"The most important thing to know about any gambling
game is when to quit."
-- "Pappy" Maverick
***** ***** *****
The arrangements were made without difficulty. Rosco explained very clearly to the Dukes that MaryAnne would be alright, but that to ensure she stayed that way, they needed the boys’ help. Bo and Luke agreed immediately, and they had the support of their Uncle Jesse and Daisy. The ready support of the Dukes touched Rosco deeply. All he had to do next was gain Boss’s consent for the Duke boys to be out of probation boundaries. This too, was accomplished, though Boss had hedged on it just enough to be Boss, which was a kind of comfort.
Brian waited silently as Rosco wrapped up the call. "Thanks, Boss," Rosco said. He’d kept the details at a minimum, considering the circumstances. He had wanted to say more; but instead, he simply turned the receiver from his ear and gently hung it back up.
"He goin' for it?" Brian asked. “Is Boss lettin’ the Dukes join us?”
Rosco nodded. "Yeah."
"Good. How long will it take for 'em to get here?"
"Could be anywhere from a couple of hours...to later in the morning." Rosco looked at his watch. It was past midnight. He sighed and looked at his kin. "I actually feel a little better knowin' they're comin'..."
"Hate to admit it, but so do I." Brian smiled a little. "Let's not make 'em think we like them though, or anythin'..." he grinned.
"Khee..." the Sheriff grinned back. He then glanced down the corridor where the two agents were waiting. "Awright...let's get back there before they start wonderin'."
Brian and Rosco spent the next few hours in a vigil outside of MaryAnne's room. They were not alone, as Mayson and Agent Kelley were occupying space in the waiting room. It seemed that vending-machine coffee was all the Feds needed to live on; Brian had just counted Mayson's fourth serving of the vile sludge.
There seemed to be no getting rid of the agents. If they were still there the next time MaryAnne woke up, Brian knew things were bound to get ugly. The Feds would insist on talking to her; and so would Rosco...
Brian glanced out the window as he chewed everything over. Restless pacing had kept him awake and alert, while Rosco kept wide awake on worry alone. Brian got the feeling that this wasn't the first such vigil the Sheriff had kept on MaryAnne.
A distant-sounding melody interrupted Brian's thoughts. He stopped pacing, and listened again.
The melody repeated, closer now, along with the roar of an engine. Through the window, Brian saw the orange Charger streak into the hospital parking lot, having made it to Atlanta before the sunrise itself.
Brian walked casually back to Rosco, and spoke to him cryptically to keep the Feds unaware. "Rebels in aisle 01," he said softly.
Rosco nodded. "Why don't you head down to meet 'em. I'll start talkin' to Mayson."
Brian nodded and headed down the hallway. Rosco glanced towards MaryAnne's room and then got up from his chair. He walked over to Commander Mayson, sat down next to the agent and stared at the cup of coffee the other man held in his hand. "That's a lot o' coffee..."
"I'm thinking I should just buy stock in Folgers," Mayson replied with weary grin. "Something on your mind, Sheriff?"
"Yeah...yeah there is. I've been thinkin'...MaryAnne's still undercover with you folks, right?"
"Officially speaking, yes."
"You really think it's so smart for you two to be parked here?"
"We need to talk to her as soon as possible--"
"Yeah, I know that...but you're runnin' a high risk sittin' around here. MaryAnne might get visitors. From either Tyler’s or Spade’s side..."
"Yeah, but your case ain't." Rosco adjusted his posture and looked at Mayson, cop to cop. "Look, I may not know the details of what you got here...but I know how delicate the situation is. I've done undercover stuff before, I know. MaryAnne left the Jigsaw barely alive. Now maybe the Syndicate would send somebody out to scout around, see if she's survived or not. And Frankie Tyler...if he gets word that she was shot, he's gonna be lookin' to make sure the job was finished. The Syndicate don't know she was undercover. You two sittin' here could blow the whole thing sky high."
Mayson paused a moment. “We have that covered with MaryAnne’s resignation and her involvement in recent crime scenes. We’ll simply say that a once-good cop went bad, and we have a couple of questions to ask her."
Rosco rolled his eyes. "Come on...you know as well as I do that they ain't gonna think that. They're gonna think 'once-good cop went undercover.' They see two Feds hangin' around her door...forget about it. Even if they don't think she went undercover...they're not gonna want her talkin' to you guys anyway."
The Commander digested Rosco's thoughts for a moment, a sip of coffee going with it. "You know, I've been meaning to ask you, Sheriff...." Mayson looked at Rosco. "How did you and Brian know MaryAnne had been shot?"
"I've been Sheriff for a long time, Commander," Rosco replied flawlessly. "I found out."
Mayson nodded. "Seeing as you've been Sheriff for so long maybe you can answer me this…" The Fed's eyes met Rosco's. "How the hell did MaryAnne get out of the Jigsaw, and to here?"
Rosco's face stayed neutral. His eyes held Commander Mayson’s, even though he would have preferred to look away. Mayson dug at it.
"Nobody in the Syndicate who gets shot ever goes to a hospital. The crime is never reported. Somebody brought her from the Jigsaw...to here. And my guess is it wasn't somebody from the Syndicate." Mayson paused. "Any ideas, Sheriff?"
Rosco thought a moment. "Well...whoever it was, we should thank them. Otherwise, MaryAnne would be dead and your case would be finished."
The Commander's eyes narrowed. "You are really pushing my patience, Sheriff. You mean to tell me you and Brian just walked into the Jigsaw...walked in...picked up MaryAnne and walked out? Alive??"
Rosco met Mayson's irritated gaze. "Well, I wouldn't be talkin' to ya now if we was dead..."
"I don't believe this..." The bureau commander stood up now and paced forward a few steps. He then turned back to the Rosco. "You walked in? Just walked right in??"
Rosco didn't answer the question. He'd answered it already.
"And you're tellin' me about blowing this case sky high??" The Commander's voice hissed. He'd prefer to out and out yell if he could. He looked at Rosco, the Sheriff very calm and reserved. Either he knew something Mayson didn't know, which irritated the federal agent, or the life of his cousin was worth the risk of going into the Jigsaw. And blowing everything on this case to bits. But why had the Syndicate let them all go?
