The Thick Man- Chapter Sixteen

I hate hospitals. I know that most people say that but I really, really hate them. There’s nothing like being harshly judged by a group of “professionals” who often make decisions based on assumptions rather than actual facts. For instance, because of my size these sterling medical professionals automatically assumed that I must have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and that I need to be on a “special diet.” The only thing they’d let me eat while I was stuck there and waiting to get my head checked out was the most disgusting “heart healthy” muck classified as “food” that I’ve ever had the misfortune to shove down my gullet. They also tried to give me high blood pressure medication given the fact that the genius nurse who took said blood pressure did it while I was standing on my injured knee. I’d agitated again in the crash and as a result was in a ton of pain. Luckily I thought to ask what the hell it was they were trying to give me at $100 a pill before I took it. After insisting that they check everything again they were surprised to find that I did not, in fact, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, much to their uttered shock and amazement. By the time Nora found me I was ready to pull a gun and plug the whole lot of them.
“Nora, if you don’t get me out of here soon you’re going to have to arrest me for multiple counts of homicide.”
She chuckled and sat down next to me. “That bad, huh?”
I relayed my experiences thus far and the smirk disappeared. From that moment on she acted like a rabid guard dog and wouldn’t let anyone do anything to me without first explaining what and why. By the time we were done and cleared to leave we’d been there for over eight hours, I had a massive migraine and I was more than ready to leave the whole horrible day in the past.
Nora frowned at her phone as the hospital exit doors whooshed open for us. “Matt and Ron said they’d meet us here hours ago, and now they’re not answering their phones.”
“Well, they had a ton of crap to take care of. Maybe by the time they were finished they figured we were already done here and back at the cabin. If so, they won’t get phone reception.”
“True. I’ll call us a cab.”
A cab picked us up and drove us back to Potosi to pick up our truck, which Nora had affectionately dubbed “Rusty”. It was disturbing being back at the scene so soon. It was close to one in the morning and the late shift crew had all parked away from the crime scene. This left it a singular focal point in the mostly-abandoned lot. We both looked forlornly at the taped off wreck for a moment, and then, despite the pain, we both moved briskly to get back in our truck and get the hell out of there.
I nodded off during the trip back to the cabin and didn’t wake up until we got to the dirt road from Hell. The short nap hadn’t helped my throbbing head any. Neither did all the bumps. Nora voiced a similar sentiment with a string of creative cursing.
We pulled up to an empty cabin.
Nora growled, “Where the hell are they?”
I shrugged. “Maybe when they saw we weren’t here they decided to go look for us at the hospital. We probably just keep missing each other.”
Nora grunted and opened her door. “Whatever. I’m too tired to care at this point. We’ll catch up with them in the morning.”
I agreed and followed her into the cabin.
Fortunately for us, a good night’s sleep was not in the cards for me that night. Next to chairs, beds are another piece of everyday furniture that most people hardly give a second thought. For someone my size they’re another source of stress and aggravation when it comes to sleeping someplace that is unfamiliar. I have a memory foam mattress that I bought after more than a month’s worth of research that’s about as comfortable a bed for me as any I’m likely to find. Even so, I still end up waking several times a night with my back and knees throbbing so it’s easy to imagine how uncomfortable sleeping in a “normal” bed can be for me. Between all the pains from my recent injuries and the uncomfortable bed, I tossed and turned and couldn’t get to a point where I could ignore the pain enough to fall asleep. Vicodin may have failed me, but my discomfort saved our lives. For the second time in as many days armed gunmen paid us a visit in the middle of the night.
These weren’t armed gangbangers. There wasn’t any kicked in doors or shouted obscenities. They slipped in quietly and moved with the precision of trained professionals. There were two of them dressed in black tactical gear, face masks, and handguns tipped with silencers. It was like something out of a movie, and I stumbled into them by accident on the way to the bathroom.
Had I been half asleep I probably wouldn’t have noticed them; and even if I had, I certainly wouldn’t have had time to react. As it was I took in the scene immediately and shouted “Nora! Gun!” as I leapt backwards through my doorway, bad knees be damned. There wasn’t the harsh bark of guns like there had been at my grandma’s, but sound suppressors don’t work in real life the way that they do in the movies. Instead, it sounded like someone was using a hammer in the next room, and chips of wood flew from the doorway where my head had been seconds before.
