As I stared at my reflection, I contemplated the two options I had to choose from.
Option A, I keep my promise to Heidi and go home for a little while.
Option B, I head straight for Norte District and try to find Leroy before these bastards do.
The gang's note was pretty straightforward in regards to a set plan. However, these poncies had tried and failed to lure me into a trap...so who was to say that they weren't aiming to send me on some wild goose chase? For all I knew, they weren't headed for Centro District at all. They could be halfway to Leroy's presumed location by now—or the lazy cucks might just be down the street!
Then again, there was also the possibility that they knew I was gonna survive my encounter with Muscles. The intensity of the fight distracted me from noticing at first, but I eventually came to the realization that this dude didn't have any special powers...or at least any useful ones. He was strong, yeah, but so was anyone that took care of themselves and frequented the gym. Roy, being the big softie he was, could've easily gone mano a mano with this guy and come out with fewer bruises than me. Besides, I already took out one of their biggest players—aka a man that did have supernatural powers. If I could do that, what sorta challenge was this chump? These bozos knew I'd win; they just wanted an excuse to fire the weakest link from their ranks.
Perhaps their course of action actually was their course of action, but they were expecting me to follow them the entire way. From here, to Centro, and allll the way to Norte—maybe they thought I'd try offing them before reaching Leroy? They were wanting me to chase them. They were spoiling for a fight. And guess what? I was more than willing to give it to them...but I'd only be putting myself at a disadvantage if I took their bait. I was alone, packing only my trusty Uberti Cattleman, while they had a whole gang of super-powered freaks at their disposal. I needed back-up; I needed Leroy Barris.
So in the internal battle between love and violence, love won this time. I cleaned my face up, gathered all my things—switching over the contents from my bomber jacket to the teal coat—and headed home. For the next few days, I'd keep Heidi company and help her through her pesky first trimester symptoms. Meanwhile, in the world of my stinky cheese-eating acquaintances, I'd do more damage to them by no-showing to their little surprise party they had planned for me in Centro. Keep 'em looking over their shoulders; keep 'em paranoid, you know? I'd repay them by meeting up with them in Norte. If worst came to pass and they were pulling something sneaky after all, Leroy was more than capable of defending himself.
For the entirety of the days leading up to the new year, Heidi was in and out of the bathroom constantly. She alternated between needing to vomit her guts out and needing to piss like a racehorse at least once every two or three hours; sometimes just one. On New Years Eve night, she called me into the bathroom to look at something. Once I walked in, I saw her standing in front of the mirror. She had taken off her shirt and bra, covering her breasts with her hands.
You see, Heidi had gotten to where every time she went to take care of her business, she took the opportunity to admire her belly in the mirror afterward. Every. Single. Time. Even though her belly looked exactly the same as it did an hour ago, she still wanted to look just in case; see if the kid pulls an Alien and pops outta her stomach suddenly, I guess. Being that she was only a few weeks pregnant, she didn't have too much of a bump yet...though her abdomen was looking a little pudgier than before—and not the “chubby” type of pudgy, either.
Not gonna lie, that alarmed me a bit when I first noticed.
Are all pregnancies like this?
Does the mom really start puffing out this early on?
I don't suppose any of you have kids or have been pregnant at some point in time?
If you have, please, throw me a goddamn bone here.
I didn't want to show my concern to her, so I walked up behind her and wrapped my arms around her before she could say anything. “Kid's growin' quick, huh?” I said just before planting a soft kiss on her neck. She hummed, leaning into me. “Sure is,” she said softly. My head rested against the back of hers, turned so I could see us together in the mirror. I smiled at the sight before me.
