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A note from Morgan Cole

I'm shaking off the preschool plague that my son gave me, but managed to get this chapter finished. Schedule is messed up, I'll try to get some more out this week.

Even with the coffee, I was feeling the long night. I wanted nothing more but to go home and climb into that big bed and sleep for the rest of the day. That's what Flattop was doing, and I envied him a bit.

Unfortunately I didn't have the excuse of a bullet hole in my side. The clock was ticking—if we didn't sell enough weed to buy our next shipment in thirty days, we were all dead. From what I knew from movies and TV, they might do our families as well.

I crossed the street back to the LSS shop. The hood of the Comet was down and I could hear Hondo deep in the shadows of the garage. I laid my right hand fondly on the white-painted steel of the car's roof. It was warm from the early-morning sunshine and the faint whiff of gasoline filled the air. I smiled.

Hondo emerged from the shadows of the garage, wiping his hands on a rag.

"I remember my first car, too, Homes. It was a piece of shit just like this one."

"Come on," I protested. "Is it really that bad?"

"Nah, I'm fucking with you. She's running good now. These cars are tanks. I've given her a new VIN and re-keyed the locks and ignition cylinder. Miguel is on his way over to do the registration."

"Awesome. What do I owe you, man?"

He waved a dismissive hand. "We family now, Homes."

Unexpectedly, I was choked up for a second. It took a second to get my voice back.

"Thanks, Hondo. Where are the keys?"

"In the ignition. Get in and start her up."

I did as he asked, opening the long, white door and plopping down in the red-pleather bucket seat. Hondo had replaced the ignition I'd drilled out, and the key turned smoothly. The Comet's starter turned over and the 302 cubic inch V8 came right to life. The radio came on and the engine purred happily.

I couldn't help but smile at Hondo as he stood nearby. "Thanks, man. Sounds great."

"Like I said, she's running good now. Take care of her and she'll run forever."

Hondo looked up at the gate. "Hey, Miguel's here."

I glanced back and saw the older man walk primly into the yard. I turned off the Comet and got out, pocketing the keys. Miguel walked up to where Hondo and I were standing.

He took us both in, and chose to address me. "Is this the vehicle that needs to be registered?"

"Yes."

"I'll need a set of plates and my fee," he responded.

I looked at Hondo, who nodded and hurried into the garage. I fished my roll out of my front pocket and peeled off $300. Miguel took it without comment, again pocketing his $100 fee.

 

Hondo returned with the plates and handed them to Miguel. I idly wondered why we couldn't just give the Registrar the plates that had been on the Comet when I'd stolen it, but I guessed there was probably some leftover magic in "active" plates that prevented them from being reused. Or maybe it would just be in poor taste to give this legit guy the plates from the car he was helping us steal. Hard to say.

Miguel looked me over with the plates in one hand and the cash in the other. Flames consumed the money and the letters on the plate shifted into a new configuration, the magic of the registration making the plates new again. When the letters stopped moving, he handed me the plates.

"There you are. Will there be anything else?" Miguel asked.

"No, that's it. Thanks, Miguel," I said.

Miguel nodded to me and left without even glancing in Hondo's direction.

Once he'd left the yard I turned to Hondo, who had a bemused expression. "That guy really doesn't like you."

"Dad fucked Miguel's wife, just before he went in. It's a whole thing."

I snorted. "Gato sounds like quite a character."

"He's a great man. He was real good for this hood when he was running the Soldados. Anyway, you'll meet him. We're going to have to bring you to see him."

"What, like go to prison?"

"Yeah, Homes. Cause that's where he is. In prison," Hondo said, raising an eyebrow and looking at me like I was slow.

"Sorry, I've never been to a prison. I've only seen them on TV."

"It's fine. We'll drive up there, grease the right guard and get some private time with him so he can check you out. Flattop's running the Soldados, but Gato's still the boss, know what I'm saying? He'll be out one day and we need to make sure he knows who we're clicked up with."

The idea of going to prison to get inspected by the former head of the LSS wasn't real appealing, but it seemed like Hondo thought it needed to happen. I'd go and try to make a good impression.

"Sure, but can that wait? We've got so much shit to do in the next thirty days." I said.

Saying that out loud made me realize that I wasn't sure what all of those things were. I tried to make my brain work, but

"You ain't lying, Homes. We'll get it done when we can find the time. I'm going to hit the sack, but before I do that I'll call my auntie and find you some cleaners. That place isn't livable, Homes."

I just nodded, leaning against the car. The warm solidity of the steel fender held me up. Hondo went back into the shop and a moment later I could hear him talking on the phone in Spanish.

