Spitfire Chapter 17

I Want to Hold Your Hand

~

Dick’s new hideout was below an apartment building, less of a basement and more of a bunker.  As I climbed out of my car, I slipped into my suit jacket and marched up to the shabby brick building ahead.  This had been a nice place once before drug dealers flocked to the projects nearby.  The dealers were gone now, but Ingram’s citizens hadn’t gotten the message, and now weeds stuck through the cracked sidewalk, lined with trash on either side.  I tried to keep the building’s history off of my shoes as I stepped into the lobby.

At least the elevator was still working; I summoned it and stepped inside.  The elevator’s buttons went from F to 4, but below them all was an unmarked button with a keyhole next to it.  I stuck in my key, turned, and hit the button.  The elevator lurched downward. 

I emerged in a concrete corridor lit by fluorescent lights and blocked by a monster truck of a man.  James was tapping away at his phone, though he glanced at me as I walked up, trying to edge around him.  James had a black eye and a dark bruise across his right cheek from some unknown fight; he glared as I noticed the wound.

“That’s a good look on you,” I said.  “Move.”

“Stairs are better for you anyway,” James said, though he finally leaned out of the way.

“Fuck you, too,” I said.  I stalked down the corridor, not looking back as I heard his plodding steps behind.

The hallway opened into a few newly refurbished rooms: to the left, a mess hall stocked with preserves, and to the right, a lounge with satellite TV.  A set of doors further on led to a stockroom that had been gutted and soundproofed into a firing range.  But I ignored them all, passing through the metal doors and under a line of Emergency Procedure signs.  This place was a repurposed bomb shelter, yet I never quite felt safe here.

I passed by Wes, Bollocks, a guy dressed like a wino, and a few other people in suits.  I saw none of the grunts; this was a meeting for officers only.

The room at the end of the hall bore a long metal table lined with padded folding chairs.  Dick was seated at the head of the table, scrawling on a legal pad.  He glanced up for only a moment and said, “Hey Barb.  Take a seat, would ya?”

“Morning, Dick,” I said, nodding professionally as Bollocks and the other guys filed in.  This was business time.  I sat on Dick’s right and the others took up seats around the table.

A shadow appeared over me, and James said, “That’s my spot, Lenton.”

Oops.  But I said, “Find another one.”

“Get out of my spot,” James said, popping his knuckles.

Dick glanced up from his legal pad and said, “James, for the love of god, sit the fuck down.  Pick another spot.”

I avoided James’s eyes as he shuffled away.  I didn’t need to see his glare in my nightmares.  James found a spot on Dick’s left, a few seats down.

“Alright.  Everyone here?”  Dick said, looking over each of us.  “Good.  I have a few points to go over today.  Bollocks?”

On Dick’s left, Bollocks set up a laptop before Dick, who flipped it open and tapped a few keys.  “Thanks,” Dick said.  “First off, once this meeting is over I want everyone to have a good look around the new hideout.  We can use the place for meetings like this, or any of you can hide out here for a few days.  Only you twelve know about this bunker.  Keep it that way.”

For some reason, I was never really impressed to be in Dick’s inner circle, maybe because I’d seen him naked.  While I attempted to push aside that mental image, Dick said, “Next, updates from around the table.  James?”

James said, “Travis, our merc contractor, says he’s done working with us.  Couple of his boys got shot up in the last operation and he’s losing too much.”

Dick said, “Considering all I’m paying him?”

“He says sorry,” James said, shrugging.  “But it shouldn’t matter.  Considering our progress, we should be able to run Silvers’s operation out of town without any more mercenaries.”

“I hope so,” Dick said, and he made a note on his legal pad.  “Barb?”

I said, “Yeah?”

“The drugs.”

Oh.  I said, “Since I torched Silvers’s big meth lab, we haven’t found any new ones, and her dealers have gone to ground.  The police investigated the warehouse and I think they’re after Silvers now, too.  But it’s likely she still has a lab somewhere out of town.  The lab I burned was too small for all of that volume.”

“Good enough,” Dick said.  “At this rate, we may just make Ingram drug-free soon!”

A few guys chuckled at that.  Dick added, “Wes?”

