Chapter 12: Confrontation
When Freddy reached the level on which Dov carried out his business, he was met with complete chaos. The hallways were crammed with uniformed and plainclothes cops, and more were arriving from the elevators and the staircase like Freddy. Everywhere he looked there was either hand-to-hand combat or an arrest in progress. It was like a very badly-choreographed climactic fight scene in an old cops and robbers flick. Freddy ducked to the side just in time to avoid a fist the size of a fucking basketball from smashing into his face, and watched as two cops brought down his attacker in a flurry of flying limbs and harsh language. "Holy shit," he muttered before making his way carefully down the hallway. He drew his handgun, but kept the safety on.
Amidst the uproar Freddy managed to battle his way to Dov's office. When he got there, it was like the fucking seventh circle of hell. Every single piece of furniture was broken and the floor couldn't be seen for the papers and money that had spilt everywhere. He could see Dov being arrested by no less than three cops, one of whom was bellowing his rights into his ear in order to be heard above the racket. Freddy spotted Jeff holding Teddy in a full nelson, and made his way over.
"Stop – fucking – moving!" Jeff was saying through gritted teeth. Freddy lifted his gun and brought it down on the back of Teddy's head. The goon went down like a pile of bricks. "Thanks, man," said Jeff, taking off his glasses and polishing them on his shirtfront. "Wait – what are you doing here?"
"Never mind that. Where'd Vega go?" Freddy demanded.
Jeff looked like he didn't think he should answer that, but then he saw the look in Freddy's eyes. "Shit," he muttered. "I'm sorry, man. You sure ain't gonna like this. He opened the office door just as the cops moved in a minute ago. There was shooting, then he was gone. I think he went down the fire escape."
Freddy barely waited for Jeff to finish, and took off. There was still time. The cops had just moved in, arrests were still being made. Vega had gotten lost in the shuffle, but he was still nearby. He ignored Jeff's shouting as he barreled through the door of the fire escape, nearly twisting an ankle as he galloped down the steps. As he ran, he could swear that he heard someone racing down the stairs below him.
Dov's office was six floors up, but it seemed like no time before Freddy burst out into the narrow alley behind the building. Gunfire cracked, and instinctively Freddy tucked and rolled painfully into some garbage cans to avoid the bullets. Swearing under his breath, he scrambled for cover, pressing his back against the chain-link fence as he removed the safety from his Beretta handgun. The shots stopped.
For a time the only sound that Freddy could hear was the faint rumble of passing traffic, muffled shouting from Dov's office, and his own breathing. He settled his gun into a two-handed grip, thinking bitterly about his complete lack of skill at the shooting range. Slowly, he turned to peer around the garbage cans.
Freddy ducked quickly back, but not before he noticed where the gunfire was coming from. Vega was behind a pile of crates further down the alley. Freddy knew that it ended in a dead end, and the only escape would be past him or through one of the buildings – but did Vega know that?
"Gotta work on your aim, man!" he shouted, gauging the distance.
"Thanks for the tip, Orange, I really appreciate –"
Freddy popped up from behind the garbage cans and opened fire, emptying the clip. He didn't manage to hit Vega – big surprise – but he was sure that one or two shots got within a few feet of him. Probably. He had been hoping that the element of surprise would make up for his fucking awful aim, but it didn't.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck…" Freddy sheltered behind his pitiful garbage cans as Vega unloaded on him like fucking Apocalypse Now. He took his spare magazine from his pocket and reloaded, hands shaking. Sparks flew from where bullets grazed the fence, just inches above his head.
Eventually Vega stopped firing. Freddy could imagine the sick motherfucker crouching down behind the crates, calmly reloading, just as he had done. How long was this fucked-up scenario going to last?
"That wasn't very nice." Vega's gravelly voice sounded completely relaxed, like he was chatting with an old friend over a couple of beers. "I guess you're not gonna try to arrest me this time?"
"Nope," said Freddy, wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans. "I'm just gonna try to shoot you this time." Fuck, was he out of his mind? He couldn't hit the side of a barn ten feet away!
"About time you learned, kid."
Freddy wasn't sure which of them fired first, but soon they were trading shots like a couple of Wild Westers. But unlike Freddy, Vega's aim hadn't gone straight to hell, and a bullet grazed Freddy's shoulder. It felt like someone laying a red-hot poker along his skin, but after the initial shock of pain he managed to ignore it. His blood was pounding, his adrenaline was high, he was aiming to kill, he – had just run out of bullets. Freddy stared at his gun, struck by feelings of deepest betrayal. He couldn't fucking believe it.
"I can't fucking believe it…" Hearing this, Freddy looked up at Vega, who was rummaging through his pockets for more ammo. Their eyes met, and in an instant they understood their situation.
