The Thick Man- Chapter Twenty

Nora slammed into the wooden door that looked as though its hinges were holding on by dirt and sheer will and the whole thing came down with a crash. I could feel the chill night air brush my cheeks from the freedom beyond and was so insanely happy to not be choking on dust and grit anymore that I didn’t realize that Nora had abruptly come to a stop. I plowed into her back and we both almost tumbled to the ground. After stammering an apology I looked up and saw why Nora had stopped so close to freedom.
We were surrounded by a half circle of disheveled and pissed off looking mobsters wielding automatic weapons and bad attitudes.
“Well, shit.”
It was Joseph Carnelli’s voice, and the middle of the firing squad parted to allow him through. His jacket was gone now, and his dress shirt adorned a couple of bullet holes where the white Kevlar vest he wore underneath was showing. He had a cut above his eye and his face and hair was a complete mess, much like Brennan’s had been, but otherwise he seemed none the worse for wear.
He smiled when he saw me and clapped his hands once. “Nicolas, you survived! Excellent! When I lost track of you during the scuffle I’d feared someone had turned you into a targeting dummy.”
“There were certainly a few close calls. Thank you for pulling me out of the way of that falling girder, by the way.”
He waved a hand. “Think nothing of it.” He turned his attention to Nora. “Detective, I’m pleased to see that you’ve survived this little ordeal as well. I don’t suppose you happened to see where Captain Brennan ran off to?”
“You’ll find his body on the cement floor of the warehouse next to that weird metal thing with the wheels. I shot him.”
Carnelli quirked an eyebrow and smiled ruefully. “Did you now? Excellent. It would seem that both of our problems are solved in that regard… which leaves us with deciding what’s to happen next.”
Nora glanced around at all the armed men surrounding us. “It looks like you have us at a disadvantage, so I guess that’s up to you.”
Carnelli chuckled as he looked around at his men. “Yes, it would seem that you’re correct. That said, and despite what you may think of me, I have no interest in doing you any harm. While there are still a few stragglers who may have gotten away, it would seem that my plan worked wonderfully and my organization stands to gain a great deal. That wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the part that you and Nicolas played.” He cast another smile in my direction. “Besides, if anything were to happen to you Nicolas would be broken hearted, and I would hate to see that. So, let’s just say that as long as you leave out my personal role in tonight’s events when your friends show up we’ll be even.”
He turned his attention to his men. “Let them go. Search the warehouse for any of our people who may be injured and then get out of here before the authorities show up.”
Then he turned and walked to where Rudy was holding open the back door to a waiting car.
I blinked and then looked over at Nora, who looked just as surprised as I was. I called out after him, “Joseph?”
He turned.
“Thank you.”
He smiled again, but there was something very sad about it. He nodded once and then climbed into the car. The rest of his men filed past us and back into the warehouse.
Nora looked over to me and grunted. “Well what do you know? We actually lived.”
“Yeah…wonders never cease. What in the hell are we going to tell the cops when they get here?”
“The truth.” She gestured for me to follow her as she walked over to where a couple of old crates had been haphazardly stacked. She sat down with a weary sigh and I gingerly sat down next to her. I could hear other cars pulling out of the gravel lot and it seemed that in a few minutes time we’d be alone. I still kept my gun handy, just in case, and I noticed that Nora was doing the same. “We tell them that we were taken from the parking lot of Potosi Correctional and used as bait for a meeting between the mob and a rival drug operation run by Brennan. A fight broke out. We survived.”
I jerked my head in the direction of the fading tail lights of Joseph’s car. “And Carnelli?”
She shrugged. “They’ll know he was involved but they won’t be able to prove it. Not without our eyewitness testimony.”
I arched an eyebrow at her. “You’d really do that? Leave that out?”
“I figure we owe him that much. Like he said, we do that and I figure we’re even. I don’t like him. He’s a criminal, a murderer, and he deals in poison, but he did right by us so I’m going to return the favor just this once.”
I squeezed her knee and nodded. “I wish that things could have worked out differently. You know, for Ron and Matt.”
Her eyes looked a little glassy in the moonlight and she nodded silently.
After a few minutes the sound of police sirens could be heard echoing in the wind. I massaged my throbbing knee. “Well, here comes the cavalry. I guess this whole mess is finally over.”
She scoffed. “You wish. Next we get to sit through hours of debriefings where we get to explain just what the hell has happened these last few days.”
I groaned and buried my head in my hands. “I should have let them shoot me.”
Her voice was bitter as she continued, “All of this bullshit and we still don’t know who killed all those people.”
I thought about what Father Michael had said a few hours earlier and repeated it for Nora. “Well, at least we managed to remove a small piece of evil from the world.”
“Yeah, I guess.” She looked at me quizzically. “That was kind of a weird way to put it. Weird for you anyway.”
“It was something that Father Michael said to me as we were hauling Danes away.”
I sat in the cool night air, relishing the feeling on my skin as the sounds of distant sirens grew closer, when suddenly it clicked and I jerked my head up. “Son of a bitch!”
I pushed myself up off of the crate and Nora was instantly next to me and alert, scanning the darkness for some new threat. “What? What’s the matter?”
“I think I know who our killer is. You’re going to think I’m nuts, but it makes sense!”
“What? Who?”
“Think about it. This whole mess started because the first four victims were all from Potosi and involved with Dirty Cops Incorporated, right?”
I started to explain what I meant by that last bit but she waved it away. “Disturbingly, I’ve learned to follow your weird train of thought, so I got it. Keep going.”
I smirked and continued, “Well, we know it wasn’t Brennan and his crew. I’m sure now that it wasn’t Carnelli or his people either.”
“So who’s left? Who else would have known the people involved; someone that they’d have trusted enough to have their guard down?”
Her nose scrunched up as she thought about it. It was cute as hell. “Well, like you said, it wouldn’t be anyone that was involved with Brennan’s operation because they’d have too much to lose and they certainly wouldn’t be trusted. And I agree, I don’t think it was Carnelli. He’s a lot of things, but he’s not a liar. He’s been straight with us about everything this whole time.”
I nodded and waited for the light bulb to go off. To help it along I added, “Think about the book we’ve been reading. It’s always the person you wouldn’t suspect…”
Then it happened. “Son of a bitch! But that’s crazy! Why would he…?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know, but it’s worth asking don’t you think?”
She nodded. “We need to get out of here before those cops show up and bog us down for hours with questions.”
I pointed at the various black S.U.V.s that Brennan and his people had come in. “We can take one of those. If we can’t find the keys you can hotwire one, right?”
She looked shocked. “Nick! You’re talking to an officer of the law!” Then she grinned wickedly. “Of course I know how to steal a car.”