March Madness Chapter Twenty-Two

Copyright Amy L. Montz

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou… I sucked in a breath. I couldn’t remember. I tried so hard but I couldn’t remember.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed March thou among women, but I wasn’t among women. I was among men who certainly didn’t see me as Blessed or full of grace and the men in the van weren’t full of grace. They should be full of Mace, but I had left my Mace back in my purse. Grace. Mace.

I heard giggling, soft faint giggling. Someone found something incredibly funny.

I had forgotten again. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of Mary’s womb, and to some that meant she was inherently a woman because, as you’ve told us a thousand times, Dr. Williams, society likes to relegate women to the processes of their bodies. But if it’s an immaculate conception, does it mean that she doesn’t have a womb and….

I had a womb. Maria Dugas tried to break my womb but I still had one. Dominic knew about Maria and my womb, and he also knew I was claustrophobic and I had trusted him. God, I had trusted him with my body and my life and my secret, my deep dark secret about the deep dark.

Deep dark. I was in the deep dark.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners.

I must be a sinner, the worst kind. This was my punishment for being a troublemaker, for lying to my mother and saving Big Tony and kissing Jackson. I had kissed Jackson and Dominic had betrayed me to the Mafia and used Remy’s arrest as a cover. He had a cover now and I was the trump. I was the trump they needed to make Big Tony break and beg for my life and he knew that. He sent Tommy to protect me and that’s why Dominic had been so upset. Because Tommy was watching out for me and messing up his plan.

No. Not Dominic. It couldn’t be Dominic.

I swam against the blackness and tried to remember the end. I had to remember the end. The ending was the most important part.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.

There was the tiniest shred of light and I turned my face towards it, let it wash over me and then someone smacked my face. “She’s going into shock.”

I was always going into shock. Lately, it happened over and over again. Today, and the day I was shot at the coffeehouse, when men tried to kill Big Tony.

Men. Familiar men. Men on bikes and men in vans, men with bulldog jaws and men tipping newsboy caps at me. Men on corners and men on sidewalks and men holding cups of coffee that were really guns and I remembered. God, yes, I did remember

A man. A man tipped a newsboy cap to me as he held open the coffeehouse door.

“Thanks,” I said, smiling up into his Turkish coffee colored eyes. I was going to make friends in Chicago. Today was the day.

He flashed me a killer smile, all teeth and lips and winking eyes. “Ain’t nothin’.” He waited until I walked past to go inside.

I turned left and the street was quiet in the early morning hour. An older man stood on the street corner with two other men, both large, both muscled, one going soft in the waist. I took a sip of my coffee and started to walk down the street. Someone was riding a bike, drinking coffee, too. Must be hard to drink coffee and ride a…

Another smack to my face. “Wake up.

It wasn’t a cup of coffee. It was a gun. His right arm started to lift and point at the two men.

“Gun! Man on bike has a gun!”

The three men turned to stare at me. The one going soft in the waist glared hard, but the older man looked, for one second, slightly amused.

“… Jackass. We can’t use her like this. He’s going to kill us.”

The man on the bike lifted the gun higher.

I started to run towards them, hot coffee splashing my hands as I waved and pointed behind their backs.

The older man stood still, the amusement replaced by shock. The other two men began to move towards me just as I….

I flew, flew through the air as coffee burned my skin and just as I was about to hit the older man, something slammed into me and shoved me back.

Then hands, hands pushing me away and a hand smacking my head against the wall and then more arms, stronger arms, pulling me away and screaming to get the car but arms didn’t scream, did they? No, the man was screaming and not his arms. Screaming at Simon to get the car and get boss out of there.

And I blinked against the swaying darkness, my head pounding, before my vision shifted. I blinked up into kind brown eyes.

“Who’re you?” I asked just as my vision started to blur.

He brushed the hair out of my eyes with a gentle hand. “I’m Tony, sugar. You’re gonna be just fine.”

And then I stopped seeing and just heard as other voices joined the fray.

“Nah, she can’t be dead, Tommy. She was a goddamn champ.”

            “Hey lady, you ain’t dead, right? Because otherwise, I got a hell of a thing on my hands.”

