rumbling from the man across the table. Otis layed down a straight flush, and Simon's face fell.

"Well...***."

Otis laughed loudly, collecting the pot. "Better luck next time, Uncle Joey."

"Hey." Simon said firmly. "Uncle Jessie. At least give me that." Simon joked bitterly.

Anna walked into the kitchen ,pouring herself a glass of water. "Otis, you scamming Simon?"

"Just a friendly game, Miss Anna." He assured her.

Simon made a face. "Yeah, tell that to the five hundred I'm out now..."

"Hey, live by the sword, die by the sword, little man." Otis collected his winnings with a chuckle and stood up, leaving the room.

"I'll be wanting a rematch!" Simon called after him.

"Any time, anywhere!" Otis called back.

Anna grinned watching the big man lumber away. "Sorry. Shoulda' warned you. Otis used to play professionally."

"Yeah, I kinda figured that one out the hard way." Simon muttered, dejected.

Anna chuckled, making a pouty face. "Aww...poor baby."

Simon shook his head, laughing quietly. "Where'd you find him?"

"Otis?" She said. "About five years ago, he made a lot of the wrong people angry. Hurt some folks pretty bad out East. He needed some place to lay low and get away from it all. I took him in, and he just.... fit. He's a good worker, and he's great with the kids. Plus anyone has trouble follow them to my doorstep, they take one look at him and think twice. He's kinda the papa bear around here."

Simon nodded and laughed. "Yeah. He's a good guy."

"He is." She agreed. "So, what about you?"

"What about me?" He asked.

"You seem pretty happy here. Fit in pretty well with the group. And I won't lie, I'm alright having you around. Think you might wanna stick with us?" Anna asked.

Simon's heart ached at the question. As much as he enjoyed this place and being with her again...it wasn't him. Not yet anyway.

"I really don't think I can." he sighed.

Anna's shoulder slumped as she sighed. "Why not? Isn't this better? Isn't this enough?"

"I have unfinished business, Anna." He insisted. "I left a girl...someone I swore to protect...out there with him. I can't just run away forever."

"A girl. Of course." Anna nodded, her green eyes slid shut as she attempted to compose herself. She could understand wanting to help. Hell, it was her entire life's work. But she knew his methods. She knew how he'd go about it. "Okay. So...what's the plan?"

"What?" Simon asked.

Anna took in a deep breath, shrugging her shoulders. "You go back. And then what?" She asked him.

"I finish it. Once and for all." There was that naive righteous, macho viciousness in his tone that unsettled her.

"More killing. More bloodshed." She shook her head. Exactly what she'd assumed. "You didn't consider a Goddamned thing I said the other night, did you?"

"Anna..."

"Bigger, more powerful men than you have tried, Simon." Anna interrupted him. "And still...there he is. What do you think you're going to do? Go in guns blazing, like some one-man army and take him down? Try to kill your way to the top. see how far you get?"

"It's worked so far." he said defensively.

"Has it?" She nodded doubtfully, bitterness in her voice. "Simon, he'll kill you."

"Not if I kill him first." Simon knew the risks. It didn't matter, he was resolute on seeing the life leave the man's eyes.

"Okay. So let's say, by some miracle, you make it through his people. You kill Jakob Falk. Then what?" She asked.

"What do you mean?" Simon looked perplexed

"You kill him. He's gone. And then...what? You wait for the next one? Bide your time living some...half-assed life you don't really want until the next damsel comes calling so you can repeat the cycle again? Because there will always be a war for you. Always someone to save. Always a reason for you to jump back into it all."

Simon didn't know how to answer right away. "I...No. No, when he's gone, then I'll be free."


Anna's eyes narrowed at him. He just didn't't see it. "You truly believe that?"

"You're damn right I do." he insisted.

"Because that's worked out SO well, thus far, right?" She shot back. "With Cotter, with this Vicelli, with that...hick out in the boonies. That freed you from it all, right? You were 'free' then?"

Simon didn't have a response to that. "Simon, answer me one thing...Has anything you've done in these pursuits of vengeance actually made your life any better?"

He thought a moment, a sinking, anguished feeling hitting him. "For a bit..." he whispered. "But then..."

"But then." she nodded, speaking quietly. "Do you think Cici would be proud of the man you've become?"

Anna could tell from the look on his face, it was a shot to the gut. Maybe she'd gone too far, but it was a fair point. She reached out and took his hand in her's. "Look...you can do what you have always done. Get attached, get involved, find someone to fight, and end up at yet another war. Or you can choose a different path. Well and truly free yourself of him. Of this anger and shame. You can be *more* than he brought you up to be."

Simon's eyes lowered to the table. What other choices were there? "How do I do that? This girl is an innocent. She has a chance at a good life...but if he gets his claws into her...I can't deal with that, Anna. I can't leave her to that."

"And I'm not telling you to." She said softly. "You get your friend...and you leave. Leave the city, leave Falk, leave it all behind. Just let it go."

"And he still gets to stay?" Simon asked incredulously. "Gets to hurt other people? Other kids?"