Mayson took a deep breath, contemplating, digesting, and churning over the facts in his mind. There was something to that, something to it all. The Syndicate didn't just let folks go. And Rosco and Brian...they were already the walking dead, Spade and Co. more than likely knew all that. But they let them go...
Mayson felt like the die-hard gambler; on his last poker chip and out of aces. And crazy enough to deal in one more time. He walked back to the chair and sat back down next to Rosco.
"You realize, Rosco, that all three of you should not have been able to leave there? You understand what I mean by that?"
Rosco nodded. He knew.
"But Spade let you. Damn if you Coltrane's don't have the oddest luck, but he let you leave. That means something...I'm not sure what, but it does. Now supposing you're right about MaryAnne gettin' visitors, which I'm inclined to believe is possible. Just how do you suggest we address this situation?"
"You and your right hand man here can't be hangin' around here. Now, me and Brian can stand watch, and I got two fellas from Hazzard that are gonna help."
"Bo and Luke Duke."
Mayson was quiet, neither disapproving...or approving of Rosco's selection of back up. He simply nodded.
Rosco detected the Commander's unease, but figured it was just that civilians were coming into this. But surely Mayson remembered the boys from before...they were resourceful, dependable and willing to help in any way they could. Although Rosco wouldn't admit it out loud, he knew them boys would be the best protection MaryAnne could have. Mentally, he shrugged it off and continued.
"If MaryAnne's got any cop info for ya, she can relay it to me. I'll pass it along."
Mayson was reserved. "All right...only MaryAnne's not going to know to trust you with that information. When she's awake enough, I want you to call me. I'll talk to her, let her know that you're now 'in the loop.'" Mayson turned closer to Rosco. "Remember, everything she tells you is to be held in strict confidence. If I find out that you've held out on telling me anything..."
"You don't have to worry about that."
"Don't I? Think of what's happened in the past few days with you and Brian traipsing around the city of Atlanta. You may be a good law man, Sheriff Coltrane, but given the nature of the situation..." Mayson left the rest of his comment unfinished.
Rosco didn't have the opportunity to answer. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Brian and the Duke boys approaching.
Bo and Luke strode up to Mayson directly and introduced themselves, offering handshakes. Brian hung back, letting Mayson see him, then stepped aside as if to talk to Rosco.
"It's Commander Mayson now, ain't it?" Bo asked with implied congratulations. "Well, it's good seein' ya'll again, if only it was under other circumstances-"
"And this is your partner we seen in Hazzard, right?" Luke chimed in. "What's your name again...Kelley! Roger Kelley! How ya doin'..."
"Looks like you were in a fight there, Roger!" Bo pointed to a shining black eye that had ripened nicely from the agent's earlier scrap with Brian. The two agents were doing their best to respond to Bo and Luke's ready chatter. They never noticed Brian slipping away and walking quickly down the hall.
"Listen, we'll take good care of MaryAnne," Luke said to Mayson. "We won't let nobody get near her without goin' through us first..."
Mayson's smile was wearily amused. "I'd expect no less of you gentlemen. It's a very sensitive situation we have here, as I'm sure you understand."
"We'll keep it that way," Bo said without thinking, earning himself an elbow from Luke.
"Anyhow, we're glad to help. Oh, our Uncle Jesse and cousin Daisy say "howdy." You remember them..."
The Duke's steady conversation keep the agents fully occupied for several minutes. It was only after Mayson was starting to show fatigue that the two boys backed off. They knew how to shuck and jive without making it look obvious, and they turned their attentions to Rosco. "How's MaryAnne doin'? What room is she in? Can we see her?"
The Dukes strategy was simple. Keep the chatter going until the tired agents left for the sake of peace and quiet, hopefully before they noticed Brian's disappearance.
Rosco went with the flow easily. "She's just down the hall a bit. She's doing awright, but the doc don't want all kindsa people in there until she's had a chance to get some rest."
"How'd it happen? Do y'all know who did it? How long is she gonna be laid up? Do they allow dogs in the hospital?"
Luke did a sideways glance at the agents to see if they were wearing them down yet. "Do they allow more than one dog to visit at a time?"
Agent Kelley rolled his eyes and looked at his superior. Can we leave now?
Mayson gave a nod and turned to Rosco. "Well, I'm sure the hospital has rules regarding pets...just as they do with limiting visiting hours." He glanced at Bo and Luke, and then back to Rosco. "I assume you gentlemen are all set with what is required of you here. If you'll excuse my partner and I, we're going to return to headquarters. Sheriff...I will be expecting a phone call from you."
Rosco nodded. "Yessir, you'll be getting one as soon as I got something to tell you."
"Very well then." He nodded to them. "Good night, gentlemen."
"G'night! See ya! Y'all take care. Talk to you later! Been good talkin' to ya..." Bo and Luke's jabbering nearly chased the agents down the hall.
When Mayson and Kelley were fully gone, Bo and Luke shook each other's hand, grinning. "Nice to meet ya. Charmed, I'm sure. Glad to be here. No, the pleasure's all mine..."
A nurse passed by them, gave them a cool, silent appraisal of their sanity, and kept walking. Bo and Luke stopped their shenanigans and turned to Rosco. "I'd say that worked," Luke vouched. "Now that the Feds are out of the way, why don't ya tell us everything that's been goin' on..."
Rosco told them, cramming it all into as much of a nutshell as possible. For the sake of expediency, his explanation lacked detail but covered the basics. MaryAnne was undercover with the FBI, she had infiltrated the Syndicate and was at the Jigsaw at the time Frankie Tyler's gang hit it. What her goal was undercover, he wasn't completely sure, but he was hoping to find that out when she was awake enough to maintain a coherent conversation.
Brian, Rosco explained, was out to determine if the Coltranes had a fighting chance against Frankie Tyler, who still had contracts out on Rosco and MaryAnne. MaryAnne, at the same time, was still technically undercover with the FBI. And having Federal agents hanging around her door offered minimal protection. Players from either side of the game could attempt to show up, and put two and two together upon sight of the Feds. Thus that was why the boys were asked to come.
