Issue 13

Fourteen hours and three layovers later we were back at the shop. The weirdest part of the trip was when we landed back in Ohio, because I could have sworn that we were followed out of the airport by a couple of guys in suits, but I couldn’t be sure so I didn’t say anything to the boys.

“You said you had a surprise for us when you called earlier, what is it?” I knew William would ask about it as soon as we walked in the door.

“Ralphie, please take the bag in the back and sit with it until the store is closed. Do not open it until we are all back there or unless I tell you to. Okay?” He nodded and off he went. I could trust him to all but sit on the bag until the aforementioned time.

“How was business while we were gone?” Good, let Wil worry about the day to day.

William was looking a little unhappy about the way the last minute had gone.

“Business was fine, but the customers have been asking questions about where you guys went.” Shit, I’d not even given consideration to what to tell the customers, but it didn’t matter because apparently Stevie covered.

“I told everyone that Meryl was in the hospital and that Ralphie and Wil were watching your kid. Everyone thought it was funny that it took both of them to handle the task, but everyone was more distracted by the part about her being sick to ask anything else.”

“Should work as a cover, we only have a handful of regulars anyways, so no worries there. Thanks for covering for me little man.” He just nodded and went back to whatever it was he was reading. From where I was standing, it looked to be some sort of chemistry.

“How goes the self education?”

“I’d like to talk with you a little later about that. I’ve got a list of things I’d like to pick up and there are a couple of things that I need to get made.”

“Sure, we’ll talk after the great unveiling.” I just headed into the back as the Wills started to talk about the trip. I made Wil promise me that he wouldn’t say anything about the money, so it came as no shock that William came back about two minutes behind me wanting to see it.

“You brought back seven hundred fifty thousand fucking dollars?” Was all he said on the subject, and he looked as shocked as we did. I did the only thing I could think to do.

“Thanks, asshole!” As I leaned forward to make sure it would carry to the front of the store. And as expected, I got a faint “sorry” as a reply.

“Ralphie, if you would be so kind to go ahead and show your brother the loot.” He dutifully opened the pack and started to stack the money on the crappy little table that we used for our shipping of internet orders. It only looked crappy cause of the pile of cash that now rested upon it.

As Ralphie kept pulling more and more money out of the bag, William’s jaw began to drop. It seemed like this pile of cash was designed to have that effect on us.

“And they just let you walk out with this? Wil said that there were questions asked that you didn’t answer.”

“Not didn’t, couldn’t. You guys never told me how you found out about Paolo and I wasn’t going to make something up to cover it. It’s weird, but I kinda get the impression that they might actually know how anyways, and that they were just looking for a confirmation from us. So, whatever you guys did to find out, just be more careful in the future alright?”

I didn’t know that Wil had come into the back and was behind me. “Oh yeah, so I hacked into a DEA database, that had Paolo’s name in a report, and from there I just focused on finding him. It really wasn’t all that hard.”

“Christ, man! Alright, what’s done is done, but quit hacking the government. I believe they call that cyber-terrorism now and that is some serious shit, though splitting moral hairs when we’re doing business with killers and drug dealers may not really be putting me on the moral high ground.” We both had a laugh at that.

“Regardless, don’t do it again.”

“Whatever you say, you’re the boss-man.” I loved every time he did that and he had to know that it would smooth out any ruffled feathers.

I headed off to the office. We had a shit ton of money and it wasn’t doing anything but collecting dust. We needed to find a way to make it work for us, but for that I needed T. Time to make a call. Of course I got his voice-mail. He was in class or some shit. Didn’t matter, I knew what to do.

“T, it’s me. I need you to come home tonight. There’s a problem with the books that needs your direct attention. Call me.” That should have been enough to get him to at least call. He knew most of what was going on, but I was pretty sure that in the twenty minutes we’d been in the store Wil hadn’t told him about the money.

That was when William finally asked what was just naturally becoming a growing concern of everyone, even if it hadn’t yet been voiced.

“So, now that we have all this money, what are we gonna do with it?”

“Simple. We wait. We’ll only be sitting on it as it is for a couple of days, but T should be here tonight and we’ll come up with a way to make the money work for us and also grow into something more. It would be stupid for us to just start pissing it away now. We need to be careful about what we do with it, and if we start spending now then that can attract unwanted attention to us and to the store and potentially to our operation. I’m just gonna have to ask that everyone be a little patient and have some faith.”

Clearly my bullshit stall tactic worked as he just went back to work on the newest issue of the comic. I spent an hour going over the previous couple days sales. They were depressing to the point of making me wonder why we even bothered to have a front for our business, but it had to be for the love of the product.

It took a couple of hours but T finally called me back.

“What’s up man?”

“You need to come help me with an accounting emergency tonight?”

“I thought you could handle that. Is there a problem?”

“Yes, and it requires immediate attention.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“It’s in regards to our intentions to expand our sales internationally.” And then a silence that must have gone on for a couple of seconds. I was the one who finally broke it.

“T?”

“Yeah man, I’m here.”

“When can I expect you?”

“Let me pack an overnight bag and I’ll be on my way.”

“Excellent, see you soon.” Though I knew that soon would be at least two hours as he was halfway across the state.

I went into the back of the shop to make sure that everyone was working and that the money was no longer dumped out on the table. As cool as it was to look at that huge pile of money, it was a potential liability leaving it lying around. Thankfully we had a small safe in the office and once all the other crap had been cleared out I was able to stuff all the cash into it.

I wanted to make sure that the boys knew that T was coming to town, because it was usually such an event that we’d all be able to get clearance from our wives to stay out a little later than normal to hang with him, and true to form this time was no different. God bless consistency.

That bit of news also really perked things up at the shop too, which was surprising since I didn’t think it could top out after the money got there.

Just as we were about to close, William called me into the back.

“Hey, we got a submission for a new issue. You’re going to want to take a look at this.” And he was right as it turned out, I did.

According to the submission, it was from our German clients and they were looking to take advantage of threat removal services, which was funny as I’d never fully committed us to doing it, only exploring the possibility. They included all the information to make the job come together initially.

“How soon can you be ready Stevie? It looks like it’s gonna be your time to shine.”

He had this look of what could only be described as innocence on his face. I thought for a moment that maybe he shouldn’t do this. What kind of person would he become?

“Yeah, that was something I wanted to talk to you about. While you guys were gone I came up with a list of things I thought might be useful and shouldn’t arouse suspicions at the airport. Once I have the stuff off this list I should be good to go.” And he handed me a folded up piece of paper. It looked well worn, like he’d been folding and unfolding it for the past month. Alright, so he’d put some thought into it.

I started to unfold it to see just what he was after, but as I was unfolding the paper a thought dawned on me, that being that we still needed to work out delivery to the Columbian’s in less than seven calendar days. I folded the paper back up and put it in my pocket. I’d have to look later.

“Wil, get a hold of that attorney douche-bag and work out delivery details. Then just make sure that all out internet orders are up to date.” He nodded confirmation and got to work.

Stevie looked a little disheartened that I wasn’t giving his list the attention he clearly felt it deserved.

“Stevie, I promise that I will look at this later, and if everything you’re after is easily attainable, then we can probably start getting it for you tomorrow. That cool?” I didn’t wait for a response which was kind of a dick thing to do but we are how God makes us. I headed back out front to talk to Ralphie about get the chopper operational.

“Hey big man, don’t bother coming in tomorrow. Pick up Stevie and go work on the heli. You’re going to have about five days to get it tip top. Take advantage of every minute. That means don’t be late. You cannot fuck this up for us, I need you to bring you’re ‘A’ game. Can you do that for me?”

“What, go big or go home? Sure man, I can do that. What does Stevie know about engine repair?”

“As far as I know nothing, but you can both consider it a part of his education, you never know when the skill will come in handy for him in the ‘field’. And besides, I can use him to keep track of how little you’re getting done.” I smiled that huge asshole smile I liked so much and just waited for it.

“Dick!” And there was the payoff.

“Any thoughts on who we can get to machine the firing pins for the weaponry?” I couldn’t say why I thought he would, but figured since I didn’t know that it couldn’t hurt.

“Maybe, let me make a couple of phone calls. I know a couple guys with small machine shops. One of them is bound to be able to do what we need. The only problem is that regardless of how this gets done, they may need to see the guns.” Shit I hadn’t thought of that. Come to think of it, why did Ralphie suddenly seem to be on top things?

“We’ll worry about that when we find someone who can do the job. Maybe we can dismount the guns and take them to the people doing the work. That would probably be safer all around than taking them to where we have all the stuff stashed. Start making your calls and let me know what’s up.” He just grabbed the phone and started punching in numbers. All I could do at that point was wonder how much it was going to cost us to get this job done.

A few hours later and T finally arrived. We were just prepping to shut the shop for the night and as usual we’d had next to no business for the day.

“Bout time you got here. If you knew why you were needed you’d have gotten here sooner.”

“Well I got a speeding ticket on the way or I’d have been here sooner. This had better be worth the two hundred it’s going to cost to fix the ticket.” I chuckled a little at that. I’d send the money to cover the ticket back with him.

“Can one of you go clean the safe out and bring the contents in here for me please?” Ralphie and the Wills just looked at each other, I assume to see who was going to move first.

“Jesus guys, don’t everyone jump to it. Wil, would you be so kind?” He just scurried off, probably thinking I’m mad, but just wanting to see my family. I’d spent the better part of the last four days in flight or in Columbia and I just wanted to sleep in my own bed for a change.

“Alright, so how’d the meet go?”

“Better than we’d hoped actually, the Columbians not only went for the offer…” At that Wil was just coming back into the room with armloads of money.

“…they paid us half up front, which was why I wanted to get you here. Now that we have three-quarters of a million dollars, what can we do with it? I worry that any abnormal spending will only attract unwanted attention. And as much as it pains me to say so, I think that we should pay taxes on it as well.”

There was much grumbling at this, but it was expected. Hopefully T would be on my side on this.

“No guys, he’s right. That’s how the government typically takes down drug dealers and gangsters. Criminals don’t pay their taxes. If we funnel the money carefully it will probably help you guys get it past your wives as well. Let me think for a second.” And for the first time I got to see T’s mind in action. I could almost hear the hamster on the wheel in his mind as he started to pace the room. And then he stopped and smiled.

“I’ve got it and it’s fucking brilliant!”

“Ok… so, um… care to share?” I was surprised that Stevie of all people was the one to express his impatience at this.

“Of course, we run it all through the business. The stores books can reflect any of the additional incomes as consultation fees, which we don’t have to have anything truly tangible to reflect. In doing so the company will pay taxes and if we funnel it right we can do whatever we want to do with the money. We can move some into interest bearing accounts and we can work some into retirement accounts but most importantly we can put some into payroll and start doing what we’ve wanted to do all along… get paid.” Alright, it was fucking brilliant. It sounded way to easy though.

“Oh my god, that’s amazingly simple. Why didn’t I think of that?” It did bother me that I missed the completely obvious solution, but I didn’t care. We had a plan now.

T and I spent about an hour working out the finer points before he took money to cover his ticket and we all headed home.

We agreed that the best way to start bringing more money home was to phase it in gradually over a period of a couple of months. It meant that we’d still be suffering on the home front financially, but that if we were all patient it would work itself out. We decided that in six pays we could be able to justify doubling our pays and in twelve we could justify quadrupling them.

This was a huge pay increase for us since it meant that in six weeks we’d have enough coming in to be able to actually pay all our bills and in twelve we’d have such excess money as to be able to adjust our lives for the better. Now, since we weren’t doing it all at once we’d be able to acclimate ourselves to our new financial situations over time.

Now all the while that we were doing this, the remainder of the money would be split and placed into interest bearing accounts, since the best thing we could do with any money that came in was to make it grow upon itself. We felt this would be the best way to do it since we had no idea when this ride was going to end and we wanted to be ready to retire at any time. We even set some small financial goals for ourselves, those being that we’d do everything we could to double what money was made every year we continued to sell. So if in sales and interest we were able to make five million this year, we’d do what we could to try and make ten the following year. Now a full hundred percent growth was probably aiming unrealistically high, but, like Brian had said earlier “go big or go home”.

Issue 12

“Jesus Christ guys! All you had to do was sit there for the fucking flight and now you’re both piss drunk. Come on, we can’t show up with you two like this. Let’s get you two assholes some coffee.” Wil just hung his head low, in obvious shame, but Ralphie looked like he was trying to come up with something intelligent to retort. After it looked like he was gonna stroke out for lack of the comment, I just started to walk off.

There had to be some place close to get coffee, it was fucking Columbia after all. Unenlightened me thought their chief exports were Coffee and Cocaine but it turns out that just because they ship it everywhere it doesn’t mean that everyone there drank it. I could only scratch my head over that. After about ten minutes of looking and having to use my half drunk interpreter to get directions we finally found someplace for them to get some coffee and get their shit correct.

