When you're a bad guy and don't know how to submit a resume to the murderous gang
|~~~~ Good Fortune is Ill Trusted
A deluge of water poured from the rooftops, overflowing gutters and flooding the street like a swollen river. Eight dark shadows danced between the buildings, lunging and retreating like children at a game of dart. Vincent watched, his hood pulled down to keep the rain off but his piercing eyes glared with a demonic light from within. These were not children, this was no game. It was life. Their lives, his life, the very blood of everything depended on his actions this day.
One of the men was brutally cut down by another and he cringed. Tatok had come to a cold wet end, now they were short a man. Furious, he leapt from the rickety fire escape and swung down on the ladder to the street. Blood, he would have it. This would be his moment. A blade in one hand, a gun in the other he dug steel and bullets into the bodies of men whom yesterday thought him a comrade.
Word spread on the street as the faction split divided by loyalty to the old and fear of the new. By the third encounter the numbers of fighters had swollen the back alleys with dark misery. They were soaked through and the rain quenched his scalding flesh becoming steam with his exertion. He led a miserable band of thirty-eight hungry men. Power, it was the only food to be had on the blood stained streets tonight. The gutters before had been filled with water now clogged with the bedraggled corpses of the defeated.
Ahead, dark shadows blocked the street the final stand of the man he had called boss for five long years. Eager to fight he realized he would need his strength more when they broke the lines. Digon would die by his hand and all his men would swear to serve him. Blood law demanded, gang rule went to the strong. His loyal warriors had trained for this in secret for months; they were ready. The rest were merely rabble looking to make a name in this fight. The tide of infiltrators lunged forward and began chopping at the lines of defense. Vincent waited for their victory to claim his own.
Behind him remained a barrier of men loyal to him, ahead choked the fight. Between them he felt serene as if merely an observer in the eye of the storm. A shape in the heavy rain caught his eye and he felt a sudden nervous apprehension. Danger! The word flashed in his mind and he crouched instinctively to leap at who would attack him. Siog, a man recently faithful to him fell forward with a glassy eyed expression of surprise. The shining hilt of a knife buried in his back.
Vincent sprang up, looking for the source. The rain made it impossible to make out much more than shapes but one dark shadow through the rain caught his attention. Was it a person or some trick of the eye finding meaning in barely discernible blobs. Instinct demanded it was the first and he fired at it. The shadow moved speeding away from him but not in the direction he expected. As if it took flight, the dark mass drifted upward until he couldn’t see it.
“Vince?” Aopsi suddenly came out of the rain like the ghost that had just left him. “Trouble?” his eyes were slits in his meaty face training everywhere trying to see what he had been shooting at.
“Is this your blade?” He kicked at the knife in the back of Siog.
“Damn, Siog, what happened?” Aopsi looked at him and the position he fell. A ready blade pointing straight to Vince. “He turned on you, but..”
Vincent had already figured that much out. “Is this your blade?” he shouted.
“No.” Aopsi shook his head suddenly making his jowls wobble. “I thought it was yours.”
Vincent looked up, the rain drenching his face unable to keep his eyes open. Aopsi wasn’t brilliant, by far. There wasn’t a human way he could have stabbed a guy in the back when he was lunging in to kill him. Yet, something like this could be exactly what he may need in the future. “Of course it’s mine!” he growled. “I was just testing you.”
With dramatic flair he pulled the blade out and cleaned it on the corpse’s clothes. Then he tucked it away on his belt as if it had always been there. A shout from the forward battle signaled the break in the defenses that guarded Digon’s headquarters. Short a reprieve as it was, he felt able to confront whatever lay within the place he would soon claim as his own.
The throng of madness squeezed even tighter inside the building, hallways choked with bloodied men drunk on their victory. Gunfire rang throughout the halls and the air was thick with the smells of sweat and blood and smoke. The guns were overrun, the men were ground into meaty pulp as a tsunami of men poured into the four-story complex eager to fight and die.
