Eight Years Ago
I wake up to my mother’s bone chilling scream and the sound of rapid footsteps throughout the house. I jolt up in bed and automatically reach for the gun in my bedside table, the one I never thought I’d actually have to use. A sick, knowing feeling slides up my spine as I realize that it’shappening.
I was only eight years old when my father told me the Scott family secret. Our family's dark past began with my great, great something grandfather Jacob Scott in 1806 when he created a gang called the Charcoal Cobras in Orlando, Florida. From what I understand, my ancestor Jacob was a cold, manipulative man who only cared about himself. The gang he created was designed to rid the world of minority races. Every male member of my family has been a part of the Charcoal Cobras—the CCs in short—ever since 1806.
I grip my gun tightly and take the safety off before quietly moving stealthily towards my bedroom door.
“Find the kid,” a male voice orders loudly from out in the hallway. My heart picks up pace and I pray to god that this is a nightmare, that I’m only dreaming this.
My father warned me growing up that this day might come, that the CCs might find him, find us. I just never actually thought it would happen.
“Keep him alive,” the gruff voice snarls, getting louder. I position myself next to the door, waiting for them to swing it open. I won’t hesitate. I can’t hesitate. I have to shoot. I have to shoot a living, breathing person.
The gang is after my father because he ran from them, he ran from a lifelong commitment he made to the CCs, and with it, he took a hefty chunk of cash that belonged to them. My father ran eighteen years ago, soon after I was born, to save my mother’s life and to give me a better one.
You see, my father made the biggest mistake a CCs member can make. He fell in love. The CCs see women as a liability, a weakness. They use them to create new legacy members, more males. Once they’ve fulfilled their purpose, the CCs kill the women and any female children that may have been born in the process of trying to conceive a male. They’re dark and twisted men and that’s why I can’t hesitate. I have to shoot. My hand shakes as I attempt to hold my weapon steady. I can’t take waiting any longer.
I turn the door knob slowly and begin to ease open the door, just as another blood curling scream comes from my mother and father’s bedroom. I’m not letting them fuck with my mom.
I wouldn't have believed my dad's stories growing up if it weren't for the things the man knew, the things he told me, the answers he had to some of the country's biggest, most terrible unsolved crimes, and the details he had about them. The things he told me... Some things people are better off not knowing. I know he told me to protect me, like how he taught me to use a gun as soon as my mom would let him.
My father isn't a bad man. Sure, he’s done bad—no terrible—things, but he is not a bad man at heart. Everything he did while with the CCs was because he was brainwashed to think it was right. He grew up hunting, killing, tracking, doing drugs, and drinking. He grew up surrounded by men who wanted nothing more than to kill and wreak havoc.
I swing the door open and ease into the hallway with stealth. I duck into the bathroom as a man comes sprinting from my parent’s room towards me. Training for something like this is one thing, actually being in this situation is a complete other thing. I’m relieved when the guy doesn’t see me and rushes past the bathroom and into my bedroom. I wonder how many men are in the house. I’ve complained for years about the hardcore weapon and physical training my dad has made me do near daily for as long as I can remember, but I suddenly, completely understand why it was all necessary, suddenly I’m thankful I’ve been trained for this, even if I’m not ready to face it.
As the man rushes back out from my bedroom, having not found me, I raise my gun at his head and pull the trigger without hesitation. There isn’t time for hesitation. My mom is in danger; my dad is in danger; my future is in danger. The gun goes off with a loud bang, shaking the house.
My father warned me that if they came one day—the CCs—they’d come at night and they’d kill my mother and him, leaving me alive to pay back a debt that heowed them. Technically, you see, I’m a legacy, a male born into the CCs and therefore not given a choice about joining, but forced into it by birth. A rule my ancestor Jacob made. I wish he were alive today so I could strangle him.
The guy falls to the ground in a heap and adrenalin races through my veins. I don’t even notice the blood or the fact that I just killed a man. I rip down the hallway towards my parent’s room, only to have a gun pulled on me from behind as a man throws me into the wall, busting the drywall as my back collides with it.
“Fucking try something, kid, I dare you,” the gruff man sneers. His muscled body holds me still and he brings a gun up to my temple in threat. My breath catches and I freeze. His breath is rancid, cigarette smoke and beer.
