Dropped in a Hornet's Nest by Alexander J. Richardson

Jaren is out of prison and keeping clean, until federal agent Billings extorts him into insinuating himself into Big Ma's criminal gang; by Alexander J. Richardson.

The serving girl smiled at him as she set his food on the table - steak, medium, with green beans and a baked potato - and Jaren was happy to see she had all her teeth. A step up, at least, from some of the other women he'd met since coming into town.

"Get you anything else, hon?"

Jaren lifted his glass. "Another iced tea, thanks."

She smiled and hurried off to fetch it. Jaren started working on his food. The steak was dry, the potato overcooked, and the green beans were half raw. He ate anyway. How it tasted didn't matter.

He wasn't here for food.

Several truckers sat at the bar, drinking Coors and watching a UFC match on the TV hanging in the corner. There were a couple pool tables, and two men were playing a game. One of them had sandy hair and big eyes. He wore a striped t-shirt and overalls. The other man was a little taller, his hair a little darker, his frame a little thicker. He had on an untucked polo with some spots on it and blue jeans. They looked like they could be brothers.

The waitress brought over another iced tea and set it down in front of Jaren. He picked it up without looking at her and drank, watching the men play. Overalls was stripes, and he sank a couple balls. Polo scowled at him.

"Can you keep your hand off the goddamn table?" he said, waving his pool cue. "I oughta tune you up, you can't keep your goddamn hands of the table."

Overalls smirked. "Gotta watch that temper, Timmy. Won't do you to get all worked up."

"You gonna worry about my temper right into a hospital bed, you don't stop with your goddamn cheating."

Jaren drained his glass and stood. He walked over to the pool table.

"You boys mind if I get next game?"

Timmy turned to him. "Who the fuck are you?"

Polo looked at Timmy. "Hey, settle down."

"Don't you tell me to settle down. Who the fuck is this guy?"

Jaren put his hands up in a surrendering gesture. "Relax, buddy. I'm just looking to play a little pool."

Timmy took a step towards him. "Who in the hell do you think you're telling to relax, fucker?"

Jaren waited until Timmy grabbed his collar - of a bowling shirt, red, with flamingos in bowties lining the pattern - before delivering a left hook to his jaw. The man stumbled back, releasing his grip and throwing his hands up to cover his face, and Jaren socked Timmy right in the stomach. Timmy doubled over and fell on his backside. Jaren looked at the other man and took a step back.

"No trouble," Jaren said. "He laid hands on me. Simple as that."

Polo was looking down at Timmy.

"Sure did," he said. "Man steps up like that, can't be no crying when he gets knocked down."

Timmy looked up at Polo.

"Everett! Everett, blow that sonuvabitch away! Blow him away, Everett!"

Jaren looked around the bar. The truckers were still drinking, not paying the ruckus any mind. Same for the bartender, an older man with gray eyebrows and thick arms. The waitress was nowhere to be seen.

Everett grinned down at Timmy. "Little brother, you gotta learn it somehow. Don't want no horns, don't chase no bulls."

Timmy glared at his brother, and then turned that glare towards Jaren. It would've held a greater threat if he weren't bleeding from the mouth and Jaren's fists weren't still sore from putting him on the floor.

"I'm gonna kill you," Timmy said.

"Enough," Everett said, and there wasn't any humor in his voice now. Timmy looked at him for another moment, still glaring, but he didn't say anything else and when he stood up he moved to the other side of the table, away from Jaren.

"Didn't want any trouble," Jaren said, his hands up and to the side. "Apologies for the drama."

Everett waved him away with a dismissive gesture. "Only trouble here's this knuckle head," he said, jerking his thumb at Timmy. "Ain't learned what it means to be tough yet. Just mean and violent."

"I got ears," Timmy said. "Ears and feelings."

Everett ignored him. "Your meal's on me," he said to Jaren. "Thanks for teaching my baby brother a little something."

Jaren walked away, dropping a couple twenties on his table despite Everett's offer, and left the bar.

Step One: Contact.

He sat on the bed in his hotel room, receiver to his ear, a cigarette smoldering in his free hand.

