Five-Dollar Circus: Chapter Five

Clean-up’s a bitch.


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5. We’re Going to Need a Pool Boy

 

Iggy swore under her breath as she ran through the smoke-clouded, debris-strewn penthouse, making for the roof access to the helipad. It stood to fucking reason, didn’t it? Loren had meant this. He’d wanted them to hit the building, just so he could blow them sky-fucking-high.

Well, fuck him. Saints didn’t die that easy.

She hurdled the mess by the blown-out windows—dead Morningstar and a bunch of their party guests, all covered with pieces of glass like late winter frost—and ran for the staircase. The chopper Shaundi had spotted taking off was already rising up against the glittering skyline, turning sharply as whatever asshole Morningstar was trying to ditch nosed it towards… where was he going? West?

“Fuck,” Iggy muttered, her feet slamming on the metal grating as she ran for one of the small Oppressors left on the pad.

She hadn’t flown a chopper in a while, and it wasn’t like she’d ever officially learned how… at least not in any legal sense. There was no time to familiarise herself with the details of the craft’s layout, though; she jammed her feet onto the pedals, grabbed the collective, and started to up the throttle. The rotors thunked and whirred, and Iggy gritted her teeth, chanting a small and expletive-laden prayer to the god of choppers to get this fucker into the air.

The Oppressor rose off the helipad, shuddering violently. She coaxed it forward, higher and further, her gaze fixed on the fleeing Morningstar. As soon as he realised he was being followed, he started to dip and weave, trying to shake her off amid the tangle of the city’s architecture.

“Oh, are you fucking serious?” Iggy eased the Oppressor’s cyclic forward, pushing the chopper’s acceleration as she tried to follow the asshole ahead of her… ideally without crashing into anything. “¡Pinche pendejo!

Steelport was pretty from the air, though. She couldn’t fail to notice that, even while she was concentrating on not falling out of the sky. The downtown area prickled with big-ass skyscrapers—some modern, some that regal-looking old-style kind—and the night was alive with so many lights. Billboards littered everything, and hoardings consumed whole sides of some buildings, the brightly coloured, flickering images blending in a seedy kaleidoscope that promised ass, violence, and as much party as you could handle.

Iggy was pretty sure, if she lived long enough, she was going to like this town.

“Boss,” Shaundi’s voice crackled urgently in her ear. “You know where that guy’s going?”

Iggy curled her lip. The thudding whir of the rotors was deafening, though she was still riding the high that had come with taking the penthouse. Everything tasted of sweat and blood, and her skin itched with the promise of victory. She wouldn’t even feel the bruises until later.

“Working on it,” she said, raising her voice enough to be heard above the chopper. “You got that place cleaned up yet, Shaundi?”

“What do I look like, the damn maid?”

Iggy grinned, kicking the chopper to the left a little too hard to stay on the Morningstar’s tail. She glanced at the torque gauge and grimaced, forcing herself to ease back.

“Hey, Shaundi… I know you’re pissed off at life right now, but do you have to take everything so literal?”

The sound of Shaundi grumbling in her ear made Iggy’s smile widen even further.

“We’re sitting on a bomb here, and you’re making jokes?”

“See, there you go again!”

Iggy squinted as the Morningstar chopper headed out across the river, making for Stanfield. That stood to reason: the wharves and warehouses had plenty of places to land and hide, and they already knew Loren’s people had operations there. Shaundi’s ex’s buddy said they shifted supplies through a moving company based in that part of town… a company Iggy already had on her shit list.

An alarm bleeped on the Oppressor’s controls, and she winced, trying to keep the chopper straight as she bore down on the fleeing Morningstar. She wasn’t going to get anything ticked off that list if this fucking thing ditched on her, and she hadn’t got a clue what the damn gauges were telling her.

¡Chinga!” She pulled up on the cyclic, working the pedals and wishing Pierce had been here to fly the fucking thing, because this was his deal, not hers. “¡No mames! ¿Qué coño hago ahora?”

“Boss?” Shaundi crackled in her ear again, sounding worried. “You got him?

