“So, just how many concussions can someone get before they turn into Forrest Gump?”
I woke up in a large wooden chair that creaked ominously under my weight as I moved, so I was quick to get out of it. The world spun for a second and luckily Nora caught me and helped me to steady myself before I could fall. The last thing that I needed was to end up on the floor like an overturned turtle. I walked over to the nearest wall and leaned my weight against it for additional support until my head cleared. We both noticed that our pockets had been emptied and that my cane was missing. I silently hoped that they hadn’t just left it sitting in the parking lot. I really loved that cane.
The room was completely bare, with the exception of the aforementioned chair. The door, of course, was locked and looked like it was made of steel or some other metal not likely to give without superman-level force. Danes was still handcuffed and unconscious in a corner. I rubbed at the lump on my head as Nora tried the door again, and then kicked it out of frustration. Someone on the other side pounded on it and yelled “Cut that shit out or I’ll come in there and tie ya up!”
Nora looked back at me and I shrugged. “You get a look at who our hosts might be?”
She shook her head. “They must have sprang up from beside a car. I never saw them.” She rubbed at the back of her head. “Asshole used a blackjack.”
I nodded and started to undo my belt. Nora quirked an eyebrow at me. “Uh, Nick? What are you doing?”
I unzipped my pants and stuck my right hand down the front. “I’ve got a surprise for you!”
“My God, they finally broke your brain…”
I chuckled as I pushed up my stomach roll and fished out my prize- the Derringer handgun that I’d taken from Grandma’s gun safe. The Derringer is the one of the smallest usable handguns on the market, less than 5 inches long, and unfortunately only holds two shots. Gamblers and prostitutes used to carry them as hold outs back in the old west, and people still use them as conceal and carry weapons for self-defense. This one was a vintage Remington that Gram had gotten at an auction a few years back and I’d always wanted to try it out. I held it out to Nora and the smile on her face lit up the room. “Nick, I could kiss you.”
I smirked. “Yep, I know what the ladies like.”
I redid my pants as Nora checked the gun to make sure it was still loaded. “How long have you had this thing stashed there?”
I smiled sheepishly. “I’ve been carrying it in a pocket since we left Gram’s, but I thought that it’d be a good idea to be armed when we went to see Danes. No one ever thinks to check a fat man’s jelly rolls when they frisk you. It was uncomfortable as hell, though.”
“I’ll bet.” She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I felt my face warm. She grinned. “You’re a genius.”
I grimaced. “If I’m such a genius why don’t I have a clue where we are or who took us? I’m betting it isn’t Brennan or his people, otherwise we’d probably be dead.”
There was a sound at the door and Nora quickly pocketed the gun. “I think that we’re about to find out.”
The door swung open and two large men in matching grey three piece suites entered brandishing sub machine guns. I recognized them as two of the “muscle” that we’d seen in the hallway at Carnelli’s bar. They gestured for us to step back and away from the chair. Once we complied with their order the slab on my right muttered “clear” over his shoulder. They each took a step to the side to clear the doorway and Joseph Carnelli walked into the room. He looked like he just stepped out of a noir picture from the 30’s. He had a black three piece suit with white handkerchief in the pocket, a white fedora, and was carrying my cane in one hand. All that was missing was a tommy gun, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had one stashed somewhere.
When he saw me he smiled and spread out his hands. “Nicolas! It’s so good to see you again, though I wish it were under better circumstances.” He turned to Nora and acknowledged her with a nod. “Detective Charleston.”
I forced a smile. “Hello, Joseph. If you wanted to chat again you could have just asked.”
He barked out a laugh. “I truly am sorry for the theatrics. My men didn’t hurt you too badly I hope? I gave specific orders.”
Nora crossed her arms and shook her head. “No, knockout blows to the head on an individual who’s already suffered two concussions in less than a week is always a healthy way to kidnap someone.”
