Hood’s Backstory Tale (Featuring Blix, Eric da MAJ, Mick “the Hedgehog” Greene)
Standing outside Pole Katz, Hood chuckled under his breath, just to get it out of his system before the meet. There were plenty of strange characters with odd jobs; he had no reason to think Mick ‘The Hedgehog’ Greene would stand out in a crowd, but that name made him smile.
The Hedgehog had a solid reputation as a headhunter with a knack for recognizing street talent. He always paid up front and never offered a job outside of your league. They were two rather unique habits that contributed to his general success. Of course, some egos don’t like being told what they can and can’t handle, but otherwise the Hedgehog was a trusted source for work.
This all suited Hood just fine. He was a bit low on funds and had no illusions—delusions?—about his skillset. Hood knew where he stood in the market of the streets. He was good at what he did, and he had connections, but without a consistent team he’d get relegated to the wrong end of a long waiting list. Today, however, the Hedgehog had asked for him specifically.
The invite mentioned Hood would need to provide his own city backup, so he’d reached out to an eccentric shadow-guide. Blix knew the underbelly of Chicago better than most and was one of the few willing to hit the streets without a six-man team.
Not that he needed one; Blix could pull the weight of a handful of cocky freelancers, a fact that was reflected in his usual rates. Honestly, Hood couldn’t afford him, but the veteran operative had taken a shine to Hood’s growing desire to ‘make a difference,’ and offered his services pro bono—if he wasn’t otherwise engaged.
Blix agreed to provide some back-up but hadn’t arrived yet. Hood checked the time, pressing his lips together and scanning the street. He was grateful to whatever powers had put them on the same path, hopefully he wasn’t pushing his luck asking them to hurry it along.
Right on cue, his commlink chirped. The built-in speaker struggled with its only function, barely managing the strangled call of a dying bird. Well, you get what you pay for and you don’t pay much for a burner. Hood stabbed a button on the keypad.
“Hello,” he said flatly, to signal the line was open. He hoped it was Blix, but the broken screen reduced his options for caller ID. Maybe if he had a working pair of AR glasses.
“My Dearest Hood, I regret that I am running late.” Blix spoke in an overblown British accent that he had picked up from the movies. “Would you terribly mind attending this meeting solo? I’m on my way, but I got rather sidetracked. And my apologies for the late update. Poor signal.” The accent was ridiculous, but Hood never minded. The man was reliable in a tight spot, no reason to knock him for a few quirky affectations.
“No problem, B. I got the meet. Just need to make sure I got you covering my back when we head for the Loop.”
“Of course, my good man,” Blix replied, the accent providing a jovial tone. “Get all you can from the Porcupine, and we’ll have a nice draught of ale after our jaunt.”
Hood didn’t bother to correct him. “Sure thing. See you in a bit, buddy. Stay safe.”
Hood flipped the device closed, ending the call. He didn’t really need Blix for the meet, he could handle a quick chat. Still, he appreciated Blix’s assurances. Rolling into downtown Chicago without backup would be a recipe for disaster
As he turned to enter the bar, he allowed himself one last chuckle. The Hedgehog.
Pole Katz wasn’t your typical dive bar. Once a strip club, the dancers had all left when Chicago collapsed. But it had an abundance of shady corners and attracted a certain type. It was close enough to the anarchy of Chicago’s loop to avoid regular police patrols, but far enough that it lacked the worst of downtown’s chaos.
Hood didn’t mind a little anarchy. In fact, he’d spent the better part of the past year working with a few groups trying to get Chicago operating as an anarchistic state. Unfortunately, the chaos and fear that pervaded the area was hard to purge and even anarchy was an unwelcome authority to the denizens of Chicago.
A thin haze hung over the bar. Cordite or nicstick, maybe a mix of both, but it didn’t bother Hood. It was just after 8, and the sun was setting outside. Regular folk—as much as anyone was regular in these parts—were heading home and the night life was just beginning to trickle in. It was Hood’s favorite time to meet, that chaotic edge of day and night, light and dark. The best time for this particular sort of meeting.
He shook those thoughts from his mind, focusing on the task at hand. Waiting for Blix meant he was just a few minutes late, and he didn’t want to annoy his would-be patron.
Scanning the bar, he instantly spotted the Hedgehog, sitting in a booth. The spiky mane atop his head was enough of a giveaway, but for added effect there was the well-tailored three-piece suit and pair of thick orc goons standing beside his table like pillars. With no hesitation, Hood made a beeline for the booth, actively catching eyes with at least one of the goons as he approached.
