Where you are right now, well, it isn't such a normal place to be.
What you would call this is the inside of a telephone.
It's not as scary as you'd think. Despite the very notion of dialing in numbers and then being connected with someone across the world sounding very complicated, the telephone is one of the most uncomplicated devices you will find in a home or an office or a place where you oversee a drug dealing operation and an increasingly diverse criminal empire. The telephone is made up of three parts and these parts are simple.
-A switch to connect and disconnect a phone from the network. This switch is generally called "the hook switch". It connects when you lift the headset.
-A speaker, which is generally a little 50 cent 8 ohm speaker of some sort.
-A microphone. If you don't know what a microphone is there are books that talk about this sort of thing. We really need to move on.
There are other things in here, but most of them are unimportant. What is important is that this phone is ringing.
This particular phone is in a particular backroom of a large house in an abandoned area of Detroit. Usually when you say “abandoned” in relation to a block of inner city, what you really mean is that the area is occupied only by random hobos and drug addicts and people like that. Not real people, hence “abandoned”. This block, however, really is “abandoned”. Sympathy goes to any winos or smackheads or hookers or whoever who try and move in here. They get run off in a hurry. By mean men that work for a man that lives on this block, which by the way is heavily fortified by lots of armed people, so maybe it isn’t so “abandoned” after all.
But enough about semantics, get the damn phone.
“Yo.” Says Buckets. It sounds like he’s eating Doritos.
“Buckets, I need you to do something for me.”
“Crunch crunch crunch”.
“Who the fuck is this?”
The rest of the conversation is pretty important but we have to leave the inside of this phone because we have other places we need to be.
A young girl, wearing a filthy cloth parka, shuffles her way down an abandoned cobblestone street. A blanket of clouds snuffs out any stars or moon that one might be able to see on this cool late night. Rain streams down, covering the night in a fog of wet. The sound of fat drops pattering the cobblestone covers any other slight noises one might hear.
Guillermina Endrago, a bronze skinned Chicano girl of maybe 19, continues to walk, slouched over like some sort of monk.
She is on her way to a meeting.
This morning, she was inside a phone. That phone said, among other things, “You were interested in finding work from me once, Guillermina. Now, I have something to offer you.”
The girl that is shuffling down the cobblestone street doesn’t respond to the name Guillermina anymore, and hasn’t for a long time. But when Leon Berkowitz personally calls and tells you he might have a job for you, you answer his call.
She shuffles past the glow of a streetlight and into the darkness as she turns a corner and continues on.
Vaguely, she senses that she is being followed.
Treach is playing a pinball machine as Buckets is pouring over a few files. Buckets, as a rule, doesn’t do much pouring. But his priorities in this business just got changed a bit, and he might actually have to do some real work for once.
The Fixer Wars are on.
Only Buckets won’t know about all that for a few days. In fact, he won’t be handing out jobs to his new talent until tomorrow. He has a few new mercenaries on his payroll, and he’s going to be sending them to Texas to see if they sink or swim. One of them will swim, and all will come back with news of a new war brewing. But right now, pouring over the files, Buckets’ mind is elsewhere. He hasn’t yet received Jonas’ declaration of war, but with the phone call he got last night, Buckets knows that something big is about to go down. And he needs to prepare for it.
Treach curses as he loses another ball. He turns to Buckets, who is for once sitting up on his black leather couch and looking at a few reports spread out on the maple coffee table in front of him.
“What up B?”
“What’s the most powerful weapon in a war?”
Treach purses his lips slightly as he contemplates this.
“An Atom bomb.” Treach finally concludes.
“No man,” Buckets says with a sly grin on his face as a semblance of a plan begins to form. “No, that ain’t it at all. Go back to pinball.”
The dings and whirs of the pinball machine resumes as Buckets reaches for a phone.
