Three days had passed.
The first day, a Friday, Cobra had led the errant children through the city. Even the youngest ones had been too frightened and mournful to appreciate all that they saw. Cobra and Adam walked together, arguing the entire way, until they reached the apartment.
Cobra had waited until the children seemed situated, or at least until they'd no longer seemed as lost and hopeless as they'd been when they'd arrived. Then, weary of the crowding and the mourning, Cobra had left.
As he'd laid down in his own apartment, Cobra had smiled. Nothing made his home seem quite as luxurious as leaving it for a few days.
The next morning, without understanding his sudden altruistic actions, Cobra had bought a dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, and a box of cereal. Then, he'd trekked the seventeen blocks from his own apartment to the children's.
Over the course of the nine hours that had passed since Cobra had last been there, the apartment had become an utter mess. A tired and haggard- looking Adam and Eve had answered the door.
"What's wrong?" Cobra had asked.
Adam had simply glared at Cobra, then turned and walked away. Eve, on the other hand, had yawned, then answered, "We didn't sleep well last night. The children were all crying and getting into things. Then, I kept hearing noises outside. They scared me."
"City life takes some getting used to," Cobra had responded, although he'd never lived outside the city and had no idea how much "getting used to" life would take. He stepped past her and into their two-foot-wide kitchen. "I bought some breakfast for you," he declared.
Eve had raised a hand to slap herself in her forehead. "Breakfast!" she'd gasped. "I totally forgotten about breakfast. Good thing you happened to stop by."
"Yeah, I'm a regular saint," Cobra had replied dryly as he'd opened the refrigerator to keep the eggs cold while he searched for the appropriate pan to make scrambled eggs. He opened cupboards and drawers, but found no dishes of any sort.
"Hey, where's the plates and forks?" he'd called. Cobra had forgotten his search for a pan, even a bowl full of eggs could be microwaved if he could find one.
"We don't have any," Adam had replied. Cobra had suspected that the young man would have smirked had he not been so tired. "Rockwell gave us an apartment and our old clothes. Everything else we have to get ourselves."
"Good thing I came then, or else you'd probably starve," Cobra had responded. He'd pointed at one of the children who stood at his elbow, watching his every move. "You, go out into the hallway and knock on one of your neighbors' doors. Ask if you can borrow a bowl."
The girl, accustomed to obeying orders, had nodded then had left. Eve had watched the girl to depart with evident worry on her face, then had asked, "Will she be all right out there all alone?"
"She's staying in the apartment," Cobra had replied in annoyance. "How long will it take you guys to figure this out? The outside world doesn't kill people. You've been here more than a day, counting the time you spent with me, and nobody has died. You're going to be all right."
When the girl had returned with a bowl, Cobra had given his first cooking instruction to the children, demonstrating how to use the microwave. They'd all eaten straight off the table with bare hands, and Cobra had ordered a pizza for lunch.
After dinner, however, things had become even worse than they'd been that morning. One of the youngest children, William, seemed to have had some sort of flu. Simultaneously sweating and shivering, William had stayed in bed.
Eve had sat at his bedside, wiping sweat from William's forehead. Cobra had watched from a doorway, scoffing at her worry. "He's sick," Rockwell had declared after a few minutes. "Kids get sick."
"Not us," Eve had answered.
"What? You never got sick before?" Cobra had demanded.
"No," Eve had replied. "I mean, yes, we got sick, but Tim always called the doctor when we lived in the garden."
"He doesn't need a doctor," Cobra had argued. "Doctors wouldn't be able to do anything for him anyway. Just make sure he gets rest and drinks plenty of liquids, and he'll be fine."
"Liquids?" Eve had repeated.
Cobra had sighed at her incompetence, then had walked into the kitchen, where Adam was waiting with arms crossed. "Didn't Rockwell leave you guys any money when he kicked you out?" Cobra had demanded.
Adam had looked down and whispered, "No."
From his reaction, Cobra had inferred that Adam was lying. In his efforts to cull the truth from the young man, Cobra had described Rockwell using several curse words. As Adam's jaw had dropped in astonishment, Cobra had finished by saying, "How does he expect you to live in the world without even a few dollars?"
Adam had gritted his teeth, then had replied, "He left us some money- about two-hundred fifty dollars. I wasn't going to tell you about it; I still don't trust you."
"I'm not interested in stealing money from you," Adam had replied. "Bobby in there-"
"Billy," Adam had corrected.
"Needs to keep drinking water," Cobra had continued. "You could give him water from the sink, but you don't have cups. I'd buy him a bottled water myself, but I'm not exactly rolling in dough."
Adam had looked Cobra up and down, as if weighing his words. Then, he'd conceded by asking, "How much does a bottle of water cost?"
Cobra had considered his options, then had answered, "You'd probably better give me a twenty-dollar bill."
Adam had disappeared down the hallway, only to return about a minute later with the money. Cobra had pocketed it then left. He'd considered never returning, but some strange sense of obligation had led him to stop at a machine downstairs, dig a one-dollar-bill from his pocket, and buy a bottle of water for the kid.
The next morning, Cobra had returned to the apartment to find four children in the table, digging their bare hands into the box of cereal he'd bought the day before. Both had Adam and Eve stood over William's bed.
"He's not going to get better with you too hovering over him like that," Cobra had declared. "Give him his space; he'll be fine."
Adam had turned around to snap, "You're really not helping anything. Why don't you get out of here? If you want to make a show of helping, you can find Tim and tell him Billy is sick."
