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.”

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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

Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 2

The next afternoon after finishing work Jia pounds on her brother’s bedroom door. The plan was to meet up this morning to go over what she found but she spent the morning in bed cuddling with Cassie and they barely got her to the winery before opening. There was no time to talk. Now that her shift’s over she has all the time in the world.

Opening the door, he looks like he’s still waking up. “Are you asleep? It’s almost dinner time.”

He walks back into the room, finding a chair at his computer desk. He struggles to get into it without tipping it over. “I don’t really focus on time that much. Not a lot to do lately. I can’t find a job, dad won’t let me help at the winery and I can’t leave the area without worrying about dying. Sleep sounds pretty good comparatively.”

Rolling her eyes, Jia leans against the door frame. “Dad would probably let you help if you’d stop pouring full glasses for tastings. We’ll go broke with pourings like that.”

“I tried that and the regulars kept telling me it wasn’t enough.”

“Of course they do, they smell fresh blood. You have to tell them it’s plenty. Standing up to them’s half the job.”

He grumbles as he fails to enter his password for the third time. Holding his hands up, he shakes his head before trying again. “Seems like a lot of stress for a job I’m not being paid for.”

Entering the room, Jia closes the door and sits on the edge of Shin’s bed. Ignoring his comment she says, “So I got some good news last night.”

“Ew, you don’t need to tell me about that. I know you never came home.”

Jia’s face turns bright red. “Not that, that’s none of your business. I asked Cassie to look into Jillian for me and she may have found something.”

His eyes light up. “That’s amazing. I didn’t know you were still looking into it.”

Shrugging, she lays back on the bed. “Didn’t want to get your hopes up. She was questioned in San Francisco last week, something about a bar fight.”

Shin’s shoulders sink in on him and his eyes go dark. “Thought you said it was good news. She’s in the one place I definitely can’t go. Plus, my baby’s apparently getting into bar fights. Guess it shouldn’t be a shocker with me and Jillian for parents but I was hoping he’d start teething first.”

Pulling herself up, she leans over and sets a hand on Shin’s shoulder. “Come on, we know where she is, that’s a start. We just need to track her down now.”

Shaking his head, Shin finally unlocks the computer. “She’s only an hour away, she clearly doesn’t want to be found. No reason she couldn’t swing by, or at least call.”

“That’s not something we can control, but this is your baby too. You should be involved.”

He throws his hands up. “I can’t go there, they’ve got too many people in the bay area and too many of them know me. I’ll be dead about five minutes after I show up.”

“Someone else can go though.”

The room goes quiet. Shin stares her down, hoping she’s going to offer more. She doesn’t. “So are you offering?”

“Maybe. I’m a vigilante so anything I have to do, I have a built in excuse for. I could go track her down, try to convince her to let you be involved. I’m not doing it for free though. It could take some time to track her down and the city’s crazy expensive.”

Pulling out his wallet, Shin starts digging through a stack of credit cards. He tosses one to her. “This has over twenty grand free on it. Use it however you need. Go crazy if you want, I don’t care.”

Looking the black card over, Jia gives her brother a look of disapproval. “How are you ever going to pay that back? You don’t have a job.”

“The same way I’m paying all my other cards. With the money I still have stashed away. Once I run out I won’t be able to pay them anymore and they’ll all get shut down. I’m already past the point where that’s inevitable. Use it how you need to. Long term I’m screwed regardless.” He looks his sister up and down. “You sure you’re going to be okay? I know you’re just starting with that girl and I don’t want to mess your thing up.”

Thinking about Cassie puts a smile on Jia’s face. “We talked, it’s all good. She’s going to come visit if it takes too long. I’m going to track this girl down for you. Please don’t put me in a position where I have to do this again though.”

Promising to be more careful in the future, Shin gives his sister a hug. She slips the credit card in her pocket and leaves his room.

 

Packing a duffel bag with clothes and other essentials Jia hears a knock at her door. She turns to find her dad standing there with a slightly worried look on his face. “Hey kiddo, got a few minutes to talk?” She waves her hand to invite him in and he takes a seat on the bed. “So your brother said something about you taking a trip to San Francisco.”

“I was going to tell you before I left. Shin can cover my shifts. I know he’s not great at it but he’s not going to get better if you don’t let him try.”

