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Through the Fire

Chapter Text

CW//graphic depiction of violence, attempted sexual abuse, foul words, cursing

“You arrogant asshole!”

A punch connected to Phoenix’s jaw, sending him sprawling naked towards the wet tiled floor where he was taking a bath earlier.

“Don’t think that you will be given special treatment here just because you used to be a celebrity!”

“I-I don’t want any trouble…I’m just cleaning myself,” Phoenix stuttered as he wiped the blood from the corner of his mouth. He is exhausted. He has been fighting these thugs almost every day in the bathroom as they try to take advantage of him sexually.

“Then why bother to fight? It’s pointless,” one of the thugs leered lecherously at Phoenix’s naked body.

“Just because you were able to beat some of my men doesn’t mean you can beat us all,” Vulture, the notorious leader of the group spoke arrogantly. “Remember, in this place, we are the law,” he added as he eyed Phoenix’s nakedness with undeniable interest.

“What do you want from me? Aren’t you tired of fighting day after fucking day?” Phoenix said as he tried to get up and at the same time hide his private part from the view of the perverted bastards surrounding him.

“I won’t stop until I get my hands in that pretty body of yours,” Vulture said as he licked his lips disgustingly, causing Phoenix to curl his body smaller so he can hide his most intimate body parts better.

“I can’t believe a man would have hips like that,” Crow, Vulture’s right-hand man added in a depraved tone.

“I’m tired of all this bullshit! Why won’t you just leave me alone?” Phoenix said in an exasperated voice as his eyes roamed around the deserted bathroom to find something he can use to protect himself.

“No can do. We have been salivating over your clean, unmarked body for months. It’s just your rotten luck that you have to be transferred to our wing, mister band vocalist!” Vulture said in a tone that is so debauched that Phoenix cringed in disgust.

“Are you that sex-deprived that you are willing to fuck a man?” Phoenix shot back as he continued to eye the men warily. There were five of them. It wouldn’t be easy to take them down like he used to do with just two or three of them.

"Oh, we do that all the time. No choice, we make do with what is available, and right now you are the main course," Vulture said as he started to deliberately step towards the naked and shivering Phoenix.

“Help! Anybody out there? Please! Help me!” Phoenix shouted at the top of his lungs but he was met with silence.

“No one will hear you. And even if they do, they wouldn’t come,” Vulture said as he continued to inch towards the cornered detainee.

“Even the guards are afraid of us,” Crow added as he cocked his hips to the side, his erection straining against the coarse denim of his pants.

“So give it up, pretty boy! It would only hurt at first but you would eventually enjoy it,” Vulture said as he hooked Phoenix’s chin with his forefinger, forcing the detainee to look him in the eye.

“Fuck you!” Phoenix said before spitting a mouthful of saliva straight into Vulture’s rancid face.

“Nope, I will be the one fucking you!” Vulture just sneered lustily, ignoring the spit that dripped down his chin, eyeing Phoenix’s handsome boyish face with unadulterated lust.

Phoenix felt the last shreds of hope slip through his fingers. No use fighting. I am in living hell. They should have just killed me instead of dumping me into this hellhole. He closed his eyes, a single tear rolled down his cheeks as he felt rough hands yank at his longish hair. He wanted to cover his nakedness but at the moment he just didn’t care anymore. I’m tired of life. Just let me die already.

He waited for the rough hands manhandling him to start the despicable ritual they are all hell-bent on subjecting him through. He was forced on his knees and just as he had given up all hope he heard a loud thud followed by another and another. The sickening sound of skin hitting skin punctuated by pained grunts echoed in the air but Phoenix was still afraid to open his eyes. He shivered from his wet body being exposed to the humid air inside the communal shower room.

He felt a dry towel being draped over his shoulder and that was when he dared to open his eyes. A lanky man in eyeglasses wearing the yellow uniform that they all wore inside the jail smiled kindly at him. 

