Alleys and darkness were my only friends as Stiletto and I slipped through the backdoor to a waiting noob. It wasEugeneand if he was there it was because he was going to be reborn in a few days. Noobs were told they needed to work at the café as part of their training; it’d be years before they’d be told the truth about the place. And the news I had would delay his rebirthing ceremony – it was too bad, for everyone.
“How does she look?” I asked.
“Look? Serious. But she always looks serious, like RazDivine.”
“Great,” Stiletto said.
There was no use stalling the inevitable. We had to take our medicine.
“Ladies,” Raz started, her face unreadable as always, “tell me how you botched up an easy job?”
Eve was sitting close by in a corner, a bank of processors and screens around her.
“Somebody,” I started, jerking my head toward the corner, “gave us some shitty intelligence, Raz. Had me running in circles until I hit the bull’s eye and it’s all wrong.”
“November,” Stiletto cautioned.
When people claimed November Rayne to be the best, Evil Rayne was the worst. Not in an inept, bumbling idiot, stay in the office on the computer way but in a she is the apocalypse way. Evil Rayne was an A.O.D, which meant you would have had to do something monstrous for a client to request someone like her. Angels Of Death are sent on big public gigs, dropped into war zones, so that anyone who gets in the way is taken out and it could be justified. Many Captains and Generals have died as casualties of war where a certain evil was behind it.
Because she is an A.O.D people are afraid of her, think she’s volatile – I can be volatile too. It was her information that got a member of the Family killed and I wanted the source.
“Sure, try to blame that on me because you made a mistake? Get out of here with that.”
“Mistake?” I said fuming and I stormed over to her little nook and slammed Boris’s medal on the table.
Her eyes were wide with surprise.
“You killed Family?”
“OK. I’m going to need you to step away from Eve and explain to me what happened,” Raz said. She was still too calm and I became nervous.
“It was Boris, we think he might have been poaching,” Stiletto offered.
“Boris?” asked Eve. “Damn, I thought the kid was smarter than that. I liked that kid.”
“What about Boris?”Eugeneasked striding in the room.
“Uh, noob, we’re kind of busy here so – ”
“I finished closing up the place.”
“Any of the units still on?” Eve asked.
“No. They all just shut down on their own.”
“Good,” Eve said, flashing a silent signal to Raz.
“Let him stay, November. He needs to hear this,” Raz said.
I turned toEugene, “Boris is dead.”
A lingering of emotion for his dead friend then it was gone. But it was too late, everyone in the room saw it,Eugenewasn’t a November. He’d be a sniper or a demolition guy or even an explosives expert. We could see he was no punk, if he was caught in a jam he’d beat the crap out of someone to get his way out but he wasn’t going to engage in killing, unless it was personal. He wouldn’t be a hunter. He wouldn’t look someone in the eyes and take them out. The kill for me was business but the hunt was a whole other thing entirely. You had to be in the hunter’s mind in order to be successful at this.Eugenewould be clinical, expert in his execution of the job; he’d be an asset to the family. But too much emotion for Boris meant pain and destruction to the person who set him up in the first place; that was a personal vendetta and you made mistakes when you went to a gig with that kind of baggage.
“Who did it?” he asked.
“You?” he said walking toward me. His face showed his feelings were all over the place. What we didn’t see, which made us sureEugenewas to become one of the Family Rayne, was fear. He stood his ground and never let his eyes leave my impassive face.
Logic prevailed and he asked, “He was only a kid, what could he have possibly done to you?”
“Well I was told, on what I know now was shaky authority, that he was going to make a name for himself by taking out Raz – ”
“That’s bullshit! He loved all you guys! He wanted to be likeCarmelso much the kid was looking for ways he could get her some new shoes. He noticed that kind of stuff.”
“Look,” Eve said, “I claim responsibility in this, OK. The source is no longer reliable and you can be sure I’ll take care of it. But Boris was poaching, man, and that is a straight up NO. He was on his way out of here anyway off that alone!”
“Poach- that’s ridiculous. I told you, he wanted a break. He would do almost anything to impress but p- ”
Eugene’s face lost all its color. His mouth was a perfect “o” as we could see him recalling a vital piece to this puzzle we’d found ourselves in.
