Renegade: End of Innocence

by: Tara (w/ MaryAnne)

A young man and three others watched as another associate spread a map out over a desk.

Someone suggested, “I think we should all get on together at the first stop and have Ace meet us right before the last stop.”

“We could but it’d be much easier to station each person at a different stop.” Another gestured toward the blonde beside him. “Have Ace waiting here for us.” He pointed to a spot on the map.

A ruddy faced man taunted. “Who said we want this to be easy. I thought you liked living dangerously.”

The crew leader gave them both a hard look. “Vinnie, shut up! The kid has a point. I think we should do it his way.”

Vinnie scowled but said nothing. Deuce continued going over the details for a moment before asking the youngest associate to repeat what he said.

The young man grinned wickedly. “You, me, Dirk and Vinnie will do the job and Ace is the wheelman.”

Deuce chuckled. “Alright boys, be back here in about an hour.” He picked the map up and folded it. He put it in his pocket as he followed the others out the door.

Forty Five minutes later a black sedan sped away from a street as the morning sun rose. Its occupants were the five men who had been in the meeting. The vehicle made its way through the morning traffic and within fifteen minutes, the driver had dropped everyone off at their appointed spot.

By the time 3 of the men got on the bus, the sedan was several blocks up, waiting. When the youngest of the hoodlums got on, the others rose from their seats and pointed their guns they had held inside of newspapers at the bewildered passengers.

Deuce announced that it was a robbery. The four thugs made their way from the back to the front of the bus in less than ten minutes. The young man ordered the driver to pull over when he saw the sedan a block up the street.

The bus jerked to a halt and the men made their exit out of the door while frightened passengers sighed at their escape. They ran, as the wail of police sirens got closer.

The driver tried to make a hasty getaway but to no avail.

The blonde Ace, the ruddy faced man Vinnie, and the other gentleman Dirk were captured while the youngest one got away with Deuce. They made it back to their Boss’s office. They gave their share of the haul to him along with the news of the others being arrested. He ordered Deuce to go bail the others out, and then excused the young man. He picked up the phone after a few minutes of silent thinking.

Later that evening a silver 1985 sports car rolled down a neon lit business district street and pulled to a stop at a curb. The shiny paint job contrasted with the dark buildings and dark pavement, and the neon signs shined off the windshield and off the chrome on the hubcaps. A few people passed the car, some giving it a curious look, others simply ignoring it. All kinds of cars came to this side of town when the sun went down.

A blonde and a brunette emerged from the car and walked with purpose up the street. They didn’t look like the working girls the neighborhood was known for and they didn’t appear to be there to be seeking such employment either. The brunette looked around with an air of indifference about her as she walked with her companion. If given a choice, she would gladly turn around and get out of this neighborhood.

But she couldn’t. They were here on an assignment of some kind. Work was work and the brunette knew that sometimes one could not be selective of the work they wanted, especially in the field that she and her blonde companion were in. You took basically whatever came your way, because you needed a paycheck to buy groceries.

The brunette followed the blonde to the front door of a little dive with a puzzling name. She looked up at the bright neon that announced the name of the location. The Jigsaw. They stepped inside and immediately found themselves in a dark bar, smokey, neon accented and crowded with people and noise. Music played from the jukebox, poker chips clicked, beer bottles clattered and rowdy laughter rose above it all. The two women walked towards the bar, the blonde oblivious to the scenery, the brunette trying not to look at it all like a tourist.

The burly bartender regarded the two as they approached. His eyes settled on the blonde, a hint of recognition in his eyes, but he wasn’t a hundred percent sure.

“Can I get you something?”

The blonde ran a hand through shoulder length hair while making eye contact with the bartender who stared at her. “I have a meeting with The Don— name’s Auna.”

“Ah…one moment please.” He picked up the business type phone that sat on a ledge under the counter top. He pressed a button. “Broad named Auna here to see you,” He paused. “Yes, sir. I’ll send her back.” He hung up the phone and gestured towards the brunette woman. “Your friend will have to stay here.”

Auna smiled. “She’s my associate.”

The bartender pursued his lips for a moment.

“C’mon, The Don hates to be kept waiting.” Auna said and pulled her associate away from the counter.

The bartender went back to his work, while the two women headed towards the office.

“Just stay quiet unless you are asked something,” The blonde commanded softly before opening the door.

A dark haired man in a suit sat in a chair behind a large wooden desk.

The office was about as dark as the rest of the establishment, save for a few lights on the side of the room and one on the desk. The Don’s hand rested on the desktop and the light shined off the large diamond ring he wore, the symbol of his title as the highest ranking member of the Syndicate. His suit was expensive, as was his taste in cars, liquor and women. Johnny Mancini was the epitome of being a Syndicate Don. He was cold, ruthless and unforgiving. Very rarely did one get a second chance if they messed up and if an associate’s loyalty was ever doubted, Mancini had all but trademarked ways to make sure that loyalty was absolute. There was an option to not being loyal. That option was death.

Family favors were held in high regard as well. Since his cousin owed him a favor, he decided it was time to cash in. He needed to make sure an associate’s loyalty was as absolute as he needed it to be. He had big plans…

He cast a glance at the brunette before settling his eyes on the blonde. “You know the rules Auna, no new people in the office.”

“You have your associates and I have mine.”

The voices of two men sparring off interrupted them.

“You aren’t gonna have many friends around here!” the older of the two hissed as they came into the office.

“Yeah, well I don’t need many!” the younger one retorted with a confidant smirk.

“Boys, I have company,” the Don ordered. “I’ll talk to you when I’m done. Now get out.”

The two men glanced at the two women and then obeyed the Don, and stepped back into the hall.

Auna couldn’t resist a snide comment towards her cousin after the door closed. “I see you haven’t changed a bit.”

Dark eyes flashed in her direction. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that disrespectful remark-” He adjusted himself in his chair and removed a manila folder from one of the side drawers of the desk. “I need you to check on one of my associates. I’d have my own boys do it…”

Auna interrupted. “But that wouldn’t work because some of ‘em go by the laws of the lawless.”

The Don’s dark eyes held little amusement. “It wouldn’t work because of internal reasons, dear cousin. As well as they are not in the business that you are.” The dark eyes rested on the one person who hadn’t spoken yet. “Would you care to introduce me to your associate?”

“Her name is Danielle.” Auna reached a slender hand up to tug on a lock of her friend’s long hair.

Danielle smiled more bravely than she felt. There was something about the place, the office, the man behind the desk…Danielle had the feeling that things weren’t quite on the up and up around here.

A brief smile appeared on the Don’s face as he continued looking her over. One did not get to be The Don of the Syndicate by making stupid judgments. He knew, also, that his cousin wouldn’t just pick anyone to be her associate but his suspicion of Danielle was only natural. After all, she was a stranger to him and bringing in people he didn’t know into his plans was enough to take pause.

Auna took her cousin’s silence as a bad sign. “We met in Charlotte…”

“Why are you speakin’ for her?” The Don inquired as he took a cigar from the pocket of his suit and leaned back in his chair. He lit the cigar, took a few puffs, and then turned his attention back to his cousin’s associate.

Danielle wasn’t sure how to address the man since she hadn’t really been introduced. She also figured the fewer words she spoke would be in her best interest. “I helped Auna solve the case she was working on, we’ve been associates ever since, sir.”

Auna smiled proudly when the Don’s dark eyes glanced at her. “You have nothing to worry about. She’s a natural at this just like your boys are at their jobs.”

“Perhaps,” Mancini said while he tipped ashes from the cigar into a glass ashtray that lay on the desk. He studied Danielle a moment longer. The brunette’s demeanor was of someone with a mix of city and country smarts. His cousin seemed very confident in Danielle’s abilities. But it was the innocence in her hazel eyes that clinched his decision about her.

“The younger man who was just in here is the one I want followed,” he said. “His name is Brian. Why I want him followed is none of your business, but everything he does I want to be made my business. There is a small advance for you in here.” He shoved a folder across the desk. “Along with a list of places he hangs out, the car he drives, things like that. I expect a daily report back to me.”

Auna reached for the folder. “Yes sir, Don Mancini.”

Danielle gulped now realizing actually who he was. “Yes sir, Don Mancini.”

“Despite your change of career, Auna, you understand that the honor code of the Syndicate applies now that you are doing this favor for me?”

“Of course. The Omerta will be adhered to by both of us.” Auna nudged Danielle, who nodded shyly.

“Very well then,” He gave them an amused look and then crushed the cigar out in the astray. “You’re excused.”

