Ash woke before dawn had broke. His back screamed at him for sleeping in the desk chair all night. He dry-swallowed some of the painkiller he’d taken from Squirrel, and chased it with some caffeine tablets. He pushed himself off the desk to a stand, trying to remember why he felt so tired.
Last night, he had let Anfernee, Jamal, and Squirrel go.
“You trust them not to say anything?” Ivy had asked.
“I wouldn’t have done what I did if I didn’t.”
“You sure they’re not gonna say anything? I bet if there was money in it, they’d-“
“No one even knows he’s gone. No one will know.” They wouldn’t go to the police. They were either afraid, trusting, or lacking in ambition. Besides, with their ineptitude, Ash could flee before he was caught.
Ash said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m stronger and smarter than anything they got out there. Go home. Get some sleep.” He kissed her on the cheek. She glared at him and turned away.
He spent three hours cleaning up–everything was damaged by water or fire. He tossed out papers and folders, tore down signs, tested the electronics, and removed all the traces of the old regime he could.
The last thing he did was cremate Ivan’s body in the back lot. The smell of roasting meat disgusted him because it was so appetizing. He tried not to think about the person it once was as the flesh flecked away. Then he found the bone wouldn’t burn, so he had to concentrate harder, growing the fire from mild orange to clear cherry.
That’s why he was tired. So much use of his power. When he was done, he kicked away the ashes and fell asleep behind the desk. Would anyone come looking for Ivan? Maybe. Would they find him? No. There were no weapons, no blood, no hard evidence. All they had was witness testimony, and it wouldn’t be enough. That was the great thing about fire–it burned clean
With the stink of Ivan washed out, it was time to start the new White Knights–Ash style. It was almost eight o’clock. This would be the true test if Ash had earned their trust. All it took was one guy to sell him out and they would send an army after him.
Rather than sit around being nervous, he planned out some new procedures, read the old newspapers, and looked through the supplies. Some he put on a table and draped over a sheet–a nice surprise for them.
He also pulled out a whiteboard from storage, as well as some folding chairs, and set up for a morning debriefing. He was so engrossed in his work, he didn’t think about the door opening.
Jamal walked in. Ash glanced back. “Hey, Jamal…” then realizing what that meant, “Jamal!”
“You came back? I mean, good to see you.” Good job, Ash. Let’s remind everyone of last night. No reminders of the past. Only looking forward.
“Anfernee and Squirrel are right behind me.”
Ash nodded. “Why don’t you take a seat. Then we’ll have a quick debriefing. Got a lot to cover today. I found a coffee pot and some coffee.” He nodded towards the back. Jamal was still wearing his white track suit. “You can take that off, you know. And wear your sash like this.” He thrust his stomach out to show the sash-belt.
Jamal took off his jacket, revealing a football jersey. “You cleaned up good. Did, um… I mean, what’d you do with…”
“Don’t worry. I took care of it.”
“Yeah,” Jamal muttered.
Anfernee and Squirrel walked in two minutes later. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Squirrel said. “I couldn’t find a parking spot. We had to park-“
“That’s okay. Just sit down. I’ll break down our action plan for today.”
Using a stick pointer, Ash traced a path through the map, already highlighted in pink. “This will be our route today. I wanted something easy to start the new day, to get used to the new style. It’s in a rougher neighborhood than we’re used to, but it’s morning, so that should help. We’re gonna patrol in pairs for the first half–me and Anfernee, Jamal and Squirrel. Then we switch up.”
“Dude,” Jamal said, “There was a murder on that street two days ago.”
“A hit-and-run, to be precise. That’s why I picked it. It’s a good chance to reestablish ourselves. Hit and runs happen because there are no witnesses–no one’s courageous enough to come forward. Plus, I’m gonna give you these.”
Ash pulled the sheet off the table, revealing an assortment of melee weapons–baseball bats, switchblades, nunchuks, cheap Asian daggers, brass knuckles, fist fillers, a hand axe, and a lead pipe.
“Oh, sweet,” Squirrel said. “Where’d you get these?”
“There’s a ton of this stuff in the back room. None of you knew about it?”
“Must all be stuff we confiscated,” Anfernee said.
“Well, we’re using it. No more walking around with nothing but our asses in the air. Everyone pick your poison.”
“Really? We can use any of these?” Anfernee said.
“Pick one for yourself. The rest I’m gonna pawn off. We obviously don’t need a baseball bat, unless you’re thinking about starting a softball team. And try not to pick something ‘thuggy’. Pick something you won’t stab yourself with.”
The three of them analyzed the table like kids who had been told they could have one piece of candy. Anfernee picked out a sleek black riot club. Jamal took a can of pepper spray. Squirrel held up a taser and pressed the button. A blue electrical arc danced between the two electrodes. He giggled like a maniac.
“Be careful with those,” Ash said, “They’re not toys. You only use them when you have to. I don’t want to be bailing anyone out of jail.”
Squirrel put the taser in his pocket. “What are you going to use?” he asked.
Ash cocked his head and smirked.
“Now,” Ash turned back to the map, “We’ll meet here, switch teams, and continue. Especially be on the lookout for drug or alcohol-users. I expect a lot of people coming back from late night parties. If they get belligerent, show them the goods. That should scare them off.”
“And if it doesn’t?” Anfernee asked.
“If it doesn’t, I didn’t give you those things to look pretty.”