12. Bloody Endings

When the shooting stopped, a small sea of blood covered the floor littered with bodies. McCall burst in the room with Jimmy and Vinny following. "What the bloody hell has happened here?"

"Sweet," Mickey said. He looked down at his leg and noticed blood for the first time. "Okay, could have been smoother." McCall seemed puzzled. Mickey noticed. Mickey turned to see Elise. She lay sideways on the floor. Joey Bonnano kneeled down over her. Mickey turned the gun in his hand towards Joey.

"Put that down, Mickey," McCall instructed.

"Get away from her," Mickey demanded of Joey Bonnano.

"Mickey, don't be absurd. Put the gun down," McCall said.

Mickey saw the number of guns pointed at him. He let the gun loll down and wrap on his finger. McCall was right. Moments earlier, as Joey's thug held a gun to Mickey's head, he also had placed a gun in Mickey's free hand. Mickey, along with Joey and his thugs on both sides of the room, had opened fired on Chow's men. They'd surprised them so much that little fire had been returned.

Mickey limped to Elise's side and collapsed on the floor beside her. On the other side of her, Joey Bonnano kneeled. "Give me a jacket," Joey Bonnano demanded and he was handed one. He covered Elise's torso. Joey cradled Elise's head under his arm and stroked her hair. In a soft voice he said something in Italian to her.

Mickey looked at Elise's face. She was unconscious. Mickey saw Joey's hand covered in blood. "Oh Christ, someone get me a compress of some kind. She's been shot."

Jimmy sprang to action, pulling out a handkerchief for Mickey. A bullet had grazed Elise in the temple. Mickey held the cloth to her head, trying to pinpoint where the bleeding originated.

"Would someone please explain to me exactly what happened here? The plan was to take custody of the hostages and let Mr. Chow leave. What went wrong?" McCall asked as he came close to Mickey to check on his friend.

Mickey whispered up to McCall. "When Joey saw what Chow had done to Elise, he changed the plan. He did the right thing."

"Well, gentlemen, instead of sitting here watching her bleed to death, perhaps you might consider using that helicopter outside to expedite medical treatment," McCall said.

"Take these two and McCall's man. McCall will give me a ride back," Joey said.

"You sure, Mr. B?" one henchman asked.

Joey nodded. He kissed Elise on the forehead, spoke a sentence in Italian to her, then got up and left with McCall.

One of Joey's men picked up Elise and carried her out to the helicopter. Jimmy gave Mickey an arm for support and they followed Elise. As the copter set down at the NYC helipad, ambulances awaited.

Mickey tried to accompany Elise, but the paramedics shut him down. On arrival at Bellevue Trauma Center, Elise and Mickey were kept separate. Mickey's wound was stabilized in triage and he waited for x-rays. Elise disappeared out of E.R. quickly. Jimmy bounced between keeping track of the two patients, giving Mickey updates. "She's up in surgery. No one knows more yet. I told the receptionist you were her fiance, so they should talk to you. Hope you don't mind. Seemed the best solution."

"It's okay, as long as she's okay."

"You wanna talk about it?"

"Huh?"

"What went down tonight."

Mickey shook his head.

"She's a tough lady. She'll make it," Jimmy reassured.

Mickey's x-rays came back: nothing major. An intern got to remove the slug and sew him up. For his bruises and his aching ribs, the doctor prescribed some painkillers. At 5:00 a.m., Mickey was discharged. He hobbled back to the E.R. desk.

"Elise Cantrell, I need to know how she is."

"And your relationship to her, sir?"

"I'm Mickey Kostmayer, her fiance."

The nurse smiled. "Popular lady. I have her next of kin listed as fiance. Different name, though."

"Huh?"

"Joseph Bonnano, Jr.. And if that's who I think it is, I would back off, friend."

"Where'd you get that info?"

"Mr. Bonnano. I believe he's at the hospital. Maybe it'd be best if you worked this out with him directly. Leave me out of it." She smiled and walked away.

