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Peering into the empty elevator shaft, it was difficult not to at least imagine the prospect of tossing Rook’s body down into the darkness. Despite the fact that the man’s fingers remained animated even after being severed from his body, Bridge was convinced that even they would cease to function once the killer plummetted fourteen stories.
Back in the office, Bridge had unfastened Rook’s restraints and waited as the killer put his pants back on. In the meantime, he pulled a fresh shirt from the third drawer of his desk and stretched out the neckhole trying to avoid making contact with the bandage on his head. The anxiety radiating off the cat was nearly visible, but if Rook wasn’t already aware of Spade’s little secret, Bridge wasn’t going to tip his hat by detailing his plans out loud to a supposed pet. Let the cat stew.
As they were stepping into the stairwell of the fourteenth floor, Bridge arrived at another realization. Though Rook may have made his way onto the non-existent thirteenth floor last time by slipping in after Bridge, this time he had to have known the knock, which meant somebody out there wasn’t very goddamn good at keeping a secret.
Trying to keep his imagination in check, Bridge punched the call button for the elevator. While the three of them waited for transport, he inspected his undead charge. Rook’s stringy hair mostly covered the wreck that was his mouth—his teeth were back in the office where they would stay until Bridge was damned good and ready to give them back—, and he’d been told to keep his hands in his coat pockets in order to hide the missing digits.
When the elevator car arrived, everyone boarded, Bridge flipping up the collar on Rook’s coat in an attempt to obscure the bloodied bandages wrapped around the dead man’s throat. His own wounds would go unnoticed as injuries were a commonplace occurrence for tenants of The Bethany. Still he worried what kind of impression they’d make on the desk clerk.
As it turned out, there was no need. During his tenure at the hotel, Two-Dollar Bill had developed a knack for knowing exactly when he needed to be looking elsewhere. When the car came to rest in the lobby, Bill’s back was already turned. He was polishing something that had most likely never been polished before when the two men and one cat made their way past him and out onto city streets, unseen.
To his surprise, Bridge found that the sun had once again forsaken him, but this time it had nothing to do with the weather. While he was busy pulling precious little information from Rook’s memories, night had fallen, and the weather had cooled, making his leather jacket less of an affectation and more a necessity. The dead man, by contrast, appeared to feel nothing of the cold, his eyes cast down, as if he were just as disappointed as Bridge to find that there were secrets inside his head he could not know.
For all intents and purposes, Rook was defeated. And yet it came as little comfort. For what Bridge had planned, early evening was the worst time of day possible. But what else could he do, sit on the killer until the sun came up and hope that whatever force that had motivated him to crawl out of the grave and kill wasn’t only keeping him “alive” long enough to do those two things? There was already a good chance the stink would never come out of his office. There was no going back.
Together, they would walk the handful of blocks to the subway, and once he and Rook were underground—for the second time that day—, Bridge would ask the dead man where they were headed, make him point it out on the oversized map of the city just in case the remaining symptoms of death kicked in during the trip. Most regular subway riders were jaded, but not so much they would overlook Bridge dragging around a corpse behind him.
His motley crew was no more than two dozen steps from the staircase leading down into the subway when the sound of screeching tires halted their forward progress and made them turn in unison. A white panel van skidded around a corner and popped its right front tire over the curb before coming to a stop between where Bridge was and where he wanted to be. It couldn’t be a coincidence.
The driver cranked the window down, revealing a gaunt gentleman, baseball cap pulled low over his eyes. If he meant to look menacing, it would take more than a hat to accomplish it. Without bothering to look in Bridge’s direction, he said, “Get in the van.”
Much as he appreciated the invitation, Bridge had other ideas. “No. How about you come out? And hand me a creamsicle while you’re at it. The cat’ll take a cone.”
“I wasn’t talking to you, old man,” the driver clarified, still not turning his head. “All we want is The Rook.”
There was no way the man behind the wheel could comprehend how much information he’d given away in a single exchange. Even with a recent head injury, Bridge picked up on all kinds of details. “All we want” told him that the driver wasn’t working alone. It seemed a fair bet that he was employed by the same person who’d brought Rook back from the dead. Now that the killer’s work was done, the man in the van had been sent to collect him. But then there was also the name. Not Rook. The Rook. “All we want is The Rook,” as if he were some kind of celebrity assassin and Bridge should have been familiar with—
He already knew the answer, but Bridge pulled the dead man’s cell from his pocket anyway and looked at the main screen. It was an easy mistake to make. Hell, Rook had made it himself. The word was right there, in the spot where people often place their names if for no other reason than to identify their property. It wasn’t even capitalized, but then it wasn’t really a name. It was a rank.
To Bridge’s way of thinking, there was nothing worse than being taken for a fool. He didn’t like being violently confronted with the fact that while he’d been busy playing checkers, someone else out there was playing chess and using him for a pawn. Still, even pawns can get promoted. Especially if they pay close enough attention. Out of all the intel the driver had let slip, the most damning was his name for Bridge. “Old man, huh?” Taking a step forward, he tried to get a better look at the driver. “Do I know you?”
The residents of The Bethany Hotel were, at best, impermanent. As a result, no one who lived there for any length of time bothered to learn the names of their neighbors. If you had an identifying characteristic, that became your new name, like it or not. Lazy Eye. Harelip. Unibrow. If your hair happened to be bone white, people might call you Old Man. But not to your face. Not more than once. The problem came when two or more people shared the same trait. Some time back, The Bethany had housed two different men who had lost an arm. There had to be a way to differentiate between them. Thankfully, they had not lost the same arm, so they came to be known as Righty Tightie and Lefty Loosie.
It wasn’t long after that that Righty Tightie went and got himself killed in a liquor store hold-up. Though the building could have gone back to calling the survivor One Arm, they didn’t. For some reason, the nickname Lefty Loosie got shortened and bastardized and now it was simply
“Lucy?” Bridge asked. “Is that you?”
“Do NOT call me that.” This was enough to get the driver to turn in his seat, verifying that wherever his right arm was, he didn’t have it with him. “My name is Anthony.”
“Whatever you say, Lucy.” Bridge snagged Rook—or whatever the hell his name was—by the elbow and guided him to the front of the van. It might be a tight squeeze, but they could still make it to the stairs. “Right now, we’ve got somewhere to be, but I’ll see you back at the hotel, all right? You have a good night.”
That was when the side door on the van slid open, revealing that when Lucy said “all we want is the rook,” he may have been referring to himself and the three guys seated behind him. Bridge didn’t recognize any of them, but if they were to move into The Bethany anytime soon, he could already guess their new nicknames. Forehead. Mullet. Tire iron. Of course, the last was dependent upon the tire iron being a regular accessory. Otherwise, he’d most likely have to answer to Acne.
Lucy stepped out of the cab, cracking the knuckles on his one hand and bringing his side’s numbers to three-and-a-half. Unless he knew some form of kickboxing, he couldn’t really be counted as a full opponent. “You should have listened to me, Old Man,” he said. “Now we’re gonna take him.”
Apparently, the driver was unaware that Bridge had three friends as well, individuals he could call on in a fight. Rock. Paper. Scissors. Bridge was about to do just that when Mullet hauled off and booted Spade through the windshield of a nearby parked car.
That was one way of evening the odds.