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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Corrine Paige
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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Corrine Paige » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:25 pm

“What the hell were you thinking?”

Corrine Paige was livid. The one-armed detective paced around the room, running her hand through her dark curls in frustration. Simon sat before her upon a couch, looking a tired and more than a little bored. Mary Bradley’s rented penthouse was richly appointed with a beautiful view of the city, though neither of them was exactly appreciating it now. It had been a long night and an even longer morning. It wasn’t long before word spread of the violent crowds following the girl’s late night appearance. Footage of Simon taking down a teenage boy from several different angles played out over the news. It was not a good look, Corrine decided.

Simon sighed, leaning forward wearily on his elbows. “Look. It was chaos. I had people grabbin’ and clawin’ at me from all angles and then this guy gets up there and starts tryin’ to kick in the windshield. What am I supposed to do? Reason with him?”

Paige’s brows rose, a little laugh. “No, you’re right, that car needed an indent in the shape of his face on the roof. Good call.” She SO badly wanted to cross her arms in that moment, but settled on placing her hand upon on her hip. “You could have pulled him down without hurting him. That boy’s parents are pressing charges.”

Simon scoffed. “Yeah, well, maybe they should spend more time disciplining the little bastard…”

“You broke his nose and fractured his eye socket.” Corrine leveled her unamused gaze upon him, almost daring him to speak.

“I was tryin’ to protect her.” He muttered, shaking his head.

Paige sighed, her fingers pinching together at the bridge of her nose. He had a point. He’d done an exemplary job of protecting his charge. And it wasn’t like she didn’t know what she was getting into with him. Simon was not subtle. He wasn’t a scalpel. Simon was a hand grenade. She shouldn’t be surprised that he’d hauled off and laid an attacker out in a riot.

Their conversation ended when Mary Bradley, her boy-toy Tony, and her assistant came in, phone to her ear. “Yes.” She said to the other end of the call. “Excellent. Thank you.”

Mary didn’t bother greeting them. She barely even looked up as she ended the call and went right to texting. Simon and Corrine shared a glance. Neither of them was a huge fan of Tessa’s mother. Frankly, Corrine often stuffed the urge to break a bottle over the bitch’s head. But, that might not be great for business.

“I talked to my lawyers.” Mary said, disinterestedly. “The kid’s family is willing to drop charges if we pay his hospital bills and kick a little extra their way.”

She seemed a little too casual about all of it. Rich people, Corrine thought. No way could she just blow that kind of scratch like it was nothing. If she ever did, Corrine was fairly certain her Mama would come back from the grave and slap her silly.

Paige cleared her throat and stepped forward. “Ms. Bradley, I’m very sorry about what ha-”

“Why?” Mary asked, looking perplexed.

Corrine was unprepared for the question and just blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“Yes, I heard that part.” Mary waved her off. “But why? You can’t buy this kind of publicity.”

Simon looked up, his expression bordering on anger. Had she really just said that. This bitch’s daughter was almost kidnapped and...god knew what else. The girl was terrified and in danger and her mother seemed to think it was all theater.

“Well…” Corrine, stepped forward all the same. “We’ll be in touch with the security teams at the venues from now on. Draw up multiple extraction routes.”

Mary glanced up with a crooked eyebrow. She stared at Paige as if she just did not get it. “That won’t be necessary.”

“Excuse me?” Simon said, rising from the couch. Paige could tell from his body language that he was agitated and on the verge of something stupid. She held up her hand as if to say ’Let me handle it.’

“With all due respect, Ma’am.” Corrine said, turning to Mary. “We were hired to protect your daughter. The crowds make that difficult.”

Mary sighed heavily and gave a withering glance to Tony. The sketchy man just shrugged in agreement. Mary put on her most condescending little smile. “Listen. Sweetie?”

Paige narrowed her eyes. “Detective Paige.” Sure she was retired, and it wasn’t an official title anymore, but…fuck this lady.

“Detective.” Mary corrected herself. “Let me explain how this works. Tessa is an entertainer. She’s in the public eye, and the more the public sees of her, the more people that show up, the longer she gets to STAY in the public eye.”

A muscle below Corrine’s jaw shifted as she clenched her teeth, her knuckles cracking as her fist tightened into a little ball. “They’re a danger to her life, Ms. Bradley.”

“Well, that’s why your trailer trash friend is there, isn’t it?” Mary said, dripping with that condescendingly sweet tone. “If he can’t handle it, I’ll find someone who can.”

“You can’t be serious.” Corrine said. “You approve of this?”

Simon was fuming, like a balloon about the burst. His eyes narrowed, his body tensed and those battered fists clenched tightly. Mary Bradley didn’t see death five feet from where she stood. She finally tucked her phone away and stepped up, looking Corrine in the eye.

“Sweetheart.” She said. “Who do you think told them where to find her?”

“You sold out your own daughter?” Simon asked, but it came out in a snarl.

Mary scoffed at him like he was a child. “I guaranteed her the sympathy of millions. This is how it works in this business. Don’t like it? Go guard a mall. But don’t think, for one second, that you get to judge me. I do what’s necessary for that little brat, and I’d do it a thousand times over.”

Corrine was almost tempted to step aside and let Simon do what he wanted. Almost. She turned to him and gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head. He didn’t like it, but he followed her lead.

“If you’ll excuse me. We have a meeting with a record exec.” Mary said, scooping up her jacket. “I trust you can see yourselves out?”

Paige nodded to the woman and watched her and her boyfriend leave. It took a moment for her to process what she’d heard. All the slimy, disgusting details of it. It made her sick to her stomach to even think about.

“God, I hate that bitch.” Corrine spat.

“Should’ve let me slug her.” Simon said.

“Yeah. That would’ve been smart.” Paige snorted. “That woman would see us out on our asses without a penny to our names for the rest of our lives.”

“Still.” Simon said. “It’d have been worth it.”

Corrine lowered herself onto the couch, her body drooping with a heavy sigh. Her hand ran down over her lips as her head shook. “Yeah…” She let out a bitter little chuckle. “What do we do about this?”

Simon stepped over to the large window, staring out over the city. “Maybe we should quit. Find another gig.”

Paige laughed. “Yeah. Right.”

“I’m serious.” Simon told her with a furrowed brow.

Corrine didn’t buy it a second. She just rolled her eyes and glanced up at him, a wry, knowing smirk on her face. “No you aren’t.”

“How do you know?” He asked, annoyance in his voice.

“Because that’s not you.” She said. “Never has been. You see danger, you run right into it. You see someone...like Tessa Bradley....like Tahlia Faras...like Lyla Cotter, “ she said, “Hell, like that farmer chick you were shacked up with. You see them in trouble and you HAVE to help them. You’re the big hero.”

“I’m not a hero.” He demanded grimly. “That’s not me. I just get pulled into this shit. Maybe I’m tired of it.”

“Maybe.” Paige shrugged. “But I don’t buy it.” She glanced his way. “I think you heard her loud and clear. If we bail, she’ll just find someone else. And someone else probably won’t give as much of a shit as you. Someone else might get that girl killed.”

“That woman’s gonna get her killed.” Simon insisted. “Why should I stick my neck out?”

“Because.” She said simply, hitting every word for impact. “It’s who. You. Are.”

Simon was quiet a long moment before he obstinately shook his head. “No.”

Paige stood up and leveled her gaze at him. “You want to pretend you don’t care? Go right ahead. But I don’t buy it. Sorry.” She said, picking up her purse and slinging it over her shoulder. “I’ll meet you at the house later. I’ve got some running around to do.”

She started toward the door, stopping with her hand upon the knob. She didn’t look back at him, but still addressed him. “Simon?”

He glanced her way, remaining silent.

“If it wasn’t you. If you weren’t the guy I said you are...I wouldn’t be here.” She said, throwing a look back of her shoulder. “I wouldn’t be here at all. Just think about that.”

Paige opened the door and stepped out into the hall, leaving him to think about that. They didn’t talk about that day very often. Neither of them enjoyed thinking of it. She’d lost an arm and a career and he’d lost...everything. But it was because of him that, because he took care of her until the ambulance arrived that she even had a future. Despite the shit she gave him, despite the fact that she found him irritating, he would always be a hero in her eyes. Even if he didn’t see it.
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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Simon Toews » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:26 pm

The dingy light fixtures above passed by with lingering tracers as young Simon was dragged down the hall. Whatever drugs they’d given him had rendered his legs useless and his head woozy. Even if he could think straight, his limbs were just not responding. Simon was completely and utterly trapped.

The cell door screeched like nails on a chalkboard as it was dragged open. The sound hung in Simon’s head for far too long afterwards, needling away like tiny miners hacking away in his brain. His captors were not too concerned with being gentle, as soon as the gate had opened, he was tossed onto the damp, filthy concrete floor. He lay there, trying to breathe normally as the ringing in his head finally began to fade.

The boy couldn’t be sure how long he lay there, but eventually, the world began to clear and feeling returned to his limbs. But, along with it, came the ache. Everything in his body hurt. Spots where his limp limbs had banged against doorways or scraped against the ground were raw and sore. He was certain that, beneath his clothing he was bruised all over. Simon winced as the pain at the back of his head pierced through that dazed fog, his hand reaching back and returning smeared with formerly dried blood.

His arms shook as he tried to push himself up, but the drugs in his system weren’t quite done. He felt his limbs betray him, dropping him face first into the floor like marionette with its strings cut. Simon did his best not to think about the acrid smell in the air and wetness of the ground.

Where was Mulcahy? What had they done to him? Surely, he wouldn’t just let them take him without a fight. The Father was his friend. He’d come for Simon soon, the Police in tow and take every one of these bastards down. The boy just knew it.

Hope. It was a precious commodity, especially there. It was hard fought and easily taken, as Simon would learn. Once again, he tried to get up, but was halted by a small hand at his back.

“Don’t.” a girl’s voice said softly. “You’ve still got that stuff in you. You need to relax.”

For the first time, Simon noticed the other kids in the cell with him. There were about 6 of them there, ages varying from 10 - 13, boys and girls. Most of them were looking everywhere BUT his direction. Some of them were cowering, some were glaring, some barely paid him any mind whatsoever.

“Here.” the girl said, slipping her small hand under his shoulder and rolling him onto his back. “Better?”

The girl above him was pretty, he thought. Probably a year or so younger than him. Freckles dotted across her nose, her red hair was greasy and dirty in the tight ponytail she kept it in. Pale skin was marred with small scratches, bruises and dirt.

He nodded, wincing once again as the sharp pain stabbed to the forefront. The stranger grabbed a blanket and made a makeshift pillow for him. “Just rest.” She told him. “You’re gonna need it.”

Simon watched her push up onto her feet and start away.

“Where are we?” he called after her.

The girl stopped and glanced back at him, a sad smile on his face and pain too great for one so young behind her eyes. “Later. Rest now.”


“What’s your name?” He asked.