“What’s your brother gotten himself into this time?”

There’s a long silence. Jia’s given her word that she won’t rat Shin out. “I don’t know what you mean dad. Carly moved to town and I want to catch up with her. I’ll be staying at her place for a few weeks.” She keeps her eyes on the bag as she stuffs more into it.

“I’m not stupid Jia. Shin doesn’t sit around in one place for months without a reason.”

She glances up at him, her eyes narrowed. “I don’t know what to tell you then, you should probably ask him.”

Her dad sighs and shakes his head. “I really didn’t come in here to argue. I know we’ve been doing that a lot lately. The whole vigilante thing’s hard for me. I didn’t want that life for your mom and I really don’t want it for you. You’re an adult though and I need to let you make your own choices. I’m going to try and be better. So whatever you’re doing in the city, that’s your business. Be safe though.”

Sighing, Jia’s disarmed by the sudden display of kindness. Walking across the room, Jia sits next to her dad and wraps an arm around him. “I’ll try really hard to be safe. I promise. If you want to know more about Shin, push him. It’s not my place to tell you but he probably should tell at least part of it. Try not to lose it when you find out though. It’s going to be okay.”

They hug and for the first time since she signed up under the Vigilantes Making Us Safe Act, Jia feels they’re going to be alright.

Part 1

Part 3

Serenity Vol. 2 Going Under Part 1

You’re late.

The text tells Jia Crawford what she already knows but it still makes her smile. It feels good to have someone willing to wait for her. Balancing her phone in one hand and handlebars in another, she tries to reply. Almost there. Sorry. Texting and biking isn’t the safest thing but the girl she’s meeting’s worth the risk.

Skidding to a stop outside the bar, she locks her bike to a tree and rushes inside. Her phone works as a makeshift mirror to make sure she looks alright. Taking a moment to fix her hair, everything else looks good. Entering, she scans the place for her date. Cassie Klein beams at her from a booth in the back corner. She makes note that the woman’s long blonde hair is shorter than the last time they saw each other and she’s wearing what is probably a new dress. It’s bright purple and very short. Jia likes it.

Walking up to the table, she leans down to give the woman a peck on the lips. “You look beautiful, I love your haircut.”

“It’s not that different. Just a trim.” Cassie smiles as she dismisses the compliment, brushing a few strands behind her ear.

“It looks great.” A waitress stops by the table with a notepad. Before the woman can even speak Jia says, “Scotch and soda. Easy on the soda.” Sliding into the booth, her leg brushes against Cassie’s and she feels electricity shoot through her. She’s going to miss this woman.

Their drink order’s followed by dinner. They discuss their days while eating. Cassie responded to a domestic violence call and had a woman spit on her when she tried to remove her from a store downtown where she was throwing a tantrum. Jia spent the day at her family winery dealing with drunks who wanted her to get drunk with them. She limited herself to drinking with the customers who insisted though which means she isn’t already wasted. There’s still time to fix that tonight.

Around the time Jia’s burger and Cassie’s chicken fingers arrive Jia takes the other woman’s hand. “So I don’t want to pry but were you able to look into those people I asked about? My brother’s starting to get worried.”

Nodding but looking down at her food Cassie says, “I actually did. You’re lucky you have an awesome girlfriend who’s willing to bend the rules for you.”

“C’mon, it’s not like you’re selling secrets to a criminal. I’m a registered vigilante. A lot of areas the cops are working with vigilantes.”

“Not here. If the sergeant found out I gave you this he’d at least suspend me. They’re pissed enough that I’m dating you. Just be glad you’re cute. Otherwise it might not be worth the fuss.”

Jia leans in closer until she can feel Cassie’s breath on her face. “I am, it comes in handy. You’re cuter though. Seriously, what’d you find.”

Reaching into her purse, Cassie pulls out a sheet of paper. “Nothing on Rocco, he’s wanted for questioning in a ton of cases over in San Francisco but there’s no sign of him recently. He’s got a couple minor warrants out but nothing major. After the bar he seems to have ditched Napa but I can’t tell you much beyond that. Jillian’s gone too but she apparently was questioned in a bar fight in San Francisco last week. They let her go. If your brother wants to find her, that’s the place.” A bar’s not somewhere Jillian should be hanging out but Jia tries not to let the news get her down or ruin their night.

