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Liberty City Limits: A GTA Fan Fiction

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albanyave
  • albanyave

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#61

Posted 27 November 2017 - 05:53 PM

Westminster

 

Francis McReary sat hunched over a trail of linked paperclips that snaked from one end of his desk to the other; ending in a tiny coil near the multi-lined telephone. It was a habit that had only recently started since his promotion to Deputy Police Commissioner a year ago. The stresses of ridding the city of its criminal element were of greater consequence than when he was just an Officer trying to make Detective. The politics coupled with his ambition to one day have it all; to be the city’s top cop with all the adoration for being the one that had made the sacrifices through his entire career to rid Liberty of the low-life scum that ruined life for everyone else. He sacrificed his family, leaving them when perhaps they needed him the most. If he had stayed closer to his brothers, maybe their father would have had less of an influence on them. His mother couldn’t handle four boys who quickly grew into men way before they were ready. Their father saw to it that his sons knew who they were and where they came from.

 

Years ago, the McReary name was something to be respected and feared amongst the criminal gangs that ran wild through the city. The Irish Mob, headed by Mr. McReary ruled Purgatory and other areas of the city for years. Eventually their influence dwindled as the Italian gangsters grew in number and strength, soon claiming territory that was once controlled by the McReary Family. Francis wanted no part of his family’s legacy. Believing that the Priesthood would set him apart from his inheritance, Francis dove deep into his studies. But he finally realized that he was more like his brothers than he wanted to admit when he was caught cheating on his final exam, thereby ending any hope of being a Priest.

 

As Francis set off to begin a new career in law enforcement, he wanted to redeem himself by cleaning the city of its criminal element. However, the gates of H*ll were flung open almost right from the beginning. Waiting inside was the path to a stellar career adorned with fast promotions and commendations for bravery and excellent work as a Law Enforcement Officer. Through his entire career Francis made deal after deal with the devil, believing it to be the right thing. The ends always justified the means. As an Officer, Francis would reach past his authority. He almost never followed police policy. Be it an armed robbery or a homicide; planting evidence at a crime scene was no stretch for his imagination and Francis did it as often as possible. He used the justification that the suspect was guilty of something and this was just a quicker way to get at justice. While his partners questioned his tactics, they were soon convinced to go along to get along.

 

Francis moved quickly through the ranks, making Detective after having one of the highest arrest and conviction rates in the precinct. With a promotion, came a new partner and another opportunity to reach deeper into the criminal world. His long held belief of ridding the city of crime one criminal at a time took hold once he was assigned to the Narcotics Division. Francis knew the city well, making it easy to locate the pimps and their place of operation. He threatened to shut down their businesses if they didn’t give up information on the pushers that were getting their girls strung out on drugs. Not wanting to deal with an arrest or have their cash flow interrupted, most pimps cooperated and even offered the services of their best girls for free. Once the pushers were found, they were met with a gun to their head if they didn’t give up their dealers. This was a mode of operation for Francis and his partner for years.

 

After several dangerous encounters with The Spanish Lords and The East Holland Hustlers, Francis was recognized for his bravery and exceptional work as a Law Enforcement Officer. He won several commendations which set him on the fast track to making Sargent.  Nothing stood in the way of his ultimate dream of becoming Police Commissioner. He had one foot in the legitimate world while dragging his other through the ditch of the criminal underworld, snagging contacts, informants, and other corrupt officers and politicians along the way. And that’s how one deal led to the next until Francis McReary started dealing with the Gambettis, the most powerful Organized Crime Family in Liberty City.

 

The Deputy Police Commissioner picked up the tiny rectangular magnetized container, shaking it to free the final paperclip. The loop of metal tumbled around inside the clear container before falling unto his desk. He linked the clip, completing a five foot chain that now dangled over the edge of the desk much like his life dangled on a precarious ledge of deals with almost every hoodlum he could find. Francis coiled the last of the chain into a neat little pile as he caught a glimpse of his reflection staring back at him from his computer screen. He looked awful. He felt even worse. The dark circles beneath his deeply sunken eyes seemed to age him by a decade, making him almost unrecognizable to himself. The deals had finally caught up with Francis. No alibi would save him from the absolute conviction by the Gambetti Family. The terrible mistakes made at the jetty were left at his feet and his feet alone.  

