Carlo’s closet smelled like men’s cologne.
It lingered on some of his suits like a memory.
Warm and spicy, reminding Brianna of Tino on a good day, all dressed up and fun. She breathed it in. The scent was comforting, and she was trying very hard to stop herself from completely losing her shit.
“We have to find the laundry chute. All the main bedrooms have them in the closets,” Carina said in a rushed whisper while the darkness pressed in on them. “We can crawl down to Nova and Carmen in the basement.”
“What the hell is a laundry chute? Are you sure--”
Brianna stopped when she heard more muffled yelling from downstairs. She couldn’t discern what they were saying but could sense the pulse of it, the energy, high strung and riddled with fear. Whoever was attacking them must be close to the stairs.
“It won’t have a handle.” Carina dropped to her hands and knees and started looking. “It’s just a small notch in the wood about a foot off the floor. They disguised them, just in case, but I never looked at Carlo’s.”
Brianna followed Carina’s lead, crawling on her hands and knees in the pitch black, feeling the walls for something she wasn’t even sure was there. She took one side of the closet, and Carina took the other.
“How do we know it’s not the heat busting in like that?” Brianna barked at her.
“It’s the Brambinos.” Carina crawled over to the door, obviously trying to listen to what was happening. “What cop threatens to make someone fucking eat it?”
“What if they were talking about cement. Dirt. The floor. Maybe they were telling them to get down or they’ll make them eat it,” Brianna argued in a voice that was barely audible.
“There was a gun shot.”
“Are you saying cops don’t shoot people? Is that your theory?”
Carina was quiet after that, back to listening.
The two of them were so deadly silent, Brianna could feel the feet on the stairs pounding up to the second floor where they were hiding.
“Find it.” Carina crawled back over to the corner, running her hands along the wall again. “Find it, Bri. Find it. Find it. Find it.”
Carina kept chanting it, her voice getting more and more frantic.
“I’m trying. Oh--” Brianna felt something stab her knee, which was jarring when she was wearing shorts and had no protection. “Fuck!”
“Something stabbed me.” Brianna felt on the ground, trying to find what it was, and discovered the splintered wood along the edge of the floor board. “Floor feels broken here.”
Carina crawled over to Brianna, and felt the floor herself, except they were both near blind in the darkness. “Where is it? I don’t feel anything.”
Brianna grabbed Carina’s hand and physically put it over the split wood in the floor.
The loud, chaos of the raid echoed from the upstairs hallway, getting closer and closer. “NYPD! Show yourself! Hands up!”
Carina kept feeling around the damaged floor like she hadn’t heard them.
“NYPD SWAT! Come out or I’ll blow your fucking head off!”
It sounded like they were tearing the house apart, room by room, quickly getting to Carlo’s at the end of the hallway.
“We have to go out,” Brianna growled at her. “It’s NYPD. We go out. We play stupid. It’ll be fine.”
In response, Carina jerked open a small door that lifted up from the floor instead of sideways like they had been looking for. She grabbed Brianna’s arm like she expected her to crawl into that thing--blindly--with NYPD closing in at any second.
What were they going to look like, stuck in a laundry chute when the cops found them?
Guilty as hell.
Brianna was sure of it as she found herself crawling into a hole in the wall, praying that she wasn’t going to end up a pile of broken bones on the bottom. She had to go feet first, in the dark, which was no easy task.
“Go.” Carina pushed at Brianna’s shoulders.
It was like crawling into a deep, bottomless, unlined coffin. The wood was rough, splintery, and everything was so fucking dark. It was completely oppressive. The stuff nightmares were born from. She braced her legs once she got deep enough but was still leaning halfway out.
The room shook with the sound of Carlo’s door being kicked, only Brianna had locked it.
“Hey! They’re in here! Help me take it down.”
The response was immediate as more than one person started kicking at the door. Only Carlo’s deadbolt was clearly not an ordinary deadbolt. It held them off a few extra seconds, but Brianna needed to quickly make room for Carina. She didn’t realize she made the decision to let go until she was sliding down the laundry shoot.
She knew she was agile enough to catch herself before she got very far. It was a long ride down to the basement and the space was very narrow. Only she didn’t think about nails in the wood, and she really wished she would’ve.