“Working on it!” Iggy snapped, as the Oppressor dipped and juddered, taking her dangerously close to a couple of rooftops. “He’s coming in on a warehouse by the docks. Don’t worry, I got this.”

“Yeah, well, these things are on a coded timer. We got less than ten minutes, and I can’t get everybody out!”

Iggy gritted her teeth hard enough to make her jaw ache. The Morningstar chopper had landed; all she had to do was come down on the same roof, ideally without anything bursting into flames. “Okay, okay, I’ll get the fucking code.”

“Nope, no codes. Just four wires: red, green, blue, and black.”

Shaundi sounded amazingly calm for someone about to be blown to bits, though Iggy knew her well enough to hear the fractures in her composure. She clamped down hard on every impulse she had to feel scared or panicked, or to think about what might happen in the next ten minutes. That was how you got through this shit: no thinking, just doing. After all, if she fucked this up, there was no next ten minutes, not for her, and not for her crew.

Iggy could already see figures on the rooftop and—as she brought the Oppressor in overhead, easing past the ranks of power lines and the old coolant towers of disused factories—the telltale pinging noises of bullets hitting the chopper’s underside let her know just how pleased they were to see her.

“You’re getting caught up in details, Shaundi,” she said, baring her teeth in a grim smile. “The point is, I’ll find out how to disarm the fucking bomb. Okay?”

“Well, if you could hurry it up—”

¡Oye! On it!”

Iggy pulled the second-hand Kobra out of her new shoulder holster and picked off the nearest asshole with a gun and an attitude problem. As soon as she got close enough to the roof, bailing out of the Oppressor seemed easier than landing it, and had the added bonus of making the Morningstar panic like fucking children. It was nice of a couple of them to break her fall.

She rolled away—badly winded but with no time to worry about the fact she couldn’t breathe—and part-crawled, part-scrambled the rest of the way to the access door, glad of the Kevlar vest and joint supports she wore beneath her clothes. The chopper’s impact into the roof shook everything, shook her fucking teeth in her head, and Iggy was still half-deaf when she made it into the interior of the warehouse. Fucking place was a mess… fucking full of Morningstar, too. She assumed that’s what they were. Fuckers shot at her, anyway.

“I don’t have time for this shit,” Iggy panted, ducking behind a stack of crates to reload her poor, abused Kobra.

One good thing about the gun was its lightness; she’d stuck with it tonight for that reason, and it made for quick shooting as she took the Morningstar out, one by one. Not as clean as she’d have liked, but fast, and that mattered—especially after she felt the swift, searing sting of a shot graze her left arm. Fuck it… the jacket was new, too. Iggy shot the perpetrator—an Asian woman with a .22—in the throat by way of compensation, then sprinted past the prone bodies in pursuit of the fleeing lieutenant.

They weren’t all dead, but hopefully none of the ones that were still alive were as tough, or as crazy, as Johnny. In Iggy’s experience, the thing about putting bullets in people was that, even if you didn’t take them out completely on the first shot, then—unless all you scored was a minor flesh wound or a quick scrape—they either had to be really pissed or paid an awful lot of money to get up again and let you take a second. He was the only guy she’d ever seen try to shake off getting seriously shot, and the only one halfway crazy enough to almost manage it. Most bangers were either smart enough to stay down, or angry enough that they didn’t care if they died. Blood in, blood out… all that shit.

Iggy’s lips thinned as she thought about Gat, and his face was in front of her as she raced down the metal staircase after the Morningstar asshole. He was making for the lower floors of the warehouse; she guessed they had cargo down there, maybe cars, too. Somewhere in the building, a fire alarm was going off… probably something to do with the chopper she’d crashed into their roof, Iggy supposed. Some people were so fucking sensitive.

She guessed Johnny would’ve laughed. She could imagine it: every little detail of his face, the stink of his cologne, his stupid motherfucking hair… the sound of his voice. She rounded the last part of the stairs and jumped over the railing, tackling the Morningstar lieutenant just before he reached a set of metal doors that presumably led down to street level.

Iggy landed on him from behind, and he cried out as something beneath her made a cracking noise. She dragged herself up—dragged him up with her—giving him a little smack across the cheekbone with the butt of her pistol, just so he knew she was there.