“Let them deal with the underlings.” He watched as the struggling mass of men pushed forward. He turned right toward an all familiar small stairwell and twelve of his men joined him. Six in front for attack, six in back for defense. By the sounds of slaughter this battle was nearly over. The Pack would be his. Anticipation honed every nerve in his body to a sharp point. He would still have to defeat Digon.
In the event of a coup d'état Digon would head to a safe room, a well-fortified position to oversee and spring defenses when necessary. He would have eyes on every nook and cranny of this building and no doubt some very nasty surprises in store for anyone who thought of taking the Pack for himself. Of all the battles so far, this was the most dangerous.
He dug in, testing every turn before taking any chances. They reached a nodule where two corridors intersected and the exits closed him in with five of his men. The men outside banged on the door. Vincent shivered. He took a small explosive from his inside pocket and set it. Three bangs on the door let the men outside know to get clear. Two small clicks and the door exploded outward. Good thing it had been on a corner, in a straight hallway that would have never worked.
Faults and failures of others became learning experiences of his own. Digon was weak. He relied too much on his men instead of his own wits. Knives shot out at them from a wall in the next hallway and he lost two men. Then a trap door swallowed up a man in front of him and his screams from inside the floor gave Vincent an icy shiver. Twelve had dwindled to eight before he knew it and if he had been one of them he may have shown fear. Instead, he blazed forward unafraid.
The last hallway before the safe room was long and surely riddled with traps. A click under his foot alerted him to the trigger and he froze. “What is it?”
“A catch, but I can’t figure out what it goes to.” Densi checked it out. “It’s a sensor but it hasn’t gone off.”
A rattle inside the walls caught their attention and a mirror broke. Six torches dropped out in front of him, aimed directly at his face. A puff of air was their only threat as the tanks had been removed. Not wanting to lead and unable to change his position without seeming afraid, he strode forward confidently. This time the trap sprung late, stabbing long metal rods through the hallway behind them. Did Digon ever do a regular systems check? It was sloppy, even for him.
A blast burned through the hallway as the end man was obliterated and the one before rolled around screaming in flames. Late or malfunctioning, he didn’t like it. Good fortune could not be trusted. They began working on the sealed doors. Code after code, they sweated out the time. The battle from before making them anxious. Just what awaited them on the other side?
“Got it.” Cap wet his fingers on his tongue and twisted the override together. The thick metal doors slowly slid open as
they made ready to face Digon’s final defense. Nothing happened. Shocked, they looked in on Digon who sat bound and gagged in a chair with a crisp white note on his chest. Digon struggled and grunted, fighting the bonds and desperate for escape.
Cap looked over the note. “It says, “To: Vincent, happy coup day. From: Santa”
Quizzically they all looked at him but he only wore a smile. Keep up the charade, make like you know what’s going on. Those were things he told himself. “A present for me? How thoughtful.” He grinned as he took out his blades. With a swift chop he cut off Digon’s head and sent it rolling across the room.
The head went on a pole to hang out the window to signify the regime change, the body was dumped in the gutter. It didn’t seem right to be denied his battle. Still he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. It nagged at him that someone was helping him. Why? What did they want in return.
Vincent took over Digon’s office within the hour and all of the fighting mulled into drinking and celebrating. He sat at the desk, picked at things of Digon’s before tossing them away. A thump from inside the walls startled him and stood up with his blade out. The bookcase before him sprang open and a large body slumped to the floor. Vincent took out his gun, ready to shoot if he moved.
The sudden invader was Figmund, Digon’s brother and a heavy in the pack. Vincent hadn’t gotten all the names of the dead but had hoped Figmund was on that list. Digon was no more than a body to decide, his brother was the true strength in the pack. Vincent would have liked to turn him, but blood was a loyalty he knew better than to try to switch. The bookcase was lodged against the body. Vincent noted the angle of Figmund’s head, his neck had been severely broken.
The secret entry led somewhere, Vincent approached it cautiously. All other noises were blocked out as he listened for a breath, a whisper of note that would tell him if the causeway was empty. It couldn’t be empty, someone killed Figmund. Alert, he slipped inside to have a look around. The passage turned left and he followed it. There offered no place to hide along the walls. He found spy niches, places where one could stop and peek in on other rooms.
