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How to Conduct Shady Deals in your Average Suburban Home

How to Conduct Shady Deals in Your Average Suburban Home Every house on Williams Street looked exactly the same. Why they made them like that neither Niko nor Lila could tell you. What they could tell you was that it was extremely unnerving, like some alternate dimension they had stumbled into while they weren’t looking where everything and everyone were exactly the same. To be honest, Niko felt a bit lost amidst all the sameness. Did the suburb ever actually end? Of course, it didn’t help that it was the middle of the night and Niko and Lila had just left two bodies behind them. They both jumped at small noises, and at one point hid in a bush when they heard sirens. They didn’t know where they were going, they just kept moving forward. “We need to get out of the open,” Lila muttered after she had almost pulled her sword on a small dog. Her arms and face were splattered with the blood of the man whose brains now covered the inside of his car. Niko vaguely shook his head. “Where the fuck are we gonna go?” In theory, hiding out in the suburbs seemed like a good plan. In practice, however, much harder to actually execute properly. “Do you see any place with a convenient ‘I’m vacant! Squat in me!’ sign?” “Yes.” “Yeah, I didn’t think s—wait, what?” Niko blinked, following Lila’s finger as she pointed across the street, where a “for sale” sign shone through the darkness, like a beacon guiding them through the storm. The house beyond was dark, with no car in the driveway or any other indication of occupancy in the yard covered with fallen leaves. The sign itself was faded and old. Clearly, no one had lived here for quite a long while. Niko nodded, and they approached silently, trying to stay out of the light. Slowly, he glanced into a dusty window. The interior was dark, and covered with cobwebs. There was definitely no one there. Niko reached for the door, but Lila stopped him. “Allow me, young master.” She clutched her sword in one hand, and gripping the door handle in the other, pulled. It was locked. They both let out the breath they were holding, equally disappointed and relieved. “Look for the key.” Niko began leaning down to lift up the brown, faded mat. “We won’t need it.” “Why not?” Niko asked, glancing back up. “There’s a pencil in the window.” “What?” Lila pointed. “There’s a pencil in the window.” They both looked, and indeed, there, stuck the short way so that the window was only cracked open a half an inch, was a yellow, number two pencil. “I don’t like this.” Niko shook his head. “I don’t either,” Lila sighed. “But we don’t have much choice at this point.” As quietly as he could, Niko dug his fingers into the gap and pulled the window up. “After you,” he gestured. “Such a gentleman,” Lila said, rolling her eyes. But she still smiled a little. “I think we both know that I’d just really rather have ten inches of steel between me and anyone who wants to slit my throat than anything,” he drawled as Lila slipped through the window. She paused for a moment on the other side, looking for trouble, then gestured for Niko to follow. Admittedly he wasn’t quite as graceful as she was, but he managed to pull himself through with relative ease. They found themselves in a small front room where the only furnishings were a coat hanger covered in cobwebs and a faded plaque that read “home sweet home”. To the right, a staircase ran up the wall to the second floor, to the left was a door to what was seemingly a den or living room, and ahead was a kitchen and dining room. “Man, even the real estate agents have abandoned this place,” Niko whispered, kicking up the dust that had gathered on the carpet. “I can see why,” Lila said. “Why choose this house when every other one looks exactly the same?” Niko nodded, running a hand along the cracking wallpaper. “But hey, that makes it perfect for us. Check upstairs, I’ll look down here. Don’t want any unexpected surprises.” She hesitated. “Relax,” he rolled his eyes. “I’ve still got these guns.” Smiling, he patted his coat, the weight of the metal reassuring. Lila frowned, but consented, heading up the stairs. After a moment, Niko took the gun from his holster and held it at his side. He didn’t want to seem outright aggressive to any possible squatters, but you couldn’t be too careful. Except that just then, his stomach started growling. Right, kitchen first. Not that he expected to find much, but maybe someone had left some stale chips behind or something. Gripping the gun, Niko sidled down the hallway and into the kitchen. Just as the rest of the house, it was dark and dusty. Niko opened a few cabinets, but didn’t find anything even remotely edible until the last cabinet creaked open, and lo and behold, there was a box of saltine crackers. Score!

