Wednesday, February 24, 2010

7 - Berlin

Berlin had never been happier to be this banged up. He was kicked back on a couch drinking a Moosehead with the promise of more ahead. The couch was covered with a plastic tarp, but hey, bloodstains are tough to get out. Berlin pondered for a few heartbeats. Maybe he’d really lost enough blood to warrant Winter’s concern. Either way, at least Gabriel wasn’t talking to him right now.

Berlin took a satisfying pull on the Moosehead and looked at Gabriel through the green bottle. It looked pretty cool. Berlin tried to remember what Winter said those pills were. “Hydro-coded” he thought it was. Like the plastic secret rings from the cereal boxes, only with water. Berlin dialed in to the conversation from his comfy seat on the moon. Gabriel sure did sound upset. Maybe Berlin should offer him a beer.

“Winter I’ve already called for a doctor, now calm the hell down and tell me what happened slower.”

Berlin heard winter sigh.

“Some other crew showed up and tried to make off with the goods. They seemed about as experienced as us. That is, I kinda think this was their first ever go at fucking trying to heist an armored car, seeing as they didn’t get away with anything either.”

“Hold up. Are you saying you didn’t get the boxes?”

“I sure as hell didn’t. I never made it into the car. Ash seemed to vanish off the freaking planet too.”

“Crap. Well I guess we’ll have to try again. I wonder if we should wait for them to move it again or try while it’s stored…” Winter cut that shit off fast. Berlin knew that voice. It was the one Winter used when he’d found his hook up for the night and let you know you were walking back from the club.

“No. No no no no no. Nu-uh. Every single cop on the face of the planet is back there picking up shell casings and digging through that thing trying to figure out what made it worth throwing Red Dawn in downtown Detroit. You get me back there after the next O-fucking-lympic games.”

Berlin drained the last of the beer while Gabriel stewed.

“Someone is going to bring me what I want.”

“That’s nice little orphan paddy, there’s plenty of folks in the psycho ward who would happily dive into that truck for you, I’m sure. Anyway, maybe those guys in the jeep were covering for the other two guys.”

“Other two guys?”

“Yeah, some freaking hoop ride barreled into the goddamn gunfight and the passenger made it into the truck.”

Gabriel froze. Gabriel shook. Berlin waved at Winter.

“Shit, Berlin, jeezus. Are you okay, what’s wrong?”

“Uh, it’s time for ‘nother round Wint. You in on this one?”

“No, I’m good for now, just hang on.”

Berlin watched Winter pace over to the mini-fridge in this room. Berlin thought for a minute. Counting that one, Gabriel must have, like, five mini-fridges. Berlin thought for another minute while Winter popped two Mooseheads and walked them back. That would mean that Gabriel could have, like, twelve cases of beer around here. That was totally awesome. Berlin pulled down half of the first beer Winter handed him. Berlin winced and didn’t notice his ribs shifting or the tourniquet biting into his thigh.

Berlin heard Gabriel put down a phone. Berlin smiled up at Winter and gave him an okay sign with his left index finger circled with his thumb. Berlin knew that whenever Gabriel was on the phone something was happening somewhere. Like whenever he slapped a waitress on the ass after tipping well the previous night. Berlin new that things were definitely happening.

Winter looked back at Gabriel, “so, where’s the doctor.”

“That wasn’t the doctor. That was one of my guys inside the force. He was telling me he’d done his job right and there was no footage anywhere of our little party. This means that he fucked up because now we don’t have anything on our interlopers. I don’t suppose you got the plates on those two cars did you?”

Winter laughed in Gabriel’s face.

Gabriel pronounced:

“I didn’t think so.”

Winter snickered:

“Well one of them has some interesting new scars and some freakish nasty fingernails. Does that help?”

A knock came at the door interrupting the stare down.

A large black hand opened the door and let Ash and a nervous looking man with a black bag in. The large black hand and its attached goon shut the door thoughtfully after them.

Gabriel made a silencing motion with his hand then waved it at Ash and then back behind his desk. Gabriel then waved his hand at the man with the bag and then waved it at Berlin. Berlin knew he’d been vindicated. Gabriel had made stuff happen. Amazing. Berlin finished his beer, dropped it, grabbed the next on and pulled down half of it.

The man with the black bag looked nervous. He spoke up:

“Um, Mr. O’Brian, I’m Doctor Canard. Um, Mr. Smith walked up with me. I suppose your man here that needs my attention, um, Mr., um…”

“Smith.” Gabriel supplied helpfully.

“Um, yes, Mr. Smith here, yes.” Berlin relaxed into the couch as the doc leaned over him. The doctor’s nose quirked up.

“Uh, how many, uh, beers has Mr., um, Smith, consumed?”

Berlin knew this one:

“Four. Not counting the three this afternoon and the two this morning.”

The doctor’s face paled.

Winter grinned, “No worries. I only gave him five Hydrocodone when I got him here.”

The doctor’s face went pink.

“That’s, um, that’s not, uh, medically sound. Uh, Mr., uh…”

Winter looked right at Gabriel grinning even wider and offered:

“Smith, of course.”

Gabriel rolled his eyes and walked over to where Ash was fiddling with his bookshelf. Berlin figured Gabriel had had enough of the doctor. Berlin decided to take control of the situation.

“Just dig the slug out of my leg, doc. I’ll take twelve steps with it later.”

