Oops, I swore I had posted this on Friday! My bad guys.
Jessica sat in her bedroom recliner, bouncing her leg. Despite what she had told Isabella, she had barely read ten pages. In the corner of her eye, sitting unopened on her end table, was an envelope. She tried to keep her eyes forward, but Holden Caulfield’s troubles just weren’t keeping her attention. The letter had caught her attention and wouldn’t let go.
“Oh, goddammit…” She closed her novel and grabbed the letter. It was the third her mother had sent in the last thirty days. She had been responding to less than half of them since they started appearing in her mailbox. Every time they appeared she felt her stomach knot up. They were a constant reminder of an innocence that was growing ever distant, an echo that she now had to strain to hear.
Sooner or later she was going to have to let go. It would make things so much easier if she could hate her mother. But that was just another dark hole she had to avoid – she was walking on a tightrope as it was. If he mother was damned, if she put her in the pigeonhole with the Martins of the world, then she was damned too.
She ran her finger over the sender’s address. When it reappeared, she ran her tongue over her false tooth and felt that pain all over again. No. She hadn’t the strength today. Setting the letter aside, she returned to her reading.
Or at least, she tried to. Within minutes she could hear Isabella yelling in the office. “Wh-Hey! Dude, what the heck?! You need to get outta here before, like, my boss shoots you or something!”
“Aw, she wouldn’t do that to little old me,” came a second, familiar voice. “We’re in good together.”
“I wouldn’t?” She had gotten up and was leaning against her door frame. “That door is steel-reinforced. How did you get in here?”
“Oh, you know, a little wriggling here, some elbow grease there,” Fritz said, shrugging with a cheeky smile. “But that’s not important right now.”
“Yeah? And what is?”
“Alex!” he enthused. “You guys have some talking to do. He’s ready if you are.”
“Oh hell no!” she turned and began retreating into her bedroom. “Nope, no, uh uh, not doing this, this is not happening dude.”
“Oh, quit being such a girl.” Fritz rolled his eyes, but didn’t make any effort to go after her. “Come on, you guys have to work things out, you know it and I know it and everyone knows it.”
“He doesn’t have to work anything out,” she insisted, returning and jabbing a finger in Fritz’s direction. “I’m an asshole and he deserves better, that’s the long and short of it. Now please stop reminding me of this.”
“Nope, nope, nope,” Fritz said, shaking his head. “Gonna have to remind you of it until you stop sulking and talk to him. He wants to see you and I know that you want to see him again. Plus, you’re good for each other, trust me.”
“Are you sure about that? Last time we spoke he couldn’t seem to get rid of me fast enough.”
“Ah, that’s how all good relationships start. He’s just nervous.” He gave her a pleading smile. “C’mon, Jessica, you’re just gonna abandon your friend like that? Kinda shitty of you, don’t you think?”
Jessica groaned, childishly throwing herself into a nearby swivel chair. If Fritz thought Alex was nervous, he had no idea what was going on in her head at that moment. But, if she had learned anything during the Incident, it was that she was going to have to face her fears sooner or later. Best to rip the band-aid off quickly.
“Okay, fine. But I don’t think you realize just how badly I fucked up, funny man.”
“Sure, I do,” Fritz chirped, making for the door. “I just don’t care ‘cause that’s not what’s important.”
“Don’t let it hit you on the way out, asshole.” She waited until his frame was halfway out. “And Fritz? Thanks.”
Fritz did a double take and looked back at her.
“Why, Jay, I didn’t know you had it in you,” he laughed. “You’re most welcome.”
“Don’t get used to it!”
Isabella stared at the door for almost ten full seconds after it had closed before turning to her. “Who the heck was that weirdo, Ms. Napier?”
Jessica shook her head. “A very strange guy.”
“So wait, Fritz got past your security systems, told you to call me, then just left?”
She still remembered Alex’s tics: when he looked off into the distance, furrowing his brow, someone out there was getting psychically scolded.
“Yeah that’s Fritz alright.”
A second tic: the awkward, long pauses. Oh, right. She took an equally long breath.
“You’re still mad at me about the thing, right? The thing that happened in the Poltergeist?”
Alex, seemingly defensive at the suggestion, shook his head. “Jay, I’m not mad-”
“Okay fine, mad as you can get. Relatively speaking, you big teddy bear,” she retorted, poking him in the stomach.
Alex paused again. Every time he did that it made her a little more conscious of just how damn cold her Floridian ass perceived sixty degrees to be.
“… Maybe a little. I mean, what am I supposed to tell Dawn about your absence? What have you been telling everyone?”
