Laughing when something goes wrong is a natural human reaction. It’s a line of defense for our sanity and it can diffuse a many different calamities. The downside is it also makes us look guilty as sin.
“What the hell was that? And what are you smirking about?” Stone screamed at me.
“The gunshots? I’m guessing that the guys who blew up my building are here to finish the job. Very interesting that they’re willing to kill you too though.” I said.
Whoever the boss of the secret society hit squad was, they apparently didn’t care about offending the biggest, most powerful gangster in the city. Or they thought a surgical strike could take Stone out before he became a problem. I thought back to how angry Madelaine Deckard had been after Stone had brushed her off earlier in the evening. Angry enough to kill him if she was the society’s leader? That would depend on how crazy she was. Secret society’s don’t usually put a premium on sanity though so “full on fruit loops” wasn’t an unthinkable possibility.
“Interesting is it? You bring this kind of trouble into my house? You’re going to learn what interesting is. After I take care of them, I’m going to come back here and make you sing your lungs out.” Stone said as he backed away.
“If you go out there, the attackers will kill you.” Way said, her voice calm but firm. She was speaking to Stone but looking at his bodyguard.
“My club, my town, my rules! Nobody tells me what to do!” Stone yelled and reached into his pocket to draw his gun.
Only to discover that it wasn’t in its holster.
What? He’d been standing two feet away from me, paying no attention to where my hands were! It would have been criminal not to steal from him!
He fumbled around for a moment, and then looked wildly around the room as though the gun might have jumped out of its holster on its own. It took him several seconds to notice that I was holding the battleship sized cannon he had been toting around.
As Way predicted, his bodyguard was quicker on the uptake than his boss. He’d drawn his own hand cannon and leveled it in the direction of my head before I even saw him move. Since she’d been expecting that, Way had the gun that I’d given her drawn and trained on the bodyguard just as quickly.
A silent moment followed the appearance of the deadly hardware as all parties took stock of the situation. Since he was the one person in the room who lacked a firearm, Stone was at the greatest disadvantage, so of course he was the first to speak.
“You ain’t got the guts to…” he began, all bravado and contempt.
I pulled the trigger.
Or rather, I pulled the trigger after pointing the pistol at one of the uglier vases in the room.
Before the barrel cooled, I pressed the end of it to his forehead. It wasn’t hot enough to burn him, but the heat helped drive home the point the thunder of the shot had made.
I glanced over at the bodyguard. He knew what I was doing. This was negotiation. Stone knew it too. That helped a lot. The moment when we all decided to murder each other wasn’t here yet and both Stone and his bodyguard knew they were better off waiting for the situation to change in their favor.
“Look in my eyes Eddie.” I said, just to make the point crystal clear. “Am I just some ‘normal dame’?”
There’s nothing magic about my gaze. Not on Earth-Glass at any rate. When Eddie Stone looked into my eyes all he saw were irises and pupils. People convince themselves that they can read more in those than they actually can. “The eyes are the window to the soul”, or so goes the saying. In Eddie’s case, he was very lucky he couldn’t see my soul, or anything else that I hid behind the dark of my eyes.
What he could see was how I held his gaze. Calm and steady. Unafraid. I felt the world groan a little at that. “The Amazing Jin” hadn’t been exposed to the sort of mayhem that would leave her blaise about holding a gun on a gangster. I was letting a little too much of my real self bleed through which in turn made my “Amazing Jin” act less convincing. Within limits that was fine. People can be all kinds of surprising in stressful situations. So long as I didn’t go over the line and show Eddie one of the sides of myself that absolutely couldn’t exist on Earth-Glass, the world could grumble all it wanted.
“No. I guess you ain’t at that.” Stone said, releasing some of the tension from the room.
“Good. I’ll put our cards on the table then. We came here to find out what you were up to. With what we’ve discovered, I can tell you’re not the guy we’re looking for, but you’re mixed up with him somehow. That’s lucky for you. It means Way and I have a reason to help you stay alive.” I said.
The idea that Eddie Stone was the dreamweaver we were looking for had been a long shot. How he reacted under stress had confirmed the impression I got from questioning him. He was dangerous, but only in a very mundane sense.
“This is you keeping us alive? I’d love to see what it’d look like if you wanted us dead.” Stone said, the anger in his voice replaced with cocky self-assurance.
“No. You wouldn’t.” Way said. She and the bodyguard were glaring at each other. There was no anger in their expressions. No kindness either. At best you might call it professional respect.
“Unless I miss my guess, we need to get out of here immediately, and not through any door they can see.” I said.
“You think I’m gonna let anybody shoot up my club and get away with it? You might as well just shoot me now.” Stone said.
“They’re not going to shoot this place up Eddie. Just the guys that were left guarding it. Once they got a clear path to your basement, they’re going to make for your boiler.” I said.
“The boiler? What do they care about the boiler for?” Stone demanded.
“You know a lot of folks right? Guys in the fire department too? You know what happened to our apartment? These guys aren’t regular crooks. They’re organized and they’ve got at least one guy on the payroll who likes setting fires.” I explained.
“Oh no! Oh hell no they are not burning down my club!” Stone swore.
A violent bang shook the building and nearly knocked me off my feet. Stone tumbled into the cushioned chair that was behind him Way and the bodyguard twitched slightly but never lost their aim.
“Apparently that’s exactly what they’re going to do. We have to leave right now. Where’s your secret passageway out here.” I asked.
Stone ignored me and got up to run to the door. He would have run out and fought with tooth and nail if he had to, except that his bodyguard stopped him.
