It was as if time had just stood still. The heavy thumping of his heart almost crushing his ribs. He felt dizzy from all the pain and fatigue eating him up. But one thing snapped him back to his senses: a loud, bellowing sound that erupted not from the nozzle of a gun but from one enormous man.
Then the SWAT chief cackled vigorously as he stood up from aiming his gun at Joey's head.
"Alright, boys! Let's finish up. Haul their asses outta here, pronto!"
The other SWAT officers followed and began rounding up the rest of Aaron's men. The SWAT chief turns to Frank and their last surviving guy.
"You two're with him, right?" motioning to Joey on the ground.
Frank slowly nodded his head, "Y… Yeah."
"Alright, you! Get their cuffs off." He says, bending back down to remove Joey's.
"Got you good, didn't I?" laughing once more.
The chief then helps Joey up. He sees the bullet wound on Joey's arm and signals to one of his guys, "Hey, get a medic up here!"
The officer goes past them, the chief watches him disappear. Then points to the other two guarding over Frank and co, and tilts his head to follow.
Now only the four of them remained in close proximity. The other three stayed silent, still unable to make out of what just happened.
The chief stares at Joey. "You alright there, fella?"
"…y-yeah…" Joey says, putting a hand on the wound.
"Sorry if I got a little rough on ya." He starts to chuckle, "Wooooh, boy. Heh heh. When Smithy told me to pull that prank, just couldn't resist you know."
There was a brief silence before it suddenly hit them.
"… you… you know Smithy?" Frank asks.
"Yeah, that little weasel-looking guy. I know him." He sniffs, "I owed him one for helping me clear that homicide charge against my son a while back. Little bitch had it coming—"
"W-Wait. So Smithy sent you here?" Joey interrupts.
"Yep. Told me to come down here and help out that prick, 'Joey Giovanni'." He says, putting emphasis on the name as he stared at its owner.
"You didn't think the police, much less the freakin' SWAT, woulda come here to break up some petty riot? Not when this whole city's going to hell."
Joey and Frank stood there silently, actually feeling a bit relieved after they realized how important their timing had been.
"Yeah, take a long hard look, and realize that a 10 pound slimeball just saved your asses." The chief wrongly misinterprets, accompanied by another bout of laughter.
Afterward, he takes out a cigarette in one of his pockets.
"Name's John by the way. John Brooks."
He lights the cigarette and takes a puff. Just then, the medic pops up in a dash. Brooks takes one glance and points at Joey. The medic takes a look at his wound for a minute or so.
"Well, he'll live?" Brooks sarcastically asks.
"Yes sir. He lost quite a bit of blood but nothing seems fatal as far as I can tell. Just have to get the bullet out and then we can close the wound."
"Good to hear." Brooks nods, he turns to Joey. "You can go and get yourself treated downstairs."
Joey looks back at the other two guys in a seemingly cautious manner, still unsure of what might be in store for them. Without any other way present, he yields and follows the medic out of the place.
"Don't worry, I can just talk to one of your goons here." Brooks adds as the two men leave.
"Hey!" Frank exclaims, "I'm not a goon!
"He's the goon." pointing to the guy beside him. The man just looks at him with disdain.
Brooks moves back and leans on an old, rickety table. "So I hear you and your associates are trying to track down the last of LaSalle's loyal dogs."
"Yeah, we are." Frank replies.
"You know, I'd like to help you guys out." Brooks starts, "but us SWAT can't get involved in the mob's affairs. Even if it does concern us."
Brooks breathes out another round. Frank didn't seem all that disappointed by it, he probably considered their help was only going to go this far.
"Doesn't matter. Getting us out of this mess was good enough." Frank tells him.
"Well then, good luck to ya." finishing up his smoke. His transceiver then starts to blare.
"Bzzzt. Chief, we've got a situation going on at East side, near the auction house. They're asking for a LOT of reinforcements down there. Looks like big trouble."
Brooks takes a deep breath and exhales, trying to get his mind clear, before pulling out the transceiver close to him and barking his orders,
"Yeah alright, tell the guys to get ready. I'm comin' down."
He puts the receiver back in place, and looks at the two.
"Guess this is where we part ways, gentlemen." He waves them a two-fingered salute and then turns his back.
"Just a sec here." Frank says, "So that whole fucking thing about leaving no one alive and pinning us down to execute us was just some big joke?"
Brooks pauses then blankly responds "Yeah."
