With a final Herculean yank I wrenched the top loose. I peered into the darkness yawning before me and shuddered. I hoped I never met a demise that included being shut up in such a horrid and dank place. Shoving my fears and uncertainties aside, I broke the chemical stick and shook its contents. I dropped it into the well, and was surprised that it didn’t drop as far as I’d been led to believe it would. Leaning further over the edge, I looked for the yellow chem. light and saw it in a pool of murky water. Pulling myself from the edge of the old well, I took one final look around and knew that this could end up being my burial shrine if I didn’t find the answers I’d hoped were down within these ancient depths. Triple checking to make sure my rope was secured and that the tree branch I’d used to tie off my line wouldn’t break, I began my descent. Halfway down, I heard an unmistakable crack from above me and watched stupidly as the rope went slack in my hands. I tried to brace myself against the sides of the well, but my hands and feet merely skidded down the slime encrusted bricks. Gravity did its job and yanked me to the bottom. I was able to get my feet under me, but as I landed I felt something pop in my ankle and sharp pain bolted up my leg into my groin. Gasping in pain, I hobbled around the well testing my ankle, which held my weight with little problem. I knew, however that I’d just dodged a bullet, but not by much, because the ankle would slow me down. I looked at the small crescent of moonlight above me, reached and turned on the light I had strapped to my forehead. There was nowhere to go but onward now. I dropped the useless rope I still clutched and bent to pick up the chem. light. Luckily the water wasn’t very deep, not even above the ankle of my boots, but water in such a place could end up being bad. I looked around and saw what I expected to. A small circular well dug some hundred years ago, nothing unusual. However, I pried at a loose stone in the corner and was relieved when it and the other sixteen stones came loose. I was immediately blasted in the face with a cool subterranean breeze. I dropped to my knees and crawled into the small opening and was finally able to stand.
The narrow tunnel led deep underground and I knew that I would find two things within if the rumors were true . I hoped so. I hoped the last words of a dying man were sincere. I wanted to find my father and the supposed treasure he himself had hidden and died to protect. I had spent the past thirty-six months in jail to get to the bottom of things, to ferret out all the answers, half-truths and lies, and admittedly had to go to some pretty low depths to get that information. Being a woman made my job that much more difficult. It wasn’t without its perils for sure, but men are easily manipulated once you know what buttons to push, what strings to pull, or cut. There were certain things that happened within the past year and a half that I want never to speak of again, but, as the saying goes, the ends justify the means. I prayed that would indeed be the case.
I made my way down the narrow passage, my ankle throbbing but holding up. I tried not to limp on it, tried to keep my full weight on it, but as the tunnel went on, I felt my ankle begin to swell, and knew that if I didn’t do something about it, and soon, it could be disastrous. Stopping and kneeling I peeled the boot and heavy woolen sock off my foot. Right away I knew I was in trouble. My ankle was black and swelling alarmingly. I was glad that I had chosen to throw an ACE bandage into my pack, and shrugged out of the heavy burden. Soon I had the bandage wrapped tightly around my ankle, my sock and boot on, and was underway, adjusting my pack as I went. The tunnel was narrow and low, but soon the breeze slackened, and I stood at the maw of a much larger cavern. Natural steps had been cut from the rock face. The cavern wasn’t very large but I could hardly see where it topped out. Above, in the murky depths of the stalactite encrusted ceiling I heard the unmistakable sound of leathery wings rustling against one another and knew that there had to be a way out, I just hoped it was big enough to fit me.
Soon I reached the bottom of the steps, and right away noticed something that put me on alert. A red smear ran down the cavern wall. As I drew closer I realized that it was old, perhaps my father’s blood. It was aged, rust colored and nearly matching the color of the rocks around it. I knew that my father had met a dreadful end at the hands of some very bad men. Well those bad men would sleep in their murderous, liars beds for only a few short days before I would come seeking retribution. No matter his faults, my father did not deserve the betrayal he’d received. Of course, it was his dumb luck to be so trusting of a group of con-artists and thieves. Well I supposed it was true that there was no honor amongst thieves. However, there would be retribution, of that I was certain. The stairs led to a narrow passage cut into the rock, and it formed a sort of maze that I followed, and as I made my way further in, I noticed a splotch of rust colored blood staining a wall, even saw a bloody handprint at one point, but it wasn’t until I’d gotten to the lighter that I felt my temper spike. It had my father’s initials engraved on it, and with tenderness I recalled the day I’d gotten him that lighter and how much his eyes lit up when he opened its box. I clutched the lighter in my balled fist and pushed forward, further into the labyrinth.
