Jason stared at his cell phone display with the deceptively simple-looking message: “D-Day.” D as in déjà-vu or death, he was thinking. Ever since he quit his job at the steel plant and until tonight, he’d been a lowly gofer in Mr. Cooper’s ongoing money laundering operation. Now all of that was about to change because of a pal from way back in high-school. “If you recognize the guy for sure, give him a bear hug,” his contact had explained. “If not, shoot him dead point blank, is that clear!”
“Suppose so,” he’d replied.
“Suppose nothing!” his contact had retorted. “Fail us, and you can kiss your sweet ass goodbye.”
That was two short weeks ago, and since then Jason had been on standby for the call. Each day had been a negative, and each day he’d been saying to himself: There has got to be a third way out! Today’s affirmative message made his stomach turn, the third option suddenly seemed glamorously distant.
The girl who unwittingly played a key role in his backup plans was actually quite near. Stella lived across the park, it only took him twenty minutes to get there on foot; 15 if he ran. Jason didn’t want to run tonight; he needed to stay calm, composed with this concealed weapon under his jacket in the left side. His fashion-conscious girlfriend had a full-time job in a hair salon around the corner from where she lived. She usually got off work around 7:30, and sometimes he’d simply stand outside waiting for her. She didn’t mind, obviously, and seemed equally glad and positively surprised each and every time. Her unpretentious nature was one of the things he so loved about this woman.
She shouldn’t be so excited to see him, tonight, because he was carrying this pistol he wasn’t supposed to possess. Not without a permit, for sure. She knew about his collection of firearms, but hadn’t a clue about how hard he had been practicing, how many trips he’d taken to find remote places for an improvised range.
His contact had issued precise instructions. There was a scheduled pickup outside the subway station at 7:20; if Jason didn’t make it for whatever reason, he’d be on his own and have only 90 minutes to make it to Warehouse 11. The designated driver knew the direct route, which went through tunnels and across obscure industrial roads. The regular route was much less complicated but significantly longer – he’d have to persuade a taxi driver to break the speed limit, and it would cost him a small fortune as well. Showing up after 9:20 would simply count as a deliberate no-show, his contact had stressed.
That explicit warning had given Jason the idea about a third option. If he met up with Stella, he’d start talking to her, and once they got talking he’d sure tell her everything about his life as a thug. He’d be in a position where he couldn’t make it to the Warehouse by 9:20 even if he changed his mind and wanted to. Then they’d be in this danger together; no longer his burden to carry alone. As he crossed rapidly through the park, he was thinking about that.
Having cleared the park, he stood at the crosswalk waiting for the go signal. What was he going to tell his girlfriend, how was he going to explain? Hesitant to cross the street, he stood there pondering upon that. Suddenly, he felt someone touch his shoulder, turned around, and there stood Slim, one of the guys from the pack.
Jason had been working out in the gym, and looked tough compared with the average guy on the street, but not compared with his friends. For awhile, he had been hoping to catch up to them, but it had proven a losing battle. Muscle didn’t quite seem to grow on him. The girls liked him, except that those who preferred the real macho type found him too delicate. He was handsome enough to have been called pretty sometimes, and to be honest he wouldn’t like a broken nose or to have his front teeth knocked out in a fist fight. His interest in preserving his good looks could make him hesitate in a dual with a rival, long enough for that situation to become very dangerous for him.
“Hey, where do you think you’re going?” Slim said, commanding more than asking.
“I’m gonna go down there!” Jason replied transparently, immediately regretting his words as he pointed in the direction of the hair salon.
“Going there? No, you are not!” Slim said, pulling him closer. “There’s no time for that. Just come with, we’re parked right around the corner.”
“I’ve something to do, don’t worry, I’ll be on time!” Jason said unconvincingly. Slim pulled his jacket, and in his left hand Jason could see a knife with an open switchblade. Slim was very good at using those, Jason knew he had no other choice than to tag along. “Goodbye Stella,” he said to himself, thinking he probably wasn’t ever going to see her again.
Warehouse 11 had been abandoned six years ago, when its former owners – a meat packaging company – went belly up. Now owned by the crime syndicate, the flat 8000 square foot building was supposedly undergoing renovation, which dragged out because of pollutants found in the soil. The place, marred by a funny sweet smell, was unsuitable for storage of almost anything, and no organized worker would ever dream of setting foot there in its present condition.
“Unit 11” – or simply “11” as some preferred to call it – was abandoned but not entirely overlooked. It was within half a mile of the harbor, where the big tanks for storage of oil, natural gas, petroleum, and gasoline were located. The pollutants had probably been flowing downstream from some leaked tanks, underground and undetected. Several of the units nearby were in use, which generated a fair amount of truck traffic in the area, down the Sutton Lane Parkway especially. The Parkway was like a semi-circle, connecting with the main highway on both ends.
The unit was lightly guarded, with random checks during the daytime and an hourly patrol at night. Even so, it was all but impenetrable. Barbed wire alongside the entire perimeter was reinforced by an elaborate, multi-layered security system that included internal gates, fences, and computerized check-points. Any official looking into it would have had to suspect that the supposedly abandoned warehouse was actually being used for something important, but nobody ever bothered to check.