It is nearly 3 AM in Detroit this evening, far away from the side of the city that houses Buckets’ operation. The convenience store is brightly lit, with flawlessly buffed and mopped floors that shine with the light of artificial day. Outside there are 6 gas pumps, all standing by waiting for customers that probably won’t be coming with much regularity until morning. The store is abandoned. Except for the guy behind the counter. The counter is behind a large piece of glass, a giant cube of it in fact, inside of which is contained the counter, two registers, condoms, cigarettes, a phone, assorted odds and ends, a safe, and the assistant manager of this store who is, as I said, behind the counter.
The man behind the counter is named Ron. Ron is a young man with meticulously combed black hair and a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. He watches as a customer walks in. A black man wearing leather pants and a black T-shirt under a leather jacket. This is the third time this week this customer has been in here, and the clerk didn’t like the look of him from the very first visit.
The man behind the counter stares at the customer who is blithely wandering around the store. He doesn’t look like he’s interested in buying anything.
The man behind the counter continues to stare.
The customer walks around the store a few times, glancing at the employee once or twice with mild interest, before finally walking out. Ron wonders if he should call the police and report a suspicious person. He continues to stare as the customer walks silently down the street, past a rowdy bar, and then turns a corner and walks out of sight.
A nervous looking white man in a suit holding a briefcase is standing in front of Buckets at his pad. Buckets is as usual sprawled out on his leather couch, drinking a bottle of Corona lazily. Treach is sitting forward in an easy chair nearby.
The white man is sweating. He doesn’t normally go to places like this, but he was assured this would be a big client.
The three men all share a silence as Treach stares down the white man, the white man darts his eyes around the room to make sure the jungle men aren’t going to rape him or something, and Buckets continues to take lazy sips.
“Uhhh, Mister…..Mister…Buckets, I suppose. I can assure you that our operatives are the best in the business.”
“That’s the whole fuckin’ point, Mister…whatever. I don’t WANT anybody in the businesses.”
“And again, Mister Buckets,” the man stammers. “I have to express my confusion on this point…”
“Yo B, he has to express his confusion on this point.”
“Look man, I don’t give a shit about your expressions of confusion on this point. I need an outside man on this job. Clean slate, dig?”
“No, sir, I’m not quite sure I di…..that I understand what it is exactly you’re asking.”
“Look, I need somebody that isn’t connected to this business at all.”
“With all due respect Miste….sir, with the specs you require, you won’t be able to find anybody like that. I suppose you could just hire a private investigator, but on a level such as this he would frankly be out of his element. The only thing that would work for what you require would be a specially trained covert operative, and there are only a handful of them that….”
"Yo Treach, is this bullshit?" asked Buckets, taking a sip of beer.
"No man, it's I Can't Believe It's Not Bullshit."
"Funny. I could have sworn this was bullshit."
The man in the suit looks aghast.
“Sir, I promise you…”
“Get the fuck out.” Buckets says calmly.
The man in the suit just stands there for a moment with a blank look on his face. He’s obviously not used to being treated this way.
“Perhaps if you gave me a bit more information as to what….”
“Yo Treach?” Buckets says, not looking away from the white man in the suit.
“What up B?” Treach replies, eyes also remaining on their guest.
“What did I say to this guy?”
“You told him to get the fuck out, B.”
“That’s what I thought I said to this guy.”
The man stands there for a moment longer, the two men sitting down staring at him coldly.
Finally, he stammers something about well I never as he turns around and exits the room.
Buckets takes another sip of beer contemplatively.
“So B, what you gonna do?”
Buckets waits a moment before answering.
“If I can’t find me one, Treach. I gonna create me one.”
The enormous man in, of all things, a Mandarin-Collar suit, trudges up the steps in the cheap hotel. He is wearing a metal mask and his long red hair flows over it. He is on his way to a meeting, which is why he has on the metal gear. These are his work clothes.
He hasn’t found work of his own in a long time. When he got the call from a guy named Thorn, he was thrilled to have been offered a job of his own. The only work he had ever really had was from Leon, and this red-haired metal-cased beast of a man maybe wanted to branch out some.
He trudged silently down the poorly carpeted hallway towards room 212.
Upon reaching it, he placed his meaty fist in the air, about to knock.
That’s when the doors to room 212 and room 211 swung open.
