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Untamed Fury III - The Consequences of Stupidity

Chapter 1 – Jake’s Arrest

 

July 2011

            Tyler Graveline, chief of the Pendleton PD, still had me cuffed as the FBI took Jake away.  I stood on the other side of a free-standing three-car garage and turn-about driveway, over near the barn.  Even there, the heat from my burning house kept a layer of moisture on my face.  I was headed to jail for killing some people and apparently aiding and abetting Jake.  Don’t get me wrong, anyone I killed, surely deserved it.  But there’s always an army of water-headed lawyers that is super eager to make excuses for and to defend any and all the murderous dirtbag thugs.  Even the ones killed in the process of committing their dirtbaggery.  It’s why the devil created the ACLU.

            Skylar, my girlfriend, Ainsley, the investigative reporter, and Samantha, the former sex-slave, had gotten away before the feds arrived to arrest Jake.  Tyler, the chief, let them go but couldn’t do anything to protect Jake from them.  Even though he knew dang well the feds were dead set against allowing Jake to continue breathing any longer than they needed him, Tyler couldn’t protect Jake.  Jake understood and told him not to worry about it.  He went with the feds without a fight.

            Were it not for Jake and what he knew, the FBI would be free and clear of much of the national suspicion over their actions that led to the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995.  Not only did the government allow it to happen, but some in the government also ran the coverup to protect those who really were behind it and the reasons they allowed it to happen.

            It wasn’t just our old high school hockey buddy Timmy McVeigh that was due some justice.  There was a whole other story that the feds had spent the last decade and a half working to cover up by any means necessary.

            That didn’t matter much at that moment.  I was more concerned about my own predicament and what I had to do to save Jake from his imminent execution.  The feds were never going to allow him to see the light of a courtroom.  No Habeas Corpus for Jake Chambliss.  Their job was to make sure he never made it to court by making sure no one would ever find his body.  

My situation was probably as bad as any I’d ever had.  My buddy Casey had been shot up.  I left him with the mafia-wannabe Gino Esposito.  Gino was the same guy who raped my girlfriend Skylar and broke her arm when she was a teenager.  Jake had saved Gino’s life after Gino had been shot a couple of times earlier that night.  Gino brought a limo load of muscled-up Tommy-gun-slinging neophytes to a battle with the Mexican cartel.  They were all dead, and Gino was almost dead – or not dead yet, as Jake liked to phrase it.  Since the limo had escaped the scene of the crime, Gino rode home with us.  Jake saved him.  It’s what he does, unless he wants you dead, of course.  Skylar was sure to want to have a word with him about that, though.  No one wanted Gino dead more than Skylar.

After we foiled their plans six months earlier, the cartel had regrouped to take another shot at breaking into the criminal rackets of Western New York.  We’d discovered that the two feds who’d been chasing Jake for the previous fifteen years were working with the Mexican cartel and with the long-time Congressman Porter Nichols out of Buffalo.  Yes, the billionaire heir of the Nicholed Steel Corporation and fortune was working with the cartel.  Apparently for some, no amount of money is ever enough.  To prove his loyalty, the congressman was even forced to kill Bennett Glazebrook in cold blood.  Jake saw it happen.  The feds witnessed it too.  They didn’t say boo and then left with the congressman before the real action began.

Once the feds had custody of Jake Chambliss, there was nothing keeping the Mexicans from coming after the money my dead brother had made when the Mexicans were laundering money through the family bar.  They forced my brother to launder it, but to this day, I’m still not sure how it all started at the beginning.  My twin brother was dead, and since he was killed along with my wife, I’ll never get to hear his side of the story. 

At the time he was killed, he was pretending to be me.  We were playing our stupid annual life-switch game – you know, because we were twins and wanted to prove we could still do it.  Stupid, I know.  But that’s what twins do.  If you don’t have an identical twin, don’t even think about trying to culturally appropriate our little stupid game.  You’ll never pull it off.  We were good at it.  We’d been practicing since we were kids.  Every year, at least once, whether we wanted to do it or not.  We were adhering to our boyhood pact.

I’d love nothing more than to give the money back to the cartel, but it had just gone up in flames when they burnt down my house.  Didn’t matter to Senor Ortega though.  To boast about his reach from whatever fortified Mexican drug lord’s castle he resided in, he sent an FBI agent to give me the message.  Not one of the rogue FBI agents working off the books to erase Jake from the face of the earth.  No.  An actual one with legitimate credentials.  As far as I knew.  Nothing proves that no place is safe better than turning FBI agents into cartel-errand boys.  The tentacles of “justice” no longer have anything to do with ethics, morality or truth.

This was the real question.  Had the cartel already turned our government into a willing facilitator for its trafficking of drugs, humans, child sex slaves and whatever else couldn’t pass through a border checkpoint?  It was a legitimate question.  Consider for a second the hypothetical situation where our whole government was already on the cartels’ payrolls.  Would our government be doing anything different with border security than they already do?  I know, it’s a trick question.  The government isn’t doing anything useful for border security.  Unless of course, you consider our government’s ongoing protection of those in charge of trafficking and coming over the border.  Our own government would arrest a US citizen for defending his land and property near our border before it would actually arrest anyone invading it.  Think about that.  Sure, they might tag the invaders on the way in, but that was just so they could find them later and sign them up to vote for the party of big government.  The open border plan was nothing more than a vote-harvesting program to make up for all the voters they killed off in the womb.  It was beginning to make all the sense in the world, but I was still having trouble accepting it.  How far America had fallen…

            So yeah, with Jake gone, I was up a creek heading for a waterfall without a paddle and my hands cuffed together.  Unexpectedly, my old high school football teammate and honorable-as-all-heck buddy and Police Chief Tyler Graveline undid my cuffs and gave me back my stuff.  While I didn’t see that happening, it did.

            “I don’t know what you’re gonna do,” Tyler said, “but I am not going to be the one to stop you.”

            “I’m not under arrest?”  Didn’t mean to try and argue my way out of freedom, but some questions need to be asked.