He almost choked on the first one. It was really stale, and a bit dusty. By habit, he grabbed a glass from a shelf, and turned to the sink to get some water. It wasn’t until he had downed half the glass that he realized how weird it was that there was running water in this long abandoned house. He gripped the gun tighter, taking a quick sweep around the dining room before moving back towards the den. He didn’t like this, something wasn’t right here. All of these things didn’t add up. Why had the house fallen into such a state of disuse if it was for sale, yet at the same time there were unexpired—if stale—crackers and running water? And that didn’t even begin to explain the pencil in the window. Listening at the door to the den, Niko didn’t initially hear anything, but the door was made of heavy wood, so that didn’t mean much. He could see two ways to go about this: he could either open the door slowly and maybe give himself an extra moment to examine the situation, or he could just kick the door in and surprise anything that might be on the other side. Niko chose the latter. Okay, maybe he didn’t kick it in necessarily, but he did grip the handle firmly and yank it open, pointing the gun directly into the room. Needless to say, both he and its current occupant were a little surprised. The first thing he noticed was the pentagram-like circle that took up a vast majority of the bare wood floor. Candles were laid at certain points around the circle, which seemed on further examination to be made of ash. But his eyes were quickly drawn past it, and to the person in the center of the construction. She was dressed normally enough, jeans and a hoodie with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, hair pulled back off her face, but that was where the normality ended. There was a line of green-brown paste painted down the center of her face, her eyes were closed, and she was muttering something under her breath that sounded vaguely Latin-like. “Whoa, whoa! Who the fuck are you?” He shouted, pointing the gun. The girl opened her eyes, saw the gun and Niko behind it, and began to stand. “Me?” she asked, taken aback. “Who the fuck are you?” “I... I’m—“ he struggled to find a way to explain it. “You first!” She blinked, equally at a loss for words. “No you.” “I’m the one with the gun.” “I’m the one with the fire.” She pointed her finger off to the wall, and a spurt of flame shot out in a neat arc. “Jesus,” Niko’s eyes widened. “Okay, I think we may have gotten off on the wrong foot. I don’t want to hurt innocent kids,” he pointed the gun off towards the ceiling and put his hands up. “I’m gonna put the gun down now,” he leaned down to demonstrate, “and you put your... finger away, and let’s figure out what’s going on here.” After a second’s consideration, she nodded, reaching around her neck to grab an amulet that hung from a chain, and set it down on the ground next to her. “Okay,” she said, “first of all—“ “Young Master!” Lila suddenly burst through the door, katana drawn, and immediately placed herself between the girl and Niko. “Are you hurt?” “Forget about him,” the girl straightened. “Jesus Christ, you’re covered in blood. Are you okay?” “This is not my blood,” Lila stated, the hint of a threat clear behind it. Niko stepped forward to stand beside Lila. "Okay, everyone, let’s calm down. I get the distinct feeling that none of us are supposed to be here right now. Lila, both of us are unarmed,” he added, conveniently forgetting to mention the second gun still in his coat. After pausing for a second, assessing the situation, Lila nodded, and placed her blade on the ground next to Niko’s gun. The other girl wiped the green-brown line off her face, but without a mirror, only managed to succeed in smearing it more than anything. “Alright,” Niko continued carefully, “you were here first, so I guess we’ll start. My name is Niko Borozov, and this is Lila Finn. She’s my...” He struggled to find a word that wouldn’t seem too bizarre. But the girl’s eyes widened at his name and quickly cut him off. “Borozov? As in The Borozovs? The mod family?” Niko grimaced. “Yeah,” he admitted, “But we’re not really... associated right now. We’re on the run.” “And you need a place to squat for a while,” the girl finished, surprising the both of them with how quickly she caught on. “Well, believe it or not, I think my story may top yours in terms of weirdness.” “Try us,” Lila said, beginning to relax. Her mouth de-tightened as she attempted a minuscule smirk. “Okay, I’m Cindy Miller,” the girl began. “I live next door, and I use this house so that I don’t have to explain to my family why I’m using unholy, daemon-granted powers to ace my biology test tomorrow.” Niko and Lila both looked at each other, a little surprised. “Yep,” Lila said finally, “I think you win.” “So wait,” Niko added, a grain of an idea beginning to form in his mind, “you’re a witch?” “I believe that’s the technically term.” Cindy reached behind her, and held up an ancient tome that was bursting at the seams with the sheer number of pages contained between its bindings. “Got a spell book and everything. And you... don’t think I’m crazy,” she seemed a little surprised herself as Niko just nodded. “Lady, I just saw fire come out of your finger,” he said. “I don’t think you’re crazy. And what, you didn’t think the mob just dealt in drugs and guns, did ya? Nah, if the money’s right, we’ll get you anything you