The doctor went to work. Berlin bit down on his windbreaker. Berlin focused on Winter. Winter wasn’t doing anything interesting though. Berlin looked up at the ceiling. Nothing neat there either.

Berlin considered that it would be a lot handier if a ball game would come on whenever he got shot. He could use a spread to concentrate on right about now. Berlin realized the doctor had been talking to him:

“…and if you’d let me take a look at your head, you’ve got some significant bruises on your thighs and I’m concerned that the bullet wound isn’t the chief ailment. Have you sustained any other injuries?”

Berlin thought about what Winter would say to the doctor. Berlin thought about what Winter would say, because he knew he probably shouldn’t mention the heist. Winter was always better at lying.

“Yah doc. Yah. When the, uh, little, uh Puerto Rican guy carjacked me, the car got wrecked before I got shot.”

The doctor’s eyes went wide. Berlin noticed Winter trying not to laugh.

“You mean you’ve been in a car accident and been shot?”

“Yup.” Berlin grinned. He’d gotten that one right too. No stopping me now, Berlin thought. Winter was almost doubled over. He walked off towards the mini-fridge again. Ash and Gabriel looked like they were arguing. Berlin decided the only interesting thing to do was fuck with the doctor some more.

Berlin grunted and sat up. He stripped off the windbreaker and his shirt. “Think I may have busted a rib or something too.”

The doctor felt around Berlin’s torso and got agitated.

“Mr. Smith I really must insist on taking you in to a hospital.”

“Nah. Those are for sick people. I’m just banged up is all.”

Winter walked back up, handed Berlin another beer and put his hand on the doctor’s shoulder. The doctor flinched.

“Don’t fuss too much about him Doc. He’s a tough cookie, our Mr. Smith.”

The doctor shook his head and resigned himself to whatever Gabriel was paying him.

The doctor made short work of wrapping Berlin’s torso. Berlin drank down his fifth beer of the night and kicked back on the couch. Yup, all that was missing was a ball game. Seventh inning stretch and some hot dogs.

Berlin’s head went fuzzy. He saw the doc walk over to the desk in this sitting room and tap his fingers on it. He saw Gabriel pay the doc off and usher him out. Berlin nodded off while Ash, Winter and Gabriel tried to untangle the god-awful mess that this night had been.

Out on the street, Adrian got into a taxi and rode off. Dr. Canard indeed.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

6 - Heist

Ash is standing in a dark, wet alley holding a piece of plastic with a trigger in it. He is sweating.

Winter is astride a Yamaha V Max two blocks away, waiting for the high to creep into his scalp. He is sweating.

Berlin is driving a solidly built four door sedan. He is carrying four firearms and wearing a Kevlar vest under a Red Wings windbreaker. He cannot find a radio station and very much wants to drink a beer. He is not sweating.

Gabriel is pacing his office alternating amongst trying to read memoranda on his desk, smoking a cigar, looking out the window and polishing a piece of obsidian the size of a high school vocabulary textbook. He is trying to forget about the phone call that led to this and the feeling of searing heat at the small of his back that calls to mind times when he was not ascendant.

An armored car is driving around Detroit on a specially designated delivery and pick up route. The route was commissioned for tonight by Ignotus Via LP. The general partner of Ignotus Via is listed as Jack Savonarola. This is a lie.

The phone call Gabriel received earlier, which he is failing to forget about and which has unsettled him so considerably, was only two words:

“Graal noire.”

The phone number from which the call originated is a pay phone at a gas station within 12 miles of the palatial estate of Jack Savonarola. There was no surveillance footage available to Gabriel. No fingerprints were able to be lifted from the phone or the surfaces surrounding it. Nevertheless, four homeless men found heading towards or away from that particular gas station have been questioned and released by Michigan state troopers. Gabriel and the homeless men have been lied to. Neither of them knows what they have been lied to about. Gabriel cares about this. The homeless men do not.

North of Detroit a dirty brown 1973 Buick Electra 225 is cruising towards the city well in excess of the speed limit. No one has lied to its occupants. Yet.

The armored car pulls up to the building which is third to last on its appointed rounds for the evening. There are two guards in the cab. The back doors open and one guard emerges and surveys his area with insufficient suspicion.

Berlin’s hands grip the steering wheel casually. He is collected and inappropriately calm. He curiously thinks of nothing in particular as he rounds the corner and sees the armored car stopped. He aims the sedan at the left front corner of the bumper of the armored car. His booted foot stabs downward and his shoulders are loose. He is only traveling at forty miles per hour when he collides with the armored car. The shock knocks another guard out of the back doors at the foot of his stunned comrade. The sound is deafening. Berlin has tucked his torso behind the door and is not aware of how sore he is. Adrenalin and a slight concussion are fortifying him.

Ash is trembling in his alleyway. Winter’s hands are spasming towards his knives. Ash cannot stop thinking of his aunt taking him to see Picasso’s Guernica. Ash’s right hand shakes. Ash’s right hand clenches into a fist. His eyes are closed. He hears a series of dull thumps and sharp cracks. He hears one scream. Tears are on his face as he runs down the alley away from the armored car. The image of Guernica fades in his mind as he resolves that he has finally taken the step to actively injuring other people. Ash does not stop running until he realizes he does not know where he is. It will take him hours to meander back to Gabriel’s apartment. He does not remember throwing the large canvas bags he carried into a storm drain. Adrenalin and shock are fortifying him.

