FanPost

Knicktion: Drive and Kick

Hello again, friends!

This here FanPost is a long one, so I shall try to make this intro short.

  • This is some Knicktion.
  • This is long. Very long. Longer than my previous Knicktion, which had approximately the length and entertainment value of the phone directory. I do not know quite how that happened, as the story is a pretty simple one, but happen it did. Per the warning of my previous Knicktion, if you start reading and find that it isn't doing it for you, then I recommend you stop reading. It's better all-round that way.
  • As was the case for my previous Knicktion, whilst this might have started out conceptually as a metaphor for real goings-on, the final product is somewhat divergent, and no longer reliably represents either reality (in a metaphorical sense), or my opinions of it (aside from that the Celtics are "gentlemen of ill character and poor personal hygiene all". That's a scientific fact which is beyond dispute).

A couple of notes to specific P&Ters, while I'm here:

  • To KnightandDaye: You are a beautiful, sweet, misguided fool. I thank you, but you probably ought to seek professional assistance.
  • To fuhry: This does not constitute "bringing it". You are the undisputed master.

I think that's it for the intro. As usual, I hope you enjoy this, and if you don't enjoy it, then I hope you don't waste too much of your time with it.

Go Knicks! (Especially tonight against the Celtics, please.)

A.S.M.

***

DRIVE AND KICK

"And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."
~Acts 26:14

It was supposed to be a different kind of score, this one. It was supposed to turn out differently too, but sometimes shit happens.

Melo was seated in the Garden of Eden diner, lounging casually--effortlessly--in the booth, left arm resting on top of the padded bench seat, while his right arm was employed with the business of breakfast. It's damn hard to lounge back and eat cereal at the same time--at least, to do so without spilling milk and soggy oats all down your front--but Melo was pulling it off. He had to, considering the nature of this breakfast meeting. He couldn't afford to appear anxious or weak in any way; gotta stay in control, gotta demonstrate strength, gotta hold the position of power in this negotiation.

He hadn't said a single word to his breakfast companion yet, although he had been joined in the booth a good two minutes earlier. All he had done, and all he would do until his companion broke the silence, would be to eat his cereal, eyeing his counterpart between taking in spoonsful of happy, healthy oats.

Halfway through the generously sized bowl, the other man spoke. Such was never in doubt, of course.

"You think you got this in the bag, huh?" the man asked, tapping one hand on the duffel bag he had brought, and which was resting on the floor under the table. The bag may currently have been out of sight of both men, but it was far from out of mind, as the man's unintentional pun demonstrated.

The other man's given name was Kevin, but his street name was The Black Garnet. He had chosen the name because he thought it represented the perfect combination of toughness and glamour that was necessary for a big-time gangster, although in reality he was more a garden-variety punk, performing the role of intimidator and standover guy for his gang. What he didn't realize, though, is that garnets aren't particularly hard, as gemstones go, nor are they especially valuable, as gemstones go. Some people do make unfortunate choices. Sometimes they deserve the consequences.

And, it follows, sometimes they don't.

Melo was in no rush to respond. He dipped the spoon into the bowl of cereal and raised it toward his mouth, taking his time, which served both the purpose of making the other man wait, and helping to ensure he wouldn't spill any milk on himself. After swallowing, then running his tongue leisurely around the inside of his mouth to clear any residual cereal and swallowing again, he let go of the spoon, gently allowing it to rest in the bowl. He then looked around the diner, surveying the lay of the land and the other customers, who were occupying themselves with their own breakfasts and generally minding their own business.

His gaze momentarily met that of a police officer, who seemed to be paying more than an incidental amount of attention to Melo and The Black Garnet, but working hard to look like he wasn't. At that moment, the cop's female partner wasn't looking, although it was impossible for Melo to tell whether this was because she wasn't also watching him, or because she was just more successful at avoiding Melo's gaze than her partner had been. Without a doubt, the third police officer--a docile-looking gentleman who was ninety years old if he was a day--wasn't watching anyone except perhaps his egg sandwich and oatmeal. Melo couldn't even tell if the old fella was awake. To the first cop's credit, he didn't panic and hurriedly break Melo's gaze when the two men's eyes met; he just narrowed his eyes slightly, as if to suggest to Melo, "I'm watching you," before casually turning back towards his Danish and coffee. The cop was no callow rookie, at least. Melo would grant him that.

Regardless of whether Melo and The Black Garnet were being surveilled or not, if things went according to plan, the cops wouldn't be any trouble. After all, nothing illegal was actually happening here, despite the fact that these members of rival gangs were negotiating an exchange.

Returning his attention to the waiting Black Garnet--whose patience was being strained by Melo's casual air--Melo leaned further back in his seat, tilted his head slightly to the side, and after another momentary pause, drew an indifferent breath before finally speaking.

"Oh, there ain't no ‘think' about it," Melo started, "this shit's real simple. You stole something of mine, and now you're gonna give it back." Melo kept his voice low and quiet, but used just enough inflection to give an unambiguous warning without drawing the attention of the others in the diner. He was going to do this, and he was going to do this subtly.