#

The darkness retreated, became softer, and I felt hands at my legs, hands pulling me out of the closet and I blinked up as a dim light shined overhead, blinked up into brown eyes and dark eyebrows and…

“You’re the one.” My throat was raw, my voice scratched, my volume faint. “You’re the one who tried to hit Big Tony.”

The Passenger’s eyes widened and he stared down at me. “What did you say to me?”

“You were going to shoot your uncle in the back because Tommy wasn’t there. He went into the coffeehouse for something.”

“I thought he said she didn’t remember nothing much about the shooting,” a voice said. Higher pitched than the others. The Thug.

“She didn’t. Apparently, the bitch lied.”

 “Go get her food,” the Passenger told the Driver.

The Passenger was in charge for now, it seemed.

“Now don’t go anywhere,” he said, patting my arm. “Someone will be by very soon to take care of you.”

I was on the floor of the bedroom. The closet door was closed, the entrance to my personal hell sensibly shut and locked. I was alone in a room in some kind of safe house for the Mafia. Did the Mafia have safe houses? Was anything in the Mafia safe?

Safe. Tommy kept Tony safe. Tommy walked away the day of the shooting, so they took their shot. Too convenient, somehow. Tommy didn’t seem like the type to take his job lightly. And Tony. Tony had stared at me in amusement and then shock as I jumped towards him.

All the puzzle pieces, all the fragments of suspicions and misunderstandings, of half-truths and lost time slipped together with an almost audible click in my head.

Tony hadn’t moved. Tony hadn’t listened to my warnings of guns and bikes but just stood there. Of course he hadn’t.

Tony knew.

They all knew that day. I didn’t just interrupt a hit. I interrupted the Fed’s bust. That was the day they were going to cut the deal with the old man. They had someone on the inside who knew when the hit was going to take place. It must be Tommy. He must have approached the Feds with the information on the hit and they allowed the hit to take place so they could stop it.

And I jumped in front of a bullet that never was intended to kill anyone.

I choked back the sob in my throat. It was all for nothing. Everything that had happened was for nothing because I was a goddamn idiot. Tony wasn’t going to die. Tony was going to shut down the business without a hitch until I came along and screwed everything up.

No. I pressed my fingernails into my palm and felt a cool rush of clarity in my head. This was not the hour of my death. I evened out my breathing and started to calm. Think, Sanderson. Think.

Dominic was too easy. All fingers pointed towards him, so the betrayer couldn’t be Dominic. This was a betrayal, but I wasn’t the main character. Tony was the main character and this was his betrayal. Brutus and the senators had killed Caesar, but that was in Act III. If this were a play, we were rounding into the final Act, maybe third scene, because in Shakespeare, the murder of Caesar wasn’t important. The murders and the betrayals weren’t important. It was the conspiracy and the reverberating effects that played the most significant roles in Shakespeare, almost characters unto themselves because they grew and expanded until they were out of control.

Caesar dies in Act III. For the rest of the play, everyone atones for their crimes. The betrayal spread and diseased everything until poor Portia eats hot coals. Even the women and children are affected.

I was an effect. The kidnapping was an effect. I had yet to meet the big conspirator masterminding the whole operation.

The shooting was the Ides of March. It was only the middle. Everything that had happened before was conspiracy and after was effect, ripples spreading farther and farther through the water. This was ultimate betrayal. This was a coup d’état. I was unimportant.

Someone masterminded the entire plot, since that day I stepped out of the coffeehouse and into the sunshine. Someone put the hit on Big Tony. Someone made men threaten me and kidnap me and forced the hand again and again. I was an effect. Dominic was an effect, as were Bobby and Jackson and my brothers and even the guardian killer. Someone pushed the rock. Someone set everything in motion and I was about to find out who he was.

The door opened and the Driver walked in with a white bag dotted with grease stains and smelling of heavenly French fries. “He said you need to eat.”

“I’m not hungry.” I turned my head and rested my cheek against the radiator at my back. I would probably never eat again, not after the closet. Not after today.

“I could make you eat.”

I glanced up at him. “You could try, but you wouldn’t get far.”

“Just eat, girl, if you know what’s good for you.”

