Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 9 > Prince of Thieves

12. Ultima's Revenge

by Myshu 0 reviews

Ultima's Revenge

Category: Final Fantasy 9 - Rating: R - Genres: Drama - Characters: Freya Crescent - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2007-10-11 - Updated: 2007-11-02 - 9154 words - Complete

12. Ultima's Revenge

It wasn't until he was kneeling over the body of the guard he trampled on the way in that the full scope of the last ten minutes hit him.

He was just shot at. And he didn't get hit--or maybe he did, but the dim surroundings and vestigial adrenaline throbbing under his skin didn't allow him a good sense of the damage yet. He could at least say he was still standing, so nothing fatal hit him.

But Boss was shot, too. Fatally. And he lived. Actually, he seemed to be in better shape than Luth. And then Boss shot Pevy--not fatally, but it was still gruesome. He could very well bleed to death in his office, and judging by Boss's attitude, that would be fine with him.

Luth wasn't quite as complacent with the killing business, especially with the thought that the four guards they encountered might be dead.

'This one still has a pulse.' Okay, three guards might be dead, but those were Boss's. It was a downright miracle that Luth survived that episode without killing anyone in return. He'd never slain a man before, not even days before in Burmecia, when he sincerely could've. He didn't really want to start. He wouldn't call himself a pacifist, but he wholly believed that being a Dragon Knight was about protecting king and country, not slaughtering--even if it was a bunch of low-life, gun-toting thugs and thieving ninjas. He wasn't a bloodthirsty warrior yet. .../Yet/?

"What's wrong, rookie? You're awfully quiet."

Luth broke free of his musing, brushed off his knees and stood back. "I'm just a little shell-shocked, sir."

One foot in the lamplight and the rest cloaked in shadows, Boss looked like a darkmoon phantom, a figment of too many stories about monsters from the backside of the heavens. He gesticulated in ghostly wisps and raved, "You? You didn't get shot! You can't wash bullet holes out of shirts, you know. You weren't scared of Pevy, were you? He's just a bag of hot air."

Luth didn't want to admit it, but he was actually more afraid of Boss. "So, sir, you told Pevy you have an idea?" he enquired, testing the crazy waters to find out what suicidal melee Boss was about to dive into, next.

"Oh." He rubbed his chin, a grin crawling up his face like a serpent. "Yeah, yeah I do, sorta. It's gonna take a little while to work out. We'll start on that first thing in the morning." He stuck a thumb towards the black hole of an exit. "How's about we call it a day?"

Relieved, Luth nodded. "Perfectly fine by me, sir."

While they tip-toed their way through the blind tunnel, mindful of the crunching bits, Luth remembered to ask, "Why did you have to shoot these lights out like that, sir? Why didn't you just fire at Pevy's men instead?"

"I didn't want to shoot them. I said I don't like guns. I'm not a very good shot, anyway. If I missed, then they'd have a clear shot, and we'd have no cover. I wanted to confuse them long enough to get in close and disarm them."

"Oh." Luth had underestimated his capacity for mercy--another slight reassurance. "I guess that almost makes sense, sir."

"Thank you, I work very hard at my excuses. Besides, wasn't my way more fun?"

"I think you should just thank the gods Pevy didn't shoot you in the head, sir."

"I could've taken it," he assertively quipped.

Luth didn't want to imagine it. "I think I have glass in my foot," he complained instead.

"Anyway," Boss finished his thought, "Somebody's got to wake up and take Pevy's pumpkin ass home. My evil plan won't work if he just rots down here."

"You have an /evil plan/, sir?" Luth pressed, naturally incredulous.

"All the greats do," he confirmed, and never elaborated.

Luth only concerned himself with the bigger picture. "Didn't you kinda blow your cover back there, sir? Aren't you worried that Pevy is going to figure out your secret?"

"At this moment in time, quite frankly, Lu, I don't give a damn. Besides, there's not a thing Pevy can do about dick."

Luth braced himself for more perturbed stares from Gatortown's denizens as Boss strutted across the plaza ahead of him. By the time they left the sneering, drunken crowds behind, Luth was surprised that not one had risen to strike them, or at least protest. He wondered if they really thought Boss was responsible for Don's death--or if they knew what he'd just done to Pevy. Probably not, but Luth was glad that looks could not, in fact, kill.

They emerged topside to behold an orange sunset, scattered across Lindblum's sharp spires like rays of fire through a ruby prism. Boss hissed at the daylight, replaced his sunglasses and hunted down a taxi that would take them away from public eyes--they must have been a wretched sight, caked in sewage and blood. They found a cab driver who asked too many questions in one silent gape, but once Boss said he wasn't going to repeat himself, no further directions were necessary.

It was like that the rest of the way home, and it was a wonder they made it back to their apartments without having to answer to anyone. At the end of the road and ready to end the day, Luth sighed heavily and paced to his door, by now too aware of the warm, icky trickle down his foot.

Boss finally noticed the bloody paw-prints trailing the Burmecian and exclaimed, "Whoa, Lu, are you limping?"

"Huh?" Luth glanced back, and in a heartbeat Boss was crouched at his feet, poking around the sore. "Oh man, you took one. Com'on, let's go inside and I'll fix you up."

Luth wearily shook his head. "Oh no sir, it's okay, I don't need..." Before his modesty knew how to object, the door was open and Luth was being pushed inside. Boss jumped straight into the bathroom and started digging up supplies. "Sit tight! I've got just the thing."

"Sir, really..." Luth whined half-heartedly, not really grudging an order to sit down and relax. He lobbed his halberd into the corner, plopped onto the bed and gingerly peeled off his footwear. Boss reappeared with a damp towel and a bottle of peroxide, and fussed until Luth was rightly propped up and comfortable, pillows and all.

"Sir, you really don't need to..." Luth lamely tried again, feeling silly under the pampering.

