Five-Dollar Circus: Chapter Seven

The Boss surveys her new kingdom… and strikes out at the Syndicate.


Back to Five-Dollar Circus: Contents


7. Bitch on Wheels

 

It was raining when Iggy left the building. She stopped for a moment and looked up, squinting against the needling fall. Grey sky, wet, greasy-looking tarmac, puddles with gasoline rainbows and all the colours of the animated billboards winking in them… fucking perfect. Best kind of weather. She grinned to herself and jogged across the street, heading a little way down towards the park as she looked for a ride. Rain dampened her hair, freshened her face, and pattered against the shoulders of the beat-up black leather jacket she’d borrowed from one of the guys. It was a nice jacket, though she’d called home and asked someone to bring a box of her stuff out. Just clothes and shit, not because she couldn’t buy more, but because it felt weird not having her own things around her.

Iggy supposed that was stupid, and probably a sign of her getting soft in her old age. They were just things. She’d spent a lot of her life owning jack shit, and she knew she didn’t need possessions. There was even something cool about not having them again—being free and alone, though of course that was dumb. She wasn’t alone, on account of how she was responsible for the flood of Saints now pouring in from Stilwater. Her eager reinforcements in the war she’d declared on Loren’s Syndicate, and everything he held dear.

The Saints were settling into the penthouse. Sure, the place was still a gutted wreck, but they were riding the tail of the victory, and morale was running higher than a sprinting stripper on speedballs.

Taking over a city was hardly an easy endeavour, but they had a plan for action. The first thing on the agenda was kicking Morningstar ass on every corner they found it: something Shaundi and the excited flow of Saints coming in from Stilwater were very eager to engage with.

Pierce had his own ideas, of course. He’d been talking about getting a PR spin on everything, flooding Steelport with Saints merch and getting their claws into some of the real estate the Syndicate didn’t have locked down. It was going to be a bloody, drawn-out process… not that Iggy minded that in the least.

In truth, she was looking forward to giving the Morningstar a black eye or two, but there wasn’t as much satisfaction as she’d hoped in just going after their day-to-day shit. She wanted Loren. Sure, that was going to come slow, but knowing that didn’t make waiting easier.

She had to live with it, however. No point going after that asshole before they were ready. First things first, the Saints needed to get a good foothold in Steelport. They needed to get some cashflow moving that didn’t rely on dope and hos, because they had precious little of either of those in town, at least compared to what Loren’s operation was sitting on.

Some of the crew had already announced their arrival by punching a hole in the Morningstar’s drug trade—hey, people should expect to have their product snatched if they were that sloppy about when and where their deals went down—which was a good start, but little more than a drop in the ocean. Still, those assholes let way too many people know where they operated from; once the Saints started talking to people, it had been easy to pick up tips on locations, gang fronts, old haunts that the Syndicate no longer used… the list was a long one.

To that end, Iggy was taking this morning to tool around town and see to a couple of errands, while Pierce followed up some new leads on Loren, and Shaundi… well, who the fuck knew what Shaundi was thinking. She’d gone out with a couple of the boys causing chaos for the Morningstar gang operations, and Iggy hoped that shooting a few people and blowing up a couple of the expensive-looking cars those supercilious assholes liked to drive might cheer her friend up, but there was really no way of knowing.

Whether it was survivor guilt, or anger at Iggy herself, or just plain missing the hell out of Johnny, Shaundi was still super-pissed at the entire world, and that dark mood didn’t show any signs of lifting. It worried Iggy, but she didn’t know how to help. All that touchy-feely crap wasn’t exactly her strong suit.

A little way down from the penthouse, some guy had left his Sovereign running while he hopped out to get a paper. Beautiful. Now, this was something she could do.

He let out a yell as Iggy ducked past him, and she twitched her jacket open to flash her piece, grinning at him as she jumped into the car. “Don’t be a hero, huh?”