“Boss. They’re right. I can smell smoke already.”
“What?” Stone looked bewildered. He wasn’t used to bad nights like this anymore. As an aggressive jerk, he was almost always the one making the first play and causing other people grief. I had to suppress a smile at the thought of cosmic justice catching up with him (not that it actually existed as such in Earth Glass’s reality, but sometimes random chance could do a decent impression of it).
“Boss, anybody who could get through the boys like that and bomb us that quickly? They’re good boss.” the bodyguard said. I saw what Way meant about not fighting him. He looked like the only thing between his ears was more muscle, but he was intuiting what was going on the same way we were, and we had more experience than anyone ten times our ages should have had.
“So we just give ‘em the club?” Stone yelled. I could hear it in his voice though; he knew his bodyguard was right. He knew to trust him. He just didn’t like it.
“The rest of our guys are all out , I think we round them up, come back and hit these jokers hard. Make it a real Red Christmas!” the bodyguard said.
“Don’t think we can shoot our way out?” Stone asked.
“No.” the bodyguard said.
“What if we use the skirts here as cover?”
“They’ll shoot through us and keep shooting until none one is moving.” Way said.
“Oh, well we wouldn’t want that then now would we.” Stone said.
“It would be inconvenient.” I agreed.
“So tell me why I shouldn’t just leave you here to burn.” Stone asked.
“We’ll skip the human decency angle and go right to what really matters. You’ve got nothing on these guys. The only people you had who laid eyes on them stopped breathing a couple seconds later. With how good these guys are you know your boys in the field are going to turn up nothing on them.” I said.
“I got boys everywhere. They’ll find these guys just fine.” Stone said.
“Really? You think guys like this just rolled into town today? They knew how to find out who we were and where we lived. They knew how you worked well enough to wait till you sent out most of your men looking for them. Smart money says these guys have been here a few months at least. And you didn’t hear anything about them that whole time did you?” I asked.
“You don’t know what I heard.”
“Eddie, come on, like you would let a bunch of killers set up shop here and not pay tribute to you? You’re a lot of things Eddie but you’re not stupid. Don’t think I’m going to make the mistake of assuming that you are.” I said.
“Ok. Fair enough. But you ain’t gonna try to tell me you know these guys are ya? That a stage tramp’s got a line on them when my best boys ain’t seen hide nor hair of ‘em?”
“I don’t like insults Eddie. Don’t make me start shooting off body parts to remind you. And, yes, you’re going to believe that we know those guys. Seeing as how they’re pretty desperate to kill us, seeing as how they’ve blown up two buildings so far trying, and seeing as how we’re not dead yet, you’re going to take the safe bet and assume that we’re just a little more on the ball than they are.” I said.
“So what’s that do for me?” he asked.
“You want these guys. I believe you were mentioning a ‘Red Christmas’ right? No matter what happens to us, you’ve got to make an example of them if you want to stay in business. Do you think I’m going to mind what you do to them? You know, given that they’re trying to kill me? Or do you think I’ll hand them to you on a silver platter so that you can do the dirty work that you do best and I can walk away with lily white hands?” I asked him. It was a risky question because neither alternative was the truth, but the smile that I saw blossom on his face told me he’d bought into it.
Without waiting for any more discussion, Stone moved over to one of the less tacky statues in room. It was a small bust of Napoleon which rested on a table that was covered with various bottles of alcohol. He turned it’s head around and flicked a small tab on it to reveal a key that had been concealed inside.
The key fit into the lock of a safe that lay behind one of the paintings in the room. The safe in turn contained a mechanism that unlocked a large tile in the floor. The bodyguard raised the tile to reveal a plain looking tunnel underneath. For as elaborate as the entrance was I’d almost expected there to be a rocket propelled getaway car waiting for us, but alas, Eddie Stone didn’t go in for that kind of extravagance. If we wanted to get out we were going to need to hoof it.
“Wait, how did you know about this?” Stone asked as he got on the ladder to descend to the tunnel.
“The private room of the city’s most powerful gangster? If you didn’t have a secret way out of here I’d have shot you for incompetence.” I said, only half joking. In truth, I wouldn’t have shot him , I just would have put him back on the list of possible reality cheaters since no one that incompetent could have made it to Stone’s position without some kind of supernatural aid.
“Funny.” he said and headed down the ladder.
I headed down next, followed by Way and the bodyguard.
“This little stand-off we have going here ain’t going to work when we make it to the street. Gimme back my piece and we’ll leave like civilized people.” Stone said.
“I wish I could Eddie, but somehow I can’t shake the impression that you’d be just as happy to shoot me as the guys who burned down your club.” I said. I was under no illusions about the damage I’d done to his ego. Eddie Stone wasn’t an idiot but people with damaged egos can do the most idiotic of things no matter how smart they are otherwise.
“But I need you, don’t I?” he said, all fake sincerity in his voice.
“Since when has that stopped you from icing somebody who mouthed off to you?” I asked. The bodyguard, of all people, cut short a chuckle at that. Stone frowned and looked at him with a silent sneer.
“You are too smart for your own good sister.” Stone said, still frowning.
“I get that a lot from guys like you.” I said. It wasn’t helping the situation in terms of defusing him, but the banter was keeping both Stone and the bodyguard’s attention on me, which left Way free to watch our flanks.
“How secure is the other end of this tunnel?” Way asked.
“Why?” Stone asked.
“Because we have company.” Way said.
We went quiet as church mice. For a moment silence reigned and then from around the next corner came the unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked.