With a face like an emu and hair as white as a palomino, Adrien Dupre stepped through a half-circle of men gathered in a warehouse that smelled of fish and brackish water. He walked over to a refrigerator, opened it, and grabbed a beer. Stepping back toward the men, he approached a metal desk, where he sat on the corner and popped open the can with a snick! He swallowed several loud gulps, and then wiped his mouth with the back of a hand.
Before him, the half-circle of men (all of whom had been with him these last ten years and had helped him build the cannery business, among other things) surrounded two other men. One of them lay on the floor, his hands zip-tied behind his back, his throat slit open in a blackened maw of flesh and blood. The man had initially introduced himself as Bill Landrieux; other sources, however had finally identified the pudgy slob with wiry hair and a scrub brush of a beard as Special Agent Edward Chandler. Adrien sniffed at the sight, not at all happy with the way things played out thus far. Not only had Chandler infiltrated their group, but it had taken them more than six months to discover the truth. Someone would have to answer for that. And that someone would probably also have the chore of cleaning up the mess on the floor. Most likely, the concrete would need to be washed with bath of muriatic acid.
But that would wait. At the moment, Adrien was more concerned with the other man, the one still on his knees.
"You know why we have laws?" he said.
The young man glared back with slate grey eyes. His lips formed a hard slash, and Adrien could see the anger seething through every part of him. Along with his partner, this one had fed them a lie for six months, told them his name was Donnie Racine when they now knew him as Special Agent Richie Miller. He was lighter than Chandler, probably weighed in at one-eighty, maybe one-eighty-five, and definitely better looking, even with one eye swelled shut.
After a long enough pause, one of Adrien's men nudged Miller in the back with the butt of a .380 rifle.
"The man asked you a question."
Miller looked over his shoulder for a moment, and then finally turned his attention back to Adrien.
"I imagine you're gonna tell me."
Adrien nodded. "Because in any society we need laws. We need to know where the boundaries are. We need to see the lines, and the problems they present, so we can make choices. Life is nothing but choices." He pointed the beer can toward an opened bay door. Outside, the river slowly worked its way toward the Gulf. "A man goes out there, sooner or later he's gonna run across a ten foot croc, maybe bigger. And when he does, he has to make a decision. Is he gonna respect the croc's position, or is he gonna take a risk, cross the line and see who has the better skill? Of course, if he has enough fire power, there's no battle to be had. All he has to do is just aim and pull the trigger. Still, the man is in the wrong place, you know? Just because he's wearing a pair of crocodile boots, it don't mean he's a crocodile."
Miller blinked his good eye, once, twice. "Is there a point to this?"
Adrien picked up the beer and finished it. The can barked as Adrien crumpled it up. He tossed it on the floor where it landed near the body of Chandler. Whoever cleaned up the mess could pick up the empty as well.
"The point is you don't belong. You never did. And while we didn't know that at first, there's no way it could have slipped your mind, no way you could have just forgot."
"I never did," Miller said.
Adrien nodded. "Uh-huh. So you can imagine why I'm a little pissed off right now. I mean, here I am, a respectable businessman—"
Miller scoffed at that. "You're a gun runner and a drug dealer."
"A respectable businessman, who knows the difference between the good guys and the bad ones. And who also knows they shouldn't mix. There's this unwritten, God ordained law that says so. It's like oil and water, you know what I'm saying?"
Miller smiled. "So that's it—Adrianna—that's what this is about."
Adrien shook his head. "Not all of it. I would like to know, though, why you wouldn't just stick to the role of playing cops and robbers and not soil that which belonged to me."
Miller waited a beat before he spoke again. "Because we love each other."
Adrien snorted. "Is that right? You... in love with my daughter?" He shook his head. "Nah, I don't think so."
He looked at the half-circle of men who stared back, waiting on his lead. In the words of his father, this was a teachable moment. If he didn't hold the line, then it wouldn't be long before one of them decided the rules didn't apply either.
He looked around the warehouse.
"You want to know what's remarkable about running a business like this?"
Miller didn't say anything.
"It's like the Indians, you know? They never wasted anything. And neither do we. We filet the fish, and then we use the rest. Pulverize it, and let it break down. Sell the by-product off as fertilizer. Good stuff, too." Adrien smiled and nodded at one of the men standing. "I'll figure out what to tell my daughter about you. You can bet it won't be flattering."
The man stood forward, and pointed a gun at the back of Miller's head.
After it was over, Adrien looked at his men.
"Okay then... Which one of you made the mess with Chandler?"