Friday, February 29, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 31

I scramble for the bedroom window again when I hear Creeper’s weight stretch the porch boards. Through dusty glass, I watch Creeper shuffle down the front steps, the big man’s arms and hips maintaining a bouncy rhythm all the way to the Lincoln Town Car. Looks like he might be whistling.

Gee, how nice Creeper’s in such a happy mood. Maybe Bluefish wants him to strangle somebody.

Creeper opens the Lincoln’s trunk. I have a good angle because of where he parked, and I can see directly...whoa...there’s a man inside, apparently dead, or at least dead drunk. Looks like it might be Gianni or Thomas. Whichever, Mama Bones’s sidekick lifts his head, jerks his eyes open while he’s bouncing on Creeper’s shoulders.

Glad he’s not dead. But this means I have to do something. Doesn’t it? Mama Bones and those two men--Mr. Trim and Mr. Fit--pulled my ass out of a nasty spot a few hours ago. I can’t run away from their trouble.

Can I?

Well, I could. A lot of stock jockeys I know would duck for an exit. And like I said before I jumped on Rags over a week ago, I’m no hero. I have no desire to test myself against Creeper. Are you kidding? It’s just that...well, if Creeper has captured Gianni or Thomas, whichever, what does that say about the present physical condition of lovely Gina Farascio and my charge, Mama Bones?

In particular, I keep thinking about Gina.

Although, maybe right now isn’t the best time. My breath comes in short shallow gasps. My heart’s clunking like a broken electric fan.

I unzip Gianni’s bug-out bag, a camouflage-painted canvas carryall of the size soccer-goalies bring to games. Inside there’s a red climbing rope with clips and fittings and hooks, a pair of new blue jeans, a wool shirt, a green down jacket, a cell phone, sixty bucks cash, dry matches, a compass, eight protein bars, a waterproof tarp, a twelve-inch K-Bar hunting knife, water bottles, and...oh, my...a snub-nose Smith & Wesson thirty-eight.

Fully loaded.

With an extra box of bullets.

I’m tiptoeing down the lodge’s basement steps when someone--I assume Gianni or Thomas--screams. The sound pokes my gut like one of Umberto’s rare-but-deadly over-spiced burritos.

The narrow, dank stairway feels like a mine shaft, the rock smooth and gray. I travel down to the basement one careful step at a time, the Smith & Wesson held in front of me like an airline vomit bag.

There was nothing in my Series Seven stockbroker’s study guide to indicate the correct grip for revolvers, but I do my best at the bottom of the steps. I imagine Detective Sipowitz, deploy the two-handed, eye-level position.

I read in the newspaper once that real cops think Sipowitz is right-on aces.

What I see in Bluefish’s cement basement rattles my already less-than-Sipowitzian courage, however. Hell, who am I kidding. I damn near pee my pants. Creeper has Gianni--I recognize the hairline now--hoisted in the air, Gianni’s bare feet stuck inside some kind of oven. At the bottom of the huge aluminum appliance, directly beneath Gianni’s tootsies, an electric element glows red hot.

“Get him out of there,” I say.

Creeper gazes at my revolver like it’s a fish taco. That is, strange.

Gianni screams.

I fire at Creeper’s knees.

The noise of the gunshot slams my brain. The explosion seems to bounce around the cement room like a foul ball in empty seats, finally rolling to a stop. My vision blurs, and my sinuses vibrate like a church bell.

Creeper doesn’t blink at the noise. His gaze slowly drops toward his feet, then focuses at the new white chip in the basement’s cement floor.

Can’t believe I missed. Creeper’s knees are as big as steamer trunks.

Gianni’s screams again reach my battered eardrums. I step closer and raise the weapon to target Creeper’s nose. Don’t remember seeing Sipowitz do this, but it feels right. My finger pressures the trigger. Funny, but I don’t think killing this man would bother me much. Creeper’s the kind of monster who could have killed my children the other night without a qualm.

The big man must read my mind because he pulls Gianni’s feet from the oven thingy. It doesn’t look like an oven, really. I resist an urge to shoot anyway. Creeper’s going to kill you if you don’t kill him, a voice whispers. Think of it in terms of Beth and Ryan’s future.

Instead, I use the Smith & Wesson to wave Creeper away from the aluminum appliance. What would I do without TV and the movies? First the two-handed grip, now the gun as casual directional aide. Who needs firearm lessons?

When Creeper’s tucked away where he can’t reach me, I tell him to put Gianni down and walk backward toward the big cooking machine.

“Is smoker,” Creeper says. Grinning at me with ugly teeth. Still holding Gianni across his shoulders like a recently bagged wild animal.

“I don’t care if it’s a tanning lamp,” I say. “Put him down--carefully--and walk over beside the smoker. Snuggle up. This thirty-eight won’t blow your head off, but you won’t hear the shot either.”

Creeper lets Gianni’s slide off his shoulders and lays him out gently on the bare cement floor. Silence hasn’t returned to the basement air just yet. My first gunshot still plays like the last chord of a rock anthem.

When Creeper slides over by the smoker, I use Gianni’s hunting knife from the bug-out bag to cut the duct tape binding his wrists and knees.

“You okay?” I say.

Gianni groans, says two or three words I can’t make out. His bare feet are black on the bottom, with white blisters bubbling like bacon on the scarlet insteps. My stomach tells me to forget about breakfast.

From behind and above, a voice says, “Put down the gun, Austin.”

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