(Sequel To White Fever)
This is an original story. All characters are created by me.
All characters depicted in this story are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
The registered trademarks mentioned in this story are © of their respective owners. No infringement of their rights is intended, and no profit is gained.
This story depicts and refers to sexual relationships between consenting adult women. If such a story frightens you, you better click on the X in the top right corner of your screen right away.
People curse and swear massively, so people who are easily offended by bad language better find something else to read than this story.
SPECIAL WARNING for graphic violence
This story revolves around gangsters, hoodlums and goons of all shapes and sizes, and is therefore, by definition, graphically violent at times. In some scenes, that violence is directed towards women, so people who are disturbed by such themes are advised to find something else to read than this story.
Written November 2009 - January 2010
MASSIVE SHOUTOUTS to all the members of AUSXIP Talking Xena's Subtext Central - thanks, gals and guys! I really appreciate your support. :)
Jackie - Once again, thank you for helping me :)
Teaser - For Maeve Donnelly (aka White Fever) and Staci Hart, the mean streets of the Big City just got meaner! When a new and merciless crew executes a series of daring raids against both the Donnelly and the Coluzzo crime families, Fever leaps into action to stop them - but then she receives a 'business offer' she can't possibly refuse...
'... and that's tomorrow's weather, brought to you by Pellegrino Umbrellas & Raincoats. Pellegrino, we love it when it rains. All right, we're onto the last few seconds of the day, and you all know what that means... that's right, it's time for Bill Haley's immortal rock'n'roll anthem, Rock Around The Clock. I'm Ricky Dean, and you're listening to WERC on 91.2 FM, your number one rock'n'roll station. Hit it, Bill!'
The song started, and Maeve Donnelly, better known by her street name White Fever, tapped the beat on the steering wheel of her black Mustang GT as she was cruising south on Jefferson Boulevard. Even though she had heard the tune countless times before, she whistled along to the evergreen.
The traffic lights at the intersection at Sixth Street turned red, and she slowed to a halt. As she waited for the lights to change to green, she put her arm out of the window, and let it dangle down the side of door.
Just as the guitar solo started in the song, a souped-up, metallic orange Charger drove up next to Maeve's Mustang. The driver blipped the throttle a few times, and looked expectantly at Maeve. She nodded, and bared her teeth in a badass grin as she disengaged the Overdrive, and moved the gear lever down into First.
The millisecond the lights changed to green, Maeve buried her foot on the gas. The twin exhausts roared like a T-Rex in heat, and the Mustang practically flew across the intersection. Relying more on the sound of the revs of the Mustang's 427 V8 than the rev counter, she manually changed up to Second, and then Third. By then, the Charger was more than a car length behind, and had seemingly given up.
The traffic lights at Seventh Street turned yellow just before she got there, but she kept her foot down, and barreled across it - the Charger was caught by the red, and stopped.
Maeve slowed down to a more leisurely pace, and celebrated the victory by waving her hand out of the window.
When she reached Ninth Street, a commotion on the other side of Jefferson caught her attention. She tried to stretch in the seat, but no matter what she did, she wasn't quite tall enough to see through the windows of the SUV in the lane next to her.
She cursed and rolled her eyes.
"Why the hell can't I be 6'2" instead of 5'5"," she growled, and tried to crane her neck to get a clearer view.
The lights turned green, and the SUV drove away from the intersection. Maeve remained stationary, earning herself several long honks from the cars behind.
A group of bystanders were hollering and cheering loudly at two men slugging it out on the sidewalk near the corner of Ninth Street.
Neither of the two combatants were skilled fighters, so they punched the air more than each other, but they occasionally managed to get a hit in.
A pale blue Impala lowrider pulled up to the curb in front of the fighters, and obscured Maeve's view. She growled again, and hit the gas. The Mustang lurched forward, and she quickly made it to Tenth Street. She made a hasty u-turn, and started making her way back.
"Oh, yer gonna be in a heap o' trouble now, dillweed!" one of the fighters said, and waved two boney fingers in the other man's face.
"Shut da fuck up, or I'm gonna make ya wish ya wuz never born, moron!"
"Oooh, make me, big boy!"
The second man swung wildly at the first, but missed by a foot. The crowd cheered, and it seemed to spur the man on, as he attacked again - and missed again.
Out on the Boulevard, a thunderous roar signaled the arrival of Maeve's Mustang, and as she got out of the car, the onlookers parted like the Red Sea.
"Hey, hey, hey! Cut it out! What the hell is going on here?" Maeve said loudly.
"Told ya ya'd get in trouble, dillweed! Fever's here, and now she's gonna spank ya," the first man said.
"An' I told ya to shut up!" the other man said, and charged again. He stepped forward only to be met by Maeve's strong hand on his chest.
"You! Over there! ... You! Over there!" Maeve said, and first pointed at the two men, and then at two lampposts.
The two fighters knew better than to go up against White Fever, so the fight fizzled out of them, and they slinked away from each other.
"So...?" Maeve said, and put her hands on her hips.
"He took my place!" the first man said, and pointed at the other.
"You wasn't here!"
"Was, too. I was over there, takin' a piss."
"You wasn't here. I was. I took the place."
"One at a time. You first," Maeve said, and nodded at the first man.
"Look, Fever. I had my Diamonds table set up an' everything, but then this big piece of dillweed comes and shoves everything aside. So I got mad, you know? Next thing, he's swingin' at me, like I'm the one who's doin' wrong!"
"You wasn..." the second man started to say, but an icy glare from Maeve shut him up.
"How long have you had a table here?" Maeve asked the first man.
"OK. You. Talk," Maeve said, and nodded at the second man.
"I'm... I'm... he wasn't here!"
"Never mind that now. Where do you usually have a table?"
"Up near Third."
"Then what the flyin' flip are ya doin' down here!" the first man said.
"Pickin's are gettin' slim up there..." the second man said, and took his cap off to appear more sincere.
"Oh, boo hoo hoo," the first man said, but his voice trailed off when he saw Maeve put her hand near the handle of the chrome-plated Beretta she kept in a shoulderholster.
"My patience has run out. You," she said, directed at the first man, "stay here."
"Oh, crap," the second man said, and threw his cap on the ground.
"And you, move two hundred yards further down Jefferson. There's no one down there," Maeve said, and by the tone of her voice, the two men knew the decision was final.
"Yes, ma'am," they both said.
Out on the Boulevard, a charcoal gray Chevrolet Blazer with four people aboard drove slowly past the commotion.
"Speak of the devil..." the driver said.
"... and she appears," the passenger in the front seat said, as she looked at White Fever standing on the sidewalk. From a distance, Fever didn't appear intimidating, but Siobhan McWhirter already knew of Fever's reputation as a badass.
She let her eyes wander up Fever's form-fitting white jeans that accentuated her shapely rear end very nicely, past her broad shoulders, now covered by a bottle-green shirt, and up to her spiky, white hair.
A nervous smile creased Siobhan's lips as she watched Fever move around on the sidewalk. The Enforcer moved like a big cat - very fluid motions, but with a clear promise of danger lurking right beneath the surface.
Siobhan licked her suddenly dry lips. Despite knowing her brother had planned this operation meticulously, she couldn't stop a cold shiver from running up and down her spine.
"She doesn't look that tough to me," one of the passengers in the back seat said.
"Make no mistake, Dillon, she's as tough as they come. So don't underestimate her," the driver said.
"Hmm," the passenger said, and snorted.
"Do you really think she'll help us, Shannon?" Siobhan said to the driver.
"She'll have to, sis. She simply won't have a choice," Shannon said, and stepped on the gas, leaving the commotion behind.
After having dealt with the two hustlers, Maeve went back to her car and got in. She unclipped her cell phone, and found Staci's number on the speed dial.
'Three-In-One Club, it's Danielle. How may I help you?' a voice said from the other end of the connection.
"Hey, Danielle, it's Fever. Is Staci around?"
'Hello, Fever. I'm sorry, Miss Hart's really busy right now. Is it urgent?'
"Nah. What are you doing?"
'We're not open for business tonight. We're holding an audition.'
'For pole dancers.'
Maeve's eyebrows shot up, and then she leaned her head back and laughed out loud.
"And I'm not there? Holy shit, I'll bet Staci's face is beetroot red right now!"
'Well... it is, actually.'
Maeve laughed again, and drove away from the curb.
There was a fumble at the other end of the connection, and suddenly, Staci's dulcet tones filled the phone.
'Hiya, Maeve,' Staci purred.
"Hey, baby. A pole dancer audition?"
"See anything good?"
'Well... it's really overwhelming, that's for sure.'
"I'll bet. Listen, I was thinking... are you doing anything tonight... I mean, apart from what you're doing now?"
'No, I'm not doing anything special. I was planning on going to bed early.'
"Could I tempt you to come over?"
'You probably could.'
"Good," Maeve said, and bumped over the cobblestones at the entrance to the parking lot at Burger Palace.
'What are you doing?'
"I'm gonna take a coffee break. I've just had to deal with two smelly hustlers who couldn't agree on sharing the sidewalk," Maeve said as she got out of the car.
'Oh, poor you. See you at around two o'clock?'
"That's a deal, baby. Oh, and Staci... if one of the pole dancers asks if you're interested in a private show, you'll say no, right?"
'But of course,' Staci said and laughed.
"Thought so. See ya," Maeve said, and blew Staci a kiss through the phone.
Staci put down the receiver and looked around the office. At times, she still couldn't quite believe that it was really happening. It had only been a month since the former owner had been thrown out by Maeve, and two weeks since Staci had been appointed the new daily leader of the Three-In-One Club, one of the most fancy establishments on Jefferson.
The Three-In-One Club was thus named because it was divided into three parts: a discotheque in the basement, the nightclub on the first floor, and a restaurant on the second. Staci had dined in the restaurant several times since she took over, and she was always amazed how little sound seeped through from the lower floors. Sammi Jo Bradley, the former owner, had certainly poured a heap of money into making the noise reduction effective - too bad she had held such a nasty grudge against Maeve.
Staci shook her head and got up from the chair. She straightened a small picture frame on the mahogany desk, and adjusted a stack of papers. She hadn't had time to personalize her office yet, but she knew exactly what she wanted in there, and what had to leave, and the mahogany desk was one of the things that would fly out of the door.
She took a deep breath, and ran her fingers through her long, jet black hair. She steeled her resolve, and opened the door that separated the office from the nightclub.
Five young women, all wearing identical nervous smiles - and next to nothing in the way of clothing - were waiting on the 120 feet long, rectangular catwalk that was placed in the middle of the large room.
The mirrors on the outer walls and in the ceiling reflected the glittery costumes, creating a surreal effect.
"All right, I'm back. Who's next?" Staci said, and sat down at one of the two dozen bar stools lining the catwalk.
"That'll be me. I'm April," a twenty-something brunette said.
"Hello, April. Let's see what you've got. Danielle, cue the music."
Danielle pressed a button on the stereo, and the room was filled with pumping dance music, blasting out from the twenty hidden speakers.
April started her routine, and Staci wished she was somewhere else entirely.
When the last of the pole dancers had gone through the motions, Staci and Danielle had thanked them all using the usual nonsensical, saccharine words, and then locked up for the night.
"So, what do you think?" Staci said as she fell down into the chair in the office.
"Well, April was adequate, but Candy was better," Danielle said, and placed her backside on the corner of the desk.
"Jeez, where do they get these names?"
"Bought and paid for. The remaining three weren't good enough for the Three-In-One Club."
"I'd agree... if I had any clue of what the hell it was I was talking about."
"You'll catch on soon enough, don't you worry 'bout that," Danielle said, and leaned across the desk to pat Staci's arm.
"Have I ever thanked you for staying on? I'd be lost without you here."
"You've thanked me half a dozen times already. I'm glad to be your assistant. I was so sick and tired of wearing that awful miniskirt," Danielle said and wrinkled her nose in disgust.
"I understand, it was horrible," Staci said, and looked at the woman sitting opposite her - Danielle was in her late 20s, with dark blonde hair and hazel eyes. She was a very pretty woman, and she had a great head on her shoulders. She was wearing classy clothes now, but when she was working for the previous management, she had been a hostess, and her outfit had been 4" heels, a plastic miniskirt and an outrageously revealing silver top.
Staci hated those outfits, and the first thing she did when she took over was to ban them. The second was to appoint Danielle as her personal assistant, because Staci knew she needed all the help she could get.
It had been a tumultuous first two weeks, with several key staffers and a few of the dancers leaving because they were upset over the sudden change of leadership.
Staci didn't want anybody there who were unwilling to work for her, so she didn't have a problem with them leaving, but it did create a void that she and Danielle had to work extra hard to fill.
"Anyway, so you're saying it's Candy?" Staci said.
"Mmmmm. For now. I don't want to rule out April, either, just in case the next dancers we see are poor. Don't forget, we have a second audition in a fortnight's time."
"Oh, goodie. I'm looking forward to it already," Staci said, and turned off the lights in the office.
Fifteen minutes later, Staci parked her Toyota Corolla in front of the apartment building on First Street where she had rented a flat. Although First Street was technically still downtown, it was a quiet and respectable neighborhood, not like the hustle and bustle of the real downtown. She locked herself in, and quickly walked up the stairs to the second floor.
After unlocking the door to her apartment, she picked up a wad of junkmail, kicked off her shoes and started to unbutton her shirt. On her way to the bedroom, she threw the junkmail in the trash, and clicked on the answering machine - which told her she had four messages. She clicked on Play, and the tape rewound and started playing.
'Hey, baby. I hope you're home soon, 'cos I'm really hot and I need some company,' Maeve said from the tape, purring like a big kitten.
Staci chuckled, and opened a dresser. She took out a pair of blue jeans and a white button-down shirt and placed them on her bed.
A beep was heard, and the next message started.
'Hey, baby, it's me again. What are you wearin' right now?'
"Wouldn't you like to know, ya pervert!" Staci said to the machine. She took off her shirt, and put it in the laundry basket. Then, she took off her slacks, folded them neatly and placed them on the chair at the footend of the bed.
The machine replied by beeping again.
'Good evening, Miss Hart. My name is Daniel Hansen, and I'm working for The Evening Herald. I have an exceptional off...'
In two seconds flat, Staci was into the living room, pressing the button marked NEXT.
"Blah, blah, blah. Why won't those morons take 'no' for an answer?" she said on her way back to the bedroom.
'Hey, baby... it's me again. I want you to know that I'll be waitin' for ya. In the Jacuzzi. I'll be naked, so... hurry up, OK?'
"Jeez, Maeve!" Staci said and laughed. She unhooked her bra, and hung it over the back of a chair.
When she looked at herself in a full-size mirror on the front of the closet, she noticed that not only did she need to trim her hair, but her stomach was bulging out slightly. She patted her gut and sighed.
"Hmmmm... damn fastfood," she said out loud, and furrowed her brow. Shrugging, she took off her panties, picked up a towel, and headed for the bathroom.
"Let's see... Sensuous Massage... sounds good. Program #4 it is, then," Maeve said as she went through the electronic menu system on her Jacuzzi.
After preparing the spa, she went back into the living room of her loft and gave it a quick once-over.
"Candles, check... drinks, check... music, check... curtains, check... oh, shit!" she said as she noticed a pair of black silk boxer shorts hanging on the hallstand.
She adjusted her purple kimono, the same one Staci had borrowed when they had re-connected so memorably a month ago, and tied the belt around her waist. She padded on bare feet across the plush carpet, and stretched to get the boxers off the hallstand.
"How the heck did they get up there...?" she said to herself as she quickly threw them into the bedroom.
She re-checked everything thoroughly. Satisfied with the result, she went over to the fridge and took out a bottle of spring water. She unscrewed the cap and took several healthy gulps.
Her phone started ringing, and she was over it instantly. She looked at the display and her face cracked in a big smile.
"Hey, baby..." she purred.
'Hey, yourself. I'm downstairs. Care to send the elevator down?'
"I'm on it," Maeve said, and went over to the panel next to the airtight door. She pressed DOWN, and she could hear the elevator working its way down.
"It's on its way, baby," she said, and giggled over Staci's predictable reply.
'Won't be the last time you'll say those words this evening, I'm sure.'
"Hmmmm. Let's see."
'OK. I'm in, hit the switch.'
"Going up!" Maeve said, and pressed UP on the panel.
Staci opened the door and stepped into Maeve's loft. She took a deep sniff, and looked around for the source of the unusual flagrance.
"Hey, baby. It's my natural scent, doncha know," Maeve said, and stood up on tiptoes so they could kiss.
"Yeah, right," Staci said, and claimed Maeve's soft lips in a deep kiss.
"Scented candles?" Maeve offered when they separated.
