The gunshot rang out, echoing off the walls, and my heart dropped.
There was silence as the Wolf slowly lowered his gun, and all I wanted to do was to say something, to check to see if Charlie was ok, to cuss out the Wolf, to yell at myself for not doing anything.
But it felt like all of the air had been punched out of me.
Charlie stood there, one hand pressed against his shoulder, the other in a tight fist at his side to stem the pain. He lifted his hand and looked down, and I could see the blood staining his palm before he started pressing against the wound again. He didn’t move or speak, just stood there, and slowly met the Wolf’s gaze.
I had heard stories about the Wolf during my eavesdropping sessions at the Justice League. A human trafficker who preferred to get his hands dirty and do his own work. It made him very efficient, and very effective with a gun.
Which meant that shooting Charlie was just a warning shot.
The Wolf took a couple of steps towards Charlie, his finger still ghosting over the trigger. He tilted his head and glanced at the bullet wound.
“Not bad, kid,” the Wolf smirked. “Most people would’ve at least cringed, if not fainted.”
“It’s not my first time getting shot,” Charlie replied, to which the Wolf barked out a laugh.
“Hell, I can’t tell if you’re acting tough or if you’re really serious.”
“Why would I lie about something like that?”
“Why would you indeed?”
There was a small lull in the conversation, where they both just observed each other, both with genuine curiousity in their eyes.
“Have you ever seen Pulp Fiction? Because you really do look like Harvey Keitel’s character from there,” Charlie said.
“Well, how about when you take a closer look at me?”
The Wolf was about to take another step forward when suddenly there was a grinding that shuddered through the floor. Everyone pitched to the side with the sudden stop in momentum. Charlie stumbled backwards to regain his balance, and Dennis grabbed onto this uninjured arm, pulling him back towards us.
“Seems like we’ve arrived,” said the Wolf, placing the gun back in a holster at his hip. With a wave of his hand, the armed men encircled us, trapping us in a tight clump. “We’ll talk later.”
He turned around and walked out of the mess hall, and we were escorted through the winding hallways. I wriggled my way around Heathcliff and reached out to tug on Dennis’s sleeve. He pulled me towards him, and I was finally close enough to Charlie to talk to him.
Charlie had visibly blanched, whether from the shock or the blood loss, but otherwise he looked fine. His hand was still compressing the wound, and his knuckles were white from the grip.
“How are you doing?” I asked quietly.
“It hurts like I remember, but I’m fine,” he shrugged.
“You really were shot before?” asked Dennis.
“Yep, when I was a lot younger. A long story shot, I decided to take a walk in the woods when my family was out hunting, and I’d forgotten wearing a hat with antlers wasn’t the best idea.”
“Where were you shot?” Dennis asked. “Your leg or something?”
“Actually, on my other shoulder here,” Charlie gestured with his head. “It’s almost in the exact spot as this one.”
“Well, now you’ll have a matching scar and a hell of a story,” grinned Dennis, trying to lighten up the mood. He reached out to lightly punch Charlie on the shoulder before quickly rethinking his actions and pulling his hand back.
“It won’t just be a scar if we don’t bandage it up soon,” I remarked. I pulled at the hem of my shirt and ripped a fairly even strip from the bottom. Reaching over, I gently removed Charlie’s hand before wrapping the bandage tightly around the wound.
We reached the ladder that lead to the outer hatch. The Wolf climbed up first, and then we were ushered up, guns trained at us at every move. Charlie had some trouble, only able to use one arm to haul himself up, but Dennis was able to reach down and help haul him up.
The glittering water and the white sand was a glaring pull away from the dark walls of the submarine, and I had to blink several times before I could see properly. Down the gangway was an island that seemed straight off of a postcard. There was a beach of fine white sand that extended a few meters before abruptly shifting into a densely populated jungle.
It was picturesque, except for the large, black structure that sat at the edge where sand met trees, and the very disgruntled, bruised man standing on the beach, looking up at us.
“Well, well, better not keep the boss waiting,” the Wolf said, and he sauntered down the gangway. The rest of us had no choice but to follow him.
As we got closer to the Dragon, I could see the full extent of what must’ve been a very nasty fight in the control room. His jacket and pants had cut and tears, some with small bloodstains. Bruises were starting to form along his knuckles and his right eye. His bottom lip was cut, and the corner of his scowl was starting to swell up. There was a smear of blood leading from the bottom of his nose to his cheek where he had hastily wiped at a bleeding nose.
To my relief, Grandfather was nowhere in sight, and from the looks of the Dragon’s dour mood, he had escaped.
It seemed like the Wolf had picked up on it too. “You let the old man get away?”
“It wasn’t a matter of ‘letting,’ Mr. Wolf,” the Dragon growled.
“Whoa there,” the Wolf said, holding his hands up. “You still have these ones, and they’re not getting away any time soon.” As if to emphasize his point, the men around us shifted to reveal our cluster, their guns slightly raised in warning.
The Dragon nodded grudgingly. “I knew you’d get the job done.”
“Great, that’s settled then,” the Wolf clapped his hands together. “Now onto the more important part of this transaction.”
The Dragon grimaced. “You’ll get your payment soon enough.”
“With the bonus?”
In reply, he got another glare. “You’ll get even more if you help track down Damien North. Until we wrap this business up, you won’t be getting anything.”
“This wasn’t part of our deal.”
“It is now.”
The Wolf took a moment to think, and then he beckoned over a couple of the closest armed men. He whispered a few things to them, pausing to wait for their nods.
As the Wolf was doing that, the Dragon shifted his attention to us. It was a quick go-over, as if he was appraising goods he had just receiving. When his gaze finally reached Charlie and he noticed the makeshift bandage, his scowl deepened.
“Mr. Wolf, I thought I said to capture them, not shoot them.”
The Wolf startled out of his conversation, and straightened up to face the Dragon. “Oh, come on,” he protested, “I tried to not kill anybody. And that’s not my modus operandi.”
“Give me a break here, Mr. Dragon.” The Wolf’s easygoing smile dipped briefly into a glower before lifting back up. “You brought me onto this job knowing what I’m like. In fact, you chose me because I work this way.”
“I would’ve appreciated it if you had been more civil with my son’s friends, we’re not animals here.”
“Well shit, that’s ironic considering our pseudonyms are all animals, thanks to your suggestion.”
“Are you questioning my choices?”
The Wolf laughed. “Is that even a question?” His smile dropped from his face completely. “I’ve been questioning your choices for a while.”
Seeing that he wasn’t going to get an immediate response, the Wolf continued. “You’re getting soft, my friend. You’re letting emotions and all that get in the way of our best interests here.”
“Our best interest?”
“In case you’ve completely forgotten, you originally brought us together cause we’re a group with common interests. We needed you, but you also needed us.”
“What is your point, Mr. Wolf?”
“You’re prioritizing your interests now, and that’s not how this business is going to work.”
There was a pause as the Dragon had straightened himself up, trying to impose a threat with his presence. The Wolf rubbed his hands in careful thought as he calculated the risks of speaking his mind. His hand grazed his gun in the holster, and he matched his posture to the Dragon’s.
The Wolf smirked. “I think it’s about high time you retire for good, Mr. Dragon.”
Without hesitation, the Dragon’s hand shot out and grabbed the front of the Wolf’s shirt, hauling him forward until their faces were only a few inches away from each other.
“How fucking dare you,” the Dragon hissed. “After all I’ve done for you. You were insignificant before I found you, before I helped you.”
“I’m in your debt, but you’re in mine too,” the Wolf retorted. “In fact, I think you’re more indebted to me than anyone else. Remember the situation in Malaysia? And in Ecuador? Guess who covered your ass?”
Silence. The Wolf placed his hand on his gun, slowly easing his hand onto the handle.
“Face it, you’re becoming irrelevant. You’re weighing the group down, you have no right to call yourself a leader. And I think I could be the one to fill your shoes.”
The armed men were silently glancing at each other, their guns wavering as their concentration dropped from us to the quarrel. They shifted uneasily, not sure whether they should be taking sides, intervening, or staying out of it.
There was a flicker of movement as Laura raised her hand ever so slightly. She waited a second, then snapped her fingers.