Fifteen – Ian
The man was terrified. Fear oozed out of him and yet he dialed the number. He was such a brave young man.
I sat beside him, my hand on his knee, rubbing tenderly as Shin waited for Kennedy to pick up. When he did, I could tell just by the tightening of the lips that I’d kissed not a moment ago. Shin’s aura changed, the air around him vibrating with ire and trepidation.
I squeezed his knee to remind him that he was safe now. The plan had been laid out and now we just had to carry it through to the end. Shin gave me a worried look, then put the call on speaker.
“Well, now, look who’s ringing me up. Are you calling to get your job back?” Kennedy asked. Shin’s leg began to bounce up and down. “Did that rich daddy of yours get tired of you already?”
I glanced over at Butch pacing my office like a caged tiger. I nudged Shin’s knee with mine.
“No,” Shin said, his voice strong even though he was anxious. “I called to tell you that I know what you’ve been doing to us, your employees. How you’ve been skimming thousands of dollars a night from our wages.”
The man laughed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Why don’t you stop wasting my time and tell me what dive you’re at so I can come get you. I’ll be happy to take you back, Opal. The bidders have missed you. Of course, you’ll be punished for running away but once that’s over with, we’ll be a family again.”
Shin’s gaze touched mine. I nodded. “There’s also the matter of your hiring underage boys to work for you.”
He laughed again. God, he was a pompous asshole. “Please, we all know that’s bullshit.”
“I have proof that I was seventeen when you first put me on the floor.”
The snickering on the other end stopped for a second. “You were eighteen.”
“I was seventeen and I have proof.”
“I’m not sure what kind of shake down this is, but I’m not biting.”
“I have images, date stamped, of my first night. Remember? How proud you were to offer up an Asian gem to the bidders? You took several images and gave me one to keep as a memento. I also have a copy of the contract that I signed. The date clearly shows it was signed by both of us with the day, month, and year plainly written out, which is a full month and a day before my actual birthday.”
A pause. “What do you want?”
“I want to meet you in an hour.”
“Your office. One hour.”
The line went dead. Shin was shaking so violently now that my cell slid from his hand to the floor. Butch’s circling intensified.
“You were amazing,” I told Shin, pulling him into my arms where he burrowed in like a touch-deprived infant. “He’s worried, now. Damn worried.”
“He should be,” Butch muttered, checking his Beretta M-9 for the tenth time.
“This isn’t going to work. He’s going to kill us all.” Shin’s leg bounced harder.
“No, he won’t. We’re going to walk in there and tell him how things are going to be. He’s a bully, Shin. Once they realize they can’t intimidate any more, they back down.”
Shin shook his head, his lower lip puffy and red where he’d been chewing it.
“Ian’s right. No one gets dead on my watch. My guys are stationed around the block and as soon as Parks steps foot outside, he’ll be escorted to the airport. Or he can be a dick and go for a swim in the river with no lungs. Choice is his.”
Shin gaped at Butch. I led his attention back to me. “He’s been watching too many John Wick movies. Everything is going to be fine. Stay close and let me do the talking. We’re looking at a business negotiation now, and I’ve handled a few of those in my time.”
“My stomach feels like I swallowed nails.”
I cupped his chin in my hand then pressed a kiss to his tender lips. I loved kissing him. It was such a simple gesture of affection for most of us, but for Shin it was something deeper, something tangled up with trust and respect and love. And he’d kept that part of him distant from Opal. He’d blessed me with that precious gift. I would treasure it and him, always.
“We have to go,” Butch said. I grabbed the suitcase on the coffee table, offered Shin my hand, and led him to the elevator. To our neighbors, we looked like a typical couple, more or less, heading out to work. Shin was dressed casually, as was I; Butch was in a dark blue suit. We all had Kevlar under our shirts; Butch’s orders. Even with the bullet proof vests, it was a tussle to get him to allow me to orchestrate this. He’d finally relented when I fired him for the twenty-fourth time this year.
The ride to the Southside was a tense, silent affair. We parked down the block, and with Shin on my arm, we strolled to the front door and past the bouncer just settling into his little cubicle inside the front door. He gave us a jerk of his big block head and a tap of his brow. Butch followed on our heels, his presence a welcome one. The first floor was empty, the plinths and sofas each gem displayed himself on waiting for night to arrive. We were met at the stairs by two huge men with skin the color of almond. Wide noses, black eyes, matching chrome domes. They led us up to the second floor. Shin gave his old suite as wide a berth as possible.
The only sound to be heard was the soft whine of the hinges as Big Goon Number One opened the first door on a long corridor. The carpeting was rich, the wallpaper tasteful, and the doors all freshly painted and numbered. I could feel the pull that his friends behind those doors had in Shin, but he never wavered. He marched into Kennedy’s office as if it were his.
Kennedy sat behind a heavy desk that held a gooseneck lamp, a desktop monitor, and a crystal decanter of what I assumed was a top shelf brandy. The door closed with a snick and Butch took to one corner, hands behind his back, legs spread, unseen earpiece resting in his ear. He could be secret service. Should have been, probably. Why he wasn’t, he’d not deigned to tell me yet and I’d not asked. I was grateful to have him at my back.
“If it’s not the new lovers,” Kennedy cooed, standing to pour two tumblers of amber liquid as his two men settled into the opposite corner from where Butch stood. “I will say you make a lovely couple.”
