Chapter Four: Ghosts

A damaged man struggles against gangsters, criminals and his own demons, always on the run from his past and looking for redemption.

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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Simon Toews » Fri Aug 16, 2019 8:11 pm

Simon rose up in front of the bathroom mirror, water dripping from his face. The beard was gone. He barely recognized the face looking back anymore. He’d finished packing minutes before, deciding that he really needed to up his wardrobe. Almost every stitch of clothing the man owned was in one bag. Kind of sad when he thought about it.

He knew something would drag him back there. Even as he grew more comfortable here, he knew something would go wrong and he’d be right back in the game. It was just a matter of time. Only, this time, he really didn’t want to go. It wasn’t something he’d expected, but nevertheless, the ranch had become home. He belonged here. People liked him and wanted to help him get better. He could breathe here. Here, he was free.

Simon knew he could die going back to the city, and everything he’d discovered here would be lost to him. Fate brought him the one thing that could bring him back. The kid might have been a little shit who beat the living hell out of him, but he was still Simon’s son. And he was Anna’s. The two of them had created a life. Something amazing out of the horror that brought them together. But Falk took that from them, too. There was only one more thing could take, and if it had to happen, Simon wasn’t going to sit and wait for some goon to come and try to kill him in his sleep. That was never his style. There would be no more hiding.

A figure appeared in the doorway. Of course it was Anna. Her arms wrapped around herself as she studied him, a distant look in her eyes. Simon cast his gaze to her in the mirror, watching her force a smile that quickly faltered.

“Hey.” He greeted her. Immediately he chastised himself for the lameness off it. He never was much of a speaker.

Anna spared a slight smile for him. “Hey.”

There were a million things both wanted to say, but neither could vocalize. “She’s right, you know?”

Simon tilted his head curiously.

“The beard. You look better without it.” Anna grinned, but it looked as hollow as it felt.

Simon chuckled and ran a hand along his freshly shaven jawline. “You gonna be alright?”

“Why? Cuz you’re leaving?” She said with mock indignation. “I’ve been doing just fine without Simon Toews for decades now. I think I can manage.”

A laugh left him and he nodded. “Right. Business as usual.”

“Damn right.” She responded, clenching and shaking her fist like a boxer.

The joking bravado faded the longer they stared. Both knew things had changed. Reuniting had given them both a piece of something they’d lost long ago. Neither was really ready to let it go again. Simon stepped forward, Anna following suit. They embraced tightly, as if it could stop everything that was to come.

Anna rested her head upon his chest, a million thoughts in her head. “Come back.” She whispered.

He knew it was a promise he couldn’t be certain he could keep. He wouldn’t be going in alone and Paige and Tahlia had his back, but Jakob Falk wasn’t going down quietly. He could die there. Frankly, he wouldn’t be surprised if he did. But his main concern was not with himself.

The pair pulled back. “Be careful.” Simon said. “By now, he probably knows where you are.”

“He probably does.” Anna nodded.

“If he sends people, trying to hurt you to get to me…”

“Then they’ll regret it.” Anna said. “I know how to defend my own.”

Simon knew from the look in her eye that it wasn’t bluster. Anna lived with the knowledge that he could have come for her at any time. She was prepared.

“So…” she said, that fake smile trying in vain to hide her sadness. “This is goodbye.”

“Nah.” Simon brushed it off. “Just...catch you later. ”

Anna nodded and grinned. “Yeah. Catch you later.”

Once again they embraced. If the last memory he had of her was the feel of her arms, the scent of her hair and the warm, safe feeling she always left him with, he supposed that was more than enough.
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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Miles » Fri Aug 16, 2019 8:41 pm

The sun was just beginning to rise when Miles awoke. Blonde hair draped over his bare chest, tickling his skin. Tessa’s arm draped limp across his scarred abdomen, her breath warm and humid upon his collarbone. She was out cold, but her body was hot as an oven. Amazing how someone so tiny could produce so much heat.

Sleep had been fleeting of late, and Falk’s vague, open-ended phone call had done nothing to calm the young man’s anxieties.

“We may need her.” Jakob had said. The words repeated over and over in his head, pounding away like a jackhammer. What did he need her for? What plans did Falk have for Tessa? Given the news, Miles assumed it was anything but good. For as long as he could remember, Falk was there for him. When the fights ended and in the aftermath of certain victories, Falk had been there to help nurse him back to health. When he was younger, the man was a calming, safe presence. But as the years went on, he began to see through that exterior. Falk was powerful, and Miles respected and admired that, but the more he saw the more he began to fear the lone father figure in his life. Jakob Falk was ruthless, remorseless. The things Miles saw him do and plan could only be described in one word: evil.

Tessa brought him into a new world. A world where he had worth as a man, and not just as a tool. When she looked at him the way she often did, he felt alive. He felt whole. For the first time in his life, he felt, not only loved, but like he could love. If Jakob ever tried to take her from him…

For a moment, he panicked as if someone there would hear his thoughts. It was a fear he’d had a lot whenever questioning his boss. Jakob’s reach was long, somehow it seemed possible that he could even see into the boy’s thoughts. It was ridiculous, of course, but fear and reason rarely went hand in hand. He looked down at the slumbering blonde, her lips parted slightly as she breathed evenly against him. Nobody will ever touch you, he promised silently. Not Ruby, not Falk, not even the gods themselves would ever harm her. Not if he could help it.

Tessa’s bright blue eyes opened slowly looking up at him in the darkened room. A smile curved her lips, love and warmth in those eyes. The growing light from the sunrise behind her cast an orange glow over the snow-covered city. A hell of a view.

“Hey there.” She whispered.

It took a moment for him to stop staring and will his own smile to appear. “Hey.”

“You okay?” She asked, reaching up and brushing her fingers along his jawline.

Miles traced her face, etching every inch of her into his memory. “I am now.”

