Serenity Vol. 1 Scale the Mountain Part 19

Cruising along in Shin’s beautiful blue convertible, Jia enjoys gazing at the twinkling stars above her. It’s a nice night and she’s comfortable in a tank top and jeans. They’re driving away from the city and there aren’t many street lights out here. It makes the starts really pop. She’s still working her brother for any details that could help her but he remains tight lipped. “Do you know who I need to talk to in this place? How many people am I looking at?”

Looking comfortable behind the wheel, Shin shrugs. “Depends on who shows up tonight. Around fifteen guys are there on an average night. There might be a few people who aren’t in the gang there but there won’t be a lot beyond the staff. They pretty much take over the place at night. Give it a few minutes and anyone who isn’t in the gang will be chased off. If you see a big bald guy with a nose that looks like it’s been broken a few too many times, that’s Rocco. He’s probably the best person to talk to. If he’s not there just ask the bartender who you need to speak with for business. They should point you in the right direction.”

This may be the nicest car Jia has ever found herself in. The seats are so soft she feels like she could get lost in them and she loves the feel of the wind whipping her face with the top down. “You know, I think this is the first time I’ve ever been in a convertible except with Carly in San Francisco a few weeks ago. I was too busy trying to keep her from killing us to enjoy it but this is nice. I don’t want to know how you can afford it, do I?”

“Bought it with my loan, nothing too terrible. Look, I can’t go in there or they might kill me on the spot. I’ll drop you off close and stay close though in case you need to get away fast. I have my phone. If you get a chance, look for a girl with a pink mohawk. That’s my friend Jillian. She’s there most nights. She’s cool and unlike most of the people in there, she doesn’t want me dead. She might help you. At the very least I’d appreciate her having a heads up so she can get the hell out of there. We’re getting close. I’ll cruise by and drop you off down the street.”

The bar they pass looks like it’s seen better days. It’s a wooden building in a part of town where you don’t see a lot of buildings, let alone businesses. The next building is a run down house probably a quarter mile away. The wood’s painted red but it’s starting to peel in spots as is the wood itself. One of the two windows on the front of the building is boarded over. There’s a sign hanging from a poll that says, “Have a Brew,” out front but there’s no sign of a name or anything else to tell you to come in and have a drink.

“They hang out here?” Jia asks her brother.

They slow down significantly so Jia can get a look. “Ya, it’s out of the way, not a lot of random people wander in. The few who do, if they just get a drink and go before long are mostly left alone. Anyone who lingers is told to get lost, at least at night. It’s pretty dead during the day so nobody cares what happens then but at night they prefer privacy. Maybe we should actually come back during the day.”

“I have to work and besides, the whole point is to talk to these guys. It’s not going to do me much good to show up when they’re not here.”

Shin speeds back up as they get further away. “Alright, I just don’t want you getting hurt because I’m an idiot. You don’t have to do this. I can try and straighten things out with them myself.”

“You’re going to do that how? You’re afraid to show your face around them.”

They finally park on the side of the road, not far from the bar. He shifts in his seat looking away from her. “I can try to get Jillian to help. I really don’t want to get her involved, but if it’s my only option we can give it a try.”

“Forget it, we’re here. I’m going in. Stay close and keep your phone on.” With that, Jia climbs over the side of the car and reaches into the back to get her jacket. Trying to appear confident, she heads toward the bar.

Reaching the parking lot, she counts nine cars. Maybe tonight’s a slow night. If things go bad she’ll be thankful for that. The screen door’s the only thing that needs opening but it sticks and makes a loud clang as she pulls it open. The screen itself has a number of tears in it and has definitely seen better days. The first thing that hits her as she walks in is the overwhelming smell of sweat.

Looking around the bar, there’s actually less people than she expected to find even from the cars. She sees a grand total of eleven people including the bartender who is half asleep behind the bar. There’s only three women among the group. The bartender’s the first, with the second being slumped in a booth in the back between two men wearing sun glasses even though the lighting in here can only be described as dim.

The third has to be Jillian. Jia can’t imagine there are two women with pink mohawks who hang around with this gang. It takes a minute but Jia recognizes her. She’s a fighter and they’ve faced off in competition a few times, though that was years ago before she went to college. In those days Jillian wasn’t rocking a pink mohawk but it’s definitely the same girl. She’s sitting with three large men in another booth in the back. One of those men fits Shin’s description of Rocco. Their whole table looks drunk and the stack of empty bottles surrounding them helps confirm it.

Making her way to the bar, Jia can’t help but notice that everyone in the place is staring at her. They try to look like they aren’t and most soon return to their drinks but they’re paying attention to this unknown girl. The sticky door didn’t help her stay incognito. The bartender perks up as she gets close. She doesn’t say anything at first, waiting for Jia to make the first move. She sits on a stool and leans forward. “Can I get a scotch and soda?”

The woman hesitates but nods and goes to make the drink. It only takes a minute. As she sets it in front of Jia the woman says, “Here you go. How’d you find our bar? We don’t get a lot of random people out here. Mostly just our regulars.”

“Just driving along and saw the sign. Figured I’d check it out. Big fan of little dive bars. Doesn’t seem to be much of a crowd for this time of night though.”

The woman grabs a rag and starts wiping the counter down. “It’s a slow night but we don’t get that much busier than this. Enjoy your drink. After you’re done though, it might be a good idea to move on. The regulars kind of like having this place to themselves. Some of the guys here are a little unpolished too. I don’t want you to have a bad night.”

“Sounds like a hard way to run a business.”

“Real good tippers. We’d do worse if they stopped coming in. Just offering free advice, take it or leave it.”

“Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind.” With that, the bartender goes to the end of the bar where one of the guys is standing wanting a couple more beers. Jia keeps her words in mind, but decides to make her drink last as long as she can. Sipping it slowly, she looks for an opportunity to get Jillian alone.

Twenty minutes pass and she’s getting tired of watching sports scores scroll by on the TV. Her drink’s starting to get low and what remains is watered down. She can feel eyes on her. Nobody has come up to her yet but the bartender isn’t making any move to offer another drink. She has a feeling that once this glass is empty she’s going to be handed her check.

Jillian hasn’t made any move away from her table. One member of their group got up and left but she’s still surrounded by two men and there’s no opportunity to get her alone and warn her. Even if she approached the bar this place is way too quiet to have a conversation without everyone else hearing. The people in the back seem to be practically whispering to keep others from hearing them. To keep her from hearing them.

Feeling a buzz in her pocket, Jia realizes her phone’s going off. She pulls it out to check who it is but realizes it’s just an email. The buzz gives her an idea. She shoots a text to Shin telling him to text his friend and ask her to run to the bathroom. That’s the one place here they might be able to chat.

With that text sent Jia chugs the remainder of her drink and gets the bartender’s attention. She puts a twenty on the bar. “Where’s the ladies’ room in this place? I need to go before I get out of here.”

The woman points her to a small hall in the far corner of the place but quietly says, “Once you’re done with that, I’d go. Some of the boys are starting to get antsy.”

A word of thanks later and Jia’s heading for the bathroom. The hall’s not short but there’s a room at the end with an office sign which is sitting slightly open. She makes her way into a stall and leans against the wall. A few minutes of standing around go by without anyone following her. She considers just heading back out and confronting Rocco. She tried to give the friend a warning. There’s not much else she can do. Just as she’s about to head out though the door swings open and under the stall she can make out a pair of leather military boots. Definitely not something the bartender would be wearing. That leaves only a few possible women who could be joining her.

Exiting the stall, Jillian’s standing there staring at her with a pissed look on her face. Jia tries to make a good first impression and offers her hand. “Hi, you must be Jillian. My name’s Jia. I’m Shin’s sister.”

Without missing a beat Jillian steps forward and gets in her face. She ignores the hand. “I know who you are. I knew as soon as you walked in this place. I was hoping you were smart enough to leave. You need to get out of here now before shit gets bad. The guys at my table are ready to jump you and throw you out the door.”

Jia frowns. She needs this woman’s help. “I actually need to talk to them. I want to work something out so they forgive Shin’s debt and don’t make him rob any more houses.”

Jillian frowns. “You know about that huh? Look, last night was his way out of the debt and he blew it. I don’t know what happened but he needed to steal that shit and bring it back to these guys. They’re not going to give him another chance. They want to make an example of him and beat the shit out of him.”

“I won’t let them do that.”

Jillian sighs. “Look, you don’t have to worry that much. They aren’t going to kill him as long as he agrees to make payments over time. He owes enough money that they aren’t going to throw that down the toilet if they think there’s a chance they can get it back. He’s going to have to take that beating though.”

“That’s not going to happen. I caught him in the middle of robbing that place. I’m a registered vigilante and had to stop him. He’ll make payments, I can promise that. I want to work it out so the beating part doesn’t happen though.”

Jillian’s jaw drops. “Now you really need to get out of here. If they find out you’re a vigilante and you know who they are, they might kill you. You don’t owe them any money. They’re not going to skip the beating anyway. Zero chance of that. He’s my friend and if I thought we could help him I’d already be doing it but Rocco’s a jerk.”

“I didn’t come here for permission. I promised Shin I’d try to warn you before I talked to Rocco in case things go bad. I’m just doing what I said I would. You should probably go out first and find an excuse to get out of here. Go outside and smoke or something. Is that Rocco you were sitting with out there?”

