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Bikes, bars, women. These used to be important.
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“Shit,” I muttered, glaring at the asshole pedestrian who was texting directly in the scope of my camera.
I wanted to snap at the fuckboy, but I couldn’t draw attention to myself. I was tailing what we call “Freaks” here in the city, two of them across the street, and I couldn’t blow my cover. I was crouched behind someone else’s Cadillac while the Freaks lingered at the exit of a rundown pool hall called Shots in the Dark.
It’s fitting, because people call this side of town “Darkmont” now. The south side of Hinton was once pretty neat. It used to be called Montclair Square, and it used to be beautiful. But that was twenty years ago.
Text-y smiled down at his phone and tapped, tapped, tapped.
I recognized that Freak across the street before I started following him. He had unforgettable lime-green hair and a studded leather jacket. I’d stopped him and his friend from mugging one of my neighbors, Margot, who was sixty-seven and a goddamn widow, walking her groceries from the car.
They both wore pantyhose masks, and when I disarmed the green-haired one, his friend stammered out, “I-I-I gotta g-g-go,” and bolted.
I peeled the stocking off the green-haired kid’s face and took his wallet, reading his name out into the cold night while my boot pressed against his neck: “Michael Walter Hornberger.” I grinned down at him. “But you look like a… Rattler? No, Snake. I’m going with Snake. Final answer.”
“Mikey,” he seethed up at me.
The bastard proceeded to stab me in the leg with the smallest knife I’ve ever seen, but it was enough to let him up and take off down the alley.
“Tell your friends about me,” I called after him.
I was coming for the Freaks, one by one.
Text-y looked up from his phone for the first time in several minutes, scanning for something.
I didn’t call Mikey a Freak because he had green hair and was wearing a leather studded jacket. I didn’t care about hair and jackets. I called him a Freak because he was part of the crime wave gripping Montclair by the balls while the Hinton City Police Department moaned and whimpered that it wanted to be spanked again.
It was fucking disgusting, and I wasn’t going to take it anymore.
Text-y ambled out of my way, and my lens focused on a crisp, clear shot of Freak Mikey… and Jon-Pierre Gusteau.
The camera froze in my hands. Everything froze. I felt alive. My heart still pounded in my ears. It was the rest of the world that froze around me.
I never thought that I would see my piece-of-shit stepfather again. But there was Jon-Pierre—“JP”—the classic mature gentleman in the suit, with the cigar and the cheap, lying smile. Laughing with a Freak. JP was laughing with a Freak.
My heart started to boil in my chest. All the clues I’d been studying fell gracefully into place with this final piece added.
JP spoke to Mikey with lots of movement and warmth, strolling him to the split in the sidewalk. I tracked them with my lens.
Anyone seen with a known Freak was either an ally or a mark, and JP Gusteau would never be a mark. There was also no way he’d be a Freak. It was Occam’s Razor: the simplest solution was usually the right one.
Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap.
I grabbed some pictures of JP with Mikey, watching as my stepfather pulled this Freak close and patted him on the shoulder then shoved him away again, smoothing one hand over his tie and yelling, “Goddamnit, Mikey, I’d kill you if you didn’t already owe me so much motherfucking money.” He shook a finger at the Freak, his laughing, smiling self completely gone, and then twisted and strolled away like nothing had happened.
That was definitely JP.
He headed on foot toward the north side of Montclair while Mikey branched toward the south side, neither of them looking back at the other.
Should I trust my gut and follow JP? Or should I stick with Mikey and see where he goes?
I gritted my teeth and drew myself to my full height, reflected in the tinted windows on the Cadillac. I was 6’7” and broad, bulging at people like a fucking gorilla no matter how clothed I was. I got stares, but JP would never recognize this body. The last time he saw me, I was still a helpless kid with matchstick arms. My thick, dark beard would also obscure my face.
I waited until JP was almost at the end of the street, and then I followed, scowling at that pretentious, oily little gold-gray ponytail at the back of his head. It made me want to tear out the short bun at the back of my head.
I was nothing like him.
He loved all the frilly bullshit, but I was hard and true. He spent ten years trying to break me, failed, and threw me onto the streets in his goddamn frustration.