The Black Garnet laughed a little. It was a laugh born from nervousness, and therefore it emerged from his mouth as nothing more than a titter, although he had been hoping to employ enough inflection of his own to conceal the nervousness behind a veneer of apparent menace. In the end, it only made him seem lost and hesitant, like a boy on his first day at a new school. Despite his inner unease, the words that followed The Black Garnet's little laugh were underpinned by the truth, and were spoken with a genuine confidence, although he wasn't sure whether they would disquiet Melo.

"You know what? You're right. This shit is real simple. See, I been at this game so long that, hell, I almost don't even notice I'm playin' at it sometimes. It all just kinda, happens around me, know what I'm saying? Whether I'm trying to make a score or not."

Melo paused and eyed The Black Garnet again before speaking, still aiming to be as dangerous but inconspicuous as a test tube marked with the biohazard symbol and the stopper sitting loose. Only if you were near enough to notice the small details would you know the danger it posed.

"Well, intended or not, you made a score off the wrong guy this time. I think you'll be wanting to give me back what's mine." Melo was still calm and under control, but in this meeting of two junkyard dogs, his hackles were rising and his lip was curling.

"And what makes you think I'ma give this back to you?" asked The Black Garnet, giving the duffel bag under the table another tap, to remind Melo who was the current possessor of his property, and smiling with an entirely unpleasant grin on his face. In this meeting of two junkyard dogs, he was baring his teeth.

"‘Cos I'm better than you. I'm smarter than you. I'm stronger than you," Melo fairly hissed back immediately, while The Black Garnet, full of bluster and buoyed by his confidence in the groundwork he had laid, merely sat still and absorbed Melo's evident vitriol, virtually gaining strength with each word.

Melo continued, "My men, they're better than your men. We got the experience, we got the smarts, we got the balance. Across the board, we got you covered for anything you can do to us. Now, you give me back what's mine, or I'll bring down everything I got, right in your face. You don't want these problems, man. Believe me."

What Melo was saying was, all things being equal, true. The only problem was, all things weren't equal. The Black Garnet was wily, if not as tough as he thought he was. He continued to stir the pot.

"You ain't been listening, have you, boy? You ain't been watching. Got no idea who you're up against. Y'all can be as awesome as y'all want, but I got you beat. I just got you, man, period. Ain't nothing you can do about it."

Melo, accustomed to being the leader of his gangs and generally undisputed as the strongest individual in any confrontation, was becoming agitated with The Black Garnet's unflappable confidence. Somewhere at the back of his brain, Melo sensed that something was awry, as a deer surely must when it encounters a mysterious feeder that dispenses corn day after day. But, like the deer that eventually ends up as someone's Christmas jerky, Melo was taking the bait.

"Listen, Kevin, I'm gonna lose my shit real soon. I'm not gonna ask many more times. And when I stop asking, I'm gonna start telling. And when I tell, I'm pretty goddamn persuasive. So give my stuff back to me, or I'm gonna drop the hammer on you. And then I'll collect my crew, and we'll pay you a visit, and shit's gon' get real ugly for you and yours."

Melo was still talking at a normal volume, but he was no longer lounging in the booth. He was sitting straight-backed, with both forearms placed squarely on the table, his fingers curling into fists. Melo's agitated demeanor was exactly what The Black Garnet had wanted to see, what he had planned to see. He had played this tune so many times that Melo may as well have had a big ol' ‘Play' button in the middle of his forehead.

The Black Garnet continued pressing Melo's buttons. "I can have anything of yours I want, boy. I got you wrapped right here, ‘round my little finger."

The Black Garnet held up his hand and waggled his pinky in Melo's face, and then delivered his coup de grâce.

"In fact, I bet that cereal of yours tastes good. I say it looks pretty good. I think I'ma have me a lil' taste. What you think about that?" The Black Garnet stopped waggling his finger at Melo, and reached towards Melo's cereal bowl.

Melo, who had had enough of The Black Garnet's disrespect, finally snapped. He stood up, flinging the cereal bowl at The Black Garnet as he did so, dousing his tormentor in slightly tepid milk, soggy oats, and all manner of curse words. He sidled two steps to get out of the booth and once free, he turned back and bent down, reaching under the table to retrieve his duffel bag from the illegitimate custody of The Black Garnet.

All of a sudden, while he was still trying to gain a grip on the ensconced duffel bag, the side of Melo's face was pressed forcefully against the melamine table, and a knee was driven into the small of his back, while multiple hands grasped for his, pressing them onto the table also. He was pinned, unable to free himself. From his vantage point--which afforded a close-up view of a table surface that had suffered the heat of thousands of cups of coffee and just as many inadequately cleaned spills, but a very poor view of what was happening behind him--Melo could see that The Black Garnet was still seated at the booth. With a most detestable smirk on his face, of course. This begged the question of who, precisely, had accosted him so.

He got his answer promptly.

"Officer De Palma, can you reach my cuffs? They're still clipped on my belt," a man's voice asked his counterpart. Melo didn't need to be able to see the man to know that he had just been taken down by the cop he'd caught watching him only a minute earlier. Boy, that escalated quickly, he thought to himself.

