Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 12

Marching through the long halls of their headquarters near the San Francisco bay, Jia walks in front of her crew with Jillian and Darin flanking her on either side. The rest of the group’s further back. They don’t run but they walk with precision. It isn’t often the boss wants to see them and everyone’s on edge. Things have been going well on all fronts recently though so Jia hopes this is a good meeting. The Five Tails have stopped invading. Her contact within the group’s spilling secrets almost daily. Sales are up. Maybe she’s finally risen to the level she needs to.

Reaching a doorway, Jillian and Jia are allowed to pass but the rest of her crew is required to wait outside. They’re led into what seems like a conference room, richly adorned with red and gold. The table looks expensive as do each of the chairs. The one at the head of the table’s the fanciest of all. Dark red leather with gold trim, it looks more like a throne than a chair. Jillian and Jia are seated at the far end of the table from the throne. Sitting a little further up are a few men including Tommy, the man who handled Jia’s initiation and who she regularly reports to. He nods at her and she nods back but nothing’s said.

They all sit in silence for a few minutes, staring at each other. Jillian briefed Jia on this part. The leader of the gang always shows up late and they’re all monitored the entire time they sit here. One wrong word or phrase and he may decide to expel you from the group, or worse. He has a short fuse for anything but obedience.

The door slams open and a tall middle aged man with long wavy hair wearing a red shirt, open down to his navel, as well as a pair of red pants, walks in. He’s flanked by two men who are both nearly seven feet tall. They both have giant grins on their faces; they take long strides, pausing between each step to avoid walking faster than their leader. The leader has thin lips which are pursed in a look betraying almost nothing. He walks up to Jillian and puts a hand on her shoulder. “How is the child? I hope you’re both well.”

She bows her head. “Of course Vizier. I’ve been very well treated. I’m working on training my replacement so you’ll still be as well protected as you should be when the time comes.”

He nods, pacing back and forth in place, and turns to face Jia. “I’m confident you’ll still be able to serve in some capacity. Is this her?” Jillian looks down and nods. “I’ve heard impressive things about you girl. Our enemies run from you. Of course that mostly just pushes them into our other territories but I like your ambition.” Jia nods, keeping her head down.

He walks to the front of the table. His two massive companions pull the giant chair out and he sits in it. “This is going to be the start of our biggest plan yet. It will effect our entire crew but it is of a very… sensitive nature. Only those I trust can be involved. Those I want as my personal protection need to be in on it though and now that I trust our replacement for Jillian we can get going. I believe most of you are familiar with the plan but we’ll run through the basics for those who are unaware. We’re going to poison the city’s water supply.”

Bile rises in Jia’s chest and she has to force it back down. Did she hear correctly? She wants to react but most of the people at the table don’t budge. A few share glances but even those are brief. She catches Jillian’s eye and tries to get a sense of how much she knew. Not wanting to arouse suspicion the glance has to be quick but she can put the pieces together from it. From the start Jillian’s told her that she couldn’t reveal the plan because there was too much risk and she knew Jia couldn’t hide this knowledge. She knew.

“It really won’t be that difficult. Most of the city uses one main water treatment plant. We take it over and slip our poison into the supply. Most people it will just make very sick but it will kill some if not treated. Good news for our people, we have an antidote which they’ll be given. Which we’ll gladly provide it to the rest of the city as well in exchange for a hell of a lot of money.”

This is too big. This is something to go to the police with. They may not believe it but she has to try. If she goes to them and they don’t believe her though, this is a done deal. A group as powerful as the Delux Gang has people in the police force. Her cover will be blown. Can she do more here, among them?

“The poison’s being supplied at a meetup in two days. I’ll handle that with some of my more loyal lieutenants. Then we’ll be ready to go. First, I want us to close some loose ends. New girl, you’ve been managing the girlfriend of the Five Tails’ leader, correct?” It takes her a moment to realize he’s talking to her but when she does she nods. “Good, good. She’s a liability at this point. Get one last meeting with her, somewhere private. See if she has any more information to pass on. Then take her out of the picture.”

Her eyes go wide. She searches for an excuse, something which will get her out of this. Nothing comes to mind. She squeezes her eyes shut and nods.

Part 11

Part 13

Advertisements

Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 11

“Jia.” She looks over and sees her girlfriend staring at her. She’s leaning against her as they watch some silly romantic comedy Carly had laying around. Since arriving in San Francisco she’s shuttled back and forth between Jillian and Carly’s places depending on the needs of the moment. She can’t have the people under her in the gang come to Carly’s place. Her college roommate’s willing to let her stay here as long as she needs but she’ll lose it if she sees people like that around. She barely held it together when they went looking for Jillian.

On the other hand, she can’t let her girlfriend see Jillian’s place or the people she’s spending her days with. She’s told her enough that she has a general idea what’s going on but not enough that she has to feel guilty about it. She’s still a cop and if she knew what her girlfriend did two nights ago she’d probably storm out of this apartment and never look back.

“Yes?”

“I really like your head. Can I rub it?” Jia can’t help but laugh. She was so nervous about Cassie seeing her bald. She doesn’t like how she looks without hair. She needed to do something drastic though, both to fit in with the type of people in the Delux Gang but also to make it more likely she wouldn’t be recognized by any members of the gang who saw her take them on in Napa when she attacked their favorite bar in the area. She wouldn’t send a picture of herself to Cassie for the first two weeks she was here but when she finally did the girl was nothing but positive. She’s teased her about it but that’s the worst of it.

“No you can not rub my head. Not unless you’re about to let me do something else.”

Cassie smiles. From this angle Jia has a nice view. She tries not to stare though she’s pretty sure the girl wouldn’t mind. Cassie pulls herself up and gives Jia a long kiss. When she settles back down and lays her head back on Jia’s shoulder she says, “We’ll see how the night goes.”

They lay together until the movie’s almost over. It’s nearly six. Jia’s phone buzzes and she grabs it off the side table. She has a text message from Darin reporting that there aren’t any issues today in her territory. Someone from the Five Tails was caught by another member of the Delux Gang but they seem to be staying clear of her areas. She sends a response back and looks away from her phone to find Cassie paying more attention to her than the movie. “What’s up?”

“Don’t worry about it. Just something with my project here. It’s all good.”

Cassie’s eyes don’t look away. “You’re not going to tell me about this project are you?”

Looking at the movie, she feels Cassie reach down and grab her hand. She takes a deep breath and squeezes back. “Not if I don’t have to. I have certain protections as a vigilante that you don’t. If I told you everything I don’t think you’d be able to stay out of it and I need you to stay out of it.”

“Are you sure? I can help. I’m good backup if it comes to that.”

“That’s sweet but I’m not letting you get hurt. This is my thing, my family’s thing. I need to take care of it and I need to know I’m not putting you in danger by doing so. Is that okay?”