"I got the Jacuzzi ready an' everything. I think we're gonna have a good time."
"I hope so."
"Oh, that's right... are you busy tomorrow afternoon?"
"Hmmm, no. Why?"
"Well, Mary Red called... you remember Mary Red, right?"
"Well, she called and asked if I would come over for an important talk. D'ya think you'd want to tag along?"
"I'd love to, Maeve," Staci said with a smile.
"Good. That's a deal, then." Throughout the conversation, Maeve's hands had been placed firmly on Staci's backside, and she didn't seem to have any intentions of letting go of the taller woman.
"Are you going to grope my butt all evening?"
"Pretty much, yeah," Maeve said, and sniggered.
"I could live with that," Staci said, and leaned down to kiss Maeve again.
Ten minutes later, they were sitting in the Jacuzzi, enjoying the view of the City's skyline through the large windows.
"More white?" Maeve said, and held up a bottle of chilled white wine.
"Yes, please." Staci held out her glass, and Maeve poured it three-quarters full, before putting the bottle back down in the wine cooler.
"What was that you said about the smelly hustlers?"
"Oh, that was nothing. Two guys who couldn't decide where the best spot was. No big deal."
"We've had a quiet week."
"The quiet before the storm..." Staci said in a deep voice.
"Don't say that... don't even think it!" Maeve said, and gently slapped Staci on her arm.
"All right. Do you think I could borrow your exercise equipment?"
"I'm getting a roll of fat where there shouldn't be one, so I was thinking that maybe a few miles on the tread mill would cure that."
"A roll of fat? Don't make me laugh, Staci."
"No shit, it's right here," Staci said, and grabbed her stomach.
With a wolfish smile, Maeve put down her glass on a small table next to the Jacuzzi.
"I don't see it. I need a closer view," she said, and moved over to kneel in front of Staci. She took a deep breath, and dunked her head under the surface of the bubbling water. She kissed Staci's stomach, and then came up for air.
"Looks all right to me," she said as the water poured off her hair and face.
"I think you need an even closer look, Maeve. It's definitely there," Staci said and laughed.
" 's that an offer?"
"You better believe it is," Staci said, and framed Maeve's face. They looked into each other's eyes for an eternal second, and then Maeve moved up so she could kiss Staci thoroughly.
An hour after dawn, the charcoal gray Chevrolet Blazer pulled up to a rusty fence. Shannon got out, inserted a small tool into the padlock, and twisted it a few times. The old lock gave up the ghost without too much hassle, and he swung the fence open.
He got back in the car, and proceeded to drive across a lot that had been neglected for so long that the grass was nearly a foot high. It was a bumpy ride, and he and his three passengers were rocking back and forth.
It didn't take long for them to reach an abandoned two-storey building that was located in the center of the lot. Shannon parked the Blazer in front of an old- fashioned chain driven gate, and got out.
Siobhan looked with disgust at the derelict building - most of the windows were broken, and the walls were either smeared with graffiti or stained with bird droppings.
"Shannon, this place is a dump!"
"Wait and see, sis. Wait and see," he said, and put on a pair of gloves. He went over to the gate, and pulled hard on the chain to get it to open. It howled and creaked from years of neglect and disuse, but it eventually started moving upwards.
Once it was fully up, he tied the chain around a drain pipe, and put the gloves on top of an old, rusty oil drum that stood next to it.
"Siobhan, take the wheel..." he said, and waved his hand at his sister.
She slid over into the driver's seat, and put the Blazer in gear.
"... And follow me!" he said, and walked into the derelict building.
The inside of the building looked even worse than the outside - there were two large holes in the ceiling, and everything was horribly filthy.
Siobhan parked the Blazer and turned off the engine. She got out and shook her head.
"What the hell..." she said, and put her hands on her hips.
"This'll be our base for the next few days," Shannon said.
"Oh, no, you've got to be kiddin'!" Siobhan said with a growl.
"It fits our needs perfectly."
"Yeah? So does the crapper, apparently."
"Now you mention it, there's a hole in the ground over there for that exact purpose. We'll set up the showers somewhere over there, too."
The two passengers on the backseat opened their doors and stepped out. Robert Wellman and Dillon O'Shaughnessy looked at each other and chuckled over the language used by the feisty Siobhan.
"Are you guys ever gonna behave like a regular brother and sister?" Wellman asked as he opened the hatchback of the Blazer.
"Go to hell, Bob," Siobhan said, and stomped off in a huff.
The broadshouldered African-American studied her retreating form, and chuckled again.
He pulled out four large canvas bags, and placed them on the ground.
"Dillon, get your lazy ass over here and help with the bags," he said loudly.
"Yeah, yeah, what's the fuckin' rush. You heard the bossman, we're spendin' the next few days here. We'll get it done," O'Shaughnessy said, and pulled up in his drooping pants.
"Jeez, look at you! You'd think you were eighteen. Well, you're 42, so get yourself a proper pair of pants!" Wellman said and rolled his eyes.
"Ah, fuck it. We can't all be Mr. Cool."
"There's no risk of you ever being Mr. Cool, Dillon."
"Stay outta my hair, Fancyass," O'Shaughnessy said, and picked up two of the bags.
"Shannon! Where do you want these?" Wellman said, and marveled over the way his voice echoed through the derelict building.
"Over here. This room will double as our office," Shannon said, standing in a doorway at the far side of the building.
A little later, all four were standing near a rusty fence that separated the lot from the western riverbank of the Monroe.
Shannon looked at himself and the three others, and chuckled over their wildly varying appearances.
'Jeez, it would be impossible to find a more diverse group,' he thought.
O'Shaughnessy and Wellman were both in their early 40s, but that's where the similarities between them ended. Dillon was a brute, with a pockmarked face, a strong jaw, and a hawkish nose - and all in all, he was a bit of a slob.
Wellman was his exact opposite - his complexion was akin to melted chocolate, and he was a handsome man. He was stylish and well-dressed, and usually wore a gold Rolex, though he had left it at home for this operation.
Siobhan was 24, but seemed younger. She was a very pretty girl, though she pretended she wasn't, and her tough attitude had often brought her trouble. She dressed like a teenager, with loud sweatshirts, low-cut jeans, and well-worn sneakers. Her eyes were pale green, and her short hair, cut in a youthful, 'wild' style, was dyed a mousy brown with red streaks.
Shannon himself was 30, and couldn't hide his Irish heritage. Like his sister, he sported pale green eyes, but he had kept his original hair color, which was a faintly reddish blond. Shannon appeared to be a charming rogue, with boyish good looks and a disarming smile, but those who knew him well could tell stories of a hard personality - and a raging temper.
"So, in case you're wondering where we are: We're just off Twelfth Street, three blocks south of the financial district in Midtown West. We're on Salvatore Coluzzo's turf, but he doesn't have a beef with us... yet... so his boys won't pay attention to what we're doing. Over there," Shannon said, and pointed at the other side of the river.
"... is Fast Freddie Donnelly's turf. Late tomorrow night, that'll be the biggest goddamned beehive you'll ever see. They'll send every single soldier they have out on the street to find us, but none of those idiots will even consider looking for us on this side of the river."
Wellman and O'Shaughnessy smiled in a nasty sort of way, and patted each other's backs.
Siobhan sighed, and started biting her lip.
"It's too late for second thoughts, sis, you can't pull out now." Shannon said quietly, putting a hand on his sister's shoulder.
"I know. It's just... I got a bad feeling in my gut."
"It's nerves. It'll pass once you hold the money."
"OK. Come on, let's go back to the base," Shannon said, and led the way.
"All right. This is it. Now we're getting to the serious part, folks, so listen up!" Shannon said, standing in the middle of the derelict building.
They were all four dressed in identical blue boiler suits, and they were all wearing black gloves.
"First, we synchronize our clocks," Shannon said, and moved his sleeve back to reveal an expensive wristwatch.
"Jeez, this ain't no military operation, and we're definitely not the Delta Force, ya know?" O'Shaughnessy said, and scratched his hair.
"Do as I tell you," Shannon said with an angry glare.
"On my mark, it's 8:17 AM, in four... three... two... one... mark."
"Yezz, Bozz," O'Shaughnessy mocked.
"T minus 37 hours and forty-three minutes, so now is a good time to drill. Wellman, you're Number One, Dillon, you're Number Two. I'm Number Three, and that leaves Siobhan as Number Four," Shannon said, pointing at each of them in turn.
"I'm always Number Four," Siobhan whined.
"Well, if you grow some balls, you can be Number Three... maybe," Wellman joked, but was met by a Death Glare from Siobhan.
"Easy now," Shannon said.
"Here's the plan. Number One: the radiator, the right hand tires and the front seat passenger. Number Two: the left hand tires and the driver. Number Three: open the back door, do the back seat passenger, grab the money. Any questions?" he continued.
"Yeah! What's my job in all this?" Siobhan said with her hands on her hips.
"You're the lookout, so you'll cover our asses. And then you're the driver," Shannon said.
"I think we should only split the money three ways, Shannon. I mean, it's only us guys who are doin' the dirty work, right?" O'Shaughnessy said, and stifled a snicker.
"Fuck you, snot-for-brains!" Siobhan shouted.
"Will you fuckin' CALM DOWN!" Shannon thundered, and the others quieted down.
"Now, wear these. They'll restrict your vision if they're not on right, so get used to 'em," he said, and threw the others a skimask each.
"You look like fuckin' Freddy Krueger, Bob," O'Shaughnessy said and pointed a fat index finger at Wellman, who had some trouble lining up the slits for the eyes.
"Oh, ha ha. Come a little closer, I've got a knuckle sandwich I want you to try."
Shannon rolled his eyes, but kept quiet. He went over to one of the large canvas bags and took out four Springfield SAR4800 automatic rifles. He took four clips, but only loaded one of the rifles.
"All right, line up for a drill. We've gotta get the moves down pat," Shannon said, and rolled down his skimask.
He threw Wellman and O'Shaughnessy a rifle each, and handed the third one to his sister.
"Hey, ain't ya forgettin' somethin' ?" O'Shaughnessy said, and pointed at the empty hole where the clip was supposed to be.
"No. This is a dry run. I don't want any of you to blow off your balls before we even get started. Now line up!"
Using the Blazer as a mock-up of the primary target, they spread out around it and waited for Shannon's command.
"Go, Number One!" he shouted, and Wellman ran forward, aiming the rifle at the SUV.
"Radiator!" he said, pointing the weapon at the front of the car. Then he moved down the right side of the car.
"Right hand side tires!"
Moving the rifle up, he aimed at the passenger side window.
"Two!" Shannon shouted, and gave O'Shaughnessy a push.
"Left hand side tires! Bang, bang! Driver! Bang, bang, splat! Clear!" he said, and lowered the weapon.
"Three!" Shannon said, and moved forward. He opened the door to the back seat, and moved the barrel of the weapon in an arc to show that he took care of the passenger. Then he reached in and grabbed one of the empty canvas bags.
He pulled out, and they ran away from the target.
Through all this, Siobhan was standing with her hands on her hips. She hadn't bothered to roll down her skimask, and the sour expression on her face clearly showed how she felt about the drill.
"Come on, Shannon! I need to know what to do, too," she said.
"Pretty good, but let's do it again, anyway," Shannon said, choosing to ignore his sister.
"Shannon, what happens if a rifle jams?" Wellman asked.
"If it happens to one of you two, I'll move in. If it happens to me, you'll move in, Wellman."
"Hey, why not me?" O'Shaughnessy said.
"'Cos you're on the wrong side of the car, Chief Featherbrain," Wellman said.
"Suck me," O'Shaughnessy grumbled.
"Calm down. I won't tell you again," Shannon commanded.
"Line up. From now on, we'll do it in real-time so we can get the rhythm... Number One!"
'... and that's a wrap for me today, I hope you've all enjoyed this two hour rockabilly special. I'm Susan Blaine, and you're listening to WERC on 91.2 FM, your number one rock'n'roll station. It's four PM, and here's the news. Early this morning, a freight train suffered a broken axle...' the radio said, but Maeve clicked on the off button.
She turned off Fourteenth Street, and drove the black Mustang through a narrow gateway. The rumble from the exhausts echoed loudly in the small space, and Staci considered covering her ears. Once they had gone through the gateway, Maeve soon found a suitable place to park.
"Man, I'd hate to live down here... I really would," Staci said as she got out of the car.
She looked at the desolate, rundown buildings, and got the shivers. Everything was bleak and filthy, and graffiti had been smeared on every single wall. Nearly all the streetlamps and windows had been vandalized, and there was a stench of garbage and human waste hanging in the air.
The hairs on Staci's neck stood up, and she felt like they were being watched - which they probably were.
"Yeah, well. That's Fourteenth Street for you," Maeve said and locked the car.
"I don't understand why you'll risk your Mustang by parking here," Staci said, and looked over her shoulder. Suddenly she noticed a group of three dangerous looking young men casually hanging around on the other side of the gateway, at the corner of the street and the alley.
"They know me, and they know we'll wipe 'em out if they do something stupid," Maeve said, and shrugged.
"Are you coming?" Maeve said, and held open the door to the first stairwell.
Staci didn't need to be asked twice, and she hurried out of the smelly courtyard.
Maeve knocked on the door to the apartment, and then stepped back.
"Staci, you need to stand where she can see us," Maeve said, and pulled at Staci's arm to get her over to the other side of the poorly lit hallway.
"Who is it?" a female voice said from the other side of the door.
"It's White Fever and a friend, Mary."
They could see some movement through the spyhole, and after a few seconds, they could hear no less than four locks being worked on.
The door opened a few inches and was then held by a sturdy chain.
"Yes, and a friend," Maeve said.
Staci smiled and waved, and that seemed to calm the nervous woman down. She closed the door again, and unhooked the chain.
"Come in," she said as she opened the door fully.
Maeve and Staci stepped inside the sparsely furnished apartment. Staci immediately noticed the thick wads of rolled-up newspapers that were stuffed into the cracks surrounding the windowframes, and she had to shake her head.
"Hello, Mary," Maeve said, and shook hands with the woman.
"Hi, Fever. It's nice to see you."
"Hello, Mary, I'm Staci Hart," Staci said, and put out her hand. She quickly realized that Mary couldn't see her hand, despite standing only two feet away, and she shot Maeve a shocked look.
Maeve sighed, and shrugged.
Staci moved over to the other side of Mary, and tried again.
"Oh, hello... I'm Mary Reynolds. I don't think we've met before?" Mary said with a smile.
"Actually, we have, but... I doubt that any of us want to be reminded of that night," Staci said quietly.
"Oh... no. You're right."
"How are you doing, Mary?" Maeve said as she sat down on an old, stained couch.
The bedroom door creaked open, and a young girl wearing a faded pink and white pajamas walked out, wiping her eyes and yawning widely. Suddenly she realized that there were two strangers in the living room with her mom, and she froze in mid-step. She looked at the two strangers with a frightened expression on her face, and she took in a sharp breath.
"Josey, it's all right. These women are friends of ours," Mary said, smiling broadly to convince her daughter that they weren't in danger.
The young girl seemed to understand the words, but it still took her nearly a minute to approach the two strange women. Once she had given them a thorough once-over, she appeared to decide that they were all right.
"Hi," she said.
"Hello, Josey," Maeve said, and put out her hand, palm up.
Josey took a hesitant step forward, and then slapped her hand down on Maeve's palm.
"High five," Josey said, and Maeve and Staci laughed.
"How was your nap, darling?" Mary said.
"That's good to hear. Miss Hart..." Mary said, after clearing her throat.
"Oh for heaven's sake, call me Staci!"
"All right. Staci, would you mind keeping Josey occupied in the bedroom... Fever and I need to talk about... something," Mary said.
"No problem. Come on, Josey. I'll bet you like to hear stories...?" Staci said, and took Josey by the hand, leading her to the bedroom.
"I love stories!"
"She's a wonderful kid, Mary," Maeve said as she watched the bedroom door close behind Staci and Josey.
"Yes. Yes, she is. Despite everything, she's doing great in school. I'm relieved they allowed me to keep her. If her father hadn't been a drug addict, I would've lost her," Mary said, and pulled out a rusty kitchen chair.
"How are you feeling?" Maeve asked again.
"I... still have some problems. My ribs and my jaw have healed, but my left eye is cloudy, and I still have some nerve damage on my face, as you can see. But... that's not why I asked you to come over."
"No, I... need some money, Fever. Badly. I only have for this month's rent, and that's it. My parents don't want to give me anything, and I... I tried to go out the other night, but no one wants to buy a whore who looks like this," Mary said, and touched the left side of her face.
Maeve leaned back in the couch and sighed.
"How much do you need, Mary?"
"I need to know if you have a habit."
