108 – Friendly Fire

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I got up.

My eyelids flashed open, fast and strained. I panicked at the suddenness of it and woke up frenzied.

“Agh!”

A jolt passed through me, sending my body up and tumbling. Too early to be conscious of who I was, where I was, or what was happening, I was already falling-

Agh!”

It wasn’t a long descent.

Something stabbed me, right between the ribs, and my breath was stolen from me. I gurgled, and flipped over to pull the thing out of my side. In my haste, the back of my head hit another something.

I growled, not even a real sound that could be formed or understood with letters. The underlying and growing emotion was still there, though. Irritation.

Going for another tactic, I just stayed still instead. I waited, and waited, so things could settle. My head cleared and I was able to get a grasp of myself again. Relatively speaking.

Claire’s head popped up from the top of the couch.

“You alright?”

She had a look on her face that she’d might have given to her own kids. Concerned, but not terribly concerned.

I groaned.

Working back to my feet, my brain catching up to my surroundings. I tried to talk through it.

“Had a… I woke up weird and fell off the couch. This thing… I landed on this thing.”

I kicked the toy truck away. It slid under-

“-The table there, hit my head against that. It’s…”

“Wow,” Claire said, her head nodding. “Talk about a rude awakening.”

I had to pull my hand out of a bundle. I just realized I was wrapped in a blanket.

I started to massage the back of my head. “I could go without this particular discussion, actually.”

“Are you usually that clumsy, or is spastic a better word?”

“Clumsy? No, or I hope not. It’s more a cosmic thing. As for being spastic? I really hate that I’d have to give you that.”

“Maybe it was just that bad of a dream, then.”

After giving the back of my head a good enough massage, I fixed up my hair.

“If it was… I don’t remember. But, whatever, let’s just forget about it. I know I already have.”

“Fair enough boss.”

Looking past Claire, at the rest of the living room and the kitchen behind her, I asked, “Is it just us now?”

“Yes ma’am. Kim took the kids already and then went to work, herself. But work for her started even earlier, Caleb and Willem really wanted to meet you.”

“They did?”

“They were pretty excited about the idea of someone sleeping over. But she had to get them dressed and packed up and out the door, and they’re old enough now to know that it’s rude to bug someone while they’re getting their rest up.”

“If Kim had to work so hard, where were you in all of this?”

Claire pointed towards the kitchen.

“Getting breakfast ready. You want some? Made enough for everyone, and that includes you. Room and board, I suppose. Might as well get your money’s worth.”

There was a small but awkward pause, probably only ever felt by me. I broke the silence but that feeling remained stuck to me.

“I’ll go without, this time.”

“You better be sure about that, boss, we’ve got a long day ahead of us. You should get something to eat before we head about.”

“I’ll manage. Trust me.”

“No no no,” Claire said, already moving back to the kitchen. She started getting together a plate of eggs and bacon, with a croissant on the side. A glass of orange juice on the other side.

I was beginning to feel a little cornered.

“You’re not staying at a hotel. You could have, but you didn’t. You’re staying with us, and one of the many rules under this roof is… you have to have breakfast. You might be able to skip breakfast at a hotel, but you cannot here.”

She then added, “Sorry, boss, that’s just how it is.”

“You’re a strict parent.”

“Someone has to be.”

“How detailed is this rule, though? Do I have to eat what you’ve cooked, or am I allowed to have some… um… leftovers I brought with me.”

“Breakfast is breakfast, and in my domain, you must eat. But, if you happened to bring something, then feel free to help yourself with that instead.”

“I’ll do that then.”

Tossing my blanket to the couch and making my move into the kitchen, I kept an eye on Claire. Not because I had any reason to be wary of her, but I was hesitant on how I’d approach the topic, if I would even have to approach the topic at all. Preferably, I wanted to avoid it.

Claire was still getting the food together. I wasn’t sure if that plate was still for me.

But her back was to me, her attention somewhere else.

I inched to the fridge.

Then I froze.

“You’re positive you don’t want anything here? The bacon is a little overcooked but I do have some pride in my eggs. I can cook them in my sleep. You might say they’re over easy for me!”

“Did you?” I asked. “Cook them that way?”

“Sunny side up,” Claire answered. “Good morning, boss, by the way.”

“Morning,” I said, still watching her back. I inched forward again. “And… I’ll have to pass on the fresh food, not that I don’t believe you.”

