A/N: Burn Notice romantic fluff with a side of angst. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.
On Monday of the tenth week, Michael waited at Carlito's. His ride would be there soon.
One of the conditions of playing mediator for the Garden Terrace Mafia is that he won't know where the negotiations take place. One of his conditions was that they wouldn't know where he lives. So, he waits in front of Carlito's.
When he left that morning, Fi and his mom were working on anti-nausea smoothies. After a very hard weekend that involved all three of them doing a lot of crying, Madeline had gotten behind them on putting the baby up for adoption, and having done so, she switched into hyper-coddling mode for Fi.
So, he's glad she's on board with what they're doing. Very glad that she's working on something Fi might eat. And especially glad to be getting out of the house. He doesn't feel the need to know all the gory details of both his and his brother's pregnancy or birth.
His ride arrives. It's not inconspicuous. A stretch Hummer with black windows doesn't exactly blend into the neighborhood. For the first time in a very long time, Michael feels very, very white.
As a kid, the neighborhood he grew up was mixed, 60-40, white to black. His best friend was black. Hell, Jesse, who might not be his best friend now, but he's awfully close, is black. And while black and white culture were pretty far apart in the seventies, he feels like it's gotten much further apart as time has marched by.
Michael Westen, who is, for all practical purposes, a chameleon, has found a background he can't melt into. And it's a bit off-putting. The fact that he can't quite read the four men around him is off-putting, too. He knows the gold jewelry and teeth are a sign of status, but not what level of status they indicate. He can't read the tattoos the way he could if he was doing this for the Mafia or a Russian gang. He doesn't know the clothing. He doesn't know the music. He can't just look at these men and know where they fit in the hierarchy.
He gets into the Hummer and realizes it's not just the fact that he's awfully white. He's also awfully old. If any of the men in the Hummer are over thirty, hell, twenty-five, he'd be shocked. Usually, in the Mafia or a Russian gang, or any half-decent South American gun or drug running operation, there's someone his age around, someone older, with a proven track record of being a cooler head.
At least they didn't put a bag over his head. Sure, he can't see out the windows, so he doesn't know where he's going, but the fact that he can see the men around him is a good sign of trust.
They don't say anything, and no matter what, people are people, so he can read their faces well enough to know they aren't thrilled about him being here, but they aren't openly hostile, either.
After an hour's drive, he's in a parking garage. They let him out, escort him to an elevator, and press a button with no number. One hundred and eighty-eight seconds until the doors open. Slow elevator, or he's on a high floor, but not so high that his ears popped on the way up.
The doors open and he's facing an extraordinarily posh penthouse. It's decorated in cool whites and blues, floor to ceiling windows are closed and hidden behind opaque curtains. Everything that could be done to provide a sense of anonymous, placeless opulence has been done to this space.
Ricky is waiting for him, another man next to him. He's tall, broad shouldered, would have been handsome if not for a badly healed broken nose, looks to be about twenty-five.
"Michael, let me introduce you to Razor G." Ricky says.
They shake hands. Razor's are hard, strong, from the feel of the knuckles, it's not just his nose that's been broken in the past. "Razor, this is Michael Westen."
There are drinks, food, a few legal pads, nice pens, and a recording device on a coffee table flanked by white leather sofas.
"Michael, you can ask anything you like, take whatever notes you like, but nothing leaves here."
"Razor, you've agreed to answer any questions Michael has. His job is to talk with you, Big T, and Jaydd about your plans, what you'd like to do with the Garden Terrace, how you want to do it, and see if he can come up with some sort of plan or compromise."
With that Ricky left, and Michael started the conversation.
He got home seven hours later. Seven exhausting hours later.
"How was it?" Fi asked as he sat down to dinner. This would be a lovely little play on the idea of a traditional domestic scene if not for the fact that Fi's not eating and they're talking about the inner workings of a gang.
"Have you ever read or see the Godfather?"
"Read it, a long time ago."
He's very pleased to see she seems interested in this conversation, and is dressed in something besides pajamas. He's guessing his mom got her out of the house today.
"Okay, imagine Luca Brasi is trying to make a play to take over the Corleons."
"Ohhh. Not good."
"Exactly. Razor runs the muscle. The only reason he's even at the table is because the big scary guys with guns back him."
"That'll usually get you a place at the table."
"Sure, but there's no way you should be running the group if all you've got is big scary guys with guns. And I think he knows it. He seemed to be hoping to have me find someone to run it for him as well."
"I guess that's a good thing."
"I think so, too. I'm just worried that if he's one of the top three talents this group has on offer that, no matter what I come up with, this isn't going to work."
"Do you find it bizarre that you're working to make a gang more effective?"
