Gianmarco came back into the club. Going over to Sabini, he whispered a few words into his boss' ear.
The gangster scowled, then lit a cigarette. "He's got some fucking nerve. What makes him think I'm going to drop everything and see him right now?"
"He says he's got a business proposition for you. A deal that will benefit both of you."
Sabini leaned back in his chair, then shrugged and gave a short laugh. "Why not? I'm in a good mood—things are going my way tonight. Show these two fine gentlemen out, then bring in my guest."
Lulled by the sound of the rain and the warmth of Alex's soft body, Tommy had fallen asleep. Several hours later, he awoke with a start, and realized that Alex was no long nestled against his chest. As his vision adjusted to the darkness, he saw her sitting on the edge of the bed. She was doubled over in pain, holding her bandaged arm against her abdomen.
He sat up, placing his hand at the small of her back. "Are you hurting again?"
"Yes." Her voice wavered.
"I'm going to ring for the nurse." He reached for the bell, but she stayed his hand.
"Please don't call them. I don't want any morphine."
"You're in pain. You need something."
"I'll be fine," she murmured. "Just give me a moment."
Fatigue and stress had depleted what little patience he had left. He pinched the bridge of his nose, then stood up and threw up his hands. "So you're just going to sit there and suffer?"
"It'll pass eventually."
Exasperated by her intransigence, Tommy cursed under his breath, then began to pace the length of the room. When he glanced over a few minutes later and saw her rocking back and forth, he halted. Putting his hands on his hips, he took in a deep breath, then went over to the bed, and sat down next to her.
Taking her face in his hands, he leaned his forehead against hers. The faint scent of her perfume lingered in her hair. Surely his sweet, sensible Alex was still within his reach.
"Enough," he said quietly. "There is no shame in seeking relief from pain that is very real."
She bit her lip, and gazed down at the bandage on her hand. "I don't want the morphine, Tommy."
"Do you mind telling me why?"
"I can do without it."
Frustration was building in him, but he kept his voice measured. Tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear, he Inquired, "So, do you refuse your patients pain medication when they need it?"
Her eyes widened slightly, and she drew back. "Of course not. That would be sadistic."
Tommy pulled out a cigarette, and took his time lighting it. He took a drag, then followed it with a long, slow exhale, allowing the nicotine time to focus his thinking. As he did so, the pieces fell into place. He cocked his head as he looked at her. "This is about him, isn't it?"
She hugged her arms to her chest. Her silence told him that he was correct.
"Alex, punishing yourself won't bring him back."
"I know that!" She swallowed, and averted her eyes. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have spoken to you so sharply. But when I think about what Jonathan suffered—dying in agony over the course of hours, without anyone or anything to comfort him— I wonder why I have to be so weak."
"Look at me." He spoke in a tone that left no doubt that he expected obedience. When she turned her eyes to him, he said, "You've nothing to prove. Not to me."
She stiffened. "Why does this have to be about you? This is about me. Can't I just make a choice? Elect to have some control over my body in a situation that was not of my own making?"
Her words stung, reawakening the guilt that he had pushed to the back of his brain. Before he had a chance to reply, there was a knock on the door. A young nurse came in, followed by a middle-aged orderly with a wheelchair. She gave them an apologetic smile. "I'm so sorry to interrupt. Dr. Ross, your surgeon has ordered an X-ray today on your hand. Oscar here will escort you to the X-ray department." She turned to Tommy. "And Mr. Shelby, there's a telephone call for you at the nurses' station."
Tommy reined in his annoyance with difficulty. He gave her a nod, then said curtly, "Have the matron take a message."
She blinked, then shifted, clasping her hands in front of her. "I'm sorry, sir, but the caller, a Mr. Solomons, was quite insistent. His language was rather colorful."
Alex gingerly eased herself into the wheelchair. Her brow furrowed in concern as she looked up at him. "You should talk to him. He wouldn't call unless it was important."
Tommy sighed. He had his doubts. Whenever Alfie called him on a very important matter, he suspected that the man's real mission was to wind him up about something. "Alright—but wait here until I get back."
She caught his hand. "Tommy, I'm exhausted. I just want to get it over with. The X-ray suite is just around the corner. If I know Alfie, I'll be back before you're even off the phone."
He held her gaze for a moment. "Then Arthur goes with you."
The nurse cleared her throat, then busied herself with tucking a blanket around Alex's knees. "Sir, I believe the other Mr. Shelby is busy at the moment.
Tommy gave her a cold stare. "Busy? With what?"
