[Click here for Chapter 1]
Despite the ringing in his ears, Broom heard voices calling out in Spanish. “Muerto?” And then “Espero!” Clearly, the men entering the offices of Kelvin Pharmaceuticals weren’t responding police. More likely: they were killers coming to finish the job. Terminado . . .
Broom felt something cold in his right hand. He looked down to discover a gun. He looked up at the assassin he called Happy. Happy was crouching low at the office door, peering down the corridor.
“Estamos perdidos!” a voice called out.
The men were lost inside the once tranquil maze that was Broom’s workplace. A wave of relief washed over Broom — and receded as fast as it had arrived.
Is this a gun? Broom wondered, staring at the silver object in his hand. “This is a gun! Why did he give it to me?”
Happy reached up and pushed Broom’s shoulder down hard, forcing Broom into a crouch besides him. Happy reached over and shoved the small gun sideways.
“That way” Happy mouthed to Broom. “Rule number one,” Happy added, grinning and holding up his index finger.
Broom nodded and gave a thumbs-up — and felt ridiculous. But not for long. Happy grabbed a handful of Broom’s shirt and took off running. The instant they were outside the office, Happy aimed his larger, long-barreled gun down the corridor and unleashed three loud clanks in quick succession.
Broom had just enough time to see a man fall to the ground — and scream like a stuck pig. And keep screaming. Horrifically.
Happy let go of Broom and headed for the fire exit in the corner of the office. Broom briefly thought about stopping and calling it a day, then remembered the men behind him. He flew down six flights of stairs to the emergency exit door. Happy stopped suddenly ahead of him. Broom nearly ran him over.
Happy opened his jacket and slid his long-barreled gun into a hidden holster.
“Fuck that’s hot,” Happy said.
“Put the gun in your pocket,” Happy commanded Broom between breaths. “Keep your hand on the gun. Keep your finger off the trigger, until you’re ready to shoot. Rule number two,” he said, holding up two fingers.
Before Broom could respond, Happy sauntered out the door into the circle at the front of the glass building. He walked straight towards a old school Lincoln Town Car idling by the curb. Broom followed with his hand on the gun in his pants pocket, finding it difficult to walk, taking his finger on and off the trigger.
Happy knocked on the car’s window, his trademark smile beaming. The tinted glass lowered.
“Hola Carlito,” a voice said from inside the car. “Donde esta . . .”
Before he could finish, Happy pulled the tab on something round in his hand. The round thing spewed red flame from the top, like a Roman candle.
Once it was alight, Happy held the object in his left hand, reached across his body with his free hand and retrieved his gun. Broom heard two more loud clanks and saw the gun jerk slightly. Happy tossed the round thing into the Lincoln’s back seat.
“Run!” Happy shouted, happily.
Broom followed his advice, cringing as he ran, fully expecting an enormous explosion. When he was some fifty yards away, Broom glanced over his shoulder. The Lincoln was ablaze, flames engulfing the rear compartment, spitting out the top of the windows and the sides of the doors. No explosion.
“Rule number three: always carry a thermite grenade,” Happy said. “Just kidding,” he added with a laugh. “I’ll carry the grenades. Safety first.”
Happy opened the door and got in. Broom ran to the passenger side and followed suit.
“Wait,” Broom said, as he put on his seat belt. “This is my car. How did you get the keys?” Broom asked, looking back at the raging inferno parked outside the building.
“From your desk,” Happy replied. “Is this the supercharged V8?”
Happy let out something very much like a rebel yell and floored the SUV. The sound and surge of acceleration shattered what was left of Broom’s nerves. He literally collapsed into the seat.
“That was awesome,” Happy announced, leveling off. “Vasquez never saw it coming. Stupid fuck. I never liked him. Him and his salsa verde.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Happy continued. “I got nothing against Mexicans. Well, not all Mexicans. Just the ones who like to watch people suffer. ‘Let’s torture him,'” Happy said with a passable northern Mexican accent. “‘Why can’t we torture him? Are you ready to eat your balls señor?’ Good thing Henderson was there. He never put up with that shit.”
