’tis Sunday, so ’tis time for another story part.
-settles down in my cozy chair by the fireplace and lets you all huddle by my feet-
Sooo, today we’re actually going to a certain POV we haven’t gone into before. And I’m sure you’re all going to be so disappointed.
Please welcome Mr. Baden News to the mic, everyone.
Oh, we’ve got some interesting plans for today….
If you’re behind, catch up here:
And here we go on to part 11!
Old buddies and owed favors
Some weeks are crazier than the rest. And boy, this one was a doozy.
Wolf getting flame powers? Man, that one came out of left field. But still, he was getting them figured out pretty well. A regular superhero in the making. Plus he was infiltrating that organization thing . . . he and Dallas both working on taking that thingamajig down.
So yup. Crazy week, but nothing we couldn’t handle, as usual.
My hours had been a bit wonky at the ice cream shop, what with watching out that Wolfgang didn’t burn the Den down or anything, so I was working a bit of an extra shift tonight. Cleaning up around the place and getting the spit and polish in all the right places.
June, so it was pretty busy during the day. But midnight? Nah. Nobody goes out for ice cream that late. I had plenty of time to myself.
I whistled along to the “Lucky Seven Sampson” Schoolhouse Rock song playing over the speakers as I swiped my rag over the tables. I’d cut the lights near the front of the store, but kept ‘em on back here so I could still clean. I wouldn’t get much done cleaning in the dark.
A few car headlights went past outside, stretching shadows over the walls.
The music switched tracks to another song and I finished wiping off the table I was on. I twirled the rag around, spinning on my heel over to the next one.
“Rockin’ and a-rollin’, splishin’ and a-splashin’, over the horizon, what can it be?” I sang under my breath, an octave lower than it was supposed to be. Seriously, it was all sopranos singing these songs. I liked to harmonize with the baseline.
I flicked my damp rag over the slick surface of the tabletop, wiping away the sticky fingerprints from earlier in the day. It had been hours since that dad and his little girl had been here and she’d chomped a hole in the bottom of her cone.
I chuckled at the memory. If anybody took advantage of the napkin dispenser . . .
There was a noise near the front of the store and my entry-alarm cowbell over the door clanked. Footsteps hit on the tile.
“Heyo! Knock-knock. This joint still open?” called a voice from that direction as I heard a few more footsteps. “Any midnight scoops to spare for a wandering soul?”
Jeez, someone actually decided to take me up on the late hours around here.
I straightened up, throwing the rag over my shoulder. “Yabsolutely. Come right on in.”
The footsteps came closer and their owner came into view. He adjusted his tie and pushed his slick hair back out of his eyes. “Well, I gotta say, you managed to get a pretty sweet place set up here.” He flashed me a grin.
My spine went stiff.
He was taller than I’d last seen him. A little skinnier and his face was more sharp-looking. But it was him sure as eggs is eggs. Wearing the same old suit and tie too.
It clicked in my mind. Wolfgang had said he’d been working with a guy named Franklin.
Well, didn’t expect it to be that Franklin. Good ol’ Frank from the Chicago Mafia. Who knew he got around?
Frank let his gaze wander around the place for a few more seconds, like he was checking out some girl on the street, before he looked back at me. “Really nice. Like the décor. And the music . . .” he put his pointer and thumb together, splaying the rest of his fingers out as he held them up. “Belissimo. Love it.”
I narrowed my eyes, squaring my shoulders as I stared down at him.
“Aw, Baden . . .” he spread his arms. “Is that any way to greet and old friend, my man?”
I pulled the rag off my shoulder. “Get out before I throw you out on your tin ear.”
Frank kept his hands spread in surrender, but took a few steps towards me. “Come on, buddy. Can’t we talk? Just a bit of a chat for old times’ sake?” He glanced towards the ice cream counter. “At least let me have some ice cream?”