            “For what?” he asked, “Nothing happened in my jurisdiction, and there are no warrants or BOLOs.  What would I hold you on?”

            “I don’t know…”

            “Shut up and don’t incriminate yourself,” he said.  It was good to know that some cops still understood the difference between good and evil.

            I fired up my phone to call Skylar but remembered her phone was still on the fritz after she took it for a swim in the sink at the bar the other night.  Figured I’d call Sam or Ainsley when I discovered I had Jake’s phone.  “This is Jake’s phone.  Do you have mine?”

            “Oh, sorry,” he said, “I must have given the feds yours.  Sorry about that.  I can call them back here if you’d like?”

            “No, don’t.” I almost told him it was great news, but I didn’t.  “Don’t sweat it.”  I plugged in Jake’s password.  I knew it because it was the number my quarterback brother in high school used to call out when he wanted me to play the decoy before he threw the ball to Jake in the endzone.  Jake would get the touchdown, and I would wonder again why my brother threw the ball to Jake more than to his own twin brother.  Jake told me the password just to rub it in – good times, good times. 

I called Samantha and stepped away from Tyler for some privacy.  Tyler was actually making his way toward the firemen who were focused on my burning house.  

            “Jake?!” she answered on the first ring.

            “No, it’s me, Cash.  Tyler accidentally gave the feds my phone instead of Jake’s”

            “That’s great news,” she said.

            “Why?  Is Skylar’s phone working again?  She can get my location?”

            “Forget her phone, I can get your location.”

            “How do you get it?”  I couldn’t help wondering.

            “You’re my boss.  I always want to know where you are.”  My honest bartender.

            “When did you give yourself permission?”

            “Forget that.  Let me go.”  She hung up on me.  Figured it had to do with needing her phone to locate Jake.  As we’d found out earlier that day, she wasn’t only an undercover agent working to destroy a sex-slave cult.  She was also an electronics genius.  Her whole life as a sex slave at the Indian casino was a cover for what she was really doing.

            I wanted to ask Tyler if I was free to go, but he was too far away.  Assuming I was, I got in my truck and headed for the bar.  There’s nothing I could do about my burning house.  I needed to save Jake.  He would have done it for me.  That’s for sure.


 

Chapter 2 – Jake Tweeks the Feds

           

Jake’s hands were cuffed behind his back as he was being driven away from Cash’s farm.  The two FBI agents in front of him were quiet.  The one in the passenger’s seat was moving around a bit, checking things and monitoring the radio, but no talking.  They seemed a little too comfortable.  Either that, or they were hiding their nervousness.  They had to know what they were getting into.  This wasn’t a normal arrest.  Couldn’t be.  Jake knew he was heading for a dirt nap if he didn’t figure out how to get free.  Most perps think they’re heading for a cot and some lukewarm flavorless meals.

            He figured they’d take him to Buffalo but wasn’t surprised when they made a turn towards Niagara Falls.  Easier to make people disappear in the Falls, and why should he think he was heading to the FBI field office when the FBI would have to be kept in the dark about what they’d been cooking up?  He was pretty sure he was being brought to Agents Sam Simon and Bob Dillard for their final sacramental ceremony to launch their long-awaited retirements – killing Jake Chambliss.  It’s what they lived for.  Only thing was, Jake knew they’d go after his friends too.  They proved that in the last couple of days.  No one was safe, as long as anyone knew the truth.

            That reason alone made living a necessity.  Live at any costs.  There was no longer any moral code.  Sparing the lives of federal officers was no longer a luxury Jake could afford.  Death penalty or not, Jake had to live.  Otherwise, his friends were going to die.  The proverbial crevice between the rock and the hard place.

            “Excuse me, ma’am, my cuffs are a bit tight.”  Jake loved making fun of his enemies by cluing them into the fact that he considered them girlish and feminine.  Did it all the time.  It might seem childish, but it worked.  Just about every time.  Either they didn’t like him making fun of them or they’d be savagely offended at how politically incorrect he was being.

            “Shut up Chambliss.”  The guy in the passenger seat sat up to turn around and make sure Jake was still secured.

            “Where we going?”

            “I said shut up.”

            “You can’t tell me where you’re taking me?”

            “To see some old friends.”

            “Oh, goodie,” Jake said, “I love old friends.  How about taking these cuffs off?  I wouldn’t want them to see me like this.”

            “Shut up, wouldja?”

            “I would, but I’m just too excited to see old friends.  Who is it?”  Jake was hamming it up.

            “Two guesses.”

            “Your mom and your mom?  Heh heh heh.”

            “No $#!+bird.”

            “Just as well, they’re too fat for me,” Jake loved making fun of his enemies’ moms.  Not only did it remind them they weren’t always scum on the path to hell, but also that there might actually still be a little bit of humanity left inside of them.  That didn’t mean Jake was more likely to spare them.  It just served to soften their hardened front.  Either that, or it fired them up and made them jumpy.  More likely to make mistakes.  Jake was trained to inspire his enemies into mistakes.  Victory was all about capitalizing on your enemies’ mistakes.  Emotional dirtbags become easily defeatable dirtbags, even when his enemies were supposed to be law enforcement officials.  The badge might look shiny, but it didn’t blind Jake to the fact that they’d sacrificed their integrity with the first payoff that inevitably led to more.  At that moment, they were officially bought-and-paid-for and completely unaccountable to all that is good and holy.  Jake refused to be held responsible for their making themselves his enemy.  That’s what they were.  His enemies.

            “Will you shut the hell up?”

            “That reminds me of that old polka song,” Jake started to sing, “I don’t want her, you can have her, she’s too fat for me.  She’s too fat for me.  I don’t want her…”

            The guy in the passenger seat lifted his gun and pointed it at Jake’s head, “Shut up.”  He spoke the words slowly and deliberately to pretend he had more power than he did.

            “Take it you guys aren’t Polish,” Jake threw that out there.

            The guy hit Jake’s head with the butt of his gun.

