A Dangerous Game

Security had acted suspicious when she tried to go to the upper floors of the hospital, so Irene sneaked in, first pretending to be visiting a patient, and then lurking along the corridors and ducking into doorways when she saw someone approaching. The person she sought was surely here somewhere. Finally she saw her.


The nurse looked up from bandaging a wounded man’s arms. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Looking for you. I didn’t think you’d mind. It’s about your brother.”

Sara frowned and looked like she wanted to stop her work and tell Irene a thing or two, but then her professional training took over. “Sit down,” she said, motioning toward a small chair in the corner. “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

Irene smoothed her skirt and waited. It took several minutes for Sara to finish with her patient, but finally they went into a narrow stairwell where they could speak privately.

“What is it you think you need to tell me about my brother? This had better be good.”

Irene drew a sharp breath. Of all the reactions she might have expected, having Sara practically snarling at her wasn’t one of them. “He’s in trouble.”

Sara shrugged. “So what’s new? Vince has been in trouble since he was born.”

“No, I mean real trouble,” Irene said. “There’s a guy named Banlon. He met up with Vince at that bar he likes to go to—“

“Leon’s Social Club? That place is practically hearth and home to him.”

“Well, yeah, that’s it. Banlon promised him a good haul if he’d move a few weapons for him.”

Sara remained unconcerned. “This wouldn’t be the first time Vince did a little gun-running. He’s got scars from doing that sort of thing. What sets this particular gig apart?”

“Banlon works for Ortiz,” Irene explained, “And Ortiz is conspiring against El Duque. This isn’t just some small-time turf war Vince is mixed up in, it’s high-level.”

“And what exactly do you expect me to do about it?” Sara asked. “Vince has been closing dangerous deals since I was a kid. How do you think he put me through nursing school? I’ve got entire trunks of stolen goods he’s given me as gifts over the years, not to mention all the things I’ve given away. And you expect me to get all worked up over another deal of his?”

Irene sighed. How could she make Sara understand just how serious this situation was? “Look, I know you think I’m naive, but Ortiz comes to my church. I know what he’s like. He’s the sort that orders hits on people six days a week and prays for forgiveness on Sunday. No matter how this deal comes off, Vince is going to be in danger.”

“He’s always in danger. And as long as he’s doing what they want…”

“They won’t be grateful. These guys cover their tracks,” Irene said. “If El Duque finds out what they’re up to...”

Sara considered, absently toying with a strap of her nurse’s smock. Finally she nodded. “Okay. I don’t know how much help I can be – Vince only respects my opinion on medical matters, and even then not so much. But I’ll try to help.”

Irene grasped for Sara’s hand. “Thank you. I swear you won’t regret this.”

This was written for The Sunday Whirl. Please check out my new serial Valley of Ashes.

Knockout Idea

Ozone stopped and looked at the sign.

“This isn’t where the job is.” Vince said.

“I know.” Ozone fell in with his boss and they continued down the street. “You ever thought about taking boxing?”


“I’ve heard it’s a good workout.”

“So is running from the cops, and we do plenty of that.”

“It might be a useful skill,” Ozone suggested.

“In our line of work? Not as useful as being good with a gun.”

“I was just thinking…”

Vince sighed. “That you want to pay good money to get beat up?”

“When you put it like that…”


This story was written for Friday Fictioneers. Photo prompt by J Hardy Carroll. 
Note: The author has, in fact, taken boxing classes. It's lots of fun and the best ab workout ever. 

The Dress

Irene sorted through the mound of donated clothing, humming a little tune. Outside the church window, birds were singing a crescendo in the trees and it was a beautiful day to be alive. She pulled a gold silk dress out of the pile. In the sunlight streaming in the window, it shimmered like honey. Who would give away such a beautiful thing? She was examining the edges of the hem and neckline for wear when the sound of footsteps on the stone floor made her look up.

“Irene. Can I talk to you for a moment?”

