CHAPTER 05

They were the only people in the bar - just the way Roman liked it.

The crew hung around the two tables in the small billiard space. Bryce and Roman played on the table closest to the bar. Burton and Hope faced off on the other. Reggie sat in an old plush arm chair that didn't seem to fit the motif of the bar, tapping away on his smartphone.

This was their favorite spot. O'Neill's considered itself a "classic" Irish pub - although, with its modernized menu and extensive list of craft cocktails, its name was probably the most Irish thing about it. The dark, hardwood interior of the place gave O'Neill's a cozy feeling, and the ancient bar counter was one of the oldest in the area. It was a restaurant for most of the evening, but stayed open for as long as anyone wanted to drink.

O'Neill's was only a few blocks from the apartment, so the crew would come here at least once a week. In the later parts of the evening, they would often have the place to themselves. The music played low, and they could relax and be themselves here. Jimmy, the owner and bartender, was in his fifties and enjoyed their company as much as they enjoyed his heavy pours. What Roman appreciated the most was that the man knew when they needed their privacy. They had many problem solving sessions and celebrations at this bar, and Jimmy always knew when to walk away.

Roman slid his cue stick along the bridge of his hand, aiming to put the solid orange five into the corner pocket. Just above the spot his eyes were trained for aiming, he could see Hope. She was leaning over her own cue stick, readying for a shot.

Roman could feel himself holding his breath. He tried his best to concentrate, his mind straining not to look over the ball at her slender shape. Her long brown hair rested on her shoulders. Her profile was further defined by the billiard table lights' glow.

He lost himself in thought and only felt the strike of the cue's tip as it contacted with the cue ball. The sound of the orange five ball sinking easily into a pocket jolted him out of his momentary daze.

When he realized where he was, he looked around the space. Had anyone else noticed his distraction? Burton was on the other side of his sister's table, still waiting for her to take a shot.

Roman respected Burton as his own older brother. Growing up, that's what he had been, for all of them. Always protecting them from outside problems, no matter what they were. Roman wasn't even really sure why. Without Burton being there, he couldn't imagine how different his life might look.

He glanced up at Bryce, and the expression on his face spoke volumes. The knowing look on his other childhood friend's face indicated that there was no confusion about what was going on. If Burton was his big brother, Bryce was like a conjoined twin. Roman couldn't hide anything from him.

Roman stepped back from the table. "I think I'm about done. I can't even finish this game," he said, hoping to lead Bryce's thought away.

"Giving up so soon? That's not like you at all," Bryce said, smiling and reading Roman's mind.

Roman hated when he did that.

"Alright, I'll let you go this time," Bryce teased, letting Roman out of his mental headlock. "Let's have one more, and we'll call it a night." He turned and took two steps to reach their spot at the bar. Most of the stools were already placed upside down on top of the tables, with the exception of their section by the pool tables. Jimmy had started his closing, but didn't look like he was in any hurry to push his favorite people out the door. "Jimmy, do you mind if we have one more?"

Jimmy paused doing his inventory and walked over with a big smile and a bottle in his hand. "You're welcome to as many as you like. I still got a few more things to take care of."

"Not for me," Hope said, coming up to the bar. "I think Burton and I are going to head out."

"Yeah, this was fun, but I have a day job, too." Burton gave Roman a brotherly embrace with clasped fists. "Poker next week?"

Roman nodded suddenly thinking of Burton's thick arm around his neck. His bicep and forearm squeezing out Roman's thoughts of his sister. "Yeah, definitely. Get home safe."

Hope came up to Roman last, her deep gray hazel eyes mesmerizing him. She embraced him, and he held her close, conscious of how tight and long he held.

"You boys don't stay out too late. I don't want to hear you've wandered over to the strip club or something like that." Hope jabbed him playfully in the ribs.

Roman held his hands in the air. "Who, us? Never. We'll go straight home. We're good boys." He grinned, thinking ironically of their activities of the day.

Hope gave Reggie a hug as he remained seated and the brother and sister left with a wave.

Jimmy placed a fourth round of Dewars on the rocks in front of them and stepped away. Or was it their fifth? It didn't matter.

Roman lifted his glass with a smile, "Here's to what we will think up next."

"To the take being even greater!" Bryce clinked his glass against Roman's.

Roman looked at his glass of blended whisky, a perfect amber tone swirling around a single large ice cube. He lowered himself on the stool, unexpectedly somber. "I really want to do something greater." His eyes focused on the cube as his mind wandered.

