Liz Carter was tired of yet another night at The Welshman & The Wop and another girl with a broken nose, a decidedly poor way to treat someone just trying to make a living. Her enforcer, Huojin, held the perpetrator to the floor with his large arms and with an occasional smack or two to keep him quiet while Liz tended to the girl’s face with a compress. Her girl’s eyes welled up with tears with every press of the ice pack but she was done crying.
“This is the second time, Liz,” Huojin reminded his boss. “How many more are we going to let him keep coming back?”
“Just wait until Jimmy or James get up here,” Liz said. She pulled Meixiang’s hair behind her ear. “There won’t be a third time, I know that for sure.”
“You hear that little man,” Huojin asked. He leaned into the pinned man’s ear. “I wanted to take care of you the first time.”
“Screw you,” the man spat with blood. “You Chinks are always trying to screw a man out of his money.”
Huojin glared at Liz with. She took Meixiang’s hand and pressed it against the compress then picked herself up off the bed. Looking down at the perpetrator with burning eyes, Liz kicked him in the ribs with the pointed toe of her expensive shoes. “You’re blacklisted from the girls, you son of a bitch,” she said. “We’re just trying to decide whether to turn you into fertilizer.”
Leaning down close, Liz held his face between her small hands.
“Right now,” she growled. “You’re not making a very compelling case.”
“Oh hell,” said James. He stood in the doorway of the bordello room. Liz glanced up in time to see the Welshman running his hands through his thinning salt and pepper hair. “The hell is going on here, Liz?”
“Son of a bitch broke a girl’s nose again,” she said. “I want to know if there’s any reason not to put him into the ground.”
Huojin grinned, gold plated teeth glinting in the room’s dim light.
“Liz,” said James. He paused in thought. “Liz, may I have a word with you.. out here, please?”
“Don’t let him move,” she told Huojin, pulling herself up and dusting off her evening gown.
She followed James onto the balcony overlooking the crowded, rowdy main room of the bar. James pulled the smaller woman close so that no one could overhear their conversation
“Liz,” he said. “You can’t plant every bastard who breaks a girls nose.”
She glared at him, eyes lit with fire.
“Are you telling me I can’t do this?”
“Word gets out,” he said. “Aren’t you the one always telling us how Galileo has changed?”
“Galileo has changed,” Liz said.. “But this place hasn’t. We still have the same stupid fucking customers who think this kind of thing is fine.”
Galileo had changed since she and her boyfriend, Jimmy, joined the first colonists on the planet with their former boss, James, and opened The Welshman & The Wop. Six years before there were just over a million people living on the entire world. Now there were nearly four. There didn’t even used to be a newspaper, a radio station, or a phone network. Now there was all of that and a moneyed class to boot. There was even a choice of private schools to which Liz could send her thirteen year-old daughter. She just wasn’t happy just running girls anymore while Jimmy – the “Wop” – and James – the “Welshman” – managed the rest of the business. She wanted more.
James nodded, knowing what she wanted and conceding her point. He tapped his foot in thought as he considered the options while Liz crossed her arms impatiently and waited for the cogs in his head to grind toward a decision. That Jimmy and James didn’t confer with her on how to run the bar was one thing. But to require a consultation on how to deal with assholes mistreating girls? It was beyong frustrating.
“All right,” James said. He nodded and dodged her eyes but was giving in. “He needs a good whipping, but let him live.”
“No,” said James. He pushed a finger into her breastbone to make a point. “That’s it. We can’t go around killing customers. Black list him if you, want but let him live.”
“Oh… for Christ’s sake… Fine.”
Swiveling on her heel, Liz stomped back into the bedroom and found Huojin still holding the offending customer pinned to the rough timber floor. She sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed her throbbing left temple, the order from James making her headache all the worse. Meixiang lay on the bed, still holding the ice pack to her face. Maybe it was her time in civilized New York but Liz didn’t feel someone should have to deal with the shit they did here.
“So,” Huojin asked. “What’s the word?”
“Take him outside, through the back,” Liz said. She stood and smoothed the dress over her legs. “Make sure no one sees him. I’ll be out in a second.”