Wes had his elbows on the table and his chin cradled in his hands.  He said, “I’ve had feelers out in the unions, trash collectors, power people.  We can’t find any hideouts like the office buildings or the warehouse.  In fact, this may be the end of Silvers’s holdings here, except…”

“Except?” Dick said.

“No news on the north end of Marigold.  Radio silence.  I put Chris’s men on the job.”

Looking down the table, Dick said, “Chris?”

Chris Fuller was a step above the hired muscle, but he was the lowest-ranked officer here.  He said, “I think we may have found a hideout last night.  Maybe.  Down on Marigold is a couple of warehouses that are supposed to be abandoned, but we’ve seen people going in late, and one of my guys recognized some from the Red Baron.  This could be the motherlode.”

Wow.  Well, at least I could still probably burn things better than Chris.  Dick said, “Good work!  Keep on that and let me know when you have a game plan.  Next?”

The others officers chimed in one after the other, except for Bollocks.  I noticed him listening and taking notes on his own laptop, but never speaking up.  Curious.

After the last man had spoken, Dick peered over his laptop screen, probably looking over the agenda.  He said, “Now, since Travis has left us at the altar, I want to bring in some different outside help for this last big hit.  If we succeed, we can burn Silvers’s operations out of Ingram once and for all.”

The officers muttered cheerfully to each other.  We’d been fighting Silvers for half a year; I had suggested the war, and even I’d had enough violence.  Then Dick said, “I’ve opened channels with the Baroness in Garrison.  I want to bring in her help.”

I knew of two cities called Garrison.  The bigger one was a shipping city in Connecticut, about an hour away.  I’d never even heard of the Baroness.

James said, “When has she been anything but trouble?  She held us back when we were trying to get set up.  No help at all when we were rooting out the Gambettis.”

Wes said, “She was stickin’ to her own business, though.”  James glared, but Wes ignored him. “She hasn’t tried to expand in years.  Mostly just keeps to her kingdom in Garrison.  I hear she’s been bringing up this protégé of hers, too.”

A couple of people laughed.  Someone said, “Is that what they’re calling it these days?”

I said, “Alright, I’m in the dark here.  Who’s the Baroness?”

James rolled his eyes.  “The short version is this: she owns Garrison, and she has longstanding alliances with the bosses of Hartford and Bridgeport, so essentially she owns an entire state’s underworld.  In her own town, she’s practically married to the chief of police.  None of her people ever get prosecuted.  She’d be a dangerous enemy.”

Wes said, “She’s covered in tattoos but smokin’ hot.  Pity she’s a dyke.”

“Don’t call her that,” I said.

“What?”

I said, “Don’t call her a dyke!  Don’t be an asshole.”

Murmurs sounded from around the table, and I swept a glare over all of them.  Stupid me, expecting decency from a bunch of sweaty over-masculine criminals.  Wes held up his hands and said, “Sorry.”

“Anyway,” Dick said, “The Baroness has friends all over the east coast and her team is big enough that I know she could help us.  No lost love between her and Silvers, too.  I figure maybe I pay Garrison a visit and she falls for the old Garrett charm.”

A few guys chuckled.  Dick grinned my way and I made a show of rolling my eyes.  When everyone was silent, Dick said, “So my question is this: Who’s on board?  Who’s got a counterpoint?”

Bollocks said, “I see a partnership with the Baroness as valuable and tactically sound.  And history shows she’d commonly open to cooperation, at least on her terms.  But the Baroness has kept peace in her city for years, and her coffers are overflowing.  We might be hard-pressed to find something we could offer in return.”

Dick said, “Just leave that to me.  Anyone else?”

“I don’t like it,” said James, who looked like he wanted to kick a puppy.  “She’s pompous and egotistic.  We can’t depend on her, and we don’t need her help.  You know more than half of her crew is women?”

I said, “So?”

James said, “Don’t make me explain that to you.”

Dick waved a hand between us.  “Ladies!  For fuck’s sake, don’t make me separate you two.”

“I think it will work,” I said.  “The police are going to crack down harder than ever if we can’t end this war soon.  Travis is a dick, but we’ll suffer in his team’s absence without outside help.  Our best bet is a well-established businessman—or woman—not someone who’s gonna flake out on us.”

