Antonio, with a grunt: “You are.” Bang. Shake.
And then there was nothing.
The music started again from the Heritage House. People would start milling as the salads went around; then they’d sit. And I was here, half in and half out of a truck. I let my breath out and twisted, sliding, falling into the bottom of the truck as if it had given birth to me.
I looked back up and wondered if I should I close the trap. We were supposed to be coming together, but Antonio was apparently dealing with Paulie, and I had no idea if he needed me or if staying put was the thing to do. The carriage house was twenty feet away. I could make it across to there from under the car without being seen. I couldn’t hear anything from the car, and that concerned me more than anything.
I was supposed to wait, but I was sure Paulie hadn’t been anticipated, and I had no excuse to be on my belly, under a florist’s truck. I’d figure something out. I’d told him I’d wait, and that meant he’d take whatever action he needed to with the assumption that I was going to be under the truck. I scooted back and got my fingers into the dirt at the edge of the grate. The leverage was better, and I could get it up and slide it over if I could get the micro bar under there.
The party picked up across the field. I could hear the music and shouts of laughter. But over that, I heard a pop from the carriage house, and that was it. Some reactionary hormone flooded my bloodstream. I wasn’t lying there another second, waiting for the plan to get even more screwed up. Without thinking clearly, because all I could think was that everything was off, and Antonio was hurt, I scuttled from under the truck and ran to the carriage house in my heels, flattening my skirt at the same time. I was sure I was full of grass and mud. I was sure that I couldn’t return to the party looking like that, but I was also sure Antonio and I weren’t going back for a dance and aperitif.
The house was bathed in the flat light of sunset. I took three steps and cast a three-foot-long shadow over the grass. I flattened myself against the wall, listening. Stuff was getting thrown. Things were breaking. I trotted to a window, but it was obscured so I couldn’t see in. Only out. Damn the privacy of the privileged.
The door sat inside a cut in the wall, and I slipped inside it. The knob didn’t turn. It never did. Even when I was a kid, the front door had been a joke, a double-reinforced barrier against an unknown enemy.
I ran around to the back of the house. The patio looked the same as on the night Leanne and Jonathan and I had come across the uneaten steak-and-s’mores dinner. And like that night, the sliding door was open enough to get through.
Nothing had changed, but the dining room table was off kilter and a bunch of porcelain knickknacks were in pieces on the floor.
Not a sound came from another room. Not a crash or a scuff, or a word, and that concerned me. I was tempted to call out Antonio’s name. I needed to know he was all right, that he was there, and to let him know I wasn’t waiting under the grate.
But I didn’t, and I think that saved my life, because as I approached the bedroom I heard a thud, and a breath, and the words in an exhausted gasp… “Too easy, motherfucker. That was too easy.”
I should have run, but that hadn’t been Antonio’s voice. Tiptoeing, I peeked in then flattened my back against the wall. In that flash of a view, I saw Paulie, hunched, breathless, face bloody on one side, and a set of legs that only could have been Antonio’s.
I had a gun.
He’d given it to me for a reason, and if that wasn’t his intention, what was? I reached into my purse for it. Things clicked. My clothing rustled. It must have sounded like a klaxon in a morgue, because Paulie, who was not an idiot, and was as much of a killing machine as my lover, heard me and sprung into action.
I was an accountant. I paid attention to the machinations of money. My talents were on paper. I was not a specialist in the art of physical confrontation.
So, when Paulie snatched the bag away, I just stood there, stunned. And when he grabbed my arm and threw me against the bedroom wall I flew like a rag doll, smacking my head on the corner of a marble tabletop. My vision collapsed into shattered webs of light with blackness at the edges.
“Well, well,” Paulie said. “What a sweet little present this asshole gave you.”
My vision cleared to a pinpoint of clarity, with him at the center, my gun in one hand and my bag in the other. He dropped the bag on the floor.
The circle of clarity widened. I blinked. Tried to move. Paulie held the gun, checking it for bullets, popping the clip, slowly, as if he wasn’t worried about a damn thing. The room swam a little when I moved my eyes away from him.
Antonio faced away from me, his head in a pool of blood. He wasn’t moving.
“I know you’re pissed he was promised to Irene,” Paulie said. “But to get him in here for a screw then shoot him? Man, you women are just nuts, you know that?”
I tried to say Antonio’s name and failed. I got my feet under me and braced myself against the wall, which swam and rolled.
Paulie crouched on his haunches. “You want to do it yourself?” he asked. “He shelved you, you know. He’d keep you for a fuck, but he was marrying that girl, no matter what he told you.” He dangled the gun in front of me. “You want to take this cheating asshole out?”
Past the gun, with my focus improving but confused, I saw Antonio’s finger move. Just a twitch. Was it a death spasm? Some relic of life left in him? Or was it the result of an intention?
“I won’t.” I croaked.
“Man, you Drazens.” He shook his head in mock pensiveness. “You got this badass rep. But, buncha rich pussies if you ask me.”
My wits had returned. I glanced at the pile of crap on the floor, located my phone, and put my gaze back on him.
“Why are you alone, Paulie?” I asked. “No one love you anymore? Couldn’t find an ally to take out an enemy with?”
He smirked. “In the end, it’s on me.” He grabbed my hand and put the gun in it. “And you, Princess.” I yanked my hand away. He pulled his arm back and swiped the gun across the side of my face.
I think I flew. I think things fell and crashed, because a bolt of light followed the one that came from the impact of the gun. I went out of my body a little. I was blind and dizzy again. My stomach upended. I felt my hand levitate and something hard go into it. This was Paulie, putting the gun on my hand. I felt him over me, talking in my ear.