They say the first step of fixing your situation is by admitting that there is a problem. Well, that's what they say in my AA meetings.
You know what? I'll admit it. I screwed up. Big time. Don't get me wrong, I'm good at my job. Damn good. When the Big Man wants something done right he calls Tony Creole, cause I'm the best.
Yet, here I am, alone, lying in a pool of blood that's not my own, staring at the iron crossbeams stretching across the warehouse ceiling and cursing my god-awful luck.
It all started with a phone call early this morning from none other than Joey Vilenti, telling me that I was wanted at the Office downtown. Had it been anyone else, I would've kindly asked them to piss off without a second thought, but Joey Vilenti was the Big Man's right hand and you don't say no to him.
I threw on a pair of jeans and a dark jacket, and hailed a cab. There's actually a good amount of taxis that make their rounds at four in the morning in my neighborhood. You can blame it on the nightclub half a block from my apartment that closes then, but I'm gonna chalk it up to the fact that no one in this godforsaken city sleeps. We're all crack-heads and murderers, thieves and hitmen, con artists and drug dealers, and the demons we carry keep us awake at night.
I laid my head on the torn seats of the taxi cab during the drive downtown, staring up through the back window at the streetlights that flew over my head. The heavy bass from the radio thumped loudly, shattering the calm of the dark city.
"So what's downtown that's so important?" The driver asked suddenly. I glanced at the rearview, and found his eyes on me, gleaming with a probing curiosity that I found downright creepy. He was an African-American man, wearing a paperboy cap and Chicago Bears football jacket.
"Business," I muttered.
"Oh yeah? What kinda business?"
"The personal kind," I said, wanting to end the conversation. He wasn't having any of it.
"Oh, so you got a girl then?" He asked, a huge grin appearing on his face.
"You ask a lot of questions, y'know that?"
"Just naturally curious, I guess."
"Well you know what they say about curiosity," I said, flashing a smile of my own.
"And what's that?"
"It kills cats."
He was silent for a moment, much to my relief.
"I ain't no pussy, mister." He finally said, and his smile was gone, "I can handle myself when things get nasty."
"Well -," I read the plaque on the back of his seat, "Clifford Johnson, unless you're looking for things to 'get nasty', cut the questions."
"Oh, so you're one of them badass types, huh?" He said, "Think you're all scary and shit."
I met his eyes in the rearview mirror again, only this time he quickly looked away. He was silent for the remainder of the ride, glancing back at me every now and then, but not saying a word. I leaned my head back against the torn seat, allowing myself a few minutes of sleep.
I'm not the lightest sleeper in the world, but having a semi truck crash into you at high speed is enough to wake anyone. My eyes snapped open as my window exploded into little pieces, each particle like a knife that cut through my face. I flew into the air and slammed against the roof, as the taxi flipped over twice and crashed on the ground with a sickening crunch.
I scrambled out of the shattered window, the broken glass around the vehicle cutting into my hands and drawing blood. I leaned against the car door, attempting to catch my breath, and did a brief check for any broken bones. Besides the minor cuts in my hands and face and a few bruises here and there, I determined that I was fine.
My driver wasn't so lucky. He had taken the worst of the hit and was bleeding from god knows how many places, suspended upside down in his chair by his seatbelt. His breaths were shallow, but he was still alive.
I pulled myself to my feet in time to see five hired goons step out of the truck, each carrying an automatic rifle, and looking like they knew how to use them.
Who the hell was trying to kill me?
They all were ugly; each with a face that only a mother could love. Big and brawny and had maybe a half a brain between them.
The biggest of the goons stood easily over seven feet, with battle scars decorating his mangled face, and a permanent scowl playing on his mouth. He was a tank of a man, and towered over the rest.
My hand instinctively went for my gun, which on any other day would have hung on a shoulder holster at my side. In the early morning, however, I hadn't thought to grab it.
Damn it all.
