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Authors: Stephen Romano

Metro

BOOK: Metro
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for

Stephanie Crawford

We all keep trying, like fools.

I remember searching for the perfect words

I was hoping you might change your mind

I remember a soldier sleeping next to me

Riding on the Metro

—Berlin

I

ESCAPE FROM THE
HOUSE OF JAM

In just one hour, a kingdom will fall.

There will be mayhem and death.

A battlefield washed in blood.

Those who survive will never forget this terrible night.

Those who do not survive will be lucky.

Because they will not learn the awful truth about everything.

1

countdown to extinction

“S
o I was thinking about
blood
.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Actually, I was thinking more about that old saying—you know, ‘blood is thicker than water'?”

“And?”

“Well, you're a writer, Mark. I was kind of wondering what they mean by that. I mean, blood really isn't thicker than water, is it?”

“It's just an expression. You don't take it literally.”

“Well, I know that, but I mean what do they
mean
by it?”

“Oh, I get it. You mean what started the expression?”

“Yeah. Who said it first? And what did they mean? I've never thought that blood was actually thicker than water. The human body is
made
of water, right? So the expression doesn't really make a lot of sense, even if it's a metaphor.”

“You're a smart kid, Jackie.”

“I'm not like you.”

“Well, we all gotta be ourselves, right?”

“So . . . what does the expression mean?”

“Sorry. I'm a little distracted tonight. A lot on my mind.”

“You worried about the deal?”

“A little. Those gangsters kind of scare me. I took some Xanax earlier to calm my nerves.”

“Don't worry. You're family, Mark. My father would never hurt you.”

“He's your father, not mine.”

“Yeah, and I know he can be weird sometimes, but he knows you're my best friend, and he respects that. Just don't worry.”

“You been getting along with your father lately, Jackie? Is that why you're wondering about all this blood and water business?”

“Maybe. I dunno. I was just thinking about it.”

“Well . . . the first time the expression was used, it was in a German poem in 1180 about talking animals. ‘Reinhart the Fox.' But the literal translation of the phrase is ‘family blood will not be spoiled by water.' It got used later in various forms, and got corrupted along the way. Like how religious texts get altered over the years by monks with quill pens and nothing better to do than reimagine.”

“The original version makes more sense.”

“Yeah.”

“You're really smart to know all that, Mark.”

“We all have our talents, I guess.”

“You're going to be a great writer someday. I really admire you.”

“Thanks, kiddo.”

“I mean—it's not like you're not a great writer
now
. I didn't mean it that way. I mean, one day, you'll be—”

“I know what you meant. Don't sweat it.”

“You're thinking about Jollie, aren't you, Mark?”

“Yeah. I guess I am.”

“You don't like leaving her alone with Andy, do you?”

“Yeah. I guess I don't.”

“What did she say when you asked her to marry you?”

“I don't think I wanna talk about it.”

“I'm sorry. I'll shut up.”

“Look . . . I've just got a lot on my mind, kiddo. I don't mean to be rude. You're doing the house a big favor tonight and we all really appreciate it.”

“You and Andy and Jollie are my best friends.”

“I think we should find you a
girl
friend this winter, Jackie. You're a good-looking kid. You should get laid.”

“That's what Jollie always says.”

“Jollie is wise in all things. You know that.”

“She's amazing. I can see why you love her so much, Mark. And why you're so jealous of Andy.”

“I'm not jealous of Andy.”

“Then why do you worry about leaving them alone together?”

“That's different. Andy is just . . . well, he's a
different kind of person
than the rest of us. He doesn't respect certain things. And Jollie's always been drawn to him, like all the other girls in the world.”

“I think you
are
a little jealous.”

“I guess I'm jealous of that part. Who wouldn't be jealous of a guy who gets all the girls? But Andy will never be like me. He'll never understand what I do.”

“I don't think there's anyone in the world quite like you.”

“Thanks, kiddo.”

“You know, when I first met you, it was the first party
I ever went to
. I mean, how fucked up is that? I was seventeen years old and no one ever invited me to a party.”

