A flash of pain crossed the young mans face as the kick landed. Andre snarled in satisfaction and renewed the attack. The alley they were in was deserted, and no one was going to be coming to this boys aid. Caught alone in enemy territory, he was left to fend for himself.

The rules of gang life were hard but impartial. You didn't go into another crews turf alone, for any reason. Being a 'King in a Crip held area was enough to get you killed, and that was exactly what Andre planned.

Tampa was not known as a gang town, but they were there nonetheless, the locals knew it, but the gangs kept a low enough profile that they were only occasionally mentioned on the nightly news.

Andre kept up the assault, kicking savagely at the downed youth. The boy already had several broken ribs, and was gasping in pain, but there would be no release but death while Andre Fulsom had a say about it.

After a final kick, this one catching the King on the chin and momentarily stunning him, Andre reached under the back of his shirt and pulled a long chromed Colt, which he showed to the dazed youth.

"This is it motherfucker, you see this?" he asked in a hissed breath.

The dazed ganger could only wheeze, barely aware of who he was.

"Your ass is down bitch, you done." Andre mocked. For the last nineteen years, Andre had lived in Tampa's College Hill area, the most notorious slum in the bay area. He had known gang culture all his life, and had long since taken the place of the family he had left for the last time at the age of twelve. They awarded his excesses instead of trying to control him, they fought beside him in whatever desperate situation he found himself.

As he gloated over the soon-to-be former gang banger a noise from above made him look up sharply. All he could see above the edge of the dank alley was the cloudless sky and a half full moon staring back at him.

Realizing that he had been in the alley too long, and that someone might have seen him follow the kid in, he decided that he had to take care of his business and vacate the area before a cop rolled down on him. He had spent time in Orient and downtown, but had no intention of going up for any long time.

He knelt back down looking at his victim.

"That's all she wrote boy."

Placing the .45 against the side of the boys head, he squeezed the trigger once, flinching back at the spray. Damn, he was going to have to dump his clothes.

He did not tarry long over the corpse, just long enough to check the pockets for cash. He didn't bother with jewelry, since this could have been traced back. He had not gotten away with what he did for so long by being dumb. This was not the first person to fall victim to Andre, and would not be the last, but he did need to get out of the area before the shot was reported, and cops came to check the area out.

"I'm sorry, I can't open it!" whimpered the gas station clerk as she huddled in the corner below the convienence stores window.

"Bullshit!" Andre barked back at her. His voice made her cringe and try to shrink farther back into the corner.

" I swear, it's got a time lock on it, they just put it in, I cant do anything with it" she moaned for not the first time.

Andre jumped off the counter he had been perched on, the small black automatic in his hand looking more like a kids toy than a deadly weapon. The black Balaclava covering his face left no question about his intents.

He had thrown his prized Colt into the Hillsboro after last weeks encounter with the wandering Latin King. He couldnt have them tracking him down because of a gun, no matter how precious.

He grabbed the terrified clerk by her hair and dragged her away from her corner, which happened to be against the safe he was trying to rob.

Shit. The bitch aint lying.

The safe was indeed one of the newer time locked models, and he knew from experience that there was no way to get into it with the time he had. He would have to make due with the money he had gotten out of the register, no doubt less than fifty bucks.

He slapped the cowering girl, venting his rage at coming up short, and vaulted back over the counter.

Shoving the double doors open, he stalked back out into the night, slipping the auto back into the small of his back.

He cut around the back of the store and dumped the black jacket and hood he had been wearing into a dumpster.

He set off at a brisk pace across the K-Mart parking lot that the store was in, but barely a quarter of the way across, he noticed sirens closing in, a lot closer than he would have thought possible.

She musta been wearing a silent. All that whimpering was just a stall. SHIT.

He broke into a trot, heading for the edge of the store and the shadows on its edge that promised sanctuary.

He was within fifty feet of those shadows when the first cruiser slid around the opposite corner of the store, its lights strobing red and blue.