He swore, kicked the newspaper dispenser—even thought about running after the car as she pulled away, by the look of it—but then settled on pulling out his phone and presumably calling the cops. Iggy chuckled to herself as she ramped the car through the park, gracefully overtaking a rather optimistic ice cream truck that was crawling along by the sidewalk.

She reached down to fiddle with the radio, settling on Kabron FM for some reasonable driving music. So maybe it was materialistic of her, but she missed her albums, her comfortable clothes, and all the other stuff she had back in Stilwater. This wasn’t the time to mope, though. The windshield wipers beat in time to Pitbull, and Iggy slid her palm appreciatively over the steering wheel as the Sovereign cornered with the elegance of a debutante. This was a nice car. Not her usual style, but nice all the same.

The lie of the land in town aside, she’d been talking with Pierce about the financials. He was bringing in a shitload of his stupid goddamn merchandise, plus whatever other shit they could sell, and getting the word out that the Saints were not only a new fixture in Steelport, but that they were good for business. Make that obvious, and the city’s small traders and stores would be better disposed towards dealing with them—especially the ones who were sick of the Morningstar’s protection rates, and the small-time dealers and pimps who were tired of getting squeezed. Quickest and easiest way to sow dissent, Iggy thought. She was on the lookout for real estate, too; anywhere they could set up shop.

As she wheeled the Sovereign down to the old wharf—and fuck, this place looked bleak in the rain, where everything was boarded up and abandoned—she wondered why the Morningstar had let this part of the district go to ruin.

Sure, Steelport was pretty fucking run down everywhere that wasn’t profit-friendly. Made sense. Shaundi had called this place “Bangkok’s abusive father”; there wasn’t a whole lot of community pride going into the neighbourhoods. You’d think the wharf would make money, though. Place looked full of clubs, stores… even a few small gambling places, although nothing like the big joints in New Baranec. That was probably it, Iggy decided, slowing the car to a crawl and peering out through the rain at the rows of squat, dank buildings, with their dimmed neon signs and their windows covered with plywood.

Yeah, she thought. That was it. Behind her, the fancy skyscrapers and bright city towers reared up. All the money was there… nothing left over for the fringes of town like this. Just gas stations serving the locals, a few convenience stores, and a couple of cheap arcades that had obviously lost out to the big casinos and gambling halls… along with a few clubs that had obviously seen much better days.

Iggy grinned as she crawled past the dingy, boarded-up exterior of a place called Men’zez, a little way down the block from a skeezy porn theatre. Fuck… was this the best Steelport could do for gay bars and skin flick places? The Saints could definitely do something to fix that. Hell, they should do something. It was an important mission for the good of the city. A public service or some fucking thing like that. After all, what wasn’t improved by more nude revues and peep shows?

It might at least cheer up the assholes who lived here, Iggy thought, raising her eyebrows as a passing pedestrian—some old guy wadded up in about four coats and shambling along with a bag o’ booze clutched to his chest—nearly weaved into the road, then gave her the finger even after she didn’t run him over. She sighed and drove on. The street people got a free pass from her… at least unless they really pissed her off.

Iggy kind of liked the look of the skeezy porn theatre, though. Complete with wonky lettering on the marquee outside, and a pink neon sign, it went by the moniker of The Stallion, and boasted a program including such sophisticated titles as Bottoms Up! and Hung Jury… which was enough for her to make a mental note to come down here for an evening when she had time. There was something really special about the kind of honest-to-God sleaze you got in places like this. Something intoxicating about the peeling paint and patina of years of neglect, so long as you didn’t mind sticky floors and the smell of piss in the booths.

She edged the Sovereign on, still grinning to herself. Fuck, she had the freedom to miss that shit now, didn’t she? Now she had money—correction, had had money, goddamnit—and she wasn’t anchored to putting up with the shittiest of everything the whole fucking time… hell, maybe it was okay to be nostalgic, to enjoy slumming in the worst shitholes the worst cities had to offer. Yeah. It was all okay if you knew you could go home at the end of it… back to a place with working heat and a nice big bathtub, where you could scrub off the grime, and soak away the memories of the time you’d spent drowning in it.

