Club, back alley dock, mid afternoon.

We’ll take another case of Absinthe.  Raul reviews the purchase order, and then signs it, and the driver of the delivery truck takes off.  Raul rolls up his sleeves and starts carrying the cases of spirits into the basement.  When he comes back upstairs, he sees a dark-haired beauty in a silk blouse, bell bottomed grey pants, and platform shoes holding the clipboard, and reviewing the purchase order.  He clears his throat as he approaches.  I recognize you from that TV interview you did, she tells him as she puts the clipboard back down.  I am the manager here.  Is there something that I can help you with?  I’m here to see you.  Clarissa Ziegler.  She offers her hand.  He just looks at it, and then back at her.  I’m in the middle of restocking our inventory, and I’m short-handed today, so please see yourself out the way you came in.  I’ll help, she tells him quickly.  He gives a quiet chuckle.  Ms. Ziegler, you’re welcome to come back during business hours and get an application for employment.  She takes off her shoes, and grabs a case.  Where to?  Please don’t.  He tells her.  I appreciate the intent, Ms. Ziegler, but we don’t have cameras downstairs, and I do not wish to place myself in a potentially compromising situation with a strange woman.  I understand, she tells him, and sets the box back down, and puts her shoes back on.  So tell me what is involved in the hiring process, after you get my application.  We do an on-site, in-person interview with the applicant.  And we require a pre-employment drug and alcohol test at that time.  Refusal is a red flag.  Then we have a two week probationary period, to see if there is a fit, as the new employee shadows the person whose job she will be doing.  And if we think the new hire has potential, we offer a competitive compensation package.  We have a very loyal and competent workforce.  She nods.  I could tell by the way your bouncers hustled out those two rockstars and then your bartender took care of the other by himself.  Where is he now?  He’s on an all expense paid Caribbean cruise with his girlfriend and her kids.  Is it true that he’s an ex-con?  Ms. Ziegler, most of our staff are second-chancers.  What does that mean? We help rehabilitate select individuals back into society upon their release from incarceration.  Aren’t you afraid that they’re going to steal from you?  From personal experience, Ms. Ziegler, I can say that our second chancers are more likely to show up to work and tend to become model employees.  That’s really cool that you’d do that.  So someone flaked out on you today?  He shrugs.  It comes with the territory.  Are you sure I cannot help?  Again, I appreciate the offer, but no thank you.  I’m a reporter, and I want to do a follow-up interview with you and speak to the bartender.  I’ve no additional comments, Ms. Ziegler, and the man in question gave notice, and is pursuing other opportunities.  Can you put me in touch with him?  I’m sorry, but that would be a violation of company policy.  She frowns and crosses her arms.

Now please respect my time; I have business to attend do.  But you spoke to that other reporter.  Ms. Andrews had a cameraman with her and promised to make me look good.  I have one too – button cam, she explains.  He looks away, peeved.  I’ve asked you politely to leave twice.  Your continued presence here is willful trespass; do I need to contact the authorities?

She wheels around and heads out the side door.

Two hours later, she pulls up behind him at a gas station, where he is fueling his Ultima.  Do you want to grab dinner?  No thank you.  Is it me? she asks.  I’ve already made plans.  Tomorrow?  No thank you.   She drives off.

The next evening…

Kostamo wants to know whether you’d be open to having a word with him, sir.  Yes.  Kostamo comes down the stairs ten minutes later, his man preceding him.

Raul gestures to two chairs in front of his desk.  Kostamo sits; his man remains standing, and goes over against the wall, so he can see both Raul and the door.

What’s on your mind, Kostamo?  Your brother.  You speak of Don Ramon.  He didn’t come after me <pause> I at least expected him to blow up my office.  To what end?  You go to ground for a couple weeks, and then The Syndicate protects you; your pipeline is just too valuable now with the East Coast being shut down.

And you didn’t challenge me.  I thought for sure you would.  Again, to what end?  Do I have anything to prove to my family?

Then I thought that Ramon might romance Toni to draw me out, but now he’s made her inviolate.  Raul looks over at Kostamo’s man.  How inner circle is he?  Fully vetted, but still on a need to know basis.

Does he need to know about Lana Radley?

What’s your gut tell you, Tim?  Not tonight, but soon.  See you later, then.  I’ll be right outside.

