Prologue 4: Five Points

Pablo calls me this morning; I figured he would.  There's some kind of shit going on over in Five Points — two, three, sometimes four bodies turning up dead every week for the past six.  Pablo — the rest of the cops down there — they care.  But as long as it's just homeless people and hookers who are dying, the brass in the City and County Building aren't willing to authorize any more manpower or overtime.

And it's just homeless people and hookers who are dying down there.

So yeah... I figured he'd call me soon enough.  I don't count as "more manpower" since I'm on the payroll and receive my stipend check every month no matter how much or how little I do for them.  It's small enough that the City and County of Denver think they're getting a great deal. It's large enough that I don't have to worry as much about the talks of furloughs on my day job or covering my mortgage.  To be honest, if it weren't for the mortgage, I wouldn't care about the money at all; I contract with them for the insurance.

I'm a little surprised it takes him as long as it does to call, though.  I guess he must have had a lead on who was doing this and the lead didn't pan out.  To hear him tell it, that happens more often than not.

Me... I try not to think about it.

We meet for an early breakfast on Sunday morning at Le Peep's by City Park.  It still feels weird talking murder over skillet breakfasts and morning beverages — several pots of coffee for him, a pitcher or two of Arnold Palmer for me. And this weirdness persists, even though we've been doing this since I was in grad school, even before I started working for the Denver PD.  Used to be, when he first made detective, we'd talk about all the different types of crime that went on in Denver. Since he transferred to Homicide about five years back, all we talk now is murder.

When he isn't flirting outrageously, that is.

But I know it's serious when all he says is, "Hey, Andrea... thanks for meeting me," as he slides into the booth across from me.

I shrug as I sip my lemonade-laced tea.  Even an ordinary person can see he's wound up, working on a deficit of sleep, and not a happy camper.  "It's Five Points," I say as I put the glass down.  "How much more do you know than I do?"

"How much do you know?" he asks, pouring coffee from the carafe into his cup.

"I've been down there three nights in the past week."

He nods.  "Then you probably know at least as much as we do."  He tries to smile, but in his current state, it looks more like a grimace.  "The coverage in the News is typically sensationalized, but the Post has accurate, if incomplete, information.  Your observations probably told you everything else we know.  I want to know what you found out that we might have missed."

"Fair enough."  We drop the conversation while Liza takes our order and gives us a bit of teasing about having been "dating" long enough... and that it is probably time we move in together.  She laughs as we simultaneously roll our eyes at her before taking our orders back to the kitchen.  What she doesn't know — what Pablo probably doesn't know that I know — is that he is half-hoping our relationship will eventually head down that road.  I could certainly do worse; Pablo is good-looking, intelligent, cares about people and has a great sense of humor.  But despite what he hopes — hell, despite what I sometimes hope — we both know the dangers of dating someone you work with.  True, my employment with the Denver Police Department is on a contractual basis. And it's also true that I only get called in on the really bad cases or cases that DPD doesn't want to or can't afford to handle. None of that negates the fact that Pablo is my point of contact with the Denver Police Department. He'd be happy enough to set me up with any of the other detectives as departmental liaison. Hell, even Captain Sanchez himself! But I think he has more than just an inkling of how hard that would be for me.

It had taken a year and a half of almost weekly gentle badgering — and his ex-partner's murder — to get me to talk to him about working for the City of Denver.  He knows I'm skittish about trusting people outside my family and outside The People with this secret of mine.

I also know Captain Sanchez knows about me and my secret. He's the man who can make things happen, he's the man who gets Ninja what she needs to do her job, he's the man who keeps Andrea's identity a secret. So sure, he knows me... but I don't know him.

It's really funny — not in the ha ha ho ho way, either — that Pablo just... accepts what I do, just trusts me to do the right thing. He's never asked just what it is that I do, not even once. It's almost as if he doesn't want to know.