Tessa’s face lit up the way it always did when they were together, the young starlet climbing upwards and pressing her lips to his. Tessa let the kiss linger before finally parting. Miles’ fingers ran through her hair and along the back of her slender neck, his thumb grazing her earlobe.

Miles stared down at her, images of the room full of men Falk had slaughtered fresh in his mind. He couldn’t help but picture her among them. Tessa saw it in his face.

“What is it?” She asked. “What’s wrong?”

Miles wanted to tell her. Just spill everything. The family he’d watched Ruby kill, the boardroom, the lives he, himself had taken over the years. But he couldn’t bear to even imagine her looking at him in horror. If she knew what he’d done, what he’d allowed to happen, she’d justifiably run.

“What if we left?” He said. “What if we just got in a car and left town?”

“And go where?” She chuckled.

“I don’t know. I don’t care. Just...what if we hit the road and left all of this behind?” He asked. “Would you?”

She looked at him as if he were crazy. “We can’t just leave. You have your job, I’m under contract…”

“Fuck my job. I want to be with you. I don’t care about anything else.” He said.

“Miles…”. She started.

“Tess, I feel like something really bad is gonna happen.” He interrupted.

Tessa stared at him, that fear he dreaded coming into her eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know. I just have a really bad feeling.” He said. He couldn’t tell her exactly why. Not without risking losing her.

She took his face in her hands and placed a kiss upon his lips. “Miles. Everything is going to be fine. I promise. And...maybe later, I’ll finish out my contract here and then...then we’ll go and see the world together. Okay?”

He didn’t answer. He could only see a million terrible things happening to her.

“As long as we’re together, they can’t hurt us, right?” She smiled and stroked a thumb along his brow.

Miles desperately wanted to believe that. He’d have given anything to make it true. But, Tessa was dead set on staying, and he would have to do what he could to protect her. Even if it killed him.
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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Simon Toews » Fri Aug 30, 2019 8:50 pm

The city seemed so much bigger and louder now. The quiet of the ranch was peaceful, only broken by the happy sounds of those with whom he shared it. It felt faster, more alive here. But, he noted, it also felt angrier, dirtier. The rot of this place was deeply ingrained in the city’s being, causing him no small amount of anxiety. Winter was nearing its end, the snow turning from fluffy white to a slushy grey. At least the bite of the cold had dulled some.

Tahlia was off making arrangements while he was holed up in her casino. The Golden Pearl would have been his kind of joint just a year prior. But Simon wasn’t the same person anymore. He felt out of place here now. It was as if he’d been wearing blinders and finally taken them off. Despite the flashy, bright veneer, Simon saw through to the darkness inherent in this place. He pitied the folks sitting in front of slot machines pouring money in the slim chance that their fortunes could change. He saw men and women at the tables blowing the kind of coin that could feed everyone on the ranch for months or even open an entire other, bigger location.

He’d seen poverty before. Hell, most of his life was lived in poverty. He’d barely touched any of the money Tahlia had left him, except to help buy supplies when Anna allowed him to. She was a stubborn, proud woman. She preferred to pay her own way when she could. Plus she was reticent to take money she thought might be I’ll-gotten. But times were tough, and even dirty money could keep the lights on.

Simon stares out the window of the penthouse suite, looking at the bright, twinkling lights of the city. Somewhere out there, Jakob Falk was plotting his next move, hopefully unaware of what was coming for him.

A knock came from the door. He took one last look and moved to the door. His heart sank when he saw the one-armed detective standing on the other side. The pair of them just stared a moment, unsure of what to say.

“Corrine.” He finally said, in a hushed tone.

She was usually the most unerringly confident woman he’d ever encountered, but here, she seemed...ashamed. Her eyes struggled to meet his.

“Heya, Toews.” She said. “Mind if I come in?”

Simon blinked and stepped aside. Paige entered the lavishly appointed suite and looked around.

“Jesus.” She muttered. “Tahlia doesn’t fuck around.”

Simon took it in as if for the first time. “No, she does not.”

Her fingers trailed over the marble top of a fully stocked bar, her back to him. The detective glanced back and managed a smile. “You look good. You put on some pounds?”

“Yeah. Turns out hard work and good food will do that.”

Paige’s smirked. “Who knew?”

Simon chuckled and crossed his arms, leaning against the back of his couch. “You sent Tahlia for me?”

Paige nodded. “Figured you wanna see a friendly face.”

“Coulda been your’s.” He said.

Corrine’s smile faded, her eyes lowering.

“Yeah.” She said. “After the way we left things, I didn’t think you’d be too thrilled to see me.”

“So you sent the woman I broke up with via note and ran out on?” He quirked a brow. “Solid plan.”

Paige laughed, but her expression turned somber again. “Simon, I’m sorry.”

“It’s in the past.” He reassured her.

“ I was wrong. I should have let you explain. I didn’t listen to your side and-“

“Corrine.” Simon stopped her. “He played us. Falk played us both. be honest, it worked out for the best.”

Paige knew about Anna in only the vaguest terms. He’d mentioned something about her during their visits while he was still in lockup and she’d heard her name during one of his night terrors. She knew he’d found her again.

“What’s she like?” Paige asked.

“Strong.” Simon said quietly. “Smart, funny. Stubborn as hell, but in an endearing kinda way. Still beautiful.”

Paige smiled. “Working on a little crush, are you?”

Simon snorted. “No. No, come on.”

“Mmhm.” Paige leaned her hip on the counter. “You’ve become a shitty liar, Toews. What’d they do to you out there?”

She saw right through him. The truth was, Anna centered him. She showed him a part of himself he’d thought was buried and gone.

“She gave me purpose.” He said. “She gave me a reason to live.”

Paige walked over to him and placed her hand on his shoulder. He looked happier and healthier than she’d ever seen him. For that, she was grateful.

