I held her. I wanted to comfort her, and, selfishly, I wanted her quiet. While she shook with sobs in my arms my mind raced.
We weren’t going to be getting out this room except through that door. They’d likely notice one of their number was missing soon, and if not, I doubted they’d come with a small force. I’d long past the time where they underestimated me. No longer was I just a short skinny girl that could be easily overpowered. They saw me for what I was.
I glanced at the corpse that was slumped next to us, and it focused me.
Weapons? We now had a single hand-gun. Ammunition? I broke off from the embrace with Beth, trusting her to keep her sobbing quiet, and knelt by the body. The guy was wearing a thick, if worn, coat over a military-style vest with pouches down the front. For a moment I considered taking the coat – we’d no doubt have to go outside, and I was thoroughly fed up of being cold.
But it was far too large; it’d get in the way of fighting.
Pockets. I pulled out a small knife, more a tool than a weapon, a compact mobile locked with a password, and three heavy magazines for the pistol. Beth held out her hands for them and I relinquished them to her without argument.
Not much, overall.
I scanned the room once again. There had to be something we could use to give us an edge. There was a stout cupboard built into the wall. Doubt a mop make a good weapon. Not sure the shaft would have the heft to cause much damage.
Still, I crept to it and swung the door open.
Cleaning supplies. Could you make explosives from household cleaners? I was sure I’d read somewhere that it was possible, but I doubted it was a quick process.
I could throw bleach at their faces and eyes, blind the enemy – felt like it wasn’t going to be as easy as it sounded though. Probably just as likely to blind myself. Note to self, add safety goggles onto my shopping list.
What about gas?
Bleach, acid… everyone knew that was a bad combination. I pulled out the bottles and started scanning the labels looking for the bright square warning labels.
Yo-Duck. I love you and you’re stupid cartoony face. But mainly I love that your creators were liberal in their hydrochloric acid content.
“Alex?” Beth’s whisper made me jump. She didn’t question my actions, as I sat surrounded in brightly coloured bottles.
She brought my focus back to the here-and-now, and the voices that were drifting through the doorway to our little stronghold, or prison. An argument, and not one meant to be quiet. They knew we were here. They knew we were trapped.
Beth knelt at the corner of the wall dividing the room and lay out the three extra magazines in front of her. She slowly pulled back the slide on the pistol until there was a muted click and the hammer stayed back.
Gas was a dumb idea anyway, the windows didn’t more than an inch. We could try breath in the fresh air through the crack but it would be so uncontrolled, besides I doubted I could produce enough chlorine gas to do enough damage.
“I take it my man is dead.” A voice echoed through the showers. It took me a moment to place.
Huh. Why’d be here in person? Surely he knew it would be exposing himself. We’d shown ourselves capable in a fight, if nothing else over this last month of harrying his men.
I was unsure of with what to reply, not enough context to make an informed decision. Is this a “Mike’s dead, I’ve come to finish you off” gloat?” Without information I’ve no idea what I’ll be giving away if I speak.
So I let him do the talking. “Who’s in there? I’m just here to talk. Something in both our interests, I hope. Mike, are you there?”
Well, one thing I didn’t want them to know was Beth’s presence.
“I am here.” I said. Not answering about Mike. He’s not here. Could be on his way. Do I say that? Had they finished searching the house? Wouldn’t be giving anything away, would be letting them know friends could be charging in the door any moment.
I was locked into this conversation, might as well try and keep it going so I can work out an exit strategy. Or at least produce myself some kind of chemical grenade, if it was a last-ditch option. As I pull the lid off one of the containers and start pouring the contents down one of the rusted drains running along the wall I shout a reply, “He’s dead. Didn’t much seem he wanted to talk.”
“Hmm. Well, I apologise for his conduct. I expressly informed my people not to fight back unless provoked. If he attacked you, I’m disappointed.” There was a muted discussion. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Beth taking position at the corner of our little partition and take aim at the door. Her eyes were cold, looking down the barrel of the stubby black pistol.
I hadn’t seen her like that before.
“Didn’t give him much of a chance to attack.” I said, for lack of anything better, my mind running over what Victor had said. There must be some motivation for him to come here, some kind of explanation. “People don’t usually break in to my place and sneak around with guns out when they fell like a chat” I called back.
