The van wasn’t cold after sitting in the sun by the side of the trail. However, Sawyer’s teeth chattered. He clamped his jaw to stop them. Silent and shivering, he was empty, a husk instead of a boy. He wondered if death felt hollow like this. Was it cold like this? Did the fear keep stabbing like this? He couldn’t get rid of the idea that Lincoln was still alive, even after he saw a shovel full of dirt hit his face. Why couldn’t he let go of that?

Rat Snatcher glanced at him, but said nothing. What could he say?

They had just illegally buried a young boy in the woods next to the Detroit River, a young boy who had been brutally gang raped. Rat said he probably died of a heart attack. Sawyer would have had a heart attack if he’d suffered what Lincoln suffered. He wasn’t sure it would have killed him.

“Tell me again,” he said. “He was dead, right?”

Rat glanced at him, horror evident on every curve of his face. “Yes. Yes. What kind of question is that?”

Sawyer couldn’t help the tears that suddenly fell from his eyes with Rat’s rebuke. He quickly scrubbed them away.

The drive back to Marchesi’s Bar and Grill seemed twice as long as the trip to the woods, defying his conventional understanding of the return-trip effect. Under normal circumstances, the return would seem shorter. In fact, it was provable that it often felt shorter by more than five minutes. Sawyer turned to Rat to tell him about this observation, but Rat was laser-focused straight ahead as if the only thing holding him in place was the concentration it took to negotiate the city traffic. Sawyer resisted the impulse to geek out, figuring it was counterproductive in this situation.  

As they neared North Corktown, Rat sat up tall, peering ahead for all he was worth.

Sawyer looked too, trying to figure out what made Rat nervous. A shiny black Town Car with darkened windows caught his attention as it pulled across an avenue ahead of them at a light. Beautiful and sleek, it was a car he’d always admired. His grandpa Hank drove one when he was younger. Sawyer had a picture of him standing in front of it as a young reporter. “That’s the life,” he thought.

As memories rolled through his mind Rat shouted, “Hold on.” Then, he gunned the engine and raced to the nearest parking space. The tires of his van squealed and the chassis rocked as he pulled into it and yanked on the brakes. He unlocked his door, but he didn’t get out. Instead he stared through each mirror and ahead at the street in front of the van, as if counting every car parked around them.

“What?” said Sawyer.  “Why did we stop?”

“We walk from here. Keep your head down, follow me, and for chrissake, keep your mouth shut.” Rat flung open the door and stepped out.

Sawyer did the same. As they walked away, Rat aimed his key fob toward the van and locked it.

Sawyer could smell the sour stench of fear rolling off Rat as he kept a brisk pace. But he stopped often, and pushed Sawyer behind him while he scoped the area with a 360º sweep of his gaze. Each time the stench of fear grew stronger. Each time he muttered, “This is stupid, this is stupid, this is stupid.” 

After the third time, Sawyer said, “What? What is stupid?”

Before he could blink, Rat rounded on him and grabbed Sawyer’s shoulders as if to shake him. “I told you to be quiet. Did you think I was kidding?” His fingers dug into Sawyer’s triceps, pinching muscle to bone.

Then he dropped his hands from Sawyer’s shoulders, put a paw on top of his head, and looked straight into his eyes. “Keep. Your. Damn. Mouth. Shut.”

Sawyer gulped and nodded.

When they were across the street from Marchesi’s Bar and Grill, they heard men shouting. The sound seemed to come from the alley behind it. Rat grabbed Sawyer by the front of his shirt and growled, “You stay behind me. If I tell you to run, you run as if your life depended on it. Run back to the river. You don’t stop for nothin’. You hear me?”

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t know yet, but I know it isn’t going to end well. Just do as I say.”

Sawyer nodded again.

Rat shoved Sawyer behind him and sauntered toward the noise. He stopped before turning into the alley and grabbed Sawyer’s arm. He whispered into his ear, “Quiet as a mouse, Topino. We listen from here.”