“Alright, buddy boy,” Huojin said with a wide, toothy grin. He hoisted the customer up off the floor and pushed him roughly towards the door.
“I’m going to come back,” the offender said. He spat blood from his mouth, coloring the rough wood floor. “And I’m going to come back and kill you, you sons of bitches.”
Huojin shoved him forward, laughing.
“Keep walking,” he said.
Liz stroked Meixiang’s hair and smiled at the girl with fondness. Leaning down, she kissed her on the forehead and patted her hand.
“Are you going to be okay?”
“Yeah,” Meixiang mumbled, her voice nasal from the broken nose. “Thanks for taking care of this, Liz.”
“Sure,” Liz said. “Why don’t you go home for the night? I’ll pay you for everything, alright?”
Meixiang nodded and forced a grim smile but took a long moment before she moved to collect her belongings.
Liz emerged through the back entrance, the screen door banging shut behind. Huojin had worked the bastard over again, his knuckles were cut and bruised from their contact with the bones in the customer’s head. The receiver, though, was the worse for the wear, sitting stooped on his knees, blood painting a gruesome mask on his face.
Pulling a cigarette from above her ear and lighting it with a match, she considered the scene before her. Some of the rage had dissipated. In lieu, she found herself just tired of having to deal with men like the one before her. After all, if he’d known anything about her, he should have been begging for his life. And yet, he wasn’t.
Before moving to Galileo, she had never needed, or wanted. to kill anyone. But since landing she’d put nearly a dozen men in the ground. For most she merely gave the order but for some she had to pull the trigger herself. Liz hated it but it was the cost of doing business at the Welshman and the Wop.
Houjin grabbed the man by the hair and looked up at his boss, mouth grinning full of golden teeth.
“So,” he asked. “What’s the word?”
“Yeah,” spat the beaten man. “What’s the word?”
Liz stared at the empty space in front her with the absent flick of her cigarette. The cherry gone and smoldering on the ground but she didn’t notice. She looked at the offender, a rancher from outside the city who came to town on a regular basis to sell his beef and spend a night with a with a woman who wasn’t his wife. She considered the girl upstairs, the one holding an icepack to her face. She considered James and his order and began to burn with rage.
“Put him in the ground,” Liz whispered.
“What,” shrieked the beaten customer.
“Oh, We’re going to have some fun now,” Huojin growled into his prey’s ear. “You and me, pal.”
“No,” Liz said. It was sharp and she shook off the haze that had surrounded her mind. “Just kill him and plant him somewhere. Let’s just be done with this asshole.”
“Liz,” Huojin complained, almost whining.
“Just,” Liz started. “Just do it, all right?”
“Fine,” Huojin said. He groaned as he pulled the future fertilizer to its feet and sighed, glancing back once just to make sure. “I’ll be back in an hour.”
The former customer writhed in Huojon’s grip but couldn’t get away. None ever had. Liz swiveled on her heal and pulled open the flimsy screen door to the bar, stomping into the main room where she pushed her way to the counter.
James watched her for a moment and she flipped him the bird. He turned and poured her a shot of the house whiskey, setting it in front of her. Liz downed it in a gulp.
“Did you teach him his lesson?”
“It’s been handled,” she said.
“It smells like horseshit,” Liz said. She swiped at her nose with a forearm as she looked around the abandoned space. It was lit by rays of sunlight that managed to sneak through the boarded up windows but enough so that she could see its ramshackle state.
“There was a stable in the back for customers to keep their horses,” the sales agent said, as if it were a selling point. He righted a tipped over table. “You could re-open it if you felt like it. People like knowing their horses are safe.”
“Not if it means having this smell,” Liz said.
The layout was similar to most buildings on Galileo, wide and open on the ground floor with apartments on the upper floors. This one was deeper than most, leaving plenty of room for what Liz had planned for it while the staircase in the rear was discrete enough so as not to be obvious to all on the lower floors as to where another customer might be going.
A few booths here, a few tables there, and a bar in the front. It might be the space she was looking for.
“So,” she said. “What happened to the previous owner?”
