Jabber puts out his cigarette and lifts his coat collar against a cold wind. He’d call the alleyway dark but there are no alleyways in New York anymore. He retreats inside through a heavy back door.
The apartment complex 23-C was built in the early sixties and everyone who’s owned it since has washed their hands of it immediately after contact. Yellowing with smoke (for which Jabber does his part and takes it outside (when it’s convenient)), half-full with flickering light, and the only suitable housing for tenant-union-hired mercenaries is a disused storage room. Disused because no one who lives there has anything they can’t fit in a closet.
Due to what can only be assumed was a catastrophic bureaucratic error on the part of New York City’s board of investors, new tenant protections are coming into effect at the end of the month. That’s 2 weeks from now. For apartment complex 23-C, this means that everyone not evicted by then has their place become rent-controlled. The cops are determined to have this place empty or obliterated. Tenant-union mercenaries might hold them back long enough.
Through that torn-carpeted hallway, down the torn-carptered stairs to the concrete floors where only movers were supposed to lurk, Jabber sees Kiki Lincoln sitting outside the door. She’s maybe twenty four, not young nor old for a mercenary.
She’s sitting cross-legged with her hair up and gardening gloves on. She’s cleaning the disassembled parts of a sniper rifle like a dentist. The shiny black parts are on a polka dot towel.
“Need a hand?” Jabber asks.
Kiki flickers her eyes up only to glare at him.
“I said: need a hand?”
“No.” she says.
Jabber stands there for a moment. Shrugs. “Fuck me, right?”
He goes past her into the room.
Each of the four mercenaries have a corner with a hammock or mattress set up. In the middle of the room there’s a table with three chairs- all the tenants could spare for them. The ceiling isn’t so much a ceiling as it is wooden scaffolds and exposed foam insulation. One light bulb hangs from a wire stapled to the wood.
Jabber’s corner has a dirty mattress and a cardboard box with all his belongings next to it. Kiki’s corner usually has a hammock, but she folds it back into its bag when she’s not using it. Sam is sitting on her mattress with her back to that sharp, cold concrete wall. She has her sheathed sword and prosthetic arm laying behind her. She’s reading what appears to be pulp erotica. Catch is sleeping in his hammock with an empty beer bottle in his hand.
“Y’all hear we’re gettin’ some fresh meat?” Jabber says.
Sam doesn’t look up. Catch doesn’t stir from his sleep.
Jabber clears his throat. “Yessir, we got one more hire ‘fore they come to evict the building and do us in. Big shot, says the boss. How about that?”
“Mm.” Sam mumbles in the affirmative.
Jabber sidles up to Catch and pokes him awake. He comes to like someone is throwing a morning pale of molasses on him. “Wha- huh? Is it happening? Are the jawbreakers here?”
“Not yet. I was just talking about the new hire.”
“Huh? The what?”
“-Oh yeah, yeah, the new guy. Yeah.” Catch yawns and touches the empty bottle to his lip, then drops it from the hammock. It shatters, and a few seconds later, he flinches. “Listen- why’d you wake me up, man? What’s up?”
Jabber looks around. “Felt like talkin’ to someone. I guess."
Catch looks at him like he’s insane.
“New guy is supposed to be psychic.” Jabber nods to the door, and Kiki. “That makes two. Pretty good odds it gives us against some jawbreaker fuckers, huh?”
“I don’t know, man. It’s too early.”
It’s one in the afternoon.
Jabber taps his knuckle to Catch’s shoulder and fades away from the conversation. He crosses to Sam.
“What do you think?” he asks her.
“I wonder what happens next.” she says. Holding the book in her one hand, she flips a page with her thumb.
“What about the new guy?"
“I haven’t thought about him yet.”
Jabber huffs and retreats to the middle of the storage space, around the circular table.
“This week’s been a real treat with all of you. Love to get to know everybody before we’re slaughtered by the cops and left as a weird stain on the floor of a new office building.” Jabber says.
No one responds.
He shrugs. “Maybe the new guy talks.”
The new guy has a daemon in his glasses.