It didn’t matter anyway since our ride wasn’t going to be there for us for at least two more hours. I wasn’t sure how comfortable I was with the customer picking us up at the airport, but it was gonna be better than trying to get wherever we needed to get on our own and with my entourage in no shape to drive me.

So two hours and countless cups of coffee later I was able to trade in a couple half-drunk shit heads for a couple of wired and twitchy shitheads. I didn’t know which pair was worse, but at least they were a little more focused. I suggested that we all take a moment to freshen up and then go looking for our ride, to which they happily concurred especially since it gave them the chance to piss away some of what had to be the gallon of coffee they’d consumed.

“So who are we looking for?” Wil never had told me.

“They’ll have a sign that says Pandora’s Box. I thought that would be better than using any of our names.” He used the fucking store name. Crist we might as well put this in our fucking yellow pages ad.

“Jesus dude, the store name?” He could immediately tell that I wasn’t happy.

“Told you he’d be pissed about it.” Why Ralpie took this moment to play the ‘I told you so’ card was anyone’s guess, but it did prompt another question.

“You knew he did it and you didn’t feel inclined to tell me? What the fuck? It doesn’t matter now, let’s just do this and get it over with.” And we headed in silence to the swarthy looking gentleman holding the sign bearing our stores name.

“Hola senor, do you speak English?” I had to hope, especially since I had all but exhausted my knowledge of the Spanish language. I was a little too pissed at Wil to use him as the interpreter he was meant to be.

“Si, I do, a little bit.”

“Excellent, I’m Mr. H and these are my associates. I believe we have a meeting with your boss.” Seemed a reasonable enough thing and I could see no reason to add names to Ralphie and Wil. Plus, fuck them, I thought. Let these shitheads wonder.

“This way senor, I parked the car out front. My name is Raoul.” And he started to exit the airport terminal.

I wish I could say that I paid more attention than I did on the trip to the meeting, so I had to hope the boys would pick up the slack for me. I was more preoccupied in trying to get myself into character so that I’d be ready to make a deal with a drug lord. All I kept thinking is that it couldn’t really be like it was in the movies and the only movie that kept coming to mind was Scarface, and as I recall that didn’t end well. I’d also never done cocaine and had no interest in starting now.

So, we all of us settled into what seemed to me a very long car ride. The only thing that made up for it was that the trip was made in a Rolls Royce. This trip would also be the first and last time I’d get to ride in one. Not that it really mattered it was just a car after all, a really cool car, but a car nonetheless.

It was maybe a half hour or so ride from the airport. I kept playing in my head the possible scenarios for the coming deal. It all came back to one thing, that being that I’d have to improvise based on the personality of the guy I was dealing with, and that was a variable I hated but yet somehow excelled at. I’m weird that way.

I was, however, able to take some comfort in the knowledge that I’d been solely responsible for keeping things headed in a forward direction, but of course that was another aspect of this that just didn’t matter. We were all but in league with the devil now and we were about to get in even deeper.

I kind of smiled a little at another thought that reared itself. So many things had gone the stereotypical way I’d have expected to see on the silver screen. Would this Paolo be the drug lord I had constructed in my mind, a flashy white suit with a dress shirt unbuttoned almost to his navel with a shag carpet of chest hair showing that looked almost greasy in all of glory.

About the time I started to think about that Raoul broke my train of thought.

“Mr. H, we are here.” And I felt the car start to slow down.

Only then did it dawn on me that I could still see the airport from where we were. We seemed to be perched on the side of a mountain. This wasn’t good if we needed to get the shit out of here, but I knew I’d work something out. I always did. If I didn’t live by the seat of my pants, I’d probably quit living.

I could see now that this was quite the cartel compound, not that I had any frame of reference. It was gated and had what looked to be a guard tower on every corner of the 12 to 14 foot wall. It looked to be the kind of wall that served a double purpose and kept as much inside as it did out.

The car came to a stop and Raoul honked the car’s horn twice, which just like everything else about this car had an element of opulent class to it. The frivolity of it struck me as very cool, but the money conscious prick in me could only think that it was completely unnecessary.

The gate started to slowly pull open, and a small contingent of armed gentlemen emerged. Well, calling them armed isn’t quite accurate. They all had some serious hardware, easily of the grade that we were here to barter over. And in retrospect gentlemen may not necessarily be the most appropriate description either. More like a bunch of sweat soaked armed goons, not that I’d have called them anything but gentlemen to any of their faces, cause they really looked ready to do some damage. We would probably do well to stay on this Paolo’s good side. I made a mental note to not lose my cool here. That crazy act would probably only end up getting us killed, and a quick look at my boys confirmed that they were thinking the same thing.

So once the five or so armed dudes had the car surrounded they let it into what I can only describe as a courtyard. Once inside the gates were once again shut and locked and it was both an elaborate and noisy process.

Then there came a voice from some hidden speaker. It was perfect and unaccented English, which confused me quite a bit.

“Mr. H, if you and your associates could exit the car slowly and keep your hands visible it would be greatly appreciated.” I looked at the boys who both looked more than a little concerned, mainly because it was very clear that the only reason we still lived and would continue to during our stay here was because our host allowed it. I didn’t like having my fate in another man’s hands, but there was nothing I could do about it at the time.

I went ahead and started to get out of the car. It seemed to me that the guys would be better about things if I took a good solid lead on this. Surprisingly, despite my confusion over all of this, I was just not afraid of the situation we found ourselves in. Maybe it was because it wasn’t the first time I’d had a gun pointed at me. Maybe it was because I was starting to realize I had what some would call the ability to shut down my moral center.

The guys followed my lead, though a bit more hesitantly and in no time at all we were standing in a walled courtyard somewhere in Columbia with our hands on our heads while some fairly grabby guys came and gave us such a thorough frisking that I kinda felt that I was owed a dinner for the groping I’d endured. It seems that there was some level of satisfaction over the nothing that was found. Once Mr. Grabby nodded towards the shadows of the nearest building I heard the voice I heard a minute before in the car.

“You can put your hands down gentlemen. I’m sure that you can understand my employer’s need for the safety and security of his operation and men.” The way this guy talked told me that he was probably a lawyer, and I thought that we were preparing to deal with the devil here. What kind of soulless bastard did a lawyer have to be to represent a drug lord?

“I can indeed Mr.?” I was hoping to get a read on this guy from his responses, and it helped that he took that moment to step out of the shadows.

This guy looked even shadier than the guys with the guns which I couldn’t help but smile about. He looked to be all of five foot nothing with a bit of a pudgy bit around his midsection, and the kind of baldness one looks for in a monk. That sort of shiny on top but the sides and back haven’t yet given up the ghost. He also had some serious five o’clock shadow and wore his necktie loose. This was a look I’d grown familiar with having worked with attorneys in the past.

“Liebowitz. Fredrick Liebowitz, personal counselor to Paolo.” He was a proud jackoff, which was funny only because everything that was happening was so very clichéd that I had to wonder if it was all a dream.

“A pleasure Mr. Liebowitz, but you’ll forgive me if I want to go ahead and get down to business. My associates and I have had a long flight and we have another plane to catch in a few hours. If we could just go ahead and meet with Paolo, I’m sure that we could come rather quickly to some sort of mutually agreeable situation and be on our way.”

“While I can appreciate your perspective, Paolo is unable to meet with you, but he has entrusted me with the task.” Awesome we had been passed off onto some flunky.

“You wouldn’t by chance be an attorney by trade would you?” I had one idea that could work out in our favor. Every attorney I’d ever met had a huge ego, something to do with thwarting justice or manipulating the legal system or some shit so I thought that maybe I could massage this guy’s ego and grease the wheels.

I could immediately tell by the look on his face that I’d hit it on the head. “How’d you know?” And now I wasn’t upset about having to work with this guy. He had just given me the upper hand in this deal by allowing me to have what can only be described as ‘the element of surprise’.

“You remind me of an attorney I knew back home is all. Well then Mr. Liebowitz, if we are to deal, then perhaps you’d be amicable to getting down to business.” He just smiled and nodded.

“Certainly Mr. H. If you gentlemen will follow me, there is a place where we can talk out of the sun.”

Now it wasn’t till he spoke of the sun that I realized that it had to be 90 degrees with a subtropical humidity. I was so distracted I didn’t even realize that I was really starting to sweat, and as I look at the guys they looked on the verge of a good old fashioned heat stroke. God did build them a little “stocky” which made weather like this a little harder for them to take.

As he turned to lead us away, the armed thugs went back to whatever they were doing when we’d first showed up, which appeared to be screwing off. Since we weren’t armed they didn’t seem the least bit interested in us anymore, which I found odd, until I noticed that there were now extra guns in the guard towers and they were aimed in our direction.

So the attorney led us between the buildings of Paolo’s compound to what appeared to be the only building on the grounds that had air conditioning. Suddenly I thought that would be a pleasant change to the suddenly oppressive heat. It also appeared from the direction that we were approaching from that this building would be best suited as the nerve center for the compound. It seemed to be in the center of the compound and had by way of all the windows enhanced visibility in all directions to walls, and probably the guard towers from the top floor of the building which was from the looks of things the third story.

As we got closer I noticed that each corner of the building had a camera at approximately the height of each floor, which made six cameras to a side, all of them slowly oscillating back and forth at slightly different speeds, which was a nice touch. That would make it harder for someone to defeat the cameras as a security system. I’d remember that trick for the shop.

We were led into the building and into one of the first floor offices. It was clearly the attorney’s personal office. It had the standard bullshit you’d expect in an attorney’s office, the diplomas and fairly common “couple pieces of fine art” to show that the attorney had culture and was just arrogant enough to flaunt that he had money.

I had to remind myself that I couldn’t bring my own prejudices against attorneys into this deal. If I was gonna hate this guy, it’d be because he’d need to go to the trouble of earning it. He sat down behind his desk and motioned for us to sit. There were only two chairs so I could only hope that they boys would do the logical thing and Wil would sit while Ralphie played the whole stoic guardian thing up. I thanked God for the first time that day when they finally did something that didn’t feel like they’d been purposefully fucking up for my benefit.

“First let me start by asking how you gentlemen happened upon our organization. Paolo goes to great lengths to ensure his privacy, and the fact that you gentlemen were able to pierce through that veil of privacy is cause for a bit of concern in our organization.” I couldn’t even begin to answer him on this. I only wanted results, and never bothered to ask how the Wills got them. That could be bad if I didn’t play this right. I knew that I’d lose a bit of leverage in this if I even looked at Wil for some hint of an answer. I’d have to make it up as I went along.

“How we heard about your organization’s needs is quite simple really. We take no little pride in knowing just what our potential customers are going to need, sometimes before even they themselves do. My organization came upon a specific piece of merchandise that we thought would be perfect for Paolo’s transportation needs, but if there is some doubt as to our intent here, then my associates and I are more than happy to take this deal elsewhere.”

I knew that I needed to play a little rough on this, but not push too hard or I’d make him walk away from the deal. So to back up my point, I put my hands on the arm rests of the chair as though readying myself to stand.

“Well, there’s not necessarily a need to call it off. We will just have to take greater measures in enforcing our security in the future. Now I believe that the piece of merchandise you refer to is the helicopter, correct?”

“The one and only, Mr. Liebowitz. It’s a classic piece of American engineering with all the guns still intact. The only thing we don’t have for the guns at the moment is ammunition, but we are in the process of acquiring that as we speak, and would easily have it in time for Paolo to take receipt of the merchandise. We’re currently tuning up the engine and cleaning all the on-board armaments. Now, does that sound like something that Paolo would be interested in purchasing?”

He just sat there looking at me. It was like he was waiting for something. Just then a little phone on his desk rang. The attorney answered it. It was in that moment that I realized that there was a camera mounted in a corner of this office.

“Yes, sir… Certainly, sir… Yes, Paolo.”

And with that I knew who was on the other end of the camera. He didn’t have business to attend to elsewhere he was just too much of a chicken shit to meet us face to face because of this supposed security issue.

I felt my ears start to burn as the blood rushed there. I don’t know why it pissed me off the way it did, but it didn’t matter. These Columbians were jerking us around like every other piece of trash we’d been dealing with. I couldn’t help but wonder if we were any better than the scumbags we were prepping to deal with.

And then the attorney hung up the phone. I figured I’d play off my frustration with a grin.

“Well, Mr. Liebowitz. Does Paolo wish to do business with my organization or not?”

“It would seem Mr. H., that Paolo would be most interested in purchasing your wares. His only concern is the price.”

Knowing what I did about the situation, the chopper and what it was capable of, I knew that a reasonable price would be upwards of at least half a million dollars. With ammunition for the guns, I knew that we could get the price to jump a bit.

“Shall we say half a one point five mill in U.S. currency then?” I could tell from the look on his face that he was happy with that price. Inside I thought that I could have gone higher, but there is no changing the past.