It was phrased like a question, even though it wasn’t. “Of course, Ms. Strauss.” Irene draped the dress across an unopened sack of donations and followed her supervisor to a small office, then waited while she fumbled to open the lock, her keys rattling on their large heavy ring.

Once they were inside, Ms. Strauss sat behind a desk and motioned the young woman to a bare wooden chair. “I’ve heard some disturbing news about you,” she said. “It appears that you’ve been seen around town recently with an…incorrigible.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” Irene said, trying to play things cool. “I go on missionary work nearly every day. Of course I’m around incorrigibles. They’re the ones that need saving.”

“Don’t be coy with me, miss. It’s said you spend a lot of time with one particular young man; a man with a distinctive blue tattoo on his face. He’s known to be a local gang leader.”

“Uh…yes. I’m trying to save his soul.”

Ms. Strauss jumped to her feet. “You are lying through your teeth!” She came around from behind her desk. “What do I have to do to impress upon you the gravity of the situation? This sort of thing not only makes our mission look bad, but it could shatter your reputation.” She paused a moment and sighed. When she spoke again, it was in a softer tone. “Irene, you’re a good girl. You’ve done wonderful work for the poor and for the sinners of this city. But that doesn’t make you immune to worldly temptations. A clever young man could easily convince you that he wants to hear the Good News, all the while intending to lead you astray.”

Irene bowed her head meekly, but her thoughts were of Vince and the electrifying sensation of his kisses, which made her blood run hot, then cold, then hot again. Maybe he was leading her a little way off the straight and narrow, but she was slowly leading him off his own path of destruction as well. Surely they would meet in the middle somewhere and prove everyone wrong. “I understand,” she told Ms. Strauss.

She went back to the donation table in an attitude of meekness, but with her mind on fire. She would have to be more careful. What should she tell Vince? He’d laugh at her if she confessed to taking an old biddy like Ms. Strauss seriously.

Still lying where she had left it, the silk dress glowed like a new gold coin. Reverently, she picked it up and held it against her body. It might just be a good fit. What would Vince say if he saw her in something like this?

Irene glanced around the room to confirm she was alone, then hastily stuffed the dress into a nondescript bag that she would take home with her later. “Thou shalt not steal,” she whispered to herself. Well, she would just have to hope that she did enough good in the world that Jesus would forgive her a little sin or two.

This was written for The Sunday Whirl. Please see my latest serial set in this post-apocalyptic world: Valley of Ashes. 

Mandatory Meeting

Three scurried into the former dispatch room of the old warehouse, pretending not to notice the eyes of her fellow gang members upon her.

“You’re late,” Fausto observed.

From the other side of the room Speedball muttered, “Typical girl,” which earned him one of Gitana’s sharp elbows to his ribs.

Three squirmed onto a bench between Ozone and Peru. “No one’s late until the boss has arrived.” She made a show of looking around, even though she had already noticed Vince wasn’t in the room.“Where is he?”

“Who knows?” Gitana said in an aggrieved tone that suggested Vince had refused her latest advances.

“Do we at least know what he called us here for?”

“Said it was mandatory.” Speedball shrugged his big shoulders.

Before Three could make a sarcastic quip about such a helpful answer, Ozone added, “I don’t think he told anyone what it’s about. It’s probably a strategy meeting for our next job.”

Fausto looked up from toying with a knife. “I thought we were moving again. We never stay anywhere more than three or four months.”

“It’s only been two months,” Gitana informed him with a superior sniff.

“Yeah, but there was a city contractor hanging around here last week,” Peru reminded her. “He had a surveyor with him, or do you not know what that means?”

Gitana adopted an attitude of unconcern. “So someone’s looking to buy this dump. It takes months for those kinds of deals to go through, when they do at all, and in the meantime—”

“We still don’t know where Vince is,” Three finished for her, getting to her feet. “I’m going to go check if he’s in his office. Maybe he lost track of the time.”

“I’ll go with you,” Gitana offered, but was overruled by Ozone.

“I’m his second. I’ll go.” He exchanged a look with Peru, who nodded slightly then patted Three’s empty spot on the bench and invited Gitana to join him.