"Hey, hush," Boss insisted as he dabbed away the blood around the singed gash on Luth's ankle. It wasn't too deep--it barely struck bone, but it would turn nasty without treatment. On cue came the peroxide, and the Burmecian squeaked an anthem before it was done with him. "Oh, stop crying. It's just a little disinfectant," Boss teased him.

"It burns worse than the bullet, sir--and I'm not crying," he pouted, though his eyes were stinging traitorously.

"Heh. Well, here comes the fun part." Boss cradled his leg and lowered his gaze, his expression lost in a dream. He began to mumble things outside Luth's comprehension, even with his acute hearing, and then a strange shiver skittered up his spine. He could feel a cool tingling around his leg, and when he looked...

Luth's eyes bulged in amazement. It was--it was some /light/, white and bright and out of nothing. It was silent and lighter than air, not even rustling his clothes, yet somehow solid, like a bundle of luminescent snakes. The threads coiled around his ankle, tied in knots over the wound and then dissipated into aether, leaving no trace at all--except a perfectly sealed cut, only the faintest scar left in its stead.

Luth breathlessly worked his jaw around his astonishment. "You--that--was--did you...?" He met Boss's smug grin and then realized in a flash of written memory, "You know white magic?"

He shrugged. "A little. It's been a while since I've used it. I'm pretty rusty."

"Did Queen Garnet teach you, sir?" Luth wondered, incredibly intrigued.

Boss bit his lip, shied away and started wrapping up the things he'd picked out of the bathroom. Luth's raised brow dropped with a pang of guilt. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked."

"Don't apologize. That all better?" he asked, affably changing the subject.

Luth flexed his foot--not a single hitch or ache to be found--and nodded gratefully. "Yes, sir. Thank you."

"Good! I'm not that rusty, then." He rose and put everything back in its place. Luth blanched at the crimson spots Boss tracked across the beige carpet.

"Um, sir...?"

He turned back, and at Luth's unnerving stare he asked, "What? Is there something on my face?"

"S-sir," he stammered, shaken with the fact that, "You're still bleeding..."

Boss smirked, as if they were merely talking about wet hair or dirty boots. "No shit?" He suddenly shucked off his jacket, spun around and lifted his shirt. "Hey, do me a favor and check my back. Did they go through?"

Luth gasped at the display. Three bloody craters, one to match each pinhole in front, tore up the falcon's pale red wings, lending to the disaster of antique scratches and blotches that mussed up the tough flesh. "W-what?"

"The bullets, Lu," Boss petulantly stressed. "Did they go all the way through me? I don't have eyes in the back of my head--I can't tell."

"O--ah, ah... y-yes, sir, I think so. There were only three, right?"

"Yeah." He smoothed his tattered shirt back down and rolled his shoulders. "Alright, that's good." Then, to Luth's horrified reaction, "Lu, relax. I'm fine. The bleeding'll stop in a minute."

Luth gulped, clearing his composure. "I know, sir, it just... freaks me out."

"Heh, you get used to it."

"You get shot at often, sir??"

"Ah, no, but I meant stuff like this in general, heh."

"Doesn't it hurt?"

"Are you kidding? Like hell. I'm about to hock up that muffin you gave me. But I'll be okay; I'll just walk it off." He panned a disappointed look around the undecorated flat. "Geez, you haven't done shit with the place."

"I like it the way it is..." Luth couldn't believe he was blushing. Why? He was never shy with Boss, and he was unbearable, sometimes. At least Boss couldn't see it for all the fur. "Why don't you use some white magic on yourself, too?"

He shrugged off the suggestion. "Nah. Don't worry about me. Just chill and rest your feet. G'night, Lu."

Luth couldn't even reply, "Good night, sir," before Boss was out the door. He sat up in bed a minute longer, contemplating his day through the blank TV screen on the wall, when he realized Boss had completely skirted his promise regarding Lady Freya.



"Do you know the standard sentence in Lindblum for being caught selling dusters?"

Luth found Boss awake early the next morning (ten o'clock--early for /him/.) He was bustling with energy, just not his usual sunny, outgoing sort--it was something darker and more focused.

Boss took him to the record rooms on the fifth floor, where Sheryl had once shown him how to access the files on every transit the company's central branch cleared, among other things. The entire floor was covered by two large, shallow rooms that were filled to the brim with bookshelves and boxes, like some prosaic hybrid of a warehouse and a library. A closed corner offered some computers, but they skipped straight to the aisles of dust-laden ticket stubs.

Boss poked along the top shelf and Luth held the ladder steady, while a pair of dead fluorescent bulbs supervised overhead. He didn't know what they were looking for, and Luth was afraid that if he asked, Boss would reply that he didn't know, either.

They had to have been the only ones in the entire room, else Boss might not have so openly ranted, "Or hell, just weed--/just/ for shelling out a few blades of grass."

"No, s--"

"Three years. For dusters? Depends on the amount you're caught with, but usually five-to-ten. And that's not just Lindblum--Alexandria, Burmecia, the Dwarven Provinces, even Her Majesty's colonies in Salvage--that's the law these days. But do you know the penalty for trafficking those same drugs across the borders? Just a typical ship from Don's dusterhouses in Alexandria through South Gate? You get caught with that shit, it's twenty-five-to-life."

He hopped off the ladder, scooted it a few feet down and then returned to his perch, his tail fastened around one of the creaky wooden rungs. "So, the way it works is that if one of Leo's 'dealer daddies' or whatever-the-fucks get busted on the street, they get five years in jail. Even if the Regs get off their donut asses and raid one of their storehouses--someone like Leo? Fifteen years--well, probably twenty for him. Tops. And with parole."

He plucked a punchcard from a cardboard box, turned it over, bit down on a corner until his teeth left marks and then replaced it. "But if one of my ships gets busted on the way to those storehouses? And it leads back to me? And it /will/, because that's where the buck goes--I get /life/, in one of Lindblum's top-of-the-line, maximum-security 'bark like my bitch' prisons."

