Michael’s voice hit me like a freight truck, knocking the wind right out of me.  I could hardly think, never mind stand.  Confusion fell over me in waves as I steadied my shaking legs by putting a hand on the limo behind me.

            “What the…?” I inquired, clearly quite capable of full sentences.

            Michael laughed.  “So our precious little know-it-all finally doesn’t know something – what is happening here!”

            I decided to focus on the most important problem immediately facing me.  “Whoa, whoa, WHOA!  I am not a know-it-all!”

            Michael began to pace in a semi-circle around me.  All the others just stood around with guns pointed down at the ground or up at the sky; a few pointed right at me.

            “Kel, I don’t know what’s going on here, but whatever’s happened – whatever trouble you’re in – we can fix it, you don’t need to do whatever this is,” I inwardly cringed at how cliché my honestly sincere words sounded.  “You know I’d never hurt you, you’re my brother!  Why don’t you send these people away and just talk to me?  Talk to me, Kel!”

            Kel fished a knife out of one of his pockets.  Still pacing, he began to casually flip it in his hand, with no apparent fear of losing his fingers.  “Brothers, huh?  You’d never hurt me?  How do you plan to fix this, brother?  By throwing money at it?  With your ‘superior intellect’?  Or maybe by ignoring it, pretending it doesn’t exist?  Sending a random secretary to check up on it every once in a while?  Making small talk about it like you care?  IS THAT YOUR PLAN?”

            I went back to my original method of asking for clarification:  “What the…?”

            “And all the time this…problem exists, you may try to act like you care about it, but you won’t actually do anything.  You won’t let it have its chance to shine or to make a name for itself.  You won’t offer it the chance to become great.  No, you’ll just let it exist – nothing more – in your shadow as ‘that other Arc kid.’  That’s your plan for this problem.”

            I didn’t know what to say.  This sounded suspiciously like an argument between the two of us, and I always lost those anyway.  I kept my mouth shut and hoped he wouldn’t do anything stupid.  Or smart, for that matter.  I just really hoped he wouldn’t do anything.

            “I have had to live in your shadow for far too long, brother.  It’s time for me to show that I can do as well as you – better than you! – and do you know the best way to show that?  You actually showed me…a very heartbreaking, yet convenient…death in the family.”  He punctuated this statement with gestures with his knife.  I showed my comprehension by coughing as a gust of wind stirred the dusty air.

            “Seriously, Kel, this is ridiculous.  Bravo, your acting skills are wonderful, I am properly terrified and you can have half the company if you want.  Can we put the weapons away now?”

            “Sure.  Guys, you can go back to your Jeeps.  I’ll meet you there in a moment.  Better?” he asked me as the gangsters retreated.

            “Yes, much, thanks.  How about we get back in the car, where I might be able to, you know, like, breathe?”  Coughing for both emphasis and actual lack of clean air, I moved to open the door to the limo, but Kel grabbed my wrist as I turned.

            Infringing uncomfortably on my personal space, Kel put his lips up to my ear.  “How about…no,” he whispered.  And then I felt it.  Like a fire searing my chest, the cold steel blade sliced through my nerve-filled skin.  I instinctively grabbed Kel’s shoulder as my knees gave out in shock.  He pushed me off, and, leaning down real close, he said, “Good luck breathing now, Gabe.”  The tip of the knife balanced delicately at the base of my windpipe and then, with a seemingly delicate tap, pain exploded in my neck.  The blade delicately carved a gaping hole in my windpipe, leaving the major blood vessels alone.  Kel walked away, jumped into a Jeep, and disappeared.  Gasping desperately, hopelessly for air, I turned on my side, curling into the fetal position as the dusty ground grew wet with blood.  The limo stood abandoned; my phone dug uncomfortably into my thigh.  My phone!  With all my remaining effort, I pulled it out and unlocked it.  My last conversation with Tem stared at me from the screen.  Photo message…take picture…front camera…click!...text: “Help”…send.

            The little blue “send” button was the last thing I saw as the phone slipped from my fingers into the darkened dust and the world went black.

The End

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