Cliqued up

“Where are we going to put all this weed, anyway? The shop?” I asked.

“Fuck no,” Hondo said. “I worry about the fucking roaches around the hood stealing my tools, much less thirty keys of weed.”

“Shop no good,” Pargo said. “Need a stash house. But more important things come first.”

That confused me. “What’s more important than a place to stash this stuff?”

“I don’t have the skills Gato has, OG. It’s not that important. We can do it after we find a place to stash the weed,” Flattop protested.

“No, sobrino. Even without the skills, it is important we all are bound together.”

“Fine, we’ll do it then,” Flattop said. He was still gripping his wounded side and whatever it was they were talking about, he didn’t seem willing to spend a lot of effort fighting about it.

“Seriously, what the hell are you guys talking about?” I asked.

“Gotta clique up, white boy,” Hondo supplied and Pargo just nodded.

“We need to get you and Pargo into the LSS, formally. You’re pretty much in with us now, so I guess we’ll formalize it. You down with that?” Flattop asked.

Despite the fact that I trusted the two Soldados as much as I did everyone that wasn’t Manny, I wasn’t about to just say yes. Me jumping feet first into new things here had gotten me into enough trouble.

“I need details,” I said. “What’s involved, what would be expected of me? Do I have to start following your orders? Do I have to pay taxes, any of that shit?”

Hondo laughed and Flattop shook his head.

“Nah, none of that,” Flattop replied. “We’re not big enough for that kind of shit. No kicking up a percentage of your earnings. Not between the four of us anyway. Pargo and you will be officers. You think Manny is going to want in?”

“I doubt it.”

“Hold on, cuz,” Hondo said. “Pargo was Dad’s right hand. Maybe you should give up the top spot to him if he’s coming back.”

“You want it, OG? It’s yours.”

Pargo looked into the rear view mirror for a moment and met Flattop’s eyes. “You know better, sobrino. Gato chose you.”

“He chose me because you were out and Hondo couldn’t organize a blowjob in a brothel.”

“Fuck you,” Hondo said, but there was no heat in it.

“I don’t want it, sobrino. You lead, I will follow.”

“Fine,” Flattop said. “I’m going to delegate the weed operation to you, Mack. The rest of us will help however we can, but the weed will be your show. We’ll pay Pete his percentage, and we’ll split the weed proceeds evenly after we pay the gang’s expenses. That work for everyone?”

That worked for me. It’d be good to not have to worry about petty bullshit and have a team backing me. We’d proven to each other tonight we could do big things together.

“Works for me,” Hondo agreed and Pargo nodded, not taking his eyes off the road.

“Induct Mack and I now,” Pargo insisted.

“Really, OG? You want to do it while we’re driving?” Flattop asked.

“Yes, sobrino. It is important. Without the bond Mack and I are strangers. With it we are brothers.”

“What are you talking about, Pargo?” I asked.

“When you and I swear, we will be bound by our blood oath to the Soldados,” Pargo said.

“Which doesn’t mean shit without the skills, OG. You know that.”

Pargo shrugged, apparently unwilling to argue the point further.

“What skills?”

“There are gang leader skills that will tell you when someone’s disloyal, or holding out or whatever. I don’t have any of them and I don’t even know what Job it was that granted them. Gato never said anything about it. Anyway, let’s do this. You got $500? It has to be cash you earned.”

“I guess,” I said, and reached into the vest pocket where I’d stashed Magnus’s bloody roll.

Five hundred dollar bills came off the top, crusted with blood. With that cash removed there was $1,350 left in Magnus’s old roll. I put it back in the vest pocket.

“Anyone got a blade?” Flattop asked.

“Wait, what?” I asked.

“Blood oath, Homes,” Hondo said, looking over his shoulder at me with a smile.

Pargo held up a six inch folding knife and Flattop took it out of his right hand.

“Yeah, blood’s required,” Flattop said. “I’ll cut the palm of your right hand. You hold the cash and swear your oath of loyalty. The words don’t matter, it’s all about the intent.”

“No, words are important, too,” Pargo objected. “Swear loyalty to your brothers and the Soldados.”

Flattop nodded. “Give me your hand.”

With some trepidation I gave him my right hand. Without hesitating he drew the sharp blade across my palm, a cut neither deep or shallow. I hissed in pain as the blood welled up in the cut.

“Hold the cash in your hand. Hurry up,” Flattop instructed.

At that moment I wished I’d used my own cash rather than the money soaked in Magnus’s blood for this particular thing. I placed the bills lightly into my right palm, and Flattop pushed my fist closed around the cash.

“I am inducting you as an officer of the Lyle Street Soldados. Accept this position by swearing loyalty,” Flattop said, looking intently into my eyes.

I somehow knew that this wasn’t just a one sided exchange. Flattop was doing his part, maintaining the intent and I needed to do mine and not fuck this up.

I clenched the money in my fist and tried to focus my intent on loyalty to the men in this truck and our organization.

“I swear I will be loyal to you, my brothers, and the Lyle Street Soldados.”

The cash in my hand burst into cold flame, green and red colors mixed together.

For a moment I felt a connection to Pargo, Flattop and Hondo. I could feel their presence around me, instead of just seeing them. The cool, collected aura of Flattop. Hondo’s amused and mercurial soul. Pargo’s cold and efficient self under a deep layer of paternal protectiveness. Almost as soon as I realized the sense was there, it was gone.

Flattop recoiled a bit. “Damn.”

The cash burned longer than it had in the past, and when the last of the green and red flames had dispersed I opened my hand. All of the blood and the the cut itself were gone, replaced by a healed scar.