“Are you okay Phoenix Orion?”

 

Phoenix was now fully clothed in his yellow uniform as he sat beside the man who saved him from the perverted detainees who wanted to brutalize him.

“How did you know?” Phoenix asked the other man who looked frail and brittle. He wondered how this man and his group were able to stand against and defeat the thugs of Vulture’s group.

“Who doesn’t know Phoenix Orion? The lead vocalist of the band Sunset Horizon?” the other man said with frank admiration in his eyes. He has such bright eyes for an old man , Phoenix thought absently.

“No, I mean how did you know I was in trouble?” Phoenix said impassively, unwilling to be flattered by this stranger who just saved his ass literally and figuratively.

“I have my group here. We try to protect newcomers from being subjected to horrible abuse once they are in here,” The bespectacled man said simply as he adjusted his glasses by pushing them up the bridge of his nose.

“Why?” Phoenix said with confusion etched on his ruggedly handsome face. His hair is a bit longer and unkempt plus he has a thin mustache and beard in what used to be a very smooth and clean-looking face.

“Because we can, and we want to,” the other man said happily as he showed his palm to indicate the coffee on top of the table that Phoenix hasn’t touched yet.

“I haven’t asked your name,” Phoenix said in an emotionless voice as he held the Losa cup by the handle before bringing it to his lips.

“Name is Samuel. Samuel Salvador,” The other man said as he held out his hand for a handshake.

"Wow, a fitting name for a savior,” The vocalist said as he grasped Samuel’s hand in a firm handshake.

“I am not your savior. I am just His instrument in helping others,” Samuel said as he pointed to the ceiling with his forefinger.

“Why did you help me? Wouldn’t it get you in trouble with that group?” Phoenix asked in a concerned tone.

“I have already informed the warden about it. He is quite sympathetic to our cause,” Sam said with an easy smile.

“Why? Why are you even in this hell hole?” Phoenix asked in genuine curiosity. This man and his group seem to be too kind to be in jail with all the other offenders awaiting their conviction or acquittal. 

“Well, we are union officers. We have been jailed on trumped-up charges and we are still awaiting the formal litigation of our case,” Sam said exuberantly.

“So you also have your gang here?” Phoenix began as he sipped at his now lukewarm coffee.

“It’s not a gang. Maybe we could call it a committee. A peace committee,” Sam said in a proud tone, and Phoenix's brows furrowed in puzzlement. 

“Committee?” The vocalist echoed.

“Yes, the warden has given us special powers to maintain peace in this wing owing to our good record. The detainees here are the most brutal and rowdy and most of them are guilty of repeated offenses. You are in very bad company,” Sam said while shaking his head ruefully.

“At least I know who my enemies are,” Phoenix muttered bitterly. Here, it’s always the survival of the fittest. You are responsible for your own body and nothing else.

“I know you are innocent,” Sam blurted out of nowhere, his bright eyes shining excitedly.

“Good for you. Nobody else does,” Phoenix mumbled impassively.

“I’m a fan, your fan,” Sam admitted candidly.

“Oh? Sorry, you had to see me like that," Phoenix said in an embarrassed tone, recalling how he was beaten up butt naked by Vulture’s group in the showers.

“Yeah, I had to find a towel big enough to cover you properly. I didn’t know you were this tall,” Sam said nonchalantly, trying to avoid the touchy subject.

“I’m tall but still no match for them,” Phoenix said in a disappointed tone as he drank the last drop of his coffee.

“Don’t worry, they can’t touch you while I am still alive,” Sam said in an assuring tone.

“Why?” The vocalist asked with his thick brow furrowed.

“You would be transferred to a different cell because of the incident in the shower. Most of my co-workers are in that cell so they can look after you,” Sam said with a kind smile crinkling the corners of his mouth and eyes.

“I don’t want to be a bother,” Phoenix said curtly, he is not used to anybody looking after him. He has always looked after himself because the musician who adopted him also lived alone and seemed to have adopted a child so that someone would accompany him into old age.

