The Thick Man- Chapter Nineteen

Brennan glanced down at the growing pool of blood and sighed. “Well, the wife won’t be happy, but what else is new. At least this way I can honestly say that I didn’t do it, so thank you for that.”
He glanced up at Nora and smiled. “Hey there kid. Quite a pickle that you’ve got yourself into, huh? I always warned your dad that you’d get yourself killed doing something stupid one day. He was an idiot for ever letting you go to the academy”
If looks could kill Brennan would have been incinerated on the spot. “How could you do it, Jack? Matt worked under you for over a decade! He and Ron both had families!”
He shrugged. “They were good cops and it’s a shame that they had to die, but like my dearly departed nephew there, sometimes it’s just the cost of doing business. You and your friends have stuck your noses in places that you shouldn’t have, and found out things that no one was meant to know. I couldn’t let that stand. I have too much to lose.”
“You’ve been a cop for thirty years! You’re my father’s best friend, for Christ sake!”
He nodded. “And I still will be once you and your friend are taken off of the board.” Brennan turned his attention back to Carnelli. “Could we get this show on the road? I have a dinner meeting with the Mayor in about an hour and I really shouldn’t be late.”
“Of course.”
“So what is it that you want, Carnelli? I offered you a chance to get in on our little operation and you turned me down. If you think that knowing my name and holding these two kids over my head is enough to make me pack it all up then you’re sadly mistaken.”
Carnelli chuckled. “Oh, I didn’t think that you would. Actually, you’ve already given me exactly what I want.”
Brennan nodded knowingly. “I figured. It’s going to be like that, huh?”
“Yes, like that.”
There was a loud clang from above us and a huge metal girder dropped from the ceiling to land with a thunderous crash directly between our two opposing groups. I was suddenly jerked backwards as dirt and various other types of crud I don’t really want to think about rained down around me.
Then the shooting started.
Strong hands shoved me in the direction of the metal monstrosity that I’d noticed earlier and when I glanced back through the cloud of grit I saw that it had been Joseph Carnelli that had done it. Nora shouldered past him a second later and bellowed “Move!”
We both high-tailed it as bullets zipped past our heads.
Halfway to our destination I jerked to a sudden stop and Nora almost slammed into my back when the body of one of Carnelli’s snipers fell from the rafters and landed at my feet. I looked up to see gang members and mob men engulfed in a precarious battle for the high ground above us. Apparently Brennan hadn’t been as stupid as Carnelli had hoped. Even as I had that thought reinforcements for both sides swarmed into the fray from opposite sides of the warehouse and the gunfire erupted in earnest.
It was an all-out war for the drug trade in Saint Louis, and Nora and I were caught in the crossfire.
I felt Nora give me a light shove on my back and I got my body in motion again. Just as I started to think we might make it to cover without getting shot, a gang member decked out in black and yellow popped out from around one of the massive metal wheels- one of the Gravediggaz. He caught sight of me instantly and started to swing his nickel-plated hand cannon around towards my face. Without much else in the way of choice, I used the only thing that I had to defend myself. I depressed the button on the top of my cane and yanked the hidden blade from its sheath. I lashed out with the cane in my left hand, knocked his gun to the side, and lunged with the blade. The man’s eye’s bulged in shock as the steel pierced the thin flesh of his neck. After all, who the hell brings a sword to a gun fight? I quickly pulled the blade back out with a short spurt of blood as he clutched at the wound and fell to his knees.
I felt sick.
I averted my gaze as I slid the blade back in its cane scabbard and picked up his dropped handgun. Nora was at my back a second later, similarly armed. I have no idea where she’d gotten her gun from. She glanced down at the man I’d stabbed, who’d since fallen to the ground still desperately trying to stem the blood flowing between his fingers.
I felt her hand grip my shoulder. “C’mon, Nick. We’re still out in the open.”
I nodded and followed her over to the rusted stairs. Now that I was closer and at a better angle I could see where they actually led. It was like a little cubby hole with a small control board of some kind, only instead of lights and buttons it had valves and levers. It was also way too small for me to fit, much less the both of us. Nora mounted herself at the top of the stairs, not quite going inside, and I sat down in the middle, using the railing and the huge metal wheel as cover. We wouldn’t be able to stay there for long, but for that moment it was the best option we had and it allowed me to get off of my throbbing knees for a precious few seconds.
The sound of automatic gunfire was deafening, and the warehouse floor was already littered with bodies and blood. Real firefights are nothing like in the movies. They’re quick, loud, and massively confusing. It’d only been a few minutes since the whole thing had kicked off and already the sounds of gunfire were starting to dwindle. So much crap had been kicked up into the air that it was impossible for me to clearly tell which side was winning. Regardless, Nora and I needed to get the hell out of Dodge.
She leaned down and voiced a similar sentiment into my ear a second later. “We have to get out of here. No matter who wins this thing, we’re going to lose.”
I nodded to let her know that I agreed as I continued to scan the area for a possible way of escape. I thought I’d spotted a potential exit when there was a startled yelp from behind me. I spun my head back towards where Nora had been seconds before and my heart froze.
Jack Brennan had scaled the metal wheel and grabbed Nora from behind. His right arm was locked around Nora’s throat and his left held a handgun to her temple. Brennan’s face was covered in a mask of grime and blood and I could make out pock marks in his body armor where he’d been stuck by gunfire multiple times.
His voice was a feral growl but came out clearly even over the staccato of gunfire still erupting sporadically around us. “Drop your guns, both of you!”
I let my gun fall from my grip and it clattered back down the rusted stairs to the concrete floor. Nora reluctantly followed suit. Brennan spoke harshly into Nora’s ear. “You two have been a massive pain in my ass! You always were an insufferable brat, girl, but dammit if you haven’t managed to nearly fuck up an operation that has taken me six years to build!”
“Excuse me while I shed a tear.”
She let out a choked moan of pain as Brennan jerked his arm tighter around her throat. “You always did have a smart mouth. Never knew when to shut the hell up. If I’da been your daddy I would have beat that kind of behavior out of you. Richie always was too fucking soft for his own good.”
God bless her, even half choked and with a gun to her head, she still couldn’t keep from being a wise-ass. “If you’d have been my daddy I’d have killed myself out of shame.”
“Well, it’s not too late for that.” He leveled the gun at my forehead. “But first say goodbye to your friend here.”
For a single moment it was as though time stood still. My eyes met Nora’s and I could see the fear in them for me. I smiled to let her know that it was all right, and with nothing else to lose I finally said the words that I’d wanted to say for so long.
“I love you.”
“I know.”
And then she pressed Gram’s Remington Derringer under Brennan’s chin and pulled the trigger twice. Blood and gore showered down around us. Brennan’s arm went slack from around Nora’s throat, and his body tumbled backwards to land on the concrete below with a meaty thud. Nora pocketed the empty Derringer and scooped up both her fallen pistol and the one that Brennan had dropped. The latter she handed to me as she passed me on the stairs and then she bent down and kissed me full on the lips.
There was a fire in her eyes when she pulled away and a mischievous grin spread across her face as she said, “Come on, Solo. We’re not out of this yet.”
I stared after her for a second, my mouth agape, before my brain finally kicked into gear. I hauled myself back to my feet and got myself moving again. I hobbled in her wake, the both of us dodging bullets and bodies as we made our way to the nearest exit. We’d occasionally take pot shots at anyone left that wasn’t the two of us and looked like they might need incentive to find a better target. Through all of that, despite all of the carnage and mortal danger around us; despite the pain wracking my body from head to toe; despite the fact that odds were still excellent that we wouldn’t survive the night-
I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot.