Captain Winters was dead to begin with.
Houston was the one to put that pain in the ass out of his misery. Winters had always been fucking annoying. He would show up, cause a bunch of chaos, and then leave like the coward he was when it got tough. The crew had an ongoing “contest” to see how many rounds they would go through before he left.
Being distracted was what had done the captain in though. Winters turned just ever so slightly as Wolf set up their last turret gun. It was one chance in a million, but Houston fired anyway. The bullet went through Winters’ temple, blasting his brains over his shield.
Houston barely believed he did it, and would have ended up in custody in his shock if Chains hadn’t grabbed him during their escape.
The residents of the safe house gathered in front of the television set to watch the press conference about Winters. As the guest of honor, Houston was wedged in the middle of the sofa between Chains and Wolf.
“I found bottle of Stolichnaya,” said Sokol. He came from the kitchen with the vodka in one hand and glasses in the other.
“I’m all for drinking to the man’s health,” said Bonnie.
“Would you two keep it down? McKendrick is about to go on.”
Houston wanted to enjoy his short moment in the limelight. The sofa was getting gradually less comfortable as Dallas and Hoxton tried to find room. Jacket was creepily leaning over Houston’s shoulder, trying to get a better look at the television.
“Don’t let it go to your head, mate,” said Hoxton.
“Of course you would say that.”
“Okay, everyone keep it down. I want to hear this,” said Dallas from his end of the sofa. He clicked the volume up a few levels.
The press conference looked the same as it did when Commissioner Garrett announced the arrival of Captain Winters. McKendrick was a little grayer in the jowls, probably worried about what voters would think of him now.
He straightened his tie before starting his speech.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. As many news outlets have reported, we regret to announce the in the line of duty death of Captain Neville Winters.”
The gang cheered and Houston felt Chains clap him on the back.
“My administration is greatly saddened by the loss of Captain Winters, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”
“Well that’s a fucking robotic response,” snorted Clover.
“More information about the service will follow shortly. To discuss details with the press, I invited Commissioner Garrett to speak.” With another adjustment of his tie, McKendrick walked off the stage.
“You’d think the bastard would say more,” said Chains.
Houston saw Dallas lean forward in interest.
Garrett still reminded Houston of a science teacher he hated in middle school. The man has been as sour as the Commissioner was. The times had been trying for him; the lines in his face were darker than they were before.
“Thank you Mayor McKendrick, for inviting me. Captain Winters was a good friend of mine, which makes his murder all the bitterer.”
“He ain’t mincing words is he?” said Bonnie.
“He was killed by a member of the Payday Gang, another casualty in our war on crime in this city. And I promise I am as committed as ever to eradicating them from Washington D.C. Neville Winters’ death will not have been in vain. Thank you.” Garrett walked off the stage to a flurry of questions from the press.
“That was disappointingly short.” Houston was expecting Garrett to rant and rave a little longer.
“We’ll have to keep checking the news,” said Dallas.
“Don’t worry my friend, have a drink.” Sokol came around from behind the sofa, shoving a glass of vodka into his hands.
Houston held the glass away from him. “Uh, I don’t drink.”
Winters was one less problem for Dallas to worry about. But several more concerns were becoming more pressing.
Garrett’s first, and probably best, idea failed. The public knew that Winters had been killed by the Payday Gang. Dallas was still surprised Garrett hadn’t mentioned his next plan for dealing with them in more detail. Maybe he learned from his showing off of Winters during the first press conference.
As a few weeks passed since his little brother blew Winters’ brains out, Garrett’s war against them had grown complicated. Dallas tried to not let it bother him, but sleep had trouble coming.
After he had tossed and turned for what seemed like the nth time, Dallas wanted to get out of bed. Hoxton, ever the heavy sleeper, slung an arm over his stomach, trapping him. The clock said nearly five in the morning. Dallas gingerly moved Hoxton out of the way, not wanting to wake him.
He stood in the kitchen making a pot of coffee. Dallas dug around in the refrigerator, crossing his fingers that the milk hadn’t expired. It was one day shy, hopefully one of them would have time to run out and get more. He stood, jumping at the sight of Hoxton leaning against the stove.
“Jesus, you scared the shit out of me.” He reactively placed a hand on his chest.
