GETTING HIT with a wrench hurts.
I know for a fact—I’ve had my jaw broken twice by thugs swinging them around—which is why I cringe every time Pete and Brisko land a blow. The crunch of bone and the wet splat of blood on the warehouse floor fill the otherwise silent atmosphere.
I light a cigarette and inhale, already disgusted with the spectacle. Perhaps I should’ve been paying more attention when they questioned the kid, but I don’t know what Pete and Brisko are looking for. I’m just here in case trouble finds us.
“So how long have you been workin’ for the cops?” Pete asks.
The kid shudders and keeps his head hung. Rivulets of blood stream from his mouth and lip, dripping onto his lap and staining his jeans. His shoulders bunch around his neck, but his hands are tied tight against the back of the chair. He doesn’t have much range of movement—even his feet are secured to the chair legs, keeping him vulnerable.
Brisko grabs a fistful of the kid’s black hair and jerks his head up. “Well? You want us to keep going or are you ready to talk?”
“I—” the kid says. “I… don’t….”
The blood in his mouth gets in the way of his speech. It doesn’t help that he’s trembling something fierce either. Those two idiots don’t know the first thing about interrogating a rat. You have to give them time to recover between beatings or else they stutter, or worse, seize up from shock. Then you won’t get any information out of them.
The kid fumbles with his words, and Pete backhands him, the wrench still curled in his fist. The extra weight slams the kid’s head back, busting the skin of his eye socket good. His disheveled hair covers most of his face—the blood causing it to cling to everything—but I can tell he’s black and blue.
Pete rubs his knuckles and snorts. “We got all night, kiddo. And there’s only two ways out. Either you tell us what we want to know and we put a bullet in your head, simple and quick…. Or you keep holding out on us, like the dirty rat you are, and we go to bustin’ up your organs rather than your bones. The way people scream…. You’ll regret holdin’ out on us. They all do.”
The kid doesn’t answer. I figured as much. He looks ready to die.
“Pete, Brisko,” I call out from the shadows. “Go out and watch the door. I’ll talk to him.”
Those two thugs take a moment to process my words, like English is their third language instead of their first. It’s clear they didn’t think I would get involved, but Pete gives me a one-sided smile.
“You gonna make him sing?” he asks. “The boss always says you’re the best.”
“I’ll get the information.”
“You got it. C’mon, Brisko.”
Brisko lumbers after Pete. I wait until they both exit the warehouse, giving the kid a moment to “recover” before I get to work. I take a long drag on my cigarette and exhale. I hate workin’ late—it’s almost dawn. Street work isn’t supposed to be my thing anymore, but I can’t sit by and watch Pete and Brisko’s Three Stooges routine without intervening. They would have killed the kid and gotten nothing from it.
I allow the silence to thicken before emerging from my shadowy corner. The kid cringes away, keeping his gaze down and body tense. One eye is sealed shut from the swelling, but the other stares a hole in his leg. He won’t meet my gaze.
“What’s your name, kid?” I ask.
He flinches at the sound of my gruff voice but doesn’t answer.
“Let me guess. You don’t know that either? If you’re a liar, there’s nothing to talk about. We should just cut to the chase.”
“Miles,” he says. “My name is Miles.”
I take another long drag on my cigarette. At least his jaw isn’t broken. “Have you been workin’ for the Vice family long?”
“N-no… only a couple of months.”
So he’s untested and thus untrustworthy. No wonder they got men questioning him at the end of a beating. They think he’s some sort of mole.
“What have they been asking you to handle?” I ask, sauntering around to the back of his chair. The kid doesn’t like that. He shivers when I get out of view.
“I do whatever they ask…. I-I’ve done everything t-they’ve wanted. I swear.”
“What specifically have they asked you to handle?”
“I… I’ve carried a gun for them. Watched some places overnight…. Delivered messages… and things.”
So he knows the location of a few places of interest. Now they’ll be clearing those out…. That’s a big hassle, and they need to blame someone. But the cops haven’t busted anything recently.
“Why do they think you’re with the cops?”
“I… went to the station. A few times.”