“That’s a more than acceptable price Mr. H. Per Paolo’s instructions, payment shall be made in two parts, with the first part to be before and the second part after the delivery of the merchandise.” There had to be a catch. A glorified drug dealer had to have some sort of trick up his sleeve, but I could only wait to find out.

“That’s acceptable. When can we accept the first half of the payment?”

“Would you like to take it with you?” My jaw dropped and I momentarily let my guard down as I looked at the guys. They were clearly as shocked as I was. Quickly I tried to regain my composure.

“That’ll work. I trust you won’t mind if we double check the count.” And with that Liebowitz just chuckled.

“Paolo thought you might feel that way and a room is already being prepared for just such an endeavor. I trust it will be to your satisfaction. In the meantime may I offer you gentlemen a drink?” I looked at the guys and they looked like they needed a drink about as much as I needed huge breasts, which is to say not very much.

“We’ve had such a long trip so far that I think maybe some coffee might be a better way to go.”

“Certainly Mr. H., I’ll have it brought in directly. Feel free to wait in my office while I go check on the status of the ‘count room’.” He got up and slowly strode out of the room. Once he was gone Ralphie decided to break the silence.

“Are we walking out of here with a three quarters of a million dollars?”

Wil answered Captain Obvious’s question with a bit more contempt than I’d have expected.

“Yes, dumbass, now shut the fuck up. We’re being watched on that camera right over there on the wall.” I thought I was the only one to notice, but it was nice to see someone else did. It made me feel a little worried that it wasn’t Ralphie. If he couldn’t see something as simple as a camera on the wall, how could I expect him to protect me, but maybe I was just being unnecessarily critical of the situation and I would just need to give him some time to prove himself a little more.

“Just chill big man.” And then I put my finger in front of my mouth the way you would when you’re trying to quiet a small child.

He grumbled something under his breath and went back to just standing there with his arms across his chest in that way I prefer. Just then there was a soft knock on the door and a stunningly beautiful latino woman came in with a tray and three steaming cups of coffee. She said something softly in what I could only assume to be Spanish and then left as quickly and quietly as she’d come in.

After that we just sat in silence and when what seemed like an eternity had passed, Liebowitz came back. I was a little curious just what his game was and why we were being given $750,000 dollars on our way out the door, when we hadn’t provided any real answers to his questions as to how we had even heard about their organization, but who was I to argue. I mean even after costs and giving Russ and Tom their cuts, we would each be walking away with somewhere around one hundred thousand dollars. I think that was more than we had made collectively the previous year, or was at least very close.

“If you gentlemen will follow me again, an area where you can count the money has been made available. Feel free to bring your coffee and just let me know if you need anything else.”

“I could use a bathroom if it’s not too much trouble.” This seemed like a strangely inappropriate time for Wil to have bladder issues, but I did make the both of them drink so much coffee before we left the airport, that I guessed I could just let it go.

The attorney just laughed and pointed at a door we hadn’t yet passed, which Wil quickly ducked into as we went by.

“I can come back for him after I take you two to start counting your money if that’s alright?”

“That seems reasonable to me, Mr. Liebowitz.” Because it did and there was no reason to make any kind of issue out of Wil and his need to piss.

He led us even farther down the hall to what appeared to be another office, but one that saw much less use. The paint was peeling and it had the faintest musty smell to it. This looked to be where they did this kind of thing and only this kind of thing. On the table there was a backpack and a pile of money. Now when I say pile of money I should clarify that three quarters of a million dollars in “strapped” twenties and fifties is a large pile of money, so very much more money that any of the three of us had ever seen up to this point in fact.

Around the table were a handful of chairs, and I went ahead and sat down to get started on the counting. As I did so Liebowitz exited and I presumed headed off to get Wil. Turns out I was right and about a minute later he came back looking clearly more relieved and upon seeing the money, ever so slightly shocked. He was thinking the same things I had I’d have guessed, and would later find out to be true.

Once again I just had Ralphie stand there looking like a big dumb wall, and that was how I needed him, regardless of my feelings on the subject.

Once Wil was seated, then the count proper began, and much the way we did inventory back in the store, we began to break down the pile of money in such a way that we were able to have the count done in about a half an hour. We were just finishing getting the money packed up into the bag when Liebowitz came back. It figures that they’d have some cameras in here, and as I looked around the room, it turned out that they had more in here than we had noticed in the attorney’s office. There were three that I could see, and I suspected that there were probably more that we couldn’t.

“I trust that you found everything to be in order.”

“I did, and I do appreciate that Paolo saw fit to pay half up front. Now, there is one point that we never discussed. When would Paolo like to take receipt of the helicopter?”
“Paolo would like to have it in his possession the week after next, and the exact day can be worked out after you’ve returned home. He would also like to have it delivered to one of his holdings in Florida if it’s not too much trouble.”

Now, less than two weeks could be problematic on getting it ship-shape to be ready, and there would be the travel time to get it delivered to Florida as well, which would take at least two days or so for transit. But for what we were expecting to make on this deal I think we could play a little bit of the hurry-up offense to get things ready to go.

“That shouldn’t be a problem. You can provide the address for delivery when we work out the time of delivery. Now, Mr. Liebowitz, I trust that Raoul will be available to drive my associates and I back to the airport shortly. We would like to be back in time to catch a flight back as soon as possible. We have much to attend to back in the states.”

“I already took the liberty of letting him know and he’s waiting outside. I assumed you’d want to leave when you were done so I put him on standby. He’s ready to leave whenever you gentlemen are.”

I got up and threw the newly loaded pack to Ralphie to carry for me and then went over and shook Liebiwitz’s hand.

“I think we have the beginnings of a most mutually beneficial business relationship.”

He just smiled and nodded and led us out to the waiting Raoul in that tricked out Rolls again.

As we were piling into the car I noticed now that it felt like it had to be a hundred degrees and I was suddenly glad to be in the air conditioned car.

“Good to see you again so soon Mr. H. I’ll have you back at the airport in no time at all.” And true to his word we were back before I had even begun to wonder how long it would take to get there.

I thanked him for the ride and wished him well as the three of us piled out of the car and into the airport. It only took a few minutes to track down the next flight stateside, even if it did mean going a little out of the way. I was just going to be glad to be headed back home. I was never a huge fan of traveling and even with all the money involved in this trip was no different. I decided that I’d just have Ralphie keep track of the pack until we were back in the store, and knew that he wouldn’t let the pack out of his sight. He even went so far as to use it as a pillow on the flight back so that he could keep it close to him.

And that’s how we first got into business with the Columbians. It looked as though all the hard work was finally bringing everything together perfectly and we were soon to be rolling in the money. At least that was the plan. First we had to make it home.

Issue 11

Nope. We’re fucked.

“Tom told me to call. He thought you’d like to know that everything was delivered less than an hour ago to the drop point, and you’d be wise to get it all moved sooner than later. Apparently there was a problem, and the window you were supposed to have to move it has shrunk, and if you don’t move it in the next 2-3 hours it’s probably gonna be found. Good luck Jonah.” And then Russell just hung up on me

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit. I was not happy about having the plan changed on me last minute like this, but we’d come too far to have it all fall apart now. I got the guys together and we worked it out in that way we do, all on the fucking fly.

“Alright boys, we have a minor problem. Well, many major problems really, but we need to start someplace. Something got fucked on Tommy’s end and we’re on a clock to get all the shit moved. So Ralphie, do you think you can drive a semi?” He just nodded. I hoped he wasn’t pulling my leg.

“Wills, I need you to start making calls and find us some self storage units, preferably with someplace big enough to store all the shit. Obscurity would be nice as well. See what you can make happen. I have faith in the both of you. If you have to, then pull Stevie off his ‘studies’ and get him to help. Call me on my cell when you have something. Ralphie, let’s go.”

“Already on it.” They said it in unison and it sounded fucking stupid, but I didn’t care.

From the looks of things we had less than 3 hours to make all this shit vanish or not only would this deal go south, but chances were good that we’d all done enough to get some serious prison time under that stupid fucking Patriot Act.

Now, what Russ had neglected to tell me was that not only were the goods delivered, but that the delivery guys were gonna be waiting with them. Fantastic, just fucking fantastic. I spent 45 minutes driving to have to talk to these shitheads. I didn’t have time or energy for this. But these two uniformed jackoffs apparently had other ideas.

“You Jonah?” Oh God, but I just wanted to smash his head with a fucking crowbar. I am not a violent man by nature, but I got the impression these two were going to be yet another delay we didn’t have time for.

“Yeah, but my understanding is that there is a time issue, so we need to get this shit out of here. Now, I’m sure that you and your girlfriend there are perfectly pleasant people, but Tom didn’t tell me shit about any delivery people so you’ll need to excuse us, we don’t really have anything to discuss. So, here’s what’s gonna happen GI Jackass, you are going to give me the keys right now. You will then turn around and walk away.” All I could do at that point was try and quell the pulsing blood in my ears. It made an almost deafening sound, but I was so sick of all the shitheads involved in this working my last fucking nerve.

Clearly GI Jackass wasn’t impressed with my pithy little comment. He made a move towards me. Now this might be a good time to mention that in this world there are people who are built for fighting and there are people like me. God, in her infinite wisdom saw fit to build me in such a way that I would be the one of the greatest recipients of ass-whippings. Now with that in mind, I have no idea how what happened next was even possible, but what I do know is that I waved Brian off as he started to move to intervene. I then lifted my foot and brought it down with a force and from a direction that to me seemed to defy the laws of physics and reality. It had the effect that I was subconsciously going for apparently, in that it seemed to break in some fashion GI Jackass’s knee. I can only guess as to the severity of that injury, but as he went down I brought my knee up into his nose. This would have been when the second fucktard started to move in on me.

“Stop him!” And Ralphie did just that. For being military these guys were clearly not any kind of top notch. Not sure what or how Ralphie came to stop number two, but while he did, I proceeded to kick Jackass in the ribs a couple of times to drive home the point.

“The keys to the truck motherfucker.” He produced them, as well as some blood, which he saw fit to cough up all over my shoe. I gave him a kick to the face and appeared to knock him out.

I then directed my attention to number two, who was on the ground but looked to be in far better shape than the Jackass.

“Now, I don’t know what the fuck you two thought was going to happen here, but if Tommy told you that you’d get paid, take it up with him. You two shitheads might want to hurry up and get out of here.” I tossed Ralphie the keys to the semi, and as I turned to head back to the car, it dawned on me that these two jokers might have tried to seriously damage my persons. Now, why it occurred to me in that terminology, I couldn’t tell you, but I made a decision to be an even bigger dick right then, and went back and gave number two a good old fashioned kick to the balls as before walking away.

I just smiled from what had to be ear to ear as I headed back to the car. I forgot how good it felt to get physical like that on occasion. There was just something about letting that caged animal that lived inside come out to play. But before any doors were shut Ralphie signaled that he had a question.

“Where to?” Which was a good question, but the guys hadn’t called yet. Time to improvise.

“Somewhere not here. Just follow me.” And we started off. I got my phone out. I thought for sure that they’d have called by now with something, even if it was bad news. So I called the shop to find out what the hell was going on.

“Pandora’s Box, this is Wil, how can I help you?”

“You can tell me where the fuck I’m going.”

“I was just about to call you. You sound out of breath. Problems?”

“Not really. We can talk about that when we get back. Now, where are we heading?”

Turns out that ironically, there were some storage units available out by the old airstrip we’d met the Russians at. That would be perfect since there wasn’t shit out there anymore since the old mill closed. We could count on some relative privacy to get the chopper fixed out there. Ralphie and I headed out there and I met with a man who clearly only came out to meet with me and seemed a little pissed about having to do that.

This would be fantastic, cause to me it said that he’d be staying out of our business. I gave him money to cover the first three months up front and he went on his way.

He did comment on the blood on my shoe though. I told him it was from a nosebleed, and he just chuckled and went on his way. I liked this guy. He just didn’t give a shit and that would be a pleasant change.

So we locked all our new goodies up and headed back to the shop. We did make a pit-stop so I could get some new shoes first, but all in all we had everything moved and we were back in the 3 hours we were given. Maybe, just maybe, things weren’t quite so fucked after all.

After I explained to the guys what had happened, I made a phone call to Russ. Tommy had some explaining to do and soon.

“Russ, you tell Tommy that I need to speak with him today, not tomorrow, not next week, today. I don’t appreciate that shit at the pick-up and he had better have some good fucking answers if he wants paid. You think you can remember all that. And you tell that fuck, that this is a face to face, I don’t care what kind of shit he’s gotten himself into.” And like clockwork I knew he’d have no idea what was going on. Let Tom explain what happened.

“Yeah, I can remember that. I’ll tell him.”

Why did I insist on face to face? I was too big a dick for even myself to be able to control sometimes. The only place I could think of that would be nice and secure would be at the store. It had several security issues, but I knew that I could rig up another one of the white-noise makers and have it make sure we weren’t listened in on.

