My heart skips two beats while my brain accepts one disturbing image: Gianni’s brother Thomas and a Vin Diesel Wannabe fill the basement stairway, both of them pointing assault rifles at me.
Reminds me of the last time new-issue stocks were hot. Clients get angry when you can’t get them shares they know are going to triple. One has yet to show up with an AK-47, but I think it’s only a matter of time.
“I’m on your side,” I say. I’m talking to Gianni, but my gaze stays on Creeper. A little voice tells me my life depends on it.
“For the moment we’re on the same side,” Thomas says. “So do your new pal a favor and put the gun down.”
The basement floor chills my knuckles as I lay the Smith & Wesson beside Gianni’s shoulder. The sound clicks too loudly in the still basement air. Maybe I’m hyperventilating. My stomach says I definitely won’t be eating for a week.
Under the artful direction of Thomas, his tattooed, shaved-head sidekick, and their straight-from-Baghdad assault rifles, Creeper and I load Gianni into the back of the same white Escalade I rode in last night. Hope Gianni’s story turns out happier than Tony’s. Now that I think about it, guess Gianni’s already doing better.
The closeness of Creeper’s mountainous mass keeps my nerves on a sharp blade. It’s like walking beside a leashed and trained grizzly bear. Everything’s cool--as long as this thing on a leash doesn’t change its feelings about closely monitored captivity.
Thomas motions with the muzzle of his automatic rifle for Creeper to move away, toward the lodge’s pine board porch. Creeper obeys, I’m sure because his mother raised him to be polite, and perhaps also because Thomas’s weapon can deliver large-caliber bullets like water through a hose.
I figure I’m in. Thomas didn’t send me over to the steps. But when I reach for the Caddy’s door handle, Thomas’s bald friend stiff-arms my chest.
“You’re not coming,” Thomas says.
“You’re leaving me here with Creeper?”
“Ha. Good name for him. And yeah, you stay because we’ve had enough of this fight. I want Max to know it. I want him to tell Bluefish.”
That doesn’t sound like good news. For me, anyway. And my stomach was just returning to normal. Wonder if that bug-out bag has any Alka Selzer?
“You hear that Max?” Thomas says. He turns to face Bluefish’s henchman. “I’m taking my brother back, that’s all. I don’t care what you did to him. This little war was all a mistake, and is now over. You can have Carr as a peace offering.”
My head does a full-boat neck swivel, a slow search for escape routes. Hmm. Too bad I can’t fly. Looks like this stockbroker will soon be hightailing it into the woods.
“Don’t worry,” Thomas says to me. “You’ve got Bluefish’s Town Car there, plus my brother’s bug-out bag. When I leave, I’ll toss your gun back.”
I feel so much better.
“Or at least, “ Thomas says, “I’ll toss it closest to you.”
Does knowing someone’s planning to kill you give you license to kill that person first? Aiming the Smith & Wesson at Creeper’s garage door of a chest, I decide yes, it probably does. But I’m still not going to shoot him.
Not yet, anyway.
“Give me the keys to the Lincoln,” I say.
Thomas and his hairless friend left fifteen seconds ago. I can still hear the car’s engine. The film of dust the tires kicked up just now floats into the space between me and Creeper. The fog of war. Think maybe I’m being a little dramatic?
Luckily, I did in fact beat Creeper to the gun. Despite enjoying a good ball bust, Thomas must have appreciated my interest in Gianni. I did make Creeper take Gianni’s feet out of the smoker.
I walk closer, less than eight-feet away from this huge monster of a man who threatened my children. Slowly, I aim the gun at Creeper’s nose. This worked before. I like precedent.
“Only one more time I say this, Max. Give me the keys.”
Creeper grins. His teeth look like a recently thinned forest. Lots of dark empty spaces and broken, snapped-off stumps.
I pressure the trigger.
Creeper digs into his pocket, eases out a baseball-size gob of brass and chrome keys. His huge fingers work on the tiny pieces of metal like a silversmith, quickly separating a gold-colored one.
Creeper knows I’m not bluffing.
The big man shows me the gold key he’s removed from the key chain, pointing at the logo so I know it’s for a Ford product, then stuffs the puppy in his mouth and swallows.
Bastard’s not as dumb as those teeth make him look. What I mean, Creeper can tell by looking at me I won’t shoot him unless I absolutely have to. But how does a guy learn to trust instincts like that? Bigger than ballsy, if you ask me. Like a guy who’d wrestle two bears at the same time.
“You going to shoot me?” Creeper says.
God, I hate that grin on his face.
But...it does seem like I’m out of options. Waiting around for Creeper to pass the key through his system sure isn’t an alternative I’d like to explore. Can you imagine what his...
“Okay, smart ass,” I say. “I’m going to disappear into these woods. If I hear you following me, I’ll stop, hide, and shoot you on sight.”
Creeper’s grin stretches into a long, twisted smile. It’s an ugly thing, like the winner of a most-frightening jack-o-lantern contest. Halloween eyes and dagger teeth from Hell.
The look on him sucks my breath away.
Makes me wonder if a bullet to the brain would even kill him.