Updated: Sep 7, 2020
The moment Eric walked into the alley, Siah walked out the back door of the clinic.
How did she always know?
Saturday night –
It was so sweet how Eric was making the effort of walking her to and from work. Sweet boy he was. She rubbed her head. The heaviness was gone; all that was left was a dull ache where she’d been hit.
She took in Eric’s form as they walked. The tall boy always walked like this, hood up, head down, shoulders slumped. She didn’t like it. He should be walking tall, not hunched over as though he had anything to be ashamed of. But she understood his reasons. She came to a decision; things had been too heavy for too long. She needed to blow off some steam, they all did. Nathan came into the kitchen as Eric was still clambering in through the window.
“Boys,” she declared, “Tonight’s gonna be your first shooting lesson!”
She braced herself in the nick of time before Sharlie pummeled into her. Ever since the boys had been staying with her, she’d been testing her strength and running at every opportunity. Despite how quiet she’d been since the mugging she was glad that hadn’t changed.
She set Sharlie down and held her hand as she went for her stash under the floorboards. She smirked as Nathan and Eric caught each other’s’ eye with the same questioning expressions.
She smiled to herself when she saw that aside from the one 9 millimeter she’d given them permission to take, nothing else in her stash had been disturbed. The boys would never have been able to accurately redo the intricate knots she had wrapped around the bags that held each weapon. It heartened her that she didn’t just have to believe she could trust the boys; she knew she could trust them.
Nathan was healing well but he was nowhere near ready for the kickback of a semi-automatic. She took out two revolvers and a single box of ammunition. These were going to hold quite a punch as it was.
She set them down, took Sharlie by her by the shoulders and looked her in the eye.
“Sharlie, I am going to teach the boys how to shoot with guns now and I expect you to stand right behind us all the time. They are going to be very loud but I want you to watch us and learn all you can, understand?”
“What are you going to do?”
“Stay behind you?”
“That’s right, you stand behind us and watch.”
“Can I bring Fox and Wolf?”
She ran and gathered her favorite toys into a little wicker basket Eric had found in an abandoned apartment. Siah shut the hatch back up and had Eric collect the sack of cleaned out cans she’d been saving in the kitchen. She led the way to where a rickety piece of fence still stood off just past the alley where Eric had been jumped.
Siah set up six of the cans along the fence, showing the boys how to properly load the revolver.
“Your shoulders not ready for the kickback of a larger gun Nathan, so we’ll just use these for practice right now.”
“We both already know how to shoot.” he insisted. She gave him an indulgent smile as she handed him the loaded revolver.
“Alright sweetie, show me, fire only one bullet per can. Let’s see whatcha got.” He did a slight double take at her. She smirked; the slang had clearly thrown him. Nathan held the gun loosely in one hand, twisting his wrist so that the gun was sideways as he fired all six shots.
Very gangsta style; he only hit two of the six targets. Siah was pretty sure that much was dumb luck. She stifled a snicker. The boy was still dealing with a bad shoulder and several broken ribs, she would indulge his pride.
She took the revolver from his hand, reloaded the fence and took aim. Her grip correct, her arms relaxed, she lifted the gun to shoulder height, set her sights - and hit every single can.
She smiled as she lowered her weapon. Man that felt good!
The boys gaped first at the vacant fence, then at her as she lowered her gun and surveyed her work.
“Now, let me show you boys how to REALLY shoot.”
She was surprised at what good students they proved to be. She had expected a lot more attitude, but they were both attentive, asked intelligent questions and followed instructions.
She showed the basics of proper stance, technique for point and aim shooting, as well as shooting from the hip. Since he only had one arm available to him, Siah had Nathan only practice how to shoot one handed, making it very clear she did not want to see any more of that ridiculous, “gangster wannabe pose”, he had shown her earlier. The boy ducked his head, clearly embarrassed. She would leave it at that.
She saw marked improvement in both of their technique, both boys hitting a target with proper grip and stance- before the cold and hunger became too much and they all went inside.
As she doled out the food, the boys were more animated than she’d ever seen them, wanting to know everything she did about firearms training. She loved seeing that spark in them. It was like a balm to her soul. Sharlie just seemed excited about everyone else’s excitement.
Thank you father for showing me a way to bond with them.