For a moment Jia fears Jillian’s going to jump her but slowly she nods. “You can talk to him if you want but it’s a really bad idea. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’ll make an excuse to go outside for a few but if things go bad and I have to fight, I will. I like Shin and want to help him but if it comes down to a fight, I’m going to back those guys up. They’re assholes but they’re my assholes and if I don’t, I’m going to end up just like your stupid brother.” She pulls a phone out and glances at it. “Wait a few minutes after I leave before you follow me out. I’ll make an excuse for why you’re still in here before I bail. That’s all I can do for you though.”

With that Jillian washes her hands and heads out. The door slams behind her.

Part 18

Part 20

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Serenity Vol. 1 Scale the Mountain Part 18

It’s a slow day at the winery. They’re having an uncharacteristically rainy season which is scaring off the tourists and day trips. A few regulars stop in for a drink but Jia’s glad that’s all she has to deal with. Enough people have commented on her eye for one day. It’s been called a shiner, eyeliner, raccoon eyes and a few names she never needed to hear. At least the regulars like her to drink with them and her eye gives her another excuse. She’s had at least half a bottle and she’s feeling pretty good.

As the morning gets late, Shin finally makes his way over from the house. She told him he had to help today but he never showed up and she couldn’t leave the winery alone to search for him. She stares him down, waiting for him to say something. He’s unable to meet her gaze. “Sorry it took me so long to sneak over. Mom and dad wouldn’t stop talking. How’s your eye?”

“Hurts like hell thanks to you.”

That gets his attention and he comes at her, looking up. “Come on. You can’t give me shit for that. You’re the one who asked me to punch you.”

“You didn’t exactly give me a lot of options. It was that or turn you over to the police. Be glad I was feeling nice. I should have turned you in. You need to give me more info about these guys you owe money. I’m not going to find you breaking into any more houses.”

He looks away again. “You really don’t want to get involved with these guys. They’re dangerous and they don’t play around. Leave it alone and let me take care of it.”

“Ya, that’s not happening little brother. I’m already involved.” She points at her eye. “This isn’t going to be for nothing. Tell me more about them or I will turn you in to mom and dad.”

He scans the store to make sure they’re alone. “Your funeral. Don’t say I didn’t try to warn you. Have you heard of the Delux Gang? They mostly work out of San Francisco but they’re all over the state.”

Rolling her eyes, Jia says, “Sure I stay up-to-date on all the gangs around here. Who knows, I might want to join one of these days. Of course I don’t know about a gang. That’s why I need you to tell me about them. Who are they, what do they do, where can I find them?”

“There really isn’t that much to tell. Drugs, guns, more drugs. You know, gang stuff. I got into a little too much debt to them and had to do an initiation last night.”

Her jaw drops. This isn’t the story he told her at first. “What do you mean an initiation? I thought they just wanted you to steal some shit. Were you trying to join their gang?”

“I mean, kind of. I don’t really want to join but I’m not sure I have much choice. I owe them enough money that there’s no way I can pay them back.”

Walking to the door of the winery, Jia locks the entrance. Any customers who show up will have to pound on the door so they won’t be caught off guard. “Why were you borrowing money from a gang? You really couldn’t see how bad that would end?”

Shin shifts between his feet and shoves his hands in his pockets. “I have a friend who’s a member and she told me awhile ago they could lend me money if I needed it. There’s a few projects I wanted to work on and I needed the funds. Things were going well for awhile but then I got behind and I just kept falling deeper and deeper into things. It seemed like joining was my only way out. They told me if I became a member and did some work for them they’d forgive my debt. To become a member, I had to go through their initiation which is just robbing a house they tell you to. It was a one time thing. I wasn’t planning to become a cat burglar or anything. I think I proved last night I’m not cut out for it.”

“You’re not joining a gang. Not happening.”

Laughing, Shin nods. “After last night, I think you’re right. Got any other suggestions so I don’t get killed by these guys? I’m all ears. After how last night went I’m pretty sure joining the gang isn’t an option anymore.”

”My idea is that I’m going to take care of it for you. Like always. Do they just operate out of San Francisco? I thought you were living in LA until recently?”

“I was but I’ve been all over. They’ve got members around the state but to get a loan I had to drive to the bay. It’s not that bad a drive for the kind of money they were giving me.”

“Where can I find them. Do I need go over to San Francisco? I’ll do so if needed.” She sighs. How’s she going to sell her parents on this one?

“Terrible idea. If you really want to talk to them the last thing you want to do is go there. That’s their headquarters. If you try rushing that place you’ll end up dead and that’s not going to do me any good. There’s actually a bar outside of town where a bunch of their members hang out. A lot of people in Napa build up a tolerance to the booze and need something harder. They do a ton of business here. There’s probably even someone there who can make a decision. Since it’s not quite as high profile, there’s a chance they don’t kill you on sight. Not a great chance, but a chance. It’s still a waste of time though. If you ask them to forgive my debt they’re just going to laugh you out of the place. That’s the best case.”

Grabbing her brother’s arm and putting it in an arm lock, she holds it for a moment before releasing it. He yelps but doesn’t fight back. As she releases him he rubs his wrist in pain. “I can take care of myself. Let me worry about what they’re going to do. Where do I find this bar?”

Shin doesn’t have an address but he’s able to give her a general location and describe the place well enough that she’s fairly certain she can find it. It’s a bit of a haul by bike so she demands a ride in exchange for her services. Shin has a nice car; she saw him driving it just a few days ago. He apparently left it a few miles away at an all night grocery before his attempted robbery though. She tells him to get on her bike and go get it. He can throw the bike in the trunk on his way back. He grumbles but does as he’s told.

With Shin gone, Jia can unlock the winery and go back to playing on her phone and drinking. Not a bad way to spend a day. She’s starting to get numb to the pain in her face when her mother makes her entrance. She walks behind the counter and without a word grabs a glass, pouring herself a drink. She jerks her head in Jia’s direction. “Nice eye.”

Jia puts her head in her hands, tired of every person commenting on her face. “Thanks, it really complements my haircut. I’m thinking I might keep it.”

Pouring a second glass, her mother hands one to her. Jia takes it without complaint, not mentioning how much she’s already had today. “Your dad said it was bad. He wasn’t kidding. Believe me, I know you can’t do this without getting hurt now and then. I’m not going to give you a hard time or anything. Can you try to keep it off your face though? He’s going to give me a hard time if you keep getting hurt.”

Jia shrugs, finishing her glass already. Her mother refills it and Jia has another sip. “I’ll try, but I didn’t exactly go out planning on getting punched in the face. It just kind of happened.”

“What’s your brother gotten himself involved in?”

Jia’s taken aback at this. Her mother has never voiced a negative thought about her brother in her life, at least not to her. He literally went two years without letting any of them know he was alive and she shrugged it off as a kids will be kids situation. She badly wants to rub this in her mother’s face, to prove he’s not the perfect child she acts like he is. Jia loves her brother though and she gave her word.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What does Shin have to do with anything?”

Her mother gets closer, staring her down. “I’m not an idiot. I heard you and your brother show up at the same time last night. You come home with that and he shows up out of nowhere, without his car I might add. Where’s he at now?”

“He ran to get his car. He left it at a friend’s house not far from here apparently. He was over there drinking last night and got drunk. No big conspiracy. You should be glad he was smart enough not to drive. I ran into him on my way in last night. You should have more faith in your son.”

“Why did you tell your dad he wasn’t here when you got home then?”

She didn’t expect her mother to have heard that. It takes her a moment to come up with an answer. “Just giving him a hard time. Figured he wouldn’t want to tell dad about his drinking. Dad gives him a hard time about it.”

The older woman gets quiet for a moment before finishing her final half glass of wine in one large swig. She pours another. “Have it your way then. I expect you’ll both come to me if you need help though.”

“What would you even do mom, go put on your old costume and rough someone up? We both know that’s not going to happen.”

Her mother smiles as she starts on another glass of wine. “It doesn’t need to. You don’t do this without making some friends. Some of them still owe me favors. I wouldn’t have to lift a finger. But keep pretending there’s nothing to tell.” With that said, she walks out of the winery, taking her glass of wine and the rest of the bottle with her.

Part 17

Part 19

Serenity Vol. 1 Scale the Mountain Part 17

Seeing herself in her mirror makes Jia Crawford cringe. It isn’t due to a lack of confidence. Her left eye’s swollen, nearly to the point she can’t open it. Her brother Shin can throw a punch, especially when he knows the target won’t punch back.

Her dad’s been freaking over her signing up to be a vigilante; when he sees this he’s going to give her a reason to cringe. She considers locking her door and not leaving her room until it heals. She could subsist on half empty water bottles and crumbs from the bottom of chip bags. Her life isn’t stopping though so that’s not an option. All she can do is make her way downstairs and face what’s coming.

Entering the kitchen, her dad and Shin are sitting at the table enjoying breakfast. Each of them has a bowl of cereal and her dad’s working his way through his morning paper. It’s surprising to find Shin up this early, especially since they didn’t get here until the middle of the night. She expected he’d sleep the day away. During her night of vigilantism she caught him in the middle of robbing a family’s home while they were on vacation. She had to find an excuse to let him go, hence the swollen eye. The alternative was turning him into the police and she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Shin’s so lucky she decided not to turn him in. She should have. For her generosity she gets a black eye, and he gets to sit here like it’s any other day enjoying his fruit cereal.