Just as smooth as ever. I saw right through the slick cheese he put up like it wasn’t even there. He wanted something from me.
I wound the rag around my hand so it covered my knuckles. “You really want to test my declaration that I’d throw you into Lake Michigan the next time I saw you?” I tipped my head. “Aim might be a bit tricky from here, but the offer still stands. You take another step and we’ll see how well you can fly.”
Frank opened his mouth, then closed it again, dropping his chin to his chest and trying to muffle a chuckle. “Baden, Baden . . . it’s been too long since I’ve heard that voice.”
I pulled on the brim of my hat, still glaring down at him. “And buster, it’ll be the last thing you hear if you don’t hit the road.”
“You still even dress like you’re in the Mafia,” he pointed out with a nod of his head. He folded his arms over his chest. “Don’t tell me you don’t get a little nostalgic for old times every once in a while? Miss the old pals?”
“At the ripe old age of thirty-two.” Frank clicked his tongue. “All washed up, huh?”
“Practically driftwood. Now get your rear end out of my shop.”
Frank let out a breath and his shoulders slumped slightly as he looked up at the ceiling. “News . . . come on, man. Just a few minutes to talk. I’ll leave just as soon as I’ve said my piece. After all those years, you gotta be able to spare a few minutes for old Frankie, right?”
I just folded my arms. Just as hard of a bargainer as he was when he was eight and trying to get cookies from my mom.
He glanced up at me. “I didn’t have dinner either, so I seriously am hungry. Ice cream would really hit the spot.”
I shifted my gaze sideways to look over at the counter, my resolve faltering slightly. Whatever the schnook had to say, I could always just grab him by the pants and throw him outside afterwards.
“I got a message from your mom too?” Frank offered.
I rolled my eyes and sighed, uncrossing my arms. “You got five minutes before I toss you out.”
“Ahhh, I knew I could count on you, you big teddy bear,” he grinned coming in like he was going to do his classic huggy-backslap thing he always used to do.
I stepped to the side and strode over to get behind the ice cream counter. I wasn’t getting that nostalgic.
Frank laughed a little, rubbing at his neck as he came and took a seat at one of the barstools. “Alright, whatever makes you feel more comfortable, I guess.”
I grabbed one of the ice cream scoops, turning it over in my hand and going over to grab a waffle cone. I looked over my shoulder at the classy looking kid propping his elbows on the counter.
“So what was the message from mom?”
Frank’s face went blank for a second before he pulled his confident expression back into place. He smiled. “Wondering if you could bring up some orange sherbet for Goodwin’s birthday.”
Right. I knew that split second of hesitation too well to actually believe him. Anyone who’d known Frank for longer than a month knew to take anything he said with a grain of salt.
And I’d known him for much longer than a month. Since we were kids. Then in the Mafia together for years. I could follow along with a lot of stuff to get the money for Mama and Papa, but when Frank got up the ranks and got in charge . . . no way, man. There was too much.
As weird as it was, we did sort of watch out for a few people in the mafia business. Our branch at least. We had a code of rules. But the new level Frank was taking it to had absolutely none.
“So . . .” he let out a breath. “Singing gig’s been going pretty well. You heard me on the radio at all? I’ve got a concert in the area tomorrow night.”
I turned back around and clunked the ice cream scoop down, staring at him again. “Frank, what are you here for? I mean, for real.”
He put his hands up again. “Whoa, whoa . . . it’s no biggie. Just a little thing, man. For old times’ sake.”
“I’m done with old times, and that’s your fault, man.” I pulled my sunglasses up for a second and squinted at him. “If this is any sort of Mafia gig you’re trying to pull on me . . .”
“Oh, no, no, nothing like that. Just something for your particular skill set.”
“Skill set,” I said flatly, leaning back to raise my eyebrows and tug my tie. “Which one?”
