8/ Henchman and The Mob

            For some reason the Feds never did haul me in about The Secret.  They caught up with most of the others but I never got the tap.  I had spoken with my closer friends and so I had a good idea how it had gone down.  Henry, Madcap and Big Sue had all refused to say anything and after many threats and promises that grew increasingly desperate they were eventually all released.  Nobody could prove they were definitely there.

            I met Henry for coffee in a little downtown café I liked. 
“How are the others?” I asked.   I hadn’t heard from them since that brief contact after their release before Christmas – and we were three weeks into the New Year now.
“Madcap’s out of sight.  He’s either taking some time out or has signed up with a crew somewhere.  Big Sue is still recovering.  She was badly burnt.  I’m not sure she’ll be back in the job, to be honest.”
“She’ll be back,” I said.  I’d sent her flowers and a card.  I’d wanted to visit too, but when I arrived, the hospital said she didn’t want to see anybody.  I respected her wish for privacy, though I admit it took a lot to turn away. 
“You think?” Henry asked.
“Sure,” I said.  “You know Big Sue.  Nothing stops her.”
“You got any plans?” He asked me.
“No idea,” I said.  “I’ve got enough money to get by for a while.  So I’m not in a rush.”
“I have something.  I’d love to have a friendly face along,” Henry said.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s a bit different,” Was his careful reply.

            A bit different turned out to be a job with The Mob.  Some gangster boss with the Callione Family was trying to look extravagant and he thought he could achieve this by having ex-henchmen of super-villains as bodyguards instead of the usual mob heavies.  I expressly told Henry I wouldn’t be part of the Mob’s direct criminal activities, but I had no problem being a bodyguard for a while.  If I’m honest, I didn’t really fancy it.  I did it because Henry asked me to.   A friend is a friend.

            The first morning of work, I considered suiting up.  Yes, it’s true, I still had the power suit from my time with The Secret.  As far as I know, I’m the only one of her crew she left one with.  I think she felt a bit guilty failing to pay us the cool million she’d promised and since I was one of the last one’s standing, when I’d tried to return the suit she’d simply shook her head.  “You keep it,” She told me.  It was probably worth more than she owed me anyway so I accepted.  I considered selling it – but you never knew when such a thing would be useful.  So I put it safely away.  I suppose, given that I had such an incriminating piece of evidence in my home, it’s lucky the Feds never did come knocking.

            I didn’t wear the suit after all.  It didn’t fit well beneath clothes and wearing it on top just seemed too ostentatious for a mob man.  We were introduced to Mr Ginetti, who was flanked by two of the largest men I had ever seen.  It’s fair to say they didn’t look very pleased to see Henry and I.
“Gentlemen,” Mr Ginetti smiled, “Thank you for joining my staff.  You will enjoy working with us.  My family knows how to look after its people, you know what I mean?”
We thanked him for the opportunity in the proper respectful way.

            “This morning we will be paying a visit to a rival group,” Ginetti said.  “They have moved some of their activities into our area.  They are not welcome, but we do not wish to trigger a war at this stage.  Our job will simply be to convince them to move back to their own turf.”
“Which group is it, Mr Ginetti?” Henry asked.
He smiled broadly: “A small-time criminal outfit called the The Marked Cards.”
Henry and I glanced at one another.  We knew them.  They were super-villains, though very small time.  Six costumed adventurers with some minor enhanced capabilities.  Strictly street-level bad guys.  But even so, you didn’t take costumes lightly – they were almost always on a different level to normal humans.
“They may be small time,” I said, “But they shouldn’t be under-estimated, Sir.  Their team took out Warlock last year – a reputable and respected hero.”
“Hero?” Ginetti laughed.  “What fancy dress costume he wears means nothing to me.  These fools have come into Callione territory and they will need to be taught there are consequences to that.”
“What we’re saying, Mr Ginetti,” Henry tried, “Is that it’s never a good idea to go up against capes without some capes of your own.”
“I have some capes of my own,” Ginetti flashed that feral grin.  “I have you two.”

            There was no point trying to explain the differences between costumed henchmen and costumes in general to Ginetti – he wasn’t interested.  Henry and I decided to play along and see how it went.  It may be that we could be useful or it may be that we’d have to bail.  But we could make that decision when we knew more about the situation.