While Gitana reluctantly settled in with Peru, Three and Ozone headed out of the room and down the hall. Once they were out of earshot, Three asked, “What was that back there? And don’t say you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

Ozone sighed. “Someone came in a little before the meeting was supposed to start.”


“A girl. You know how Gitana gets about that sort of thing.”

“We don’t need any more drama than we usually get out of her,” Three agreed. “You’d think she’d have figured it out by now that he’s not the monogamous type.”

“Every woman thinks she’ll be the one who can change a guy.”

Three gave Ozone a playful shove. “And what would you know about it? I’ve never known you to have a girlfriend.”

“I try to learn from other people’s mistakes.”

As they neared Vince’s office they became aware of a woman’s voice, screaming loudly enough to be heard through the thick walls and doors of the old warehouse. Her exact words, though, were muffled.

Three and Ozone stopped outside the door and exchanged a look.

“He’d probably like us to rescue him from that,” Ozone said.

“Don’t look at me.” Three took a step back. “I think she just called him a cheater, and I don’t want her thinking I’m part of his harem.”

“So I’ve got to do this alone?”

“What’s the big deal? You took on Lobo Salvatore single-handed when his gang jumped us down by the tracks. This is just some pissed-off girl.”

“Exactly.” Ozone gazed glumly at the door then squared his shoulders and tapped on it. Of course no one inside could hear, so he took a deep breath and knocked again, louder.

“You need to pound on it.” Three elbowed him aside and showed him by example. The woman inside stopped screaming.

“Come in!” Vince yelled.

Hesitantly, Ozone opened the door and poked his head in. “We’re supposed to be meeting—”

“Oh no you don’t,” the woman screeched.

Outside the office, Three flattened herself against the wall, trying to stay out of sight, but in range if Ozone needed rescue.

“You bunch of thugs and losers can go meet with each other all you want, but this guy has an appointment with me!”

Vince’s calm tones followed. “Go on, Ozone. Tell everyone to stay nearby. I’ll catch up with you later.”

“Right, boss.” Ozone slowly closed the door, then turned to Three. “I’d rather take on Lobo Salvatore any day.”

Three gave a grim little nod and they both started back toward the meeting room. “I feel bad for Vince, but then what did that girl expect? It isn’t like he doesn’t have a rep.”

“It’s like I said,” Ozone reminded her. “Every girl thinks she’ll be the one to change a guy.”

“Not every girl. There are plenty of women who don’t expect anything from Vince but a good time and maybe someone to beat up their ex for them.”

Ozone acknowledged that this was true and they walked the rest of the way down the hall in silence. As they neared the meeting room, though, they paused. “What should we tell them?”

“Just what he told us. Meeting is cancelled, but stay close by.”

“Yeah, but this meeting is supposed to be mandatory.”

“You overthink things sometimes.” Three flashed him a brilliant smile. “We’ll tell them that Vince got called into a mandatory meeting of his own.”

This was written for Sunday Scribblings 2.

In the News

In the main room of the abandoned warehouse, the members of Vince's gang had rigged an improvised table of boards and concrete blocks. It was usually a place for playing cards or throwing dice, but today Ozone sat down with a cup of questionable coffee from a street vendor, smoothed out a newspaper and began reading.

This sort of behavior didn't go unnoticed among some of the other gang members.

"What are you wasting your time on now?" Speedball asked. 

"It's called reading," Ozone said without looking up. "It's the sort of thing smart people do. You wouldn't know anything about it."

Fausto looked up from cleaning one of his guns. "If that's one of El Duque's papers, you'd be smarter to take it with you to the latrine and use it to wipe your ass."

"There's important information here." Ozone pointed to a headline. "Says here they're making improvements to the water sanitation facility."

Speedball shrugged his big shoulders. "I only drink alcohol, so who cares?"

"It's not like we have running water, anyway," Fausto added. "You're reading useless information."

"Oh yeah?" Ozone pointed to another story. "Starting October 1st, we'll have electricity until 10 pm."

