The Big Day

“What do you mean? This is my house,” Smokey protested.

Smokey stood in the center of the triangle formed by Pargo, Hondo and I. He looked nervous, like a hunted animal flushed from hiding by predators. I almost had sympathy for him. Almost.

“No, it was Kutta’s house,” I corrected. “You’re just the freeloader who’s been squatting here, not paying the rent or the bills. That’s over now.”

“Hey now, I may have been a little late paying the bills but I’ll get around to it.”

“Sure you will. Is that what you used that $450 I gave you for, the bills? Which ones did you pay?”

“I had other expenses,” he said weakly.

“Yes, I know. Heroin.”

He had no response to that and just looked at the floor and swayed slightly on his feet.

“Anyway, like I said—pack your shit. You’re leaving. This is no longer your house. You are evicted as of right fucking now.”

“I can’t just pack. What about my furniture? I’d need to get a moving van.”

I looked around the room. The lie was obvious. “Bullshit. Everything here came with the house. There’s nothing in this house that is yours, is there?”

“That doesn’t matter anyway,” he said and straightened as he found a bit of courage somewhere. “You can’t evict me. This isn’t your house, you’re not even on the lease. The landlord has to get the sheriff to evict me if he wants me gone. What you’re doing is illegal. I could call the police.”

Pargo growled, and Smokey started at the unexpected sound. I waved the OG down. This was my show.

“You know what’s interesting to me about this room, Smokey? It’s the walls. Who the hell puts velvet on the walls? Black velvet. That and the shag carpet. It’s like being inside a fur lined bag.”

Smokey just looked confused at my non-sequitur but Pargo spoke up. “The 70s, hombre.”

“Anyway, I bet it’s a great sound insulator. I could probably fire my gun in here and no one out on the street would hear a thing.”

“No doubt. We could just close that door to make sure,” Hondo said, and walked toward the door.

“Hold on! Let’s not get crazy, guys,” Smokey protested.

“Crazy? We’re just going to close the door,” I said with a smile and shifted the Glock in my hand.

“I’ll go! I’m sorry, I’ll pack my stuff and go. Can I make sure Gloria is okay first?”

With the last of his resistance crushed, things went relatively smoothly. Gloria’s nose was broken and had bled a fair bit on the black shag. She woke up crying and never stopped. I felt a bit bad for her, but she had tried to gut Pargo so not that bad.

Smokey really didn’t have a lot of possessions. A few things in the bathroom, and a lot of dirty clothes. It all went into a ratty old suitcase and a collection of black garbage bags.

“Where will I go?” he asked faintly after everything was packed.

“You said you’ve got a trust fund and rich parents. Go home,” I said.

He looked pained. “It’s not that simple.”

“No one wants a junkie for a son,” Hondo said, cutting to the heart of it.

“I’m not a fucking junkie,” Smokey protested.

“Whatever. Not our problem. Pargo, can you give him a lift where he needs to go?” I asked.

Pargo nodded. “Yes, and I will return with the tools and supplies needed to change the locks.”

At one point I went upstairs to check on Flattop. He had dozed off in the conversation pit. After making sure he wasn’t quietly bleeding out and the house was secure and otherwise empty, I went back to supervising Smokey.

When Smokey was done gathering his junk we herded the two upstairs and out the front door to the waiting Bronco. Pargo frisked them both before they got in the truck. Gloria had already proven to be a little stabby and I was sure he didn’t want a repeat performance in the front seat of his truck.

“Get in, let’s go,” he said after he was done. The two meekly climbed into the truck and a minute later they drove off. The house was mine.

Hondo and I checked out the panic room. It wasn’t large, just about ten feet deep and five feet wide. The door behind the shelf was four inches of steel with multiple bolts an inch or so across. It would have been incredibly painful to force our way in here.

At the far end was a chair, a desk built into the wall and a bank of six small CRT monitors set into the wall. None of them showed anything when you turned them on.

“Why the monitors if there are no cameras??” I wondered aloud.

“Maybe Smokey sold them?” Hondo speculated.

That seemed plausible. One thing was clear though.

“This will be a perfect place to stash the weed,” I said.

“Yeah,” Hondo agreed. “Pargo can probably figure out how to change the combination when he gets back. We’ll still need a stash house though. You don’t want to keep it here for long.”

I checked the time.

San Tadeo, California, 05:45 Thursday March 12, 2020

Safe House: The Orange House

Walking in the Shadows

“Shit, it’s Thursday,” I said.

I pulled up my debts screen.

Loans – “Mack”
Debts – “Mack”
Creditor: “Brass Lee” Amount: $6,000 Vig: 3.0%/7 days
Other responsible debtor(s):
Next payment of $180 due

“Yeah, I’ve got to pay Brass Lee today. The vig if nothing else. Can I direct one of his guys to the shop?” I asked.

Hondo shrugged. “I guess.”

