mxpw's A/N the First: Oh wow, I actually get to write my own A/N this update. We have finally reached the big chapter, the chapter where everything goes down. Took Frea and I a good amount of time to figure out how we wanted this to go, but when we did, I think it turned out pretty awesome. Lots of things come to a head and things explained. I hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading!
Frea's A/N the First: Thanks to our awesome beta readers, our lovely readers and reviewers, and most importantly the little curl my hair does so that when I put it up in a ponytail today, it looks like bits of my hair are standing straight up and kind of makes me look like I have devil horns. Also, I appreciate the patience between chapters!
The Final Showdown
What we ended up relaying to Captain Montgomery was, at its heart, a relatively simple plan.
We would enter the Lazarus Room and make a trade with the Bishop for Morgan's release. If everything unfolded as we hoped, the Soviets and—if we were really lucky—Shaw would show up. Once everybody was there and the Bishop made his play for the device, the boys in blue from the 42nd, led by Casey, would swoop in and arrest everybody. Or so we hoped.
If all went well, Captain Montgomery and Casey would get the credit for finally bringing to justice the notorious gangster Vincent "the Bishop" Karpazzo, Morgan would go free, Carina would get her Machine back, and I would finally have an opportunity to take that vacation I desperately needed—though I knew this one was largely a pipe dream.
It was a good plan. I knew it was a good plan, but it didn't stop me from imagining every little thing that could possibly go wrong.
Morgan could already be beaten to a pulp, or worse, dead. The Soviets might invade with an army. Shaw could raid the meeting and bring more men than Casey. Hell, it could all be a setup and Jeff the boozehound bartender could really be the mastermind behind it all. That last one, I doubted. Sarah could get shot, and this time it wouldn't be just a flesh wound.
Sarah getting hurt frightened me most. I knew she could take care of herself. Hell, she could take care of herself and me at the same time, while fighting off two men simultaneously. It didn't stop me from worrying about her, and hoping that this plan we'd come up with didn't get anybody I cared about hurt.
So I paced the dirty floor of the abandoned warehouse that the 42nd had taken over as their base of operations. There were twenty cops milling around, preparing for the raid. They'd been hand-picked by Casey and the precinct was outside the Bishop's main area of influence, which hopefully meant none of them were on the bishop's payroll, but I still didn't like taking the chance. One leak and this plan could go to the dogs.
"Chuck, please relax," Sarah said. She'd taken up residence along the wall, out of the way of the cops.
I wanted to tell her that I wished I could relax, but I just ended up grunting something unintelligible. I focused on my pacing, worrying about everything that could go wrong—or at least I did until Sarah suddenly stood in my path.
"Chuck," she said. I made myself look at her, which was, okay, not exactly a chore. "You're giving yourself an ulcer. Everything is going to work out."
I couldn't help it. All that kept going through my head were the potentially gruesome ends Morgan and Sarah might meet if things didn't go according to plan. "But how do you know that, Sarah?"
"Trust me," Sarah said, and I did. Even with the secrets I'd discovered about her, I really did trust her.
I opened my mouth, but Sarah cut me off.
"Chuck, be honest: when you thought I was your guardian angel, you took more risks knowing that I was out there, didn't you?"
"Erm," I said, unsure how to answer that without getting myself in trouble.
Sarah rolled her eyes. "That's what I thought. But my point is, you trusted me to look out for you, to protect you, even when you had no idea who I was. What makes you think that now that you know it was me, anything has changed? I will always protect you, Chuck."
I had no idea what to say to that, I was too overwhelmed by her words. So I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around her, bringing her in close and holding her tight.
Sarah hugged me back just as hard. "You and me, Chuck, we're in this together. No matter what happens, trust that. I've got your back."
"And I've got yours," I murmured into her hair and breathed in deeply. Just being near Sarah was enough to calm me, and give me the determination to push forward.
Most of that calm had depleted, however, by the time I set foot in the Lazarus Room thirty minutes later. By my estimation, the Bishop had had his hooks into Morgan for several hours, no matter that we'd rustled up a platoon of police officers in what was probably record time. Sweat dripped in a steady line down my back, so I didn't bother removing my hat.
Sarah, on the other hand, looked completely calm and confident as she walked in beside me. Before I could open my mouth—and probably get us all in trouble—she sashayed up to the barkeep. "Hi, handsome," she said. "Need to talk to your boss."
