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THE CODE


The Code


“I don’ t want to die.” Rico pleaded, his voice quivering with desperation, as he clung to the fragile thread of life. His body shook, and tears streamed down his face as he looked up at his opponent, a plea for mercy in his eyes. “I promise you I won’t do it again, I didn’t mean it, please don’t let me die.”

Brandon shook his head slowly, a painful acknowledgment of the situation. “Don’t do that young blood. You’re a man, right?”

Rico’s breaths were ragged, his chest heaving as he struggled to find the words. “I’m…a man.” He managed to say, his voice strained but genuine.

“Go out like a man, no tears in the end young blood.”

Rico felt a surge of emotion welling up inside him, the vulnerability of the moment breaking through the tough exterior he had tried to maintain he pushed down the urge to weep. Rico wiped his tear-streaked face, summoning a last reserve of resolve. Rico took a deep, shuddering breath, finding a strange calmness amidst the turmoil. “No tears,” he repeated, exhaling slowly. With a final look, his eyes locked with Brandon’s, a sense of peace washing over him as he embraced the end, just like that, he was gone, died with his eyes open.

***



Six Months Ago


Professor Brandon Anderson stood at the front of the classroom, engaged in a spirited debate with Alicia Nelson, one of his most brilliant and opinionated students. The topic at hand was weighty, and emotions ran high.

“Should we celebrate our enemies who have fallen in battle?” Professor Anderson posed the question, his gaze directed more pointedly at Alicia than the rest of the class.

“Absolutely not,” Alicia replied, her conviction evident in her voice and stance.

“But by not acknowledging, let’s say, the fallen German soldiers from World War II, who might have been driven by a sense of patriotism to their country, are we not abandoning our capacity for compassion?” Professor Anderson pressed, delving deeper into the moral complexities.

Alicia snorted, her disagreement palpable. “First off, no disrespect to the Jewish people and the unimaginable suffering they endured, but I can’t answer that. I’m not Jewish, and I can’t truly relate to that experience. And before you start drawing parallels between the Holocaust and the African slave trade, don’t bother. In my eyes, those tragedies don’t compare, and they never will. But, if you want to put it in terms I can relate to, let’s talk about the slaves who fought on the side of the Confederate army. In that case, my answer is a resounding fuck no —excuse my language, but yeah, fuck no.”

Alicia’s words carried a mixture of honesty, sensitivity, and a deep connection to her own history. The classroom fell momentarily silent, as the weight of her response settled in. It was clear that she spoke from a place of personal experience and conviction, challenging the idea of honoring those who had fought on the wrong side of history.

Professor Anderson regarded Alicia with respect, recognizing the sincerity of her perspective. This exchange wasn’t just about academic discourse; it touched on matters of identity, historical pain, and moral judgment. The debate continued, but from that point forward, it was evident that Alicia’s voice carried a unique weight in this discussion.

The classroom was alive with the charged atmosphere of a heated discussion. Professor Anderson and Alicia continued to exchange perspectives, their arguments striking chords with the students. Laughter followed Alicia’s retort, revealing the diverse reactions to her blunt honesty. Professor Anderson, undeterred, responded with a thought-provoking question that aimed to challenge Alicia’s stance.

“Are they not your ancestors?” he asked, his voice firm. “Weren’t they in bondage, just like the melanin brothers and sisters who fought on the side of the Union army?”

Alicia rolled her eyes, brushing off his point with dismissive laughter. “Nah, bro, those might have been your peoples, but they weren’t mine.”

Professor Anderson couldn’t help but smirk, appreciating the candidness of her response. Alicia continued, using a colorful analogy to drive her point home. “For the sake of argument, let’s say Uncle Ruckus was my, quote, ‘ancestors,’ she said, making air quotes with her fingers. “I look at them just like I look at the uncle that your aunties won’t leave their kids alone with because they know he was touching on kids back in the day. They won’t kill him or have him locked up, or at the very least, they disown him from the family.”

“And how is that?” Professor Anderson inquired, genuinely curious.

“With disdain, disgust, and disrespect,” Alicia responded confidently. “I don’ t fuck with them, and they know it. Period.”

“I know that’s right, no love.” A female student yelled out in agreement amplifying the sentiment.

The discussion took a turn as Professor Anderson shifted the topic to a recent film. “Let’s pivot the conversation since we’re on that trajectory. Who here has seen ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ ?” he asked.

“Good movie!” a male student exclaimed.

Another student chimed in, expressing a mixed view. “It was cool, but it felt a little watered down. But, hey, what do you expect from white Hollywood?”

Professor Anderson nodded, acknowledging the perspective. “Cool, so my question is, to anyone who can argue a point supporting what informant William O’Neal said in a 1985 televised interview, that he was a part of the struggle even if he was used as an instrument to have brother Chairman Hampton assassinated and should be celebrated as such in history.”

The room fell silent, the weight of the question evident as students looked around, contemplating their response. Seeing the hesitation, Professor Anderson posed another compelling question. “Alright, let me pivot once more. What’s the difference between him being an informant against the movement versus those who don’t report crimes in the neighborhood?”

The bell rang, signaling the end of class, but the discussion clearly had more to offer. “We’ll pick this discussion up at the start of class next week. Have a good weekend,” Professor Anderson concluded, leaving the students with much to ponder in the days ahead.

The aftermath of the intense classroom discussion left a heavy atmosphere as the students packed up their belongings and prepared to leave. A series of urgent alerts simultaneously pinged on their phones, and Professor Anderson, too, was drawn into the unfolding news. The room filled with a mixture of confusion, shock, and sorrow as they learned about the tragic police shooting of a twelve-year-old boy and his twin sister in Morgan Park, sparking protests and unrest in the community.

“I got the same alert as y’all,” Professor Anderson began, addressing the concerns and emotions of his students. “If you’re going to be out there, be safe, and let’s keep our focus on justice. Don’t be taking things that don’t belong to you... but if you happen to find a new 60-inch TV, well, I’m just playing. Watch your back out there.”

A collective chuckle lightened the mood momentarily, and the students gradually filed out of the classroom. Alicia, however, lingered behind, and she had a pointed question for Professor Anderson.

“And what about you, Professor Anderson? Are you going to be out there?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied with a sense of determination.

“Maybe I’ll see you out there,” Alicia teased with a wink, adding a touch of flirtation before leaving.

Professor Anderson watched Alicia’s departing figure, appreciating her youthful energy, her hips swaying from side to side. She was tiny in height, barely five feet, light skinned with black and gold extensions down her back, she was an attractive young woman, not even twenty years old yet, she flirted with him as did most of the young women in his classes, but he never took any of it seriously. He was aware of the boundaries he needed to maintain as a teacher. He took his time gathering his belongings, heading towards his car as the day’s events continued to weigh on him. As he approached his vehicle and popped the trunk to place his brief case and suit jacket inside, a 2023 Dodge Charger SRT Redeye Jailbreak custom painted red and black looked as if it was the official car of the Chicago Bulls pulled up cutting him off from getting to his car.

“The fuck is up man?” Professor Anderson spat out as he stared at the car, he couldn’t see inside in the windows were tinted all around. The driver’s door window slowly came down.

“He wants to talk to you.” The driver of the car said as he extended his hand out the window holding a cell phone.

Professor Anderson walked around the Charger to his car where the trunk was still open and placed his things inside. He loosened his tie and took his time walking back around to the driver’s side of the Charger and taking the phone. ““I don’t appreciate you having Dante roll up on me like that, Odysseus,” Professor Anderson addressed the caller, his tone reflecting both annoyance and concern.

“You can bitch at me another time about my methods; right now, I need to call in that favor, Odysseus responded, his urgency cutting through.”

Professor Anderson chewed the inside of his jaw as he listened. He almost thought he would never ask for the favor; it had been almost two decades, and he’d never asked, and that fact alone emphasized how significant this request must be. He remained silent, giving Odysseus the opportunity to explain further.