“Anna.” She said. “My name is Anna.”
"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 Simon Toews » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:27 pm

He needed a drive, just something to blow off steam. He climbed behind the wheel of the black Mercedes, no destination in mind, just a long, quiet drive to clear his head. Hero. What a bunch of bullshit. As far as he was concerned, Simon was just a guy with shitty luck. Paige had made it sound like he actively looked for the situations he often ended up in. Like it was a choice. To hell with that. That wasn't him.

Not at all.

The lights of the city glowed bright in the dark night sky, a patchwork of whites and yellows and neon, reflecting off the sleek lines of the car. The one time Simon dared turn on the radio, he heard Tessa’s voice blaring out through the speakers and immediately shut it off. “I need a drink.” He thought, and for once it wasn’t referring to booze. Ahead, he could see the glowing signage and fluorescent lighting of a convenience store, almost violently cutting through the dark, beckoning him to it. The Mercedes slipped into a spot, and Simon stepped out, walking into the store. The lights were somehow brighter once inside. God, he hated fluorescent lighting. Clad in the shirt, vest, and pants of his suit, he wandered the aisles before grabbing himself a drink from the fridge.

Tahlia had been wandering, rather aimlessly of late. On her own, and slowly divesting herself of her usual distractions, she'd found herself out of her usual haunts. Pulling the Spitfire over, she parked, not sparing a glance for the glossy Mercedes in the next spot, and walked into the convenience store. The place was small, cheap and quick - and she looked a little out of place in designer ripped jeans, and a flowing shirt that somehow managed to cling to her generous curves. She hadn't thought to bring anything to drink, and though the day was cooler than anything had been in a while, driving with the top down still left her thirsty. Grabbing a bottle of fruit-infused water, she turned and made her way to the counter, a little in her own head.

Simon made his way to the counter,bottle in hand and glancing up at a pack of smokes. It had felt like years since he lit one up, and given the past week, the temptation was strong. He hadn’t even consciously decided to quit, it just worked out that way. He’d have figured he’s miss it by now. Ah, hell, he thought. No sense in ruining a good streak. With a sigh, he just moved on with the sale, forcing a smile for the clerk’s benefit..

If he was more observant, he'd have heard the red-soled heels clicking across the tile as she stepped up behind him, not really paying attention, herself. He'd have smelled her perfume. He’s have sensed her there and glanced back. And he’d have high tailed it out of there as discreetly as possible. But tonight, Simon Toews was not on his guard. He slid over the bills to pay for the bottle of water clutched in his right hand, reaching back and tucking his wallet in a back pocket, running on autopilot.

"Your change sir." The clerk said.

"Huh?" Simon glanced up, still not all there. "Oh yeah. Keep it, man." He nodded and put on that empty smile again. He could have chosen any other shop that night. Any other convenience store where she wasn’t. Simon wasn’t a big believer in fate or the existence of forces outside of his control, but tonight was sure as hell about to make him question it.

He took his bottle and spared a nod to the guy. "Have a good one." With that, he spun around, almost bumping into the woman behind him. "Oh, shit, sorry!"

Tahlia took a quickstep back, trying to avoid being stepped on, or run over. She'd been looking over the store, and found herself staring at a brand of beer she rarely saw anymore. One that brought to mind a long-destroyed factory, and cold chinese food. A life she'd thought, maybe, she could have been content with. But life had made other choices.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have lost cabin pressure.

It took a second, but the face that greeted him stopped his heart. It felt like he'd been dealt a massive blow to the chest by Mike Tyson. His breath caught in his throat, his eyes widening in panic. He hadn't planned on this ever happening, let alone tonight. Some naive part of him thought he'd be able to dodge her forever and go about his days lying to himself that it ever happened. That he could have pushed that gnawing guilt and pain deep down. Hidden forever.

Pale jade eyes flashed, ready to give the guy a piece of her mind. Recognition came as she was opening her mouth, and stole the words right out of it. The face staring back at her, looking just as shocked as she was certain she did, was one she never thought to see again. Some part of her had wondered if he were dead, or had gone back to that little farm in that one horse town he'd told her about.

Stunned, she nearly dropped the bottle, but managed to recover. Still, there was no help for the breathless whisper that was all she could manage. "Simon?"
"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 Simon Toews » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:27 pm

Simon fought to find the words in response, but they were just not coming. He just stared at her. She looked a little different, but God damn, she was still painfully gorgeous. Still the woman he'd known and loved. Even after everything, seeing her sent that familiar, ache flooding through his stomach. He'd faced down agony and death in his life, but it had been a long time since he was actually afraid. The reformed prizefighter couldn't help the flood of memories that rushed through him. Her laugh, the taste of good, expensive bourbon on her lips, that mischievous look in her eye when she was up to something...the curl of their bodies together-

No.

Do not fall down that rabbithole, Simon. He shook his head just slightly, snapping out of it. Simon cleared his suddenly dry throat and finally managed to croak out. "Hey..."

"H-hi..." She was nearly shaking, and hoping he didn't notice. The clerk, wisely, had found something else to do, and was leaving them to their awkward reunion. Ducking her head for a moment, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. A tiny gesture, one he'd probably seen a thousand times.

No ring, on either of them, not that that was much of a surprise. Otherwise, she looked, surprisingly good, if likely a little paler than he remembered. Her curves were somehow smoother, hinting at even more muscle beneath. She couldn't help it, her free hand sliding over her ribs, smoothing over things he couldn't see. He did look good, himself. He'd always looked good, and she could just catch that all too familiar scent. But there was something healthier about him. Not covered with smoke, or the miasma of booze and drugs, just him, all the more intense for the lack of anything else.

She wondered if he tasted the same, if his arms would feel the same. Taking a sharp breath, she tried to shake it off, and stammered out something that sounded utterly inane even as she said it. "You're not dead..."

He wanted to look away from that appraising gaze, but his eyes just stayed on her as if she might lash out at any moment and rip his head clear off. Dry lips parted to say something, but they just curled upward, as a low chuckle escaped him. "No." He said, giving a little shake of his head. "Not dead.” Given his life, that wasn’t always a guarantee, he thought. “Not yet."

He brought a fist up, scratching lightly at the well trimmed beard along his jaw. He might have been dressed finely and lacked the haze and scent of booze and smoke, but some things didn't change. Those knuckles were still that distinctive mess they'd always been, the tattoos snaking out from under the rolled up sleeve of his shirt. There were even fresh red marks from Tessa's would-be abductor. Though, if he was still fighting in the ring, his face bore no signs of it, but for a little scratch or two.

"You look...you look fantastic." It felt lame even leaving his lips, but damn it, he didn’t know what else to say. It was amazing, even now, after everything, she still took his breath away.

"So do you. I mean, not that you ever didn't...but...jesus, Simon...it's been..." Almost a year. Almost a year, and she couldn't bring herself to say those words. There were so many questions. So many questions. She just...couldn't bring herself to ask them in the middle of a convenience store. "Do you...do you want to go somewhere?"

Her eyes fell to his hand, and her bottom lip was caught between her teeth. She remembered all too well what those hands were capable of - on her, and on anyone who dared to cross him. "Catch up, maybe?"

Life had become so hectic in the time after he'd left, he scarcely realized it had been so long. Again, that guilt came rushing on back. Finally, he nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, let me buy your drink." He wasn't giving her an option. He turned to the cashier and slid a bill to him, offering a wave to turn down the change again.

"You don't...thank you." She accepted, with an awkward grace that wasn't her usual MO at all.

"Uh..."He awkwardly stammered and then gestured for her to lead the way. It wasn't often someone caught Simon Toews completely off his game, but here, tonight? She was getting the full effect.

Catching the gesture for what it was, she headed out, pausing as the bell jingled over her head to make sure he was still there. Drink in one hand, she reached out to him with the other. A subconscious need to make sure this time he didn't disappear, and she quickly dropped it back to her side.

Tahlia walked past the cars, heading across the street to a small park, half hidden from the rest of the neighborhood by tall shrubs, and dotted with benches. Simon followed, suppressing that little voice in the back of his head that said "Fuck the car, RUN!" He busied himself, unscrewing the cap from his bottle and taking a swig. He found himself a spot across from a bench, leaning his back against a thin birch tree.

"So...have you been here the...I mean...since..." She stopped, no idea how to finish the question.

Thankfully, he made sure she didn't have to finish it, almost interrupting. "Yeah, I've been around. Uh...I've been at Corrine's place."

"Cori....oh! The one-armed cop you had..." Yeah, that thought wasn't going to end anywhere good, and she flushed, unscrewing the top of her drink and taking a sip.

Immediately he knew how that would sound, his hands reaching up defensively. "Not-not like that. It's..." He stammered trying to explain it better. "We're roommates is all."

There was NOTHING between Simon and Paige. Hell, they were BARELY friends, but he knew how their arrangement looked. They worked together lived together. Two attractive , single people under one roof...it was almost expected.

"Good. That's...good. That you have someone. To watch your back." She was normally so smooth, and now she was acting like a tongue-tied teen. He'd always been able to do that to her.

"Oh! Hey....um...before I forget..." Reaching for her purse, she rifled through it, pulling out a business card from the First Goblin Bank of Rhydin, with a number scribbled on the back. "I...didn't know where to find you. McAllister gave up, after a few months. But I thought...maybe..."

His brow furrowed as he took the card, studying it a moment. "What's this?"
He asked, grateful for the change of subject.

"It's...I sold the apartment. After you left. I couldn't..." There was no safe ground for them, was there? "It's in an account, in your name. Probably a decent amount of interest. Close to seven hundred thousand, maybe..." She hadn't checked the balance recently. It wasn't, as far as she was concerned, her money. Tahlia let go of the card, her fingers hovering as if she wanted to touch him, before drifting back.

His brows rose in surprise, his eyes flicking up to her from the card. "Holy shit. Are you serious?" He knew the penthouse was expensive, but DAMN. That kind of money was a massive windfall. It could be his ticket out of Paige’s place and a step toward one of his own.

A million thoughts ran in his head, a million ways to say it, but it just came out. "Well...damn. Thank you."

"I bought it for us. I have the penthouse, anyway. Two apartments didn't make sense." For now. Who knew how much longer she'd be able to keep her Seaside aerie if things didn't work out. Waving a hand, she turned pink, and focused on the water.

He smiled and tucked it into his pocket, taking another swig of his water. "How've you been?"

"Ok, I guess. It's been a crazy year. More time on my own than I think I've ever spent before…”

Tahlia didn't much like feeling vulnerable, and he had clearly moved on. Not that she hadn't, on the surface at least, but there was still a dull ache that she didn't think would ever go away. Her hand found her ribs again. "So. Anyway. You look like you landed on your feet."

There was something in that sentence that hit him somewhere deep inside. It felt almost like an accusation. There was a time when he'd have taken offense and immediately jumped to the defensive...but he just didn't feel it tonight.

"It took a while." He muttered, scratching lightly at the back of his neck. "A long while."

Now it was her turn to look away, stung, and trying not to lash out. He was the one who had left her, and hadn't even had the courage to tell her to her face. She'd thought she was over it, but she could feel the salty burn of tears against her lashes. "Figured you took off back to that dust bowl..."