The customer is idly reading the ingredients to a box of generic corn flakes.
The man behind the counter behind the glass is staring at him coldly.
The customer can feel the clerk’s gaze firing into his back. He knows that the clerk thinks he’s here to the rob the place or something.
The clerk clears his throat loudly.
The customer doesn’t move.
“Can I help you?” Ron asks incredulously.
The customer puts down the box of cornflakes, turns, and walks out the door.
This time, Ron does call the police and reports a suspicious person. He continues to stare as the customer walks silently down the street, past a rowdy bar, and then turns a corner and walks out of sight, Ron left holding the phone to his ear as the police put him on hold.
The backroom at Buckets’ place has a dozen or so thug-looking black men in it. Run DMC is belting out “It’s Tricky” from the sound system, and everybody is drinking Spumante.
Not all wealthy black gangsters drink Cristol, you know.
They are all celebrating. Only six months ago, they were all working for Buckets and running a mid-sized drug cartel. Then Buckets had taken on Trent McKay, and really that was getting in way over his head. Trent is gone now, but Buckets had gotten a taste for being an international player. He’s started looking for new mercenaries to put on his payroll and diversify his growing criminal empire. Last week, he sent two of them to Texas. A few hours ago, he had received word that one of the new bloods had pulled it off. The “word” was a terse voicemail message from Damon Naylor; Buckets was still playing phone tag with that guy. The two guys Buckets had sent on the job had both exceeded his expectations, and one of them had even managed to pull the damn thing off. Fuck, Trent had botched two jobs for Buckets before he finally got one right. His new clients were good, and more importantly, didn’t carry with them the baggage that Trent did. Things were looking up, despite the worrisome phone call a few days ago and the subsequent preparations that had gone nowhere.
But for now, they were celebrating, and Buckets was able to forget about the phone call a few days ago. For the moment, anyway. This had been a big job, and one of Buckets’ boys had pulled it off. A good run for his burgeoning business.
Then that damn phone rings again.
Buckets, laughing at something or other, grabs it as the rest of the men celebrate.
A few minutes later, somebody turns the music down. Not at Buckets’ request, but because everybody always keeps a wary eye on what Buckets is up to, and what he is up to right now is listening to somebody tell him something on the phone. What that something is is something that is causing Buckets to frown.
After a few more minutes, Buckets hangs up the phone.
The other men look at him silently.
“That was Clayton,” Buckets finally said. “Apparently, we at war.”
Sad Girl, the name that Guillermina does respond to, continues to trudge along the cobblestone street. Now, however, she can hear footsteps behind her, trying to keep pace. Visibly she doesn’t register the fact that she is being followed. The Hispanic woman continues to shuffle forward, seemingly unaware. In truth, her muscles are tense and her mind is working on instinct. Concealed under her cloak, her hand is on her sawed off shotgun.
Sad Girl sees a well lit public phone up ahead. Not too far. Not that she’d need it, but if worse came to worse she could call Leon and tell her who it was that was giving her trouble. He’d have people down here in minutes.
The rain is falling harder now, and Sad Girl notes that the pace of the footsteps behind her has quickened.
Slowly, so as to not give away her awareness, she draws the shotgun, still concealed under the cloak and the rain and the dark night.
The footsteps behind her are almost right on top of her now. If this were a normal woman, she would either start running or immediately turn around to face her follower.
Sad Girl, however, is by no means normal. She has been through more in her 19 years on the planet than most any human being of any age has. She bides her time. She waits for just…..the right…….
In a flash, Sad Girl throws off her cloak and has turned around to face behind her, her shotgun drawn in the face of the person who is following her who is….
She has a moment to register surprise at the scene of nothing that was following her the whole time. Leon putting a person back on the payroll has a way of making a person a bit jumpy. Her cloak is at her feet in a heap, and her shotgun is still pointed in the direction she came, the rain pouring down around her.
Then she feels it.
The enormous man is bound to a chair in a hotel room. Room 212 to be exact.
He still wears his armor, but his metal mask lies on the floor a few feet away, ripped from his face.
