Sunday, December 02, 2007

Two Guns - Chapter 14 - Losing My Religion

Like every waiting room ever conceived by mankind, Dollar's place didn't have comfortable seats. Sharon was slumped over a worn-out leather couch, holding a cup of hot chocolate in one hand and rubbing the tiredness from her eyes with the other. Her clothes were sticky, the tanned animal skin beneath her was hot and cold in all the wrong places, and for some reason she just wanted to walk outside and scream herself hoarse. It was mostly a matter of trying to find a solution to this whole mess that didn't include killing a hell of a lot of people. Everything she'd ignored about Mark that last week was now hitting her, in the manner of being tied to a wall in a game of dodge ball against a particularly vicious pack of 6th grade bullies. She slurped on her not-so-hot chocolate. All the cigarettes in New York City wouldn't have relaxed her.

It was time to stop pretending. Sharon Collins, your boyfriend kills people for a living. How do you feel about that?

Shuffling combat boots were barely audible through the closed door; finally, the wood groaned, the handle turned and the door opened. Mark was awake, steadying himself on a heavy cane; with careful, deliberate steps, he walked through the frame, his mouth forming the beginning of a painful grimace with every movement. All told, he looked more like a man who was acting out a few gunshot wounds rather than a guy with actual lead poisoning, but considering what Sharon knew about Mark, the man had to be tough.

"Mind giving me a shoulder?" he said, and if nothing else, his voice sounded like that of a guy with a couple too many holes in him. Sharon rushed over, ducked under his outstretched arm and helped to steady him, all without thinking about it. "Any news from Whitton?"
"I wouldn't know. I haven't checked in yet."
"We need to find Ded," Mark said. "If we're lucky, Nicky hasn't killed him yet."
"How did Nicolai make it past you?"
"That's what I called Ded for. He endorsed Nicky. The little shit must've snatched him up and forced him."
"Assuming, of course, that Ded didn't sell you guys out. He might be working with Nicolai. We don't know what the Russians are up to, and we haven't exactly tried to find out. Hands-off policy, I'm sure you're familiar with that."
"Listen, I've known Ded for years. He wouldn't do that. That's not how things work here."
"That brings me to another point. Nicolai had a gun. Didn't you frisk him?"
"You come in there, you hand over your guns, that's how the fucking meeting works. I can't just go feeling up the bosses. That's basic etiquette."
"No, it's basic stupidity," Sharon said. "At the checkpoint, the guard is God. That's how the Army does it, that's how we do it, and that's how it makes sense. But I guess that would be too much of a personal slight for your bosses, so instead you do the stupid variant, which only works as long as everyone plays fair. Nicolai knew that when he went in, and as we can see - that man doesn't play fair."

Mark stopped and looked at her. She shrugged.

"I'm a cop. I figure things out."

And thus they walked to the car in silence.


The Ingues manor loomed large against the first slice of the new moon; Mark left his Oldsmobile standing in the driveway and hobbled over to the house's side entrance. The inside was comfortably warm, but Mark didn't recognize the new guards. They were crawling all over the area, and Mark couldn't help but wonder who would pay for all those mercenaries. The hallways were echoing a lively discussion; he walked towards the lounge, following the voices to their origin. Aside from five more guys with guns standing guard, the large dinner table played host to Alexandra, Vincent and a large man he didn't recognize. Just then, one of those pieces of sentimental flotsam floated to the top of his consciousness - he remembered his first family dinner with Alfredo Ingues. Mark had to smile at that. It was another winter like that one now, and the first good piece he'd tasted of the Big Apple. The first night in his new home, still scared and with only Alfredo's assurances to keep him company.

Things had worked out so well for so long, Mark found it hard to get his head around the fact that the Boss was dead and buried now.

He closed in, and for the first time it seemed like Alex had really noticed him coming in; she forced a smile onto her face, got up from the table and walked over to Mark, still relying on a cane of her own.

"Looks like we can make a race down the hallway now, Mark," she said and gave him an affectionate hug. Mark winced from the discomfort, but returned it.
"Maybe later, boss. I've got some catching up to do. What's going on?"
"Well, as you can see," Alex said while helping Mark walk to the table, "we've called in a few favors. This" - she indicated the large man - "is John Done. He's new in the mercenary business, but he comes highly recommended."