Another man, this one with a 5 o’clock shadow and a scar from the corner of his left eye across to his ear, runs out from my parent’s room. “Don’t kill him, Bert, I told you not to kill him.”
Bert scoffs and digs the barrel of the gun into my skull harshly.
“I’ll do whatever you want, just don’t hurt them,” I beg, teeth clenched. An array of terrible situations present themselves in my mind as I imagine the scene going on in the bedroom.
“Take my son but don’t hurt my wife,” I hear my father begging, my mom whimpering.
His words piss me off a little, but hell, they can take me instead of killing my mom any day. Tears form in my eyes but don’t fall down my cheeks. I really never thought this day would actually come.
There’s a sick, throaty laugh from in the bedroom. “Oh, fuck, you really think we’re going to let her live? You knowthe rules. You’rea traitor and she’sjust a bitch.”
A gun shot rings out, bursting my ear drums. I begin to panic, and I jerk from the man’s grip, lurching for my parent’s bedroom. My dad lets out the most pained sound I’ve ever heard in my entire life and without seeing, I know. They just shot my mom. A second shot blasts and it takes me a few steps to realize that this time it’s me who’s been shot. I don’t feel the pain at first, not until I’m caught and thrown onto the ground. I’m restrained with rope as blood begins to pool underneath me. I’ve been hit in the shoulder.
The most pained, cold, heart wrenching scream imaginable comes from my father in the other room. I don’t need to reach my parent’s room to know that I’ve failed, that both my father and I’ve failed in protecting mom. My father’s wail is cut off by a gritty, low chuckle and another bang of a gun.
I find myself screaming almost as chillingly as my father as moments later two bodies are pulled roughly from my parent’s bedroom covered in blood. I shake, and I wobble on the edge of consciousness. The blood loss is too much and the scene in front of me just isn’t comprehendible. It’s all too much.
I black out from blood loss, pain, and shock.
I wake up on a creaky cot, my shoulder screaming in pain. I glance around as much as I can without moving my shoulder. I’m bandaged up in an old, rundown bar. I’m also tied to the cot I lie in and can't move.
I’m terrified but also resigned. My mom and my dad are both dead. The situation I trained my whole life for, over. I failed. I can’t help but think about the third a final person in my life that I’d give my life for. Is she safe? Did they find her too?
My father warned me against making too many connections growing up in case we would have to move one day, or the CCs would come and use everything I loved against me. Against his warning, I befriended and eventually fell in love. Okay, I didn't just fall in love; I gave my heart away to my girlfriend Anna. I fell head first. Hard. If they do anything to her, I’ll be lost. I’ll be done. I knew the last two years with her were risky, I knew I shouldn’t put her in danger, but it’s too late now.
A man walks into the room dressed in a hoodie and track pants. Just looking at the guy, I can tell he’s something dark, something truly evil. The sight of him makes me want to throw up. He introduces himself as Harry with a sly smile and cuts the ropes holding down my hands with a knife. Then he tosses me a folder and demands I open it.
I do, though my shoulder screams in protest. Papers slide out onto my chest, and I pick each one up to read. I don't have to look long because I see the only name that will make me do anything in the world. Anna Fairchild's name is on every single paper. Each piece of paper contains information on her location, health, everything. There are pictures upon pictures. These guys have been watching her, stalking her, stalking us. The last photo in the folder is one of the CCs members pointing a gun to her head while she sleeps peacefully in her bed, seemingly completely unaware of his presence. My blood turns to ice and I want to leap up and kill every last one of them, but I can't.
"You cooperate, you do as we say, we won't kill her. Before your dad left, he made a significant withdrawal from our funds. You're going to have to pay off his debts, kid. We don't want the money. We want the elbow grease. We know your father has trained you well. We know you can handle a gun. You will pay us back by working for us, being one of the men who deals with those who don't want to cooperate with us and don't follow the rules. Do we have a deal?" The man's voice is raspy and harsh. There is no warmth in it whatsoever.
Before I even think about it, I’m nodding. I know I can't let anything happen to Anna. Never can I let them lay a hand on her. Losing my parents is more than enough pain. I can’t imagine any more. She’s all I have left.