"Yeah, a couple guys... No, not tomorrow. Tomorrow's too soon. Even they aren't that stupid... Are you kidding? Three's too many. I'm not Superman. Nobody thinks I'm Superman... Well, that's rough, partner, but we'll all be a little worked over. You want it to happen? This is how it happens... Have one of them wear a gray vest with a duck patch on it... I have to be able to identify him, Charlie. Wrong guys, I could die... Okay, great. I'll see what I can get in the meantime... Okay."

Jaren hung up the phone and smoked his cigarette and looked at the ceiling and worried.

He ate at the bar every night for the next few. Timmy was there each time, glaring at Jaren from the pool tables. A different man was with him each night, always looking like they could be his brother. Even if they hadn't, Jaren knew. He'd memorized their photos before coming out here.

On the third night, Jaren passed a red pickup truck as he came into the parking lot. A bearded man sat in the bed, drinking Miller from a bottle.

"Look, look, look," he said. "If I ain't found the mayor of Fag City! Howdy-doo, Mr. Mayor!"

Jaren turned to the man. He was short, maybe five-foot-six, wearing a flannel shirt and tan pants. Over the shirt was a navy vest with a patch of a duck over the right breast.

The vest didn't match, sure, but that was government at work. What were the odds of it being a coincidence?

"Well, shit," Jaren said. "If I'm the mayor, you must be the town whore."

Vest stood up fast and dropped down into the parking lot.

"What the fuck did you just say to me?"

"Come on, man," Jaren said. "Louder."

Vest didn't skip a beat, throwing his bottle on the ground and shattering it into dozens of shards. He repeated himself, much louder this time, and advanced on Jaren. Another man stepped out of the cab of the truck. He wore a watch cap and pea coat. Jaren looked past Vest and saw three men step out of the bar and look their way, Timmy and Everett included. Cap came up beside Jaren and took a swing at him, a sloping hook that any amateur boxer could plan his calendar around but was too far away for outsiders to catch. Jaren caught it with his left arm and punched Cap in the chin. Vest charged at him, slamming his head into Jaren's stomach as he tried to tackle him. Jaren brought his knee up into Vest's face and winced as he felt the man's nose break, though he certainly didn't feel as bad as his attacker. Vest slumped away from him, falling into the parking lot and staying down. Cap was coming back at Jaren as he turned and he punched Jaren in the cheek, causing Jaren to stumble back. Well, shit. It wouldn't have looked real if nobody else got a punch in. Cap took another step forward, and Jaren kicked out his left knee. Cap dropped to a crouch and Jaren planted another one across his jaw, laying the man out.

Jaren backed away from both men. Footsteps pounded up behind him. Jaren turned fast to see Everett, Timmy, and an absolute bear of a man whose name he also knew rushing up.

"What the hell happened?" Everett said.

Jaren did his best to look flabbergasted. "I don't know. These fellas just came at me."

Everett looked down at the two men, then turned to his enormous brother.

"Doug-Doug," he said, "get these folks on their way out, and see that they don't never come back to Hampton County."

Doug-Doug grinned. He grabbed Vest by the back of his neck and pants and picked him up, throwing him into the back of the truck. Cap was starting to stand. Doug-Doug took a step towards him.

"Time to show us taillights, fancy pants," he said, his voice low like an engine, "or I'll give ya a barn burial."

Without looking at Jaren, Cap hustled into the truck, and a minute later it was out of sight.

Everett looked at Jaren. "You held your ground all right."

"Wasn't that good," Timmy said.

Everett ignored him. "Why don't you have a drink with us?" he said to Jaren. "Let's talk a little."

Timmy scowled. Jaren nodded. Doug-Doug looked at his shoes.

The four men walked into the bar.

Step Two: Integration.

Jaren sat on the bed, a cigarette smoldering in one hand, and the phone rang. "Walk to May's Market," the voice said when he picked up. "Back parking lot, by the dumpster. Go now."

Jaren hung up and snubbed out his cigarette and put on his coat and started walking.

The dumpster lined up against a wooden fence that needed to be repainted. Jaren leaned against it for a few minutes before a black van pulled into view and parked next to him. The side door slid open.

"Get in," the voice said.

