RAYNE: The 49 Project (chapter 1)

UNO

            Merda!

            There was nothing I could do now I’d already said the words.

            “Pull it.”

            And Stiletto, being the consummate perfectionist she is, squeezed the trigger.

            The moonlight looked pale on his face, like he was a porcelain doll, lying in the middle of a clearing of abandoned buildings – right where I led him.

            They always think they’re getting away, marks, especially the ones who swear they’re smarter than the player. Chess Players, they call us that for a reason and I am known as one of the best.

            I’d just cut my hair in preparation for another gig, something very high profile and high paying, when this came through. It was supposed to be easy and clean. Some punkass kid wants to make a name for himself by going up the food chain in my family – instant legend! It would be the death of my clan. How did we let some nobody infiltrate and take one of us out? The Shuarras and crackheads like the West Side Bandits would never stop playing us, we’d lose major clients and influence; it wouldn’t be long before we’d exhaust all our resources and have to disband.

            I was supposed to take a trip down the runway, camera’s flashing, images taken from the network, with my face removed of course, before they were sent to their respective outlets, pretty girls in pretty costumes – a major ethanol CEO would kick over in his boyfriend’s lap from what would be reported as a heart attack before they got the chance to find the tiny pellet that exploded his heart. Delivered by yours truly. Seems as though there are some oil magnates out there who think crude should be used for everything like before, and the ethanol man is standing in the way…

            It would have been fun. I admit I’m the jeans and kickers kind of girl; give me a rare pair of classic Adidas or even more rare, Puma, and I’m a happy camper. But walking in front of all those clueless snobs, lecherous men and women hitting on me after the show, trying to take me home to participate in their futile sex games – sometimes the mental perks payoff better than the money. Groveling and begging to get me to change my mind, they all used the same lines as if they were reading from a handbook:

            “I can change your life.”

            “Everyone needs a friend in this cold cruel world.”

            “Even after all this time it’s still tough for us, men don’t understand our power.”

            “We need to stick together.”

Of course my personal favorite, the one I’ve heard too many times even when one is trying to negotiate for one’s life, “Do you know who I am?”

            Everything now is so uniform – there’s no flavor. Not for those who reside on the lower floors of skyscrapers blocking the beauty of the heavens, not for alley dwellers and those who try to make it outside – not like when my Grandmother was a Chess Player.

            She believed in the power of the individual to add something special in the collective. She and Grandpa ran a tight ship but they also knew who needed to be at the helm and who needed to be in the engine room, and they knew why. That’s what these other groups of morons don’t have and they keep trying to tear us down, especially the Shus. It’s probably the reason why they were running after the kid; what was this kid’s name?

            “Boris,” I too loud for my liking. His name bounced of the walls of the buildings and back at me as if it were some kind of condemnation.

            “Dude, why would you try and hijack a hit from the Shus? And what the hell what did you do to the guy who sent me after you?”

            Who was the guy who sent me after you?

            Then I went and did it. Everything else on this gig was messed up, what could one more thing hurt?

            I opened the case.

            Since he was on his way to becoming one of ours the first thing I did was remove his medal. It’s a silk orange band but that’s not the important part – the gold medallion is.             Gold is rare.

            No, that’s a false statement. There’s still a lot of gold in the earth but the Troika banned mining it. So now there are a few that have this precious commodity in their tight grip and they won’t let go. They extend their reach to the people, offering

half-creds to those who have some and turn it in. The desperate, even when they have a little power, always get shafted in the end. My family refused to turn in our gold and instead use it as a marker for those who would become Family Rayne. A single rain/teardrop with a number “11” placed right in the middle. My Grandmother was named after the month she was born in and I, being just like her according to my Dad, was named after my Grandmother. The legacy lives on, I guess…

            The reminiscing would have to wait until later as I continued to search Boris. Next, I checked his sock pocket, every good Chess Player has one, for anything he may have picked up from the motel. Pay dirt!

            There were two water cards and I hoped there were gallons still left on them. And there was an InfoChip. Perhaps what was on it could shed a little light; I’d have Eve check it.

            I took the bag he was offering (I knew he was offering and sent the signal anyway…) and looked through that. A tablet, state of the art, which would be too dangerous to keep once the mark’s family and friends knew – which one of those dead bodies did it belong to?

            It still worked. Somehow the bag fell to his side when the bullet came out his chest, no damage done.

            “Well not to the computer, anyway. Sorry Boris.”

            I tapped the screen and an audio player filled it.

            “No password security? You must’ve listened to this, Boris. Well, let’s see what kind of music your marks listen too.”

            I stood alone with the dead kid’s corpse laid out in the moonlight. I felt like I was the dead body. The one and only Jacinta Scottford, who came close to linking the Family Rayne to a series of unsolved assassinations until a junior CIA agent misplaced the evidence before disappearing in the wind. They blame us for that but we haven’t even found the guy. She came even closer to discovering the whereabouts of the Family Rayne headquarters when suddenly (thanks to Eve) there was a massive corruption of several key satellites. It took them weeks to get them all rebooted but the information was never recovered.

