Part II: Chapter Twenty-One

January 10, 2014 by Randy Steinberg

shoot-out

Matt goes into the lion’s den

Matt knew some things about Carmine Cantu. He knew he owned and operated Jackie O’s Liquor Store on the American Legion Highway. He knew he had his hands in a lot of the local black markets. He knew he once had a son named Billy, whom he had strangled to death. And he knew Carmine was now on the hunt for those responsible for his son’s death.

Oddly, one thing Matt did not know: where did Carmine live? He’d never really thought about it before. He took it for granted Carmine was somewhere close by. His reputation and presence in the area was so pervasive, like a ghostly legend, that he could have lived in any house or all of them. But Matt didn’t know for certain. He thought about asking around, but he feared word might get back to Carmine.

If he was going to take Carmine out he had to follow him. Matt hoped he didn’t have a kindly, gray-haired wife or mother that he lived with. He hoped it was not too far away. Matt only had a bike, and Carmine drove. The roads of Revere were not all bike-friendly, and some were so open and flat he’d surely be noticed if he got too close.

Matt needed a little luck. And he got it. Carmine didn’t keep a regular schedule, so Matt circled Jackie O’s several times a day. He made his passes by the liquor store random, not wanting to get noticed. The day after his last meeting with Kitty, he had pedaled by Jackie O’s for what felt like the fiftieth time when he saw Carmine’s Cadillac pull into the lot. Carmine did not see him, and Matt pedaled on.

Around the corner, he ditched his bike and watched through some sickly city bushes to see when Carmine would emerge. It was getting late, a blessing and a curse. Darkness would conceal Matt, but it would make it that much harder to follow Carmine.

An hour later, Carmine came out and got into his car. It was now dark, save for urban glare. Street lights. Traffic lights. Strip mall lights. Traffic was heavy, giving Matt the ability to stay near Carmine. Once Carmine got over thirty miles an hour, Matt would never be able to keep up with him.

Matt kept the length of a football field back from Carmine’s car. Traffic and frequent stop lights allowed Matt to stay with the Cadillac. At a rotary, Matt had a choice to make. There was no way for a bike to cross it safely and even making an attempt would be like waving a flag and saying “Yo, here I am!”

He decided to wait until Carmine’s car was out of sight and then brave the rotary. If he had more luck, he’d be able to reacquire the target. Soon the Caddy was gone and Matt made his move. He nearly caused a ten car pile-up and every obscenity in the Revere dictionary was hurled at him. It was difficult biking with a gun in his pocket, but he had to bring it along just in case. He felt like showing the weapon to some of the enraged drivers to back them down, but his first priority was getting across the rotary alive, not starting a shoot out.

Matt kept going and got through in one piece, but he lost Carmine. He tried a few side streets. Nothing. He took a shot and went down to the beach.

The last of the day’s light was winking out, and the horizon was a beautiful pink-gold. Matt thought about the times he and Kitty had come to the beach. He forgot about Carmine as he pedaled along the strip, looking at kids and other couples enjoying the evening.

At this moment, when danger seemed so far away, the Cadillac rushed past Matt. At first, he thought Carmine was on to him and it was a drive by. He’d be gunned down and die face first in the sand on Revere Beach. But that didn’t happen. Carmine didn’t even see him or if he did, he did not recognize Matt. Matt watched as the car pulled into the garage of one of the high rises along the beach.

Matt’s good luck had turned bad. Had Carmine lived in a house he might have had a chance, but there was no way he’d get into a high rise to strike at Carmine. And even if he did get Carmine, what about Jim Shea and Al Diaz? He couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t come for revenge. Matt knew he had to get all three, and that meant they all had to be in the same place at the same time.

Matt waited. Maybe Carmine was just visiting someone. But after several hours, it was completely dark and the Cadillac did not emerge. It wasn’t wise to hang around the beach at night, even if armed, and regardless, Matt needed to save his bullets for Carmine and his henchmen.