He faltered for a split second hoping that he was close enough to the alley ahead to be lost in the shadows. His hope vanished as the cruiser altered course, and leapt forward, engine roaring toward him.

Andre knew that now was not the time for stealth, and broke into a dead sprint. If he could get far enough ahead, he could vanish into the shadows, and be free and clear before they could get a chopper or a canine here to try to track him.

He bolted around the corner into the stores back lot area just in time to see another cruiser slide around the corner blocking his escape route. He jinked right, heading for a chain link fence, beyond the fence was a retention pond, a couple of small side streets and then the interstate.

If he could get across that, it would cause enough problems for his pursuers that he might yet get away.

He heard the chain link behind him rattle as the first officer came over it. He turned to see how far back the man was. Far too close for comfort and gaining.

As he was turning back toward his path, his feet came out from under him as one of the small cross streets materialized in front of him. He had not seen the approaching curb.

Andre fell into the narrow brick paved road and rolled, his momentum carrying him into the middle of the opposite lane. He was half stunned from the unexpected fall, and his only thought was escape. Nothing else mattered. He slid his legs under him and pivoted to rise as a new sound invaded his senses. His brain did not have time to register that it was a car's tires locked up in a desperate attempt to stop before he felt a tremendous impact. For a split second his world seemed to spin around him, and then he felt a sickening thud as his body hit and slid across the pavement.

He came to rest with his head facing the direction of the car that had just turned his world literally upside down. He was in no real pain, at least below his shoulders, and was able to realize that he had been hit by another police cruiser.

His head lolled back, and with the little concentration that he was able to muster he thought to himself, Aint that a bitch.

Then the pain came, then the darkness.

Voices. Lights. Dark. Cold.

Andre Fulsom swam back toward consciousness slowly, without deliberation. He was in a hallucinatory dream world where things that no one should ever see walked all around him. They did not seem to notice him, and he was glad of it.

He gradually became aware of time, and of the voices coming and going, the light coming and going.

He did not want to come back. Some dim part of him knew that all that lay out there was pain and misery, but he still floated upward almost against his will.

It was night, but even the small amount of light from outside the window was at first unbearable. Gradually his eyes began to focus, and take in his surroundings. He was in a hospital room.

Most of the room lay in heavy shadow. What he was able to see was stark, there were no flowers, no signs that anyone was staying in the room. Slumped in the corner under a bedside lamp was a TPD officer, apparently unconscious. He had a book across his stomach, as if he had just dozed off.

Andre had no idea how he had ended up here. The last thing he remembered was casing the gas station on Florida by the K-Mart. K-Mart... something bad was connected with there.

He tried to sit all the way up, and his body refused to respond to him. Panic began to rise in the back of his throat as he realized that he could not feel anything below his chest. His heart began pounding as he stared in every direction trying to order his chaotic thoughts and regain control of his rebellious body.

His eyes kept coming back to the apparently comatose cop. Was I caught? Are they going to send me to jail again? What the fuck's going on?!

Just as the black wave of blind panic was about to drown out all reason, a smooth voice cut through the terror building in his mind.

"I'm sorry about your friend there, but I felt it best that we talk alone."

The words cut through his building hysteria and calmed him, he felt like a drowning man clinging to them to keep from slipping into a hellish abyss.

"Andre, I've been watching you".

The voice came from the shadows huddled around the foot of the bed. Straining his eyes, he could see another shape in the darkness. The voice continued.

"The reason that I'm here is that there are other parties who believe that you may be very useful to them." The voice was matter of fact, with no hint of an accent. Andre thought the shadow stirred and suddenly there was a face at the foot of his bed.

"I'm sorry to be so mysterious," the face now continued."But I'm afraid I'm not always received well."

Andre had no idea what the man was talking about, so he decided to study his face.

Thin, with an elegant nose, and copper skin. Thick full lips and dark eyes with a hint of ironic humor around them. He could have been Spanish, Indian, even Arabic. His long hair was tied back, and the tail seemed to move on its own as he spoke.

