Cindy awoke to the sound of the blaring television. A bright and chipper woman bellowing in her kitchen. “Top of the local news this morning,” she squawked. “Three convenience store employees are in critical condition after being apparently poisoned by an unknown customer.”
She got to the TV to turn it off, and saw footage of a blurry woman on security cameras, weaving and bobbing to the cash register with her arms full of junk food. “The assailant evidently traded what she called ‘magic chocolates’ for $28.59 worth of merchandise and walked away. Employees ate the chocolates, which were later found to be heavily adulterated with barbiturates. The three are suffering from organ failure and respiratory depression, one is in a coma.” A closeup filled the screen. Someone with a wig on backwards, and red lipstick used for eye liner and blusher as well as the lips. Certainly nobody Cindy would recognize. “Police are looking for a middle aged white woman, about five foot five, last seen dressed in a bloody bathrobe and high heels.”
* * *
Judy sat at the kitchen table all morning and paid no attention to her TV. She worked her way thru a fifth of whisky and a quarter ounce of weed. She slept all afternoon. She didn’t have many thoughts, but she wrote them all down on sticky notes.
* * *
Overnight, Sindi had driven over and left a chocolate in the mailbox for Alice. Rick noticed the flag was up, and checked it to find a black plastic convenience store bag with three boxes of animal crackers (for the kids) and a beautiful little handmade chocolate bonbon wrapped in a note.
Alice protested with growing hysteria that she didn’t know anything about it. But the note had red lipstick hearts and arrows, and an indecipherable scrawl of a signature. It must be Cindy.
Alice continued playing dumb. He saw an animal fear in her eyes that drove him crazy. He emptied the bag on the table, shouting at them all. The children wanted the cookies, but he put the boxes in the disposal and turned it on, lecturing as they cried about manners and being greedy.
Alice went to snatch the chocolate, but he whacked her hand aside. She stood nursing her fingers, her eyes welling with tears. Looking pitiful. Bitch. Fornicator. Lesbian. He licked his fingers, sticky with cinnamon syrup. She turned to see about the children.
Alice turned her back on Rick.
He wasn’t about to take that kind of disrespect. He pushed her, hard, up against the door. Everyone heard the crunch as her face hit the door jam. She crumpled to the floor, sobbing and bleeding. Rick couldn’t take the Camille act, and walked out, taking the chocolate with him. He put it into one of the kids’ fruit cup containers, and took it along for a treat. He liked chocolate.
* * *
Allen met Ben after work in the same row of gravestones where they’d met before. Allen really enjoyed the place. Judy was supposed to meet them there, but never showed. They took care of business. Allen tried to interest Ben in an upgrade this time – the dealer he got his pot from wanted to test the waters for some hydroponic shit. He produced a dime bag stuffed full of fuzzy looking pot. White widow. The good stuff.
“Wow,” Ben said, holding the pouch in his palm. “Looks great.” He rubbed the seal open and smelled. “Wow, I’m getting high just on the smell of the bud.” He looked at Allen. “How much is it?” Then he took another deep sniff, resealed the ziplock, handed it back with a sad smile, and took the usual. Allen wasn’t going to make a lot of converts to $500 an ounce weed among his clientele. His customers wanted the cheapest weed possible.
They watched the sun go down. They watched the moon come up. “Yeah, I guess when the moon’s full, you’d have the moon on one side and the sun on the other. I never thought about it before.” They were stoned, and things like full moons and coincidences meant a lot to them, so they talked while it got dark around them.
“What did you give Sam and Dave the other night?” Allen asked. “They weren’t too happy.”
Ben shrugged. “A joke. A montage of various cameras on off nights.”
Ben looked at him like he was a child. “Because they’re cops, Allen. They came around undercover with Rick one day, and asked me a bunch of cop questions.”
Allen laughed “Hey, no, man, we thought they was cops when they first started hanging at the club. But they’re foreign. From Russia or somewhere. Organized crime, just like here.”
“But they seem like cops to me.”