Wes was staring my way, but I ignored him and met Dick’s eyes.  Dick said, “That what you think?”  

I said, “That’s what I think.  Let’s end this, Dick.”

“Hmm.”  Dick slouched in his chair.  “Well, you’ve got me convinced.  Bollocks, let the Baroness know we’re coming.  I’ll take a few of you over on Thursday.”

“That’s the eighth?” Chris said.

“May eighth, yeah,” Dick said, shutting his laptop and sliding it toward Bollocks.  “Any questions?”

“It’s a mistake,” James said, but he was looking at me, not at Dick.  What, did he think I’d made up Dick’s mind for him?  But at that thought, I actually flinched.  Maybe they thought I was manipulating Dick.  James wasn’t the only one; I saw that Wes, Chris, and the wino were watching me warily.  James was the worst of the bunch; he looked like he was weighing the merits of just leaping over the table and snapping my neck.

“James?” Dick said.  “Look at me.  James?”

“Yeah,” James said.

Dick said, “Do we have you on this?  You don’t have to play ball if you want.  Are you cool?”

James grunted, stared between Dick and me for several long seconds, and nodded.

Dick said, “Alright, then.  Meeting adjourned.” 

Dick got up and we all stood up with him.  The guys milled out the door while Bollocks shouted a reminder to explore the hideout before they left.  I was aimed toward the door when a hand touched my shoulder.  Dick said, “Hey, babe.”

“Hey,” I said.  James walked past me, almost ramming his shoulder into me, but I stepped away and ended up face-to-face with my smiling boyfriend.  Fuck off, James.

Dick said, “Can I maybe show you around the hideout a bit?”

“Oh, how romantic,” I said, smiling as I took his hand.  “Sure.  Lead the way.”

 

***

 

“Queen’s Real Estate” was a squat building nestled among sandwich and cookie shops at the corner of Bath and Ragnelle.  The street was wider, brighter, and I swear cleaner than our usual stomping ground in Ingram.  “This is it,” Dick said, and I steered the car into an open space.  Dick and I got out of the car to find James waiting for us, smoking a cigarette by his Monte Carlo. 

James said, “No one’s gone in or out since I arrived.  They’re probably inside waiting for us.”  I noticed he avoided me with his gaze.

Dick said, “How long you been here?”

“Twenty minutes,” James said.  “I exited early and found a back road.”

“Are we waiting for anyone else?” I said, straightening my tie and jacket. 

“Nope.  Just us.”  Dick grinned and tilted his head toward the building.  “This is just a friendly chat, not like that mess at the Red Baron.  We’re here in peace, after all.”

“And that’s why I’m here,” said a voice behind me; I jumped and spun around.  Bollocks was there with two pizza boxes in his arms.  He arched his eyebrows as he saw my expression.  “Hello, Barbara.  Your order, boss, as requested.”

I glanced toward Dick, who was still smiling, and said, “Just us?”

“Kidding,” Dick said.  “You must have jumped a foot in the air!  Thanks, Bollocks.”  Dick took the pizza boxes and peeked into one.  “Oh wow, that’s thick.  New York Style wasn’t good enough?”

Bollocks said, “You told me to pick up two pizzas for after the meeting.  When I asked what toppings, you said ‘Surprise me’.  I believe I’ve done so.”

“Well, yeah,” Dick said, “but c’mon, Bollocks—”

“Can we just go?” I said.  The drive into town had been a slog between crowded highways and one-lane overpasses.  “Let’s get business over with before we talk about food.”

Dick looked from me to James, who was still scowling, and Bollocks, who might have been feeling happy or pensive or even suicidal.  Dick said, “Sure.  Ready, team?  Let’s get to business.”

 

***

 

As we stepped into a well-furnished lounge, my eyes fell on a woman who could only be the Baroness.  She was in her thirties with boyish dark hair that offset her pale skin and a calm, dignified expression.  Wrapped around her right arm, collar, neck, and cheek were a pattern of dark tribal tattoos, and I glanced away as I followed them to the Baroness’s face and caught her gaze.  The striking designs did nothing to damage her professional bearing.  The Baroness sat relaxed but upright, watching us with keen eyes, like a queen on her throne. 

