“Blackthorne’s,” Deep said. “Rumor is, Shane’s dad was Bull Blackthorne. He was president of the local back when Christine McDonogh decided she wanted to piss off her daddy—she ran around with him for a while. Then Bull found himself dead and Christine found herself knocked up. Suddenly she’s marrying Jamie Callaghan and moving to Vegas. Hasn’t been back since, unless she needed money.”
“It’s just a rumor,” Boonie said, frowning. “Hell, doesn’t matter who the kid’s dad was. All that matters is whether he’ll be better for the valley than his mom and her husband.”
“He’ll be better,” Deep said. “Can’t be worse.”
“We’re hoping the safety equipment will get replaced when Shane takes over,” Demon added quietly. “At least, that’s the party line down at the local. The national guys could give two fucks. I bought my own self rescuer. If there’s another fire I don’t want to die down there because the McDonogh corporation won’t pay for upgrades.”
“The national guys are controlled by the Callaghans,” Boonie said.
“Well, Malloy says that Callaghan and his bitch wife are trying to get Shane declared crazy, lock him up long term,” I continued. “I guess there’s a loophole—if that happens, his mom would be taking over.”
“They’ve got the money and lawyers to do it,” Boonie said.
“He wants an alliance,” I continued. “After I talked to Malloy, I went up to the academy. The students had some party going on back in the woods. Malloy used it as an excuse to sneak me in and I met with McDonogh himself.”
Deep perked up.
“He look as much like Bull as they say?”
“Hell if I know—I’m not from around here, remember?”
“Christ,” Deep muttered. “Fucking useless.”
“He backed up what Malloy had to say,” I continued, flipping him off. “According to them, the Vegas Belles strip club is a Callaghan front. Not a huge surprise—Painter tells me the Reapers have suspected as much all along, so that’s a point in McDonogh’s favor. He said that they’re using the club to launder money taken from the mine, and that when they have full control they’ll suck the valley dry.”
“I believe it,” Demon said. “They’re feeding us bullshit over there already—things don’t add up. Word is, the corporate trustees are on the Callaghan payroll.”
“So what do they want from us?”
“McDonogh says that his stepdaddy will be visiting next week. He doesn’t have a time yet, but he’ll be at the strip club, which means we can get to him. McDonogh and his people will provide the intel, the Bastards and the Reapers are the muscle. With one raid, we slap down the Callaghans and take out the strip club. Win-win.”
I fell silent.
“What do you think?” Boonie asked. “Is it a setup?”
“I don’t see what McDonogh’s motivation would be,” I answered, running scenarios through my head. “The kid has an ankle monitor and can’t leave the campus grounds. Some sort of fancy computerized system, never seen anything like it. There’s no question he’s pissed off—scared, too, probably. If what he says is right, there’s about a thousand different ways he can lose at this game.”
“We should do it,” Demon said, his voice final. “That new strip joint is causing trouble for the Reapers. Reason enough right there. If there’s a way to save McDonogh and retake control of the Tess, the miners stand behind us.”
“One thing throws me off,” Boonie said, his voice thoughtful. “Why is Rourke Malloy double-crossing his family? I understood the guns—that’s just self-preservation, and I’m sure they’ve got plenty of enemies. Malloy pulls this and they find out, they’ll put a hit on him no matter who his father is. In fact, that might make it worse. The dad’s been with the Callaghans for decades. It’s a serious betrayal.”
“Malloy says his dad’s no good,” I replied. “Family shit.”
“He seems like a smart kid,” Boonie said. “You really think anyone with half a brain turns on the Irish mob just because he’s got daddy issues? Sounds like suicide.”
“Only if he loses,” I pointed out. “Sometimes you have to choose a side and fight. Malloy’s obviously picked his.”
The words hung over the room.
“We know which side we should be on, too,” Deep said. “Not everyone in this room has worked underground, but this is our community. The Laughing Tess is what keeps us alive. If we’ve got a chance to protect it, we need to take it. Otherwise we aren’t the men I thought we were.”
“Guess that sums it up,” Boonie said slowly. “Anyone else want to talk?”
“All right, then. All in favor?”
I voiced my “Aye” with the others, then we moved on to new business. Something about a missing keg pump. I zoned out, wondering why the hell I had to fall for a chick who hated me.
Touching the scar on my face, I considered how my life might’ve been different if I’d been a girl. Both me and Becca were born to the life . . . I’d grown up surrounded by hard men and instability, just like her. Now I was one of them. My dad always watched out for me but I’d had to stand my ground and had paid the price in blood. Blood and time.