“You there?” Odysseus prompted, making sure Professor Anderson was still on the line.

“I hear you. What do you need?” Professor Anderson replied, confirming his commitment to assist.

“You no doubt have heard about the twins that got gunned down, right?’

“I have.”

“They were important to someone that was important to me, I want to do what I can to help, can’t do much from in here.” Odysseus was a prisoner of the USP Thomson Federal prison in Thomson, IL. “So, I’m reaching out to you.”

“Of course, whatever you need,” Professor Anderson affirmed, his words carrying a sense of responsibility and willingness to do what was necessary.

“My guy is being released in the morning. Don’t be late picking him up. You can start there,” Odysseus directed, before ending the call abruptly.

Staring at the phone with mixed emotions he tossed the phone into the window to Danté. “Next time you roll up on me like that lil bruh, it’s going to be me and you.”

“The fuck ever nigga.” Danté rolled up his window, 2Pac’s Ambitionz Az a Ridah came blaring through the speakers shaking the cars parked in the parking lot as he crept off.

***



Back in the World


Brandon’s fingers tapped rhythmically on the steering wheel; his gaze fixed on the road stretching ahead. Summer Walker’s soulful melodies resonated through the car, her soothing tones a stark contrast to the turmoil churning within him. The journey from the South Side to Thomson, IL stretched over three and a half hours, a deliberate choice to grant himself the precious gift of time—time to contemplate, time to weigh his options. The task at hand was a cryptic puzzle. The expanse of asphalt beneath his tires seemed to mirror the choices that lay before him—choices he couldn’t avoid, choices that were entwined with his family’s legacy.

The Interstate 90 stretched out ahead of him, an arterial path connecting two worlds—the respectable life he had crafted as a college professor and the shadowy realm his family had once thrived in. He couldn’t deny his lineage, nor could he escape the sense of duty that tugged at him, reminding him that he was not just Brandon Anderson, but the son of a notorious gangster, a fact that clung to him like a persistent shadow.

He had to decide. It wasn’t if he was going to do what Odysseus wanted him to do, it was how far would he tread into the murky waters of retribution? He shook his head as if that would wash away the thoughts. Truth, was he had no idea what Odysseus wanted and jumping to conclusions was doing him no good.

As the prison complex loomed into view, a mixture of anxiety and anticipation coiled within him. The bristling tension was palpable as he parked his car outside, and in a matter of moments, the car door swung open, and a looming figure stepped in. The door slammed shut with a solid thud, the weight of the past and the present settling in the confined space.

“What up nephew?” Nico’s voice rumbled, breaking the silence. Brandon’s gaze remained fixed on the road, his grip on the steering wheel steady. He shifted the car into drive, the engine’s hum reverberating through the cabin. The pull of the road was his temporary respite from the storm brewing within.

His uncle’s laughter carried with it a mix of familiarity and uncertainty. “I take it Odysseus didn’t tell you who you were picking up, I suppose he has his reasons.” Nico continued, his words laced with a knowing edge. Brandon’s lips tightened, his jaw clenched, but he remained silent. Nico’s presence beside him was a reminder of the choices he was bound to make, the lines he would either cross or uphold.

“He always does, where can I drop you?”

Nico’s demand cut through the air with an air of authority. “Take me to Odysseus’s.”

Brandon glanced at his uncle, a flicker of curiosity in his eyes. “Which one?”

“Gold Coast,” Nico replied, his tone implying that he expected no less than complete obedience.

The questions tugged at Brandon’s lips, but he held them back, his focus returning to the road ahead. The tension in the car was palpable, a silent current flowing between them. Nico’s cryptic intentions, Odysseus’s designs—it was all a labyrinth Brandon was being dragged into.

“You want to tell me what this is all about?” Brandon finally inquired, his gaze steady on the road.

Nico leaned back in the seat, a smirk playing at his lips. “After I get showered, changed, and a decent meal, then we’ll talk business.”

Brandon’s jaw tightened, irritation simmering beneath the surface. “I have shit to do, can’t be sitting around waiting on you all day.”

Nico’s eyes narrowed, a glint of challenge in them. “Well, drop me off and be back by the time I’m ready. But, nephew, when I’m ready, I’m ready. I won’t wait. So, when Odysseus asks why I made moves without you, I’ll let you explain it.”

The words hung heavy in the air, the unspoken implications pressing on Brandon’s conscience. “I’m not Odysseus’s bitch,” he retorted, a flicker of defiance in his voice.

“No one said you were,” Nico replied calmly, his gaze steadily on the passing scenery.

“What are you saying?”

“I said what I had to say.”

Brandon’s fingers tightened on the steering wheel, his frustration mingling with a deeper unease. The power struggle within his family was a constant tug-of-war, each move weighed with implications he struggled to decipher.

With a resigned sigh, Brandon turned the music back on, the lyrics serving as a backdrop to the heavy silence that enveloped them. The road stretched on, a canvas of uncertainty and unresolved tension.

After hours of driving, the city’s skyline finally came into view, the towering structures a testament to power and ambition. They pulled into the parking garage, the purr of the engine cutting off as the car settled into place. Odysseus’s empty parking spot beckoned, an emblem of his control over the Gold Coast.

The doors opened, and both men stepped out, walking toward the elevator with measured steps. Brandon’s eyes flitted over the line of luxury cars, an opulent display of wealth. Maybach, Rolls Royce, Cadillac Truck, Aston Martin—they were all symbols of influence, each vehicle emblematic of a world that Brandon found himself entangled in.

As they ascended to the top floor, anticipation mixed with apprehension. The apartment door awaited them, a gateway to a world of secrets and alliances. A consigliere stood outside, poised and vigilant. The door unlocked, revealing a lavish interior that exuded Odysseus’s taste for opulence.

Nico glanced around, his demeanor a blend of ease and wariness. “Sorry, no cash to tip you, my man. As you can see, I just came home.” He gestured to his prison garb, a reminder of his recent past.

The consigliere raised a hand, dismissing the notion of payment. “No worries, Mr. Ashton has taken care of everything more than adequately. He told me to advise you that anything you need at all, no matter the time, don’t hesitate to ask. I will get it for you.”

The offer hung in the air, a subtle reminder of the power dynamics at play. As the consigliere prepared to leave, Nico’s gaze remained steady, a silent nod.

Nico extended his hand for a firm shake with the consigliere, a silent exchange of respect and acknowledgment. With the consigliere departing, Nico set off to prepare himself in the bathroom. As he tended to his appearance, Brandon found himself wandering through the lavish space, a mix of curiosity and introspection guiding his steps.

Vaulted ceilings stretched above him, imbuing the rooms with an air of grandeur. The minimalistic art adorning the walls juxtaposed the opulence, creating a balanced aesthetic that spoke of Odysseus’ s unique taste. Although Odysseus had been gone for years the condo bore signs of life, as though it had been patiently waiting for its owner’s return. Brandon’s eyes were drawn to the expansive record collection that adorned the walls of the listening room.

He thumbed through the vinyl with a mix of reverence and fascination. The records ranged from classic jazz legends like Sonny Stitt, Anita O’ Day, Hank Mobley, Harry “Sweets” Edison, and Shirley Scott to modern hip-hop icons such as Skepta, Giggs, Dizzee Rascal, Kano, and Steflon Don. In another rack there were 2Pac, Biggie, NWA, Kanye West, and Gang Starr. The eclectic assortment told a story of diverse musical interests, a reflection of Odysseus’ s intricate character.

After leaving that room and wandering through the condo he found himself in the smoking room where Nico was dressed and waiting. If Brandon hadn’t picked him up from prison himself, he would have never believed that he had just been released that day. Standing at five foot eight, two hundred plus pounds, gray beard that hung low and full. His hair, a head full of gray dreadlocks, and hazel eyes. Nico’s attire was impeccable, exuding a blend of elegance and confidence. Every detail spoke of intention, from the white ostrich skin hard bottoms to the custom Patek Philippe watch. The lit Gurkha Royal Courtesan Cigar added a touch of sophistication to the scene as tendrils of smoke curled towards the ceiling.