“We watch each other’s backs here. It’s the only way to survive,” Sam patiently explained.

“I don’t think I want to survive anymore. I have nothing left,” Phoenix said in a bitter tone.

“You will survive. And if you get out, you need to make the most out of life,” Sam said in a cheerful tone as if everything around them is sunshine and roses.

“I don’t think I will ever get out of here,” Phoenix said ruefully. He is broke and alone, his lawyer has abandoned him and his adoptive father suffered a cardiac arrest shortly after the vocalist was arrested for alleged drug trafficking. If he is convicted, he would be imprisoned for life.

“You are going to get out of here. We will make sure of that,” Sam said cryptically and Phoenix felt goosebumps creep up his spine at how sure the detainee sounded with his pronouncements.

“Are you a mafia or something?” Phoenix asked in a cautious tone. He didn't want to get on the bad side of anybody as powerful as a local mafia.

“No, but we have the best lawyers,” Sam said truthfully.

“I don’t need help from lawyers who get paid to send an innocent man to jail,” Phoenix spat back as he rubbed his thigh covered with the coarse denim he was wearing.

“There is still hope, an innocent man like you does not belong here,” Sam said in a confident tone but Phoenix is disconsolate and refused to be drawn into optimism. 

“Neither do the likes of you. Society is cruel and unjust to the weak,” Phoenix said as he looked at the solid steel bars encasing them, feeling like the walls is insidiously closing in on them.

 

“Now you just have to make sure he takes his medicines on time, okay?” Doctor Nike told the old caretaker as he kept his voice low so as not to wake the sleeping child.

“What would we do without you, Doctor Nike?” Hannah cooed empathically and Nike raised a forefinger to his full lips to shush the old lady.

“There are a lot of doctors like me, Hannah. Now, how is Jeremy responding to his medication?” Nike said as he looked at another bed where another little boy lay sleeping. 

“It’s hard to make him drink his medicine; he complains that his medicine tastes awful,” Hannah whispered to Nike who tilted his head towards the older lady to hear her words better.

“Oh, maybe I can prescribe something that tastes better,” Nike said as he pulled out his prescription pad from his bulky medicine bag and started scribbling on it. Then he rummaged through his bag before taking out a little box and handing it to the older woman along with the prescription.

“Thank you, Doc,” Hannah said as she clutched the small box and the paper into her bosom. Doc Nike is so generous, he gives us medicine for free because he knows that we don’t have enough funds to buy them. She thought tearfully.

“I have to go now, the directress told me she needs to talk to me,” Nike said as he started to gather his things, putting the stethoscope back into the bulky medicine bag he was carrying. 

 

“Hello? Attorney Hermes? Yes, it’s me, Samuel,” Sam said as he leaned at the counter where the detainees are being watched as they are allowed to call anybody from their relatives to their lawyers from the jail’s centralized cellphone. 

“Yes, Sam? What can I do for you right now? Our next hearing is still set for next week,” Hermes answered in a slightly puzzled tone. It isn’t like Sam to call me unless it is about something urgent. I hope they didn’t get into trouble. He thought anxiously as he put his phone on speaker mode so he can continue working on something on his laptop. He is alone inside his room so he isn’t worried that anybody would eavesdrop on their conversation.

“No, remember what I told you about Phoenix Orion?” There was undeniable excitement in the middle-aged detainee’s voice and Hermes rolled his eyes in a mixture of relief and annoyance. 

“Don’t tell me you called me just to fanboy?” The lawyer said sternly as he clicked on his mouse frantically. He is holding several cases in that jail and he is trying his best to give enough attention to each of them. 

“No, no, this is serious. I know you have connections in the right places,” Sam said as his voice slightly lowered conspiratorily.