The main entrance consisted of a double steel door. There was another entry point on the far end of the building, and yet another on the backside around the corner. Those two were for truck deliveries back in the days when the warehouse was being used for meat packaging. In addition to the entrance portal, which accommodated up to a medium-sized truck, there were red side doors for passengers and workers. But the area had been sealed off, with weed and tall grass showing that no vehicles had been anywhere near the delivery facilities for years.
Access through the main entrance required a magnetic card to be swiped through a reader mounted vertically on the right side door panel, followed by manually punching in a 5-digit pin code within 30 seconds. This evening, Henry had accessed the building, then disabled the alarms and controls, which had allowed him to keep the door open for up to 60 minutes. After that, the security installations would have to be re-enabled, or a second alarm system for the whole building would go off and alert the private patrol. So this transaction had better be completed before then; the off-duty police officer surely wouldn’t want a dozen people around when the time came to shut the door and put the primary alarm system back online.
Only one person would be able to enter at any given time. Each would have to pass by Rob, who’d check their IDs like some bouncer at a discotheque. The former professional middle weight boxing champion with a checkered past had been armed with a semi-automatic pistol for the occasion, and behind him stood Henry, armed with two handguns as usual. Unless someone managed to enter the property unnoticed, which was highly unlikely, Rob and Henry would be able to shoot down any visitor before they could pull a weapon or do much of anything else.
After the security check, the visitors would be entering a vacant storage room, which had naked walls and merely a single light bulb. This was on purpose: To leave visitors disoriented, while the hosts had the clear advantage of knowing the place. One of five doors would be open, and it would lead to the office where the transaction was to take place. Nobody except Mr. Dimachio knew which office would be used tonight. The Italian-American immigrant, whose Sicilian family had deep Mafia ties, was partner with Cooper, whose business this was. Mr. Dimachio limped, slightly dragging one leg, the carry-over from a bloody motorcycle incident he didn’t like to talk or hear about. Even now, minutes before showtime, his pals didn’t know in which office he sat, or whether he had arrived at all.
Jeremy checked through his belongings once more before stepping through the metal gate. He turned back and looked at Henry with the moonlight in his eyes, then muttered: “Waste of time patrolling it, the way I see it; what kind of criminals would break into a warehouse full of meat, anyway?” He began to walk away and wave as he said: “Have fun sleeping during your all-nighter, Henry.”
Henry stood waiting for him to be gone, hiding his impatience with an intense expression, and said: “Actually, I’ll be staying awake tonight; unlike you, I actually do my job.”
Jeremy raised his eyebrows apathetically and turned away, saying: “God knows how you manage to put up with it. So long.”
Once alone, Henry quickly moved to the warehouse’s alarm controls and began disabling them. As he finished working, he noticed someone creeping up behind him, and he turned with a start to see that it was just Suzy; he breathed a sigh of relief as she walked up to him with a clipboard in her hand, looking over his work to make sure it would do. “Don’t sneak up on me like that, Suzy! I thought you were an officer or someone and that we were busted…” She took no notice, and he pulled out a cellphone, dialing a number from his contacts. “Dimachio, it’s Henry. I’ve got the alarms disabled, we’ve got a solid hour to sort out the deal before the secondary alarms kick in. Uh-huh. Yeah, we’ll see you in a few.” He hung up the phone, and turned to see Rob take his place next to the warehouse door, and he stepped up behind his colleague to stand guard as well.
Suzy walked up to Rob and said: “Now, you know who we’re expecting tonight and what they look like, right?”
Rob narrowed his eyes. “Of course I do. Why wouldn’t I?”
Suzy raised her shoulders. “I’m just making sure.”
A little bit later, a dark blue van pulled up next to the warehouse gate and parked there, taking a moment before it turned off and the five people inside got out. They all walked up to Rob, one of them carrying a briefcase, and the one leading them – an aging man with an unrestrained moustache – pulled out an ID card and handed it to Rob, who after handing it back said: “I recognize the rest of you. Come on in.” Rob and Henry stood aside, and they shuffled through the door one by one. One of the men accidentally bumped into Rob with a briefcase he was carrying, and whispered a potent apology as he scurried through.
The men found themselves in a dreadfully dim, darkened room with only one hanging lightbulb giving them light to see by, and silhouetted beneath it was a table seated with three people playing cards. One of the men, noticing the five people assembling in the room, slammed his cards on the table and rose heatedly to meet them. Pointing at them accusingly, he said: “You…are fifteen minutes late. You do realize that’s 25% of our time gone, don’t you?”
One man, standing to the right of the leading man, said: “We apologize for the delay, Nathan. We got stopped by the police on our way over here, and had to sort things out.”
The other man sitting at the table turned to him and said: “And you told him…?”
“A magnificent lie.”
