Make It Bun Dem
“You sure about this, Viola?” Dick said.
Viola grinned. “I’m sure. You know I’m the best for this.”
“I wouldn’t even consider it otherwise,” Dick said. “Okay. Take care, sweetheart.”
I watched from my spot against the concrete wall, drumming my fingers on my arm, as Viola and Dick embraced and kissed each other’s cheeks. Vi was going to infiltrate Albany. With Silver’s camp quiet lately, Dick was getting antsy, and Viola had volunteered to go and spy on her.
Dick said, “Call me when you get in, okay? But go for public phones. Stay around people as much as you can. And be careful, please?”
Viola laughed. I was going to miss that laugh. She said, “Boss, it’s okay. Really. I know my way around the streets. In fact, give me time; I’ll find a nice French restaurant and you can come over for lunch.”
Dick said, “That—that is a bad idea. You got your cover straight?”
“Uh-huh,” Viola said. “I’ll find out what I can and be ready to run at any time. Now, I gotta go. Don’t want to miss my train.”
“Okay. Stay safe,” Dick said.
I hated to say goodbye. I had this dumb, childish idea that no goodbye meant no parting. Viola came up to me and I wanted to look away. She said, “Hey, girl. You gonna be fine without me?”
“Yeah,” I said, forcing a smile. “I’ll keep your plants watered. Don’t be too long, okay?”
Viola gave me a sad smile, and I knew she wasn’t fooled. She leaned in ever so slowly and kissed me on the mouth. “I’m happy for you,” she said.
“I’ll be happy for you if you come back safe,” I said, squeezing her hand. I felt her nails brush against me, slow to let go. Then she smiled and stepped away.
“I’m off,” Viola said. She gave a wave and walked out through the door. The door clanged shut, echoing in the tiny room.
Dick sighed and sat on the bed. Stepping his way, I said, “I was wondering. I’ve gotta take care of Viola’s place and water her plants. But I’ll be alone the whole time at a house that isn’t mine.”
“Sounds lonely,” Dick said. “You wanna stay with me?”
Dick said, “Why, Ms. Lenton! How forward of you! My mother would never allow it!” He laughed and I fake-snarled at him. “I’d like that, Barb. I have a guest bedroom, a couch, or—um—”
“Your bed,” I said, and Dick nodded. Trying to look nonchalant, I said, “I’m considering it. After all, you have my cat.”
“So I do,” Dick said. Then he grinned and clapped his hands together. “Now! I’ve got a job for you if you’re up for it.”
“Sure,” I said.
“How well do you get along with Wes?”
Lighting a cigar, Wes drawled, “See, heres’a thing, Barbara. Can I call you Barbara?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Thing is, when you’re a gunman, the job is boring. It’s piss-boring. Most of the time no one wants anybody killed and nobody wants to stir the pot. So you gotta enjoy the small things, you know?” Wes took a long drag from his cigar, and I rolled my eyes and lowered his window. “Small things like a smoke on a cool Spring evening.”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll keep on the lookout for things to enjoy.” I drummed my fingers on the sill of my car window and stared out across the street at a nearby donut shop. Maybe I was hoping the sign out front would suddenly change. It didn’t.
Wes said, “Now that is a bad attitude there, Barbara! Just cuz there’s nothing to burn don’t mean the day have to be miserable.” Wes gave me a frightening smile that bared a wall of tombstone teeth.
I said, “When I’m on duty, I can’t relax until the job is done.” I wished he wasn’t smoking, because the open window let the cold in. “My fun comes when I’m at home with my cat.”
“Or your boyfriend, right?” Wes said, and he laughed when I glared at him. “I’ve seen you making eyes. Well, him eying you. At least you’re warm around him, huh?”
“Oh shush. I’m as warm as a cucumber,” I said. Wes laughed and I managed a chuckle of my own. “Anyway. Like you said, nothing to burn, so I’m just driving today. What’s the job?”
Wes said, “Well, you know your friend Ben McGavin?”
“Who?” I said.
“The first house you burned down. That was his.” Wes whistled and shook his head. “I know your work better than you, Barbara! What does that say?”
“You have a good memory for details?” I said.