We did come after you, Kostamo.  I only agreed to the plan because I considered it most unlikely for Don Ramon to pull off the initial…and she said that she’d eat her gun before she betrayed you, that you were her friend.  And we knew then that we could not get to you in time.  You won this round.  Kostamo is silent for a long time.

Tia told me that Don Ramon has a framed picture on his desk now, the one the church photographer took of him and Lana.  He wishes to help her get her badge back, so he helps you with the redhead.  Perhaps you might be willing to use your political connections to aid her?

The powers that be want the status quo right now.  She gets to lead a charmed life - as a private investigator.

Why a sword?  What are you talking about?  Your men executed Don Luis with an ancient sword as he knelt in prayer.  The first responders said that it looked like a giant crucifix was jutting out of the back of his neck.  Do you mock my faith?  Raul asks, glaring at Kostamo.  Never, nor would my men.  I had a specialist brought in for the undertaking.  I was in Las Vegas at the time, you may recall.  A specialist?  It was proportionate.  You also sent for a specialist.  Tia feared you would use a drone with a Hellfire missile.  On an underground target?  You need eyes on for that to be effective, Raul.  Why the sword?  I do not know, nor do I wish to speculate, nor will I make inquiries.  I consider the matter closed.  The men stare at each other.

Tell Don Ramon that it was a brilliant plan.  He would have got me, and I wouldn’t have seen it coming.  I don’t need to tell him what he already knows, Kostamo.

So it is peace?  That is one way to define a cessation of hostilities.  I believe you left something here the last time you visited.

They hear a loud voice come from the hall.  He has time for some blonde bimbo, but not for a real reporter from the New York Times.  Kostamo’s man comes back into the room.  There is someone who wishes to speak to you, sir, who won’t be put off.  A woman storms into the room behind him.

Clarissa Ziegler with the New York Times, and I want to know if you have any comments on the expose I’m about to run on you.  I’m in a meeting, Ms. Ziegler.   Please wait outside.  I’m not leaving until we’ve talked, she says crossing her arms.  Well, I think we covered what we needed to discuss, Kostamo says as he gets up, and offers Raul his hand.  Raul slowly gets up, and grimly shakes it, and then gestures toward the door.

He gestures for the woman to take Kostamo’s chair.  How long have you worked for the Times?  Raul asks as he does a quick internet search.  Three years.  Your name isn’t coming up under any stories, Ms. Ziegler.  Please leave now.  I want to give you a chance to respond to my story first.  He folds his hands in front of his chest and looks at her.

This club is one of many businesses owned by the Ortega drug cartel and used to launder the proceeds from their nefarious operations.  And you are the frontman.  He closes his eyes and sighs.  Yes, I’m Hispanic.  No, that doesn’t make me a drug dealer.  File this story and I will personally sue you for libel and slander.  Oh, there’s more.  Ramon Ortega, acting head of the cartel, was the leader of the terrorists who ran the merchant ship aground on Ellis Island in the failed plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty.  He looks at her seriously.  I suggest you immediately contact law enforcement with this information if you believe it to be credible.  Oh, there’s more.  You’re his brother, and were an active participant in the operation.

So I’m a drug dealer and a terrorist.  On second thought, Ms. Ziegler, I will not only sue you for slander and libel, but I will also have a restraining order placed against you, and seek involuntary committal if the story appears on Alex Jones, or any other alternative media website.  Any other comments?  Have you recently mixed your medications with alcohol?  Your words are slurring, and your eyes aren’t tracking correctly.  Would you like me to summon medical help, Ms. Ziegler?  Raul picks up his office phone, and looks at her.

You’re very good, she tells him with a grin.  So Don Ramon has made peace with Kostamo.  Who would have thought?  I wonder what brought this about.  We heard reports of this from the last Syndicate meeting, but didn’t believe it.

Who do you represent?  I’m Samantha Zeller.  What is your relation?  He’s my uncle.   What is his interest in this matter?  The Feds seized an entire shipment, and our East Coast operations are down.  How that came to be is an act of war.  Jews and Arabs have been killing each other for millenia; leave The Syndicate out of it.  She smiles coldly.  Who benefits from our loss?  Black swans happen, Ms. Zeller.  Assigning causation to The Syndicate would be a grave mistake.

Were you in on it?  You seem to have already drawn your own conclusions, Ms. Zeller.  I like you, she tells him.  There is a place for you in our organization.  I hate carpetbaggers, Raul says flatly.  Reconstruction is coming, she replies.  You’re going to have to pick a side, Mr. Clean Hands.  And she gets up and leaves without saying another word.