Nathan, still angry, said: “We don’t want your excuses, Theodore! Thanks to your fashionable lateness, we have 45 minutes to sort out and seal this deal before we’ll have the cops to worry about.” Another of the five men, an old and silent man who’d been standing motionless since he entered, now started fingering the handle of a gun in his pocket, keeping watch for signs of hostility. The lead man gave a subtle signal back to him to relax, and then with a heavy Texan accent said: “Fellas, please; we’re the ones who wanted this deal, so if our timin’ causes problems and we have to abort, it’s our own loss, right?”
Theodore and Nathan didn’t seem to notice these words. After studying the cards on the table, Theodore stepped into the light and said: “Aww, I’m so sorry; did we arrive just in time to ruin your little poker game?”
There was silence in the room for a moment, and everyone seemed to be worried about a struggle; but then Nathan turned abashedly away for a moment, and said: “We have a lot of negotiating to do before time’s up. And for your information, I had a straight flush with $400 to win…”
Another of the men, a casually dressed teenager who’d been looking around the room impatiently, chuckled at this, even when Nathan shot him a dirty look.
Makaya’s nostrils vibrated like they always did when he knew his life might be in danger. He sensed no fear; hadn’t been able to since that great prison riot back in Nevada, which led to nearly two dozen inmates being gunned down. He had been part of a group of seven that escaped, as the guards were either suffering from smoke inhalation or struggling to contain the rioting inmates.
“Come this way with me, please,” Nathan had said smugly.
“What for?” he’d been about to ask, but Joe shook his head and looked directly into his eyes. He always listened to Joe, who knew what needed to be done and what had to happen.
“All right,” Makaya agreed, putting his loaded Winchester rifle to rest up against the wall. “Just you and me, right? Where’s your buddy, the guy with the funny looking nose, Rob is it?”
“Rob went to take a leak, don’t worry my man,” Nathan promised. “I need you to look at something real quick, and tell me what you think. Won’t take even five minutes.”
Makaya walked close behind the other man, who opened a thick steel door. They went through a narrow corridor, then another steel door was opened, and they stood inside a huge storage room. Dozens of full-sized freezers were placed alongside the wall.
“These here deep freezers used to be filled with meat,” Nathan explained. “Can you guess what use Mr. Cooper has for them now? Go open one, you’ll see. Any one, doesn’t matter.”
Makaya couldn’t feel fear. He wished he could. Should he be afraid? Joe had spurred him on, but these freezers and this chilly room was a bit too weird. Joe had said…
“All right.” He went over to the freezer in the middle, opened it, and felt a heavy blow to his neck. “What the hell?” he gasped, as he tried to turn around and was knocked half unconscious by Rob’s uppercut. Even as it blackened before his eyes, he managed to unleash the tiny switchblade knife he carried in his belt. It penetrated Rob’s stomach like a silver knife cutting through soft butter, then continued upward toward the rib cage.
“Well done,” Nathan said from a safe distance, as Rob fell to the floor in agony, soon occupying a miserable spot filled with his own blood. “The job is yours now.”
The nine of them followed the sound of Dimachio’s ringing cellphone down a dark hallway, with Joe and his men treading carefully, having no knowledge of where they were going. They arrived in a small office, old and dirty but kept and tidy, and found Mr. Dimachio sitting at a desk patiently letting the cell ring; he gestured them all into the office as Fulton hung up his own cell. Joe and Schylar sat down in the chairs in front of Dimachio, as he said: “Finally got everything sorted out? All right then, let’s do some business,” and lit a cigar.
Henry stood vigil at his post by the door, while Renzo sat in a chair off to the side tapping his fingers with boredom. Fulton was standing in a corner of the office, watching Joe, Renzo, Schylar, and Theodore carefully, giving them deeply suspicious looks. He assumed at first that Joe and Renzo were the ones he’d have to be wary of, that the other two were just along to help with business; but then he saw Theodore return one of his looks of suspicion, and realized that there was probably more to him than he’d thought.
Joe motioned to Schylar, who nervously hoisted the briefcase up onto the desk and slid it toward Dimachio. Dimachio looked back and forth between the briefcase and Schylar, and then said: “What, you think I trust that you haven’t rigged that thing with explosives or somethin’? You people open your own briefcase, then I’ll believe it’s safe.” Renzo tensed up a moment, and Schylar’s face fell; he turned the briefcase around and hurriedly opened it up, muttering an apology as he turned it back toward Dimachio; he looked to Joe, who sighed with disappointment, and put his hands together in his lap in embarassment.
Dimachio tapped his cigar into an ashtray and eyed the stacks of bills in the briefcase, then nodded to Suzy, who picked up one of the stacks and started thumbing through it. Everyone got tense as they watched Suzy check for fake bills, except for Renzo, who pretended to be having trouble staying awake. She finished with the stack, and said: “This one’s good,” and then traded it with another stack and continued checking.
Fulton paced around the room, secretly continuing to keep an eye on everybody, and Joe tried his best to appear as though he had nothing to hide.
“What’s taking Rob so long, haven’t got all night?” Fulton complained while staring directly at Nathan. He sat at the far end of the table looking like someone who didn’t quite fit in. “I need him to vouch for his old cell mate Mr. Makaya.”