They nodded respectively and made a quick exit out of the office almost bumping into the two gentlemen waiting in the hall.

Danielle’s head was spinning. Don?? Don Mancini??? What in the world have we gotten into? And what the heck is The Omerta??? Too scared to ask these questions to Auna just yet, Danielle was silent as the silver vehicle pulled away from the curb. Auna made a stop at a store and Danielle stayed outside in the car, the questions still burning in her mind. Auna returned with a bag full of items and they drove to the motel across the street.

Danielle watched Auna pull the purchases from the bag curiously after they had settled in the room. She frowned when she saw two items. “What is that for?”

Auna looked at her. “Don’t play stupid…he seen both of us.”

“So? Now I gotta change my hair?? No way… I am not dying my hair blonde or cutting it.” Danielle swept her long brown hair up and then let it fall.

Auna chuckled and picked the box of hair dye up. “It’ll wash out in 2 to 3 weeks. Trust me Danielle, if your caught all you have say is you’re me. No one in their right mind would kill a Syndicate Don or his family members unless they have a death wish.”

“Thanks a lot, that makes me feel so much better about what we’re doing,” Danielle took the box from her boss and looked at it. “That reminds me… what’s the Omerta?”

Auna looked at Danielle seriously. “That’s the law of silence. In other words, we may see some things that we shouldn’t see, therefore we can never repeat anything that happens while we’re watching Brian.”

“Great.” Danielle gently shook the box. Auna did have a point about being seen already by this Brian fella. And since Auna apparently knew these people, and Danielle did not, she figured she better do as her boss said to.

“Alright, but it’s not gonna look very good.”

Auna laughed. “It’ll be fine. Now hurry up.”

Danielle walked over to the bathroom and shut the door. This assignment was turning out to be a little more than she wanted to deal with. A dingy part of Atlanta, a Syndicate Don, “the law of silence”…. all we need now is for Vito Corleone to show up!
Danielle looked in the mirror about 30 minutes later. She wrinkled her nose at the blonde image that stared back. I don’t really look like my self, yet I do. This color is bad.

Auna was studying the contents of the folder when Danielle came back. She commented without even a glance at her associate. “I told ya, it’d be fine.”

“Yeah…” Danielle turned her eyes up and blew a wisp of blonde hair off her forehead. “Now tell me what is really going on. You never mentioned you were related to a, uhhh businessman like your cousin.” Danielle took a seat at the small table where her boss sat.

Auna shoved the folder towards her. “The reason we’re here is I owe my cousin a favor and its time to pay him back.”

Danielle nodded and began looking the papers over while Auna went to the bathroom. Interesting… Seems pretty normal from this list of places he hangs out– is there anything this guy hasn’t done? Ok I guess a few things unless they’re missing from this police record! Oh Auna, what have you gotten us into? She had just finished looking through the folder when Auna came out of the bathroom.

“In the morning I’ll show you around the area. Then in the afternoon we’ll start following this guy. It seems more complicated than it is.” Auna pulled the covers off one of the beds and laid down.

Danielle closed the folder up and crawled under the covers on the other bed. She tossed and turned half the night wondering if there was any chance of getting out of this. She wouldn’t have minded it so much if it wasn’t so darn close to home.

The next morning Danielle woke up to the sound of laughter. Hesitantly she peeked over to see the blonde leaning against the door and a guy standing outside it. “Auna, would ya mind closin’ the door.” Danielle hurried over to the bathroom after grabbing a backpack.

She could hear the two of them talking after she freshened up and changed her clothes.

“I saw you walkin’ out of the store last night but I figured I’d better wait till you and your friend had a chance to settle in before I stopped by.”

“Well that was awful nice of you, Vinnie– She’s actually my associate.”

“Oh, I see…” He studied Auna for a moment. “So what’s the Don got you here for?”

Auna smiled. “If the Don wanted you to know, Vinnie, I’m sure he’d brief you on it.”

Vinnie chuckled. “The Don has little use for PI’s, even if one is his cousin. He’s got you here for something important, I’m sure.”

“I’m merely paying up on a favor I owe him, that’s all.”

“Favors are not spent cheaply.”

Auna paused. She decided that telling Vinnie didn’t make any difference. Truth be told, he may be able to supply some information. “He wants us to watch somebody named Brian for a little while.”

Vinnie let out a disgusted sigh. “Brian…”

“Know ’em?”

“Yeah, I know ’em. Little punk.”

Auna found this reaction surprising. She was about to press Vinnie some more when Danielle approached.

Vinnie shot a glance at her and then looked at Auna. “I probably should get going.”

“Danielle, I’d like you to meet Vinnie. He’s another of my cousin’s associates.” Auna paused as they exchanged hellos. “I got the basic information on him but anythin’ you wanna tell me, will be kept between us.”

“How much do I get?” Vinnie smiled.

“I don’t know what the Don’ll give ya for taking a side job.”

“I was just kiddin’. I’m not stupid like the kid.”

Danielle had an instant dislike of the ruddy faced man. “He’s gotta be pretty smart to work for your boss.”

“Yeah, he was promoted from being a wheelman not long ago– the Don has taken a real likin’ to this kid, letting him rise up the ranks so fast.” Vinnie answered bitterly.

Auna rolled her eyes. “My cousin wouldn’t promote anyone who didn’t deserve it. I think for that, you should treat us out to breakfast.”

Vinnie thought for a moment. The Don promoted Brian because he felt Brian deserved to be…but he also hired Auna to follow Brian for a spell. Vinnie wondered what the Don was planning. Was the Don having Brian followed in order to ensure that the promotion was secure…or was the Don buying Brian’s confidence? Something was up…and somehow, Vinnie had to find out what.

He smiled at Auna. “Sure, it’d be my pleasure. There’s a little café you might like not far from here.”

Auna agreed. “Sounds good.”

Danielle asked. “Could you just bring me back something?”

“No.”

Danielle was relieved when the breakfast was over. All Vinnie had done was complain about the other fella. He seemed outright jealous of him. So far she was trying to keep an open mind about this case. But the thought of being paid by one criminal to spy on another bothered her. The morning turned to afternoon all too quickly after an extensive tour of the area. They went back to the motel around dinnertime after stopping to give the Don a report, Auna checked over their supplies

Binoculars, lock pick kit, magnifying glass, camera with extra film and batteries, hand held tape recorder with extra tapes, small notebook and pen, and a few other items that all fit in a small purse type camera bag.

An hour later, Danielle was looking through the binoculars into the window of a pizza shop. She could see the dark haired one and his blonde companion talkin’ to a fella. She laid the binoculars next to her on the car seat.

Auna quickly grabbed them. “It won’t be done until they take the money to my cousin. The premium paid guarantees that the store won’t have any trouble. It’s very simple as long as the client pays.”

“And if they don’t?”

Auna handed her the binoculars. Danielle raised them and her jaw dropped after a peek back inside. The associates of the Don were roughin’ the storeowner up.

Danielle dropped the binoculars back to the seat as the two enforcers strolled from the store several minutes later and headed for a black sedan. Brian slipped in the driver’s side. The blonde got in the passenger side. Within seconds the automobile roared away from the side of the street.

Auna followed the monstrous vehicle until it pulled to a stop in front of the Jigsaw. Brian and his companion were already inside by the time Auna had turned down an alley and pulled her car to a stop on the other side of the street and got out. Danielle followed her across the street. They ducked in the doorway of a building as the two men came out. The sedan’s engine sprung to life and it took off.

Danielle made it back to the sports car first. Instinctively she slid through the driver’s side window that was open like she use to on her cousin’s stockcar. Auna shut the passenger side door as it took off. Danielle almost lost him but managed to keep up until Auna said to call it a night, they’d pick up the trail in the morning.

After watching the young criminal for a few days, Danielle hit upon a realization she hadn’t thought of. In a way their jobs were the same… to follow assignments given by someone else. That’s where it ended. She could say no to Auna if she really wanted too but he couldn’t say no to Don Mancini.

Another similarity she noticed was the young man held the Syndicate as a place to belong, a place that accepted him, and except for the few jerks, the Syndicate liked him. She understood that– but helping Auna with this case had gotten her thinkin’ about life in general and everythin’ else.

* * *

“Danielle, you sure you’re alright going solo for the rest of the day?” Auna asked, watching her associate load the camera with another roll of film.

“I’ll be fine.” Danielle smiled. She grabbed her bag off the bed and walked over towards the door.

“Come back and get me if you need too.”