========================================================

Well?  I don’t think he was involved, uncle.  He’s very old fashioned.  Ms. Ziegler, Ms. Zeller.  He didn’t want me helping him put away the cases of booze because of the potential for him being compromised with a false accusation.  And he’s a hard worker - when I met him he was all by himself, sleeves rolled up.  His men?  He hires ex-cons and rehabilitates them.  I could tell that he derives a lot of satisfaction from it.  Concealed weapons?  Two armed men downstairs; amateurs hired for effect.  Upstairs are just bouncers with a basic proficiency in martial arts.  Security?  A high end camera system upstairs, nothing obvious downstairs.

Conclusions?  He’d be a good recruit, uncle.  Polite but firm.  Unflappable and low-key.  He is obviously unhappy having to make peace with Kostamo.  It was only with great reluctance that he shook his offered hand.

Oh, Arabs and Jews have been killing each other for Millenia – leave The Syndicate out of it.  And he hates carpetbaggers.  So he’s got a sense of humor…

========================================================

Why are you outside my brownstone, leaning on my car, Ms. Zeller?  Let’s do dinner, my treat, Raul.  No thank you, Ms. Zeller.  She whips out a knife and sticks it through the sidewall of his front tire.  Let’s take my car, and she indicates a red Pontiac GTO.  I’ll call an Uber.  And he pulls out his phone, and does a search.  If you don’t put that away, I’m going to break it.  She tells him sternly.  He puts it away and walks back toward the entrance of his brownstone.  Not so fast, she says and grabs his arm.  He turns around, leaving her unable to maintain her grip, and sits down on the steps.  Now we’re on camera, Ms. Zeller, nodding above his head.  And he pulls out his phone again, and she smashes it to the ground, and then steps on it.  I told you I’d break it.  Now what are you going to do?  I’m going to call the cops and get a restraining order.  And he gets up and she follows him inside.  Leave now.  He tells her.  Make me, she says smugly.  He unlocks the door to his apartment, and she shoves him aside and walks in.  Raul closes the door behind her, and she turns around swiftly.  But then she hears a shotgun rack.  Don’t turn around.  She backs up quickly toward the sound of the voice, hoping to close the distance, but trips over the fishing line that had been placed there. A blow hits her on the head.

She wakes up to find herself asleep on Raul’s couch.  A glass of water on a napkin, a bottle of Motrin, a Bible, her phone and car keys are on the end table.  She sits up on the couch and reaches for the water, when she sees that Proverbs 11:22 is written on her palm in permanent marker.

She takes a couple Motrin, and then opens the Bible, looks up Proverbs in the index, and finds the chapter and verse.

She groans and rubs her head as she dials her phone.  Yes.  This is Sam.  Why haven’t you checked in?   I got careless, uncle, and he netted me.  Put him on, her uncle says sternly.  I’m not being held.  I just woke up from being knocked out.  A lead sap, I think.  What happened?  I was waiting for him outside his brownstone.  He refused to go to dinner with me, so I spiked his tire.  He wouldn’t get in my car, and tried to call an Uber, so I broke his phone.  Then I followed him inside the brownstone to his apartment, where he was going to call the cops on me, and when he unlocked the door, I shoved him out of the way and barged in ahead of him.  He closed the door behind me, and that’s when I heard a shotgun rack.  Don’t move.  I backed up quickly with my hands raised, and tripped over a wire.  And that’s when they knocked me out.

I woke up on the couch.  It’s just a crash pad.  No personal belongings.  Are you hurt?  I’ve got a big lump on my head and a Bible verse written on my palm in permanent marker.  He left a Bible, a glass of water, a bottle of Motrin, my phone and car keys on the end table.  What did the verse say?  As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion. You weren’t molested in any way?  No.  And I was completely in his power.

Well, what should I do, Uncle?  Come home after you’ve apologized for your behavior and have reimbursed him for the phone and the tire.  But he hurt me.  He taught you a lesson, Sam.  And I’ll teach him one.  You underestimated him.  He gets a pass, do you understand?  She’s silent.  Samantha!  Yes, I understand.  We’ll talk further when you get home.  Click.

