"Ahmed! Wait up!" MacGyver ran down the stairs two at a time. He wrenched the front door open, looking up and down the street. A flicker of movement caught his attention and he saw the tail of a long coat disappear into an alleyway.
Mindful of where he was, MacGyver forced himself to slow and glance into the alleyway rather than running straight in. South Central alleyways could hold any number of terrors, and he had no intention of falling foul of a random mugging. The glance showed him an indistinct figure walking through the steam from a grating. Steam billowed in the breeze and when it cleared, the figure had gone.
MacGyver jogged down the alleyway, looking into every doorway. He'd almost reached the end when a hand reached out and grabbed the front of his shirt, yanking him sideways into a narrow passage. The hand slammed him up against the wall and another clamped hard over his mouth. MacGyver brought his knee up as fast as he could, but his assailant moved to one side, staying in the shadows.
"Don't do that, MacGyver." Ahmed shook his hood back without letting MacGyver go. "I'm not going to hurt you." He stared at MacGyver for a moment longer before releasing him and stepping back.
MacGyver straightened his shirt and rubbed the back of his head where it had knocked against the wall.
"What are you doing?!" MacGyver's voice echoed in the narrow space.
"Ssh. Not safe here. What are you doing?" Ahmed leant back against the opposite wall, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"Trying to find you. You're in a world of trouble, Ahmed." MacGyver rubbed his chin. "That's a pretty good grip you've got there, by the way."
Ahmed ducked his head, and MacGyver saw his fleeting grin. Then the ganger mask was back in place.
"I can handle my own trouble, MacGyver. But you can't come here again. They're watching me, they don't trust me yet and I can't have you bringing trouble down on my mother." Ahmed cast a wary look at the alley mouth. "You need to go."
"Uh-uh." MacGyver folded his arms. "Not until you tell me exactly what you're playing at. Your photo came up in some work I'm doing with the police, Ahmed. You and Carlo and some kid. They think you're part of the South Side Samurai and they're going to arrest you. Where will your mother be then?"
Ahmed hunched down inside his coat.
"Did you tell them who I was?"
"No, Ahmed. No, I didn't tell the police who you are. You're my friend and I wouldn't do that, even though I probably should have. You running with the gangs now, is that it?" MacGyver leaned forward. "What happened, Ahmed?"
"It's a long story." Ahmed looked down and scuffed at the cracked concrete.
"So, shorten it. I got the beginnings of it from Zia anyway." MacGyver glanced at his watch. "Time is a luxury you don't have, Ahmed. L.A's finest are going to be beating down the South Side Samurai's doors tomorrow night and I have to be at the precinct at nine o'clock sharp or Detective Murphy is going to know there's something up. She knows I recognised someone in that photo, but I didn't tell her who. Start talking, Ahmed."
Ahmed looked up at MacGyver, then at the alley mouth. He scrunched his hands deeper into his pockets and sighed.
"I want to live the life we talked about. The one with cars, and hamburgers and baseball. The American dream, the one we thought we could have when we came here. You know what we got? People who hate us because we're not Americans and won't give us jobs. Buying things from thrift stores and managing without. Seeing everyone else having more than us because we won't break the law to get it and they will. And the people who have the most are the gangs." Ahmed shifted from foot to foot, staring at the ground.
"So you joined one to get the good life." MacGyver stared until Ahmed looked away and nodded.
"Just until we get enough money to move away. Then we can start over somewhere new where people are nice, and my mother won't be scared all the time. The gangs pay a lot, MacGyver, a hundred dollars for moving a parcel only this big." Ahmed held up his hands. "I can earn enough in only a short time, and then we can go. I know what I'm doing. It's just for a little while."
"You do know what's in those parcels, right?"
"And you know that what you're doing is wrong." MacGyver watched Ahmed nod again. "And you know what'll happen if you get in any deeper with this gang?"
Ahmed sighed, blinking hard. MacGyver watched his street-tough act fall away, leaving behind a frightened young man. Ahmed looked up at MacGyver, seeming smaller, almost vulnerable.
"I have no choice. We can't go on like this. We need –" He broke off, pressing his lips together. MacGyver folded his arms, thinking hard.
"What if I had another way?"
"There are no other ways. I tried everything." A spark of anger flashed in Ahmed's eyes. "Everything, MacGyver."
"Yeah, everything except asking your friends for help." MacGyver watched Ahmed atare back for a second, then sigh and nod, the fight having left him.
"OK. Just how deep are you in with this gang? I may have an idea...
"Morning MacGyver." Kate Murphy narrowed her eyes as she surveyed the unkempt troubleshooter. "You look like you slept in your clothes."