“That wasn’t my intention.”
“Did I wake you?”
“Just a little.”
The coffee finished brewing.
“Do you want a cup?” Hoxton was in the apartment more often than not, but Dallas still felt like he had to play host.
“Not at five in the fucking morning.” Hoxton crossed his arms. He was staring at Dallas with a raised eyebrow.
“Out with it, what’s bothering you?”
Dallas considered dismissing Hoxton’s concerns, but knowing him he would probably pester Dallas if he did.
“A part of me wishes Houston didn’t kill Winters.”
Hoxton frowned. “What do you mean?”
Dallas finished making his coffee. He needed a little caffeine before explaining further.
“I mean we knew how to deal with him. And now that he’s dead, who the hell knows what Garrett wants to try next.”
“Doesn’t Bain got a mole?”
Dallas sighed. “Not anymore.”
Hoxton leaned forward in surprise. “What do you mean not anymore?”
This was why he didn’t want to have this conversation now. Before dawn was not an ideal time to confess secrets.
“Bain only told me yesterday. Smith is still keeping in touch. But it’s not him. The feds didn’t take their time to perfectly mimic his writing style and spelling mistakes.”
“So what the fuck happened to him?”
Dallas rubbed his forehead. “Who the hell knows, but he’s not in Garrett’s office anymore. And that’s not the part that concerns me the most.”
“Ah shite, and what’s that?”
“Before they got to Smith, he sent Bain the name of Garrett’s new plan. It’s called Project Image.” The gang was in it deep now, if Garrett was giving his ideas code names.
Hoxton laughed. “That makes him sound like a fucking Bond villain.”
“I don’t know what it means.”
“You gonna tell everyone to stay low?”
“A little, but I want us all to keep doing what we were doing.”
“Are you sure that’s smart,” Hoxton said skeptically.
“If we change tactics that tells Garrett that we’re on to him. I want to know more about this Project Image first.”
“I’m guessing you want me to keep my mouth shut about this.”
“I don’t want the others panicking over what could be nothing. But I’m going to talk to Chains about this. Let’s hope Project Image is just another idiot cop with delusions of godhood. Oh, and whatever you do Jim, don’t tell my brother my opinions on Winters.”
“Afraid of breaking his little heart?”
“I mean it,” Dallas said darkly. Houston had always been a little sensitive, especially when he felt slighted.
“When have I ever dragged you into our rivalry?”
Dallas smiled. “I’d kick both your asses if you did.”
Hoxton reached over and placed a hand over Dallas’ mug. “Now that you got that off your mind, want to come back to bed?”
“I’m already awake.”
“I’m sure.” Dallas brushed his arm.
Hoxton gave him a quick peck on the cheek and left the kitchen.
Once Hoxton was gone, Dallas sat down at the table. Time to make plans for the future.
Clover was halfway through her second Guinness of the evening, Houston still on his first glass of root beer. They were sitting in a corner at a hole in a wall, enjoying a little privacy. Being there together was less than a date, but more intimate than two friends hanging out.
“When are we going to do a job again?” she asked, stretching out in her seat. “Something quiet. I miss picking locks.”
“Why are you asking me? I have no idea.” It was starting to concern him that one hadn’t been in the works for a while.
“You’re a lot closer to Dallas than I am,” said Clover.
That was true, but his brother had been more aloof than usual lately. Houston felt like he was the only one who noticed it. Chains acted like it was same old same old, Hoxton was still a dick, and Wolf, was Wolf.
“Yeah, well he’s not telling me jack.”
Clover took a sip of her beer. “Oh? Family problems?”
“It’s not like that.”
Houston didn’t exactly want to confess his insecurities to Clover, but the last time they were together, she told him something personal. His thoughts would be safe with her.
“Spit it out!”
“I get the feeling he’s not too happy I got Winters.”
Clover laughed. Houston liked how deep and throaty it was.
“I’m not happy you did either. I lost a hundred bucks to fucking Bonnie.”
“You were betting on who would do it?” Houston said incredulous.
“It was her idea. Sorry, I had my money on Chains.”
Houston felt his ego deflate slightly. “Thanks.”
“It was too much to resist. Anyway, did Dallas say anything to you?”