"Yeah, it's a bit surreal. But, if I don't then that's a neighborhood that's going to break into open warfare, and no one will be better off with that."
"That I understand." And she would. She grew up in an open warzone, where in many neighborhoods the local organized crime ring was the only thing keeping up any semblance of civic society.
On Tuesday, he met with Sam and Jesse and Fi for dinner at Carlito's. It was actually kind of fun to just hang out without talking job strategy. This whole doing work that doesn't involve getting shot at thing is growing on him.
Finally, as the meal was winding down, Sam asks, "So, Consigliari, how goes the negotiations?"
He half sighs, half snorts. He has become the Garden Terrace Consigliari. "I got to spend six hours with a guy named Big T today. He appears to be the brains of the operation." Michael spends a moment thinking about how to describe the man he spent the day with. "Imagine Barry without a college education, his knowledge of banks and financial planning, or metrosexual fashion and spiky hair. In the place of all of that, put an encyclopedic knowledge of governmental organizations that pay out money, for anything. Eight hundred people live in the Terrace, and he's got 1200 signed up for food stamps, 1600 on Aid to Dependent Families, 600 on Social Security—"
"What, he didn't sign them all up?" Sam asked.
"If there are as many as sixty people in the Terrace old enough to collect, I'd be shocked. Anyway, he's got 400 on Disability, 1500 on Medicaid another 600 on Medicare, 6000 registered to vote, 1100 on Unemployment. He's even got twelve of them getting farm subsidies. If there's a way to get money from the government, he's got it. He's got a shop in one of the Terrace apartments that sells all of the stuff they get using WIC and SNAP at a hefty mark up."
"Okay. How much is he making?" Sam looks concerned as he asks.
"He's banking at least six million a year."
"Six million, where are they parking that money?" Jesse asks. They'd all been to the Terrace, and name aside, it's not a garden spot. Six million a year, if actually split between the people who live there would be a very comfortable life. Hell, if they raked three million of it off, and split the rest between the people who lived there, it'd still be a comfortable life.
"Big T would like to know that, too. He knows what happened with his cut, twenty percent, but not what Sherrod did with the rest of it."
"I guess you found the brains of the operation," Sam says as he sips his mojito.
"I think so."
"Did he have any long term plans?" Jesse asked.
"Besides pout and take his ball home if he doesn't end up in charge? No. Though he was also willing to hint that everyone in the Terrace would get indicted for fraud if he didn't come away from the deal smiling. Except him. He didn't outright say it, but my guess is he's got protection in the government somewhere."
"He's probably trading votes for protection," Jesse said.
"I'd assume so. Likely some of the money is going to kickbacks to make sure no one looks to close at his paperwork."
"Sounds like a real charmer," Fi says.
"Oh, he was."
"Who's up tomorrow?" Fi asks.
"Jaydd. Apparently he's the guy who runs the drugs and girls."
"Even better," Sam says.
As of January, Michael is forty-six years old. He's spent half of those years outside of the United States. And in many of those years, he's been in cultures that are very much not the United States, so he's not typically American when it comes to working girls.
Pretty much, if you're an adult, like sex, and want to make a living at it, he's got no problems with that.
And, over the course of his long and storied career, he's had occasions where he's worked with prostitutes. In Russia, for example, his cover was often high-end business man. In Russia, high-end business deals involve the wining and dining phase (okay, the caviar and vodka phase) and then wrap up with sauna and girls.
And those girls have been worth every ruble he's paid them in information and happy assets.
Those girls, pretty, happy, and discreet, were more than willing to let him bug a room ahead of time, and listen in while they asked innocent leading questions after the sex, when the men are drunk, relaxed, and willing to talk.
And as a "business man" he's been on the receiving end of the girls and booze phase of operations as well, and knowing that the room he was in was likely bugged, he used that as a way to let information he wanted to get out "slip."
But, just like the term feline covers everything from a lion to a tabby cat, prostitute covers a very wide array of girls as well.
Jaydd is telling him about "his" girls. Though he doesn't use the term girls. And though, on occasion the term Jaydd does use has wandered out of Mike's mouth, usually prefaced by "son of a," he really doesn't like the way Jaydd is saying it. From the sound of it, his "girls" may be pretty, but they won't be for long. They're happy, as long as he keeps doling out the meth. And they are very much not adults who like sex and think this is a fun line of work. They aren't adults period.
Michael is doing everything he can to not let his face show how much he wants to jump up, eviscerate the man in front of him, and then choke him to death on his own entrails.
He listens to Jaydd talk about how he and the Johns have no use for the girls after they've had a few kids. That's why he gets them young. About how sometimes he needs to teach them "lessons" to keep them in line and make sure they treat the Johns nice.