With one hand braced on the shelf and his legs tangled in the flimsy steps, Boss swung off the side of the ladder, leaned towards Luth and bluffly said, "Do you know how long a life sentence would be for me? /Eternity/." He shrugged his free shoulder. "Of course, I'd break out long, long before then, but that's not the point. Everything I worked for here would go down the shitter. You'd think I was getting a handsome cut for all that risk, but it's just five percent."

Luth crinkled his brow as Boss climbed back up and continued thumbing through tickets. "So why--"

"So why, do you ask, would I do this? I don't need any damn mob cred, or their drug money. It's just the principle, Lu. If an honest, decent man--hell, even if an indecent motherfucker wants to sit back and toke it up once in a while, who the fuck really cares? Why does it have to be illegal? Shit, more people fuck up, get hurt and start riots just from drinking /beer/; why isn't alcohol illegal? Because they say it's easier to tell if someone's drunk than if they're high? What does that even mean? You know, it's just the government trying to--"

He abruptly pulled himself back, cutting off the tirade. "You know what? I'm not even going there. Drugs are bad, rookie. The point is that I'm being a nice guy for these cuntwaffles so they can bum my rides, and as usual some stupid motherfucker is taking me for granted. Haven't they ever heard of biting the hand that feeds you?"

"You say that one person is Pevy, then?" Luth tried to steer their conversation in a relatively sane direction.

Boss reconsidered himself. "Well, Pevy--actually, I don't even let Pevy... It's kinda complicated, Lu. You don't need to know the details."

"I think I'm already involved, sir," Luth begged to differ. "You might as well tell me."

"Fair 'nuff. Pevy has been using the company, even though he's not supposed to--I told you I hate guns. But he's been stealing Leo and Armond's routes."

"He has? But I thought his specialty was arms dealing, sir. Leo and Armond are the ones who deal with the... you know."

"Exactly. Pevy's trying to get a piece of the drug market, since it's obviously more profitable."

"I see. What makes you realize this just now, sir?"

"I've known for months; I just haven't given a shit until now."

Luth scratched one ear as the other tried to wrap around his head, confounded. "Um, explain, sir?"

"Here, um..." He whipped out a slip of paper from the adjacent drawer, laid it flush against the top of a filing cabinet and then patted his pockets fruitlessly. "Shit. Got a pen?"

Luth produced one from his own pocket and lent it to him (it was hardly the first time Boss required this service). He scrawled out an eager note, signed it simply, "Boss," and then passed it all back to Luth. "Quick, go down and give this to Sheryl."

Luth inspected the memo, first. It was a list of familiar names following the ambiguous label, "File 24."

"What's this, sir?"

"Oh, this is rich," Boss uttered as he pawed his way to the bottom of a cardboard box, totally lost to Luth. "This is freakin' brilliant. Those swarmy sons of bitches. They tried the same damn thing last time, too."

"Uh, sir?" Luth spoke up, trying to pull him back to the present. "What's this list? What are you planning to do?"

"Huh?" Boss popped back with a blink, seemingly surprised to see Luth there. "Oh. Those guys are all fired, for starters."

Luth gasped at the decree. "What? You mean this list? You're just going to fire all these people? What for?"

"They're the other bosses' 'inside guys.' Cleaning them out is going to stir up a big shitstorm in Gatortown, but keeping them here is more of a liability now. Heh, not like it matters what I do to them anymore. They already want me out of the picture."

"You mean you have some of Pevy's men working for this company?" Luth couldn't hide his alarm.

"Not anymore. And Leo and Armond's guys, too."

Luth examined the roster more closely, morbid curiosity fishing for acquaintances. "Oh no, not Pat, sir," he petitioned.

"Yeah, Armond's boy. Gotta be done," Boss lamented. He drummed his fingers on that note, snatched the memo back and tacked on two more names. "And while I'm at it, these two are out the door, as well."

"Hmm?" Luth didn't recognize the additions, but he had to ask, "Why?"

"Stev Cobbleston is Pevy's little gopher. He's been taking duster packs from Leo's ships and then fucking with the ledgers to make it look like we either dropped them or the labs fell short. I know he wasn't with Pevy when I hired him, so I guess he got recruited a couple of months back. That's when I figured him out, anyway."

"I barely understood that, but are you saying Pevy's been using him to steal from Leo, with the company as an intermediate?"

"You're picking it up."

"I think you mean he's a mole, not a gopher, sir."

"They're both fat rodents in holes, same difference."

"If you've known about this for months, why haven't you done anything before now?"

"Why? Like I really give a shit if Pevy's trying to nose in on Leo's business. Armond's been doing it forever without anyone even catching a whiff. And he's smart about it, too. See, all of Leo's dusters are made in this pothole in Alexandria called Dali, in the basement of a painting supplies factory--you ever heard of Kaliroth Paints?"

Luth startled, vaguely impressed. Kaliroth was an extremely common, cheap brand, and it was hard to believe that such a mundane name was connected to Leo's... enterprises. "Why yes, sir."

"Well, that's all Don's. Or it was, anyway--I guess Leo's running it, now. You see, paint thinner is one of the by-products of dusters, though in really small amounts--I'm talkin' micrograms. But what's great about it is that it's so pungent, if you manufacture a whole bunch and pack the dusters inside one of the crates, not a drug dog in the world can sniff out the difference. So--"

"But what if they do a full inspection, not just a superficial examination?" Luth had the official Lindblum customs handbook practically memorized; he read one on a long flight to the Outer Continent, once.
("Mother of Mist, what the hell are you reading? It better have titties." "Not exactly, sir, but it teaches you how to search a lady's bosom for weapons and drug paraphernalia.")

"Eh? Oh, right. Well, customs normally won't do that unless they're suspicious, and if they do, well..."

Luth's muzzle rumpled with an abhorrent thought. "You don't try to bribe them, do you, sir?"

