More notes at the end
Houston PD Building
Major Crimes Division
"Excuse me, sir?" A brown haired, pimple faced, tall teenager walked inside the major Crimes Division of the Houston Police Department Building and tried to get the attention of a blond man walking-by.
"Yeah?" the man glanced up from the paper he was reading while walking.
"Uh.. yeah.. uh... I lookin for.. uh.. is there a Sergeant..." he read from a card, "Johnny.. Lafarmia here?"
Five or six guys laughed as Sergeant Levon Lundy pointed to his Italian partner on the left. "Sure, there he is." he chuckled, "Hey LaFarmia!" he called.
An un-amused dark haired, handsome man stood up from his desk and approached the door, shaking his head. "Ha, ha.. very funny" he addressed the young, confused boy, "Its Joey La Fiamma" he corrected. "What is it, kid?"
"Oh, heres some letters for you, they arrived by mistake to the Homicide division and they sentem up here to you."
Joey took a bunch of colored envelopes from the young mans hand, "Thanks kid." The boy departed and Joey walked back to his desk, examining the envelopes closely.
They looked like Valentines.
He grunted. It had been a very boring day. Amazingly enough there were no pressing cases, no paperwork, not even a half-finished crossword to keep the detectives busy. It was as if crime had taken a day off! Odd, huh?
Sergeant Joe Bill McCandless stretched on his chair and took his booted feet off the desk. "So, what you got there, Johnny?"
"Cut it out, McCandless," Joey shook his head, "its none of your business."
"Come on, LaFarmia," Sergeant Esteban Gutierrez stood behind his Italian friend and tried to see what the envelopes contained. "More bills? News from Chicago? Youve been drafted?"
"Do I peek on your correspondence, Gutierrez?" Joey yelled.
"Yes, you do."
"Well... its not polite," Joe smiled and opened the first letter only to regret it the same instant. "Oh, man!" he groaned. He would never hear the end of it now.
"Hey," Esteban exclaimed, "Its a pink bunny!"
"What?" McCandless stood up and swiftly grabbed all the envelopes from Joeys hand while the Chicago native tried to recover his pink bunny from the quick Mexican behind him.
Levon Lundy laughed out loud from his desk. This boring afternoon could turn out to be fun, after all! Joe Bill tossed him half the letters and opened another one.
"Hey!" Joey yelled, half amused himself, "Thats a federal offense."
"The pink bunny is a federal offense? I dont think its as serous as this Blue Teddy bear." Joe Bill laughed, dodging Joes hand.
"Opening other peoples mail is the crime." Joe yelled again. "I could arrest you for that."
"You should arrest whoever wrote this poem." Esteban said from behind, "Listen to this: Officer Joey, oh, Joey, youre the one for me, youre my ecstasy, youre the one I need. Signed, Nicole."
"Wooooohhh,... Nicooooole," someone in the back office teased.
"Hmm... Aint that from some song?" Levon asked.
"Arent you going to help me, Lundy?" Joey asked him as he struggled with McCandless trying to get the envelopes back.
"Hhmm... nope, dont think so, Romeo."
"Some partner." Joey grunted.
"I dont see no gun pointed at your ear, Officer Joey," Levon laughed as he read a second poem from a rainbow colored card, "I see heaven when I look in your eyes, (oh, Lordie!) I know that you are the one for me, you drive me crazy cause youre one of a kind, I want your love baby, and I want it right NOW! Love, Sam."
"OH, demanding, aint she?" Joe Bill laughed.
"You know, now that you mention it... I think that IS from a song." Joey stopped struggling and scratched his head.
"You are my fire, the one desire, believe when I say... I want you, my way! Signed: Brooke." Joe Bill read a heart covered green turtle. "Hey, these women are stealing pop lyrics!"
"This ones from Caaaarmen." Lundy announced.
"Wwwwooooooh!" someone shouted again from the water cooler.
"I can't control it anymore, I've never felt like this before, you really make me lose my head, my hungry heart must be fed. Baby it's the way you make me kinda get me go crazy, never wanna stop...."
"It's gotta be you (uh huh, uh huh)..." Levon, Joe Bill and three more detectives started singing the original plagiarized song in unison.
"That's like the Backstreet Boys, duude" someone commented from the meeting room.
"Okay, okay, thats enough!" Joey shouted, irritated, but the smile he had been trying to hide finally won and he started chuckling.
"What's wrong with today's girls. You'd think they coulda had sense enough to steal Country lyrics instead," Levon said.
"Thank God for small miracles," Joey grinned.
"Nicole? Sam? Brooke? Carmen?" Esteban asked, "All of these women want you, La Fiamma?"
"Blind, aint they?" yet another cop commented from a side cubicle.
"Well..." Joey smiled, ignoring the teasing, "Italian charm is a curse sometimes, and women do know the good stuff when they see it, Gutierrez, Im powerless... What do you want me to do about it?"
"Pass their phone numbers thats what." Esteban shot back, smiling.
"Who ARE these girls, La Fiamma?" McCandless sat back down. "And why aint we heard nothing from them before?"
Joe shook his head, let out a loud sigh and finally confessed: "I have no idea."
"Yeah, right!" Esteban and Joe Bill said at the same time. "You just dont want to share." Joe Bill added.
Levon had been quiet for some time, trying to remember where he had heard those names before. He knew they were familiar... Nicole, Brooke, Sam... Carmen... He slapped his leg as it hit him, "Oh, oh, I know who they are!"
"We metem last week, remember 'La Farmia'?" he teased his partner a little more... he knew this would be even more embarrassing... "On Thursday morning? Hmmm? Partner?"
Joey remembered. Last week? Thursday? "What are you talking abou...OH, NO!"
"Oh, yeeah!" Levon smiled.
The truth reached his Chicago-Italian brain. Bam! That high school talk. Career Day. Officer Joey.. Of course! They were those teenage girls with the way-too-short-for-teenagers miniskirts. Damn! he thought. Please, oh please I beg you, Lundy! he silently pleaded with blue eyes to his teasing partner. Dont say it, not to THIS crowd
Levon laughed at his partners desperate face. Yep, this afternoon was turning out to be fun, all right.
"Who are they, Lundy?" The water cooler voice shouted again.
"Yeah, who?" Esteban laughed.
"Please, Lundy," Joe was almost on his knees.
Levon kept laughing.
"Ill give you 10 bucks." Joe tried.
"Only ten?" Levon kept laughed even more.
"Ill give you 20!" Joe Bill offered.
"Ill buy you dinner!" Joey tried again.
"I dont take bribes." Lundy shook his head. "But in this case... hmmm" he scratched his head... "Okay."
Everyone complained, loudly. "Lundy!"
"Youll buy me dinner the whole week."
"Wiseguy," Joey crossed his arms again.
"And..." Levon shook his head, smiling mischievously, "youll sit there quietly and listen to all of these while I read'em out loud." he wiggled the envelopes.
Joey grunted, silently pouted and finally leaned on the wall and closed his eyes, his own laughter about to win him over. "Fine." he accepted.
Joe Bill shook his own Texan head. "Thats not fair, I wanted to know!"
"Tough luck, Cowboy." Joey grinned.
"Ok, listen to this one," Esteban read out loud, "Turning and returning, to some secret place inside, watching in slow motion as you turn my way and say: Take my breath away."
"Thats from a BAD movie!" someone said.
"Its not THAT bad." Joey replied, shaking his head, "is it?"
"It is," said Levon.
"Wait, its signed: Harry!"
A sudden moment of silence was broken by a bigger explosion of general laughter.
An embarrassed Joey chuckled again and finally joined in.
"Ill read... and Ill read... until I make you blush tomato red, La Fiamma." Levon said opening a red envelope.
"You dont scare me, Lundy," Joey smiled, "You forget I know Italian payback."
"Uuuuhuh," the disbelieving Levon mock-grunted in Texas style and took out another Valentine. "Heres a big red heart with your name on it."
"Oh, what the hell!" Joey threw his arms and gave up.
"Oh, this is weeird," Levon scratched his head while he read, "listen to this:
You've lost your job,
You've lost your dough,
Your jewels and handsome houses.