The agent glanced around and began arranging candles in the broken glass votives on the table. He coughed enough in discomfort that Liz began to suspect a reasonable discount in the purchase price.
“He left town for New Chicago because of some,” the agent said. “Troubles… Obviously he didn’t have time to pack, so anything left will be considered part of the purchase.”
Liz scratched her chin as she considered. The listing had been for the entire building, including the four floors of apartments above the bar and the bordello. The previous owner had used them as weekly rentals. She was convinced she could turn them into proper places to live. The list price on the property had been within her range and, as she toured the building, she understood why. The amount of work needed would be substantial. But there was major advantage in location that couldn’t be ignored. Closer to the center of town, and the type of customers she wanted to attract, it was almost perfect.
“If I buy, will I be inheriting any of the previous owners ‘troubles’,” Liz asked.
“Doubtful,” the agent said. “He’s wanted by more than a few people for more than a few things.”
“Alright,” Liz said. “Good.”
“So? Does that mean we have a deal?”
“Yeah,” Liz said. She took one more look around the space and nodded. “Yeah. I think so.”
The smell of fresh construction and incense had replaced the scent of horse manure. Three months of cleaning and renovation had been needed to eradicate the various odors that permeated the building. But, in the process, Liz had managed to turn the former flophouse into a bar and restaurant with some class. She could already imagine what it was going to look like with the soap removed from her new front windows and her male customers in suit jackets and ties and ladies in fine dresses seated at the tables.
The ten bordello rooms upstairs had been fixed up for the girls, as comfortable as any private bedroom. For Liz, it was an important illusion to maintain. The rooms at The Welshman & The Wop were so sparse that they were more like a workshop than a lover’s den. Liz wanted her customers to feel as though they were visiting the girl’s home. When the place opened, she even planned to stock each with their own private crystal bottle of Galilean Whiskey. Depending on where she bought it from and the quantity she knew it might be expensive but decided that it was worth the cost if it added to the overall atmosphere of the place.
Of course, not all of the construction was finished. Liz had been so wrapped up in renovating the public spaces that she had neglected the apartments on the upper floors. They were in the same state that they had been when she purchased the property. With the cost of acquiring it and fixing up the bar and restaurant, her savings had been depleted. For the moment, she didn’t want to think about how much more she had to spend upstairs. Huojin, though, interrupted her dismal thoughts.
“Hey boss,” he said, sneaking up on her quiet and with a soft voice. “The final delivery’s arrived. We’re set to open any time you’re ready.
“Jin,” Liz said with a grin. “From now on, it’s Miss Carter if you’re not going to call me Liz, okay?”
“You’ve got it, Miss Carter” Huojin said. He smiled wide, exposing a golden but shy grin for a man as large as he.
Liz straightened his coat lapels and nodded with approval at how respectable he looked in his new clothes. When she decided to open her new place, Liz knew that Houjin was the one she wanted to manage it. He was loyal, well-disciplined, and didn’t take any gruff off anyone.
“So,” he asked. “When do we open?”
“Ah, Jesus,” Liz moaned. “I guess as soon as I tell Jimmy and James. Not that I’m looking forward to that.”
“You want me to go with you,” he asked. “I’ll go, if you need me.”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I need to do this by myself.”
Liz leaned against the railing of the upstairs hallway, looking down on the main room of the Welshman & the Wop. It was a scattering of tables and chairs and the long bar at the far end with little else. Her perennial boyfriend Jimmy was behind the counter, washing dishes. A cigarette burned in an ashtray near him and music played on low volume from the stereo. Otherwise, the bar was quiet. Liz’s girls had gone home hours before with a lack of customers in the early hours giving them a reason to stay. Even the fans, dangling from the ceiling, seemed to turn in slow circles unhurried by the rising sun. It was the late morning lull that allowed the bar to be cleaned from the night before in preparation for the one ahead.
Liz took her time descending the rickety wooden stairs to the main floor below, holding up the edges of her dress as she made her way so as not to dirty it. She took a stool at the bar and lit a cigarette, puffing out toward the ceiling out of habit from Earth and the non-smokers there.