His face, a face that too many of his victims never got a chance to see, looks panic-stricken. His red hair, soaked with sweat, presses against his face and dangles down his chin.
“A guy named Thorn! There’s this guy, name of Ruben Castillo, who told him I might be useful. Thorn called me yesterday! Said he might have work for me, that he and a few others were starting to recruit for something! Something big! He called me again today on the phone and told me to meet him here!”
The large red-haired metal man is blubbering like a girl.
It’s that feeling you get. You know the feeling. That weird sensation when you walk into a grocery store just to buy a six-pack or a piece of fruit and you notice the store manager giving you a vicious, paranoid, hairy eyeball, like he’s sure you’re going to steal something or perhaps someone of your appearance will run off his more prestigious customers. That disapproving glare that telegraphs in an instant flash the message “You just watch yourself scumbag cuz I got my eye on you.”
This is the sixth time that Buckets has been in this store in the last week and a half. And as he half-heartedly inspects some trail mix, he can feel Ron’s eyeballs burning the back of Buckets’ head.
Ron is ready to call the police again when Buckets, in leather pants and a black T-shirt under a leather jacket, turns towards the man behind the counter behind the glass. For the first time, the customer finally seems to really see the man behind the counter behind the glass.
Buckets marches up to the insipid tiny booth with fake paneling and plexiglass windows and looks directly into Ron’s beady little eyes. Buckets stands there for a long….
Time. The two, while separated by the bullet proof glass, stare at each other with a mere three feet separating their faces. Ron, for his part, doesn’t look scared, just a bit miffed and maybe a little curious. Buckets, looks like Buckets. Calm and in control.
Ron finally asks with much disdain “May I help you?”
“You profilin’ me boy?”
“Naw. Ever since I first came in here, you been givin’ me the eye. You a starer, you know that? You think that cuz I’m black I’m gonna steal your shit?”
“Sir,” Ron replies, drawing it out to make it almost accusatory. “May I help you?”
“Yeah,” Buckets says, seemingly becoming angry. “You can help me by not looking at me like I just got out of prison and walked directly to your store. You can help me by coming down off this pre-fab perch and stop ogling your customers like some fucking buzzard. It’s not my fault you have to work this shitty job where the other employees hate your guts and your patrons think of you as some sort of retarded, overgrown stock boy. I’m sorry you have to wear that polyester shirt and that clip-on bowtie in the middle of summer. I’m sorry you feel that you have to part your hair just above your ear so you think no one will notice you’re bald. I’m sorry you work crappy hours with nothing to look forward to except maybe a stop-off at the porno store. I’m sorry you drive an orange ’72 Gremlin. I’m sorry that the only things waiting for you at home are cable TV, TV dinners and a framed mirror poster with a woman in a bikini you will never meet walking down an exotic beach you will never live in. I’m sorry you got a shit job, a shit life, in a shit world. It’s not my fault, dig? So stop looking at me like I could fuck up your life, because YOU already did THAT by YOURSELF.”
The two share a silence.
Ron blinks a few times with an expression on his face that makes him look like he just got slapped through the glass. He adjusts his glasses.
Buckets grabs a shopping cart and wheels it over to the ice cream bin in the center of the store.
Ron seems too taken aback to even think about using his phone to call the police.
Buckets throws open the door to the freezer. The refrigerator inside gives off a soothing whrrrrrrrrr.
Buckets begins to fill his cart with ice cream. He starts with the boxes of it, from generics on up. Rocky Road, Pralines and Cream, Death by Chocolate, Vanilla, Neopolitan, Butterscotch, Chunky Monkey, Cookie Dough. Gallons and gallons of ice cream. Not just the generic stuff either. He is emptying the bin, and making sure to get the premium stuff as well. The Haagen Daz and Ben and Jerries and what have you. The kind of desert that is supposed to give you an orgasm, freshen your breath, make you a better person, and save the rainforest all at once.
Buckets fills his entire cart with ice cream.
When he is finished, he leaves the freezer door open and pushes the squeaky wheeled stainless steeled cart back to the counter. .