But things could be worse, you know,
At least you have your trousers.
See you tomorrow, Junior."
Levon smiled at the strange words but his smile died when Joeys face drained of all color.
The afternoon had stopped being amusing.
"What?" Joey stood straight and grabbed the heart shaped card from Lundys hand. "Oh, God... I dont believe it!"
"Whats up?" McCandless asked.
La Fiamma ignored him and started pacing the floor, his surprise quickly being replaced by anger.
"Damn it!" he exclaimed, reading the card over and over again. "Why me? Im not even there anymore! Hell! Im not even part of the family anymore! Im exiled, Im alone, whats the point?" he kept asking to no one in particular.
"What is going on, La Fiamma?" Gutierrez took a turn to ask.
He was ignored as well. Joey kept pacing, his mind in turmoil, until reached the bullpen door. He stopped, his forehead touched the glass, his heart constricted in frustration and he closed his eyes trying to push away the fear and anger. "Why?" was the only word in his mind. "Why me?" he asked silently.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. The comforting touch brought him back to reality. He hadnt noticed the deadly silence that had overcome the room. "Joe?" Lundy questioned his partner.
Joey looked at his partner with frightened, blue, shiny eyes. He could keep this thing inside and let it kill him, or he could trust his friend. It made little difference... his future was decided. There were some odds you just couldnt beat.
He took a deep breath and lowered his gaze. "Its... Its a death sentence, Lundy," he looked up and stared at his best friend with the deepest sorrow, "this card means that before midnight tomorrow Ill be dead."
Levon was speechless.
"What?" McCandless asked from behind them.
Joey waved away the obvious next question, unable to just stand there. He put the card in Lundys hand, pushed the door open and walked out. "I need some air."
Two hours later, Joe La Fiamma returned to the Major Crimes Bullpen. Lundy, McCandless and Gutierrez had been patiently waiting for the Italian to come back and explain. Lieutenant Joanne Beaumont, and Annie Hartung were there as well. Otherwise, the place was deserted.
Joey frowned at the sight of his worried friends. How would this end? What would he do? He had been asking himself these and a hundred more questions for the last couple of hours without being able to answer even one. The Valentine card! Damn! This, he had never anticipated. He had never imagined. It was one of those things you think happen to other people... but not to you. Still, now that it had happened Joey was lost, confused and most of all, he was genuinely frightened. He didnt want to die. Not anymore, anyway.
"You okay, La Fiamma?"
Lundy. His friend. His partner. How would he explain this to him? How would he take it? How much would he believe? What could he say?
"Hey, Joe," Levon was sitting on the edge of his desk. "take your time, buddy."
Joey glanced at his friends. All of them were worried, all of them were silent... but all of them were here for him, ready to help him. They couldnt possibly imagine how futile it would be. What could he tell them?
The truth. They all deserved the truth. Nothing else was important.
Joey sat on the nearest chair and stared at Lundys eyes, they reflected his own fear. Damn! Why did this have to happen? He didnt want his friends to go through this! A heavy feeling of anxiety crawled up to his heart again. Okay, settle down, Joe! He thought. No use losing your cool again! He took a deep breath and concentrated on a logical explanation. He finally found one and started speaking.
"It all began on February 14th, 1929," he said, "Seven men were shot point-blank inside a garage in Chicago, by a hit squad disguised as cops." He stopped and lowered his gaze.
No one talked.
Levon watched his partner turn into a storyteller. Although two seconds ago Joey had been confused and scared, he now kept a cool, even voice while he talked. It was strange, as if Joey was under a spell.
The young Italian continued. "This brutal murder was planned by the famous Al Capone. The same you hear about on TV and the movies. He put a hit on a guy he was growing tired of, a Gangster named George "Bugs" Moran. To do that he got the help of some friends from Detroit, a set of worthless killers and a brain known as "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn. Together, they plotted this thing... It was really bad... and very sick."
Joey took a moment to breathe and tried to summarize the story of the brutal massacre that was going to mean his own death.
"On that Valentines day morning, Capone knew where Moran was gonna be. He got a gangster from Detroit set up a deal with Moran for some hijacked liquor. Moran accepted and arranged to take possession at a garage at 2122 North Clark Street. Then, Capone and his guys "acquired" a police paddy wagon and some cop uniforms. Imagine that!..." He crossed his arms and looked outside, "So then these guys... the hit men... pulled up to the front of the garage and charged out and in to the building just as the police would have in a routine raid."
"Inside the garage there were seven men, six members of Morans gang and one poor bastard who picked the wrong day to be there. An optometrist named Dr. Reinhardt Schwimmer."
"Oh, no." Annie was horrified.
Joe continued. "They had all seven men stand up and face the wall and instead of patting them down for guns, they opened fire on them with sub-machine guns. Of course no one survived." Joey sighed, looking out the window looking for reassurance in the sunset painted clouds. "The funny thing is that the target of this hit was "Bugs" Moran, and he hadnt arrived yet when the murder took place. He was late."
"Thats not all, now, is it, partner?" Lundy asked.
Joey ran a hand through his dark hair. "No. Its not." He put his hands inside his pockets and leaned back on the wall, staring at the cold floor. "This... murder... it was a very famous hit." He continued, "You may have heard about it. Its known as the Valentines day Massacre. Everyone inside and outside the Mob knows about it, Movies have been made, books have been written... people talk about it. But no one talks about the rest of it."
"The rest of it?" Lundys voice was soft.
"What everyone at the Mob knows... but no one talks about... comes right after. "Bugs" Moran knew all about the Valentines Hit. He knew who had done it, he knew about the involvement of "Machine Gun" McGurn, there were also other suspects like 'Joe Batters' Accardo, 'Shotgun' Ziegler, Claude Maddox and others from the hit squad "Murder Inc." from Brooklyn. He didnt care much for them... he wanted McGurn. So he called upon a man he knew would help... a guy named Johnny Binx. A man who had a big grudge... because his uncle Reindhadrt had been murdered."
"The optometrist!" Carol said.
"Thats right," Joe continued, "an innocent victim, and the reason for more than 50 years of bloodshed."
"Well, when Capone was imprisoned, "Machine Gun" McGurn started losing popularity as a hit man. Even when he and his thugs made murder history, he was not a loved character within the families. And, of course, "Bugs" Moran never forgot the debt this guy owed him. McGurn turned to drugs and that was not an activity condoned by the Chicago Mob. Finally, in 1936 "Machine Gun" was shot down in a bowling alley. They dont know who did it. The two "friends" he had arrived with were part of the hit squad, but no one knows anything about it. Some say it was Moran, some say it was someone from Capones Mob... some say it was his ex wife... but everyone in the Mob knows the truth... it was Johnny Binx."
"What does it have to do with your Valentine card?" Esteban asked for everyone.
Joey shook his head. "Well... McGurns body was found lying on the floor, in his hand he had a nickel. There was also a valentine card in his possession. It read the same weird words you read to me a couple of hours ago. That same message has been delivered to each victim every year. Always one day before, always on a Valentine card."
"Like that one." Joe Bill pointed at the heart shaped card in a plastic bag on Levons desk.
"Yeah, like that one," Joey sighed again, his frustration growing steadily inside him. "The day McGurn was killed, a terrible tradition was born. "Bugs" Moran didnt know it, but Binx was crazy... crazy like a fox... and he held a big grudge towards the Mob and everything it represented. He decided to continue killing mobsters until his thirst for revenge was quenched. Of course, that never happened." Joe looked up, anger in his eyes, "Ever since... every February 14th, someone killed a member of one of the families. Always the same: one shot, straight through the heart."
"No one knows for sure who does it. Binx disappeared shortly after McGurn died, but the word on the street pointed to him... all the time, but the killer has never been seen... there have been no suspects... ever! Yet, the murders are always the same... one guy, from a Mob related family gets a Valentine, next day, boom, hes laying face up on a floor with a nickel on his right hand."
"Just like McGurn."
"Thats right. And the killings have become more and more sophisticated throughout the years... and the victims stopped being only members of the mob... now they pick anyone... from a firstborn son at school, to an old aunt watching TV... to an exiled nephew... all the way in Houston Texas."