“I will.” Danielle paused after opening the door and saw Vinnie standing there. “Hi.” She muttered half under her breath. He nodded and walked past her. She leaned against the door for a second debating whether to stay or not.

“Bye, Danielle.” Auna called as the door slammed shut.

“I heard something about Brian you might be interested in.”

Auna looked up from her paperwork to Vinnie. “What is it?”

“There’s talk Brian is interested in taking your cousin’s place.”

“You probably just heard wrong or somethin’– he was probably just jokin’.”

Vinnie chuckled. “I don’t think he was.”

Auna stared at him for a moment and then asked quietly. “You and the others got anything planned?”

Vinnie smiled. “You know we can’t do anything like that without the Don’s approval.”

Auna pursed her lips. “Does he have any non Syndicate enemies who might take a job?”

“He does,” Vinnie snickered. “But maybe your associate would do it, she don’t seem to like it here to much.”

Auna rose from her seat with a protective look in her eyes.

Vinnie took a step back. “Sorry– Maybe you got some connections you could use?”

Auna went over and picked the phone up. There was a moment’s pause before she spoke, “Hi, can you let you know who know I’d like to set up a meeting with him.” She was quiet as she grabbed a pen and notepad. She scribbled some stuff down. “Yeah, that’ll work. Thanks. Bye.”

Auna hung the phone up, after tearing the first sheet off, she wrote another note and threw the notepad on the table. She headed toward the door. “Let’s go.”

Vinnie smiled and followed her outside.

During the time Auna and Vinnie were gone, Danielle had followed the young criminal around. After losing her sunglasses somewhere, she stopped off at a drug store in hopes of finding another pair. She frowned when she came out and took a glance at Auna’s car. Its normal shine was dull. She smiled remembering there was a car wash a couple of miles away. It would to be better to lose Brian for awhile, than to let Auna see the car like this.

A black Chevy pulled out of the spot next to the one the silver car was in just as she finished towel drying the front windshield. She hadn’t noticed it when she pulled it. There was no mistaken who it belonged too. While the driver got out and looked the car over, Danielle quietly opened her door and got in. She threw the towel over the seat and grabbed her camera.

She got some pictures before the driver got back in and took off. She waited a few seconds before she followed. When she seen him turn on the street where the Don’s office was, she thought about following him there but something told her not too. So she continued on the street.

Brian was almost finished with his beer several minutes later when the crew leader approached him.

“It’s meetin’ time.” Deuce said quietly and walked towards the back.

Brian gulped the rest of his beer down and followed the senior hitman inside the small dimly lit room.

Vinnie, Dirk and Ace were already seated around a table. Brian took a seat next to Ace across from Vinnie and Dirk. A map was already laid out.

“Alright boys, a delivery truck has some stuff we need to make our lives a little easier.” Deuce’s dark eyes gleamed. “Now then which route should we take?”

They all studied it. Vinnie was the first to suggest. He picked up a pencil from the table. “Well I think this would be a good way to go.” He traced a route out.

Brian shook his head. “Too dangerous. We leave ourselves boxed in if we try to come from the side street. It’d be much easier to go this way, go in straight through the alley and out the other side.” He drew an imaginary line on the map.

Vinnie glared at the young man. “Hey, Deuce, why don’t you just let Brian plan the whole thing seein’ he’s so smart.”

Deuce gave Vinnie a hard look. “Brian has a point. I think we should do it his way.”

“I’m only suggesting a way so we don’t all get our heads and asses blown off is all,” Brian retorted. “You’re more than welcome to try and take the whole truck for yourself.”

“You little sh—”

Deuce slammed his hand on the table. “Both of you shut up! We’re going the route Brian suggested because we have a better chance of making it all move swiftly. I get any more trouble outta you, Vinnie, I’m dumping you from this operation. Understand?”

Vinnie gave a curt nod and said nothing. Brian couldn’t help the feeling of deja vu’. Vinnie had protested about the route to take when they robbed the bus, now he was protesting this. It thoroughly annoyed the young criminal.

Deuce continued going over the details of what time they would leave, who was to drive, how long it would take etc. He ended with a reminder for Brian. “I don’t wanna have to tell the Don that we screwed up because you weren’t listenin’. He’s got big plans for you.”

Dark eyes flashed. “We met tomorrow night at 7pm. Ace is the driver, while you, me and Vinnie will have only 10 minutes to unload the shipment and get the hell out of Dodge after Dirk shows up a few minutes later.”

“Don’t be late tomorrow.” Deuce warned as they all headed out of the room and back into the bar area.

Meanwhile, Danielle had returned to the motel. After finding Auna’s note, she grabbed her bag and another one. Within a few minutes the motel bathroom had been turned into a dark room. Satisfied with the photo images she processed some time later. She cleaned everything up and took the photos out to the table.

She sat down and began compiling notes for yet another report while listening to the radio. She stopped and stared at one photo she had captured of him smiling at his car. He was an incredible wheelman. She believed he was a pretty likeable person once you got past his Syndicate association from what she had observed. If he could just get away from this… Danielle was startled from her thoughts by her boss.

“Put that away. You’re coming with us.” Auna shoved the pile of photos in the folder.

Danielle was hesitant after seeing Vinnie behind Auna. “Y’all go ahead. I really don’t feel like going out.”

“Something go wrong today?”

“No, I just don’t want to go out. I lost my sunglasses and you know how I get them headaches.”

“I’m not taking any excuses. Tomorrow afternoon we give our final report and head back to Charlotte. I’d think you’d want your last night in here to be fun.” Auna smiled.

Danielle sighed. “Ok, give me a few minutes to change.”

Danielle wasn’t sure why she grabbed the folder and notebook off the table but she did. Something about the two guys with Vinnie made her leery. She grabbed her backpack off the floor and headed to the bathroom. She quickly changed, stuffed the folder and notebook in the secret compartment and left it in the bathroom under a blanket.

She wiped her face with a wet cloth and frowned at the blonde image that stared back at her in the mirror. After two and half weeks, Danielle still couldn’t get used to the look. She was still who she was…but it didn’t seem like it. And the color was still bad. She tried to smile cheerfully when she rejoined Auna and the fellas.

“Very nice.” Auna said.

“It’ll be ok– won’t it?” Danielle looked down at her outfit that did make her feel a little at home and more like herself. She grabbed the camera bag off the table.

Vinnie commented as they all walked toward the door. “You’ll fit in where we’re going.”

Auna insisted on driving her car once they were outside. The three guys seemed to have no problem with that. Danielle had a feeling they were humoring her boss for the sake of the Don. Danielle was surprised when they pulled up to a bowling alley; it was definitely not the type of place she figured Vinnie and his acquaintances would visit. It was about the same size and set up as a small tavern but where there would be a dance floor and booths, there was lanes and tables instead.

After being there for a while, Danielle had to admit she was glad she tagged along. She was stepping toward the table with a tray of drinks they had ordered when she saw Brian walk in. She had gotten the impression the blonde named Ace was one of the few friends the young man had after watching them.

“I got something for y’all but forgot my own drink.” Danielle said, after sitting the tray down. She didn’t think anyone else had seen Brian.

“You can have mine, I’ll go get another.” Auna offered.

“You got a beer and I’m in the mood for soda.” Danielle smiled and made her way up to the bar and boldly sat just a few seats from her assignment and the other guy. While she waited for her drink, she heard…

“C’mon, man…relax, you’re gonna be fine. Your job’s easy,” the blonde was saying.

Brian gave Ace a look. “Easy compared to what? All you gotta do is sit in the car and drive our little asses outta there when it’s over.”

“The Don wouldn’t send you if he didn’t think you could do it.”

“Try tellin’ that to Vinnie.” Brian took a sip of his beer. “Vinnie’s got some issue with me, man.”

Ace laughed. “It’s because the Don don’t care too much for Vinnie. But the Don likes you, Brian. To be honest, I think Vinnie ended up on the wrong side after them hicks busted up Don Tyler’s operation.”

Brian looked at Ace. Was the blonde hitman suggesting Vinnie had a misplaced loyalty?

“Everybody knows Vinnie was right up there in the ranks with Tyler…” Ace continued. “But when everything blew apart, man…Vinnie missed the boat. I’m willin’ to bet ol’ Frankie sees Vinnie as a traitor, as he more than likely sees all of us that went with Mancini. Given a choice, I think Vinnie would want to go back, but he knows he wouldn’t be welcome. He’s loyal to Mancini enough to forge his own destiny. The only person Vinnie is truly loyal to, however…is Vinnie.”

