Being a member of the Delux Gang has some benefits. As Jia Crawford downs her fourth free shot in the last hour, she can’t help grinning. Having spent very little time in bars, she’s never had free drinks thrown at her. The Delux Gang’s giving her a salary but she’s able to put most of it away because the gang only spends time at bars who know who they are and have decided that the alcohol they put away’s worth avoiding the hassle they could cause.
“Candy.” Her head’s spinning as she stares at the bartender. She’s a pretty black woman with a great body and huge hair which she loves the look of. She has to remind herself that her girlfriend’s patiently waiting for her in Napa and deserves better than being cheated on with how patient she’s been through this whole ordeal. That assumes the bartender would even be interested. Would she? As she stares at the woman she wants to forget. It might be the alcohol talking, but there’s a part of her saying that Cassie’s Jia’s girlfriend. She’s not Jia here though. She’s, “Candy.”
Jillian punches her in the arm. She remembers she’s supposed to be answering to Candy and perks up. It’s one of the people on her crew. She’s been given a group to command quickly as she’s proved she can handle every challenge the gang throws her way. Two guys and a girl have her back every night, along with Jillian on certain nights. She’s been asked to show her the ropes since they’re apparently such old friends. That’s the story they went with to get her into the gang anyway.
Darin gestures toward the door and tries to wave her over. She groans, just as the next shot she ordered is set in front of her. The bartender smiles at her as she sets down the shot. It’s a smile with possibilities. Jia downs the shot in a moment and throws a ten on the bar as a tip. She moves toward the exit, somewhat grateful for the excuse to leave. She’s drunk enough that she might make bad decisions if she stayed.
She’s met by the rest of the crew outside. Jillian’s right behind her and looks relieved to be leaving. She’s out all night with the group because she has to be. Going against the bosses would be a good way to get hurt. Now six months pregnant though, it’s hard for her to be up this late. The rest of them are having a good time getting drunk and being treated like minor celebrities. Most of that’s lost on her.
The car’s already at the curb with Melia behind the wheel. The others are seated and Jia jumps in behind them. She offers a hand to pull Jillian inside. The door slams. Melia’s in a bad mood because she wasn’t allowed to drink tonight when Jillian wouldn’t be the designated driver again. She’s sulking and won’t say a word. Every one of them except Jia has to take a turn driving but a lot of the others resent Jillian for not doing it every chance she gets when she isn’t drinking either way.
“What’s up?” Jia stares Darin down. He called this party, the rest of them are just along for the ride.
“Got a call from one of our dealers. They caught a couple guys from the Tails hanging out in our territory. Say they’re independent but one has a tattoo that says otherwise. Either way, they can’t get away with that.” Darin pulls out his phone and passes it to Jia. The GPS on it shows a location right in the center of her territory.
Nodding, she passes the phone back. She leans into her seat, closes her eyes and tries to clear her head. The alcohol’s making it hard to focus. This isn’t her first night doing this. She knows what has to be done. This is the hard part though. She knows long term it’s necessary. She has to get Jillian and her future niece or nephew out of this life. If she can take down the Delux Gang in the process so much the better. She still has to look her police officer girlfriend in the eye this weekend when she comes to visit though.
The gang in question, the Five Tails Squadron, keeps coming into their area. They’re a small group, led by a young woman with a knack for finding cracks in any organization and breaking them apart. She’s been pushing her people to invade their territory, walking streets she knows they haven’t been consistently using. They all claim they’re not part of Five Tails when caught but it’s easy to prove that’s a lie. Each member of the gang’s required to get a tattoo on their tail bone. It invades their privacy to check but once you know what you’re looking for it isn’t hard to identify.
They’ve caught six groups in the three weeks she’s been running this territory. People in neighboring areas have caught just as many. She needs to do something to scare them off for good. The bosses have started getting tired of excuses and if she doesn’t give them proof she can handle it they might put someone else in charge. She needs to keep moving up in the organization. They’ve tried beating people. They’ve tried taking their product. They’ve even tried going after their bases preemptively. None of it’s worked.
Darin knew to call her tonight when they found someone. She had an idea after their last encounter did nothing to scare the gang off. If this doesn’t convince them to stay out, nothing short of annihilation will. No matter the results the bosses won’t be able to accuse her of holding back.
The van stops and Melia comes around to let them out. Jillian hangs back and Jia matches her pace. She puts her head close to Jia’s and says, “You sure about this? This would be hardcore even for me.”
Jia nods. She did her research and this shouldn’t kill them. It likely won’t even do long term damage. The pain will be enormous though and word’s going to spread. In the middle of a field a small fire’s blazing. Two of her street level dealers, too minor to even have their names memorized, stand there holding pistols. A man and a woman are on their knees before the fire.
The light from the flames is bright enough to show the bruises. They’ve already received a beating to challenge the ones they normally give out for invasion of their territory. Jia’s adopted a no killing policy, telling everyone a severely beaten person coming back does more to spread fear than someone ending up dead. It’s probably true but it also lets her sleep a little better at night. The people she’s hurting will recover. If she tells herself that enough times it might convince her what she’s doing isn’t so bad.
The closer she gets the more she realizes the man and woman are more like a boy and a girl. She’d be surprised if they’re even eighteen. She feels guiltier about what’s about to happen by the second. She tells herself this will be the last terrible thing she has to do. There’s a reason she’s been drinking all night though. She’s going to need every advantage she has to make herself go through with her plan.
Her dealers grab the man and shove him flat on his face only feet from the fire. The woman’s crying lightly but they leave her alone for now. Jia approaches and leans down next to her. “My name’s Candy and this is my territory. Why would your gang invade my territory? Do you know who I work for. Do you want to get hurt?”