Eventually the store would end up tricked out in a pretty hardcore security system, complete with some sort of x-ray technology that would allow us to essentially “see” guns on people as they came in the door, but that wouldn’t happen for some time and not until after what would later be referred to as “the incident”, but I’ll get to that. For the moment we had some prep-work to do prior to asshole Tommy’s arrival.

And time was a real factor now since Ralphie, Wil and I had a plane to catch that night. No matter though, as Russ called me back an hour before the store closed. This is the message as relayed by Ralphie.

“Tell Jonah he’ll get what he wants at closing time.” Couldn’t have been much more than that since the call lasted all of 3 or 4 seconds and the only thing Ralphie said was that he would.

So we had an hour of waiting, which wasn’t a horrible thing. In a way it made me glad I’d had cable installed in the store. At least until the news came on anyways. That was the point at which I saw something that almost made me shit myself.

Right there on the little screen in the shop was the evening news anchor talking about a military heist of millions in weapons. I started to get light-headed, cause this was supposed to be a little on the down-low as they say, and here it was, about to get national publicity. That couldn’t be good for business, I thought.

But as neurotic as that story started to make me it was no match for the follow-up. Authorities had the bodies of two men believed to be involved in the heist and were looking for a third. When they showed the pictures of the men whose bodies they had, my jaw just dropped. It was GI Jackass and his girlfriend. This was so fucked up. What I didn’t realize is that I’d begun chanting what would become my mantra and the guys had taken notice and were now just as upset as I was.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!”

“What’s the matter with him?” William would not be happy with the answer to that question.

“Those are the guys we threw down with.” Thanks Ralphie. Make it more real, why don’t you?

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!”

“There’s some guy outside.” Wil was apparently the only one not really concerned, at least not visibly. I had to compose myself.

“Goddamnit, he’s early. Ralphie, go tell Tommy to come on in. I’m gonna hit the pisser to get my game face on. Nobody talks to him before I get back.” I just stood there waiting for nods I knew would come, some slower than others, but they came all the same.

So, I started to play out the upcoming scenario in my head. There were some pros to Tommy killing those jokers, the biggest of which was that they were no longer an issue and would not be in any way possible potential interference from here on. The flipside of that was what scared me and that was that there would be something that could tie us to their deaths, and if that was the case, as much as it scared me, it pissed me off more. Anger, I thought I could work with. If Tom somehow brought this shit, his shit back to my door, then he’d burn for it and it sure as shit wouldn’t be in the chair. It looked like I’d found my game face. Good, time to be a hard ass, or at least pretend to be and try not to piss myself. I was starting to think that I should be up for a fucking Oscar as good as I’ve been making myself out to be some kind of hard nosed crime lord. I’d have to work on my acceptance speech later, for now though…

“What the fuck Tommy? First who were they, and second is going to come back to us?” No point in pleasantries.

“They were hired to be nothing more than delivery, but they decided that the deal I made with them just wasn’t good enough and so they wanted to renegotiate the terms of that deal. It was going to be hard for me to do so after that shit you did to them, so I had to tie up loose ends. There is nothing that will link it to you, and this doesn’t change any part of our deal.”

“It better not Tommy. I told you once what would happen if you tried to fuck me on this and I think you can see now that I am a man of my word. If I’d do that to them and they were just wasting my time, imagine what I’d do to someone who actually pisses me off, and all of this is starting to. If you cleaned it up, then we’re done here. You can get the fuck out now. Just remember not to make yourself a loose end. I’d hate to have to tie you up.” He stood there on the verge of saying something, but I didn’t care, time to step the charade up a little.

“Ralphie, help him find the door, he seems a little confused right now.” Ralphie grabbed him like a rag doll and started for the door, making sure to slam him into the wall and the door frame on the way. When he did finally make it to the door, He threw the door open and tossed Tommy out like a bag of trash, which as I look back on it was really all that disgruntled shitbag was.

And like a switch, I was back to meek and mild mannered Jonah. I could tell the guys were a little worried, but we’d deal with it in due time.

“Alright boys, get your shit together, we’ve got a plane to catch.” I just smiled. I was starting to like this badass character I portrayed. I began to wonder if it would eventually get me in shit.

After today I looked forward to the long flight. It would give me a chance to catch up on some much needed sleep. And so from before we even took off till the time we landed I did just that and slept like a fucking baby, which is to say in short stretches contorted into a position man wasn’t meant to sleep in.

Apparently Ralphie and Wil were just too nervous to sleep, which meant that they spent the trip drinking which made them super fun when we landed, a couple half-drunk, half hung-over Americans. We were going to be so popular.

Issue 10

The next day came and was quite possibly the most uneventful day I think we had ever had since we opened the store, which given our financial problems was saying something. It was all we could do for most of the day to just stay awake, so I had no real expectations for sales for the day, but as time slowly crawled ever onwards found myself getting a little nervous about the coming evening’s festivities. I was not looking forward to having to take William along with me. He would be nervous and that nervousness would be more than a little infectious.

But it had to be done, so as it started to get late I thought maybe he could find just enough courage to make it through in the midst of a couple of drinks. We lied to our wives telling them that we’d be working late doing an “after hours” inventory of everything in the store. They seemed to buy it, which made no sense, but they knew how much the store meant to us so it could just have been that they didn’t really mind. We were just a couple of harmless shits after all, it’s not like we were even capable of doing anything remotely dangerous or potentially exciting. At least that’s how Mer explained it to me later.

So, when we closed up for the day we went and had a couple of drinks and waited for the hour of the meet to start to roll around. About 11:15 we decided to head on out to the airstrip for this clandestine cloak and dagger bullshit.

My only current and nagging concern was the potential language barrier, because at the time I did not have a viable workaround. I was at least happy that the meet was happening so soon, because we were going to need to move product as close to as soon as we got it as possible. At the same time I was kept circling back to my disappointment that neither of us could speak nor even comprehend a word of Russian. I could only hope that it wouldn’t be a problem. What other choice did I have?

William and I arrived at a quarter till and decided to just sit and wait. We both spent our time waiting by chain smoking. Right at midnight though, a looking sweet black Mercedes slowly pulled up. I was certain that even if it weren’t dark out that I’d not have been able to see through the dark windows. I was curious how many guns were trained on us. I know that is how I would have played it. It seemed like the car just sat there forever before the door slowly opened and a couple of slickly dressed clearly European guys got out.

They had the sort of chiseled, blocky features one would have expected from a prototypical Russian gangster. As if to feed the image I’d built in my head even more, they all wore what looked like a 5 o’clock plus shadow, which made a little jealous since I couldn’t grow any discernible facial hair of my own. But all in all they looked like some seriously bad dudes.

The pair looked just like something out of some kind of spy movie, which kinda felt cool. I had to mentally check myself. I couldn’t nerd our about how cool the spy shit was. They looked at us and spoke in hushed tones for a minute before they said anything to us. Then there was a knock on the glass of the car, at which point the window slid down and apparently some sort of all clear was given at which the Russians seemed to relax a bit and address us.

“Which of you is de comic guy?” William raised his hand like he was back in grade school. I suddenly realized that he looked like he was gonna shit himself. Pressure was rarely if ever his friend.

“Excellent. Then that must make you Mister H. I’m told you have something you’d like to sell me.” That meant it was time for me to be me.

“I am and I do. First let me say thank you for meeting on such short notice. Second, I have what no one else does…” And he fucking cut me off.

“I can get guns anywhere Mister H. They are, how you say, a dime a dozen.”

“Well, I can assure you that even though our prices are higher than that we have the one thing you can’t get from just everyone, dedication. If we don’t have what you want, we’ll work to get it. That’s how we operate. Customer satisfaction is a top priority. Well… that and money.” The guy just chuckled and nodded.

“Ok, so tell me what it is you have then?”

“Well, as you’re aware we have guns, most any and all make and model of a type that the US government has been and is using to outfit its troops. And this is current or last generation gear, not some piece of shit surplus from World War II. In addition we have a selection of explosives, as well as a small assortment of rockets and the like. Now on top of this, we very shortly will be offering additional services of a threat removal nature should you require such things, and of course it would be very hands off on your end and very discrete on ours.” I just stood there for a moment waiting for all of it to sink in.

“And you will deliver these things to me?”

“To any location you want in the continental United States. We will not ship outside the country, as it lessens our risk of getting caught by the authorities.” He spit at his feet on that one. I may have struck a nerve. I’d have to remember that for later. Might just be useful.

“However, since we know that you then have to assume some of the risk on the transport side of things, this is reflected in our pricing.” He scratched at his stubble for a moment and then gave the affirmation I was hoping for.

“That sounds reasonable, though the way you talk is troubling. Some of the things you say, I once heard from a woman, a German woman. Our dealings did not end, how you say, amicably. Any chance you know her.” Huh, it was a small world after all.

“I think it would be a very poor business practice to discuss any of our other current or former clientele. I’m sure that you can appreciate that, and you can expect the same treatment in regards to your privacy as well.” Hopefully that would be evasive enough that he’d let it go, and confirmatory enough that he’d gotten what he’d wanted.

He just put his hand in the air in a sort of mock surrender. At least that’s what I took it to be.
“Fine, fine. How do we contact you?”

“Well that’s the thing. You don’t…” The puzzled look that crossed his face was truly priceless.

“Not directly anyways. William, if you please. Give them the packet.” In preparation for this, I’d had the guys collect all the pertinent contact information in regards to the web comic and collate it by relevance.

“This will explain all you need to know about contacting us. All I can ask is that you ensure the destruction of that packet of information after it’s been committed to someone’s memory. I trust that you’ll find that acceptable.” I was getting so much better at this on an almost daily, nay hourly basis that I was starting to scare myself. I started to wonder just when I’d know what I was capable of, cause right now it seemed as though the sky was the limit.

“I think that can be arranged. We’ll be in touch.” And he turned to leave.

“Wait, what do I call you?” I never did find out his name. He turned and smiled.

“You don’t Mister H. Like you, I prefer my anonymity, but if you must have a name you may call me Boris. That should be stereotypical enough for you Americans, yes?” I had to fight back a laugh when he said Boris, but sure whatever works. Looking at William I could tell he was having the same problem.

“Yeah, that’s fine by me. Have a nice night. Let’s go William.” And we did. Much like the last evening meet, that I’d gone to with Ralphie, we passed the time in total silence. I finally got William back to his car at around 1:30am and told him to drive safe.

And then we both headed home. Two down and one to go, and we were taking receipt in less than a week. Everything was going swimmingly, but I still had some nagging doubts. It all felt too easy. It couldn’t really be this easy, could it? It was late and I was tired. I’d worry about it in the morning if I was gonna worry about it at all.

So, now that everything was all but in place the only thing left to do was to wait for the goods. The time seemed to slow even more as the date of receipt approached, but we were able to get some minor issues hammered out in the meantime. We concocted such a bullshit story for the womenfolk to cover our trip to meet with the Cartel, but the only problem was that it was so bad that even we didn’t believe it, and if we weren’t gonna buy it then our wives shouldn’t either. They were all rather smart, though they married us so maybe we did have a chance.

William was able to focus and get the first issue of our webcomic up and online, which would ultimately give us a base from which to start from. I spent a majority of the week making sure that T was fully apprised of all the happenings at and around the store and ensuring that the books were in fine form, since he was supposed to be coming back from school soon and would, I was sure, want to make sure I hadn’t fucked them all to hell.

Other than that, there was nothing of merit that occurred during that week. Well, there was Stevie and his newfound and obsessive love of learning. He was like a wee little man possessed.
In seven short days he’d been able to teach himself, a conversational speaking capacity in Spanish, Russian and German. He was spending his free time, I would later discover, working with Ralphie on it as well. I don’t know how he had any free time when he was either working at the store or learning more shit, but if anyone can squeeze extra minutes out of a day it’s him. Regardless, one of them had the bright idea that if Ralphie was always going to be with me it would be to my benefit for him to know what was going on. I couldn’t argue with logic like that. It could ultimately end up saving my life.

And so that week passed and on that fateful Tuesday, we went from being a bunch of jackasses who talked a mean game, to a bunch of jackasses with a couple million in stolen military goodies. Things were finally coming together.

Issue 9

“Since we have that all taken care of why don’t you two go ahead and finish getting things set up with the Russians and the Columbians. That would make this spectacular day.” I knew the guys were still gonna be pissy about the whole Stevie the killer thing but we still had work to do. These guns weren’t gonna sell themselves and we only had a couple days until we had them in had so we needed to get our shit together.

So while they got to work on that I had Ralphie and Stevie get started on opening up for the day and I sat down to do the bookkeeping for all of the previous day’s sales. It was an hour or so of silence before Wil finally had something to report.

“Hey man, just wanted to let you know that we’ve made contact with a Cartel. A meeting is in place for the day after we get everything. They’ll want to see pictures of anything we’ll have to offer. And it turns out you were right. They are also keen to buy the heli. They seem to think that it will make a beautiful middle finger to wag at the dumb americans or some shit. I know spanish but couldn’t understand everything.”