"But... thats not possible!" Levon exclaimed. "That Binx guy must be about 100 years old by now!"
"Actually, hes dead, Lundy. On Christmas day 1975, my uncle came and told us hed been found in New York City, with his brains blown out, but we all know that this St. Valentines Death thing has become a "family" tradition. Someone... a priest from Brooklyn said once that Binxs son, Charlie Binx apparently had taken over the yearly sport even before Johnny Binx was killed. He also seemed to get better at it all the time! Once, he did a guy INSIDE the White House, right in the middle of a Valentines day party. Then, about twelve years ago, the word on the street was that he was training his own son, Joshua Binx. He was the one who killed a man inside his grave."
"Long story." Joey sat on a nearby chair and rubbed his eyes, sighing again.
"Damn!" Someone exclaimed.
A short silence gave way to a feminine, decisive voice.
"This cant be!" Joanne stood up. "We wont let it happen, well put you under police protection and well get this guy! I wont let this happen, not in my watch! Not to you!"
Joey looked up, surprised at the sudden explosion. His lieutenant was also his friend, but she always stayed in control, it was not like her to lose it like that. "Lieutenant, " he said sadly, "Its no use. Dont you think theyve tried it? Everyone gets the warning... everyone spends thousands of dollars in protection as well as police involvement... they even make even deals... no use... the Valentines killer always gets them in the end. There hasnt been one survivor in over fifty years! Not one!"
"Not one?" Joe Bill asked.
Another long moment of silence reigned inside the bullpen before the true meaning of the tale finally downed on them. Joey lowered his head.
Someone, at last, spoke up and voiced everyones feelings. "Oh my God!" Annie Hartung grabbed the cross around her neck. "Joey!"
Joe La Fiamma closed his blue eyes and tried to ease the pressure inside his chest. Lundy did the same.
Levon watched the starry night sky through Joannes office window.
In all the time hed known Joey, Levon had never seen so much darkness and helplessness in those blue eyes. Not even in Joeys darkest moments... not even when he felt the worst. It was as if this time Joey was trapped, tied up to a railway knowing that the train was coming... knowing that no one would untie him. Hopeless. Defeated.
He didnt like this. He didnt like it one bit.
A killer from the thirties... a long list of corpses... a "family" tradition... a bad poem on a Valentine card. St. Valentines day would never be the same for him after tonight. And to think this all had started with a bunch of teenagers in love. Jeez! Why did La Fiamma have to attract so much trouble all the time? Hadnt they enough with the constant crime spree in Houston? Didnt they worry enough? Why did these things have to happen? Couldnt they have some peace for five minutes?
Levon refused to let a phantom killer take away his own hope... and his partner. He had to convince Joey that not everything was lost... that there had to be something they could do... that this guy didnt have the right to kill at random like that... it was not about tradition, it was about murder and they were police officers! It was their job! This had to stop somewhere... might as well be in Houston, Texas.
Lundy made up his mind. He had to convince Joey. After all, every time they worked together, they could grab the devil himself by the horns! By God, if this Binx guy was undefeated, it was because he hadnt been faced with Levon Lundy and Joe La Fiamma.
And it was time Joe understood that.
With these thoughts in mind, Levon walked out of the office to find his partner. There was so much to do... so little time.
"The first thing Im gonna do it get you a bulletproof vest La Fiamma!"
"A bulletproof vest is not going to make any difference, Lundy!"
"Will you just put it on, La Fiamma?"
Levon and Joe were arguing... again... inside the locker room at Reisner HPD Building. Lundy had spent the better part of an hour trying to convince his stubborn partner to wear a bulletproof vest. It was almost midnight.
"Lundy!" Joe kept arguing, leaning against a locker, rubbing his very tired eyes, "One out of every three victims has been wearing a bulletproof vest since the thing was invented. Dont you think he knows Ill be wearing one? No use, Lundy... the guys ammo is too powerful!"
"Wear two then!"
Joey glared at his Texan partner. "Lundy!"
"Fine, then! Dont wear anything!" Levon exclaimed. "I was just tryin to help you, La Fiamma! Dont you get it through your thick, Italian head? I dont want you to die! I aint gonna let you give up, just like that! Yhear? Im here to fight this hombre, and its your choice if you wanna fight beside me... or just stand there and watch! But I assure you, La Fiamma, if this guy wants to off you, I aint gonna make it easy for him! I guaran-damn-tee you I aint!"
Joey stared at his friend, speechless. He rarely heard that many words come out of Lundys mouth all at once. La Fiamma looked into those Cowboy eyes and tried to read behind them. There was his own anger and fear in there, there was also frustration, pain and worry... but there was also that damn Texan stubbornness hed first hated, then tolerated and finally grown to admire. A silent determination that turned this man into a deadly opponent. The kind of derisiveness that made Levon Lundy what he was: a hard core hero. A dangerous hard core hero.
Joey smiled without noticing as he found what hed been looking for, the courage he needed to get through the next 24 hours. And he found it in his best friends soul. "All right," he accepted, "Ill wear the vest... and youll wear one too."
"I aint the one whos gonna..."
"I know that! I also know you, Levon Lundy. I know I wont be able to get rid of your lovely company all day long! But bullets travel, Cowboy... they hit people, sometimes the wrong people! Thats why the term "Innocent Bystander" was invented. You wear the damn thing or no deal!"
"Fine!" said the Texan.
"Fine!" repeated the Italian.
The two Houston knights donned their respective armors and sat on a near bench.
"Now what?" Joey asked.
"You tell me." Levon said. "You know this guy better than I do."
"Well get some sleep." Joey decided.
"Hell find us in a second!"
"He wont hit until the sun is up."
"How do you know that, la Fiamma? For all we know..."
"Exactly!" Joe interrupted. "As you said before... I know this dude. He wont strike until hes ready. Trust me."
Joey stood up and glanced at the open door. "Its midnight."
Levon checked his watch. It was midnight exactly. "How did you know?"
"I know." Joey sighed. "The game has begun"
Levon adjusted his hat, stood and started walking towards the exit. "Well win this game, La Fiamma!"
Joey nodded, still unconvinced. "Wed better, after that speech you gave me. We win... or Ill never speak to you again!"
At six a.m., Joey and Levon entered the office, ready for action. None of them had slept much, but they were not tired. Joanne was already there, and the protection team was ready. The plan was simple. Go to a safe-house, be there for an hour, go to another safe-house, stay for another hour or so and keep moving like that throughout the day. Not one policeman outside the current group knew the plan. The location of the safe-houses would be revealed to them a few minutes before the move, and that list of places was untraceable, because Joanne would make it up as they went. No papers, no radio communications, no phone calls. They would leave and not come back until 12:00 am, when the dreaded St. Valentines day was over.
When Joey was safe.
After a few last minute updates, the group left for the first safe house. Only McCandless, Gutierrez and Sergeant Matt Mitchell were in the group. There were also three SWAT team members: Lieutenant Mike Killian, Sergeant Leo Johnson and Sergeant Sam Sanchez. They were all old friends of Joanne and Lundy. They were the only ones they would trust. Carol would stay in Joannes office minding the store and Annie would cover their absence with the rest of the police department. Chicken would put out the word that they were escorting a prisoner all the way to Dallas. And Jimmy "The Creature", Joeys old friend from Chicago and now trusted snitch, would let Chicken know if anything happened on the street.
It was a good operation. Nothing should go wrong. Of course, Joey knew something "would"... but he didnt say anything. The whole thing... the way everyone cooperated, the way they had pulled their resources and come up with the plan... the way they had all chipped in and showed up, ready to help, ready to fight for Joeys life, by his side... that whole thing had touched him... deeply.
He felt loved. He felt like he belonged.
It was almost surely his last day on Earth, but it was a good day...
"A good day to die." He whispered.
"No way, Jose" Lundys voice sounded right beside him inside the black Mercedes they had taken out from impound. "Youll see."
Joey didnt answer. He was unsure. He didnt know how to proceed, what to do. The guy had killed so many... the guy had never missed.
"Lundy," Joe kept watching the road. "Im thinking something..."