“Something you want to share with the rest of the class?” Raz said.
“I killed him too,” he replied.
“This ought to be interesting,” she answered rubbing her temples, “please, spare us no detail.”
“Boris came by here last month. It was my shift and he wanted to chill but there was this other guy here too. He kept bugging me about taking a job… I thought it was another test.”
“What the guy look like?” I asked.
“He wasn’t a Shu.”
“How do you know?” Eve chimed in.
“Because I know,”Eugenereplied, now he was frustrated. “This guy looked official, straight from the Agency. That’s why I turned him down – ”
“Turned him down?” my curiosity awakened.
“Yeah. The guy knew, I don’t know how, that I’m new to this. He said he had a cake job that a monkey could do and he’d pay half credits, half water because it was two people but insisted it’d be easy.”
I remember the famous anecdote about the cat curiosity killed – we were in a world of trouble. This was a brilliant set-up.
“I didn’t know Boris was serious,”Eugenecontinued. “He went after the guy, said he was going to take the deal since I wouldn’t. When he got back he was all smiles saying the guy gave it to him. I swear, I thought the kid was only trying to impress even when he told me a couple of days ago that the gig was tonight.”
“How could you not know he was serious? The mystery guy sat at the right table, right? He offered you a job – of course when he gave it to Boris he was serious. People don’t come in here and order that kind of ‘coffee’ who aren’t serious!”
“I know we’re all a little touchy about this but you don’t have to be disrespectful,”Eugenesaid to Eve.
“You’re a little bit more than a wet nap, Eugene. You should’ve been on it. ‘I didn’t know Boris was serious’ – that’s disrespectful!” Eve replied with fire in her eyes.
“Now now,” Raz interrupted, “our bickering will not bring him back. We need to get to the bottom of – ”
“Carmelis interrupting me. I guess it’s to tell me we’re already at the bottom of this matter?”
“Tell her,”Carmelsaid and elbowed me in my ribs.
“Yes, tell me.”
“This is big. Bigger than Boris or us… I thinkEugene’s guy also called the Shus, just to be sure the marks were done.” A light shined on me and I realized how true Stiletto’s words were, this person was a bona fide chess player – their game was impeccable. Why us?
“The class is waiting,” Raz said, bringing me back to them.
“That man who came here looking for you,Eugene,” I started, “went to the Shuarra first. They turned him down because, like you said, he looked official. But that wasn’t going to stop them from poaching whatever crew took the job. Poor Boris took it and the Shus were going to bootleg him until they saw who Boris took out, then they bailed like roaches.”
“Well we know the question so are you going to keep us in suspense or are you going to tell us the answer?”Eugeneasked.
I tossed Evil Rayne the bag with the tablet in it and turned back to Raz, “You’re probably not going to believe me when I tell you this so there’s the proof. The kid killed Jacinta Scottford.”
Gales of laughter filled the room. Eugene and Eve were near tears; Eve had already fallen out of her chair.Eugenewas in one spot doubled over, holding his stomach and convulsing. RazDivine stood impassive, silent, and examining my every expression, any nuance that passed between Stiletto and me.
“Oh, oh, I’m Jacinta Scottford, famous reporter who everyone on the planet knows and I just got did by a noob! And not the good did, either,” Eve mocked.
“I’m that noob,”Eugeneadded, “and I’ve been living under a rock in a cave and I came out of my cave just to take out the most famous woman on the planet! I’m a genius.”
“So you two are besties now? Check the damn tab, Eve. Plus, my eyes don’t lie and I got a glimpse of the bodies.”
“A glimpse? You didn’t get an actual look?”Eugeneasked.
“My recollection is good too, noob. Don’t ever question that.”
“Alright. No need for hurt feelings, Fearless Leader. I know you got some goodies too so hand those over and I’ll check the tab later.”
I tossed Eve the cards and looked at Raz’s emotionless face, I needed to tell her the worst of it all.
“The other mark…” I started.
“Oh shit, Tommy Nguyen,” Eve said staring at her screen.
“Yes,” Stiletto said.
“It’s breaking news,” she continued, “the ole Prez had a heart attack.”
“This is bad,Novi,” Stiletto said, fear in her eyes. She walked to the nook where Eve was watching her computers.