“It’s damn good to see you again, Toews.”

Simon smiled.

“You too.”
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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Miles » Sat Oct 19, 2019 11:22 pm

Miles gripped the wheel of his Mercedes, his mind preoccupied with Falk and the increasingly dire situation at their feet. Two more of their operations had fallen and his boss was not handling it well. That confident, cool facade had begun to show cracks. He wasn’t sure how this would all play out, but Falk repeatedly assured him it would be fine. Miles wasn’t so sure. Worse than that, he wasn’t sure if he cared. After all he’d seen and done, the kid wasn’t certain he wouldn’t enjoy seeing the old man get taken down. A lifetime in lockup was the least he deserved.

Tessa sat beside him, humming along to the song on the radio, blissfully unaware of the whole crumbling mess. God, he loved her voice. Smooth like velvet. Part of him wanted to tell her, but another was glad she didn’t know. Being with him was dangerous for the young starlet. When Falk did go down, he’d be sure to create as much collateral damage as possible. She’d be better off if he just disappeared, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Tessa centered him, made him feel safe. She made him feel like he was more than Jakob Falk’s blunt instrument. Like he had a purpose beyond doing damage with his fists. Giving that up might kill him.

The girl had come into their room, all fired up and talking about a new gig. Whenever Tessa got excited she’d pace around the room and let loose, rapid fire, speaking so fast it was hard to keep up. It was hard not to smile along with her. The Golden Pearl was under new management and they wanted her there. He didn’t know much about the place, but he was certain his boss did. He knew about everyone and everything, it seemed. He supposed he should have told Falk where they were going. He’d probably be pissed to know they went somewhere so high profile without his discretion. Personally, Miles didn’t care. Where Tessa went, so would he. Falk didn’t have to know.

The Golden Pearl was lit up like Christmas. A bright beam of light in the inky black night of the city. Not really his kind of place. He preferred the cigar lounge. That old-fashioned, quiet, refined sort of setting with a smoking hot singer crooning out a mellow tune over the well-dressed crowd. A uniformed valet met them at the front, politely helping Tessa out of the vehicle. Miles stepped out into the cool night air, still alert in case they were being watched. The streets were clear. If there were unfriendly eyes on them, they were well hidden. Miles smiled to the valet and handed over his keys.

The warmth of the casino wrapped around them like a hug as soon as they passed the threshold. Music piped through speakers all over and the sounds of slot machines filled the cavernous room. An impeccably groomed gentleman in a fine suit greeted them as they entered the main lobby.

“Ms. Bradley. Welcome to the Golden Pearl. We’re honored to meet your acquaintence!” He said.

Tessa put on that beaming smile of hers and affected that slight southern twang she used at her shows. “Why thankya! It’s absolutely beautiful!”

“Ms. Faras wishes me to direct you to the elevators, but if there’s anything I can get for you, food or drink?”

“Oh, bless your heart. No, thank you, I think we’re fine.” She said polite as can be.

Miles almost interrupted to ask for a scotch, but decided against it. Better to keep his wits about him. The man walked with them, talking about the history of the casino and its previous owners, but Miles was hardly listening. This place was a nightmare for someone like him. Plenty of places for an attacker to hide, lots of noise and light pulling at the eye. It was distracting. Distraction was bad. Distraction got you killed.

They stepped through the elevator doors and their guide placed a card into a slot. “Ms. Faras will see you upstairs, this elevator will take you directly to her office. Please, enjoy your evening.” the man said.

“We will. Thank you very much for your hospitality.” Tessa smiled to him. Miles only offered a tight smile and terse nod. The doors slid closed and the elevator began to rise.

Tessa immediately dropped the act, her eyes going wide. “SOMEBODY likes his cologne. Jesus.”

Miles chuckled despite himself. She looked over at him with a smirk. “Oh, come on. You know you were thinking it.”

“Maybe a bit.” He joked.

Tessa stared at him for a moment. “You alright? You seem kinda tense.”

Miles turned to her and forced a smile. “Yeah. Hell yeah. place, new people. I’m much better when I know where I’m going and who I’m dealing with.”

She wrapped her arms around his and rested her cheek against his shoulder. “Relax. It’s gonna be fine. I’ve done, like, a million of these things. Plus...if anyone gives us can always just beat ‘em up.”

Miles couldn’t help but smile. He turned his head and laid a kiss on her forehead. The elevator pinged, announcing their arrival. The doors slid open to reveal the reception area of Tahlia’s office. The receptionist looked up from her screen, looking professionally immaculate, aside from the headphones. She smiled to them. “Ms. Bradley?”

Tessa smiled. “That’s me.” she said in a little sing song.

The receptionist smiled politely and turned to Miles. “And Mister…?”

“Miles.” He said simply.

She stared a moment, taken aback. “Mister...Miles. Alrighty then. Ms. Faras will see you now.” she said gesturing to the double doors.

Miles took point, reaching the doors first. He didn’t notice the woman glance over her shoulder with a look concern before he turned the knob and gave the door a push. The face on the other side was decidedly NOT Tahlia Faras. It had been months and his hair had grown and he’d packed on some muscle, but he knew that face.

“...Simon?” Tessa said, confused.

Miles immediately snapped. He charged at the blonde stranger, his forearm hitting Simon’s chest, driving him back into the office. Simon went with it until he sidestepped and threw Miles into the back of a couch, his abdomen slamming into the hard backrest. The young man grunted in frustration and a twinge of pain.

“Miles!” Tessa screamed in shock.

The boy swing wild, backwards at Simon’s head, but the older man leaned away and stepped back. Their first fight had caught him by surprise, but now Simon was in control. He kept his distance, staying as non-confrontational as possible while Miles squared off.

“Don’t, kid.” Simon said. “I’m not here to fight you.”

