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Fic: Baby Carnage, Part II
blacktop50
A twinge of compassion threaded through Joss then, the niggling sense that this woman before her was in trouble somehow. Was Crystal, for all her combative bluster and deadly gunplay, under siege?

Behind the murderous affect and swagger, perhaps this woman was more embattled than lethal.

On the surface, they seemed such different women, one on the street, the other on the sidewalk, a broad deep gutter separating their lives.

But maybe the race they ran was not parallel after all, but intertwined. By some strange curve or odd fork, their life paths had crossed in a double helix of shared danger.

With a jolt, Joss felt she recognized this woman, her small stature, her brown skin, her undervalued skills and belittled insights. She felt she understood something true about Crystal’s twisted journey to this room, this confrontation.

So a sense of unexpected sisterhood warmed her next question.

“Go on then, Crystal. You want something from us? From me?”

The soft prodding seemed to open up a new vein of melancholy in the younger woman.

She stared through the windows at the bright parade of skyscrapers stretching against the milk white clouds.

“You ever wish you could get there ahead of the crime, Carter? Get there in time to stop the bad thing before it went down? Instead of mopping up the blood and death after all us gangbangers get away?”

“Yeah, I feel like that a lot.”

Joss’s wistful words came out more like a sob than she had intended.

“Most days on the job, I feel like that. If I stop to think about it too much.”

She looked a glance of apology at John and when his eyes gleamed wet with empathy, Joss released a juddering sigh.

At the sound, the younger woman turned, her slender figure silhouetted against the window’s glare.

“And can you help me, Crystal? Help me get there in time?”

Then the offer burst out in a fiery rush of words.

“You know I got inside information. Right from the top. I can give it to you, Carter. Help you break a case. Give you a heads up on a heist. Or let you know when the next shipment’s due. Or who’s about to get erased. Shit like that.”

Joss nodded encouragement, her excitement genuine.

“That could work. It could help. A lot.”

Even as the bigger picture unfurled in their shared vision, thoughts of an immediate risk curled around the edges of the canvas.

“But you’d be in danger, Crystal, wouldn’t you?”

The younger woman shrugged and walked back toward the chairs, bending to lay her gun on the rough slats of the coffee table.

“I’m in danger every day regardless. We all gonna end up dead, you know. Just some of us gonna get there sooner than others, that’s all.”

A smaller shrug this time, the head tilt stiffened with chagrin.

“I turn twenty-two next month. Already an old lady in this trade.”

Joss let her brows slide upwards at this declaration of defeat, but remained silent.

“Dominic making it to twenty-nine is some kinda miracle, never seen it happen before. Never will again, I figure. So I don’t fool myself about living long. That’s not for me, I know that much.”

She screwed up a corner of her mouth in a grimace.

“My number’s already been called.”

“You think you’re in danger from Dominic?”

“Well, he blew up that reform school a few months back, didn’t he? Trying to get at Old Man Elias. Killed six of our best men and fucked up ten more so bad they still ain’t back on the streets.”

Crystal shuddered at the memory, lids closing for a long pause as she caught her breath. Joss thought the lowered lashes made her look like a sleeping baby.

A slight rustle caused Joss to look toward the kitchen. She saw John’s hand in his jacket pocket, his finger caressing the hidden key. He caught her glance, narrowing his lips to signal their understanding.

Crystal, unaware, continued her story.

“Dominic didn’t blink an eye doing it. Just told me those busted up men was the cost of doing business in the city. Soldiers lost in the war, he said.”

“Maybe he’s just being realistic about the necessary sacrifice.”

Joss didn’t believe this, but she offered it as a thin comfort all the same.

“You know Link, one of Dominic’s top lieutenants?”

“Yeah, John told me about him a while back.”

She thought Crystal blinked, perhaps to catch a stray tear before continuing.

“Well, I seen the way Link looked when he stumbled out of that place that day. It wasn’t just how his face was cut up and his arm was shattered. I saw how the explosion left his mind all trampled and flighty, like he’d seen his own ghost and was tripping over himself to get away.”

She loosed a faint breath that puffed out her lips.

“But that ghost, it was stitched to him like a shadow. Link ain’t been right since.”

Joss shook her head, refusing to accept the twist.

“But Dominic trusts you. He wouldn’t get rid of you. I’ve seen how you work together. How much he relies on your insights and your guidance. You’re safe, Crystal.”

The little killer sighed, a vertical line creasing her flawless brow. Then another sigh, as if the explanation itself was a heavy burden she strained to carry any further up the hill.

“Not a chance. I told you I got to be his right hand when Carnage died. But I didn’t tell you how that happened.”

