"Jimmy, for Christ sakes!" she shrieked.

"Hi, Georgina." I said.

"You're fucking bleeding! What the fuck are you doing here bleeding on my fucking apartment door?"

I looked back behind me. I painfully slid my gun back into the holster under my arm. There wasn't anything in the stairwell to shoot. "You want the long version or the short version?"

THE LONG VERSION

A Maximum Ride Story

Narrow Place

Did I ever tell you about the roast beef?

About halfway between One Federal Plaza and the Central Precinct of the New York Police Department, there's a deli. Now as you might guess, with a solid two hundred FBI agents and a good thousand police officers covering the block, that deli is the most secure and well-protected of any in the whole of the Five Boroughs. The deli owner liked it, so there was a standing order for the kids working the counter to give an extra helping of meat to any FBI agent or cop that came in there. To keep them coming back, you know?

Well the third week I was at the Bureau, the shine still on the badge, there was a new kid at the counter, and when Special Agent Garrety came through the line he got this pussy little sandwich with just two slices of meat on it, and he didn't notice until he already paid, and then he had to get back in line, and of course the line was huge, so by the time he got back to the kid, he was flying off the handle. He said, "Look at this sandwich. It needs more meat." The kid said, "It's a dollar extra for more meat." and that just sent Garrety right off the fucking ledge. He got his credentials out and slammed them right in the kids' face. "FBI!" he yelled. "MORE ROAST BEEF!"

From then on whenever we showed our FBI badge to someone we said that we "roast beefed" the guy.

Garrety was wound tight, I mean real tight, so after 9-11, it was no big surprise to anyone when he put in for a transfer to counterintelligence and the last thing I heard of him he shoved a lightstick up some prisoner's ass at Gitmo and had been brought up on charges. Wash my hands of that guy. You take yourself seriously enough to flash your badge at some minimum wage high school kid over a couple of slices of roast beef, you're eventually going to do something stupid.

The ASAC called me into his office the day after Garrety transferred out and told me I was off Analysis and on Organized Crime which is where I've been ever since. Garrety didn't even take the files off his desk. It took me two weeks just to go through the lead list he had on some of these guys.

I was junior man on the Scarpetti task force, whose job it was to crawl so far up Joseph Scarpetti's nose that we'd leave shoe polish on his upper lip.

I liked working Organized Crime. It got me out of the office and I got used to not wearing wingtips and charcoal suits. You wore what you wanted, you wanted to blend in, you didn't want a stakeout to get blown because someone saw a bunch of suspicious guys in suits hanging around, so that's why I dress like I do, with a colorful shirt and a pair of khakis, when I needed my piece, I put on a shoulder holster and a coat.

Fuck, just...just bandage it up as best you can. It hurts like hell. Put some vodka or shit on it if you've got it. It would be just my luck to survive all this and end up killed by an infection before I can get to a hospital. Uh uh. Not yet.

My supervisor was Special Agent John Lennon. No, seriously, that's his name. "No relation to that Commie prick." he said, and he was probably jacking with us, but that was his kind of humor, you never quite knew. Special Agent Lennon had - has - silver hair in a permanent wave, a gorgeous head of hair and a voice like a car commercial. The guys on the squad said that he had put his wingtip shoe right down the throat of Joseph Colombo personally and what the hell was I going to say, no, bullshit, that never happened? I'm not going to say that never happened, I wasn't even there.

"The main danger of Organized Crime is boredom." is what Lennon said when we were halfway through my first week's surveillance transcripts. "Eventually you get to lose sight of the real goal of bugging these assholes' phones. You start to forget that every dollar that passes through their hands has blood on it, you start to talk like them, think like them, like it's no big thing. You get to be like them, where just killing a guy is no big deal. You have to keep someone out of the squad knowing what's going on so that they can tell us to pull the trigger. That's why the Bureau is a bureau and not just a bunch of guys with guns."

The important thing you need to know about my part in this is that Joseph Scarpetti had a button man called Skinny Mike, to differentiate him from Fat Mike, Mike the Kike, Icepick Mike, Shotgun Mike, Shithead Mike, Irish Mike, Kansas Mike and Roman Mike. Skinny Mike was married to Joseph Scarpetti's godfather's daughter's cousin and was fucking a Puerto Rican coke dealer who bought the biggest fake breasts she could buy at age 20 and had never worked a day in her life since. And they had a kid together, Ricardo. Now what the fuck do we care about Ricardo. Well, here's why we care about Ricardo. Ricardo is 13. Ricardo is a serial runaway, always in trouble with the NYPD. Ricardo knows Skinny Mike is his father, Skinny Mike knows Ricardo could blow him up with his wife and his other kids, Skinny Mike is between a rock and a hard place and Ricardo could be one of the keys. We want to turn Skinny Mike, or grab him, or push him, Ricardo could be a piece of the puzzle.