            Jacinta’s voice was disturbing enough; she’d done it again. She got close on a story and it sounded like this one was a game changer. It was the second voice that sent chills all over me. It was cold enough out here but the cold I felt was one of the inevitable, we were finished. Her story was going to be backed by the President of the Western Hemisphere Block! I didn’t want to think it but there was no denying, the other dead body was Thomas Nguyen.

            “Damn, Boris! Stupid! You stupid, stupid, stupid kid! You don’t poach jobs. You never poach jobs! You should’ve let the Shuarra keep this one.”

            His peaceful face gave me no response as if knew – his dumbass was the lucky one.

            This was my spot – our spot. Many marks lay dead right where I led them to their end and Stiletto sent them on. I felt naked and anxious. I had to urge to get the hell out of here as soon as possible. I tapped the Bluetooth.

            “Carmella, put your foot on it because we have a problem.”

            Under normal circumstances, me saying that would begin our cat-and-mouse. At the end of a job, well the end of that part anyway, I’d make the same bad joke as a way to release tension. It worked every time.

            I’d claim there was a problem; Stiletto, the best sniper the Family Rayne had ever seen missed the target. And her response would be, “No, you have a problem because that never happens.”  I’d continue to taunt her untilCarmelreached the extraction zone.

            She could here there was something different about the way I told the joke – I’d never used her actual name. Once you were reborn to the Family, your old names and existences were left behind.

            This time something wasn’t right.

            I could hear her looping through the back alleys, probably with the lights off and infrared on, her bright red 1940’s Chevy whirring in the night. She was driving a lot faster than she would through these dark thin alleyways but she’d been shaken too.

            “I should be pulling up soon. Where are you?” she asked.

            I’d already seen her coming and darted out of the shadows to the car. I tapped the window and with lightening speed Stiletto grabbed the gun on her passenger seat; I was looking down the barrel of a .22.

            “Um, you want to put that away, please?”

            “Look, you can’t just be sneaking up on me. You know where we are,” she said.

            “Yes I do. You’ve never been this jumpy before.”

            “You never said there was something wrong before – and meant it.”

            I stared at her for a moment and couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that everything was about to change.

            “And not for the better.”

            “What?”Carmelasked.

            “Park it. You need to come with me.”

            We both walked in silence up the alley Boris had run through moments before thinking he was out of harm’s way. Stiletto’s heals hitting the pavement were the only distinct sounds echoing off the building walls.

            “You can’t tell me what’s going on?” she asked breaking the silence.

            “I have to show you,” I said.

            “That’s a nice bag.”

            “Really? You like it?” I said irritated. I knew she was trying to break up the tension but nothing would work. It was going to get worse; the heat would be on us heavy.

            “I said it was nice didn’t I? What’s the big deal about a mark’s bag?”

            “Oh but it’s not his bag, Stiletto.”

            She rolled her eyes, “Well whose bag is it then, O Great and Mighty November?”

            “It was Jacinta Scottford’s.”

            Stiletto stopped. She searched my face for the rest of the joke; it was hard for me to keep a good one going, I’d bust out laughing everytime. The laughter ain’t coming sweetheart.

            “Like the reporter from TV?”

            “Same one. So where did you get the intel on this gig?”

            “Where did I – you aren’t saying that I screwed up, are you?”

            “I’m just asking you where you got the intel, Stiletto, I’m – ”

            “Novi, don’t bullshit me! Our mark has a bag that belongs, no belonged according to you, to a big time TV chick. I come to get you but we can’t leave because something ain’t right. You have to show me. So show me!”

            We walked to the spot where Boris was – still dead. She wasn’t fond of headshots even though they were guaranteed. The mess was something she never liked to see and unlike me, the business we are in isn’t always so simple for her.

            She looked at Boris laying at peace on the ground and almost fainted.

            “Oh my god. That’s not… Is that…? He can’t be dead.”

            “He is. You don’t miss, remember? So now you want to tell me where you got the intel from?”

            “November, you got a lot of nerve coming at me like that. Don’t come at me like that!”

            “Like what?” I was getting aggravated.

            “Where’d you get your intel from like we all don’t get it from the same place! Eve passed this one like she does for most of the family – you don’t think she set him up do you?”

            “Now who’s being silly, huh? Eve didn’t hate Boris, she only acted that way like she does to most of the wet naps and noobs. And if she wanted to get at him, she’d’ve done it herself. Probably with all of us watching the show. Nah, we need to find out where Eve got the contract because this is not looking good. The kid ran into some Shus – I think he was poaching.”

