Chapter 1: Quantity Over Quality
"This meth looks like shit," Houston said.
"It's meth," Dallas said. "It is shit."
"Yeah, but look, it's all cloudy. This is shit even for meth." Houston picked through one of the duffel bags, rearranging the packages. "It's supposed to be like glass. Haven't you ever watched Breaking Bad?"
"We're selling it to gangsters, not scientists," Chains interjected. "It's gonna be quantity over quality, I promise."
"I don't want the job to go south just because they don't like the look of it. Let's at least put the nicer-looking packs on top," Houston said. He set about repacking the bags according to transparency. The others shook their heads at each other, but let him.
Houston shot the guard in the face as he rounded the corner. After he answered the guard's pager, the radio silence broke.
"Bloody hell, killer," Hoxton's voice taunted in his ear, "Poor bloke was just minding his own business."
"The hell he was. He was following me around like he bought me a drink," Houston replied as he packed the corpse into a body bag.
"Maybe you shoulda taken him up on it then. Was he cute?" Hoxton went on. Houston could hear Wolf snickering in the background.
"He's not anymore," he said, pulling zipper closed over the guard's bloodied face. He stuffed the body bag out of sight under a desk.
True story, kinda.
Chapter 3: Mysterious Benefactor
"I hate when you ask me to do things like this," Bain said.
"Yeah, I know," Dallas replied, in that way belying that he knew Bain would oblige him anyway no matter how illogical, emotional, or risky a decision it was.
The others had thought it was hilarious when Bobblehead Bob, as the news stations had taken to calling him, had tripped and plummeted over the edge of the roof. Dallas had been horrified.
Bob was really just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Dallas knew if he hadn't been there, though, he himself might not have escaped the Benevolent Bank heist. He'd been downed and they were terribly outnumbered. The others hadn't been able to stop shooting long enough to help him.
But Bob had.
It made no sense. Usually civilians didn't appreciate being ziptied, prodded with heavy weaponry, and ordered around. Was three minutes long enough for Stockholm Syndrome to set in? Dallas doubted it. But whatever Bob's motivation had been, Dallas couldn't ignore that he might very well have been arrested or even killed without his intervention.
And that paltry stack of bills he'd tossed him would hardly cover the guy's medical fees. If the police hadn't confiscated it. Dallas didn't know whether he had insurance or not, but he had to figure a guy who was looking for a loan would probably need help for the amount of damage he'd taken.
"Just to be clear, you want not only to cover this guy's medical bills," Bain asked, "but also to invest in his stupid bobblehead toys of the very police force that gets in our way almost every job we do?"
"You realize how hard this is going to be to explain, don't you? Some mysterious benefactor just comes out of the woodwork to make all this guy's worries disappear and dreams come true? Like his goddamn fairy godmother? And he'd have to be an idiot not to guess it was you."
"Are you saying you can't do it?" Dallas asked teasingly.
Bain groaned. They both knew he could hardly resist making it happen now.
Chapter 4: Bigger and Better
It's Houston, before he was Houston or Hoxton.
"This place is huge. There would be too many guards for me to keep track of by myself," he said, frowning at the size of the blueprints. "I would need help to do this kind of job."
"This is nothing to a man of your skill, Wilson."
It annoyed him how Gage always knew his latest aliases before he'd reintroduced himself.
D.C. was a long way to go for simple weapons mods, but Gage was not above bartering. Given that they were both known for impeccable work in their respective crafts, they had an agreement to trade on occasion. He would steal weapons for Gage and Gage would give him weapons and modifications in exchange.
This job, however, was beyond his ability to manage. He was not the kind of person to bite off more than he could chew.
"No," he said resolutely. "If there's no room for error, then I couldn't manage a place like this by myself. I couldn't know where everyone was at a time."
Gage considered this for a moment.
"I might know some people."
"I didn't really mean that I wanted any help."
"But think of the money! There's more than just guns there. Murkywater steals all kinds of shit. Art, foreign money, drugs."
Well, he couldn't say he wasn't tempted, but he was far from convinced.
"Look, I don't work with others. How could I even know these guys wouldn't run off with the shit once I got it out?"
"I wouldn't set you up with untrustworthy people," Gage said.
"Who do you have in mind then?" Wilson asked, resigned. Gage wasn't going to just let this go so hearing him out was the only thing for it.
"Have you ever heard of the Payday Gang?"
"You have got to be kidding," Wilson said. "Those guys couldn't sneak if their lives depended on it. I've seen them try!"
"You don't need them to. You just need them to keep an eye out while you do."
A valid point perhaps, but it still seemed unfeasible. Too many things could go wrong.
"They're a crew anyway. Why would they want to work with me? They've probably got their own shit planned already."
"They just lost a crewmate." He frowned in mock-sadness. "That cockney loudmouth is off to jail so they'll be looking to replace him soon."
"Wilson" was unimpressed.
"How did this go from me asking these guys to help with this job to me joining their crew?"
Gage dropped his apparent glee, his face matter-of-fact.
"You're good. One of the best, even. But you're limited by what you can do alone. If you had a crew, you could do Murkywaters on the regular. The money would be obscene."
He was not a man of ego, no, but the knowledge that he could be doing better always nipped at him. Still, his work was dangerous and the more people involved - whether they were guards or crewmates - the more dangerous it became. He'd just be adding more variables to the equation, making his job more complicated than it needed to be.
But the money would be obnoxious.
He wasn't hurting for cash by any means, but... well. He could be doing better.
"I'll think about it," he said finally.
"You do that," Gage said.
Chapter 5: Sleeping Arrangements
There were only four beds, if you could call them that much. Two cot frames with sleeping bags on them and two sofas, one with a missing cushion, the other with a collapsed seat. And now that they had Hoxton back, they were one bed short.
There were, thankfully, exactly enough couch cushions for all of them to sit in the living room and catch up.
Houston had felt like the odd man out at this party, which he expected, but he had stuck it out nonetheless. He knew it would be rude not to at least try to get to know his new crewmate, no matter how spiteful Hoxton was. And too, Hoxton might have taken it as a sign of weakness if he didn't enforce his equal right to be in the living room and participate in crew activities. Hoxton certainly seemed to be one of those kinds of guys. Still, by the time they started considering what to do about sleeping arrangements, Houston was exhausted and out of patience.
"He can have mine," Houston told them, volunteering whichever one of the "beds" would have been his that night. "I'll go sleep on the planning room couch."
And with that, Houston descended down the ladder under the statue.
"Wanker," Hoxton said. "At least he figured out his place in the pecking order."
"Joke's on you, man," Chains said. "He just claimed the best bed in the house."
Chapter 6: Consideration, Pt. 1
It was only when they were back at the safehouse that Hoxton felt it was a good time to make with the cheerful reunions. Chains and the twat were busy getting looked over by Dallas, but the one person he wanted to see most was sitting by himself, waiting his turn to be inspected, on the saddest sofa Hoxton had ever seen.
"Oi, Wolfie! Did you miss me?" Hoxton said, plopping onto the remaining cushion next to Wolf and pulling him in a rough one-arm hug.
"Fuuuuck!" Wolf all but yelled, flinching away. After a few breaths through ground teeth, Wolf turned back to Hoxton. He was trying to smile, but it was more of a grimace.
"Of course I did," Wolf answered finally.
"What's wrong with you?" Hoxton asked.
Wolf shrugged gingerly, careful not to move too much.
"Bulldozer shot me."
"At the FBI headquarters?" Hoxton asked. He'd missed all the action stuck in the server room.
"No, at the parking garage. When me and Dallas went to lower those poles. The vest held out though. I'll be all right." Wolf grinned wide, remembering now how awesome he'd been. "But that bulldozer won't be."
"Dallas got shot too?"
Wolf frowned, annoyed at Hoxton's going off on a tangent.
"Yeah, he shot me and then went after Dallas. But I tackled him and knocked him down. Then I stuck the drill in through one of those little eyeholes and stirred his fucking brains around."
Wolf went on about how cool he'd been, but Hoxton looked over the back of the couch into the kitchen. Dallas, Houston, and Chains were further back in the storage room, arguing about something in low voices. Houston was buttoning his shirt back up, apparently cleared as not dying, and said something that looked pissy to Dallas. He gestured at Chains and then pointed into the living room, scowling. Dallas' face was impassive, but Hoxton recognized as a look he wore whenever you had a good point on him.
Houston was probably just bitching about him, Hoxton reasoned. He did feel a twinge of guilt about the poor shape everyone was in. He'd been so excited about laying siege to the FBI office right then and there that he hadn't even noticed that Dallas and Wolf were hurt. Aside from the shrapnel wound in his leg, Hoxton himself had felt great. Now that he was looking though, he could see Dallas was trying to hide his own injuries while he assessed everyone else's.