The barkeep eyed her. "You got an appointment?"
"I'm a secretary. Of course I set one up ahead of time."
"All right, then." It was possible the barkeep was stunned stupid by Sarah's beauty—it had certainly happened to me a time or two—for he swallowed hard and jerked his head toward the back room. "He's with company, so you might have to wait, but head on through there. He'll see ya."
"Thanks, big guy." Sarah winked again and grabbed my tie to pull me along, and I didn't blame the barkeep one bit for looking like he'd been smacked between the eyes with a battering ram.
"Smooth," I told her as we headed back into the Bishop's fabled back room.
She twitched a shoulder, but I could see tension along the line of her jaw and the way she kept her eyes forward, her hand near her gun. "Yes," she said. "Well, when you've got the face for it…"
"I can't deny that," I said.
The Bishop's back room was renown all throughout Chicago, and I was grateful I'd only been in it once. Word had it that old Nick Quinn had choked out his last Scottish oath as he'd bled all over the floorboards, that Mauser had defiantly met his end at the barrel of the Bishop's gun there. Father Fortleby had read Mr. Clyde Decker his last rites as he'd lain on a table in front of the Bishop, divested of most of his internal organs. The legends ran hard and fast where this room was considered, so it was a mite understandable that I had to take a deep breath before we stepped inside.
"Ah, Mr. Carmichael. Miss Walker. I was wondering when the two of you would get around to joining us." The Bishop stood as we came into a room that was deceptively large, especially when compared to the tiny bar we'd just left behind. The furnishings in this room, which could have held three bar rooms with space to spare, were just as dark and understated as they had been in the bar, but there weren't leather panels adorning the walls. There were, however, very dark, suspicious stains on the floor.
Two or three tables were scattered throughout the room. Thugs ringed those, eating dinner or reading the newspaper and doing their best to generally look bored. My eyes were drawn immediately, however, to the main table. Sitting right there next to the Bishop was Morgan, a gag in his mouth and panic in his eyes.
"Mmpf!" he said very clearly when Sarah and I stepped inside. "Mmpf—urgle—nenth!"
Relief hit me like a prop plane in a suicide dive. He didn't even look hurt.
"Huh," Sarah said. "Finally a way to keep him quiet."
I shot her a betrayed look. She put her hands up in submission.
"Just a joke," she whispered, and turned toward the Bishop. "We're here to make a trade, Mr. Karpazzo."
Instead of replying, though, the Bishop looked at me in clear amusement. "You allow your secretary to speak for you, Mr. Carmichael?"
I made a point of looking absently at the ceiling (where I didn't see any other mooks lurking and waiting) and at the floor. When Sarah elbowed me, I swiveled to look at the Bishop, like I hadn't heard him. "Sorry, what was that? I thought Sarah was talking to you, not me."
The Bishop's lips thinned. "I can only appreciate so much insolence, Mr. Carmichael."
I shrugged and stuffed my hands in my pockets. "Sorry, sir, but my mother raised me to speak to a lady when spoken to. Seemed like a good lesson to learn."
"Chuck," Sarah said under her breath, her warning that I'd pushed it too far—as usual. She fixed a neutral smile on her face.
"It's perfectly fine, Miss Walker. I expect that the precocious Mr. Carmichael is trying to cover up the fact that you're not quite the ordinary secretary you appear to be."
The sarcastic smile that overtook Sarah's face could have easily matched the one I saw in the mirror sometimes. "I've never been ordinary in my life, Vinnie. Are you willing to listen to our terms or not?"
"Very well." He took a seat at the table again next to Morgan, who was straining against his ties even more than before. Absently, the Bishop cuffed him, like he was a misbehaving dog. Sarah put a hand on my arm to keep me in place. "I assume you have something more to offer me than mere information? I am told this man is quite valuable to your boss."
"Partner," I said, and had every face in the room swinging toward me in surprise.
"Really?" Sarah asked under her breath.
"Walker and Carmichael, the way it should have always been."
"Perhaps we should talk about this later," Sarah said, but I could see a smile creeping through the neutral look. In an undertone, she said, "Carmichael and Walker. It's alphabetical." She raised her voice again, "As it happens, we have something very valuable that we would like to trade."
"I assure you, I'm all ears."
"Thought you might be." Sarah leaned over and reached into the lining of my coat. Though I saw a few hands reach for pistols, Sarah merely pulled out the Omega Machine.