As the girl starts to raise her arms to form a begging posture, Jia jabs her in the chest, making a point of hitting a pressure point that starts her howling. She falls onto her back but scrambles back to her knees. “I swear we didn’t know. We’re new to the area. We were supposed to be in independent territory. That’s what we were told. We’re not part of any gang.”
Laughing, Jia pushes the woman onto her face, lifts her shirt and pulls her skirt down enough to reveal the tattoo of a tail right on the woman’s tail-bone. She whimpers but doesn’t make a move to stop Jia. “I’m supposed to believe you happened to get a tattoo identical to the one required by a major gang in the area? That’s a lot to ask, especially when you both have them.”
“No!” The woman looks wildly around. She has blood dripping from a cut above her left eye. “We were part of the Five Tails in Seattle. We ran away though. Nobody here knows us, we figured we could start over.”
Sighing, Jia walks toward the man. “That’d be a lot easier to believe if every member of the Five Tails didn’t tell me a similar story. Seattle, Orlando, Louisville, someone even told me Kalamazoo. Like the song. Sorry but I’m not buying it. I’d actually be more likely to show you mercy if you told me the truth. We’re probably beyond that though.”
Walking toward the man, Jia grabs him by the hair and lifts him from the ground. As he rises, he lashes out with his left hand, trying to throw a punch. She tries to catch it with her other hand but misses, the alcohol throwing her timing off. Her hand’s knocked aside and starts throbbing. The two low level dealers grab him before he can swing again. She gestures to throw him to the ground and they do so. She tries to shake it off but knows she has to earn back their respect now. She grabs the boy around the neck until his face starts to turn red. She eases up slightly. “Are you going to tell me the same story? All a ridiculous coincidence.”
Nodding, she signals to Darin and he starts walking closer. She stands up so she towers over the boy. “That’s better. At least you’re not lying to me. Look, I have to punish you and I can’t think of a better one than this. It’s inspired by your gang. If this doesn’t convince your people to stay out of my territory nothing will.” Darin pulls out the supplies. First a pair of nails, and not short ones. They’re followed by a hammer and two cat tails. She made sure they were taken from already dead animals. No point harming innocent cats.
Darin puts the nail and the tail before the man’s face. His eyes go wide and he tries to run. Her two dealers are there though, catching his arms and refusing to let go. The girl can see the same and would run but Jillian and Melia are there, each with a gun pointed at her. There isn’t any escape. Her sobs grow louder.
After he’s had a moment to look at the supplies Jia crouches next to him. She points at the woman. “Who is that to you? Just someone you were assigned to go out with or someone who matters?”
The man’s eyes are watering now. Snot’s running down his face and his lower lip quivers. “She’s my girlfriend.”
Nodding, Jia smiles. “Good news then. I’m going to give you a chance to be the best boyfriend ever. She’ll never be able to leave you if you do this right. Here’s the deal. I’m going to give you a tail. I’m sure you figured that out from the nail. It’s going to hurt like hell but it won’t kill you. After I’m done I’m going to give you a choice. You can either choose to accept a second tail, exactly like the first one, knowing exactly what that feels like. Or your girlfriend will get one of her own. Completely your call. Do you understand?” He stares at her but doesn’t respond. Tears start rolling down his face but he doesn’t make any noise. “Do you understand? Don’t make me ask again.”
He nods, slowly. She walks around behind him and gestures to Darin. He pulls the man’s pants down slightly, revealing his tattoo. He hands over the supplies. She lines the tail up and takes the nail, putting it in place. Pushing in hard enough that she can hold the entire set up with one hand. He tenses and tries to fight away but there’s no going anywhere and all the fight’s been beaten out of him. Jia considers a reprieve. She could tell him this will happen to whoever comes to her territory next. This kid doesn’t deserve this. If she doesn’t do it now though people will keep pushing. If she does this now she likely won’t have to do it again.
Her earlier mistake leaves her no choice. She can’t look weak. Heavy in her right hand, the hammer feels like a mallet. She takes a deep breath, wanting to look away but she can’t bring herself to do it. Her aim needs to be good and besides that, she can’t force him to go through this if she’s not willing to watch. She drives the hammer down. Her skin crawls as she feels the nail push through his flesh. Blood squirts out and he screams. He fights away harder but the nail’s penetrated and doesn’t go anywhere. Quickly reaching the bone, her progress slows. It takes nine strikes to drive the nail all the way in but finally the tail’s held firmly in place. Jia’s face has turned white and she’s fighting the urge to puke. She’s not done though.
Moving back around to the man’s head, he’s screamed himself ragged. His eyes are wild and he barely seems able to breathe. She looks him right in the eye and holds his gaze. “I’m sure that hurt like hell. Now’s your chance to be a hero to your girlfriend though.” She points at the girlfriend. When he won’t look at her Jia grabs him by his head and twists his neck until he’s staring the girl in the eye. “Time to make your call. Who’s getting the second tail?”
The man says something under his breath but he’s so quiet she can’t make it out. She tells him to repeat himself and he stares up at her, hatred on his face. Spit flies out of his mouth as he says, “Her.” Jia had hoped he’d take the second one himself. She didn’t want to put a second person through this torture. There was even the thought of letting him off easy on the second tail for his chivalry. She doesn’t say that though. She just nods and forces herself to smile. She hopes she doesn’t look too sick.
As she stands and walks toward the woman, she can see the look of horror on her face. “No, you can’t do this. Please. Please don’t do this to me. I’ll tell you whatever you want. Just please don’t do this to me.” She keeps walking and soon all she can hear are the woman’s screams.