"No." His head gave the slightest of shakes. "The last thing those people needed was me." For a long moment, he just stared, letting the silence hang between them. That guilty ache in his stomach tore through him. There were times it came and went. He could just bury it and forget it. But tonight… he just couldn’t. "Tahlia..."

"Yes, Simon?" She looked up before she could blink away the sparkle of tears. Dammit, she hadn't wanted him to see how much she hurt. And yet...part of her wanted him to know about every sleepless night, every time she'd cried until she was exhausted...

Say it.

He didn't know exactly what it was, what he could say...but he had to say something. There would always be feelings there. Even after all this time, he still felt...protective of her. Close to her.

Say something, you dumb redneck!

It happened before he knew what his body was doing. Quickly, his arms wrapped around her, pulling her into a tight embrace. The words wouldn't come, so he did the next best thing. He held her like she might float away if he let her go. He'd missed her far more than he'd let on.
Far more than even he knew.

For her part, she had held back, since she'd seen him in the store, the moment they'd gained the relative privacy of the tiny park, from the desire to reach out and touch him. But he'd made the choice for her, and she buried her head in his chest, soaking through the front of his vest with a sudden burst that surprised even her. Her arms wrapped tightly around his ribs, one hand knotting into the fabric across his broad shoulders. Clinging to him like he'd disappear if she so much as breathed funny.

"Jesus...killer...I've missed you." There it was, the little nickname she'd given him that first night, and held to ever since. She'd never given it to anyone else, and never would. And missed was so much easier to admit to than the rest.
"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 Simon Toews » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:28 pm

His eyes clenched shut as he clung to her with everything he had. "Me too." He whispered. For a long moment, he just let that moment settle. Romance wasn't on his mind, but whatever she was, Tahlia was his friend. Paige was alright, but she was often about as cuddly and sweet as a wasp’s nest toward him. Losing Tahlia, and everything that followed may have improved his health and general well being...but it was a lonely existence. He'd missed this.

"I'm sorry." He said, holding her back a bit. "I'm sorry I went the way I did. You deserved better than that. Far better."

"It wasn't...what you thought. Not then." She couldn't deny it had become what he suspected, It still was...at least, assuming Eddie didn't do exactly what she was most afraid of. He'd come to terms with what had happened. If it hadn't been that night, it would have probably happened eventually. Eventually, she would get another job. That job would require her to do things he couldn't live with anymore, and they'd be here anyhow. Though, it did strike a chord that he'd been wrong. At least...that night.

"I was trying...broke contracts. I went back to The Line...I wanted..." She sniffled, and shook her head. It didn't matter what she'd wanted. Not anymore. Without a word, she took one of his hands, and slid it up under her shirt, just along the ribs on her left side. He would feel the scarring - the oak leaf burned into her skin. She just hoped he remembered. He almost recoiled to tell her to slow down when he put his hand under her shirt...but then he felt it.

"You...you branded yourself?" he asked

There was no way she could miss the flinch, but he hadn't let her go, and neither had she. "The ink wouldn't stay...unless I thought about it, it kept...seeping out. So I...I got the brand." She kept her gaze lowered. "I didn't...I thought maybe the physical pain would make it hurt less. It did, for a little. But I never forgot. I didn't want to..." Alone, away from her usual areas, she let out a breath, and let go of her glamour for the first time in ages.

One corner of his mouth upturned as she let go. The lopsided smirk that was his and his alone took over. "I'd almost forgot you can do that."

"You used to love me this way..." She chanced a hesitant smile, looking up at him from beneath her now-crimson bangs. "I'm sorry, Simon...I tried. I really did. I just...I don't think I understood then...."

For months he would have killed for this apology. But now that she was here...he didn't want it. His hand came up, trying to halt her. "Tahlia...we were different people then. I was different..." He trailed off a bit, lost in his thoughts for just a moment. "I think...I think we were both confused about what we wanted...who we were..." He let out a long, shuddering sigh. "We were going through a lot. I was...raw. Confused. And when I saw you with him...and that jealousy showed up...I didn't know how to handle it."

Few things had ever hurt him as much as that night. The old him would have gone to war...but after everything with Vicelli and then with Kate and Virgil...he just didn’t have the fight in him anymore.

"I knew that if I stuck around, I'd have become...THAT guy again. I'd have done something...bad." He didn't need to explain to her what. She'd seen what happened with Vicelli. It wasn't hard to imagine what he'd do to the man who stolen the woman he’d loved.

"It...I don't want to think about it. I would have lost one of you. And I don't..." She'd seen what Simon could do, yes, and she'd seen what Eddie was capable of since then. "I guess, I lost you anyway. It...it nearly killed me. I guess, in my own way, I did what you did...I ran away. Only I just...went back to what I thought worked. Only it didn't, this time. I think I'm done, Simon. Whether Eddie comes back or not." She hadn't mentioned the giant Selkie, not directly, not until then. But he'd threaded through the conversation. "At least...I want to be."

"Do you think, maybe...Killer, I don't want to lose you again. I need a friend in the worst way, and there isn't anyone I trust here as much as you..."

Simon smiled and rested his forehead to her's, a hand settling at the back of her head. His eyes slid shut, just enjoying the closeness. "Absolutely.” It came out as a relieved breath. Suddenly, he wondered exactly what he’d been dreading the past year. Suddenly, he felt a weight lift from his shoulders and he couldn’t help the smile the graced his features. “I'm not gonna lie, it's been pretty lonely. The closest thing I have to friends are the PI's Paige is working with. I'm hanging out with a bunch of cops."

Forgive her, the burst of laughter caught her off-guard. "You? Hanging out with cops? Oh, Killer...you have changed..." Shaking her head carefully, so as not to dislodge anything, she let out a slow breath, and relaxed against him. He'd always been her safe place. "What's she got you doing?"

He forgot he hadn't told her...though, if she saw any footage of the other night (or of Tessa Bradley in general the past few weeks), she could have seen him in the background. "You know who Tessa Bradley is?"

"Some little teen pop star, right?" It was her business to know these things, although the music wasn't her style and she tended to pay less attention to female celebrities much less than the men, for obvious reasons. She shuddered as he stepped back, and clutched at his hand. If she was holding him, he couldn't vanish.

He had to admit he found it endearing and just let her grasp onto him. "That's the one. Well, guess who got assigned as her bodyguard?"

And he was ever so happy about it, too. It certainly wasn't a living nightmare that never seemed to end! Not at all!

"Oh...oh Killer...I'm so sorry." She didn't need to see much to know the girl was a nightmare. Rumors spread, and Tahlia still had access to the right ears, and the right lips. "Does it at least pay ok? Can you free-lance?"

"Actually...yeah. It pays pretty well." He chuckled. "She's a pain in the ass...but she's a walk in the park compared to the mother. I've never wanted to hit a woman before..."

"I'd heard something about her...we don't run in exactly the same circles, obviously." For a moment she considered asking Adder to hire him away, but that...wasn't necessarily smart. No, if things went horribly wrong, she wanted to make sure Simon was well out of it. "So that's what you're up to these days...I might actually have to check out one of her shows..."

That was an image... "Yeah, hope you like songs about friendship and high school drama. Talented kid, but...writing needs some work." He laughed. To be fair, the girl had pipes. She just didn't have to experience to sing about anything more than the teeny pop garbage.

"But yeah, she's obnoxious. I had to clock some old pervert who tried to grab her the other night. Be on the lookout for THAT one. It's bound to be all over the tabloids." He said. "Then, she's got this step dad who pretty much admitted to me he hits her...I had to kinda put him in his place and...."

SImon sighed and shook his head wearily. "Paige says I've got some bullshit hero complex or something."

"You do." It was almost immediate, and delivered with a wry smile. "I mean, probably not for the same reason, but...she's not wrong" She'd have to remember to ask Bret to get her a copy of that one. And see about getting her tickets to the girls next show. And earplugs. She didn't actually intend to listen to such drek, but a VIP pass might give her the chance to make Simon's life a little bit easier.

Well, that took the wind out of his sails. He let out an exasperated sigh and stepped back, dejected. "Oh, Jesus Christ...not you too."

Oh no, she wasn't letting him get away that easy. Taking two steps, she wrapped herself around his ribs, and smirked up at him. "The motel, the fire...those people in the dustbowl...Paige...even with Cotter..." She bit her tongue, knowing that was a sore subject. "You're not a cold-hearted man, Simon...you never have been. Why..." She took a deep breath. "Why do you think I fell for you so hard?"

It didn't sit well with him, that title. He didn't want it at all, despite all evidence to the contrary. "I just fall into shit. And then...I see something wrong and...what the hell am I gonna do? Turn my back? I don't WANT it, and I sure as hell don't need it. That's not heroism. It's...bad luck."

"Yeah, you fall into it. But a lot of people would walk away. You don't. Even when it costs you." Letting go of him, she took a step back, a bit embarrassed that she'd admitted as much as she had. Taking a long swallow of her water, she glanced back up at him. "Why did you come to the hotel, that night...?"

"You asked. And I'm good at burning things." His talent for deflecting with humor hadn’t diminished.

"Yeah, but you didn't need to. We'd fucked a few times, sure. But you would have found another piece of ass quick enough. You carried me out of there, lit the place on fire...you could have dropped me on a corner, or at the Inn. You took me home. You..call it what you will, Killer...you aren't the type to walk away from a damsel in distress..."
"That's a little dramatic..." He chuckled. Try as he might, he had to admit...she wasn't wrong. "But maybe you have a point."

"Of course I have a point. I'm not just a pretty face..." Tahlia scoffed, a half smile lingering on her lips. He graced her with that easy smile as he leaned back against the tree. It was so easy, just to fall back into old habits. But he was right, they'd both changed. Still, there were things...things she needed him to know. "Simon...I meant what I said, after...after you got shot."

Simon glanced at the ground a moment to watch his toe move a little pebble around before turning up to her. That twinge of guilt was back with a vengeance. "I know. I did too."

"I still...I guess I still do, maybe I always will. But it's different now. It's been...well I guess we both grew up a little. But...it’s true what they say: you never forget your first."
"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 Simon Toews » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:28 pm

She took another sip of water, and ran a hand back through those garnet strands. She gave him a long look, and then a bright laugh broke from her lips. "Jesus, Killer...how'd you get better looking?"

He grinned again, running a hand through his short hair and shook his head. "I uh...I haven't had a cigarette since....well. Since. And I drink, maybe once a month. It's kinda cleared a lot up. Evened me out."

"Is that the trick? Maybe I'll try that..." She knew she wouldn't, although she had cut back, and was spending more time doing things like....yoga. Not quite the party girl anymore. "And you're working a legitimate job...no more fights." It wasn't a question.

He almost said no. He stopped himself, squinting. "Well....not intentionally? I cold cocked some fat old pervert the other night for trying to grab Tessa. " Simon couldn't help the smile forming on his face. "Like riding a bike."

"Not like you were though. Knights have to fight for their damsels, Killer...even if they're getting paid." Winking, she kept just out of arms reach. She wouldn't put it past him to try and ...tickle her or something. "It's ingrained. Who you are. Even if you use those powers for ... good... now..."