"We work more often now so I'm not soft anymore," Wolf said brightly, trying to get his attention back. "Not even Bulldozers can keep me down."
"You still look squishy to me, mate," Hoxton replied. He gave Wolf a brotherly punch in the arm for his bragging.
"Oww!" Wolf whined. He punched Hoxton back, but it didn't hurt. He couldn't put his full might behind it without hurting himself.
Chapter 7: Consideration, Pt. 2
"Are we going to be doing this fucking night-at-the-improv shit all the time now that's he's here?" asked Houston, as apparently he was going to be called from now on. They didn't seem to need his input on the matter.
"Noooo," Dallas told him, exhausted and exasperated. He had expected this diatribe. "Let me see that hit you took."
"Are you sure? Because you didn't even fight him on it. He said "jump" and you didn't even ask how high, you just hopped to." Houston didn't like showing other people his injuries, but he had better things to argue with Dallas about. Still, he added, "It's just the usual bruising. No big deal," as he started unbuckling the vest.
"I still need to see it," Dallas said.
"Look, I get it," Houston went on while he shrugged out of his jacket, "he's your friend and you feel like you owe him. But that doesn't mean we should all go stick our dicks in a hornet's nest just 'cause he's got a wild hair up his ass to." He started working on his shirt buttons. "Especially not when half of us are already limping and he doesn't have any armor. We could have all been killed."
"We could all be killed any time we do a job," Dallas said wearily. "You could have when you jumped in front of Chains."
"That's different and you fucking know it," Houston said, letting Dallas survey the bruises coming up on his chest. "Chains' gun jammed during a job we had planned and all agreed to go on. I agreed to help break this guy out, I didn't agree to any surprise FBI HQ assault afterward."
"Then you didn't have to come," Dallas said. "No one forced you to."
"Seriously?" Houston asked back in disbelief. He turned to Chains. "Can you believe this shit he's trying to sell me?"
Chains laughed. He was not injured in the least thanks to the juggernaut regalia he was halfway through disassembling from himself.
"He's right, Chief. There's not really any choice about it. If the crew is going, then you're going with them." Chains was honestly surprised Dallas was trying to argue this at all. He of all people should understand the sort of obligation they had to each other.
"You were right. They're fine," Dallas said with regard to Houston's bruises. He didn't acknowledge the real argument at all.
"I told you so," Houston said, rolling his eyes and rebuttoning his shirt.
"Houston's got a point though," Chains went on. "I mean, I had fun, but Hoxton was pretty much a sitting duck the whole time in the parking garage. All it would have taken was one shot to make the whole thing pointless. We should have convinced him to wait on the FBI office until we could plan it better. We got lucky," he added, giving Dallas a pointed look. "We'd have been fucked if they didn't happen to have a medbay and an armory for us to loot. We wouldn't have been able to hold out with just our own supplies. We weren't prepared for two jobs worth."
"Exactly!" Houston said, gesturing impatiently at Chains and all his supporting testimony. Then he pointed into the living room at Hoxton. "He's been out of the game for two years. He didn't know shit about what we were walking into. It was fucking stupid to go along with it."
Dallas let out a long, exhausted breath.
"It won't happen again," he said.
"That's all I want to hear," Houston said.
"All right, everyone," Dallas said, mask on and in good spirits. "If we do good today, we'll go to IHOP after."
"What if we do bad?" Hoxton asked jokingly. He knew damn well what the consequences of bad work were.
"Then we go to Waffle House," Chains said.
There was a quiet chorus of disgust throughout the van.
"That's cruel and unusual, mate."
True story, kinda.
Chapter 9: Never Would I Ever
I'm not really a shipping sort of person, but I do like the idea that Houston is gay.
"I am not interested in anyone in this crew," Houston snapped, getting frustrated at Clover's teasing.
"A right shame, that is. Hoxton's always been a little bi-curious," Clover said, changing her tack. An impish grin began pulling at the corners of her mouth. "He just needs a green light, that's all."
"Yeah, nice try, sweetie," Houston said, rolling his eyes. "But if I was going to walk right into that trap, it sure as hell wouldn't be for Hoxton."
"Can't blame a girl for tryin'," Clover deflated. "What about Wolf?"
"He's already spoken for, don't you think?" The two of them snickered over this for a moment. "That's too much baggage anyway," Houston said once their laughter died down.
"Aye, that's true," Clover agreed, nodding along. "Chains then?"
Houston harrumphed in mock exasperation with this line of questioning, but gave it a moment of thought nonetheless.
"Eh. Maybe Chains," he concluded.
Chapter 10: Evidentiary Support
"Yeah, well, I totally thought you two were gay," Houston said, gesturing back and forth between Wolf and Hoxton.
"You wot, mate?" Hoxton said indignantly.
"Hey, you have look at it from my point of view," Houston said, holding his hands up defensively. "Picture it. Here I am, new guy on the crew. This motherfucker," he said, pointing at Wolf, "doesn't want shit to do with me."
Wolf shifted bashfully at being reminded of this.
"And when they asked me to disguise as you," Houston continued, "it only made him hate me more. I'd just never seen anyone that attached without it being romantic. I was a little jealous, truthfully," he concluded, although his tone belied that he was joking about this last detail.
Hoxton considered this and shrugged. Sure, it was a little strange to know Wolf had behaved that way towards his replacement. Having spent much of his time in prison oscillating between resenting his crewmates for abandoning him and wondering if they missed him at all though, he would have taken a lot of comfort in it had he been aware of it. With his new and improved perspective on his crewmates and the depth of their friendship, he wasn't going to waste his time feeling awkward about it.
Wolf, for his part, looked like he was about to die of embarrassment.
"And then they gave me your mask and it was fucking pink," Houston added, the smirk of an incoming punchline creeping up on his face. "There's only so many ways to connect those dots."
Chapter 11: Pink
"Seriously, though, why pink?" Houston asked.
"You got a problem with pink?" Hoxton asked back.
"It's not my favorite, but I don't mind," Houston told him. "I've just always wondered why you picked pink."
"It's psychological warfare, mate," Hoxton said, tapping his head knowingly. "Cops tend to be real macho sorts, right? Used to being the big men on campus and all that shit. They can't stand being shown up anyway, but especially not by people they think they should be able to stomp a mudhole in. And pink is a "weak" color," he said, doing some finger-quotes to illustrate his disagreement with this notion. "A color's a color, if you ask me. I don't go in for all that color symbolism shit. But to most people, pink is a sissy color. It's for girls. Or poofs," he added.
Houston scowled briefly, acknowledging that Hoxton was just fucking with him and indulging him in a response. Hoxton was content with that and smirked.
"So if you're a guy like most cops are," he went on, "and you get your arse handed to you by a guy wearing pink eyeshadow, you're gonna feel pretty bad about yourself. Other cops seeing you get fucked up by a guy in pink are gonna feel bad. It's demoralizing all around."
Not having actually expected a reasoned answer to the question, Houston stared. But it did make sense. In his experience, though, it tended to make cops angrier.
"And it's my favorite color," Hoxton appended.
"If you don't like the pink, you could always make your own mask," Hoxton said. "I'd have thought you would have by now."
Houston couldn't tell if that was just an idle observation or if it was meant to be a hint.
"Do you want your old mask back?" he asked.
"No, I just figured you'd make your own since you didn't have to pretend to be me anymore. You'd get to look how you wanted."
"But it doesn't bother you that I kept yours?" Houston asked.
"No," Hoxton said shortly, getting annoyed. "Unless you're keeping it as some sort of token of your crush on me."
"You wish," Houston said, face going into that annoyedly perplexed look he often wore. "You're the one who keeps protesting too much about it." Bringing it back to the topic at hand, he went on, "No, but it's like you said. When you design a mask for yourself, you're showing them how you want to be seen. It says things about you. Like how Dragan and Bonnie's masks tell everyone what country they're from."
"Kinda dumb if you ask me," Hoxton agreed. "There's only so many Croatian and Scottish criminals this side of the pond, but I'm not about to argue with Bonnie about it."
"Yeah, or how Clover's has those big lipstick lips that say 'If you couldn't tell, I'm a girl'," Houston went on. "Or how yours says you're a loud prick who can't color in the lines."
"It says that I'm a resourceful son of a bitch who made his mask in prison with the materials available to him."