"And then you killed Parks just to make it look real and get us fucking scared?" Frank continues, his tone rising.
"And all that, was because of you and… and that slimeball?"
"Yeah, that's right."
Frank shakes his head, "Fuck, man! You guys are seriously fucked in the head!"
Brooks smiles, and then laughs as he heads down. "Takes one to know one, kid."
30 minutes had gone by after that. Frank and the goon were already out on the streets and, as per Joey's instructions, Frank went to go look for a phone so he could call Barone and contact Penchelo's group from the car.
Incidentally, Frank had learned the goon's name as Ari. He wasn't originally one of their men but a bodyguard for another prominent figure. Ari decided to join Joey when he was recruiting people inside the building because he had just found out that his then-current employer was killed in one of countless instances of carnage in the city.
Joey, meanwhile, got himself treated from the SWAT's medic. He felt exhausted but still able to go, or rather was willing himself to. Either way, he wasn't going to take a rest by his own choice.
"What took you so long?" Joey asked the second Frank came into view.
"I had to give the little shit a piece of my mind." Frank said. "And a couple dozen F-bombs to go along."
"I'm sure he really appreciated it." Joey answered back, his hand feeling the wound on his arm. "So, did he contact Penchelo?"
"Yeah, they're on their way here." Frank started to look around.
"The SWAT guys left already." Joey said, and then he motioned to the lone remaining SWAT vehicle where the medic team was housed. "They only stayed to finish me up."
They watched as one of the medics close the rear doors. The guy didn't even consider taking a glance at them, almost as if acknowledging the trio as non-existent entities. The doors shut and at once sped off.
A couple of minutes passed before a car stopped in front of them. Penchelo and the 4 other guys got out.
"Damn! You boys alright there?" Penchelo barked in his usual booming tone.
"We saw the SWAT coming and hightailed it." Rey added. "You guys didn't run into them?"
"It's a long story." Joey replied. "Short story is Parks's taken out."
"That's good to hear." Penchelo remarked.
"So what's next?" Joey hastily asks.
"Well, there was a change of targets." Penchelo began.
"That scumbag lawyer said the next guy was either supposed to be a Mickey Caldwell or a guy called 'Big-O'. They were closer from where we are now than that other guy."
"What other guy?" Frank wondered aloud.
Penchelo started scratching his stubbly chin as he continued, "See this other guy, he's also one of the five. And, well, he suddenly contacted that lawyer a little while back."
He looked at Frank, "I think just after you called him up.
"Anyway. He was asking for a meet up with Joey's crew. Says they're not on anyone's side, but they were willing to make a deal, or some sort."
Joey and Frank looked at each other, both making dubious faces as their attention went back to Penchelo.
"Now I know, this ain't exactly a surefire thing. I told him that too.
"But, like what the lawyer said, you have to realize that we are totally, fucking, balls-as-shit outnumbered here."
He turned to everyone around, some followed his action. There were only 8 of them in total now. Still less than that of Parks' group, and his numbers were already lessened by then.
"At the very least," Penchelo went on, "we don't have enough firepower. And even only some of us have bulletproof vests on."
Penchelo flashed his, and he was actually the only person there wearing one.
"Point is we can't take on any of them the way we are now. Especially that Big-O guy. He's the one shitting all over downtown. The one the whole police force is converging on."
"It's probably where the SWAT went off to as well." Rey concludes.
"Yeah, and it's also why I can't let any of my men out here. They're right across my territory, so you know I ain't taking any chances."
For a while they continued discussing on whether or not they should go for it. In the end, they thought it was probably the safer choice to go for it, on paper anyway.
"What's this guy's name anyway?" Frank asks.
"Uh, the lawyer said he's called 'Jake the Snake'." Penchelo answers, sniffing.
"Great. He already sounds like a fuckingly honest guy!" Frank bemoans.
"It's just a nickname. It doesn't mean anything." Joey tells him.
They watch as one of the goons breaks into an empty car and attempts to start its engine.
"It DOES mean everything! That's why it's a nickname!" Frank replies, a bit animatedly.
"Your headache seems to be gone." Joey noticed.
"Huh– Oh, yeah. I got some aspirin there, too. While I was making the call." Frank was pointing to the building they had broken into earlier.
"You mean that place? The one where you killed an innocent, hardworking man?"
They started walking, Joey shook his head in utter disbelief.