I weighed the options in my head. I needed strength if I was to get out of this. Strength came from food, and I hadn’t eaten since late the night before. Plus, I needed time to think of a way out of this. So I nodded, and as the Driver reached behind me to unhook one of the cuffs, my thinking was rewarded with a clue.

The Driver was the weak link.

He was going to sit in the room until I finished eating, and then cuff me back to the radiator. I needed a bit more time to figure out a plan. I took as long as I could to eat, but in the end, hunger won out. I devoured my burger and fries, not bothering to completely chew before I swallowed and moved on. When I was done, I gave a half-hearted attempt to punch the Driver, but he sidestepped my fist and locked my arm secure behind me.

“Who’s coming for me?” I asked.

“Ain’t no one you need to worry about until he gets here.” The Driver’s face softened and I was surprised to see it become paternal. “You got messed up in some shit you didn’t even know about, didn’t you?”

“You don’t think I’m the Fed.”

“I ain’t ever thought you was the Fed. That was all Sal… someone else’s idea.”

“Sal? Who’s Sal?”

The Driver glanced over his shoulder before he turned back to me. “Sal’s the one that you think was going to hit Big Tony.”

The Passenger, then. “But why? Why would anyone try to kill him?”

His face hardened and I pulled back. This wasn’t a sweet, fluffy bunny mobster. This was a criminal. I needed to remember that.

“Big Tony didn’t give a shit about what happened to us when he decided to shut down shop.”

Of course. Big Tony was getting out of business, shutting down all the dirty money operations. The Family would be out of the deal. He made the cut for his immediate family only. The rest of them would be on their own.

“He don’t care that we’ll be arrested or out of a job, and there ain’t much I can put on a job resume. ‘Employment history 1981-2013: breaking kneecaps, grand theft auto, and fixing fights.’” The Driver glanced at me, waiting for my reaction.

A tiny smile flashed on my face. The Driver gave me a pleased smile in response and scratched his beard.

“Besides,” he continued, “ain’t no other Family going to take in a Gasconi.”

A woman’s biggest weapon in a fight is the element of surprise.

I burst into tears.

The Driver’s face softened. “Don’t cry, girl.”

“Please don’t kill me,” I said, my voice small and tinny. “Don’t put me back in the closet.”

His brown eyes were sorrowful. “No matter what Big Tony is now, he always said no women or children. Those was the rules. I’m sorry, girl.”

“Can I…” I sucked in a deep, shuddering breath. “Can I just use the bathroom? I haven’t used the bathroom since…”

His face grew softer and he leaned forward.

I lowered my voice to a whisper. “I’m so scared, and I don’t want to… to… I’d be so embarrassed if I…”

His eyes widened. “You don’t want to go on yourself.”

I sniffled and made my bottom lip tremble.

He glanced over his shoulder. “Sal’ll kill me.”

“I just… please. I’d be so… so…” I hung my head. “Ashamed,” I whispered.

He rocked back on his heels and scratched his beard while he examined me. “You trying to trick me, girl?”

I glanced up at him, knowing that my eyes were ice blue and large. They always were when I cried. “I swear I’m not. I swear to the Virgin.” Of course, I knew the Virgin was on my side, so I didn’t put much stock into my promise.

He sighed and leaned forward. “Don’t you try anything,” he said before he unhooked the cuffs, and held my arm fast.

I trembled and hung my head. “Thank you.”

“Come on.” He lifted me to my feet and escorted me to the bathroom attached to the room. He held my arm as he rooted through the medicine cabinets and drawers, looking for anything that could be used as a weapon, before he nodded. “Five minutes.”

As soon as he closed the door behind him, I glanced around the room. The medicine cabinet was bolted to the wall, there was no shower curtain, and the toilet wasn’t going anywhere. I ignored the pressure in my bladder until it wouldn’t be ignored any longer so I used the facilities and stared around the room.

I paused on the shower curtain rod.

I finished but held off on flushing. I pulled at the shower rod and it gave a little. It was a tension rod, just like the one I had in my apartment.

It wasn’t great, but it would do.