“He is a celebrity, he has resources at his disposal. We only help those who do not have the means to defend themselves,” Hermes said in a stern tone. Why would Sam bother me with a matter as irrelevant as this? He has always been the diffident one, always shying away from asking favors. Hermes thought absently.

“But he is at the end of his thread, Attorney. I feel so bad because I know he is innocent,” Sam said in a forlorn voice and Hermes tried to ignore how sad the detainee’s voice sounded.

“How would you know that? It’s just your fanboy heart giving you conflicting emotions,” Hermes said snarkily as he continued typing on his laptop, making sure that his schedules do not overlap with each other.

“Please humor me on this one, attorney. Dig up his files, you might find something. Please,” Sam whispered pleadingly. Hermes rolled his eyes in annoyance before sighing harshly in defeat.

“Okay, then what do I do? What if he is guilty?” The lawyer said as he typed a message for his contact in the Municipal police station, asking if they can access the files containing the case of the embattled band vocalist. 

“Then there is nothing more we can do. But what if he is innocent? Can your conscience deal with the fact that you let an innocent man rot in jail just because of your prejudice against him?” Sam said, pushing his case further by appealing to the lawyer’s fierce ideals.

There was a brief silence on the other end of the line and Sam can hear Hermes sigh in defeat. The detainee smiled hopefully as he waited for what the lawyer would say next.

“Okay, you are right. I should be more objective about this because I know nothing about the guy. I’m sorry if my innate aversion towards celebrities clouded my better judgment,” Hermes said in an apologetic tone that is rare from the feisty lawyer.

“It’s okay attorney, I know you are a good guy. Can you promise me one more thing?” Sam said sheepishly like a teen about to ask his parents permission to go out on a date.

“Hey, you are asking for too many things! You should be worried about yourself. If the complainant refuses to show up next hearing, your case would be dismissed and your group would be free after more than a year!” The lawyer reminded his client while frantically typing on his laptop. He has to make sure that he will be present for all the scheduled hearings because they wouldn’t proceed without the presence of the lawyers from both sides.

“Yeah, that is what I am thinking of. When we finally walk free, Phoenix would be left here alone and unprotected,” Sam whispered with veiled anxiety and the lawyer couldn’t help but furrow his brows in confusion.

“Sam, he has been there for almost a year already! I assume he knows to defend himself already,” Hermes said impassively as he paused while staring at his monitor.

“Attorney, listen carefully…” Sam began but was interrupted by a loud voice from behind him.

“Your time is up, Salvador!” 

“Oh, wait attorney,” Samuel looked back at the lady guard who oversees the inmate’s communication with people outside the jail. He smiled sheepishly and handed the stern lady a shiny 5 peso coin. The lady nodded before turning her back on Samuel to give the inmate some privacy with his phone call.

“What is it, Sam? I haven’t got all day,” Hermes said impatiently as he stared at his laptop screen while frantically typing.

“I think there is a campaign to stew the bird for the main dish,” Samuel spoke in codes that only he and Hermes can understand at the assumption that the call can be tapped or intercepted. He wanted to relay to Hermes that Phoenix’s life is still in danger.

“Who wants to stew the bird in question?” Hermes said as he temporarily halted from typing, his fingers poised over the laptop’s keyboards.

“The butcher who caught the bird in the first place, of course!” Sam said impassively.

“Are the cooks in place?” Hermes prodded as he closed his eyes in concentration while massaging his temples with his fingers.

“I think they are getting ready. I can smell smoke coming from the kitchen,” Sam said in a foreboding tone as Hermes opened his eyes when he heard his cellphone ping softly, indicating a new message.

"Well, at the very least you better keep your eye on the bird. Make sure it does not fall into wrong hands," Hermes rubbed his temple tersely before jotting down some notes on his pocket notebook which he pulled out from the drawer. This is going to be a long day and it isn't even lunchtime! It's a good thing that I love my job. The lawyer thought with a sigh as he picked up his phone and opened the new message.

