20
Mar
20

Vampire 2.0 – Pingback (Part 2)

(Want to know how it started? The story begins here…)

 

“And I say, ‘That ain’t a hot dog, honey!'”
Everyone at the table burst into raucous laughter, though judging from their expressions, the women to either side of Marelli had been picked for cup size and a willingness to go along with whatever they were told rather than any actual sense of humor.
Brand was seated between a toothpick of an Angelina Jolie impersonator wearing a scrap of gold fabric that didn’t leave anything to the imagination and a 300 pound gorilla in a discount suit. Next to the goon was another bimbo; this one blonde, tall, smuggling watermelons beneath an almost see-through mesh sweater. Marelli – a scrawny man who sported an impossibly wide waxed mustache to hide a harelip, who looked like he was going to bust out with a verse of Ave Maria at any moment instead of pull the .357 Brand knew the man kept in a shoulder holster under his ridiculously flashy purple sport coat – was across from him, still slapping one ring-adorned and impossibly hairy palm against the table.
“Not a hot dog, that’s a good one, Red. Good one.”
The switch from laughter to deadpan seriousness was so quick that it gave Brand whiplash. Had he been lacking in the ridiculous self-confidence that he was known for, he might have suspected Marelli was not as amused by the joke as he had first appeared. Marelli laced his fingers together and leaned over the table.
“You said you had business, Mr. Brand?”
Brand inched his hand out and slowly lifted his glass. Taking a moment to breathe the vapors coming off the violent green liquid within, he knocked the shot back and ran his black tongue over his beak before setting the glass down. It was all for show, of course; he could have just stated his business and been on his way, but Marelli seemed to appreciate playing by a script and Brand was happy to humor him.
“Yeah, about that. See, my boss has it on good authority that there was a bit of business done out here, you know what I mean? Normally, he don’t care too much what your family sells or to who, but…”:
Brand spread his claws, shrugging. His eyes glittered and his not-lips inched higher in his version of a predatory smile.
“Well, he don’t take too kindly when product gets used against him, you know?”
Marelli leaned back against the velvet cushions of the booth, taking a moment to twitch the privacy curtain aside and peek over the rims of his glasses as though checking for witnesses. He cast a glance and a twitch of the head to his goon, who nodded and got out of the booth, extending his ham-sized hands.
“Ladies,” the gorilla said in a voice that reminded Brand of the guy who’d done the voice for Vader in the old Star Wars flicks.
The girls glanced at each other, then back at Marelli.
“We goin’ somewhere, sugar?” the blonde asked. “I thought we were stickin’ with you!”
Her bovine features sagged, her voice inching into the territory of only audible by dogs. Brand winced, wondering how Marelli could stand getting any action from that corner; stupid, scrawny and with a voice that probably served as spermicide? No thanks.
The brunette went easier, slinking over Brand to exit the booth in one sinuous movement – pausing long enough to run a finger over Brand’s cheek, drop a wink, and mouth “Call me,” – and slipping past the hired muscle without looking back.
Marelli was ignoring the blonde. His gaze was focused on Brand. The imp wished he had some of the tricks that other members of Vlad’s retinue possessed; a little telepathy, mind-control or flat-out invisibility would do wonders right now.
“Baby? Sugarcakes?”
The blonde wasn’t taking the hint. If he’d had teeth to grind, Brand would have been scheduling a dental appointment by now. Thankfully, the goon put one hand on the woman’s wrist, another around her waist, and pulled her swiftly out.
“Let the man discuss his business, Joi. He’ll be in touch.”
She started to protest, but cast another glance over the scene – her mafia beau, silently watching a red dwarf with minimal facial features; a giant, trying to push her out of the way; the dwarf looking nervous and drumming his clawed hands on the table – and thought better of it. She let herself be pushed out the curtain. The bodyguard lowered his sunglasses and glanced between Brand and his boss, quirking an eyebrow.
“That will be all for the moment, Joey. Enjoy yourself.”