I take another drink of the tea, then set the glass down before taking a cleansing breath.  This never gets easier, no matter how many times I go through this ritual dance with him.  But sitting calmly, hands resting easily in my lap with lao gong points aligned, I can manage to convey the information without becoming emotionally attached to it.

"All seven of the working girls work or have worked for Jimmy T in the past year. All the homeless people are from out of town and have arrived in Denver in the past four to six months.  Every single one of them — ten, by my count — was from back East... New York State... upstate... specifically, from somewhere near the Capital.  Two were from Albany, one from Schenectady, three from Troy, one from Altamont, two from Delmar, and the latest was from Rexford."

He shakes his head slowly.  "Andrea, I don't know how the hell you do that.  We got the Jimmy T connection and even that the homeless were from out of town.  But to pinpoint it like that?  I swear to God, you're psychic, girl."

I shake my head in response.  "I just listen, Pablito.  People talk among themselves when they think they're alone."  I shrug.  "I assume you're looking for something more than just listening, at this point."

"You assume correctly."

I just nod and look out the window toward the Park.  It looks like today is going to be another typical spring day... sunny, with pleasant enough temperatures that it will be easy to tell the natives from the tourists. The natives will be in shorts and shirt sleeves, the tourists in long pants and jackets. And the fierce winds will start blowing off the mountains beyond Golden by mid-morning.  The bud-covered branches of the trees across the street are already beginning to sway gently.

"They're not related, you know," I say without turning.  "Did your people run any DNA analysis on the homeless people?"

Being in a half-meditative state as I am, his surprise is palpable.  I resist the urge to smile.

"Hey, homeless people, Andrea.  DNA analysis costs money, and homeless people aren't worth that kind of money."  There is anger in his voice, too.  He hates anybody getting killed, he hates not knowing who did it, he hates not having the resources to do his job.

Well.  He does have me.

"And why the hell you think they're not related?"

At that, I do turn back to him and smile.  "I listen, Pablo.  I listen in many places and in many ways."  But at that, I lose the smile.  I never can smile when delivering the hard news.

"The girls are Jimmy T's doing.  Oh, not directly," I say, holding up a hand to forestall any response.  "We both know he'd never let his hands get dirty like that.  The best description I can give you of the killer — at the moment — is dark as shadows, tall and bulky, walks slow and..."  Sometimes it's hard to translate what my eyes around town saw.  "Maybe limping or shambling."  

At least one set of eyes had seen him go back to Jimmy T's safehouse out near Lowry, but that will be a little more difficult to explain to Pablo.  As I said, he's never asked exactly why I needed the Supers insurance; he's never asked about what talents I have beyond the public record of my martial arts training.  That alone — the martial arts training — is enough to get even a Normal to register with the City and County... after all, technically, my hands and feet are deadly weapons.  Sometimes, when I'm in a good mood, that makes me laugh.  Mostly it just annoys me.

"Now that I know what, or rather who, I'm looking for, I should be able to get you your connection to Jimmy T and your people can take it from there.

"The other..."  I sigh with a bit of relief when Liza comes over with our skillet breakfasts.

"You lovebirds need anything else?" she asks as she put the skillets on the placemats in front of us, a happy grin on her face.

A matched set of rolled eyes is her answer, and she laughs.  "I'll be back in about ten with more coffee and tea for you."  She sashays back to the front counter where she and Gracie, the other early morning waitress, are filling salt and pepper shakers, rolling silverware within napkins, and doing other generic prep work.  Donny and Miranda will be arriving soon to help with the full house Le Peep's gets every Sunday morning.

"The other...?" Pablo prompts.

I eat several forkfuls of food before answering. "You know how New York is. Back in the 90s, Giuliani cleaned up New York City by bussing all the homeless people out of town. The police were arresting and jailing people for minor offenses. Yes, crime dropped and it was a more tourist-friendly, cleaner town. And it got him re-elected. Well, the whole state is that way when it comes to the Unfortunates. I think the only Unfortunates in New York State are the ones who are actually in New York City." I laugh; without humor. "Most of the counties north of Westchester either bus the less obvious Unfortunates out of state or bus the really bad ones down to the Bronx. If they don't outright kill them."