            “Aren’t very professional, are you?”

            “That’s the least of your worries a$$hole.”

            “Why?  You planning on feeding me to your fat moms?”

            The guy turned around and punched Jake in the eye.  Jake smiled, “That kind of hurts.  Do you see my face?”  Jake was still orange, blue and purple from when Kincaid’s boys were pounding on him for most of a day.  “What would your bosses say about you punching a guy in cuffs?  Oh wait, your boss is Ortega.”

            “That’s Senor Ortega,” the passenger made sure Jake knew where his loyalties lay.  Jake had heard that nonsense before.

            “Yeah sure.  Maybe Senorita Ortega.  Where I come from, real men fight their own battles.  They don’t get some third-rate Feeb stooges to do it.”

            “You better hope he never hears you say that.”

            “What?  That you’re third-rate… or that you’re stooges?  Probably doesn’t matter, what’s she going to do?  She doesn’t even have the balls to come to America and face me like the bearded lady she is.”

            “Shows how little you know.  Senor Ortega is in flight as we speak.  Turns out all the $#!+ you and your friends just pulled has got his attention.  He’s coming to clean up the mess himself.  You too.”

            “Herself you mean.  You know something, I want to be taken to the FBI field office in Buffalo.”

            “Yeah, you wish.  Where you’re going, ah, shut the hell up.”

            “Make me,” Jake said it as if he were a child defying his parents.  Just to mess with their heads a little more.  Jake had a few rules when dealing with people who want to kill him.  Say anything to throw them off their game, and never do exactly what they expect you to do.  That’s the same as doing what they hope you’ll do.  Doesn’t work.  Gotta screw up their plans.

            As the passenger feeb turned to respond, the driver broke his silence.  “Forget him.  He’s just playing with you, can’t you see that?”

            But that wasn’t what made the passenger feeb’s face explode with fear and light up with a flash of orange.

            Several rounds of gunfire behind Jake were followed with a flash of fire and then an explosion. 

            “Looks like my friends are here,” Jake said with a smile at the feeb in front of him, “You want to uncuff me now, or do you want me to saw off these cuffs with the teeth in your dead rotting skull?”  Always throw them off their game.

            “Shut up Chambliss.”

            “Impressive.  You still remember my name.  That look you got on your face… only ever seen it on those who are about to die.  Looks like your time on this earth is a few fleeting moments long, at best.  Any last words?”  While he was reading the FBI agent his last rites, the black SUV that had just blown up the two agents behind them had pulled up and cut their car off.  Jake’s driver was forced off the road and into a ditch. 

            The SUV backed up, somewhat parallel to the FBI car. It was pointing diagonally downward into the ditch.  The rear window opened, and bullets shattered the passenger’s window of the feeb mobile.  Jake made himself small on the far side of the car.  He got into the fetal position, covering his head and body with his legs held close to his chest.  Unfortunately, he was still cuffed and had to hold his legs as a shield for his body without the help of his arms.  Taking a bullet in the leg is much less deadly.  The bullets kept coming, but the screams were gone.  The men in front of him were dead or had given up on life.  Either way, they had finally shut up. 

            Jake thought about finding out if they were dead yet, but he decided not to waste his energy.  His faux concern was sure to fall on deafened ears.  Besides, whoever had just killed four feds was there for him, and he knew it wasn’t Cash.  He either had a new powerful enemy or a surprise friend with some good explosives.  He was expecting the latter. 

            The rear door of the SUV opened and a chubby and short middle-aged guy in a suit got out with a black handgun.  As his left hand fiddled with the door locks, he put a couple more bullets into the heads of the slouching feds in the front seat.  The sound of a gun going off in the car was deafening.  Just temporarily though.

            As the old guy with a wrinkled suit and thick grey feathered hair leaned into the rear seat where Jake was back to sitting up, Jake noticed he had no eyebrows.  

            “Quit look at my eyebrows, would-ja?  Yeah, I got no brows.”  With a soft voice, he spoke it in a thick wise-guy accent.  The kind you hear at trucker strikes and bail hearings for RICO cases.  “Get in the truck.  I gotta take care of something.”  Jake thought that meant he had to take a leak, but the guy showed Jake a large Molotov cocktail with a stick of dynamite duct-taped to an old gin bottle.  Thank God he had the dynamite wick pointing in the opposite direction of the cocktail’s rag.  That would explain why there was a flash of fire before there was a big explosion when the first car went up.  Start the fire with the Molotov and then blow everything up with the dynamite.  The guy was thorough with his pyrotechnics, even if he only had a poor man’s IED.

            Jake didn’t hesitate to get moving as soon as he’d discovered everything was about to be burnt to a crisp.  Once he’d climbed out of the car with a little help from pyro Pete, the guy said, “Here, hold this.”  He put the dynamite-stick and Molotov cocktail concoction in Jake’s right hand behind his back while he was still cuffed.  “Don’t let it spill.”

            “Course not,” Jake assured him.

            The other guy in the back seat of the SUV had gotten out and opened the rear hatch door.  The explosives expert then helped the other guy drag a dead body out of the rear compartment.  First, they stood him up against the car with the second guy making sure he didn’t fall with an awkward bear hug.  Pyro Pete raided the dead passenger in the car.  He took the guy’s cuffs and put them on the dead body.  Once cuffed, they stashed the body into the back seat where Jake had sat.  They put a few bullet holes in him, just for good measure.  Jake was relieved of Molotov-holding duty.  The cocktail was back in the hands of the explosives expert, and the second guy was running to get back into the other side of the SUV. 

            Jake was about to mention that he was still cuffed and that they should grab the keys, but it was too late.  The Molotov cocktail was already lit.  Jake didn’t need to know any more.  That was his cue to run.  Though it was a little awkward with his arms behind his back, he managed to catch up to the slowly moving SUV.  Apparently, the lighting of the Molotov was their signal to move too.  Jake threw his upper body into the truck and lifted his feet.  The second guy in the SUV pulled him in.