 

Last night was supposed to be without incident; a quick exchange of cash for narcotics in a secluded area veiled by the night sky. But something went horribly wrong and now the Gambetti’s money was gone along with most of the cocaine from a Vice City Crime Syndicate. Francis had few options; either find the money and drugs or pay with his life. Neither being anything that he wanted to contemplate. The drugs and money were all but lost, nearly impossible to recover and his life was not something he was going to give willingly.

 

The phone had been silent for hours. Russell Cobb had disappeared again, leaving Francis to wonder if he had something to do with the ‘so called’ ambush. He lowered his head in time to see the display of his cheap disposable phone light up. A string of numbers appeared with the letters MC attached to the end. Francis had given Detective Shannon that code for MY COP when the two began their illicit partnership nearly four years ago. The phone chimed a full three times before Francis had the nerve to answer.

 

“What you got?” He asked, trying to conceal the shakiness in his voice.

 

“Not a d*mn thing. Cobb is gone. It’s just like the guy vanished into thin air.”

 

“Well, he’s done it before,” responded Francis with a pinch of bitterness in his tone.

 

“Me and Bradley turned his apartment. Even waited around for a while. And nothing.”

 

Francis sighed deeply, letting his frustration be known. “Were you able to find his buddy Jermaine Andrews?”

 

“Just left Native Engines and put the squeeze on the guy. He claims he knows nothing.  Saw Cobb a couple nights back. Haven’t seen or heard from him since.”

 

“D*mnit,” exclaimed Francis. Something ain’t right here. What about that guy who came up in place of Jeff?”

 

“Like I said, we dropped him in Broker. He acted like he didn’t know Cobb but all that could have been pretend. For all we know, they could be on a bus headed to who knows where. This is bad Frankie, and you know why.”

 

“Yeah, yeah Steve. I know why,” spat Francis, frustration and anger cutting through his usual arrogance.

 

Francis had every right to be worried. Jon Gravelli lay dying in a hospital bed at Schottler Medical Center, but he wasn’t dying dumb. As the leader of the Gambetti Crime Family he still had the respect and support of The Commission. Francis knew that his life was on the line and if Jon Gravelli wanted to, he would have him killed. A cop that was bad straight from the beginning deserved to be gotten rid of as quickly and mercilessly as possible. He could beg to be spared. What could he loose? He was already a dead man walking. The Gambettis are the most powerful crime family in Liberty and they did not get there by being sympathetic. Francis knew all too well what kind of people he was dealing with; not to mention the Syndicate out of Vice City. Their connections reached to the Cartels in Mexico and that frightened Francis more than any Gambetti hitman.

 

“Frankie, you still there?”

 

“Just thinking. You and Bradley get back over to the precinct and get on the clock. If I’m not here, more than likely I’ll be over in Schottler visiting a sick friend.”

 

“You know what you’re gonna tell him?”

 

“What can I tell him?” growled Francis. “The boat sank and the f*ckin’ money flew away.”

 

“Sh*t Frankie, this is real bad. You want me to track down your brother, see if he knows where Cobb is.”

 

“No, I’ll handle Patrick myself.”

 

“Alright then. Me and Bradley will head back to the precinct.”

 

Francis clicked off the line and let the phone drop heavily onto the desk, not caring if it shattered into a thousand pieces much like his life had suddenly fallen apart. He leaned back in his swivel chair and covered his face with both hands imagining how things could have gone so wrong so quickly. He had so carefully built a network of minions that were willing to bend, twist, and break the law for the better good if something was in it for them. His informants wanted to stay out of jail. His corrupt cops wanted a little piece of the action and being on the payroll of the Mafia meant seeing more money than they would ever hope to see being a cop. Sometimes city officials were caught in the wrong place at the right time. To keep their secrets safe, a judge wields a lot of power from the bench. But that power is not nearly as strong as the power of a Mafia Family Don. Even the Deputy Police Commissioner had little or no authority in a world organized and run by men with closely held traditions that ran deep into the past; traditions that would not be altered, even for Francis McReary.