There’s no point trying to hide the injury. It’s so purple it’s hard not to stare at. Her dad turns to say good morning with a smile on his face but it’s gone in a moment, replaced by a look of horror. He gets to his feet. “What did you do to your face? Who did that to you?”

“Don’t lose it. It’s not as bad as it looks. Ran into a guy who was in over his head last night. Trust me, he’s feeling worse than I am today.” She stumbles to the cupboard to pull out a coffee cup.

Her dad follows after her, putting a hand on her shoulder. “You’re going to end up getting really hurt, or worse. You’re trying to use karate against people who have guns. That’s not going to end well for you soon enough. This has to end Jia. Now.”

Pouring a cup of coffee she says, “This guy didn’t have a gun dad. He was backed into a corner and he lashed out. He actually apologized after everything was over. Where’s your trust in me? I know what I’m doing, and I can handle myself. Please, just back off. I would have expected this sort of thing from mom but not from you.”

That shuts him up. There’s always been an unspoken competition between her parents over their children. Shin takes after their mother, while she has a special bond with their dad. She doesn’t want being a vigilante to ruin that. She’s not going to stop though and if he can’t accept her decision he’s going to have to work that out for himself.

Trying to change the subject, Jia turns to her brother. “What are you doing home? Thought you were staying in Sonoma.”

He’s clearly taken aback by the question. He can’t tell the truth and she knows why he’s actually home. After what she’s going through for him though, she wants to see somebody else squirm for a minute. He’s the one who should be in the hot seat. Unable to come up with a good answer, he keeps it simple. “Was in the area, thought I’d say hey.” He fills his mouth to avoid having to say more.

“You got in pretty late last night for someone just wanting to say hello. I don’t think you were here when I got home.”

He glares at her, chewing slowly before responding. “Yeah, I guess not.”

Annoyed at her dad’s judgment and her brother’s reluctance to take any heat off her, Jia grabs a pack of toaster pastries to go with her coffee and heads back to her room. She has to be at the winery soon enough. She doesn’t feel like fighting anymore. Before she heads to work, she wants a few moments of peace. That’s what the doctor ordered. Well, that and an ice pack.

Part 16

Part 18

Serenity Vol. 1 Scale the Mountain Part 16

Before long Jia finds herself peddling past the winery and toward their house behind it. Sneaking inside, she’s thrilled to find neither of her parents are awake. A glance at the clock reveals it’s almost four in the morning. Her mom would never be awake this late but she knows her dad’s worrying about her constantly. She’s already come home a couple of nights to find him waiting up.

She promised her mom she wouldn’t let him know she was a vigilante. That lasted about five minutes before he figured it out. Now both of her parents are mad at her. Tonight’s not going to help put her dad at ease.

Checking Shin’s room, she finds no sign that anyone’s disturbed it. He hasn’t lived here in four years but their parents still haven’t gotten rid of his room. The last time she asked her dad about it he said something about making sure he always knew he was welcome. Hopefully his not being here means she beat him home. She walks back outside and sits on the porch to wait.

It doesn’t take long. It’s dark out but in about ten minutes she can see a dark figure at the end of the driveway cautiously making their way up the path. When Shin finally gets to the house he won’t even look his sister in the eye. “I’m really sorry about this.”

“You should be. You’re lucky. The cops bought the story and they won’t look that closely into it since nothing was actually taken.”

“Lucky, right. You do know I’m going to get the shit kicked out of me again now, right?”

Smiling, she walks toward him. “Maybe when you tell them a vigilante already did it they’ll go easy. Seriously though, we’ll figure that out together. I promise. Hang around here a few days. I’ll tell mom and dad I found you in one of the bars downtown when I was patrolling and I stepped in to keep you from getting your ass kicked in a bar fight. It’ll explain why you’re here and why we both look like shit. If dad knows me being a vigilante saved you he might even lighten up on the whole vigilante thing.”

Shin’s jaw drops. “You mean you’re not going to tell them about me?”

“Why would I do that? If I was going to tell them about you, I wouldn’t have let you go. You think mom and dad would be okay with me not turning you into the cops tonight? You know them better than that. They’d have wanted you to get what you had coming. You’re lucky I’m the one who found you. Now come on, let’s get some sleep. I have to be up for work in like three hours. You’re coming with me to help explain this whole mess. Tomorrow’s supposed to rain, it’ll probably be slow. You can hang around and help me while we figure this whole thing out.”

Shin steps forward and gives his sister a hug. She considers squeezing him back but with how much of a beating he took earlier, that’s probably not a good idea. Instead she just lets him hug her for a minute before they both make their way inside and call it a night.

Part 15

Part 17

Serenity Vol. 1 Scale the Mountain Part 15

This wasn’t what tonight was supposed to be like. Nobody in Napa seems to care about the vigilante act. Why did Jia think signing up was a good idea? She bikes toward home, cutting down side streets and through neighborhoods every chance she gets.

She stays off the main roads as much as possible. Easier to avoid any drunks heading home. That’s easier said than done out here. It seems like you’re either in a downtown area, on a highway, or in the country where you can go miles without seeing much except grape fields. A few drops of water start falling which make her peddle faster. It’s light but could pick up any time. She has to get a car if she’s going to keep doing this. After tonight though she’s not sure she even wants to continue.

Riding through the last neighborhood before she’ll reach the highway her family’s winery sits on, Jia hears a crash in the distance. At first she dismisses it. Probably someone taking out the trash. It’s awfully late for that though. Then she hears it again. It sounds like someone hitting something. She hears glass breaking. This time of night that can’t be a good sign.

She could ignore it. She could even call the cops and let them handle it. There’s a squad car just a few miles away. Her confidence that she can handle this isn’t high right now. She’s not even confident she wants to handle it. She’s here though. By the time the cops show up whoever is doing this could be long gone. She registered as a vigilante to help people. Now’s her chance.

Deciding to get involved is only the first step. The difficult part is figuring out where that glass broke. She heard it ahead of her and to the right but there’s six houses in that direction. There’s only one street light on this stretch of road so she can’t make out many details. She listens, hoping to hear more noise, but whoever did the breaking has stopped. She thinks the noise came from one of the three closest houses but she can’t be sure.

With no other option Jia leans her bike against a tree and gets ready to start creeping into people’s yards, looking for any sign of broken glass. Her heart beats so fast she fears it might burst. It’s not a warm night but sweat’s pouring off of her.

Whoever’s behind this could have targeted any of these houses but they would have chosen one for a reason. She starts scanning for any sign or clue that would make one the best target. She notices two cars parked in the driveway of one of the houses. That probably means a fair amount of people are home. Not a great target. Another has their porch light on. It’s dim but might scare someone off. The other house doesn’t have any lights on, no cars out front, and nothing about it makes her think someone is there.

She creeps closer to this house. As she nears it, she sees the mailbox is open and overflowing with mail. That’s almost too easy. If nobody’s been home long enough for that much mail to build up the place is an easy mark.

It’s a one story ranch style house. Clearly the people who live here are at least fairly wealthy. Beyond the fact that they can afford any house in Napa this is easily the biggest house on the block. It’s got nice finishes and a big garage. It’s the kind of place anyone would want to live in and the kind of place any thief would want to rob.

Circling the building, Jia looks for any sign of broken glass. Nothing out front. All of the windows are in good shape. A quick glance through a garage window reveals there’s no vehicles inside. There are too many signs this place is empty. With nothing to go on she makes her way around the side of the house. There’s a tall wooden fence surrounding the back yard which she’ll have to make her way over. That’s not an issue in itself, she can climb a fence, but she really hopes it doesn’t mean she’s about to meet a nervous pet on the other side.

Hoisting herself over, she lands on her feet and is relieved to see no sign of a dog house or anything else suggesting a pet. A lot of people in the area only fence their yards if they have pets but maybe this family just likes privacy. The wooden fence is only along the front and back of the yard. In between she finds cheap wire fencing, allowing her to see into the yards of the neighbors.

Glancing at the next house over she can see the people there have their back porch light on but there’s no sign of anyone outside this late. That’s good, she doesn’t relish the idea of having to explain to a neighbor why she’s sneaking around in the dark.

Once again she considers calling the cops. Even if she’s going to investigate herself it might be a good idea to have backup on the way if things go bad. She dismisses the thought. She needs to handle this herself. She can’t call for help every time she gets a little nervous.

Half expecting to find the sliding glass door along the back of the house broken, she’s disappointed to find it seems intact. There’s two other windows back here but neither of them is broken either. With only one side of the house left Jia starts getting ready to move onto the other houses on the block. Maybe her detective skills aren’t as advanced as she hoped. Rounding the final corner of the house though, she changes her mind. Those Nancy Drew books she read as a kid may have taught her a few things after all.

There’s only one window on this side of the house but it’s wide open. Looking at the pushed up panel, she can see the glass is shattered and there are shards all over the ground. It looks like whoever did this only broke the window so they could unlock it. There’s no sign of anyone out here so whoever did this is likely inside.

Jia feels nervous standing around out here. Whoever is inside could come out at any time and there’s no way to know who they are or how dangerous they might be. Jia’s confident she could handle even an armed opponent up close and personal, but if they see her across a room, she isn’t magic nor is she bulletproof.