As expected, the two closed ranks, barring Hood’s way. “Ya got a problem, scruffy?” one challenged.
Hood offered a wide smile, letting the insult roll away. He was generally disheveled and unshaven, so it was an honest assessment. The look was très chic in the slums.
“I’ve got an appointment with the Hedgehog, if you don’t mind,” he responded, slowing to a stop just in arm’s reach of pair. He pointedly looked past them to the dapper man in the booth. The orcs half turned to the seated man, looking for confirmation.
“Relax, boys, we’re good here. This is Hood, a real man of the people.” He waved his guards aside, before addressing Hood directly, “and you can call me Mick, or Hedgehog if you prefer. I’m still trying to break people of using ‘the’, sounds pretentious, I think.” He grinned, gesturing for Hood to take a seat at the booth opposite him. “Thought you had a plus one?”
Hood shrugged. “I’m here for the chat. My support is prepping for the jaunt. Caught wind it could be a deep run and he wanted to be ready.” Hood skirted the truth easily enough. “He’s one of those ‘be prepared’ types.”
Hedgehog offered a polite laugh, “So, like a boy scout or somethin’?”
“Something like that, yeah.”
Mick nodded. “I know the type. Tons of skill. Will to get the job done, with one of them ‘honorable’ streaks. In this line of work, it’s a toss-up which comes out on top”” He offered a raised glass and suddenly realized Hood had yet to order. “Where are my manners? Here I am about to raise a toast and ain’t even got you a drink. What’re you having?”
Hood leaned back. He didn’t drink on the job and sometimes the hiring moved right into the ‘firing,’ as they say, so he tried to avoid drinking before them as well. One trick to making a good impression was not insulting your patron.
“I’ll take a Lioness.” It was the Pole Katz house drink for the girls, a cocktail mixed with water poured from a vodka bottle. Men paid top shelf prices and the girls drank them under the table. Not a new trick, but there was a benefit in knowing the streets.
Mick sent one of his guards to the bar. While they waited, he shared a few polite pleasantries with Hood. The pair were both staunchly against letting Chicago get sucked back into the real world and wanted to see some real power players come up from of the wreckage of Chi-Town.
The delivery of the drink blended into a quick toast and the tone of the meeting shifted to more professional matters as Mick rolled from the toast to the matter at hand in one smooth arc.
“I’m catching hints of a small but growing cabal operating in the downtown hub. Rumor’s even got activity at the former city building.”
The shift caught Hood by surprise, but he quickly caught up, taking in everything Mick said. He nodded as Mick continued.
“I need more. I got someone in town working another angle. Right place, right time puts him in possession of some info I need, and he owes me a favor. He’s happy to pass it along but can’t really step away for a meet. So, I need someone to go in and get it. I called you cause I think he’s a connection you’d die for. I figured we can all make out, a little dough and some added bennies.”
Hood was intrigued on several levels but letting that lead was a great way to get duped or killed. The Hedgehog wouldn’t have called him if he couldn’t handle the task, and he was sure the pay was fair. Everyone expected a little song and dance, each side buttering up the other, but Hood was eager to get on with it. Intrigue was well and good, but he needed intel and direction.
“Shoot straight, Mick. I’m Chi-Town bred. I’ll walk if I can’t pull it off, but I got no desire to wade in theatrics and drama until I choke.”
Mick “Hedgehog” Greene smiled wide. “I knew I had the right guy.” He leaned in lowering his voice. “I need you to make a trip to Monroe and Lake Shore. My contact is Eric da’ MAJ, I think you heard of him. Get a quick local download from him before he slips out. Payment is on that napkin under your drink and the deadline is sunrise.” Despite Hood’s words, he paused dramatically. “You in?”
If Hood didn’t answer immediately, it was because he was momentarily stunned. Not by the figure on the napkin he hadn’t even flipped over. Not by the narrow timeline he’d been given to slip in and out of one of the most dangerous places on the planet. Hood was stunned to hear that name.
Eric da’MAJ was a legend. His name was connected to countless deep shadow operatives and anarchist groups around the globe, including a rather influential local bird Hood was interested in. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
It was only a moment. “Consider it done,” Hood said, trying hard not to let his voice crack despite the massive flight of butterflies coming alive at his core.
Stepping into the dark streets outside Pole Katz, with a handful of cash and a job to do, the man grinned widely. It was all coming together, the final piece of the puzzle within reach. As he dialed in a rendezvous point with Blix, Hood moved out, barely able to control his excitement at the energy of rejuvenation that he felt getting ready to flow into his city.
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