24: Tyler

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24. Tyler

 It's the small things we don't notice. A side glance. A tilt of the head. A small smile. A swift wink. A touch that lingers longer than necessary. Each one is a clue—one tiny little hole that gives you a glimpse of the bigger picture. To see what is really going on behind the façade.

I was too blind to see that before. I couldn't see the warning signs when I threw myself into the fighting circuit and ultimately right at Carl. I didn't think, I didn't question . . . I just did. If I had seen the clues before then I would have run. If I had seen the look that was hiding behind Carl's face the whole time . . . I would have never come back. But I did. Every week I walked right back into that bar and walked out with a handful of cash.

One day turned into two and two turned into three. Back and forth I went. More money in my pocket. More marks on my body. My knuckles were bloody. My face was a mess.

My parents questioned, I turned away. My life was becoming one big, gaping hole and I was falling into it bit by bit. I still am. I'm still only halfway down to the bottom. And I can't hit the end. I don't know what will happen if I do . . . and I don't want to find out.

I stand beside my truck, parked on the edge of the tree-lined road. The leaves have all turned orange and red by now, so I am surrounded by two large walls of fall colors.

I see a car in the distance coming down the street towards me and I push off from my truck, standing straighter and putting my cold hands in my pockets. The silver car comes to a stop on the other side of the road and the engine cuts off. I wait patiently for Brad to get out of his car and head over to me.

"You okay?" he asks immediately, and I nod. "So Carl isn't suspicious of anything?"

"Well he hasn't forced his way into my house to beat the shit out of me so I'm guessing I'm in the clear," I say.

Brad runs a hand over the top of his head. "What did you do with your file?"

"Burned it," I say and then reluctantly add, " . . . as well as everyone else's."

"All of them? What do you mean all of them?"

"There were too many files. It would have taken too long to just find mine so I grabbed all of them. Threw them in my fireplace."

"Everyone's records are gone." Brad puts his hand on my shoulder. "That's half the evidence gone."

There's a faint smile on his lips and I can't understand why he of all people is so happy about this.

"I don't get it," I say. "Why does this matter to you? You're not one of the fighters. You don't even work under Carl. This barely affects you."

Brad's hand slips from my shoulder. "Tyler, you've only been there a year. One year, and you've seen what Carl is capable of. One year. I've been working at that bar for five years. I've seen everything that man is able to do for five whole years. You think you've seen his worst, or you think you know what he can do. You don't, Tyler. That man has the power to do things to anyone he wants to. And he will. Whatever you've seen is nothing, nothing, compared to what he will really do."

His words only make me frown even more. What could be worse than seeing a man being beaten to death?

Movement catches my eye from over Brad's shoulder and I look up to see someone is sitting in the back seat of his car. A young girl's face appears in the open window. She stares at me, her frizzy, black hair pulled back and her clear, brown skin matching her dark eyes.

I stare at her in confusion.

Brad notices me looking and turns to see the girl. "Eliza. I said stay in the back and wait for me."

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