She yelled at him to tell her how to defuse the bomb… or thought she did. What came out, muffled and echoing in the dank, brick-lined corridor, was something garbled and wordless. She realised how deaf she still was, and how fucking hard it was to breathe. He stared at her—wide-eyed, sweaty, blood trickling from a cut on his mouth—and, for a second, the guy looked like he was going to tell her to go to hell. Iggy pre-empted that very unwise idea by grabbing his neck and rushing him back into the nearest wall, slamming him so hard it knocked the breath from both of them. She brought the Kobra up to his face while his mouth was still open, the barrel of the gun directly level with his nose.

“Tell me how to stop the bomb, or I’ll put a bullet in your fucking head!”

It occurred to her in the moment that followed, that—life being the unfair, ironic, cruel torrent of shit it usually was—she had no actual guarantee this asshole even knew about the bomb, much less how to defuse it. Iggy felt a bitter smile creeping over her face at that thought: something halfway between amusement and outright fucked-up horror, because this whole thing could have been a big fucking waste of time. She guessed the grimace made her look that little bit scarier, because the Morningstar’s throat bobbed in her grip.

“The r-red wire,” he choked out. “Cut the red wire!”

“Huh.” Iggy relaxed her fingers a little bit, taking the gun off him long enough to get Shaundi back on the line. Who knew? She’d always thought that shit was just for the movies. “Shaundi?”

“Yeah, Boss?”

“Shaundi, cut the red one.”

The lieutenant drooped against the wall, turning a little limp as Iggy listened to Shaundi relay the instructions… and not be blown up. Relief hammered in her chest alongside the adrenaline; she wouldn’t have put it past one of Loren’s assholes to lie, just to see them all burn.

“Damn it,” Shaundi breathed in her ear, her voice a little shaky with the sudden release of tension. “I lost the fucking bet.”

Iggy let out a breath and, this time, her smile was genuine. “I’ll be back soon,” she promised, foregoing another dig about the cleanup.

The Morningstar lieutenant was too smart to have tried to move. He watched her with wide eyes, his lips slackly parted and his chest rising and falling with short, rapid breaths.

Iggy tilted her head to the side, giving him a long, slow look. She could feel his pulse humming under her hand, his throat warm through the leather of her glove. It got even faster when she pressed the Kobra’s muzzle to his forehead, and she smelled the acrid tang of piss wafting up from between them. He got halfway through “please, don’t” before she pulled the trigger, the impact of the shot reverberating up her arm.

She stepped back, letting the body fall and wiping her left hand on her pants. Everything still sounded kind of muffled, and the fire alarm was still blaring somewhere in the building. The meat-and-copper smell of blood crawled into her nose and throat, mixing with the burn of cordite, and she wiped the back of her gun hand across her face.

All that was left was to find out where the fuck she was, and how the fuck to get back to the penthouse.

~o~O~o~

Getting out of the warehouse wasn’t that hard, despite the fire trucks and police cars that had shown up. The place seemed to be mostly to do with distribution—electronics, judging by the half-packed trucks in the bays at the side of the building—so presumably either a front for whatever else the Morningstar moved through here, or somewhere to hide their profits.

A handful of night-shift workers were around outside the open bays, mostly staring up at the roof and filming the burning carcass of the Oppressor on their phones, which was annoying the firefighters who were still trying to cordon off the area. A few cops had shown up; the on-site security guard was talking to them near one of the open bay doors.

Iggy knew what she must look like: limping, smoke-streaked, spattered with blood and with a bullet tear in her sleeve, there was no way she’d get past those assholes, and she really didn’t want to have to shoot her way out. She didn’t have the ammo for it, or the energy. She snuck round to the rear of the warehouse and slipped out of a side door, finding her way to a small parking lot.

Somebody had thoughtfully left a pretty nice Estrada parked near the wall. Iggy tugged off her gloves, holding them in her teeth as she crouched over the bike, groping for the ignition wiring under the handlebars. She yanked the plastic caps apart and pulled the wires free, her fingers feeling thick and clumsy now the immediate rush of adrenaline was starting to wear off.