Bo and Luke were no cowards, but at Rosco's description of the situation, a tremor rippled through them. They declined to share their misgivings with the Sheriff, however. The Dukes would help in any capacity that they could...to the utmost. Like in all times of serious trouble, the ongoing Coltrane-Duke antagonism was replaced by a complete alliance.
And with that alliance, came trust in one another that was absolute. Luke handed the keys to the General Lee to Rosco. "Brian told us that ya'll got a place to stay downtown. You look like you ain't slept in a week, Rosco. Why don't you go get some rest, at least for a couple hours. We'll watch MaryAnne."
Rosco took the keys. He nodded slowly. "Alright..." MaryAnne would be safe now. Perhaps he could afford himself a little time for rest. He would need it for whatever lay ahead. He looked up at the boys. "Thanks fellas..."
"Anytime," Bo said.
"We'll see you later," Luke added. The two Dukes headed for MaryAnne's room, and were soon standing guard outside the door.
Rosco headed down the hall, jingling the keys of the Duke's racer in his hand. Although he walked with exhausted motion, his step was a bit lighter. He trusted the boys’ word on keeping watch on MaryAnne. She was in good hands.
The night sky still blanketed the city, and Rosco found the General parked under a greenish-tinted street lamp. He stopped next to the car, realizing he was going to have climb into the darn thing. He stopped--no, jumped, when something inside the car came to the window.
"AHH!--DOHHO!!" Rosco caught most of himself; his heart, however, rolled away on the pavement. He leaned in towards the General and looked at what had greeted him.
"Flash! Khee!!" He rushed to the pup, pulled her out of the car and cradled the basset in his arms. "Flash...boy is daddy glad to see you..."
Another animal head poked out the window and announced it's presence. Rosco jumped a little again and then looked at the German Shepherd beneath the glow of the street light. "Bandit!"
Reunited with the dogs made the artificial light of the parking lot feel warmer. Rosco then started laughing, remembering the boys saying something about wondering if the hospital would let dogs in. Now he knew why.
Rosco spent a few moments with the dogs, talking to them and petting them. Flash and Bandit were both happy to see Rosco, their tails wagging back and forth, but Bandit seemed a little agitated too. "MaryAnne's gonna be okay," Rosco said softly. "Maybe I can sneak at least one of ya in to see her later. Khee!"
Both dogs barked in reply.
Across the parking lot, Commander Mayson and Agent Kelley watched the Sheriff from their sedan. Mayson didn't feel quite right with leaving, and he and Kelley had spent a few minutes discussing it.
"What do you make of that?" Kelley asked, looking towards the orange Charger that Rosco stopped at.
Mayson watched the Sheriff as he was greeted by the dogs. The Commander was quiet as he watched the scene.
Mayson, lost in thought, took a moment to answer. "Sheriff Coltrane does make a valid point about us standing outside MaryAnne's door...."
"But..." Mayson glanced up towards the hospital and sighed. "I have my reservations about leaving this place without an agent present...especially now."
Rosco hustled Flash back into the General Lee and then attempted to climb into the car. The Sheriff made it in, although not as smoothly as Bo Duke would have accomplished the feat. Once settled into the driver seat, the General roared to life at Rosco's command.
"What about the Sheriff?" Kelley asked.
"I'm not worried about the Sheriff at the moment," Mayson replied as the General rumbled out of the parking lot. "Get on the radio to headquarters. I want a surveillance team set up as soon as possible."
***** ***** *****
After his departure from the hospital, Brian guided Diablo through the back streets of Atlanta. He took his time heading for the Jigsaw, not wanting the attention of the police. Coltrane luck had held so far, but there was no sense in pushing it.
The Chevy was battle-scarred from the gauntlet of bullets it had faced from Tyler's gang, but despite the surface damage and loss of glass, it was mechanically in order. Even so, Brian hoped he wouldn't be facing any of Tyler's hit squad in the near future. They were good. Too damn good.
One of them had nearly killed his cousin; several more had almost made an end of Rosco and himself. All this, after Tyler's bunch had methodically cut the Syndicate into ribbons. Although Brian was not yet aware of the extent of Frankie Tyler's accomplishments, he knew that the Big Man was no slouch when it came to strategy.
Neither, however, was Mancini; and in the end, it hadn't saved him. Syndicate Dons were not infallible. Spade had certainly made a few errors in judgment, and those loyal to him were paying the price. Just as Mancini's top associates had, when the temper-prone Don had let his vendettas compromise his logic.
Crime doesn't pay, Brian mused. Unless you happen to be Frankie Tyler right now…
The thought haunted him as he pulled up to the Jigsaw. Daybreak was leering over the buildings in the heart of old Atlanta, but the air still felt cold to Brian. He got out of Diablo and straightened his jacket, looking up as he did so. Sure enough, a glimmer of sunlight reflected off gunmetal showing from the second story window. The Syndicate, or what remained of it, was on full alert.
Brian knew what was expected. He half-raised his arms, then slowly opened his jacket. With the greatest caution, he slowly removed the pawn-shop pistol from the inside pocket, and tossed it inside the car. Upon doing this, the front door to the Jigsaw opened for him. He ignored the rifle barrel that still had him in it's sights, and strode forward.
As he crossed through the doorway, a pair of hands grabbed the front of his jacket and hauled him roughly inside. The door was promptly slammed shut behind him and bolted. It was dark inside the Jigsaw, and Brian's eyes were still adjusting to the dimness as he was brusquely held and searched for additional weapons. There were none, and those who had restrained him now gave him a friendly shove.
"Welcome home, you son of a bitch," Rusty said. His greeting was followed by the coarse sentiments of others, who proceeded to slap Brian's back, punch him lightly, and treat him to a general roughing up that served as hello. Brian found himself laughing and shoving and swearing right back, grappling playfully with Tony as the big gambler encased him in a headlock. He hadn't felt this popular in a long, long, time.
After awhile, things calmed down and Brian sat down at the bar. His old peers gathered around him, and a cold beer was placed in his hands. The questions that Rusty had would no longer be denied. He opened with one that was weighing on the minds of everyone at the Jigsaw. "How's MaryAnne?"
"She's gonna be okay," Brian said. "Though she'll be out of action for a couple of weeks, at least. You get a good look at who nailed her?"
