Spike walked past the open shipping truck with his eyes widening. Pulling out his phone he double checked the address confirming this was it. A moment later, Annie dropped out of the back of the truck burdened by a stack of boxes. As she turned, her eyes caught Spike and she beamed at him. "What do you think? Told yah, give me a few months, but I did it in two. Here it is. My way out."
"A general store?" He scratched the side if his head, following her inside the cozy corner building.
"The building's been on the market for a while. And the best part is, it's all clean money." She positively glowed setting the boxes on the counter. Opening them up, she started to stock the cigarettes behind the counter.
"Well, if that's what you want to do with yourself, Annie." He turned and padded back out the door only to return a few moments later with a stack of boxes. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted Annie's frown growing to a silent grin the moment he set them down on the counter and went back out for more. Over countless trips, Spike hauled in the stock as Annie organized it. "Hey," he broke the long silence, "don't think for a moment that you're gonna turn me into a stock boy. I got a day job, you know."
She chuckled. "Don't let me catch you paging through the adult magazines."
He raised an eyebrow, slipping a gaze toward the rack. "Oh?"
With a grunt, she threw a can at him. He caught it without even looking. "Nice catch. Now, I'm serious. I'm in your territory. I expect to see you once in a while."
Sauntering to the counter, he slouched on one elbow and grinned down at her. "I suppose I need a place to stock up on smokes now and again." He kept her gaze locked on his while he took a five finger discount on a couple packs. His phone vibrated. Pulling it out, he blinked at the message. "Aww shit. I'm late. Supposed to met the guys down at Maroon's for a round of pool."
Annie rammed her fist on her hip and scowled.
"I'll stop back, I promise!"
Lin shook is head. "Damn it, I'm gonna get buried again. Come on. I don't have another woolong to my name."
Spike leaned over the table and lined up the cue. "Then it looks like you're going hungry til the next payday." He snicked the ball and sent it into the eight ball. Carried on its path, it collided with the seven and sent it off in a tangent. Loosing a bit of speed, the eight hung back as the seven dropped into the side pocket. With just enough momentum the eight ball slipped into the corner pocket.
"Shit. Well … that's that." He hung his head as Shin rubbed his shoulder. Shin's eyes flicked off to Spike's right.
He reached into the pockets and started to plunk out the balls back onto the table. "Wanna go again?" Meanwhile, he concealed a glance as two men got up from the booth and started toward the door.
"I can't do it unless we play strip-pool and I think that would get us in trouble with the owner."
"Oh, I dunno." Shin eyed one of the waitresses blushing every time she spied Spike. "I think some would find it rewarding."
Lin picked at his own shirt. "Sure, only if winning shots required removal. No one want's to see me streakin'."
The door shut with a jingling bell.
Alone, save for the staff, Spike plucked out his phone. "Ironwall. I'll be calling Mao right after this. Guess who showed up at Maroon's."
"Just spent about an hour eavesdropping on two White Tigers. They're in the city and they have a plan to go after the syndicate."
"When? And who do you have with you for back-up?"
"Within the hour. Lin and Shin are here. We're nowhere near enough. I can tell you where they are going, but you're not going to like it. I only see one way out of this. Hope Mao is ready to toe the line."
"You have my attention."
The ship doors opened giving Felix Cortez his first street level view of Tharsis. Through the tight corridor of the shorter buildings he spied the rise of the majestic hexagonal tower. The polished tooth of the Red Dragon's mark, the bite hold that controlled all of Mars. Now, it was within his reach. Tugging on his cream, pinstriped jacket, the White Tiger capo flashed a gold toothed grin. He adjusted the midnight blue tie at his neck and waved a hand to one of his scouts. The moment the man joined him at the bottom of the ship's ramp he inclined his chin. "Is everything ready for our surprise?"
The scout nodded his head and pointed out at the squads of men armed to the teeth. "The boys are all here. Like we says, boss, this here's the best corridor to reach the tower. From this angle the Dragons won't have seen the drop ship, and even if they did, this here is a regular shipping point." His foot touched the shoulder of a corpse clad in overalls. "Hehe, sorry, was a shipping point."
"Excellent." Cracking his knuckles, Cortez laughed. "Tonight we will mark our territory. Mars is ours for the taking."
The men cheered and pumped fists in the air.
"We will not be returning home!" Cortez padded toward their ranks. "We will make Tharsis our new home, built on the bones of the Red Dragon corpses we leave behind. This empire is all but ours."
The ship's ramp closed. Slowly the engines whined as it lumbered into the air behind his back.
Spreading his arms wide, Cortez declared, "While the Dragon slumbers, the Tiger sharpens his claws on its hide! Let the blood flow!"
A fiery trail split the dark sky from a rooftop. The brilliant arc of light raced toward the departing ship. Frozen in time, Cortez leaned his head back and turned as the miniature comet impaled the departing ship directly into its main engine. An immense fireball banished the darkness as the entire back end of the ship disintegrated. The remainder shook the ground as it came down, cleaving a huge rent across the landing field before the stunned eyes of his men.
Speechless, all the capo could do was stare. That ship had brought them here. It was their only lifeline back to the rest of the White Tiger syndicate. There one moment, gone the next.
A melodic whistle caught his attention. Cortez spun on his heel and faced the dark alley beside the field now swarmed with armed men. Not his men. His heart rammed in his throat. He took a step back, closer to his petrified team waiting for a command.