Ah. The heart of the issue. I exhale a long line of smoke and stand directly behind the kid’s chair. He sits unmoving, unable to glance back at me. Up close I can see he’s a little older than I originally thought—perhaps in his early twenties. Still a kid, but not like the other teens I’ve seen on the streets lately.
“Why?” I ask.
He clams up and doesn’t answer. I lean down on the back of his chair. He’s as still as the dead.
“Why did you go to the police station?” I drawl. Maybe he needs the words slower. His brain has been scrambled pretty good, after all.
The kid refuses to talk.
I get in close and chuckle. I drag my teeth along the shell of his ear as I say, “Those two fucks outside haven’t flayed as many men as I have. You think having your insides shattered will be rough? I have a goddamn nightmare worth of things to show you if this keeps up. C’mon, kid. Make life easy on yourself. You don’t have much of it left. Yes or no—did you tell the cops about us?”
He shudders. I stay close, allowing my breath to wash over his neck. I enjoy the sound of his ragged, panicked breathing.
“No,” he chokes out. “No. I didn’t.”
His conviction strikes me as genuine. “Then why did you go there?”
“My brother. He was there. I went to see him.”
“Now why didn’t you tell Pete and Brisko that?”
“I….” He gulps down air. I love the way he trembles beneath me, but I keep my thoughts straight. “I told the Vice family that I… I didn’t have anyone. That I don’t have a family.”
“Hm,” I say, tossing down the butt of my cigarette. “So you are a liar. But that doesn’t explain everything. What else aren’t you telling me?”
“My brother… he’s part of the Cobras.”
Ah. The Cobras. The street gang that’s always hustling drugs and prostitutes. Pure lowlifes—no class whatsoever. They’re trying to infest the Vice family’s turf. I can see now why the kid would want to keep his mouth shut. If anyone connected him to the Cobras, they wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet in his head. Or perhaps use him to lure out his brother. Either way, it would’ve been bad news.
I stand up and run a hand down my face. Stupid kid is just in over his head. His home life must be pretty bad if everyone in his family is turning to the protection of gangs. I didn’t have anyone when I met the bruisers of the Vice family for the first time. It made sense to go with them rather than live on the streets. What excuse does this kid have?
“Are you… going to kill me now?” he whispers.
I’ve been in this business too long to feel anything when he asks. I walk back around to the front of him, not bothering to answer the question. The kid doesn’t look up. He just waits, his shirt and jeans bloodied enough for a crime scene. I light up another cigarette.
“Just give it to me straight,” he says, his voice on the verge of cracking. The kid hadn’t been cryin’ before, despite the beating. I admire his grit. I’d want to have it straight if I were in his situation.
“Yeah,” I reply with an exhale of smoke. “Pete and Brisko are gonna come back in and give it to you quick.”
The information causes the kid to grimace, but still, he doesn’t look up. The hot stream of tears running from his one functioning eye mixes with his blood. He steadies his breathing and asks, “Can you… not mention my family? I… I don’t want them to… to try anything. I don’t want them to hurt my brother.”
“That’s not how things work, kid. They’re gonna want an explanation.”
For the first time he lifts his gaze, staring at me through his unkempt hair. “Please. You could tell them anything. You could even tell them I was a mole…. What will it matter once I’m dead? The damage is done…. Please.”
“If he’s part of the Cobras, we’re gonna run across him eventually. You’re not saving your brother with this gesture, kid.”
“He said he would quit. He said he would move on. He needs that chance…. Please.”
Does anyone leave the Cobras without having their legs broken? I don’t think so. But whatever. The conversation with the kid is getting under my skin. I turn to the door and whistle through my fingers.
The piercing sound cuts to the outside. Pete and Brisko shuffle their way back in, arguing about God only knows what. They both look like thugs, despite their suits—oily hair, muscular, tattoos peeking out from their collars and sleeves. Brisko stands a foot taller and his shoulders are bowling balls wrapped in skin, but otherwise they’re cut from the same cloth.
“You get him to talk?” Pete asks, a wide smile on his face.
I reply with a curt nod.
He snorts back a laugh. “Fuck. You didn’t even get your hands dirty. He ain’t lyin’ to you? What was he up to?”