“Suit yourself. Might as well go for seconds. It’ll be a long day, right?”

“Could be,” I said, and I finally made it over to the fridge. Slow and laborious, with more strength than I’d ever need because I was trying to be cautious about it, I opened fridge door.

The door popped open without a sound, but I soon learned it was impossible to bypass the low but ever present hum of the cold machine itself. As if it was mocking me with its flat tune, jaws wide open with food, breathing out but never inhaling. It exuded a bad attitude.

Claire turned partway to me. I froze again, and felt frozen as the fridge continued to breathe on me.

“Yeah?” I asked, after a beat of nothing happening.

“I…” Claire started, but she then hopped to another train of thought. “I was going to say something but the eggs again, but now I’m just looking at you leaving the fridge open for too long.”

“Oh, um…” I looked inside the fridge itself. My stuff was untouched, exactly where I had left it. Paper bags with packs of blood inside.

I had just woken up, and my first challenge of the day was breakfast.

No choice but go for it. I had to reach for one of the bags, all while being seen doing it.

“Bit early for a drink,” Claire commented, a frown forming on her face, “In time and in age.”

“It’s um… it’s not alcohol. Well, the effect might, more or less, be the same but… it’s not what you think it is.”

“What is it then?”

The one question I didn’t want to be asked.

“Uh…”

“If you didn’t want to have breakfast with me, you can go have yours on the couch. Watch a little TV. Just don’t spill anything.”

“Oh…”

“Could you close the fridge please, boss?”

“Oh.”

I closed the fridge, shutting the thing up.

“Well, I mean,” I started, but I still wasn’t sure on what I would say, or if I really wanted to say anything. Was Claire giving me an out to just be on my own for the moment, or was it better to be upfront about this, now?

“Yes boss?”

I sighed, holding the paper bag close to me.

“Just so you know, I’m not trying to, uh, freak you out or anything, and I probably should have given you the heads up last night, but it looks like there wasn’t any issue this morning, so that’s good, but the last thing I want is for an incident to happen especially with your kids around so-”

“Boss?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re rambling.”

I sighed again.

Pinching open the bag, I titled the thing to Claire. Not too far open for her to peek inside, though, the true contents were obscured in shadow.

“It’s blood,” I told Claire, “Human blood.”

Claire stood there, still turned partway. She didn’t move… but it seemed as if her eyes widened by a fraction.

And… there it was. Several fractions. Now it was noticeable.

“Blood…” she repeated with a breath, “Like… red liquid that flows through living things?”

“Yeah.”

“And this blood… it’s from people?”

“Yeah.”

“And you drink this blood, like a, um, vamp-”

“Whatever word you’re thinking of, that’s the one I’ve been using. It’s more of a placeholder, though.”

Claire nodded, slow.

“Okay.”

She turned back to her food. My eyes her to the back of her head again.

“Storing it in my… is that a biohazard?”

“Judging from prior experiences, it hasn’t been an issue.”

“Okay.”

Another long, drawn out beat.

“Hey, boss?”

“Yes?”

“I think I lost my appetite, would you mind buying me a new one?”

“Sure, Claire, I can spring for that.”

“Thanks, boss.”

She was still, I moved. I went for my bag, and pulled out some more stacks of cash. Within the ballpark of a thousand dollars. Give or take. I set them on the table for Claire, and I made my way back to the couch. I found the remote and turned the channel to the news.

On the inside, I felt like an idiot and wanted to slap myself silly, but I kept myself alert as I worked my pack. The pack with my breakfast in it.

It was a plastic bag, with my juice filled inside. There was a small zipper at the top, one that could be sealed and resealed, leaving it airtight when closed.

I tilted the bag so the juice would collect at one end, until I was able to zip the bag open without worrying about a spill. I was careful when I brought the opening to my lips, taking small sips.

Tasted as sweet and fresh and delicious as ever. Which compounded the guilty feeling in my stomach that grew as it filled. Something this good and sugary couldn’t have possibly been healthy for me.

Yet, there I was, sitting on this couch, drinking it as easy as water. And needing it just as much.

“That is just a show, isn’t it?”

I coughed, leaning forward and covering my mouth with a hand, strategically placing it under my chin so I wouldn’t splatter or spill. My face was as flushed as the juice I was drinking when I said, “What, what? I didn’t-”

“It’s still just as crazy as it was last night, or this morning, rather.”

