Chapter 15

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The shock of the situation paralyzed Nole. He’d heard the gunshot, yet both he and Olivia weren’t injured. Sgt. Ryker could have missed, but he had no reason to, considering he was so focused on his targets. The only other plausible explanation was that the boy had pulled the trigger. That would explain why the Enforcer, and his gun, were now on the ground, unmoving.

Another thing was that Olivia kept calling to him, but the boy, Taro, wasn’t responding. Nole had already deduced Taro’s relationship with Betty and Valerie, and suspected the same for Olivia and Zane, but he didn’t sense any comradery in that moment. From Nole’s impression, if they were friends, it wasn’t exactly mutual.

“The Enforcers will be here in five minutes,” Taro informed them. His voice was different from that night. Although he was on the brink of death, he still sounded more lighthearted than he did in that moment.

“Taro, what are you doing here?” Olivia asked, still in shock herself. “W-what did you do?” He didn’t reply to either of the questions.

“You need to go,” Taro said dryly.

Finally regaining his bearings, Nole’s emotions bombarded him. The boy responsible for Murphy’s murder, Caden’s disappearance, and his alleged guilt, was now in front of him. As Nole got to his feet, he felt an overwhelming anger rise with him, further invigorating his hatred. His rage even engulfed him to the point where he found himself reaching for the blade in his pocket.

“You’re the guy that helped me that night,” Taro confirmed, ignoring Olivia and oblivious to the animosity Nole felt toward him. “I didn’t get a chance to thank you,” he expressed with a smile.

“You,” Nole began, “killed Murphy.” The police sirens sounded off in the distance, but he didn’t care. “After he saved your life, you killed him!” The drumming of his heart picked up when he retrieved the switchblade from his pocket. 

Bleeding, on death’s doorstep, Nole recalled the night he found Taro, remembering how helpless he was. What he wouldn’t give to go back to that night and walk by Taro’s dying body without a second thought. It was his foolish decision to save him, and now he had to make it right. Taro was a killer, and as the person who’d saved him, Nole was now responsible for every victim that fell by Taro’s hand.

He flipped the blade of the weapon and dashed toward Taro. The boy seemed shocked by Nole’s sudden attack, so much so that he hardly had time to react. Jumping over the fallen Enforcer, Nole swung the switchblade at the boy’s torso, but missed when Taro took on a back bridge position. Before Nole could react to his opponent’s bizarre defense, Taro brought his right leg up and kicked Nole in the stomach, sending him backwards.

The wind got knocked out of him and the ache in his back returned in one foul swoop. The pain was almost too much for him to bear, but he regained his balance just when he saw Taro rising into a normal standing position.

Clenching the handle of his weapon, Nole thrust the knife at Taro with clear intent. However every attack proved useless against Taro’s theatrical evasions. The moves were random and difficult to predict. He was no stranger to close combat.

If his strategy was to tire Nole out, it was working. Adding all of the fatigue from the exploits of the entire day, the fight was taking a toll on Nole’s body. The reverberating strain from his back amplified with each swing. Even his adrenaline couldn’t mask the agony he felt. The rabid attacks were purely anger-driven and he could almost feel his intellect and rationale abandoning him.

Dodge left.

Dodge right.

Now he’ll go left again…

Following through with Nole’s predictions, Taro evaded to the left, getting closer and close to the brick wall with each swing of Nole’s blade. Olivia’s calls could be heard in the distance, but whether it was the deafening thumps of his heart, or the impending sirens gradually closing in, Nole slowly lost touch with the outside world.

He needs to go down.

“Wait!” Taro huffed, realizing his back was against the wall. There was nowhere left to escape. Gripping the handle tautly with numb fingers, Nole noticed his knuckles were white.

It was in that moment when he finally got a glimpse of Taro’s hazel eyes, bloodshot and glazed over. Even though he looked it, Taro showed no mental sign of exhaustion. The disheveled blond hair peeked from beneath the red beanie, accentuating a steady trickle of blood from the boy’s left cheek.

Nole couldn’t believe that one of his attacks connected, but when he looked at the blade, the smear of blood trickling down the edge confirmed his belief. Lifting his arms in surrender, Taro closed his eyes. “Do what you have to,” he said calmly. Nole hesitantly raised the blade, only to find his hand trembling.

What’s wrong with me? Averting his eyes to his shaking hand, he chastised himself for his apparent cowardice. He killed Murphy! Why am I shaking? Why can’t I… kill him? He clutched the handle agitatedly, as if tightening his grip alone would be enough to finish his enemy off. It didn’t matter whether he wanted to or not. He had to force himself. He had to avenge Murphy.

Taro stood before him, still unmoving, the beanie creating a shadow for his closed eyes. The blood continued to drip from his cheek like red-stained tears. The standstill frustrated him. The boy’s surrender frustrated him.

“Nole, stop!” Olivia screamed from the distance. Her voice snapped him out of his inner turmoil like a jolt of lightening. Turning toward her, he saw her sunken, anxious face. The petrified green eyes and cherry blonde hair was unkempt from the day’s events. “Stop, Nole. Please, don’t.”

The frustration he felt toward himself, toward her, dissipated. He’d seen that expression on Suri enough to know how she was feeling – completely helpless.

Before he could decide what to do, Taro dashed away from Nole’s trap and scurried passed the fallen Ryker and down the alley.

That guy…

He flinched when a hand grabbed at his wrist, only to find Olivia beside him. “The cars are close. Let’s get going,” she urged him, slipping the blade out of his hand.

He agreed with her, but a small part of him felt like he was being deceived yet again. Whatever was happening between these people, Nole had caught himself in the center of it. Not only that, but he’d gotten his siblings and Murphy involved as well.

At the opposite end of the alley where Bellamy lay unconscious, they heard the screeching tires and blaring sirens of more than one patrol car. Led by Olivia, Nole avoided Ryker and managed to get out of the alleyway unseen. Although the Enforcers hunting him down were a very valid distraction, all Nole could think about was Taro’s behavior and Olivia’s reaction.

Just who is this guy?

Running the entire time, they were able to make it back to the complex just before sundown.

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