"Aim!" The leader barked, and the other four raised their weapons. I ducked behind the taxi as a hail of bullets hit the side. I heard a grunt and leaned to down to peer through the window. Clifford Johnson had caught a stray bullet with his chest. He wasn't breathing anymore, and blood poured out of the wound like a broken faucet.
Bullets continued to rain on the cab, until the leader shouted to cease fire.
"Is he dead?" I heard one of the goons say.
"Can't be sure," another one said.
"Martinez. Go check it out," the leader growled. I pushed my body as close to the dented metal frame of the taxi cab as I could.
I crouched to the ground, listening for movement. I could hear the footsteps of one of the men as he stepped forward, his boots crunching on broken glass as he did.
I grabbed the biggest, sharpest looking glass shard from off the ground and waited. Seconds passed, and I relished every one of them, allowing myself to find that calm center.
The mercenary's gun was the first thing I saw as he turned the corner, and I made my move. I jumped to my feet and brought the jagged shard of glass straight up into his throat. He let out a welp of surprise, and I kicked his legs out from underneath him. I snatched his rifle from his hands and fired a few rounds into his chest for good measure, before pulling the weapon up to my shoulder. I stared at my attackers, watching and waiting for them to make a move.
For a moment, they stood completely silent, guns raised and trained on my body, watching intently.
I eyed down the leader. The scars masked any tension in his face, and on the surface, he looked calm as could be.
But his eyes said different.
Eyes are windows to the soul, as the poets say, and if that's the case his soul was fucking terrified.
The rest of them shifted, and the tension they felt was evident. They were anxious to fill me full of holes and leave me in a heap on the pavement. But they knew me. They knew who I was and what I was capable of. They knew that if they wanted me dead, they'd missed their chance. Now I had a weapon, they were a man down, and frankly, I wasn't very happy to see them.
"Finish him!" the leader shouted.
I fired several rounds into the chest of the one on the right, and he slumped to the ground. I ducked back behind the cover of the taxi as bullets played a percussion symphony on the metal frame.
I counted to three.
I jumped from my cover letting off short bursts which found their target. The bullets ripped through another goon and he collapsed.
Point and shoot. I let off another few shots and the second merc crumpled.
I advanced, this time aiming my rifle at the big, ugly one. He grabbed his comrade by the jacket and the bastard got stuck playing a losing game of human shield, before being tossed away like a sack of trash.
My weapon clicked as the clip emptied, and I tossed it to the ground, deciding to take the more direct action. So I tackled him.
Not my best move, I'll admit, but definitely effective. The look on his face was pure confusion as I slammed into him. It was the last thing he expected, and the surprise alone was enough to take him off his guard. He grunted as his head struck the pavement.
His fists came down on my back, pounding like rain on a tin roof. I released my grip as pain shot up through my spine and went limp, slumping to the ground. He threw me to the side, pushing himself to his feet, and he stepped closer. As I tried to stand, his boot slammed into my ribs and I fell backward. He moved toward me, and laid one of his boots across my chest, pressing down with increasing force, as he reached for the gun on his hip.
I swung my arm up and into the side of his knee, knocking him off balance and he staggered forward. I scrambled to my feet, just as he pulled his handgun from the holster. I swatted his arm away, knocking the gun from his hand, and threw a right jab at his throat. He coughed and reeled back, as I stepped around him, throwing a punch at the back of his neck. He fell forward then, but spun around, catching me off guard with a right cross to the jaw. I jerked back and he hit again, this time with an uppercut. I could feel the blood dripping down my lip.
It was time to end this.
He swung for my head, and I caught his arm, bringing my fist upward and snapping his arm at the elbow. He let out a howl and I spun around him, ramming the back of my elbow into his nose. He stumbled back, and I slammed my heel into his chest, knocking him off his feet. His body collapsed on the pavement and he didn't move.
I scooped up the gun from the asphalt, and jumped onto the man's chest, pressing the weapon against his forehead.
"Alright, you sonofabitch, if you so much as move, I'll end you right here and now," I said and waited. He didn't move.
"Good boy. Now you're gonna answer some questions, understand?"