Behind him, the suited explosives specialist was running as fast a short-legged sixty-year-old in a suit could run.  He slammed Jake hard to get him to move to the middle of the back seat and jumped in himself. 

Jake found himself in a nice Cadillac SUV with four middle-aged Italians that was taking off fast, even before the door had closed.  The flash had already happened, and the explosion came just as the guy was closing the door.  With the door closed and the truck fleeing from the scene of four murdered FBI agents, the old guy held out his hand to Jake and said, “I’m Manny.  They call me Molotov.  Molotov Manny.  I’m in charge of fireworks.”  His hand remained in front of Jake unshaken, but Jake figured out why the guy didn’t have eyebrows.

“I’m still cuffed.”

“Oh yeah, sorry ‘bout that.  I was already lit ‘fore I realized you needed the keys.  Wasn’t wise to stick around.  Know what I mean?”  He tried to lift his eyebrows but couldn’t.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Jake said.

“Aeah, don’t worry though.  I got something that will fix you right up.  Back at the shop.  Couple of drips of this.  Put it in those keyholes and badabing, those cuffs will be looser than a fie-dolla hooker.”

“So, Gino sent you?” Jake asked, even though he already knew.

“Yas, Gino.  Your friend and mine.  How’d you know?”

“I saw you at the bar the other night.  Gino’s bar.  Saw all of you.”

“No $#!+, you got one of them there trick memories, that remembers… things?”

“No, nothing like that.  I remember what’s important,” Jake said.

“Oh hey, we’re important.  Hear that guys?”  None of them answered.  “Never mind them.  They don’t want to be up this late.  Me, I hear Gino needs some fireworks, I’ll stay up for days.  Don’t care how long it takes.  You see, I came up with Gino’s pops.  We were tighter than brothers.  On his death bed, he pulled me in and said, ‘Hey.  Manny, take care of my son.  Whatever it takes.’  How was I supposed to say no?  That man had saved my life, covered my back, introduced me to my wife, let me date his sister.  You believe that?  He let me date his sister.  Didn’t work out, but hey, water under the bridge.  Ya know?”

Jake couldn’t believe he was getting a lesson on the history of the Niagara Falls mob.  He stayed quiet and let Manny continue.

“You know what though?  Wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it might be.  At the time, I was thinking, Gino Esposito?  The kid’s a freakin’ nut, off his rocker, and about to blow at any minute.  You shoulda’ seen the kid ‘fore his pops died.”

“Hold on a second,” Jake cut him off.  “Please,” figured he’d be polite about it.

“Don’t worry about it,” Manny said, “I told Gino this, fifty times at least.  He knows.  I’m not telling you something he don’t know.  The guys know it too.  He was some unstable $#!+, and me, I like explosives.  So, coming from me, he was some serious kind of unstable, trust me.  He was a little too dangerous.  But then his pops died.  Gino changed immediately.  It was like his pops had died and took over his son’s body.  Right gentlemen?”

“Yep.  Unbelievable,” the driver said.

“No,” Jake said, “I have an unrelated question.”

“Oh, sorry about that.  Where are my manners?  Shoot.”

“You put a dead body in the back of that car.  What, how, who, I mean how did you get a dead body this quickly and then find me besides?”

“Oh, you mean the stick there.  That’s Bobby Bones.  He died the other day.  Natural junkie causes, know what I mean?  One of our guys owns the funeral home.  Closed casket funeral now, ya know?”

“Ok, but what made you stop and get a body before coming to get me?”

“No trouble at all.  Was Gino’s idea.  Said make it look like Jake’s dead.  He must really like you.  To go to all that trouble.”  Again, he tried to lift his eyebrows with his weirdly kind smile.

“So, it was trouble?” Jake asked. 

“No, not really, just a quick stop.  Great thing about Bobby Bones though, he ain’t got no teeth.  No more ‘an few, anyway.  They ain’t ever gonna figure out who that body really is, so don’t worry.”

“Huh.  That’s pretty great,” Jake said, “just wanted to make sure you didn’t kill somebody on my account.”

“Nah, that guy killed himself.  Slave to needle.  Just some dumb luck he kicked the bucket at the perfect time.  For you, you know?”

“Yeah, I know.”  Jake couldn’t help thinking about the possibilities of having a normal life if everyone considered him dead.

Those thoughts were quickly interrupted as Manny continued right where he left off, “As I was saying, you know, before your question, I just wanted you to know who you’re dealing with.  Gino’s not the unstable little dumba$$ that raped that little girl and broke her arm.  I know that little girl hurts, and I feel for her, but she’s wrong.  Gino’s not the same.”

“So, you know how he raped her and broke her arm?”

“Yeah, a course.  Who do you think got him off?”

“Skylar said she and her mother were afraid to file charges.”

“Maybe the girl didn’t know what the mother did, but it wasn’t anything about being afraid of filing charges, let me tell you.  That lady had a set of balls.”

“Careful,” Jake said, “I know that lady.  She’s a friend.”

“I didn’t say I dislike her.  She came to Gino’s dad and threatened him with something.  I don’t even know.  Might have been charges, but that would have been easy to beat.  No, I think it was something more.  That’s why Gino’s old man never said what it was.  He gave her a hundred Gs.   Get her to let it go.”

“Did she?”  Jake asked.

“Yeah.  She took the money and ran.  Gino was supposed to leave her alone, but we all knew he wasn’t gonna.  While he was following her, his dad had some of his guys following him.  Gino’s pops was just trying to keep his promise to her mama.  That Gino’d leave her alone.  There was more than one time the guys had to stop him and Gino’d get an appointment with his pops in the study.  Like I said, the kid was unstable.”

“What did Skylar’s mom do with the money?”

“The hell I should know?  The lady took the money, Gino stayed out of jail, the girl got left alone.  That was the deal.  At least for the most part.  I don’t remember any specific clause mandating how she had to spend the money.”