Brandon couldn’t help but remark, “Odysseus know you’re hitting his private collection?”

Nico’s response carried a hint of nonchalance as he took another drag from his cigar. “He told me to. No sense in letting good go bad, right?” Turning to face Brandon, he added, “You ready to roll, young blood?”

The uncertainty that had been simmering within Brandon was palpable, but Nico’s enigmatic demeanor left him with more questions than answers. “You still haven’t told me what this is all about.”

Nico moved towards the exit, gesturing for Brandon to follow. “In due time, nephew. In due time.”

Back in the garage, as they approached the cars, Nico’s hand landed on Brandon’s chest, stopping him in his tracks. “Leave it. Let’s take the Rolls.”

Brandon chuckled. “I’m not driving this man’s car.”

Nico’s response was firm and unyielding. “You damn right, because I am. Get your ass in the car.”

Not waiting for a response from Brandon Nico got into the driver’s seat, the key FOB sat in the console. Nico pressed the button, and the machine came to life. Brandon stood outside of the car contemplating on getting inside. Tired of waiting Nico blew the horn. Brandon shook his head, opened the passenger door, and climbed inside. Before the door was closed, Nico backed out of the parking space and drove towards the exit of the garage. The door closed and Brandon strapped on his seatbelt.

The streets of the city faded into the rearview mirror as the Rolls Royce glided onward, its sleek form a symbol of both power and prestige. Brandon’s questions hung in the air, suspended like the city’s distant skyline. He turned his gaze toward Nico, searching for clarity in his uncle’s intentions.

“We’re heading to Mount Greenwood,” Nico stated matter-of-factly.

Brandon’s curiosity was palpable. “For what?”

“To talk to the police chief.”

Brandon’s brow furrowed. “About the twins?”

Nico’s response was a simple affirmation. “Yes, sir.”

The notion that Odysseus’s influence still held sway in the face of law enforcement wasn’t lost on Brandon. “Odysseus still holds some weight, I see.”

Nico’s lips curled into a half-smile. “We’ll find out after this meeting.”

A mixture of confusion and concern creased Brandon’s features. “I’m lost about why you need me here?”

Nico’s hand reached out to the radio; the volume turned down to a low murmur. His next words were laden with a gravity that commanded attention. “You know why your daddy never wanted this life for you?”

Brandon’s gaze dropped, his thoughts drifting to his father—an enigmatic figure who had forever straddled the line between family and the criminal underworld. Talking about his father was a tender subject for him.

Nico’s voice continued, unwavering. “Because you were lacking.”

A wry smirk tugged at the corner of Brandon’s mouth. “Lacking, huh?”

Nico nodded with conviction. “Yeah, that killer instinct, that streak of unabashed violence.”

Brandon’s gaze shifted away, his mind processing the weight of his uncle’s words. “Is that all?”

Nico’s affirmation was succinct. “Yeah, that’s all. You’re smart as fuck, strategic, a natural leader. People respect not only your words but also your ability to lead them. You’re a shrewd negotiator. Just too damn nice sometimes.”

The comment brought a knowing smirk to Brandon’s lips. “A character flaw, right?”

Nico chuckled, his laughter resonating through the car. “To a fucking fault. But that’s alright. You get that from your mama.”

Brandon’s expression softened as he looked at Nico. “She always told me I got my smarts, strategic acumen, leadership skills, and shrewdness as a negotiator from her. Compassion and, as you put it, being too damn nice, from you and Daddy’s side of the family.”

Nico’s laughter remained a warm undercurrent. “You ain’t slick. Won’t get me to down-talk Aisha. I’ll let you have that one. Your mama was a G in her own right too.”

A sense of warmth enveloped Brandon as he acknowledged his mother’s strength. “Shid, mama’s still a G.”

Nico’s expression turned serious as he leaned back in his seat, his eyes fixed on the road ahead. “Why you think your daddy left Odysseus in charge instead of me?”

Brandon’s brow furrowed, his mind racing to piece together the puzzle. “When Daddy fled to Angola and left Odysseus in charge, I was always told it was to keep you insulated from being caught up in any R.I.C.O. charges that might come.”

Nico’s deep chuckle resonated. “Man, hell nah. It was the same reason why he kept you out of the life. I was lacking.”

Shock coursed through Brandon’s features. “You?!”

Nico’s voice held a trace of wistfulness. “Everything you’re not. I am. And everything I’m not, you are, nephew. And that’s why Odysseus wants you there. We’re better together. You’re there to be the mouthpiece, to put on your thinking cap and negotiate.”

Brandon nodded slowly, absorbing the revelation. “And you’re there to—”

Nico completed his sentence with a hint of finality. “Help get him across the finish line with unabashed violence, if it goes that way.”

***







Roots of Corruption


Nico’s car eased to a halt along W 111th St, its engine’ slow rumble melding with the tension in the air. Nico exchanged a final glance with Brandon before both men emerged from the vehicle, stepping into a world rife with shadows and unspoken danger.

“You take point, nephew,” Nico’s voice held a steady undertone of command.

“I still don’t know what I’m here for,” Brandon admitted, his uncertainty slicing through the quiet.

“He’ll know,” Nico’s reply was clipped, his gaze sharp as he scanned the surroundings.

“Shouldn’t I?” Brandon’s words hung; an inquiry laced with apprehension.

“The keynotes are simple justice for the twins, financial retribution, emotional reckoning,” Nico’ s voice held the weight of determination.

“And that would be what?”

Brandon’s question was met with a dismissive wave. “Don’t overcomplicate it, young blood. We want the ones who snuffed those kids and a settlement that hits the nine to ten figure mark.”

“Oh, is that all?” Sarcasm dripped from Brandon’s tone, a veneer over the unease beneath.

Nico swung open the bar’s door, a portal to a realm of uncertain alliances, and held it for Brandon as they ventured within. Brandon’s eyes swept the dimly lit space, taking in the patrons shooting pool, hurling darts, and nursing drinks as they watched a Cubs game. Yet, amidst the mundane tableau, his gaze locked onto their target—a lone figure in a pristine police uniform, badge gleaming against the darkness. A cap sat casually on a nearby table, beside a mug of beer and a plate of food.

Standing sentinel at another table was the officer’s driver, eyes sharp and suspicion palpable. He moved to obstruct Brandon and Nico’s path to Newton.

“It’s alright, Sergeant, old acquaintances to pay a visit,” Newton’s voice was measured, his focus on his meal.

Nico positioned himself beside the sergeant, while Brandon seated himself across from Newton. “We were both once part of the Jesse White Tumblers,” Nico introduced, a touch of nostalgia in his voice.

“A venture into the family’s newer endeavors, it seems,” Newton addressed Brandon with a sardonic edge.

Brandon didn’t waver, his resolve matching the grit in his voice. “You’ve had time to consider our proposal?”

“Not as much as I’ve had time to marvel at the audacity of a man who thinks he can strong-arm the Chief of Police,” the sergeant chuckled, a sinister amusement in his tone. Newton carried on, his gaze unwavering. “These folks are lost in a fantasy.”

“My uncle believed you were reasonable, that you’d make the right call,” Brandon persisted, his words echoing with conviction.

“Odysseus must be truly desperate if he sends you,” Newton’s derision cut deep, his words dripping with dismissal. “Boy, you’re playing a dangerous game.”

Unfazed, Brandon motioned to himself, then indicated Nico, and finally back to Newton. “You tell me, how can we help you right this wrong?”

“Get the fuck out of here before I run you in, this ain’t the 90’s no more, theirs a new Sherriff in town.”

Nico took a step towards Newton. Without looking back, Brandon held his hand up causing Nico to pause in his tracks.

“One last time, I’m extending an olive branch,” Brandon’s voice carried a blend of urgency and insistence, the gravity of the situation infusing his words. “You’ve watched the video, just like we’ ve seen—the officers were wrong. Forget that thin blue line; it won’ t shield you, police chief or not. Brother, even your subordinate here knows it.”