Jaren got into the van, which immediately pulled away, and looked at the two men in suits. He recognized Deputy Director Stark, a bald man with lots of chin and a nose that was certainly large enough to sniff out crime. The other man had dark hair and was shorter than Stark, with a thinner frame and hawk-like eyes.

"This is Special Agent Paul Billings," Stark said, gesturing to his companion. "What have you got on the O'Hara boys?"

Jaren laughed without humor.

"You've dropped me right in a hornet's nest, I'll give you that. Those boys are crazy."

"Can the theatrics," Stark said. "You don't like the arrangement? I'm happy to move your brother back into gen pop. Let's see if all the Maroni mob gives him is a scar next time."

Jaren laughed again. "Christ Almighty. This how you run your informants? No wonder Big Ma and her brood are still in business."

Stark stared at Jaren. Jaren stared back. Neither of them spoke. Agent Billings cleared his throat.

"Let's try this again," he said. "Jaren, we know you're sticking your neck out, and the department appreciates it. If you can help us take her down, you know we'll get your brother out and set the two of you up with new identities. Big Ma goes down, you and Craig get a new life, and we all win. Yeah?"

Jaren stared at Stark for another moment.

"Yeah," he said, turning to Agent Billings. "Okay.

"I've met four of them so far. Timmy, Everett, Doug-Doug, and Jimmy. Everett's got the best head on his shoulders; Timmy's the craziest. That little mother would kill you for being ahead of him in line. Not cutting him in line, mind - simply for being there first." He shook his head. "I knew guys like him in Atlanta. He's a fuse burning down."

"You should see his rap sheet," Stark said, "but none of the heavier charges have stuck, including murder."

"What else do you have?" Agent Billings said.

"Not a lot. They want to try me out. Muscle in on some bookie that won't toe the line."

"Perfect," Agent Billings said. "Any mention of a gun deal?"

"Have you met the matriarch?" Stark said.

Jaren shook his head. "No and no. Just shit about roughing up this bookie. They want to send a message."

"Then send it," Stark said. "Do whatever they tell you."

Jaren laughed again.

"What's funny, informant?" Stark said.

"You guys." Jaren looked around the van. "Look, I want to get my brother away from Maroni's prison connections. He's a sitting duck in there. You've got my nuts in a vise, right where you want them. I get it. I also don't want to wind up in prison myself. Proving myself to the O'Hara Gang? I'll be breaking laws in the process. Guaranteed."

"That's fine," Agent Billings said. "We're not looking at you. We want Abigail 'Big Ma' O'Hara, her sons, and the other end of their gun deal. The Aryan Brotherhood's planning something major. Stopping this deal and arresting the key players will be a devastating blow against them."

Jaren didn't say anything. He shook his head a few times. The van drove over some potholes. Agent Billings leaned forward.

"Jaren," he said, his voice soft, "what's the problem? Talk to me."

Jaren shook his head a few times more. He looked at the floor of the van.

"I worked really hard to turn it all around," he said. "I earned my Bachelor's in prison. I moved away from the old neighborhood once I got out. I kept clean even when bills were stacking up and the easy bread was dirty. I worked on the straight and narrow for a long time."

He looked up at Agent Billings.

"A long, long time. I didn't do all that so I could jump right back into it with redneck gangsters."

Agent Billings nodded several times.

"I know," Agent Billings said. "I've read your file. I spoke with your old parole officer. Lots of guys get out of the joint and do whatever they can to jump back into the life. You didn't. You worked hard to put it behind you. To change yourself. I hear you. I believe you."

It started to rain hard. Drops splattered against the windshield and tap-tap-tapped on the roof.

"This isn't about you," Agent Billings continued. "This is about your brother. Giving him the second chance you earned. Don't worry about what has to happen to get there. As long as you help us nail Abigail and the rest, I don't care how we get there.

"Immunity's part of your deal. Do what the gang says. Report back. Either Deputy Director Stark or I will be your contact. You're coming in at a good time. Ma's little war with Sam Crosby has thinned her ranks. She needs the muscle. You're a gift sent from Heaven."

"Or Hell," Stark said, looking out the window.

Jaren stared at both of them for a long moment and laughed again.

