Chapter 22: Zen Of The Mosh
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Benoit leaned against the wall across from me and played with his gun while he watched me test the ropes that bound me to the chair. I always had a suspicion that I would die tied up in one way or another, but I was at least comforted by the fact that there were no ferrets around to savage my ankles while it happened.
After a few seconds, he glanced out the window to the empty lot below and then to his watch.
"You're going kill me, aren't you?" I asked.
"Yep." He crossed his arms and continued to stare out the window. "Just waiting for a train to pass by so she can't hear the gun. Don't want to interrupt her business."
"You're a gentleman."
I pulled at the ropes again, but they were too tight. The chair felt flimsy enough that I could break it apart but that would have taken too much time. Benoit would shoot me long before I could free myself.
I searched the room for anything that might be useful, but it was empty save for some tattered drapes rotting in a corner and the door to a dumb-waiter on the wall. Well, if this was it, I wasn't about to let this son-of-a-bitch get away with it for nothing.
"Your wife left you, you know."
He looked at me. "What's that?"
"Your wife. Cute lady, just gave birth to one of your little ratlings, remember?"
Benoit took a step forward. "What the fuck do you know about her?"
I shrugged my shoulders as best I could given the circumstances. "Nothing, really. Just that she wanted me to tell you that she's leaving you."
Something was working behind his eyes, like he was seeing how far he could calculate Pi in his head. "Yeah, well fuck that bitch."
I nodded and turned my mouth into a frown of sympathy. "Yeah, well she took your son with her. And you're not supposed to go looking for them."
I could hear his breathing getting heavier. "Bullshit," he said. "She'd never leave me. She's not that stupid."
"She was stupid enough to marry you."
Julius stepped up to me and pointed the gun at my nose. "What did you just say, motherfucker?"
"Hey, all I'm saying is that she's gone, man. If you don't believe me, that's fine, but I walked her and little junior out to the cab myself."
Benoit's face twisted into something resembling a cinnamon roll. His cheeks were bright red and his nostrils flared underneath the gauze and medical tape. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a phone, flipped it open and started punching buttons.
"She's not going to talk to you," I said.
"Shut the fuck up!" He waved the gun at me but his aim was off since he was too busy concentrating on the phone. "Pick up the phone, goddammit. Pick it up!"
I couldn't help but laugh. Benoit turned to me and backhanded me with the pistol grip. The blow just glanced me and would have been worse if I hadn't pulled back when I did, but it still left a serious gash in my cheek. I could feel blood starting to flow. It hurt like a son-of-a-bitch, but honestly, it was nice to have my right side worked on for a change. The left side of my head was getting way too much attention lately.
Benoit shouted into the receiver, "Baby, where the hell are…now you listen to…wait…hold on, that's not my fault…wait…I…I…don't hang up…don't hang up!"
He stood there with the phone to his ear for a few seconds, then he pulled it away and crushed it in his meaty hand. Veins bulged from under his silk collar. I figured that if I pushed him now, he wouldn't bother waiting for the train. Which would be a good thing since I didn't want to take a chance on Darby coming back before he killed me. I had absolutely no desire to see what she would do to me once she got her dowry back. Granted, spending my last moments looking at her would be better than having to stare at this sweaty jackass, but I didn't think she'd let me keep my eyes long enough for me to enjoy the view.
"Told you she wouldn't talk to you."
Benoit charged me and grabbed me by the throat. "Where is she?"
"How the hell shooommpphhh-" He shoved the barrel of the gun in my mouth all the way to the back of my throat. I struggled not to gag, but I had to admit that one last cookie toss on this guy would make my death a little less bitter.
He cocked the hammer back. "You got three seconds."
I mumbled something. He pulled the gun out and then let go of my neck. I worked my jaw and then spit to the side. I never realized it before but gunmetal tasted like shit. "Now, when you say three seconds, do you mean 'One, Two, Three, shoot' or do you mean you're going to shoot me, like, ON three?"
Benoit's eye started twitching. It pulled at the bandages across his nose making his whole face quiver. He took a deep breath through his mouth and said, "I've changed my mind. I'm not going to shoot you, Dingo." Benoit stepped toward me and I became acutely aware of how incredibly large he was. "Instead, I'm going to beat you bloody and then shit in your dead mouth. How does that sound?"
"Charming. With pillow talk like that, no wonder she married you."
Julius smiled through the bandages. "Why don't we go ahead and get started."
"Don't you think Darby's going to be a little pissed off if you kill me before she gets a chance to?"
"Carson signs my paychecks, not her." He smiled. "And I don't think he'd much mind." And then he reached for me.
I tilted myself on the back legs of the chair using the balls of my feet. One of his fingernails caught me across the nose but I was able to fall backwards onto my back. Unfortunately my hands were tied behind the back of the chair. They twisted underneath my weight and I could hear a couple of my fingers crack as they were forced into unnatural positions. I bit back a scream.
