According to ancient Chinese superstition, the first words heard in the New Year will set the path for the rest of the year. At the start of the New Year Lucas didn't hear words. He heard gurgling, gasping and the sound of feet and nails scrabbling against skin and dirt.
It wasn't very auspicious.
He didn't really care.
It was about the money.
Lucas always wanted money. He always wanted more than he had despite his penchant for earning a fast buck, and perhaps that went back to his upbringing. There was never enough money for anything when Lucas was small, and growing up in shabby foster homes and wearing second-hand clothes got old real fast. Lucas had always wanted something: a new pair of sneakers, the shirts with the little triangles and crocodiles, all the material things that parents buy for their children in lieu of spending time with them.
When he became old enough to earn his own money, he promised himself that he would never want for anything ever again. And truthfully, he never did, apart from the obvious. However, by seventeen, even the obvious had become irrelevant.
A lot of things were irrelevant at that age, but Lucas didn't know or just didn't care. Whatever bitterness he felt was channeled into games in kitchen restaurants and basketball courts. Lucas never spent time with people his own age, and most of the twenty-something gamblers who lived at home with their mothers didn't remember much about teen angst. Not that Lucas asked, not that Lucas wanted to know. He had himself and a showroom model Ducati 998R.
Everyone else was just a bit player with something to offer, even if they didn't know it yet.
Even Alan, who followed every last one of Lucas's instructions down to the tee and was the consummate right hand, was just a pawn. As far as Lucas was concerned, everyone else existed to fit in his grand scheme. The grand scheme had no start and no end, but was it Lucas's entire life: running endless circles in various locations.
The current location happened to be the alley between a deserted tenement and a burned-out Laundromat. Calling it an alley was probably a bit generous, but it worked well for drug deals, sex and the occasional murder, and that was all Lucas cared about.
Chinese New Year fell on a Tuesday that year, but the Lantern Festival was held on a Saturday in the interest of all those who worked nine to five or had to attend school. Lucas had neither of those particular hindrances, and he doubted that his teachers at Edge City High would have known his name even if he robbed them in the street one night.
Not that Lucas would ever sully his hands with something as petty as robbery. That was too small time. Lucas had other people to do stuff like that for him. People like Alan, who went out into the festivities and brought back black moss seaweed and dried bean curd for lunch. Apparently, one promised wealth and the other happiness. Lucas didn't care what the food was supposed to bring as long as it filled the void in his stomach. The void had nothing to do with nerves and everything to do with impatience. It didn't help that Alan apparently had no problem with the waiting, while Lucas felt his nerves crackling as he watched Alan clean his nails with the edge of a Swiss Army knife.
Perhaps in the new year Lucas would work on his patience. Or maybe not. The idea of a resolution was as foreign to Lucas as the idea of attending school on a regular basis. Lucas did what he wanted, when he wanted. He made plans on his own schedule, and he carried them through. People stole and lied because that's what he wanted; he believed in himself above all else, and fuck anyone who stood in his way, caused him grief, or wasn't on time.
Some people had to learn those lessons the hard way, but no one had told Lucas that killing involved so much waiting. However, Lucas's sense of impending vindication was enough to override his impatience. He was good with getting what he wanted. Even if he had to wait, and based on the sun overhead, it couldn't be more than half past one. Add to that the lurking inside an alleyway that was too small, too cramped and housed too many roaches, rats and all sorts of nasty things that carried diseases. It wasn't the vermin that made Lucas' palms itch though; it was the waiting while life went on without him.
Lucas never took well to playing bystander. All that waiting while the partying went on outside got on his nerves. Bright banners and vivid colors. Dancing dragons and cheap firecrackers exploding just around the corner. Impatience built up behind Lucas's eyelids like a sinus headache until he was sure his head would explode from the pressure, and that's where the sex came into line.
Lucas considered himself a late bloomer having only lost his virginity at fifteen; and while he had quickly gathered as much experience as possible, he still considered himself a bit of a tyro. There were things he hadn't done, people he hadn't touched. In his mind, he was still honing his sexual prowess, and he took every available opportunity to refine his skills.
Alan had yet to succumb to his advances and that was unacceptable, although to give credit where it was due, Lucas hadn't been trying very hard. On this particular day, however, Lucas pressed his case, and the hand job passed the time despite whatever protests Alan made.
Lucas had the time to listen to the excuses, but he didn't want to think about that, so he unzipped Alan's jeans and took what he wanted. Alan was eight years older and two inches shorter. Afterwards, Lucas wiped his hand on Alan's jacket, only then realizing that the declarations about straightness had ceased.
