Wes sat at the back half of the table, bored out of his mind.
He didn't show it, but it had started to get to him, every second that ticked away felt like a millenia. Wes sat with his back straight, his jaw set in a stern, guarded expression as Boze droned on about a data or crime statistics, or whatever she had been talking about for the last twenty minutes.
Mari, Joven and Boze seemed enthralled in the conversation. Mari watched with curiosity, her arms crossed over her chest as she sat back in her chair. Joven had leaned forward, arms placed on the table, one over the other. There was a glass of water in front of him, but it had sat untouched. Boze spoke with the sort of muted excitement she was known for. She spoke sternly but quickly, her face trying its best not to grin giddily.
Damien was a mystery to Wes. He still wasn't quite sure whether or not Damien was completely engaged or tuned out entirely. Damien's jaw was slack, his hands in his lap. Unlike the rest of them, his eyes were trained in on one figure alone. The man at the very middle of the table across from them.
Joven had shook his hand when he entered, referring to him as 'Mr. Matt Raub', which Wes hoped was his name, and not some dumb nickname Joven had tried to make a thing. Matt Raub was sharply dressed in a black suit that looked grotesquely expensive, the watch on his wrist alone already racking up a price tag of over $8,500.
He had been accompanied by two bodyguards, each dressed somewhat well, their clothing already looking more expensive and high-class than that of the men who had dragged him into the club bleeding and battered just a few days ago. The bodyguards had been introduced simply as bodyguards, and Matt Raub had set them against the wall like expensive hunting rifles, the safety off. They watched Wes and Damien particularly closely, their expressions were hidden well in their irises, and from the way they looked Wes couldn't help but feel like they were going through a mental rolodex of all the ways they could kill him.
The final guest had been introduced by Matt Raub, and looked starkly out of place in the conference room. She was a young woman, maybe about his age with long brown-blonde hair that curled around her shoulders. Her eyes were bright and full of mischief behind a pair of hot-pink rimmed glasses. Unlike the suits that the others wore, she had donned a pair of ripped up blue jeans held up by a chunky black belt. She wore a white t-shirt that was tucked into her jeans that read 'world's best grandpa', and a long, bright orange wool coat hung off of her shoulders.
"This is Sarah Whittle." Matt Raub's voice had the familiar command of a mob-boss. "She's our little genius and the Brotherhood's best kept secret."
Sarah gave a little wave, grinning wildly at the people across from her, having no idea in the world how terrified they all were of her in that moment. The oddity that was Sarah Whittle was now seated in front of a complicated layout of computers and paper, changing from one to the other so quickly it made Wes's head spin.
"That won't work," Sarah looked up from her computer, and Wes found himself back in the conversation. "The docks are backed up with security checks for weeks after that last bust. Even if you could get a shipment in by next Monday, it'd get caught."
"Damn," Boze grumbled. "I'd thought that there'd been leaks about that? That the dates and times for the security checks were up online, someone found them a little while ago."
"They were a bait trick," Sarah responded somewhat snidely. "It wasn't hard to tell that they were faked. Those idiots down at the LSPD didn't even think to erase their IP when they left the document up."
"Are you two going to continue showing off to one another, or can we get some more ideas out onto the board?" Matt Raub picked a paper from Sarah's pile before she could snatch it away from him. He read it over, but didn't seem to understand what it was about, and set it back down. "Anyone? We've got little time here."
"Why don't we start from the very basics?" Joven asked, leaning forward farther. "You know better than us what we're up against. What's the competition like? Who do we watch out for? Then we move on from there."
"Sarah?" Matt Raub turned to her as her fingers flew across the keyboard.
"Our biggest threats are from the Xiaolong-" Boze picked up, looking to Matt Raub- "as well as some of the other smaller gangs, Shifa's boys, the Seventh Street Titans, and some smaller drug-dealing circles. All of them have made plays for the Kingship, but nothing has ever truly solidified the title."
"Makes sense." Matt Raub sat back in his chair. "The Bratstvo Medvedya could crush those smaller gangs under our thumb if we wanted to, they don't worry me, but the Chinese mob is a whole other story. They've been a thorn in our side and our biggest competitors for as long as I can remember."
"Here," Sarah spoke, trying to regain the attention of the room. "The Xiaolong have been trying to take back some of the Bandidos' territory. I remember recording this a little bit ago, you asked me to flag it."
"Have they succeeded?" Matt Raub's voice grew severe.