Mickey followed her. "Where can I find him?"

"She's in I.C.U; my guess is he is too."

Mickey headed up to I.C.U.. On arrival, he asked to see Elise. "No visitors are permitted in I.C.U. this early."

"I heard she already had one."

"I am not aware of that, sir."

"Would you mind checking for me? If there is someone there, I need to speak to him."

"I assure you, sir. Visitors are not allowed until 9:00 a.m. and then only family may be admitted, one at a time."

Mickey needed to regroup before he lost his temper. He turned and headed to the elevators. He went to the cafeteria. Sleep deprived, he also hadn't eaten since the afternoon before. He drank four cups of coffee to counteract the first problem and ate a large plate of bacon and eggs for the second problem. The effect was minimal. He fell asleep in the booth, a newspaper dropped in his lap, mid-read. He awoke disoriented in the clatter of a busy cafeteria. "Nice move, Kostmayer," he reprimanded himself. He went to the pay phone. He dialed McCall.

"It's me. You hear anything about Elise yet."

"I rather assumed you would know and tell me."

"The Bonnanos are running interference."

"I know you are resourceful enough to evade that," McCall assured. "Or are you in need of my assistance?"

"No, I'll handle it."

"Very well, then. I have a busy morning. We shall talk later today."

Mickey rubbed his eyes and forehead. His conversation with McCall made minimal sense. Mickey desperately needed to rest. First, however, he had to see Elise. He went back up the elevator to I.C.U.. A new nurse arrived on the shift change. "I'd like to see Elise Cantrell, please."

"Are you family?"

"Yes."

"Related how?"

"I'm her fiance."

"Oh, they warned me about this when I came on. I'm sorry sir, I can't allow you to visit."

"Why the hell not?"

"Because her real fiance is already in with her."

"Okay, I'm her brother then." Mickey looked over the desk at her chart to find Elise's room number.

"Would you like me to call security, sir?"

Mickey nearly said yes, but stopped. He u-turned and headed toward the elevator. He feigned getting on it, then waited around the corner for a moment of distraction. It took ten minutes, not bad in Mickey's wait and see world, until the nurse left her desk for a minute. Mickey quietly slipped by. Once in ICU, he walked as if he belonged there and no one questioned him. Elise sat propped up in the bed. She didn't look too bad considering. Nor did he, Joey Bonnano, that is.

Mickey watched from outside. Joey held her hand, stroked her hair. Elise smiled in his presence. Mickey felt crushed. He had rescued her for a mobster? He didn't understand. He wasn't sure he wanted to either. He turned to leave.

"Mr. Kostmayer, please don't leave. Lisa wouldn't want you to go." Joey Bonnano said as he caught Mickey walking away. He escorted Mickey in the room as if he were in charge of Elise's life. "I want your answer to my proposal soon," Joey said and planted a kiss on Elise's lips. He left directly after.

"How are you?"

"I'll be okay."

"Good."

"And you?" Elise asked.

"Just a flesh wound."

"I'm glad."

"Um, you mind if I ask what's up with you and Joey?"

"He's a sweetheart."

"Um, right. But that's not what I mean."

"What do you mean?"

"After the shooting ended, he was holding you. He spoke Italian to you, something like: 'my first and forever love.' Then this proposal thing a minute ago."

Elise laughed. Then she groaned. "Oh god, it's not fair to make me laugh now."

"Explain then."

"Explain what?"

"Your relationship with Joey."

"Joey and I go way back. When we were six, we decided that we would get married when we grew up, and then did a whole dress up ceremony right afterward. Later on, our fathers decided it was a good idea and betrothed us, right after my confirmation I think. Joey, he was my, um, first experience. So that's where it comes from, my first and forever love."

"So you're in love with Joey Bonnano? He wants you to marry him?"

Elise smiled and laughed again. "I told you not to make me laugh. It hurts like hell."

"I don't see what you think is funny."

"Me and Joey."

"I heard him talk about a proposal. What was it?"

"Just what it sounded like."