Simon smirked, he still wasn't on board with that term, but he didn't argue. "So...what have YOU been into? I don't imagine you've exactly settled down."

"Not...exactly? I'm...actually cutting back on clients...still working at The Line. They have me running the book once a month at the Hold." She'd always be a little grey, it was just how she was.

Somehow it was a comfort to him. At least she was dependable. "You DO seem like you're doing better. You look good."

"Thanks. Nearly dying a few times will really make you look at things.." She shrugged, doing better was one way to look at things. "Still have the penthouse, you'd probably love the Panamera...maybe if you're nice, I'll let you drive it."

"Oooh-hoo-hoo. Tempting." He chuckled. "They hooked me up with a Mercedes. Quick little bastard. Lotta space. The other day a kid jumped up and tried to kick in the windshield and I faceplanted his ass into the roof."

"Sweet." Chuckling at the thought, Tahlia ran a hand back through her hair, and looked at the strands for a moment. It was strange how unfamiliar the color looked now. With a thought, she switched it back to her usual blonde. She looked back up at Simon, one hand sneaking under her shirt to brush the black pearl nestled in her navel. "Wait...Mercedes...wasn't that the car at the beach?"

Simon pushed off the tree, memories flooding back of a time they jacked a car and took it on down to the beach to...well...they took it to the beach. . "It was indeed. Though...I didn’t have to break into this one." He took a seat at one of the benches, eyes up to her. "Paige REALLY straightened my ass out. Like, the second I got there she laid down the law. 'No smoking, no getting drunk, no drugs, no crime....


"Well, I guess that makes sense, her being a cop, or former cop, and...well...everything right before. You could get your own place, now...if you wanted..."

He cracked a sheepish little grin. “No women."

"No women? Wait...so..." Careful, Tahlia, finishing that sentence might not be a good idea. Even if she suspected they were now both thinking the same thing.

He laughed and nodded, "Said I had to get a hotel if I ever picked up a woman. Not that I've exactly had time since moving in. Most nights, it's the two of us eating pizza watching one hour dramas on HBO."

"...really?" She couldn't help the note of disbelief. "Killer...how are you not sneezing dust? Once a night was never enough, you used to keep going for hours..." Aaaaaaaand now she'd kicked the door open, hadn't she. Flushing deeply, she ducked her head, and focused on her water for a minute. "Sorry..."

He didn't seem offended. No this was amusement. He just laughed. "I know, I know! It's amazing how a busy schedule makes you kind of forget about things. Honestly, it's not that bad." It really wasn't. He didn't feel the constant need to bury himself in sex and substances anymore. "To be honest, the smoking and booze was harder. I mean, I snag a drink every now and again, but it's been...well, since us that I've REALLY gone out on a bender."

"Yeah, I guess we were positively made up of sex, drugs and bad decisions, weren't we..." And she'd loved every minute. But some part of her had known they couldn't stay like that forever. "It's...better now. I guess. I don't believe quitting smoking and drinking was harder than sex, though." It was her own worst addiction, she knew, and she was a little surprised at how well she was handling her own relative dry spell.

He was quiet a long moment, a little smile forming slowly. "well....I'm not saying it was easy...but you know. I can go out and buy a pack of smokes and a bottle, but I can't...well...I'm not willing to go out and buy myself a woman."

The smile faded then, a more somber look in his eyes. "Plus...I was a mess. Wasn't really in any place for it. I used to do that and it left me kinda...hollow."
"I used to have this...this hole. This big emptiness inside of me. And I filled it with all this destructive shit. Women, drugs, booze, fighting. And after everything the past couple years, I just...I don't have the hole anymore."

There was a moment of silence, her eyes wide, staring at him in thinly veiled shock, and hurt. She knew that feeling, knew it well...but it had never happened with him. Still...the little blonde looked away, closing her eyes to take a deep breath, and try to push everything away. Her free hand slipped over the brand on her ribs, and she let the air out, shaking. "Yeah...I...that's good, right?"

He could sense something was wrong He wasn't entirely clueless. He stepped up to her, placing a hand on her arm. "It's because of you, y'know?" He looked her in the eye, speaking softly. "I went around just looking for death and punishment, and then you showed me there could be something more, regardless of how things ended."


She didn't want to cry. Even with her current uncertainty...things were...good. But they'd never gotten to do this, there had been no fight. He had just been....gone. "I didn't know I could. I mean...I hadn't, ever. You were just supposed to be a one-night stand, and then...you weren't. I didn't even know what was happening, and I tried so hard not to, cause I didn't think you did, or would..." Eyes shimmering, she reached up, and brushed the backs of her fingers along his jaw. "I guess we showed each other..."

He reached up and took her hand, placing a kiss at her knuckles. "I think we were exactly what both of us needed...at the time. It just..." He sighed, still holding that hand. "We burned hard. Fast. I think a little too hard and fast. I don't think we could have lasted..." There was a hint of sadness, though, he'd accepted this a LONG time ago. But that little grin returned. "But, damn were we good together."


"Yeah...we were...I still..." It wouldn't be her if she didn't dance on that line, swept away in the moment. And the memories were right there. But he was right. They'd been intense, and explosive, sometimes literally, and they'd left a path of destruction behind them. "Well, you know." Keeping a hold of his hand, she bit her lip, pale green eyes staring into blue ones that she used to think held the whole world.

Those baby blues turned up to her, taking her in the moment, remembering every second they had together in almost crystal clarity. his free hand reached up, thumb rested behind her ear gently. He leaned in...and pressed a lingering, gentle kiss to her forehead,.

She'd meant only that she still thought of him, of the same moments that were probably running though his memory. They'd never had a problem in that area, but for the first time...she was perfectly content with that kiss on her forehead. She'd missed more than just the physical, with him. She'd missed her friend, her confidante. Especially now, when she was alone, and playing a dangerous game with no backup. But the rest...that was in the past. Smiling, she turned her head and brushed a kiss to his palm. "Still friends?"

He looked her in the eye, that solemn expression on his face as he smiled. "Always."
Simon wrapped his arms around the woman who had once been the devil on his shoulder and his guardian angel all at the same time. It had been a long, messy road to get there., but it felt right. After a long year, Simon finally felt that weight leave his shoulders. Tonight, he was happy.
"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 » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:29 pm

Tessa stared out the window as cars, buildings, and people whipped on by. Simon eyed her a moment in the rearview. She’d been quiet the past few days since the incident, keeping mostly to herself. He had to admit, it was a welcome reprieve from the constant yammering on her phone and the incessantly bad attitude she usually put on around him...but something had changed in her. She was afraid. Not that he could blame her. It wasn’t every day you found out your own mother was willing to put your life at risk to drum up publicity.

Eventually, the silence got to be just too oppressive. Simon reached over and flicked on the radio The voice of Chris Cornell singing “Shadow On The Sun” radiated from the speakers, and Simon settled in. Tessa’s eyes snapped forward, annoyance written all over her face. Simon did his level best to just ignore it.

“Turn this crap off.” She demanded.

Simon smirked to himself and reached over, turning it up.

“Look, asshole. I don’t feel like listening to your sad old bastard music, alright? Turn it off!” She shrieked.

Simon began quietly singing along as he made a turn. It absolutely infuriated the girl, but at least it seemed to take her mind off of things. She slumped back in her seat with a disgusted sigh and glared out the window. He could barely hide the amused smirk on his face, glancing back at her.

For a long moment, she just sat there, hate-fucking everything in sight as they passed. Finally, she turned back to him “What even IS this shit?”

“It’s called music. You should try it sometime.”

Tessa laughed sarcastically and rolled her eyes, turning her attention back outside as he muttered something under her breath. She surprised him as the silence that followed didn’t last long.

“Who is this?” She asked, a bit of the edge leaving her tone.

“Audioslave.” He responded. “Chris Cornell. One of the best voices in rock history.”

Tessa snorted. “The best?”

“One of ‘em.” He asserted.

“Doesn’t say much for rock history, does it?” She jabbed.

“Well, there aren’t any computerized pitch changes to hide the singer’s lack of talent, so I can see why *you* might think that.”

The girl’s brows rose incredulously. “Excuse me? I happen to have an AMAZING voice. I don’t NEED computers to sound great. And I sure as hell don’t need to drown it out with guitars!”

“You don’t need to.” Simon nodded. “So, what’s the deal? You just LIKE to...or?”

He knew he was just poking the bear and probably could have just let her be sullen. But what was the fun in that?

“I do what the record company wants. They want auto-tuning, they’re gonna do it.” She defended herself.

“Wow. That’s some artistic integrity you’ve got there.” he said, the sarcasm dripping in his voice.

“Tell you what, Simon.” She said. “When you’re running with a million 30 million dollar contract and dealing with your mother and her asshole boyfriend as your managers, you can talk to me about artistic integrity.”

Well, damn. Could’ve gone without that little guilt trip. Subtly, he flicked the controls on the steering wheel, turning the volume down a bit.

“She always been like that?” he asked, his tone becoming less antagonistic.

“What? A straight up opportunistic bitch?” Tessa spat back.

“Sure.” He nodded.

Tessa glanced out the window, eyeing a little girl walking with her mother, hand in hand. “No. She actually used to be kind of decent. A bit intense...but...not like this.”

“The money get to her?” Simon asked.

“I think so?” Tessa shrugged. “Plus, I think she never had the talent or voice to make it herself. So…”

“She’s jealous. And being in control of you is as close as she’s going to get to the spotlight.” Simon finished for her. It was a common tale of child stars, from what he’d heard. Overzealous parents with no discernible talent of their own living vicariously through their kids and losing sight of reality, running their kids and their careers into the ground.

Tessa glanced his way, unsure of his new tactic, and unwilling as of yet to let her guard down. “Yeah. Yeah, probably.”

“Well, I’m gonna tell you something, and if you tell her I said it, I’ll deny it...but your mother’s a lowlife.” He said. “If I didn’t live by a strict code of honor, I’d take great pleasure in smacking the everloving shit out of her.”

For the first time since they’d met, she actually smiled, a little laugh escaping her. The corners of his mouth tugged upwards into a grin. “From now on, I’ve got your back. No matter what bullshit she tries, I won’t let anyone lay a hand on you ever again. Cool?”

The girl looked a little confused, but not at all disappointed. “Cool.” She nodded.
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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Simon Toews » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:30 pm

“Get up.”

The voice immediately preceded the loud clanking sound of the cell door opening. Simon slowly woke up, groggy and sore from the uncomfortable, filthy concrete floor. Sleep had come eventually, and for too short a time, he was elsewhere and this was all some bad dream. Reality, though, came rushing in. The muted aftereffects of the drugs left him a bit hazy, and the light piercing.

“Get up! They’ll beat you if you don’t.” Anna said through grit teeth, trying to yank him up to his feet. Simon took his time, but rose beside her, his neck aching from his awkward sleeping position.

The man who walked down the aisle of children was built big and solid, his black t-shirt straining against muscle. “Wake up, you bunch of pussies! On your fucking feet!”