If I ever get upset about Colorado's policy on Unfortunates, I just remember that New York is even worse. At least here, only the most offensive of the Unfortunates from the metroplex are sent to Commerce City, although offensive is a pretty subjective term. That doesn't mean people out here are more tolerant of them than anywhere else; just that the Denver-Boulder area has always been more willing to leave people alone if they aren't causing trouble. Yeah, Unfortunates are shunned, but they aren't usually killed out of hand. But to be somewhat fair to New York, the Supers with less than honorable intentions do tend to congregate there.  Still... it doesn't seem quite right.

I finish off my glass of tea and pour more from the pitcher before continuing.

"We're both too young to remember when Denver was viewed as a safe haven for the gay population back in the late 80s and 90s. It was never the Mecca San Francisco was, but queer folks flocked here. Of course, I spent most of the 80s and the 90s overseas, so I only know what I've read... what I've learned from talking to people, what I've learned by listening." I have to smile at that. Even now, a decade into the new millennium, there are probably more queer folks per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. outside of San Francisco. And truthfully? Per capita, we might even have them beat.

"Well, that's the same reputation we've got in the Unfort community.  Those who can almost, but not quite, pass for Normals know they will at least be ignored here.  There are enclaves all over the city, a few up in Boulder, some out in Jefferson County, one or two in Arapahoe County."  I shrug, then continue to eat.  This isn't anything he doesn't already know.  And he can add two plus two and come up with four.

"So someone else is hitting Unfortunates, using Jimmy T's activities to hide their activities," he says, brown eyes angry.

"Got it in one, Chief."

"Well, that would explain why every lead I track down turns into a dead end.  And why do you insist on calling me 'Chief'?"

"Exactly. And I do it because it drives you crazy," I say, repeating the same line he always gets when he asks that question, all the while grinning at him. "A girl's gotta have a little fun every once in awhile, you know."

He pretends to throw his fork at me, then laughs.  He has a great laugh, when he lets himself relax enough to actually laugh.  All too quickly, though, he's serious again.

"There isn't anything I can do about the Unfortunates, Andrea."  

I've come to know him well enough over the years that it isn't necessary to read his aura to know he's angry and frustrated. And he's just plain tired of being told to ignore any crime where an Unfortunate is a victim.  There isn't much I can say to make that any better.

"They've got me, Pablo.  I do what I can."

"Don't get yourself in trouble over this, Andrea.  You work for Denver.  Denver says leave them be."

I think the look I give him might have been called predatory.

"I know what Denver says, Pablo. I know where the line is. But there are things I can do." At the look on his face, I add, "Most of those things are completely legal. And the ones that might not be strictly legal are morally right. Plus, Denver would have a hard time proving I had anything to do with them."

That doesn't really satisfy him, but Liza returns then with his second pot of coffee and my second pitcher of tea-and-lemonade.  After she leaves to seat a group of college kids who look like they've been up all night partying, I continue.  "If your dead homeless people are just homeless people... assumed to be Normal homeless people by Denver... then both of us are well within our rights to eliminate the threat.  And involving me does nothing to upset the beancounters."  

We lock eyes for a minute, maybe two.  It's true what they say about the eyes being the windows to the soul.  A lot can be said with just a look... and not all of it is of the nature Liza assumes.  Finally, he nods and pours himself another cup of coffee.

"Good thing homeless people don't rate DNA testing," he says ironically.

"Sometimes it isn't necessary to spend a lot of money to get justice for those who've died."