Anna sighed. She once thought like him, in the early years. But reality had to set in. "I know you want to change the world. Break the system down and create something better. But sometimes...you have to know your limits. Falk dies, another takes his place. You can't save everyone, Simon. But you can save her."

"Is that enough?" Simon asked quietly.

"It will be everything to her." Anna responded. "Trust me. I know."

He'd saved her once. Fought for her, gave her a reason to keep going. It meant more than she'd ever told him. It was why she was the woman in front of him today. Jakob Falk had tried to make her a slave. A killer. Simon Toews' kindness had made her human. He had made her whole.

"He wants this. He wants you to be...this." She looked him in the eye. "Don't let him win. Don't let him keep dictating who and what you are."
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 30, 2019 3:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Money was getting tighter as time went on. After the agency shut down, there wasn't much work to be found for a former cop with one arm. Paige was just lucky she knew how to save and live relatively frugally. Most of her days were spent looking at the help wanted ads, but nothing her disability would allow for. She was not a woman comfortable with a sedentary lifestyle. She had to work, had to stay busy.

While the days were spent in pursuit of a new gig, her nights were spent in research. Falk's rise was damn near mythic. He'd come from nothing. An orphan, much like Toews. He'd spent the first 16 years of his life in an orphanage, but from there, he was a ghost. No criminal record to speak of until one day he emerged as an associate of Byron Mares, a man with suspected mob ties throughout the city, every bit as elusive as Falk would come to be. When the Mares died, he took over. Something about it sent chills through Corrine. She had no doubt that Falk had something to do with his passage into the great hereafter, though the official reports were that he died in his sleep. After that, Falk's legend grew. Vague stories and unconfirmed reports of illicit activities he always had a way of dodging. She'd heard them all, even considered looking into him early in her career, until she was advised to back off.

There was frustratingly little in the public record. Only his investments in several profitable businesses and connections to big names in high society. Certainly nothing illegal. Right now, everything counted on Jordan's ever-so thorough digging.

Paige stared out the window of her car, eyes on the building that served as his legitimate headquarters. A beautiful, old limestone tower, looming over the streets. The son of a bitch was in there somewhere. She had no doubt if she went in to question him, she'd never make it past the front desk. Even so, on what authority would she do it? She wasn't a cop. She wasn't even a detective anymore.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw a limousine pull to the side of the street and slide to a stop. Her pulse began to race as she waited, that detective's intuition telling her who was inside even before he rose from the back, fashionably dressed in a fine suit and cashmere overcoat. That calm arrogance that he carried in his bearing at all times on display. Even looking at him out on the street, he was intimidating. A man afraid of nothing. To hell with authority, she decided, and threw open her door.

Falk was striding towards the glass doors of his building when she got within earshot. "Mr, Falk!" She called to him.

The woman at his side whipped around to eye Corrine dangerously. As the former detective approached, Ruby's hand drifter subtly back, those beautiful but sharp eyes locking with Paige's. It was enough to give her pause. Ruby shook her head slowly, Paige stopping in her tracks. Falk slowly turned, and amiable smile on his scarred face.

"Good evening." He greeted her. "Is there something I can help you with?"

Paige's eyes stayed on his bodyguard a moment before turning to him. That woman emanated danger. "I'd like to ask you a few questions, if I may."

Falk was a consummate gentleman, nonchalantly nodding to her. "I'd love to, Miss...?"

Like he didn't know exactly who she was. "Paige. Corrine Paige."

"Ah. Yes. Miss Paige." He smiled as if suddenly remembering an acquaintance. "I'd love to entertain, but I'm afraid I have urgent business to attend to. If you'd like, you can call and make an appointment with my secretary. I'm sure we-"

"Please, Mr. Falk, it'll only take a moment."

"As I said, Miss Paige, I'm extraordinarily busy, so if you'll-"

"It's about Simon Toews." She said. That seemed to trigger a response. He glanced to Ruby who spared him the slightest of glances. When he turned his gaze to the one armed stranger, the smile was back.

"Alright. I suppose I can spare a few moments." He said. "Please. Join me."

Ruby kept that predatory gaze on the woman before her, letting her know, in no uncertain terms that she was being watched and one false move would see her dead before she hit the ground. Paige betrayed no intimidation, meeting her gaze head on and following them into the building. Stepping through the doors was like entering a different era. The original designs dated back to the 20's, and the place had been kept immaculately. Only the barest hints of modern tech adorned the lobby. It still had full,ornate wooden phonebooths among all the marble and fine decor.

As they rode the elevator, Corrine began to wonder what, exactly, the hell she was thinking. She should run as soon as they exited. Really, she should never have even approached him. Seemed Toews' impulsiveness had rubbed off. Falk and his companion remained silent as they rose to his penthouse, the tension so thick, you could cut it with a knife and spread it on toast.

Falk's office was every bit the sophisticated lair the rest of the building would imply. Say what you will about the man himself, he surrounded himself in beauty and class. Falk hung his coat on a dark, oak rack, making his way to a little bar along one wall.

"Please. Make yourself comfortable." he gestured to the vintage, carved wooden maroon velvet upholstered couch. "May I fix you a drink?"