The kid goes back to staring at his lap. I take my time with my cigarette, mulling over the few quick interactions I’ve had with him. I hate when I get pensive. I shouldn’t think so much, not when I’m on the job. It always gets me in trouble. Especially when I start feeling guilty….
“He was a mole,” I say. “He told the police about some locations, but not much else.”
“I knew it,” Brisko states.
“Finish this up. It’s late.”
The kid exhales and I can see him resign himself to his fate. He doesn’t look at me, but he sends a short nod my direction in an act of appreciation. It makes me regret the fact he’s about to die. God, I’m gettin’ soft.
Pete saunters over and spits on the kid. “You know what we do to moles like you?” He pulls his gun and smashes the butt of it against the kid’s ear. A whole new torrent of blood spills down to the cement flooring. The kid barks out in pain but silences himself within half a second. He bites down on his lip, holding back any more noises. Crying out will only encourage them.
Brisko punches the kid in the gut, knocking the chair back a couple inches. The kid tries to double over, but to no avail.
“What’re you two doing?” I ask.
“He’s a mole,” Pete says. “We always bust up the moles. That’s what we do.”
The kid doesn’t protest. Still… it makes me sick. Brisko drills into him again. Kid won’t be able to take much more….
Pete and Brisko cease their assault. They turn to me with confused wide-eyed stares.
“Stop,” I repeat. “Lay off him.”
The kid stirs but can’t manage much movement. Pete combs back his greasy blond hair with his fingers. “What’s wrong? We not doin’ it right? You want us to just shoot him?”
“You two have more work to do tonight, right? Leave the kid with me. Just get out of here.”
Brisko screws up his face into an expression of contemplation. He obviously doesn’t do it often. “But…. Big Man Vice is gonna want us to report in. What’re we gonna tell him?”
The door to the warehouse slides open and we all place a hand on our guns. I can’t see through the darkness, but Pete and Brisko ease up, letting me know whoever arrived is a friend. I should have been watching the door. This isn’t even my operation.
“Oh, Jeremy,” Pete says. “I d-didn’t think you would be here tonight! What, uh, can we do for you?”
Jeremy Vice. The youngest Vice boy and by far the ugliest. He walks in, inches shorter than everyone else in the room, his ears too big for his head and his eyes wide-set. If it weren’t for the suit, I would think him an inbred escapee from the swamps of the rural South. He’s flanked by two bruisers, but they don’t introduce themselves. They stand back as Jeremy walks by with his arms wide.
“Ah, Pierce,” he says, looking directly at me. “My father did say you would be at the docks tonight. What a pleasant surprise.” Despite his appearance he’s quite articulate. I’ve known him his entire life—he can be clever at times, but slow on the uptake. Jeremy’s gaze falls onto the kid. “What’s he still doing alive? Haven’t you gotten him to talk?”
“He’s a mole,” Brisko chimes in. “Pierce got him to talk. Just like Big Man Vice said.”
“If that’s the case, why is he still alive? Shoot him.”
Both Pete and Brisko turn to me. Their gesture isn’t lost on Jeremy. The Vice boy cocks his head to the side and lifts an eyebrow.
“Is something wrong, Pierce?”
I take a drag on my cigarette to give myself time. What the fuck was I thinking? How’d I even get into this situation? I just couldn’t stand the thought of watching the kid get killed in front of me. He’s got a lot of moxie… or maybe I’ve just gotten soft.
“We can use this kid to our advantage,” I say, exhaling a line of smoke.
Jeremy narrows his eyes. “How so?”
“He’s in good with the cops, right? We get him to feed them false information. Or, better yet, we give them the Cobras’ information. If the cops are raiding them nonstop, we’ll have the advantage.”
Like dingbats, Pete and Brisko nod along with everything I say. I bet they didn’t even listen to my words, but their immediate agreement seems to influence Jeremy. He’s young—just like the kid in the chair—only twenty and still new to the biz. My plan is pretty risky. I doubt Jeremy’s father would take a liking to it, but the Vice boy might not think things through.
“Interesting proposal,” he says. “But how will we make sure he won’t turn on us? He’s already proven untrustworthy. The risk might not be worth the reward.”