Even the Bishop rocked backward at that one. "Weren't expecting that, huh?" I asked.
"And just like that, you will hand it over for this man? Do you not understand what this device does?" The Bishop's lips twisted up, ironically. Even I couldn't deny that he looked sinister with the lights overhead gleaming on his bald pate, his deep-set eyes gazing at us through the heavy lids.
"Sure, I do," I said. "It gets me my friend back."
"Not quite," said a new voice, and I felt something cold on the back of my neck a split-second before the unmistakable sound of a pistol being cocked echoed through the room.
I closed my eyes. "Of course you would pick this moment," I said.
The pistol pushed into my neck. I got the message loud and clear. I moved farther into the room, away from the doorway, Sarah matching me step for step. "It's okay, Chuck," Sarah said.
"You could have warned me he was coming."
"I didn't want to do anything that might panic the Bishop's men." I chanced a look at Sarah's face and saw her chagrin. "Sorry."
"Shut up, both of you," Shaw said in his usual lifeless tone. I brushed my hand against Sarah's to let her know I understood.
The Bishop seemed unbothered by Shaw's presence. I figured it had to do with the army of goons willing to pump Shaw full of lead if he so much as breathed wrong. "You must be the Daniel Shaw I've heard so much about this week," he said. "I was hoping we might meet."
"How do you know who I am?" Shaw asked.
"I make it a point to familiarize myself with the law enforcement in my town." The Bishop drank from the tumbler in front of him. "Please put your weapon away, let me conclude my business here with my associates, and then we'll talk."
"No," Shaw said, and pried the piece of the Omega Machine out of Sarah's hand. "I don't think I will."
"I know you're new in town, Mr. Shaw," I said, "but maybe you should listen to the man."
"Agent Shaw," Shaw said. "And I don't think I'm going to listen to any man ever again, now that I have this."
"Really?" a voice purred, and another gun cocked. Even though it sounded farther away, that wasn't much comfort when I could feel Shaw's gun barrel beginning to warm from my body heat. "How about listening to a woman, then? Hand over the Machine, Agent Shaw."
I glanced at Sarah out of the corner of my eye. She rolled her eyes back at me. Trust Carina to pick this moment, too. It was becoming a theme.
"I'm sorry," the Bishop said, "but I'm afraid I must interrupt this little charade. I assure you, I find it quite amusing, though."
"Thanks," Sarah, Carina, and I said. Shaw remained silent. By turning my head slightly, I could see him clenching his jaw, a vein bulging at his neck as he fought off his obvious annoyance at Carina having gotten the drop on him. I could partially see her behind him, attired very similarly to Sarah. She noticed me and winked, and I faced forward again.
I looked at Sarah again. That was, I decided, quite the gene pool.
"But I'm afraid," the Bishop went on, "that I just don't have time for this. Mr. Carmichael is trying to make a deal with me for the life of his friend, who I've been assured is very important to him. It would simply be ungentlemanly—and unladylike—to interrupt a business transaction made in good faith. It's unprofessional."
"The Machine isn't his to trade," Shaw said through what sounded like gritted teeth.
"And it's not yours, either," Carina said, snatching the Machine from his hand. "If we're splitting hairs."
"Do we really need to be doing this at gunpoint?" I wondered.
"Yes," Shaw and Carina both said.
The Bishop turned toward the men at the table closest to him. "I'm tempted to tell you to shoot them."
"I don't think that's a good idea," said yet another new voice, and a door I hadn't noticed in the back of the room opened. Men with semiautomatics flooded in, and leading the way, dressed in a smart trench coat and a red scarf was…
"Jill!" I said, my eyes bulging.
"Hello, Chuck," Jill said as the men with her fanned out into the room. She looked distinctly unhappy.
This time, the Bishop's men didn't show restraint, and guns started appearing. Things were only seconds away from turning into a complete bloodbath, the kind of event that would make the St. Valentine's Day Massacre look like a harmless altercation.
These were the Soviets, I realized. They were the only ones who could have been tapping my phone line and knew I would be here at this time. Which made Jill one of them. Jill, a Soviet spy? I would have never seen that coming. I guess that ruled her out for killing Sarkoloff too.
"Carina, I really think you should give the Bishop the Machine," I said. "And then he can negotiate with Jill and her many, many friends."
"I concur," Sarah added, and even though we weren't close enough to touch, I could still feel the tension radiating off her in waves. She was like a coiled spring ready to snap, and I didn't think I wanted to be anywhere near her when she did.