Everyone looked at Makaya, who sat motionless. “Fat chance,” Nathan said, struggling to suppress his discomfort. “Rob went looking for ice cream!”
Dimachio pulled the cigar out of his mouth, and started laughing like someone who didn’t have much lung capacity to spare. “Who killed him? You?” he pointed at Nathan.
“I did,” Makaya said in a deep voice. “Working for you now.”
Fulton went over to where Nathan was sitting. “Tell me what happened, in 25 words or less.”
“I’d asked Rob to ID Makaya here. Kill Makaya if he didn’t recognize him. He tried, but Makaya was too fast with his knife. He’s dead right now.”
“WHAT?” Makay asked, as he tried to rise from his chair. “The job, you said…”
“See if you can go get your rifle,” Henry said mockingly, as he pulled out a handgun, pointed at Makay, and shot him straight through the heart. Makay motioned forward, banged his head against the table, and was dead.
“These bills are also good,” Suzy said.
“How about Theodore, who can vouch for him?” Fulton asked.
“We’ve already told you, Mr. Fulton, we need your gofer Jason to assist with that.”
“But he ain’t here, is he now?” Dimachio said, looking at Joe. “Everyone has to be vouched for, or there’s no deal! Those are the rules.”
“Yeah,” Joe said. “But why does Theodore have to die because your boy has decided to take the evening off?”
“My boys,” Dimachio said with menace, “always show up – and if they don’t, that means foul play on your side, buddy!”
Even with Jason walking along willingly, Slim kept a tight hold of his forearm and a continual grip on the switchblade in his pocket. Quickly after rounding the corner, they reached their limo parked right outside a Starbuck’s, and Slim opened the back door of the limo and shoved Jason inside. In the seat in front of him, Jason could see Linus staring at him with a scowl; the two of them had never been on very good terms. As Slim got into the car, he kept rambling on about what an inconvenient time this was for Jason to be going to see his girlfriend.
“I mean, seriously, Jason! We need you for an hour, one and a half, tops. Can you really not keep away from your girl for that little bit of time?” Shutting the door, he continued to talk on and on, past what was really necessary to say, which was one of his many bad habits. “After this job is through, you can go straight back there and take her out to a nice restaurant… or to the park… or back to your hotel for some R&R, I don’t care! But right now, you’re working with us, and you’re getting the job done. And Dan, why the hell aren’t we moving yet!?”
The driver looked up at Slim through the rearview mirror and said: “Still waiting on one more.”
Linus scowled and turned back to face Dan, and Slim said: “We’ve got four people in our group, you forgot to count yourself, dumba…”
Jason had been watching the Starbucks, particularly a man sitting at one of the tables with a newspaper hiding his face; and Slim turned just in time to see the man get up, walk over to the front passenger side of the limo, and sit down inside, telling Dan to start driving the moment he was in. Dressed in a formal black suit, he was a wrinkling, twitching old man; but the moment his door was shut, he pulled a gun out of his coat and pointed it straight at Linus’ head. Before any questions could be asked, he introduced himself: “Detective Vernon with the FBI, the three of you are under arrest for money laundering.” There was silence in the limo.
Jason noticed that they seemed to be following the car in front of them closely, and in the side mirror he could see another car following the limo… obviously more agents. Now he was certain he was never going to see Stella again. Slim was the only one talking, trying vainly to bluff them out of this situation: “Look, Vernon, I swear we don’t know what you’re talking about with this money laundering thing, me and my friends were just about to head out for a relaxing evening, and now you’re about to wreck all our whole night!”
Somewhere deep in his subconscience, Jason couldn’t accept that there was no way out of this situation, and he desperately hoped they could pull off some sort of escape; and yet, there were so many things he needed to figure out if they were going to make it out.
With his gun glued to Linus’s forehead, Vernon humored Slim’s little charade: “You bet your night is about to get wrecked; me and my boys’ve been after your operation for months, do you really think you’re talking your way out of this now that we’ve got you? Well, alright then smart guy, where were you headed this evening?”
Jason felt a sudden, small flicker of hope: He couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like Vernon was trying to get information from them about the location where the transaction was taking place, which he wouldn’t do if he already knew where it was. And if he didn’t know the location… well, then at least they weren’t completely screwed…
So if they could retake the limo, shake off the two escorts, and make it to the location without running into any more trouble, then they should be all right. Jason didn’t see any other options for them at this point. As Slim gave Vernon a chuckle with his lame Broadway answer, Jason started keeping a close watch on him in the hope that he might slip up.
Finally giving up on the alibis, Slim asked: “Okay Mr. Federal Agent, what makes you think we’re such dangerous criminals? Do you even have any proof?”
Vernon just smiled and said: “Better than proof, we have testimony. I’m afraid your man over here ratted you out, son.” Slim turned toward Dan, seeming to be lost in bitter shock, and Jason wondered how he couldn’t have figured it out sooner.
Slowly, Slim inched forward in his seat, clenching his teeth as he said: “…Dan… you… squealing… little… pig!”
