I had to know more. More about my family’s… business, about all the bad things they were into. I had to know. That was the only way I was going to be able to go through with turning them in. I had to find out just how bad they were, just how deep they were into these things. Showing myself the kind of… of evil they’d done, the kind of evil they would keep doing, was the only way I’d be able to psych myself up to turn them in.
Which worked, since I needed proof anyway. There was no way I’d go to any authorities, cops, Touched, or anyone else just with my own word. A sixteen-year old kid tells them that one of the richest and most important businessmen in the newly rebuilt Detroit was a bad guy? No thanks.
So, proof. I needed proof. Which meant I needed a plan to get that proof. That was… a work in progress. Progress that was eventually stalled by the end of the school day.
I had spent the rest of that time alternating between trying to decide how to get the proof that I needed and practicing with these paint-powers. Of course, ‘practicing’ had devolved to playing with them pretty quick. But tomayto, tomahto. It also killed a third bird by helping me clear my head a little bit from all the horrible, horrible things that I couldn’t stop thinking about.
I had a few hours to add to that distraction between the end of school and family dinner, which everyone was expected to be at every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday unless you were literally dead or in the hospital. It was Tuesday and I didn’t have an excuse (or at least not one that I could actually tell them about), so I had to be there.
But before that happened, I would distract myself from the upcoming nightmare by hiding in my room and looking up information about the various gangs in the city. Specifically, which of them was currently claiming or working the most in the area of the city where that motel was. It might give me an idea of what group my family was involved with. Or running, for all I knew.
On the way to my room, however, I was stopped by Jania. The maid was standing in front of me, a curious look on her face. “Ah, Miss Evans,” she started. “A message came from your school today, about you.”
Freezing briefly, I stared at her like a rabbit in headlights for an instant before getting myself under control. “Uh–it did?”
She nodded, a clearly knowing look on her face. “Yes, they asked that the message be passed along to your mother or father.” There was a brief moment of silence before she continued in a lamenting voice. “… but I seem to have forgotten to write it down. And with my memory… well, I am getting old. I don’t suppose you know what the message was?”
Staring at the woman, I hesitated before slowly shaking my head.
“Hm,” Jania pondered briefly before nodding. “Well, if you do recall, I trust you will inform them yourself.”
Again, I nodded, staring at her before hurriedly making my way past and to my room. There, I tried to throw myself into figuring out exactly who my family might be working with.
Dad wasn’t a small-time player. I knew that just from his personality and resources, let alone everything I’d heard last night. He was big. So I had no doubt that whatever he was into, it would have to have something to do with one of the established criminal groups. And since this was Detroit, that meant one of the Fell-Gangs.
Fell-Gangs. That’s what they called groups that were led by Fell-Touched, Touched who were villains. There were still gangs who weren’t controlled or even populated by Touched, of course. But they tended to either stay small or not get very far when put up against actual Fell-Gangs. And if I knew my dad at all, he would be involved with one of Detroit’s Fell-Gangs. Probably working as their main financer or something. Maybe that was why Simon was important enough to throw orders and threats around like that, because Dad paid their bills. I could see that.
I knew who most of the Fell-gangs around the city were, of course. You had to, if you lived in the area. But it was still good to get a refresher. The gangs changed often enough, by merging, falling apart, taking each other over by force, splitting up, or just plain dying, that I really needed to look up exactly what things looked like now.
There were smaller groups of Fell-gangs that were just a few people, or even individuals. I ignored those. Dad wouldn’t be involved in anything that inconsequential. He had the money and influence to be part of a bigger group, one that could actually do some damage.
For Detroit, that left seven possibilities right off the bat. Seven that were large enough for Dad to be involved with.
First up, Oscuro. They weren’t exactly likely, to say the least. Oscuro was the Hispanic street gang, led by a Fell-Touched who called himself Cuélebre. Like the monster he was named after, Cuélebre was basically a dragon. Or so people said. Standing at anywhere between twelve and fifteen feet tall, complete with bat-like wings and a bladed tail, he looked more like a demon than a dragon as far as I was concerned, but whatever. For awhile some people had thought that he was actually one of the Abyssal. Those were… Touched that went wrong. I didn’t really like to think about them. No one did. The point was, Cuélebre definitely wasn’t one of them, because he still communicated and showed restraint. Abyssals… didn’t.
