The night was the time when a back-alley part of the city came to life. Neon lights, dim music, and black-clad men on the streets, all of it belonged to a subculture of Sectoria. Bums near the trash cans, they only look nonthreatening, but they play a role. They observe what was left of the skyscrapers, they monitor over the shadows passing the lamp posts, they inform the men who pay them to sit on the rain, shivering in the cold and sleep on the sidewalk.
A car waits in the corner, lights out, engine shut down, only the red glow of the cigarette comes and goes in the front seat. Two men in mid-twenties wait for the signal. The driver has a sport’s cap and a hood on, the second rubbed his fingers in the cut off gloves, corrects his woolen cap. Silence, they don’t talk, just smoke and screen the surroundings.
A club door opens and the wave of music amplifies until it closes. It all comes to normal.
“You wanna?”, the companion shone a small bag of white powder to the driver, but the driver shook his head and blew smoke.
The plastic rustled, he snuffed the content and twitched his head.
“Oh, that hit the spot.”, the man grunted.
“Breaker’s gonna kick your ass for getting hooked up.”, the driver added through a smirk, but his friend made no sense of it.
“Yeah, if he ever comes.”, a remark made them both giggle.
“He always comes, you know that.”, the driver shook the ash out of the window still laughing.
“I’m not sure about that, dude. I can’t say I ever saw him.”, the second one said for the sake of conversation.
“Well, he is good at hiding. There is a story about that.”, the driver replied putting on a joyful smile and looked at his friend. “Wanna hear it?”, he asked and the other guy leaned forward to inspect the streets.
“Why the hell not. We got time.”, a slight nod set the driver talking.
“In 2030, Sectoria went into the war with the world. At that time, the situation wasn’t great already, but things went worse for all of us. You only need to look at the city and realize what happened twenty years ago. The bombing, the poverty, the all-out food deprivation. People waited in line for a drop of water. And the crime rate jumped like a motherfucker. Thugs like us were disposed of rather quickly by the armed forces. Like it wasn’t enough the enemy was killing us, we started killing each other.”, the driver giggled, it was a defensive mechanism, not a genuine laugh. “Breaker was five years old when the Capitol turned inside out. It was chaos. He lost his brother, you know. People say his bro was eight at the time. Landmine, boom, gone. So it was only him, from the whole family. His father was K.I.A. in the first run. Nobody knows which front. His mother gave in to prostitution to feed them, some asshole got high like a kite and went berserk in the club. It was brutal. Breaker doesn’t like the drugs for a reason. And the mob ran the city. The government shifted its concern to survive the war, collect taxes, send more troops to the fight. I mean, the small businesses were left out in the open.”
“Damn, that’s some fucked up shit.”, his partner said and snuffed some more.
“Yup, real shit.”, the driver confirmed with a nod and threw his gaze over the dashboard.
“So, what happened next?”
“He grew up. He was five, not good attention span in a kid. He forgot his name, so he invented another. Back then, there were lots of kids in the street, like stray dogs, running in the streets, no parent to set them straight. Madness.”, the driver blew smoke, while his companion tried to imagine the situation. “And these kids man, they grew tough, real tough. Constant fights, always covered in dirt, no respect, and manners. They were wild things. The trick was, nobody cared about them, they weren’t in the system. Think about it, their whole life spent under the radar. Undocumented citizens, a phantom generation. They surely grew up with a temper. You let water on the stove unattended, the whole shit’s gonna spill someday. And it spilled ten years ago when these little bums got strong enough to hold guns. Now, you see what they do now.”, the driver pointed his cigarette on the key locations guarded by homeless men and people in black.
“Hey, there he is.”, companion locked his eyes on a man who came out from the club and pulled the driver’s jacket.
An engine started purring. Their target slowly advanced to the corner, greeted the thug who stood there and proceeded to cross the street. Without lights on, the car went in motion, following the guy in a light black jacket. They drove carefully near the sidewalk, ready to hit the brakes and hold still to avoid suspicion. The target of theirs was in the mood to whistle, totter and disturb the casuals going home from work.