I landed awkwardly and my right knee buckled, almost sending me to the floor. I managed to catch myself using the mattress of the bed and shoved off of it, using the momentum to help propel me back towards the door so that I could slam it shut. It bought me maybe three seconds, but that was long enough for me to scoop up one of the handguns that I’d left sitting on the nightstand beside my bed for just such a rainy day occasion. When the door swung back open I unloaded a full clip at my darkened doorway.
Firing guns in an enclosed space is loud, so my ears were ringing and I barely heard the echo of gunfire from the next room over.
Wump, whump, whump.
I quickly ejected my clip, letting it fall to the floor with a thud. I quickly grabbed a spare from inside the nightstand and slapped it home. I moved slowly, gun raised, and ignored the protesting throb from my knees. My heart was going like a trip hammer and I was getting dangerously close to hyperventilating, so I tried to force myself to take deep breaths. The body of the gunman I’d shot down was sprawled on the floor in front of my doorway, almost invisible in the darkness of the cabin. The pool of blood looked like oil and I gingerly stepped around it as best as I could as I made my way towards Nora’s room.
I didn’t see anyone in the cabin proper, and there wasn’t a body on the floor either. As I got closer to Nora’s door I raised the gun a little higher and shouted, “Nora?”
Her voice came back a little shaken, but strong, “I’m here. I clipped mine and he ran off. We’re clear for now.” My heart unclenched. She was crouched down behind her bed with her gun propped up on top of the mattress, presenting a lower profile. She relaxed and let the gun drop when she saw that I was alone. “Thank God! You okay?”
I nodded and felt a hot tear spill down my cheek. My voice came out shaky. “I shot someone Nor. I’ve never done that before.”
Her expression softened as she stood up and came over to me, wrapping me in a hug with one arm. “It’s okay, Nick. You did what you had to.”
I nodded again. “I know. I just didn’t expect to feel like this. It’s not like the movies or novels.”
“No. No it’s not.” I noticed that her eyes and gun had never left the doorway beyond. “Look, Nick, we don’t have a lot of time. I doubt there was just the two of them. There’s probably more outside. We’ve got to get moving.”
I took a deep breath, trying to force away the panic that was trying to grip my chest. “What do we do? That door is the only way out.”
She bit at her lip and shook her head. “I don’t know. Think you can squeeze out of one of the windows?”
I grimaced. “I doubt it. Even if I could, don’t you think they’ll be expecting that and have them covered?”
She cursed. “Probably, but we can’t just stand around here. They weren’t expecting us to be armed and shoot back. That’s buying us some time. Eventually they’ll get tired of waiting and they’ll just storm the place.”
I brightened. “I think I have an idea. We need to go to my room.”
Nora retrieved a flashlight from her bed stand but kept it off. When we got to the body of the man I’d shot she told me to hold up a second. I kept my gun trained on the open doorway into the cabin while Nora knelt down and quickly examined the body. That was fine by me because I sure as hell didn’t want to look at him any more than I had to.
“Maybe now we can get a few answers. You see anything?”
I shook my head. “I thought I saw some movement outside but it’s too dark to be sure. Whatever you’re doing you need to hurry.”
“Right.” She picked his gun up off of the floor and looked it over before handing it up to me. “Suppressed .22. Complete shit at a distance, but it’s much quieter than the larger calibers. It’ll kill ya just as well up close. It’s a favorite with mob hitmen.”
I looked the gun over and grunted.
She whistled. “Wow, Nick. Someone up there likes you.”
She rapped her knuckles on the guy’s chest and got a muffled thud in response. “Kevlar vest stopped most of your bullets. One of the shots got lucky and hit him in the throat, hence all the blood.”
I shuddered. “So you think that these guys are mob? Maybe the Carnelli family?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”
She reached down to pull off the mask and started cursing like a sailor under her breath. I had both guns trained on the body and almost popped off a few more rounds into it on reflex, but he was still just as dead and leaky as he had been moments before. When she stopped swearing Nora looked pale, as though she’d just seen a ghost.