"No, they've only reclaimed about half." Sarah typed in some commands and hit enter. "There's been some trouble with the smaller gangs that rushed in for the territory after the Bandidos fell apart. Some of them have been pushed back, others absorbed, and some destroyed entirely."
"Whittle, why was I warned about this?"
"You told me not to worry about it when I brought it up," Sarah retorted to him pointedly. Wes bit his lip, making eye contact with Joven. Yikes.
"Fine," Matt Raub rubbed his temples. "Fine. Next time, warn me if someone's coming up on the damn Kingship."
"So," Joven tried his best to segway. "The Xiaolong, we'll focus on them, then?"
"It's our best course of action," Matt Raub nodded. "We need to take as much territory as possible. It's what will qualify us for the Kingship ultimately."
"What do you mean?" Wes found himself speaking. Matt Raub seemed just as surprised to see him speak as he was to hear himself say the words.
"If you own more than half the city, that's what makes you King," Boze shot Wes a look. "I've told you this before Wes."
"Of course." He responded, trying to keep his jaw straight. "Just making sure," he lied poorly.
"If we want to stop them, we're going to have to do something drastic," Mari spoke for the first time. "We cut off resources. Stop a shipment, block trade, generally make their lives a living hell." She looked around the group. "Any ideas?" The room was quiet except for the sound of fingers typing frantically on a keyboard
"How about stealing all of their money in one fell swoop?"
Matt Raub turned to Boze. "What?"
Boze tapped on a document, opening it up and grinning like the cheshire cat. "This is too perfect. I almost deleted this plan a few years ago when I made it, but a while back my..." She stopped herself, catching her tongue. "I was doing some freelance work. I worked on some security schematics for a casino downtown. Ever heard of the Avian?"
"It's that fancy casino downtown, nearly 1,000 dollar buy in per person," Matt Raub remarked. "Nearly impossible to get in to, and the place has security wherever you turn."
"And it's crawling with Xiaolong members." He nodded for her to continue. "It's where they launder their money, and it's always bringing in a steady cash flow in and out."
Sarah popped her head up. "No, I thought that the Xiaolong worked with all of the businesses in Chinatown to launder their money. They provide protection, and in return the money is near impossible to trace, you'll find maybe one out of every thousand dollars. The Brotherhood did something similar based off of it."
"They stopped doing that a few years ago," Boze nodded to Sarah. "The police started staking out their joints, and they were forced to move." Wes looked over to see Boze opening up building plans. "And of course, no good casino goes without security. I just happen to be one of the only people in the world with the shutdown codes for the entire building."
"And the Xiaolong let you get out alive with that information?" Matt Raub sat back farther in his chair, the hint of an impressed smile hidden behind his hand.
"Nah, they think I'm either dead or somewhere in Siberia right now. One of my contacts made sure I got out alive."
"And you think this'll work?"
"It won't secure our position, but it'll get us a good part of the way. They'll still have guns and drugs, but their money will be entirely gone. We'll have to sit on the cash for a little while, but the Xiaolong aren't stupid enough to call the cops on already stolen money, so we should be safe for at least a week and a half."
"So what are you proposing for a plan?" Sarah asked the question this time, looking a bit peeved by Boze stealing her spotlight.
"It'll take me a second..." Boze looked away from him, her eyes searching her computer screen. "Here. Okay." She looked back up, folding her hands over her laptop keyboard. "We want to find a night preferably where all of security is distracted. We're lucky, because it's the holidays and Kingship season, the Avian has events booked nearly every night. We take that opportunity to infiltrate, find every weakness, and exploit it, distract, reorient, really do anything to keep them on their toes."
"Here!" Sarah turned her laptop towards everyone. "In two nights, there's a Gala for the biggest Vinewood stars, there's some sort of re-enactment thing with the building."
"Perfect," Boze shot Sarah a smile. "Security will be distracted with A-listers, so we don't have to worry about them as much...as for the actual plan." Boze looked her computer files up and down. "I need twenty minutes, Joven's office, a map of the Avian, and some red markers." She stood, snapping her laptop shut. "Joven I need your help getting some of the old maps from your safe in the basement. And-" she turned, considering it for a second- "Sarah, why don't you come with me, you might come in handy"
"Oh," Sarah seemed surprised. She turned to Matt Raub, who gave her a nod. "Okay, um, let me just-" she closed her own computers, piling her things together and following Boze out the door. Joven stood too, making a scene of fiddling with his keys.
