birdmad Church.

Tomorrow, you will take yourself to church. You will spend the entirety of the service weighing out the validity of whatever it is you are trying to find spiritually and you will question all of the beliefs that you have absorbed over all these years. And you will stand with the rest of the musicians and sing like an angel through the service while the devil on your shoulder replays all of the deliciously depraved images of the past couple of days for your consideration.

To add to the twisting sensation, That model chick, Lena will sit with her family in that spot where they always sit. Where she can see you and where you can see her.

And she'll tease you like she always does. Even conservatively dressed for church, she knows how to work it. After all, it's how she makes her living. So between replaying all of your other sins in your head, you will imagine how much of a thrill it would be to take her right here, maybe in front of the altar, maybe on top of it. Maybe on the big desk in the Sunday-school classroom or out on the grass in the churchyard.

But enough about tomorrow at church, there are more pressing matters to attend just now, Alex.

You, Mike from Chicago, and one of The-Five-Guys-Named-Jimmy have work to do. Some crooked lawyer friend of Greg and Tony has a scam worked out with a couple of equally morally-bankrupt clients.

Greg says it goes a little something like this. One of his clients is into some real heavy dudes for a fuckload of money, but he just got divorced and the settlement has pretty much fucked him out of all of his cash assets. Two birds with one stone, the guy has no problem with being roughed up a little or having his place "broken into."

You ride in the car with one of the Jimmys who hands you a shoebox as you get in. Ski-mask, mismatched gloves, left hand is a leather glove, slim and well fitted, like the kind that some football player shills for on TV. The right hand is a miner's glove, thick, heavy leather with something of a rough finish. By the looks of it, you can pretty well guess that you've been picked to provide the violence.

"It seems like a lot of trouble to go through," you say. "I mean, i can see a little bit of how this gets his ex-wife off of his back for awhile, but how does this get him off the hook with whoever it is that's got his balls in a sling?"

"Insurance money," Jimmy says. "He files a claim for what he's lost, they pay him out for it and he turns the money over to the people he owes.
Meanwhile, we sell the stuff we take from his house before the claims people or the cops do all of their paperwork and give him his cut for being in on the game, which gives him enough to do what he wants. Tony made all the arrangements, so for all the stuff we'll need to get into the vans, we'll end up making almost 75 K off of this little score"

"Yeah," you start, "But if we're using pawn shops, don't they hold the stuff for a few days for the cops to check it out?"

"That's true," Jimmy says, speeding through a curvy section of street by the upscale hotel in the mountain pass. "This is where you beating him up comes in. Our boy knows he's gonna feel some pain here, but if he doesn't pay the guy over in Malibu - that guy's gonna kill him. So, he reckons the ass-whipping is a fair trade for not being driven to California in somebody's trunk and used for shark-bait,"
Jimmy says this with a grin as you shift in your seat, Depeche Mode's "Never Let M Down Again" blasting from the car speakers.

"By beating him into the hospital, it will take that much longer for him to file his claim, which will buy enough time for any of that stuff to move. Seriously, we should just kneel down and give thanks to god-al-fuckin'-mighty that some people will always live in a state of conspicuous consumption."

"Yeah," you say, overwhelmed by the complexity of the scheme you find yourself wrapped up in. You are starting to wonder if you are not, perhaps, in over your head.

"We're getting fifty of the seventy-five that we can move his stuff for and kicking twenty-five back at him," Jimmy continues, "when he files his claim with his insurer, they'll give him something like a-hundred-and-forty. He gives up the hundred thou to the guy over in Malibu and he's home free. A little battered and bruised for his troubles, but home-free."

"Don't put the ski-mask on, though," Jimmy says as we pull into a 7-Eleven. "we rolled the inside all over Zoe's cat Scribbles so that if the cops try to analyze it, all they'll get back is cat hair."

You laugh and get out of the car, whipping a five out of your wallet. You order a pack of clove cigarettes from the old lady behind the counter. You pull out another five and ask her for a copy of the magazine behind the counter. Famous actress you've always had a schoolboy crush on nude inside the pages and posed rather seductively on the cover.

"Let me guess," the old lady asks in a tone that drips sarcasm "you only buy it for the articles, right?"

Being the consummate wise-ass, you answer back without missing a beat: "Now look at the woman on the cover, it could take me months to even remember that there are such things as articles in those pages."

"Hrmph." the old lady grunts, disapprovingly.

Getting back in the car, you and Jimmy head east for a couple of miles and then north until you have crossed through a stretch of barren scrub-land that has not yet been co-opted and fallen victim to the encroaching suburbia.

The Dodge weaves through a neighborhood of winding streets at the edge of so-called civilization and arrives at one of the larger places in the development.

There are two white vans in the garage.

Greg comes out as soon as we step out of the car and Tony is not far behind. Two more of the Jimmys come out of the garage and Mike follows soon after.

"So," Mike asks, "What's the split?"

"The dude gets 25 large," Greg answers, "the lawyer gets another 25 and we split the last 25."

"There's seven of us here," Mike adds, seeming a little suspicious, "How are you gonna work that?"

"Thirty-four hundred each way," Tony cuts in, "that leaves twelve-hundred to cover costs and for all of us to party with when the money is in hand."

"Fair enough," Mike says, seeming satisified.

You on the other hand, have never been paid more than a thousand for any of the jobs you've taken for Greg, Tony or any of their friends and are quite pleased. You barely register a grin, though, preferring to keep your grim game-face on.

Putting on the gloves, you pile into one of the vans with everyone but Tony who is driving the other one.

The afternoon was warm, but a cold wind has been tearing through the valley since just before sunset and it is now colder than it was at sunrise.

The neighborhood smells of orange blossoms from the ornamental trees that line a number of the streets in the area. The clouds, high and not-quite thin drift through the starry night.

You light a cigarette and you are ready to roll.
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