 

“You called for me, Hanji?” Nike said as he entered the door. A medium-built but tall and bespectacled lady looked up from her laptop and smiled warmly at the doctor.

“Oh, sorry to impose on you too much, Doc! Have a seat,” Hanji said as she extended her palm towards a seat in front of her desk. 

“Oh, is this going to last long? I still have to be at the hospital for my rounds,” Nike said anxiously as he sat on the chair indicated by the directress.

“Oh no, I just want to inform you that the lease of the place is almost up and they are giving us a year to pay the dues or we would have to vacate the property,” Hanji said sadly as she massaged her temple using her forefinger and index finger.

“A year! Isn’t that too short? How do they expect you to pay them that big an amount in that short period? Money doesn’t grow on trees!” Nike said aghast as he almost fell backward from his chair in surprise at what the directress told him.

“That is why I am asking for your help, Doc. I heard you are friends with the frontman of the famous band Midnight Skies, maybe you can ask them to do a benefit concert for the orphanage?” Hanji asked directly as she picked a pen and fiddled with it nervously.

He is not my friend, he is my lover! Win wanted to correct the directress but chose to keep his mouth shut. “I don’t know if I can get him to agree, Hanji. He isn’t a fan of these things,” Nike said glumly.

“Well, you can mount a special concert together. You used to be bandmates right? What was the name of your band again?” Hanji remarked cheerfully and Nike just rolled his eyes in embarrassment.

“Oh, forget about that! It never really got off the ground so I am more surprised with the fact that you remembered about me being in a band once,” the young doctor said, reminiscing slightly about his short-lived stint as back-up vocals for Betelguese, an alternative pop-rock band who likes to cover classic songs and give them a modern arrangement. It was something that he got into as a stress release because of his killer schedule as a resident doctor of the Don Flavio Enriquez Jr. Memorial Hospital, the biggest government-owned hospital in the district. Although the band did not live up to its brilliant name, it was where he met his lover; Nani Donovan. He was the heir apparent of a chain of hotels owned by the Donovan Group of Companies. Win fell for the guy's devil-may-care attitude and rebel with cause posturing since the guy did what he liked without caring for the consequences. Nike wished he had Nani’s guts and freedom.

“Hey! I’m into Indie music. I am not fond of mainstream bands, most of them are shady anti-socials anyway. But Indie artists don’t have the following that mainstream artists do so my preferences do not count here. Please Doc Nike, if I need to beg, I would do it just to save this orphanage,” Hanji said passionately, pulling Nike out of his reverie.

Nike sighed in frustration. Being a Family physician in a public hospital doesn’t earn him enough money to pay for all his bills but it’s a passion that he couldn’t give up. His parents are based in the United States already and have been pestering their children to live with them there but Nike didn’t have the heart to live comfortably when he knew that there are less privileged people who need his help. They are well-off owing to their chain of restaurants being managed by her sisters who dabbled in both business administration and food technology courses in college.  

“I’ll try to find some other way, Hanji. If everything else fails, I can borrow money from my siblings,” Nike said impassively, trying his best to sound unbothered despite feeling the opposite.

“But how can we pay back the money that you will borrow?” Hanji asked as she peered at Nike through her thick glasses.

“That will be my problem. Let me deal with those things, I’m sure I can come up with something,” Nike said while contemplating his options. He would have to try talking to Nani again about Hanji’s proposal. The orphanage has been one of their family's favorite charity beneficiaries when his parents were still in the country. But the owner of the property borrowed a huge amount of money from the bank and used the property the orphanage is standing upon as collateral. The said owner suddenly disappeared without a trace leaving behind a huge debt that the orphanage must pay or the bank would take over the property and they would have to vacate it. The amount is too huge and  Nike could not pay it without risking his parents knowing about the orphanage’s dreadful situation because they would be sorely disappointed. Especially with Nike who has been remiss on his duties of monitoring the orphanage’s situation because he has been caught up in trying to juggle work and mending his damaged relationship with Nani who turned out to be a womanizer and an insufferable asshole. 