"Fat Stevie runs his book from in there," Everett said, pointing from the front passenger seat at a restaurant called Rolling Rooster's Ribs. "Tell the bartender you got a bet to place. Make it a big one. Big bets get Fat Stevie's attention. He'll want to talk with you personal."

Jaren nodded. He was sitting in the backseat. Easton, another one of Everett's brothers, was behind the wheel. He had big hands and a thick jaw. There was scarring under his eyes, and his nose bent slightly to the left.

"Once you get back with Fat Stevie," Everett said, "deliver the message."

Jaren got out of the car and walked into Rolling Rooster's Ribs. The lunch crowd hadn't arrived yet and there wasn't a server waiting by the door. Jaren walked up to the bar.

"Heard I could place a bet here," he said to the bartender.

"Where'd you hear that?"

"Around," Jaren said. "I want to put ten large on the Nuggets."

The bartender raised an eyebrow. "Big money."

"Yeah," Jaren said. "You good for it?"

"Hang on a second."

The bartender walked away from him and picked up a phone down the bar. He talked into it for a minute and put it down. Past the bar and before the dining area was a thick door. It opened and a man wearing a three-piece suit with the jacket unbuttoned came out. His hair was cut short and he had a thin scar under his left eye. He walked over to Jaren.

"Come with me."

Jaren followed him to the doorway, which led down a hallway. At the end of the hallway was another closed door. The man opened it without knocking and walked in with Jaren behind him.

An enormous man in a custom suit that still didn't fit him right sat behind the desk. A large ring was on his right pinky. He was eating lasagna and had a napkin tucked into his shirt. There was just as much food on his face as was on the napkin. He took a bite of lasagna and looked at Jaren.

"What, you the guy?" he said, his mouth full of food. "Thought you'd be taller, putting that kinda cash on the goddamn Nuggets. You really like the goddamn Nuggets?"

Jaren wasn't sure what height had to do with cash or liking had to do with placing a bet, but nobody ever claimed Fat Stevie ran his book with brains.

"I don't give a shit about the Nuggets," Jaren said, "or about placing a bet with you."

Fat Stevie was washing his lasagna down with a glass of wine. He spilled a little on his shirt.

"The fuck you say?"

"Big Ma sent me over to have a talk with you," Jaren said.

Fat Stevie snorted. He waved Jaren away with a gesture.

"Abe, toss his ass out."

The man in the three-piece suit grabbed Jaren by the shoulder, and without skipping a beat Jaren swung back with his elbow, hitting Abe in the throat hard. Abe choked, and Jaren punched him in the balls, putting Abe on the floor. Fat Stevie swore and flailed in his chair, opening the side drawer of his desk and reaching into it. Jaren rushed around the desk and wrapped his arm around Fat Stevie's throat, yanking him - with some effort involved - out of his chair. Fat Stevie's hand came out of the drawer with a .44 Magnum. Jaren punched Fat Stevie in the side of his head with his free fist, and the bookie dropped his gun. He pushed Fat Stevie up against the desk, shoving his face against it.

"Okay," Fat Stevie said. "Okay, okay, okay. I'm listening. Knock it off with the rough stuff. I'm listening."

"Next time one of Big Ma's boys comes by with an offer on your book," Jaren said, "you sell."

"It's pennies on the dollar. The fuck am I supposed to do? Take a goddamn bath on my own book? I built the goddamn book."

Jaren grabbed Fat Stevie's right arm. He didn't care about the bookie's problems. He didn't care about Big Ma, or her boys, or the ATF. He cared about his brother's safety. This was for Craig. All of this was for Craig. He twisted Fat Stevie's arm up behind him. The bookie bellowed.

"Price just dropped even more," Jaren said. "Sell to Big Ma, or your old lady will have to bury you in a closed casket. Got it?"

Fat Stevie groaned. Jaren twisted his arm harder. The bookie bellowed again.

"Tell me you got it," Jaren said.

"Got it," Fat Stevie said. "You hear me, you miserable prick? I fucking got it."


They stayed like that for a moment. Abe didn't show any sign of getting up.

"What, is this a date now?" Fat Stevie said. "Lemme go, creep."

Jaren didn't say anything. He took a deep breath.

"Hello? Get your fucking mitts off me."

This was for Craig.

"Big Ma wants me to do one more thing," Jaren said.

