We couldn’t believe it. The man in the tank was still conscious. We had time. And better yet, now he knew there was nothing Mickey could do to him anymore, now that… oh. Right. Suddenly that felt a lot less fortunate.
Still, we had a way out of this. We could all take a moment to dwell on the tragedy later as family men. Or at least I could.
Not waiting for anyone’s permission, I raced inside and stabbed the tank with my knife, peeling it apart and letting air back in. If he passed out now, then this would have all been for nothing. Luckily for me, he seemed to be running on pure spite.
“Just keep breathing pal, we’re gonna get you out of there as soon as we disarm the switch!”
Marq rushed in behind me.
“Al!” he yelled.
“Marq!” I shouted, no time to waste on any of this. “Get back to work on Leon or whatever the fuck you were doing! I have things covered over here. Bomb squad! You think we’re paying you to stand around shitting in your pants like fucking four year olds?! Get over here and disarm this fucking thing! I’ll keep him conscious for as long as I can.”
I immediately switched gears back to helping out our mole. Five hours from now he was gonna be neck-deep in shit like you wouldn’t believe, but right now he was keeping us alive. And even if we’d just hauled his ass back from the brink by his short and curlies, there was no guarantee I could keep him conscious long enough if I didn’t do something right that second. Oxygen deprivation isn’t as simple as opening a fucking window and letting in sunshine and butterfly kisses, it’s complicated. Right then my biggest concern was whether or not he’d sustained any serious brain damage. Cerebral hypoxemia could still kill us all.
Fucking fortunately for us, I could hear him sobbing hysterically and cursing Mickey from outside the tank while he pressed that button so hard he’d probably pop his dick next time he jerked off with his right hand. It looked like he could still form full sentences and wasn’t pissing in his pants, so the odds of him being functional enough to keep pressing a button were pretty high.
“Mickey you fuuuuuuuuuuck!”
That being said, there were no guarantees that he was right in the head. But he was still clinging to life, and that was something.
I got to work peeling open the tank with my knife. The thin edge of the blade pushed apart the individual molecules in its path as it steadily cut through the steel tank. It was like slicing through paper, but I had to be real goddamn careful with it if I didn’t want us all to die. Couldn’t be too fast or I might nick our guy. Or worse, cut through the wire bridging the switch to the bomb. That would be… bad.
Finally I finished cutting a hole big enough for a man to crawl through and pulled it back, shining a light on our guy. He looked fucking busted up to shit. Broken teeth, some major bruising and internal bleeding, and it even looked like someone had gouged out his eyes. Mickey, of course. The switch in his hand was just a tiny little button at the end of a wire, barely bigger than a pocket watch.
I got to work pulling him out of the tank, never letting him let go of the switch. I set him down, propped him up, and took his pulse. Heartbeat was regular, for now. Blood pressure in the green. Hyperventilation was setting in, getting oxygen back to his lungs. If we took him to a hospital and got him hooked up to an oxygen concentrator, he’d be back to normal in a few days, minus the parts Mickey had fucked up. Maybe he wouldn’t have been so lucky if we’d been a few seconds later. I mean he was bad, real fucking bad, but he wasn’t gonna die.
“You listening?” I asked. I slapped him a little. Just lightly, on the cheek. “Can you hear me?”
He choked out a yes.
“Alright, good. How long does that switch delay the detonation?” I asked.
“Thirty seconds,” he replied, still making that choking noise people do when they cry. “You got thirty seconds after I press this button. Just leave me. Get everyone else out of here, then go.”
“Nope,” I said, watching Marq grasping around for the hex bag. “Not happening, pal. We’ve lost too many good fellas today. Management is gonna want someone to blame once they’re done with Mickey, and I’m not letting anyone else die today. You can take the punishment like a man, or you can off yourself later, whichever you like. But today, you’re not dying on my watch. You said it, and I’m holding you to it. Hippocratic fucking oath.”
It was more like the Hypocritical oath, but he didn’t need to know that.
He shook his head. “I said I didn’t want to be Mickey’s bitch. There’s a difference. I don’t wanna live, but I don’t wanna kill anyone else either. So please, just go. There’s no point in saving me, they’re just gonna kill me anyway once they find out what I did. And Jessica… oh god…”
“Join the club,” I said, grimacing. “You’re not the only one lining up for an assbeating. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about your wife. You did this for her, didn’t you?”
He didn’t say anything to me after that. Wonder why.