There was a short silence before the reply. “Yes. Well. I guessed you wouldn’t think you’d think much of a phone call.”
“Phone can’t shoot me.” I grumbled to myself.
What tactic was he pulling here? How’d this stupid conversation get him anything?
“Look, Alex was it?” His voice dropped the slickness it shared with Mike and took a more tired sound. “I’m here to make a compromise. I’m here to make you an offer.”
My bottle – soon to be grenade – had emptied and I’d half filled it with Go-Duck. I didn’t reply.
“I respect you. Okay, I don’t understand your ideals, but I respect them. And you’ve shown me and my men, on many occasions, that we are no match, on a small scale at least, for you and your friends. I can keep fighting you. We can tear chunks off each other until one of us rolls over and dies. Where would it get us? We’d both suffer and neither of us would get any nearer our goals. Take down my gang and ten more spring up to take its place. And me, I’ve got many other more… conventional threats a person in my position faces.
“You’ve changed the paradigm here. You’re not fighting for competition. You’re not fighting on our level; you’re fighting against the level as a whole. I’ve wasted more resources trying to corner, defeat and outwit you than I have on almost all the other gangs that push into my territory. I’ve lost more men, more assets, than in any other rivalry.”
Now he sounds frustrated. Even given our disadvantaged position, I feel a spike of glee at being told by my enemy I was a pain in the ass.
“So,” I say, slowly. “You’re saying I’m doing a great job. You certainly aren’t doing a good job of persuading me to stop.”
“I’ve not come to persuade you to stop, per se, but to… re-direct you. My Kolmek are the largest gang in Montreal. Even after losing territory and men after… complications caused over the last few months by your little outfit we have double the territory and man power of the Four-Fingers, the Howels, or any of the big names on the island.”
I was ready to add the bleach, shove the stopper on, and throw this thing through the doorway. I hesitated though. I couldn’t shake the vision of it fizzling out anti-climatically, for us to burst out into some angry men with itchy eyes. And trigger fingers.
Maybe talking wasn’t so bad. Victor had caught my interest, if nothing else.
“I’m listening.” And holding off on the chlorine. For now. “You’re big and scary. And I’m a pain in your ass.”
Victor cleared his throat, the echo distorting the sound, before continuing. “I’m willing to… give, or loan, you a portion of my territory.”
Beth glanced sideways at me, eyebrow raised. Victor was willing to give up some of his precious territory? Land, and the rights for the custom, both of drugs and ‘protection’ money were the lifeblood of the gangs.
The silence stretched out.
“On what terms?” I asked. There must be one hell of a catch.
“Cease of hostilities.” He said.
“That’s all?” I asked. “You give up a source of income and I just have to leave you alone? Why not just kill me right now?”
Why the hell did I say that out-loud?
“A number of reasons. I’ve tried to kill you before, in circumstances much more in my favour than this and failed. You’re a slippery fucker. I’ve no idea what you’ve got down there. For all I know you’ve got your finger on the detonator for a few tonnes of explosives wired into this building, or somehow got your hands on some fucking micro-nuclear warheads. I wouldn’t put it past you fuckers.” There was a pause, just long enough to take a breath. I glanced down at my only weapon, the cartoon label peeling off slightly. I was glad he was giving me so much credit. “The problem with people as naïve as you is you go and try do the right thing, even if it’s against your own interests. That makes you very difficult to deal with in situations like this…
“Second. I’ve got a number of political and supply issues, partly caused by your actions, partly more conventional competition. Consolidating the regions I manage will give me a lot more men to work with. There’s less tied in with the little jobs and I can utilise them for more long-term goals.
Strangely enough, it could probably work out quite well. You’ll want to start with areas that have less of my customers. They’re worth less to me. You can have a go at your little utopia in peace.”
“Utopia?” I glance at Beth again, but she’s focused on watching the door.
“Presumably you’ve thought about what you wanted to actually do if you ever ‘won’ against me haven’t you?” He scoffs. “A world without gangs, something’s going to have to fill the void.”
Mike had talked about this. I guess simply a place where you weren’t likely to get killed for insulting the wrong person is a Utopia for people like Victor.