“Yeah, they’re good. Gordon’s planning to get them to act like cops when we take the place down.” That should have been an oops-too-much-information moment for Allen. But he liked a good story.
Ben didn’t object to spilling his secrets, either. “Rick’s been putting cameras and microphones around the club for awhile.”
This was news to Allen. “But he’s not in on Gordon’s plan, so I don’t know why.”
“He must have a plan of his own,” Ben mused. “Wonder what?”
It got cold. It got kind of creepy. Allen talked Ben into talking to Sam and Dave again, so they both went on to the club. But Ben still regretted the cover charge. This time Sam and Dave asked questions, and Ben gave them lots of vital information, lots of footage, lots of recorded phone calls, lots of emails, lots of memory sticks. Everything that would make an airtight case against Rick.
Jake came in to work late, looking like death. He’d been sick as a dog all night, and nearly didn’t get to work at all. He still felt sluggish, even tho he’d overslept the alarm by a couple of hours. Stomach flu. He nursed a V8 until after midnight.
Gordon followed him in, feeling a little ill himself. But nothing out of the ordinary, nothing a couple of energy drinks and some blow wouldn’t cure. It was probably nerves. Because tonight was the night. He looked around, noted who was there, who met his eye and who didn’t. Everything was ready.
It was a crowded night, there was plenty of money coming in. Plenty of money had been coming in for the past three days, not just the daily take from the club, but outside money, coming in and being secreted away. Money from the owner’s shadow businesses. Bunches of money piling up in the safe, waiting to be snuck out in the trash and picked up offsite.
But his plan and all its contingencies had the dumpster full of trash only. Well, maybe the owner and his henchmen, too. But the money – several hundred thousand – was going home with him.
There was just a little tiny conflict. Gordon was supposed to take over as manager in a matter of days. The little angel on his shoulder said that he was going to be running the joint soon, so his plan to rob the club had to be cancelled. But the little devil on his other shoulder said that robbing the club now would make the owner look bad, and since Gordon hadn’t started working there yet, it would make him look good.
Gordon was working on a revised version of his plan, a version where they would get to rob the club every few months, starting tonight. He stared into the distance. The pounding beat of the music soothed the tension in his neck. Some more snow would be nice.
Laurie was on stage, looking a little tired. She’d been sleeping more. She was never in a good mood lately, either. And she was getting a little thick about the middle. With a girl that skinny, an ounce showed up. She wasn’t going to be dancing for much longer. He was going to have to support her, and the baby. And he wasn’t sure it was his kid. But what the fuck, what else were they going to do, break up? They were just too comfortable, crazy as that sounded.
Rick was down in front of Laurie, his elbows hanging on the stage. Usually he sat at a table in the middle of the floor, but this time he was lolling around like he was drunk, right under her feet. But Rick didn’t drink. Rick looked down his nose at intoxication of any kind. Rick was holier than everyone in the room.
But Rick was drooling. Rick was staring. Rick was moving slowly. Rick was sweeping the stage with outstretched arms, reaching for his Roxy.
Laurie brought a stiletto heel down on Rick’s fingers and ground the point in with a hip roll. He yowled in pain and sat back in his seat, stuffing his fingers in his mouth and rocking. He moaned Roxy over and over. Rocking. Roxy.
Gordon watched Laurie ruin his brother’s writing hand. Poor bastard. He hadn’t seen Rick rocking like that since Mom threw out his play carpenter bench.
Chloe brought him a drink, and plopped a presentation box onto his table. “The house mom found these in the back,” she said. “Chocolate. I thought you’d want one.”
He thanked her, and tipped her extra, and went back to brooding about his plan. He liked chocolates. The taste of the one he had the night before had left him wanting more. So he had another one. He watched Rick stumble out of the club, and almost got up to go see if he was okay. He licked his fingers instead.
A few people ate chocolate at the club that night. The cinnamon centers were just yummy. Some of the girls got a little sticky.