“Hey,” Jimmy said. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” Liz said, head bobbing from side to side.
“You don’t seem okay”.
Jimmy poured her a shot of tequila from a bottle brought from Earth. Liz nodded and considered the drink before downing it in a shot. She stared at the empty glass before her before speaking.
“I’m leaving,” she said.
“You’re going back to Earth?”
“I’m not going back to Earth,” Liz said. She tapped the rim of the shot glass for refill. “I’m opening my own place.”
“Like hell,” Jimmy snorted. “This is our place, the three of us. What do you mean you’re opening your own?”
“I mean this is your place,” Liz said. “Yours and James’s. Hell, it’s only you two represented above the door.”
“We wanted to make it The Welshman, The Wop & The Whore. But you didn’t like it.”
“Because I’m not a whore, for Christ’s sake,” Liz said. “I just run the girls.”
“I know, but ‘madam’ breaks the whole ‘w’ thing,” Jimmy said, grinning.
He poured himself a shot of whiskey and tossed it down his through just as quick.
“Yeah, Jimmy. Alliteration is the important thing here,” Liz grumbled. “Anyway, it’s done.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“I mean I’m almost ready to open.”
“How the hell are you almost ready,” Jimmy asked.
Leaned against the back counter, he searched for his cigarettes. A moment later he found them in his shirt pocket. Taking out a hand-rolled cigarette and with trembling fingers, he tucked it between his lips.
“Where is it,” he asked
“It’s on the other side of town,” Liz said. “On North-East Avenue and A-ring. It’s not going to compete with this place. I’m not even going for the same kind of customers.”
The music ended and the bar was silent except for the soft squeaking of the ceiling fans. Jimmy leaned back against the bar, silent. He puffed on his cigarette and stared blank at the box of drink condiments on the bar. Liz swiveled her hips back and forth and the stool, light squeaks in sync with her motion.
“So are you selling out of the partnership then,” Jimmy asked.
“It’s up to you and James,” Liz said. “If you want me to sell it back to you, then sure. Otherwise, I’ll just take my percentage of the profits in cash every month.”
“Jesus… I feel like we’re being screwed here.”
“I don’t want to screw you guys,” Liz said. “I really don’t. I just need to go my own way. You know, be on my own.”
“Well,” Liz said. “Yeah. Me and Jessica.”
“Just you and Jessica,” Jimmy repeated, shaking his head. “Just you and your daughter, running the place then?”
“That’s the idea, Jimmy,” Liz said. “You’re welcome to come and see her anytime you want though.”
“That’s very kind,” Jimmy said. “So… When do you and she start your new emancipation?”
“I can start clearing out now. Then I’ll be gone when she gets home from school.”
“You’re leaving us kind of in the lurch for tonight.”
“Get Li-Qiu to take my place,” said Liz. “She knows the drill.”
“Yeah,” Jimmy said. “Fine.”
Liz climbed up off the stool and summated the stairs to the room that she and Jimmy had, until just then, been sharing. It was a dingy little dark space that smelled like mold from whatever vegetation grew under the floorboards. The drapes were always drawn and the darkness made the room feel even smaller. She went to the small closet and pulled out the bag she used to carry her belongings with her from Earth and began stuffing it full of clothes from the dresser’s drawers.
Downstairs, James emerged from the backroom and found Jimmy, still leaning against the counter. A look of consternation pulled on his face. James grinned and punched Jimmy in the shoulder.
“Something up? You look like someone just shot your dog.”
“Liz is leaving,” Jimmy said. His eyes shot upstairs in the direction she went. “She’s opening up her own place.”
“Yeah,” Jimmy said. “I guess she’s too good for us to stay here any more.”
James leaned against his friend and gave him a knowing chuck on the shoulder.
“Well,” he said. “We’ll see about that.”
“The hell is this,” asked a man standing at the lining the front of Liz’s Dinner & Cabaret. His voice was modulated so all would hear and face him He held a white plate of pleasingly arranged appetizers high so all could see the hundred cockroaches scrambling over them. “The hell kind of joint are you running here?”
