For my little brother/Arrest
|For my little brother by Enoch Leung
Rain was coming down heavily when we got to the jewellery store, water pooling up on the streets as it fought its way towards the nearest storm drain. The narrow alley leading to the rear offered some protection from above, but the torrential river sloshed past our feet, slowing us down.
"We got the right one, right?" Marcos asked.
I nodded. "Almost certain that this is the one. I mean, it stands out from every other building on this street." Reyes made it very clear about the jewellery store we were to clean out: "Has a silver storefront, grey concrete exterior at the rear and the sides, a well-lit 'Juan's Jewels' neon sign at the front." And the warning: "If you somehow get it wrong and cut the throat of some innocent, you're going to wish for death like a birthday wish."
We got the right one... for sure we got the right one. No mistake. Never any mistakes.
I pulled the blueprints out of my pockets, slightly frayed at the edges from being stuffed in there. "We're to improvise a plan, right here on the spot, to get the job done. And we're supposed to do it together."
"I'm out of ideas," Marcos said, shrugging. He wasn't going to take any responsibility for the plan. "Only you have that angel's touch in everything you do."
I looked back at Lewis. He had composed himself — mostly — but was carefully advancing down the alley, carefully checking every step he took and examining every inch of the environment around him. "Please, Lewis," I said, "we got over here without getting killed."
"I'm just trying to be careful," he responded, glancing at Marcos.
"The longer we stay here, the more dangerous it gets," I insisted. He didn't like my answer, but he did quicken his pace. Somewhat.
"How do we get in?" Marcos asked. "We're not mice; we can't just squirm in through a gap in the wall."
My eyes caught sight of his answer — a window. Slightly ajar, a tight squeeze, but a solution nonetheless.
Marcos and Lewis followed my gaze. "Are you crazy?! How are we supposed to fit through that?"
"You won't. I will." I tried to reach the window, but it was too high up. I could see the size of the opening at this angle though. It was smaller than I had expected, no doubt small enough to keep someone Lewis's size out. The window could be smashed, but that would create too much noise. I tried to picture myself crawling through that opening. Was I really small enough?
Only one way to find out.
I picked up and pushed whatever nearby materials I could grab and stacked them underneath the window — a wooden crate, a few discarded McDonald's pallets, a folding chair. I stood on the chair and tried again. I was still a few inches away from the sill.
"Mind giving me a lift?"
Lewis hung back. Marcos was a little more open, but he too had doubts. "You're going to do the deed alone?"
I shook my head. "You're going to lift me through that opening, and once I'm in I'll open this window further for the two of you. We'll decide what to do next later."
Marcos was reluctant, but lacking any better ideas, relented. He got onto the crate, being careful not to lose his balance, and prepared to lift me up. "Give me a hand, Lewis," he said.
"I'm light as a feather," I replied. "Shouldn't be too hard."
I gave him the thumbs-up, and he wrapped his arms around my body and hoisted me into the air. He grunted slightly from the weight, but it was all that was needed to get my hands onto the ledge. His hands were on my feet, preventing me from sliding back down. The gap was even smaller than I had expected, and I felt myself being sandwiched by two seemingly unwavering forces — the sill below me, and the window pane above me. Marcos kept pushing, hoping that it would help me get through, but it only felt like I was being forced through a torture device on a conveyor belt. I wanted to tell him to stop, but I didn't dare make a peep, for fear that someone on the other side would hear me.
Argh, this is harder than I thought.
"I hope you're doing alright in there," I heard Marcos saying. "It really does look like a tight squeeze."
I squirmed, wiggling my body, trying to get myself through the opening. It seemed like forever, moving forward mere millimetres at a time. I felt my rib cage being dragged painfully along the ledge, making every attempt to breathe an unspeakable agony. I wondered what would happen if Marcos let go... would I slide and fall back outside? Or would I be stuck there, hanging helplessly by my bones, halfway in, halfway out?
"I won't let go until you're in, Garrett," Marcos said, as if in response to the unspoken words in my mind. "Just let me know if you need anything."
I extended my hands and felt around for the wall under me. It was cool and rough, like concrete. I pushed against it, trying to make some progress. One by one, my ribs went over the sill, and then my fleshy stomach, followed by my waist. And then...