Berlin has rolled out of the wrecked sedan. Berlin lies on the ground with his hands wrapped under his Red Wings windbreaker. When Berlin sees feet on the passenger side of the armored car, he produces an automatic pistol and coolly shoots the ankle he sees. He crawls to the front of the armored car, rises to a crouch, ducks around to the passenger side and shoots the guard in the torso three times. Berlin hears little. He is wearing earplugs. He does not see the ruined forms of two guards behind the armored car. He does not see the fifth guard exit the back of the armored car with a radio in one hand and a drawn revolver in the other. He does not know the driver is yelling into a radio while curled on the driver seat with his feet on the floor and his head between his knees. He does not know a Jeep Grand Cherokee with a driver and two passengers is rounding the corner coming towards him.

Winter knows something has gone wrong. He does not know what it is, but through the rising THC and adrenalin, he hears his streets telling him that if he doesn’t start moving now, he will cease to be a predator. Winter twists the throttle and pulls into view of the carnage. He sees the fifth guard panicking behind the armored car. He sees the Jeep Grand Cherokee stop yards away from the action. He sees the large shaggy black hair of the driver. He sees the man with the slick dark hair and the bulky jacket get out of the passenger door. He sees the man in the brown duster hop out of the rear gate.

Winter hears the streets and knows that these are not good Samaritans. Winter tells himself a little joke about these two men taking off their jackets and tearing them in half. Winter has poor recollection of Bible study and an even poorer sense of humor. Winter sees the man in the brown duster cradle something in his arms and spread his legs. Winter stops telling jokes when the fifth guard is cut in half by submachinegun fire. Winter sees the man in the bulky jacket and the man in the brown duster jog towards the armored car’s gaping back doors and the smoke surrounding them. Winter’s pupils dilate, his skin flushes, he screams Berlin’s name and gives his motorcycle free reign timed by his reflexes rather than his conscious mind.

Berlin hears Winter clearly call his name after he hears a dull burst of gunfire. Berlin is a virtuoso. He recognizes the sound of a Mac 10. Berlin’s cheeks draw in on his skull. Berlin’s mouth draws into a tight frown. Berlin still has his earplugs in. Berlin does not question why he can hear Winter call his name louder than he can hear the gunfire. Berlin rises above the hood of the wrecked sedan and begins firing on the Jeep. The man in the brown duster falls back and crouches behind the Jeep. The man in the bulky jacket continues running towards the armored car. Winter sees a glow around the man in the bulky jacket. Winter throws himself from the motorcycle with an odd certainty that it will not be damaged in the spark throwing skid he leaves it in. He cannot reach a knife before he tackles the man in the bulky jacket to the ground. Winter is water and the man in the bulky jacket is a stone. Winter smells vodka on the man’s breath. Winter flails, punching and grasping. Winter is lifted bodily from the ground and dashed onto the pavement in what remains of a guard’s legs. Winter manages to produce a knife before the man in the bulky jacket can reach him with the length of chain he has whipped out from under his jacket.

Winter is interrupted in his brawl by the reports of gunfire and ricochets off the pavement. Berlin is thoughtfully trying to kill the man who is attacking his friend. Berlin succeeds in driving the man in the bulky jacket away from the armored car. Berlin is not yet aroused sufficiently to leave his cover. A burst of fire from the man in the brown duster drives him towards the back of the car. Berlin does not question that the bullets pinging off of the sedan do not leave dents.

Winter snarls and dives after the man in the bulky jacket. They roll away from the armored car. Winter stabs and stabs and stabs. Winter’s mouth is wide with silent laughter. The face of his opponent is feral. The man’s fingernails tear away at Winter’s leathers. His length of chain wraps around Winter’s waist.

The driver of the jeep stiffens behind the wheel. He looks north. He sees bright headlights rising behind the wrecked sedan. Berlin is highlighted from behind as he rises to fire on the Jeep. Berlin has left two pistols forgotten on the ground.

For a moment the battlefield goes silent. The streets whisper to Winter. They tell him to wait. For the first time in his life Winter stops stabbing someone. A 1973 Buick Electra 225 incongruously swerves through a bootlegger turn and spins 180 degrees into the middle ground between the jeep and the armored car.

A gray haired man leans out of the driver’s window and fires a flare gun at the grand cherokee. A scrawny wild haired form in torn jeans dives out of the Buick and sprints into the back of the armored car.

Winter has a moment of clarity and thinks to himself, “Grand fuckin’ central station.” The streets chorus his words in his head. The blood rises in his ears. He begins to stab the man in the bulky jacket again. Blood covers Winter’s left side.

Berlin and the man in the brown duster both begin to fire on the Buick. Berlin’s pistol jams. The man in the brown duster throws his weapon into the back of the jeep swearing. Berlin and the man in the brown duster both grab for additional hardware. Winter hears sirens. The scrawny frazzled blur emerges from the back of the armored car and sprints back to the Buick. Berlin and the man in the brown duster point their arms at him. Berlin’s pistol misfires. The man in the brown duster curses. The streets howl a warning to Winter. Winter hears the man in the brown duster cry one word. It sounds like “rictus.” Winter finds this hilarious until he is punched in the jaw and the man in the bulky jacket races back to the Jeep and it tears off after the Buick that Winter has somehow lost.