She goes outside and sees the tire service man changing the tire on the Ultima when she goes toward to her car.  I’m paying for that, she tells him, and hands him her Black American Express credit card.  The man doesn’t ask any questions, and runs it through his mobile phone attachment.  Email you a receipt?  No thanks.  She walks over to her GTO and gets in and heads over to her hotel, where she takes a quick shower and goes to bed.

She wakes up in the early afternoon, and heads downstairs to the fitness center.  When she comes back downstairs afterwards, she sees Raul engrossed in a Barron’s weekly, sitting in an overstuffed chair in the lobby.  He doesn’t look up as she comes over.  I’ll buy you a new phone.  He puts his paper away.  Do you want to get something to eat, Samantha?  Sure.  Panera?  Fine.  Are you willing to drive?  She nods.  So this is how you dress when you’re off duty.  She nods.  I like it; it’s you.  I’ve been trying to work on my professionalism, so that’s why I’ve gone to blouses and pantsuits.  So what’s special about this car other than the trim?  He asks as he gets in.  It’s an 06, last production year.  Corvette engine; I’ll open it up when we hit the on ramp. She grins when she sees his body jolt when she punches the gas and runs through the bottom gears.

Call me Sam.  My uncle only calls me Samantha when he’s angry with me.  She looks down at her palm.  So you think I’m a pig.  Prove me wrong, he replies.  He can see the muscles in her arm flex as she grips the steering wheel tightly.  You have great muscle tone, he tells her.  For a pig, she mutters.

He orders a soup and sandwich, and she follows suit.  So what’s on the agenda for this evening?  She asks.  I’m working a shift at the bookstore.  The Barnes & Noble?  I’m the manager there.  We get a surge of traffic on Friday nights.  Couples mostly.  What’s the draw?  Coffee and dessert is our niche – we hire a chef to prepare the dishes.  So they come here after dinner and talk if there is nothing playing on the big screen that they want to see.  That sounds like a super boring date night.  He chuckles softly.   Usually they’ll decide to surprise each other with a book – that they will each promise to read, no matter what it is.  She nods her head.  Yeah, I can see that.  I have no idea what book I’d get for a guy.  You’re not alone; you would not believe how many times I get asked by women for a book recommendation.  You see, this way, they can blame me, if the boyfriend doesn’t like the book.  What do you tell them?  I usually go with Amish romances with titles like Harvest of Blessings.  She laughs hard.  That’s hilarious.  Do you ever get feedback?  Oh, I’ve been thanked repeatedly.  “He loved it, and has been such a gentleman ever since”.

She grins and looks over at him.  What do you tell the guys who ask?  Hasn’t happened yet.  So what book would you recommend for me?  The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh.  So I’m a child?  You asked; I gave you an answer.  Whether you act on that is entirely up to you.  Their food comes.  Take this away – she tells the waiter.  I don’t want cheese in my soup.  You can charge me for two bowls.  It’s my fault; I didn’t specify.  I’ll bring another out right away, the waiter tells her.  Thank you.

She reaches over and takes half of his sandwich, and then puts half of hers on his plate.  Yours looks better, she tells him.

What’s the last book you’ve read, Samantha?  I don’t read books; I’m not a sedentary person.  He gestures to her plate.  You don’t like pickles?  Help yourself, she tells him.  He spears them with his fork, and downs them.  Here’s the thing, Samantha.  After eating pickles eleven times intentionally, your tastes will start to change.  Reading is the same way.  Turn off the TV, and pick up a book.  Why?  Because that’s how God chose to communicate with you, so you better learn to like reading.  She rolls her eyes.  You’re still a priest, even without the collar, aren’t you?  He shakes his head no.  What I did disqualified me from ever holding that office again.  But I can still be an active supporter and parishioner.

Your phone?  She says, changing the subject.  I buy refurbished iphones off ebay for our second chancers.  So I had a couple spares on hand, and just switched the SIM card in one of them.  What model?  5.  You are so behind the times.  I’m getting you an 8. It has to be unlocked.  Oh.  Well, what did it cost?  My uncle said that I have to reimburse you.  Sixty bucks.  I don’t carry cash, but I’ll hit an ATM after, and find you at the store.  Don’t worry about it, Samantha.  She gives him a stern look.  I’m going to be dealing with customers and employees; I won’t have time to visit.  What time is closing?  10pm.

The waiter comes back with her French onion soup.  Thank you.  Is there anything else I can get you?  She shakes her head no.  Enjoy.