She takes a deep breath and starts to pull herself through the window but at the last minute she has a change of heart. Before she goes into the unknown she decides to call the cops. She needs to be able to handle herself but she has no idea what she’s walking into. She hates calling them the first time she stumbles on an interesting situation. If things go bad in there though she’ll feel a lot better knowing backup’s on the way.

Jia slinks back around the corner of the house as she calls. She keeps an eye on the window but doesn’t want to be standing right outside if the intruder emerges. They might not even exit through the window, but she’s trying to play it safe. The phone rings a few times before a tired sounding woman picks up. “Napa police department. How can we help?”

“Yes, there’s a robbery in process on the 200 block of Clinton Ave. I’m not sure of the actual address, it’s too dark outside to see. It’s a big house with a wooden fence around it though. I think it’s the only wooden fence on the street. They broke the side window and I think they’re still inside.”

“We’ll get an officer out there as soon as possible. Thank you for reporting this. May we have your name?”

“This is Jia Crawford, I’m a registered—”

She’s cut off before she can finish her sentence. “We know who you are Ms. Crawford. Please go home and leave this to the police. I appreciate you reporting it.”

“I’m actually going to investigate so I will very likely be in the house when your officers arrive. If they don’t see me out front, please don’t let them go in guns blazing. Thanks.”

She hangs up before the woman can respond. Without any other excuses to delay she heads back to the window. Watching out for glass on the ground, she pushes aside the curtains and peers inside.

There’s no sign of the robber. She’s staring at what appears to be an office, with a computer desk that hasn’t been disturbed. The door leading out of the room’s open. She pulls herself up and is able to quickly make her way inside. There’s a fair amount of glass on the other side of the window as well but she manages to avoid it as she hops in. She makes a little more noise than she likes when hopping over the glass and instantly freezes. Listening for any sign that she isn’t alone, nothing stands out. Maybe they broke the window then got scared and ran off. Hopefully she’s not about to stumble upon an angry homeowner who thinks she’s the robber. Especially not if they have a gun.

Finding no sign of anyone in the office she tip toes to the door and glances out. There’s a long hallway here that goes in both directions. To the left she sees a few more rooms and a dead end while to the right the house opens into a common area.

Putting her detective skills back to work, she notices a night light plugged into one of the hall’s wall sockets. It doesn’t give her much to go on but it’s just enough to make out a bit of water on the floor to the left. There’s no guarantee the thief didn’t come back and go the other way but it seems like a good place to start.

The door to the first room’s open but there’s no sign of anyone. It looks like a kid’s room with blocks spread all over the floor. Moving further down the hall she comes to a sudden stop. There’s noise coming from the next room. It sounds like things are being thrown all over the place. Like someone’s looking for something. Jia creeps closer and sees the door’s wide open. As she looks inside she can tell she’s found the master bedroom.

Amidst the darkness there’s a shadow rushing back and forth. It’s moving from a room off of the bedroom and then back to the bed where it throws it’s haul into a bag. Then it goes to the dresser and seems to repeat the process.

Jia’s breathing’s strangled. This is her last chance to back out. She can just sneak back out the window and head home. The cops will be here soon. Soon enough anyway. It might actually not be that soon. If she doesn’t do something these people might come home to a bunch of their stuff being gone. It’s not life and death but it probably matters to them. She can’t let that happen if she can prevent it.

Trying to stay in the shadows, Jia sneaks into the room. The dark prevents her from seeing anything about the robber, including if they have a weapon. She’s not taking any chances. They rush into what Jia can only assume is a closet. Jia positions herself just outside and flattens herself against a wall, just far enough to the side that their peripheral vision shouldn’t catch her, especially in this darkness.

As they make their way back to the bed, they don’t seem to realize they’re not alone. She uses that as her chance to strike. Rushing them from behind, she grabs their right arm by the wrist. She snakes her left leg in front of their right leg which leads to them being tripped off balance. They don’t fall to the floor but that was never the point. With them off balance Jia puts all her weight behind her and rushes forward, spearing them onto the bed. She could have thrown them clear across the room but she’s in someone’s home. She doesn’t want to destroy anything she doesn’t have to.

Jia flips them over and despite the dark she can tell they’re a man. She jumps on top of him, straddling him with her legs, trapping his arms to his body. At this point she starts pummeling him. Mostly body shots to the chest and gut to knock the wind out of him. She mixes a few strong punches to the face in to disorient him.

The man starts to whimper and cry. He tries to raise his hands to shield his face from more hits but they’re trapped by Jia’s legs. After an eternity of punch after punch the man finally manages to say, “Please stop. I give up. You’ve gotta believe me, I give up.”

The voice she hears fills her with electricity. It’s a voice she knows far too well. She can’t see well enough to confirm her suspicion but she has to find out. She delivers a few more strong body shots to keep the man down before climbing off of him and rushing to the room’s entrance. At this point she flips on the light.

Lying bruised and bleeding on the rumpled bed is none other than her little brother Shin. He’s clutching his face and there’s a lot of blood leaking from his nose. Jia hopes it’s not broken.

“You little idiot,” she says as she rushes to the bed.

Shin looks out of it, clearly dazed. He’s a short guy of only 22. He’s always been slender and wears his hair short. He’s wearing all black at the moment but no mask or anything to hide his identity. It seems the only thing he did to prepare to rob this place is put on some gloves. He seems to recognize her voice and when Jia tears her glasses off to get a good look at him he says, “Okay, now I know I have a concussion.”

“You might, but that’s not why you’re seeing me you moron.” Jia looks around for something to put on her brother’s nose before he gets blood on everything in this place. She can’t find anything so she reaches down to the bottom of her shirt and tears a piece off. “Here, put this on your nose.”

He does as he’s told. “Damp. Really hope that’s rain and not sweat. Why are you here? How are you here? Did you follow me or something?”

She frowns. Everything’s always about him. “Nothing so clandestine. I signed up to be a vigilante. Mom and dad would probably have told you if you ever called or came home. I was walking home tonight and I heard you breaking a window. You weren’t exactly a ninja on this one. I didn’t realize who I was beating on until you spoke up. I’d have probably beaten you up at least a little less if I knew it was you.”

“Gee thanks,” he says as he tries to stuff the piece of shirt up his nose. “Why would you want to be a vigilante? That seems dangerous and stupid.”

“Says the boy who just broke into a family’s house. Is that how you got that car I saw you driving awhile ago? Stealing crap? You’re better than that.”

He tries to stand but moans, putting a hand on his side. “It’s not like I wanted to. I got into debt with some guys who you don’t get into debt with. That’s how I got the car. I didn’t steal it. I couldn’t pay them as quick as they wanted and they told me I could either do this,” he says, gesturing to the bag of jewelry and purses on the bed, “or they’d hurt me and, well…”

“What aren’t you telling me?”

He sighs and lightly taps at his side. “Look, I decided to go the route that I thought would end with me not being beaten to a pulp. Apparently that didn’t work out so well.”

She throws her hands in the air and starts pacing. “You can’t just go stealing things. Why didn’t you go to mom and dad and ask them for the money? They’d have helped you. Hell, I’d have helped you.”

“Ya, so there’s one more thing dad can be upset with me about? I wasn’t going to do that. You don’t have the kind of money I needed anyway. I don’t know if mom and dad have it.”

Their parents do well for themselves. That tells her more than she wanted to know. “Why this place? Why are you only a couple miles from home? I thought you were staying out in Sonoma or something.”

“I am. I didn’t pick the place. The people I owe money to gave me an address and told me to come here. They said the family would be out of town and nobody would get hurt. I was just supposed to take the jewelry and purses and stuff. Figured it wouldn’t be that big a deal, their insurance would cover it. They picked it because it’s close to the family. That way if I got caught walking around the area I could just tell whoever caught me that I was going to visit family. I really need this stuff sis. You have to let me take it. You don’t know what they’ll do if I don’t.”

Shaking her head, she walks toward him. “You’re an idiot. I’m not going to let you steal from these people. I should turn you over to the cops.” As the words leave her mouth she remembers what’s coming. She puts her hand over her mouth and her eyes go wide. “You need to get out of here. Now. I called the cops before I came in here and they were sending a car out. Napa cops are slow but they can’t be that far away at this point.”

Shin’s hands go together in a begging gesture. “Please let me take the stuff. I promise you I won’t ever do this again. I’ll get my head on straight and be better. You don’t know what they’ll do.”

“I know what I’m going to do if you don’t leave. I’ll tell the cops you got away, just get the hell out of here. Go home, sleep in your old room. We’ll talk in the morning. I’ll be along as soon as I can and we’ll figure out your problem but I can’t let you take this stuff. You’re not a thief and I’m not letting you become one.”

He hesitates but stands and starts to head for the door. Jia’s glad to see no blood stains on the blanket. No real evidence. “Wait.”

Shin turns around. “What? The cops could be here any minute, right? I need to get out of here.”

“Ya, but you need your bag.” Jia dumps the bag he had been piling valuables into and some of it makes it’s way around the room. She’s careful to keep her hands on the bag. She doesn’t want anyone wondering why her fingerprints are all over this stuff. “You’re not leaving it here. That’s evidence. God you’re a terrible criminal.”

“Sorry I’m so bad at stealing.”

“You should be. There’s one more thing. I need you to hit me. Hard. In the face. I need a black eye or a bleeding nose or something.”

His eyes go wide and he shakes his head. “What? You already have a black eye. I’m not going to hit my sister.”