Standing at the Baroness’s right was a petite girl in a business suit a lot more flattering than mine.  With her big eyes and heart-shaped face, the girl looked like she’d fit better on a college campus than a meeting of gangsters.  But she stood like a soldier, ramrod straight, inclined toward the Baroness as if ready to take a bullet for her.  I could recognize the pose—I sat by Dick exactly the same way.

Dick, James, Bollocks and I were on couches across from the two women, with a coffee table in between.  The Baroness had already begun speaking to Dick in a low, mellow voice, but my attention was elsewhere.  The Baroness presented no weapon, but that girl—her suit jacket was tight enough that I could see a stocky bulge on her ribs.  I heard movement from elsewhere in the building, too.  Dick and I were in foreign territory, out of our element, but at least this time I knew what I was doing.

Dick said, “She’s overstepped her territory and brought guns and meth into my city.  She’s put underage drug dealers on my streets.  And she’s made an ass of me in front of my men.”  Dick paused and glanced my way.  “My people.  ‘Scuse me.  So that’s the size of it.  I’m downright sick of her.”

“I can certainly imagine,” said the Baroness.  “I’ll admit that we’ve had conflicts with Yvonne Silvers in the past.  She brought cocaine dealers into my city, too.”  The corner of her mouth twitched, and the girl’s face tensed.  I wondered if I’d ever meet anyone who had anything good to say about Yvonne Silvers.

Dick said, “So you know what I’m dealing with!  It may be forward of me, but I appreciate you letting us visit and talk about this.  Last time I met with Vonnie, she tried to shoot me.”

The bodyguard girl chuckled.  I arched my eyebrows and she glared at me, but a smile played at her lips.  Dick said, “Silvers has been all over Ingram, sticking teams in warehouses and flies in my ointment.  I need to hit her hard one last time, I think, to drive her out.  I’d like your help with that.”

The Baroness glanced up at her young aide, whose expression barely changed.  I couldn’t quite guess at the bond they held—bodyguard and charge?  Student and mentor?  Daughter and mother?  But no, the Baroness was too young… lovers?  I suspected I was too quick in assuming romance, probably thanks to Wes’s shit-talking. 

The Baroness said, “Why us, then?  Why approach me and not the Panthera Brotherhood or one of your alies in NYC?  You must know that I’m happy with my kingdom here.”

Dick smiled and gave an exaggerated shrug.  “I sort of want more than just the favor.  Baroness, I’d like you to consider a partnership between your organization and mine.  This blow against Silvers would be a pretty big first step.”

The Baroness’s eyes brightened, but she didn’t smile.  She and Bollocks would get along great.  “Brazen,” she said, “but interesting.  I assume you have some incentive or suggestion of mutual gain to your sales pitch.”

Dick said, “I’ve seen Garrison, and I have to say it’s a nice place.  You got luxury condos, theaters, fine dining, hotels.  You’ve got a wonderful kingdom here, and if my sources are correct, you’re on track to corner the market on everything luxury here.”

The Baroness seemed unimpressed with this knowledge, but the bodyguard looked stunned; I glanced at Bollocks and he winked.  “What I’d like to offer,” Dick said, “is help.  My money is younger than yours, but I’ve got plenty of it, mostly in property.  I’ve got one helluva team behind me, too.  I’d like to help you grow your kingdom, little by little.”

“How so?” said the Baroness, cupping her chin in her hand.

“Well, that’s up to you,” Dick said.  “Investments, for starters.  Consulting from my experts.  Property in Ingram, if you’d like a cornerstone for our partnership.  Muscle, if you need someone to budge who won’t.  I understand you work with charm and diplomacy, and people give you what you want.  Well, seeing as how I’m not a stunner like yourself…”  He chuckled, and a tiny smile ghosted over the Baroness’s lips.  “I work with money, property, manpower.  I have to make people do things my way, but it works.  I’d like to offer that power to you.”

The Baroness steepled her fingers and narrowed her eyes.  Bollocks tapped at the laptop on his thighs; James and the girl eyed everyone like they were waiting for someone to twitch the wrong way.