Newton remained silent, his focus steadfast on his meal, a tacit acknowledgment that the confrontation had reached its apex.

Undeterred, Brandon checked his watch, a gesture that sliced through the tense silence. “You’ve got until this time tomorrow to hand over those officers and to hold a press conference—an announcement that the city of Chicago has found common ground, agreeing to compensation for those kids’ family. An amount, mind you, that will remain undisclosed.” Leaning in, he whispered with a measured intensity, “But just so you know, that undisclosed amount equates to twenty-five million per child, post-taxes and lawyer’s fees.”

Reclining in his seat, Brandon exhaled slowly, his gaze unwavering as Newton’s palms met the table’s surface with a resounding thud. “You son of a...” Newton’s anger clawed at his words, only to be cut off by Nico’s sudden, calculated move. Two pistols materialized in Nico’s hands, one aimed squarely at each officer.

As Newton rallied to continue his tirade, a cold edge tinged his words directed at Brandon. “I thought you were the smart one. Boy, you’ve just gambled away your future, no better than Odysseus. And you, Nico, your prison cell hasn’t even grown cold, and here you are, ready to step back in.”

“Might be,” Nico’s voice bore a chilling certainty, “but rest assured, you won’t survive long enough to witness it.”

With the tension palpable, Brandon stood, his chair scraping against the floor in a jarring reminder of the stakes. “Twenty-four hours, Chief.” His final words were marked by a decisive finality as he strode past Nico and out into the open air, leaving the room’s charged atmosphere behind.

Nico followed, a calculated retreat, his steps measured as he backed toward the exit, his pistols an unyielding reminder that danger lingered. The door closed behind them, severing the thread of confrontation, but the weight of their ultimatum lingered, a storm on the horizon.

In the fading twilight, as they retreated to their car, the countdown began—a relentless rhythm, echoing the heartbeat of a city teetering on the brink of reckoning.

***



“What the fuck was that?” Brandon yelled as they got onto the expressway, Nico pressed the gas and pushed past 80 mph.

“Calm down,” Nico expressed almost at a whisper.

“What happened to letting me take lead?”

“I did.”

“You did?”

“Did I unleash any violence?”

Shit, at this point you might as well have. We embarrassed them; they are not going to let that slide. Every cop in the city is probably looking for us.”

Nico’s eyes narrowed, his mind racing. “And what do you want me to do about that?”

Brandon laughed sarcastically. “Nothing, don’t do nothing else, let me think.”

“Well while you think, I’m going to get food.”

Brandon threw his hand on his forehead and closed his eyes. “Food? Of course, you’re hungry, this is the perfect time to think about food.”

“I can’t think of a better time.” Brandon eyed Nico angrily, turned his head and looked out his car door window, watched as they passed the other cars on the expressway. Nico continued, a touch of amusement in his voice. “Think fast, nephew. Odysseus isn’t big on rumors, but there’s a good chance he’s heard about what just went down or he will soon, and he’ll be calling for an update.”

Brandon didn’t turn and faced Nico. “Not right now, Nico.”

“I’m just saying.” He turned on the radio and turned the volume up. The sounds of Al Green’s Love and Happiness filled the inside of the car as he pressed the gas and pushed it to 90 mph.

***



After the thirty-minute drive, Nico eased the car to a stop at the Soul Kitchen on West 5th Ave in Gary, IN right outside Chicago. He turned the engine off and got out of the car, Brandon following suit. Nico opened the door followed closely by Brandon and walked in. He nodded at the cashier, and they proceeded to the back through the kitchen. After a few handshakes and hugs from the employees, he stopped at the grill where a short redbone female stood, her hair braided in extensions with a pink bandanna wrapped around her head. She wore a Gza Liquid Swords t-shirt and black khakis covered by a black apron.

“What up, D?” Nico’s voice carried warmth as he leaned against the counter.

She stopped her cooking and half turned, her eyes widening with recognition. “Nico! When did you get out?”

“This morning.” Their hug was filled with familiarity and affection, leaving Brandon standing slightly apart, observing.

As they pulled away from the hug, Dakota’s gaze swept over Nico, and she smiled, a glint of something more behind her eyes. Another hug followed, and then she finally acknowledged Brandon with a smile. Nico gestured between them. “D, this is Brandon, Brandon D.”

Her handshake was firm as she looked at Brandon, her gaze holding a mix of curiosity and assessment. “Nice to meet you, and the name is Dakota.”

Brandon’s grip matched hers, but his demeanor remained guarded. “Nice to meet you, Dakota.”

She turned her attention back to Nico, an air of familiarity lingering between them. “So, if you’re here, you’re either A.) hungry or B.) done got into some mess already.”

Nico chuckled, a glint of mischief in his eyes. “Come on, D, how you going come at me like that?”

Brandon’s curiosity was piqued, and his gaze sharpened. “Umm, hmm. After you eat, my truck is parked out back. You can take that. The keys to the loft in Miller Beach are in the glove box. How long you two planning on staying?”

Nico answered as he scooped gumbo into his bowl. “We’ll be in and out, I don’t know how long though.”

Dakota’s smile held a hint of intrigue as she turned to Brandon. “You hungry?”

Brandon’ s refusal was curt. “I’m good.”

“Cool, well, unless you two want to put on an apron, y’all going to need to get out of my kitchen. I’ ll have one of the guys get your car off the street.” She leaned in towards Nico, and he met her halfway, planting a kiss on her forehead.

“I’ ll be to see you in a few days. We can sit down and catch up for real.” Nico’s voice was tinged with anticipation as he sat his bowl down and headed towards the exit door from the kitchen.

Dakota’s gaze lingered on Nico’s retreating form, her smile softening before she turned to Brandon. “Nice meeting you.” Her tone was warm, inviting further conversation.

Brandon nodded in acknowledgment, his guarded expression softening slightly. “Likewise.”

***



“I want that son of a bitch taken care of!” Newman’ s voice boomed through the phone, reverberating within the confines of his office. His presence was commanding, his aura radiating authority. Sergeant Eades sat across from him, pouring drinks with quiet efficiency. In his silence, Eades radiated a sense of deference to Newman’s power, his unwavering loyalty evident. He shared Newman’s rage, understanding it at a visceral level. The options he harbored to handle the situation were far from diplomatic; he saw them as street thugs with delusions of a Godfather-esque mob. In his world, respect was earned with the iron fist, not negotiation. Eades recognized that Newman’s approach needed to play out for now, but he was poised to step in if it faltered. The memory of the incident ran on an agonizing loop in his mind, kindling his fury like an unquenchable fire. He filled his glass again and downed it in one swift motion.

As the phone call ended, Newman placed the phone down with a controlled force, his grip on the situation evident. “That motherfucker!” He muttered, lifting his drink and swallowing a mouthful of the fiery liquid.

Eades leaned forward, his voice tinged with impatience. “Tell me again, why aren’t we sending our guys out to yank these bastards off the street?”

Newman’s gaze fixated on Eades, each word dripping with wisdom forged through experience. “You’re still green, Eades. You don’t just pluck the Andersons off the streets.”

Eades’ lips curled into a defiant smirk. “And why the hell not?”

Newman’s voice lowered, carrying the weight of a lifetime of lessons. “You don’t know the webs they’ve spun.”

Eades chuckled, a sharp edge to his amusement. “I couldn’t care less who they’re connected to.”

Newman’s eyes bore into Eades, his seriousness unwavering. “You should.”

Eades exhaled audibly, frustration bubbling beneath the surface. “Then what?”

Newman’s grip on his glass tightened, his resolve firm. “That motherfucker, the warden, he won’ t discuss it over the phone. Get yourself over to the prison and talk face to face.”

Eades’ incredulity was palpable, his expression a mix of disbelief and annoyance. “You’re messing with me, right? A three-hour drive?”