As if a security room full of monitors wasn’t enough? Following the passage to its end he discovered it led to a suite, obviously Digon’s. It did offer one the ability to reach the safe room without anyone knowing. Where he could monitor the affairs of the Pack without anyone’s knowledge. Handy. Whatever had become of Figmund in those final moments? Cautiously he considered the heavy had sprung a trap of some sort. The passageway seemed devoid of traps. He returned the way he came pausing at the doorway. It didn’t feel right.
A puff of air brushed his neck and he spun around looking for the source of the draft. Only the wall behind him, but he’d felt it just the same. Suddenly he looked up and noticed a grate above him. A ventilation shaft stretched upward into the darkness. Was someone there? He peered into it knowing he couldn’t see much further than the grate. Whom ever killed Figmund had used this escape. Why? Who? Those were suddenly questions he wanted answers to more than ever.
~~~~~ Games are only training for the real thing
Shifting the power of the Pack was relatively easy for Vincent. It wasn’t like leading a gang or a raid, it was a lot more boring. Power agreed with him. He liked the look in the eyes that served him everyday. They respected him and they feared him. Being the head of the Pack fit like a well-tailored suit and he looked good in it.
For the most part he ran the business himself. There were twelve crews working his turf and each of them had as many as thirty gangs with even more men in each. Having worked beside most of them at some point under Digon, he gotten some ideas as to how to use each to the fullest of potential. When he ran into something he didn’t particularly care for, he passed it off to one of his men.
The monitoring system had been acting buggy. Cap was all over it, tracking lines and looking for the reason it went haywire at its own discretion. “Look, it’s all over the place.” Cap keyed in commands and it only made visuals worse.
“This is shoddy installation. The whole system needs to be gutted and rewired all from one. All those malfunctions, it has to be rats in the walls.” Cap grunted. “Look, it’s clear now.”
“Where is that?” Vincent frowned not recognizing the only clear picture he had.
“Should be…” Cap tried to call up the camera ID and couldn’t find it. “Well that’s weird. It isn’t tagged.”
Punching in a few more keystrokes he waited and then tried something else. The image scattered and then regrouped on a different scene. “What the?”
Vincent stared at the monitor only to see himself staring into the monitor. “Why would Digon monitor his own safe room?”
“Holy…” Cap looked around, scanning the walls. “I don’t think it’s his camera. It’s hidden.”
“Closer, a little to the left.” Vincent directed him as Cap tracked the camera. “No, back right, higher.”
“I’ll be damned.” Cap reached up underneath a shelf and pulled off a wispy blob of something. “Looked like a cobweb, but it’s not.”
In the center of the webbing, a speckled glob of translucent material glared back them. It didn’t even look like a camera yet it was giving a clear picture right up their nostrils.
“This is high-tech. I’ve never even seen something like this.” He rolled the squishy camera around in his hand.
“Government issue?” Vincent suddenly asked.
“Those guys would give their left nut for something like this.” Cap replied. “Someone well funded would have lodged this booger in here. What I don’t get is why.”
Why, there was that question again. “So the glitch was because of this little camera?”
“No.” Cap returned to his laptop and began a series of system diagnostics. “I don’t think so.” The screens started to mirror each other, each of them spouting off matching lines of numbers. The safe room system stopped, but Caps did not.
“What’s it doing?”
“I asked it to located all visual devices plugged into the system.” Cap shook his head. “According to the old system there are thirty-two visuals. Or there were only thirty-two, it’s double that now.”
“Were?” Vincent wasn’t a technical type to begin with.
“Between the system check day one of the coup and now, we’ve gained another thirty eight cameras.” He shook his head. “I didn’t install them.”
“Well someone did.” Vincent was getting close to that other question he was more than sick with.
“Not possible.” Cap insisted. “No one comes in this room without you, not even housekeeping. No one could install a camera in here without us knowing.”
Unless they climbed through the vents and came right through the bookcase. Vincent had not told anyone about the passage, still hesitant to give up the secret. But why let them know the cameras were there? Why have them transmit into the very monitoring system they should be spying on? It didn’t make any sense.
