Authors: Carmen Faye
We all took our places again. Or at least, they did. I was still in my place. I would have loved to stretch my legs. I would have loved to go to the bathroom and splash cold water on my face. Maybe they thought I would have tried to escape if they’d given me that chance, and they would have been right. I would have tried exactly that.
John stood behind Antonio again, ready to take a bullet for him. The creepy old dealer sat on his seat, shuffling his cards with fingers that were nimbler than mine would ever be. I took a deep breath and got ready for the next round. I was having more and more doubts about the legitimacy of this game.
The cards were dealt, and I was starting to really crave a drink. Something strong and able to make me forget about the horrible situation I’d gotten myself in. For that matter, to help me forget about the horrible state my life was in.
“Can I have something to drink?” I asked. Antonio looked up at me as if I was being irritating.
“Just to concentrate better.” That wasn’t exactly realistic, but he seemed to think about it. He nodded at John after a moment.
“What do you want?” John asked.
“Gin and Tonic,” I said. It wasn’t exactly my first choice, but it was quick to get and easy to remember—just in case John didn’t have a lot going on upstairs. John nodded and left the room. Antonio looked smug again. Maybe he thought that the alcohol would impair my concentration—which was more than possible—but I didn’t really care. The fact was that I didn’t really think I was going to win anyway.
John returned with my drink in a tall glass with condensation on the outside. It gave me shivers when I picked it up, but I drank long and deep, ignoring the cold. The drink was bitter in my mouth, but it was heaven having something that would lighten my mood.
I was ready for this next round no matter how it was going to go. The alcohol was going to pull me through if nothing else was. The hand was dealt and I got good cards for a change. An ace and a ten. There was hope this time. An ace was always a good kicker.
The game commenced, and we bet our chips and I sipped my gin. Everything seemed lighter and easier the more I drank, and after a while, my body forgot about its tiredness, too. Alcohol really was the magic remedy for the wicked.
I lost the hand. I didn’t know what happened, but somewhere between my getting the good cards and the end where Antonio revealed his cards he ended up with a straight and I ended up with more of my belongings going down the drain.
So much for hope.
I downed the rest of my glass and swooned under the force of the alcohol as it all hit my bloodstream in one go. The dizziness swept over me in a wave, and I put both palms flat on the table to keep my balance.
“Is the alcohol hitting you?” Antonio asked. And yes, it was.
I shrugged. What was I going to say when he asked me a question to which he already knew the answer?
“You know it will affect your playing.”
I shrugged again. “I’m good at poker.”
“But you’re losing,” he pointed out.
I did what I hated the very most in anyone I was speaking to—I shrugged again.
Antonio chuckled and the next hand was dealt. I was really starting to hate poker, and that was a damn shame because that was one of the games I used to love the most.
My next hand was a crap one, and I didn’t even have to think twice about folding it. When I did, Antonio looked annoyed. He actually looked
which I thought was pretty damn selfish if you considered that he was the one who was causing this whole game and all my belongings to go down the drain.
Playing for all my stuff was one thing, but at this point, we were playing for me. My body. That was so much worse.
Antonio stopped and paced around the room as if he was thinking about something. John left the room again to get me a refill, thank God. I really needed the alcohol. Alcohol to deal with what was happening now, and alcohol to deal with what I was going to do if I lost, which was pretty inevitable at this point.
The dealer shuffled his cards, and I watched him. Everything seemed faster now that my system had slowed down from the gin, but it didn’t stop me from drinking more. I sucked down the refill John had brought me and watched the dealer’s fingers fly through the cards.
And caught him shuffling it in a pattern. Which meant that I was being cheated in every sense of the word. No matter how well I played, this game was rigged for me to lose, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I took another long sip of my drink and then stood up.
“What are you doing?” Antonio asked, stopping in his tracks and looking at me as if I was being an idiot. And maybe I was, but the alcohol had made me sluggish. Sluggish and confident. I couldn’t decide what was good to do and what wasn’t, and I was at a point where I was willing to take on the owner of the casino.
“You’re cheating,” I said. “I’m not playing this game if you’re cheating.”
Antonio raised his eyebrows at me. “Excuse me?” he asked, as if he hadn’t heard what I’d said.
