Thing about a punch in the mouth, Kelly knew, was you had make sure you tightened up in the jaw, otherwise you risked having it dislocated. You also had to get your head locked in place, or your brains would slosh around and you'd black out. Sometimes that was almost better, to be out cold, but not this time, because if he passed out Paulie's goon would wake him up hard – cigarette burns, staple gun, car battery, whatever. If he could withstand the punch, stay conscious, he at least had a chance. Chance to escape. Maybe. So he tightened up, again, as the balding rock formation with a fist like a cinder block wound up for a fifth time.
Kelly's head slammed back against the chair. A tooth bust out, rattled around in his mouth. Spots danced before his eyes and music thrummed in his ears, some kind of song with birds crying in the background. He flexed the fingers of his right hand. Still tied up. Dammit.
He let his head fall forward, sucked in breath, spit the tooth out. It hit the cement floor in a splotch of red and bounced away. A little piece of himself lost forever. He looked up at the rock ape.
“Call that a punch?”
Vinnie was up for the joke. Why not? Beating the shit out of people got boring after a while. A good joke livened things up.
“Just saying. Your wife's pussy left bigger bruises on my mouth.”
Vinnie, big lump of rubble, chuckled and massaged his bright red knuckles.
“You know I always liked you, Kelly. You know this ain't personal.”
“I know, Vin, it never is. Still, learn how to hit, you fucking twat.”
“I can stop. Do this whole thing here quick and painless. I'd do that for you. You just gotta tell me what Paulie wants to hear.”
“Fuck Paulie. I don't know what he's talking about half the time. He mumbles. Got a cow dick in his mouth or something.”
Shit, Walters found out I’m banging his wife? I didn’t take his fucking money.
Did bang his wife, but...
“Said you got something belongs to the boss. Fuck do I know? I ask the questions, you tell me what you got, we shake hands. Right? I'm a good guy, Kelly. I ain't got a bad bone in my body.”
Kelly laughed. Vinnie could be funny when he wanted. Funny like getting itching fucking hemorrhoids on vacation. Which ain’t so much funny as annoying and sad.
“I don't know what the fuck, Vin. Paulie says a lot of shit, and not much of it true.”
“’re saying you got something of the boss', something ain’t yours, and you're...what do they say on them shows? Refusing to cooperate. That it?”
“I...what? Wanting you to quit tickling me and refusing to give up something I don’t have are different things, Copernicus. And...what?
“Gonna be a long day ’less you cooperate.”
“Like that, Vin? Serious? No, you gonna whisper sweet nothings in my ear again? See, that's me making fun of you, because you don’t listen. Dumbass.”
“You was always funny. I'm gonna miss you.”
“Don't worry, I'll haunt you. Trust me.”
A roll-up garage door squealed and rattled open. A stocky figure in a long gray coat coasted in engulfed in roiling clouds of winter cold. He shut the door again, shook snow off his boots, then headed toward Kelly. He looked mad, in a hurry. He moved into the dusty sunlight that spilled through the windows along the top of the room. Passed a couple of cars that sat with their parts scattered on the ground next to them. Yesterday, a crew had been in here swapping engines and eradicating VIN numbers. But they were off playing poker somewhere, smoking cigarettes and making cracks about mobs and each other’s wives and girlfriends, so it was just the three of them. Kelly, Vinnie, and this guy.
The man looked Kelly over. “You look like the time my cat’s asshole ruptured. Anal gland blew out. Real horror show.”
“Eat me, Paulie. I never felt better. You should switch with me. It's invigorating. Like a spa, you know? C'mon, untie me and I'll show you.”
“Mallory called a few minutes ago,” said Paulie, smiling and nodding. “Your brother’s a real dumb fuck, you know that?”
Kelly’s chest got tight. He’d hoped baby brother Mallory would’ve been smart enough to stay out of this, but word of his own imminent demise would get around. It always did. Mallory’d get involved, do something stupid. Like steal the pick-up Walters sent him on? Sure he would. Paulie wasn’t wrong on that. Mallory was a dumb fuck.