"I'll be back in a second." He shot Wes, Mari and Damien a quick looked from behind Matt Raub and his bodyguard's backs. Play nice.
Wes sat straight up, watching Matt Raub intently. Mari shuffled in her chair, and Damien sat stock still, and Wes wasn't even sure if he was tuned into the conversation until Matt Raub spoke.
"So," his voice was clean and cold. Sterile, almost. "Quite a little crew your boss has created."
"Yeah, what about it?" Mari's voice was on edge.
"I did a little research about all of you," Matt Raub smiled. "You know, just to see who we'll be working with, and most of you all have quite long resumes." He shrugged, "and by that I mean, nearly non-existent." Matt Raub turned to Mari. "You've got a drug-addict, wannabe assassin with a temper no one can control-" he shifted slightly to face Damien- "the former lieutenant of the Black Blade who managed to be the only one who got off scot free -" Matt Raub made direct eye contact with Wes, who tried not to tense as he spoke- "and a little nobody from the greener pastures of the suburbs turned stripper turned 'building consultant'. Quite a strange team if you ask me." He put the last part in quotes. "Am I wrong?" The three of them said nothing, which only made him laugh. "Good," he grinned. "That's the reaction I hoped for. Only the most cowardly people try to pretend they're better than they actually are."
The door reopened and Joven entered with a bowl filled with mints and a refill for the water pitcher, which had remained nearly untouched throughout the whole meeting. The ice had melted, so Wes guessed that it was more a presentation thing that anything else.
Joven and Matt Raub made polite conversation as Mari, Wes and Damien watched the bodyguards like hawks.
Boze and Sarah returned a few minutes later, spreadsheets and determined looks on their faces. "We got it," Boze grinned. She and Sarah sat down at their places at the table, spreading a few papers across between them.
"What'd we need?" Matt Raub drew his attention to the diagrams.
"We're gonna need a 12 person team, two stealth vehicles, and at least three flashy expensive ones." Sarah read off of a piece of paper.
"We'll also need an assortment of different devices that we can use for communication and the actual hack into the building," Boze slid a sheet towards Matt Raub. "Most of their money in these three safes underneath the building. They're connected to an automated system lock controlled by a high-security computer in the building, but it's nearly impossible to get to. Luckily, the cameras around there are incredibly easy to get into, so that won't be a problem."
"I've done the calculations, and the Brotherhood has six people we can possibly send for this job, myself included." Sarah turned a screen towards Matt Raub that Wes couldn't see, and he nodded at it.
"Alright. Are you sure that it has to be done with 12 people?"
"Uh, yeah," Sarah looked to Boze. The two shared a look. "We both tried at least forty different algorithms, we need 12 people."
"And we can't spare a seventh person?" Sarah shook her head in response. He looked up at Joven. "You wouldn't happen to be hiding a sixth member of your Jackrabbit friend, would you?"
"No, unfortunately, it's just the five of us." Joven closed his eyes slowly in a way that worried Wes. "But there is someone I can call if we need a Renegade." Matt Raub waved his hand, motioning for Joven to continue. "She's wild, she has a mind of her own, but she'll follow most orders...and she owes me a few favors."
"That'll work," Sarah nodded. "We need some good distractions. Is she good with a gun?"
Sarah grinned, typing it into her computer.
"Wonderful," Matt Raub gave them a slight smile. "We'll have the two of them iron out the details over the messenger." He stood, rounding the table to shake Joven's hand. "Good things are coming Mr. Ovenshire."
"I look forward to them Mr. Raub."
Wes watched as the four trickled out of the room, Damien close on their heels. He hopped up after Damien, following them out and escorting them to the back entrance. Damien said goodbye and closed the door behind them.
Wes had a smile on his face, and waited for Damien to return it, but Damien's expression was worrying.
"Hey, something wrong?"
"Nah," Damien looked down at the floor. "Just a weird feeling."
"I don't really know," Damien met his eyes. "How did he know all of that about us?" His voice was ragged.
"Boze probably, I think she keeps files on us." Wes grinned, but Damien didn't seem to get the joke.
"Maybe," he sounded distracted. "I'm gonna look into him...just for safety."
Damien gave him a nod, not quite making eye contact as he disappeared into the hallway entrance, leaving Wes alone in the darkened club.
Wes looked up to the pole, which glinted in the evening light. They were going to be open in a few hours, and he wouldn't mind chatting with the strippers for a while if they came in and found him doing a routine. He needed to clear his head.
It was going to be a strange next few days, and he wanted to be ready for it.