Ten minutes, they arrived at the office and parked besides Talia’s beat up car. Khailani had called everyone to meet them at base to discuss changes in the heist plan. Only a couple others were there, but they lingered outside the door with Talia.
Annice broke the silence. “Why are we standing around? Oh God!”
A bodyless head speared through the neck dangled upside down on their door. Blood matted the dirty blonde hair, pooled within its mask, and puddled beneath the head.
“To our saviors, the menace has been vanquished,” Talia read slowly, handing the bloodied note to Annice.
“This is disgusting,” Annice muttered.
“Khailani? Is this da White Rabbit that’s been hauntin’ ya these past weeks?” Talia asked.
Exchanging looks, Khailani and Annice reminded each other not to mention the rabbit killing incident earlier that evening.
Khailani stepped closer to the head and instantly felt sick.
She threw up.
After emptying dinner before the door, she wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve and studied the head.
The White Rabbit in her memories had blonde hair and very green eyes. Peering beyond the mask holes and seeing lifeless eyes stare back at her left her uneasy. Alas, they too were green. Even if it wouldn’t help identifying the man, Khailani wanted to remove the mask. She restrained herself. The cops would ID the body. For now, she wished to be anywhere but here.
“From what I see,” she glanced at Annice then to Talia and the other girls, “this could be White Rabbit.”
“Could?” Talia asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I-I can’t say for certain with only a head. The guy was tall….and wasn’t looking at me upside down.”
Annice stopped Talia mid-reach. “What do you think you’re doing? If you touch it, the police will have your prints, dumbass.”
Talia clicked her tongue. “I’m tryna help ya. To help us. Whoever killed White Rabbit is as crazy as he. They actin’ we like some guardian angels and shit. What if they be comin’ around askin’ for favors?”
Crumpling the note, Annice said, “From the note, they may know what we do. Maybe they’re another druggie excited for the next fix.”
Talia twisted her mouth. “Oddly specific.”
“You never know,” Khailani muttered. “We live in a crazy city where freaks leave rabbits in stranger’s cars.”
“Let’s leave. Dean and his crew should be pulling up in a few minutes. He probably knows the cops patrolling these streets. We’ll have him handle them,” Annice said, pulling out her phone. “Let’s meet at Poco’s. Sasha said she’s working closing shift. Spread the word.”
When they returned to the car, Khailani slunk into her seat.
“You okay?” Annice asked. “You horked up dinner.”
“I’m exhausted. I’m tired of seeing red and rabbits. We’re fucking drug hustlers. We want a little extra cash for ourselves and our families. We ain’t trying replace nobody. We want to clean up these streets, so they can be safe for our kids, right?”
Annice sighed and started the car.
Khailani hesitated to buckle herself in. Maybe they’d get in a bad accident and end this nightmare. The small click vanquished the thought.
Resting her head against the window, Khailani uttered, “Who did we piss off so much to make them go this far? It’s not like we be hitting the same group, right? Different shit. Different boosts?”
“I’ve been doing my damndest to make sure it’s that way,” Annice finally responded. “The target’s too small to be shared amongst other rival gangs. This ain’t even large compared to the other jobs.
“I’m like you. I don’t know why this feels so high profile. Who is wanting us to back down so badly?”
“Heh.” Khailani glanced at her. “You make it sound like White Rabbit’s head wasn’t on your door.”
Annice’s fingers tightened about the steering wheel.
“It didn’t feel like White Rabbit’s head. By the way you first described him, this dude was a monster. You and Dean went out to where, Rosegarden?”
“Yeah. The place sounding like a fucking fairy tale. Ya’ll went to buy special grade weapons to kill a supposedly unkillable man, and you mean to tell me, some random fairy godmother killed the bastard?”
“Maybe the fairy godmother is a monster too.” Khailani thought about Zcar swiping White Rabbit’s head clean off with those claws.
“Damn. Then I’m better off thinking they were White Rabbit.”
“He might’ve been some normal human, and I had an overactive imagination. I was strung up, remember?” Khailani mumbled.
“We already used that excuse and look where it got us. The threat’s real.” Annice parked in one of the empty spots and unbuckled. She stared straight at Khailani. “White Rabbit is either dead on my door or still out there. We can run circles all day, but we need to discuss what’s been happening with the team. You wish to back down from the operation, and I want to give the others the chance too. Unfortunately, these bastards will be around if Narcotics sit on their hands. The possibilityof White Rabbit being a threat’s not worth risking my girls over.”
Silence fell between them.
“Let’s head inside.”
After about fifteen minutes, Dean and his boys were the last to arrive at the family diner. A distressed Sasha brought them waters and fled to the back of the house.
“How did da police handle it?” Talia yelled from across the restaurant.
Dean shrugged and took a sip of the water. “When Annice told me there was a stranger’s head on the door, I expected a whole person dead on the doorstep. Who threw up?”
Eyes flew over to Khailani, but she didn’t confess. Dean smirked. She averted her gaze.
“Felix here owned up to it, so none of you have to worry about making a statement. They’ll supposedly call us in a few hours.
“I hope you don’t have any outstanding criminal charges, fearless leader. I told them I was going to pick up a few canvases and other art supplies when I saw the head. They might give you a call.”
He finished his water and set the glass down on the bar table. “Oh, and they saw the skull spray paint. We’ll see if they think it’s connected. Should I mention the masked weirdo?”
