Spitfire Chapter 22

It Won’t Be Long

~

I saw myself in the news.  They reported me as a suspect in the Garrett investigation, last seen assaulting a cop and currently in hiding.  I figured the police had rounded up everyone they could find, and now they were sniffing for stragglers like.

They could come to this hospital, cuff me, and take me away any moment, and I couldn’t do a damn thing to stop them.  I couldn’t help Viola; couldn’t help Dick; I couldn’t help Bollocks; it was a fair shot that I couldn’t help myself.  God, I wanted some meth, but the craving had slowly dulled after that first horrible week in the hospital.

The doctors left me alone once it was clear they were just housing me.  I walked around now and then, but no one wanted to talk and the building was quiet; this was a gangster clinic, and Ingram was running out of gangsters.  No, that wasn’t quite right.  Silvers’s people were probably running roughshod over Ingram by now.

I missed Viola—her voice, her laugh, the sway of her hips as she walked.  I didn’t want in bed with her again and I wasn’t in love with her.  But there was this empty spot in me where her and her smile used to be.

Wes.  The country boy.  I’d barely even gotten to know Wes, but he seemed alright.  Entertaining, at least, and friendly.  I counted it as a loss that I didn’t talk to him outside our violent, murderous jobs together.  It was too late now.

Maybe Smith was some horrible monster when I wasn’t around, but all I’d seen was the smartest and kindest man I’d ever met.  If he was going to prison, I deserved the death penalty.  Yet here I was, and he was gone, too.

Dick.

“Fuck this,” I said.  I’d been out of the shower for maybe ten minutes, just lying in bed.  I climbed up and stretched my legs, wobbling up and down on my toes.  I needed out of this damn hospital. 

I nearly bumped into a nurse on the way out of my room.  “Are there any clothes here I could wear?” I said.  The hospital gown stuck to my skin in places but I didn’t care if the guy looked.

The nurse said, “Um, yes ma’am.  The man who was here before, Mr. Baker, he left you a set.  I can get it for you.”

“Thanks,” I said.  “I don’t suppose he brought my car around, too.”

“I think so, actually,” the nurse said.  “I don’t know if it’s yours, but there’s been a Mazda sitting in the parking lot a few days.”

New car.  “Well, I’ll be damned,” I said.  I glanced back at my room, then to the nurse again.  “Anything I need to sign on the way out?”

“Just a release form, please.  Mr. Baker took care of payment.”

I said, “Alright.  Thanks.”  I stepped back into my room and took a look around.  Nothing to grab aside from my phone and the laptop.  I finished the juice from breakfast and tapped my bare foot on the floor while waiting for my clothes.  Waiting, waiting.  I’d been waiting in this hospital for three goddamn weeks.  It was time for action.

 

***

 

I took my arm out of the sling and nearly screamed at the pain in my shoulder.  So maybe I wasn’t one-hundred percent, but I could move.  I needed to move.  I gritted my teeth as I drove away, never happier to be back in a dress shirt and tie. 

It was thirty minutes in lunchtime traffic to Dick’s house.  My phone said it was Wednesday, October first.  I drove around the block for a bit, watching for anyone who might be monitored the house.  Ritzy neighborhood, and I knew it well from my stay.  If the police were hiding in wait for me, I’d see them first.

In an hour of searching, all I learned was that Dick’s place was actually really pretty during the day.  Finally I parked a couple houses down and stepped up to the front door.  Locked, and my keyring was lost in the police raids.  I climbed over the fence in the back, whimpering at the pain, and found the back door that Dick always left unlocked. 

The house wasn’t quite as abandoned as I’d expected.  Sure, Dick’s desk and some of the tables wore a blanket of dust, marked with tiny paw prints, but the AC was running and everything was tidy.  I stepped into the living room and jumped as something small squeaked at me.  Fumbles the cat, eyes half open, hopped off a chair and rubbed against my leg.

“Who’s been feeding you?” I said, petting his face.  Fumbles was a little thinner, but he was obviously healthy.  Bollocks.  That explained why the place was so clean. 

