Footsteps behind me. Closing in.
The guy from before?
Nah. Not the type to chance a darkened alley. I can tell.
Besides, no way he clocked me. I’ve been living on other people’s paychecks for two years now. Never been busted.
The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and my stomach tightens in that way it does when danger is near. I may not have much, but I have a flawless survival instinct. I duck to the right as a foot smashes through the air, where my waist was a second ago.
I spin, raising my fists. Fuck. Not fast enough. Knuckles bite into my cheekbone. It doesn’t shatter—never does—but it stings like a bitch. I jerk my knee up and allow myself a grin when it clashes with something soft and yielding.
“Little fucker, I’m gonna kill you,” growls the guy whose balls I crushed. His breath stinks of alcohol. He grabs a fistful of my hair—I should cut it—and pulls, snapping my head forward.
I pummel his stomach with my fists. I’m strong for my age. Big, too. I can take him, even if he’s a foot taller.
My neck tingles harder, warning me of an attack, a heartbeat before what feels like a sledgehammer lands on the back of my head. I won’t lose consciousness. I know it, even as my brain clutters inside my skull. I don’t get cuts. I don’t bleed. My bones don’t break. I don’t faint. Never have, in what I can remember of my fourteen years.
Doesn’t mean I’m not slowed down enough by the hit that two guys possibly bigger than the first one grab my arms and lift me.
“Fuck you.” I spit at my initial attacker.
His smirk is terrifying, and I don’t scare easy. “No, kid. Fuck you.” He grabs the buckle of his belt, and my stomach rises to my mouth. He wants to harm me. Irrevocably. The two years I’ve been on the streets haven’t been fun, but nobody touched me that way.
I kick my legs, and he laughs. The men holding me laugh too. A punch to my stomach has me doubling over as they turn me around. Someone grabs the back of my waistband.
“No.” Fuck. I’m not going to cry. Haven’t since they left me. No. Just—
My vision blurs. Blinding white light washes everything, as the men let go and I crumble to my knees. I can’t see my attackers. Can only make out shapes. One shape, in particular, handing the others their asses.
I blink rapidly, to clear my eyes. Finally, I focus on the last thing I’d expect to see in this part of Brooklyn at three in the morning. An older guy in a suit, not a hair out of place, surrounded by three thugs. Or rather, by three groaning heaps on the ground.
Older Guy—no, not older, just white-haired, like that actor who probably never had dark hair—holds out his hand. To me. “Trust me, son. I mean you no harm,” he says in Greek. He knows I speak the language?
I get no creepy vibes from him, but I haven’t trusted someone since my parents brought me to this country only to disappear on me. I don’t take his hand.
Guy shrugs. He pulls two bricks of hundred-dollar bills from his jacket pockets and throws them at my feet. “There’s more where this came from. Much more.”
So he is a creep after all. Nobody offers you this much cash without asking for something that will cost you your soul.
“I want nothing but to help you out,” he says, as if he read my mind. “I know you have been alone for a while, and I’m sorry I didn’t find you sooner.” He sounds like he means it. Feels honest. “I’m offering you a family and a future off the streets. Back home.”
I climb to my feet, hands balled at my sides. He doesn’t only want me to trust him, but also to get on a plane with him, back to Greece?
“You can take the money and go,” he says. “Start over. Alone. Otherwise, meet me here at ten tomorrow morning, and I’ll take you to your destiny.”
I hear him loud and clear, but I’m still surprised when he turns and waltzes away without the money. I scurry to snatch up the two packs and riffle through them. There’s like two hundred grand here.
I can do anything I want, with this kind of money.
I book a room in a nearby motel—my first decent shower in a month. Can’t even remember the last time I had a pillow under my head. And an actual bed? It’s been more than a month since I spent the night in that shelter, where I almost got my passport stolen.
At ten sharp, I’m right back in the fucking alley. I’m not going with the guy. Just wanna figure him out.