Winter stands up. Winter shivers. Winter notices that it is no longer raining. Winter notices that Berlin is leaning heavily on his wrecked sedan. Winter hears the sirens again. Winter rights his motorcycle, throws Berlin over the back and bugs out.

Winter thinks to himself “who the fuck?”

Berlin thinks to himself “Where am I hit? I need a beer.”

Ash thinks to himself “what have I gotten myself into.”

Gabriel, alone and uniformed, thinks to himself “why now?”

Monday, February 22, 2010

5 - Winter

Sitting on a motorcycle in the rain, in Detroit, in June had to be one of the most tiring things Winter had ever done. The lights of the city were haloed in dull yellow. Winter was reminded of a story he was told by his parents about having colic as a child. Winter shivered under his leathers and tried to keep up some excitement for the work ahead.

He had trouble.

Leaning comfortably and smugly against a wall in the garage of Gabriel’s apartment building this had almost begun to sound like a good idea. Knocking off an armored car was daring. There might even be some profit. Winter wasn’t sure that even Gabriel could keep this under wraps though. It was bound to piss somebody off more than it was worth.

What the hell though. Gabriel was more worked up about this than anything other than his casino schemes. Winter nursed a grudge about that. Ash was a big part of that dream. Winter and Berlin probably would have to visit through the servant’s entrance or some similar crap.

Gabriel had rushed his three lieutenants down to the garage from his conference room with little detail. All he’d said was:

“You’re going to steal five locked steel boxes from an armored car tonight. You’re going to bring them to me and you’re not going to open them.”

Winter could tell that Ash was nervous about it. Most likely because Ash didn’t know if he could fence one of the boxes himself to Botswana or some crap. Slimy bastard. Berlin didn’t seem to care. Berlin was just happy to be active and to get to mess around with the cars.

So many cars.

Gabriel had awesome taste; Winter had to give him that. Winter giggled in the garage at the thought of Gabriel having to fork over cash for the broken down early eighties land yacht Berlin was going to be driving on this job. Well that was one reason he giggled. The other was that he was lit like a Christmas tree. He was on the edge of losing the thread of the plan. Green roots kept twitching up his spine and under the heels of his feet the whole time. That was why he hadn’t taken a seat anywhere while Gabriel discussed the plan and put Berlin to work on the yacht.

“Simple and quick Berlin. Simple and quick. When they pull up to the building and open any door of that car, you just slam into it as hard as you can from whichever direction you’re coming from. Make a hellish noise and shoot one of them. Then Ash will take care of things from the street side, you’ll bag the boxes and Winter will scoot with them.”

“I can’t run with five lockboxes boss.”

“You won’t be running. You’ll be on your new bike.”

Gabriel smirked that damn know-it-all grin and whipped a tarp off a Yamaha V Max. Christmas had come early. Ash decided to get interested at that point. Berlin just cracked a Schlitz from the mini-fridge and kept looking over the yacht.

“I’m not entirely comfortable Gabriel. How exactly am I supposed to neutralize an armored car with at least three guards from a dark alley? I am not signally intimidating.”

“Don’t worry. You’ll be in the shadows, Ash.” Gabriel smirked again, reached into a green bag and tossed an odd looking rectangle to Ash. Ash caught it. His eyes bulged. He set it carefully on a workbench and shook his head in bewilderment.

“Maybe you mistook me for a grenadier. Is there no one else you have available for this sort of… field… work.”

Gabriel’s gaze went abstract for a second and Winter shivered. “They all use names.”

That one set the meeting silent for a good twenty count. Berlin’s rough baritone shattered in and made Winter hop a bit.

“’Front.’ ‘Towards.’ ‘Enemy.’”

Christ. Winter thought to himself “who made this guy a crime boss?” Aloud, he tactfully said:

“You're going to blow us all to hell with that kind of crap. Do we look like the fuckin’ 101st recon seals?”

Ash contributed:

“I agree with Winter.”

Gabriel allowed:

“Shut the fuck up. All you have to do is squeeze a plastic trigger. I’d have Berlin do it, but he’s the only one dumb enough to drive a car into the kill zone at full tilt before you pull the trigger.”

Berlin was still rolling that one around in his head when Ash pulled the redirect Winter had been waiting for.

“What is worth this kind of idiocy, Gabriel? We do have a good thing going here. I do not see a requirement to piss on it.”

Winter noticed pins of sweat on Gabriel’s forehead all of a sudden. His high was starting to get ruined. All this talk of explosives, ramming cars and maybe blowing Berlin to Flint was harshing the room up pretty seriously. Still, Winter had the presence of mind not to twitch or fidget or draw a knife.

Gabriel pinched the bridge of his nose. The room stayed quiet. Berlin set the Claymore down and went back to tapping the land yacht with a sort of morose calm that Winter was really very fond of.

“Okay. Ash already has part of this, so I may as well come clean with you guys. O’Brian is a fake name. Never mind the real one now, but the important part for you to know is that some international authorities would be pleased as punch to tie me in to some nastiness back in the eighties.”

Winter twitched a bit. He slid to another wall and tried leaning on his right shoulder for a minute. Ash was staring at Gabriel like he was going to tear a piece off of him and eat it. This was too intense.

“In one of those five steel boxes is a load of documents and photos that I want to burn. In the other four are bearer bonds, jewels and some sort of circuit things that will pay you lot well enough for your troubles.”