"No. Never. I tried some pills once, but they made me puke. That was the only time I tried anything like that."
Maeve started thinking very deeply about Mary's situation. This was no place for a sweet kid like Josey to grow up, and her mother deserved so much more, too. A thought suddenly flashed through Maeve's mind, and her eyebrows twitched.
"Mary, I have a proposition for you."
"Anything, Fever, I'll do anything. Is Staci your girlfriend? Do you want a threeso..."
"No, Mary! Jesus!" Maeve said, and bolted upright so fast that Mary jumped back.
"I want to offer you a job. A *real* job. A job where you can earn some legit money so you can support yourself and Josey," she continued.
"In the kitchen out at Fast Freddie's mansion. One of the staffers has retired, and they need a another pair of hands."
"Oh... as a waitress, or something?"
"You might call it a waitress, yes. You'll be working in the kitchen, preparing the meals, and when they're done, you'll put them on a small cart and wheel 'em around to the various offices."
"I worked as a waitress in a little diner back home..."
"Great, so you're already qualified. When can you start?"
"That's a deal. Oh, I think I forgot to tell you - you'll get a small apartment at the mansion. It's not big, but it's better than this rat hole," Maeve said, and got up from the couch.
"No, Fever, I can't accept that..." Mary said, and put a hand on Maeve's shoulder.
"Listen, Mary, let's not waste any time bullshitting each other. You know damn well what might happen if you stay here," Maeve said quietly, so her voice wouldn't be heard in the bedroom.
Mary shrugged, and opened her mouth to speak, but Maeve cut her off.
"One day, some twisted psycho will offer candy to Josey, only it won't be chocolate he's gonna give her, if you know what I mean. Or a couple of crackheads will break in lookin' for money for drugs. And when they don't find any, they'll settle for the next best thing," Maeve said, and took Mary's hands in her own.
Mary sighed deeply, and nodded.
"But there are other families with children here... I'd feel like I was... leaving them behind for the wolves."
"I can't save them all. But I can save you and Josey," Maeve said strongly, and squeezed Mary's hands.
"... All right," Mary said, and took a few trembling breaths.
"Me and Staci will swing by tomorrow afternoon and help you pack, OK? We'll bring a truck and a couple of guys, and do everything in one go."
"How can I ever repay you, Fever?"
"By staying alive, and staying off the streets. I know you won't be feelin' particularly lucky living here, but you're lucky to be alive, Mary."
"I know. Dolores told me what happened that night. The man who attacked me... he killed another girl later on, didn't he?"
"That's right. And then I blew the psycho's brains out," Maeve said coldly. She went over to the door to the bedroom and knocked twice.
"Come in!" Josey said, and Maeve opened the door.
Josey and Staci were sitting on the bed, holding a sketch book with large, colorful pictures in it.
"Josey's been showing me her artwork," Staci said with a smile.
"That's cool. Josey, Staci and I are leaving now, but we'll be back tomorrow afternoon. Then we'll help you and your mom pack your stuff and move to a much nicer home. How's that sound?" Maeve said.
Josey didn't quite understand it all, but she nodded enthusiastically.
Staci cocked her head, and looked intently at Maeve - who winked in return.
"Do you have some friends here you want to say goodbye to?" Staci said, and ruffled Josey's hair.
"No. I don't know anybody here. And they're all strange," the young girl said, and flipped the page in her sketch book.
"Maeve, did you plan this all along?" Staci said on their way back down to the Mustang.
"Well... no. Not exactly. It was actually a spur of the moment thing. But one look at this... this cesspool made my heart bleed, ya know."
"You big softie."
"Shhh. The walls have ears."
The next day, the Mustang once again rumbled through the narrow gateway, this time followed by a delivery truck with 'Donnelly Furniture' printed on the side in gold and Irish green.
"I don't think the truck will fit through here, you know," Staci said, looking out of the window at the worn down bricks in the gateway.
"Sure it will," Maeve said, but kept an eye on the rear view mirror in case the truck got stuck - fortunately, it didn't.
Maeve parked the Mustang in the same space as the day before, and she quickly got out to assist Danny Watts maneuver in the tight confines.
It didn't take two minutes for them to attract attention, and several shady characters started forming around the outer edges of the courtyard, no doubt hoping to find something to swipe.
"We shoulda brought more men," Danny said as he and three other men jumped down from the cab of the truck. Some of the more cowardly of the shady characters disappeared at the sight of the 6'7" former wrestler, but others stayed.
"We'll be all right if we get it done quickly. First of all, Staci and I will go upstairs and tell Mary Red we're here. Then Mickey, Johnny and I will carry one thing down at a time. That leaves Geoff and yourself to guard the truck. Should be enough," Maeve said, and put on some heavy work gloves.
"Mary doesn't have much, anyway, so it won't take long," she continued. She clapped her hands together to get the gloves snug, and looked at Danny.
Mary opened the door to her apartment, and greeted Maeve and Staci with a broad smile that, unfortunately, made the injured side of her face really stand out.
"Hi again. Come in! We've already packed much, so it's ready for you to carry down," Mary said, and waved Maeve and Staci inside.
When Mary turned away from them, Staci looked at Maeve with a sad expression in her eyes. Maeve pounded one gloved hand into the other, and shook her head.
When they entered the apartment, Josey came flying out from her bedroom, and grabbed hold of Staci's pant leg.
"Hello, Staci! We're moving today!" she said, almost giddy with expectation.
"Whoa! Hey, there, Josey. Yes you are, and we're here to help you," Staci said, and mussed Josey's hair.
"She couldn't stop talking about you after you had left yesterday, Staci. I could hardly get her to fall asleep last night, either."
"Really? She couldn't stop talking about me?"
"I shoulda known you'd be a natural around kids," Maeve said, and batted her eyelids.
"Well... it couldn't be that much of a surprise. After all, I have years of experience pamperin' you, 'Fever'," Staci drawled.
Josey didn't understand that exchange, so she just looked at the three women with a blank stare. Mary blushed furiously, and didn't dare look at either Maeve or Staci.
Maeve guffawed loudly, and the sound made Josey laugh as well. Staci mussed her hair again, and was rewarded by a genuine smile from the young girl.
"I think we'll talk about that a little later, baby," Maeve said, and winked at Staci.
"Fever, do you have a CD player in your car?" Mary said, trying to change the subject.
"Well, I was thinking... wouldn't it be a good idea if Josey wasn't running around while we were carrying the stuff down? I have her favorite CD with some fairy tales on it," Mary said, and picked up a compact disc.
"Sounds like a great idea, Mary. I'd like to volunteer. Keys, please," Staci said, and put out her hand.
"Yes, dear. Remember to press the small button before you touch the doors. No point in setting the alarm off and waking up all the sleeping potheads," Maeve said with a grin, and handed Staci the car keys.
"Hey, Josey, would you like to go down to Fever's car with Staci, and listen to some fairy tales?" Mary said.
"I'm sorry?" Mary said, and winked at her daughter.
"Yes, please," Josey repeated.
Forty minutes later, Maeve and Danny watched the hydraulic lift on the back of the truck close until it locked in place with a metallic clang.
"That's it, Mary. All your stuff is inside," Maeve said, and took off her work gloves. She moved her fingers through her damp hair, and wiped some sweat off her brow.
"I still can't believe you're doing this for us, Fever. I can never pay you back."
"As I told you yesterday, you'll pay me back by staying alive," Maeve said, and put her hand on Mary's arm.
Mary nodded, and sighed deeply.
"I'll never work the streets again. That's a promise."
No words were necessary, so Maeve just patted Mary's arm.
"Let's go rescue Staci from whatever fairy tale it is they're listening to, huh?"
"We better. Josey loves Goldilocks the most, and I'm sure it's been playing on repeat," Mary said, wiping away a tear that had found its way onto her cheek.
"Hey, baby. Goldilocks?" Maeve said, after she had opened the door of the Mustang.
"Three times now, yes," Staci said with a tired grin.
"Mmmm-Hmmm!" Maeve said, earning herself a thump on the arm.
"Temper, temper, baby!"
"So, what now?"
"Well, now we drive back to the mansion. Ummmm, which reminds me... Staci, would you mind driving with the boys in the truck...? Mary wouldn't feel safe there, and... well, I don't think she and Josey will be able to fit in the back seat."
Staci's upper lip curled into a sneer, but it quickly faded, and she sighed.
"All right. But it'll cost ya. Plenty," she said, and got out of the Mustang.
"I'm good for it, you know that," Maeve said, and got into the driver's seat - the first thing she did was to move the seat forward by seven inches.
Staci went around the car, and crouched down next to the opened passenger door.
"Bye, Josey, see you at the mansion," Staci said, and held up her hand.
With a giggle and squeal, Josey slapped it.
"See ya, Auntie Staci."
Maeve's eyebrows shot up, and she very nearly made a smart-alec comment, but the look on Staci's face convinced her not to.
Josey got out of the car, and then Mary held the seat for her so she could slip in the back. Mary got in, and rolled down the window. She smiled broadly at Staci, and put out her hand.
"Thank you for all your help."
"You're welcome, Mary," Staci said, and shook Mary's hand.
Maeve chose that moment to start the Mustang, effectively cutting off all conversation. Staci stepped back and put her fingers in her ears to show her displeasure, but Maeve just grinned wickedly, and blipped the throttle.
Staci walked over to the delivery truck to look for Danny - she found him already sitting in the driver's seat.
"Hey, Danny. Looks like you're gonna have me as a passenger on the way back," Staci said, and folded her arms across her chest.
"Yeah. Maeve thought it was best to protect Mary from the rowdies," Staci said slightly surly.
"Good point. But in that case, I better lay down the law," Danny said, and climbed back down. He quickly rounded up the men they had brought along.
"Listen up, guys. Miss Hart will be with us for the return trip, and..." he said, but was interrupted by a loud cheer and a wolf call from one of the men.
"Johnny... Tell me, would you like to be known as Joanna?"
"Errr, no, boss...?"
"Then shut the fuck up. Fever's very fond of Miss Hart. Don't forget that."
"Yes, boss," Johnny said, and gulped.
"And if any of you as much as look at her funny, you might as well bend over and kiss your asses goodbye, 'cos there won't be any left once Fever's done with you."
"Yes, boss," all three men said.
Staci had a hard time keeping a straight face, but she managed to maintain a stern facade.
"Miss Hart," Danny said, and helped Staci up in the passenger seat of the truck.
"Mr. Watts," she replied, and smiled at him.
"And you... in there," Danny said, and opened the door to the cramped crew cab.
The three men groaned, but squeezed themselves into the narrow back seat that definitely wasn't built for men their size.
Behind them, Maeve reversed out of the parking space. As she went past the truck, she honked twice, and waved her hand out of the window.
Danny started the truck, and honked back.
At the exact same time, Jimmy Snakes turned off Thirteenth Street, and drove under a marquee that proclaimed 'WELCOME TO THE SEVENTH ANNUAL 13TH STREET FLEA MARKET' in two-feet tall bright green letters.
He stopped his Ford Taurus Stationwagon in front of a smallish booth, and the parking attendant came out. Snakes paid $5, and a young kid helping the attendant put a green slip of paper under his windshield wiper.
Snakes drove away from the booth and onto a grassy field. He had come early, so he had a vast choice of parking spaces. He decided on one relatively close to a soft drink vendor, and parked the Taurus.
He got out and opened the hatchback. He looked at the three tables and the four cardboard boxes, and sighed deeply. Taking a deep breath, he pulled out one of the tables, and carried it to the spot he had decided on - five feet from the car. Once there, he put it down hard on the ground, huffing and puffing like a steam locomotive. He leaned down and extended the legs, and then flipped the table over so it was level.
Snakes reached into his shirt pocket, and found his brand new, freshly stolen, pair of Supastarz Midnight Black sunglasses. He put them on, and turned around... and nearly fell when he stepped into a pothole in the grass that he wasn't able to see because of the black sunglasses. He cursed, and looked around, but it appeared that no one had noticed.
He ran a hand through his greasy hair, and then scratched his scraggly beard. In his heart, he couldn't quite believe that he, Jimmy Snakes, had fallen so low that he had to sell low-grade stuff at a flea market just to make ends meet, but it was the unfortunate reality. After the fiasco with the Websters, and then with White Fever, he had lost most of the friends he had, simply because no one wanted to be associated with someone who had first tried to take out Donnelly's number two himself, and when that hadn't worked, had ordered a hit on her.
He sighed and went back to work.
A little while later, he had set up the three tables in a horseshoe, and had arranged the items from the cardboard boxes so they would look interesting to the customers. His throat was as dry as parchment, and he desperately needed a beer, but the drinks vendor wasn't open for business yet, so he had to settle for a stale mineral water that had lost all its fizz.
With a sigh, he sat down in the back of the Taurus. After a minute, he pulled a separate cardboard box towards him, and looked inside it - he had set it aside for the 'special' customers, and he hoped that he'd sell most of what was inside. Patrick Daly, the owner of Daly's EmPORNium, was one of the few people who would still talk to him, and he had offered Snakes a box full of discarded porn tapes and discs for only $40. There were 25 movies in the box, and Snakes knew that if he sold them all, he'd make one hell of a profit.
The customers were still few and far between, so Snakes dug into his pocket and took out a small glass of stolen prescription medicine. Flicking open the cap, he quickly swallowed two pills, and scooted backwards so he could lean against the back of the backseat. He made himself comfortable, and prepared to be engulfed by the familiar, colorful buzz.
Ten minutes later, two fancy-dressed men walked up to his tables, and started looking at the merchandise on offer.
Snakes climbed out of the Taurus, and dusted off his hands.
"Hey. You lookin' for somethin' special?"
"Maybe. Whatcha got?" the first man said. He was in his late 50's, with a well-groomed salt-and-pepper beard and matching hair. He was wearing an expensive looking brown leather duster, and a dark suit underneath.
"Oh, you know, man. This and that, as you can see."
"This is just junk," the other man said. He was at least twenty years younger than the other man, and looked similar enough to be a younger brother, or a son.
"Yeah, but I've got somethin' good back here. C'mon, take a look," Snakes said, and waved his hand.
"This is the good stuff, man," Snakes said, as he pulled out the cardboard box with the porn. He reached in and took out a few of the movies, so the older man could see the colorful pictures on the covers.
"Interesting. How much?" the older man said.
"$10 a movie?"
"$6 a movie, but that's it."
Snakes tried to calculate it in his head, but the buzz kept interrupting his mental arithmetic. He shrugged, and let it go.
"Six bucks, you betcha, man," he said, and placed the box on one of the tables.
"Are they originals?"
"Oh, absolutely, man," Snakes said, and opened up a couple of DVDs, so the older man could see for himself.
"Ace quality movies, too, man. Most of 'em are made by Silver Stallion, my favorites. They always have the best babes."
The older man looked through the box, and picked out six movies. Snakes shoved the box back in the Taurus, and dusted off his hands again.
"$30, here ya go," the older man said, and handed Snakes three $10 bills.
"Thank you... hey, wait a minute... it's $36, man!"
"Oh, I'm sorry. That's right. I'm so forgetful these days," the older man said, and gave Snakes two $1 bills and a handful of nickles and dimes.
"Yeah, I know that feelin' well. Just last week, I couldn't remember where I had parked my car, man!" Snakes said, and smiled at the two customers - then he put the money in his pocket without looking at it.
"Oh, no! If I did that, my wife would kill me," the older man said, and laughed.
"Say, my good man, you wouldn't happen to know the way to the restrooms, would you?" he continued.
"Sure thing, fella. You just go to the end of the tables, and then turn left. They've set up a long line of portable shithouses down there, man. You can't miss it," Snakes said, and pointed out the way.
"Down the end of the tables, and left?"
"That's right, yeah. You can't miss 'em."
"Thank you," the older man said.
"Come on, dad. We're all done here," the younger man said, and walked away from Snakes' tables - carrying a large, black plastic bag.
Snakes looked at the $36, and punched the air in triumph. He sat down in the back of the Taurus, and recounted the money over and over again.
Fifteen minutes later, another customer walked up to Snakes' tables.
"Hi, man. What can I do for ya?"
The man, an Ordinary Joe wearing jeans, a denim jacket and a green beret, looked around, and leaned in towards Snakes.
"You got any porn?"
"Man, do I ever," Snakes said, and pulled the cardboard box towards him - only to discover it was empty.
"What the..." he croaked, and looked around in a panic. He checked everywhere, even under the car, but the movies were gone.
"Oh, man! Oh, Jeez... Oh, man!" he said, and clutched his head.
"Oh, man!" Snakes said again, and started to run around in circles. The customer shrugged and walked away.
