***** ***** *****
Another night stumbled and fell across Atlanta, and the Jigsaw's neon splendor bathed the streets. The lights attracted customers like moths, as the more adventurous population of the city sought the unbridled atmosphere that the Jigsaw offered. Some people came just to count the bullet holes in the walls and the ceiling, others to try their luck with the gaming tables or the working girls. It was a busy night, and the Don didn't have much time for thought as he worked through the ledgers.
Brian sat alone at the traditional back table, a bottle of beer in one hand and a pen in another. The way the liquor was flowing, Boss's twenty-five percent was going to be a handsome amount of money. Brian was calculating the prior night's receipts when Rusty suddenly appeared at his side.
"Tony says there's some suspicious-looking cars outside."
Brian looked up, frowning. "Frankie's gang?"
"I don't think so...but thought I'd tell you so you could take cover if you wanted."
"Rusty, whatever walks through that front door will have to be damn intimidatin' for me to take cover. Let 'em in, whoever they are. Could be freelancers lookin' for work." Brian went back to his ledger, and Rusty signaled an "ok" to the second-floor guards.
Outside, Rosco, MaryAnne and the Dukes exited their vehicles. The grand entrance had been planned in advance and once they stepped up onto the sidewalk, there was no turning back.
Bo and Luke stepped ahead of MaryAnne and pulled the doors of the Jigsaw wide open. She stepped through and came face to face with a bustling game room, filled with people, smoke and music. Rosco and the boys came in and stood behind her, and the doors closed solidly behind them. This was it.
MaryAnne made eye contact with a few faces and sudden recognition lit up on the Syndicate members. She grinned and then raised her voice to be heard over the din of the crowd. "Excuse me? Can anybody tell me who owns the black Trans Am parked out front??"
"MaryAnne!" scattered voices said. "It's MaryAnne!" Rusty let out a whoop when he saw her for himself. He raised both hands up and directed the crowd into a chant of welcome that grew until it shook the rafters. “MaryANNE! MaryANNE! MaryANNE! MaryANNE!"
Someone picked a song on the jukebox, which was barely heard over the ruckus...nonetheless, Aerosmith's tune could be heard in the background...I'm baaaack in the saddle again...I'm baaaack!
Somebody yelled, "Drinks are on the house!" without consulting the Don, but Brian knew he'd have to let that one go. He shut the ledger, sat the pen on top of it, and sighed. The night's party had just become a family reunion...and there was no telling where things would go from here. He stood up, adjusted his black suit and tie, and walked towards the front of the bar.
As Brian made his way to where his cousins and the Dukes stood, he could see that MaryAnne was already receiving a warm greeting from Rusty. The red-headed thug had taken MaryAnne's hand and kissed it with a rouge's flattery. Brian stepped up behind him, folded his arms, and looked over Rusty's shoulder to watch MaryAnne's reaction.
MaryAnne smiled and nodded to Rusty. "Yeah, I missed you too Rusty." She giggled. "Man...I really wasn't expectin' this kind of reception..."
Behind her, Bo and Luke were smiling, if only out of relief. So far so good...but what a hell of a welcome!
Rosco, however, was straight faced through it all. The Sheriff stood with his arms folded across his chest. Dressed in black clothing, including t-shirts, jeans and the like, Rosco and the Dukes looked Syndicate enough. Though Rosco looked more like gambler from the old west with his black Stetson. His blue eyes were held in reserve.
Rusty smiled back at MaryAnne, but his opportunity for commiseration had been brief. Behind him, the Don cleared his throat, ominously. Rusty gave MaryAnne's hand a pat and dropped it, then found a reason to be elsewhere in a hurry.
Brian stood and faced his cousins and the Dukes, one eyebrow drifting up at the sight of their attire. The corner of his mouth quirked in a near-smile, but the expression on Rosco's face kept him from breaking a grin. The Sheriff wasn't happy to be here, regardless of the circumstances.
The Dukes were looking back at Brian with neutral curiosity. Brian gave them a short nod in the way of greeting. His dark eyes went back to Rosco's, meeting the flat glance of the steel-blue eyes without blinking. Then the Don of the Syndicate faced the one person whom he wanted to simultaneously hug and kick in the posterior at the same time. He did neither, deciding instead to simply look at her, keeping his own expression guarded. He wasn't going to be the first to speak.
MaryAnne's grin faded a little. "Well," she said nervously, "let's not all talk at once..." Effectively sandwiched between Rosco and Brian, MaryAnne couldn't help her feeling of unease. She could sense Rosco's tension, and the look on Brian's face didn't offer much in greeting.
Maybe I'll just leave the boys and Rosco her, and I'll go find a hole to crawl into and die...
She looked around the Jigsaw instead, and nodded. "Looks a lot better than when I last saw it...."
"I had help." Brian offered nothing more for the moment. He raised his right hand, which bore the ring of his station, and snapped his fingers. Immediately, Ace and Rusty appeared to either side of him. "I got business to talk with my kin," he said to them. "See that we're not interrupted."
"Yes sir," they answered in unison. Brian added another order with a glance at the Dukes. "And see that those two gentlemen receive the full courtesies of the house."
Brian turned his back with the words, and walked towards the partitioned area where his private table waited. He didn't bother to look over his shoulder to see if MaryAnne and Rosco followed. He knew they would. Brian sat down at the table, and watched MaryAnne and Rosco settle down across from him. When the three of them were seated, he again waited for his cousins to speak first.
Rosco removed his hat and laid it on the table. He adjusted his black denim jacket, shifting his weight in the chair to get comfortable. "Looks like you got things here going pretty good." He then grinned, attempting to break the ice a little. If anything they all needed to get on some common ground. "Just snap yer fingers and they come running..."
"They come runnin' so long as I keep paying them. Fortunately, business has been okay." Brian reached into his black suit coat, retrieving a pack of cigarettes and a gold lighter. He lit up, and relaxed marginally. "Like I said...I had help. You'll never guess who."
Both Rosco and MaryAnne looked at Brian expectantly. They had not a clue.
"I found an outside investor who was willing to front the liquor and gaming equipment for a modest twenty-five percent of the take. I expected him to ask for fifty, but it seems that ol' Boss Hogg has a soft spot for a struggling business..."
Jaws dropped. In unison Rosco and MaryAnne spoke in stunned disbelief. "Boss Hogg??" They then looked at each other and MaryAnne grinned, getting a mirror reaction from Rosco.
