The scene faded out, movie like, and Joel was once again in the hospital. His body ached, but at least the sharp pain had dulled. It must have been a dream, he thought. A dream based on the memory of that tremendous night the three of them had shared. The following day he had said goodbye to both Pang and Sean, and had continued on his trip alone. He had taken Sean’s thoughts to heart, and had made a concerted effort throughout the rest of his trip to just sit back and take it all in; to fully absorb the experience and make it his. His only regret had been that Sean hadn’t made the comment earlier.
But now, laying in the hospital bed, staring up at the ceiling, he wondered if Sean had been right. He didn’t feel like he had a lot of time. He had been shot! He felt robbed. This was supposed to be his triumphant return. He had learned so much, and now he was to apply it to his life, to make sense of everything, and to make things better. But instead some idiot had shot him, for no apparent reason, and he was laying in a hospital, probably barely clinging to his life.
It seemed ludicrous. Fate had such a twisted sense of humor. He had gone so far, learned so much, only to be idle again, his brain left to stew and figure out ways to defeat itself.
Heather appeared in the doorway again, looking as angelic as she had before. At least it wasn’t all bad around here.
“Hi again, Joel. Feeling all right?” she asked softly, sitting down in the chair next to his bed. He looked over at her and smiled weakly.
She smiled back. “Well, there are a couple of detectives here that would like to talk to you if you’re feeling up to it. They’re trying to figure out what happened.”
Joel nodded. “OK.”
Heather stood up and signaled to the two men waiting outside, then moved to the back of the room as they entered.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Mendocino, I’m Detective Cobb, and this is my partner, Detective Ames. We know you need to rest, but it would really help us out if you could tell us what happened.”
Joel closed his eyes and thought back to the plane, to the train ride, to the bagel, and to the altercation in the alley – all of the events that had happened since his return. His thoughts were muddy, everything seemed to run together.
“I was walking to my apartment…” he began. “I had gotten off the train, and had stopped by Dominick’s to get something to eat.”
Ames interrupted, “We found you a few blocks east of your apartment? How did you wind up there?”
Joel furrowed his brow, trying to remember exactly what had happened. “I don’t know,” he responded. “I wasn’t really paying attention. I was pretty tired and wasn’t concentrating. I remember hearing a loud bang and running towards it… there were two men there, and one of them had a gun. I pleaded with them, but they were crazy. The guy with the gun just shot me for no reason, then they ran off.”
“I didn’t see the other guy on the ground until after I got shot. I picked him up and tried to walk to the street, but I don’t know how far I made it. That’s all I remember.” He laid back against the pillow. The pain was growing again.
“Did you know the other man?” Cobb asked, taking notes on a small notepad.
“No. Is he OK?”
“Unfortunately, he was dead when we found you. From what the doctor tells me, you barely made it yourself.”
Joel groaned. The pain was becoming unbearable again. “I think that’s enough for now, Detectives,” Heather spoke up as she moved towards Joel’s bedside again.
Cobb nodded. “OK, Mr. Mendocino. Thanks a lot for your help. We’ll let you know if we find anything.” The detectives turned and exited, and Joel floundered, feeling for the plunger that would bring him relief. Heather placed it back in his hand and he pressed it, feeling the relaxing drug flow wonderfully through him again.
Chapter 16: Angelo
Breakin’ the law, breakin’ the law…
Breakin’ the law, breakin’ the law… Mike sang along with the Judas Priest song blaring on the radio as he hurtled down the highway at high speed, weaving in and out of traffic, using the shoulder as his own private lane. He felt __. In fact, he felt invincible! He was going to go to Angelo’s seedy “office,” explain the situation to him, and if he didn’t understand, then tough shit.
He was sick of taking it up the ass from everyone. Bill at work, Marie at home, and Angelo… he was sick of it. It was going to stop today – now.
He abruptly noticed his exit on the left and swung the wheel dramatically, cutting across the four lanes of traffic that separated him and the exit, and laughed aloud as the cars behind him slammed on their brakes and their horns. He was in control – everyone else still worried about their cars, their jobs, their lives, but he was free. He didn’t care about any of it anymore, and that made him powerful.
He careened toward the old warehouse that Angelo called his office, just east of the highway, in a part of town that was about as far from ritzy as you could get. Mike didn’t know exactly which arm of the underworld Angelo worked for, but he knew he wasn’t all that powerful. If he had been, Mike would never had seen him – he would be protected behind other, more expendable characters.
Angelo was not to be underestimated, though. He had quite a temper, despite his cold, calculating persona, and enough goons under his control that Mike knew it would be suicidal to approach Angelo violently. That wasn’t his goal, at least at this point.
He parked the oversized SUV in the empty lot across from Angelo’s abandoned warehouse, wondering as he stepped out of the vehicle just how Marie had managed to talk him into buying something so obviously out of place in a city. He locked the door remotely, a happy beep-beep confirming the vehicle’s supposed security as he stepped towards the warehouse entrance.
He looked at the dilapidated brick and faded signs posted on the outside of the warehouse. Angelo really didn’t keep his place in very good condition, considering his annual income – all tax-free, Mike noted. It really wasn’t a bad deal, if you could handle the constant worry of law enforcement and the threat of prison. Not a bad deal at all.
Mike pounded on the door with his fist, then stepped away, anticipating the burly guard who swung the door open and inquired in a gruff voice. “Whaddya want?”
