“Tell yourself whatever you have to. Let’s go inside. I want to finish this shit up and have a beer. You got any good pussy around here?”
“You never change, do you?”
“Got no reason to,” he replied.
“Probably shouldn’t give you shit about that, under the circumstances.”
“Don’t worry—I’ll get you back. Can’t wait to see your girl again. All kinds of things I should probably tell her about you. Nothing quite like honesty in a relationship.”
“You do, I’ll shoot you,” I warned him, and he grinned.
“Get in line. Mel’s got first dibs.”
“Thanks for the hospitality,” Picnic Hayes said, looking around the room. The Reapers’ president caught my eye, giving a brief nod. Hayes was a father and when shit went down with Becca, he’d taken my back in a big way. Since then he’d treated me like a true brother. People noticed, too. I owed him for that.
“Glad to have you here,” Boonie replied. “You know we always got your back. You want me to start?”
Picnic grunted his agreement, although we’d all known Boonie would be the first to speak. Like so many things in our world, this was a show of respect. Respect governed us and held us together, and God help the man stupid enough to misunderstand.
Fortunately, Shane McDonogh seemed to get it just fine, something that had come through loud and clear in his dealings with us.
“I’ve already shared this with Pic,” Boonie said. “But we’ve talked to McDonogh and Malloy again this morning. According to their sources, Jamie Callaghan will be visiting the Vegas Belles Gentlemen’s Club”—he said the title with a hint of mockery—“tomorrow afternoon. That’s why we called this for midweek. They don’t know how long he’ll be there, but he’s flying in at ten a.m. and plans to go straight to the club after a business lunch.”
“You all know receipts are down at The Line,” said another of the Reapers, a big man named Gage. “We’ve lost some girls, too. Not that big of a deal, but the loss of customers complicates things. Cops like to watch how many cars come and go. The more traffic we have, the more money we can push through without setting off alarms. Obviously the Callaghans are looking to do the same thing. That’s a problem for all of us.”
Deep raised a hand, and Boonie nodded at him.
“Management just shot down another union request for safety upgrades at the Tess. Not sure how much everyone knows about the situation there, but this is bigger than just our clubs. The Tess provides more than two-thirds of the valley’s income—well, documented income . . .” Several guys laughed at that. Deep continued, “The Callaghans run the national union and it’s pretty obvious by now that they’re poised to take over the mine. We have to shut them out. Otherwise—sooner or later—we’ll have another major accident of some kind. The last one almost took Callup with it. We got a good thing here. Don’t want to lose it.”
The room sobered, because it was true. It might’ve been nearly twenty years ago, but the horror of that fire still hung over the valley. It didn’t matter that I was still a kid in Montana. You couldn’t breathe the air here without feeling the memories press down.
“How confident are you in this kid’s intel?” Hayes asked. “I agree that something needs to be done, both for the valley and to protect The Line. But we’re only going to get one shot. We go in and miss Jamie Callaghan, they’ll tighten things up and we might not get another chance.”
“Puck’s talked to McDonogh in person,” Boonie said. “Tell us your thoughts.”
I considered my words carefully before speaking. Lives hung on what I said next, and the responsibility weighed on me.
“He’s young,” I said finally. “But he’s not stupid. He’s fighting for his life and he knows it. They may not be able to kill him outright, but they’ll turn him into a vegetable and lock him away forever if they can. He knows we’re his best shot for help locally . . . us and the union, but the ties are close enough at this point that you don’t get one without the other. I can’t see any reason for him to lie to us about this. He has more to lose than we do.”
Hayes and Boonie shared a look, and I felt tension tightening around the room. Sure, we’d talk about it some more and vote in the end, but the issue was settled in that instant.
“So tomorrow we fight?” Gage asked. “If that’s the case, I should get my people ready. Don’t want them caught in the cross fire if we can help it.”
“Who all do you have inside?” Boonie asked.
“Bartender,” he said. “Maryse. One waitress, Lisa. Milasy and Renee are dancing—both scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. I know we’ll need intel tomorrow but I want them out of the line of fire. They’ve put themselves on the line for the club in a big way.”
“Let’s send men in early,” Deep said. “Pretend to be customers. Figure out who’s loyal to Callaghan, and who’s just bystanders. We have five or six inside before we make our move, that’ll even the odds quite a bit.”
“Okay,” Hayes said. “Who hasn’t been over there yet?”
Several men raised their hands, including Painter. That surprised me. I shot him a look and he raised a brow, challenging me.
The Prince of Pussy wasn’t getting out quite as much these days . . . interesting.