Newman’s gaze remained unwavering, his tone resolute. “You’d better start moving now. Catch him before he calls it a night.”

Eades shot Newman a scowl, drained his glass, and left the room, the sound of his footsteps echoing his determination. The aura of authority in the room lingered, a testament to Newman’s unwavering control even in the face of chaos.

***


“Whose place is this?” Brandon’s voice held a note of curiosity as he stood on the balcony, his gaze tracing the sprawling city below. Nico stepped out, a tray of two brandy glasses in hand. Dressed now in a velour Nike jogging suit and sneakers, he handed a glass to Brandon, the amber liquid catching the city lights.

“It’s in a company name, more like a safehouse. No one really stays here,” Nico explained, the edges of his words laced with the world they inhabited.

Brandon took a thoughtful sip, the warm burn of the brandy matching the intensity of his thoughts. “The company name? Can’t they trace it then?”

Nico’s lips curved into a half-smile, a blend of wisdom and amusement. “Yes and no. The name is there, but not the one they’d find in a simple search. A rabbit hole of shell companies. By the time they unravel that web, we’d be a shadow.”

Leaning against the balcony railing, Brandon’s eyes met Nico’s. “You’ve had time to think. What’s the play, nephew?”

The city lights danced in Brandon’s eyes as he voiced his concern. “Why is this so important to Odysseus?”

Nico’s gaze held a weight of understanding that came from shared history. “He has his reasons.”

Brandon’s brow furrowed, the lines of thought etched on his face. “That’s not enough.”

Nico’s response was candid. “It’s going to have to be.”

Brandon’s resolve was evident. “Not this time.”

The hint of a grin played at Nico’s lips. “You tell him that, then.”

Brandon’s gaze dropped, his voice carrying a hint of resignation. “You know I can’t.”

Nico chuckled softly. “What the hell does he have on you?”

Brandon’s pause was measured before he answered, his words carrying the weight of a tightly held secret. “Newton is old school, right?”

“He is.”

Brandon’s gaze lifted, meeting Nico’s with intensity. “You don’t see him acting out of emotion. I mean, we did make him look silly.”

Nico’s head shook slowly, the movement a quiet assertion. “He knows better.”

Brandon’s voice held a hint of skepticism. “That doesn’t mean he’s going to just sit on his hands and take it though.”

Nico’s agreement was unspoken, the understanding between them palpable. “He definitely won’t do that, but he knows he can be touched.”

Brandon’s eyes glinted with a plan forming. “I don’t know, unc. He’s one of the top cops in the city. That type of power changes a man’s view of the ladder of hierarchy.”

Nico’s question hung in the air, a challenge wrapped in curiosity. “Is there a plan in there somewhere?”

Brandon’s determination solidified his words. “Yeah, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Nico’s raised eyebrow mirrored his skepticism. “You just said it; he’s one of the top cops. He has a list of enemies that stretches around the block. Do we have the time to sort through and vet a potential ally?”

Brandon’s smile was cunning, a glimpse of his evolving tactics. “We don’t have to; we’ll create an enemy. Do we have people who can dig up the personal details of police personnel?”

Nico’s nod was slow, a partnership founded on unspoken understanding. “We might.”

Brandon’s eyes gleamed with the glint of a strategist in motion. “Then let’s make some phone calls.”

***


Eades found himself escorted to the warden’ s office, a realm of authority and uncertainty. Alone in the room, he surveyed the photographs and curiosities adorning the space, feeling the weight of anticipation settling on his shoulders. This inaugural encounter with the warden was an enigma, its potential outcomes tangled in a web of intrigue. Moments stretched like elastic before the door swung open, revealing a figure that belied the essence of power and danger. A tall, wiry man with an air of raw intensity entered, closing the door behind him. Eades extended his hand, a gesture of familiarity, yet the warden disregarded it, moving to his desk with an assured stride.

“I don’t know what’ s going on with you, Odysseus, and your chief, but I am not pleased with being ensnared in the midst of it,” the warden’s voice cut through the air, unyielding and laced with controlled annoyance.

Eades attempted to interject. “Sir, I—”

“Save your explanations. They’re irrelevant. I find myself embroiled in this situation, and it’s not to my liking. Consider this a favor, a debt you’ll owe me, one I’ll collect when the time aligns,” the warden’ s words were a declaration, his demeanor unyielding.

A clearing of Eades’ throat was the only sound between them. “Understood, sir.”

The warden rose, a monolith of authority. “Good.” He moved toward the door, his gaze flicking out. “Send him in.” A man, seemingly in his early fifties, dressed in prison garb, entered moments later.

“I have a lunch engagement, Mr. Richards. Take the time you need.”

With a pat on the back, by the inmate the warden exited, leaving behind a charged atmosphere. Eades’ gaze met the stranger’ s, perplexed by the cryptic exchange. A question hung heavy in the air, unspoken but unmistakable.

“Do you know who I am?” the inmate inquired, his eyes boring into Eades with a potent intensity.

A controlled pause, then Eades’ response held a hint of uncertainty. “I have a good idea.”

A smirk ghosted across the inmate’ s lips, his gaze an unwavering challenge. “That’s acceptable. I, however, know you well, Eades Simpson Jr., a fledgling Sergeant in his first year, cheated on the Sergeant’ s exam. Your wife, Elaine, stubbornly retains her maiden name. A civil rights attorney, fiercely independent. She’ s been entangled in an affair for the past two months, a truth that simmers beneath your façade. Two young children, toddlers. Shall I continue?”

Beet red, Eades’ ears and neck burned under the inmate’ s scrutiny. “You son of a bitch.”

An unapologetic grin crossed the inmate’ s lips. “Indeed. But what we must consider is how we can aid each other.”

Eades’ denial was sharp. “Not a damn thing.”

A shadow of disappointment veiled the inmate’s gaze. “That’ s regrettable.”

“Think you’ re the only one with connections?” Eades’ voice bristled, a manifestation of his own power.

In a heartbeat, the tension shifted. Eades’ phone rang, its shrillness cutting the air. He retrieved it with measured haste, his wife’ s visage on the screen. A sense of urgency crept into his voice. “What’ s wrong?” he demanded, every word laced with concern. Silence followed, his expression a mirror of anxiety. “Calm down, honey. Breathe. Tell me what happened. Are the kids all right?” Moments hung like suspended breaths. “I’ ll look into it, find out what’ s going on don’ t panic,” he soothed, ending the call and facing the inmate with simmering anger.

“You conniving bastard.”

The inmate met his gaze unwaveringly. “How can we forge a partnership?”

Eades’ turmoil found a voice, raw and unrestrained. “I don’t know how she found out so quickly, but my wife’ s brother is in ICU. They’ re saying he might be paralyzed. Damn you.”

Ruthlessness in the inmate’ s eyes. “Ah, they’ re kin. Her brother is the leader of the biker club, isn’t he? The stakes have risen, Eades. That was just a glimpse of what lies ahead. Either you’ re on board or you’ re on the chopping block.”

Eades’ defiance met the inmate’ s dominance, a battle of wills in the unyielding space between them. The inmate inched closer; his eyes boring into Eades with a ferocity matched only by his own determination.

“Do you understand?” The inmate’ s question was a challenge, a testament to the threat that loomed.

Eades’ response was a measured surrender. “Yes.”

The inmate’ s satisfaction was palpable. “Yes, what?”

“Yes, sir. Mr. Richards.”

Stepping back, the inmate turned toward the door, his final command an echo. “Go home. Embrace your family. Enjoy the remainder of your day. My associates will be in touch before the sun sets.”

Eades nodded in acquiescence. “Thank you, Mr. Richards, sir.”

Power hung in the air, a dance of danger and opportunity, leaving Eades to navigate a treacherous path he had unwittingly stepped upon.

***


Eades’ steps carried him with a feverish urgency as he retraced his path back to his car. The shadows of the parking lot seemed to stretch and twist, casting a shroud of paranoia over his every move. His heart hammered in his chest, the echoes of his frustration mingling with the unsettling feeling that he was being watched. Each passerby, each flicker of movement, fueled his unease.