"No, can't say if it was Mole who'd gotten her or what," Rusty answered. "Believe me, if I knew, he'd already be down."
Brian nodded, looking down at the bar. "I'll find 'em."
Rusty knew it wasn't boasting on Brian's part. There were growls of assent from around the bar as each Syndicate member voiced willingness to tear MaryAnne's would-be killer apart.
Inwardly, Brian held a grim smile. His cousin had made a whole kaboodle of new friends, apparently. He hoped they outnumbered her enemies.
Rusty had another question. "So what the hell happened to you Brian?? How ...."
The ex-criminal sighed, pushed back the beer, and raised his dark eyes from the bar. He looked around at all the faces of the Syndicate, some he'd known, some he'd never seen, but all of them familiar with him by reputation. "None of you bastards seemed to care too much when Mancini put my number up," he accused. "And now I'm your buddy again, just like that..."
Rusty defended their case. "Hell, you KNOW we had no damn way to stop 'em! You were the one who blew the job the first time, you knew the price..."
"Price?" Brian said with a snarl. "Let me tell you about paying a price..."
With that, Brian told them his story. No one moved or spoke, though occasionally a muttered profanity escaped from someone. "You all thought I was dead, didn't you," Brian said towards the end, and he savagely shrugged off his jacket and started unbuttoning the front of his shirt. "Well, lemme show ya how close I came."
"Ever see the work of a Federal sharpshooter?" He asked as he showed the scars from the chest wound.
It was all they needed. No one doubted the validity of any part of Brian's story after that. He buttoned up his shirt again, and pulled his jacket back on. "I'll tell you somethin' else," he said as thick silence prevailed in the bar. "I'm here to talk to Spade, and if any of you got personal business to settle with me before that, well, I'm all yours..."
Brian stared around the bar fiercely, his dark eyes holding lead of their own. No one challenged him.
"Awright," he said softly when it was clear he faced no threats. "Now that we're past the formalities...it's good to see you sons of bitches again, too." He broke into a grin, and the tension diffused from around the bar. Talk resumed, and Brian was soon caught up on a years' worth of events in Atlanta. After another hour, he knew there was no more putting it off - he had to talk to Spade.
At Brian's request, Rusty went off to find Spade and announce the visitor - though he was certain that Spade already knew about Brian's presence. He just hoped his friend knew what the hell he was doing.
Rusty returned shortly, and jerked a thumb towards the partitioned end of the Jigsaw. "Spade's ready to talk to you," he told Brian. "Just don't piss 'em off, huh?"
"Like I could do any worse," Brian joked as he rose from the bar. He gave Rusty a pat on the shoulder and walked to the Don's reception area.
Brian found Spade reclining at his private table in the back of the Jigsaw, nursing both a cigarette and a glass of brandy. The Don's green eyes appraised him cooly, and neither man spoke for a moment.
"Sit down, Brian," Spade said calmly. Brian obeyed, fighting the urge to jump up and run in the opposite direction. The last time he'd sat at this table....
Stop it! Brian told himself. He needed his wits, now of all times.
"How's MaryAnne?" Spade asked casually.
"She's hurt pretty bad, but she'll make it," Brian said. There was no sense in lying.
"I'm glad." Spade's hooded eyes continue to stare at Brian, as the Don languidly sipped the brandy and smoked. Brian was soon fidgeting despite himself.
"How's your other cousin, the Sheriff?" There was only the slightest change in Spade's tone, a variance in pitch that sent warnings up Brian's spine. "Rosco's fine," he answered.
"As you may understand, I was surprised to see the both of you last night."
Brian braced himself. The Don's words were falling like stones, slow and heavy. Spade was a fast thinker and an even faster draw, though he liked to speak slowly and softly to cover those facts.
"I'm surprised to see you risk your luck by coming here again," Spade continued. "What do you want, Brian?"
"I want peace between my kin and the Syndicate," Brian said honestly. "I want your Oath that you'll leave MaryAnne and Rosco alone. I know MaryAnne shuck n' jived y'all on takin' Rosco out...."
"Just as you had fooled us about MaryAnne's 'death', about a year ago," Spade remarked. "Interesting, how MaryAnne had also told me of your own demise at the hands of the Feds, when she came to join our ranks."
Brian swallowed. This wasn't going well. He would almost have preferred to be talking to the D.A.
"Who is MaryAnne working for?" Spade asked bluntly.
"No. She lied about your death. She lied about the Sheriff's. Therefore, she lied about why she came here. She's working undercover, Brian. Don't anger me with your lies."
Brian fell to bargaining. "I'll tell you. But give me your Oath that MaryAnne and Rosco will be left alone. They've already paid in blood, both of 'em..."
"Tell me, and I'll decide based upon on the worth of your answer."
Damn, if Spade don't kill me, MaryAnne's gonna...Brian felt himself sweating. "The Feds," he said in a rush. "She didn't tell us beforehand, I only found out at the hospital. She was undercover for the Feds."
The air surrounding the table was heavy and silent.
"Who else knows this?" Spade asked after Brian was nearly dead from stress.
"Nobody. Me n’ Rosco just found out for ourselves…and I ain’t told nobody but you. I don't even think the local cops know,” Brian said.
More silence. Spade was expressionless, cold and unimpressed.
Brian took an uneasy breath. There was nothing to bargain with, except his life, which hadn’t been worth a damn to the Syndicate anyway. But he offered it, nonetheless.
“Spade, don't take it out on MaryAnne and Rosco. If you want retribution, I'm right here, but leave them alone..."
"Courageous son of a bitch, despite yourself. Aren't you, Brian?"
"Where my kin's concerned, yeah."
Spade crushed the cigarette into the ashtray. "You're not telling me anything that I didn't already suspect. Your cousin MaryAnne is a goddamn audacious woman, you know."
"That's the God-honest truth."
Spade stared intently at Brian. There was a streak of loyalty in the Coltrane clan that ran deeper than anything the crimelord had ever seen. Killing them all would be a shame.