Ironic that the very way her father had finally bonded with her, she was now bonding with the boys. No, it wasn’t irony, this was- completing a circle- a circle begun seventeen years ago in a hospital bed... she shook herself from her thoughts. Those memories were best left for another time. She couldn’t afford to tear up now.
Sharlie had looked on, deeply curious about the very loud guns mama and the boys were shooting. She watched real close attention how mama said to hold the guns. It seemed like how to hold it was real important.
“Mama,” she piped up. “Will I get to shoot a gun?”
Both boys stopped abruptly and looked at Siah.
She looked across at her little girl, her eyes big and innocent. She was almost four now, still a baby really, but so smart, so intelligent- so quick to pick up on things…
“Yes sweetie.” She managed to smile.
“When your hands grow big enough, I will show you how to use a gun.”
“Yea!” she beamed.
Siah managed to smile as she rubbed her curly head and the boys went back to their favorite pastime of eating.
“Hey Siah?” Nathan spoke quietly as he stared in deep fascination at the bottom of his now empty bowl.
“How did you come to live in this apartment?”
“I mean, you said you moved into here after Holsun- threatened you,” he finally looked up. “How did you know to move here?”
She just stared at the awkward boy as if occurred to her that she actually hadn’t told them that story. She couldn’t believe herself! If she’d just told them sooner, she could’ve had some street cred with them a long time ago.
“Well, it’s a strange story.” Both boys looked at her expectantly. Just like any other set of kids waiting for a story.
“Well, it wasn’t long after Holsun took over Tinplate that I moved in here. I told you before that I’d been living in a nice little house on the other side of town right?” They both nodded.
“Well what I’m about to tell you, happened just a few days before that altercation with Holsun. Mason wasn’t living at the clinic yet. I'd arrived early so I could finish up some paperwork in the office. I’d only been in the building five minutes before I heard the back door being jammed open. I barely turned around when a shot went past my head.
It was Carl Dixon. He’d been the biggest drug dealer in the area before Holsun. Scary guy. He came at me with his gun on me and his 15 year old son slung over his shoulder. They’d both been shot by Holsun. He held his gun on me while I treated his son.”
She looked at Eric pointedly. “Sound familiar?” she asked flatly. The boy looked away.
“I had to disarm Carl the same as I disarmed you. It was even easier with him since he’d been shot in the arm. I treated them both as best I could that night; Carl only had a flesh wound in his arm but the boy was shot in the abdomen. He hadn’t been as bad as I’d initially thought. I was able to stabilize him, but he was going to need long term care and I knew he couldn’t stay down in the patient rooms. Holsun would know where to come looking to finish the job.
I had Carl put his son in a small upstairs storage room. I had to tell Mason everything when he came in that first morning. He helped with hiding them. It was a crazy operation. We had to find somewhere to dump the stuff that’d been stored there, clean it out, bring basics for living, cots, food, there’s a full bathroom down the hall.”
“Someone must’ve lived there at some point.” She muttered and blew out a breath.
“Carl had a car and Mason hid it for him before any of Holsun crew, some of which had previously been Carl’s crew, could find it. During the whole ordeal Mason showed a lot of ingenuity and guts.
Once one of Holsun’s lieutenants caught him bringing some supplies in a box, when he confronted him about it, Mason said he’d decided to move into the upstairs room of the clinic to save on commute time. It was a smart move. Holsun had been trying to get both of us to move closer to the clinic, ‘for our safety’” she did air quotes,” so having Mason move into the clinic was a real get for him.”
She chuckled. “You know it’s funny, that lieutenant who’d stopped him that day actually helped him move the boxes he’d been carrying upstairs. Mason made so much noise while going up ahead of the guy, talking real loud, thanking him, that Carl actually had time to load his son into a wheelchair and down the hall. They stayed there until the coast was clear. The man should’ve been an actor.”
“Didn’t you say Mason really does live at the clinic?”
“Yup. He really sold his role. He actually moved into that upper room. He still lives there.”
She sighed as her voice tapered off.
