They’d cut Lefty’s rope correctly, however. He arrived without a scream, his hands free and clasped to the noose. He looked resigned, as if someone had just told him a secret he’d never wanted to hear but had always expected to. Because he’d relieved the weight of the rope with his hands, his neck didn’t break. He arrived in front of their faces like something conjured by magicians. He bounced up and down a few times and then dangled. He kicked at the windows. His movements were not desperate or frantic. They were strangely precise and athletic and the look on his face never changed, even when he saw them watching. He tugged at the rope even as the tracheal cartilage pressed over the edges of it and his tongue flopped over his lower lip.
Joe watched it ebb out of him, slowly, and then all at once. The light left Lefty like a hesitant bird. But once it left, it flew high and fast. The only solace Joe took from it was that Lefty’s eyes, at the very end, fluttered to a close.
He looked at Lefty’s sleeping face and the top of Sal’s head and begged their forgiveness.
I will see you both soon. I will see my father soon. I will see Paolo Bartolo. I will see my mother.
I am not brave enough for this. I am not.
Please. God. Please, God. I do not want to meet the dark. I will do anything. I beg your mercy. I cannot die today. I’m not supposed to die today. I’m to be a father soon. She’s to be a mother. We will be good parents. We will raise a fine child.
I am not ready.
He could hear his own breathing as they walked him to the windows that looked down on Eighth Avenue and the streets of Ybor and the bay beyond, and he heard the gunfire before he got there. From this height, the men on the street looked two inches tall as they fired Thompsons and handguns and BARs. They wore hats and raincoats and suits. Some wore police uniforms.
The police were aligned with the Pescatore men. Some of Joe’s men lay in the streets or half out of cars and others kept firing, but they were in retreat. Eduardo Arnaz took a burst straight through his chest and fell against the window of a dress shop. Noel Kenwood was shot in the back and lay in the street, clawing at it. The rest Joe couldn’t identify from up here as the battle moved west, first one block, then two. One of his men crashed a Plymouth Phaeton into the lamppost at the corner of Sixteenth. Before he could get out, the police and a couple Pescatore men surrounded the car and unloaded their Thompsons into it. Giuseppe Esposito had owned a Phaeton, but Joe couldn’t tell from here if he’d been the one driving it.
Run, boys. Just run.
As if they’d heard him, his men stopped firing back and scattered.
Maso placed a hand to the back of Joe’s neck. “It’s over, son.”
Joe said nothing.
“I wished it could have been different.”
“Do you?” Joe said.
Pescatore cars and Tampa PD cars raced down Eighth, and Joe saw several heading north or south along Seventeenth and then east along Ninth or Sixth to outflank his men.
But his men disappeared.
One second a man ran along the street, and the next he was gone. The Pescatore cars would meet at the corners, the gunners pointing desperately, and go back on the hunt.
They gunned down someone on the porch of a casita on Sixteenth, but that seemed to be the only Coughlin-Suarez man they could find at the moment.
One by one, they’d slipped away. Into the air. One by one, they simply weren’t there anymore. The police and the Pescatore men milled in the streets now, pointing fingers, shouting at one another.
Maso said to Albert, “The fuck did they all go?”
Albert held up his hands and shook his head.
“Joseph,” Maso said, “you tell me.”
“Don’t call me Joseph,” Joe said.
Maso slapped him across the face. “What happened to them?”
“They vanished.” Joe looked into the old man’s double-zero eyes. “Poof.”
“Yeah,” Joe said.
And now Maso raised his voice. Raised it to a roar. And it was a terrifying sound. “Where the fuck are they?”
“Shit.” Albert snapped his fingers. “It’s the tunnels. They dropped into the tunnels.”
Maso turned to him. “What tunnels?”
“The ones running underneath this fucking neighborhood. It’s how they get the booze in.”
“So put men in the tunnels,” Digger said.
“No one knows where most of them are.” Albert jerked a thumb at Joe. “That’s this asshole’s genius. Ain’t that right, Joe?”
Joe nodded, first at Albert and then at Maso. “This is our town.”
“Yeah, well, not anymore,” Albert said and drove the butt of the Thompson into the back of Joe’s head.
Joe woke to blackness.
He couldn’t see and he couldn’t speak. At first he feared somebody had gone so far as to stitch his lips together, but after a minute or so, he suspected something that pressed up against the base of his nose might be tape. The more he accepted this, the more the tacky sensation around his lips, as if the skin were smeared with bubble gum, made sense.
His eyes weren’t taped, though. What had initially presented itself as total dark began to give way to the occasional shape on the other side of a dense shroud of wool or rope.
It’s a hood, something in his chest told him. They’ve got a hood over you.
His hands were cuffed behind his back. Definitely not rope binding them; metal all the way. His legs felt tied, and not terribly tight judging by how much he could move them—what felt like a full inch before he met resistance.
He lay on his right side, his face pressed to warm wood. He could smell low tide. He could smell fish and fish blood. He realized he’d been hearing the engine for some time before he recognized it as such. He’d been on enough boats in his life to recognize what it powered. And then the other sensations coalesced and made sense—the slap of waves against the hull, the rise and fall of the wood on which he lay. He could hardly be sure of this but he didn’t hear any other engines, no matter how hard he concentrated on isolating the various sounds around him. He heard men’s voices and footsteps passing back and forth on the deck and, after a while, he discerned the sharp inhale and fluttering exhale of someone close by smoking a cigarette. But no other engines, and the boat wasn’t going terribly fast. Didn’t feel like it anyway. Didn’t sound like something in flight. Which meant it was fair to assume no one was coming after them.