So how come you didn’t take advantage of me?  You don’t find me attractive?  Do you know what the golden rule is?  He who has the gold, makes the rules.  The other golden rule.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  He nods.  That’s why.  You shouldn’t be in this business, she tells him after awhile.

I would have stripped you naked and restrained you on the bed.  When you woke up, I would have had my wicked way with you.  Then I’d feed you.  And repeat this over and over until you begged to participate.  Then I’d let you go afterwards.

I’m sorry, he tells her quietly.  Sorry that I didn’t get the drop on you?  She says with a quick grin.   The 2006 GTO makes sense now.  She closes her eyes, and starts breathing deeply.  She opens them and looks at him with a stony face.  I’m truly sorry, Samantha.  I’m going to kill you, she hisses between clenched teeth.  Because I’m the only person who you’ve ever told.  She stares daggers at him.  You’re a dead man.  And she gets up from the table and leaves.

She comes back to the table five minutes later, and sits down.  Her eyes red from crying.  I cannot be intimate with a man unless I have complete control, she says bluntly.  That’s not intimacy.  And you should only be intimate with your husband.   She stares at him.  I’m going to marry you, Raul Gutierrez.  You’re not Catholic.  I’ll convert.  Your uncle might have other ideas.  He respects you.  You got a pass from him.

Samantha, I’m not who you think I am.  And these are the two most important questions you will have to decide.  One will determine your eternal destiny, the other, your temporal happiness.  Please do search out the former, but don’t undertake the latter on a whim.  You’re the only man alive who has seen me naked, Raul.  Is that what you think marriage is, Samantha?  To know and be known, she replies without hesitation.  That’s a really good answer.  But it’s not yours?  Mine would be the 128thPsalm.  And I don’t fit?  You tell me - after you’ve read it.  She does a search on her iphone.  Marriage is to start a family, she replies.  How many kids?  It is God who opens and closes the womb.  And I have to be a stay at home mom?  He nods.  You’re right, Raul.  I’m not ready for that.  Marriage, yes; constant sex, yes; kids-no.  I’ll introduce you to my brother then.  You got a pass; he didn’t.  I can get you a safe conduct to Mexico to meet him.  You know that I can kill him with my bare hands, right?  The offer is out there, Samantha.

Raul, I’ve always known that I cannot marry outside of the family business; it just wouldn’t work otherwise.  My uncle respects you.  And you somehow intuited my past, which means I now have to kill you if you don’t step up.  And face it, Raul, there is no one else who will accept you knowing the double life you lead.

I met someone, he tells her.  She’s also a traditional Catholic, and she knows who I am.  I don’t believe in unicorns.  Who is she?  Her picture is on Don Ramon’s desk.  He’ll tell you her name, if you go for a visit.  She’s local?  He nods.  And she knows who you are?  She’s seen me naked, to use your metaphor.  And she likes you?  I believe that she does.   But there is an impediment.  Her parents?  She’s seeing someone else.  Who?  You may have heard about a rock band trashing my club?  A rockstar.  He nods.

Raul, you’re going to get hurt.  Pain is necessary; misery is optional.  She taught me that.  Tell me the story.  I forsee a sizeable downside for her if I do.  I promise not to hurt her.  You’ll have to do better than that, Samantha.  She won’t be involved in the troubles to come.  Nor those close to her, Raul adds.  You have my word.  Now tell me who.  Lana Radley.  That name sounds familiar, Samantha says, as she types it into her phone.  The disgraced killer cop, turned private investigator, now seeing Jax from SH5 and handling security for the drummer.  She looks up at him.  I’m prettier than she is.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Sam.

I think I like it better when you call me Samantha.  Me too, he says, grinning.

As no doubt you’ve reported back to your uncle, Don Ramon and Kostamo have ceased hostilities.  But what you don’t know, is how close we came to getting him.  After Kostamo’s men killed the Russian, he went to ground.  So our only chance of getting to him before The Syndicate met was by drawing him out somehow…

What odds do you give Jax?  Samantha finally asks.  He’ll pass with flying colors.  She sighs and shakes her head.  I want you to come back to New York with me, and meet my uncle.  No man can serve two masters, Samantha.  Then stay out of this until it’s over.  Count the cost before you start something like this, Samantha.  East Coast is yours.  Gulf Coast is The Syndicates.  We didn’t start it, but we’ll finish it.  <Silence>

Let me have your number before I go find an ATM, she tells him.