Especially when they didn't affect his plans, one way or another. "You have my Oath," Spade said shortly. "I also require one from you. I heard about your escapades in Hazzard. And I remember your loyalty to us, Brian. It was rock solid, once. Mancini should have given MaryAnne's contract to someone else - and killed you right here. Plain and simple.”
Brian didn’t interrupt. Spade was no longer holding a cigarette, and a snap of his fingers would bring the end of the conversation. Acutely aware of this, Brian was a rapt listener.
Spade sipped his brandy and continued. “Mancini was a vengeful bastard, and the fact that you became his downfall doesn't annoy me a bit....
"...but you, and your cousins, becoming my downfall is another matter altogether. I'm leaving the Syndicate, Brian. I'm going to take Sophie with me, and we're leaving town for good. I have too much dirt under my fingernails for the Feds to pass me up. Frankie Tyler also has too much to gain from my death. I've always known when to quit the poker game before I lost all my chips...and I'm quitting. You, however, are sworn to silence about this."
Spade tugged at the ring on his finger, an ornate diamond worth thousands of dollars. "Tomorrow morning, I'll be farther away from Atlanta than you can imagine." He shoved the ring over to Brian, who stared at it with wide eyes and a rapid pulse. "The Syndicate isn't my problem anymore," Spade said clearly. "It's yours...Don Coltrane."
Brian picked up the ring with an unsteady hand, refraining from putting it on. No doubt about it...MaryAnne's gonna kill me...
***** ***** *****
Thirty minutes into Brian's meeting with Spade, speculation among the Syndicate was growing. "Fifty bucks says Brian never walks outta there," Ace said.
"You're on," Rusty answered. "Brian’s lasted this long. I'll say a hundred to your fifty that he walks back out." Rusty dug out some money and looked to Tony for an opinion. "What odd's you callin'?"
Tony thought about it, doing some calculations. Ten to one, he was about to say, then remembered MaryAnne's skill at poker. There was something to be said for Coltrane luck. "Three to one," Tony called out, and a flurry of betting followed.
Ten minutes later, Brian walked up towards the bar, and noted a few looks of disappointment in his direction. He also noticed wide grins on a few other faces. The smiling ones were collecting money.
Rusty and Tony were especially glad to see him. "So you didn't piss 'em off!" Rusty said cheerfully. "Maybe there's hope for you yet."
"Yeah, maybe," Brian grinned nervously. "Listen, you sidewinders. I gotta take care of some business, but I'll be back tonight. Try not to burn the place down while I'm gone, huh?"
"We'll wait till you get here," Ace yelled, and laughter erupted from the Syndicate.
Brian responded with well-versed profanity, still grinning. Then he took his leave. Once outside and sitting in Diablo, he wasn't sure whether to faint or throw up. Don Coltrane?? Lord help me.
Spade, during their conversation, had assured Brian that the title to various Syndicate properties, including the Jigsaw, would now be in his name. Spade had also given Brian a set of keys and some parting words of encouragement. Good luck, Brian. I hope you give Frankie Tyler a short and bleak future.
Brian hoped the blessing didn't get turned the other way around.
After a few instructions, Spade had got up and left the table. Brian knew he'd never see the Don again. Now it was his. Everything. What was left of it.
For as long as he could hold it.
Brian put Diablo into gear and tore down the street to the pawn shop. He parked in the alley behind the store, momentarily startled by the sight of the General Lee sitting in the alley. He recovered himself and ran up the stairwell to the apartment.
Barking dogs met him at the door, the German Shepard bowling him over. "Oof! Take it easy, mutt! Awright, nice doggie...leggo!"
Bandit had the end of Brian's jacket in his teeth, clamped on like a pit bull, four legs spread stiff. Brian sighed and dragged the dog across the floor with him. "Rosco?"
The Sheriff was out like a light in the other room. He hadn't even heard the dogs bark.
"Rosco...oh." Brian stopped at the bedroom doorway. Rosco was laying on his back, still fully dressed, sound asleep. His black Stetson was hung off a bedpost, and from the looks of it, Rosco must have crashed upon it's removal.
Something brushed past Brian's legs. The basset hound waddled over to the side of the bed, sat down, and whined. "Aw, he's okay," Brian reassured Flash. "Just tired as hell."
Slowly Rosco's eyes opened and he groaned. He looked at Brian for a moment. "Bri...?"
“Mornin’, cousin Sheriff.”
Rosco turned on his side and propped himself up on his elbow. Flash and Bandit were parked at the side of the bed, and he swung his legs over the side, careful not to hit the dogs. He sat up and ran his hands through his hair. "I didn't hear ya come in..." He yawned at Brian. "How'd it go? What happened?"
"Sorry I woke ya up..." Brian hesitated with the rest. "It…went okay. In fact, we can all stay at rooms at the Jigsaw, instead of this pawn-shop dive. Dukes too."
Rosco's jaw dropped. "Jit jit! You kiddin' me?? What's Spade bein' so nice for?"
Bandit whined briefly and Rosco got the same feeling the dog had. Brian was hesitating for a reason. The Sheriff cocked his head at his cousin. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing! I mean, it's not a problem or anything..."
"What's not a problem?"
“Promise not to get mad?"
Rosco paused at the peculiar question. "What? Brian, will you just tell me what the heck's goin' on..."
“Ah...you might say I'm in good standin' with the Syndicate again. We got nothin' to worry about from 'em....well, not more than usual....it's kinda complicated..."
Rosco stood up and eyed Brian. The Sheriff was not up to playing guessing games. Not after all that happened. Either all the cards were laid on the table or else. "What's kinda complicated??" he asked, his voice even. "Spill it boy..."
Brian took a breath, reached into his jacket pocket, and pulled out the diamond ring, that by tradition, had always been worn by the Syndicate's most powerful crimelords. Usually it was taken by violence, though sometimes it was passed willingly to a successor. Even an unlikely one. Brian put the ring on the third finger of his right hand, flexing his palm and then making a fist. "Tonight, Spade's gonna leave Atlanta in total secrecy. The Syndicate has a new Don..."
Rosco stared at the ring. He knew what it was and what it meant as well. And on Brian's finger it meant...
The Sheriff suddenly looked startled. "Brian--you ain't...." He looked at Brian, slowly shaking his head. He couldn't believe it. "You?"
