Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Two Guns - Chapter 12 - Silent Running

Here's how it went down: Suppose you drew a line from the center of the table to Mark and called that 12 o'clock. (Because, really, that kind of finality would fit Mark.) Working from that, you would've found Whitton at 3, Alexandra at 5, Vince at 6, Nicolai at 8 and Sharon at 9.

Nobody said anything. Nobody moved. They kept on doing that.

It was a remarkable long-lived (if still violently metastable) situation for all of the five minutes it took Nicolai's friends to show up. Nicolai's friends were Russian gangsters, too - tattoos, AKs, all that. Nicolai's friends didn't have someone pointing a gun at them; indeed, when they rolled up with their panel van outside the restaurant, they went unnoticed.

Nicolai's friends were about to announce themselves.


Much like standing in the cabin door of a burning plane without a parachute, Sharon's predicament was not easily expressed in terms of a golden path. On one hand, compliance might have been able to get her out of this alive, but if Nicolai planned to kill her, death was certain. Fighting back would draw a lethal attack, but offered the minuscule chance of escaping it. She weighed the two alternatives - both sucked. It's hard to gamble when you don't even know the odds.

Then Nicolai's friends showed up, and she felt the gun in her neck shift slightly as Nicolai reflexively took a look. For this split second, Nicolai's friends were her friends, too - not in the sense of inviting them over to watch the Mets game and sharing a case of cold ones with them, but a more tactically expedient and cynical kind of friendship - the distracter/distractee/advantage-taker impromptu friendship triangle. Of death.

The muscles in her arms and hips tensed up, invisible under her clothing, and then she unleashed the stored potential energy by whipping around, slamming the pistol off target with her raised arms. Nicolai fired, taking off her right earlobe and inflicting considerable acoustic trauma on her right ear - call her lucky that it was a suppressed gun. Either of those would have been enough to take down a grown man, short of a dusthead on the last brightest ride of his life; she crumbled, but that left Mark with an opening to shoot Nicolai twice. That, in turn, left Nicolai's friends to return the favor, peppering the room - but mostly Mark - with fire from their AKs. Mark rushed to cover Sharon, taking Nicolai's next shot across the arm before it stopped in his vest.

But Nicolai had to start moving, which meant no more AKs firing into the restaurant. That's what saved Mark from getting his ass killed right there.

Ever ungrateful, Mark rolled around, firing a few shots at the fleeing Nicolai and the gunmen parked outside. More fire came in response; now it was Sharon's turn to have her adrenaline kick in, and she steadied Mark as they skedaddled towards the entrance. Mark retained enough strength to push Sharon towards the table with all of the checked-in guns - while he crouched behind a pillar, Sharon used the momentum to skip onto the table and tip it over for cover.

For a second, the AK gunner didn't see any targets. That made him nervous, and he had every right to be. When Mark and Sharon came back up, they gave him a four-gun 9mm salute. In the space of those four magazines, he was turned from a face only his mother could love to a face even his dentist wouldn't recognize. It was at this point that Nicolai decided to cut his losses and have the car speed off, but not before giving the assembled crowd his final (and, if it had all gone according to plan, only) fuck-you: the bottle of wine went up like a roman candle, apparently consisting of 1/2 top-quality white wine and 1/2 incendiary device. Given the Magnum bottle, that was a lot of incendiary device. (Which, by the way, differ from white wine bottles in both alcohol content and blast radius. In case of doubt or confusion, check the labels.)

Fortunately for our heroes, the room with the bottle - still standing perfectly still in the middle of the medium chaos before turning it into major chaos - was empty now, with most of the round taking cover in the kitchen. They took the rear exit when the restaurant's main room caught a thermate-fueled redecoration. Again, Mark and Sharon were forced to move until they finally hit the exit, flames roaring up behind them. Mark folded against a nearby hydrant, bleeding profusely into his shirt; Sharon crouched down to tend to his wounds, still vaguely unaware of the blood trickling down from her right ear.

"Fuck," Mark coughed up, then slid off into shock.