“Yes, you are. Otherwise they’ll be suspicious of how you got away. This,” she says while pointing to her eye, “is already a few days old. One good hit then out the back slider. You go over the back fence and cut through the field back there. Just keep going, don’t stop until you’re home. I’ll go out the front door and wave the cops down. I’ll say you went out the front. That should get you away without an issue. Now hit me.”

“There’s gotta be another way. I don’t want to hit my sister.”

“A little late for that thief boy. Besides, after that beating I gave you, you must want a little revenge. Tomorrow you’re going to a doctor and getting your ribs checked by the way.”

Subconsciously rubbing his ribs he says, “They’re fine, just a little sore. You aren’t strong enough to break my ribs.”

“We’ll see. For now though, just hit me and get out of here. I need to get out front to throw them off.”

Shin still hesitates. He’s never been the most assertive guy. He has to know she’s going to get him back for this, even though she’s basically demanding he do it. Still, she is insisting and she will need to explain why he got away. He balls up his fist and punches his sister right in the eye. He tries to at least avoid her nose and manages to do so. She’s still knocked back by the hit.

“Ow, you little moron.” She rubs her face and can already feel a welt. “I guess that’ll work. Didn’t know you had that punch in you. You owe me so bad.” Her hand moves to cover her eye. She wishes she had something cold to put on it.

“Are you okay?”

“I’ll be fine, just get out of here before the cops show. I didn’t take that hit for nothing.”

Shin nods and grabs his bag. He runs out of the bedroom and his sister follows him to the living room. They find the rear sliding glass door and Shin is about to run out it when Jia says, “Wait.”

“Come on, I really need to go.”

“Unlock the front door first and open it a crack for me. You have gloves on. If you don’t it’ll be weird when they find my fingerprints on the lock. If you ran out first, there’s no reason I’d have to unlock the door.”

“Good catch.” Shin does as he’s told but opens the door only a crack. With that he runs to the back door, opens the slider, and closes it behind him. Jia uses her clothing to push the lock back into place so she won’t leave a fingerprint on it. They probably won’t go so far as to fingerprint a break-in but it can’t hurt to be careful. She doesn’t want anyone asking questions she can’t answer.

With that done Jia heads out the front door and is glad to see no sign of the cops. She doesn’t want to explain why she’s just coming out if she already chased the robber off. She sits down on the steps and rubs the side of her face. It really hurts.

She wanted to help people, at least tonight she got to do so. She only had to become an accessory to an attempted robbery to do it. She stopped the theft at least. The stuff is still here. This family might come home to a window that needs fixing but they won’t come home to find all their valuables gone. She made things better. Hopefully that balances the scales from letting her brother go. She shouldn’t have. There should be consequences for his stupidity. He’s her brother though.

After a few more minutes she sees blue and red lights at the end of the street. They slowly make their way toward her and when they get close she gets up and walks toward them, waving her arm in the air to draw their attention.

The car stops and two cops get out. It’s the same two from earlier in the night. The older officer says, “You look like crap.”

“Maybe I wouldn’t if you guys didn’t take so long to get here. I had to handle this on my own. Which I did.”

“Did you get the guy who broke in?”

She looks down, not wanting to meet his gaze. “Not quite. I caught him off guard and got a few good shots in but he surprised me with this,” she says as she points to her face. “He made for the door. I chased him out the front but it took a minute to recover and by the time I got out here, I couldn’t see any sign of him. I made him drop the stuff though.”

“What stuff?”

“I think he was trying to take a bunch of purses and jewelry and stuff. I looked after I realized he was gone. He was piling it all on the bed and when I beat the crap out of him, it flew everywhere. I don’t know if any of it got damaged but it should all be there. Apparently he decided getting out of here was more important than stealing.”

The officer has his hands on his hips as he walks toward the house. “He got away. You didn’t handle it. I guess it’s good that nothing was stolen though. Any sign of the family or whoever lives here?”

She frowns. Hasn’t she earned more respect than that? “Not that I could see. No cars out front or in the garage. I think they weren’t here for some reason. Maybe that’s why the guy picked this place.”

“Could be someone they know. We’ll look into it. Good job or whatever. Next time you have to stick your nose into something, try to get the guy. He’ll probably just hit another house now.”

Jia wants to protest but she can’t let on that she knows who did this. “I’ll try to do better.”

“Do so. What can you tell us about the thief?”

“Not a lot. I didn’t turn the lights on until after he was gone. He was bigger than me so I wanted to get the drop on him. He’s taller than I am, probably by at least six inches. Definitely a guy, where I hit him, I’d have felt if it was a woman. Pretty fast, with a mean right hook. That’s about all I can say though.”

“Skinny? Fat? Their race? Right handed or left handed? You have to be able to give us something else.”

“In between I guess on weight. I didn’t get a good look at them like I said. They were wearing a mask and gloves, no clue on race. They had all black on. It was actually hard to see them except for when they walked by the window. They punched with their right hand, so maybe right handed. They broke in through the office window. That’s actually how I got inside too. That’s about all I can tell you though. Wish I could be more help.”

The second officer, the younger woman with long blond hair and a nice smile speaks up before her partner can. “It’s more than we usually have to go on. That helps a lot. Thank you for your help Jia.”

She steps back. “You know my name?”

The officer laughs and moves toward her, patting her on the shoulder. “We all know your name.”

“I keep hearing that. Apparently being the only vigilante in Napa is good for something. What’s your name?”

The older officer rolls his eyes and heads toward the house. His partner looks at the ground and says, “Sorry about him. He’s not a big fan of vigilantes. Most of the force isn’t I guess. Kind of feel like you’re coming for our jobs. I figure we can use all the help we can get though. I really appreciate you getting involved. I’m officer Klein. Cassie Klein. It’s nice to meet you.” She extends a hand which Jia takes.

“Nice to meet you too. I’d love to ask you some questions about why everyone hates me and what I might do to turn it around. Any chance you’d be up to giving me some pointers?”

Nodding, Cassie looks toward her partner who’s already entering the house. “Sure, just look me up on Facebook. First name with a c, last name with a k. I’d better get inside before my partner chews me out for wasting time. It really was good to meet you. I’ll look forward to your message.” She starts to walk away but after a moment she stops herself and turns around. She points at Jia’s face. “Also, I’d call it a night. Go home and put some ice on that.”

Cassie Klein hurries into the house and is gone. Jia considers following but decides she’s done enough here for one night. She turns and walks down the street until she finds the spot she left her bike. She jumps on and starts peddling for the winery. It’s still a few miles away and if she rides fast she can probably beat Shin there. If he doesn’t show she’s going to kill him.

Part 14

Part 16

Serenity Vol. 1 Scale the Mountain Part 14

Making her way down an empty street near downtown Napa Valley, Jia Crawford considers why she’s wasting her time out here. She signed up to be a vigilante after the passing of the Vigilantes Making Us Safe (VMUS) Act because she thought she’d feel some sense of purpose. The act gives her the authority to do whatever she needs to in order to keep the public safe. Laws literally don’t apply to her if she decides they don’t. Yet for the third night this week she’s spent three hours wandering around without finding anything to get involved in.

Whatever she expected, it wasn’t this. Two weeks of being a vigilante haven’t provided a single story she wants to remember. She broke up a couple bar fights. She got in the middle of an argument between a husband and wife. She’s wearing sunglasses long after the sun went down to hide the black eye she got when the wife sucker punched her as she turned around. She literally helped a kid get their cat out of a tree. The kid was grateful but the cat certainly wasn’t. She has the scratches to prove it.

It’s not like she expected excitement every night. She knew being a vigilante in Napa Valley wouldn’t have her taking on bank robbers or serial killers like in the big city. There is crime here though. There’s robbery, assault, rape, there’s a wide variety of crime she wants to protect people from.

The challenge is finding those crimes while they’re in progress. Nobody calls her and the valley’s so spread out that she never knows when anything’s happening. Walking or biking through town hasn’t turned up results. The bars get hectic on the weekend and there’s usually a few drunks you can count on to make a scene. Nobody ever went broke counting on drunks in Napa. If all she’s doing is separating drunks though she isn’t a vigilante. She’s an unpaid bouncer.

Nothing more exciting than that happens downtown. There’s nothing in the area other than bars, wineries and restaurants. She’s tried walking random neighborhoods but what are the odds some random area is going to need her? All she can do is hope to hear a commotion.

Trying to work with the police department hasn’t yielded better results. They aren’t remotely interested in her help. Detective Florence is the only person who could give the okay for her to get involved officially so it might not have been a good idea to antagonize him when registering. He begged her not to sign up for the act but she ignored his pleas. When she stopped in to discuss working together he wouldn’t even speak to her except to say, “Get out.” Legally there’s nothing he can do to keep her from being a vigilante but he certainly isn’t going to help her. She’s on her own.

With so much downtime, Jia’s been forced to think about what she’s really doing. It hurts to admit but Florence might have been right. Napa doesn’t seem to need a vigilante. Often her thoughts drift to San Francisco. Jia’s always preferred a more peaceful, small town feel but she knows she’d find people who need help there. Her first trip to the city since moving home from college led to excitement. She stumbled into a couple men being held up in an abandoned building. She didn’t need to be a vigilante to save them. She wanted to help and she did so. That’s more exciting than anything she’s ever seen happen here.