Sliding into the car, he shut the door with a swift motion, a barrier against the world that seemed to close in on him. His gaze darted, dissecting every angle of the parking lot, searching for the specter of danger he sensed lurking. And then he saw it — a seemingly innocuous brown paper bag perched on the passenger seat. His pulse quickened, the unexpected presence of the bag a jolt to his already frayed nerves.

Cautiously, he reached for the bag, his fingers trembling as they untied its metaphorical knot. A stack of cash met his eyes, bundles held together by tight rubber bands. The sight was both seductive and chilling, a manifestation of the shadows he’d been living in. The money bore a weight beyond its physical form, laden with implications he couldn’t yet comprehend.

His gaze flickered, suspicion gnawing at him. Was he alone in this lot? Were eyes watching from concealed vantage points? He scanned his surroundings with the gaze of a hunted man before resolutely sealing the bag’ s secret contents and sliding it beneath the seat. The engine roared to life, a powerful thrum that echoed his racing heart. He peeled out of the lot, eyes locked on the road ahead, but the unknown danger lingered in his periphery.

The cash was undoubtedly Odysseus’ doing, a payment for what he could only speculate. Dread settled in his gut; a chilling reminder of the strings being pulled around him. Whatever the cost of this newfound wealth, Eades knew it would demand a pound of his soul. His knuckles whitened on the steering wheel, a grip that mirrored his tightening fear. The city lights blurred past him, a mosaic of his reality fracturing further.

He glanced in the rearview mirror, the unease of being followed burrowing beneath his skin. The streets twisted and turned, but there was no shaking the inescapable feeling that he was merely a pawn in a game far larger and more dangerous than he could fathom. The car’ s interior felt like a cage, the weight of Odysseus’ influence suffocating him.

As he drove, Eades’ thoughts spiraled into a whirlwind of questions, each one a storm cloud threatening to engulf him. The unknown future he was barreling towards loomed ahead, a road map etched with fear and paranoia. The sense of inevitability weighed heavily on his chest, every breath a reminder that he had ventured too deep, that escape was a luxury he could no longer afford.

***


“Get up, playboy!” Nico’ s shout pierced the loft as he strode purposefully toward the kitchen. Dressed in white denim shorts, a button-up shirt, black leather sandals, and a white fedora, he exuded an air of casual confidence. His call echoed through the space, unanswered. Stepping onto the balcony, he scanned below and spotted Brandon returning from his morning run. Clad in last night’ s attire, minus a shirt, Brandon looked breathless and drenched in sweat. Their eyes met, and he paused, awaiting Nico’ s direction.

“Stay down there, I’ m coming,” Nico’ s directive carried a sense of urgency. Within moments, they were both inside Dakota’ s car, the vehicle gliding back towards Chicago.

Brandon took control of the Cadillac truck, skillfully navigating the bustling US-12 W. “I’ ve got everything in motion,” Brandon stated, his grip on the steering wheel firm.

“You talked to Odysseus?” Nico’ s tone was measured, eyes fixed ahead.

Brandon nodded. “He’ s on board, willing to help.”

“But we’ re far from the finish line.”

“You still haven’ t given me the full picture.”

Nico’ s gaze remained fixed on the road. “Our endgame is justice for the twins.”

Brandon’ s skepticism was evident. “I find that hard to believe. Odysseus has never cared about these issues before.”

Nico’ s silence hung heavy, a weight that demanded attention. Finally, Brandon continued, “So, where are we headed?”

“We’ ll get you a change of clothes first, then lunch at Chicago Cut Steakhouse.”

Brandon’ s curiosity piqued. “Change from where? Can’ t go back to my place.”

“One of our associates has a clothing spot in Hyde Park. He’ ll meet us before regular hours. You can get whatever you need.”

The journey resumed in a tense silence, a mixture of anticipation and unease lingering in the air. The car pressed on toward Hyde Park, where they procured several outfits and pairs of shoes. In the back of the store, Brandon changed out of his sweaty clothes, emerging with a renewed sense of purpose.

Time stretched before their reservation at the steakhouse, prompting a detour to Marquette. Brandon parked outside the Marquette Community Center, puzzled. “What’ s the plan here?”

Nico’ s demeanor had shifted, the playfulness replaced by a calculated seriousness. He opened the truck’ s rear and retrieved a leather backpack.

They entered the building, greeted by a handful of teenagers lounging in the lobby, and a receptionist stationed behind the desk. Nico smoothly approached the receptionist, his demeanor both polite and flirty. “Excuse me, miss. Could you let Shante know Nico is here?”

“Of course,” the woman behind the desk replied, picking up the phone and engaging in a brief conversation before hanging up. “Shante said you can head on up. Her office is at the end of the hall.”

Nico offered a grateful nod to the woman, then with Brandon in tow, he ascended the stairs following her directions. Reaching the designated office, he tapped lightly on the door before instinctively entering, not giving Shante a chance to respond. Shante, a vivacious woman with a short stature, a cascade of blonde dreads, and an air of confidence, emerged from behind her desk. She sported black trousers, a matching blouse, and a gold cross pendant that adorned her neckline. As she closed the distance between them, she embraced Nico with an ardent kiss, filled with longing. His arms encircled her waist, his hands finding the curve of her hips, pulling her closer.

With a slow withdrawal, she uttered, “Damn, I’ ve missed you.”

He reciprocated her sentiment, fingers intertwining with hers. Their gazes held, an unspoken connection between them.

“When are you finally going to come see me? To celebrate properly?” Her voice held a playful note, a mixture of flirtation and genuine desire.

“Soon babe, soon, but before we get to all of that.”

“It’ s always business with you.” she pouted playfully. She continued. “What do you need?” Nico let her hands slip from his grasp.

She had yet to acknowledge Brandon. “Babe, this is my nephew, Brandon, Brandon a very close friend of mine Shante Owens.” She smiled and nodded at him, then turned her attention back to Nico. Nico continued. “This place still runs pretty much the same?”

She nodded yes. “It does. We liaison with the local police.”

“How has that been going?”

“Are you being sarcastic?”

“Not at all.”

“You’ve never cared before; in fact, I recall you saying it was a waste of taxpayers’ dollars it was just a high-priced dog and pony show.”

Nico’ s eyes held a seriousness that hadn’t been present before. “Well, I’ m interested now.”

“We have community leaders in Englewood, here in Marquette, Austin, Morgan Park, and Rogers Park.”

“Besides the community leaders, you guys ever deal directly with the gangs?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Sometimes, yeah. What is all this about?”

He set the backpack on her desk. She unzipped it to reveal it filled to the top with cash.

“Spread it around evenly.”

“Evenly for what?”

“Remember the thing we did in Detroit in 2000?”

“Don’ t get me caught up in your mess.”

Nico closed the distance, wrapping his arms around her once more, his lips meeting hers in a tender yet possessive kiss. “Just do like I tell you alright?”

She stared back defiantly. He locked eyes with her, an intense stare down, challenging her defiance, she lowered her eyes. “Alright, I’ll get them onboard.”

He kissed her again. “Thanks babe, I’ll hit you when I get free.”

“Whatever.” She said as she walked back around her desk and sat as the two let themselves out.

***


After leaving the community center, Nico and Brandon found themselves seated at the Chicago Cut Steakhouse. Their contact had yet to arrive, so they sipped on tall glasses of India Pale Ale, the low hum of conversation around them a backdrop to their own exchange.

“I thought I was the tactician, and you were the muscle?” Brandon’ s words held a hint of challenge as he took a sip from his glass.

Nico leaned back, a knowing smile playing on his lips. “You are, and I am.”

Brandon persisted, a hint of frustration in his tone. “But—”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t have a strategy once in a while,” Nico interjected, his gaze unwavering.

Brandon’ s expression softened, a begrudging recognition of his uncle’ s point. “Doesn’t matter; I won’ t be in this for the long haul anyway.”