Heidi's eyes were closed as she relaxed against my body. Her breathing was quiet and steady, chest moving slowly up and down. It reminded me of the waves of an ocean, swaying with the wind on a sunny day. Fish swam all day and dolphins were always splashing around, disrupting the current and causing ripples in the water. Careless humans tossed their garbage into her, threatening to turn her from a beautiful blue majesty into a contaminated sewer that shined with an ugly green hue during the early afternoon. However, despite all of that, the ocean maintained its grace and strength, never draining into the Earth and leaving all its life to starve. She was a strong body of water; she was seventy percent of the planet.
I knew Heidi was tired.
I knew she was sore all over.
I knew she was emotionally exhausted.
But you know what?
She was still the most beautiful woman in the entire galaxy.
Heidi was my planet—my world.
“I'm a lucky man,” I said, leaning down a little to kiss her shoulder. She smiled as she lowered her hands to caress mine. My grin widened a little at the sight of her exposed breasts. “What did you want me to look at, luce della mia vita?” She giggled, opening her eyes and facing the mirror. “I think you're probably lookin' at 'em right now, you dirty boy.” Now it was my turn to chuckle. “Maybe I am.” “Notice anythin' different about them?” she purred.
I studied them, dragging my hands up to gently massage them. Heidi had told me before that her breasts had been extremely sensitive lately, so I was careful to not squeeze too hard. Though that didn't stop me from playing with her perky nipples for a bit. She bit her bottom lip, softly moaning to my touch. That's when I finally noticed what was so different about them.
“They're a little bigger than the last time I seen them.” “Mmhmm,” she said softly, “think I'm an entire cup size larger. We'll need to stop by a clothin' store sometime soon and get me some more bras.” I continued to twirl her nipples with my fingers. “Or you could just walk around with no bra on. I ain't gonna complain if you do that.” She giggled again. “You wouldn't, but everyone else would.” I turned her around so we were facing each other. “Fuck them.” Our lips met in what started off as a slow tango, but then turned into a fiery, passionate blaze.
Our hands were in each others' hair.
Our breathing got heavier.
I licked her lip.
She bit mine.
My hands moved down and squeezed her ass.
Her leg wrapped itself around my waist.
Next thing we knew, we were backing up into the bedroom and ending the year with a bang...literally.
When we woke up, it was January 1st, 1990. Lemme tell you guys, it was surreal opening my eyes and making the realization that I'd now lived through two entire decades. I was born in the spring of 1969, so it wasn't until sometime in the early 70's that my earliest memories came to be. There ain't much to remember about a country or its culture when you're a toddler with very few cares in the world other than seeing if Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Inc. gang was gonna catch their latest perp.
As time went by, however, I learned about the war, the civil rights protests, and the ever-rising crime rate in New York City. Everywhere I went, I saw whites ganging up on blacks, blacks ganging up on whites, whites ganging up on whites, blacks ganging up on blacks, men ganging up on women, adults ganging up on children—you name it, I've seen it. Everyone was ganging up on each other! By the end of 1979, I was a ten-year old that had already been exposed to things like violence, drugs, and even sex to a degree.
But you know, that was the 1970's for you.
Peace and love when everybody was too high to tell time.
Violence and hate when the drugs lost their edge.
Things mellowed out a little in the 80's. Once America realized that nobody was falling for the “peace and love” bullshit anymore, they decided to switch things up by electing a Hollywood star as the new president and tearing down the Berlin Wall. After that, clothes and hair both managed to get even flashier than they already had been and all people wanted to talk about anymore was movies and music. Sure, everything seemed to be getting better...but all of it was simply the make-up covering up the bruises left from the gruesome pounding the night before. And like all cosmetics, it eventually gets washed off so more bruises can be made.
What I mean to say, ladies and gentlemen, is that the rise in pop culture and politics did literally nothing regarding the crimes happening in my neck of the woods on a daily basis. People were still getting shot, women were still getting blamed for their rapes, priests were still getting too touchy-feely with their Sunday School students, cops were still holier-than-thou douchebags counting down the minutes until their next donut and coffee break, and youngsters were still turning to narcotics and alcohol to cope with their awful home lives. In short, the 1980's were basically the 1970's with fewer psychedelics and more idiots that couldn't properly wipe their own asses, but could certainly disappoint you after you just got done thinking to yourself, “Surely they're done quotin' Mr. Miyagi's retarded “wax on, wax off” bullshit now, right? Nobody can find that much amusement with one movie line, right?!”