Oh.

After a check quick for any mess and finding none, I looked back up and saw the TV.

That’s what she was talking about.

The news.

A program was on, a live feed of the different… incidents that were flaring up and down the city, spreading like wildfire.

Riots in the streets, people ransacking stores and other business, traffic held up because of literal fires, grey smoke reaching up to white clouds, snuffing them out. There were only so many in the police force to handle the ever-increasing violence, and it was easy to imagine Gomez again, sitting in the dark of his home, his only sanctuary with a semblance of control, except maybe he was losing even that, now, given how dire and fucked up this situation was getting.

But, part of that was brought on himself. I had offered him assistance, and he tried to spit a bullet in my face.

“Definitely a shitshow,” I said, swallowing, tasting a bit of sweet, the flavor dancing across my tongue and teeth.

“And we’re going straight into that.” There was a noticeable pause that followed, the only sounds were of ceramic tapping, utensils across a plate, probably.

“We are,” I said.

“You know, boss, you never actually mentioned what you’re set out to do. I know I have to drive you around and all, but for what?”

Another pause, but that was more for myself. Knowing that Claire was looking in my direction, now, I finished up my breakfast, cleared my trash, and stood up, wiping a lip.

I looked at Claire.

“Might be easier for everyone if I don’t give you the particulars on that. For now, just drive.”

I saw that Claire was in the middle of a bite of eggs. Fork halfway between her plate and her mouth. She dropped the fork back down.

“Worse than the blood thing?”

I gave her another stack of cash for that.

“May I use your shower?” I asked, a total non-sequitur.

Claire took the extra stack, and flipped through the bills. I saw her nostrils flare up as she brought the money a tad closer to her nose.

“Down the hall, first door on your left. I’ll go get you a towel after I finish up my eggs here.”

We were all packed and ready to go. Claire was fresh out of the shower after me, and had everything she needed for the day. I did, too.

The cold bit at us as we stepped out of the apartment building, as if it wanted us to stay inside, wanted me to stay inside. No fucking way. I’d fight against the weather, too, if I had to.

Claire led us over to where she had parked the taxi. It wasn’t very close, mostly for precaution, tucked in a corner alley between a general store and a local bookstore. She had to duck a lot of her calls from her actual boss, demanding to know where she was, but more importantly, his cab.

Before we headed out on official business, I had offered her a suggestion, and it seemed to do the trick, in that Claire’s phone went silent right after.

A slight variation of the truth. That she had picked up a passenger who asked for an extended trip to the nearest river, and had paid the fare with an obol. She would be returning promptly upon completion of this journey.

It worked. As I figured, it wasn’t the first time something like this happened. Which was more sad than anything else.

But it was one less thing to worry about, and we were able to continue.

We got into the taxi, and Claire peeled us out of the corner, and we were on our way.

Onto our first stop.

Claire’s apartment was farther away from the Eye. We’d spiral towards the center, hitting different stops as we went. Get info where I could, strike where I saw an opportunity. Then we’d spiral outward, hitting any places I might have missed, or where I now saw openings. Repeat and repeat again. A continuous spiral. An endless loop. A snake eating its own tail.

Watching the city fly past me, a pane of glass being the only thing separating me and the total turmoil right outside. We toured through the jungle as the fire consumed and fueled the natural state of things.

Enough of the city had been broken and that things weren’t beginning to work, anymore. The streets coiled, we were unable to go straight to our first stop. Detours. Maybe it spoke to something grander about how things were. Maybe it was yet another setup to yet another joke.

But I wasn’t here to listen, and I wasn’t in the mood to be humored.

I saw the fire, I saw the smoke. I saw those who were holding the matches. I saw those who were looking to snuff out the flames. I also saw the flames reaching something like an intense sunburst, out of control. It made me wonder if, or how long until, those fires would turn around and begin to eat each other. And what that would even look like.

It was like racing against a fuse. I had to beat the heat, in a manner of speaking.

“We’re coming up close, boss.”

My hands went to my things, as if for security.

“Took us long enough.”

“I’m sure you’d understand why.”

“I do.”

“How far did you want-”

“Here’s good.”

Claire slowed the taxi as we approached. The blended colors of the portrait past the glass began to separate and take their own forms.

A block up ahead, its own building. Made of red and brown brick, stacked to look like an old factory, it probably was one, many decades ago. Now, it was an Italian restaurant by the name of Morricone’s.

