1.8 The Storm

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Hey folks, I’m releasing this chapter a few hours early. We’ve finally reached the action! Hold onto your seat-belts.

 

The atmosphere in the Lodge was positively electric. Rumors circulated wildly about all manner of things, though the biggest topic of discussion was theorycrafting what was going to happen. That something was about to go down was no question at all; the climate all over the island was too tense to be otherwise. What nature this disaster would come in, though, couldn’t be guessed. Mouse rubbed her hands as she sat in her usual seat, watching people whisper to one another, casting fearful glances around the room. They had no idea. Too long had she been letting her rivals push her and her comrades around. Too long had she languished in the lowest ranks of the underworld elite. But no longer.

 

Grigori stepped through the partition between the lounge and bazaar, dropping heavily into his seat. His bodyguard was nowhere to be found, which was good. The less variables, the better. She’d sent her rivals both a missive, demanding a meeting to renegotiate the territory lines, and for a few moments, had been worried that they wouldn’t show. She was a little worried that Martin still wouldn’t, the crafty devil he was. But at the last moment, Martin hobbled in and eased himself into his spot beside Grigori. He too did not appear to have brought guards with him, but Mouse could hear men murmuring in Spanish just past the partition.

 

“Mouse, I do hope you haven’t gotten your hopes up about the outcome of this meeting,” he said. “Your posturing and puffing out your chest and such – it won’t change my mind on the matter of how much territory we’re allowing you. I trust I’m not the only one who feels this way,” he said, glancing at Grigori. The Russian corroborated his assertion with a gruff nod of the head.

 

“I understand that perfectly, gentlemen,” assured Mouse. “The outcome of this meeting has only one conclusion, one I’ve carefully orchestrated. I just wanted to offer you one final chance to see the error of your ways and submit to me.”

 

“Submit? Malen’kaya sobaka otkusyvayet bol’she, chem mozhet perezhevyvat’’,” Grigori spat disdainfully. “Take your arrogance away.” Mouse toyed with a remote in her hand idly, giving Martin a curious look, eyes half lidded and one brow raised. Grigori paused, shooting a sidelong glance at Martin before focusing on the object in her hand.

 

“What are you playing at, Mouse?” Martin asked, narrowing his eyes at the remote control she was holding. It was nothing modern, possibly homemade, with an antenna, a few switches, and a big, ominous red button. He looked back up at her. In his eyes, he was toeing the line between amused and annoyed.

 

“Last chance, Martin. I’m in a good mood right now, you would be wise to capitalize on it.” She flicked the leftmost switch on her remote and dropped the cover. “Grigori, you may leave. You should probably attend to the situation developing with your men.” The big man pushed back in his chair, fumbling for his cell phone.

 

Despite his tinkering with it, the device refused to update him. “What have you done?!” he demanded.

 

“The opening move. B2 to B4.” She raised a hand, getting the attention of a Lodge private security worker and pointing to Grigori with her best scared expression. The man approached at an easy gait, nodding his head to Mouse in question. “He threatened me with violence, I don’t feel safe with him around,” she explained, lip and voice trembling. The guard bought it, hook, line, and sinker, facing Grigori in a more aggressive stance.

 

“Bullshit!” refuted Grigori instantly, levelling a finger at Mouse. He let out a long string of swears in Russian, going red in the face, but was interrupted by the guard shoving him backwards.

 

“Beat it. You know the rules, keep things civil. Get out.” In seconds, they were both gone, leaving the albino with her ‘father’.

 

“It didn’t have to be like this, Martin. You could have atoned for your sins. You still can,” she cooed, voice dripping with saccharine sweetness. A sweetness laced with lethal poison.

 

The smugness was gone from Martin’s eyes, but that was all she could tell. All else was rendered unreadable by his distorted face. “So, you think you can intimidate me, then?” he said. “You’re bluffing at best and packing meager firepower at worst. So far as my forces and I are concerned, nothing has changed, least of all the territory lines we drew. Do you have any other card tricks up your sleeve, or may I go?”