"I guess it's open to interpretation," Houston said, knowing that an agreement to disagree would annoy Hoxton further. "Point is, when you make a mask for yourself, you're telling everyone, especially the cops, a little about yourself. But what does my mask say about me?"
"That you wish you were as bangin' as I am?"
"It doesn't say shit about me," Houston said, ignoring Hoxton's answer to his rhetorical question. "Except that I'm willing to put on a charade for the benefit of some asshole I've never met. But that's a fair assumption."
"Yeah, yeah, right Mother Theresa you are," Hoxton said.
"It's not all selfless good will," Houston went on. "I'm here to get rich, not famous. I'm not the kind of jackass who sneaks a job the whole way through just to leave a calling card."
"Like that guy from Ocean's Twelve?" Hoxton asked.
"Don't even get me started on him," Houston snapped. "Anyway, to me, a job well done is one that no one knows you did. Which is pretty fuckin' hard when you guys seem to want to go loud as practically a rule." Houston harrumphed at this fact of his life. "But if I'm disguised as you, then whatever I do in your mask isn't credited to me. It's not even credited to you, since they know I'm not you. It's the Ghost of Hoxtons Past that's getting the blame.
"They must know you're all calling me Houston now, but that's not a big deal," he reasoned further. "I changed names all the time before. And you picked it, so that's another degree of separation. All they really know about me is that I'm not you," he concluded, a look of smug satisfaction on his face.
Hoxton considered this. Getting credit for his crimes had always been important to him, not necessarily because he wanted to be infamous but because having a reputation precede him was often an advantage in his life. In his old gang, there was a social hierarchy observed both within and by other gangs. Notoriety meant the pecking order was maintained and that other gangs didn't try to move in on their territory. His experience in prison had been much the same, although he also found that because he was a famous as he was, it made the other prisoners keen to pick fights with him. Until he augmented his rep among them by beating the shit out of Matt Roscoe, anyway.
But he could see why Houston would wish to avoid such infamy. Houston wouldn't last a day in prison.
"Too right you ain't me. It's no wonder no one bought you wearing my mask," Hoxton said. "A real Hoxton doesn't hide behind counters and take potshots while everyone else is fighting on the front lines."
Houston rolled his eyes and gave Hoxton an unimpressed look.
"Good thing you guys had a fake one then, so at least someone was watching for that Cloaker that almost kicked you the other night. Or the Taser from the meth house. Or that Sniper who was pointing his laser at back of your unassuming head, taking his sweet time to line up his shot while you were busy yelling at shields-"
"All right, touché, you fuckin' twat."
"I'm just saying. There's no shame in using cover once in a while, even if you are a real Hoxton."
"Well, you'll never be a real Hoxton, but if you want to keep pretending, I don't mind. That old mask isn't me now anyway."
It wasn't anyone anymore.
So a friend of mine was mightily harrumphed that the Hoxton and Hoxton Begins masks hadn't been renamed to reflect Houston's ownership of them. Similarly, when Hoxton returned, I had been annoyed that Houston hadn't really been given a chance to be rewritten into his own character. It would have certainly seemed to me that if Houston didn't have to act as Hoxton anymore, he shouldn't want to.
But I've had time to think and this is what I have concluded about those things.
They'd thrown their full force at the gang and yet the clowns had held them off. The leads on the response team decided it was time to try some actual containment strategy instead of just sending in more waves of men to the slaughter.
And that's where he came in.
This was going to be a risky maneuver. If he could pull it off, though, he'd be personally credited with ending the reign of terror the Payday Gang had presided over in D.C. for the last two years.
Not that he was taking such a chance for glory, of course. This was about justice. And order.
So following his orders, he crept silently up the stairs, Bronco drawn and at the ready. He hesitated at the landing. They were up there, with him, and the second they knew he was there, he'd have to act fast. He took a deep breath, but slowly so as not to be heard, and readied himself.
He stood, not so quickly as to startle them, but fast enough to give them pause.
"Drop your weapons!" he said. His demand was drowned out by similar orders from two of the clowns. They leveled their guns at him and waited for his surrender. Instead, he lunged to the left, trying to dodge out of their aim.
Someone fired their gun and pain exploded in his chest. It hurt too much to even consider what he'd need to do to survive the gunshot, nevermind that he was now injured and defenseless before four armed criminals. He was sure he was going to die before anyone else could get up there to rescue him.
"It's just a windbreaker cop," one of them said in an annoying foreign accent.
"What, is he lost?" he heard another ask in a deep, bemused American voice. The black guy, it sounded like.
They said nothing more of him, the topic turning to the approaching assault, and he bled out unremarkably.
True story, kinda.
Chapter 14: Mr. Inconspicuous
Houston had been appointed to the car shop heist because they needed someone who could maneuver their way around the building without getting caught. There was some discussion about how slowly he was likely to drive, given how careful and particular he was about everything, but in the end, it was decided he was invaluable for the first half of the job.
They were therefore stunned when he smoked their asses in the race back to the shipping yard too.
He arrived in no time at all, with only minor scratches and dings on the teal Falcogini he'd stolen. He lit himself a cigarette and checked his email on his phone while he waited for the others.
Clover and Hoxton's cars had fared far worse.
They screeched to a stop at nearly the same time, Clover a little ahead.
The door of Clover's red car swung open and she yelled over at Hoxton.
"You're supposed to drive on the right side of the road in this country, you fuckin' wanker!" she shouted, gesturing at the huge scrape along the driver's side of her car.
"It ain't my fault these things handle like a Radio Flyer on ice," he argued back. His car, also red, had a matching scrape down the passenger side.
Wolf showed up a moment later, pulling up the rear in a blue Falcogini. His had minimal damage, save for a dangling front fender, but this had come at the expense of speed.
"All that 'engineering' and they can't keep it from spinning out?" he complained.
"How did you get yours here so fast?" Clover asked Houston, as if he had pulled some sort of trick. She sneered jealously at his comparatively pristine vehicle.
Houston shrugged. "Just used to it. I have one of these at home."
Hoxton was personally affronted by this information.
"You, Mr. Inconspicuous, have a Falcogini?" he asked incredulously. "That you drive around town in?"
"Yeah," Houston said, as if it was no big deal. "See, when you're inconspicuous in your work, you can afford to be noticeable in public."
Hoxton repeated Houston in a childish, squeaky imitation, complete with pinched know-it-all scowl.
Chapter 15: Caught-22
"Prints on the panic room, my arse!" Hoxton complained indignantly. "They planted them there!"
"Well, if you know a way to call them on it without implicating yourself, I'd love to hear it," his lawyer said.
Hoxton was thoroughly offended by this deceit. It was one thing to use real evidence against him. He was very clearly present on the security tapes from the Garnet Group and First World Bank heists. That was fair enough. He had to argue in theory that the blueprints they had found in his apartment meant little more than that he was an architecture enthusiast. The fact remained that they had found them there and it was incriminating.
But fingerprints on the panic room? Impossible. He wore nitrile gloves. They all did, every time. "No glove, no love," they used to joke.
The FBI was lying, but the only way to refute their "evidence" was to admit that he'd worn gloves to the heist he only allegedly participated in.
They were cheating! And they were going to get away with it too!
"There ain't no bloody justice in the world," Hoxton fumed, crossing his arms over his chest and sliding down in his chair.
His lawyer looked to the ceiling and bit his lip, silently asking Jesus to take the wheel instead of letting him comment on the irony.
Chapter 16: House Arrest
"Oi, fuckface, I borrowed your clothes to go to the store. Hope you don't mind," Hoxton said, plain in his hopes that Houston did mind.
Looking up from the magazine he was reading on the brown sofa, Houston was about to demand to know where the hell Hoxton thought he was going wearing his pants. Then the more pertinent question rose to the surface, demanding to know where Hoxton thought he was going at all.
"You can't go out there," Houston said, bolting upright and preparing to chase Hoxton down.
"Who's gonna stop me? You?" Hoxton snorted.
Oh. Right. Hoxton's dickheaded attitude reminded Houston that he didn't actually give that much of a fuck if Hoxton got sent back to prison. He settled back down into the couch and opened his magazine back up.
"Whatever. You do you," he said unconcernedly, not even looking at Hoxton. "Really looking forward to the headlines tomorrow though. 'English Idiot Recaptured After Yesterday's Breakout; Too Stupid to Stay in Hiding.'"
"Pffft, look, maybe your poncy, pussyfootin' arse is too scared to go out until the heat from a job has died down," Hoxton said, crossing his arms in front of him in defiance, "but I'm not."
Houston did look up then to give Hoxton a positively Dentist-esque look of unimpressedness.