They finish dinner and order a few more drinks. After Jia asks for the check Cassie puts a hand on her leg. “So, I know we’ve been taking it slow, but how would you feel about coming back to my place?” Her eyebrows raise and she looks so hopeful. It hurts Jia’s heart to crush that hope.

“I’d love to, but you know, I have my bike with me. Thinking about the words that just came out of my mouth hurts by the way. God I need a new car.”

“Don’t worry about that. We can fit it in my trunk, and god I just realized how dirty that sounded.”

Jia leans in and places a small kiss on Cassie’s lips. “That’s really sweet but riding home from your place in the morning would take a long time.”

“I can drop you off before work.” Cassie’s hopeful look’s faded but she’s not giving up. Her smile’s nearly gone but she’s fighting to keep it in place. “If you don’t want to, you don’t have to or anything. I figured maybe we’d have fun though.”

Guilt stabs Jia in the chest. This girl’s amazing and deserves so much better. “Listen, you’re great Cassie and what you want to do sounds really great but I feel like I’d be doing it under false pretenses. I was going to call and tell you so I didn’t ruin a nice night but Shin can’t go to San Francisco. He’s afraid the gang will kill him.”

“Okay, weird transition from what I was suggesting. What does your brother have to do with spending the night?”

Jia puts her hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh. “Nothing directly. Not what I’d want to think about while we were, well, together. Jillian’s having his kid though. That’s going to be my niece or nephew. If he can’t go find her, I need to do it. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone either. Hopefully only a few days but it could take longer. Maybe a few weeks. Hopefully not more than that, my dad will kill me if I’m not back by the time the busy season starts. I don’t know if we should do that for the first time right before I leave though. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to go back to your place.” She squeezes Cassie’s hand. “I’d really love to. I feel like that wouldn’t be fair to you.”

Taking a moment to process all Jia’s told her, Cassie squeezes her hand back. “It’s nice of you to be considerate but I’m an adult, you don’t have to walk on egg shells around me. Why don’t I come with you?”

Closing her eyes, Jia tries to think of reasons to say no. “That’s a bad idea. You have a job and besides, I don’t know what I’ll have to do to find her. I may have to go some places a cop really can’t go.”

Cassie stiffens. “Point taken. My offer’s still on the table though. It sucks you’re leaving but I get it, you have to help family. I think there’s something here though. So unless you don’t want me to be, I’ll still be here when you get back. I do expect you to call me while you’re gone though. Not text, call. If that sounds good, you’re still invited back to my place.”

The waitress approaches their table with the check, leaving it between the two women. Jia grabs for it and slips her credit card into the check holder without even looking to make sure the check’s correct. “Please run this fast.” Once the waitress takes it and walks away she turns to Cassie with a giant grin. “Let’s get out of here.”

Part 2

Serenity Vol. 1 Scale the Mountain Part 24

Coming home to her parents bloody and bruised goes about as well as Jia would expect. Her mom mostly takes it in stride and tells her to be more careful next time. Her dad flips out after suppressing his rage for weeks. He’s fed up with his daughter putting herself in this sort of danger. He actually threatens to kick her out of the house if she doesn’t quit being a vigilante but her mom talks him out of it.

About a week later her mom knocks on the door of her room to check on her. Jia’s sitting at her computer doing research and trying to heal. She hasn’t been out since that night. She’s refused to quit but she did promise her dad she’d at least take a break while she started to heal. “How’s your face doing?”

Jia rubs at her bandage. “It’s alright I guess, healing. Itches like hell though.”

“I know the feeling. Try a cold compress on it. Trust me, it helps. A bath can be a big help too with stitches but that won’t quite work on your face.”

Jia’s eyebrow raises. “Sounds like you know from experience.”

Her mom sits down on the edge of her bed behind her. She rolls her sleeve up and points at her forearm. There’s a faint scar there. “You see that? I got it when I tried to stop a crazy guy running around dressed like a dog. He stabbed me with fake claws.”

Jia stifles a laugh. “Why would anyone dress up like a dog?”