"Got ‘em, Officer Cousins. Keep the perp down and I'll bag him." Officer De Palma--the female officer who may or may not have been watching Melo previously, but who certainly was now--kept one hand pressing Melo's backwards onto the table, while retrieving the cuffs with the other.

Melo tried to plead his case, "You got this all wrong, officer. I'm just taking back what's mine. You wanna arrest someone, arrest that grinning fool right there. Punk deserves it. Deserves it real good."

Officer Cousins spoke back, "Looked to me like you were trying to steal this gentleman's duffel bag, sir. Isn't that right, Officer De Palma?"

Officer De Palma plainly replied, as if reading from a script, "Yes, Officer Cousins, that's precisely what I observed, too."

Turning towards The Black Garnet, Officer Cousins asked, "Is that what happened here, sir?"

"Sure is," replied The Black Garnet, who could barely contain his satisfaction at how well the plan had been executed.

"Will you be pressing charges against this individual, sir?" Officer Cousins asked The Black Garnet.

"Oh, for sure. This man here is a public menace, man," responded The Black Garnet, not quite playing to perfection his part as the innocent victim.

"In that case, sir," Officer Cousins spoke to Melo, "I'll ask you not to resist. I am arresting you on suspicion of theft."

Knowing that Melo's arrest and the reading of his Miranda rights was nothing more than a formality, The Black Garnet spoke to the police, allowing Melo a little exposition of what the real situation was, "How you doin', officers? Such a pleasant surprise to see you here."

As Officer De Palma indelicately placed the handcuffs on Melo, The Black Garnet continued. "Hey, Melo, you look like you could use a hand there, man," following his little joke with a chuckle. It was, naturally, the most irritating chuckle in the history of mankind. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it may also have been the most irritating chuckle in the history of the universe itself. The effect was, at least, tempered by the fact that the man was using his own hands to pick half a bowl of oat rings from his shirtfront at the time.

Officer Cousins, now done with reciting Melo's Miranda rights and whose current tasks were to keep a knee in Melo's back and a hand against the side of Melo's face, had ample free time for conversation.

"Yeah, Kevin. Sure is lucky we were here today, huh? Trouble just seems to follow you around." And with that, he gave The Black Garnet a knowing wink. Although Melo wasn't in a position to see the wink, he didn't need to be, in order to know what was going on.

"This is some kinda bullshit setup?" Melo now realized that, this time, he was fighting a fight he couldn't win. The trap had been set long before he'd even set foot in the diner. Now he was Christmas deer jerky.

"This ain't over, Garnet. I'll be seeing you again, and you won't be safe, no matter how protected you think you are," Melo threatened. He didn't know how he would get his retribution, and his words were being mangled owing to the fact that he was being force-fed a diner table, but if there was one trait of Melo's that was indomitable, it was his confidence.

In short order, the two officers had manhandled Melo--now fully handcuffed--into a standing position. As they made to leave the diner, The Black Garnet spoke again, still yapping despite the fact that he had already secured victory this day.

"Thanks for saving me, officers. You've been great. If you see Director Starr around the traps, tell him I hope he enjoyed the Christmas, I mean, uhh, Hanukkah hamper. I'll be seein' you, Melo. Or, maybe not," he called out, as the officers walked Melo out of the diner.

As they approached the diner door, Officer Cousins remembered that in his haste to apprehend Melo when the cereal started flying, he had left something at the counter.

He called towards the counter, "Yo, Bibs! Bibs!!! Agente Bibs! Wakey, wakey, old man! We're heading back in."

The elderly police officer, who Melo had previously seen contemplating his breakfast and/or falling asleep, sat upright with a start, the motion of his head hastening the ejection of a droplet of drool from the corner of his mouth. They didn't call the old vecchia ‘Bibs' just because it was his name. He collected his chattels, which had been scattered around the counter, and stood up to leave, all as quickly as he could. To the rest of the world, his motion would have appeared glacial.

After the quartet had left the diner, two Chinese tourists, who had observed the whole spectacle play out from their stools at the counter, passed commentary in their native tongue.

"Man, did you see how hard those cops worked to take that dude down? Dude must be totally niubi," the first commented.

"‘Niubi'? What you talkin' ‘bout, Wei-Li-Si?" asked the second, unfamiliar with the word.

"You know--niubi? It's a Beijing word, but it's mega common. Means, like, badass. The kids are totally down with it. Just crushing it, really," explained the first tourist, Wei-Li-Si.

The second, A-Nuo-De, was dubious. "Right," he said. "Anyway, this place, like, totally blows. Let's get out of here. I don't know how these people can eat anything on this menu."

And so the two left, following Officers Cousins, De Palma and Bibs, and the cooperative but resolute Melo, into the early morning sun as a steady, steel-cold wind blew in from the southwest.

***

The trial was brief, as befits a case where the outcome was preordained.

Charges of larceny were laid, Melo was remanded, and all the players appeared in court. Melo pleaded his case, but he was the only witness on his side. The Black Garnet said what he had to say, Officers Cousins and De Palma said what they had to say. Even Wei-Li-Si and his companion A-Nuo-De said what they saw via an interpreter, who experienced some difficulty and embarrassment in translating the term niubi for the Court.