"The men! The two fuckin' men! Jesus Flippin' Christ, the two men!" he suddenly said out loud, and slapped his forehead. He quickly threw all the other merchandise and the tables in the back of the Taurus, and closed the hatchback with such force the windows rattled.
"I'm gonna find those assholes, and when I do, I'm gonna teach them a goddamned lesson!" he said loudly and set off to search for the con men.
An hour later, he was no nearer finding the two men. Dejected, he shuffled back to the Taurus, got in, and let out a long, slow sigh. He rubbed his forehead, and pondered why life was always so unfair to him.
"Gaaawd, I'm glad this is the last of the big crates," Maeve said in a strained voice as she carried a packing case into Mary's and Josey's new apartment on the second floor of the Donnelly mansion. She put it down on the floor with a bump - and groaned when she stood upright.
"Your back?" Staci asked, and placed a much smaller cardboard box next to the big one.
"Yeah," Maeve said, and held her hand hard against a muscle on her lower back that had given her trouble ever since she sprained it in the clash with the Websters a month ago.
She gave the apartment a thorough once-over - it wasn't huge or extravagant, but it was certainly a massive step up from the dump Mary and Josey had lived in previously. The living room and both bedrooms were fitted with a very nice dark brown carpet and a tan wallpaper. All the panels and the window sills were painted in a lighter shade of brown, as were the ceiling and the cabinets in the kitchenette.
"Poor you. I'll give you a massage tonight... if you're interested, that is?" Staci said for Maeve's ears only.
"The only time I won't be interested is when I'm face-up in a casket," Maeve said, and wiped off her hands on a kerchief.
"Gawd, that's morbid, Maeve," Staci said, and got the shivers.
"I know. Hey, what do you think of this place?"
"Well, I like it. A good-sized living room with a kitchenette. Two bedrooms, both with a window overlooking the garden. Yeah. I think it's a great place for Mary and Josey to live."
"What are you two talking about?" Fast Freddie Donnelly suddenly said, standing in the door. The heavy-set man lumbered into the apartment, and looked around. He nodded appraisingly, and pushed aside a cardboard box so he could sit down on the couch.
"Oh, nothin'. Don't sneak up on us like that," Maeve said.
"Don't give me that, young lady. It's my house, innit?"
"Yeah, but who knows, we might've been doin' somethin' adult," Maeve said with a mischievous grin.
"Maeve...!" Staci whispered, feeling her cheeks grow hot from the blush that spread out over her face.
"True," Fast Freddie said, and crossed his stubby legs.
Mary and Danny came in, carrying the kitchen table between them. Josey ran in behind them, but stopped abruptly when she saw the fat man sitting in their couch.
"Just put it down here, Danny," Mary said, and nodded her head at the spot where she wanted it.
"Hey. You must be Josey," Freddie said, and waved at the young girl.
"That's right," Josey said, and hurriedly hid behind her mother's legs. She poked her head out, and studied the large man intently.
"Hello, Miss Reynolds," Fast Freddie said, and got up from the couch. He put out his hand, and lumbered forward.
Mary was completely dwarfed by Freddie's bulk, but she politely put out her hand, and even curtsied when they had shook hands.
"Mr. Donnelly was my father. I'm Fast Freddie. So, welcome to my house. I've been told that you'll be working for us from now on...?" Freddie said, looking at Maeve with a twinkle in his eye. Maeve responded by flashing her trademark crooked grin.
"Yes. Fever was kind enough to offer me a job here."
"I'm glad she did. Well. You have a beautiful daughter, Miss Reynolds."
"Thank you. Please, call me Mary."
"All right. Are we done here? Because I want to give you a tour of the house..."
"No, there's still a couple of chairs left, and also the suitcase with Josey's clothes," Mary said, and moved an errant lock of red hair behind her ear.
"I'm sure Maeve and Staci can handle that... right?" Fast Freddie said, and winked.
"But of course, uncle Freddie," Maeve said, grabbed hold of Staci's elbow, and led her from the room.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Donn... I mean, Fast Freddie, but it's already past Josey's bedtime, so would it be possible to wait a few minutes...?"
"Oh, absolutely. I'm just in the way here, anyway, so when you're ready, ask Danny or one of the girls to show you the way to my office. OK?"
"OK. Thank you very much," Mary said, and curtsied again.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, child, stop doin' that!" Freddie said with a belly laugh that almost rattled the window panes.
"This is the Donnelly mansion, not the White House. Here, we're one, big family. Some are bigger than others, granted..." Freddie said, slapping his gut, "... but we're definitely one family. But anyway, just come and see me when you're ready," he said, and lumbered out of the apartment.
Fifteen minutes later, Josey was safely tucked in and fast asleep. As soon as the young girl started snoring, Mary leaned down and kissed her on the forehead, and then walked on tip-toes over to the bedroom door.
She closed it softly, and leaned her head against the doorjamb. She sighed deeply, and rubbed her weary face.
"Are you..." Danny started to say, but Mary quickly put a finger against her lips and shushed him.
"... ready to visit Mr. Donnelly now?" he continued, making sure to whisper.
"Yes. I'm ready," Mary whispered back, and waved at Maeve and Staci, who were both sitting in the couch - biting their lips, so they wouldn't break out in laughter over the unusual sight of the former wrestler being shushed by a woman a third his size.
Danny and Mary left the room, but just before Danny closed the door, he stuck his head in and wiggled his eyebrows.
"OK, that was weird," Maeve said quietly after Danny had closed the door.
"Yeah. But fun, though," Staci said, and got up from the couch. She went over to the refrigerator, and found a bottle of spring water.
"Want one?" she whispered, and held up the bottle so Maeve could see it.
Staci came back to the couch, and sat down.
"Move over," she said, and pushed Maeve up towards the top end of the couch.
Once Maeve was located at the end of the couch, Staci swung her legs up, and placed her head in Maeve's lap. She wiggled a bit to get comfortable, and purred when she found a good spot.
"Much better," she whispered, unscrewed the cap of the bottle, and took a healthy swig.
"Oh, I definitely agree. Are you tired?"
"Yeah. I have a headache. I'm not used to all this physical work."
"Oh, I don't know. You always seem very physical when we're together," Maeve said, and leaned down to give Staci a kiss.
"Oh, ha, ha. That's different."
Maeve started giving Staci's scalp a gentle massage, stopping occasionally to run her fingers through the silky black locks, and to caress Staci's chiseled features.
"Mmmmmmmmm," Staci purred, and closed her eyes. As usual, Maeve's touch did wonders for her, and it wasn't long before she could feel her entire body relaxing.
Suddenly Maeve stopped, and Staci could hear her clear her throat.
"Don't stop, baby," she whispered huskily.
"Ahem. Staci, we've got company."
"Compa... oh, gawd...!" Staci said, and bolted upright so fast the cap of the bottle went flying. Her face turned crimson red in an instant, and she found a very interesting dark blotch on the carpet that needed to be studied thoroughly.
Danny was standing in the doorway, sporting a blush very similar to Staci's.
"Come in an' have a seat, Danny-boy," Maeve said with a throaty chuckle.
Danny pulled out a rickety armchair, and sat down very carefully - in case the old thing collapsed under him. It didn't, and after a few seconds, he relaxed, and crossed his legs.
"Miss Reynolds is visiting Mr. Donnelly now. He's going to take her on a tour of the house."
"Good," Maeve said, and looked at Staci, who was still busy studying the dark blotch.
"It's too bad that Miss Reynolds suffered that injury. She's quite a pretty woman otherwise. Don't you think, Fever?" Danny said, and played with his shoelace.
"She is. Are you interested?"
"Well... I've only known her for four hours," he said with a chuckle.
"Oh, believe me, sometimes four minutes is enough."
"Maeve! Do we really have to talk about your former ladyfriends now?" Staci said, and poked the Enforcer in the side with her elbow.
"No... except that particular ladyfriend was... you. In your parents' flower shop, remember? You bowled me over the first time I saw you, baby," Maeve said, and leaned over to give Staci a quick peck on the cheek.
"Oh... in that case, it's all right," Staci said, and resumed the study of her favorite dark blotch.
Maeve grinned, and ran her thumb across the back of Staci's hand.
"But, Danny, please remember what Mary's been through. I think it's too soon for romance. What she needs is a good friend who'll be there for her when the demons come a-knockin'," Maeve said.
Danny nodded solemnly.
"I understand that. And I hope she'll let me be that friend."
Fifteen minutes later, Mary came back, wearing a beaming smile that stretched from ear to ear.
"I take it the meeting went well?" Maeve said.
"It went better than well, Fever. Mr. Donnelly has promised me some new furniture. He said that the old stuff I brought was ripe for the junkyard, and... well, he's right."
"Oh... great. That means we have to carry everything back down again," Maeve said, and groaned.
"I'm sure Danny won't mind carrying some of it?" Mary said.
"Won't mind at all," Danny said, and returned the smile.
Maeve and Staci looked at each other and exchanged knowing grins.
Mary bounded over to the kitchen table, and sat down on a rusty chair.
"Mr. Donnelly showed me the stuff I'll be working with - it looks really easy."
"I'm glad to hear it," Maeve said.
Mary's expression turned more serious, and she looked down at her hands.
"Fever, there's something else on my mind, but I don't know if it's appropriate, considering all you've already done for me..."
"Hmmm...? I guess you have to tell me what it is, first," Maeve said, and chuckled.
"Well, I think it would be much better for Josey if she was moved from the school she's in now, Van Buren Elementary at Fourteenth and Madison. I hate that place, it's so bad for her. She's exposed to all kinds of bad people every single day. They..."
She drew a deep breath, and let it out very slowly.
"... bully her for being the daughter of a hooker," she said quietly.
"I understand. I'll get to it first thing tomorrow. Do you want private tuition?"
"No, I'd prefer Josey to continue in a public school. That way she'll have some playmates, but... do you think it's possible to move her to a better school?"
"If it isn't, we'll make it possible," Maeve said in a tone that left no room for misinterpretation.
Danny looked at his watch, and got up from the rickety chair.
"Well, I guess it's time for me to do the money run."
"Already?" Maeve said, and checked her wristwatch - it was ten to eight, PM.
"Yep. Time flies when you're workin' hard. I'll take Johnny and Katie. She needs to learn the ropes."
"All right. Call me when you're on your way back."
"Sure thing, Fever. Good night, Miss Hart... Miss Reynolds," Danny said, and put out his hand. Mary shook it, and then Danny left.
"It's about time for us to leave, too, Mary. We're gonna grab a burger down at the Palace, and then I'm drivin' Staci home so she can change for work, so..." Maeve said, and got up from the couch.
"OK. But I'll see you around, right?"
"Yep. We'll be by now and then. Are you sure you'll be all right, Mary?" Staci said.
"Oh, yes. For the first time since Josey was born, I have a bedroom all to myself. It's incredible, really..."
Mary looked around in her new apartment, and tears started to build in her eyes. She wiped one away, but more followed, and soon, she had tears running down her cheeks.
She went over to Maeve, and embraced the Enforcer in a crushing bear hug. Mary let out a few sobs that ended in a long, trembling sigh.
"Thank you, Fever. Thank you so very, very much," she whispered.
"You're welcome. And please, call me Maeve. All my friends do."
Mary nodded, still too choked up to speak. She pulled back from Maeve, and managed a faint chuckle at the wet patch that had formed on the shoulder of Maeve's dark blue shirt.
"Whoops..." Mary said, and tried to wipe it away.
"Never mind that," Maeve said with a chuckle.
"Miss Ha... I mean, Staci, thank you, too," Mary said, and gave Staci a similar, if briefer hug.
"It's all right, Mary. We're glad we could help."
Shannon McWhirter finished off the sketch he was working on, and placed the pencil on the desktop. He leaned back on the chair, and studied the things he had drawn.
To the untrained eye, the drawing was a mess of unconnected lines, arrows and dots, but he knew exactly what every little doodle represented - it was a highly detailed battle plan.
He took a grainy black and white photo and held it up against his drawing. He traced some of the drawing's lines with his finger, and simultaneously used his wristwatch to time it to the exact second. He furrowed his brow, and picked up the pencil to make a few corrections.
'Everything has to be done to the second. If one of us is late, even if it's only by a second, the people there will have time to react, and that'll most likely mean curtains for all of us,' he thought.
He made a few more corrections to the drawing, and added two new dots, and then put down the pencil again.
Finally satisfied with the result, he took the paper, folded it several times, and put that and the pencil into a pocket in his boiler suit. He clicked off the small penlight, and went into the main room of the derelict building.
"All right, listen up. T minus 16 minutes, gentlemen, so stay..."
"Lady and gentlemen," Siobhan said surly.
"... alert. We won't get a second stab at this," Shannon said, ignoring his sister as usual.
"I'm ready," Wellman said, as he clicked the final cartridge into the clip, and inserted it into his rifle.
"I was born ready, boss."
"I don't doubt it."
"Blah, blah, blah! I can't take much more of this macho bullshit," Siobhan said with her hands on her hips.
"Siobhan, have you prepared the Blazer?"
"Yes. It's fully gassed up and ready to go."
"Good. Then get inside. And shut up," Shannon said.
Siobhan flicked him the bird, but did like she was told. She got in, and rolled down the window.
"Are you sure you two are related by blood, boss?" O'Shaughnessy said, and inserted the clip into his Springfield with a metallic clang.
"Getting less sure for each passing day, Dillon," Shannon said, and put on his skimask. He briefly rolled it down to check that it lined up with his eyes, and then rolled it up again.
"Anyway... remember, keep your gloves and your mask on at all times. I don't want to see any forgotten items when we leave the site. The cops are smart these days, they can extract prints from fabric."
"What about the spent cartridges, Shannon?" Wellman asked.
"I've never touched them with my bare hands, and I hope none of you have either?"
Wellman and O'Shaughnessy both shook their heads.
"Good. We'll leave them behind. It'll take too long to pick them up."
"I've heard that these days, you can get small collector bags to wrap around the rifles so you don't have to worry about 'em," Wellman said, and opened the backdoor of the Blazer.
"Heard that too. But they're custom made, so they can be traced." Shannon went around the front of the Blazer, and signaled Siobhan to start the engine.
"Hey, boss, how about gettin' ourselves a fancy name?" O'Shaughnessy said.
"Yeah, you know... like Bonnie & Clyde, or something?"
"That's a good idea, Dillon. Got any suggestions?"
"Well... we're four, so how about calling ourselves the Four Leaf Clover?"
"Not bad. I like it," Wellman said with a grin, and gave O'Shaughnessy a thumbs up - Siobhan merely rolled her eyes.
"I like it, too," Shannon said, and ran into the small office. A minute later, he came back out holding a small piece of paper with a few letters written on it - 'FLC - Four Leaf Clover'.
"What's that for, boss?"
"It's our calling card."
O'Shaughnessy went around the car, and opened the door on the right hand side. With an evil grin, he gripped the roofline with his strong hands, and started rocking the Blazer left and right. Wellman immediately joined in on the fun, and they soon had the Blazer moving like a fishing boat on the high seas.
"Stop fuckin' doin' that, you stupid fuckin' morons!" Siobhan howled, hanging on to the steering wheel for dear life.
O'Shaughnessy laughed out loud, but stopped rocking the car. He and Wellman dusted off their hands and got in. O'Shaughnessy placed the Springfield by his feet, and got comfortable in the back seat.
Siobhan spun around, and looked at them with a murderous glare in her eyes.
"Yer fuckin' INSANE!" she yelled, and gave them a two-fingered salute.
"Enough of that nonsense. Drill!" Shannon said.
"One... tires, radiator, passenger," Wellman said, and put his own rifle down in the footwell.
"Two... tires, driver," O'Shaughnessy continued.
"Three... back seat passenger, money," Shannon said, and nodded to himself.
"Four... lookout and then foot to the floor," Siobhan said, and revved the engine.
"Gentlemen, I think the Four Leaf Clover is ready."
"Lady and gentlemen," Siobhan said surly, and selected Drive.
Shannon ran ahead and pulled the chain to open the gate. Once it was fully open, Siobhan drove the Blazer through it, and then waited for her brother to close the gate and get in. With a low growl, the heavy SUV rumbled away from the abandoned building, and disappeared into the dusk.
'... so, we'll be done in around 20 minutes, barring unforeseen disasters,' Danny said at the other end of the connection.
"Good. I'll stand by in case you need me."
'We shouldn't, but thanks anyway.'
"Sure thing. Talk to ya later, Danny-boy."
"Danny's nearly done with the money run," Maeve said, and put the phone in her shirt pocket.
"You're wearing that frown you always get when you're thinking about something, baby," Maeve said, as they slowed down for a red light at Third Street.
"I'm thinking about something Josey said when we were listening to the fairy tales. I have to admit it shook me to the core."
"Oh? Something about you and me... our relationship?"