Huojin leapt from his seat the back where he had been entertaining several customers at their table and stormed forward. The customers around the insect covered plate had scattered backward, holding gloved hands over disgusted expressions and dancing as if the bugs might bite. Only two people remained in the bar area, the one who started the small panic and one who had something of his own to add.
“Hot damn,” said the second man as he held up a plate. “I’ve got bugs, too!”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing,” Huojin asked.
“The hell am I doing,” laughed the instigator. He tossed his plate to the floor. It shattered, carrying glass, bugs, and oysters to all corners of the bar. “The hell’re you doing? Ain’t you people ever heard of an exterminator?”
“Jesus,” the second man chuckled. “I ain’t never seen so many fuck’n bugs!”
He threw his dish at the picture window at the front of the restaurant. The glass cracked and shattered.
Liz emerged from the kitchen where the noises of food preparation had obscured the sound of a plate breaking but couldn’t hide the crashing of her window. She studied the mess in the front of her restaurant and burned.
“Huojin,” she said, pointing. The two men carried on, stomping on the scattering cockroaches. They ran into the table seating and began smashing fists into people’s dinners screaming in hysterical tones about bugs. “Stop them?”
Huojin motioned for the bartender and two cooks to follow. The small posse chased the two scenemakers through the restaurant and out the back. Liz trailed behind them, promising each customer she passed that their meal was complimentary and apologizing for the commotion. A small army of busboys emerged and swept away the mess of glass in the bar, killing any roaches they found. They removed the ruined meals, making notes on each one so the cooks would whip up replacements.
Liz realized only after the fact that she should have recognized the two men in the bar. They were wearing the bare minimum of the dress code she instituted for her place. They were unshaven and sloppy. Not the sort who’d discover Liz’s on their own. No. They were regulars from The Welshman & The Wop.
The music blared as always at The Welshman & The Wop and people yelled at top volume just to hear each other over the din. Jimmy and James were both behind the bar, pouring drinks as quick as the flow from the bottles and taps would allow. As they emptied a bottle, it was tossed into a box in the corner behind the bar.
James could see the crowd gathered at the bar parting as a man in a torn suit jacket pushed his way through. It hadn’t been a nice coat to start with but it was in shambles now. He’d taken some punches to the face but not enough to knock him out, just enough to make him a walking billboard of discouragement. As he pressed through the last person, he collapsed against the rail, head propped on his elbow, chest heaving with exertion.
“Hey, Bill,” James said with a grin. He poured the man a shot of whiskey. “Looks like you ruined your suit.”
“Screw you, James,” Bill said. He downed the shot and looked at the Welshman with the expectation of another. James obliged and Bill swallowed the second as quick as the first. “I barely got away and they still have Guozhi.”
“I hope he wasn’t that good of a friend,” James said, refilling Bill’s glass a third time. “‘Cause I don’t think he’ll be coming back.”
“The hell are you saying,” Bill asked. He reached inside his coat for a pack of cigarettes and tapped one out He popped into his mouth but didn’t light it, letting it jump up and down as he spoke. “What do you mean he’s not coming back?”
“I mean, I warned you about getting caught,” James said. “When Liz ran the girls here, she put more men into the ground than Jimmy and I combined. And now that she has Guozhi, she knows that who sent you.”
“Who gives a holy flying fuck, James,” Bill said, his voice cracking under strain. “We need to get Guozhi back. Now.”
“Not going to happen,” James said. He shrugged in resignation to the fact and took another order.
“Son of a bitch,” Bill said. He pointed an angry finger at James as he finished his drink, wiping his lips with the sleeve of his jacket. “You should have been more specific.”
“Yeah, well,” James said. “Consider your debts paid.”
Bill finished yet another whiskey, eyes staring evil at James while he did. He slammed the glass down on the bar and slid it back. James watched Bill push his way out through the crowd. When Bill was gone, James turned his eyes to the ceiling in thought for a moment, watching the slow turns of the fans. His head bobbed from shoulder to shoulder before deciding it wasn’t anything and served the next customer.
