You know what’s a good way to wake up when you’ve spent the night drinking cheap wine? Explosions. I don’t recommend trying it at home, however, since explosions are notoriously hard on architecture. The sporadic bombings had kept up, a couple every week, only now they managed to destroy a very well-insured empty store that belonged to Double Cross.
Sad thing, too. It was just getting equipped to sell expensive home medical equipment, but every single piece was destroyed in the explosion. If these bombings keep up, who knows what else might be destroyed? An entire warehouse full of prosthetics? A lab full of expensive equipment?
And we are rushing out the prosthetics. I never got a hold of a factory around here, so I’m trying to get a few places that can work on production in-house. Until then, I have to rely on Chinese sweatshop labor. Trying to save the world and, more importantly, my own life from alien invasion, but I have to rely on assholes in another country. Nice to know that if some advance force finds out what I’m doing, all they have to do to trip me up is mess with China. It’ll have to do until I can get things handled locally.
That was yet another headache for Genae Kilgore. Which reminds me, I need to look up her background. It’s just that a name like Kilgore is too awesome to be used by just anybody. Think about it. You go to a church, sit through a boring sermon, listen to people singing songs written before anyone invented rhyming or English, you go up to the little old lady playing the piano afterward, and she tells you her name is “Kilgore, motherfucker.”
That’s just not how it works.
So I checked in on her next. We had lunch, opting for a casual meal of pizza at some spot she knew nearby. She used to legitimately work in importing and exporting, specifically. Except that was a Canadian clothing company instead of a cartel, mafia, gang, regime, troupe, or league. Hell, at least a background in clothing means she already knew people in China to talk to.
She stopped shoveling a slice of pepperoni pizza between her lips at one point to inform me, “So we’re clear as crystal, I know Double Cross isn’t legal. My old employers dabbled on the side so I cover my tracks well.”
“Dabbled? What did they do that required you to pick up that kind of caution?” I raised an eyebrow, then went to sip on my drink, wishing I’d thought of some innuendo. She’s a little older, but can’t a gal like gingers? I mean, she’s got a ring on her finger, but accidents happen. Accidents especially happen when a homicidal maniac’s involved. Brakes fail, kitchen knives go flying, and guns accidentally discharge. You don’t even want to know everything people can slip and fall on. We sure are prone to mishaps, us lovable homicidal rogues.
We just don’t like to mention it to the objects of our affection because then they get freaked out. Then the mishaps start up again and I have to go find a banana to eat that hasn’t been used in a lobotomy.
But back to the question at hand. According to Genae, those clothiers from Canuckistan made some money on the side allowing a gang in town to hitch a ride on their shipments with a container or two of their own. “I reported it. Yeah, I reported it because I thought, I really did, that it didn’t go further than my office. You bet I was surprised when that same day my boss and the head of Personnel pulled me aside. They told me, well, they made it clear I should shut my trap and make sure nothing stopped what happened. What could I do, I mean, if I talked I’d be fired or worse? I took a cut and didn’t say anything. I don’t even know what the big deal was about.”
Huh. I realized I could get in on that, too. Maybe make the same deal with whoever was moving whatever. If push comes to shove, take over completely. Hell, it was probably counterfeit purses or clothes. Fits right in alongside a clothing company’s merchandise and our business philosophy at Double Cross.
“I don’t suppose that company’s still around EC, are they?” I asked her.
She shook her head. “They abandoned us to Spinetingler and laid off the survivors. They turned their temporary U.S. Headquarters in Boston into a permanent one, the jackasses. Can you believe that?”
“Aww, that sounds horrible. I was just wondering in case you ever wanted me to look into those shipments. Could be an opportunity for us.”
She perked up and pointed at me. “I remember how they always marked the containers. I speak Mandarin so I know Chinese characters and I always thought it was strange how they were Chinese but wrote Thailand as the source on the containers in Mandarin and had a logo of a katana sword. I think they had a low opinion of customs.”
“Sounds like they had it for a good reason. I’ll call up Bob and see about an escort down to the docks. Wait, did they tend to come in at the same place?”
“Good, you can come with me, and we’ll hunt them down.”
She grimaced. “Can I draw the logo for you and not go?”
Uh oh. A woman with a survival instinct. I hate that in a potential relationship. It just complicates things. Normal relationships, you get in a fight, you apologize, there’s some tension, then everything gradually goes back to normal. That’s how it plays out with a survival instinct. Without it, like if you’re seeing a hooker, dealing with the aftermath of a fight is as simple as finding a dark alley to dump the body. And they’re so easy to get back together with, because the next one you find will probably let you call her by the old one’s name.
