As the blanket of silence returned following the four pistol shots, time stood still. My already wounded head was now spinning and I fought to keep from passing out. I didn’t know what was going through Dimity’s head, but after a couple of seconds, she relaxed her arm and dropped the gun to her side. She turned around and looked at me, breathing hard breaths with her jaw slightly hanging askew, an expression that on anyone else would have looked loutish but on her was devilish magic.
For a moment I was too astonished to speak or even to breathe. I stared at the heap of bodies inside the threshold and rasped,
“That was real.”
“Yes,” she said. “That was real.”
I shook my head, incredulous. “You really are a killer now.”
She scratched the side of her mouth and gave me her hand to pull me up. Then she looked hard in my eyes. “I was before we ever met, Bo. Come on, we should get out of here.”
With the bloody rag still on the side of my face staunching the flow of blood, we ran—actually, she ran. It’s more accurate to say I was tottering—out the door of the apartment and back to the garage where the Lancia was parked. I gestured for her to drive because I was in no condition.
Our mechanic friend was still passed out on his desk. Dimity grabbed the open bottle of whiskey while I opened the garage door as quietly as possible, just high enough to roll the car out.
“Here,” she said. “You can use this as a disinfectant.”
“You mean pour it on my open wound?”
“Won’t that sting like hell?”
“It already stings like hell.”
“Take a swig then. To blunt the pain.”
“Uhf. Maybe later.”
By the time we reached the Toledo city limits, the gash from the bullet wound along the side of my head had stopped bleeding with one exception, aided no doubt by the brisk wind. But the bullet had excised most of my left ear, shorn it clean off. And that spot would not stop bleeding.
The last information I’d heard was that my mother had been moved to a larger hospital in Cleveland. That’s where we were headed.
Ordinarily, the drive from Toledo to Cleveland is a three-hour trek. It’s a breezy but jerky series of two-lane farm roads skirting the coast of Lake Erie. In the dark wee hours, with Dimity averaging one hundred and twenty and no other traffic on the road, we made it in one.
We pulled into the emergency room plaza at 3 a.m. One lonely night watchman inside a glass booth—coffee, newspaper—gazed at us with his mouth open and eyes blinking. We didn’t have much time.
“I need to hide the car. You go inside and I’ll come and find you later.”
“Mitts,” I said. “I can’t wait any longer. I have to know. How is it you can handle a gun? How could you just pick off those four guys like it was some kind of carnival gallery? And you’ve killed before? What’s going on? Who are you? If I was sane I should be afraid of you!”
“Right now? Bo, there’s a security guard right there. We don’t really have time for this.”
“Dimity, you’ve been putting me off for days. I’m going to go inside, but just give me some way to understand everything that’s been going on. Please.”
She looked around furtively as one does when telling a secret, and then she leaned in to me and I gave her my good ear.
“My family is suspected by the British and Australian government to be, uh…an organized crime syndicate.”
“Syndicate, yeah. It’s like a group of businesses or something. I’ve seen plenty of people get…offed…as they say in the movies, haha, right? Ahem, it kinda goes with the territory. And…uh, I’ve had to be a part of that…from time to time. Always in self-defense. Well, usually.”
The security guard stood up, clicked on a flashlight and pointed it at us.
“Look. My family is mafia, get it? I like to think we’re the good guys. We are the white hats. We know about the Beaux Voyous—ha! we’ve tangled with them from way back. But never in America. I’m afraid we may have had a hand in bringing them here. I don’t know. But that’s what’s going on.
“They want the Lancia to get an angle on the European racing bookies. But more than that, they want me. I am my dad’s daughter after all. I would be a valuable bargaining chip…if I survived being captured. Bo, I’ve been aware of this all along. I don’t speak French but I do understand most of it. I understood their nasty threats.
“So, there. Now you know my secrets. Those are the stakes. But hey! Cheer up, boy! My dad really likes you. He wants you to stay around, to grow with us, and…you know…marry into the family.”
I was horrified.