For three hours, things continued like any other average night in The Welshman & The Wop. The box in the corner had been emptied after it was filled beyond capacity and was on its way to needing it again. A periodic lull had fallen on the bar and Jimmy and James found themselves with a moment in which to indulge themselves with a cigarette. James looked up at the second floor and saw that Li-Qiu still had the “full” signal up letting everyone below know that none of the girls were available. A good night for business.
“Hey, Jimmy,” James said. He waved over his parter. “Wanted to let you know that we might have a problem.”
“What,” Jimmy asked.
“Liz was able to capture one of the boys we sent over.”
Jimmy shook his head, chin dragging along his chest. “Jesus… So, she’s going to know it was us.”
“I think that’s a given.”
James nodded with a grim expression and turned around to serve a calling customer and the front window of the bar shattered by a bound and gagged body. It bumped off a table and landed on the floor with a wet thud as glass rained down around. Customers sober enough to avoid the shards jumped out of the way. Those not so quick stumbled away or fell backward out of their chairs. Jimmy leapt over the bar and shoved his way through the gawking crowd. James followed and leaned over as Jimmy crouched to inspect the body. It was Bill, dead, with a note nailed to his.
“Oh hell,” James said.
Jimmy worked the nail out of the corpse’s sternum, unfolded it, and read it James. “It says, ‘Now we both have broken windows. Call it even.'”
“Even. Right,” said James. “She doesn’t hesitate adding a body count to any grudge, does she?”
Jimmy stood, shaking his head as he tried to comprehend something that wasn’t right. “They broke her window? They were just supposed to dump some roaches.”
“Well,” James. “I guess some things don’t always go as planned.”
He took the note, folded it, and stuffed it into his back pocket. He clapped his hands and rubbed them together as he surveyed Bill’s broken body. There was a close range shotgun wound to the stomach. Brutal and way out of line, even if they did break her window.
“We have to answer this.”
“Maybe we should just call it even,” Jimmy said. “Let’s just let her go, okay?”
“Like hell,” James said. “This needs to be answered.”
The new window was installed the next day but, as Liz stared through the glass, she became convinced that the previous one had been somehow better. There was something hazy about the new one and the light refraction wasn’t as pleasing somehow. The color also seemed to be off. More yellow. Or something. She wasn’t sure and Huojin kept telling her to let it go.
The window had been replaced early enough that Liz was able to open for the dinner crowd but it didn’t yet have the establishment’s name painted on it yet because the artist was unavailable until the following week. He had offered to do it in the evening but she didn’t want the open paint cans and canvas on the sidewalk. The window without the painted logo looked fine even if she was less happy with the actual glass than she believed she should have been.
“Okay,” she said, turning to Huojin with a sigh. “It’s fine. Let’s open for business.”
“You sure, Liz,” Huojin said. “If you want to stay closed for a day, no one would blame you.”
“No,” Liz said. “We need to open. Show people that we’re not kowtowed by pranks like that.”
“You’re the boss, Miss Carter,” Huojin said with a grin full of gold plated teeth. He pulled a heavy ring of keys from his pocket and unlocked the front door.
For the first few hours, things were slow as only a few customers meandered in for a drink or two. But, as the evening got later, the tables began to fill up with the new and growing aristocracy of Galileo City. Liz’s girls, all well trained as ladies, acted as hostesses to the guests and soon the rooms upstairs were doing a brisk business as well.
As the evening turned into night, Liz’s nerves started to settled. She had been worried Jimmy and James were going to stage another scene but it seemed as though they had gotten the message last night and she was glad for it. Liz didn’t harbor any particular animus towards her former partners and hoped that maybe they had given up whatever they held against her.
When the clock range five in the morning, Liz checked her watch to confirm the hour and left the business in the capable hands of Huojin, excusing herself from the few customers that remained.
Using the rear exit, she climbed the five flights of stairs to the penthouse she had created by merging all of the apartments on that floor. Inside, her almost fourteen year-old daughter, Jessica, was asleep on the couch, school book open on her lap as she snored. Liz moved the book aside and lifted the girl into her arms, carrying her to her room and placing her onto the bed. She kissed Jessica on the forehead and made sure the covers were snug under her chin.