In any case, Dad wouldn’t be working with Oscuro. They did a lot of stuff with drugs and weapons, which he could have made money off of, but they didn’t work with anyone who wasn’t one of them. Dad wasn’t Latino, so they wouldn’t have anything to do with him.
Then there was a group who called themselves Braintrust. Their leadership was basically a mixture of mad scientist/inventor types and people with charm or luck powers. And, of course, their assortment of minions and thugs, both of the living and robot variety.
Braintrust got into a lot of things, between needing to take in absurd amounts of money to keep their experiments going, to stealing material for those experiments, to just plain causing havoc with those experiments. There wasn’t much they wouldn’t do, and Dad definitely might have been working with them. They always needed money, which was basically his superpower.
Almost as unlikely as Oscuro would be the group called Sherwood. They were basically hippies and nature-fanatics who had named their organization after the forest from Robin Hood. Most of them hated technology, and they were always trying to destroy or stall it. So yeah, given how much Dad put toward the manufacturing industry… I couldn’t see them working together.
Then there were the Scions of Typhon, or Scions for short. Typhon was one of the first named Abyssal, a monstrously destructive beast who still showed up to wreak havoc every now and then. His ‘Scions’ were basically anarchy-loving chaos worshippers who reveled in causing as much destruction and misery as possible, under the guise of making everyone have ‘fun’. As far as I knew (and could find online), they had no real alliance or even interaction with the actual Typhon, they just used the name for shock value. Still, I couldn’t see Dad getting along with them. They were too wild and unpredictable.
That left three possibilities, three more groups who were large enough for my family to be working with. The first were Oscuro’s primary rivals, another street gang called Easy Eights, a collection of what had been eight individual gangs who banded together to stand against Oscuro. They amounted to basically every street gangster who wasn’t hispanic or a supremacist of whatever race they happened to be. There were gangs like that, white supremacists for example, but they tended to get smacked down pretty quick either by Oscuro or the Easy Eights.
I could see my father supplying for the Easy Eights. They were thugs, but they knew enough to organize and kept themselves together. They were an option, at least.
The next group called themselves Ninety-Niners. Basically, they were a group of people who either lived here before the year 1999, or whose family did if they weren’t born yet. They saw people who moved here after that year, when Touched started to be a thing and Detroit was brought back from the brink as freeloaders or intruders. They hated them, and used the word ‘tourist’ (incredibly derogatory to them) to refer to anyone who didn’t have firm family history in the city during the so-called bad years.
Dad… hadn’t lived here his whole life. But he did grow up here and he had family history in the city. So I was pretty sure he’d be in their good graces. But I didn’t know if he’d work with them or not. They were a maybe.
One last group out of those I thought were big enough for Dad to have any business with. And this one was probably the most likely. They were known as La Casa, Italian for The House. La Casa were basically the mafia for Detroit, though they didn’t only take Italian people or anything. That was just how they started out. Nowadays, if you could bring something they wanted, you could get in, at least at the foot soldier level. And if you came as a Touched, you could get into the leadership. As their name kind of implied, all their people used names that were in some way related to gambling or card games.
It hadn’t exactly escaped my notice that Mom was Italian. La Casa were controlled and coordinated enough that I could definitely see Dad working with them if he was going to work with any bad guys.
So those were the seven possibilities I could see, from my memory and from a little research. Oscuro, Braintrust, Sherwood, Scions of Typhon, Easy Eights, Ninety-Niners, and La Casa. Of those, I only really saw Braintrust, Easy Eights, and the Ninety-Niners as possible, and La Casa as the most likely. Oscuro wouldn’t work with people who weren’t Latino, Sherwood hated technology, and the Scions were too unpredictable.
Of course, I still hadn’t figured out what to do with my suspicions by the time the dinner chime rang through the house. Mom had insisted that every room have the chime installed. In addition to the noise itself, the lights would flicker on and off to get your attention if you were using headphones. Two chimes and two flickers meant it was time for dinner, or whatever meal. Three meant it was a family meeting or some kind of activity. Four or more, or even continuous, was an emergency.