Supposedly this is convincing Mike he's got managerial skills.
Mostly, it's reminding Mike of Afghanistan in the '80s. Back then, the Taliban, well, the guys who would eventually become the Taliban, were on the same side as the US. Some of those guys, the ones who liked to run about town, looking for women "acting immodestly" and beat the living hell out of them, sometimes killing them, rose high when the US got out.
And Jaydd would have gotten on fabulously with them.
Mike can feel his palpable hate towards women. He can see Jaydd relishing telling tales of beating his girls, making sure they "behave." And though he won't look to make sure, Michael can tell from the way he's sitting, from the way he's talking, that retelling how he beat those girls is giving Jaydd a hard-on.
Michael knows how this goes, where it ends. Right now Jaydd roughs them up, enjoying the pain. Given enough time, pain alone won't do it. He'll be killing them, maybe not next week, but soon enough that it makes Michael very nervous.
It's the only interview where he takes no notes, asks few questions, and is done in less than an hour.
When he gets home, he hops in the shower and scrubs, hard. Fi slips in behind him, takes the soap and scrubby away from him.
"You got a shower this morning. What happened?"
"I spent an hour with the most despicable human in Miami." He told Fi about Jaydd and was pleased to see she had absolutely no problem with him having some sort of accident, possibly involving massive jail time, or a six foot deep hole if not.
On Thursday, he asks Ricky to set up a meeting with Valentine. This time, it's on his turf. The penthouse at the Dearaborn might not be the most convenient location, but he can control it. No one who isn't invited to this meeting will get to listen in.
Sam and Jesse escort Valentine in. He seems irked to see Sam, apparently he remembers their previous meeting. He looks around the penthouse and says, "Barbara Mandrell?"
Sam half shrugs. "It was the first name I could think of."
Drinks are offered, everyone sits down. Michael says, "Ricky tells me you'll pay me one hundred thousand dollars if everyone comes away from this deal happy."
"Is there anyone else who can run this gang?" Valentine smiles, and Mike feels a sense of relief. "When you said everyone happy, you don't mean those three I spent the last few days talking to?"
Valentine sips his drink, and then carefully puts it down. "Not at all. When I grew up there, we were poor, no two ways about it, but we were safe, and a lot of us didn't stay poor forever. Less than twenty percent of us dropped out of high school. We got jobs, moved up in the world, built families. The Garden Terrace was a community where people who were poor could stay while they got back on their feet. Once upon a time, they got back on their feet.
"It's not like that anymore. People go there, and they don't leave. They go and rot. Big T makes sure they stay forever, because the longer they stay the richer he gets. Jaydd sees it as a farm producing new generations of girls he can sell, and addicts he can make money off of. It's time that the Garden Terrace Project gets back to being what it was supposed to be, a haven for poor families in need of help.
"Don't get me wrong. I don't want anything to happen to Razor. He's family, and when this is done, I'll find a place for him in my organization. But the other two..." Valentine's smile makes it clear that anything that takes those two out of the game is welcome.
"If a power vacuum were to appear, is there someone who can step in?" Michael asks.
"Yes. His name is Tyler. He's keeping his head down now, because he doesn't have the guns to go up against the other three. But if they got out of the way, he'd be able to get things going right."
Michael nods. "We'll set it up. First step, Big T is going to be in charge for a while. Of the three of them, he looks like he'll do the best job. Come November, I think he's going to get caught with a massive voter fraud problem. At the level he's doing it, we'll be able to get City, County, State, and Federal charges against him. While he's inside, the rest of his fraud ring is going to be found."
"What about..." Valentine asked, knowing exactly how many barely literate people who live in the Terrace signed anything that Big T gave them.
"We'll make sure it doesn't splash back on the people in the Terrace. Big T is good. My people are better. We'll make sure it looks like he did it by himself."
"Not sure yet. But by the end of the month, he'll be gone."
"So, come December, Tyler will be in a position to start running things?" Valentine asks.
"Good. Ricky told me that if anyone could get this sorted out, it was you. I'm very glad to see he was right."
"Thank you. Do you know anyone out of state who might want some girls? I think it'd be a really good idea for Jaydd to get caught by an FBI human trafficking sting."
"I can arrange for him to provide entertainment for a gig in Atlanta."
"And I can arrange for some friendly Feds to grab him and the girls when he crosses the border," Sam said.
"Won't they wonder that you and Mike were involved in this?" Jesse asks.
"They might, but for the sake of getting rid of Jaydd, no one will ask any questions. Big T is the one who has to be taken care of delicately, he's got too many others roped into his frauds."
"We'll take care of it," Mike said.