Brian smirked. “You’re pretty smart for a hitman.”

Ace laughed. “Hey, I’ve been at this a long time. I’ve learned a few things on the way. I’ll even give you some advice if you’re interested.”

“Go ahead.”

“Don’t worry about Vinnie. The Don likes you because you work hard and you’re dedicated. Vinnie on the other hand, I think has lost some of his dedication, ya know? I think the Don knows this…and I’m pretty sure that Vinnie’s gonna self destruct at some point. Just keep doin’ what your doin’…you’ll be fine.”

Brian chuckled to himself and took a sip of his beer. His dark eyes narrowed seeing a couple of local infamous gang members walk in the front door. He gestured towards them. “Look over there.” Ace turned to look.

The small group of hoodlums looked around the place with smirks. A quick glance around and Ace had made eye contact with other Syndicate associates. Spines stiffened, enforcers cautiously removed weapons and not an eye blinked.

“What the hell they doin’ here?” Brian whispered. Every Syndicate member recognized the threesome from a local gang of punks that liked to brag about their connections to the Charlotte Syndicate. Once it was fairly big deal…the Don in Charlotte wanted what Frankie Tyler had…but after Tyler was sent packing a couple years back, Charlotte lost interest in what Atlanta had to offer. Brian wondered if now there was renewed interest for some reason.

“I would venture a guess that they’re just visitin’…but they should know better than to be in this neighborhood…” Ace said.

Brian tapped Ace on the sleeve. “C’mon…” He slid off his bar stool and walked with Ace towards the front door. Vinnie slowly stepped out from the shadows and watched as Brian and Ace went up to the three.

“You gentlemen lost?” Ace asked.

“Hardly,” came the reply. “We’ve come with a message for Don Mancini and the Atlanta Syndicate.”

“Well, you can tell us. We’ll pass it along.”

One of the men, apparently the leader of at least this threesome smiled. “That won’t be necessary. Don Mancini’ll hear it no matter where he is…”

Suddenly the front window exploded inward, sending glass and wood fragments flying everywhere. Syndicate members and patrons alike scrambled out of the way of the debris, people screamed and ran towards the back of the place where there was nothing but a brick wall. The three gang members whipped out their weapons.

Brian and Ace knew they were the first line of defense. Both hitmen lunged towards a hoodlum and pushed them back into the third, sending all three back out onto the street. Ace and Brian managed to unarm their opponents and an old fashioned street fight was soon underway.

The rest of the gang had been stationed outside and saw the fight ensue. They ran up to help their comrades.

Inside, the bartender jumped the counter to go help Brian and Ace. He was joined by a few of the other Syndicate boys and they charged out of the door.

Danielle was completely taken by surprise at what had just taken place. After the bartender jumped the bar, she looked across the room and spotted a side exit. She hurried over after seeing no one had been injured.

Auna meanwhile, had seen Danielle make a beeline across the floor. She almost went out after her when she noticed Vinnie standing by the doorway. Deuce suddenly came up and was demanding for Vinnie to come and help out.

“Eh, Brian will take care of it.”

Deuce was not impressed. He grabbed Vinnie by the jacket and pulled the hitman towards the door.

Vinnie snorted. “I’m sure the kid is fine. You know he thinks he can take on the world.”

Deuce growled. “We’ve got a damn attack on Syndicate turf goin’ on here and you’re in here grinning. Get your ass out there now!”

He forcefully shoved Vinnie out the front door.

Brian, Ace and the rest of the Atlanta crew meanwhile were cleaning house. The fight shifted out of the street to an alley. Deuce and Vinnie joined in as the fight spilled back into the street. Two cars pulled up a couple of blocks down by a small park that seemed like it was the boundary line of the neon lit business and residential areas, headlights stayed on, engines were left running as more gang members emerged from the vehicles and rushed up as the fight made it that way. The blazing light was just enough for Auna to see Danielle standing in the shadow of a tree. She was almost there when Syndicate sedans showed up.

Danielle almost dropped the camera in her hand when someone stepped beside her.

“You alright?”

“Yeah– This is another one of them code things ain’t it?”

Auna smiled. “Yeah but you tell me what it is.”

Danielle smiled. “A turf war. It’s a way of showing your loyalty to the Don. And if you win, you get bragging rights.”

Meanwhile, Brian reeled upon receiving a right cross to the jaw that sent him staggering back, almost tumbling over an oversized reciprocal. He took a moment to collect himself and then looked at Vinnie, who was just standing there. “Whose goddamn side are you on?”

Vinnie’s comment was muffled as a shove from behind sent him head first into the trash bin. Brian started to step over to help him up, instead he ran over to tackle the gang member who had pulled a knife on Deuce.

“You know he’s not the only fighting,” Auna scolded after observing Danielle’s stare remained fixed on the dark haired young man.

“Just got use to watching him is all.”

“You’re not a good liar.” Auna paused. Her stare remained towards the fight that was spilling back into the street. “There is no good in someone like him, or he wouldn’t be in the Syndicate. It’s that simple.”

Danielle ignored the comment and saw the gang start running after shots were fired. Some left on foot, others stumbled to their cars by call of their leader and soon they had all retreated.

Vinnie watched along with the others but inside he was angry that Brian hadn’t been hurt in some way. Hopefully tomorrow night would be Brian’s last if Vinnie had his way.

“Me and Ace’ll go let the Don know.” Brian announced as some of the associates stood in the street.

Vinnie shook his head as most of the other associates took off. “I’ll do it.”

Ace frowned, watching Vinnie step up close to Brian and they stared off. “Alright.
You just make sure you tell Don Mancini that it was Brian here that saw them boys.”
The blonde hitman stepped close and got in Vinnie’s face. “If I hear you told the Don anything else or lied to him about this…you’ll see what I do.”

Deuce laughed. “Don’t worry about him, Ace. I’ll tell the Don and put in a good word for the kid.”

Brian’s dark eyes shined for a moment at the unexpected praise from the top hitman as Vinnie slunk off. Did it mean maybe some of them were beginning to see him as less of a threat to their senior positions? Not that he cared but it would take some of the pressure off. He’d been happy being a wheelman. “Thank you, Deuce.”

Deuce held a gleam in his dark eyes before walking up the street. Brian and Ace took off in the opposite direction.

Meanwhile, Vinnie had caught up to Auna and Danielle who were getting in their car.
“Hey, why y’all leavin’ so soon? There are still plenty of places we could go.”

Auna looked at him. “Oh yeah? What’s your next brilliant plan?”

Danielle noticed Vinnie seemed uncomfortable with that question, especially in her presence. “Uhh…my next brilliant plan? Well, I was thinkin’ maybe we could go for coffee or something?” He gave Auna a hard look, basically telling her to shut up and that he needed to talk to her.

Danielle had also realized Vinnie wanted to talk to Auna. Things were starting to make sense now. She smiled and gestured up the street. “How about a little game of pool?”

Auna laughed. “Sure, led the way.”

Vinnie wasn’t laughing. Of all the times he wanted Danielle to say she wasn’t interested, she had to go and agree to go with them. Danielle took a step ahead of them and heard their hushed whispering.

“Not with her around…” Vinnie hissed. He finally got Auna to stay quiet and they arrived at the door of the pool hall, which turned out to be closed for the night.

“Bum deal,” Danielle said. “I was really looking forward to shooting some pool.”

“Well, there’s always next time,” Auna said.

Danielle nodded in agreement. “Yeah –I guess we can head back to the motel now.”

Vinnie thought frantically for a second. “I think I left my jacket there. Y’all wouldn’t mind me ridin’ with ya?”

“I won’t mind,” Danielle smiled sweetly and took his arm. “I’ve felt safer with you around.”

Vinnie let his guard down, his dark eyes looking into her hazel eyes. “Really? Here I thought you might like that little jerk.” Vinnie replied as the three of them got in the silver sports car.

Danielle brushed a strand of blonde bangs from her face. “Don’t be silly… for one he’s just an assignment and two he’s not my type!”

“Alright, I’ve heard enough.” Auna scolded with a smile. She was relieved her earlier impression that Danielle might have fallen for her assignment was wrong.

They arrived back at the motel a few minutes later. Danielle sat the camera bag on the table. “If y’all excuse me, I’m gonna go get ready for bed. I’m kinda tired.”

Auna requested. “Don’t use all the hot water.”

Danielle picked up her clothes bag and headed to the bathroom. She turned at the door. “Don’t worry I won’t.” She closed the bathroom door. She headed over to the shower and turned the cold water on. She went back to the door and listened…

“I was thinking of having the cops show up and Brian would be the only one who gets busted.”