"God no, though I'm like the way you're starting to think." Luth sniffed at the perverse compliment, as Boss elaborated, "You can never bribe a customs officer, Lu. Last guy that tried had his balls stamped, 'return to sender.' Really though, there's five packs to a box, twenty boxes to a crate and ten crates to a ship. The odds of having those five boxes of Leo's picked out are fairly slim. You just roll with it and hope you're lucky. These sorts of things always come with some risk. That's why Don counted on me so much."

"...Oh." Luth swallowed his nervous imagination. "I see, sir."

"So, once the shipment clears South Gate and makes it to central, one of Leo's guys heads up to the docks and sorts out which boxes go to department stores and stuff--you know, the real paint and all that crap--and which boxes go to Leo's so-called 'stores'--the dusters, of course. That's how it was supposed to work, anyway. Pat does the same thing for Armond and his grass. The only difference between the boxes with dusters and the boxes with grass is that the labels turn green or red when you give them a lil' scratch with a special marker--the guys in Don's labs make this shit up, they're brilliant, I swear. They could've been rocket scientists or cured cancer or someshit, but I suppose they're making more money in the drug business--hell, I can't blame them. Anyway, Pat takes a couple of packs of dusters--not whole bunch at a time, just one or two--and sends them out in a paint box."

"Wait, to the department stores? Why? Don't they not want the dusters to get mixed up with the paints?"

"Aha, that's the smart part. If Leo notices that he's a pack short--and he usually doesn't, since it's just one pack--but if he did, and he wanted to search Armond's lot, he wouldn't find anything, so it would look like Ricky's mistake. Meanwhile, Pat holds on to the tracking numbers of the paint shipment and follows the box to whichever store it ends up at--"

"And takes it from there?"

"Exactly. I'm not sure how--he either steals it off the truck or buys it out of the store owner's pocket, whichever works for him. Then he brings it to Armond and they throw it out on the streets, raking up a little extra cash on the side of their usual--and some cans of paint, I guess. Hell knows what they do with it. But Don never had a clue."

"Wow. How did you learn all this, sir?"

Boss cocked a haughty pose. "Please, bitch, I know everything." At Luth's bemused smirk he dropped the airs and admitted, "Pat and I got wasted together one night and he just spilled everything. I didn't even /ask/."

"I can sadly see that happening, sir," Luth wryly commented.

"Anyway, it wasn't my problem until Ricky started whining at me for loans to cover his clueless ass. Somebody had been taking too many cookies out of the jar--I'm talking whole boxes at a time. I wasn't quite sure Pat was stupid enough to do it, so I dug a little deeper. I found a bunch of data correction forms under Kaliroth Paints with Stev Cobbleston's signature on it, and it didn't take too long after that to make the link to Pevy--actually, looking back on it now, it makes me sick."

"Why is that, sir?"

"Because every single box that Stev transferred was picked up and signed for by an 'M.T.' Now think, Lu; who do we know working close to one of the bosses that might possibly have those initials?"

"Um..." Luth's ears spun in jerks around the riddle. "M.T? Leo has Ricky, and it's not Pat, and not..." The meaning hit him like a slap in the face. "Oh gods, /Maroon/."

Boss's knuckles turned white around the name, and he nodded grimly. "That's right. Anyway, I coulda said something to Ricky then, but it would've started too much bullshit to be worth it."

"Of course," Boss retracted, "Now that all this shit has hit the fan, I've got no excuse not to do something about Cobbleston. He must think he's a slick undercover motherfucker because I haven't paid attention to him, but that shit's about to come to a screeching halt."

"And what about Norris Beltino?" Luth enquired for the last one on the list.

Boss shrugged. "Eh, he's just a douchebag."

Luth turned up an indignant frown. "Sir..."

"Man!" He slapped the nearest countertop, jolting Luth and sending a few loose sheets of paper twirling to the floor. "Where are they? I can't believe they got re-filed. I shoulda kept them in my desk."

"Um, kept what in your desk, sir?" Luth asked meekly, the memo temporarily forgotten.

"Those DC forms! I need them for evidence, damnit," Boss grumbled, frustrated with himself. He slid to the floor and dragged the ladder to the next aisle. Luth followed, offering docile encouragement as they scoured another tower of boxes.

"I think this might be it," Boss eventually remarked at an unmarked folder, and as he skimmed through the contents he began to whistle an optimistic tune. "You ever got a song stuck in your head, Lu?"

Luth shook his head. "No sir, can't say I have."

Boss frowned. "Really? Not even a song you like?"

"I don't listen to a lot of music, sir," he confessed.

"For serious?" He rolled his eyes. "What am I saying? You're always serious. That's a pity, Lu. A man should appreciate some good music once in a while. It's food for the soul."

"If you say so, sir," Luth said neutrally, dropping it.

Boss eyed the offhanded memo critically. "Hey, didn't I tell you to take that to Sheryl like ten minutes ago?"

Luth finally remembered the slip of paper in his hand. "Oh! Sorry, sir." He sprinted off, Boss calling after him, "I'll meet you down there in a bit!"


To say Sheryl was suspicious was a bit of an understatement. Luth pleaded ignorance on the "who"s and "why"s and let her take the memo at face value.

"Is there something going on that you're not telling me?" she asked leerily, and Luth bit his lip, desperately wanting to say--that Lindblum was in danger, that the world was in danger, that he'd fallen in with the wrong crowd, the wrong job, working for an illegal man that might be legally insane, and he was crazy too, for wanting to help.

It wasn't until she asked that he was finally afraid.

Then Boss showed up, a rogue grin on his lips and an innocent manila folder in his hands, and Luth forgot himself again. "'sup, babe?" he purred over her desk.

"Just you," she snipped, and waved the slip under his nose. "I see this love note you sent me. Is there anything else I need to know before I send a report to human resources? Something like, oh, say, /valid reasons for termination/?"

"Ach, that's all semantics," he frivolously batted it back. "They know what for." He dropped the folder into her arms. "Do me a favor and hold on to that, will ya? Someone's going to come by later for it. Lu and I are going to step out for a while."

Sheryl accepted the bundle, one aloof-yet-skeptical eyebrow raised. "Oh? You know, I can't help but notice that you've been making some interesting changes around here lately."

