Part II:
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Previous: Part I: The Fellows Down the Hall

"Can I offer you anything? Food, drink?"

"Thanks, but no thanks." Bill 'the Chill' Greene leaned back in his chair and gave Jakob Novak a crooked smile. Most people didn't find Billy very intimidating; not at first. He was too scrawny, too pale, too flashy. His clothes were fancy, but never quite the right size. He looked like some baby-faced moll who got by on audacity and a pretty face.

But Jakob knew better. In this business, you learned to read people. That meant looking past the clothing, past the dazzle, past the act. You studied the way they moved — where they looked. You watched their eyes.

Bill Greene's eyes told Jakob that this young man was a lot of bark and a lot more bite.

The scent of sauerkraut mingled with traces of cigar smoke. The five of them were seated at a table in Jakob's diner. Two of Jakob's men sat to his left; silent, armed, and ready. His father — Oskar Novak — sat to his right. The old man was hunched forward in his wheel-chair, focused on the proceedings. But Oskar wasn't watching Bill.

He was watching the sixth man; the only one who wasn't seated. He had come with Bill to this meeting. Jakob didn't know much about him, other than a name: Matthieu LaPierre. He was a little older than Bill — and much quieter. His charcoal hair was short and dense; his brown skin was a deep, burnt umber.

His eyes told Jakob that he was no bark and all bite.

Jakob reached under the table and touched his father's wrist. "Of course. Any word from your friends in the Windy City? I've heard a great many things about —"

"My partner, though," Bill interrupted. "He might like something. You want anything, Matt?"

Jakob could feel his father's hands clenching down against his lap.

Matthieu folded his arms across his chest. "No, thank you."

"Nonsense," Billy replied. He gestured from Matthieu to the table. "Have a drink. Or an apple strudel. At the very least, you ought to have a spot to sit. You don't mind, Mr. Novak — yeah?"

"Of course not. By all means." Jakob rose from his chair and gestured to one of his men. Another chair was swiftly brought to the table and presented for Matthieu.

The young man hesitated, then slowly moved in to settle down besides Billy. Jakob sank back down. When he did, he noticed Oskar was still staring at Matthieu. Again, he reached out under the table to touch the back of his wrist.

"We appreciate that your time is valuable, Mr. Greene; we have no desire to waste it. So I will put it simply: We must turn down Mr. Chappell's generous offer. The market for these 'miracles' is too volatile, particularly with —"

As Jakob spoke, Bill plucked up a knife and fork. He carved a piece of kielbasa from a plate, skewering it on the fork. Then, he lifted the roasted slice of sausage up to Matthieu.

"If you're not gonna have anything to drink, you ought to at least give one of these a try, Matt. Worth the trip to <street name> alone."

Oskar was breathing harder; his whole body looked clenched. Jakob gripped the old man's wrist and squeezed.

Matthieu frowned at the offer of kielbasa, then looked to Billy. Billy just grinned and nodded, offering him the fork. "Go ahead. Give it a try. Tell me I'm wrong."

With clear reluctance, Matthieu took the fork. Just as he lifted it to his mouth, Oskar lifted his other hand and slammed his clenched, gnarled fist down on the table.

"<One does not feed animals at my table.>"

Fuck. Jakob yanked hard on his father's wrist. Hard enough to hurt — or at least he hoped so. He immediately focused his attention on Billy, an apology already flowing to his lips — but one look at the young man's expression told him the damage was already done.

Billy's joviality was gone. In its place was a cold, calculated calm. His eyes were half open; his expression was unreadable. He reached to pick up a bread roll and tore it open with slow, deliberate force. As he did, he spoke just above a whisper.

"I'm sorry. Mr. Novak. What did your father just say?"

Matthieu said nothing. He only frowned and sat the fork down; the kielbasa was left untasted.

"My apologies, Mr. Greene. My father is —"

"My Polish might be a bit rusty, but I think — I think he just called Mr. LaPierre an animal. Is that what you heard, Matthieu? Did he just ccall you an animal?"

Matthieu took a long, deep breath. "I don't know."

Billy retrieved the knife he had used earlier, slicing off a pad of butter. He smeared the butter into the open, gaping wound of the roll — gouging out its interior. "Well, I know what I heard. I heard Mr. Novak call one of Richard Chappell's men an 'animal'."

Oskar's fists stayed clenched. He was shaking. Jakob kept his attention on Billy, watching as the young man violently buttered the biscuit.

"Mr. Greene —"

"We come here to speak with you, Mr. Novak. We do this bcause we have heard many good things about you — about your operation. We've heard you are an honorable, respectful man. A man of integrity. A man of honor. A man who would not insult a guest; particularly not one who comes to his table in the spirit of good faith and friendship."

Billy finished buttering the roll. His grip on the knife changed. Holding it like a dagger, he drove it down. Thnk. The tip buried itself into the table.

Everyone — Oskar included — flinched.

"Because if there is one thing that the Chicago Spirit will not abide, Mr. Novak, it's being insulted with impunity."

No one spoke. Oskar's anger had dissolved; he was now watching Billy with barely disguised fear. Jakob released his grip on his father's wrist, took a slow breath, and nodded his head.

"Please accept my most sincere apologies for my father's conduct, Mr. Greene. He has grown confused and foolish in his old age. No one here would knowingly impugn the honor of Mr. Chappell — nor you or your friend."

Billy didn't say a goddamn thing. He just sat there, holding that buttered roll in his hand — waiting. The only other sound was the steady tick of a clock on the wall.

Jakob closed his eyes, nodded again, and continued: "As a demonstration of our good faith, please tell Mr. Chappell that we will accept his terms for a period of one month."

Billy smiled. He sat the buttered, mutilated biscuit down on the table. When he rose to his feet, Matthieu followed. "Glad to hear it, Mr. Novak. I'll tell Mr. Chappell the good news."

The instant Billy stepped out of Novak's deli, Matthieu grabbed him by the shoulder, pulled him into an alley, and pinned him up against the wall. "What the hell was that, Bill?"

Billy acted shocked, lifting his hands up. "What?"

"What's wrong with you? You could have gotten us killed back there."

Billy snorted. "I'm sorry that I stood up for my friend, Matt."

"Fuck you. You weren't standing up for me. You knew that's how the old man would respond to a black man eating at his table. You used me to make this deal happen."

The facade of indignance vanished. Billy replaced it with a sly grin. "So what? The deal happened. We did it. We did the impossible. We broke into New York City."

Matthieu released Billy. He stepped back and stalked down the alley, trying to stay calm. As he did, Billy dusted the front and back of his coat off and continued: "This ain't some mom-and-pop numbers racket, Matt. This is the major leagues. This is World Series. Giants versus Yankees. You want to win? You do whatever it takes."

Matthieu turned, still fuming. "And what if they called your bluff? What if they decided to make us disappear, Bill? You think of that?"

Billy straightened out his coat. "We're Chappell's men. We work for the Chicago-flippin'-Spirit. You think anyone's got the moxie to fuck with us?"

He turned back to the street at the alley's entrance. With one hand, Billy mimed a gun and pointed it at a man passing by. "We could pull out a pair of gats and pop six people right now, and you know what the Johns would do? Ask us if we wanted one of their pea-shooters to drop six more."

Matthieu stepped forward pushed Billy's hand down. "Imbécile. Come on. Let's get back to the hotel."

Billy grinned. "Relax. Just pulling your chain, Matt. Yeah. Let's call Mr. 'Derringer' and tell him you and me are opening shop in the Big Apple."

Next: Part III