Sawyer sank into the shadow against the wall, but not before he caught a glimpse of the shiny black Lincoln Town Car parked across from the back door of Marchesi’s Bar and Grill. He was barely able to comprehend the rest of the scene in the alley. 

Allessandro, the tattooed man, was on his knees at the base of the staircase with his hands duct taped behind him. Two giant men, one dressed in greasy coveralls and the other that looked like he just jumped off his cruiser, stood over him with large automatic rifles. Marchesi was on the stoop near the back door. Evan cowered behind him. The door was shut.

Sawyer thought, “The door automatically locks when it closes. You won’t be able to get back inside.” Those were the words Marchesi said to him his first night as he showed him the room he was renting. That seemed like years ago.   

He couldn’t help himself. He grabbed the back of Rat’s shirt and hung on. Rat’s attention was diverted momentarily to acknowledge his clinging, then he held up his finger to his mouth to remind him to keep quiet.

There were several other men in the alley standing guard around the men with guns. Two of them stomped up the stairs and grabbed Marchesi and Evan. They pulled the couple off the staircase and shoved them to the pavement, forcing them to their knees next to Allessandro. One of them taped their hands behind their backs.

“Where’s the other one,” barked a man as he stepped out of the Town Car that Sawyer had so admired. He was dressed in a black tuxedo. His polished shoes seemed incredibly out of place as he stamped across the greasy pavement. “Where is he, huh?” He loomed over the three captives and pulled Evan to his feet. “You know who I’m talking about, don’t you? The little creep who gave that old witch money for my sister, my dead sister Sobrina. I want to thank him, too.”

Sawyer gasped and tightened his hold on Rat’s shirt.

Evan started to sob. The man threw him back to the ground.

Marchesi leaned toward Evan and said something in another language.

Rat muttered, “Be a man. Don’t give them anything.”

One of the armed men used the butt of his gun to club Marchesi’s ear. The cartilage cracked and his ear began to bleed.

Rat Snatcher turned to Sawyer and whispered, “Listen up Bitch. I have to get help, and you have to run. Run.”

Sawyer froze.

Rat shoved him and vehemently whispered, “RUN!”

Sawyer ran. When he passed the van, he realized Rat was not behind him. He heard three loud pops. His feet didn’t wait to process the information. They kept running. In the distance, sirens screamed toward him. Lots of them. His feet didn’t wait for those either.

 Sawyer’s feet slapped the pavement behind him, moving farther and farther away. Rat pulled his phone from his pocket and punched the number three. He said, “Extraction, Marchesi’s Bar and Grill, send back up, armed confrontation.” When he hung up he crept to the corner. He was a good shot. He knew he could knock the automatics out of the hands of the goons standing there, but he knew the Morellis. The backup gang would come at him like a herd of crazed elephants.

At that moment, the eldest Morelli brother pulled a twenty-two from a vest holder hidden under his fancy suit. He shot Allessandro Santorini in the head. Evan screamed as Santorini fell against him. Little twit, this was his fuck up. When Morelli trained his gun on Charlie Marchesi, Rat Snatcher aimed and took him out. Then he ran.

He ran as if his life depended on it, because it did. He hoped his runaway bitch had run far enough. If anyone from either side saw Jonathan Tyler, he was dead. He beeped open his van, raced to it, and climbed into the driver’s seat. It took a half a second to ignite the engine. He heard shots. A bullet pinged off the back of the van. He roared out of the parking space as flashing lights headed toward him. He only hoped he’d created enough distraction to save the lives of Evan and his father.

Rat had a choice: find a place to hide or give himself up. With either choice, it was case closed, blown to smithereens. All these months trying to find the connection to the traffic business out of Taiwan, to derail the train, was wasted. The greedy belly of Detroit would continue to feed off Taiwan’s primed-to-fight young men. It made him sick.   

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