“Hell if I know, some people are crazy. Most of the eccentric types hung it up years ago. You used to see a lot more of them. I just wanted to check on you and let you know that when you’re ready, I have a few more techniques I’d like to pass on. I said you weren’t ready before but I think you’re getting there. I know you’re still healing but we’ll get to it when you’re better.”

“That sounds awesome mom, but I might have to take a trip for a little while. Not sure yet but I’m looking into some things for Shin.”

“Do I want to know what happened at that bar and why he was with you that night?”

Jia fidgets and looks away. “Probably not.”

“Let’s leave it at that then. Where would you be going?”

“Just San Francisco, maybe for a few weeks. It’s not a sure thing yet, still doing some research. If I go it probably won’t be for a few more weeks.”

Her mom gets up and walks behind her daughter. She gives her a hug from behind. “You’ll be ready. I’m going to make sure of it.”

Part 23

Volume 2 Going Under Starts December 21st

 

Serenity Vol. 1 Scale the Mountain Part 23

On her way back to the main area of the bar, Jia Crawford takes a minute to actually stop in the bathroom. Grabbing some paper towels, she looks at herself in the mirror. She‘s shocked at how awful she looks. The top left corner of her forehead is a giant bloody bruise, surrounded by cuts. A little blood’s still leaking out of them but it’s starting to clot. That won’t need more than a few bandages. The cut on her cheek’s a different matter. It’s deep and blood from it’s still flowing down her face. She looks like she emerged from a horror movie. There’s dried blood streaked everywhere. Looking down at her hands, she realizes they’re also caked with dried blood.

Horrified that Cassie saw her like this, she starts wetting paper towels and pressing them against the cut. It stings but hopefully it’ll help. With another paper towel she tries to clean the dried blood from her face the best she can. She realizes the hair near her wounds is even caked with blood. At least her dark hair mostly hides it.

When she finally looks remotely like herself she makes her way back out to the bar. She still has a paper towel pressed against her cheek to stop more blood from flowing. A new pair of people in suits are looking over the place and throwing evidence into bags. When Cassie sees her she makes her way over. Seeing that she’s watching the newcomers she says, ”Detectives. Feeling any better?”

“Not really, this is really starting to sting. If you need me to answer more questions I can but otherwise I’m probably going to text my brother and have him come get me. I hate needles but I think I’m actually looking forward to stitches.”

“Just a few, it won’t take long. Want to grab a table? You look a little unsteady, don’t want you falling over on me.”

Finding only a few tables in the place are still standing and have chairs in one piece, they settle in one in the far corner by the jukebox. “Who was this source who asked you to come out here tonight? We may want to question them.”

Jia shifts in her seat. “That’s going to be really dangerous for them. I don’t want to make your job harder but I don’t think that would qualify as making the public safer. They’re part of the public.”

Cassie’s smile wavers a bit but she doesn’t seem upset. “Okay, we can leave that out for now. You’ll have to make it up to me though. Can you identify any of the people who were here?”

“There was one guy named Rocco. My source told me he was in charge. Big guy, bald, looks like he’s had his nose broken a few dozen times. He was the one who sent the rest after me. He’s the only one I got a name from.”

Jotting something down in a notebook Cassie says, “Did he say anything that would give us a clue? We’ll run the evidence but I don’t think we have a lot to go on here.”

“He mentioned San Francisco, I think that’s where the group operates out of. The only other thing I can think of is he offered to let me live if I blew him.”

Suddenly shifting in her seat, Cassie looks uncomfortable. She stares at the ground, not meeting Jia’s gaze. “Well that’s gross.”

“Ya, wasn’t going to happen. He doesn’t have the parts I’m looking for.”

Now Cassie’s completely frozen, blinking a few times, but her smile starts coming back. “Noted, not into blowing bald dudes with bad noses.”

“Or anyone else for that matter.”

Shuffling through a few pages of notes, she seems to be trying to find a come back. “Well, I think I have everything I need.” She pauses for a moment but then she pushes her lips together and her eyes narrow. “That’s actually not true, I need one more thing. Can I get your phone number?”

She has to think about it for a moment. Jia never calls herself. “Sure. It’s 701-555-0138. If you have any other questions you can call me.”

“What if my question was if you’d get dinner with me?”