“I just got a really odd thought.” Cap looked over the blob thoughtfully. “Crazy kind of odd. This thing has been there a while. There was a clean spot on the wall when I pulled it, but everything around it was pretty dusty.”
“I don’t get your point.” Vincent admitted.
“No one could have placed this in the last week, we know that.” Cap answered. “What if it was placed before the coup? Someone was spying on Digon and now that Digon has gotten smeared, they’re unnecessary.”
“So you’re going to suggest that out of the goodness of their heart they just left all this high dollar spy equipment around and linked it to our system?” Vincent didn’t believe that.
“We could have really used this kind of intell before the coup.” Cap frowned. “I don’t know how it happened or why it happened or who was so damned interested in Digon, but their loss is our gain.”
“And what if there are other cameras, ones not on the system?” Vincent suddenly asked. “Cameras still signaling secrets from inside this building.”
Cap tried a few location tools on the blob and none were very effective. “If there are more like this we not might find them if we searched every cranny. The best we can do is search the whole house and we might not find more than a third of them.”
The news offered no comfort. Cap promised to stay on the lookout for more blobby cameras but seeing as the system was no longer glitching he packed up his gear and went off to work on some of the faulty trappings.
Vincent closed the door, eager for some alone time without struggling with questions that had no answers. He propped his head up on his hands and watched the daily life of the Pack house unfold. It flipped from room to room, following Cap down the hall. Then the monitor went black.
Vincent swore and reached to call Cap back.
White lettering scrolled across the screen. –It isn’t malfunctioning.
The unease he’d felt since taking the Pack rose.
Who are you? He slowly typed into the monitor.
A picture of himself staring into the monitor glared back at him before going dark. Another camera, this one inside the monitoring system.
-That question is irrelevant. The screen replied.
-Talk, I will hear you. The monitor flashed as he began to try typing a short ‘go to hell’.
“Who are you?” he asked it aloud, but only the word irrelevant replied. “Why are you helping me?”
-Would you like me to stop?
The question surprised him. “Whatever it is that you want, I won’t give it to you. I didn’t ask for your help and I don’t need it. I owe you nothing.”
-Maybe in helping you I am already getting what it is I want.
Vincent scowled, he didn’t like the answer. It was crazy talk to him. “All right, I’ll play along. What is it you want?”
More crazy talk. “If I told you to stop helping me, would you?”
This frustrated him even further. “Why not?”
-I chose you, Vincent. I can’t unchoose.
“Chose me for what?”
-I chose to help you to take the Pack. You were the only one with the ability and the desire.
“That’s done now, you can quit. What do you want, a thank-you?”
-No. Are you quitting? Are you done?
“I have the Pack. What more do I need?”
-You’re going to rest on your laurels, grow as fat as that blubbery Digon and ooze the scent of rotten salami from your pores?
Obviously, the person on the other end of the conversation knew Digon rather intimately. “Maybe. What could be better?”
-A district would be nice, to start.
“To start?” Vincent began laughing. “A whole district, why not the entire city?”
-A district first, then a side, then the city. It shouldn’t be too hard. What with your many assets and my rogue talents, why not the city?
“That is mad.” Vincent chuckled but more thoughtful than humored. “Even if I was crazy enough to try to pry a district out of this coup, what’s in it for you?”
-I already told you; a challenge.
It was like playing a chess game with a child, he wasn’t going to get the answers he wanted. Still even a kid had a few good ideas now and then. “Do you play chess?”
-Games are only training for the real thing.
They agreed to allow him to think on it over a game of chess.
“Why should I trust you?”
-I’ve gotten you this far, haven’t I?
“I did my own work, I didn’t need any help.”
-You know you didn’t stab Siog.
The remark irked him.
-Wasn’t Pethard’s sudden demise a leg up for you?
Vincent began to get angry.
-Do you remember the night at the Anthill? The night you decided you were worth more than small payoffs, didn’t someone put that idea in your head?
Vincent wracked his brain trying to remember the night in that bar, a face or a name and nothing came to mind. The words struck a cord of familiarity but that was all. “How long have you been following me?”