 

The phone chimed loudly against the wooden desk. An incoming call was something Francis did not want to be bothered with at the moment. He allowed the call to go to voicemail then leaned forward to check the caller ID. THE CLEANERS ticked across the display. A jolt of adrenaline shot though Francis like a lightning strike, making his breath catch in his throat. Why didn’t I call immediately? Thought Francis. He gently placed the phone face down on the desk as he ran through alibis to justify his tardiness. None of the reasons made any sense and he dared not to even try to excuse his behavior or grovel for forgiveness. Roy Zito is the Gambetti Family Underboss and fiercely loyal to Jon Gravelli. THE CLEANERS is the codename Francis uses because Roy owns and operates a chain of Dry Cleaners throughout the city specializing in the removal of forensic evidence. A lump formed in Francis’ throat at the thought of how brutal his life could end. He stood up and pranced around his tiny office to shake the nerves away. He had to call Roy. He just wished he had done it without being prompted to do so. Again, the cheap phone chimed, sickening Francis to his stomach. He quickly snatched it from the desk and saw THE CLEANERS trail across the display. This time Francis inhaled deeply and pushed the call button to answer.

 

“Hey Roy, I was about to call you,” said Francis, trying to push past the tenseness in his voice.

 

“I wished you had. Boss wants to know how things played out last night.”

 

The feeling of defeat sank deep inside Francis’ stomach. He knew what he had to say but the words seem too few to fully explain exactly what happened. Maybe Roy wasn’t the one who needed to hear the explanation. Mr. Gravelli was the one to decide if Francis was going to live or die. He squeezed the cheap mobile phone in a death grip as the silence on the line lingered for a moment too long. Roy chimed in for a second time, demanding an answer.

 

“So tell me Frankie, is everything good?”

 

Francis’ heart pounded. His throat tightened with anxiety. He had to say it and just deal with everything that came along with the admission. Finally clearing the stiffness from his voice, Francis answered the question.

 

“No, everything is not good.”

 

“Explain.”

 

“I need to speak with Mr. Gravelli.”

 

“No, you need to speak to me and tell me what the h*ll went wrong,” pressed Roy.

 

“Look Roy, I’m at the precinct and…”

 

I don’t care if you’re at your momma’s funeral, you’re gonna tell me what happened last night.”

 

Hearing the anger build in Roy’s voice, Francis moved away from his office door. Even though the door was closed, his office was small so he wanted to keep his voice low and measured. Francis sat down in his chair and swiveled around, putting his back to the door before he began explaining the events of the previous night. Roy listened without interrupting once. This made Francis more panic-stricken. The violation was so egregious that there was no hope of any reconciliation. There would be nothing that he could do to even come close to setting thing right. It was his crew and his idea to choose the locations for the drops. No past good deeds could buy Francis out of this situation. All debts were paid and the Gambettis owed no favor to a corrupt Deputy Police Commissioner.

 

“You need to talk with Mr. Gravelli,” said Roy, his voice now calm and absolute. “Come over to the hospital by 10am Frankie, and don’t be late.”

 

The call ended before Francis could agree to the time. Things were out of his control now. He felt like a criminal, trying to avoid a warrant for his arrest. He could leave right now. Disappear, never to be seen again. Was Roy giving him a head-start or did he just need time to speak to the old man first?  The clock on the wall read a quarter after 7am; nearly three hours before he had to meet Gravelli. Wild ideas played through his mind like quick bursts of electric shocks. He had time to close his bank account, go see his mother for the last time, and then be at Francis International Airport purchasing a ticket to Ireland before anyone knew the difference. His heart pounded louder than thunder, sending sonic booms to the tiny bones of his inner ear. The pain pulsating through his head soon became unbearable, making Francis slap at the side of his head until the agony subsided.