“Thank you. I’ll pass on the liquor. I’d rather not negotiate terms with a headful of brandy.” I laid the suitcase on his desk. He eyed it nonchalantly then tossed back his two fingers.
“Why are you doing this, Opal?” Kennedy enquired. Shin remained silent and stoic at my side, his palm sweaty against mine.
“This meeting is between you and me.” I released Shin’s hand, tapped a short code into the digital lock on the briefcase, flipped the lid, and spun it to face Kennedy. “Inside, as you can see, is a check for five million dollars, made out to you. Under that check is a deed transfer. You’re going to take the check and sign the deed transfer, then you’re going to leave this country within twenty-four hours and never return.”
His sneer was well-practiced. “You want me to sell you this nightclub for a few million dollars? Come on now, McDougald, we both know it’s worth twice that. If this little shit hadn’t decided to go starry-eyed about you, I’d have made that off you in six months. Times that by ten and you’ll see why I respectfully must tell you to get the fuck out of my office and take this used-up little gook slut with you.”
It was Shin touching my hand that pulled me back from tossing this plan aside and taking a swing at Kennedy for that racial slur. While I craved violence, this had to be handled legally and with logic. Punching his face until it turned to mush would get us and every young man in here dead. I was not willing to gamble with Shin’s life. But God above I longed to pulverize the motherfucker.
“I don’t want you to sell it to me. You’re selling it to Mr. Hurley and Mr. Khan. I’m just acting as their representative in this transaction. Do you need a pen?” I reached into my suit jacket and three men pulled guns. Butch and the goons. Shin gasped. Kennedy sat down in his high-backed leather chair and poured himself another drink.
“Looks like you’re outgunned, McDougald,” Kennedy sniggered. The door opened then, and Diamond slipped inside. Kennedy’s dark eyes narrowed in anger.
“Looks like he’s not outgunned anymore,” Diamond growled, brandishing his own pistol, a flashy little Derringer, the barrel leveling at Kennedy’s stunned face.
“We have eight other men out there in the hall who are also armed,” I bluffed. “And they’re really angry men. Someone told them about you stealing from them for the past few years.”
“That would have been me who did the telling,” Diamond said, then smiled and shrugged. “Oops, was that supposed to be a secret?”
“Looks like the odds aren’t in your favor,” Butch tossed out just to be an ass. “Why don’t we put these pretties back in their holsters and act like businessmen and not hoods? Thank you.” The guns lowered. Shin exhaled shakily.
“Now that we’ve all marked our territories, can we get back to business? The terms are generous, way more than this decrepit building is worth, despite the opulent interior. After you sign, you’ll have twenty-four hours to leave the country. If you’re sighted in Colchester again, all the evidence we have will be turned over to the district attorney. As you know, she has a particular hatred for child abusers.”
“He wasn’t abused. He came to me begging for a job!” Kennedy railed, his brow dotted with perspiration, his eyes feral. “He came to me!”
I lifted a shoulder, the tension in the well-appointed office so thick it was hard to draw a breath. Kennedy tossed back his drink, the hatred in his eyes doing little to disturb me. We had him dead to rights, he knew it, we knew it. This is what happens when distasteful yet powerful men think they’re above the law. They do stupid things, engage in braggadocios behavior, and end up with a large trap clamped around their unsuspecting balls. I folded my arms over my chest as Kennedy stared at the pen lying on the deed transfer.
“I want that damn picture.” Slowly, and with a raised eyebrow at the goons, I reached into my interior suit jacket pocket and pulled out a crumpled picture obviously downloaded from a phone. The image was a little grainy but there was no denying it was Shin, dressed as he’d been the first night I’d seen him, at the tender age of seventeen. I dropped it to the desk. Kennedy picked it up, gave the upper corner where the date stamp was a quick look, and then tore it into bits. Those bits he flung at Shin who stood ramrod stiff at my side. “How do I know there aren’t more than one of these?”
“You don’t,” Shin clearly stated.
“You fucking little shit,” Kennedy snarled deep in his chest, snatched up the pen, and scribbled his name on the deed to Gems.
“Well done,” I slowly reached for the papers, gathered them up, and placed them back into my briefcase. “Twenty-four hours. Misters Khan and Hurley will be here tomorrow evening at…” I rolled my left arm to look at my Bulgari watch, “…seven-ten p.m. sharp with a deputy sheriff in tow to claim legal possession of this building.”
“You think you’re so fucking smart. This isn’t over. I have family in positions of power. All you fucking sluts are going to pay for this,” Kennedy sneered.
“I don’t think I’m smart, it’s a proven fact,” I countered. “Twenty-four hours.”
With that, the four of us exited the office. When the door clicked shut, Kennedy blew apart, shouting and throwing things into the walls. I glanced down the hall at the eight other young men, none with any kind of weapon in sight, eyes wide and filled with apprehension.
“We’re taking the night off,” Diamond told them. “Tomorrow night we’re having a meeting with the new owners; the dude who looks like a cop and Opal.”
There was a cheer and my Shin was engulfed in hugs and kisses while Kennedy Parks began trashing his office. I suspected the new owners would find one hell of a mess when they took over tomorrow. For now, I just wanted to get my lover home, but that looked to be a long time off…