It’s the circle of hooker, and it’s magical.
Now, I wanted to be there in person when my guys swept the place and checked these things out, but I was accosted by Prince Pomerania, my head of Marketing. Pom, the preferred name of the former wrestler, was dealing with things as best he could despite the considerable problems associated with a new company and loads of new brands. That said, he also knew quite a bit about playing up the villainous connotations of our business to get the right kind of attention, as became evidence when he showed off a new billboard idea in his office.
It was purple, with skyscrapers and searchlights shooting into the air. Underneath a gold-edged black domino mask were the words “This city needs a better class of criminal. Mastermind Cafe.”
I liked the design, mostly, but wondered thought it seemed a little off. “It’s more like a poster, I think. And maybe say a ‘better class of cocoa,’ or some short name for coffee. A better class of cappuccino, maybe?”
“That’s an idea, bucko,” he said through his lisp. “I can focus group it and get back to you, but I’m not going with your idea just because it’s your idea. I seen that too much and it’s about doing what’s good for business.”
“I don’t mind, and I’m glad you told me. We haven’t really been able to sit down and have a talk about that. I don’t want a Yes Man. I want someone who gets things done.”
“Good. Here’s two more ideas we had, because I like my guys to bring me a handful of ways to proceed. This one, we went for old school black and white photos of mobsters. We could also go with a Western bandit gang if we need to. One guy joked around and had one of Hitler, but I told him that was X-Pac Heat. That’s slang for when people hate a wrestler more than they hate his character, and it’s the wrong heat, Jack.”
They weren’t bad either, and I briefly wondered what the graffiti artists would do with the guys in the ads. Then I shot off a note to the labs to find out what sort of paint the graffiti artists use around Empyreal City and devise a glaze or other surface material that explodes when exposed to it.
Still, I remembered he actually had a concern at that big meeting awhile back. “You said your old boss was trying to expand to fill the same gap with coffee?”
“Ah, I mighta misread that situation. McLanahan has that restaurant in Empyreal City. It’s a pro wrestling-themed sports bar, essentially. The Heel Cafes are an expansion of that, just under a different name. He’s buying good publicity with a program to help public schools with meals for kids who can’t afford school lunches called ‘Smack Down Hunger’. He’s a narcissist, but it seems wrong to go after the guy right now with that going on. The city’s getting its feet under itself, an’ it hasn’t cost anything for us but real estate. I just don’t feel it’s worth it, with EC getting its second wind.”
Bah. As if I’d let basic human decency get in the way of anything I wanted. I had half a mind to send people around to steal school lunches just to make up for this son of a bitch daring to challenge me. No…no, wait. I have a better idea. Perhaps there’s a way to teleport food out of their stomachs just after they eat it.
I haven’t thought of something that evilly and petty since the automated cat-kicker.
He stopped about when my eyes glazed over because I was taking a call from Ben from Security. “Miss Mortenson, we found the shipping container and cracked it open for a look. What exactly do you want us to do with this load of people?”
I blinked. Only Ben heard my reply. “People?”
“Eastern European, I think. Czechs and all. Mostly OK women. Young, some of them are teenagers. Goddamn, let me get clear of that godawful smell. Human trafficking, ma’am. If you want to take them, we’ll need accommodations and food for them. It’s your call if you want to get into pimping.”
With Pom looking at me funny, I pulled out my phone and said “Ring, ring,” then put it to my ear and went back to not saying anything out loud. “Pimping? So they look that good, huh?”
“That’s what I think is going on here.”
I shrugged. “Well, pimping ain’t easy…hey, hold up…I have an idea.” My asshole sense tingled.
Pom got up to leave. “I don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re smiling like the fucking Grinch and I wonder if I need an adult.”
I grabbed him by the wrist. “Not just yet. Think any of your old friends can get you some uniforms for Heel Cafe workers? I know some people who could use the clothes and I’m sure it’ll be great advertising.”
Fa la la, it’s off to hell we go! Cross your heart and hope to die, it’s off to hell we go! Maybe I can get the front steps to Double Cross headquarters engraved with phrases like “I thought I was helping,” or “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
But hey, the smuggled sex people were found in their new uniforms thanks to an anonymous tip to the police, so at least we’re not taking the highway to hell. And the best part is, I’m sure this will have absolutely no negative ramifications on my plans whatsoever.
Hello, Fate. Don’t mind me bending over, I just dropped my pencil.