Everything appeared to go according to due process, in an impartial manner, as such matters should; Melo had been observed angrily hurling insults and cereal at The Black Garnet, and then taking the duffel bag from The Black Garnet--the duffel bag which The Black Garnet had brought into the diner. To any outsider, it was an open-and-shut case. To the insiders, it was even more straightforward.

The verdict was ‘guilty' of course.

Given that it was almost impossible to place a value on what was ‘stolen,' the sentence, when it was eventually handed down, only saw Melo locked away for a short time, lest any disparity between crime and punishment arouse the ire of civil libertarians or the unwashed masses. The court did not hesitate, however, to issue a $186,000 fine, which is not an insignificant sum, however given the amount of money that Melo was accustomed to dealing with, the court did not expect the public to be sympathetic to Melo in this aspect of his punishment.

With no hope of a successful appeal, Melo duly served his time and paid his money. But he didn't give up hope of leveling the score against The Black Garnet.

In short order, he had devised his scheme. It was bulletproof.

***

Not even three weeks after their meeting in the diner, Melo was on his way to meet The Black Garnet again. The fulfillment of his plan would happen in Boston.

This time, though, he wasn't going to try to do it alone. He hired a coach bus complete with slightly unhinged driver, which he used on ‘business' from time to time, and brought his whole crew with him. If he needed their help, he would be willing and able to use them. Even if he didn't eventually need their help, he was at least going to show them how to settle a score. He was, in other words, planning to be a good leader.

Melo and his crew weren't alone on their trip, however. Somewhere along the I-95, not far out of the city, Jim, their driver--an eccentric man with a tendency towards paranoia and aloofness--called to Melo's attention that a car was tailing them. Jim said that it was government agents who were following them. But Jim would have said that government agents were following them, even if the people following them weren't government agents. In fact, Jim would have said that government agents were following them, even if they weren't being followed.

At the next service plaza, around Fairfield, Connecticut, Melo advised Jim to pull over. Even if he hadn't had something in mind, it would have been good to stop anyway to allow his boys to stretch their legs. They were quite tall, and not accustomed to squeezing their long limbs into a bus designed for regularly-sized individuals for more than half an hour.

After Jim pulled into the service plaza and the bus had been unloaded of its passengers, Melo approached the car that had been following them. The car had been forced also to pull into the service plaza, but had parked in the opposite corner of the lot, aiming to maintain the lowest possible profile, not that such was necessary.

As he approached the car, Melo peered through its windows, hoping to identify its occupants from a safe distance. Just because crazy driver Jim said that it was a government car, that didn't mean that it was. Melo and his crew had many rivals--some even more troublesome than the authorities--and they might be looking to take advantage of Melo's recent absence, hoping that it had dulled his skills.

Despite the daylight--which on this windy winter's day was timid and frail--Melo's gaze was unable to penetrate the dark tinting of the car's windows, even as he got within twenty feet of the vehicle. He reasoned that if the car's occupants were going to do anything to him, they would have done it by now, so he walked right up alongside the driver's door and knocked on its window, the rapping of his knuckles sounding unimposingly tinny on the glass. After a few seconds' wait, during which it sounded to Melo that there was some hasty discussion and movement, the window was rolled down. Peering keenly, but appearing to do so casually, Melo realized that he recognized the gentlemen in the car.

"Deputy Director Goldman and Special Agent in Charge Johnson!" he feigned excitement. "Why, it's such a pleasant surprise to see you! What brings you all the way out here today, if I may ask?"

"Just keeping an eye on things, Mister Anthony," replied Deputy Director Goldman calmly, trying to sound authoritative without sounding threatening. "You don't have anything to hide, do you?"

"Not at all, Deputy Director. We cool, we cool. Matter of fact, I hope you keep your eyes on me real close. Y'all are gonna see some stuff, and I wouldn't want you to miss it." This was not gamesmanship on Melo's part. He genuinely did want the authorities to see everything he was going to do. He had nothing to hide; his plan was bulletproof.

"So what's going on here, Mister Anthony? Some kind of field trip, I presume?" enquired Deputy Director Goldman.

"Oh yeah, well, we just taking a lil' trip up to Boston, you know. Thought it might be educational for my boys. I'm takin' ‘em for a walk on the Freedom Trail, you know, the Science Museum, maybe check out the Fine Arts Museum. Gonna get our learning on, sir, all responsible and enlightened. Yes indeed."

"Do you have any other plans for your time in Boston, Mister Anthony?" asked Deputy Director Goldman.

"Oh yeah, shoot, I almost forgot. Thanks for reminding me, Deputy Director. I'm also gon' take back what's mine from The Black Garnet. Restore the balance, you know? Yin and yang, karma and all that."

"I'd suggest that you stay away from that man and everyone associated with him, Mister Anthony. We're going to be watching you, and if we see you commit even the smallest illegal act, we'll put you away." To the Deputy Director's mind, he wasn't threatening Melo, he was simply telling him the truth.

"Oh, no need to worry about that, Deputy Director. I got no intention of doing anything illegal. You just watch."