My mind was churning, trying to figure out what was on my "to do" list. Get some equipment to weigh and package the weed. Find some buyers. Figure out who the Hip were selling to. Get Old Pete his share. Talk to Zeke. That was just the ones near the top of the list. There was too much. At some point I also wanted to stop hustling so hard and have a little bit of fun. Maybe spend some time with a girl—was that so much to ask?

"Fuck," I muttered to myself.

I really wanted to check in on Manny, as well. I needed to tell him he didn't have to worry about the Hip any more. I'd have to see if I could catch him going to school, since I was so close.

One thing I was sure of, almost all of the stuff I needed to do seemed like insurmountable peaks right that moment. I was bone-tired. The long night in Nirvana combined with the hit on the Hip had taken everything out of me. I needed to sleep.

I may have nodded off for a bit as the next thing I remember was Hondo shaking my shoulder.

"Hey, don't fall asleep here. Go home and get some sleep. My tia's rounding up a few of her friends to clean your sty of a house. I'll let her and the ladies in if you're not awake when we get there."

Going home and collapsing into bed felt like a great plan. I'd paid the vig and, really, everything else could wait for a bit.

"Okay, that works. We can trust your aunt and her friends?" I asked.

"Yeah. What, you think they're going to steal all the extra crack pipes or whatever Smokey left behind? They'll clean the place and they won't rob you, Homes. Auntie Angela is good people. Even if she wasn't, no one's getting into that stash without some serious effort."

I nodded. He was right, of course. We'd gotten lucky that Smokey was in there and we'd been able to convince him to come out.

"Alright, thanks man."

Hondo slapped me on the shoulder. "Get out of here before you fall over."

I took his advice, getting back into the Comet and starting her up. Hondo opened the gate and waved as I drove off.

Driving through San Tadeo had a dream-like quality to it. Nothing felt real. Traffic flowed smoothly around me and if I hit a single red light I don't remember it. The warm wind stroked my face through the open window and the bright, sunny blue sky seemed to go on forever.

I drove by the school near my house that Manny went to. It was your typical high school, a featureless multi-story block of concrete and steel surrounded by fences.

A few students could be seen outside, but as class was in session it was as sealed up as any other prison. I noted absently that the name of the school was Harvey Keitel High. Once I was past and the sign was out of view I wasn't sure if I'd dreamt that or not.

The dream continued to smoothly pull me toward my house and my bed. The spot directly in front of the house was open and I slotted the Comet into it, putting it into park. The engine grumbled happily at me and I turned off the ignition, putting my new ride back to sleep.

I locked the front door behind me and tried to ignore the absolute state of the house. I kicked trash out of the way heedlessly, making my way up the stairs and through the steel door I'd left unlocked.

I just managed to kick off my shoes before I collapsed into bed fully dressed and fell asleep.


Some time later I started awake to a deafening roaring noise. I groped for my gun but couldn't find it. I vaguely recalled the holstered weapon digging into my back and pulling it free, but where had I put it?

I struggled upright out of my deep sleep and the tangled sheets into a fighting crouch on top of the bed.

A large, hispanic-looking middle aged woman with her hair tied back looked up with a slightly amused expression. She turned off the vacuum cleaner, causing the roaring noise to die away.

"Perdóname, señor. Está muy sucio aquí, terminaré pronto," she said. I got the gist. Something about being done soon.

"Ah, okay."

I identified her as she switched the vacuum back on.

Angela Hernandez, Domestic Engineer (F3)
Mutually Allied With: Lyle Street Soldados

So this was Hondo's aunt. She was an LSS ally as well, which made me feel better about having her in my space.

I rubbed my eyes. They felt like they were full of sand and I was so tired I was actually kind of sore. I laid back, resigning myself to waiting for her to finish vacuuming before I could go back to sleep. It must have been a whole thirty seconds before I was out.

When I came to, the house was silent and my room was shadowy, lit only by the bathroom light and whatever was coming through the hole I'd torn in the newspaper covering the window. I had no idea how long it had been so willed myself to see the time.

The whole day had gone by, but the night was young. Maybe it was time to have some fun.

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About the author

Morgan Cole

Bio: I'm a tech consultant and a part time author (full time during this plague).

I have five books currently on Amazon, my Land of Dreams series and my new sci-fi series The Last Enclave. They're both gamelit/litrpg.

Capo is an experiment to see if I can make gangster a legit subgenre of Gamelit/LitRPG. I hope I can pull it off.

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