"There will be no negotiation," Jill said. "We will be taking the piece you have, Chuck, and the missing piece as well."
Missing piece? So I had been right about that! I very carefully did not look at Sarah.
"There is a missing piece?" the Bishop asked. He turned an angry look to Morgan. Morgan tried to say something, but it was completely unintelligible, so the Bishop whirled on me, accusation in his eyes.
I raised my hands a little higher, and Shaw's gun twitched against the back of my neck. All through the room, I could see the Bishop's goons facing off against the Soviets, and I wondered if I'd given Casey and his men enough time to get in position. Boy, were we in the hot seat.
"This is the only piece I have—or had, I guess," I said. "If I knew about a second piece, I'd have brought it too."
Vincent Karpazzo crossed his arms over his chest and looked somehow both very sinister and very tired. "This is growing tiresome," he said in a soft, deadly voice. "All I want is the Machine. I am willing to forgive this farce, if everybody but Mr. Carmichael and Miss Walker leaves so that I can conclude my business. If you don't leave, you will die here."
I could tell that the Bishop meant every word he said. Now would be the perfect time for Casey to show up.
"I will count to three," the Bishop said. "One."
Nobody put down their weapons. Soviets crept toward cover behind tables and booths, their eyes on the Bishop's men, who were all doing the same. Standing out in the open as we were was beginning to make me more and more nervous. Shaw did the first smart thing he'd done since I met him: he stayed firmly behind me and Sarah. We made effective shields.
The Bishop dragged Morgan to his feet and interposed him between himself and Jill. My stomach dropped, but there was little I could do while Shaw's pistol was still digging into my neck.
"Thr—" the Bishop started to say.
There was a loud clash behind me, like somebody had just kicked in a door, and Casey's boomed, "This is the police!"
All hell broke loose.
Apparently when you fill a room with Feds, spies, Soviets, and Chicagoan bad guys and then add cops to the mixture, shooting happens. A lot of shooting. And our little group was right in the middle of it.
The Bishop reacted quickly, grabbing hold of Morgan's collar and bodily dragging him to the nearest wall, where he used my friend as a human shield. I shouted and wanted to lunge after them, but instead, Shaw shoved me forward, no doubt because Carina had pushed him. Sarah grabbed me by the arm and somehow the four of us raced in the same direction as the Bishop, heading for a door I hadn't seen before.
"Go, go, go," Carina said.
We ran for our lives. Shaw and Carina trained their weapons on other targets and provided meager cover fire. Gunfights make strange bedfellows of ordinary folk, but I was under no illusion that Shaw was on our side. I was more focused on the Bishop, as he disappeared through the door, this one leading God only knows where. He obviously intended to hold Morgan hostage as long as possible. That only spurred me to go faster. I pushed myself, but even with all my experience in the War, seeing one of Jill's compatriots surge up, gun pointed toward us, drew me back.
Carina shot him twice in the chest. I stumbled, staring in horror at the man's shocked face as he fell over. Before I regained my balance, Shaw slammed into Sarah and me both, sending us tumbling through the door and out of the line of fire.
Sarah let out a cry. I cursed as I landed hard on my busted knee, searing pain racing all the way up my thigh and locking into my hip. I bounced twice, cursing again, and slammed my shoulder into the wall just inside the hallway.
When I pushed myself to my feet, I froze. Somehow, while I'd been getting kicked around, the others had corrected course, so that I stood there, the only one without a gun in his hand, silhouetted in the narrow hallway. Sarah, Shaw, and Carina stood in staggered formation, side-by-side, backs toward the main room full of the melee of cops, thugs, and Soviets. Their guns were pointed at the Bishop, who had his arm wrapped around Morgan's neck and his own gun pointed at my friend's temple.
Everything inside me turned to ice.
"I advise you to put the guns down," the Bishop said. "Or I'm afraid I simply must kill Mr. Carmichael's friend, and as you can see, he'll be heartbroken."
"Put the gun down, Karpazzo," Sarah said. "Nobody else has to die today."
As she said it, there was an obvious cry of a man getting shot from the room behind us. She winced.
"I don't think it works that way, Miss Walker. If there are still three guns pointed at me in ten seconds, I am going to shoot this man. Ten." The Bishop counted, slowly. Every number seemed to take an eternity, and all I could see were Morgan's eyes, wide with panic. I wanted to do something—race forward, save my friend—but I was paralyzed, absolutely rooted to the spot.