Joined Lyle Street Soldados as Officer

“Red flames? What the fuck was that?” Flattop asked.

“The blood on the bills? Impurities burning away?” I suggested.

I was flexing my hand and marveling at the magical healing that had just happened. Like the other bits of magic I’d seen in this world, it seemed like no big deal to my new brothers. Instead, they were more impressed by the color of the flames.

“Nah, that’s not normal,” Hondo said.

“Not important right now, sobrino. My turn,” Pargo said and extended his right hand into the space between the front seats.

“You seriously want to do this while you’re still driving, OG?” Flattop asked.

“We can’t pull over,” Hondo said. “The highway patrol might stop to ask us why we’re stopped and oh, why have we got so many guns and so much weed in the back?”

It was a good point, a convincing one. Still, it was crazy to watch. Flattop leaned into the front and cut open Pargo’s palm, almost directly on the scar that was already there. Pargo didn’t flinch or take his eyes off the road at any point. He filled his fist with cash, the blood dripping down onto the floor between the bucket seats.

“Pargo, I’m inducting you as an officer of the Lyle Street Soldados. Accept this position by swearing your loyalty.”

“I swear loyalty to you, my brothers, and the Soldados,” Pargo solemnly swore. The money in his fist burst into green flames and disappeared.

Out of curiosity I IDed him.

“Pargo” , Lyle Street Soldados

“Now we still need a spot to store this weed until we can get a stash house or two with the proper security,” Flattop said.

I thought of Manny’s spot in his garden shed, and then it came to me.

“We can store it at my place. I’ll need some help though.”

Twenty minutes later we parked in front of the Orange House. Even though it was after four in the morning the house blazed with light.

“Looks like somebody’s up,” Flattop remarked.

“He might have just forgot to turn off the lights,” I said.

“Stick to the plan. Let’s go,” Pargo said and we all hopped out of the truck.

Each of us took one of the enormous black duffels in the back of the Bronco. Pargo took that and the long, grey case that contained his rifle. He seemed unbothered by the weight.

Pargo had thought ahead and brought a bag for every ten kilos of weed. The fourth was full of gun parts—the remains of the AK-105s minus the barrels. We’d also stuffed our extra mags and the tactical vests in that bag as well. There was no way we could leave any of this in the Bronco. I put the Desert Eagle I’d looted off Magnus in the bag and was wearing the belt despite the fact it was far too big to hold up my pants.

I lead my brothers up the walk with my keys in hand. The goal was to get all our cargo inside without the neighbors noticing anything out of the ordinary.

The front door was unlocked, and I shoved it open. My bag was too heavy for just my left hand, so I set it down just inside the front door and gripped my holstered Glock with my right hand. My head was full of terrible possibilities. Had the Hip found this place while I’d been taking refuge in Nirvana? Would I find Smokey and Gloria all chopped up in the basement?

Instead of that, what I found in the living was a lot more prosaic. The conversation pit was about half full of people blitzed out of their minds. The floor was covered in empty beer cans and bottles, and the fireplace was full of shattered glass. The house stank of spilt beer and weed, along with a tiny whiff of vinegar which I now associated with heroin. The party had obviously been raging earlier, but was now just embers of its former self. I’d bet Joel would get another complaint tomorrow. Fucking Smokey.

Only a few of the people were aware enough to look up at us as we entered. The four of us must have been a sight. We were all dressed in black. Flattop had a bloody bandage on his side, and I had one on my face. When I’d asked the guys to help me with this, I’d expected a much simpler scenario. I had no idea what we were going to do. Pargo didn’t have that issue.

He stepped forward into the living room and set the bag and case down at his feet.

“All of you, get up and get out! Party’s over!” he bellowed at the top of his lungs.

Some of the party-goers stirred, but even Pargo’s bellow wasn’t enough to move all of them.

“Pargo, we’ll stash the bags and come back to help,” I said. He nodded.

Pargo continued to yell and started kicking people that were ignoring him because they were either passed out or too drunk/high.

There were a few people passed out on the stairs leading up to my room, but they were easy enough to move. When they saw the three of us they were eager to get out of our way.

“Get the fuck out of here, party’s over!” Hondo yelled as they squeezed past us.

I was happy to find that the padlock on my door was still in place. We piled the bags into the room, and Hondo went downstairs to take Pargo’s. When everything was in the room I padlocked it again. I’d trust the solid door and lock with our score while we cleared the house.

With our loot secure, Flattop, Hondo and I helped Pargo move people out of the house. A few young guys got aggressive but never long enough for it to turn violent. They sobered up enough to realize that fucking with four men walking in shadow would be a bad idea.

At least one young woman was so drunk that she had to be carried out, but since she was with her girlfriends I figured she’d be okay. Not my problem in any case.

After about ten minutes, the ground floor was clear. We’d found the last one passed out in the bathroom, a pool of vomit on the floor beside the toilet. He’d barely been able to walk, but Hondo and I had hoisted him off the floor and walked him out the front door.

Smokey hadn’t made an appearance despite all the noise we’d been making. We hadn’t gone downstairs at all, and there was no doubt more people were down there in the lounge.

“Basement is next. Smokey will be down there,” I said.

Flattop wasn’t looking good. The exertion of rousting people must have hurt. He did still have a bullet hole in his side, after all.

Pargo saw it too. “Sobrino, stay up here and watch the doors. We will go downstairs and finish.”

Flattop nodded, holding his injured side and leaning against the kitchen island. “I’ll make sure the ones you send up actually leave.”

With that, the three of us went downstairs into the basement. It was time to get Smokey the hell out of my house.