“He don't know anything. Leave him out of this.”
“You’re right. He don't know anything. ’cept he whacked Nicky and Lee and kept the bag he was supposed to return and so I think he knows your number got pulled. Now I gotta pull his number. It breaks my heart, you two, because yous was like sons to me. But you fucked it up for everyone. You and Mallory was good boys, now you upset Walters and I gotta wear myself out telling Vinnie to hurt you. You had to get greedy.”
Paulie shook his head, like it hurt him. Him. Not Kelly, tied up and bleeding.
Kelly almost felt sorry for him. Paulie was good. Should’ve been in the soaps or something.
“Paulie, I told you, I told Vin, I'll tell Walters...I ain't got nothing. Even you don't know what the fuck it is he thinks I took! He’s just going crazy. You know? At the top. He’s bored, maybe. You know how they act up there. Shit, Paulie, they’re even in bed with the Ruskies just for something to do, and those fuckers are fucking mental.”
Kelly talked because it was easier to think while he was talking. Easier than trying to hold a thought in his head while Vinnie rang his bell. He thought about stalling, then he thought about fessing up to banging Walter’s wife. Finally, he figured, fuck all them assholes.
“I don't care what the fuck they're fucking doing!” Paulie yelled, and spit flecked Kelly’s face. Kind of refreshing. “It ain't my job to care about that shit, Kelly, and it for sure ain’t yours. Walters says you got something, he asks me to ask you nicely, and you don't say nothing. I ask Vinnie to ask in a different way. You see how that shit works?”
“Paulie,” said Kelly, taking a turn at spitting, but to the side, because he weren’t fucking rude. Bloody, too, and Paulie’s shirt looked pretty nice. Expensive. “You know I’m right. And now this...? Walters is losing it, pal. Losing it on me? It’s like he’s got dementia.”
“La la la...Kelly...shut the fuck up, will you? Dickhead.”
“C’mon, Paulie, you cared. Once. You did, and you know you did. You hated the Ruskies, the Slavs. Those fucking people, they push too hard – clumsy. All thumbs, right? Your words. You cared. Walters? All this shit? What is this? I work for you, Paulie. Mallory works for you. And this? You fuck us for nothing?”
“For fuck's sake,” Paulie sighed, shook his head again. “Russians, Poles, Slavs? What the fuck? Why am I even having this conversation?”
“Because I haven't fucking got anything. You got my phone. Turned out my pockets. Nothing. You...for fuck's sake!”
“This? Yeah.” Paulie took Kelly’s phone, threw it against the wall. “So fucking what? You stashed it. Whatever.”
“Paulie, what? You turn on your men when Walters says, for nothing? Gonna turn on Vinnie, too?”
Vinnie looked like he might be listening but he might just have been doing tectonic stuff, like slabs-of-rock-looking fuckers did when they were thinking.
“Think Walters won't turn on you, Paulie? Vin? Walters, man. He's a fucking suit. Like them in Wall Street. He don't know what we know. He didn't come up like...”
“Vinnie? Hit him some more,” said Paulie, shuffling his shoulders in his long coat. “Mouth on him.”
Vinnie smacked Kelly hard, but slow. Big guys aren’t that quick. Slow worked just fine, though. Kelly’s ear rang, but on the side Vinnie didn’t hit him.
How’s that work?
“Do yourself a favor already,” said Vinnie. “Just tell Paulie what's what, eh?”
Kelly shook his head. Vinnie shrugged. Paulie sighed, like Kelly was being a smart ass, but Kelly was just trying to shake the brains back in.
“Honestly. This? I gotta find your brother, on top of beating information outta you?” Paulie cracked his neck and stared up at the blinking fluorescents on the ceiling. “Stupid. Your whole family. Just fucking stupid.”
Kelly couldn’t hear so well right then, but he understood just fine. Mallory had taken the bag. Of all the things that he needed to not do, it was take the bag.
