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Fic: Baby Carnage, Part I
blacktop50
Title: Baby Carnage
Author: blacktop
Characters: Joss Carter, John Reese, Lionel Fusco, Minor Character
Rating: R
Warnings: Gun violence, coarse language
Word Count: 7,700
Summary: The tranquility of Detective Riley's apartment couldn't last forever; a new villain on a mission disrupts Reese and Carter's morning routine. This story is posted in two parts. It follows on developments in another story, "Dominion," which explored the tightening stranglehold of a new gang, The Brotherhood.





“Stay.”

Until the whispered plea wafted from under the disheveled comforter, Carter had assumed Reese was sleeping soundly once again.

Saturday was five days in the future, the feeble March sun peering through his bedroom windows tried its best to prod them through their workday morning routine.

Sex, shower, whole wheat toast dry, high-octane coffee with a splash of milk for her, black for him.

They had only made it through step one so far.

“Stay, Joss.”

John’s muffled drawl took on a new urgency, the slow but enticing story spelled out in words that set her insides tingling.

The chapter and verse of his tale was elaborated in moist syllables pressed against her chin, her throat, her clavicle, her throbbing breast.

“Unfinished business here.”

A hard thigh across her leg, a compelling argument pressed against her ass.

“Stay.”

Detective Riley, with his roguish smiles, could get away with habitual tardiness.

Of course, Fusco grumbled from time to time, just to stay in step with the starchier members of the squad. But months ago Captain Moreno had given up even pretending to chastise Riley about his cavalier approach to rules.

Unorthodox didn’t begin to describe his methods, but Riley cleared his cases, rounded up the requisite number of suspects, even pried a few grateful words out of grumpy civilians. His numbers made Moreno look good and that was what counted with the brass. It didn’t matter if Riley arrived late at the station house.

But Carter knew she was subject to a harsher standard, always had been, always would be.

She was determined to make it to roll call this morning on time and unrushed. Running late might be good for her libido, but it was bad for her career advancement.

So when his fingertips started tapping another cajoling tattoo on her hip and his warm palm pressed against the pulse fluttering between her legs again, she wriggled away into the chilly morning air and scrambled for the bathroom.

But the roll and pitch of her desire made the floor seem to buckle as she walked and it took several splashes of cold water before she regained her balance. The slack mouth and reddened lips, the Medusa tangle of hair staring back from the mirror made a case for returning to bed, as did the wet trails of passion across her throat and shoulders and nipples.

Riley. Reese. John.

She didn’t need this distraction; but she wanted it, more than she would ever say.

The supreme irony of the Samaritan war was that when the machine created Detective Riley as a cover identity for John, the birth of the new persona had given them a respite from secrecy and the harried subterfuge of their vigilante life.

They could enjoy a more public existence than they had ever known before. Freed from the shadows, they could sit in the stands at Taylor’s basketball games together, they could debate the merit of vintages at the local boutique wine outlet together, they could openly spend the night together in Riley’s new home whenever time permitted. Not every night, not as often as she might have wished, not nearly enough to call it regular or normal or ordinary.

But despite the war, despite the anxiety and constant menace, they could exhale. Together.


+++++++++

The one-bedroom apartment was boxy and bland, a miniature recapitulation of the anonymous fifteen story building itself. With just Riley’s cop salary to work with and precious little time or patience, John had furnished it in a single hectic weekend. The sparse set up included a pair of brown leather club chairs, a three-seat sofa in camel corduroy, and two floor lamps stationed on the blond parquet wood.

Once Joss had asked about a coffee table, but she made no other decorating suggestions after John installed a massive raw wood shipping crate in front of the couch.

A new king bed and a four-drawer dresser crowded the bedroom. The kitchen was a brief galley of maple wood cabinets facing the living room, its stainless steel appliances and plain white tile backsplash signaling the exhaustion of the building’s dull decorator. An island topped with black granite divided the kitchen from the living room, two aluminum stools providing Joss with a safe perch from which to watch John prepare meals.

One week after John moved into the apartment, a burly delivery man had dumped two large rolled up Oriental rugs in front of the kitchen island. No message, no signature required, no comment from the mute porter.

Ornate house-warming gifts from Harold.

The pale Persian in ivories and midnight blues was wide enough to protrude from both sides of the bed. A larger tribal rug’s pattern of blood reds, navy, and gold relieved the starkness of the living room’s rough furniture. The carpet shimmered in the light from wide windows that lined one wall of the open space; beyond, lower Manhattan’s crisp silhouettes masked the bustle of the living streets below.