            The Marked Cards had agreed to meet Ginetti in the basement of some half-complete building site just off the main interstate.  I didn’t like the look of it at all and said so.  “What is the problem?” One of Ginetti’s toughs asked, his heavy brow knitted in confusion.  “There’s nothing wrong with this!  Quiet, out of the way, you know?  It’s a good place.”
“It isn’t,” I explained.  “It’s too quiet and remote.  You’re meeting super-criminals underneath an unstable building in a wasteland.  It has trap printed all over it.”  Henry nodded his agreement. 

            “They know they are meeting one of the Callione family,” Ginetti explained.  “These people are not stupid.  They will not dare attack us as that would bring about a war.  The rest of the family would crush them.  You are used to dealing with a different breed of people,” Ginetti assured us.  “When you deal with the families a certain level of respect is guaranteed.”
“When we deal with the families, maybe,” I acknowledged.  “But these guys are nothing to do with your families.  They don’t play by your rules.  They don’t even know your rules.”  Ginetti considered this for a moment and then shook his head and called us on.  “We cannot be seen to flinch.  This is about strength.  What we do now will mark all future dealings with them.  Follow me and be ready to act if necessary.”

            What followed was both entirely predictable and incredibly depressing.  We followed the steps into the decrepit building and then made our way through a door-less aperture and down a flight of bare stone stairs into a basement area.  It was pitch black and smelt of wet cement and mildew.  The toughs took the lead, which suited me just fine, while we followed them into the depths of the large construction site.  We were about forty feet in when a small light flickered on ahead of us.  “You are the Marked Cards?” Ginetti called out.  “Show yourselves.”  And then the explosives detonated in a deafening roar and the world turned to a wall of sound and light and falling masonry.  And then to darkness.

            Waking up was terrifying.  I could see nothing, I could hear nothing and I could not move.  The world was gone and I was trapped in a black cocoon.  Slowly, pain began to poke and prod me in different places, confirming that I was, at least, alive.  I took a deep breath and tried to stay calm.  I thought: “At least I’m able to take a breath.”  I tried to move in different ways.  The only movement I could manage was my left arm, which could shift just slightly.  I blinked my eyes and dust got into then making them sting.  I could not wipe them. 

            I was buried.  Under the building, of course.  Rubble had me completely pinned and from the growing discomfort I knew that I was injured also.  “Henry?” I called out.  There was no reply.  “Henry?” I tried again.  My voice was hoarse and dry.  I did not know how long I had been unconscious.  This was a bad situation.  Nobody was going to find us out here in the middle of nowhere.  Nobody was going to even be looking.  If I couldn’t find a way to escape, I would die down here.

            I pushed and pulled at the rubble, trying to gain some more traction to move my limbs.  Sometimes I’d feel like I’d achieved that, only for the masonry above me to groan or creak in an utterly horrible way that made my blood run cold.  I was painfully aware that one bad shift of the rubble and I would be crushed flat.  It was a paralysing concern, but I couldn’t just stay here forever.  I had to move.

            At that point my phone rang.  The funny little ditty it played rising from my coat pocket.  I couldn’t answer it because I couldn’t reach it.  But it gave me a target.  If it could receive calls then it had reception and power.  So if I could retrieve it, I could summon help.  I began struggling harder than before, taking a chance with the settling rubble.  I manage to wriggle my left arm loose enough to get it free of whatever it was trapped by and my elbow to my chest.  I still couldn’t reach my coat pocket as there was what felt like a wooden beam in the way. 

            I tried inching my body backwards to create some space, using the strength of my legs and knees to push myself away.  There was some movement.  A great cloud of dust filled my mouth and eyes.  I choked and coughed for a while.  Then I tried again.  Pushing hard, straining, until I managed to force my arm down my body.  The beam immediately settled again, now pinning my arm into this new position.  But I could reach into the pocket.  The phone wasn’t there.

            “Oh for fuck’s sake,” I snarled.  The phone was somewhere.  Clearly.  But it had fallen out of my pocket.  It was below me in the rubble.  I wasn’t likely to be able to find it.  As if to taunt me the fucking thing bleeped a few more lines of that annoying ditty.  For a while my anger got the better of me and I cursed and wriggled pointlessly in fury like some kind of epileptic earthworm.  It probably looked pretty stupid, but there was nobody to see.  Thank God for small mercies, right?

