Gregory ‘Sweet Meat’ Morrigan pulled up to a specific building on a particular street in a certain section of the very common Blue Lion ward in the renowned Old Town district of the historic city of Damokles. The sky was awash in hues of orange and purple with translucent clouds drifting lazily across the dying sun in the warm early summer breeze. The putrid smell of the Drakon Bay was most especially ripe today, clogging the nose of everyone ten miles inland from the polluted black waters and making babies gag until they too became used to the smell. The smell was so bad that even birds refused to fly in the area for very long but Sweet Meat did not care. He loved money and this city was money. Though one would be hard pressed to see that fact when looking around at the immediate vicinity.
The buildings lining this particular street were all concrete gray buildings that were once painted but not even the fallen flakes remained of the forgotten colors. Some buildings burned out, others were nothing more than lots with concrete rubble but most were still functional though in various states of repair. Dope fiends shot up their drug of choice in front of children playing in the litter filled streets. Alcoholics drank from brown paper bags while the matrons of the neighborhood gossiped and laughed with one another on the stoops. Dope dealers constantly shook hands of the fiends approaching them on the street corners while exhausted looking men dragged themselves along on the sidewalk.
Old Town was the kind of place where angels lived next to demons and they played cards on the weekends. A twin-souled district. Then again that described nearly all of Damokles proper. The city was the financial capital of the United Nations of Iota but wealth never trickled far. So people made due. Those people concentrated in Old Town, making the ancient city turned district something of the butthole of the golden goose but those eggs had to come from somewhere right?
The specific building had three men in baggy jeans and oversized shirts loitering outside as though they just happened to be there. Sweet Meat never consorted with the street gangs of the organizations but he knew how comfortable those men could get when their gang belonged to an organization of the Associations in the Syndicate of the Eight. The men were obviously armed and so that meant they were likely going to be ‘smelling their farts’ as they say in Old Town.
As Sweet Meat pulled up on the litter-strewn curb, he realized he did not recognize these men and the fact that Henry was posting more men on his office made his eyebrows furrow. However, his phone call to a retired associate gave him news that gave him nearly a full year of life for all the stress the comforting words took away.
The words from the associate were tumbling in his head as he got out of his car but then Sweet Meat realized the three men were approaching to stop him on the sidewalk of the specific building. One of them was a Havvaian with his smooth chocolate skin and the other two looked to be of Damoklian stock with their black hair but their green and brown eyes said they had family from somewhere else on the continent.
Sweet Meat thought nothing of the approaching men until they actually came to a stop in front of him and the Haavaian, the only decent looking one of the bunch, stopped him short. Sweet Meat looked at the other two men who had their hands resting at their waists and frowned as he cocked his head unconsciously. Was this a joke?
“You need something, old man?” The Havvaian asked.
Sweet Meat recoiled.
Did this moderately attractive man just call him old? He was barely even cute and he would think to call him old?
“You’re kidding, right?” Sweet Meat asked. “Henry is playing some kind of joke or something?”
“Golden Grin doesn’t joke, old man.” The leader said through clenched teeth.
Sweet Meat snorted.
There were times when Henry lived up to his grim reputation but that man could also be a child at times. A terribly naughty one at that. He was the kind of man who would try and pull a prank on the Mistress of Death or the Daemon himself.
“I would suggest you step aside, youngster.” Sweet Meat said evenly.
All three men cocked their heads slightly in the manner all men did before they fought, that imperceptible tilt.
“Or what?” The leader asked.
Sweet Meat could not stop himself and he began looking up and down the particular street. He was bewildered and he knew there had to be cameras recording this right now. Henry would love to show Boss Smiley and the family a video of him getting scared by some street punks at the New Year Celebration. They would all die laughing at that.
“Do you even know where you are, old man?” The leader asked as Sweet Meat continued looking for the glare of a lens in one of the burned out buildings. The leader turned to the men behind him as he pointed at Sweet Meat and chuckled but by the time he turned back, he was grim once more.
“Let me help you out, big…no…grandpa bro.” The leader chuckled at the terrible joke and the men behind him snickered and shoved one another. “This is the Blue Lion ward, Chuckling Cubs territory. Golden Grin is the Old Man around here and you don’t get to use his baptismal name if you aren’t one of us. You are most definitely not one of us. Now I suggest you disappear before things get ugly.”
Sweet Meat sighed heavily as he took a step back and dialed Henry. Why in the name of the Almighty did Henry have new guys on the door? You never put new guys on office duty. Especially with what Henry is planning to do. Was planning to do when Sweet Meat told him the soul-buoying news.