 

How desperate Russell Cobb must have felt nearly two years ago when he was pinned against the reality of a warrant for a murder he did not commit. Russell must have felt he had no other choice but to flee the city as fast as possible knowing that he was being falsely accused of murder; knowing that he and Jimmy D. had been stealing cars and funneling the money from their chop shop back into their drug dealing operation for years. Late one night, Russell’s desperation got the better of him. He decided to leave the city he loved, his friends, and Carlie; the one true love of his life. He packed a small bag of his most precious belongings and slipped out into the cover of darkness. It took almost two years, but the law showed up on his doorstep in Vice City demanding that things be set right. Now demands were being made of Francis that he’s not so sure can ever be made right.

 

The guilt of how many young lives Francis had so cruelly destroyed in the pursuit of his own selfish ambitions suddenly swept over him, snatching breath from his chest, nearly bringing tears to his eyes. The guilt ran especially deep for Russell Cobb because he was a good kid once, with a promising future until his parents were killed on the Algonquin Bridge in 2002. Their death sent the young man spiraling out of control which eventually led to a reconnection with his childhood friend, James D. Bataglia and the start of a criminal career. Francis turned his gaze to the 60 Diner across the street from the precinct. He imagined that Russell must have felt the same kind of guilt believing he was the one that caused his best friend to be murdered.

 

Jimmy D. had been street savvy since he was fifteen, getting into trouble with the law and spending days at a time locked up in Juvenile Detention Centers. Jimmy did not let a few nights away from home deter his ultimate goal of earning fast easy money. He soon graduated from petty crimes such as purse snatching and shoplifting to committing more sever offenses as car-jacking and moving packs of dope for neighborhood gangsters. Jimmy was a quick study when it came to being street wise. Older, more experienced gangsters took notice and soon began using him for their own benefit. Jimmy’s reputation as someone that could be trusted grew stronger with each passing year. He became well known to those who had the power to make things happen. His network of connections to the criminal underworld stretched all the way to Hong Kong when he met and befriended a spoiled rich kid by the name of Huang Lee at an illegal street race in Meadow Hills in 2002.

 

They became fast friends, making the rounds on the party circuit throughout Liberty. Huang eventually confided in Jimmy D. that he was a Triad member, though not fully participating, but reaping the benefits granted through his father who is the head of the Lee Family. Jimmy did not care. He saw it as another opportunity to earn money. A month into his visit to Liberty City, Huang found himself in the unusual position of being arrested for grand theft auto. He and Jimmy were working on a high-end score in Dukes when the sight of red flashing lights appeared in the rearview mirror. Not knowing the city that well, Huang pulled over, hoping his quick wits could spare him an arrest. Unfortunately, Francis McReary and his partner made the collar that night.  Where Huang’s cockiness had failed, his family’s influence succeeded. He was released from custody almost immediately after placing his one and only phone call to his uncle. Jimmy, on the other hand, spent ten days in jail. While Jimmy D. saw his time in custody as a way to rest up before the next score, Francis McReary saw an opportunity to enlist another stoolpigeon into his ranks by making sure that this would not be the last time that he and James D. Bataglia would meet.

 

Francis looked up at the clock. The hands seemed to be frozen in place. He had filtered through the last ten years of his life, trying to justify the decisions he had made, the lives that he had destroyed or had attempted to derail, all in the name of Law Enforcement. Russell Cobb, the last life he had tried to ruin, had vanished, leaving him holding a heavy bag of regret, fear, and panic. If Russell could disappear not once but twice, Francis began to believe he could do it twice as fast and ten times better. After all, he is an officer of the law and knows all the tricks to disappearing better than anyone. Francis pulled on his slicker, grabbed his car keys from the desk drawer, and slipped from the precinct out into a dark rainy Liberty morning.