I stepped into the kitchen, my cat at my heels, and opened the fridge.  Vegetables, milk, juice, and similar were right where I expected, and only some of it was expired.  I took out some meat and wilted-looking vegetables, then set out to make sandwiches.

As I took my impromptu meal to the table, something caught my eye.  A square blue sticky note, from a pad by the microwave.  On the little sheet someone had written “Here to help.  Call me.  -ST”  Below that was a phone number, ten digits.

I held the note up, then swung around, half expecting someone to jump out at me.  I was alone, except for the needy cat orbiting my feet.  The note’s author was probably long gone.

I nearly dropped my phone as I rushed to tap the numbers in.  It went straight to voicemail and I left a message.  I had no allies left; the least I could do was tell Skylar Temple hi.

 

***

 

“What?” I said, jerking upright and groping out in the dark.

I said, you aren’t who I expected to find in here,” said a small voice.  My hand found a lamp and I clicked it on, so that the bedroom came into view.  A redhead with an eyepatch was leaning over the foot of the bed, pointing a tiny pistol at my face.

Rubbing my eyes, I said “What the hell time is it, Skylar?  And how’d you get in—oh yeah.  Professional thief.”

“Yeah,” Skylar said, and I yawned as she stuck the gun into her bulky black belt.  Skylar sat on the bed’s corner and said, “Wanna tell me why you’re sleeping in Dick’s bed and the big man is absent?”

“Long story,” I said as I sat up, holding the blanket to my chest.  “Chapter one: my gang is totally fucked.”

Skylar said, “I gathered that much.  I’ve seen you guys caught in the net one by one.  So where’s Dick?”

A lump grew in my throat.  I thought I’d at least come to understand the idea, if not accept it.  I said, “Yvonne Silvers.  She’s kidnapped Dick.  He might be dead.”

Skylar climbed off the bed and sighed into her palm.  “No shit?” she said.  “Fuck.”   

 I said, “Tell me about it.  And hand me that robe, while you’re at it.”

Skylar found the robe in question and offered it to me.  She turned away while I slipped into the robe and climbed out of bed.  Skylar said, “I assume that since you basically saved my life once, I don’t have to worry about you shooting me in the back.”

“And I assume,” I said as I tightened the belt, “that’s why you’ve chosen to stick around instead of leaving outright.”

“Glad we have an understanding.”  Skylar said.  She crossed her arms as I climbed out of bed.  I passed her and stopped at the doorway.

I said, “Want me to make some coffee?”

 

***

 

“You want my help rescuing Dick,” Skylar said.

I hadn’t even asked yet.  I said, “Yeah, if you can swing it.”  We’d sat at the kitchen table, coffee in hand.  The clock said it was 3:46 AM, and we only had a light on over the table. 

Skylar said, “Dick and I have worked together before, and I like the guy.  He’s funny.  I mean, our last job was a wreck but I don’t hold it against him.”

“Where’d you go back then?” I said.  “I lost track of you after you ran off like a crazed deer and suddenly we were both in handcuffs.”

“Oh.”  Skylar shrugged and took a sip of her coffee.  “I got away.”

“Uh-huh,” I said.  Silence reigned again.  Finally I said, “Will you help me?”

“You’re gonna save your boyfriend?” Skylar said.

“Yes.”

Skylar said, “Wait, he’s really your boyfriend?  I was kidding.”

I said, “We’re sort of separated right now.  Not just by distance, either.  Will you help?”

Skylar closed her visible eye and took a drink so long I thought for sure she’d finished the cup.  She said, “When our last job went sour, I got kind of pissy afterwards.  Maybe the police didn’t have me or my fingerprints, but they knew my face.  Not a lot of teenage redhead cyclops thieves running around New York.”

I said, “But?”

“But then somehow one of you Blackbirds tracked down one of my accounts and paid me.  Gave me my full price for the job, even though it failed.”  Skylar shook her head and let out a laugh.  “Imagine that.  Hazard pay, maybe?  I’ve never gotten paid for a bust before.”

Smith.  Maybe everyone else had forgotten about Skylar, but apparently not him.  I took a drink and nodded for her to continue.