-Long enough to know I was backing a winner.
Flattery wasn’t going to smooth his hackles. The screen remained dark as he thought hard on the past and his sudden run of luck. Luck had a way of turning on a person, maybe this was the turning.
“I don’t trust anyone I don’t know.” It was a cold hard fact.
Nothing answered him.
“Nothing to say to that?” he asked and still the screen remained unchanged. Again he asked aloud then began to type.
-I am distracted.
“Distracted by what?”
-Millan, he is speaking about you and what you have done. He has a plan to finish you. I thought it better to give it importance in monitoring than our little conversation, but if you insist…
Boss Millan, an ally to the old regime had shown outward signs of rebuffing him. His gangs encroached on the edges of his territory, blurring the line of his domain. As of yet he hadn’t made a move to stop it, it had only been two instances. “No, I want to know what he’s planning.”
-The Bantone Quarter, they plan to strip it tonight and take it for themselves. They will force you to act against them and make you look like a fool not protecting your turf, so when you do act the other bosses will align with them. Then they will carve up your ground to make their own larger.
It was a good plan. Millan had the standing to drag him down with the other bosses. “You’re spying on Millan right now?”
“Why won’t you let me hear?” distrusting, if he acted against Millan it could go just as unfavorably for him.
-Digon’s system is shit. When I plug in for sound it makes the system fry out. It needs about six upgrades to be compatible. I’ve been trying all week which is why you are reading me rather than hearing me.
“It was your camera we found earlier?” the answer was a yes. “Why would you let us find your own camera?”
-I was watching Digon and his men for your benefit. Once you took over, the intell cameras used to snoop are now part of the home security system. It seemed a benefit to both, now I won’t have to do all the watching myself.
Vincent smiled, the idea of a frazzled nerve restless tech junkie came to mind. Then he sobered. “Are there more cameras in here than on this monitor?”
“Why would you hide their viewing from me?”
-The ones you have are double lugged. To add more would burn the system out. Have Cap install the upgrades then I can give you the access.
Again he wasn’t a technical person, he couldn’t guess this for a lie or the truth. “When can we arrange a meeting?”
-I will wait as long as possible before we meet face to face. Those are the rules.
“Rules? This isn’t a game.”
-Everything is a game. Bantone Quarter is a game. Games are just training for the real thing.
“If you think I’m going to show up just to get whacked by you, keep dreaming.” Vincent snapped, ready to smash the monitor to bits.
-You are the boss, bosses do not go out and fight turf wars. That is grunt work. You should send the Baggers, they have none of those light fingers and maybe you should make a statement loud enough for all the bosses to hear.
The Baggers, a nick-name for four members of his first gang. They were bloody and cool under fire, a kill when pushed attitude that had gotten them a lot of notice in the old days. He didn’t like taking advice from someone he didn’t know, didn’t trust and didn’t like.
-Vincent, if I wanted to kill you I could have done it a thousand times. I could have just let Figmund do it or Digon. It doesn’t matter if you trust me. I have no choice but to finish what I started.
None of it made any sense to him. It made him uneasy. Vincent had no reason to believe any of what this so called ally claimed, but at the same time he believed without reason. Why and who were questions he still wanted answers to, but at the moment he certainly wasn’t going to get anywhere with them. “I’ll think about it.”
The monitor clicked over to cameras and he contemplated Millan. New blood in the regime was never easily accepted, Vincent was finding that out now. If Millan were to make a play for his turf, the other bosses wouldn’t stand in his way. He needed a show of strength if he would face Millan but a show that would quiet all of the others. Vincent needed the Baggers. Decided, he made the arrangements.
Early spring nights were known for being cool, but Sikks could not remember a colder night. Vincent had them tromping around the Quarter on the lookout for claim jumpers. It seemed a little early in shift change for turf wars, but some of the old farts in the organization were pissed about Digon’s fall.