At the front of this unexpected swarm, two men in particular caught his attention. A broad shouldered man in a weathered duster stood with his arms crossed. At his side, dressed in a trench coat over his tailored suit, a slender young man with a fierce eye cracked his knuckles. It was this one who broke the tense silence. "Thought we'd throw you guys a little party. Welcome to the Red Dragon's city."
Cortez gaped and grabbed the scout by the shoulder before he could dart off. "What is … ? How … ?"
The broad Red Dragon bellowed out with a voice that shook the buildings, "Light 'em up, Boys!"
A second later the White Tigers made a run for the corridor toward the tower, the only avenue of escape afforded to them. Cortez dashed into the center of the ranks, whispering to himself, "Protect me! This can't be happening! How did they know we were coming?"
"Breaking news in Tharsis. Residents are warned to remain inside their buildings. A riot has broken out, spreading through various blocks including residential areas. Local police suspect the involvement of crime syndicates, but are unable to effectively suppress the incident at this time. There are reports of heavy gunfire and even the use of illegal military arms. Once again, residents are warned not to go outside until further notice."
Spike cracked a grin the second Cortez turned and ran into the fold of his men. "Oh Ironwall, looks like he's going for the bait."
"Heh. Yup." Ironwall tapped his phone. "Mao, you're about to get some company."
"The trap is set. Beat them our way."
"Don't need to hear that twice." Flashing a grin, Spike took off kicking at the heels of the Tigers. His own men closed in, forming a solid barrier in case anyone decided to try and make a run for it. There was no way out. All they left behind were the battered corpses of Tigers, thrown to the ground by the violent attacks of the Dragons.
Ironwall threw his head back and roared as he dashed into a gap in the barrier, plowing through the terrified enemy who only offered a pitiful resistance. Gunfire, grenades, a few high powered weapons. Jam packed in the corridor they did more damage to themselves and to the buildings then they did to their assailants.
Blood slicked the pavement beneath the pounding feet. It sounded like so many more. But the Tigers never had a moment to count the Dragons pursuing them. Ironwall's squad alone commanded the turf. Spike's men with half of Jovi and Kip's crew, while the remainder lay in wait with Mao for the other shoe to drop. They were hardly an army, and yet the corridor amplified their strengths.
They didn't have long to wait. In a sudden rush the front of the line collided in the middle as they tried to flee back the other direction.
Spike laughed over his shoulder at Ironwall, his fist delivering a concussion to a lackey. "Hey, didn't they want to take on the tower? Wonder what changed their minds?"
The sound of automatic machine gunfire thumping into bodies echoed off the buildings.
"Ah. That must be Mao." Ironwall threw a man, impaling him on a piece of rebar from chunk of building exposed by a grenade explosion.
"Hope he saves some of the fun for us!" Spike sent a target flying with a straight kick. One after another, they mowed down the higher numbered ranks of the Tigers leaving behind a wake of destruction.
With only a handful remaining, Cortez tried to make a frantic run for it. Spike tripped one of the lackey's into his path. Cortez tumbled over him, coming up pale-faced as he scrambled to find his footing.
Leaping onto his back, Spike locked him into a firm grapple, snickering as Cortez pounded impotent fists against Spike's locked arm around his throat. "Please!" He croaked, "Let me go! I'm not important."
"Sure. You're just all dressed up and no place to go, right?" Spike shifted his foot as Cortez tried to break free again. "Trust me, I'm using the nice grip at the moment. Keep it up … ohh? You really want to do this? Ok!" Spike grabbed his wrist and yanked it across his back, hard.
"Ahhh!" screamed Cortez.
"Told yah. Now, stay still and wait for this to end. You see, you get to watch it all before your turn."
"What?" Wide-eyed, Cortez stared out at the assassination of his men. One after another dropped to the ground, lifeless. Until at last, he alone breathed. Around him, Dragons gathered in a circle and grinned.
Through the group, Mao Yenrai's diminutive form pushed through. A rifle in his hands. "Capo Felix Cortez of the White Tigers. Are you taking leave of your senses?"
Spike couldn't help but laugh. "You have to ask? Just look at this guy, doubt he ever had them to leave behind!"
"Yo—you … " Cortez babbled, "you killed all my men. All of them."
"Yes." Mao replied sternly, the rifle at his side. "You forfeited their lives the moment you set foot in our territory. You will be an example of the wrath of the Dragon." He gestured to Spike.
Adjusting his grip, Spike forced Cortez's chest down onto the pavement. Using a knee on his shoulder, Spike trapped him there. He locked eyes with Mao and nodded.
Mao came up over Cortez's shoulder, the barrel of the gun parallel to Spike's trapping stance.
Cortez struggled and cried. "No! There will be retribution for this!" The metal barrel pressed against the back of his skull, it moved as he shook his head.
"I doubt that." Mao took a breath and pulled the trigger. One moment Cortez screamed, the next echoed with the thud akin to the sound of melon struck by a sledgehammer. A blast of crimson streaked the pavement in a wave.
Spike climbed to his feet and clapped a hand on Mao's shoulder. "Nice trophy hunting."
Mao ruffled his hair. "I had an excellent guide." He gazed at the group of Dragons. Barely a loss, hardly more than scrapes and cuts on the bunch. "To our victory!"
Voices rose into a chorus. In the center of the cheering mass, Spike belatedly realized what they were chanting. "Hellhound! Hellhound! Hellhound!"
Over the com, Jovi's voice broke through. "Hey Spike, I like your RPG launcher."
He laughed. "Yo, Jovi. I want that back from you. You have no idea what I had to do to get my hands on that toy. Though I have to admit, that was a nice shot."
See you, Space Cowboy