Featuring Jacomo Jones and Blackjack

Story by Jason Wright and Miq Millman

May 23, 2000, 6:50 pm. Bar Sinister

Jacomo showed up at the bar a few minutes early, perhaps 10 or so. He was dressed in medium flashy clothing, nothing ridiculous, but the idea was to reinforce the once successful, once rich, ex-professional athlete image. Dockers or similar, fairly expensive sweater (close fitting), high price tag sunglasses (in the wretched excess category, like Revo's or similar $300+ models), trendy expensive shoes. He had on a loose fitting varsity style jacket with a professional sports team logo on it that looked very official (for that particular team), it is. He was also wearing a shoulder holster with pistol in it, not because he needed one, but because he figured that it would be expected that someone in his position would have one.

He took a seat in a darker booth, pretending to make a display of not wanting to be noticed, biding his time until 7 pm rolled around.

He was always very precise.

Jacomo strolled to the bar. "Chuckles, please." He leaned his excessive bulk forward onto the bar's surface, trying to be as intimidating as possible, his deep baritone added a level of sincerity to the comical name. He waited, using the mirrors around the room to help his surveillance through dark lenses.

The bartender gives him the once over, and points to some stairs to the left. "First door to your right."

Ascending the stairs, Jacomo looks around the bar. On the surface it looks like any other seedy bar, filled with working stiffs and three-time losers, but some of the patrons have a different feel to them. A look, just like the one he and his teammates had when they went to a bar. Like they want to relax for a while and be nobody, just one of the crowd. But underneath, something that could be seen only by another athlete.

The desire to get back into the game. And win. Big.

But Jacomo knows these guys probably aren't athletes. Entering a hallway, three doors on each side. He opens the first door on his right. The room inside holds a pool table and all four walls have mirrors. As he enters, a finger touches the mirror closest to him, a glance tells that there is no space between the finger and its reflection. One way glass. The only person in the room, other than Jacomo, was a wiry white male, baseball cap on backwards, dressed in a muscle shirt and jeans, and playing pool. He's playing very well.

"Close the door, Jones," he says. As soon as it closes, he stops playing pool and turns to you.

"First of all, lose the piece. It's insulting."

With an odd tilt of his head and a slight smirk, Jacomo pulls the gun gingerly from its holster, so that there is no indication that it is a threat.

"Hey man, this is a dangerous neighbourhood you've asked me into. I didn't want to be an easy target for muggers."

"So you want a job? Just what are you willing to do?"

"Whatever I can do." He pauses, weighing the possibilities, then steps up to the pool table and gently grasps the nearest corner with both hands. He figures the slate backed, mahogany table weighs in the neighbourhood of 500 pounds.

"Which is quite a bit, actually." As he says this, the smile comes back and he ever so slightly lifts the corner of the table so that all the balls roll into the far corner pocket. He puts the table soundlessly back on the floor, and meets his host's eye holding the gaze for a moment. Clearly the effort he expended was slight, no more than lifting a bed sheet.

"You can see that I'm very resourceful."

Jacomo looks at the now empty field on the table, and spreads his hands, "I'd say it was your shot, but it looks like I've already sunk the balls…" No smile this time. Jacomo watches and waits for the response, possibly expecting the worst.

Jacomo's host looks at the table, then at him, then the table again, with a quizzical look, not hostile. Then he laughs.

"You're OK, Jones. Everything Buddy said about you was true. Buddy told me that you did some strong arm work down in the States."

"Well this should be right up your alley. It's safe and has a good take. Plus," as he starts to pick the balls out of the pocket, "it will get you in with a heavy hitter. Look, you'll find out when the job starts, but man, this guy is the best. Makes Bullet look like a girl scout. Come back on the 25th, 4 P.M. Ask for me again. Bring your piece."

As Jacomo picked up his gun and start to leave, Chuckles racks the balls and goes to break. "Oh and one more thing Jones, what size of shirt do you wear?"

May 25, 2000, 4:00 pm. Bar Sinister

Again, the routine is followed, ending with Jacomo in the same room with the mirrors and pool table.

