"A partner? You’re crazy.”
Gerard slammed the car door shut with unnecessary vigour and strode towards the diner without waiting for Bob. The tick tick of his pocket watch sounding from inside his jacket reminded him that he was on a tight schedule with no time to baby sit stubborn bastards. If Bob wanted to walk with him he could hurry the hell up.
“Hey, Gerard, wait!” Bob called, jogging into step with him. “Jeez! Where’s the fire, huh?”
“We’re walking towards it, smartass,” Gerard replied cuttingly. “Baylon said no cops.”
Bob’s eyes widened, his eyebrows disappearing into his shock of blond hair. “Wha...but he’ll understand, right? He’s gonna be rational about this?”
Gerard shrugged, leaving it to the imagination. He was Baylon’s boy and if he knew him at all it was likely they’d get off with a light smack on the head and a warning but it suited him well to have Bob watch his step for a change.
The diner was clean swept, brightly coloured and respectable looking, making it a perfect spot for a rendezvous. As it happened, the only thing to spoil the image of home food and welcome were the two thugs seated at one of the tables, feet propped up on the surface, twirling revolvers between thick fingers. They stiffened immediately as Gerard and Bob walked in, eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“Settle down gentlemen,” Gerard drawled calmly. “I just came to try the cream pie. I heard it’s is good here.”
The two visibly relaxed at the words and gestured with a jerk of the head towards a back office where the owner of the place usually did his books. Gerard strode over to the door on the other side of the room as Bob made to follow before the thugs stopped him with an arm in the way.
“You don’t get to see to the boss,” he snarled.
“But I just-”
“-You don’t see the boss,” the other repeated, forcing him to one of the little red chairs.
Bob swallowed. Hard. “Okay,” he said, finding his voice again. “Sure I’ll just...I’ll just wait outside for you, Gerard.”
Gerard nodded, opened the door and stepped inside Baylon’s makeshift office space where a dirty black cloud of smoke hit him like a punch in the face. Willing himself not to cough he continued inside, closing the door behind him.
“Lookie here, if it isn’t my very favourite boy,” came Baylon’s voice, cracked and reedy with ash. “Sit down.”
It was more of a command than an invitation. Gerard took the offered seat, surveying his employer levelly. It was impossible to see his face due to the thick cloud of smoke issuing from the cigar resting in his hand but Gerard could tell that he was not pleased; his voice, mismatched to his enormous teddy-like body was even thinner than usual and his fat fingers were clenched into fists.
“I heard you found yourself a little clap with some Sobrante guns,” he continued.
“They weren’t Sobrante’s,” Gerard replied. “Too dumb.”
“And that there’s a copper on the scene now,” he continued as though he hadn’t heard him. “I tell ya what, that disappoints me, Gerard.”
“I’m sorry for that,” said Gerard, mopping his brow. The stuffiness of the room was beginning to make him feel light-headed.
“That disappoints me,” he repeated, reaching into the cloud to scratch his chin. “And you know I hate being disappointed.”
“It was unavoidable,” Gerard protested. “How were we supposed to-”
“-Shuttup,” Baylon snapped and Gerard fell into surly silence. “I don’t pay you for guesswork. I pay you to do a job quickly with no complications. Cops are complicated, Gerard. They don’t look good when marketing business. And if you can’t handle it-”
“-I can handle it,” Gerard interrupted. “This was a one off, B. Won’t happen again.”
“Except it’s not just a one off, is it?” Baylon retorted. “I hear rumours, Gerard, rumours you’re getting sloppy. Rumours you’ve bitten off a little more than you can chew.”
“I wouldn’t believe everything they put in those magazines.”
“I don’t like to believe them. But when the evidence is all over my club floor-”
“-I’m sorry B. I forgot you could bend over that far to notice.”