“Yeah, sure,” Wes said. “So after that fracas with the police, Ingram’s finest poked into McGavin’s business. Word in the IPD is McGavin’s fixing to talk about things he’d best keep bottled up.”
“From the IPD?” I said.
“Yup. Viola’s got ears and lips on the inside!” Wes said. I felt a stab of annoyance, but he added, “I think half the tip-offs and opportunities I’ve had are from her. That girl keeps the whole operation afloat. Anyway. Viola has an officer by the balls and he says McGavin’s come forward as an informant. That’s where we come in.”
I remembered seeing McGavin beat his wife. There was certainly no lost love between me and him. Him and me. “How do we come in?” I said, though I had a good idea.
“With a knife,” Wes said, patting the short hunting knife on his belt. “Not your usual job, I’m sure.”
“No, it isn’t,” I said. Maybe this would be fun after all. “I thought you said you were a gunman.”
“Oh, I am,” Wes said; he reached into his jacket and drew a colossal Colt Python. I recognized it off the internet. “This baby and me have been killin’ commies since you were in grade school.”
“Commies?” I said. Wes smirked. “I can’t tell if you’re serious or not.”
“Spend some more time with me, you’ll figure it out,” Wes said, stuffing the gun away. “Hey-o. Is that him?”
I looked down the street and spotted McGavin emerging from a food mart ahead, mostly hidden behind a large paper bag. He looked nervous, maybe paranoid, but he hadn’t even glanced our way. I said, “That’s him. Go time?”
“Go time,” Wes said. “Get in the alleyway, that one there, and be prepared to grab him. I’ll drive him your way.”
I nodded and got out of the car, then pushed through a passing crowd to the alley between the donut shop and a law office. The way forward was crowded with dumpsters and trash bags, with a mesh fence at the end. Wes had picked a good spot. I hid behind a bin, peered out, and waited.
After just over a minute, Wes came around the corner with an arm around McGavin’s shoulders. Wes was saying, “Good to see you, Benny! How ya been?”
“Sir, if you would please get off of me!” McGavin said, trying to wrench free and hold up his grocery bag at the same time. He’d just shifted it into one arm when Wes jammed the Python into his chest; McGavin froze, and Wes shoved him onward as easily as a shopping cart. When they came close, I lunged into the open and slammed a fist into McGavin’s solar plexus. He doubled over, spit flying from his mouth, and I dragged him behind the dumpster with me, catching his grocery bag with one hand. It was light; McGavin hadn’t bought much, and he’d been hiding behind the bag.
Wes said, “There we go. Come on, Benny, let’s talk.” With Wes on one side and me on the other, we shoved McGavin against the brick wall.
“Please,” McGavin said, coughing and clutching his middle. “Please wait. I can pay you.”
Wes drew the knife from his belt and stuck it in McGavin’s ribs. McGavin choked, and Wes stabbed him again. He dragged the blade along a rib, carving through McGavin’s shirt and spilling blood out in a growing red spot. McGavin’s hands groped toward us, clutching along my wrist. Wes just stabbed him once more, right in the lung.
“Take out his wallet, would you?” Wes said. “Best we make it look like a mugging.” As McGavin gasped his last breaths, I rummaged through his pockets, spilling his phone onto the ground. His wallet had two hundred dollars in cash; I drew it out and offered half to Wes, but he said, “Keep it.”
“Thanks,” I said. Pointing to the dropped phone, I added, “Do we want that?”
“Nah,” Wes said, and he stomped his boot down on the phone. While I picked out McGavin’s credit cards and let the wallet drop, Wes opened a dumpster and grunted as he hefted McGavin into it. Ben McGavin was finished.
Good riddance, I thought, but I didn’t really feel that way. I didn’t feel anything.
“Welp, good work, Barbara,” Wes said, giving a thumbs up. “Now let’s go. Best we make ourselves scarce.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice,” I said. Wes crept out of the alleyway and back into the crowd; I followed a few seconds later. We met back at the car, unlocked it, and set off. That had been easy. Who knew murder could be boring?
As I pulled onto the street, a flash of silver caught my eye. Wes had wiped off his knife and was sliding it into its sheath. I said, “You don’t want to get rid of that?”
“The poker? No way,” Wes said. “I’ll flush the bloody tissue, but this baby comes with me on all my jobs. She’s an old friend. Like I said, Barbara, small things. Enjoy the small things.”