Alan always prided himself on his heterosexuality.
Lucas didn't care.
Lucas got his first tattoo on his sixteenth birthday in Center City.
The design depicted a three-toed dragon about to strike, and the needlework on his right bicep was done by Manny the Chef. Manny had intervened on Lucas's behalf the first time that Lucas got caught cheating at cards, and he said that the three-toes were a sign of good luck in Chinese lore. However, it was anything but that when two days after giving Lucas his birthday present, Manny got offed by Big George's crew for cheating at five-card stud.
Lucas wound up getting a flat down by the docks and missed said card game. Apparently the dragon worked for him, which was important because Lucas had a thing about dragons.
He'd been born in the Year of the Rat, and he always thought he had been born four years too early or eight years too late. Rats were supposed to be creative and imaginative. They were supposed to be generous towards those they loved.
Lucas loved no one.
Dragons, on the other hand, were individualists. They were sharp death-defiers. Bruce Lee was a dragon. Al Pacino was a dragon. The only rat of note to Lucas was Marlon Brando, but after The Godfather, Lucas felt he should have quit while he was ahead. He would never make another movie that good again, and while Lucas always pushed his luck, even he knew how to leave when the situation called for it.
Lucas found it rather random that 2002 was the Year of the Horse. Apparently, they made good scientists.
There was a cardinal perched on an errant gas pipe, and Lucas threw an empty Gatorade bottle in an attempt to scare it off because it annoyed him. He was stuck in the alley, and the bird could have been anywhere. It flew off in a streak of red, and Alan scowled at him. He said that the red bird had been a lucky sign, and Lucas had probably just fucked up the rest of their year, but Lucas had been waiting for too long to care. Plus, when the sun went down the fireworks would start up, and Lucas wanted to be done by then.
The meeting was arranged for five, the fireworks for six. Alan's watch said it was three fifty-two, and they had been waiting since ten in the morning. Perhaps it wasn't necessary, but it was a big day and Lucas didn't like surprises he didn't plan. Fireworks were different, however, and when he was seven, Lucas's foster mother had taken him to the Fourth of July festivities in Gotham Central Park. He remembered red and blue flowers in the sky and children running amok with sparklers and flags. The sky had been awash in purple and green sparks of celebration, much like the start of a new year.
Lucas had encountered Alan for the first time when he caught him cheating during a poker game at The Satanic Buddha, but instead of ratting him out, Lucas let him rob the house blind.
Afterwards, he followed Alan down a series of dark streets and watched as he went home to his mother and grandmother in a derelict section of Chinatown. Alan's grandmother was waiting up for him, smoking from a long pipe as she stood on a fire escape blowing circles into the night air. Lucas had never been one for herbal remedies, but there was a decidedly blue tinge to whatever she was smoking, and somewhere in the back of his mind Lucas thought of opium dens.
He slept in a doorway that night and was woken up the next morning by a broken bottle being waved under his nose. Lucas never even blinked. Instead he smiled that crooked grin that had always scared Mrs. Lloyd, his third foster mom in Metropolis, and offered Alan a chance not to end up dead at the hands of the man he'd scammed.
It might have been his grin that sealed the deal, or Lucas's complete nonchalance at the chance that he would end up glassed in a back alley. Whatever the case, Alan had tossed the bottle aside and kept mum while Lucas made his proposition. When Lucas finished talking Alan had mentioned his cousin, Dirk, who ran a similar scan, but otherwise he never said 'no.' That conversation had taken place four months ago, and Alan had proved to be a good business partner, although it wasn't a partnership as much as it was a business arrangement.
Lucas would end it one day, but in the meantime Alan was good for card games and scams. He was just mousy enough to be unassuming. It worked a treat. It didn't hurt that somewhere along the line Alan had made himself a nice little drug connection, and the coke he pulled out of nowhere helped lift Lucas' mood about spending his Saturday in a decrepit alley. Except that coke had a tendency to make Lucas's throat scratch and itch, apart from the additional numbness. Yes, the numbness was always a problem, and Lucas wound up making those strange clicking noises with his tongue trying to get rid of the tickle. Still, the coke worked, and Lucas could feel it sending all his excess thoughts scrambling for purchase. When Lucas was high everybody loved him, and he would do anything to increase the buzz.
At five o'clock the buzz would go sky high.
Mrs. Chung, Alan's mother, had attempted to give Lucas a red envelope when he had appeared on their doorstep that morning. Alan, in turn, had intercepted the exchange and thrown the envelope back at his mother in disgust. Lucas had held his tongue as the two had argued, however, there had been quite a bit of arm waving, and Alan kept hollering something that sounded like 'shush.'