“I said, you’re cheating. I’m not going to sit here and let you make me lose so you can just take my shit anyway? Why didn’t you just take it then? You already have me here, nothing is stopping you.”
Antonio shook his head as if he couldn’t believe I was so ignorant. It made me feel dumb, and I realized that the alcohol was making me feel that way. My body felt like lead, and I put two and two together. The equation was a lot slower than it should have been, but John had brought me the drinks in the glass both times. I hadn’t seen it poured.
And I wasn’t supposed to get drunk this quickly. I never did. There was definitely something in my drink.
“You don’t have any proof that I’m cheating,” Antonio said.
I shrugged and hated myself for it. I didn’t really have proof that he’d spiked my drink, either, but I knew that it had happened.
“I’m leaving,” I said. I started walking toward the door. I couldn’t feel my legs, and I was trusting in muscle memory to take me out of there. John was next to me in a moment. I hadn’t even seen him move. Whatever he had given me was making my thought processes extremely slow. If Antonio was already cheating, why did he have to drug me, too? Or was I really playing well, and he wanted to stop me from winning despite his efforts to get me to lose?
“Sit down, Miss Sunder,” he said. I wasn’t going to listen to him.
“Get out of my way,” I said, but my voice didn’t sound like my own. It sounded hoarse and distant. Maybe even a little tinny, like I was in a metal room.
He shook his head, and I wasn’t sure if it was a “no” or if it was just because he couldn’t believe what I was saying. He grabbed me by the arm, and this time it hurt—even through the numbness I felt because of the alcohol and other things in my body.
“You’re hurting me,” I said, as I fought the clamp around my arm. However, John had me in a metal clamp, and he shoved me back toward my seat. He made me sit down and instead of going back to Antonio to flank his precious charge, he stood behind me.
“You’re not going to be more trouble, are you?” Antonio asked.
I shook my head. Of course not. He nodded and then told the dealer to do another round. I glared at Antonio. My thought processes were slow, and my hands felt numb, but nevertheless I was reeling with a way to get out of there. I had to escape. If Antonio won while I was drugged and then took me wherever he wanted to take me, I wasn’t going to be able to fight back.
Maybe that was why he’d done it. I wasn’t going to be able to fight back. Maybe he’d understood that I wasn’t the type of person to just let someone take advantage of me without fighting back.
The game commenced, and I looked at my cards, taking a deep breath. I didn’t register the cards at all. I was aware of John behind me and how far he was, how far I could get before he got his colossal body into motion. I also judged how far Antonio was from me on the other side of the table, and what the little creepy dealer would be able to do if it came down to it.
Antonio placed his bed. I glared at him and placed mine even though there was nothing to base my decision on. My mind wasn’t in the game at all.
When the second card was flipped, I twitched all my muscles, making sure I could still use them. I wasn’t sure which ones didn’t work, but my body was more in trouble than my mind was. This was good, and it was bad. At least I could still think relatively clearly.
I lifted my leg to put my heel on the seat of the chair, and then I pushed off, lifting my body out of the chair and launching across the table. I skidded over the chips so that they scattered and reached my hand forward, scratching Antonio in the face. My nails hooked skin. Everything happened in slow motion. Antonio cursed. The creepy man cried out. John grabbed my ankles and yanked me back, but there were already three red marks down Antonio’s cheek starting from just underneath his eye. Dammit, I should have aimed higher.
John hit me over the head with something. It was enough to stun me but not knock me out. Antonio was up and pacing, and the little dealer huddled in the corner like the old man he was, every bit of his skill as a dealer out of the window to leave a wrinkly shell behind.
Antonio walked toward me. John turned my chair so that my feet were out from underneath the table. Antonio slapped me across the face so hard that my head snapped to the side and I saw stars.
At the same time, I heard something sounding like glass breaking outside. John’s head snapped toward the door, and Antonio swore under his breath.
“What’s going on?” he asked even though I had the idea that he knew.
“Get her out of here,” John said. If that was the case, if I was the one whoever out there was after, I wanted them to know I was in here.
I started screaming.
I was just about to give up hope when they arrived in three cars. And they weren’t normal cars, they were minivans. The doors opened and the suspensions lifted as the men clambered out one by one. Men I recognized from before, men I didn’t know.