The Baroness said, “Dick Garrett.  What would you do if my assistant here pointed a gun at your chest?”

“What?” Dick said.  I already had my hand in my coat.

“Alison,” the Baroness said, and the girl had a Walther in her hand and pointed at Dick.  I scrambled to block her line of sight, knocking my ankle on the table’s leg.  Alison peered down the sights of her pistol at me, and I loosened my grip on the gun in my pocket.  I saw no way that I could draw before she shot me.

James had no such problem.  He’d drawn a .44 Magnum revolver, stainless steel and massive, aimed at Alison’s face.  But my gaze jumped to the left doorway, where a woman in a police uniform had a gun trained on James.  He snarled but held his aim steady.  Bollocks, still trapped under his laptop, flitted his wide eyes across the room to each of us.

Dick sat up, blinking like he’d been struck.  The Baroness looked at me and said, “You.  What’s your name?”

“Barbara,” I said, leaning so I covered Dick’s body better.  “Barbara Lenton.”

The Baroness said, “Barbara Lenton, a pleasure to meet you.  Who is Richard Garrett to you?”

What?  I hesitated a moment then said, “He’s my employer.  A friend of mine, too.”

“Barb?” Dick said.

“And he’s my boyfriend.” 

Alison looked between me and Dick, briefly distracted, but I resisted the urge to draw my USP.  I had a feeling she wasn’t going to shoot either of us.

The Baroness said, “And why are you standing between Dick and Alison’s gun?”

Because I love him.

I didn’t say that.  I just thought of it.  I had no idea where the thought came from, and I wished it would have shown up at a better time.  I risked craning my neck to look at Dick.  He was tense, but he gave me a caring look.  He was afraid for my sake, not his.

I said, “Because I won’t let anyone hurt him.  Any bullet of yours has got to go through me first.”

The Baroness met my eyes and nodded.  She said, “I think I understand you a bit better now, both of you.  Rare is the man who commands loyalty like that, particularly in our line of work.”  And she smiled, curling the tattoo on her cheek.  “Something we have in common.  Alison?”

The girl lowered her gun and offered it to the Baroness, who placed it on the table.  The Baroness beckoned to Alison, who leaned down, and the Baroness murmured, “Brave of you.  Well done.”  Then the Baroness gave Alison a little kiss on the mouth, and Alison beamed.  While all this was happening, James and the cop glared bloody murder at each other, but finally James lowered his gun and she did, too.

Dick let out a shaky laugh.  “I didn’t figure on you bringing the cops, Baroness.”

The Baroness waved her hand, and the cop disappeared through the doorway.  I finally took my seat at Dick’s side again.  The Baroness said, “That’s Officer Kellis, a friend of Alison’s.  I invited the police chief, but she had business today.  I have lots of friends, Dick, in and out of the department.”  She patted the couch cushion next to her, and Alison sat down, scooting close.  “Favors.  It’s how I do business in my town, because when people are eager for your help and willing to offer theirs, it’s hardly business at all.”

Dick said, “So-so pointing the gun at us, that was… what?  One of your favors?”

“Consider it a judge of character,” the Baroness said.  “I hope you won’t be offended, but you have a spotty reputation, Dick, and I needed a demonstration before I could commit to striking a deal.  In your case, I’ll need more proof that a long-term partnership would be valuable.  I hope to gather that proof while working with you.”

My heart leaped, and Dick sat a little taller.  He said, “You mean it.”

The Baroness held up one finger.  “A favor.  I’ll help you dispose of Silvers in Ingram with one strike.  I’ll connect you to some friends of mine and help organize the attack.  Any issues with Silvers after that are on you.  In return, you’ll be waiting for when I call on you in the future.  Mutual exchange is the foundation of my work in Garrison, Dick.  I hope you can appreciate that.”

“Indeed I can,” Dick said.  “Are you sure you’re down to help us?”

“I am,” the Baroness said, and she offered her hand.  Dick reached out and shook it across the table.  The Baroness said, “This could be the start of a valuable partnership.  I hope it will be good doing business with you.”