"Oh, no, no. Nothing like that. No. Josey asked me if her mommy would ever be pretty again."
"Yeah. Seeing her mother like that must've given that young girl the fright of her life. She's such a sweet kid. Mary's reared her well."
Maeve didn't reply, but instead stared out of the windscreen. When the lights turned green, she behaved like she was on auto-pilot, and drove on without a word.
Suddenly Staci realized what was wrong, and clapped her hand over her mouth.
"Oh, Jeez, Maeve... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..." she croaked through her fingers.
"Nah... it's all right. It's been so long, I should be over it," Maeve said, her voice gradually trailing off until it was no more than a whisper.
Staci started speaking again, but Maeve didn't hear her. Instead, her thoughts wandered back more than thirty years, to an event that would always be etched into her soul - it was a few weeks before her sixth birthday, and her parents had dropped her off at her uncle's house because they wanted a quiet, romantic evening at a retreat upstate. It was a thunderous day, and Maeve and uncle Freddie had been looking at the lightning, when Freddie received a phone call that would change Maeve's life forever.
On the way to the hotel, Maeve's dad had lost control of their car on the rain-slicked road, and had hit a telephone pole head-on. He had been killed instantly, and Maeve's mother, Freddie's sister, had suffered severe head injuries, and had fallen into a coma.
A cold trickle ran down Maeve's spine as she remembered the many traumatic visits to the hospital. After a month in a coma, her mother died without ever regaining consciousness, and without ever saying goodbye to Maeve...
Maeve blinked a few times, and slowly pulled back from those negative thoughts. She noticed that they had gone too far, and as she drove up to the intersection at Tenth Street to make a u-turn, she looked at Staci to ask why she hadn't said anything - to Maeve's great surprise, two wet streaks ran down Staci's face, and she was sitting very still, looking down into her lap.
"Hey, baby, why are you cryin'?" Maeve said, and gently clawed Staci's thigh.
"You were thinking about your family, right? ...I'm sorry for ripping up in those old wounds..."
"It's all old news, Staci."
"This is why you wanted to help Mary and Josey, isn't it?"
"Well... I guess it was in my subconscious, yeah."
The lights turned green, and Maeve made a u-turn. They drove a few hundred yards North on Jefferson, and soon stopped in front of the Three-In-One Club.
"Don't worry about it, Staci. I'm cool. Come on, gimme a kiss..." Maeve said, and leaned over to the dark-haired beauty next to her.
Their lips met in a loving kiss, and Maeve wiped the tears away from Staci's cheeks with her thumb.
"No more crying, please. I can't let you go to work looking like this, you know. They might think I can't satisfy you... it'd be bad for my street cred," Maeve said, and flashed her trademark crooked smile.
"Oh, Jeez, Maeve, they all know you're a Birddawg..." Staci said, and chuckled. She took out a handkerchief, and wiped her cheeks dry.
"How do I look?"
"Like a respectable business woman, Staci."
"Gawd, that old, huh?"
Maeve guffawed, and gently punched Staci's shoulder.
"See ya tonight, Miss Hart. Your flat at two?"
"You have a date, Miss Donnelly," Staci said, and leaned over to kiss Maeve again.
Staci adjusted her collar, and stepped out of the Mustang. Maeve waited for a few seconds, greatly admiring Staci's swagger, and then she put the car in gear, and drove off.
Three minutes later, Maeve pulled off Ninth Street, and drove into the gas station on the Burger Palace lot. She got out of the car, and inserted her credit card in the pump.
She had barely lifted the nozzle off the pump when she heard the familiar staccato chatter of an automatic rifle in the far distance.
"What the fuck...?" she said, and tried to strain her hearing.
It soon became clear that more than one weapon was firing, and within a few seconds, Maeve's mind had connected the dots.
"Fuck! Danny!" she said, and threw the nozzle back on the pump. She yanked her credit card out of the machine, and jumped into the Mustang. She turned the ignition key, and left the gas pumps in a cloud of dust.
The lights at the intersection were green, and she took a hard left and put her foot flat down on the accelerator. The speed quickly climbed to nearly 80 mph, and she zoomed through the traffic, heading for Second Street.
When she got there, it was already all over. The silver Lincoln was parked at an oblique angle to the curb, with all four tires shot to pieces. White steam billowed like a geyser from the shot-up radiator, and all the windows were broken.
All four doors were open, and two people were hanging out of the left side - both clearly dead.
Maeve brought the Mustang to a screeching halt, and bounded from the car. She drew her Beretta, and ran to the Lincoln, continuously scanning the surroundings in case the perpetrators were still near.
She kneeled next to Katie, and put two fingers on her neck, but the cashier was long since dead. Maeve cursed loudly, and closed Katie's eyes. She moved ahead to Johnny, and established that he was dead, too. She looked across at Danny, who was in the passenger seat, but he was sitting very still.
Maeve looked up and down the deserted street, but nothing moved. A few cars had stopped a hundred yards or so back, and the drivers were watching what was going on.
As Maeve moved to the other side of the Lincoln, sirens were approaching from somewhere in the distance, and she knew she didn't have much time. All their connections at the police wouldn't be enough to stop her from being brought in for questioning, and she didn't have time for that.
Suddenly, movement up ahead caught her eye, and she aimed the Beretta at a nearby alley. She kneeled behind the fender of the Lincoln, and held the weapon in a double-handed grip on to aim better.
"Come out with your hands up!"
A young man peeked around the corner, but quickly pulled back.
"I won't tell you again!"
A young man came around the corner with both hands high up in the air, and a frightened expression on his face. It didn't take Maeve two seconds to realize that he didn't have anything to do with the hit, and she growled in frustration.
"Get outta here," she said, and he ran away as quickly as he could.
A pained groan made Maeve spin around and look at the person on the passenger seat. Danny coughed a few times, and Maeve breathed a sigh of relief.
"Danny! Jesus, Mary and Joseph, man! What the fuck's going on!"
"Fever? They got me, the assholes," Danny said, clutching his head.
"Let me see," Maeve said, and removed his hand.
A bullet had carved a 7" long furrow on the side of his head, and the wound was bleeding profusely.
"You were lucky, Danny-boy," Maeve said, and felt immensely relieved that her friend was basically all right. She took a quick glance at the backseat, where an empty holdall was all that was left of the shipment. A few dollar bills were strewn on the seat and on the floor - the bills were soaked in Katie's blood. Maeve looked at the body of the cashier, and noted that the young woman's stomach and chest were riddled with bulletholes.
Her jaw began to grind, and she gripped the Beretta so tight her knuckles turned white.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a small piece of paper lying on the backseat. It looked so out of place that she reached over and picked it up to see what it was. It was 2" x 3", and the only words on it were 'FLC - Four Leaf Clover'.
"Did ya get a look at the people who did it?" she asked through clenched teeth, as she looked at the piece of paper.
"Four guys... blue boiler suits, skimasks... auto rifles. Man, they were ruthless, shot us up at point blank range. Black car, couldn't see which, and after that I was kinda busy. I didn't even get a single shot off..."
"Four guys... Four Leaf Clover... Jesus... Did you call it in?"
"No time," Danny said, and groaned again.
"All right. Danny, stay here, you need medical attention. The sirens are really close now, and I don't have time for that shit. I wasn't here, get it?" Maeve said, crumpled the piece of paper in her hand, and crammed it into her back pocket.
"No problem. I can't see straight, anyway, so I don't know who the hell you are," Danny said, and leaned back towards the neck support.
"I'll be at uncle Freddie's. If Coluzzo's responsible, he's just earned himself a full scale war," Maeve said, and patted Danny on the shoulder. He gave her a weak thumbsup, and she ran over to the idling Mustang and drove off.
"Yes, that's right. The shipment's been hit ... no, the money is gone ... no, I wasn't there ... Danny's been shot, but he's mostly all right ... no, the others are DOA ... yes ... I agree," Maeve said, holding the phone in one hand and steering with the other.
She made a hard right onto Franklin, which was soon followed by another hard right onto First Street. She blasted past Staci's apartment, and a thought flashed through her mind that she should call Staci so she wouldn't hear about the hit on the grapevine. The grapevine had a tendency to exaggerate, and Maeve didn't want Staci to worry about her.
Maeve honked her horn several times to get an errant Dodge to move aside, and when that didn't have much effect, she zig-zagged past it, and waved her free hand out of her window.
The irate man at the other end of the connection was still squawking madly in her ear, but she simply hung up on him - she was only three minutes away from the HQ, and it was more important to call Staci.
She rapidly dialed the number to the Three-In-One Club, and prayed that Staci was there to pick it up. It rang a few times, and Maeve was about to give up, when...
'Three-In-One Club, it's Staci.'
"It's Maeve. Hey... we've had a problem. I'm not involved myself, but it's definitely a problem. Danny's been shot."
'Oh, God! Is he all right?'
'And you're fine? Don't lie to me!'
Maeve had to chuckle, and she could well imagine Staci's expression.
"I'm fine. I wasn't there. The money shipment was hit. We're gonna hafta cancel the thing we had planned for tonight. I'm sorry, baby."
'No problem. I can hear you're driving?'
"That's right, I'm on my way back to the HQ."
'All right. Take care. Love you,' Staci said, and blew Maeve a kiss through the phone.
"Love you too. Talk to ya later," Maeve said, and hung up. She threw the phone onto the passenger seat, and turned onto the street where her uncle's mansion was located.
When Maeve arrived at the Donnelly headquarters, she was reminded of an army base under Red Alert. Dozens of men were running around, all armed, and all looking like they were ready for a fight.
She pulled up to the gate, and the guard came out of the booth. He turned on a flashlight, and shone it in her face.
"Jeez, man!" she growled, and shielded her eyes from the bright light.
"I'm sorry, Fever. I need to check if you're alone," the sentry said.
"Well, how about shining that damn thing into the car instead of at my eyes, huh?" she said, and shook her head angrily.
Two beefy men holding MP5s were guarding the door to Fast Freddie's office, and they nodded to Maeve as she entered the hallway.
"Mr. Donnelly told us to let you straight in, Fever," one of them said, and opened the double doors to the office. Maeve's reply was a growly grunt as she squeezed between the two guards.
Fast Freddie Donnelly was on the phone with someone, and judging by the flushed hue of his face, it was a frustrating conversation.
"I'm not threatening you, Don Coluzzo. All I'm sayin' is that we'll get to the bottom of it, and when we do, there'll be hell to pay for someone ... Yes. That's all I'm sayin' ... No, I'm not sayin' you did it ... No ... Yeah. All right," he said, and put down the receiver.
"Did you just say 'Don Coluzzo' ?" Maeve said incredulously as she approached the huge desk.
"Yeah. He called me, moanin' and cryin' that it wasn't them."
"How the hell could he know so soon if it wasn't his guys?"
"I don't know. His spies, probably. He sounded convincing enough," Freddie Donnelly said, and chucked down half a glass of Scotch.
"Huh! Do you believe him?"
"I don't know," he said, after regaining his breath.
"It's a fuckin' massacre out there. They even killed the cashier, and she was unarmed," Maeve growled.
"Katie? Motherfuckers," Freddie said, and sat down with a bump on his expensive leather armchair. He put down the glass, and wiped his forehead with his sleeve.
"The driver didn't make it, either."
"How much was in that shipment?"
"One hundred sixty thousand dollars."
Maeve whistled slowly, and scrunched up her face.
"I don't fuckin' know! Jesus, Mary and Joseph," Freddie said, and wiped his forehead again.
"I don't think there were any witnesses there. Well, I guess if there had been, these guys would've killed them."
"Danny was lucky as hell. The bullet only grazed his skull," Maeve said, and poured herself a drink.
"He was able to give me a description... boiler suits... the usual stuff. Not enough to go on," she continued, and suddenly remembered the piece of paper she'd found on the backseat of the Lincoln - she reached into her back pocket, and pulled out the crumpled note.
"I found this on the backseat. They're calling themselves the Four Leaf Clover. That's gotta be a new crew," she continued, and showed Fast Freddie the piece of paper.
"Well, whoever they are, we can't let such a ballsy hit on our own turf go unanswered. Get everyone on the horn. Someone must have heard something. Call Patrick Daly... didn't he help you that time with the Websters? Maybe he has something."
"It's worth a shot," Maeve said, and reached for her cell phone.
The Chevrolet Blazer bumped over the uneven surface of the grassy lot, and stopped at the gate. Shannon quickly jumped out, and pulled it up.
He got back in, and drove the car into the derelict building. Once there, O'Shaughnessy and Wellman quietly took the two heavy bags out of the trunk of the car and placed them on the ground in front of the Blazer, so they had some light to work by.
Shannon came out of the office carrying a knife. He kneeled down next to the bags, and cut the first one open. Holding up one end of the bag, he shook it for all it was worth.
Dollar bills rained out of the bag, and quickly formed a mountain of green on the filthy concrete floor.
Shannon threw the bag away, and looked silently at the money.
Unable to contain himself any longer, O'Shaughnessy let out a long, howling whoop that echoed through the empty building. He jumped up and down, and hollered a string of expletives - Wellman and Shannon were slightly more calm, but they still had broad smiles on their faces, and Wellman rubbed his hands repeatedly.
The second bag had been torn in the hit, and a few of the bills at the top were blood-splattered, but Shannon calmly picked them out, and put them in a separate pile. He held up the bag, and emptied it out on the floor.
Siobhan slowly got out of the Blazer and leaned against the hood. Her legs were shaking, and she felt so cold that her entire body was trembling. Her face was as pale as a sheet, and she could taste the bile at the back of her throat. She tried to wrap her arms around her body, but the thick boiler suit restricted her movements.
She briefly looked at her brother sorting the money, but it held no interest for her. She closed her eyes, and shook her head, but no matter how hard she tried to exorcise it from her mind, she could still hear the screams of the young woman in the silver car. She had never heard a human being screaming that way before, and just thinking about it made her skin crawl.
Suddenly, her stomach clenched violently, and she ran to a corner of the building to throw up.
"What the hell's the matter with her?" O'Shaughnessy said, holding a fistful of dollar bills.
"First kill jitters," Shannon said coldly.
After a few minutes, Shannon took pity on his sister, and tore himself away from counting the money.
Siobhan had curled herself up in a corner of the building, and looked thoroughly miserable. She was still very pale, and appeared much younger than her 24 years.
"Here, I brought you some water," he said, and threw her a plastic canteen.
She picked it up from the floor, and took a hesitant swig. She rinsed out her mouth, and spit out the water next to her.
"Thanks. Was that really necessary?" she whispered in a hoarse voice.
"The killings? Yes, they were necessary."
"Why? That young woman was..."
"God, Shannon... she couldn't have been more than a couple of years older than me...!"
"Don't you care about her family at all?"
"Then you're a fuckin' psycho!"
"Get real, Siobhan. You were here when we drilled, you knew what we were going to do. What do you think we should've done, huh? Give them flowers and chocolate and ask politely for the bags of money?"
"But you didn't have to slaughter that young woman!"
"She was in my way. But anyway, I'm rich. And so are you. We haven't finished counting the money yet, but there's at least $145,000 in that pile," Shannon said, and pointed at the money behind him.
"Do you honestly think I give a fuck about money now?!"
"Well, I'll just split it three ways, then. Doesn't matter to me."
Siobhan looked at her brother, and started to cry,
"You're sick, Shannon. You're really sick... I'm out. I wanna go home."
"No. I need you to drive the Blazer in tomorrow's hit."
"No! No! I can't.. Not again! I won't do it!" Siobhan said, and felt her stomach clench again. She clumsily got up, and stumbled over to the place where she had thrown up before.
"That's just too fuckin' bad, little sister," Shannon said coldly.
"159 thousand, two hundred dollars were good, Shannon. Four hundred bucks were too covered in blood to be legit," Wellman said, after having counted the money twice.
"Good. I guess the remaining $400 got left behind in the Lincoln. Well, all right. That still makes it a fraction less than forty G each. Burn the bills that were too bloody, Wellman."
"Forty Grand. Just peachy, boss," O'Shaughnessy said, and started collecting his share.
"Not so fast, Dillon."
"What? I fuckin' earned this dough!"
"We're not done yet. We're only one third of the way home."
"What the fuck? You never mentioned anything about two more hits?" Wellman said.
"We'll have one more peanut hit like this one, and then we'll..."
"Peanut hit! I wouldn't call this peanuts, boss," O'Shaughnessy said, and picked up a large fistful of dollar bills.
"It's peanuts compared to the five million dollars waiting for us, Dillon."
Wellman whistled through his teeth, and a wolfish grin spread out over his features.
"Who we gonna hit, Shannon? The Vatican?"
"Not quite. I'll tell you if the next hit goes well. And speaking of which, we'll need to drill some more. This hit is different."
