Freemont wasn't what it used to be, that was for damned sure, and Fred didn't think anyone was really feeling it as much as he was. It seemed that less people these days were willing to call for a cab, and even fewer were willing to stand on the corner and hail one, especially at night. He used to do really well at night, for a small-time business owner, anyway. People used to like to go out and drink with friends, and the drunks (or at least the more sober friends of the drunks) were more than willing to pay for a safe ride home. These days, though, not as many people went out at night, and there was no reason to call a cab when you were getting drunk at home.
Come to think of it, a lot of the social businesses had really started to decline, and prices were starting to go up to compensate for the loss of a good chunk of business. In a day and age where nobody had a gun but anyone could be carrying one, social outings had the potential to be as dangerous as walking through the wrong neighborhood. Already there was news of vigilantes roaming the streets, but Reed had yet to witness any actual vigilante activity. Still, he'd seen the photos in the papers. It was no surprise that crime was getting a bit worse, but it was frightening to think that there were people who were chasing it down illegally, without the power or the guiding hand of the law to keep them from hurting others.
It wasn't as though Reed was in any position to say anything about it, of course. Even now he was aware of the cold weight of the snub-nosed .38 revolver he kept hidden in the inside pocket of his jacket. Not anywhere someone would actually be able to spot him easily... the leather of his jacket was thick enough, and he was thin enough that the gun didn't imprint. Still, he felt nervous passing police officers, and he hadn't gone through many metal detectors in the past month or so. He'd heard rumors that the police were working on something that would allow them to detect firearms more efficiently, but he doubted they'd actually get far with any "sniffers" they were working on. Metal detectors and body scanners were efficient enough when you could corral people through them... but they probably required a shitton of power just to keep them operating.
At the moment, he was idling outside of an apartment building on Seminole Avenue, trying to determine whether he wanted to drive around a bit or just head back to the depot and call it a night. Fares had been sparse tonight, and he'd just dropped off a nervous-looking guy in a business suit. His behavior had been a bit strange, but everyone looked nervous these days. He was probably thinking that someone was going to put a gun against his head any moment now. Reed felt that way sometimes, but he'd never--
Suddenly, two gunshots rang out, from right within the very building his most recent fare had entered. Before he could throw the cab into gear, the guy ran out, wrenched open the door, and threw himself into the backseat. He was carrying an automatic, looked a bit big for him, but Reed didn't really have time to think about it.
Reed wasn't about to argue with the guy with the gun, and since he didn't exactly have a bullet-resistant partition between himself and the psycho with the gun, he did as he was told. If the police pulled him later, he could always explain what had happened, and in this day and age, they'd probably take his word for it. At any rate, he'd discovered why Mr. Business Suit was so eager to get the fuck out of there--in the rear view mirror, Reed could see a rather big, dirty-looking fellow had come out after him, waving a shotgun, one that looked like it had definitely been included in the recent ban. Reed was probably lucky that this guy wasn't shooting. He watched the cab for awhile, then disappeared into an alley. No doubt the police would be responding as quickly as they could to the shooting.
The nervous-looking man in the business suit, now looking all the more nervous for what had just happened, told Reed to turn a couple of times, then ordered him to stop outside the Memorial Garden. He thrust a large wad of cash at Reed and then disappeared into the night. As soon as Reed was certain he was safe, he put as much distance between himself and the damned park as he could.
As he thought about it, though, he realized that he'd probably just witnessed justice being served... and maybe he wasn't the only one here who secretly thought the police were in over their heads. He'd have to keep an eye on the news, and see what turned up...
The sun rose on Freemont the next day, but Quinton Walters wasn't quite basking in its rays. He'd been awakened late last night by an associate of his, with grim news to boot. Someone they hadn't recognized had turned up, had known about the apartment on Seminole Avenue, and had put two holes in Gonzo Daniels. Walters couldn't have given two shits about Gonzo Daniels, of course, even if someone had paid him to. What worried and frustrated and angered him was that someone knew about the apartment on Seminole Avenue, and that someone had gotten in far enough to shoot one of the "tenants."