“Well, a year is still a long time. Maybe something will still come up in the remaining 12 months,” Hanji said hopefully as she clasped both her hands together as if in prayer.

“I sure hope so, Hanji. Anyway, I gotta go. I’ll just keep you updated,” Nike said as he rose from his seat and shook the directress’s hands before turning on his heels and leaving the office.

 

“Are you aware that you are in danger?” Sam whispered to Phoenix while they were eating facing each other. It is lunchtime and the mess hall is filled with yellow-clad detainees partaking of the uninspiring meal prepared for them by the jail's uncaring cooks.

“From what? I am already in hell, what worse things could happen to me here?” Phoenix said as he grimaced in disgust at the gooey texture of the mung soup that was served them along with a cup of rice, salty dried fish, and a withered-up banana. 

"There's a word from the grapevine that the ones responsible for your incarceration want you dead to wipe out the remaining tangible proof of their existence," Sam whispered tersely to Phoenix, his eyes darting warily on different directions. He is aware that someone might be listening in on their conversation.

“They can come for me every time. I am ready to die. I am tired of fighting. I am tired of struggling,” Phoenix said blandly as he closed his eyes and shoved a spoonful of rice inside his mouth, chewing at it energetically even if it felt rough on his tongue. 

“Hey, don’t be like that! Don’t you have a family to come home to?” Sam said irritably as he failed to get the reaction he wanted from the young man.

“No, I grew up in the orphanage. An old musician adopted me and raised me as his own but he died just days after I got jailed. I dread to think that I was also the reason for his untimely demise,” Phoenix said in a slightly trembling voice.

“Girlfriend?” Sam prodded further. He wanted to know what or who can make the disillusioned artist look forward to getting out of jail.

“We parted ways when I got jailed. I don’t want to tie her up with me when I am unsure about my future. Last I heard about her was that she is already engaged to some rich businessman,” Phoenix said emotionlessly.

“Still, you shouldn’t give up on life like that. You have a talent, a gift. You should use it to bring good to the world,” Sam argued as he shoveled the coarse rice grains inside his mouth with a spoon, making sure to chew on them thoroughly to avoid choking.

“How can you remain optimistic when life has been unkind to you as it was to me?” Phoenix's eyes narrowed questioningly on the older man whose bright eyes never lost their luster even when talking about morose realities.

“Hope is like a lifeline. If you lose it, you die a little bit inside until you are just an empty shell on autopilot,” Sam said as he chewed on his food energetically. I swear these cooks are out to kill every one of us. This food would make us choke to death! He thought to himself as he inwardly lamented about the poor quality of food being given to the detainees.

“I envy your positive outlook despite your not-so-promising situation," Phoenix chided the older man subtly and Sam’s eyes suddenly lit up with excitement as he remembered something.

“Oh, I told our lawyer about your case. He is willing to help, pro bono,” Sam beamed as he delivered his news, holding his spoon like it was some magic wand.

“You should have saved him the trouble and told him to focus on getting you out of here. Good people like you don’t belong here,” Phoenix retorted wryly as he continued to endure eating the uneventful meal laid out before him.

“And neither do innocent people like you. Don’t worry about him, he is a human rights advocate so he can never turn people down,” Sam said reassuringly while tapping at Phoenix’s hand which is clutching at the spoon tightly.

“People change when they become greedy for power. I would bet he would run for a public office soon,” Phoenix answered in an unbelieving tone.  

“Oh no, he has enough money to last him until his retirement. He doesn’t need it, he does what he does because he wants to help those who have no means to fight back the rotten system,” Sam said eagerly before putting another spoonful of food in his mouth.

“Are you sure you are talking about a real person? Because he sounds too good to be true,” Phoenix rolled his eyes in disbelief at what he is hearing from the other detainee. He refuses to believe that there are people like that who do not take advantage of their power and resources to further their interests.