Making the city even more enticing, Jia’s college roommate Carly was just offered a job in San Francisco and she’s leaning toward taking it. They managed to live together through four years of college without growing to hate each other. If they can get through that, Jia’s pretty sure they’ll be friends for life. She’s excited to have her friend only an hour away but she’d love to be closer. Her lack of a job or money makes things more complicated considering how expensive the city is but if Carly and her boyfriend Hank move to town she could always crash on their couch until she finds a job.

She’s never going to get a setup quite like she has here though. She’s the only vigilante in Napa. Nobody else seems interested. Everybody else might be right but she loves the idea of proving them wrong.

As she walks Jia rubs her shoulder. Her mother recently started training her in their family’s brand of martial arts. When she was young she was a great martial artist and a vigilante in a time when it was a lot more dangerous. Jia’s learned a lot but her mother keeps hinting she has bigger secrets to reveal. She won’t consider leaving until their training’s complete. Despite the bruises, she can feel her confidence growing by the day. That’s worth a little pain.

Checking her phone, she’s surprised to see it’s already after midnight. Another boring night seems to be coming to an end. Deciding to make another run by the bars and call it a night, she hopes to make it home by two.

Her father isn’t a fan of her being a vigilante and since she still lives with her parents she doesn’t like to worry them. She doesn’t have to be home by a set time but she tries to be reasonable. When she begged her mother to train her, the only reason her father supported it was her insistence that she had no plans to sign up as a vigilante. She insisted that wouldn’t change even if Richard Hughes somehow won the election and passed his vigilante act. She never meant to lie to her dad. She meant what she said when she said it. She just changed her mind.

At least her mother supports her. She knows what it’s like to want to use your abilities to help others. Despite that she’s been urging her daughter to take things slow. There’s a reason she left that life. There’s a part of Jia that wonders how much of that support will continue if she decides to move to the city.

Since graduating from college and moving home Jia’s felt lost. Her degree seems worthless and she doesn’t know what comes next in her life. This was supposed to be a solution but so far all she’s found is trouble getting up in the morning. She’s still working at her family’s winery every day during the week and squeezing in training sessions with her mother. The winery is mainly her father’s business on a day to day basis and her oversleeping and missing work hasn’t made him any happier about how she’s spending her nights.

Jia has a legacy to consider. Her mother was a vigilante and her grandfather was one of the most famous vigilantes in the country’s history. She never knew her grandpa was Serenity, one of the five allies who helped win World War II. She wants to honor what he means. Every day she accomplishes nothing feels like a waste. If things don’t pick up she’s not sure how she can even justify losing sleep for this.

Downtown is dead tonight so Jia heads to the tree where she locked her bike. Biking’s pretty common around here. A common way to avoid drinking and driving. She’s always wondered if drinking and biking is safer. She can only think of one way to find out.

Her car lasted less than a week after she got home from school and she’s been biking ever since. It’s not so bad during the day but she feels stupid doing it at night. Something about a vigilante on a bike doesn’t strike fear into people. She asked her parents to lend her their car but her dad shot her down before her mom could get a word in.

The night air’s warm but it’s mostly peaceful. That’s shattered by a loud scream in the distance as she passes a small neighborhood she never goes into. Her first thought is to call the cops before realizing that not only can she get there faster, but handling stuff like this is what she does now. She peddles toward the noise, trying to locate the source.

It doesn’t take long to find it. The screams are met by shouts so all she has to do is follow her ears. A small house at the end of the lane has it’s front lights on and an odd couple are going at it on the front porch. The screams are coming from a young woman in a torn sun dress and a funny hat while an older man with a big, bushy, white beard supplies the shouts. The light from their porch is dim and she has to get close before she can see them well.

“Get in the house,” the older man says. The woman doesn’t pay attention. Climbing off the porch into their yard, she grabs for rocks and dirt to throw at him. He moves to cover his face but doesn’t stop. “I said get in the house!”

“Go to hell. I’m done with you. You get away from my house.”

“Your house? Your house? I put the food on that table and paid for most of it. I’m not going anywhere. If anyone’s leaving it’s going to be you but we both know you aren’t going anywhere. Now get in the house.” He moves forward and grabs her shoulders. She responds with a slap across his face. He pays this back in kind and starts flailing his arms in her direction. She backs away, trying to put some space between them.

Jia decides it’s definitely time to make herself known. Emerging from the darkness she says, “That’s enough out of both of you. What’s going on here?”

The man sizes Jia up and doesn’t look impressed. He does release the woman’s shoulders. “Mind your own business girl. Me and my wife are having some words. If you don’t like it, I don’t really give two shits.”

Fighting the urge to slap the man herself, Jia takes a deep breath. “I don’t like it and this actually is my business. I’m a registered vigilante and my job is to keep people safe. If you don’t stop, you’re going to hurt your wife and allowing that would mean I’m not doing my job. You’re also going to wake up the entire neighborhood. It’s after midnight.” She turns to the woman. “Are you okay ma’am? Would you like to get out of here?”

The woman sizes Jia up herself. “Get out of here in what? Am I supposed to hop on the back of your little bicycle there and ride bitch? No thanks. I can take care of myself. Get out of here.”

This certainly isn’t the reception Jia was expecting. If the woman won’t accept her help though she’s not sure what else she can do. Just as she’s considering doing as they say she sees flashing red and blue lights coming down the street. One of the neighbors must have called the police.

As the car pulls up Jia stands her ground as a pair of officers get out. One is an older looking man with a fade and a huge mustache. He looks like he can barely stay awake. His partner’s a much younger blond with a few extra pounds on her, though she carries it well. In contrast to her partner she looks like she’s been guzzling espresso. The man eyes her with suspicion but the woman smiles. Jia approaches and says, “Evening officers. I’m Jia Crawford, an authorized—”

Before she can finish her thought, the older officer puts a hand up and interrupts her. “We know who you are. Not a lot of vigilantes around here. We’ll take this from here.” He pauses and when Jia doesn’t move says, “Thanks for the help. Get out of here.”

She considers protesting but her relationship with the police is already bad enough and she was about to leave anyway. She gives a nod and says, “Goodnight.” With that she hops back on her bike and rides away as the officers start to question the couple. She can hear voices start to rise in the night behind her.

Part 13

Part 15

Serenity Vol. 1 Scale the Mountain Part 13

Excited to officially be a vigilante, Jia Crawford’s also nervous and a bit jumpy from her encounter with Detective Florence. Needing a drink stronger than the wine waiting back home, she thinks about bars on the way. She decides on one of her favorites, Larry’s Lounge. It’s kind of a dive but that’s the main reason Jia likes it. Larry’s an old friend of the family and Jia used to be close with his daughter, though she hasn’t seen either of them in at least a couple years. Even when she goes to the bar, Larry’s rarely there anymore. He mostly retired a few years ago and now lets his managers handle running the place.

Larry’s is a little more than half way to her house which suits Jia fine. She can get most of the riding done before having a few cold ones to cool off. It’s mid afternoon and nearly a hundred degrees.

Pedaling uphill the entire way isn’t easy but Jia keeps reminding herself this is easier than training. She almost believes it. It isn’t long after she leaves the police station when the sky starts to get cloudy. With only about a mile left until she reaches the bar, she starts to feel rain drops. Jia swears under her breath; it was supposed to be nice today. That’s the whole reason she went.

At first she thinks she got lucky and it’s only a few drops. Just as that thought passes through her head the rain picks up. Every thirty seconds it seems to get harder and by the time she’s a quarter mile from the bar it’s turned into a downpour. Jia can’t believe her luck and pedals harder and harder for the bar. She splashes through puddles which soak any parts of her the rain hasn’t drenched. There’s nothing above her to shield her from the storms. Finally arriving, she locks her bike to a tree in the parking lot. Rushing inside, she pauses only to shake off as best she can on the front porch so she tracks less water in with her.

There’s only a few other people in the bar. It’s still relatively early and most people aren’t off work yet. There’s a small TV in the corner showing some sort of game but one of her favorite things about Larry’s is it isn’t full of plasma screens everywhere you look. Just one small screen in the corner. A few older guys are playing pool and a couple guys are sitting at the bar. In the back corner of the room are a couple of tables, one with what looks to be a pair of couples and another with a single couple, a man and a woman. They seem to be enjoying drinks and a meal.

Jia cringes seeing the food. She’s a fan of Larry’s place but certainly not for the food. If you want a drink this is a good place to go. If you’re looking to enjoy a meal it’s best to steer clear. They somehow manage to serve bad potato chips. They’re not even homemade.

Taking a seat at the bar, she tries to stay clear of the two men on the other end. The one closest to her, a middle aged man with thinning hair and a tie draped over his shoulders, nods in her direction but then goes back to his drink.

With how slow the place is it only takes a moment to get a Jack and Coke. She gives the bartender a tip and starts nursing her drink. Pulling her phone out to check when this storm will be gone, her drink seems to magically disappear. After ordering another, she asks the bartender, “Has Larry been in lately? I haven’t seen him in awhile.”

The young woman behind the bar shakes her head. “No, he hasn’t been in for a few weeks now. He’s apparently having some health issues. His daughter’s been the main one running the place lately.”

Jia thanks the bartender and introduces herself. The bartender introduces herself as Susan and asks if Jia needs anything else. She’s new since the last time Jia was in. After telling Susan that she’s good, the woman excuses herself to go check on other customers.