“Really? I never knew that.”

“That was six years ago, Mark. I was so lonely then.”

“Jackie . . .”

“I really love you, Mark.”

“Jackie, stop. Don't say things like that anymore. We agreed, remember?”

“I'm sorry. I just can't stop thinking about it.”

“Look, you're my bro and I love you too. But you know I don't think of you
that way
. I think of Jollie that way.”

“Everyone thinks of Jollie that way.”

“But she thinks of
me
like that too. She loves me like I love her.”

“When she's not making out with Andy behind your back.”

“Shut up. Just stop talking.”

“I'm sorry, Mark. I didn't mean it. I really didn't.”

“It's okay. Let's just not talk anymore.”

“You mean you don't wanna be friends now?”

“Don't be
stupid
, Jackie! I mean let's just take a fucking break and
calm down
!”

“I'm sorry.”

“You should be. That was a shitty thing to say.”

“Why won't Jollie just be your girl if she loves you so much?”

“Jackie, I just don't want to talk about this now.”

“Okay. I'm sorry. I'll be quiet.”

“I'm sorry too, kiddo. Let's just wait for your dad and enjoy the night.”

“You mean enjoy this parking lot.”

“Yeah, it's a nice parking lot. Shit . . . two hours now, waiting. Your car smells like Hostess Twinkies.”

“Sorry about that. It always has, I don't know why.”

“Why can't your dad ever do anything during normal hours?”

“He's a vampire. And he takes way too long with everything because he talks too much. Just like I do. And he always has to do these things here, at his club, or not at all. He feels safe in the bar, I guess. He built his whole empire from that little back room in there.”

“You mean
you
built it for him.”

“No, it's not like that. I just run the computers.”

“I'm sorry, Jackie. I shouldn't have yelled at you.”

“It's okay. I deserved it. But I
do
love you, Mark. I love you because you and Andy and Jollie are like family to me. You're my only friends. It's why I bring you in on these deals. Lots of people use me to get to my dad. But you never did that. With you guys, it's always been . . . I don't know, man,
fun
.”

“And we appreciate being dealt in. It helps keep the rent paid.”

“Hey, gotta keep the House going, don't we?”

“Yeah.”

“Can I ask you one last thing, Mark?”

“Okay. But let's keep things light for the rest of the night, huh? No more love talk.”

“Well, I was just wondering something. I've always wondered about it. I don't know why I never thought to ask before.”

“Don't keep me in suspense, kiddo.”

“Well . . . why do you and Jollie and Andy call your house the Kingdom? Who came up with that?”

“It was Jollie.”

“Of course.”

“She just called it that one day and it stuck. I'm not sure why, Jackie.”

“Like blood is thicker than water? Someone just says it and it survives the ages?”

“Yeah. Like that. Like blood is thicker than water.”

“It really isn't, Mark. Blood and water are the same thing.”

“Yes, they are, aren't they?”

“Yes, they are.”

1 hour and COUNTING . . .

T
here must be no witnesses.

That's what he thinks, over and over, as the deal goes down. That's what he remembers most from his final instructions, and it pounds the inside of his skull like a hammer mantra, the gun burning a hole in his pocket. The room is sweaty and dark, full of bad ghosts—he's been here a million times, but it's always really rough in the last few seconds before you make your real move. The training tugs just beneath the surface, tickling the base of his throat like first-date jitters or the dull swell of a kept secret.
Everything is a kept secret
, he thinks. You were brought forth from the bottom of the worst places on earth to be in this room. You played the part like a champ and here it all is, right in front of you. There must be no hesitation. There must be no mercy.

There must be no witnesses.