"You're in, Garrett! Just be careful; you might fall in and hit something. I'll hold onto your legs until you tell me to let go."
My hands dangled towards the ground, their fingers extended, trying to find a solid surface in the darkness. My hand came across a cold, ceramic object, rectangular in shape and covered in dust. I placed my hands firmly on it, and it gave slightly, but not enough to throw me off balance. What was this thing?
"You find anything?"
"Yeah," I said quietly.
"Can I let go now?"
My two feet were released, and unlike the rest of my body they had no trouble getting through the window. My hands almost screamed at me as they bore the weight of my entire body, unsupported and unaided. I tried to move slowly to avoid making any noise, but my legs and body curved sharply down to the ground. My legs hit water with a light splash. Water? What?
The dim light entering through the window was partially blocked by the shadow of a head. "You alright there, Garrett?"
I got up, shaking the water from my feet. A quick inventory — no broken bones, no sprained joints, everything still in one piece. I looked up and flashed him the thumbs-up again, though I wasn't sure if he could see it or not. "All good."
"You sure?" He tried to look around, but couldn't see anything other than pitch black. "What is this place?"
My eyes slowly became accustomed to the scarce light. I could make out the outlines of the objects in the room. Ceramic-tiled walls, slightly dirtied and cracked with age. An elevated basin in the corner, a small mirror above it. A bowl-shaped object, water inside of it. A small white tank behind that bowl, capped at the top with a white, porcelain cover.
I clambered on top of the toilet tank. "Watch your head; I'm going to try and open this thing."
Marcos ducked his head down as I fiddled with the handle. It was old and rusted, squeaking loudly as I turned it. The window began to creak open, inch by inch, almost taking an eternity to open. The more I cranked, the harder it became to open. Finally, Marcos said, "I should be able to fit through." He gestured towards Lewis. "C'mon."
Lewis crawled through the opening gingerly, aided by me and Marcos. We lowered him gently to the ground, narrowly missing the toilet seat and the drop into the bowl. "You sure you can get through all by yourself?" I asked Marcos.
He nodded. "I'll be fine." He used his arms to hoist himself up over the edge and, with some difficulty, managed to squeeze through. It was just big enough to accommodate him.
"Where are we?" Lewis whispered nervously when we were all safely inside.
"A bathroom of some sort," I replied.
"Now to find the ruby," Marcos said.
Yeah, good luck with that. In the dim light, I couldn't read the blueprint at all. There goes my idea about concocting a plan after we got through the window.
Marcos sighed. "Great, we're literally blind now."
"I studied the blueprint a bit yesterday, think I have some of it memorized." I tried to bring up a picture of the floorplan in my head. The outlines of a few rooms came into view. Front entrance. Customer display cases. Storeroom at the back. Rear door. I could not remember any mention of a bathroom on the blueprint. Did I simply not remember that part or did we get the wrong store?
I hope it's the former and not the latter.
"Out that door, make a left, and where we need to go should be straight ahead," I guessed.
The two hung back.
"I'm pretty sure that's the way around here."
"It's a shot in the dark, but we'll make it."
Still no sense of confidence.
"Well we can't just hide in here forever," I said impatiently.
Marcos looked around. "How about you go out first?"
I wanted to protest, but stopped. If Reyes wanted me to be a leader, he probably believed that I would take the first bullet.
I nodded and gritted my teeth. "Alright."
The hinges creaked as I opened the door. The sound startled me, and I froze, still as a statue. My eyes darted around wildly, expecting a gruff face behind the barrel of a gun staring me down amidst the darkness. But there was nothing. No one in sight. I opened the door very, very slowly, trying to minimize the noise from the hinges. Marcos and Lewis were behind me, not making any noise, not moving around, not even breathing for all I know. A spider could've dangled in front of them and they wouldn't even blink. That's how good they were... so far, at least. Soon, the door had opened wide enough for my slim body to slip through.
Be careful, I thought I heard someone say. I stuck my head through and looked around, allowing my eyes to get used to the dark. I could make out the outlines of the walls, which appeared dull and featureless in the scant lighting. To the right, I could see the windows looking out towards the street, securely barred for the night. To my left was darkness, and at first I couldn't see anything of interest. After a while I could make out the outline of a door and a sign on it. I couldn't read the sign, though.
