I turned, and was amazed. Standing in the open stairwell mere feet from me was a familiar face. Too familiar.
I frowned. “Put the gun down, Gresham.”
“I remember you,” he said, his gun hand shaking in the cold. “You’re the asshole with the pet vampire. The one that outed me to the Pescis, and broke my goddamn arm!”
“I recall it being a bit worse than a break,” I said, looking at his cast. “Multiple compound fractures with some lasting tissue damage, major joint dislocation and a serious possibility of life-threatening infection. Some nasty shit, amigo. Do you want me to do worse?”
“Get your fat ass out of the fucking way, Gresham,” I said.
“W-Why should I?” he said, angry but obviously unnerved. “I’m the guy with the fucking gun!”
“Yeah, and look how well that worked out for you last time.”
“You had a vampire catch it for you! That time doesn’t count!”
I sighed. “Listen, Gresham. Killing a sad sack of shit like you doesn’t inconvenience me. Not in the slightest. But it doesn’t benefit me either. Not unless you keep standing there with that gun pointed at me. Now move, and let me talk to Mickey so I can put a bullet in that psycho’s man-purse, and then another in his fucking head.”
I stepped up, and there was a loud bang accompanied by the acrid smell of gunpowder. The bullet made a splash in the pool of gravel beneath our feet, throwing tiny rocks into the air as it ripped past my tattered trousers, barely missing me. I looked at Gresham.
“Fuck off!” he said. “I fucking mean it! Don’t call me a sad sack when you were the one who fucking ruined me in the first place, you prick!”
I took another step forward towards Gresham. He pulled the trigger again, and a bullet whizzed past my face close enough to pop my eardrum. I kept walking. I didn’t break pace.
“I fucking said stop!”
I kept walking. I was so close he could’ve shot me and it would’ve been impossible to miss. So he did. I stopped as I heard a shattering crack and a dark red patch started to grow from beneath my chest pocket. He’d shot me just above my stomach, right on the edge of my liver. I dropped down on my knees, clutching the bright red hole in me. Gresham started sweating and laughing like a nervous hyena.
“You thought I wouldn’t do it, didn’t you? You thought I wasn’t man enough!” Gresham said, high on the moment and practically panicking. “Looks like there’s more to Gresham Walsh than you thought! You thought I wouldn’t shoot you? Well how does that gaping hole in you feel, motherfucker?! I shot you right in the heart!”
Fucking idiot. You missed the heart by at least an inch.
I didn’t respond to him beyond digging the bullet out of the wound, tossing it aside, then getting back up as I started to heal again. I think that by itself might have been response enough. Certainly scared the shit out of him.
Gresham stuttered, unable to articulate just how fucked we both knew he was. I grabbed his gun hand and crushed it, working my fingers into the grip while I turned his carpal bones into powder. I turned the gun on him using his own hand, and shot him five times two inches right and below his heart. The same place he’d shot me.
He screamed and dropped to the ground, both his arms and hands too fucked up to cover his bleeding wound. I dropped the gun in front of him, and stomped on the hand I broke, making him scream again.
“Want my medically sound diagnosis? You’ll fucking live, you pussy,” I muttered as I walked past him. As soon as I touched that door though, I felt something heavy coming up. Something hot. I doubled over holding my stomach, and coughed into my sleeve, practically heaving as the waves tore through my throat. When I looked down, my sleeve was speckled with blood. I felt my throat tingle as the blood knitted up the scrapes to the soft tissue.
Rejection was beginning to set in. The blood wouldn’t last me for much longer. I had to hurry, or soon I wouldn’t be able to move at all.
I avoided opening the door immediately, and instead I played Peeping Tom with my nose up against the dusty, grimy, filthy windows. The inside of the warehouse was much better guarded, but much less open. Props and stage equipment were everywhere, not counting the remnants of life left by various homeless people who’d moved in and out of here since it closed for business. Half the lights didn’t work, and ramping stairwells and catwalks would make sneaking around a piece of cake. And then there were the pyrotechnics…
I decided not to use the door, and instead I unscrewed the old window pane and dropped down onto the catwalk on the top floor. I found a large crate of stage flashes and fireworks, and rifled through it. There wasn’t much left in the crate but there were maybe two guys up there with me, three tops. One of them I could take out. The other I’d use as a… distraction.
Stashing all the fireworks I could carry in my coat and pants, I took cover behind the crate and waited for one of the guards to pass me by, all the while memorizing their patrol patterns, noting the slight deviations, and listening to their conversations. It made me wonder if this was what being an international spy or a man of mystery felt like. Looking back, I feel like it would make a great game. They could call it T.E.A for “Tactical Espionage Action” or some shit like that, I don’t care. Just make sure they credit me for the idea.
At the time though, it didn’t feel much like a game to me. It might have had something to do the poison seeping through my veins, the dull but ever-growing pain that was keeping me alert and on edge, or the hatred I felt towards Mickey.
Then again, maybe it had something to do with the scene’s god-awful dialogue.
“You fucking bitch!” I heard a loud thump. “You think you can fucking double-cross me like this?! I own you, you worthless cunt! Did you forget about that?! I FUCKING OWN YOU!”
Each word was punctuated by the soft, wet pounding of flesh. Listening to it was almost worse than watching.
Finally a guard walked past me, and I grabbed him by his belt and hauled him into the shadows behind the crate, cupping my hand over his mouth before he could scream. In one swift motion, I jammed my knife up through the base of his jaw and into the roof of his mouth, stabbing his medulla oblongata (or for you snipers out there, the “apricot”) like a pig skewer for a quick, quiet death. While the remaining guard looked the other way, I slid him into the empty crate and stuck a lit dazzler in his pocket.