Vernon swung his gun toward Slim to push him back into his seat, which caught Jason’s attention squarely; this was just the opening he was waiting for. But he couldn’t take it yet, not while they were still sandwiched between the other agents, there was too much risk to that.
Vernon’s voice nearly growled as he chastised Slim: “You sit back down and keep your mouth shut, boy!”
Jason glanced toward the road; there was an intersection coming up. “A squealin’ pig don’t cause any trouble…,” Jason’s heart skipped as the escort in front of them entered the intersection, “…but a whining dog is asking to get put down.”
As soon as Vernon clicked down the pistol’s hammer, the tension broke loose. Jason seized Vernon’s arm in time for it to fire into the middle seat, and yelled at Dan: “Turn left, if you know what’s good for you!!” Linus impulsively knocked Vernon out with his fist, and Slim pulled out his gun and switchblade in a startled flash. Caught in the panic of the moment, Dan turned left and stomped the gas pedal. Within a few more seconds, Jason and Linus had their guns out, the back escort was tailing them, and Slim was giving Dan the choice of getting shot by the agents now or getting shot by him later.
Jason’s mind couldn’t make itself up as to what he needed to think about next, and the beeping coming from every direction coupled with the adrenaline his veins were pumping was not helping at all. Slim managed to discuss streets and routes with Linus while simultaneously yelling directions to Dan, driving now at Linus’s gunpoint. Taking stock of the situation, Jason nearly had his head cleared when suddenly the window behind him shattered, and he couldn’t stop thinking about how he was sure he had a knife of glass sticking in the back of his neck but was unable to check. Nearly swallowing some of the shards, Slim yelled: “They’re firing at us, step on it!!”
Jason turned to start returning fire through the paneless window, but saw that the agents’ car was pulling around up next to them; if he wanted to fire at them now, he’d have to open his window. Seeing the agents pointing to him with their guns, he rolled his window down as little as he could afford to, and stuck his pistol out to try aiming. He managed to shoot first, missing entirely, and over the sound of their gunfire he could barely hear Linus yelling: “The tires, Jason! Hit the tires!!” Yet he couldn’t help but hesitate when he noticed a bullet hole in the window right next to his face.
Then he kept shooting, doing his best now to aim for the front tire. After shooting repeatedly and getting nearly shot five more times, he finally hit the tire, and a jet of escaping air sent the car careening into a McDonald’s.
The room had fallen silent. Somehow, everyone seemed in agreement that one wrong word could cause a heavy load of unsolvable problems. Two men were dead already, a third’s life hung in the balance, and this transaction – however well-planned – was only an iota from being flushed down the drain. Theodore finally broke the muteness.
“What am I, canned fruit?” he asked provocatively. “Doesn’t anybody care about what I’ve got to say? I know who I am, and you…,” he looked around the table seeking eye contact with his colleagues, “have known me for at least a couple of months, some of you a lot longer than that. I’m for real, you know I’m real, so what’s the problem?”
“The problem is we don’t know you, ‘Theodore’”, Fulton said. “We’ve only met you just this night; how do we know you are who you say you are? How do we know….,” he paused, choosing his words, “…how do we know you’re really working for our best interests?”
Fulton spoke without sarcasm and carefully avoided sounding condescending. But that was merely a matter of protocol: Everyone had come invited, and no one should be talked to rudely, as this might well upset their superiors. The point, as some of the people in the room knew full well, was that there were two kinds of people: Dispensable folks and indispensable folks. Theodore was dispensable. Fulton and some of the other senior members could reschedule this transaction if they really had to, but they couldn’t afford to screw it up, nor did they want to start taking out one another. Someone higher up might get very upset.
“Try not to take it personally, Theodore. It’s all about money, anyway. Isn’t that right, Suzy?” Joe asked.
“Well, yes, money’s the main thing…” Suzy rolled her eyes, not appreciating what Joe was implying. “…And that’s just the point, we’re here about this money, so our priorities revolve around being sure nothing jeopardizes it.”
“Thanks for confirming that for me, Suzy,” Joe said calmly. “Mr. Dimachio, I realize we’ve been over this ground before, but could you please reiterate for me what will be the consequences if your boy doesn’t show up within the next 10 minutes to confirm that Theodore is who he claims to be!”
Dimachio drew a slow, convoluted breath of smoke from his cigar, seemingly in an attempt to avoid speaking for as long as possible. Despite his adamant claim earlier, a spark of doubt seemed to light his eyes as to whether Jason was showing up or not. “The consequences, plain and simple, is that we’ll have to bail out on this deal. The only way we could access this place was by disabling the security system, but backup’ll turn on in…,” he took his cell out for a quick check of the time, “…fourteen minutes. We need five in order to properly make the exchange, get out, and reset the security system, so that means my boy’s got nine minutes now.”