The smile Boss returned was very... solemn. "Oh, the most interesting change is yet to come."

Before Luth or even Sheryl knew what to ask, Boss was briskly guiding him out the front doors. "Don't wait up for us!"

"I never do," Sheryl retorted, her voice clear and lofty across the foyer.


They raced diagonally and wrongways over crosswalks and around disgruntled motorists, arriving at Fabool Square in record time and violating at least three pedestrian laws. Luth was skipping in circles and waving flustered apologies to passers-by, as if clearing a path for a rabid dog.

Boss tempered his pace once he reached the plaza, minding not to trample the flowerbeds. It was only once Luth escaped the urban bedlam and caught up with him that he managed to ask, "Where in the world are we going, sir?"

His question was trampled under Boss's feet, which blazed across the red bricks, around the high-nosed statue of Cid IX and straight to their banal destination: a phone booth. Pigeons nested in the crooked "telephone" sign atop the transparent box scattered as he wrenched open the lime-frosted glass door and entered.

"Um..." Luth stood witlessly outside.

"Don't stand out there all slack-jawed, Lu," Boss eventually acknowledged him. "Come in."

Luth wiggled in after him, dipping his ears so not to rustle the cobwebs on the ceiling. "Now what, sir?" he tried again, still ruffled by their flaunt through rush hour traffic.

Boss withdrew a folded scrap of paper, unfurled it with one hand and picked up the phone's handset with the other. "I'm going to put on my cape and go fight crime," he chaffed. When the joke bounced off Luth's blunt, inquiring stare, Boss condescended, "There's a phone. I'm going to use it to call people."

The Burmecian smirked, not amused. "I can figure that out sir, thanks. Who are you calling? When are you going to tell me what's going on?"

"Revenge is an ugly thing, Lu," Boss didn't answer. "That is why it should only be carried out by professionals."

"I can already say I don't approve, sir."

"That is exactly why I'm not telling you."

Luth made a plaintive grunt, and Boss relented, "It's just finishing some old business. I'm going to put a stop to all the bullshit in Gatortown and get back at Pevy at the same time."

"How are you going to do that at a payphone? Why are we at a payphone? Don't you have a cell phone, sir?"

Boss snorted. "Are you kiddin'? If I had a cell phone, it would be buzzin' my ass off all day. I pay chicks in hot little business suits to take care of that stuff for me. Besides, these calls need to be totally incognito--none of that 'call tracking' crap."


"Because!" He dug a fountain of small change out of his pockets and attempted to sort it in his palm, the handset now wedged awkwardly between his shoulder and ear. "Pence, bit, bit... no quarters?" He dropped his arms and rolled his eyes, exasperated. "I have millions of gil in the bank and not one goddamn quarter in my pocket. Lu, spot me some silver. I'll pay you back."

Luth's wallet handily supplied the quarters, which trickled down the coin slot like prayers down a wishing well. Luth hoped for a blessing of sanity while Boss studied the phone numbers splattered on the paper, one finger suspended over the console's keypad. "You know," he hesitated, "If I really wanted to, I could just call the Regs and spill everything I know about all these dickwads. Cops would be breaking down their doors so fast their tails would corkscrew off their asses."

"Then why don't you, sir?" That sounded like the most reasonable action, which was why Luth's gut was certain Boss wouldn't take it.

"Because A: I've been implicated with these guys so long I'd be going straight behind bars with them, and B: It'd never work like that. The bosses know the cops, they know the public prosecutors--hell, I think Leo has a damn judge out there. Gatortown doesn't stink because it's a sewer, Lu--it's because it has its fingers all up in Lindblum's ass, like a puppet. So even if the cops had the balls to pick up the bosses, those fat cats would just put on a pissing show for the public, walk through a lot of bullshit paperwork and head back to their huge mansions at the end of the day. Didn't you ever see the Boss Taron trial? One big fuckin' joke."

He frowned a pinch, realizing, "I guess it was before your time. Anyway, never call the cops for anything. You want something done about someone, you've gotta do it yourself. I knew a guy, real nice, but picked up some bad friends. Those friends got shit-faced one night and showed up at his house, screaming and tearing up the place, waking up his kids, all that fun stuff--remember what I said about bringing hookers to your place? So the guy called the cops on 'em, stood outside by the road to wait for 'em, and once the fuzz showed up they arrested /him/. For assault. On the crazy bitches trashing his house. How the hell does that happen?! Fuck the cops, Lu."

That said, Boss turned back to the dial-pad with grave conviction. "Now, take notes; this is how you get real justice."

Luth stood back (as far as he could in the cramped booth) and tilted an apprehensive ear towards the receiver as Boss punched up the first number on his list. He heard two warbling rings before a squeaky voice broke through, and then all Luth could decipher was Boss's end of the conversation.

"Ricky? Hey, it's Ultima. ... Yeah, I know, dead man talkin'. Listen, this conversation isn't happening, okay? ... No, it's--no, it's not... I didn't kill Don! Look, that's not even important right now. This is about those feather dusters you wanted a loan on a couple of months back. ... No, I know, I know. Don't worry about that right now. I wanted to let you know I found them. ... Yeah, all five. I'm going to tell you where to look, but first I need a small favor. ... Oh give me a break, you're probably sitting in a Crisp'n'Coffee right now, dunking donuts. I just want to know where Pevy is. ...Ahaha, so I guess you heard about that, huh? Aw, it was nothin'. ... Over your head, Ricky. Just tell me, is he home? ... Awesome, thanks. Listen, just--yeah--go to central--I won't be there, but ask for Sheryl, and tell her to let you see file DC1337. ... DC1337. ... Yeah, you got it. I think if you read the tag it's gonna be... ...Yeah, it's... I think you'll find it interesting. ... Yeah, it's no prob. Make sure Leo gets it, and remember, you didn't talk to me, okay? ... Of course! See ya."