The kids all snapped to, fear in their eyes as he passed. The large guard stopped in front of one kid who dared look up at him instead of staring at the floor. He turned. “You eyeballin’ me, asshole?”

The kid immediately turned his eyes down. “No sir.”

The big man glared down and suddenly lashed out, grabbing the boy by the neck and slamming him against the chainlink fence behind him. He lifted the kid effortlessly and looked him right in the eye. “Don’t you ever fucking eyeball me, you little shit! You keep your fuckin’ eyes on the fuckin’ ground, understood?!”

The kid tried to look away and nod that he understood. He knew better than to try and claw the hand from around his throat. That would only make things worse. The guard dropped him roughly, the boy coughing and sputtering in a heap on the ground.

“Look at this bunch of whiny little cunts. Wouldn’t last a second in a fight with a real man.” He spat on the ground. As he turned around, Simon realized he recognized him. He was the guy who’d shoved him through the door and into Falk’s clutches. Suddenly, a dark desire began to bubble in his young heart.

“We have fresh meat today, boys and girls!” He shouted. “This is Simon. Don’t get too used to him being around. This weak little shit ’s not going to be here long. Look at him. This scrawny twerp was shacked up with a low life, degenerate priest when we found ‘im.” He grinned and walked up to him.

“The good father give you a little diddle, there kid? Take ya into the confessional booth and make you cry to God?” He laughed at himself. Simon’s rage overrode his common sense and he glared up at him. Mulcahy was his friend. His only friend. The man who’d saved him from dying in the cold in some filthy alley.

The guard’s brows rose and he chuckled derisively. “Oh-ho-ho-ho…look at little Billy Bad-ass over here. You wanna take a swing at me boy? Huh?”

Simon’s fist clenched almost involuntarily, the fire in his belly rising.

“Go on.” The guard said, leaning down and pointing to his chin “Give me your best. Fucking. Sh-”

Simon’s fist lashed out in a jab, catching the bigger man in the throat. It took the guy by surprise, his voice catching upon impact. He gasped for air, stumbling back. Simon knew better than to let him recover and leapt, grabbing him around the neck, Anna screaming “NO!” behind him.

He clutched with his weaker arms, trying to choke the life out of him, running on pure rage. The bigger man reached behind him, grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him from his back. With a violent, rough throw, he slammed Simon onto his back, the concrete sending pain radiating through him as the breath left his body. He was utterly defeated.

“Let him be a lesson to you, you fuckers!” The man shouted, rubbing his throat. “You might win a battle...but you’ll lose the fuckin’ war!” His boot met Simon’s ribs, drawing an agonized grown from the boy.

“If you face him in the ring today, be sure to give Simon here a nice warm welcome.” Again, he spat, this time a wad of phlegm and saliva splattering on Simon’s cheek.

“Get yourselves ready.” He said. “It’s fight night.”
"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 Simon Toews » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:30 pm

Simon moved around backstage as Tessa was performing for a packed audience. He was keeping his eye on every aspect of the event, trying to run down a production assistant as they were going about their business.

“Excuse me.” He called out to a girl in her twenties wearing a headset. She was distracted, but turned to him.

“What can I do for you?”

“I need you to check on the situation outside. North exit.” he requested.

She let out a put-upon sigh and started away. “Look, I don’t have time-”

“If we get out there and there’s another mob awaiting us, you’re going to wish you made the time.” He said firmly. “Check the exit.”

She glared up at him and pulled on her headset. “Jerry, can you check the north exit for me? Yeah, for the girl.” The young woman crossed her arms, staring daggers at the man before her, but he didn’t seem to care. He had bigger fish to fry tonight.

Slowly, her face softened, melting into a concerned grimace as the color drained from her complexion. It was all Simon had to see to know exactly what the scene awaiting them would be.

“It’s-” she began.

“Yeah.” Simon nodded. “We’ll need another exit. Who’s your chief of security?”

“Mr. Desmond.”

“Great. Take me to him.”

Simon followed her through the busy backstage, dodging crew members as they passed. As they ascended the metal staircase to the security head’s office, he glanced down. Tessa was belting her heart out for those people, and damned if they didn’t love her for it. Off-stage, she was unhappy, withdrawn, and a bit miserable. But there, in front of 30,000 screaming fans, singing her heart out, she was alive.

The door opened and a rotund man in an illfitting uniform sat before a wall of screens, sucking back on an extra large soft drink. One of the screens had a rerun of some 70’s cop show playing. The PA knocked and peered in. “Mr. Desmond?”

Desmond wiped his pudgy, greasy fingers on his stained shirt, barely glancing back. “Yeah?”

“Mr. Toews asked to speak to you?” It was more of a question than a statement.

“Who?”

“Tessa’s bodyguard.” She explained.

“Oh. Right, Whatever.” He mumbled, waving them in.

Simon hated the guy immediately on sight. Something about the careless, slovenly way he carried himself. This guy was there for a paycheck and nothing else. Simon moved toward him, eying the screens.

“Help you?” The fat man muttered.

“We’re going to need an exit.” Simon told him.

“You’ve got one.” He pointed at the screen showing the already gathered mob. If looks could kill, Simon’s glare would have splattered the man all over the room.

“Do you see all those people?” Simon asked incredulously.

“Eeeyup.” Desmond said, clearly disinterested.

“A few days ago, my client was attacked in a mob like that. That’s NOT happening again.” Simon was furious, but the guy clearly didn’t see death two inches from his face.

“Look,” Desmond rolled his eyes and swivelled around to face him. “The girl’s mother or manager or whatever called ahead and told us the plan. You got a problem with it? Take it up with her.”

“Mary Bradley set this up?”

Desmond gestured to him as if to say “Get it now?” Simon could feel his blood boiling. In his time, he’d met countless despicable people, but none of them fueled his rage quite like Mary Bradley.

“You done?” the non-plussed security head asked dismissively.

“I need another exit.” Simon demanded.

“Again.” Desmond rolled his eyes. “You have a problem, talk to-”

Simon grabbed him by the shirt and rolled him back against a wall, his right fist cocked back and ready to slug him. But he caught himself, seeing the sudden rush of fear in the man’s eyes. Beating the living hell out of this guy wouldn’t make Tessa any safer. In fact, it would probably cause more problems for the girl. Didn’t mean he couldn’t use that fear though.

“Does it look like I’m asking?” Simon growled.

Desmond’s chest was heaving, his entire body shaking. “W-w-west st-staircase! Take it down, th-here’s garage! Lets out on the other side! Okay?!”

Simon shoved him back into the seat, letting him go and stormed out and down the stairs just as Tessa finished her final encore. He pulled out his phone and told his contact with the car the new plan just as the girl walked up, chugging a water bottle and wiping the sweat from her brow. Simon hung up and handed her a jacket. It was a lot chillier when you weren’t under stage lights and pyrotechnics.

“God *damn*, did you see that?” She said, beaming as assistants converged and took the mic pack off of her. “Haven’t had a show like that in months!”

Simon’s smile was genuine but distracted. “We’ve gotta get going.”

“Okay...can I at least get some of this makeup off first? Maybe a change of clothes because I’m sweating like a pig.” She said, that petulant tone still in her voice.

“No. I’m sorry. We need to move quick.” He said, all business.

The shadow of panic crossed her face just then, memories of the other night flooding back to her. “Is something wrong?”

Simon eyed her a moment, debating how much to tell her. “Not if I can help it.” He said. She didn’t need to know about the dirty details. Not right now. To her credit, Tessa swallowed her fear, set her jaw and zipped up her coat. The corner of his mouth twitched into a grin and he canted his head to the left.

“Come on. Follow me.”

The pair moved through the bustling backstage and down a stairwell. Outside, the crowd was getting restless. Hundreds of fans had gathered outside along with paparazzi. There were, of course, the troublemakers interspersed looking to do just about anything to make a scene. Even 15 minutes of infamy was enough for some people. The chants began, Tessa’s name shouted over and over and over. The longer they waited, the more restless they got. The metal barricades were barely holding them back as the crowd shook them. Security was already on edge, lining the sides and desperately trying to keep order.

Simon and Tessa stepped out into the empty underground garage as the black Mercedes pulled up in front of them. Simon’s contact stepped out and handed him the keys.

“Thanks.” He nodded and slipped inside. He glanced in the rearview to see the girl sliding in back. “Buckle up, keep your head down.”

Outside, the damn burst and the crowd poured in. It was utter chaos. Later, they would find out 3 security guards were hospitalized along with several over-enthusiastic fans. But Simon and Tessa simply drove away unscathed.

They were on their way to Tessa’s penthouse when the phone rang. Simon glanced down, eyeing the screen. Mary Bradley. Great. He hit the accept button, letting the bluetooth pick up. Tessa was going to hear this.

“Yeah.” Simon said. He could sense the irritation before she even spoke.

“Where the hell are you?” She asked.

“On our way to the hotel.”

“Yeah, well, why am I watching the news and NOT seeing you two?” She asked.

“Plan changed.” Simon said, making a turn.

“You don’t have the authority to do that!”

“Job’s to protect her. I’ll do what I have to.” He was in no mood for this woman’s bullshit.

“Your job is to do what you’re told! When I set something up, you follow it to the letter!”

Tessa’s eyes went wide. She scoffed and leaned forward, her voice a bit shakey. “Hey, Mom?”

There was silence then. Her daughter was NOT supposed to hear this. “Tess? Sweetie? Thank God you’re-”

“Mom!” She interrupted.

“Yes, sweetheart?” Mary laid the concerned, loving mother act on pretty thick.

“Fuck off.” Tessa leaned forward and pushed the red button to end the call. As she leaned back in her chair, a smile spread across her face, the slightest bit of laughter leaving her as she stared out the window.

Simon glanced back at her, quiet for a moment. “You alright?”

“Screw ‘er.” the girl said flippantly.

“I’d rather not.” Simon cracked with a smirk.

Tessa chuckled and nodded up to him. “Put something on. I’m not big on silence.”

“Sure.” Simon nodded. “Anything in particular?”

“Whatever, dude. You’ve got good taste. Surprise me.” She said.

Frankly, he was unprepared for such a compliment from her. For a moment, he sort of gawked. As he pulled up some Johnny Cash, a genuine smile worked its way to his lips. There would be consequences for tonight, but right now he didn’t care. The girl was happy and safe.
"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 » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:31 pm

There is a story in Greek mythology of a boy named Icarus. The boy and his father, Daedalus wished to escape imprisonment within a labyrinth. Daedalus created wings of wax and feathers to accomplish this. In his hubris, Icarus ignored his father’s wisdom and flew too close to the sun. Icarus would see his wings melt and find himself drowned, his freedom short lived.

Tessa Bradley has never heard this story.

She and Simon had their little victory. He took the girl out for a bite to eat, but eventually, she would have to go home. She would have to face her mother...and worse, her boyfriend. As they neared the place, dread began to set in. Of course she’d seen her fair share of trouble over the years, but this was different. She wasn’t certain she’d be able to leverage her stardom to get out of this one.