Allen came up to Gordon’s table with Ben in tow. “Hey, meet my friend Ben. He works for old Rick the Prick there. Poor bastard. Told her he was broke. Did you see his hand?”
Gordon looked Ben over. “You picked a good night to show up.”
“It’s a full moon,” Ben said. Gordon nodded at a chair. Allen brought over another for himself.
“Allen was telling me you’ve got plans for this place,” Ben said. “Nothing specific, of course.”
“I’ll fill you in,” Gordon said. “Work for Rick, eh? Let me guess. Security.”
“Told you he was good,” Allen crowed. But to keep it even, he announced, “Ben’s been giving information to the Russians.”
Gordon said, “Hmmm. Like what?”
“Well,” Ben said, not quite meeting Gordon’s eye, “they’re looking for anything they can get on my boss. I’ve got evidence of illegal stock trades, wire fraud, embezzlement, bribery, extortion. That I know of. There are wire taps, video footage, computer files. I’m not exactly sure what he’s up to here in the club,” he said, looking Gordon in the eye, “but since he broke Alice’s nose this morning, I feel obliged to step in and remove him from the family environment.”
Gordon regarded him evenly. “Because of Alice? Not because of how he treats you as an employee or anything? Didn’t give you a raise?”
Ben colored. “Alice.”
Gordon frowned. “That’s my brother you’re turning in to the Feds, you know.”
Ben felt really sorry. “She’s so helpless…”
“I see.” Love. Why did it always come down to a girl? “Well, good luck with that.” He could fix it himself.
Allen and Ben exchanged glances.
“I told you they were cops,” Ben said.
“They’re not.” Allen said.
“They are,” Gordon stopped the argument. “I’ve just figured it out. They’ve been here all along, gathering information. This is all some kind of sting operation. And we’re caught up in it. They want the owner, don’t you see? Not Rick. Not us.” Certainly not, they agreed. “Maybe they don’t know they want the owner,” he mused. He looked at Ben. “Can you handle a gun?”
Gordon ordered a round of drinks sent to Sam and Dave, and joined them at their table in time to pay Chloe. “I understand you boys are closing in on the kill,” he said. Sam pretended not to understand. “Professionally,” Gordon continued, indicating Sam’s badge pocket. Then he grinned and slapped them on the shoulders. “Come on, boys, I’ve known all along you were official.” Dave choked on his ice.
Gordon propped his chair on its back legs and stretched out between them. “I’ve got to hand it to you, it’s a really slick operation. First rate. It’s been a long haul, and you’ve worked real hard to get your man.”
Sam looked proud. Dave smiled shyly. It was nice to have some respect.
“Yep,” Gordon continued. “Selling state secrets. That’s impressive. Say, did you know that Rick is my brother?”
“Well, kind of,” Dave said, and trailed off.
Gordon brought his chair down and leaned into the table. “What if I told you that there was someone even bigger, that Rick is only small time compared to?” They didn’t get it. “Someone who’s dealing arms? And running hundreds of pounds of cocaine?” He mentioned white slavery and money laundering and their faces grew serious. Someone who actually fit the MO they got at their briefing all those months ago.
“Well,” Sam said, “Rick is what we’ve got.” Even tho most of it was cut from the whole cloth.
“That’s not happening. He’s my brother. What if I could get you proof of this other guy’s operations?” Gordon offered.
“What kind of proof?”
He thought fast. “Oh, how about bank accounts, records?” He saw them pausing. “Security tapes? Witnesses?” He looked around, panicking. “And of course I’ll deliver him to you for hassle free removal. Tied up with garlic slivers if you want.”
Dave looked at Sam. “I don’t know. We’ve got backup waiting to dive in and pick up Rick with a minimum loss of life. Ten minutes.”
Gordon envisioned a gun battle in the club that night. “Oh, let’s not be hasty. You want to be very careful about the timing.” He was doing a lot of high speed thinking tonight, and his brain was getting tired. “I’ve got delicate operations just about to hit the skillet and you might mess everything up.”
“What’s going on, then?” Sam asked, peering at him over bifocals he hadn’t worn before.
