In my line of work, the mantra “Don’t Panic” proves valuable. Though rarely brought up in training services and even more rarely called into play by the circumstances, a level head and quick thinking will prove to be the victor’s greatest tools in any scenario. Now more than ever, as I stood overlooking the bloodbath that was the parking garage, I needed those precious two words. I took a calming breath, trying to ignore the smells of blood and cordite that mingled in the heavy air. I couldn’t fail; I couldn’t afford to fail, and I needed my resolve at its strongest. After a quick check to ensure the integrity of my precious cargo, I began to pick my way through the casualties. They were all either cops or the associates of my target, which possibly explained why he had eluded me so fervently earlier. His supply of disposable henchmen placed him likely in a high position in some criminal hierarchy, but such reflection left me only wanting answers. Why, for example, had he answered the door for me if he was so high up?
My questioning was interrupted by a guttering cough nearby. I dashed over to find one of the henchmen slumped against the wall, with several dark spots blossoming beneath his shirt. He let out another wracking cough before looking up, first in fear and then in confusion. A smile quickly crept across his visage.
“Damn, kid, you don’t give up,” he wheezed.
“Your pal’s not here. Where’d he run off to?” I asked. He let out a chuckle, which turned into a full laugh, producing flecks of blood and phlegm all the while.
“You’re serious? Hell, you know what? You can have him, for all I care. He ran off to a safe house out by the pier on Calvert Road. Little shack behind a crab buffet.”
I had my information; there was no time to waste. I began making my way back to my car when the man spoke up again.
“Hey,” he shouted, gesturing toward the package in my hand, “You mind if I have some?”
I didn’t have time for this, and I turned my back on the dying man. Hunger would soon be the least of his troubles. True to the man’s word, the safehouse stood near a dilapidated buffet restaurant, but once again I’d been beaten to the punch. By the looks of it, this time the shootout had involved a rival gang, and the same brutal result as before had played out behind the crab diner. Not a soul was left standing by the bullet-riddled cars, and the shack’s boarded-up windows bore the same evidence. Rocking on one hinge, the safehouse’s door beckoned entry and I quickly made my way inside. Bodies lay splayed across the floor in the sitting room and hallway, but a peek in the kitchen revealed the familiar attire of my target. He sat at the dining table, bloodied roll of gauze in one hand and a glass of bourbon trembling in the other.
“Come to finish the job?” he said without looking up.
“Maybe not in the way you’re thinking, but in the end I always deliver.”
He turned to see me, his brows creased in disbelief.
“H-how? Why? Jesus, kid, how did you find me?”
“That’s not at issue. You’re Mr. Bernelli of 1248 Huntingdon Apts.,correct?”
I checked my precious cargo, verifying the shorthand that was scrawled across the top of the box.
“Says here that you ordered a large half-cheese, half-mushroom pizza with stuffed crust?” He only nodded.
“That’ll be $16.50. Cash only.”