Looking at all the lights snapping on across the water, Matt had a sinking feeling. All those people and their lights: they were probably enjoying dinner or watching a Red Sox game. Some of them were with their wives or girlfriends or families. How carefree they seemed, and how much he wanted to be like them. But that was no longer possible.

Matt knew he’d have to get Carmine at Jackie O’s, and he’d have to get the lieutenants too. It would be a great story if he lived, one of immense daring and glory. Just like last year’s football season.

############################

Matt spent a few more days casing Jackie O’s. He noticed that on a few  nights after closing, Carmine would pull up to the store and go around back. It looked like all regular employees had left and only Carmine, Jim Shea, and Al Diaz would be in the building. God only knew what they were plotting in there, but this would be his opportunity.

Matt would have the advantage of surprise, but the gangsters would be more familiar with the store. Maybe he didn’t even have to use the guns. Carmine was older and physically no match for Matt. Matt could sneak up on him and strangle him the way he did with Billy. But even if he succeeded with Carmine, he couldn’t be sure the others wouldn’t see or hear. They were younger, and Al Diaz, in particular, was a formidable street fighter.

No, Matt would have to use the guns. He wasn’t sure how he’d perform at the moment of truth. In close quarters, he assumed his aim only needed to be average, but he’d watched shows on the Discovery Channel. He knew pistols recoiled and jammed. Would one shot put each man down permanently?

As Matt watched Jackie O’s, all these thoughts and what ifs whirled in his mind. He was losing his nerve, driving himself crazy. He decided to make his move the next night when Carmine came around; he needed to end this, whether he killed them or…he hated to think it…he would be the dead man.

###########################

Matt came home late that night. His mother was at the hospital and his father asleep. He went to his room and did something he couldn’t remember doing in a long time: he wrote a letter.

In the age of I-Pads, smart phones, texting and social media, few people wrote letters. Most kids under 18 were barely familiar with the practice. Matt didn’t want to send an email to his friends or parents about what he intended to do. He didn’t want it forwarded to the world. A piece of paper could be burned or torn to shreds. Something that went out into cyberspace was not capable of being erased. Every Revere High kid who sent a raunchy email or sexted a girlfriend or boyfriend knew this all too well.

Matt needed to leave a record in case he didn’t come back, but he intended it for his parents only. This is what he wrote…

Dear Mom and Dad,

If your [Matt didn’t edit the letter for grammar] reading this it’s because I did not come back to rip it up. If you read this you’ll probably find out what happened with Billy Cantu and Mr. Martinelli. I never wanted any of it to happen but I decided that it was not right for Carmine to get away with it any more. People will probably say a lot of things but I like to think I’m doing what any captain would do for the guys on his team. I’m sticking up for the neighborhood and to everyone Carmine and his boys have ever shaken down, given drugs to, or worse. Whatever anyone else says, I want you to know that’s why I did it.

Your son,

Matty

p.s. Tell Kitty this is why I was acting weird. Tell her I love her.

Matt folded the note, labeled it ‘mom and dad’ and placed it carefully on his desk. He straightened the desk up, so the letter would be the only thing to stand out. His parents didn’t usually come into his room, but if he did not return they’d eventually enter and see the note.

Matt went to bed and slept surprisingly well. He had no dreams and woke up late. He showered and shaved and then ironed his Revere High team jersey. He found the baggiest shorts he could, so there would be room in the pockets for two pistols. After smoothing out the wrinkles he slid the jersey over his head and regarded himself in the mirror. He was going off to battle. No different than a soldier wearing a uniform or a knight his armor. Matt ran his hands across the mesh; he looked sharp and felt strong. He knew he was doing the right thing.

His mother was in the kitchen, wearing her scrubs. Another double shift. “You’re wearing your team shirt to work?” she was quizzical.

Matt felt as if he had been caught jerking off. How to explain this. “Mike said we could wear whatever we wanted today, as long as it was sports-related,” Matt answered.