Wellman looked at O'Shaughnessy, and they both nodded.
"All right, Shannon. For five million dollars, we can drill 'till we drop. But what about your sister? She seems a bit shaky?" Wellman said.
"Oh, don't worry about her. She'll do her part of the job. I'll see to that. Well, that's for later."
He rolled up the sleeve of his boiler suit, and checked his watch.
"It's T minus 14 hours 27 minutes for hit number two, so I suggest you get some sleep. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow."
"OK, wait just a minute! Now you're tellin' us the next hit is tomorrow!?" Wellman said shocked.
"Yes, I am."
"Holy shit... don't you think we're pushing our luck, Shannon?"
"We have the skills, the means, and the proper mindset. It'd be criminal not to use them," Shannon said, and put his hands on his hips.
"Are we hittin' the Donnellys again, boss?" O'Shaughnessy said.
"No. We're hitting Salvatore Coluzzo."
'Good morning to all you insomniacs out there, I'm Nat Thompson, and you're listening to WERC on 91.2 FM, your number one rock'n'roll station. It's a few minutes past four AM, and this hour is dedicated to the genius that is Fats Domino. We'll play all his big hits, but also some of the b-sides...'
Maeve turned off the radio, yawned, and rubbed her weary face. When she got out of the Mustang, she looked around the Community Hospital parking lot, and got a major case of deja vu. The hospital hadn't changed much since the time Maeve went there to see her mother, and the parking lot hadn't changed at all.
She opened the trunk, and took out a white plastic bag with some magazines for Danny. Just as she was closing the trunk, her phone rang.
"Fever. Talk to me."
'Hey, Fever, it's Dolores.'
"Hey. What are you doing up so late? You should be in bed," Maeve said, and leaned against the rear of the Mustang.
'Are you kiddin' ? I've barely been out of bed... Anyway, what's that I hear about you being attacked?'
"Not me personally. One of our money runs was hit."
'Shit. Catch 'em yet?'
"No. Whoever they are, they're good."
'They must be if you haven't caught them yet. I'll put my ear to the ground, and I'll ring ya if I catch anything.'
"Fast Freddie would really appreciate that, Dolores."
'I was hoping you'd appreciate it, Fever.'
"Oh... yeah. Well..."
'That's a deal, then. I'll call ya if I get any news. Bye.'
"Talk to ya later," Maeve said, and hung up. She clipped the phone to her belt, and started walking towards the rear entrance of the Hospital.
Even at this time of night, there were plenty of cars in the parking lot, and a security guard was doing regular rounds to maintain the peace and quiet. Maeve nodded to him on her way to the door, and he raised his hand to his cap as a reply.
After arguing with the night matron for five minutes about letting her see a patient outside of visiting hours, Maeve opened the door to the ward and stepped inside. It wasn't the same wing her mother had been in all those years ago, but the smell was the same, and she had to close her eyes, and take a deep breath before she could go on.
Finding the room Danny occupied wasn't difficult - no less than four beefy guys were waiting outside, protecting the door in case whoever had shot Danny decided to come back and finish the job.
"Fever," the first one said, as Maeve approached the horde of men.
"Doyle. What's up?"
"Not much. The doc's been going in and out from time to time. I don't think there are any problems. Any news on the shooters?"
"No. Is Danny alone now?"
"Good," Maeve said, knocked once on the door, and then swung it open.
"Hey, Danny-boy. I brought you some magazines, if you're interested," Maeve said, and placed the plastic bag on a low table next to the bed.
Danny's huge bulk looked completely out of place in the relatively small hospital bed. His head was totally wrapped in a bandage, and only his mouth, his nose and his steel gray eyes were out in the open.
"Jeez, look at you. You look like you're wearin' a turban, buddy."
"Seen any good lookin' nurses yet?"
"The night matron is the only woman here. The rest are men."
"O... K. I've just spoken to her, and... wow, who let the dogs out?" Maeve joked, and sat down next to the bed.
"D'ya have any news, Fever?"
"No. Not a damn thing. I must've been up and down Jefferson twenty times since the hit, but no one knows anything, not even Patrick Daly. Whoever these guys are, they're a brand new crew. I guess the note I found on the backseat is a signature of sorts. They're calling themselves The Four Leaf Clover."
"Never heard of 'em."
Danny shifted around in the bed, and the old metal structure creaked and groaned under his weight.
"If you need anything, just let me know. Well, except for the bedpan. If you need that, I'll call for Doyle," Maeve said, and winked.
"Yeah, very funny. I tried to get up before, and..." Danny said, and held up a hand grip that was supposed to be suspended from a bar above the bed.
"This piece of shit broke off when I pulled on it," he said, and shrugged.
Maeve laughed out loud, but then turned serious. She put her hand on Danny's arm, and gave him a little squeeze.
"Apart from the obvious, you're all right... aren't ya?"
"I guess. The doctors x-rayed my head, but they didn't find anyth..."
"And they needed an x-ray for that? Hell, I coulda told 'em that for free," Maeve joked, and quickly pulled back so she was out of reach of Danny's long arm.
Suddenly there was a commotion at the door, and Maeve turned around to see what was going on - Doyle opened the door, and stuck his head in.
"There's a cop here to see you, Fever."
"Sounds like the game's back on. Just get some rest. See ya later, Danny-boy," Maeve said, and squeezed Danny's arm again.
"Will do, Fever."
Even wearing plain clothes, Sean Duffy couldn't hide the fact that he was a homicide detective. He was in his early fifties, tall and of a sturdy build, with a square jaw and forest green eyes that never missed a single thing that went on around him. He held a notepad in one hand and a pencil in the other, and he had already written down the names of the men waiting outside.
"Good morning, Miss Donnelly," he said, as Maeve left Danny's room.
"I have some questions for you."
"I'm sure you do. Let's take a walk, shall we?
"How's Patricia and the kids?" Maeve asked, as they walked out of the rear entrance and onto the parking lot.
"Fine. How's your uncle Freddie?"
"By the way, I've never thanked you for giving us the murder weapon in that prostitute homicide a month ago," Duffy said, and closed his notepad.
"You're welcome," Maeve said, and walked slowly towards her Mustang.
"You wouldn't happen to know anything about how a certain Mr. Jerry McFarland ended up with a 9mm slug in his brain... would you?"
"No, I don't. Sorry. This is the first time I've ever heard that name."
"Didn't think you would."
"Are these the questions you wanted to ask me?"
"No. Here's what we know: Two people are dead, 26-year old Katherine O'Sullivan, no previous record, and 31-year old Johnny Price, who had a rapsheet a mile long. And Danny Watts was shot in the head, but lived. They work or worked for Fast Freddie Donnelly..."
"I know that already, Detective."
"... and four $100 bills were discovered in the car, covered in Katherine O'Sullivan's blood, next to an empty holdall. How much money was originally in that holdall, Miss Donnelly?"
"I'm not sure what you're talking about."
"Does Fast Freddie have any enemies?"
"Ha! Plenty of people. But none of 'em are crazy enough to kill two family members."
"Who did it, Miss Donnelly?"
"You're askin' me?" Maeve said, and leaned against the driver's side door of the Mustang.
"Was it Don Coluzzo?"
"Not according to Don Coluzzo himself."
"He called uncle Freddie soon after the hit. My uncle told me that Coluzzo basically spent the entire conversation sobbin', moanin' and cryin' that he had nothing to do with it."
"Hmmmm," Duffy said, and found his notepad. He quickly scribbled a few words, and then put it away again.
"Look, Detective, I don't know who did it, but I'm itchin' to find out, too. If I do, I promise to give you a call."
"So we can come and sweep up their remains?"
"Hmmm. Yeah. All right. Good night, Miss Donnelly. I'll be in touch," Duffy said, and walked over to a Ford Crown Victoria that was parked in the shadows.
"Can't wait!" Maeve said after him, and unlocked the Mustang.
"Yo, Snakes... ya want another beer? You've been fondlin' that empty glass for half an hour now," the barkeep said.
"No, man... not now."
"Look, I can't let you stay here if ya don't buy anything. This is the fabled Brown Bull, not some public warming center. The only reason I haven't kicked you out already is because I know you're barred from most other places."
Snakes looked around the near-deserted bar room. The place had a reputation as a dump, and even the hardened barflies knew to steer clear of the Bull on Twelfth Street. Everything was brown - brown curtains, brown linoleum on the floor, brown panels on the walls, and even the lamps above the counter were brown, but that was from being exposed to nicotine for decades.
"Yeah, well, thanks... but there ain't no one here but me, man!"
"My word is law, ya know that."
"Oh... all right."
"What'll it be?"
"A 10 cent Coke."
"Shit, man! Are ya still broke?"
"A 10 cent Coke, Jeez Louise. Snakes, ya better not let my boss hear that. He'll kick ya out in an instant. Luckily for you, I'm ya friend. Right?"
"How about offerin' me a job, then?"
"No way, man."
"It's the best I can offer you at a quarter to five in the goddamned morning," he said, looking up at a large clock hanging behind the bar.
"No way, man. And that's final."
The bartender shrugged and walked away.
Jimmy Snakes sighed, and went back to fondling the empty glass.
A few minutes later, the bartender brought Snakes a very small glass of sodapop.
"Gee, thanks, Archie," Snakes said in a sarcastic tone, as he held the glass up to the light to see if it really was Coke, or just dark brown water.
"Don't mention it. It'll be 10 cents," the bartender said, and held out his hand.
"Whatever." Snakes put the coin in Archie's hand, and emptied the glass in one gulp.
"Wanna play cards, Snakes?" the bartender said, and sat down at Snakes' table.
"Nah. I always lose."
"You know, ya wouldn't be in this position now if ya hadn't tried to off Fever."
Jimmy Snakes groaned and rolled his eyes.
"Don't talk to me about Fever, man. Coluzzo paid me to take her out of the picture, but when I go an' do it, not only won't she stay dead, the Don don't pay, either!"
"Perhaps the two are connected, huh?" the bartender said, and winked.
"How the flip would I know? Where's your can, I gotta pee..."
"Over there. It'll cost ya 25 cents, in advance."
"In advance, 'cos the faucet's crapped out, so ya can't wash ya hands."
Just as Jimmy Snakes opened the door to leave the bathroom, two people walked into the Brown Bull. He recognized them instantly - it was the same two men who had conned him at the flea market.
"Those good-fer-nothin' assholes," he hissed under his breath, and clenched his fists.
For a brief moment, he pondered whether he should go over and confront them... but they were both much larger than he was, so he put those thoughts aside, and remained in the shadows where they couldn't see him.
The two men bought beers with chasers, and started talking to the bartender. Snakes tried to listen in, but he could only pick up a few words here and there.
'... Word on the street is ... money run was hit ... Chevy Blazer ... leaf clover ... reward ... Fever ...'
'Reward!' Snakes thought. He licked his dry lips, and tried even harder to listen in on the conversation.
The bartender nodded excitedly, and poured the two men another round of chasers. They picked them up, and started walking towards a table - Snakes inched closer so he could continue to eavesdrop.
"D'ya think he bought it?" the young man said.
"He bought it. Won't be long before all of Twelfth Street knows it."
"Four Leaf Clover, ha! The second I heard that, I knew Dillon O'Shaughnessy had to be involved. He's used that name for a couple of very low-rent things. He's always had a sense for the supremely cheesy," the young man said, and gulped down his second chaser.
"Did you call him?"
"Yeah. He didn't say much, but I got enough... Enough to use against him."
The old man nodded wordlessly, and a cold, calculated grin spread out over his face.
"Money's on the table. See ya later, Archie!" the old man said, and opened the door to the street.
"See ya, Harry!" Archie shouted, and waved his hand.
As soon as the two men had left the establishment, Snakes came out of the shadows, and went up to the counter.
"Ummmm, Archie... who were those two men?"
"Harry Weaver Senior and Junior. Why?"
"Oh... nothin' Did they mention 'reward' ?"
"Yeah, they did. Earlier this evening, there was a hit on one of Fast Freddie's money runs. Your favorite girlfriend was busy cruisin' Jefferson askin' around. She never came here, though."
"Fever, ya dumb schmuck!"
"Don't talk to me about Fever, man!"
"How about a 10 G reward, then?"
"Ten thousand dollars?!"
"That's what the Weavers told me."
"Holy shit, man..."
Jimmy Snakes scrunched up his face, and began to rub the impressive double-Cobra tattoo on his neck that had given him his street name. He soon came to the conclusion that, even though Fever wasn't his best friend, for 10 Grand, he wouldn't mind helping her just once.
"I don't get it, though. Fever oughtta know that a 10 G reward will bring out all the weirdos and con men, not to mention the freaks, nutjobs and potheads trying to make a quick buck. Maybe Fast Freddie has a plan," the bartender said, and dunked the two beer glasses into some lukewarm, filthy dishwater.
"Mmmmhhhyeah," Snakes said, only hearing half of it.
'Asshole Junior said that he knew one of them... What was the name he used... Dalton, no. Denton... no. Dill... Dillon! Dillon O'Shaw-something. If I give that name to Fever, not only will the 10 G be as good as mine, Fever'll be indebted to help me get my porn tapes back!' Snakes thought, punched the air, and started dancing around in a circle.
The bartender stopped washing the glasses, and stared wide-eyed at Snakes' antics.
"Are you sure you're all right, buddy? You seem a little... trippy...?"
"I feel beautiful, man! I have it all worked out, man!" Snakes said in a sing-song voice. He suddenly stopped dancing, and strode towards the front door of the Brown Bull.
Maeve cruised slowly down First Street, hoping and praying that Staci was still awake. When she reached the apartment complex where Staci lived, it didn't take her but a second to see that the lights were off in both windows.
She sighed deeply and tapped her fingers on the steering wheel - suddenly the lights were turned on in the bedroom, and Maeve could see a silhouette of Staci's familiar figure pulling the curtains aside.
The figure looked out, and waved.
Maeve let out a loud, if tired, whoop, and quickly drove into the parking lot to park the Mustang next to Staci's dark green Corolla. In two seconds flat, she was out of the car, and stood by the front door. She found, and pressed, the button to Staci's apartment, and waited for the door to be buzzed open.
'Yes?' Staci's disembodied voice echoed through the parking lot, creating an eerie effect.
"It's me, darlin'. Wouldya mind if I came up?"
"Wow, you look like shit!" Staci said, as Maeve walked past her and into the apartment.
"Why, thank you, Staci. I feel like shit, so that's probably why..."
Staci chuckled, and closed the door. She put on the safety chain, and then followed Maeve into the living room.
"Hey, baby. I've missed ya," Maeve said, and stood up on tiptoes so she could give Staci a kiss on the lips.
"You have dark circles under your eyes... I know something that'll make 'em go away," Staci said, and gently kissed Maeve's cheeks just below her eyes.
"Thank you, darlin'. I think I have dark circles in my brain, to be honest. I'm so damn tired."
Suddenly she noticed that Staci was looking very fine indeed, wearing dark blue silk jammies and matching slippers.
"Oooh, baby, look at you! You look fantastic. Were you expecting someone?" Maeve said, and winked.
"Nah. The Noisy Beast woke me up, and when I peeked out, there you were."
Maeve chuckled, and moved closer to Staci with a wicked gleam in her eyes.
"That's funny... two seconds ago you said you were damn tired, and now...?"
"I'm never too tired to appreciate you, baby," Maeve said, and pulled Staci down for a loving, and lengthy, kiss.
A few minutes later, Maeve turned on the lights in the kitchen and made a beeline for the refrigerator. She took out a can of the local brew, cracked it open, and took a long swig.
"Man, I *really* needed that," she said, and rolled the can across her forehead several times to cool down.
"Listen, do you want to crash here tonight?" Staci said, standing in the door to the kitchen.
"Well, yeah... if it's not too much hassle?"
"Of course it isn't. You're gonna have to sleep in your T and boxers, though. I don't have anything for you to wear."
"I can sleep in my birthday suit if I have to."
"When I said 'sleep', I meant it, Maeve."
"Oh, sure. There'll be no hanky-panky tonight. As soon as my 'do hits the pillow, I'm gone," Maeve said, and yawned widely to underline her words.
"Anyway, it's a nice place you have here," she continued.
Maeve took another swig of the beer, and looked intently at Staci.
"Of course, it would also be nice if you moved in with me...?"
"Maeve... we've had that discussion already, and I doubt we can add much to it a quarter past five in the morning."
"Yeah, but I thought we'd agreed on it...?"
"We agreed on taking it one step at a time, and I'm sticking to that plan. This flat is... it's my lifeboat. Let's call it that... Look, can we talk about this some other time?" Staci said, and smiled wistfully.