Boss depressed the switch hook and held still for a slow minute, lost in thought until a cat's grin carved up his mien. "Ahaha! Idea," he announced, and without elaborating, he dragged out the phone book tucked under the console and handed it off to Luth, demanding, "Look up Lindblum PD."

"The police?" Luth resounded, befuddled. "I thought you just said to never call the cops for anything."

"Oh, yeah, well..." He blithely shrugged. "Do as I say, not as I do." Luth acquiesced and called out the number. As it rang, Boss passed him a mischievous wink. "(Watch this.) Hey, Lindblum Police? Can I speak to a detective? ... Alas, on hold."

Boss impatiently drummed his fingers on the glass wall of the booth while Luth murmured, "What in the world...?" to himself.

"Yes, who? Detective Charim? Nice to meet you. Listen, I'd like to call in a bomb threat. ... Where? That's a spoiler, but I can give you a hint: it's in one of the city's public schools. ... Hehehe, why would I joke about the fates of possibly hundreds of innocent children? That would be terrible if you hung up on me--and so many young lives--because you couldn't take a bomb-planting maniac seriously. I mean, hell, I tested this thing in the junkyard--it can blow up six cars and an air cab at once! It's pretty sweet. ... Of course not. Can't just give you everything. ...Oh, okay, one more thing: it might be in the School District. ... Ahahaha. Yes, that is a lot of ground to cover! Gee, I'm not gonna envy your bomb squad. I'll tell you what would be nice, though. If you bring six million gil--hard cash--to the corner of Abbot and Green by two o'clock, I think I can be persuaded to give you some more hints. Hell, I might even be a nice guy and disarm the thing. That's two o'clock. Buh-bye."

Luth's jaw fell on page 52 of the directory. "Oh my God."

"Ahaha!" Boss cackled. "I am an /evil genius/."

"What have you done?!" his partner wailed, his ears wilting and his pupils shrinking into pinheads amid the horror-washed whites of his eyes.

Boss snickered at him. "Relax, there's no bomb! Ahaha, the look on your face, though, it's great."

Luth's right ear ticked in spasms as he spit hysterically, "You--what--WHY?"

Boss held up one steadfast finger. "Diversion. The fastest way to get every fire department, bomb squad, police officer, ambulance, news reporter and parent in the city to simultaneously shit their pants is to make them think something's going to blow up at a school. You can go to jail just for joking about it. Classes are going to get locked up, kids are going to be bunkered in, parents are going to start riots outside the gates and authorities are going to swarm every single inch of every single school until they figure out it's a hoax. It'll take them /hours/. And if a real emergency happens in the meantime? Well, it's going to be tough shit for them, because all the response teams are tied up."

He rubbed his chin, hummed and donned a sly grin. "You know, if we wanted to rob a bank, now would be a great time."

"I don't think so, sir!" Luth fiercely rejected that caprice.

Boss chuckled playfully. "Are you sure? It'd be thrilling." Sobering a notch, he picked the phone back up and inserted another quarter. "Okay, I gotta admit it wasn't necessary. I wasn't even sure it would work. But hell, those kids should thank me; they're getting a holiday. And now we don't have to worry about the cops getting in the way!"

"Getting in the way of /what/?" Luth strained, but Boss ignored him, going straight back to business.

"Quick, look up the number for Pizza Shack."

"Pizza Shack," Luth echoed flatly, not believing his ears.

"Yeah yeah, make it quick! Stop looking at me like that and do it."

Luth consulted the book, numbly recited the info and waited for Boss to... do whatever. He no longer knew what to say, and it was far too late to stop him.

"Oh, this is pathetic," Boss complained as the other end rang and rang. "This one's taking the longest to answer. Com'on, pick up..." He glanced to Luth and asked while he waited, "You like sausage or pepperoni?"

"I'm... you..." He blinked his shaken mind back into synch. "You're ordering a pizza," he declared the obvious.

"Yeah." Boss tipped one irked brow at his bewilderment and said, "Relax, Lu. It's a pizza, not a bomb."

"Why are you ordering pizza at a time like this?"

"Because I am /starving/," Boss tersely retorted, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "Ah! Yes, I'd like to make a order for delivery. 5212 Stepmire Lane, Residential District. ... Phone number?" He skewed the paper note in his hand to read the number on the edge. "82-24-16-12. ... One pepperoni, medium. Actually, make that large. No wait, medium. Yeah. And one of those sodas that go with it. ... Great, thanks."

Boss hung up and grumbled, "Forty-five minutes, holy shit. This better be the best pizza in the goddamn world."

Luth wrung his thick hands nervously. "Um, I think we need to get away from here soon, sir. The police do know how to track calls from payphones."

Boss was unperturbed. "Yeah I know, just a sec, one more. This'll be the icing on the cake."

Luth whimpered futilely in his corner while the last number was dialed.

"Eriquie? Caibon! Gari--jer, jer, tam Ultima." Boss once again astonished Luth by launching into some exotic, if amiable, dialogue. "Krichi me tu arc noch bosen? ... Kar, kar. Neio ban grabar. Telemortar Leon? ... Jer. Sumon! Supo nor, garqamon barra doco, ah, ah... crepe. ... Jer. Ti ger lata supor? ... Teire, teire, yir tis."

He mentioned during a sudden lull, "The housemaid put me on hold. Erique is such a sweetheart."

"You... speak Estgazan?" Luth's wonder had yet to cease.

"And High Dwarven, too." In response to Luth's gawking, he pejoratively remarked, "Are you that surprised?"

Luth dazedly shook his head. "Nothing's going to surprise me anymore, sir."

The receiver at length buzzed with a male voice. Boss plainly greeted, "Hey, Armond. It's me, Ultima."

Luth overheard a very distinct, "You should be dead!"

"Yeah, I've been hearing that a lot lately. It's okay, I just called to tell you your mother's a whore. ... I said your mother is a whore. You know, not the kind that sleeps with strange men for money, just the kind that sleeps with strange men for the hell of it. I guess that's technically a slut. Your mother's a slut, then."