Cassie takes her hand and kisses it. “Not completely but I appreciate you wanting to keep me safe so I’ll live with it. Can we go get some dinner? I’m getting really hungry.”

“Why don’t we order in?” Darin’s text puts her at ease but there’s a part of her still worried about retaliation. If they’re seen together Cassie could be in danger too.

Looking Jia up and down with eyes that narrow, Cassie’s smile slips. “I mean, I guess but we did that last night. I was thinking we could see the city. I don’t get over here very often.” Jia looks down, trying to think of an excuse. Nothing comes to mind. “Jia.” She looks up at Cassie. Their eyes meet for a moment but she breaks contact. “How bad is this stuff you’re involved in? I’m not accusing you of anything but I need to know that at least.”

Closing her eyes she says, “Bad. I don’t have a choice though. My brother’s life’s in danger and the girl who’s having his baby is in even more danger. I have to do this and if I do it right, it’s going to do a lot more good than bad.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“I know, but if I fully answer there’s a good chance you won’t want to see me anymore and I don’t want to lose you. Can you please just trust me?”

She meets Cassie’s eyes again and holds her gaze. Cassie blinks first, looking away. “Fine. Will you promise to tell me about if after it’s done?”

Jia nods. “I can do that if you want me to. I’m not sure it’s a good idea but I’ll leave that up to you.”

Standing from the couch, Cassie doesn’t look at her but starts walking back toward the guest bedroom. “I’m going to lay down until dinner gets here. Go ahead and order something.” Jia starts pulling up her phone to find something. She has to fight back tears. This was supposed to be a fun weekend but she seems to be ruining it. Stopping in the doorway, Cassie clears her throat. “After you order, you can join me if you want to.” Dread turning to relief, the search for dinner suddenly becomes a lot more urgent.

Part 10

Part 12

Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 10

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.”

“Screw you.”

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.

Part 9

Part 11

Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 9

The back of the limo they have Jillian driving’s outfitted with a lot of luxuries. A fridge with drinks, snacks, magazines. Jia’s annoyed there’s no liquor but with a pregnant woman being the target apparently it wasn’t deemed necessary. As she prepares to terrorize a pregnant woman though, she finds it pretty necessary.

A door opens and a woman who looks very pregnant plops inside, not even taking a moment to look first. She tosses her purse aside and is starting to buckle herself in before noticing she’s not alone. The doors lock and Jillian starts driving. She wanted to ask how she felt about doing this to someone in the same situation but was too afraid she’d get punched in the jaw as a result.

When the woman sees Jia sitting there her eyes go wide. She glances to the door but seeing them locked, she doesn’t make a move to escape. “What do you want?” She reaches into her purse and pulls a pack of cigarettes out. Grabbing one and stuffing it into her mouth, her hand shakes as she lifts a lighter to her face. “You see what you’re making me do? Blame yourself if my baby comes out with three arms or something.”

Snorting in the front, Jillian puts up the barrier between the front and back of the limo. Jia stares the woman down, unsure what she can use against her. She planned to threaten the baby but now she wonders how effective that’s going to be. “I’m here representing a group that would like your help.”

Blowing a cloud of smoke right at her, she narrows her eyes. “You’re with the Delux Gang.” Jia’s eyes go wide and the woman rolls her eyes. “Give me a little credit. There aren’t any others that want Rich dead that bad. What,” she says with a pause between words, “do, you, want?”

Closing her eyes, Jia takes a moment to wonder what sort of forgiveness she’ll need for what she’s about to do. Opening them again, she leans across the limo and snatches the cigarette from the woman’s mouth. She takes a single puff of it herself and then puts it out on the woman’s left leg, exposed under the shimmering silver dress she’s wearing. She lets out a yelp. “What the hell’s the matter with you? That hurts.”

“It’s supposed to. I’m not playing games with you. Figured we’d get that out of the way real quick.”

“I’m not even putting up a fight you slag.”

She presses a hand to the side of the woman’s face, pursing her lips and trying to look sympathetic. That lasts only a moment as she takes her hand away and slaps her as hard as she can manage across the face. “You’re not. Now you know not to. This can go a few different ways but there’s one you’re going to be a lot happier with. Are you ready to listen?”

The woman presses her hand to her slapped face, rubbing it. “I’ve been ready to listen since you got here. I’ve asked you twice what you want. Why don’t you stop wasting my time and say what you want? Slap me if I deserve it, but don’t do it for fun.”

Jia leans back in the limo, getting comfortable and trying to figure this woman out. “It’s really pretty simple. You don’t have to make anyone dead or anything like that.”

“Pity. I can think of a few people I’d like to.”

Fighting the urge to jump across the limo and slap the woman again, Jia says, “You’ll be on your own for that. We want you to be a spy in your boyfriend’s organization.”

“Done.”

Did she hear that right? She had a huge speech prepared about how it would keep her safe. As a backup plan she figured she’d slap her around a little more, keeping it to the face. She didn’t have a plan for if the woman went right along with her. “What do you mean done? We haven’t talked about reasons, details, compensation, anything like that.”

“I’m pretty sure we can work that out. I want a few things but I don’t think you’ll have a hard time getting them. More than that though, I want to stop Rich. Working with you can make that happen.”

“Why?”

“Does it matter?”

The woman reaches into her purse and starts to pull out another cigarette. Jia snatches this one before she can light it. “Ya, it matters. We need to know we can trust you. Someone this eager doesn’t seem trustworthy.”

With a sigh, the woman puts her hands on her stomach. “You have any idea how heavy this is to carry around? Not half as bad as it’s going to be carrying a baby around while constantly watching over my back for people like you in the shadows. I want out. I want to take my baby, move to the middle of nowhere and have the money to do it. I don’t want to worry about Rich over my shoulder. I gave him the chance to set me up with it before and he refused. Wants his boy with him. Asked him to leave with me and the baby, he refused. Loves what he does. I don’t have any other choices. I don’t have any money and I don’t have nowhere to go. You give me another option and I’m jumping on it.”

Staring her down, Jia realizes she got what she wanted without having to fight. “Fair enough then. You’re to listen for anything about missions against the Delux Gang or any other major players. Any big territory moves. Any other details you think we can use.” She takes a card from her pocket, a gift from Tommy. Passing it to the woman, she looks her straight in the eye. “That’s a direct line to me. It’s a burner phone but if I have to switch it out, I’ll find a way to get you the new one. You know something, you call it from an unknown phone. Either a burner, a pay phone, a land line that isn’t tied to you, something good. We’ll meet and you’ll pass any details on in person. Sound good?”

“Whatever.” She looks bored but she takes the card and slips it into her purse. “Drop me off down the road from my place. I noticed we’re moving that way. You know the place.”

They pull to the side of the road and for the first time since the woman got in the limo, they stop. She reaches for the door but it’s still locked. “Are you going to let me out? If I don’t get home soon people are going to get suspicious.”