want. We’ve both seen some pretty weird shit.” Lila nodded, corroborating his assertion. “It’s just been a long fuckin’ night.” “I just have one question for you,” Lila cut in. “Are you the one who’s keeping the power on?” “You noticed it too?” Niko asked. “Upstairs, the bathroom sink.” Cindy nodded sheepishly. “Yeah, you wouldn’t believe how much work it took to bewitch a real estate agent to not only leave the power on, but to forget the place existed at all. A lot of late nights, and oddly enough, a lot of Goldenseals. Do you know how hard those flowers are to find? But it was worth it in the end.” Tilting his head, Niko smirked a little. Yes, he thought that maybe this idea would work after all. He’d had his doubts, but here it went. “Is it hard for you to get a lot of the... ingredients for, uh, witchcraft?” he asked. “Like you wouldn’t believe.” They could hear Cindy’s exasperation. “I haven’t been able to even try a lot of the stuff in this book because of it. I mean, come on, Pennyroyal? What even is that?” “It’s a plant that repels mosquitos,” Niko replied. “Really?” She knocked herself on the head. “Is that all? Wait,” she frowned. “How did you know that?” “Like I said, I’ve sold some weird things to even weirder people,” Niko said, smirking. “I may have a proposition for you, if you’re interested.” “I’m listening.” “What if I told you that I could get you almost anything you needed?” he asked. “But I thought you weren’t associated with the mob right now,” Cindy interrupted. Niko shrugged. “We’re not. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have connections of my own. Usually these things would be outrageously expensive, you know, finder’s fee and all. Now, I can get you a sizable discount, but in return,” he continued as she opened her mouth, “you let Lila and I stay here while we lay low for a while.” Pausing, Cindy thought for a moment. “Okay, but what happens if someone finds you? I don’t want to be caught in the crossfire.” “The chance of that is highly unlikely,” Lila said, taking a step forward. “But if it does, that is where I come in.” She picked up her katana from the ground, its blade glimmering in the candlelight. Cindy whistled. “Well, that’s not something I expected to see waking up this morning. Is that real?” “Would you like to test it?” Raising her hands in the air, Cindy took a step backwards. “Nope, I’m good. I believe you. Anyway,” she added, running a hand through her hair and sighing, “I think you’ve got yourselves a deal. But if things get dangerous,” she stared at the both of them, “I’m gonna have to ask you to leave. I’ve got family next door.” Lila and Niko nodded. “Of course,” he replied. “Well, I’m just about done here, so I’m gonna go home for the night. The place is yours, I guess.” Cindy began blowing out the candles. “There’s a futon upstairs but that’s all I could manage to get over here. Didn’t want to draw too much attention or anything.” Despite himself, Niko yawned. “At this point, I think I could sleep on anything. So, with that,” he picked up the gun and stuck it back in his holster. “We must bid you good night.” Cindy left a minute or so later, and Niko and Lila headed up the narrow, carpeted stairs. The upstairs was smaller than the downstairs, with only a few small rooms. Niko poked his head into the bedroom with the futon while Lila headed into the garishly floral bathroom to take a shower and wash the blood off. The bedroom was small and bare, save for the grey, faded futon and a battered lamp plugged into the wall. Niko closed the blinds on the small window that overlooked the backyard, and dared to turn the lamp on. He plopped down on the futon, throwing his jacket to the side, and ran his hands through his hair. After a few seconds he proceeded to check the two guns. He had a need to keep himself busy at this moment. They were both almost black in color, and well-maintained. One of them still had a full clip, but the other was of course one bullet short. That one was in the head of the driver back at the safe-house. Niko shuddered a little. One more bad memory to add to the collection of things that haunted him at night. Memory. That was a good name. He liked naming things, and he supposed that he’d be sticking with these two guns for a while. So that gun was Memory, and the other, with the full clip... that was Thought.

Thought and Memory. He nodded, setting the guns in a far corner and laying back on the futon. In the next room, he could hear the hard patter of the shower. Lila in the shower, running her hands through her wet, curly hair... Whoa, that was not a place that his thoughts should be going. He leaned forward again as his cheeks flushed red, and stared down at the wood floor. This was Lila, they’d known each other since they were kids, ever since she’d saved his life all those years ago. She’d been beautiful then, too. There was a thump as the shower shut off. She’d probably be in here in another minute. Get your act together, he berated himself, standing to hang his coat on the hook lodged into the door. Those thoughts wouldn’t do him any good. Neither of them lived lives where any relationship of that nature could ever work. That was for normal people, people who didn’t have to worry about being shot in the middle of the night. Niko and Lila were not normal, and they had both found a way to live with that a long time ago.

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