CHAPTER 19

Lucio took a quick glance at Genevieve next to him. Her red hair was flying around her face. Her mouth was open in shock and her eyes were huge.

Lucio would give anything to save Genevieve’s son. He would give himself for the boy’s safety, and might yet have to. And to thinkthis had nothing to do with Jason. It was Lucio’s battle, Lucio’s problem, Lucio’s past that had brought all this on. But the innocent boy might end up paying for Lucio’s selfishness with his life.

If something happened to Jason, Genevieve would never forgive him. He would never forgive himself.

Tell me! Genevieve screamed over the wind and the sound of the high-performance engine. What’s going on?

Lucio shook his head, dreading having to say it out loud. The best thing you can do is call the police, he told her, his voice calm. Piers’s address is 890 Green Street, number eight.

Genevieve had her phone out, already dialing 911. Tears were rolling down her face. Do you think he’s hurt? Has there been an accident?

Lucio took a corner way too fast, and the screech of the tires had other drivers pulling to the curb.

What are you doing to my fucking car? Larry screamed from the back. Where are we going? What’s wrong with Jason?

I don’t know! Lucio yelled over his shoulder, taking the entrance ramp to the 101. I just pray we’re not too late.

Lucio heard Genevieve screaming into the phone that she believed her son was in danger, but that, no, there was no fire, no medical emergency, or crime that she was aware of.

Just tell them there’s been a break-in! Josh called out from the back. A man with a gun! Give them the address!

She did it, groaned in frustration, then hung up.

This is a nightmare! she yelled. I think I’m going to be sick.

Lucio felt his cell phone vibrating in his pocket. He took one hand off the wheel and fished it out, tossing it to Ginger. What does it say? he shouted.

She clicked on the phone, turning slowly to Lucio. It says, All is well. No need to come.

Genevieve was not the only one on the edge of being sick. Are the words spelled out? Lucio shouted.

What?

The words in the messageare they spelled out instead of the Host! I do not know the word!

Abbreviated?

Yes!

Genevieve looked again. It’s all spelled out. No abbreviations. Why?

He shuddered. That last message had been from Piers, not Jason. He was sure of it. And it had been a warning to stay away.

Tell me now! she screamed. What does this have to do with my son?

No! Stop! Please!

Piers had him by the hair. With one hand, he dragged Jason backward through the living room, through the kitchen, and toward the balcony doors. With his other hand, he pressed the barrel of a gun into Jason’s skull.

Jason didn’t know which sensation was worsethe searing pain he felt from the way his hair was being pulled or the press of the gun against his head.

Please don’t do anything to me! Jason said, gasping for air, struggling in vain to find a foothold that would support some of his weight. I’m a kid! I haven’t done anything!

Shut your fucking mouth, Piers said, his voice soft and cold. If you do not shut your fucking mouth I will cut out your tongue. At that moment, as he dragged Jason past the kitchen counter, Piers grabbed a serrated kitchen knife from the cutting board and shoved it in his belt loop, then put the gun back to his head. Do not think I won’t.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have been looking through your stuff but you said I could go in there! You told me I could see your passport!

Piers yanked harder on his hair.

Whatever happened between you and Lucio, you can work it out! Lucio will understand. He’s your friend!

Piers made a grunting sound. He is not my friend. I despise him for what he did to Sylvie and me. He is a selfish, foul excuse for a human being. Piers unlatched the glass sliding door to the balcony and flung it wide.

I don’t understand, Jason said. He raised his hands to his hair, trying to pull in the opposite direction to reduce the pain. What did he ever do to you?

Piers slapped Jason’s hands away with the gun. Shut up.

Jason knew Piers had begun crying. He heard a low weeping sound and he felt how the man’s body jerkedhe felt it all the way to the roots of his hair.

Help me, Piers, Jason said, thinking he had to find some way to distract him. If Lucio’s such a rotten guy, my mom needs to know, right? I need to stop him before he hurts my mom.

She already knows, was his reply.

The heels of Jason’s athletic shoes got caught in the metal doorframe to the balcony. To dislodge him, Piers pulled on his hair so hard that some of it tore from his scalp.

Ahhhhh! he cried out.

Piers threw him against the railing and hit him across the face with the butt of the gun. A gash opened up across his cheek and brow and it hurt so bad that Jason thought he would pass out.

Please, please Jason sobbed.

It wasn’t enough that Lucio poisoned every day Sylvie and I had together, Piers whispered, bending close to Jason’s face. He even ruined the last few seconds we had on this earth. He left me nothing’nothing ‘I could call my own. He left his stink on everything! For twenty years I’ve been living with the rotten stink of Lucky Montevez!

Piers pulled Jason’s hair again, then shoved his face into the concrete floor. Piers put his big foot on the back of his head, and pressed the gun into his neck.

Please don’t hurt me, Jason repeated. He felt dizzy. He couldn’t think right. I’m just a kid.

Sylvie was only forty-two, and she is dead.

I’m sorry she died, Jason said, gasping for air. Then he heard the click of the gun. That’s when he knew he was going to die, too, unless he did something immediately.