This seemed reasonable enough, and his mother accepted it. “Aren’t you late?”

Matt had to lie again. He’d lied so much lately he was hating himself for it. But soon the truth would be known, especially if he was killed. “I stayed a few hours late last night. Mike’s letting me come in late today,” he told his mother.

Mrs. Bisbee nodded. “I’m leaving soon, but I could make you something before I go.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it,” Matt said.

“Well, I better run then,” she said.

Matt walked over to her. “Mom…” he enveloped her with a hug. Mrs. Bisbee was surprised. When Matt was about twelve he stopped wanting to hug his mother. Even kisses on the cheek were ‘yucky.’ On birthdays and anniversaries, she might get a quick peck or a light hug. But this was out of the ordinary. It was heartfelt and lasted almost a minute. Finally, Matt stepped back.

“Is something wrong, Matt?” she asksed.

“No,” Matt said cheerfully. “Everything’s fine.”

“Save it for the college girls,” his mother played with him.

“Yeah,” he replied. He didn’t blush and looked a little distant.

Mrs. Bisbee thought he may have been getting cold feet about college. “Jason’s dad called over here, ya know.”

“He did?” Matt attempted to act surprised.

“I left his number by the phone. He said Jason went to school early and didn’t tell him?” Mrs. Bisbee thought it was strange but boys would be boys.

“I dunno,” Matt responded. “I’ll call him and see what’s up.”

Since Matt was in the affectionate mood, Mrs. Bisbee caressed his cheek. “I’m glad you’ve got your head on straight,” she said. Matt forced a grin. This was torture. “I really have to go.”

Mrs. Bisbee scooped up her bag and left. Matt couldn’t stay in the house any longer. He didn’t want to risk more interaction with his parents and back down.

It was going to be a long hot day, and Matt would have to wait until night to make his move against Carmine. He decided to spend the day at the movies where air-conditioning –not necessarily entertainment—was guaranteed. He saw an action flick at noon and a comedy right after. He broke for an early dinner (though he found it hard to eat much), and then saw a war movie at seven o’clock. The theater manager looked at him suspiciously when he went in for his third movie, but Matt left after that; it was nine thirty and darkness had fallen across Revere.

He’d kept his phone on the whole day, hoping to get a call. Then he thought about calling someone, Kitty or Chad, just to talk about anything. He resisted this temptation and turned the phone off at about ten o’clock when he got to Jackie O’s Liquors.

Matt returned to his hiding spot outside the store and watched. He checked both weapons and whirled around at one point when a man walking his dog passed nearby. Neither man nor beast saw Matt, and he realized he was quite jittery. He needed a nip of booze off the Jackie O’s shelves to calm down.

After about an hour, nothing had happened. The store closed down and only security lights remained on. The last employee to leave made sure the windows were covered with security metal before leaving.

Matt could see that two cars remained in the parking lot, one of them being Jim Shea’s and the other Al Diaz’s. Matt sat on the ground, cross-legged. He listened to city crickets and grew tired. He played a game on his phone, waiting for something to happen. He was ready to give up when Carmine’s Cadillac appeared. Carmine got out, alone, and headed toward the back of the store.

It was time.

Matt turned off his phone and left it by his bike. He didn’t want it getting in the way, but he might need it if he made out. He stuffed the .22 Walther down the front of his pants and secured it to his navel with a piece of duct tape, figuring if he needed it fast it would be easier to draw than trying to get it out of his pocket. He decided to lead with the 9mm Sig. He’d need more firepower out of the box, and with a guy like Al Diaz you couldn’t be sure if a .22 slug would put him down.

Matt advanced quickly across the parking lot. The hum of nearby traffic was the only thing Matt could hear besides the blood pounding in his ears.