            “Oh no,” she said and looked down at Boris. Sadness was all over her face. Boris was trying his best to impress and unlike everyone else who tries to be down, he didn’t want to be a November by impressing me. Boris was determined to be the best sniper – ever. To do that, he had to impress Carmel Rayne – and he did, almost becoming like a little brother to her.

            “How could you not see it was him, Novi?” she asked, trying her best not to cry.

            “Look, we taught him well. His face was shielded just enough. He didn’t take anything off, he didn’t show his medal – he was trying to say something but I think the Shus drugged him up before he was able to get away.”

            “Damnit.”

            “Nah, you haven’t heard the worst. It was sloppy in there so I’m sure he was the one who actually dropped the marks.”

            “Marks?”

            “Yeah. I’m going to go with, I’m sure on this one but, uh, that second body is Tommy Nguyen’s.”

            “Oh, yeah right!” she said laughing. My face remained emotionless as her laughter grew.

            “OK, Novi, you expect me to believe that a wet nap knew the Shus had something absolutely crazy big like, I don’t know, the President. Then he went to a sleaze box, one of the more notorious sleaze boxes, and tapped a world famous reporter and the President?”

            “Yup.”

            “Well, well, well. Baby has been holding out on Mama.”

            “What are you talking about, Stiletto?”

            “Is it because I don’t smoke? Because I’m willing to start as soon as you pass me some of what you’ve been puffing on.”

            “Look, there’s a tablet in the ‘nice bag’ you liked so much. On it, is a file that has the President’s voice. Jacinta’s voice is here too; want to know why? She’s interviewing the President about something. Carmella, it is something huge. Somebody paid the Shus to get this info and do them both – very powerful people paid. I didn’t see a single bodyguard or Secret Service outside that trap, not nobody! Now when they want their product do you think the Shus are going to say, we’ll get it whatever the cost? Nah, they’re going to be like bitches and say Rayne stole it from us and we will have fire on us like you would not believe. I wish I was smoking but this is real. For whatever reason Boris fucked up, he did it on an epic scale of fuck-upery.”

            It was all over her face that she was going to blow but I wasn’t fast enough – she chucked all over my classic Rekanize kicks. I was exhausted and had no more room left in my brain to be angry. Besides, I told myself, I could always ask Raz to tap her source for a replacement pair. And none of that new junk they give to everyone now, I want old school, I want unique – until I realized I wanted to die…

            RazDivine. We hadn’t reported back to her and I wasn’t looking forward to the scope of what I needed to say.

            “I haven’t told Raz,” I said to Stiletto as she was cleaning herself.

            “Well that’s good news,” she said with a smile.

            “Because?”

            “When you do she’ll kill us before our mystery player does.”

            “You think a Chess Player’s behind this?”

            “Maybe or not. One thing is for sure, the person does play chess and they play it well.”

            “Time to go.”

            “We can’t leave him like this, November.”

            After I’d helped her carried Boris’s heavy body, which was a surprise considering he was a walking skeleton, to a dark cool corner we were sure wouldn’t be disturbed by nodders, we hopped in the car to face the firing squad.

            The immaculate Carmel Rayne, a woman with the fineries our credits can buy, a shoe collection envied by many women and some men if we’re truthful about it, Stiletto, drove in silence with Boris’s blood on her shirt; some had gotten on her hands…

            I tapped my Bluetooth for a call to Raz.

            “So you’re coming in?” Raz was all about business.

            “Yeah, kind of hot. The gig was a lot of work.”

            “Was it? You slipping in your old age?”

            “Bad intel,” I said waiting for the tense silence to follow.

            “When you get here park it in the garage and walk the rest,” Raz said. If she was concerned you could never tell. Her voice was always the bastion of calm throughout the chaos. It’s why she was left in charge. There were those who questioned the decision but I didn’t, I wouldn’t want RazDivine’s job to save my own skin!

            Raz is about her business.

            “What did she say?” Stiletto asked.

            “She’s going to make us a pie and wanted to know if we wanted lemon meringue or apple.”

            “How about asshole?” she replied, frowning at me out of the corner of her eye.

            Headquarters was the perfect front, a cybercafé. We’d been written up on many blogs, the hip and trendy people came by to be seen and drink real coffee or tea, we were one of the few places that could afford the raw material: leaves and beans. Because of the whining of rich children and the favors we’ve done for their equally obnoxious parents, water for the café was never a problem – for the café. The people working there were on their own. But we do fine.

            The Family Rayne is the wait staff, hostesses, bartenders, baristas, dishwashers… We keep our lips chapped and skin looking as parched as we could for the benefit of those who would take a second look at the moist, juicy lips of a mere waitress in a cybercafé. It is here that our clients come in and leave us messages in hopes that the working class oafs don’t screw anything up before they get a chance to speak with their elusive bosses – the rich and powerful never notice the dirt beneath their feet, only that they own it.

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