Wellstone City Wednesday –

“I’ll tell you what did it,” Jeff said, the stub of a smoldering cigar dangling from his lip as he took boxes off the roller line.

“Oh hell, here we go,” Mike said, rolling his eyes in disgust. He knew what was coming. I did not, I was the new guy and I hadn’t heard all of Jeff’s blame game stories yet.

“It’s was the goddamn Freelancer Act. Her royal highness decided to open the city to every damn vigilante, psychopath, and murderer and give them license to run rough shod over the city!” Jeff slammed a box down onto the other parcel line. I swear I heard something break.

“What do you mean?” I asked, trying to sound naive. Three heads slow-turned toward me; Mike, Jeff, and another new guy who’s name I hadn’t learned yet. Everyone called him Morgan, but that sounded like a nickname. I despise nicknames.

“They registered 1000 glorified bounty hunters, gave them the power of the cops, armed them with no-knock warrants, and let them use this city like their private playground. That happened just over a year ago. You know what happened in that year?”

I should have known, but I was new to the city. I had just moved down from Thief River Falls, North Dakota a month ago, and I had lived there for four years, acclimating to the culture. We didn’t get much news about Wellstone City up there, just that some parts of it were like the worst parts of Detroit wrapped up in Baltimore, put back in Detroit, and then thrown at Chicago on a bad weekend. But only parts of it. Of course, I already knew most of that before moving to North Dakota, what with the family preparing me to enter the business and all.

It occurred to me that Jeff was waiting for an answer. The others went back to work.

“One thousand goddamn cowboys. They crippled the Crosses, almost made them go straight. They helped rip the Dragons apart. Kinzey bought Blackhand and made boatloads of cash keeping everyone safe. Russians, Irish, Chechnyans…”

“Chechens,” I said interrupting him. It was a reflex. “We like to be called Chechens.” I said, my accent slipping through. Fear instantly painted Jeff’s face, beading up in a cold sweat that formed on his forehead even before the color finished draining. I felt my left eye tick just a little and I licked my teeth without cracking my lips.

I went back to work shuffling boxes as needed. Working for the Teamsters Union had its perks. The insurance was good, which was excellent in my line of work.