Joss wanted to borrow the glimmer of the city lights for the cool apartment interior, so from her own overstuffed storage unit, she had retrieved a silver-framed mirror for the entrance hall and a white porcelain vase to hold the roses she occasionally brought.

She hadn’t asked John’s permission when she hung the mirror and installed the vase, but as he didn’t object or even comment, she took his silence for approval.

With the lush carpets as an exotic grace note, the place didn’t look precisely like either one of them, she felt. Rather, it seemed an amalgam of their styles: clean and angular, more cool and empty than she would have wished; but in the tumult and dangerous uncertainty of their lives, John’s new apartment was an anchor she clung to with increasing frequency.


+++++++++


Now through the closed door of the bathroom, she could hear the rustle of bedcovers tossed aside and then a cheerful humming buzzed around the space.

“You can run, Little Missy. You can even hide.”

John’s wizened accent was a close approximation of Yosemite Sam’s crabbed old prospector voice.

“But I know where you stay and I’ma gonna get you sooner or later.” A cartoonish cackle, then the humming resumed.

The day had officially begun.

Even though she had a head start, she couldn’t deny John access to his own bathroom for long. So he managed to shower and dress in his efficient black and white before she had even slapped a coat of lotion on her arms. Her hair twisted into a top-knot, she tugged her pullover and slacks from the bottom dresser drawer. She could hear him in the kitchen, the murmur of his morning conversation with Harold punctuated by the ferocious popping of the toaster.

When she entered the kitchen, a stack of wheat toast nestled beside a steaming mug of coffee on the counter. He had laced it with just the right amount of milk for her, the swirls of white and black still revolving as she approached the island.

John was slipping into his black overcoat, a gloved hand on the door knob. Though she wanted to, she knew better than to stop him for a final kiss.

In the few minutes since their last embrace, he had transformed into work mode, his face a keen mask of duty and resolve.

“Nothing from Finch. I’ll catch you at the precinct.”

“Right. Stay safe out there.”

Though her tone was casual and cheery, she couldn’t keep the wistful caution out of her voice altogether. Every time they parted she felt as though she was sending her soldier off to the battle front.

She nodded a farewell then and turned back for another sip of the scalding coffee.


+++++++++


“Stay.”

The murmur in her ear as she fastened the top button of her overcoat was soft but startling nonetheless.

A drawled voice, low and precise as always. The machine announcing its presence again.

She spoke out loud so that it could hear her over the water’s gurgle as she ran the faucet to rinse out her coffee mug:

“You think you’re funny, hunh? A real comedian.”

She didn’t want to believe that the artificial intelligence watched them as closely as that; for her own sanity, she had to assume it gave them a little privacy in their most intimate moments. But this order did seem uncomfortably like a direct imitation of John’s earlier plea.

“Stay.”

“You’re sick, you know?” Whispered, but she put some venom into it.

Moving with swift deliberation toward the door, she clomped her boots in defiance.

“If you say it one more time, I smash this damn ear piece so hard even you’ll feel the pain!”

“Stay, Joss.”

Before she could lift her hand to carry out the threat, a heavy knock disrupted the apartment’s calm.

She pulled back the front door to find John rigid and motionless in the frame, the whites visible all around his pupils as they blazed an indecipherable warning.

Despite the grim set of his mouth and the stiffness in his shoulders, she laughed.

“I thought you were long gone by now.”

Then he plunged forward into the apartment, pushing against her chest with his so that she had to stumble backwards in order to avoid falling over.

“What the hell, John…!”

“Joss, I’m sorry.”

Behind him, a tiny woman trained a big Glock at his back.

Crystal Floyd, the cruel and mysterious muse of The Brotherhood, the leader of Dominic’s hit squad.

The machine purred a string of numbers into Joss’s ear as the other woman slammed home the metal door’s bolt to lock them in.

“Hey, Carter. I ran into your boo down the corner and he invited me up for a chat.”

“Get back, Joss.”

John’s voice was tight, the words snapped and low.

“Carter, your man’s real smart. Mostly.”

A sneer twisted Crystal’s cupid bow mouth, her eyes flashing above smooth curves of cocoa skin.

“You oughta listen to what he say.”