"All right," Maeve said, and took another swig of the beer to hide her disappointment.
"He was fine when I left the hospital. He was shot in the head. Right here," Maeve said, and moved a finger across her skull, illustrating the wound.
"Yeah. But he's basically all right," Maeve said, and pulled out a kitchen chair. She sat down with a bump, and rested her head on her arms.
"It must've been a rough night."
"Baby, you have no idea."
"Tell me about it," Staci said, and sat down opposite Maeve.
"I was there within minutes of the hit. Jesus, it was... overwhelming. Even for me. Two people dead... shot all to hell... and all the money was gone."
"I'm really sorry to hear that," Staci said, and took Maeve's hands in her own.
"And then I've been running around like a goddamned lunatic for seven straight goddamned hours! I've been going flat out ever since I dropped you off at the club," Maeve said, and sighed.
"Yeah. I've spoken to so many people I've forgotten most of 'em again. And nobody knows anything!" Maeve said, and took another long swig of the beer.
"How's that possible?"
"It's a new crew. It must be. That's the only thing that can explain why we can't find them, and why no one knows who they are... whatever the reason is, it's frustrating as hell. They're ruthless, so we gotta stop them fast, but..." Maeve said, and shrugged.
"Ruthless? Oh, baby, please promise me that you'll be extra careful," Staci said, and held Maeve's hands tight.
"I promise," Maeve said, and brought Staci's hands up so she could kiss them.
With a smile, Staci leaned back on the kitchen chair, but it wasn't long before the smile slowly faded from her face.
"... Who were the people that were killed?" she said quietly.
"Johnny Price and Katie O'Sullivan."
"Johnny... the same Johnny that helped us with Mary's apartment...?"
"Dear God," Staci said, and put her hand over her mouth. She blinked several times to remove a few tears that had suddenly appeared, but one spilled over, and ran down her cheek. She quickly removed it with her hand.
"He... he whistled after me when I came over to the delivery truck yesterday afternoon. It wasn't meant seriously, it was just for fun. Jesus," she said, and sighed deeply.
"Yeah, that was Johnny, all right," Maeve said, and emptied the beer can.
"I hope he didn't suffer."
A grisly image of how the driver's head and body looked flashed before Maeve's eyes, and she felt a cold trickle running down her spine. She shook her head and pinched the bridge of her nose to get rid of the disturbing images, but neither really worked.
"He didn't," Maeve said quietly.
"Now, just remember the things I've told you, and there won't be any problems," Shannon McWhirter said, and helped his sister don her boiler suit.
"Wait by the door, and keep a sharp lookout."
"That's right, sis. Wait by the door, keep a sharp lookout... and don't look inside. Get it?"
"Yeah, yeah, I get it. How many people are you gonna slaughter today, bro?"
Shannon grabbed Siobhan's collar, and twisted it hard. Siobhan shrieked, and struggled to break free, but Shannon was too strong for her.
"Let me go, you fuckin' psycho! Let me go!"
"Don't fuck with me, Siobhan. Don't fail me, and don't do anything that'll jeopardize the operation. You're my sister, but if you fuck up, I wouldn't think twice about leaving you behind for the cops... or even better, leave you to Coluzzo's men," Shannon said, his face only an inch from his sister's.
Shannon let go of his sister's collar, and she hurriedly stepped back from his reach. Walking backwards, she stumbled over a loose piece of concrete, and she fell, landing hard on her backside.
"I think you get the picture," Shannon said coldly, and walked away.
Five minutes later, Shannon let the gate fall down, and got into the Blazer.
"Are you ready back there?"
"Ready, boss," O'Shaughnessy said, and checked the safety on his rifle.
"Me, too, Shannon," Wellman said, and rolled down his skimask to see if it was lined up properly.
"Stay away from me, you creep," she croaked, and looked out of the side window.
"I guess that means you're ready, too."
Shannon stepped on the gas, and they were soon rumbling across the grassy lot, heading for Buchanan Boulevard.
As they drove onto Twelfth Street, Siobhan briefly glanced at her brother, and realized that she was in the middle of a living nightmare.
"We're almost there, so stay sharp," Shannon said, and slowed down.
He turned off Buchanan and onto Second Street, and drove slowly past the Golden Goose Café. Just like everywhere else in the financial district in Midtown West, the wide sidewalk in front of the café was an anthill of people walking back and forth, wearing expensive business suits and carrying leather attaché cases, and most of them talking into a cell phone.
The café itself was typically well-lit up, even in the daytime, and judging by the number of people sitting near the windows, business was booming.
Shannon scanned the area, looking for any signs of potential trouble. Despite this being the very heart of Coluzzo's territory, everything seemed normal. He arrived at the conclusion that Coluzzo hadn't stepped up the security after the hit on Fast Freddie's money shipment, and that it was safe to go ahead.
"What the fuck? We're hitting a... a café?" Wellman said, and shook his head in disbelief.
"In name only, Wellman."
Behind them, a yellow cab started honking, so to avoid attracting attention, Shannon stepped on the gas, and drove down a narrow alley next to the café.
One hundred yards into the alley, he had room to make a three-point turn, and he turned the Blazer around, and drove very slowly back towards Second Street.
"We're going in through the backdoor, which is right there... can you see it?," he said, and pointed out of the window at a very discrete door, painted in metallic gray.
"Check," O'Shaughnessy said, and rolled down his skimask.
"I see it. No spyhole. It appears to be wooden, and not reinforced. They're not expecting anybody to come through there. Is it a speakeasy of some kind?" Wellman said.
"It's a casino, actually."
"Clever," Wellman said, and chuckled.
"Not clever enough. Drill... One!"
"One, I bust down the door, and spray whoever's guarding it," Wellman said.
"Two, we run in, pop-pop-pop-pop-pop, everyone dies..." O'Shaughnessy said.
"Dear God, no! There could be fifty people in there!" Siobhan said loudly, and turned around, so she could look at the two men on the backseat.
"Shut up, Siobhan. Three, you hold everyone at bay while I go for the main money depository, then the roulette tables, then the poker tables. Everything beyond that will be a bonus. Four!"
"Shannon, please, listen to me...!"
"Wait by the door, and k-k-keep a sharp l-l-lookout..."
"Very good, little sister."
"But you can't kill all those people!"
"Relax. The casino is separate from the café. Only the special guests are allowed to go into the back room. All the people out front are just regular coffee drinkers. They'll run like hell once the shooting begins," Shannon said, and appeared to be sincere for once.
Siobhan didn't know whether to trust her brother or not, but she nodded slowly, and rolled down her skimask.
"Sounds like we're good to go," Wellman said, and released the safety on his Springfield.
Shannon checked his wristwatch - 11:59, AM.
"In a minute's time," he grunted.
"Three... two... one... hustle!" Shannon said, and pushed Wellman on the shoulder.
The powerfully built African-American moved forward, and gave the door an almighty kick right on the lock... the door gave off an ear-splitting creak, but it didn't open.
"Fuck!" he roared, and kicked again, even harder.
The second attempt succeeded in breaking down the door, but as soon as it flew open, the men were met by a barrage of gunfire from the inside.
Siobhan screamed, and dropped her rifle. She threw herself onto the ground, and tried to protect her head with her hands.
Shannon, Wellman and O'Shaughnessy fanned out on either side of the door, and returned the fire. Soon, a heavy fog of gunsmoke filled the alley, and made it nearly impossible to see what was going on.
A long salvo from Wellman killed the last man guarding the door, and then he and O'Shaughnessy changed clips, and rushed inside.
Shannon grabbed hold of Siobhan's collar, and pulled her upright.
"Stop fuckin' screamin', and do like you've been told!" he roared, and then went into the casino.
With shaking hands, Siobhan picked up her rifle, and crouched down next to the corner of the building. Her heart was pounding in her throat, and she was sure she was on the verge of passing out.
While Wellman covered him, O'Shaughnessy fired off a long salvo above the heads of the people in the casino, who were already panicking after the shooting at the door.
"This is a fuckin' holdup! Reach for the fuckin' roof or die!" he roared, and waved his rifle around in a threatening fashion.
When Shannon came inside, he quickly counted sixteen people in the casino - eleven gamblers, two dealers, two security guards, and one cashier, who was cowering behind the solid steel bars of the money depository at the opposite end of the room.
The small casino had two poker tables, two roulettes, and a Blackjack table, but only the poker tables were in use. All the gamblers were centered around them, and there were very large piles of money on both.
From the other side of the wall at the far end of the room, they could hear people screaming, and chairs and tables being moved, like predicted.
Suddenly one of the guards reached for his sidearm, but before he could draw it, O'Shaughnessy had cut him down.
"Anybody else wanna be a hero? I got enough lead to kill all of you!" he shouted.
"Get 'em away from the tables!" Shannon shouted, and ran towards the money depository.
O'Shaughnessy and Wellman started herding the gamblers away from the poker tables, using the barrels of the rifles as cattle prods on those who were slow away.
Shannon waved the rifle at the cashier, but the woman was too frightened to understand him.
"Open it! Open it, or I'll shoot ya in the throat," Shannon shouted, and aimed the rifle at her.
"It won't kill ya, but it'll make you wish you were! Hurry!"
She found the key, and managed to get the bars opened after several fumbled attempts. Shannon quickly went inside, and immediately sent a salvo into the cashier's body at point blank range. She collapsed with a scream, but was soon silent.
The people behind him shouted angrily, but Wellman shot a few rounds into the ceiling that convinced them to shut up.
Shannon pulled out six boxes, and opened the lids to check the contents. The first two boxes contained $10's and $20's, and he pushed them down the counter. The last four boxes held $100's, and he nodded to himself.
With one hand, he unzipped the boiler suit, and pulled out a large canvas bag he had wrapped around his body. He put the four boxes containing the $100's into the bag, and looked around for more, similar boxes.
Outside, Siobhan fought a losing battle against a wave of panic that threatened to drown her. Her breath came in explosive bursts, and her hands were shaking so much she couldn't hold the rifle straight.
Suddenly a man came running around the corner of Second Street and the alley. He was brandishing a revolver, and shouted something to her that she couldn't understand.
"Shannon! Shannon! We've got trouble!" she shouted to the men inside the casino, but soon realized that her brother couldn't hear her.
"Stop! Or I'll s-s-s-shoot!" she said, and aimed the rifle at the man running towards her.
The man opened fire on her, and a brick just above her head was hit, sending a shower of old dirt down on her.
She screamed, and closed her eyes. She yanked the trigger on the Springfield repeatedly, and the recoil almost tore the weapon from her hands.
She heard something hit the ground hard, and she stopped firing. She opened her eyes, and stared wide-eyed at the fallen man. She had hit him in both legs, and he was writhing about on the filthy asphalt, moaning in agony, and holding his injured limbs.
Siobhan let go of the rifle like it was on fire, and wrapped her arms around herself. She fell onto her knees, and started rocking back and forth, sobbing quietly.
Shannon couldn't find any more boxes, so he left the money depository, and went straight for the poker tables - scooping up the dollar bills, he dumped them into the canvas bag, and looked around one final time.
There wasn't enough time to pick the gamblers clean, so instead, he reached into one of his pockets, and took out the FLC-note he had prepared earlier. He placed it in the center of the poker table, and started walking backwards, still aiming the rifle at the gamblers.
"Clear!" he shouted, and ran out of the casino. Wellman followed him, leaving O'Shaughnessy to guard the rear.
"Everybody on the floor! Now!" he said, and waved the Springfield. When a few were slow to comply, he fired off a long salvo above their heads to make sure everybody understood.
He started walking backwards, and then turned around, and ran from the casino.
Shannon picked up Siobhan by the scruff of her neck, and dragged her to the Blazer. He opened the passenger door, and pushed her in. Then he ran around to the back of the car, and threw the canvas bag inside.
He got in, started the engine, and waited for Wellman and O'Shaughnessy to catch up. As soon as they were inside the car, Shannon hit the gas, and the heavy SUV lurched forward.
"Watch out!" Siobhan said, and pointed at the man she had shot. He was still lying in the middle of the alley, holding his legs.
"Too fuckin' bad!" Shannon shouted, and didn't turn the steering wheel an inch. Siobhan screamed, and covered her face with her hands, but at the last possible moment, the wounded man rolled away, and escaped from being run over.
The Blazer barreled through the alley, heading for Second Street. The sidewalk had cleared out in the mass panic, so there was no one there to hinder their progress. The car bounced over the curb, and Shannon forced it to turn right.
He kept his foot flat on the throttle, and the Blazer was soon out of sight.
"You cost us a lot of time, Wellman," Shannon said, as they were driving back to the derelict building.
"I'm sorry, Shannon. The door was more solid than it looked."
"Don't be sorry, just improve."
"Siobhan, what happened in the alley?"
"I shot a man... he came running towards me with a revolver, and... I shot him," Siobhan said hoarsely.
"You did well. I'm proud of you," Shannon said, and put his gloved hand on his sister's shoulder - she shook her head in disgust, and looked out of the side window.
"You proved you had the guts to pull the trigger. It was his life or yours. You chose yours. There's hope for you yet," Shannon said, and grinned.
"How much do you think we got, boss?"
"Hard to say, Dillon. I think we got plenty."
"How long do you think we have before Coluzzo sends his soldiers out to chase us down?" Wellman said as he took off his skimask.
"They're probably out there already. But we'll be fine, don't worry 'bout that. We're almost home."
As they were waiting at a red light at the corner of Buchanan and Twelfth Street, four black Cadillacs, two sedans and two Escalades, thundered across the intersection going in the opposite direction. All four cars ran the red light, and a disharmonic concert broke out behind them, caused by a large number of cars honking their horns all at once.
"Coluzzo's boys," Dillon said, and flipped the bird at the cars.
A further black Cadillac sedan that had fallen back from the others decided against running the red, and stopped at the intersection. The driver took a great deal of interest in the charcoal gray Blazer, and Shannon furrowed his brow.
"Dillon, Wellman, take off your masks if you haven't already done so."
O'Shaughnessy released the safety on the Springfield, and took a few deep breaths to calm down.
"Siobhan, look straight ahead, and smile. They're looking for four guys, not a woman and three men," Shannon said.
The lights turned to green, and Shannon drove out into the intersection. He turned left, and passed right in front of the Cadillac.
The driver of the Cadillac followed the Blazer with his eyes, but didn't seem to take further action.
Shannon kept driving down Twelfth Street, constantly checking the rear view mirror. He could see that once the Cadillac got the green light, it didn't follow them, but rather continued across the intersection.
"We're clear," he said, and increased the speed to get home faster. He checked his wristwatch again - it read 12:11, PM.
Chaos reigned supreme at the Golden Goose. Coluzzo's soldiers arrived from all directions at once, adding to the panic that was already threatening to turn into mass hysteria. Several men with broad shoulders, sunglasses, and identical black suits tried their utmost to keep the nosy spectators back, but one or two got through the ranks to get a better view.
Pietro Cazale was among the last to arrive, and he had difficulty finding a place to park - he finally found a vacant spot, and stepped out of his black Cadillac.
He took his camel hair overcoat off, folded it neatly, and placed it carefully on the back seat. He adjusted his trademark crimson tie, and made sure his white shirt and his navy blue suit were on straight.
"God almighty..." he said, as he surveyed the damaged cafe. The shooting in the back room had caused everyone in the café to try to escape all at once, and there wasn't a chair or table left in good condition in the entire room. Both the large windows on either side of the entrance had been broken in the confusion, and the glass door was hanging off the top hinge.
He put his sunglasses in his pocket, and sighed deeply.
"Alessandro, where are you?" he shouted as he walked across the floor. He tried to avoid the worst of the carnage, but the shards of glass still crunched under his expensive leather shoes.
"I'm here, Silencer," his assistant said, and came out from behind the counter. Alessandro Bello was 26, with heavily gelled foppish hair, and a platinum chain around his neck, visible through the open collar of his pale turquoise shirt. He had a nickle-plated .38 revolver in a holster clipped onto the belt of his black trousers, and he used the same brand of shoes as his superior - to impress him.
"What in God's name happened here...?"
"Well, it's like this... when the clock struck noon, three men broke down the back door, and raided the casino. They killed three guards, and the cashier. They swiped more than 200 grand."
Cazale bared his teeth in a pained grimace, and groaned.
"What about the gamblers in the casino?"
"They've all left. I doubt many of them would be interested in talking to the Police."
"You're probably right."
"The Don is on his way," Alessandro said quietly.
"I'm sure he is," Cazale said, and moved further into the cafe. He picked up the remains of a broken chair, and looked at it. Rolling his eyes, he let it go, and it fell to the floor to join the rest of the trash.
"Franco was here by accident, and he heard the shots. He tried to confront the robbers, but they gunned him down out in the alley. They shot him in both legs," Alessandro said.