 

Shaking her head, Mouse flicked another switch on her remote and set it on the table, sliding the device over to Martin. “You may go. If you want, you can even call my bluff yourself. That tempting button there is wired to twelve different remote explosives divided between your turf and Grigori’s. Or it isn’t. Who really can say?” She laced her fingers under her chin, smiling at him. “I told you you’d declared war, didn’t I? I warned you. But your arrogance blinded you and now the consequences are on your head.”

 

Martin gave a contemptuous snort, rising from his seat. “War, she says,” he muttered. “Men do not go to war with mice. We exterminate them.” At that, he snatched up his cane and departed, a score of guards flanking him as he stepped passed the partition and was lost in the crowd.

 

“You forget that mice live in colonies…” she murmured to herself, reaching across the table to press the big button. “Bartender! I’d like a glass of gin, if you would?”

 

***

 

The rain was coming down like horse hooves on concrete, pounding on the windows so hard Jeff thought they might cave in. White tiled dividers casted long shadows on the table he and his partner were sitting at. Jeff couldn’t help but keep glancing up from his coffee and paperwork. He had a bad feeling swirling in his gut, a twitch in his leg, a tickle in his throat. Dallas would have laughed or groaned if he said it, but Jeff knew better than to ignore it. He couldn’t chase it either, though; all Jeff could do was thrum his fingers and wait.

 

“What do you think of all this, Dallas?” Jeff asked, taking a sip from his hip flask. “Corporate espionage, dark clouds on the horizon. I think we’re heading for something big.”

 

Dallas’ eyes darted up from the mountain of paperwork and doughnut he was working on. Then, they focused on his flask, and he narrowed his eyelids.

 

“Jeff, I know you wouldn’t touch alcohol if you were dying on a remote island, so I gotta ask – what’s in there?”

 

Jeff frowned and deflated a bit at the accusation. He wasn’t sure what else he’d expected from Dallas, but he didn’t have to burst Jeff’s bubble all the time.

 

“Apple juice,” he admitted. “Come on, I got a feeling here. You don’t think there’s anything strange about what’s been happening?”

 

“Apple juice,” Dallas repeated under his breath, leaning back in his seat, lips quivering. “Right. Strange things going on in Rebecca’s little mall cop company? Of course, that woman is messed in the head six ways from Sunday. Strange that Florida gets hurricanes? Haven’t you lived here your whole life?”

 

“It’s not just the hurricane, it’s the timing, the feeling!” Jeff insisted. “Haven’t you ever watched any mystery shows? This is how these things start: two seemingly unrelated events that turn out to be intertwined.”

 

Dallas sighed, taking a bite of his doughnut. “Look, I get it man, really. Sometimes being a street cop doesn’t feel like it’s all it’s cracked up to be. Jumping through the hoops of due process just to put guys away for petit larceny. We’re just little guys in the end. But you know what? So is Rebecca.” He blinked. “Well, not a guy, but you know what I mean. She’s just one person, not some superhero anymore. The days of one person bending the whole world to their whims, if they were ever here, are long gone. Stop worrying about her and focus on what we can do – filing paperwork against this asshole for touching kids.”

 

Jeff sighed. Dallas was right, but it wasn’t the answer that he’d wanted. It could have been worse, Jeff supposed, but he was itching for a real case to tackle.

 

As he tipped his head down to focus on the monotonous paperwork before him, Jeff’s attention was grabbed by banging from outside. Banging loud enough that it drowned out the rain and made itself be heard. It wasn’t just one either; no, it was a stream of noise, too constant to be thunder or a one-off homicide.

 

“Dallas, listen,” Jeff urged, leaning up against the window to look around. “That’s a lot of fire, even for Blackburn.”

 

“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Dallas hurriedly got to his feet, gesturing towards the diner’s owner. “Missus Yang, stay inside for now!”

 

Jeff hopped to his feet at the same time and rushed to the door. He threw it open and headed out into the rain, Dallas on his heels. He first turned his head towards where the noise was coming from, but his attention was quickly drawn to a panicked group of teens across the way. From the looks of it, they’d only just come out of some gallery and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

Jeff grabbed his radio and held up to his mouth, shielding it from rain as best he could.

 

“Reporting heavy gunfire in Liberty, somewhere near Cove Park on-” Jeff glanced up at the street sign. “-Fall Street. Civilians potentially in the crossfire. Requesting all units for backup.”