In the room this time, instead of Chuckles, are two people. One is a burly man, seated by the pool table. He is bearded, reddish-blond hair that seems just a little too long for his head. Picture a Viking, but not as muscular. He is wearing dress pants, silk shirt, leather shoes. He looks like he's going out to the bar, not on a merc assignment. And he is smoking the most God-awful cigar one could have ever smelled.

The second person attracts attention immediately. In a corner behind bearded man, stands someone, no, something that is a good foot taller than Jacomo, and that doesn't include the huge horns curling out of his head. His skin is grey and he has the build of of a football player or a wrestler (really bulky, not huge definition). His blonde hair is cut into a mohawk. He has his arms crossed and stares blankly as Jacomo enters.

"Jacomo Jones, set your ass down." says the bearded man pushing a chair across the room. "Don't worry about the piece, if you pulled it out, Hardcase here would THROW your sorry ass back to Georgia." He takes a pull off of the stogie, all the while grinning.

Jacomo takes the chair, spins it around and sits in it backwards, crossing his arms over the top of the chairback. As he takes a seat, he thinks to himself, "Yeah, I'd like to see that…"

"OK Jones, here's the score. Myself, Hardcase, and a few others are going to hit a restaurant tonight. Not Micky Dee's down the street, but a place with class and some fat wallets. Your place in the scheme of things is this: after the security at this place is dealt with, you take their place. Your job is to make sure no one comes up to the dining room while me and the boys are performing the job. You are RESOURCEFUL, so you should be able to handle this."

"As an added incentive, you get to keep whatever you get off of the latecomers. Hardcase," he points to big guy, "will be outside to take care of any cops that are stupid enough to arrive. You, me, and Hardcase will be in radio communication in case something comes up that causes us to have to bug out. You will arrive and leave in a van with the boys. Obviously Hardcase will have other transportation. Your cut is the standard one percent of the take for a first timer."

He reaches into a gym bag beside him and throws you a security guard uniform. "Hope it fits. Put it on. We leave when I say so."

"So Jones, any questions?"

"Yeah, a couple: who's going to be dealing with security before I take their place? With Hardcase scaring away the cops, how the hell are there going to be latecomers? And lastly whose standard are you refering to with this 'standard one percent of the take' crap? I'm in just as much of a risk as the rest of your boys, unless I screw up, I should get a fair share."

The bearded man takes a puff off of the stogie. "Security will be dealt with by two boys I've worked with in the past. They specialize in this sort of thing. Their names aren't important to you. As for your second question, Hardcase will be elsewhere, out of sight, until we hear the cops coming on the police band that the three of us will have. Until then, you might get Daddy Warbucks' wallet to supplement your income. If Hardcase has to put in an appearance, we'll be getting the hell out of Dodge and your concern won't be latecomers, but getting the fuck into the van."

He looks at Jacomo intently for a few seconds before addressing the pay question. "The standard is set by Mercs Inc. and common practice. There are six others involved in this. Four of those are first-timers on a Mercs Inc gig, just like you. They get one percent. The other two are the security detail. They might get murder during a felony for this, so they get five percent, if that's OK with you." The sarcasm isn't lost on Jacomo.

"The fine fellows at Mercs Inc. get 30% for the privilege of being involved in one of their ops. Hardcase gets 25% for his part, and I, as boss and a pretty damn good powered armour merc if I do say so myself, get 30%. So you are making as much as about half of the people on this op." He leans forward and says to you in a whisper, "Now if you want more, I'm perfectly willing to give you Hardcase's share but you're going to have to work that out among yourselves."

Jacomo looks appraisingly at Hardcase, thoughts running the gamut from 'I wonder how hard it would be to rip those horns off his pointy head' to 'Big, dumb, and mean. No doubt, not one to tangle with.' spring from subconscious to conscious. "OK, perhaps I'll 'work something out.'" Jacomo whispers quietly back, not taking his eyes off Hardcase's form.

Jacomo unballs the uniform and makes a show of inspecting it while he listens to the answers. He stands calmly and places the uniform neatly over the back of the chair in preparation to change into it, but does nothing else until he is satisfied with the answers. He too stands with arms crossed, mocking Hardcase's stoic stance.