Sikks stayed alert, struggling to keep an eye out for anyone who didn’t belong. He passed Shino without acknowledging him, Bagger. That’s what they called the four of the bloodiest monsters off Kurate Street. Shino had been fifteen when he’d joined up, Sikks had been twelve. Reg was the same age as him, give or take a month and his cousin Tride near to it. In those days it was merely the only way four mean runaways could survive, mostly. Shino had been orphaned pretty young, he didn’t talk much about it and asking led to a fight.
All Sikks wanted right now was a warm cup of wine and to crawl under the covers, preferably with Ika. Her long golden hair and pale blue eyes always seemed to soothe his soul in ways no drug could. She’d gotten him straight. He didn’t let her go after that, couldn’t. He’d traded one addiction for another.
Shino gave a signal. The flash of a down turned palm alerted of trouble. Maybe Vince wasn’t yanking his chain making the four of them roam around in the cold. Tride slipped into step with him and Reg came along a good distance behind. In their dark coats and low hats they looked like thugs.
Five long shadows stood in the glow of the Quarter lights, similarly dressed. Sikks stiffened, feeling the comfort of cold steel under his arms. They moved through the walkway holding to the dark and gliding past people who took no notice of him. The unknown intruders turned ahead, so confident they didn’t even look back to check if anyone was following. Was it an ambush? Sikks guts clenched. Had Vincent decided it was better to have him dead than breathing down his neck?
They followed the five men as they made a beeline for a Pack post along the alley. A regular old gambling alley that turned quite a profit being on the edge of the badlands, drew in more than dredges and crooks. The biggest of the five kicked in the door and drew steel. Shino burst ahead of them, flinging himself into the last man and letting him fall with a blade in him. Gunfire erupted around them, too close for comfort and he realized he was already firing. Sikks didn’t remember pulling the gun, instinct and reactions honed sharp from years of living on the streets took over.
When bullets didn’t work, Sikks drew fists. A bone snapping brawl suited him just fine as he toyed with the man who was bigger and slower than he was. With a kick to his knee, the opponent buckled. Downed, Sikks snapped his neck like a twig. As usual, Shino was dragging off two bodies and Reg was talking down the Postman. They’d clean up, they always did.
Once they got the bodies off the street, Sikks tagged a message to Vincent letting him know they’d taken care of things in the Quarter. His phone rang, surprising because Vince wasn’t usually one to make a call back.
“Take care of the bodies as usual, but leave one at Sigel Station.” Vincent grumbled.
“Why?” Sikks didn’t like the idea of not cleaning up.
“I’ve called in a specialist to deal with the body.” He said and then hung up.
They dumped the bodies in the river at High Street and then back-tracked to Sigel. It was a lot of running around with corpses he didn’t like. Still, Vincent’s specialist was easy to pick out even knew their signals. A wrist flick upward to draw their attention and they backed in to dump the body.
“You the specialist?” he asked.
“Aye.” A gruff answer. Short, had an odd look on him he couldn’t put his finger on but Sikks didn’t care. They kicked out the meat and went to leave. Whatever Vince had in mind for a specialist, Sikks didn’t want to know. Sometimes he wished for the old comrade who took markers and squeezed the gamblers dry. Before they took to blood, Vince had been an everyday guy someone you liked to have at your side. Blood had changed him, Sikks shook the thoughts out of his head. Blood changed them all.
The body dropped, the Baggers headed home. None of them wanted to stick around and be caught with a dead body. Let Vincent’s new guy handle it, it wasn’t their worry.
The apartment was warm, inviting as he let himself in. It was late and he was dragging two days of work behind him. He kicked off his shoes and sighed as arms wrapped around his neck. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
She kissed him and murmured in his ear. “Who could sleep with you tromping in the door smelling like gunpowder and sweat?”
Certainly not her, she’d been cutting down lives for the Pack longer than him. As her hands roamed and her kisses became warmer he muttered. “I’ll take a shower first.”
Ika only tugged on the buttons of his shirt and laughed. “I like it when you come home smelling like gunpowder and sweat.”