"Hey! I did leave money on the table, you know!" Frank said, trying to defend himself.
"They should call you 'Frank the Ignorant Fucktard'." Penchelo chimed in.
Frank glared at his direction, and simply mouths off something inaudible.
It was past four in the afternoon when they arrived at the designated place. At once, they saw a large number of men brandishing weapons. Weapons that were far superior than most of them had.
The two cars stopped a reasonable distance away. When they got out, Joey motioned to the people from the other car.
"Alright, guys." Joey begins as they all lean in to listen, "We stick to the plan. Me and Frank go in the lead, while you guys get a bit of distance behind."
Joey glances at the men they were about to confront. The group was already aware of their presence. But, not knowing if these strangers were friend or foe had their guns ready at the hip.
"I don't really know what we're getting into…" Joey admits to them. "…but if things don't go as planned, I want you guys to run for it. We're not gonna win this gunfight."
Rey speaks up. "What happens to you guys?"
"We'll make a break for it too… Wait for us if you can, but if you think you can't anymore then leave. I trust... all of you will know when to quit."
Silence hung over them momentarily, contemplating on those words.
"I'd leave you guys in a heartbeat." Penchelo suddenly blurts out, as-a-matter-of-factly even.
"Yeah, definitely." A goon says after him.
"Don't need to tell me twice." Another adds.
"… maybe I could give you 2 seconds." Rey admits as well.
One by one, the guys unanimously agree on it.
"Shit, thanks for the support guys." Frank remarks dully. He makes an about face and trots forward defiantly.
"Joey, come on. Forget these people!"
He follows while the rest wait a few seconds more before doing the same.
Once they were out of earshot from the rest of the group, Frank turned to Joey.
"Hey, you know I just realized something… if we're gonna make ourselves look intimidating cus' what with us being shorthanded and all…
"I was thinking maybe you should go solo, you know? It'll make you look more like a big, tough guy right?"
Without even looking at him, "I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear that." Joey responds with a deadpan expression. As if he didn't already presume Frank was going to try and get out of this.
"Uh, right…" Frank merely mutters to himself.
A couple of men approached to block their path.
"What'cha want, boy?" An African American gangster comes up to them first.
"I'm Joey Giovanni. Your 'boy', Jake the Snake wanted to meet with me."
He looks at Joey. His face told Joey that he wasn't convinced. In fact, he was even laughing a bit now.
"Yo, you don't look like no Joey Giovanni to me." He says snappily. "If you're him, then I'm Michael Jordan."
The guys around him started laughing; Joey and Frank weren't doing the same. The black thug spoke again.
"But seriously, cracker. Ain't no way I'm just gonna believe that. You gotta show me some proof here. That you really ARE who you say you are."
Then he cocked his head toward Frank, "And tell your boy there to stop looking at me like that. Look like he wants to suck my dick or sumthin'."
Frank was giving him what you'd call a 'stink-eye', for lack of a better term. More poser than looking like an actual tough guy. Of course, Joey knew Frank may not be the most intimidating guy in a room, but he'll certainly be the first one to fire back from an insult.
"Oh yeah–" Frank started.
"Shut it, Frank." Joey interrupted him at once before things possibly ended with bullet holes to their chest. "You say you want proof?"
"Yeah, cracker. Show me some ID, and maybe I'll think about it." The black thug answered.
"You know what, I got something better than that." He replied right back.
He took out his pistol. All of the gangsters, including the black guy, turned their guns at him.
"Woah, shit man! What the hell do you think you're doin'?" The thug exclaims.
"Relax. I'm just gonna show you something." Joey says. "You see that bottle over there?"
The black thug turned his back to find an empty bottle left on the roof a car. It was about 30 feet from where they were standing. His eyes never strayed the whole time from the bottle. Within a few seconds, all heard a bang as a bullet slashed through the air, invisible to the naked eye. But the bottle still stood intact.
The black thug started laughing loudly, "Is that all you got? Stupid cracker thinks he can shoot!"
"That's not where I was aiming." Joey casually states.
The black thug scoffs at what Joey said, "What you talkin' bout, gonna make excuses n–"
He stops, eyes transfixed on a certain man. The man, wearing a white bandana over his bald head, was sitting a few feet farther from the bottle where all had their eyes on. But to everyone's astonishment, this man had another bottle in his hand. Only, half of it remained while broken pieces of glass lay scattered on the ground. The bottle was partly raised, about to be drunk upon by the man holding it. Now he just stood there like a deer caught in the headlights.