“… I got a little sister at home,” I said, fishing out my wallet with the picture of Annie in it to show it to him. “Don’t know what I’d do if a psycho like Mickey got his hands on her. Maybe if I was you, I would’ve done the same.”
I heard explosions outside, felt the ground jump beneath my feet as they rocked the city. The other bombs were starting to go off. I turned back to the mole, still kind of uncomfortable. I wasn’t very good with these heroic, inspiring speeches.
“But your wife? Up there in heaven? She… she wouldn’t want this for you. Okay? She’d want you to fight. Can you do that for me?” I said, getting kinda desperate. “Please say you can do that for me, because I’ve been having the shittiest fucking day today and you dying on me is only going to make it worse.”
There was a second of silence before he started laughing. It sounded like coughing at first, but he was definitely laughing. I decided to laugh along. It sounded fake as hell, but if he was coming around, then whatever. Then he gave me the finger and I realized that wasn’t why he was laughing.
“Fuck you, kid. Just fuck you.”
I wanted to say something in retort, but right then Marq called me over. I left the guy, trying to think of something to say to him when I got back.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“What’s up? What do you think is up, because it’s sure as hell not Leon!” Marq said, standing over Leon as he sat doubled over, horking up another wad of phlegm, teeth and bugs. He cocked his head back, choking on something like he was trying to keep it down, and lurched as he regurgitated a live tarantula. You know, like, out of his mouth and stuff.
“How is he even-”
“You tell me, medicine man,” Marq snarked back at me. “I can’t find the bag.”
“So? Who cares?” I asked. “If he’s fucked, he’s fucked.”
“He also might know where the other bombs are planted.”
“Oh. Which means-”
“Which means we can send aid, yes. Now you see the importance?”
“Okay, okay,” I said. “I get it.”
I got it, but I didn’t know what to do about it. If I was medicine man, Marq was magic man. If he didn’t know what to do, then how should I?
As disgusting as it was, I tried getting inside Mickey’s mind for insight. If I was him, where would I put the bag? It wouldn’t be just anywhere, it would have to be some place we’d never look. He didn’t just want to beat us, he wanted to outsmart us. Prove he was better than us. A big “fuck you” he could have a yuk about later.
I looked around. Where in here could he hide a small leather bag? Well, goddamn near anywhere in a basement this size, but where specifically? Where was there the least chance a mobster would look?
The wine cellar.
“Marq, who does this restaurant belong to?”
Marq thought about it for a second. “Mmm… Eddy Provenza, I think.”
“Nonono,” I said. “No. The real owners.”
Marq thought again. “Pescatorres, I think.”
I knew it. The wine racks were stacked high across the room, shining in the yellow cellar light. Some of them looked like liquid rubies. Others were thicker, and looked like blood. No white wine on the racks. Real italians don’t drink white wine. I sniffed around. You could feel the scent of fermented grape paint the air around you like the most bourgeoisie shit you wouldn’t believe. It smelled like quality. Some of these bottles had probably been aged for years, just waiting for someone to drink them.
I picked up a bottle and smashed it. Too fucking bad.
“Al, what the hell?!” Marq cried.
“It’s in the wine!” I yelled back. “Mickey hid the bag in a bottle of wine!”
“Would I be busting up Paulie’s private reserve if I wasn’t sure?”
And just like that we started painting the cellar red. Chianti, Amarone, Barolo, Barbaresco, Bardolino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. We fed it all to the ground. To this day, I swear to god the weeds around that restaurant smell fruitier than the finocchios.
Finally we found it, tied to the underside of the stopper in a barrel of Spanish sherry. The perfect hiding place. To get to it, we’d have to waste the Pescatorre’s own product. The perfect petty revenge. I tossed it to Marq, and he held it up by the stopper and lit the bag on fire, the alcohol soaked fabric burning up in a cloud of sweet smoke. Ankle-deep in a congealing clod of blood and spiders, Leon finally stopped belching up bugs long enough to catch his breath, the hex bag’s hold on him broken.
Distant arguing and rustling noises could be heard coming through the speakers of the jukebox. “Where’s the kaboom? There was supposed to be a earth-shattering kaboom!” “…” “What do you mean it didn’t detonate?!”
It sounded like Mickey was starting to catch on that we were still alive.
Marq stepped up to the jukebox. “Bet you didn’t expect to hear from us again. Just a heads up, we burnt your hex bag and disarmed your bomb again. Sorry about that.”
But Mickey didn’t seem like he was listening to us.
“Detonate the spares.” “…” “I don’t fucking care what the fuck you have to do, just fucking detonate the fucking spares you fuck!”