To the Deputy Director, Melo's words hinted at a technicality of some kind. "And that goes for all your mates, too, Mister Anthony," he warned.

"My boys, Deputy Director?" Melo asked in mock indignation. "They're fine, upstanding citizens, sir. Ain't no need to worry ‘bout them. All of them are fine, honestly. Look who we got.

"We got Goggles and the Penguin over there--they like to roll together when they can, but lately it's like one's always laid up, sick. There's the Money Badger and the Earl of Smith--the original odd couple, man, look at ‘em. Someone should give ‘em their own sitcom, I tell you. That old white dude? That's the Warlock. Hey, gimme a moment, will you?

"Hey, Jason!" Melo called across the lot to the old man. "Stay away from the liquor store, man." For good measure, he sent over his enforcer, "Yo, Crazy Eyes! Get the old man away from there will you? No, the other old man. Nah, the other, other old man. The Warlock. Jason."

Melo returned his attention to the Feds, "See, Crazy Eyes can keep everyone in line. He's old, but ornery. Got that real old man strength. This one time, they sold him the wrong soup at the deli. You shoulda seen it, man. I mean he really went to town on- " Melo caught himself before he said something incriminating, "I mean, he really went to town and requested a refund or exchange from the proprietor. Funny story, man. Funny story. But I guess you had to be there."

He continued, "Speaking of crazy and funny, see the dude with the headband and the crazy teeth? The one limping away from McDonald's with the Hello Kitty Happy Meal? That's Good Money. I don't know what it means, man. He just started calling himself that. He's good though. Got a lot of interest in law enforcement himself. I think you'd really like him, Agent Johnson. Could have a bright future with your organization one day.

"Who else we got here? The two tall dudes over by the bus. That's Bison and the Candyman. I don't know why Bison insists on wearing those short pants, man. I'm pretty sure he got the money for regular fitting pants. Still, they're better than those shoes that Shump over there has on. Between the day-glow kicks on his feet and eighteen straight-up inches of hair on his head, at least he won't get lost in the snow, right?

"Then we got the newer guys. Priggie Smalls--don't let the name fool you--he's the sweetest dear you ever met, he's just so endearing and charming and innocent. He's just great, man. Every part of him is great." Melo moved on quickly, hoping that his gushing hadn't made him seem emotionally vulnerable.

"Flight's over there scratchin' for loose change in the gutter. He's moved around a lot and never knows if he's gonna stick with a crew. He's got a nice ring he picked up from one of those stops though," Melo once again had to hurriedly add a qualification, remembering whom he was talking to, "but don't worry, gentlemen. He earned it legitimately. Honest. And picking up loose change is legal, right?"

"We can let it slide, I guess," replied Special Agent in Charge Johnson, who was accustomed to dealing with more arbitrary questions of legality.

Deputy Director Goldman made an enquiry of Melo, hoping to gain clarification of a question that had been troubling him since Melo's men had alighted from the bus. "Mister Anthony, the, um, large female, I think, who's accompanying you? The one with the dreadlocks and, um, her, ah, back to us? Who is that?"

At first, Melo didn't know whom the Deputy Director was referring to, but after scanning over his men milling around in the parking lot, he understood that the Deputy Director was under an amusing, but forgivable, misapprehension. "Oh, Britney! You mean Britney. Yeah, that's Britney. He's new, too." The Deputy Director felt only slightly enlightened by Melo's explanation.

Melo looked around again, seeing if he had missed anybody. Satisfied that he'd pointed out all his men to the Feds, he wrapped up. "So that's everybody, gentlemen. We've got nothing to hide, like I said. You can watch us all as closely as you want. All you'll see is a group of men going about their business, all legit. We're all mature, good-character guys, trust me. Anyway, I'll be seein' you ‘round, I'm sure," Melo concluded with a wink and a slight smile, then turned to walk back towards the bus. It was time to get back on the road.

As Melo turned away, Deputy Director Goldman warned him, "Stay away from The Black Garnet, Mister Anthony. Don't even think about trying anything. We'll be watching you." Melo, unable to control the impulse, raised his arm and flipped his middle finger back towards the Feds, allowing the bird to fly for a good dozen paces as he walked away.

Halfway across the parking lot, he remembered something. He stopped, turned, and called back to the government car, which still had its window down. "And Ronnie! Ronnie's around here somewhere too, I think. Shoot, I always forget about that guy! Has a habit of disappearing. Anyway, he's cool, too."

Melo then returned to the bus, gathered his men, and within minutes they were on their way again.

Boston, The Black Garnet, and reparation beckoned.

***

The Garden of Peace, nestled amongst the government buildings in downtown Boston, is dedicated to the memory of those whose lives have been taken through acts of homicide. It is small, secluded, serene and beautiful, but also enveloping, profound and compelling.

At night--especially in the depths of a Massachusetts winter, with a steady, steel-cold wind blowing--it is deserted. This made it a practical place for Melo and The Black Garnet to meet. The garden's purpose--to raise awareness of the human cost of violence--made it also a fitting place for them to meet.