Frank let out his breath and slicked a hand over his hair. “News, if anyone asked me . . . and I’d have to be totally honest . . . really, the best hit man I’ve ever had has been you. Nobody could make people disappear so fast without a question. And I really need . . .”
“Come on,” he rolled his eyes. “It’s just one guy. He’s got a nice open seat at the concert tomorrow. You don’t even need any weapons. Just come up from behind and snap his neck . . . smash his head in with your big fists or something. Easy as pie. Here, look.” He pulled a snapshot picture of a man out of his dress coat pocket and slid it over the counter to me.
I barely glanced at it.
“I’m not killing anybody on your say so. That’s the bare-bones definition of retirement from the Mafia.” I picked up the scoop and pointed it at his face. “And if that’s all you got to say, let’s cut your time short and you can get out now. Get yourself midnight ice cream somewhere else.”
Frank’s expression hardened. “News, I don’t even need to ask you for permission, honestly. I’m just giving you a choice to do this on your own terms right at the get-go. I need you. If you don’t want to do it . . .”
I pitched my voice even lower than before. “Leave.” I pointed with the ice cream scoop. “Allow me to show you the door.”
“I said . . .”
“It’s the wooden thing with the knob.”
Frank sat up further and reached over the countertop, slapping a hand down onto my sleeve.
My vision went wonky for a second as soon as his hand touched. I blinked and shook my head. All my thoughts came slow. Like they all got stuck in mud.
Another voice in my head came through loud and clear.
Your old friend Franklin’s not going anywhere, pal. He still hasn’t had dinner. Go on, then. Get some of that pink ice cream on a cone.
I faltered for a second before slowly reaching the scoop back down into the container of strawberry just to my left. I slid it along the icy surface, getting two scoops settled into the cone I still held in my other hand.
Brilliant job. Now, hand it over and say how glad you are to have him here.
Something was really wrong here. I winced as I held the cone out to Franklin, who was still touching my sleeve with one hand.
“It’s g-great to see ya again, buddy,” I stammered out, the words running together, like Wolfgang’s would when he’d had too much to drink.
Frank smiled charmingly and took the cone from my loose grip.
Tell him how this one’s on the house.
My head hurt.
Words forced themselves up out of my throat. “This one’s o-on . . . thhhe . . .” I blinked hard and shook my head, finally managing to get a few of my own thoughts to the front. “F-Frank, what the heck are you . . .?”
Finally, he pulled his hand off my sleeve and I could think again.
Frank held a hand up and wiggled his fingers in a wave. “Did Dankworth tell you anything? Superpowers, News. Personality superpowers and I got mind control. It doesn’t matter if you want to kill the target. I can make you do it.” He held up his ice cream cone like he was showing off a trophy. “Just like I did with this.”
I narrowed my eyes behind my sunglasses, feeling my face getting red. “Like fun you can.”
“You felt it, man. You tell me.” Frank nonchalantly took a lick of his ice cream.
“It only worked while you had your dirty little paw on my sleeve,” I pointed out. “What’re you gonna do? Piggyback me for the whole time?”
Franklin’s nonchalance melted like the edges of the ice cream around his cone. He clenched his one free hand into a fist and slammed it against the counter. It took him a second to get his expression back under control. He clenched his jaw tight and met my gaze again.
“I don’t think you fully realize what’s at stake, Baden,” he let out in a smooth purr of a voice, forcing a smile. His tone sounded like he was trying to explain something to a little kid.
“If you’re this into it, probably a lot of money?” I took a step back, pulling my arms off the counter so he couldn’t touch me again.
Frank leaned forward, his licorice black hair sliding partly over his eyes again. “No, for you. For your friends.” He tilted his head. “I’m in the upper circles on this thing. We’ve got the controls to all the superpowers. All the nanites. Everything about those powers.”
“So? You turn ‘em on and off. Big deal.”