"Khee, yer right, we never woulda guessed!" Rosco said.
Brian smiled. "I think Boss has a soft spot for Coltranes, too." He looked at MaryAnne, peering at her through the cigarette smoke. "He said he just wanted us three and the Dukes to make it back to Hazzard. Hell, he came damn near to doing it all for free, so you know how worried he's been."
Rosco gave MaryAnne a sideways glance. He then looked at Brian. "When the chips are down, Boss Hogg's somebody you can count on," he said. "Even the Dukes will tell you that."
"Lord knows, we need all the help we can get." Brian tapped the cigarette against the ashtray. He considered how to broach the next subject, then decided the hell with it, and took the direct approach. "So you still a Fed, MaryAnne?"
MaryAnne looked at him, her eyes neutral. "Yep."
GAH…Brian moved the ledger he'd been working on a little further away. "Hmm. I imagine there's gonna be a few limits on what we can tell each other, then."
MaryAnne raised an eyebrow. "Been having a little fun this past week or two, Brian?"
"Nothing that's got anybody killed. You don't know what an accomplishment that is for somebody in my position."
"Oh, I think I have an idea. And judging by the looks of business 'round here, I would have to say that you've done very well so far." She leaned back in her chair, propping an elbow on the arm rest. "You might be right tho', there's probably certain things that we should refrain from telling one another..." Like the fact that you're technically a Fed yerself, Brian. Muahahaha.
Brian crushed out the cigarette, his eyes studying the ashtray. "Does your oath of duty prevent you from disclosin' the Fed's plans for Frankie Tyler?"
"Where you're concerned, nope, it don't."
“Ah. What about the Fed's plans for the Syndicate?"
"Again, where you're concerned, no."
It was too easy, so far. Brian eyed MaryAnne keenly. "What about the Fed's plans for you?" he asked. "They still expect you to be Joan of Arc, after what you been through?"
She shrugged. "I'm here ain't I?"
"They gave her the opportunity to bail," Rosco said. "She didn't."
"Of course not." Brian rubbed a hand over his eyes. "That'd make your life and mine too simple, Rosco."
MaryAnne withheld her retort. Well excuse me, I didn't ask you two to follow me here... She cleared her throat and continued. "Frankie Tyler's to blame for all your troubles. Not me."
"He's to blame for a lot of things," Brian agreed. "It's just that keepin' you alive is always a tall order."
MaryAnne slightly rolled her eyes, but chose to refrain from replying to the last comment. "Listen, Brian. Frankie Tyler has graduated from sophisticated jackbooted thug to sophisticated domestic terrorist in the eyes of the FBI. He's trading drugs not just for cash...but for other assets, possibly weapons. He has to be stopped. Period."
"Frankie Tyler traded the Syndicate drug supply for guns?"
"There's a very strong possibility that he has. Feds don't have concrete evidence as of yet. Tyler's operation is more than likely shrowded in secrecy."
"Strong possibility." Brian shook his head. "That's just a Fed's way of saying they don't want panic on the streets." He turned to Rosco, and gave the Sheriff a half-smile. "We're all gonna die, have I mentioned that lately?"
Rosco chuckled, but it held little amusement. "If a cat has nine lives...Coltranes have twenty. Some of us, however, are on number 19..." Another side ways glance to MaryAnne.
MaryAnne caught it this time. "Not if we approach it right," she said evenly, in answer to Brian's comment. She eyed Rosco for a moment and then turned back to Brian. "My gut instinct is we can't go gung-ho after Tyler. He's been sitting on his haunches for two weeks, waiting for something. He's extremely patient...but he's so close to having everything within his grasp, that we shouldn't give him the last opportunity he wants. We make him come after it."
"We ain't even sure what he's after...other than your head. That, and takin' the Syndicate down with finality. I'd rather be on the offensive for a change," Brian said.
"Tyler could've wiped this whole place out at any given moment. He may want the Syndicate taken down completely...but he's more than likely planning some creative way of doing it. A pre-emptive strike may not be in the Syndicate's best interest."
"That's exactly why we should do it. Tyler wouldn't figure on the Syndicate havin' the guts or the manpower to attack him at this point. Besides, the gang here is spoiling for action. I can't hold them back much longer. I could harrass Tyler's operations in ones and twos, or I could hit him head-on with everything we've got."
MaryAnne shook her head, deep in thought. "He knows you want revenge...I think he's expectin' the Syndicate to show up at his door, no matter what the manpower. And then every single one of the folks here gets cut down and the Syndicate is wiped out forever. And with Tyler's connections...he could end up looking like a hero..."
"Isn't at least half of that, what you always wanted to see?" Brian said sharply. "Maybe we couldn't take Tyler out entirely, but we sure as hell could give an accountin' of ourselves. Then you and your Fed buddies could chip away at the rest of his defenses."
MaryAnne glared at Brian for a long and very silent moment. There was something ugly in his attitude. She looked at him, the suit, the ring, and finally, to the ledger that he seemed to be protecting. She gestured to the ledger. "Okay, Brian. Do it all your way then. My only advice to you and your little ledger…is to keep the Contract column at zero."
Brian glared at her. MaryAnne stood up. "I need some air. It suddenly smells like death in here..." she walked away from the table.
Brian slammed a fist down on the table and indulged himself in some well-needed swearing. “@#%&$#*%!!!” Once his temper was expelled, he sighed and turned to Rosco in appeal. "Tell me I'm wrong."
"Wrong about what?"
"Her! The Feds!" Brian threw his hands up in frustration. "I ain't stupid, Rosco. I know that the storybook ending for the Feds would be to get rid of Tyler's gang and the Syndicate. There's nothin' they'd love better than to see both factions chew each other to peices. And after what you and MaryAnne have been through - y'all can't tell me that you two wouldn't cheer the end of organized crime in Altanta!”
Rosco closed his eyes and rubbed his hand over his face. He was quiet in thought. I'll cheer when I can walk around with out a Contract bearing my name being in existence. I'll cheer when we all get home alive. If both factions are destroyed, I couldn't care less...
"Would you mourn it?" the Sheriff asked softly.
Brian’s dark eyes looked around the Jigsaw before answering. He then glanced back at his cousin. "Rosco...I'm gonna explain somethin' to you that few people wearin' a badge ever figure out. There's one thing worse than organized crime, and that's unorganized crime. Freelancers, independents, teenage girls trying to make immoral livings on their own...each lookin' out for themselves, squabbling over one square block of town, knifing each other in the back. Killin' somebody when they rob them, because they can't think ahead, they can't plan, they've got no resources...they can only live day to day, like rats on garbage.”
