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.”

“And?”

“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.

Marked Man

She certainly looked the part. Vince gave the young woman an appreciative once-over: gold jewelry, gun at her hip, iconic black leather outfit and steel-toed boots. Yes, she fit in nicely with the crowd at Leon’s Social Club, but something wasn’t right.

Nevertheless, she was nice to look at, and he nodded at the bartender to bring them each another drink. “So why do you want to work for me, of all people? There’s groups that bring in better money. Did the Catorces and Sabados turn you down or something?”

The woman sat a little straighter on her bar stool. “No one turns me down. I'm the best female operative in this city. I always get my man.”

Vince leaned an elbow on the bar and considered. Bragging was okay; he did plenty of it himself. But there was an edgy quality to her voice that he didn’t like. Nice breasts, though. “You didn’t answer my question.”

She gave a little sniff and took a gulp from her fresh drink before answering. “Quix is an asshole and Malo is the biggest loser around. I wouldn’t work for them if they were paying in diamonds.” She darted a seductive glance over the rim of her glass. “I like you, though.”

“I like you, too, babe.” It wasn’t entirely a lie. She had caught his eye when she first walked in, all lithe moves like a dancer, and with a hip-swaying stride that made heads turn. “I use more than just personal considerations when I let someone join my gang, though. What do you bring to the table besides a pretty face and nice words?”

Vince thought he detected a scowl flash across her face, immediately replaced by a seductive smile. “Follow me and I’ll show you.”

She slipped off the stool and headed toward the door, with Vince following just close enough not to lose her in the crowd, but not so close he couldn’t get a good look at her ass. Very nice.

As they neared the door, she paused and gave him a sidelong look over her shoulder, then pushed open the door and stepped outside. Vince made as if he would follow, then ducked to the side at the last moment so another man could exit ahead of him. The sudden staccato of gunfire outside silenced the barroom, and all eyes turned on Vince.

He met their gaze with an expression of utter innocence. “Must’ve had an enemy.”

A few toughs looked outside, saw the bleeding man sprawled in the dust and shrugged. The patrons of Leon’s Social Club weren’t known for their friendly contacts in the outside world.

Vince returned to the bar and picked up his drink.

“What happened to your friend?” the bartender asked as he cleared the young woman’s glassware.

Vince considered his words. “She was on a mission.”

“Oh. I wish her luck, I guess.”

“Don’t bother,” Vince said with a grin. “For once, she didn't get her man.”


 This is a Three Word Wednesday post.

Telephone

“What do you think?”

The young woman stood up, a shock of white-blonde hair falling over one eye. “It seems to be a good cable. The problem is probably in the wall. Or maybe in the line running to the building.”

Vince slumped into a chair and rubbed the blue stripe on his face. “It would be so fucking pre to have a working telephone.”

“It's not like it doesn’t work at all.”

“Just not when I want it to.” He was about to say more, but a jangling from the refurbished analog phone made him jump. He lunged for the receiver. “Hello? No, you’ve got the wrong number, but can you—” He held the phone away from his ear and examined it in bewilderment. “Why do they keep hanging up on me?”

“Wrong number.”

“Come on, Three. They could at least tell me what they dialed so I’d know what my number is.”

“It would be nice.”

Vince grabbed Three's wrist and tried to pull her into his lap. “Well, since we’ve got a little time to kill before our gig with the Catorces. . .”

She pulled away. “It hasn’t even been a month.”

“I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted you to never have fun again.”

“Maybe some other time.”

“Okay. I’ve got some calls to make, anyway.”

After Three scooted out of his office, Vince picked up the receiver but found the line dead. It didn’t really matter, since he didn’t know any of his contacts’ numbers, or even if they had phones, but it might’ve been fun to dial numbers at random and see what kind of people answered. He’d had such high hopes when he moved his gang into this abandoned warehouse and found the old non-electric phone plugged into the wall. In a world gone mad after decades of wars and resource scarcity, he was finally on top, one of the privileged. He had a telephone! Wasn’t it just his rotten luck it hardly ever worked?

He heard a tap on the door and looked up. Speedball stood there clenching his big hands, his eyes darting nervously. “Quix is here from the Catorces.”

“Well, don’t just stand there. Send him in.”

Speedball stomped away, grinding his teeth, and a few minutes later Quix appeared, dressed in black, with an oily fringe of red hair peeking from beneath his leather hat. Vince jumped up and shook his hand. “Quix, buddy! We’re gonna do some business tonight, right? Looks like you brought us some already, by the way Speedball’s acting.”

“Your man can’t keep out of the white stuff, that’s for sure.”

