Chapter 23:

A promise once made

Max Caliber

It was a quiet day at the café. Only the regulars came and gone, but no one outside from them. I was busy closing up as I sent Margarette home a bit sooner. She had to babysit Albert’s kids. Albert and the wife wanted a night out and knew she would be more than willing to.

I flipped over the open sign and locked the door. I mopped the floor and restocked all of the containers. I had gotten quite good at my job and was maybe even a bit better than even Margarette. But when I finished with everything, I flipped the light switches and went into the backroom to get changed.

Dread. It’s a strange feeling. All-consuming and sudden, yet so heavy it’s unmovable. I had to swallow the lump in my throat when I saw that piece of metal sitting on the bench in front of my dresser.

“Reinhard, I’m sorry about this. But it’s Kirishima Clan. The old man has called in on that one favor you promised him,” informed Smolinski. He was sitting at his desk with his hands tucked into each other. Worried written all over his face.

“Tell him I reject. He can do his worst,” I rebuked and wanted to slip back out of the door.

“You can’t, goddammit. Don’t you get it? If you don’t show up tonight, they’ll go after those closest to you. You know how these people can be,” he shouted. I hated that I was this scared of a gun, but the implications of picking it back up were too much for me.

“I don’t care,” I said and turned to grab the door.

“Albert, Margarette and those kids. They’ll all be dragged into this,” he added. Damn you, Smolinski, that was a dirty trick. He knew exactly what to say. My hand was shaking.

“But I don’t want to be that man anymore. I’ve put it behind me. I don’t want to dive back in,” I confessed.

“You’ve got no choice. Just pick up the gun and get dressed. Just make sure this is really the last time. Alright?” he said with genuine concern. His words were not all that compelling. The fear was overwhelming. But I moved still. I opened the locker and took hold of my coat.

“Why?” was all I could ask. With the weight of it, I knew what hung on the inside. It was also the same coat that I first wore with Yohan all that time again.

“Restocked everything for you. Just thought if it’s the last time. It would be easier on you to pretend you were still that person,” he said and spun his chair around. Probably because he couldn’t look me in the eye as of now.

“I see,” I said and gulped. I slang the coat over me and slid my arms in. It fit like a glove. I picked up the pistol. It was comforting to the touch. Cold, heavy and rough. But it was comforting.

“You ready?” he asked and took his keys off the table. Ah, so he had to take me also. The ferrymen here to take me deeper into hell. Odd, I don’t remember giving him any payment.

“Ready,” I confirmed with a strange voice. I embraced everything I was once in that instant. If I were to do this, I couldn’t be Ludlow Reinhard. He was a cheerful café worker and a good friend. I needed to be the Devil of the west.

I wondered as we made our way down to the docks once more. Was I still called the Devil of the west? Could I be the Devil of a group that no longer existed? Was I now only the Devil now? The pondering on my moniker kept my mind far busier than I had expected. But maybe it was because my own mind wanted to be deceived once more.

The car rolled into the same alleyway that we came through last time. What made me turn into this? I used to think it was the bloodlust, but I sated it that the night of the raid. It wasn’t the need for it because otherwise, I could call upon it freely. What did all the times I let that other me take control have in common?

The car came to a stop in the same spot with the same number of gang members as last time. I got out of the car and realized what this manifestation of myself was. It wasn’t anything empowering or because of a natural response. It was the direct product of fear. I was scared when those Ash heads came in. I was scared that night with Yohan. I was scared when George pulled that gun on me. I was scared the night of the raid. I was scared that I lost everything that night. I was scared now again.

We got into the same car with the same smoke billowing out. Strange was it this sweet-smelling last time. Or was I too focused on my warpath that I failed to realize it?

We followed the same protocol as last time. Weapons on the table. Big oafish man sipping our whisky. The old man sitting quietly. Smolinski was not prepared to open his mouth beyond greeting them. Their gaze fell on me, and it was my time to act. I was center stage.

“You honor us with your presence as second time,” I said and bowed my head. They returned the bow and I sat forward in my chair. This time slamming back the whisky in a single gulp. Courage.

“We are glad that you responded so promptly to the promise you made some time ago,” said the big man.

“Naturally. It’s the way I do things. I always uphold my end of the bargain,” I said proudly and giving forth the aura of a man much more certain of himself than I.