"I wouldn't say what we just did was insignificant." Bryce looked back at Reggie. He had passed out and was now curled up in a ball on the armchair.

"That's not what I mean. Yes, it was a small thrill, but in the end, what does it matter? We gained some extra cash. There has to be a way for it to mean more."

Bryce took a sip from his glass and looked past the windows of the front of the bar. Roman could see that for once, his friend wasn't following his train of thought. "You want to start doing art or something?" he asked, his eyes wondered.

Roman shook his head. "No, nothing like that. I don't know what I want to do next, but I wish we could do something that..." He paused trying to find the correct word. "That matters."

"There has to be something we can do that matters more than money. We've been doing this a long time. We have more money squirreled away than we could spend in ten lifetimes. But what's the point? What have we done to make the world a better place?"

"I see what you're saying, but what do you want to do? Volunteer for the peace corps? Run a marathon? Become some kind of Hacktivist?"

"I'm not exactly sure myself. Maybe I'm just drunk," he said, lifting his glass to take another sip. He really wasn't sure what he was saying. The more money that built in his reserves, the less significant he felt about his purpose in life. Whether or not even he had a purpose in life. He never expected that his role of being a career criminal could be a vital thing in society. Shouldn't he feel like he was living up to his potential?

Another sip. He wasn't sure if Bryce was lost in thought or just had nothing to say.

Roman looked at his watch. "We should get out of here. You got work in a few hours."

Bryce signaled Jimmy to close their tab. "Way to ruin a great night." Though he didn't show even a hint of a smile, Roman knew that Bryce was teasing him.

They both went to the armchair and helped Reggie to his feet. Jimmy held the door and locked it after them. The three of them stumbled through the quiet narrow streets that defined downtown Manhattan. It was a short and clumsy walk back to the apartment, with a brief dry heave by Reggie over a service grate.

Roman was ready for bed when they exited the elevator on their floor, but the night was about to take another turn.

All three froze at the sight of two police officers dressed in their familiar navy blue uniforms. Their hands perched on their utility belts, carrying their firearms and handcuffs.

Roman didn't want to believe what he was seeing. There was no way they could have been caught. Especially not this soon. He looked at Bryce and the two shared a brief, wordless discussion on whether they should simply turn and run right there.

But there was no way they were going to escape this one. Not with Reggie in his condition. They were good at improvising out of tough situations, but there was no option here other than to steady themselves and say nothing.

The two officers swaggered their way closer and one of them looked cautiously at the three of them. "Is one of you Roman Hawker?" asked the one that stepped forward.

There was no way this was possible. Roman considered lying, but thought better of it. "Yes, that's me. How can I help you, Officers?" He willed his expression to remain steady. He suddenly felt sober and warm.

Roman's fear of getting caught created nightmares that were more vivid than reality. Scenes where SWAT teams would bust through the doors and windows, grabbing at them through smoke and chaos. Moments where they were just finishing a job, then bottlenecked into a barricade of squad cars. Never had he imagined that it would come down to two Officers waiting at his doorstep. He looked around the hallway helplessly, wishing he could see through the walls.

The officer that was doing the talking looked at each of them in the face, pausing longer at Reggie. It looked as if he was considering if he should acknowledge the intoxicated state they were in. "Is he okay?" he asked, pointing to Reggie.

"Just coming back from a bachelor party." It was the first thing Roman could come up with.

"On a Monday night?" The Officer didn't look like he bought it.

"It was a weekend thing." Roman trailed off. The less he said the better.

The other Officer came up closer behind his partner, shifting his belt slightly. Roman didn't say a word. They all stood there looking at each other in the dim hallway. Roman could picture the large bags of cash sitting in the living room just behind their front door. At least it wasn't still piled on the table. Bryce didn't say a word, frozen and tightening his hold on Reggie. He would wait to take his cue from Roman.

"There has been an incident. The Tarrytown PD has asked us to notify you." He cleared his throat. "I regret to inform you that your father, Jacob Hawker, was found yesterday at his home, deceased. Cause of death has been determined by the medical examiner to be self-inflicted. You will need to contact..."

The officer was still talking but nothing else registered in Roman's mind. His hearing blurred as the pressure increased from his temples to his eardrums. His knees went limp and he dropped to the ground to his hands and knees. He felt his friend's hands holding him up by his shoulders. He could feel his tears build up in his eyes. His eyes unfocused, all he could see was black.


This has been an excerpt from my full-length novel Jubilee: The Heist to Erase Debt. Available on Amazon.com, in audio, and almost everywhere else

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