“I’m here to see Angelo about a payment,” Mike replied, brushing past the guard as he spoke. The door closed behind him, and the small sliver of sunlight disappeared. Mike stopped, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dimly lit interior of the warehouse.
European techno-pop blasted from a deceptively small boom box in the corner, where a group of card players seated around a table ignored his entrance completely, engrossed in their own game of chance.
On his left, a group of shady-looking characters stood next to a makeshift bar constructed of stacked crates and other miscellaneous junk; they regarded him with little interest as he walked on down towards Angelo’s main place of business in the back of the warehouse, maneuvering around crates of random items as he went.
The guard who’d granted him passage trailed behind him, monitoring his travel and ensuring he didn’t deviate from his stated purpose of visiting Angelo.
Upon reaching the door to what had been the warehouse’s small records office, he knocked quickly three times and twisted the doorknob, not waiting for the invitation to enter. There Angelo sat before him on the small love seat facing the door, three rather long lines of cocaine laid out on the low coffee table in front of him. A thin waif sat next to him, rouge and blush smeared clumsily on her once-attractive face.
Angelo looked up from the table, and seeing Mike, broke into a smile. “Mike!” he stood, opening his arms in welcome. “You know, I was just thinking about you. Here, here…” He motioned at the table in front of him. “Join me, there’s plenty for everyone.”
The girl bent down and inhaled one of the lines, whimpering softly upon its completion, then laid back in the love seat, bringing her hand to her nose as her pupils dilated and the stimulant began to take effect.
“No thanks, Angelo.”
“No? Well, more for me, I suppose.” He sat down and promptly inhaled both remaining lines, one in the left nostril and the other in the right, shaking his head hard when he was done. He looked up at Mike again, his nose bright red and an unfocused look in his eyes.
“Well, where is it?”
“I don’t have it,” Mike stated calmly.
Angelo raised his eyebrows. “You don’t have it?”
Mike nodded. “I don’t have it.”
Angelo stood again and approached Mike slowly. His five-foot-three frame was dwarfed next to Mike’s, but the maniacal gleam in his eyes indicated to Mike that he meant business. Mike stood his ground.
“Mike, your debt isn’t due until the end of the month, but you know the rules.”
Mike did know the rules, but he knew that that wouldn’t stop Angelo from reminding him of them now. Angelo seemed to take special pleasure in reminding people of the rules after they’d already been broken.
“The only reason you come to visit me unannounced is to pay off a debt. Anything else, you call me and I invite you here or we deal with it over the phone. You know how it works.” The girl on the couch looked up at them both and giggled, giddy with the coke and tension in the room.
“Shut up, bitch!” Angelo turned and yelled at her, causing the smile to melt right off her face. He turned back to Mike
Mike nodded. “I know, Angelo, but I wanted to come and tell you in person that I won’t be able to pay you back… ever.”
Angelo raised his eyebrows even higher in disbelief. “Ever? Hmmm…”
He turned, clasping his hands behind him as he paced slowly in the small room. “Well, I certainly appreciate the gesture, Mike, but as you know, I don’t run that kind of business. Around here, we have strict rules that we adhere to, and when someone breaks them, they’re punished. And whether you’ll have the money by the time it is due or not is really irrelevant to these proceedings. You came to visit me uninvited, without payment, which is an egregious breach of the contract you and I arranged at the time you bet on that horse. What was it’s name?” He paused, trying to remember the name, then resumed his pacing when the name eluded him.
Mike became aware of the guard from the entranceway behind him. “Well, it doesn’t matter what it’s name was now, I suppose.”
The guard reached towards Mike’s arm, but Mike was prepared. He’d been waiting for this moment. He sidestepped, grabbing the guards own wrist as he reached for Mike’s, and thrust his body against the guards, forcing him off balance and sent him tumbling towards the cocaine powdered coffee table.
He smashed face first into it, sending shards of imitation wood throughout the room. The girl screamed and picked her feet off the floor just in time to avoid getting them smashed by the falling body. Angelo moved towards the falling twosome, and Mike pushed himself off of the falling body and whirled around 180 degrees, grasping his hands together as he spun. His two united fists collided with Angelo’s cheek as he completed his spin, sending Angelo reeling.
Mike didn’t skip a beat. He separated his hands and pounced on Angelo while he was still off balance, pinning him against the wall and grabbing him around the neck. He was in control, and it felt good. He searched Angelo’s face for signs of fear, but there were none.
“You motherfucker,” Angelo squeaked, pushing hard on Mike’s hands with his own, trying to release Mike’s strangle hold, but it was useless.
“You don’t control me, Angelo!” Mike yelled, squeezing his hands tighter around the soft flesh of Angelo’s neck. His face was turning a satisfying color of red. “I’m going to fucking kill you, just like I killed that other fucking prick.”
The feeling of complete supremacy that he’d had while pounding away on Marie’s lover returned. He was invincible.
He felt a sharp pain on the back of his neck and felt his muscles go suddenly limp, then another strike to the back of his skull brought complete blackness.
Angelo pushed his motionless body off of him, inhaling deeply to regain his composure. He leaned on Marty, who had come to his rescue from the interior of the warehouse, catching his breath. He kicked Mike’s body as hard as he could. “Who’s in control now, bitch?”