Paige wave him off, taking a seat. "No thank you."

"Are you sure?" He asked. "This scotch is old enough for retirement." he joked pouring a glass of Glenlivet 50.

"No. I'm good." Corrine said. No way in hell was she going to imbibe something from him. Besides, she needed a clear head.

Ruby stood at the door, her arms crossed, watching over the proceedings with laser-like intensity. Paige could practically feel her eyes on the back of her head. Falk settled in across from her with a groan, slouching in comfortably in his seat, a lazy smirk on his lips. "Do yourself a favor, Miss Paige. Don't get old."

"I'll do my best." She smiled back politely.

Falk let out a mirthless laugh, eying her a moment. "So. What can I do for you?"

"I was wondering if you'd seen Simon Toews lately." She said, carefully phrasing it casually.

Falk shrugged and shook his head. "Should I have?"

"Well, I understand there was an altercation." Paige said.

Falk sipped his scotch, an unfavorable look upon his face. "Yes. Unfortunate. Mr. Toews was guest at an event which I was hosting. I was not hoping for such unpleasantness."

"Mind telling me what happened?" She pushed on.

"Not much to tell. We spoke, he attempted to assault me, and my bodyguard was forced to intervene." Falk explained.

"Your bodyguard?" Paige quirked a brow. Hard to believe even a girl like Ruby could take Simon down.

Falk seemed to read her mind and chuckled. "No. Not my associate, Ruby."

"You have other bodyguards?" Paige asked.

"I have many."

"Why's that?" Paige tilted her head, playing up innocent curiosity.

"Come now, Miss Paige. I'm well known. A public figure. You don't get where I am without making a few enemies." He said amiably.

"So, Simon is an enemy?"

"He seems to believe so." Falk grinned, taking another sip.

"Why's that?"

Falk rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Mr. Toews is an antisocial misfit. Surely you know this. I once tried to help him, and it didn't work out, through no fault of my own. Apparently, Simon is still carrying a chip upon his shoulder."

"Yeah, that sounds like Simon, alright." She smiled to him. Falk grinned and raised his glass in agreement. "So..." she began, "Simon attacked you and you just let him go? No charges pressed?"

"I think my point was well made." Falk said. "I saw no profit in vengeance. I'm a reasonable man, Miss Paige. There was no need for further unpleasantness. Simon is a troubled fellow."

"That he is." She nodded.

"What is your interest in Mr. Toews, Miss Paige?" Falk asked her.

"He once saved my life." She said, knowing he knew full well who she was to him. "You might call him a friend."

"Well, we can all be thankful for that." Falk plastered on that fake smile.

"We can indeed." She nodded. "So, anyway. Friend goes missing, I'm gonna want to find him before something bad happens."

"Something bad?" Falk furrowed his brow, feigning confusion.

"Surely you're aware of Simon's...reputation?" She said.

"Mm." he responded with a mouthful of scotch.

"Then you know what he's capable of doing to those who wrong him?" She said. "And his friends."

Falk's lips curled in a tight smile. He did not miss the implication that he'd wronged the man. "I'm not worried about Simon Toews. I'm well taken care of here."

"There are many men who might disagree with that assessment...if they were still alive." She said.

Falk betrayed no hint of concern, just smiled and sipped his scotch. He shifted to contents of the glass a moment, watching the carmel colored liquid swirl around, his tongue pulling the excess from his lips. "I sincerely hope you find him...and get him the help he needs."


Corrine's smile faded. It took her moment to realize she glaring at the man. Jakob Falk had become accustomed to being untouchable. A primal part of her wanted to watch him burn in the aftermath of Simon's inevitable onslaught. He more than deserved it. But, the rational brain took over as it always did. Watching his world crumble, leaving him powerless and rotting in a cell for the rest of his life would be FAR more satisfying. She forced a smile.

"Here's hoping."

Before another word could be said, a knock came at the door. Falk's eyes flicked to the door as Paige almost jumped with a start. The man returned his attention to her, rising from his seat.. "Now, as I said, I have a prior engagement." he gestured to the door.

"Thank you for your time." Corrine stood up and followed him to the door,

"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Paige." He said, offering a hand.

Paige took it, giving him a firm squeeze. As she looked the devil in the eye, she thought "I'm going to see you burn." But all she actually said was. "Pleasure was all mine."

As she turned to the door, Falk spoke again. "And, for what it's worth, I was sorry to hear about your agency. Nasty world, business."

It took her aback. She wasn't prepared for him to betray his ignorant facade so blatantly. He knew exactly who she was, and he no longer cared that she was aware. The smile never left his face, even as she nodded, forcing one of her own. Ruby pulled open the door and Paige turned around. Before she could take another step, she was greeted with a very familiar face. Miles turned those eyes, Simon's eyes, up to her. A chill ran through her body as they passed each other and he moved into the room. Paige watched him walk off, Falk's hand upon his back as the door shut.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2019 12:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Penelope Jordan was a bookworm. A petite, plain, blonde girl with grey blue eyes most didn't give the time of day to. But, as a former clerical aide turned investigator, she had been responsible for taking more than a few extremely dangerous characters off the streets. She lived for it, devoted all her time to the job. When the agency was shut down, she found herself forced back into the humdrum monotony of the nine-to-five workforce. To say it was not idea was an understatement. So, when the Corrine Paige called her to look into the young man seen galavanting around with Tessa Bradley, it was an absolute godsend.