Jake went quiet while the SUV drove on through the early morning.  His first thought was that Shelly, Skylar’s mom, might have gambled the money away, but where?  Might have been the casino in Niagara Falls, Ontario, but he wasn’t sure when that one opened.  This stuff with Gino all happened in the late 90s.  The casino in Niagara Falls, NY didn’t come until after the turn of the century.  They put that casino in the old Niagara Falls Convention Center.  When Jake, Cash and Curt were kids, they used to race bikes at the annual Can-Am there.  They got to race BMX bikes right on the solid concrete pavement with wooden jumps and resin in the turns.  Unlike the dirt tracks, there were no berms to go around the turns at full speed.  There was resin on the cement floor to prevent slippage.  You could hear the sucking sound when riding around the turns, like fresh rubber cement doing whatever it could to keep your tires from sliding.  Even still, it was a fast track that necessitated a new strategy.  Instead of knobby tires for the dirt, it was better to use tires with more surface area, the kind you might use on the road. 

Eventually, BMX racing died down in the Northeast.  Casinos gave parents something else to do, now that they didn’t have to take their kids to the races every Saturday morning.  After that, the Indians had a crapload of money and started opening up more casinos, including the one on Grand Island, where Skylar’s mom Shelly had built up a hundred and some-odd thousand-dollar debt to the Mexican loan sharks staked with Indian’s casino money.  They made Shelly a slave, working for the casino to pay back her debt, but the amount she was making didn’t even cover the interest.  So, Jake took the whole racket down.

If this guy Manny was telling the truth, Jake was privy to a piece of information that might destroy the relationship between Skylar and her mother.  Of course, he had to keep that quiet, but it would explain a lot.  What if Shelly took the money to Vegas and gambled it?  Or maybe she gambled it in the Italian mob’s speak-easy-like casino clubs for those who knew the secret knock? 

Before the Indians were allowed to take over the gambling rackets on account of their willingness to pay the state of New York a piece of the action, the Italians were running them without offering the state a taste of anything more than the middle finger.  With the blessing of legality on the pastime, the Indians were able to take it over by adding lights, glitter, free drinks, all-you-can-eat buffets and coming attractions.  Musical acts and comedy acts, whatever it took to get people inside the doors where they could be happy giving their money to the Indians.  The Indians could then pay their pittance to the government, even though all the old treaties exempted Indians from having to pay taxes. 

They get to refuse to pay taxes on just about everything, as long as they stay on their reservations, but they were more than happy to pay taxes when it came to taking money from the American people willing to go to their casinos.  This was all done with an excited nod of approval from the government ruling those American people.  If one was thinking this was like the New York State government making money off the sanctioning of the Indian people’s revenge, that was exactly what Jake was thinking.  Furthermore, the government’s failure to investigate or prosecute any of the Indian reservations’ callous acts of inhuman indifference involving the enslaving of indebted people is nothing more than further proof the government had chosen the wrong side against the people it was supposedly elected to represent.

Either way, it would mean Shelly had developed a gambling habit that would later get her enslaved and almost get her daughter killed trying to save her.  All because she might have taken some money in exchange for letting her daughter’s rapist escape justice.  It was terrible to think about.  Focus Jake.

Jake broke the silence, “Where we going?”

Manny answered without hesitation.  “Taking you to the shop.  Get those cuffs off you.  Then, we’ll take you anywhere you wanna go.  Gino’s orders.  Told-ja, he’s a stand-up guy.”

“Why’s he being so nice?”

“You saved his life.  Sent us to do the same for you.”

“What about all his men that were killed?  He’s not sore about that?” Jake asked. 

“Not at you.  Those guys were young though.  Just tryin’ to make a name for ‘emselves.  There’s plenty to step up now they’re gone.  Trust me.  Gino has waiting lists for boys who want in.  Good Italian boys who are sick of getting no respect from the coloreds and the Hispanics.  See how big those boys were?  Had to be, just to keep their heads on their shoulders.  It’s tough on them streets.  Wudn’t that way when we was coming up, let me tell you.  Times is changing.  That’s for sure.  Trust me, Gino ain’t worried.”

Jake didn’t know what to think about that.  “I guess a thanks is in order.”

“Hey, thank Gino.  He’s the one you owe.”

“Owe?  Thought we were even.”

“Nah, I doubt it works like that.  He’s got the blood of four feds on his hands.  But hey, don’t worry.  He likes you.”  Jake tried not to look at Manny’s missing eyebrows.  They didn’t get lifted with his facial expression.

“Good.  He likes me, huh?”

“Yeah, he does.  You’re the super soldier.”

“Some super soldier,” Jake scoffed at himself, “I got arrested by the feds and taken hostage by mercs in just the last four days.  Maybe three.  Lost count.”

“The cost of playing by the rules.  He won’t hold that against you.  Trust me.  He appreciates honor.  ‘Sides, neither of those things took.  You’ve got friends.  Honor and whatnot.  That’s one thing about Gino’s pops, he hated dishonor.  And like I said, once he died, Gino became his father.”

“So, how’s that work then?”

“What?”

“All you older guys… working for the young Gino?  How’s that work?  It don’t bug you all?”

“Ahh, too many questions.  Suffice it to say, I can’t talk about that.  Just put it this way.  Gino’s royalty in some circles.  Sure, he inherited the fortune, but he also inherited the blessings.  That’s even more important.  Hope that answers your questions.”

“So, no one resents him for it?”  Jake wasn’t done with the questions.

“If they do, they keep their mouths shut, capisci?”  He pronounced it the Italian way, Jake presumed.

“Yeah, I capisce,” and Jake let it drop.  “Hey, you don’t need to take me to a shop.  You got a pin or a small screwdriver?  I can get these cuffs off.”

“How ‘bout an icepick?” Manny asked.

“Let me try,” Jake figured it might be a little too large but might do the trick.

“Hey Tony, you got your icepick?” 

“Yeah, here.”  He pulled it from the inside jacket pocket and handed it back to Manny.

“Thanks.” 

Jake sat forward and Manny put it in Jake’s right hand behind his back.