As Jia’s drink gets close to empty, she considers getting another. Around the same time she hears yelling in the back corner of the bar. Turning, she sees the couple on their own are now screaming at each other. Something about her wanting to stay longer because of the rain and him wanting to get home. Her chair’s been knocked to the ground. They’ve stood up and the woman’s getting in the man’s face and waving her arms in the air as she screams.

One of those arms smacks him in the face but to Jia it looks less like an attack and more like she was flailing her arms around drunkenly and she happened to hit him. He doesn’t take it that way. He lets out a loud yell and shoves her hard. The woman crashes to the floor, hitting her head on her chair in the process. She lets out a shout and tries to get back to her feet. The man isn’t having it and grabs his chair. For a minute it seems like he’s going to throw it right at the woman but he seems to calm down enough to throw it into a wall instead. The chair splinters into a million pieces. He seems to just be getting started.

Others nearby are trying to get clear and Jia can see the bartender on her phone, likely calling the cops. The man keeps screaming at the woman, standing over her waving yet another chair. He’s not making much sense, talking about how she never wants to go home.

This woman may not have time to wait for the cops. When the man throws another chair against a wall Jia decides to act. She takes one last sip of her drink and stands up, smooths her clothing, and walks toward the couple. “Hey guy,” she says in his direction, “leave the lady alone. The hit looked like an accident. Chill out and let’s just sit down and have another drink.”

The man isn’t having it. He’s probably seven feet tall and at least three hundred pounds. Probably not someone used to being challenged. He turns his attention to Jia, his eyes wild and unfocused. “Stay out of this girl, this has nothing to do with you. I can handle my woman.”

Jia takes a deep breath. “This actually does have something to do with me. You see, I’m sitting here trying to enjoy a nice drink and you’re disturbing me and everyone else in this bar. I’m a licensed vigilante and I can do whatever I need to in order to keep people safe. She doesn’t look very safe right now. So step off or I’m going to have to stop asking nicely.”

The man’s nearly twice Jia’s size and doesn’t seem worried about her. He sizes her up before walking over to the pool table and grabbing a pool stick. “You’re going to have to stop asking me nicely? Little girl, if you don’t mind your own business I’m going to have to stop asking you so nicely to do so. Get out of my face.”

Everyone in the place is silent, waiting for anyone to make a move. After what feels like an eternity, Jia says, “No.”

The man swings the pool stick back and aims right for Jia’s head. She ducks under it and it goes whirling by, leaving the large man off balance. Grabbing for the stick, she uses the man’s momentum against him and manages to wrench it out of his hands. She tosses it aside. She hoped pulling the stick away would put him off balance but no such luck. He’s too large.

“Nice move girl.” He grabs another stick though and swings again, this time aiming lower. Jia jumps over it but doesn’t get close enough to the stick to grab it. Instead she rushes closer and gets a couple of hits in, trying to aim a few kicks at his knees.

He stumbles backward but doesn’t go down. The body shots she gives him don’t seem to faze him. Jia dances back as he turns and grabs for her. When he misses, the man again swings the pool stick but this time he’s not even close. He seems to be losing his composure which Jia knows plays to her advantage. She just has to keep him moving.

When she lands a kick right to the man’s hands, he yelps and drops the stick. Without his weapon to worry about, Jia moves in. Punching, kicking, ducking and dodging, she strikes again and again. He’s trying desperately to land even a single blow but at this point he’s just flailing. It feels like her training with her mother only she’s in the role of her mother. Jia stops and puts a hand up. “Is that enough for you or do we need to keep going? I don’t want to hurt you. Just walk away before the cops get here.”

Trying to end things apparently isn’t what he’s looking for. He rushes Jia fast and hard. Caught with her guard down and realizing that she doesn’t have room to dodge, Jia slides right between the man’s legs.

Not expecting her slide, he can’t spin fast enough. Before he can turn around Jia’s on her feet again and delivering a kick to the back of his knees. The man crumples to his knees and now his head’s low enough to hit. Jia delivers a roundhouse to his face. He makes a sick thud as he hits the ground and lies flat.

Exhausted, Jia walks up to the woman who was with him. “Are you okay?”

Instead of receiving gratitude she finds herself shoved aside as the woman rushes to the man’s side. “Are you okay Johnny?” she says in a drunken slur. She looks at Jia, fear in her eyes. “Get away from him.”

Annoyed by the woman’s decision to stand by this guy, she walks away and heads back to the bar. Susan at least has a look of gratitude on her face. “Thanks for taking care of that before he completely wrecked the place.”

Jia nods. As she does so she hears sirens coming closer. The cops have seemingly arrived to take this idiot away. As they walk in Jia asks, “Can I get another drink?”

Part 12

Part 14

Serenity Vol. 1 Scale the Mountain Part 12

A week later Jia’s come to the conclusion that her mother was right. She wants to register as a vigilante. It’s crazy, but she’s already hearing stories of people signing up to try and take advantage of people or hurt them. People abusing the power this act gives them for their own gain. She doesn’t know how much of it’s true and the government’s keeping very quiet about any allegations. All they’ll say is that they’re looking into it. She doesn’t want vigilantes getting a bad name though. There’s a long history in this country of people sacrificing to help others. She knows there are people who really want to make a difference.

A quick internet search doesn’t show anywhere in Napa Valley to register. The rules for the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act, or VMUS for short, are still changing. The official web site for the act says that if your city isn’t listed you can go to your local police station and they’ll get you set up. Jia knows where that is. She had to get her brother out of it on a couple of occasions when they were younger. He had a habit of getting in trouble as a teenager which is thankfully behind him. He’s lucky the local cops were always forgiving.

A request to borrow the family car’s denied. Her mom needs it today. Ever since Jia started being able to land a few hits, her mom has cut their training to every other day. Jia accused her of not wanting to get beat up. “You’re not totally wrong. I’m here to teach you, not the other way around. If anyone’s going to be in pain it won’t be me. Besides, I’ve taught you most of what I can. There are a few techniques left but you’re not ready for them yet.”

At this point practice will make perfect and while they can practice together, practice in real world situations is going to go a lot further than the two of them beating on each other. Besides, “I have a life you know. I’ve mostly put it on hold to teach you but I can’t do that forever.”

Today looks to be a great day to register. She’s off from training and the winery for the first time in over a month. The police station’s nearly eight miles away though and almost the entire trip back is uphill if she has to take a bike. She swears at her rotten luck.

Not wanting to waste a day off, Jia decides if she doesn’t have to train today she can handle the trip. Stopping at the winery for a few glasses of relaxation wine is the extent of her preparation. After finishing them she hops on her bike and starts heading down the mountain.

It’s not a short trip but at least it’s mostly downhill. With the amount of training she’s gone through she’s in the best shape she’s been in years. She’s stronger, faster, more agile. The trip goes by fast. It’s early and the roads are mostly empty. The beauty of the trees and mountains distract her from the work she’s doing and before long she’s in front of the Napa police station. Looking for anywhere to lock her bike up, she doesn’t find much. She settles on locking it to a tree and heads inside.

The station isn’t like any you see on TV. It’s almost laid back. A few cops are walking around and a few people are sitting in a small lobby waiting on someone to help them. There’s no phones buzzing or people shouting. Nobody’s led through the place in handcuffs.

Going to the front desk, she finds a middle aged woman sitting there playing on her phone. It takes a few seconds for her to realize there’s someone standing before her but when she notices she gives Jia a big grin. She doesn’t bother to put her phone down. “What can I help you with?”

“I’m here to register as a vigilante.”

The woman’s smile gives way to a look of confusion. “A vigilante? What do you mean? Are you a criminal who wants to turn herself in? If so just take a seat over there and I’ll have an officer with you when they’re available.”

Now it’s Jia’s turn to be confused. “No, I’m trying to register as a vigilante. Under the VMUS Act. It said online that if there isn’t a dedicated location listed for the city to just go register at the police station. So you know, I’m here.”

The woman seems even more confused but tells Jia to wait a minute. She gets up and wanders into an office down the hall with the door closed and the blinds pulled shut. After a couple of minutes she comes back out, a scowl spread across her face. “The captain will be with you in just a few minutes. If you can take a seat over there somewhere we’d really appreciate it.”

Jia sits in a beat up plastic chair and starts reading a magazine. Some cooking thing. She feels like she gets halfway through it before an unkempt, middle aged, overweight detective with terrible hair comes stumbling out of the same office the receptionist previously went into. He looks around the lobby franticly, before saying in a much too loud tone, “Who’s here about the vigilante thing?”

Jia jumps up and walks toward him. “That’s me.”

The man stares at her for a minute, his arms crossing in annoyance. “You have got to be kidding me.” Jia isn’t quite sure if he’s talking to her or himself with that one. Finally he almost yells, “Follow me, we need to have a chat.” Jia doesn’t think anything this man can do would be legitimately thought of as chatting but she reluctantly follows him back to his office.

As she enters, the man yells behind him, “Close the door.” He turns around and plops into his chair. “Sit.” He’s not asking so Jia does what she’s told. The placard on his desk reads, “Detective Florence”. Detective Florence leans forward and stares at her with wide eyes. “So let me get this straight Ms. —”

He trails off so Jia says, “Crawford.”

“Ms. Crawford,” he says. “What in the ever living fuck has you wanting to be a vigilante?”

Unsure how to respond to his outburst, she focuses her attention on his name placard to distract from his shouting. It’s brown and looks old. “Um, I guess I just want to help people.”

