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«Skeleton Crew», Cameron Haley

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Cameron Haley

It was raining when Terrence Cole buried his soldiers. A late summer downpour was the rarest of miracles in Los Angeles, and I watched as the fresh mounds of earth beside the open graves slowly turned to mud.

Terrence stood in the center of the small, black-clad crowd, his head bowed and his hands clasped in front of him. He didn’t have an umbrella, and the rain glistened on the coffee-colored skin of his shaved head. It trickled down his forehead and along his temples, and the wetness on his cheeks almost looked like tears.

The service drew to a close, the coffins were lowered into the damp earth and the mourners quickly dispersed. I wasn’t sure if they were fleeing the elements or the sense of helplessness and despair that hung over the gathering. Probably both. I went to him when Terrence stood alone by the graves.

“Domino,” he said, “I appreciate you being here.” Stylish narrow sunglasses covered his eyes, but his head remained bowed and I didn’t think he’d looked up as I approached.

“I’m sorry about your guys, Terrence. I just found out about it today.”

He nodded, not at me but at the graves. “These two here were my nephews.”

“Jesus, Terrence, if I’d known, maybe I could have-”

“Their moms was my favorite sister. Used to be. Now she just want to see my funeral.”

“You’re not responsible for this.”

Terrence took off the glasses and lifted his head. There were dark circles under his eyes, and he had the look of a man on the run who knows he’s all out of places to hide. “I brought them in. Thought it was the best way to keep them safe, thought I could protect them.” He shook his head and the corner of his mouth twitched.

“What happened?”

“They didn’t even have any juice. Mobley put a posse on them just to send me a message.”

Francis Mobley ran the largest Jamaican outfit in the city. He’d been aligned with Terrence’s former boss, but now he saw the outfit Terrence had inherited as a target, an opportunity to expand his territory. Mobley was brutal, but I knew the executions hadn’t just been a message. The hits would have given Mobley a lot of juice and he’d be planning to use it for something even worse.

It was old-school gang warfare. With magic returning to the world in force, the stronger outfits had more juice than they knew what to do with. Back in the day it hadn’t been like that. There hadn’t been enough magic to go around, and the L.A. outfits fought for whatever piece of it they could get. They’d used tactics like this-one seemingly pointless act of violence feeding juice to the next-to move against their rivals. It was like a game of leapfrog played with murders.

My outfit was the strongest in the city and we didn’t have to resort to those tactics to take care of business. But there was still something in it for a smaller, weaker outfit, as long as the guy calling the shots didn’t let anything like conscience get in the way. I’d never heard Francis Mobley had much of a conscience.

“You’re my ally, Terrence. Give the word and I’ll crush that motherfucker like a bug.”

“Then what, Domino? You gonna move on the Koreans? Word is they want a piece of me, too.”

I hadn’t known about the Koreans, but Terrence was right. As much as I liked the idea of hitting back at Mobley, he was a symptom and not the disease. Taking him out wouldn’t make the problem go away. The problem was Terrence’s outfit was too small and too weak to protect itself. It wouldn’t survive for long-and never mind that it was weak mostly because of what I’d done to it a couple months ago. If it wasn’t Mobley, someone else would move in to cull the herd. That’s the way it worked, and if I put my personal feelings aside, I knew that’s the way it should work. There was no room for weakness in the underworld.

“Are you ready to lay down, Terrence?”

He didn’t say anything for a while. It surprised me, but maybe he was thinking about it. Getting your ass handed to you was no fun in any walk of life, but it really sucked in the underworld. I couldn’t really blame him.

“No fucking way,” Terrence said finally. “I ain’t gonna lay down ’less someone puts me down.”

“Okay, so what are you going to do about it?”

“Mobley ain’t shit. He’s not my problem-motherfucker’s just exploiting my problem. I can hit him just like he’s hitting me. I can drop bodies on his corners and put blood on his streets, but that just makes it worse. I need soldiers, Domino. It’s simple as that.”

“I know where you can get some.”

Terrence narrowed his eyes. “Where’s that, D? You can’t send me muscle-that’s no different than letting you hit the Jamaicans for me. I got to prove my outfit is strong enough to protect itself.”

“I can’t send you troops, but I could let them go if they got the idea on their own.”

“Who you have in mind?”

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