The man hands me another piece of paper and a knife. "We take shit seriously around here. Sign this and you're our bitch for ten years, boy. When your contract is up, you may go. The Scotts are no longer needed here if they've lost track of the CC's purpose. We don't need those here who we can't trust. Then again, you never know, maybe after a while, before the ten years is up, you'll change your mind and want to stay. Maybe there's something in you that there wasn't in your piece of shit father."
I’m not sure what to do with the knife, so Harry grabs it from me and slices open my palm before pressing it to the paper. A signature in blood.
Eight years, that's how long it's been since the murder at the Randal house. The day I lost my best friend and the love of my life. Blake was my everything. No one in the neighborhood had any idea why someone would murder such a kind family. The Randal’s were active members of the community, friendly, hell, they even attended church on Sundays. The police said there were multiple bullet holes in Mr. and Mrs. Randal’s bedroom wall as well as a gunshot hole in the wall at chest height in the hallway, enough blood around each of them for it to be assumed that all three were murdered in cold blood, but there were no bodies to prove it.
Blake Randal was the kindest guy I’ve ever met. He didn’t deserve what he got. He didn’t deserve to die such a terrible death. I’ve never been a real religious woman, but Blake was a religious guy. He never missed church, ever. If god is real, why take someone as pure as Blake so soon? What did Blake do to deserve such a fate?
The last moment I spent with him is one I revisit often. He’d just finished playing a football game and we were in his car in front of my house. We got talking about school and prom. It was easy, simple, relaxed. I was happy and I didn’t even realize just how perfect my life was in high school. I had something that so many people in their life search for and never find. I had true love. Even now, at twenty-six, I know it was real, it was the real thing. I had it and then I lost it, it was ripped away from me in a single fleeting moment.
I waited around, living with my parents and putting off college for a year before it really sunk in that Blake wasn't coming back, that he was truly gone. I snapped and that's when I got mixed up with some bad shit and happened to stumble upon a guy who worked for someone doing contract killing, hitman work. He hooked me up with his boss’s contact information and after debating whether or not to call the number for two weeks, I finally met up with him at a coffee shop.
My parents think I went off to college and got a degree in psychology. I didn't. I've spent the last seven years killing criminals who the justice system failed to punish. It's not legal but fuck the law if they can't even find out who killed my best friend. Fuck the law if they can't even manage to punish those who deserve to be punished.
I know I'm doing this to somehow avenge Blake's murder, even if with every kill I make I don't feel any better. I don't get closure, but for a mere instant, the thought of taking out someone who has hurt people, who has killed or sexually abused someone, numbs a little bit of the pain in my heart, if only for a moment.
I'm comfortable with what I do. I wasn't at first, but when you feel so strongly about something it doesn't take you long to learn to deal with the downfalls. It’s not an easy job. Killing people, taking people’s lives from them, is far from easy and it doesn’t get any easier as the body count rises. With each kill my partner Adam and I make, I wince, I think about it afterwards, dream about it. I remember each and every one of our jobs, every person we’ve taken from this earth, all in vivid detail. Adam's been at this for longer than I have and it doesn’t seem to faze him as much as it does me. Adam and our boss have taught me everything I know. In some ways, they’re family. We’ve grown close.
I throw on a pair of pants and big hoodie that I can easily conceal weapons under. A knock on my door tells me that Adam is here to pick me up. I look through the peephole to confirm it's him before opening the door to his smiling face. Adam is dressed in all black, his brown hair buzzed short and his face clear of any facial hair. Although we’re nearly the same age, he appears to be much older than me.
Adam is a nice guy. He's been at this since he was sixteen after being tossed around in the foster care system. I'm not going to lie; this guy is messed up. There's something deeply wrong with him. He can shoot a person in the forehead without blinking an eye and without feeling the slightest bit of remorse. He's scary, so I'm glad I'm on his good side.
"Yep." I pick up my suitcase and toss it into the back seat of his SUV parked right outside the motel room door. I never thought I'd be so sick of staying in motel rooms.
"This is going to be a quick one. I've been watching the guy all week. He's really something. I almost went after him without you. Fucking pervert has a three-year-old daughter. Need I say more?" Adam says with a grin that contains absolutely no humor, it's a sick grin, a demented grin. It’s the one he gets when he’s so disgusted by someone that he’s already picturing their death in his mind. He throws the vehicle in reverse and we speed towards the outskirts of Indiana.