The woman, looking more like the lost girl she really was, shrank into the embracing chair again. She worried at invisible tags of flesh on her knuckles as she pulled together the last of her story.

“Dominic ordered the hit. He heard some gossip that Carnage was planning to pull off a side drug deal with some Russian skags, skim off a little profit on the side. Dominic couldn’t let that kind of thing stand. Betrayal like that will spread through your whole organization, he said. Like an infection rips through a body, ‘til the fever brings you to a raving end. Dominic said Carnage had to go.”

Crystal hesitated only a fraction of a moment, until the next affirmation carried her forward.

“And he was right, ya know. I knew for a fact what Carnage had planned. I had the inside line. And I dropped it to Dominic. I was the one snitched on Carnage.”

Another pause, but the end was a boulder rolling downhill now, dragging her on to the last.

“And Dominic told me I was the one had to pull the trigger.”

“And you -- you did it?”

Stuttering made the question kink in Joss’s throat.

“I did. Put two bullets in the back of Roger’s head while he slept there in the bed beside me.”

Joss couldn’t help the hissing sound she made at this raw confession. She bit her lip to recapture silence.

But after a tense minute, John’s low voice cut through the sparkling sunlight again:

“Crystal, you know we can’t protect you. Today, sure. Maybe tomorrow too. But not forever. Not inside The Brotherhood.”

“I know that. You can’t protect me. That’s why I want this deal. Why I want to be an informant for Carter now.”

She tilted her head toward Joss even as her gaze clung to John’s face.

He caught the import of her words before Joss did.

“You want protection for someone else. Not yourself. That it?”

Crystal’s eyes shone bright as she stared at John.

“Yeah, someone else.”

Her connection, formerly with Joss alone, had mysteriously expanded during this strained hour to encompass him as well.

Holding her breath, Joss watched as John slipped his right hand from the unlocked manacle and took three strides toward their position. She could see where the cuff had left reddened grooves on his wrist.

He advanced without menace or aggression, his steps making no sound after he reached the Persian rug.

“Yomaira.”

Whispering into her ear piece, the machine repeated the strange word, “Yomaira.” Gentle syllables, languid and musical, the R rolled with a flourish.

Joss didn’t know if this was a warning, a name, or simply the super computer’s vague musings in a foreign language. “Yomaira.”

When John was in front of Crystal’s chair, he lowered his body until his head was level with hers, so that despite his bulk he didn’t loom. Joss thought he looked like an imploring suitor, not a combatant.

Crouching before her, his next words carried a soft declaration rather than a probe.

“A baby. Your baby.”

Frozen in his penetrating blue gaze, the young woman answered.

“Yeah, for JoJo.”

When she didn’t go on immediately, John prompted her again.

“JoJo is your baby?”

“Yomaira Sonia. I called her that after my grandma. She’s three years old now, chatters like a little monkey.”

Smiles fluttered across Crystal’s face, fond ones and proud ones chasing each other as her thoughts raced ahead of her words.

“Reads the whole alphabet, sings and counts in Spanish and in English too.”

John hummed a little sound of affirmation, no smile yet but a tiny buzz escaping his lips to urge Crystal onward.

“If I can, I’ll get her out of this life. Out of this war zone. JoJo deserves a better shot than this.”

Joss hated to sound doubtful in this crisis of spirit, but she said it anyway.

“Will Dominic let her go?”

Crystal’s reply was resolute, even vehement.

“He don’t have no fuckin’ say in it! He can give me orders, I’m his soldier. His mission is my mission. But JoJo don’t have a mission yet.”

Then fiercely:

“And I don’t want my baby scouting some damn street corner at eight. A lamp-poster in his army before she turns ten.”

When John touched his fingers to the back of her hand, she hiccupped, just a little, to swallow the sob that was surging in her throat.

“We can get JoJo out of the city for you, Crystal. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

He traced a figure eight to soothe the tendons of her gun hand, the competent brown knuckles there flexing like a cat under his caress.

She nodded, a weary gesture that barely lifted her trembling chin from her chest.

Joss seconded John’s pledge.

“We can do it, if that’s what you want.”

John added, “We’ll come up with something, Crystal.”

Not quite a smile, but a lift to his cheekbones signaled the accord had been reached.

As he spoke, Joss eased her hand over the vicious Glock and lifted it from the packing crate. Crystal’s thoughts were elsewhere.

“You get JoJo to my grandma’s in Tampa and they’ll find a way to get her to the island. You do that and I’ll do anything you want. Any fuckin’ thing you want, if you get her away from here safe.”

“Why don’t you take her yourself, make a new life somewhere else?”

Joss felt she had to ask, to clear away all the scattered possibilities so that the one stark choice was inevitable.