But like I say, Ricardo is always running away from home, and every time he runs away from home, fake tits mom calls Skinny Mike on his cellphone and rants and raves and cries and complains, blah blah blah, so Skinny Mike has to go pick him up somewhere, muscle the little punks around, and that means I have to follow him and take pictures and get sound if necessary. Now I am not complaining. Actually we got a list of solid assaults that we could have pinned on Skinny Mike as a result. You know, like Capone and income tax. We couldn't get him on murder but if we wanted to we could have put him away for a few years just on the kids he beat up and bribed with drugs to find Ricardo.

Last week, I'm fucking getting to that okay, yeah. He's dead, I'm just fucking getting to that.

Well, this time Ricardo had run away and he had stayed gone for a while. Skinny Mike himself was even starting to get a little worried when he came down to the Narrow Place. Now Narrow Place used to be the name of a street that went by an old aqueduct down at the ass end of Brooklyn but the street got torn up and there were supposed to be some projects built there but the money dried up and so now there's just frameworks, skeletons, big steel and concrete dinosaurs and about six hours ago, Skinny Mike pulled up to Narrow Place and I pulled up to the intersection behind. Now I could have just let him go in and get Ricardo and come out. That would have been okay with procedure, but frankly I was a bit fucking bored and a bit fucking stir-crazy, so I counted five and bopped on up to the other side of the building. There were fires burning in some of the rooms, runaways and homeless crawled in under the dark roofs, some weird parody of a hotel. It was easy to follow Skinny Mike, he was the only other one there with real shoes. I just listened.

He went up two floors, his shoes made clanging sounds on the metal staircase. Concrete never got poured there, it was just metal and plywood. It was dark in the staircase. It was easy for me to hide. He came into a room on the upper floor pissed off and a little unnerved. "Ricky. You little shit, where the hell have you b..."

"Dad, you didn't, you can't. You can't come in here, you can't be in here." Something in the way Ricardo's voice sounded actually made Skinny Mike stop talking for a minute. Maybe he was seeing something in the room. I was across the hall and behind a wall, pressed flat, listening. Recording, though god knows how much got through, it was all concrete and echoes.

"What the fuck is this?" Skinny Mike said in a tone that approached reverence by way of shock. "Wings?"

I thought to myself, did he just say wings? What the fuck?

"Dad, look, it's a long story, I just...I had to help her out, and..."

"Ricardo helped us." a girl's voice said. Early teens maybe. "He couldn't call, we've been..."

"I didn't ask you." said Skinny Mike.

A boy's voice, even younger, "We're in trouble." he said solemnly.

"Damn right y..." began Skinny Mike.

"He doesn't mean you." said the girl. "Erasers."

I thought to myself, did she just say erasers? What the fuck?

So I figured I should stop thinking what the fuck and try to find out what the fuck. I moved into the hall. Headed towards the door. I kept my footsteps as quiet as I could.

We were on the top floor. The roof had never been built so it was all plywood and tin roofing people had dragged up to lay across the girders and concrete. Approximately right above my head there was a CRASH, it made the metal reverberate, it made the plywood bend down, something heavy had hit the roof. Really heavy. And big, it must have been six foot long. And whatever it was made a noise, a noise I never heard anything like before. A snarl and a howl and almost a word. The thing must have been right above my head. I reached for my gun and...


WHAM WHAM WHAM. "Christ!" Georgina said, jumping to her feet and stumbling in surprise towards the door.

"Not too fast." I said. "It's the middle of the night, you were in bed." I ducked into her closet.

Georgina put her eye to the eyepiece. "Who the fuck is it, it's the middle of the fucking night?"

I couldn't hear what the person on the other side of the door said in his calm, cool voice but I knew the cadence of it.

"...I don't know where the fuck you get your information from, asshole, but Jimmy and me broke up last fucking year. I haven't seen him since." Attagirl, Georgina.

Oh shit, I thought. I forgot. I bled on the fucking door. I might as well have painted a sign saying 'come and get me'.

I pushed open the closet door. The front door exploded inwards, the bolt shearing through the frame. Splinters and wood lancing through the air. Georgina was knocked back, skidded on her ass, her robe on the hardwood floor. I levelled my gun at the shapes in the door. "Get your keys, Georgina!" I yelled.

She was dazed. "My what?" she said, but she was already scrambling on her belly towards the kitchen.

Attagirl. I pulled the trigger four times.