|Finish Prologue: The King and the Pawn
Author: Guede Mazaka
James resisted the urge to twist his napkin into an angry knot and instead folded his hands neatly beneath the table. Beside him lounged Jack, apparently as careless and uncaring as a blader on the boardwalks, but James knew enough to determinedly ignore the glint in Jack’s eye and the light tapping of his fingers. Everything rested on a knife’s edge and they couldn’t afford to get cut.
Across from them sat a very important kingpin from Central America, swathed in silk and rolls of fat. His eyes were sunk so far back in his head that his skin literally looked like a thick costume, something like the cartoon get-ups at Disney World only much more grotesque. Flanking him were the usual bodyguards with assault rifles cradled in their arms and semiautomatics deforming the line of their suits. “So, Mr. Norrington and Mr. Sparrow, it seems we have all come to a satisfactory conclusion.”
In two months when the revolting man was taken out, James planned to swipe a bottle of champagne from his French restaurant’s cellars. He knew very well that the underworld would soon throw up a replacement, and that whoever that ended up being would probably be just as repulsive, but nevertheless he couldn’t help feeling that at least it would be a different ruthless bastard. “I would hope so.”
Normally this was when they all stood and shook hands and smiled falsely at each other, but something warned James. Perhaps it was the flutter of a shadow on the wall, or a change in breath, or merely that inexplicable instinct that accompanied bitter experience, but at any rate he stayed where he was. He had a gun under his arm but he didn’t reach for that, headed off by another twinge.
“It would be very, very foolish t’be renegin’ now,” Jack said. His features were still and somber, wiped of any trace of humor, and when he moved to rest his hands on the desk he did so with a malevolent grace that visibly took nearly everyone aback. “We’ve had a good workin’ relationship for about a year now.”
“Very, very true, Mr. Sparrow. You are a wise man, no doubt.” The Mexican sat back and had a cigar handed to him, which he took his time in cutting and lighting. He glanced at James, then laughed unpleasantly. “Mr. Norrington, you seem nervous. Afraid that your words haven’t been heard loudly enough? I assure, I can hear them all fine.”
Because it was such a delicate, high-level meeting, James and Jack had both forgone any attempts at surveillance or tracking. In fact, they’d forgone informing their respective teams of it—partly because of the information they expected to gather and partly because they had some business to transact that was more for their own designs than for their agencies. Now beside the residual queasiness James felt whenever he had to lie to his lovers’ and colleagues’ faces surged another ill feeling—fear. “I don’t think I follow you.”
“Aye. What would we be talkin’ of, that would need such loud words?” Jack rippled his fingers from thumbs outward and then back in. He tilted his head like a clockwork, which was an eerie thing to see when paired with his cool dark eyes.
“I am talking of your employers.” In a split second, the other man had flung his cigar to the ground. His face mottled with livid red and his spit flew clear across the table as he went on. “You goddamned CIA spooks! Your fucking MI6—”
James didn’t actually see or feel his hands move. He did realize he was telling to stand up—he did and he’d already shot the two slipping in behind them with the pistols he’d yanked from Jack’s belt. The ones in front were still unslinging their rifles when his hands swung forward and he shot them, once in the head and twice in the chest. Then he turned and fired at the ceiling vent just as something seared past his upper left arm.
“Mario, mate, I wish you hadn’t said that,” Jack sighed.
On the other side of the table, Mario’s gaping mouth finally began to shape itself around a scream. But then there was a muffled shot and he…he was too obese to even fall forward. Instead he deflated slightly and red drool bubbled out of his mouth, James noted with a distant feeling of disgust.
Jack sighed again, then twisted himself out of his chair and looked at the pistol he’d just fired beneath it. He flipped it about and deposited it in James’ back-holster. “So, y’reckon it was Langley or London?”
Click. Reason snapped back into the forefront of James’ mind and cause-and-effect trains creakily began to tunnel through the mystery of the past few moments. He shoved Jack’s guns back at him and snatched up a rifle from the floor; best to salvage weapons for as long as he could. They were on the third floor and it was a sizable building with plenty of other gangsters. In fact, he could hear some of them pounding through the halls as he thought frantically and—“Damn them.”
“Y’think both, too?” Still calm, Jack had expertly riffled through pockets, table, and any other possible crevice in the room. Now he came up to take the other side of the only door and exit out of the room, two rifles in hand. “Y’d be right.”
He flashed a few crumpled documents that could only have come from HQ. James swore again. “Goddamn it, Jack! What about—”
“Can’t call them, can we? Plan A’s blown out of the water, an’ plan B doesn’t allow for surfacing.” Though he still was very controlled, the little cracks in Jack’s composure were making themselves known to James. Jack was furious, and frustrated, and—unfortunately, right.
“Messy excuse for a hit. I wonder who they’ve got running it.” But messy or not, James and Jack needed to go to ground if they wanted to have a chance at a counterstrike. They had no idea what was compromised and what wasn’t, and until they figured out that, there was no contacting the others. At least, not directly; after they were out, they’d set off certain triggers, but those were no substitutes for Will’s laugh or the curve of Elizabeth’s cheek.
The realization rose like a stone in James’ throat, but when he swallowed it the damned thing floated, sticking in his throat. He bit his lip, breathed deep, and told himself there was nothing for it.
“What?” he hissed. The footsteps outside had nearly made it to the door and they only have a few last seconds. “Jack. Christ, Jack. I’m sorry and I lo—”
Jack grinned. And then, of all things, he lasciviously stroked the muzzle of his rifle, fingers curling to match his lips. “Happy birthday, Jaime. How’s thirty-eight do you?”
“Thirty…” All of a sudden, the tension cut loose within James. Not completely, for he was still ready to whip around and fire, but he was stifling a laugh and it was the damnedest time and Jack was with him. “Jack, you…”
“You’re welcome,” Jack said. Then he ripped open the door and James’ hearing exploded with the racket of guns firing.