Ron’s eyes got wider and wider as Buckets approached him. And Buckets leaned right up against the glass so that his breath fogged up the window.
“Look man, I’m gonna leave this basket…” Buckets pauses and then points to the cart at his side. “Here. And walk down the street to the nearest bar and get myself a tall cold one. Now you can either push this cart full of crap back over to the ice cream bin and carefully put each container back in its proper place and go on with this cheeseball existence. Or, you can leave it….” Buckets pauses and then points to the cart at his side. “Here. To melt into a giant sticky puddle of goo on this well-polished floor and walk out the door with me to the bar and change your life….forever. I’ll buy the first round. It’s up to you, man. It’s up to….you.”
The two continue to stare at each other in silence.
For the record, Buckets doesn’t usually shop for his own groceries.
The rain is beading down Sad Girl’s face as her mouth opens wide. No sound escapes.
She drops her shotgun, which she had turned around to point at the person following her who was not there.
Instead, from the direction she had been facing before turning to face the wraith, a sword was thrust into her back.
She chokes on blood as the man holding the sword thrusts it upward as far as he can. The man is wearing a black wide-rimmed hat, and rain is beading off of it and dropping at his shoes, which are covered by his long tan trenchcoat.
Blood begins to gush out of Sad Girl’s mouth as the man at her back moves his lips to her ears.
He tells her something, his warm breath raising steam against her ever-chilling head, but the thunder shatters the night and what he tells her is lost in the storm.
In a flash, the sword and the man are both gone. Sad Girl moves slowly around. All she sees is the dark cobblestone street, and the night rain.
She slowly starts to stumble towards the pay phone. Now it seems just a haze of blue and light in the distance.
With kicks and starts she stumbles towards it. She is moaning an awkward, harried moan of the dead. Her hands are already reaching for the receiver, now the phone is less than two feet away.
It’s that moment that she suddenly feels her legs being taken out from under her. The world spins and her feminine face lands on the cobblestone with a wet SMACK.
A pool of blood and rain is growing around her chest and head now. She somehow gains the strength to lift her head and look around.
Still, she sees no one. Just rain, and the dark cobblestone street under the cloak of night.
She wanders her gaze to the pay phone she had been stumbling towards.
With some confusion, she sees that the receiver is no longer there. The shiny silver cord that was once connected to the black plastic device is now swaying slightly in the storm’s breeze.
Her head smacks to the road once more, her neck muscles giving way at last to the fatigue of death.
Her blank eyes on her now pale Chicano face eternally registering blind shock.
The rain pelts the side of her shaved head, the side that isn’t resting against the cobblestone.
The storm begins to pass and the rain tempers down to a drizzle.
“I’m a wealthy man!” the large bulk in metal with red hair continues to babble. There is a figure in the room, but Vice can’t see him. The only light in room 212 is a spotlight trained on him. Vice, bound to the chair, continues. His voice breaks and he begins to gain confidence and regain his composure.
“Look, I told you all I know. That’s more than I do most but I can tell you are serious. If you wanted me dead, you would have done it by now. I know you have other plans for me.”
“Aren’t we the arrogant ones,” comes a gravely voice from the darkness.
Vice tries to play one more card.
“You don’t have the guts to kill me. That’s what I think. This is a coward’s game. So I’m taking a job for some guy named Thorn. You think I can tell you anything of use about him? You think he gives a shit about me? Give it up.”
The barrel of a shotgun is extended to his face. Vice’s Adam’s apple bobs a few times, but he still tries to remain collected.
A figure in a wide black hat, wearing a tan trenchcoat, emerges into the light directly in front of Vice. He takes off his hat and scratches at his head, still holding the shotgun to Vice’s nose.
Vice’s eyes grow wide.
“Wait a minute….I know you. You’re….”
“You don’t know me,” the man replies.
“What do you want from me?”
“I want you to say one thing.”
“What,” Vice chokes. “Anything.”
“I want you to say ‘don’t you want to hear my last words?’”
Two lines of dialogue later, outside an out of the way hotel, a gunshot can be heard from the second floor.