“Sure,” I said, and my eyes wandered the car, searching for any small things to enjoy. No such luck. But maybe Dick would be feeling romantic when I got home. I could certainly enjoy that.
I was having trouble sitting still. The body armor was making me sweat, as always, but I felt like bouncing or even listening to the radio and singing along. Today’s job would be a fun one for sure. I settled for cracking my knuckles as I pulled off the highway toward my destination.
I parked my new car across the street from a warehouse—small, secluded, and so run-down that anyone would think it abandoned. I checked the safety and magazine on my USP. I made sure I had a spare clip in my pocket. Then I climbed out, fixed the belt on my trench coat, and popped the trunk. I eyed the beauty sitting inside, waiting for my firm but loving touch. But first, I fished inside the coat for my phone.
Dick picked up on the second ring. He said, “You in position, Barb?”
“I’m here,” I said. “About to drive up. Search and destroy?”
“Nope,” Dick said. “All destroy. Eight guys inside. You sure you don’t want Wes joining in?”
“Nope. I want to do this myself.” No one was allowed to get in my way or take any part of this from me.
“Atta girl,” Dick said. “Wes is waiting down the block anyway, just in case. Now remember—”
“The shells may not cycle the cylinder so I may need to do it myself,” I said. “That’s like the fourth time you’ve mentioned.”
“That wasn’t what I was gonna say,” Dick said.
Dick was silent for a moment. Then he said, “Okay, yeah it was. Good luck, Barb. Fuck em up.”
“Fuck them up. Got it,” I said. I hung up and peered into the trunk again. Game time. Sitting inside were two new toys, gifts from my hot gangster boyfriend.
The first was a Pancor Jackhammer, a 12-gauge automatic shotgun. It was gas-operated like some revolvers and it looked like something from Blade Runner, sleek and angular. It was a clumsy design that had never entered production, but Dick liked it, and he’d hunted down the patent. Now he owned a little factory out of the state that popped out a version with better shell cycling, but I suspected I’d still have trouble. That just added to the fun.
The other was a little thing that got my blood rushing. Dragon’s Breath ammunition, two boxes of it. These were 12-gauge rounds packed with magnesium. They weren’t for fighting on a battlefield; they were for scaring the fuck out of people, and they were definitely for me. I loaded ten rounds into the Jackhammer’s cylinder and stuffed twenty more into my coat pockets. I’d just have to hope no one shot me there.
I was well aware this was a dumb fucking idea, but I couldn’t resist. I had thought, even hoped, that I didn’t have to get off on setting fires anymore. I had a healthier alternative. But thinking about what I was about to do, and feeling the weight of the grenades on my belt, just got me hot. Some habits die hard. Now I wondered what it’d be like to fool around with Dick in a burning building. Later, maybe. For now, I slammed the trunk and clomped up to the warehouse.
Should I put on music? Nah, that was Dick’s thing. I’d be perfectly satisfied once the room was smoking. I found the locked front door and took a deep breath, then darted up to the window and smashed it in with the butt of my shotgun.
I passed an empty reception booth and took a little hallway that turned into the open space of the warehouse. Palettes stretched across the floor, laden with white crystals in big plastic bags. A dozen workers milled about, too, and they even had a forklift. This was the storehouse for Silvers’s new drug operation, the source of her supply. One of the workers stopped and peered at me for an instant before I opened up.
Fire spat from the barrel of my shotgun. A shower of blazing sparks and scalding magnesium spewed across the room, splashing across the first unlucky fucker I saw. He screamed as his skin burned, so that the entire room erupted into chaos. Several of the workers drew guns; I lunged back into the hall before they could even aim.
“Show’s over, folks!! Get the fuck out!” I said. Who knew if they could hear me, but it felt good to say. If I’d wanted to murder everyone, I’d have brought actual buckshot. No, I was here to send a message. I plucked the pin from a stun grenade, cooked it in my hand, and lobbed it into the crowd. Its stupefying screech gave me time to lunge out and hide behind a good thick palette stacked with drugs.
Peeking from cover, I aimed for a guy hiding behind another palette and fired again. The plastic bags seethed as they lit up, and the bags’ white contents caught fire. That was crystal meth, not cocaine. I could smell it cooking.