 

He put the radio away and ran over to the group, shouting over the rain and guns once he got there.

 

“Move to the bridge!” he yelled, gesturing with his arms. “Move away from the gunfire and toward the bridge, now!”

 

With some hesitation, the group complied. They huddled up close to each other and followed Jeff’s lead. The Kennedy Bridge seemed like the fastest way to get them out of harm’s way, at least for the time being. Whatever was going on, it must have been a hell of a shoot-out.

 

Before they could cross the street leading to the bridge, though, a black truck van by towards the bridge, causing half of Jeff’s group to startle. It was going well past the speed limit and Jeff feared it might just spin out or tip over.

 

As soon as he made to stop out across the street, that fear came true and then some. Jeff barely registered the whistle of something flying through the air until the ear-shattering boom hit. The truck exploded before their eyes, hit by some kind of missile, and was knocked down into the water. Just like that, the kids panicked. Shrieks and cries of terror mixed with the rain and gunshots, almost making a perfect picture.

 

Jeff’s mind was racing as he worked out an alternate plan. The only real thing to do was find somewhere to barricade and keep them all there for the time being. As it happened, Jeff’s eyes fell on Cove Park, sitting just a hop, skip, and jump away. If Jeff could only keep them all organized, it wouldn’t be hard to set them up there.

 

“Bridge is hot!” Jeff shouted over them, commanding their attention. “Head for the park! We’ll set up protection there!”

 

The group made their way to the park in perhaps as orderly a fashion as was possible given the circumstances, with Dallas trailing from the rear, having run back for the diner’s occupants. Something was occupying his attention on the radio.

 

“What do you mean you’ve got gunfire on the other side of the bridge? Goddammit it all! Look, just get every officer to meet at us Cove Park and have them bring every civvie they can. Do not engage, we’ve got armed drones in the air, I repeat, we just saw an armed drone in the air. Ten four.”

 

Dallas jogged up and began shouting for everyone’s attention. “Listen up everyone, the bridge is compromised and we don’t know if there are hostile forces in the air. That means every officer on the island is going to meet us near Cove Park, as Officer Higgins said, and we’re going to set up an outpost. No one’s going to hurt if you if listen to what we say. This isn’t terrorism, this is gang warfare that’s getting way out of hand. There’s a metro entrance nearby we can ride out the hurricane in. Beyond that, we’re going to have to take things by ear. Does everyone understand?”

 

A murmur of acknowledgement passed through the group, and, with that, Jeff ushered them to the park, him and Dallas on opposite sides. As they made their way into the park, though, Jeff’s attention was drawn to the destroyed truck and its contents washing up on the riverbank. He squinted through the rain at what looked like shattered tubes with blue residue covering them. That was more than a little strange, but there was no time to investigate just then. Jeff filed the sight away in his mind for later.

 

***

 

Rebecca regarded the screens in front of her with something less than enthusiasm. Everything was proceeding exactly as she had foreseen. The gang lords had taken her bait hook, line and sinker. Next, the mayor would be calling her in a panic, begging her to extinguish the fire. Part of her felt awful for having been the one to pour the gasoline, but war was going to come regardless. At least now she was in control of it.

 

“Keep your forces in the air for now lieutenant, don’t allow any troop movement onto the mainland. We should be getting authorization from the city shortly. Out.” The Field Commander took his finger off his earpiece and turned to her. “Ma’am, our drones took out a drug supply truck headed towards the mainland. Our troops on Vicio are starting to engage gang forces across the island. Are you sure the mayor is going to be okay with this?”

 

“I’m sure,” she insisted. As if on cue, her cell phone began to vibrate. She shot her underling a smirk before accepting the call.

 

“Rebecca, I don’t know what the hell is going on across the bay, but it’s the wild west over there! There’s shootouts all over putting almost two hundred thousand people at risk, and Gilda doesn’t have the manpower to stop it. Please, we need your help, we can’t wait for governor to send in the National Guard!”

 

“We’re already on it sir. We weren’t going to idly stand by and let civilians be killed in the crossfire.”

 

The mayor sighed deeply. “Alright. You probably shouldn’t have but these are extreme circumstances. Come down to city hall and we’ll have you officially deputized. God help us all…”

 

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