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albanyave
  • albanyave

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#62

Posted 2 weeks ago

Paving the Way

 

It was already 7:17am according to the tiny dashboard clock when Timmy and Russell crossed the Hickey Bridge, arriving back in Algonquin where last night’s ambush occurred. Traffic was nearly bumper-to-bumper the whole way from Alderney and was not much better as Timmy turned the spirited Blista Compact onto Union Drive West, a main thoroughfare around the city. He hadn’t ever remembered driving a Blista with so much pep. The lanes opened up ahead and Timmy really felt the power of the tiny Compact as he accelerated, easily gliding over the rain-soaked highway. Russell must have had some work done on it, thought Timmy as he signaled and slipped over to the left lane. Spray from the car in front forced him to slow and drop back to avoid anything else obscuring the windshield.

 

Timmy glanced over at Russell who had been quiet since they left the apartment. He sat slumped in the passenger seat, staring blankly through the rain-streaked windshield, seemingly unaware of the city whizzing past. The day was gray and dreary, reminding Russell of his recent visit to Jimmy D.’s grave and how a hooded man at the cemetery had sent him an ominous warning to stay away from Beechwood City, a known stronghold of the Jamaicans street gang. They are the same bunch of criminals that Russell had trusted enough to do business with that ultimately costed Jimmy D. his life. Russell remembered Francis McReary urging him to pick up a game of pool at the Homebrew Café; a cross between a pool hall and bar. The location acted as a front for the gang, giving them a centralized base of operation and hideout in Schottler.

 

Russell shifted in his seat, adjusting the seatbelt across his shoulder. He wiped at the window to remove a small circle of condensation that had built up only on his side of the car. He could see the street sign directing traffic to Westminster and Star Junction straight ahead as Timmy slowed to make a left onto Kunzite Street which would take them directly to the Algonquin Bridge. They were heading to Steinway; a large neighborhood in Dukes, bordering the majestic Dukes Bay and Humboldt River where he and Jimmy D. grew up. Russell and his parents moved to Steinway from Broker the summer of 1991 when he was nine years old. His father had gotten a better job working in Algonquin. The promotion propelled the family into the middle-class and out of the low-rent district in Broker. The neighborhood had two major parks, perfect for families. Their home was nestled in a quiet residential area, much different from their four story walk-up near the Broker Bridge.

 

After a couple of weeks, the family had gotten settled into their new home and was getting used to their new life. Eventually Russell and his mother made their way to the local pool at Steinway Park to get a much needed reprieve from the summer heat.  Being shy, Russell stayed close to his mother even when she tried to encourage him to join in water sports with the other kids. Russell wasn’t having any of it. He preferred to tinker with his action figures until he was approached by another little boy his own age. They struck up a conversation about comic book heroes and soon Russell abandoned his toys and left his mother to be with his new found friend James D. Bataglia. James was the polar opposite of Russell. He was confident and overly curious. This intrigued Russell and he and Jimmy D., as he liked to be called, became fast friends. Living two blocks from each other, the two boys spent the rest of the summer forging a bond to last forever.

 

Timmy stopped at the red light. He had almost forgotten how much it rained in Liberty. The wipers cried as they rubbed across the windshield, beating back a constant stream of water. The silence was getting a bit uncomfortable for Timmy to tolerate much longer. He needed Russell to be alert and ready for the unexpected. But at this point, anything can be expected. He glanced down at the radio and turned up the volume slightly.

 

“Hey kid, pull yourself together. You haven’t said two words since we left Alderney.”

 

Russell cleared his throat, yanking at the seatbelt to loosen it from his collar. “I know,” he finally said. “Just been thinkin’”

 

“About?”

 

“My mom and dad.” He paused. “Jimmy.”

 

The light turned green and Timmy tapped the accelerator, guiding the Compact through the intersection and past the Westminster police precinct. Pointing to the multi-story building, Timmy did not hesitate to share with Russell just how he felt about the Deputy Police Commissioner.

 

“That corrupt copper Francis McReary is sure to get his and get his sooner rather than later,” said Timmy with a distasteful snarl on his face. “He was born for a day just like last night. There was no way he was going to avoid it.”

 

“I wonder whose money backed that deal.”

 

“Ain’t for us to worry about kid. But I can almost guarantee it was the Gambettis.”

 

Russell farrowed his brow. “Gambetti? They’re one of the…”

 

“You got it. One of the five Italian Mafia Families who basically control the city.”