“Mason called ahead to a colleague in a Denver pediatric ward; they made space for the boy there in their long term care wing. Late one night, a week after he’d brought him in, Carl and his son left. Mason and I helped them both down into their car. We said goodbye- and then he threw me a set of keys. He said if we ever needed a place to lie low that he’d fortified an apartment, and had a stash inside. He said since he wasn’t coming back to Tinplate, it and everything in it was ours to keep. He gave me the address as Mason came back with the car. Then we helped them get inside, and they left. It was only a few days later I had to move in. I saw real quick he really hadn’t been kidding about having fortified the place.”
They sat in silence, digesting what she’d just told them. Eric suddenly looked up.
“Why is there not a door on the bedroom?”
“I don’t know. I’ve always thought someone must’ve broken in here, busted down the front and bedroom doors, and they only ever bothered replacing the front and boarding over the back. If you look closely you can tell the front door isn't original. It’s made of solid hardwood; even when I was a kid, these were considered old fashioned. Likely it was taken off an old house. It’s extremely heavy and, like the walls of this place, nearly soundproof. The cheap plywood on the outside is just to play into the abandoned feel of the complex. The metal side door in back is newer than the rest of the building, lighter, but still strong. You can tell from the frame it was put in only recently. I’d say within the last five years.”
“So all those stash holes, the hatch over the kitchen window-?”
“Were all here before I was.”
Now it made sense; this apartment had been made defensible by a drug dealer- but now those defenses were being used by Siah for hiding her and Sharlie - and now them.
He told her how they had figured out about the thick walls back when they’d first- “moved in”. Siah laughed as he told her how they had experimented when they’d first discovered the soundproofing.
“Sounds like a headache.”
“It was.” Nathan blurted.
She really started laughing then.
The beautiful smell of the essential oils from the boys’ massages was just lulling Siah to sleep when Eric broke her out of her doze.
“Siah?” he whispered.
She turned over to face him. “Yeah.”
“Why didn’t you just shoot him?”
“That guy, Carl Reed, you had your gun then, right? How come you didn’t just shoot him when he broke in?”
She gave the boy a deadpan look. He was asking this now?
“Same reason I didn’t shoot you when we first met.”
“Oh. God told you not to?”
She curled back up around Sharlie.
Now he wanted to talk? She turned her head to face him again, and sighed. The boy initiated conversation so rarely; she didn’t have it in her to be mad.
“Does it, bother you, to train Sharlie how to shoot?”
She heard a noise next to her and saw Nathan looking at her as well.
She quirked a sad smirk.
“A little. It’s just another cold slap from reality.” They both looked confused. “It’s why I have to train her to shoot that bothers me.” How should she explain this to the boys?
“I’ve had Sharlie since she was 9 months old. I’ve only ever wanted to protect her, but, the cold truth is, I won’t always be able to. All I can, or even should do, is prepare her, train her how to handle herself in every way, in every situation; how to recognize evil, how to respond to it. One day, her life may depend on how well she can handle herself with a gun. That knowledge is something I don’t dare hold back from her. But the thought of that day scares me.” She drew a shuddering breath.
“Scares me more than I can say.” She went silent and held her little girl beside her on the mattress.
The boys settled in and eventually fell asleep.
Siah clung to her Huerita and prayed desperately that fear not take hold of her.
The next day Siah had managed to get off work at three again but the weather had turned the world into wet, drizzly muck, which was bad enough on its own, but combined with being cold, that was just- so wrong.
As soon as Nathan opened the door for them she made her announcement.
“Okay boys, tonight, the lesson will be right here in the living room. I’m gonna teach you how to keep hold of your guns in an altercation.”
They looked at each other.
“What do you mean?” Nathan asked.
“I mean how to keep a hold on your gun while in a fight.”
“You mean like, don’t let go of it?”
Oh, they had so much to learn.
“I mean like how to keep a hold of your gun when in close combat situations.”
She looked at Eric pointedly. “Or when holding a hostage.”
He looked down, embarrassed. Good.
“Okay, now first lesson about holding a gun on someone, never hold a gun on me.”
Eric ducked his head and Nathan snickered.
“Second rule of holding a gun on someone,” she looked directly at Nathan. “Do not get shot yourself.” He shut up and ducked his head. Good.
She emptied her Glock semi-automatic of bullets, making sure there was nothing in the chamber. She had selected this particular weapon due to its being similar in size and weight to the one Eric had held on her.