Fat Stevie started to say something else, but his words turned to screams as Jaren twisted his arm back even more, breaking it with a sickening snap that filled the office. Jaren stepped away from him. The bookie stayed where he was, screaming and swearing and making all the noise he could. Jaren picked up the Magnum. When he moved around the desk, Abe looked up. Jaren pointed the gun at him and Abe shook his head and Jaren walked out of the office. As he came out of the hallway and into the restaurant proper, the bartender saw him and reached beneath the bar. Jaren pointed the Magnum at him.

"Message is delivered," he said. "There's nothing worth catching lead over."

The bartender stared at him, nodded once, and stepped away from the bar, hands raised. Jaren kept the gun on him until he was at the door, and then he ran from Rolling Rooster's Ribs and didn't stop until he'd reached the car and thrown himself into it. Easton put it into gear and pulled away from the restaurant.

When they were a few blocks away, Everett looked into the backseat and grinned.

"What, you didn't get any ribs to go?"

Jaren sat on the bed, smoking a cigarette, and stared at the wall.

Fat Stevie would sell his book. Or he wouldn't. That wasn't his problem anymore. He'd passed Everett's test. If Big Ma was as hard-up for muscle as Stark said, that should get him in.


ATF would keep Craig in protected custody in the meantime. Maroni had reach, but not to the point of killing a man in a fed cell. Jaren believed that. He believed Agent Billings. He'd dealt with a lot of cops in his life - and what's an ATF fed, if not a cop with an exaggerated sense of self-importance? - and Agent Billings meant what he said.

Even if he meant it for the wrong reasons.

The part Agent Billings didn't get - the part none of them seemed to get, or maybe they just didn't care - was that it wasn't just about saving his brother without landing back in prison himself. It was about the changes he'd made along the way. The anger-management steps he'd practiced. The therapy sessions where he'd screamed and cried and wished that he could take the past fifteen years back.

"The past is an unbroken stone," he said, snubbing out his cigarette, "as much as the future's a wandering cloud, uncertain in what it can be, and only temporary."

Jaren was out of cigarettes. He looked at the wall, shrouded in darkness, and stayed that way for what seemed like a long time.

"We got a whole thing set up," Everett said. "In the event any feds or other government yahoos get fancy and storm the place. There's tunnels underneath. Nobody but us knows where they are."

They were sitting in Everett's car. He clapped his hands together.

"Feds come in hot, Ma scoots. Easy as that."

"Quite the operation," Jaren said.

Everett grinned. "Don't we know it.

"Ma wants to meet you."

Jaren raised an eyebrow. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. Got a deal coming up soon. Need more muscle. Ma only works with folks she knows. That's how we've kept things going."

"Okay," Jaren said. "When and where?"

"I'll call you with the details." Everett patted his shoulder. "Be excited. Ma's a real treat."

Jaren and Agent Billings sat in the living room of a rented house. There was a couch and a couple chairs. Nothing else. Jaren sat in one of the chairs, Agent Billings on the couch.

Jaren was hunched forward. "Everett called me last night. Wants me to meet his ma. Said they've got a big thing in the works and need my help. Lots of money for me, and a place in their organization."

Agent Billings nodded several times. "This is good, Jaren. Really, really good. We're getting there. When are you meeting with them?"

Jaren took a deep breath.

"Tonight," he said. "Everett's picking me up at ten."

"Good," Agent Billings said. "Really good. This gives us time to plan."

The front door opened. Jaren stood fast. A woman walked in. A light-skinned Latina, she wore a tan pantsuit. Her makeup was carefully stated and her earrings were conservative. Agent Billings reached out to Jaren.

"It's okay, it's okay. She's one of ours. I'm sorry, I forgot to mention she would be joining us."

The woman smiled. Agent Billings stood up.

"Jaren, I'd like for you to meet Special Agent Lydia Ruiz. She's working the Big Ma case with me."

Agent Ruiz walked over to Jaren and held out her hand.

"It's my pleasure to meet you, Jaren."

Jaren nodded and shook her hand lightly. The three of them sat, Agent Ruiz taking the other chair.

"Jaren was just telling me that Abigail wants to meet him tonight," Agent Billings said.

