Five-Dollar Circus: Chapter Two

The Boss arrives in Steelport, and she’s pissed.

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The entire fucking apartment stunk of pot. The smell of it was everywhere, ingrained into the curtains, the rugs, the furniture… and, speaking of furniture, some of the stains on that couch were pretty damn nasty.

Actually, the whole place was nasty. It was dingy and damp, with plaster flaking off the walls and the intensely lived-in feel that a serious stoner’s crib always had, because they did fucking nothing with their time except sit amid the piles of crap and get lit. Empty pizza boxes and takeout cartons were piled up next to the door, but despite the mess and decay Iggy hadn’t seen any roaches. This didn’t surprise her. Even motherfuckin’ bugs had some standards.

She supposed it wouldn’t matter. They shouldn’t have to crash here long. She just needed to wait for the cavalry to arrive from Stilwater, and then she could work out what her next move was going to be and, more importantly, exactly how she was going to rip out Phillipe Loren’s fucking throat.

Maybe it would have been smart to use this time to lick her wounds and get her head clear, but she couldn’t even think about resting. The past few days had jolted her badly, and she wasn’t down from the shock yet.

It didn’t matter that she was supposed to be the Boss. You could be the rawest motherfucker on the block, you could be stone-cold twenty-four-seven, and there were still some things that bit you in the ass the minute you had time to stop and realise they were more than just a bad dream. Grief was one of those things. Grief, and loss, and anger and… fuck, how had it come to this?

It had started with the bank job going bad. Iggy couldn’t believe that had happened. How had she not known what she was taking the crew into?

She’d been arrogant. Stupid. Complacent. The Saints fucking owned Stilwater… it had never even occurred to her that some other bunch of assholes would try to encroach on her town. Loren’s Syndicate had some fucking nerve, she had to admit. First the set-up at the bank, and payrolling the damn cops—outbidding the Saints on their own fucking protection! Jesus!—and man, she had to admit that there was some serious money involved here.

She supposed, as the Saints had grown in numbers and strength, she should have been thinking about where they’d go next. It wasn’t surprising that they’d run up against another outfit that was bigger and better funded than them—hell, Iggy had never been naïve enough to believe the Saints were the first or only crew who’d realised how lucrative big business could be, and she’d always known the world was bigger than Stilwater—but she hadn’t expected this, and she hadn’t expected it now… and that made her so fucking mad.

Loren’s people had got the drop on her. Big time. They’d made her look weak, stupid… and she had been. It was her fault. She should have seen it. She should have been ready. You always had to be ready in this life. She knew that. It was the first thing she’d learned back on the Row, and she’d had the lesson again and again over the years. If you weren’t ready, if you didn’t stay ready, bad shit happened.

She should have known.

Fuck it, if she hadn’t been so focused on all that shit about “brand awareness” and “marketing platforms”, screwing cash out of T-shirt designs and comic books and that motherfucking movie, maybe—just maybe—Johnny would still be alive.

Iggy hated the way her thoughts were spinning. She scowled and swung her feet off the rickety dinette table on which they were currently resting, leaving the Kobra pistol she’d taken from one of Loren’s men laying on the stained surface. Her scuffed combat boots hit the floorboards with a thud, and she pushed herself out of the worn wooden chair, pacing irritably across the dirty floor. The knuckles of her right hand—the one with “sink” inked across it in sea-green serif capitals—were bloody and painful, though she had accrued enough bumps and scrapes from the all-out fuckery that had happened this week that she could ignore this particular pain among pains. She should probably stop trying to take her frustrations out on inanimate objects, though. Hitting the ATM machine had been painful, and she wasn’t sure if she could catch something from punching through the rotting drywall in this place.

At least the hole she’d made in the wall near the front door wasn’t exactly ruining the apartment’s immaculate décor. Nothing in Shaundi’s ex’s place (what was his name again? Timmy or Jimmy or whatever the fuck…) looked as if it worked properly. Hell, nothing even looked halfway to hygienic. The kitchen was both tiny and disgusting, with doors hanging off the cabinets and a microwave in which it appeared that somebody might have tried to nuke a turd. The bathroom was enough to convince Iggy that the toilet seat would either give her hepatitis or possibly rabies, and she was going fucking stir crazy stuck in here, with nothing to stare at but the flickering TV or the peeling wallpaper that looked like it belonged in a retirement home.

She was going fucking crazy… and Johnny was dead.

It didn’t seem real. Or, rather, it seemed too real, like the kind of nightmare where you were stuck in one place and couldn’t get away from the monster coming towards you, even though you knew it was going to fuck you up when it got there.