“Eric, the first thing we’re going to go over is what you did wrong that night. It was a serious mistake for you to have held the gun to my head with only one hand and so close. If you’d had it in both hands, and kept a proper distance away, I would not have been able to disarm you.”
Nathan hadn’t been able to imagine Eric’s description of how Siah had so easily disarmed him, but watching them go over the movements of reenacting the night his brother had dragged him in here- the night he’d been shot, was very- enlightening- about Siah.
Her movements were fast, efficient- practiced.
She had him and Eric go through several drills of how to hold a gun on someone as well as how to disarm a gunman, until she was satisfied they had the basic movements down. She even showed them how to do the disarming tactic from a kneeling position.
It was slow, tedious work, especially because of having to work around his bad shoulder. Sharlie got bored and went to play with her toys, but to him, it was great! It was like Siah was giving them something else, something they couldn’t touch but that was still important.
She was giving them knowledge.
There was one question he couldn’t shake, but was afraid to ask, how did she know all this? Somehow her excuse of having a grandfather who was a cop seemed a little- thin.
Did it have more to do with that evil brother she’d described?
It felt strange arming the boys, especially Eric, with this knowledge, but there was rightness to it as well. Finally her stomach called a time out.
“Okay boys. That’s enough for one day.”
They both did a pathetic “Awww” noise that made it suddenly easy for her to imagine both boys as little kids- whiny little kids. She smirked. It was nice to see them enjoying themselves.
“Ya, both of you. We still need to eat, I still need to take a bath and so do you two. Especially you Nathan, for the oils on your back.”
She could smell he’d been keeping up with spraying himself with the essential oil spray during the day, but he couldn’t do his own back.
While they ate Nathan startled her by asking a question.
“Hey Siah, how did you learn all this.” It was an innocent question. One she’d been surprised they hadn’t asked before. She took a breath and prayed she wouldn’t cry.
“My grandfather taught me how to handle a firearm. How to shoot and disarm as needed. He’s the one who taught me all of this.” She looked at them both steadily. “I’m passing along the same lessons to you as they were taught to me.”
The room seemed very quiet as she smiled at them both.
“Thanks.” Nathan blurted. “Thanks for trusting us, with this.”
“Yeah,” Eric tried, “thanks for teaching us- this- uh- stuff.”
She smiled at the boys.
“You’re both very welcome.” She said softly. She meant the words with all her heart.
Nathan looked out through the slats between the window boards and glared at the chill drizzle that meant no shooting lesson today. Siah had made a point of taking some food with her today so Eric wouldn’t have to make a midday run to the clinic in the rain.
It was seven weeks today that they’d been living with Siah. Since she’d been mugged, she’d been getting off work early every day and giving them a shooting lesson every night before dinner and a lesson on gun maintenance and assembly afterward.
It was weird. No one had taught them anything since they’d been in school. He’d mostly hated school. He always knew the answers, but he’d always get nervous when he knew he was supposed to talk and freeze up. The teachers would get impatient, then they would get mad, call him stupid and move onto another kid.
Siah never got mad or impatient. During every lesson she kept making comments like, ‘Smart boy’, or ‘good catch’ or ‘try again’ until they got something right. She did her usual half smile when they asked questions. The first time he’d properly loaded the revolver she had looked- proud. He felt the edges of his mouth quirk up a little.
Siah was like no one he’d ever met.
When Eric had walked Siah to work this morning he’d taken his empty backpack with him. He wanted to go by the auto shop to pick up the rest of their things, so he’d have to take Sharlie for her outside time by himself.
Eric had left him the thigh holster.
Too bad Siah only had the two holsters. Eric had had to leave with his gun tucked in his belt.
He had to admit though; the thigh holster and nine millimeter Siah had let them use did feel pretty cool. Like no one could mess with him.
He and Sharlie both ate a bowl of stew for lunch before he told her they would go outside.
“Hey Sharlie, let’s go outside.” He was hoping to see a happy look on her face but she just looked at him seriously and nodded before silently running for her little jacket. Nathan found himself worried about the kid.
Since the mugging she’d been pretty quiet. Siah had said that it was best to get back to regular routine as much as possible. Siah had warned she might act out and throw a tantrum as a result of her fear and not to take it personally if she did. So far she hadn’t thrown any fits or anything, she had only been quieter- and clingier. She wanted to be right next to him or Eric all the time.