The path dead-ended into a small circular opening, and right away I saw my father. His resting place was against a rotting wooden crate, his arms were splayed out, and his skeleton still wore the tattered remains of the clothes I remember him leaving the house in that morning so long ago. I drew even with his body and saw several holes in his blue work shirt, and more rust colored blood surrounding the wounds. Apparently he’d been shot before dragging the crate down here, and had expired as he reached its final resting place. Well no matter, my father’s remains would find a way out of this place and be put to proper rest, so he and my mother could be together forever. As gently as I could, I pushed my father’s body off the crate, then dropped the pack, and pulled out the pry bar I’d brought with me. The old, waterlogged wood and rusty nails easily separated, I pulled the top off the crate and gasped. I slid the lid back into place, leaned against the crate and began crying, and laughing. My father, a nobody, a good damn wheelman had outsmarted everyone that claimed to know more than him. Unfortunately that intellect wound up costing him his life, but he got away and I knew for certain that these men had spent the past five years looking for what I now possessed. I patted my father’s skeletal hand, laughed and wiped away the tears. No more would I be wondering if he’d managed to escape and was lying low somewhere. Now I knew, knew beyond any doubt that what I had heard upon first entering prison to be true . My father had been betrayed by the men he was supposed to trust. After all, it was my father’s skills that evaded the police; it was my father’s natural ability to find a way, a shortcut that ultimately kept them all free men. This was the thanks he got, a gut full of lead, and an un-Christian burial. No matter, retribution was on its way. I stood and looked around the small room trying to find a way out. I saw another path near the crate, and held up the dying chemical light to see what type of path it was. Right away I was blinded by another flashlight coming up the path, and my stomach dropped. My hand inched towards my hip, and the low slung holster sitting there. My father may have met his end because of over trustworthiness, but his daughter would go to hers fighting tooth and nail.
‘Nikki, Nikki, Nikki, my sweet girl, you are every bit as predictable as your father.’
‘Miles, I should have known you’d find a way to track me.’ I returned between gritted teeth.
‘Of course my dear, do you think that I’ve gotten to where I have by dumb luck and chance?’ He chuckled ruefully and beckoned for someone behind him. I didn’t waste another chance and smoothly drew the 1911 at my hip.
‘Take another step and you’ll be keeping my father company for a long time you slimy son of a bitch.’ I hissed.
Miles flinched, surprised at my audacity.
‘Go ahead, shoot. Me and Jaime, we won’t care,’ He flashed his brilliant white teeth, sharks teeth, at me. ‘But Rico and Hector might take offense at the demise of their brother…’ He chuckled again. ‘And there is the fact that they have implicit orders to blow the entrance if anything were to happen to me.’ He stood at the base of the path, just inside the funnel of light from my headlamp eyeing me as if he were a snake and I a mouse. What he didn’t know was this mouse could roar, and would. I just needed my chance and knowing Miles, how he liked to posture and talk about his genius, I would get it. I slid my gun back down into the holster, and saw Jaime, or a slab of human granite; I wasn’t sure which it was until he moved. The man stood every bit of six foot nine inches and had wide, muscular shoulders and arms that looked like they could and probably have crushed the lives out of a man or two. Standing there I put my arms out in a semi surrender, semi come at me stance. Miles’ smile widened, and Jaime merely followed silently.
‘Go ahead Miles, take the crate, but you should know something about Patches and Polly.’ I said taking a step back; keeping out of range of anything this madman would try.