“You know if my cousin finds out about tonight, we’re gonna be in big trouble.” Auna hissed.

“Who the hell is gonna tell him? I paid ‘em for two jobs. If Brian didn’t get hurt tonight…” Vinnie paused and made a slash line across his throat.

“I should’ve never made that call!”

“Well you did and there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it now.”

“You wanna bet! I’m sure Johnny would love to hear all about this.” Auna said and reached for the phone.

Vinnie stepped up close to her. “If you don’t want to lose your associate, you’ll keep your mouth shut.”

Auna glared at him. “Anything happens to her and you’ll be the sorriest bastard on my cousin’s payroll. Get out now.”

Danielle listened to the door slam. She hurried over to the shower and turned the hot water on. By the time she was came out of the bathroom Auna was asleep. She walked over and pulled a blanket over the older blonde. She felt bad for Auna. Her thoughts went from the recent events to earlier in the evening when she had finished her report as she fell into a restless sleep.

* * *

Brian sat at the bar with the senior hitman late the next afternoon. “I’m tellin’ ya Deuce, some blonde chick has been followin’ me.”

Deuce laughed. He turned and looked towards other associates sitting farther down the row. “The kid here is worried about some chick followin’ him.”

“Awww, Boy Wonder has a secret admirer.” Ace teased good naturedly.

Dirk grinned wickedly. “If that was me, it’d be the other way around.”

Brian stood up, shoved his clenched fists in his jacket pockets and walked out. There wasn’t a damn thing he could about his fellow associates’ remarks inless he wanted to make more enemies than he already had. Besides it wouldn’t look good in front of the Don to be arguing over something so absurd. He was almost to his car when he seen two chicks walking into the establishment he just left.

The two women stood quietly waiting as the Don fidgeted with a few papers on the desk. “I’m sending Brian on a very important business matter tonight.”

“He’ll be fine, Don Mancini.”

The Don paused, Brian was the one he was counting on to be his top man someday. “Good.” He reached in the pocket of his suit and pulled two envelopes out. He laid them on the desk.

Auna picked one of them up and looked at the contents, then shoved the envelope in the waistband of her jeans.

The Don and Auna watched as Danielle stared at the envelope for a moment before she turned and walked out of the room.

“We had a really long day yesterday…you know how the hours can be,” Auna grabbed the envelope. “It was nice workin’ for ya.”

The Don just stared at her as she hurried out.

Auna searched the entire bar and then walked out and saw Danielle standing by the car.

“Danielle, are you alright?”

“I don’t know.”

“I can’t believe this…you became attracted to your assignment and now your gonna throw your career away for some criminal!”

“Not an attraction! I’m tired of spying on people and the things they do– You realize if the information we gathered fell in the wrong hands… Brian, your cousin and his whole dang organization would be in a lot of trouble.”

“Yeah, so what?”

“I can’t be a part of that!”

Auna stared at her. “If I didn’t think you could handle this, I wouldn’t have brought you with me.”

Danielle snapped. “Maybe if you had bothered to mention that you were related to a Syndicate Don, I wouldn’t have come.”

“Well lying to him only got you in it deeper,” Auna hissed. “Plus you committed a grievous error by not taking this.” She held the envelope out to her associate.

Danielle shoved it away. “I don’t want it.”

“You have to take it.”

“Why should I?”

Auna looked up to see her cousin in the doorway. Her voice was barely a whisper.
“If you don’t take this right now. Your name will end up on a contract that can never be canceled or rescinded.”

“The same thing is gonna happen if he finds out I lied to him, so does it really matter how my name ends up on some stupid piece of paper.” Danielle hissed with a half glance past Auna towards the doorway.

“Dammit, now isn’t the time to remember your ethics and morals. Stop being stubborn and take it!”

Danielle thought for a second before taking the envelope. She had been questioning herself the past few weeks on those very things. She put it in her jeans pocket and looked at Auna with a sweet smile for those watching.

Auna took a deep breath as the Don walked back inside.

“We goin’ back to the motel now?” Danielle asked.

Auna shook her head. “You are. I need to go talk to my cousin again.”

Danielle slipped in the driver’s side of the silver sports car. “You want me to wait?”

“No.” Auna watched the car speed away and then walked back inside the bar. She was a little nervous seeing the bartender motion for her to go to the back. The Don was waiting for her in the office.

“You done playing games, cousin?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, cousin. I just came back in to tell you good bye is all.” Auna looked at him innocently.

The Don slammed his fist on the desk. “I know you were responsible for those fellas showin’ up last night. I could’ve lost some of my best men if Brian hadn’t been so alert– Now where is your associate?”

“I sent her back to the motel. You don’t have to worry about her, I think she’s probably going to quit now.” Auna realized her slip up and stared at him while she thought about the code of honor briefly. She could tell her cousin about Vinnie’s involvement or Danielle lying but that wouldn’t get herself off the hook. “I’ve heard rumors that Vinnie is very jealous of Brian.”

The Don pursed his lips. There was always that problem in his organization. What bothered him was the fact it was a local gang with ties to where Auna had been sent to keep an eye on things that angered him. And the news that Auna’s associate might quit– His whole organization could be gone. He picked up a pen and began writing.

“Wait, I never told her who we were gonna be workin’ for.”

“Did you honestly think you would get away with this?”

“Cousin please, I’ll take any punishment you deem appropriate for my actions but don’t punish her.”

Johnny Mancini leaned back in his chair. He dropped the pen from his hand and replaced it with a cigar from a box on the desk. Auna remained silent as he sat there for a few minutes in private thought, taking hits from the cigar.

Even though she was family, he enjoyed the alarmed look on her face. She was obviously thinking of the many ways her young associate could be done in or harmed. He gestured for her to take the paper.

Auna inhaled sharply reading the punishment chosen for Danielle. She exhaled handing the paper back. “Johnny, I mean Cousin, we were family before you were the Don– C’mon I promise she’ll never say anything and I won’t either. Just give us a chance.”

The Don thought for a moment. Danielle had had nothing to do with Auna’s actions. His cousin had been trying to be loyal because Vinnie lied to her and up until now, Auna had been loyal. He crushed out the cigar and strummed his fingers on top of the desk.
“I’m gonna give you one chance seeing how you didn’t break the Omerta. As long as she doesn’t, this document never gets carried out. But if I ever find out either of you broke Omerta…You’ll both be punished.”

He picked up the two pieces of paper and folded them. “I want you in this office at 9am tomorrow.”

Auna nodded. “I’ll be here. You won’t be disappointed.”

“I better not be.”

* * *

Danielle felt the hand on her shoulder before she opened the motel door. A voice commanded. “Don’t turn around. I know you’ve been following me and I want to know why.”

Danielle hesitated, but didn’t turn around. “Client confidentiality–”

“Don’t give me that! You really think I’m in a position where I could cause any trouble legally? Gimmie a break…”

Danielle started to turn to him.

“I said don’t turn around.” His hand applied pressure to her shoulder, signaling clearly that he didn’t want her to turn around. “Why have you been following me?”

Danielle debated the implications of revealing her reasons to him. Thing was, he more than knew that distrust of him was high within his organization…and it was only reasonable that he would want to know why. But would knowing be the best thing for him? “Does it matter now? I’m not following you anymore…”

“But you were. And pretty well too. Everybody thinks I’m nuts because they don’t believe me when I say I got some crazy chick following me. They joke I’ve picked up a secret admirer…but you ain’t no admirer. No way… I’ve been around here long enough to know when I’m being followed by the law… or by one of my own kind. You ain’t quite the law… and you ain’t my kind. So I’m asking one last time. Why are you following me?”

“Because something’s wrong with your kind…” Danielle said softly. “To be honest…I think you’re in trouble. It’s not me you should be worried about. It’s them.”

The young man paused. His hand left her shoulder and he turned away from her, looking up the street in thought. It’s them…. His sense of distrust wasn’t him overreacting, after all. It was real. And somebody distrusted him so much they hired a PI to follow him!
Why not just shoot me in a dark alley for crying out loud?
He glanced back to the young PI. She still stood facing the door of the motel, like she was studying the engraved wood with keen interest, comparing it to a mental catalogue of other architecture that was through out the city of Atlanta and its historical value.

He walked back up to her and stepped close. He looked at her over her shoulder and Danielle felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She kept staring at the door.
“Do you have any idea…any idea what you got yourself involved in?” His voice had been cool through the whole conversation. It now was colder. To him, she was nothing more than a turncoat. A stoolie. She had followed him around and reported everything back to who? The Don? Deuce? All for what? Money?? “I bet you were paid a lot for your services…” he sneered.