 

“If that’s true, McReary is in some deep sh*t. Me and Jimmy never wanted to get involved with the Italians or the Russians. We kinda stayed out on the fringes. Small time was good enough for us.”

 

“Yeah, I hear you,” responded Timmy in agreement. “I tell you who else to keep your distance from are those Triads. They are ruthless as sh*t. Makes all the traditions that the Five Families have look like pre-school.”

 

Russell listened to his friend speak of a world that he had never really spoke of before. The time that Russell spent in Vice City with somewhat of a clear mind, Timmy only mentioned his former life once or twice. It was something he did not talk about and Russell had no inclination to ask him about his past dealings in Liberty or even the reason why he had left after so many years. He had mentioned James Pegorino as being the last Boss that he worked for before deciding to leave for the sunny beaches of Vice City. Russell had grown more curious hearing Timmy speak about the criminal underbelly of this city. He straightened in the seat hoping that Timmy would be the one to finally bring closure to Jimmy D.’s death.

 

Russell looked straight ahead to see a long procession of stop-and-go traffic. The lights of the Algonquin Bridge in the distance shone brightly against a gray dreary morning sky, making his mind drift back to the day his parents were tragically killed in an automobile accident on their way home to Steinway. Russell remembered it being cold that day. Final exams at the prestigious Vespucci University, where he was a freshman, had already begun. Russell breezed through Biology and Political Science the day before and had a couple of days to prepare for the other two. His mom had taken the train into the city to have lunch at Fanny Crab’s with his dad. That was something they did occasionally to add a little variety to their daily routine. After lunch, she spent the rest of the day shopping for Christmas gift as the Holiday was just a few weeks away. Russell had gotten to see his mother that fateful evening. She took a cab to the University before meeting his dad at Rotterdam Tower, where he worked as an Advertising Executive. Little did he know that it would be the last time he would ever see her alive again.

 

Noticing that the conversation had dropped off, Timmy glanced over at Russell. The blank gaze had returned. His eyes were set ahead but seeing absolutely nothing. Timmy knew his friend had wondered off into the land of yester-year. The most important people from his past were his parents and Jimmy D. Timmy hated to disturb such sacred thoughts but time was nearing and Russell needed to be at his best. He reached down and lowered the radio volume and gently nudged Russell back to the world.

 

“Russi,” he said in the most sobering of tones. “You still with me?”

 

“I’m with you Timmy,” said Russell. “I’m with you all the way.”

 

“Good kid. We’re gonna find out the reason why Jimmy was killed. Don’t you worry about that. And Freddy is a good place to start.”

Russell remained quiet as they crossed the Algonquin Bridge. Steinway was home. Steinway could hold all the answers.

 

* * *

 

Marlon Bridges settled behind a yellow Infernus, waiting to enter the underground parking lot in Lancaster. The vehicles ahead inched forward, only two at a time being able to make it through the traffic light before it turned red once again. The drive from Playboy’s penthouse apartment took longer than it should have. Battling early morning traffic as well as the continuous rain showers, torrential at times, caused Marlon to be extra careful this morning. A fender-bender was the last thing he wanted to deal with as he was leaving Liberty and heading to Alderney for what he hoped would be a fresh start.

 

Marlon had severed ties with his one-time mentor and confidant, Playboy X. He had decided to leave the North Holland Hustlers weeks ago once he realized the rift between he and Playboy would never be mended no matter how hard he tried to make things right. The more Marlon attempted to get back on solid ground with Playboy, the more he resented the very thought of having to prove his loyalty. The childish tactics that Playboy used to punish Marlon were more of an insult than an admonishment for being overly ambitious. Taking his Patriot and making him ride around town in a brown Bobcat was punishment enough from Marlon’s perspective. Encroaching on the territory of more seasoned drug dealers was a mistake that he readily admitted to and agreed to cease all business dealings in those areas. Playboy saw it a little differently. He needed to assert himself. He was the boss and he wanted everyone to know he was in charge with a tight grip on his empire. Deactivating Marlon’s V.I.P. pass at Club Liberty was the final move that drove the wedge even deeper between the two. Marlon had been cut off from the inner circle; cut off from all things important to building up the crew. He had been demoted to basically an errand boy. That’s when Marlon knew it would never be the same and the time had come to set his sights on fresh new ground.