As was the case for their first meeting only a few weeks prior, Melo arrived at the appointed place before The Black Garnet. Again, the man who did the best groundwork would prevail, only this time it was true in the literal sense as well as the figurative.

Having arrived early, Melo took the opportunity to wander around the garden, contemplating the tragedy of so many lives lost to senseless aggression and violence. He carried with him a large plastic bottle of drinking water, from which he took occasional sips as he strolled around. When he was standing alongside the garden's featurepiece ‘Ibis Ascending' statue, however, he lost his hold of the bottle and it fell, spilling its contents, which mixed with the light veil of fallen snow on the smooth, rounded rocks on the ground in front of the statue. To any observer, it would have appeared a clumsy accident.

As Melo waited the next fifteen minutes standing by himself in the cold night air, he reflected on his previous error of allowing frustration and then anger to get the better of him. As he did so, the icy wind--which had been blowing consistently for days or even weeks--subsided, allowing the snow to fall to the ground with the faintest of whispers, rather than being dashed against the walls of the nearby buildings, as it had been previously. The birches and yews ceased swaying, now standing tall, strong and still, the whistle of the wind through their branches running out of breath. The subsidence of the wind lent the whole scene a powerful calmness, echoing that of Melo's spirit. He didn't even feel the cold any more. It was as though the shared cold and calm had unified both man and environment.

In good time, The Black Garnet arrived at the Garden of Peace. Any casual observer hardy enough to brave the cold and walk past the garden on this late January night would have seen only two men meeting in this nook between the towering edifices of law and order. On this night, though, there were no casual observers to be seen. In fact, there were no observers of any kind to be seen. Although that's not to say that there actually were no observers.

Deputy Director Goldman and Special Agent in Charge Johnson were taking advantage of their lofty positions in the federal agency by watching the proceedings from the fourth floor of one of the overlooking government buildings. Melo's crew--a group of fourteen rather large gentlemen, generally with a penchant for bright clothing--were difficult to conceal on the ground, so they were watching from behind the windows of the parked bus, along with crazy driver Jim. Three local police officers--Officers Cranford, Kogan and in an amazingly improbable coincidence, another ancient, but entirely distinct Officer Bibs--working under direction from the federal agents, were concealed behind the myriad walls and stairways that surround the garden. Although Boston's version of old Officer Bibs--displaying uncanny similitude to his New York doppelganger--could hardly be called an observer, having succumbed to the unfamiliarly late hour and promptly fallen asleep at his post near a warm ventilation grille within moments of arriving there.

The remainder of The Black Garnet's crew--gentlemen of ill character and poor personal hygiene all--were, however, not present at the garden. At this time, they were variously entertaining themselves with such diabolical pursuits as kicking puppies, helping elderly ladies to cross the street only to abandon them halfway across, and serving soup to the homeless but going too heavy on the pepper.

The Black Garnet approached from the lower street level, having to rise up to meet Melo, who waited in the rear corner of the garden, roughly equidistant from all three entrances. As the new arrival crossed the threshold into the garden, the snow stopped falling entirely. The only sound in the garden now was the hard crunching of stones underfoot as The Black Garnet walked the path towards the waiting Melo.

"The message said you wanted to trade and get your bag back," The Black Garnet opened, before he had even stopped walking towards Melo. As he spoke, The Black Garnet subconsciously fingered the strap of the much-disputed duffel bag, which was slung casually over his right shoulder, the gesture betraying his anxiousness. Melo noted that he had needed no gambit this time, to oblige the other man to speak first. He still waited before replying though, but this was a genuine product of Melo's inner calmness rather than a show.

"Well now, ‘trade' doesn't really cover it, does it? First, it's mine anyway, and second, I already paid the price for trying to get it back. You can call it whatever, but tonight we're gonna get the balance back to normal. I gotta drop a load to make it happen, but I'm money enough."

The Black Garnet wasn't especially interested in Melo's life story and the cold was biting at him, so he tried to accelerate matters. "So, what you got for me? Are we gonna do this or not?"

Melo felt no pressure to rush the process, but there was no reason to stall, either. He was content to play this out in as straightforward a manner as possible--he didn't need the mind games of the previous encounter. "A hundred grand," he replied flatly.

To The Black Garnet, who was, of course, expecting to walk away with both the duffel bag and whatever Melo was offering for it, it was largely academic what Melo was offering, given that it was all straight-up profit. But one hundred thousand dollars was a whole lot of profit for one simple meeting. Especially when, with the Feds once again fully briefed and on his side, he was at no risk.

"A'ight then, show it to me," The Black Garnet said, trying to use the strength of his voice to gain dominance in the proceedings.

"You know I don't just chuck bricks around, man. I'm more careful than that," Melo replied, his mind and spirit still glacially cold, calm and impervious.

"So, where is it, this brick?" The Black Garnet asked.

"I stashed it over there," Melo pointed towards the ‘Ibis Ascending' statue. "Under a rock at the base of the statue. I'll go get it for you."

The Black Garnet was suspicious, "No," he retorted. "You don't move. I'll get it."

"A'ight, then," Melo acquiesced.