He broke the beer bottle at the middle of the street and steered left into the dark. The car paused to see him completely merge with the shadow as he went downhill to relieve himself. The car proceeded forward on its way.
Whistling and drunken howling at the stars, the man gave his best not to fall backward and piss over his expensive attire. He laughed, residents yelled at him from the windows to shut up but stopped when he fired a shot in the air. Soon, he depleted the magazine and grunted because pissing took too long. He grabbed the wall and breathed in the chilly night’s air. His eyes fell to see the ruins, abstract looking steel construction where walls used to be. For a moment, he pitied the past events, the war and the powerless regime to stop the crime organizations. These were their streets, their city they left to rot. Happiness was never guaranteed.
Speeding car descended at him and in a flash of the headlight before the impact, the vehicle crashed in him. The velocity and the metal bumper broke both of his legs and made him fall on the hood, vociferously screaming.
The driver got out pretty easily, while his friend not wearing the seat-belt kissed the dashboard and complained about the broken nose. Man on the hood pulled the trigger, the barrel was visible, he had no ammo in that thing.
“What the fuck! What the fuck! Aaa! You dumb fuck!”, the pain was so great, alcohol couldn’t numb it fast enough. “Who are you?! What the fuck you want?”, drunken stutter was amusing for the driver who slowly aimed his weapon to the target’s temple.
“Did you think Breaker would let you operate in his territory? You hustled lots of dope in these parts. Ignoring the rules won’t be tolerated anymore.”, the driver said, headlight insufficiently illuminated the left side of his face so the mark couldn’t see him completely.
“What the fuck?! Go fuck yourself, buddy. You ain’t my parent. Who the fuck are you to order me what to do?! Huh?!”, the man growled at the driver, but he didn’t react.
“I am nobody. I don’t have a name, just like you. I am a phantom.” the driver said and brought his face closer to the light revealing his features at the horrified dealer.
“You?”, it was the last thing said before the bang.
– – – –
The message on the phone told him to get back to the precinct. He dropped his phone and rolled over the side. It was a gloomy morning, not like others. With a heaviness in feet, he got to a sitting position. He moved his hair and looked at the numerous bullet scars in his legs, a long and ruff slash took up almost his whole leg. That’s the place where shrapnel went through and left him something to remember the war by. If only he earned that in a war, that would be chivalrous and respected. Gang wars are looked down upon.
He got dressed, put on the light jacket and a warmer one over it and made sure he can move with the bulletproof vest on. Good, it didn’t show through the layers of clothing. Last check if his gun was loaded, he concealed it behind the back and took the bottle of pills. Stolen merchant dice, there was no prescription written on it. He took a handful, chewed them as he locked the door and made sure nobody is waiting for him in the hall.
After a few hours in transit, he reached the center of Sectoria. Trash, dirt and freely growing weed were common for the city. The ruins, blocks of concrete leaned over the flat house hasn’t been taken to the landfill. It just stood there like a reminder that twenty years ago they were in a war. Gang graffiti decorate it, a well-known warning that Breaker’s gang rules this place.
The door’s mechanism crepitated when he went into the police station.
“Freeze, scum!”, an officer pointed the gun at him and he stopped before the lunatic.
“Put that away, you idiot.”, a colleague slapped the officer’s hand and the policeman looked at the senior in shock. “Sorry, Dave. This is the new guy.”, jokingly the senior used the thumb to point at the younger officer.
Dave hasn’t said a word to them, he headed to the Captain’s office in the back. As he used to, he just walked in and saw an elegant woman behind the desk with a crystal glass-half-full in hand.
“Do you ever knock?”, the expression on her face showed this wasn’t the first time he barged in like a cowboy.
“I never had someone to teach me manners when I was growing up.”, it seems this was an explanation for everything he did wrongfully.
