Now they were walking down a dark back alley. They passed a locked metal door to their right which bore the familiar wings of the Fireflies spray-painted in yellow. Below it read the words:
“Rise to the Light.”
The back alley ended in a street lit with clouded sunlight offering only one direction to them: the left. Near a barricade off to one side, a makeshift tent sagged; inside were a couple of worn mattresses. On another of the many concrete barricades that lined their path, Joel saw the familiar Fireflies refrain in that same shade of yellow:
“Look for the Light.”
Tess now faced a metal gate with the door propped open. Without hesitation, she proceeded through it and Joel followed. Without a word between them, he sensed her body tensing.
They had crossed into treacherous territory.
They were approaching a quad surrounded by old warehouses with loading docks on opposite sides. Large machine parts of various designs lay scattered about like playthings, aging in the dying sun. Directly across from them rose an arched exit through a whitewashed building which led to the docks - and more importantly - to Robert.
As they entered the confined space, a handful of Robert’s men suddenly appeared out of the shadows.
“Here we go,” Joel muttered as he and Tess took up a defensive position behind a waist-high pallet of heavy rusted pipes.
There were three of them - Robert’s goons - two of whom wielded hand guns. The large black man in front, the leader, apparently needed nothing more than his menacing grimace to ward off intruders.
He wore a jacket with the sleeves pushed up, black gloves on his hands, and had a face that looked like a worn catcher’s mitt.
The five faced off. It was time for a showdown.
“Let us through,” appealed Tess, catching Joel slightly off guard. It wasn’t like her to negotiate with lower-tier scum and her comment surprised him.
The leader took up a stance in front of his partners and spoke in a menacing tone.
“You guys need to turn around and head back if you know what’s good for you.”
“Our beef isn’t with you,” Tess appealed, her voice hypnotic with calm. “We just want Robert. You don’t want to do this.”
The leader grew impatient as his eyes burned like smoldering coals.
“Turn the fuck around and leave now.”
Tess shook her head slowly and deliberately.
“I’m not going anywhere without Robert.”
She edged forward and Joel’s heartbeat quickened as he watched the others remain rooted to the ground, their hands fidgeting nervously.
“Bitch,” the leader spoke, advancing, his voice rising with anger as he jabbed a finger in her direction. “I will bash your skull unless you turn around and get your dumb ass outta here.”
Tess took in a breath as she glanced over at Joel, weighing her options. Then, with a slight shrug of her shoulders, she came to a decision.
“Fuck this,” she said.
Before the leader could react, Tess calmly raised her semi-automatic pistol and fired a round into the large man’s chest. The leader collapsed like a sack of garbage tossed to the street.
The others scrambled for safety like a pair of frightened mice.
“Take cover!” one of the remaining men shouted.
Tess touched Joel’s arm and he followed her lead, ducking for cover behind a crate of heavy iron pipes. She leveled her gaze at him.
“You ready?” she asked with heated breath.
“Yeah,” replied Joel with a nod. He was ready.
Tess’s nostrils flared with satisfaction.
“I’ll cover you,” she said.
One of the Robert’s goons poked his head up and cried out:
“I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you!”
“Get the angle on them,” she whispered, motioning to the crate to his left.
Crouching, Joel jogged to the crate, staying low behind a long table of boxes.
He waited a moment for the men hiding behind cover to reveal themselves. One did, and Joel raised his gun just as his target was about to return fire.
He shot the son-of-a-bitch right between the eyes.
“Shit!” screamed the other goon, watching his friend dissolve into a pool of his own blood.
Tess made her move then, to draw his fire, knowing the man was rattled. When the gunman rose to take his shot, Joel took careful aim and fired.
Another headshot. Another one of Robert’s goons permanently demoted.
It was precise teamwork; years in the making. And now they stood alone in the quad.
As Joel crouched over the dead body of the second man, claiming his victim’s unspent ammo, Tess walked up to his side.
“Nicely done, Texas.”
Joel snorted at the compliment. He guessed if there was one thing he was good at, it was probably this. He repaid the kindness nevertheless.
He shoved the gun back under his belt, looked around at the lifeless bodies lying in puddles of blood and shook his head.
“How the hell did he get all these guys?”
“If Robert’s good at one thing,” Tess sighed, motioning to the carnage, “it’s writing blank checks.” She sucked in a deep breath and then took off in a sprint through the open archway.
“Let’s go put an end to that.”
Joel nodded in agreement. He checked his rounds and then followed her through the tunnel.