“Well things are about to get as ugly as your friends back there.” Sweet Meat said quietly just before the line picked up.
“-weet Meat?” Henry said over the activated speaker. “What’s going on, old head?”
Sweet Meat stared at the men and all three were bewildered as they recognized the voice on the phone. One of the two men in the back turned and craned their head up to the second floor as though he could see Henry through the bleak gray building.
“You got new guys on the door?” Sweet Meat asked, refusing to take his eyes off the leader.
The leader’s eyes grew even wider.
Looking at that face, Sweet Meat felt somewhat sorry for the dumb cute man. He was just trying to do his job. He was not the one who chose good looks over intelligence.
“Yeah.” Henry said. “I figured we should beef up at the office before ‘it’ happened.”
Sweet Meat felt good when beads of sweat began popping out on the leader’s forehead as the beautiful man stood there with round eyes and… Sweet Meat looked down at his phone.
What did he just hear?
“It?” Sweet Meat asked. “What do you mean by it? And you said happened like it already took place?”
Sweet Meat moved automatically and saw one of the two men in the back actually step to impede him once more but the leader wisely snatched the man by the back of his shirt and hauled the idiot out of the way. However Sweet Meat was too engrossed in what was going through his head to truly take note as he rushed passed the men and into the office building.
When he was inside the building, Sweet Meat was running and he was barreling into Henry’s office at the end of the second floor hallway. Seven men with automatic weapons followed Sweet Meat into the room but they all drifted away when they saw their famed Golden Grin sitting behind his desk with a bewildered look on his face.
Henry ‘Golden Grin’ Ailish reclined in his big black leather chair behind his huge coffee stained desk with papers and unspent bullets casings strewn everywhere. Henry was a short man just past his days as a youth with strawberry red hair and thick beard slightly darker than his long bright hair. He was thickly layered with muscle with dark blue eyes and his open mouth revealed the four gold canine teeth that gave him his name. Slurping sounds emerged from under the desk, despite all the ruckus and could be heard by all. The sound combined with Henry’s relaxed posture, leaning back in the seat with one hand behind his head, told Sweet Meat all he needed to know but the old adviser did not care.
“Please tell me you did not do it.” Sweet Meat said in a near begging tone.
Henry made to return to his conversation on the phone but then he frowned and ended the call when he recognized the sounds coming from the speaker of Sweet Meat’s phone.
“What are you talking about?” Henry asked with his eyebrows furrowing in what looked to be concern.
Sweet Meat took a few seconds to calm himself and catch his breath before walking into the room and closing the door behind him. When the latch clicked, he walked forward and leaned over on Henry’s desk.
“The delivery.” He said with droplets of sweat falling from his chin to the table. “Are you still planning that delivery or did you actually do it?”
Henry’s eyes flashed wider in shock and Sweet Meat groaned. He really thought no one would figure out his plans. Almighty preserve him.
“Do not lie to me, Henry!” Sweet Meat snapped.
Henry recoiled at the outburst and Sweet Meat was just as shocked as he. Sweet Meat has loved Henry like a favorite nephew since he was a boy. Not once had he ever snapped at him as a kid and even more so as an adult. Henry was not an angry man but he was volatile so when his face twitched in anger, Sweet Meat’s heart skipped a beat. The name Golden Grin was feared for a reason.
“So what if I did?” Henry asked in a quiet tone with a slight shrug of his shoulders.
“Oh Almighty, no!” Sweet Meat whispered as he tried to keep his knees from buckling any further.
Henry frowned and squinted his eyes in confusion.
“The man was a nobody.” He explained as though to both Sweet Meat and himself. His confidence in his words audibly grew with each subsequent syllable out of his mouth. “A relic from the last war. Some blip that landed a punch way above his station but got forgotten in the fog of war. I took care of that oversight. Pops is gonna be happy. You’ll see.”
The words eradicated Sweet Meat efforts and he stumbled forward onto the desk. Henry jumped up to catch his adopted uncle but Sweet Meat caught himself. When he was able to focus on anything but falling, his eyebrows rose in appreciation of Henry’s manhood despite the severity of their situation. Maybe he should be the one people called Sweet Meat. Well done, boy.
“Why did you do it?” Sweet Meat asked when he recovered fully.
Henry shrugged as he sat back down.
“I heard something I didn’t like.” He said with a more self-conscious shrug.