That's probably the one, I thought.
I brought my head back in through the door, so as to prevent my voice from carrying outside the bathroom. "It's to our left," I whispered. "Don't make a noise; I don't know if there's anybody else out there!"
They nodded. Marcos held the door open slightly ajar while I slid through and quietly tiptoed over to our target door. Lewis came next; at least he wasn't being chicken when the situation was so critical. Marcos was last, taking infinite care not to make any noise when the door closed.
So far, so good.
At least until I realized the door was locked.
"I think I know how to pick locks," Lewis whispered. "Not very good at it, but I can try."
I was surprised. Up to now, I had always thought of Lewis as — perhaps a bit rudely — a coward that mostly followed Marcos like a lost puppy, scared to pee anywhere other than on his master's shoes. I had never really conceived him being able to do anything other than to carry stuff and run. Now, his résumé wasn't as empty as I had thought of it to be.
I nodded my approval, and he removed two hairpins from his pockets and fiddled with the lock. I motioned for Marcos to come over and whispered into his ear: "Did Lewis ever tell you that he could pick locks?"
He shook his head, but he didn't say anything else. While Lewis did his thing, I kept a lookout for anybody or anything that might've been watching us. I was very tense — my heart was practically beating out of my chest, all the hair on my skin stood on end, and my breathing quickened, something that only exacerbated the butterflies in my stomach. I tried to calm myself down, tried to relax my stiff muscles, tried to get my heartbeat under control, all while trying not to make any noise. It was brutal — almost tiring — but luckily it wasn't long before I heard a soft *click* and the locked door was pushed open. "Easy," Lewis breathed. The three of us crept inside the dark storeroom, barely illuminated by a tiny window, also barred and out of reach. None of us dared to risk a light — no thief would ever let anyone else know they were there — but without light, there was no way we could search the room, aside from the faint outlines we could make out.
Marcos took a step forward and hit his foot on something. "Cardboard?" he whispered.
I got down on my knees, hoping to make less noise that way, and felt around with my hands. I felt the smooth exterior of a cardboard box, occasionally interrupted by the paper labelling and packing tape that sealed it shut. I shuffled quietly over to my left and right and found more adjacent boxes. Slowly, I got up, still feeling around. My hands came across a metal shelf, of which contained yet another row of boxes. Cardboard boxes. Cardboard boxes. Lots and lots and lots of boxes.
"For expensive jewellery, they sure got cheap on the packaging," Marcos muttered.
"Who said the stuff here was expensive?" I responded. "For all we know this stuff is plastic imported from China and the ruby's either the only expensive thing they have around here... or it's fake like everything else."
"Speaking of the ruby... how the heck are we supposed to find it in here?"
I shrugged, although I was pretty sure neither of the two could see it. "Carefully search through every box, I guess. Feel around with your hands. The ruby's red, so that should be easy to see even in the dark."
I thought I saw Marcos nodding in agreement. "I'll go and keep watch," I whispered. "You two look for it."
I stood by the door, peering out to check nervously for unwanted company, like a student checking the hallway looking out for the headmaster while his classmates had a rubber band fight in the classroom. There was the slight rustling of boxes being opened as Marcos and Lewis pawed through their contents. Maybe I should be in there, I thought, since I have the most experience with scavenging.
There was a pause. "Give me a hand, Lewis," I heard Marcos whispering. "This box seems to be taped shut."
Why would the Red Cults use boxes and tape to hide a ruby, may I ask?
A slight struggle. "Can't!" Lewis rasped. "We should cut the tape first."
I guess they thought nobody would bother to look in them.
"With our fingers?"
"Doesn't Garrett have a knife?"
Marcos tapped me. "Can I borrow your knife?" he asked.
Well that idea obviously didn't work.
I checked outside, then produced the switchblade from my pockets. "Quickly — I need it in case someone comes around."
The knife was clicked open. The sound of the blade hacking through some tape. Soon, the blade was closed and the knife handed back to me. "Thanks." The knife was in my possession once more, and I breathed a small sigh of relief. I was surprised that a weapon — a tool used to inflict great harm — could give me so much comfort.
Pop! "I got the flap... I got the flap... it's open..."
"Nothing here but Styrofoam peanuts."