"Hmmm. I'll talk to him later. Perhaps he can give us some info."
"I've already spoken to him - he's absolutely one hundred percent positive that the robber who shot him was a woman, and he also says that the robbers were driving a charcoal gray Chevrolet Blaz..."
"A charcoal gray Blazer! Goddammit! I had them!" Cazale said, and slammed one fist into the palm of the other.
"Down at Twelfth Street. I was as close to them as we are now. Alessandro, listen to me... Don Coluzzo must not hear a single word of this conversation. You understand? Not one word."
"I... I understand, Silencer... I think."
"I'll deal with it myself. Hmmm," Cazale said, and furrowed his brow, deep in thought.
A large group of police and press vehicles arrived, and the café was instantly transformed into a beehive - scores of people, either in uniform, or carrying cameras or other electronic equipment, started running back and forth seemingly without any semblance of a plan. The uncoordinated nonsense soon became too much for Cazale, and he and Bello left the ravaged cafe.
The Don's Super-stretch limousine didn't have problems finding a place to park - it simply stopped in the inside lane of the street.
"Don Coluzzo," Cazale said, and held the door open for the crime lord.
Salvatore Coluzzo climbed out of the limo, and took a deep breath when he saw the destruction. He ran a hand through his silver-gray hair, and his eyes shot fire.
"Look at what those bastards did to my café! Buncha fuckin' rotten turds!"
"Yes, Don Coluzzo. It's a terrible shame."
"More than $200,000 is missing, Don Coluzzo."
"Yes, Don Coluzzo."
"What do we know of the men who did this?"
"... not much. Actually very little. But there's no doubt it's the same crew who hit Fast Freddie Donnelly yesterday."
"Cocky sons o' bitches."
"Yes, Don Coluzzo."
"Nobody raids this place... *this place*... and gets away with it. Cazale, I'm giving you carte blanche. Do whatever's necessary to capture these assholes."
"Yes, Don Coluzzo."
The Don turned his head, and looked directly into Cazale's eyes.
"And when you have them, I want you to cut off their balls and let them bleed to death," he said, in a voice as cold as ice.
"Yes, Don Coluzzo. Consider it done."
Salvatore Coluzzo took a deep breath, and wiped some sweat off his brow.
"And one more thing, Cazale. Call Freddie Donnelly. Tell him that... that I want to talk to him again."
"Yes, Don Coluzzo. I'll do it at once."
The smell of coffee filled the apartment, and Maeve stirred. She yawned and stretched on the unfamiliar bed, and she briefly wondered where she was. She rolled over onto her back, and put her hands behind her head.
"Mornin', Maeve. Sleep well?" Staci said quietly, standing in the doorway to the bedroom, holding two steaming mugs of coffee.
"I certainly have. Hey, baby," Maeve purred, and rubbed her eyes.
"That's good to hear, and hey, yourself."
"What time is it?"
"Nearly one o'clock."
"D'ya know what I dreamt of?" Maeve said, and wiggled around on the bed.
"Nope. But I'm sure you'll tell me."
"It was about you and me. It took place on a tropical island somewhere, and we were skinny dipping in the warm lagoon. After that, we let the sun dry our naked bodies while we were making love on a white beach..."
"Now why am I not surprised, huh?" Staci said, and chuckled. She placed both mugs on the nightstand, and sat down on the side of the bed. Chuckling again, she started running her fingers up and down Maeve's bare thigh.
"Do you ever dream of me?" Maeve said huskily.
"Sure I do. But never that detailed."
"It doesn't have to be detailed to be hot."
Maeve suddenly grabbed hold of Staci's arm. With a cheeky grin, she pulled Staci down next to her, and began to kiss her soundly.
"Mmmfmm... ohhhh... what... mmfmhhm... about the coffee, Maeve...?"
"What about it," Maeve said, and let her tongue dance around on Staci's neck.
A good forty minutes later, Maeve swung her legs over the edge of the bed. A sudden stab of pain shot up from her lower back, and she pressed her hand hard against it, and growled under her breath.
"Oh, that's right, we never got around to give you that massage," Staci said, getting back into her jammies.
"We'll do that the next time," Maeve said.
"Ohhh yeahhh," Maeve said, and claimed Staci's lips in a thorough good morning kiss.
After a quick shower, Maeve put on her clothes, her bulletproof vest, and her shoulderholster. She checked the clip in the Beretta, and clicked it into place.
"I'd go nuts if I had to carry that heavy thing under my arm all day," Staci said.
"Well, it's not so bad once you get used to it."
"It's my turn to shower. You didn't steal all the hot water, didya?"
"Dunno. I asked you if you wanted to share, but..." Maeve said with a grin.
"You did, but I'm not insatiable like certain other people. Maybe some other time. See ya in a few," Staci said, and went into the bathroom.
Maeve found her cell phone, and turned it on. As she waited for it to power up, she turned on the TV.
'... Back to the day's top story. At noon sharp, four men executed an armed robbery against the Golden Goose Café on Second Street. In a press conference, the spokeswoman for the police has confirmed that four people, three men and a woman, all employees in the cafe, were killed in the holdup...'
"The Golden Goose! Holy fuck!" Maeve exclaimed loudly.
'... and that a further man was found wounded in the alley next to the café. We have a reporter on site, and Linda Taylor, what's the latest?' the anchor said, and turned to another camera.
The picture changed to a very pretty blonde reporter, who was holding a microphone, and pressing her hand against an ear-piece. She was standing in an alley in front of a door that had been forced open, and all around her, a small army of police officers swarmed in and out of the café.
In the background, a handful of beefy men, wearing identical black suits and dark sunglasses, talked very agitated amongst themselves, and Maeve had to chuckle at the sight.
'Thank you, Richard. Well, at this point in time, it's unclear how much the robbers were able to get away with. The figure the owner of the café has given to the police and the press is a surprisingly low $3000, but we have unconfirmed, and I stress unconfirmed, rumors claiming the figure could have been as high as $250,000...'
Maeve whistled, and rubbed her forehead. Suddenly her phone rang, and she almost dropped it in surprise.
"Fever. Talk to me."
'It's Fast Freddie. Where the hell have you been? The Clover gang has hit Don Coluzzo. I need you back at the headquarters ASAP. And that means NOW!'
"I'm at Staci's... we... ummm... were busy. I'll be there shortly," Maeve said, and hung up.
"Baby! Something's come up, and I gotta go!" she shouted, and sat down on a chair to put her boots on.
Staci opened the bathroom door, and peeked out. She turned off the shower, wrapped a towel around her, and came into the living room.
"But we haven't even had breakfast yet... What's going on?" she said, and looked at the images on the TV.
"Trouble. The Clover gang's struck again. Against Coluzzo," Maeve said, as she finished tying her bootlaces.
"They raided the Golden Goose. Oh, boy, the Don's gonna be so pissed."
"Hmmm... I remember that café... there's nothing special about it."
"The Golden Goose Café is a front for a casino, but it's more than that... it's where Salvatore Coluzzo started his empire. He inherited that café from his father, and built everything around it."
"Man, that's like kicking him right where it hurts the most..." Staci said.
"Yeah. And they killed four more people. Jesus, they're ruthless."
"Baby, remember what I said... please, please be careful," Staci said, and pulled Maeve up from the chair.
Maeve stood up on tip-toes, and planted a fast kiss on Staci's lips.
"I will. You don't have to worry about me," Maeve said, and swatted Staci's butt. Staci squealed, and tried to reach Maeve, but the Enforcer was already past her and out of the door, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
A few moments later, Staci stood in the window and waved to Maeve, who drove out of the parking lot with an impossibly loud roar, and turned left onto First Street. Staci listened to the sound of the Mustang's characteristic exhausts going further and further away, until it finally faded out. She sighed, and adjusted the towel.
On her way back to the shower, her own phone rang, and she debated if she should take it, or let the answering machine do its business.
'This is Danielle, Staci. Are you there? ... I guess not... I'll call later,' the voice said, but Staci reached it just in time.
"Hello, Danielle! I'm here, I was just... never mind. What's up?"
'Have you seen the news?'
"Yeah, I'm watching Channel 7 right now. Doesn't look good, does it?"
'No. I've just had two of the dancers call me and tell me they won't come in until those creeps have been caught.'
"What? But... If we don't have any dancers, we can't... shit!"
'I think I can persuade them to come in if you give me a good reason, Staci... because, I have to admit, I'm a bit scared myself. The Three-In-One Club is well-known as the largest on Jefferson, and they might think we have lots of money floating around, or something...'
"Oh, man. I see your point, but... tell them White Fever's on the case. Do you think that'll be enough to sway them?"
'I don't know. I'll tell them, and then we'll have to wait and see how they decide.'
Staci sighed, and scratched her damp hair.
"All right. Thank you for calling, Danielle. Bye."
Staci put down the receiver, and groaned.
Jimmy Snakes sat on a barstool in a smoky bar on Ninth, sipping a very small, very stale beer, when someone shouted to the barkeep that he should turn up the volume on the TV that was droning on in the background.
The TV cut to a pretty, blonde reporter, who was standing in front of a broken door in an alley somewhere.
Some of the barflies hollered and made lewd comments at her, making it impossible to hear what was said.
"Shaddup, I wanna hear it!" the same man shouted, and the patrons fell quiet.
'... Richard. Well, at this point in time, it's unclear how much the robbers were able to get away with. The figure the owner of the café has given to the police and the press is a surprisingly low $3000, but we have unconfirmed, and I stress unconfirmed, rumors claiming the figure could have been as high as $250,000. We have been told that the robbers have left a note inside with the words 'FLC - Four Leaf Clover.' If this is the case, it's most likely the same people responsible for the shooting on Second Street the other day. Back to the studio.'
Snakes' eyes popped wide open when the reporter mentioned the Clover gang. His mind started working overtime, going back and forth on whether or not he should contact the Don with the info he had.
'Man, the last time I dealt with the Coluzzos, the motherfucker sent someone after me who tried to kill me... no, it's a much safer bet to find White Fever. She's not my best friend, but at least she's not lookin' to blow my brains out... this time,' he thought, and emptied the glass of beer.
'And the 10 G reward... watch out, man! With 10 G, I can buy the world!'
"Yeah, man!" he said out loud, drawing a lot of odd looks, and a few sniggers from the barflies next to him.
"Got somethin' cookin', Snakes?" the barkeep said.
"Naw, man. I'm cool, just sittin' here mindin' my own business."
"I get the picture," the barkeep said, and continued polishing the counter.
Snakes reached into his pocket, and took out his Happy Pills. With some shock, he realized that he only had three pills left. He debated for a little while if he should only take one, or two, or all three, and after a few minutes, he decided on taking all three.
'After all, man... with 10 G, I can buy the entire drugstore,' he thought, and laughed out loud.
The barkeep looked at him, shook his head, and mumbled a few cusswords under his breath.
Snakes poured all three pills into his hand, and then swallowed them in one gulp. After a few minutes, the pills began to work, and he found himself engulfed in a kaleidoscope of psychedelic colors.
"Hey, man... Once I get the reward, I'm gonna come back an' buy you out," he said to the barkeep.
"I'm not the owner. And which reward?"
"Fever's reward for catching the Clover gang, man. Don't you watch TV?"
"Never heard of such a reward, Snakes. You're trippin'."
"No man, there's a reward. Fever told me herself, man... I think. No, I'm sure I heard her say it."
"WHATever, Snakes," the barkeep said, and rolled his eyes.
After a few minutes, Snakes got off the barstool, and leaned against the counter, trying to control his wobbly legs.
"All I gotta do now is find her. That shouldn't be so hard. Maybe I should send her a telepathic message," he said out loud, earning himself a few more sniggers.
Snakes didn't understand what it was the others were laughing about, so he laughed along with them as he left the establishment.
"Danny! What the flying fuck are you doing out of hospital so soon?" Maeve exclaimed the second she saw the former wrestler's huge frame standing in the door to the Donnelly mansion.
"I hated that place. So I excused myself, and went back to work," Danny said, still wearing the turban-like bandage.
"I mean, Jeez, man! You were shot in the head only yesterday!"
"Like I told you last night when you came to visit me, they couldn't find anything wrong, so here I am."
"That's what I call dedication, buddy," Maeve said, and slapped Danny across his stomach.
"You call it dedication... I call it terminal boredom. Anyway... Mr. Donnelly is on the phone, but he told me to send you in as soon as you got here."
"All right. By the way, when you see Mary, will you please have her make me a few bagels with cheese, or something? I didn't get any breakfast this morning."
"Will do, Fever."
"Maeve, come in. You're just in time," Freddie Donnelly said, and waved her inside. He was holding an old-fashioned telephone receiver in his hand, and there was a notepad with a few scribbles on it in front of him.
"For what, uncle Freddie?"
"For history in the making."
"Patience, young one," Freddie said, and leaned back in his leather armchair, still holding the receiver.
Maeve shrugged, and sat down.
"So, they hit the Goose, huh?" she said.
"Yeah. Don Coluzzo is spit-flying mad right now," Freddie said, and chuckled, making his entire body shake.
"They've got some balls, I'll give 'em that. They killed four more people."
"Who's on the phone?"
"I'm on hold right now, but it was Pietro Cazale just before you got here."
"Boy, this deal just gets crazier and crazier," Maeve said, and laughed out loud.
Suddenly there was a knock on the side door to the office.
"Enter!" Freddie said.
Mary Reynolds opened the door, and entered the office, pulling a small cart with various breakfast foods, including two small jugs of milk and orange juice.
Maeve shot up from her chair, and helped Mary pull the cart across the lumpy carpet.
"Oh, great... thanks, Mary," Maeve said, and smiled at the other woman.
"Hello, Fever... I'm sorry... Maeve."
"That's better," Maeve said, and poked Mary on the arm.
"I can't thank you enough for giving me this job. I mean, look at me," Mary said quietly, and posed in her brand new uniform - black shoes, long black socks, a black skirt and an off-white, short-sleeved shirt.
"I haven't looked so good since my Confirmation," she said, beaming.
"You look fantastic, Mary. How's Josey?"
"Hello, Don Coluzzo?" Freddie said, and waved Maeve over to him. He clicked on a button on the telephone, and the Don's slightly accented voice filled the room.
'Mr. Donnelly,' Salvatore Coluzzo said.
"Don Coluzzo, you're on a speaker phone."
"I better join them," Maeve said, and quickly scooped up three bagels, and poured herself a glass of orange juice.
"It's so exciting!" Mary whispered, and clapped her hands together. She left the office, but tried to listen to as much as she could before the door closed.
"I have my number two, White Fever, with me. She'll take care of the details on our side," Freddie said.
'Excellent. Her reputation precedes her. Cazale is listening in, too.'
"First of all, please accept my condolences for the people you lost in the holdup."
'Thank you, Mr. Donnelly. Likewise, for the other day.'
"Thank you. Let's get down to business, shall we. I understand you're proposing that we hold a summit."
Maeve's eyes popped open, and she quickly sat down so she wouldn't miss anything.
'Indeed I do. I'm sure we both agree that we must work together to stop this gang from raiding our assets.'
"Yes. Name the time, and the place, and I'll have Fever go to work at once."
'11 PM in two days' time. I'll leave finding a suitable place to you. My only demand is that it *must* be on neutral ground.'
"I understand, Don Coluzzo."
"Hmmm..." Maeve said, and scrunched up her face. Absentmindedly, she began to chew on a bagel as she tried to work out where the best place would be - the demand for neutral ground ruled out both sides of the Monroe, and she doubted that Coluzzo would agree to holding the summit south of Fourteenth Street. The Southside Chicas ruled down there, and they were an unpredictable bunch.
Suddenly a thought flashed through her mind, and she quickly swallowed the mouthful of bagel she was chewing on.
"Don Coluzzo, it's Fever speaking. How about holding the summit at the halfway point of the bridge at Ninth Street? The Monroe marks the boundary between our territories, and there's plenty of room on the bridge for the limousines and the support vehicles."
'Hmmm... that's not a bad idea, Miss Fever. Cazale? ... All right, Cazale agrees. I think we have a deal, Mr. Donnelly. The bridge at Ninth Street, in two days' time, at 11 PM,' Salvatore Coluzzo said.
"We have a deal, Don Coluzzo," Freddie said, and hung up.
"Oh-boy-oh-boy-oh-boy, there's gonna be a summit between the Donnellys and the Coluzzos," Maeve said, and buried her head in her hands.
"For the first time in at least twenty years," Freddie said, and folded his hands across his large belly.
"I'll bet that Danny's gonna wish he'd stayed at the hospital..." Maeve said, and groaned in anticipation of the mountain of work she would be facing.
Concluded in part 2
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