"Me." Brian was staring at the ring himself. It had happened so fast, Spade's proclamation hadn't seemed real to him, beyond the fear it had created. Now, it was starting to really sink in.
Rosco sat back down on the edge of the bed. He buried his face in his hand for a moment and then rubbed it across his forehead. "He made you the damn Don...first he wants us all dead, now he makes you the Don!"
"He knows," Brian added quietly. "He knows why MaryAnne joined the Syndicate."
Rosco felt the knot in his stomach tighten even more. "How...did he find out?"
"He suspected, probably long before we showed up at the Jigsaw. When he asked me about it...I told 'em.”
Rosco was quiet. The dogs suddenly sensed something and Bandit literally backed up a bit. The older Coltrane's steel-blue eyes hardened. "You told him?"
"I told 'em, yeah. I had to."
"You had to..." Rosco muttered. He got up suddenly and walked out of the room. "Ha!...maybe she shoulda just told him herself when she got there. Maybe he woulda mad her the Don!"
"Nobody knows this but me and Spade," Brian said as he followed Rosco. "And Spade's leavin' town. MaryAnne's still protected, at least from this end. Look, this wasn't my idea..."
"It doesn't make any sense!" Rosco turned back to Brian. "It just doesn't...make any sense..." The fight left him in a rush and he closed his eyes, shaking his head. He opened his eyes and looked back towards the window before sitting down on the couch with a sigh.
"It makes sense for Spade. The Syndicate's too weak to defend him from Tyler, who'd love to see him dead. He's also got a long criminal history that the Feds would love to bust 'em for. He needed a patsy, a decoy, somebody to keep the Syndicate together for a little longer while he makes good on his escape. Spade could care less what happens after that.”
Brian walked over to Rosco. “It might even give us a way to stop Tyler. Think about it…”
Rosco did, and he didn’t like it. His expression told Brian as much.
“Rosco, listen. The Syndicate, the Feds…maybe even the Atlanta cops, catchin’ Tyler in a three-way squeeze. Don’t you see? This could be a way to tip the scales! It might all be worth it…”
Rosco thought in silence for a moment, looking at the ring on Brian's finger. "Yeah...yeah it could be worth it..." His eyes never left the ring. Hadn't Brian joked once about being Don Coltrane? Wasn't it the most glorious title one could have in the underworld? To be the most feared and respected man of the streets?
And you vow not to make all the mistakes the guy before ya did. You'll run the show different, more efficient...
Rosco couldn't help but wonder...just how comfortable would Brian become with wearing that ring? Could it really be temporary...or would Brian decide he liked it enough to not take it off when this was all over with?
Assuming there was anything left of the old Syndicate when this was all over with. Frankie Tyler wasn't a pushover. It was going to take one hell of an army to get to him.
And with that, Brian's point was valid. The remaining Syndicate, along with the FBI and the Atlanta Police...it would make a force to be reckoned with...although it would be an uneasy alliance, that was for sure.
Brian said nothing while Rosco's thoughts worked themselves through. He had known this was going to take some getting used to, by all of them. "You still trust me, Rosco?" Brian finally asked.
Rosco paused and met Brian's gaze. "Yeah...as long as you don't get too comfortable wearing that ring..."
"I don't know if that's possible. This used to be dream of mine. Now it's a nightmare...but all the same...I gotta make something of it." Brian turned his hand over in the light, watching the sparkling of the diamond. "Lord knows I'm tempted to hock the damn thing downstairs and pretend I never saw it...."
Rosco chuckled softly. He stood up and approached Brian. "Well, that makes me feel a little better. But you are right, with you as the Don we got ourselves a shot against Tyler. I don't think he'll be expectin' the Feds and the Syndicate to join forces against him."
"I don't think the Feds and the Syndicate are expecting it either."
Rosco shook his head. "Nope." He hesitated. "And I know somebody else who ain't expectin' it at all..."
"Oh, man..." Brian knew exactly who Rosco was talking about. "Rosco, I don't mind tellin' ya...I'm not lookin' forward to breakin' this to MaryAnne. I don't suppose you'd care to tell her for me..."
"Aw hell, she'll be a little surprised at first.. but once we convince her of the chance it gives us against Tyler she'll be all right about it..." Rosco met Brian's dark eyes. Brian didn't looked convinced, and Rosco knew he hadn't sounded convincing. "Well...maybe...uhh...I'll go with ya and hold her back, jit jit..." Rosco suddenly wasn't looking forward to telling her either.
"Better tell the nurse to have a sedative ready for her, just in case. You sure MaryAnne ain't still wearin' her gun under that hospital gown?"
"I'm sure," Rosco replied. He then chuckled. "She was wearin' a gun when she found out I had gone crooked, and I'm still standing here...of course, she went up one side of me and down the other about it..." He cringed.
Brian shuddered. "I'm torn between tellin' her and gettin' it over with...and denying it for the rest of my life. Any advice?"
"Tell her," Rosco said with no hesitation. "You deny it and she finds out otherwise you'll be worse off."
"I knew you were gonna say that," Brian sighed. He shoved his hands in his pockets and slouched towards the door. "Think she's awake yet?"
Rosco shrugged and glanced down at Flash, who looked up at Rosco expectantly. "One way to find out."
By mutual consent, Rosco and Brian used the General Lee to head for the hospital. The Charger was like riding in a neon sign, but in some ways it was less noticeable then Diablo; especially to the criminal underworld of Atlanta.
Brian dozed in the car as Rosco drove, figuring the short nap would be enough to tide him over until his visit with MaryAnne was through. He forced himself awake when Rosco shook him gently. "Wake up, Brian. We're here."
"Awright....awright...." Brian climbed out from the General, and followed Rosco to the hospital doors. It was late morning by this time, and the sunlight reflected brightly off of car bumpers, windows, and the gold ring on Brian's finger. He hadn't thought to remove it after showing it to Rosco. If not for his weariness, he may have been more cautious. As it was, the two men were doing good just to be able to function from one moment to the next.
The stake-out team Commander Mayson had ordered was parked between a pickup truck and a little foreign car, in perfect view of the hospital’s front entrance. The team’s driver glanced up from his newspaper when the passenger muttered a single sound. They watched as Rosco and Brian walked towards the doors.