Why the hell had he taken the bag?
Taking Walters’s pickup was first on the dumb-as-shit list.
Paulie took a cigarette from a crumpled packet, lit it, and blew the smoke in Kelly's direction. “Marone a mi, you fucking idiots. Okay, new deal: You tell us what you took, and I let Vinnie use the gun, end it fast. Otherwise, no more fists. We move onto sharper things. I don't have all day and it's freezing in here and I wanna go home. One way or another, Kelly, I am going home. I miss my dinner, you’ll be here ‘til breakfast.”
Kelly shook his head, even though his neck grated and bolts of pain shot down his arms and up into his head when he moved. He thought it sounded like a good deal. He'd even take it...if he knew what Walters really wanted. But he didn't.
So then...what?
What did he want? Something that proved he banged Walters’ newest bride? Sure, Kelly had a hard-on for Walters' woman and her tits the big man paid for. Nice memory. One worth going out on?
He could understand if this was about him fucking Walters' old lady (old. Must be no more than eighteen, nineteen). But about some shit he didn't have? Didn't even know? There was the disconnect. The piece of the puzzle. The cause for this effect.
But what was it?
Couldn’t be the fucking. No.
No point in saying that, though. He could see how things were. What did Mallory always say? Doesn't matter. Nothing matters.
“Sounds like a shit deal,” he said, regretting it, kind of, but kind of relieved, too.
“Really? Do you want to be buried with your face or without it? Think about it.”
“What do I care? I'll be dead.”
“Yeah well, how about I add in a bonus. Tell me where it is - what you took - and I maybe, just maybe, only break Mallory's legs. I mean, I get it, he's family. I suppose I'd do the same, so I can maybe cut him some slack. Just quit fooling around. That's my final offer.”
“You won't hurt Mallory?”
“Maybe. If you tell me right now. Go.”
“And this is your final offer?”
“What's this? Fucking game show? Kelly, this is as final as it gets. What's your answer?”
“Can I think on it for about a week?”
Vin laughed, so that was good. At least someone was enjoying themselves. Itself? Kelly wasn’t entirely sure what Vinnie was. That was for geologists to decide.
“Kelly, Kelly. This isn't fun for me, you know? I feel bad, but please, for the love of fuck, tell me where it is.”
Kelly shook his head. Paulie nodded. Vin took a couple of strides to a cheap metal desk and laid out a canvas roll. Even in the dim light of the garage Kelly could see the blades shimmer, could almost hear the razor sharp edges of each one resonate in the frigid breeze coming in under the roll door. It was kind of like a game show after all, but a fucked up one where the host asks questions with no answers and then cuts your cock off. He'd give up anything if it went that way. He was only human, and all that shit.
Sucks when you've got nothing to give up, though.
Way he saw it, now Mallory was mixed up, he had one choice - get free and save his dumb baby brother. Well, maybe two; not be a bitch and just take a fucking bullet.
Was that the runner up prize, or the jackpot?
I ain't a bitch, though, am I?
Kelly gave Vinnie a big smile. “Hey, Vinnie? That tattoo on your wife's pussy?”
Vinnie shook his head, like he was done laughing.
“Hey, Vin, I'm talking. That rose near your wife's snatch, man - know the one I mean?”
Vinnie looked stunned, and he had a carving knife in his hand. His lips parted, let out a low grumble. Like subterranean glaciers shifting.
“Yeah,” Kelly continued, trying to keep his eyes on Vinnie and not the knife. “You know, two thorns on a small stem. The tattoo artist fucked up the right side, right? The pedals look square. Like your nose. You can't see it unless she shaves up nice.”
Vinnie dropped the big knife on the desk because Vinnie was more of a hitter than a cutter, and grabbed Kelly by the neck. “How...?”
“Told you, fuckhead. She rode my face like a dog with worms scooting across a rug. What, you thought I was kidding?”
Vinnie hauled off and punched him again. Kelly's bones cracked and popped as his neck whipped back.
It really, really hurt.