“I told you, Carter. I’m his soldier in this war. I know it. Dominic knows it. You know it too.”

She swept a resigned glance across their faces, her prisoners turned allies in a dangerous skirmish she fully expected to lose.

“If I run, Dominic hunts me down. If I take JoJo, he finds me even easier.”

A tremor pulsed through her frame, the forlorn quaver shaking Joss as well.

Then like a cloud passing from a battle field, Joss saw the grimness which had darkened Crystal’s expression clear away.

A new determination, coupled with a familiar smirk surfaced now.

“But we’ll come up with something, just like Fancy Face here said.”

Her aspect turned pretty again in that instant. Was it real happiness? Not a chance, but Joss was sure a flush tinted the gangster’s cheeks.

“And after that, Carter, I’m yours for life.”

With an impish nod, Crystal slapped both hands on the arms of her chair and leaned forward, her nose almost touching John’s.

Then she shouted, so that his eyes started in surprise.

“Hey, Riley! Where you keep your john around here? A girl’s got needs!”

Another coarse chuckle as she scampered across the living room in the direction he pointed.

When he heard the bathroom door slam shut, John blurted an order to Joss.

“Unbolt the front door. Cavalry’s on the way.”

She rushed to do as he asked, then hid the Glock under her seat cushion and settled back into her chair before Crystal returned. John remained in place, now seated on the packing crate a few feet from their captor, a hand balanced on the arm of her chair, his legs wide, chest and shoulders squared over her.

Joss thought he seemed to be enfolding Crystal without actually touching her, his gesture an implicit contract, a promise for the future.

She knew his protective embrace so well, had felt cherished in its circle a thousand times. John’s enfolding solace was so essential to her now, the very substance and foundation of her life, that she was glad she could witness this extension of it here.

She hoped that her silent consent would give courage to Crystal and love to John. She would keep a little portion of both for herself too; they would need all of it and more in the coming struggle.

They held these positions -- Joss in her chair, John poised before Crystal -- in a graceful tableau of trust, for several more minutes.

Buoyed by new optimism, Crystal resumed her hoodlum tales of life on the Bronx battlefield, seeming to relish this chance to glory once more in her blood soaked achievements.

Joss thought these stories now served as a kind of weird advertisement, proclaiming Crystal’s unique value to her new allies. In light of their agreement, these legends seemed the sign and unbreakable seal of her transferred loyalties.


+++++++++


Fusco’s shattering entry scared Joss, even though she was expecting it.

The metal door flew back with such a bang that at first she thought it must be gunfire.

Then Fusco bulled his way forward, service revolver drawn, wild bellows stunning the apartment’s sunlit quiet. He was alone, but with his overcoat rising around his knees, and a red mask of rage stretching his face, her partner seemed like a charging battalion.

“Hands where I can see ‘em! All a you!”

John sprang upright and pulled Crystal from her chair. He wrapped his arms around her and then turned his back to Fusco, an instinctive shield to counter the cop’s blind assault.

As Fusco lumbered toward them, Joss shouted over the rattling of the floor boards.

“We’re O.K., Lionel! Don’t shoot!”

She raised her hands in the air, as if she were the thug and not the victim.

“We’re alright. It’s O.K. now!”

Though he lowered his weapon right away, it took Fusco several minutes to wind down and assess the altered situation.

“Glasses told me you were in some kinda tough spot or something, so I got here on the double.”

The frown he tossed at John was Fusco’s harshest form of rebuke.

Joss knew he had been frightened and used her most soothing tones to calm his fears.

“We were, Lionel. And now we’re not. Trouble over and everything’s alright.”

“Yeah, well, if you say so.” Skeptical with a dollop of brooding on top.

Then Fusco peered at Crystal’s pouting face, her body slack and small as she trembled in John’s enveloping arms.

“Hey, I recognize this one. The littlest assassin in the Big Apple. Emerald, wasn’t it? Or Diamond? Or some other kinda shiny rock.”

“Yeah, and fuck you too!”

She let her eyes bug out in petulant defiance at the insult, but made no move to leave John’s embrace.

“This is Crystal Floyd, Fusco.”

John spoke at last, his voice rumbling through the room with quiet authority.

“She’s in my custody.”

“Yeah, sure she is.”

Fusco’s sardonic tone indicated he thought John might be pulling a fast one.

“But in the meantime, just let me run her in to the shop. I bet we got an outstanding warrant or fifty on her murdering little ass.”

“I said: she’s in my custody, Lionel. We’ve got it covered.”

John was crisp and the squaring of his shoulders said his word was final.

But for the first time that morning, Joss noticed the wash of violet that darkened the inner corners of his eye sockets, the tiny threads of red zagging through the whites. He looked depleted, exhausted, and shaken.