‘Patches…’ Miles said distantly, but I wasn’t buying it. I knew that she was a plant from the moment she approached me in the laundry so long ago in jail. ‘Oh, you mean the fat girl?’ He motioned for Jaime, and he moved forward towards the crate. ‘What about her?’ He asked this nonchalantly, but I knew I had his interest. Patches was a wildcard that even he couldn’t predict, and had blown up in his face.
‘She hates you; knowing you I suppose hated you. I mean, I seen the handy work you did to Polly. Nice message by the way, but next time you take a blowtorch to a man, you might want to make damn sure he’s actually dead.’ I flashed my own predatory grin, and noticed that it had the desired effect. Miles no longer seemed cocksure; instead, I detected a crack in his armor, and pushed forward, exploiting it. ‘Polly told me a lot of useful information, most important would be the location of that crate you so cherish and covet, and you know what? I didn’t have to torture him, or get some overweight crackhead to spy for me. In the end he wanted to tell me all the things he refused, even under torture, to tell you.’ I spat in the dirt at my feet, and eyed both Miles and Jaime.
‘Well, it doesn’t matter. What Polly wouldn’t tell me, Patches was more than willing to.’ Miles said, regaining his swagger. ‘I found you, and found…’ He motioned to the crate on the ground. Jaime reared a leg back to kick my father.
‘Connect and I will put a hole in you.’ I warned evenly. Jaime looked at me like I was a bug, and kicked my father’s remains, scattering them. I quickly drew and put a bullet in Jaime’s ear. He dropped with a grunt, his brains spraying the cavern floor, the shot echoing, sending the roost of bats into a frenzy. They exploded from the ceiling screeching, seeking a way to escape the noise below. Miles was beside himself staring wild eyed at me, and automatically raising his hands to protect himself from the furry horde that enveloped him. I merely stood as the bats swarmed around me, not caring. My target was the man in the white linen suit in front of me. I wanted nothing more than to drop him as I dropped his bodyguard. However, I needed him for a short while longer. As the maelstrom of bats ebbed, I marched forward and clubbed Miles behind the ear with the gun. It had the desired effect and his hysterical stare turned to me.
‘Oh but I can you piece of garbage, and I will.’ I returned evenly. ‘But first, I need you to do a couple of things.’ I dropped my pack, not taking my eyes off Miles. ‘Actually, hang on…’ I drew forward and pulled a small chrome semi-automatic from under his jacket. I threw the gun away into the gloomy darkness, and heard it clatter against something. I returned to my pack, still keeping the gun trained on Miles. I dug two large duffel bags out and dropped them at his feet.
‘Fill them up.’ I commanded.
‘But there’s only enough for the one.’
‘I know.’ I said, motioning to my father. ‘And do try to be gentle, or you might just end up like your buddy.’ I said.
Miles bent to task, first emptying the contents of the crate, pausing long enough to awe in its ethereal glow. He looked at me, and then continued filling the black duffel bag. After he was done, I motioned for him to slide it my way; he did and began putting my father into the other bag. He, I noticed, did so with a slight reverence, casting a wary glance at Jaime, who lay in the red dirt surrounded by a bloody halo, his eyes rolled back into his head.
‘You know they’ll kill you, right?’ Miles asked standing and brushing the knees of his pants.
‘You mean his brothers?’ I asked, shouldering the duffel with the crate contents. ‘They can try. Take the other bag, and I don’t need to remind you again to be careful with it, it means more to me than this crap. Now walk.’ I commanded waving the gun towards the path. Miles did so, picking up the dropped flashlight, looking back at me one more time.
‘No they really will come after you, these bastards are crazy enough, but now you’ve killed their little brother…’ He whistled between his teeth. ‘Wouldn’t want to be you right now sister.’ His laugh was brittle, nervous, and not entirely sane.
It was then I realized my mistake. I didn’t see the other man lurking in the dark until he was nearly on me. I shot blindly, missing him entirely. Miles had dropped the flashlight and disappeared into the murky darkness.