Mark shook hands with John Done and inspected the man more closely. Underneath the practical clothes, Done was sporting a serious physique. Despite being a good deal younger than Mark, life hadn't done him any favors - several heavy scars marked his weathered face. Mark felt like he'd finally found a man for whom "ugly son of a bitch" would be a compliment.

"Mr. Done will be here to help us organize a response to the recent attacks," Alex continued. "He's also an experienced operator in urban combat, and I can only hope he'll be able to lift some of the 'heavy hitter' burden from you, Mark. Let's face it, you're wearing the results of our previous policies."
"I'm fine with that," Mark said. "There's a lot that needs killin' and my trigger fingers are only so quick."

Done cracked a smile at that; Mark gave him an eyebrow.

"So, what's the plan?" Mark asked Done.
"First, we scout ahead," Alex said; Done kept his lips sealed. "Find out how many men the Russians have and where they hang out. Then we look at who supports them. We take out their support, cut them off from outside help, and then we whittle them down nice and slow. Sooner or later, they're going to go all out and try their home invasion again. And that's when we suck them into a serious ambush. That done, we send in a second team to mop up before they have time to regroup."
"Why are you telling me this?" Mark said.
"Already said it once," Done said. "And she has a pretty voice."

Alex blushed a bit, but Mark frantically hoped that Done would talk again, because that couldn't be his actual voice. It couldn't be the voice of a human being. He must've misheard that, because that wasn't speaking, that was coughing up gravel and tar. Smoking all the tobacco in the world wouldn't give you a voice like that.

"That answer your question?" Done said, and Mark leaned back and nodded. That was Done's voice, and Mark understood why the man didn't talk a lot. He didn't have to.

"Where's your girlfriend?" Alex asked; Mark ripped his gaze off Done and turned to look at her.
"Let her out at the precinct. She has to report in, too."
"Yes, that's what we were worried about," she said. "We have to consider the possibility that she's a plant."

Mark had a strong answer for that, but his better judgment made him keep his voice down and lean back.

"" he asked.
"She's in Whitton's unit, for example. She was where you were when Silvestro's coke deal went down..."
"I was on assignment, she was following a lead. Doesn't strike me as unusual at all."
"Okay, but remember how you had to hold her hand when you faked the evidence? She's more competent than that, we know that now."
"Sure, but we got her on the wrong foot. Everybody has an off day."
"The way I see it, it's more like she was trying to look vulnerable so Daddy would assign you as protection," Alex said, quickly raising her voice and emotional involvement. "That way, she could get close, distract you and Vincent with an attack on the hotel. She knew Silvestro would send his assassins after Daddy then. So she faked the attack..."
"That attack wasn't faked!" Mark protested. "People died that day!"
"Really? I don't see you or her buried next to my father!" Alex cried, rising from her chair. "How did she make it without a scratch while they killed my family?!"

Mark banged his fist on the table; he held back too much anger of his own. Alex froze in full swing and slowly settled back down. The silence was deafening. Mark thought about a funeral he hadn't even known about, a last goodbye forsaken for...what, exactly? His heart pumped raw guilt through his hands and head.

"This is paranoia," he said, recomposing himself.
"What about Whitton, though?" Alex threw in, eerily calm yet sullen. "He knew Nicolai, he could've arranged for all this!" she said, picking up steam again.
"Nice meeting you, Done," Mark said. Without further words, he rose from the chair, grabbed his cane and headed for the stairs.

"Come back here, Mark!" Alex said sharply, producing no result; after a second, she shouted "Simmons!" at him. He froze in place, just for a second. Then he continued on, ignoring her. As he started to climb down the stairs to the basement armory, Alex almost pursued him, but a strong hand on her shoulder held her back.

"I'll handle this," Vince said, then followed Mark.

In the eye of the storm, Done sat back and enjoyed the show. Amateurs...


"If you would close the door, Detective..." Whitton began, hunched on his leather-clad office chair and rubbing his temples. Sharon - badge prominently dangling from a chain around her neck - closed the door behind her, closed the blinds and grabbed the rather more spartan chair in front of Whitton's desk. She found Whitton's office comfortingly familiar - the bulletin board with nice, orderly notes about current cases, the file drawers in the back, the hotplate with the customary jug of coffee, even the rather tacky brass-plated cuckoo clock.