"Fuck you," he grunted. I put the pistol against his hand, pushing it against the pavement, and pulled the trigger. He started screaming, and I shoved the gun into his mouth before he had a chance to do anything else.
"See there, that was just rude. I'm trying to be polite, and you're making it very difficult." He didn't blink.
"Now, who hired you?"
"What's that? Use your words, meathead," I pulled the gun out, digging it back into his chest.
"They call him Big Man." He said, drawling out the words in a thick Russian accent.
"Bullshit." I said, "I work for Big Man."
"Then you have a problem."
"You're lying. I'm pretty sure I have no use for liars," I swung the gun to his other hand, pressing it against his palm, "You gonna be straight with me?"
"NO! NO! I'm telling the truth, I swear!" He said, "Big Man ordered the hit. We didn't ask questions."
I nodded. There was nothing in this man's mangled face that hinted that he was lying. Still, why the hell would my boss order a hit on me? I was his best go-to guy. I did the job better than anyone else. I was like family, he had told me, and family meant everything to these guys.
And then a thought suddenly occurred to me, "Did you talk to him?"
"Big Man. Did you talk to him?"
"No. He sent some jerk with a cheap haircut. A real asshole. Said his name was Vilenti."
Damn it. Joey Vilenti. The bastard who'd called me in the first place. He must have arranged the whole thing, being careful to cover his tracks. Still, there were a lot of questions that needed answers, and this giant half-wit wasn't the person to answer them.
I stood up, keeping my gun aimed squarely at his eyes.
"Alright, you can go."
"You have twenty seconds. Get the hell outta here."
He didn't say a word and took off through the darkness, cradling his broken arm. I knew he'd run back to Vilenti, and I couldn't have that. I kept my gun on him.
"Twenty," I muttered. I fired the handgun, and he collapsed on the street. I slid the weapon into my pocket and I ducked into the alleyway. The first rays of sunlight were peeking over the horizon, but the shadows of the alley were still dark enough for me move unnoticed, and I made it a good ways before stepping onto the streets again. As I emerged from the darkness, I spied another taxi cab. I hailed it down and as I climbed inside, I heard the police sirens wailing in the distance. They didn't bother me though. People get killed every day in this town. And mercenaries? Hell, the cops are glad to be rid of them.
The taxi sped down the empty street, and I could feel the cool metal of the weapon against my leg. Vengeance is best served cold, as the poets say.
But first, I had to talk to a friend of mine. Randall Wood: my own personal dirty cop.
Randall Wood is a sleazebag. No way around that one. It takes a certain type of person to go into a life of crime, but a whole different sort to claim to be fighting for justice at the same time. There's a whole level of hell reserved just for people like him. That being said, he always has a good amount of information on the goings-on in the underbelly and in the police department, so that makes him more than valuable to me.
He likes to spend his off time in a shady little bar off 2nd Street called The Well. It's not exactly a local hotspot, and he likes that. It gives him the opportunity to do his deals under the radar and out of the eye of people who might not like his line of work: which, for the record, is damn near everyone in Chicago.
A bell rang as I opened the door, and the familiar smell of stale cigarette smoke and cheap booze hit my nostrils. The place was nearly empty, save for some nearly unconscious stragglers who had taken residence hunched over the bar, hugging their bottles. The dim red and green lights that hung from the ceiling gave the room an eerie quality, and illuminated the cracked red leather of the booth seats. The dusty hardwood floors creaked as I moved across the room and leaned against the bar. The old bartender was running a towel through the glass cups, and stacking them.
"Hey, Chuck," I said.
He nodded at me, but didn't stop cleaning.
"Is Randall in the back?"
"Mmhmm…" He looked up now, "You want something to drink?" he said, his gruff voice matching the grisly face and long silver hair.
"No thanks. A month sober, you know," I said, tapping my hand on the bar as I stepped away.
Randall has a booth in a back corner of the building that he manages to keep reserved for him. It's out of the way, hidden from the casual observer. You probably wouldn't even look his way twice if it wasn't for the hottie that he keeps around. I'll never understand it, but he somehow manages to have a new woman under his arm every time I see him.
