|Divinity Prologue: Grave Measures
Author: Guede Mazaka
Halfway through snacking on a churro, Sands remembered.
He put down the half-eaten pastry, wiped the chocolate melting stickily to his lip, and slouched in his chair. In the other room his “helper” was bustling about with pans and what smelled like puerco pibil in the making, as if that was going to make him any friendlier. Dumb bastard would’ve done better to offer him a chance at editing the reports Sands knew Mr. Nordic Pin-up was sending off every night at 3:02 A. M. Not that it would have really helped much, but it was funny how much of a difference people found between having an axe slice through their neck and being hung slowly so they were half-choked, then disemboweled and then torn into four quarters. Either way it was death. Go figure.
“Dinner’ll be ready in a moment,” called Al. “Afterwards do you want to try a turn around the courtyard?”
Sands nearly bit off his tongue first trying to slash a comment back at the man and then cutting himself off. Because after all, post-Culiacan him was supposed to be taking it a little easier in El Rey, learning how to get around with his disability and all while the CIA tried to figure out what to do with him. Normally they would’ve killed him for botching the job, but the problem was, he’d actually…not botched it. El Presidente the straight-arrow was still alive, but the fall-out from Marquez’s scheme had left him too busy dealing with internal affairs to do much about the U. S.’s less savory activities in Mexico, and that was as good as having him dead. Better if someone actually looked at the success rates for the real hard work of a coup: getting the hand-picked replacement to stay in power. Marquez had gotten fucked and some old hardcases in Langley apparently had a soft spot for that numbfuck, but even they weren’t about to mess with whatever Sands had unleashed on Dias de Los Muertos. And since they had no idea what that had been, there was the barest chance that Sands was the only key to controlling it.
If they only knew, he thought. “Sure, babe. You can hold my cane while I practice getting up again.”
“Sands, you disgusting shit. I told you to stop it with the gay come-ons. If you need to get laid…I can make a call, all right?”
Of course he could make a call. He made calls all the time…when to take Sands out on the streets, when to cut off Sands’ drinks, when to ignore Sands in favor of the pretty waitress in the tapas bar around the corner. Too bad he didn’t speak her dialect too well. Even worse that Sands did, and that a guy having sex tends not to notice, say, a skinny blind man making his own way around.
The churros were getting cold. So Sands finished them off and then carefully licked his fingers clean. He ambled over to the drawers on the side where he found a rag to wipe them off. Then he dug out the gun hidden in the back that he’d gotten from sympathetic Lucia who really hated blond, blue-eyed men ever since she’d gotten date-raped by some Spring Break college shitter. Five steps to the kitchen door, two to the stove.
Anyway, Al made shitty puerco pibil. Sands knew where he could get better. If that goddamned head-fucking mariachi had done the decent thing and stayed alive. He’d better have, because he owed Sands an explanation for killing his son the last time around. Getting the eyes taken out only evened up El and him for getting Sands bound to those fucking rocks with the fucking snake overhead and only having that goddamned gloomy bitch for company.
Sands stopped to get extra ammunition and the…modified…cane Al didn’t know about on his way out. It’d only been the one bullet after all, but with the way they fought in Mexico, every bullet counted.
* * *
“You left him alone? What are you, totally brainless?” Jesus Christ, and after five months of working with Smecker. Five weeks and Ed Greenly had known better.
Admittedly, five weeks in and he’d known Smecker in ways that probably nobody else on the force did, and lucky them. The benefits of getting to call the man Paul on off-hours were far, far lighter than the drawbacks of dealing with a piss-arrogant, nasty, eccentric fuck of an FBI agent. The sex was better than with any of Ed’s old girlfriends, but it wasn’t that good.
And frankly, things had been getting worse. For a while after the twins and their dad had skipped town, Smecker had been almost twinkly in his gleeful deductions, but about two months later he’d started getting…moody. Moodier. Verbal potshots aside, Ed had always been impressed at how hard Smecker worked, but the other man had taken it to extremes. Staying up all night poring over grisly crime-scene photos, interrupting sex with insights about the M. O. of serial rapists—and didn’t that kill the mood—throwing fits down in the forensic labs. One time he’d even sneaked out of Ed’s apartment to go and fall asleep on the bed where some two-bit Russkie with slight Mob connections had gotten topped. Maybe it’d helped him solve the case, but it was still fucking creepy.
