THE LANDSCAPE WAS URBAN — a pile of tall buildings set against glass waters glimmering beyond a concrete divide. The breezy night air blew newspaper leaflets across shadowy, rain-slicked streets that were smeared with a rainbow of neon. High, ornate streetlights provided splotches of relief in intervals along the asphalt. The air smelled of damp garbage and car exhaust.
A beat-up, rusty sedan slowed to a creeping halt between graffiti-laden brick buildings, smoke clouds pluming from underneath the hood. The door fell open with a groan and two designer shoes emerged to meet the wet pavement. Levi’s face bore no emotion as he stepped out of the car and removed his suit jacket, folded it neatly, and placed it on the driver’s seat. He circled around to the smoldering hood and unlatched it to look inside. A sudden noise reverberated among the buildings somewhere behind him, but Levi didn’t turn around. He recognized the sound as that of a basketball hitting the ground in measured bounces, its echo spreading across the deserted city block like a war drum thumping outside ancient city gates. Someone was hoping to gain his attention.
Thirty feet from Levi’s car stood four imposing figures on the street. The one dribbling the ball was no more than twenty years old, with gothic tattoos inked into his upper arms. The one beside him steadied a box cutter against his side, ready for action. They were the welcoming committee on this side of town, and locals dreaded running into them. The big man dribbled the ball with greater force, inviting a response from the harmless man in the dress shirt and slacks. They wanted to see the fear in his eyes. They wanted to see him sweat, maybe even beg a little, before stabbing him in the chest and walking away with his wallet.
Levi’s back remained to them as he hunched over to tighten a loose hose in the engine compartment. The group descended upon him slowly, moving a few steps closer, loose gravel from the busted cement crunching beneath their shoes. Their threatening shadows stretched to the end of the street, ominously covering their victim’s form. Levi clapped his dusty hands together, wiped them on his slacks, then casually turned around and faced the four menacing youths, his posture nonchalant.
The big man with the basketball stared into Levi’s eyes and saw something that he didn’t like. The air became very still as the lights reflecting off the river splashed the street with purple and green hues. Levi took a deliberate step toward the group, and the big man instantly took a step back. An empty expression hung over Levi’s face as he invited the welcoming committee to move closer to him.
The big man swallowed, tapped the guy to his left, and then nodded to the other two. The group turned tail and retreated in the direction in which they had come, each step taken more quickly than the one preceding it. Levi stepped inside his car and fired the engine, which came to life with a deep rumble. He pulled away into the night, heading to a place of rest.
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