‘I’m telling you sweetheart, you’ll die down here, so let’s all be nice and give me the bag. I promise to make sure you don’t suffer.’ He laughed again, his loons laugh, and I wanted nothing more than to shoot him in the teeth, but didn’t want to waste my limited ammo. Instead I focused on the current threat, the man in the dark. As soon as he’d run into the small circle of light and I’d blindly, foolishly fired, he vanished once again, and I stood warily holding the gun in front of me steadily.
I heard someone breathing low, like a bull getting ready to charge, and swung in that direction as the man bolted forward. I managed to peg him between my sites and shot once more. He went down in a heap and didn’t move. I began to march forward, looking for Miles.
‘Come on you rat faced son of a bitch; you’re next.’ I growled low, my blood worked up into a froth. ‘I told you that you wouldn’t get me as easily as you did my father.’
‘Oh but I disagree.’ Miles said from behind me, slashing at me. The swipe would have been lethal, perhaps fatal were it not for my pack. It took the brunt of the cut, but not all of it. The blade whipped around and cut into my bicep. Immediately I felt the blood rush forth. I heard Miles dance away into the darkness and once again stood quietly, listening intently. I didn’t hear him until he was nearly on me again. This time I feinted left, and he went for it. I stuck a foot out, tripping him. He sprawled in the dirt and was up lightning quick, a wickedly curved blade held in his hand, his smile matching. ‘I told you honey, you aren’t going to live to see tomorrow. Your father made the same mistake you’re making right now, and look where it got him…’ he kicked his own duffel bag.
‘Kick that bag again, you bastard… I dare you.’ I whispered to the darkness.
‘Or what will you do sweetie?’ Miles asked darting in again, cutting at me. I barely dodged the attack and knew that he had the upper hand. He was quieter, and weighed considerably less.
‘Oh enough of this shit.’ I said, dropping the bag and my pack. ‘I’ll make a deal with you Miles, what do you say?’ I listened to the darkness a moment.
‘Go on…’ He replied somewhere to my right.
‘I’ll blow you, this loot, and me to kingdom come.’
‘And what’s the other half of the bargain?’ He asked silently to my left now.
‘Let me go.’ I slid down, and reached into my pack pulling out my ace. I shook the box of wooden matches, and held the stick of dynamite. ‘Hear that, sweetie?’ I asked sarcastically.
‘It’s matches, what of it?’ He asked from behind me.
‘Matches and a stick of dynamite… with a short, short fuse so fuck off leave me and my father alone, or we all go down, sound like a plan?’
‘I don’t think you’ll do it.’ He said, still from behind me.
‘Motherfucker, I spent two years in jail learning all about you and your operations. Your whorehouse in Reseda, guess what? I know what judges, cops, and sheriff’s deputies cover for that heroin front. You think your buddies would be so willing to cover you if they knew you were running Mexican black tar heroin out of it? I wonder…’
‘So?’ He asked contemplatively.
‘Come out here in the light so I can see you. I’m getting tired of this dance.’ I said turning and pointing the gun to where his voice was last.
‘You think I’m going to present such an easy target?’ He laughed cruelly. ‘No, honey, even I’m not that stupid.’
‘It doesn’t matter, unless you call your dogs off, we’re all going to be buried here under tons and tons of rubble along with your little treasure. So you either piss off alive, or you die here with me.’ I struck a match, and saw his surprised expression in its bright glow. ‘Last chance,’ I said bringing the match closer to the dynamite fuse. My bags are packed, I’ve found my father; I am at peace. How about you? Have you found Jesus?’
‘You’re crazy bitch…’ He said with wonder.
‘Takes one to know one,’ I retorted, enjoying the childhood taunt. The match began to burn low, and I held it closer to the fuse. ‘Come on buddy, we don’t have very long because I ain’t going to let this bastard burn out. Choose now, or die now.’
‘Fine, you win for now, but know that I will spend no expense to find you, I will have what is owed me.’
‘I wouldn’t worry so much about getting what you think is yours Miles; you won’t live to enjoy it. I highly recommend you sleep with one eye open.’
‘So you’re going to let me walk out of here alive, only to threaten me?’