"Uh, kinda..." MacGyver rubbed at the stubble on his chin and tried to stifle a yawn. "How are your plans coming for the South Side Samurai?"
Kate turned in her chair to look at him. Sure enough, he looked as shifty as he sounded.
"We're a little short on firm information, but we got a good idea of where to find them thanks to your photos. What's with you?"
"Um..." MacGyver ran a hand through his hair, sat down in the chair opposite her desk and picked up a pen, which he tapped against the desk. "How about if I could get you that information you need?"
Kate frowned at him, reached across and took the pen out of his hand.
"I knew you were up to something. This is about the kid in the photo, right?" Kate watched him nod reluctantly. "Uh-huh. And I suppose you want to cut some kind of deal for him, yes?" She sat back, studying him. "I thought so. Let me get this straight: You want leniency for a drug-running ganger, a member of the most vicious crew this city has seen in a long time, a psycho-in-waiting for CARLOS FREAKING HERNANDEZ FOR PETE'S SAKE!" Kate stood up, leaning over her desk towards him. MacGyver leant back as far as his chair would allow. The room had gone quiet, the other detectives now listening in. "HAVE YOU ANY IDEA WHAT YOU'RE ASKING ME TO DO HERE? YOU'RE ASKING ME TO GIVE A FREE PASS TO THE NEXT DOCTOR ZITO!" Kate stopped for breath, became aware of the attention she was getting and sat down again. "And if I were to agree, MacGyver? What do I get in return for turning your pet psycho loose on the good people of South Central, huh?"
MacGyver looked up, meeting her furious glare with a calm smile.
"You get Carlos freaking Hernandez..."
"You better be sure about this" Kate Murphy crouched down next to MacGyver behind the dumpster, her gun already drawn. MacGyver didn't reply, concentrating on the voices he could hear on his headphones.
Across the street, inside a derelict apartment block, Ahmed was talking to some of the South Side Samurai. The signal from the microphone he'd sewn into Ahmed's hood was good, and he was confident the wire wouldn't be found. The gangers were waiting for their boss to arrive, trading tall stories, insults and threats. To MacGyver, Ahmed sounded stilted and nervous, but so far the other gangers didn't seem suspicious of him.
A motorbike pulled into the end of the street and MacGyver folded himself even tighter into the space behind the dumpster. Beside him, Kate tensed, seeing Carlos dismount and swagger up the steps. The door opened without him having to knock and he went inside. In the silence that followed, the echo of his heavy boots on the stairs could clearly be heard.
Kate reached across to MacGyver and pulled his headphones away from his ear, leaning close to share the ganger's conversation. The banter ceased as Carlos entered the room and started talking. His voice was even and soft, MacGyver and Kate had to strain to hear his words. He spoke to each ganger in turn, praising their successes and pointing out where they could improve with almost fatherly concern. He was polite to all but the last ganger. Then, as though a switch had been thrown, he unleashed a blistering tirade of abuse. The ganger stammered an explanation in Spanish, but Carlos cut him off, switching languages without a pause and continuing his vicious verbal assault. The sound of a slap rang sharp over the headphones and Kate flinched.
There was a moment of quiet, Kate and MacGyver could hear Ahmed's nervous breathing. Then Carlos started talking again, sorrowful that one of his gang had let him down like this, sure that none of his other 'family' would fail him now. He started to outline his plans for the next shipment of cocaine and Kate pressed the headphones closer to her ear.
"This is it! This is what we need!"
"Yeah, I know. Ssh!" MacGyver repositioned the headphones so that he could hear too, checking that the tape was spooling in the recorder. Confession captured, MacGyver risked a glance out from behind the dumpster to the boarded-up second floor windows. "Come on, Ahmed. Get out of there now..."
Carlos's smooth voice rose as he finished his explanation, dismissing his gangers. MacGyver heard a lot of excited chatter and gangers footsteps clattered down the stairs. They emerged from the doorway a few at a time, looking carefully around before melting away into the shadows between the buildings. The patrolmen hidden there would pick them up without raising any alarm.
"Where's your kid?" Kate peered around the edge of the dumpster. "Why hasn't he come out with the others?
MacGyver pressed his headphones closer to his ears, straining to hear over the street noise and the chatter of police radios. A rustling noise. Quiet footsteps. Ahmed's breathing. Carlos whispering, too quiet to hear his words. Then Ahmed's voice, pleading.
"No! I wouldn't! I swear... You know I –" A burst of deafening crackling exploded over the radio and MacGyver snatched the headphones off. Carlos's voice was clear and loud, even through the distortion.
"You betrayed me! You! And I had such high hopes..." Another burst of crackling, a ringing, metallic slur and the radio cut out.
