“Stay behind me,” Fernando snapped. He caught Adana’s wrist. “It’s not safe here.”
Her eyes flew to his face and she stepped back obediently. “But it’s empty,” she protested softly.
He glanced down at her. “No, mija. It’s not.”
She paled and fell silent. He smiled at her and turned back to the stairs. The door at the top stood closed. He felt the hairs raise on the back of his neck and swallowed. He started up.
Light gleamed from under the door and he put a hand out to slow Adana. “Careful now.”
He could feel her tremble against his arm and wished he could spare her the fear, but they had no choice. The only way to get out was past the so-called ‘soldiers’ upstairs. He cursed her father and brothers, who let her be taken. Now they were dead, killed in the endless street violence.
The door was locked, but he’d come prepared. It had been twenty years since he’d used the skills of a thief, but his fingers remembered the picks like they had never left them behind for a legal life. After a few moments of probing, the lock clicked softly. He opened the door slowly, just a crack, so he could see out.
The kitchen on the other side of the door was harshly lit by a single bulb in the ceiling, its cover long-since broken and forgotten. Dishes stacked in the sink gave off a sour smell, matched by the trash can overflowing in the corner. He heard the television on the other room and the sounds of a football game. Denver vs. Miami. He briefly wondered at the score and nearly laughed at himself.
He slipped out of the doorway, Adana a silent shadow at his back. “Out the back door, quickly. Run straight to the woods. You can find your way from there, right?” he whispered.
She nodded. She looked out the door and then back at him. “You’ll be okay?”
He smiled. “Of course I will. Just go. I’ll be along.”
She nodded and padded over to the door. It was unlocked and she slipped out. He watched her run straight into the woods, her hair streaming behind her in a black curtain. He smiled to himself.
“Hey!” The shout startled him, made him turn.
“Hello, Ricardo,” he purred.
Ricardo blinked. “Fernando?”
“I told you I’d be back to get Adana. You never should have started taking girls, you know. Drugs, fine. I don’t care if you poison yourselves. But you take the daughters of my people and I’ll kill you.”
Ricardo laughed. “Right. You can’t kill anyone, old man. You’re legit now, haven’t fought in twenty years.”
Fernando flipped a knife in an underhanded throw and it thunked with a satisfyingly solid sound into Ricardo’s stomach. Ricardo stumbled and fell to one knee.
Behind him, the others raced into the kitchen and saw Fernando. Paulito was the first through the door, the knife in his hand as long as Fernando’s arm. He dodged a sideways swipe and smashed his fist into Paulito’s face. The younger man crashed into the wall and slid down it, unconscious.
Fernando turned toward the last attacker, a newer member of their gang. He knew the boy’s name was Juan, but that was about it. He’d come from New York and was reputed to be a strong knife fighter.
Fernando felt something impact his stomach and stumbled backward. The sound of the pistol-shot deafened him. Juan fired twice more, the gun jumping in his hand. The look on his face was part horror and part surprise.
“You’ve never killed anyone before, have you?” Fernando sneered as he fell to his knees.
The boy stumbled backwards, dropping the gun. “I…” He trailed off.
Fernando fell onto his stomach, his hands not working to stop him. He landed with his face to one side, staring at the door.
At least Adana had gotten out safely. Fernando felt himself grow cold and the room dimmed. He heard others moving into the room behind him, and someone swore. Then his vision went black.
This story continues, here.