I'll do a non-Dead Men opening next week, but I've got Episode 6 on the brain right now. Enjoy.
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West waited in the shadows, feeling ridiculous and angry. It wasn’t a good combination. The feelings fed off each other, magnifying each other in a feedback loop that was going to end with someone getting a smack in the head.
Greg’s room was cleaner than her own, though given the state of her place that shouldn’t have been surprising. The staff at Place For You Apartments didn’t come in to clean their rooms anymore, not after the scenes they’d walked in on more than once. West with a bullet wound in her side, screaming obscenities and bleeding on the sheets; Shelley meditating, his heavily muscled body naked in the darkness as though waiting for them; Chris and Greg in a tangle of limbs with the girls they’d brought back to the room the previous night, and Greg inviting the cleaners to join for the morning fun and games.
But Greg kept his room clean himself, his tidiness at odds with the general craziness of the team. Everything had a place and he even spent time dusting. It was weird.
Greg entered first, laughing and looking back at Joshua. The boy was drunk and grinning.
Greg flipped the light switch, dropped his keys in a small wooden bowl, and leaped to the side when he saw her waiting for him in his lounge.
‘What the fuck are you doing?’ he said when he realised it was her.
‘Remember when we decided to look after a teenaged genetically engineered super soldier?’ West dropped her cigarette in Greg’s favourite coffee cup. Smoking in the room had been a little childish, but fuck him. He was being a child first. ‘Remember how the whole world wants to find him and kill him?’
‘I’m sorry,’ Joshua said, suddenly serious. West had no trouble believing the boy’s body capable of flushing any negative effects from alcohol in a moment. Intoxication wasn’t helpful in combat.
‘This isn’t about you,’ West said. Joshua stepped into the room and raised his hands as though trying to defend Greg from a physical attack. West ignored him. ‘Greg, I’m not a mother. I shouldn’t be sitting around wondering where the fuck you’ve taken him. Grow up.’
Greg glared at her for a moment before speaking. ‘Joshua, could you go to your room please?’
‘I can explain this,’ the boy tried.
‘I’ve got it.’ Greg put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and steered him back into the hall before closing the door.
‘You got an excuse?’ West said.
‘Joshua has been in prison his entire life.’ Greg stepped toward her, eying her in a way she didn’t like. ‘His saviours came, took one look at him and the rest, and started killing. He ran and got picked up by a dipshit warlord, who locked him up again.’
‘And if he’s seen out there he’ll get locked up again, or worse.’ Greg was getting uncomfortably close, the tall, athletic black guy taking up too much of her visual field. ‘Step the fuck back.’
‘He’s a person and he needs to be treated like one.’ Greg didn’t step back, but he quit advancing. The alarm sounding in West’s head stopped getting louder, but it was still there. ‘He needed to have some fun, so we went out and had some fun.’
‘You’re an idiot.’ West needed to defuse the situation or she was going to end up hurting him. ‘You just wanted a wingman less clueless than Chris.’
‘No. Don’t try and turn this into something else. We’re having this conversation.’
West looked down and kept her voice low and calm. ‘Don’t raise your voice when you’re talking to me, soldier.’
Greg stepped back, her words having the effect she expected. Luckily, she thought. One day, with one of them, something would change and she’d have to knock them down. It would happen, but not tonight.
‘Just do me a favour and be more careful. Twitchy said he saw you at the tourist bar.’
‘Twitchy needs to mind his own business.’ Greg walked to the kitchen and opened the fridge, reaching in for a couple of beers.
‘He wanted to know who the white guy was. The pretty, almost supernaturally graceful white guy. Do you think he’s the only one taking notice?’
‘I’m sorry.’ He tilted his head back and tried to drown in beer.
‘Just keep it in mind.’ West walked as calmly as she could to Greg’s front door.
‘What does Twitchy want?’
‘He’s got a job.’ She closed his door and wasn’t surprised to find Chris waiting with his arms crossed, leaning against the wall in the passage.
‘Having fun?’ he said, joining her as she walked back to the bar.
‘It was a stupid thing to do.’
‘You having a hissy fit at Greg, or Greg running around with a Kid in Tubuli?’
West gave him a look that should have shut him up.
Chris ignored her. ‘I’ll keep an eye on Joshua and Greg.’
‘We need to get him away from us.’
‘I’m arranging transport, but keeping the other Kids safe is important too.’
‘I know. Just hurry up.’
They’d saved as many as they could, and were on the run because of it. Rushing to protect this Joshua stood a fair chance of putting the other Joshuas in danger. Not to mention outing them.
‘Why aren’t we dead yet?’ she asked softly.
‘No idea.’ Chris lost his smile. It was on all their minds constantly, and they couldn’t do anything about it. They’d been outed already, and they’d killed a warlord’s son. They should be neck deep in corporate soldiers. Instead everything had gone back to normal. No retribution, no strike teams in the middle of the night. It didn’t make sense.