“Okay, new plan,” Marq said. “Everyone out now.”
Everyone herded out of the building in a fit of uncoordinated chaos, bumping into each other and everything else as they worked to squeeze through the doors. This time was for real. And if he was talking spares, that meant this bomb was WP.
I finally pushed my way out the door carrying Mr. Mole, who didn’t have the strength left in him to do anything but complain when I pulled him away from his bomb. Finally we got everyone out in the street to do a headcount.
Marq came up to. “Where’s Leon?”
“You don’t have him? I thought you had him! Did you think someone else was going to fucking carry him?!”
“Fuck…” Marq cursed.
“I’ll go in and get him.”
We both turned around just in time to watch Nayeli sprint into the restaurant.
“Nayeli!” Marq yelled out. “The hell are you thinking?!”
Five seconds of silence passed. Then the world ended. The bomb went off, shattering glass and eardrums, and leaking burning, poisonous gas into the streets like a tide as the building collapsed, trunks of smoke shooting out from every window and door. The sound of the explosion was deafening. I scrambled out of the way as the jukebox nearly fell on top of me.
Someone finally looked out from behind cover a few seconds after the noise had stopped. There was hardly anything to see through the smoke and gas, and it was hard to tell which was which and what was what. Then Leon came flying out from a hole in the debris pile that used to be Eddy Provenza’s pride and joy, and tackled some of our men, even though he was by all rights knocked the fuck out. Hoisting his unconscious but alive form off of them, we waited for Nayeli.
Five seconds later, she emerged from the cloud of smoke and poisonous gas, her bandages burnt right off her face. She coughed, having trouble breathing probably, as flecks of spit rolled off her face. She’d gotten a double dose it looked like.
“Nayeli!!” Marq yelled, rushing to catch her as she collapsed. She vomited over his shoulder.
“Don’t touch her!” I yelled. “A person’s clothes can absorb and emit sarin gas for up to thirty minutes after exposure, and even coming into contact with the gas can breach the blood-brain barrier! You’re still at risk for exposure! Just let her bleed it out!”
“Fuck that!” he yelled. He grabbed the belladonna pill I gave him that he’d been keeping in his pocket, and crammed it into Nayeli’s mouth, forcing her to chew as she did her best to cough it back up. Goddamn him. He knew even better than I did that a demigod’s hyperactive metabolism meant their bodies processed poison out faster than a normal human’s. He was putting himself at risk for nothing.
Finally she stopped vomiting, and her pupils seemed to constrict back to their normal size. She coughed lightly, taking as deep a breath as possible, completely ignoring how some of her clothes and hair were still on fire. We all sighed in relief, but Marq especially.
“Why the hell did you do that?!” he asked her.
“You said it yourself boss, we needed him,” she coughed. “Leon’s a scumbag but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t help a brother out, especially when we need him.”
“And you think I don’t need you? Don’t be stupid!”
She smiled, even though Marq was anything but happy. “One of us has to be dumb.”
I signalled to Marq to tell him to break it up. Leon was regaining consciousness. He hoisted her over his shoulder and got down on his knees next to Leon.
“Alright Leon, can you tell me where the other bombs are located?” Marq asked. “If you can give me an address, any address, I can have relief there in five minutes.”
Leon gasped for breath. “Lincoln Medical Center. St. Barnabas Hospital. Cavalry Hospital. Richmond University. Staten Island University.”
I cursed. They were all hospitals. That sick bastard was bombing hospitals.
“Beth Israel Medical Center. Zucker Hillside.” He took a breath. “King’s County.”
My heart stopped, frozen in place. King’s County. That was the hospital where Annie had been spending the night.
“Are you fucking kidding me?! What the fuck do you mean she destroyed the factory?! She’s supposed to be fucking helping me!”
The noise from the jukebox was deafening. Mickey’s voice was all I could hear in that blasted hell. I walked up to the receiver on the trashed jukebox, and pressed the button.
“Mickey, this is Alfonso.”
He growled. “Yeah, what the fuck do you want? Here to cry about your little sister? I’m fucking busy right now, so quit it!”
“So you knew.” I chose my next words carefully, saying them out loud slowly. “I want you to know something else, then. You had one chance. One last chance, Mickey. You wasted it when you brought Annie into this. Now, I’m coming to kill you my fucking self.”
“Oh boo hoo, big woop. You think I care? I eat pieces of shit like you for break-”
I stomped on the jukebox, grinding the transceiver into dust.
“Shut up, Mickey.”