We finish our meal in companionable silence as the restaurant starts filling up.  I still have nearly two hours before my traditional 9:00am Sunday morning call with the family in Flagstaff, so I'm not in a hurry to get anywhere in particular.  Sometimes... sometimes it's nice to just pretend to be an ordinary person for a little while.  Of course, Pablo is extremely observant for a Normal — it's what makes him such a good cop, I guess — and he notices my mood.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

I grin at him.  "They're worth considerably more than that, Señor Garcia."  I shrug as I look around the restaurant.  "I was just thinking that sometimes it's nice to pretend to be Normal."

He looks confused.  "Isn't that what you do at your day job?"

"Nope.  At my day job, I try very hard to be not..."  My eyes dart around the room again, then meet Pablo's as I shrug.  "Well, you know."

He nods.  "Ah... right."  He understands; we've talked about the similarities between my day job and his undercover assignments — back when he was working Narcotics and Vice.  Someday... someday he's going to ask what exactly is it that I do.  I've been thinking about how I will answer that question since I first realized we had become friends.  I don't think I'll know how to answer it, though, until he asks.  Even then... well, even then I think it will be hard to explain.

Liza brings us the check; it's my turn to pay, so I pull out my debit card and hand it over to her.

"How soon do you think you'll have something for me," he asks while we wait for her to run it through the credit card machine.

"Hard to say... two, maybe three days."  I could give him the address now, but I need to find a human who can describe Jimmy T's thug.  Lining up my ducks in a row, and all that. It isn't like the thug had been particularly careful. Pablo only needs a starting place; then he can pull the threads that will tie it all back to Jimmy T. It will be nice to get that creep out of circulation for a while.  Not that there aren't plenty of others around town, but one less is one less.

Plus, I want to take care of my half of the problem... whoever is killing the Unfortunates.

"Okay.  Dinner on Wednesday?" he asks just as Liza returns for my signature on the credit slip.

She half giggles, half snickers as I add in the tip and sign the paper.  Naturally, as expected, both Pablo and I roll our eyes at her again.

"Someday, that joke is going to wear thin, Liza my dear," I say, handing her the slip.

"Someday, Miss Smarty Pants, it's not going to be a joke," she responds as she snatches the paper, then flounces off to file it away in the cash register.

"If this wasn't my favorite breakfast spot," I say as we both stand to leave, "I'd suggest we start going to The Egg Shell."

He laughs as we walk to the door.  "You know we'd wind up with the same problem no matter where we go.  We're both entirely too adorable to simply be coworkers, you know."

I punch his arm... gently.  I learned a long time ago that my strength is no match for any Normal.  "You know, you could pretend to be my gay cousin or something."

That gets him laughing even harder.  "Sure, and you could start wearing flannel shirts and Birkenstocks, and we'll both join the gay chorus.  I'm sure we'll be very convincing."

I have to laugh at that.  "No we wouldn't, but we'd have a great time.  I love to sing, you love to sing... and both of us are pretty good at it."

"Andrea, you're a crazy person.  I'll see you Wednesday.  Las Delicias?"

"Where else?  See you then, Chief!"

He mutters something under his breath that I pretend not to hear as he turns toward the parking lot and his car, as I head north on York Street with a smile on my face.

* * *

Late that night, dressed in what I have laughingly started to call my "Super Hero Costume," I stand silently in the dark shadows of an alley in the Five Points neighborhood.  Black shirt, black bolero vest, black pants, black leather boots with soft, silent soles... and my staff.  I'm listening and watching — the cats are being very helpful tonight, feeling more vigorous with the coming of Spring no doubt — in the alleys and abandoned buildings where most of the homeless gather.

As hard as the City tries, they've never been able to eradicate the poverty and crime in this neighborhood.  It's much too close to Downtown and LoDo — Lower Downtown — to make them comfortable.  It's bad for the tourist trade.  They've managed to turn LoDo into a thriving hotspot for yuppies and tourists, with its nightclubs and fancy restaurants. They built Coors Field for their no longer quite so new baseball team, the Rockies. They proudly point out the enlarged and transplanted Elitch Gardens amusement park, and the big new Aquarium. It galls them they can't do the same thing to Five Points.

