It’s almost dawn the following morning as Cam has laid the last rock on the shallow grave she dug up for Tila. As the tip of the sun peeks up over the mountains in the distance, a dirty, bloody Cam Dragul wipes the sweat from her brow but mostly just adds another streak of mud across her forehead.

Her clothes are caked in dirt and blood. She probably could have asked for help, but this was her responsibility to take care of the one she loved. She recalls the last words she spoke to Tila before she left the hotel.

Or perhaps the words she should have spoken.

There was so much she held back in her relationship with Tila that she suddenly finds herself wishing that she could change.

If only.

If only.

Cam is exhausted, having been up all night digging. Carrying the headless body down from the parking garage, laying it in the grave, and then covering it up. Now all she wants is to sleep.

But the thought of going back to the hotel alone almost terrifies her.

Through her tears, she is suddenly seized with a surge of anger. Someone did this to her, but who? Who the fuck killed Tila and went so far as to decapitate her?

Taking in a deep breath, Cam looks once more at the grave.


Ransom knows her time is running out. Very soon, it’ll all go down as planned, and it’ll be too late for her.  If she’s not at the gate in three days when they open it up, then there’s nothing to be done.  She struggles to get up onto her feet, wincing at the previous day’s injuries. She grabs her backpack and straps it onto her back, and then she pushes the desk away from the door and slips outside.

She winces at the sunlight, holding her hand up to shield her eyes, and she reorients herself towards the towering hotel building ahead of her, and she begins to walk.

Highway saw her leave the office building and climbed down from his perch on top of the building across the street. He watched her carefully as she came out, and he’s almost certain she is heading towards the hotel.

Perhaps she’s going to try and challenge the King to a fight? That would make it very interesting. He can let her soften up the King, then Highway can swoop in and finish off the winner.

Of course, she’ll have to get past old man Ryphle. That kook thinks everything is a fucking conspiracy. The freak seems content to sit around talking to himself. Highway never really cared to fuck with him, but this chick is heading right in his direction.

Ryphle has been in Prison City for 14 years. He moved from place to place until he found this broken-down pickup and has made it his home ever since.

Well, after he killed the previous owner. He and his son had taken up residence in the back, and every day they would sit on the tailgate, and Ryphle would find some new conspiracy to yammer on about, giving his son a proper education.

Not that bullshit they teach in school.

The biggest conspiracy in his mind was the one that landed him inside Prison City. They accused him of killing his son. Considering his son has been with him the entire time he’s been in Prison City, it’s stupid. Why they’d let a child in this god-forsaken place, he doesn’t know, but that’s not gonna stop him from doing right by his boy.

His fucking ex was the one responsible for them being here.

Fifteen Years Ago

Ryphle really was minding his own business when he heard gunshots in the alley. Peering around the corner, he notices a man with a gun, a man on the ground bleeding out, and two other men running away from them both towards the other end of the alley.

The man with the gun gives chase, and that’s when Ryphle noticed it.

The briefcase.

Not always the brightest of the lot, Ryphle snuck over and inside the briefcase was a lot of cash. He slams the lid closed when two more shots ring out.


Ryphle might not be the brightest, but he’s fast. He took off running with the armed man in tow.  Ryphle ducked down another alley, hopped a fence into someone’s backyard, and through the front yard.

He runs across the street, narrowly missed being struck by a car, and bursts into his front door. The first thing he sees is his seven-year-old son on his video game. Ryphle grabs him and ducks down behind the couch.

“Dad! I was playing. You’re gonna make me die!” the boy whine.

“Boy, shut your hole. Be quiet!” Ryphle snaps at him.

When the boy continues to whine, Ryphle has no choice but to clamp his hand over the boy’s mouth.

The front door opens, and Ryphle holds the wiggling child in his arms tightly as he can. As the silence continues, the boy’s struggling starts to weaken and soon stops.

“Roy! You left this damn video game on again!” yells Ryphle’s wife.

“Goddammit!” snaps Ryphle as he gets to his feet. “You scared the shit out of me, woman!”

She doesn’t seem too concerned about it, “What the fuck you scared about now, Ryphle? Aliens? Military moving in? What now?” Seems she’s been through this with him plenty of times before. “And where is Roy? Tell him to come to turn off this video game.”

Ryphle nudges the boy with his foot, “Get up, boy. Your ma wants you to shut off your shit.”  When Roy doesn’t respond, Ryphle gives him a little harder kick. “Boy, get up….”

Ryphle’s wife looks at him curiously, “What the fuck you doing?” She walks around the couch and sees the boy down. She drops down to her knees to check on him, and with an incredulous look, she looks up at Ryphle, “What did you do? What have you done?”

“What the fuck you talking about, woman?”

Amidst her shrieking, she’s already dialing 911 to report the death of her son.

“Crazy bitch,” Ryphle says under his breath before turning to his son and mutters, “Sorry. Shouldn’t talk shit about your mama that way, but we’ve been here for a long time cause of her.”