I knew of it because of D’s briefing on the territory, once before. Back when I was still with the Fangs, when we had D get as much info on those other gangs as possible, the ones at the table. How did that already feel like a lifetime ago, though? Probably because it was.

I prepared myself as Claire put the taxi to a stop, putting us by the curb. A block between us and the restaurant. I would have to walk the rest of that distance by foot.

I had my hands on my bags for reassurance, but I knew that I couldn’t bring them with me. Not inside, and not with how I was getting in.

I got out, and poked my head back into the taxi.

“Shouldn’t take too long,” I told her, “But if it does…”

“I’ll wait for you boss,” Claire replied. “As long as it takes.”

All I could do then was give her a nod, smiling. Maybe my feelings on her were a little misplaced, given how bright her eyes would get in the sight of money, but I didn’t want to put those feelings anywhere else.

I stepped away from the taxi, and for now, we took different paths. Claire to the street, and I moved to the sidewalk, going right into Morricone’s.

The place was expensive. From the sights to what I heard and smelled. The architecture was stark, with plenty of room for people and atmosphere. There was a minimalistic sense to the interior design, only going for rustic pieces, tables and chairs, lights that were kept low for the ambiance. Where the eye didn’t have much to appreciate, it was left to the other senses to add. Light jazz music swung overhead and through our ears, and the smell of the food, wafting from all the plates and from the kitchen somewhere, seemed to somehow justify the exuberant prices the menus would be willing to set. I knew the place smelled expensive by how much I hated what attacked my nose.

Trash and decay. It offended.

The line through the waiting area… there wasn’t one. But the place wasn’t empty, not by any long shot. No physical line, then. The people who could eat here, they’d wait through a reservation. Weeks in advance.

I was able to get right to the front. A server was watching me approach the whole time, curious that someone could even think to just… walk in here.

The server spoke up before I got to him. “We only accept those who have a reservation.”

“And if I have one?”

“We’re not expecting anyone else half past noon. It’s noon.”

“I could be here early.”

“If you’re putting it like that, then you don’t have a reservation at all.”

“Could I not just be given a seat and have a meal?”

“Again, if you’re putting it-”

“-Putting it like that, right. But I have money?”

“Money doesn’t buy you everything.”

“Are we really having this conversation right now?”

“Do you really have any business with us?”

I blinked, the first heavy pause since walking into the restaurant.

I could recognize the effect D had on me during our time together. That irreverence. It was a tangible thing.

“I was wondering if I can get a job here.”

The man’s face screwed up to a tight expression. Holding back a laugh, I suspected.

“We’re not hiring.”

“Are you the manager?”

There was a pause on his end before he said, “No, I’m not.”

“Then you really can’t speak to that, can you?”

Another pause. Another beat.

“May I speak with them?” I asked. “The manager?”

“The manager isn’t in right now.”

“Could I swing to the back and leave a note by the door?”

“If you have anything to say to him, I can make sure to pass it on.”

Somehow, I didn’t believe a word of anything he just said.

I didn’t want to pull this card, but now I might just have to.

“Well, if he’s not in now, could you tell him that D’Angelo sent me?”

The server looked taken aback.

“Did you say…”

“D’Angelo? Yeah. He said the manager here would have something for me if I asked and mentioned his name.”

The more I stood here and spoke, the more at a loss the server looked.

“May I… may I get your name?”

“I could just come back and catch the manager another time.”

The server shook his head, as if he couldn’t believe a word of anything I just said. But, unlike me, he relented.

Motioning over to another server beside him, he pointed to me, then jerked a thumb in some general direction behind him.

Looking back at me, he said, “Consider yourself lucky.”

Another server began to lead me away, I walked and shrugged at the first server.

“Been forced to make my own luck.”

And with that, I was led through the restaurant. The server made us stick to the side of the main dining area, probably so there would be less eyes on me. To be fair, I wasn’t quite dressed for the occasion, only wearing a heavy grey sweater and the skirt I had quickly stashed when I left my apartment in a hurry. A far cry from the formal attire that was implied.

We reached the back, going past the kitchen and farther into the building. The smell of the cooking insulted my nose.

I was grateful when the server managed to get us out of there, taking me to a door at the end of the hall. A name on the label, made of gold.

Ronaldo Morricone.

The server knocked.

A voice came from the other side of the door. “Yes?”

