“I’ma put eighteen fuckin’ holes ina bitch, fucken please tell me you never he’rd’a some, wha’thafuck? Black Jeffry? Fucken call y’urse’f Black Jeffry? Blood, I’ma light this fucker, please tell me he’s fulla shit. I ain’t had a good murder in fucken days, an’ this scrawny fuck would look great spread across my fucken wall.”
“I’m sorry, I’m going to have to take this call,” hand over the mouth piece of his phone, a quiet smile. Don’t scare the white folks. Even bankers get fidgety around a brother with ink. Hell, maybe bankers more than most. Narrow minded assholes. Don’t mind squeezing his money for all the juice it’d work. All good. Fucken bankers squeezed white folks, too. “You have my number, I look forward to hearing from you soon.”
A short nod as the suit rose to scrunch at him from behind the desk. What the fuck. Was that a bow or a cramp? Fucken bankers. The phone returned to his ear.
“Wuz good, blood.”
“Fucker up in my house, ain’t seen this nugge’ afo’e in my life.”
A lowered shoulder urged the circular glass door into rotation, exposing him to a stiff breeze resisting his attempt to leave the building.
“The fucken same.”
“Sheeet,” a flipped hood covered a head shaven clean, thick fur brushing the fingers holding the phone to his ear, “You ‘member when you, Ilk, and me ran on those nuggets down Comp’on, comin’ up while they’s at the theater, beatin’ they shit wi’ irons in the parkin’ lot?”
“Nugge’, Black Jeffry ran tha’ same shi’ wi’ me an’ Ilk a minute ago down in Ren’on,” Blaze and Two 4’s fell in behind him, flanking him as they crossed the sidewalk to enter a large, black vehicle, “had’a let some lil fuckers know, y’know? That dude did this one fuck, straight. Split tha’ fucker’s skull, spray’d the grey all across their fucken Navigator.”
“Yeah, he’s cool.”
“Word. I’ma holla.”
The phone slipped into a jacket pocket. The street flashed by the windows. Two 4’s cleared his throat, which secured a flat glare. The drive proceeded.
It was beautiful.
So, of course, it was doomed.
The phone rang, stringent and harsh in the shattered quiet. The sigh was indistinguishable from the movement needed to withdraw the phone again, as if either action would have been incomplete if assayed alone.
“Boss, we here at the club, ‘is female say’s you got her card?”
“How’s she answer?”
“Say’s can-deke, wi’ two k’s?”
“KandiK, maaan, tha’s one baaaad bitch.”
“This li’l thing?”
“Motha fucka, watch y’self, tha’ girl stack’d bodies from H-town to OKC.”
“Fuck, she go’ the run?”
Bless all the fucking trees, that crazy fuckhole thought explosives were funny. Fucken introduced herself as a traveling comedian.
“Give ‘er the house, and run’a the bar, and keep her the fuck, out, of the back.”
“Y’ur the boss.”
The phone was on the descent to the pocket when a text illuminated the screen.
2:43P DD: got a minit
The green button pulled the text into a call.
“They’s a fien’ her’, sayin’ you go way back, tha’ he’s goo’ for’a shit on’ya name.”
“Cher’Bob? Fro’ fucken element’ry? Shit.”
Cheery Bob. That fuck had been a dick since day one. Even before the other kids noticed his problems with letters, that fuck had been leading the goddamn charge. Callin’ on that history to score? Fucker must be on a haard jones.
“Cheery Bob? Fuck that cocksucker.”
Shitsuck pissed on his whole 4th grade, even called him Abo for a half the year, like he was some aborigine shipped in for school with regular kids as an experiment. That shit had ended real quick when he got put on the hood, and that cheery fuck had avoided eye contact for the next six fucken years.
“Tease an’ tap that fuck, but make damn sure he remembers.”
“Boss, y’jus’ made my day.”
The phone dropped again, making it to the pocket without interruption. A precious few minutes passed with nothing more than the quiet drone of the engine, fluctuating between exertions. A text, and another, as they rolled to a stop. Leaving the vehicle, pulling out the phone. Holding together an empire with a thousand digital strings.
2:48P Twitch: kids 100 brinin im tnite
Any mirth the first text might have inspired evaporated when he swiped to the next. The second text was blank where the sender’s name should be. Not blocked. Not unknown. Not unavailable. Empty.
Which meant one thing. A heart beat could intensify even before eyes finished processing the contents of the text, fueled by the context alone. Not that the content did anything to lessen that rate of cardial acceleration.
2:48P : Will call in 7. Be alone.
Great. Without a sideways glance he stalked through the still opening door and straight back to the stairs, a half a wave settling Ilk back into the recliner from which he had begun to surge. Man only moved in surges. Blaze stepped into his comfortable stance at the base of the stairs. Heavy steps clomping up the stairs and then the door swinging closed behind him.
The narrow stair opened into a room almost as large as the one below, but cluttered and cramped where the downstairs was more open and sparse. Three long rows of tables divided the upper room into a handful of aisles, tables tops covered with varied collections of electronics, narcotics, and tools for either the destruction of property or the distribution of pain, depending on the need of a given moment.
