I stood up, half of my mind hard and certain and the other doubtful and in denial. That couldn't be her! But then again, she was the only female in the building. Oliver let a sigh breeze out of his nose as he said my name again. I chose not to hear him as another distant and short scream sent my nerves rippling in a fearful vibration. I stepped toward the door. I was not obeying the dumb human instinct of curiosity, I was responding to my inner conscience at the alarming sound of pain.
"Nigel. Go back to sleep." Xavier's voice barked. I couldn't believe they weren't hearing this! "Harley is screaming, can't you hear her!?" My voice was a fraction higher as a result of the tension in my throat, along with the rest of my body. I turned in the dark to face Xavier who was sitting up against the wall a few feet from Oliver. Even in the dark, I could make out the grim expression on his face.
"No. We can't." He emphasized with a hard glare.
I slowly came to understand why they claimed they didn't hear anything. Their ears were working just fine, it was their hearts that were deaf. "...You're not going to do anything to help her?" Their affirming silence angered me. I raised my voice a notch. "You cowards! You cowards!! She is screaming! Don't you care at all!?"
Samuel mumbled weakly from his bed on the counter behind me. "We do care... we just can't do anything." Malcolm burst into a loud sigh that dripped with annoyance from the couch. "I don't care. I just want to get some sleep!"
My rage strengthened as I glared back at Xavier, demanding his explanation. He didn't give one, and neither did Oliver. "And earlier, when he grabbed her arm!?" I hissed, remembering the flash of fear in Harley's young eyes. "You ignored that too!"
Malcolm growled angrily at me, greedy for his futile beauty sleep. "So what!? That was nothing compared to--" I yelled at him to shut up, a firecracker going off in my chest when I heard the selfishness in his deep tone.
"Nigel. Go back to sleep." Xavier repeated, no emotion in his voice. My rope was at its end. I was fuming mad. "He ABUSES her, and you don't do ANYTHING!?!?"
"NIGEL!" Xavier barked. I knew I stepped over a line, accusing them openly like that. But I stated the ugly, horrible, nauseating truth. I stormed out of that room before the next scream tore through the air. Her frequency was rough and real, she was not faking the pain behind her voice. What the hell was he doing to her!? Now that I was in the main room, I could detect high pitched whimpers mixed into and in between the shrill sounds. Adrenaline, shock, hate, and fear fueled my body as I ran past the darkened bar and almost stumbled down the hidden step to the eerie wrecked foyer. Where was the door!?
My shaky hands felt against the rough carpeted wall; the door had to be somewhere around here! I flinched as I found the cold casket-like wood. Before I could grab the brass handle and break open the door, I was yanked back by a hand over my mouth. Struggling in panic, I lashed out and tried to yell as Xavier wrestled me to the ground. Harley's shrill cries erupted again, covering up the noise of our scuffle. I bore my nails into his flexing shoulders and arms as my throat constricted and burned with pain. He didn't say anything, obviously doing his best to keep this whole thing, and me, silent.
His strength was so impressive, I thought I had been nabbed by Malcolm if it had not been for his glinting earring. I didn't have a chance against him, with my body still not fully recovered from my horrible time on the streets. Seconds after my lungs were robbed empty, my conscious was squeezed out of me.
Every atom within his body was vibrating in fear. Xavier released Nigel's throat and held onto the grey jacket over his chest that used to belong to him. There couldn't possibly be a worse scenario than the one Nigel was just about to get all of them into. Nigel would die instantly for multiple reasons, the rest of the henchmen would suffer miserably for not stopping him, plus there would be the mistrusting accusation that the guys provoked him to barge in there. Xavier could easily imagine Boss snarling, "If you're all so damn curious, come on in and join the fun." But now was not the time to dwell on an avoided outcome. The door could open any second, his efforts could be in vain. Every instinct within screamed for him to run. No one had ever dared to come this close to the lion's den. With sweaty hands, he hauled Nigel back to the safety of their room.
Everyone but Malcolm was on edge. "What a moron." The arrogant brute snorted, folding his arms as he lay on his side. Xavier was so worked up, he felt like he was going to vomit. Oliver helped settle Nigel's heavy body back on the ground. Everyone was quiet as the screaming continued. "....He touched the door." Xavier whispered, holding his stomach as it did somersaults.
After astounded silence, Oliver sighed. "He's... crazy. He's too brave."
"He doesn't know his place." Samuel mirrored the teenager's fear.