Jia reaches out and puts her hand around the woman’s neck. “One last thing. If you betray us, we’ll find out. We have other sources. If it comes down to it, you won’t be the one to suffer, at least not at first. Your baby will suffer long before you do.”

Jillian unlocks the doors from up front. The woman glares at her but doesn’t say another word. She climbs out of the limo and slams the door behind her.

Slumping in her seat, Jia puts her hands over her face. She’s going to be a real joy to work with. Hopefully she won’t be here long enough to have to actually manage the woman. The glass divider between the front and back of the limo comes down and Jillian looks through with a grin on her face. “Welcome to the Delux Gang. This only gets harder from here.” She turns back around and soon the limo’s moving through the night again.

Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 8

There’s a small room with a wooden table in the middle. Only a few people are there. Tommy’s wearing a bright green shirt and has a goofy grin plastered across his face. Jillian’s been allowed to come along as support, though she didn’t seem happy about it. Two of Tommy’s lieutenants came along as well but they didn’t want more than that.

Reaching into his jacket pocket, Tommy pulls out a small bag of a slightly yellowish powder and starts dumping it onto a glass plate sitting on the table. “Alright, here’s a solid sized dose. You’re gonna like this stuff. We’re calling it Yellow in Nirvana, or YIN. Stuff’s good. You’ll feel relaxed, clear, but super sure of every move you make. You’ll have a lot of energy too but not in a hyper, cocaine sort of way. It’s good to use on a mission actually so once you take the stuff, we’ll reveal part two and send you on your way.”

Eying the pile of yellow powder on the table, she thinks of questions she can ask fast that won’t sound suspicious. “Any danger with it?”

“Not really. Some people have tried messing with it on the streets but this is pure, from our sources. Nothing to worry about there. Keep in mind that just because you’re sure of your decisions doesn’t mean they’re right. In tight spots though, you’re dead if you’re wrong anyway so there’s no point sitting around second guessing yourself.”

“Any chance of overdosing?”

“Sure, if you’re taking it yourself. I’m giving you the amount though and I know how much to take. You’re good. Snort the stuff and let’s get moving.”

She really doesn’t want to snort anything. The drugs don’t look appealing. It looks like someone peed in a bunch of cocaine. This plan’s the only way she’s going to help Jillian and her future nephew though. There isn’t a choice. She leans down and sticks her face in the pile. There’s really not that much of it and she’s able to snort it quickly. The sensation of something going up her nose is a weird one. It’s only the second time she’s ever snorted anything and her nostrils don’t like it. Raising her face off the table, she scrunches her nose repeatedly. She spent half the night trying to figure out a way to fake this but couldn’t come up with one.

Clapping, Tommy walks around the table and wraps an arm around her. Jia cringes away, but not too much. She needs him at the moment. “Knew you could do it kid. That stuff’s serious but you’ll be alright. Confident you can handle it if you’re half as tough as you seem. Time to move onto your mission. How comfortable are you with murder?”

Crap. Jia tries to keep her reaction off her face but sweat starts dripping off her forehead as she looks for an escape route. There has to be a way out of here but with the drugs starting to course through her blood, she wonders if she’s in a position to make a run for it. Then she remembers Jillian standing there. She probably can’t escape with her and even if she can, they won’t stop chasing her. Running isn’t an option. Fighting might actually be the way to go here, there’s only three of them if she can stop them from calling for help.

“Depends on who it is. Not big on murdering random people but if there’s someone hurting us then I can show my loyalty.” Maybe telling them what they want to hear’s the way to go. Anything to get out the door. She can figure out her next steps from there.

“Great! If you’re okay with that, then you’ll probably be cool with the non murdery thing I have for you.” He busts out laughing. “You should have seen your face. Relax, we don’t send the newbies out to kill. Too much too soon. No, we have a job you’re going to like. The leader of one of our rivals is having a kid soon. We want you to grab his lady, take her somewhere secure, and convince her that she needs to work for us from now on. We want her to be a mole in his organization. You need to convince her this is going to be in her best interest. I’d do a good job too because you’re going to be her handler going forward which means if she pulls a double cross and has them ambush you the next time we need info, your head’s the one on the chopping block.”

“Kidnapping, great.” She hopes her voice sounds a lot more enthusiastic than she feels. “Point me in the right direction and I’ll get it done. What can I offer her?”

“Whatever the hell you want. If it’s not something we can deliver on in the end, we just won’t deliver. I’ll have Jillian go with you.” Jillian rushes to object but he puts a hand up to silence her. “I’m not playing on this one. I need someone she can trust. She needs a driver. We’ve managed to take this chick’s normal driver out of the equation for the night. You two will pick her up and drive her somewhere remote. You’ll make very clear how much she needs to do this. Be persuasive.”

Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 7

Texting back and forth with her girlfriend makes Jia miss home more than she already did. Cassie continues to send her pictures each night. They’re always a little provocative but never overly revealing. They make her smile and drive her to get back home as soon as she can. She misses the feeling of being wrapped in that woman’s arms. Each night she considers sending a picture back but then she catches herself in the mirror and the sight of her bald head makes her reconsider. She doesn’t like the look herself, she can’t imagine Cassie’s going to. She doesn’t want to turn the girl away.

She’s kept most of the details of what she’s doing in San Fransisco to herself but has told Cassie about the pain she’s in and how hard her plan to get Jillian safe’s going to be. Details beyond that make her nervous. She trusts Cassie but her girlfriend’s a cop and she’d feel guilty putting her in a position to either hide a crime or betray her girlfriend. Technically as a registered vigilante, since she’s protecting someone, what Jia’s doing isn’t illegal. Certainly what she’s involved in is illegal though and Cassie might feel pressure to report it to the police. That would make a mess of her plans.

Curled up on Jillian’s couch, she watches TV and tries to take her mind off the pain. Her friend Carly has a beautiful guest room which she’s been staying in but she doesn’t want her friend seeing her like this. She texted her to let her know she won’t be back tonight. No excuse was asked for and she didn’t feel like making one up.

She considered going to a doctor but she’s afraid they’ll tell her not to do what she has to tomorrow night. Before Jillian went to bed she ran down what to expect. They’re going to want her to take on some sort of mission for them. What it is could vary. It could be as simple as stealing something or beating someone up. It could get more complicated depending on what’s needed at that moment. There’s no way to prepare for that because there’s no way to know what they’d be preparing for.

The first part of the initiation’s got her more worried. She’s told they’ll want her to sample their products to prove she’s loyal. She’s never been a fan of drugs. She smoked pot a few times in college and one night after a lot of pressure from a few girls in her dorm she did a small hit of cocaine but she’s never really enjoyed anything enough to keep doing it. Apparently they’re selling a new drug that’s being imported from Canada and Jillian can’t tell her what to expect. She doesn’t do drugs unless forced and her pregnancy gives her a perfect excuse at the moment.