Vamos nena,” she muttered, the words muffled by her gloves as she bent and coaxed the wires into different connections, teasing them painstakingly and waiting, praying, for that telltale little click from the engine. “¡Ay, vamos! ¡Pinche chingadera! Vamos….”

Finally, the Estrada lit up. Iggy let out a squeal of glee and pressed the ignition button, revelling in the thick purr of the engine turning over. She slung herself into the saddle, kicked the bike into gear, and rode out of the lot, giving the emergency services a nice, wide berth.

The ride back to the penthouse took fucking forever, mostly because she had to keep stopping to check the GPS map on her phone, and partly because she suddenly felt so goddamn tired. It had its pleasant moments, though… she liked feeling the cool night air on her face, with its slightly gritty, greasy texture, and she liked the way the lights from cars and buildings smeared themselves against the darkness. Everything mixed up, twirled together in the night and—for the first time in a long while—Iggy felt free. Alone, beholden to no one and constrained by nothing… except maybe the nagging pains gnawing at her body, and the ever-growing compulsion to fall over and sleep for a week.

It was late by the time she got back, but the centre of the downtown district was still lit up like some great, glittering carnival. Animated billboards twinkled, streetlights bathed everything in an artificial yellowish glow that made the sidewalk look almost chalky, and distant music drifted on the air.

The Saints’ new crib was still a fucking mess, though the worst of it—except for the wrecked cars abandoned in the brick-paved forecourt—wasn’t visible from the roadside. Iggy wasn’t sure how the crew had handled the cops… presumably there had been cops. She’d seen a couple of patrol cars shortly before she went for the chopper, but there had been a refreshing lack of SWAT teams and assholes with bullhorns. She guessed Loren either didn’t pay big enough kickbacks for Steelport’s PD to get involved in his turf wars, or that he paid sufficient to make sure they didn’t.

Whatever. The important thing was that right now, right at this very second, it was quiet. No Morningstar—they must have retreated to lick their wounds—no cops, no TV people, and nobody else hanging around. The building looked secure, and that was a start.

Iggy left the Estrada outside, by one of the totalled Infuegos, then picked her way through the mangled doors and into the building’s foyer. The lights still worked; that was something.

“Hey, Boss.”

Three Saints sat behind the bullet-pocked porter’s desk, a couple of beers and a few takeout cartons in front of them. One of them—a young black guy with thick dreads; his face was familiar, but Iggy wasn’t sure of his name—raised his beer to her in a salute.

“You kicked ass, Boss. Lemme buzz you up.”

Iggy managed a weary smile and a wave of her hand. She was pretty certain she’d been at the kid’s canonisation, maybe about three months ago. One of Pierce’s new prospects from Stilwater U. She’d been uncertain about tapping the student body for recruits, but with the Saints being a high-powered brand and all that shit now, it was hard to keep the little bastards out. She racked her brain for his name. She remembered him—nice jab and a good left hook—and it would be fucking embarrassing if she couldn’t put a name to the fists, or the face.

Fuck, she was their leader, and tonight of all nights…! She’d asked them to bleed and die for the crew. Least she could do was remember who the fuck they were.

“Thanks, uh— Chris,” Iggy said, managing to keep the note of jubilant relief out of her voice as her memory finally clicked into gear. She nodded at the other two, managing to get away with another smile and a loose “’sup?”

The kid looked appallingly thrilled that she knew who he was, and grinned widely as he punched in the access code that would let her upstairs. Iggy got herself to the elevator and leaned against its rear wall as the doors swished shut. There were ricochet marks on the interior, and a couple of bloodstains on the floor, but she was too tired to notice them with more than a passing glance.

~o~O~o~

Upstairs, everything was chaotic. There was a strange division between the total devastation—the broken glass, bloodstains, bullet holes, wrecked furniture and mangled bits of debris—and the members of the Row who now occupied the building. They were taking the chance to rest, to kick back and seem surprisingly calm amid all this carnage.

Most of the salvageable furniture had Saints sitting on it, plenty of them patched up with dressings and bandages, and plenty more either grabbing a few minutes’ sleep, or nursing something to eat or drink. A strong smell of fried rice permeated the penthouse, slightly at odds with the lingering stink of smoke and death.