“Just like you’re paid a lot for yours.” Danielle retorted. “I’ve seen what you do. You look like you’re having all kindsa fun doin’ it too…”

“I got my reasons–”

“And I had mine!” She spun around and faced him now, looking into his dark eyes, unflinching under his cold stare. “This PI has seen the last of her investigatin’ days! And you may be lookin’ at the last days of your glorious criminal career, mister! The Don’s suspicious of you. I don’t know why, but he is. He wanted you tailed…but you wanna know something? He doesn’t know everything you’ve been doing. I lied a few times. How’s that grab ya? I lied for you. I don’t even know you!”

Brian stared for a moment. Then started to reach in his jacket.

Danielle reached out and grabbed his arm, stopping him. “Oh no..no,no, I got more to say. Infact I gotta question for ya. Why the heck would the Don be suspicious of you, when I’m pretty damn suspicious of some of your “associates,” like Vinnie. He doesn’t just dislike you. He hates you, Brian! I’m willin’ to bet he wants to see you set up for a fall. He can’t take you out himself, but he can damn sure see to it that you get taken out.”

Brian whipped his gun out and pointed it at Danielle. “Git inside…”

Danielle held her gaze with the young hitman and reached behind her to open the door. “Sure…born in sin, come on in…” They stepped inside the motel room and closed the door.

“How do you know this?” Brian asked.

“In the process of followin’ you around, I picked up a few other tidbits.”

Brian paused in thought. “Your boss is a cousin to the Don. I can see what her angle is in all this, but what’s yours?”

“Unfortunately, I’m just along for the ride. Auna didn’t tell me just exactly who we were working for. I had no idea that Johnny Mancini was a Syndicate Don.”

“He ain’t the first. He won’t be the last.”

“Would you like to be the Don some day, Brian?”

Dark eyes flashed at the PI. Who was she to suggest his potential future path? “Find me somebody in the Syndicate that don’t wanna be the Don,” he replied. “Look, I’m as damn loyal as can be to Mancini. If I wasn’t, I’d be dead. You think I wanna go that route?”

“No.”

“So you understand why I’m a little upset about being followed? The Don gives me orders, I do ’em. I spot trouble, I do what I can to protect my associates and to protect the Don. I’m a damn good wheelman and a damn good shot. My loyalty is with Don Mancini…and based on what you’ve told me, it’s some other folks the Don should be worried about.”

“It’s other folks you should be worried about.”

“I ain’t worried about ’em. Vinnie don’t mean spit to me.”

“He will mean spit to you when he botches your job tonight.”

Brian paused and looked the bottle-blonde PI straight in the eyes. She wasn’t fooling either. Knowledge was power, and this young lady knew enough to be dangerous. She knew enough to tip the scales a bit. She knew what he had pretty much suspected but had denied to himself repeatedly. Vinnie wasn’t being a hardnose in order to keep Brian on his toes as a newly promoted enforcer. Vinnie was being a jerk because he was jealous. It was just like Ace had been talking about…Vinnie was loyal only to himself. He wanted more than anything to see Brian fall, and fall hard.

“Let’s suppose yer right…why tell me?”

“I don’t know,” Danielle brushed a lock of blonde hair out of her hazel eyes. “Well, maybe I do know but it’s too complicated to explain. Look, just be careful tonight Brian, ok? Vinnie’s got your number and he wants more than anything to pull it.” She eyed the gun Brian held in his hand.

Brian looked at it too, then slowly pocketed it. He decided the PI wasn’t all that much of a threat… right now. He had questions still.

“What’s Vinnie got planned, do you know?”

“He had a couple of ideas. The cops show up and you’d get busted while everyone else got away or havin’ those guys from last night show up…” She paused not wanting to say the rest.

Brian detected it. He saw it in her expression. “And…?”

Danielle turned toward the window behind her. She couldn’t face him. “They were suppose to hurt you last night… Now he wants you taken out.”

Although Danielle didn’t see it, Brian’s dark eyes darkened even more. “Well this is just great…I got a PI followin’ me, and now one of my associates wants me taken out. I don’t know which is worse…” He looked over at Danielle standing by the window. “He set up that gang to hit last night, and they got ties to Charlotte. And you’re from Charlotte…”

“Not exactly. It’s a long story I’m sure you wouldn’t care to hear,” Danielle turned back toward him. “Auna made the call to Charlotte to get the gang involved for him.”

Brian’s jaw literally dropped. “AUNA?? The Don’s own cousin??? What the–why the—oh man…” He shook his head, as the implications of things began to settle in. “This is not cool…you understand what I mean? This is NOT cool at all…”

“No it’s not. All I want is to get out of here—I told you everything I know.”

“Maybe so, but you can’t exactly walk away from all this that easy. The Don finds out what his cousin did, you can bet your life he’ll be looking to settle up with both of you. It’s one thing you’ve been following me…it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame when you take part in a double cross on the Don.”

“I had no idea until last night that Auna had done that. What was I suppose to do…tell the Don with Auna standing beside me earlier… Excuse me, Don Mancini…Vinnie is lookin’ to eliminate Brian. Auna made a call for him to able to make it possible.”

“Uh…” Brian paused in thought, these latest developments bothering him and he had to come to decision. He would probably regret it, but he reminded himself that beggars can’t be choosers…

“Bottom line is,” he continued. “you and I both are in trouble.” He looked at Danielle. “I’m going to assume you’re right about Vinnie’s plans, and I’m gonna be watchin’ my back. Maybe I can return the favor to you…if it deserves to be returned. Meantime, if I was you, I would be keeping an eye on your partner and watching your own back.”

“I will– Maybe she won’t bother to look for me if I leave before she gets here.” Danielle wished out loud.

“Yes she will,” Brian said evenly. “Although, I suppose if she didn’t…the Don would. You can run, but you can’t hide…”

Danielle nodded. “I know–but if I don’t break that code of silence thing…the Omerta, won’t that get me some leeway with your boss? If not I might as well just go find them so they can do what ever they are going to do to me.”

“Do you have any idea what they could do to you??” Brian exclaimed. “It won’t be twenty lashes with a wet noodle! They’ll probably put a contract out on you. It won’t matter if you keep your mouth shut— You even know what a Contract is??”

“It’s a piece of paper that condemns someone to death under orders from the Don. So why wait around for it.” She turned and reached for the door. “Good luck, Brian.”

Brian grabbed her arm. “Hold it,” He paused. What was he doing? He had his own ass to worry about, why was he concerned about hers? He looked at her eyes, saw that she truly didn’t care at this point and he let go of her arm, realizing there wasn’t anything he could do. “You need the luck more than I do I’m afraid…”

“You think I can’t handle myself, why back home in–” Danielle stopped herself. She had almost slipped up. “Would you please leave.” She said and hurried past him to the bathroom.

Brian looked at the door for a moment. He was reasonably sure the young lady could handle herself. But that didn’t mean much against a Syndicate Contract. He closed his mind to it and walked out of the motel.

Danielle waited a few seconds after the door shut, before she walked back and seen Auna’s notebook on the table. She opened it and quickly read through it, the last few entries brought tears to her eyes.

Danielle slammed the book shut and grabbed a lighter off the table. She strolled angrily back to the bathroom, remembering what she had told Auna earlier. She opened the window with her other hand, then placed the notebook in the sink.

The burning represented the end of innocence.

When it was done, she grabbed her backpack from under the blanket, walked out to the other room where she left a note for Auna on the table and strolled out to the silver sports car. Auna missed seeing Danielle leave when she walked up a few minutes later.

Meanwhile, a dark colored sedan pulled away from the Jigsaw.

Deuce was irate. “I told you not to be late, you better hope nothin’ goes wrong or I’m gonna personally make your life a livin’ hell.”

Vinnie shrugged in the backseat. “I had an emergency.”

Brian facing forward in the front seat rolled his eyes. I bet you did, you sorry bastard.

Deuce continued the tirade. “An emergency? Huh, you don’t know an emergency until you’re in hot water with me.”

Vinnie smiled. “It won’t happen again.”

Ace pulled the car to a stop behind a dumpster in back of the weapons store. The four men cautiously surveyed their surroundings and waited for the truck to arrive. Deuce looked at his watch. “We got about two minutes, Brian.”