‘Any idea what Twitchy brought us?’ West asked, focussing on business.
‘Rich white people.’
‘Rich for Tubuli?’
‘Rich for London.’
The bar was getting ready for its second wind, the time between two in the morning and sunrise when the real partiers turned up. The meeting would have to be quick if they hoped to hear what the prospective clients wanted, but for now the music was only uncomfortably loud, rather than dangerously so.
Twitchy jumped out of the booth at the back and rushed to great her. He’d put on a bit of weight since she’d last seen him, clearly enjoying the spoils of his new occupation. He’d been a child soldier with the resistance during the war and having money is his pocket and all the food he could eat was still a novelty.
‘I got a big one for you, Captain,’ he said. He grabbed her hand and shook it. ‘Too big for me, but right up your alley I think.’
‘Your English is getting better,’ West said. She took her hand back and examined the couple at the table. Clearly out of place, dressed in clothes they probably thought were more appropriate for the location than their usual wardrobe, eyes that roamed the bar, looking for the danger that was clearly everywhere around them.
‘I practicing. All the time.’
‘Good to hear. You should go now. Wait outside.’
‘Come on West, they’re my clients.’
West sighed. ‘Listen, Twitchy, you can’t be here for the negotiation. You’re the fixer, the guy who arranges things for them. We’re the arrangement. If you hang around then they think we aren’t trustworthy. Do you understand?’
‘Fine. But don’t call me Twitchy in front of them.’ He looked back at the booth quickly. ‘I try to be serious with them. Serious businessman.’
‘Sorry, and I won’t. Now, go wait in the car.’ He left, waving to the bartender and shaking hands with some of the truckers sitting near the door.
He’s turning into a politician, West thought. He’ll be kissing babies and making speeches next. If he doesn’t step on the wrong toes.
West and Chris slipped into the booth opposite the out-of-place clients.
‘So,’ West began, ‘how can we help you?’
‘You’re Captain West,’ the man said. He was American, his accent barely noticeable. Tall, middle-aged, expensive haircut. Neither of them had touched the bottled beer Twitchy had bought for them.
‘Not a Captain. Never was. Just West.’
‘But you are them, right?’
‘Knowing who we are should help you. You know what to expect.’ She raised her hand to get the bartender’s attention. He nodded and held up two fingers: two minutes until she could start getting drunk.
‘I wasn’t expecting…someone like you.’ His wife gripped his leg under the table and he winced. ‘Thank you for meeting with us, Ms West.’
‘Not Ms West either. Much to my mother’s enduring embarrassment, that’s my father’s name now. Just call me West.’
He smiled uncomfortably, unsure what to do with the extra information. She felt bad for him, if only for a moment; the bar was clearly unfamiliar territory for him, his wife apparently had a death grip on his thigh, and she wasn’t being as cordial as he was probably used to with his business partners.
‘My name is William Green, and this is my wife Rachel. I apologise for our demeanour but we were expecting someone official. A judge, or local politician perhaps.’
‘In here?’ West said. ‘They wouldn’t dare. Half the guys in here would happily string them up and use them as punching bags.’ Her words served to agitate them further, but it made her grin.
Chris gave a look and took control of the meeting. ‘What the Captain is trying to say is, if Twitchy brought you here he thinks we’re a better bet than anyone in the local government. I assume you were expecting to bribe someone?’
‘I don’t think this is going to work out,’ Mr Green said. He looked around as though searching for an escape. ‘We should go.’
‘No,’ Mrs Green said. She didn’t say it loud and she kept a neutral tone, but it stopped her husband in his tracks. ‘I think this is where we need to be.’
West had read the relationship wrong, it seemed. The lady had the reins.
Chris accepted their beers from a waitress, handing one to West. ‘Tell us what you need and we can help you decide on a course of action.’
Mrs Green asserted herself further, talking over her husband until he shut up. ‘Our daughter has been arrested and is in prison, waiting on a court date. We were hoping to arrange for some special protection.’
‘We have the money,’ Mr Green said.
‘You seem like you’re well off,’ West said. ‘Like you have some cash to spread around. Why is your daughter in prison in the first place? I’d have thought you could find a sympathetic ear to your plight.’
‘I tried,’ Mr Green said. ‘I have business interests here and I believe a rival is blocking my attempts at a speedier resolution.’
‘Why? What would they care? You people are always getting arrested in foreign countries.’
Chris gave another look. She was getting tired of it. ‘What West means to say is, what purpose does keeping your daughter in prison serve?’
‘I don’t know. It could be that she will be used as a pawn in a future deal. Or perhaps they’re simply trying to destabilise me in advance of some manoeuvre.’
‘She’ll be out in a week, regardless,’ Mrs Green said.
‘We own a judge in the capitol.’ Mr Green said it proudly, as though underhanded tactics were something to brag about. ‘He’ll have her out this time next week.’
‘But that still leaves her in there, on her own.’ Mrs Green seemed about to cry, and her husband wasn’t far behind.