Malcolm's voice was the only one that wasn't toned mild and solemn. "He'll know soon enough. Once Boss sees his fire, he'll put it out."
"...Maybe we should put it out ourselves... It'd be gentler on him." Sam inwardly flinched as Harley cried out again. Every scream of hers cracked his soul.
"No. It's not our job to discipline." Oliver attempted to go back to sleep, doing so after he moved his bed away from Nigel. Sam was dismayed. "Come on, we, we gotta give the guy a break!"
"It's dangerous to get attached to anyone here, Sam." Xavier felt his nerves calm down. "Every bloke for himself."
Sam hated it when they told him that. He knew it was true, but it was sad. Human beings weren't toys to wear out and replace. "Then why did you run after 'im and stop 'im?"
"He put us all in danger. I was saving my own skin." Xavier went back to sleep as everyone fell silent and did the same. Malcolm was amused at the drama, happy to see anything that dropped the newcomer lower on Boss's favorites list. No one stayed awake long enough to hear the last scream.
What a horrible, horrible nightmare. I would have been content to go on with my life believing everything was a dream, from the very moment I lost my house and was chased onto the street, all the way to the screaming. These six days would have been the first to be wiped off my life slate if I had the chance and privilege to do so. But I didn't. I knew that my hopes were in vain when I felt a fringe of agony in my subconscious. I was not sleeping in my safe bed at home, I'd passed out from lack of oxygen after practically being choked to death.
I rolled onto my side and held my throat as I coughed and swallowed in an attempt to soothe the ebbing pain. It felt like I had suddenly acquired the dreaded strep throat virus. It was impossible to identify what time it was, the boarded window did its job to keep absolutely everything out of this room, including sunlight like I had expected. A sliver of artificial light came through the closed door, informing me that others were already awake.
Xavier was the only one in the room with me, leaning next to the door with his thumbs hooked into his belt loops. "Sleep well?"
I stood up as a headache pulsed through my temple. I hardly noticed, I was so used to pain by now. "Is Harley okay?"
"That is not your concern." His anger flared up again but he didn't move. "Asking shit like that is going to get you killed, Nigel."
I adjusted my shirt and zipped it closed over my chest again, fixing the result of the tousle last night. "You get punished for caring about somebody around here!?" I glared at him.
"You get your ASS FRIED for caring about something that's not yours!" Xavier persisted, raising his voice to drill his words into me. I had nothing to say to that. He wasn't right. He was wrong. Correct in his words, but still... just morally wrong. But he knew what he was talking about, he's been here longer than I have.
"...I know you're only trying to help." I muttered as he nodded. "But I'm not the one screaming at night."
Now it was his turn to be quiet. I went over to him, hearing everyone else talking at the bar outside the door. He shook his head and kept his voice lower. "Just forget about last night, okay? Don't bring it up. Don't talk to her about it. Don't give looks, nothing, okay? You have no idea... how bad it will be if you show the tiniest bit of knowledge about it. This is a big deal, man." He was seriously concerned.
I sighed and nodded resentfully. "Fine. I'll drop it. It's not my place to interfere." We made up by hitting each other's shoulders.
Everyone was up and busy. Oliver and Sam were wolfing down a banana each, sitting on the edge of their bar stools as if they were expecting a sudden call to arms. Malcolm was spreading out a pile of weapons on the only table in the foyer that didn't have a 45 degree angle tilt, murmuring under his breath, probably counting the guns and their ammunition. Joker was beside him, watching his work and seeing for himself that everything was there and accounted for. I kept my eyes off Joker and tried to distract my mind. "Where did the guns come from?"
Xavier ripped apart the last two bananas and tossed one at me. "Boss keeps all the weapons in his room, in case one of us gets cocky with 'em." I guess that made sense. These guys seemed like they were criminals before they ended up here, so why trust them unsupervised with weapons in your house? "When we use 'em, he distributes them."
I took the hint, based on everyone else's rushing, that I had to eat fast, so I did. My stomach had put every bit of those three sandwiches I ate last night to good use, and now, being empty, it hungered for more fuel. Having a fruit was another treat to my taste buds. That banana was such a glorious yellow beacon of life, I considered eating the very peel. I was quite lucky that the fruit was so mushy, however, otherwise I would have choked on it when a hand slapped my back hard.