"I'm not afraid to go out," he explained, "but that's because my rug-burnt face isn't on every news network in the country. If you set one foot outside, someone will see you and they'll have your ass back in prison in time to brag about it on the six o'clock news." Houston propped his magazine back up in front of his face to emphasize how little he cared about this. "Look, I personally don't give a shit what you do, but we did go to a lot of trouble to break you out and it really is a once-in-a-lifetime thing you got here. If you get caught again, there won't be any arrangements we can make. So maybe don't be fucking dumb about it, yeah?"
Hoxton hadn't considered this. They had pulled all sorts of loud shit before without needing to actually stay hidden. He had walked out to buy cigarettes later the very same day they had chased Matt Roscoe down through four crowded city blocks, guns a-blazin' and cops at every corner.
But they hadn't known his face then. And there hadn't been a large, obvious identifying feature on it either.
Much as he hated to admit it, Houston was right. It wasn't going to be like old times, as he'd thought. He was free from prison, but he was more or less stuck in the safehouse now. A better prison, to be sure, but still a prison all the same.
Hoxton huffed angrily and, realizing he couldn't just stand there looking lost while Houston gloated at his predicament, made for the basement ladder. Houston shook his head at Hoxton's retreating back, but jumped when a loud crash sounded from the basement. Houston rolled his eyes. Probably a computer table Hoxton just kicked over in a rage. Real mature.
He went back to his magazine. He'd get his clothes back later.
"I can't believe we never thought to buy these before!" Houston said with malicious delight.
"We should have gotten some ages ago!" Wolf concurred.
The crew was taking a break from the work at hand to terrorize a lone Taser they'd caught in a back alley. This Taser had snuck up on Jiro, but hadn't counted on his other three crewmates coming to his rescue so quickly. Now they had the Taser surrounded and were taking turns enacting some poetic justice on him with their brand new Buzzer stun batons.
It was like a group of schoolyard bullies pushing a little kid around for his lunch money. Except instead of a little kid, it was a Taser and instead of lunch money, it was his dignity. When one of them would zap the Taser, he'd shudder and shake and try to move away, only to stumble into another heister's waiting Buzzer.
Jiro let out a long stream of enthusiastic Japanese, the only word of which anyone understood was "Taser". Still, they knew a sick burn when they heard one.
"Yeah, you pun-ripe cocksucker!" Hoxton agreed with whatever Jiro had said. "How do you fuckin' like it?" He thrust his stun baton out at the Taser and held it there, keeping the tasing going.
The Taser tried to exert some control over his limbs, but only succeeded in flailing away from Hoxton. He tripped and the others hopped out of his way, letting him crash face-first into the pavement. They watched, laughing, as the Taser tried to crawl away despite his uncontrollable twitching.
"Oh, no you don't," Hoxton said, stepping after the Taser and crouching down next to him. The Taser still made his pitiful attempt to flee, but he couldn't avoid Hoxton's stun baton. Hoxton jabbed it into his back and held it there again.
"This is a shocking turn of events, isn't it?" he jeered at the stuttering, seizing form below him. "See, those puns aren't so fuckin' funny when it's you, are they?" He let up on the shocking for a moment just taunt the Taser with a reprieve. He snatched it away a few seconds later, jamming the prongs back in and pulling the trigger down.
"'No ground wire is gonna help you, buddy'," he imitated with a sneer.
The rest of the crew stood around watching this. It had all been fun and games, but now Hoxton was taking it from a righteous comeuppance place into an awkward torture area.
Jiro whispered a short phrase that ended with an interrogative "Hoxton?" to his crewmates.
"I don't know, man," Houston whispered back, shrugging. "The cops found us though," he added, pointing to some SWAT gathering at the end of the alley. Jiro and Houston took this as a welcome opportunity to leave Hoxton to whatever power fantasy he had lapsed into. They put their Buzzers away, got their guns back out, and headed off to hold the assault back.
Wolf stayed with Hoxton, though he checked over his shoulder from time to time to see that the other two were keeping a lid on things.
"Danger! Danger!" Hoxton taunted in singsong, leaning down and practically screaming in the Taser's ear. "High voltage!" The Taser had long given up on trying to get away, too exhausted to do anything but lie there and twitch.
Eventually the twitching stopped.
"Hox, he's dead." Wolf said, "We have to get back to work."
The irony of having to be told this by Wolf, of all people, was not lost on either of them. Hoxton looked up to see Wolf's mask staring down at him. It was not hard to project a concern for his sanity onto its wide-eyed expression. Hoxton felt properly abashed for getting so caught up in his revenge under its gaze.
"Don't worry about it, Hoxatron," Wolf told him. "We had time for it."
Hoxton nodded, grateful not to be judged for his behavior.
"Right, back to work," he said, getting back on his feet and readying his gun.
Chapter 18: Ozymandias
The title of Big Fucking Drill was a misnomer.
"It's actually a plasma arc cutter," Sokol explained to his new crewmates. "But I like the name."
"You can call it whatever you want, love," Bonnie said, "as long as it gets us in that vault."
The device was big and fucking though. It was easily the biggest piece of machinery the crew had ever considered bringing to a heist. This meeting was solely about its transportation and assembly.
"Wait," Wolf said, looking at the blueprints. He examined the plans further before he continued. "Maybe we could make it faster if we supplied it with more power?" he said, after he was sure what he was suggesting was viable. He looked to Sokol since it was his design. "It's a casino so they're already drawing more power than normal."
Sokol perked up at this suggestion. The drill had been designed to work off the electricity supply in a standard environment. A casino, however, would have more electricity being supplied to it, to power all the lights and machines. He thought about it, considered how it could be done.
"Maybe. We would have to optimize the engine to be able to use that extra power. And it would get hotter so we'd have to upgrade the cooling system-"
"But if we add extra tanks to it, or bigger tanks-" Wolf said, getting into the designing.
"We could cut the wait time down to..." Sokol said, stopping to do the math in his head. "Five minutes. Give or take."
"And we'll have to transport that much more equipment in to use it," Chains pointed out. "We're gonna have to call in a lot of favors."
"Aww, let them design their little toy," Bonnie said, under-cutting Chains' bottom line. "The Dentist will figure it out for us."
This was all fine and well, except now that Wolf and Sokol were off on their complete redesign, it meant that the meeting to explain how this behemoth of a machine was to be put together would have to be postponed.
The Big Fucking Drill was as big a job to put together as its name implied. Sokol and Wolf, being the engineer and assistant behind the machine, were in charge of assembly. They ran around collecting the parts as they were dropped in, bolting this to that and plugging those into these. All the while, Bonnie and Chains covered them. It was a large job and they were spread thin once the machine was in place. Both it and the electrical outlets they'd plugged it into would need to be covered.
Finally, though, Sokol and Wolf rearmed themselves and joined in the fighting. Properly regrouped, the crew was able to beat back the police long enough for a reprieve. Only then did they have time to really look at what they had built.
It made the Beast look like a power drill.
Sokol was especially proud. Truly, this was his greatest creation, and soon would constitute his grandest accomplishment. This was the sum of his college education in engineering, paid for in trade with his far more trivial talent for hockey. He turned on the switch and it roared to life.
In that moment, he felt he should have gone with a less frivolous name for it.
Ozymandias, perhaps. After all, the cops were trickling in, looking upon his work, and despairing. And nothing would remain in the vault below once they were done with it.
It was Bonnie though, not the cops, who finally broke the awestruck silence.
"Ahh, that drill's not so big," she said.
Chapter 19: Press Conference
The crew sat assembled around the television to size up the new police commissioner. Dallas scrutinized the man as he approached the podium, analyzing his gait and facial expressions. The rest of the crew watched with varying levels of concern and contempt.
"Washington is sick," Commissioner Garrett began. They looked on with surprise as he faulted Crime.net, openly, on live television, for this sickness. Crime.net was now public knowledge. A smug look fell over Wolf's munching face as he busied himself with the popcorn he had prepared for a showing of Reservoir Dogs on TNT that this news bulletin was interrupting. He knew an internet database of criminals was a bad idea, but who was going to tell Bain that?
"But I tell you this," Garrett declared, "Playtime is over."
"Okay, Red," Houston commented dismissively.
"Oh, I love that show!," Bonnie said, chuckling.
"They have it in Scotland?" Houston asked, but he drowned out by a chorus of shushing.
Garrett went on... to mention Bain himself. They all looked around at each other, eyes wide and mouths agape. Bain, on live television. And if he knew who Bain was, then what might he know about each of them?
Dallas was already trying to think of what avenues of recourse they could take to protect Bain when Garrett changed direction in his speech.