Winter wanted to say something now, but his mouth was dry and his hair felt like it was about to shoot off of his scalp. He really needed to cut out this baking before serious meetings. Ash dropped his shoulders and put out an opinion:

“Who here cares Gabriel? It is not like we are looking to retire or anything. Let us proceed and return to business that matters. I am in.”

Winter nodded vigorously and paced over to the Yamaha eager to look like he was doing something other than freaking out.

Berlin just kept tapping on the land yacht. Berlin looked around at Gabriel:

“So is this windshield at least shatterproof or something?”

Gabriel rolled his eyes, whipped a hand under his jacket and made some crazy loud noise that caused Winter to fall over the Yamaha and claw at his ears. Somebody yelled in a shrill voice:

“Can’t we just do all this with chalkboards and shit?”

Winter realized he’d said it.

The windshield had a solid star over the passenger sun visor. Gabriel put his revolver away.

“You boys know I’d never send you out naked.”

Winter helped Ash stash claymore mines in a trash can and in gutters. Now Winter was sitting on his new motorcycle in the rain. He thought to himself in a reflective way:

“I need a vacation.”

Winter dug around under his leathers, pulled out a mashed up joint and smoked the whole thing in four draws as the rain pattered around him. But the way Gabriel had seemed to snicker and mumble "Eighties indeed" as he headed back up to his apartment gave Winter a deeper chill than the wet.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

4 - Winter

Winter hummed to himself as he tightened his grip on one of his knives.

Four-four time fit his mood.

The largest man he’d just insulted was warming up a haymaker from his right shoulder.
Winter felt good.

He stepped into the wild right and caught it on his forearm. He slid his leg forward and barred his opponent’s knee. His knife hand whipped around and the blade bit the man’s back with a dull thud.

Winter stood motionless for a moment; a thin, intense snake. He smiled without showing his teeth. His eyes focused on his next dance partners.

Winter kicked the larger man’s leg out from under him, twisted the handle of the knife and let go. The thug hit the floor with a grunt.

Winter knew that getting stuck in the back took a minute to sink in so he kicked the larger man in the chin for good measure as he whirled towards his next victim and drew his favorite knife.

Three minutes ago Winter walked into the Watering Hole Tavern with a mission. Gabriel had said to him:

“The Savonarolas are making noise. Go piss them off.”

This was work Winter enjoyed.

Winter knew the three Savonarola thugs at the bar. They were large goons but Mel was the largest. Frank carried a gun but was squeamish. Brad was the worst of the lot. Winter bought a pint of beer, took a sip, pitched it at Frank and asked Mel if he bit the pillow when Brad put the spurs to him.

Now Mel was on the floor short a few teeth with a cheap lock back knife buried in his shoulder. Winter hoped he’d gouged his shoulder blade well enough. It would ache for years. Frank was up and twitching. Brad was hanging back. No one else in the bar was interested in joining the tango.

Winter’s favorite knife is a fourteen inch kabar. He likes it because it slows fights down. Winter finds that people give him more room to work when he has it in hand. Mel started to look too scared though. Winter figured he would go for his gun.

Mel proved too nervous for his own good. He snagged the front sight on his pocket and fumbled off-balance against the bar. Winter took advantage of the opening, slid next to him and cut a gash across his forearm. This time Winter got a scream for his efforts.

Brad moved in and whipped a barstool at Winter’s knees. Winter leapt and landed next to Brad. He slashed left and right. Brad had fallen back two beats faster than Winter expected.

Brad whipped out a baton. Winter rolled and caught the blow on his shoulder. Winter bit his lip. He tasted blood and his head roared. Brad danced back out of line panting. Winter growled.

Moans and gasps sounded behind the combatants as they circled. Smoke hung heavy in the bar. Someone coughed. Brad decided to offer an opinion:


Winter riposted:


They pounced for each other simultaneously. Brad flung the baton at Winter’s face and grabbed for his wrist. Winter whipped his head left, dropped the big kabar and grabbed Brad by the hair.

Winter flowed around the stockier man and punched him twice in the kidneys. Brad gasped and dropped to his knees.

The blood beat in Winter’s ears dulled down and he could hear the bar noise, the music and the gasps of Mel and Frank. He knew he’d done his job. But Winter never knows when to stop.

“Tell Jack to step back. Tell Joy his aftershave stinks. Tell Lucinda I’ve booked our honeymoon. And stay out of my streets.”

Winter’s eyes glittered. He popped a switchblade and slit brad’s throat. Blood stench filled the air. Winter held him up by his hair until he went limp. Winter spat on the corpse and looked around. He stared down every patron as he picked up his kabar and walked out.

Winter walked alone in the cool rain. He stayed back from the street and looked around at the lights and the buildings. Traffic rolled along the pavement with a reassuring rumble. Busses roared by as he walked. He thought he could hear the people mover at one point.

Winter reached his apartment and walked up. He washed blood from under his fingernails and stared into the mirror. His grin was still in place.
The phone rang. Ash was on the other end:

“Winter, get down to Grand Circus. Gabriel has something big brewing and it has a short fuse.”

Ash hung up before Winter could respond. Winter got the distinct impression that he made Ash nervous. That added a quarter inch to Winter’s grin. Ash might be some big shot in a suit but he wouldn’t dare step into the streets against Winter. Winter knew he owned the streets. Sure, Gabriel owns Winter, but that’s just the way it works.

Winter dialed Berlin.