Joss recognized the soft scent of baby powder as it wafted from beneath the younger woman’s black leather jacket. This sweetness undercut the animal musk in an insinuating tangle Joss still found as confusing and frightening as the first time she had smelled it.

They had met in a darkened van over two months ago, gang lord Dominic hosting the tense get-together in a fetid abandoned viaduct known as the Bronx Swamp.

So Joss wasn’t completely surprised at this sudden reunion, she always figured she would meet up with Crystal Floyd again, police work and The Brotherhood being what they were.

But with the terms of this meeting out of her control, Joss felt cold dread thickening in her veins as Crystal stepped slowly toward the center of the room.

Intimate and daring, this violation proclaimed the invader’s boldness. Or announced a dark desperation that was equally dangerous.

Joss eased her hand toward the gun holstered at her waist, but the other woman caught the movement.

“Tricks’ll get you a bullet through the back of his pretty head, Carter.”

Joining words to action, Crystal raised her gun toward the angled hairline at John’s nape.

“Put it on the counter.”

Joss placed her weapon on the granite island and stepped back, her hands extended at waist height so their captor could see them.

Crystal was dressed with the dark economy of her profession: black leggings wrinkled slightly at the knees where they met scarred tan leather boots. Under the jacket, a tight black t-shirt stretched across her small breasts and tucked into a narrow belt. Shiny black hair was scraped into a low pony-tail, whose dip-dyed auburn ends draped over her shoulder.

Waving the gun in a short arc, Crystal motioned John toward the kitchen.

He obeyed, keeping his eyes on her weapon as he backed across the Persian rug. When he reached the couch, he arched a question with a dark eyebrow. At her silent nod, he shrugged off his overcoat and dropped it across the sofa arm and then resumed his retreat.

“Crystal, what do you want with us? Why did you come here?”

John’s voice was low, but Joss recognized the danger in his tone.

“I want to talk with her.” The baby-faced killer raised her chin in Joss’s direction.

“How’d you know she’d be here?”

John was bristling with suppressed energy, his staccato questions peppering the air between them.

Crystal chuckled in counterpoint to his fury and drawled out a reply designed to provoke.

“When a sister’s pot getting stirred good, she likes to keep it going regular. Now I know Carter here drops by your crib two, three nights a week, nice and regular. Getting stirred real good, like I say.”

A raised eyebrow in Joss’s direction to punctuate the vaudeville.

“But this week, Baby Girl missed Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday. So I figured she’d be plenty thirsty, show up here for sure last night. Bingo!

“Sum it short: Miss Thang got a thing for your thing!”

As John’s ears turned a dusky pink, Crystal let out a coarse laugh that rolled toward the room’s broad windows.

“Ain’t that right, Carter? Tell it true now!”

When Joss dug her fingernails into the back of the leather club chair, Crystal chuckled again and returned her attention to John.

Stung, he snapped out another question as his back touched the refrigerator door:

“What do you want to talk about?”

“Ya know, Riley, you suppose to be all silent and ghost-like. A statue in a suit, or something. So don’t get chatty with me all of a sudden. Blows the street rep.”

The smile slipped from her face.

“We’ll talk about what I want. When I want. After I get you nice and situated.”

Without taking her eyes from the target, Crystal raised her voice to throw it in a different direction.

“Carter, I know you got some cuffs in here somewhere.”

With her left hand, the gangster drew a circle around the apartment.

“Not those furry pink ones you two like to dirty-play with. The NYPD regulation kind. Find ‘em and cuff your man to the frig there. So he don’t make trouble while we girls talk.”

Under Crystal’s baleful gaze, Joss did as instructed.

Clasping one bracelet through the double handles of the refrigerator’s doors, she fastened the other around John’s right wrist. Her fingers shook as they grazed his warm skin and she stroked an apology over his pulse point.

Leaning close as she worked, Joss could feel the anger rolling off of his body, see the faint film of sweat glistening over his upper lip. Tension forced rapid breaths from him in ragged intervals. She tried to calm him by steadying her gaze and slowing her inhalations until he timed his breathing to hers.

She wanted to speak, say that everything would be alright, that two against one always prevailed.

But when her fumbling efforts with the manacles revealed a treacherous shaking, she decided to keep quiet.

As she stood back from her task, Crystal spoke up again.

“Naw, naw. Gimme the key, Carter. I’m not near as dumb as you and Fancy Face here think I am.”