We all gathered around and saw the report, President Thomas Nguyen suffered a massive heart attack an hour ago and it has been confirmed he is dead. President William Crowne of the Afro-European Block and President Delhi Chandragupta of the Double A Block would be arriving in moments. The full Troika in all of their corrupt glory – at least two-thirds of it.
There was a second “unrelated” report about Jacinta Scottford being missing and the efforts made to contact her. They were smart, whoever these people were pulling strings. Make it seem as if the reporter may be entrenched in a story or in danger; who knows the difference? When her colleagues can’t locate her, they’ll let her body show up somewhere, much later of course, and spectacle begins. Whatever, we’d be neck deep in shit!
Eve unlocked the booty and nobody was laughing after that.
“We can’t use these cards,” she said. Eve pointed to the readout on the card scanner showing a bounty of 30 gallons, then over it a name flashed: Jacinta Scottford. “That’s a lot of water going to go to waste.”
Just as I was going to make a comment,Eugenepointed to the screen we were watching.
“Damnit, that’s the guy! He was the one harassing me and Boris.”
“He’s PR for the Troika, the head ass in charge. John Wickerson,” Stiletto said.
“The second mark, November, who was it?” Raz asked.
And what we’d all been waiting to see for what appeared like centuries happened – RazDivine lost it. It wasn’t pretty. She didn’t do much swearing, the questions of our competence handled that but the billowing steam that seemed to rise from her dreadlocks and the gusts of wind ripping our clothes from our bodies each time she expressed her disgust… Of course, none of that really happened but Raz did get angry and made no steps to hide her displeasure.
“Imbeciles! People who are supposed to be some of the best, b-e-s-t best, Players in the business surround me. Idiots! How did a rookie come from this family, representing this family and take out the President? No. No. How did a rookie succeed in his mission with two Pros following him? The great legacy, November; one who can disappear before your eyes, to hear the stories. November, who walks through walls… And he had friends who knew he was going to do a job he wasn’t qualified – ”
“I never knew who the marks were – ”
“So you’re interrupting me now? That’s your answer, interrupt me?”
“I…”Eugene, like the rest of us was speechless.
“If you’re going to interrupt me the least you could do is contribute something smart. Because what I hear is: if Boris, still a rookie, went and took out a couple of marks whose identity you were familiar with, you would have stopped him then; that’s what my ears are telling me. Since you had no idea who the marks were, well that makes it better, right?
“But we know who the marks are now, don’t we? And we’re in a buttload of CRAP that’s going to slink its way to our doorstep. Jacinta Scottford and the President!”
“Raz we – ” Stiletto started.
“No no no. No no no. Solutions should have been anticipated before this craptastical nightmare happened. We’re in it now and we need to survive it.
“Eve, get what you can off that tab then wipe it, I mean empty. You need to get robbed, make it look like a nodder got you before you had a chance to get check it. As a matter of fact,Eugenehere is going to get robbed, tonight – put the cards in the bag with the tab. They’ll get pretty far before they get caught and that will buy us some time. We are also going to visit your source with the questionable intel. After that we’re going to get ourselves some leverage on the blowback that’s sure to come, crack that InfoChip and find out what got two major figures killed tonight.
“I don’t know if I’m conveying the urgency in my voice but people, this needs to happen NOW!”
We scattered about preparing to fight for the survival of our Family – of our individual lives. Fear was palpable, something that hadn’t touched the lives of brilliant Chess Players in years. At least not the kind that filled the room at that moment; there was no control – we were the prey.
“November,” Raz began, “set up an audience with the Ansatsusya.”
“Damn, it’s that bad?” Eve asked.
I hadn’t taken into consideration we were on the brink of a clan war. If the spider behind this web was indeed the Braithwaites as Jacinta suspected, it meant the annihilation of every clan they had no control over.
“Who’s Ansatsusya?” askedEugene.
“She’s a lot of things but we need her as a mediator,” Eve answered.
“You think she can get us in touch with that clown, Wickerson?”
“Nah, we’re snotty tissue, he ain’t talking to us anymore,” I said.
“Eugenewe are going for an emergency powwow. We will be speaking to the Shuarra.”