Friday, February 19, 2010

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.

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