Begin The End Game

The papers come to a rest in front of me, four pages spreading out from a single point like cards in a magician’s hand. I scan the words and pictures, my hands not moving from their folded position on my lap. The only thing disturbing the silence is the sound of smug air entering and exiting Joel’s nostrils with a quiet whistle.

I guess this explains a lot: the impressive illegal skill set; the intimate knowledge of Grozny’s movements and habits; the incredibly personal and emotional art she has created revolving around that monster she must call Father; and the unimaginable emotional baggage she must carry around with her that has left her the way she is.

I glance at Puppy to find the tears have disappeared from her eyes, her hands still busy with her torn dress. She doesn’t look like she even heard Joel speak - maybe she didn’t. I wonder if the family bond will get in the way of our move against Grozny or help it.

“Let me see those,” Emma says sharply, leaning across the table to grab the papers. The movement causes her to reveal an impressive display of pale flesh, which draws my eyes of their own accord. I flick them away to the ceiling as quick as I can but I think I’m too late. God, she must think I’m a pig.

Focus Jeremy. This is life and death you’re dealing with here; save the raging teenage hormones for later.

“Bloody hell,” Emma whispers, a hand covering her mouth as her eyes move from side to side. “You’re certain this is all true?”

“Not a shadow of a doubt,” Joel says as he looks at each of us in turn; I don’t like the way he’s eyeing Puppy, like a hunter sizing up its prey. “Now that the gang’s all here I’ll go through the next step one more time. The mayor is hosting an invitation-only luncheon at city hall that begins in less than an hour and I’ve managed to procure three invites for Mr. and Mrs. Carmine and their lovely little daughter, Lily.”

“Carmine - is that the best you could come up with?” Emma’s forehead and nose wrinkle with distaste.

“Would you prefer Crimson?” Joel shoots back before cocking his head and adding, “Or would Bennett be more to your liking?”

Something in the way Emma stares back at him tells me I might have finally learned what the B stands for. I wonder again about the story between these two and whether or not Puppy and I will be left on the outside looking in at the conclusion of this game.

“So who are we supposed to be and where do we come from?” I ask into the murky silence.

“Emma will be an official from Boston’s city council and you shall play her mute husband - that should save you from screwing everything up by opening your mouth,” Joel says with a satisfied grin tugging at his lips. My hands ball into fists but I swallow my reply. Let him think he has the upper hand - the turn around will be all the sweeter for it.

“And what exactly do you expect us to do?” Emma asks with an eerie calm that her eyes don’t share.

“Find out anything and everything you can about Wilkerson’s corruption,” he replies, “both professional and personal. Get me computer data, file folders, whatever you can get your hands on that will incriminate this nudnik. If you come up empty then we‘ll resort to a visit to his home tonight.”

“Remind me again why we’re doing this and not one of your cronies?” I ask.

“Because Emma’s fingerprints are buried under so many diplomatic channels it would take years for the mayor’s office to access them and you, by some miracle I’ll never comprehend, have never been arrested.”

“Just who are you anyway?” The question escapes my lips before the thought reaches my brain.

“I gave up asking those kind of questions a long time ago,” Emma tells me from across the table, her tone weary. “When do we leave?”

“The car will be outside in ten minutes. Fix up the dog’s hair will you? And clean up your damn hands Jeremy - your invitation will only compensate for so much.”

Joel casts an annoyed glance at Emma before marching out of the room, leaving the door hanging open. Emma mutters something under her breath and rises gracefully to her feet to cautiously approach Puppy.

“Can you be ready in five minutes?” I ask her after checking my watch. “I have an extra stop I need to make.”

The End

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