“Fuck you!” Miles said, throwing a punch. Tessa watched in horror as Simon knocked the attack aside, blocking everything her boyfriend was throwing at him with ease, but he never retaliated beyond a push. Miles grew increasingly frustrated as they went. With a feral yell, he threw a vicious right cross, but Simon leaned past it and shoved him into a glass shelf. Bottles of expensive liquor fell to the ground, shattering with the shelves at they fell. Oh, he’d definitely owe Tahlia for that one.

“Simon, please, stop!” Tessa begged him.

“Ain’t up to me, kid.” Simon said plainly. He kept his gaze on Miles. “We don’t have to do this.”

“Yeah. Yeah, we do.” Miles growled, He charged at Simon, tackling him over the couch, flipping it in the process. The pair of them rolled onto the floor, Simon clutching him by his jacket’s lapels. Miles had the upper hand, finally. His fist connected with the older man’s jaw, hammering his head to one side. It was a good hit. Simon was almost proud.

Before Miles could throw another punch, Simon rolled and pinned him. “Stop! You don’t need to do this!”

Miles snarled and ripped an arm free, once again, hitting Simon in the face and knocking him off of him. Tessa turned to the doors, moving to get help, but found them locked. “Help! Help, please! They’re going to kill each other!”

SImon scrambled away, putting some distance between the two of them. Blood ran from his lip, his eye already red from Miles’ last punch. He breathed heavily, eyes on his son. “Please, Miles. Don’t make me hurt you.”

But the boy wasn’t hearing it. Once again he tried to tackle Simon, but the older fighter’s leg braced backwards for it, taking the blow to his abdomen. Miles struggled against his superior strength. The farm had done Simon some good afterall.

Miles laid a few hits to Simon’s ribs, but he just took it. Finally, he’d had enough. Simon grabbed him by the shirt, whirled him around, hooked a foot behind Miles’ ankle and slammed him down through a glass coffee table. Tessa’s scream echoed through the room. Simon stumbled back against Tahlia’s desk, clutching his ribs and gasping for breath. Miles stared up at the ceiling surrounded by broken glass.

“Look at us.” Simon panted. “ what he made us.”

Bits of glass cut into Miles’ hands as he tried to push himself up. His jacket was tattered and cut, blood seeping from his back. For the first time, he really looked at the man before him. Scars on his face and on those tattooed arms. The same kinds of scars Miles bore all over his body. Scars earned through the blood and tears of the boys in the pits. Scars he’d be given as muscle for Jakob Falk, collecting from his victims and punishing his enemies. And those eyes...they seemed haunted. But most of all, they seemed familiar. Like mirrors of his own.

“Who the hell are you?” Miles asked, wincing as he sat up.

Simon eyed the boy before him. The son he’d never known existed, a piece of him right before his eyes. A perfect reflection of himself and what he might have become had he not escaped. The son he could not save.

“I’m your father.”
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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Simon Toews » Fri Nov 29, 2019 7:44 pm

The office was a wreck. Furniture toppled over, shelves and bottles shattered in a pool of exorbitantly expensive booze on the floor, and what Simon was certain was a very expensive coffee table broken into a million pieces. He held a rag up to his face, the bleeding mostly stopped, but the ache lingered.

Tessa knelt beside Miles, tending to his wounds. She couldn’t help but glance Simon’s way every now and again. How had she never noticed it before? All the time she’d spent with both men and she never picked up the resemblance. Now, it was clear as day.

“You got a mean right hook, kid.” Simon muttered around the bloody rag.

Miles glared at him from the other couch while Tessa picked glass from his hair. The kid had been silent for a while, but his eyes never left Simon.

“You hate me. Don’t you?” Simon smirked. “I can smell it coming through your pores.”

Miles didn’t respond. Simon pushes away from the desk. “Probably not used to losing, are you?”

The sullen look on the boy’s face was all the answer he needed. It was a sentiment he could identify with. After those first few loses in Falk’s pit, losing wasn’t something Simon was willing to accept. Miles was like him more than he cared to admit. Both survivors. Both tough. Both victims of the same sick, manipulative man.

“We gonna talk about this, or just glare at each other all night?” Simon asked.

“What is there to talk about?” Miles muttered.

“Come on, Kid.” Simon eyed him.

“What do you expect? Big, happy family reunion?” Miles spat.

“I suppose not. Big, happy reunions aren’t exactly a recurring theme for us, are they?”

“Don’t y’all like you know me.” Miles glared.

Somewhere deep down that stung. Simon wasn’t sure why. It was true. He knew next to nothing about the boy. But still, given the life he lead and company he kept, it wasn’t hard to piece together.

“You’re right.” Simon said. “I don’t. But I want to help.”

“Help with what?” Miles stared a hole through him. “Huh? What the fuck are YOU going to help me with?”

“I’m going to take him down. Get him back for you. For your mother. For me. For every broken, humiliated body he’s left in his wake for the past 30 years. I’m gonna make him hurt, and when I’m done, I’ll send the son of a bitch screaming to hell.”

“You’re fucking delusional.” Miles said. “And you know what? You’re full of shit. You want to pretend like you’re some righteous, selfless hero? Fuck you. You need a way in, and you think I’m it. Otherwise, you’d probably line me up right next to him.”

“That’s not true.” Simon said. “I need to get you out of there.”

“You’re too fucking late!” Miles said, standing up. He’d stripped down to his undershirt, the back torn and stained in red. “You wanted to save me? Well, where the fuck you been for the past couple decades?”

He’d only known about Miles a short time, but question still hurt. “Drinking. Fighting. Getting into one scrape or another.”

“While I was getting my face beat in and my bones broken. And now you want me to betray the closest thing I’ve ever had to a father?” Miles said spitefully. Even as the words left him, he knew they were a lie. His doubts about Falk ran too deep now. But still, he’s stand by them. “Say what you will about Falk, but he was good to me. He didn’t abandon me.”