Rosco nodded slightly, not arguing that much.
Brian looked around the Jigsaw again, expelling a sigh. He spoke more softly now. "Is the Syndicate any better? Only to the extent that we have a goal, and that's staying in business. To stay in business, you gotta plan, you gotta be smart about the jobs you pull, or you'll draw too much heat. We're like big mosquitoes. We take some blood, but for us to keep feedin', the victim has to stay alive. That's what makes us different than freelancers, who'll skip town the minute a job is done, not carin' what they leave behind…what they waste.”
Brian looked away from Rosco, his voice dropping with his gaze. "I don't know if we're truly the lesser evil. I've never figured it out for myself."
"Perhaps it would be best that you never did," Rosco replied, the edge evident in his voice. "Especially with you sittin' there in your 500-dollar suit and wavin' around that big diamond under everybody's nose. I ain't stupid either, I know a thing or two about crime...from both sides of the law. And there is one person wearing a badge that knows what you're talking about too, but she just left the table. Why the hell else would she be trying to discourage you from leading full frontal assault on Tyler? For crying out loud, Brian, stop acting like a Syndicate Don out for blood for a second and act like some kin!" Rosco shook his head as he sat back. "I swear I'm gonna knock the both of ya into next week if the two of you keep up this crap," he muttered.
Brian scowled. "If I was out for blood, I'd already have it on my hands."
Rosco leaned forward. "You don't get it do you?? You're not listening to her, she's not listening to you. I swear I'm gonna string the both of ya up." Rosco leaned both arms on the table. "You just said that to stay in business," he repeated, "you gotta plan, you gotta be smart about the jobs you pull or you'll draw too much heat.'" He eyed Brian. "So throwing everything you got against Frankie Tyler and riskin' complete and total destruction...is smart? That's a plan? That's gonna keep ya in business?? I'm beginning to think MaryAnne's right. If Tyler's trading drugs for guns, you can damn well bet that this building is still standing only because Tyler's letting it."
Irritated, Brian raised his voice. “I know that! I also know that he's biding his time! Rosco, if I don't attack Tyler, I'm gonna have two immediate problems. First, Tyler's gonna send us a message by harassing us - and that means he's gonna harass this whole part of town. I'll lose some more of my boys in the process. Second, there are a lot of Syndicate members who are ready to take matters into their own hands! This is a blood feud! If I don't do something soon, and do something big, there's gonna be a new Don sitting here, and the result will be the same."
Rosco eyed Brian for a long moment, his breathing as controlled as possible. His fist then slammed down on the table and he sat back in the chair. "Goddammit...." He looked down at the table. "Goddammit all t'hell...we're all gonna git cut to ribbons no matter what we do!" Rosco paused and then looked behind him, towards the bar and gaming room. MaryAnne was nowhere to be seen.
The Sheriff's frustration was enough to ignite dynamite. He looked up at Brian. Maybe his cousin wanted to go out in a blaze of glory; not unlike MaryAnne’s will to fall in the line of duty. They were both nuts. So was he. It wasn’t any comfort. "Awright, so you attack! How?"
Brian set his jaw. "I have a question for you, first."
"What?" Rosco barked.
"Do you and MaryAnne still trust me?"
Rosco leaned forward in a shot. "That's what this is all about!" He jabbed his index finger on the table. "You think we don't! MaryAnne thinks you don't trust her, you think MaryAnne doesn't trust you! I tell ya I'm ready to kick somebody's posterior. After all we've been through, the three of us have a chance to either bring it all to an end or die trying. Only now you two are suspicious of each other...you look at her and see a Fed. She looks at you and sees a Syndicate Don. You don't even see each other as kin anymore...I'm so disgusted with the both of ya..."
Brian shrank down in his chair a bit.
Rosco paused, drawing in a deep breath. "I trust ya...but the real question is, do you and I trust her? This whole thing has gone beyond the oath of the badge for her, Brian. I think she's more than willing to die in all this...there is no lesser of two evils here, not for her I don't think. No more running from shadows, no more contracts bearing her name. No more good cop, seeing as all it's gotten her is enemies. Remove Tyler once and for all...or remove herself from the game." Rosco stopped, his own realization startling him. "No wonder she keeps giving us hell for following her...."
Brian's eyes went wide. "You're right, Rosco. Dammit, you're right...you don't think MaryAnne feels responsible for all this, do ya? For everything Tyler’s done since she blew that case wide open?"
"I dunno..." Rosco said softly. "There's a time when...dedication fades a little." He looked at Brian. "I'm gonna tell you something that most criminals never quite understand. As a rookie a cop thinks they can take on the whole world. Stop every bad thing that happens, save all the victims." Rosco shook his head. "But it doesn't work that way. And it's a bitter pill to swallow that first time when you make a big bust that was the right thing to do...but it either disintegrates in the courtroom with technicalities...or it comes back to haunt ya. You learn to settle for the in-between, but sometimes you get disillusioned...thinking the bad guys are winning, and yer not..."
Rosco paused for a very long moment. The blaring rock music from the jukebox didn't soothe him any. His gaze drifted a little bit and then came back to Brian. "Then one of two things happens. You flirt with the notion of vigilantism...revenge replacing duty. Or...you start thinkin' of yer own survival and you look at your paycheck and..." Rosco's gaze dropped. "MaryAnne won't be bought," he said softly. "Therefore, I think the idea of dyin' in the line of duty has become very attractive..."
Brian sat there, stunned, as Rosco's words settled in his gut like a bad meal. "Good Lord," Brian said softly. "It makes sense...no wonder she shut us out. And here I was too busy bein' offended for my pride to see it." He looked at Rosco urgently. "We've got to talk to her!"
Rosco looked around the gaming room again. "If we can find her..." He stood up. "Come on."
Brian bolted up from the table. He and Rosco walked quickly to the front of the Jigsaw. "If we don't find her in five seconds, I'm callin' out the troops..."
"If that Trans Am's gone we'll know sooner than that..." Rosco pushed on the doors of the Jigsaw and stepped out into the night air of Atlanta. The neon lent a dusty look to the sidewalk and shined off the black cars parked out front.