            Over the next couple of hours I tried all sorts of things.  Shouting.  Twisting and turning.  Screaming.  I think I might have sobbed a little too.  Like a baby.  I’m not proud of it.  But I was buried alive so I think some leeway can be given.  When none of that achieved anything I think I just gave up for a while.  I may have gone to sleep.  It had all been pretty traumatic.

            It was the voices which woke me.  They were muffled but clear.  Once I went through the obligatory panic of realising, anew, that I was trapped beneath a collapsed building I calmed down enough to try and listen.  People were talking above me.  I heard the name “Ginetti.”  I heard laughter.  I realised this must be the Marked Cards, come to check on the results of their handiwork.  They sounded quite pleased with themselves.  Then I heard a muffled thump followed by a cry of pain.  Then another.  They were beating somebody up.

            It dawned on me that if there was somebody getting beaten, then it was likely that person was on my side.  Or, at least, not on their side.  The enemy of my enemy and all that.  I also realised that given the close proximity of the sounds, I was not buried under quite as much fallen building as I’d thought.  Being buried under any amount of building is a bad thing, I agree, but in this case the less the better.  But how could I turn these things to my advantage?

            During my attempts at escape I had not concentrated on going “up”.  To be honest I was mostly trying, and failing, to get some free action.  But I had thought going up virtually impossible due to the sheer weight there.  Now I tried something different.  I started to push upwards, using my legs and back as a lever.
            More dust and fragments fell down but as they did so I was suddenly able to move my legs.  Not far, but I drew them in beneath me so that I was kneeling.  Stifled blood rushed back into places it had been unable to reach effectively and I spent some time fighting cramps and pins and needles.  Once that cleared I worked on my right arm and triumphantly managed to pull that free too.  I was beaten, bloody and bruised – but I was whole and I was in command of my body again. 

            Digging my way upwards took a long time.  I will not relate it all save to save to say that grinding my way up through a few feet of broken bricks, concrete slabs and support beams was painful and extremely difficult.  Several times I thought I would never make it, but something kept pushing me.  I’d stopped hearing the voices, but I pressed on nonetheless.  And then, surprisingly, suddenly, shockingly – I was free.

            “Hey,” Henry said as I emerged from the ground like some outcast from Night Of The Living Dead, covered in dust and blood and fuck knows what else.  He was tied to a metal post and he was in a really, really bad way.  “Shit.  What happened?” I asked.
“They wanted to know all about the mob movements and positions,” Henry croaked.  He coughed.  There was blood in it.  “I’d have told them, but I didn’t know anything.  I explained I was a hired henchman and not a part of the mob.  They didn’t believe me.”
“Hold on,” I told him, working at the ropes which held him in place.
“It’s too late,” He wheezed.  “I’m fucked.  I think they’ve punctured a lung.”
“You’re not fucked,” I told him.  “A punctured lung is nothing.  Stop being a baby and suck it up while I get you free.”
“Nothing?” Henry complained.  “It’s a punctured fucking lung, you asshole.”
“My friend Big Sue was shot in the eye,” I shouted back.  “Right in the fucking eye!  And she didn’t whine about it endlessly like you are doing. Now shut up and let me get you out of this.”
“They might come back,” Henry said.  “Get out of here while you can.  These guys are monsters.  They knew I had nothing to tell them and they just kept hitting me anyway.  They were enjoying it.  They only stopped because they had something else that needed doing.”
“Let them come back,” I said.  My blood was running cold.  “Just let them fucking try.”

            Getting Henry free didn’t take very long.  But carrying a man with a punctured lung several miles to the nearest farmhouse when you have yourself been injured and buried alive for hours did.  Nevertheless, despite his constantly telling me how he was going to die and that I should leave him, he did not die and I did not leave him.  Once an ambulance had been called I borrowed the farmer’s jeep to head back into town.  Yes, borrowed.  I asked, he said no problem.  People are nice when you give them a chance, I’ve found. Or maybe he could sense the mood I was in and didn’t want to get in the way.