Ancient History - Part 4
Heins' punched his desk, knuckles cracking against the metal, denting into it beside his coffee mug, which jumped and splashed with the tremors of the impact. Cursing, Heins drew his hand back and shook the pain from his digits. The coffee left small red burns on his skin.
"This is fucking ridiculous," he exclaimed, trapping his men with his piercing stare from behind the tinted glasses. "I want to know who these guys are, where they're operating from and how they're managing to run us into the ground in less than a month."
"Sales aren't that bad," one man said, looking down at his datapad, scrolling over numbers with his stylus. "Weapons traffic is down but drug sales are still within a reasonable margin. If we pull more funds away from prostitution and weaponry and pool it into illegal and controlled substances then we can corner the market before the competition has a chance."
A bullet split through his left eye and splashed out the back of his head. The man hit the ground with a plop and laid there only a second before two strong men picked him up and carried him out.
Heins turned to the others, smoking gun still in his hand. "I don't need any of you assholes to tell me how to run my business. What I pay you for is to answer my questions. Let me repeat myself for those of you who seem to misunderstand me: what the fuck is going on?"
There was a hesitant hush over the gathered men before another chose to speak. "I'm not sure what's going on, Boss. I talked with a guy used to work down on 117th with some of the Steinburg men. They haven't noticed anything out of the usual. Looks like these new guys are targeting us only. Maybe we pissed someone off? I mean, why would they come after us and not anyone else?"
"We keep to our lines--they keep to theirs. This isn't retaliation, it's a take over." Heins put the gun on the table, relaxing the crowd slightly. "Someone get me Steinburg. Fat-ass probably knows something. The way he's been pressing in, I wouldn't be surprised if he's part of it."
"Don't waste your time."
The crowd turned, for the first time noticing James sitting on his corner desk, arms crossed over his chest, listening in with interest. Heins picked his gun back up and cocked it.
James looked at him, undaunted. "Frank just told you he told someone affiliated with Steinburge that we're under attack from a rival syndicate. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Steinburg has more to gain sitting back and watching you go under than he does helping you in any way and since he probably already knows what's going on, I wouldn't be surprised if he isn't already trying to help the ones trying to take you down. Anything you get from him will probably just be means to trap you. You're asking for trouble if you open up communication with a probable conspirator."
Heins pulled the trigger. Frank fell dead to the floor. Two men carried his corpse out of the room.
"You think Steinburg is involved, then?" Heins asked, stepping closer.
James shook his head. "No. He may not be affiliated in any way whatsoever. But if I were him, I'd be very interested in learning more about our rivals than in ways to support us. It's a wasted effort to ask and makes us look scared or weak."
Heins nodded, ignoring the other men who it seemed had all but pissed their pants. "You're supposed to be my strategist. What do you think?"
"I think the first man you shot had it right: we need to consolidate." James kept an eye out for any signs that the gun might be raised again in his direction. Heins made no movement other than to stand within arms grasp and listen. "You've got a lot of men doing a lot of things covering a lot of ground. Either cash out and retire, leaving someone else to sink or swim against the new threat, or pull your branches in and pool our efforts in one direction. Not drugs, though, like the dead guy said. Weapons."
"Because they're more lucrative."
Heins laughed. "More lucrative than drugs? Check the stats, James. I don't remember the last time I heard a junky bartering for another hit of hand gun."
"No, but people don't buy drugs because their neighbors have them either. You sell drugs to a demographic; you sell weapons to a population. If the bad guys have guns, the good guys want them, too, for protection. The more heavily armed one side is, the more the other side tries to keep up. No one else specializes in weaponry--"
"Because weapons are easily traced. They're bulky, you can't sell them straight off the streets--the market is non-existent. We sell weaponry because we've got enough bulk ammunition here that we can spare a bit. Its house cleaning, not business."
James cautiously shook his head. Disagreeing with Heins, especially when he was this pissed, was never safe. "You know you've got men on the dock stealing the drugs we sell to feed their own habits. Like you said, there's no junky out there who absolutely needs a rifle in his hands. We'd spend less money keeping our inventory in check and a heavily armed syndicate carries a lot more street creditability than a doped up one. If you want power and prestige, you go with weaponry."
Heins looked at him for a second then put his hand to Jamesís head, his palm hitting his cheek hard enough to bruise, though he smiled and ruffled his hair. "Sometimes you can be a real fucking douche, James. But you're a thinker and you've got balls to go with those brains." He pushed his head away, the force of it nearly shoving James from his seat on his desk to the floor. "I'll think about it. The rest of you cocksuckers get back to work. Nobody says anything to anybody. Seems you're worthless for anything other than fucking up the invoices so just fucking go."
Quietly, the other men filed out of the room, heads lowered like chastised children, not quite stumbling over each other in their hurry to leave, but hardly disguising their fear of Heins. James watched them with interest, listening to the grunts and sighs close by as Heins sat at his desk.