"What is it, boy?"
"How did he know I would open that card yesterday?"
Levon said nothing. He pulled over the nearest corner, got out and headed for a public phone. Joannes car stopped right behind them and a very angry Lieutenant got out to yell at Lundy. The blond man said something to his volatile former partner and she cooled down. He made a call and got back in the car.
"Well, that was stupid." Joe commented.
"I know." Levon admitted, pulling back to the main street.
"Was it worth it?"
Seven hours had passed. No attempts had been made on La Fiamma.
The team had switched locations five times already and so far they had not seen anyone suspicious, nothing out of the ordinary and no surprises. It was going very well.
Of course, La Fiamma started to worry.
Joanne and Levon were making sandwiches in the kitchen of the two-story house in the middle of one of Houstons richest suburbs. Three men guarded the house from windows and doors. Three other men guarded Joey. The early afternoon was warm and sunny.
"So, La Fiamma," Matt asked, checking his gun for the tenth time, "If you could choose...Where would you like to be right now?"
Joey thought about it, "A minefield." He finally said.
"I would like to be locked up inside a shack in the middle of the woods surrounded by mines. Live ones."
"So if the bastard comes to kill me at least it will be difficult. He could trip on one of my mines before he kills me. I would enjoy that. It would be a painful experience for him."
"Youre full of it, La Fiamma."
Joey managed a small chuckle.
"Maybe he wont come." McCandless smiled, opening a can of soda sitting on the houses red and brown couch.
"He will." Joey said, sitting by the dining table, absently playing with the small cross Annie had given him that morning.
"How are you so sure, La Fiamma? Maybe he really doesnt know where you are! Maybe hes not as good as you think! Maybe you have a chance! Cant you even give that a tiny bit of consideration? Do you HAVE to be that negative?" The Texan exclaimed, tired of the pessimism around him.
Joey looked at his friend, realizing the truth. These guys didnt know anything. They were here driven by friendship alone. They didnt know...
"McCandless... do you have any idea who youre dealing with?"
"Yeah... yeah... you told us. The son of the son of this invincible killer who aint missed one hit. I know! But what if the grandson is not as good as Dad and Grandpa? What if he IS bound to be defeated? Havent you even thought about that?"
La Fiamma shook his head, unable to put into words the horrors he knew about. What was the point? They wouldnt get it. Nothing he could say would make these guys change their minds!
"Tell us." Gutierrez said from the sofa.
"What?" Joey sighed.
"Tell us who we are dealing with!"
"Whats the point?"
"Well, I dont know about you, but I always want to know what kind of hijo de su madre Im facing! I need to know what to expect, otherwise Im putting myself in more danger than I need to... right?" he gave his own partner a scornful look.
"Right." Joe Bill caved in.
"I want to know." Killian said from his post at the door.
"Me too." Mitchell agreed.
Joey sighed. How could he let them see?
"How did he do a guy inside his grave?" Gutierrez asked again.
Joey raised an eyebrow, remembering the scariest story he had heard as a boy on Halloween. "Gino Gambino. A member of the most famous family in Chicago... he got his Valentine card 1957. The man instantly came up with a plan. He faked a heart attack and had his family make a big deal out of it. His sons organized a big funeral and hid him inside the family crypt. Needless to say Binx found him and shot him before midnight. How? Nobody knew, but they made up this story about ghosts and corpses raising from the dead. Then about ten years ago Marco Gambino, Ginos nephew got the card. Gambino decided to fake his death too but this time he took care of every detail, from the doctors testimony to his own burial. He played the Juliet card..."
"He took a chemical substance to appear dead. Nobody knew the truth except his mother, his wife, his brother and his cousin Jack. They put Marco inside the casket with an oxygen tank and buried the guy for real. They got a 24-hour watch on the gravesite and concealed the true location with a fake one. At 12:00 am sharp, Jack Gambino got a phone call. The guy identified himself as Joshua Binx and wished jack a happy Valentines day. Jack wouldnt play the game... he doubted, but decided to risk it and get on with the original plan. They didnt get Marco out until the next day."
"He was dead?"
"Nobody knows what happened, how Binx did it. The Coroner said that Marco had died sometime before eleven p.m. the previous night. The air remaining inside the tank confirmed it. They found him inside the sealed casket... shot through the heart... with a nickel in his right hand."
"Jeez!" Mitchell exclaimed.
Joey thought about something else. "You see where youre sitting, McCandless?"
Joe Bill jumped, as if hed just been told there was a spider beside him. "What?"
"When I was a rookie I saw one of the victims. He was inside a safe-house on a big couch like that one watching TV. Two cops from the South Side precinct were sitting with him on each side, each one had a big gun ready to fire. They were eating Pizza and Popcorn. Frozen pizza... they didnt ask for take out of any kind and two more cops were by the windows. The movie was very good..."
"And?" Joe Bill knew he wasnt going to like this.
"One minute they are all sitting there, watching a guy save the world in stereo, the next minute their protectee is lying between them, shot through the heart, holding a nickel. Nobody saw anything, nobody heard anything... The South Side cops were perplexed, and so furious. Binx just killed the guy right before his guards, and they never knew when."
"God Damn it!"
Joeys eyes looked for the nearest window instinctively. His own courage was beginning to wane.
Gutierrez stood up. "And this is the same guy whos tracking you?"
"Well then, " the Mexican checked his guns chamber and took position right next to La Fiamma. "We wont take our eyes off you."
"Esteban, thats not the..."
"He wont get to you, La Fiamma... Ill stop him!"
"Me too!" Mitchell repeated.
"Me three!" Lundy said from the kitchen door.
Esteban smiled at his Italian friend. "See? If he wants you hell have to get through me first!"
"But... thats what Im afraid of, Gutierrez!" Joey tried to reason. "I dont want him to kill you too!"
"But Im immortal, Joe!" Esteban smiled, "We all are! Dont you remember?"
"Yeah, right." Joey sat back and sighed again. The waiting was becoming worse than the actual menace.
"At four Oclock someone knocked on the door of the house where they had been for the past half hour. Joey was sitting on the floor with his friends. They had finally convinced him to take it easy and play some poker. Joey was currently losing. Losing BIG TIME"
At the sound of the knock everyone took out a gun and got ready. Sanchez peeked through the doors eye and saw a girl who was apparently selling something. After a couple of minutes she knocked again and when no one answered she gave up and left. Everyone got back to his or her occupations. Johnson, Sanchez and Gutierrez watched the windows, Joanne, Killian and McCandless watched Joey while Levon took turns with Mitchell to survey the small house up and down.
"You know, you could let me win a bit. Consider it my dying wish!" Joey said from behind his cards.
"No chance, La Fiamma. Poker is a sacred game, you cant go playing wrong now, can you?" Joe Bill tossed a card and asked Joanne for another one.
"Think of it this way," Lundy said from the far right. "If you die tonight, you wont have to pay your gambling debts."
"I should be so lucky!" Joey took another card. "I know these two would send a medium to St. Peters gate and collect."
"Well, there you go!" Lundy said, "They wouldnt find you in Heaven now, will they?"
Another knock on the door startled them all. Sanchez peeked through the eye again and saw no one.
"Oh, Shit!" he said in a calmed, deep voice.
He took position beside the door. "It aint nobody!"
Joey took cover behind the sofa and Lundy covered him. Everyone stood ready. Another knock on the door, again nobody in sight. Killian swore under his breath and searched the front yard through the window. Nothing.
A long minute passed by. The house had become as dead as a graveyard.
This time, Sanchez and Johnson switched places as McCandless covered the back door. They looked out the other windows looking for some movement. No luck. It was as if the person who was knocking was invisible.
They had to do something. "Who is it?" Joanne asked from the living room.
"Beat it!" she shouted. "I dont want no company!"
Joey kneeled behind the sofa, the wall behind him, holding the small cross he kept growing more and more anxious. The whole house seemed like a mousetrap right now, and he was the cheese... or the mouse, it all depended.
A sound on the roof made them all jump. Lundy froze beside his partner. No way would he move from this spot.
Another sound upstairs, then footsteps.
Wait a minute...