"Have any nightmares last night?" Harley grinned, moving her hands to grip my shoulders, successfully giving me shivers. She was dressed in a loose red shirt, long sleeves to her elbows with small tatters on the ends and a similarly tattered v-shaped collar. The fabric was dark enough that you couldn't see through it, but it was apparent that she didn't have a tank top underneath it, only a bra. Her black sweatpants further indicated what I suspected her outfit to serve as, pajamas. As she leaned over my shoulder to smile at me, her flowing golden hair tickled my cheek.
"Uh, yeah..." I stuttered as she smirked and walked forward to play with Xavier's earring. Every move she made sent her hair pulsing like silky savanna grass in the wind. She looked like a normal woman. Beautiful, sane... innocent. "About the war, as always." I swallowed the last bite of my banana.
"Ah, yeah, I've heard about soldiers having those pretty badly." I nodded at her as she spoke, fighting my eyes' urge to look her over and see if she was hurt, bruised, bleeding, bandaged, if she was limping or moving slowly, anything to indicate she was in pain. But instead I kept my eyes on her little painted finger batting at X's earring like a cat, a light smile on my face as I observed X's ignorance to it. He must be used to it.
Behind her, my eyes focused for a second on Joker's distant but watchful gaze. Fear gripped my chest, but once his eyes slowly dropped from mine and focused back on the table of weapons, I relaxed. He was checking at what my gaze held, but after seeing that I was not searching for any injuries on Harley, he let it go. Malcolm was muttering about one of the rifles to him, turning it around in his hands.
"Miss Quinn," Xavier left his empty banana peel on the counter, and I duplicated his example. "Is Nigel gonna come with us to the pier?"
Harley giggled lightly and scanned me again, sparing Xavier's earring. "Nah! Mr. J wants ta work with him." Her wink sent more shivers down my back.
Xavier raised his eyes as Sam and Oliver, listening in, scoffed and held in some laughter. They probably knew what was going to happen. I imagined my expression to be blank and dumb, fear subdued by confusion. Harley snickered, joining in the "pick on the new guy" parade.
"Alright. That's fine." I shook my head and laughed along, honestly not that intimidated. "I can survive the war, I'll get through this." Being able to laugh at yourself was one of the best qualities a person could have, mostly because it takes stress and pressure off you and lightens the mood for everyone.
Malcolm called the guys with a small yell, and they all immediately rushed over to grab a weapon. I watched them, looking for something that I might need to take note of. Malcolm handed each of them an AK47 and an extra clip. Xavier and Oliver were given knives. I wondered if they were particularly special or trustworthy, or if there was just a short supply and those two coincidentally received a blade.
Harley hopped up onto a bar stool and swung her legs like a child. I was able to relax, knowing, based on what I saw, that she was okay. I tried not to imagine what she was hiding. Keeping my eyes off her, I watched the guys handle their guns, hiding the extra clip somewhere on their bodies and adjusting the shoulder straps so the weapons fit semi-securely on their backs. With a quick word to Malcolm, Joker waved over Harley. She leaped up and was at his side in an instant. Gesturing to the guns for her, he turned to call Xavier and Oliver back.
Samuel came up to me and patted my back as he headed toward the back door. "See ya mate."
"Good luck. Whatever you're doing." I smiled. He stopped to wait for the others, telling me, "We're goin' to the pier, Charles has another load of his drugs coming in."
"You're the drug's bodyguards?" I asked as he nodded and ran a finger under his nose. "Yeah. Kinda like police from hell." We laughed softly as Xavier and Oliver gave their knives back to Joker, handle first, and ran up to join us. "See you Nigel." With more harsh pats on my shoulder and back, they left, running as if they were late. Or maybe they were just glad to get out of here.
"Come here, newbie!" I obeyed Joker's bark and headed over there as Harley smiled at me and scooped up the rest of the weapons, taking them back into their dark room. Malcolm was still here, folding his arms beside the empty table and not looking too happy. Joker held out one of the knives he'd taken back from X and Oliver, and I took it without a word. "Alright soldier boy." He sighed, putting his gloved hands in his coat pockets. "Try to kill me."
I heard him correctly. There was no reason to stand there and stare blankly as if I was a retard. I didn't hesitate to ask, "Why?" He was only a few feet from me, I could easily lash out at him with the small weapon. "Are you questioning my orders?" He raised his voice at me.
Alright, fine, whatever you say. I lunged at him and was immediately knocked to the ground. It happened so fast, I didn't even know what he did to me. My shock was broken by a sharp kick in my side, flipping me over on my back as I cried out and flinched. "Get up! He yelled, one clenched fist out of his pocket, do doubt that being what he hit me with.