“Cool. Get us three round trip tickets to Columbia then. How’s it going on the Russian front?” One and a half down and one to go. I could work the Columbians, no problems there, but not being able to even try to deal with Russians was frustrating.

“We can’t hammer down a means of contact just yet, but we will have it today.” A wry little smile. There was something that he wasn’t telling me.

I played along, “How can you be so sure?”

“We were able to get a line on some low-level hanger-on and we’re trying to use him to set up a meeting with someone of importance. We expect to have that worked out today today. I had wanted to surprise you with it.”

“Well, sorry to spoil the surprise. Good work.” And he turned to walk away.

“So uh… are we cool?” It would make things so much easier if there was no hostility amongst the lot of us. He stopped and turned back around.

“I don’t have to like it, but yeah we’re cool. It’s the same with William and Ralphie, if you were curious.”

“Let me know when you have news on the Russians. This afternoon we can start working on a cover story for the trip next week. It’s gonna have to be pretty good to make it work.” Once again he turned to leave. This time I didn’t stop him. No need now. Everything was more or less on track. Just the way we needed to be.

Suddenly, it dawned on me that we were neglecting the one thing that we should most definitely not be neglectful of, that being our web-comic. It was Time to check in with William and see what was up with it.

“William, I keep forgetting to ask you, how’s the comic coming?” He just pulled out his notepad and opened it. He had a bunch of sketches of all of us.

“Look’s amazing as usual man.”

“The art’s not the problem, the story is. I’m having trouble with the first issue.” He seemed genuinely concerned by this.

“Just use the truth man. It’s so fucking far-fetched and unbelievable that nobody will ever buy it as anything more than a story. Just leave some of the details out, like our trips and whatnot. See what you can come up with. Make it your top priority after the Russians are tracked down.”

“Sure thing. That gives me some ideas. I’ll work on it when I can today.”

“I also wanted to make sure that you and Wil are shown a proper level of appreciation for all the work you’ve both put into tracking the individuals in these organizations down. It’s ultimately going to make the difference between us making money, and us sitting on millions of dollars in guns and shit.” I should have known that Wil would be listening to the exchange.

“We know, dude. We know.”

“God, you guys should just fuck already.” Nothing ever beats Ralphie being a douche-bag. His comment earned him the much lauded and laughed at, and with all three of us in unison mind you.

“Fuck you Ralphie.”

“If you’re back here, there had better be a damn good reason for it. What the fuck do you want?” William and Ralphie were so mean to each other it was hard sometimes to put it together that they were brothers and not hated enemies.

“Fuck you too, asshole, I just wanted to see if anyone wanted to go in on a pizza with me.”

We all just looked at each other and nodded.

“Sure thing Big Man, and the store will pay.” He was clearly pleased with this and he just kinda lumbered off to make it happen. Not sure what that said about us a group that he no longer had to ask what any of us wanted on it/them.

“Alright back to work fellas. We need to get some actual results today. I want this third buy either in place or on the hook by the time we take receipt of the guns. So if you would be so kind…” As I turned to head back to the office I realized there was one last thing to cover.

“If it’s a waiting game right now then work on sales and the web comic. There are two of you back here after all.”

“Blah, blah, blah, we’re on it. Christ, if I wanted to listen to this much nagging I’d just go home.” God how I loved when I could get Wil to be bitchy.

I just chuckled and went back to the office to finish up the paperwork. I hated to spend all day in there. I’d rather be on the floor mingling with the customers. I felt comfortable there. Lately I was feeling comfortable with a lot of things, like being a gunrunner and wetwork, I think they call it wetwork, coordinator, so I wondered again about just what I was becoming.

About an hour later I was finishing up the accounting in the office when the pizza finally showed. Ralphie came back to let me know and just as we were heading back out front to eat the phone rang. I saw him look at the rest of the group for approval to answer and as he clearly expected got none.

“Don’t you fucking touch the phone, dumbass.”

“William, be nice to your brother.” Since Fletcher’s death it seemed to be Wil to always be playing the peacemaker.

“Shouldn’t one of you get the phone? You guys are the ones who were working this out with the Russians in the first place.” So William went ahead and answered it.

I’m not sure how it played out completely as I only had his side of the conversation to go off of, and he was so nervous he could only remember the specifics of who and when to contact people.

“Hel…hello. … yeah, this is the one who does the web comic. Um… only face to face? … Yes, I understand … tomorrow at midnight … Yeah, got it. … He’ll be there.” He hung up the phone and it looked like he was going to pass out.

“Well?” The peacemaker sounded a little impatient, but I could understand it given the circumstances.

“The meet is tomorrow night at midnight at the abandoned airstrip north of town. Jonah can bring one person with him. Any more than that and the meet is off. Since I’m the one who initiated contact they insisted that the plus one was me.” Shit, William was not a small man by any stretch of the imagination, but he lacked the imposing presence of his little brother.

“Fine by me. It’s only a negotiation anyways. It’s nothing to get freaked about. Can we have some pizza now?” And I walked over, sat down and started eating. If they didn’t see me freaking out they wouldn’t either.

“Looks like it’s all coming together now, huh?” Ralphie coming through with the simple question wasn’t ever a shock.

“It does at that big fella. It does at that.”

Outwardly I was calm and cool. I had to be. I was a leader and a wheeler and dealer. Inside though it felt like my heart was going to explode, or that I might just throw up all the pizza I was eating. Either way, it certainly didn’t feel very pleasant.

The rest of the day thankfully passed by uneventfully and I was able to spend a majority of it in the office plotting how things would be progressing. I also took the opportunity to give T a call and let him know that everything was falling into place.

We had a decent days sales to top it all off at that. It was making things more interesting now that we were finally making enough money to at least be breaking even on shit. Better to break even than to lose money every day. But were things really looking up for us? I could only wonder.

Issue 8

Once Greta and the fat and skinny Germans had left I decided that it was time for some sort of celebration. We were finally on track to getting paid and the way it was all coming together it was for something that we may actually be pretty good at. I couldn’t help but wonder just how much we could increase our profits by “threat removal”, so I resolved to discuss this with Stevie for reasons that will become readily clear.

“So Stevie, you need a ride home tonight?” I knew I could do that without arousing any suspicions since he needed a ride home pretty much all the time.

“Sure, man. Thanks.”

I got everyone into the back room, “Alright boys, time for a celebration. We have a buyer. Guess that means we need to really be on top of shit when we finally have the guns in hand. Wil, I want a face to face with the Cartel and the Russians in the next two weeks. We’ll fucking go to Colombia if we need to. You and the “Big Man” will accompany me. You’re the only one who can speak conversational Spanish. Stevie is going to be spending tomorrow finding me some way to learn to speak Russian. I’m thinking podcast downloads but I don’t really know, but it should be relatively simple and I’m sure it can be made to happen. We’ll worry about cover stories for our trip as the time for it gets closer. Alright then, any questions?” I frightened myself a little at how I could formulate a plan like this on the fly.
“Just one, what are Stevie and I gonna do when the three of you are traveling around the world?” William had a point, but I’d already considered it.

“You two will run the store of course. Someone has to maintain our web sales in the meantime at least until we get our arms dealing feet wet. Yes, I realize what I just said. Also, we aren’t all traveling the world. Wil’s only coming with me for the Spanish portions of my trip. Ralphie is coming with me as far as I need to go in the guise of personal protection. I hope it’s not Russia, cause all I can think we’ll find there is that it would be damn cold and full of vodka and potato soup.”

I thought about that for a moment.

“Is that too many stereotypes?”

“Only if our contacts name ends up being Boris.” Ralphie, could be funny when he wanted to, and we all had a little laugh at that.

“Alright, looks like we have a buyer and a plan. That’s a start and I think we’ve all of us earned the right to call it a little early today. Anyone wanna go get a drink?” I knew they’d jump at it, but only after the addendum.

“And it’s on me guys. And then I’ll take you home Stevie. Does that sound good enough for you guys?” Nothing but nods.

So we went and had a drink, and as all things go one turned into three and when it was all said and done we’d effectively cancelled out the little bit we’d gained by closing early. Oh well, such is life. I called Mer to let her know I’d be running Stevie home and off we went.

“There was something I wanted to talk to you about. That German bitch was running her mouth about how they would pay a premium for some sort of hired assassin services, should we provide that. Now the rest of us have our familial obligations and whatnot to attend to here, but you don’t. You’ve expressed to me in the past a desire to travel and see the world, so I thought that maybe…” I just let it trail off there. He wasn’t stupid and he knew what I was saying to him.

“If you want me to, I will.” He’d have made an awesome soldier if he’d been so inclined.

“You aren’t doing it for me man. Not directly anyway. You’d be doing it for you. Since you’d be the one to run point and almost all you would be doing would be done solo, how bout you get 60% of the payment, plus reasonable expenses, on those ‘assignments’? That way it’s worth your time. We can make sure that you have all the tools you need at your disposal. I think that a study of human anatomy, chemistry, engineering and physics as well as some firearms and martial arts training might be of benefit to you. You should also look for anything else that might up your overall area of knowledge.” He simply nodded.
“That sounds good. I’ll start looking online for the things I might need tonight.”

“And you should also learn to speak as many languages as possible. If you wanna take a couple of days to get started on this and not come into the shop, that’s cool too. You’ll still get paid. I also think that for the time being we should keep this between us.” I wasn’t sure that the guys would understand or approve. I could tell he wasn’t super cool with that.

“Alright, if you say so man.” He hated to keep secrets from the rest of the guys.

That was about the time we pulled up to Stevie’s place. This was gonna be a problem and I knew it. He loathed secrets, which would end up being an issue when it came to stealthy assassinations in foreign lands.

“Alright, be there bright and early tomorrow and we can tell them together. Maybe they will have some idea of how to get you prepped for this too. Just know that if you change your mind and don’t want to go down this road that’s cool too. Ultimately, since it’s your ass out there running around in whatever godforsaken land your target happens to be in, it’s your choice and yours alone.” I had to hope that was enough to alleviate his feelings on the subject.

“Ok man, I’ll be there.” And he got out of my car and went inside.

I couldn’t help but think that I’d just made a huge mistake. If I had a dollar for all the fuck-ups I’d made over the years, I’d probably be one of the richest son of a bitches ever to walk the earth. Stevie was a good guy and he wanted to get rich like the rest of us. I already knew the decision he’d made. He’d kill for money, and he’d do it until he couldn’t do it anymore. He had the drive, motivation and questionably shady ethics to do it.

So I went home and caught hell for smelling like smoke and booze. Meryl hated it when I drank. It always brought back the less than stellar memories of what a horrible bastard I was when I got shit-faced. It earned me the luxury of sleeping on the couch.

The next day came and I rolled into the shop a little later than normal, which is saying something since I was always fashionably late getting in. I knew the guys would get it opened and whatnot before I showed up. What I didn’t know was that Stevie would get there before me and tell them without me. What I did realize until that moment was just how tired I was of showing up only to find the rest of them yelling like a bunch of caged animals fighting over a scrap of food. Right at that moment it was Wil making his feelings known.

“I don’t care what the justification is, that’s not what we discussed and I say no. Who the fuck does he think he is to ask you to do this?” I toyed with hanging back to hear what else he had to say on the matter, but I knew it would only breed a little bit of hard feelings and that was something that we just couldn’t afford to have in our happy little circle right now.

“I’m the guy who makes the financial decisions for 90% of what we do is who I am. And you’re right I did ask him, with ask being the key and operative term. I also made it clear to him that he was under no obligation to do it. I was merely suggesting it as an option to him, and judging by what’s going on here he made his choice.”

“You’re right. I’ve thought about it and I want to do this. I don’t have the obligations you guys have and I want to retire young. I don’t care for school. I want to be able to do what I want with my life and financial independence is the way for me to achieve that. My grandmother isn’t gonna always be there to take care of me, and I’m getting old enough now that I shouldn’t be constantly coming to you guys whenever I need something. Plus, the money won’t hurt the rest of you will it? All of you have bills to pay and kids to feed. I’m just building my nest egg, but you guys have families to support. You’ve all helped me for so long now that it’s just time for me to repay the favor.” He’d given it far more thought than I’d anticipated.

“Alright guys, now you’ve heard his piece, can you let it go? You don’t have to like it, but at least respect that he made the choice on his own and for his own reasons?” –The three of them, William, Wil and Ralphie, all just looked on a little shocked and a whole lot pissed and they didn’t say or do anything in response.

“Alright Stevie, what do you need?” And we began to plan out what he’d need.

We worked out the beginnings of how we could justify his almost constant travel and how we could get him any needed supplies wherever he should happen to go in the world. We also decided on a method of contact when he would be “in the field”.