The Trans Am was there. Along with the black-painted General Lee, Rosco's car, and the other Syndicate vehicles that lined the streets. Rosco walked up to the General and was greeted by Flash at the window.
The basset whined briefly. She was alone in the car. "Where's Bandit?" he whispered, more to himself. He peered up the sidewalk, looking at the Trans Am...
There was a shadow at the front of the car.
Brian came up behind Rosco. He noticed the Sheriff's line of vision and followed it with his eyes. "Is that her?"
"Could be..." Whoever it was, they were leaning against the front of the car, their back to Rosco and Brian. Rosco started to walk towards the car. "MaryAnne?"
A dog collar jingled and it wasn't Flash. The shadow moved a little. "Yeah?"
Rosco walked up to his young cousin. "Thought you'd taken off."
"I thought about it." MaryAnne looked down at the German Shepherd. "He wouldn't let me."
"He ain't the only one..." Rosco grabbed MaryAnne by the arm, yanking her off the front bumper of the TransAm and hauled her on to the sidewalk.
"Rosco!--What the hell?!"
It didn't stop there. Bandit scrambled as MaryAnne was hauled down to the front doors of the Jigsaw. Rosco looked to Brian to get the doors open. Brian complied and opened them, staying clear of Rosco’s way.
MaryAnne squirmed in Rosco's grip. He was mad...just like that night he tried to push her into Diablo. Same tight grip, same force of push.
Of course, she pushed back. Syndicate members looked up suddenly when the two cousins stopped in the middle of the gaming room, staring each other down like two animals about to fight.
"Now what the hell was that all about?" MaryAnne demanded.
"Your attitude." He pointed back to the Don's private table. "Now git over there and sit down or I'll haul you there myself..."
It felt like a thousand eyes were on her. MaryAnne looked at Brian, saw no help there, glanced at the Dukes, who only looked uncomfortable at the sight of her and Rosco at odds, and then at the gathered Syndicate members, who were either privately rooting for a fight to break out, or watched the scene with genuine curiosity.
MaryAnne turned and walked to the table. She sat down and watched with a glare as Rosco and Brian were seated.
"Care to explain yourself?" she asked.
"Care to explain yourself?" Rosco said. "Where were you gonna go?"
She shrugged, looking down at the table. "I dunno..." She looked him in the eye. "What do you care anyway?"
"I care because I see what yer trying to do. You're willin' to die to see to it that Tyler's removed!"
"If that's what it takes..."
"You can't sacrifice yourself like that! I ain't gonna let ya!"
MaryAnne leaned towards Rosco. "I've already sacrificed myself! For ten years!" She glanced towards the gaming room and dropped her voice. "I was the best damn deputy and law officer I could be, and what did it do? It got me on two, count 'em TWO contracts. People wanted my head because I upheld the law!" She shook her head. "I've had it, Rosco...I've just plain had it."
Rosco took a deep breath. "Look, Tyler can be stopped but you don't have to be fatalistic about it--"
"Well, what the hell, you don't trust me on any of this anyway." She looked at Brian. "And I know you don't either. So why are you even in on this? I told the both of ya to butt out from the get go."
"Well, pardon the hell outta us for followin' along and savin' your life!" Brian said. "And when it comes to trust, you've got NO room to talk!"
"Yeah, thanks a lot. And now just because you got an expensive ring and a fancy suit and yer little ledger and-"
"Hush!" Rosco exclaimed. "Goddamit..." He looked at MaryAnne, his blue eyes ablaze even in the dim light of the Jigsaw. Who was she now?? And why couldn't he get through???
The air hung thickly over the table. MaryAnne sat resolute, but inside she wanted to cry. She wanted to plead for forgiveness from her kin, tell them she was sorry, tell them she didn't want to die but she couldn't go on living with somebody wanting her dead.
And her last remaining kin were sitting in front of her with looks on their faces that communicated they wanted to kick her tail. Not that she didn't deserve it, but at the same time she wanted to kick theirs. The idea of her dying on this mission didn't bother her so much, but the idea of Rosco or Brian or both being killed, upset her greatly.
Then again, they were only reacting the same way. If something happened to her...
So there they sat, continuing to be awful to each other in the name of kin and love.
MaryAnne felt like she was in a stalemate. She glanced towards the gaming room again, wishing they didn't have a nearby audience. She might open up otherwise. Oddly enough, she cared about what happened to this group of thugs too. Deep down, she figured if a careful plan was made to take out Tyler, then the Syndicate would remain, and if something happened to her, Brian would still have a place to be.
Brian...She glanced at him sitting there, dressed in an expensive suit that just didn't look quite right on him. But his expression reminded her of Spade. Snap his fingers and somebody could haul her away...
And she felt like he was looking at her like she was...the enemy. A Fed. Not kin. Just...a Fed.
What goes around comes around, she realized. The roles had been reversed once when she stopped seeing him as kin and just as a hitman. Right after Rosco had been attacked...she recalled what she had said to Brian only too well.
I hope the Feds fry your ass...
She leaned back in her seat at the thought. Guess I'm only gettin' what I deserve from both of 'em...
"...sorry.." she said, her voice barely registering in a whisper.
Brian heard the soft-spoken apology, and declined to echo it. He had been subject to enough hostility from MaryAnne lately, to question any olive branch she might be offering now. His dark eyes looked at her stoically, and his gaze was like looking into the bottom of a well. He said nothing.
Rosco spoke up. "What did you say?"
"I said I'm sorry..." MaryAnne looked at her kin. Rosco looked ready to seriously talk. Brian looked unreceptive.
“I'm sorry..." Her eyes started to shine. "I'm sorry...dammit...I didn't want either one of you to witness any of this." She looked at Rosco. "So now I got you pushin' me around like a prisoner on a chain gang, and you," she looked at Brian, "lookin' at me like...like...aw hell I don't know what either one of you thinks of me anymore. And maybe I don't blame ya..." She looked down at the table.
"My whole purpose here originally was to gage the Syndicate's strength against Frankie Tyler, and find the answers to a couple of questions." She paused and took a breath. "And then you showed up," Her eyes turned up from the table and settled on Rosco's face. "And the only way you and I were gonna walk outta here alive was if I hauled you out with the intent to kill ya. Of course, I wasn't going to! I'd never! Then Mole showed up...and I swear if he had walked over to that ditch and realized you weren't really dead I woulda said the hell with being undercover right at that point and taken him down with out even blinking. At that moment I was willing to die to protect you, just like always. Bet you never knew that...I'm willing to die to keep you alive, Rosco. That will always hold true."