“So anyway,” Skylar said.  “I’m sitting pretty on something thousand dollars and feeling pretty good.  It’s months later that I hear you Blackbirds are aching for talent.  Later still, aching to get the police off your back.”

“Uh-huh,” I said, trying to hide my impatience.

“So yeah.  You need my help.  You, not the gang but you, since you’re just about the only one left.”  Skylar cracked a big smile.  “I’ll help.  Don’t expect me to go grab a shotgun, but if you have a plan to rescue him, I can help grease the wheels.”

“There’s the first problem,” I said, and I finished the last of my cup.  “I don’t know where Dick is.”

Skylar said, “Silvers is based in Albany, right?”

“Yeah.  But it’s a big city.”

“I could go find out where.  Want me to pay a visit?”

I said, “Are you gonna get kidnapped or captured?”

“Hell no.”

I snorted.  “The last person we sent in alone got killed.   I’ll go with you.”

 

***

 

Smith had suggested none of Dick’s properties were safe.  But the police couldn’t watch all of them, and I knew where to find an arsenal here, a place to bed down there.  I had a list of seventeen sites to visit for my preparations.  On number four, I hit pay dirt.

The hideout was an abandoned store on Brooks with the windows boarded up.  A sign on the door said “Coming Soon: Mom’s Cookie Shop”, but it had said that for months without any cookies or moms taking over.  At nine PM, I parked in front and gave the street a once-over; this was a business area, and I saw no one, especially not any pushers or thugs who might get the bright idea to follow me in.  I knelt before the door and fished out the kit Skylar gave me.  Months ago, I’d tried lock-picking on a lark and I’d been shit at it.  But Skylar had showed me how.  I had the door open inside of three minutes.

The lights were dead, but I had a flashlight.  I maneuvered between empty shelves, kicking up dust with every step.  The police would have left footprints, trails, debris.  Plainly I was this shop’s only visitor in the last few months.  I opened the Employees Only door at the back of the store.

More shelves, but these were covered in crates of ammunition and weaponry.  Tall metal cabinets sat in the back, and a few empty gun cases were strewn open in a corner.  The stockroom was messy, but it had almost anything I could want.  I cleared the boxes out of one isle and got to work.

I carried a crate throughout the shop, collecting guns and ammo as I saw fit.  I held off on touching the cabinets, letting the anticipation build.  Only when I had collected enough guns to make me feel comfortable did I dare approach the back of the room.

The doors of the first cabinet were unlocked.  Inside were three black trench coats hung beside three olive drab ballistic vests.  Helmets, gloves, and extra armor pieces hung on hooks along the door.  And a line of six boots sat at the foot of the cabinet.  Surely I could find a pair to fit me.

Trying on piece after piece, I cobbled parts together into a complete suit.  My arm seethed, but I gritted my teeth and belted the trench coat around my waist.  My heart was racing; I felt my blood rush and I felt powerful again.  I put on the helmet and closed the polycarbonate visor so every part of me but my chin was covered. 

I was weak after so long in the hospital, away from the gym.  But I had a car, guns, and enough armor to stop a wolf attack.

It was a start.

 

***

 

One last trip before Albany.  My expectations were low, but I hoped for the best.  I had to.  Any move that could increase my chances of rescuing Dick was a move I needed to take.

On my way from the gym to Dick’s house, I called a real estate office in Garrison.  I anticipated being ignored; what I got was instructions.  Come into town this evening.  Come alone.  Find a motel and wait for a call with more instructions tomorrow morning.

I called Skylar with an update, then hung up and skimmed my contact list.  Most everyone I cared to know was dead or in prison by now.  I could count my remaining allies on one hand.  I wanted to add two more to that number.

I left the armor and guns at Dick’s place.  I anticipated a meeting in public; if I was walking into a trap set by the Baroness, it would probably be a knife in the chest, or a bullet to the head in an alleyway.  The assault rifle wouldn’t help much, but I made up my mind and packed the bullet-proof vest.  Either that would be enough, or nothing was enough.