Brian nodded and stepped out of the car. He walked over to the dumpster and peered around it, in the direction where the delivery truck would be coming. He held a hand back to the three in the car, waiting to give them the signal. He turned his head to look down the other direction of the alley and narrowed his eyes at seeing a car come to a stop at the entrance to the alley. He looked back to where the truck was supposed to be, saw it was still clear and then looked back towards the entrance to the alley again.

The car was still there.

Something was wrong. Dirk wasn’t supposed to be any where near the weapons store for at least 10, maybe 15 minutes at the most. Their information was full proof. The only people who knew about it was the Don, Deuce, Dirk, Ace, himself and…

Vinnie.

The PI chick had warned him. Damn, there was no telling what was going to happen now. He made eye contact with Deuce and nodded in the direction of the unexpected car.

“I think we got trouble, Deuce,” he said.

The senior hitman got out of the car and looked. “Who the hell is that?” he hissed. He looked at the other end of the alley. The truck was arriving.

“Can’t be Dirk, he’s too damn early…” Brian hissed in return. He looked to Deuce for guidance. What the hell do we do now???

Deuce looked at the delivery truck and watched as the two workmen got out and headed to the backside of the truck. He nodded to Brian and then gestured for the young hitman to get back into the car.

“Hit it, Ace!”

Ace brought the car out from behind the dumpster, cut around the side of the truck and quickly came to a stop. Deuce, Brian and Vinnie jumped out with weapons drawn and immediately went to work.

The two deliverymen were taken by surprise at the gun barrels pointing in their faces. One tried to fight back but having chose to try to attack Vinnie, was rewarded with a hard hit in the head from the butt of Vinnie’s gun.

Brian held his opponent at bay. Deuce, meanwhile, shot off the lock on the back of the truck and quickly threw the door open.

It was a goldmine. Guns of all different sizes and models were packed into the truck. Deuce smiled at Brian, who nodded anxiously.

Vinnie opened up the trunk of the car and paused to look back down the alley. The other car had begun to quietly creep in. Vinnie stood just enough so that Ace couldn’t see out the side mirror and back down the alley.

Deuce started grabbing boxes and hauled them to the trunk of the sedan. Vinnie tried to appear helpful and grabbed a box as well, trying to keep in time with passing Deuce to and from the trunk of the car. Keeping the mirror pretty well blocked.

Ace watched his associates and kept one foot on the brake, the other hovering over the accelerator. Hurry up…hurry up…

Brian kept one eye on his opponent, the other on Deuce and Vinnie. Another set of boxes was loaded into the car. As Brian turned his eyes back to the other delivery man, he glanced up the alley and saw the car had moved.

“Deuce! I think we got trouble, man!” Brian hissed. Deuce stopped what he was doing and looked too.

“Oh sh–” Before he could finish his explicative, machine gun fire exploded in the alley. Tires squealed from the other car and Deuce and Vinnie ducked and jumped back into their car. The second deliveryman took a swing at Brian.

“Brian! Come on!!”

Brian blocked the swing and then swung back with a punch square to the man’s jaw, sending him flying back on his butt. The young hitman then leapt towards the car and dove into the backseat. Ace slammed the accelerator, leaving a trail of black marks on the pavement.

The second car leapt to life and followed the Syndicate car out of the alley and onto the street.

“Damn! Damn, damn, damn, damn, DAMN!!!” Deuce exclaimed looking back at the car that pursued them. “Who in the hell are those fellas?!”

Ace swung the sedan onto a side street, sliding through the turn as he did so. The other vehicle followed. Gunfire trailed after them.

“And us with a trunk full of ammunition,” Brian muttered. “One shot…one shot, man that’s all they’re gonna need.”

“Then we bail,” Deuce said. “Ace, find a place to dump us and keep driving as long as you can, man.”

Ace nodded. He pushed the sedan for all it had. Deuce and Brian proceeded to return fire to the other car, hoping maybe to knock them off their tail, or at least slow them up.

Vinnie was furious. This wasn’t going at all the way he wanted it to! Damn those fellas. Damn Brian! Dammit all to hell!

“We bail one at a time,” Deuce ordered. “If they stop for ya, keep running, no matter what. We’ll meet back at the Jigsaw.” He nodded to Brian to go first.

Brian nodded and watched the scenery as it zoomed by.

“Awright,” Ace said. “I’m droppin’ ya here.”

“Cover ’em, Vinnie!” Deuce shouted and leaned out the window to aim back at the other car.

Brian pushed open the other back door and saw the spinning pavement. He paused a moment.

“Go Brian! GO!”

The back window of the sedan suddenly burst. Brian jumped out of the car and hit the pavement. Gunfire echoed around him, bullets pinged against the pavement. He kept rolling and got to his feet long enough to lunge behind a car. Before he was kissing pavement again, he glanced up as the two cars went speeding by and saw Vinnie fire one shot and hit the fender of the car Brian had sought shelter behind.

The two cars soon disappeared down another turn, leaving the young hitman alone, bruised and out of breath. And mad…

Once Ace had dropped Vinnie and Deuce, and saw the car was still in pursuit of him, he eventually bailed. The occupants of the other car unloaded their ammunition onto the trunk of the Syndicate sedan and destroyed all that was supposed to have made their lives easier…

When everybody made it back to the Jigsaw later that night, the news was immediately given to the Don. Mancini was furious. He excused Ace, Brian and Deuce after they made their reports to him. He asked for Vinnie to remain.

“Vinnie…I want you to be in this office tomorrow morning at 9. Don’t be late.”

The next morning Johnny Mancini unfolded two pieces of paper and laid them on his desk, it was time to start taking care of business…

He looked at Auna and Vinnie with a cold stare, then looked down at the papers. It wasn’t like Danielle was the first in her family to have a contract on her. She’d just be the first one to be taken care of. “I want you to bring Danielle to me, so she can face her punishment with both of you. And in case you screw up…” He paused as the door opened, Deuce and Dirk appeared. “These two will be followin’ you.”

Ace saw Deuce and Dirk as they were walking out. “Where you fellas headin’?”

Dirk smirked. “The Don is on the warpath if you must know. We gotta follow his cousin and Vinnie to make sure they bring back her associate.” He pointed toward Auna and Vinnie walking out the door.

Ace watched Deuce and Dirk leave, then walked over to the bar. He stepped up to where Brian was sitting. “The Don’s on the war path. He’s sending out for his own cousin… something big is going down, man.”

“Really?” Brian asked.

“Yeah. Her partner too.” The blonde hitman chuckled and patted the younger man on the shoulder. He headed over to join a game of poker in the corner.

Brian waited a few seconds, then peeked over to where Ace was and strolled over to the front door. “Don’t know why the hell I’m doing this.” He muttered heading outside to his car that sat a few blocks down.

Danielle was walking out of the convenience store across the road from the motel.
She was about to cross the street when Auna stepped in front of her. “Danielle, you gotta come with me.”

“I thought…” Danielle stopped speaking as she felt the cold steel touch the back of her head.

“Vinnie put that away. We are only supposed to bring her in.” Auna ordered.

Vinnie grumbled but followed the request spying the other black sedan waiting on the street. He was already in enough trouble with the Don.

Danielle turned to where she was facing both of them. “Bring me in for what?”

“The Don has decided business needs to be taken care.” Vinnie smirked.

Danielle looked at them and thought… Somewhere back there in the dust, that same small town in each of us… offer up your best defense, this is the end of innocence. And that’s just what she was going to do. She shoved Vinnie into Auna and bolted across the street.

Dirk saw the young woman run as Vinnie and Auna tried to untangle themselves. He reached for the door with one hand and his other hand reached for the knife in his jacket.

Deuce grabbed his arm. “The Don ain’t gonna be happy if you mess up his plans.”

Dirk nodded and put his hands back on the wheel, as he saw the young woman reach a silver sports car in a motel parking lot.

By the time Vinnie and Auna stood up, Danielle had the vehicle out on the street.

Auna snickered. “Her cousins were stock car drivers.”

Vinnie grabbed her and shoved her toward the driver’s door. “I don’t care who her relatives are…Git in.”

He fumbled nervously trying to get the key in the ignitation when the other black sedan honked its horn. Auna shook her head as he finally got the car started. He sped the car out of the parking lot, the other sedan followed.

Brian had just turned on the street when a streak of silver flew by with two black sedans hot on its tail, he jerked the wheel to the right and followed.

Auna was thinking…if Danielle made it to the freeway, she’d be about 2 hours from home. No one could afford for her to make it that far. “I don’t care how you do it but get her headed back toward the Jigsaw now.”