Making a mad dash of a crawl, I got into position and waited for the other guard to take notice. In the silence, that meant I had no choice but to let my mind wander back to Mickey.
“You destroy my chemical factory, kill my guys, and draw them a map right to my front door, and you tell me you were ‘just following orders’? You trying to blame it on me? You think this is fucking funny?!”
I had no line of sight, but somehow I could see her smiling. Smiling through the pain like me. Except hers was much worse than some mild heartburn.
The sounds of him beating Theo continued. The seconds ticked by until the dazzler sparked a fire on the bottom of the crate and the whole thing went up. The guard had to get there within that window of opportunity for this to work, and to fucking spare me from having to listen to this another second longer. Finally, the other guard took the bait like a sucker, and as soon as he took his first steps onto the catwalk, I started counting under my breath. I had to time this perfectly.
I watched him open the crate. Now, his ass was mine.
Before he could scream out the news of his friend’s death, the box went up, showering him with sparks that lit all of his clothes (and by extension him) on fire. I cut the rope holding the sandbag, and that section of the catwalk dropped to the ground floor, dumping lit fireworks everywhere. The man himself screamed incoherently as he careened around the room desperately trying to put himself out. And just as I thought he would, he was setting fire to every container of stage fireworks he passed, knocking over hobo fires and sparking grease fires as he stumbled drunkenly around.
“Someone grab that idiot!” I heard Mickey yell. I cut another rope and used the sandbags to drop down myself, running into the thick of the confusion and lighting even more fireworks with some roman candles I held in each hand. Soon, everything was exploding and throwing out fire and sparks everywhere. Men ran from the exploding boxes, their shirts and hair catching on fire, while others who weren’t so lucky tried to crawl away, trailing blood from shrapnel wounds or just burning alive where they fell.
Mickey was the only one who took action, twisting the control valve for the emergency sprinklers which had long since rusted shut. Water poured into the warehouse causing a cascade of steam as the fire slowly faded. I heard Mickey trying to rally what troops were left so that he wouldn’t be left alone in the middle of what was clearly becoming an attack. I decided to put a stop to that.
I shot my gun into the air five times, disrupting everything. Instinctively, Mickey dived for Theo, grabbing her by her hair so he could prop her up in front of him as a human shield.
I lowered the gun as the steamy mist began to clear up, and Mickey scowled when he saw my face. He dropped Theo.
“You little shit.”
“Yeah, that’s me,” I said, entertaining him. “Alfonso Anastasio the Little Shit, resident meddler, do-gooder and neerdowell. And today, ladies and gentlemen, for a limited time only…”
I reached for the shotgun I’d kept slung around my back, bringing it to level with Mickey. I cocked it, just for dramatic effect.
“The guy who’s gonna put Mickey Donahue down like the rest of the dogs.”
“Alfonso…” Theo said, her eyes widening. Mickey sneered.
“Yo,” I said, waving and putting on a heroic face. “I’m here just like I said I would be. A promise is a promise.”
And revenge is revenge, I thought to myself bitterly.
“Why?” she said, tearing up, looking utterly defeated. “If you wanted to keep your promise you shouldn’t have come here! You know what he’s capable of! Why did you-”
Just like that, Mickey kicked her in the face, sending her sprawling. I didn’t expect there to be a reason. There didn’t have to be with him.
“Shut up,” he said, his voice returning to a slimy, icy cool. I dropped the smiles.
“Well Mickey?” I asked. “What’s it gonna be? You gonna go? Let’s go. Right here, right now, with everyone watching. It’s what you’ve always wanted, right? A big showdown with your name in fucking lights. Mickey Donahue vs. the world, round one.”
He sneered. “Yeah right.”
Immediately everyone still able had their guns at the ready. Even Theo, who struggled against every motion like a spastic marionette, slowly got up and drew a gun on me. I raised my hands in surrender.
“Whoa there, take it easy,” I said, making sure not look like I was losing my cool. “I thought this was gonna be you and me, Mickey. Man to man.”
“Like I fucking have to bother with you, you tiny little shrimp. You really think you’re worth my fucking time when I got such bigger, juicier fish to fry?”
I smiled. It all hinged on this then. The secret weapon.
“Am I really hearing this right? The great Mickey Donahue doesn’t think he’s man enough to take me on by himself; he needs a fucking army instead?” I said, saying it loud enough for everyone to hear. “Man, I knew you were a pussy, but this takes the cake.”
That got his attention.
“What the fuck did you just say to me?” He turned around.
“Pussy,” I said. “I said pussy. As in that thing you steal like cheap potatoes because you can’t get any yourself? Ringing any bells, shitface? I can get your mom to come in and show you hers if you like.”
“You must think you have some really big balls talking to me like that,” he said, pushing Theo aside.
“Bigger than yours,” I said, snorting.
“But you don’t!” he screamed. “And don’t you ever fucking interrupt me!”
“Oh, now you wanna go?” I said, challenging him. “Mickey the Baby wants to play in the big leagues? Come on, bambino. Why don’t you stop hiding behind your mother’s skirt and show us all how much of a man you really are. Knock it right out of the park! Make momma proud!”
We stared each other down, neither of us moving.
“… Oh Mickey you so fine, you so fine you blow me blind hey Mickey! Hey Mickey!” I sang mockingly in a false falsetto.
“That’s it!” Mickey screamed. It was juvenile but it worked, because I knew right then and there that I had him exactly where I wanted him. “Nobody fucking move! Homunculus!”
Theo struggled, trying to resist the words as they came. “Yes…? ma-master?”
Mickey stared at me, digging into me with his eyes. “Kill him.”