“He used you. That man does not give a fuck about you.” Simon said softly. “He only kept you for one reason: to hurt me. To turn you against me.”

Simon’s eyes turned distant. He’d tried his entire adult life to numb the pain of those years under Falk with sex, drugs, alcohol and violence. The horrors that woke him screaming in the middle of the night were all too real and all too familiar.

“Kid...if I had known about you, there isn’t a force in this world that could have stopped me from getting to you. I’d have burned the city to the fucking ground, cut through a million men to protect you from him. But I didn’t and there’s nothing I can do about that. I can’t make it go away. But, I’m here now, and I am going to rip that man’s world down around his feet.”

Miles scoffed. “You’re a gutter rat. Trash on the side of the street. What the fuck do you think you can do to him? Falk has an empire.”

“So did Cameron Cotter and Vincenzo Vicelli. You know where they are?” Simon asked him. “Dead. Dead because they hurt the people I cared about. He took my son. I’m not the one who should be afraid.”

Something Miles changed in that moment. Simon could see it in his eyes. “You’ll die.”

“Then I’ll die fighting.” Simon said.

“What’s the point?” Miles sighed. “Someone else will just take his place.”

“The point?” Simon squinted at him. “The point is that he takes and takes and we let him get away with it. The point is that the motherfucker took my life from me. From your mother. From you.”

Miles turned his eyes to his father, mulling it over.

“You don’t just fight the battles you can win. You fight the battles that need fighting.” Simon said. “This isn’t about changing the world. This is about drawing a line in the sand and not letting him step past it ever again.”

For a moment, the kid almost looked convinced. But then, he just slumped and shook his head. Simon lowered his eyes. He understood what Miles was going through. He’d spent most of his life feeling the same way, until he was forced into action. But the intervening years were spent in pain, fear, and anger. It wasn’t dying, but it sure as hell wasn’t a way to live.

“How are you sleeping, kid?” Simon asked. “Do you dream?”

Miles hadn’t even thought about it in a long time. The only dreams he could recall were nightmares. Back in that sweaty, grimey dungeon. Back in the ring. Or the images of people he’d hurt for his boss.

“Do you even see anything other than pain when you close your eyes at night?” Simon pushed. From the look on the boy’s face, he didn’t. The only times he ever slept well were beside Tessa. “Don’t you want to? Don’t you want that to go away?”

Simon walked over to Miles and crouched before him, looking him in the eye. “Help me.” he begged. “Help me take him down and we’ll NEVER have to be afraid again.”
"I don't need to fight. To prove I'm right. I don't need to be forgiven. "
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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Tessa Bradley » Mon Dec 02, 2019 8:21 pm

Tessa stood in a room Tahlia had set aside for them. Simon was elsewhere on the phone with the blonde at the moment, catching a well-deserved earful for the damage to the office. As soon as her concerns for his well being were addressed, he got it both barrels.

Miles stepped out of the bathroom, freshly showered, a towel draped over bare shoulders. The scars dotting his muscular form suddenly made a new kind of sense. He seemed different. Like the confidence he’d once had in spades was suddenly converted to something else. He wouldn’t meet her eyes, try as she might. It wasn’t weakness, she decided. It was shame.

“Miles.” She said softly. The boy didn’t look up. He just reached for a t-shirt, doing his level best to ignore her. Her hand lay over the shirt before he could get to it.

“Hey.” She cooed, a hand gently resting along his jaw. She lowered her head, forcing him to make eye contact. “It’s okay. Whatever is wrong, it’s okay.”

“You don’t know that.” He whispered. “You don’t know anything.”

“Then tell me.” She pleaded. “Help me understand.”

Miles’ lips parted but nothing came out. Tessa rested her forehead to his. “Please, Miles. Tell me.”

“He’s right.” The boy finally muttered. “I don’t...I don’t sleep without you.”

“Why?” She asked.

“When I was a boy...I did things.” The words felt almost strangled out of him. “Mr. Falk...he…”

Tessa ran her hand through his hair, encouraging him to go on.

“I fought for him. Fought other boys...girls. All of us, kids. I killed them. Because it was what he wanted. And when the fight ended…” the rest would never come, but she could guess.

“I did it for so long that it just...stopped feeling wrong. I didn’t question it. I didn’t fight back. I just hurt people and let...them do what they wanted to me.” His voice wavered. “I still see them sometimes. When I got to sleep at night, those little, broken faces are there. All of them, from back then, and all the ones since. I never fought back. I never said anything or tried to stop it. I just did what he told me. Or I watched it happen.”

“It’s okay.” She assured him. “I promise, it’s going to be okay.”

He reached up suddenly and grabbed her wrist, startling her. “It’s not! It’s not okay at all. Do you want to know the truth? The only reason we met is because he TOLD me to get close to you. You were leverage, because Toews cares about you. You were a mission.”

Tessa couldn’t be sure what hurt more, his grip or that admission. “Miles. Let. Go.”

“Why? Am I scaring you? Good! You should be scared. You should run. Run far, far away from me and never look back. You should get the fuck out of this town and never ever think of me again! Go! Go before I get you killed too!”

His grip loosened. Behind that enraged facade something else peered through. He was in pain. Real, horrible pain. Tessa pulled her hand free and pulled him close, holding his head to her shoulder. Her fingers stroked his hair gently. “I don’t run. And I’m not afraid. I know you. The real you.”

“No, you don’t.” He insisted, clinging to her.

“You are a kind, sweet person. No matter what he tried to turn you into. Whatever brought you to me doesn’t matter. You’re here now. And I’m not letting you go.”

Tessa pulled back and looked into those pretty blues of his. “I love you. And I’m not going anywhere.”

