It wasn’t getting worse. Mari told herself that as she looked at her reflection in the window of Lasercorn’s office, her fingers buzzing as she tried to keep her mind straight.
She turned, holding her slowly shaking glass of scotch and soda limply. The tremors had been coming more frequently. She’d been draining a bottle of H a week recently.
“Yeah.” Lasercorn stood across from her, tie straining against his neck
“Are you paying attention?”
“She’s not.” Sohinki stirred from where he was sitting on a stool behind Lasercorn’s desk.
“I’m am,” she snapped. Her teeth were bared without her realizing it, and she stepped back. Mari downed her drink, blinking as it burned, shaking her head. “What were we talking about?” She slammed her empty cup down on the rolling bar cart with a clack.
“Statistics from your areas.” Lasercorn set his own drink down on his desk noiselessly. “They’ve dropped.”
“That’s not my fucking problem. People just don’t want drugs in those places.”
“Or,” Sohinki stood. “We’ve got a rival taking our buyers. And, with the infighting between the Jackrabbit and our Titans, people are too afraid to buy from us. They think we’re unstable.”
Lasercorn sat back against the desk. “I shouldn’t have to remind you that your King attacked one of my men.”
“And I shouldn’t have to remind you that he attacked one of our enforcers first.”
“The King took it too far.”
“It was a show of force,” Mari replied coldly. “Would you have done anything different?”
“The man was missing teeth.”
“Good.” She snarled.
“This meeting is over.” Lasercorn picked up his drink, walking around the desk. “Escort her out please.”
“No,” Mari’s voice was sharp. “You don’t make those kinds of calls.”
“Excuse me?” Lasercorn’s eyes flicked over to her, angry and dark.
Mari wasn’t feeling like backing down today. “The Titans didn’t win the gauntlet, the Jackrabbit did. We call the shots leagues before you do.”
“Yes,” Lasercorn’s voice was dangerously quiet. “But we also control the product. And…” Sohinki pulled something from his coat pocket, setting it on the table. The bottle of H watched her with quiet menace. “We also personally fund your habit. I would think first before snapping like that again.”
“Cute,” Mari scrunched up her nose sarcastically. “But I could just as easily get that from the corner druggie.”
“But you won’t.”
“And you’re so sure of that because?”
“You haven’t yet.” Lasercorn eased into his chair behind his desk. Mari took a seat across from him, crossing one leg over the other and folding her arms over her lap.
“Because you’re convenient.” She gestured to Sohinki with a flick of her head. “‘Least he was way back when.”
For a second, she swore Lasercorn cracked the barest smile as he pressed his lips together, looking down. He folded his hands on top of the table. “Yes, it seems Sohinki will spread his legs for anyone.”
Mari snorted with laughter as Sohinki muttered a string of quiet expletives under his breath.
“Something to say, Sohin?”
“No,” he grumbled, rubbing his nose.
“I like you Takahashi,” Lasercorn turned the corners of his lips up just barely. It wouldn’t have been noticeable unless she was looking for it, but it was definitely there. “You’ve got a familiar bite to you that I haven’t seen in a long time. What gang were you raised in?”
“I wasn’t,” she replied.
Lasercorn furrowed his eyebrows, turning his head just barely towards Sohinki before looking back to Mari. “Really?”
“Yep,” she leaned forward. “Grew up in a group home, ran away a lot, lost myself, let someone find me-”
“Bought from me,” Sohinki grinned.
“And got kicked out,” she turned her head towards him just slightly. “And then…” Mari paused, clearing her breath. “I was...stuck...somewhere for a while. And then Joven pulled me out. We’ve been partners ever since, but that’s the extent of my criminal upbringing.”
“Peculiar,” Lasercorn pulled the glass to his lips. “You just...You remind me of an old mentor of mine...I’d wondered if you’d suffered under him like I had. Seems like you were a free bird though, until you met Joven that is.”
“I’ve always hated being tied down,” she leaned back in her chair. “But Joven managed to keep me long enough to make me fall in love with the family he’d created, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
“So you’re very loyal to Joven.”
“He’s my best friend.” Mari shrugged, biting her lip. “I’d die for that dumb bastard twenty times over if I had to.” She looked up, the question suddenly beginning to register to her booze-slowed brain. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, if the Jackrabbit ever goes down like the flaming shipwreck it already is, then the Titans would love to offer you a position high up on their team.” Lasercorn looked to Sohinki. “Sohinki has already made you a resume a mile long with all of the stories he’s told about you, and the Titans could use someone as strong as you in their ranks.”
“Plus,” Sohinki grabbed the bottle from the table. He tossed it her way, and she caught it softly, furrowing her eyebrows. “Free H whenever you need.”
“Hey, we make it for much less than it costs, so why not take a few out for recreational use.” Sohinki gave her a wink she almost found charming,
“I...um, I don’t know what to say.”
“Of course,” Lasercorn stood. “I didn’t mean to spring this on you right now, but it seemed a better time than any to at least tell you about it.”
