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CHAPTER ONE

TANK

Darkness hasn’t always been my friend. There was a time when I would have been at home asleep in my bed in the middle of the night. Instead I’m prowling the streets, restless and edgy, looking for an outlet for the anger roiling inside.

I glance to my left and right. I’m standing in an alcove that’s slightly hidden off the street. It’s easier this way. People tend to get nervous if I just hang out. No one stares outright. But there's always a tell. A glance. A step to the side when we pass so our bodies don't touch.  Everyone has a “look” about them and mine apparently says trained killer.

A group of people spill out of the bar across the street, music and the sound of their voices carrying to where I stand in the shadows. This part of Virginia Beach is a mecca for local college kids looking to blow off steam on the weekends so I rarely have to go looking for trouble.

Trouble usually finds me.

I see the girl first. She has taken her shoes off and is walking barefoot on the concrete. She’s beautiful and dressed to score in a short black minidress that shows off long, tanned legs. It doesn’t take long for one of the guys in front of the bar to break off from his friends and follow her. I push away from the wall and follow them at a discreet distance. He hooks an arm around her neck. She looks up at him in confusion but grins blearily. He smiles back, with an expression like he just hit the lottery. My blood pressure spikes a notch.

Oh yes. Trouble you miserable bastard, you always find me.

I step out into the road to cross to their side of the street, pulling the hood of my jacket up and over my face.

A horn blares and a taxi screeches to a halt a few inches from me. The driver’s side door opens and the cabbie steps out. “What the hell! Look where you’re going!”

I glance at him and then back to the couple. Oblivious, they turn down a side street and out of sight. If I wait any longer, I’ll lose them. I haven’t slept in forty-eight hours and if I don’t make sure the girl is all right, then I won’t be able to sleep again tonight. Knowing, seeing, is the only thing that gives me some peace. I run across the street, leaving the cab driver gesturing and cursing behind me. By the time I turn the corner, the street is dark. Empty. Then I hear it.

Crying.

He has the girl pressed up against the wall behind a dumpster. She’s struggling, pushing at his shoulders while he’s working the dress up her legs. He has his other hand over her mouth. Her stiletto shoes are a few feet away from me, abandoned.

That’s all it takes for my veins to turn to ice. This is what happens to me right before. It’s like a red haze that settles over me, blanketing me with the righteous fury necessary to do what needs to be done.

I don’t speak; I just yank the guy off her. The first blow stuns him and all the color drains from his face as he doubles over clutching his gut. My mom’s words from earlier today ricochet through my mind, shredding my sanity as surely as bullets.

The cancer’s back, Tank.

He raises his arm to protect his face or maybe to strike back; I don’t know. I hit him with a rib shot, plowing my fists into him over and over. With every connection, I feel stronger.

I need surgery and I don’t have the money.

After a while, I don’t hear anything. I don’t see anything. There’s just me, some random dirtbag in an alley and the sensation of fists hitting flesh. All I can do is feel. Hatred. Power.

Purpose.

A whimper pulls me from my adrenaline frenzy. The girl is slumped against the wall, one hand on the grimy stone behind her as she watches me with horror in her eyes. Slowly, I remember where I am. My breath puffs in front of my face, a cloud of white in the frigid night air. The guy is slumped on the ground, his face a bruised, pulpy mass.

I hold out a hand to help her up and she cringes back. My knuckles are scraped and bruised and my hands are covered in blood. I look like something from a horror movie. I put my hands down and move back so she’s not crowded.

“It’s okay. He can’t hurt you anymore.”

She nods but continues to regard me with wide, watchful eyes. I’m not sure who she’s more afraid of, me or the would-be-rapist bleeding next to the dumpster.

Even more, I’m not sure I want to know.

“Go. Get out of here.”

She stumbles to her feet and leans down to grab her shoes. Then she turns back. “What about you? Are you okay?”

“Don’t worry about me.” She doesn’t move, just stands staring at me, her gaze dropping to my bloody hands, so I yell, “Get the hell out of here!”

She runs off this time and doesn’t look back. I’m glad because there’s nothing she can do for me. I’m beyond saving.

Then I turn back to the man slumped on the ground. “But the rest of you aren’t.”

By the time I make it back to my car, I can already hear sirens in the distance. The girl probably called the police. They usually do. I’ve learned not to hang around any longer than necessary. A siren screams past just as I’m driving away.

It takes me about ten minutes to get home. There’s an open space right next to my motorcycle so I park and cut the engine. My breath forms white clouds in front of my face. Still I don’t move to get out yet. Once I’m inside, I’ll be alone with my thoughts again. So I sit in my car in the empty, dark parking lot, trying not to think about anything. Finally I push the door open and get out.

There’s no one to greet me when I enter my apartment. I live alone. No pets and I don’t even have any plants that need to be watered. That’s always been the way I liked it but things look different lately. My eyes fall on the letter on the counter. It’s still in the same place I left it before I went out tonight. I pick it up and read it again. It’s another letter from my father’s law firm. Another appeal for me to meet his terms. Another offer of money. 

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