Ignoring the switch on the wall that would have bathed the room in light, familiarity led through a central aisle to the far end of the room, above the lower entrance, to the reason the upper room was smaller. This end of the room was cut off by a wall, sealing the last ten meters or so behind a door with multiple locks.
The first lock submitted to the thick and triple-ridged key that emerged from one of the numerous pockets on the thick jacket, and the second succumbed to the numerical code punched into the associated keypad, indicating the passability of the door with a buzzing click and a small green light.
A peaked skylight that met a row of windows running along the top of the wall, even in their grime-muddled condition, left this part of the upper floor in scant need for electrical illumination. The room was large enough to hold the large desk wedged against the far wall, and almost blocking off the back half of the room, which was dominated by the enormous safe in the opposite corner, and the swivel chair in the scant space in between the desk and the safe.
A shuffle past the the desk, pulling the door shut behind him, plopping into the chair, and a half pivot as he propped feet to rest, crossed at the ankle on the empty corner of the dark wood. The phone rose into view.
Four whole minutes of silence. Eyes closed and a head tipped back to rest against the far wall. The twin muscles between his shoulders relaxed, just the slightest bit, for the first time all day. Slow, deep breaths.
Too soon the phone in his hand buzzed once, brief. A glance at the screen showed nothing. Not an incoming call, not a missed notification. Nothing. He pressed his thumb onto the sensor at the base of the screen until the LED in the corner flashed red-blue in rapid sequence. No clue how they made calls and sent texts that didn’t seem to use any of the telephone service providers. Didn’t ask. Asking questions wasn’t a viable long term survival strategy. Phone reached ear just in time to catch the first words pouring from the speaker.
“I find myself surprised to be making this call, which is more rare for me than you could appreciate. I was against bringing you on board, you see. I didn’t think that your scattered conglomerate of hoodlums were capable of the kind of subtlety that I require in my associates. However, your chapters are out producing our other cultivators in every city that you have a presence. Every single one, which is more than a little impressive. On top of that, your work in Seattle has been the only city in the country to stay above the 500 mark every year since you joined, all while turning a tidy profit with your other endeavors and staying beneath the attention of the local authorities.”
There was a resonant quality to the voice that pounded at his eardrums that felt not dissimilar to how sound died in a closed studio if that studio was on a launching spacecraft, the weight of reverberation in the pitch seemed drag the words into an implosion inside his head.
“As a reward for your consistent and satisfactory performance to date you have been appointed to the prospect pool which I oversee and manage. You may think of me by the title of Maierpol, and should the day come that you have earned the right to address me that is the title you will use. Prospects are our chief intermediaries in world affairs, lieutenants charged with representing our interests and serving as an expendable terminus should certain affairs not play out as expected. Should you prove more worthy than your prospect peers and survive the rigors of our winnowing then you will have the opportunity to achieve Elevation.”
Feet dropped from the desk corner and only a spasm of abdominal muscle clenching prevented his boots from slamming into the floor. Now would not be a good time to make a thudding noise. Or any noise, at all.
“Your appointment comes with corresponding duties and privileges the bulk of which have been outlined in the papers deposited in your box at the bank you visited this afternoon. You will review the enclosed packet and then destroy it. Pay particular attention to Articles 3 and 8. I will be arriving in Seattle three months from today to evaluate your progress. At that point you will either impress me with the magnitude of your preparation or you will vindicate my initial reservations about your suitability for our enterprise.”
After a long moment of pressing a silent phone to his ear, a scan showed that the connection to whatever had been dropped. Or ended. The conversation, such as it had been, was over.
It grated, to be sitting in the midst of his web of a thousand digital strings that all danced to whatever tune he plucked and to have this one string from which he dangled like one of those stupid wooden puppets. Or however fucken metaphor worked. It annoyed like the raw dangle of a bitten cheek that flared in sharp pain whenever you chewed or breathed.
This call was the reason he had put up with the demands, the deliveries, putting the crews around the country to work to overfill every order he got. Because he had heard a rumor and followed a lead. Found a book. The book had gotten him the first text, and now a phone call, and nothing had done more to convince him that the rumor was true than the sound of that voice thundering and whispering at the same time.
He glanced at the thick tome at the end of the desk nearest the wall. The dark leather seemed to suck the light from the air around it, casting shadows that felt thicker than shadows should. He didn’t reach out to trace the engraving on the front panel that looked like it was carved with a vindictive rage. He didn’t know if he believed the things he’d read in the book, but that voice…
That voice was a voice of power and secrets, and there was nothing he had ever loved more than power, unless maybe it was secrecy.
So he would dance, for now, at the end of this string. For a while longer. For as long as it took really. Because there was a chance that he might be able to climb up the string and go from being a puppet to being one of the puppeteers who manipulated the entire societal ballet.
It did give him pause, when he thought about the lengths he was willing to go to test the truth of this rumor. Had gone. The pause was brief, though. You didn’t get far in this world burdened with a persuasive conscience. Besides, he was far from the first person to do great and terrible things in the hope of being invited to join his gods.