It wasn't easy, operating outside the system. Most of her old resources were lost to her, and her access to certain contacts no longer an option. But if there was one thing Jordan loved, it was a challenge. It had been one of the reasons her boss, Orion Parker kept her around before her sabbatical. The boy from the picture was certainly that. There was little she could find on him. The few in law enforcement who WOULD talk to her had nothing. No criminal records to speak of. In fact, no official records at all. It was like he just appeared out of nowhere. Not exactly an uncommon story in these parts, but still strange enough for her to question how someone from nowhere managed to find himself in the company of a girl like Tessa Bradley.

Jordan rubbed her tired eyes, running on her ninth cup of coffee. Her apartment was far from clean, files and documents spread all around. Aside from a fully stocked bookcase, there wasn't much to the decor. There were even a few leftover boxes from when she'd moved in far too long ago. The girl was hardly home anyway, she couldn't imagine when she'd exactly need her old yearbooks or the ancient quilt covered in ponies and cows her grandmother had patched together for her. Reading over the screen in front of her, yet another dead-end article about Bradley scrawled on some sketchy gossip site, she grabbed another slice of pizza,stuffing it quickly into her mouth.

She felt like she'd pored over every damn one of these sites in the past two days, reading some of the most ignorant, racist and frankly, creepy posts in the comments. Dudes were gross, she thought. Save for one or two, namely Coleman and Sam, she did not enjoy their company. After the thirtieth slut-shaming post, she sighed and collapsed back against her couch with a sigh. What she wouldn't give for unfettered access to the police database right now.

A rapping of knuckles on her door stole her attention. Jordan pushed up off the seat, readjusting the messy bun that barely held her blonde hair in check. "Yeah, yeah..." she said as the knock repeated. As she opened the door, Paige practically pushed her way into the room, all piss and vinegar. Jordan blinked.

"Yeah, come right in. Make yourself at home. Good to see you too..."She muttered sarcastically to the oblivious former detective.

"You're not gonna believe this..."Paige said, pacing.

"What's up?" she asked, watching her friend with a quirked eyebrow.

"I sat down with Jakob Falk." Corrine said breathlessly. Jordan's eyes widened.

"No." She said, disbelievingly. "And you're still alive? What happened?"

"I saw him outside his building, and I made him talk. He brought me inside-"

Jordan shook her head and waved her hands around. "Whoa...whoawhoawhoa! You went INSIDE with him?"

Paige nodded, frantically. "Yeah."

"Are you CRAZY?" She exclaimed. "Have you HEARD some of the rumors about him?"

Corrine furrowed her brow, almost annoyed. "Jordan. Focus."

Once again, Jordan quirked that brow. Did the former detective not know how much danger she'd placed herself in? Whatever, now was not the time.

"So," Corrine started again. "I talk to him, and...really, just as I thought, he was calm, cool and pretty much useless as ***."

Jordan's brow creased, letting the silence hang. "You came rushing over here because he was useless as...eff?" Not a fan of swearing, Jordan. There were rare moments when she'd allow herself profanity, but those were few and far between.

"Well, hold on." Paige said holding up a finger. "I'm walking out the door...and who do I see?"

Jordan blinked, apparently she was supposed to guess. "...Elvis?"

Paige gave her a withering look. "Our guy."

Jordan shook her head as if in a daze, her fingers going to her temples. "No, Wait. What? How...what?!"

"I'm about to walk out and he's on the other side of the door." Paige said slowly, a grin forming across her lips. "He works for Falk."

A wave of realization crossed over Jordan's face. She practically charged for her laptop, plopping down onto the couch, her fingers flying over the keys in a frenzied pace. How she worked so fast, Paige would never understand. Computers weren't her strong suit, even when she had two hands. Within moments, Jordan had dozens of pictures pulled up. Falk at various events over the years, and in the past 3 years a familiar face began showing up at his side. The boy never spoke publicly, never appeared as more than a face in the background.

Jordan grinned brightly, a giddy laugh leaving her. "Oh, it is ON now."

Paige pulled off her jacket and tossed it on a chair, taking a seat beside her and the two of them went to work.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 31, 2019 2:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The past was never far from him. In his dreams, Simon relived the most vivid parts. Some good, some bad. The horrors of a life spent in conflict after conflict left more than a physical scar. He stirred in his sleep, the images of Anna, Cici, Brianna, Tahlia, Millie and Kate rushing through his mind's eye. Horrors inflicted upon them, lives destroyed. He saw them suffer, those who survived and those who did not. The fire of his own making burned them all. His breathing escalated, his body twitching and writhing. Cries of agony echoing through the room.

Anna couldn't help but hear. It wasn't an uncommon occurrence given the lives of the people who often showed up at her doorstep. Trauma was practically a prerequisite. It was when she located the source when something deep inside ached. She quietly cracked the door open, peering in. Simon lay on the bed, his shirtless torso exposed as he jerked as if against some unseen attacker. It was the first time she'd seen the tattoos and scarring spread all across his upper body.