Without looking at the goon, Marelli produced a small wad of bills from within his technicolor coat and slid them across the table. Joey nodded, stuffed the bills into his own pocket, and passed through the curtain with a silent grace that Brand found himself admiring. He wouldn’t have thought the big man could move so well.
Once they were gone, Marelli nodded to himself, lifting a finger.
“Okay, now that it’s just the men, I’m gonna tell you something, Red. You listening?”
Brand nodded, trying not to squirm in his seat.
“My boys have been doing business with your boys for a long time. You know that, or you wouldn’t have come looking for me. Am I right?”
Brand bobbed his head, itching at his shoulder with the side of his face.
“But my boys gotta eat. They got families, they got tastes, and that means we do business with just about anybody they need to be making sales to. Who they sell to and why isn’t my business. I’m a facilitator, that’s all. So if you’re out here to get bitchy because who we sold to decided to start some shit, well, that’s going to make me a little angry, you know? Because I know for a fact that you have plenty of product of your own, a lot of it bought through my people, that’s ended up putting holes in people I do business with. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
Brand wanted to laugh. The idea that this little shrimp was basically quoting the worst of Godfather and the Hulk to him – him, the top man in Vlad’s crew! – was far too funny. But there was a script, rules to be followed, and Brand supposed he should keep the man at least somewhat mollified. After all, his cousin did buy from Marelli, and not always in a strictly business relationship.
“Oh, I ain’t tryin’ to get you angry, boss. And my boss ain’t even mad, you know? Not at you. But the guy you sold to, well, him and my boss, they have a… uh… strained relationship. Kinda a last straw sort of thing, not that my boss considers himself much of a camel, you know what I’m sayin’?”
Brand snorted. Marelli didn’t appear amused, so he pushed forward.
“Right. Anyway, the Boss is gettin’ kinda tired of dealin’ with this sort of thing from this guy’s corner, and is plannin’ to take out the garbage, if you know what I mean. he just wants to find him. Or at least make sure it’s cool on your end if the guy has a little accident. And he plans on helping out, too.”
 Brand sipped his drink, giving Marelli time to process. The other man continued to stare at him, scrubbing his mustache with his thumb and index finger.
“Help out? What do you mean, help out?”
Brand cracked his neck, glancing skyward and humming to himself.
“Well, he’s got some nasty photos. I mean, not nasty, not like you’d go to the internet to look at when the old lady ain’t home, you know, but unfortunate to anybody who’s face is in ’em if you know what I mean. He’s kinda plannin’ to have the cops start lookin’ for the guy in the photo. Only problem is, there’s two other guys – two of your guys – also in that photo. Now, he figures if everybody is cool, nobody makes a fuss, maybe the cops only see the guy we want in that photo, and only round him up.”
Marelli’s eyes were narrowing. Brand nodded, spreading his claws in a placating gesture once again.
“But, if folks don’t wanna cooperate, well, maybe the police see who else is in the photo and things get unpleasant. I mean, you got a nice operation out here. Shame if somethin’ were to happen to it.”
Marelli snorted, flipping his hand at the air as though troubled by an inssect.
“You’ve seen too many movies, Red. You also don’t know when to quit. You think I am not aware how profitable my business is? Specifically the part of it that your organization finances? You don’t have to bring out the wiseguy routine. Jeez.”
Marelli leaned back against the cushions, cracking his neck from side to side.
“Now, just to make sure I have this clear – because we don’t want to have any misunderstandings, you know? – your boss is pissed. Yes?”
Brand rolled his eyes back, cocking his head.
“You could say that,” he muttered.
“Your boss has proof that my boys sold some toys to the guy he’s pissed at. Yes?”
Brand nodded.
“Well, yeah. He’s got some pretty primo -”
Marelli drew his fingers across his throat, clicking his tongue.
“Eh, eh, eh. Shh. Your boss wants the client, doesn’t want any ripples with me, and wants me aware that the police will be looking for the guy… with or without my cooperation, right?”
“Uh, right,” Brand agreed.
He shifted in his seat. He didn’t care for the lecturing tone; he took that sort of talk from precisely two people, and Marelli sure as hell wasn’t either his pops or the Boss.