Miles was a ball of turmoil, a war at play between his brain and his heart. Tessa just kept that lock on his eyes. “Let Simon help. Let’s make that man realize how big a mistake he made putting you and me in the same room.”

“I can’t risk losing you.”

Tessa smirked and gestured around them. “I’m in a fortress here. Let him come.”

That got the slightest grin from him. Tessa pulled him close and kissed him hard.

“Hey, guys. It’s-whoooooaaaa….”. Simon turned away uncomfortably. The pair glanced over, annoyed at the untimely intrusion. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” Their eyes never left each other.

“It’s, uh, it’s time.” Simon stammered.

Tessa peered up at Miles, scanning every inch of his face. “Be careful.”

The boy nodded. “Always.”

With one last kiss, they parted, Miles throwing on a shirt and moving to his jacket. Tessa turned and walked over to Simon. “You look different.”

“You too.” Simon replied.

“Yeah? Thinking of revamping my image.” Tessa smirked up at him.

“Going death metal?” he smirked.

“No, Polka.” She shot back.

“Really? Didn’t peg you for an accordian girl.”

“I am a woman of many talents.” Tessa spread her arms wide, presenting herself. “Where you been?”

“Hiding out in a farm in the ass end of nowhere.” He told her.

Tessa’s brow furrowed with surprise. “Must have been going crazy.”

“Actually, it was the best time I’ve had in a long, long while.”

“Suits you.” She smiled, but it didn’t last. Quickly, her face turned grave. “Bring him back to me? Please?”

“Or die trying.” Simon assured her. Tessa wrapped him in a tight embrace. She could feel the look Miles shot them. There was still some residual resentment there.

“Let’s go.” Miles said, brushing past Simon. He took Tessa’s hand, gave it a squeeze and smiled.

“Good luck.” She said. “Both of you.”
Simon watched as Miles left through the door, offering her one last glance. “You too, kid.”
Corrine Paige
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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Corrine Paige » Sat Feb 01, 2020 2:17 pm

Paige stepped out of the passenger door of Sam Piper’s car, body armor strapped to her torso. The Ingersol Textile plant looked as non-descript as a dozen other factories in the industrial sector of the city, but at its heart was something far darker than most could imagine.

Falk had shuffled his various enterprises around rapidly when things had gone south, but desperation made men sloppy. Paige and Jordan tracked him down. There were dozens of children in that building, and it was far past time they were freed.

Sam removed an M4 from the truck of the car and slapped in a fresh magazine. Coleman and Jordan armed themselves from the rear of their SUV. The mousey hacker didn’t look like a warrior, but she’d served on a fire team before. She preferred a small SMG to the bigger weapons like Coleman’s shotgun.

Paige stood before them, looking from one to the other. Over the past two years, they had proven to be loyal, trustworthy friends. That they were willing to follow her into this mess meant more than she could say.

Before a word could be said a black SUV screeched to a halt, followed by a team of squad cars. A boiling dread filled corrine’s belly. Falk was connected, but did he really have the cops under his thumb?

The door to the SUV opened, and a familiar face stepped out. Evan Stanton. It had been a while since she’d seen him. The brown hair had begun to gray and recede a bit at his temples, but he looked how she’d remembered way back when they faced down Cameron Cotter.

“Well, well, well…” he said with the grin she knew so well. “Corrine Paige. You look like you’re gonna cause some trouble.”

“Heya, Evs. Long time.” She said, guarded.

“Where ya headed with that artillery?” He asked her.

“There are children in that building. We’re getting them out of there.”

Stanton nodded to the factory. “That building? You know who owns this property, don’t you?”

“Damn right I do.” She said, eyes locked on him. “Don’t get in my way, Evs. I don’t want to go through you to get to them, but I will.”

Stanton chuckled. “Get in your way? Hell. I was going ask if you’d like some backup.”

Paige’s nerves suddenly settled, a smile forming on her lips. “Like old times?”

“Seems I remember old times involved one of us losing a limb. How about we avoid that this time?” He whistled and a dozen cops exited their vehicles and began arming up.

“Boys and girls?” He called out. “Detective Paige is gonna run point on this one. She talks? You listen.”

Corrine smirked and walked over to him the pair of former partners embracing. “All yours, detective.”

Corrine smiles up at him before putting on her game face and looking over the faces of the men and women gathered. They were ready for war.

“Listen up.” She said. “I don’t know exactly what we’re gonna be facing in there. I don’t expect to walk out of this thing without a firefight. I won’t lie, this will be dangerous, but there are a lot of kids in this building who need us. A lot of people would say we’re stupid to even think about doing this.”

“Fuck em.” Coleman said. “This is my kinda stupid.”

Laughter spread through the group. Corrine grinned.

“Jakob Falk has hurt enough people. Here and now, We’re putting our foot down. Not. One. More. Tonight, it ends. You with me?”

The cops let out a yell of agreement.

“Alright!” Paige bellowed. “Let’s take these motherfuckers down!”
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Simon Toews
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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Simon Toews » Wed Apr 15, 2020 4:28 pm

Simon glanced toward his son, eyeing him a moment. There were no doubts this kid was his. I’m every small tic and every breath, he saw himself. He wondered what could have been had fate not intervened. What would their life have been like if he and Anna had just left town? It certainly would have spared all of them a lot of anguish. He’d have watched his boy grow into a man. He’d have fumbled and screwed up, for sure, but he’d have died to keep him from a single moment of pain. The universe, it seemed, had other plans. These were the cards they were dealt, and if he was to keep his son from pain...better late than never.

“You gonna gawk at me the whole damn night?” Miles asked.

“Tahlia said you looked like me. I didn’t really believe her.” He said, “But I see it now. And a little bit of your mother.”

Miles was silent for a long while. The topic still remained uncomfortable to him. Yet, there was a part of him that had always wondered about his parents. It was that nagging curiosity that made him ask, “What’s she like?”

