Chapter 1: Late Night Talk Show
Dallas had never considered the media much before that episode of After Hours. Their jobs always got coverage, but it neither hurt nor helped their work. Aside from civilians being able to report that they hadn't been harmed, it was of no consequence.
But no one had ever reported on his clothes before.
"Oi, Dallas!" Hoxton said, waving him over to the television and grinning that grin that hinted he was about the get the piss taken out of him. "He's talking about you."
"Look at this guy," the show's host, Timothy Townsend, said over a replay of helicopter footage of the taxman kidnapping. His high contrast plaid suit was impossible to miss against the gray concrete of the roof. "He looks like that one uncle we all have who always has a get-rich-quick scheme," the host said to the laughter of his studio audience. "But this guy skipped multi-level marketing and shell games and went straight to extortion."
"Well, at least we know what the motive was," Townsend said, pausing a moment before his punchline. "Funding a trip to the Men's Wearhouse."
Dallas wasn't amused.
His thrifted suits were a matter of practicality. It was a thing he learned early in his mob career. If you knew you were going to the mattresses, then you should plan accordingly. Don't wear your nice shit when you might get shot up and bleed all over it. It was common sense, really.
He saved a lot of money and worry buying the ugliest (and therefore, cheapest) secondhand suits he could find. They were disposable and, being preowned and paid for with cash, untraceable to him. Only now he realized that if he wasn't careful in his choices, they made him too conspicuous, enough that television show hosts were writing monologues around his crime scene footage. The last thing he wanted was for his crew to become the kind of joke these late night guys ran into the ground. There was a risk that civilians wouldn't take them seriously if they were known to be comedy fodder.
He really liked plaid though. It made him more visible to his crewmates.
He'd just have to find a better balance.
Chapter 2: Letter to the Editor
My name is Bob Roberts. You probably know me better as Bobblehead Bob, the man who fell off the roof during the Benevolent Bank heist. And the man who now sells bobbleheads.
You know the story.
But there's another side of it that never made it into an interview or article. Now that Mayor McKendrick and Senator Simmons are okaying this giant government spending spree on more cops and are practically subsidizing GenSec, I think this needs to be said.
The Payday Gang are not the villains here. Our government is.
The economy is terrible. There are no jobs. People are drowning in debt. And the banks who put us in this mess? They get to tell us no, they won't let us borrow a few thousand to try and make something of it. I went to Benevolent Bank that day to get a small business loan, to make my bobblehead toys. They denied my application. They said it wasn't a sound investment.
Shows what they knew.
But you know who did want to fund my business?
The Payday Gang.
I fell off the roof because I was trying to keep hold of a stack of bills they threw to me.
The police stole the money while I was still lying on the sidewalk and couldn't defend myself.
They are stealing your money now. Every cent you pay in taxes, they are stealing it to fund their vendetta against these clown-faced Robin Hoods. They stealing from you to give to the banks, as if they need any more money.
Mayor McKendrick is stealing from you.
Senator Simmons is stealing from you.
Commissioner Garrett is stealing from you.
GenSec is stealing from you.
But the Payday Gang is stealing from them. And it's about time we citizens of the United States got our payday too.
Dallas sighed at the newspaper. He began guessing at the best, worst, and most likely things to happen as a result of Bob's editorial and what they would need to do in response.
Chapter 3: Network News
"It's the Captain! Follow his lead!"
Dallas heard the megaphone order and looked around for his crew.
"Regroup!" he yelled, "They're sending in the new one!"
Sokol, Clover, and Bonnie all made their way to where Dallas stood, fending off cops the whole way. They took a position just inside the doors of the Harvest and Trustee bank they were robbing and waited.
Then they saw it. A phalanx of upgraded GenSec officers marching their way up the street, shields all turned into a unified wall. Captain Winters was in the middle of this fortress of bodies, giving orders. All of them being in one place turned out to be a terrible position to fight this.
"Bonnie, you fuckin' gobshite!" Clover yelled. "They put a shield on his back!"
"Split up and flank them!" Dallas barked. The shields couldn't face all of them at once and maintain their front.
"No one cheats justice for long," Winters taunted them as he watched them scramble to divide his unit's attention.
It was an exhausting battle, but the shields were falling one by one. When more than half of his sheltron had fallen, Captain Winters declared a "tactical withdrawl". He then absconded from the field, leaving the remaining officers in his unit to fend for themselves.
"He's runnin' the fuck away!" Bonnie shouted indignantly. She ran off in pursuit of him. Dallas followed behind her, mopping up straggler cops who hadn't gotten the memo yet about the retreat.
Sokol and Clover stayed behind to keep the scene locked down.
They stayed together, per the buddy system, and swept a patrol around the bank to make sure they weren't being sneaked up on. Walking along the back corridor, the one that opened out in the parking lot, they were both jumped, startled by a woman's voice.
"Excuse me? PAYDAY Gang?" she called.
They stared at each other, bewildered. It was coming from just outside. Probably a trap.
"What?" Sokol snapped, just to see what the trick was.
"Katie Dunham, CNM News," she said. "Do you ascribe to the ideology credited to you in Bob Roberts' editorial to the Washington Sun yesterday?"
They couldn't see each other's faces behind their masks, but they knew themselves to be wearing matching "are you fuckin' serious?" expressions.
"We are busy right now," Sokol said. They weren't about to go outside, even if it was really just a reporter.
"Do you have any comment on the battle you just fought with Captain Winters?" Dunham pressed further.
"No," Sokol said, but he was drowned out by Clover.
"He talks an awful lot of shite for someone who runs from the fight, don't you think?" she said in her enthusiastic screech. "He had that big shield and all those other gents guarding him against the wee four of us and he just turned tail and ran. He's a real tough guy on the phone, he is."