We also were in agreement that from this point forward none of our clients would know who in our organization would be the one to do their jobs, and also that Stevie would effectively be a ghost from that point on in respects to our clients. They’d neither hear from or of him nor would they see him. We were also in agreement that we should never know who the target was to be. It was to be just a way for us to compartmentalize it all. He thought that all of that was a great idea, and he had already compiled a list of innocuous supplies and training materials that he felt would be of benefit to him.

As for the specifics of what we’d worked out they are as follows: First, that when Stevie was in the field, he is on his own. There would be an emergency voice mail set up that we were to contact in under the most serious of circumstances, and that he would check it once daily, if able.

Secondly, he would take as little or as much time as he needed to complete the job, as long as it was feasible to do so. No need to rush into it when you could plan it out and get it right.

Thirdly, upon completion of a job, he would send us a postcard to let us know that the job was done, but would only put onto the postcard “Wish you were here”. We were in agreement that he shouldn’t send from where he completed the job, so he should send form quite literally anywhere else.

Finally, it was decided that he should also take a little r and r time after every job, at least a week if possible, to just kick back and relax wherever he so chose to go.

That is how Stevie got his start on becoming the greatest assassin the world has never known and I became a monster for getting a kid to kill people for money and think that it was actually his choice. I’ve never forgiven myself for that.

Issue 7

I’d already put it together in my head. The main phone for the store was out in front. Ralphie had been out in front. I now knew why Wil and Ralphie were fighting too. I could only imagine what Ralphie had said to these people. I threw up a little in my mouth at that. I only hoped that we would find a way to salvage this.

“Stevie, go out front and tell Ralphie to come back here. Then make sure all the customers pay and shut the shop down. I know it’s early, but please just do it.” He nodded and scurried off. He was just so good at following instructions. That would prove to be a huge advantage in the coming months.

As Stevie was on his way out, I returned my attention to The Wills.

“Did one of you at least try and intervene, or did he completely fuck us?” they both just looked at each other, apparently unaware that I’d put it together on my own.

“We got it kinda fixed, but they want to talk to the person who makes the decisions in matters of ‘importance and finance n’ such’ and we all agreed that was you homey.” How could I argue with that logic.

“How do I contact them?” Seemed such a simple thing.

“You don’t. They’re coming here after we shut down for the night.” Ok, so this was a local group. I suddenly wasn’t sure how I felt about this. Dealing with a group, terrorist or otherwise in some far off foreign land was one thing, but shitting where we ate was another thing all together. But what choice did we have in the end.

“Fine, but let’s try and at least be ready. In the meantime I have some questions. First, how were sales both in the store and online today? Second, did you boys get contact information for the Russians and the Columbians, or are they coming here too?” I had to chuckle a little inside at this.

At the same time though, how could I be so calm when faced with our new would be business partners. All the gangsters, killers and what I would eventually find out weren’t just Germans, but were more of the fourth reich Nazi variety.

“As for sales, online was enough that it’ll cover the stores expenses finally. We aren’t losing money daily anymore which is a start I would think.” Wil did it all matter of fact. Guess he was expecting this sort of thing. I was just so predictable back in the beginning.

“And we got the contact info too. We were just waiting for you before we moved forward on anything.” William was then and has been since so very, very prudent.

“Alright, just remember that sales are gonna be a big thing for us for the next little while. Now, in regards to the Russians and Colombians, I trust you two can set up some sort of meet and greet. I don’t want them here though. I’ll go to them, and as much as it pains me, I’ll be taking Ralphie with me. Just do what you can and get something set up.” It suddenly dawned on me that Ralphie and Stevie still hadn’t come into the back. I was gonna have to once again go see just what the hell that giant fool was doing out front.

Ralphie and Stevie were just sitting there talking when I came out from the back. What I didn’t notice was that we still had some people in the store, or at least not right away. There were three people in the store now. They consisted of a fat man, a not so fat man and a woman. All wore the same style of grey suit, though I couldn’t help but think that it looked a whole lot better on the woman than on either of her companions. Once again, I just wasn’t quick enough on the draw mentally for this to click. It took the fat man speaking to have it all make sense.

“You must be the one they call Jonah?” It was the thickest German accent I think I had ever and with any luck will ever hear in my life. I could barely understand what he said, but at the same time knew just who he was.

“That would be me, but you can call me Mr. H. My friends call me Jonah and last I checked I don’t even know you, and in that you’ll have to forgive me for not knowing who you are. Stevie, why don’t you go in the back and make some coffee?” Phrased like a question, but anything but, Stevie just headed off to make the coffee.

“You may call me Hans, and if the boy could stay, that would really be better.” To which Stevie stopped and just stared at me. I could tell he was expecting me to say or do something to give him confirmation one way or the other on just what to do here.

“Well Hans, while I sincerely hope that we can have a business relationship, the boy works for me and not you and I told him to go in the back. He’s not the one who makes the decisions that are going to need to be made here, I am. Now if you want to talk business, then he goes and you and I can sit down and talk some business. If not, then you can feel free to let yourself out. Just remember we didn’t come to you, you came to us. Are we going to do some business here or what?” I had to just let the question hang in the air for a moment, before I looked at Stevie and gave him a simple nod, at which he went into the back and I sat down.

The German’s sort of huddled together and conversed quietly, not that it would have mattered, since it was all done in German. None in our group could speak the language. I made a mental note that one of us would need to learn at least some conversational skills in the native tongues of whomever we wound up dealing with. It seemed to me that it would give us a leg up firstly, and less chance of getting fucked with second. It’s harder to screw someone by speaking a different language when they can understand you.

After a minute or so of Ralphie and I just looking at each other, he took my cue and finally just did as he’d been instructed to do in our previous encounter, he just stood there rather stoically with his arms crossed in front of him. To a stranger it had to have the appearance of something remotely intimidating. Finally the woman spoke.

“We will do business then, but you will address me only as these two serve the same function as your man there I think. Protection is for protection and a leader is for thinking.” The complete and utter lack of an accent made me wonder how she was connected in this, but I didn’t care. I just smiled and offered her a seat at the table.

I couldn’t help but smile at the thought that a week before at the very same table, a group of grown men were pretending to be wizards and elves thwarting a world controlling syndicate in a very heated role playing game session and now tonight we were getting ready to work what would be one of the biggest deals we’d known to that point in our lives.

“Certainly, miss…?” They knew who I was and it seemed only fair.

“You may call me… Greta. Yes that will do nicely I think.” She just smiled at me. Ok fake names worked for me. I’d have Wil figure it out with a still from the shops security cameras.

“Alright then… Greta,” I smiled to let her know that I could tell that the name she gave was bullshit and continued. “I think we need to set up a few simple ground rules before we continue. If you find my terms acceptable then we should be able to have a both fruitful and long business relationship.” I let it hang until she simply nodded.

“And they would be?”

“First, that after you and your muscle leave here you don’t come back here, ever. That point is the ultimate deal-breaker. There are frequently children here, and whatever my associates and I should choose to do with our lives should in no way put them in any potential danger. Agreed?” She nodded.

“That seems reasonable, but how shall we initiate contact when we have needs?”

“That’s would be my second point. Contact will be initiated only through our website and in a code that we provide you with. I’ll make sure you have that code to take with you when you leave.” I motioned for Ralphie to lean down, whispered to him to go fetch Wil for me. He nodded and walked off. The Germans started to look a little concerned.

“He’s getting one of my tech people. They’re the ones who are making the website contact possible and I want to explain to him directly what I need him to do. So, does that sound amenable?”

“That sounds acceptable, but I do have a question for you? Do you only provide military merchandise, or do you provide other things?” I couldn’t tell if she was baiting me into something. I tried to make it as though I was playing coy when in truth I had no idea what she was talking about.

“Such as?”

“One of our past business partners also provided for our occasional need of specific threat removal.” Did she just use some fancy wordsmithing for assassination?

I had to force myself to not look shocked when she said it. That would only succeed in making us as an organization look poorly equipped to handle ourselves.

Thankfully before I could answer Wil was at my side. I could tell by the look on his face that he had heard the question and he was just as horrified as I was. The only difference is that I kept a straight face on the point, and he wore a look of surprise. I got to him quickly in the hopes that the Germans wouldn’t notice.

I pulled him aside and told him to go into the back and come up with something with William fast. They had about ten minutes to get a working code system set up. It didn’t need to be perfect and we could modify it later if need be. He expressed some concern over what he’d heard and I told him I would take care of things. I then sent him on his way and sat back at the table.

“To answer your question, at this time that is not a service that we provide, but we have been discussing expansion into new markets, so perhaps something can be arranged. If the price is right of course.” I think I just committed us to killing people. I wondered, albeit briefly, who was I turning into that I could just disregard human life so quickly.

“That’s a fair answer, but you should be aware that we are willing to pay a premium for threat removal. Let’s talk hardware shall we? In our area of operation we are always in need of guns. Have to arm the soldiers in a war and all that.” She’d been at this for a while, since that sounded almost like something that she’d had to say more than once before.

“Alright then, why don’t you just tell me what you need and I’ll supply you as best I can. If I don’t have it I’ll see what I can do to get it, and if I can’t get it then it probably can’t be gotten. Other than that it’s really just a matter of cost, time and delivery.” Figured I needed to blow a little smoke on this one, since it wasn’t much only about one step removed from a job interview. Well that plus us not actually having any actual inventory to speak of. But that was just a detail.

She rattled off the following so fast that I almost had to ask her to repeat herself.

“Assault rifles, small arms and explosives would be our typical needs, though on occasion we have need for the odd sniper rifle and the occasional rocket propelled grenade. Are these things you can obtain for us?”

“Yes and no. We can do everything but the RPG’s. The best we can do there is rocket propelled rockets. I hope that’s acceptable.” I knew it would be. Why buy shit when you could get the cream of the crop. I’d nearly forgotten one last point of negotiation.

“There is one more minor point. We will not ship anything outside the country. It lessens our exposure and consequently our prices. We will however ship anywhere within the continental United States.”

She just smiled, nodded and stuck out her hand. It looked as though we had our first client.

Issue 6

So the next day came and everyone was early for a change, which was a bit on the weird side of things. It was weird because I was the last one there and the rest were chatting like a bunch of excited schoolgirls. It was weirder still when I walked in. Everyone stopped whatever it was that they were talking about and just looked at me.

“You threatened to rip his arms off? What the fuck dude?” Wil surprised me. I could see why he might be upset, but I was the one working the deal so he really needed to trust my judgment.

“I needed to get my point across. Ralphie, I thought we covered this last night. Before anyone takes this any farther, I want to make it perfectly clear that I was there to work this deal while most of you were not. I fully understood the implications of what I was doing, but I wasn’t going to let us get screwed by Crazy Russ and his asshole friend. Everything that I did I did for our bottom line, which has bottomed out if I’m not mistaken. How could I have possibly made things any worse than they already are?” I knew that would have the result I going for, a dead silence.

“No need to get pissed off brother. I know you’re looking out for us, but don’t you think you might have gone a little too far?” We threw around calling each other brother like a bunch of old wrestlers.

“How about hoping that I went far enough. Okay guys, enough of this ass grabbing, let’s get the store opened. This place can’t run itself.” Though with business as in the toilet as it was having the business run itself might not be a worst idea.

“Sure dude, but can we talk more about this later?” I couldn’t tell if Wil had a genuine interest or if he was trying to help get the others to back off of their questions. Either way was fine with me.

“Sure thing man, we can talk later.” Though I wasn’t sure what more there was to discuss. I may have fucked up and only time would tell how badly.

Everyone just went about their morning routines, and got the place ready to open up, and we actually opened on time for a change. After the previous night and the conversation that had taken place this morning, I knew it was going to be a long two days and an even longer week, but we’d deal with it. It’s what we do.

After the guys had gotten the store ready to open and The Wills and Stevie had gotten settled into their stations, I figured it was time to see what they’d done in regards to finding us someone to sell to.

“Ok guys, have you made any progress on finding someone to buy this shit and a way to communicate with them?”

William spoke up, “Ok, so we had a couple of ideas we were throwing around, but we wanted to run them past you.”

They like to do this shit because they could brainstorm like it was nobody’s business they just had some problems staying on task.

“Alright lay ‘em on me.”

“The best idea we had was to do something through our website. Of course it would be encoded and encrypted in some fashion.” Wil was laying this part out, which told me it was his idea.

“What exactly would we be doing?”

“We were thinking of an online comic. We could use it to outline what we’re doing and as a way of communication with our buyers. We could also use an online submission form to get additional strip suggestions from our buyers. This would help to reduce any real, physical contact and if we monetized the comic it could help us bring in some real money.” William spoke on this part so it was clearly his baby. I liked where they had taken things, but they had missed a valuable point.

“That’s fine once we have buyers, but have you guys found any potential ones for us now?” Don’t misunderstand, they were geniuses when they applied themselves, but sometimes they could be frustrating.

“Uh, no. Not as such. We did find a couple leads we need to follow up on, but we don’t yet have any names.” Coming from anyone but Will that would have started one hell of a fight, but I knew he knew better than to bullshit me on matters of money.