The calm in Walters' face lied to everyone he met that morning as he walked to his temporary office in the police station on Woodrow Street, but he made a point of telling his aides that he wished not to be bothered for a few hours. He had important things to work on, possibly things that he shouldn't have been working on, sitting in an office paid for by the working men and women of Freemont, but things that he was worried about nonetheless. First and foremost on his mind was shoring up the weak points in his security. If anyone found out about the smugglers working for him--worse, if someone found out that the smugglers were working for him--he'd have no small amount of trouble on his hands.
Quinton Walters had managed to get pretty far, and he'd pushed for the ban in Freemont, knowing that he was sitting in the perfect position to "aid" the enforcement of said ban. He and a few others had access to the storage site where the contraband was being kept, and he was clever enough and had enough access to the inventory to fudge a few numbers here and there. Things would go missing, but the FPD was far too busy enforcing the damn ban to worry about what was there and what wasn't. That's why he was in this office now, and that's why he was drawing in all sorts of cash on the side, because there were always people who wanted to either buy their guns back or buy the confiscated guns to further their own aims. A few of them had been caught already, and a few serial numbers had come back through the system, but no one had yet put enough together to figure out that Quinton Walters, that goaty old sonuvabitch, was in fact the man at the top of the pyramid.
The only things he knew for sure was that there had been a man, that he had used a handgun, and that he had used a cab to escape. Gonzo's associate didn't know which cab service the man had used, but there were only a handful that ran that late anymore, and Walters was sure that it would be easy enough to find the driver that had served the vigilante last night. It would just take a little digging, and it could, frankly, wait.
The main thing on his mind was getting the stockpile found at the apartment on Seminole Avenue back through the system and covering his own tracks. He'd have to find a new place, now that the police were onto Gonzo's mates, and he would probably have to have Gonzo's mates taken care of, but that was a small matter, easily dealt with. He hadn't gotten this far by being completely unconnected, after all. It was simply a matter of watching and waiting.
And worrying. Who could possibly have known about his operation? Perhaps he would have to be a bit more... selective... when it came to his customers...
"Luke, this is stupid."
"Don't know what you mean."
"If the police open the trunk, we'll have the hottest fucking car in Freemont."
"So? We've got to make our stand, don't we?"
"What do you mean, we've got to make our stand? There's not a stand to make. I thought we were grabbing coffee."
"Would ya have come with me if I told you the truth?"
"There you go."
There was a moment of silence as Brewer inspected the storage area. Lukas Markowicz was a good planner, but the guys they were contemplating right now were probably damn well even with him. According to what he knew of the police jurisdictions, they were right on a place where the Freemont PD overlapped with both Woodrow County and Marlon County. If the police tried to interfere, it would be a clusterfuck right up to the point where the Feds stepped in. It would definitely buy Brewer and Markowicz time to do what they needed to do and get out, as long as they weren't walking into an ambush.
Brewer wasn't quite sure who it was that Luke talked to to get his information, but from the sound of it, there was a bit of organization to the whole thing. Brewer didn't even know if he actually wanted to know. He and Lukas had worked together for quite awhile, Lukas calling him up and offering him jobs with various degrees of risk and reward. They'd never gone in guns blazing or anything like this, though--the closest they'd actually gotten to anything like this was security work. The odd jobs had given Lukas a rather reliable connection with the closest thing Freemont had to an underground, and people knew how to contact him. He in turn knew how to contact Brewer.
"I don't know if I'm down with this," Brewer said.
"If you're not, it's cool," Luke replied, "But you'd better get to hoofin' it, then."
"I don't want you doing this alone, though."
"Make up your damn mind, then."
"Damn it, is it just the two of us, though?"
"Yeah, but we're just poking the fire, yanno? They just wanna see if the fire's gonna poke back."
Brewer didn't bother asking who "They" were. More than likely the people who had offered Lukas the job in the first place. Brewer did wonder whether Luke had done any work for them before. They seemed awful trusting if they were going to arm him with a couple of AK-47s. Brewer had seen something else in the trunk, several canisters with a red flame marking on them. They couldn't be anything good.
