“To everyone out there who thinks it’s okay to disregard what I say.”
Joe looked for Emma, but he couldn’t find the elevator in all the swinging and swaying.
“It’s not going to be a nice message,” Albert White said. “And I’m sorry about that.” He squatted in front of Joe, his face sad, weary. “My mother always said everything happens for a reason. I’m not sure she was right, but I do think people often become what they’re supposed to be. I thought I was supposed to be a cop but then the city took my job and I became this. And most times I don’t like it, Joe. I fucking hate it to tell the truth, but I can’t deny that it comes natural to me. It fits. What comes natural to you, I’m afraid, is fucking up. All you had to do was run but you didn’t. And I’m sure—look at me.”
Joe’s head had lolled to the left. He rolled it back, met Albert’s kind gaze.
“I’m sure, as you die, you’ll tell yourself you did it for love.” Albert gave Joe a rueful smile. “But that’s not why you fucked up. You fucked up because it’s your nature. Because deep down you feel guilty about what you do, so you want to get caught. But in this line of work, you face your guilt at the end of every night. You turn it over in your hands, you make a ball of it. And then you pitch it into the fire. But you, you don’t do that, so you’ve spent your short life hoping someone will punish you for your sins. Well, I’m that someone.”
Albert rose from his crouch and Joe lost focus for a moment, everything turning to a blur. He caught a flash of silver and then another and he narrowed his eyes until the blurring sharpened and everything came into focus again.
And he wished it hadn’t.
Albert and Brendan still shimmied a bit, but the pendulum was gone. Emma stood beside Albert, her hand on his arm.
For a moment, Joe didn’t understand. And then he did.
He looked up at Emma and it no longer mattered what they did to him. He was okay with dying because living hurt too much.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.”
“She’s sorry,” Albert White said. “We’re all sorry.” He gestured toward somebody Joe couldn’t see. “Take her out of here.”
A beefy guy in a coarse wool jacket and knit hat pulled down on his forehead put his hands on Emma’s arm.
“You said you wouldn’t kill him,” Emma said to Albert.
“Albert,” Emma said. “That was the deal.”
“And I’ll honor it,” Albert said. “Don’t you worry.”
“Albert,” she said, her voice catching in her throat.
“Dear?” Albert’s voice was far too calm.
“I never would have led him here if—”
Albert slapped her face with one hand and smoothed his shirt with the other. Slapped her hard enough to split her lips.
He looked down at his shirt. “You think you’re safe? You think I’m going to be humiliated by a whore? You’re under the impression I’m mush for you. Maybe I was yesterday, but I’ve been up all night. And I’ve already replaced you. Get me? You’ll see.”
Albert wiped her blood off his hand with a kerchief. “Put her in the fucking car, Donnie. Now, Donnie.”
The beefy guy wrapped Emma in a bear hug and started walking backward. “Joe! Please don’t hurt him anymore! Joe, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She screamed and kicked and scratched Donnie’s head. “Joe, I love you! I love you!”
The elevator gate slammed shut and the car rose out of the basement.
Albert squatted beside him and put a cigarette between his lips. A match flared and the tobacco cackled and he said, “Inhale. You’ll get your wits back faster.”
Joe did. For a minute, he sat on the floor and smoked and Albert crouched beside him and smoked his own cigarette and Brendan Loomis stood there watching.
“What’re you going to do with her?” Joe asked once he trusted himself to speak.
“With her? She just sold you down the river.”
“For a good reason, I bet.” He looked at Albert. “There was a good reason, right?”
Albert chuckled. “You’re some kind of rube, aren’t you?”
Joe raised a split eyebrow and the blood fell in his eye. He wiped at it. “What’re you going to do with her?”
“You should be more worried about what I’m going to do to you.”
“I am,” Joe admitted, “but I’m asking what you’re going to do with her.”
“Don’t know yet.” Albert shrugged and pulled a speck of tobacco off his tongue, flicked it away. “But you, Joe, you’re going to be the message.” He turned to Brendan. “Get him up.”
“What message?” Joe said as Brendan Loomis slipped his arms under him from behind and hoisted him to his feet.
“What happened to Joe Coughlin is what will happen to you if you cross Albert White and his crew.”
Joe said nothing. Nothing occurred to him. He was twenty years old. That’s all he was going to get in this world—twenty years. He hadn’t wept since he was fourteen but it was all he could do, looking into Albert’s eyes, not to break down and beg for his life.
Albert’s face softened. “I can’t let you live, Joe. If I could see any way I could, I’d try to make it work. And it’s not about the girl, if that helps. I can get whores anywhere. Got a pretty new one waiting for me as soon as I’m done with you.” He studied his hands for a moment. “But you shot up a small town and stole sixty thousand dollars without my permission and left three cops dead. That brings a shit-brown rain down on all of us. Because now every cop in New England thinks Boston gangsters are mad dogs to be put down like mad dogs. And I need to make everyone understand that’s just not true.” He said to Loomis. “Where’s Bones?”
Bones was Julian Bones, another of Albert’s gun monkeys.
“In the alley, engine running.”
Albert led the way to the elevator and opened the gate and Brendan Loomis dragged Joe into the car.
“Turn him around.”
Joe was spun in place and the cigarette fell from his lips when Loomis gripped the back of his head and pushed his face into the wall. They pulled his hands behind his back. Coarse rope snaked around his wrists, Loomis pulling it tight with every loop before he tied off the ends. Joe, something of an expert on the subject, knew a secure knot when he felt one. They could leave him alone in this elevator and not come back till April and he still wouldn’t have freed himself.