4. Exiled – Stomping Grounds



I had an entire gang under me. And they were available, 24/7, rain or shine. Always. They were absolutely loyal, no questions asked. They learned a long time ago that asking stupid questions could, and probably would, get you killed in this line of work. There’s little leeway for stupidity these days. I have zero tolerance for it. And my boys know it.

I’m very sexist in my choosing of ranking officers. The gang is primarily male, with a few very exceptional exceptions. Besides the few fortunate females, it’s all guys. The most fortunate girl in the group, naturally, is mine. She’s also the most talented and the most deadly.

If she had a true name, nobody knew it. They called her Irish most of the time, which was the simplified version of her previous nickname – Celtic. Being most of the boys consistently screwed it up, we just made the name simpler for them. She was Irish, but whether she’d ever been to the country was another matter. But she could drink like a fish; that girl could out-drink most of my bigger, tougher guys. She demanded respect and got it. She was my right hand. She’d never done me wrong, but even she wasn’t protected against the punishments of treason, should she ever be accused of such a crime.

My second in command, behind Irish, was Colt. Nobody knew his real name either. We weren’t too big on the names anymore, considering the fiascos that had gone on with the families over the years. We figured we might as well leave last names out of it, if we could. It was common knowledge everywhere that I was a Ransom – it’s not something I can hide. Like I would ever want to. Colt was just as efficient as Irish or myself. He spoke less and took considerably good care of himself. He was probably the user of the least, overall. He was smart as all hell though, could tell you a little about just about anything. He was that damn clever. He knew the rules though – never embarrass the boss. Never surpass your master.

They were the two most important people to me. Everyone else was just a face, a name. Part of a group, a piece of the family machine.

Task for the day was the usual, check the streets and see how everything’s going around. There was nothing exceedingly unusual going on lately. A new artist was hired at the tattoo shop. The bar was doing well, the circus, or the “show” as they like to call it, is working on finding new acts. The freaks running a freak show. Does anyone else see the irony here, or is it just me? Who knows? One way or another, I have a job to do. We all do.

I set out for the bar to see how things are going there. Harley’s around tonight. I haven’t seen her in awhile. She’s another one that had a hand in raising me. There’s an entire congregation of them. She smiles when I come in, giving me a nod from behind the bar. I come behind, grabbing glasses along the way to fill orders.

“Need help?”

She smiled at me. “You have impeccable timing.”

“See Colt and Irish around tonight?”

“Yeah, the report’s over there.” She nodded somewhere, where a sheet of messy paper was left. I was meticulous with my affairs, asking that when I sent people on task that a report was written up. Like the police do. The irony of it was kind of entertaining. I filled a few more glasses, sliding them to the waiting customers. I caught Irish’s eye a minute later. She works the tables here every so often, usually when the boys are up to something. It keeps her out of trouble. Gives her an alibi. I only ever insisted on bringing her for the big stuff. She was just too talented to rot at home if we had a big job. If she was here, that meant that Colt was out running things. I felt better having her here, close to me, where I could keep an eye on her. It wasn’t a matter of distrust, but of security.

I stayed the rest of the night, helping Harley with the rush. Harley’s got to be in her 30s by now, but she’s still working this place. Makes sense – Harley owns “this place”; she inherited it from her late uncle when she was younger. The elder family members all work here if they’re up for it. If they’re bored. And they’re all competent.

The night wears on and we’re left cleaning up. Irish is taking care of the tables while Harley and I work on the bar. There’s a funny little look in Harley’s eye, a shooting glance from one to the other. I prod her with my elbow.

“What’s with the look?”

Harley kind of laughs, a little smile on her face. “Is she really your girl?”

“What do you mean?”

“Is she only yours?”

“Course she is, why?”

Harley kind of smiles a silly little grin. “Good.”

I think about it for a few minutes, smiling to myself. “Why?”

“Oh, nothing,” she shrugs. After awhile she laughs to herself. “I miss being young.”

“You still are.”

And she shoots me such a look, such an evil glare. I couldn’t help but double over, I’m laughing so hard. Irish creeps up in the middle of it, leaving a tray of glasses on the bar. She looks from one to the other, grinning wickedly.

“Well now, you two are having fun. Trying to steal my fella, Harl?”

Harley glares at her, grabs hold of me and grins. “You know it.” She kisses me on the cheek and pushes me away. “Get out of here, ye demon.” I shuffle out from behind the bar. I move over and kiss Irish, who keeps a firm hold on me.

“Better not be cheating on me with Harley. Not only will I kill you, but Lucid will massacre you.”

I laughed, walking out. Harley was laughing too, yelling after us: “Damn straight!”

And we left, side by side, like the king and queen that we were. We had jokes of that sort all the time, nothing serious. There had to be a lighter mood to things. Being serious all the time is just…ridiculous. And depressing. It can’t rain all the time you know.

But when it rains, it pours.


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