This time, his companion was a tall, skinny girl with platinum blond hair. She was wearing a low cut tank top and denim cutoff shorts, both of which accentuated what curves she had. She couldn't have been much older than eighteen I'd guess, with a pretty face, but obviously not much going on behind the scenes, if you catch my drift.
Randall was sitting comfortably in his booth, puffing on a cigar and helping himself to a plate of fruit and nuts, while his girlfriend rested a hand on his heavy gut and ran her long fingers through his hair.
She whispered in his ear and he looked up from his plate, finally noticing me. He waved me over as I approached, and stood up.
"Tony! Good to see you man!" He said smiling and extending a massive hand. I shook it and took a seat.
Randall slid back onto the fake leather cushion, and whispered into the ear of the girl at his side.
"But, Randall, you said -," She started.
"Shh, baby. Don't you worry your pretty little head about it," He said, and I held back a gag as he kissed her, "We'll have plenty of time for that later; I've just got a little bit of business to take care of here first."
She nodded, rubbing her nose against his playfully, and then stood. She left his side and found a seat at the bar, flipping her hair and casting long, impatient looks back toward him.
I cocked an eyebrow at Randall.
"What?" He asked as he pulled his eyes away from the beauty on the barstool.
"Nothing, man. You're a hell of a player," I said with a smile.
"A man's got needs, Tony," He said, leaning back against his padded seat, "So what brings you to my neck of the woods?"
Randall nodded. "Yeah, I know him. Everyone knows him. He's an asshole. What do you want with him?"
I told him everything: from the early-morning phone call, to the arrival of the hitmen, to the big one coughing up Joey's name. Randall listened intently for the whole thing, nodding and mumbling and munching peanuts. After I'd finished, he was silent for a moment then took a swig of beer. He clenched his teeth as he swallowed it, and let out a satisfied sigh.
Then he said, "Be careful with who you talk to about this, Tony. Some people shouldn't be trusted."
"You're the only one I've told. Was that a mistake?"
"Funny man," he muttered.
Randall leaned forward again, grabbing another handful of peanuts and stuffing them into his mouth, "Well, I gotta say, man, that sucks."
"Yeah, bro. Sorry. What else do you want me to tell you?"
"Don't screw with me, man," I said, "I didn't come down here to watch you hit on barely legal chicks and eat lunch. You're supposed to know shit. Start talking."
Randall shifted, and popped a grape into his mouth.
"Sorry, dude," he said, chewing, "That's exactly the problem. I don't know a thing. There's been no one talking about it. Not a goddamn word."
"How is that possible? Everyone talks in this town. Unless-,"
"Don't even go there," Randall snapped, "Nothing gets past me. I have people everywhere. It's my job to know things, and I don't half-ass that stuff."
"So what does that mean?"
"Well it means one of two things: Either it's all in your head, and you dreamed the whole thing while napping in the taxi cab, which by the look of your face isn't likely -,"
"No way," I said.
"-or," he continued, "It's personal, which would explain why there's been no rumors or confessions or anything. Personal means that Joey's handling most of it and isn't about to let your little display of force this morning slow him down. He'll hunt you down with all the resources he has, which is nearly unlimited, considering his position. You're pretty much fucked, Tony."
"That's an understatement." He paused, and then added with a chuckle, "What the hell did you do to piss this guy off, man?"
I was silent for a moment, thinking back over recent events, but nothing stood out to me, "I don't know. I don't associate with him. He gives me work sometimes, but that's about it."
"Think about it. Maybe you looked at him wrong one time, or maybe you screwed his cousin's girl. Joey's a loose cannon and he's almost always got a grudge on someone."
"Yeah, I know," I said, almost laughing, "I'm usually the guy he sends after those poor bastards,"
"Mmhmm," he muttered, "do you think Big Man could be behind this at all?"
I shook my head, "No… If it's personal like you say, I don't think Joey would even mention it to him."