“I was starting to think you’d left me hanging,” I said to Mickey when he got out from behind the wheel of the third van. His hair was longer and shaggier than before, but his face was clean-shaven and free of stubble. He clapped my extended hand, and we bumped shoulders.
God, it was good to see him. And not just because of what was going down, but because we used to be tight.
“Benmore was thinking about it,” he admitted. “We convinced him.”
The men flanked Mickey. Big men. Muscled men. Men I would take into the fight to get Alex back. I nodded to the few I knew. Marcus, Chuck, Donny. Behind them I spotted more people I knew. The ones I didn’t acknowledged me with a nod just the same, and I was nostalgic.
This was how it used to be. If you were in trouble, you called your boys and they backed you, even if they didn’t always know you.
“So, what’s the plan?” Mickey asked.
I nodded my head toward the casino. “They have her in there doing god knows what. They haven’t left, I’ve been here all night. I think she might be in the offices, but I don’t know.”
“You know the way in?”
I nodded. “Security might be a problem. The Crucifix Six has connections of which I only know of two. I don’t know how many of them are crawling around the place, but I know the main man is one of them.”
Mickey nodded, looking at the casino as if he was sizing it up. “Shouldn’t be a problem. With a pansy name like Crucifix Six we’ll show them what we’re about.”
We stood in a circle, and I had to admit that to anyone else we had to be damn intimidating. I counted ten heads, excluding my own, and the men all looked like they were waiting for a fight. Their fingers itched at their sides, their eyes shifted over everything in the parking lot. Some of them had bulges under their jackets, and I knew they were carrying heat. This was going to get ugly quickly.
“The moment the cameras see me they’re going to come for me,” I said.
“Still keeping up your old ways, Rip?” Mickey said. I shrugged. I guess, in some ways, very little had changed.
“This is what’s going to happen then,” Mickey said, taking the lead. I was relieved he took the initiative. He was a born leader. “We’re heading in right through that front door. We’re just here for a game or two. I want you,” he pointed to Marcus and Donny, “to listen to what Rip has to say about the layout of the office. When you find where they’re hiding, you give me a ring. We’ll start a fight in there and then you,” he turned to me, “get her out.”
I wasn’t going to argue. I was the smallest of the lot, and I was going to get picked up in a matter of seconds…as soon as I walked through the door. The boys split up and started going in pairs and trios until just the two guys, Mickey, and me were left.
Marcus hadn’t changed one bit. He still had long hair that he wore in a ponytail and pig-like eyes that he usually hid behind shades. His size was easily mistaken for fat, but there was a hell of a lot of muscle under there, and you didn’t want to piss him off. He wore enough leather to shout out a warning in case you didn’t get the don’t-come-near-me vibe.
Donny had changed. He must have been juicing because he looked twice the size I remembered him. He’d shaved off all his hair and sported a tattoo behind his left ear. I wondered if the tattoo had been there before he’d shaved his hair or if it was a new piece.
I explained the layout of the corridors that led to the office as best I could. I couldn’t remember all of it, but I explained it well enough so that with a little initiative they could find it by themselves. When they headed in, Mickey turned to me.
“So, a woman, huh?”
I shrugged. I’d never been serious about a woman before. You just didn’t get involved with any kind of relationship when you were on the edge of being thrown into the legal system all the time. It wasn’t fair to anyone involved.
“It wasn’t planned,” I said.
“It never is.”
I took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, billowing my cheeks. “This is Emmett all over again.”
It was something I could tell Mickey. He’d known Emmett. He’d known what losing him felt like and what it had done to me.
“It’s my fault she’s in there. I have to get her out. If I lose her...” I didn’t finish the sentence because I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what I would do.
“We’ll get her out, don’t worry. You have another entrance we can work with?”
I nodded. There was always that fire escape I’d used before. We walked around back. My phone rang. It was Rat.
“We still on?” he asked. I looked at Mickey. Were we ever.
“I’ll let you know when you can hit it,” I said and hung up. Mickey looked at me with raised brows. I shrugged and pulled out a cigarette, the last one. Sitting outside all night, I’d chain-smoked until my head had felt like it was filled with sponge and my chest had constricted by itself.
“I want to hit this guy where it hurts. I have a group of guys raiding his drugs while he’s busy defending himself here,” I said.