Right now what she needs more than anything is reassurance. Jillian’s no use. She’ll just say Jia shouldn’t be doing this and that she needs to go to sleep. Leaning on Cassie’s not an option here because she can’t be open and honest about the problem. She doesn’t need anyone to tell her what her police officer girlfriend’s going to say about her taking illegal drugs. She considers Shin but he already feels guilty enough about her being here. Any worry he takes off of her will be piled on him tenfold. He deserves it but she still doesn’t want to do that to him.

That leaves her parents. Her dad’s always been her go to parent for any sort of worries and right now she could really use to hear his reassuring words in her ear. Normally he’d tell her how amazing she is and how she can handle anything life throws at her. They’ve been fighting over her being a vigilante though, to the point where he’s threatened to kick her out of the house. She also left for San Fransisco without telling him. He’s not going to be in any mood to talk to her right now, let alone give her the support she needs.

Her mom answers the phone on the second ring. She sounds tired, but that fades in moments. “Is everything alright?”

Hearing her mom’s voice brings a smile to her face. Anything familiar’s something she can grab onto at the moment. “Everything’s fine mom. Really just needed to hear a friendly voice.”

The sound of her mother rising out of bed and moving follows. “Sorry, your dad’s asleep and I want to keep it that way. It’s late you know.”

“I know mom. Been busy all day though so this was my first chance to call. Wanted to let you know I’m okay. Had a fight today and I’m feeling it but I handled myself. Things are going to get harder still but I’m making progress here.”

There’s a long silence before her mother speaks again. “Do I still not want to know what’s going on? I have some old contacts in the city I could reach out to if you need support.”

“I appreciate it but that’s probably not a good idea. This mission requires subtlety.”

“Some of my friends can be very subtle when they need to. Probably a lot moreso than you. I’ve already put out feelers to a few and they wouldn’t mind helping, especially if it’s important to you and your brother.”

There’s a temptation to take the offer. She’s in over her head. She’s already seen the Delux Gang has at least one person with powers. For all she knows they have more. That’s unlikely considering how few people out there have them but it’s possible with the kind of influence Shin says they have. There’s a good chance at some point her plan’s going to break down and the only option’s going to be fighting her way through. If that happens, having backup could be the difference between life and death.

“No, not now at least. I’ll keep it in mind but I need to see this through on my own. Tomorrow’s going to be tough. I have to go through some sort of initiation I don’t really know the details of. Once I get through that though I’ll be in and I think my plan will work.” Despite her reservations, she doesn’t trust her mother not to take over once she realizes how important this mission is. Her plans seem to be working, there’s no reason to change course.

“If you’re sure, but please keep me updated.” There’s a strain in her mother’s voice. She’s fighting hard not to force herself in.

“I will, I promise mom. I need to go though, it’s late. I’m sorry I woke you up, but I love you. I’ll call in the next couple days. Promise.”

A strained goodbye’s all that remains. She sits there staring at her phone, wanting to call back and hear her mom again. She’s not sure that call gave her what she needs. It gave her what she’s going to get though. It’s going to have to be enough.

Part 6

Part 8

Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 6

The man looks her over, his eyes lingering on every inch of exposed flesh. Wearing a loose fitting tank top with a sports bra underneath, short cutoff shorts, her hair shaved so her scalp catches the light, there’s a lot for him to look at. She feels completely wrong like this but at least Jia Crawford looks the part of a tough lady who wants to join a street gang. The skinny man with a nose ring standing in front of her doesn’t look convinced.

“You’re saying this girl can help us Jillian? I mean, I think I could kick her ass and there’s a reason the boss hires all of you to do the fighting.”

Jia’s eyes narrow as she gets right in his face. She squares her shoulders and looks right into his eyes even though he probably has a foot on her. “You want to see if that’s true? I don’t think you’ll be able to handle me but I guess there’s only one way to find out.”

Eyes throughout the room go wide. An energy starts growing within the crowd. Most of them would love to see a fight. Jillian rushes forward from the group, her pink hair styled into spikes. “I give you my word. I know Candy and she’s tough as nails. We used to compete in tournaments all the time and she always beat me. You think you could kick my ass Tommy?”

Tommy puts a hand on his chin, his head nodding slightly. “No, I couldn’t. You’re tough Jillian but we can’t exactly have you prove that with a bun in the oven. Even I’m not going to ask a pregnant lady to get her ass kicked. We’ll have to see some sort of proof though. Maybe she could fight back then but that was years ago. I need to know she’s still tough if she’s going to take your place. You’ve got big shoes to fill and we need an enforcer if the plan’s going to work.”

This plan’s all Jillian will talk about while at the same time she’s not willing to talk about it at all. She brings up how dangerous it is and how desperately Jia needs to get herself out of San Fransisco because of it at every opportunity. When pressed though she won’t reveal any details. She says it’s too dangerous to know about. Even once Jia convinced her to provide an introduction to her gang and help her stop this plan from within, she refused to give anything up. She said it was better if Jia finds out after she’s initiated. She’ll need to look suitably surprised when the gang reveals it. If they figure out Jillian told her ahead of time, that would go badly for both of them.

Shaking her head, Jia puts her hands on her hips. She considers spitting on the ground for effect before deciding that’s going too far. “What do you have in mind? I’m willing to prove anything, any time. I kind of liked the plan about you trying to take me though.”

Unshaken to have a very aggressive woman in his face, Tommy laughs and walks back toward the group. “That wouldn’t prove anything. I can’t fight to save my life. I use this to handle myself,” he says while patting the very visible gun on his hip. “No, I want you to prove you can handle yourself against someone who isn’t going to show any mercy. Moonbeam, get out here.”

Gasps go up from the crowd. Jillian’s already rushing forward. “That’s not a fair fight and you know it. She’s not an enforcer, we don’t need to take on Moonbeam to be an enforcer. I couldn’t stop her.”

A pale woman with sparkling green eyes steps out of a door on the side of the room. She’s decked out in a long dress which is such a light shade of blue you’d almost think it was white. She has a huge smile on her face, silhouetted by shaggy blonde hair. There’s a cruelness in her eyes, despite her outwardly sunny disposition.

Pushing Jillian lightly away, Tommy walks toward the new arrival. “We need her to really prove herself, the boss isn’t playing around on this one. I need someone good. She doesn’t have to win. If she holds her own, I’ll call that good enough. Moon’s not going to go easy on her though.”

“Why is she even here?” Jillian’s practically stomping on the ground now. Why does she care so much? Jia had to beg her to try this plan but if she fails here Jillian’s not on the hook for anything. She’ll be in the same position she was before this trip to the city. The same position she previously resigned herself to. “She’s supposed to be with the boss.”