He reached four as a fresh bead of sweat rolled from my hairline and down the back of my shirt.
"Fine," Carina said, making all of us jump. Without any warning, she whipped about and shot Shaw right above the knee. When the man shouted and crashed to the ground like a falling tree, clutching his leg, Carina dealt him a swift blow to the temple with the butt of her gun. Just like that, the man who'd caused me so much grief collapsed to the floor, out like a light.
Blithely, Carina aimed her gun at the Bishop again. "You said three guns. Now there are only two."
"Wow," was all I could say to that.
Carina glanced away from the Bishop to wink at me. "You like that? I'm calling it the 'Chuck.' I heard you did it to some mooks at the hospital earlier."
"Focus," Sarah said.
I hoped I wasn't imagining that the Bishop looked a little pale as he said, "Very impressive, but…" He trailed off and I only had a split-second to puzzle at the sly smirk that overtook his face before a locomotive hit us from behind.
Again, I went flying. This time, I evened things out somewhat by landing on my bum arm instead of my bum leg, but it still hurt like the dickens. Agony flared, hot and white, up and down my whole torso. Over the sounds of the brawl from next door, I heard something that sounded like the skitter of metal against a wood floor and looked up just in time to watch the Omega Machine slide past me, too fast for me to grab it. It bumped against the Bishop's foot; he bent and scooped it up. Grabbing Morgan again, he ran.
I had bigger problems—literally. For I climbed onto my knees just in time to watch Mr. Colt scoop Sarah up and fling her. Like she had in the hospital, she plowed into me, and I thumped hard into the wall, knocking the breath from my lungs.
I wheezed. Where had he even come from?
A second later, Carina landed in a pile next to us. Mr. Colt grinned and cracked his knuckles, his teeth blindingly white against his face. "Who the hell is this?" Carina asked, wiping at a bloody lip.
Sarah shoved me behind her and was on her feet in an instant. "He's my problem. You two get the Bishop." She leapt toward Colt with a high kick to his chest.
Colt grunted as he deflected the blow. "I was hoping you'd be here," he said, his voice deeper than I'd ever heard it. "We have some unfinished business, missy."
"Yes, we do," Sarah said. She ducked under a haymaker, moved in close, and jabbed Colt twice in the stomach before dancing away. "Go, you two!"
"No way," I said, and once again climbed to my feet. I was getting really annoyed with being tossed to the ground.
"Damn it, Chuck, go! Stop the Bishop—save Morgan!" Sarah pulled out a knife and squared off against Colt. "I've got this."
Carina appeared by her side, a knife in her hand as well. "We've got this," she said.
Seeing both sisters lined up against him, Colt cracked his knuckles and smirked. He straightened up his suit jacket, fastidiously, before he advanced on the women.
I didn't want to leave Sarah. More than anything I wanted to stay and help, but as I watched both sisters dodge in and out of striking distance, knives gleaming in the dull light of the room, their movements fluid and graceful, I knew I'd only get in the way. Besides, I had to trust Sarah, trust that she could look after herself and do what she said she could do.
It was still just about the hardest thing I'd ever done, turning away from her and chasing after the Bishop, even if he did have my best friend.
I moved at a hobbled pace, but at least I had a chance to pull my M1911 free. I had only ever had to fire my gun on a case a handful of times before the Bryce Larkin Express derailed into my life, but I knew how to use it. The War had seen to that. I ran hard, the pain in my leg making my heartbeat roar in my ears. The Bishop had Morgan—though why he wanted my friend, I still didn't know—and the Machine, and I had to get both back to keep Vincent Karpazzo from gaining even more power. My town simply couldn't afford it.
Things had never rested quite so solidly on my shoulders before. I can't say I much cared for it.
I ran the way I'd seen him go, which led down the hallway to a door. When I reached it, I risked distraction only long enough to give one last look over my shoulder at Sarah before I turned the knob. Gun at the ready, I pushed the door outward.
There was a sound like an explosion and flakes of brick blew out of the wall right next to my head.
"Holy mackerel!" There wasn't anywhere to go but forward, so I dove out of the way before the Bishop could get off another shot. I rolled into some kind of alleyway behind the back room, where the sounds of fighting were muffled. There wasn't much there: some trash bins, old crates, a couple of barrels that probably held rotgut, and the Bishop and my best friend. The Bishop snapped off a couple more shots, both of them going wide and kicking up splinters of brick into the air.