During naptime, the day after the mugging, he’d already taken down the mattress her and Siah slept on for her and laid down on his own cot when she’d pulled her blanket, fox and wolf up to him and snuggled into his side. He’d been about to tell her to go to her own bed, but then she’d looked up at him with those big eyes of hers- and it’d brought back memories...
He'd draped his arm over Sharlie that day and held her like Eric had once held him. She’d been taking her naps with him since. He couldn’t blame the kid for being scared. He remembered what it felt like to be small and helpless. It sucked.
He made sure to lock up after himself and put the junk in front of the door like he was supposed to. Between the dumpster Eric had managed to move next to the door and the debris they put in front of it, no one would think the apartment wasn’t abandoned.
His arm was still in a sling, but he could feel himself getting better every day now. Doc assured him he was healing okay. Last night she’d said so long as he didn’t do something to strain himself and tear the delicately healing tissue, he might be back to full strength in another eight weeks.
He felt his lips turn up again at the thought. Between the beat down and the bullet hole, he knew that was the best he could hope for.
Weird. Before they’d met Doc and the kid, they’d never had hope, not for anything.
He walked Sharlie down the path like they usually did with Eric, picking up any decent branches he thought would make good firewood once they dried out. Finally, when they were deep in the trees, Sharlie started talking.
He regretted he couldn’t carry her yet. She satisfied herself with leaning her head against him and holding onto him by his belt loops as he carried the sticks back to the apartment. She was still chattering away as they stepped into the open space behind the apartment complex.
He couldn’t help his smile at the kids change in mood. One minute she was upset, the next giggling. Siah said this was normal for little kids. He would have to take her word for it.
They had just stepped under the overhang that connected the two apartment buildings when Nathan felt a chill go up his spine. Sharlie stilled at the change in him.
They were being watched.
He could feel it as clearly as Sharlie’s hand on his belt.
He dropped the wood, and shoved her behind him, pressing them both against the wall of the building as he drew Siah’s nine millimeter out of the thigh holster. He looked around warily. Nothing visible. Still, someone was there. There were plenty of vacant buildings around them for a spy nest. He and Eric had done it the night they’d followed Siah here.
He cursed his bad arm. He wanted to carry Sharlie but he needed to be able to aim and fire.
He kept his gaze focused on the street. The dumpster next to the door and the boxes on top of it meant the door was mostly hidden from the street. From this angle, if he couldn’t see someone on the street, no one could see him either. He kept his gaze on the part he could see as he slowly, painfully, took his arm out of his sling- and took Sharlie’s hand in his.
She made no sound as he drew her behind him along the wall, gun ready until they were at the door. He tucked her behind him, letting go of her hand only to pull out the key and unlock the door. He was not putting down the gun. The second he had the door open, he ran them both inside. He held her like Siah did as she quietly cried. The kid had had all she could take.
Whoever was watching them was going to pay. He had seen no one. But they were out there, he could feel their evil. He knew it well. He felt it in himself. He put his arm back in the sling and played with the sketching thing with Sharlie until it was time for her nap. The kid was quieter now than before.
Normally he and the kid took a nap about now. He was beat but sleep was the last thing on his mind as he banked the fire.
“Hey, it’s nap time. How about I sit next to you until you sleep on your bed, okay?”
Sharlie’s big innocent smile actually made him smile back a little.
She just stared at him as he helped her take her shoes and coat off, handed her fox and wolf off his cot, and draped her little blanket over her. She curled herself into them as he sat down next to her on the mattress.
He didn’t know why, but he did something then that he never had before. He reached out and rubbed her little head, like Siah rubbed his when she massaged the oil into his hair. He couldn’t believe how happy and content the kid looked under his touch. He knew what he looked like; a monster with a melted face- and this little kid was smiling at him and happy at his touch.
She snuggled up to his leg. He kept perfectly still and rubbed her head until she fell asleep.
No one was hurting her.
Without a sound he rose and walked to the window above where he usually slept. The boards in front made excellent blinds. With only the faint firelight behind him he could easily see out without being seen himself. Siah was right to have stayed here. The hidden tactical advantages were too good an asset.
Whoever was watching the apartment now was likely the same mugger who had attacked Siah.