In the end, Alan had stomped out in a huff with Lucas behind him.
Lucas never bothered to tell Alan that he spoke Cantonese.
The parade started promptly at five p.m.
The target, a Mr. Frank D. Lee of 314 S. Bayliss Street, apartment 3B, arrived at approximately five twenty-three.
Lucas claimed he hated people who were late, when actually, Lucas just hated people who didn't treat him with the respect he felt he deserved. It was always difficult collecting on bets in Chinatown, because Lucas was young, and he consistently did business in a culture that revered old age. People had no problem with sitting down at his table, but some tended to balk at actually paying up when they lost. There were reasons Lucas owned a gun. There were reasons that he had hired Alan, and Benny and Jake the Hook and the Lee twins for his mini-syndicate.
Lucas had tried to be diplomatic when he first started running his own games, but sometimes diplomacy didn't work, and Mr. Lee had been a particularly hard marker to call in. There were a lot of Lees in Chinatown, and this particular one owed Lucas almost three thousand dollars due to his compulsive gambling habits. He was six days late with his payment, and yet he obviously wasn't that afraid of Lucas. Yes, he had been difficult to track down, but when word got out that someone was practically giving away drugs, Mr. Lee had popped up like a groundhog in February.
Lucas always felt that drugs and cards were a bad mixture: one tended to infringe on the enjoyment of the other. He said something to this effect when he stepped out of the hidden doorway, effectively cutting off Mr. Lee's escape route.
It didn't matter that in return for his life, Mr. Lee tried to pay Lucas back with interest. It didn't matter that Mr. Lee still tried to run when he realized what was happening. By then it was too late. The New Year's parade was in full swing, and Mr. Lee was caught between Alan and Lucas in the jaws of the proverbial dragon.
No one could hear anything above the whirring of noisemakers, the yelling of happy people, and the drums drowning out all of the above. Lucas couldn't even hear his heart pounding in his ears. He never felt it when his nose began to bleed.
Perhaps if it had been a few dollars less Lucas wouldn't have minded, but it wasn't, and Lucas did mind. By then it wasn't about the money. True, he had never killed someone before, but how hard could it be? Really? He had seen it done on television thousands of times, and he had walked by all those chalk outlines in Gotham. Lucas had even seen a body once or twice, after it had been covered up. After the death had taken place. Never before had he been the one to ensure the death would take place.
Lucas had never had a problem with change, and he watched quite calmly as Alan did the deed. It was quick and relatively quiet, but not particularly clean. Blood spurted, Mr. Lee staggered, and he bled all over Alan's new Jordans. Alan cursed up a storm as a result. Lucas was a bit too busy at the time reminding Mr. Lee that if he had just paid Lucas on time, the way he was supposed to, then he wouldn't have found himself in this particular predicament.
It was about the principles of respect.
A gun would have been too loud, of that he was sure, and Lucas had given the entire scenario due diligence in a way his caseworker never did. So Alan used a switchblade, and Lucas was smart enough to never touch it without impediment.
There had always been an influx of surgical gloves at the foster home in Coast City because one of the kids was HIV-positive, and Lucas always tended to swipe things just because he could. Light fingers in cards tended to create light fingers in other situations. Therefore, at five twenty-six in the evening, when Lucas slipped out of the alley with his collar turned up, there was no physical evidence linking him with the scene he had left behind.
Based on the coke in Alan's pocket, the police would call it a drug deal gone wrong.
The refuse from lunch had been disposed of by Alan, and even the Gatorade bottle had found its way elsewhere. The switchblade had been picked up and stored in a convenient paper bag until Lucas passed by the trash bin behind the corner liquor store and made it vanish.
The Chinese New Year started off with a double murder, but no one heard anything over the celebrations taking place outside the alley; and in the end, it wasn't about the money or the principles. It was about boundaries.
No one ever set any for Lucas; no one ever told him no.
Even Alan didn't say anything when Lucas slit his throat.
Thanks to Wendi, Kassie, Lar, Jenn and Hope for random things.
Special thanks to Jayne for inspiring this and then having the cojones to beta it. She's the business. Yay Jayne!
Notes: Hong Bao or Red Packet is an ancient custom that takes place on Lantern Day. It involves married couples giving children and unmarried adults money in red envelopes.
The word for "four" (Ssu) sounds like the word for death and should not be used during New Year celebrations.
All symbolism and the like can be read about here (http://www.educ.uvic.ca/faculty/mroth/438/CHINA/15-day_celebration.html) and here (http://www.new-year.co.uk/Chinese/
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