The irony in this situation was obvious. The transaction was huge: The tens of thousands of dollars in the briefcase that lay on the table in front of Suzy was chunk change compared with all the money in sealed boxes, ready to be shipped off on Mr. Dimachio’s and Joe’s joint orders. It all hinged on Jason, a guy Dimachio would have trouble recognizing if they both stood alone inside an elevator. The deep distrust between the two sides was the cause of all these troubles, two men had already died. Jason needed to confirm he knew Theodore, who had been there when the drug money rolled in, and who swore the money – 69 million dollars – was the same as had now been packed into the sealed boxes down in El Paso.
“So I’ll get to go home with you guys even if my pal doesn’t show up to ID me, right?” Theodore sounded unsure.
“Wish it were that simple, friend…,” Fulton raised his eyebrows for emphasis, “…but there’s more to this situation than we’ve been letting on about. Hmm… let’s just say that we don’t allow strangers to know about what goes on in this business.”
Theodore looked further down the table at Schylar and Renzo; not exactly his best buddies either of them. Makaya might have lifted a finger to help him, but he was dead, and Joe had already insinuated that he’d go with whatever Mr. Dimachio told his goons to do with Theo. He easily caught their attention; in fact, he now had the sense that Schylar and Renzo had been looking at him for some time. He managed to establish eye contact with Schylar, who was unpredictable but not entirely useless on his best days. Renzo was daydreaming, it seemed, or spaced out one way or the other.
“May I go to the restroom, and where is it?” Schylar asked.
“Left as you walk out, go down the corridor and right,” Dimachio hoarsely replied.
Henry gestured to Fulton, and the two of them walked over to the corner to talk privately. “Look, Fulton, we’re in a tight situation here, and I’m not sure it’s going to end well either way if Jason can’t verify. Are you certain we have no other options?”
Fulton crossed his arms and gave an upset exhale. “Well, Henry, it was your buddy who gave you a tip about a possible plant, not mine. You think we need to do things differently?”
“Well, if he is a plant, then killing him is going to give them a lot more incentive to track us down.”
“And you didn’t think to mention that sooner?” Fulton asked.
“I didn’t think Jason would be late!” Henry said, sounding a bit irritable.
“Well, if you can think up a better plan by the five-minute mark, then we’ll go with that,” Fulton said. “Otherwise, we are not letting him leave this warehouse alive, knowing there’s a possibility he’s going to leak information about us!”
“Schylar, would you mind showing me the way to the restroom?”
All of this distant talk, people moving about the room, was making Theodore extremely nervous. He had been jumpy for the past hour, but now staying put in his seat was nearly unbearable. How many times does a man breathe each minute? Like 15 times, tops, then he’d have only 90 breaths left for the rest of his life – in the worst-case-scenario.
Jason, my man, come on now and save my skin! Schylar sure didn’t seem in a hurry to do anything about helping him; he went to the restroom and returned to his seat without incident.
Theodore remembered when he was still a little boy and ran across the cornfield, a kite flying overhead. He had stumbled and lost hold of the string, so the kite took off and went yonder, never to be seen again. His mother wanted to know what had happened, but he couldn’t bear telling her the truth, so he’d lied and said the string had broken. He’d been eight years old at the time, that had been his first lie, and he’d been lying constantly ever since. Except about this money in the containers, it was true.
Fulton returned with Henry from the corner, and adressed Dimachio: “Alright; so, how much time are we working with now?”
“Six and a half minutes until the five-minute mark,” Dimachio informed him.
Outside the building, a German shepherd was barking on the inside of the interior fence. A beaten up limo struck its front fender against one of the solid metal posts that formed part of the first checkpoint, and the dog started howling. One of the guards on post pushed a button on his phone, and Henry’s beeper instantly went off.
The crooked cop looked down and touched his device to read the code, even though he knew by the sound that they had company. Who else could it be at this hour than Jason and his friends? He read the code: 493, sure enough, then cleared the beeper, looked up, and proceeded across the floor towards where Mr. Dimachio sat looking tired and thoughtful. Just as Henry passed behind Renzo’s back, the American-Japanese man unexpectedly and abruptly pushed his chair back, sending Henry stumbling to the ground, his right knee screaming with pain.
Renzo, pointing a sharp knife at Henry’s throat, hissed: “I’m your worst nightmare since Pearl Harbor, old chum!”
Dimachio rose from his seat, forgetting his hurt leg, which caused him to buckle over for a moment as Fulton and Suzy drew their guns and aimed them at Renzo. Joe and Theodore sat speechless; and after a second of beating back the pain, Dimachio finally managed to speak.
“Joe… what the hell is he doing!?”
“Mind if I have a quiet word with Renzo here, Mr. Dimachio?” Schylar suggested. “I’ll get him to drop that knife in a second, if only you’ll let me speak with him. There’s been enough blood spilled for one night, don’t you agree?”
Joe, sounding like sending commands to his dog, said: “Sit still! Don’t move a muscle, now is that understood? You get up from that chair, and I’ll shoot you myself.”
“No problem, Joe, no reason to get upset over this, I was only trying to help,” Schylar said.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Dimachio, Renzo has always been one of my reliable boys,” Joe injected. “Do with him as you wish, I don’t much care what happens anymore.”
