Two months after the attack, Lost Angels’ HQ was unrecognizable. The walls had been rebuilt, but beyond that, everything was in drastic need of repair. Raine knew that they had been lucky that casualties had been few, and he had made sure to let Carin and the Reapers know that the Angels had plenty more explosives if the Reapers decided to show their faces on the South Side again.
Of course, that was a lie – but Raine needed Carin to believe it, because the Reapers were more powerful than ever. With news of the Angels fall from grace, several other minor gangs pledged fealty to Carin, who now styled himself King of California.
As far as Raine was concerned, California had no king, and if Carin truly wanted that title, he’d have to earn it over Raine’s dead body.
Raine looked up from the tabletop he’d been staring at. He hadn’t been looking at the table, of course. Rather, he had been thinking. Thinking far harder than he ever had in his life.
“Repeat what you said, please, Lieutenant Green.”
Green nodded, his stoic face betraying no emotion. “A messenger came from the north. Carin has called a meeting between all the gangs.”
It could only mean one thing.
“He wants to negotiate a peace, then.” Raine drummed his thick fingers on the table. “I won’t go.”
Several of Raine’s men murmured at that, only stopping when Raine looked up, focusing his eyes on each one in turn. These were men he had elevated to sit on his council, due to either their wisdom or their ability. Green, of course, was on it, along with his brother, Ohlan. There were several other men who had fought with him against the Reapers when the Angels had splintered from them two years ago. Well, that was a bit complicated; the Reapers had splintered from an original Lost Angels gang that both Raine and Carin had been a part of, before they had both been part of the Lobos during the Old World.
“He hasn’t won yet,” Raine said. “He’s ready to sign the peace when he hasn’t even won the war.”
At this, Ohlan smirked. It was as if his brother were saying that the Reapers had won. Raine noticed that several of the men were looking at Ohlan, seeming to be of a similar mind.
“We have lost our ability to fight,” Ohlan said. “We don’t have any more explosives. We don’t have the manpower, and we’re running low on bullets. It might not be today, but should we refuse the invitation to talk, it will mean worse for us down the road.”
Several of the men nodded at that. Raine stared hard at Ohlan, angry, but not surprised, that he had already forgotten their previous conversation.
“If we go,” Ohlan continued, “we may be able to secure a more favorable deal while we are still standing on our feet.” Ohlan turned his cold, blue eyes on his brother. “It’s a little harder to negotiate when your face is in the mud.”
“He hasn’t won. The next person who suggests surrender will be kicked off this council.”
“Isn’t that a bit premature, Raine?” Ohlan asked. “I understand that you don’t want to admit…”
“We’ll never surrender,” Raine said, cutting him off. “I know these streets better than Carin or his Reapers ever will. If he wants to be king of California, let him test that claim. Here, south of the 105.”
Green chuckled at that, and several others joined him.
“South L.A. is a maze,” Raine said. “No outsider will know it like us. Even we get lost here, sometimes. The streets aren’t what they used to be, and we’ll make them even easier to get lost in.”
“They know where HQ is,” a man named Jaeo said, one of the Bunker One refugees the Angels had taken in. “I’m not against it, but they only need to find HQ and take it over to win. Right?”
“We got plenty of bases,” Raine said. “Plenty of space in our territory. We’ll keep this place as HQ for now. But we’re moving our main base further south.”
Several of the men started at that. Ohlan blinked, then frowned, but didn’t offer any argument. It was something Raine had been thinking about for a while, now, and the Reapers near success had only convinced him further.
“We’re harder to take over than my brother is suggesting. Carin knows it’s easier to make us think we lost than to actually take us over. He’d lose a lot of men trying and waste a lot of bullets, and he knows it. He can’t afford that.” Raine looked at Ohlan, who was openly scowling now. “You want to know why? Carin has his own enemies. It’s not just us who hate the Reapers. True, we are his most powerful rival. Even now. But there are more gangs just waiting for their chance to jump him the moment he’s weak. Sure, he has thousands of lives to spend if he really wants to take us over. I say let him. As soon he tries, we make it hell for him. Let him weaken himself, and if he does, guess what? There’s the Krakens down by Longbeach. There’s the Vultures up north. There’s The Hill Alliance, with Last Town and Riverside and Victorville, who would love to take back everything the Reapers took from them.”
“What’s your point?” Ohlan asked.
“My point is, sure, the Reapers are top dog. For now. But the thing about top dogs is, they don’t stay on top for long…especially when they make a lot of people angry, and they find themselves weak from extending themselves too much. If anything, I welcome another attack.”
“What do you propose, then?” Ohlan asked grudgingly.
“We wait. We stall. We make Carin think we’re actually taking him seriously.” Raine chuckled. “We’re not, of course. And we do all we can to make him think we’re staying here when we’re really moving house. We consolidate ourselves here below the 105. We make alliances. Next time he attacks…he’ll find out he’s made the worst mistake of his life.”
The men murmured their agreement, all but a few who were loyal to Ohlan. Ohlan looked at his brother neutrally, but Raine knew what was really going on. Ohlan had made his play to take the gang in the direction he wanted, but Raine had maintained control.
Raine realized, not for the first time, the the greatest threat to the Lost Angels might not be Carin Black and the Reapers.