The little boy just turns and looks up at his father and smiles, then goes back to whittling that piece of wood.

It doesn’t dawn on Ryphle that his son hasn’t aged a day since he arrived in Prison City or that he’s been whittling on that piece of wood for years and never really creating anything.

Perhaps he’s just content with the illusion of his son.

Cam arrives back at the hotel, and as she walks through the lobby towards the stairs, she’s spotted. “Ma’am, did you find Miss Tila?”

Cold, still in shock, Cam nods her head. “Yes.”

The two men look behind her to see if Tila is behind Cam, but when they don’t see her, they ask, “Is she coming back?”

“No. She’s dead.” The response is short, curt as Cam pulls the stairwell door open and begins the long climb up.

Granted, if she were smart, she would have relocated to a floor closer to the bottom, but being this high serves much better for protection than being closer to the ground floor. By the time she reached the penthouse, she was completely exhausted.

She slowly walks over and is about to crawl onto the bed when she sees Tila lying there, sound asleep.

She blinks her eyes, and the illusion vanishes. Knowing there’s no way she can sleep in that bed now, as the tears begin to roll down her cheek, Cam grabs a blanket and curls up on the floor, crying to herself until sleep overtakes her.

“Listen, boy. The gov’ment gonna swoop right on in here and mow every single one of us down in here. They gonna get tired of looking at this ol’ eyesore over….” Ryphle’s rant is cut off when the boy looks up.

Ryphle’s attention is drawn to the young lady walking by her. “Oh, god damn.” He turns to the boy, “You say here.”

Ryphle slides from the tailgate and walks over, “I don’t told you, folks, to stay the fuck out of our homes. We live here, and you ain’t moving us out. Me and my boy over there, we live in this here area. You ain’t taking it.”

Now, Ransom has no idea what the fuck this guy is talking about. She was walking by, minding her own goddamned business, when this lunatic walks up to her. She glances over to where the man was pointing, talking about his boy, and she sees no one else over there. She glances up at him, “Look, I’m just walking through. I’m not looking for any trouble.”

Unfortunately, she’s found far more trouble than she planned on this trip so far.

Ryphle smirks down at her, “You gov’ment people just lie without even thinking ‘bout it, ain’t that right?” He stands in front of her. “I’m gone suggest that you turn your ass around and go back the way you came. If’n not, then I’m gonna have to make you, and I ain’t wanna beat up a little lady in front of my kid.”

Ransom is already sore from the two fights she’s had in two days. This crazy man isn’t gonna let her pass until they fight. She drops her backpack and winces a little as she finally nods her head. “Fine. Let’s do it.”

They charge at each other, and Ransom takes a swing, and everything stops for a moment as her eyes get wide and she sees her fist was caught by Ryphle. He just smirks at her and then clocks her hard in the face, sending her sprawling to the ground.

“You gov’ment types ain’t built for fighting, girl. Go back and tell ‘em they can’t have ‘im.”

Ransom scrambles to her feet and rushes in. Rhyphle throws a kick, but Ransom steps to the side and scores with a fist to the man’s face. He takes it in stride and returns one right at her, sending her towards the ground, but he grabs the back of her shirt, pulls her back, and nails her again.

“I ain’t wanna beat up a girl in front of my boy, but sometimes you gotta send a message.”

Ransom struggles to her feet. Ryphle charges at her. Ransom blocks a punch and drives a knee right into the man’s gut, but again, he shakes it off and punches her right in the face. He goes for a second punch, but she blocks it and returns a fist the connects right to his cheek.

As he staggers back, Ransom throws a kick that he blocks and just laughs at her, “What’s wrong, chickee?” he asks. “This all you got? You can’t move my ass with weak punches like that.”

Ransom narrows her eyes and just hauls off and punches him in the face again. Ransom comes back with a straight kick to the stomach that sends Ransom down to the ground once more. He grabs her by the hair and puts her in a rear choke, “Go tell them gov’ment types that ol’ Ryphle and his boy ain’t moving. They want my prop’ty. They gonna have to send the fucking Army.”

Ranson’s air is cut off, and she’s struggling to free herself by sending a couple of elbows back into Rhyple, but he holds on tight. After the fifth elbow, he just brings his meaty hand up and hammers it down onto her back, sending her to the pavement.

The man just smirks down at the younger, smaller girl as she crawls over to him and grabs onto his large military boot, and uses his fatigues to pull herself back up to her feet.

“Ain’t done yet, girl?”

Before he can even finish the sentence, Ransom sends a right punch that connects right to his cheek and snaps his head back. Rhyphle slowly turns back to her, and her eyes go wide when he connects with a fist right to her cheek, and she falls again to the street.

“Stay down, bitch,” he yells at her. “Better yet, get up and go back the way you came.”