Walking up to him, Annice said, “That should be fine. We probably weren’t the only ones there. I’m sure someone else might’ve reported it. But thank you for handling it, Dean. I assume they treated you nicely?”
“Almost handed us the donuts they picked up. Told them I was going to grab grub with friends but kinda lost my appetite,” he beamed.
Dean continued, “Which explains why we have to meet here now, but why are we meeting at all? Isn’t the operation happening in like seven hours?”
“That’s what I wanted to discuss. Sasha…” Annice nodded at the waitress who had been collecting the empty cups.
She placed down the tray and cleared her throat. “I f-f-f-found a dead rabbit ou-outside the dumpster when I arrived for work.”
“Okay…Given the rabbit situation we’ve been having, that sounds too much like a coincidence, but…maybe a cat got to it?” Dean asked warily.
“It was missing a-a-a head, but it was more of a…more of a butcher’s cut. Nice and clean.” She showed the cellphone pic to Dean.
“You don’t think it’s this guy’s head on your door?” Felix said, hoping to lighten the mood.
Foolishly, Khailani wondered if that was the case. Wererabbits were monsters…right? Maybe the man was caught mid transformation or part of his body turned back into a rabbit while the other part stayed human? …No. That didn’t make much sense.
“Not only that, but…Talia,” Annice continued.
“A whole fleet of mask wearin’ bastards breached the warehouse. They killed three of our girls.” She held up her bandaged, yellow painted arm. “I got slashed. We killed a few of ‘em, but a couple made it out alive.”
Unfolding her arms and scanning the group, Annice said, “Considering what happened this morning and the notes Khailani received these past days, I’m not confident in proceeding with the plan tomorrow.”
Only the clanking of glasses and nervous shuffling filled the restaurant.
Annice sighed and continued. “The goods are high quality. We aren’t giving up our mark forever. For tomorrow, they get a pass. We’ll have to redo some steps, but we have most of the groundwork established already. We’ll find a new date that’ll work for everyone. I’ll send a little something to hold you over until we know when that date is. It’s not the big bucks I promised you, but I rather have you all alive than dying by these sons of bitches.”
She took a moment to get a feel for the crowd. The women casted dubious glances at each other, but nobody dared speak.
Annice continued, “The police are investigating, and we will too. With Dean’s connection to the force, we’ll use their information and go from there. I forbid anyone from doing any independent probing. We aren’t a gang. We don’t do the revenge sagas. We lift drugs, give it to the police, and profit over the leftovers. Ya’ll ain’t murderers. You’re mothers, the breadwinners, heroes in your community, or the faces of resistance in this cruel world. We can’t risk losing you too.
“Me, Talia, Dean, and Khailani? We have blood on our hands. We’ve done the time. We got the dirt and grime smeared on our records so you don’t have to. Let us handle it. For now, stay cautious. Stay with each other or stay away from each other. I don’t care. If you see anyone with a mask or with a rabbit or find a message on your door, let me know immediately. I don’t care if you think you’re paranoid. You’re not.
“We waited until the last minute to take these guys seriously. In my negligence, we’ve lost three of our own and have a stranger’s head nailed to the base of operations. I don’t know if whoever did that is friend or foe. It’s safe to say they are out of their God damned mind, and I don’t want that crazy bastard to even think you’re an enemy.
“Am I clear?”
“Yes ma’am,” said the room.
“Good. Now help Sasha clean up after your asses and leave her a dollar or somethin’ for allowing us to meet here.
Khailani saw Annice hand Sasha fifty dollars and patted her on the back. She watched the waitress get into her car before approaching Khailani and her own vehicle.
“That was a moving speech,” Khailani said.
“Thanks. It should buy us time.”
She tilted her head. “Time for what?” Khailani asked suspiciously.
“To raid the vault.”
Now she was nervous. “How? I thought we were cancelling the ambush.”
“One postponing. Two, with a small crew. You . Me. Talia and Dean.”
“Just the four of us?”
Annice nodded. “It used to be just me and Dean.”
“Yeah, robbing street corners.”
“We’ll be fine. Your sniping skills are impeccable. Besides, if the traitor is among the other girls, they wouldn’t know the plan. If it’s either Dean or Talia—” She hesitated and dropped her eyes. Gritting her teeth, she said, “If it’s one of them, we can kill the traitor and say it’s an accident.
“Best if the girls don’t have to witness it. They still mean something to society,” Annice smiled faintly.
Khailani held and squeezed her hand. “You mean something to Ritsa and your three girls.” Annice covered her hand.
“You’re right.” She looked into Khailani’s eyes. “You can say no. I know we established earlier that you wanted to stay away from this fight, but I ask for you to join us tomorrow.” Annice smiled softly. “We can use your eagle eyes.”
Khailani blushed and blinked away. The number of players had been significantly reduced. Any three of them could be the rat. Two more likely than the other one, yet there was a small possibility it was even any of them. Annice hadn’t the chance to contact Dean or Talia, so they were unaware that they were drafted in the threadbare drug raid squad.
“I’ll do it,” Khailani said. Part of her feared White Rabbit would take them out if she wasn’t there.
“Great,” Annice smiled, entering the car. “Don’t tell the others yet. I have to refine the details. Once I know everything, I’ll tell you. For now, rest easy and hope we don’t run into any more rabbits tonight.”
© 2021: Operation: UGAWTS || The Cat in Rabbit's Fur || Short Story ||