Manny continued, “Tony’s called the Icepick.  Likes to shatter his own ice cubes, you know?”

As Jake was saying, “I do now,” he brought his hands around to the front with his right hand still cuffed.  Then he picked the lock on the other cuff.  They were off. 

“Where you want to go then?”

“Two places if you don’t mind.  I need about eight cans of spray paint, some tape and some paper.  No forget the paper.  I’ll be careful.  Just the tape.  Any place I can get those in the middle of the night?”

“The all-night Walmart on Military.”

Without being asked, the driver did a U-turn on Niagara Falls Boulevard and then turned left on Military.  There were a lot of stores, restaurants and an outlet mall on that road.  They pulled right up to the door of the Walmart.  Tony got out.  “What color paint?”

“Blue.  Seven Blue and one grey.  The wide paint tape too.”

“Be right back.”

After about ten minutes, Tony the Icepick climbed back into the SUV with two loaded plastic bags he handed back to Jake.

“What’s it for?” Tony asked.

“Gotta paint a car.”

“What’s wrong with it?”  Manny asked.

“Looks too nice.  Would draw too much attention, but I need a ride.”

“You’re a strange guy.  I’d think you’d want to look good.”

“Nah, I don’t even want to be seen.  Not with what I have to do.”

“Guess that’s what makes you the super soldier.  Now you’re a dead super soldier.  As far as anyone knows, that is.”  Manny had a big old smile of pride.

“Yeah, sure.”

“Where we taking you?”

“Pendleton,” Jake said, “Just take Lockport Road, veer right on Mapleton, and I’ll show you where to turn.  It’s the first right after the school.”

They took a left out of the parking lot onto Military Road and then took a right onto the road that turns into Lockport Road.  Fifteen minutes later, they took a right onto Aiken Road and then a left into Cash’s driveway.  The firemen were gone, and the house was a smoldering mound of wet rubble.  Water was dripping in numerous places as smoke and water vapor escaped into the air.  It smelled like burnt plastic and wood.  Mostly wood.

“Here you go.”

Jake got out of the SUV, and Manny was getting back in when he said, “Oh, hey, almost forgot.”  As Manny reached into his coat pocket, Jake thought it might have been a gun and a confirmation this was all too good to be true.  He was ready to go to war in the first few milliseconds, but it was a couple of evidence bags.  “Gino said make sure you get Jake’s phone.  Here it is.  That, your wallet and a bloody knife.  This knife yours?”

Jake, happy to see the knife Callie gave him back in high school, said, “Nice, yes, thank you.  But that’s not my phone.”

“Eah, it is now.  Finders-keepers and all that.  It’s what they said to get you.  If your phone was still in that car, it’s melted by now.”  At the thought, Manny smiled big and laughed to himself.  His eyebrows hadn’t grown back yet.

“Guess so,” Jake said, “Thanks for the ride.”  Jake was trying to express appreciation without being too appreciative.  He knew that not one of those guys, maybe other than Molotov Manny, wanted anything to do with melting four feds to death and turning Jake into a fugitive.  For all they knew, freeing Jake was like freeing a pet snake.  You might think the snake would be appreciative enough for all the food you gave it while keeping it in captivity, but if it turns on you, it’s still going to kill you.  While the snake was only venomous, Jake was Jake, and that was all they needed to know.  “See you when I see you,”

“We know you will,” Manny said.  “’Til then.”  He nodded to Jake and climbed back in.  The SUV left through the same driveway it came in.  The turnaround was littered with house fragments on the side near the house.  Only the side near the barn was passable.  Once they were gone, Jake went into the three-car garage that sat between the house and the barn at the bottom of the U that was formed by the turnaround driveway. 

In the third garage, nearest the barn, sat the super mint El Camino that Charlie had signed over to Jake in exchange for Vic’s old Cutlass.  That way, Charlie could get out of town before the cartel killed him.  Charlie was the kid who gave Jake and Cash the information about the vehicle in which the cartel guys were transporting the little girls who were kidnapped in Mexico to be sex slaves for an Albany sex cult.  Apparently, some of the powered people in the New York government like their little girls prepubescent.  Leave it to the cartel to satisfy their demand.  Jake convinced him the El Camino was too hot and that they’d find him and kill him if he continued to drive it.  Unfortunately for Charlie, he didn’t take Jake’s advice.  Instead of getting out of town quickly, the kid dilly-dallied with his girlfriend.  Both were slaughtered, but Jake didn’t even know that yet.

As promised though, Jake was going to paint it to make it look like a beater.  Sure, the car ran like a monster, but it didn’t need to look so hot.  Besides, it had purple stripes.  Jake didn’t want to drive a purple car.  Even with just a purple stripe.  Nor did he want a chrome skull scoop sitting on the hood, or a spoiler on a cap with a hydraulic lift on the rear truck bed.  Tinted windows, he could live with.  The rest had to look like crap.  So, he took off the stuff he didn’t like, and he taped up the window edges, the bumpers and the lights.  Then he got to painting.  It was all blue, except for the driver’s door.  He made that grey.  Flat grey.  Made it look like the driver hadn’t gotten around to giving it a proper painting.  He even purposely painted so poorly that drips were allowed to run in areas.  Made it as amateur as he could.  Didn’t mind for a second being mistook for a high school kid with a beater painted up in shop class.  Once he was done, the paint needed to dry, and he had one other thing to take care of before he left for some food.


 

Chapter 3 – Skylar’s Break

 

As soon as I left my burning house, I drove to the bar.  That’s where Tyler told the girls to go and get Sam cleaned up.  I figured Samantha, Ainsley and Skyler would be there.

They weren’t.

I called Samantha again.

“Hey Cash.”

“Where are you guys?”

“We’re ladies.  Going to my apartment.  I need a shower.”

“Ok, on my way.”  Click.