Dimachio, with little hesitation, growled to Fulton and Suzy: “If he’s going to erupt in violence for no reason, then we’re not going to tolerate his presence at this meeting. Shoot him down.”
A pair of strong hands lifted Renzo’s body off Henry. Fulton and Suzy had both fired their guns within a split second of one another. Renzo had finally made a half-hearted attempt at piercing his knife through Henry’s throat, where it barely made a dent before the clumsy attacker fainted and then died.
“That does it for me!” Henry said. “I’m not going to trust Theodore, no matter what Jason says. Did security even let them through? I hope not!”
When Henry said this, everyone in the room snapped their heads around to look at him. Theodore seemed to get swept with a wave of relief.
“Henry, you’re saying that Jason has arrived?”
Mr. Dimachio’s tone of voice left no room for doubt or interpretation. Henry knew that he had to pass on the plain truth, even if it meant swallowing his pride and telling his gut instinct to shut up.
“Sir, my beeper said it was a friendly vehicle, whatever this means. It could well be Jason, yes, but we’re within a minute or two of having to vacate this building.”
“Well then, we’d better get them in here quickly!” Dimachio retorted. “You go down to the entrance and get ready to reactivate the security system.”
Joe said, speaking to his men: “Alright, everyone, let’s be ready to leave as soon as we’ve made the transaction!”
Jason stumbled out of the limo, then he and Slim ran across the yard to show the guard their IDs. Linus, of course, had to stay behind to make sure Dan didn’t try to run for it, and to keep an eye on Vernon, who was still out. Even as they approached the guard, he admonished that they were needed quickly and to hurry inside. So Jason let Slim lead the way through the warehouse, since he knew better where they were going.
As they resumed running, Slim looked at his watch and muttered: “…oh God, three minutes left…,” then told Jason: “Remember what you’re here for, right? Soon as we get there, either greet Theodore if you recognize him or pull out your gun if we’ve got a fraud.”
“Won’t it be more important to tell Dimachio about our Vernon?” asked Jason, who really didn’t want to be in a position of being forced to kill anyone.
As they ran down the final hallway toward the door of the meeting room, Slim said with finality: “First we finish the job; that other stuff can wait until we’re all out of here.”
On entering the room, Slim and Jason were greeted with words like “Finally!” and “What took you so long!?” Everyone seemed to be frantically packing things up and getting ready to leave. Theodore was standing in the very center of the room, placed there so that he’d be the first thing Jason noticed. After just one quick look, Jason felt a wave of relief rushing through his veins and stomach; he wouldn’t be killing anybody tonight.
“Hey, Theo; long time no-see!” Jason said with a wide grin. He’d never been so happy to meet an old buddy, whose hand he quickly grasped to shake. Theodore, of course, smiled back; with his life saved, he was even happier to see Jason. The group’s tension toward Theodore turned to apathy, and they all started worrying more about finishing the transaction and getting out of there. As Jason and Theodore had a little chat in the background, Joe and Dimachio at long last finished the transaction by swapping briefcases, shaking hands, and offering to do business with each other in the future. Everything the group had been working for the entire night had finally paid off.
Everyone immediately began running, quickly as they could, to get out of the warehouse in the one and a half minutes they had left. As they ran, Slim tried to talk to Dimachio about Vernon. “Sir, we’ve got a big problem I need to tell you about…” Dimachio responded in an agitated tone: “Let’s take care of one problem at a time, Slim; tell me about it once we’re out of here.”
One by one, everyone filed out of the warehouse, last of whom was Henry, who feverishly worked to try and reinstate the security system. Everyone watched him tensely, the time ticking down from fifty seconds to forty-five, then forty, then thirty-five…and then, with a flourish, Henry pressed the last button, smiled, and said: “Got it!” and they all breathed a sigh of relief. Thirty seconds to spare! Everyone lightened up a bit at that point, except of course Slim, Jason, and Dimachio, who were now discussing Dan and Vernon.
“FBI!?” Dimachio exclaimed silently, “You mean…they’ve identified us!?”
Jason responded by saying: “I’m afraid so; Slim, Linus, and I, at least. Dan betrayed us, and we have no idea how much he told them.”
As Jason talked, Dimachio cupped his hand over his eyes; they had gone through all that trouble of identification and verification, and yet one of their biggest worries still managed to materialize.
“The agent got knocked out when we took back the limo; when we got here, we left Linus to keep an eye on him and Dan.”
Dimachio finally removed his hand, and was ready with instructions. “Alright, good work you three. Slim, take Nathan, Fulton, and Linus with you, then go take care of those two: If the agent’s still unconscious, just dump him off somewhere; if he woke up, dispose of him more permanently. Then take Dan over to The Shop; I’ll let the boss know what’s happened and let him deal with that jerk, personally…”
With a quiet “You got it,” Slim motioned Nathan and Mr. Fulton over and started explaining things. At that time, Dimachio turned his attention to Jason: “Here, I’ll give you a ride; just give me a moment to explain things to Henry and Suzy.”