"I can't believe how many sick people there are. It's unbelievable," I mutter under my breath and check my phone for missed messages from our boss. None. Pedophiles are the easiest kill for me. You hurt a kid and you more than deserve a bullet between the eyes.
We park down the street from the target's house and jump out of the truck quietly. Attracting any attention is always bad news. We then slip down the alley to the back of the house and through the yard. Adam picks the back-door’s lock as I keep lookout. I glance down at my gloved hands and my gun. This is the moment my adrenalin goes wild.
The sound of the door clicking open causes me to focus. There's no time for hesitation. Adam goes in first. I follow once the coast seems clear. He's been scouting the place all week so that we know what to do and where to go. While he’s been here, I've been scouting another target's place that we'll hit up later tonight if all goes well.
Adam silently opens the door of Mr. Wicken’s bedroom and shines his flashlight on the bed. He sleeps soundly. We're here to take this abusive husband and pedophile out of the picture and give his family freedom.
His wife is out of town on business; she's a publisher. We’ve done extensive research on the target as usual.
Adam unsheathes a knife and ends the man as quietly as possible, shoving the blade through the man’s eye socket and into his brain. I dry heave at the sight. Since there aren't any foreseeable roadblocks, I go back to the truck and bring it down the alley silently with the lights off. The man is small, and Adam manages to bring Mr. Wicken's body outside all on his own and throw him into the back of the vehicle, while I run into the house, find the house phone, and dial 911, so someone can come find the young girl who is still asleep. I don't respond to the woman who answers the phone. I just leave the call on and race out of the house, back to the truck.
We take off to the next location.
"Maddock is at it again. Fucker fucked us over fifty grand last week. I think it's time we put an end to his games before he puts an end to us," Harry tells us men as we dig into some pizza and beer.
"It's been a long time coming. Let memake the shot that ends him. Fucker killed my brother," Liam mutters into his food angrily.
Harry shrugs. "Whoever kills him, kills him. I don’t care. I just want him dead. Blake, I have a job for you and Tyrell. Info is in my office."
I stand and nod. "On it, sir." I glance over to Tyrell, one of our new recruits. He's young, eighteen, but he's good with a gun. "Come on, Tye." I wave him in the direction of Harry’s office.
Tyrell stands and races after me with his beer in hand. "What do you think he has for us?" he asks me. It's not often I'm assigned to take a new recruit with me on a job. Normally, I get jobs that require brain and skill. It's easier for me to get in and out without a rookie on my ass.
"I don't know," I grumble and take a draw from my cigarette.
"You don't know? You're the boss's right-hand man," Tyrell pushes. “You must have some idea.”
"I guess we'll find out what we have in five seconds so relax," I urge him without patience. Tyrell is Skull's son. Skull was killed a few months back by one of Maddock's men during an attack on us. Maddock is our main threat. He has a group twice the size of ours. We've dealt with them for years, trading goods and what not. He has what we want at a good price, and we have what he wants at a good price. Somehow the fucker manages to screw us over now and again, thinking that we won't come after his men because we have smaller numbers. Harry doesn't give a fuck. He'll send us all at them to die.
Tyrell stiffens when we get to Harry's office. I open the door and find the file on his desk like boss said I would. "It looks like someone is on our turf again. Cocaine isn't supposed to be sold by anyone else in a hundred-mile radius. I thought we made that clear." I shake my head. Ridiculous.
Tyrell's eyes widen slightly. "How many of them?"
"It’s just one guy by the looks of it. Thirty-eight-year-old Jayden Pulsgroth. Looks like the guy's a dentist," I rattle off. "Two kids, a wife who is a hairdresser... This should be easy. We'll figure out what time he gets off work and leaves the office. Maybe we can finish him from there. Boss wants him dead before the end of the week. If I had it my way, I’d just shake the guy up a bit and scare him off. Doesn’t seem like much of a threat to me. He probably doesn’t even know he’s in our territory and shouldn’t be. This seems like more work than it’s worth."
"Geeze, two kids?" Tyrell says through a breath. He doesn't like this any more than I do, but it's our job. It’s good to know that Skull’s son has more morality than he ever did, but it won’t last long. This life changes people.
"You're going to have to toughen up, Tyrell. We don't need no pussies around here, got it?" I shout sternly, hating myself as I say the words.