“’Bout time you showed up, Boss!”

Iggy looked up at the sound of Pierce’s voice, and shook her head incredulously as he crossed the ravaged lounge to greet her. She would never work out how the fuck he kept that white suit of his clean when everything around him was turning to shit… but he did.

She grabbed his outstretched hand, bumped in for a brief hug, and winced when he patted her arm.

“I gotta admit,” she said, waving away his look of concern, “you picked a pretty nice place for the crew. What’s the damage?”

Pierce’s mouth twisted ruefully. “We got four in the hospital, three in the morgue.”

Iggy winced. “Shit.”

Sure, compared to how tonight could have gone down, those were good numbers, but that didn’t make much difference to the people whose numbers they were.

“Yeah.” Pierce nodded solemnly, then cast a glance around the suite. “Loren lost a shitload more, though. I think we put a major crimp on his plan… showed him we ain’t gon’ take that shit.”

Iggy let out a slow breath, surveying the damaged room and looking out of the broken windows to the roof terrace beyond. The guys had obviously been busy cleaning up: there was a lot less broken glass around, and the bodies had been removed… except for a couple still on the terrace, and one that appeared to be floating in the rooftop pool. Iggy frowned as she watched two Saints trying to fish it out with a pool-cleaning net. It wasn’t going well. Probably caught on something.

“Now’d be a good time to turn the screws on Loren,” Pierce added, lowering his voice. “We won this one. I say we dig in here, start fuckin’ things up for the Morningstar big time.”

Iggy nodded. “Yeah. Let the crew get over this first, though. And make sure this place is locked down, in case Loren’s people try to take it back. We’re gonna need to fix up the mess… get a glazier, locksmith… uh, I think we’re going to need a pool boy, too.”

He followed her gaze to where the two Saints were still trying to get the corpse out of the water. “Huh. Yeah, there is that.”

“Pierce, about the bodies…?”

“It’s under control,” he assured her, shaking his head. “Cleanup’s a bitch on this one, but we got the team from Stilwater on board. This time tomorrow, everything’s going to be done; nothing for anyone to trace to us. We’ll get this place fixed up, make sure everything’s clean… then we can get to work.”

“All right. Sounds good.”

He smiled mirthlessly. “Yeah. Might calm Shaundi down a little bit, too. Hell, you’d think the chance to kill a whole bunch of Morningstar would have cheered her up.”

Iggy raised an eyebrow. “Lemme guess. She’s still pissed we don’t have Loren?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Ugh… me too, but come on….” Iggy shook her head wearily, but was distracted from any further complaint by movement on the other side of the lounge. “Uh, what the fuck…?”

A handful of girls in torn fishnets and dishevelled skimpy outfits, covered with borrowed Saints jackets, were sharing a beer near the wet bar. They looked like strippers. One had a line of butterfly stitches down the side of her forehead, and another had her arm in a sling.

Pierce grinned. “Ah. That’s Ambra, Charmienne, Alice, and Sherry.”

“Strippers?” Iggy enquired, eyeing him suspiciously.

“Hey! I didn’t hire ’em. They came with the party. Ex-Morningstar girls… they suffered a little, uh, crisis of allegiance when they realised their employer was prepared to blow their asses up. Asked if they could stay. I said you’d decide.”

Iggy groaned quietly. “We have strippers claiming asylum. Great.”

Pierce gave her a reproachful look. “They’ve got information about Morningstar’s operations. All the shit on the strip joints and sex clubs in town. That’s useful, right? And Charmienne is a med student. Been helping us patch up the boys. She’s the redhead,” he added helpfully, nodding toward the girls.

“A med student,” Iggy echoed dumbly. Well, that was useful.

As if on cue, the girls turned to look in her direction, waving and smiling nervously. Iggy tried to pretend that all those long legs and garter belts weren’t distracting, but she was too tired and too sore to do much more than notice them with passing approval.

“Did Legal get here yet?” she asked Pierce, nodding at the strippers.