Johnny had been right, though, hadn’t he? What he’d said about the Saints’ name meaning more than body spray and ass-tasting energy drink. She knew that. She’d known it from the beginning, but she hadn’t acted on it. All of this was her own damn fault. She’d let them get caught up in it, because she’d always been too eager to make a quick buck when she could—hell, you never knew if the chance would be there tomorrow—and, even if Iggy hadn’t liked the corporate shit they bought into, she had let the crew do it. She’d signed off on it… didn’t think it would be all that bad, as long as no one expected her to pose for a magazine or do any fucking commercials.

Well, it hadn’t all been one big laugh, had it? They’d made themselves look soft, like a bunch of pussies. And maybe they were. After all, what the fuck use was the shitload of money their brand raked in if the crew couldn’t stand up for themselves when they were challenged?

Iggy let a long, hard breath out between her teeth and leaned her head back, glowering at the cracks in the yellowed ceiling. The worst thing—aside from what had happened with Johnny—was how fucking effective the Syndicate had been in bringing the fight to the Saints’ door. If they had just been quietly trying to muscle in on Stilwater, it wouldn’t have been so bad… but that didn’t seem like Loren’s style.

No. Getting the Saints’ Boss thrown in jail, then fucking kidnapping her—that was just an excessively rude introduction, and Iggy was planning on extracting an inventive revenge. For that, and for Johnny.

She just wasn’t sure how the fuck that was going to work right now.

After the fight on Loren’s plane, after… what happened… she and Shaundi had bailed out, and they’d wound up on the northeastern side of Steelport, maybe a little less than two miles from the airport, at about five in the fucking morning. They’d had to walk for a quarter of an hour before they could find a car to boost that actually had all its wheels, and hadn’t already been lit on fire.

This city was a fucking dump. Iggy could see why Loren wanted in on Stilwater’s action—if it had ever really been about that, instead of him just wanting to smack the Saints down before they rose too high.

Shaundi’s ex (Iggy was almost certain his name was Jimmy, or maybe Simon. Or was it Steve?) had greeted them with the unflappable calmness of the truly high, and provided them with a bag of Cheetos and the use of his phone, since neither of them had ever gotten theirs back after the afternoon they spent in jail. And that was another fucking wonderful thing… Stilwater’s finest still had her goddamn cell phone and her personal effects, thanks to Loren’s people smuggling them out of custody—if you could call it “smuggling” when a bunch of assholes just showed up and walked you out of the back door, while the cops smiled and looked the other way.

Iggy was pissed about her stuff, though. Phone, wallet, nearly two grand in cash she was certain she wouldn’t see again, her favourite .45 Shepherd (oops, that was a concealed carrying charge on top of grand larceny, and by now probably also skipping custody… like it mattered), and a cocktail napkin with a really hot girl’s number on it. Fuckin’ cops. She was going to have to get a hold of Troy when she got back to Stilwater, and have a serious fucking talk. Maybe one that involved her foot connecting with his balls. Repeatedly.

The first thing Iggy had done was call Pierce and tell him about Johnny, and the rows of zeros on their bank balance. It was the most difficult fucking phone call of her life, and it had got undeniably worse when she found out what was happening back in Stilwater.

Pierce knew about the money situation. Somehow—who the fuck knew how—the Saints’ bank accounts had been hacked. The money was gone. All the fucking money… every liquid asset, everything from the Ultor accounts they could get to, and the funds from every single legitimate enterprise to which the crew was tied. Pierce and the legal team were trying their hardest to keep it under wraps for now, but the truth was unavoidable, and it was going to cause a fucking meltdown when it got out. The entire accounts department—headed by Rocco and a couple of the boys who used to run the numbers game in town—were collectively shitting themselves, and nobody knew how to fix it.

The way things looked this morning, not a single member of the Row had two quarters left to their name, and while the Syndicate had neither claimed responsibility nor signed their handiwork, Iggy very much doubted that it could be anybody’s fault but Loren’s.

That was the point at which she had punched a hole in the wall, though Shaundi’s ex hadn’t seem to mind too much about it. Shaundi was outraged and pissed about the money when Iggy explained, but then more outraged and more pissed that they were talking about money when Johnny was dead. And that was the point at which Shaundi and… Simon, or Gary, or Jose or whoever the fuck he was had gone out for a while, on the pretext of getting some food, while Iggy stayed here and waited for the cavalry.

The reality of it was that Shaundi was having a hard time even looking at her right now, much less talking, and Iggy couldn’t blame her. She’d been right, too: Gat couldn’t even drive stick. He should never have been in that cockpit, and Iggy should never have let him try to play the hero in the first place. He fucking sucked at it. And yet, she’d somehow never believed it would kill him in the end.