Tyrell stiffens and nods. "Yes, sir, of course not."
I feel bad for yelling at the kid for having feelings. I remember when I used to have feelings. It seems like so long ago I was the new kid like this guy, getting whipped into shape by the others.
"It's too late to check this out today. We'll go out tomorrow and watch the guy. If all goes well, we'll have this done by tomorrow night or at least before the end of the week," I explain. "I need a hit, but you should go get some sleep. It’s your first big job. Prepare yourself."
Tyrell nods and races off to get some rest while I head back into the room where most of the men still sit around the bar drinking and pigging out on pizza.
"Think you can handle it?" Harry asks when he sees me enter.
I nod and grin. "Should be a piece of cake."
"Think Tyrell can handle it?" he asks then, this time sounding unsure.
I shrug. "I guess we'll find out tomorrow, right? Little fucker better not get me killed."
"The kid doesn't have the skills you had when you came to us. You're going to need to keep an eye out for him. Skull did enough for us that looking out for his son should be something we do. He is one of us, a legacy," Harry says sternly. He's thinking I might just let the kid die or something. No way. I wouldn't let someone touch the kid. I actually kind of like Tyrell. He reminds me of myself when I was younger. Harry would have no idea about that though. He's probably just remembering what happened to the last kid I took out on a job with me. The kid hesitated when pulling the trigger on a guy and well, the other guy didn't hesitate.
"Yes, sir," I grumble and shove a slice of pizza in my mouth before doing a line on the bar.
"Try some of this shit," Dyson, one of the guys my age, offers. He tosses me a tiny bag of something white.
I grin and shake the bag a little. "What is it?"
He shrugs. "Try it, and then I'll tell you."
I'm not usually a guy to take drugs without knowing what it is at the very least, but I trust Dyson. Well, I trust him not to try to kill me. I nod and shove it in my pocket. “Later, not now. I'm finishing this entire pizza before I do anything else. I'm starving.”
"Got something I want to talk to you about," Dyson informs me quietly. "Something personal."
The room begins clearing out as the men finish their food and beer and head off to bed. It's late.
"Sure," I answer. “What’s up?”
After all the men have left and I've eaten half a pizza, Dyson turns to me. "I know why you're here. Harry told my dad about the woman he threatened to kill if you didn't sign a ten-year contract with the CCs."
I nod. "Yeah, that was years ago, and?"
"I met a woman," he says through a sigh and chuckles awkwardly.
"What about it?" I ask him. We've all met women. Lots and lots of women. "You think she'd bring a good man for the Cobras into the world, or what?"
Dyson sighs and shakes his head. His voice drops. "I think she'd make a good wife, that's what I think, Blake."
I try to keep my jaw from dropping. Dyson has gone and fallen in love? Shit. Love never ends well for any of us men.
"Look, you're the only one I can trust with this, Blake. That's why I'm telling you this. What do I do, man? Last thing I thought I'd do was fall in love. I can't let Harry know about her, he'll kill her. Well, he'll make youkill her for him. He's already been on me about having a son, and if he even hears I might have a woman, he's going to make me do what I don't want to do. You know what I'm saying? You understand what I'm telling you?" Dyson pushes. I can see the fear in his eyes. "What do I do?"
I don't have an answer for him, not one he'll like. "You fucking stop what you're doing, back the fuck off her, let her live her life, go find a woman you could care less about and have a son with her instead. That's what you do. That's allyou can do, unless you want her killed. Trust me when I say that if you don't, she'll end up dead no matter what you do. Fucking sucks but that’s the way things have to be around here. I know you know that."
Dyson's face drops, but I know he already knew this would be my answer. "Yeah, you're right. I fucking hate it, but you're right. When your ten years is up, you going back to your woman?"
I shake my head. "I was fucking eighteen. I'm sure she's married with six kids by now. If she ain't, she probably barely remembers me. It was years ago. Anyhow, if I did go back to her, we all know the shit that would follow me. I've fucked with too many people. I can't get out now. That was Harry's plan all along. He knew I'd be stuck here for good after I stayed. I mean, look what happened to my father. I've killed more men and women…children in my life than he did in his. I've fucked with a lot of people. A lot of people want me dead or worse. No way I can just get out of this, Dyson. This is my life until I stop breathing."