Late in the afternoon, on the drive down I-84, I ducked my head down every time I spotted the highway patrol.  A ways into the drive, I saw flashing red and blue in the rearview.  Another driver pulled off the road, and the police car pulled off with it.  Thank god.  I was not going through that again.  I glanced at a broad road sign as I passed.  Garrison 34 Miles, it said. 

I got into Garrison ahead of rush hour traffic and exited the highway downtown, following my car’s GPS.  I drifted between art deco high-rises and past French eateries and hotels; every corner seemed to show off a fancy café or sandwich shop.  By the time I passed a massive park fountain on Cador Street, I was starting to feel out of place.  Ingram was Gotham City compared to this Metropolis.  A year ago, just coming home from the Navy with a chip on my shoulder, I might have scoffed.  Now I wanted to take a day to explore.

I ended up taking the whole evening.  I checked into a hotel, paid for one night, and strolled out into town.  I felt like a tourist as I mingled with cheerful locals carrying bags around, eating gelato, chatting on the streets.

I stopped at a Lebanese restaurant and ordered what the menu called “meze”, which was a mix of all kinds of stuff on separate plates.  I sipped red wine and watched a pair of cops pass the restaurant: a tall man with thick arms and a toned woman with glasses.  I caught the woman’s eyes and she glanced at me curiously, then looked away.

No one knew me here.  Provided I kept a low profile, I had enough money stashed away to live comfortably for the next few decades.  There were no Ingram cops here, vengeful and smelling blood.  If I disappeared here, I would be safe, sins and all.

Or I could risk my freedom, my life, and everything else to bust into my enemy’s stronghold and save Dick.

I didn’t have to think too hard on that one.

 

***

 

When we had our drinks, the Baroness leaned over the table toward me, chin resting on her steepled fingers.  Her bodyguard and girlfriend Alison, sitting to her right, moved the Baroness’s glass of guava juice so an elbow didn’t knock it over.  Today was chilly, and Alison was in a suit jacket, but the Baroness seemed unbothered in her collar tank top, which bared much of those dark tattoos across her right arm and neck.  The Baroness said, “So, what happened?”

I said, “What happened after the failed raid, or after I got out of the hospital?”  I wanted to tease out what the Baroness knew, see if I could find any clues that would indicate she’d betrayed us.  I took a sip of my coffee and set it down on the tabletop.  The restaurant bore plenty of other patrons sitting outside with us and more inside, but the Baroness had picked the meeting spot, and I’d learned to suspect the worst.  Still, if the bystanders here were actually working for the Baroness or Silvers, my bullet-proof vest couldn’t protect me from all of them.  I needed information, mostly to set my own fears at bay.

The Baroness said, “After the failed raid.  I’d like to know how Dick went missing.”  The Baroness’s face was usually stoic, but now I saw a hardness in her eyes that put me on edge.

I said, “Alright.  We reached the Danbury building at maybe midnight.  Two vans, with Dick in his car in case he needed a fast escape.  As soon as we unloaded, one of the vans blew up.”

Alison scooted her chair closer and leaned over the table, mirroring the Baroness.  She was smaller and younger, but she copied her boss’s coldness well.  Alison said, “You were sabotaged?  A bomb on the road?”

I shook my head.  “Under the van, I’m almost certain.  I’ll get to that.  After the vans blew, people started shooting from the building’s windows and we had to charge in or we’d be sitting ducks.  We were sloppy, disorganized.  Silvers’s thugs inside were well armed, worlds tougher than the ones we’d fought in Ingram.  During the battle, the apartment caught fire and eventually burned down.  Most of my team were killed or couldn’t escape.”  I took a deep breath.  The hard part was next.  “You may remember James, the burly guy from our last meeting.”

“I remember,” the Baroness said.  “Did you ever happen to hear his last name or see it written down?”

Had I?  I said, “No.  Jeez, no, not a single time.”  Had I really known so little about him? 

The Baroness glanced at her protégé, who shook her head.  Alison said, “Even after seeing his face, my friends couldn’t dig up any information on him.”  I must have looked surprised, because she added, “There was a camera in the meeting room.  Sorry.”

