Danny was already on the second-floor landing when I reached the block of rooms. I followed from below, matching his speed, waiting to see which room he entered. But something was speaking to Danny, some instinct. He halted abruptly and looked over the railing.
I tried to conceal myself between four parked cars, two side by side in one row and two directly behind them. I failed.
“You,” he said.
Danny dropped the sack of food and tray of drinks. The lids popped off the drinks, and caramel-colored liquid flowed over the edge of the landing.
He looked right at me, yet his eyes didn’t seem to focus. Maybe he thought if he pretended I wasn’t there, I’d go away. That lasted only a second. Then came panic. When Danny realized I couldn’t reach him, his battered face knotted into an expression of pure hatred, and I remembered: I didn’t just take away Danny’s gun in the parking lot, I took away the illusion that he was a tough guy, I took away his pride, and he’d hate me forever for it. My inner voice told me to kill him while I had the chance. Instead, I raised my hand and fluttered my fingers ever so slightly at him—“a microwave,” Victoria Dunston called it.
“So how’s it going?” I chirped.
“You motherfucking sonuvabitch.”
“Hey, hey, hey—let’s keep family out of this.”
“What did I say?”
Danny gripped the iron railing as if he wanted to throw it at me.
Profanity, obscenity, vulgarity—they have become the bedrock of the English language. Just ask the scriptwriters at Fox.
My rage at Danny wasn’t nearly as great as it had been. Probably it had something to do with his puffy, scarred, and black-and-blue face. I still wanted to blow his brains out for what he had done to Susan Tillman and Mr. Mosley, but there was something I wanted more.
“Say, Dan-man”—Dan-man was what Bobby Dunston and I had called a kid we played hockey with—“have you seen Frank lately?”
When Danny didn’t answer, I decided to go with the Big Bluff.
“Special Agent Sykora of the FBI sent me.”
Danny’s eyes grew wide.
“You’re a liar.”
He shoots, he scores.
“Come on down, Danny. I won’t hurt you.”
Danny didn’t believe me. He looked right and left, I don’t know what for—a place to run, perhaps. Go ’head and run, my inner voice urged. Show me where you live.
Danny didn’t run. After a moment, he released his grip on the railing and stood up straight while continuing to look down at me. He smiled.
Why would he smile?
Why are you smiling, Danny?
I whirled just in time to see the blade slashing toward me. My arms came up as I dodged to my left, hitting a car door with my hip. The knife stabbed empty air beneath my right arm and chest. I danced backward.
There are two of them, man. When are you going to learn?
Danny’s friend had been surprised when I turned so unexpectedly. That’s why he had missed—I assumed. From the merriment in his eyes and the grin on his lips, he might have done it on purpose, choosing to toy with me a bit. A little boy with flies and no adult supervision.
He advanced on me in a crouch, holding the knife close to his body, probing the space between us with his free hand. I hate knives. Normally I would avoid them at all costs, especially his—a seven-inch stainless steel combat knife called a “Yarborough” by the Green Berets. But trapped in the narrow space between the four cars, I had nowhere to go but forward or back. Forward was out of the question. Backpedaling wasn’t much better—I had no speed and I kept glancing off the cars. I didn’t dare turn my back to him. I thought about the Beretta pressed between my belt and the small of my back. By the time I reached for it, he would drive the blade of his knife through my heart.
I let him get close.
He feinted with his shoulder.
I hopped into the air and drove my left foot into his chest. It bounced back like I had kicked a truck tire.
“Stick ’im, Brucie,” Danny shouted from the balcony.
Brucie? His name is Brucie?
Brucie jabbed at my throat. I shifted my head away and slapped his knife hand to the side. I grabbed his wrist with my left hand, and with my right I drove a four-knuckle punch into his throat.
Brucie staggered backward but didn’t lose his balance. He pulled his wrist free with such ease I wondered why I had bothered grabbing it in the first place.
This is not good.
Brucie moved toward me again, crouching low as before.
I held my ground, braced myself. Parry and strike. What other choice did I have?
Brucie raised the knife.
“Stick ’im,” Danny urged.
A woman began to scream in high, piercing, continuous shrieks. She was standing behind Brucie and to his left, holding the hand of a little girl, who in turn was holding toy fins and goggles—they were both dressed for the pool.
When Brucie saw them, he hid the knife behind his back. The expression on his face made me conclude that he was embarrassed.
That would have been a good time to hit him.
But it was an even better time to run away.