Jason stayed where he was, and simply observed the heavy shift in attitude as Slim and Dimachio explained the situation to everyone. By this time, Joe and his group had left; there was no need to let them know since they weren’t the ones Dan knew about. Dimachio’s group, on the other hand, had probably been completely exposed to the FBI, and they would need to discuss very soon about how they would dodge this intractable bullet, which could very well turn out to be harder to dodge than a real bullet.
The group had decided a place to meet with the rest of the organization to discuss what they should do next. Then, as Dimachio and Jason began walking over to where Dimachio’s chauffeur was parked and waiting, Dimachio abruptly said: “Kid, we’ve got a major problem on our hands.”
Jason’s relief plummeted back to panic, which he’d had just about enough of for one night. All he could do was timidly answer: “Oh yeah?” to which Dimachio bluntly stated: “Yeah. You don’t seem to have any concept of deadlines.”
Jason, who had feared that Dimachio would bring up how he’d tried to ditch out on his job earlier, simply kept quiet and let his boss continue. “Jason, our line of work requires people we can fully depend on, people who can not only get the job done but who actually show up for work. Trying to skip an assignment as important as the one tonight is almost as bad as turning traitor; because if you miss or are even late to any assignment, everything could fall apart. Get the picture?”
Jason nodded callously, simply hoping that ‘skippers’ and ‘traitors’ weren’t punished in the same way.
Dimachio moved on: “Fortunately, things only came close to falling apart tonight. But if we can’t count on you to get the job done, do the work we’ve given you, then we’re going to have to get rid of you, one way or another.”
As Dimachio paused to take a draft from his cigar and to see how Jason would respond, Jason knew of course that there really wasn’t any “right reaction” in this situation. If they thought he should die, then nothing short of a miracle would ever change their mind. All he could do was continue in silence, avoiding obviously incorrect responses such as attempting to flee.
But things took a relieving turn after Dimachio exhaled. “…Luckily for you, Jason, Slim tells me you did alright tonight.”
After a short pause, Jason broke his silence quietly: “How so?”
Dimachio gave a subtle chuckle. “Don’t act ignorant for the sake of modesty; Slim’s account clearly shows that it was your quick thinking that ultimately kept you all out of the hands of the authorities. Most people wouldn’t be able to keep their cool in that kind of situation.”
Jason smiled a little. “Heh, I sure couldn’t.”
Dimachio’s mood seemed to lighten up, which Jason took as a good sign. The veteran criminal chuckled a little bit more, and said: “Well, in any case kid, such quick and effective action is the sort of thing we’d be rewarding you for, especially knowing that it’s given us the chance to save our whole organization. We would be rewarding you for it…if you hadn’t been trying to ditch out on us beforehand.”
“Well then, what are you going to do with me?” asked Jason, who couldn’t stand being uncertain of his fate any longer.
Dimachio took one more draft from his cigar, and finally answered: “…Alright, here’s what we’re going to do. Taking into account how much the FBI knew about us, I’d say Dan’s already told them too much, and even though we haven’t met to discuss anything yet, I really don’t see how we’re going to get out of this one without completely relocating, probably to a different country entirely. Since you’ve bought us the chance to do that, we’ll take you along as well and make sure you get out of harm’s way. And since your disobedience didn’t cause us any trouble in the end, I think we can keep the boss in the dark about it.” His tone took a sharp turn, and he pointed his finger accusingly at Jason: “But once we’re in the clear, Jason, we’re through. We can’t depend on you, so we’re kicking you out; no more jobs, no more contact, you’ll have to start a new life for yourself.”
Jason was finally relieved; he couldn’t think of a more favorable outcome. After all, wanting to start a new life had been one of the reasons he tried to run in the first place. The only downside was, he still didn’t want to lose Stella…
Finally, he said: “…Well, I guess I can deal with that. But… do you suppose I could bring someone else with us?”
Dimachio sighed: “That girl from the hair salon?”
Jason felt disappointed over being that transparent, but nodded.
Dimachio thought a moment, and then said sounding disgruntled: “As long as it’s just her, and you can get her to agree to go, fine. But that’s the only favor you get. And don’t you dare tell her more than she needs to know, which is very little.” Jason understood perfectly, and nodded so as to make that clear.
As they were nearing his limo, Dimachio said: “We’ll drive you over to her place right now, so you can talk it over with her while we attend the meeting. Of course, relocation is pretty much the inevitable conclusion… But if you can’t convince her to go with us, tough luck; we can’t afford kidnapping in this situation.”
Jason wouldn’t have wanted to resort to kidnapping her, anyway, so he just shook his head and said: “Okay.” As they got into the passenger seats, Dimachio’s final words were: “I’m thinking we ought to relocate someplace nice and tropical, we’ve been working in this uptight New York atmosphere for way too long. See what your girl thinks about Cuba… I’d love to have hands-on access to some Cuban cigars…”
The car drove off as Henry inconspicuously finished out his graveyard shift at the warehouse, wondering if he really would be able to stay up for the whole rest of his shift.
They drove along quietly and thoughtfully, yet that didn’t have a relaxing effect on Jason, who wondered to himself anxiously, still not knowing exactly what he was going to say to Stella.