I tried to get up as fast as I could before his leg lashed out at me again, knocking me into a pile of sharp wood that used to be a table. Malcolm's laugh only made my blood boil more. "You're too slow, soldier boy!"
"Shut up." Joker snapped at him, turning away from me only a fraction as his eyes tauntingly provoked mine. I pulled myself up and held in a wince at the feeling of numb ribs. Okay... I wasn't ready before. Now I was awake. "You want me to kill you!?" I growled, gripping my knife tighter.
"I sure want you to try." He smirked at the sight of my flaring anger. His hands were in his pockets again, mockingly casual. I glared into his dark eyes, intent to prove myself to him. Not really wanting to be made into a fool a second time, I decided to try a different approach.
I pitched the knife through the air, aiming straight for his chest. He spun on his heel as it whisked past him, a pleased grin breaking onto his lips as the blade clattered to the floor across the room. "Good! Good... You learn fast, at least."
Did he want me to throw it from the beginning? I guess that made sense... Attacking from a long range has some good assets that close combat doesn't have. Even though a knife is made for close combat, it's not confined to just that. He made me have to think outside the box. Plus, he had the second knife in his pocket the whole time... no doubt, he would have used it on me had I come at him a second time. In a way, I used distance as my defense.
The look of focus in his eyes told me that we weren't done. I stayed alert and ready for anything, curious and mildly excited. I always liked a challenge.
My footsteps paced back and forth as I kept my eyes on him. When Harley woke me up last night, so enthusiastically jabbering about her new find, I was ready to kill the guy and go back to bed. But when I saw how lifeless he was, I knew it was wrong to blame him as the cause of Harley's annoyance. I still doubted his worth, but I gave him a chance. Judging someone when they were at their weakest was not wise. I might have thrown away a rare find if I had killed him last night, and I'm beginning to see that now.
I heard Malcolm move away from the table he was leaning on behind me, instinctively going to retrieve Nigel's knife. "Leave it there." Malcolm let out a tiny sigh of "Fine" and resumed his old position. Alright Nigel... how well do you cope when you're the one being attacked?
Since there really wasn't a reason to hide it, I brought out my own knife and fiddled with it at my side. His eyes darted down to it and then locked back onto my face, searching for clues to my next move. Unfortunately for him, I had mastered how to misguide someone with my body language.
Each step I took brought me a tiny bit closer to him. I could tell that he didn't detect it, yet. Now to distract him with some chit chat... "How long do you think you can last," I nodded to his empty arms ready at his sides. "without a weapon?"
He glanced at my knife again. "I'm sure I'll find out." I smiled at that unique answer. A little more distraction... I stopped my pacing, wary of his investigating gaze. "Malcolm," Turning my back on Nigel, I faced my strongest henchman with apparent carelessness. I gained a couple of feet on Nigel by discreetly placing my foot back as I turned. "How long would you last?"
"Long, sir." He boasted, in that proud way he does. My mind disconnected from advancing on Nigel for a second as a new thought came into my head. There was something about the way Malcolm had his muscled arms folded, a smirk on his hard mouth, a small flicker of hatred in his eyes as he glared at Nigel.... I took my attention off him and glanced into the space between them before looking at Nigel, ready and waiting patiently. "Really, huh...?" I muttered, thinking. Yep, change of plans.
I held out my arm as I flipped the knife around, taking hold of the blade. "Let's test that then." Nigel hesitantly took the knife from me as Malcolm furrowed his brow in confusion. "Kill him, Nigel."
I traded places with Malcolm, giving him a small push. A smirk crossed my face as I leaned on the table, watching them face each other. This will be fun.
Anger. That was what fueled every thought in his head. Once again, he had been thrust in an unwanted spotlight. And why? Because of this little piece of shit. His possible future replacement. A veteran soldier who'd stumbled upon their home on the verge of death. Why didn't Miss Quinn just shoot him in the first place!? He has no worth! He wasn't valuable to them at all! Why chose him to replace me!?
"Kill him, Nigel. Kill him, Nigel. Kill him, Nigel." Boss's order rang in his head. If this was a joke, it was cruel and stupid. That scrawny dog could never be strong enough to kill him! Never! Insulting! It was as if Joker stuffed him in a garbage bag and asked an infant who could barely crawl to take him outside. The child was obviously not fit for the job but Joker handed him over without a second thought, obviously just wanting someone else to do the disgusting deed of taking out the trash. Well, Malcolm knew he was not trash. He was the biggest, strongest, and most valued henchman of the batch!