Agent Ruiz's eyes widened. "Moving up the ladder?"

Jaren didn't say anything. Agent Billings nodded.

"Looks like it. I think he should wear a wire."

Agent Ruiz shook her head. "On a first meeting with Big Ma? It's too soon. They'll check him on principle."

"How do you think we should handle it? I'm not sending him in unsupported."

Agent Ruiz bit her lip. Jaren rapped his fingers against his legs.

"Are they taking you to the house?" Agent Ruiz said.

"I don't know," Jaren said. "Everett didn't say where we're going or what we're doing, other than I'm meeting Big Ma."

"You know she doesn't leave the house unless she has to," Agent Billings said.

Agent Ruiz nodded. "Mobilize the Special Response Team outside the property. We'll set Jaren up with a phone. Anything looks fishy, he hits a button. The team can be in within thirty seconds."

Agent Billings frowned. "I don't know."

"Paul, you put a wire on him, he's toast. Period."

Agent Billings turned to Jaren. "Where are you on this?"

Jaren looked at the floor. He didn't say anything.

Then: "I need to get my brother out. Whatever that looks like, I'll do it. If she doesn't leave the house, she doesn't leave the house. Get your Special Whatever Team ready to go and show me how to use the phone, and I'll do it."

Agent Billings nodded several times. He looked at Agent Ruiz.

"This is a plan."

Agent Ruiz's smile was wide.

"Oh, yeah," she said. "Piece of cake."

Everett picked up Jaren at five to ten. He was behind the wheel today. Doug-Doug sat in the backseat, taking up most of the row.

"How you doing?" Everett said as he pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road.

"Great," Jaren said. The butterflies in his stomach were fighting it out. "Excited to meet your mother."

Everett chuckled. "Our ma, Jaren. Nobody calls her Big Mother."

From the backseat, Doug-Doug laughed. It sounded ominous more than anything.

Hampton County has never been known for its urbanization. They drove past the main street, onto a backroad that led them over looming hills and through forested glens. Ten minutes into the drive, Jaren realized they were nowhere near Big Ma's sprawling property.

"We going straight there?" he said, keeping his voice even. There was no reason, as far Everett and Doug-Doug were concerned, for Jaren to know where Big Ma lived.

Everett shook his head. "Gotta pick up Timmy and take care of a little something first."

Jaren nodded, and twenty minutes later Everett stopped the car in front of an old barn.

"Timmy's here?" Jaren said.

Everett nodded. He got out of the car. Jaren did the same, and a moment later Doug-Doug followed. Everett pulled the squeaking doors open and gestured Jaren inside. He walked in. The barn floor was devoid of hay, the floor consisting entirely of soft dirt. An overhead bulb cast a pale light upon the setting. Against the far wall were a few large boxes and some shovels. Sitting on one of the of the boxes, holding a shotgun and looking as clever as a cat, was Timmy. As Jaren stepped forward, Timmy pointed the gun at him.

"Oh, give it a rest," Jaren said. "How long are you going to hold on to -"

The rest of Jaren's sentence was cut short as the boom of the shotgun blotted out all other sound. A hole ripped open in Jaren's stomach and chest and he collapsed.

Doug-Doug grabbed a shovel. Everett looked at Timmy.

"You, too," he said. "Shooter helps dig. You know that."

Timmy scowled and set down the shotgun. "I made dinner and I'm still stuck with dishes? Ain't right."

Doug-Doug snickered. "You're terrible, Timmy."

The two of them started digging. Everett stood over Jaren's body. He looked at it for a while.

"Gotta love family," he said.

Timmy looked over at him. "What?"

Everett turned to his brother and shook his head.

"Nothing. Keep digging."


  1. Great story. Can't wait to read more of this series.

  2. Great character development and imagery. I'm enjoying this series and happy to learn more about Big Ma's boys. Love all the names of the characters, too!

  3. Very cool series! What will Big Ma's boys do next?

  4. Loving this series and the development of the story! Just when you think you know what's happening, you hit us with an unexpected ending.

  5. Ah yes, so this is part of a series...thought that character sounded familiar. Good story, exciting and unpredictable.

  6. Really digging this series, and can’t wait to find out what happens next!