Blood in the Basement
David and the Lion’s Den, chapter 28
“Trust me,” Raph insisted. Carla’s iron grip tightened. The bus boy’s black eyes bored into mine. Determination shone on his face, but I could smell his fear as I nodded.
My heart sped up as the kid pushed the door open, antique iron hinges squealing as he put his shoulder into it.
That’s what we called the antique pit blasted out of Manhattan’s bedrock. The floors and walls were plain stone, humid and oozing. I could hear Raph clunk down the rough wooden steps as he sank into a black pond of darkness. Jill tiptoed after him, and Carla shoved me to let me know it was my turn.
As I felt my way down the splintery steps, I fought like crazy to figure out who Raphael had locked in a storage cage. I put my hand out to steady myself and felt slick stone. I remembered Howie explained it when we were using the cave to store all the boat ride donations.
The storage cages predated Cucina, predated Esteban buying the building. They used to be there so different tenants could lock up their stuff. Now the chain-link doors almost always stood wide open, ready for prep cooks to run canned goods or sacks of flour up to the kitchen.
Raph’s voice rang out, high and piercing, to interrupt my thoughts. “Primo!” he called out from below my feet. “I’m back, Primo!”
Alonzo! He has Alonzo locked up?
The lights were off. Carla had closed the door behind her. I couldn’t see a thing. I bumped into Jill as I heard Alonzo reply in a stream of rapid, angry Spanish — accompanied by violent clanks of metal on metal. Jill stood rigid as Raph’s voice sounded again from somewhere in front of us.
“What, Primo? You no like your cage?”
More Spanish shouting filled the dank air. I felt Jill’s heart thumping as I pressed into her back.
Raph spoke again. “Why, Alonzo, why?”
Violent metallic shrieks were the only reply.
“Tell me why, brother!” Raph shouted, spitting out the word brother like it was poison. “No!” he protested as Alonzo’s voice raged along in fiery latin cadence. “I won’t speak my mother’s tongue to you. Speak only English to me, you bastard!”
The clanging stopped suddenly. I heard Raph’s breathing, ragged and on the edge of sobs. I imagined Alonzo behind the chain link — tall, beefy, and snarling — head cocked as he stopped to strain his ears.
Then I heard his voice, calm and smooth. “Why no light, little Primo? Why you want me to speak English, huh? Who’s on the stairs with you, baby cousin? You think I’m estupido?”
“Fuck you!” Raph shouted. “You’re loco, man. You’re as crazy fucking stupid now as the day I caught you!”
“You caught nobody, you filthy little puta,” Alonzo snarled. “If you have any brain at all in your head, you’ll shake that whore’s culo over here and unlock the gate before I bust out.”
“I saw you! With my own eyes!”
“You saw nothing,” Alonzo grunted, sounding like he was punctuating his words by throwing his body against the gate.
“I’m not blind! I watched you fill the cannoli from that bowl. I know Pedro gave them to Howie every day. I just wanna know why. Why you wanna kill people?”
I gasped. Too loud.
“And I say you saw nothing,” Alonzo barked. “Nothing!” He crashed against the gate again three times. Once for each word. “You! Saw …
His final shout was was underlined by a sharp bang, loud as a gunshot. The silence that followed was so empty I could practically see the cage door swing open past a broken lock.
My heart beat twice — two loud, underwater thubs — before a storm of noise crashed back into my ears. Carla shoved me and I stumbled hard into Jill. I fell, catching myself on the heel of my left hand, fooled by the end of the stairway.
Pain dazzled it’s way up my arm as I heard Alonzo roaring, Jill screeching, and Raph shouting. Somebody’s hand — Carla’s? — grabbed the back of my neck and yanked.
I shook myself like a terrier and jumped to my feet. I had to SEE. I banged my forehead on cold stone as I fumbled along the wall beside the steps. Ignoring the sting above my eyebrow, I groped up and down in front of me. I couldn’t find the switch!
Raphael screamed. I felt pain vibrate out of his cry.
There! My fingers closed over it. I jabbed, missing once in an adrenaline-jolted haze.
