The Thick Man- Chapter Nine

After a mini-marathon of Game of Thrones Nora declared that it was safe for me to retire to my dungeon for some much-needed sleep. I offered her one of the bedrooms upstairs but she insisted on taking the couch, probably so she’d be close enough to the basement to hear me if I needed anything. It was a sweet thought, and any other time I probably would have sat up in bed psychoanalyzing it, but by that point I was so exhausted by the events of the day that the only thing that I wanted to do was get hopped up on painkillers and let the sweet oblivion of unconsciousness wash over me.
Imagine my frustration when I was wrenched from blissful sleep just a few hours later by a loud crash, the sound of glass breaking, and then men shouting using a colorful, albeit limited, vocabulary. I could hear them clearly through the AC vents. “Yeah dawg, dis is definitely dat bitch yo guy told us about, but I don’t see the fat guy. Go check upstairs.”
What the hell was I supposed to do? I pulled out my phone to call for help and let out a string of hushed creative cursing. I’d forgotten to plug it in before passing out and it was dead.
I didn’t have long. They started upstairs, so that meant that whoever it was checking the second floor for me would more than likely come down the front set of stairs and see the door to the basement as he made his way back to the living room. I needed to find someplace to hide.
I’ll tell you this, growing up as big as I was playing hide and seek sucked donkey. Let’s just say that I might as well have been the permanent seeker, because I was the kid that they found first every time. Being the size of a midget sumo wrestler didn’t exactly lend itself to blending in to my surroundings, and being the size of a normal sumo wrestler now wasn’t going to help me much in this adult, and very serious version that I found myself playing. The two obvious places I could go would be my walk-in closet or the bathroom, but unless the guy doing the looking was blind, neither spot would do me much good.
That left the storage space under the stairs.
I definitely threw snake eyes in the genetic craps game of life, but one thing that I am thankful for is how my weight is fairly well distributed all over my body. As Grandma says, I carry it well. As a result I can get around a bit better than most my size. That and I have virtually no ass. I must be the only fat guy in history to not have a trunk full of proverbial junk. Nora makes fun of me all the time for it. Right then, I was counting my lucky stars because there’s no way in Hell that I would have been able to wedge my ass inside that storage space otherwise.
The boxes of Christmas stuff was always at the front closest to the door so it could be easily removed and put back, given that those boxes were about the only things that we ever took out of there on any kind of annual basis. It took me a few minutes but I managed to shove some of the other crap in there around until I had a me-shaped hole that I could sit in. That done, I dragged a couple of the Christmas boxes, the lightest ones holding the lights and Grandma’s holiday stuffed animals, back into place in front of me and then yanked the door closed. It was a close thing, and it was uncomfortable as hell, but it worked.
I’d just gotten the door shut when I heard the door to the stairwell open. The stairs above me creaked as whoever it was made his way down the stairs. He wasn’t there long. I heard him open my closet and push around clothes. I heard him throw open the shower door, and I almost had a heart attack when he opened the storage door that I was hiding behind. One glance at the Christmas boxes in front of me and the door shut again.
The stairs above me creaked again as he made his way back up. I had to get on my knees in order to reach past the boxes and turn the little knob to the storage door, and that hurt like hell. Once the door was opened I was able to shove the boxes in front of me out of the way and crawl back into my room. Because of my bad knees and my weight I’m embarrassed to say that I can’t get up from off of the ground without having something that I can use to help pull myself up. In this case I had to crawl across my bedroom over to my chair and use that. By the time the process was finished both knees hurt like hell and I just wanted a nap.
I froze when baritone voices came down through the air vents again.
“Yo dawg, I checked all upstairs and down in the basement. No one’s home.”
“You sure?”
“Wha’choo mean am I sho? It ain’t like a fat muthafucka like dat’d be hard to spot. Know what I’m sayin’?”
“Where’d the fat guy go, bitch?!”
I had to do something to help Nora, but what? I couldn’t call for help and I wasn’t exactly armed. Nora was right in that our house is basically the NRA’s wet dream. Grandma owns more guns than she does dishes. Unfortunately they were all mostly locked away in the gun safe in her bedroom closet. When I became a P.I. I got my license to conceal and carry but I’d never gotten around to actually getting a firearm of my own. I’d never needed one on any of the cases I’d worked and I figured that if the time came when I actually did need one I had a veritable armory to choose from upstairs- not that it was doing me much good right then. The only thing that I had in the way of weapons in my bedroom was my cane and a pellet gun that my grandpa had gotten me for my birthday when I was ten.