When I got to the apartment that Samantha was sharing with Skylar’s mom, Shelly, I climbed the four half-flights of steps in the rear of the old mansion that had been turned into an apartment building.  This used to be Skylar’s apartment.  After we freed Shelly from her forced servitude with the Indians and Mexicans at the casino, Shelly took Skylar’s apartment, Skylar moved in with me, and Samantha shared the apartment with Shelly.  It was a cheap slum-like apartment on the edge of one of the worst neighborhoods in Lockport.  Once inside, I knocked on the apartment door.

Ainsley answered.  I could hear crying in the other room.  Ainsley had tears trying to dry on her face.

“What happened?”

She shook her head like she wasn’t able to believe it or even speak what she knew.  I walked past her, past the sink and counter.  I took a right through the hallway to the living room.  Shelly’s bloodied body was sitting in a dining room chair sitting in the middle of the living room.  Her head was hanging, and her whole body was splattered with blood.  Skylar was on her knees, holding her mother’s hand with her head on her mother’s knee.  Samantha was rubbing her back.

Probably should have kept my mouth shut, but I didn’t, “What happened?”

Skylar lifted her head from her mother’s knee and slowly turned to focus on me.  Her eyes glared as if she were about to kill me.  She got up and ran at me, “Jake happened.  That’s what.  He knew this place wasn’t safe and then let my mother come back.  How stupid could he be?”  She was pounding on my chest as soon as she reached me.  “Get out of here, Cash Cutler.  I never want to see you again, or Jake.  I’m done.  I’ve had it.  You two are going to die, and I want nothing to do with it.  Any of it.”  I tried to hug her and bring her in so she couldn’t continue hitting me, but she rejected it and pushed me away.  I actually had to step back, she pushed so hard. 

Sam came to retrieve Skylar and gently pull her back.  Samantha was still covered in blood.  Skylar continued, “I’m done Cash.  I want out.  They want to kill you, let them.  I’m done.  My mother’s dead, everything I own went up in flames, I’ve had it with you.  This isn’t going to get any better.  Ever.  You’re cursed Cash.  Cursed.  Get out.”

Ainsley led me back to the kitchen, while Sam was trying to get Skylar to calm down.  “She’s hysterical right now,” Ainsley whispered, “Give her some time to cool off.  We’ll take care of her.”

“Should I go?”

“I would, if I were you.”

“What about Jake?  Does Samantha have a location on him?  Where should I go?”

“Don’t worry about Jake.  Samantha had Gino take care of it.  Gino was happy to do it.  Said Jake saved his life, and it was the right thing to do.”

“Is Jake safe yet?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can Sam get me his location?”

“Hold on.”  Ainsley went back into the living room. 

I heard some whispering, but then Skylar started screaming at me, “My mother is dead, Cash.  She’s dead.  And all you can think about is Jake.  He’s the reason she’s dead.”

She came into the kitchen.  I was standing by the door about ten feet south of her.  “She’s dead.”

“Baby, I’m so sorry.  Jake didn’t think this place was unsafe, he was just trying to…”  I was trying to remind her that Jake put them in the motel room to hide them from us and from Gino.  With everyone thinking that Skylar had been kidnapped, he was thinking about using Gino to go and take care of Agents Simon and Dillard and get the cartel problem fixed for good.  A two-birds kind of thing.  We put the kibosh on the whole idea because we didn’t think making enemies with Gino and the mob made any sense at all.  However, after Glazebrook, Simon and Dillard killed Gino’s attorney Jimmy Cohen, Gino was already in.  He wanted revenge like no tomorrow.  None of that mattered though.  Skylar cut me off.

“Shut up, Cash.  I don’t care.  Jake left her here to be killed.  They tortured her, probably just for the fun of it.  She knew nothing.  They tortured my mother, Cash.  I want you out of my life.  I’m leaving Lockport.  I’m done.”

“Alright, I’ll go.”  I was counting on Ainsley and Sam to calm her down, but I was just making it worse by staying.  “Can I talk with Sam, though?”

“See, all you care about is Jake.  You’re such a loser.  Yeah, go talk to her, but get out of my life.”

Ainsley came and pulled Skylar away.  Samantha whispered, “Don’t worry about Jake.  Gino’s guys will take care of it.  If I were you, I’d stay the heck away.”

“I can’t.  I have to go get him.”

“Seriously, I wouldn’t.”

“I don’t have a choice,” I said. 

“Your funeral, buddy.  I’d go with you, but Skylar needs me now.  That and I don’t want to die.”

“What are you going to do about Shelly’s body?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “we haven’t talked about it.  Skylar’s a mess.”

“Would you tell her I love her?”  I really did.

“Yeah, but she won’t hear it right now.  She’s in a terrible place.  And forget about what she said to you.  It probably means nothing.”

“Hope you’re right.  How do I find Jake?”

She took my phone and did her thing for a few minutes.  “Here.  He’s on Porter Road, just north of Niagara Falls Boulevard.  Not moving.”

“Huh.  There’s nothing there.  Why wouldn’t he be moving?”

“I can’t guarantee this thing is updating right,” she said, “but this is where it says your phone is.”

“I’ll check it out.”

“Don’t think you should.  Let Gino’s guys take care of it.”

“No.  I don’t trust them.  You saw them.  Most of them are dead.  Other than all the old guys at the club.”

“I don’t know Cash, but I need to get back to Skylar.”

“Yeah, I get it.  Tell her I love her.  Please try and straighten this out.  Jake never thought this place was unsafe.  He was just trying to…”

“I know,” Sam cut me off just as Ainsley came walking briskly into the kitchen all flustered on a phone call, “I’ve got to get back to Skylar.”

Ainsley slid past me through the doorway out into the hallway.  I followed her.  I was hoping she was on the phone with Jake but wasn’t willing to ask her.  I could tell by the look of disgust on her face she wasn’t able to have two conversations at once.

“Why the heck would you have Pauly?”  She was yelling at someone.  I didn’t know a Pauly, so she probably wasn’t talking with Jake.  “I can’t believe you did that.  What’s wrong with you?”  She paused to hear the answer.  I could hear a man’s voice on the phone.  “I’ve got my own problems, Scott.  I can’t deal with this right now.”  I could hear him pleading with her.  “I can’t get into it right now, but suffice it to say, they’re huge.” 