Winter and Berlin had been friends since childhood. Berlin got picked on a lot back then. For some reason the other kids always thought that since he was big and slow he was good natured. Well he had been. It didn’t last. Things always seemed to escalate around Winter and Berlin got caught up in it. But he played along willingly. Kid sets little Berlin’s shoe on fire at the playground. Little Winter kicks him into the dirt. Another kid holds little Winter down and cracks his nose. Little Berlin hits that kid with a brick. Pretty soon you hit a rhythm and leave school behind for house breaking, mugging and general mayhem. Happy memories walked with Winter to the refrigerator for a root beer as the cordless rang in his ear.


“B, it’s W. Ash just sent out the call. You ready to roll?”

“Sure. Any idea what we’re gonna do?”


“’Kay. See you at the station.”

Winter dropped the phone back on its cradle. He finished his root beer and changed into jeans with fewer bloodstains. He strapped his knives on and stretched his shoulders. He lit up a joint and blew smoke rings at the bare light bulb in the hall. It was shaping up to be a good day.

Statement of intent

Detroit is a work of fiction derived from gaming experiences with friends during a period from 1997 to 1998. Many serial numbers have been filed off and many sideline arcs have been removed to pare down to what I hope will be an interesting narrative. I want to make it well known that my thanks go out to all of my friends involved at that time and I hope they will enjoy this endeavor and the "insider" parts of it that are written towards them.

Detroit focuses on actions of ostensibly organized crime in Detroit from a period beginning in 1996. Detroit was the original background and is used because of the perception of urban decay present in that city at that time. Detroit as it appears here is highly fictionalized.

Detroit presents actions of individuals who are dramatically outside the bounds of common behaviour. Violence is present. Substance abuse is common. An attitude of extreme carelessness towards the well-being of others is present to some degree in all characters. Hero is not really an applicable term at most any point. None of this is a reflection of personal slight on those individuals involved behind those characters.

Certain characters are presented suffering from mental illnesses. This is not intended to showcase them as stranger or worse than their fellow inhabitants of this unpleasant fictional place. It is built as a portion of their character and I hope to use it to add to the presentation and not to be a distraction or freakshow style presentation.

So, in conclusion, be prepared for all the residents you meet to behave badly and to carry themselves in overly dramatic, venal and harsh ways.

I hope the ride is enjoyable and maybe my prose will improve over time.

Friday, February 19, 2010

3 - Ash

Work with Gabriel stayed steady and good through to 1996. I fell into a groove. I still lied about my name. I stuck with Ash but it had become almost as personal as professional. I don’t think I’d have responded to my given name anymore without some reflection. I didn’t care who knew I was a Spaniard. I couldn’t hide that anyway. Family history was obscure and quiet enough that I wasn’t thinking about it bugging me. My international contacts had accepted that I didn’t operate outside Detroit anymore. Trouble wasn’t going to follow me.

I started to grow comfortable.

The cliché is for that to be dangerous. My version of comfortable is less dangerous than you’d think. I still moved around residences. I still kept a switchblade close at hand. I’d even started carrying a pistol. It freaked me out less as I grew used to the social firearms etiquette of the states.

My savings had grown to a level that kept my tastes happily expensive. Honestly I should have ditched Detroit and moved on. But the work was too interesting. Additionally, Gabriel had become intriguing in the extreme.

Every two months or so he’d call me in and have something weird on deck.

“Bring me two gallons of virgin water Ash.”

“I need a thousand dollars in New Orleans mint silver dollars.”

“Find a two headed cat.”

“Three cases of .45 ACP are in the cooler at the restaurant. I want every round hand rubbed with garlic. Three hits counterclockwise.”

The weird requests piqued my interests and I started digging. It was a quick thing to figure out that he had some weird mystic obsession. It didn’t interfere with business. Hell, it even seemed to help sometimes; like in tracking down that dipshit with the sarin. I started to get a taste for it myself.

I boosted a book from Gabriel’s office one night and photocopied the thing at Kinko’s. It rattled on interminably about auras and spells and rituals. I tried out a few.

None of it really seemed to do much. Still, once I’d thrown down the markings under my bed I dreamt only of myself being clever. No more teeth falling out or naked bus rides. When I started keeping the 1904 SVDB penny in my wallet I always seemed to have exact change at the gas station. Storing my razor in the pyramid didn’t do anything though.

For me it was a little game, but for Gabriel it was deadly serious. He always seemed to get more out of it than me. But that was all secondary because when the wheels turned in 1996 and the business was on the table it was always gambling.

Gabriel had gotten a yen to own a casino. Throw that next to the indian casinos raking in the dollars and the rubes flocking to the Windsor and you’ve got an exciting proposition. I sat in on meetings. I passed around some cash. I was bagman to the stocky Irishman who always was there to help with a few hundred thousand for reelection or to lean on a mouthy ex-mistress.

Gabriel was hungry for the gaming. He watched Casino something like thirty times and got to where he’d drop random lines from it and laugh like a hyena. Gabriel has a thing for cash money. He likes value he can carry and he likes influence. He doesn’t put much stock in banks and as near as I can tell he doesn’t ever pay taxes.

The crew for the street side of things had shaped up well. We had Winter and Berlin for the serious personal strong-arm work. They each kept in touch with a few crews of hard boys who enjoyed a scrap. Marcus Smythe and Max Sobieski were local businessmen who fronted for Gabriel when he needed it, which was becoming more often as his casino dreams grew grander. Gabriel sent me down to Vegas one week in March to get buddy-buddy with some real casino hands.