Rosco's blue eyes were completely focused on his kin. Keep talkin'... "Then we have something in common..." he said.
"Yeah...and at that point I realized what game I was in..." She looked at Brian. "Mole...that little weasel, he was working for Tyler. I ain't sure how long...but long enough that he was systematically destroyin' this outfit from within! Tyler pretty much had always been the root of all my problems, and after Bruno was killed...I knew it beyond any doubt. Tyler had to be stopped. If he prevailed in this gang war, all three of us, the Dukes, and Lord knows who else in Hazzard would be getting visitors in the dark of night...and I sure as hell was not gonna sit around waiting for somebody to show up."
She paused, glancing towards the gaming room again. "One side of me wants to thank you for saving my life...the other side wants to curse you." She looked at her cousins. "Can you believe that? Curse you, for saving my life. I was willing to die up there in the loft because I figured Tyler had won. He had the drugs, his enforcers were cutting everybody in here down like shooting beer bottles off a bar. I didn't feel I had done much of anything good in my undercover job...seemed like an appropriate way to exit."
She looked back and forth between her cousins. "But I'm still here, and so are you two. Only now the three of us don't seem very happy about it."
Brian lowered his gaze and let out a slow breath. For the life of him, he didn't know what to say. He gave a sideways glance at the Sheriff, knowing that Rosco had to be just as affected, if not more, by MaryAnne's confession.
Rosco just sat in stone silence. He kept a watch on MaryAnne's eyes, and even though she held back her tears...he could see her a little bit again. She was removing the protective veil long enough to be seen, and the Sheriff couldn't help but feel the chill at what he was seeing.
He understood it, however. He understood it all too well...
"Yeah...so, there you have it," MaryAnne said when neither cousin had spoken. "...the downfall of MaryAnne Coltrane, former best deputy in the state, former best Atlanta cop, current Fed and the number one hit on Frankie Tyler's list."
"There ain't gonna be no downfall," Rosco said. He held his hand out across the table to her. “Sweetheart, it's not gonna be like that...."
MaryAnne looked at his hand and hesitated. A tear slowly escaped. Would her kin forgive her? Could they? Long enough to finish what they were already neck-deep into? She looked at them both in the eyes.
She took Rosco's hand, and silently she pleaded with them for a moment. The facades, the bravados were put aside, and MaryAnne left herself open. "I'm sorry..." she said finally. "I mean that...dammit, I mean it. I'm sorry...about everything..."
"Aw, cousin...hush, it's okay...." Brian reached over and placed his hand on top of MaryAnne's and Rosco's. He looked at MaryAnne with compassion, the concern in his brown eyes plain to see. "I'm sorry too...for all of it."
MaryAnne placed her other hand on top of Brian's. She needed her kin, probably now more than ever. They all needed each other, in order to survive.
She nodded and even attempted a smile. Frankie Tyler was going to come to regret his very existence. As long as MaryAnne had her kin, she could take on anything.
She blinked hard, trying to stop the tears and get herself under control. There was really no time for this kind of emotional release, even though she needed it now more than anything. The reassuring grips of her two cousins’ hands, however, was enough to suffice.
***** ***** *****
"Alright..." she said softly and took a deep breath. "We ain't got much time. We gotta start planning. Either one of you got an idea?"
Rosco patted MaryAnne's hand and then looked at Brian. "I believe Brian here was going to suggest something." The Sheriff's blue eyes showed that if there was ever any doubt before, it was gone now. There was renewed faith...the same faith that had taken them through all the dark times before.
Brian gently removed his grip from his cousin's hands, then reached for the ledger. He tore out a blank page from it, then used the pen to make a sketch. "Yeah…I got an idea that's only half-suicide.”
“I'm sorry I baited you before, MaryAnne. It's true that I'm gonna lead the Syndicate on a frontal assault, but if we play it right, the only one to lose big will be Tyler.”
The pen moved in rapid lines as Brian’s drawing took shape. "My scouts have told me that Tyler's office is on the north side of town, in the high-buck district. He's in the top floor of an office building that he recently bought outright. I don't even want to know where he got the money..."
Brian added more details to the sketch. "Anyway, there's a parking garage next to the building, and a warehouse behind it. Frankie's got his operations centralized. He's dug in there good and deep. I have a feelin' that his acquisitions are in that warehouse - and that he runs some legit businesses in his office building as money-laundering fronts."
Brian tapped the pen on the sketch of the parking garage. "All of Frankie's entrances and exits are made through the underground level of the parking garage. He's never seen out of the building unless he's already in his Mercedes...and rumor has it, that damn car is bullet-proof.”
MaryAnne nodded slightly, unsurprised. Brian met her eyes for a second and then continued. "Getting in the warehouse is nearly impossible. There's one docking entrance and it's guarded like Fort Knox. Plus, it's a dead-end...you can gun your way in, but then the alarm's been pulled and Frankie's reinforcements come spillin' out from the office building and the garage.”
Brian drew an arrow from the warehouse to the parking garage. "I have a feeling that there's an underground docking bay from the warehouse to the garage, but none of my scouts have been able to prove this out. Anyway, the garage ain't much better. There's one entrance off the street, with a guarded gate...and then one exit, also with a guarded gate. Plus cameras, I'm told.”
Brian flipped the page over and made another sketch. He glanced at MaryAnne and Rosco, making sure they were following, then continued. "Since Frankie runs a 'legit front' through this office building, it has several public entrances. He's got security guards at each point, but for sake of public appearance, they're not heavily armed."
"The only way to attack Tyler, in my opinion, is to hit everything he's got at once, with everything we got. The Syndicate splits up at the entrances of the office building, neutralizes the first-floor guards, then regroups and heads for the top floor. If we make enough noise, we might be able to flush Tyler out into the parking garage...where the Feds could be waiting to intercept him." Brian made eye contact with MaryAnne. "But in case there is an underground bay to that warehouse, we're gonna need to cover that too. I figure you and Rosco might get the Altanta police to organize a raid...coincidently at the same time the Syndicate is hitting the office building."
Brian leaned back and sat down the pen. "This is the best I've been able to come up with. And providin' we get the cooperation of the Feds and the cops...it might work." He looked at MaryAnne and Rosco again. "Whattaya think?"