He’s not as stupid as I pegged him. I throw down my cigarette and crush it under the heel of my shoe. “Leave the kid to me. I’ll get him to agree, or I’ll silence him myself.”
That quells his doubt. I’m glad my reputation still gives me pull, but I already regret my statement.
Jeremy snaps his fingers. “Brisko, get this piece of trash to Pierce’s car. We don’t have all night.”
“On it, boss.”
Brisko, rough and uncaring, pulls the kid from his restraints and effortlessly slings him over his shoulders. He exits the warehouse with quick steps, no doubt trying to please Jeremy. Someone is going to inherit the Vice family holdings, and Jeremy’s other two siblings have expressed little interest. Jeremy might one day be the man in charge, and everyone keeps that in the back of their mind, whether they like to admit it or not.
I amble after. Jeremy holds out a hand and takes my arm. I stop.
“Pierce,” he says, his tone serious. “I have things I need to discuss with you.”
“What is it?”
“Not here. I need you to come to my office. Maybe sometime next week? Monday afternoon, perhaps? My father always trusts you with his difficult business. I think I might have some difficult business all my own, and I need someone I can trust.”
“I’ll be there.” I attempt to leave, but he doesn’t release his grip on my arm. I narrow my eyes down at him.
“I can trust you, right? I’m not asking as my father, but as me.”
“I serve the Vice family,” is all I reply. Is Jeremy trying to say I should be more loyal to him than his father? I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out. Jeremy might be getting in over his head if he thinks he can usurp Big Man Vice.
He releases me and I continue to my car. It’s nothing fancy—a 1980s Ford Thunderbird Town Landau painted a dark red—and she’s scuffed and dinged in more ways than one. I catch Brisko yanking open the trunk and unceremoniously tossing the kid’s limp body inside.
“What’re you doing?” I ask.
“Puttin’ him in,” Brisko replies.
“You’re gonna get blood everywhere. Next time use a tarp, for fuck’s sake.”
The lummox gives me a quick nod. I shove past him and get into my vehicle. He slams the trunk shut, and I ignite the engine. I can’t get out of here fast enough—I almost peel out as I smash down on the gas pedal. The quiet of the docks is only broken by the hum of my car turning toward the exit.
I zip out once the gates automatically open, taking to the streets of Noimore at full speed. The glassy surface of Lake Michigan reflects the moon and city lights, but I’ve seen them a million times before. Chicago’s brilliance shines in the distance, but I keep my eyes locked onto the road.
I zoom by a few cars, careful to avoid the known beats of certain cops. The driving calms my nerves. I can feel myself relaxing the longer I go. Damn kid got me riled. Living on the streets… it’s a “kill or be killed” kind of place. What am I going to gain from helping some urchin? Nothing. Nothing at all.
Once the bridge comes into sight, I steer my vehicle down the maintenance road that runs near the water’s edge. The gate is busted—it’s been busted for years—and I park by the cement support beam, just out of sight from the road. The graffiti and trash mark the place as a hoodlum den. A perfect place to dump bodies.
With a heavy sigh I get out of my car. My best course of action is to throw the kid into the river and tell Jeremy I couldn’t make it work. Simple. Easy. No hassle. Anything else will only lead to trouble.
I place my hand on the trunk handle and hesitate. If I’m lucky the kid will already be dead. He probably is dead, after the beating he got. Against my better sense, I open the trunk. The kid is curled up near the back, his blood staining everything from the tire iron to the car jack. I squint through the darkness, cursing my poor eyesight, but it doesn’t take me long to see the kid is still breathing.
Damn. The kid’s resilient. I should’ve known… the way he held out against Pete and Brisko… I’ve seen others break under less.
But I have a gun. I could shoot him and be done with it. Then again, I lied to Jeremy Vice simply to save him. Why waste my efforts? Exhaling, I shut the trunk and get back into the driver’s seat.
I’ll take him to my flat, let him rest up, give him some money, and tell him to blow town. Everyone wins and I don’t have to deal with any more trouble.
Of course… nothing ever works out like I plan. Not much I can do about it now, though.