Okay, so wearing an obviously expensive suit to the Vermillion wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had, but I wasn’t about to get changed in the car. At least I didn’t have to pull out my newly acquired gun to get out of there alive.
“Okay, get us to city hall as fast as you can,” I tell the driver once I’m safely back inside the car. I manage to limit myself to only one nervous glance at the boys outside the pub before we pull away. I noticed that the back right hubcap was missing before I jumped in but I’ll let Joel’s cronies discover that for themselves.
“You going to tell us what that was all about or was that manly work that us womenfolk don’t need to worry their pretty little heads over?” Emma says with a challenging stare. God, she’s edgy. I suppose she’s got the right to be, what with what she’s gone through and where we’re going. All because of me.
“I’m just crying havoc,” I say with an apologetic smile and pull out my cell. “Listen in while I tell Joel all about it - I don’t think there’s time to explain twice.”
She looks suitably unimpressed while Puppy begins to make patterns with the pebbles and stray fibres of clothing she’s found on the floor. I stare at her while listening to the phone ring in my ear and seriously consider the possibility that she's at least partially brain damaged.
“What do you want?” Joel’s warm greeting makes me change tactics. If he gets even more angry with me as the conversation goes on he can only blame himself now.
“Oh, I just wanted to see how you were doing without us,” I say and wink at Emma. She shakes her head and looks away. “You’re not lonely, are you?”
“Do you think this is a game, Jeremy?” He’s not quite shouting yet but that stage should only be a matter of moments away. “You are about to walk into the lion’s den - I suggest you stop and appreciate the situation you’re about to enter.”
“Thanks again for the suit J Dawg, it really is quite something,” I say as though I didn’t hear him speak. Turnabout is fair play, right? “Do you mind if I ask how much it cost? It really seems like money isn’t an obstacle for you in this little operation.”
“I’m beginning to think it’s worth more than you are.”
“You’re too kind,” I say with a genuine laugh that turns Emma’s head back my way. I like it when she looks at me, even when she’s not happy. Focus. “Seriously though, I’d love to hear you say that money isn’t an obstacle. It would be very comforting to me right now, seeing as I’m on the way to the lion’s den, as you so aptly put it.”
“Are you trying to extort me?” I can almost hear his teeth grinding, This is a lot easier over the phone than it was face to face; I’ll have to remember that. “I’m paying your way to the center of what you’ve always wanted and at the last minute you’re…”
“Take a breath or two, do some yoga or something. Puppy would probably recommend downward dog for you,” I tell him as I watch her place two pebble eyes on what appears to be a clown’s face. “Here’s the deal: in one hour one of your henchmen will arrive at the Vermillion Quin with a suitcase full of cash - I’d recommend twenty thousand in the case with maybe another twenty as backup in the car.”
“That’s not going to -”
“Yes it will Joel. Now shut up and listen, we’re almost at city hall and I don’t have time for any more of your interruptions.” Oh man that felt good. I’m shocked to find that the only sounds in my ear are Joel’s seething breaths. “Your boy will be meeting up with a man who goes by the handle of Loki - long white hair, lazy eye, can’t miss him. Loki and however many street artists he can round up in the next hour are willing to spend the afternoon tagging everything they can get their hands on with all sorts of things Wilkerson and Grozny will not be happy with. All for the low, low price of one thousand dollars a person.”
Silence. Now a low whistle from Emma but still nothing from Joel. The car is stopped by a red light at the last intersection before our destination. The phone is slippery with sweat and I’m having trouble holding on to it.
I have to stop myself from explaining that we're fortunate that Loki, a true veteran of the street art scene, was even willing to listen to my offer. That I was operating from a difficult position - original offer: an interview and a piece pictured in the paper; new offer: leading an army of artists across the city in return for cash.
I definitely have to avoid telling Joel that Loki's actual request was for five hundred dollars per person.
“Fine.” The line goes dead and I close my eyes and lay my head against the plush leather headrest.
“We better walk out of here with more information than he could ever dream of,” Emma says quietly. “Even then there will be hell to pay for what you just did.”
“Well, if all else fails I’m hoping I can at least leave my tag on the mayor’s desk,” I say with false cheer. “Oh, that reminds me - Loki wanted you to have these Puppy.” I pull out the four markers and pass them down to her. She accepts them with a smile and they disappear into her outfit in seconds. I look up to see Emma watching us. “Sorry, I didn’t pick you up anything. I’m not sure he had anything you would have liked.”
“It’s okay,” she says as the car comes to a gentle stop in front of city hall, “girlfriends have to come first, right?”