The woman steps forward, swaying her hips as she goes. Her dress hugs her tight. “I’m always where I’m supposed to be. The boss needed some privacy so I came to visit my buddy Tommy. Do you have a problem with that?”

Jillian sinks away from her. She looks to Jia with worry in her eyes. “That’s between you and the boss. I can’t imagine he’d want you endangering yourself though. Who’d protect him if you’re out of business?”

Moonbeam gets right in her face and shoves her backward. It’s a light push, but enough that Jillian stumbles. Jia can make out the anger in her eyes but she knows with the baby she isn’t going to respond. “Nobody’s going to put me out of business. I can handle this little girl you dragged in here.”

Starting to look frightened, Jillian rushes to Jia. “I bring you someone who can help out and you treat her like this. That’s some crap. She can leave if that’s how you want to play things.”

Putting a hand between them, Jia stops Jillian. “I have this.”

Jillian leans in, trying to be heard only by Jia. “You really don’t. This chick’s serious. She has some strange abilities and can really mess someone up. I wouldn’t be able to take her down.”

“What can she do?”

“Her eyes glow. Like hardcore glow, which wouldn’t be so bad except they cause burning on anyone she looks at. I don’t know how she does it, but it hurts bad really fast.”

Jia smiles, trying to assure Jillian she can handle it. “That’s not a big deal. I won’t let her get a good look at me. I’ll get in close and fight. She’s in a dress, I can’t imagine that’s going to end well for her.”

“It doesn’t work that way. She’s tough as nails in a fight too. She’s fast, she hits hard, and if she gets a little distance between you, you’re done.” Jia pushes her aside and starts walking toward Moonbeam. Jillian sighs. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’ll make sure your body gets back to your parents.”

Stopping ten feet from Moonbeam, Jia looks her up and down. “How are we doing this?”

Moonbeam steps forward and the rest of the crowd backs up. “I admire your courage if nothing else. One on one, no weapons. We’ll fight until somebody gives or Tommy’s happy with the results. Are you ready?”

A nod’s all it takes. The second the movement’s registered, Moonbeam’s eyes begin to glow with a bright light. Jia’s determined not to be caught in one place and starts rushing sideways, trying not to let her opponent get a good look at her. Wherever she runs, the crowds of gawking onlookers clear out of the way, not wanting to be caught in the gaze themselves.

She’s fast but not as fast as someone turning their head. She starts to feel the burning on her skin. At first it feels more like an itch but it picks up intensity fast. It starts in her arm but moves toward her chest. Initial discomfort turns to pain so she leaps forward and pushes herself into a backflip. She turns mid air and starts running the other way. That broke the gaze for a moment and the pain’s gone.

Something’s said under Moonbeam’s breath but she can’t make it out. This time as she circles she starts closing the distance between them. She wants to get behind the woman but in a straight fight that’s not easy. Soon the pain returns, but she’s glad to realize it reset to the level it started at the first time. All she has to do is break the gaze and Moonbeam’s effectively starting over.

Jia starts trying to think of ways to break the gaze. She feels the pain in her chest so she knows around where the woman’s looking at the moment. Closing the distance fast with the pain increasing to levels where it’s going to be hard to continue, she hits the deck and falls forward. She tries to catch herself on her hands but misses and hits her face on the hard cement floor. Her nose hits hard and she feels it give slightly. Blood’s already starting to stream out. The pain in her chest’s gone though.

The downside of hitting the ground that hard’s she can’t get moving again right away. That gives her opponent time to reset and the pain time to start returning. It follows her back to her feet and by the time she’s moving again it’s already increasing.

Blood from her nose mixes with sweat dripping down her face. She’s running hard to try and stay ahead of the gaze but she’s not keeping up. She’s getting closer but as a result Moonbeam’s starting to circle as well. This isn’t working. By the time she reaches the woman she’s going to be exhausted.

Evasive maneuvers haven’t worked so she decides to try a more direct approach. Changing her strategy, Jia turns and runs straight at Moonbeam. She takes the woman off guard and she starts to back up. More importantly, the change in direction caused the gaze to break for a moment. The pain resets. It resumes within seconds but having reset, Jia can again handle it. That won’t last long though. She’s felt this pain reset a few times and it only takes ten to fifteen seconds to get back to full strength.

Closing in directly’s more effective but Moonbeam continues to circle and it continues to be difficult to get close. Ten feet away she feels the pain again reach near unbearable levels. This is the worst it’s been so far and she doesn’t know what to do except break that gaze. Most moves she can think to try would slow her down enough that the distance between them can grow again. Worse, the gaze is now right in her gut, allowing Moonbeam to better adapt to sudden changes in direction. Jia’s learning as they go but so is her opponent.

The only move she can think to try in the moment’s a forward somersault. Doing one while running worries her. She’s afraid she’ll snap her neck. She doesn’t know that she has a choice though. For all she knows the pain’s doing real damage to her body.

“You’re persistent, I’ll give you that. Maybe you’re not useless.” Jia hopes that acknowledgment from her opponent will be enough for Tommy but there’s no indication they should stop. Without other options, she tries the somersault. Diving forward, she tucks her neck, rolls through the motion and lands back on her feet. She seems to catch her opponent by surprise and the pain’s gone again.

Does this woman ever blink? She’s close now. Only a few feet away. Moonbeam changes her stance a little, preparing for them to actually fight. Jia winds a punch up and throws all of her might behind it. She goes right for Moonbeam’s head. The punch is avoided without issue, the woman’s head dipping to the side.

Off balance when her punch doesn’t land, Jia stumbles. A kick hits her in the leg and she goes down, crashing onto her shoulder. There’s pain but again her sudden change in direction seems to have caught Moonbeam off guard. The pain in her shoulder’s a lot better than what the gaze was doing.

Landing at the woman’s feet, Jia grabs for her legs and tries to tackle her as she gets up. It isn’t pretty but she’s not in a place to fight pretty. This is going bad and she needs to turn the tide fast. They go crashing to the ground, rolling, both trying to get on top of the other. Realizing she’s losing that battle, Jia rolls away, putting a few feet between them.

On her feet first, she doesn’t hesitate. Moonbeam’s getting her legs under her but she’s not ready yet. Instead of going for the attack, she slides past the other woman, getting behind her. Once there, she moves in and catches Moonbeam in a standing choke hold. She tightens it, burying her face in the side of Moonbeam’s head. She’s determined not to give her an angle to start that gaze back up.

Unable to breathe, Moonbeam thrashes about but Jia holds her with all her strength. She tries to get an arm on something but her angle makes that almost impossible. Suddenly the woman lets her left knee go limp and kicks backward and across her body into Jia’s knee. She buckles, not going down but slipping to the side enough that the woman can clutch her arm tight and flip her through the air and over her body.