Benoit's momentum carried him toward me, but he was off balance. I leaned to one side, catching his shin in between the chair legs, and twisted. His knee popped and he came crashing to the floor next to me, kicking up decades-old dust and debris. I rolled the edge of the chair's back onto his arm that held the gun, putting all of my weight on it and digging in as hard as I could. Bone snapped and his hand went limp. The gun dropped away.
He yelled like a fog horn in my ear. I could feel his mass next to me as he reached for me with his other hand. I pushed off the floor with a knee and rolled up on top of him, my back on his chest, and threw my head back into the bridge of his already broken nose. I felt something give like the overripe husk of a melon.
Benoit tried to reach for his gun with his useless hand and protect his shattered face with the other, but I wasn't about to let up. I kept throwing my head back, pounding his face with the back of my skull. My own brain was rattling and I could feel a world-class migraine building, but I didn't care. This bitch made me walk the plank AND he trashed my Jeep. Nothing was going to stop me from going total mosh-pit on the motherfucker.
It was Zen-like. I fell into a rhythm, my head bobbing to an internal cadence that wouldn't let me stop, even after Benoit's body went slack underneath me. When I finally did stop, I had to wait and catch my breath before rolling off of him.
It took me a few minutes to untie myself since several of my fingers were near useless, but it helped that the chair practically disintegrated when I started twisting out of the ropes. Once free, I grabbed Benoit's gun, wrapped my middle finger around the trigger, and moved toward the door.
Once there, I peeked outside, but it was hard to tell if there was anyone in the hallway. There were no windows to let in the fading twilight and electricity hadn't pumped through this building's veins since Larry Byrd led ISU to a National Championship. But I knew that if Benoit had been worried about somebody hearing the gun, they'd have to be somewhere on this floor.
As I walked a little farther along the musty corridor, I had to keep one mangled hand to the wall to keep me from stumbling since my feet were still numb from lack of circulation. I turned a corner at the far end of the hallway and then stopped. There was bright, pale light bleeding out from under one of the closed doors ahead. And I could hear voices.
The light shot through my eyes and straight to the back of my head. That world-class migraine that started when I was head-butting Benoit was now going full bore, turning my head into a cancerous mass of torn and swollen tissue metastasizing out from the stump of my neck.
I stepped up to the door and pressed my ear against the wood. The voices were muffled, but I could tell that there were at least three people inside, talking on the far side. And one of them was Darby.
I held the gun up at the ready, hoping that the fingers pointing in odd directions didn't hamper my aim. I could probably squeeze off several shots before anyone could really react, but I had serious doubts that I'd be able to hit anything.
I toyed with the idea of going down and finding Cerberus, but if Eunice the Wonder-Hag was going to be showing up in just a few minutes, I needed to get the box back now. I took a few quick breaths, lifted my boot, and threw my heel at the door.
In my mind's eye, I saw myself breaking in the door and bursting in like a one-man S.W.A.T. team hell bent on bringing the bad guys to justice. Unfortunately, the door was so fragile with dry-rot that my foot punched straight through the door all the way up to my knee. My momentum threw me off balance and I fell back, slamming my head against the floor.
Everything went black for a second, but I came to and found myself hanging from my knee like a pig in a slaughterhouse.
Something grabbed my foot and the door handle turned. The door swung inward with me still attached to it, bunching my T-shirt up at my shoulders. Above me, two men with pistols and sunglasses were looking at me like housekeepers deciding how best to remove a stain from the carpet.
"Oh, hey guys, what's up?"
The one holding my foot pushed it through the door while the other grabbed me and stood me up. They easily pried the gun from my hand and then shoved me into the room.
It turned out that my powers of deduction were way off. There were at least ten people in the room instead of three. Several were scattered throughout the room, all of them in standard issue Fed-Wear while five people were standing around a fold-out table flanked by a giant gas powered construction lamp. Darby was the only one of them I recognized.
The box was on the table.
Darby turned and looked at me with more hate and disgust than I'd ever seen from a person before. But she didn't say anything to me. Instead, she turned to the figure next to her and said,
"My apologies for the interruption, ma'am."
That's when I got a good look at the woman she was talking to. I had no doubt that it was Eunice Deveroux. She was six-and-a-half feet tall and wearing a black dress that molded to her thin, fragile features. Her breasts wilted under the dark fabric of her dress. Her head was bald and littered with kidney-colored splotches while her back bent in a hunch that made it appear as if she had two heads, one right in front of the other. But the thing about her that disturbed me the most were the curved metal brackets that covered her mouth like it had been stitched shut with re-bar.
A round man in a cheap suit looked at Darby and said, "Madam Deveroux is not concerned. But she would like to examine the merchandise now."
Darby motioned to the box on the table. "Of course."