At the rear of Jackie O’s, Matt saw one door only. It was ajar, just slightly, with a dull thread of light showing through the crack. Matt advanced toward it. In the distance, car horns honked and brakes screeched. Some shouting ensued. A near accident and road rage. Matt looked back over his shoulder, trembling. He ran his hand over his team jersey, gaining strength from it. He fingered the captain’s ‘C’ and let out a long breath. He pointed the pistol forward and wedged his foot into the door’s opening.

He thrust the door back. It stuck a bit but opened enough for him to enter. A rush of cool air came at Matt, and he felt a sense of relief. Muggy and sticky outside, cool and crisp inside. He couldn’t see where the light was coming from, but the space immediately in front of him was absent any movement. As his eyes focused, he saw liquor boxes and kegs. He took a few steps forward. The hum of traffic receded, and Matt heard what sounded like crackling. He moved toward the sound, the gun itching for action.

Matt peeked over a stack of boxes and saw Carmine sitting a small table, counting cash. Fortune was smiling on Matt, and he couldn’t miss the opportunity he’d been presented with. Carmine was maybe twenty feet away from Matt and sitting completely still. The perfect target.

Matt had heard it was best to hold your breath when firing a gun, to steady yourself. He sucked in and filled his lungs with air. Then, he aimed for Carmine’s heart. His finger felt for the trigger and tensed around it. He was ready.

############################

It felt like the prick of a pin at first. Quickly, the sensation became cold and wet. Things didn’t go dark, but Matt became nauseous and dizzy. The gun fell out of his hand though he didn’t know it. He was on his knees. A sharp pain sprang from his lower back, his kidney, as it was struck several times. Now, he was on his face. He rolled over to see two blurry figures standing over him.

It was Al Diaz and Jim Shea. Matt had walked into a trap. He was a dead man…a kid really.

Jim picked up the Sig and tossed it to Al. Al had his own weapon trained on Matt, and it was likely what struck Matt behind the ear. Funny how getting pistol whipped could feel like a pinprick. Jim said something which Matt couldn’t hear. Jim repeated himself, and this time Matt’s hearing came exploding back as the nausea faded and he was able to focus. “Who the fuck are you?” Jim asked.

Matt was puzzled by the question but thought he hadn’t heard him right. “Matt Bisbee,” he answered.

“What the fuck is going on?” a gruff voice called out. It was Carmine.

Al and Jim tucked their guns into their belts and each grabbed one of Matt’s arms. He was luggage, still unable to rise. They dragged him toward Carmine but not without difficulty. Matt was 250 pounds after all. Slowly, Matt sat up and took stock of his situation. Not good. Matt could see money and some drugs on a table before Carmine. The crinkling noise Matt had heard was Carmine counting and folding money.

Carmine looked to Jim for an explanation. Jim tossed Carmine the Sig. “He had this on him. Came in the back door,” Jim said.

Carmine examined the gun, felt it. He pointed it at Matt, taking aim, but then drew back. “You was gonna rob me?” Carmine asked.

The question seemed genuine, and Matt was again thrown off. Rob him? Matt sat up and felt behind his ear. A bump and caking blood. A foot rammed him in the back. It was Al Diaz. “He asked you something.”

Matt glanced over his shoulder. He saw Al who was pointing a gun at him. He did not look over the other shoulder but guessed Jim would be doing the same thing. Why were they drawing this out? Get it over with already. He thought about his parents and Kitty. He hoped he would feel no pain. Maybe a thud, a flash of white, and then nothing. He looked back to Carmine. “Why would I want to rob you?”

Carmine glanced down at the cash and the drugs before him. “A lot of people might,” he said.

“Not me,” Matt replied. Carmine liked getting his ass kissed. It was a good answer. He smiled.

“Who are you?”

This cat and mouse game actually annoyed Matt. “Like you don’t know,” Matt answered.

Carmine rose, himself becoming irritated. “Who are you?!?” he yelled.

“Matt Bisbee,” he answered quickly, as if it were class and the teacher pissed at him.