“You killed him,” Broom said, more loudly than he intended,
“Not me, Vasquez,” Happy corrected. “I shot Aster, Vasquez shot Henderson, I shot Vasquez.”
Broom collapsed into the seat. He was exhausted. Too tired to move. Too tired to think. Still sweating. Heart still racing. Muscles twitching. But mentally played.
“Do me a favor willya?” Happy asked. “Put the gun in the glovebox.”
Broom stared at the window and evaluated his life. How the hell did I get here?
“Am I talking a lot? I know I’ll crash. That’s going to happen. But man, that was good. Not the best ever. Not by a long shot. But really good. Hello? Gun? Glove box? I hope you’re not one of these people who always wants people to say please. That’s so childish.”
Broom struggled to remove the gun from his pocket and place it in the glove box.
“Smith & Wesson 642. Nice little BUG. I’m not a revolver guy but you wouldn’t believe how many times that’s come in handy.”
Broom could sense Happy was waiting for some kind of feedback. Broom couldn’t think of anything to say.
“I bet you’re wondering why I didn’t kill you,” Happy asked.
‘Now that you mention it . . .”
“I like you.”
“OK you saw through that one. I’m not saying I won’t like you. Or that I won’t kill you even if I do. But you seem like a nice guy.”
“Nice,” Broom repeated.
“I’m going level with you Indigo. I figured this Excaliber thing, this drug you guys are working on? It must be worth a fortune. I mean, a lot of money. Once Vasquez offed Henderson –“
“The Rain King,” Broom interjected without meaning to.
“Henderson the Rain King,” Happy clarified. “You know the book?”
“You didn’t kill me because . . .” Broom prompted, surprised to be keeping Happy on track.
“I figured you’d be the only guy alive who knows about Excaliber.”
“I don’t,” Broom said, stupidly. “Know anything about it.”
“Seriously? I thought you were bluffing. Like you knew the hit was coming down. I half expected you to have a gun. Funny right? I swear you made me.”
Happy paused, thinking.
“That changes things.”
“You killed them all didn’t you?” Broom said angrily, emboldened by the last vestiges of adrenalin. He tried to estimate how long it would take him to retrieve the gun from the glovebox. And whether it was loaded.
“Bigsby, Parkinson, Flores, Larsson and Sainsbury,” Broom continued, a strong note of accusation lacing his words. “You killed them all.”
“Who?” Happy asked.
“Bigsby, Parkinson –“
“The last one. Sainsbury. Who’s he?”
“Lead chemist. Suicide. Hanging.”
“Hanging?” Happy pondered. “Nope. Sorry.”
“I don’t usually do ‘accidents’,” Happy said, taking his hands off the wheel to make air quotes. “Too complicated. Way too many things to go wrong. Takes forever. Planning and shit. I’m a gun guy. Nice and simple. You’re in, you’re out, you wash up. Done. But you know how it is. Ex-wives . . .”
“This Sainsbury guy,” Happy said, “he must have killed himself for real.”
“No way,” Broom pronounced. “He was the one that got me thinking the Protempo death cluster was . . . something else.”
“Protempo death cluster. All the people you killed were working on Protempo, our erectile dysfunction drug. At least I thought they were. They were working on Excaliber.”
“A hard-on drug? Huh. When did Sainsbury off himself?” Happy asked.
“A few weeks ago.”
Happy looked over his shoulder and entered the freeway.
“What’s his address?”
“No,” Broom said crossing his arms. “We’re done. I’m done.”
“Listen to me Indigo Broom. You’re skating on thin ice. You know what happens to people who fall through the ice, right?”
Broom sighed and fished his iPhone out his pocket.
“Cheer up Indigo,” Happy said, a smile returning to his face. “Things may be looking up.”
“Where else could they go?” Broom muttered under his breath.