Sweet Meat could only sigh as he stared at the man he loved. Years watching him grow told Sweet Meat that Henry knew he was in the wrong. He gave that same self-conscious shrug when Sweet Meat asked him about a broken window when Henry was twelve. The only question was if he realized how big of a mistake this could be.
“And what didn’t you like?” Sweet Meat asked patiently.
Henry frowned for a long second before waving away the question.
“It doesn’t matter anymore.” He said nonchalantly as he relaxed and the slurping sounds resumed. “Just go on back home, old head. Everything will be alright.”
Sweet Meat’s palms were stinging and he realized he’d slammed them on the desk. Henry jumped and the slurping stopped as he looked at Sweet Meat in bewilderment that looked to have anger on the fringes but Sweet Meat did not care.
This man was the next Boss of the Association, the future of the Smiling Bears, the current number two man in the entire Association and Boss Smiley’s protégé and son-in-law. Henry had enough sway to get rid of Sweet Meat with only heavy repercussions and not death. But Sweet Meat did not care about any of that. None of that mattered if Henry did not understand the enormity of the mistake he made.
“It does matter, Henry!” Sweet Meat shouted sounding almost frantic.
Henry recoiled once more but the bewilderment on his face was quickly being replaced by a face of anger and his whole demeanor changed as he rolled back from the desk, a soft ‘pop’ sound accompanying the movement. He pulled his pants up as he got to his feet and knocked on the desk a few times. Before long, a beautiful pale skinned woman with bright blonde hair crawled out from under the desk as Henry pulled out his wallet. The woman straightened her clothes as Henry counted the fex and she took the money he offered as he motioned towards the door with his chin. She pointedly ignored the dismissal and recounted the money before she bent down and picked up a purse Sweet Meat had not noticed. She flashed the both of them a smile and began redoing her lipstick as she walked out of the office.
When the prostitute left, Henry walked over to the bar on the far side of the wall and made himself a drink as Sweet Meat sat down in one of the seats in front of Henry’s desk. Henry walked back over with a cup of ice and what could only be whiskey and plopped down into his seat. He looked at Sweet Meat, confusion tinting his eyes as he took a small sip of his drink and cleared his throat.
“So you want to explain what’s going on, old head?” Henry asked rolling the cup in his hand. “I’d been waiting on that appointed for a while.”
“What happened earlier?” Sweet Meat asked coldly.
Henry chuckled as he swallowed the sip in his mouth.
“Sweet Meat,” He said sounding amused. “You know I love you but this has nothing to do with you. You clean the money. I… do other things. We both need to know when to stay in our lanes or else things with run amok.”
Sweet Meat sighed.
“I don’t do the laundering anymore.” He said tiredly. “I’m an adviser now because I always give good advice. Your father was the one to recognize that.”
Henry sniffed irritably.
“Well he is why this had to happen.” He said sullenly.
Sweet Meat frowned.
“Who is why this had to happen?” He asked suspiciously. “What are you talking about?”
Henry grimaced and finished the remaining half glass of whiskey in one largish gulp.
“I got it on good authority that this relic you seem so fond of was responsible for or had something to do with the death of my father.” He said staring at the empty glass.
A strangled gasp escaped Sweet Meat’s throat.
“Is there more to it?” He asked carefully.
Henry shook his head sadly as he got to his feet and walked over to the bar and made another drink. He turned as though to offer Sweet Meat a drink but then remembered the adviser’s fifteen years of sobriety.
“Did you do any other kind of investigation on your father’s death?” Sweet Meat asked. “Have you done any follow up on this informa…wait…was what you asked me the extent of your investigation?”
Henry returned to his seat and plopped down in the chair with a tired sigh and a few added grunts for good measure. When he and Sweet Meat made eye contact, Sweet Meat raised his eyebrows and angled his head, silently repeating the question. In response, Henry looked away and took a long sip of his drink. Sweet Meat could only bury his head in his hands.
He currently felt like crying. All these years of careful preparations and planning all to be thrown away by one rash action by one man. One beautiful honorable idiot just might have killed them all. Why in the name of the Almighty were all attractive and beautiful men so damned stupid?
“Do you even know the name of the man you tried to kill?” Sweet Meat asked while still holding his head.
Henry shrugged as his jaw crunched a piece of ice.
“Should I?” He asked swallowing the ice chips. “I knew his name was Peter but that’s all I could find on his name. Didn’t slow me any though. I still found him and took care of him.”
Sweet Meat groaned heavily into his palms.
“What?” Henry asked with the glass cup halfway up to his lips.