“Joey’s kid?”

“You know my father?”

“What’s he doing these days?”

“He’s got a plumbing business.”

Carmine scoffed. “You mean he’s got his hands in shit all day.”

“It’s an honest living.” Matt looked directly at Carmine as if to say And you, pal, aren’t honest.

Carmine knew he was not honest so the rebuke didn’t bother him. “You come herez to rob me. What’s honest about that?”

“I didn’t come here to rob youz,” Matt had been working on dumping the accent for college, but he slipped back into it easily in this situation.

Behind him, Jim Shea was impatient. He gave Matt another whack across the other ear. It was not as hard as the first one, not hard enough for Matt to pass out. But it got his attention. Carmine held up a hand. Not too much, Jim. “You tell me why you’re trying to rip me off, and I might let you go with just a broken leg,” Carmine told Matt.

Matt swallowed. If Carmine wasn’t lying to him, Matt thought it best to tell the truth. “Like I said, I’m not trying to rip you off. I came here to kill you because you’re trying to kill me.”

Carmine laughed. Jim Shea and Al Diaz joined in too. Matt was the only one who didn’t find it funny. “Me trying to kill you?” Carmine said inquisitively. “Why would I want to do that?”

Was Carmine testing him? His instincts told him not to go too far. “You tried to kill Jason, my teammate.” More laughter.

“Your teammate,” Carmine mocked him. “Who is he?”

“The pizza kid,” Jim said. “The one who freaked out.”

“Oh,” Carmine remembered. He rubbed his chin. Some of the cash on the table fluttered as an air-conditioning unit rattled on. Carmine held down the money. “We wasn’t trying to kill him. I thought we could get something going when he got to college.”

“Fixing games?” Matt asked.

“Smart boy,” Carmine said. “Kid just went crazy and booked outta here. I don’t why”

“You shot him,” Matt said, indignantly.

“That shouldn’t have happened,” Carmine’s eye flashed in Jim’s direction. Jim shrugged his shoulders. What are you going to do?

Matt’s voice rose an octave, “You killed Mr. Martinelli. We saw you at the funeral!”

“We was scouting you guys. The ones on the football team. The ones going to college. We thought some of youz might want in.” Carmine paused. “I didn’t have nothing to do with the teacher. Jim and Al went looking for him, but someone beat us to it.”

“You’re lying,” Matt said without fear of consequences.

“Watch yourself, kid,” Carmine narrowed his eyes. “I could let you go if you want to do something for me when you get on that team.”

“I told Billy no, and I’m telling you no!” Matt barked.

“Billy? What’s he got to do with it?” Carmine was surprised at mention of his deceased son’s name.

“He wanted me to do the same thing. Fix games,” Matt said.

Carmine thought it over. “He musta heard us talking about it. Little prick was trying to steal our idea.” Carmine stopped and cocked his head. “You know Billy was killed, don’t ‘ya?”

“Of course I know. I’m the one who—“ Matt halted. It was like a bomb going off. Or a light bulb. Whatever the cliché, it all made sense. In an instant, he knew everything. Carmine had no idea Matt was involved with Billy’s death. Carmine had no idea Matt was the one who murdered Billy. The bad news was, Carmine might not have known before.

But now he did.

Carmine wasn’t out for revenge, and he said they had come too late to talk to Mr. Martinelli. That meant someone else had killed him and his wife. Who?

“You killed him. You killed Billy,” Carmine said softly. His hand tightened around the pistol Jim had taken off Matt. “It’s too bad. Big kid like you. Your dad didn’t work out, but you coulda.”

His father. What did Carmine mean? Matt fell forward on his hands and knees, suddenly crying and blubbering. “I’m sorry. It’s not something I meant to do. It just—Billy threatened to kill my parents, my girlfriend. I didn’t know what else to do. Let me go and I’ll do anything you want. Please don’t kill me…Please!!!” Matt sobbed and curled into a fetal ball.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Carmine said. “I take it back. You couldn’t have worked for me. What a pussy.” Carmine let the gun he was holding slip to his side. This kid was pathetic. Let Jim or Al kill him.