You can’t shoot me, Piers, Jason said. This is a crowded neighborhood. Everyone will hear it. You’ll get the chair.

Who said I planned on shooting you? he asked, laughing.

That’s when Jason felt his body being hefted off the concrete. Suddenly, he was on his feet. But he was so dizzy. So dizzy and then he was being bent backward over the railing. All he saw was the blue of the sky, the edge of a few buildings, and an upside-down piece of Chinatown way off in the distance.

We cannot wait for the elevator. Lucio ran through the first-floor lobby, using a key to open the glass doors to the inside of the apartment building. Josh was right behind him, and he held the door for Ginger and Larry. They began to race up the stairs, but Lucio got ahead of all of them.

Hold up, for God’s sake! Larry complained, last in line, struggling to keep the ice on his face while navigating four flights of steps.

I will go in alone! Lucio ordered, now a full flight ahead of Ginger. Do not come in after me. Just keep calling the police. I need to deal with Piers alone!

That’s my fucking boy up there! Larry said, nearly stumbling as he rounded a landing, his hand slipping from the banister. I’ll do whatever I want!

Ginger breathed hard. Her legs burned. She had forgotten how drastically her body could change once a tiny life began to grow inside her.

She knew Lucio had reached Piers’s apartment, because the pounding sound of Josh’s and Lucio’s footsteps had stopped. Once she reached the top floor, she saw them huddled in front of a door, listening. Lucio had the key in the lock. She tiptoed toward them.

Lucio placed his finger to his lips and then pointed at Josh and Ginger. Stay here, he whispered. Do not come in, whatever happens. He stopped for a fraction of a second. Keep your mom safe, he told Josh.

I will, he said.

I love you, he told Ginger.

Then he went inside.

She put a hand over her mouth in fear. She closed her eyes and said a very short prayer: God, let them be okaylet Jason and Lucio be okay.

Josh steadied Ginger and propped her against the hallway wall. Give me the phone, Mom. I’m calling the police again, tell them what’s going on.

Crack!

Ginger’s eyes flew wide. Her heart was pounding so hard she was afraid it would pop through her ribs. Was that a gunshot? she wailed.

Josh nodded, looking scared to death. He yanked Ginger down to the floor and began to dial 911. His fingers were trembling. Gunshots fired at 890 Green Street, number eight! Hurry!

They heard another shot, followed by the shatter of glass. Ginger screamed and covered her ears. She clenched her eyes shut. Her entire body began to shake in terror. This can’t happen! Please, God, don’t let this happen! Not my boy! Not Lucio!

Strong hands pulled her up. She opened her eyes, hoping against hope that she would see Lucio, alive and well

It was Larry. He hovered over her with his eyes swollen into slits and his face puffed up and crusted with blood.

Don’t worry, babe, he said, gulping down air. I’m going in.

Lucio had opened the door to Piers’s apartment and slid into a small alcove just inside, where he could remain hidden for a few seconds. He hadn’t heard anythingno voices, no sounds. So he slowly peeked around the corner. No one was in the living room or kitchen. Had Piers taken Jason somewhere? Oh God, no! That possibility hadn’t even occurred to him! Where could they have gone?

Suddenly, Lucio saw movement beyond the kitchen, out on the balcony. For an instant, he didn’t understand what he was seeingPiers had his back to him. He seemed to be leaning over in some wayover the railing? Where was Jason?

Lucio ran. He knew that Piers would hear him coming but decided he had no choice. If Piers was doing what Lucio feared he was, there wasn’t a second to spare.

Lucio dove through the open balcony doors. As he flew through the air, Piers turned, aimed a gun, and Lucio heard a loud pop! as a jolt of pain raced down his right leg. He landed on Piers with a thud, and locked his arms around his neck.

Piers’s arm waved around wildly, and the gun went off again, shattering the glass door.

It was then that Lucio had a chance to look down. He was greeted by Jason’s terrified eyes staring up at him. There was a bright red gash over his brow and cheek and his hands gripped the wrought-iron spindles of the railing. He was dangling four stories above the street by sheer determination.

Hang on! Lucio called to him. I will get you.

Piers swung his shoulder and elbowed Lucio in the gut. Lucio hit the balcony floor with a thud. He knew he’d been shot but couldn’t spare a second to find out how bad it was.

Piers aimed the gun at him again, but his entire arm was shaking. The big man looked as terrified as Jason.

Lucio used his uninjured left leg to kick the weapon from his hand, and watched it skitter across the concrete and fall over the edge. Then Lucio popped up to a sitting position and shoved his hand up into Piers’s crotch. He twisted and pulled until Piers’s face was purple.

Then Lucio punched him in the stomach.

Piers hit the outside wall of the balcony and slid down. Lucio got up, hopped on one leg, and leaned over the balcony railing, holding an arm down to Jason.

Listen to me, he said calmly, despite the fact that he was anything but calmLucio knew his body was going into shock. Take my hand. Instantly, Jason let go of the iron bars with his right hand and clasped onto Lucio. Then he did the same with his left.