“Me, too,” Dick said.  “But one thing.  No more guns in the future, got it?  No more secret tests of character.  You got a question for me, just ask.”

“Of course,” the Baroness said.  “You have my word.”

“Well, thank you!” Dick said, and he motioned toward the door.  “Now, I won’t bore you any longer.  We have pizzas waiting and we’d best be off.”

“Farewell,” the Baroness said, standing up with Alison.

“Have a safe trip!” Alison said, and I jumped at her voice.  I opened the door and waited while Dick, James, and Bollocks filed out.  Then I looked back at the two women, a last long stare instead of a goodbye.  The Baroness nodded; Alison gave me a little smile.  I just waved and walked out.  Was there a single normal crime lord in the entire tristate area?

On my way out, I heard the Baroness say, “Ali, I’m sorry for risking you like—”  Then the door shut and we were at a reception booth, covered in photos of dogs but otherwise empty.  James led us out the door without a passing glance. 

“Hey,” Dick said, coming to my side.  “You okay?”

“Of course I am,” I said.  When Dick arched his eyebrows, I smacked a fist against my stomach.  “I’m unbreakable.”

Dick laughed and nudged my side.  “Good to hear!  Now let’s go, guys.  We get back before dark, maybe Barb and me have time for a date tonight.”

 

***

 

“I was thinking we’d go out dancing or something,” Dick said.

“Dancing?”  I looked up from my laptop at Dick, seated with me in one of our hideout’s workrooms.  Dick had taken to twirling around in his swivel chair, dragging his toes on the floor.  I said, “You dance?”  I certainly didn’t.

“Yeah,” Dick said.  “I could show you if you want.”  He planted his heels on the concrete floor and stopped spinning. “Just let me lead and I bet I could get you to enjoy yourself.”

“Hm.  Maybe,” I said.  Tempting, when I thought about it.  Dick hadn’t really let me down on our dates so far, except for that horrible first one.  Just the other night, while Dick and the Baroness’s people stormed Silvers’s last base in Ingram, Dick had taken me to Café Angelique, drinking wine throughout the bloodshed.  Tonight we were working, though, and I understood why Dick was getting bored.

Several of Dick’s officers were in the hideout as well, working or hanging out.  I glanced right to find James standing sentry at the door, watching and stewing.  He rolled his eyes as Dick gave another spin in the chair.

“Come on, Barb.  I promise you’ll enjoy yourself,” Dick said.  He twisted around in the chair and leaned over its back.   “We could go right away if you want.”

Someone knocked at the door and James opened it to let in Bollocks, who stepped in with a laptop under his arm.  He nodded my way and took a seat near James, flipping his computer open.  I said, “What’s up, Baker?”

Without looking up, Bollocks said, “I’m gathering information from the fallout of our latest operation.  Mainly, I’m calling on contacts, friends in the police, for information that hasn’t yet made the news.  I’ve found a few key points I thought it valuable to share with you three.”

“Sounds cool,” I said.  He had me beat; I was just researching explosives.  But we both had one up on Dick, who was still spinning around.

Someone’s phone went off, an instrumental version of ‘Fly Me to the Moon’.  Dick fished his phone out but paused to stare at the screen.  I said, “Who is it?”

“I don’t recognize this number,” Dick said.  He pushed a button and held the phone to his ear.  James sat up, and Bollocks leaned in with interest.  After a few seconds, Dick’s eyes widened.  “Viola?”

I lurched up and had to keep the laptop from falling.  Dick pushed another button and held the phone further out; Viola’s voice came over the speaker.  “Dick?  Oh god, Dick, it’s me.  I—I—”

“Viola, babe, what is it?” Dick said.

“Silvers got me.  She’s got me right now.”

Dick’s hand on the phone began to tremble, and he clutched his wrist to keep it still.  “What ha-happened, Viola?”

“I don’t know,” Viola said.  “Someone came for me yesterday, grabbed me right out of my motel.”  Then the phone emitted a crashing sound and a woman crying out in pain.  I realized I was digging my fingernails into my palm. 

The screaming stopped, and a voice on the other end said, “Shouldn’t have tried to go so deep, Dickie.”  I’d only heard that voice once before, but the sound sent a chill down my neck.  “Looks like I have the upper hand this time.”