“¡Ay, chingalo!” Iggy snarled, turning abruptly as her angry pacing led her to the unused fireplace at the end of the room. It smelled dusty, and damp was crawling up the wallpaper in the corner beside it.

She cussed a little more under her breath—not that it helped her feel better—and crossed to the small, grimy window that looked out onto the parking lot behind the building and, beyond that, the blocky, grey shapes of Steelport.

Needless to say, the window didn’t budge when she tried to open it. Fucking Christ… did nothing at all work in this place? Iggy smacked the side of her fist against the window frame, but the only thing that did was dislodge a few chips of flaking paint. She let out a growl of frustration and turned to glare at the empty room. An ugly lamp with an orange-and-brown shade stood on the coffee table, next to a couple of baggies of weed and an empty pizza box that smelled like it was about a week old. Why did everything here gotta smell so fucking bad?

Iggy grabbed the lamp, yanking the cord out of the wall, and hurled it at the window. Glass shattered out into the smoggy morning, making a pretty, punchy kind of noise, and leaving a jagged hole in the wooden window frame. A shard of glass dropped off the intact upper portion of the pane like an afterthought, and tinkled onto the sill before bouncing down to the lot below.

Iggy moved to the broken window and breathed in deeply. You couldn’t really call the air fresh—it smelled of grit and exhaust fumes, with a hint of fried onions and grease and a vague waft of piss from the alley below—but at least it wasn’t so stagnant.

She looked out at the city’s bristling shapes, and listened to the thrumming roar of the traffic. It didn’t calm her down much, but it gave her something to focus on.

The way she saw it, she had two choices. Pierce and a few of the crew would be here soon to pick her and Shaundi up, and make sure the journey home didn’t wind up with any more crazy shit happening. She could go back to Stilwater with them and try to shore up the damage Loren’s people had done… talk to Legal Lee about dealing with the banks, and see Rocco and the other guys about getting some money moving before the Saints’ cashflow problem either became public knowledge, or caused them the kind of issues that would occur if bad motherfuckers who expected to be paid on time were not paid on time. Of course, she’d come back for Loren. She wanted that to be special.

On the other hand… did she have time? Was that French fuck—oh, no, right: Belgian fuck—planning to hit them while they were down? It seemed logical. It was what Iggy would have done, if she’d been in a position to financially cripple her rivals before blowing their asses up. Shit, wouldn’t that have been something? There had been times—before the sponsorship deals and the corporate takeovers—when the Saints could really have used the money.

Iggy snorted softly to herself, still leaning on the windowsill. She felt a little cold; all she had on was a sleeveless tee and a pair of unflattering skinnies, which was what she’d been wearing under the stupid Johnny Gat mascot costume she’d donned for the ill-fated bank robbery. Worst idea ever. Worst idea of Johnny’s, actually. Asshole. Fucking asshole, leaving them like this. If she was lucky, Pierce would have had the common sense to grab a change of clothes for both her and Shaundi on his way, although the words “Pierce” and “common sense” did not necessarily sit well together in a sentence.

Her watch had been broken at some point during the fight on the plane. Iggy glanced down at its slim silver band, a line of sleek paleness against her tan skin. No point keeping it on now, she decided, and tugged it off. She tossed it out of the broken window, not listening to hear it fall, and she let her hand rest for a few moments on the shattered frame. The traces of badly chipped turquoise polish clung to her short, blunt nails—this bitch needed a manicure—and she realised that a stone was missing from one of her thumb rings. Fuck.

Everything was fucked up. Iggy shivered, and folded her arms across her body. Her fingers skimmed the complex lines and patterns of the ink that wrapped her right arm. She loved her sleeve. All her tattoos, in fact, right from her first—a shitty wolf’s head done by some scratcher back in Stilwater, which she’d had properly covered up on her seventeenth birthday—to her latest: an eagle on her chest with a banner that read “time to soar”, and was meant to have commemorated the fact that, for a while there, it had really felt like she was soaring. She let herself trace the familiar shapes—the anchor and the ship’s wheel, the koi, the peonies and spidery chrysanthemums, and the grimacing Hannya that roared from between them, warning of revenge and strength… or whatever bullshit symbolism her artist had talked about—and both the action and the memories calmed her a little.

Iggy liked being under the needle. She liked zoning out, just feeling the vibration of the machine against her skin, the occasional bite in between the scratches, and the way her body bloomed to warmth as the design took shape. The only ones that had really hurt badly were the fleur-de-lis on her neck, the gecko on her ribs, and the octopus that wrapped the outside of her left thigh, because one tentacle went right next to her butt cheek, and there was a lot of shading on that fucker.