The black thug didn't move one bit, still stunned. One of the other thugs leaned over to him, "Hey, Z. I-I think this guy's the real deal."
The thug called Z seemingly snapped out of his trance, turned to Joey looking as if he'd seen a ghost.
"H-Hey… someone call Jake!" Z addressed the crowd of hooligans behind him. "Come on, someone get him out here now!"
It didn't take a long time before the man known as Jake the Snake turned up. Even though they've never seen him before, the two kind of sensed that this man was him, leading a pack of thugs right behind.
The funny thing was this man looked as bland as anyone they've ever seen. He didn't look all that imposing, being far shorter than most of the people here. His skin was pale white and had an unassuming face. He could've been mistaken for a mailman if it wasn't for the AK-47 he was holding, or rather that might've been a more conceivable thing.
Nevertheless, their hunch was right as he made his way to them.
"You must be Joey, LaSalle's former right hand man." Jake said, even his voice sounded unassuming.
"I am. And you must be Jake the Snake." Joey responded right back.
"Let's get to the point." Jake tells them. "Like that lawyer informed you, we're not taking any sides here. I don't know about you but we don't owe anything to LaSalle."
Jake pauses for a second. "But, it doesn't mean we won't join sides."
"So what are you aiming at?"
"It's pretty simple. When we were with LaSalle we never got the credit everyone else got. We were always considered under him in the pecking order. So, now… we want thing to change."
Jake looks at him intently. He might not look much but this guy was definitely serious, Joey thought.
"So you guys want to be promoted or something?
"More like a partnership." Jake corrects him. "And there's also one more thing. There's a certain guy I want, he killed my brother. I wanted to kill the son of a bitch myself, but one of LaSalle's cocksucking friends, that Mahoney, had been protecting the guy."
Joey started to realize why Jake was explicitly demanding that first stipulation. Jake continued.
"If you can assure me that you'll bring me this guy's head alive after all this… then you've got me and my men on board."
Joey didn't even need to think it over. As long as they'll keep their word, he would've chased the man Jake was hunting for to the ends of the earth.
"You'll get your guy on a silver platter." Joey declares.
Jake smiles at those words and reaches out his hand. But before Joey could do the same, Frank interrupts.
"Wait, wait. Hold on there! How do we even know that we can trust you?" Frank says, casting a suspicious look. "Your name is called a snake for fuck's sake! For all we know you might go shooting us in the back the second we turn around!"
Joey was about to say something to him, but Jake responds first.
"You think I'm gonna stab you in the back because of my nickname? They don't call me that because of what you think."
"Then what is it?" Frank demanded to know.
"It's cause of my long dick." Jake outright says, no hint of embarrassment or even an indication of being boastful. Just his way of saying it as it was.
Frank's zeal suddenly disappeared. He paused, realizing that convincing rationality.
"Oh… …that makes sense." And Frank ends his case with that.
Everything was set for Joey's newly formed group. They had the firepower and the numbers now to take on the rest of their job. Their next target was Mickey Caldwell. Based on the information Smithy gave, Caldwell could have been considered as something of a company man. Having been with the organization for a very long time now; well past even Joey's reign as boss.
He and Joey had met a couple of times, all of them during his stint as LaSalle's right hand man then. From his interactions with the man, Joey summed up Caldwell as someone who gave up on trying anything else and pretty much consigned to what he'd been doing ever since.
Although LaSalle did promote him to a higher status, borne out of indifference most probably, he never really thought of him that much either. Nor did he appear to have any leadership qualities, or anything that could possibly make him stand out in the slightest. No, Caldwell was just the guy who was there long enough to have mistaken the notion of being a veteran as experience.
Joey thought that there could still be a chance to persuade Mickey, and if the opportunity presented itself he would try. But if he couldn't do so, at least now they had enough backing to be able to take groups like them down. Still, he hoped to convince him first more than anything else. He kind of felt sympathetic for the guy.
Unfortunately, Joey's hopes of convincing Mickey didn't turn out the way he wanted. As it turns out, he didn't need to. Joey stared despondently at the man who was once known as Mickey Caldwell lay sprawled on the ground, a gaping bullet hole left on the side of his head. Along with him were countless bodies lined up next to each other, not a single one breathing. This wasn't just a simple attack; this was a public execution…