Iggy sucked lightly on the inside of her lip ring and pulled out her new phone, fucking with the map and the contact info Pierce had fixed up for her. This was obviously where the queer bars were, but she hadn’t seen any dyke joints. That sucked. They’d do something about that… she’d get Legal Lee working on it. Get their claws into some of these old properties, make the wharf a new hotspot. Fill it all up with trendy-as-fuck places bursting with edgy scene bitches. It would be awesome, and the whole of Steelport would wanna come party down here if the Saints opened up a club, right? They were fucking celebrities. Yeah. Get some billboards up, get the PR department to spin it. Something about urban regeneration or whatever the fucking buzzword was.

That’d teach Loren’s pretentious asshole friends. Hell, Iggy was halfway to convincing herself the guy was a bigot as well as a goddamn Belgian… but she didn’t have time to dwell on shit. She had stuff to do, and first among that stuff was introducing herself to some of the city’s local artisans.

Shaundi’s ex had given her a bunch of names and numbers, and next on Iggy’s list was Andi Dae, owner of a chop shop in Salander, not far north of the shitty apartment whatever-his-name-was had let them crash in. Sounded promising. Iggy had a few of the crew working on gigs for requested parts and cars—auto jobs were way less high profile than robbing stores, but still a good way of making cash—and she figured there was no harm in pulling her own weight. Why sit back and let everyone else do the work? Besides, she wanted to meet the people the crew were going to be working with.

She dialled the number for the Saints’ PR chick while she drove, taking one last fond look at The Stallion Theatre in the rearview mirror.

Oh, yes. They were gonna do big things down here.

~o~O~o~

It was kind of funny how the Syndicate had a hold on business in Steelport. They squeezed most of the smaller dealers and fences out—made life real uncomfortable for anyone who tried to buck their protection—but they seemed to let some people slide, like they weren’t important enough to worry about. Stupid mistake, in Iggy’s opinion.

When she finally found Andi Dae’s place, up in Salander, she was surprised by how close it was to the district’s main drag. She’d have thought the Syndicate would have locked that shit down, even though the Morningstar had less of a visible presence this far out of downtown.

After meeting with Andi and talking to her for about thirty seconds, Iggy was less perplexed. She also found herself liking the woman immensely.

“What? Pfft, don’t make me fucking laugh.” Andi wiped a grease-smeared hand on her dirty overalls, squinting in the afternoon sun that glinted off the mica in the forecourt’s paving. The rain had cleared, leaving only a few oil-streaked puddles on the asphalt. “Yeah, we get Syndicate business through here, but Salander is Decker territory. Most of those little bastards are barely old enough to drive. As long as I keep ’em in parts for their precious street racers and buff out the dents on their nice, simple automatics, we keep a live and let live policy. It’s Sunset Park the Morningstar have got sewn up. I think the only mech down there they don’t have in their pockets is Dieter, and that’s— well. That’s because nobody wants to tell Dieter he can’t do anything. He’s a fuckin’ genius with an engine, but Jesus that guy is high maintenance.”

Andi ran her still-greasy fingers through her roughly hacked bob of black hair and grinned disarmingly… partly at Iggy, and partly at the Sovereign she’d brought in.

“Nice job,” she commented, walking around the vehicle, checking out the bodywork. “I can use something like this—and not a scratch on it. Apart from that one… and that. And those.”

“Hey, it was like that when I found it,” Iggy protested. “Anyway, it’s not like it really matters, huh? It’s going to go for parts.”

Andi peered at her over her shoulder, arms folded, and smiled. “Fair point. I’ll get your money. Maybe we can talk about a few other, uh, opportunities?”

“Sure. Sounds good.”

“All righty. C’mon in, Boss.”

There was something comforting about the smell of the garage. Something deeply familiar, though Iggy couldn’t shake the feeling that there should have been some ancient-ass oldies songs playing on the distant crackle of the radio, rather than the electronica piping beneath the buzz of buffers and the clang of wrenches. Her uncle had used to play a lot of real smooth shit in the body shop, and Iggy could still remember sitting in other people’s cars, listening to him and his buddies singing along to Paul Anka. She’d never liked it all that much then… so it was stupid how, just for a moment, she missed it now.

Andi brought a couple of beers from the break room fridge, and they sat on toolboxes out back to drink them, the midday sun raising the smell of oil, gas, and grit off the asphalt. They talked for a little while, mostly about cars and other mechanics in town who were prepared to deal with the Saints, including the notoriously highly strung Dieter. Temperamental Eurotrash aside, there were a few people in town the Syndicate had managed to piss off—enough to build up some good professional links, anyway.

Iggy even flirted a bit, which Andi responded to playfully, though there was clearly no more to it than that… and that was okay. It was usually a bad idea to mix business and personal, though it wasn’t like bad ideas had ever stopped Iggy before, and the girl was cute.

“So, you think you could get me a car?” She peered inquisitively at Andi over her beer. “I mean, if I’m going to be in town a while, I need wheels. Good wheels. Like—”

“Like, full torque upgrade, maximum reinforced frame and a complete engine overhaul? Yeah, I can do that. No problem.” Andi shrugged. “What kind of model you interested in, bodywork-wise?”

Damn, this woman was good. If her work lived up to her reputation, they should definitely get her on board permanently. Iggy toyed with her beer bottle, picking at the corner of the label with her thumbnail and frowning at the scraped remnants of turquoise polish she still hadn’t cleaned off.

“I don’t know… something classic. I like those old cars, y’know? Something nice and roomy, got a bangin’ profile— what?”

Andi nodded thoughtfully. “I got a Churchill. You like that? Lowrider?”

“I’m listening.”

“Eh, I gotta strip it down and rebuild the engine anyway… been workin’ on it for a while. I could finish her off for you, easy. It’s a nice choice for the body upgrades, too—lot of a power in a car like that. I can fix the torque, get some low-profile tyres… that sound good?”

Iggy grinned widely. It sounded perfect. “Yeah. How long you need?”

“Gimme till the end of the week. I’ll call you when it’s ready. What kind of finish you want?”

“Purple,” Iggy said without hesitation. “Saints purple. You know how we flag. And I want big-ass fins, chrome trim, and a front grille I can see from space. Matte paintwork, though. I want it to be classy, you know?”

Andi grinned, and for a moment Iggy suspected that she thought a bright purple Churchill with extra-low profile tyres and bright chrome fittings was somehow less than sophisticated… but she dismissed the notion quickly. Anyway, she didn’t care what anyone else thought. It was her fucking dream car, and she deserved a little something nice, right?

“Sure thing,” Andi said, shaking her head incredulously. “Whatever you want, Boss.”

Iggy swigged her beer. Whatever I want. Yeah. Damn right.

Sometimes, it felt good to be the king.

~o~O~o~

Shaundi was late getting back to the penthouse that evening. She looked a little red-eyed, but it was hard to tell whether that was due to weed, grief, or whatever mischief she and a couple of the crew had been getting into. The fire they’d set at a Morningstar-controlled warehouse in town was a big enough blaze to make the news—three-quarters of a million worth of shit went up, by Rocco’s estimate. He was sitting in front of a large flat-screen TV that had somehow survived the carnage when Shaundi and the boys arrived, watching the report and complaining about the waste of product, while the glaziers finished up work on the big picture windows at the front of the building.

Iggy had been slouched on one of the once-white leather couches in the corner—whole fucking place looked like a crack den right now, though at least it was just about weatherproof—and she glanced up just in time to see the glower of rage on Shaundi’s face.