“What’s wrong, Nor? What is it?”
“That’s John Bradway. Worked narcotics with Matt. He introduced us once.”
A cop. I just shot a cop. “Oh, shit!”
“Dammit, I know that we agreed it was probably cops but I just didn’t want to believe it…”
I saw another glint of movement outside and thought I heard someone talking. I swallowed hard. “Nora, we have to get moving. I don’t think we have much more time.”
She nodded and stood up, training her gun on the doorway. We both backed into my room. “What’s your plan, Nick?”
“There was a draft in my room. When I tried to find where it was coming from I noticed that there’s some loose paneling in the closet over there. Maybe we can make a hole big enough to get out. I’ll cover you.”
She nodded and turned on the light just as she crouched down in the closet. “I see it. I think maybe I can kick some of these panels out, but it’s not going to be quiet.” She paused and added, “And it’ll be a tough squeeze.”
I sighed. “I don’t think we have a lot of choice. We have to try something.”
“Okay, when I do this open fire at the doorway to cover up the noise and keep their focus there. Then you’re going to have to move as fast as you can.”
I tried to sound calm and confident but I was actually terrified. I have to admit, at the time I didn’t think that I had a chance in hell of making it out of there. Even if I managed to squeeze out of whatever hole Nora made, we’d have a hell of a time getting me back on my feet. At that point my only hope was that Nora might be able to get away. I’d just have to convince her to run and leave me there while I did my best to hold off anyone that might come looking.
“Get ready to fire. Don’t just empty the clip as fast as you can. Take steady shots like you’re firing deliberately.”
I nodded, not that she’d see, and I stood off to the side of the doorway in case anyone outside returned fire.
“Okay Nick…fire!”
I started shooting. I wasn’t dumb enough to stick my head out to aim. Instead I stuck the gun out from around the door frame and fired the way Nora instructed. When the clip clicked dry I heard Nora hiss, “Let’s go!”
She was already through the hole and covering me with her gun. The hole she made was actually much bigger than I expected. Apparently a whole side panel section had been loose, and she’d managed to kick it away. I can’t exactly lower myself gracefully to the ground. Instead I bent down as close as I could get and then sort of flopped on my side just before the shooters out front returned fire.
Automatic weapons opened up and ate away at the log cabin. Had I still been standing where I’d been moments before I would have been ventilated. Bullets whizzing past and chunks of wood flying everywhere was excellent motivation for me to get my fat ass in gear. I grunted from the impact and tried to ignore all of the ever increasing aches and pains as I crawled across the floor and through the hole. I almost didn’t fit. I could feel the edges tearing at my shirt and scraping away skin, but I managed to squeeze past like Winnie the Pooh through the honey hole.
Adrenaline is a hell of a drug. I had been certain there’d be no way Nora could help me get to my feet, so imagine my surprise when she managed to help pull me up with a grunt of effort. I had to hold on to her hand and steady her, because as I got up she almost fell backwards. Once we were both sure that no one would fall back over she asked, “You okay?”
I nodded and she pulled me after her and into the trees beyond. We used them as cover to double back towards the front of the cabin where Rusty was parked. There were two black S.U.V.s next to it and now that stealth was out the window they had the headlights on to illuminate the pock-marked cabin. I could see moving lights inside through the bullet holes as a team of shooters were clearing the cabin. There were two more armed and masked gunman backlit by the headlights of one of the S.U.V.s. One had an automatic shotgun resting against his shoulder, watching his team inside. The other had one arm in a sling, the man that Nora shot I assumed. He held a pistol aimed at two figures kneeling in front of him with their arms handcuffed behind their backs.
Nora gasped beside me.
It was Matt and Ron.
The man with the shotgun spoke into a radio he had clipped to his shoulder. “Report.”
I couldn’t hear the response but Shotgun Guy was obviously not happy. “Son of a bitch, Wilson! Then go after them! It’s a fat cripple and a woman! They couldn’t have gotten that far!” He cursed and backhanded Matt across the face, causing him to fall over. “Pick his ass up!”
