Kearse the Asshole groaned when he woke up. It was about time. Fitzgerald had been waiting far longer than he’d wanted.
Kearse wore a black hood, which looked bulky because underneath he wore shooting earmuffs. Fitzgerald hadn’t wanted him to know where he was going on the ride by either sight or sound.
Kearse was dressed in a tan sweater and dark blue pants, similar to the ones Fitzgerald wore. The loafers were nice, and Fitzgerald was tempted to ask where he had purchased them.
Ordering Kearse the Asshole to be knocked out for the ride had been overkill, but pleasurable, so Fitzgerald had gone with the urge. Waiting for the man to wake up had been slow torture.
Kearse sat in a steel grey folding chair in front of a cheap card table. Three items were on that table, important items. One of them would determine Kearse’s fate. A large tarp was spread beneath the table, and Fitz made sure the holstered gun on his hip would be visible.
His hands were bound behind his back. He wouldn’t be selecting anything with his hands. Those incredibly fast, dangerous hands. Fitzgerald’s men had searched Kearse before they brought him to today’s hideout, but one couldn’t be too careful with a man this well trained.
Well trained, but dumb. Who bit the hand that fed them?
Fitzgerald shook his head ruefully. He didn’t look forward to these conversations. The idiots in the chair never picked the right item.
When he was sure Kearse was awake, Fitzgerald ordered, “Baldwin, take off the hood and muffs.”
Kearse shook his head with his eyes clenched tight. “Seriously? You couldn’t warn a guy?”
Fitzgerald wasn’t surprised. “Men come out from under that hood in one of two ways,” he said levelly, “with a smart ass remark, or abject fear. I have to say, you are what I expected.”
“So happy not to disappoint.” Kearse looked around the room. “Hey, Baldwin. Good to see you.”
“Hey, Kearse. Sorry about this, man.”
Kearse shrugged a shoulder. “Not your fault. So what are we doing here, Fitz?”
The man sighed heavily and took a seat in a chair across the table from Kearse. “What did you do? Mr Brown didn’t say.”
“Did you ask him?”
Fitz shook his head. “You know better.”
“How do you do this,” Kearse asked, “when you don’t even know the reasons why?”
“It’s not my place to question why,” Fitz began.
“But only to do or die?” Kearse finished for him. He looked to the floor. “Yeah, I get it. I don’t know what I did. Only Mr Brown does.”
“Nothing went wrong with that last job?”
“You’d know! I haven’t talked to anyone, I ditched the guns and masks as asked, the van was left downtown with the keys in it so you’ll never see it again. I don’t know why I’m here.”
“You left the money where you were told?”
“Of course I did! If it weren’t there, do you think I’d even make it as far as this table?”
Fitz sighed heavily once more. “I think you’re an asshole.”
“Actually, I’m the Asshole. Your point?”
“Good luck. Sitting before you are three items. A cup of coffee that’s probably cold by now, a blindfold, and a plane ticket,” Fitz pointed out with a neutral expression.
“What?” Kearse asked blankly.
“Pick one,” Fitz repeated without emotion.
Kearse looked from one item to another. Panic began to bloom in his features. “Are these methods of death or something? The coffee is poisoned, the blindfold is a shooting squad, and the plane ticket means … what? you make it look like an accident so my wife can collect life insurance?”
Fitz kept his gaze level. His brown eyes were locked with Kearse’s bloodshot green eyes. “Pick one.”
“Stop saying that!” Kearse’s voice cracked. There was silence for a long minute. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. “This is all a set up. You brought me here in a way meant to scare me. You have Baldwin over here, looming over my shoulder. This shit is a test.”
“God, I hate you. Give me the blindfold.”
Fitz jerked. “What?”
“The blindfold. Hand it over. At least I won’t have to look at your ugly fucking face anymore.”
“No one has picked the blindfold before.” Fitz was surprised.
Kearse shrugged a shoulder. “Great. Do I get a cookie first or something?” His leg began bobbing up and down.
“Baldwin, untie him.”
The big man used a knife to cut the rope binding Kearse to the folding chair. He patted Kearse’s shoulder before stepping back.
“Am I getting a running start?” Kearse rubbed his wrists. The rope burn was light and merely itched.
“No, you’re fine. You can go. Someone will call you later.”
“What? That’s it?”
Fitz nodded. “Yeah. You can go. Mr Brown sends his warm regards.”
“I’m going to need an explanation, you asshole.”
“You’re the Asshole, remember?”
“Yeah, yeah, Kearse the Asshole. I’ve heard all about it. Well? What the fuck just happened here?”
“You passed, so I guess I can tell you. It is a test. Mr Brown designed it, I implement. If a man chooses the coffee, he’s a guy who’ll stall, tell you whatever you want to hear. He can’t be trusted. The plane ticket means he’s a runner. Again, can’t be trusted.”
“And the blindfold?”
“The blindfold means the guy trusts Mr Brown’s judgment. He’s willing to put his life in Mr Brown’s hands. It’s loyalty.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”