They could hear a man, presumably Dunham's camera man, losing his shit laughing. Dunham pressed on though.
"Do you feel he lived up to Commissioner Garrett's claims?" she said loudly to be heard from outside.
"Eh, I wouldn't have called that a "living hell"," Clover shouted back. "More just a pain in the arse. Certainly not worth "living hell" money. That's why we don't pay taxes."
"Okay!" Sokol interjected loudly. "We need to get back to work."
Clover snickered at her shit-stirring.
"You should get away from here, miss," Sokol said loudly through the door. "GenSec makes it very dangerous for civilians." With that, he made off to check on the drill, Clover following behind and still giggling at herself.
"I can't believe I even have to say this," Dallas said, commencing a full crew meeting, "but don't talk to the press."
"I don't see what the big deal is," Clover said. No one said it, but obviously they were all gathered in the living room because of her comments to CNM News. "Nothing came of it, except a bunch of tweets and that remix video on YouTube."
"Nothing that we've seen yet," Dallas said.
"Couldn't you have just told the loudmouths this?" Houston asked. He was joking, mostly, but not talking to anyone, least of all reporters, did seem common sense to him. Clover, Bonnie, and Hoxton all gave him stink-eyes for his comment though.
"I'm telling everybody," Dallas answered. "We've never been in the public eye like this and everyone needs to be clear on how we're going to handle these situations. We don't want reporters or anyone else trying to get near us. It's dangerous for them and talking to them is dangerous for us."
Wolf, as the fastest typist among them, was transcribing what Dallas said into Google Translate for Jiro. Jiro read it, even though it was probably poorly conjugated garbage, and cocked his head to the side, confused. He gestured to Wolf to let him have the laptop. Wolf handed it over and Jiro clicked the language switch button, henpecked out a sentence into the Japanese box, then handed it back.
"I can not speak English to a journalist," it read.
Wolf gave him a commiserative shrug and typed "Dallas is telling everyone." in the English box.
"I don't see that Clover really did anything to hurt us, though," Hoxton piped up. As a fellow "loudmouth", he felt some obligation to defend her actions. "If anything, it would have demoralized them to have their star player mocked on TV."
"Or it'll motivate them to send something worse our way," Chains pointed out.
"Oh please," Bonnie scoffed. "You lads have been around since, what, 2011? You've been in D.C. since '13. They've had plenty of time to study us and brainstorm ideas and a shield with more shields around it is the best thing they could come up with?"
"No, Chains is right," Dragan said. "Winters is not the best idea they had. Just the cheapest."
Everyone turned their attention from Dallas to him, awaiting elaboration.
"No matter how much the police talks, they still have a budget. So they will try the cheapest thing first, to see if it works. That way, if it does, they still have the money they didn't spend. If it does not? They can try the next cheapest idea. And the next."
"Would it not be smarter to send the hardest thing they have at us to begin with?" Sokol asked. "They would save money by not trying a bunch of failed ideas first."
"Smarter? Yes. But they cannot justify the expense if something cheaper would get the job just as done. So they have to try less expensive things first even if trying so many things ends up costing more in the long run." Dragan shrugged, grinning at the silliness of it. "It is bureaucracy. Happened all the time when I was police."
"Besides," Dallas said, reclaiming the crew's attention, "publicly talking about how little of a challenge he was is only going to make them want our asses more. Especially since they're making such a spectacle of this themselves. It makes them look doubly bad after Garrett talked all that shit at the press conference."
"How does that make a difference though?" Clover demanded to know. "Winters still ran away, whether I said so on the news or not."
"Because without us going on TV and laughing at him, they can spin it as tactics. And as long as they can do that, they can act like they're winning," Dallas explained.
"But they're not winning!" Hoxton interjected indignantly. "We're mopping the floor with them. They shouldn't get to just lie about it!"
"That doesn't matter," Wolf said loudly, accidentally interrupting Dallas' rebuttal. Dallas looked to him to see what he had to say though so, with some reservation, he explained.
"The FBI are trying to frame this as a competition," he said. "They want us to lose focus. I had a competitor try something like this once as a marketing campaign. He put these print ads in trade magazines that compared his software to mine directly. He was trying to pick a fight. The marketing department said we shouldn't respond to it and they were right. I was angry about it, but if I had stooped to his level, we'd have ended up spending time and money re-positioning our products against his and catering to that fight instead focusing on what our customers wanted.
"That's what the police want us to do. They want us to start worrying about how we look in this 'competition', so we'll be more focused on fighting them than the jobs themselves. But my company looked a lot stronger to customers by not even acknowledging that guy's shit.
"Let them tell people they're winning," Wolf concluded. "The money doesn't lie."
There was a brief pause until Houston asked, "Didn't your company go bankrupt?"
"Yes," he growled. "Years later. That year was our third best in the history of the company."
Houston put his hands up defensively and leaned away, backing off that line of questioning. He picked the wrong time to question Wolf's business acumen.
"Wolf has it exactly right," Dallas said. "They're trying to drag us into it and we can't let them. We don't need to be worried about that or about having more reporters trying to get comments from us. So don't do anything to encourage them. No comments, no interviews, nothing. Everybody got it?"
A murmur of agreement sounded around the room.
So about the title change. When I first posted this series, it was around 3:00 AM, like it often is when I write and post these things. But I have a normal job at normal hours so that means I'm not always at peak performance when these go up. And at the time, I knew there was some super clever phrase that I wanted the title to be, but I simply had not the presence of mind to remember what it was.
But now I do.
Popular Crime is still a fantastic book though.