“That I’ve been getting my life straightened out. That’s what I should be teaching the kids, right? Listen to your elders, stay in school, don’t almost shoot cops during armed robberies. Besides, what have you been doing, hmm?”
Alex shrugged. “The usual. Sweeping the restaurant, keeping Fritz in line, punching burglars in the face.”
“Sounds like you could use a little more excitement. I could always use a second hand at Shadowed Eyes, if you want to keep me in line.”
“Thanks, but no thanks,” he groaned, shaking his head. “Excitement around here usually means murder. Lots and lots of it.”
“Wow Alex, such a morbid mind,” Jessica teased. “Offer’s still on the table.” She stuck her hand out when they rounded the corner and arrived at a modest one-story building. She had to laugh a little when Alex flinched a little. Not bathed in saccharine neon like most buildings in Midtown, The Shamrock probably came across to an outsider as a shifty hole-in-the-wall, with its peeling brown paint and emanating rock music, but it was no less safe than the rest of Midtown.
“Come on big guy, it’s just a little rough around the edges,” she insisted, waltzing inside. Other than a few television sets and a neon green clover above the bar, The Shamrock was in perpetual dim lighting, but no one would mistake it as unpopulated. Over the clacking of billiard balls and raucous laughter she signaled down the bartender.
“Hey, Mary! Get the man here whatever he wants, I’m trying to get on his good side. I’ll take a thing of buffalo wings and some water.”
The woman, pale, black-haired and even more Irish than she was, slowly looked Alex over.
“Well if she’s actually going to buy from my tab, no objections. What’ll be big man?”
“Uh, Miller Lite and double cheeseburger.”
Mary raised an eyebrow before fetching his drink.
“So, you don’t drink huh?” asked Alex, starting on his beer.
“You saw what it did to my mother, right? I’ve got enough vices to deal with.”
“Yeah, like that. Self-loathing. Look, I’m not mad at you so much as I’m mad about your actions. It obviously stems back before that mess, and you’ve got to correct your attitude, but beating yourself up about it isn’t going to help anyone. If it wasn’t for me you would’ve done it, yeah, but if it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t have gotten wrapped up in the whole mess at all. You can either play the what if game, or look forward. Up to you.”
Jessica let out a long sigh, not in annoyance, but in relief. “Thanks, I probably needed that.”
“No kidding. You’re the most Catholic atheist I’ve ever met! Now tell me what you’ve been up to since the Incident.”
What had she been up to, indeed? “Well, it’s been a pretty eventful week, now that you mention it. I’ve picked up an assistant with weird, quasi-anomalous powers, ventured into South-East to save a kid poisoned by a drug dealer then found said dealer beaten to death. So yeah, how was your week?”
Alex let out a chuckle. “Oh man, I probably shouldn’t have laughed there, but you’re making me really glad I just cook and sweep.”
The next few hours passed faster than Jessica would have liked. They were also very mundane. They talked about normal things: what Alex and Fritz had seen holding down the fort, Jessica’s schoolwork, crazy customers at the Cachaca, bills, and so on. But God only knew when the last time she could open up about things to anyone was, and it sure as hell felt good.
Nisa adjusted her collar slightly, waiting for her boss to finish browsing through the files she’d provided him. Despite having been under his wing since her release from prison (his doing, of course) a little under two years ago, she still had trouble staying collected in the face of his, well, lack thereof. Certainly, he had a face. Edgerrin Hamilton had the kind of face one attributes to a real go-getter: shrewd eyes, refined brow, a sharp jawline. She’d just never met someone who betrayed absolutely no facial tics or habitual gestures while their attention was wholly focused on something.
She took a quiet sip from her mug of coffee as her eyes wandered to scan the coffee shop for what felt like the fifteenth time since they’d arrived. That was another aspect of him that surprised her. For all his wealth and status, Mr. Hamilton was never too good for little places like this. Or maybe he was, and liked to lord it over them? Nisa genuinely didn’t know. They certainly struck an odd pair, two executive types, one pale as snow and the other a dark brown, in crisp three piece suits coming into a hipster’s haven for snooty business type activities.
The urge to over-explain kept pushing at her tongue, but she kept her jaw clenched shut. No way was she going to make that mistake again.
“Not going to lie, Nisa. It’s not looking good. I stopped running the numbers in my head when I reached six figures six times over. We still have solid profits from stocks and the Vicio rebuild contracts but it’s going to take months to recoup our losses. Folks are going to come knocking soon, looking for their pieces of pie.”
Nisa swallowed quietly. “We have other ventures we could pursue, Mr. Hamilton. Other venues of business that would help cushion the blow. I’ve begun talks with several business owners to see if any would be suitable candidates for us to partner with, or… merger, if necessary.”
