We rode in silence to the warehouse, Michael driving and me sitting in the passenger shifting uncomfortably and wishing I hadn’t stuffed my coat full of guns and ammo. It was fine when I was standing up, if a bit heavy, but when I was sitting down I had metal jabbing me all over my ribs.
“Quit your squirming,” Michael growled. “You’re making me nervous.”
“You’ll forgive me if I’m a little nervous myself. You know, what with the getting forced to be part of a smash-and-grab operation.”
Michael grunted but said nothing. I stared off into space, my mind wandering. “What the hell are we grabbing, anyway?”
He turned his eyes from the road and smirked at me. “Ain’t you supposed to be smarter than to ask questions like that, flatfoot?”
I sighed. “Guess not. I tell you, if I were that smart, I would have figured out how to put your boss away for good. Instead, here I am helping him and waiting for a bullet between the eyes for my trouble.” I shook my head. “I got that junk off the streets, and now I’m boosting more for the son of a bitch.”
Michael chuckled at that. “Is that what you think we’re doing?”
I shrugged. “Isn’t it?”
And he just chuckled again. I frowned. The man was unpleasant, unpredictable. I couldn’t get inside his head.
Or rather, I could, and what I found there didn’t make any sense. He seemed to have no love for anything. Oh, he followed his boss’s orders, but he didn’t seem to respect him. He didn’t like me, but I had no relation to him. He didn’t talk about drink, he didn’t talk about money, he didn’t talk about women. But he didn’t seem dumb. Uncomplicated maybe, but not dumb. So what was it? What drove this man? What led him to a life as an enforcer for a mob boss?
I shook my head. It wasn’t worth thinking about. The way I looked at it, this could be my last night alive, and there were better things to occupy my thoughts than the inner workings of some irate giant from the Emerald Isle.
A little while later, we pulled up in front of a squat, ugly building with a chain-link fence around it set on a block full of ugly, squat buildings just like it. Michael drove past the gate and parked in a dark place on the street, far from any of the street lights. “You got a piece?” he asked, pulling his own out from under his coat, opening the cylinder to check the rounds in it, shutting it again.
“I’ve got three.”
He looked at me with disbelief. It was the first emotion I’d ever seen on his face other than cynical amusement. “Christ, you weren’t joking when you said you were prepared, were you?”
I shot Michael a look of disbelief back. “Why would I ever joke about that?”
Michael laughed, an actual laugh and not one of his phlegmy, unsettling chuckles. “Fair enough.” He took a deep breath, reached into his coat, and pulled out two dark blue handkerchiefs. He took a glance at his watch and gave it a quick nod. “Put this on and let’s go.”
I tied the handkerchief around my face and tucked the edge down into the front of my shirt. I flipped the safety off on my .45, checked the chamber, and we got out of the car.
Michael moved with a surprising speed and stealthiness for someone his size. We darted from shadow to shadow, staying out of the light. As we crawled through a hole in the fence, I realized that I wasn’t frightened.
I was excited.
I was Clyde Barrow on the run from the law. I was John Dillinger getting ready to knock over a bank. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, but how bad would it be if I did? These were criminals guarding drugs. Just one less blight gone from the face of the earth, right?
Michael turned to me and put a single finger to his lips. We crept up to the side of the building and around the back, where Michael opened a single door and entered. I sniffed at that even as I followed him. It was like he knew that it was going to be open, but how could that be?
The inside of the warehouse was dimly lit and mostly empty. There were stacks of crates stretching to the ceiling, like ancient statues standing guard over a forgotten tomb. The place was like a maze. It was like the caves in Okinawa. There could be someone hiding around any blind corner, and we wouldn’t know until they jumped out and shoved a rifle in our face. My heart was pounding. I tightened my grip on the .45. I took a deep breath as quietly as I could manage and shut my eyes. Don’t shake, I thought. Don’t shake.
Michael elbowed me in the ribs. I nearly shot him. When I opened my eyes, I saw him glaring at me, a single finger over his handkerchief-covered lips.
I nearly shot him then, too. But I stopped myself.
We crept around a few more pillars of boxes, and saw a man in a suit napping in a metal chair. He was heavyset, with a round face and a soft look to him. He had a snore that would have put Curly Howard to shame.
I frowned. This man was a joke. Hardly the kind of muscle one would expect to find guarding a stash of junk. Michael nodded towards the man and began walking towards him. I followed as we crept up on the man, and before I knew it we were standing before him, guns drawn.
And then Michael flicked his nose.
The man snorted and flailed in his seat. “Goddamnit, Harry, that’s not funny!” He blinked his eyes like a baby just waking up. And then he saw us, even if his brain couldn’t quite piece together what he was actually seeing. “Tom? Harry?”
Michael leveled his revolver in the fat man’s face, and I could just picture the cruel sneer behind the handkerchief. “Nope.”