“I don’t know what you’re worrying about, Alex, she- Hang on.”
Fritz downed the rest of his tequila before placing it down on the bar. All around him were gyrating, constantly moving bodies, drenched in flashing, neon lights, but he’d picked out one coming his way. Brunette, nice legs, decent rack, head down. Probably a wallflower who came with friends, but they were nowhere to be seen. Fritz just had to wait for the right moment to go in and look like he didn’t care in the meantime.
Fritz put the phone back to his ear, blocking the blasting music out with practiced ease. “Like I was saying, Alex, she really likes you, that’s for sure.”
“Don’t know what I’m worried about? She almost killed those Cerberus soldiers, remember?”
“Well, yeah,” Fritz said, shrugging. “But she didn’t, did she? And, you know, things happen, but who was gonna miss a couple Cerberus?”
“She didn’t because I stopped her,” Alex replied, apparently already annoyed. “And you and I had been Cerberus just a week or so before then.”
“What’s your point?” Fritz asked, barely listening to Alex as he watched brunette lady lean up against the bar.
“Jeez… I don’t want to sound offensive or anything, but like, how much has she actually changed, you know? How much different is she really from you-know-who?”
“I dunno, she sure seems a hell of a lot different.”
Fritz flashed the girl a smile, and she caught it, smiling back before ducking her head. Successful introduction.
“I mean, she sure likes you,” he finished. “Haven’t you noticed?”
Alex sighed on the other end. “Yes, you said that already. Do you ever not think with your junk?”
“Do you ever think with yours?” Fritz shot back. “I mean, jeez, Alex, I can’t be around to point out this stuff all the time. Especially now.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll still be around to coach me,” Alex snipped back. Then he paused. “Wait, what?”
“See, I’m gonna be taking a new job, security stuff, and it’ll probably take up a good chunk of my time, if you know what I mean.”
“Yup. The, uh, special work just isn’t jiving with me,” Fritz told him, keeping his voice level. “I liked having a day job.”
“Okay, I get it, I guess. We’re going to need more people sooner or later but Jay and I will cross that bridge when we come to it. So, where at?”
“Oh, you know, out clubbing,” Fritz said. “Looking for my one fish in the sea, that kind of thing.”
“I should have figured as much, you horndog. I meant where’s the new gig.”
“Oh. Scholz Enterprises. Good pay, benefits, that kind of thing.”
As Fritz spoke, he leaned over to signal a bartender.
“Hey, would you get an appletini for-” As he looked back towards where the brunette had been, though, she was gone. Perfect. “Nevermind.”
Fritz sighed and turned away from the bar. “Don’t let her get away, Alex. See you whenever.”
He clicked out of the call and shoved the phone back into his pocket.
With that opportunity gone, Fritz stalked away from the bar and circled his way around the dance floor. Too many people gave up after one failed attempt and had no idea how to spot the many options a huddled mass of human life gave them. Fritz, though, he could see a girl faking a smile with her boyfriend, a cute little Latino guy dancing all by himself, and every individual hanging out to the sides. He’d always found it funny how some people could be all alone when potential companions were everywhere. But if they couldn’t figure that out, then hell, more for him.
Midtown was far too busy the night following Mitchell’s murder. Normally, following a homicide in an area, lowlifes would scatter for a few days, waiting for tensions to pass. But just twenty-four hours later, it seemed the world had already moved on from Mitchell. Not that Shade could blame them, but it was odd.
From the rooftops above she scoured every alley and dark corner. When she rounded back to Locksley Avenue, a group of hoods in the same spot as the previous night caught her eye. This time, however, the group was entirely different, sans a man in a red beanie who had been with Mitchell. That was her ticket to getting anywhere with her case.
She rappelled down from the liquor store roof, being careful to stick to the shadows. For as long as possible she evaded the neon lights, until she was close enough to burst out like a bat out of hell. Instantly several of the toughs fled. They were the smart ones – one of them attempted to pull a gun. She embedded her grapple hook in his jacket, yanked him forward and clocked him to the ground.
“I was hoping one of you would try that,” she remarked. The rest of red beanie man’s buddies took that as their cue to leave. He glanced back at them, then to her, and went pale.
“Oh, you’ve got to be-”
With an explosive push, she pinned him to the wall with her forearm.
“Let’s talk, shall we? Wouldn’t want to have to call the cops.”
Red beanie man spat in her face. She loosened her grip just slightly with one arm, wiped her goggles with the other before landing a gut punch.
“Your boy Mitchell, what happened to him?”
“Man, I don’t know nothing!”
“Yeah, you won’t if I have to clobber you like I did that fool,” she retorted, gesturing with her head. “Now, I’m going to give you one more chance to play nice with me. You talk, you walk. You give me shit, you wake up in jail with a concussion, and possession and weapons charges. What’s it going to be?”
“Alright, alright, it was a hit!”
“The boss? Whose? Yours?”
“Yeah!” He put up his hands as much as he could. “Or I guess like, his. I’m just an associate, man. He was bragging about how he was makin’ a ton of extra money by cuttin’ product. He dealt to other gangs, switched up shit, sold people out, you name it. Dude was straight wack. No idea how he lasted so long ‘fore the boss found out. Man, I heard their boys were scared shitless for hours afterwards.”