 

The traffic light turned green and Marlon signaled to turn into the entrance of the parking area. The narrow passage trailed to a steep decline on the left that led to the underground parking. Marlon gently descended into a sparsely filled open parking area. His eyes adjusted to the dim lighting as he scanned the area for his Silver Patriot. He spotted it quickly. Playboy wasn’t lying, leading him on one final errant just to toy with his ego. The boxy hulk of a vehicle sat at the far left corner near a couple of Sprunk machines. Marlon eased the Bobcat over two speed bumps and around a turn, parking next to it. He cut the engine and stayed perched behind the wheel for a moment, just realizing the impact of what he had done.

 

The guilt sudden and sharp, swept over him like the rain showers he left outside. He had dedicated four years to the Hustlers and now he was going to cut and rum like everybody else. Playboy was his friend before he became his boss and he’s leaving when perhaps Playboy needed him the most. Marlon questioned his reasons for leaving. Thoughts bounced around his mind like loose marbles. Maybe I’m wrong. Should I leave like this? Did I give X a chance to make things right? Should I go back? It’s not too late.

 

Marlon shook the judgments from his mind. He had never been rattled like this before. The decision had been made. He was moving on. Rummaging through his jacket pocket, he pulled out the keys to his Patriot. He held them up in front of his face, starring at the Hustler insignia dangling from the keyring. He pushed all questions to the back of his mind. A decision had been made and he had to believe the future in Alderney was going to be brighter than anything left for him in Liberty. Marlon pushed open the door to the hideous brown Bobcat and got out, leaving the keys in the ignition. He closed the door with more force than needed, making it echo loudly throughout the parking area. He trailed around to the back of the truck to remove the tarp that covered the very few belongings that were most dear to him. Relieved that everything remained dry and intact, Marlon unlocked the Patriot and began loading his things. The last item was a box filled with pictures of Playboy and himself during better times. Marlon quickly shuffled through a few photos, stopping at his induction ceremony held at Club Liberty four years earlier. He was happy then, filled to the brim with high hopes. Times were good. He pulled the photo from the stack and looked at it remembering the promises, the plans, and the possibilities for a good life. He never would have guessed that it would end so abruptly and on such bad terms. Marlon gently place the picture back with the others and laid the box safely inside with his other possessions. He took a deep satisfying breath and closed the back door before climbing behind the wheel.

 

The latest V.I.P. ringtone jarred Marlon back to the present. He quickly plucked his phone from his jacket pocket and answered.

 

“This Marlon.”

 

“Hey Marlon, Carter here. You still comin’ over today?"

 

“That’s the plan. Just got held up,” said Marlon, still hearing the uncertainty in his voice. “I’m gonna grab somethin’ to eat and head out.”

 

“Good. I got some people I want to introduce you to so don’t worry about droppin’ your stuff at the crib. Come straight here and I promise you won’t be disappointed. Alderney is poppin right now.”

 

“Alright Carter. I hear ya. I’ll call as soon as I hit the city limits.”

 

“Sounds good man. See you when you get here.”

 

The line disconnected and Marlon slid the phone in the dashboard compartment. He had spoken to Carter just yesterday at the S&D Diner in Northwood. Things had really moved quickly this past week.  Who could have guessed that Clarence Little and his entire crew would have been taken out, giving Dwayne Forge control of the East Holland Projects. No one saw M.O.B. throwing their support behind Dwayne. And with the Trunchez brothers murdered, control of the Triangle Club is back in Dwayne’s hands, providing him a steady flow of cash. The table had abruptly turned, leaving Playboy desperate and alone and quickly running out of options to save his collapsing empire.