“The full monte. Nice.” Mickey held out his hand, and I passed the cigarette so he could take a drag.
“I’ll be in touch,” Mickey said, as he slipped inside through the door. I stood outside finishing off the cigarette. My nerves were fried. The Stone Cold Club was here, but that didn’t mean something couldn’t still go wrong. And what if, after everything, they just put a gun to Alex’s head and pulled the trigger? If they hadn’t done that already…
I shook my head to get rid of the thoughts. I couldn’t think like that. I was here because I believed she was still alive, and I was going through all of this to make sure she stayed that way. That was all there was to it.
It felt like forever…almost longer than the whole night I’d spent waiting—although I knew that was ridiculous. Adrenaline rushed through my system, and I bounced on the balls of my feet, opening and closing my fists. What was taking them so long? Why hadn’t they found her yet?
My phone rang just as I thought it, and I answered it.
“She’s in a private room three rooms down from the office. You’ll hear the screaming, she hasn’t shut up.” In the background, I could hear the screaming he was talking about, a shrill pitched yell for help that made my blood curdle.
I ran inside. The casino was practically empty and everywhere there were guys fighting. I recognized some of our own guys and a few of them that must have been the Crucifix Six. There were so many of them, I hadn’t even imagined there would be a whole army in here. I had been under the impression that Antonio was sort of the black sheep of the Crucifix Six, but it turned out he was very much part of them.
I pulled out my phone in the run and speed dialed Rat.
“You’re on,” I said and hung up. There was no time to say more. They had to do what they were doing, and whatever went wrong was their problem.
I cut around the side, avoiding the fights. Someone jumped me. I used his momentum to propel him into someone else and kept going. I didn’t have time to waste fighting. Alex was in there, and she needed me.
I made it into the corridor and followed the way I remembered. It wasn’t necessary for me to remember where exactly the office was. All I had to do was following the screaming and shouting. Shattered glass covered a part of the corridor and I stepped over it. Banging on the other side of a door led me to the right one, and I kicked it down. Alex was on the other side, sitting on the floor as if I’d kicked her back.
“Rip, oh my god,” she said. Her cheeks were wet with tears and her voice was hoarse. “You’re here.”
I knelt down in front of her and put my hands on her cheeks.
“Where else would I be?”
“I came back. We have to get out of here. There’s war out there.”
I took her hand and pulled her up, but she moved funny. Her body seemed sluggish, as if she weighed a lot more than she really did.
“Are you okay?” I asked when I pulled her with me and she stumbled, catching herself on a chair.
“They gave me something. My head hurts.”
I turned to her for a moment and pulled her eye open wider. Her pupils were very dilated. Not good.
“Look,” I said, holding up my hand clutching hers. “I’m not going to let go.”
She nodded, and I turned to the door. We made it out of the room and over the glass safely, but we moved painfully slow. I wanted to scream, but it wasn’t her fault, so I said nothing and kept my ears open.
John came around the corner and blocked our path. Not this guy again. I expected some kind of smart comment, but there was none. Either he was a man of few words, or he just wasn’t that smart. He came toward us, arms outstretched as if he was going to grab us. In any other situation, I would have run. I was smaller and faster than this lug of a man, but with Alex being as slow as she was, I wasn’t going to get away.
And I wasn’t going to lose her again.
So I did what any small idiot would have done and punched John in the face. He was stunned for a second, but I was sure it was more because I actually attempted to punch him rather than the fact that it did anything.
He stared at me, and I stared right back. He bared his teeth like an animal when he came out of his shock and reached out for me. It was going to be a world of pain if I didn’t do something soon.
Alex came from behind and hit John over the head with a wooden plank. I didn’t know where she found it, or why her reflexes were faster now, but when he crumpled to the ground, I could have kissed her.
I grabbed her hand and pulled her to the door. In the main casino area, there was chaos. The fighting had died down and police had arrived. Men were running in all directions.
“This way,” I said and pulled Alex. We made it to the fire escape and slipped through. The alley was empty, thank God, and I pulled her close to me.
“You came back,” she said again, mumbling against my chest.
“I didn’t think you were going to come back.”
I didn’t tell her that I hadn’t meant to. What mattered was that I was here and she was safe.