In conclusion, the 70's were shit, the 80's were shit, and the 90's will more than likely be shit as well.
Only this time, I won't be around to see just how shitty things in the United States will be.
Though it was pretty obvious at this point that Casa do Diaño wouldn't be any better.
But I digress, you guys didn't come here for a history lesson.
As great as New Years Eve was, New Years Day was a whole different story. You remember how me and Heidi made a deal that I'd stay home until New Years? That I needed to get back on the street if I wanted any hoping hell of finding work in the city? That I still needed to deal with what I assumed was the French Mafia? That Leroy Barris was fucking waiting for me?!
You know, that's awesome, my guy.
Because, you see, she forgot entirely about it.
This, naturally, resulted in an argument first thing in the morning; while we were still in bed, even.
“Heidi, money don't grow on trees. We can't just stay at this hotel forever, you know.” She turned over, her back now facing me. “The storm outside is way too dangerous, Genghis. You can't just keep goin' out there and riskin' your neck everyday!” I ran my hand up and down her side, biting my lip in the attempt to keep my temper in check. “You know what Alexander said. We only got two months free here until he starts chargin' us. And there's no tellin' how much he'll make us pay.”
“That's two months away, babyboy,” she whimpered, “stay with me until then!” Boy, did I have to work hard to stifle a groan. Don't get me wrong, I knew very well that it wasn't Heidi's fault that her emotions were all outta whack. Roy's “have safe sex” talk that he gave me years ago stressed heavily on the point that women often became hysterical bitches whenever they were pregnant. Something having to do with their hormones or some shit, I dunno. He told me, “If you think you're bad whenever you're havin' one of your manic episodes, just wait until you see how crazy a woman can get when your baby is kickin' her insides like a fuckin' soccer ball! That's why you gotta use a condom every single time, buddy.”
Too bad using a condom is precisely what got us here in the first place.
“Heidi, think of why we're here. We're here so we can start over—have a new life. We can't just wait around and hope for miracles.” At this point, she slowly turned back around and looked at me with damp eyes. Oh boy, here came the goddamn guilt trip. “Wait until the snow clears, at least. Please?” No can do, babygirl. Those French douchebags sure ain't gonna wait, so neither will I.
“C'mon, doan cry,” I whispered, wiping away her tears with my thumb. “I got the snowmobile, baby. I'll be just fine. Besides, I got a lead on a possible gig up north.” She sniffled. “What kinda gig?
Oh, you know.
“A bit of surveyin'. Maybe a little landscapin'. Occasional pest control…just a couple odd jobs, really.”
My kind of work.
“So freelance work? Is that what you wanna do, Genghis?” I leaned in and kissed her lips. “Yeah. It's the only line of work where I won't feel like some kinda corporate slave. And if I'm any good at it, I can rake in so much cheddar that we won't know what to do with it all.” Heidi's expression was lightening up a little, so I continued to pitch my game plan to her.
“I'm s'pose to be meetin' some contractor in Norte District—some guy named Leroy. Met one of his buddies the other day when I got the snazzy getup.” I nodded towards the teal coat and gangster fedora both hanging on the rack by the door. “His guy told me he'd give Ol' Leroy a ring and see if he'd be willin' to tawlk to me about a job. Before I knew it, we were standin' by a payphone. He made a call, tawlked a bit, hung up, and told me to meet Leroy in Norte District sometime after New Years.”
Heidi gave me a small smile. “How far away is Norte District from here?” I sighed heavily, dreading the answer I was gonna have to give her. Considering it took me a little over a day to get to and from North Oeste, I was gonna guess at least two or three days. Meaning she'd be left all by herself for over twenty-four hours. Christ.