I was fucked, no two ways about it. There were over half-a-dozen heavies in the room waiting to put me down if I so much as flinched, but I kind of got the feeling that hag-o-licious would be the one flaying me if I got out of line.
Eunice reached out and ran her fingers over the box. Her fingers were like tiny garden hoses with brown, flaky nails at their tips. She grabbed the lid and pushed it open. Her hands hovered over the open box for a minute then she reached in and pulled out the dark, horrid thing lying inside.
The teddy bear.
The teddy bear had been Michael's favorite toy when he was a kid. He had taken it everywhere. Nursery school, the doctor's office, the swimming pool. The damn thing had more mileage than I did. And every time it started to fall apart, my mother would use her rudimentary sewing skills to put it back together. Now, it was just a ragged memory of a toy. Stuffing leaked out in several places and one of its black, plastic eyes was missing. There was a denim patch poorly stitched to its belly and its left arm was shorter than the other.
The old woman held the teddy bear to her ear for a moment then set it back down in the box and closed the lid. The round man turned to Darby and said, "Madam Deveroux would like to know where the rest of the merchandise is."
Darby smoothed her skirt and said, "I'm sorry, I don't understand."
"Madam Deveroux says that it's not all here."
"No offense, ma'am, but it's there. That's it. It's in there, I can feel it." Darby shifted from one stiletto-heeled foot to the other as she tried to smile. She wasn't accustomed to being told she was wrong.
Eunice reached over and ran a brittle finger along Darby's jaw-line. The man said, "Yes, but not all of it. You are young and your powers have not yet fully developed. It would be difficult for you to feel the subtle difference."
Darby opened her mouth to say something, but then closed it and gave the old woman a deferential nod. Then both she and Eunice turned to me.
"Um, this is all news to me," I said. Which, sadly, was the truth. How only part of a person's soul could be locked inside a teddy bear was a mystery to me and it was a mystery I really had no desire to have solved. My mother had always been a crafty little weasel, but I couldn't begin to fathom why she would do something like this.
Eunice watched me with her jaundiced eyes then turned to the round man and gestured toward him. He said, "Madam Deveroux will be willing to purchase this item for the agreed upon monetary price. However, because this is not the original item agreed to, she will only be willing to pay the monetary price. Your request for services, I am afraid, must be declined."
Darby's eyebrows narrowed over her nose as she glared at me. Then her lips curled back in a smile that made my spine go numb. "Pardon, madam Deveroux," she said. "If I were able to obtain the rest of the original item, would you then be willing to grant my request for services?"
"Madam Deveroux would find that acceptable."
The men on either side of me each grabbed one of my arms and started to drag me over to Darby and Eunice. Darby's eyes were glinting with the dreams of all the wonderfully painful things she was going to do to me while Eunice's cataracts sparkled with ideas that made me wish I'd let Benoit pummel the life out of me. But their eyes darted away from me when the door creaked open. The men pulling me stopped and we all turned to look. There, filling the broken doorway, was Cerberus.
I could feel his growl thrumming through the floor, numbing my feet and drowning out the dull whine of the lamp engine. Little flakes of plaster fell from the walls and bits of ceiling rained down around us. One of the heavies behind me whistled then said, "Holy shit. Look at the size of that thing."
The guys that flanked me moved to raise their guns but Cerberus was on us before they could take aim. I fell back and slid across the ground. Cerberus was all fur and fangs as he tore into them. One of them was able to get off an ineffectual shot, but the dog snapped off his arm with a single bite before removing his face with another. In just a matter of seconds it was over. Little bits of flesh and fabric poked out from his wild hair.
The dog stepped over the broken bodies and put himself between me and everyone else in the room. Then all at once, the other heavies pulled out guns, aimed them at Cerberus, and started unloading.
I wanted to run forward and stop them, run interference, do something, but there was nothing I could do. Instead, I shrank back against the wall and tried not to get caught by any stray bullets. It seemed to go on forever. Shot after shot rang out as bullets slammed into Cerberus, thwumping like angry drums.
The gunshots echoed for a few seconds after everyone stopped firing. A haze of gun-smoke hovered over the room and there was a harsh, sulfurous stench of gunpowder. The heavies all stood there, their guns dangling at their sides, and stared at Cerberus.
Miraculously, the dog was still standing, but his head was low, hanging between his paws. One of the bullets must have perforated his lungs since he was wheezing in short, ragged bursts. His shoulders hitched in a tight rhythm and his lips were curled back in a rictus grin.
No one moved. We all watched and waited for the dog to cough up one last, shallow breath before collapsing to the floor in a giant heap.
But then two of the heavies did the strangest thing. They pissed themselves. Sure as shit, they stood there, their faces stark white and their eyes unblinking as they soiled their fine silk suits. It took me a full three seconds to realize exactly what was happening, but when Cerberus slowly raised his head, it hit me. A lot of people in that room were going to die. In very unpleasant ways. Cerberus wasn't wheezing.
He was laughing.