Lucio hooked the foot of his uninjured leg under the railing to provide leverage. Good, he said. Swing your foot up to the edge of the balcony. I’ll pull you

A crushing pain went through Lucio as his chest was smashed into the iron rail. Piers was on him like a wild animalkicking, howling, doing his best to gouge out Lucio’s eyes. Unfortunately, Lucio had just gripped Jason’s hand and was in the process of pulling him uphe could not let go. If he did, Jason would fall.

Grab the bars again! Lucio screamed.

I can’t!

Piers delivered a blow to Lucio’s arm, right at the elbow. Lucio felt the bones break. He lost his grip on Jason.

Noooo! Lucio screamed.

Jason managed to grasp a single iron bar, and he swayed violently, his fingers slowly separating, loosening

Help me! he called out. Oh, God!

Everything happened at once. Lucio heard the unmistakable sound of a damaging uppercut hitting bone. Piers fell away from his body, giving Lucio the single instant he needed to lean far across the railing and grab Jason’s wristjust as the boy’s fingers lost their hold. Lucio had him, but he’d lost his foothold. With a broken arm and a bullet in one of his legs, he didn’t have the strength to stop from sliding over the railing himself.

Lucio! he heard Ginger scream.

Jason! he heard Josh scream.

Police sirens were wailing louder and louder.

Do not let go of my boy, Larry said, his arms seizing Lucio around the waist and slowly, carefully pulling him back over the rail.

Here! Josh said, offering Jason his other arm. His brother grabbed it.

I’ve got him now, Larry said, once Lucio was upright. Lucio watched Larry grab Jason’s other wrist while simultaneously grabbing the boy by the shirt collar. Josh and Larry had done itJason was saved. His mother was holding him and crying with relief.

Just then, the pain slammed into him. Lucio staggered backward. Larry grabbed him by the shirt as he began to fall and slowly lowered him down into Genevieve’s waiting arms.

She cradled his upper body as he lay on the balcony floor. You’ve been shot, she said. Oh, my God, Lucio. Don’t die!

I’m not going to die, guapa, he told her, hoping to God he was correct. The entire right side of his body throbbed. He was on fire with the pain.

You can’t die, she whispered to him, stroking his head, kissing his hair.

I will not leave you, he whispered, feeling his strength begin to fade.

You can’t leave our baby, she said.

Lucio tried to sit up but his body seized in agony. What? he gasped, pulling Genevieve down closer. A baby?

Yes, Lucio. I just found out. I’m pregnant. The night of the earthquake

Lucio’s body was racked with pain and joy at the very same instant. All he could do was pull Genevieve to him and kiss her. I am so happy, he whispered. You have made me so happy.

Oh, shit.

The flatness in Larry’s curse made Lucio’s blood run cold. He raised his head enough to see what had happened. Jason was fine, sitting on the concrete on the other side of his mother, Josh holding him. Larry was standing near what used to be the sliding glass door. But Piers was standing on the thin iron railing, arms stretched out to his sides, precariously balanced. He stared down at Lucio with crazed grief in his eyes.

Please don’t, Lucio croaked out.

Do you know what Sylvie said to me just before she died? Piers asked, his eyes wild, his balance growing unsteady.

Come on down, Larry said. We’ll figure all this out. Don’t do this.

If you come an inch closer I will jump. Piers glanced down at the sea of emergency vehicles pulling up to the apartment building and let out a bitter laugh.

Picture this, my charming friend, Piers said, staring directly at Lucio. It was the middle of the night. The lights were off. It was just Sylvie and me, in the glow of all her machines. I hadn’t slept for three weeks, at her bedside every day, all day. Her eyes suddenly opened. I moved up to put my face next to hers. I put my lips against her cheek. And do you know what she said to me?

Josh had left Jason and was crawling across the balcony floor. He got a few feet behind Piers and went into a crouch, ready to spring.

What did she say? Lucio fought to hold on to consciousness, trying to keep him talking.

Piers got a peaceful look on his face. Lucio had seen that look one other time, when he had sat on this very same balcony with him, talking of Sylvie.

My wife looked me right in the eye. She smiled and whispered to me, her husband‘Is that you, Lucky? Have you come back to me?’

No one breathed.

And then she died, Piers said. He began to sway. Tears rolled down his face.

Piers, please. No, Lucio said.

You left me nothing, Montevez. I have nothing.

Josh leaped to grab Piers’s legs, but he’d already begun to fall backward, eyes to the sky. Lucio watched Piers extend his body in a graceful arc, offering himself to the nothingness.

Then he was gone.

No, no, no, Lucio moaned.

Instantly, Larry was at Lucio’s feet. Listen to me, Montevez. Larry’s eyes were steely behind their swollen lids, and a deep frown of concentration dominated his face. Your friend is gone. But we’ve got another problem right here and I’m afraid it can’t wait.

Larry’s face began to wash out as Lucio’s vision faded. He turned to Ginger. The last thing he saw was her beautiful hazel eyes, filled with fear and love. The last thing he heard were the words femoral artery and the sound of his jeans being ripped to shreds.

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