A yell was suddenly cut off by a muffled sound. 10 seconds later the SWAT member who had crawled out the window and climbed to the roof came back dragging his newly bruised prisoner. It was a medium sized man, dark hair, about 30, dressed in brown leather pants and a matching hat.
They entered the house through the back door and Killian let his prisoner fall on a nearby kitchen chair. Five guns immediately were pointed at the intruder as Killian signaled Joey and Levon to stay where they were... You never knew...
"So who are you?" Johnson questioned the man.
"Uh? What? I... I... dont... know... er..."
"You dont know who you are?"
"Many of us have that problem." McCandless commented, "But most of us seek therapy instead of knocking on strange doors and climbing on roofs."
"I.. uh..." the guy kept looking everywhere looking for something... or someone.
Killian approached the now shivering man and held up his high-speed, automatic UZI. "See this? Its a GUN you imbecile! I coulda kill you up there! I still could..."
"No wait!" The man started sweating nervously. He was definitely lost in here. "I just came out here for the shooting..."
Killian smiled and pointed his weapon at the guy. "Well, youre just in time, I see..."
"Nooo!" the guy screamed in terror. "I swear, I just came here for the movie! I didnt know there was someone else here... I... Im.. I have a contract you see? I come here every month. We... I mean I didnt... Oh hell!"
Joey was listening to everything from his hiding place and couldnt help but chuckling a little.
"Something amusing you, La Fiamma?" Lundy whispered, "For all we know he could be Mr. Binx playin dumb!"
"Lundy," Joe shook his head and leaned on the wall, "Dont you remember what this house was used for? Jeez! We heard about that raid! All those women? That movie company?"
Levon thought about it and a small smile crawled all the way up to his handsome face. "Oh, My!"
Joey chuckled again. "Exactly."
"Wait here." Levon came out from his hiding place and entered the kitchen. Sanchez took Levons place beside La Fiamma.
You are an actor? He asked the guy.
The man only nodded, his face growing bright red.
Lundy chuckled. "Joanne... we have ourselves a movie star here. I suggest we kick him out before we have to arrest him for real."
"Arrest? Youre cops?" the man yelled out. "Oh, no!"
"Whats going on?" Killian asked confused.
Joanne smiled as she finally remembered what the information sheet said about this particular house. "Oh, right. The porn studio. You are an actor on those X rated films?"
All except for the so-called actor laughed, relaxing a bit. "Youre a porn star?"
The man defended himself. "For your information, I even get stopped on the street and asked for autographs!" he looked around embarrassed, "And I am an actor! You wouldnt do it in front of a camera and still look convincing! Would you?"
"Youre right about that, amigo!" Killian smiled, grabbing the guy from an arm and leading him towards the basement door.
"What are you doing?" Joanne asked.
"We cant have him running out of here and telling all his movie star friends about us. Hell stay in there until someone comes to let him out, thats the price he will be more than happy to pay to avoid an arrest, right Mr... whats your name?"
"Iron. Richard Iron. They call me..."
"I get the picture." The cop interrupted opening the door. "After you."
"Heres some bread, peanut butter and milk." McCandless handed him a tray, "Enjoy."
"Hey! I have an audition at 10!" Richard shouted from behind the closed door.
"You may not make it!" Killian shouted back. "But it wasnt a good movie anyway."
"You dont know that!"
Lundy shook his head. The day was weird in general, why should this be any different?
Joey sighed from behind the couch. Zero for one and seven more hours to go.
The clouds were painted pink and purple in the Houston warm sunset. Levon watched in silence as the dreadful day came to an end. There had been no further disturbances of the peace as the team changed locations every 45 minutes. They were now inside a 35-story high-rise in downtown Houston, sitting on the carpeted floor of the empty 20th floor apartment.
Joey took out his guns and started loading and cleaning them in silence. Levon studied his friend. It was so weird, the way hed been letting people help him and protect him. In another time he would have shut off from the world and he would have insisted on fighting this battle alone. But no! He was here, he had let the guys help him, he had done everything they asked, he had gone along with every plan and he had not complained. It was so strange.
"Who are you?" Levon asked his partner quietly.
The rest of the team was scattered all over the apartment covering doors and windows. Joanne and McCandless were quietly talking on the other side of the room so Joey and Levon could talk without being interrupted.
"Who are you and what did you do with my partner?"
"Whats up with you, Lundy? Did the hat finally damage your brain?"
"Okay, there you are." Levon smiled. "Its just that youve been acting so strange lately. I wouldnt believe it if someone swore it to me."
Joey went back to the gun cleaning, "What do you mean?"
"Youre awfully quiet and cooperative for a Chicago-Italian yelling machine. Is there something else you aint told me?"
Levon was waiting for the usual "Youre full of it, Lundy!" but got a long silence instead. His fear returned with full force.
"Its nighttime." Joey said.
"I always prayed I wouldnt die while it was dark."
Lundys throat constricted. He couldnt speak.
"I..." Joey continued, "Im not saying I have lost all hope, Lundy, Im just... I..." he kept his gaze on the floor, "I mean, if we failed... I..." he turned away and dropped the cloth he was using, "Hell, I dont know."
Levon took a moment to fight the lump in his throat and tried to come up with something to ease his friends fears. "Joe," he called his partner by his first name, "I wish I could do something..."
"You have done a great deal, my friend," Joey said, turning back to look at the closest thing he had to a brother, "You have kept me alive... not just today but ever since the day we met... and... I will always be grateful to you, for that," Joeys eyes started shining.
The Texan took a deep breath. The words wouldnt flow.
Joeys gaze returned to the carpet. "Its just that... I cant remember what comes after seven."
Levon frowned. What was that? He cleared his throat and spoke, "Joey?" he rubbed his neck, feeling helpless.
"When I was seven... I was in my uncle Mikeys house. It was St. Valentines and there was a big party. My mother forced me to dance with a girl. The daughter of some friends... from California. She was my age, her hair was reddish brown and she was wearing a white dress with pink bows. We were there, on the living room floor, dancing for our mothers, and I asked her name. Before she answered I suddenly saw red spots all over her dress..." Joey stopped and took a deep, anguished breath.
"Right beside us... Julio Bonnetti was dancing with my Aunt Lucia. They were going out together and I had heard he was about to ask for her hand. I saw... his face, growing blank... expressionless, as he fell dead right in front of us. His eyes were so full of fear... he grabbed the girls dress with bloody hands and she screamed and held on to me so tight!..." Joeys eyes were completely soaked by now, "I was so terrified, everyone was screaming and crying... and I was there... staring at the blood... and his eyes... I... I started counting to ten. I did that to calm myself sometimes. She started counting with me... but I got to seven... and I forgot what came next... so I started again... and again... and she counted with me... and I dont know how long we stood there, holding each other, until my mother came to get us."
Levon closed his eyes, imagining the horrible scene.
Joey continued, "That man was scared, Lundy, he was scared out of his mind. I never could remove that stare from my memory... even now I close my eyes and I can see him... falling... laying there... dying! I swore I would never let death scare me so much... and I managed to be strong... but then today... when that guy scared us... I felt... I remembered those eyes... and I forgot what came after seven."
"Joey" Levon exclaimed
"I know... I know... Its just..." Joe rubbed his eyes and became aware of the fast beating of his own heart. "I hate it so much... I hate Binx. I hate the power he has, I hate his father, his grandfather, I... I hate everything about him! And I hate..."
"That he scares you so much."
"I hear you partner."
"I dont want to die like that, Lundy. I dont want him to do to me what his father did to Julio Bonnetti, I dont... want to die like that."
"Well... then dont let him."
"How? How do you stop someone whos never missed a hit?"
"Its night already, La Fiamma... and youre still here."
"Its night already, Levon. Hes getting closer, I can feel it."
"How do you know?"
As if on cue, the room was flooded by a blinding light and then fell into darkness as a figure broke the window and entered the room in a loud crash. Everyone tried to take cover but no one could see well. Joey tried to overcome the feeling of dread and shot at the ceiling. Levon rolled closer to his partner to give him cover and in that instant, a loud BANG broke the silence. The intruder started running towards the door and was intercepted by Johnson. Another shot exploded and Levon fired his gun to the barely visible guy.