"While I focus on Bain," he announced, "my own captains will focus on these clowns."
The camera panned to the right to reveal a heavily armored officer, a variant they didn't recognize. Garrett punctuated his introduction of these captains by describing them as "a living hell" for the gang.
There was a stunned silence, both in the safehouse and on the screen. Then the audience at the press conference erupted into questions.
"Pffft," Hoxton said, breaking the tension in the living room. "I'm not afraid of him."
"Yeah, he looks like a glorified shield," Chains agreed.
"I mighta been scared if they put another shield on his backside," Bonnie joked.
"You workin' R&D for the cops now then?" Clover joked back.
All in all, it didn't look like they had too much to worry about.
Dallas continued to study Garrett as he answered questions, until Wolf reclaimed the television.
"He wouldn't just take me at my word that I had a trust fund. He's always asking me where the money comes from, why I get up so late, where I go at night," Houston said to Clover. "And it's not like I leave clues around or anything, but he's just getting so fucking nosy, I had to break it off with him."
"Right, right," Clover said in understanding.
"And he didn't take it well, but he went home. So I figure, you know, that's that. End of story. Except it's not."
Clover leaned in, anticipating the horrible climax to Houston's tale of woe.
"So that night, I'm catching up on the shows I taped when I hear music blaring from outside my balcony. I was living in this apartment complex, second floor, so I go out there to see what the fuck is going on.
"And he's out there, holding a boombox over his head, turned all the way the fuck up to eleven."
Clover's face shifted into gleeful yet commiserative horror.
"Like in Say Anything...?" she asked, just to get confirmation that Houston's ex really was this fucking cliché.
"Yeah, but I didn't know that at the time."
"How could you not know that?"
"Because one, it's a fucking rom-com, and two, even if it wasn't, I'm just not a movie kind of guy," Houston explained. "I like TV better. But yeah, he's out there doing this shit he's copied from a movie, except instead of Peter Gabriel, he's blasting "I Will Give You My All"."
"Eugh, I hate that song," Clover said.
"Yeah, I do too," Houston nodded in agreement.
"Well, what did you do?" Clover asked.
"I told him to get the fuck off my lawn. He's waking the neighbors and they're all coming outside to gawk at the two guys having a lover's spat at 2:00 AM."
Clover was besides herself, laughing at Houston's misfortune.
"So did he leave then?" she asked when she'd reigned in enough of her laughter. "Or did he change tack and start reciting the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet?"
"Yeah, he left eventually. With a police escort," Houston said. He was harrumphed just thinking about this again. "You can imagine how excited I was to talk to them."
Clover's uproarious laughter returned with renewed force.
"And that's how I learned not to date civilians," Houston concluded.
"Well, that's the fuck of it, isn't it?" Clover said. "You can't date normal people or you have to live this whole double life to pull it off. You certainly can't trust them with knowing what you do 'cause odds are, you're gonna break up and they'll rat you out the first chance they get. But you can't date anyone in the business either because it's nothing but fuckin' cads."
"That's the price you pay," Houston shrugged.
Don't mind me, just doing a Tarantino conversation.
Chapter 21: The Company Ink
Hey, who wants to hear about the clitoris?
"You could date someone in the crew," Houston suggested. "We got a whole selection of guys now and they're mostly all right."
"Oh sure. I can have my pick out of the hundred-year-old Japanese man who doesn't speak English, a Russian teenager, or the guy who talks about pressing the pager button with his knob."
Well, when you put it like that.
"What about Hoxton?" Houston teased, just to put the cherry on the cake.
"Been there, done that."
"Done that?" Houston said, smirking.
"Done that," Clover confirmed.
There was a long silence in which Houston waited for her to say something more, but she just flicked some ash off her cigarette and looked unconcerned with the bomb she just dropped.
"So you're just gonna lay that out and not elaborate or give me any details?" Houston asked.
"Ah, it's not that interesting," she said, but the gleam in her eye belied that she knew damn well exactly how interesting it was.
Houston fixed her with a "bitch, don't even" look.
"If I told you I fucked someone on the crew, you would want every piece of info you could fucking get. You'd be asking for dimensions and diagrams and schematics and shit," he said, counting these things off on his fingers.
"Well, what do you want to know?" she asked.
Houston's hands gestured about in front of him, as if he were trying to carry all the questions he could ask and was dropping some on the floor.
He settled on "Was he any good?"
"No, not really," Clover answered.
Houston let out a snort, not having expected such a candid or negative answer. But again, Clover didn't elaborate.
"Well, what was he doing wrong?" he asked. Then he gasped and added in a hushed tone, "Was he too small?"
"No, he's got enough to work with," Clover said, and chuckled at Houston's look of exaggerated disappointment. "He just couldn't find the clit."
"Yeah, exactly," Clover snorted.
"No, seriously, what?"
Clover sighed. Public school sex-ed, everybody.
"Look, the whole in-out in-out shit," she explained, demonstrating the in-out shit with her fingers, "it doesn't actually do much for most women. I mean, supposedly there's the g-spot, but if it's there, even I haven't cracked that safe. So to get a woman off, you gotta work the clit."
Houston was going a bit pink at the direction this conversation had taken, but he was still in the dark so he ventured further.
"Yeah, but what is it?"
"It's that little thing on the-," she gestured at the crotch of her pants, "you know, it looks like a little cock, but it's not."
Houston was very pink now.
"That thing does something? I always thought it was just decorative," he mused, "like nipples on a guy."
"Oh, it does something all right," Clover said saucily. "But you have to know how to work it, and Hoxton didn't. But that's not really his fault. I was probably the first girl to tell him it was a thing he ought to be doing."
"You weren't his first, were you?" Houston asked, visibly disgusted at the idea.
"No!" Clover said, a little repulsed by the thought herself. "No, no, this wasn't his first time on the field. But, you know, it's different for girls. They ain't really brought up to tell you about that kind of thing. Half of them don't even know what the clit is themselves."
"But wait, if it's that little... thing... I mean, that's a pretty hard thing to miss. It's right there in the middle."
"Well, yeah, but it's not the whole thing. It's more like just the little ball thing in the end of it," Clover tried to explain. "And you have to roll it around, but it's hard to know if you're doing it right when it's not yours 'cause you can't feel it."
Houston was just perplexed at all of this. He tried to wrap his head about what was, to him, an abstract idea. Clover tried to explain further.
"It's hard to feel it through all the fleshy bits around it. And when you do find it, it slips and slides and you can't tell if you're even accomplishing anything. Hoxton was trying his best, but he just couldn't get the job done so I had to do it myself."
"You know, I went into this ready to laugh at how bad a lay Hoxton is, but now I actually feel kinda bad for him." The way she told it, Hoxton had arrived boner in hand and was instead given a jigsaw puzzle to solve first.
"Well, that was ten years ago," Clover reasoned. "He might have gotten more practice in since then. It is a thing you can learn."
"Are you going to try him out again to see if he has?" Houston asked, grinning.
"Fuck no," Clover answered. "It's like fucking my brother. That's why we only did it the once. And I better not hear from him that you were giving him shite about it either."
Houston snorted derisively.
"I'm not Bain. I don't need to bring up shit that happened ten years ago. Hoxton gives me plenty to give him shit about in the present."
Chapter 22: Dispatch
This one's not about genitalia.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"He's answering in Japanese!" Houston hissed in a panic.
Hoxton rolled his eyes and pulled Houston back behind the shipping crate they were hiding behind.
"Houston. Mate," he said, "relaaaax." He was breezy and unconcerned with the goings on across the shipping yard. Jiro and Dragan were doing just fine.
"They don't have any Japanese guards," Houston ground out, gesturing wildly at them.
"They don't have any one who gives a fuck about that in the dispatch closet either," Hoxton chuckled.
Houston rolled his shoulders, trying to work out the tension all this lackadaisical stealth work was causing to build there. It wasn't working. Hoxton huffed impatiently at this display.
"They don't hire these guys because they're so bloody diligent. They hire them because they'll sit in a closet for eight hours a day with nothing but their dick and a copy of Hustler to busy themselves. The only reason that guy will even raise the alarm is because we've interrupted his stroke so many times, he's lost his patience with us."
Houston didn't find that funny at all, and after giving Hoxton an annoyed look, he peered back around the crate to see if Jiro had blown their cover.
They couldn't hear the final response on the pager, but the tone sounded reassuringly disaffected and the alarm was not raised.
Jiro and Dragan began bagging up the corpse.
"Case in point," Hoxton said, smirking at Houston's irritation with his rightness.
owate, I guess I lied a little.
