Before Nova could say more, something made him jerk, and he wiped at his forehead with the quick, paranoid action of a man under attack. He stared at his fingers, using the phone to illuminate them.
Next, he shined the light towards the inside of the chute, and choked out in horror, “Minchia, Carina--”
“It’s not me,” Carina whispered quickly.
“It’s me.” Brianna sighed. “It was a nail.”
Nova was still shining the phone around the inside of the laundry chute, studying the dark stains against the tan wood. “This is a lotta blood. Where’d it get you?
“On the inside of my upper arm.”
“You have to come down.” Nova peered up at them again, the blue light making his features dark and intimidating. “Right now. This second.”
“There are Brambinos up here. It’s not the NYPD,” Brianna warned him fearfully. “We’ve heard them in the closets.”
“I realize that. Do you know how many?”
“Like five or six at least.” Carina’s voice was still quivering, which showed exactly how terrified she was.
“That’s enough,” Carina barked incredulously. “We have no weapons, Nova. We dumped the whole house. They got us. We’re fucked.”
“We have weapons down here. We’re not fucked,” Nova said with the first piece of good news. “Thanks, Bella.” He turned away for a second, then dropped something onto the bottom of the laundry chute. “We padded it just in case you slip. Start crawling down. Hurry.”
“I hear something.” Carmen’s voice echoed in warning.
“Merda.” Nova had a brief moment of indecision, before he said to Carmen, “Trade with me. You help them down. I’ll watch the door. Turn off the lamp.”
The dim light from the basement went out. Nova set the phone down, leaving a beam of blue shining up at them. Carina’s face was cast in eerie shadows, but Brianna could see the whites of her eyes, wide and terrified in the darkness.
Still, Carina decided for both of them, “We’re doing this.”
Brianna nodded with her. “I’m not going down yet—not over a fucking nail.”
Carina let out a short, desperate laugh, and then jumped when the sound of gunshots echoed up from the basement. Brianna jumped too, and for one long moment they were both frozen in fear.
“Ignore it. Focus on your own problems,” Carmen coaxed once it was quiet again. “Start crawling down.”
There really wasn’t anything they could do about Nova and the gunshots while the two of them were stuck in this laundry chute, so Brianna decided to trust Carmen—and save herself.
She braced each of her feet into a corner of the laundry chute once she took them off the ledge.
“That’s it.” Carmen was still shining the burner phone up at them. “Just one step at a time.”
Brianna gasped when she moved her injured arm, feeling the pain radiate straight to her chest. “It feels like something’s still stabbing me.”
“Try to forget it,” Carina whispered above her, working harder at keeping out of Brianna’s way than crawling down herself. “We’ll get outta here, and we’ll get to a hospital. It’ll be fine.”
Carina sounded more manic than actually convinced it was that easy, but Brianna tried to believe her as she kept moving down the chute.
Brianna’s arm was stabbing her with every small movement, and she stopped trying to use it. Instead, she utilized her back muscles and leg power to slowly inch her way down. She braced with her good hand, and it worked for the most part. It was just very slow work.
When she got low enough to reach, Carmen caught Brianna’s ankle. “You’re almost there.”
Brianna was close enough to almost drop, and she rested her feet against the ledge above the opening, trying to figure out how she was going to do this with one bad arm.
Carmen touched her thigh, and said, “Go ahead and drop your legs down. You’re okay now.”
Brianna realized there was no graceful way to do this. Falling that short of a distance wouldn’t kill her. The arm situation felt more important, but it still wasn’t easy.
She dropped her left foot, braced her right arm harder against the wall, and realized she couldn’t do it. “I think you have to help me. I can’t use my other arm, something stabbing it, and--”
“It’s okay.” Carmen reached inside the chute, wrapping one hand around Brianna’s left hip. “I’ll help you.”
“I’m bleeding everywhere,” Brianna argued.
“So, bleed on me.” Carmen sounded like she meant it. “I got you, mama.”
It was awkward when Brianna dropped her other foot. She had no choice but to let Carmen bear a large part of her weight, but in that one instant, Brianna realized the other woman was incredibly strong, and decided to give in and let her do the work.
Carmen helped her land on the blankets far more gracefully than she should have. The laundry chute ended in one of the cabinets next to the washing machine. When Brianna peered into the darkened basement, she realized she was about three feet off the ground. Carmen had been standing on a stool and stepped down to give Brianna room. Before Brianna could jump, a beam of light lit up the basement when the door opened. Kneeling there, she had a perfect view of the stairs and tensed with fear.
She saw two men and one gun.
The dim light, shadows and pain made it hard at first to sort out the other information. Her first thought was Nova was the one in trouble. He was the one being forced against the wall, choking and grunting in pain. There was just no way Nova could be the other guy, cause that one was a genuine motherfucker. It was the way he had the gun jammed against the back of the other’s neck, hard and punishing.
“I’ll kill you,” he growled at the bleeding man as he pulled the door shut, casting them into near darkness. “I will shoot you dead and leave you on the stairs if you even remotely irritate me, because I don’t have time to babysit. Do you understand?”
Standing there in the darkness, Carmen grabbed Brianna’s foot and whispered, “Jump, pretty girl,” sounding mostly unconcerned about the villain in the basement.
And in those three seconds, Brianna realized Nova was the one holding the gun.
He was the one not caring.
And she believed him, because there was something in Nova’s voice that told her he would absolutely shoot the guy on the stairs without remorse.