Well, you work with what ya got.
I tried to be as quiet as possible on my way up the stairs. My knees were still sore as hell but I could walk on the gimped one now without having to rely on the cane, which was a minor blessing. My head was pounding like a death metal drum solo too, but there was nothing that I could do about that. At the top of the stairs I peeked out towards the living room and in the direction of the shouting. The back door that lead to the patio from the living room had been kicked in. I could see Nora’s face in profile from where she was sitting on the couch with her arms raised. She was being held up by two guys with gold plated handguns, one standing directly in front of her, the other behind and to the left of the couch, next to the staircase there. Both of the guys were dressed in name brand hip hop sweats and shirts that I’m just too old and nerdy to recognize off hand, but the colors were generally black and gold. The only things that completely matched were the black ski masks and gold bandanas with black spades that they both wore on their heads.
They obviously weren’t selling cookies.
It was bad enough that they were looking for us for God knows why, but someone had told them that they would be able to find both of us at my place. Now just who could have known that? I shook my head. There would be time to think about that later, assuming that we survived. I needed to focus on how I could help Nora without getting us both killed.
The guy standing in front of Nora gestured pointedly with his gun, the barrel just inches from her nose. “I’m not gonna ask again, where’s your friend, bitch?”
Nora actually sounded bored. “You know, you’d probably get a lot more cooperation from people if you tried asking nicely. Most women don’t respond well to being called bitch repeatedly.”
With a growl he backhanded her with his free hand and Nora fell sideways across the arm of the couch. “And I don’t respond well to bitches talkin’ back and not tellin’ me the shit I needs ta know!”
Anger flared and without thinking I burst through the door and brandished my pellet gun. “Looking for me, assholes?”
Both men jumped at the sound of my voice, their guns swinging in my direction. I had the pellet gun up and aimed at the guy that had hit Nora. I was hoping that these two would be as dumb as they looked and, given the distance, wouldn’t realize that it wasn’t a real rifle. I did my best to channel Denzel Washington from Training Day and sound cold and confident as I aimed at gangsta number one’s head. “Ah-ah! I’ve got a Remington 700 aimed right at your skull and I’m warning you right now, I’m surgical with this bitch! Now why don’t you and your girlfriend over there lower your guns before things get messy?”
Gangsta One looked over at his partner and snarled, “Thought you said his fat ass wasn’t there!”
“He wasn’t! Where da fuck were you hiding, fat man?”
I raised the gun a little higher, “I blend, now lower your guns or I redecorate in brain matter gray.”
In hindsight the line was cheesy as hell, but in the heat of the moment it sounded like something badass and confident that John McClain from Die Hard might say, and I needed all the help that I could get.
Gangsta One held up his free hand in a pacifying gesture and lowered his gun. “Aiight playa, slow your roll.”
For a second I thought that I just might pull it off, but then Gangsta Two had to grow a brain stem. He squinted and then raised his gun back up towards me. “Yo nigga, that ain’t no rifle! That’s a damn BB gun! Sucka tryin to play us!”
Well, shit.
“Hey, I pumped this thing twenty times! It could draw blood!”
Gangsta One leveled his gun at my head. “I don’t giva shit what they said, cap this mutha-“
Before he could finish Nora launched herself from the couch and hit Gangsta One with a body tackle that sent him backwards into the top of my grandmother’s coffee table, shattering the glass and leaving him, at least temporarily, stuck. I snapped the pellet gun over to Gangsta Two while he was distracted and fired. The shot took him right in the forehead and caused him to miss the shot he took at Nora.
“Taft! Run!”
I didn’t need any more encouragement.
I dropped the pellet gun and booked for the stairs as fast as my gimpy body could move. Nora had already passed me and was hauling ass up the stairs by the time that I got to the first step. There was the rapid bark of gun shots and I could hear bullets smack against the wall and front door just behind me and feel the sting of splinters bite into my backside. I have never, in my entire life, went up a flight of stairs as fast as I did then, pain momentarily forgotten. Bullets are one hell of a motivator.
I saw Nora disappear into Grandma’s room just as I made it to the top. “Nick! Code!”