Several more minutes of back and forth finally convinced Fusco that his partners were indeed serious about letting The Brotherhood’s top killer go free.

“Just so long as this don’t come back to bite me in the ass, I guess I hafta take your word for it.”

“It won’t, I promise.” Joss was the conciliator here, the two men still at loggerheads.

To end the stand-off, she rearranged the players, like a hostess at a dinner flicking the lights to shift in the party’s dynamic.

“It’s been a pretty long morning, fellas. I still need to get into the precinct before Captain chews my ass off one more time. And so do you, Riley.”

Her tone was brusque, giving orders where she had been on the receiving end only a few hours before.

“Lionel, will you get a glass of water or juice or something from the frig for Floyd here. I need to talk with John for a minute.”

Fusco deepened his scowl, promising that this was not a done deal, not by a long shot.

When they got to his bedroom, Joss shut the door and wheeled on John.

“You O.K.?”

“Yes.”

He let the fringe of black lashes linger over his cheekbones for a fraction too long.

“You don’t look O.K.”

“I’m O.K.”

He exhaled, then sat down on the rumpled bed clothes, leaning back so that his stiff arms propped his torso. She sat beside him, smoothing the quilt between them.

He wasn’t going to say it, so she would:

“I was frightened out there. I didn’t know if she was crazy enough to make us chose which one she shot first.”

“Yes. She was that crazy.”

“But it worked out O.K., John. We’re O.K. now.”

His eyes, when he finally raised them to meet hers, were shiny with tears, the pupils so translucent they seemed foiled over with silver.

“I calculated all the angles, the distances, Joss. But I just couldn’t figure out how to get to her before she shot you. It was… I – I don’t know…”

He ran his right hand over his brow, pushing an index finger into the corner of his eye as if to poke out the horrific image.

She drew the hand away from his face and clasped it in both of hers, stroking until warmth flooded into the fingers again.

“I know, baby. I know.”

A kiss on the side of his head just above the right ear.

“But you know what else I know? Together we’ll figure out a way to help her. Through her we can strike at The Brotherhood, strangle it for good. And save an innocent child at the same time.”

John seemed to rally at this idea.

“Yes, I’ll come up with something.”

“No. We will come up with something. Together, that’s how it works with us.”

He raised both hands until they cradled her jaw, angling her mouth for a gentle kiss.

“It’s not safe for you here anymore. They know where I live and sooner or later they’ll come back and get you.”

He ran trembling fingers over the fine baby hairs along her temple.

“I can’t let that happen. Ever. I won’t lose you. So you can’t stay here anymore. We’ll find a way. But you can’t stay here.”

Warm lips pressed to her forehead, she thought she felt them curve into a smile, but she wasn’t sure. Then a third kiss, deeply into her mouth. But when she raised her hands to his shoulders, he fled back to the living room.

Joss dissolved into tears.

The tense emotions of the day released at last, mixing with the harsh finality of his words, all his fears braiding with hers into a rope of despair tightening around them.

They had to find a way.


+++++++++


A few minutes later Fusco departed, the trapped air in the apartment seeming to decompress as he went.

Then John left with Crystal, his fist gripping her wiry biceps, muscles jumping along his clenched jaw as he hustled her out. They might have reached a détente, but Joss knew his vigil would never relax.

As John pushed her through the door, the tiny killer nodded once at Joss. The smile gracing her lips at that final moment seemed more sincere than any flashed during the whole weird morning they had shared.

They would meet again, the sweet smile promised, and those circumstances would be different, certainly violent perhaps even fatal.

But Joss hoped that the bond forged in these anxious hours would become part of Crystal’s private arsenal of memories; a treaty to be honored despite all the complications and dangers of the days ahead.

Crystal would never tell this peculiar story out loud, Joss was certain of that. But surely she would treasure it all the same.

And maybe, just maybe, it would turn out that Crystal – mad, devoted, deadly -- was the way out for them all.

When John’s apartment was quiet at last, Joss circled once around it, gathering her coat, badge, and gun.

“Stay.” The insistent cackle of the machine started up again in her ear. “Stay, Joss.”

She launched her retort into the hushed sunlight that still flooded the space:

“The hell you say!”

“Stay, Joss.”

The ear piece made such a satisfying crunch as she smashed it under her boot.

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I'm so glad you enjoyed this story! And yes, in my view, Reese and Carter do work well together as a closely honed unit. It makes sense to me that at this stage in their maturing relationship, the gears grind smoothly and they read each other's needs and moods quite well. Even Crystal, who has been spying on them for several months, senses they are a capable team, which is why she brought her proposal to both of them together. Thank you for your attention and support, it's much appreciated!

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