From the ground, Ransom turns to look up at the man. He walks up to her, towering over the young woman as she lays her head on the pavement. She starts to remember why she’s here, who’s she’s come for.

Ryphle nudges her with the tip of his boot, “Figures.” He starts to walk away.

Ransom pushes herself up and slowly, painfully, gets to her feet. Ryphle just stops walking and grins. “You’re one tough bitch. I’ll give you that.”

“I am not a bitch,” Ransom yells as she starts to run towards him, leaps into the air, and connects with a hard right hand that staggers the bigger man. He turns and spits some blood onto the ground and turns to face her.

“Som’thin’ got you all sparked up, suit? I like that.” He cracks his knuckles. He charges at her and misses a kick and goes to throw a fist, but she traps his arm, and she drives a palm right into his gut with all the strength she can muster, doubling him over. The look on his face tells the story as that one hurt him.

She doesn’t wait for him to respond as she charges in and throws a wild punch that he deflects and punches her back.  She stays on her feet, though, reaching up to wipe the back of her hand across her nose, smearing blood across her cheek.

Ryphle charges at her, and she kicks him square in the stomach, forcing him back a few steps. He charges back at her and swings, but she ducks, and she clobbers him hard in the back of the neck and, for the first time, sends him down to his knees.

Ransom goes for him, but he grabs her around the throat and drops her to the ground. He slips a leg over and mounts her and hits her with a fist to the face, but Ransom blocks the second before hitting him from underneath with a punch as he falls off her to the side.

Slowly, both fighters get to their feet. Ryphle looks back at his son, sitting on the tailgate, “Ain’t gonna lose a fight to no girl in front of my boy, tell you that.”

Ransom looks over and sees nothing there. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

He doesn’t answer but swings at her. She puts her arm up to block and just drivers her forehead right into his nose, and the loud crack is heard, and he falls back onto the pavement, blood pouring from his nose.

Ransom struggles to remain upright as Ryphle slowly gets back to his feet. He’s no longer grinning as he looks back once more at the truck. He walks up to Ransom and lays in a hard right, sending her to the ground. He goes to put her in a choke, but he’s off-balance which allows her to throw him over onto his back, and she mounts him, but before she can throw a punch, he pushes her off.

They slowly get to their feet, and Ryphle drives a hard fist right into her midsection, sending the air right out of her body.

Ryphle throws a sloppy punch, which Ransom ducks, and returns the punch that staggers him back.

They are both wobbly on their feet, but Ransom hits him again, but Ryphle just backslaps her across the face, and they both sprawl onto the ground.

After a bit, they both struggle to their feet, staggering around like they were punch drunk before finally facing each other.

There’s a long dramatic pause before Ryphle takes a step towards her to throw another punch but stops as Ransom blocks and strikes him right in the throat, and the sound of the bones crunching is heard loud and clear.

He spits out some blood before falling back like a large tree onto the ground, and more blood seeps from his mouth. His eyes dart around for a few seconds before they become still.

Ransom collapses on the ground and just lays there for a long moment, trying to recover some stamina.

“Wake up, sleepyhead,” the voice says.

Cam groans as her eyes try to focus, “Tila? You’re alive?”

“Don’t be fucking stupid. You just buried me. How the fuck you think I’m alive?”

Cam sits up and holds her head. It’s dark out, and she’s losing it. She wonders how long she’s been asleep. It isn’t as if they have clocks.

She groans a little as she gets up off the floor and walks over to the balcony. She slides the door open and steps out, and looks over her kingdom.

Her kingdom of criminals.

One of these motherfuckers killed her love, and she was going to find out who, one way or another.

Highway would admit it was a hell of a fight.

The girl is formidable. He’s certain he could take her if it came to that, but he still would like to know what she’s up to. He concludes that she doesn’t belong here, but he isn’t sure why.

Just a hunch.

He watched her crawl over to the pickup and crawl into the back, where he assumes she fell asleep. She took quite a beating.

But what’s her motive? If she’s coming to fight the King, then she’s going to want to be at a hundred percent. If she’s not coming to fight, then why is she here? It’s all so intriguing.

Highway settles himself in an entryway and is soon fast asleep himself.

The bedding in the back of that truck smelled horrible, but her fatigue wouldn’t let her focus on that as Ransom fell asleep hard. She’s gotten her ass beaten twice in two days, and tomorrow, she’ll only have two days remaining to find her mother, or everything will be for nothing.

Something causes her to open her eyes, and for a moment, she could have sworn, she saw a little boy sitting on the tailgate of the truck. But as she rubs her eyes and looks again, no one is there.

“Must be the darkness fucking with me,” she says under her breath as she lays back down and is soon asleep once again.

“Motherfucker, I know I’d find you,” comes the gruff voice of a shadowy figure lurking down the alley.

“I’ll get my revenge soon enough,” the voice says as he disappears once again into the shadows.



Highway  RIEL BUCK




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