Summoned by the two chimes, I started to move to my door automatically, even going as far as to open it. Then I stopped short. For a moment, I just stared at the hallway beyond the door and tried not to hyperventilate. How was I supposed to do this? What was I supposed to do, just… just… sit at that dinner table with my family like nothing was wrong when I knew they were… they were… bad? Dad, Mom, Simon, they were all involved with at least two murders that I knew of. And given how Mom and Simon had been acting, I was absolutely positive that it was more than that. It was old hand to them, nothing new. They had almost certainly been responsible for a lot more deaths than that.
And now I just had to sit there and eat food with them like I didn’t know?! How?! How was I going to do that without staring at them the whole time?
They’d know. They’d take one look at me, one look at my face, and know that I knew. Mom would glance my way and then immediately say ‘you were the witness last night, weren’t you, Principessa?” And I would fold instantly.
No, no, no. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sit down there with them.
Unfortunately, just as I decided that, Simon came past. I wasn’t sure what he was doing over here since his room was one floor up and on the other side of the house. But he passed my door, reached in, and caught my arm. “C’mon, Booster, you know how Mom gets if she has to chime for us more than once.”
Booster. It was the nickname that Simon had come up with years ago, when I was still a kid. It referred to when I had to use a booster seat whenever we went out, because I was so short. Which was just so incredibly hilarious.
“Oh, uhh…” I really tried not to flinch too much, even as my skin crawled violently under his touch. “I’m not really that hungry, so–”
“Oh no you don’t,” Simon cajoled, dragging my protesting form out of my room and down the hall. “You’re not abandoning me to keep Mom and Dad company. Have you seen how testy she is today? Hell no. I’m not putting up with that and her being pissed that you’re not at dinner. It’s Tuesday and you’re not in the hospital or the morgue. You’re coming.”
Nothing I could say would have changed anything. And I couldn’t find my voice anyway. I was too busy remembering what I’d heard last night, when he had shot one of his own men. Or one of our dad’s own men. Whatever. I remembered the sound of his voice, the way he’d spoken to those guys. It made me shiver inwardly, and I nearly stopped short in the hallway.
But Simon kept pulling me down the stairs and over to the dining room. Or one of them, anyway. We didn’t use the main dining room for these little dinners. That place could seat thirty people and we would’ve needed a megaphone to speak from one end to the other.
Instead, we ate in the secondary dining room. The table in there ‘only’ seated ten, and we all sat at one end. Dad sat at the end seat, Mom to his right, and Simon to his left. I sat next to Mom.
Our parents were already waiting as we got there. Seeing them, I felt my blood go cold. My body went straight into autopilot, moving me to my seat beside my mother even as I struggled to keep my expression as neutral as possible. I couldn’t think about what I’d seen and heard last night. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
My mom was bad enough. I loved my mother. Seeing her there, I couldn’t help but think about what she’d done last night, what she’d proven she knew. The image of her smacking Simon with the shoe jumped into my head, and I jolted just a little, my eyes flicking to the man beside her.
My father was basically movie star handsome. He wore his ever-present dark turtleneck and white slacks. Dark blonde hair with just a little bit of gray to make him look even more distinguished, a chiseled jaw and deep blue eyes that seemed to stare right into my soul. I’d had so many friends basically fall in love with my dad that I’d lost count of them. Him or Simon. It used to make me want to throw things either at my friends or my brother and father. But these days I just let it roll off me.
Or I had. Because that thought was a mistake. The thought of my friends pining (or worse) after my brother, let alone my father, was enough to bring tears of shame and revulsion to my eyes about what I knew.
My daddy. My daddy hurt people.
“Aww, is something wrong, my little Principessa?” Mom gently teased, her hand finding its way to my shoulder to squeeze. I thought again of the way she had smacked Simon across the face with the shoe because he’d dared bring a piece of evidence back to the house. She knew what it was evidence of. She knew that those men had been murdered. My mother… my mother knew. The woman who sang me lullabies, who called me her princess specifically because I was self-conscious about being called a little boy so much, was perfectly fine with people being executed in cold blood. How could I handle that? How could I reconcile it with how I knew her?