"I wanted to go back for you," Wolf said sloshily, "but Dallas wouldn't let me." After Dallas had patched Wolf and himself up, they'd taken to the couches to catch up and celebrate Hoxton's impromptu parole. They were all pretty hammered by this point, except the twat who was drinking root beer like a fucking girl.
"He was right to," Hoxton said. "Never would have gotten back out if you all had gotten caught too." He'd had a lot of time to ruminate over it, and though he'd talked a lot of shit about it during the breakout, he ultimately understood that Dallas had to choose between just him or all of them getting captured. Which was not to say that Hoxton was completely at peace with it, just that he got it on the rational level.
"And Chains said he was worried that you were gonna give us up for a deal," Wolf added. He was relaxed, bleary, and contented, just talking to talk. "But we knew you wouldn't."
"Oh, he did, did he?" Hoxton asked, turning a sneer of contempt on Chains. Chains looked him right back, his face as resolute as he could muster with the buzz he had going.
"Hoxton, relax," Dallas interceded.
Hoxton held his look of disgust for a moment longer before relenting.
"We're gonna discuss that in the morning," he warned Chains.
If Hoxton thought Chains would be any more cowed now that they were sober, if hungover, he was mistaken.
He found Chains in the kitchen the next morning, whistling a cheery tune to himself as scrambled eggs in one pan and fried up bacon in another. He had a cup of black coffee on the counter next to the stove, fresh from a pot he had just brewed. He didn't look hungover at all.
Hoxton leaned back on the counter next to the oven and crossed his arms over his chest.
"What is this Wolf said about you thinking I would sell you out?" Hoxton demanded.
Without looking up from his cooking, Chains said, "I didn't say you would for sure. I said it was a possibility."
"What's this about you thinking it's a possibility I would sell you out?" Hoxton asked again. "I thought we were fuckin' friends. I would never rat out my own."
Chains huffed. "We are friends, but that doesn't mean we just throw risk assessment out the window." He chanced a brief look away from his cooking to face Hoxton's indignation. "Dallas trusted you without question, but I couldn't be sure. I mean, he trusted Matt too."
Hoxton stared, agape.
"I cannot believe you're comparing me to fuckin' Matt."
"I'm not," Chains said, returning to his bacon. "But just because Dallas is sure doesn't mean I have to be. I mean, yeah, we're crew and all while you were out here with us, but you went inside. There was no way for us to tell what they might offer you. Or what you might be thinking."
"The fuck is that supposed to mean?" Hoxton bit.
"It means we're supposed to see each other all home, but we left you behind anyway," Chains said. He pulled the cooked bacon off the pan and set it on a clean plate. "We failed you and we couldn't know what you'd think of us after that. We didn't know if you thought we did it on purpose or didn't care that it happened. And if you did think that, then there was no reason for you not to trade on what you knew. Dallas never doubted you for a second, but we needed to acknowledge reality."
Hoxton considered this with a measure of remorse. He never took any of the cops' deals, sure, but that was just on basic principle. He was not a rat, period. It didn't matter if he'd been sold out or betrayed. If he got his chance, he'd take his own revenge, but working with the cops was out of the question.
The fact was, though, he had spent much of his two years in prison wondering if his crew gave one shit about the fate they'd left him to. There had been many times when he bitterly thought about them and their lives outside, what they must be doing, and how they probably weren't thinking about what he was doing at all. He'd had plenty of time in solitary to mull over how quickly they must have decided to leave him laying in the street in the face of all the police there had been. How easy that choice must have been, once you assessed the risk.
Just as his crew had no way to know he was thinking these things or if he would act on them, Hoxton had no way to know what they were thinking either. Giving his mask and his name to someone else hadn't made their thought process any more clear. Was it a gesture to how irrepressible he was or to how replaceable? Though completely in the dark on where they stood, he had never given up the hope that he was wrong in thinking they'd just forgot about him. That he stood here now in this shitty safehouse kitchen enjoying the smell of real bacon and fresh coffee was a testament to that hope.
"I'm not a rat," was all he could really say about all of that.
Chains gave him one of his warm smiles, piled some eggs on the plate next to the bacon, and handed it to Hoxton.
"I know you're not."
For once, I justify my own decisions instead of Overkill's.
One of the things that some people note about Situational Control is that Chains is awful quick to suggest Hoxton might rat them out.
Well, here's why.
Chapter 24: Distinction
Though his interest proved mostly benign, Hoxton's deep intrigue with Houston's sexual preferences wore his patience thin.
"Didn't you get enough of gay guys in prison?" Houston said wearily.
"That's not the same and you bloody well know it."
It wasn't and he did. He couldn't deny being surprised Hoxton knew that though.
Chapter 25: Reliance
"I can't feel anything," Houston groaned from the ground. He'd been tased and it was only after the Taser had downed him and was merely playing with him that someone had come to his rescue.
Unfortunately, that someone was Hoxton.
Houston tried to move, to shake the numbness out of his limbs, but it was no use. "I'm not walking away from this. Just go."
"Not a chance, Loverboy," Hoxton told him, rolling his eyes. Houston always resorted to fatalism when he got too injured to hobble along on his own, a trait Hoxton found deeply annoying. There was no sense letting pride get in the way of keeping out of jail or a grave. Still, for perhaps obvious reasons, Houston especially hated finding himself relying on Hoxton's aide and would probably prefer to be arrested or killed than owe him the favor.
This made forcing Houston to accept his help all the more satisfying to Hoxton. He crouched down to pick him up.
"You can't carry me," Houston said incredulously.
Hoxton scoffed. "I've had two years of nothing but time and weight lifting. I could benchpress two of you." And with that, he grabbed Houston up into a fireman's carry and made his way to the van. Even with all his talk, though, Houston was still heavy and it was a painfully slothful journey.
"Did you forget leg day?" Houston asked.
Hoxton stopped and scowled.
"On second thought, I could just leave you here, couldn't I?" he said warningly.
Houston piped the fuck down.
"Honestly, the thing that pisses me off most about it is that I really did like working for Hector," Chains said. "He respected the work. It wasn't like Vlad acting like we're some of his grunts or the Elephant, where he makes a point that he wouldn't want to be seen in public with you. You could tell Hector had actually done some shit himself and knew it took skill. He treated us like he was on our same level."
There was a murmur of agreement about this around the room.
Hoxton seized the opportunity to look disgusted with his crewmates.
"Yeah, all right, but do we have to reminisce about how great the guy who got me pinched is?" Hoxton interjected bitterly.
"Well, who do you like working for then?" Dallas said, indulging him in a change of subject.
"Myself," Hoxton said. "It was better when we were just doing jobs for ourselves. But if I had to pick a client..." he considered for a moment. "Vlad."
"You would like him," Houston said derisively.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Hoxton demanded.
"It means you're both loud and obnoxious," Houston answered with no hesitation. And small time, he thought better of adding but thought all the same. "You and Vlad are birds of a feather."
To be sure, Houston respected Hoxton's work just as much as any of his other crewmates. He got the job done, even if his methods were sometimes crude. Nonetheless, Hoxton had and probably always would strike Houston as a petty street thug before the professional heister that he was. He thought it came of Hoxton's career history. Perhaps one never really lost that territorial hoodlum mentality if they grew up that way. If so, it would explain why Hoxton found Vlad the most relatable of their clients.
"What d'you know?" Hoxton dismissed him. "You probably like the Dentist."
"The guy who arranged your breakout?" Houston reminded him. "Absolutely. Working for him is the best. He insists on actually planning what we're going to do and he understands the benefit of a subtle approach. And he goes after things actually worth stealing. Things other crews wouldn't dream of trying to steal. Compared to his, Vlad's jobs are practically insulting."
"Yeah, but Vlad's a real guy," Hoxton said.
"The Dentist is a real guy too," Dallas said sardonically. "I've met him."
"No, the Dentist is a mysterious stranger who only approached you directly to make an impression," Hoxton went on. "Vlad's a real person. He's not afraid to talk to us directly. He wants to know who we are. He's even invited us out once or twice. Makes me feel right appreciated, it does."
"He wanted us to play entourage for him," Houston disagreed.
"There's a reason I've always declined those invitations, Hoxton," Dallas said. "We don't want them to know who we are. Vlad is too familiar. Getting too personable with the clients is dangerous."
"And yet, it wasn't Vlad who sold me up the river, now was it?"
A silent look of exasperation passed between Houston and Dallas.
"I don't have to justify myself," Hoxton said, even though justifying your answer was clearly the point of the conversation.
"I like the Elephant's jobs best," Dallas said, affording everyone another change of topic. "He always takes unexpected problems really well. Most clients would throw a fit about how everything is ruined. The Elephant just figures out a new way to get the job done."