"Looks more like we're starting the fire."
"Starting it, poking it. Same thing."
No it's not, Brewer thought, but the words that left his mouth were, "Okay, let's do this, then."
"Right," Luke replied with a grin, "Lock 'n load, brother."
Sixth and Main. Kaiser Antiquities and Restoration. On the whole, it was not the most attractive building on Freemont's main drag. To be honest, it was far from being the most attractive building anywhere in Freemont at all. It was a brick warehouse harkening back to the days when railroad was king and the canal ways were queen. The three story structure had been renovated and reconditioned and revamped several times over its century and a half lifetime. Rob had fallen in love with it instantly.
The city council had been more than glad to have someone buy the place and bring more potential revenue into the city when he had first started some fifteen years ago. And the local Historical Society had helped him find more than enough in the way of grants to return the structure to almost its original condition and facade. Granted, the bars he had installed in the lower windows, the reinforced doors at both the entrances and the much-hated but lawfully needed fire escape were certainly anachronisms. Given the nature of his profession, though, the extra security was warranted.
The first floor was his showroom: all the antiques he had restored were on display, and what an oddball collection it was! Racks of clothing, tables of bric-a-brac, cabinets of tableware and glasses, displays of lamps, albums of postcards and photographs, car and motorcycle parts, furniture and furnishings that doubled as display stands, porcelain signs hanging over porcelain teacups, hat racks showing off the latest in headwear from over a century ago, swords and sabres crossed, an umbrella stand full of walking sticks (but no umbrellas)... Rob often remarked that if you could not find what you were looking for in his store, you either weren't looking hard enough or were looking for the wrong thing altogether. Over it all, heavy and ancient ceiling fans, original to the building no less, swung about in slow certainty. The interior was rather bleak, left unfinished on purpose with exposed brick and wooden beams. It reminded one much of an old barn, only less drafty and not smelling of hay and cow urine. Rob detested these newer antique stores that had come about over the last decade; polished interiors with inflated prices and arrogant dealers who didn't know a Schoenhut from a Steinway. There was no sense of history to them, no feeling of getting your hands dirty as the past trickled through your fingers like so much dust. His office was here as well, a wide alcove that granted him near full view of the store while he worked on scheduling events, finances, inventory and taxes.
The third floor was mostly empty, a large space that was subject to draughts and too much of a nightmare to try and heat. With the last of his student loans almost paid off and the mortgage finally burnt, he teased himself about doing something with spare floor but could never settle on a purpose for it. He had thought about renting it out. The idea of people being in his building among his treasures when he wasn't left him cold. In the end, he used it to store black powder in small and isolated kegs kept well apart from one another with tarps thrown over them for good measure; Rob had measured the distances and amounts quite closely to make sure they were in keeping with state guidelines.
It was the second floor that was his pride and joy. His own personal space was there, a studio apartment for one that contained everything he needed. Arrays of re-enactment uniforms and costumes, weapons, and miscellany hung on the walls, adding to the insulation. A separate section contained his workshop. Here he casted bullets and measured grains, rewired old console radios, stripped and restained ancient tables, upholstered chairs and hundreds of other small tasks that kept restorationists busy. A small interior shed in one corner allowed for sandblasting and painting. It was also the floor where he kept what he called "The Kaiser's Armory." It laid between his studio and the workshop, a walled off room adorned with antique rifles and shotguns. Each had been lovingly restored and displayed in handmade wooden racks, security cables discreetly hidden. The perimeter of the room was lined with glass display cases, each showing off a particular type of handgun: pistols, revolvers, derringers, pepperboxes... The items on and by the south wall were all reproductions, some purchased whole and some he had crafted from kits. This room also contained a sofa and a pair of mismatched armchairs set about a worn and nicked coffee table, as it also functioned as a formal parlor for when his friends from out of town came to visit.
The sound of shots rang out in distance, coming from somewhere around Seminole Avenue. Rob frowned as he looked up from fondling his latest find: a unique example of a double-barreled howdah gun, the two .75 caliber muzzles looking so much like twin entrances to hell. It was a far cry from the reproduction .22 Sharps pepperbox he kept beneath the front counter, but beautiful in its artistry.