What the City has never understood is the nature of both areas. LoDo had been home to warehouses and shipping companies and train yards when nearly everything was shipped by rail. Now, only Amtrak stops at Union Station. With only two trains a day stopping from the East and two from the West, half the Station itself has been turned into a restaurant. With barely a handful of people coming or going by train each day, Amtrak doesn't rate much space. Union Station had been part of the ghost town of LoDo even when planes still flew in and out of Stapleton. By the time Denver International had been completed, so had the renovations of Union Station and the rest of LoDo.

Five Points is different, though.  People live here, they always have.  The poorest, often homeless, people... true.  But people are harder to move than dust and empty packing crates.  Sure, there are other neighborhoods of poor and disenfranchised people, but none of them are adjacent to Downtown.  The Five Points neighborhood is not the sort of image Denver wants the world to see when tourists came to call.  The people who run the City and County of Denver, however, are still of the City and County of Denver.  They don't have the kind of cojones people back East have... to forcibly make people move.  That isn't an image they want to portray either. It certainly makes their political lives more complicated.

I'd be lying if I said I cared... about the politicians and their careers, I mean.

So they try to ignore the whole area.  It's a strange part of town; it always has been.  When the tiny town of Auraria had been engulfed by the growing city of Denver, where the perfect north-south grid of the Denver streets crashed into the perfect diagonal grid of Auraria, Five Points was born.

There are grand old buildings here that developers would love to turn into B&Bs, homes for the wealthy, museums and tourist attractions. Maybe some of the buildings are haunted, just like people claim. I've never met a ghost or sensed any qi emanations that don't belong to a person, animal or part of nature, so I can't say one way or the other. I haven't even seen any of my People's Spirits, not even on Halloween when the veils fall and it's most likely for me to see any of it. Some people want to believe, and that's fine. And if the ghosts exist, as long as they don't cause problems for me, that's fine, too.

Tonight, there is too much activity in one of those grand old buildings... one that is abandoned and should have been empty.  I can feel the energies of the three people in the building from where I stand nearly a block away.  The two cats in the building show me there are two very frightened people — they seem to be teens, a boy and a girl — hiding on the third floor under an ancient bed covered with tattered sheets; the other is older, though it's hard to tell how much older through the cat's eyes.  Perhaps he's about my age.  His aura — even from a block away — seethes with hatred and malevolence.

All three of them are Unfortunates.

Damn.  We do not need Eaters in this town.  Even if he followed the Unforts out here from New York, they are in my town now, and under my protection.  Will he stop with just killing those of his own kind from back East, or will he start attacking people of Colorado, people who've taken refuge here from other parts of the country? Who's to say?

Right. I'm the one to say, and I say no. There will be no more killings for him.  Not on my watch.

The tabby shows that he is just beginning to climb the stairs from the first floor up to the second.  I run toward the building with greater than human speed, passing several startled neighborhood residents on the way.  The rumors and whispers will start before I even reach the old building. But I'm known in the neighborhood, at least by those who most need to know me.

As I approach, I slow and study the qi flows. The three of them are the only people in the house. I thank the cats for their help and suggest they might want to be elsewhere until my tasks are finished for the night. The black cat on the third floor, who has been watching the teenagers and worrying in a cat-like way, slips silently from the room. Then she purposefully startles the man climbing the stairs as she runs past him. Both cats display incredible amusement in their auras as we pass by in the doorway.

Unlike the mischievous one, I climb the stairs as quietly as a gentle breeze across the South Platte River on a summer's day, coming up behind the man just as he reaches the room where the teens are hiding. Reading his aura tells me he is strong; while no match for me, I can see how he has so easily dispatched ten of his own kind. He's crafty enough to have used Jimmy T's murders to mask his own, but it's the instinctual cleverness of a hunter. He does not seem to be well suited to the role of prey.

Gosh.  That's too bad.