It takes a moment for Jia to realize what Cassie’s saying. When she does her mouth practically hangs open in surprise. Cassie’s getting so red that she almost matches the paper towel Jia still has against her cheek. When she finally recovers Jia says, “Really? I look like I climbed out of a horror movie and I smell like I drank everything in the bar.”

“Kind of. I still think you look cute though. If you don’t want me to I won’t call.”

Jia blinks a few times. “You know that’s kind of an inappropriate question for a police officer to ask a girl when she’s sitting here bleeding all over the place, right? Is this like, your move? Strike when they’re vulnerable.”

Looking upset Cassie no longer meets Jia’s gaze. “I wasn’t going for that. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. I won’t bother you again.”

Grabbing Cassie’s hand, she stops her from standing. “Well I didn’t say that. Actually, I kind of like it. You can call me. Why don’t you shoot me a text now so I’ll have your number?”

Now it’s Cassie’s turn to have her jaw drop. “That was really mean you know.”

“I know, I’m mean sometimes. I’m nice a lot more often though. If you call I’ll have to make it up to you.”

“You’d better.”

A smile spreads across Jia’s face. “You just made tonight a lot better. Until now the best thing that happened to me all night was someone deciding not to shoot me.”

“Could be worse. The best thing could have been someone deciding to shoot you.”

“That would be worse. Then I wouldn’t have been asked out by a pretty girl. Or maybe I would have been, the cheek didn’t stop you. I’m going to text my brother and get out of here. I’m still bleeding and really need to get some stitches. If I bleed out I won’t be able to go on a date.”

With a smile the size of the moon, Cassie waves goodbye. Before she goes, Jia notices the bartender making her way back into the bar. The exchange a glance but nothing’s said. She calls Shin and tells him to get over here with the car so they can get to the hospital. At first he freaks out because he doesn’t want to pull right up to the cops. Then he notices she said hospital and he freaks out even more. She can hear his tires screech down the road and it isn’t long before he’s pulling into the parking lot.

As she slumps into the passenger seat of his car, Shin sees her holding the paper towel to her cheek and her busted forehead. “You said you and Jillian were okay. What the hell happened?”

“I got beat up. It happens. I am okay, I just need a few stitches. It’s bleeding pretty good. Just stop by the ER. They won’t be that busy this time of night. I should be in and out in no time and then we can get home. I have to work in the morning so let’s get moving.”

Soon they’re flying down the back roads toward the hospital closest to their house. It’s not that close, around ten miles away, but she’s not dying and the cool night air feels good against her face. The rest of her body which is still soaked with liquor likes it less. Shin keeps looking over at her instead of paying attention to the road. “Try not to bleed on the car. That’ll cost a fortune to get out and I don’t exactly have the money.”

“Getting the smell of booze out isn’t going to be cheap either.” He doesn’t respond. “You don’t get to say that to me right now by the way. I’m only bleeding here because you got yourself into this.”

Shin turns to face her and she points at the road, encouraging him to turn back. “I told you not to go in there! You’re lucky they didn’t kill you. Why’d they let you go anyway?”

“They heard the sirens. Someone called the cops, no clue who. I thought it was you at first but I don’t think the description they had was yours. At least it had better not be.”

“I didn’t call them. I thought about it but I was afraid that’d make it worse. Whoever did it though, I’m glad they did. Those guys are serious.”

“He made me an offer, but it was gross so I passed. Jillian said she thinks they’ll leave you alone for a while if you stay around here though. They might even forget about you if you don’t do anything stupid.”

“You talked to her?” He glances at her but now he’s mostly keeping his eyes on the road.

“She pulled up right before the cops showed and said she’d try to keep them off you as much as she could but that’d be a lot easier if you stay in Napa. I’m guessing after tonight they’re spooked and they won’t come around here for at least a few months. Just lay low. You can stay with mom and dad too. It’s not the worst thing.”

He groans. “I might disagree. I guess it’s better than dying though. Why was she still there? I thought you were going to warn her.”

“I warned her. Thought she was gone until she showed back up out of nowhere and attacked me. She’s the one who gave me this.” She points at the cut across her cheek.

His hand covers his mouth. For a moment he puts the other on his forehead before realizing at least one needs to be on the steering wheel. “She knifed you? I’m so sorry. I can’t believe she’d do that. I’d never have asked you to warn her if I thought she was going to do that.”