She wasn’t going to go back to Stilwater. She knew that, somehow.

Not yet.

It was stupid, she knew, but leaving wouldn’t feel right, even though it was probably the best thing for the Saints. The crew was vulnerable right now. She should go home… go make sure they were ready for whatever the Syndicate planned to throw at them. That was the sensible and logical thing to do—and it was what Loren probably expected of her, since she hadn’t had the decency to die like he planned—but “sensible” and “logical” were two adjectives that Iggy was aware had rarely, if ever, been used to describe her.

Then again, what was she going to do in Steelport? This was definitely Syndicate turf. She didn’t know the city, she had no contacts, no cash… was she going to go back to sticking up liquor stores for grocery money and hoping somebody would be kind enough to give her a lift to wherever Loren could be found?

Ah, it was so, so stupid. This wasn’t her city. She was at a disadvantage here. She ought to go back to Stilwater and let Loren come to her, face him on her own ground. His proposal had been a percentage of Stilwater’s action for the Syndicate, right? Well, if he wanted that, he could come and take it, and she should be there to defend it. She’d be crazy to stay in Steelport and try to hit him in his own yard.

Fucking crazy.

Iggy took a deep breath, turned away from the window, and tried to find a spot of empty floor that didn’t look too gross. She bounced on her toes, feeling and acknowledging all the aches and the sorenesses in her body, and testing out what was comfortable. She stretched, leaned, started to throw a few light punches and—when nothing immediately protested too badly—settled into a couple of minutes’ shadowboxing. She hurt, but she could live with hurt. Pain meant you were still alive. She held onto that thought and, gradually, the physical activity started to dull the way her mind was gnawing at itself.

Johnny would’ve stayed. He’d have ridden right into the fucking centre of Steelport, all guns blazing, gone straight to Loren and pulled his spine out through his stomach. Then he’d have gone home and mopped up the mess. Maybe stopped for pizza on the way.

Hell, the crew in Stilwater could take care of themselves, couldn’t they? She’d told Pierce what was likely to go down, told him to make sure the Saints were ready for it, and then to get himself the fuck over here with some backup. Speaking of which, he should be here before long… and Iggy was glad of that. She hadn’t realised how much she wanted to see a familiar face: someone who wasn’t Shaundi, who hadn’t been on that plane and wouldn’t automatically look at her as if she could have stopped it all from happening.

No. She couldn’t keep thinking like that. She had to get her head back together. The Saints would cope. It wasn’t like they were defenceless back in Stilwater, anyway. The motherfuckers on the Row were used to dealing with shit. And she had to deal with Loren.

What he’d done couldn’t go unanswered, and Iggy didn’t wanna give him any more time to hide. When Pierce and the boys got here, they would work out a plan. She would find out just how this shithole of a city rolled, and then she would turn it over and break it open.

Iggy smiled to herself at the thought, adding a few kicks and twists to her movements and enjoying the feel of her body flowing into the routine. This was natural, right, and comfortable. She watched her hands move, right and left, “sink” and “swim”. Well, she was gonna fuckin’ swim. She always had done, and that wasn’t going to change. She was going to do it for the crew, and for Johnny, and she bet Shaundi was going to agree with her.

The Saints might not have had a stake in Steelport before now, but Loren had changed that. Now, there was no other option. She was not gonna run home and wait for him to try and take her down. She was going to strike first, and she was going to do it hard. She was going to take everything he had, and she wasn’t going to stop until the Syndicate was in pieces, and Steelport either belonged to the Saints, or was burning so brightly that they could toast marshmallows on it all the way from Stilwater.

There were some details to work out, sure, but at least it was the start of a plan.

After all, Iggy might not have had a dog in this fight before, but Loren had certainly given her something to bark about.

The sound of car engines purred on the street below, coasting to a halt outside, and Iggy dropped her hands to her sides, listening. The apartment building was between a laundry and a pawnshop, but it fronted onto a wide, busy road, and she grinned to herself as she heard the engines idle close by, underneath the window.

She darted across the room, grabbing the Kobra from the dinette table and ducking to peer out of the window. A dusty black Neuron was running outside the pawnshop next door, and she watched its driver’s side door swing open. A familiar figure emerged—pale suit, somewhat crumpled, flat cap, and a concerned frown—and Iggy rapped on the window with the knuckles of her left hand.

Pierce looked up just as she was dashing out of the front door, past the hole in the drywall, ready to take the stairs two at a time to get down there and let them in.

Goddamn, but she’d missed her boys… and they had some fucking work to do.


On to Five-Dollar Circus: Chapter Three

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