Vega jumped to his feet and took off down the alley, and Freddy was after him in a second. He was running flat out, gaining on the other man. Vega was wheezing as he raced away: getting shot twice in the chest had messed with his breathing.
The alley curved into an L-shape, and Freddy rounded the corner only to have something slam into his chest. He sprawled onto the asphalt, hissing at the pain that flared in his wounded shoulder, and looked up to see Vega hefting a pipe. He rolled, just managing to avoid a blow to the head. Suddenly the police radio on Freddy's belt crackled: "Newendyke, report. What's your position?" Freddy almost hit himself at his elementary mistake; he'd been so obsessed with catching Vega that he hadn't bothered to call for backup. Stupid, stupid, stupid…
Vega's black cowboy boot kicked the radio away into the darkness of the alley, then slammed into Freddy's belly. Twice. Freddy clutched his stomach, completely winded, and watched as Vega climbed up the chain-link fence. He grabbed the side of a dumpster and managed to pull himself to his feet, then he staggered over to the fence, clutching at the slimy brick wall.
Vega landed on the other side, dusted off his begrimed hands, and smiled at Freddy. Fucking bastard. "That your name? Newendyke?" he asked. Very slowly and casually he leaned down and removed a razor from his boot. He opened the blade, and Freddy felt like he wanted to throw up – and not just because he'd been kicked in the stomach. That was a razor just like the one Vega had used on Marvin.
"You try climbing that fence, Orange, and I'll slice your fingers off." The corners of Vega's eyes crinkled as he twirled the razor. Freddy felt like an idiot, holding onto the wall to remain in a somewhat upright position, blood streaming from his shoulder, panting for breath like a dying dog. Vega saw that he was obviously in no position to speak. "While we're both here we might as well have a little heart-to-heart," he said. "You know who I am, and now I know who you are. I hope they got a pretty little file at the station with my name on it."
Freddy could only stare at the other man as he gulped for air and concentrated on breathing properly. Fuck, his shoulder hurt.
"But do you know why they call me Toothpick Vic? You ever wonder that?" Vega started to pace slowly back and forth on the other side of the fence, with Freddy watching him warily. "It's not because I actually use toothpicks, like Mr. White. Not that reason at all…"
He paused and rubbed at the back of his neck, squinting his eyes in thought. Freddy knew that he was in for a story whether he liked it or not. "See, way back when I started working for Joe, there was this nigger who played college basketball. A real sharpshooter, y'know? And Joe pays him to lose, and puts a lot of money on the game."
Vega started to clean his nails with the tip of the razor, cool as could be.
"But this fuckin' kid decides to back out of it! Can you imagine that? Gets twelve points in the last two minutes." Vega grinned and shook his head at the kid's apparent stupidity. "After the game, he thinks he can just give back the money Joe paid him, but we both know it ain't that simple. We're meeting him in this shitty little restaurant, where he thinks he's safe, and Joe tells me to teach this prick a lesson."
Vega came closer to the fence, eager to tell the rest of story. Against his will, Freddy was becoming interested.
"Now listen up, this is the good part. I pick up the first thing I can find, a toothpick – I like to improvise, y'know? – and I use this little toothpick to gouge out his eye. Or most of it, anyway. Was a real mess, blood and goopy shit all over the place. Kid never played basketball again." Here Vega shot Freddy one of those trademark charming smiles. "They told that story for years. And it went so well together, y'know, Toothpick Vic. So that's what they call me now."
By this time Freddy had recovered enough to speak. "Yeah?" he croaked. "Sounds like a fucking dumb name to me."
The friendly grin vanished. "Listen Orange – or is it Newendyke? I'll pay you back for this." He put his hand on his chest. Back when Freddy had still known how to fire a gun and could actually hit what he was aiming for. "I'll track you down, and do to you what I meant to do to that fucking cop. You'll have a slow and painful death, Orange. You just wait."
"No, asshole," said Freddy, smirking through the chain-link fence. "I'll get you first."
He was still struggling for breath and in no condition to climb the fence, and was forced to watch Vega stroll away. Escaped again. Dov and the rest of the gang apprehended, and the most dangerous man in the building had walked free. He'd tell the other cops what happened, and maybe they'd pick him up, but he doubted it.
He limped slowly back into the alley to find and retrieve his radio. Holdaway would skin him alive once he found out what had happened, but Freddy didn't care. He thought about that strange moment facing Vega through the fence. They had been grinning at each other like a couple of old pals, but they hated each other. Or at least, Freddy hated Vega. He wasn't sure if a psychopath really "hated" anyone. But it was settled.
They were both in it to the end, and it would end in blood. His, or Vega's.
A/N: So, what'd you think? I don't know about you, but I can just picture Michael Madsen delivering the "toothpick monologue" in that creepy, calm way of his. Blonde and Orange are still alive, which means that this ain't over yet! Reviews are welcome!