Nathan spotted his target quickly enough. He was just standing there, in the same alley he and Eric had watched Siah from that night they had followed her here. He was glad Eric had put those boxes and pallets where they were. From where the guy was, he couldn’t have seen him past it.
Something about the fool seemed- familiar…
The realization hit him all at once, though hidden by a pathetic beard and the swelling from his brother’s fist, he had seen that face before; it was the pervert from the video; the one who had been recording Sharlie!
It all fell into place.
It hadn’t been a mugger who’d attacked Siah, it had been a stalker. He hadn’t been after Siah or her stuff, he’d been after Sharlie!
He wanted to just shoot the perv, but thinking of Sharlie’s peaceful smile as she fell asleep- he didn’t want to wake her from her nap. She had been through enough. He could use Eric’s bow but he didn’t trust his bad shoulder to do the job and Siah would be furious at him for reopening his injury right when it was finally healing.
He smiled a little.
Eric would be proud that he was thinking instead of just reacting like he usually did.
He knew what he had to do.
Not making a sound, he slipped out the window hatch for the first time.
He landed well enough but caught his breath at the pain upon impact. He held his shoulder, knowing that, in what he was about to do, he could not let the fool get any hits in.
He walked behind the entire complex building the long way, jay walked across the empty street at the end of the block and cut behind the buildings the pervert was hiding in.
The freak hadn’t even noticed him crossing the street, right there in the open.
His attention was on one apartment in particular, lusting on what he wanted most- and would never have.
He walked around back of the series of buildings the pervert was hiding in. That particular alley was a short one.
He was enjoying a sweet daydream of the little beauty hiding in that ratty little apartment. He couldn’t believe they had gotten away from him yesterday, but at last, his hunting had paid off.
He had figured the mother would of course go shopping at the traveling market when it had come into town. Waiting near the entrance had proven as fruitful as he had hoped. It had all been so perfect. It would just look like a mugging. Even if she had survived, he had been wearing his ski mask, he had a beard now, she would never have recognized him from the clinic- but then that big guy’s fist had come out of nowhere.
He had heard the doc was a prude but apparently she was living with some guy who resembled The Hulk.
He had barely woken up in time to see the big lug running down the street with what he wanted most on his back, carrying woman and child like they weighed nothing.
He had been in so much pain; he had barely been able to walk fast enough to keep them in sight. Even now, he feared his jaw was broken, but he certainly couldn’t go to the clinic.
Even if Dr. Villalobos didn’t recognize him, Dr. Mason certainly would, and if his jaw wasn’t already broken the old man would make sure to finish what he had started at his last attempt to get his little beauty.
The Neanderthal must have a kid because when he had come back this morning, he had seen some kid in a hoodie, with his arm in a sling, holding his angels hand as they walked into the woods behind the complex.
He wasn’t worthy of her touch. If only the kid with a busted arm was with her, he’d be easy enough to take out. Still, he hated the idea of going into the woods. He hated natural areas, always had.
He had his nice clean house all ready for her in Denver. Nice and clean with lots of toys and pretty pictures on the wall. The bed would fit both of them perfectly. Nothing like that ratty little apartment her dike mother had her in.
Oh what would it feel like to finally have her? Soon. Very soon- he went back to his daydreams, trying to distract himself from the pain as he swallowed another pill.
He just had to wait for them to get back. He would take the little punk out then. He just had to wait.
The idiot made it so easy. He was actually getting off his jollies as Nathan picked up a trashcan lid and savagely crashed it over his head.
Eric ran up just as the perv hit the ground.
He didn’t bother explaining, just gestured to the purple welt on the perv’s face. He could see when it all clicked for Eric the same way it had for him. He dug in the man’s jacket and actually found the bloody ski mask in his pocket.
“He was wearing the same mask in the alley.”
Eric face twisted into a snarl as he stood, reared a thick leg back and kicked the unconscious pervert in the ribs, slamming him against the wall. He loved the sound of breaking bones and he was going to enjoy breaking every one of his. He reared his leg back for another kick when Nathan put the back of his hand out to stop him.
“I have a better idea.”
What was it the Bible had said? Nathan told Eric what he had in mind and he agreed. It would be trouble but it would be worth it.
Eric pulled out his paracord and started hog tying the perv.
“Sharlie was right, he smells like cigarettes.”