Instead of fleeing, the workers shouted orders to each other, and footsteps pounded my way. A guy was coming around my cover; I whipped out my pistol and shot him in the head, yelling, “I said get out of here!” I leaned out and blasted another stack of bags; they didn’t catch fire, but someone nearby shrieked in pain and I laughed. After another moment, I saw a light in the room’s corner as someone escaped out the back door. Wise of him.
I’d left my breathing mask in the car. I could smell everything. A smog of burning meth glutted the air amidst the magnesium and flesh. I shot a gunman peeking from cover; the Jackhammer’s cylinder stuck as I tried to fire again, so I cycled it by hand. I shot a stack of crates ahead, and two workers leaped from their burning cover, stumbling to get away. Smoke and fire billowed throughout the whole room now. I loved it.
I stepped out of cover and marched forward, blasting flame at another asshole who leaned out to shoot. There I was, a black-clad juggernaut walking through fire and brimstone, setting flame to anyone who peeked out from hiding. Screams echoed from all around; the back doors opened again and again as workers fled; another brave idiot shot my way and I spewed fire at him, three shots, setting him and everything around him ablaze. The cylinder stuck again and I popped it open. I made a show of ejecting my spent casings and reloading by hand, slowly. As another worker screamed and bolted for the exit, I slammed the cylinder back into place, peering around with wide eyes.
I wanted to fuck them all up. I wanted to unload the fire of God into their faces, and I wanted to laugh the whole time. Another thug fired my way, then another, so that a shot grazed my sleeve. I guessed that the few workers left were willing to risk their lives for the stash. I was feeling the heat, and I wanted them to feel it, too. I could hear them scream and sweat; I could hear them breathe.
I fired at two different shooters, the shotgun in my right hand and pistol in my left. I hit no one, of course, but my would-be targets were too terrified to peek out. One guy crawled along the floor to get an angle on me; I chuckled as I plucked a grenade’s pin and lobbed it over. The grenade went off and blasted a palette into burning bits. The helpless worker broke down screaming, sprinted away, tripped, and scrambled on all fours for the exit. When the door shut behind him, I realized I’d been pointing my pistol at him with my finger on the trigger. I forced my hand down.
Instead, I threw an incendiary grenade that landed among a stack of palettes against the wall. The workers had all fled or died, but I still had work to do. Walking among the flames, I stepped over burning stacks of drugs and made a beeline for my final target, the room at the back.
I yanked open the metal door to find a room crowded with glassware, vats, and chemicals—the drug lab itself, without a single cook in sight. I’d done my homework on meth labs. I couldn’t go crazy in here, but I could do a lot: damage the burners, light some white phosphorous, or even mix up phosphine gas. Instead I tossed in my remaining two incendiary grenades and slammed the door, sprinting away. The explosion that followed was enough to blast the lab door open and shake the walls. Tears filled my eyes, but I laughed until my throat hurt and I choked on the gas. Mission accomplished.
Of the forty or so palettes across the warehouse floor, more than thirty were on fire. I spent the rest of my Dragon’s Breath setting fire to one stack after another, then tossed a grenade in between the last few. Finally I stood in the middle of the warehouse, cooking in my armor, bathing in the fire’s heat. This was feeling. This was better than sex.
I took my time walking out. I wondered if the building would come down, either from the thermite grenades or heat damage. I found the front door again, unlocked it, and wrenched it open so that the fresh spring breeze washed into my lungs. I shut the warehouse door, and as if I’d shut an oven, the sounds of popping and burning died down.
Instead I could hear my blood, my heart, my head pounding. Sweat clung to me—my face, my hair, my chest, my hands, everywhere. Why was it so goddamn cold? Why couldn’t I stop shivering? By the time I dropped myself into the car seat and tossed off my helmet, I felt like I’d been drenched in ice water.
I knew what I was gonna do. I was gonna go back to Dick’s house, get this fucking armor off, and we were gonna fuck. I slammed down on the gas and shot down the road at eighty miles an hour. Behind me, the warehouse’s windows exploded outward and schizophrenic columns of smoke reached into the sky. I began to laugh. That’s what happens when you bring drugs into this city, Silvers. That’s what happens when you fuck with us.