Carmine looked to Jim and curled his upper on one side: the death sentence.

Jim smiled. He hadn’t clipped anyone in a while. This would be fun.

Matt now had his chance. Carmine had lowered his weapon and was not paying him close attention. In the fetal position, Matt reached down the front of his underwear and grasped the .22. He flicked off the safety. It would not be as devastating as the 9mm, but at this range all he needed to be was accurate.

Matt sprang up and turned on Jim and Al. He’d have to get them first, while Carmine wasn’t paying attention. He had, maybe, two seconds. He tore the Walther from his navel. The duct tape took all the hair out at the roots and would have hurt like a bitch if Matt’s life wasn’t on the line.

He fired at Jim twice and hit him point blank in the chest. At five feet away, this was enough to knock Jim over. The shots didn’t kill Jim instantly, but the damage was severe and he would bleed to death in a matter of minutes.

Everyone was stunned, including Matt who could not believe it would be so easy. Al was in his sights next, but he was younger and faster than Jim and he had time to react. Matt got off a shot but missed as Al ducked behind some boxes.

If Matt thought the pain from being knocked on the head was bad, he was not prepared for a bullet ripping through his shoulder. It came from behind. Carmine had recovered. Matt pitched forward, dropping the .22. Al emerged from behind the boxes.

Matt rolled over, clutching at the wound. Carmine looked at Jim, choking on his own blood and dying. “Not bad, kid,” he said to Matt. “I underestimated you, but now I’m going to shoot you myself.” Carmine brought the Sig up and pointed it right at Matt’s face.

Matt closed his eyes and heard a shot. He opened his eyes; he was not dead. He saw cocaine dust and money floating in the air. Carmine’s body was on the floor next to the table where the bills and the drugs had just been. The table had tipped over when Carmine’s body hit it.

Carmine Cantu was dead, and it was Chad Harrison who had killed him.

Al Diaz, frozen for a moment, spun on Chad with his gun, but Matt was on his feet. Adrenaline coursed. The wound to his head and shoulder were not perceptible to him, but he’d be damned if he was going to let Al kill his teammate, especially one who had just saved him.

Like only a great offensive lineman can, Matt took his man square in the upper body. Al‘s pistol went flying into the blackness of the warehouse. No more guns. It was hand to hand now. Matt had size and strength over Al, but Matt was wounded and Al was the more experienced fighter. Matt had Al by the shirt and drove him back into some boxes. Al fell back on the boxes and his own street fighting instincts. He covered up and counter struck at vital areas.

Chad circled, trying to get a clear shot at Al. He pulled the trigger once but missed. The bullet hit an electrical outlet. Sparks flew, showering onto some paper. A small fire began to burn. Chad didn’t want to risk another missed shot, or, possibly, hitting Matt so he backed off and went to make sure Carmine and Jim were truly out of the fight.

Matt and Al were savagely engaged in a brawl. Aside from dust ups in football games, Matt had not fought anyone in years. His size generally scared off a lot of would be opponents, and he was well liked and respected. But anyone who had been raised in Revere had gotten in scraps, so Matt was not inexperienced. All the same, this was no scrap.

Matt was fighting for his life. And he was fighting a killer.

Al’s counter strikes to Matt’s soft spots worked, and he managed to move Matt off of him. He ran for the exit. Matt could not allow him to get away. He dove and made a brilliant ankle tackle, putting Al just off balance enough for him to trip and fall. Matt blocked the exit.

Al’s leg whipped up in the air and connected with the wound to Matt’s shoulder. Matt grasped at it in pain. This gave Al the moment he needed to charge Matt. He connected with a right cross to Matt’s jaw and a left to the ribs, cracking a few. Matt sucked in a breathless whoosh of oxygen and felt himself wheeze. He had only one chance in this fight, and Al had made a mistake: he got too close to Matt.