Joseph looked as though he’d been slapped. “I’m very sorry, Nicolas. I would have preferred another way but I was convinced that had I simply offered an invitation you would have refused. Time, I’m afraid, was of the essence.” He handed me my cane. “Here, I believe that this is yours.”
I accepted the cane and smiled. “Thank you, Joseph. I thought that I wouldn’t see it again.”
The cool smoothness of the metal top was a reassuring weight in my hand, especially when I realized that the top wasn’t completely smooth. Joseph returned the smile and added, “I truly hope that my actions haven’t added to your discomfort too much.”
I used the cane to help steady myself and take some of the weight off of my throbbing knee. “I do appreciate the chair. If I had woken up on the floor things would have been…awkward.”
He smiled wanly. “I understand what you mean. I’m glad I could offer you at least that small comfort.”
Nora snorted. “Yeah, you’re all heart.”
Carnelli’s eyes narrowed at her. “You’re being very rude, Detective. I can’t abide rude individuals; especially those that I’m trying to assist.”
Nora scoffed. “Assist? Is that what you call knocking us out, kidnapping us, and leaving us locked up wherever the hell we are? You’re ‘assisting’ us?”
“In point of fact, yes. Detective, I’m about to give you and Nicolas what you so badly desire- the traitors within your organization.”
I chimed in before Nora could reply with a snarky comment. “What do you mean, Joseph?”
He looked in my direction and his expression noticeably softened. “A rather large contract was put out early this morning on both you and Detective Charleston by our mutual enemy. They no longer want you alive, and the money that they were offering for you has now been doubled. Every criminal, mercenary, and two-bit hood in the underworld community of Saint Louis is currently looking for you both. Whatever you and the detective discovered the past few days has apparently ruffled some feathers.”
Nora grunted. “So you brought us here out of the kindness of your heart? To protect us?”
Carnelli shook his head. “No, I brought you here as bait to lure our adversary out into the open. I’ve had my men keeping watch over Potosi Correctional since you left my place the other day. I know that you spoke to the late doctor.” He nodded in the direction of the unconscious body in the corner. “And I knew that you’d eventually be back for Chief Danes over there. Once we had you in our custody and safely off of the streets I had one of my men contact the number given in the contract and let them know that we had the three of you alive. I told them that if they wanted you, and the information that you possess about them, then they’d have to meet with me in person so that we could discuss a business arrangement that would be mutually beneficial to both of our organizations. Otherwise, I’d ensure your safe passage to the proper authorities.”
He pulled a gold pocket watch from his breast pocket and popped it open. “They should be here in about twenty minutes.”
“And what’s the plan when they arrive?”
Carnelli looked genuinely surprised by my question. “Why, I kill them, of course.”
“And what then? You just let us walk out of here as witnesses to the mass murder of police officers?” Nora asked incredulously.
Carnelli regarded Nora coolly. “Well, Detective, given that they’re corrupt officers who are actively trying to kill you I had hoped that we’d be the ones to come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. If not…” He looked at me forlornly. “Well, it would truly break my heart if I had to kill you both.”
“I can’t speak for Nora but I vote for the mutually beneficial arrangement.”
Carnelli smiled and gestured for us to follow. “It’s almost time. Please, follow me. My associates will bring Mr. Danes.”
When Joseph turned to leave the room Nora cast me a withering glance and I stuck my tongue out at her in response. She rolled her eyes and followed Carnelli from the room. I fell into step while Carnelli’s men shouldered their weapons, hoisted Danes between them, and then brought up the rear. We were in what looked like an abandoned factory of some kind, with rusted girders, pipes, machinery, and railings everywhere. The ground was littered in dirt, debris, and sections of moss and growth breaking through the concrete where Mother Nature fought to take back her domain.
“This is the old Armour Meat Packing Plant.” Carnelli spoke over his shoulder, answering my unspoken question. “Figured we’d have plenty of privacy here. There’s no one around for a good clip.”
“And no one who’ll hear when the shooting starts.”
Carnelli looked back at Nora and flashed a smile that was all tooth. “Exactly.”