"Jesus, Simon. What kind of hell has your life been?" She thought.

As she approached, she made a few of them out, the most prominent over his heart. "Cici." Beside it was a bullet wound that probably should have killed him. He was always stubborn, but apparently death couldn't even make him do something he didn't want.

Simon grunted painfully, muttering to himself. "Anna...Anna! No!"

He was dreaming of her. Suddenly the memories flooded back and he was that scared kid she'd known in her youth. It was hard not to get lost in it. Carefully she approached him, gently reaching out.

"Simon." She whispered, her hands coming closer to an inked bicep. He stirred again, gasping and turning on his side away from her. Anna recoiled at first, but calmed herself. Again, she reached out, swallowing her concerns, the moment her fingers touched him, he went silent,calm. A little smile spread across her lips. "How about that...still works."

She went to leave, but again, as soon as her hands left him, he started up again. Anna swallowed hard, watching her old friend. "Okay." She whispered.

As she had so many times in their youth, she slid into bed behind him, slipping up close with her arm wrapped around his waist. Simon eased into the warmth of her embrace, all the tension and fear in his body melting away. She rested her face against his shoulder, letting her eyes slide shut. Unconsciously, his hand slipped over her forearm, holding on gently. For a moment, they were kids on that cold, filthy floor, clinging to each other in the one escape they had from that life. It was warm, familiar, and comfortable. It felt right. It felt safe.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2019 9:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hours passed, public records were scoured, and several slices of pepperoni were devoured. For Paige, fatigue was setting in, but Jordan was a machine. The girl was an endless fount of energy, every new bit of information gleaned like fuel, sustaining her for another hour. Paige paced around the room, trying to keep the adrenaline flowing. She studied her former colleague's place. Mainly its perpetual state of disorder. Newly washed clothing hung wherever she could find space after doing the laundry. Near the front door was a pile of take-out boxes and two or three plastic trashbags that she kept forgetting to take out to the dumpster. Along the back wall, boxes were stacked, with various rooms and the contents scrawled in red permanent marker. The only one that seemed open was marked "dishes".

"So, you just move in, or...." Paige asked.

Jordan glanced over her shoulder, a mouth full of pizza, her eyebrows raised curiously. "Hm?"

Paige gestured to the boxes and Jordan realized what she was asking. "Mm!" she exclaimed, swallowing the big chunk of cheese and dough as her head shook. "No. Been here a few years." She covered her mouth and then wiped her lips with a napkin.

"Seriously?" Paige said incredulously, looking at the scattered files, makeshift furniture and stacks of paperwork. Their boss, Parker would have a nervous breakdown if she ever came here. "How do you keep track of everything in here?"

Jordan smirked and tapped her temple. "Got a system."

"A system." Paige quirked a brow. "Does it involve lots of never finding things again?"

"Hey, you do what works for you and I do what works for me." Jordan said. "Frankly, MY record speaks for itself."

That wasn't up for argument. Jordan had a hand in bringing down some seriously bad dudes, including a serial killer and few drug kingpins. Corrine shrugged and walked to a stack of magazines. Tech publications mingled with old issues of Cosmo and one issue of "Guns and Ammo". Penelope Jordan was an enigma. In the office, she was meticulous, almost obsessive. Everything put in its exact right place. She supposed that was Parker's influence at play. Or the girl's insistence at always being on her good side. Paige always assumed she was probably the ultimate teacher's pet back in the day.

Jordan snapped her fingers repeatedly, waving Corrine over. "Hey. Heyheyheyhey, check this out, check this out." She pointed down at her screen, an obituary on-screen. Benjamin Comstock, disgraced doctor, died of an overdose right around the time they knew Simon to have escaped.

"Yeah?" Paige didn't see the connection. "And?"

Jordan closed the window to show a picture from the funeral. In attendance were Jakob Falk and several known accomplices. Paige suddenly found the thread her younger friend was following. Simon hadn't mentioned names, but he'd mentioned a doctor once or twice during their discussions while he was locked up. If everything Toews had said about his time under Falk's watch was true, they would need a doctor to patch the kids up. And if Comstock was dead, there had to be a replacement.

Jordan reached for another slice, finding the box completely empty. "Aww..." She frowned in disappointment, but pushed on. "Any way, I've got a few leads. Nothing concrete."

"Well, from what Toews told me about what went on there, no respectable doctor is going to take up a gig like that." Paige yawned. "Can you pull up anything about doctors who lost their licenses from around that time, specifically within the city?"

"Who you talkin' to?" Jordan smirked brightly, given the shot in the arm she needed. For the next half hour she was in her element. Paige's pacing eventually came to an end. She curled up in a loveseat, her eyelids getting heavier and heavier. She was almost asleep when she heard Jordan speak again.

"Hey. Aurora" she said to her friend. Paige's eyes snapped open.

Corrine struggled to sit up, her brow furrowed in confusion and discomfort. "Aurora?"