Light blared down from above, burning a deadly image into my brain. Bright red on white. Alonzo loomed over Raphael, gripping his smaller cousin with his left hand, clutching a long chef’s knife in his right.
Raphael was dancing, two lurid red stripes decorating the left sleeve of his crisp white shirt. Alonzo lunged at him, and he bobbed away like a pro boxer in the ring. The blade sliced past his throat, missing by less than an inch. His feet were blurs as he dodged, but the stripes on his shirt were getting bigger and wetter every second.
Something inside me popped, and my feet threw me forward. I jumped past Jill, shoving her aside as a strangled rasp tore hard out of my throat. I sprinted as fast as I could to close the twenty odd feet to Alonzo.
His head veered mid-slash. Raph dodged the knife one more time as Alonzo turned his focus to me.
I crashed into him. Sour breath and cologne-masked body odor screamed at me as the knife whisper-slashed past my ear. I bounced off of him, stumbling backwards and struggling to stay on my feet and out of the reach of his blade.
He lunged at me, closing the gap too fast. He raised the knife, and just as he started to whip it forward, a red flower blossomed to life on his black-stubbled face.
I heard a sharp crack half a second later as a paper-white hand flashed into view. Carla! Driving him back with her whip, grunting as she lashed and snapped, forcing him off me, advancing like a painted whore of a Thracian gladiator.
Alonzo roared, shook blood out of his eyes, and charged. She never stood a chance. He windmilled into her snapping whip like it was a child’s toy. I blinked and she was on the ground, arms flailing. One more blink, and he was on me. Fire screamed along my chest and neck as my head crashed backward onto the stone floor.
Bright colors exploded in front of my eyes as air whoomped out of my lungs. I struggled to pull in a breath, panicking when nothing happened. I gasped in, but nothing happened.
Nothing! He’d killed me! He must have slashed my throat. Then I pulled in a wheezing half breath and realized I’d only had the wind knocked out of me. My vision began to clear.
There he was! Alonzo bent over an indistinct bundle on the floor. I watched the knife rise into the air and arc savagely down. I heard meat tearing, heard a sharp, startled gasp.
“No!” I screamed, leaping up and flying at him, razor blades of pain tearing at my upper body. “Get the fuck off him!”
Alonzo’s head snapped around as he jumped up to face me, knife out and slashing toward my gut. “You’re dead!” he spit. “Just like your friends.”
I dodged. The knife flashed by, missing me. He cocked it back again.
“Hey!” a voice hammered out from behind me. “Over here, asshole!”
Alonzo’s eyes jerked away from me, drawn by the sound. I leapt, fists balled into rocks. I felt his nose crumple before I realized I was punching him. I slashed myself bad ripping the knife out of his grasp. Slippery warmth oiled my hand as I tightened it around the prickly skin of his throat.
We fell to the floor like that, the knife clattering across stone. I bore down with all my strength as his arms started to jerk convulsively, beating into the ground to a chorus of choking gurgles.
“Enough, David! Stop!” A hand lifted me up, pulling, forcing me off Alonzo. “It’s OK, kid. I got him. Relax, already.”
Arnold! Arnold had distracted Alonzo just as he was about to disembowel me. I let him pull me to my feet, let myself slump in relief when I saw he’d picked up the knife.
“David,” Carla croaked. “You’re bleeding!”
I glanced past Kevin’s investigator and saw the old dominatrix picking herself up off the floor. “I’m fine,” I assured her. “But you! I thought he killed you.”
“He punched me. I guess he knocked me out,” she choked.
“What are you doing here?” I asked Arnold as Carla stumbled toward me.
“Not what I figured I’d be doing,” he grunted, stepping on Alonzo’s neck with one foot, keeping the knife angled toward him. “Stop moving,” he barked as the man let out a strangled moan.
“Jill came running upstairs screaming just a few seconds ago. So here I am.”
“David!” Carla gasped. “Look!” She grabbed me and pointed. Raph. He lay on the ground whimpering, a dark bundle on the floor, wet and twisted up.
My mind refused to come to terms with the large puddle he was lying in. It wasn’t even raining. How could the basement be filling up with black water?
“Raph! Raphael, get up!”