Brian rounded the corner at Smith and 9th just as the train went by overhead. He almost didn’t notice, so used to the sound was he. Head down, hands in pockets, he didn’t cut much of a figure. Or wouldn’t have, if he wasn’t so short. And wide. He looked like a block of wool trudging down the street. Most of the people around here knew him, but every so often he’d get the looks, the smiles, the laughs. It kept his scowl firmly in place.
He came up to a small group of people hovering around a car. He paused long enough to see what they were looking at. A flat tire on Mrs. Sullivan’s little Honda. Her two teenaged sons were arguing about something while another older man, Mr. Hills the grocer, stood rubbing his head.
A small green straw arced across the bar, bounced off the lip of a glass and fell to the side. There were easily twice that around it, and none in it. If one were to look over the bar to the floor one might see a dozen more similar little green straws. Pops looked, scowled, and directed a raised brow to the man seated on the stool nearby. He already had another straw in his hand and was taking careful aim.
“You training for the retarded bartender Olympics or something?”
The man ignored the comment long enough to launch the straw. It glided slightly to the left, hit the side of the glass and fell with the others. The man frowned and let out a sigh.
“Yeah. No. I don’t know.”
Pops nodded sagely. “That was suitably vague.”
Doug dropped the paper on the table and wiped his mouth with the cloth napkin. He took a sip of his water and sighed, pushing his plate away. Breakfast was by far the best meal of the day. Today he’d gone for something simple; chicken fried steak, two eggs over easy, crispy hash browns and an English muffin. Strawberry jam, of course. Water and juice to wash it down and, now that he was finished, a cup of coffee.
He waved at the server, a pretty young thing with coppery-red hair and a tattoo just visible on her décolletage. She looked over and, when he pointed to the empty coffee cup, smiled and nodded.
The Lake Forest estate was mostly quiet. Set back from the main streets the sprawling mansion and expansive yards almost seemed like something from a pre-Civil War era Southern homestead. Pillared porch, patchwork drive, immaculately trimmed hedges, perfectly manicured lawns and flowers planted just so…it was a beautiful home.
“Okay, everybody back?”
“Nemesis here.” Jake had just sat down and put his headset back on. The team had taken a ten minute break to allow everyone to use the bathroom, grab sodas, food, smokes—whatever. The last two hours had gone by fast, but as the adrenaline wore off from the previous encounter everyone needed a stretch.
Jake looked up. Mike Walters was sauntering in, pulling his long mane into the mandatory ponytail.
“The start of another glorious evening.” The two men chuckled. Jake was just finishing up his side work, filling the trays with lemon, limes and other garnishes. Mike was coming on, taking the latter half of Jake’s shift.
“So, you got a test or something tomorrow? Some big paper you forgot to finish?”
Jake laughed. “No, no. Social event I’d planned before Todd left. School’s still kinda on hold.”
Mike shook his head, giving Jake a look that said he knew better. “Dude, you’ve puttered around long enough. Finish your fucking degree already.”
She stepped out of the boat, her feet scratched by the rocks. She didn’t bother to secure the small skiff but rather hurried to the shore before turning around and scanning the water. Stringy hair pushed back revealed a face lined with fatigue, fear and pain, but one that was beautiful, nonetheless. Her dark eyes cast about and, not seeing what she was looking for, showed the first glimmer of relief.
Gino and Brandon Cassini exchanged looks and adjusted their respective grips on their firearms, a Glock for the wiry Gino and an Uzi submachine gun for the bulky Brandon. Their heads swiveled back to the door and, by unspoken agreement, the younger Brandon reached for the handle. He glanced at his brother and, receiving a nod, opened the door quickly, bringing his weapon to bear.
For a moment his mind couldn’t process the scene. The lot outside the warehouse door was smoky. Two of the other men were down, groaning. Brandon didn’t pay them any mind; they were piciotto, button-men, and therefore expendable. Willy the Pick was holding his face and whimpering, his clothes smoldering. There was evidence of a small blast on the asphalt nearby.
The slap of the gloved fist against skin was like a whip in the room. Luke’s head rocked with the blow but he maintained control and only allowed the barest of grunts to escape. He turned his head slowly to regard the man in front of him and spit a glob of blood to the side. One eye was swollen nearly shut, the skin split across the cheekbone. His nose and lips both bled, and when he smiled—a humorless smile full of anger and promise—pink tainted his teeth and gums.
The man before him seemed unphazed by the glare, if indeed he even noticed. He simply stepped back and looked over his shoulder as two men entered the room. Black Mike Calvone and his lieutenant Willy the Pick were smiling.
“Are we sure we want to do this?”
“Hello? Am I talking to myself here?”
“Yes, we want to do this.”
“What a shock. How ‘bout you, Jen? You don’t have to—“
“Y-yes. For him, yes.”
“’Atta girl. Frankie?”
“I don’t know, man. I’m not really—“
“I mean, yeah. Yeah, I’m in. Right? I’m in.”
“What? Oh. Yes. If I can help, I will, of course. I’m just not sure…”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Listen, you’ve done plenty. You got us to the game, okay? No need to go any further.”