MacGyver sprang out from behind the dumpster and sprinted across the street. In an upstairs window, Kate saw Ahmed backing away. Carlos appeared a moment later, a shaft of sunlight catching the drawn sword in his hand as he stalked Ahmed.
MacGyver wrenched at the door handle, backed up a step and kicked hard. The battered door burst inwards and MacGyver disappeared up the stairs, Kate racing after him. She reached the last corner on the stairs just as Carlos turned towards MacGyver, bringing his sword round in a short, vicious arc. MacGyver jumped back, the tip of the sword just catching the front of his denim jacket.
Kate thumbed the safety off her gun and took aim. Where had Ahmed gone? She couldn't see him. In the centre of the floor, Carlos stalked MacGyver, padding after him with catlike grace. MacGyver backed across the floor, eyes darting left and right. What could he use to disarm Carlos? Three feet of steel was no joke even in unskilled hands, and Carlos had clearly been practicing... MacGyver took another step back and his legs bumped against a broken-down couch. He chanced a glance down.
"Carlos Hernandez, you are under arrest for narcotics offences and assault with a deadly weapon. Drop the weapon and put your hands on your head!" Kate levelled her gun at Carlos's head.
The split second it took for Carlos to register Kate's presence was enough for MacGyver. Snatching up the old sheet covering the couch, he twisted it into a loop and used it to lasso the end of Carlos's sword. He pulled the sheet, yanked the sword out of Carlos's hands and threw it across the floor.
Ahmed ran in from behind, landing a solid punch in the gang leader's back. Carlos fell to his knees, but scrambled straight up again, this time with a switchblade in his hand. He slashed at Ahmed, spitting and swearing in Spanish. Ahmed backed away, eyes wide with fear. MacGyver stepped up behind the ganger and looped his sheet over Carlos's head, right across his eyes. As Carlos spun towards him, MacGyver let go of the sheet and punched him in the nose as hard as he could. He lost his balance with the force of the punch and both men sprawled on the floor. Kate stepped forwards, pointing her gun straight at Carlos, but the ganger was out cold.
Ahmed reached out a hand to MacGyver and pulled him up, grinning.
"You haven't lost your touch, MacGyver!" He mimed throwing a rock with a sling and clapped MacGyver on the shoulder. Kate looked from one to the other in confusion.
"Ah, it's a long story, Kate." MacGyver shook his punching hand, flexing his fingers. "That always hurts more than I think it's going to." He turned to face Kate. "So, what happens now?"
"Well," Kate bent to handcuff Carlos and frisked him for weapons, depositing four more knives, a blackjack and a knuckleduster in a small heap. "As soon as this scumbag comes to his senses, I take him into custody and start processing the rest of the gang that my boys are bringing in." She straightened up. "And, much against my better judgement, you and ganger-for-a-day here get to disappear." She walked up to Ahmed and stood toe to toe with him. "So you better disappear good. If I get so much of a sniff of your name being linked to gangs, drugs or anything else I don't like, I will..." Kate waved her fist at him and MacGyver laid a hand on her shoulder.
"Kate? Calm down. There won't be any trouble, I guarantee it. And thank you." MacGyver smiled down at her, took Ahmed by the elbow and steered him away.
"Where are you taking us?" Zia turned to MacGyver. He glanced at her and smiled before turning his attention back to the road.
"Job interview. Sort of." He indicated and turned into the parking lot of a brightly painted concrete building. A group of kids playing basketball stopped to watch them pull in, and the eldest one came jogging over. A middle aged woman walked down the steps, smiling broadly.
"MacGyver! So good to see you! You must be Zia and you must be Ahmed." She held out her hand to Zia. "I have just the job for you, honey – we have an opening for a family support worker, for families from the Middle East. You think you could help me out with that?" She winked at MacGyver and led Zia away.
"Thanks, Gloria," MacGyver turned to the basketball player. "Hey, Breeze. You think you could make use of Ahmed here? He's uh... between jobs at the moment."
Breeze nodded, grinning.
"Oh yeah. The handyman work here is never done. You any good at kitchen repairs?"
"I can learn." Ahmed shrugged and followed Breeze into the Challenger's Club. Breeze's voice floated back to MacGyver, leaning on the Jeep outside.
"You'll like it here, Ahmed. Pay's OK and it's an honest dollar, bro. This is a paycheck that doesn't come with trouble attached. And I know you know what I mean..."
"MACGYVER?" Gloria shouted from inside. "YOU COME IN HERE RIGHT NOW! I GOT WORK FOR YOU TOO!"
Grinning, MacGyver propped his sunglasses on his head and walked up the steps.