"You should leave those children alone," I say quietly as I settle into a ready stance, just barely loud enough for him and his intended victims to hear.  "Go back to your special hell in the East, and I won't hurt you."

Well, probably won't hurt you, I amend to myself.

He whirls around, surprised, and lashes out with hands that end in what appeared to be claws.

Blocking with one arm — not needing to be mindful of my strength or speed — I sweep his legs out from under him with the staff — again, heedless of strength and speed.  The result is a howling man with at least one broken leg and wrist, writhing on the floor, using some very coarse language.  But, somewhat surprisingly, he decides those injuries will not deter him from his mission.  He begins crawling across the floor toward the teens under the bed.  They had been shocked into stillness when I'd spoken, but now their fear is getting the better of them.  I can sense they are trying to find another way to flee from their pursuer.

I sigh and leap over him to stand between him and the teens.

"Now, I did warn you.  But you're just trying to make me angry now."

Rather than a blast of qi that will toss him across the room, I use that force more delicately to simply push him backwards, slowly, toward the door.

"I hate to be cliché, but you wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

He growls more curses, but as he reaches the doorway, he hooks those claws of his into the door frame so that any further pushing on my part will have to be more forceful... and possibly fatal.

"They must die.  I've been told so."  Then he laughs, a hideous sound of pure evil.  "And been told of Ninja who never kills.  I heals and keeps fighting and killing.  Ninja not stop me, no."

He stands, on one leg, as the broken one hasn't quite finished healing, a grin of utter madness on his face.

Wonderful.  My reputation is more widespread than I would like, though I suppose he could have picked up his information by simply listening to the rumors and whispers in Five Points and Commerce City and any of the places Unfortunates gather.  After all, he could have been in Denver for months before he began killing.

Of course, he doesn't exactly have accurate information, either.

"Oh, but Ninja will stop you, yes," I say sadly.  "Who told you Ninja never kills lied to you.  Ninja just hates doing so."

As he puts weight on his previously broken leg and prepares to launch himself at me, I pull qi around me as a shield and move almost imperceptibly for the perfect stance. This time when he leaps, I take a step to the side as I swing the staff, hitting him solidly on the side of the head — at great speed, at full strength — crushing his skull. It makes a sickening sound, and I manage to leap out of the way of the blood splatter.

The shield of qi, you see, is not so much to protect me from him — though it will probably do that, as well — but to keep the dissipation of his qi, his death, from hurting so much. It helps. It just doesn't help enough.

If you must kill, Master Chen had said, do so decisively, quickly, and with mercy.

Still, when I kneel beside the bed to reach a hand out to the youngsters still hiding there, tears run down my cheeks as I speak.  "You're safe now.  Welcome home.

"Come out and let me introduce you to some of your new neighbors who will watch out for you until you get your footing here in Denver."

I figure the best place for them, at least temporarily, will be with Old Mama.  She's an old Negress — I know, not politically correct, but she insists on the term — who knows everyone in Five Points, knows everything that happens in Five Points, and doesn't give a rat's ass — again, her words, and the only sort of swearing she'll abide, too — about the difference between Normal and Unfort... or in my case, Super.  She's a warm-hearted woman, but doesn't take kindly to violence, bullying or even what she calls "sass talk."  The truth is... she had contacted me nearly a week before Pablo had.  It has just taken that long for me to untangle the knots of what's been happening down there.  It hadn't made either of us happy that another person had died, or that the police seemed to be taking a "hands-off" attitude to the problem.

When I show up at her door in the middle of the night with two teens in tow, she just looks me in the eyes — looking for truth is what she calls it — and asks, "Did you get 'em?"

"Got one, Mama... Pablo and his boys will get the other one.  Might need your help, though."

She nods, then motions for all of us to enter her small house.  "You need yourselves some food, children?"  