“That’s why I wanted you here. I need to know what’s going on with the Breaker clan. What’s the word on the street? Is there any big business taking place anytime soon?”, she chugged the spirit from the glass and stood up to get another.
“Why don’t you ask one of the cover agents you have in his lines?”, Dave pocketed his hands and looked away.
“Breaker is sending them in pieces. He has my address.”, the reply came fast and the booze ran faster.
“Why do you think I am safer? He can easily get my headshot from a local hobo.”, he said, but the Captain smiled at him while clicking her nails over the glass.
“This is your terrain. People I send are not natural to the culture, you are. We tried to tame you, teach you to be one of us, educated, eloquent, with good posture, but that failed. Besides, the Phantoms are masters at avoiding police. They are streetsmart. They matured at a much earlier age, which made them dangerous. The whole state suffers from the faceless infestation and there is nothing we can do to stop it, no matter how many checkpoints we put in the city and ID the citizens. And the mob, they control everything, even the police. I act only when they give me the room, so I need you out there, snuffing around, find black market deals I can interrupt.”, shaking her hands and talking through the smile she got back to the desk and Dave understood she is intoxicated because there was a bigger problem she hid from him.
“I’ll see what I can do. Breaker might go after me. And it’s easy for him, he knows how to find a certain Phantom if he wishes.”
“What? You are afraid of Phantoms?”, the attempt to gloat failed.
“Most of them try to have a life. Some leave the state through back channels, some find a job and have a modest life. I am not afraid of Phantoms but petrified of what will happen if there is only one left in the state. He would be invisible, uncatchable, a perfect criminal.”, the thought made Captain turn serious and drink up the last drop.
“Pray to God it isn’t the Breaker. I’m sick and tired of the files with his name on it. People who pay me to keep order are not satisfied with how far we have gone with locating him. He is a big splinter in the mob’s paw. They want him dead. Hired goons can’t find his track. He is already invisible to us.”, the Captain scoffed and covered her face via hand, resting for a moment.
“I am aware of his actions and businesses. Even the second generation of Phantoms are familiar with it. Shame, our way of life is being idolized and desired by today’s youngsters. Revolution eats it’s children, indeed.”, Dave added while turning for the door when the Captain stopped him.
“If I clean after the mob, I don’t need to do the same for you. Try to have the body count below five.”, it was funny to him how she is willing to collaborate with the mafia but conditions him about his work. Even he thought it was hilarious, he hasn’t shown it to her.
“Tell your beloved mafiosos to stop flooding the streets with the enhanced dope. Let Breaker think he had them running for the hills. Allow him to put down his fists, so that I can come closer to him.
He closed the door not wanting to participate in the pointless conversations he had with the Captain. Some officers greeted him on his way out.
Dave stopped at the base of the steps, inhaled and exhaled, before finding the route towards the club. He had a job to do.
Clubs and shady places worked at night, while the daylight has been used for other stuff. Dave walked straight to the bar, only turned once and see where were the local thugs. Except for the bouncer in black standing at the door and the barkeeper, the place was empty.
“Whiskey. The cheapest one you’ve got.”, Dave slammed a few rippled bills on the counter.
The bartender nodded and fetched almost depleted bottle.
“Here. Drink as much as you want. Nobody buys this shit anymore. I use it as a cleaning detergent.”, the bartender looked over the money, and yes, it was insufficient for the amount of alcohol he got, but who will complain, this was only honestly earned pay in the club.
A group of men walked in, talking, laughing, murmuring between themselves. They too, approached the bar, just two spots away from Dave. A man with short hair you could see his skin, slim lips unusually wide and curved to a grin, and eyes, green and chilling, this was an officer in the Breaker’s gang, while other two were his deputies, lower-class brawlers.
“Haven’t seen your face before.”, the Boss said taking a seat and leaned over the counter.
“Oh, pardon me, Mister Draker. So rude of me not to introduce myself.”, Dave said and rocked aside to fist bump the Boss. “I’m Clinger.”, after the bump, Boss sized up Dave, looked his jackets, cap, and everything.
