“How about Park Ranger?”
Stephen knew it was coming. His Uncle Marco was a special agent with the elite Investigative Services Branch of the National Park Service, homegrown equivalent to the FBI, charged with investigating the most complex crimes committed on the more than 85 million acres of national parks, monuments, historical sites, and preserves administered by the National Park Service, from Alaska’s Noatak National Preserve to Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park.
It was the first career his Aunt Ramona had suggested that Stephen could stand considering.
“I’ll think about applying Aunt Ramona,” Stephen said.
“You’ve only got three more months of school, Stevie,” Uncle Marco said, looking up from his laptop. “You know I can get you on. Just say the word.”
“What you do is cool, Uncle Marco, but I kinda wanted to look into what Grandpa and Daddy’s got brewing in Atlanta.”
“You mean murdering people,” June said.
“June,” Marco warned.
“Murder is killing the innocent,” Stephen said. “These people are legally sanctioned to be killed.”
“Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right,” June said.
“Besides, being a Bloodman is a bunch of hurry up and wait,” Marco said. “That’s why I didn’t follow Dad and Antonio into the guild.”
“And being a Park Ranger is loaded with adventure?” Stephen said with a smirk.
“Chock full, god dammit,” Marco said. “And it’s Special Agent, smart ass. Hell, just a week ago, I put away the big boys of this gang of thieves calling themselves the Archeologists—they were trafficking in looted artifacts of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe.”
Uncle Marco was proud of being an ISB special agent with the National Park Service, which meant that since he moved in with his uncle and aunt when he enrolled in Georgetown University he had heard tales of forest fires and poachers and ruthless gangs called the Archaeologists selling Native American treasures on the black market.
“If not a Park Ranger, how about a chef?” Aunt Ramona said. “You like to cook.”
“I like to sleep, too,” Stephen said. “And you haven’t suggested a job as a Sleepologist yet.”
“Smart ass,” Uncle Marco said, shaking his head.
Aunt Ramona sucked her teeth. She appeared ready to suggest another line of work when the smell of burning metal permeated the room. It was coming from the front door. Or what used to be the door. It had been melted off its hinges.
Uncle Marco saw it too.
“Shit! Get Stephen out of here! Y’all get out now!”
Where the door had been, there stood three men in khaki pants, a khaki safari shirt, brown fedora and brown Chelsea boots. Two of the men were tall, husky— “country strong” Aunt Ramona called it—and one was fat, and of average height.
Ramona took Stephen by the arm but had no chance to escape with him. The fat man already had an S&W 500 revolver aimed at them.
“Don’t move,” the man holding the revolver said.
“Dragon Dan,” Marco spat. “What’s this?”
“You know exactly what this is, Marco. Yeah, we know you’re the one behind the mask, who knocked out my little brother’s teeth. Playing good cop at the station and shit.”
“Dragon Dan, I don’t know what you think you—”
Then Marco was dead. The .50 Caliber round had punched a hole the size of a beer bottle cap in his forehead then fragments of bone, gray matter and blood had spattered the wall behind Marco. His body fell out of the cheer and hit the floor with a loud thud.
“Don’t move,” Dragon Dan shouted. “Don’t even let me see you blink.”
Stephen stayed frozen. He could feel his aunt behind him shaking, holding Stephen’s arm tightly.
Dragon Dan waved to one of the tall men, who took a small pack from his back. From it he produced a nail gun.
Stephen was keenly aware of every move the men made and aware that his aunt was growing frightened and enraged. It occurred to him as strange that he was not scared, too.
He watched Dragon Dan and the other men take hold of his uncle and prepare to nail him to the door frame where the door once stood.
Ramona shouted out. Stephen didn’t hear what she meant to shout; Dragon Dan was too quick. As soon as a sound passed her lips, he shot her. Stephen felt the hot air pass over his head. He smelled his aunt’s blood, but he did not move. It wasn’t fear that held Stephen still: he stood knowing that if he moved, he would be shot as well. Stephen heard Ramona’s body fall to the floor, then all was silent.