"But what if he did?"
"Let's hope he didn't," I said.
"You know what I think?"
"I think you need to watch your fuckin' back, man." He said, taking a heavy drag at his cigar.
I stood up, pulling my jacket over my shoulders, "Right. I'll do that."
I had made two steps toward the door when Randall spoke up again,
I stopped and looked at him, "What?"
"Don't screw with me, man. My services aren't free. Gotta pay bills, you know that."
I dug into my pants and tossed him a twenty.
"That's it?" He said, folding the bill and pushing it into his breast pocket.
"You didn't tell me much that I didn't already know."
"Yeah, well, don't be surprised if I send a couple of my own guys after you," he said with a grin.
"Kiss my ass, Randall." I said, smirking, and headed to the door. I pulled it open, and stepped into the morning sunlight. It was time for me to pay Joey Vilenti a little visit.
You could call Joey a dual personality. On the outside he's a calm collected business man with a general distaste for the law and an affinity for fine suits, fast cars, and beautiful women. He stands at about 5'4" and is about as scrawny as an inbred alley cat, but he uses his unassuming appearance to his advantage.
See, he's got a reputation. And reputation means everything in this town. Rumors and stories surround this guy like flies on bad meat. Some people say he knocked off a chain of liquor stores by himself at the age of ten and spent a year in Juvie for hijacking a squad car at fifteen. More wild claims insist that he killed his last barber for giving him a bad haircut. The rumors go on and on, but their message is clear: Joey Vilenti is a man that you do not want to cross.
So, naturally, that's exactly what I planned to do.
I went home and called a few of my associates. No one seemed to know Vilenti's current whereabouts but after a few tries, I got hold of his home address, which was the next best thing as far as I was concerned. I found my handgun, shoving it into the shoulder holster, and hailed another cab, hoping that my luck would be a little better this time around.
Minutes later, I was outside Joey Vilenti's place, sitting at the bar of a small diner down the street from his apartment building. He lived in the Warehouse District near the Fulton River, and not really the prettiest part of town. The building was an historic five-story apartment complex, complete with pillars and gargoyles and a tired-looking doorman, but overall it wasn't that special. I had always assumed Joey lived in a penthouse overlooking the city, where he could feel powerful and dangerous, staring out over his domain. This place really didn't scream 'dangerous crime-lord', but maybe that was the point.
Hours passed and the sun was descending to the roofs. I checked my watch: 4:17 pm. This time of year, the sun sets at about 5.
Another half hour passed, and I decided that I'd had enough of sitting. I'd never been much for waiting to begin with, and the tension only made things worse. I stepped into the evening air and leaned against the brick wall, lighting a cigarette.
A black SUV pulled in front of me and parked in front of Joey's apartment. Two burly men in black suits exited the vehicle. They were easy to recognize even in the dim light: Jimmy Lovine and Chet Lucas, Vilenti's personal bodyguards. Joey followed closely behind them, stepping out of the car and examining the area, running a hand through his messy black hair. I kept my head low, half expecting him to notice me leaning against the diner, cigarette between my lips. He'd have Jimmy and Chet shoot me full of holes and then kick me to make sure I was really dead. I'd be nothing but another victim in this godforsaken city.
He never saw me though, and if he did, I was nothing but another bum to him. He walked briskly into the building, nodding at the doorman, with his companions at his heels. I waited a moment before flicking the cigarette away and following them. I could feel my gun rubbing against my bruised ribs as I made my way through the doors, and I hoped the doorman wouldn't stop me. I passed through the lobby and watched the three men as they stepped into an elevator.
The display counted up until it stopped at level three, and I dashed to the stairs. I reached the third floor in time to see Joey disappear behind a closed door, while his goons stood guard outside.
I walked casually down the hallway, nodding to them as I passed,
"Hey, fellas," I said.
"Tony." Jimmy muttered in acknowledgement, and then, "Tony!" I didn't give him any time to react before slamming a fist into his gut. He spat out a curse, and I raised my hand up, displaying the pair of brass knuckles that I wore. I swear I heard something break as the metal met his jaw, and it wasn't anything of mine.