"Yeah. You know? Sleeping Beauty?" Jordan said as if Corrine were the weird one for not knowing this. Paige just stared. "Jesus, watch a freakin' Disney movie, woman..." she grumbled.

"You wake me up just for Disney trivia?" Paige asked.

""Fun as that sounds...I Found something." Jordan grinned.

Paige groaned as she stood, stretching her back. "What's up?"

"23 results, most of them dead." Jordan told her. "But these three..."

She turned to computer toward Corrine. David R. Olsen, 72. Patrick T. Healey, 58. David K. Steinman, 55. "Olsen runs a car lot and Healey's in real estate...but Steinman...he's a bit of a ghost. Lost his license for pilfering his hospital's stash. Somebody loves him some oxy..."

"Yeah? That's a good start. Work history?" Corrine leaned forward, her arm propped on her knee.

"After getting ***? Nada. That's where the well runs dry. I have a residence, though. Owns an apartment on the North Side from what I can tell. Not a bad neighborhood, either." Jordan said, glancing over her shoulder. "Too nice for an unemployed junkie."

"You think somebody's bankrolling him?" Paige inquired.

"Well, he ain't running a fortune 500, that's for darn sure."

That detective's intuition was kicking into overdrive. That was their guy. Something inside of her just knew it. But hunches didn't amount to much in the real world. They needed proof. "It's not enough." Paige sighed.

"Then, we need to find something more. But...I'm kind of at a wall here." Jordan muttered.

Paige smirked up at her, teasing. "Wow. Penelope Jordan. Admitting defeat. Never thought I'd see the day."

Jordan scrunched her name. "Ugh. Don't call me that." She despised her first name. Jordan just sounded so much cooler. "Besides...there are some things even I can't do." OH, did she ever lay on the haughty, self-satisfied tone.

"Mmhmm." Paige shot her a look, barely suppressing the grin. Those wheels in Paige's head turned at mean rate. They could pore over public records until they went blind or mad, but eventually, they'd need someone who could do what they could not. Someone who knew how to operate beyond the legitimate and get into places...and company they could not. And Corrine had a feeling she knew exactly who to turn to.
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 07, 2019 10:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sunlight shone in through the windows of Anna's house, stirring Simon from the first good night's sleep he'd had in what felt like years. He rolled onto his back and rubbed his eyes, noticing just then that the other side of the bed was warm. More than that, it was the scent. A mixture somewhat like strawberries and vanilla. It took a moment before he placed it. Anna.

For a moment there was panic. Had he gotten drunk and-

No. No, he hadn't gotten so much as tipsy since he got here. Slowly, bits and pieces flooded back. That warm, safe feeling invaded his nightmares, fighting them back and letting him enjoy a peaceful, dreamless sleep. The same feeling that had kept him sane and alive as a child, a feeling from the past rushing back, every bit as effective as it had been then . He must have been squalling something fierce. She'd come in the night and held him, stayed with him once again. All these years later, and it still had the same affect.

He ran a warped hand through his short-cropped hair, letting out a sigh. Part of him was certain there would be awkwardness between them. That, somehow even unconsciously, he had crossed a line. Still, he forced himself out of bed and dressed. If he had to face it, better to get it out of the way. The moment he stepped out into the hallway, Anna was exiting her room, her hair still wet from the shower. The pair of them freezing in place. For a moment, he was sure she'd tell him to go. Leave and never come back. Instead, she just smiled, shutting the door behind her, those green eyes staying on him.

"Good morning." She said softly, leaning back against the doorway tucking a strand of red behind her ear.

Simon searched for the words, running through a thousand different things he could say to her. All he managed was "Hey."

Anna's smile brightened as she let out a little laugh. She knew him too well not to notice the tension radiating off him. "It's alright, big guy. Relax."

Simon couldn't help the little grin that followed.

"Sleep well?" She asked.

"Better than I have in a long time." He nodded.

For a moment, she just appraised him. So much of the boy she'd known was still in him. Even after all he'd been through, the women he'd spent time with and battles he'd fought, Simon was still...Simon.

"Good." She nodded, pushing off the wall. "Figured I'd let you sleep in today. Not a ton to do anyways."

Simon watched her go off, wanting to say something. Anything.

"Thank you." He managed, finally.

Anna stopped and glanced back at him over her shoulder. She knew it wasn't about letting him sleep in. "Always."

With that, she walked down the stairs to the kitchen. As they gathered for breakfast, there were a couple looks his way from the younger kids, but the adults were mostly understanding and simply greeted him kindly. They must have heard him in the night. It wasn't an uncommon occurrence to most of them. A lot of trauma came through Anna's doors. They understood and they didn't judge. It was odd, he'd rarely felt that. People who saw his damage and said, even wordlessly, "I get you." The last time he'd felt it was with Tahlia. He looked around the table, dishes being passed from smiling face to smiling face. These people loved each other and helped each other. It wasn't hard to tell why this place was starting to feel like home. The young Daisy sat next to him, helping herself to some waffles. She beamed up at him, her smile missing a few baby teeth. Simon grinned back at her and passed the syrup, Anna's eyes on him, a certain smugness in her countenance.