“Might be gone for a few days, babygirl.” Her eyes widened, tears threatening to pour again. “Why so long, Genghis?!” I caressed her cheek. “Distance, mainly. If I can tawlk Leroy into giving me some work in Oeste District, then I'd be all set.” She sniffled. “Can I come with you, at least?”
“Heidi, it's too cold outside for you right now.”
“You're goin', though!”
“I ain't the one eatin' for two. The brick weather ain't gonna do as much harm to me as it would you.”
“It's not fair, Genghis!”
I wrapped my arm around her, pulling her close as she bawled loudly against my chest. “I'll come home to you, babygirl. I promise,” I said, rubbing her back up and down. “It's just gonna be a few days and I'll be right back. That's all. Just a few days.” My tone was quiet and gentle despite my ever growing irritation over the situation.
It ain't her fault, Genghis.
It ain't her fault.
“Call me everyday, you hear me?!” she sobbed, slapping my arm a few times. I rolled my eyes, but continued to rub her back. “I'll call you every time I find a stop with a workin' phone.” Heidi said nothing else for a couple of minutes, preferring to get her crying outta her system first. Granted, with her current state, I wasn't sure that she'd ever quite get all of it out. But hey, she was trying and that's all that mattered.
“Y-You promise?” she finally asked sheepishly.
I gave her one last squeeze with my arm.
She eventually calmed down and agreed that I should leave first thing tomorrow morning if I wanted to make decent time to Norte District. I initially wanted to leave later on that day, but I couldn't bring myself to just leave Heidi behind right after our talk. After all, the list of people I care about is an incredibly short one—and I do mean incredibly fucking short. Anybody who can somehow make it onto that highly exclusive list is someone who I not only trust, but treasure with every breath I take. So far, the only people on that list were Heidi, our unborn child, and yours truly.
January 2nd came a lot quicker than I thought it would.
I got up early and took a quick shower.
After getting dressed and packed for my short trip, I woke Heidi up and kissed her good-bye.
I nabbed my Genghis Two-inspired getup and began my long trip to Norte District.
I drove for three whole days before I reached my destination. The weather only got colder the further up north I went, though my new coat actually did a decent job of keeping me warm. In fact, the only part of my body that was really suffering from the freezing weather was the upper half of my face. Of course, this was also thanks to Heidi's amazing ability to lay mad guilt trips on anybody she wanted something from. After giving Alexander some fairly convincing crocodile tears over me driving up north in the snow for a couple of days at a time, he reluctantly handed me a plaid scarf from his personal wardrobe. Granted, he made me promise I'd wash it before giving it back to him.
I flashed him a sly grin.
It was best that I didn't warn him that it may come back with a couple questionable stains on it.
Keeping true to my promise, I made sure to contact Heidi every time I stopped for a nap, snack, or bathroom break. Before you ask, no; it wasn't as easy as walking in and handing somebody a wad of cash so I could have a nice, thick steak to eat or a cozy bed to sleep in. Allow me to break it down for you guys, okay? You see, all countries have a special currency system that differs from the currency system of other countries. The United States uses the US dollar, Mexico uses pesos, the UK uses pounds, etc.
Casa do Diaño has its own currency system, too. They use what is called “fichas”. While US dollars are green pieces of paper with the faces of previous presidents in the middle, fichas are these bizarre cards that show off your reflection in the light, but turns it into a random monster depending on the value of the bill. Ones turned you into a goblin-like creature, fives turned you into a zombie, tens turned you into a Nosferatu-esqe vampire—you get the gist of it; it was fucking weird. I didn't know the name of the cent pieces, but they were these little rounded stones that each had a cloaked figure etched into them. The type of stone varied depending on its value. One cent stones were made outta granite, five cent stones were made outta sandstone—et cetera, et cetera.