Malcolm didn't bother to hide his escalating hatred. With all his rage, he attacked. That knife in Nigel's hand would not be an obstacle to the infuriated brute charging at him. No way, no how. Even if he was stabbed, he'd still have the strength to snap Nigel's little neck.
And that's exactly what happened. The knife went in his stomach, as deep as the handle, but he still grabbed Nigel's neck without a wince to accompany his snarl. But Nigel surprised him by keeping hold of the knife and unsheathing it to defend his throat. Blood bathed the knife along with the hand holding it as Malcolm's wrist was slit clean open.
Free, Nigel coughed to catch his breath and kept his movements light, gaining some distance and moving around Malcolm as the bigger man recovered, holding his wrist with his other hand and covering the opening in his stomach with his arm.
"You really want me to kill him?" Nigel glanced at Joker behind him for a second, panting. Malcolm growled as Joker captured his gaze with a smirk. "If you can, I'd be greatly impressed." Now he was nothing more than a bear to hunt!? A sick game of who will win and keep his life!? Malcolm welcomed the threat with frustration.
"I'm not going easy on you anymore, punk!" He rushed forward again, bringing one fist back for a punch. As Nigel readied his dripping knife again, Malcolm executed a maneuver he'd seen Boss do a hundred times. He lost the tension in his coiled arm and swung a surprise punch with his other dormant one.
The knife was out of the picture now. Once it hit the floor, Nigel was as good as dead. With a triumphant grin, Malcolm landed another punch on his rival and sent him to the ground with little effort. He sadistically enjoyed hearing a crunch under his heel as he broke one of Nigel's ribs. The screams enlightened him even more.
This pathetic wretch won't be a thorn in his side any longer, now that he was being sent straight back to hell. Malcolm had won. No one was going to replace him anytime soon. His strength was unmatched, even without a weapon he'd defeated his enemy. There was no way Joker would ever risk losing such a valuable--
The explosion of a bullet puncturing his shoulder quickly broke his happy mood.
With my body coiled and frozen in the shock of pain, I could barely react as my jacket hood was clutched and yanked up. The act of pulling me to my feet was in vain, because as soon as he let me go I fell down again on my shaking legs. Malcolm's breath seethed as he restrained his pain, gripping his shoulder. The gunshot startled the hell out of me, and I was certain I was the one who'd been shot. But it was Malcolm, I had no idea why. With Joker between us, blocking my view, I slowly sat up and held my ribs with a grimace. "Congratulations." Joker whispered chillingly as he held his gun to Malcolm's chest. "You lasted... long."
He was going to kill him. I tried to protest as I rose to my feet, sore everywhere and surely having a nasty bruise on my face where he landed the first blow. Even as strong as he was, Malcolm looked like a beaten child under the threat of Boss's gun.
I jumped and looked over as Harley came back into the room without bothering to close the door quietly behind her, fully dressed in costume. "Agh come on!" She yelled. "I leave for five minutes and look what happens!" I was scared of her anger.
"Shut up Harl." Boss muttered, not taking his eyes off Malcolm's. Harley broke her angry act and giggled, trotting over to stare at my face, no doubt admiring my bruise. I was focused on Malcolm. I didn't want him to die just because of me. Those two men seemed to be locked in a frozen stance of aggression; the only thing moving was the blood dripping from Malcolm's stomach, wrist, and shoulder.
Joker would have shot him by now if he was going to kill him. It looked as if he was telepathically engraving a warning through their minds. I winced as Harley touched my head, confirming my suspicion that there was a bruise there.
Putting away the gun, Joker released Malcolm from his gaze. "You're not done, Nigel, stay awake." I flinched as he hit my shoulder and walked past me, going to pick up both discarded knives. Harley saluted me with a flick of her wrist, making me shake my head and smile. She giggled like the playful little girl she was and pranced out of the "arena".
My smile faded as I caught Malcolm's glare. He left us without a word, holding his wounds and retreating back to the den. I didn't know what to feel. He just tried to kill me, but then again, I was set on killing him as well. But only because Boss told me to. I was afraid Malcolm's rage would ignite again if I attempted to apologize and make amends.
At the moment, however, I had enough to worry about. My newfound issues with Malcolm would have to wait. "I wasn't able to kill him sir." I cleared my throat and decided it would be a good idea to apologize for my failure to execute his orders. "I--"
"I didn't expect you to." Joker muttered, examining both knives as he headed back over. "I just wanted to see if you'd, uh, chicken out or... grow soft or something." I was mildly comforted to hear that. Apparently he was satisfied with my performance, although it earned me a broken rib and a million bruises.
