The city looked the same as it ever had: flat, grey and pointless. The few street lights flickered and sputtered as the sun set behind the distant Milwaukee skyline. Marcus trudged ahead of the straggling line of men as he lead the way to Susie’s fish shack, second guessing himself on every other step.
This trip had started out so nicely. He’d finally been able to negotiate with his lead contractor to get a few days off so he could pick up a brief assignment within Sullivan’s fleet. He had been assigned as guard and deckhand aboard a beautiful fiberglass yacht as they transported a large load of food and defensive supplies to the Fleet’s headquarters on Washington Island. Being able to return and visit the safe haven of his young life and reviving some of the camaraderie and brotherhood that had vanished from his life since leaving the fleet would have been payment enough, but because of his knowledge and experience he’d been paid a respectable sum of money for a trip that he saw largely as a working vacation. Marcus’ stay on Washington Island was far too brief for his liking, but fleet security and business required him to return to the civilian, land based world of the masses once more. He’d been able to negotiate passage back to Milwaukee aboard one of the distant Skerrit cousins’ ship, but the thought of returning to his carpentry job hung like a black cloud over his head.
It wasn’t the work that bothered him; in fact, his agreement to fix up some of the ship’s fixtures allowed him to travel for free. Marcus was good at wood working; he enjoyed seeing the pristine, functional results of his labor. It was where he worked that caused him the most distress. Marcus would have been happy to work for half his old mate’s wage if it meant he could return to living on the open water again. Being free and able to travel the world and create some sort of tangible results with his own manpower made him feel whole and complete; a feeling that was quickly slipping away under the rigid work schedule and procedural requirements that his boss imposed upon him.
On his return journey a man, Lelo Vegas or something, had been trying to hire a small group for some sort of work. His story was sketchy to say the least, but he promised good money, so despite Marcus’ desire to return to sea forever, he accepted Lelo’s offer of a big paycheck in exchange for a few days of work. Marcus was not due to return to the construction site for another three days, so he figured he could make some time for a potentially profitable job.
Lelo had lead Marcus and the other two men he’d hired to the Milwaukee City Hall to meet the mayor and arrange the terms of their employment. The mayor, Charles P. Twarld as he insisted on being called, struck Marcus as an irritating, conniving, coward to say the least. Charles feared the old crippled man the group had met in the hallway and insisted that they go elsewhere to discuss their terms of employment. While Marcus understood some of the complex and sometimes deadly politics that happened within the city, he tried not to trouble himself with it too much and feared no old man, regardless of his affiliations.
As Marcus lead the group into the Third Ward he was beginning to question his decision to join this group. Charles’ promise of payment had been vague and by promising them “the moon and stars” if they wanted, Marcus doubted the man’s ability to actually pay them anything. Marcus lead the group under the old highway and wound between the narrow passages of the shanties built up around the Public Market. As the group neared Suzie’s place the thick smell of decomposing fish guts assaulted their senses and made his eyes water. No matter how long Marcus spent on the water or working on the docks, he could never understand the nostalgia that his friends had for that waterside stench. They rounded the corner and were greeted with the crooked but enthusiastic façade of Suzie’s fish shack. Her sign was askew and misspelled, and the building seemed likely to fall apart in a stiff breeze, but something about the unabashed mediocrity of their food brought Marcus back again and again. Cousin Jeff was perched in his usual spot under the tarp canopy that stretched above the door. As the group approached, Jeff sat up bit and reached to make sure his crowbar was still leaning against the wall beside him.
“Who izzit? Wadda you want?” Jeff barked like a wooden, wind up guard dog.
“Jeff!” Marcus boomed, “How are the girls? Its me, Marcus. ‘Member that night on the break wall?”
Jeff cracked a wide, gap-toothed smile. “Marcus. Marcus the moon!” he laughed, causing his round body to ripple like a river meeting the lake.
“Yeah- Marcus the moon,” Marcus said shortly, “Look me and some of my –colleagues need to have a chat. Privately.”
“Oh yeah Marcus, go down to the basement. Arita is out so with her friend Paula-“
“Yeah, thanks Jeff,” Marcus said briskly as he ushered the group in, “We’ll talk later, ‘kay?”
Marcus pointed waved to Suzie behind the counter and pointed the way to the basement stairs. Suzie frowned and began to shake her head, but the huge German Klaus had already taken the lead down the stairs. A sharp screech pierced the restaurant and Marcus quickly closed the stairwell door behind him. He sighed and kneaded his temples as he descended the stairs. Jeff had been wrong or had forgotten, Arita was in and fiercely defending her claim to Suzie’s basement. With every moment his new affiliation to this group seemed like a mistake. He muttered and swore to himself as he stepped onto the crumbling concrete of the basement floor, “This job better be worth it. Arita that f… dumb, crazy bat with her paddles. God, I need to get paid…”