That had been when Ed had first thought Smecker was losing it—really losing it, like he hadn’t seen the man do since…well, the MacManuses.
Paul had an obsession with those guys. He’d had it and then gotten rid of it and started helping them, but apparently it’d come back. And it’d come back with a black twist that made Ed’s skin crawl, because while before Paul had been grudgingly admiring, now he all but spat when the twins’ name was mentioned. His reaction to Il Duce didn’t bear mentioning.
But none of that had damaged his smarts, and more to the pity. Because as long as he was functioning there, the FBI wasn’t likely to give him leave when the bodies were stacked six deep in the morgues.
Ed got into the room before Smecker had gotten too far into it, thank God. Once in a while Smecker went to pieces hard enough to forget about shit like bagging the evidence and then Ed had to run interference with the goddamn D. A.’s along with the usual. “So what are we looking at here? Murder-suicide? Hubby catch his wife dicking another man and go apeshit?”
Smecker didn’t even look up. Didn’t ask for coffee either, and when he did speak, did so without a trace of humor. “Same as the last ones. Pennies on the eyes, double-taps on the head. And as far as the neighbors could tell, Mr. and Mrs. Balder were perfect…saints.”
Maybe Smecker hissed a little on the last word, like he wanted to tear a chunk out of the wall. He’d done that before. One slow step and Ed was positioned so he could grab Smecker if it came to that. Incidentally, he was also out of the way of anybody that might overhear. “Uh, Smecker? They’re in Milwaukee. Couple hundred miles out of the way?”
“So they are.” Slow and easy, Smecker got off his knees. He stripped off his filthy gloves and used them to wave in the forensics team. “Get the fuck in here and do…what you do. Christ, Greenly, stop shaking. We haven’t even seen the kid yet.”
“The kid?” Oh, hell. It was really bad. Really, really fucking going to blow the shit, and Duffy had to call in sick at the last minute so it was only Ed dogtrotting behind an iron-faced Smecker.
It’d been a shitty month in general, what with the murders popping up that inexplicably looked like the work of the Saints. Except all the dead people were, despite deep digging, apparently ordinary people innocent of any crimes. And except the Saints had been working the other side of the country, insofar as they knew. Ed hadn’t gotten his detective’s badge for nothing and he’d been doing his own snooping around instead of relying on Paul’s word for it.
Paul, however, seemed to think it was the Saints. The evidence did all point their way, down to details that had never been publicized, but that was impossible. Didn’t matter, really—whether they were guilty or innocent, the simple fact that it could look like them was eating up Paul.
“Ten-year-old girl. She’s upstairs,” Paul said. He waved at the stairs, gesture limp with feelings other than studied mockery of gay stereotypes. His eyes were bloodshot and his fingers were shaking with exhaustion, and overall he looked decades older than he actually was.
“You know what? I’ll go, and you can rest your fancy shoes over there. You look like shit and I’m not up to kiss-assing the Chief till he starts lending you men again if you do something stupid.” Ed put his hand on the rail and slid in front of Paul before the other man could take a step. In the background he could hear the muffled voices of the beat officers and the labbies grow fainter; they were getting down to the dirty work in the next room.
Something touched the back of Ed’s neck: two fingers. “You know, Edward, you really aren’t a bad detective when you aren’t thinking about how good you are,” Paul said. He sounded…sad.
And then he did something painful that put Greenly out so he didn’t wake up, cursing and rubbing at his sore neck, till Paul was long gone. AWOL, and here was white-faced Duffy saying that they’d gotten it wrong, that the Saints had been in the city since three days ago. At the least.
* * *
Lorenzo flopped around on the creaky, sagging mattress they were all sharing and stuck his nose into Fideo’s belly. It took a few minutes of whuffing and groping before Fideo roused enough to smack Lorenzo into comprehending awareness. Then Lorenzo dragged himself up and poked at El. //Hey.//
//I know.// El finished cleaning the gun and set it aside. He picked up the next one and frowned at the traces of blood crusted around the safety.
//So? He’s pissed off.// There was a hint of whine in Lorenzo’s voice, like he’d just had a particularly tasty little morsel whisked away from him, but no real worry.
And so had El when he’d looked down at the sash of the country he thought was his own and realized that that was a lie. He still was angry about certain things, but he’d also done some thinking. They weren’t far enough away from Culiacan to risk playing or even walking down the street, so he’d had plenty of time for that. //Go back to sleep.//
//Oh, fuck. Not again//, Lorenzo muttered. But he settled down well enough when El laid a hand on his head and softly scratched.