Marelli laughed, slapping both hands down on the table. He laughed until tears began leaking from his eyes and his face had turned an uncomfortable shade of purple. Brand fidgeted some more, not liking this new development any more than the last.
“Uh… Mr. Marelli? You alright, there?”
He pushed a glass of water across the table with one outstretched claw, raising the bony ridge of his brow.
“Oh, yes, Red, I am just as fine as paint,” Marelli said, once he got the laughter under control. Once again he had turned deadly serious with barely a beat between the moods. Brand was beginning to wonder if the man had some kind of mental defect, like that bipolarity whatsits or something.
“Let me ask you something, Red.”
Marelli leaned across the table until his sweaty, reddened face was inches from Brand’s beak. His voice dropped to a sotto voce whisper as he hissed at the imp.
“Who do you think supplies the cops around here?”
Brand paused. He hadn’t thought of that, though he probably should have. Vegas wasn’t exactly known for its squeaky-clean cops, after all. Rolling his shoulders and toying with the end of his tie, he ran his tongue out to buy himself a moment before he answered.
“Um… you, I’m guessin’. If I had to guess. Didn’t know this was gonna be a quiz show.”
A paternal nod was the reward for his efforts.
“Yes. Precisely right, Red. Me. So even if you send them that photo and there’s a neon sign in the back that says ‘Marelli’s Illegal Weapons Emporium’ with my picture and social security number right on it, they’re not going to give me any grief. Got it?”
The mobster leaned back again. Brand resisted the urge to wave his hand in front of his face; Marelli’s breath smelled like his lunch had been rancid anchovies on toast, and the stench was making the gargoyle gag.
“So that part, I don’t really care about. Your boss could deliberately try to put the law on me, and the worst that would happen is I spend a few hours in a cell, after which a few witnesses are going to have a very bad day. You feel me? Now, because me and your cousin are old pals, and because you do a fair bit of business, I’m going to pretend you didn’t just try to threaten me.
“Instead, I’m going to pretend that you asked me if I had any particular attachments to this client, and if it was going to cause a problem if he had an accident. I’m further going to pretend you showed me ahis picture, and you asked if I might be so kind as to provide a last known location, or if it would trouble me if the police were looking for him.”
Brand began bobbing his head with enthusiasm, a cautious smile – or as close to one as his features would allow him – breaking.
“Yeah. Yeah, that sounds about right.”
His hand was buried in his pocket, rummaging for the photo that Vlad had handed over to him.
“And do you know what I’m going to pretend I said?”
“Well, you know, I’m hoping it was ‘yes,’ but Jeopardy was never my thing, you know.”
Marelli’s lips pulled back, revealing all his teeth. Some of them, Brand saw, had been filed to ridiculous-looking points. Whether it was just to fit in with the atmosphere of this place, or because the guy was secretly into bloodsports, Brand wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“Well, maybe you should change your thing, Red, because that guess is mostly right. I’m going to say yes. Once you and me have a little show and tell session, I’ll get my guys on the line and they’ll sort it out and tell you what we know about him.”
Brand paused, then raised a questioning finger.
“But you said ‘mostly’ right, there. So… there’s what, a catch or somethin’?”
Marelli reached out and bipped Brand on the edge of his beak. The imp resisted the urge to bite off the offending finger. It was harder than it should have been, but Brand chalked it up to a bad day and kept the urge at bay with the Boss’ promise that, when this was wrapped up, they could maybe hit the convention. All those ladies wouldn’t have his exquisite company if he was sitting in a cell or fertilizing some farmer’s back 40, now would they?
“Bingo. That’s two for two. Now you’re learnin’. Next stop, Alex Trebek, right?”
Brand wasn’t entirely certain what he was learning here, except that Marelli was even more eccentric and obnoxious than he’d first assumed. But he managed to remain quiet.