“Shut your damn mouth, you wisecracking fuck!” yelled Baylon, spit flying into Gerard’s face. “You think you’re so goddamn funny, huh? A regular goddamn comedian. Well I’ll tell ya something. I don’t find this,” he gestured to a pile of papers on his desk, papers baring the names of the dead. “Funny. I don’t find you funny. I find you a pain in my fuckin’ ass!”
“Well whadja want me to say B, they came out of nowhere for Chrissake,” Gerard snapped back. “If you only give me half the details I’m only gonna do half the work.”
Baylon leaned back in his chair, puffing on the cigar. Gerard could see him counting backwards from ten in his mind. “Interesting you’ve said that,” he began finally, straining to keep his voice level. “Because that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. This job’s too big for just you. We’ve hired a gun to do the other half.”
Gerard’s eyes widened as he stared at what he could see of Baylon in shock. “You...what?”
“In a few hours time you’ll be saying hello to your new partner,” he continued. “And believe me, he’s no Bob. If it does turn frosty he'll actually be able to deal with it-”
“-No,” Gerard interrupted emphatically. “No fuckin’ way. A partner? You’re crazy.”
“I’m also armed,” Baylon growled menacingly. “You’ll do as you’re damn told. This kid...he’s a good catch, lemme tell ya. And he’ll work for less as well. If I were you, Gerard, I would see this as a little test of your abilities. See how well you work in a team. Develop your people skills.”
His laugh came out in rasping wheezes. Seething, it was Gerard’s turn to wonder what was funny about the situation. A partner. A motherfucking partner. Baylon couldn’t have given him a bigger insult. Gerard was renowned for his independence. It gave him his edge, something to offer employers. And now this sonofabitch had just stripped it off him for a single job done a little roughly round the edges. He stood up, scraping his chair against the floor deliberately loudly. Baylon stopped laughing to peer at him through watery eyes. Too angry to think of anything to say, Gerard turned on his heel and strode from the room.
Bob was waiting for him outside as promised, wringing his hands anxiously. “Did it go okay?”
“Christ, it was a goddamn ball,” Gerard spat, yanking the car door back open.
Perplexed, Bob got in beside him. “We get paid?”
Gerard rolled his eyes and produced a wad of dollar bills from his coat, peeling off a couple and handing them to Bob who shoved them greedily into his pocket before grasping the wheel. “Where to?” he asked.
“Whichever bar is nearest,” Gerard replied, rubbing at his eyes tiredly. “I need a fucking drink.”
Right across the other side of town a man stood outside the bank, chewing his bottom lip and glancing anxiously at the door behind him. A lack of sound always made him nervous.
There was something unnatural about it. Like an essential element was missing, so important that the world would be spun out of its orbit or something without it. Gravitational pulls. Dimensional progressive something. All that sciencey shit.
Frank didn’t know about the physics but he definitely felt weird. Or maybe that was something to do with the role he was currently undertaking. He went through the motions in his mind one more time, sighing at how little he was actually involved. Sure, get the little guy to take the risk of getting caught while the thugs do the actual weight-lifting. If only they knew what he was truly capable of.
As soon as he thought it he knew that wasn’t completely fair. He had been chosen because he was indiscreet. Small, polite, his lithe body hidden by overlarge clothing, people walked past him and assumed he was just another honest young man trying to earn a living in the big city, which wasn’t totally far from the truth. He didn’t like lying, if he could help it, although God knows it had served as an indispensable life-skill in the past.
The bank’s large clock chimed loudly, the queue for the doors to open and a crowd of businessmen to file out. One of them, Frank noted, held a briefcase and had small, rather squinty eyes that darted over the faces. A brief look of recognition crossed his face as he looked at Frank and made a beeline for him, the storm of commuters hiding the obviousness of the situation. Frank felt the handle of the case press into his hand and then he was alone, standing outside the bank with no sign of the man who had handed it to him. A job well done with minimal action required on his part, which was a shame really. He loved the action.
With another sigh he began to climb back down the stairs leading away from the bank and across the square, over to where his car sat under a tree. He was just about to get in when he noticed the police standing in a group outside the bank, their car parked next to them and two men whom he recognised from his team coming towards him from round the back of the building. One of them was limping.