Criminy, the man was a worse shot than Shaw.
"Stay back, Carmichael!" the Bishop said. When I dared peek over the trash bin I'd taken refuge behind, I saw him dragging Morgan toward the mouth of the alley. "Enough of this game. If you ever want to see your friend alive, you'll give up now."
"Mister, there's one thing I don't do, even when I should, and that's give up!" I looked around desperately for anything that I could use nearby since my gun wasn't much use. Morgan would forgive me if I hit him with a stick, but I don't think that graciousness would extend to a gunshot wound.
Though we'd been friends since we'd been in shortpants, so who knows? He might have forgiven me.
"I should have given my men better orders to kill you," the Bishop said, sounding like he was talking through his teeth. I had that effect on a lot of people, I'd noticed over the years. His voice sounded like it was getting farther away. I could see Morgan struggling, his feet kicking against the pavement, but in addition to being the ruler of Chicago's underworld, the Bishop appeared inhumanly strong, hauling my friend along. "Don't follow us, Carmichael, if you value his life."
"You know I'm not gonna give up, Bishop. Just hand him over. He doesn't know anything." I took a chance and dove over the trash bin, taking cover behind the crates instead.
The Bishop continued to back away. "Then what's your genius pal doing, looking into Busgang? He's a reporter, they always know more than they tell you. You wouldn't believe the number of journalists I've squeezed dry."
An idea struck that had twin feelings of guilt and hope swirling in my gut. Did I value my friend's life enough to throw him under the bus? Surely he'd understand, wouldn't he? "Seems you're wrong, Vinnie," I said, raising my voice. I knew Morgan would rather I shoot him by accident than say what I planned to, but I didn't have much of a choice. "He's not a reporter, he's an inkboy who gets delusions of grandeur sometimes."
Morgan's face fell. It hurt my heart.
"And maybe for the first time in his life, he managed to stumble on something, but he has no idea what it is," I said. I looked hard at Morgan, hoping he understood.
The Bishop's look turned furiously ugly, and I barely had time to duck back behind the crate before wood splintered around me.
"You don't believe me? Look at his fingers!" I said. "Look at them, look hard. They're covered in ink, aren't they? That's not pen ink, that's ink from a press. He works in the plant on the linotype machine, not in the office writing articles."
Morgan let out a pained burbling noise that ended with "Uck!" I could see the Bishop's gaze waver, and I knew my words were getting to him, finally.
"Busgang was a fluke," I went on, not daring to look over the top of the crate again. "He doesn't know anything, not about the Omega Machine, or about Busgang working with the OSS or Bryce Larkin or any of it. He's just a bystander."
"Then I should shoot him," the Bishop said, and I heard the gun cock.
"No!" I stood up without thinking about it and had to duck hard when he took another shot at me. "No, he doesn't know anything, but I—I do!"
"I think you're bluffing, Carmichael."
Of course I was bluffing. I hadn't known anything about this case from the start. I hadn't known Carina was a spy until Bryce had left me the Lady in Red clue, I hadn't known Jill was a Soviet, I hadn't known Sarah was my guardian angel. What I didn't know could fill the Lake and possibly a few oceans. But the Bishop didn't know that, so I made my voice as hard as I could and said, "Are you willing to take that chance, Mr. Karpazzo? You shoot my friend, you get nothing from me."
There was a pause. I couldn't risk another look. Maybe it was the hope beating in my chest, but that pause sounded loaded with possibility. I closed my eyes and counted silently to ten, hoping and praying. My sweaty palm made it hard to grip my gun.
Finally, finally, the Bishop said, "I know what a man sounds like when he's willing to make a deal, Mr. Carmichael. What are you offering me?"
"You let my friend go, I'll tell you everything I know," I said right away.
"And if you know nothing, as I suspect?"
"Why do you think the government agent sent to retrieve the device came to me?" I asked. "And—and w-why do you think the Soviets were so interested in me, huh?"
"Because, Mr. Carmichael, you're a magnet for trouble."
The man had a point. I could even hear Morgan's muffled gurgle, like he agreed. A part of me wanted to protest my innocence, but knew now wasn't the time. No, now was the time to play the best damn hand of poker in my life.
"That may be so, Bishop, but I'm not bluffing. And I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is." I took a deep breath and spun my pistol around till it only hung from my index finger. Then I stood up, my hands up and at my sides.