Dragon Dan stared at Stephen.
Stephen stood still and expressionless. He knew Dragon Dan was deciding if he should live or die. The tall men pulled .40 Caliber G-22 Glock pistols from their waists then waited for the order.
Stephen gave the gangsters nothing to inspire his demise.
Dragon Dan quietly turned his back, leaving the gunmen to keep an eye on Stephen as he knelt down to Marco’s body.
One of the tall men came to Dragon Dan’s side and helped him with the corpse. They tried to prop him up to the wall, but Dragon Dan was too short, and he let the arm slip. Marco’s corpse fell halfway to the floor. The other tall man turned to see if they needed help. For a fraction of a second, he took his eyes from Stephen and let his pistol drift a few centimeters off target. In that instant, Stephen showed an extraordinary skill he never knew he had.
Through the entire episode he had remained oddly, totally detached. The emotional impact of his family’s death didn’t register so much as the acute awareness of how it had happened. Stephen saw how they were struggling with his uncle’s body. He knew that behind him, his aunt had fallen in a position that could trip one of the men if he was not careful. He knew with utter clarity that for the moment all three men had their eyes off him.
Stephen knew as soon as the man’s eyes were turned that they might not turn again. He knew that if he was shot by the small nail gun, at this distance it wouldn’t be fatal, not immediately. He knew that there was no way they could let him live after this, and only briefly did he wonder why Dragon Dan hadn’t ordered his death a second ago. It only took him another instant to decide what to do.
The gunman was standing within a yard of him, his finger off the trigger. His grip looked loose.
Stephen put that to the test and grabbed the pistol. He was wrong; the tall man’s grip was quite firm.
Now that the tall man knew what Stephen was doing, his element of surprise was at an end. He thought it best to surprise him further by twisting the weapon away from himself and toward the other tall man with the nail gun. That proved a good idea when the gun went off and a bullet hit the man with the nail gun just to the left of the bridge of his nose, knocking his eye out of the socket and onto the floor as splinters of bone and a fine mist of blood flew into the air.
Stephen saw that Dragon Dan was slow in recognizing the threat. The gangster was putting all he had into wresting the pistol away from Stephen, so he kicked downward onto the gangster shin, the heel of Stephen’s shoe cracking off a piece of the gangster’s shin. As he expected, the tall man screamed in agony, but he did not let go of the pistol.
Stephen kicked the man in the other shin.
The gangster still didn’t let go of the pistol, but he did fall to his knees.
Stephen kicked again, driving the instep of his foot up into the gangster’s groin.
That loosened his grip.
Stephen pulled the weapon from the gangster and moved it to his other hand, letting go of the barrel and gripping the handle firmly, finger on the trigger. He pulled the trigger.
The gangster fell onto his back, blood leaking from a hole in the back of his head.
Knowing he had a better idea of the house’s layout than Gangster Dan, Stephen ran through the kitchen and around the corner, down a hall and into the bathroom. Then he hid behind the door.
Dragon Dan pushed the door open.
Stephen slammed it on his hand.
Dragon Dan screamed and dropped the revolver. He didn’t bother to pick it up; instead, he rammed his shoulder into the door and barged in hard and fast.
He burst in with such strength Stephen had no problem pushing Dragon Dan farther, forcing his head down into the toilet. Stephen then lay his chest on the back of Dragon’s Dan’s head and bore down with his weight and strength.
Dragon Dan struggled to free his face from the toilet water. His arms flailed wildly for several long seconds and then fell limp.
Stephen remained lying on Dragon Dan for another minute to be sure the gangster was dead. He left the bathroom with great caution, looking around for anyone else who might have entered. He found the two tall gangsters on the dining room floor, unmoving.
After glancing outside the melted door, he was satisfied that the immediate danger was over. He ran out of the house and into the cool evening night.
“I’m coming home,” Stephen whispered.
He was going to be a Bloodman after all.
The Ngolo Diaspora Kickstarter begins in three days! Be sure to follow us so you can make your pledge on day one!