Hardcase and Jacomo do their damndest to out stoic each other for a moment, then, "One more thing, where's Chuckles? He implied that he would be here tonight."

"Well he isn't. If you were still jawing with him that means that you aren't on this job or that you're a good pool player."

"I'm on the job…" Jacomo leaves it at that, as he wrenches his eyes from Hardcase, and gathers up the uniform neatly.

The bearded man stands up. "Now Jones, you better get ready. There's a warehouse across the street. Be there in one hour."

"Fine. Is there a place that I can leave my things after changing?"

Jacomo gives Hardcase a softer look, then a questioning one to the bearded fellow.

The bearded man quips "Give your stuff to the bartender. He knows you're with me. It will be safe. Now excuse me, I've got to get ready for tonight." He walks out.

Jacomo wants to give the feeling of accepted comfort to these two. That they don't intimidate him, and that he will grudgingly accept their rules, for the time being at any rate. He also wants to make it clear that he has higher plans for Jacomo Jones than common street thug, perhaps taking out Hardcase isn't the answer, but taking out ole bearded power armour stogie man… something to think about Jacomo nods internally to himself.

"We have some time on our hands, Hardcase, do you play pool?"

Hardcase considers the offer, arching an eyebrow. "Uh, sure. I haven't played pool since I got augmented. Tend to break the table. Hope it doesn't happen tonight." An awkward smile breaks out on his face.

He goes and starts to rack the balls. "You know, I used to be an athlete too. Pro wrestler. Pretty good one too." A look of pride is on his face. He gets a cue and prepares to break. The cue looks very out of place in his large hands. "But then I got my big break. Some guys came and offered to make me even bigger and stronger. And they did. Granted there are some problems, I can't get out of this suit."

As expected, Jacomo notices he really isn't a very good pool player.

"But you know, they said that they are working on a way to get me out. All I got to do some jobs to raise enough money to pay for it." This sounds familiar to Jacomo, just like what the Cyber-ball owners said to him when they got him hooked on to the drugs. Something about sports stars seem to attract those types.

Looks like I made the right choice, Jacomo thinks to himself. He continues to make friendly banter with the large horned man. It is not forced, Jacomo genuinely feels a certain kinship to the fate Hardcase has fallen to. He recognizes that Hardcase is just paid muscle, much like he is. If he is to succeed in his ultimate mission, he needs to be moved to a higher level of trust. But having Hardcase on his side won't hurt anything. Jacomo spreads anecdotes of the professional Cyber Ball life through the game, listening to the stories Hardcase tells him and asking questions to make Hardcase feel more comfortable.

Hardcase responds with tales of the professional wrestling circuit and life as a super thug. He mentions the thought of getting further augmentation "Just to give you the edge you need. I mean, how can a normal or even a low level muscle guy make big bucks when there are guys that can shoot fire from their hands out there?"

Jacomo just shakes his head slowly, "Oh, I'm sure, I'll manage somehow."

Upon leaving the room, Hardcase puts his hand on Jacomo's shoulder. "You know, you're OK. Most people on these jobs don't talk to me. Scared or something. If you need any help finding work, give me a call. Us sports guys have to stick together."

"Indeed we do, friend. Indeed we do." Jacomo claps Hardcase's hand in a friendly grip, and offers Hardcase a glint of his famous white teeth.

The two ex-professional augmented athletes leave the bar and enter the warehouse mentioned. Inside are six people Jacomo hasn't seen before. All six are male, four white, one African-American, the last Hispanic. The Hispanic eyes you as you enter and then returns to his conversation. Jacomo notices a bulge in his jacket and one of the white men. There are also two vans and a car inside the warehouse.

As Jacomo walks to the group, he sees that the others have noticed him. Two of the white men (not the one with the bulge) whisper to each other. Jacomo can hear them say "Is that Jacomo Jones? Man, he sure could play."

Jacomo only makes a show of folding his expensive sunglasses and putting them away in a case. He smiles without showing his teeth at them, "I still can." he says quietly, and winks once.