I shrugged and said, “Whatever.  Well, James betrayed us.  He sold our information, ledgers, and all kinds of shit to Silvers.”

“Who then sold it to the police,” Alison said.

I said, “Probably.  They’ve been tearing—”  I paused.  The Baroness didn’t need to know that the police had stripped away our territory and rounded up most of our people.  She was still a rival, after all. 

“Focus, please,” the Baroness said.  “James turned on you.  Where was Dick at this point?”

I said, “Dick was outside.  I lost sight of him once the van blew up.”  I hated to think of Dick dead or gone—he had to be somewhere.  On the drive over, I’d briefly considered that maybe he was hiding out in Garrison, but obviously no such luck.  I said, “Anyway, James and I got into a gunfight.  I killed him and he wounded me.  Badly.”  I glanced around cautiously; I was admitting to murder in public.  But we were in the corner of the outdoor seating area, and no one was close enough to listen.  And if the police had the table bugged, I had my pistol.  They’d never take me alive.  I said, “I dragged myself outside.  Smith, the other man from our meeting, drove up and rescued me.”

“Just you?” the Baroness said. 

I nodded, staring down at the table.  “James told me, before I ventilated his fucking head—”  I took a deep breath.  No need to make myself look worse.  “He told me that as part of their deal, Silvers meant to take Dick captive.”

“Captive?” Alison said, and I clenched my fists on the table, hating myself for failing him.  The Baroness nudged Alison, who tactfully dropped the issue.

I said, “When I got outside, Dick was gone.  He stayed gone the entire time I was in the hospital.  Smith searched Ingram for weeks and never found him.  If Dick were alive and free, he’d call us.  He’d—he’d at least call me.”

The Baroness and Alison stared at me.  I drank from my mug and let the morning’s ambiance fill the uncomfortable silence.  Finally the Baroness said, “And now you’re here.”

“You need something, right?” Alison said.  “Protection, maybe?  We could provide that, if you can offer something in return.”  The Baroness glanced at her, and Alison arched her eyebrows; then the Baroness smiled, evidently pleased with her protégé’s initiative.

I shook my head and said, “Not protection, though I appreciate the offer.  No, I want your help, and I think you owe it to him.”

“Beg pardon?” the Baroness said, and Alison cringed.

I said, “We did the job as part of our deal with you, sure.  But Dick was captured in your city, in your territory, leading an operation in your name.

“Are you going to make something of it?” the Baroness said.

“No,” I said.  Alison’s brow furrowed and I resisted the urge to smile, since that might just get me shot.  “I just think it bears mentioning.  It’s why I came to you and not, say, the police or our other allies.”  We had no other allies by now, but I’d keep that to myself.

The Baroness gave a long sigh and went silent, while Alison stared at her.  Eventually the Baroness said, “I admit that I bear some responsibility for Dick’s kidnapping, if that’s what this is.  But Barbara, you must know I had nothing to do with Silvers’s trap.”

“I know,” I said.  I’d put myself at their mercy coming here, but I was coming to realize that if the Baroness had truly betrayed Dick, she probably wouldn’t bother lying about it.  She’d have just called me somewhere private and shot me. 

The Baroness said, “So why are you here, Barbara?  What do you hope to gain?”  The Baroness sat up straight and crossed her hands on the table.  We could have been at a business meeting, not discussing murders and a man’s fate.

I took a moment to put my words together.  I said, “I have a friend who is exceptionally good at finding things.  We’re going to go to Albany and tear the streets apart looking for Dick.  When I find him, when I find him, I’m going to save him from Silvers or die trying.”

The Baroness’s eyes widened, probably the first time I’d ever seen her surprised.

Alison said, “Woah.  Saying I love you is one thing.  Planning to attack a gang boss for his sake is another.  You really mean it.”

“I do,” I said.  No doubt, no thought.  Simple fact.

The Baroness’s right hand disappeared under the table, then came back up clutching Alison’s left hand.  The women both looked at me, but I could see the same passionate dedication in their eyes that I knew they’d seen in mine.  They were more like Dick and me than I’d guessed.  It was calming to have that sort of understanding in front of me.