"Well it could be buried in here somewhere..."
Just then, I saw a sight that turned my blood to ice.
A shadowy figure, its outline clearly marked by the light entering from the storefront. It was watching us, having caught wind of what we were doing. It must've seen me notice them too, for it pointed a finger at us and yelled, "Hey!"
Marcos and Lewis froze dead in their tracks. For me, though, there was no time for that. "Run!" I cried out.
"Don't even think about doing that!" the figure yelled as he rushed towards us. "I've called the cops on ya!"
Lewis needed no encouragement. He had already bolted out of there with the speed of a cheetah. Marcos wasn't so lucky — he wound up running straight into the figure as he left the storeroom, who knocked him over and pinned him onto the ground. "Huh?! Who the fuck are you?" I could see Marcos wriggling unsuccessfully, trying to escape his assailant. "A kid! Lemme guess who sent you here!"
Run! half of my brain screamed. But the other half resisted, holding me back, keeping me from getting out. I can't just leave him to his fate!
"Who's that pothead? Reyes? Must be him! Only he would use kids to do something like this!" His hands were around Marcos's neck, using the weight of his entire body to keep him down. He had the strength of a superhuman and the dexterity of a grappler. "You'll be cryin' out for him like you need Jesus when the cops haul your ass off!"
The knife. The knife...
It was out of my pocket in a flash. I clicked it open and rushed forward. I had never cut another living thing before, save my own fingers when I was younger, and certainly not for aggression, let alone defense. I thrusted the knife forward and dragged it back towards me. The blade met the figure's cheek, narrowly missing Marcos's nose by a few inches, and cut along the skin quite nicely, leaving a small, red gash behind. I was amazed at how easy it was. Dodger must've sharpened this thing before giving it to me, I thought.
No time for thoughts now, though. Marcos slid out after his attacker recoiled. "Let's split up!" I yelled. "Get away from here!"
Marcos nodded, and the two of us exited through the back door and parted ways. Lewis was nowhere to be seen. The rain was still coming down heavily, leaving the pavement slick and wet. I tried to put as much distance as possible between me and the crime scene, taking to the side streets in the hopes that I would not be seen. I dared not look back — I didn't want to know if the figure was chasing me — and it wasn't long before I had to cross a street. I rushed out, not bothering to check traffic. A bright flood of white light blinded me, and I nearly got run over. A car came to a squealing stop, the bumper knocking me off my feet, sending me splashing into a puddle. I tried to make sense of my surroundings, the people that were looking at me, the car that almost turned me into a bloodbath.
A police car.
The two doors opened, each producing an officer. "Freeze!" one of them yelled.
But I wasn't going to freeze. I scrambled back onto my two feet and started running again. The two officers took pursuit. I tried to lose them by running through the maze of narrow side streets, but they always managed to find me again, either by keeping pace or by pure chance, turning up out of nowhere a split second after I thought I had escaped. I kept running, my breathing becoming heavy as I grew weary, but the two were like tireless machines, barely batting an eye at my refusal to yield. I kept running, pushing and shoving and squirming my way past obstacles and people, but the two cops always made it through. I kept running, running and running and running, until I had nowhere left to run. My route had been blocked by a small dumpster, its lid closed, appearing to me as a dark, shadowy figure, like a monster. Behind me, I could hear the officers catching up, their footsteps getting louder and louder as they approached. I tried to squeeze past the dumpster, between the walls and the metal contraption, but my heart sank when I saw the chain-link fence, stretching from wall to wall, sealing off the alley, the tops guarded with barbed wire. Even without the dumpster, there was no way I could climb over that fence.
I was trapped.
"Hey!" one of the officers yelled. I turned around to face them, backing up slowly, hoping to create some distance, even though I knew such efforts were fruitless. Both of them had their firearms drawn and pointed at me. "Drop your weapon!"
I hesitated, but realizing that a boy armed with a knife had no chance against two trained officers with pistols, did as I was told.
"Put your hands up!"
I raised my hands slowly above my head. A sign of surrender. An indication of my resignation. What other choice did I have? The two were getting closer and closer, both on high alert. They were ready for whatever I might try to do to them.
One of the officers broke the silence. "I got him," he said as he holstered his weapon. From his belt, he produced a pair of handcuffs. "Keep your gun on him in case he tries something funny."