"Fuck fuck fuck!" Nicolai screamed while one of his men held him down onto the floor of their panel van. His right arm was outstretched, with his hand spasming through all the permutations of Gimme! it could muster, until he finally had a small medicine bottle with vicodin pills in his grasp. Even the child safe top didn't stand up to his adrenaline-fueled rage as he twisted the bottle open, popped a few pills into his mouth and chewed down. It took a minute to hit his brain, but then it did and through some freak miracle it didn't kill him.

Don't try this at home.

He recovered from that trip just as one of his men - Sasha - was finishing up the quick'n'dirty dressing on Nicolai's bullet wounds.

"Are you okay, boss?" Sasha asked.
"Did you get him? Did you fucking kill him?"
"Don't know, boss. He was shooting at us when we drove away."
"Fuck!" Nicolai took a deep breath, noted the pain that brought, then took another one. "Fucking Simmons."
"We're on our way to a doctor now, boss. Do you want us to go after Simmons?"
"No, no...that would be stupid. They're on their toes now. We fucked it up."
"Sorry, boss."
"We need to get rid of Boris now, consolidate our position. Sasha?"
"Thanks for the fire support."
"Anytime, boss."


"Fuckers!" Alex snarled, kicking her shin against the glove compartment of Mark's car in a futile attempt to work through her anger. With Vince at the wheel and Sharon taking care of Mark's wounds on the backseat, they were on the move again, headed for an underground clinic - family business, one of the few advantages of being dug in those days.

"Just another bidonista asshole," Vince said. "Silvestro tried, now Little Nicky tries, they all end up dead."
"And who's gonna do that?" Alex said. "Mark can't."
"He's still alive," Sharon threw in.
"And we're doing what we can to keep it that way, Detective, but look at him. He's out of action for two weeks, maybe more."
"So? In case you didn't notice, Mark is our insurance policy. I'd be happier than a pig in shit if we had more people with his talents, but fuck, we don't. Our rank-and-file's gone bust since Silvestro. We're fucked."
"What about you, Vince?" Sharon asked innocently.
"Somebody's gotta protect Alex. I'm tempted to go out there and string that leccacazzi up by his palle, but they'll just hit us from the flanks if I leave her. Don't 's'pose you're volounteering, either?"
"Then fuck you, puttana," Vince said, but his tone suggested more frustration than anger. "Ain't no more backup to call in for us. The Cartel's dry."
"Screw this, this sunshine and lollypop thing," Alex said. "It's getting us killed out here by everyone who's dancing around the rules. They play dirty, we play dirty. We need mercs."
"That's against..." Vince began.
"...the agreement, I know, okay? Jesus. I know. I know all those silly little rules that are supposed to keep this shithole running, but right now they're not exactly working out for us, are they, Ratioli?"
"Fact is, we need firepower and we need it fast."
"I know a guy," Vince said after some deliberation. "Canadian ceffo, but he's good. I can give him a call."
"We'll need more than that. Call in everyone who wants a paycheck, we're breaking the bank."
"Gotcha. Do we have enough guns?"
"Does your Canadian throw them away like Mark does?"
"Then we have enough."

The car slid to a halt next to a small alley; two Columbians were already waiting there and helped Sharon extract Mark from the back seat. While they carried him away, Sharon looked to Alex.

"Don't do this," Sharon said, then took a deep breath. "I know this is bad, but they're fucking us as much as you. I know Whitton, he's gonna come down like a sack of hammers on them, just give us a little time to mobilize..."
"Feel free," Alex said. "But there won't be Russians left to fuck up when we're done. Oh, and that merc thing? That's our little secret, Detective, or I will send Vince on a housecall. I don't trust Whitton and I sure as fuck don't trust you. Stay quiet, take care of Mark, then maybe we can become girlfriends and go shopping when this shitstorm is over. Okay?"
"Okay," Sharon said, like it was not okay.

Then the car sped off. Sharon just stood there, all alone in the snow.

So much for a Cold War.

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