He tossed a knife in my direction without looking, the action meant to be a move of transportation, not an attack. Almost cutting my fingers, I caught it with both hands like a baseball. "Come at me again." I followed his orders with caution and determination, trying my best to ignore Harley's giggles from the sidelines.
Sam, sitting alone in the back of the junky old van they used as a vehicle, allowed his eyes to close as the jiggling and bumping of the moving car soothed his agitated body. His fiddling fingers slowed in their game with each other as his head rested against the cold white metal behind him which he was sitting up against. The road trip to the pier was roughly an hour long, fault being their route; a maze of back streets and alleys that a van could barely fit through.
Stealth and secrecy was key to this whole "hiding-under-the-drugs" operation. He, along with all the other henchmen, personally hated this part of the job. They were supposed to be fighting Batman every night, robbing banks, murdering police men, setting explosives, getting rich, and the like. Instead they were guarding shipments of some addictive drug that was the new biggest hit on the market, the same old thing that all other low life henchmen do. Other than guarding drugs, the only other field to go into for this kind of work was being a bodyguard, but Boss already had one of those, and Harley was probably the best he'd ever get.
With a sigh, Samuel pushed the echos of her screams out of his memory. But the more he tried to do so, the more the sound engulfed him. Her beautiful voice didn't deserve to be unleashed in waves of agony. Her voice only deserved to be tangible in the form of laughter. Her laugh could make mountains melt, oceans blaze, and God weep.
Her laughter was a curse as well as a blessing. It was a beacon for demons as well as angels. Somehow, unfortunately, she ended up in the clutches of a demon. Where was an angel when she needed one? Why wasn't she saved? Hidden? Protected? Who let this monster capture that little red songbird? Who was to blame for her pain? The monster who inflicted it? The unknown invisible beings who abandoned their duty to protect her in the first place? Or the ones who knew of her pain and didn't do anything to relieve it?
No one could help her now. It was too late. She was too deep in his heart to be rescued. Trapped in a cold black cage with no love or light to comfort her. Chained, muted, wings clipped and eyes blinded by the surrounding darkness. Was there even anything to salvage of her being?
There was. That's why it was so sad. Her spirit remained alive. Contained, but alive. Screaming for help through burned lungs, just loud enough to reach the ears of those who ventured too close to her monster. Too close to do anything to help her without perishing in the futile process.
Nothing could save her, but even knowing that, Samuel couldn't help dreaming about it. Being brave. Stopping her pain, fighting for her, protecting her. Loving her. If you want to get over the mountain, you have to scale its peak. The highest, hardest part to surpass. If only he could just get Joker out of the picture, kill him for good, win that uphill battle, then it would be smooth sailing. He'd be free to give her the love she deserved, no one would ever hurt her again. They'd both be happy. They'd both be together.
Some dreams aren't meant to come true. This was one of them.
"Samuel, wake up."
"I am awake." He muttered, opening his eyes unwillingly. Nothing of what just tore through his mind was a dream. Harley really was caged, Joker really was a monster. His fantasies really were in vain. It was heartbreaking.
The three men left their car locked and fairly hidden in an alley located a block away from the pier. The walk was short and familiar, but they still kept their eyes open for any suspicious looking men who could be undercover cops.
Once they all reached the pier, they boarded the boat and made sure the shipment was all there and accounted for. What was not there and accounted for was the owners. Charles' guys were nowhere to be seen. With the "captain" of the ship needing to sail off, Xavier paid him what he was due and the four of them unloaded all 10 crates. The damned things were heavy as hell, and by the time everything was unloaded, their backs and arms were all but broken. As the boat sailed off and the sun escalated to high noon, they sat around and waited.
"Where a hell is Malcolm when you need 'im?" Sam moaned, wiping his brow. Xavier rolled his eyes in agreement as he lit a cigarette. Oliver smirked. "Getting drunk." He joked. They all laughed at the clever remark. Malcolm was notoriously fond of his Budweiser. "He probably bought that whole 30 pack yesterday just for himself." Xavier smiled and exhaled a puff of silver as they all laughed again.
After another half hour guarding the crates alone, it became apparent that Charles was not sending anyone to pick them up. Xavier thought it'd be best to report this to Boss, so he left Sam and Oliver to guard the shipment while he ran back to the inn, dousing his cig before getting in the gunpowder dusted car.