Rather he hadn’t said enough. It was not as though Houston expected his brother to lavish him in praise, but he thought he would have said more.
“He said ‘Good job little brother’ and slapped me on the back, and that was it. After we got Hector, we actually sat down and talked about it. Like how we should have figured it was him.”
“Maybe he’s plotting. He seems the same to me.”
“I don’t know. It could be a sibling thing.”
“At least you got one brother to worry about. I’ve got seven and they’re all a bunch of ballbegs.”
Houston didn’t know what that meant, but it was probably an insult.
The next time he was in the safe house, Houston paid closer attention to Dallas. On the surface all was as it should be. Gradually, he noticed that Chains was acting in a similar way to his brother, aloof and quiet. It wasn’t as obvious, but he had been around both men enough to tell.
Did they both know something he didn’t? Why weren’t they telling him? Old feelings of inferiority resurfaced. Hadn’t he proved again and again that he deserved to be here?
Before Houston could confront either of them, Dallas held a meeting in the safe house.
“Alright ladies and gentlemen,” he said, standing in front of Lady Liberty. “I’ve got some good news and some bad news.”
“What’s the bad news,” said Dragan.
“The bad news is that now that Winters is dead, Garrett’s got to come up with another plan to get rid of us.”
Houston’s jaw clenched. If Dallas wanted Winters to stick around, he should have said so and saved him a bullet.
“I don’t exactly know what the good commissioner’s plan is, and he’s keeping it close. So for right now, I want everyone to keep quiet for a bit. The less Garrett knows the better.”
“Are we just going to hide until he makes the first move?” said Dragan.
“We are not hiding.” Houston watched his brother grind his teeth in annoyance. “I’m working on an arraignment that should benefit us.”
“And what’s that?” Dragan was not easily impressed.
“I’ll let you know when it’s concrete. Now if you all will excuse me, I have work to do.” Dallas turned and went to the basement.
Houston followed him.
“Don’t you think this is too cautious?”
“If I wasn’t this cautious little brother, I wouldn’t have lasted this long.”
It was funny how Dallas could use that nickname both as a sign of affection and as an insult. Houston kept arguing his point.
“Why can’t Bain help us organize a heist into Garrett’s office? We broke into the FBI already.”
“That was a heist you can only do once. I’m not going to risk people just for information that might not even be there.”
“Are you sure Garrett is that smart?” Houston had trouble taking a man who told his best officer to wear a giant badge on his chest seriously.
“He has his reputation for a reason.”
“So what’s this arraignment?” Houston hated feeling out of the loop.
Dallas’ eyes narrowed. “I’ll tell you when I get a yes.”
“Am I the only one who doesn’t know about this?” Had his brother forgotten that he came immediately when he asked him to? Houston had been a part of planning every major heist since he joined the gang. “Does Chains know? Does Hoxton know?”
He couldn’t help the mocking tone in his voice with the last sentence. Dallas’ relationship was untouchable, but of course Hoxton would have some perks from being his boyfriend.
Dallas got close to Houston, keeping his voice low.
“I do what I do to keep this crew alive and out of prison, and you’d better respect that. This job is harder than it looks, so don’t do anything stupid.”
Dallas left him, anger boiled in Houston’s stomach. It was as if he was five again, getting caught in some mischief by his brother.
Houston found Chains, the man was more likely to talk than Hoxton. The enforcer was playing cards with Wolf.
“What are you guys playing, poker?”
“Go fish, Wolf’s kicking my ass.”
“I ask the better questions,” Wolf grinned.
“You wanna join?” asked Chains.
Chains wasn’t kidding about Wolf kicking his ass. Maybe he had played the games with his children in another life. After a few rounds, Houston felt comfortable bringing up the subject.
“You guys know what the deal Dallas is putting together.”
Chains took a card from Wolf’s hand. “Something with the Belasco family, they might be willing to be a second pair of ears. It’s all up in the air.”
Houston’s stomach sunk. Chains did know.
“Bain’s idea or his?”
He could be mad at Bain, it was a running joke in the safe house how much of a pain in the ass he was.
“His. Bain is not a fan. You know how he likes to keep it all in the family.”
No, we’re family. Don’t you forget that. Houston wondered if his brother had.