The Black Garnet walked on the path, heading for the statue and paying no heed to the names of the deceased, which were engraved onto the rounded rocks of the dry riverbed along which the path ran. Once again, though, he was playing with the strap of the duffel bag, which was still slung loosely over his shoulder. When he arrived at the statue, he turned and asked Melo, who had followed despite The Black Garnet's instruction not to, "Where?"

"Down at the far side of the rocks. You'll have to step over to get there," Melo directed the Black Garnet. He was all ice. Cold. Clear. Perilous.

As The Black Garnet stepped across the smooth, rounded rocks in front of the ‘Ibis Ascending' statue--a symbol of life transcending pain, anger and grief--his left foot came down on one of the rocks onto which Melo had spilled the water roughly twenty minutes prior. The spilled water had by now turned to ice; ice which was all but invisible in the night time garden, and slick as a professional thief.

The Black Garnet lost his footing, with the combination of the curvature of the rock, the absence of friction, and the presence of gravity causing his legs to rotate rightwards, while his torso rotated leftwards. The result of all this rotation was that the duffel bag was flung free from The Black Garnet's shoulder, while his body was flung into the garden bed surrounding the statue, his face coming to a safe but unpleasant rest in a bed of snow and a frozen mixture of mud and manure.

Melo reached over from the safety of the path and retrieved his duffel bag from among the icy rocks. Rather than feeling the weight of the bag as he lifted it, he felt as though a weight had been lifted from him.

The Black Garnet spoke from the garden bed, "Don't forget the money, asshole." His words were being mangled owing to the fact that he was eating the least appealing slushie ever, but if there was one trait of The Black Garnet's that was indomitable, it was his churlishness.

Melo replied, "There ain't no money. Never was. I told you, man. I don't chuck bricks around."

Melo turned to leave the garden, his icy demeanor thawing just enough for the first hints of a smile to form at the corners of his mouth. Before he could get very far, though, he was met by the police, who had made their way from their hiding places to the garden. Except for old Officer Bibs, of course, who in apparently typical Officer Bibs fashion, remained dozing peacefully near his ventilation grille.

"Hold it," demanded Officer Cranford, "we're not letting you walk out of here with that bag."

Melo stopped and asked calmly, "Officer, are you familiar with the term ‘double jeopardy'?"

Officer Cranford was taken aback by the unexpected question, "Well, yeah. I, ah," he searched his mind, thinking back to the basic legal training he received at the academy, "it means that you can't get put on trial for the same crime twice." Officer Cranford was rather satisfied that he had remembered what the term meant.

Melo replied, "Well, Officer, I was already put on trial for stealing this bag. I did my time, I paid my fine. I'm outta here, and y'all can't stop me."

He managed to walk past the officers a few steps towards the waiting bus, conspicuously scratching his nose and then his ear, before Officer Kogan spoke up. "Wait. Hang on. Hang on just a damn minute."

Melo stopped. He hadn't expected to get away with the ‘double jeopardy' ruse, but it had served its purpose. All it had had to do was buy him some time before the cuffs came out, and it had bought him enough. Before turning back to face the police officers, he saw his crew piling out of the bus and approaching the garden.

Officer Kogan continued, "Double jeopardy doesn't apply in this case. This isn't the same crime you were tried for previously. This is a whole new crime. It's the same victim and the same bag, but it's a different time, a different place. We can, and we will, arrest you. Now put the bag down and put your hands behind your back. Don't make this any harder than it needs to be."

By the time Officer Kogan had finished his discourse, Melo's crew had arrived in the garden. All stood by, keen to help, but they knew that Melo had the situation under control.

Melo spoke back to Officer Kogan, giving a discourse of his own. "Well, officer, I guess I'm wrong. But guess what? You're wrong, too. Yes, this is a different place. Yes, this is a different time. And yes, it's the same bag. But it's not the same victim."

Officer Cranford, who was having a hard time of things at the moment, didn't follow. In that regard, he wasn't alone amongst his colleagues. Even The Black Garnet himself--who was still slightly stunned from his fall and subsequent face-freezing--was feeling unsure of who he was, as he used the front of his jacket to wipe the melted snow and manure from his face.

Officer Cranford asked, on all their behalves, "What do you mean, ‘not the same victim'? This is The Black Garnet. We all know him around here. The man's reputation prece-"

Officer Kogan cut short his colleague's sentence, lest he say something incriminating. "It doesn't matter whether it's the same victim or a different victim. It's still a crime to steal from him, and we're going to arrest you. Now put the bag down. I won't be asking again."

Melo continued his explanation, "There's a third option you didn't consider, officer."

"And what might that be?"

"That he's not a victim at all."

Officer Kogan, being a cop, had a cop's brain. The world is very black and white for them. "You were stealing from him. He's a victim, and stealing is a crime. Put. The bag. Down."

"Oh, but I wasn't stealing, officer. How can I steal what's actually mine?"

"You said it yourself. You were found guilty of stealing it before."

"Yeah, but, you know how justice works sometimes, right? Thing's ain't always as they seem."