Taking the freeway was nerve wracking, especially when he saw a GCPD car near him, but after much heart-pounding, he was relieved to discover that he wasn't being pursued. He made it home in no time, circling around a nearby block, as always, to quickly make sure no one was following him.
When he ran inside, he immediately called out so his voice was recognized. "Boss, we got a situation!" Wouldn't want to get shot just because he startled someone into thinking he was an intruder. "Boss?" He stopped by the bar counter, seeing the clown in the foyer with a gasping Nigel in front of him on his hands and knees.
Joker waved his arm for Harley to deal with him as he shouted at Nigel. "Get up! Or I'll kill you." Nigel was sweating like a pig, his shirt cut and torn. Damn, and that was Xavier's favorite jacket. "I'm too tired...please...sir, I--" Joker ignored his panting and continued to encourage him to get on his feet. "Now, soldier!"
"What's a matter?" Harley asked with serious concern and an open ear as she came over and acquired X's attention. Xavier adjusted the gun slung over his back and focused on her as Joker's yelling and Nigel's groaning continued. "Charles doesn't have anyone there. We've been waiting for two hours. I paid the boatman for the shipment, otherwise he was going to dump it overboard." Harley asked him how much and he answered, "I know Charles pays him five hundred dollars, so that's what I gave him."
"Where'd you get five hundred dollars? You only have 250 in the drawer." Harley asked without accusation. That confirmed Xavier's suspicion that she checked the drawer everyday. "Boss gave me a thousand bucks earlier when he took back the knives. Every work day I get it, and we're supposed to use it in case we get caught and have to bribe a police officer or something. I always give it back to him." He handed the remaining five hundred dollars back to her.
Secretly already knowing this inside, I nodded. Quickly counting the fifty dollar bills, I confirmed the remaining amount to be 500 dollars total. I made a mental note to make sure Mr. J got every cent paid back that Charles now owed. "Okay. Wait here." My boots spun around and I left Xavier at the bar. "Baby?" I called without flinching as Nigel was thrown into another broken table.
"You know I hate it when you call me that, Harl." His hypnotic voice slurred under his breath, keeping his focus on Nigel. "Charles apparently told his men to take the day off." I folded the wad of fifty dollar bills and lifted my leg on a splintered chair to stuff the money in my boot. Joker turned to Xavier in annoyed disbelief, suddenly forgetting about his new trainee. "Oh Really!?"
As Joker questioned X to get the details, I dug around the pile of wood I saw Nigel disappear into. His groans of pain made him easy to find. "Ohhh you're okay." I said, like a humored mother to an exaggeratedly squalling infant. "Three hours of torture..." He muttered and grimaced as I pulled him up. "That wasn't torture!" I laughed, keeping his arm around my shoulders as I dusted him off, careless of his cuts and bruises. "He was going easy on you, silly pants."
"That was going easy?" He wheezed. I laughed at his disbelief and helped him over to J and X. "MALCOLM!!" I yelled, making Nigel finch beside me. The big oaf was probably sleeping on his beloved couch. Joker was already marching out to the car with Xavier on his heels. "NOW!!!"
"I'M COMING damn you..." His voice roared from the closed door of the henchmen's room. He didn't lower his voice enough to hide that last part. "I heard that!" I put anger in my voice although I was laughing on the inside. Nigel limped as best he could to keep pace with me as I pulled him outside after the others. "He's really hurt, Har--Miss Quinn."
"He'll be fine, he's had worse." I muttered, transferring him to Xavier's waiting hands once we were outside. Running round the front of the van, I hopped onto the hood and slid over it, twisting my torso to blow a kiss at J as he shut the driver door and started the car, ignoring my energy. Xavier settled Nigel in the back as Malcolm came running out with some bandages tightly wrapped around his stomach, shoulder, and wrist. I smiled as I saw him in the rear view mirror, barely swinging himself in the open back doors before the van was out of reach. Xavier closed the doors and asked what the hell happened to him.
"So what are we gonna do?" I asked quietly, buckling my seatbelt like a good little girl. Even though the front of the car was closed off from the back with a metal wall, it wasn't completely soundproof. With a small screech the wheels swerved to turn onto the main alley. I didn't expect an answer right away. Hell, I didn't even know if Joker HAD an answer to that question. Charles had never done this before. Bail out on a shipment of his precious drugs. Something was really wrong. As J directed the van onto a wider street, he sped up, taking the mph needle past 60. The thundering sound of the engine's escalating speed gave me chills. I rolled the tinted window down a tiny bit to feel the playful wind on my feathered bangs. Joker never gave me an answer, but I was alright with that. I could tell he was a bit confused about Charles' absence, as well as concerned about the already strained relationship between him and the Englishman.