“The phrase of the day is ‘favors to be determined later.’ You know and I know that your boss doesn’t strictly play by the rules. Maybe the bouncer thinks you’re just a midget with a skin condition, or that some of the other mooks he sends over have that weird-ass disease that turns your shit purple and means you turn into flambé at noon, but I’m a little less gullible. He’s got somethin’ elese goin’ on and I want a piece of that action. You deliver, got it?”
Brand folded his claws together, popping his knuckles while he eyed the other man. The Boss wasn’t going to like it; rule #1 since Vlad had taken over was “there’s no such thing as monsters,” and bringing someone else into the club was a giant slaw to that particular caveat. Still, Vlad wanted Van Hamstring on a pike, and it wasn’t like Brand was actually going to turn him or anything… the Boss could always work something out later.
Brand nodded, putting one hand out across the table.
“Alright. Deal.”
Marelli eyed the outstretched claw for a moment before taking it and giving it a brief pump. He reached into his coat, drawing out a cellphone that had seen better days. Pressing a quick combination of keys, he waited a moment before speaking.
“Ted? It’s me. Got someone coming your way.”
Marelli paused, shaking his head as a smirk crossed his features.
“No, it’s not Rebel Wilson. I’m telling you she’s busy.” Another pause. “Oh, you’ll know when you see him. Trust me. He’ll need an identification and a location. Priority one.”
Marelli used his free hand to make quacking gestures in Brand’s direction. Brand shook his head, scratching at his shoulders. He could feel a headache coming on.
“Un hunh. Yes. Your usual fee. Goodbye.”
Marelli clicked the phone shut and slid it back into his pocket.
“One of my men will provide the information you require. Teddy Stevens.”
He flicked a business card out of the pocket the phone had disappeared into and tossed it to the table in front of Brand.
“Address is on the back. When your business is finished, come back to me and we’ll discuss payment.”
Brand tweezed the card between his fingers and gave it a cursory glance before sliding it into his own pocket. Scootching out of the booth and wincing at the sound the pleather made against his suit, he tapped his forehead in a mock salute.
“Yep. Right. I’ll get back to you on that.”
“See that you do, Red. I don’t like to be kept waiting. Now get out of my joint.”
Marelli flapped a dismissive hand, then whistled. The large goon slipped through the curtain, holding it as Brand slipped past and back out into the club.
“Sorry, ladies,” Brand muttered to the imaginary harem that was waiting for him at the convention, their patience waning as he chased his tail. “Gonna be a little… Ow, ow ow!”
He stumbled through the door, clutching his hands to his head. The dull throb in the back of his skull had spiked suddenly, as though Spinal Tap had just reached in his dome and cranked all the dials to 11. He managed to trip and scurry his way to the side of the Hummer, when the pain took another leap forward, this time with an accompanying blast of mental static that Brand found all too familiar.
Scrunching his eyes shut, he went to one knee, trying to tune through the static and hear whatever was coming in underneath it. He just hopped the Boss hadn’t gotten into trouble, especially over that dame. Sure, she’d been a knockout, but not exactly worth dying for or anything.
When he heard the voice and its message, Brand’s face fell. He almost would have preferred an S.O.S. from the boss.
“Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”
Brand had to find the Boss. Now. Teddy could wait. He forced himself up, turning his mental radio down as low as it would go; hopefully it would keep any more crippling psychic blasts from dropping him. He supposed he could turn it off – wasn’t like he didn’t do it sometimes, when he wanted some private time, even if the Boss’d murder him if he ever found out – but he wanted some warning in case that voice had anything else interesting to say.
He crawled into the driver’s seat of the Hummer, and started the engine, scrambling for the phone.
“Call the Boss!” he shouted at the digital assistant as he drummed his claws nervously on the steering wheel. One ringy-dingy… two ringy-dingy…
“Has Isaac been delivered?”
Vlad’s tone was thicker than normal. He was using the one Brand thought of as the fuck-me voice. Things must be going well with the dame, then. Brand swallowed past a lump in his throat. Bringing bad news to the boss was problem enough; doing it while he was obviously occupied was worse.
“Uh, Boss? We got a problem.”

(Want more? The story continues here…)


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