Ever since the Ban, the crime had been getting worse in Freemont. No one wanted to talk about. Sure, the media had a field day with each and every incident, but no one seemed willing to put the whole thing together. Rob shook his head at the recent turn of events and made a note in the inventory sheet as to the howdaw's purchase cost and estimated selling price. As much as he wanted to keep it for his own collection, he would have to put it up on the market.
"I hope the smell of bacon and eggs is only overpowering the smell of coffee."
"As opposed to...?"
"As opposed to overpowering nothing."
"Dad, the day I don't wake up and make coffee half asleep is the day you can commit me to a sanitarium in, like, Antarctica."
Dan Jensen laughed and kissed the top of his daughter's head as she handed him a steaming mug. It was good to have Kimi home, for more reasons than one.
"Any place specific? I wasn't under the impression they had too many insane asylums beyond the Arctic Circle."
"Duh. That gives it notoriety. Like Alcatraz. C'mon, Dad, you're the Deputy Commissioner of the hottest country in the States right now. You can't afford not to know these things."
Dan's good natured grin faltered only slightly. "Kimi, you know as well as I do, there is not one person outside of this Antarctic Asylum who thinks Freemont is 'hot'."
Kimi busied herself with grabbing a few plates from the cabinet. They were both paper--Dan didn't do dishes. He was every bit the single man, living without his daughter for the last few years. She kept her back to him as she scraped a double helping of eggs and bacon onto his plate.
"Everyone in the country knows the name Freemont," she said quietly. "Since--"
"Kim, it's too early for this."
"I wasn't gonna say anything," she said brightly, setting his plate in front of him and pecking him on the cheek. "Just...you know, discussing."
"Well, it's too early to discuss, Kimi. The ban is in place. It's out of my hands. You know that."
"Not completely," Kimi countered, tentatively taking her seat at the card table that doubled as their dining room. She hadn't been back in town long, but she'd managed to get a job in the next town over, working as a bartender at a cantina called Pelo del Perro. The regulars liked her enough that she'd have enough to buy them a real table in a few weeks, even if her father tried to talk her out of it. She had no plans on returning to New York any time soon, not while the ban was in place, and her father was...her father. May as well make the place feel like home, even if it hadn't felt that way in fifteen years.
"I mean, Dad, you're the Deputy Commissioner. You can't say you have no say. I just think if we maybe got people to think about it--"
"We've already thought about it, Kimi." The humor was gone from her father's face, and she could see his age around his eyes. She swallowed her guilt as he went on. "This wasn't come careless decision. If you've been following the news as closely as you say, you know that."
"But the crime rate has gone up. I mean, you know that better than anyone. Just last night--"
"That's enough, Kimi. Thank you for breakfast. I need to get to work, and you need to get some sleep." He frowned slightly and scrutinized her face. Kimi pretended to check the time. "You look worse than I do."
The DepCom, Dan Jensen had been called to the shooting out on Seminole the night prior and hadn't gotten back to the house til around dawn. Kimi, too, had been gone. She worked night hours at the bar, and usually got back just in time to make breakfast for her father before he left for work.
"It was busy last night," she said evasively, going to the stove to clear the frying pan. "News of the shooting spread fast, and everyone was afraid to head back out to the streets. Was...everyone okay?"
"Everything is fine, Kimi." Dan stood, yawned, drained his coffee in a single gulp, and walked to the door. "I'll be back early this evening. Maybe we can have dinner."
Kimi grinned despite herself. It was as close to an apology as she'd get from him. It was also more than enough. For all his...questionable decisions, he was all she had, and she loved him. "Sure, Dad. I'll make some burgers."
"I was thinking we could go out."
Kimi raised a brow but said nothing.
"No one'll shoot the 'Deputy Commissioner'," Dan muttered sarcastically. "Have a good one, Kim."
Kimi didn't respond. He had one part right: no one was going to shoot her father. What he didn't know, however, was that Kimi had been out late, too. Not at work like he thought. The shooting at Seminole had drawn much more attention than even her father knew.