I'm a little nervous about this. I've always loved writing, practically since I knew what a writer was. My life plan from the age of about 7 on was to finish school, go to college in a big city, and then become a famous writer. Obviously, that hasn't happened, and it's been a while since I've written anything other than a diary style blog post, but sometimes I still feel like I should at least try, you know?
That's why I wanted to write a good, old-fashioned serial. Every month I hope to have a new installment up. I hope you'll read it, and I hope you'll enjoy it.
It was always those eyes that got me. Big, brown, long lashes, that hint of a smile perpetually gleaming in their warm depths. So when he walked into my office on a cold night in spring, casting a woeful glance my way, I couldn't bring myself to kick his ass out like I should have. It had been seven years since I'd seen him, but he'd hardly changed. No, like the fool I am I just sighed, leaned back in my chair, lit myself a cigarette, and gestured for him to take a seat.
"What do you want, Lang?" I asked.
Langston Greis sank into the chair, burying his face in his hands. In the moment of silence before he spoke, I felt an unexpected twinge of fear. Either the chump was overacting and was going to ask me for one hell of a favor, or he'd done something real stupid, and the shit was about to hit the fan.
Finally, he looked up and met my eyes. I gestured impatiently as he cleared his throat. He dropped his gaze and whispered, "Reigel's dead."
It was like a cold wind blew through me, freezing me inside and out. Kresh Reigel was the most notorious gangster in Old Arien, and he'd ruled the underworld with a hard-nosed pragmatism and eye for profit that any politician would do well to emulate. But he'd been old twenty years ago, and in the last few years, his grip on the city, once so solid, had grown weak.
All the petty and not so petty crooks in the city had been vying for power and shoring up their influence, but they'd had to keep it under wraps to avoid a smack down from those still loyal to the old man, or at least the old order. As soon as the word got out, though, the city would go up in flames. Literal ones, most likely.
I took a deep breath to steady myself, and when I spoke my voice came out hard, clipped. "So? I'm done with all that. Why should I care? For that matter, why should you?"
"Because I'm the one who killed him."
For a minute, neither of us spoke. The ash dropped from my cigarette to make a little pile on the gleaming wood of the floor. I wiped it away with my foot, leaving a smear of gray to mar the otherwise spotless expanse. It seemed appropriate. Ashes to ashes...
I think we were both waiting for the other to say something, but I'd be damned if I was going to crack first. Finally, the words burst from him. "He was old, Mitz! You and I both know he wouldn't have lasted more than a few more months anyway. The money was too good, I couldn't say no."
"The money was good? You're nothing but a little part-time pick pocket, not a fucking assassin."
"That why we knew I could do it! No one was expecting a move like that from a guy like me."
"Listen to me, you stupid son of a bitch. You just put yourself in the middle of the biggest gang war this city has ever seen. If you think you're not going to wind up full of holes or hanging from a lamppost somewhere in the Murk, you're an even bigger fool than I thought you were. And worse, you brought your shit to my fucking door!"
As I shouted the last words, I realized I was standing, my hands balled into fists at my sides. A lock of hair hung down over my eyes, and I tucked it back behind my ear. I was so angry my heart felt like it would thump its way out of my chest. Lang just sat there, hands clasped in front of him and that pleading look on his face, a like penitent begging a saint to intercede with God on his behalf.
"Stop calling me that. It's Marie."
"Ok, I'm sorry, Marie. Please, I need your help. I didn't know things were going to get this hot. I just have to lie low for a few days, maybe a week. By then, everyone'll be so caught up jockeying for a new spot that they forget about me and I can collect. Once I've got my money I'll get out of town, and you'll never hear from me again."
"If you had even half a brain in your head, you would have known just how hot things were going to get. And just who the hell put you up to this anyway?"
I couldn't help it - a laugh just came bubbling out of me. Lang looked at me like I'd finally cracked, coming to his feet and taking a hesitant step towards me, a placating hand extended. That sure sobered me up quick. "Don't touch me," I spat.
He rocked back, startled, maybe even a little afraid. I took a kind of grim pleasure in that. Ten years ago, I don't think there would have been anything I could have done to inspire fear in someone, much less him. Time and this city, though, have a way of changing things like that.
"The Gruschekys are just a pissant little gang. It's not like they're suddenly going to move to the top of the heap with Reigel dead, even if they're the ones that put him in the ground. Of everyone in the city, why would they be the ones to take him out?" I asked.
"Lena Gruscheky's got plans. Big ones. She's got some big shot from Russia bankrolling her operation now, and they needed to move on things fast. If he'd died a few months from now, all the big boys would have been ready to make a move the second the last breath rattled out of him, trying to take over. This way, she knows what's coming, and she can make her moves while everyone else is still trying to figure out what happened."
"Sounds like you and Lena Gruscheky are real tight these days. Why are you coming to me for a place to hide out? Can't her Russian boss swing his dick and find a place for you to hunker down?" Anger that I'd thought had burned itself out a long time ago flared, shading my words with the bitterness I felt.
Lang at least had the grace to look ashamed. He shook his head. "You said it yourself - they're small time. Even with the Russian money, they'd be fucked if one of the big guys decided to take them down right now. They need to keep everything under the radar until they've made their moves."
"So then there's just one question - why the hell did you come to me with this? After what you did to me, you really think I'm going to help you?"
He smiled at me, that same soft, quiet smile that he used to give me when we were just kids, the two of us trying to keep each other safe and whole when it seemed like the whole world was trying to grind us to pieces. And then he'd broken my heart, fucked up my life so badly it had taken me nearly a decade to find my feet again. I knew without a doubt that the bastard was manipulating me right now. He's just another crook, I told myself. A liar, a thief, and now a murderer.
And I was going to help him. Dammit.