"You don't think you could run, get out of America, go to Paris or something, and change your name? You could start over," Dyson drills. Has Harry put him up to this? Is this some sort of trick to test my loyalty to the group?
"No, I don't. I'll end up like my dad—dead. I'm here for good. There's nothing for me out in the world anyways. This is it. Eight years ago, sure, I could've had a life. I could've been whatever I wanted. I could've gone to school and became a doctor or a lawyer. I could've done anything. But now? I'm stuck in this for good, and I know you know exactly what I'm saying. You're a legacy, too. Did you have a choice?"
Dyson's eyes dim, and he nods. "Yeah, I get it more than you know. If I try to leave, they'll fucking kill me. I know too much. Always have. I was damned to this life the day I was born. All legacies are. At least you had a semi normal childhood before all this."
I nod in agreement. He’s right and I’m grateful for the way I grew up every day.
"At least you got a chance to see what life was beyond the CCs. I grew up watching my dad come back here covered in blood. He had your shitty job before you came along. I grew up watching these men snorting coke off this very counter." He runs his finger along the ledge. "I'm a sick fuck, because they're all sick fucks. I didn't have a fucking chance in the world."
He's right, but he's not nearly as disturbed as most of these men. Somehow, for some reason, Dyson has a shred of conscience.
"At least you never had to see your parent's dead bodies. You didn't grow to love them and then have them ripped away by this gang." I crack open another beer and take a long chug.
"True. The CCs have fucked both our lives over, and here we are doing their dirty work. Killing people, sometimes innocent people. Look at you, you're Harry's best killer. You're his right-hand man, Blake. I remember the day you came here. I remember the look in your eyes. What the fuck did it take to turn you into the man you are today? What was it that made you decide you'd rather be the CC's slave, their murderer, instead of just saying fuck it and taking your own life?" Dyson groans and reaches into his pocket for something. It's a bag of coke.
"You've got just as much a conscience as I do, Dyson. Why haven't you done the same?"
"I know where I'm going. I'm going to hell. I'm just trying to give myself time to prepare, you know? A few more years on earth ain't so bad when you know you're gonna end up in hell one day anyway." Dyson chuckles darkly and chugs the rest of his beer. His dark brown hair is tousled and dirty.
"This is hell, Dyson. We're already here, bud," I tell him, patting his shoulder.
He nods slowly while processing my words. "Yeah…yeah, you're right. Why amI still here?"
I look away for one second to grab another piece of pizza when a gunshot goes off, splitting my eardrums. My ears ring as I turn myself back to face Dyson. Only he's not sitting on his stool any longer. He's lying on the floor, gun a foot from his open hand. He just took his own life right in front of me because of mywords. A hand flies to my mouth in surprise, just as the door swings open and the group of men rush into the room, having been woken by the gunshot.
Harry looks to me and nods for me to follow him into his office. The other men stare at Dyson's body grimly. He was our brother. He will be missed by all of us, even the darkest of souls. This is a man we trusted and spent every single day with.
When I get into Harry's office, he closes the door and hands me a blunt. I light it and cuss loudly, kicking a chair and sending it flying into a filing cabinet.
"What happened?" Harry asks calmly, as if this hasn't affected him at all.
I have to lie. If I tell him any of what we said out there, I'm dead. "I don't know. One second he was going off about hell, and the next I go to grab another piece of pizza and the guy shoots himself." I run my hand through my black hair. Fuck.
Harry has no reason not to believe me. I've been loyal to the guy for eight years, so he nods and pats me on the back. "I know you two were close. I'm sorry for your loss. His dad is out in North Carolina for a deal. I'll call him with the news. You should try to get some sleep."
Dyson and I weren't exactly close, but we were friends. He and I were closer than anyone else in the CCs I guess. I nod and inhale some more pot. Never have I ever witnessed a man take his own life, not until today.
If it weren't for the contract that I signed eight years ago, I, too, would've done what Dyson has done tonight. I would've taken my own life eight years ago. It was in the contract I signed, that if I took my own life, Anna would die. The only person I have left would die. Every time I think about taking my life, which is daily, Anna's face pops into my mind, her sweet blue eyes staring into my soul, her dimples prominent as she laughs. How could I ever be the cause of her pain, her death? Even if she isn’t and never will be part of my life ever again.