I could then hear him say, “He’s just a little boy.  I need your help.”

“Call the cops.”  He had a quick answer.  “Tell them you’re a drug addict who was in the middle of copping when the deal went bad, and the dealers stole your car with a little boy in it.”  It never let up.  I was convinced. 

“Just be honest with them.  They’ll help you,” Ainsley was a little calmer than I was, and I wasn’t even a part of the conversation.  He was yelling his answer.  “I don’t care.  Go to jail again, Scott.  I don’t care.  You have to save that little boy.  Did you even pay them?”  I guess his answer was no.  She continued ripping into him, “So, you went to buy drugs, and didn’t have the money, and you took your nephew with you?  Are you on crack?  Never mind…  How much do you need?”  I guess it was a lot, “How much were you buying?  Are you dealing again?”  Apparently, the answer was yes, “So, that’s why you won’t call the cops?  What if I call them?”  I could hear him say no, no, no.  “Does Barb’s sister know?...  You haven’t even told her?...  I don’t’ have that kind of money.”  I was immediately reminded of all the money that had gone up in flames in my house.  If it were to save a kid, I wouldn’t think twice about using it.

“How much does he need?” I asked.  While that money did go up in flames, I still had money in my portfolio.  Didn’t really want to use it though.  Knew I might need to give it to the Mexicans, so they wouldn’t kill me.  But it was a kid.

“Hold on Scott,” she said and covered the mouthpiece on her phone, “He needs eighty thousand.  He ran off with two keys of coke and left his girlfriend’s nephew with the drug dealer.”

“Why?”  It defied logic.  Seriously, who does that? 

“Because they wouldn’t float him for a week.  His words.  He told them he’d pay them next week, and then they brought out the guns.  He grabbed the coke and ran.”

“Did they shoot?”

“No, actually, I don’t know.”  She lifted her hand.  “Did they shoot at you?”  She listened for a moment before putting her hand back on the mouthpiece, “They shot a couple of times, but he was in the woods too quickly.  They followed for a while, but he outran them.  Probably high.”  She asked him, “Were you high at the time?”  I heard some yelling, while she nodded her head with a smug look for my benefit.  “Where are you?...  What’s Barb’s number.”  I heard him yelling at her some more.  “Well, don’t you think they ought to know.”  More yelling.

I looked at my phone.  Jake’s location hadn’t changed.  Either that, or it hadn’t updated.  “Let me talk to him.”

Ainsley looked at me as if I were crazy.  “My brother is nuts,” she said.  “You probably don’t want to get involved.  This whole story might be a lie.”

A kid’s life was on the line.  Maybe.  If he wasn’t lying.  So, I already was involved, “Yeah, let me talk with him.”

“Scott, this is Cash, Ainsley’s friend.  Where are you?”  I asked.

“I’m near my apartment in Albion.  Not safe to go in.  But I need something.”

“Albion?”  That was the opposite direction from where Jake was at the moment.  Albion is a small town about forty minutes east of Lockport on the Erie Canal.  It was in the next county, a little more than halfway to Rochester.

“Yeah,” he said, “I spent time in the Orleans Correctional Facility.  Got out and stayed here.”

“Oh.  Have you heard from the guys that have your nephew?”

“I’m not married, so he’s not really my nephew.” 

I wanted to say “focus” but didn’t, “Answer the question.  Have they contacted you?”

“Yes.  Said I’ve got ‘til tomorrow at noon to get them the money, or the kid is dead and so am I.  And they’re getting the drugs back from me, but I don’t know how they’re doing that.  I’ve hidden them”

“Yeah, I’m not worried about the drugs, Scott.  That doesn’t solve your problem.”

“Do you have eighty G’s I can borrow?”

“Not by tomorrow, I don’t,” I had some of it but would need to liquidate some things before I got my hands on the rest.  Doesn’t work like that.  There’s no presto-poof, the money’s in your hand.  Access to money isn’t always on the angry drug-dealer’s schedule.

“Then what good are you?”

“Settle down,” I said.  “With the stuff I’m dealing with, a couple of drug dealers is small potatoes.”  I said this with the assumption that Jake would be safe and free soon.  Granted, that might not be the case, but I had to have some sort of faith.  Especially when it involved Jake.  The dude had so many lives, he made dead cats jealous.

“Yeah, but what are you going to do?”

“Can’t talk about it on the phone.  But you sure you aren’t making this story up?”

“Like I’d make a story up about a kid being with drug dealers.  I’d have to be such a loser.”  He sounded as if he were almost crying.

“That’s what your sister said,” I needed to push him a little.  Humble him.  Make sure he wasn’t just trying to play us with a lie.

“Yeah, Ok, I’m a loser.  I admit it.  But I’m not lying about Pauly.”

“Let me ask you something.”

“Yeah, what?” he was impatient.

“Why, if the kid was in the car, did you steal the kilos and run?  Why?”

“You know what, man?  F$#$ you and F$#$ my sister.  Tell her it was nice knowing her.  Next time she’ll see me will be at my funeral.  If she even bothers.”  Click. 

I looked at Ainsley, “He hung up.”  I handed her phone back to her.

“Not surprised.  I’ll deal with it later.  Go find Jake.  Call me when you do.  I’ll stay with Skylar.”

“You’re just gonna let your brother hang?”

“My brother’s full of crap.  That’s why he hung up.”

“You sure?” I asked, “He seemed pretty freakin’ scared.”

“No, I’m not sure, but he cries wolf all the time.  I’m sick of it.”

“What about the kid?”

“The kid might not even exist.  I don’t know Barb, her sister or her sister’s son.  For all I know, they might be made up.  My brother’s a loser.”

“Ok,” I said and left.  Jake’s position was still on Porter Road.  Hadn’t moved.  Not a good sign.


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