I wanted to shake when I saw the Bishop's pistol pointed firmly at my chest, but the man didn't fire. I took that as a very good sign. "There's something you might not know about me, Vinnie, but during the War, I worked on decrypting German communications. So I know all about the Omega Machine and Busgang's research." I paused, mostly for dramatic effect—I didn't want the Bishop to think I was giving up information too easily. "The Omega Machine is the essential component in decrypting one-time pads using something called a computer. Maybe you've heard of it?"
About the only part of what I'd just said that was true was that I'd worked on decrypting German communications. Hopefully, the Bishop didn't realize that until later.
The Bishop just looked at me blankly. I chose to take that as a good sign—well, that and he hadn't shot me yet. So I shrugged. "Trust me, they're gonna be big one day. And that's all I'm sayin' until you let Morgan go."
I wanted to fidget as the Bishop's cold, calculating eyes settled on me, but I stayed still. I breathed evenly. I willed the Bishop to believe me.
And then he let Morgan go. "Get out of here," he said, and gave Morgan a hard push toward me.
I motioned with my left hand for Morgan to come toward me. His eyes were still clouded with the pain of my perceived betrayal, but at least he moved. I waited until he was even with me before I said in a low voice, "I'm sorry, Morgan. I didn't mean it. But you gotta go, now. Find Sarah, okay? Tell her what's going on."
I looked away from my friend—the Bishop was too much a predator to take your eyes off him for long—and hoped Morgan would listen.
To my relief, he did, and his footfalls eventually faded into nothingness. That just left the Bishop and me. Alone. In an alley.
God, I was an idiot. I mean, I was incredibly pleased and grateful that my friend was safe, don't get me wrong, but now the Bishop was going to expect me to deliver on something I couldn't do. Nothing about this night had gone according to plan.
"Alright, Mr. Carmichael, I kept up my end of the bargain," he said. "Now talk. And I suggest you talk quickly."
I needed a distraction, something I could use to buy me enough time to flip my gun around and shoot the Bishop. Otherwise I was dead meat. I wracked my brain for anything I could use, anything from the case that had plagued me for days. I caught a tendril that was more a long shot than anything and blurted out, "It was you who killed the Soviet spy, wasn't it?"
Annoyance filtered across the Bishop's face, loud and clear. He gestured with the gun. "Of course that was me," he said. "He was getting too close to you and learning too much. He needed to be removed. And I know you're stalling, Mr. Carmichael. Tell me what I want to know."
It was said the Bishop had a legendary temper, but that he almost never let it out. When he did, people died. I watched anger flush the Bishop's face into a horrible visage, and I knew I was about to join those people. I shut my eyes and waited for the inevitable.
A shot did ring out, but I felt nothing but the cool air kissing my skin.
I opened my eyes and saw the Bishop lying on the ground, holding his shoulder and groaning in pain. I didn't understand what had happened, but I wasn't about to let such an opportunity go to waste. I dashed forward and scooped up the man's gun, looking around and holding it up as I searched his body for the piece of the Omega Machine, pulling it out of one of his pockets.
A dark figure stepped out from behind a pile of crates, a still smoking gun in her hand.
I gaped in total surprise. "Jill?"
"Are you okay, Chuck?"
"Thank you, Jill," I said, trying not to splutter too much from shock. Why had she saved me? She was one of the Soviets, she was on the other side. "Where did you come from?"
Jill gave me a small smile. She really seemed so much nicer when she smiled. "I saw the four of you rush into that room and I knew one of you had to have the piece of the Machine. As soon as I had a chance, I chased after you. Good thing I did."
"Yeah, good thing." Now that she had mentioned the part of the Machine, I grew wary. Had Jill simply shot the Bishop to make her escape with the part easier? Was she going to shoot me now? I slowly moved my gun until it was pointing in her direction.
"Relax, I'm not going to shoot you."
Jill laughed, but I could tell there wasn't much humor in it. She looked like a woman at the end of her rope, like hope wasn't a thing that existed in her world. "No, I would never do that. We've got too much history."
We did have a lot of history. She'd been my girl before the War, my first case afterward, and even though she'd kept a secret from me, a secret so big it made Sarah's pale in comparison, I couldn't erase that history, and I apparently couldn't just let it go. I wanted to tell her it was okay, but she'd killed a man, apparently in cold blood. But who was I to judge? I'd seen what people driven to the brink could do. I'd lived through an entire war of it.