Rosco studied the sketches for a moment and then looked towards MaryAnne, whose eyes were looking at the papers too...but not completely focused on them. Slowly, her head started nodding and she picked up one of the sketches. "Similar to what he had when he was on the West Side...the underground parking garage and all..." She remembered that office building too well.
"It's risky..." Rosco commented.
"All we got is risky," MaryAnne said. She put the sketch down and looked at Brian. "How would we be numbered? Two to one? Ten to one?"
"That depends on what kind of manpower we get from the Feds and the cops. I'll tell you right now, though...the odds ain't in our favor. That's why we have to flush Frankie out and hit him at all points. Divide and conquer. If he's allowed to reinforce any position strong enough to make an escape...it's all over."
MaryAnne nodded again and looked at Rosco. "We get Mayson to back this up, get the PD to contribute, we stand a chance."
"Think Mayson will go with it?"
"We'll find out soon enough. The best chance with the city PD is to start with my old Commanding Officer. He was part of the original case with the Senator. Tho' he won't be hearing it from us, he'll have to hear from Mayson." MaryAnne raised an amused eyebrow to her older cousin. "You and I are outlaws in the eyes of the Atlanta PD. We can't exactly just go waltzin' in to the old squad room."
Rosco grinned. "Why not? Catch 'em all off guard. Khee!"
MaryAnne smiled. "If this all works, that'll be what we'll be doing to Frankie Tyler. Catchin' him off guard. He won't be expectin' the Feds and the PD."
"Neither will my boys," Brian said. "I'll have no problem getting the Syndicate to storm the office building, but when the dust settles and there's nothing but badges outside...I'm not gonna relish the idea of all of us getting picked up by the law. This is the last hinge on the screen door, cousins. I won't ask you to turn your badges the other way when this is all over...but at the same time, you gotta realize I've got mixed feelings about seeing Rusty and the gang hauled away."
MaryAnne met Brian's gaze, but her eyes showed nothing. She nodded in understanding though, having the same mixed feelings herself. But where Brian was technically a Fed...it was possible that the Syndicate wouldn't be picked up when it was over. They could just be allowed to slip through the cracks, regroup and rise to battle the Feds another day.
Maybe they won't be hauled away, she wanted to say. But she held back. If Brian knew just how close to being a Fed he was, he might not function as the Syndicate Don that he needed to be for this assignment. Besides, it all depended on what Commander Mayson was willing to go with. So she kept the comment to herself and instead said, "I realize that."
Rosco offered not a word. He'd prefer to see each and every last one of them behind bars. This had all gone beyond the badge now. It was personal. Tyler would pay, all of them would pay...
"Brian, I make no promises either way," MaryAnne said, "only that in getting the Feds to back us up on this, it's gonna have to be discreet. The boys'll never believe they're being backed up by the FBI anyway, so more than likely the Feds will all be incognito. One false move from a Fed and it'll spook the boys. I will make sure Mayson understands that..."
"So long as the Feds and the cops don't come after us directly...I can probably keep the Syndicate from firing in their direction. I've got to warn you, though. As much as you and Rosco and me have an understandin'...my boys don't share that kind of camaraderie with the law. And you know I can't ask these guys to take Tyler's bullets one minute, and then stand still while they're busted."
MaryAnne nodded. "Of course not. Wouldn't expect you to. Mayson will understand the need for the cautionary alliance here, if he expects the matching goal to be met."
"Good. 'Cause the last thing we want, is for this whole thing to blow up in our face over some damn misunderstandin'." Brian looked from MaryAnne to Rosco. The Sheriff's silence wasn't escaping his notice. "How 'bout you, Rosco? Where you standin' in all this?"
"MaryAnne makes a valid point," Rosco said. He didn't know if MaryAnne was sugar coating things or not, but he wasn't about to proclaim his true desire to see the entire Syndicate along with Tyler's gang wiped out. This was not the time or place. "We don't want any misunderstandin's."
"Hmm." Brian nodded slowly. His dark eyes were remote, distant, as he remembered the past deals he'd made with the law. Rosco had double-crossed him once, though in the end it had turned out alright. Still, the Sheriff had told him one thing and then done another...and though Brian had forgiven the incident, he had never forgotten.
He couldn't shake the feeling that his cousins were holding something back. They had no reason to lie to him, but they also couldn't make promises that they had no power to keep. Brian knew that much. He also knew that he had to consider the worst-case scenarios...for all of them.
Rosco's steel-blue eyes were as calm as a gambler's. Too calm, Brian decided. He looked back at MaryAnne, and saw her studying him with the same careful neutrality.
"Awright..." he said quietly. "Awright. Looks like we're workin' together, and I know we all trust each other. But just in case somethin' goes wrong...or we end up on opposite sides of the fence and can't cross it again....I....hell, I can't even say it." He paused, awkwardly. If the mission failed or backfired, the consequences would be high.
"What, Brian?" MaryAnne prompted.
"I'll never forget what y'all did for me. I'll never forget Hazzard. Y'all do your jobs, and I'll do mine...and anything else that happens...hell. We'll at least make sure the name Coltrane ain't never forgotten in Atlanta."
MaryAnne's eyes smiled. She nodded and looked at Rosco.
"Damn straight," Rosco growled and looked at Brian. "Goddamn straight..."
"Then we all got work to do," Brian answered, standing up. He gave his cousins one last look and moved back from the table. "I'll make sure we got enough artillery for the gang here, and I'll send out another scout to watch Frankie's territory tonight. If Tyler makes any sudden moves, we'll know about it."
Without waiting for an answer, Brian left. Running the Jigsaw was a full-time job, let alone overseeing the Syndicate's more objectionable operations. He preferred to attend to them without Rosco and MaryAnne looking over his shoulder.
Rosco and MaryAnne understood and made their way back to the gaming room. They spoke to Bo and Luke briefly about the plan that was beginning to formulate. MaryAnne explained that she would be making contact to Mayson in the morning and that more details would follow.
The boys nodded. "You guys ok?" Luke asked.
MaryAnne nodded in return. "We're all right." She glanced at Rosco. Well, maybe we're not...
"It's just that things are gettin'...down to the wire."
Bo and Luke knew what that meant. They resumed drinking their beer, trying to appear relaxed at the bar. The charade worked, but deep down they were nervous. "Quite a place this is..." Bo said.
MaryAnne looked around herself. "Yeah..." She looked over at the poker table where Tony was. "Whatever you do tho', don't play poker," she said with a grin.