It wasn’t so much her mother, she knew what the woman was capable of. The most she’d get was a stern talking to and a lot of empty threats, but she was too much of a self serving coward for any sort of follow through. But, Tony, on the other hand…

She’d caught him several times, leering at her half dressed. When she told her mom, she was accused of exaggerating if not lying and told to stop trying to cause trouble. He came home one night, drunk off his ass, and barged into her room and made a pass. When she told him to go sleep it off, he became enraged and tried to choke her. Tessa ended up smashing a mirror over his head. Even then, her mother sided with him. She called her a liar and accused her of attacking the man.

He had to get more creative after that. In the rare moments they were alone, he was verbally abusive. Called her a slut, a tramp...and a lot of other names not exactly glowing with praise. He (and her mother, to an extent) made it clear that no matter what happened, nobody would ever believe her. The first time he’d really hit her, she was 14. She mouthed off to him while he was getting ready for his job (back when he had one.) Tony ripped his belt off and whipped her across the stomach. The leather had pierced the skin and left a bruise for weeks. He simply told her to hide it or it would get worse for her.

So it went on. Tessa would get pissed, say something and he’d hit her somewhere it could be hidden. But she didn’t scream. She never let him hear how much it hurt. Fuck him. Tessa could see the frustration in his face. He wasn’t getting what he wanted. She promised herself, he never would.

Simon stood behind her as the elevator made its slow ascent to the penthouse. She could feel his eyes on her and for once she felt safer because of it.

“You gonna be okay?” He asked.

Tessa breathed in through her nose and glanced back. She plastered a cocky smile on her face for his benefit. “Nothing I can’t handle.”

“How bad is this going to cost you?”

Tessa stared ahead, that confident facade crumbling. “I don’t know.”

“Well, I’m here.” He assured her. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the sentiment, she just didn’t particularly cling to hope that it would make any kind of difference.

The doors slid open, revealing the hallway to those big wooden doors. Suddenly, her feet seemed to weigh a ton and every step closer was a struggle. Simon could tell her all the reassuring tough guy platitudes he wanted, but eventually he would be gone and it would just be the three of them. If her mother wanted him gone, he’d be gone. With a police escort if she so chose.

No, this wasn’t going to be his fight in the end. Just as it hadn’t been all those other nights she’d swallowed her pain until Tony was gone and cried herself to sleep.

It took all she had to push that door open. Tessa steeled herself, drawing every last bit of that false bravado as she stepped inside. Mary stood at the big window overlooking the city, a cigarette in her hand. If she heard anything, she didn’t show it. Suddenly the room felt like a minefield.

“Great,” she thought, “how long before she goes off?”

Mary dropped the smoldering cigarette and stamped it out. Tessa could see the rage coursing through her stiff body, mixed with, no doubt, copious amounts of wine.

“I suppose you both thought that was terribly clever.” She said, that vicious edge to her voice.

Tessa decided she wasn’t giving into it. Let her play her power game. The girl knew she was in the right. “I’m going to bed.”

“No!” Mary snapped, turning on her heel. She looked ragged, angry. She was like an animal, ready to lash out. “You’re going to stand right fucking there and you’re going to tell me who the hell you think you are.”

Tessa’s jaw dropped, a disbelieving laugh escaping her. “Who I think *I* am? I’m Tessa Goddamn Bradley! Who the fuck are you, you raggedy, talentless parasite?!”

Mary took a step towards her hissing through clenched teeth. Simon stepped in front of the girl, a barrier between her and her mother. Mary stopped dead in her tracks. She could see the look in him eye. He was not going to let her anywhere near her daughter.

The older woman glared up at him. “And you. The big, bad protector. You think you get to ignore my orders and keep this gig? You’re an employee asshole. You’re to do what you’re told. When I say do, you fucking do.”

Simon locked eyes with her, he didn’t hit women if he could help it, but if she put her hands anywhere near the girl, all bets were off. “Guess again.”

Footsteps came from down the hall, Tessa’s stomach doing a barrel roll. Even the sound of his footsteps sounded drunk. “There you are, you little bitch! Where the fuck you been?”

“Piss off, you lush.” Tessa managed.

Tony looked at her, bleary eyed for a moment. She could smell the whiskey on his breath from there. “What’d you just say to me?”

The girl’s fists clenched and she readied herself. “I said, Piss. O-“

He snarled and lunged toward her, but Simon intervened, grabbing him by the collar and driving him back up against the wall, hard.

“Big man.” Simon said in a predatory tone. “Want to try taking a swing at me?”

Tony broke free and threw a wild punch. Simon ducked it and immediately gave him a shot to the gut, knocking the wind from him with that mangled, rock hard fist.

Mary immediately shrieked. “Get off him!”

Tessa rushed over to Simon, grabbing him and pulling him back. “Simon! Don’t!”

Tony looked like he was ready to try again despite barely being able to breathe.

“Come on!” Simon challenged him as he was pulled away.

“I’m calling the cops!” Mary shouted. “You’re fired, you white trash piece of shit!”

“Mom! Please!” Tessa pleaded. “Hang up the phone! Simon!”

He barely seemed to register her, so she gave him a shake. “SIMON!”

Finally, his eyes snapped back to her. She looked him straight in the eye. “This won't help me. I need you to go.”

“No.” He growled.

She couldn’t have loved him more in that moment. She wished he would stay and protect her from these rotten people. But he just made things worse with this. When he did go, it would be amplified tenfold.

“Please.” She said softly. “Just go.”

Simon looked from her to Tony and shook his head. Tessa’s hand took him by the jaw and made him look at her. “Yes. I need you to go. Now.”

She could see the turmoil in his eyes. She really did feel for him. The girl tried to tell it all with a look. “It’s okay. I’ll deal with it. It’ll be okay.”

He didn’t calm, but he acquiesced. “He lays a hand on you, a single finger…”

Tessa smiled up at him. There wasn’t much hope in the smile, but it was filled with appreciation. “I know. Go.”

It took a moment, but eventually, he started backing away. Tony clutched his gut, staring daggers. “Yeah, walk away, you cheap shotting cuck! Go back to the gutter!”

“And don’t come back!” Mary joined in.

But Simon kept his eyes on Tessa. She knew she only had to say the word and he’d let loose with the Simon Toews of old. “Go.” She mouthed.

She knew how this would end. She just didn’t count on how painful it would feel. Once again, she was alone. That night would go on, and the pain would continue. Only this time, the drunk bastard didn’t need to hide it. When it was over and she lay battered and bloody , part of her wanted to call Simon. Get him here to wipe Tony, her mother and this whole fucking nightmare out of existence...but it wasn’t his fight.

This was hers. And , though she felt beaten, Tessa was not broken.
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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Simon Toews » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:33 pm

The roar of the crowd could be heard from the cages. The kids were stuffed in there, and a grim demeanor swept over all. Simon’s body was wracked with pain from the beating he’d received, and the panicked confusion at what was happening.

The door creaked open, the kids all cowering as two burly men forced their way into the crowded room. The two of them looked over the throng.

“Two.” One said to the other.

There was general panicked murmurs as they all tried to make themselves small. Except for a few. They were the ones who lived for this. Hardened fighters who saw the only freedom they had in these fights.

They moved through them, touching the shoulder of one of the meek young ones. The kid immediately started bawling and trying to escape as he was dragged off. Simon’s heart pounded against his chest as the men moved further in.

They were coming for him. He just knew it. The hand reached out for him. He clamped his eyes shut and waited for the inevitable.

But it didn’t happen. Instead he felt someone from behind push past him. A bigger kid that looked like he’d seen more than his fair share of fights. Maybe it wasn’t his time. Not yet.

“You need to stay small.” The familiar voice behind him muttered quietly.

Simon turned to find Anna, fading back into the shadow as best she could. Try as she might, , the brilliant mess of red hair gave her away.

“I did.” He replied.

“Really?” She said, annoyed. “You looked them in the eye. That’s the dumbest thing you can do. You might as well send up a flare and yell ‘pick me, pick me.’”

He wasn’t sure why the rush of embarrassment rushed through him just then, but he could feel the burning in his face.

“They’re gunning for you.” She said, a thousand yard stare directed through the locked door. “You embarrassed Stills the other day. You get in that ring and he’ll make sure you hurt. Bad. Probably put you up against one of the bigger kids.”

Simon felt the need to act tough. Whether it was genuine or if he just wanted to impress her, he couldn’t say. “I can take care of myself.”

He felt her hand grab his shoulder and yank him around hard. The girl was strong. “Listen, you dumb bastard! I’m trying to save your stupid little life! You have no idea what’s in store for you. You think you’re tough because you landed a lucky punch? They will beat you into the ground and leave you mangled and bloody. And then...then it gets worse.”

There was a distant look in her green eyes that sent a chill through him. Anna had seen true horrors in her young life. Horror he could not imagine. Before he could enquire further, the roar of a crowd flooded in, the doors opening and a limp, battered body dragged along. The burly man carrying him tossed the unconscious kid in a corner like a sack of potatoes.

Anna got low, keeping her eyes to the ground, so Simon followed suit, his eyes on her tattered, filthy sneakers.

“Round two, mongrels!” The man shouted. Simon heard the clang of the cell opening and almost flinched. Whimpers resounded as the adult pushed through the group, looking for their next fighters.

A laugh that sent chills up his spine came just before he heard “You.”

For a moment he was certain his time had come. But the hand didn’t touch him. He allowed himself to calm as he heard someone move through the crowd of children to go into the ring. One of the bigger, more aggressive kids, he was certain. God help his opponent. He dared let his eyes flick up to Anna. It was as if she could sense his gaze. She turned those bright green eyes up to him, and offered the barest hint of a smile.

But it suddenly faded, replaced with...something else. She quickly looked away. Before the confusion could fully set in, a rough hand jerked him back around. The big man sneered down at him. “Yeah. Stills is gonna love this. You’ll do nicely.”

Simon’s heart seemed to stop. As he was being dragged forward, he panicked, trying to resist against the much stronger man. “You better knock that shit off before I get angry kid!” He snarled.

Simon reared back and spat right in his face. The backhand that followed took the young boy off his feet and had him stumbling into the others. His face stung and his eyes were a bit blurry when he was put into a headlock and dragged out toward the arena. He clawed and pulled to no avail, stopping only after catching eyes with Anna. She looked sad and a bit defeated, giving the slightest shake of her head.

Then, he just stopped, watching her slowly disappear into shadows.
"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 Simon Toews » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:35 pm

The roar was deafening, the sudden flood of bright lights disorienting. Simon found himself tossed aside onto the ground, dirt puffing up in a cloud around him and into his mouth. His ribs ached as he coughed it up. The dazed boy looked around, men and women in suits, the rich and powerful, all surrounded him, cheering and blood thirsty. It took him a moment to gather his bearings as he pushed himself up onto his feet. He could see the splatters of blood all around the ring from the previous fight. Distantly, he wondered if the boy they’d brought back had been alive at all.