“Got someone here for you. Looking for a job. Said they were sent by Mr. D’Angelo.”

A beat.

“Come in!”

The server looked at me before he left. If I had any more to lose, I would have considered it to be a warning.

I went through the door.

A small office, but it wasn’t cramped. Simple, clean, with a natural and slick look from the oak desk and shelves.

Contrast that with the man at the desk. Large, he looked fat but something to me suggested it was all muscle. An expensive looking suit, probably worth more consider he would have had to have it tailored to him.

Soft trails of smoke floated around us. He pulled a fat cigar out of his mouth, his voice gruff.

“And the fuck are you? Should got you wiped off the face of the earth for speaking D’Angelo’s name without the proper permission.”

“I’ve more than earned the proper permission. And it’s Wendy, by the way. Or was. But that’s the name that has the most use for me in this case, anyways.”

Ronaldo Morricone stared at me, hard, his brown forming a thick, solid line.

“He’s mentioned me.”

“The name ain’t unfamiliar. He continues to be impressed with you.”

So word hasn’t spread about…

“I don’t see why, personally, but I am flattered.”

“What can I do you for, then? If you know my cousin, you have no need for a job.”

I put my hands in my pockets.

“I’m in the middle of looking for work.”

I scrunched up my nose. I hadn’t noticed it at first, with how heavy the cigar smoke was. But now I saw it.

“Looks like I caught you during lunch. Sorry about that. What is that?”

He nudged the plate to the side. “Carbonara, fresh from the kitchen.”

“Sounds good. How’s the taste?”

“If you got business with me, little girl, I suggest you make it quick. Now, take your hands out of your damn pockets and address me properly.”

I shrugged. “I was just curious.”

“Curiosity’s a bitch and a killer. Don’t waste my motherfucking-”

The desk rattled and skidded. Food kicked up and spilled into a mess. The plate had cracked in half.

And all I did was take my hands out of my pockets.

Things settled around us, but nothing rested easy.

I was standing on top of the desk, now, lifting the heavyset man by the collar. The plate at his desk was split down the middle, the meal spilling across the surface, the sauce smearing.

Ronaldo Morricone was choking, coughing up bits of food, completely taken by surprise.

“You fuck- If you got a direct line to my cousin, what do you need me for?”

“I don’t need him, not yet. He can wait. I need you, and you better cooperate, or I’ll cut out every bit of fat from your body, set it on your carbonara and feed it to you.”

He gurgled, but he didn’t say no.

“Inez,” I told him, “I know she comes here quite often. That she even has reservations for tonight, like she does every week. A personal favor for continued business with your cousin, is that right? Blink if I’m right.”

He blinked.

“When she comes, and I’m not asking for much, but when she comes, all I’m asking is that you lock the doors and walk away. Can you do that?”

I shook him.

“Blink if you can do that for me!”

He blinked.

I dropped him. He collapsed onto the floor, gasping for air and clutching his neck.

“Now don’t try anything funny,” I said, “Because I’ll know. And not only will I do exactly what I just threaten you with, but I would have had time to come up with more. Now do you understand me?”

He didn’t have to, but he blinked for a third time.

“Good, see you tonight, Morricone. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to make a call. Direct line.”

Night had fallen. And others would soon follow.

That was the plan anyways.

Starting with footfalls. Claire and I got out of the apartment one more time, and walked the path to the taxi. It was starting to be familiar, now that we had gone back and forth, and now we were going back again. It wasn’t yet an all the way, worn down path, but it was familiar enough that my eyes and mind were able to wander as we walked.

Trailing upwards, I gazed upon something, or at least I thought I did.

By the roofs, closer to the moon, the smoke blurring away the edges of that flat circle of nighttime. A strange figure.

I tried to lock in on it, my stare lingering on that point in space. Then the image fuzzed out, and other senses stole my focus from me.

“You’re about to hit that pole, boss.”

“Oops,” I said, moving out of the way. I readjusted my bag.

“What are you staring off for?”

“I… nothing. It’s nothing. Thought I was seeing things again.”

“Again?”

“Nothing. Again. Complicated.”

I straightened myself. My path and my bag. Couldn’t get distracted so easily.

“What if you did?” Claire asked. “Or were?”

“What does that mean?”

“What if you did see something, or what if you were seeing things again?”

I looked up one more time. In that direction. More a glance than a stare, now. I wasn’t even sure what I saw, then.