The man bursts out laughing. “That’s rich. Seriously kid, you know this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, right?”

Jia sits there blinking, not sure how to talk to this man. He’s practically gasping for air now. With a deep sigh he leans toward her. “Look, this is Napa Valley, not LA or some big place. We’re a peaceful community. There’s not a bunch of people who need a vigilante here. What kind of crime do you think we get? I don’t bust big drug deals or criminal masterminds. There’s a bunch of wife beaters, domestic violence, drunk drivers, more than a few rapes unfortunately. It’s not even random crap though. It’s people who know each other. Our biggest issue is that people here drink too much. There aren’t going to be a bunch of vigilantes here. This thing started a week ago. You know how many people have come in to register? Zero. Nobody else is probably going to come in to register unless they’re morons like you. Go home.”

That’s almost enough to make Jia stand up and run out the door but she stops herself. If she can’t stand up to the detective how is she going to stand up to criminals? “You may be right that Napa doesn’t really need a vigilante, but I kind of want to do it anyway. I may not be saving people from major criminals but I still think I can help. According to the act I have a right to do that. That’s the whole point. Now what do we need to do?”

The man sighs and puts his head in his hands. “I don’t fucking know kid. They didn’t send us much, just an email with some stuff about a web site. I haven’t even looked at it. Why would I need to? Nobody in this city wants to be a vigilante or has any need to be a vigilante.”

Jia grows in confidence as the man seems to be breaking down. “Well at least one person in this city wants to be a vigilante. Me. Pull up the email, I’ll be glad to take a look and help you.”

Reluctantly doing as she asks, the detective can’t seem to locate the email. Jia suggests checking his trash folder and there they find it. From the looks of everything else sitting in the folder this guy never empties the thing. Jia’s glad for his laziness. The email gives full instructions on how to log into a web site and register someone. It even has login details for their precinct.

Walking Florence through logging in only takes a moment and the form doesn’t need a lot of information. It asks only the basics about the person registering like their name and a few other vitals. It’s a standard government form but stripped down. The only slightly weird thing about the form is how prominently it asks for any alias the person plans to go by.

Jia provides all of this as the detective sighs and his face turns green. “Look kid, I really don’t want to deal with vigilantes. It’s hard enough out there when cops have to deal with criminals. I don’t need another element. Stand down on this.” Jia’s not quite sure what to say so she just stares at the detective. He takes her silence as an answer and with another sigh enters all of her information. He turns to Jia and points at his screen. “Is that all right?”

At the last minute she decides to add a possible alias. “Just one more thing, under alias, put down Serenity.”

The man makes a face of disgust. “Stupid kids and their stupid names.” He enters it though and hits submit.

A form pops up on the screen, which he prints and shoves in Jia’s face. “Here you go kid. You’re registered I guess. Go stop a mugger or something.”

Jia takes it and manages to thank the man before making her way out of his office. As she leaves she can feel the receptionist staring at her but she ignores it.

Part 11

Part 13

Serenity Vol. 1 Scale the Mountain Part 11

The next day during training, Jia feels the best she has in weeks. Last night after finishing the news she iced like crazy and her body’s loose. They’re over an hour into today’s session and she hasn’t yet been thrown to the ground. She’s getting to the point where she can actually dodge her mother’s blows, though she still hasn’t managed to hit the woman.

For the first time today her mother says to come at her. She cringes, no matter how well a day’s going, this is the one thing that always ends in pain. She’ll be blocked and countered, maybe manage to avoid a counter or two, but eventually she’s going to end up on the ground. She’s learned better than to say no though so she rushes forward. Kick, punch, punch, duck under the kick. Small hop to avoid a leg sweep but keep it small enough that she can block the next shot. She tries a kick of her own and feels her leg caught under her mother’s arm. Without hesitation she uses the support this grab provides to launch herself into the air and bring her other leg up, kicking her mother right in the side.

The woman falters slightly and releases Jia’s leg. Jia tumbles awkwardly to the ground, hitting her knee. It definitely ends up hurting her more than it hurts her mother but she doesn’t care. Staring up at her mother, her jaw practically hits the ground. She actually connected a blow and caused some sort of pain. She’s been working toward that for weeks. She feels fireworks going off in her head. If she didn’t know she’d end up punished for doing so she’d run around the yard celebrating.

Her mother reaches out a hand to help her up. She tentatively takes it. “Very nicely done. I like how when I cornered you, there was no panic. You just went right to your next move. That’s the kind of quickness and fluidity that will keep you alive once you sign up for that stupid act.”

Jia freezes upon hearing this. The urge to celebrate goes right out of her. “What do you mean? I’m not planning to register. I’m just trying to learn our family history.”

Her mother turns away. “I know you well enough to know that you aren’t going through all of this just so you can learn some fancy new techniques. You may be telling yourself that now but once you learn and feel confident you’re going to want to put this to use. That’s your nature and I would never try to change it. My job is to make sure you stay alive when you do.”

Jia tries to clear her head. Is that actually what she wants? She hasn’t thought about it that much. She could do a lot of good and there are always going to be people who need help. Her mother pulls her in and gives her a hug. “I’m okay with it and will do everything I can to keep you safe and get you ready for this. I need you to promise me something though Jia. Don’t tell your father, at least not at first. He won’t understand and he’ll just worry. I know you don’t like keeping things from him but we need to for now. Okay?” Her mother pushes her back so they’re staring at each other.

She’s never been good at keeping secrets from her father. When she was a little girl she told him everything and she’s never completely stopped. Even her teenage years didn’t pull them apart. Her mother clearly feels strongly about this though and she trusts her. Her parents have one of the best relationships she’s ever seen and if she doesn’t think her dad can take it, she’s probably right.

Nodding her agreement, her mother pulls her in for another hug. After a minute of this her mother lets her go and gets back into position. “That was a very good start but don’t think we’re done. Let’s see if we can get you to hit me once without a counter before you run off to save the world. Again.” Jia heads back into the fray, ready to continue her training.

Part 10

Part 12

Serenity Vol. 1 Scale the Mountain Part 10

Over the next couple of weeks Jia’s training continues nearly every day. They can’t take every day off from the winery but her father agrees to handle the late shifts and have the two of them take the mornings. Often that means Jia taking the mornings and her mom taking the day off. Jia’s excited for the chance to sleep in.

Mornings are usually slow so on the days her mom does come in they can spend them discussing what they worked on the night before. Jia starts to feel her whole life is training. She notices her dad watching her a lot during the little time they get to spend together. She doesn’t realize how worried he is until one night she overhears them talking quietly in the living room. Her dad’s raising his voice, something he almost never does. “Can’t you just go a little easier on her? I don’t want her getting seriously hurt, she’s already covered in bruises and cuts. She’s not as strong as you were.”

Her mother shuts him down. “Keep your voice down. If she’s going to put herself in dangerous situations, she needs to be ready. Me going soft on her now might kill her later. She can handle it. She’s stronger than you think. I haven’t even come close to her limit.”

Every day the training’s a little different. Combat, movement, using the environment as a weapon, there’s always a new lesson. They spend an entire day on ways to move while avoiding detection. She even learns a way to run that can help avoid getting shot, though her mother warns it’s not perfect. “Don’t test this if you don’t have to. I’ve been shot a couple of times. It’s not fun.” Jia takes it all in, filing all of this away for a day when she’ll need it. She’s not sure what she’s going to need it for, but she feels a day’s coming when it’ll be useful.

At least now that they’re really training her mother isn’t waking her up in the middle of the night. For the first few weeks she still goes to bed right after dinner to make sure she’s well rested for the next day’s training. When her mother lets her sleep through the night and she finds herself waking up hours before she needs to, she asks about it. The woman laughs at her. “Of course I’m not waking you up at night. I’m pushing you hard enough during the day. People don’t learn when they’re exhausted. It doesn’t serve either of us for me to wear you out.”

At first she fears this is another test so she still goes to bed early. When things don’t change, she starts easing up. After a few weeks she feels confident staying up and watching the late news with her mom. They’re covering a speech President Hughes gave earlier in the day. He’s there to announce the passage of his vigilante act.

That’s not really a shock. After Hughes beat Senator Gilles in a huge upset he was always going to push his biggest campaign promise. With his party in control of every branch of government, passing it wasn’t complicated. They cut to him standing behind a podium in Washington, smirking.

“My fellow Americans,” he says. “Today is a historic day in the history of our country. With the passing of the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act, our people will be able to take back this country. Everyday great American men and women,” which he says with almost a snort, “will be able to protect themselves and their communities in a new and historic way. No longer will they be forced to rely on a police force they don’t always feel they can trust. Our great people will be safer and feel a greater sense of pride in our great country. We’ll be rolling out the details of how to register and what the requirements will be in the next couple of days. If you can’t wait and want to get out there now, know that you have our support. The act has passed and what you do will be legal. We’ll make sure of it. God bless America.”

Jia can’t believe this maniac was actually elected president. Her mother’s noticeably cringing. She notices her father entered the room at some point. He’s not watching the TV though, he’s staring at her. It takes her a minute to connect the dots and realize he’s concerned she’ll run off and sign up. She’d never do that. Would she? Being a vigilante’s in her family and she likes the idea of helping people but that’s so dangerous. She’s good in a fight but most criminals use guns. Fists vs. guns isn’t a fight she likes her odds in.

 

Part 9

Part 11