The thought was short lived as he beheld his opponent. The kid had him by 9 inches and probably about 30 lbs. Scars littered his shirtless body. This wasn’t some scared welp. This was a pubescent gladiator. He stared at Simon with a burning hatred the young man had never known before. It was almost enough to make him turn tail and run.

Stills walked around the caged-in arena, holding a cordless microphone. “Ladies and Gentlemen! We have a fresh face in the pit tonight!”

The high-priced lowlives all screamed in excitement, holding fistfuls of money like Simon had never seen.

“Let’s give a warm welcome...to SIMON!”

Again, that crowd roared.

“And in the other corner. You know him, you love him...Nicholas: The SKULL SPLITTER!” The cheer that erupted was loud enough it hurt Simon’s ears. He winced and backed into his corner, desperately looking for a way out. The entire arena was caged in with razorwire wrapped around the top.

“You know the rules, folks. And what are they?” Still rose a fist, prompting them all to shout “NO. RULES!”

Simon turned and grabbed the chainlink fencing and pounded for all he was worth. “HELP! PLEASE! GET ME OUT OF HERE!”

He knew it was futile. He could see in their eyes this just enticed them further. No, he would not find salvation here. These weren’t decent people. These were privileged, sick animals. They wanted blood. His blood.

It was only the rising cacophony that alerted him to his approaching opponent. The older boy lunged, grabbing for him, but Simon managed to duck away, backpedaling quickly. He held his hands up to Nicholas. “Please! Please don’t!”


The older boy stalked toward him, a predatory look in his eyes. If he felt any sort of pity, it did not show. Simon was screwed. The only thing he decided he could do was try and run. Climb out where maybe the razor wire had a gap. He turned to do exactly that, but found a hand gripping tight to his hair. Simon’s head snapped back as he was yanked by Nicholas. He could feel strands ripping out from his scalp, his body falling helplessly to his back.

The boy they called “Skull Splitter” quickly straddled him and grabbed his throat. Simon wriggled and struggled, trying in vain to pry the stronger hands from around his neck. White bursts of light flashed in his eyes as his brain was deprived of oxygen, his eyes bulging from their socket. In a last ditch effort, he clenched a fist and threw a blind punch. Knuckles connected with throat and Nicholas’ grip on him loosened. Young Simon gripped his attacker and shoved him off to one side of him, coughing and sputtering as he tried to crawl away.

But the older boy was not out yet. He jumped onto Simon’s back and gripped him by the hair, smashing the smaller boy’s face into the ground again and again and again to thunderous applause. Dirt mingled with blood running from his temple, Simon trying to do everything he could to fight back.

Finally, a closed fist backhand caught Nicholas in the jaw. It hurt Simon almost as much as it hurt his opponent, his hand aching from the impact. Nicholas just got angrier. He pulled the younger boy to his feet and lashed out, jabbing him the face. One. Two. Three. Lighting quick punches that didn’t drop him, but kept Simon from holding any sort of ground.

The people surrounding them howled. They were loving this completely one-sided fight. He finally fell back against the fence, clinging to the links to even stay vertical. Nicholas appeared to him in double vision, his head swimming from the beating he was being dealt. The older boy cocked a fist back, ready to deliver an ending blow, just as Simon’s vision came back to normal.

Simon ducked away immediately, Nicholas’ fist slamming into a pole and letting out a telltale crack that said he would have to learn to be a southpaw for a little bit. Simon moved in quick and threw a punch. It connected with the bigger boy’s face, but this time, Simon knew he was hurting more. Agony shot up his arm, his fist feeling like a ball of burning white pain. He clutched his wrist with his free hand, screaming. He’d broken his hand. My god, he’d broken his damn hand!

Nicholas was sent reeling from the blow, but he knew how to take a punch. He turned to Simon, blood trickling out of a fresh cut from his cheek. The younger boy was more concerned with his injured hand than the towering monster before him. Simon looked up just in time for Nicholas’ heel to connect with his chest. The smaller fighter was sent flying back into the cage, the back of his head clanging off a pole.

Simon’s body crumpled to the ground, exhausted and battered. “Skull Splitter” was on him immediately, kicking him hard in the stomach and chest. Simon tried all he could to ball up to protect himself, but it just was not working. He just lay there, wheezing and groaning until Nicholas had finally had his fill.

His hands shaking, his body in utter agony, Simon tried crawl away to the boo’s of the crowd. Nicholas pulled him up onto his knees and held him like a fisherman showcasing his latest catch. They roared in approval.

Simon wanted every last one of them dead. He wanted their lines ended, their empires crushed. He wanted to burn every man and woman in that room to the fucking ground.

Nicholas’ fist connected with his face, Simon’s head snapping to one side and jerking back after the blow. It took a moment for the flashing white light that accompanied Simon’s pain to go...but then the world just went dark.

Simon lay upon the ground, still breathing but out for the count. He’d gotten the tar beaten out of him...and these people loved it. If it was the last thing he did he’d get even with them. With all of them...especially the man who’d put him there. One day, Falk would pay.
"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 Corrine Paige » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:55 pm

“What the Hell happened?”

Corrine was livid. The one armed woman paced back and forth as Simon sat like a little kid getting chastised by a parent. One moment, she was finishing up some work at the agency and the next she was getting word that not only had Simon been fired, he’d actually attacked Tessa’s...well, she wasn’t entirely sure what he was,beyond Mary Bradley’s boytoy.

Simon knew the deal. No fighting. But Corrine knew how hard he’d been working at changing. Maybe he deserved the benefit of the doubt. Didn’t mean she had to like it, of course, but some credit was due. Those brilliant blue eyes turned up to her. The shame in them wasn’t from what he’d done to the man. It was the feeling he’d let her down. That was new.

“They were deliberately putting her in danger.” He said. “I protected the girl like I was supposed to and they fired me.”

“Yeah” Paige’s brow cocked. “And when, exactly, did suckerpunching the boyfriend come into play?”

She saw defiance in his eyes when he looked up, sharply. “When he was moving in to hit her.”

Corrine balked at him, her brows rising high. “He’s hitting her?” She asked incredulously. How the hell dumb were these people that they would risk injury to their meal ticket? She’d met Mary Bradley. The woman was about as warm and cuddly as a rattlesnake, but she certainly LOVED the lifestyle that girl’s talent provided for her.

“He bragged about it to me the day I met him. I made it pretty damn clear what would happen if he ever did.” There wasn’t a word strong enough to describe the hatred Simon had for that man. “He’s a predator. He got less than he deserved.”

Corrine sat beside him, finger and thumb to the bridge of her nose. There was a small part of her that still didn’t quite believe him. But the rational part had met Tony, and he seemed every bit capable of what Simon described. Plus...it WAS kind of the tattooed mess’s MO.

“We need to get her out of there.” Simon said.

“You get the girl to come forward, sure.” Paige said. “You think you can manage that?”

Simon grimaced. He’d seen that look in her eye. It was one he’d had in the past. This foolish idea that only the weak reported abuse. The strong survived it and turned it on their abusers. Tessa Bradley was not one to ask for a savior. She was in control of her own destiny, her own survival. She would handle her parents in her own way.

“That might not be so easy.”

“Then we may be shit outta luck.” Paige said grimly.

On the muted TV, a story crossed the news desk, reporting that Tessa had cancelled concerts and appearances over the next couple weeks due to illness. Simon and Paige knew exactly what kind of illness she had. Whatever that rat fuck had done must have been REALLY bad that she couldn’t even go out into public.

“Corrine.” Simon said in a low voice.

“I know.” She said quietly. That tone was all too familiar. He was on the verge of doing something crazy. “I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime...you stay cool, you got me? Don’t go doin’ that ‘Simon Toews, burnin’ down the whole fuckin’ neighborhood’ thing, yeah?”

She knew it was all that was on his mind. He wasn’t a subtle man, Simon. When he went after someone, it was scorched earth. Frankly, she was stunned Tony was even still alive. Paige would work to get the girl protected, possibly removed from their custody. But until then, she’d keep her friend on a leash as long as she could...but eventually the dam would break, and Hell would come to that man. And God help him when it did.
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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Simon Toews » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:56 pm

Darkness had enveloped him. The world went away. He’d been beaten, and badly. Consciousness was slow to return, but with it, was pain. Every bit of him ached, the sharpest pain in his hand. It was cold and damp in the cell, the concrete floor harsh and uncomfortable. It was the cold rag on his face that fully brought him to.

Panic filled his bloodshot eyes, red like and ink stain around the bright blue iris. The result of a burst blood vessel. Simon had to squeeze his eyes closed to shut out the blinding light from above.

“Easy.” Anna said, wiping his forehead gently with the rag. “Just relax. You took a pretty good beating.”

Simon’s eyes eventually adjusted, taking her in. She had scrapes and bruises and her knuckles were scabbed over and red, but for the most part, the girl looked fine. Those red locks pulled back in a loose ponytail that left a few strands hanging.

“Are you okay?” He croaked out reaching his good hand toward her face. The girl shied away and brushed his hand aside.

“I’m fine.” she insisted, a hint of impatience in her voice that took him aback. He didn’t have much time to consider it, though. A stabbing pain tore through his arm distracted him as he tried to move.

“It’s broken.” She told him. “Try not to move it too much.”

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.” He responded wryly.

Anna didn’t so much as crack the slightest grin. Her mind was elsewhere at that moment. Simon watched her wash her hands in a bowl The everpresent sadness within the girl was hard to miss, but even in those moments, she was still kind to him.

“Thank you.” He said quietly. “For taking care of me.”

She froze a moment, her entire body tensing. Anna refused to make eye contact. “Don’t.” She muttered, scrubbing harder. “Don’t thank me.”

“But, if it weren’t for you, I don’t think I’d survive this.” He said, wincing as he sat himself up.

“You won’t.” She said. “And if I was REALLY doing you a favor? I’d have put that pillow over your head while you were asleep. You think it’s bad now? Because you got a few broken bones? You have no fucking clue.”

His battered brow furrowed in confusion. “Then why?”

“Because you’re weak.” Her voice took on a disgusted, annoyed edge. “And I don’t need your death on my conscience. Not if I can do something about it. Not yet.”

“You’re...pitying me?” Somehow, that hurt more than his bruised and beaten body.

“Good a word as any.”

He didn’t know what else to say. Or if there was anything else to say. He just blinked and lowered his eyes.

Once again, the clank of the cell door called their attention away. Anna had the look of prey in the presence of a predator as a figure stepped into the room. Simon’s eyes were still struggling to adjust and he couldn’t quite make out the man. Not until...that voice.

Calm. Easy. Just the hint of an accent he couldn’t place. “Anna? It’s time.”

Falk. He’d never forget that voice. One day he swore he’d hear it beg him for mercy. Mercy that it would not receive.

Anna closed her eyes and took in a deep, bracing breath. She pushed herself up onto her feet and made her way over with as much dignity as she could muster.

Simon looked from Falk to her and back, panic meeting with a sense of inevitable dread. “Wait. Anna, where are you going?”

She didn’t answer. Didn’t look back.