“Your agent called,” she said brightly, which was true. “Said you’re not answering your phone. You’re supposed to call her about the show. Something about a radio interview ahead of—”

“Fuck the show,” Shaundi snapped flatly, and stalked past everybody on her way upstairs, pausing only to toss an unloaded Krukov on one of the debris-laden tables.

Iggy raised her eyebrows, and went back to picking the remnants of the nail polish off her thumbnail. She wasn’t surprised, though this shit wasn’t like Shaundi. All right, so her fucking TV show was hardly the epitome of cerebral sophistication, but she’d worked hard on it. She’d reinvented herself for that show, poured so much effort into all of the PR and image management and… whatever other bullshit. It wasn’t Iggy’s scene. Fuck, there was a reason she left it to Pierce to handle the billboards and the merchandising and the goddamn commercials. The most she’d ever done since the Saints busted out of the Row was the TV and newspaper interviews she really couldn’t get out of, one photo shoot for a tattoo magazine… and maybe punching a couple of paparazzi. But that was like a public service or something, wasn’t it?

The point was, Iggy didn’t like watching her friend piss away all that hard work. Johnny wouldn’t have liked it either. Fuck, Johnny had loved the attention he got from the whole celebrity thing. He’d milked it for every fucking cent—every single damn thing he could put his face on. As if proving that very point, someone had stuck a Johnny Gat bobblehead on the top of the TV, and right now it was bobbing away to itself, as if Johnny was nodding sagely at the news coverage of all that burning dope.

Iggy thought about going after Shaundi, but she probably wanted to be left alone to take a hot shower and whatever, and it was still really, really hard to find the right things to say to her. Or even just anything that didn’t result in yelling.

All in all, Iggy was very glad when her phone rang, and—glancing at Legal’s number on the display—she had an excuse to wander out into the penthouse’s kitchen to forage for cold pizza and talk about the possibility of investing in some Steelport real estate.

~o~O~o~

It was close to the week’s end before there was any real movement on things with Loren. The penthouse repairs were about done, but everyone was getting twitchy, and the skirmishes between Saints and Morningstar were spilling out from the Sunset Park district right out across the whole of downtown.

That was to be expected, of course: they were pitching real battle now, and aiming to hit those fuckers right where it hurt. Pierce had been slinging deals all over the place—hustling clients and winning over new friends in the city while Iggy watched his back, as messy as that could get—and Legal was working on bringing Ultor’s property businesses into the city. For now, it was small-time shit: late-night pizza parlours that sold toppings by the baggie, roach motel apartment buildings, and of course those glorious finds down by the wharf… but it was a start. Iggy liked seeing the progress they were making, even if it was the kind that came with paperwork and more subtle manipulation than she was used to.

Yeah, she still itched to get at Loren, but they had to bide their time for that. After all, since taking the penthouse, one thing had become clear: that Belgian fuck was a ruthless asshole. All the offices in the building had been cleaned out before the party—computers wiped, paper trails obliterated, and locked key cabinets emptied of whatever they’d contained—as if, whether Loren had truly believed he’d need to blow the place or not, he’d made sure no shred of evidence remained there. It had been a calculated move, and Iggy was under no illusions: the guy had fully intended to sacrifice the building, the people in it—even his fucking clients—in order to take her crew down.

She wanted to be as sure as she could be that, when the time came to take that son of a bitch down, the Saints were ready… especially as Loren would be waiting for their next move. It almost seemed like that asshole was relishing the challenge, and that creeped Iggy out.

It was weird, really. Back in the day, when she’d first joined the crew, taking down competition had seemed so much simpler. It was “us” versus “them”, and you knew who the other guy was because he was flagging colours… and probably shooting at you. It was about turf, and about money. Okay, with some people—motherfuckers like Ben King, maybe, and like the man Julius had become by the end—it was about control and power and some fucked-up notion of respect, but the bottom line was still clear-cut.