Melo couldn't help but notice the barely perceptible flinch of officer Kogan at this oblique accusation; they both knew who had ordered the police officers to the garden on this night, and what those orders were. And, with timing that couldn't have been better, the group was joined by the Feds, who had finally made their way down from the fourth floor of the neighboring building. And they weren't just any Feds, either.

"Why, as I live and breathe, it's Director Starr himself! And Deputy Director Goldman and Special Agent in Charge Johnson, too. What a surprise!" Melo exclaimed, once again reverting to faux-amity. "It's a pleasure to see you, sir. How has this night been treating you?"

Director Starr, a legal mind and ruthless when he needed to be, instructed the police officers, "Officers, arrest this man. You know what you saw, Kevin here will testify the same, and that will be sufficient for another conviction."

Melo countered, glad to be concluding his scheme with all the main players around. "Actually, Director, perhaps that won't be enough this time."

Director Starr, supremely confident--as only a man who has gotten his way for almost thirty years can be--was beyond skeptical, but in the interest of sport, he asked anyway, "And why would you say that, Mister Anthony?"

Just then, there was the sound of someone clearing their throat from the back of the crowd. Every face present turned towards the sound, while Melo's crew parted, to reveal the new party who had so subtly announced himself.

Crazy driver Jim stepped forward, staying silent as he held what looked like a ray gun up, pointing it towards the Director. All of the law enforcement officers present tensed, ready to pounce on the apparent madman--correction: certified madman--at the first sign of attack. No such attack came. No such attack was needed. The damage had already been done.

Melo introduced the man. "Director Starr, Deputy Director Goldman, Special Agent in Charge Johnson, please allow me to introduce Jim. He brought me here, and he looks out for me."

Director Starr asked, "What is that he's holding, Mister Anthony?"

"Oh, that?" Melo asked, pointing at crazy driver Jim's ‘ray gun'. "That's a parabolic microphone. Perfectly targeted, broadcast quality audio. Picks up sound cleanly from hundreds of feet away."

"Broadcast quality, you say..." Director Starr didn't like the sound of that, so to speak.

"Yeah," continued Melo, "why, it could even pick up, oh, I don't know, Kevin here, saying something like, what was it? Oh yeah, that I wanted to trade and get my bag back. And not only that, but Jim here, even though he acts, um, eccentrically, has some pretty good contacts in the media. They're paranoid as parakeets on caffeine and aren't exactly impartial, but they reach a good number of people."

"Where's the tape or card, or hard disc, or whatever it is that that thing records onto?" demanded Director Starr. "Officers, seize it. Whatever it is, wherever it is."

"No need for that, my man," Melo couldn't help but speak through a broadening smile. "See, Jim's bus over there has a pretty kickass radio transmitter in it. In fact, I'd estimate that it's broadcast quality. Is that right, Jim?"

Crazy driver, surveillance pro and media dabbler Jim nodded.

Melo concluded, "Considering that pretty much anyone who wants to listen, can hear Kevin admit that I was only re-claiming what's mine, and that I never laid so much as a finger on him, I'd say there aren't any grounds for an arrest here. Wouldn't you agree, Director?"

The Director started, "You have no idea what kind of enemy you're-"

Melo cut him off. "Whoa there, Director. Sorry, I apologize. Before you respond, I probably should tell you that the mike's still on, it's wireless, and, ah, it's been pointed at you this whole time. The transmitter in Jim's bus is still running, too."

"Well, that's definitely...robust," said the Director through gritted teeth.

At this point, although the Director wouldn't have conceded that he was in check-mate, he certainly would have conceded that it was time for a defensive move. A defensive move like standing up and walking away.

"Gentlemen, officers. I suggest we take our leave. It seems that no crime was committed here tonight. I bid you good evening, Mister Anthony. I hope that the return of what's yours--allegedly--is worth the trouble and effort you have put into regaining it." It wasn't a heartfelt apology delivered on bended knee along with chocolates and roses, but it was as close as Melo was likely to get.

But this wasn't about revenge, retribution, or justice.

Yes, Melo had kicked against the pricks and triumphed, and in so doing he had defeated the prickers, religious wisdom, and maybe even God Himself. But the greatest element of his victory was personal; one that the outside world would never see. When the Feds, the cops--including old Officer Bibs, who had barely but fortunately been remembered by the others--and The Black Garnet were all gone, Melo opened the duffel bag and looked inside. In reclaiming what was his, his soul, his heart and his body were bathed in pure, essential warmth, which melted the ice away, although the calm endured. For the first time in a long time, he could feel the chill of the winter night's air, which remained still but for the soft fall of the snow, which had resumed.

"I got you back," he spoke softly, with all the sincerity, solemnity and reverence of a prayer.

He paused for a moment in silent reverie, feeling complete again, before heading back toward the bus. As he walked with head held high, his crew fell in step behind him and together they left the silent garden, this memorial to the terrible, irreversible damage that violence inflicts, and to the senselessness of it all.

When everyone was back on the bus and crazy driver, surveillance pro, media dabbler and hero of the day Jim was preparing to pull away from the curb to take them home, Goggles spoke up from the rear.

"You know, guys, I have a feeling that our future together is going to be phen..."

The fifteen other men, in perfect, harmonious unison, rolled their eyes.

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