The Baroness said, “Do you believe you can succeed?  Tracking down Dick, or his body, wherever Silvers has hidden him?  Infiltrating Albany with just a friend or two?  I know the Blackbirds are finished, Barbara.  Don’t pretend.  You’d be doing this almost entirely alone.”

I said, “It’s going to be rough.  No illusions there.  But I won’t ask you to send your own people or mercenaries or whatever to help me shoot my way in.  I’m aiming for a more subtle approach.”

The Baroness said, “So how would you have me assist you?”

I said, “When I find him, I want help getting him out.  Equipment, ordnance.  A getaway vehicle.  Things like that.  I’ll draw up a shopping list once we find wherever Silvers is hiding him.”

The Baroness said, “So you want thousands of dollars in gear, and likely people on standby to assist in the rescue.  Do I have that right?”

“Right,” I said.

“And you think we owe it to you?” the Baroness said.

“No,” I said, and the Baroness arched her eyebrows.  My next words stuck in my throat; I took a long drink of coffee to stall while the two stared at me.  I said, “No, you don’t owe me anything.  Dick, maybe.  Not me.  You told me not to pretend, so I won’t.  I’m asking for your help.  As I understand it, you value our partnership.  You even respect Dick, despite his quirks.”

“Like you do,” the Baroness said.

I said, “So I’d like to ask this as a favor.  With your help, I might be able to save Dick.  If he can be saved, I will save him.”  My throat began to seize up and I cleared it hard; crying would just make me look weak-willed.  So would begging, though both options had certainly occurred to me.

The Baroness said, “Hm.  Alison, what do you think?”

Alison cupped her chin and said, “I think she means well.  I think Barbara is going to attempt this with or without our help.  And because she doesn’t want to depend on us, she’ll only ask for what she really needs.  Actually providing aid may be of no real cost to us.”

The Baroness studied me, and I struggled to meet her gaze. There was no avoiding the intensity of those dark brown eyes.  She studied me as a judge studies a defendant.  Dick could live or die on her decision. 

The Baroness said, “You’re a strong woman, Barbara.  I value strength in my allies and my partners.”  Alison smiled at that.  “I suspect there’s a good chance you’ll be killed trying to save Dick.  But if you’ll try, if you’ll put that stubborn strength to use, I’ll help you.  But I have a condition.”

“Name it,” I said without thinking.  Was she really agreeing to help?

The Baroness said, “When this is over, and if you’re still alive, I want you to join my organization.  Perhaps you will be reunited with Dick, whether he continues the Blackbirds or not.  But I’d like you to join my little kingdom.  You’re free to refuse, of course, but I’d like you to think about it.”

Alison leaned her shoulder against the Baroness, who smiled.  It was tiny, a curl of the lips, but it was the first smile I’d seen on the Baroness’s face.  I said, “Thank you.  When I’m done—”

“If you survive,” Alison said.

“I’ll consider it,” I said.  My coffee was finished; I stood upright and offered my hand.  “Can I hold you to that?”

“You can,” the Baroness said, and she got up and shook my hand.  “I expect great things from you, Barbara.  Now and after the dust has settled.”

No way would I join her.  Interesting idea, but I knew my path from here, and joining another gang was the wrong direction.  “I’ll see what I can do,” I said.

Alison stood as well, and I realized that though our meeting was finished, no waiter had come with a check.  As if guessing my thoughts, the Baroness said, “Our money is no good here.  Just use my title, and Garrison’s doors are open for you.”

“Thank you,” I said.  “Thank you so much.”

Alison plucked something from her coat, a business card, and handed it to me.  The Baroness said, “Call here when you know more.  Alison will work out the details and see what we can do to help.  Goodbye, Barbara.”

“Bye,” I said.  

I nodded to the two, then stepped around the table on my way to the parking lot.  I made it a few steps before Alison said, “Good luck.”  I looked back and saw her smiling, hand in hand with the Baroness.  I waved and Alison waved back; the Baroness just snorted.

“Thanks,” I said, and kept walking.  Luck hadn’t been with me so far.  Now it was just one more ally to drag to my side.

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