Things weren’t clear-cut here. Nothing was simple, and nothing was easy. Phillipe fucking Loren and his fucking people—with their military-grade hardware and their unflinchingly corporate approach to crime—had the whole goddamn city on lockdown. Steelport’s PD hadn’t even bothered to roll out a couple of cop cars late on the Thursday night, when four Morningstar vehicles showed up outside the penthouse, and a bunch of Syndicate assholes started goading the crew into a fight. It could have gotten messy. As it was, a few Saints fired some rounds from the terrace, the Morningstars shot back, and then a helicopter showed up with a fucking sniper in it. Iggy wouldn’t have minded, but the bastard shot out one of the windows they’d only just had fucking repaired. She’d taken great pleasure in headshotting him from one of the bedroom windows when he leaned out of the chopper to aim. Fucking asshole.

The fact the Syndicate attack dispersed soon afterwards told her it was just Loren sizing them up. This was all cat and mouse to him… one big fucking game of Risk.

It didn’t used to be like that. Back on the Row, they weren’t generals pushing soldiers around. They were people. If you went up against a bunch of Rollerz, you knew they wanted you dead, and you knew you wanted them in pieces. It was because it was war, because it was how it was… and you fought, or you died.

All right, that was no way to live a life, and Iggy was glad the Saints had grown to the point they could get enough of a grip on Stilwater that they stopped all the craziness swallowing the city whole. A dozen gangs scratching at each other could tear a place apart, with no thought for who got caught in the crossfire. Bigger crews could move slower, easier… they could form alliances, block rivals from even getting a foothold on a place and stop the rot from ever setting in. She’d tried to do that. Made all those friendly overtures to the MCs and Chicano gangs, equalised things, extended fair offers of trade, and set up lucrative and stable operations that benefited everyone.

It wasn’t selling out. It made sense. It made sure there was still a fucking city there to fight over tomorrow. Anyway, it was one thing for crews to kick it up with each other, and one thing for any civilian stupid enough to walk into the middle of shit and too dumb to run to get hurt… but it was something else entirely when gangs started tearing a place into pieces so small that there was nothing left for anyone. You had to let a city breathe, even if you only did it so there were still people left alive to buy your shit.

Hell, maybe that had been what the Syndicate was about, at least to start with. Problem was, just glancing around Steelport said Loren’s bunch of money-grubbing fuckwads weren’t interested in balancing anything. The whole city was falling apart, and all the Morningstar were doing was squeezing the life out of the pieces.

Maybe that wasn’t Iggy’s problem… but Loren had made this personal. It was his fault. Besides, while she was mostly interested in taking Steelport from him because it was his—and she intended to take every single thing he had away, bit by bit—the more time she spent here, the more opportunities she could see.

Yes, the city was a shithole, but it was a shithole that glistened with possibilities… even if, late that Friday night, Iggy was hard-pressed to really see what was so special about the bar she was driving towards.

Pierce had wanted to meet her at a place called The Broken Shillelagh. Sounded like an Irish pub, though Iggy wasn’t entirely sure what a shillelagh was. Some kind of clover? Something a leprechaun wore under his… kilt? Whatever the fuck, man. She didn’t particularly care. Andi Dae had come through on the car, and there was something magical about driving through the sleek, neon-pricked night in her brand new purple Churchill.

The car was fucking perfect. When Andi had brought it by the penthouse, Iggy had almost proposed to her on the spot. Everything about it was beautiful, from the tips of the chrome-plated tail fins to the soft cream leather interior, and the rumbling purr of its majestically monstrous Franken-engine.

As she wound her way through the brightly lit streets, leaning on the horn and only breaking from singing along to Joe Esposito in order to yell at stupid pedestrians, Iggy felt pretty damn good.

That feeling evaporated a little when she got to the bar. It was an ugly, squat, grey building, though at least the neon sign over the door kind of explained what a shillelagh was. Some sort of… crutch, maybe? She shook her head and went inside, picking her way through the slightly sweaty, shambling crowd. Big screen TVs blared obnoxious sports commentary, and some coked out kid was partway blocking the door as he jigged obsessively in front of a video arcade game. A second glance confirmed, to Iggy’s mild horror, that it was a Saints brand game.