Chet lunged at me, arms outstretched. I dodged the tackle, moving to one side, and aimed a punch at the back of his head. He turned toward me, flailing his gigantic arms. I darted back, narrowly missing a wide swing but wasn't as lucky when his other arm swept around and caught me square in the chest. I staggered backward as Chet advanced again.
He swung at me, and I ducked below his arms, coming up behind him and aiming a jab at his kidney. He lurched forward, and I made my move. I threw a left-right combo and he stumbled. I swung again, this time sending my fist into his gut. He hunched over, and I brought my knee up, connecting it firmly with the bottom of his chin. He nearly flipped backward, slamming into the ground so hard I was sure the building rattled a little.
Jimmy hadn't moved at all, and I realized that I had probably hit him a little harder than I intended. I stepped over his body and made my way into Vilenti's room. His apartment was small, to say the least. The initial living space was just a sofa, easy chair and TV with a small adjoined kitchen off to the side. A door led to his bedroom, and I could hear running water coming from the bathroom.
The most important detail was that there was no one shooting at me, which meant that the commotion outside had gone unnoticed. I moved across the carpeted floor, taking a seat on his chair. I pulled my handgun from its holster and rested it on the wooden armrest.
The sink shut off, and I heard Joey whistling to himself as he entered the kitchen, searching the refrigerator.
"Hey Joey," I said.
He spun around, his eyes darting back and forth across the room, taking in the situation. They rested on the weapon in my hand for several moments, before finally settling on me.
"Tony," he said, instantly regaining the calm, collected persona that he was known for. "The hell are you doing here?"
"You seem surprised to see me," I said.
"Yeah, man. When you didn't show up this morning, we all got worried," he said, adjusting his suit as he sauntered toward the sofa.
"Don't pull that bullshit with me, Vilenti!" I snapped, "and you can stop right there. I see you eying that revolver on the end table. You'd never get there in time." I waved my gun at him and raised an eyebrow.
"Tony," he said, "You need to calm down. Just put the gun away, man, someone could get hurt."
He was condescending even when his life was being threatened. I wanted to shoot, but I needed some answers first.
"That's kinda the point, asshole." I said, clicking the hammer back, "The only reason I didn't blow your head off when you stepped into the room was because I wanted to give you the chance to explain yourself. Start talking."
He started laughing, then, but it was a nervous laugh. "What the fuck are you going on about, man?"
"You tried to have me killed, man!"
"Uh, no… Tony, let's talk about this. You and me. No guns, no bodyguards. We'll figure out what's going on -," He said, taking a step back.
"How 'bout no?" I said, "How 'bout I start counting to three, and if you don't spill your guts by then, well -," I heard Chet groan softly and glanced out the door.
Joey leapt at me, slamming his shoulder into my chest, carrying us to the floor. The gun flew from my hands and slid across the carpet. Joey jumped to his feet and crossed the room, picking up his revolver from the table and turning toward me. I scrambled toward my own gun, and fired off two rounds which exploded against the drywall near Vilenti's head. Joey paused for a beat, as if contemplating the likelihood of winning in a shootout with me. He didn't like the odds, and bolted across his bedroom, crashing through the window as he dove into the open air.
I ran to the fire escape, flying down the steps with the grace of a paraplegic giraffe.
Vilenti fired at me from the ground, and the bullets ricocheted off the rusted metal. Three wasted shots.
I slid down the ladder and took off after him, chasing him through the alleyway, and across the street. With every step, he gained a little distance, making up for his shorter legs with his light weight.
As I turned another sharp corner, I saw a glint in the darkness as a dim building light illuminated the gun in his hand. I spun to the side as two more shots whipped past. One rang against nearby dumpster but the other tore into my jacket, grazing my side a few centimeters left of my kidney.
That was five. He only had one left.