A fourth shot flew through the air and another window was broken. A fifth and sixth followed and then something hit the floor... it sounded like a big thing. Joannes voice sounded loud and clear as she was grabbed from the back. Lundy yelled her name. A sharp pain stopped him dead on and he felt that his head was on fire. He stumbled. Joanne screamed.
The door swung open and silence reigned again.
"He took Joanne." Lt. Mike Killians voice filled the dark room. He was applying pressure to a nasty wound on his leg while scanning the area. Two windows were broken. A harness and rope were hanging in front of the windows from the roof 15 stories up. The floor was covered with broken glass and blood.
"The son of a bitch lowered himself to this window from the roof!" Johnson exclaimed, scratching his shorthaired head and looking outside.
"Thats not all... that rifle he dropped, its unlike anything Ive seen before!" McCandless tired voice continued.
"He had night goggles, thats for sure!" Mitchell commented, "And what the hell was that thing he flashed us with? I thought I had gone blind!"
"Damn if I know!" Sanchez said from beside his lieutenant and friend.
"I guess La Fiamma wasnt exaggerating, was he?"
No one answered.
Four of them had been hit, including Killian. McCandless was dressing Gutierrezs arm, Lundy was unconscious on the floor, a bullet had grazed his right temple, and Joey... he had been hit right on the chest. Right on his Italian heart.
The bullet had gone through the first armored vest and was barely stopped by the second. Joey was dazed and in pain, he knew he had at least two ribs broken, but one look at his partners bloody face made him forget everything. His world was frozen. His boss was missing... the natural order of things had been disturbed... why? Well, he was still alive.
Levons head was resting on the floor, beside Joey. There was a trail of blood going out the front door, Joey was praying it wasnt Joannes. Levon stirred and regained consciousness slowly and Joey kept a hand on the mans chest so he wouldnt get up.
"La Fiamma?" he asked unsure, "He missed!" he smiled a bit.
"No he didnt."
Lundys face paled even more, the words making way to his aching brain. "What?" he tried to get up. "You were hit?" Joey pinned him down.
"Yeah, and so were you so stay sill."
"Me? Its a scratch, La Fiamma... but you..."
"I wore two vests."
"An annoying cowboys advice."
Levon smiled, a bit relieved, then Joey delivered the worst news and he wished he was still out cold.
"He took Joanne."
"No!" Levon closed his eyes and clenched his jaw.
"Ill kill him!"
Levon opened his eyes, startled by the sudden change in Joeys voice. He stared at the blue orbs, which reflected the light of the moon. An unreadable shadow clouded the once frightened expression and two tears rolled down the Italian face. Lundy shivered... he felt the strong squeeze on his shoulder and the storm of anger and determination coming from his best friend. "Ill find him, and Ill kill him!" Joey repeated. And right then and there, Lundy knew the bastard had no chance, no chance in hell.
Joe La Fiamma was back, and he was real pissed off.
Two paramedics were carrying out Gutierrez on a gurney. He signaled them to pause for a second and called Joey.
"Hey, La Fiamma," his voice was weakened by the pain, "You all right, amigo?"
"Hey, Im doing way better than you, amigo!" Joeys eyes betrayed a guilty feeling, his friend was lying there, bleeding, all because of him. He lowered his gaze once more.
"Dont even go there!"
"I know what youre thinking, La Fiamma, I can read you like a MAD magazine."
Joey chuckled sadly.
"We were wrong, man," Esteban said, "We failed. We failed... you. Im sorry."
What was this dude saying?
"Did the bullet crawl to your brain, Esteban? You guys saved me!"
The Mexican kept silent and pointed at the two perforated vests by the wall.
Joeys gaze rested on the two armors that had saved his life. He never knew how it happened. Shots flew by, the lights went out, he was trying to draw the killers attention so the others could shoot him and then... he fell backwards. Like an invisible hand pushing his chest back, driving him against the far wall.
The darkness had disoriented him and for a moment he thought someone had tackled him... then an intense pain set his ribs on fire and he knew hed been shot. The rest of it was a blur but one thing was sure... for a moment... for a long moment, Joey had thought hed been killed.
Then the lights came back on and he was still alive.
If this wasnt a second chance then 14 years of Catholic school had gone down the drain.
He looked at his wounded friend lying on the gurney, the paramedics about to take him to the emergency room. His good friend Esteban Gutierrez, the man who had won his respect in the first 48 hours. The man who had made Joey and Levon take one of the biggest risks of their lives to bring a killer to justice. A good friend. A friend who had taken a bullet for Joe.
"You didnt fail, Esteban" he assured the Mexican, "Im alive."
"He got you right in the heart, Joe!"
"He can shoot me all he wants; hell never touch my heart... amigo."
Esteban raised his good hand and Joey took it. "Happy Valentines day."
The gurney was rolled out and Joey stood there, thinking clearly for the first time.
"Hey, La Fiamma,"
Another weakened voice startled him. He turned to his partner who was talking on the phone by the far window. "What?"
"I have something!"
"Its LeRoy Hanson. Our old friend." Levon informed his partner, covering the speaker of the telephone with one hand. "Hes been investigating the school girls all day."
"What, the girls who sent the Valentines?"
"Yeah! What you said this mornin got me thinkin. The boy said that the cards had been delivered to Homicide by mistake. Thats understandable... if youre a teenager from high school... But Binx, he knows you. He knows where to find you, otherwise he wouldnt have flown in on the 20th floor like that. No, he wouldnt have sent his card to the wrong office."
"So, you think he sent it from the school?"
"Uuuhuh," Levon nodded, "I sent LeRoy Hanson to investigate. Besides the fact that he looks like a kid, hes a brain with two feet, so he would find something!"
"He did... hes gone to get a some papers... he says that the girls wrote those cards together, and delivered them personally to..." he got interrupted, "Yeah, LeRoy?" he spoke to the phone.
"Uuuhuh" he nodded.
Joey shook his head.
"Uuuhuh" Levon said again.
Joey crossed his arms.
"Uuuuhhuhh" Levon gave Joey a meaningful look this time.
"What?" Joey whispered, he was growing impatient.
"He says that the girls were writing alone in the classroom... and only their teacher was with them None of them remembered a big red heart shaped card but..."
"They said that they had lunch before they went to the station."
Joey shook his head again, thinking.
"So, LeRoy, you think someone could enter the classroom while... they took the cards with them? So how... uuhuh,"
Joey was suddenly illuminated, "Ask him if he has records on the school personnel."
"He has them with him right now."
"Ask him if theres anyone whos been employed there for less than a year..."
Levon did so.
"You think Binx works at the school?"
"I think hes been watching me for a while... And I remember they wanted us for this career day last week... US... not Mitchell or McGregor, US."
"I think that he planned this from a long time ago... I think..."
"I think I get your point." Lundy interrupted, feeling his headache growing. "LeRoy?..."
"He says that there are five employees that have been less than a year. The Gym teacher..."
"It could be..."
Levon shook his head. "Its a She"
"Three men.. He says wait..."
Lundy and La Fiamma looked at each other expectantly.
"What?" Levon asked to the phone.
"Its the teacher. Its a he, five months in the school... and hes the one who invited us to Career day... his name is... Bartlett, Joshua... Bartlett!"
"Binx!" Both of them exclaimed.
The black Mercedes cruised the streets at high speed, Joey was driving. Levon was still weary from that bullet graze.
"You should be in the Hospital, Lundy!" Joey told his partner... again.
"Ill go straight into the cutest nurses arms as soon as Joanne is safe!" Levon replied... again.
Joey sighed. Hard headed to the last.
"At least wear the bulletproof vest."
"Had it on all day, La Fiamma," Lundy replied, "I aint THAT dumb!"
"Right! So you got two?" Joey yelled, as he usually did.
"Of course I... dont, La Fiamma. I totally forgot!" Levon yelled back.
"Figures. Theres another one in the trunk. I dont want more surprises, Lundy!" Joey pulled up on the curve that would lead them to Joshua Bartletts known address. Lundy grabbed Joeys arm and exclaimed, "Wait!"