They crash onto the hard floor. Jia lands hard on her back and spasms shoot though her but she feels lucky it wasn’t worse. She could have easily landed on her neck and that would have been the end of things with the cement floor. She tries to roll to her feet but Moonbeam turns to Tommy. “Enough. She’s pretty good. We’re better off with her on our side than against us. End this before I have to break her.”

Tommy comes forward awkwardly, clearly enjoying the fight. “Alright then ladies, if Moonbeam vouches for you that’s good enough for me. You fought pretty well against someone with her talent. You’re in. There’s an initiation to go through but that won’t be a big deal for someone with your ability.”

Jia’s heart sinks as she tries to climb to her feet. She remembers her brother Shin’s initiation with this group and doesn’t want any part of something like that. She wants to get Jillian free of them but she’s not prepared to hurt innocents in the process. Jillian moves forward to help support her. The more she moves, the more pain she’s in. That hit took a lot out of her. “What sort of initiation are we talking about? That fight wasn’t enough to prove I know what I’m doing?”

With a huge grin on his face, Tommy steps toward her. “Well, we have to know you’re loyal to the group so it’s a two part thing. The first part’s pretty standard while the second depends on what we need. Neither part’s terribly difficult. It isn’t about proving you’re some amazing fighter, we see that already or we wouldn’t even consider you. Now we need to see what you’ll do for us. Your friend can fill you in on the basics.”

Unable to think of anything else to say, she just nods. The crowd’s already starting to drift away, not interested in huddling around now that the fight’s over. “Is there anything else you need me to do or am I good to check the place out?”

Putting a hand in the air, Tommy laughs and jumps up and down a few times. “Neither. Sorry but you’re not allowed to hang around here until you’re fully part of the group. Mainly a security thing. Sure you understand. You can take a few minutes to shake off the fight but then you’ve gotta go. You can go back wherever you’re staying or Jillian can take you. Whatever. Tomorrow night once you’re part of the group you can check out the sweet digs.”

Shaking her head, Jillian slips Jia’s arm around her shoulders. “Sweet digs is overselling it. This place is a mess.” She turns her head to Jia. “You’ll see tomorrow night I guess. You’re not going to have any problem with the initiation if you held your own against Moonbeam. Come on, I’ll give you a ride back to my place where you can shake this off.”

They start to limp away but Moonbeam’s standing near the door. Her hair’s a mess and there’s a red line running across her neck from where Jia tried to choke her out. Her dress is torn at the hip. She doesn’t seem to mind as she’s got a ton of energy and comes rushing up to them as they get close. “Thanks for the fight. It’s so rare that I get to take on someone worth my time. You’re very good and you withstood my gaze better than anyone I can remember. I look forward to fighting by your side. I might even put in a good word with the boss, see if I can get you assigned near me when things go down. Just don’t mess up the initiation after I stuck my neck out for you.”

Jia nods and offers a handshake. With a laugh Moonbeam comes in and squeezes her in a tight hug which makes her cringe. The pain shooting through her back flares up again and Jia wonders whether that was intentional. Unable to prove it and not sure she’d want to anyway, they say their goodbyes and Jia and Jillian make there way out of the place.

Part 5

Part 7

Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 5

Jia’s head’s still pounding Sunday night. She’s tried more liquor, she’s tried pills, she’s tried spending most of the day sitting quietly in a dark room. None of it helped. Carly definitely can pick a club but last night got crazy even by her standards. Jia’s been trying to cut back on alcohol in recent weeks and that didn’t help. As she rides to Henry Fontana’s bar the thought that another drink might help keeps popping into her head.

Her phone buzzes and she’s excited to see a text from Cassie. It’s a picture of her in a nice dress, showing a nice amount of cleavage. She’s making a kissing face and looks both adorable and sexy. Jia sends a heart emoji in reply. She considers sending a picture of herself back but decides she isn’t ready to reveal her newly shaved head yet. She’s worried her girlfriend won’t approve. She’d probably like her outfit tonight at least. A smart ankle length skirt and a yellow blouse make her look like a young professional. She borrowed both from Carly. That means they’re slightly tight but she can move. She just hopes she doesn’t have to fight in them.

Entering the bar, she finds a very different scene from the night before. It’s still dimly lit but everyone here seems to be wearing business casual attire. Most are drinking wine though there’s certainly plenty with beer or other drinks. This is the kind of place young business people wind down after work, not a place people go to get drunk. Carly probably would have liked it after all though it wasn’t the place she needed last night.

Not as dark as the other bars she’s been to recently, Jia can immediately tell Jillian isn’t here. There’s nobody who looks anything like her. If her hair’s still pink she’d stand out. Because the bartender said she’s only supposed to come in from time to time Jia decides to get a table and wait.

The bar isn’t busy but for a Sunday night they aren’t doing bad. The waitresses are running around getting drinks and bringing food. Her waitress drops a menu off and takes her order for a scotch and soda. She promises to come back as soon as she can to take any other order but she’s got a tray loaded with drinks in her hands.

When she returns carrying Jia’s drink the waitress looks calm. “Sorry about the wait, that table needs everything yesterday. What can I get for ya?”

Downing half of her drink before replying, Jia orders a set of breadsticks from the appetizer menu. “I actually have a question. Someone told me a friend of mine comes in here sometimes. Jillian? Pink mohawk, kind of a punk look.”

The waitress nods. “I know her, she’s friends with a girl named Victoria. I think she’s staying with her upstairs. The mohawk’s gone by the way, or at least not put up. They come in a lot of nights, usually not until later. Stick around and there’s a good chance they’ll show up.”

Thanking the waitress, Jia orders another drink. No need to hold back when she has Shin’s credit card. Shortly after her fourth drink arrives she notices a girl with short pink hair split down the middle sitting at the bar. When did she show up? She can only see her from behind and if not for the pink hair she’d never make the connection since the girl’s wearing a knee length pink dress she can’t imaging Jillian in. It’s possible she is a different person but when the bartender drops off a cup of tea Jia feels confident she’s found her target.

Before approaching the girl she hopes is Jillian, Jia pays her check in case things go bad. Standing up, the alcohol hits her all at once. Taking a moment to steady herself, she walks over and taps the woman on the shoulder.

The woman turns her head and it’s definitely Jillian. She looks calm, even happy. At first she doesn’t seem to recognize Jia. “Can I help you?” She looks back to her tea and takes another sip. Her head suddenly snaps back and her eyes go wide. “Oh hell, what are you doing here? I did you a favor.”

“We need to talk.”

“There’s nothing to talk about. I helped you out as a favor to a friend. You were out and I made sure they weren’t going after Shin. Now you need to leave me alone and go back to your life.”

“My brother’s kind of involved here.”

“He doesn’t need to be.” Jillian rubs the side of her face. Jia notices how far she has to sit from the bar with how much her stomach’s grown.

“He wants to be.” She gestures to the seat next to Jillian. “Can I sit?”