Mr. Hamilton leaned forward, steepling his hands. “That’s all well and good, but you and I both know there’s only so much money that we can make off of those ventures without the government coming and knocking on our door.”
“Our alternatives are much higher risk, sir. I do have plans in place if you want to go forward with that, of course, but after suffering such a significant loss, I don’t feel it’s prudent at this time.”
Just like that, the lines of Mr. Hamilton’s face softened, and he broke into mirthful laughter. “You always have been too cautious. You know what they say about omelettes. We can’t rest easy on the throne, not yet. If a little birdy gets out there, singing on the streets that we’re soft, well…”
The coffee shop’s bell rang. Nisa’s eyes were drawn to a gaunt man in a poorly fit suit, who quickly slunk over to Mr. Hamilton. Her boss’ face contorted in disgust.
“First of all, Buggy, I told you not to interrupt my meetings. Second of all, tuck your damn shirt in, this ain’t no audition for a Li’l Wayne music video. You embarrass yourself. Apologize to the lady.”
Buggy hastily did as he was ordered. “Yes sir, so sorry Miss Verion. You got a, a important offer from a potential partner. I wouldn’t bother you if it wasn’t important sir.”
“Yeah, I know, ‘cause no one’s that stupid.”
Buggy gulped. “He’s outside, in the van.”
If she was wary, Buggy was downright skittish around their employer. Frankly, the man got on her nerves. It was one thing to show a healthy respect for power, it was quite another to roll over and show one’s belly at the slightest drop of a hat.
“Would you like me to take those files back to the office, sir?” she asked Mr. Hamilton, pointedly ignoring the intruding third party.
“After we hear out this proposition.” Mr. Hamilton got up, picked up his fedora hat, and plopped a hearty tip down on the table. Buggy led them a black SUV with tinted windows, and before taking the driver’s seat said: “It’s Elifort.”
Mr. Hamilton signaled Nisa to take the passenger’s seat before sitting in the rear. She caught a brief glimpse of the man beside him: stocky, bearded and with dreadlocks, dressed presentably but not nearly as well as her or Mr. Hamilton.
“Let’s cut to the chase here Eli, my time is valuable. What’ve you got for me.”
“My boys are upset Eddy,” Elifort began in a thick Haitian accent. “Your man Mitchell had the best product on the streets. Now he’s dead, and we aren’t buying from the Cubans. One of my men was with Mitchell shortly before he died. Shade was there.”
“… You think Shade killed Mitchell?”
“We all know how many lives her mother took. Who’s to say she’s so different?”
Nisa watched as thoughts danced across Mr. Hamilton’s face. That wouldn’t have been beyond Jessica, of course. The woman was known to be violent. Hearing that she’d put on the cowl again after her time away in college didn’t shock her as much as she’d thought it would. Probably got bored with all the ‘normal’ activities, couldn’t resist the call of her blood.
“Sure. I see. You want me to kill her, then?”
“No, we can handle it. Besides, having her be blown away by us bangers is less suspicious than having her disposed of your way, hmm?”
Mr. Hamilton chuckled, and she swore he rolled his eyes. “Yeah, okay. But do you want?”
“Weapons. You have connections to the Russians, no?”
“As much as anyone has a connection to an angry bear, I suppose.”
“We’ll pay you a hundred and fifty percent what you paid for forty rifles. Some to kill the ghost with, and some… extra.” That got Nisa’s attention. That was a thirty thousand dollar investment they were willing to make at the drop of a hat.
She cleared her throat politely. “And how much ammunition would you be requiring?” she queried, keeping her voice neutral.
“Ten mags a gun should do it.”
Ten magazines at thirty rounds a mag, times forty guns… Less of a sound investment, only two thousand extra dollars. “That seems fairly lean, don’t you think? These weapons are full-auto enabled. If your boys are skilled at reloading, they could use all ten magazines in under two minutes.”
That struck Elifort speechless. She caught a twinkle in his eye as he turned to Mr. Hamilton, who confirmed it with a nod.
“Fifty mags a gun then.” Nisa pulled her phone out of her inner jacket pocket, sending in the order.
“Wonderful. That will be forty thousand eight hundred and fifty five dollars.”
“My men will bring the cash at the time of sale. You know the spot.”
“Buggy, drop the man off at the corner here.”
The van came to a halt at the red light, and Elifort stepped out.
“Good luck with it!” called Eddy before Buggy took off. Nisa smirked, drumming her fingers on her thigh. It always felt good to con people out of their hard stolen cash.