“Well you need to have something by the end of today? There are three of you back here, so you should still be able to do some selling online.” I didn’t wait for a response. I just turned around and headed out to the floor. Ralphie had been left alone for far too long already.

“Alright Big Man, what are you up to all by yourself out here?” I was not nearly ready for the response I got. Sometimes he was like a child, and that made the fact that he was older than me all the more frightening. As I came out of the back room, I could hear what he was up to.

“..is so the greatest superhero!” He was fighting with a customer again.

“Ralphie, stop fighting with the customers.” It happened about once a day, that someone who’s comic ideology differed from his. He would then express his dislike in a most angry ape kind of way. His reaction was exactly what I’d expected him to do. He just grunted.

“Fine, dick. You’re the boss.” He was right. I was the boss.

“You need to play nice with the customers, and we can’t keep having this discussion. I get that you have strong feelings on the subject of which superhero’s cock would taste the best, but you need to not run around sharing that shit with the customers.” I figured I could get away with this since the customer in question happened to be one of our regulars, so he was used to seeing this type of behavior.

My statement also had the desired effect of running Ralphie off for the time being. Jimmy just laughed and continued to look for those comics he liked to pick up.

“And how is Jimmy today?” I knew with an almost certainty that he’d offer up some completely random story and I liked that he made me laugh.

“Just out looking for another job.” He was a habitual job hopper, but as it turned out in the end he just needed to find the right work to do, but I’ll get to that later.

“What happened to the farm thing you were talking about last week?” It was quite possibly one of the funniest things I’d ever heard anyone talk about doing as a profession, but I couldn’t remember the exact terminology he used when he first told me about it.

“Oh, the manual masturbation of farm animals for the purposes of artificial insemination? Well, it turns out that you need training and it’s a highly competitive field.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought that there was some stiff competition in the field of jerking an animal off.

“Sorry to hear that man. Any other prospects?” I knew it would be something good, or at least I hoped it would be. Right now I just needed the distraction from the matters at hand. So I just shot the shit with Jimmie for a while.

Finally he paid for the few comics he was going to get, and that was the funny thing, for someone who was almost always looking for their next job he always seemed to have money and he started to leave.

“Hey Jimmy, tell Eli we have that shit he ordered. I call his number and always get his voice mail.” To which he just nodded and left. I hated what was coming now, but it had to be done.

“Ralphie, get your ass out here. I’m going out for a while. Wills, you’re in charge while I’m out.” The non-asshole thing to do would have been to wait for a response of some sort, but that’s just not who I am.

I came back to the shop a few hours later to find Ralphie and Wil fighting in the front room with customers watching the whole show. It was amazing that shit would happen whenever I’d leave them to run things on their own. I often think that if I was gone for more than a couple of hours they’d end up having a knife fight in the parking lot to settle their disputes or the shop would end up on fire. It did help that they were so engrossed in what they were doing that they didn’t even see me come in.

“Both of you shut the hell up now! I don’t care what you’re fighting about! Wil in the back and Ralphie help these people! Don’t argue, just do it!” Both started to grumble at me some shit about who the hell did I think I was, and I almost answered that I’m the only one who seems to give a shit about the image we portray to the customer, and that reminded me.

“Alright folks, for having to witness this display of insanity, you are the luck recipients of 30 percent off whatever you choose to buy right now. Ralphie, make it so. I’m gonna go see what they’re not doing in the back.” If that’s what greeted me, I was sure that the back would be nothing but bad news. I headed back anyways. The news sure as shit wasn’t going to be coming to me.

“Ok guys, let me have some good news.” And I held my breath a little expecting the worst and knowing that it was the best they could do. The Wills just looked at each other trying to decide who was gonna go first. This piqued my interest. It ended up being Stevie who spoke.

“How do you feel about Colombian Drug Cartels and Russians gangsters?” God bless them. They came through.

“Oh, my.” Was all I could manage to spit out at, but it didn’t seem to matter as The Wills had finally figured out who was gonna be the one to give me the skinny. I couldn’t tell if Wil was happy or not to be the one to talk. He still looked pissed about what went down in the front not 10 minutes prior.

“So like right after you left I found a weblog on the darkweb I guess you’d call it for mercenaries and shit and through that I was able to find out that there is a certain group of Russian mobsters, ex-KGB mainly who have some interest in acquiring American military grade weapons. Some bullshit about pissing on the capitalist Americans with their own guns. William on the other hand found the information on the Columbians. They’re also after weapons, but they are looking for a way to transport their cocaine more easily, which means that they might just be the perfect candidates for purchasing that huey we’re getting. There was also the thing with the Chicago mafia but they just seemed like douches.” Maybe he could see the ear to ear smile, cause this is where he got bothered, and waved it off.

“Don’t get too happy there homey. We got call while you were out.” We got call’s here all the time.

“I fail to see how that is an issue. The phone rings here most of the day. We are a business after all.” Now it was William working to clarify what had just clicked in my head. Three potential buyers, but they’d only told me about two.

“Yeah, but that’s the thing. The call was from the Chicago assholes. we didn’t find the Chicago assholes in our dark web searching, they found us.” That was all he said. He didn’t need to say any more.

Issue 5

We arrived at Crazy Russ’s place at 8:10 which was a testament both to my commitment to this deal and to my driving skills. I was forced to drive it like I stole it, but I wasn’t gonna be late. Too many people were counting on the way tonight played out. I was still flying high from the way dinner had worked out for me, and was a little worried that it might cloud my judgment. I had Ralphie knock on the door. I looked at him as he did so and made sure he understood what I needed from him.

“Dude, please don’t open your fucking mouth here. I need you for intimidation factor first and foremost and you’ll be far less threatening if you talk.” He just nodded. I know he hated it when we made him do this tough guy song and dance but it was sometimes necessary to make the right first impression.

Russ’s place didn’t look like much from the outside. It looked like a house that was converted to some apartments and Russ just happened to live on the first floor. I was checking the view of the neighborhood, to see if anything looked fishy, when he finally answered the door.

“Hey guys, come on in.” He shut the door behind us and we all had a seat in his living room. There was already someone in the room, a guy maybe in his mid to late 50s. He didn’t get up as we came into the room, though he did look our way.

“Ralphie, my box please.” He did as I asked and didn’t say a word.

“Guy’s I’m just gonna need a minute to check out the room. I Hope you don’t mind.” I didn’t bother waiting to hear if they did mind since I really didn’t care. Stealing from the federal government, well military really, had to be a felony on the scale we were looking at, and reselling those goods to potential enemies of the United States was probably treasonous on a good day.

“What the hell is that?” Russ sounded a little worried as my little box hummed slightly as I moved around the room sweeping for signals. This is when the old guy finally said something.

“Shut up Russ. He’s sweeping for ‘bugs’. He’s a smart guy this one. I’m impressed boy, did you make that thing yourself?” He didn’t sound impressed. It sounded like just a hollow platitude, but whatever.

“Yeah, I made it. It’s got a secondary function as well. It’ll throw out a sort of white noise field big enough to cover the area we’re currently in. Just in case there’s something I missed in the room sweep.” Whether he was genuinely impressed or not I knew by now that Ralphie was, and his opinion was the only one in the room that mattered on the subject. Of course the guys were all used to me making all kinds of weird little gadgets to do shit. It was one one of my hobbies and was almost like meditation of a sort for me. Focusing on the task was just relaxing and the world just sort of fell away when I was doing it.

I heard him softly say cool, but then it was like he caught himself and he had shut up before he had even finished the word. The old guy just kinda laughed at that.

“I have no reason to bug the room, and this isn’t a setup, but I can respect your preparedness. Whenever you’re ready to get down to it, you just let me know.” He seemed to soften up a bit and actually sounded sincere in that statement. Looks like my paranoia had actually helped us out in this.

I continued to move around the room. I checked out the lamps, the entertainment center, and anything else that was plugged in, looking for a signal out of the ordinary. I moved on and did a quick trace of the ceiling fixture, and once I was satisfied I sat down, and put the device on the coffee table. I pushed a combination of the buttons on the face and it started to hum, but this time in a different tone than before. I was hoping it worked, cause I’d never gotten the chance to test either function. I’d made this kinda stuff before though, so in theory it should be golden.

“Alright, I’m satisfied it’s clear. We can start.” I wasn’t really satisfied at all since I couldn’t test it, but confidence was an issue here so I couldn’t waver.

“So you’re interested in buying what I’m selling, is that right?” This guy had a strange way of talking but whatever, I should be able to keep with him.

“We wouldn’t be here otherwise. Russ here says you’ve got a shit-ton of guns and a helicopter you’re looking to move.” I figured that I’d made this dude wait long enough when I was scanning the room. No reason to do that now, so I just got to the point.

“You guys are interested in that old thing? You got some balls kid, I’ll give you that. And yeah, I’ve got more guns than you could know what to do with.” He just crossed his arms across his chest and sat back with a smug ass look on his face.

“Before we go any further, what are you guys looking to get out of this?” I wanted to get this one point out of the way, but in my mind it was the most important currently.

“We just want to get our fair share, is all.” Russ at least knew what he wanted, and I couldn’t argue with that. Tom decided to clarify this now.

“We want equal shares. A third for you guys, a third for me and a third for Russell here.” WEll motherfucker. This asshole was out of his fucking mind. There was no fucking way we could go for that. Ralphie just looked at me a little on the slack-jawed side. Even he knew it was a shitty deal.

“No fucking way. I appreciate what you’ve done putting this together Russ, but there is next to no physical risk to your involvement. No way in hell do you get a third. And Tom, no way are you getting a third. You wanna get back at the ‘man’ for fuckin’ you that’s fine and all, but you need to realize that we’re the ones who have to deal with finding a buyer, and we’re also the ones who have to worry about getting this shit out of the country. You just have to worry about selling your story to your bosses. No, you don’t get more than a third total for the two of you. You guys can work it out from there.” I looked at Ralphie and he just nodded. I started to stand up to leave.

“You know what guys I think maybe we’re just done here. You guys clearly don’t want to deal on this, and I guess I misunderstood that you were working against the clock there Tommy.” I wasn’t gonna be pushed by some washed up, disgruntled, douchebag security guard. “Come on big man, we’re leaving.”

I’d grabbed my device off the table and had my hand on the door knob when I heard the old man call out after a sigh.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa kid. No need for that. You drive a hard bargain, but I think we can still deal on this.” The guy sounded a little flustered. Perfect. I always did have a way of negotiating like a motherfucker.

I started to open the door before responding.

“No, I don’t think we have anything to talk about. I told you what you guys would get. You’ll get that and not a penny more. If we’re the ones doing all the hard work, then we’re the ones getting the lion’s share of the prize. This is non-negotiable. If you don’t like it you can find someone else to do business with. It’s as simple as that. Do we have a deal, or are you gonna have to find someone else to do business with?” I didn’t bother to turn around for his response. I had to at least pretend that I was some kind of badass dude.

“Damn kid, you drive a bargain like a freight train through a whore. Looks like I don’t have much of a choice. You’ve got a deal. Here’s where you really get to earn your share. The timetable’s been bumped. I don’t have three months to do this deal. I’ve gotten word that I’m getting moved at the end of the month, so you guys need to empty the place before then.”

Holy shit, it was the 18th already and this guy was getting moved on the 31st. how the fuck were we supposed to pull this plan together in 12 days and not the 90 we’d expected. There were so many variables in this that I thought I might pass out where I stood. There was so much to get together in not nearly enough time. And then I heard the words coming out of my mouth almost as if on instinct.

“Fine, then I assume you have some kind of plan to clean this place of your out? We’ll handle storage of everything once it’s out, but getting it out can rest on you. You get word to me in two days time when you plan to have all this stuff out and you guys can get 40 percent. I’ll need one week to secure some sort of storage for all this shit as well. Exactly how much stuff are we talking about?” I figured that if they were willing to work for it then they could get twenty percent total. We were still doing most of the work.

“Sure kid. That’s all you had to say. I’ve already got a plan in place. After all this shit is out though, you’ll have no way to reach me. I’ll be dropping off the grid for a while. I’ll get in touch when I want to get my money. This’ll teach them to fuck me over and put me on fuckin’ guard duty.” Sure, just let the old guy ramble all he wants. We get paid all the same, and now we have even less work to deal with on our end. Things were starting to look up for us.

“Whatever, old man. I don’t give two shits about what you do. What I do know is that if you even think about fuckin’ us on this I’ll make you wish we’d never met.” The old man just laughed at that.

“Sure kid.” He was fucking mocking me. This piece of shit was fucking mocking me.

“No, Tommy, I don’t think you get it. No place on earth will be safe for you to go. I will find you and I will hurt you. And if you laugh at me again, I will be bitch slapping that smile off your smug fucking face.” Ralphie started to move towards the old man, who just threw up his hands in submissive gesture.