By the time I got into the bedroom, gasping for breath as though I’d just sprinted a marathon, Nora was already standing in Grandma’s walk-in closet and kitting herself out like she was going to war. She had a shoulder rig already in place with a gun on each side, and was busy loading shells into a twelve gauge shotgun. “You have never…looked more sexy…than right now.”
She grinned lopsidedly and tossed a Glock on Grandma’s bed. “Sweet talker.”
I picked up the gun, ejected the clip, checked it to make sure it was loaded, and then slid it back home again.
She arched an eyebrow at me as she made for the doorway and took a peek to make sure we weren’t followed up. “You good, McClain?”
“Yippie…ki yay.”
Then for the second time in twenty four hours she completely shocked the hell out of me. She gripped the back of my head, narrowly missing the lump, and kissed me square on the lips. It wasn’t an overly romantic or passionate kiss where sweeping music is queued like I’d fantasized about for years. It was hard and quick and still the most amazing thing that I’d ever felt. My breath left me, and it had nothing to do with still being winded from the stairs. For just a split second the world stood still, all the pain was gone, people trying to kill us forgotten, and everything was perfect. When she pulled away there was a fire in her eyes as she smiled wolfishly at me. “Thanks for the save. Now let’s go kick some ass.”
Adrenaline rocked through me and for the first time in my life I felt like a total badass. “Right behind you.”
She checked the doorway and whispered, “Clear” before heading into the hallway and slowly creeping towards the stairs. I followed behind, watching our backs in case they tried to come at us using the other set of stairs, but at a far enough distance so I wouldn’t run into her if she suddenly had to stop. She peaked around the corner and down the stairs, then motioned for me to follow as she started down, shotgun raised to her shoulder. I had to use the bannister with my left hand and take it one step at a time, but I managed to stay more or less right behind her. At the foot of the stairs she peaked around the corner again, into the living room. I braced myself for the sound of gunfire but none came.
She slowly counted to three and then spun around the corner, gun raised. I followed right behind and took position to her right so that I wouldn’t be directly behind her and could cover her if needed. We slowly stalked towards the living room, first clearing the stairwell that lead to my room, and then moving on down the hallway. We did the same as we got to the living room proper. The coffee table was in pieces but there was no sign of Gangsta One or Two.
I whispered, “You think they took off?”
In response automatic gunfire erupted from the darkness of the backyard, shattering the back windows and reducing what was left of the back door to splinters. Apparently the two stooges had brought backup. I dropped behind the arm of the couch at the same time Nora did and we almost smacked into each other. There wasn’t exactly a ton of cover from there and I was sure that at any second some part of me that was sticking out would get blown off. When there was finally a pause in the gunfire Nora and I both returned fire, her from the right, using the couch as a shield and pumping rounds through the shotgun as fast as they would fire, and me from my stomach on the floor because that’s where my crippled ass was going to be for the duration no matter what happened.
My gun clicked empty and Nora had already ditched her shotgun and drawn both of her handguns. She handed one to me and kept the other trained at the darkness beyond what was left of Grandma’s far living room wall. I could hear police sirens in the distance, and as they grew closer without anyone taking any more shots at us I figured that it was probably over.
Nora echoed my thoughts a second later. “I think they unloaded and then booked it. Backup scared them off.”
I waved away her offer of help and used the couch to haul myself back to my feet just as armed cops swarmed in through the front door. Nora had fished her badge from the wreckage and held it out in plain view so that the cops wouldn’t get twitchy and shoot at us. We stayed in the living room as four officers cleared the rest of the house and then headed out to check the back.
Now that I had a minute to breathe I slowly took in the destruction around us as the red and blue flashing lights of the squad cars illuminated the scene. I kicked at a piece of what had once been Grandma’s antique coffee table that Grandpa had given her for their thirtieth anniversary and sighed. “Well, they may not have killed me but when Grandma gets home and sees this she’s certainly going to finish the job.”
Nora shook her head. “Naw, this wasn’t your fault. They just better pray that she isn’t their judge when we finally catch their asses.”
“What the hell, Nor? Why come after me? I’m just a freaking consultant.”
I could see the whites of her knuckles where she had a death grip on what was left of the back of the couch. “I have no idea, Nick; but I swear to God that I’m going to find out.”