Something ripped through her arm, and it was one of those white hot, terror moments. She used her legs to catch herself, and Brianna knew instantly she was very hurt.
Emergency room hurt.
She couldn’t warn Carina. She didn’t dare speak, and they couldn’t afford to have both of them injured if they had any chance of surviving this. Brianna braced herself with her knees and reached up to feel for the nail. When she didn’t find it, she started to slowly inch her way up with her back braced against the side wall and her legs doing all the work.
Luckily, Carina didn’t drop blindly like Brianna had. It sounded like she was slowly lowering herself down, using her legs to give her leverage.
Then the door from the outer room burst open. The wall vibrated with the sound of feet as the intruders came into the room. Carina obviously gave up with going slow and let go.
Brianna braced her knees harder when she ended up catching a large part of Carina’s weight.
In the next second, the sound of gunfire deafened them.
It exploded inside the closet so violently, Brianna lost her balance and slid farther down the chute. Carina slid with her, and there were a few heartbeats where death felt everywhere.
They were either crashing to the basement.
Or they were getting shot¼and then crashing to the basement.
Brianna managed to catch herself, only because her foot caught on a ledge. She used her other foot against the wall to stop her fall, but gravity still left her responsible for a lot of Carina’s weight too.
It was a fucking miracle, and more likely, five hours of dance practice a day that let Brianna keep them balanced and alive.
The gunfire stopped, but Brianna and Carina were struggling in the laundry chute. It was so dark, it felt like Carina was everywhere, smothering her. Brianna had to turn her head to find a small space for air.
Some of the weight eased up, and Brianna realized Carina was using her arms to help keep her balanced. Brianna thought she felt one of Carina’s knees near her ass, bracing against the wall, but it was impossible to tell.
At the same time, voices drifted like echoes from upstairs.
“Dumbass, what cop just fucking blows away the closet like that?”
“Yeah? And what Moretti wouldn’t fucking gun down NYPD if they’re feeling trapped? I’m not risking it for your little charade. Crazy motherfuckers.”
“There’s no one up here. Just our guy and the other we found on the ground floor,” one of the men said over the screech of clothing hangers being pushed back and forth. “Probably crawled out the window.”
“Check under the beds anyway.”
This house was built so solidly, it was hard to hear more as their voices drifted away. Brianna was mostly focused on not slipping again. She dropped her other foot down to the ledge that saved them, and having a place to rest her feet helped a lot.
“I’m going to move my other leg,” Carina whispered.
Carina shifted her foot, and ended up sliding down more, so that she sat straddled over Brianna, one leg on either side of Brianna’s hips, using her knees against the wall to stay balanced.
Brianna was trying not to black out. The pain in her arm pulsed a dangerous warning behind the adrenaline. Her heart was beating hard and fast, and she kept her head turned towards the corner to breathe because she was so suffocated. She rested her head against the wood and tried to think clearly, knowing they needed help.
“Why’re your shorts all wet?” Carina was still wiggly and jerked when she touched Brianna’s elbow that was dripping. “Oh my God.”
“Shh,” Brianna whispered as she tried to grab Nova’s burner phone in her pocket, only she had to use her injured arm, and it was slippery and awkward. “I can’t reach it. Get the phone. It’s in my right pocket.”
Carina shifted her weight, and leaned forward, feeling blindly around Brianna’s bloody shorts. She grunted and had to dip her shoulder to slip her hand into Brianna’s pocket.
“Got it,” Carina whispered. “God, it’s a fucking flip phone.” They both flinched when she opened it, the light making Carina look ghostly and shadowed as she took a shaking, terrified breath. “This’ll take forever.”
Carina turned away from her, leaning her forehead against the wall to concentrate on texting with the flip phone.
They heard a door being kicked open, this time much closer than the one above them. Brianna realized the ledge she was resting her feet on was another laundry hatch in the room beneath Carlo’s on the first floor.
The two of them fell one full story down.
She tried to remember which room it could be, but the pain was everywhere, making white spots dance in the darkness of her vision.
Carina worked at texting Tino, and Brianna could tell her hands were shaking by the way the light was flickering. She heard the chime of a text being sent, but Carina was still typing.