"He's a good tipper too," Wolf pointed out.
"Yeah, he is," Dallas agreed. "And he doesn't ever want to see us in person, which is exactly how I want it too." Chains might take that as an insult, but to Dallas, that was just good business practices.
"What about you, Wolf?" Chains asked.
Wolf considered this for a moment. He hadn't really ever thought about it.
"Bain," he said ultimately. "He's one of us. With the others, you're expendable, but Bain won't send us out to get killed or arrested."
Everyone could agree on that.
This might look like an editorial piece, but I wrote most of it ages ago.
They had lasted a very long time, as far as crews went. Granted, they owed a lot of that longevity to the additional ranks they'd added late in the game, but the group was always good. Solid.
And Dallas was particularly proud that all of them had left the crew for their own reasons, and without conflict or death. He'd known, though, they were nearly finished when they were back down to four, the magic number.
Now they were two. Just him and Chains. They'd started it and now they were finishing it.
"It was good while it lasted," Dallas said.
"It was the best," Chains agreed, a bright grin on his face.
What wasn't there to be happy about? They'd all got out with a lot of money.
Since Cash Bonus is my longest and most popular piece, I've decided to leave my retirement notice here. I considered just marking it completed and not saying anything. There's a certain attitude among certain sectors of the fandom who think announcing your exit is attention-whoring. But I thought it might be rude just to disappear.
In light of Overkill's behavior in the past week, I find myself unmotivated and (to be honest) morally opposed to writing any more clowns fic. A lot of the stories I've written have been criticisms of 9_9 shit in PAYDAY 2, and by that logic I should have miles and miles of material. But I don't. I'm too overwhelmed with how fkn reprehensible I find them and I don't want to support them anymore. Not with my money, not with my time, not with my attention. And not with my talent. I also debated deleting all my stories because leaving them up seems supportive of Overkill too, but then I decided that'd be kind of a dick move.
I don't want this to seem like I'm taking my disapproval out on the people who've enjoyed my stuff, 'cause unlike Overkill, I've greatly appreciated your feedback over the last year or so.
In particular, I want to thank calmAnarchist, who's commented on practically everything I've ever posted here. And so here's this: what I had planned re: Jacket was a rewrite of the Hotline Miami heist trailer from the point of view of the Russian (who I decided would be the Juri that the mobsters talk about when you are hiding in the crates on Day 2 just to tighten things up). Jacket, to Juri, would have seemed real, but was in fact just a hallucination from Wolf beating the shit out of him. What I'm thinking is that Jacket's death in HM2 is pretty certain, but just ambiguous enough that it always leaves doubt in the minds of people who have reason to fear him. Over the years, he becomes an urban legend of sorts among Russian mobsters and so some of them imagine he's come for them when under duress such as in the trailer. (This is an idea I kinda cribbed from Hitman, in that Agent 47 is so proshit an assassin that only people who've worked with him personally know he's a real person. Everyone else, if they've even heard of him at all, think he's just an urban legend. However, if I remember right, this is also an idea they use in John Wick, so that's pretty tidy actually). So that's how Jacket fits into my canon.
Thank you, to all of you. It's been a pleasure writing for you. If Overkill ever hires a PR manager and gets its shit together (or if they sell the franchise to a more capable studio), maybe I'll be writing here again one day.
For those of you who are into that, I have zipped up my drafts (skymapper, there is a particularly long one in there that you might have liked). Media Circus will also have an endnote explaining where I was going with that. I will still be checking in to see what the rest of you are writing. And on the remote chance you are at all interested in what I'm up to, you can find me at djangodurango.com or my tumblr.
Chapter 28: The Long Con
What's up, AO3. Long time, no see.
I'm afraid I've returned to you today with an ulterior motive.
Remember how I said I was making a game? A game to rival and replace PAYDAY? Well, don't get excited or nothin', I haven't actually done that yet. But I have got a playable demo with online multiplayer, functional weapons, and a decent start on the enemy AI. Not to mention a pretty nice update hub full of content and features to surround it. Today, I released Exit Strategy, the first demo update for my game, The Take!
In celebration of this event, I asked friends who were actively supportive of both my old clowntown fic and of my game if there was some topic that they'd have liked to see me cover, were I to hypothetically write one last PAYDAY fic. In response to their answers, I wrote three.
This one is for Julian Foxis, whose enthusiasm is highly motivational and flattering.
"I suppose the most obvious route is a novelization of the aftermath of this whole Kataru thing. Maybe a bonus chapter on Garrett knowing something is wrong with the whole "captured Payday gang" story, but not quite being able to put his finger on it."
"My fellow Americans," the President addressed the nation. "It's been a difficult time for our nation. Indeed for the entire world. But after much dedication and perseverance, we have triumphed. Mightily."
This is a lie, thought Commissioner Garrett. They hadn't triumphed at all. The PAYDAY Gang hadn't been apprehended, nor killed. They were still out there. He would be awarded the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor and the War on Crime.net would be swept under the rug. This entire ceremony was a farce and he had little choice but to participate in it if he didn't want to be swept under that rug with them. Apparently, being let in on what exactly should prevent the PAYDAY Gang from ruining this elaborate lie with a coffee shop robbery the next day was above his pay grade as a mere police commissioner.
"We're here today to honor one of our best," the President said, turning to glance at Garrett, perchance to check that he was playing along. Garrett looked back, to see if the President's face betrayed any of the massive deceit they were committing. The President looked down at his notecards on the podium before they could make eye contact. Garrett couldn't tell if it that was incidental or intentional. "An officer who under the most difficult of circumstances did his duty with great skill," the President continued, "ending a crime wave the likes of which this country has never seen before."
Garrett listened to these false accolades and looked out on this crowd representing only a small fraction of the people he knew to still be in danger. Not only had he failed to protect them, but he had to accept this award for doing so quietly, and hope like hell that the PAYDAY Gang didn't resurface next week, ending his career and demolishing his legacy. He'd be living the rest of his life under the weight of this farce and this job he was being forced to leave undone.
"Commissioner, you are the very, very best..." the President paused for poignancy, "our country has to offer." The pause was ill-placed. It made the President sound patronizing, as if he were commending Garrett on a crayon drawing at daycare. "We owe you a debt of gratitude that, frankly, can never be repaid. Because of your outstanding service, it's my pleasure to bestow upon you our highest commendation."
Garrett was grateful that the award was a medal to be worn around the neck, as it afforded him the luxury of turning his back on the President as he presented it to him. He didn't know if he'd have been able to keep a look of disgust of his face if he had to look the President in the eye while he pinned a medal on.
Medal secured, he turned back to the President. The President raised his right hand in salute. Garrett mirrored him, but his salute was stiff and abbreviated. He resented having to give it.
The President returned to his podium and Garrett turned back to face the people he was accountable to.
"It is now time for our country to heal, to come together as a people. As individuals, we have opened many doors to fortune. Now it's time to open our hearts. We must leave these trying ordeals behind us and follow our forebearers." Garrett scanned the audience and then looked to the sky. He wasn't a praying man and he wasn't about to start now, not while standing here complicit in this level of corruption. "To make this country not one, or two, but three times as strong for future generations." Garrett glanced at the President and watched him promise a comforting lie to the nation. "So that when we go to bed at night, each and every citizen of this great nation will have earned their pay."
"America..." he concluded, "let's do this!"
There was something incredibly disquieting about that final statement. Garrett knew he'd be reflecting on it forever.
Chapter 29: Everyone was Right
This one is for Ray. They did the concept art for my game's characters and generally listen to me when I want to ruminate about where I'm going with this.
"I really love character interactions. Basically anything Bain-focused is going to be a hit with me especially since there's not a lot of fics about him, more ones where he makes a brief cameo and dips out. But I understand why Bain fics are hard haha. Anything where two characters are interacting and trying to further their own motivations is going to be enjoyable for me. Bonus points if it features a well-written Bonnie, Bain, Houston, or Dallas. Since they don't get a lot of fic love."
"Make a right on Lowell," Dallas said to Twitch.
"Make that a left! We're not going to the safehouse," Hoxton said as he sat in the flatbed of the truck, "I got a plan. And you lads wanna help me, right?"
"Wait, what?" Bain said. He could hear Hoxton through Dallas' comm. The rest of the crew, scattered and defending the truck, heard him too.
"Relax, buddy," Dallas said, trying to calm Hoxton down.
"There's a traitor close to the group! Or in it," Hoxton explained bitterly. "I know there is! The Feds have too much on me, way more than those mingebag wankers could dig up. We're going to the source, the biggest FIB nest. I'm gonna find out who fucked me."