Nico’ s smile remained enigmatic. “So, you say.”

Brandon’ s determination shone through. “So, I mean it.”

Nico’ s gaze turned contemplative; his eyes sharp as he probed. “What’s he got on you, nephew?”

As Brandon looked past Nico’ s shoulder, his expression tightened. A tall, thin, Hispanic man balding on the sides, clad in a police uniform, was making his way toward them. Brandon tried to mask his unease, but Nico’ s grin was undeniable.

“By that look on your face, our guest must be here. Stand up and greet the man.”

Both Nico and Brandon rose to their feet just as the officer reached their table. “Nico, it’ s been a long time,” he greeted, extending his hand for a handshake.

“Superintendent Navarro, this is my nephew, Brandon.”

“This Roman’ s boy?” Navarro’ s eyes locked onto Brandon as they shook hands.

Brandon’ s handshake was firm, his voice steady. “Yes sir, I am.”

As they all took their seats, Navarro ordered a drink, and the conversation commenced. “You ain’t worried about being seen here with us?” Nico asked, casually glancing over the menu.

Navarro shook his head, his focus on the menu as well. “Nah, that business with you and Newman should’ve been settled without all the drama. I told him as much. Hurt his ego, now he’ s backed into a corner.”

Nico’ s question had an air of gravitas. “You know the two biggest things that get men killed?”

“Pride and pussy,” Navarro replied, shaking his head with a mix of amusement and solemnity. “What’ s on your mind, Nico? I respect you enough to show up when you call, but I’ m a busy man.”

Nico leaned forward, his demeanor earnest. “A proposition.” Their waiter arrived, momentarily halting the conversation as they placed their orders. Once alone again, Nico resumed, “A proposition that’ ll double what you’ re making on the side.”

Navarro’ s interest was piqued. “I’ m all ears.”

“Step back.”

Navarro’ s brows furrowed. “Step back? Can’ t say I follow.”

“Exactly that. Step back. No matter how intense it gets, no matter the pressure from the top brass. Trust me, let it unfold. And then, when I give the signal, swoop in like the hero and save the day.”

Navarro’ s skepticism was palpable. “I don’ t know, Nico. What’ s your angle?”

“My angle is my business.”

Navarro leaned back, his skepticism unwavering. “Your business and my damn career. I need more than just your word.”

“All I can give you is my word. Or has that lost its value these days?”

Navarro’ s gaze pierced Nico, his scrutiny unyielding. He glanced briefly at Brandon, seeking a chink in their armor. Turning back to Nico, he finally relented, his voice low and measured. “Your word is as good as money.”

Nico extended his hand, for a handshake to seal the deal. “It’ s worth more than money.”

***


Eades lingered in the shadows, his back pressed against the wall, an uncomfortable witness to the heartbreaking scene before him. His wife sat at her brother’ s bedside, clutching his hand as tears streamed down her face. A storm of emotions raged within him, an internal turmoil that had nothing to do with the grief playing out in front of him. The guilt weighed heavily, a crushing burden that twisted his insides.

It wasn’t just the sight of his wife’ s pain that haunted him; it was the truth he concealed. The truth that he had aligned himself with the very man responsible for rendering his brother-in-law paralyzed. His silence in the face of this heart-wrenching moment was a betrayal in itself.

He watched as his wife, her face etched in sorrow, rose from her seat and left the room, her quiet sobs a haunting echo. The door clicked shut, and Eades found himself alone with the man he had betrayed.

“Ike.”

The voice sliced through the air, laden with a mixture of anger and desperation. Eades hesitated, torn between confronting the consequences of his actions and avoiding the confrontation altogether.

“I know you’ re still here, brother,” the voice persisted, a plea lacing its edges. “Come closer. We need to talk before she returns.”

Reluctantly, Eades approached the bedside, his brother-in-law’ s eyes fixed on the ceiling, as if seeking answers in its blank expanse.

“I need you to make some calls,” his brother-in-law’ s voice was tense, his words weighted with urgency. “And don’ t you dare tell me you can’ t.”

Eades’ gaze dropped to the floor, grappling with the uncomfortable truth laid bare before him. “What about your club brothers? Won’ t they handle this?”

“Not this time,” his brother-in-law’ s voice was tinged with bitterness. “That bastard Odysseus has connections that run deep. He’ s got the warden, the guards, the whole damn system under his thumb.”

Eades was torn between the loyalty to his brother-in-law and the allegiance he had formed with the criminal who had orchestrated this tragedy. “What do you expect me to do?”

A hint of desperation crept into his brother-in-law’ s voice, a plea that cut through the tension. “You’ ve been a cop for years, Ike. You know people.”

The weight of the situation pressed upon Eades, a web of obligations, loyalties, and guilt ensnaring him. He shook his head, voice strained. “I don’ t know.”

His brother-in-law’ s voice grew sharper, an edge of anger slicing through. “You owe me, damn it! Ike, don’ t make me beg.”

Eades’ silence hung in the air, heavy and charged. His mind raced, torn between his own moral compass and the promises he had made to the criminal underworld.

After what seemed like an eternity, Eades finally relented, his voice barely above a whisper. “I’ll do something.”

“What will you do?” his brother-in-law pressed, urgency lacing his tone.

Eades locked eyes with him, the gravity of the situation settling upon his shoulders. “I’ll handle it.”

Just then, a notification chimed through his phone, jolting him from the weighty conversation. He glanced at the message, his expression unreadable. “I’ve got to go.”

Placing a trembling hand on his brother-in-law’ s chest, Eades turned and walked away, the tension between duty and morality pulling him in conflicting directions.

***



Rage propelled Eades down the hospital corridors, deaf to his wife’ s cries echoing behind him. His footsteps were driven by an urgency that matched the turmoil roiling within him. As he burst out of the hospital doors, the chilling wind slapped against his face, a cruel contrast to the chaos of his emotions. He moved with purpose, navigating the sea of parked cars until he reached his own. The engine roared to life, and his fingers dialed a familiar number.

“We need to talk. Meet me at the spot,” Eades’ voice was low, a hiss of secrecy and tension.

The call ended abruptly, his mind already racing ahead. Sirens wailed as he sped through the city streets, barreling toward Morgan Park. His heart drummed in his chest, each beat a staccato rhythm of dread and betrayal. Drawing nearer to his destination, he silenced the sirens, his car easing to a halt beneath the shadows of a looming viaduct. The air was thick with anticipation as he stepped out of the car.

Newman was there, waiting in the dim light, leaning casually against his truck as if their rendezvous was an everyday occurrence. Eades’ gaze met Newman’ s, the unspoken tension like a taut wire connecting them.

“How’ s your brother-in-law?” Newman’ s voice was nonchalant, a veneer that barely masked the tension lurking beneath.

Eades exhaled sharply, the weight of his thoughts pressing him down. “He’ s never going to walk again. And that’ s only part of it. His situation in prison...”

“Poor bastard,” Newman’ s words held an undercurrent of sympathy, a sentiment that was swallowed by the looming darkness.

“Yeah,” Eades’ voice was heavy with resignation. “My wife’ s devastated. If they’ d killed him, maybe it would’ve been easier.”

A heavy silence hung between them, thick with unspoken words and truths that festered in the shadows. Eades shook his head, breaking the tension. “Enough about my problems.”

“Odysseus,” Newman’ s voice was a low rumble, a single word loaded with danger and treachery.

Eades met Newman’ s gaze, and the shared understanding was chilling. “Odysseus,” he confirmed, his voice heavy with a mixture of anger and resignation.

Newman’ s voice carried a thread of confusion. “What did he say?”

Eades’ lips twisted into a bitter smile, an echo of his internal struggle. “He put me in a corner.”

“I don’ t follow,” Newman’ s confusion was palpable, but Eades was beyond the point of explanation.

“He gave me a choice,” Eades’ voice was hard, his hand inching toward the gun holstered at his side.