Matt had watched enough Mixed Martial Arts matches to know that if you got your opponent down and on his back, it was over. But the MMA fights he watched were carefully refereed. The losing man could ‘tap out’ if he was spent. Matt was not about to let Al cry uncle and live another day.

Matt summoned what strength he had left and bull rushed Al. The two of them went crashing to the floor, even as Al got in another slash to Matt’s throat, causing Matt to gag. Matt’s weight and momentum kept him going and he found himself on top of Al. Al kicked and hit and thrashed, but there was no way he could get out from underneath Matt’s bulk. Matt’s fingers closed around Al’s throat and he did to this man what he had done to Billy Cantu.

When the last breath had escaped Al’s lips and he was dead, Matt rolled off of him and collapsed on the floor beside him. The three gangsters were dead. Matt had won.

Matt had forgotten Chad was his savior, and when he saw his friend and teammate standing over him he thought maybe he had died as well. This was a vision or heaven or maybe even hell. The warehouse area was rife with blood, cocaine dust, and the scent of fire. Matt was shot and beaten and bleeding. “Chad?” Matt asked, failing to recognize his friend even though staring straight at him.

Chad also wore his Revere High jersey. “Teammates,” Chad said.  Chad helped Matt to his feet.

Matt took stock of the situation. The bodies of Carmine, Jim, and Al lay sprawled on the floor. “Are they all…?” Matt asked Chad.

“I think so,” Chad replied.

The small fire was beginning to grow larger. Black smoke started to clog the warehouse. “You changed your mind,” Matt said to Chad.

“I couldn’t let you do it alone,” Chad responded.

“How did you know I was here?” Matt asked.

“You didn’t know it, but I was following you,” Chad told him.

Matt did not know it. He didn’t have a clue. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Matt asked.

“Does it matter?” Chad came back.

It didn’t. Chad had saved him. Why should Matt care? He saw Chad was holding a gun, the one he had used to kill Carmine. It took him a moment, but then he realized… “Is that…Billy’s gun?”

“Yeah,” Chad said.

“You never got rid of it,” Matt said.

Chad held it up with a strange smile to indicate that he’d had it all along. “Good thing, huh,” he stated.

The heat from the fire was growing. Liquor bottles began to pop as the flames consumed boxes. “We better get out of here,” Matt said.

Matt tried to limp away, but Chad held him back. “Have you heard from Jason?” Chad asked.

“What? We have to leave!” Matt said urgently. This was a strange time for Chad to be asking such a question.

“Do you think he’s going to fold?”

“Fold?”

“Tell the cops about what we did.”

“Chad, later–!”

“No, now! I’m not going to let him screw us over like Martinelli was going to!!!”

“What do you mean?”

Chad coughed. The smoke was getting to him too. “I went there. I put a mask over my face so he would think I was these guys…” Chad pointed at the dead gangsters…”I pointed this Glock,” he held it up…”right at him, and you know what he did? He gave us up, all three of us.”

“What do you mean? Why were you there? At his house—“

“He was gambling again. My dad saw him at Foxwoods, betting big, throwing away hundreds. A desperate man will do desperate things to save himself. I couldn’t let that happen. It would have fucked all of us.”

“Chad…” Matt looked straight into Chad’s eyes. “What did you do?”

Chad appeared momentarily ashamed. “It was to protect us,” he said.

Matt then knew: Chad had killed Mr. Martinelli and his wife. Carmine had nothing to do with it. He was only interested in the football players for his point fixing scheme, and he had not known about their involvement with Billy. He wasn’t stalking them for revenge. Chad’s father had seen Mr. Martinelli gambling, and Chad feared Mr. M. would owe a guy like Carmine money sooner or later. Mr. M might have done anything to pay off a debt, or so Chad thought. “And to protect us, you’d kill Jason too?” Matt asked his friend and teammate.