“Anna!” He called after her trying to get to his feet. His legs were still too weak, and pain ran wild through his body. He collapsed onto the ground with a yelp.

Falk gently placed a hand on Anna’s back, guiding her out toward the corridor, watching as she was escorted away by Falk’s men.

Falk stood silent, his back to Simon. His suit was immaculate, his dark beard and hair perfectly coiffed. Simon glared up at him, propped on his one good hand.

“Where are you taking her?” He snarled.

Falk glanced back, staring at him. He gave a little whistle and a lackey came up with a folding chair, brushing past him and setting it up near the wounded boy. Falk put his hands in his pockets and ambled on over, taking a seat. He leaned forward, elbows propped upon his knees, keen eyes studying the boy.

Simon felt like an animal in a zoo. Trapped.

“How is your hand?” Falk asked as if he gave a rat’s ass.

“Where did you take Anna?” He said with as low a growl as his young voice could muster.

Falk continued on as if he hadn’t heard. “They tell me it will be some time before it’s properly healed.”

“WHERE IS SHE?!” Simon demanded, trying not to wince at the sudden stab of pain in his ribs.

Falk eyed him like a disappointed parent. “Manners. We’ll have to work on manners.”

Fuck your manners. Why are you doing this?”

Falk pulled his lips between his teeth, controlling his own temper before again addressing the boy.

“ I am simply a broker, boy. Do you know what a broker is, Simon?” He asked patiently. “A broker provides things of value to those who are in a position to request his services. My clientele have...particular demands. I fulfill their needs in exchange for my own payment.”

“By pitting children against one another? You’re a monster.”

Falk quietly sniffed a laugh. “Don’t be naive. There are no such things. There are just people. People with desires and needs. It is not my place to judge them, just as it is not my place to deny them.”

“You’re killing us. We’re only kids!” Simon argued.

Falk regarded him curiously, his brow furrowing. “Let me tell you a story, Simon.”

The boy clearly didn’t want to listen, he just glared. Falk went on, nonetheless.

“When I was a boy, I lived in a small village in Istovia. Not a town of much importance, just a little hamlet right in the middle of nowhere. The first 8 years of my childhood were happy. Typical, storybook fare. My father would take me hunting, camping...generally, a good man. But when I turned 8, there was a revolution. The Separatists overthrew our government, and began hunting down those who dissented. My father was one of them. When they arrived that winter with their tanks and their guns, we fled into the woods with nothing but the clothes on our backs and a rifle. We were nearly frozen to death every night, scarcely daring to light a fire lest they see us. They hunted us like dogs for a month before they finally caught up. Mother did not survive. A bullet to the back of her neck brought her down. When I tried to rescue her, my father dragged me away. It took him hitting me in the face to calm me. I can still feel the tears freezing to my cheeks.”

Falk inhaled deeply, lost in the memory. “‘Never show them, Jakob.’ he told me. ‘Never let them know they’ve hurt you. Your tears will not help. They will not bring your mother back.’”

Once again those green eyes settled on Simon, back in the present.

“Father became ill after that, coughing blood every night into his handkerchief. He lasted only two weeks. One night, I tried to wake him when a patrol came near, but he had died in his sleep, his eyes wide open and lifeless when I turned him over. So, I took my father’s rifle and I ran. I ran until my lungs felt on fire, but they were still coming for me. So I climbed a tree and I waited. When they came into the clearing, I took aim with my rifle...and one-by-one, I killed them. Then, I was alone again. I’ve never known a chill so harsh as that year’s winter. I spent months in that forest, hunting them as they hunted me, killing as I went, taking shelter where I could. Frostbite took two of my toes by the end, and I’d been shot 3 times, always scraping by and surviving by the skin of my teeth. When the spring came and the snow went away, so, too, had the patrols. The revolution had ended and the Separatists were, themselves, overthrown and executed. I was 9 years old. A child, but not anymore. I was a survivor and I was stronger for it. And so, too will you be...if you have the will.”

Simon stared at him, finally he’d gotten to the point. It did little to quell the disgust for the man.

“I learned as a child that my blood could spill just as easily as an adult. Age is merely a number of little consequence. Life is a privilege meant for the strong. It must be earned and the weak do not survive because they do not *deserve* to. One day, hopefully, you will understand that.” Falk said, rising from his seat, folding it shut and walking toward the cell door.

As the guard let him out, the older man turned to face Simon. “Rest. Recover. This is just the beginning.”

Falk took his leave then, the guard locking the door behind him. Simon lay there, the words of Anna and Falk both echoing in his head. Anna had called him weak, and maybe she was right. He HAD been weak. Scared. Emotionally dependent upon her. In that moment, he swore to himself he never would be again. He would earn his right to live.
"I don't need to fight. To prove I'm right. I don't need to be forgiven. "
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Simon Toews
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Re: Chapter Four: Ghosts

Post by Simon Toews » Thu Jan 10, 2019 3:57 pm

Simon sat outside the highrise, waiting for his new client to come down and meet him. Some bigshot CEO, he’d been told. That world never really interested him, outside of the paycheck, but a gig was a gig. It had been weeks since the blow out with Tessa’s parents. Corrine pulled some serious strings to get him here. Part of him considered taking the generous chunk of money Tahlia had kicked his way and live off that for a while...but two weeks without work and he was going stir crazy.

Simon wasn’t a “sit around the house” kind of guy. Part of him missed life on Virgil’s farm. The routine had done him a world of good when he’d needed it most. He rearranged the condo twice before Corrine got home and tore him a new one. He’d never admit it, but if we was honest, he spent most of that time looking for any information on Tessa. He saw that she had tour dates, so she must have healed up since that night. Simon couldn’t get her off his mind. He felt responsible, as if he’d abandoned her. It ate at him every second he wasn’t occupied with something else. The day Paige told him about the new job was a gift. The sentiment would not last.

The client exited the building. He was tall, in decent shape. Not a single salt and pepper colored hair was out of place. His impeccably tailored black suit accented with a red power tie. Simon could see him talking before he heard him, yacking away into the Bluetooth headset on his ear. On first sight, Simon could tell he didn’t like this guy. Just the way he moved reeked of an excess of unearned confidence.

The client yanked open the door and slipped in without so much as a “Hello.”

“Triton Corp.”. He said. “123rd and Gale. Radio off.”

Like he was a fucking cab driver. Simon eyed him in the rearview with silent disdain, images playing through his head of dragging the man out of the car and beating him to a pulp, but he just reached over and turned to volume down to zero. The man went right back to talking way too loudly to the person on the other end. Simon summoned up every last bit of patience he had and put the car in drive.

For a half an hour he listened to every racist, misogynistic, homophobic and braggadocious thing this jerk off said, hating him more and more by the second. Simon was actually grateful the son of a bitch barely spared him a glance, let alone a word.

To say the rest of the ride was in silence would be inaccurate, with the client bragging to whoever was on the other end of that call about some hooker he’d fucked. Simon couldn’t help but notice the wedding band around his finger then, the bile rising again. Flashes of men he’d known in his past came in waves. Vicious, soulless men who never quite left his mind. Their faces forever etched upon his being, haunting his dreams. That he was now forced to protect one of them made him sick to his stomach. Suddenly, Tessa Bradley was a breath of fresh air in comparison.

The day went on, Simon playing chauffeur to his deplorable client. Running into convenience stores and getting his food for him, the urge to quit rising by the second. But he needed the work. Grin and bear it, he decided. And if all else fails...just lock him in the car and drive it in the river!

He was forced to escort the man to some meeting with other such bigwigs, but was not allowed in the room. He wound up sitting in the waiting room, alone with the secretary. Pretty girl with auburn hair done up in a professional, tight bun. Ice blue eyes kept flicking his way. Whether it was out of nervousness or intrigue, he couldn’t tell. Simon was aware of the positives and negatives of his appearance and his effect on other people. Some women saw a tough, sexpot. Others saw a possible danger that was more likely to be escorted by cops than leave of his own volition. He just offered that mildly bemused little smile and nodded her way whenever he caught her.

The secretary forced a polite smile and went back to work, burying her head in her typing. Simon watched her out of the corner of his eye a moment.

“You like working here?” He asked her, disliking the silence.

She looked up, almost startled, her brows rising upwards. “Hm?”

“Working for these guys. You like it?”

“Oh…”She said, a bit awkwardly, glancing back toward the door. “Uh...yeah. It’s got its moments.”

That amused little smirk crossed his face. He could tell she was lying. “Does it?”

For a moment she looked unsure, almost offended. She went to speak, but the words didn’t come. Instead, a little grin came over her features.

“I gotta tell ya,” he said “If it’s half as fun as my job, I’m thinkin’ you and me should go halfsies on lobotomies.”

A little chuckle left her, but she immediately tried to suppress it, lest they somehow magically were listening.

“Guy’s a fuckin’ nightmare…” Simon chuckled. “What’s your name?”

“Bridgette.” She said, visibly relaxing a bit.

“Simon.” He said, hand to his chest.

“What do you do, Simon? Personal assistant?”

“Bodyguard.” He responded.

Those blue eyes of her’s ran over him and she nodded. “Yeah. That makes sense.”

“Yeah?” Simon said wryly. “Tell him that. Fucker thinks I’m his goddamn go-fer.”

Bridgette glanced back at the door a moment and leaned forward conspiratorially. “To be honest, they’re all like that.” She said with a roll of her eyes. “I swear, another one of them walks by and stares at my chest like they’re the damn stock market, I think I’m going to scream.”

Simon grinned and nodded. “What is this place? What do...uh...what do they do?”

“Oh. We oversee a lot of the trade coming into and out of the city. Or...they do, I suppose.” She muttered.

“But not you?” He said.

“I fetch them coffee and bring them papers.” She practically pouted.

“Not the dream job.” He nodded.

“No. Not at all.” she grimaced.

“Well, sister. I feel your pain.” He said standing up from that Italian leather chair and started toward a cubby hole in one corner of the room, stopping and glancing her way. “Coffee?”

There was a moment of panic in Bridgette’s face then. “Oh. Um...you-” she glanced back at the door. “I should really be getting that for you.”

Simon made a face. “Come on. Old friends like us? I can do you a solid.” he joked.

“No. I could get fired.” She said firmly. It stopped Simon in his tracks. “I shouldn’t even be talking to you like this.”

Simon frowned. What a life they lead. Terrified of losing something they hated. Part of him thought he would have been better off if he did. As much as the world put forth the idea that people are all in control of their own destinies, he knew better. Men like his client, like her employer...they had real power. They had sway. Simon could take a life, end it quick, but these men could take a livelihood. Bleed people out until they had nothing. Make them wish they were dead.

The door opened and the businessmen filed out talking and laughing loudly, making sure everyone could hear how clever and hilarious they weren’t. Bridgette immediately ducked down and went back to typing. The client didn’t even address him upon exiting, just walked right past him. It was a nigh imperceptible glance, but he caught a look from her. Wordlessly, they said to each other “Good Luck.”
"I don't need to fight. To prove I'm right. I don't need to be forgiven. "
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