"Worthless pieces of shit," the older man muttered, taking a bottle of liquor out of his desk drawer and sniffing the bottle for signs of poison before pouring himself a glass. James watched the amber liquid fill the transparent cup, entranced by its movement. Heins downed the drink in one gulp then poured himself another to sip on. "Want one?" he offered.
James declined. "Can I ask you something?"
Heins nodded, his second glass perched at his lips.
"Do you sleep with all your whores or was my mother just a special case?"
Even with his eyes hidden behind the dark frames of his glasses, the deep wrinkles that suddenly gathered across Hein's brow made his displeasure evident. "A whore's a whore and a manager is still a man. Nothing wrong with a little free action. Your age, I'm surprised you haven't taken any liberties with the staff. You're a cute kid--couple of them like you I'm sure. A bitch who knows what she's doing is better than any preppy ass virgin you'll find at school."
James shrugged. "Probably. You surprise me, though. Not many men would be stupid enough to fuck a prostitute without protection. Or did the condom just break?"
Heins laughed, though the sound was not pleasant. "I see where this is going. I'd expect better from you. Yeah, I fucked your mom, but so did hundreds of other guys."
"And if it had been just any John off the street, she'd have aborted us. What kind of prostitute ruins her body by having kids when her body is her only means to support herself?"
"A stupid one," Heins admitted, clearing his throat. "Whatever you think your suspicions are worth, forget it."
"After today, I fully plan to. I'm a little disappointed my own father doesn't know my name, though."
Heins let his head back with a hardy laugh, the alcohol already making him more tolerable. He coughed and cleared his throat again. "Everyone knows your fucking name, kid; James Julian Maxwell."
James shook his head. "A common mistake. Even our mother couldn't tell us apart, though, so I suppose I should be a little more lenient on a piss poor parent like you."
"What the fuck are you talking about?" Heins's brows were furrowed again, though, and his smile had retreated. "You're James Maxwell. Look it up in the public database if you don't believe me, but it is your fucking name. Christ, you're supposed to be smart, aren't ya?" He coughed twice more.
"Oh, I am. Very smart." James smiled and walked across to Heins's desk, "Smart enough to figure out you were our father years ago. Smart enough to convince my twin brother to leap off the roof of our building so he could ask god in person to save our mother. Smart enough to choose his name over mine and get in with you before she died. Smart enough to work my way into the upper office here. Smart enough to invent a phantom syndicate to scare the piss out of you and smart enough to put the poison on the glass and not in your liquor bottle."
Heins stared at him through his tinted lenses. James lifted the bottle and refilled the poisoned cup.
"Let's drink to my future, shall we? To the new head of the syndicate." He smiled and poured a shot down his throat from the bottle. It burned all the way down but gave off a pleasant heat. He pushed the gun off the table as he caught sight of Heins's intent. The revolver spun around on the floor as its owner coughed, blood sprinkling the desk as it spat from his lips with his last word.
James smiled serenely at a name he hadn't been called in years. He reached across at the convulsing man and pulled the glasses from his face. Two red, piercing eyes stared back at him before forever losing the light of life within them.
Ashe waited at the bus stop. James was late but he expected him to be. He pondered for a moment if someone could technically be late if the one waiting didn't intend to see them on time in the first place, but found the train of thought boring after only a few seconds. He busied himself learning the tram lines and bus routes for the area by inspecting the sign posted in the sheltered bus stop. The many-colored, intersecting lines were an interesting knot he took satisfaction in unraveling.
That was how James found him: intently staring at the route poster with his nose only inches from the protecting glass.
Ashe nodded, committing the A-7 route to memory before turning to his companion. "No one suspects?"
James shook his head. "It's obviously the work of the rival gang. They must have someone working on the inside. I, of course, have vowed to eliminate them from our territory to avenge our boss. Heins would have wanted me to take over for him."
"Shall I circulate a new rumor then, sir?"
"Not immediately. News of Heins's death needs time to get around. Then we hit them with my devastating the one time threat."
Ashe nodded again, making an unnecessary mental note. "I'll be sure the story is equal parts outstanding and believable, sir. I must insist we get back as soon as possible at this time, though. The student government wishes to make a tentative schedule for the years activities and it needs its president in attendance."
James sighed and stretched, the bones in his back popping as they relieved his stress. "Don't suppose I could take a day off for personal reasons?"
"I could inquire. It's not every day a man kills his father. I'm sure the process is rather exhausting." His voice carried a slightly condescending tone he hadn't quite intended.
"You're the one who got me the poison. That makes you an accessory, so don't even think of ratting me out."
Ashe blinked at him and cocked his head to the side. "I have no intention of mentioning it again after today. We have the future to look to, Mr. Maxwell. I'm certain this will be the least of our sins."
James laughed, but his face was dark and hollow in the eyes. A bus pulled up and they climbed onboard, sitting on a shared bench. The city passed by through the windows, but neither bothered to look at the sights outside. The future lay ahead of them: everything else was simply a distraction.