“Well, miracles still happen now and then and maybe he is one of those,” Sam said nonchalantly with a dismissive wave of his hand.

“Not mine. My guardian angel must have fallen on a tree or something,” Phoenix shook his head ruefully while Sam chuckled in amusement.

“Well, suit yourself. Just stick to our group always. We will try our best to protect you while we are still here,” Sam said tersely before finishing his meal.

“Still here? Are you leaving soon?” Phoenix said with a hint of disappointment and Sam leaned closer to whisper to the other detainee.

“My lawyer told me that there is a big possibility that our case will be dismissed once the company representative doesn’t show up for the hearing next week,” Sam said evenly, masking his excitement so as not to offend the other detainee.

“And if they show up?” Phoenix asked in a challenging tone.

“Then maybe we would extend to another month or two. You know how the justice system works in this country,” Sam shrugged his shoulders indifferently before drinking water from his own Losa cup.

“You seem unbothered. Don’t you have a family?” Phoenix inquired as he finally finished his meal.

“I had a live-in partner but no kids. She doesn’t want one when I only earn a pittance from the damn company, just enough for the two of us,” Sam said as he shoved the empty tray to the side while still holding his empty Losa cup.

“Where is she now?” Phoenix asked as he drank water from his aluminum cup that was given to him by his lawyer before he disappeared on him.

“I don’t know. She stopped responding to my calls. I think she changed her number for fear of being implicated in my case,” Sam said sadly as he cradled his head on both his palms.

“How long have you two been together?” Phoenix asked as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Five years? Yeah, more or less,” Sam said as he looked at the drab ceiling of the mess hall contemplatively.

“And she bailed out just like that,” Phoenix asked incredulously.

“Couldn’t blame her. She was still young, she could do better than an oldish and jobless man like me,” Sam said with no hint of bitterness.

“What do you plan to do when you get out of here?” Phoenix asked as he shoved his empty food tray out of the way so he can rest his elbows on top of the stainless steel tabletop.

“Maybe I would just go back to our province and tend to our small farmland there. My lawyer told me that our old house is still intact. Maybe I can start again there,” Sam said as he drew circles on the shiny tabletop using his forefinger.

“Good for you. I have nothing to look forward to if ever I will get out of this hellhole,” Phoenix crossed his arms over his muscular chest. He has considerably bulked up since he was detained because he was never remiss in their morning exercise routine.

“You can still sing or make music. You’re a talented artist,” Sam indicated the vocalist with his palm.

“Who will get an ex-convict like me for their company? I don’t even know if I can land a job after I get out,” Phoenix said with evident dissent in his voice.

“Then just go with me to the province. We can be farmers together,” Sam leaned over eagerly, obviously excited with his preposition.

“I don’t know anything about farming,” Phoenix answered curtly as he emptied the contents of his aluminum cup on his cupid bow lips.

“I will teach you. Just contact me after you get out. I will give you my lawyer’s number,” Sam wagged a finger at Phoenix sternly, as if daring the vocalist to protest.

“You might be waiting for a long time,” Phoenix answered pessimistically.

“I don’t care.  You deserve a new beginning, like everyone else does,” Sam insists with grim determination in his voice.

Phoenix was about to reply when a loud clanging of utensils drew their attention towards one table. Looking at them with a dangerous glint in their eyes was the group whom Sam and his group beat up just days ago to aid Phoenix.

“Here comes trouble in a mass of muscle but no brains,” Phoenix commented drily as his tired eyes met the lecherous stare of Vulture, badly bruised but still looking formidable.

“This is not looking good,” Sam said anxiously as he met the equally worried eyes of his companions on another table. The whole mess hall suddenly seemed quiet as the group continued to walk towards where Phoenix and Sam were seated.

“It’s payback time,” Vulture muttered as he cracked his knuckles loudly on his palm.