Gordon told them about his plan. The dumpster was going to be picked up at four in the morning. He and most of the bouncers and some of the customers were going to interrupt things at three, sequester everyone into the office, pull all the packages out of the dumpster, and run away. Sam and Dave were welcomed to join them, for an equal share. There would be plenty of time to deal with Rick tomorrow. And by tomorrow, there would be a super premium replacement suspect, and everything would turn out fine.
Sam and Dave looked a little reluctant. “Action?” Sam mused, “I don’t know…”
With a little persuasion, they warmed to the idea of an improv heist. They would be the heavies, if need be. Step in and control things, get them all lined up against the wall and quiet. If it came to that.
“A little money tonight, maybe a better suspect tomorrow. It’s not good enough,” Sam growled. “We’re getting a lot of pressure from above.” His voice sounded a lot different than it had when he was Russian. Higher.
Dave was grim. “If we don’t have something soon, we’re going to have to go with option one.”
Jake appeared at the table, looking haggard. “The owner wants to see you,” he rasped.
“Fine.” He handed his vial of cocaine to Dave. “Go powder your noses,” he said, getting up. “I’ll be back in a flash with something you’ll be happy to trade for.” It was like Monopoly, trading the orange for the purple. How fitting, him rescuing his shark brother. Gordon the great.
The owner was in his office, pacing nervously, a cigarette dangling from his lips. Sweat marked his armpits. Usually he was so suave. He was so smooth that Gordon just assumed he was part of the regular Italian Mafia. The American Mafia. The Real Mafia ™. He always kind of looked up to the owner. Now, tho, he seemed a little ratlike.
“Here, kid,” he said, forcing a bright, salesman’s face. “I forgot to get you to sign another form.” He laughed. “Always another form, eh? But for the lawyers…” He pulled a folder out of his desk and flipped from the title page to the signature lines. “Sign here.”
Gordon had caught a glimpse of several words.
DEED OF SALE
That was one. Deed of what? Something important was trying to stick in his brain. The owner’s name. Some weirdass name he couldn’t pronounce. No wonder everyone referred to him by his title.
(hereinafter called the “Seller”)
The owner was going on in a droning voice, reassuring, a narcotic voice. Sign here and here and here and here.
A moment later, Gordon wondered what that name was again. There was another line that featured his very own name, written in as Purchaser. His head began to spin.
“Bareass Entertainment dba The Scarlet Pimpernel,” Gordon read wonderingly.
sum of one (1) dollar.
Twenties were the smallest bills he was carrying at the moment. He patted his pockets and tried to focus. The document blurred in front of his eyes.
Possession and occupation. Have and hold. Sole.
“Sign here at the big yellow X,” the owner said, wrapping Gordon’s fingers around a pen. The signature was almost legible. It didn’t seem to matter.
SIGNED That’s today’s date already written in, he noticed.
AS WITNESSES: 1. He thought it might be Jake’s scrawl. 2. And DJ’s scribble.
“Keep up the good work, kid,” the owner said, putting the pen back in his pocket. He handed Gordon a sheet of computer codes and the combination to the safe. “Sorry to be so hasty, but I’ve got to go out of town for a little while. You’re in charge until I get back, and then I’ll show you the ropes. Until then, you’ve got lots of latitude. Run it however you want.” He tossed him a ring of keys. “Enjoy,” the owner said, and escorted him out of the office.
Gordon skipped thru the corridor back to the lounge. Emperor Gordon. Time to celebrate. Then, damn – Sam and Dave had his vial. He skipped faster. Ben would watch him on the replay later and think how childlike he seemed.
Sam and Dave weren’t at their table, so Gordon sat down and waited. He signaled Chloe for another round.
Sam and Dave were in the bathroom, making Allen turn his pockets inside out. They relieved him of his cash, and a nice little bag of high-grade marijuana. Protection money, plus a tip. Dave thanked him for the weed, they washed their hands, and left. Allen was only a little beat up. He was very confused. Were they Feds or Mafia?