Mari choose her words carefully. “Yeah, I just...I didn’t expect it.”
“And I don’t expect you to answer now, but soon would be better.”
“Alright,” Mari stood, filling her glass with some sort of unlabeled liquor. “Do the Titans have some sort of plan coming up?”
“Of sorts,” Lasercorn turned away, grabbing a stack of paper. “But when can discuss that later. For now…” he slammed the stack heavily down onto the table. “Policy.”
“Fun.” Mari fell into her chair, trying not to spill her drink.
The three of them worked through at least a quarter of the papers before giving up and calling it a night. Sohinki grabbed their coats and they all left the building towards the parking garage cleverly hidden behind the building.
“Drinks and a smoke at the Oak Room, Mari?” Lasercorn stopped next to his car, Sohinki moving to the passenger side. “And, why not invite Joven, as well.”
“Ahh, I’d love to, but we’ve got the club open tonight. He and I are on point to make sure that everything goes well.”
“Too bad,” Lasercorn shook his head. “We’ll have to catch you another time.”
She waved goodbye to them as she climbed into the sleek silver car Joven had bought for her a few weeks ago. Mari had been driving it everywhere as soon as she could, and on the nights when she was free from the job, she’d make up some excuse about a pick-up and drive out to the desert. She’d sit on one of the mountain tops, watching the moon as she popped a few pills from the drugstore down the street and let her mind go wild. Mari found that they eased her mind when the H was about to run out.
Her brain was moving faster than it ever had before. It was a good thing, she knew that it was a good thing, but something in the back of her mind kept trying to tell her that it wasn’t. She was fine. Mari bit her lip as the horizon in front of her flashed in and out. She was fine.
Mari pulled into the back alley of the Jackrabbit, flicking her lights off as she stepped out of the car, locking it. She started towards the back entrance to the Jackrabbit, fiddling with her keys before a strange voice caught her off guard.
“Hi, excuse me-” She whipped around, her pulse rising as she faced the stranger.
It was a man maybe a few years older than she was, with brown hair and watery eyes. He wore a suit, one that looked cheap and tacky, his tie tightened in a way that looked like it was choking him. It was the man from after the heist at the Avian, the reporter.
“Yes?” Her voice was bored.
“My name’s Ryan Todd, I spoke with your partner, Joshua Ovenshire, a month or so ago?”
“I remember you.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful! I was wondering if I could speak with him again.” The man fidgeted with his hands, moving from one foot to another, which ticked Mari off just slightly.
“Sorry,” she shook her head. “If you’ve tried to get in contact with him and he hasn’t responded, I don’t know what to say.”
She turned away, moving towards the back entrance.
“Wait!” The man grabbed her wrist and Mari whipped around, throwing him off.
“Don’t you fucking touch me,” she growled. He didn’t seem to get the warning as he moved closer.
“Maybe I could talk to you then, and then maybe your boss too? I’d be a big help to my project, you guys might even trend when this comes out!”
“We don’t want exposure or anything.” Mari replied coldly. “Now be a dear and kindly fuck off.”
“Please,” the man gave her a smile that made her want to vomit. “Just, five minutes?”
“No,” she turned away again, power walking towards the door. Ryan rounded her, blocking her path as she tried to get to the door.
“C’mon, it’s just five minutes , nothing more! I’ll never bother you guys again. I just want to know some stuff, I think it might clear up my investigation and it’d help me a ton.”
“You know what I think?” Mari could feel the blood boiling under her skin. “I think that you should go back to Liberty City. I think that you and your podcast should get its nose out of Los Santos and stick to something a little more your style. Go do something in Strawberry, make a name for an up-and-coming athlete. Don’t meddle in the gangs. That shit gets you killed, okay?”
“I just think that five minutes-”
Mari punched the man squarely in the face. He stumbled backwards, falling against the wall as he clutched his nose.
“What the hell?!”
She could feel the anger and the heat under her skin as she came at him again. His body cracked like ice under her knuckles as she beat him into the ground. She could taste the blood on her knuckles as it flug into the air with every wind-up. Mari hit him until he stopped moving, and she continued to hit him until the tears in her eyes stopped her from seeing the mess that his face had become.
She shook as she stumbled to her feet, leaning against the wall as she wiped the blood on her hands off on her pants. That’ll buff out . Mari almost laughed at the stupidity of the thought, the tears blurring her vision as her lips contorted up into a morbid smile. What the fuck was wrong with her .
With shaking hands she pulled the bottle of H from her pocket, the blood from her fingers staining the label like rosey red ink. As her mind began to clear, she shoved the bottle back into her pocket, turning back to the body as her hand fumbled for her keys. Please don’t be dead .
Mari dragged herself into the club, walking down the stairs from the stage to where Joven was standing on the phone, looking the other way. Her voice was ragged and quiet as she spoke.
“Mari can you wait a second-”
“Joven.” Her voice was stronger this time as he turned to look at her. Joven’s face fell faster than she could even register.
“Mari...no.” His eyes were dark with disappointment. “What did you do?”