28. A Minor Infestation of Henchmen

They went to the southeast corner of the basement where the junk pile rose like a mountain into the deeper shadow of the corner.  Some of it was covered by a gray, dusty tarp with holes worn through here and there as if the tarp had been used for many things over many decades.

“Just grab whatever and take it out with you, along with your loot from the bank. If you act natural they probably won’t catch on.” Bracken told them. He lifted a corner of the tarp and pausing to cough in the ensuing dust storm before continuing. “Kill time until evening.  Fatson’s guys have to clock out sometime.”

Bracken, Sean and J.P. walked, shuffled and moseyed up and down the stairs for the rest of the day, leisurely carrying all kinds of items to the door and tossing them into the street.

Cars and pedestrians began to have trouble navigating around the debris choking the streets and sidewalk, and every so often the flow of foot and motor traffic backed up, swirling around the piles until they found their way through and flowed onward and away.

“So, you and Jaz live here?” Sean asked as he and Bracken came downstairs together for another load.

“Yeah.”

“Together?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh.”

Bracken glanced at Sean, and as realization came over him he said quickly, “Not together. Not like that. No. Just…roommates.”

“Just roommates. That’s nice.”

“Yeah. Sometimes.” Bracken wasn’t about to bring up her insane mood swings, or her insanity in general. When Jaz was doing well, she was fine. Fun, even. She was even kind, sometimes, in her own way. Like when she’d ordered in dinner for him in Pucheon, and made him tea the first night, and hot chocolate the second—both spontaneous acts, yet just what he’d needed at the time. And she did apologize for her tantrums and outbursts, eventually. Under normal circumstances he might have even enjoyed working for her.

And now that he thought about it, her insanity and mood swings didn’t bother Bracken much. The insanity was kind of interesting and he could tolerate her temper. If she hadn’t lied about Sadie…

“So…you just work for her?”

Bracken blinked. They had crossed the basement while he was thinking and now stood in front of the junk pile, which was by no means diminished.

“Yeah.” After a weighted pause, Bracken had another realization. “Yeah, just coworkers. Nothing more. I’m not into huma…I mean…we’re related.”

Sean’s smile was faintly relieved. “She your aunt or something?”

“Yeah…great aunt.”

“That’s nice.” Sean picked up an old suitcase with a broken handle. “It’s nice to work for family. I worked with my dad for a while before he passed on. They were good times.”

Bracken picked up a heavy metal box with a window on one side, the glass obscured  with brown splotches, and followed Sean through the basement, back upstairs.

It didn’t surprise him that Sean seemed to fear he and Jaz were an item. Especially considering Jaz’s behavior toward Sean when he first came in, pretending not to know him, and her dramatic shift in attitude toward him after they began talking. The girl was just plain confusing, that was what.

While her ’employees’ emptied the basement Jaz had stayed in the workspace, pulling things off shelves, wiping them with rags, then wiping the shelves, then replacing all the items and starting on another shelf.  No doubt it was the deepest cleaning those shelves had had in some time.  Fatson’s henchmen were occupied watching Bracken and company come and go, and generally left her alone.

After tossing the box outside and watching it land with a tumbling crash, Bracken stole behind the counter to confer with Jaz.

She had left off the deep clean for a bit and was sitting on the counter by the espresso machine, gluing her mug back together.  “How’s the junk supply holding up?”

“There’s still half a mountain down there.  We could throw stuff out for a week before we get to the bottom of it.” Bracken nodded toward the henchmen standing guard near the doors.  “It’s enough to outlast them, unless Fatson intends for them to become permanent residents.”

Jaz squinted at her mug, pressing another fragment into place.  “If they stay past midnight, they’ll be permanent alright.  Just not in any way that they define the term. Pretend to keep working so they don’t come over here.”

Bracken pulled several bottles of syrup from a bottom shelf and lined them up on the counter beside the register. “Why not remove Fatson from his native territory and deposit him in tiger world as a gift to the bloodthirsty?  Or better yet, use him as a shield.”

Jaz shook her head. “That world is unstable enough without throwing a gangster insurance agent into the mix…”

Her words died away as she looked past Bracken.

Sean had just come up again from the basement.  He strode over to join them, folding his forearms on the counter as he leaned toward Jaz. “We need a strategy. This isn’t going to work forever.”

“It’ll work until tonight, which is all I need,” Jaz said, holding up the mug to inspect her repair work.

“When Fatson comes to drag you out? That’s not a great plan,” Sean said. He glanced at the henchmen and shuffled some stacks of napkins from one spot to another in a pretense of productivity.

“He can’t drag me out,” Jaz began, then stopped and glanced at Bracken. They both considered the consequences of Fatson being unable to drag her out the front doors, and then finding out why.

“You’re just stalling for time,” Sean said, coming around behind the counter to stand beside Jaz. He pulled a stack of demitasse cups toward him, pretending to count them. “It won’t get these guys out of here, or get Fatson off your back.”

Jaz picked up another shard of her mug and examined the edge. “What do you suggest, I hit them over the head and hold them for ransom?”