“You are a Worker. Not one of mine. What brings you to me?”, Boss asked while the bartender brought him the usual.
“Yeah, I am not really a Worker.”, Dave smiled. “Just a messenger from the east. I stopped by to check the hood before I deliver the message.”, Dave explained and took a swig.
“Really? To whom?”, Boss asked, but Dave shook his finger not wanting to give out information.
“Ah, you know, that’s confidential. I’m not supposed to tell everyone.”, both of them smiled, it was a common play with the messengers, especially with the younger boys.
“Smart man, Clinger. Watch out, there. We live in dangerous times.”, Boss sipped from the glass.
“Yeah. It’s bloody brutal, man. With the mob taking over and the corrupt government, we Phantoms must stick together. At least we fight against the drug traffickers, organized crime, black market. Breaker runs a tight ship. He is for the people. Cleaning up the streets. Protecting citizens. Doing police work for them. They just can’t stick to the law, don’t they? The regular police, that is. It’s always about who pays more. But that’s not all, Breaker is avoiding the war with the mob. Why? He can take them. He can take them all if he wanted to.”, Dave frowned and kept drinking from the bottle.
“Fuck yeah, he can take them, but he doesn’t. If he attacks, he would show his strength and compromise the Phantoms we got in their ranks. It’s a bad moment to start the war. He thinks it will only deteriorate the living standards in the city. It’s going to be like after the war with the world. Prices rising, piles of dead on the street, people fleeing their homes, general despair, and phobia. Not good. Not good at all. He is letting them grow sloppy and lower their guard. The Breaker is not a dumb man, he reads a lot. He is smart.”, Boss winked at Dave disguising the plans for the future.
“Perhaps you are right. Perhaps, nobody profits from war.”, Dave leaned over for another fist bump and the Boss obliged him. “But, there is still a message to be delivered, job to be done.”, Dave finished the bottle and got up to leave when the Boss turned and smiled at him.
“At a boy. Glad you understand our motives.”, it was a friendly reply, but his facial expression changed after Dave pulled his gun out.
“Since I can’t meet the Breaker and deliver him the message, maybe you can do me a solid. Tell him that the Strayer family had proclaimed war against him for interrupting their drug trade.”, Dave lifted his weapon and fired two shots at the Boss killing him on the spot.
The first deputy ducked for cover, the second one took a bullet in the chest and the two more in the head. The bouncer drew his weapon and shot Dave four times in the guts before Dave aimed and shot back. The living deputy returned fire from the cover, Dave ducked the bullets and rolled over the counter. Buzzing bullets were hitting everything but Dave who counted the holes in his bulletproof vest.
Silence, no gunshots, just dead bodies laying on the floor. The deputy rose to see where did the messenger go. A full bottle broke over his head and he fell unconscious. The barkeeper looked at Dave from below the counter; afraid he could die, he hasn’t had time to blink. Dave jumped over the counter and lighted the match. Looking at the deputy on the ground, he threw the match on him and fire spread. After a moment, the man woke up and began screaming, rolling on the floor, calling for help. A shot from Dave’s gun relieved him of pain.
“Do you know what you did?!”, the barkeeper gawked at Dave who was at the door.
“Hey, man, I just deliver messages.”, he flinched his shoulders upwards and left.
Dave sent two blank text messages to the unknown number. Looking over the shoulder, he suspected he’s being followed. For what he has done in there, just when he told the police Captain to put restraints on the mafia for dealing drugs, this was either a very smart move or a very dumb one. Time will tell if what he did will bear fruit in the long run.
Now, he had to lay low, because he used the name Clinger, a name of a Phantom known to be an informant for the police. That other mention of Strayer family, it was the name of the strongest cartel in Sectoria. All of the pieces are now coming together. Saving the head alive has never been so important.