She headed for the door and took a final glance at her daughter, a smile lighting Liz’s otherwise tired eyes and closed the door with a soft thump. Deciding she deserved one, Liz returned to the main room and poured herself a drink, enjoying the woody taste and listening to the quiet sounds of the city. Except that they weren’t so quiet. In the distance the slow roar of an angry mob rumbled through the streets. Liz stood on her tiptoes, searching the street for the noise’s origin and then she saw them. She lit a cigarette, leaning against the window and taking a small puff.
“What the hell?”
At first the mob appeared to be one of the usual types that appeared on the streets of [[urs|Galileo CityGalileo City]] from time to time, drunk, angry people in search of others to take out their misery on. Given the emptiness of the streets, Liz waited for them to move along but instead they stopped kitty corner to her building and shouts of unintelligible insults grew in volume and number.
Opening the window, Liz poked her head out into the cool morning air found that the mob was people of exact the kind who patronized The Welshman & The Wop and more than a few were carrying bats and clubs.
“Fucking mother Jesus Christ,” Liz mumbled, runny for the door of the apartment. Letting herself out, she locked the door behind her to ensure Jessica remained safe. Liz flew down the stairs, almost leaping from landing to landing until reaching the bottom. The sound of shattering glass made her cringe as she entered through the back and found that the mob hadn’t just broken her new window but every old one, too, and anything else inside that they could lay their clubs to.
Huojin ran to Liz and grabbed her, picking her up off the ground and carrying her under and arm as he, the night staff, and the remaining customers retreated from the destruction. Liz struggled, her arms locked in Huojin’s grip but her legs swinging as she fought to be released and her face turning red as anger welled up inside.
He let her down when they were safe in the back alley running between her building and the one behind it. Liz swung her fist and connected with Huojin’s jaw but he took it and rubbed the the sore spot on his chin. She tried to push past but he refused to let her past him. Liz pounded on his chest with her small fists.
“What the fuck, Huo,” Liz screamed. “We need to stop them!”
Huojon held her by the shoulders, pushing her back so his chest wouldn’t take any more abuse.
“If we go back in there, we’re dead. There must be forty of them.”
“You know who did this! Fucking Jimmy and James!”
“I know,” he said. He hung his head in shame. He’d failed to get the message through the first time. “I know and I’ll make this right.”
“Make this right, Huo,” Liz said, shrieking. “Make this right? There is no right! I want you to burn that fucking place down, Huo. With everyone inside. Burn it down!”
Jimmy was asleep on the freezer chest in the back when he awoke to the smell of smoke. The air was thick with it and Jimmy realized that he couldn’t see much further than a few feet in any direction. He pulled his shirt off over his head, wet it under the faucet, and pressed it to his face. He waded out the bar and saw that flames had erupted on several tables and on random places on the floor. As he got closer, his feet crunched the glass of broken liquor bottles and it dawned on him that Molotov cocktails had been used to start the fire.
Customers were crowded by the front door, banging on it, but unable to escape. Jimmy pushed his way to the front kicked at it with all his strength but it didn’t budge. Then that he noticed the wooden planks that had been nailed across both the front doors and windows.
Jimmy swiveled and sprinted for the back exit where he found James slamming his shoulder against that door without any success and coughing from smoke inhalation. Jimmy removed the shirt from his face and ripped it in half, handing one piece to his partner. The smoke was becoming unbearable and the shirt was doing little to stop it. He kicked twice at the door but found it just as solid as the one in the front. An axe. He needed an axe.
Jimmy ran back to the room he had been sleeping in and started rummaging through the storage closets until he found the old axe he had bought when he, James, and Liz had settled on Galileo nearly seven years before. His fingers white on the wooden handle, Jimmy raced to the back door.
“Go get everyone and bring them back this way,” Jimmy said. James nodded but couldn’t answer because of a fit of coughing.
Jimmy tied his shirt around his head to cover his nose and mouth so he wouldn’t have to hold it. With heavy swings of the axe, Jimmy chopping through the back door and the three wooden planks sealing it shut. He had created a clear exit just as the customers arrived and he directed them out, leaving last with James. In the back, the two of them panted like men with two pack-a-day habits who had just run a marathon.
