“So, Kevin…,” Dan swaggered, coming up behind the Brit. He grinned, a vicious glow of a smirk lighting his features. “Does the word, ‘look out’ mean anything to you?”
Coyote saw Kevin roll his eyes clear through his shades. The fair-skinned knife-wielder said nothing immediately to Dan, but his silences usually spoke volumes.
It was then that Kaede peered around the jet-haired devil. But she did not touch Dan. Never had, that Coyote knew of. Still, her face bore the innocent flush of relief Coyote had recognized upon Kev’s face… An immortal hang-up of facial tells, between the two of the recluses. Coyote’s allegiance for both of them, in turn, burned brightly within him; with congruence, Con lit up, seeing the devious juggernaut of an Irish car bomb waiting to happen. Coyote had made sure the kid had always kept an appropriate distance…from Dan.
Con had needed to keep away from him to some degree, to preserve his own safety in Coyote’s opinion; no matter how many alcohol – soaked nights Con and Dan had spent watching CNN on Harman’s ancient television set in each other’s company.
Cable had been available, and Harman had been able to afford the luxury; the alcohol – also an affordable luxury – had been consumed solely on Dan’s part those nights of audience; it had probably acted as an appropriate anesthetic. Coyote was baffled as to why Dan had even ever allowed Con’s presence, to begin with. It didn’t fit. But…Con was persistent, if he felt he had his reasons. And Dan…had his moments of humanity. There it was, then.
Con had always been drawn to Dan’s violent light, like a moth. But this moth…was intelligent. It hovered, appreciated the danger in drawing too close to the fire. Others, far too many…had faltered in this respect. Con…he was fascinated by everything. Especially things he would never truly understand; things like Dan’s hatred for life. It was an attribute learned. Nights spent drinking with the tyrant had yielded that much to Coyote.
Solitude was murder to the Irish bastard, sometimes. Coyote had experienced his own bouts of ‘murder’. Bouts he wouldn’t share with what remained of the youth and innocence of a teenager, even one who’d killed…and would kill, if the circumstances warranted such. The gist of it…was simplistic; honest. Dan didn’t want to be alive. However, he did want to live, still bore the lust for life. There was a fine difference not everyone would or could understand.
Con well understood life. The zeal for it. Maybe that was it; the reason Dan let the kid hang around him in limited doses. It was hard to tell. It was nothing any of them would ever be able to pry out of the thirty-three year old prisoner that Dan was. Time would tell. And time had done nothing for any of the Smiths, lately. Not of its own accord. That was fine. That…was expected. It was just a son-of-a-bitch to anticipate, was all.
Coyote smiled his own form of relief to the Japanese-American girl. Kaede was barely out of her teens, yet had all the elegance of someone ages older. Katherine Hepburn turned reasonable-homicidal. She was simply lovely, in all moments. And very precious to the hierarchy of the Smiths, Coyote felt. She barely spoke to strangers, but those who truly got to know her, were benefactors of pure grace. And of course, in fits, tyrannical episodes of profanity and violence. It made for brilliance incarnate.
Her relief was dampened by something Coyote couldn’t pinpoint, exactly. She didn’t say anything, either. Of course, she’d been running with Dan for god knows how long; Dan took up nearly as much breath as Con did as a companion – only, it wasn’t quite as graciously. Dan usually spent every breath he had to get his point across; Con…never ran out of breath, it seemed. There were distinctions. And allowances.
Dan allowed himself to speak. Coyote allowed Con to share. That was that. This…was Dan waiting to run rampant with his vocal chords.
“Dan,” a strong, but light voice volunteered suddenly. “I don’t believe Kevin needs you rubbing in his own grievances.” It was Mask. As much as Dan loved to cause havoc, and pick apart the emotions of his ‘team-mates’ – sometimes in what Coyote would call earnest curiosity – Mask…always garnished his pause. Dan recognized the truth when he came across it; he didn’t necessarily understand it…but he recognized it. Mask was that truth in the dark, in the mire and confusion. It shone brightly now, and Dan stopped abruptly. However…
“I didn’t see you coming down all guns a-blazing, Dan,” Kevin shot out, very matter-of-fact. “But then…I don’t guess you’d bother putting forth effort if all you’d win…is your wicked life.”
That had done it. And Ric shook his head.
“Do you know what ‘looking out’ for someone is, you dumb Brit? Because I don’t think you do. I don’t need to empathize with protection to grasp the concept. You make sure the wolves don’t get in. Well, my deserving throat was hanging out thanks to you. So don’t expect me to apologize for your weak link. I got mine. I guess we all wanted ours.”
“I didn’t want the card I was dealt, amigo,” Mask again strong-armed vocally. Dan actually looked down, as if pondering something. Ric continued. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get to draw. It was a Royal Flush played by my dealer. I can reap no reward, I can no longer fold.”
“Well, good for you, Ric,” Dan said without malice, surprisingly. He shook his head. “No dealer plugs the game without a pot involved. We were sold out. Plain and simple.”
Mask nodded, in agreement.
“Thus is the argument, Dan. I have no qualms with the verdict, merely…the justice dealt.”
All around were silent. Ric continued. “There was no justice. Only judgment. Judgment rarely bares the teeth of righteousness, of virtue. Ill parties were at work here.”
“I’m not surprised,” a young, only slightly smaller voice entered the conversation. Coyote smiled with humor at Con’s candor, oddly placed. “’Ill’ parties equals ‘All’ parties. You know why justice wears a blindfold…don’t you? She’s an impartial kegger. If she was actually calling the shots, then the judicial system would be child’s play…right? Lead around in the dark, just like a child…easily controlled by fucking everybody.”
“Emphasis on ‘body’,” Dan answered, the pith out of his response somehow. “And how about density equaling mass. You’re the poster child for justice.”
“Hey,” Con snorted. “Fucking nobody leads me around.”
“And no one wants to,” Dan smirked, taunting Con without bitterness. As he usually did. “But besides all that good stuff…it might be ‘We The People,’ But it’s not that easy, ‘Short-Round’. Rolls of red tape bled upon by the Senate and the House is what we got. In the courthouse, we’ve got a fucking audience with a say. Huh? What are the jurors for? Eye candy?”
“Is that a jibe?,” Con chuckled, playfully.
“I know you’ve ‘seen’ this shit on ‘People’s Court’. I was there.”
“You were drunk 99% of the time, you Irish bastard. And everyone can be bought,” the teen folded his arm, continuing in his rebuttal. “You know they can.”
“No shit Sherlock. God damn if I don’t know. But you can’t buy that kind of clout with the
peanuts we make. Huh? Use that bandana-wrapped head.”
“Harman doesn’t make peanuts,” Con retorted, without anger. Only a severe knowledge of the stakes.
“In the grand scheme?,” Dan snorted. “Come on, punk.” Dan paused. “Come on.”
Then a tall form was flanking all those who gathered at the mouth of the corridor, as stipulated; as threatened. If anything…he wore a nicely tailored suit.
“Smiths,” he said with only solid degrees of respect, and what was a brash familiarity. The whole of the Syndicate stiffened, taken surprisingly off guard, given the location and the stakes. There was no doubt that the next few seconds were about to be blood incarnate upon their perceived ‘messenger’.
“Stand down,” the man said suddenly, with a peace and assurance that was impenetrable. “There’s no cause for alarm.”
Those present froze before reacting; somehow, none seemed to be threatened by the voice of the person addressing them currently.
“There are introductions to be made…,” the man continued without awaiting a direct response of any kind. “And grievances to be voiced…but, before that,” he said, smoothing out his sharply trimmed beard, straightening his tie.