The shadows around him moved again and resolved themselves into the rest of the man. He slid forward and leaned across the bed.

"I'm sorry, introductions first, You are Andre, and you can call me Jack." He extended his hand, then realized the folly of it and dropped it again.

"I'm here because you may be of some use to me and my associates."

"Fuggk yuu" Andre could barely speak for his thirst, but his meaning came across clearly. If this pig thinks I'm gonna turn on my boys...

"No, No, No, you misunderstand me, I'm not here as a representative of the law enforcement community, actually the opposite." The stranger finished brightly. Andre did not even recognize that he had not spoken the words aloud.

"Look Andre, I know you're in a lot of pain," he continued. On hearing that, a wall seemed to break in Andre's mind and he realized that he was indeed in a lot of pain, at least from what he was able to feel.

"...And I'm here to make you an offer that could prove mutually beneficial. You see, I can take the pain away and more, but there will be a price. But I think that it will be a price that you will be more than happy to pay."

Andre's mind wheeled, the pain, drugs, the and unreality of the situation all conspired to set him adrift from all things concrete.

"How you gonna take away the pain? You ain't God." Andre slurred, barely able to make his mouth form the words his brain fought so hard to make.

"Well, that's kind of a long story, perhaps a demonstration would be better received."

With this, the stranger reached up and touched Andre tenderly on the cheek.

As the mans hand touched his cheek, Andre felt the pain recede, he felt his thoughts clear, and the implications of the conversation he was having began to sink in.

"Are you the Devil?" He was finally able to speak clearly.

The stranger emitted a short bark of laughter. "The devil, you say? How antique. No, I am merely a businessman, and you can look at this as an interview."

He removed his hand and the pain swept back into his mind, but he did not fog back up. His thoughts seemed unusually focused and clear. He knew this man was not someone to be dealt with lightly.

"Just like your friends on the corner, the first taste is free." The stranger seemed bemused.

He continued, "Do you know how badly you are hurt? The doctors don't believe that you'll ever feel anything below your sternum. I happen to concur, even though I'm not a medical professional. Also the police are most interested to speak with you regarding the attempted robbery of a Shell store on the night of your, shall we say, accident. Not to mention the murder of a young gang member in your territory two weeks ago."

At this Andre's blood ran a degree cooler, no one knows about that.

"Oh yes, quite a few people know about that." the stranger commented. Andre froze in an instinctual moment of fight or flight.

"But, " the stranger cut in smoothly, " I can make sure that no one who can harm you knows about it, or anything else. Andre, let me lay the cards before you, and you can make the choice that will best serve you, if you choose against my option, you will only be back where you are now. Is that acceptable?" The stranger cocked an eyebrow at him.

Andre thought for a moment and realized that he really didn't have anything else to lose.

"OK, what 'choo got for me?" he spat, trying to put as much bravado as he could into it.

The man at the foot of his bed did not seem the least put out by his tone. "Well Andre, here's what I can offer." He slipped into his role as a salesman the same way other people slip into their favorite clothes.

"I can make all this go away," he gestured vaguely around the room, "I can make it so that you will walk again, I can make your life comfortable, give you the money that you want, and generally make your dreams come true. "

"But?" Andre prompted.

" I will allow you to enjoy your life, but I will have occasion to call on you. When I do, you will obey without hesitation, and this is important, you will do what I command regardless of what of your personal moral codes it violates. If you defy me, or try to break our bargain, this will seem as a paradise to in comparison to what will happen to you."

The man settled back into the shadows. "Take all the time you need. I have no pressing business."

The silence rang in Andres head after what he had just heard. I could walk again. I can't live like this.

The silence stretched long in the dark room. Finally Andre's voice broke the stillness.

"OK"

"Splendid" Jacks' voice replied from the shadows. A hand snaked out of the dark to touch him on the cheek again and the world faded into darkness once more.