Nora gripped my arm so tight it hurt. Pistol Guy grunted as he pulled Matt back to his knees and Shotgun Guy put his gun against Matt’s head. “I’m losing my patience, Matt. Last chance. Where the fuck did they go?”
“I hope Nora tears you a new asshole, you fucking traitor!”
The gun roared and I pulled Nora to my chest to keep her from screaming and running out of the woods, gun blazing. She bucked against me but I held on until she finally stilled, her shoulders shaking with sobs. Ron was slumped over Matt’s fallen body, screaming. Then he leapt to his feet, cursing in Spanish, and ran at Shotgun Guy. He never even flinched. Pistol Guy cracked him in the back with the butt of his gun and sent Ron back to the ground as Shotgun Guy casually stalked towards him and chambered another round into the shotgun.
“Oh God, Nick. We have to do something. We have to-“
The gun went off and Nora’s face contorted into an expression of anguish so horrible that it broke my heart. Shotgun Guy leveled a finger at his comrade and drew my attention. “You’re in charge here. I want them found! Scour the area. No one leaves until it’s done. I’ve got a meeting in an hour that I can’t be late for.”
“And the bodies?”
He glanced down at the two corpses and then back at the cabin. “Throw them inside. Burn it to the ground.”
Pistol Guy nodded and holstered his sidearm so that he could use his good hand to key the radio and issue orders. Shotgun Guy threw his gun into one of the S.U.V.s and pulled out, leaving the scene behind. As soon as he was out of sight Nora glanced over at me. Her stare was vacant and the tone of her voice made me shudder. “You still have that gun we took off the body?”
I nodded and handed it over to her. She handed me her gun in return.
“Stay here. Get ready to move. If you see anyone come from the cabin or the woods, don’t hesitate. Shoot.”
I knew better than to argue.
She hefted the silenced pistol and moved from behind the tree. She kept low and stalked towards where Pistol Guy was still shouting orders into his radio. She approached him from behind and he had no idea that she was there up until the moment she put the gun to the back of his head and pulled the trigger. I burst from behind the trees and hobbled as fast as I could make myself move. Nora was already making a bee line for Rusty, firing the little pistol in her hand at the S.U.V.’s tires as she ran.
She was already inside the truck as I got to the passenger door. I got it open as three figures emerged from the cabin. Nora screamed, “Shit!” and turned the key in the ignition as I leapt inside. The engine sprang to life just as the gunmen opened fire. I barely got the door closed before Nora floored it and sent us hurtling towards the gunmen. Bullets ricocheted off of the hood and a few cracked the windshield in front of us, but then we were on them and the gunmen had to leap away to avoid getting mowed down. Her turn spun us just before we’d hit the cabin and she gunned the engine again towards the dirt road beyond, kicking up a cloud of dust in our wake. The gunmen recovered and opened fire again, but the bullets bounced harmlessly off of the steel tailgate and then we were too far gone.
“I think I got at least one of their tires. I don’t think they’ll be following us anytime soon.”
She was breathing hard and a tear streaked down her cheek. I gave her knee a squeeze as I choked back a sob of my own. “There was nothing we could have done to stop it, Nor. Even if we had tried and managed to get lucky shots that took them both out before they could kill anyone, the other gunmen would have come out of that house and torn us all to pieces.”
She didn’t say anything. I took my hand away and let her drive. We stopped at an old hotel five miles out from an exit we chose at random. It wasn’t until we were in the parking lot listening to the engine tick as it cooled when she finally spoke. “I know we couldn’t have stopped it. I know we’d have just gotten killed along with them. I know that, but…”
Exasperated, she shook her head. I nodded. “I know. I felt the same way. Still do.” I put my hand on her shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “We’ll get them, Nor. We’ll find out who’s behind this and we’ll make them pay. We’ll do it for Matt and Ron.”
She didn’t look at me, but she reached up and squeezed my hand before getting out of the truck. “I’ll get us a room and then we can plan our next move.”
It wasn’t until she disappeared into the hotel lobby that I finally let myself cry.