No one was sure what the fires meant. They had appeared three nights ago at dusk, bright like stars against the black hulk of the mountain, and they had burned through the night until dawn. The city was rife with rumors, and in the decaying warehouse, speculation among Vince's gang members grew.
“It’s a signal,” Speedball said as he sharpened a knife. “There’s going to be an attack.”
“Wishful thinking,” Gitana sneered. “You’d love it if we got into another big fight.”
“Okay, glamour-girl, what’s your explanation?”
“Travelers. Ordinary campers cooking their food.”
“Who’s talking bullshit now? Campers don’t light fires that big. Those are beacons. They mean something.”
Ozone looked up from trying to find a station on the radio. “I heard it’s some kind of nativist thing. One of the tribes is trying to revive some old tradition for how they grieve their dead.”
Gitana shook her head in disgust. “Leave it to you to come up with the most absurd explanation imaginable." She looked around. "Vince! We know you’re listening. Come out here and settle this!”
Vince stepped out of his office. He had heard every word of his crew's conversation, and was consumed with concerns of his own.
“So what are all those fires about?” Gitana said. “War, ancient mythology, or just refugees trying to stay warm?”
“If it was refugees, El Duque would’ve done something to stop the rumors by now.” Vince pulled up a rickety chair. “And I don’t buy the crap that it’s natives lighting signal fires for the spirits of their kindred. Some people will believe anything.”
With a hurt expression, Ozone turned back to his radio.
Speedball brandished his knife with satisfaction. “That leaves war. We’ll get some goods out of this.”
Vince wasn’t so sure the beacons were a sign of war, either. If someone wanted to attack a stronghold like this city, why advertise the fact? “Actually, I’m a little worried it may be a sign of peace — one of the regional leaders coming to talk with El Duque and cut a deal.”
“Peace would be nice,” Ozone mumbled.
Speedball turned on him. “Peace would be the worst thing imaginable, dumbass. How the hell would we make a living?”
Vince nodded in silent agreement. Too much law and order, and he’d have to shut his little protection racket down. Either that, or go to prison. He had no other skills, even though his sister had pestered him for years to apprentice himself to someone or enter a legitimate job training program. Somehow he didn’t see himself as a shopkeeper or an accountant. This world, dirty and chaotic though it may be, suited him fine.
“Well, whatever it is,” he said, “I just hope it’s not a treaty. Peace would be my worst nightmare.”
Ozone had found a radio station and waved a hand for silence. “They’re talking about the beacons. And something about a curfew.”
“So that’s the game, is it?” Vince stood up. “How much you guys want to bet El Duque ordered those fires so everyone would be scared and he could crack down?”
Speedball passed his knife from hand to hand. “I don’t believe in curfews. Last guy who tried to tell me when to get off the street—”
“We all remember,” Vince said. “And next time you kill a government type without orders, you’re out.” He stood and stretched. “But curfews don’t mean anything in our line of work, and we have a job tonight. Ozone, turn off that stupid radio.”
“But they’re saying—”
“More lies, I’ll bet. Turn it off. The only thing those fires signify is that people will get excited over any little thing.” He turned and headed back to his office. “Get your weapons ready,” he called over his shoulder. “We’ve got work to do.”