“Then that would be terrifying in either case.”

“How about we go for the third, unspoken option?”

The silence that walked with us the rest of the way back to the taxi served as a decent substitute, in lieu of a spoken answer.

We left the silence outside as we got in the taxi once again, and we drove off into the night.

But we weren’t done yet. Nowhere near close. The night had just begun.

I made myself more in tune with the moment. Forced myself to. If I let myself wander now, I might not be able to set myself straight.

Focus.

This was something I had to do. Not because I enjoyed it. But I wasn’t even sure what I enjoyed, anymore, or if that was something I had ever actually felt.

I’d imagine it would be too late to dwell on it, now.

The drive wasn’t long, as we returned to the Eye. We passed a few of the stops we had taken on our initial trip. The order wasn’t based on location, now, it was priority. We were going to start with the easy ones first.

Easy, yet it would somehow be the most difficult.

It was a somber ride as the taxi rolled on.

“We’re here,” Claire said, with a bit of patience. “A street over, like you asked.”

Either I had focused too much, or I ended up wandering, despite my efforts. The drive wasn’t as long as I expected. I clutched my bag tighter.

“Do you want me to stay right here?” she asked, “I can keep the blinkers on.”

“No,” I said, “Somewhere else, like last time.”

“Like last time. I still remember that day.”

“Me too.”

This time, I grabbed my stuff and hopped out of the taxi. We separated again, coordinated. Planned.

I walked, my head tilting up.

Even in the distance, the building towered above us.

Panorama.

The nightclub was bouncing and glowing with life, very different from when I last left it, burning to death. The place had time to spring back up. I even felt happy for him.

That fleeting feeling then dashed away as I ran into an alley.

I went right to work, not a second to waste. Opening my bag as I moved, I changed into my costume, getting my weapons and putting my mask on last. When I was ready, I began my ascent up the urban jungle, prepared to leap.

And I leapt.

The rooftops, the movements, they were all so familiar, and I was almost gliding over the surfaces and the gaps, maneuvering through and over things with the ease of riding a bike. Smooth, fast. I had gotten better at this.

As the wind ran through my hair, the fact that I was so high up over everything or everyone… that never got old.

I supposed there was something I enjoyed, after all.

As soon as I had that realization, I had arrived at my destination. The first stop of the night.

I looked down at the club.

Just as I had remembered it, many months ago. A hazy sense of déja vu.

The glass ceiling of the Panorama. The flashing neon lights, the different levels and floors, people dancing and trying to have a good time. The namesake panoramic wall of lights. They still kept that damn thing.

If this went well enough, I wouldn’t have to go in there. I had made enough of a mess the first time.

I traced the side of the building, walking on the edge. To scope out the rest of the club, first.

The back half was still there, maybe it was remodeled in some places, but it looked about the same as before.

A private loft. Open air, complete with a pool and a bar and a few patrons looking to enjoy the night.

There weren’t as many people as last time, same with the club. I could imagine why. Not many would want to go out when the night sky was thick was smoke and pierced with screams.

And there I saw him.

Sitting at a table, not too far from the pool. Surrounded by a few of his personnelle. Not too many, but they were there. He was having a meal by himself.

Not for long.

I took a moment to steel myself. It was a necessity.

I closed my eyes, breathing in, then out.

I took to the air. High as my legs would allow.

Up, then down.

So much easier than last time.

My feet didn’t crash through glass, and I wasn’t reduced to a heap when I landed. It was a solid landing, meaning my presence had a proper introduction, and all the attention was on me. Attention I’d intend to use.

I moved forward with my momentum, leaping over the pool and to the table where he was. The first target.

But I had to clear the ones he had around him, though.

The first one crashed when I pounced on top of him, folding like a chair. It reminded me of how I landed when I first broke into the Panorama.

The second had the good sense to react, reaching for a gun. Still crouched over, I dug into a pocket and flung my arm out. The knife appeared right between his collarbone, and he went down, choking. I had aimed for his shoulder.

The third now had the time to go for his gun and fire. I was knocked back. I didn’t know what he intended to hit, but my shoulder exploded with pain.

My jaw was tight as I fought through, wound already healing. Leaping again, I slammed him down, and crushed the bones in his hand for good measure. He wouldn’t be firing that gun ever again.