How do I know this? Because I got denied a goddamn motel room the first night of my trip. “Boi, yaw Aw-merican dollas are barely equal to even one Casa do Diaño ficha!” bellowed this obnoxious scoundrel who's accent pinned him as being born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts; aka, the loud assholes who all non-New Yorkers swear that we sound like. C'mon people, we're loud...but we ain't that loud! Needless to say, I shot the bastard, mugged him, and nabbed my room key. I found the experience to be rather therapeutic, if I do say so myself.
And by using this bozo's guap, I was able to support myself as well as keep my woman up to date on things during my long journey.
And so I drove and drove.
My search for Leroy Barris lasted for a week and a half.
I searched high and low for this sonuvabitch.
I was nearly at the end of my rope when Lady Luck decided to seduce me with that sexy wink of hers.
A lead made itself available and I followed it.
And once I found my man, I knew exactly what to do next.
What I didn't know was what I should've been expecting upon my arrival into Norte District. Not long after my boy, Leroy, mercilessly slaughtered that worthless Frenchman at the ripe age of four, he was taken in by these two women that owned their own cottage in these parts. He seemed to have lived a mostly peaceful live here, even adopting a sorta Pagan-like spirituality after learning that the horse that saved him was some kinda Celtic Goddess. Honestly, I still had my doubts. Judging by my dealings with Zombie Bastard as well as the fucked up shit I've seen in my daydreams, I wouldn't be at all surprised if “Danu” turned out to be some kinda grotesque demon with five asses, seven penises, and a beer gut the size of Rhode Island.
You never know, alright?
I'd rather be a skeptic than blindly listen to some divine abomination's quote-on-quote “words of wisdom”.
It was on the second day of my road trip, around 8:30 P.M., when I saw the signs welcoming me into Norte District. The very first thing I noticed about this transition was the abrupt end to the city...and boy do I mean “abrupt”. You ever drive on the highway and reach some major city? You're surrounded by skyscrapers for about an hour or two, then you reach the slightly poorer neighborhoods for a while before ultimately reaching the boonies? It don't matter if you're up north or down south, that's always the way it is. I seen it enough times while I was on the run, so I oughta know what the hell I'm talking about.
Well, considering how sudden this change was, I think it's safe to assume I didn't know as much as I thought.
I ain't even exaggerating on this, folks.
All traces of the city vanished as soon as I crossed that border.
All I could see for fucking fifty goddamn miles was trees, snow, and the occasional elk prancing around. I desperately searched for a place that I could sleep for the night, but it didn't look like this forest was gonna end anytime soon. I couldn't help but wonder if people driving through the Mojave Desert felt this way. I mean, really, are these two places that much different? Sure, one is extremely hot and the other is extremely cold, but that's really all that's different about them, now ain't it? They both lack civilization for the most part, they both stretch for god knows how many miles, and you'll inevitably start seeing shit the longer you're stuck in both locations.
No, it's true; the snow on the ground was looking more and more like a soft mattress the longer this drive lasted.
Not gonna lie, these surroundings made me feel like a fish outta water. I'm a city-slicker, goddammit—born and raised! Sure, I've been to upstate New York a couple times growing up, but not nearly enough for me to get used to the lack of civilization. Which was truly a shame, really; somebody with my deep-seated contempt for human life would benefit most from being a hermit with his own cabin in the woods.
Once the time on the snowmobile's dash read midnight, I knew I wasn't gonna be getting a warm hotel room that night. However, I wasn't willing to sleep in the forest and risk waking up to a coyote trying to rip one of my legs off my body. So I did the most logical thing and pulled over for a few minutes. I smoked a cigarette, hummed a couple rock songs to myself and paced back and forth by the snowmobile. You know, anything to keep my blood pumping—anything to keep me from dozing off during this godawful drive.