We entered a section of the building that was relatively clear of machinery and junk. Five more guys dressed identical to the two hauling Danes behind me were waiting with automatic weapons. I glanced up and noticed a few more scattered around the room armed with rifles.
Nora noticed too. “Surely you don’t think that they’ll be stupid enough to walk into this kill box. They may be traitorous assholes, but they’re still cops.”
Carnelli took off his jacket and handed it to a waiting man, Rudy from the bar, and then accepted a submachine gun that another of his men held out for him. He slung it over a shoulder where the gun could hang between his arm and waist and then Rudy helped him back into his jacket. “I didn’t give them much of a choice. Oh, I’m sure that they’ll be coming armed for bear and with plenty of backup of their own. Things will certainly get bloody.” He shrugged. “It’s the cost of doing business. If I can take out their leadership then it’ll be well worth it. Their organization is growing too large far too quickly. They added another gang to their number early this morning and I suspect that a few more will be following suit soon. At this rate their organization will dwarf even my own in a matter of months.”
Nora and I exchanged glances. I ventured, “I don’t suppose that you’d be willing to give us some guns as well, given that we’re partners in this whole thing now?”
Joseph smirked. “I like you, Nicolas, but I’m not a moron. I’m afraid that when the shooting starts it’ll be up to you and Detective Charleston to find a shady spot where you can wait things out unmolested.”
“Well, it was worth a shot.”
One of Carnelli’s men walked over and said something in his ear. “It seems that our guests have arrived a bit early.” He turned his attention back to the man with the radio. “Inform our men on the roof to keep their eyes peeled just in case our visitors brought some surprises of their own.”
He gestured to the men standing behind us. “Bring Mr. Danes up here, if you please. Detective, Nicolas, take your places up front with me.”
Danes was placed in front of us with Carnelli in the middle and Nora and I flanking him. His men were spread out behind us. Carnelli kept his eyes on the door thirty feet in front of us, but he addressed me with the clipped, calm tones of a professional. “Nicolas, I assume that you and Detective Charleston discovered the name of our mysterious adversary, otherwise they wouldn’t be coming after you with such a passion. Be a dear and tell me that name?”
I could see Nora give a quick shake of the head. “No. Danes gave us a name but we haven’t confirmed it yet.”
“Which is precisely what I’m about to do. Now, the name. Please.”
Nora hesitated and Joseph sighed dramatically. “Detective, I understand your reluctance to trust me. I even understand your reluctance to throw another officer under the bus without confirmation. That said, we are in this together now and running severely low on time. I am also running low on patience, so I’ll ask you one more time to please give me the name before they walk through that door, otherwise I’ll have Gregory behind you put a bullet in your skull. The contract didn’t specify that you needed to be alive, Detective. As much as it would pain Nicolas, my plan will work just as well with you dead on this horribly dirty floor.”
Nora doesn’t respond well to threats. The muscles in her jaw bunched and I could tell that she was on the verge of doing something colossally stupid, and “Gregory” apparently sensed it too because he was slowly inching the barrel of his gun in her direction. I blurted, “Captain Jack Brennan! That’s the name Danes gave us.”
Nora glared in my direction but Joseph smiled at me and gave me a tight nod. “Thank you, Nicolas. Anthony, would you mind trying to wake Mr. Danes please? I do believe he won’t want to miss this conversation.”
The man that I assumed was Anthony smacked Danes hard across the face. Danes woke with a start and then freaked the hell out. “What the fuck?! Who the hell are you?! What the fuck is going on?! Oh God, where am I? Let me go, yeah bastards!”
Anthony backhanded him, cutting off the tirade and sending him to the ground. Carnelli bent down and looked him in the eye. “Mr. Danes, it would behoove you to keep your foul mouth shut, otherwise Anthony there will shut it for you. Permanently. Do we have an understanding?”
Danes nodded emphatically as Anthony and his counterpart each took and arm and helped him to his knees, placing him back in front of us. Anthony gestured with a finger like he would to a dog and commanded, “Stay.” Then he and his partner took up their respective positions flanking Nora and me.
