CHAPTER SEVEN: ASYLUM (3/4)

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The street was deserted when Sol emerged. He walked briskly in the direction of Third Avenue, glancing frequently over his shoulder as he went, certain that the three men would not be far behind, but by the time he turned the corner, there was no sign of them and he felt a little more relaxed.

He didn't know where he was going just yet, but when in doubt, he usually just followed his feet, knowing that a person could walk pretty much in any direction in Manhattan and usually find somewhere to be. His feet led him North towards midtown, and after a few blocks, he knew he was on his way to The Tavern—one of the better speakeasies where he could take shelter without having to purchase a drink. It wasn't a short distance, but with his new shoes and coat, he was remarkably comfortable. He only wished he had a hat and a scarf to keep his ears warm.

While he walked, he thought about the whisper that had spoken his name in The Tub, ultimately deciding that he must have imagined it. He had not slept well for a long time, and after all the stresses of the past couple of days, he knew his mind was probably playing tricks on him.

After a few minutes, however, he felt a tight pressure on his finger. Either his finger had swollen or the ring had become tighter. He could feel it squeezing, almost like it was trying to bring attention to itself. The purple stone was glowing brightly.

"Give it over," a voice ahead of him panted.

Sol looked up to see the bearded man from The Tub standing in the mouth of an alleyway. His shoulders were rising and falling quickly, suggesting he'd probably had to run to catch up with him. The hope in his eyes had turned to greed.

"I said give it to me!" he spat when Sol didn't respond.

"Or what?" Sol asked.

"Or we'll make you."

"We?" Sol heard footsteps and knew without looking that the man's two friends were right behind him. They stepped either side of him, ready to block his exit in case he tried to run.

"I don't want to fight," Sol said.

"Then don't," the bearded man replied.

"I will if I have to. If one of you puts a finger on me, I'll knock the teeth outta your head so hard, you'll be looking for them in Central Park."

None of the three men moved. Sol glared at the bearded man, daring him with his eyes. To his annoyance, the man started laughing.

"Looks like we've picked a fight with the Galveston Giant, boys," he said. "We've taken bigger men than you, friend. Just give us the ring, and maybe we won't hurt you."

The ring pinched Sol's finger even tighter. He tried to think clearly but there was too much adrenaline pumping through his veins. Before he could say or do anything, however, a pair of arms suddenly wrapped themselves around his torso from behind while another hugged his legs.

Suddenly, Sol was falling, but it was happening as if in slow motion. He felt his body tip and watched the cracks in the pavement grow larger as the men brought him down. Everything went back to normal once he hit the ground, however. He landed on his front, the two men having put all their weight on his back to stop him from getting up.

"Get off me!" Sol shouted as he tried to wrestle himself free, but they had him well-pinned. When he felt fingernails clawing at his fist, trying to loosen his grip on the ring.

"Open your fist," blackbeard said. Sol angled his head and saw the trio's leader kneeling beside him, a silver razor in his grip. "Or I'll open it for you."

The scar on Sol's cheek started to burn. To his shame, he loosened his fingers and felt a hand quickly pull them straight and wrap its grip around the ring.

While the men on his back tried to slip the ring from his finger, the bearded man brought the knife closer to Sol's face, reflecting its sharp light in his eyes. Sol closed them and lay there, waiting for the men to hurry and take the damn ring so he could be done with it, but after a long struggle, it refused to come loose. It seemed to be clinging to Sol's finger, only growing tighter the harder the men tried to remove it.

"It won't come off!" one of them said.

Sol opened his eyes in time to see a smile spread across blackbeard's face.

"Then I guess we're just going to have to cut it off hi—"

He never finished his sentence; he was thrown backwards through the air like he'd been struck by a wrecking ball. He landed hard, skidding and rolling across the icy ground to the far side of the street.

"Eddie...?" one of the men on Sol's back said.

"Get off him," said a stranger's voice. Sol tried to turn his head but he was pressed too hard against the pavement. "Move!"

The two men on Sol's back jumped away at once and took off running as fast as they could. Sol rolled over to see a dark figure standing in the shadows of the alleyway a few feet away.

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