“Oh, more than that. See, there are more options than people realize. We can turn them on and off, yeah. We can also control the users. Preprogrammed system that sends them to do whatever we want. All those nanites can attack their brain. Block out the personality and will like that.” He snapped his fingers on the last word. “Turns ‘em into killing machines. Anyone who’s been injected. Wolfgang. That Knight kid. Fernsby.”
I tried my best to keep up a pokerface, but I felt a muscle in my cheek twitch involuntarily.
Killing machines, at the flip of a switch?
Frank raised his eyebrows and leaned back slightly, taking another lick off his ice cream. “And who’s to say we can’t make things malfunction? Who’s to say Dankworth couldn’t have some problem with that fire-shield he has going and . . .” he motioned a little. “Fwoof! Look at that, barbequed Wolf. All because his good ol’ buddy News wouldn’t do his friend Frankie a quick little favor.”
My heart skipped a beat. I tried to push the image back in my mind, but I felt my face get white.
Frank narrowed his eyes. “And just how valuable do you think he is to the plan? He could be gone and no one would care. We’d find somebody else to fill his spot in a blink.” He raised one eyebrow and smiled slightly as he took another lick. “And I don’t think you’ve been going to all this effort of keeping him alive all these years only to let him die now.”
I gritted my teeth together for a second, barely keeping from smushing his ice cream into his face. “Shut up and get out.”
“Not without your promise that you’ll take this guy out, or you’ll have a flambé of friend by tomorrow morning.”
“You’re bluffing.” My voice quavered for a second.
“Wanna try me?” Frank held up a hand.
Oy vey . . . oh, this isn’t good . . .
I clenched and unclenched my fists, just itching to pick Frank up by his collar and haul him to the door.
But Wolf. Good gravy, I can’t just . . .
If that happened, I couldn’t do anything. He’d die. He’d roast to death and I could only watch . . .
I never let anybody in on my special flavor of being a “hit man”. People disappeared, sure. But I didn’t kill ‘em. I made them take their nose out of whatever business they’d gotten tangled up in. I relocated them. I loaded all their stuff into the back of my truck and helped them move to New Jersey or wherever they had relatives who’d take them in.
I made people disappear.
I never killed them.
This was asking for a cold-blooded killing. In public.
I couldn’t just . . .
But that’s the choice. Somebody dies. Is it gonna be Wolfgang or . . . this guy I don’t even know? I glanced down at the picture on the counter again. It looked like a really nice guy. Nicely combed brown hair and straight white teeth showing in a sort of smarmy smile.
Kill that guy? Why the heck would Frank need him dead? He didn’t look like any sort of threat to his money or anything. And that was all he seemed to care about.
Frank took a slow bite of his ice cream, watching me. “So?”
I looked back at him. “Why’s it gotta be me?” I sounded like a kid, even though I tried to keep my voice steady.
“You’re the best there is, News. And connections. It can’t be one of my guys. An outside source has to do this, or else it could be traced back to me.”
So it was since he needed some guy to take the fall. I clenched my teeth again, but my thoughts flashed back to Wolf.
All the times he’d almost died. Those ugly scars on his wrists. The time he stopped breathing after the bomb went off . . . lying there all bloody and twisted up . . .
After all that. This would be like me killing him.
I slowly picked up the picture off the counter.
It was just one guy, right?
I let out my breath and rubbed a hand on my face, pushing my sunglasses up. “Fine, Frank. I’ll do it.” My stomach turned, but I clamped my mouth shut firmly.
Franklin smiled. “I knew I could count on you, bucko.” He reached in his coat with his free hand and pulled out a ticket, setting it on the counter in front of me. “I’ll see you tomorrow night.”
He pushed off the barstool and started out towards the door, still licking his ice cream cone. Just before he slipped out, he turned around for a second. “Great ice cream, by the way. Thanks.”
Well, we’ve got a set up for an….. interesting midpoint now, don’t we?
We’ll see how things turn out on Thursday. See you then!
Have a good Sunday and please don’t die of suspense,