Joey stopped the car.
"Hes not home. Hes got a hostage!"
"Right... he needs an empty place."
"He could be anywhere!"
"Lets try the school."
"Its the only thing weve got."
Joey prayed as he drove. God, you gave me a chance. Please give Joanne one too.
Joes guns shined in the moonlight as they circled the "Abraham Lincoln" High School main building. Levon followed his partner close behind, his own gun ready.
They entered through a broken window in the first floor. Joey ducked behind a desk and waved at his partner. "What do you want? The offices or the classrooms?"
Joey shook his head. "Classrooms are mine."
"Fine! Take the classrooms." Levon started heading down the hall.
A few minutes later they reunited by the basement door. They had found nothing. The stairwell down was wide. No lights could be seen beyond, but Joey had a feeling... or rather, an old memory. "Lets check the room behind the furnace."
Levon frowned, "Theres a room in there?"
"All public high schools look kind of the same, Lundy," Joey led the way to a basement and a furnace room, "I used to hide in a little room when I was a kid... to hang out with my friends and later on with Maria Zuko," he grinned mischievously.
Levon shook his head, "I dont wanna know."
"I wouldnt tell you if you did." Joey ducked behind the enormous furnace, "There you go! A door!"
"Well, whatta you know?"
"Thats right." Joey pushed the door inward as silently as he could and peeked inside. It was dark, but a small light let him make out a table, a chair and shadows all around. A muffled sound inside a discarded equipment locker caught his attention. He was instantly trying to open it.
"Help me with this, Lundy!"
They opened the door only to discover... their boss, and friend. Beaten, bruised but alive.
Her hands were tied up with duct tape and her mouth was covered as well. She looked relieved, partly to be rescued, partly because her two friends were alive. She smiled.
"Where is he, Joanne?" Levon said, carefully tearing the duct tape from her mouth.
"Ouch!" she rubbed her mouth. "I dont know. I woke up in there," she nodded to the open locker, "I was quite nervous..." she looked away trying to hide her real fear.
Joey squeezed her shoulder. "Youll be fine, Lieutenant," he said softly, "Ill get him!"
She started to say something but was interrupted by a handsome Italian, tenderly kissing her cheek.
Without wanting to, she blushed. "What was that for?"
"I never thank you enough, Joanne, do I?"
She was oddly speechless, her heart beating 50 miles a minute.
Levon interrupted the sweet moment with a spark of reason. "Shall we continue this at the station? I really dont want to run into the Teacher-from-hell, right now."
"Teacher?" a weary lieutenant asked.
"You take her to safety, Lundy. Ill look for him. Hes got to be here somewhere!"
"Are you out of your alien mind?" Levon couldnt believe it. "Thats just what he wants!"
"And thats just what hell get. Im gonna stop this thing, Lundy! Enough with the killing! Im a police officer! I will end this thing tonight!"
"He can kill you!"
"Fat chance! He had his opportunity, and he missed it! Its my turn now!"
Lundy helped Joanne outside while Joey scanned the deserted hallways in silence. He felt confident. The man could shoot him again, he could fight him, he could do anything he wanted, but he was not going to win. Even if he was killed tonight, he wouldnt go alone. No sir! Too many victims were watching from beyond... he would do it... he would do it for his aunt Lucias broken heart, for the South Side cops wounded pride, for Gino and Marco Gambinos children, for the girl from Californias stained dress... and for his friends blood. Lundys, Gutierrezs and Killians. The blood they had shed protecting him.
He covered inch by inch of the silent, lonely school. Always on the lookout, all five senses alert. He could feel the impending danger as strongly as he had from the very beginning. Binx was here. He knew it.
He entered an open classroom, not making a sound, even with his footsteps. You plan on goin round Houston on those ballet slippers? He remembered Levons words referring to his Armani shoes. Well, those Ballet slippers sure came in handy now! Suddenly, he heard a sound outside. He quickly reached the doorway and saw... what hed expected to see all along.
Lundy, following him.
What are partners for, right?
Then a shadow fell on his partner and everything went to hell.
The gun fell to the floor as Levon struggled with his attacker. Joey cursed and ran out.
"Joe La Fiamma!" Binx said, holding Lundy steady but surrounding his neck with an arm. "Stop it right there or hes dead."
"Binx!" It was the teacher all right. The same guy from that day. They had even been chatting with him for a few minutes... damn!
"Shoot him, La Fiamma!" a hoarse voice came from the tall, blond Texan. "Shootim dead, now!"
"Hes not gonna do that, you idiot!" Binx replied, "Youre his partner. Hes a cop. You do the math!"
"Let him go, Binx. Its over."
"You think?" Binx smiled, "I think not. You see, its not 12:00 oclock yet, so you still have a lot of potential!" he started dragging Levon back, "Ill just exchange this one for your unconditional surrender and well keep on making history, shall we?"
"You lost already, stupid!" Joey pointed his gun straight at the mans head. "I survived your bullet, I came looking for you. You had your chance and you blew it!" he came a step closer. "Now its my turn!"
"You are missing the point...!"
"No!" Joey interrupted, "Actually YOU are!" he came a step closer. "Why are you in this anyway? Your grandfather was in it for revenge, and he was crazy... you father was in it for the experience I guess, and it was logical being Johnnys son... but you? Why are you doing it? Whats your motivation? Why are you really here?"
"You dont know nothing!"
"Youre nothing but a pawn, Joshua," Joey came even closer, "Youre being manipulated by your old man, and you can't think or decide for yourself! Accept it, idiot, youre a marionette, a puppet... a servant."
"Be quiet!" Binx shouted, "You have no idea who youre dealing with!"
"I do!" Joey continued, "Youre a brainless junior boy without the ability to think for yourself, to decide your own moves in life! You are being used and youre not strong enough to face it!"
Levon stared at his partner, whatever he was doing would end up killing them both... or saving them... he didnt want to think about it so he did what he thought was best... he chipped in.
"Youre a moron, boy, you aint man enough to go find yourself a decent job so you go around killin folks just like daddy taught you cause youre a useless slob!"
"Shut up!" Joshua squeezed Levons neck harder and kicked the back of his knee. Joey came closer. Levon shut his eyes grabbing the mans arm, trying to breathe.
"Hes right, airhead, you have no brain of your own, you rely on dad for everything.. or youre going to deny that hes here somewhere, handling the strings?"
"Im a detective, stupid!" Joey raised his second gun to the guys eye level, "there was a trail of blood coming out of the apartment. We hit someone tonight and neither you or my lady friend are bleeding. There was someone else... someone who knew enough to come into a window 20 stories up, even after turning 50... someone who knows more than you! Wheres your father, Joshua?"
The man stood there, holding a gun to Levons head, his eyes unreadable.
"Where... is... your... father? Joshua?"
"Right behind you!"
Lundy opened his eyes and tried to scream as a tall man came at Joey from the back, hitting his injured ribs. Joey let out a cry falling pray to the intense pain. Charlie Binx hit him again, the guns fell out of Joeys hands and he hit the floor, the aching inside his chest making him feel nauseous. Levon took advantage of the moment to elbow Joshua as hard as he could. The man, being distracted, loosened his grip and Levon hit him hard again. They struggled, Joey kicked the already limping Charlie and he cried out.
Levon managed to disarm Joshua, the automatic gun fell near Joeys arm and the Italian made an extreme effort to reach it. Lundy knocked Joshua and he fell, hitting his head hard on the floor, he was instantly out; Levon turned around looking for his gun but Charlie was faster and grabbing one of Joeys guns he pointed it at Levons chest.
Joe, on the other hand, was fast as well, and had managed to retrieve Joshuas weapon, he pointed it at Charlies heart.
They all froze. Charlies deep voice broke the general panting. "You shoot me, Ill shoot your friend right through the heart. I wont miss, not from here... I have lots of experience Joe La Fiamma."
"So," Joey said with effort, ignoring the burning inside his chest, "I wont miss either. I have you right where I want you! How do you know I wont just shoot you?"
"You wont let your friend die. I know you. I have been watching you for 10 months now!"