His gloves flexed as he massaged the wheel with his hands, thinking deeply as he drove. Although he was focusing on the road without an expression, I could tell his eyes were searching the streets as if they held the answers to his inner questions. "It's going to be okay, babe." I said with a knowing smile as I traced the exposed edge of the window with one finger. I won't let your plan fail.
"Don't call me that." He muttered again, sighing as he slowly abandoned his thoughts to the back of his mind. "I'm an adult."
I giggled and leaned my head on the sun-warmed glass, bringing my legs up to my chest so I could hug them with one arm. I found it adorable that he took that common pet name for a loved one so literally. I'd told him many times that I wasn't really calling him a baby; it was just the same as honey or darling. He still didn't get why anyone would replace the pet name honey with baby. Even when I mentioned the term "pet name" he was annoyed. "I'm not your damn pet." He would grumble. "Quite opposite, Harl." He would mutter, like I was stupid.
Thinking of all this, I giggled again, grinning over at him as his mood remained concentrated. "I love you." He rolled his eyes and failed to suppress an irritated shake of his head.
I was growing more and more annoyed as Malcolm's harsh glare didn't let up. In this small of a space, I really was not enjoying his company. I had to end this tension! "... I was just following Boss's orders, like you all advised me to."
Xavier really didn't care about our girlish issues, but he stayed in between us anyway. Malcolm sneered at my bruised face and cut up torso. "You're lucky you're not the one who is dead!" I thought he was talking about my facing off with Boss at first, but he clarified, "Everyone who has EVER attacked me has died!! I'm KNOWN for that, punk!"
"Mal, you know the rules. No killing unless Boss orders it." Xavier muttered, his arms folded. "Boss told me to kill him." I informed X. "But then he said he didn't expect me to actually finish the job."
"Damn right." Malcolm hissed, his anger fueled mostly by the searing pain in his shoulder. Healing from a bullet wound was a pain in the ass, a horribly long and painful process which always resulted in a nasty scar without surgical help. "No one's man enough to bring me down!"
Xavier rubbed his head, leaning against the steel wall to keep his balance in the roller-coaster-like vehicle. I think I knew the reason for his newly acquired headache. Malcolm never seemed to shut up about his strength, and the poor guy had probably endured much more boasting than I could ever take.
My cuts stung like hell, and my face was feeling horribly swollen, plus my muscles were past the point of being weakened into macaroni. Perhaps I wasn't doing laps or push-ups like the generals in the war required for training, but fighting for my life for three hours straight had completely worn me out. I felt a small flame of pride inside at the accomplishment. I'd managed to stay alive and deflect most of Joker's attacks; performing much better than both of us expected, I believe.
Even if he did go easy on me, he still fought me. And I made it through without losing an arm or an eye.
"Do you think it's a trap?" I asked, rolling the window back up and straightening myself in my seat. Charles was nowhere near trustworthy (but neither was Joker, so I guess I couldn't blame the guy), and he always threatened to turn us in to the cops if we screwed him. Were the bluecoats waiting for us at the pier right now? Fear was planted in my chest at the thought of being caught again. "What if he...?"
"Then he's gonna learn a whole lot about Karma." Joker answered without fear. I was comforted by his certainty, and relaxed a little bit. Although the experience of being overwhelmed by officers was exciting, it was also painful and scary. My heart twisted every time I saw handcuffs being thrust closed over J's wrists.
But if we were caught because of Charles, I could easily imagine Joker sending the cops on his ass with only a few sentences. Perhaps he would reveal the location of an imaginary bomb he planted, and the cops would be sent straight to Charles. Instant Karma, all prettied and packaged up with a few revengeful lies.
Now that I thought about it, it was very unlikely that Charles would turn us in. Even though he did underestimate J pretty badly, he knew what the consequence would be if he betrayed his "protector".
The moment of truth was close. We approached the docks without slowing. Although I knew the only facts we had were the absence of the dealers, I was still nervous. I sat on the edge of my seat and lightly put a hand on J's arm as we left the cover of the alleys and pulled out onto the open clearing of the pier.
Charles was definitely there.