“Takes all kinds, mano. Have a seat.” Vince pulled a stained chair on rusted casters from a corner, then went behind his desk and fumbled with a mis-aligned drawer. “Whiskey?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

Over good Kentucky bourbon, the young men settled into a discussion of logistics for the evening’s “gig,” a heist of pharmaceuticals from Chicago. “My boys north of town delayed the train as much as they could,” Quix said. “Unless an unaffiliated derails it, we should see it pull in around eleven, and they'll be shipping the goods to the east side warehouse no later than one.”

The phone rang, bursting in on their plotting. Vince tried to stay cool. “Excuse me. I’ve got a call to take.” He picked up the receiver. “Vince, here. No, not Brian. Look, can you tell me. . . dammit.” He threw down the receiver.

Quix stared in wide-eyed admiration. “What happened? Nice phone.”

“Yeah. Uh. . . line went dead. El Duque hasn’t done shit for city services, you know.”

“If he had, we’d be out of business.”

“Right. Now, as you were saying. . .”

They quickly wrapped up their plans and shook hands. “I appreciate you taking this gig,” Quix said. “If you ever think about selling that phone. . .”

“Not happening. Plastic pickers love these things. Top dollar on the black market when they work.”

After Quix had gone, Vince spent a few minutes making notes about the evening’s plans so he could have his thoughts in order when he held the strategy meeting. Then he turned his attention back to the telephone. He played with the buttons, especially the one the receiver rested on. He unplugged the cord from both wall and phone, reversed it, and plugged it in again. Same result. The line was dead, with only a faint hiss of static.

After about an hour, Three poked her head around the door. “We’re waiting on you, boss.”

Vince grunted in answer, still absorbed in the workings of the phone.

“No luck?”

He slammed it on the desk in disgust and the bell clanged faintly. “Only time the fucker works is when someone’s got a wrong number.”

“Well, it is free, you know. It’s not like you’re signed up with the city for any kind of service. We just found it here.”

“With the kind of crap services El Duque provides, he ain’t getting a nickel out of me.” Vince grabbed his notes. “Let’s go.”

“Pay’ll be good for this one, right?”

Vince wished Three would walk ahead of him. She looked deliciously fuckable in those leather pants. He would have to think of an assignment that would put her in them more often, but in the meantime. . . “Sounds like Quix laid the groundwork pretty good and all we have to do is collect.”

“Works for me.” They were entering the main room of the warehouse and now she moved in front of him, giving him a nice rear view before she found a place to sit on the rat-eaten sofa.

While she checked that her Glock was loaded and the safety set, Vince suppressed a sigh. Nothing like a pretty girl with a gun. He pulled his notes out of his pocket, called the group to order and began giving out assignments.

Unheard and unanswered, the phone on Vince’s desk rang and rang.

Fortune-Teller

Vince sipped his whiskey, feigning nonchalance as he watched his contact move away through the crowded barroom. Leon’s Social Club wasn’t much of a club and the leather-clad thugs who frequented it weren’t inclined to be social. This was a place for hiding out or making deals, and the deal Vince just made left him uneasy.

He waved the waitress over. “Two more.”

She glanced at the empty chair.

“They’re both for me. I don’t like wasting time.”

The girl shifted on her skinny legs, watching him now with pale, watery eyes.

“Are you going to get me my drinks, or what?”

She glanced over her shoulder to be sure the boss wasn’t watching, then leaned in close. “Have you ever had your palm read?”

“What?”

“The lines in your palm predict the future. I know the guy you were talking with just now. He’s bad news.”

“So am I.”

“Just let me look, okay?” She slid into the seat across from him.

With a bemused grin, Vince gave her his hand. “Tell me how tomorrow night’s deal is going to go. If you say it’ll be good and you’re right, I’ll give you a cut.”

“Your hands don’t say those kinds of things.” She traced a line on his palm. “But you won’t get killed, at any rate. You’re going to have a very happy marriage with lots of kids and a long life.”

Vince jerked away from her. “You’re crazy, you know that?” He tossed back the rest of his drink and stood up. “I’m not the marrying kind. Any kids I have would know better than to call me daddy, and like hell I’m going to die in my bed, old and feeble.”

“But I saw—”

“Your own deluded imaginings.” He fumbled in his pocket and slapped a coin on the table. “Nice try, though, honey. I admire entrepreneurs.”

The girl waited until she could no longer see him in the smoky room, then picked up the coin and examined it. Pure silver. She dropped it in her pocket with a little smirk of satisfaction, then cleared the empty glasses and went to the next table. “Any of you boys ever had your fortune told?”