“That’s an idea, but what I’m thinking is we should find something Fatson wants more than this cafe that you could use as a bargaining tool. Something expensive and useful, like Vorpol armor.”

Jaz scoffed. “I don’t have Vorpol armor.”

Sean faced her with a sly grin, leaning an elbow on the counter. “Are you sure about that?”

Jaz was not sure.

“So it’s possible.” Sean nodded vaguely toward the henchmen—who were splitting their attention between Jaz and Sean, and the heap of junk now blocking the entire sidewalk. “Anyway, we just need to get them interested enough that they let their guard down. Then we use this.”

He took something out of his pocket and showed it to them behind the counter. It was a small, translucent black cube with what looked like a cloudy white marble in the center.

“What am I looking at?” Jaz asked, after a glance.

“A minion maker.”  Sean said, with obvious pride.

Bracken looked to Jaz for an explanation but her face was blank.

Sean seemed disappointed. “You’ve never heard of the minion maker?  Legendary weapon of the Death Lord? He amassed quite a few armies with it. Or, one like it. Mose made this one.”

Jaz snorted.  “The real lord of death doesn’t make armies. He cleans up the aftermath.”

Sean shrugged and returned the cube to his pocket. “Anyway. It’s push-button hypnosis. Just flash this in their eyes, and you’re their new boss. Or whoever they see first after their vision comes back.”

Bracken was impressed.  “That’s pretty cool.”

“We use it on heists sometimes, when security is heavy. Just point and shoot. No chases, no fights, no fuss. Wears off in a few hours, which is more than enough time to send them to the nearest police station and turn themselves in. We do the same to Fatson when he comes back, and problem solved.”

“I see,” Jaz said flatly, rubbing at a smudge on the espresso machine’s side. “So then I gather you want me to pay you to take care of my Fatson problem.”

Sean looked wounded. “Of course not. I have plenty of money.  What I need is somewhere to stash it after jobs.  This place is ideal, or it will be once Fatson takes his eyes off it.”

“I wouldn’t trust a bunch of thieves in my basement, long-term,” Jaz said, bunching her shoulders stubbornly.  “I keep a lot of valuable equipment down there. The roaster, for instance.”

Bracken nodded, backing up what he thought was a sound decision.  The worst thing that could happen to the last of Sadie’s things was being stolen and redistributed to the undeserving denizens of Friday’s world. Or any world, for that matter.

“We don’t want your equipment,” Sean said. He picked up a demitasse cup, inspecting it for cracks. “We’re bank robbers.  We like to get our money direct from the source.  And if we stow our loot here, it’s in our best interest to keep you happy so that our hiding place stays a secret.” He lowered the cup and met her eyes. “You have my word we won’t steal from you.”

A long look passed between them, Jaz’s scrutinizing squint against Sean’s reassuring smile.  She shook her head, looking away, the match ending in Sean’s favor.

“Fine,” she said, “But I know people.  If you steal from me, I’ll take it out of your soul.”

“Done.” Sean nodded. He beckoned Jaz and Bracken closer. “Things are set downstairs. Just follow my lead.”

“Wait, what—?”

He straightened abruptly, pushing away from the counter and raising his voice. “I didn’t sign up to move all that contraband for you. If you’re not going to pay me what I’m worth, maybe these guys will.”

The henchmen turned their attention—and their guns—toward Sean.

Jaz gave Sean a warning look, the universal silent command to zip it.

Sean continued, unzipped.  “What?  There’s not point in hiding it anymore, Jaz. They’re gonna find it anyway.”

“Find what?” One of the henchmen came closer. He had tiny black eyes and a square mustache directly under his wide nose. Aside from the mustachio, his face and brushy haircut resembled Fatson’s, so much so that they could have been brothers.

Sean turned to him, setting the demitasse down on the last free bit of counter space.  “Vorple armor, a whole set.  Pants, jacket, helmet.  Vintage stuff.”

Two more henchmen came closer, eager for details. They all had similar features, though their hair was different cuts, and two of them had facial hair.

One of them wiggled his mustachio and gestured at Jaz.  “That true?”

Jaz shrugged weakly and scowled at Sean.

“You guys don’t know the gold mine you’re onto here,” Sean said. “Jaz is a master in black market trade.  She’s been fencing  stuff for years. The coffee shop is just a front.”

The men eyed Jaz with new suspicion.  Bracken stared at Sean, wondering how the man would react if he knew how close to the truth that claim was.

Jaz traded her scowl for a skeptical, bored expression. “If I had Vorple armor, I’d be wearing it.”

“Don’t lie. I saw it in that pile of stuff you’re keeping for next week’s auction,” Sean said. He motioned to the henchmen.  “I’ll show you.”

The henchmen shuffled their feet, considering Sean and Jaz. Finally, Mustachio nodded and gestured with the barrel of his gun toward the basement door. Sean led the way downstairs, with Fatson’s men close at his heels.  Bracken and Jaz trailed after them.

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