The passenger looked at his watch and made some notes on his notepad. Time of day, who, appearance, vehicle driven... he chuckled. Orange two-door. "01" on the doors...
He finished his notes and then resumed his casual watch of the parking lot and front entrance.
Unaware of their audience, the Coltrane men strolled into the hospital. Now that he was back among the antiseptic scents, Brian could not stop thinking of MaryAnne. He was worried about her for a number of reasons, concern for her health and recovery foremost.
Privately, he was also worried about her reaction to recent events. MaryAnne's rants were no joke, whether she was healthy or not. "I need a cigarette and a blindfold," he muttered to Rosco as they neared MaryAnne's room.
Rosco shook his head. "You ain't gonna be executed..."
"I dunno, your cousin has a temper like a -" Brian bit it off, as the Dukes had spotted them and were coming forward.
"Howdy," Luke said congenially, his smile reassuring. "MaryAnne's been awake for about an hour. Me an' Bo just got done talkin' to her."
"And she's feelin' good!" Bo said happily. "She even ate some breakfast that the nurse brought."
"She said seein' folks from home gave 'er her appetite back," Luke added. "I think she expected to wake up to a room full of grey suits and badges."
Rosco chuckled. "If Mayson had got his way, she would have." He was glad that the boy's presence had put MaryAnne into good spirits. Now if it'll hold.
He glanced at Brian. So far, so good...
Bo and Luke caught the glances. "Why don't ya'll go ahead and talk with MaryAnne, me n' Bo here'll grab some breakfast in the cafeteria." Bo nodded to his cousin, and the Dukes excused themselves.
Brian watched them go, then took a breath. "After you," he said to Rosco, gesturing to the door.
Rosco led the way and pushed the door open. MaryAnne was sitting up and against the pillows. She still looked pale but when her blue eyes met with her kin's, they lit up. A weary smile spread to her lips. "Hey there," she said, her voice sounding rough. But there was no mistaking the joy and relief in it.
"Hey, Deputy!" Brian said as he crossed to one side of the bed. He grabbed the toast crust from her discarded food tray and crammed it in his mouth. "Mmm, tasty! This is why you spend so much time in hospitals. It's the food, right?"
"Ugh, God no!" She leaned towards Brian a smidgen. "I swear they make it that way to try to keep people here longer." She looked at Rosco. "He must be hungry."
Brian couldn't remark to that, as he was busy draining the leftover orange juice from it's paper carton, using the tiny straw to chase down every drop. It was a noisy, obnoxious process, but worth it for MaryAnne's smile. When the juice was done, he stuck the straw into his mouth and chewed it up like it was the natural thing to do, keeping a straight face.
MaryAnne chuckled and shook her head. "Well, I see you two have been holdin' up pretty well."
Rosco smiled. "Yeah. We're just glad that you're okay."
She smiled. "I was quite surprised to wake up to see Bo and Luke here." She looked at Rosco. "They told me why they were here." She paused. "Of course, y'all know what I've been up to now...." She shook her head. "Listen fellas I'm sorry. I really mean that. Nothing I did or said back in Hazzard was the truth or a reflection of how I really felt--"
"MaryAnne, we understand," Rosco said gently. "It was all part of an act to go with your cover. You only did what was expected of ya."
"Yeah, but...hell of a lot of good it did. I didn't accomplish jack crap undercover, except landing Maverick in the impound and me in here." She shook her head again. "Never did like undercover work..."
Rosco glanced at Brian and then back to MaryAnne with a sigh.
"What's the matter?" she asked.
"I'm afraid you're not done with it yet."
"What? I'm still considered...?"
"What the hell for?? The Syndicate is done. Frankie Tyler's got the damn drugs and is now in control of the city. It's all over."
"It ain't all over. Not by a long shot." Rosco spotted the empty chair in the corner and dragged it out to sit down.
MaryAnne stared at Rosco for a moment. "What are you talkin' about?"
Rosco looked down at his hands and then met her gaze. "MaryAnne, think about it. With Tyler back as the dominate force here again...he's gonna be lookin' to settle some old scores."
This didn't completely surprise her. "Yeah, I know he's still got contracts on you and me. And Daisy Duke too...hell, probably half of Hazzard just to be on the safe side."
"He has to be stopped, sweetheart. And not just for us...for a lot of people."
MaryAnne paused. "You talked to Mayson."
Rosco nodded. "Yeah...he hasn't told me much in specifics, but we uh...came to an understanding."
A look went between Rosco and Brian.
"What happened?" she asked.
"I uh..." Rosco cringed. "I hit him..."
"Well, he was hangin' 'round here like a vulture just after you were brought in! Kept sayin' how he had to talk to ya, a debriefin’, ask ya some questions. We finally convinced him that havin' Feds hangin' around yer door wasn't a smart idea! Somebody from either Frankie's gang or what's left of the Syndicate could show up."
"I'm sure Spade would love to have my head for a trophy...'speically if he knew I was undercover."
Another glance to Brian. MaryAnne suddenly held herself very still, her eyes the only thing moving, looking from Rosco to Brian.
"So uh..." She shifted her position slightly. Something was up. Brian stopped making eye contact. Rosco just looked plain guilty. "What's Mayson's plan now?"
"Um..well, I'm not sure. He wanted me to contact him when you awoke."
She nodded. "Alright. I'm assuming where he didn't give you any specifics, I may have to fill you guys in a little bit." She cleared her throat. "Now uh...what's y'all's plan?"
"Um...well, we're not sure..." Rosco kept talking but MaryAnne tuned him out. Brian's right hand, resting on the bed railing, suddenly caught her attention...along with the ring he wore.
She grabbed his hand, startling Rosco into silence and causing Brian to jump. She looked at the ring hard and then turned her gaze up to Brian. "Where did you get this..."
Brian silently cursed himself for not removing the ring before coming to the hospital. Now it was too late. "Spade gave it to me."
"What do you mean, Spade gave it to you?? When did you go to see him?"
Brian shot Rosco a pray-for-me look and answered the question. "I went to see 'em early this mornin', after the Dukes got here and the Feds left. I had to talk to 'em, since he'd seen me and Rosco at the Jigsaw...."