“No, I don’t want us being seen talking here. Meet me out back if you have to talk. Ten minutes. Now go away.” She doesn’t say anything else. Her wide eyed stare follows Jia until she’s back at her table.

Keeping an eye on Jillian, Jia sees her pay her bill and head out the back. She almost waits but ten minutes seems like a long time if the woman’s already leaving. She still doesn’t trust her. Following immediately, she finds she was right not to. Standing, it’s clear how pregnant Jillian is. She’s not full term yet but she’s put on enough weight that a casual observer would know. She’s booking it for the stairs in the back of the bar.

Following her upstairs, Jia can’t see her after the first turn. That’s where she finds you can access the apartments above them from in the bar. Unable to see her target, she listens until she no longer hears steps on the stairs. That’s when she knows what floor to stop on. On the fourth floor she turns and sees a door at the end of the hall closing. She tries to open it without knocking but Jillian was smart enough to lock it.

She pounds on the door. “Let me in Jillian.”

“Go away, I don’t want to deal with you.”

“I’m not giving you a choice.”

“I will kick your ass. I can hit you but we both know you won’t hit me.”

Trying to see in through the peep hole Jia says, “Look, let me in, otherwise I’ll make a scene. You don’t have to deal with me for long, we’ll talk and then I’ll go if you want.”

There’s no response for another thirty seconds. When Jia’s about to start pounding on the door again it opens a crack. Jillian stares out at her. “You’re really not going to leave, are you?”

“Nope.”

The chain’s removed and the door opens. “Get in here then before I change my mind. You’re only staying a few minutes.”

Walking into the apartment, she finds a complete mess. There’s a couch with clothes piled on it but no other furniture. A TV sits in the corner. Looking into the kitchen, the sink’s piled high with dishes and there’s food on the counter. A cat sneaks out of a bedroom to investigate the new person but after being noticed sneaks back into the room.

Jillian grabs the clothes off the couch and throws them on the floor. She sits on the couch and Jia joins her. “Thanks for not making me break down the door. Is this your place?”

Jillian shakes her head. ”A friend’s. I’m watching it for them, needed a place to stay. You picked the right night to stop by. Pregnancy takes it out of you and I didn’t want to have to fight. Say what you want to say though because I’m ready for you to be gone.”

“Okay, Shin wants to be involved. He knows that’s his baby and he doesn’t want to leave you alone to handle it. He suggested you might even come back to Napa and stay with us for awhile so he can really help.”

“Sounds great, except I’ve been told to stay away from Napa. By the way, I smoothed over most of his debt. Rocco took off after he messed up so I threw him under the bus. Your brother can go wherever he wants as long as he stays out of San Francisco. The problem’s they don’t want me leaving town. They’ve got me running some things and they won’t let me out. So if he can’t come to the one place I have to be, it’s going to be hard for him to be involved.”

“Who can I talk to about getting you out?”

Shaking her head, Jillian fights back a laugh. “Because that went so well when you tried to get Shin out. If I hadn’t saved your ass you’d be dead.”

“That was poorly planned, we can do better this time. You know how they operate, you can help me find a way out for you. Together.”

Jillian puts her head in her hands. “You think I want to be involved in this still? This isn’t a life for a baby, I get that. They aren’t letting me out though. The whole organization would need to collapse from the top and the boss isn’t going anywhere right now. He’s in the middle of something big.”

“Anyway we take him out? Maybe throw him to the cops?”

“No, but you don’t want to be in San Francisco when this happens. You really should go home now. You know I’m alright. If you don’t give me a hard time I’ll even send Shin some pictures after the kid’s born. Maybe you can stop by and take him for a weekend. I’m surprised he wants to be involved but if he does I’m willing to let him try. I need you to go though.”

“What if your boss’ plan went bad? Would that make any difference.”

Jillian’s eyes close and she lets out a sigh. “Probably, but getting involved with that is more or less suicide.”

She thinks of her niece or nephew and what it’s going to take to keep them safe. “Sounds like fun, sign me up.”

Part 4

Part 6

Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 4

Walking into the dimly lit bar, Jia can feel Carly pull closer to her, practically hanging off her arm. This isn’t her normal kind of bar and while she seemed up for it earlier, now that she’s sobered up some she seems nervous. Jia’s spent enough nights in bars like this to feel comfortable and the bartender nods at her. Nodding back, she realizes how weird that feels without hair.

Dressed in torn jeans, a leather jacket and a shirt featuring her favorite band, Jia fits in. Her newly shaved head completes the look. Carly can’t stop staring at it. She oiled it after they finished shaving and it shines even under the low lights here. Jia feels lucky her head’s not a weird shape. She thinks she pulls the look off rather well.

Packed on a Saturday night, there’s no cute boys Carly wants to meet here. A few good looking stoner guys are in the back but they’re not her type. Most of the guys are older, bigger, with more tattoos than they have fingers. Heavy metal screeches off the jukebox and it plays so loud that conversations aren’t practical. The only noise that seems to fight through the music is the occasional breaking of balls on the pool table.

There aren’t any tables available so Jia leads the way to the bar. They find a couple open stools on the far side but a bartender isn’t quick to get to them. Carly gets right in Jia’s face so they can hear each other. “I hate you right now.”

Rolling her eyes Jia says, “Lighten up, it’s a new experience.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this was where you wanted to go? I stand out like crazy. Everyone’s staring at me. I could have dressed a little better if I knew.”

“Kind of figured you’d pick up on it from how I dressed. Look on the bright side, maybe one of the boys will ask for your number.”

“If they do you’d better kick their ass.”

The bartender stops by and Jia orders a whiskey. Carly orders a glass of wine but settles for a beer when the man stares at her like she’s made of fire. It’s too dark to see the back of the bar and Jia needs to find out if her target’s here. After the bartender drops their drinks off she pulls her friend close again. “I’m going to go see if I can find Jillian. Why don’t you stay here?”

“If you leave me alone in this place I’ll knife you and make you sleep on the street tonight.” With that decided, they grab their drinks and start worming through the crowds. Several times they bump into men neither would want to run into in a dark bar. They’re invariably stared at for a moment before the men wander away.

A lap of the place doesn’t yield results. There’s no sign of a pink mohawk which is the one thing about Jillian she’s confident would stand out. Jia tries to make out faces in case Jillian changed her hair but while it’s hard to be sure as dark as it is, nobody looks familiar. Carly’s already finished her drink so they return to the bar. Another beer’s quickly served up and Carly starts into it. “I wonder why nobody’s coming up to me. Do I look good?”

Jia eyes her friend up and down. She looks very good, if very out of place. A short pink dress, plenty of cleavage, great strappy shoes that make her three inches taller. “I already told you that you look awesome. You’re probably not their type. They don’t come here looking for blondes in pink mini dresses.”