Joss placed the miniature key on the island counter top and slid it a few inches toward their captor.

After she pocketed the key, Crystal seized a cold slice of wheat toast from the plate on the island.

“All you got to eat around here is this dry white people breakfast?”

Disdain flattened her upper lip, but she took two large bites anyway. Around a third mouthful, she mumbled a further comment.

“You people don't think I’m serious, hunh? Think I’m playing around here? That how you see it?”

Abruptly, Crystal pointed the Glock toward the ceiling and squeezed off two rounds.

The loud report drew a gasp from Joss, who looked to John. His icy glance and hunched shoulders frightened her even more than the gun blast itself.

Shards of plaster pelted down on the island countertop. Three sets of eyes followed snowflakes of white paint as they drifted from the brutal little crater in the ceiling.

Into the silence that followed the twin explosions, Crystal threw out more orders, a kittenish smile now stretching her lips.

“And push a stool up over there so your baby can get comfortable, for crissake! Public servant like that. Poor man’s on his feet all day long.”

As she maneuvered the stool into place, Joss leaned close again. She turned her body so that her movements were blocked from Crystal’s view and slipped a duplicate handcuff key into John’s jacket pocket.

With her forehead skimming his shoulder, she heard the distinctive crackle of his ear piece and Harold’s voice chirping a familiar message:

“We’ve got a new number at last, Mr. Reese. One that may jolt even your jaded sensibilities…”

Joss coughed to cover John’s whispered reply.

“Yeah, found her already.”


+++++++++


For fifteen minutes Crystal regaled them with stories of her life on the streets, a rollicking account of her exploits as the female chief of The Brotherhood’s murder squad. She spoke with gusto about the women she had cut, the men she had maimed, the nineteen months hard time she had booked behind bars before she turned twenty.

After a while, telling these tales seemed an end in itself, as if Crystal’s visit were a social call between club ladies. Joss sensed the woman was establishing her bona fides, letting them know that the power she exercised in this room and in the streets was earned on the city’s roughest battle fields.

Joss sat in one leather chair, Crystal in the other, both women rarely shifting their eyes from John’s coiled figure as he leaned against the stool before the refrigerator. He remained silent throughout the recital, letting Joss offer all the prompts, pushing along the narrative with quick questions or soothing murmurs as needed.

On soft clouds of baby powder, Crystal’s stories swirled around the apartment, heating its confines with her restless braggadocio. After a few minutes, Joss shrugged off her overcoat and pushed up the sleeves of her sweater.

Casual, comfortable, just like two girlfriends catching up after a long separation. Joss hoped that by letting the other woman preen and display, the danger could be contained or defused.

Joss wasn’t surprised that Crystal was the hero of every encounter, the victor at the end of every chapter. The stories spiraled into evermore fanciful legends; in her telling, Harlem heeled and the Bronx knelt at her slightest command.

Hearing about all the sad equations that defined life in so many quarters of her city made Joss feel helpless and defeated. Drugs, numbers, guns, gambling, money laundering; wherever the law created a gap between human desire and satisfaction, The Brotherhood rushed in to scratch that eternal itch.

But in Crystal’s account, the gang served other, more benign, purposes too.

“You know that rundown old community center up on Lennox Place? We bought twenty-five new basketballs for them last winter to replace the raggedy ones they had blown out.”

Joss could hear pride mellowing the harshness from her voice as Crystal continued her story.

“And we been supplying paints, pencils, charcoal, paper, and modeling clay to three afterschool programs in the South Bronx and two more in Harlem. Kept them open when the city was about to let them go under.”

The killer’s pretty face glowed with satisfaction as the rhythmic sentences rolled on.

“The Brotherhood is there for the people. Bullies beat on a kid ‘cause he got pansy ways, Brotherhood is there to protect. Runaway girl wearing a black eye from her pimp, Brotherhood is there to take her to a shelter.”

Her impassioned tones rang like a politician’s speech or a union organizer’s promise.

“Grandma afraid to cash her check, Brotherhood is there to help her too. We work streets Child Services don’t dare visit and blocks you cops ain’t cruised in years. Anywhere you look, Brotherhood is there.”

Joss wanted to disrupt the flow, redirect it without actually tossing out a blunt challenge.

“Yeah, yeah, I get it, Crystal. You’re some kind of urban legend. Annie Oakley with a little Shaka Zulu and Albert Schweitzer mixed in there for flava.”