I think that's what inspired my next move, a move I wasn't sure I'd live long enough to regret. "You're right, we do," I said. "But you're wrong, too. You told me, you can't outrun your past. I think you can. You don't owe these men anything—which is why I'm gonna let you go, Jill."
Now it was Jill's turn to look at me in surprise. "What?"
"Go, and don't ever come back. Leave Chicago forever and," I paused and looked behind her, back at the Lazarus Room, "as far as I'm concerned, Jill Roberts died in the Lazarus Room. I'll make sure Casey understands."
Jill took a small step backward, confusion and surprise written all over her face. The gun in her hand wavered. "I don't know what to say."
"Don't say anything. Just go. Think of it as a second chance. Another chance to be the kind of person you wanted to be before I found you all those years ago."
For a second, she looked over her shoulder, back at the Lazarus Room and then back at me. On the ground, the Bishop groaned, and I desperately wanted to know what Jill thought of all of it. Maybe she was weighing her options. I hoped there was still enough of the Jill I remembered back from when we'd gone steady inside, enough of her strength of character to make the right call.
And after one of the longest moments of my life, she smiled at me, a real smile, the kind of smile I hadn't seen in a long time. Just like that, she walked away, down the alley and out of my life. I prayed for her sake—and mine—that I never saw her again.
A groan from the Bishop brought my attention back to him. I holstered my M1911 and carefully stepped toward him again, as nothing was more dangerous than a wounded animal, but he was clearly too preoccupied to put up much resistance. I hauled him to his feet.
"Sorry about all this, Vinnie," I said, "but if you had just left me alone, you wouldn't be bleeding all over your fancy clothes right now."
The Bishop glared at me and I'm not ashamed to admit it made me take a step back. "You're a dead man, Carmichael. What are your grand plans now? To turn me in? You incompetent fop. It won't stop me. It won't even slow me down. I own this city—it's mine. Certainly, they'll attempt to jail me, but I'll be out within a day, and when I do, I will find everybody you've ever loved and I will enjoy every flicker, every grimace of pain on your face as I ever so slowly and painfully kill them in front of you while you watch, helpless and unable to do anything."
I gulped hard, but didn't back down. Images that I would have nightmares about for days floated to the front of my mind: Ellie, Sarah, even Casey in pain, begging for their lives while the Bishop smiled.
The Bishop raised a single, haughty eyebrow. "You let me go now and maybe I'll kill only you," he said.
I shoved the other man and almost went for my gun. But I knew I couldn't do that. That wasn't who I was, it wasn't what I believed in, and it wasn't the kind of man I wanted to be. Still, it was tempting.
"Shut up," I said.
"Final offer, Carmichael. Your last chance, because as soon as a copper puts those bracelets on me, your fate is sealed."
"No it's not," a gruff voice said.
I nearly jumped out of my shoes and spun around in the air all at the same time. The relief I felt at seeing Casey's presence could not adequately be described. "Casey! You nearly scared me to death."
Casey didn't respond, he was too busy staring a hole in the Bishop. "I'll take it from here, Carmichael. I think that secretary of yours got hurt. You should go check on her. I'll bring Karpazzo in."
Sarah had been hurt? I dropped the Bishop like a hot potato, practically shoving him into Casey's arms. "Where is she, Case? Is it bad?"
"She was asking for you. She's inside." Casey didn't look at me, still, but I didn't care. Those horrifying images of Sarah being hurt in front of the Bishop now changed to Sarah crying out in pain, shot or hurt by Colt. I had to get to her, right away. "You'd better get in there."
"Guess that's a no on your deal," I said to the Bishop, and ran for the door. I heard him shout at me to come back, but I didn't care, not when Sarah had been injured. My heart was in my throat and my hands weren't steady: I had to scramble for the doorknob a couple of times. When I finally got it to work, I yanked it open with more force than was probably necessary. I was so focused on getting to Sarah that the single crack of a gunshot from the alley behind me barely even registered as I ran inside.
Frea's A/N the Second: FINAL CHAPTER COMING THURSDAY. FEAST YOUR EYE-TONGUES ON THIS DELICIOUS BIT OF FIC-POP:
"That doesn't matter," I said. "It wasn't right."
"It must be nice to cling to those ideals of yours, Carmichael. The rest of us have to live in the real world."
"I can't accept that," I said.