“Maybe not, but some of them have to be into me, right?”

“I’m sure they are Carly, they probably think you’re with me.”

Carly’s mouth hangs open. “Wait, is this a gay bar?”

“What? No, do these guys look gay? Not to stereotype but a gay bar wouldn’t have this many bikers. I don’t think so anyway, I don’t go to a lot of gay bars. It’s San Francisco though. Plenty of gay people to go around.”

Calling the bartender over takes a few minutes since he just dropped a beer off for Carly but Jia’s finally able to order another whiskey. When it’s delivered she holds up a hundred dollar bill. “You able to answer a few questions?”

The man snatches the bill from her. “Depends what you want to know. I’ll listen to your questions for that.”

“That works to start. If you don’t answer you won’t get any more. I’m looking for a girl named Jillian. Pink hair, kicks some ass. You know her?”

He glances around the bar before answering. “I might have seen her around. She’s not here tonight though.”

“Where can I find her?”

“That’s going to cost you more.”

Jia reaches into her pocket and pulls out another hundred dollar bill. This time when he reaches for it she pulls it back. “Information first.”

“You’re in the wrong place to push your luck.”

“You’re talking to the wrong person to push yours with.”

He stares her down and for a moment Jia thinks they might fight. That’s the last thing she needs with Carly in tow. His eyes keep returning to the bill though and when she notices she knows she has him. “Fine, she’s not with them anyway. She’s been laying low the last few weeks since the cops picked her up. Bar fight, she started it. With how big her stomach’s getting I’m guessing she’s lucky the person she shoved had no clue how to handle themselves.”

“That’s nice to know but not what I asked?”

“I’m getting to it, cool your shit. She’s staying at an apartment over by the pier, I think a friend of hers lives there or something. No idea what apartment so don’t ask and no, I don’t know the friend’s name either. It’s above a place called Henry Fontana’s though. More laid back place. Very different vibe. A friend of mine said she’s been going in there a few times a week.”

Waiting to see if he’ll offer anything more, Jia extends the bill when she realizes he’s done. She drinks her whiskey and pays for their drinks. She doesn’t bother to leave a tip, what she paid him for information should be enough.

Grabbing Carly, she tries pulling her friend to the door. They’re almost separated by the crowd and she can see her friend’s eyes go wide. As she hails an Uber she tries to fill her in. It was so loud in there that Carly heard almost nothing they discussed. “We’ll stop in and see if she’s there. If she is, we’ll figure that out. If not we’ll head somewhere more your style.”

Their car pulls up and Jia goes to get in. Carly grabs her by the wrist though and signals to the driver that they need a minute. “Hold on, I did your thing with this place. What’s this next bar like?”

“No clue, we can look it up on the way.”

Carly gets a huge pout on her face. If she hadn’t accepted they were only friends years ago it might drive her crazy. “I don’t want to go to another place where I’m going to feel like a freak. Let’s go have fun somewhere. My kind of place. You know I pick good places. You can check that place out tomorrow night when I have to sleep. This is my one night and I need to have fun.”

She knows there’s no guarantee Jillian shows up any specific night, but she’ll feel stupid if she misses the woman. She also knows her friend needs this. She’s not doing well with the break up. She relents and agrees to let Carly pick the place. She gets a squeeze in response. She doesn’t hug her friend back.

Part 3

Part 5

Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 3

Screaming as she throws her door open, Carly wraps Jia in a hug. “I missed you so much. Get in here.” They walk inside and Jia’s jaw drops. “What do you think?”

This is quite possibly the fanciest apartment she’s ever seen. A crystal chandelier hangs from the vaulted ceiling. All the furniture looks incredibly fashionable and incredibly uncomfortable to sit on. The kitchen’s done in earth tones which look great with the stainless steel appliances which look brand new. There’s a seventy inch TV built into one of the walls. Another wall’s entirely made of glass which provides an amazing view of the city. “How much are they paying you?”

With a giant grin Carly leans in close. “A whole hell of a lot. They actually provide this place though, I don’t even have to pay for it. It’s an awesome place but you know I’d never pick out that chandelier.”

“I feel like I can’t touch anything.”

Carly practically skips into the kitchen. “Touch away, I’m not paying for it and I’m not even responsible if it gets damaged. The company handles all of it.”

“I should have been an analyst.” Jia follows her friend.

“Tried to tell you that five years ago. I didn’t expect it to go this well though. Let’s have a drink to celebrate.”

“What does Hank think of all this?”

Carly goes quiet and her smile slips away. “We can talk about that too if you want but then I really need a drink.”

Opening a bottle of Cabernet, Carly grabs two oversized glasses and splits the bottle between them. She takes a long swig of her wine and then smiles back at her friend. “Me and Hank broke up.”

Immediately rushing forward to offer a hug, Carly doesn’t hug her back. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t know, I was hoping to talk about it later.” Carly’s eyes close and her hand tightens around her wine glass.

“When did it happen?”

Finishing her wine, Carly pulls up a bar stool and sits down. She leans on the counter and puts her head in her hands. “A week ago. I knew it was coming when I decided to move out here though. We talked about it. He decided he didn’t want to be so far from work. We were going to try long distance but last week he decided that doesn’t work for him so I guess that’s that.”

Trying to restore their excited mood, Jia smiles and puts an arm around her friend. “Let’s go out tonight and party. I have a credit card burning a hole in my pocket. We’ll get drinks, you’ll meet cute boys, we’ll stay out late. It’ll be like the old days.”

“Will your girlfriend like you hanging out at bars picking people up?”

Giggling, Jia squeezes Carly tighter. “I’m not going to pick anyone up at a straight bar, I think she’ll be okay. I have a bar I need to check out anyway. It’ll be great.”

With a deep breath Carly gets to her feet. Her legs seem unsteady under her and for a moment Jia fears she’ll fall. She moves to catch her friend but Carly grabs the counter and steadies herself. “Okay, let’s do it. I’m willing if you are. Do you want to go now?”

Glancing at her phone, Jia frowns. “It’s two in the afternoon, we’ll seem pretty sad if we show up at a bar this time of day. We’ll go tonight. For now let’s drink some more wine and I’ll get settled in. Before we go there is one thing I want you to do for me though.” Before Jia can finish Carly lets go of the counter and tries to walk away. She slips and falls, landing hard on her side. She starts laughing almost immediately. Jia offers a hand to help her up. “That wasn’t the first glass of wine you’ve had today was it?”

“Not quite. I didn’t have to work today or tomorrow and I figured I should enjoy myself.” She takes the hand and once she’s on her feet she walks back into the kitchen.

“That’s fine tonight but drinking alone is sad. That’s something I’d do and even I’m not doing it now. No more until we go out. I need you to do something for me and you’re sure as hell not doing it drunk. I assume you have a coffee pot around here?”

Part 2

Part 4