I leaned the rod in between the sink and the toilet against the wall. He wouldn’t see it when he came in, and I could grab it on my way out. I washed my hands and flushed the toilet, making as much “normal” noise as possible, before I leaned against the sink, my fingers brushing the rod. “I’m done,” I called.

He opened the door and looked at me. “Come on.”

When he was about to turn, I grabbed the rod and hit him across the face.

He pressed a hand pressed against his bleeding cheek, his eyes widening in surprise before they narrowed. “Sal!” His voice was a nasal roar.

“You son of a bitch,” I said in a low voice. “You fucking kidnapped me.” I hit him again and again, gripping the rod like a baseball bat and I was batting a thousand. “You put me in a closet. You bastard.” Part of me felt guilty, because he had been kind to me.

But it was only a very small part.

“Jesus Christ, you goddamn idiot!” Sal, the kidnapper formerly known as the Passenger, came to the door just as the Driver began to wrestle the rod away from me.

Sal punched me square in the jaw just as the Driver pulled the rod away.

I reeled for a second before I punched him back, my fist crunching against his nose.

“Fucking shit, will you grab her already?” Sal said, cupping his nose.

I tried to slip past them to the open door, to possible safety, when the Driver wrapped his arms around my waist and squeezed. “Thought you weren’t gonna trying nothing,” he said in my ear, his voice grating and harsh.

I struggled against him as he carried me into the room and handcuffed me to the radiator.

The Driver slapped me with a reproachful palm, light and disapproving. “You tricked me,” he said.

“You kidnapped me.”

His face fell for a second before he looked up at Sal. “She tricked me.”

“I don’t doubt it.” Sal grabbed my hair and pulled back my head to look in my eyes. “Nice try, bitch.”

When I spit in his face, he just laughed.  

“He’s here,” a voice said from the doorway. Not the Thug, and the Driver and Sal were in the room. How many other men were at this house?

Sal glanced up at the Driver. “Go deal with him.”

“Why I have to deal with him?”

“Because I want to talk to her first.”

            After the Driver left, Sal pulled something out of the back of his jeans and leaned closer. When he pressed the gun against my cheek, I became angry, so incredibly angry that I had done something out of a kindness for strangers and now everyone was trying to kill me. I stared up at him unblinking.

            “I can’t wait to put a fucking bullet in your head.”

            “I’m not the Fed,” I said.

            “Yeah. Right.”

            “You screwed it all up, didn’t you? And deep down, you know it. You know I’m telling the truth that–”

            He backhanded me across the face and I felt my lip split in half. Just like David had split my lip.

            I tongued the blood trickling down my chin before I looked up at him.

            “There’s only one thing a woman’s tongue is good for,” he said. He ripped a piece of duct tape off with his teeth and slapped it across my mouth. Then he shoved his hand against my throat and pressed me back against the radiator. “And talking isn’t it.” He leaned closer and I could smell tobacco on his breath. “Someone’s coming to take care of you,” he said in a soft voice. “And while I don’t scare you, he will. I promise you. And this one? It’s going to hurt in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.”  He stood up and walked out the door, slamming it behind him.

I heard voices in the hallway, murmured voices in familiar tones. Something clenched low at my stomach and I almost had it figured out. The doorknob turned and I saw shadows in the doorway, staring down at me. And even though some part of my brain knew that he was the betrayer, I still struggled, still tried to get his attention, still tried to penetrate the uncaring look on his face. I had dismissed him from suspicion so easily, too easily, and really, he was the biggest suspect of all.

Everything slid into place with an almost audible click. Lear, Caesar, Hamlet, they were all trying to warn me. He had betrayed everybody. He had worked both sides of the fence, moving back and forth between law and crime with an ease that had everyone fooled. It was now so obvious that there had been something else going on beneath his planning, but I would never have thought that he was a double agent for the Mafia. I would have thought it was the other way around.

We caught eyes as he stepped into the room, into the light, and I stared hard at his face. It read nothing, no emotion, no fear, no excitement. Did he even have emotion? Did he even feel?

“That’s the Mick bitch, all right,” Jackson said to Sal, his eyes never leaving mine. “I was worried you’d pick up the wrong skirt and ruin everything.”

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