“Strong. Stronger than I ever was.” Simon said. “Very warm kinda woman. Takes care of…”

Miles glanced over. “Of what?”

Simon searched for how to phrase it, unsure of the perfect way to put it until it came to him. Anna was a sanctuary for the broken, the lost, and the damned. A guardian angel for those looking to start again. “People like us.”

Miles wanted to argue that they were nothing alike. That his pain, his life was unique only to himself. But one look in his father’s eyes told him that wasn’t true. The tattoos and scars were a tapestry of the pain inflicted by Jakob Falk. The same pain that he carried every day.

“You were in there together?” He asked.

“From eleven to fifteen years old.” Simon nodded. “We escaped. Tried to make a real life for ourselves. We had only three months before it ended. But for those three months, we were free. We lived for ourselves and apologized for none of it. We were happy.”

“What happened?” Miles asked.

“I killed a man.” Simon said simply. “A former client of Falk’s.”

He didn’t need to elaborate. Miles knew exactly what that meant.

“Drew too much attention and his people came after us.” Simon explained. “They grabbed Anna and I tried to fight, but she shoved me into the train right before the doors closed. That was the last time I saw her for years. Had no idea she was pregnant with you at the time.”

Miles remained silent, lost in his thoughts.

“It was my fault.” Simon said. “What happened to you. To your mother. If I had just...stopped myself that day...maybe things would have been different. I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry?” Miles snorted. “Well, water under the bridge, then. Look, Falk’s a sick fuck and he deserves whatever happens to him. That’s the only reason I’m helping you. There’s nothing in this plan about having a catch with the old man, alright? Let’s just get this done.”

Yeah, Simon thought, that’s my kid. That stubborn, combative streak was trademark Simon Toews. The thought was interrupted by Miles’ Ringtone. A Tessa song. Simon shot him a crooked eyebrow. The younger man visibly blushed.

“Oh, fuck you. We’re dating, alright.”

Simon grinned and held up his hands. “Hey, man. No judgement , I get it.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Miles said, hitting the answer button on the unknown call. “Hello?”

“Miles.” Falk’s voice came from the car speakers, immediately sending a chill down Simon’s spine. He and Miles shot each other a look. The game was on.

“Jakob.” Miles said. “I’ve got Toews. Son of a bitch put up a hell of a fight, but I’ve got him. Heading your way now.”

“Incredible work. As always.” Falk said. “Simon? Can you hear me.”

His fists clenched tight, his heart beating so fast he swore he could feel it. “Jakob.” He managed, adding a weary rasp to his voice.

“It’s good to hear your voice again, my boy.” Jakob said, the sadistic grin audible in his voice. “You and your friends have caused a lot of trouble for me of late, my old friend.”

“Yeah? Sorry for the inconvenience.” Simon retorted as the car came to a stop outside of Falk’s stronghold. Tahlia’s people were watching him from a nearby location, ready to make their move. “This doesn’t end here, Falk. Even if I’m gone, someone is going to take you down, you fucking parasite.”

Falk chuckled on the other end of the phone. Miles stepped around, leaving his phone on speaker, and ushered Simon out of the car, keeping up the facade in case anyone was watching.

“You still believe that don’t you?” Falk asked. “You still believe you are the righteous hero, taking down the evil villain, don’t you? I know who you are. What you’ve done. You, my boy, are no hero. Time and again, Simon Toews sows trouble, bringing those foolish enough to care for him into the fray. And then, he has the nerve to play the victim, charging off to war. How many of your friends have been dragged into the fire? How many of them killed and maimed in Simon Toews’ quest for vengeance?”

Simon wanted to reach through the phone and choke the life out of him. Miles lead him through the front doors, nodding to the two guards maintaining their vigil.

“Briana Morgan. Lyla Cotter. Detective Paige...your sweet little girl. Cici, was it?” Falk continued. “Even Ms. Faras paid a price for the simple crime of knowing you.”

“I’m well aware of my past. I know who I was.” Simon said, dismissively, stepping into an elevator at Miles’ side.

“‘Was?’” Falk said with a chuckle. “A tiger cannot change its stripes. You believe you are a different man? That you’ve...evolved? You are the same man who killed Doctor Comstock. And Mr. Stills. The same man who single handedly burned the Cotter and Vicelli empires to the ground. You’re a monster, Simon. A killer. THAT, who you are. You believe spending a few months in the middle of nowhere absolves you of your sins? Delusions, Mr. Toews. You can hide from yourself...but not from me.”

Tahlia’s hacker was busy with Falk’s security countermeasures, one-by-one covertly shutting them down. He had some high grade tech, but it wasn’t a match for them. Something caught the hacker’s attention. An alert from the casino.

“You will still get people killed. Detective Paige and her friends. Anna. And, of course...Ms. Bradley.”

Miles’ attention snapped to the phone. “What did you say?”

“Oh.” Falk said. “And you, my little Judas. Did you really think I was stupid enough to fall for your little deception? Do you truly believe that I would leave ANYTHING to chance? I had such high hopes for you. Such grand plans. But you betrayed me, boy. And you will suffer alongside your father.”

Miles’ voice shook, “Jakob, I don’t know what you’re talking ab-”

“Don’t insult my intelligence.” Falk interrupted. “I’m going to hurt you. Both of you. I’m going to take that which you hold dearest.”

The hacker watched as every system at the casino suddenly went into massive failure. The entire building was essentially dead. Fingers flew across the keyboard, countering the virus that was wreaking havoc on the Casino’s mainframe.

Back in the penthouse, Tessa had been panicking in the sudden dark. Something was wrong.

Falk continued into the phone. “You both stole from me. Things I enjoyed…”

The penthouse door pounded hard, drawing a quick, startled scream from Tessa. The young starlet backed away toward the balcony. She was supposed to be safe here, what the hell had happened?

