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Page 34 of A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro 1)

Angie said, “But sooner or later...”

Devin nodded. “Something’s got to give. Roland hates his old man something fierce. No one knows why exactly. Although now, with Jenna dead, he pretty much has all the motivation he needs, doesn’t he?”

“He was close to her?” I asked.

Devin shrugged, his large palms up in front of him. “I don’t know. She visited him a lot when he was in juvie lockup at Wildwood, and some say he’d drop by her place every now and then, leave her some cash. But it’s really hard to say Roland’s got about as much love in him as his father.”

“Great,” I said. “Two machines without emotion.”

“Oh, they got plenty of emotion,” Devin said. “It’s just all hate.” He caught the waitress’s eye. “More coffee.”

We were sitting in the Dunkin’ Donuts on Morton Street. Outside the window a few guys passed around a bottle in a brown paper bag, drinking Sunday into Monday.

Across the street, four punks prowled, eyes roving, every now and then one of them banging his fist off the top of another’s jacked up on hate and pain and ready to ignite as soon as they found a spark. Down the block, a young girl pushing a carriage veered it off the curb and began crossing to the other side of the street, head down, hoping they wouldn’t notice her.

Devin said, “You know, it’s too bad about Jenna. Don’t seem right, a woman like that being stuck with two stone killers like Socia and Roland. Shit, the worst thing the woman ever did was rack up a lot of parking tickets. And who the hell doesn’t in this city.” He dipped his second doughnut into his third cup of coffee, his voice as inflectionless as a single piano key struck over and over again. “Too bad.” He looked at us. “Opened her safe-deposit box last night.”

Very slowly I said, “And?”

“Nothing,” he said, watching me. “A government bond, some jewelry wasn’t worth the rental fee on the box.”

A muffled explosion went off outside, and the inside of the doughnut shop rattled. I looked toward the window and saw the group of punks. One of them was staring in, the veins in his neck prominent, his face a war mask. He met our eyes and his hand shot out again into the window. A couple of people flinched but the window didn’t break. His friends laughed but he didn’t. His eyes were red, blazing with rage. He hit the window one more time, got a few more flinches, and then his friends pulled him away. He was laughing by the time he reached the corner. Nice world.

I said, “No one knows why Roland has this beef with Socia?”

“Could be anything. You weren’t particularly fond of your old man, were you, Kenzie?”

I shook my head.

He pointed at Angie. “You?”

“My father and I got along all right,” she said. “When he was home. My mother and I were another story.”

“I hated my old man,” Devin said. “Turned every waking hour in my house into the Friday night fights. Took so much shit from him growing up, I swore I’d never take it from anyone else for the rest of my life, even if that meant dying young. Maybe Roland’s like that. His juvie sheet is one long list of authority problems, going back to the fifth grade when he split open the substitute teacher’s head. Bit off some of his ear too.”

Fifth grade. Jesus.

Devin said, “Fucked up his share of social workers too, not to mention another teacher. Kicked a cop’s head through the windshield of his cruiser when he was taking him to juvie once. Broke the nose of an emergency-room doctor, this while he had a bullet lodged near his spine. Come to think of it everyone Roland’s jammed on has been male. He doesn’t respond well to female authority, either, but he doesn’t get violent, he just walks away.”

“What about Socia?”

“What about him?”

“What’s his deal?” I said. “I mean, I know he runs the Saints, but besides that.”

“Marion is a true opportunist. Up till about ten years ago, he was just a small-time pimp. A very vicious smalltime pimp, but he didn’t give the computer an overload when you keyed his name into it.”

“And then?”

“Then came crack. Socia knew what it would mean, long before it made the cover of Newsweek. He killed the mule of one of the Jamaican syndicates, took over the man’s action. We all figured he had about a week to live after that, but he flew to Kingston, showed the Boss the size of his balls, dared him to retaliate.” Devin shrugged. “Next thing you know, the man to see for crack in this town was Marion Socia. This was back in the early days, but even now, with all the competition, he’s still the top man. He’s got an army of kids willing to die for him, no questions asked, and he’s got a network that’s so detailed, you could bust one of his upper-echelon suppliers and still be four or five buffer people removed from Socia himself.”

We sat silent for a while, drinking our coffee.

Angie said, “How’s Roland ever hope to beat Socia?”

Devin shrugged. “You got me. I got a hundred bucks on Socia in the pool, myself.”

“The pool?” I said.

He nodded. “Of course. The departmental pool, see who wins the gang war. They don’t pay me enough to do this job, so I got to take my perks where I find them. Odds on Roland are about sixty to one.”

Angie said, “They looked pretty even at the funeral.”

“Looks can be deceiving. Roland’s tough, he’s smart, and he’s got a pretty good posse working for him up on Angel Avenue. But he’s not his father, not yet. Marion is ruthless and he’s got nine lives. There ain’t a member of the Saints who isn’t convinced he’s Satan. You fuck up even slightly in Socia’s organization and you die. No outs. No compromises. The Saints think they’re in a holy war.”

“And the Avengers?”

“Oh, they’re dedicated. Don’t doubt that. But, push come to shove, enough of them die, they’ll back down. Roland’s going to lose. Bank on it. Couple years from now, it might be a different story, but he’s too green right now.” He looked down at his cold coffee and grimaced. “What time is it?”

Angie looked at her watch. “Eleven.”

“Hell, it’s noon somewhere,” he said. “I need alcohol.” He stood up, dropped some coins on the table. “Come on, kids.”

I stood. “Where?”

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