"I'll believe it when I see it," Fausto said. "Besides, you don't need a newspaper to tell you if the electricity is working. Just flip the light switch."

"Or stick a fork in the socket," Speedball suggested. "I'll watch."

Ozone gave an exasperated sigh. "I can't help it if you guys want to be uninformed about what's going on in this city. Go on and be ignorant." He bent back over his paper, but when Vince walked by a few minutes later, he called to him. "I picked up a paper for us, boss. Want to take a look?"

"What kind of paper?" Vince ambled over, but when he saw the masthead he frowned. "Government propaganda." He picked up the paper and peered at it more closely. "Says here crime is down in the city."

"Not if I have any say in it," Speedball muttered.

"They mean reported crime," Ozone said. He tried to take the paper back, but Vince kept it out of his reach. "We're not in the statistics because we get away with it."

"Then you admit this paper contains misleading information." Vince tucked it under his arm. "I'll dispose of this. Go do something useful."

When Vince got to his office, though, rather than throw the paper away, he spread it out on his desk, poured himself a drink, and perused the front page, chuckling over the stories. He found the next few pages amusing, too, but when he came to the obituaries, he grew serious. A wealthy man had died, with the burial to take place in one of the outer suburbs, where those with enough money and connections could still sometimes get a plot.

Vince rubbed the blue stripe on his face and wondered what kind of security would be at the man's house while everyone was at the funeral. Breaking and entering wasn't really his thing, but he had a couple guys on his team who might be perfect for that sort of job.

With a sigh of satisfaction, Vince took a pen and noted the date and time of the funeral on the calendar he had drawn on the wall, then picked up his glass of scotch. Ozone was right, there was value in reading the paper. But the best things weren't from the front pages; they were what could be found on the inside, and by reading between the lines.

This was written for Sunday Scribblings 2.

Speedball in Love - Part Two

They were gathered in their usual meeting place, waiting to hear their assignments for the night's drug hand-off. Vince glanced around impatiently. "Where's Speedball?"

From the battered sofa, Three and Ozone exchanged guilty looks.

"We're closing an important deal tonight,” Vince reminded them with a scowl. “Don’t tell me he’s high on something."

"Well, not exactly. I mean...he kind of is, you know, sort of," Ozone said. "Except not really."

Vince turned to Three. "Can you translate that for me, please?"

Three bit her lip while she considered her words. "Maybe you should see for yourself. He's in the office at the end of the hall."

Exasperated, Vince headed toward the door. "This better be good." At the end of the narrow corridor was an old office where, by the last rays of sunlight filtering through the broken window, Speedball was writing a name; the same name that filled the other walls in loops and curlicues. "What ridiculous farce is this?"

Speedball started and offered an abashed smile.

"Who the hell is Melissa?"

"She’s the most beautiful and perfect woman in the world."

Vince scoffed. "Can't be. I was with the most beautiful woman in the world last night, and her name was...well, it wasn't Melissa, I'm pretty sure of that."

“She lives over on the south side, and she loves me.”

“Don't bet on it. But even if it's true, we’re meeting now and I need you to quit dicking around and join the rest of the group.”

With a heavy sigh, Speedball dropped his gaze to the black crayon he had been using to write Melissa’s name on the walls.

Vince frowned in suspicion. “What kind of drugs are you on this time?”

“None, I swear.” He smiled, his eyes glistening with happy tears. “I’m in love.”

“So what? I’ve been in love at least three times since last week. That doesn’t mean you have to get all sentimental about it.”

Speedball wandered to the nearest wall and traced Melissa’s name with his fingertip. “The world is too nice a place to go around threatening, stealing, and hurting people. I can’t believe I never saw it before, but we should be working to make this a happier place.”

Vince took a deep breath, both to give himself time to think and to keep from throttling the guy. “The city will be a much happier place once we’ve closed this deal tonight. Cannabis, remember? It makes everyone happy.”

“I suppose.” Speedball resumed writing Melissa’s name on the wall.