Jia manages to laugh, though it hurts her face. “No, she didn’t knife me. She threw me over the bar and I crashed into a bunch of bottles. A shard of one cut me. That’s also why I smell like I’ve been on a three week bender. I don’t think she was trying to hurt me. She told me to go with it and she went slow enough that she didn’t hit me until the end, right before she took off. I think she was trying to help. Before she jumped in they were all coming at me at once and they might have killed me. The others backed off once she came at me and it was just the two of us.”

Shin presses his lips together and somehow he looks more worried than before. “If they figure out she helped you, they’re going to kill her. We need to track her down.”

Shaking her head, Jia turns to face her brother. “She told us not to come after her Shin. It’s not your job to save her. We don’t even know that she needs saving. She’s part of this. The only reason she helped me was because she’s your friend.”

They quietly drive for a few minutes until they near the hospital. Shin finally breaks the silence. “How did she seem? You didn’t beat on her bad did you?”

“I only hit her a few times and they were all light punches. She got me way worse than I got her. She’s fine. Oh, by the way–” Jia reaches into her pocket and pulls out the paperwork she got. “The bartender gave me this. The only records you were ever in that place so the cops won’t be knocking on our door. I had to let her delete the other records to get it. You’re welcome.”

Shin snatches the paper from her and shoves it into his own pocket. “I didn’t even think of that. Oh shit, I don’t want to go down with those assholes. Don’t worry about the records. They’re leaving town anyway, who cares? You’re supposed to keep this area safe, right? I think getting those guys out of town counts. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

As they park outside the ER, Shin stops his sister from getting out of the car. “To be clear, you got no good hits on her? None in the stomach or anything like that?”

“No Shin, I didn’t hit her in the stomach. She said not to.”

He nods a few times. “That’s good. I really need you to help me find her. I’d do it myself but apparently I need to stay around here to make sure I don’t end up dead. She’ll go back to San Francisco, I know it. I can tell you a couple of places to look for her.”

Her cheek’s burning now. “Why are you so obsessed with this girl? I know she’s your friend but she seems like she can handle herself. She sure punches like she can.” Taking in everything her brother’s said in the last few minutes an epiphany hits Jia. “Tell me the truth. Is she just a friend? You didn’t…”

“I don’t want to talk about that Jia. Let’s go in and get your face stitched up.”

“Oh god, you did. Shin you little moron.”

Crossing his arms, he looks down at the floor. “I told you that I needed you to find her. I wasn’t making it up.”

On her way back to the main area of the bar, Jia Crawford takes a minute to actually stop in the bathroom. Grabbing some paper towels, she looks at herself in the mirror. She‘s shocked at how awful she looks. The top left corner of her forehead is a giant bloody bruise, surrounded by cuts. A little blood’s still leaking out of them but it’s starting to clot. That won’t need more than a few bandages. The cut on her cheek’s a different matter. It’s deep and blood from it’s still flowing down her face. She looks like she emerged from a horror movie. There’s dried blood streaked everywhere. Looking down at her hands, she realizes they’re also caked with dried blood.

Horrified that Cassie saw her like this, she starts wetting paper towels and pressing them against the cut. It stings but hopefully it’ll help. With another paper towel she tries to clean the dried blood from her face the best she can. She realizes the hair near her wounds is even caked with blood. At least her dark hair mostly hides it.

When she finally looks remotely like herself she makes her way back out to the bar. She still has a paper towel pressed against her cheek to stop more blood from flowing. A new pair of people in suits are looking over the place and throwing evidence into bags. When Cassie sees her she makes her way over. Seeing that she’s watching the newcomers she says, ”Detectives. Feeling any better?”

“Not really, this is really starting to sting. If you need me to answer more questions I can but otherwise I’m probably going to text my brother and have him come get me. I hate needles but I think I’m actually looking forward to stitches.”

“Just a few, it won’t take long. Want to grab a table? You look a little unsteady, don’t want you falling over on me.”

Finding only a few tables in the place are still standing and have chairs in one piece, they settle in one in the far corner by the jukebox. “Who was this source who asked you to come out here tonight? We may want to question them.”