She let go of his hand, effectively throwing it back at him. "And?? What, he commended you on your heroism and gave you that ring?? Don't jive me, Brian, I know what that ring is..."
"No, he didn't commend me an' Rosco for any heroism, but seemed impressed that we came to carry you outta there. He was also pretty damn impressed that we were all still alive. He knew, MaryAnne. He knew the minute he saw me and Rosco in the Jigaw that you lied to him about everything. He knew you had to be working undercover…and he wanted to know for who."
Brian took a deep breath. "And I told 'em."
MaryAnne smirked with disgust. "And you told 'em. Great. So he held out that ring and said, 'Thanks, and to reward you, you can now be the Syndicate Don.' You son of a ---" She bit off the rest. "So just who's side are you on now??"
"Use your head," Brian snapped. "Spade knew he couldn't defend himself from Tyler and the Feds at the same time, not with his manpower and resources gone. He told me he had too much dirt under his fingernails to try and cut a deal with the Feds, and Frankie Tyler just plain wants 'em dead." Brian gripped the side rail of the hospital bed and leaned forward. "So what'd he do? He gave the Syndicate to somebody else and got the hell outta Dodge. Why me? I don't know! Because I was there! Because he liked you! Because he's a clever bastard and he knew it would complicate our lives!"
"I don't need any more damn complicatin' crap in my life!! I just wanna go home!! I want out of this hospital, I want out of this hell hole called Atlanta and I want outta the FBI!! He made you the damn Don because he thought it would be funny. Because I shucked and jived him and I was pretty damn good at it too! Called me a goddamn audacious woman...and that's exactly what I am! I'm the one that figured out the Mole was working for Tyler! The rest of the Syndicate was too busy drinking and having a good time while the warehouse got knocked over. Spade's lucky he's even alive!"
"SO ARE YOU!
Brian hadn't meant to raise his voice. He immediately clamped down on his temper, declining to say anything else for the moment. He simply stood there, chest heaving, looking at MaryAnne with a combination of frustration and grief. Then he shook his head and quickly walked to the door.
"Hold it! Git yer ass back in here!"
Brian hesitated, his hand already on the door. He felt his cousin's eyes burning a hole through his back. He wanted to leave, before he and MaryAnne said things they'd really regret. Instead, he let go of the door and turned around, taking a few sullen steps back to the bedside.
He jammed his hands in the outer pockets of his jacket, and with a martyred effort, kept his tone civil. "Yeah?"
"There's two other people in this room who are lucky to be alive too," she said. She paused and glanced at Rosco. The Sheriff had a hand over his face, staring down at the floor.
He looked up at MaryAnne and dropped his hand away from his face. "Sweetheart...it ain't really all that bad. We're gonna need all the help we can get against Tyler. Brian and I was figurin' on a combined effort of sorts...the Syndicate and the Feds with the city cops."
"Spade has done us no favor. What makes you think the others in the Syndicate are gonna accept Brian as the new Don, and accept helpin' us against Tyler?" She looked at Brian. "Seeing as I was working undercover..."
"The Syndicate don't know that you were workin' undercover. I only told Spade, and he's long gone by now. As far as the Syndicate acceptin' my title...." Brian took his hand from his pocket and flashed the ring. "They'll know that me gettin' this from Spade, one way or another, ain't small potatoes. Besides, that's my problem."
MaryAnne took a deep breath, the last of her anger dissipating. "That sonofabitch," she muttered. She looked at the ring on Brian's finger that Spade so graciously gave and shook her head. "Brian, you better promise me one thing..."
"What would that be?"
"Don't get too used to wearing that thing. Otherwise I'll come down on you so hard they'll be able to fit you into it."
There was a flash in Brian's dark eyes, like ignited gunpowder. He didn't appreciate the threat. He was also thinking that perhaps MaryAnne still didn't trust him, after all this time. His expression went from anger to a sort of melancholy sadness in a matter of seconds. "I won't," he said softly, leaving the room with the words.
"Argh...for cryin' out loud, for such a tough guy he sure runs away a lot..." She looked at Rosco and then threw her hands in the air. "The hell with it. Go tell Mayson I'm awake and full of vinegar."
Rosco stood up but paused. "You think Brian might...take to that ring?"
MaryAnne thought a moment. "To be honest, no. The look in his eyes was worth a thousand words. But a little "postive reinforcement" doesn't hurt."
Rosco started to walk around the foot of the bed to reach the phone on the night stand. "He told me earlier that he wished he'd never seen it. Was tempted to pawn it at that pawn shop."
"Why didn't he?" she muttered.
Rosco shrugged. "I dunno! Maybe because if that ring were to disappear, death would come to us all or something?? I don't know what goes on with Syndicate rituals..." He picked up the phone and then looked at his cousin.
"You don't trust 'em, do ya?"
MaryAnne sighed. "Rosco...Brian once said that the Syndicate makes you feel good about being bad..." She met his gaze. "And they do. Believe me...they really do. Wearing that ring, he's back in with the kind of people he knew his whole life. It's not that I don't trust him...but even he knows that there's gonna be some temptations that will be very hard to resist. I mean...Syndicate Don. "Every bad guy's dream." We'll find out if it's a dream that still means anything to him."
Rosco hung up the phone. "Dammit..." He sighed and looked at her, a slight scolding appearance to his features. "I think you're wrong. With Brian as the Don that gives us a small army against Tyler, accompanied by the Feds. It's the only and best chance we've got, MaryAnne!"
"I ain't arguing with you about that. I'm just sayin'..."
"Yeah, I know what yer sayin'," he snapped.
MaryAnne fell silent and watched Rosco's expression. He looked tired, worn, hurt...Damn he looks...old.
The realization startled MaryAnne a little. And fed her ire. Damn the Syndicate! Dame you Spade!! Damn you Frankie Tyler!! And god damn the ring on your finger, Brian!!
"Then we take Tyler out of commission," she said softly. "Completely and totally out of commission, before he gets to us."
"That's what I was figuring we would do...." Rosco replied. He picked up the phone again and dialed out.
***** ***** *****