I really didn’t know how I was going to do that. I could find my way back to the shoe shop, if I had a car, but that was just one of Brass Lee’s shops. I’d have to get to a phone and try to track him down and let him know where we were set up.

Hondo and I went back upstairs while we waited for Pargo to return.

“This place is nasty, Mack.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s going to be a lot of work to clean it up. Once I’m done though, it’ll be great.”

“There are some ladies round the way could help you out, if you paid em.”

That sounded like a good plan to me. “Thanks.”

With a bit of work we cleared a couple more spots in the conversation pit near Flattop to relax and wait for Pargo’s return.

Once we were settled I spoke. “I’m curious about something, Hondo.”


“I’m new to this gangster thing-” I started.

Hondo interrupted me with a belly laugh. “No shit!”

“Come on, let me finish. Anyway, like I said I’m new. The one thing I am surprised at is just how straight everyone is. Like you guys trusting me with thirty kilograms of weed. How do you know I’m not going to just load it in my car and take off? That’s what gangsters in the movies do, they screw each other over.”

He shook his head. “I don’t know what gangster movies you been watching.”

“What do you mean?”

“Think about it. Let’s say you take this weed as soon as the rest of us leave. You toss it in the back of that Comet and leave town. What happens? Where you going to go?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere else.”

He snorted derisively. “It doesn’t matter where you’d go. When the Cartel marked you as an enemy, you’d be as good as dead. Your glasses ain’t gonna block that shit. The first banger with a Cartel association sees that enemy tag on you pops you. You won’t even see it coming.”

“Okay, granted. But that’s with the Cartel involved. What about smaller scale stuff?”

“What, you mean like Smokey taking your rent money and spending it on drugs?”

“Yeah, like that.”

“Same deal. There’s no real anonymity in our world. You can hide your name, but not your enemies. If Smokey had really fucked you over, I mean really, then Flattop could tag him as an enemy of the LSS. Then any of our allies would see that mark on him when he was in the shadows. The Hip could have done that to you and Manny, but nobody liked those fuckers.”

I was starting to get it. There was a pronounced lack of anonymity on both sides of the mirror. You might be able to screw someone over, but their friends and allies could see it when you had. If you were going to make enemies you’d better make damn sure you could win, decisively.

It was another hour before Pargo returned. He’d dropped off Smokey and Gloria without incident at a big house in Beverly Hills. It seemed Smokey hadn’t been lying about his rich family. They’d opened the door and let him in, anyway. I’d taken the opportunity to change out of my dirty, bloody clothing into a new outfit from Kutta’s closet. I kept Magnus’s belt, though. Just looking at the skull made me smile. I left the chain Manny had given me on my first day in my closet. With the belt buckle I no longer needed it for a shadow focus.

“I will change the combination on the safe room door first, so that we have a secure place for the product.”

That didn’t take him long. While he was doing that, Pargo and I humped the bags into the basement and set them down in front of the panic room.

I opened up the bag with the guns, curious, and looked through it. The Hip’s pistols were in there, and a pump shotgun that must have been in the Jeep. Our AKs were all disassembled, but something was missing.

“Hey, where are the barrels?” I asked.

Pargo looked up from his work. “In their truck, chico.”

I hadn’t realized why he had immediately disassembled the rifles until right then. If we had a bag of AK parts that was one thing. If we had the barrels as well, then that meant we had three murder weapons. If they were in the truck with the Hip’s charred corpses, they couldn’t put the bodies on us directly.

“Wait a minute, does that mean the barrel of your sniper rifle is in the Jeep, too?”

Pargo looked embarrassed. “No. Is very expensive to source a new barrel. It is buried in the desert. In a month or two I will recover it and have an armorer restore it.”

I didn’t understand what he meant, but from context I assumed there was a way to change it enough so that it would no longer be a ballistics match.

Once Pargo was done changing the combination, we tested opening and closing the door with Pargo inside. Everything worked. Whoever the original owner of this house had been, he’d built the safe room well. It was like a hidden bank vault. One that we filled with weed. I put my Sunshrouds into their fancy wooden box and left them in the room as well. I wouldn’t need them anymore, for now.

Once that was done, Pargo spent a little time changing the rest of the locks in the house. He was hiding his job, but whatever it was he made it look easy. When he was done he handed me a ring of keys.

“You guys should have keys, too. You might need to get in here when I’m not around.”

We split up the keys, a set for each of us. Unlike with Smokey I didn’t have any qualms about these men having access to my living space. Even with locked doors it wasn’t a fortress, but it felt good to have a space of my own.

“I must go. I have business,” Pargo announced.

“You’re our ride, OG. We’ll come with,” Hondo said.

The sun had come up, and I was feeling the effects of a long day and night. Despite our success, I couldn’t just crawl into bed and sleep the day away. I had to pay Brass Lee, and get a start on our new, bigger drug business.

“Let’s go, then. I need a coffee, hopefully the Ball and Bean is open,” I said.

Flattop woke up with some difficulty, but staggered upright with a bit of prodding. We took the guns, locked the house and drove off.