Chapter 2 Let Me Buy Back My Sanity

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Bravo —Friday, 5:30 PM

I'm a hired hitman no one cares about—and I'm late again.

Shimmering heat rises from the pavement like bars trapping me within a mirage. Each reluctant step pulls the same scene closer as I saunter along the scorching sidewalk. A predictable pattern—matching houses, vehicles, and families bake in the relentless heat. It's like a bad dream. Their mouths whisper 'Bravo' or 'Lunatic', before retreating into vehicles or behind lattice fences.

The locals know what time I walk down Bank Street each evening. Those who cross my path suffer from my compulsions as urges to scream, push or kiss overtake me. They time their steps to avoid me. At one time they'd seek an excuse to bump into me and melt in my warmth. 

I wasn't always like this... 

While some suffer from 'resting bitch-face', I'm afflicted with 'resting grin-face'. I restrain my impulses by increasing the volume on my headphones. Sonatas won't suffice. I require concerto mashups to drown the screaming in my head—to experience the vibrations on my inner ears.

With my lieutenant, Nightmare, leaving I'd hoped for new content within this criminal improv theatre. Yet the sight ahead repeats the same story—Nightmare's black and yellow muscle car, Debonaire's black luxury SUV, and Junior's white sedan. The three lieutenants lean against their vehicles.  The pavement is their meeting room—the dark alleys their playground. They chuckle without a care, apathetic to the torment that I, their loyal hitman, must endure. There's no doubt in my mind that Antonio Rembrandt Jr. only sticks around to judge my on-cue late arrival. While his father is still the boss, Junior's already claimed all rights and roles.

I kneel to study my reflection in the rear-view mirror and they spring back. In this drab existence I offer unpredictability and they recoil? Ignoring them, I smooth my hands through my blonde hair and wonder when my eyes became so wild. Silence invades as Junior slaps the headphones from my head. I snatch them in mid-air and slide them around my neck.

"Your hitter always shows up late, Nightmare!" Junior's arms fold on his chest as if to dam in his contempt.

"Time," I reply, "is the currency from which all else is acquired. Don't presume to measure mine with a watch."

His eyes seethe as he prepares to unleash the floodgates. Javier, or Nightmare, as we call him, interjects.

"My boy Bravo's a bit of a jester. He likes taking jabs, and you just happen to be the prince, Junior. Debonaire will keep him on a tight leash while I'm gone."

Junior's retort is a hissing huff which doesn't release enough steam to pale his enraged, red face. Nightmare's latin charm fails to delay Junior's screeching exit via white sedan. His calm façade vanishes as our quartet becomes a trio. He shakes his head in my direction like a broom to sweep himself clean of me. Her offers Debonaire a parting nod before approaching his own vehicle. His crew-colored car makes a statement without words. Seems frivolous. I let my actions speak for me. I prefer clarity.

"Had you asked, Nightmare," I whisper, "you'd have discovered that I'm from Bent River, born and raised, and more suitably qualified to oversee this score than Dahl."

Now I've engaged his wrath. He doesn't appreciate the way I say his nickname. His fists clench to reprise my belligerence as he pirouettes. My shrill laughter sounds maniacal as it drifts around him like a breeze. There's no calculating whether his pause results from the pity in his eyes or their trajectory to the silhouette of my gun waiting beneath my untucked white shirt.

Debonaire interrupts the standoff. "You don't think the Rooster is suited to the task, Bravo?"

"American Puritans created the term rooster because they didn't want to say cock." I turn back to Nightmare, "I always expected Dahl to sow the seeds of our crew's destruction but never would've guessed he'd literally become a horticulturist."

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