Old Mama isn't quite as tall as I am, but she's at least three of me wide.  She's somewhere between 70 and ancient, and unless you cross her, she's the kindliest grandmother you'll ever meet.  The two young Unfortunates seem to be immediately at ease in her presence... but then, most people are.  They both nod shyly.

"Then come on into the kitchen.  I'll fix you up a snack, then you can get yourselves some rest.  And you," she says, pointing one of her slightly gnarled fingers at me, "stay put."

"Yes, Mama."  One doesn't argue with Old Mama.  While waiting for her to show the newcomers where they can sleep and make them some dinner — Old Mama doesn't know the meaning of the word 'snack' — I do a few Qigong meditations.  I'm holding myself together fairly well at the moment, but I'll be hit with the proverbial ton of bricks soon enough.  I just want to be at home when that happens.

It doesn't take her long to get the kids settled in the kitchen with food; now it's my turn.

"How's Mama gonna help the police?"  

"I know at least two of the girls saw the guy who killed the others, and I know they told you what he looked like."  I lean on my staff, an affected stance that seems to make others more comfortable than the Taijiquan stances that I find more comfortable.  "I can tell them where to find the man, but they need to follow a trail for the law.  You know that, Mama.  They need a place to start so they can get to the end, and put both him and Jimmy T in jail.  They might just need the description from their confidential informant — that's you — or they might need to talk to one of the girls."

She considers it for quite some time.  I can hear the teens chatting in the kitchen... relieved that they're safe for the moment, not quite believing what they'd seen me do, not wanting to impose on the nice old woman.  Finally Mama nods.

"You tell your police friend to talk to Mama.  Now you go home, Miss Ninja girl.  Even you people need rest.  Scat!"

I scat.

* * *

When I walk into my favorite Mexican restaurant on Wednesday evening, Pablo is waiting for me at a table by the window.  "Lo de siempre?" Maria asks as I passed the cash register where she presides each and every night.  

"Si.  Gracias."

I sit down and drink the entire glass of water Pablo has waiting for me before sliding a piece of paper across the table to him.

"That's the address where Jimmy T's thug is staying.  He was seen leaving Five Points and arriving at that address with blood-stained clothing.  If you need to talk to the girl who saw him leaving, talk to Old Mama... she'll find you the girl who saw him.  Or she can tell you what he looked like.  You got the address as an anonymous tip."  I sound and probably look worn out... because I am.  Not coincidentally, I had Monday and Tuesday off work... I try hard to do the worst work when I know I'll have a day or two to myself. I spent most of the day on Monday crying when I wasn't practicing my Taijiquan. Hell, I'll be honest... I was crying during practice, too.  And I just practiced all day Tuesday.

I so very much hate having to kill people.  Even those that deserve it.

"You look like hell, Andrea," Pablo says.  "Are you ok?"

He's concerned, and that almost makes me wish I can tell him things that probably should be kept secret.  He's never seen me this recently after I've killed someone, so I suppose his concern is reasonable.  This has only been the third time; both other times were back in China.  I only cried for one day this time; back then, it had been four.  It's not that killing has gotten less painful — it hasn't — it's just that I'm a Taijiquan Master now, and can even heal my emotional wounds faster... to some extent, anyway.  Wounds like this never truly heal. I try to smile, but only manage a nod.

"Mostly.  I'll be fine in another day or two."

"It has to do with... your problems in Five Points?"

This time, I do manage a smile, although it's a rather weak one.

"In one, Chief."

I can tell just by the look on his face that there are dozens of questions rolling around in his head.  We're saved just then by Maria's granddaughter — Corazon, our waitress for this evening — bringing Pablo's carne asado and my bean burritos with extra green chili.

"Problem resolved, I'm fine... and that's probably all you really want to know, Pablo," I say before starting to eat.

He's quiet for a couple of minutes as he eats a few bites of his dinner.  "Okay, Andrea.  I'll let it go.  But someday..."

I know.  Someday.  I don't say it; I only nod.

© Kelly Naylor