"Maybe I should just go."

"No, Mickey, no."

"I thought we had something here."

"We do, Mickey."

"Then what's with Joey?"

"He just wants me to honor the betrothal. He knows I won't."

"Do you love him?"

"That way, no. He was my best friend growing up. We lost touch, but that never changed. Now, he just wants a favor."

"How would marrying him be a favor?"

"It would help him keep up appearances."

"Of what?"

"Joey is gay, Mickey."

"Whaaa?" Mickey did not believe it. "Wasn't he a football star at Princeton?"

"And the relevance of that would be what?"

"Oh."

"There's a lot of pressure on him to appear straight. He thinks we could get married and then do the separate lives thing well. Maybe even have a kid to keep the family going."

"Marry him as Lisa Scarletti?"

"Nuts, isn't it? I told him so."

"Good."

"Go home and sleep, Mickey. Honestly, you look worse than me."

"You promise no more disappearing acts."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"We're good then?"

"We're good."

Mickey kissed Elise goodbye. He limped outside, hailed a cab to home and crumbled into his bed. He woke up late afternoon. After he washed up, he called the hospital to check on Elise.

"One moment please."

"Who's calling?"

"I'm her brother," Mickey lied.

"I'm very sorry, sir. We notified her family earlier."

"What do you mean you're sorry?"

"Ms. Cantrell died several hours ago."

"I saw her this morning. She was fine."

"There was a complication from her injuries. I can put you in touch with her doctors if you would like more detail."

Mickey didn't believe her. "Give me a name."

"Dr. Richardson."

"And a number."

The woman gave a number. Mickey called it. He got an answering machine. He left his name and number. He said it was an emergency. Mickey was at sixes and sevens what to do next. He absolutely refused to believe she was dead. It simply wasn't possible. Not after all that. No way. Something wasn't right. Call McCall.

Mickey called McCall at home. No answer. He left a message. "Call me. It's urgent." He called McCall's cell. He left the same message when McCall didn't answer.

Mickey didn't know what to do next. Hitting a wall was the best idea he had. All it did was make his hand hurt. Joey Bonnano, Mickey thought, if only he knew how to reach him, he bet that Joey could tell him what was up. Mickey called McCall's numbers again with no connection. Then he tried the doctor again. The answering machine picked up again. What kind of doctor doesn't have an answering service for emergencies? He called 411. They found no record of an address for a Dr. Richardson with that phone number. It made no sense. Mickey called the hospital again. He asked for ICU.

"I want to know where I can find Dr. Richardson."

"I'm not familiar with that doctor. Have you tried the Main Desk?"

Mickey hung up, expecting the Main Desk would feed him the same number as before. He called Jimmy. "Check this number for me. See who it belongs to."

Ten minutes later, Jimmy called back. "It's unlisted."

"Is that all?"

"For now. I'll keep at it if you want."

"I want."

"You okay, Mickey?" Jimmy asked.

"No."

"Is there anything else I can do to help?"

"You know where McCall is?."

"No."

Mickey spent the next twenty minutes pacing and refusing to believe she had died. The phone startled him. "What is it, Mickey? What is so urgent?" McCall asked.

'When I called to check on Elly this afternoon, they told me she died."

"Oh, my lord, Mickey. I am so sorry."

"I don't believe it. She was fine when I left her."

"Things sometimes go amiss after surgery especially where internal bleeding is involved. I am so very sorry for you."

"Are you telling me it's true, McCall?

"If the hospital says that she is gone, Mickey, then it is so. How sad that our best efforts could not, in the end, save her."

"McCall, this can't be real. Tell me that."

"I wish I could, Mickey, but I cannot. Do you want me to come over?"

"No," Mickey said and hung up, distraught. What odd turns of phrase McCall had used. How odd it all was. Something wasn't right. Something couldn't be. Or was it simply the denial that begins grieving?

