The note had a rather florid beginning: “As the generals of two great armies, there are times when it is our duty to work diligently toward an understanding.” Da Baron even went further to outline exactly how to attain such an understanding. He wanted John Harris to submit to a meeting of small delegations—preferably no more than eight men in each—on a section of abandoned docks along the westbank. He insisted that their meeting was meant as one of peace, but to be sure, in his message, he conceded that he understood his opponent’s desire to be armed. And though short on content, the message proved effective, prompting John to assemble a delegation and sit down with his best minds to devise a strategy.
The morning was well in place by the time that the Harris team arrived at the designated site. There was no sign of his adversary’s entourage, but John was not concerned. So far, so good, he even thought. He knew that they would arrive shortly, and the subsequent dialogue was all a part of his plan to avert an all-out war without his surrender. The idea was too perfect to fail—or so John told himself. And with that confidence, he turned back to the five men who accompanied him, and he attempted to convey his optimism in a slight grin.
Unfortunately, none of the men in John’s immediate lot shared that optimism—and the least among them was Patrick Dutton. Since their arrival on the docks, Patrick had hoped to lose himself in any distraction that was available, but his thoughts kept retuning to the madness of the last few hours. He was not at all sure what to make of anything, but when he saw John’s grin, he became even more convinced that his employer had lost his mind. Patrick began to pace, while recounting the events that led to this juncture—the violence against innocent people, his own unexpected ascension from a lowly dealer to the unwitting second banana of this outfit, this hasty acceptance of an invitation that could have led to an ambush. Suddenly, he found himself praying for sanity, because, without it, he knew they were all dead.
Three burly Yukons pulled up before the group, and from them, eight men emerged. With a deep breath, John put on his firmest facial expression, perhaps to mask a sudden rush of fear, and stepped forward slowly. Then he extended his arms from his sides and twirled, as a silent gesture to the fact that he, personally, was not armed and had come in good faith. Likewise, from the opposing side, a lanky, middle-aged gentleman, dressed to the hilt in a perfectly tailored suit and leather coat, met the young gangsta halfway. The tension between the two was more overwhelming than plainly obvious, but neither it nor the cold glares prevented John’s opponent from extending his hand with a friendly smile. Very nervously, John did accept the handshake.
“Good morning, John,” Da Baron began. The words fell from his lips with ease, as if he was in the company of an old friend. “I am happy to see that you could make it here. I’ll tell you, though, I had my doubts about you even getting the message. That little hustler is bad to do business with. Hell, he charged me fifty dollars for delivery of the message.”
John did not say a word.
“Well, John,” the middle-aged man returned. “I was hoping that we might have been able to start this dialogue on a positive note. After all, this is what you wanted, isn’t it?”
“It is,” John finally replied.
Da Baron nodded. “You do know there are better ways to get someone’s attention than to kill innocent people.”
“Innocent, perhaps—exempt, no,” the young gangsta stated, very boldly.
Da Baron simply stared at the arrogant youngster, as he struggled to maintain his composure. “What are you hoping for, son? Co-existence?”
“It is possible.”
“No, it isn’t. That isn’t possible when the other guy’s version of ‘co-existence’ allows him to eat into my market share.”
“And it’s not possible when you are extorting money from my street dealers—and even skimming money off my profits with turncoats. That is how this problem began, don’t you remember?” John spoke with so much conviction that he amazed himself. “I would have never started this, if you had not broke the rules. And even then, mind you, I didn’t attack you; I went after my own disloyal dealers. I know you didn’t care about those boys, but you just used their deaths as an excuse to start fighting, anyway.”
The friendly smile vanished from the face of Da Baron. He took a moment to look beyond John, surveying the opposing entourage, and he asked, “Only six of you here? Where are the other two or three?” Then he paused momentarily, as if he came to a clever realization, and he shifted his eyes to the rooftops of the abandoned warehouses. “Oh, I see.”
“All I will ask you for is—what would you call it? —fair competion,” John added. “You will still have a bigger operation, and that’s not to mention the businesses you front, or even the whores you pimp, or whatever else you do. And all we want is an, um, equal opportunity to make our own, too—free from the threats, the rivalry, and the killings. If market share slides up and down—fine, so long as it does fairly.”
“You are audacious.” Da Baron was genuinely humored by the younger gangsta’s proposal. “But, John, this is not the Emerald City,” he continued, while jabbing his finger at the skyscrapers in the distance across the river. “This is more like Tombstone, where bullets make the laws, and we are the gunslingers. Everyday we make new laws—not by committee—but by killing another brother or sister. And in the end, in Tombstone, the man who really matters is not the one respected for his abilities or his ideals; he’s the one feared for his firepower.” Then the middle-aged man smiled again. “But we both knew that, didn’t we?”
Those were not the words of a man seeking peace, John thought. Was Da Baron insincere about the intentions for this dialogue? Was a truce not possible? Any hope that John might have had was now waning. “So you are saying nothing will change?” he asked, sounding very disappointed.
“Why should they?” Da Baron countered, his smile extending wider. “John, you have nothing to offer.”
“How is Tamara?” John said, rather abruptly.
“What did you say?”
John lifted his head to look directly into the eyes of his opponent. “Tamara—that’s your daughter, right? Doesn’t she go to Lincoln High School? Doesn’t she walk to her grandmother’s house, everyday, after school?”
“What the fuck are you saying!”
“I do have something to offer, Mr. Williams. I am offering your child’s safety,” John answered, while maintaining his stare. “It would be a shame if something happened to her.”
The middle-aged gangsta, a veteran who once prided himself on composure, suddenly pulled a gun from the back of his trousers, and pointed it in squarely John’s face. The response on both sides was immediate, as everyone prepared himself for a fight. The tension had undoubtedly reached its peak, but John Harris appeared to be unmoved. He never flinched; he only smiled at his enemy.
“If I die, Mr. Williams, you can count on joining me,” John uttered, when his eyes shifted to nearby rooftops and the gunmen positioned on them. “And then the order will go out for the attacks to continue. More innocent people will die, and Tamara will be among the first of them.”
Grudgingly, Da Baron retracted his weapon, and he motioned for his roughnecks to do the same. “I guess we know where we stand.”
John only nodded.
“It’s unfortunate, really, son,” Da Baron said, “because I did not want you dead. But now you are as good as dead. I plan to see to it.” And with that, he walked back to his vehicle.
John watched Da Baron and his group drive away. It was unfortunate, indeed, the young gangsta thought. The war that he had hoped to avert was now, with a great deal of certainty, about to begin. The chaos was about to become much worse. John lowered his head with a sigh, as he recalled the last words of Da Baron, but it was that very same death threat that propelled him into action. He turned to his men, meeting their expressions of concern with his own resilient one, and surprisingly enough, he smiled again to convey his optimism. If this was a place governed by bullets, John figured, then he was going to find a way to make all of his count, because, at this point, defeat was not an option.
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