Chad hardened; he was not ashamed–proud, determined, psychotic. “I’ll do what I have to.”

“Me. Would that mean me also?”

“Anyone.”

“These guys were scum of the worst kind.” The flames began to take the bodies of Carmine, Jim, and Al. “But Mr. Martinelli. I can’t let you get away with that, Chad.” Matt said.

Chad cocked his head, thinking. The flames crawled up the walls of Jackie O’s. “That’s too bad,” Chad said. He pointed the Glock at Matt.

Matt reached down quickly and grabbed the back of Chad’s leg: the tender hamstring. He squeezed the muscle as if it were a lump of soft clay. Chad howled and his arm swung down. His finger gripped the trigger reflexively and a shot went through Matt’s upper leg. Matt crumpled but he still had a hold of Chad’s leg. He pulled Chad toward him and grasped his wrist. The gun fell out of Chad’s hand.

Normally, a mano-y-mano contest between Matt and Chad would be unfair. Chad had a viciousness too him, but Matt outweighed him by more than fifty pounds and he was much stronger as well. Chad was faster, but this contest was not about speed. It was about who would live and who would die. Matt’s injuries, however, tipped the scales toward Chad. Matt now had a bullet wound in his shoulder and leg, as well as the knock to the head.

Chad freed himself from Matt and smiled. He knew he had the advantage. The best thing to do was flee, but he had to kill Matt now. If Matt lived, he could identify him as the Martinellis’ killer.

Chad lashed out at the wound to Matt’s shoulder and got a direct hit. Matt winced, and when Chad drew back blood was all over his hand. Matt was weakening and Chad knew it. Chad placed a kick in the center of Matt’s chest, and Matt toppled over and hit the floor.

Chad found the gun that had been knocked out of his hand. Matt lay on the ground, exhausted and unable to rise with any kind of speed.

The heat was singing their skin and hair. The thickness of the smoke made it hard to see, let alone breathe.

Chad stood over Matt with the Glock pistol. A look of regret crossed Chad’s face, but he knew what he had to do. “I’m sorry, B,” he told Matt.

“What will you tell everyone?” Matt asked.

“Why will I have to tell anyone? No one will ever know I was here,” Chad said pleased with himself.

A puff of black smoke rolled past Chad and Matt. As Chad waved it away, Matt’s hand crept toward one of the other guns from the shoot out, which lay on the floor near him. When the smoke had cleared both boys, Matt had Chad in his sights. Chad’s eyes widened as he realized Matt had the drop on him.

Matt fired twice, ripping holes in Chad’s team jersey. Chad fell backwards and was dead before he hit the ground. His body lay close to Carmine’s.

Matt tossed the gun away and tried to rise. The pain was unbearable. He tried to put weight on his leg but could not. He fell down again.

The fire and the smoke would take him within moments if he did not escape. He crawled past Chad’s body. Matt looked into Chad’s dead, open eyes. What would Matt tell everyone?

Matt saw the exit and made a superhuman effort to rise. He put weight on his good leg and limped toward the door. He pulled the door open and breathed in fresh air. He’d never been so grateful to take in Revere air as he was now.

Small explosions could be heard as more and more liquor and wine bottles began to burst. Beams in the store creaked and the building swayed. Traffic came to a halt on the street, as the fire climbed higher and higher. It was a spectacle few drivers could look away from.

Matt made it all the way to where he had left his bike and phone. He fell into the bushes and opened his phone to call 9-1-1, but his injuries were too much and they claimed him. His eyes rolled back and he could no longer see. Tears and soot mixed in his eyes and nose. Blood trickled into his ears and throat. As he lost consciousness, he could have sworn he heard sirens. Help was coming.

If Matt were to die and go before God he would have to answer for killing his friend and teammate Chad, but he knew he had done a good thing by ridding the neighborhood of Carmine and his gang.

Perhaps God would be forgiving…