Brianna jumped down, and nearly busted her ass on the cement floor because her sneakers were bloody. Carmen caught her and whispered, “Are you okay?”
Brianna just looked at her.
Carmen gave Brianna a sad smile. “Yeah, I hear you.” She guided her over to a spot next to the washing machine. “Sit.”
Brianna sat heavily, feeling disgusting, sweaty and bloody.
Carmen stepped back over to the laundry chute and called up, “Come down.”
“Already working on it.” Carina’s voice echoed from above.
Brianna was glad for the darkness. She had an excuse to ignore her arm. Then Carmen ruined it by running over to the bedroom and flipping on the lamp, allowing enough light to prevent them from tripping and falling, but still keeping the basement dark from upstairs.
“Take your shirt off,” Nova told the guy when the two of them got to the bottom of the stairs. “Pants too.”
The other gangster took off his shirt, showing off a cut, athletic body. He was pale, and it made the blood on his chest seem all the more palled. It appeared he was shot in the shoulder, but it was hard to tell. Taking the shirt off had to be agony, but he managed it somehow.
Nova wasn’t impressed by the feat. He simply told the guy, “Shove it in your mouth, and if I see you take it out, I’m killing you. Pants off.”
When the guy started kicking off his shoes, Brianna turned back to watch Carmen help Carina down rather than have to see his humiliation.
“Are you going to freak out?” Nova asked harshly.
Brianna glanced back when she realized Nova was talking to her. He was studying her harshly, the gun still leveled at the gangster shoving his shirt in his mouth.
“No.” Brianna shook her head a little too quickly.
“Good, because you can’t freak out. It’s not an option at this point.” Nova turned back to the guy and held up his left hand in disbelief. “Were the instructions too difficult?”
When the Brambino gangster kicked off his shoes, and took off his pants, Brianna saw another gun strapped to his leg. A gold watch spilled out on the floor from one of his pockets, and Brianna realized he’d been the one robbing the don’s closet upstairs. He didn’t even hesitate to unstrap the gun and hand it to Nova.
It was easily the most uncomfortable, awkward exchange she had ever witnessed.
Brianna looked away again. This time she spied the body lying on the floor on the other side of the stairs, and whispered, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph.”
Now she knew where Nova got the weapons.
She turned away quickly from the dead man, but she saw enough. It looked like his skull was crushed. She found herself searching for whatever did that and spotted the fire extinguisher next to her.
It was still bloody.
She scooted away from it.
Brianna starred up at her best friend with wide eyes when she appeared in the cabinet next to the washer.
Carina met her gaze before she dropped down, took in the carnage of the basement and said in a low, deadpan voice, “I see you’ve been doing your zu thing down here. Feeling better?”
“No, princess, I’m not feeling better,” Nova countered without missing a beat. “I feel like fucking merda right now. Would you rather surrender, because I might be game at this point?”
“I didn’t say we don’t appreciate the zu thing,” Carina mumbled as she stepped around the bloody extinguisher. She sat next to Brianna and tilted her head to look at her arm. “Damn, Bri.”
“Is it gross?” Brianna asked fearfully, feeling a little self-absorbed considering the other injuries in the basement.
“No,” Carina squeaked. “I think it’s like, bleeding worse than it is.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Brianna hissed at her. “Are you lying to me right now? For real?”
Carina met Brianna’s narrowed gaze with a wince. “It’s pretty gross.”
“How gross? On a scale from one to ten?” Brianna pushed, thinking about her dancing career probably more than she should.
Carina grabbed her elbow and looked at it again. “Maybe a seven.” She studied the upper part of Brianna’s bicep, obviously trying to get a better grasp of the situation. “It looks like there’s something--”
Carina stopped talking at the sound of the elevator cranking down from above.
“There’s a guy in the garages,” Carina warned Nova quickly, as though only just thinking of it. “We heard them talking about him upstairs.”
“You didn’t think to tell me that?” Nova ran towards the elevator, but stopped to point at the guy in the corner. “Carmen, watch him.”
Carmen didn’t need to be told twice, she pulled a gun out from the back of her shorts and walked over to the gangster sitting there in his underwear, with wide, terrified eyes.
She pointed the 9mm at him, but she was staring towards the elevator door. It looked like simple wood paneling, except for the grinding sound from the other side. Nova stood against the wall; gun pointed at the hidden elevator.
He wore suit pants and the purple dress shirt, as though he got dressed very quickly when he heard them bust in upstairs. No tie. The shirt was unbuttoned down to the third button, enough to see he was wearing a white undershirt beneath it.
Even with it, Nova was obviously still sweating.
It glistened on his forehead and was staining his shirt.
His foot was shaking, reminding Brianna of Tino, especially when he looked towards her and Carina, and held up a finger. He mouthed, “One?”
Carina held up one finger, and agreed softly, “Just one.”
Nova nodded and got very still when the elevator clunked to the basement.
They all did.
For that one brief moment, between when it stopped and the elevator slid open, Brianna didn’t think any of them took a breath.
Nova stayed against the wall, so that he was the last thing visible as the door slid open. They were all waiting for it, but Brianna still gasped when she saw the gun, and she wasn’t the only one. Carina did too, and the response was instant. The gangster from the garage pivoted on the spot, pointing his gun at them, which was why he didn’t see Nova.
Nova shoved his 9mm right against the back of the guy’s neck.
He might have even pulled the trigger. . . if the second man in the elevator hadn’t stepped forward and used some sort of long stick in his hand to sweep Nova’s feet right out from under him.