I made some calls to the old international folks and took a group of Swedish high rollers to Mandalay Bay. They ran me out of the grubstake I took with me in four hours and I had to hit the streets and steal a truck or two to fence for more cash. Happily, over the course of watching a dozen drunken Swedes blow a few million dollars of money I’d touched, I made some new friends. They liked the way I worked and they got comfy that I wasn’t a plant after they stripped me naked unannounced three or four times. They were good guys about it though. They took me to the Golden Gulch afterwards and I endured a round of lap dances.

They still made me pay though.

After that I scheduled a weekend for Gabriel, Marcus and myself to go down and get a tour of the facilities and a crash course on the business.

Imagine my surprise when Gabriel cancelled it.

It was around sunset on a Thursday. I’d come in to chat about some incidental trouble with the Savonarola organization in mid-town when Gabriel just looked up from his desk.

“Drop everything. We have to knock over an armored car.”

Gabriel has this particular presence. When he looks up at you with those grey eyes and says something totally random you don’t even flinch. It’s the way he taps his hand on his desk and lights a cigar. You just know that there won’t be any problems.

“Get Winter and Berlin. We’ll have a conference in twenty minutes.”

“When does this need to go down Gabriel?”


Gabriel does have that particular presence. But I still stalked out of his office nervous and pissed off. I like to be daring. I don’t mind armed robbery when it has to happen. But whenever something gets set up for too short a turnaround, I know I’m going to lose money.

2 - Ash

The first months working for Gabriel in 1994 were the toughest. I had to break a learned habit of lying. I was still lying for a living but I was telling different lies and was forced to tell the truth about things I wasn’t used to.

Like whom I was working for.

A life as an independent operator had me used to glossing over such things. Gabriel has a different policy. Outside of news organizations, Gabriel wanted his presence known. Not his influence, just his presence. We worked to build Gabriel O’Brian into a shibboleth for those who needed to know it.

“Gabriel sent me.”

Those words were to be used as a standard whenever possible. Like a samurai with a flag on his back. That’s fairly accurate from my view. I always figured cutting up people with a flag on your back was kind of dumb because it would stand out and be unbalancing. Those first months it was unbalancing. I always hate standing out. Even among the cognoscenti.

But the money was always timely and copious. I can get used to most anything if the pay is regular.

“Gabriel sent me.”

I’d say it to a local political official as I spun horseshit about community centers and inner city redevelopment. I’d say it to that local political official as I handed him a briefcase of cash and spelled out permits for buildings, condemnations, and imminent domain and tax credits. I’d say it to myself in the mirror at night as I stayed up late figuring returns from contraband transactions.

Gabriel spread a wide net. He organized drugs, guns, gambling and blackmail. He stayed away from whores for some reason. I always figured that in structuring a local portfolio that would be a key area, but he never listened to me about it. He just shrugged through, expressionless and asked me about whatever was next on his agenda.

His agenda.

That galled more than anything else. I always know best what I’m doing. I don’t like following other orders. But it made for good sidelines. What worked best in my favor was that I didn’t care if he found out. His books always came out. What did he care if my books grew too? It wasn’t like I competed with him. Anyway, he had me on enough strange crap that an honest con or overseas deal had to happen every now and then or I’d have gotten stale.

I’d been working for him for just at a year when the weirdest bit yet came through. It started with some hoopla in Tokyo about sarin.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t trade in nerve gas. I’m just saying I haven’t and it’s made good business sense so far. But somebody on board had. It wasn’t the publicity or the general shittiness of the act that got under Gabriel’s skin. It was that he’d been in a good mood that week. He’d been humming to himself and bringing up Belfast for some reason. I figured it to be part of his blarney jackass routine for the rubes. Turns out he really was in a good mood. Nothing is worse with Gabriel than interrupting him in a good mood.

The news was on at a bar where we were going over transit slips when the footage of folks streaming out of the subway all freaked out started. This odd look came over his face. This tension settled in his shoulders. He really started flinching when the crap about doomsday cults started being yakked about. He got grim and his mouth drew down thin and straight. He went silent on me.

“Gabriel, you okay?”


“So, what do you want done?”

“I don’t know. Yet.”

He stomped out and left his coat and a half pint of Bass. I got a call an hour later. I headed over to the office and found him pacing behind his desk. He wasn’t wearing a tie. His desk was covered in bits of crap. An astrolabe with a green crystal in it. Some orrerry thing. Six metal balls that looked like brass. Gray eyes nailed me to the wall and he started in with the angry voice. I noticed the blood on his right hand at that point but kept my mouth shut.

“Ash, I’m no expert, but we’ve got a noisemaker in the organization. We’ve got some numbnuts who doesn’t know to stay out of business with global ramifications. We’ve got someone who knows some of what you know but keeps it in his head instead of his wallet. We’ve got a clever monkey and I need you to take Winter and go fetch him.”

I’d only worked with Winter twice up to that point. Frankly, he scared me. Not as much as his buddy Berlin, but he scared me plenty enough for my tastes. I don’t like to hurt people. Not physically that is. Maybe I’m squeamish, but it keeps my blood in my veins and pork chops on the table on Saturday night. Gabriel isn’t the kind to care about your personal thoughts though. He wants his results.