Needless to say, the situation was not ideal. Even with Nora armed with a two-shot pea shooter, we weren’t exactly in the best of positions for an O.K. Corral-type shootout between dirty cops and mobsters. So, I resorted to doing what us fat guys do best- I analyzed my surroundings and planned where we could run when everything went to hell. It didn’t look good. A majority of the building was cluttered with debris, machinery, and fallen girders, but the section that Carnelli had chosen for our little meeting was out in the open. It gave his men a clear line of fire on the cops, but it also made us sitting ducks.
There was a large piece of rusted machinery about twenty feet to my left that looked like the front half of an old fire engine. It was shaped like a big triangle topped with large valves and pipes with two massive rusted wheels on each side. There was also a small rusted set of stairs that lead up into it, but given the angle I couldn’t see inside. It didn’t look like it was tall enough for someone to be able stand up unless they were an Oompa Loompa, so I was curious as to why the stairs where there. I had absolutely no idea what the thing was or what it could have been used for in its former life, but right then it looked like our best option for cover. The problem would be getting to it. I’m not exactly spry in the best of circumstances and the floor was covered in all kinds of fun crap for me to trip on, so I spent the remaining few moments we had examining the ground and trying to map out a path of least resistance to the metal monstrosity.
Less than a minute later the double doors in front of us opened wide and our “guests” entered the factory. There were a lot of them. The four at the front of the mob were dressed in black tactical gear and masks just as they had been the previous night at the cabin. They led a procession of fifteen gangbangers all armed with impressive looking automatic weapons. Given the various gang colors that they were all sporting I made an educated guess that we were looking at representatives from each of the gangs that had signed on with Dirty Cop Incorporated (copyright pending). They spread out in a V pattern mirroring Carnelli’s crew and the procession stopped about ten feet in front of us. To an outside observer I’m sure that the whole scene would look like a We Are the World gathering of the criminal underground.
The whole set up was the very definition of “worst case scenario” and there wasn’t a chance in hell that it would end well for anyone involved. I silently hoped that everyone else would see that too and it would help dissuade any monumental acts of stupidity that might get Nora and I killed before we had a chance to get clear. The lead gunman, who I’d formerly dubbed “Shotgun Guy” and I assumed was Captain Brennan, took in the scene and smiled under his mask.
“Nice setup you’ve got here, Carnelli. Gives everything a real Mexican standoff kind of vibe.”
Carnelli smiled. “Well, that’s what we were going for so I’m glad that you approve. What’s life without a little excitement, eh Captain Brennan?”
Carnelli tisk-tisked and waggled a finger. “Come now, Captain. Let’s dispense with the games. I like to know with whom I do business and I know that you are Captain Jack Brennan of the Saint Louis Police Department.”
Brennan reached up and pulled the mask from his face. He was in his late fifties with worn skin like leather, silver hair trimmed short, a wide jaw, and a nose that looked like it’d been broken at least a few times in the past. He looked like Clint Eastwood’s long lost brother. Brennan eyed Nora and I, and then gave Danes in front of us a dark look. “Someone’s been opening their mouth when they shouldn’t.”
Danes sounded like a little kid terrified that he was about to get a spanking. “I’m so sorry Uncle Jack! You gotta believe me! They forced it out of me! They shocked my balls, man! My balls!”
Carnelli quirked an eyebrow at me at that as Brennan held up a hand. “Shhhh. I know, Max. Do me a favor and shut the hell up. That whiney bullshit coming from a grown-assed man is like nails on a fucking chalkboard.” Danes stopped yammering and Brennan gave Carnelli a long-suffering look. “My wife’s nephew. He’s dumber than a bag of hammers, but he’s family. What are you going to do?”
Carnelli nodded sympathetically. “I completely understand.”
“As a show of good faith would you mind?” He nodded down at Danes.
“Not at all.”
He made a gesture and Anthony shot Danes in the back of the head.