Bo chuckled and saw the big man. "Tough dealer?"
The Dukes laughed, losing some of their tension. MaryAnne interrupted with a question. "Listen, have you boys been shown a room yet or anything?"
"Not yet," Luke replied.
MaryAnne looked around and spotted Rusty. She made eye contact and waved him over.
Rusty couldn't get there fast enough. MaryAnne couldn't have done better had she snapped her fingers. The red-headed thug was at her side in a instant. "Yes, Miss Coltrane?" he said with a beaming grin.
"Rusty, do we have room for these two gentlemen and my cousin here?"
Rusty looked around at the word gentlemen. "Oh, you mean for these two! Sure, there's enough empty rooms in this place nowadays. We can accomodate everyone on the same floor."
"Great!" MaryAnne smiled. "Don't suppose I could reclaim my old room?"
"Nobody's touched it. It'll always be your room."
MaryAnne nodded. "Awright." She turned to Rosco. "Why don't you bring in the puppies and I'll show y'all upstairs?"
Rosco eyed Rusty for a moment and then politely turned towards the doors. "Ya like dogs, Rusty?" MaryAnne asked.
"Dogs?" The hazel eyes widened. "Uh...yeah! I love dogs..."
"Well alright! You oughta git along just fine with Flash and Bandit then..." Nearly on cue, Rosco returned with the basset cradled in his arms and Bandit trotting along beside him, zeroing in on his mistress. The German Shepherd came to MaryAnne's side and looked up at her and then Rusty.
"Say hello to Bandit," she said.
Rusty swallowed, then stuck his hand out tentively. "Hello Bandit...."
The German Shepard's ears came so far forward, they nearly touched at the tips. Bandit flared his nostrils as he placed the scents of this human. Gunpowder, leather, tobacco, alcohol, sweat, money...guilt and fear. Bandit seemed to almost nod to himself before laying his ears back, baring his teeth, and lunging forward with a savage bark that sent Rusty into flight.
Not to be outdone, Flash jumped from Rosco's arms and set to baying. She was no bloodhound, but between her howls and Bandit's barking, the Syndicate thought it had a raid on it's hands. Rusty's panic did nothing to restore order, and soon half the Jigsaw's thugs were standing on the bar to escape the dogs.
MaryAnne, the boys and even Rosco were howling with their own laughter. The Coltranes let the dogs go a little longer and then went to call them off. Rosco scooped up Flash, laying her back in his arm and rubbing her stomach. "Good girl, Flash. Khee!"
MaryAnne tugged at Bandit's collar and pulled the ex-K9 away from the bar. "Easy, Bandit, easy now...that's it." She finally got the dog to heel, and looked up at Rusty and the others who were on the bar.
"Hey, sorry fellas. They get a little excited in a new place ya know?" She grinned.
"What the hell is goin' on here?" Brian walked up and took in the sight of the Syndicate's best standing on the bar like a bunch of treed raccoons. "Goddammit Rusty, you're not impressin' me as a bodygaurd! I sure as hell hope that Frankie Tyler doesn't have a poodle when we go up against 'em, or we're dead! You sons-a...."
Thugs were climbing off the bar as Brian ranted. He bellowed at them for another full minute, and the sight of the Don in full wrath made the customers gawk. They lived for these moments of free entertainment, and tonight hadn't been a disappointment. Brian finally wound down when a couple of the working girls came over to sooth him with a cold beer and a shoulder-rub. "Not now, ladies, I'm busy," he grumbled, then pointed them towards the Dukes. "There, go latch on to them two."
Brian watched at the two attractive women curled themselves around Bo and Luke, who stood there bemused and slightly startled. "There, now if everybody's happy, I'm gonna try to keep this damn place in business for another night. RUSTY! Git over here..." As quickly as he'd come onto the scene, Brian disappeared back into the gaming room. He didn't bother blaming MaryAnne or Rosco for the ruckus. If there wasn't commotion when the Dukes and Coltranes were under the same roof, he would have been more worried.
MaryAnne stifled the last of her laughter. "Oh, that was worth the price of admission..."
"WOOF!" Bandit agreed.
A couple of the thugs gave MaryAnne a cross look, but the young woman shrugged it off. Their pride was hurt. A dog had got the better of them. Hell...maybe we can bring Bandit and Flash with us on the raid. Scare the bejeezus outta Frankie's gang. Ha!
"Come on fellas I'll show ya upstairs..." MaryAnne led Bandit to the stairs with Rosco following. Bo and Luke attempted to politely untangle themselves from the two ladies, but disappointed looks on the painted faces prompted them to stay awhile.
Rosco followed MaryAnne up to the second floor. MaryAnne found her old room virtually untouched, just as Rusty had said it was. She then selected a room for Rosco, the Sheriff none to impressed with his new accommodations. He looked over the room with a barely interested glance, figuring he wouldn't be spending much time in it to get used to it. And hoping he wouldn't either.
But he went through the motions and took a little time to bring in some things that were in the sedan parked out front. Flash parked herself on the bed and watched him as he brought three bags in and then went about inspecting the contents of the bags. Satisfied that everything was as needed, he left the room.
He stopped near the railing of the loft and looked down at the gaming room. Bo and Luke were still keeping company with the working girls. Rosco shook his head and rolled his eyes, turning away. Despite the sight annoying him, it represented some sense of normalcy. Bo and Luke Duke sitting in a bar with two girls...it was expected. To see them sitting by themselves would be like seeing people in church without their shirts on. It just didn't look right.
Of course, seeing himself like a thug didn't look right either, but that was a different matter. He headed for MaryAnne's room, seeing the door open. It was time they had a talk, before it was too late. Before things started moving too fast.
Before it was all too late. The Sheriff couldn't help but wonder where his cousin stood on the idea of the Feds busting the rest of the Syndicate. The idea appealed to him immensely. Round 'em all up and send them all to jail. Make them pay for everything that had happened to him and his kin. Justice...Final, at last, justice...
But MaryAnne...was it possible she didn't agree with that? And if so...why?
Rosco stopped at the door and looked in. Bandit turned his head from watching MaryAnne rummage through her duffle bags to look at Rosco. "MaryAnne?"
MaryAnne looked up. "Hey, Rosco. Come on in..."
Rosco removed his hat and stepped inside, gently closing the door behind him. "Can I talk to ya for a minute?"