“Cassidy?” That was Dad, his voice cutting through my panicked, rambling thoughts. “What’s wrong?”
My eyes snapped over once more, and I stared for just a second before finding my voice. “Err, nothing, I just… um, I have to… meet Rachel later,” I mumbled. “We’re going shopping.”
“Don’t let her keep you out too late,” Mom ordered before reaching out to pick up a little silver bell. She gave it a single ring, and before she had set it down, the nearby door opened. Ethan and Christiana, two of Chef Claudio’s assistants, emerged carrying a couple covered trays.
Once the food was delivered, Claudio was there at the edge of the table, taking his usual time to inform us of exactly what we were about to eat. Mom and Dad were listening intently and nodding along, while I just stared across the table at Simon, who was texting on his phone with a furrowed brow.
Mom noticed it just as Claudio left, reaching over with her spoon to smack his hand. “Simon Leonardo Evans, you know the rules. No phones. Put it down.”
He did so, looking over at our dad while clearly putting the phone in his lap so he could continue to surreptitiously look at it. “I gotta go pick up that thing tonight.”
“What time is it coming in?” Dad asked.
“Ten,” Simon answered before taking a bite from the plate that had been put in front of him.
I was staring down at my own plate, trying as hard as I could to look like I wasn’t listening. Fork. I had to put food on my fork. Gripping it tightly, I moved my shaking fork to the plate to take a bite without actually tasting it. What thing did Simon have to go pick up? Was it a normal thing or a bad thing?
I had to find out. Which meant I had to be there. But I didn’t know where ‘there’ was, and I couldn’t exactly ask him. What was I supposed to do?
Look at his phone. I needed to see the messages. It was in his lap, and he kept glancing down to keep track of the messages coming in. How could I look at it though? How… how… how…?
I had an idea. Quickly draining the milk from my glass, I slipped my own phone from my pocket and switched the camera on, setting it to record with a single glance down. Then I stood up to fill my glass once more from the pitcher on the nearby serving table. On the way, I moved behind Simon and, with a deep breath, forced myself to wrap an arm around him while setting my chin on his shoulder. “Oh wonderful, lovely, perfect, brave, amazing big brother…” I started in a sing-song voice even as my entire body tried to turn itself inside out in revulsion.
Eyes rolling, Simon turned his head a bit to look at me. “What do you want, Booster?”
Ignoring the taunting nickname, I asked, “Would you drop me off at the mall after dinner?”
He sighed, making a big production out of it before shrugging. “Yeah, yeah, I’ve got stuff to do anyway. You need a ride home?”
“Don’t get her started with that,” Dad groaned, teasing me the same way he would have any other night. “She’ll start in on driving herself, again.”
“After she passes drivers ed,” Mom quickly put in, shaking her spoon at me. “Don’t let me catch you practicing without Jefferson or Simon in the car, young lady.”
I straightened, making myself pout a little before moving to pour my glass as I informed Simon that I had another way home.
Chuckling easily, just as personable as I had ever known him to be, Dad pointed a spoon at me. “Don’t you worry, Daydreamer. Another couple months and you’ll be driving yourself all over the place. And I may have a little surprise for just that occasion.”
“If you’re good,” Mom cut in, giving Dad a brief look whose silent message was to stop spoiling me.
While they whispered briefly in the same tone I had come to associate with my parents play-fighting/flirting, I set my phone on the serving table, replaying the video I had just taken. With the sound off, of course.
There. I’d been holding the phone in my hand under the table, waving it around in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Simon’s phone in the recording. There it was. Pausing it, I glanced over my shoulder to make sure no one was paying attention to me before squinting at the thing. I could barely make out an address in Simon’s message history. That had to be where he was going tonight, since I also saw whoever he was talking to saying ‘should b there b4 10.’ Then there was a message from Simon about what would happen if they screwed up, but I couldn’t read the whole thing thanks to the angle my camera had caught the message. I was kind of okay with that, though. I had no desire to see my brother threaten someone again. And at least I knew where he was going.
Which meant it was also where I was going. Because I had to see what was going on out there, what Simon was picking up and whether it had anything to do with their… activities.
But first, I had to make sure no one would recognize me. And that meant I needed a disguise. Or, more to the point…
I needed a costume.