//No, not again.// It was dark, so El smiled.
* * *
Murphy bit at the inside of his index finger where the gun-callus was. He shouldn’t have because he needed his other hand to hold the blood in Da’s chest. But it was soaking through the bandages even though they were an inch thick and his other hand was pressing on top, and even though he and Connor had been praying and praying. It didn’t fucking help that little red bubbles of spit were starting to drip from the corner of Da’s mouth.
“A priest. Maybe—” Connor whispered. The words stuck in his teeth and came out chipped when they finally did make it from between his lips. He’d lost a lot of blood as well and by rights he should’ve been on the couch, but Da was worse.
“No.” No, it couldn’t be that bad. It fucking well can’t, Murphy wanted to shout. Because if Da died, then where was their fucking guide? Where was their fucking explanation? There was only so much blood a man could take on his own two feet, and then after that he needed something a little higher to light the way, and for them that was Da. And if he died…Murphy and Connor had long since passed the point at which their own wills came into play.
“No.” The hand that grabbed Murphy’s wrist, squeezed it till the bones screamed, was so strong that for a moment Murphy was floating with relief. But then he looked at his father, and he saw the gold sheen of death already starting across the man’s eyes, and he realized it wasn’t that.
Da turned his head and coughed to clear his mouth of the bloody spit. The red beneath Murphy’s hand spread and grew so sticky that it began to ooze up between his fingers, and even through the bandages he could feel the broken ribs grind.
“Not a doctor, either,” Da whispered. His eyes were still aflame, and automatically Connor and Murphy bent their heads. “Listen. I need to tell you. Damn everything, but I’d thought there’d be time…it took so long to find you, and there was so much…”
Someone knocked at the door. “Connor? It’s Smecker.”
Oh, thank God. Smecker hadn’t been contacting them often lately, but he had connections and he’d worked miracles for them before. Murphy looked at Connor, Connor rose—
--and was yanked down. Il Duce’s hand had gone up and clamped over Connor’s mouth, fingers and thumb digging into Connor’s cheeks so hard the flesh beneath was going dark red. His eyes snapped open and he stared with a ferocity that silenced everything except the increasingly impatient man banging on their door.
“Get out of here. Don’t kill him, but don’t get near till he—” another cough and Da looked at them for a moment “—damn. It’ll be the hard route, then.”
Then he pulled Connor down the rest of the way and pressed his lips to Connor’s forehead. He did the same to Murphy before shoving them back and seizing a gun from Connor’s belt before they could stop him. “Get out. Go to Mexico.”
“But—” Connor looked at the door, which was beginning to shake beneath the force of Smecker’s blows. Da’s kiss had left an irregular scarlet smear over his left eye, as if he’d been gashed there.
“Get out!” roared Da.
The fire-escape. Confused, Murphy grabbed their bag and Connor grabbed him, and they were halfway out the window before they came to themselves. Murphy looked back just as Smecker kicked the door down and jumped in, gun out.
“Come on!” Hands scrabbled at Murphy, pulled and twisted till he was sliding over the sill and absently grabbing at rough metal rails. Connor’s strained, hurting breath in his ear.
They cut into his palms but he barely felt them, so intent was he on what he was seeing. He was dimly aware of a yelling in his ear, and a string of curses, and a knee nearly in his balls that tried to shove him to the ladder, but he couldn’t seem to move. There was Smecker and Da, and a bullethole smoking in the wall beside Smecker’s head, and Da wasn’t moving. Wasn’t. Moving.
Then Smecker slowly, slow as a candle burning down, turned and raised his gun towards Murphy. That was when Murphy realized he wasn’t numb and still, but fighting like hell against Connor to get back in and—and—“Da!”
“Not now. Go, go, go,” Connor hissed. He rammed his head against Murphy’s, stunning them both. The blood on their foreheads was now smeared all over the upper halves of their faces and made Connor look like a demon.
Smecker’s aim changed to Connor, who had his back to him.
Murphy yanked his brother’s shoulder and they went down. Somehow they tumble-clawed their way down the ladder while Smecker’s shot buried itself in the building across the alley, and then they kept running while another bullet hit an inch from Murphy’s foot, while Connor clutched at his side and Murphy could think of nothing but not again, not again. They ran.