"Whoa, absolutely not!" Bain said.
"It has to be now," Hoxton argued. "They won't expect us to hit them immediately. We'll have the element of surprise. They'll know I'm- we're coming for them if we give them time!"
"You can't just waltz into the largest FIB office in the country unprepared!" Bain countered. "We have no intel, no plan!"
Dallas glanced around, checking that they weren't being flanked while he was being forced to make this decision. Bain was right: they had no plan and they had no idea what sort of fight they'd be up against when they got there. Hoxton was also right though. If the FIB truly did have an informant in the crew, then that informant would tip them off to a later, planned assault. He could walk his crew into a trap if they didn't go for it now.
"Dallas?" Twitch spoke up over the comms.
"Make a left!" Dallas said, banging on the side of the truck.
Once the rest of the crew were in the truck and out of the parking garage, more or less safe for the moment, Bain muted all the channels on the comms except Dallas'.
"Dallas," he said, "We can still back out of this."
Dallas said nothing. He knew Bain must have muted everyone else, because Bain wouldn't have said anything to undermine him over comms. Dallas couldn't reply to him without belying to the others that they were being excluded from the discussion though. And really, what could he say? He knew perfectly well this was a shitty idea.
Hoxton wasn't wrong though. This was also the best time they were going to get to do this.
The truck made its way through downtown, all passengers silent.
Back at the safehouse, Dallas retreated to the basement to check his own injuries once he finished assessing Wolf's. Collapsing on the couch in the planning room, he unbuckled his body armor.
"All right, go ahead," he huffed out to the empty room. "I know you want to. Houston's already said his piece. Gimme yours."
"Chains pretty much had the shape of it," Bain said while Dallas unbuttoned his shirt. "You weren't prepared for an assault on the FIB. It worked out, but it just as easily could have gone bad. And it would have made everything we've been doing for the Dentist useless... I just don't understand why you would risk everything like that - the entire crew - on a whim."
Dallas flopped back on the couch and frowned at the smattering of bruises on his chest.
"Did you see what prison did to him?' Dallas said. "I knew he was going to be different, but fuck. He's like a feral dog now."
"He'll be back to his old self soon," Bain tried to reassure Dallas. "Once he gets used to being on the outside again."
"No, I've seen guys come out of there before. That's Hoxton now. That's how he is now. And it's on me. I made the call to leave him and it cost him two years in that shithole and whatever happened to his face. That's too much to ask."
Dallas exhaled and stared at the ceiling.
"That's why we had to do the raid. If Hoxton was right - and he was - I can't let that happen to any more of my crew. If that's what prison does to Hoxton, can you imagine what it'd do to Wolf? Or Houston?"
Dallas let the question hang in the air, let Bain ruminate on the possibilities before finishing.
"I can't allow that to happen."
"Okay, but riddle me this," Bain said. "What would you be thinking right now if it hadn't been company picnic day at the FIB and you'd gotten trounced? What if all of you were going to prison right now because you hauled off and picked a fight without a plan?"
"But we're not!" Dallas argued.
"But what if you were?" Bain pressed. "What good is saying that you can't let anything happen to the crew if you lead them into situations where they're at a disadvantage?"
"We are at a disadvantage! Someone is reporting our moves to the FIB. Anything we had done after that point could have been an ambush. This was our only chance to get the jump on them."
Dallas could tell this was just going to become a circular argument.
"Look, it's over and we survived," Dallas sighed. "Can we just move on? Please? I think we have more important things to worry about than whether I was right or wrong."
"Don't act like that isn't what you're planning to do all night."
"Yeah, but I don't need help with it," Dallas chuckled wearily. "I need you working on figuring out who the rat is."
Chapter 30: The Next Alias
This one is for altrewind, who has been liking my posts about my game since the beginning.
"THAT'S A TOUGH QUESTION!! Beyond more Houston content i think it'd be cool to look at dynamic growth? Even just in that the crew went from four plus Bain to… however many characters there are now (even if IRL its just for the DLC dosh, in fiction I'm sure there's something to be said about trust. Maybe not friendship per se but certainly camaraderie). There's even a lot of meat to exploring the change in dynamics of the main crew + Bain alone imo."
Houston felt like a fraud.
He was one of the first to arrive. Dallas was already there, standing at the head of the grave. Houston planted himself in the mud close by, but left enough space that someone with more reverence to pay could stand closer.
It felt wrong that he should be attending Bain's funeral. They had been associates for over five years, but Houston could count the times he'd ever spoken to Bain directly on one hand. It was always Bain making offhand comments and general musings to the lot of them, rarely to Houston personally. And given the nature of the work, especially Houston's stealth work, there just wasn't a lot that he needed to (or could) say to Bain. The entire nature of their business together simply didn't facilitate getting to know each other. Or it didn't on Houston's part. He rather suspected that Bain knew quite a bit more about him than he'd ever be comfortable with. In a repugnant way that Houston wasn't going to analyze too deeply, he was relieved that whatever knowledge Bain had of him was, at least metaphorically speaking, going to be buried in this symbolic grave with him.
It was important that he be here, of course, to show solidarity with his crew. It felt perverse to stand here looking down into this hole and not feel more than sympathy for the others though. But really, did any of them know Bain well enough to be truly sad about his passing? The original members of the crew, maybe.
Wolf and Chains had arrived and had taken their places around the hole, wolf across and Chains between Houston and Dallas. Everyone was masked up so Houston could tell nothing of how they felt to be here. Dallas, obviously had right to be emotional today. Dallas had always been consulting with Bain while he was down in the basement planning the jobs. If anyone knew Bain well enough to mourn his death, it'd be Dallas.
The others were ambling up the muddy path now. Bonnie, Sokol, Jiro, and Rust arrived in a group. Sangres was trailing behind them, his shirt a somber black and white palm tree pattern. Locke approached and his boots made squelching noises in the mud. Houston had arrived at this clearing early enough that the path hadn't been muddy yet, but he realized he was going to lose his shoes on the way back out. Clover and Hoxton braved the muck a few minutes later. When they approached the grave, Clover let go of Hoxton's arm, letting him keep their shared umbrella, and he chose to stand right next to Houston. She left him there to stand near the end of the grave with the others who had joined the crew later.
Houston held his umbrella steadfast and stared into the grave. He thought about how uncomfortable he was with the idea of throwing his mask in it and then walking back to civilization with this bunch of conspicuous criminals. He was distracted from this thought by Hoxton's sniffling. Houston, shocked to hear what he thought he was hearing, turned to look at him.
Hoxton was staring at his shoes, breathing unevenly, exactly like a man who was crying and was trying not to let on. He must have sensed Houston staring though, because he looked up then and his shoulders hunched defensively.
Houston just shook his head. No, he was not going to comment on Hoxton crying. It wasn't the time or place.
Hoxton looked down again and tried to sniffle without being heard. Houston shifted uncomfortably.
Finally, the last of their crewmates arrived. Dragan, Sydney, Duke and Joy took their places, filling in the gaps around the gravesite.
After a few minutes of silent contemplation, Sangres started the final ceremony. He removed his mask and tossed it in. One by one, from the bottom of the grave to the top, each of them followed suit. When it was his turn, Hoxton pulled his mask off. His face was wet, but one could easily dismiss that for the rain or the heat. He held his mask out to the grave, waiting for a moment before letting it go. Houston paused before dropping his in too. Pretending to be Hoxton had been the best disguise of his career. He would miss the security of it. He let it fall into the grave, thereby concluding his and Hoxton's intertwined history.
Hoxton turned to leave and Houston followed. Wolf, once he'd sacrificed his mask to the grave, jogged up to join Hoxton under his umbrella and put his arm around Hoxton's shoulders. They were a couple now, to no one's surprise. Apparently this whole business of Bain dying and the Dentist betraying them had impressed upon them the shortness of their lives and they decided they ought to try it. There had been plenty of gentle ribbing, but the general consensus on the matter was that it was about damn time. Houston in particular chose not to comment on it at all because he knew his knowing silence would eat at Hoxton more than any joke would. He was happy for them though.
Houston glanced back at the grave one last time. Dallas was still standing there, as was Locke. Locke saluted and put his hat on, leaving Dallas to his thoughts.
They all planned to meet on the beach and have one final post-heist celebration before parting ways, but Houston could feel the parting was happening right now. Everyone he knew had been tossed in that grave along with Bain's memory and the people he was going to party on the beach with would be different. He was going to be different.
He was okay with that though. He was always prepared for the next alias.