He spat a curse and took off again, his footsteps echoing through the alley. He ran for another ladder, climbing it with an unexpected agility. I fired off a few shots of my own, all futile, before he disappeared over the roof. I sprinted up after him, and was greeted with a kick to the chest.
I threw out my hand as I fell backward, catching a metal rung. I shimmied back up the ladder and hoisted myself over the ledge. Joey was running across the flat rooftops of the warehouses, leaping over the gaps between the buildings, putting as much distance between him and me as he could.
I raised my gun, finding Vilenti in the sight.
He turned his head to look over his shoulder, and I swear I saw him crack a smile. He knew he was safe. It was too dark, he was too far away, and I was breathing too hard. Nobody could make that shot. But there's a reason that they say I'm the best.
Then I squeezed the trigger.
The bullet caught him directly between the shoulder blades and he stumbled forward, twisting as he crashed through a skylight, and landing with a heavy thud on the concrete floor below.
I ran across the rooftop, and peered through the shattered plate-glass window. There he was, lying completely vulnerable and alone, a mixture of broken glass and blood around his body. He was still breathing I could tell, though it was shallow. He coughed once, and groaned, his eyes on me. There was no terror or panic there anymore, just pain.
I climbed down the fire escape, and entered the warehouse. Joey still lay there, coughing and breathing slowly and making no attempt to move as I got closer.
"Hell of chase you gave me, Vilenti." I said, walking to him. I noticed my hand was still gripping the pistol, but I didn't put it away.
"Get it over with, Tony." He said, the cocky attitude gone now, "Do what you came here to do."
"Fine," I said, and raised the gun.
"Just tell me, why?"
"Why? I should be asking you that! You tried to have your goons fucking kill me, Vilenti!"
"No. I didn't."
"Sure, they just showed up on their own." I clicked back the hammer.
"I didn't have anything to do with that." He was calm, but scared.
"Right," I said. Why even deny it now? Was he really that arrogant? "Why did you call me this morning, Joe?"
"I had a job for you. When you didn't show up, I called someone else. And then you popped into my apartment, waving your gun around and ranting about how I tried to kill you."
"Oh really? Explain why your guys coughed up your name? Riddle me that."
"I didn't send anyone after you, I swear," He said, breathing heavily.
"Five dead hitmen and an unfortunate cab driver say differently."
"Yeah, Joey, a driver. He died this morning when your men opened fire on me."
Joey was silent for a moment, "Clifford." He finally said.
"Clifford Johnson. Taxi driver. Works for East Chicago Taxi. No wife, and no kids, but a lousy gambler." He almost laughed, but he grimaced instead.
"What are you talking about?" I said, my fist still wrapped around the handle of the gun, "How do you know all that?"
"Don't you get it, you sonofabitch?" Joey wheezed, spitting out a mouthful of blood, "The hit wasn't on you. Your taxi driver owed me money and I needed a lesson to be taught. You weren't even supposed to be there!"
He laughed, then. "You've always thought the world revolved around you. Guess you got your payback though, huh?"
I said nothing, all the events of the morning coming back to me in a moment of clarity. The mercenaries were surprised to see me when I emerged from the wreck, not because I was still alive, but because I wasn't supposed to be there at all.
And Randall… He hadn't heard anything because there was nothing to hear. The only hits that had been placed were on debt-ditchers and junkies: people like Clifford Johnson.
"The hit wasn't on you, Tony." He said, his breathing shallow and heavy, "You were just," breath "in the wrong place…" He coughed, "… at the wrong time…" and he closed his eyes.
I slumped to my knees, my sudden realizations shattering through my mind like broken glass. A pool of blood had formed around his body and now pressed lightly against my jeans. I lay on my back, and stared at the ceiling, my eyes wandering across the iron crossbeams.
To say I screwed up was an understatement. To kill a member of the Family meant declaring war, and to go to war with these guys was full-on suicidal. If I ran now, I'd be dead in days. If I stayed, the time was significantly less. Either way, my life expectancy wasn't looking too good.
Sirens wailed in the distance.
I need a drink.