As soon as he got near me, so close that his shirt occupied most of my field of vision, I made a break for it. At least, I tried to. I attempted to slither past the cop who was apprehending me, but he rammed his entire body into mine. WHAM! My body hit the dumpster with a sharp bang, the air and senses being knocked out of me. I heard the hammer of a gun being cocked back and, soon afterward, found myself staring down the barrel of a pistol, ready to fire, ready to shoot me, ready to silence me. Forever.
"Got 'im... I got 'im," the cop pinning me down told his colleague.
The gun backed away slowly, still pointed at me. Two strong hands turned me around, so that I was now facing the dumpster, before slamming me back down against the metal. With one hand he held my head, almost controlling me, as if he were trying to break into my mind; with the other, he patted me down, checking my pockets, every inch of my shirt and shorts. When he was satisfied, he turned his head and nodded to his partner. "He's got nothing else."
Two hands. Two hands were now holding me down. My head was released, but still I could not move more than a slight wriggle. I could hear the handcuffs clinking as they were readied. Ready to arrest me.
Arrest... I was being arrested... I was about to go to jail...
A face popped up in front of me. It was a face that I used to be able to see every day, a face that I loved, a face that I adored. A face that was reminiscent of home, of family, of the people closest to me. A face that always lit up at the sight of me, regardless of whatever dire situation it was in.
Evan... my brother... I'll never see him again...
I gritted my teeth hard. Evan... no... no, I can't let them arrest me! I can't let my brother down! I can't!
I pushed back hard with all my might. The two cops were slightly taken aback by my sudden outburst of energy, but their grips on me did not falter. I thrashed, trying desperately to break free, break free of their superhuman grasp on me. The more I fought, the more determined I grew to get out. I can't... I can't let my brother down! I can't let you bring me down! I promised him I'd come home, I promised!
I thrust back with my foot and scored on a kneecap. There was a grunt of pain, and for a brief second, the monstrous grip on me loosened slightly. Wasting no time, I squirmed to get out. As the cop I kicked struggled to keep me in, the second cop brandished his baton; I didn't see it coming until it was too late. One moment, I was standing up; the next, I was on the cold, hard ground, completely dominated and overtaken by mind-numbing pain. I tried to move, but couldn't, couldn't even move my fingers. I wanted to scream, anything to relieve the pain, but my ability to make any noise, aside from a slight whimper, had been beaten out of me. It felt like a searingly hot poker, fresh from the fireplace, had been slammed into my back with the force and fury of a million suns. I could still feel it, feel the baton as it met my skin, burning a rectangular hole into my back. Up to now, I had never experienced such physical pain in my life; even the Wingz Treatment was a pedicure compared to this.
A shadow came over me. I felt the mass of a body as it clambered on top of me, using its entire weight to keep me down, although I couldn't move regardless. "You son of a slut," the cop muttered. I heard a click, and the spot around my wrists immediately tightened. I was completely powerless to stop it. "We got you now, fucking Rugby boy."
I was picked up and dragged, for I was unable to communicate with my legs. The squad car was waiting for me, its lights flashing, the red and blue lights leaving brightly-coloured holes burning in my eyes. I turned my head slightly, to shield them from the blaze. In the corner of my eye, I could see Marcos and Lewis, safely hidden behind a mailbox, watching me.
The door was opened. "C'mon," the cop said as he began to shove me inside.
Help! I wanted to say. Help me! But the two did not come to my aid. As soon as they saw the opportunity, they were out of there, running away as fast as their legs could carry them, their backs turned towards me.
Come back! Come back! Come back...
"Move!" The view of the outside world disappeared as I was thrown in. The door was slammed shut; there were no handles on the inside. Separating me from the front of the vehicle was a metal mesh, old and rusted, but still, I figured, strong and resilient.
It was a mini-jail cell. A temporary cell, for the ride to my permanent one.
The officers got in and started the car. "You gave us a shit ton of trouble out there, son," the one who whipped me with the baton remarked. "God knows what else you could've done out there on your own!"
I had no response. As I felt the car beginning to move, I closed my eyes and, despite my best attempts not to, let a single teardrop fall.
|For my little brother by Enoch Leung