“NYPD!” A boom of the closet door flying open on the other side of the thin wall made them both jump.
Carina let out a choked, “No,” a second before the sound of Nova’s flip phone landing in the basement echoed up the laundry chute.
The darkness engulfed them once more. Brianna was tense with fear as they listened to the sounds on the other side of the wall.
“This one must be the don’s bedroom,” a voice said over more hangers being pushed around. “Nice digs.”
It was obvious the intruders were in the downstairs closet.
Someone kicked at the wall. “Sounds hallow.”
Brianna was almost glad for the pain as a distraction. The voice felt so close, and if this guy found the hidden door to the laundry chute, Brianna and Carina were both screwed because she didn’t dare try and drop down further.
Carina’s breathing was harsh in Brianna’s ear, sounding unsteady and choked. If Brianna felt like she was suffocating, she could only imagine what Carina was thinking.
“Here, put this in your pocket,” one of the men was saying. “And this--”
“Motherfucker, we’re not here to rob the place.” More hangers sliding around. More kicking of the wall. “Go check the basement. Our guy said the only way out is through the elevator to the garages and Andy’s already cleared the garages and standing guard. Anyone who ran down there would be trapped. Moretti’s too smart for that, but we still gotta clear it.”
“Check this out, eighteen karat gold.”
“Just search the fucking basement so we can tell them we did it.”
Carina didn’t seem to care they were robbing her nonno. Instead she was running her hand along Brianna’s leg that was covered in blood. Carina tried to grab Brianna’s hurt arm, but Brianna jerked it back knowing she could accidentally hurt her worse.
This asshole was taking a really long time in the closet.
Brianna’s legs were shaking from the strain. Carina must’ve noticed, because she tried to slide up, but Brianna grabbed her arm, squeezing it, praying she understood to stay still.
They couldn’t afford to make noise.
Brianna breathed a sigh of relief at the sound of footsteps walking away, but she didn’t dare move much in case someone came back.
“Where are you shot?” Carina asked in a fearful whisper.
“No, it was a nail. It got me in the arm.” Brianna shifted, trying to stay balanced because her legs were cramping. “It feels bad. Its bleeding a lot.”
“No shit,” Carina hissed at her. “We need to get out of this thing.”
“We can’t.” Brianna realized she might actually die in this stupid laundry chute. “They could still be in your nonno’s room.”
Brianna strained to listen, but mostly she could only hear her own heartbeat and labored breathing. Carina was struggling for breath too, and that wasn’t helping. Brianna could physically feel her best friend’s freak out building in the stifling hot tunnel.
“Slow breaths,” Brianna whispered, and she wasn’t sure if she was talking to herself or Carina, but it worked for both of them.
Long, slow, cool breathes.
The voices in the bedroom seemed to drift farther away.
The noise in the house felt more distant.
Brianna still thought she was going to die in this stupid coffin dressed up as a laundry chute, but the adrenaline was just starting to wane a little.
“Adesso!” Nova’s voice reverberated from beneath them.
Even if Brianna didn’t understand what he was saying, she knew it was Nova, his tone harsh and dangerous like someone was about to be in life altering trouble.
Even with the one second warning, Brianna and Carina still jerked at the shout of raw terror that echoed up the laundry chute from the basement.
It was quickly cut off by a dull, sickening thud.
“That was Nova, right?” Brianna asked Carina.
“Yeah.” Carina was still trying to breathe in and out, but it sounded more like she was hyperventilating. “What do you think that sound was? Who was screaming?”
Brianna didn’t know, and she didn’t have to answer. The clank of something heavy and metal against cement had her falling silent once more. She was listening intently just as the laundry chute door far beneath them was opened.
Brianna held her breath and turned her head to better peer down the shaft. She couldn’t see the face of the person. The light from the basement was dim, but it looked like a man.
He picked up the phone Carina dropped, and blue light was suddenly cast over Nova’s features.
The damn thing hadn’t broken, it just landed face down. When Nova tilted his head up, using the phone to light up the laundry chute, Brianna couldn’t see his face past the shadows.
But she could hear him as he let out a choked, “Cazzo,” when he saw what the cellphone light revealed.