The Hispanic walks over to Jacomo. "Jones, right? " He hands you a walkie-talkie. "Here's your radio. Good luck, man. The boss don't forgive mistakes easily, so don't make any." He walks over to the white guy with the bulge, and the two of them get into the car and leave.

Fifteen minutes later, Hardcase arrives with another person. This person is in power armour. The armour is covered in quills, and is quite a sight. Jacomo recognizes him immediately. His name is Quill, a merc with a formidable and violent rep. It is said that he would kill his mother for a grand, and has. He also has also been known to be unforgiving to both allies and hostages (the FBI has learned to be careful in negotiations with him the hard way). The other outstanding trait about him is that he has never been in jail for more than an hour at a time. He has always escaped or beat the rap. Somehow.

Jacomo makes a mental note to not forget this as the armoured man enters the other van. Jacomo watches him closely before pulling his gaze away and climbing into his own vehicle, just in time as Quill seemed to notice and shoots a glance back.

"All right, gentlemen. Let's go to dinner. Vince, Hardcase and me in that van. Larry and the rest of you in the other." The voice and attitude is recognized as the bearded man from before.

The driver is one of the white men that recognized Jacomo. Inside the back with you are the Afro-American and the other man who recognized from his Cyber-ball days. The black man extends his hand.

"Hi there. My name's Jim. This is Frank and the driver is Larry." Introductions are made all around.

Jim continues, "This is our first job and I got to tell you, I'm pretty nervous." He looks older than the others, more like a father of three than a professional criminal.

Frank offers, "I bet this is nothing to you, Jacomo. Oh, can I call you that? I mean, you played big league ball and playoffs, so you're used to pressure, right?" He looks barely old enough to shave, let alone be on this job.

"Jacomo will be fine." a flash of bright pearly white teeth, as Jacomo smiles, hopefully reassuringly.

Larry watches the three of you through the rear view mirror (not hostile, just to see what's going on). He is also fairly intent on keeping the other van in sight.

Jacomo inspects the radio. It is a pretty standard walkie-talkie of good quality. He performs a radio check, and hears Quill's voice on the other end.

"Good man, Jones. I was just about to do a check."

Also checking in with Hardcase, the big fellow responds, "Loud and clear. With luck, we might be able to catch the sports when we get back."

"Yeah, luck to you too, Hardcase."

The van with Quill and Hardcase stops briefly to let Hardcase out in an alley. This area of town is filled with office buildings and large skyscrapers, high finance and glitz.

The vans then move down a few blocks and enter the driveway of a restaurant Jacomo recognizes from study of New London. It is the Crystal Palace, one of the ritzy restaurants. The restaurant itself is atop a tower. As far as can be told, the only reason for the tower is to make the restaurant stand out.

The vans stop. Quill exits before his van even stops. Jacomo and the other first timers hop out the door in the back of their van. There is no doorman or valet parking attendant, Jacomo notes.

As he walks towards the doors Jacomo can hear Quill's voice. Getting closer, it can be seen that the two men who left earlier are inside the doors (just out of view to anyone not right in front of the doors). Quill is speaking with the Hispanic.

"God damn it, Carlos! What is this shit?!"

"Look man, it wasn't my fault. Would you rather he got to the alarm?"

Quill snaps back sarcastically, "And this is so much better." He points at the glass partition of the security station. A bullet hole is there, not obvious until one is indoors, but still quite visible.

The inside of the Crystal Palace is quite impressive. Its lobby is better than those of the hotels stayed at when Jacomo played Cyber-ball, richly decorated. A spiral staircase leads away from the lobby, most likely it leads to the elevator. Jacomo thinks to himself, "The idle rich: build a staircase for the classic feel just to lead to an elevator to take them up this giant tower. Why didn't they just build a smaller restaurant?"

The security station consists of a desk and various computer monitors around it, presumably linked to security cameras. Above the desk is a glass partition which is obviously not bulletproof and runs around the station. A door on the side offers access to the station. No bodies are evident.

Quill points at the bullet hole with an armoured hand, "All right. Jones, cover that hole up. Put a plant in front of it, stand in front of it, tear the whole damn thing out if you have to."

"Don't worry, I'll take care of it, boss."