“Who’s that?” Crystal’s eyes narrowed as if she suspected a nasty joke was hidden somewhere in the barrage of names.

“You’re the princess and the prince in this fairy tale. I get that. But what I want to know is how’d you get to be so big in The Brotherhood? What made you Dominic’s right hand?”

Crystal settled back in the enfolding chair, mollified.

“Not a long story, really. My folks moved up here from Tampa the year my big sister was born. My dad changed his last name to Floyd to get better jobs with these white people. Figueroa was just too hard for them to pronounce, he said. I came up in the Bronx just after Dominic got started there. I worked corners for a crew he ran.”

Crystal’s eyes took on a warmer hue as the morning sun caught them, cognac flickering in their smoky brown depths. Joss guessed she was enjoying this chance to share her life story, to reflect a little on where she had been and how far she had come.

As the sole female in a cadre bound together by machismo, Crystal didn’t get much chance to speak out loud, Joss figured. Talking woman to woman like this was probably a precious rarity in her life.

“My boss was Dominic’s best lieutenant. Little fella, always sharp dressed. Name Roger, but everybody called him ‘Carnage’ because of this one time he offed eight gangbangers in one raid. Tossed a collection house, saved Dominic’s life too. After that they all called him ‘Carnage’ out of respect, ‘cause didn’t nobody want to go up against him ever again.”

Crystal smiled at the bloody memory and ran a hand over her flame-licked pony tail. She was on a roll, the gangland glamour of her life’s arc glittering as she spoke.

“Carnage taught me everything I know about the business. About reading people, figuring out where their heart’s at, studying their eyes, learning their moves, getting so far inside their heads you know all their drama, all their dreams.”

She nodded her own head as she recited the lessons of Carnage.

“Knowing when they lying to save they own sorry ass or bullshitting to hide a mistake somebody else made. Or getting ready to sell you out or screw you over. Fucking them before they fuck you. Carnage, he knew when to pull a smile and when to pull the trigger.”

Joss nodded too and she let a small smile tug at her lips.

So this demi-god Carnage was the source of Crystal’s remarkable powers of intuition and the eerie clairvoyance Joss had witnessed in their last meeting in the Swamp.

She noticed that as Crystal wove her tales like some Bronx-born Scheherazade, John leaned forward slightly on the stool, these insights into the internal dynamics of The Brotherhood holding his full attention.

Finally, he threw a question to prime the flow of information.

“And you were a good student, hunh? Got all A’s in Carnage’s classroom?”

“Yeah, I did.”

Pride ripe and unfettered poured from her now.

“Carnage said I was the best he’d ever seen – pimps, hawkers, cutters, runners, lamp posters, dustmen, baggers, sweat skimmers -– none of ‘em better than me.”

“And you were his prize disciple.”

John again, voice slow and so warm it surprised Joss even as it cajoled their captor.

“Yeah, I was. Am. Can’t nobody beat Baby Carnage at the game."

“Baby Carnage?”

John’s question sent a shiver down Joss’s back as Crystal stood from her chair. Breast high and proud, neck arched long, she stalked to the window, raising her voice as she moved.

“That’s what they called me after Carnage passed. ‘Cause when it happened, I was the one Dominic picked to step up, to take his place, work by his side in a position of trust.”

John’s interruption was still soft, but frosted now with sarcasm:

“And so ‘Baby Carnage,’ now Dominic’s sent you here. To do what? Kill us? Rough us up? Deliver another message?”

His taut voice cut through the room, the whisper emphasizing the sardonic tones of the next thrust. Joss knew he was trying to pull Crystal’s attention back toward him, to draw her fire with these prods.

“I got his first little love note -- the one from the Bronx Swamp.”

Crystal whipped her head in his direction, but said nothing.

John shifted his weight on the stool and rattled the cuff with impatience.

“So what’s your boss got for me now, Baby Carnage?”

Her eyes, which had been soft and caramel colored with fond remembrance despite the violence of her stories, resumed their cooler bronze cast.

“Dominic didn’t send me.”

She paused and Joss noticed a new quaver in the raspy voice.

“I came here on my own account.”


Continued

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The stifling machismo of The Brotherhood and her chosen (murdering) profession makes it hard for Floyd to get talkative. Communing with Carter is an outlet, one which Crystal understands quicker than Joss does. Joss is definitely Reese's roots no matter where.

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