“Okay, I get some space, your bruisers move out, we all behave and respect those boundaries, what then? It’s not stable.”
“I firmly believe it isn’t. See, I’m willing to make this offer because I think you’re going to fail, Alex. It’s not going to work. But it’s great for me. You put all your effort into this little project and leave me alone. Without your pressure, your angry stings being re-directed on other targets, and all my competitors focusing on the easy prey of the new kid on the block… By the very nature your new territory would be bordering on mine. But with our agreement in place, I can expect no problems from you. You’re my buffer state. A whole border I don’t need to worry about.”
“Until our agreement fails.” It’s naïve to think it wouldn’t.
“Well, you’d have plenty of other gangs to target. If you succeed in your endeavours you can expand one direction. We can expand the other. There’s plenty of space on this Island, and we’d both do better for not having to worry about each other. When it fails, it fails. I for one would expect you’ll manage failing all by yourself. All I’ll have to do is deal with whatever gang gets the better of you. If you don’t fail, well… We can deal with the ‘ifs’ of the future when we come to them.”
It did kind of make sense, in a convoluted way. But what did it mean for me? If I accepted this I’d have to stop fighting. Or at least, to watch his people spew poison into my city and drip feed it that shit to the poor in exchange for their futures. How many people would I be letting die at the hands of his gang? Is that something I could accept?
But, comparing it to the alternative… He’s right, all I’ve been doing so far is stinging the gangs. However many men I kill, deals I bust, drugs I burn, there’s always going to be more unless we deal with them in a more structured way.
He’s right, we need actual territory if we’re going to make any real difference here.
We could fight tooth and nail to take the Kolmek down, kill Victor and whoever’s insane enough to take his place and keep going down the hierarchy of motherfuckers until the gang is so fractured it implodes, but that’s just the start. Once that happens we’d have to face off those who push inwards to pluck at the spoils. Every gang in the city would come in-force to try pick at the free territory and we’d be left dealing with an unholy mess of Kolmek splinter-groups and new-blood trying to carve out our own place.
It would be a bloody mess.
Or we I could say yes here, Victor would leave and me and Beth would live through this day – and we’d have something to build on.
“Beth?” I whisper. Was I wrong for even considering it?
“Does it matter what he says?” She hisses back. “Just say yes, and let’s get the fuck out of here.”
Can’t just say yes. No one would just say yes.
“What blocks?” I say.
“Dorval is out of the question,” I was expecting that, he had a little compound on Doval Island. “I was thinking a nice strip along Boulevard des Sources. Say Perrefonds to Roger Pilon?”
Right next to the Roxboro gang. Not ideal, those were pretty tough fuckers, and it was far beyond our normal range of operations.
“Too far. Too north. How about the Beacons?” Near the old space-port, bordering on Kirlkand where our hideout was. Mostly old industrious areas that supported the space-port that went to shit when it was shut down. More importantly, that’s where Jack’s Dad’s shop was.
“No way, that area is too stable. Half my incentive is to have you as a buffer between me and my competition.”
“The other half is to have me not kill all your men. And this area isn’t such a big loss to you, less customers.” To use your language.
Silence. Good or bad?
“You’re asking me to stand by and watch you sell poison to people for everything they have. To do nothing about it. For that give me the Beacons.”
“I find it curious,” he says, casually, “that you find yourself allied with my brother in these lofty ambitions. Of all people you find on this island to support your cause, Mike?”
It takes me a moment to adjust to the sudden change in subject. “Seems not all people follow their father’s footsteps.” Is all I can manage as a retort.
Victor doesn’t reply immediately. “No. Seems not. Mike was always so much more like grandfather, who did carve his own way through life, I suppose, building our little outfit from nothing.” Beth risks another covert glance to me. “But of the both of us, he was always the meaner. That, he got from our dear late father.
You can have your little district. If you ever set foot in my territory uninvited, or perform any of your little raids against my assets or interests I will consider this little deal null. If not, I think we could co-exist together at least. Besides, I am curious enough to watch you fail.”
We had a deal.
Notes: So. Hello again, those that still check this dusty corner of the internet. Hope you enjoy, things might be a little rusty grammar and… well, everything wise.