“That you do. We were very glad to see that you had kept the eyes of the law away from us that night,” said the old man.

“Pleasure. Now if you don’t mind me being so frank. But what is this favor you need from me?” I asked. Just wanting to get this over with as quickly as possible.

“Straight to the point. I agree. This is not a topic to discuss any other way,” said the old man. He gave a signal for the big man to produce several photos and handed them to me.

“What’s this?” I asked as I paged through the photos. It was clearly of another gang. But the members all seemed rather young. Almost all of them were fresh out of high school.

“My second son. Realizing that he would not be the one who inherits the Kirishima Clan. He decided to act out. He has taken a fair group of young members and formed his own split-off faction. They dishonor the way our ways. Deal with cheap women, drugs and killings. I want you to end this disgrace he has brought to us,” said the old man.

“You want me to ice your own son?” I asked. Perhaps a bit more shocked than I was supposed to be.

“If that is what you deemed necessary. I’ve decided that whatever punishment I deal on him will be skewed. For even though he brings us no honor he is still my son. Our brother Clan will kill him and his entire group as atonement. This fact made us not see eye to eye. That is why I called you in. You will be the one who administrates his punishment,” he replied.

“What if I kill him and his entire group?” I asked. Clearly, this was an unacceptable reply. The big man adjusted in his seat.

“Then that is what you decided. But understand this. If my boy dies. You will be seen as an enemy and hunted down for the rest of your days.”

With that, the meeting ended. I was handed some information and basically forced into the car with Smolinski. We pulled away from the group of gangsters. We drove a good distance before coming to a stop next to a silent road.

“What the hell was that about. How are we supposed to administrate punishment without administrating punishment,” raged Smolinski as he gave the steering wheel a good strike.

“Calm down Smolinski. Let’s look at what we were given,” I suggested and caught his wrist before he could deliver another blow.

“Like what?” he asked in deviance as he wrestled himself free from my grip.

“I am the solution to his problem. In the sense that his son has dishonored them all. But since it is his son and his group, he needs to be the one to doll out the punishment. But the brother clan clearly doesn’t want him to. Since they think he’ll be lenient. So, they demanded someone else be the ones to pass and deliver judgement,” I summarized.

“Yeah, that’s great. But there’s the whole problem of you being hunted if the kid dies,” he continued to get stuck on the same note.

“Yes, because he wants me to be the one who is lenient on his son. But at the same time, I needed to punish him in such a way that the brother clan will be satisfied,” I continued.

“I see that but how are we going to do that?” he asked exasperated.

“Easy. Well, collect more information and see if we can get more of the pieces. Then place them all in the spots we want,” I formulated. Smolinski had heard this all before and he couldn’t help himself.

“Reinhard, you know don’t you,” he said in the kindest way he could. He said I had to stop this way of thinking because people were going to die.

“This is different Smolinski. The last time I had to save and kill people at the right time and place. I had to work all the angles and moreover, do so alone. This time however I’ve got two objectives. Punish the group and save the boy. Everything else falls to the wayside,” I defended my case.

My mind was racing. I needed to figure out who are going to be my key pieces and then get as much information as possible. This will be my redemption for Mikey. If I could make this work, then finally bury it all.

“That’s fair. Let me in on the plan then,” he said.

“Okay, listen carefully,” I began. The two of us sat there together and argued about every single detail. Smolinski made sure I left no possible blind spots unchecked. Because in a sense he wanted this plan to work as well. But why exactly I couldn’t really put my finger on it. Maybe he felt guilty about how the last operation turned out. Maybe he felt that if he took a more active part in it, he could have prevented a lot of it. Or maybe he simply started to like me over the past few months. Who knows?

But the one thing I do know is this. This time around I wasn’t going to lose. Because this time I had an easier mission. I had time on my side. I had someone who would play an active part in this. I didn’t need to surrender myself to that other me. I could do this all by myself and finally, beat him as well.

“You okay there Reinhard. You’re kind of creeping me out a bit,” said Smolinski who looked uneasy behind the driver wheel. On my face, I had sprouted the largest smile I ever could. This was my redemption. This was my time.

“I always get like this. Don’t worry. We’ll win this war.”