Newman’ s eyes narrowed, his instincts sensing the impending storm. “A choice? Between what?”

Eades’ grip on the gun tightened, his gaze steady as he raised the weapon, aiming directly at Newman’ s chest. “My wife,” he stated coldly, before pulling the trigger, each gunshot an explosion of betrayal. “Or you.”

Newman staggered back, blood blooming on his shirt like a gruesome flower. Eades’ breathing was ragged, his heart pounding as he stood over Newman’ s fallen form. The world seemed to freeze, the moment suspended in time, as Newman’ s gaze locked with Eades’.

“I chose my wife,” Eades’ voice held a chilling finality, his gaze unwavering even as the weight of his actions pressed upon him.

With calculated precision, Eades wiped his fingerprints from the gun, the sound of his movements a harsh counterpoint to the silence that enveloped them. Gently placing the weapon on Newman’ s chest, Eades stepped back, his eyes never leaving the man he had just betrayed.

As he slipped back into his car, the engine roared to life, carrying him away from the scene of his own making. The darkness seemed to close in around him, a cloak of guilt and secrets that he could never escape.

***



Sleight of Hand


Eades raced down the road, his vision blurred by the tears that welled in his eyes. A vow brewed within him, fierce and unyielding. Odysseus would pay, vengeance would find him. The details were hazy, the plan nonexistent, but Eades was resolute in his determination. He was close to home when the police radio crackled to life, the shrill sound of a 999 officer down call slicing through the airwaves. His gut clenched, his need for solace and a bottle of Wild Turkey at odds with the call to duty.

Swallowing his turmoil, he flicked on the siren and veered toward the address provided. The flashing lights illuminated a scene teeming with uniformed officers, a chaotic symphony of tension and urgency. Eades maneuvered through the bustling crowd, his eyes scanning for any sign of his fallen comrade. A nagging unease settled over him. Newman’ s absence felt like an ominous void, a silence that whispered of danger and uncertainty.

As Eades searched, a duo of detectives materialized before him. Two figures cloaked in black, bearing badges that hung around their necks like talismans of authority. Their gaze bore into him, scrutinizing, calculating.

“Are you the detectives in charge?” Eades inquired, his voice tinged with suspicion and tension.

“We are,” the elder detective replied, a hint of gravity underscoring his words. “Detectives Campbell and Oliver.”

Eades’ unease deepened. The choice of detectives spoke volumes. Homicide hadn’t taken the lead, implying that Newman might still be alive, hanging by a thread.

“What do you know so far?” Eades’ words carried an edge, his curiosity edged with apprehension.

“Not much. The chief was found unresponsive,” Detective Campbell’ s tone was even controlled.

“And the assailant?”

“No witnesses.”

Eades’ heart raced, each thud a drumbeat of anxiety. “Who called it in?”

“A CTA driver,” Detective Oliver interjected. “He saw the chief lying here. Didn’t even leave his bus, just called it in.”

Eades’ mind raced as he connected the dots. The pieces formed a disturbing puzzle, one he was desperately trying to solve.

“I’ m Sergeant Eades, a close friend of the chiefs. If you need anything, anything at all, let me know.”

The detectives acknowledged his offer, and Eades’ thoughts swirled as he made his exit, the suspense heavy in the air. He sped toward the hospital, a symphony of emotions playing out in his mind. Police cars crowded the lot as he pulled in, the scene a testament to the gravity of the situation. He pushed through the throng of officers, his singular focus on reaching Newman’ s room.

Spotting a passing nurse, he halted her with urgency. “Where’ s Chief Newman’ s doctor?”

“Follow me,” her voice was calm, but her pace brisk.

Navigating the hospital’ s labyrinthine halls, Eades’ anxiety intensified. The ICU loomed before them, the tension in the air palpable. He thanked the nurse before she departed, and the door to Newman’ s room creaked open.

“How is he?” Eades’ question carried a weight, his hopes and fears balanced on a razor’ s edge.

“Follow me, officer,” the doctor’ s response was measured, a mask of professionalism.

They entered a room at the far end of the hall, the tension thickening as the officer braced himself for the unknown. His gaze found Newman’ s wife, a figure wrought with grief, holding her husband’ s hand in a desperate grip. Beside the bed, a bulletproof vest punctuated by three ominous holes lay like a silent testament to the violence that had unfolded.

Newman’ s eyes fluttered open, and he regarded Eades with a distant gaze, the familiarity curiously absent.

Approaching cautiously, Eades placed a comforting hand atop his wife’ s trembling one, offering her a brief, whispered assurance. The room was heavy with uncertainty, the air charged with the echoes of recent events.

Newman closed his eyes, an enigmatic action that deepened the layers of mystery. Eades’ voice cut through the silence. “Do you know who did this?”

Newman’ s silent response heightened Eades’ trepidation. His heart raced, his pulse echoing the cadence of suspense that enveloped them.

As Eades escorted Newman’ s wife out of the room, he paused and glanced back toward the open door. A nagging feeling gnawed at him, a sense that something was amiss. Closing the door gently, he lingered in the corridor, his mind wrestling with the unknown.

The doctor emerged, his demeanor impassive. Eades’ instincts prickled with unease, his eyes lingering on the closed door. Something was off, an undercurrent of deception that he couldn’t ignore. He mentally signaled his departure to Newman’ s wife, then stepped away, heading toward the lobby.

Outside, the suspense tightened its grip on Eades, wrapping around him like a shroud of uncertainty. His unease was palpable, his resolve to uncover the truth a beacon in the encroaching darkness.

***



Hours had crawled by since the fateful shot had echoed through the air, and the weight of the unknown hung heavy in the sterile hospital room. Newman's eyelids fluttered open, his consciousness stirring as he eased himself out of bed. His steps were cautious, a silent dance towards the window. Gazing out at the world beyond, he wrestled with the turmoil that had engulfed his life.

His gaze fell upon the neatly arranged clothes on the chair. It was as if destiny had laid them out, a silent beckoning towards an enigmatic path. Shedding the hospital robe, he donned the fresh attire, each movement a step closer to a truth he hadn't yet comprehended. He ventured to the nurse's desk, his heart racing as he discharged himself, severing the tether that bound him to the sterile confines of the hospital.

In the lobby, his fingers punched the numbers on a cell phone, the call summoning a truck that pulled up within seconds. The door swung open, an unseen driver beckoning him into the vehicle's depths. The door sealed shut, and the truck melded into the labyrinthine city, its path a web of secrecy and subterfuge.

A half-hour passed, each tick of the clock a beat of uncertainty. The truck's journey ended in the parking garage of a private hospital, the walls cloaked in shadows that mirrored the secrets they held. Newman stepped out, his heart thrumming as he ascended an elevator, his journey skyward.

The top floor beckoned, a chamber of mysteries that drew him like a moth to a flame. He navigated the sterile halls, each step an echo of the choices that had led him there. Room by room, he ventured, his steps aligning with a destiny he couldn't escape.

Finally, he stood before a room in the ICU, a chamber of revelation that pulsed with an undeniable gravity. The air was charged, electrified by the knowledge that trembled on the precipice of revelation. Entering the room, he found a doctor there, an orchestrator of truths and lies, who offered him a clipboard.

The name etched on the clipboard struck a dissonant chord within him, a name that held a mirror to his own existence. John Doe. His heart pounded, each beat a crescendo of anticipation as he allowed his gaze to fall upon the figure lying in the bed, tubes tethered to his body.

It was like peering into a distorted reflection, an uncanny likeness that echoed his very being. Newman's breath caught in his throat, his eyes locked with the inert figure that bore an uncanny resemblance to himself.

And then, a moment of revelation unfurled, a truth that shattered the confines of reality. Chief Newman opened his eyes, twin orbs that fixed upon Newman, a gaze that tore through the fabric of time and deceit. In that charged instant, the world seemed to shift, the foundations of truth and identity quivering beneath the weight of an impending storm.

As the twin brothers stared at each other, the room filled with a heavy silence.

***
















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