Razzle has the package, because Razzle always has the package. This same goddamn deal has gone down fifty times like clockwork. It's always amazed our boy. Theoretically, things like this should never run like clockwork at all because everybody's a piece of shit and nobody plays fair. The rats all gather after dark in a smelly backroom off a common dive bar, where every cop and every junkie and every scumbag lawyer knows exactly where to look—and, wonder of wonders, nobody is looking at all. Razzle and his rip-off squad are the dumb pride of the local scene, almost-connected mob idiots without portfolio, slogging through the doggy-doo with half a cigar and no matches. Our boy thinks for a minute that it's probably a genuine miracle this guy hasn't washed up dead sooner. He wonders why this guy has to die now. He's been wondering for the last half hour, waiting in that damn parking lot for the moment to come, and it's against all his training to wonder. You're not supposed to
think
, you're supposed to
do
. That's the first thing they teach you. The hand gets bloody, but it always washes clean, and it never knows what the other hand is doing.
That's how these assignments work
, they once told him. That's what makes guys like him silent, invisible, invincible.

The men surrounding our boy have no idea about that kind of discipline. Razzle Schaeffer is the worst of them, of course. He's about fifty-seven and a typical product of his generation. He relies on other people with iPhones and computers, pretends to be smart and talks on open phone lines about drug stuff because he knows the FBI is recording everything and he just doesn't give a shit. The reason Razzle just doesn't give a shit is because he thinks he's protected. He thinks he's paid his dues. He's done four prison stretches, one for manslaughter, and that time he walked after six months. That's how it works in Texas. They're harder on drunk drivers than nasty creeps who kill little old ladies. Our boy knows all those interesting facts about Razzle Schaeffer because that's what he does. Endemic research, down in the trenches, right there with all the assholes who do it for real. All so you can stand in a room like this, the kind held together with peeling paint and cockroach droppings, tinged with the nasty sour smell of sweaty, cocaine-soaked bills in low denominations. You stand here and wait. For
that
moment. What it all comes down to.

Razzle's crew surrounds their boss ten-strong as he opens the package. It's something to see when the top of the crate peels away with a rough crack and the goodies come out. It's an apple crate, old school, full of coffee grounds to throw the border dogs. Just like in
Beverly Hills Cop
, our boy thinks, and then he crushes the thought because it almost starts to make grim laughter happen in his belly. If you start laughing in a room like this, someone will ask you
why
you're laughing and then you'll have to explain yourself, and the explanation better be good, because nobody likes Eddie Murphy in this circle jerk of rednecks. You gotta be damn careful with lunatics who think they run the world.

There must be no witnesses.

The packages that come out of the crate are each worth five hundred K, easy. It's an even bigger score than they told our boy it would be. Ten packages. They'll all fit in the special carry-on case our boy has stashed in the trunk of Jackie's car—once he's done what he has to do. Razzle looks at our boy and asks if he's happy, and our boy leans across the table and smells nothing but Taster's Choice, nasty white-trash wake-me-up. It fills him for a moment with a sense of dark unreality, and then he's back to business. Our boy nods back to Razzle—yeah, I'm happy, everyone in this room is goddamn
fucking
happy, man—and out comes our boy's cash. Just a few grand, for our boy's share of the action, just like Jackie said it would be. The other five guys in the room get much bigger slices. They can afford to roll those dice. Our boy is only here because he's a friend of the family, and his cut is rinky-dink, small-time. On the table are scales and baggies and knives and spoons and twist ties. The tools to cut up the pie and make them all rich men. The packages are arranged on the table neatly, end to end, and everybody lays their money down. Razzle has one of his goons collect the folding green, makes a dumb remark about little fish and big fish, looking our boy right in the eye.

Razzle tells our boy he's a lucky man to be in the room with the big fish like this, and maybe one day he'll have the juice to play in the deep end of the pond.

Razzle has no idea who our boy really is.

Razzle tells his largest flunky to count the money twice.

The kid who grabs the green from the table doesn't even look old enough to shave. None of Razzle's guys look very old, even the ones who aren't Jackie-Boy. It's a real shame. This will be hard to do.

Our boy senses that the moment has come.

The moment is perfect.

And so he kills everyone in the room.

58 minutes and COUNTING . . .

BOOK: Metro
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