Weeks on end, Sectoria suffered great casualties. The government has declared martial law, but Phantoms haven’t obeyed the order. Hunting for mafia prolonged and old wounds opened. The state fell in despair, life in Sectoria became unbearable. Empty shelves in the shops, water restrictions, violence, the smell of depression was sensible. It only became worse when the prime minister was assassinated and all fault naturally fell on phantom generation.
The question came to the tables: “Who is responsible for all of this?”, yet the answer was conveniently hidden from the population. Vigilantes, better known as Phantoms, a generation of people born in the ashes of the old regime, generations which sprouted from the greatest suffering has been put in the gunsights – and the corrupt held the weapon, molded the public’s view of things, always in their selfish favor.
Dave waited on the bench on the hill, watched the grey ruins of the buildings weeping for help below his feet. A police siren blared in the distance, sporadical gunshots echoed mids the streets, Securia was hurting. A gasp, he pulled the jacket tighter and exhaled into the chilly air.
“You used me.”, it came from the back, he hasn’t noticed the police Captain.
“Mafia used you for their greedy goals, government officials invest in the police force, only to wash dirty money from the lobbing by the crime families. You used your men to execute the orders, justified it as an accident or resisting arrest, planted shreds of evidence, gave false statements in court. I thought you got used to being exploited. If they had no regards for you, why would I show you pitty?”, he added without turning around, because this could be his end.
“Why, Dave? Why did you do this?”, she cried, the sense she held gun pointed at him was present.
“Mafia plagues the city. Phantom generation roams free, doing their thing and circulating in the black market. Police lost its honor. Two-faced politicians did nothing for the people. There is no one to be trusted, left pure, unstained by the greed that breaths in the Sectoria. Why?… For how long are we to live under the boot of the noncaring government who smiles while presses on the small people? For how long are we to watch our young die from an overdose just to get help by the mafia for the burial and then be grateful to them? For how long are we to be scared of the people in blue who are supposed to protect us? For how long are we granted life, if it became survival a long time ago?”, he partially turned to see if she is there and got up to face her. “For how long are we to suffer, Silvia?”, angered face stared at her smeared makeup, wet eyeliner reaching the ends of her lips, tears in eyes.
“You piece of shit! You ruined this city.”, she screamed while the gun shook in her nervous hand.
“I haven’t got an answer to my questions. For how long are you going to avoid doing your job?”
“That’s the same as death. Don’t you know where we live?”, it honestly looked like she was surprised.
“Death, but for the right cause.”, he answered shortly.
“Don’t pretend you are better. What did you ever do for this city to lecture me about moral, about my job, my life?!”
“I brought the Phantom generation down. I never intended to kill Breaker, he is too smart for me. He is in hiding, waiting for the storm to end. I faced my horrors. In the end, he will be just one man, no Phantoms to come to help him rebuild his clan again. In the process, the mob will become weak enough for me and my men to scoop them out like rotten flesh and save the dying city. Mafia will use all their assets in Sectoria to save what they can, but Breaker is smart. He started taking out the officials and the mafia helpers. I ignited the city’s regenerative skill to cleanse itself. I think that’s quite enough for us to do.”, Dave pocketed his hands, not eager to fight Silvia, as there was no reason for a fight, not anymore.
“We, us? For whom do you work for?”, she stepped closer, her arm extended and firmly held the gun at Dave’s head.
“For nobody. I am a Phantom, remember?”
“So, you just realized the shit is drowning you and you wanted a clear conscience?! Like nothing happened?! Like you haven’t killed that many to get where you are now?!… Is this all because you deemed this the right thing to do?! You… idiot!”
“For the greater cause.”, a smile escaped him, Silvia interpreted that differently and squeezed the trigger.
A body lay beneath her, too many she left like that in her carrier. A brief look at the broken city, depressively grey ruins with a siren blaring and gunshots echoing, a city devouring itself.
That could last for months until all of them are dead or retrieved back to safety. Dave didn’t know that his fight was futile, because some other people will inherit the titles, swoop in and take over, continue where their former Bosses left. Sectoria was lost, and happiness was never guaranteed.
– The end –
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