The guard started lumbering in our direction, his light beam strafing us as he walked.
“That’s all we have time for. Get inside and let somebody look at that ear.”
“Okay, hold on. What do I tell them? That the mafia shot my ear off in a high-speed car chase?”
“Not that. I don’t know. Tell them anything. Tell them it got caught in a fan. Or in a sword fight. Just get in there.”
I entered the Emergency Room doors and Dimity zoomed off. She didn’t return until late the next day. I was sleeping in a hospital bed, my ear socket packed with gauze and white strips of cloth circling my head like a vaudevillian toothache. She woke me up abruptly with tickles and kisses, placating my annoyance and smoldering fear of her with love and playfulness.
“Hey, loverboy. Up you get! Come on. Time to get out of here. Did you check on your mum?”
“Huh? Oh, hey Mitts. Yeah, she’s not here. She was released and is staying with her sister, my aunt Gladys in Cincinnati. We came here for nothing.”
“Your ear isn’t nothing. Cute bandage though. You look like the cartoons.”
“Thanks. That’s great.”
“No time for pillow talk, honey pie. We need to get back to Ringo and Tanaquil.”
“What? No, I have to go to Cincinnati.”
She explained that while I slept, she had gone all the way back out to Ringo’s Tuscan estate in the Allegheny Forest, dropped off the Lancia, and returned with a BMW motorcycle with a sidecar. She said it would be less conspicuous. Ringo had urged her to return to fetch me. Circumstances had changed, he said. He needed me, and we were in danger as long as I was laying in a hospital bed.
“Sounds to me like your mother is in good hands, Bo. You can visit her when this business is over. Right now, Ringo needs us.”
“I can’t. The doctors won’t let me out until tomorrow.”
“You remember our very short conversation last night? About my…family?
“I had hoped that was all a nightmare.”
“It wasn’t. And your first lesson in joining a…family business like ours is, You never let yourself get cornered. We’re getting out of here. Right now. We don’t want any more of our Gallic friends showing up, do we? Now that you are on the hospital books—I presume you used your real name?—it may not be long before they come to finish the job. Now, get your things and…here, let me—”
She peeled back some medical tape and yanked the IV needle out of my hand and put the tape back.
“Ouch! Hey, don’t I need that?”
“What. Saltwater? No. Better pull your trousers on.”
She pretended to freshen her makeup in the mirror and not look while I got dressed.
With each second that I was awake, I was remembering more of what had happened the night before and the dizzying sequence of events that brought us to this point. The aching heaviness returned to my shoulders: my Bridget Bardot-look-a-like girlfriend was a femme fatale, a part of an organized crime family. My bushy blonde cheerleader had morphed into a kind of dominatrix. My mother’s disappointment when she ultimately learned what I was up to and who I was with dredged up new specters of future guilt and maternal disapproval.
I saw my reflection as I passed the mirror—small, weak, and scared. I was pathetic. Disgraceful. Why couldn’t I embrace adventure like Ringo? Why was I dragging around the fear of my dad’s anger? My mother’s tears? My dad was dead, for Pete’s sake! And my mother an invalid for all I knew. I had to grow up. I was now practically an orphan. I decided from that moment on I would combat my fears. I would work on keeping my cool in the face of danger. To do that, I had to stop clinging to life so tightly. Was I prepared for that? To face my mortality? I had to master the fear of pain, and my cloying, unctuous people-pleasing instinct.
But how does one go about mustering strength and stoicism you don’t already possess? Dimity had it. Could I learn from her? I had a lot of work ahead of me.
We left the room through the window, down the fire escape, and out into the parking lot. My first act of rebellion against the controlling authorities. I was feeling good, until I saw the vehicle she’d arrived in.
“What the hell is this? What did you do with the Lancia? And who’s riding in the sidecar!”
“It’s a long story, but Ringo has the Lancia. And we can rock-paper-scissors to see who drives and who is in the sidecar.”
I took one last look around, shaking my head.
“Never mind. You drive. Ringo, here we come.”