Vince stepped into the hall, nearly colliding with Three and Ozone, who had been hovering just outside the door, listening.

“What are you going to do, boss?” Three whispered.

“I don’t know. I need time to think.”

“Do we have time?” Ozone asked. “I thought we had to meet Quix in an hour.”

“Forty-five minutes,” Vince said in clipped tones. “And no, we don’t have time, but we also don’t have much of a choice.”

Three and Ozone watched in silence as he stalked away, then Three whispered, "Speedball's lucky Vince didn't beat him up."

 Ozone nodded agreement. "You think maybe he can relate?"

"Vince, relate to someone who's in love?" Three suppressed a laugh. "Not a chance."

"He's got something up his sleeve, then."

Three shoved her shock of platinum hair off her forehead and put her other hand on her hip as she stared at Vince's back, far away now, down the hall. "I've got a feeling he doesn't know what to do."

"No way. Vince always has it under control."

"Twenty bucks?" she offered with a sly grin.

Ozone hesitated only a moment. "You're on. And I want cash, not an IOU."

Three grinned. "Only if you win, friend." With a toss of her hair, she headed back to the meeting room to wait and see what Vince would do.

This is a Three Word Wednesday post.

Missed Part One? Go here: Speedball in Love

Speedball in Love

Three lay on a mattress on the warehouse floor, not doing anything in particular, just gazing at the water-stained ceiling and wondering if she had the energy and the cash to get her hair touched up before tonight's drug handoff. Her dark roots were starting to reveal themselves, and although it was a pain in the ass to keep getting them bleached, her shock of white hair had become her trademark among the local toughs.

At the sound of footsteps, she turned her head in a lazy way and squinted at Ozone, walking toward her across the room. "It's not my turn on watch yet."

He gestured for her to get up and follow him. Curious, she did as he asked, wondering what flighty, impressionable Ozone had come up with this time. He was forever dabbling in some sort of idealistic nonsense, so maybe it was something good.

They paused outside the door of one of the old offices and Ozone motioned for her to peek around the corner. What she saw caused her to draw back in alarm. She met Ozone's eyes, then they moved as silently as they could back into the main room.

"What do you think?" he asked in a low voice.

"Unbelievable. I always thought he was too shallow or too crazy for that sort of thing."

Ozone nodded agreement. "Vince will be pissed if it makes him not want to work or something. He's insane, but he gets the job done."

Three couldn't argue with that. No whack job was too repulsive and no ground too hallowed for Speedball. He got a thrill from hunting down their enemies, even if it meant charging into the blasts of rival gunfire. "This won't last long," she said, without any sense of certainty. "It's just not in his nature."

"I hope you're right." Ozone cast a glance back toward the room where Speedball was rapturously doodling a woman's name on the walls. "The idea of Speedball in love..."

"Repugnant," Three agreed with a shudder. "We'll just have to wait and see how this unfolds. She probably won't return his interest anyway. What sane woman would have him?"

Together they gazed at a spot on the floor, lost in similarly glum thoughts. Rejection might be just as bad having the object of Speedball's affections return his interest. Either way, they stood to lose a skilled fighter at a critical time.

Finally Three sighed and returned to her mattress. "Not much we can do about it, either way."

"But don't you think we should—"

"What? Play matchmaker? Break it up? Find a whore and get him laid?"

Ozone frowned, a line forming in the center of his brow. "No...that last one is probably how this whole thing got started."

Three gave a nod of satisfaction, lay down and stretched her arms overhead. "In that case, there's nothing we can do, and it's Vince's issue to deal with."

"He's the boss," Ozone agreed.

Indeed. Three returned to gazing at the water spots on the ceiling. What a day for Speedball, of all people to be in love. It would be interesting to see what Vince had to say when he found out. A little tirade might shake things up a bit.

Then again, today would be a fine day to get her hair touched up, if she only could rouse up the energy for it.

This was written for The Sunday Whirl.  Please see the sidebar for more stores about Vince and his gang.