After breakfast, Simon set to work on his chores, clearing snow from the paths, feeding the horses and livestock. The horses were his favorite part, Brutus especially. He and the animal had bonded, the horse always eager and approaching the end of his stall when he walked through the doors. Simon ran a hand along the big beast's neck, giving him a pat.

"Hey, there, boy. How you doing?" He said quietly, smiling up at him. Brutus chuffed favorably at him, nuzzling towards his face. Simon chuckled, gently pushing him away. "Alright, alright, sweet boy."

He hung the feedbag up for his newfound friend, giving him a little rub along the cheek. From further back in the barn, there came a clang, stealing Simon's attention away. He leaned out trying to get a better view. Brutus gave him a nudge, drawing a little laugh. Simon patted him again and walked toward the sound.

Further in the barn was a big tractor, Otis hard at work, bent over the engine compartment. The sleeves of his grease-stained thermal were rolled up big, muscular arms. Thick overalls were doing the bulk of the work of keeping him warm. His work-gloved hands pulled at a socket wrench. If he heard or saw Simon come in, he didn't show it.

"Hey, Otis." Simon called up to him.

The big man barely spared him a glance. "Simon." he rumbled in that low baritone of his. The man had a way about him. You were never quite sure where you stood. Sometimes, he was cordial, full of smiles and laughs...but then there were times when he'd regard you as if he might beat you to a pulp. Simon had seen more than his share of fights in his day, but he was certain he didn't want to be on the receiving end of a beating from Otis.

"How's it going?" he asked, leaning against the tractor and looking up at the man.

"Pump went out during harvest this year. Finally getting around to replacing the damn thing." Otis said distractedly.

"You have experience with this stuff?" Simon inquired.

"Engines?" Otis said. "Yeah. Worked for a guy once, fixing up cars and trucks."

"Mechanic's shop?"

"Sort of." Otis said. "Chop shop. Took in a lot of cars, some of them needed fixing."

"No ***?" Simon grinned. "Who for? I might'a known 'em."

"Ain't much for talkin' about it. Just some bad dudes. Did a lot a' stupid ass *** I ain't proud of." Otis said, glancing down to Simon. "You know what that's like? Doing a lot a' stupid thing you ain't proud of?"

Simon couldn't help but notice the hint of accusation there. "I do." he nodded.

"Mm." Otis, eyed him. "You leave it behind ya?"

He didn't have an answer for that. Frankly, he knew he hadn't.

"See, Simon...we're simple folks here. Just tryin' to get by. Miss Anna been good to us. Now, I left that life behind me. Messin' folks up who cause trouble. But anybody...*anybody* does anything to hurt that woman..." Otis' eyes narrowed. "Well, it ain't gonna turn out good for 'em. You understand me?"

Simon's brows knit together. "I don't know what idea you're getting from me but-"

"She's different with you." Otis said. "I seen a lotta folks come through here, but you...you got some kinda hold on her. Now, I don't know much about you, you act decent enough...but I think you carryin' a lotta trouble with you. You just make sure that trouble don't come down on her."

"You're very protective of her." Simon noted.

"God damn right I am." Otis said. "Miss Anna saved my life when I needed it. Gave me a chance, gave me a home. I owe her more 'n I can give. So, I see a dude lookin' like you roll in here, get her all outta sorts...I get a little ancy."

Simon grinned and waved his hands. "Whoa, whoa, whoa...it ain't like that. We're just-"

"Friends?" Otis finished. He didn't quite buy it. There was history between them that couldn't be erased. A bond that time and age did nothing to diminish. "Just sayin'. You hurt her, you and I gonna tangle. Got it?"

Simon wanted to argue, but he just nodded. A moment of silence hovered over them before Simon broke it. "You need a hand?"

Otis looked a bit perplexed a moment before a low laugh left him. "Yeah. Yeah, come on up here and hold this in place."

Simon clambered up beside the man, and the two of them set out, repairing the engine of the tractor. The rest of the day they would work side by side, chatting sparingly outside of the jobs at hand. Otis was alright, Simon thought. The big man was every bit as protective of Anna as he was. He adored her, and would do anything to protect her. For that, Simon was grateful.
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2019 1:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Miles stepped through as the elevator doors parted. Jakob had called him in earlier in the day, forcing him to leave early from a nice lunch with Tessa. He hated breaking plans with her, but when Falk came calling, you didn't say no.

The doors to Jakob's office opened as he approached, Ruby on the other side, eying him with her usual disdain. Miles only smirked to her as he passed. It pissed her off that he didn't fear her and he knew it.

"Miles." Falk called out fondly. He approached, clasping the young man by the shoulders, smiling as he appraised him. "You look well. Doesn't he look well, Ruby?"

Ruby only rolled her eyes as the door shut behind her. Falk patted his arm. "Love suits you, boy."

Falk's phone beeped and he turned and walked to his desk. A sense of foreboding rose within Miles. He couldn't place it, but something was off.

"Yes?" He said into the receiver, listening for a moment. "Thank you."

Falk hung up the phone and turned to the boy. "Miles. Will you join me in a meeting?"