Vinnie cut a corner a little too sharp. “What the hell do you think I’m trying to do.” He hissed, taking one hand off the steering wheel to motion for the other black sedan to pull up along side.

Dirk brought the other sedan slowly up in the next lane.

Deuce again remembered the strict orders to make sure Danielle, Auna and Vinnie all made it back to the Jigsaw. He looked over at Vinnie, as the car came to a stop. “Maybe you should let the chick drive, you’re givin’ guys like me a bad name.”

Vinnie’s dark eyes flashed at the rebuke.

Auna having decided to take control of things, cut in before he could speak. She looked past him to the occupants of the other sedan. “Deuce, you and Dirk go to the left and cut around till you are coming south on the bridge that is about 5 miles away. Meanwhile, we’ll stay behind her and keep going north.”

Deuce nodded and turned to Dirk. “Go on…” The sedan sped up ahead of Vinnie and Auna.

Vinnie gave a glance toward the other car as it turned at the light they had been stopped at. As luck would have it, Danielle was stopped at the light a few blocks up.

Auna warned him. “Keep cool Vinnie, we don’t need any cops stopping us or her.”

Vinnie just gave her a hard look, as if to say he knew what the hell he was doing.

Danielle kept one eye on her rearview mirror, the other on the red light in front of her. She saw the other sedan turn off and watched the remaining sedan as it sat at the light two blocks back. It soon started moving, but the light she was at was still red. Traffic turned through the intersection from her right and she left one foot on the brake and placed the other over the gas pedal. The sedan carrying Auna and Vinnie was soon behind her.

She prayed and kept both eyes on the red circle up in the air. Lord, help get me out of this and I’ll get out of this line of work. I’ll go to church more often. I’ll go home and see my family. I’ll never dye my hair blonde again…

When the light suddenly changed to green, she floored the gas pedal. The sports car’s tires spun and screamed as the car lurched off the line. A streak of silver lightening flashed through the intersection and the sedan jumped forward to follow it. Danielle looked up the street, to the left and right, then in the rearview mirror for something that would help her get away. Auna and Vinnie may not have wanted a cop to notice them, but Danielle wouldn’t have minded if one or two showed up. In her moment of observation, however, she noticed there were no police cars around.

Her mind worked overtime thinking of all the driving she had done or seen. The instincts of her family line were working with her. She kept a steady hand on the wheel, a firm foot on the gas and like an old pro, darted the car around traffic. When a clear stretch of roadway opened up, she thought of something to try. It was risky but she figured it might work, and buy her time.

Auna’s jaw dropped when Danielle turned the car and it shot past the sedan. “We’re goin’ to lose her!”

Vinnie jerked the wheel hard to the left to turn, the backend hit a pothole in the road. The car slid for a second as smoke poured from the tailpipe of the sedan. Vinnie slammed the accelerator in anger and the sedan screamed back down the boulevard.

With Auna and Vinnie too busy pursuing Danielle, they paid no attention to the black Chevy that they passed. Brian quickly darted down a side street and zipped up the block to come back out just as the sports car and the Syndicate sedan went by. The silver vehicle then disappeared at the next light.

“Get her headed back to the bridge!” Auna screamed as the sedan sped up once again.

Vinnie said nothing, ready to bail out on this assignment.

Danielle meanwhile made another turn without bothering to stop for the red light. Cars honked but she didn’t care. She headed back towards the main street she had been on minutes before. For a moment she thought about just pulling over as she noticed the gas tank heading toward E.

In her mind it was wrong and foolish to lead this chase but she hadn’t been given a choice. She would keep driving until they caught her, the car ran out of gas, or the Lord decided to put her on the path to take her off the earth, and not by the hands of the Syndicate.

Back on the main street, she floored it, not even sure if she was on the right road, her mind was reflecting on things so fast. She darted around cars, ignoring more honking horns and obscene voices that called out after her.

Auna was pretty sure something drastic was going to have to happen to get Danielle to pull over. They had been chasing her for almost a half hour now. The young PI was driving for her life and deep down, Auna couldn’t blame her. Given the choice, Auna would have been doing the same thing. She started to regret having ever got Danielle into all this to begin with. It was all turning out to be a very terrible mistake.

“She’s heading towards the bridge,” Vinnie announced, bringing Auna’s attention back to the situation. Dirk and Deuce would be waiting on the other side. Danielle would have to stop now. Auna wasn’t sure she wanted to see it or not.

Vinnie confidently sped up and bumped the sports car.

It wasn’t enough.

Danielle kept the car on the road. She looked back behind her. When her eyes turned back to the road, she saw the bridge and a car blocking the end. She would have the clearance but her speed wasn’t quite enough to try a jump like she would have done back home. Spotting the space just before the guardrails started she turned the steering wheel and let the car lurch over the curb. The sports car then started sliding down the embankment. The brake lights on the car never lit up.

Vinnie slammed on the sedan’s brake pedal as Auna gasped. “Why isn’t she stopping on the embankment!?!”

Vinnie bolted from the sedan after it skidded to a stop. Auna followed and by the time they made it to the edge of the bridge, the only thing left to see was the top of the car, the murky water rushing over it, and in through the open window.

Auna took a deep breath and wiped some tears. “Oh God…” Auna stared down at her submerged sports car. Danielle, I’m sorry…dammit…

Vinnie took her by the arm. “C’mon, we gotta go tell the Don…we gotta get out of here before the cops show up!” He looked up where Dirk and Deuce were standing outside of their sedan, watching the scene. The young PI was gone, they knew. Deuce nodded curtly to Vinnie and the senior hitman returned to the sedan along with Dirk.

Auna looked back at the bridge one more time before getting into the car. She now had to go and face her destiny with her cousin. She spoke no more to Vinnie once they got into the car and started to drive back.

Brian had seen the jump over the curb and his heart sank when he realized the car had gone that way on purpose. He held his Chevy back and watched Vinnie and Auna look over the bridge and then slowly walk away. When the two cars left, he sped up towards the bridge. He jumped out of his Chevy and ran to the guardrail and looked down at the murky water.

“Damn…DAMMIT!” The young man turned away from the scene. He knew he wouldn’t have been able to do anything for her, but he felt he had owed her something. But there was nothing he could do now, nothing he could have done before. She was gone. She was free from Mancini’s contract at least. The spunky PI refused to give the Syndicate the satisfaction of taking her out. But she knew, unfortunately, that there was only one way out of everything. So she had went that way.

Brian glanced back at the guardrail. It was all over. He walked back to his car and drove away.

* * *

I will never piss that man off… Ever. Brian thought, setting his beer mug on the counter while remembering the look on Vinnie’s face when told of his punishment, then learning Auna would be spared. He figured it was a psychological game of the Don’s.

Brian gazed around the crowded bar and dance floor. Off to the left, a young woman sat at a table and made eye contact with him. There was a moment of faint recognition. Brian was sure he had seen her somewhere before. She almost reminded him of the bottle blonde PI girl that had been following him, but this young woman’s hair was brunette. She smiled at him and raised her glass in toast. He smiled back and, intrigued, he stood up to walk over to her.

People got in his way however. Somebody would either be standing there laughing, or drinking or talking to somebody else. He weaved around people and pushed his way through the crowd finally reaching the table only to find it empty. The young woman was gone.

The song playing on the jukebox echoed in his ears. “A memory is all that is left for you now…Lightenin’ strikes maybe once…maybe twice…and it all comes down to you.”

* * *

Author Notes:

MaryAnne: Originally I was employed in this project for suggestions and feedback. Then I found myself writing a little something for one scene…and then another…and then another (all the while reminding Tara that she was free to tell me to buzz off. LOL). Next thing I knew I was “wearing the black jacket” and the story turned into a collaborative effort. ROFL. Gotta admit I had some fun with this tho’! And so did Brian. =) Thanks, Tara for letting me “wear the jacket” and take part in this project. Khee!

Tara: You’re welcome MaryAnne, I’m glad you had fun! I ‘m flattened and honored to have had you co-author this adventure. It wouldn’t be half the story it is without Bonita’s or your ideas and support. And thank you for all the guidance, encouragement and inspiration you’ve given. You’re amazing whether you have civilian clothes, a Deputy uniform, black jacket, or waitress outfit on. =)

For Cuz Bonita. Brian is your character, and we’ve tried to do him justice here… um, maybe justice isn’t the word we wanna use. Khee! Anyways…this story is in honor of you. Thank you for the inspiration and support.

Dedicated to Bonita for all the amazing and extraordinary things that make you…you.

2001

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