“Yeah. Whole board’ll be ready to talk in the morning. We got the information you wanted, we got maps, and we got plans. Don’t worry, Boss. We’re gonna get this shit fixed.”

“Good.” Iggy reached up and carefully started to unfasten her jacket. “In that case, I’m going to get changed and get some fucking sleep. We got hot water? Wait, don’t answer that. Do I have a fucking bed?”

Pierce grinned. “Yes, and yes. C’mon. I’ll show you.”

Iggy followed him. The place was huge; corridors hung with paintings, rooms running off of rooms, and dual stairways leading up to a number of bedrooms.

“Fuck is this shit?” she asked, jerking a thumb at a particularly obnoxious canvas on the wall, which seemed to be nothing more than smears of pink and green paint.

“Looks like Loren’s got a thing for modern art,” Pierce said, shrugging. “Probably expensive.”

Iggy wrinkled her nose. “Let’s hock it. We need the money. Gotta do something about all the fucking pink in here anyway… remind me to get someone on that tomorrow. Just… hock all that shit. We got a good art guy?”

“Devon,” Pierce said after a moment’s thought, showing her into a large bedroom that only had a couple of bullet holes in the door. “He could probably do it. I’ll call him. Here you go, Boss. All yours.”

Iggy glanced appreciatively around the room. “Nice.”

Everything was big, plush… comfortable. The walls were neutral, and the bed was the kind she could sink into and stay in for a week. She was vaguely aware of other shit, like a TV and a private bathroom, and more shitty artwork on the walls, but these observations didn’t figure much next to the very appealing sight of the immense, soft bed.

“You want me to send the med student up?” Pierce asked innocently, raising his brows.

Iggy snorted. “I’m tired, you asshole… though I could use a hand with this.” She stretched her arm tentatively, eyeing the tear in her jacket about an inch above her elbow. She hadn’t looked at the wound yet, but she could feel dried blood gluing the sleeve to her skin.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Pierce said with a knowing grin, as he retreated back into the hallway.

Iggy kicked teasingly at his heels as he went and, with the door safely closed, she started to undress. Everything hurt, and every layer of clothing seemed to shed some shred of protection with it. By the time she’d peeled off her ruined jacket and got down to the Kevlar vest and neoprene elbow pads under her T-shirt, she felt vulnerable and weak. Filling the bathroom sink with hot water and sponging away the worst of the mess helped. The graze on her arm wasn’t that bad: just a little nick in the flesh. She’d been fucking lucky, once again. It would heal. It would scar, but it would heal… and Iggy had plenty of scars.

She peered groggily at herself in the mirror—the whole bathroom was very sleek, very modern, all brushed aluminium and sharp angles, with soft lighting—and squinted at the small twin scars on her chin and upper lip. They’d faded over the years. Shit did. You bled, you healed, and you let the marks settle.

The bathroom cabinet had fuck all in it that was useful. Not even a band-aid, just q-tips and makeup. Made her kind of wonder who used this building, but the thoughts weren’t that urgent.

Iggy grumbled to herself as she snatched up a towel and—at the sound of a soft knock on her new bedroom door—stomped over to find Pierce had indeed sent up the stripping med student who went by Charmienne. She was stunning: dark auburn hair and brown eyes, lightly tanned skin and curves so dangerous they should have had guard rails.

Iggy fought the urge to go downstairs and shoot Pierce in the nuts. Any other night—any other fucking night at all—and she’d have taken this opportunity with both hands, and then probably a variety of other ways too. Right now, even the thought exhausted her.

Charmienne smiled sweetly and held up a small first aid kit in a green box. “I’m running low on a few things, but I have Tylenol and antiseptic. You need me to look that over?”

Iggy glanced down at her arm. She still had her pants on, but she’d stripped the top half down to her bra. The other woman’s very pretty eyes were lingering on her ink and, even through the fatigue, that did give Iggy a little kick of pride and, just maybe, the slightest twinge of interest.

Ah, fuck it. What the hell? She cracked a smile and jerked her head towards the room’s opulent interior.

“Yeah… if you want to, mija. I can always stand a little medical attention.”

 


On to Five-Dollar Circus: Chapter Six


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