The window was open just slightly enough to allow a faint breeze to flutter through Sam’s sheer taupe curtains. Her neighbor’s daphne odora shrubs seemed to great her with their sweet, inviting fragrance and for a second, with eyes closed, it felt like how things once were. How free and easy existing used to be.
The crackling of two S333 revolvers blazing off two rounds broke the silence. A man shouted something indistinguishable in the distance and then Sam heard a grenade erupt. A woman screamed hysterically and an infant started crying. Sam shut the window and held her breath for 10 seconds. The tea kettle was stirring. Seconds before whistling, she rushed to the stove and turned it off. She hated how the sound echoed through her tiny, near-empty house. She hated how naked the walls were and remembered the antique furniture, pictures, and various heirlooms she gave away to keep The Twelve at bay. She knew they would return.
What she gave away was the cost to keep her protected, but she didn’t have anything else of true value now. She clasped a silver heart shaped locket that she wore tucked beneath her layered long-sleeved shirts and jacket. She kept her home as cold as she could stand, a brisk 58 degrees, so no intruder would stay long or be provoked with unwelcomed ideas. The locket was it. There was nothing left, but she still considered herself fortunate.
Her neighbor had been murdered two weeks ago to the day, and she only knew this because Mr. Eugene Parisi, that kind Sicilian man, would visit her everyday to make sure she was safe and had enough food. He’d done this ritual everyday for the three years she knew him even after his wife died. His wife, Rosa, died last year seemingly as a result of depression and a broken heart when the economy imploded. Mrs. Rosa wasn’t as sociable, but she cared a lot for the safety of her town. She hung a new Blue Lives Matter flag up each time the former flag was stolen, torn or riddled with bullets. She would always wave at Sam, but never spoke, perhaps saving the incessant but friendly banter with her more-than-capable husband. She missed them, both of them. She wished she could unremember the sound of The Twelve breaking through Mr. Parisi’s door. It was a Tuesday and that day she heard his voice raised in the most commanding way, with more anger and confidence than she’d ever heard from him. There was silence, then the sound of two gunshots. Then there was silence again, but this time it was a sickening quiet, and Sam knew Mr. Parisi wouldn’t be checking on her again.
The Twelve were relatively young, possibly in their twenties, much younger in comparison to gang members Sam had heard about in textbooks and through rumors. Their name was said to derive from the twelve disciples and their belief was that they were doing the work they were called to do, even though robberies and murders appeared to top their list of functions.
This was a far cry from the life Sam knew fifteen years ago. Now 32, Sam remembered growing up comfortably in Milton, Georgia with a dentist father and a community organizer mother. She didn’t see too many things that deviated from her sheltered norm. She was an only child and despite her father passionately caring for the well-being of his clientele, he was a poor tender to his own health. He died and within two years, her mother moved to Colorado to be closer to her own mother and siblings. Sam was invited to come to Colorado, but she didn’t want to leave her life behind just yet. She wasn’t ready.
The house, the neighborhood, although blocks away from her parents old place, they were her memories...those, and the locket. The silver locket protected a small picture of her grandmother, Samantha, whom her father insisted she be named after. Grandmother Geller was a fighter. It seemed to come natural along with her red hair and temper to boot. The Twelve would‘be be no match for “Ginger Jew Geller” who was known for bringing the mightiest man to his knees and forcing the most cunning woman to tears. She was a schoolteacher, a pool player, a community activist, and she knew how to fire a pistol. Sam kept a Glock 43x in the kitchen air vent and another under the floor in the bathroom. She wasn’t as good a shot as grandmother Geller but she figured the potential intruder would get a painful consolation prize. Sam had never shot anyone (or anything, successfully) but she knew when the time came, she’d be ready to defend herself.
The sounds outside seemed as though they were getting closer. She peered once more out the window and caught a glimpse of one of The Twelve holding a gun to the head of a kneeling man across the street. The kneeling man turned and met eyes with Sam and, as though he were curious, the gang member turned also to see what had caught his victims attention. Sam gasped, shut the curtains and hurried away from the window. “Stupid,” she whispered, criticizing her slow reflexes. The last thing she wanted was to bring attention to herself. Sam heard a gunshot and figured that the man she’d seen kneeling was dead. He appeared to be an officer, although not in uniform. Uniforms made them walking targets, so they all dressed like civilians. This one was obvious though. His build, how his shoulders didn’t cower, even his eyes had a sharpness, as though he knew things, like how the government used to work. He made the third officer Sam had seen murdered this month. She even suspected that The Twelve had infiltrated the police force somehow, and across the U.S. Even though their name implied twelve, there were thousands representing this growing gang, maybe even hundreds of thousands.
She heard a knock at her door, and saw two shadows outside her two living room windows. “Saman—thaaa.” An eerie voice called to her. Sam remained still, heart pounding, feeling it was safer to pretend she didn’t hear her name called. “We’ll be back tomorrow for our ten percent,” said the voice. The shadows faded away.
They always kept their word. If she left, she would be hunted down and killed like so many others. If she stayed, she’d have to offer the only suitable gift that she had left, or else she’d be killed like Mr. Parisi. Sam clutched her locket. It was the only thing she had left from her family. After she gave it away, then what? They’d only come again. She had to defend herself or see if there could be a compromise. Maybe they could find some use for her within the organization. Before the legal system was overthrown, she’d been a pretty savvy legal assistant. Perhaps she could manage their records or inventory. Sam thought about how silly this all sounded. “These aren’t reasonable professionals, they’re gang members!” Sam concluded, although it was a nice thought. She went to the kitchen vent and bathroom floor, gathering her two guns. The Twelve would send two or three hinchmen tomorrow. She would be ready for them.