The rest, I didn’t worry about, they hadn’t even entered my mind. The civilians lounging in the bar and the pool were already springing for the exits, screaming and panicking at the sudden gunshot and the fight that had broken out. The only one who didn’t move at all was him.

“D’Angelo,” I said, as facing, staring at him from behind my mask. “Don’t move. Don’t call for help.”

D’Angelo had remained sitting at his table, some food still hanging from his mouth. He fixed himself then said, “You.”

“More than you’d know.”

“What is it you want? I do have an appointment.”

“I have an appointment, too. May I have a seat?”

Sitting back now, D’Angelo gestured for the chair. I took my seat.

It was just us, now, minus the downed guards around us, but they weren’t a factor, anymore. The music bumped through the club across from me.

“Help will be coming,” D’Angelo said, “Or some for of it. You let people leave. They’ll tell someone, and they’ll come investigate. And if it comes to it, they’ll retaliate.”

“You don’t need to worry about what they will or will not do,” I said. “You worry about yourself. And your meal. Please, keep eating. Wouldn’t want your dinner to get cold.”

Cool, tempered, D’Angelo spun red, thick noodles around a fork. He ate.

I asked him, “How’s it taste?”

“You seem to have a penchant for showing up whenever things are most hectic. Like a sign, or a symbol of what’s to come.”

No answer, I asked instead, “And what is to come?”

He swallowed a bite. He stared me right in the eye.

“Death. Destruction. The Devil himself, looking to enjoy the fruits of his labor.”

“I don’t know if I’m getting any enjoyment from this. It’s just more something I have to do.”

“And the other two?”

“I’d have to give you that.”

D’Angelo reached to the side of the table. I tensed.

He lifted a cane, the same cane I’d seen him walk with before. He rapped the edge of the table. A clang rang out.

“You seem to take, that’s all you can really do. And we’ve had a lot of trouble trying to fight back, as I’m sure you know. To me, you are the embodiment of entropy, and it seems like the only way not lose any more is to have less to lose. And even then… you would find a way to reduce.”

“Goes both ways.”

“How so?”

“I didn’t come here to talk about me.”

“What did you come here to talk about, then?”

He was looking at me, and I was looking at him. Staring into my eyes, or in the general direction of where they would be.

I slid the mask down my face.

His eyes widened.

“Wendy?”

“You gave me your card, remember? The first time we met?”

“Yes, I remember.”

I breathed, then spoke, clear and without hesitation.

“I don’t have much time left, and you, D’Angelo, you’ve got even less. Figured I might give something to you before this came to an end.”

“But you still want something from me. You’ll still take something.”

“I’d apologize, but I have a feeling you wouldn’t take to it so well. Just know that, if I did, it would be genuine.”

“How thoughtful.”

“Tell me about Mister. Is he even fucking real?”

“I know a man we called Mister. That’s about as real as it gets.”

“Dammit D’Angelo, please. Where can I find him?”

“Good luck. Haven’t seen the man we called Mister since before all this started. Before you ever showed up. And by this point, why would you ever expect him to come back?”

I squared my jaw so hard it started to grind.

“Mrs. Carter.”

“You don’t find her. She finds you. Same with Styx.”

“So if I raise enough hell, they’ll come crying to me?”

“Everyone will be coming to stop you. Just try to pick them out of that mob.”

“I might just try that.”

“Haven’t you raised enough hell, Wendy? Haven’t you done enough?”

“Either everything burns, everything, or I burn out in the process.”

D’Angelo continued to eat. I was impressed that he still had an appetite.

“How far back were you planning something like this? I’m curious.”

“Your cousin said something about curiosity.”

“I know he did. Indulge me.”

“The first time we met.”

“At the hotel?”

I corrected him.

“Here.”

“Ah.”

D’Angelo wiped his lower lip with a napkin. Poised, with a bit of grace and dignity.

“There’s nothing else I can tell you. Nothing you wouldn’t already know, I’d suspect. All I have left now is to finish this meal.”

“May I stick around until then?”

“Of course. If it means anything, I’m still very impressed by you. I don’t think that’ll change.”

“Thank you, Santino.”

He took another bite. Only a few left.

“Morricone’s cooking has only gotten better with time.”

“That’s good to hear. I bid you goodnight, Santino, before I forget.”

“Yes, it’s a good night indeed.”

The air was cool, and for a moment, it was even calm. I sat with Santino D’Angelo until he was finished.

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5 thoughts on “108 – Friendly Fire

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