Gordon was busy wowing Sam and Dave when Allen came out of the john. He was in a rare mood. They were drooling as he described what he had on the owner. Gordon was getting a little antsy even as he was working the Feds. Sam and Dave still had his coke vial, and he was tempted to run out to the car for his stash, but he had this deal to negotiate.
He was going to make their careers. Sam could retire, Dave could move up. They had all this stuff on Rick – corporate spy, high tech pirate, selling high tech to enemies, securities fraud, tax evasion, conspiracy murder – they could take all that, and add it to all the stuff they were going to get on the owner. All they hade to do was to write Rick completely out of the reports, exonerate him from all charges. And Gordon would give them their hearts’ desires.
Gordon darted off to the door to take care of something. Sam and Dave whispered between themselves. It was possible. They could say their informant had changed his story, and it altered a bunch of known history on the players.
Gordon went to intercept a taxi driver. He’d come thru the restricted area and was heading for the front door, trundling a large suitcase. Gordon blocked his way and held the door. “Where did you get that?” he asked.
The driver shrugged. “Passenger luggage. Airport.” He held out his hand for his club kickback.
“Fuck off,” Gordon said, and opened the door. “You don’t get paid when you take them back.” He continued out to his car to fetch his stash.
“I am call strike,” the driver shouted as he got in his cab. Gordon shrugged. After tonight, things would be different.
Back inside, Sam and Dave worked out the problem. Their existing reports actually conflicted with what they’d just gotten on the owner, so they needed another patsy to blame all their made-up reports on. It only took them a few moments to pick Bill. Dave began to grumble. Such a huge waste of effort – keeping records, making up records, fabricating witnesses, coming up with entire plots, dialog. All that work. And then just toss it out in the street when something better came along.
But it was a good deal, because a lot of what they had against Rick wouldn’t hold water. They weren’t going to pass it up because of a little work. Dave called and told backup to be ready for new orders, and when Gordon came back to the table, Sam hit him up for more marching powder. Something to help get all those reports rewritten asap.
Gordon walked back over to his table and ordered a drink. He was tired. Suddenly Laurie came up, looking for a fight. She weaved thru the tables, muttering to herself and batting off assistance. She was heading for Gordon. She was going to kill him. It was the last thing he needed that night. She screamed a collection of obscenities and attacked him with tooth and nail, leaving blood. Screaming. He drew back and slapped her in the face. She kicked at him with her long, stilleto heeled foot. He lifted her up and threw her over his shoulder and spanked her. In front of God and everyone. She screamed for the bouncers to throw him out. The house applauded. Gordon the World Champion.
Gordon looked around him and did a quick count of people on his side. He was fairly sure of his numbers. He’d been recruiting heavily, and they were mostly all on his side at this point. Fuck the owner. Because they were going to get away with it. Now that it was his club, he controlled the security cameras. They were all going to be blank when the cops had a look tomorrow.
But they didn’t need Laurie making a scene right before they busted the safe. He got closer to Laurie, wanting to enfold her and calm her down, the Stripper Whisperer, but she spat at him, and hissed, and arched her back, so he asked Jake and Weasel to escort her to the house mom for a rest. Give her a Valium,” he suggested as they passed.
Everybody was on high alert. Some of his boys were starting to look a little trigger happy. He decided he might as well act now, when the blood was hot. So he told Allen to alert them, and waited until they were in their places, and then went sauntering back to the office to rob the owner of three days of receipts.
Nobody was in the office. He let himself in with the key, after fidding with a number of wrong ones. The owner wasn’t there either. Gordon checked the security cameras. There was the owner’s car, in the parking lot. Was there a bathroom in the office? He checked around. He found a big bag of coke in the desk. He stopped for the pause that refreshes. He noticed the camera picking up a bunch of the same make and model SUVs pull into the parking lot. A group, maybe a bachelor party. How nice. A bunch of guys got out and started for the door. He was going to have to be more strict about the dress code from now on. None of those guys were wearing ties.
* * *