Again, that sense of dread rose like bile. Miles pushed it down with a smile. "Absolutely."

"Good lad."

Falk was leading him down to a meeting room on the 5th floor in silence, Ruby standing at the doors before them. He didn't dare glance to Falk. In his head, he was making plans should something go down. Ruby would have to go first. That wasn't the part he struggled with. Killing her would be damn near satisfying. But Jakob...could he go through with it? The man was the closest thing he had to a father, to family. Before he had time to consider further, they were entering the room. Sat at the long table were the high ranking members of the Gargano Crime Family. They had run a sizeable portion of illicit business in the west of the city. Gambling, racketeering, drugs, prostitution, weapons and human trafficking among others in their trade.
"Gentlemen." Falk said amiably to them, ever the gracious host.

"Mr. Falk." Carlo Gargano greeted him. The man was well dressed, well put together, his thinning black hair slicked back, a permanent scowl on his round, doughy face. Falk took his seat at the head of the table, gesturing to Miles to take the open chair at his side.

"It's good to see you all here. Welcome to all of you." Jakob said. "I'm hope you're all well."

Gargano smiled to him as one of Falk's staff filled everyone's glasses. "Same to you."

"Have you met my friend, Miles?" Jakob gestured to the young man at his side. "Miles here has been my protege for some time now. Loyal...trustworthy...and one hell of a right hook."

Laughter spread throughout the mobsters sat around the table. "Pulled him up from the pits. Long, long climb, eh, Miles?"

Miles offered only a tight, nervous smile in return. Falk eyed him like a prized possession. "Loyalty. It's all I ever ask."

"Hear hear." Gargano raised his glass to murmurs of agreement amongst the others.

"Mr. Gargano and I go way back. See, when I was coming up, younger than even you, Miles...Carlo and I ran together. Back to...what was it, Carlo? Beverly Street?"

"Back in the old neighborhood." Carlo smirked, his thumb rolling across the ring on his pinky, gaudy and overlarge. "We used to laugh at this guy, call him the neat freak. Never liked getting his hands dirty."

A chuckle spread through them all, even Falk. He grinned and raised a hand. "Guilty as charged." He said. "I was the delegator. Give the jobs to the workers, make sure they get done. Play to your strengths. That's always been my motto. I never was much of a fighter, but Carlo here...well, he was like you, Miles. Tough. Bold. You set him to a task, and he delivered. Have a fellow who refuses to talk? You send Carlo Gargano in. That fellow has a knife? Carlo had a gun."

"Guy had a gun, I brought a ***' tank." Gargano laughed with his men.

"So." Falk said with a grn. "When I took over operations, I remembered Mr. Gargano. Because...loyalty matters."

A long silence held the room as Jakob eyed the boy. The smile returned as Falk raised his glass. "To loyalty."

The others rose their own, repeating the word. Miles brought his glass up, but before he could bring it to his lips, he felt a hand touch his forearm. His eyes shot to Falk, who also did not drink. Slowly he became aware of what was happening.

"In our world, loyalty is key." Falk said. "Discretion is key. And if I ever found a friend...showing a lack of discretion...or betraying my trust..." Falk's head cocked to one side, suggesting something brutal would happen.

Gargano chuckled...and coughed. His face turned from jovial to concerned, his hand rising to his throat. Again he coughed, as did the others in his party. Falk rose from his chair. "My trust is not freely given. It is earned."

The coughing fits continued, giving way to gasping and wheezing as foam began to build in some men's mouths.

"A pity Mr. Gargano could not live up to my expectations." Falk said, staring into the betrayed, confused, terror filled eyes of Carlo Gargano. "Should I ever find that anyone...and I mean anyone in my employ is betraying that trust...as Mr. Gargano has..."

Gargano climbed out of his chair, struggling to breath as his eyes turned blood red, his face beginning to purple as he clasped the table so hard Miles thought it might crack to wood. The man jerked violently and suddenly vomited blood and foam all over the polished wood. His men clawed at their throats, blood running out of their nostrils, ears, mouths and eyes, their bodies convulsing violently. Ruby looked down in disgust as one of the mafiosos crawled to her feet, kicking him over into his back.

Falk turned his eyes on Miles, and not on the horror show going on around them. "Should someone forget the price of my trust...forget the fortunes I've granted them...should they seek to betray me...supplant me...offer me up to my enemies..."

Carlo Gargano fell to the ground, his blue face, splattered and streaked with arterial red as he spasmed wildly upon the floor.

"And I will strike back at them a fire hell could scarcely imagine. I will burn their world and all those within it to glass." Falk said. "Let this be a cautionary tale, Miles. Should you forget your place and how you got there...I will not hesitate to remind you."

Gargano went still, his eyes red with burst vessels, staring lifeless up at the ceiling. Falk stood, smoothed out his clothes, and headed to the door, stepping over the lifeless corpse of one of Gargano's men. Miles was left there with their bodies, frozen in terror and disgust. He never did find out the specifics of what happened to warrant this retribution, but then, he didn't need to. The point was made. Jakob Falk showed him well and truly what he was that night. It was a lesson he would not forget.
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