by Kathi L. Schwengel
Please note: some strong language
Fletch stood with one shoulder against the wall, and his arms folded across his chest as he watched Mosh escort his latest stray across the camp. The boy had a thing for waifs. This one looked to be in her late teens, slight, blond, and with that guarded, dirt-smeared look on her face so common on the streets. Desperation mingled with determination. Still, she seemed . . . different some how. Fletch couldn’t put his finger on it, but she set his nerves tingling.
Fletch slid a narrowed glare at Pipsqueak as the boy sidled up beside him. “Baking a fucking cake, Squeak. You?”
“You’re spying on Mosh.”
“And if I am it’d be your business — why?”
Pipsqueak shrugged and Fletch turned his attention back to the little parade on its way to Jack’s quarters. Maverick had his tour guide hat on, playing it to the hilt, and no doubt scaring the crap out of the girl in the process.
“What do you know about her?” he asked, jutting his chin in the trio’s direction.
Pipsqueak sat on an upended crate, his feet dangling above the ground. “Her brother got his brains splattered by the coppers trying to lift some groceries.”
“And you guys rescued her?”
Pipsqueak grinned. “It’s what we do.”
Fletch snorted. “What you do is bring us closer to getting found.”
“Jack doesn’t mind. Why should you?”
“Jack’s an idiot.”
Pipsqueak’s eyes rounded in shock, and he launched off the crate. “You’ll be in for it when I tell Maverick what you said!”
Fletch grabbed him by the shoulder before he could get away. Pipsqueak yelped as Fletch yanked him back and, lifting him off the ground by both shoulders, slammed him against the wall. He resisted the temptation to hold the boy there by his throat.
“You’re not going to cause me any trouble, Squeak,” he said, his voice deadly soft. “Because if you do, the rats will be picking their teeth with your bones. You understanding me?”
Pipsqueak’s eyes, tears brimming at their edges, took on a whole different kind of round. His chin began to quiver.
“Lose your voice, kid?”
Pipsqueak shook his head. “No,” his voice hit the notes of his namesake.
Fletch cocked his head. “Well?”
“I got ya,” he said. “Loud and clear.”
“Your two pals even look crossways at me, I’ll think you told them something. You understand that?”
“Crap, Fletch!” The boy squirmed in his grip. “Won’t say nuthin’ to nobody. I swear it.”
Fletch held him a moment longer, then nodded. “Good boy,” he said. He lowered Pipsqueak to the ground. “Now make yourself invisible.”
Fletch waited until Pipsqueak angled toward a group of kids before he turned and left his vantage point. There were quicker ways to Jack’s private quarters than through the shock zone Maverick had taken, and Fletch knew them all.
He didn’t knock when he reached the door, and Jack didn’t turn when he entered the room. Their fearless leader stood in front of a large fireplace, hands clasped loosely behind his back. Not for the first time Fletch considered the chances of success in a quick knife throw.
“Careful, Fletch,” Jack said, and his low voice slithered across Fletch’s nerves like an icy-hot finger. “Thoughts like that can get a man strung up and left for the rats. I hear it’s an unpleasant way to die.”
“I’m sure there’s worse.”
Jack turned and the smile on his narrow, clean-shaven face held not a bit of warmth. “I know there are,” he said. “I invented them.”
He walked to an antique sideboard and poured himself a drink, then took a seat in the only leather upholstered chair in the room. Fletch remained standing, his arms folded across his chest. Compared to what existed beyond his door, Jack’s quarters were downright opulent. Unlike Jack, they actually gave the impression of warmth and sincerity.
Jack crossed his legs and took a swallow of the blood red liquid in his glass. He surveyed Fletch with eyes so dark they appeared black. “What are you after, Fletch?”
“Mosh’s latest stray,” Fletch said, without a moment’s hesitation.
“Since when are you interested in training?” The dark gaze narrowed. “You’re not thinking of building your own little army and taking me down, are you, Fletch?”
“We both know an army wouldn’t work on you, Jack. I believe holy water and a sacred ritual are more in order.”
Jack laughed. “Your sense of humor is what keeps you alive. There are only two reasons a street rat would pique your interest. You’re either horny, or up to something.” He took another drink, savoring the liquor. “Since I’m well aware you take care of your carnal needs above ground, I’m betting on the second reason.”
Fletch shrugged. “So long as she gets trained and doesn’t bring the roof down on your head, I figured you wouldn’t give a crap.”
“I don’t trust you,” Jack said. “There’s no disputing your skills, but your motives are always a bit foggy.”
“No more foggy than yours.”
Jack tipped his chin up and Fletch fought to keep the flinch from being obvious. Jack didn’t scare him, like he did the rest of his fawning subjects, but Fletch had a healthy dose of respect for what the man could do to him. He forced his breathing steady, kept his stance neutral, and his hand well away from the small of his back where one of his five knives was sheathed.
Jack placed his glass on the table beside the chair and stood. He crossed the five feet between them with measured steps, and stopped well within Fletch’s personal space, but Fletch kept still. They were the same height, nearly the same build, though Fletch probably had a little more by way of lean muscle. In a fair fight he could’ve taken Jack.
In Jack’s world the term ‘fair fight’ didn’t exist.
“One of these days,” Jack said, “I’m going to take you apart and see what kind of snake you are. Then I’m going to kill you.”
“No doubt you’ll try.” How Fletch managed to keep his voice level, he couldn’t say. It took every ounce of self control just to stop his fight response from kicking in full gear.
Jack’s thin lips pulled up at the corners. “I’ll do more than try.”
A knock on the door broke the tension, and Jack turned back to his chair, flicking a gesture that swung the double doors inward. Fletch let out the breath he’d been holding as Maverick led Mosh and the girl into the room.
“What’re you doing here?” Maverick grumbled.
Fletch looked sidelong at him. “Stand down, Scotty,” he replied. “I don’t want your job.”
“Like you could ever have it.” Maverick stepped in front of him and tipped his head to Jack. “Mosh has a new one for you.”
Fletch moved behind Maverick’s bulk to get a better view of the girl. She had to be about seventeen, he guessed, only slightly older than the over-sized sweatshirt that disguised her figure. Both looked to be covered with an annoying amount of grime.
She turned to look at him. The depth of her blue eyes pulled him in, past the guarded street look and the fear and uncertainty, to that little spark he had felt all the way across the camp.
If Jack didn’t give her to him, Fletch would take her. Either way, the treasure would be his.
When Kathi told me she’d created a new character to add to the Greylands cast, I was excited to see what she’d do with him. Now that I’ve read it, plot pieces are suddenly falling into place for the rest of the story. Read, enjoy, comment and then check out the rest of the story!
Greylands, part 1: Adopted , by moi
Greylands, part 1: Adopted (cont’d), by Anonymous