Johnny fucking Gat’s face stared at her from the side of the case, all bleached hair and impermeable sunglasses, and the machine bleeped and booped as a little pixel Johnny suckerpunched his way through the levels.

“Fuck,” she muttered, shaking her head.

“Hey, Boss!”

Pierce waved her over to the bar, looking surprisingly at home in this scummy little dive—especially for someone whose suit was cleaner than the wallpaper.

“This… doesn’t seem like your kind of place,” Iggy ventured, as he passed her a bottle of the local Steelport brewery swill he’d apparently had lined up and awaiting her arrival.

He grinned. “What’s to hate? The beer is cheap—and I’m the best-looking motherfucker in here.”

Iggy shook her head, casting a desultory glance around the room. He did have a point, but she wasn’t going to swell his ego by agreeing. The Johnny Gat arcade game was still going—fucking cokehead kid was good at it, she had to admit—and it was distracting as hell.

“Look,” she said, frowning at Pierce, “you may think it’s time to kick back, but I’m done toying with these bastards. I want Loren and I want him now. Where is he?”

“No idea.” He shrugged, and a ragged wave of cheers went up from some of the patrons clustered around the TV. “But, 10k says he’s hiding out in that big-ass skyscraper.”

Iggy wrinkled her nose and took a swig of her beer. She winced, mostly because actually finding the guy in the Syndicate Tower would be too fucking easy… but also because the beer tasted like strip club alleyways and damp upholstery. “Ugh. Nah, Loren’s a tactician. He’s not gonna hole up in a building that screams ‘I’m a criminal mastermind’. I need something concrete.”

“Then hit up Powder,” Pierce suggested, giving her a smug grin that said he’d had more reason to invite her down here that trying to poison her with cheap beer and the dense fug of other people’s body odour.

“Powder?” The name rang a bell. Iggy thought for a moment, then remembered happy evenings at Tee ‘n’ Ay, and the nicest ass in the world, jiggling like spring-loaded Jello on top of long, smooth legs and a pair of pale blue Pleasers. God damn, those had been good times. She raised her bottle to her lips and sighed sadly. “Eh, I don’t have time for a stripper.”

Pierce rolled his eyes. “No. Powder is a designer gun store downtown. I saw some of Loren’s thugs talking to the owner… I figure they might have records that’d help us find him.”

“Oh.” Iggy leaned back against the bar. Well, this put a different complexion on things. Also, actively tying the Morningstar to how they were distributing those fancy-ass guns of theirs would be very interesting indeed. “All right. So, you wanna go shopping?”

Pierce smiled. “My thoughts exactly.”

He held out his beer. Iggy grinned, and toasted it with hers. The glass necks chinked softly, though the sound was snatched away in the general chaos of the bar, lost beneath the laboured chatter of drunken voices, the TV commentary… and the repetitive beeping of the arcade machine.

~o~O~o~

It should really have been easy. Go to the fancy gun store, shake down some of Loren’s people, and get the goods on where he was hiding. All right, so maybe taking Shaundi along wasn’t the greatest idea, but Iggy had thought it would help her—not to mention the fact that, when information needed extracting from computers, she’d much rather have trusted the job to Shaundi than Pierce.

Powder was a big store with its own warehouse in back but, honestly, it wasn’t like the average street gang had that many guys holed up in every store or club they used as a front. Iggy had expected maybe a few Morningstar guys at the gun store, a couple of people in the office who were on Loren’s payroll… nothing crazy. Hell, there were only two punks outside the back door, wearing Morningstar colours and looking bored as they smoked by the dumpsters.

“Yeah? What about the inside, motherfucker?” Pierce protested, jostling uncertainly at her elbow.

It was dark, the wet sidewalk slicked with light rain. Neon shadows danced in puddles, and Iggy wanted this shit over and done with.