“You got a name?”
He shook his head. “He wasn’t that dumb. And if even he was, shit, why would I tell you? I like my brains inside my skull.”
“I see.” She let go of her vice grip. “Get out of here.”
Red beanie man made it halfway down the alley before he stopped in his tracks, patting himself down.
“Hey!” he called back. “You took my drugs!”
“I did!” she waggled a vial of a yellow flakey substance. “Don’t worry, it’s just for an antidote. Buh bye now!”
Jessica hardly got two knocks on Carl’s apartment door before his mother yanked it open, looking even more disheveled than the last time she’d seen her. “You figure out some way to help my boy?” she queried, wringing her hands. “He’s weaker than ever and I’m afraid he’ll pass out any second!”
“I have.” She went down the hall to Carl’s room. Inside smelt even worse than before. The boy was emaciated and clammy, now sweating bullets. In spite of herself, she was glad that Mitchell had been offed. Who knew how many other gullible boys had been poisoned like this and were too afraid to seek help?
“That guy I know? He prepared for me an antidote.” From her jacket she retrieved a syringe filled with an orange liquid. “Stay still Carl… There we go. Funny story. The man who was dealing the crap that poisoned your boy got whacked by his own gang for thinning their drugs out to such a paltry quality. According to my contact, the drug’s original form must have been very complicated. Lots of bonds and interlocking nodes, chemistry jargon. This case might just lead me to a powerful drug baron.”
Setting her jaw, Jada nodded. “You find that man and see him brought to justice, Miss Napier.”
Jessica nodded in return and went to the door. “My intern will mail you your bill in the coming days. I know things are rough around here, so you can discuss paying intermittently with her.” With that, she left her business card behind and began walking back to Midtown.
The suspect wasn’t a man. As far as she knew, her old gang boss was still alive. Shortly after the Phoenix Incident, Mouse had all charges against her dropped, and successfully sued the City of Blackburn for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. On that count, Jessica had to root for her. Afterwards she claimed to have gone legit, and Jessica didn’t care to dig any further. But with her signature complex drugs turning up on the streets again, she had to rip off that old scab.
“Isabella!” she called at her office entrance, flashing her ID card at her security panel. “Isabella, I’m back. What’ve you got for me?”
“Hey, Ms. Napier! How’d it go? You fix him up?” her assistant called from the desk. She had a deck of ornate cards in her hand, with several spread out on the surface in front of her, as well as a yellow legal pad covered in scratchy handwriting off to her left.
“That I did.” She slipped off her jacket and tossed it back into the closet. “I have mixed feelings about Fritz leaving the Mavericks, but perhaps he’ll be better as an associate. So, Mouse. What’s she up to?”
“Well, Uncle Vincenzo says ‘boring ass secretary shit’,” Isabella quoted from the legal pad. “Aunt Ariel’s mad that she got off free and now she’s playing ‘naughty secretary’ to that real estate guy. Uh, Tommy did get a pretty good lead, though. Said he heard his dealer got muscled out of some turf by guys selling some real hot stuff. They, like, told him to buzz off or he’d have ‘her’ to deal with. So yeah.” She gestured to her cards, brow knit. “I’ve been doing some research on my own, it’s looking, uh… interesting.”
“Wait wait.” Jessica put a hand up to stop her. “Before you go any further: Tommy’s dealer?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, my cousin.”
“What, is he part of the Mafia or some shit?” she said with a snort. All she got was a blank look in reply. “You’re shitting me.”
Isabella put her deck down, quirking a brow. “You realize my last name is Fausti, right?”
“What, so every Italian-American is part of the Mafia now?” she shook her head. “You’re perpetuating outdated stereotypes here, not me.”
“Look, not important right now, okay? Most of my family isn’t even all that active anyways. Dad was really not happy about me getting this job, so I had to swear not to, like, rat on anyone. Anyways, whatever your old friend Ms. Verion is up to, it’s shady. I keep getting the seven of swords mixed with the ten of pentacles, and the three of cups. She’s in business with some people doin’ something under the table, but, like, really hiding her trail.”
“So she’s dealing drugs again and working for some real estate guy.” A good way to launder her dirty profits. “Do you have a name for the dude?”
“Edgerrin Hamilton. He made a big deal about hiring her in the beginning, all ‘people can change’ and stuff.”
Hamilton? She had heard that his company, Hamilton Industries, had acquired a lot of government contracts to help rebuild Vicio after the Incident. Was he simply laundering money for Mouse, or did it lead to something more sinister?
“Hmph. Anything else?”
“Uh, yeah, I did get a couple reads that pointed to some serious trauma either at or from her recently. Tried to focus it with my pendulum, but I didn’t get a definite answer. Again, whatever she did, she did it hidden. Or she did it so bad, nothing wanted a part of it.”
“Yeah, murder tends to be bad juju,” Jessica remarked. “I have a book I need to go catch up now. Please don’t have me whacked when I’m not looking.”
“Scouts honor, Ms. Napier. I still want the job.” Isabella paused, then her eyes widened. “Murder?!”