She sat down. Whitton opened his eyes and slowly leaned forward.

"Do you know where Simmons is?"
"Right now? He said he was headed for the Ingues family mansion."
"Are you sure?"
"Good." Whitton leaned back, and his face relaxed a little. "Do you think he'll do something stupid against the Russians?"

A little voice in Sharon's head screamed "Of course he'll do something stupid! He's Mark Simmons!", but she ignored it.

"Well, he's got a major hate-on for Nicolai" - Whitton frowned - "but he's not in fighting shape. He could barely walk when I saw him off."
"Good. We need time to sort through this mess and come to a reasonable conclusion."
"Captain, if I may..."
"What do you think is a 'reasonable conclusion'?"

Whitton cracked a small grin, as if he was congratulating himself for anticipating that question.

"The one that gets the least people killed. If I can find a way to keep them from shooting up the whole city, that's what I'll go for. Protect and serve, Detective."
"I'm just asking because...back at the restaurant..." Sharon said, then trailed off for a second. "Nicolai. It looked like we were going to back Nicolai."
"I'm not friendly with him, if that's what you're going for. Dolvich called me last week, wanted to introduce me to a new business associate. He's very old-fashioned, the whole 'announce yourself in the lord's domain' thing. He wanted to make it official. So I talked to the guy, figured I'd give it some time before I pass my judgment. When we met at the restaurant, I was just trying to keep Simmons from shooting him right there. What a great idea that turned out to be..."
"Okay, but...Dolvich? The name doesn't ring a bell..."
"Boris Dolvich."
"...oh! Oh, you mean Ded."
"Sorry, Captain, didn't click for a second. It's just that Mark...that Simmons keeps calling Dolvich 'Ded'. From Dedushka, which means..."
"Grandpa. Yes, I know."

Sharon suddenly felt like she'd been sent to the headmaster's office for a school prank. Get your mind on the job, girl.

"What's eating you, Sharon?" Whitton said, effortlessly slipping from boss to friend in the blink of an eye.
"I'm fine, I feels like I need a vacation from the vacation."
Whitton smiled warmly. "I can see where you're coming from. You've seen a lot of things those last weeks, sights a cop could do without. I understand. You ever consider talking to a counselor about it?"
"No, I haven't actually thought about the whole situation that much. I'm just trying to keep my head above the surface, you know?"
"I back my Detectives 100%, Sharon. I've been there. Up is down and black is white, suddenly, and before you know it you're knee-deep in it."
"It sounds like a cliché when you say it that way."
"Everything's a fucking cliché until it happens to you. Look at yourself, Sharon. You're head over heels for a hitman, torn between law and justice, all the jazz."

Sharon lowered her head a bit. She was actually blushing - still in that headmaster's office.

"All I'm saying is that there's always gonna be rain, Sharon. I'm here with an umbrella, if you need me," he said, with a small paternal grin. "Get some sleep. Put your head straight, and talk to Monica if you want to. You'll see, we'll get all this behind us and then things will get better."

With a sigh, he snapped back to Captain Mode.

"That's all for now, Detective. You can leave now."
"Thank you, Captain. I'll...I'll give you a call if there are any new developments. I don't know where I'll stay..."
"Technically, you're on vacation. I don't think I have to bother you with the dreck that requires reaching you on the phone. You've got enough on your plate already. Just keep swimming, Detective."
"Thank you, Captain."
"You already said that."
"It bears repeating," she replied, with a small smile.

She turned to leave, but Whitton raised his voice again. Sharon braced herself for a parting shot.

"One last thing, though: How is Simmons?"
"I'm...not sure how to interpret that question."
"Is he a decent guy? Does he treat you right?"
"In between the bullets and the terror? Yes, actually, he's a nice guy."
"Why did you ask?"
"If you two are going to be together, I'll have to stick my neck out for him, too. I wanted to know if he's worth it."
"Definitely," Sharon said without hesitation.
"Well, don't let me keep you any further, then. Good night."
"Night, Captain."

And so Sharon walked out, feeling curiously...unburdened. As she closed the door behind her, Whitton sat and pondered the events of the last few days. With a heavy sigh, he reached for a file folder on the edge of his desk and opened it. He wasn't going to get any sleep that night.

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