Hours later, after Mickey limped around the neighborhood aimlessly and made more useless calls, a fax came in. It was a preview of an obituary. "Elise Cantrell, age 38. Ms. Cantrell, an F.B.I. Agent, died today as a result of injuries suffered in the line of duty. She has no immediate family. Body to be cremated. Private memorial service to be announced."

A second fax page followed. This one was a press release from the Bureau. "Seven bodies were found at a private airfield hangar in North Jersey this morning. The dead were Asian mobsters, fleeing from imminent arrest for illegal gambling and prostitution. An undercover F.B.I. agent involved in a sting of the operation was critically wounded at the scene and later died. An investigation into the killings is ongoing."

Mickey read and reread. He took a drink of scotch, a double. Something numbing was needed. Shortly after the fax arrived, McCall called. "I shall be by to pick you up shortly."

"What? Why?"

"Control's pseudo-surprise retirement party."

"You're shitting me, right?"

"No, I am serious."

"I don't give a shit about Control or the Company right now."

"Good. You can tell him that. I'll be there in half an hour."

McCall arrived, dapperly dressed. He knocked. Mickey answered. "You don't look ready," McCall said.

Mickey shook his head at McCall, bewildered how his friend could not understand or even empathize.

"Come on. You'll do as you are." McCall tugged Mickey's arm.

Mickey followed McCall out, numb and thoroughly confused. McCall was quiet for several minutes during the drive, until he broke the silence.

"I'm very worried about you, Mickey."

Mickey said nothing.

"Have you ever thought about what you really want from life? Or shall you ignore it until all you have left are regrets instead of choices?"

"Huh?"

"What do you want for your future?"

"I wanted Elly. I blew that."

"It was not your fault Mickey. You did all you could. What you must remember, is that although Ms. Cantrell has died, you remain alive. You still have a great deal of future ahead of you. It's time that you focussed on that future."

"McCall, what's your point?"

"Carpe diem, Mickey, carpe diem."

"Are you telling me I should quit the Company?"

"If you don't, can you have the other things you want?"

"No, but since I've got nothing out there now, wouldn't it be stupid to quit now?"

"Think of the opportunities missed, Mickey. Change that. Start today."

"You just want to piss Control off, your idea of a retirement joke."

"That's right, our friendship, reduced to a nasty parting gift."

"I'm sorry, McCall. I didn't mean it that way."

McCall nodded.

"Look, I don't know if I'm coming or going. I don't think I should be making major decisions now."

"What if things had played out differently, if Ms. Cantrell had lived? Do you know what you would have done?"

"Honestly?"

"Yes."

"No. I'd probably have fucked it up though. I'd probably end up just the same, alone, with the stupid job for comfort."

"You know that I can keep you plenty busy without the job, Mickey, anytime you are ready. That there are many things, good and wonderful things, you have to offer."

"I don't feel like that now."

"In time, Mickey, hopefully in time." They arrived at their destination. Mickey found he couldn't wear the mask. He went off to the kitchen with a drink and sulked as the party happened. Humorous presents and trinkets were presented to Control. Almost everyone had brought something. Control looked at McCall. "Robert, nothing from you? No witty sendoff after all these years."

"I have one for you. Let me get it." McCall went to the kitchen. "Come with me, Mickey."

McCall held Mickey, unsteady on his feet, before Control. "My present," McCall announced.

"Mickey's my present? Don't take it personally, Mickey, but I don't see much use for you in my retirement." Control laughed. Everyone laughed except for Mickey.

"Me neither," he slurred.

"What's the joke, Robert?"

McCall looked at Mickey. "We are the joke. All of us. Wasted lives, missed happiness, for what? Pretending we saved the world from communism, from terrorists. We've merely bided time, time we could have nurtured with loved ones."

"Aren't we getting a little maudlin, Robert?" Control asked.

"Maudlin, yes, very."

Mickey looked up at McCall. He wondered if McCall had been mocking him. Then he looked at Control. "Happy retirement. I quit."

McCall nodded at Mickey.

"Again?" Control said without missing a beat. "Well, if that's the case, here's to my future and to Mickey's. Cheers!"