“You my boy are a monumentally colossal idiot.” Sweet Meat said.
Henry recoiled as though he was slapped and his eyes flared. Sweet Meat’s head snapped up and he stared at Henry with wide eyes when he realized what he said. Henry’s head made the imperceptible tilt of violence but Sweet Meat raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips in challenge. Henry’s eyebrows went higher the longer Sweet Meat remained silent until there was no more space to travel and Sweet Meat just shrugged with the same expression on his face.
“So you want to explain what that was?” Henry asked after a while.
Sweet Meat just shrugged again.
“You don’t know Peter’s last name because you don’t have any business with him.” He said tiredly. “That’s his thing. He only does business with those that know his full name. A leave over from the Beggar King system up from the south.”
“Didn’t you hear what I just said?” He asked. “I had business with him. Legitimate business that didn’t need clearance for all the protections the bastard had.”
Sweet Meat shook his head.
“Those protections were in place for a reason.” He said exasperated. “Whoever your source was is wrong. Probably dead too now that I think about it. Especially if he gave up Peter’s name.”
“That’s impossible.” Henry said disbelieving.
Sweet Meat said nothing and just stared at Henry for a long while in silence. Boss Smiley raised him better than that.
“Why do you say that?” Henry asked in a more moderated tone.
Sweet Meat nodded in satisfaction. That was the right question.
In response to the question, Sweet Meat reached into his jacket and pulled out his phone. After a few taps on the screen, he was turning the device over to Henry who accepted the phone with a curious look on his face that transformed into a look of confusion as he read what was on the screen.
“What am I looking at?” Henry asked as he squinted at the words on the screen Sweet Meat pulled up for him.
“What does it look like?”
Henry looked up at the old adviser.
“It looks like a retirement confirmation letter.” He said blandly.
“Because it is a confirmation letter for our new old friend Peter.” Sweet Meat confirmed.
“This proves nothing about my source’s lack of credibility.” Henry said handing back Sweet Meat’s phone.
“No it does not.” Sweet Meat confirmed once more as he put his back into his pocket. “This only proves that Peter was registered with the Syndicate. No, I showed that to you so you would believe me when I said that Peter worked for us almost exclusively. Your father is the one who sponsored his registration in the Syndicate the first place.”
Everything about Henry paused. His breathing, his blinking, even the glass of whiskey froze halfway to his lips.
“In fact, Peter was the man who helped your father with the Bloody Week that got us a seat at the table of the Eight.” Sweet Meat said. “The man you tried to kill helped make the Smiling Bears what we are today.”
Henry resumed living and scoffed before taking a sip. A too quick sip.
“My father used many men and got the help of even more men for the Bloody Week.” He said dismissively.
Sweet Meat shook his head slowly.
“Not like this.” He said gravely.
Henry frowned as he stared at Sweet Meat but said nothing so Sweet Meat continued talking.
“Do you remember the Untouchables? That group of organizations that were fanatically loyal to the Bloody ’Yotes?”
“Of course.” He said. “Who doesn’t remember them? They were the whole reason the Bloody Week was required.”
“Peter was the man who your father sent after the leaders of the Untouchables.” Sweet Meat said in a quiet voice barely above a whisper.
That admission made Henry’s eyes jump wide for a second but then his eyebrows dropped like a pair of sinking stones.
“How is that even possible?” He asked. “I thought my father had them ambushed.”
“He did.” Sweet Meat said in that same quiet voice. “He sent Peter.”
“What do you mean?” Henry asked nervously.
“You know exactly what I mean.”
Henry frowned in question as he stared at Sweet Meat and the old adviser’s lack of reaction gave him the answer he was searching for.
“But who was he sent after?” He asked after a few seconds. “The Untouchables had…what…four or five leader after the first one was killed.”
“Peter was the man who killed all seven leaders of the Untouchables.”
Henry recoiled violently.
“You can’t be serious?” He asked obviously bewildered. “You cannot be serious. You cannot expect me to believe that this unknown relic single-handedly took down the leadership of the Untouchables? By himself?”
Sweet Meat levelled a grave stare at Henry in answer.
“Do you now understand why I always tell you to wait?” Sweet Meat asked. “This man is a wild card. A dangerous wild card. The kind of wild card that could make us vulnerable enough to be pushed off the table just like we did to the Bloody ’Yotes. That is Peter.”
Henry chuckled softly as he took another sip.