"One of the student nurses is giving him a tour of the hospital."
"Fucking hell," Tommy muttered. He could feel a dull throbbing starting at his temples.
Alex squeezed his hand. "Go on. We've both got a bit of cabin fever. A chat with Alfie might be just what you need."
He hesitated for a moment, then shook his head. "No. I'm going with you." He turned to the nurse. "I assume the radiology department has a telephone?"
"Then tell Mr. Solomons I will ring him back within five minutes."
"Shall I get his—"
Tommy cut her off. "I know how to reach him."
"Yes, sir." She gave a him a nod, then made a hasty retreat.
"A direct line for very, very good friends?" Alex glanced up at him, and he saw a glint of amusement in her eyes. He grinned, and felt some of the tension leave his body. "Yeah, something like that. Sure you don't want something for the pain?"
She shook her head. "I'm fine. But I'll be glad to have your company."
He brushed his fingers against her cheek, then turned to the orderly. "Alright, let's make it quick."
"Yes, sir." The man carefully maneuvered Alex out of the room, and set out down the hallway. Tommy strode alongside, his hand straying inside his jacket to tap his shoulder holster twice. It was a old habit—so old that he couldn't recall exactly why he'd started doing it—but it always served to calm him. The corridor was dimly lit, and his eyes scanned the path ahead, alert for any possible threat.
Once they reached the X-ray suite, he finally allowed himself to relax. The technician, a tall, thin man with a neatly trimmed mustache, met them at the door.
"Good evenin', Dr. Ross. My name's Bob Miller. We'll have you in and out of here in a jiffy."
Oscar caught his eye. "This is Mr. Thomas Shelby," he said, emphasizing the last name.
The technician straightened his lanky body, and gave Tommy a respectful nod. "Mr. Shelby, eh? That's a name that's well known in Birmingham."
Tommy lit a cigarette, and gave him an appraising look. "For good reason, Mr. Miller. Now, while you very carefully take a picture of Dr. Ross' hand, making sure that she is comfortable at all times, I need access to a telephone. I've an important call to make."
"Certainly, sir. There's one just across the hall here, in the supervisor's office." He stepped across the corridor, and opened a door. "It'll take me a few moments to set up the glass plate and take the X-ray, so please make yourself comfortable." He indicated a battered leather chair behind the desk. "And sir—don't worry about Dr. Ross. I've been doing this for ten years. She won't feel a thing."
"Good." Tommy gave him a curt nod, and the man left. Sitting down in the chair, he picked up the telephone. "Camden 7-1-8."
There was one brief ring, and then Alfie's voice boomed across the line. "Fuckin' hell! Took you long enough!"
"Listen, mate, I ain't got time for it—and neither do you. Sabini's men are on the move. Do you hear me? They are headin' for the hospital, and they mean business. Get Alex out of there now."
"She's with you, right? Don't fuckin' tell me she ain't with you!" Alfie's voice had escalated to a roar, but Tommy never heard it. The receiver dangled from its cord as he sprinted out of the office, gun in hand. He tried the door of the X-ray suite, cursing when he found it locked. Cocking his pistol, he fired two shots at the lock in rapid succession, then put his shoulder into the door, throwing it open.
An unconscious Alex sat slumped on a chair, her arm strapped onto the X-ray table. The technician stood behind her, the long fingers of his right hand curled around her neck. In his left hand, he held a gun that was pointed at her temple. When he caught sight of Tommy, his mouth twisted into a smirk, and he loosened his grip slightly. Alex gave a thin gasp through her blue lips, then fell silent. A few seconds later, she took in a shuddering breath, but her eyes remained closed.
"Couldn't fucking leave it, could you?" the man snarled. "I almost had her at her last breath when you blasted the fucking door open. I could have finished her off just now, but I chose not to. You know why? Because on second thought, I realized that it might be quite entertaining for me to see the expression on your face as you watch her die. Sometimes even the tough ones break down when it's someone they love—blubber like babies, they do."
"Get your fucking hands off her." Tommy spoke slowly and deliberately, forcing himself to focus his attention on the killer rather than on Alex. Although every fiber of his being wanted to rush to her side, he was well aware that any sudden movement would just result in the man pulling the trigger.
"She's got a thin little neck, this pretty one. Would be easy enough to snap, but where's the fun in that?" The man slowly ran the tips of his fingers along the course of her carotid artery, and a gleam appeared in his eye. "Ah, her pulse is still thrumming. Good. There's much more of an art to squeezing the life out when they've got a bit of fight left in them."