“Just give it another day, Genghis,” I said to myself out loud, “it will all be worth it once you find Leroy and get your shit squared away in this hellhole. Cold is only an emotion. Tired is only an emotion. Be a machine. Be the machine.” Having successfully psyched myself out, I took a leak on a nearby tree and hopped back onto the snowmobile. Thus began my all-nighter in the vast wilderness of Norte District.
Things went alright for the first two hours. By 3:00, my eyes were starting to hurt from straining them so much in the heavy wind. By 4:00, I'd caught myself a few times nearly passing out at the handlebars. By 5:00, there was nothing more that I wanted other than a nice bed to catch some much needed ZZZs in. Fuck, I'd take sleeping on a goddamn rock at this point so long as it was indoors!
The sunrise eventually greeted some time after 6:00 A.M.
And finally, praise whatever pretentious asshole runs this world, I saw roads.
Before I knew it, I entered a small town. “Yeah! Yeeeeeeeah! Woooo!” I screamed with unbridled excitement. The very second I reached a 24/7 diner, I rang up Heidi and apologized for not calling her the night before. After telling her that I loved her, I hung up and re-entered the diner lobby. I claimed an empty booth by the window and took my hat off, placing it on the table and resting my head against the glass. After my long night in the motherfucking woods, I was out like a light in a matter of seconds.
I could've been out for an entire day.
Maybe just a few hours.
Shit, it could've been only five minutes.
The amount of time I slept for only mattered to me for about two seconds when I woke up.
After that, all my fucks flew out the window once I saw who the man shaking me awake was.
“Ah, thank the Goddess you're alive, sir! I was worried when I noticed you hadn't budged since this marning!” I gathered that this guy had just come out of the weather, as his short, black buzzcut still had a few stubborn snowflakes sticking to it. His chocolate brown eyes matched his dark skin. A thick, smoky gray scarf was wrapped around his neck, complimenting the royal blue parka he wore around his torso. My eyes widened and my vocal chords locked up on me.
Great fucking time to lose your goddamn voice!
“What was that? I didn't quite catch that, sir.” Like the first time he spoke to me, Leroy's voice had a slight Irish accent. Of course, it was more noticeable now that he wasn't whispering...but not quite strong enough for me ask him if anybody's been trying to steal his Lucky Charms lately.
“E'oy'arris!” He cocked an eyebrow, but then nodded. “Ah, I think I understand, sir. Don't worry, m'mum has the same problem whenever she wakes up in the marning. Doctors call it “sleep paralysis”. Not as uncommon as you think!”
For fuck's sake.
“Isten—” Before I could finish my thought, the sound of a telephone ringing was coming outta his jacket. “Aye, m'apologies, good sir. One moment, please.” With that, he unzipped his parka and whipped out this gigantic white block with an antenna. I'd seen these strange contraptions before back in New York; of course, only the rich snobs that drove around in brand, spanking new Maseratis ever really carried these things around. I think they called it a “cell phone” or some shit like that.
He listened for a few moments.
Judging on the look on his face, it was something he didn't want to hear.
“Who are you? How did you get this phone number?”
He listened for another couple of moments, eyeballing me every once in a while.
“Listen here, you ponce. Whoever your boss is, he can shove his threats straight up his hairy arse.”
He listened for another minute.
“I'll see you and your men there. Don't be surprised when I tear the whole lot of you into drobes!”
He pressed a button and quickly shoved the phone back into his jacket. “M'apologies, stranger. I have urgent business I must attend to. Perhaps we'll meet again when your voice isn't in tatters!” He rushed outside and, in turn, I grabbed my hat and leaped outta my booth to follow him.
“Leroy, wait!” I finally managed to shout a moment too late. For the moment I made it outside, Leroy had summoned a giant snow wave from the sidewalk and was using a trashcan lid to surf along the ice. I stood there spellbound for a moment. “Guess he got a lot better at controlling his powers,” I thought to myself.
Quickly snapping outta my daze, I rushed to my snowmobile and chased after my new friend.