 

Marlon jammed the key into the ignition. One turn and the engine roared to life. He peaked at the odometer, surprised that the number had barely changed. Marlon looked closer at the inside of his Patriot and noticed that it had been kept crisply detailed. No dust, no dirt on the floor mats, no Cluckin’ Bell food wrappers tossed carelessly on the seats. He reached over and dropped down the door to the glove compartment, finding inside a black velvet bag with a drawstring pulled tight to safe-keep its contents. Marlon loosened the string and turned the bag up, allowing a heavy gold chain to slide into the palm of his hand. He sank low in the seat, realizing that Playboy had a plan to return to him his truck and former status in the crew.

 

For weeks he sulked like a child when Playboy was trying to make moves to build the crew into something greater than it already was. He hadn’t tried to help quash the fractures in the line of command or quell the factions that had cropped up in the crew, making it almost impossible for Playboy to control what the members were doing. Now it is almost too late to do anything. Marlon said goodbye and walked away from the man that gave him a chance to be more than just a corner kid. Because of Playboy, he has a real opportunity to make it big in Alderney. Marlon knew there was no going back. He was more the problem than the solution.

 

International Funk was Marlon’s favorite radio station. He reached down to tune the radio to IF99 and circled around the lot towards the exit. There was nothing left for him in Liberty. Only memories; most were good. But promises from Carter were waiting in Alderney; a new partnership to forge a new beginning. The heavy boxy Patriot easily pulled up the steep incline to the narrow passage that took him back out to the rain-soaked street where the torrential rain had diminished to a light shower. The Star Café was a block down from the lot. They sold a tasty variety of coffee and donuts; something that Marlon needed to carry him the rest of the way to Alderney. The traffic light turned green and he pulled through the intersection, parking close to the curb near the restaurant.

 

Across the street, he noticed two men standing outside the 341 Bismarck Avenue apartment complex. One being tall and built like a semi-truck. The other was the splitting image of Dwayne Forge. Marlon had never met Dwayne but he had seen enough pictures scattered about in Playboy’s apartment to be confident that the man standing across the street was the living legend himself.  There was an aura around Dwayne that seemed to make the space surrounding him shimmer and glow. Marlon blinked but could not take his eyes off Dwayne. He remembered the pictures depicting a young, strong, vibrant man full of confidence. No matter what was happening in the picture, Dwayne had a bold steely gaze in his eyes that could shake the nerves of the strongest men. Even now at thirty-five, that look of resolution was ever present. The two men talked a while longer before the hulking man broke away and headed around the corner in the direction of the subway entrance. Marlon watched as Dwayne pulled open the door and disappeared inside the building.

A wave of anxiousness swept over Marlon as he fumbled for his phone inside the dashboard compartment. One last tribute to Playboy was the least he could do after walking away from the best thing that had ever happened to him. He quickly dialed the number and waited for an answer.

 

“Marlon. You can’t stay away playa?”

 

Still sounding antagonistic, Marlon hoped that this bit of news would calm Playboy enough to help him think more clearly.

 

“I didn’t call to argue with you X,” said Marlon trying to keep his voice steady.

 

“Well get to it then. You know I got a whole lot to do.”

 

Marlon ignored the sarcasm and spiteful tone. “I think I know where Dwayne moved to.”

 

“Oh, you think you know?  What, you got a clear mind now that you got your freedom. Leather seats feel good to your *ss? You feel sorry for Playboy so you want to throw him a bone?”

 

Tired of hearing the self-pity; Marlon cut in front of Playboy’s stream of consciousness with one last attempt to help the man that used to be on top of the world. “I saw him go inside the 341 Bismarck Avenue apartment complex just a few minutes ago. You can take it or leave it.”

 

Silence fell on the line. Marlon almost hung up the phone but was stopped by a more subdued Playboy.

 

“I’ll take it playa.”

 

“Fine X. I’ll be seein’ you.”

 

Playboy heard the line click off just as his intercom buzzed. He laid the phone on the coffee table next to his pistol and walked over to answer the call.

 

“Who is it?”

 

“It’s me, Niko.”

 

“Right on time. Come on up,” said Playboy as he tapped the button to allow Niko access to the express elevator.

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