Jia shifts in her seat. “That’s going to be really dangerous for them. I don’t want to make your job harder but I don’t think that would qualify as making the public safer. They’re part of the public.”

Cassie’s smile wavers a bit but she doesn’t seem upset. “Okay, we can leave that out for now. You’ll have to make it up to me though. Can you identify any of the people who were here?”

“There was one guy named Rocco. My source told me he was in charge. Big guy, bald, looks like he’s had his nose broken a few dozen times. He was the one who sent the rest after me. He’s the only one I got a name from.”

Jotting something down in a notebook Cassie says, “Did he say anything that would give us a clue? We’ll run the evidence but I don’t think we have a lot to go on here.”

“He mentioned San Francisco, I think that’s where the group operates out of. The only other thing I can think of is he offered to let me live if I blew him.”

Suddenly shifting in her seat, Cassie looks uncomfortable. She stares at the ground, not meeting Jia’s gaze. “Well that’s gross.”

“Ya, wasn’t going to happen. He doesn’t have the parts I’m looking for.”

Now Cassie’s completely frozen, blinking a few times, but her smile starts coming back. “Noted, not into blowing bald dudes with bad noses.”

“Or anyone else for that matter.”

Shuffling through a few pages of notes, she seems to be trying to find a come back. “Well, I think I have everything I need.” She pauses for a moment but then she pushes her lips together and her eyes narrow. “That’s actually not true, I need one more thing. Can I get your phone number?”

She has to think about it for a moment. Jia never calls herself. “Sure. It’s 701-555-0138. If you have any other questions you can call me.”

“What if my question was if you’d get dinner with me?”

It takes a moment for Jia to realize what Cassie’s saying. When she does her mouth practically hangs open in surprise. Cassie’s getting so red that she almost matches the paper towel Jia still has against her cheek. When she finally recovers Jia says, “Really? I look like I climbed out of a horror movie and I smell like I drank everything in the bar.”

“Kind of. I still think you look cute though. If you don’t want me to I won’t call.”

Jia blinks a few times. “You know that’s kind of an inappropriate question for a police officer to ask a girl when she’s sitting here bleeding all over the place, right? Is this like, your move? Strike when they’re vulnerable.”

Looking upset Cassie no longer meets Jia’s gaze. “I wasn’t going for that. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. I won’t bother you again.”

Grabbing Cassie’s hand, she stops her from standing. “Well I didn’t say that. Actually, I kind of like it. You can call me. Why don’t you shoot me a text now so I’ll have your number?”

Now it’s Cassie’s turn to have her jaw drop. “That was really mean you know.”

“I know, I’m mean sometimes. I’m nice a lot more often though. If you call I’ll have to make it up to you.”

“You’d better.”

A smile spreads across Jia’s face. “You just made tonight a lot better. Until now the best thing that happened to me all night was someone deciding not to shoot me.”

“Could be worse. The best thing could have been someone deciding to shoot you.”

“That would be worse. Then I wouldn’t have been asked out by a pretty girl. Or maybe I would have been, the cheek didn’t stop you. I’m going to text my brother and get out of here. I’m still bleeding and really need to get some stitches. If I bleed out I won’t be able to go on a date.”

With a smile the size of the moon, Cassie waves goodbye. Before she goes, Jia notices the bartender making her way back into the bar. The exchange a glance but nothing’s said. She calls Shin and tells him to get over here with the car so they can get to the hospital. At first he freaks out because he doesn’t want to pull right up to the cops. Then he notices she said hospital and he freaks out even more. She can hear his tires screech down the road and it isn’t long before he’s pulling into the parking lot.

As she slumps into the passenger seat of his car, Shin sees her holding the paper towel to her cheek and her busted forehead. “You said you and Jillian were okay. What the hell happened?”

“I got beat up. It happens. I am okay, I just need a few stitches. It’s bleeding pretty good. Just stop by the ER. They won’t be that busy this time of night. I should be in and out in no time and then we can get home. I have to work in the morning so let’s get moving.”

Soon they’re flying down the back roads toward the hospital closest to their house. It’s not that close, around ten miles away, but she’s not dying and the cool night air feels good against her face. The rest of her body which is still soaked with liquor likes it less. Shin keeps looking over at her instead of paying attention to the road. “Try not to bleed on the car. That’ll cost a fortune to get out and I don’t exactly have the money.”