‘Well I would say you get a reprieve, sound better? Go on; live the last few days of your life pal.’ I said as the match fizzed out.
‘We will meet again Nikki, count on that.’ He said, his voice fading into the darkness.
‘I’m not the one who needs to worry Miles.’ I replied. ‘Be a dear and leave a light on, wouldn’t want to stumble over anything in your little bungalow out on the bay.’
I heard his hiss of surprise and knew that I finally hit a nerve. He said nothing, but I held the stick of dynamite in my hand a moment longer, ready to strike another match. An instant later I bent to pick up his dropped flashlight and followed the path. It curved and twisted, and began to slant upwards. Soon I was bathed in distant night stars, and a cool evening breeze. I turned off both the flashlight and the one on my forehead. Warily I moved forward, waiting for an attack. None came, but I didn’t let my guard down until I stood at the mines entrance. I looked around making sure I was truly alone. The duffel bag containing my father lay nearby unzipped. I saw a note stabbed into a wooden support pillar. I yanked it free and read it.
I’ve got what you want; you’ve got what I want. I think I like his company…
Be seeing you sweetheart,
I balled the note up and dug into the bag. Miles had taken my father’s skull.
‘Enjoy your freedom asshole, I promise I’ll be seeing you sooner than you can possibly hope.’ I growled low. Nearby a wolf howled at the low, fat moon, and I found it a fitting epitaph for this particular evening.
I stood on the beach, the surf crashing against the shore, knowing that Miles wasn’t the last peg, only the most important one. The night was full of bright stars and another full moon. To my right was a small group of men, mercenaries with lose morals who didn’t mind, for the right price, doing what I asked of them. All it took was a little bit of cash, and some gumption. I had both in spades. The mercenaries had simple instructions: kill everyone, man, woman, or child between the beach and Miles. Leave Miles alive enough for me, and find my father’s skull. I looked at my watch, the radium hands were almost touching at midnight. I motioned and the group of men silently moved forward on the beach. Soon the lights were extinguished in the small house, and I knew that Miles would be in a panic. I heard suppressed gunfire, the pop of a flash bang grenade, and then silence. The radio at my hip clicked twice. That was the all clear signal. I drew my 1911 and smiled grimly. Looking to the stars, I said a little prayer for my father, and moved forward. This would be fun.
I casually made my way to the Spanish tiled bungalow, taking in the serene nighttime. The lights inside the house came back up, and I heard a scream; Miles! I crossed the threshold, saw a dead bodyguard, made my way into the bedroom and saw a woman with a bullet hole in her forehead lying half in the bathroom. Miles was on the bed, his nose was bloody. The group of mercenaries stood silently over him.
‘You guys can go, take whatever you want. Miles won’t care.’ I said with a sinister grin.
Saying nothing, the group dissolved into the house. I thought they’d left until I heard crashing from another room. I guess they decided to look for some goodies after all. I turned my attention back to Miles.
‘Hey asshole, guess what? I found you, and here you thought I was just bluffing.’ I made my way onto the bed, casually laying the gun down one side of his face, opening a small gash on his cheek. His hand flew to the injury, and he began to babble.
‘You can’t do this! You can’t! It wasn’t me who shot your old man, it was Cannifick!’
‘I know, and he’s on my list, but Miles, really, you should know better than to think that I wouldn’t find out that it was you who set the ball into motion. I believe it was you who had the brilliant idea that a wheelman was really not very useful, right? I mean, that’s just silly if you think about it. Who else but my father, the wheelman, could get you bunch of losers away from that clusterfuck?’ I stood on the bed, over Miles, and raised the gun. ‘When you get to hell, tell my father I said hello.’ With that declaration, I pulled the trigger, the booming shots overpowering Miles’ screams. I walked out of the house, making sure I collected my shell casings, noticing the living room in disarray, but saw no sign of the mercs. I grabbed my fathers skull of the fireplace mantle and made my way out into the night air, and crashing waves; soon this whole house would be a funeral pyre, and that thought pleased me greatly. Kissing my fathers skull, I found a smile again.