Mickey sullenly looked down at his glass of scotch. He drained it. Someone poured him more. It disappeared too. He felt lightheaded. He may have even dozed in a chair.

"Come on, Mickey, it's time to go," McCall urged with strange cheer.

Mickey wanted to slug him. Did McCall not understand his pain? How could a friend such as he not get it? McCall extended a hand. Mickey softened. He followed McCall to the Jaguar, sidled in and dozed as McCall drove.

"Wake up, Mickey, time to wake up, smell the roses and all."

"Huh," Mickey groaned with one eye still closed.

"We have arrived at our destination."

"Where are we?"

"Long Island."

"Why the hell are we on the island? You take a wrong turn?"

"We are here to finish some business and start some other. Come."

Mickey lumbered out of the car. McCall went to the trunk. He handed Mickey a black box weighing about six pounds.

"What is this?"

"It is the remains of Elise Cantrell. I thought you would want to have them."

Mickey shook his head. His eyes clouded. "I . . . no . . . I want her. Not this. Not now."

"Elise Cantrell is dead Mickey. She must forever remain that way. You must accept that."

Mickey looked at McCall. He recognized another odd turn of phrase.

"Come on, there's something I want to show you." McCall led Mickey up a stoop of a house. McCall knocked. A woman answered.

"Come in."

"Come, Mickey."

Mickey, looking lost, entered. The woman led them through the living room door, then to the right to a hall and left to a closed door. She opened it.

"Elly?" Mickey said, eyes widened.

"No," McCall said. "Elise Cantrell is dead. She must forever remain so."

"This was a scam to hide her?"

"Mr. Chow's associates would not relent otherwise."

"You lied to me?"

"I merely deceived you."

"Don't blame him, Mickey. I made this mess," Elise said.

"Elly, you're okay?"

"I will be. Except for the dead part. Been there, done that, don't have the T-shirt. They never let you keep the T-shirt."

"You set me up big time, McCall."

"I prefer to think that I helped you see clearly."

"By maneuvering me to quit the Company?"

"Oh, you would have done that anyway."

"Not if Elly hadn't turned up, no."

"Well, you should have."

Mickey shook his head at McCall. He moved forward to embrace Elise.

"We good?" she asked softly.

"We're good." Mickey answered.

"The former Miss Elise Cantrell, nee Lisa Scarletti, is desperately in need of a new name. After she establishes an acceptable one, she will be moving to either Boston or Philadelphia where she will run a gymnasium that will specialize in teaching young women to defend themselves. It will be funded by an anonymous benefactor."

"You?" Mickey asked.

"I am merely an intermediary."

"For whom?"

"If I told you whom, the benefactor would not be anonymous."

"Good thing I'm not with the Bureau anymore, because it sure smells like money laundering to me," Elise said.

Mickey looked at her questioningly. "All in the family," he guessed. McCall didn't let on, though it seemed the only possibility. "Why Boston or Philadelphia?" Mickey asked.

"Because I wish to keep the two of you close at hand, should I require assistance from either, as I fully expect I often shall."

"So you got me to quit to work for you?"

"No. I got you to quit to live for you and, on occasion, to work for me. Are we clear now?"

"Have you bothered to ask Elise how she feels about your manipulation?" Mickey looked her way as he asked.

She shook her head 'no.'

"If anyone named Elise still existed in this room, she would be smart enough to see that she and you are in love and have a chance to live an actual, normal life," McCall said.

"Having been someone formerly named Elise, I have to tell you that I have my doubts about that," she said, "the normal life part, that is."

Mickey smiled.

"Grow up, you two!" McCall shouted before he departed.

Mickey and Elise sat there together. Mickey spoke first. "So what do you want to do?"

"I don't know. What do you think?"

"Philadelphia. Great Italian and Chinese food there," Mickey smiled. "That's assuming you want company."

"I think I'd like that very much."

"Good. I have a proposal for a new name too, a last one anyhow," Mickey said with a smile and then said no more.

THE END.