"Sure." MaryAnne pushed the duffle bags aside, giving Rosco her full attention. His voice spoke of a continued truce, but he was looking for something else. Some answers. She had a feeling this conversation had been a long time coming.
"What are you gonna say to Mayson when you contact him?" Rosco asked, to start.
"I'm gonna tell him what Brian's plan is and that we're gonna need back up. I'm gonna ask him to talk to Briggs at the P.D. too. I think Mayson will understand what needs to be done."
Rosco walked over and sat down next to her on the bed. "What about when it's over? Like Brian said, when the dust settles, the Syndicate will be surrounded by the law. Brian may have mixed feelin's about them being rounded up, but I don't. I'd like to see 'em all in jail." He looked at her. "What about you?"
MaryAnne paused. "I don't know…” she said. "To be honest, I just want to see Frankie Tyler taken down completely. If that happens, I'm willing to give every one of the boys here a kiss."
Rosco leaned forward a bit, looking at what MaryAnne was wearing with a disapproving glance. "I'm sure they'd enjoy that," he grumbled.
MaryAnne glared at him. "You want to arrest them all don't you?"
"You don't?? After what these people have done to us?"
She turned to face him, tucking one leg up beneath her. "Rosco, most of the people who have done anything to us are in jail, except for Frankie Tyler. Besides, you have any idea of what could happen if we were to double cross these people? We'd be right back fighting the same damn battle all over again."
"Not if we round 'em up! If the Feds and the PD are there, it's surefire. They'll be outnumbered...half of 'em probably won't survive the raid anyway..."
“You, I, Brian and the Dukes may not survive the raid, you thought of that??"
"Yeah...but I've also been thinkin'..." he narrowed his eyes. "...about how I just want somebody or something to pay for what's happened to us. All three of us. Doesn't that matter to you?"
"Why do you think I took the assignment to begin with?? It mattered to me at the start. I figured to come into this and maybe sabotage things a bit. Set up a final confrontation where both sides just wipe each other out..."
"Now you don't? You want to see this Syndicate survive?"
"I want to see us survive! I want to be able to leave Atlanta and go home and not be on a hitlist anymore! I want peace!"
"What about justice?" Rosco countered. "'If you want peace, work for justice...'"
"I am working for justice! There is nobody in this current Syndicate that's done anything to us personally. Mancini, Deuce, Dirk...Commander Turner. They were all caught and are in jail. Justice was served there. The only one left, the one that's the primary cause of all this, is Frankie Tyler." She paused and gave a slight shrug. "Tho', I suppose you could blame me too."
She stood up and paced away from the bed. "Goddamn rookie cop..."
"MaryAnne, you're not to blame for all this..."
She turned back to him. "Ain't I? Solved the murder of a State Senator, got my picture in the paper. Whatta hero..." she said sarcastically.
"Tyler should have known that bumpin' off a State Senator was gonna cause him more trouble, instead of solving anything," Rosco said.
"Well then, how come you and I are the ones that have had the problems? Because of this short-sighted deputy." She pointed to herself. "How was I supposed to know that knocking a few teeth outta Tyler's organization would change the face of crime in Atlanta forever? Sheesh..." She walked back and sat down next to Rosco. "That's why I don't want to see this group of thugs to get busted. It'll be the same damn thing all over again. If we pull of this strike against Tyler, let the Syndicate prevail, everybody gets pretty much what they want. Maybe things will return to something of normalcy."
Rosco sighed. He didn’t like it.
"Besides..." she continued. "There's no guarantee that we're even gonna have the FBI and the PD backin' us up on this. We could very well be goin' into this by ourselves and then there's no guarantee we'll be comin' out of it. Alive."
MaryAnne's words were sobering. Rosco thought about them...knowing she was right. Just like Brian had been right too...there was a certain hierarchy when it came to crime. And there was the unfortunate truth that it would never, ever completely go away. Was the Syndicate really the lesser of the two evils? Maybe not...
But double-crossing the Syndicate by having the Feds round 'em up wouldn't serve much in the long run, Rosco realized. His thirst for some kind of justice...or was it revenge…seemed unbearable. But in any raid, any coup, there would be the elements who survived; and like weeds, they would prove themselves tougher and tougher to eliminate.
This wasn’t somebody else’s Syndicate, either. It was Brian’s…
MaryAnne gently touched a hand to Rosco's arm, prompting him to look at her. Their eyes met and for the first time in weeks...both cousins could read the other. There was a shared understanding, shared sympathy, shared apology, shared trust...and above all...
A shared fear. Fear for what would happen to themselves...and what would happen to each other, to Brian, to the Dukes.
"Rosco, I don't wanna die..." MaryAnne's eyes brimmed with tears. "But I'll be damned if I wait around for Tyler to finish me, my kin, or my friends..."
Without comment, Rosco pulled MaryAnne into an embrace. MaryAnne hugged Rosco in return, quietly crying against his black denim jacket.
"Shhh...it's all right, MaryAnne...it's all right sweetheart...."Rosco gave her a moment of emotional release, gently rocking her like a young child. Not his own child...but a daughter to him nonetheless. One he would do whatever he had to, to keep her alive. Just as she had done for him...even though she had scared the hell out of him.
Bandit wasn't about to be left out. The German Shepherd came over and put his front paws on MaryAnne's lap, attempting to nuzzle his way to her face to give her a cure-all dog kiss.
MaryAnne giggled and grabbed ahold of the dog to include him in the hug fest. Rosco brushed his fingers over the Shepherd's fur and smiled. "All right now..." Rosco said. "Now where's that tough, resourceful deputy I know?"
MaryAnne lifted her head. "She ain't here. Leave a message." She laughed and brushed away the tears.
Rosco smiled and brushed some of her hair away from her face. "We're gonna make it, sweetheart...I dunno how, but we will. All of us, ok?"
MaryAnne nodded. "Just like Brian said. The name Coltrane will not be forgotten here..."
Rosco nodded agreement. "When are you going to contact Mayson?"
"Tomorrow mornin'. It won't be from here tho'. I'll have to leave."
"Want me to go with you?"
She almost said no. But instead she nodded. "Yeah...if you would."
"Just let me know when yer gonna leave."
She nodded, then suddenly realized the adjacent rooms were too quiet. "Hey…did Bo and Luke ever come upstairs?"
Rosco chuckled. "Um, no. They've been preoccupied by the pretty ladies."
"Good grief. If Frankie Tyler's got any pretty faces, we're doomed!"