“Ok, ok. No need for it to get physical.” Ralphie just stood there. He didn’t look at me he just stood there, waiting for the word to either fuck this shit-head up or sit back down.

“If you can keep you fucking manners then I don’t think we have a problem, but I assure you that he can just as easily rip your arms off and beat you with them without thinking twice about it as not.” Ralphie just crossed his arms smiling. I thought it was a bullshit statement, but I wondered if he would?

“Fine I’ll have Russell here come see you in two days time. He’ll have the specifics for you on the exact time I’ll need to have this shit dealt with. He’ll also have the location where I’ll be stashing this shit as well. It should be safe there for about 36 hours once I’ve gotten it out, but the quicker you move it all into your lock-up the better.” This sounded far more reasonable than what we’d initially discussed.

“Sounds good Tommy. Ralphie we’re leaving.” I got up and moved for the door. I knew at worst that Ralphie was about three steps behind me. That would work, and give the image I’d wanted to show.

As Ralphie was shutting the door behind me I went ahead and shouted back for Tom’s sake.

“Two days Tommy. Don’t be late.” We drove back to my house in silence. When Ralphie got out and moved to his car he finally spoke.

“Hey man, what the fuck was that back there? Was that really necessary? It seemed like you almost took things too far there.” And he was right of course. I usually did take things a little too far, except in those rare occasions when I took things way too fucking far.

“That was just me working a deal. If that guy thought that he could push us around and dictate the way this whole thing was going down, then we’d be fucked all along. Now, at worst he’ll view us as equals in this. As for being necessary, it was, especially if we want to get paid on this whole deal. You know I like to ride the razors edge on shit like this.” I hoped that sounded as cool out loud as it did in my head.

“But we’ve never been in shit like this before. We sell comic books, not fucking guns and helicopters. What the fuck is that ‘razor’s edge’ shit about? You ride the edge too long you’re gonna get cut, asshole, and if we’re involved we get cut too.” Ok, so sometimes Ralphie had this grasp of a situation that was just completely astute and so on as to be completely out of character for him.

“I’d never go out of my way to do anything that would open any of us to unnecessary harm. I have to hope that you know that I’m only doing what I think is best for all of us. We need this. You know that we need this. I know even when things were good at the store money was tight for you. I can’t even imagine how it is now.” Hopefully appealing to his sense of familial preservation would get him to let this go.

“As long as you’re sure you’ve got this under control. That Jonah back there didn’t seem all that in control.” I thought he’d put up more of a fight. He just started laughing. “And what was that shit about ripping his arms off?”

“Oh, you liked that? Just something I came up with on the spot. Was it too over the top?”

“It was funny, I’ll give it that, but damn I don’t think over the top begins to cover it.” And he headed to his car to go on home.

As he was shutting his car door I asked, because I was a little curious.

“You could have done it thought right?” He just smiled and drove home.

Issue 4

The next day came and I decided to go ahead and do my own shopping. It wasn’t like Wil was my bitch or anything like that. Plus, I knew what I needed which made it easier. After I called to let the guys know I had some shopping to do, I remembered that in my semi-drunken stupor, I had the idea that maybe we could use the internet as a tool to coordinate some of our efforts. I wasn’t yet sure how, but I could easily put The Wills to work on coming up with something. They were good at tech solutions like that, so it seemed right up their alleys.

After going to three different stores I was able to find all the parts necessary to create the signal jammer I had in mind, so I headed on in to the store, so I could start putting all the pieces together. I didn’t want waste any time getting ready for this upcoming meeting, so that I’d be good to go when the call finally came in that everything was a go. But as I was soon to learn nothing goes as planned and sometimes you just gotta roll with the punches.

“Bout fucking time you showed up?” And with a big stupid grin it was clear that Ralphie though he was both clever and funny. He was a real smart ass sometimes. It happened so rarely that I sometimes just let him win one. In my now full blown hangover this was not one of those times.

“Guys, how late was he today?” The Wills laughed at that question and almost in unison responded.

“Fifty-five minutes”

“Now did he call to say he was running late?” Now I already knew the answer, but as it was part of the show, I did not spare anyone of the show.

“Fine asshole, forget about it.” And with that Ralphie let it go. I started to head to the basement to begin my work.

“If you guys need me, I’ll be in the basement working on something. Let me know if any calls come in for me.” I didn’t even wait for a reply, I just headed downstairs.

I knew what I was working on would take me a better part of the day and the sooner I got started, the sooner I’d be done. Plus I thought I remembered a bottle of Tylenol down there somewhere and my head was pounding.

I’d been working for all of five minutes, when Wil came down.

“Hey, man. Got a second?” He wanted something. He only had that kind of tact when he wanted something, but he was like my little brother and that was always at the front of my mind. I still didn’t lift my head from my work area.

“Not really, but go ahead. I wanna get this done today.”

“Uh, ok. So, are you sure about this dude? I mean are we getting in over our heads here?” I stopped what I was working on to deal with this. I expected it from William, not Wil.

“You were appointed to do this weren’t you?” I knew he would only do this if the others had concerns. He chuckled.

“Yeah, Williams’s freaking a little, and when I let Stevie and T know what was up they were a little concerned and had some questions?”

“Ok, I hope you let them know that it was all under control, and we’re going to be doing it or we go under.” I was not in the mood for this conversation. If they started with small complaints and concerns, then by the time they all had the opportunity to talk, it would only grow until they had all decided to back out. “You guys just need to be patient and have a little faith. I’ve got the beginnings of a plan. I do have some things you guys can do to help though. If nothing else it’ll keep you busy and distracted for the time being.”

“Anything you need, man. You should know that I’m down with whatever, but I’m worried about William and the young ones. Ralphie has nothing but confidence in whatever happens. He always believes in your plans.” Ok, that was reasonable. I wasn’t completely sure how to go about addressing his or any of their concerns.
“Ok, here’s the thing, I’m a little worried too, but really what choice to we have. We’re all on the verge of losing our families, our homes, our cars and the store. We just don’t have a ton of options here and we’ve tried to do everything by the book up to now. We just keep falling farther and farther behind. Look at it like this, we’ll be pulling down some much needed money on this and we’ll just we are only doing this to we get our shit straightened out.” When I said it, I really did believe it.

“Ok man, I’ll relay that. So what do you need me to do?” Loyal as always. I knew he’d follow me into hell if I led him there. I’d spent years building that trust.

“Ok, get William and divert some of your online time into researching military conflicts and their participants around the world. We need to start looking for buyers now. I also want you guys to start brainstorming for a way to communicate with buyers about new orders. Look for groups that are focused on hating someone else. Also, look at the Russian mob, maybe therer is some money there. Hell they have nukes don’t they?” I didn’t wait for a response before I continued. “I was also thinking maybe we could sell that helicopter to a drug cartel. Maybe it would help them to slip over the borders a little easier. Don’t look at me like that. Money is money and if that’s the case, then we could probably get a mint for it.” With that I lowered my head and went back to work. I heard him start to head back upstairs.

“I’ll get William and get to work. I’ll have something for you by the end of the day”
“Do whatever it is you need to do to cover your tracks online.” I wasn’t paranoid, but I saw no reason not to be careful. I yelled after him, “You talked to Stevie, right? Where the hell is he? Is he coming in today?”

“Yeah, he’s waiting on his grandma to give him a ride again.” The little shit couldn’t afford to get his driver’s license, so he was always in need of rides to get places. It was something we’d all just come to accept. I didn’t bother to yell anything else. I’d just talk to Stevie when he finally showed up.

By now it was about two in the afternoon, and I’d made some significant progress getting my little “thing” put together. As I was putting it together, I was starting to come up with some ideas for hardwiring the shop to make it “bug” proof. I was thinking about making the basement into a safe room of sorts. Make a larger signal jamming device and add in some larger transmission scanning technology. That way we’d always have a place where at least we could talk in peace.

Anything else we’d need I could make and would work to make as small as possible. Hell, the device I was making now, was about as big as a large cell phone, and was a relatively simple device to operate. Two buttons for scanning and a “signal meter” for when it detected anything transmitting, and another two buttons for the signal jamming portion of the device.

To be fair, it really wasn’t jamming anything, but was actually broadcasting “white noise” intended to drown out any potential receptors. I was effectively employing the techniques I’d learned in school in reverse. Instead of working to reduce the noise in signal receptors, I was working to amplify and add to it. It was like a mini broadcaster that sort of “spammed” the spectrum of broadcast frequencies.

I finally got my little project finished around 4 or so and right around that time it was like a miraculous convergence of celestial bodies. No sooner had I finished, than Stevie finally showed up. He was only about 5 hours late, but whatever. And almost as soon as he’d shown up, but before I could even talk to him both about the previous night’s meeting and his incredible tardiness, Crazy Russ showed up.

“Hey Stevie when I get done here we need to talk about getting you a better way to work.” He just nodded at me, and hung his head a little.

“Alright Russ, why don’t you come on into the backroom, the new issues are in and I’ll let you take a look before anyone else.” Funny, I was just trying to be clever but that statement stuck, as we started using the term ‘the new issues are in’ when we were getting ready for something. Russ, didn’t say anything, he just followed me into the basement.

“Ok, I got you a meeting with Tom. It’s set for tonight at my place, at 8. He’ll hang out till 8:30, and if you guys don’t show he’s gone and there won’t be another meeting. He says that this is a one time only deal.”

“Alright Russ, we’ll be there. I’ve been thinking though and we never discussed what you guys were looking for as far as your cuts are concerned. I have no problem with giving you guys pieces of the action, but don’t expect big ones, cause it looks like we’re doing most of the work.” I wasn’t gonna let these guys take a huge cut when it looked like we’d be handling the dangerous part.

“We can just talk about that tonight. Tom told me that he’s not going to have as much time as he thought to do this. He didn’t go into specifics, so I don’t have more on it than that.” I didn’t like the way that sounded, but there was nothing I could do. I’d just have to work it out with Tom.

“We’ll be there by 8:15, and I’ll bring the comics.” Russ seemed to take that comment for what it was worth and left. That gave me less than 4 hours to talk to the guys and make sure that everything was in order with my little gadget.

Plenty of time I thought, but that was before Meryl called me and wanted to “talk about things”.

I couldn’t very well blow her off when she was the single biggest reason that I was doing what I was doing. So, when she called and wanted to talk about things I just decided that I’d go ahead and leave early for the day. I left The Wills in charge. Together they were of one mind. It was creepy sometimes. Ralphie and I had agreed to meet at my place at 6:30, I knew he wouldn’t be there until well after 7, but that was fine and that’s what I was planning for. So
I grabbed my gadget and off I went. I had agreed to meet with Meryl so that we could discuss the possibility of her coming home and so that I could see my daughter, Bailee. It had been almost a month since they’d moved out and I never knew how much I missed them until they were gone from me.

We had agreed to meet at the restaurant we’d had our first date in. It was her choice though, so it did give me some hope for things. When I showed up, she was already there waiting for me. I kinda felt bad for making her wait a little bit, but the future of everyone and everything related to Pandora’s Box relied on the meeting that was a just a few hours away.

I went in and sat down and we talked. We talked about how I wanted her to come home, and how she wanted to. We tried to work out some conditions for her return. She wasn’t really excited about returning, mainly because of the near borderline poverty situation my dream had driven us to. When it was all said and done she had agreed to come home, and I had agreed to make things right. She wasn’t going to live in the poor house and I couldn’t blame her and she gave me a couple more months to work things out.

Her agreeing to return home really made it hard since I had that meeting with Crazy Russ and Tom the gun guy, but I didn’t have much choice and I was going to be cutting it close too. As I was pulling out of the parking lot I realized that I’d forgotten to bring the comics that were the crux of my plan, so I had to swing by the shop and pick some up, which put me late getting back to my place.

I finally got back to my place at close to 7:45 and Ralphie was waiting. It didn’t surprise me at all. I was late even by the standards established by Fletcher. Fletcher was a communal friend that had died not long before the shop was opened. He was habitually late to things but on an absolutely mythical scale. This would have been one of his arrival times.

“Bout time you showed up. I was about to go handle things on my own. Fletcher would have been here earlier than you.” I fucking knew he’d do that.

“Yeah, well I’m here now and we’ve got someplace to be. Let’s go. We can talk in the car.” So he got into the car and we were off. I had to drive because nobody who had their faculties about them would in any kind of reality allow Ralphie to drive. Every trip was like driving in a stolen race car with the driver in a perpetual state of ‘road rage’.

“So what did you want to talk to me about?” It was nice to see him being serious for a change.

“Ok, so you know I was in the basement all day right. Look behind the seat there and grab that thing that looks like a big ass control.” Which he did.

“So what is it? It has to be important if you spent all day working on getting it together, but what does it do?” I loved it when I could create that kind of curiosity and mystery when talking with the guys. It was almost a necessity for me sometimes. It was just one of my life’s little pleasures.

“You need to see it to understand it and you’ll see when we get there.”