A little half-smile stole over her lips and her pale eyes held a fierceness in them. She was a killer, well, so was he. If he asked, she’d kill for him. Kill anyone, everyone but Vincent. Ika would blow up the city but she faltered under Vincent’s stare. She was cool, confident and steady in a way other men envied, unless it was Vincent. As her kisses became more demanding he struggled in those thoughts. He’d hurt her once, that’s all she said whenever he asked. It drove a knife through his heart to think of anyone hurting Ika.
It was late in the morning but still too early when his phone jangled and he grabbed it cussing.
“Good morning to you too.” Shino growled sounding rough around the edges. “Vincent wants to see us now.”
Sikks shut the phone and rolled over to clutch a cool pillow. Ika had already disappeared and he felt a little abandoned for the moment. He still hadn’t had a shower and now he smelled like her on top of everything. Pushing himself mentally he got out of bed and started a shower. Just a quick one and then he’d be off.
The shower was lukewarm but it woke him up and as he did a minimal run over with the soap he smoked. Vincent had a lot of nerve to drag him out of bed after a three a.m. hunt, it had been after five before he’d gotten home. Then Ika, then four hours of sleep? A body couldn’t function like that, he charged himself up with anger before dressing and heading out the door. If it wasn’t for Ika he’d have shown up just as he was. Let Vincent be reminded she wasn’t his anymore. That would only make things hard on her, and he wasn’t going to do that to her.
The cold of last night hadn’t come into the day, no today it was sunny and fiercely warm. They could use a hard thaw right now, he was sick of the lingering winter. As he walked to his car he couldn’t help thinking about taking Ika on a picnic some place far away. If they could just get away from this, from Vincent and the blood he demanded, maybe they could live a normal life.
As he started up the car and drove away he sullied his mind with images of what he imagined normal to be. They were postcard images, vacation slides, moments in some diner someone else had long ago. None of them were his own. He’d never lived a normal life and never really thought he would. But being with her changed all that in a way he didn’t talk about. Would she laugh at him if he asked her to run away? Would she ever think about things other girls thought about? Marriage? A family? Settling down and going straight? Ika with her porcelain smooth skin and hardened eyes, everything about her is sharp edged. Somehow, he didn’t think so.
Vincent called them up to the office and Reg lead them. The Baggers had leaders in themselves, no one called the shots all the time. When it came to talking, Reg was naturally the best at it. Shino was the strongest and fastest, built for trade labor. Tride had a knack for avoiding trouble and Sikks, well he took to killing really well. They’d made a contest of it one summer, he took two for every one. Baggers trusted each other to do his part and it got done. Who did what or how much never played a factor. If it ever did, that would be the end of them.
“Who in God’s name thought it was a good idea to stake a body on Millan’s turf with his guts splayed out like a party banner?” Vincent snapped.
Shino looked at him and they all exchanged glances at each other.
“It wasn’t us, Vincent.” Reg spoke up suddenly.
“It wasn’t you?” Vincent glared at him.
Reg moved fast thinking and talking. “We dumped the bodies just like usual, we didn’t festoon any innards.”
Festoon, yep, Reg could really talk.
“Who ever it was they danced Millan’s man like a damned marionette in the breeze right outside his head quarters. And you had nothing to do with it?” Vincent scowled. “Someone fished the body out for their own amusement?”
Sikks started to open his mouth, but Reg signaled him to quiet with a foot tap. “Someone, maybe, had to be. It wasn’t us. We don’t play around with bodies like that, we just get rid of them.”
Vincent glowered and then looked away. “Whatever.”
The four of them looked around at each other. Vince was off kilter, more than usual for him. They did just what he told them to do last night, was he going mad?
“Just get out of here.” Vincent yelled at them and they took to the door.
Sikks felt unsteady as three pairs of eyes turned on him. “I swear, it wasn’t my idea. I took the call, it was Vincent.”
Reg and Tride just looked at each other and shrugged. “Not here, wait till we get outside.” The older cousin warned.
Once outside, Reg took a look back and checked for anyone close enough to overhear. “You heard him, his voice?”
“Yes.” No way it could have been anyone other than Vincent. “It was him. You think he’s going off the deep end?”