‘So you want us to stage a prison break?’ West said. She’d had weirder requests, and from people with less money. ‘It’ll be expensive, but it’s doable.’
‘No,’ Mr Green said quickly. ‘We can’t be seen to break any local laws.’
‘Bad for business?’
‘Exactly. We just want to get Maddy some protection until she’s out.’ It was the first time he’d mentioned his daughter’s name, West noted.
‘We can do that,’ Chris said. ‘It still won’t be cheap.’
‘Name your price.’ This was an area Mr Green understood. He was back in charge, as long as the topic was money. It annoyed West for some reason.
‘Ten million pound. None of that US crap.’
Green’s face went through a convulsion, anger threatening to erupt all over the table and ruin West’s beer. It made her smile, which seemed to piss him off even more.
‘The Captain is being funny,’ Chris said, heading off Green’s response. ‘But it will be expensive. A million US, with fifty thousand up front.’
‘I could hire an army for that,’ Mr Green said.
‘But you can’t do it quietly, which is what you’re paying for.’ Chris kept the volume low, controlling the clients masterfully. He’d always been better at dealing with normal people.
‘How can it cost that much?’
‘Because I’ll have to go inside,’ West spat. ‘She’ll be in a women’s prison, so I’ll be the one doing the defending. By myself, because the Dead Men are a sausage-fest.’
‘Then don’t do it.’ West finished her beer and tried to leave, but Chris wouldn’t budge. She could climb over the table, but it would look stupid and she’d lose the cool points with the clients.
Mrs Green took control of the meeting again. ‘Can you guarantee her safety?’
‘No,’ West said.
‘What she means is—’
‘What I mean is, I can’t guarantee my own safety in there. It won’t be a nice place. There have been documentaries about African prisons for a reason. They suck.
‘What I can guarantee is that if she gets hurt it will be over my dead body. Literally.’
The couple looked at each other, speaking in that weird telepathy long-time partners developed. Or, possibly, through a cranial implant that allowed them to think thoughts at each other. They existed, and were very cool. She’d have to find out how much it cost, once they collected their million dollars.
‘We are trusting you with a delicate situation,’ Mr Green said when they were done melding their minds. ‘We would need absolute discretion. Nobody can know we had any hand in her situation.’
‘Not a worry,’ Chris said. ‘We have our own reasons for keeping things quiet.’
Mr Green and Chris went out to the car to deal with money and West ordered another beer. She offered Mrs Green one, but the woman hadn’t touched the one she already had.
‘Why do you call yourselves Dead Men?’ she asked once the silence had gone on a little long.
‘We didn’t call ourselves that. Our former captain did.’
‘But you use the term now.’
‘He went on television and spoke to the world, with the full backing of half a dozen countries and all the big corporations. I stopped counting how many times he said we were dead men at around a thousand. It might have been less, or more, I guess. I was pretty high at the time.’
‘So you decided to own it.’
‘It gives us name recognition, locally. Chris says it’s all about branding.’
‘Bullshit,’ Mrs Green said. ‘You don’t want anyone to know where you are, so it isn’t branding. You’ve taken the name in protest. Fatalistically.’
‘Let’s not try and dissect my thought process, Mrs Green. I’m punchy at the best of time.’
‘Sorry,’ she said. She didn’t sound particularly sorry, but she was about to make them wealthy, so West let it slide. Another uncomfortable silence stretched between them until Mrs Green again felt the need to break it. ‘My daughter and her girlfriend were caught with drugs in their bags.’
‘I didn’t ask.’
‘Why not? She could have killed someone.’
‘You’d still want her protected though, right? You wouldn’t disown her if she killed a dude?’
‘No, of course not.’
‘Then why would I care?’
‘You confuse me. I can’t get a read on you.’
West yawned, wondering what was taking Chris so long. The volume on the music was slowly creeping up in anticipation of the next rush and she wanted to be back in her room before it happened.
‘You seem impatient,’ Mrs Green said.
‘Things are about to get crazy in here. Shelley will no doubt be down in a few minutes, but it’s not my scene. Too much violence, too much g-pop played too loud, too many drunk truckers excited to find a white woman hanging out at their bar. I’ll have to kill someone, and then there’ll be running and screaming, cops and shooting; it’s all too much effort.’
Chris waved from the door, the money now taken care of.
‘Thank god,’ West said, getting out of the booth as quickly as she could. ‘Make sure your husband leaves contact details with Chris. We’ll keep you updated as the week progresses.’
‘Thank you, West.’
‘Don’t mention it.’
She smiled and shook the woman’s hand, then escorted her back to the door and handed her off to Chris. Once Twitchy drove off with them, she and Chris headed back to their rooms.
‘Any concerns?’ Chris asked.
‘No, of course not. We’re just going to throw me into the place I’ve been trying to avoid for most of my adult life, without a gun. Sounds like a Tuesday.’
‘That’s what I thought.’