As if on instinct, Frank leapt inside the car and kicked it into starting before shooting off round the bend to meet the other two. Stupid bastards, he found himself thinking bitterly. Damn stupid bastards.
“Get in,” he called to them and they obeyed without hesitation. As soon as they were in the car he sped off without even glancing in the rear mirror to check if the cops were onto them yet.
“What happened?” he asked taking a sharp left.
“We don’t know,” replied one of the men in a panic-stricken voice. Tommo or something phony like that. “One minute it was good, cash was in the case and we were on our way out. The next, some brave sonofabitch has got a shotgun and Kasley’s on the floor bleeding like a bastard.”
“How’s he doin’?”
“Not good,” replied Kasley thickly, staring wide-eyed at the blood sticking to his hands. Frank glanced at him over his shoulder. There was a gaping whole in his thigh where the bullet had hit and he his face was quickly turning a white-green hue.
Frank sped the car up a little faster, taking random turns down back alleys and past ends of town he’d never even be. “The hell are you doing?” cried Tommo. “At this rate he’ll bleed to death!”
“Someone’s sure to be on our tail by now. I’ve gotta shake ‘em off first,” Frank explained.
“I’m gonna die,” Kasley stated glumly.
“Shuttup,” Frank snapped, frustration causing him to grip the wheel with tight-white fists. “It’s your own goddamn fault. If you had only stuck to the plan-”
“-We did stick to the plan!”
“Yeah? The plan was not to get shot!”
With no answer to that, Tommo told Kasley to put more pressure on the wound because it sounded like the kinda thing they said in them movies. Frank swerved another left until he was onto the main road and then sped up the car as much as he could.
Despite Kasley’s cynical prophesies of death and Tommo’s mutterings of “We aint never gonna make this one” they arrived at the safe house in record time. Frank helped Kasley out of the car while Tommo knocked his entry and held the door open for them before casting one nervous look outside and closing it quickly.
As soon as they were inside Kasley collapsed and had to be helped by a couple of the crew girls into the main room while the other, Sandy, hung back.
“You hurt?” she asked Frank, big blue eyes concerned.
Frank shook his head and smiled in reassurance, causing her to visibly relax. “You get the money?”
He held it out to her and she clicked it open with more of a business-like satisfaction rather than triumph as one of the guys would have. Then again, it’s not like it was hers to celebrate. It was a well-known fact that whatever was Sandy’s was her man’s and she seemed in no hurry to realign that fact, not that she had much of a choice.
“Thank you,” she said softly, pressing her lips to Frank’s cheek. Light strands of blonde hair tickled his face and he could smell her perfume. It smelt of the money she held in her hands.
Then she released him and handed him a wad of notes, her usual professional self. “Don’t spend it all at once.”
Frank laughed. “Yes ma.”
“Where you off to now?”
He hesitated before answering. “Job interview.”
She rolled her eyes, seeing through him as of he were a piece of the thin lace she wore on her blouse, she always did. “You’re too good for this life, Frank.”
“Back atcha,” Frank shrugged. Her pale cheeks coloured.
“You can’t go out like that,” she said suddenly. “You got blood on your shirt.”
Frank looked down and groaned. “Fuck. You’re right.”
“Wait a sec,” she told him and turned to sprint up the stairs, her footsteps making barely a sound on the floor. She returned quickly and pressed a white shirt smelling cleanly of soap into his hands.
Frank looked at her quizzically. “Is this-?”
“-He’s not gonna miss one shirt,” she interrupted him. “Go on. Good luck with...the job.”
“Thanks,” he replied, taking the shirt and heading back out.
He changed quickly in the car, wondering with a pang what he was going to do about the blood stains on the seat. He guessed he was just gonna have to burn it and get a new one. A new car...fitting for his new life.
And with this comforting thought in mind, Frank drove off and Sandy watched him go.