She opened her mouth to say something about crossing that bridge when they got to it, but Shaundi leaned forward and quite simply grabbed the gun out of her grasp. She stepped out of the cover afforded by the corner they were loitering behind, squeezed off two shots, then pushed the Shepherd back into Iggy’s hand.

“Put in your tampons and let’s do this.”

Shaundi marched off towards the back door without another word, leaving Pierce and Iggy to gape at each other, then scramble to follow after her.

And that was when it started to go completely fucking wrong.

Okay, so sure… maybe this whole thing wasn’t the best plan anyone had ever had in the history of anything. Powder might have looked like a high-class firearms boutique at the front but, in back, the place was a fucking armoury… and an armoury crawling with Morningstar.

The goons, Iggy could have reasonably expected. Sure, there were a lot of them, but it wasn’t anything new. Enough to get the blood pumping and the adrenaline kicking in—especially when the fucking snipers came out to play, because of course they had fucking snipers—but nothing otherwise out of the ordinary.

The fucking giant-ass freak with the mini-gun was a different matter entirely.

She didn’t stop until after the firefight was over and they’d taken the thing down to ask what it was. It looked like a— well, it looked like Andre the Giant’s big brother, after years of ‘roids and HGH and a trip to an ironmonger for a made-to-measure suit of armour.

“That big fucker was not normal,” Pierce wailed as they made it into the manager’s office, at the end of a wrought iron walkway right at the back of the warehouse. “What, was he on steroids or something?”

“Don’t know, don’t care,” Iggy lied, watching the loading bay doors below them and expecting Morningstar reinforcements at any second. “He’s dead; it doesn’t matter.”

Maybe that was a little bit true. All that really mattered was getting what they’d come for: information. It raised even more shitty questions about Loren’s outfit, though. The hell kind of operation was he running, that his place was guarded by… whatever the fuck that was? Killing it had necessitated getting it on the ground and jamming a pistol under its chin before unloading a couple of rounds right into its head… his head, or whatever. Iggy tried not to think about the semantics, or the unpleasant feeling she’d gotten from looking down into those wide, staring eyes.

“I’ll get what I can off the computer,” Shaundi said, making a beeline for the desk and terminal in the corner.

She started tapping away feverishly while Iggy and Pierce stood watch. The suspicious absence of any more Morningstar reinforcements made the Boss’s trigger finger itchy, but to her amazement they weren’t interrupted further. Loren’s people had probably assumed that big bald fucker was enough to deal with any intrusion, and Iggy liked imagining the tailspin of chaos that had probably ensued—or would do—once those bastards realised it took more than an overgrown Christmas ham with legs to stop the Saints.

“Got it!” Shaundi announced triumphantly. “There’s a whole lot of information here… schedules, invoices. We can make something of this.”

Iggy frowned down at the warehouse doors, listening for the whir of heli rotors or the roar of engines over the night’s general buzz. “Great. What about Loren?”

“Syndicate Tower.” Shaundi ripped a flash drive from the machine. “Looks like he’s holed up in there with enough guns to overthrow a small country.”

The sound of cars and shouting voices echoed outside the building, suggesting more Morningstar were on their way.

Iggy grimaced. “Seriously?”

“You owe me 10k, Boss,” Pierce observed before nodding at the bullet-pocked warehouse floor below them. “Sounds like we’re getting company. We oughta tip on outta here… fast.”

That was the best idea Iggy had heard all evening.

“Deal. Let’s get back to the crib. Then we work out how we’re going for Loren. It’s time that motherfucker got what’s coming to him.”

And he would, Iggy silently promised herself. Even if she had to drive that bomb up to the Syndicate’s front door herself… which actually wasn’t that horrible a plan. Huh.

They would need to move fast. Regroup, plan, and act quickly. It was possible, though: the Saints had thrown a lot of shit in the Syndicate’s direction since they hit Steelport, but those bastards hadn’t seen anything yet.

Loren was going to pay.

 


On to Five-Dollar Circus: Chapter Eight


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