Levon shivered at the very idea. Surveyed, for 10 months. My God! Shoot him, La Fiamma! Geezlouise, Just shoot the son of a bitch!
"And?" Still lying on the floor, Joey seemed to be growing a little stronger.
Binx went on, "You wont let an innocent die. Youre too Goody shoes... youre too... human... too noble! Its your disadvantage, Junior, your greatest defect... your doom!"
"Are you finished?"
"What? Hit a nerve?"
"Youre saying that, right now, youre willing to bet everything on my humanity? My noble soul?"
"Hes your partner. You wont let him die! You will never forget yourself, just like you never forgave yourself for your previous partner. Accept it now and lower your gun!"
"Youre right!" Joey said.
"Shoot him La Fiamma!" Levons head began bleeding again, his sight got blurry.
"I will kill him with your own gun, Joe, think about it. Think about the nightmares!"
Charlie looked at Joey straight in the eyes, hungry for blood. This one was the real killer. He was the only one who was not just crazy or manipulated... he was the one who really enjoyed the killing. He was the one Joey had been looking for.
"La Fiamma!" Levon steadied himself and glanced at his fallen partner. "Im fine... Kill him now, boy! Take an annoying Cowboys advice!"
Joeys eyes widened.
What was Levon saying?
"If Im gonna be shot, Joey, I want it to be with your gun!"
Joe La Fiamma never took his eyes off Charlie Binx, he aimed the gun in his hand straight to the killers heart and spoke up, spoke from the heart.
"I would have done it in a flash... five hours ago, Binx. But you did something very stupid..."
"I did?" Binx mocked.
"Yeah..." Joey took a deep breath and begged the lord for mercy, "You messed up, Charlie... You say you know me, but you are asking me to lower my weapon and surrender right now, which proves you dont know me at all."
"You wont shoot me!"
"Wrong. You made a big mistake, Charlie... You hunted me... That was fine, Im a big boy... But then you hurt my friends. Thats NOT fine! I wont let you live! You murderer... Im going to stop you! If you shoot that gun in your hand I will kill you!"
"Hes used to it! Its for a good cause."
Binx saw a light flash through those blue eyes. That light filled him with fear. He shoved it away and straightened up. "You wont... you wouldn't!"
"Try me!" Joey's voice was death itself.
Charlie Binx stood before the barrel of the deadliest gun ever created... He stood in front of justice... He knew it right then and there... It was over. He was dead.
But he sure as hell wouldnt go alone... Without thinking twice about it he aimed at Lundys heart and fired. Levon fell back, the bullet hitting his chest right where it was directed. Joey shot his own gun. Charlie Binx received the impact of the bullet right between the eyes. The lights went out for the man who had created an era of terror... His eyes shut down, his heart stopped. He died.
Joey stood up painfully and walked over to his partners still form. His vision was blurry.
Silence was unbearable. He started counting... "One, two, three... four, five, six, seven..."
He stopped, kneeling down beside his friend. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven..."
He stopped again, his hand trembled as he reached for Levons chest, examining the shirt.
"One, two, three, four, five six..."
He touched his partners chest, then his neck, he couldnt feel anything... he was too shaken up.
"Eight." Came the weak hurting voice of his best friend.
Joey closed his eyes, his world coming back to life, and exhaled at last.
"Eight." He repeated.
Lundy sat up painfully and opened his shirt. The bullet was embedded in the bulletproof vest. He passed a finger over the opening.
"Phew!" he said softly.
"You wore two?"
"Yeah... But I took one off and gave it to Joanne, while she waited downstairs."
"Oh my God, Lundy!" Joey grabbed his aching ribs while the idea sank in, "Oh, man, thats so stupid!"
"I know... but I knew what I was doing... It WAS your gun, you know?" Levon glanced at Charlies dead body, "He never had a chance."
Joey lowered his head. "Levon, he could have killed you!"
"Funny!" Levon replied, taking his handcuffs out of his pocket to secure Joshua. "Thats what I was telling YOU downstairs, remember? Thats what Ive been tellin you all night long!"
Joey sighed. "Damn it! Talking to you is pointless."
"Ditto!" The Texan grinned, "Now, are you gonna help me up, La Fiamma or do I have to wake young Joshua for that?"
Joey got up, slowly and gave his partner a helping hand. Levon took it and got up, Joey immediately winced at the pain in his ribcage.
"Oh, dont be such a cry baby, La Fiamma,... youve got worse."
"Your head is bleeding." Joey informed the stubborn man.
"Really? I hadnt noticed. Come on!" he started walking down the empty hall.
Joey followed slowly, "Waste of time!" he mumbled.
"I heard that." Levon grinned again.
Joe grabbed the wall for support and let his fingers travel to the small cross hanging from his neck. He touched it in deep reverence. Thank you! he silently sent upstairs, 'Thank you for everything'
"La Fiamma," Lundy called.
Outside, patrol cars and ambulances began arriving.
"Just in time." Levon commented, reaching the stairwell.
"As usual." Joey finished.
Nobody in Chicago could believe it!" Joey told his partner. They were driving towards Chickens bar and grill. They had taken the day off and they planned to take the whole week. Gutierrez and Killian were released from the hospital that morning and Levons head and ribs were healing. Joey felt wonderful, his broken bones a small price to pay for his friends... and for his own life.
Hed beaten the Valentines Day Killer.
He had actually done it. He still couldnt believe it.
"Why did you tell those reporters I had done all the work?"
Lundys question brought him out of his train of ideas.
"You told the reporters I'd done it."
"Well, you need the publicity, Lundy. Maybe you'll get some women that way. And besides, no one believes it anyway."
Levon didnt say anything as he took a bunch of files and gave them to Joey.
"Open it." Said the Texan.
"Oh my God!" Joey exclaimed.
"Yep. We found it among Binxs things. Hanson moved some connections so that the files were "misplaced" and gave them to me."
"This is... everything about..." he flipped through pages and pages, "everyone!"
"Thats right. Theres all the family secrets and doings of all the low-lives in the Chicago Mob. I thought you'd dosify it to the FBI, or whatever you want to do... no one knows we have it. You could do a lot of damage with that."
"Yeah," Joey thought, "I could also buy my life with it... Heres a bunch of stuff on Scalia!"
"The people who put the contract on you?"
Silence invaded the Jimmys cockpit. Levon pulled into the restaurants parking space.
"Well," Lundy said, turning the engine off, "Happy Valentines Day, La Fiamma!"
Joey sat there, quietly. The immense meaning of what hed received dawning on him.
"La Fiamma?" Levon called.
"Its a lot of power what we have here, Lundy. A lot of power."
"Hanson will have a field day." Joey thought about it for a minute, then took out the Scalia folder.
"Can you... hold on to this for me?"
Lundy stared at his friend. "Hold on to it for you? For.. how long?"
"Until we need it."
"You mean youre not gonna use it?"
"No, not right now. But its nice to finally have an option."
Levon smiled, touched by the confidence his friend had on him, and happy for everything else.
They sat there for a few moments.
"Im glad youre okay, La Fiamma."
"Ditto." Joey smiled.
"You want to send those girls some thank you notes for their valentines?"
"I already did that."
"Really!" Lundy chuckled.
"Levon," Joe stared out the window, his eyes sporting a strange look.
"Thanks, for helping me remember what comes after seven."
Lundy smiled again, showing his white, beautiful teeth. "Any time, partner, any time."
Joey got out of the car.
"Lets go get some ribs!"
"Now youre talkin!"
Additional Notes: Believe it or not, the account of the Valentine's day Massacre is historycally accurate, even the weird poem is real. Spooky huh? Thanks for reading. Say no to drugs. Feed your dog regularly. Get your "R"s at "R"s "R" Us. Save the Planet, it's good Karma.
Write to Killash. It's good karma too.
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copyrighted by Killash, February 14, 2000. Disclaimer:
The characters don't belong to me. (Wish they did!) No profit has been
made from this. I
write for love and fun, not money.
Story copyrighted by Killash, February 14, 2000. Disclaimer: The characters don't belong to me. (Wish they did!) No profit has been made from this. I write for love and fun, not money.