Tride only gave his cousin a nod and they walked faster. “I’ve been hearing things through the Pack. You hear something once or twice you can dismiss it, but I’ve heard it more than that and from other people.”
“What sort of things?” Sikks wasn’t sure he wanted to know but this was his livelihood they were talking about. If Vincent was on the verge of a meltdown, he needed to know.
“Just weird things happening.” Reg shrugged and leaned up against his car. “Vincent stabbed Siog in the back when Siog turned on him. Faulty defenses in the house like Vincent was protected by magic through the house. Little leaks here and there, I didn’t think they were credible until..”
Sikks didn’t like the way the conversation was going. “I heard those stories and Vincent is just another punk from the old neighborhood, not a demon or god running around. Sheesh, who spreads crap that thick?”
“No.” Tride shook his head. “You saw the way he was in there. When Reg said we didn’t make crepe streamers out of that guys innards he dropped it. Like he already knew the answer even though he didn’t.”
“Crazy sounds a whole lot more reasonable.” Sikks insisted.
Shino didn’t say anything, only looked sort of distant in thought. “What’s your vote?” Sikks asked him.
“Crazy, not crazy, it doesn’t matter – he’s the boss.” Shino pointed out the obvious. “What I want to know is did any of you get a look at that guy last night? The one who made Millan’s man into art deco?”
All three of them admitted they hadn’t even tried. Black hair, pale skin and short was the only description they had. Some sort of garish accent but it could be faked. Comparing notes obviously wasn’t helping either. Reg and Tride suddenly remembered a previous appointment and cut out. Sikks was frustrated. Why hadn’t Reg just told Vince they did what he had told them to?
“Come on.” Shino shook his shoulder disturbing his thoughts. “I’ll buy you some food.”
“I can eat at home.” He grumbled.
“No you can’t, I’ve had Ika’s cooking.” Shino reminded him.
They grabbed some food at a corner café and tried to not think about Vincent’s issues. It wasn’t easy but eventually they eased into a long standing argument over sports heroes until they finally finished eating. Sikks couldn’t let it go, it kept nagging on him so he asked anyway.
“Why the hell didn’t Reg just tell him we did what he asked us to do.” Sikks spit it out.
“Because he didn’t tell us, someone else did.” Shino replied.
Sikks shook his head. “I talked to him myself, I know what he sounds like.”
“Reg has his sources, I have mine.” Shino shrugged. “I’m thinking in the last weeks, wild eyes got a parasite.” Shino used an old nickname for Vincent in case anyone caught a word of the conversation. “Things have been happening that shouldn’t be. It’s got him as bent up about it as we are and he has to keep it under wraps.”
“What are you trying to say?” It was too early for this cloak and dagger shit.
“Some parasites are helpful, do good things for you and get good things back. Others, well they get into the body and there’s going to be a whole lot of sickness and pain to follow.” Shino shook his head. “I think there’s a rogue out there twisting between the lines. This black fellow, he’s out there rogue doing whatever the crazy thought he has in his head in order to get in somewhere with old wild eyes. Wild eyes can’t stop it, doesn’t know who it is yet, and the black is just out there writing his resume in blood. So far it’s been a good parasite, but if things start looking bad..”
“Holy crap, it could be anyone. We couldn’t stop them.” Sikks suddenly realized what Shino was saying.
“Neither can he.” Shino finished. “Some kook is out there with the world as his stage auditioning for a part in the big show.”
Vincent must be livid trying to figure out how to handle a wild card he hadn’t counted on. No wonder he shut down so fast, he couldn’t admit he didn’t know what was going on in his own organization. He was stuck playing along while some idiot went around adlibbing. Creative bastard at that. “Who ever it is, he’s good.”
“What do you mean?” Shino frowned.
“You really think ‘the mill’ is going to try something like that after the Pack decorated right on his doorstep? He can’t accuse us, not without admitting he knew they were coming to us. He’s boxed pretty tight on that one.” Sikks smirked.
“That or he’ll be more pissed and sneakier.” Shino reminded him. They chewed on that thought and called it a day. They both needed a week of sleep and enough whiskey for a month of drunk.