Dick said, “What do you want, Silvers?  We can talk this out.  No need to do anything regrettable.”

Silvers spat out a laugh that made my skin crawl.  “Far too late for that, Garrett.  Talking was never my plan for you anyway.  This is just a demonstration.”

“Hold on!” Dick said.  “Don’t.  Look, what do you want?  How do we square things here?”

“Put a gun to your head and pull the trigger.”

“What?” Dick said, his face going pale.  The cold feeling on my neck was spreading into my chest now. 

Silvers said, “You heard me.  You want this whore’s life?  Put a gun to your head.  Film it.  Might be worth a laugh on slow days.”

“That’s—that’s crazy,” Dick said.  “Be realistic here, Von—Silvers.”

“I’m only kidding, of course,” Silvers said.  “No, we both know there’s nothing you can do here.  You and your suits and your fucking moll have been fucking with me long enough.  You still haven’t learned your place.”

“Silvers,” Dick said.  He had tears in his eyes.  He stared at the phone like we weren’t here.  “Don’t do this.  Come on.  Please.”

“That’s what I like to hear!”  Silvers cackled, and then someone began to handle the phone on her end.  When she next spoke, her voice was softer, farther away.  “Get to it, Yuki.”

“Dick.”  It was Viola again, panting into the receiver.  “Dick, it’ll be okay!  I promise it’ll be okay.  Thank you for the time we had.  I never regretted a moment.”

“I’m sorry,” Dick said in a whisper.  “I’m so sorry, Vi.”

“Don’t be.”  Viola coughed, and her voice broke as she said, “You’re strong and you’ve been through worse.  Keep Barbara close, okay?  Don’t let that one go.  Barb, are—are you there?”

“I’m here!” I said.  I was halfway to my feet, the laptop dumped off to my side.  My fingers ached to wrap around Silvers’s neck.

“Don’t give up on yourself, Barb.  Please, for me.  Don’t—”  A blow sounded and Viola shrieked.  “Don’t stop searching!  Don’t let yourself go back.  You’re stronger than that; I know it.”

“We’ll get her for this!” I heard myself say.  “I’ll tear her apart.  I’ll get her back for you.”

“Barbara, Dick.”  Viola took a deep breath.  “I love both of you.  I—”

“Knee,” Silvers said, and a gunshot burst from the phone’s speaker.  Viola screamed, and I lunged to my feet.  The guys around were frozen solid.  Dick had begun to weep.

“Shoulders.”  Two shots, one after the other.  Viola was sobbing, and I realized so was I.  I wanted to be on the other end.  I wanted to be in her place.

“One more.  Head.”  For a second, there was only wailing over the phone.  Then one more gunshot sounded, and the screams stopped.

Dick jerked.  Then he flung the phone against the wall and it shattered.  An inhuman scream broke from his throat and he leaped off the chair.  Dick said, “Get out!  Get the fuck out, all of you!!”  Bollocks and the others were already on their feet, aimed toward the door.  Only James was still, his giant fists clenched.

“Dick,” I said.  I lunged toward Dick as he jerked at his hair.  He turned on me and I saw something insane in his eyes.  I reached my arms out to catch him, to hold him still.  Something crashed into my face.

I was on the floor, I realized, with white spots in my eyes.  Someone had me by the wrist and was dragging me away before I could focus.  The door opened and James shoved me out, blocking the doorway with his body.

I could see Dick past the doorway, on his knees, head in his hands.  I said, “Let me through, James.”  James glared and crossed his arms.  “Get out of the way!”

“You stupid bitch,” James said.  “Do I need to hit you, too?”

I could taste blood from my split lip.  There was something in James’s eyes, too, something cold and bitter and violent.  If he’d ever held any respect for me, it was gone now.  James could fucking kill me.

I spun on my heel and ran.  All I could hear was Viola in my ear, screaming, and I tried to imagine her face in her last moments.  When I was alone, hidden in some shadowy corner, I clutched my knees and cried.  I couldn’t think of anything else to do.  I couldn’t think of a goddamn thing.

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