The last of them shuffles in, their three-piece suits disheveled, their movements hurried and anxious. Wooden chair legs bark against the floor as they fill in the missing spaces around an old billiards table. A single light hangs above the green felt, illuminating gold rings and expensive watches. Tired eyes look across to each other. Five o’clock shadows stretch over rough faces.
“Now that we’re all here,” says the leader of the group with tired condescension, “let’s get right down to it. We all know why we’re here. I’ll open the floor to options. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.”
Shady individuals shift in their seats. Some pop their knuckles. Others pop their necks. Despite all the grunts and huffs, not a word is tossed out into the open.
“I’ll just come out and say it then,” the boss says, “I’m thinking about giving it up.”
“What!?” a spindly man says from the corner of the green table. His voice is high and scratchy and just enough to overcome the audible gasps that fill the empty warehouse.
“What choice do I have?” the boss says, already offended. “You’ve all seen the news. You’ve heard the stories. I feel the same as the rest of you, but it’s foolish to think this can go on any longer.”
“They’re lies,” a chubby man scoffs from the side. “Propaganda. Come on, you know how the press is.”
“That’s bullshit and you know,” says another opposite to him. His dark eyes are narrow and sharp. A long, thin scar stripes down the left side of his face. “Big Tony. Little Tony. The Chetsy brothers. And just last night—”
“We all know what happened to Chris,” the boss says. “It’s why we’ve convened. No need to rehash bad news.”
The man with narrow eyes squints in anger. “Bad news? He fuckin’ took Chris’ head off. One clean shot.”
All around, well-dressed crime bosses squirm.
“I said not to bring it up,” says the boss. With a heavy sigh, he pushes his seat back from the billiards table and stands. With his two hundred dollar shoes clicking on the wood flooring, he paces around his seated lieutenants. “We’re at the end of our road, gentleman. Our era has come to a close. There’s no denying it.”
“What do you mean?” asks another, his voice heavy with nerves.
“You know what I mean,” the boss says, his hands folded behind his back and his face down. “This Captain Muscleman… this ‘superhero’. This freak. He’s done it, boys. He’s chased us down, choked us off.” He sighs again. “He can’t be stopped.”
“But it can’t be true, can it?” asks a soldier from New Jersey. A cigarette rests between his lips and bounces as he speaks. “I mean… super-human strength? Shooting lasers from his eyes. It’s gotta be bullshit, right? I mean… what the hell?”
Still pacing, the boss shrugs. “I can’t speak for his strength, but the laser thing seems true enough. Did you see the news a week ago? How he cut right through those concrete walls? Big Tony had no chance. His whole compound was designed around staying inside that vault in the basement. This Captain Muscleman,” he says with a shudder. “He was inside before his guards even had a chance to take him out.”
“So let’s lay it out then,” says a surly gentleman from the table. He picks at the green felt with dirty fingernails. “You’re saying we’re done, finished. What does that mean? What are you proposing?”
The boss does a full lap around billiard table before speaking. His heavy steps cause the floorboards to squeak. He clenches his fists and grinds his teeth. “I’m proposing legitimacy,” he says. “I’m proposing the end of villainy.” He stops and looks over the table. “I’m saying we should go straight.”
“Straight!?” the dirty man from New Jersey exclaims. Around him, others grumble. “How?”
“I don’t know,” the boss says. “That’s where you come in. What are your options? What kind of pies do you have your fingers in? That’s what I wanna know. That’s what we need to figure out. It’s time we change our operations just enough so they exist within the letter of the law.”
A nervous man from Miami, his skin orange with fake suntan, lets an idea slip. “Maybe we could run for office, ya know? Become politicians.”
The boss scowls. “We’re fuckin’ better than that, Larry, and you know it.” The room grumbles in agreement, and Larry shrinks away into the shadows. “Look, nothing extreme, gentlemen. Don’t over-complicate things. Just take a look at what you’ve got going on in your areas and look at them from a new perspective. See if anything can be salvaged by going legit.”
“And Captain Muscleman?” a man asks. “What are we going to do about him?”
“Not a damn thing,” the boss says. “Haven’t you been paying attention? We’re going to beat him the only way we can. By ripping off people using the system instead of bypassing it.”
“But won’t he notice? Won’t he figure it out?”
“From what I can tell,” the boss says, “all these superhero types are the same. They can’t use logic. Their moronic moral compass is set in stone by the criminals that write the law.”
“That’s why we should be politicians!” Larry begs. “If we can write the laws, we’ll own the towns.”
“Shut up, Larry,” the boss says. “We’re criminals, not soulless vampires.” Throughout the room, grumbles of agreement chime in.