“Things I loved.” Falk continued.

Tessa looked frantically for anything she could use to defend herself as an axe burst through the wood of the door. Again and again, it hit with a loud crack, sending splinters into the air. Finally, the doors of the penthouse burst open just as the lights flickered back to life. Ruby stood on the other end, her hair out of place and hanging over her right eye. She dropped the axe to the ground with a loud clatter. The battered, lifeless bodies of two guards behind her, pools of blood gathering from where she had cut them down. Her eyes were alight with vicious intent. Tessa backed through the kitchen, grabbing a long knife. Ruby only smiled. Tessa shoved through the door, out onto the deck overlooking the city, rushing up to the balcony. She was trapped.

“Now, I am going to take away the things you love. Detective Paige is walking into a trap. Tessa Bradley will soon be in my hands. And your Anna...I will finally do what I should have done 20 years ago.”

Simon and Miles shared a horrified look. They’d been played. “Fuck.” They said in unison. The doors opened and the pair ran out, rushing toward Falk’s office, Simon drawing his phone and immediately dialing Paige’s number.

A few blocks away, Corrine and her team were advancing through the seedy hub of Falk’s underworld. She could smell the corruption in the air. The putrid stench of unwashed bodies and years of filth seemed to have saturated into the very foundations of the place. Resistance was non-existent as of yet, but they were coming to the main arena now.

“Come on, pick up, Corrine!” Simon yelled into the phone.

In the warehouse, Paige ignored the vibrations in her pocket. Only the mission mattered now. The metallic door to the arena sat locked before them. “Breach it!” She ordered her men. They quickly secured charges to the hinges of the door.

“Fire in the hole! Clear the door!” They called out.

Simon and Miles shoved through the office doors. Falk was nowhere to be found, his files, computer, and personal effects cleared out. Simon’s heart sank yet again as Paige's phone went to voicemail.

The metal door fell off its hinges, smoke obscuring their view. Paige drew her weapon and pointed it at the doorway. “Attention! This is Detective Paige! You are under arrest! Throw your hands up and step out of the room! I repeat! Throw your hands…”

The smoke cleared and she saw what awaited them on the other side. It was hastily created, but there was no doubt in her mind what it was. A bomb.

“...Up.” The word left her in a defeated sigh.

The phone attached to the bomb rang. Corrine heard someone shout her name and felt a pair of arms wrap around her from behind and try to pull her away just as the blast went off.

“Farewell, gentlemen. I shall tell the ladies you said goodbye.”

“Falk, don’t do this.” Simon begged. “FALK?!”

He’d already hung up, leaving the pair of them to their horror. The entire world seemed to shudder as the explosion lit up the night sky a few blocks away, sending flaming debris scattering over the city. The color drained from Simon’s face along with the air from his lungs. They’d failed. Every bit of planning, every bit of hope, now wiped away along with the life of Corrine Paige and her team. Falk had won.
"I don't need to fight. To prove I'm right. I don't need to be forgiven. "
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Jakob Falk
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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Jakob Falk » Wed Apr 15, 2020 4:29 pm

Falk stared down at his phone for a long moment, the muted sound of the helicopter rotors outside a repetitive ambience to his moment of victory. The door slid open to reveal Ruby and a bound Tessa, the girl sporting a fresh gash at her temple and terror in her bright blue eyes.

Ruby shoved her forward into the chopper. Below, the casino was in a panic while his viruses ran rampant through their systems. Ruby strapped the girl to a seat and took her own. Jakob eyes the young girl a moment, his smile fading.

“Ms Bradley.” He said softly. “My apologies. This was not how I’d intended things to end.”

Tessa struggled to speak around the duct tape covering her mouth. Jakob nodded to his assassin. Ruby ripped the tape off in one quick jerk, drawing a wince and a squeal of pain from Tessa.

“You probably think me monstrous.” He said. “And I...I cannot say I blame you. But none of this is my fault.”

“You’re a sick, deluded bastard.” She snarled.

Falk shut his eyes as if the words stung him. “There’s no need for such rudeness.”

“Simon and Miles are going to find you.” Tessa said. “And when they do, you’re going to end up in the fu-“

Falk lashes out suddenly grabbing her face so hard it hurt. “If it weren’t for Simon Toews and your traitorous boyfriend, you would be sitting at home! Safe! You would have a future to look forward to! It is their fault you are here!”

He let her go roughly, tears streaming down her face.

“Your friends took from me. For that, they will suffer.” Falk said, leaning back in his seat. “I regret what must happen to you, but the debt will be repaid.”

“You’re a psychopath.” She managed with her quivering voice.

“I am a survivor. I will do what I have to in order to survive. Steal. Maim. Kill. Even if it repulses me. Not unlike your friend, Mr Toews.”

“You are nothing like him.” She retorted.

Falk smirked. “Are you so sure? Has he ever told you what he did? How he managed to survive this long? There’s a river of blood that flows to Simon’s feet. You think he’s an angel because he puts on his little broken hero act?”

Falk shook his head. “You have no idea who he is. If you’re looking for the monster in all of this, you need look no farther than him. He’s a liar. A philanderer. A killer. All the easy smiles and clever little quips can’t change that.”

“No. He’s a good man.” She insisted, still meeting his eyes despite the fear racing through her. “You tried to break him. But you failed. Because you’re weak. Because you aren’t half the man he is. It doesn’t matter what you do to me. Simon and Miles will kill you.”

“Such fire.” Falk smiled at her. “A pity your passions are so misplaced.”

Tessa sneered at him. “We’ll see.”

Falk nodded slowly. “Yes. We will.”

Tessa turned her head to the side looking out over the city. Another pair of helicopters pulling up beside them filled with armed men. Falk’s men. She didn’t let him see the fear in her eyes, but it came nonetheless.
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