“I thought I was dead back there,” James said in between coughs. “Quick thinking.”
“You know who did this,” Jimmy said.
The screaming sirens of the volunteer fire brigade reached a crescendo out front. They were going to break down the front doors and cause who knew how much additional damage putting out the flames but Jimmy was relieved that it meant he wouldn’t have to go back inside.
“I know who did this,” James said..
Liz awoke to the rumble of an explosion on the lower floors and looked out the window to find tables and chairs blown across the dark street below and flames licking up the side of the building.
Jimmy and James stumbled outside with a dozen other survivors, their faces black with soot and running red from the splinters with the floor exploded. A dozen more were found in the wreckage of the planeted bomb but almost a hundred had been killed.
Liz praised Huojin’s foresight in silent prayer later when a truck bearing hundreds of pounds of dynamite struck the concrete blocks he’d erected on the sidewalk. It managed to blow out the windows of every building for a half-mile but it had saved what was left of her own.
Jimmy and James began to rethink their eye for an eye strategy upon finding every bartender who hadn’t yet quit with their throats cut, hanging from the scorched rafters of The Welshman & The Wop.
Liz and Huojin crossed the wide green expanse Galileo Commons from one side as Jimmy and James did from the other side, four sets of eyes squinting in the harsh sunlight as they searched for danger. A significant crowd watched as they approached each other, pistols in hand, ready to shoot the foursome rather than let the hostilities continue. It was a forced settlement for all sides but Jimmy and James walked stooped, hands deep in their pockets, shoulders hunched.
They stopped five feet short of each other. Jimmy nodded at Liz, a sheepish expression in his hangdog eyes. She was a solid foot shorter than him but had a quality that had always made him afraid of her. Maybe it was Liz’s penchant for killing anyone who crossed her.
“Liz,” Jimmy said.
Liz glanced up at Huojin. He kept a watchful eye on those watching them but nodded. No threat was appeared to be imminent.
“So,” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest. “Are we going to bring this war of ours to an end?”
“What,” Jimmy said. “Now that we’ve totally destroyed our businesses?”
“And slaughtered our staff,” James mumbled.
Jimmy shot a nervous glance at James. He wasn’t any happier about the gruesome scene inside his bar than his partner but it was clear that Liz was willing to go further than either of them were. Better just to let it go in the name of peace.
“I’d like to note for everyone’s benefit,” Liz said. “That you guys were the ones who started this mess.”
“Let’s not point fingers,” Jimmy said. “Okay? Can we just stop all of this?”
“We can,” Liz said. Huojin produced a piece of paper and passed it to Liz who handed it to Jimmy. “But this is your bill for reparations.”
“Reparations,” James snorted. “Like hell.”
“Liz,” Jimmy begged. “Why don’t we just call it even?”
“Even is when you pay for the damage you caused my place,” Liz said. “Unless you want to keep this going?”
“Liz,” Jimmy said. “You killed everyone who worked for us. That’s got to be worth something!”
“Not a lot,” Liz said. She turned on her heel. “You have a week to make your first payment,” she said they walked away. “If you don’t, this ceasefire is over.”
Jimmy watched Liz storm away across the grass of the Commons. Huojin watched him and caught his eye. Flashing a quick golden smile, turned and jogged after his boss. The crowd that watched them seemed satisfied that a resolution had been come to and began to wander away.
Squinting up into the bright blue sky, Jimmy knew that they were right. He could try and not pay but it would just lead to more bloodshed. His own, probably. What grace he’d earned when she broke up with him had been long since exhausted and Huojin never went in for it in the first place. No. He’d pay and be happy to still be breathing.
“You’re not actually thinking about accepting this bullshit, are you,” James asked.
“Of course we’re going to pay her,” Jimmy said. “And you know it.”
James kicked at the grass and shook his head. He lit a cigarette and took a deep pull, snorting as he exhaled.
“Jesus,” he said. “I really fucked up.”
“Yeah, you did.”