“Getting the smell of booze out isn’t going to be cheap either.” He doesn’t respond. “You don’t get to say that to me right now by the way. I’m only bleeding here because you got yourself into this.”

Shin turns to face her and she points at the road, encouraging him to turn back. “I told you not to go in there! You’re lucky they didn’t kill you. Why’d they let you go anyway?”

“They heard the sirens. Someone called the cops, no clue who. I thought it was you at first but I don’t think the description they had was yours. At least it had better not be.”

“I didn’t call them. I thought about it but I was afraid that’d make it worse. Whoever did it though, I’m glad they did. Those guys are serious.”

“He made me an offer, but it was gross so I passed. Jillian said she thinks they’ll leave you alone for a while if you stay around here though. They might even forget about you if you don’t do anything stupid.”

“You talked to her?” He glances at her but now he’s mostly keeping his eyes on the road.

“She pulled up right before the cops showed and said she’d try to keep them off you as much as she could but that’d be a lot easier if you stay in Napa. I’m guessing after tonight they’re spooked and they won’t come around here for at least a few months. Just lay low. You can stay with mom and dad too. It’s not the worst thing.”

He groans. “I might disagree. I guess it’s better than dying though. Why was she still there? I thought you were going to warn her.”

“I warned her. Thought she was gone until she showed back up out of nowhere and attacked me. She’s the one who gave me this.” She points at the cut across her cheek.

His hand covers his mouth. For a moment he puts the other on his forehead before realizing at least one needs to be on the steering wheel. “She knifed you? I’m so sorry. I can’t believe she’d do that. I’d never have asked you to warn her if I thought she was going to do that.”

Jia manages to laugh, though it hurts her face. “No, she didn’t knife me. She threw me over the bar and I crashed into a bunch of bottles. A shard of one cut me. That’s also why I smell like I’ve been on a three week bender. I don’t think she was trying to hurt me. She told me to go with it and she went slow enough that she didn’t hit me until the end, right before she took off. I think she was trying to help. Before she jumped in they were all coming at me at once and they might have killed me. The others backed off once she came at me and it was just the two of us.”

Shin presses his lips together and somehow he looks more worried than before. “If they figure out she helped you, they’re going to kill her. We need to track her down.”

Shaking her head, Jia turns to face her brother. “She told us not to come after her Shin. It’s not your job to save her. We don’t even know that she needs saving. She’s part of this. The only reason she helped me was because she’s your friend.”

They quietly drive for a few minutes until they near the hospital. Shin finally breaks the silence. “How did she seem? You didn’t beat on her bad did you?”

“I only hit her a few times and they were all light punches. She got me way worse than I got her. She’s fine. Oh, by the way–” Jia reaches into her pocket and pulls out the paperwork she got. “The bartender gave me this. The only records you were ever in that place so the cops won’t be knocking on our door. I had to let her delete the other records to get it. You’re welcome.”

Shin snatches the paper from her and shoves it into his own pocket. “I didn’t even think of that. Oh shit, I don’t want to go down with those assholes. Don’t worry about the records. They’re leaving town anyway, who cares? You’re supposed to keep this area safe, right? I think getting those guys out of town counts. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

As they park outside the ER, Shin stops his sister from getting out of the car. “To be clear, you got no good hits on her? None in the stomach or anything like that?”

“No Shin, I didn’t hit her in the stomach. She said not to.”

He nods a few times. “That’s good. I really need you to help me find her. I’d do it myself but apparently I need to stay around here to make sure I don’t end up dead. She’ll go back to San Francisco, I know it. I can tell you a couple of places to look for her.”

Her cheek’s burning now. “Why are you so obsessed with this girl? I know she’s your friend but she seems like she can handle herself. She sure punches like she can.” Taking in everything her brother’s said in the last few minutes an epiphany hits Jia. “Tell me the truth. Is she just a friend? You didn’t…”

“I don’t want to talk about that Jia. Let’s go in and get your face stitched up.”

“Oh god, you did. Shin you moron.”

Crossing his arms, he looks down at the floor. “I told you that I needed you to find her. I wasn’t making it up.”

Part 22

Part 24