Irritated by their lack of respect after all they'd done for him, Cobra had left. The streets on Sunday morning had been no less crowded than on other mornings, and Cobra had lost himself in the press of people. There, he'd realized that three days had passed since the children had been cast out of the garden. They hadn't been three complete days, but it hardly seemed as if that much time had passed, nonetheless.
"Hey, Cobra!" a familiar voice called through the crowd.
Cobra paused, then spotted his friend and ran toward him. "Viper!" he cried. "I haven't seen you in forever!"
The two Snake Bite members embraced as Viper declared, "We all thought you were dead, man. WE heard some Bleeders talking about how they'd messed some Snake Bite guys up, and when nobody saw you all week, we figured the worst. Where have you been?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Cobra replied.
"Tell me anyway," Viper suggested, then he looked around. "Not here, though. We're too exposed."
Cobra snorted. "Since when does a snake hide?" he asked.
Viper turned a worried eye to Cobra, then asked, "You've really been out of the loop, haven't you?"
The two left to hide out in Viper's apartment, which was just the attic of an abandoned store. A few years before, a fire had decimated the stock of the store, and the owner had left it rather than pay to have it repaired. After a few weeks of sitting in disuse, the store had been occupied by Viper.
Leaning against a dirty window, Cobra recounted all that had happened over the last few days. Viper listened with barely disguised disbelief until Cobra finished, then they traded roles.
"All the rumors said you were dead," Viper began. "The Bleeders bragged to everyone about how they'd beaten up a member of Snake Bite, and we couldn't help but notice that you'd disappeared.
"Well, we all couldn't stand for that, so we planned to get even with them. We asked around, made some threats, figured out where some prominent Bleeders liked to live and hang out. We killed a couple of them, although most of them we just roughed up. Everything was all right up until Python beat up a Bleeder named Ted Hall."
The name sounded vaguely familiar, but Cobra was shocked to hear that Python had been involved in the attacks. "I always thought Python hated me," he declared.
"Everyone got their revenge on the Bleeders," Viper answered. "It wasn't just about you, although that should have been enough. A lot of guys were angry at the attitude the Bleeders had, what with all their bragging and everything."
"I see," Cobra replied.
"Anyway, that Ted Hall kid was trouble," Viper continued. "Turns out, he was mayor Hall's son. The guy had tried to keep his kid's activities secret from the press, but when he ended up in the hospital, the whole thing came out.
"After that, the mayor made this big speech about the evils of gangs and how the police need to do a better job of hunting us down. This isn't just about one or two arrests made to look good in the papers- the cops are hunting us down. Four of our guys have been arrested in the last two days, and those are just the ones I know about."
"Who?" Cobra asked.
"Python was the first arrested," Viper said. "The police beat him, too. I think they were repaying him for what he did to the mayor's kids. Then, they got Anaconda, Rattler, and Venom."
Cobra shook his head. How could things have changed so much in the matter of a few days. "What have you done in the meantime?" he asked.
"What can we do?" Viper responded. "You can't take a couple of cops to scare the whole lot of 'em like you'd do with a rival gang. They've been arresting us one by one, and they won't stop until we're all locked away."
"Are they just after us, or are other gangs getting arrested, too?" Cobra asked.
"A couple of Bleeders got hauled away," Viper answered. "Then, some War Hawks. Nobody even sees the Killers any more. Some people say they all got arrested. Personally, I think they're all hiding out together."
"Can we do something like that?" Cobra asked.
Viper shook his head. "It's every snake for himself," he said. "The guys all decided we'd be safer if we didn't congregate. If we see one another in the street, we're supposed to act like we don't know one another. The only reason I talked to you today was because I was surprised to see you alive."
"Are you going to abandon me, then?" Cobra asked.
"Don't think of it as being abandoned," Viper replied. "Besides, you're smart enough to figure out resources I've never dreamed of. You're better off alone then with me."
"Right. . . I suppose," Cobra sighed.
Later that night, weighted with depressing thoughts, Cobra trudged back to the children's apartments. He didn't know what he would say to justify his presence, or why he even continued to come. He simply needed to.
Mournfully thinking of all his brothers in prison, Cobra lifted a hand to knock on the door. A stranger about Cobra's age answered the door.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Cobra stuttered. "I must be at the wrong apartment." He was about to turn away, but he spotted one of Rockwell's children in the background, watching the proceedings.
The stranger stood with the door open, eyeing Cobra and clearly waiting for him to leave. After a moment, he said, "I'd help you find where you're looking for, but I just moved in this morning."
"That's all right," Cobra replied. "I just realized that this is the right place. You see, my name is Cobra."
"Cobra," the man repeated. "My father warned me about you."
"Your father?" Cobra repeated. "Who are you?"
"I'm Mike Rockwell," the young man answered. "Timothy Rockwell's son. I came here to keep an eye on his adopted children."
"I never knew Rockwell had a son," Cobra replied skeptically. "Besides, where were you these last few days when I've been watching the kids?"
Mike looked down his nose at Cobra. "I don't have to justify my actions to you," he declared. Cobra opened his mouth to reply, but Mike continued, "You're not welcome here. Leave."
Before Cobra could respond, Mike had slammed the door in his face.
Cobra cursed for several minutes at the closed door, which continued not to open. How dare Mike judge him? He didn't know him. Besides, Cobra had provided food and instruction for the children during the time that Rockwell's son was off doing who-knows-what.
Irritably, Cobra turned from the door and strode out of the apartment building. He heard police sirens in the distance, and darted away. He had better things to do than worry about someone else's kids.