He looked up at Tommy, his eyes an unearthly pale grey. "But you'd know all about that, wouldn't you, Mr. Shelby? When you kill someone, there's something about watching the light in their eyes just slowly extinguish that makes it so fucking satisfying. And with you looking on…well, it'll be as good as getting off with a two shilling whore in a back alley somewhere."
"One last chance," Tommy said, keeping his voice even as he cocked the hammer on his pistol.
The man shook his head, and gave a thin laugh. His fingers tightened around Alex's slim neck. "You still think you're in charge here, don't you? For your information, your Blinders are no match for Sabini's—"
A second later, Alex's left arm shot up, shoving the assassin's hand away from her head.
In that instant, Tommy squeezed the trigger. The bullet hit the technician square in the middle of the forehead, spraying blood onto the wall behind him. He fell to the ground, his limbs jerking as he struggled for his last few breaths. Tommy fired one more round into him, then went to Alex.
She sat motionless as he knelt beside her. He loosed the bonds of the harness that held her right arm in place, then took her face in his hands. "You're a brave woman, Alex. Very brave indeed." She stared back at him, her hazel eyes devoid of emotion.
He kissed her then, his lips lingering on hers for just an instant. A tremor ran through her body, and her left hand seized his jacket.
He caressed her cheek with his thumb. "It's over, alright? But we need to leave right now. You're not safe here. Do you understand?"
"I thought I was going to die," she whispered, her voice barely audible. "And I prayed for you to come through that door. But he said—he said there are more men coming. They're coming for you, Tommy." She coughed, then swayed as she clung to him.
Without hesitation, he went to pick her up.
"No. I can walk," she said hoarsely. "You have to be ready for them, and you can't do that with me in your arms. Do you have an extra weapon?"
He shook his head.
"I suppose it's just as well." She coughed again, then drew in a shaky breath. "I'm not sure I'd be much help at the moment."
Taking her by the hand, he advanced to the door, then peered out into the corridor. "Quickly now. Stay behind me." They were halfway down the hall when the first bullet ricocheted off the wall.
Tommy pulled Alex into an alcove, positioning his body in front of her before returning fire. A distant scream told him he'd hit one of them.
"Surely someone will call the police," Alex whispered. She leaned against the wall, rubbing her throat with her left hand.
"Where the fuck is Arthur?" Tommy muttered. He glanced behind him, and saw a door that read MORGUE.
Taking a step back, he tried the handle, and found it unlocked. He looked at Alex, and saw a glimmer of hope come into her eyes.
"Almost all morgues have a separate entrance and exit—it allows for inconspicuous transport of the deceased. The undertakers typically collect the bodies from a loading dock at the rear of the complex."
Tommy followed her line of thinking. "So if we can find the exit—"
She nodded. He inched the door open, holding his breath as he did so. When no sound was forthcoming, he motioned for Alex to slip inside the morgue. Holding her bandaged arm awkwardly against her chest, she maneuvered through the door. He followed, then closed the door without a sound.
Although it was masked somewhat by the cold, the unmistakable smell of death hung in the air. Tommy strode purposefully through the large room, ignoring the unmoving bodies that lay on a neat row of slabs. Each was covered by a sheet that had once been white, but was now stained by years of service spent in protecting the dead from prying eyes. He glanced at Alex. Her expression remained neutral, and he once again thanked the good fortune that had sent him a woman who did not panic easily.
As they approached the autopsy area, he felt his stomach turn at the sight of neat racks of test tubes that held specimens of bodily fluids. A rusty saw and several large forceps lay on the metal table, directly alongside a bright red pail labeled ORGAN BUCKET. He took in a breath, wiping beads of sweat away from his forehead.
"It's a natural reaction for everyone the first time they see it," Alex whispered, laying her hand on his arm.
"Natural?" He shook his head, and muttered, "This is the most fucking unnatural thing I've ever seen. Pol would have a fit if she knew we were in here."
He guided her through the room, stopping only when he noticed her shivering. Shedding his jacket, he draped it over her shoulders, then took her hand and headed towards the back of the morgue, where a sign indicated that the loading dock was straight ahead.
"We're almost there," he murmured, stroking her palm with his thumb. A moment later, the large metal door in front of them scraped open, providing a brief glimpse of thick fog. Tommy threw an arm around Alex, and pulled her behind a pillar, pressing her body against the wall with his own. The door slammed shut, and a flashlight swept along the opposite wall. A shudder ran through Alex's body. He placed a reassuring hand on her back, only to tense when he heard the sound of a heavy bolt being slid into place. Then there was silence.