Roiled invective spilled from the receiver while Boss plowed ahead. "Would you like to know how I came to know this about your mother? It's because I slept with her. I had sex with your mother. I wish I could say she was a great lay, but she kinda had these weird posture issues and a back brace and it just made everything awkward, but it was still free and she was pretty hot so I couldn't complain. Say, does she still have that birthmark on her left ass cheek? I think it was a birthmark--it looks like a poodle? It's okay if it's not there anymore; it was thirty-something years ago. Hey, aren't you thirty-something? Huh, that is such a coincidence. ... Yeah, I like that sound--the sound you make when you finally shut your mouth. Listen, when you get a minute you should come over to Pevy's place. We're having pizza. See you in hell, Armond."

The phone chimed a hard note as Boss jammed the receiver back in place. Luth, progressively appalled, could only think to question, "Um, sir, not to be forward, but I thought Genomes couldn't breed with Gaians...?"

"He doesn't know that."

Luth let slip a relieved sigh. "Oh. Well, that's good, sir. So you really didn't sleep with his mother."

"Oh no, that part was true," Boss assured brightly as he pushed past him and out the phone booth, leaving Luth scandalized.


There was a hospitable carpet of grass and a pair of pecan trees on the knoll overlooking 5212 Stepmire Lane. It was within easy view of the property's chalky two-story estate and its rosy brick wall, and ramped off the end of the bulbous cul-de-sac that accommodated two other manors of similar ilk and fortification. The house of interest was garlanded with large, flowery hedges and plump old trees, and purple vines were aesthetically sculpted along the outer wall. The lawn was vibrant with the aroma and colors of summer, and as hot as the midday sun parked directly overhead.

It was Pevy's home turf, Boss said, and "the perfect spot for a picnic." Luth lazily argued the contrary until the pizza boy came and went, and by then he was and too hungry and heat-weary to object. They sat in the pecan-strewn shade, ate lunch and watched an uneventful veranda through the wrought-iron bars of his front gate. The neoclassical facade of Pevy's house looked to be a mile off, by Luth's estimation--though he would admit that he was terrible at estimating.

Luth spent the idle minutes filling his stomach and working his brain, trying to unwrap Boss's scheme. "So basically, sir," he concluded after one last draught of soda, "Your plan is to tell all the bosses about how they've been stealing from each other, and then stand back and watch them fight?"

"That's pretty much it, yeah."

"That seems awfully... I dunno..."

"What? Simple?"

"/Passive-aggressive/, sir."

"Ah. Well." Boss took the bottle back and slurped up the last drops. "You're entitled to your opinions, Lu. I respect you for that."

Dropping out of the nearest tree was some deep, familiar, sardonic voice. "The hell is this?"

"Ahh!" Luth pirouetted off the ground like a dust devil, whirling to meet Griffin, who had seemingly crawled out of the earth.

"Whoa!" Boss twisted to find the intruder, though he didn't bother getting up. "Geez. You snuck up on us, Am--er, Griffin."

"W-What do you want?" Luth stammered as he reached over his shoulder for a polearm that was regrettably absent.

Boss remained civil, as if he were entertaining a guest. "I think the better question is, 'Who sent you?'"

Griffin's lumpy shoulders rippled with a shrug. He was wearing a leather biker's jacket and chaps, both black, the sweltering temperatures be damned. Luth paid special notice to his gloves--particularly, the long steel spikes protruding from the knuckles of the left one. "Hrmph. Like I should tell you."

"Armond," Boss smugly guessed.

"He said he wasn't stupid enough to fall for your trap, and sent me instead."

"He's still stupid enough to hire you to get me, after what happened when Pevy tried to buy my bullet."

"Don't flatter yourself. I'm not here to take care of /you/."

This garnered two pairs of raised eyebrows. "Then why are you here?" Luth wondered.

Griffin heavily shuffled past them, down the hill and towards Pevy's gated driveway, not explaining a thing. As if on a subliminal cue, a sleek black van materialized from the bushy grove around the street corner and glided to a stop right next to him. Three men in dark sunglasses and blue suits filed out the van's big sliding door, followed by Leo. A keen smirk lit Boss's features on the appearance of a manila folder under the boss's arm.

"What's going on, sir?" Luth quietly asked, sensing an overwhelming need to be discreet.

Boss slunk behind one of the trees and beckoned Luth to do the same. "Shh, just stay back and watch."

Leo's party stood in rank along the sidewalk, staring the outsider down. The demi-lion flicked his nose at Griffin and addressed him in unctuous rhetoric, "What are you doing out here, Griffin? Did Pevy send you to welcome us?"

Griffin stooped slightly, his arms bowed like a great ape. "Believe what you want," his throat roiled. "I could ask the same to you."

"We have our own business with Pevy. You can step aside."

It wasn't really a suggestion, but Griffin surprised the lot by taking it like one. He backed away from the gate with a lackadaisical gesture. "Be my guest."

The group exchanged wary looks, yet Leo imperiously strode ahead and rang the pearly buzzer set in the wall. After a stifling wait the intercom crackled some kind of permit and the gate opened with a rusty knell. They entered altogether, Griffin on the fringes of the enterprise.

Pevy rolled up to the scene in a wheelchair, his limbs swaddled in bandages and his spirit as fiery as ever. His escort was a tall, bald bloke Luth recognized right away--he even carried a rifle just the same as before, only now he sported a livid patch on his scalp and a dainty band-aid across his left temple. Pevy made some blustery proclamations by way of welcome, and in response Leo handed him the mysterious papers. Pevy fumbled through the contents with his good arm while Leo's henchmen gradually encroached, swallowing up the boss's breathing room. Griffin stood tall and stoic to the far side, arms crossed high over his chest.

"Hey, isn't that the folder you gave to Sheryl, sir?"

"That's the one."

"What exactly is in it, if you don't mind my asking?"

"It's all Leo needs to prove that Pevy's been trying to steal his business. Remember, Stev's data correction forms? And some extra stuff, just to drive the point home. You really gotta spell things out for people, sometimes. Man, I wish we were close enough to hear what they were saying."

"So what's going on in there, sir?" Luth asked again.

"No telling, but we're about to get a show. Just watch."

Even if Boss wasn't able to eavesdrop, Luth tried his luck. His ears tuned to the lawn past the gates, picking up snips and tones to go along with the action. Pevy threw the documents back in Leo's face, yelling, "fabricated" and "Ultima" in hot succession. Seething words were swatted back and forth until, entirely unprompted, Griffin's sinewy arms took Pevy's grunt from behind, snapped his neck in a scissor-swipe and then ripped the rifle off his body before it hit the ground.

"Holy hell," Boss uttered with dead surprise.

Luth couldn't believe it; the rest unfolded in under a minute.
The others recoiled a step, stunned, but then Leo's men overcame their alarm and advanced on Pevy, taking advantage of the situation. Two hoisted the protesting Pevy out of his wheelchair by the arms, and as he cried out in obvious pain, the third threw his fist into Pevy's abundant gut. Pevy crumpled, kissing the bleached pavement, and Leo closed in to laugh over him, running a suave mitt through his oily black mane. In his writhing disguise, Pevy drew his golden pistol from his boot. An unhesitating burst later, Leo staggered and fell, clutching his blown heart.

A flurry of retaliating knives and pistols manifested, but only one shot reached Pevy before Griffin unloaded his firearm, mowing everyone down like a kid throwing firecrackers into a snake pit. Luth gaped at the massacre, and when he stole a glance at Boss to gauge his reaction, Luth found him wearing a wolf's blood-sated smile.

Drawn to the eruption of gunshot, a woman in a scarlet, sequined dress flew out the front door. She staggered onto the lawn on clunky designer sandals, stopped short of the carnage and screamed. Griffin ignored her, sauntered over to Pevy, kicked him brutally onto his back, planted one foot on his chest and the business end of a clawed gauntlet in his jugular. He held the deathblow for a moment before tearing his arm free, the fatty pulp of Pevy's neck sluicing over the driveway.

Shaking and wailing, the woman lunged at Griffin, fists flailing. The hired gun knocked her down with a callous left backhand, and she didn't get up. Griffin then dropped his looted weapon, rolled the cricks out of his shoulders and plodded out the front gates the way he came, pausing but a second to pass Boss and Luth an inscrutable glare.

"Dear gods..." Luth remembered to breathe in the aftermath, once Griffin had disappeared and a silent pall crept over the neighborhood. "They're dead. Both of them--I mean, all of them—I mean, just, everyone. Just like that."

"It would've been better if Armond had showed," Boss chimed in, "But it still worked out pretty well."

Luth's trauma was beyond shock, horror and grief, and for the moment he felt so cool and rational it was nearly frightening. "Why was Griffin there? Why did he kill Pevy and Leo's men?"

"I really don't know, unless that's what Armond hired him to do. Sometimes I don't think I give that guy enough credit. It's always the quiet ones, Lu," Boss said, reverent and cryptic at once.

"How did he know Leo was going to be here, too?"

"I don't think he did. Griffin's just that good at improvising."

Luth swallowed and smoothed the cold fur on the back of his neck, suddenly feeling ill. He didn't want to be a part of it anymore--Gatortown, Ultima, /anything/.

"Oh cripes, it's the blondie twins."

Boss stood and looked down the street, where a moogle swooped in. The Genome tilted his head in wonder and called out, "Wow, Arpy, is that you? What are you doing here?"

Arpy crested the hill and bounced off the pizza box left on the ground, taking it for a seat. "Are you kidding? My ears are fuckin' everywhere. I had to see what was gonna go down with my own two eyes." He stuck an accusing digit in Boss's direction. "I should've known you were behind this, you brilliant bastard!"

Boss urbanely flipped his wrist. "Oh Arpy, you give me too much credit. All the pieces were already in place. All I had to do was give them a little push." He dropped the affected manner with a discomfited change of heart. "...Huh. Deja-vu. Actually, I feel kinda bad."

"/Kinda/, sir?" Luth censured his complete lapse of conscience.

Boss shrugged it off. "Yeah. This was way too easy."

"Well, what the fuck now?" Arpy griped. "The strong arm of the mob has just been laid to fuckin' waste, no thanks to you. Do you expect me to help clean up after all this shit? My paws are too white to handle you crazy humans, now."

"Eh, it'll work out somehow," Boss flippantly asserted.

"The fuck it will! You know what this is going to do to my clientele? Of course you don't, you monkey fudger. Hey! Are you even listening, bitch?" the moogle went off, but his target was distracted, holding his breath and gazing intently through Pevy's open gate. Before Luth could ask after his intentions, Boss took off towards the house.

"Uh, sir?"

"Stay there! I'll be right back."

"What does he think he's doing?" Luth asked thin air, too addled to pursue him, anyway.

Arpy snorted. "Something dogshit."

Luth watched him skirt the ruinous blanket of corpses and kneel before the hapless woman, who seemed unconscious, at best. Boss delicately picked her up, carried her into the shaded veranda, placed her slack form in a porch swing and then trotted back out of the scene of the crime.

"Okay," he announced upon return, "That's--" His thought was interrupted with a greasy belch, and Luth and Arpy flinched in disgust.

"Woo!" Boss grinned and bashfully scratched the back of his head. "Almost as tasty the second time."

Arpy pinched his nose. "That's nasty shit. I can't believe I'm hangin' with you motherfuckers." He rose on fluttering wings and began to putter away, ranting towards the horizon, "This is too much crazy, even for me. I didn't see nothin', I didn't hear nothin', I am o-u-t, out. Gone. Sayonara. Good luck, crackers."

"Later, Arpy," Boss genially waved after him, and then turned to Luth with a thoughtful grimace. "Anyway, Lu, I... think we should get out of town for a while."
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