“That was Peter.” He said grinning. “For as scary as the boogeyman Peter was, he didn’t scare the bullets away from his car when my guys completed the delivery. So much for the legend slaying boogy-“
“His body was never recovered.” Sweet Meat interrupted.
Henry pulled up short and his eyes popped open at the words. Sweet Meat was surprised at how amused he was at that expression on Henry’s face.
“What?” Henry asked in a near whisper.
“That car that you had riddled with bullets was empty.” Sweet Meat said grinding his stare into Henry. “Completely empty. Not even a speck of blood inside. You never delivered Peter to the Mistress.”
Henry shivered then looked at Sweet Meat sheepishly, flashing a sarcastically panicked smile.
“Might’ve pissed the bed on this one, huh?” He asked somehow still sounding jovial.
Sweet Meat could only stare at Henry in wonder. This man was the next leader of the Smiling Bears and he was somehow sounding jovial. Yet despite the gravity of the situation, Sweet Meat found himself not nearly as close to panic as he was less than thirty seconds ago. He was still worried but Henry’s demeanor took some of that worry from him and Sweet Meat got yet another confirmation about the leadership capabilities of this man he loved so dearly. Henry could get a man to follow him anywhere but that meant little if Henry was leading them to Damnation.
“We have to call Boss Smiley.” Sweet Meat said, surprised that the feeling actually stuck around.
“For what?” Henry asked as he took another sip.
“Because he needs to know what could be coming.” Sweet Meat said. “He may be the only one capable of stopping it. He and Peter had an oddly close relationship.”
“We don’t need to worry Pops about something like this.”
Sweet Meat snapped his head around to stare at Henry.
“Look,” Henry said with his hands up. “I get it, Sweet Meat. Peter is that guy of assassins but I am that guy of the Underworld. If we go to war over this failed delivery, I will take care of us. Who is better in the streets than Golden Grin?”
A smack was audible as Sweet Meat wiped his face in frustration.
“You’re right.” He said tiredly. “But this won’t be a war that you recognize. You are a god in the streets. When you are in the streets, everyone knows to make way before you but Peter doesn’t fight in the street. He fights everywhere you don’t.”
“How can he fight where I don’t if I am not there?” Henry asked.
“Because he will force you there and you won’t see the guide rope until he has finished tying that rope into a noose.”
“You sure have taken a liking to riding this Peter guy.” Henry said sullenly. “Does Ray know about him?”
“I like nothing about this.”
“Then why are you still talking about him?”
“Because I was a witness.” Sweet Meat said distantly, trying to fight the oncoming memories of the proofs of death Peter sent to get paid.
“A witness to what?”
Sweet Meat paused for half a second before he pulled out his phone. He dialed a particular number and put the call on the speakerphone before placing the device on the desk. After a few rings, the line picked up and Henry’s eyes widened when he heard the voice on the other side of the call.
“Gregory?” Boss Smiley asked over the speaker. “What are you doing calling this number with that phone?”
Henry stared daggers at Sweet Meat that promised retribution but Sweet Meat could only manage a dull glance in return. He was too busy trying to not remember one video that show what happened when one pulled another’s intestines out from their butthole… or at least tried to.
“Sorry to bother you, Donald.” Sweet Meat said as turned away from Henry and leaned forward. “But there is something you need to do.”
Sweet Meat’s stomach dropped. Bosses can be directed but never ordered. No one told one of the Eight what to do but this needed to happen or they were all doomed.
“Donald, Henry needs to hear about Peter.” Sweet Meat said quickly. “He needs to hear about that night.”
Boss Smiley fell silent for a long minute. Henry stared at Sweet Meat with a look of disappointment on his face as he shook his head softly. Did Sweet Meat miscalculate the threat? Was that even possible with a man like Peter?
“Are you telling me this was why you risked yourself with this phone call?” Boss Smiley asked, his anger bubbling in his throat. “You really used your legitimate personal line to call me at my government known office to have me tell my son about some night nearly twenty years ago?”
Boss Smiley paused for a second and sighed quietly.
“Gregory.” Boss Smiley said in a dangerously soft tone. “Have you lost your Saint-forsaken mind? Why would you think that terrible night was important enough to risk yourself like this?”
“Because Henry needs to know who Peter is.” Sweet Meat said feeling the surety of his caution crumble away under his feet.
“And why does my son need to know who Peter is?” Boss Smiley asked in that same quiet, tired sounding voice.
“Because he tried to deliver him.”
Boss Smiley paused once more. Not even his breathing could be heard.
“Henry green-lit a delivery on Peter and he needs to know the beehive he just poked.”
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