“Gabriel, who are we going after? What are we doing to him?”

“I don’t know his name. I know he resides near water. I know he wears his shoes down left foot first. I know his mother loves tulips. I know his first kiss was on an autumn day when the skies were clear. I know he drinks Coors when he can’t sleep.”

That threw me for a loop. Gabriel isn’t the kind to drop five words when two would do it. He also isn’t the kind to talk in poetry and stare off into space when he knew looking right at you was twice as intimidating.

“That’s not much to go on.”

I thought he was going to hit me then. I’ve never been more certain that I was in trouble. I fell back a step towards the door but he’d already caught me by the wrist and forced a compass into my hand. He stared straight into my eyes and he unsettled me more than the time a kid in my class had a grand mal seizure when I was six.

“Take this. Find Winter. Pour a Coors on it. Follow it until you find a man who’s very afraid. Bring him to me in one piece.”

I asked him if I needed any particular type of Coors and he softened a bit, chuckled and clapped me on the shoulder. He mumbled something about good lad and turned away.

I found Winter. I bought a Coors. We found Lonnie Kempton at a dive bar. Winter stuck him in the ribs a bit and we dragged him to Gabriel. He didn’t live to sunrise. The next day Gabriel flew to Belfast and when he came back he was singing to himself and talking about how travel in Europe had just gotten easier.

While he was in Belfast I ransacked Lonnie’s apartment. It had a nice lake view. I found the money he had left from shifting that sarin.

I like gratuities and I’m nothing if not practical.

1 - Ash

It started in Dublin back in 1989. I was 22 years old, three years into running cons and trying to structure a like-kind exchange. Inasmuch as cocaine and submachineguns were both illegal.
Oldrich Hajak and I were discussing opportunities in west africa. I was in the middle of a series of blatant lies about shipping containers when he interrupted me:

"Watch out for that Stocky man in the dark suit."

I scanned the room and spotted him immediately. He was standing off to the side wearing a nicer suit than the rest of us cared to for this particular meeting.

Black suit. White shirt. Green tie. Serious expression.

"That's Gabirel O'Brian. He'll be signing checks one day."

Oldrich was right, but he didn't keep his eyes on the horizon. He's rotting in some turkish prison these days.

I go in for long-cons on occasion and I can smell money when it's in large quantities. Digging out information on a man's name took more effort back then. It took me three months to cut through the crap he laid out for the tourists and then I was ready to introduce myself to Gabriel Francis Nilan. But by then I'd gotten caught up in other opportunities and he'd moved on from Dublin.

So I filed away the information for a rainy day and kept swimming like a good shark.

When it got to be 1994, I found myself in Detroit. I had a good product, jewel racket this time, and was arranging meetings between willing buyers and myself. I was enjoying an old fashioned at a table in one of the nicer restaurants when I spotted a familiar dark suit in a corner surrounded by sycophants. Figure at that point the jewel deal can wait. Gabriel still smelled like real money, even from across a crowded room.

Boldness in the face of a potential client is an asset in my line of business. At the same time, being too bold can get you shot. I took the middle road and sent a double of Kilbeggan over to him. It works with loose women, it was certain to get his attention. Surprisingly, he drank it down. In Spain that kind of trust can get you poisoned, but the pale folks from North Eurpoe grew up thinking about axes instead of cyanide.

That was when I knew he'd seen me.

Steel grey eyes locked on my brown eggs across the room. My gorge rose and I new I was going to get the treatment. I was neatly collected by four thugs in a Mercedes and taken over to a nice joint in Grand Circus Park. A decided step up from my expectations of chains in a waterfront warehouse. This was starting to look more like my time in Switzerland than my time in Libya. However, Gabriel wasn't going to make it easier for me. It took three hours of grilling before I received an audience with the presonage.

He quizzed me on how I knew him. He blustered behind the O’Brian name. I hinted at things unspoken and mentioned my cousin by the name of Nilan. He got the picture at that point and sent the kids off to their room. The zip ties on my wrists were cut with a pen knife that looked like it belonged in an antique store.

Gabriel sat himself in a high backed red executive chair behind a mahogany desk. I favoured one of the four hot seats before it. The one on stage left. I was offered a robusto and accepted. I retrieved my switchblade from the sideboard and cut the tip. We passed a box of matches back and forth and made noncommital words around the cigars as we relaxed into our discussion.

“What the hell do you want from me.”

“I’m interested in employment. Particularly any jobs of agency you have available. You and I have traded through intermediaries a number of times, but never face to face. Frankly, I make less money when I sell to you and yours, so I figure it has to go somewhere.”

“I have plenty of helping hands around the table. Why should you be one?”

“Because I can put a pin in Gabriel Francis Nilan as a former resident of Ballyvaughan.”

His left cheek twitched. He tapped ash from his cigar. His pupils dilated.


It was my turn to fidget within accepted parameters. I chose the classic tasting the palate of the smoke and checking to see that the robusto was burning evenly. I knew better than to pick at the ring in front of this guy. My pupils probably dilated too, but there were no mirrors handy.

“Saggitarius around ’55.”

His lip twitched. I got this feeling like he was laughing at me, but like it was good that he was laughing at me. I willed a little sparkle into my eyes and waited for him to lob back. I had to wait a minute. He chose that moment to break out the whiskey. The bastard served up Wild Turkey on the rocks. Sometimes I just don’t understand people.