Shadowline

Chapter 24 - Eye To Eye

Felix Carnicero smiled to himself as he took his time to join Mr. MacMillan, who waited in the office. He strolled to the bedroom where his father lay, where he had lain, for the past month.

Arturo Carnicero, shrunken by age and illness, was nothing anymore. Felix stepped into the room and nodded at the nurse sitting nearby, who then shot to her feet and exited the room with a polite nod of her head. Felix approached the bed chewing his cigar and then gave the oxygen tank an annoyed glance. He plucked the Cuban from his mouth, eyed the large, glass ash tray next to the bed, and knocked off the ash and ember into the bowl. He rolled the rest of the Cuban between his fingers and regarded his prone father.

Oxygen hissed softly in rhythm with the attached pump and the mask over Arturo's mouth which seemed entirely too large for his face now. Felix studied the pale, wrinkled features, noting how much his father's cheeks had sunk in just one day; he was as withered and delicate as an autumn leaf. "Death will be your companion soon," he thought before smiling broadly. "And none too soon for me, you old goat."

He leaned down so his lips were mere inches from his father's ear and spoke lowly. "This will all be mine after tonight, old man," he said with a sparkle in his eye. "Your day is over. It's my turn now, you bastard. You'll be out of the picture before midnight." Felix straightened and dropped the remains of the cigar on the thin blanket, right on top of Arturo's crotch and chuckled. "It is bigger than you are," he said of the cigar. "You're nothing now."

Before leaving, Felix pulled out the hydrating IV from his father's arm and turned off all the monitors. He paused a few seconds before unplugging the oxygen and pulling off the mask. His father's lax mouth hung partially open, dry drool crusting the corners of his lips.

"If you make it to midnight, I will put you out of your misery and all this will be mine alone."

With a smug turn of his mouth, Felix strolled from the room, fired the nurse and pointed her toward the exit. One security man escorted her out. Felix adjusted the collar of his shirt while he watched the nurse drive away and then admired the beauty of the surrounding mountains for a minute.

Finally glancing at this watch, Felix walked to the office.

"I don't appreciate being made to wait," Robby MacMillan snarled when Felix joined him. He slowly stood from a corner chair, well away from the picture window next to the office desk.

"I was tending to business," the eldest Carnicero son said without apology. He circled the desk and sat down without meeting MacMillan’s eyes. Picking up a file from the desktop, Felix opened it and began to read, ignoring his hired killer.

MacMillan opened his mouth to speak but his vibrating phone distracted him. He plucked it from his shirt pocket, glanced at the number, and took the call. "Yes?" he said sharply. After a moment, he said, "Uh huh," and turned his attention to Felix. Then, he ended the call with a quick thank you.

"Gustavo is in town," Felix said as he perused the file, treating MacMillan as a second thought. “We are to meet here at six-thirty. You can set up anywhere between here and the town. He will be an easy target."

"There's been a change in plans."

Mac's tone caused Felix to look up. Mac stood by the door with his feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, his hands clasped together in front of him; it was a deceptively relaxed stance that caused the hairs on the nape of Felix's neck to tingle in warning.

"I did not order any changes," Felix growled. The folder dropped to the table.

"I want cash up front. Now."

"What?" Felix pushed to his feet, his hands clenched in fists. The security man appeared in the doorway.

"Cash. Word has it your funds are cut off, Felix. No cash, no contract. Your credit has been revoked."

"WHAT?"

"I'm not interested in the family dynamics. I'm interested in cash. Now, or our partnership is over."

"How dare you!"

Mac did not back down and the security man - realizing this new bit of information may affect his future - failed to respond and just listened. Mac gave him a glance before refocusing on Felix.

“I understood taking Adrian out of the picture,” Mac said. “He was a wild card and sampled a bit too much of your product. And your father - well, we both know he simply is not a player anymore. But Felix, I am afraid we both underestimated Gustavo.” He nodded to the desk computer. "Apparently, he is a master with the family books. Find my cash - now - and I will finish this. Otherwise, Gustavo has won.”

Felix huffed in disbelief and attacked the keyboard. His face reflected the monitor’s glow and as numbers, passwords and web addresses flashed across the screen, living tattoos crossed Felix’s features. Under it all, as his typing became more frantic, disbelief morphed through panic and then, finally, he erupted in absolute fury.

“NO!!” he screamed, throwing the computer to the floor where it shattered on the tile.

MacMillan took a step back, along with security man, and turned to go.

“NO! You have to kill him!” Felix raged across the room, tipping tables and throwing chairs out of his way. “KILL HIM!”

Mac side-slipped from the room holding Felix’s crazed glare. “I do nothing for free, Felix. I’m leaving.” He spun on his heel and headed for the door as the security man glanced back and forth between the two.

“Don’t let him go!” Felix bellowed. “Hold him!”

The man paused a moment and then followed Mac outside, where they were met by more of Felix’s men. They surrounded the assassin but stopped their advance to listen to both Mac and the inside man.

Felix stormed into his father’s room. “I should be the head of this household! I deserve it more than anyone else, including you, old man!” He grabbed Arturo by the throat and hauled him up, shaking him like a rag doll. “DIE! Just DIE! Your time is over! It’s my time now!” Arturo’s windpipe crackled in Felix’s hand and he died with after one rattled breath, hanging in his son’s white-fisted grip.

Then there was silence. Felix stared at his father’s glassy, dead eyes, breathing raggedly and shiny with sweat. Finally, he released his hold and Arturo fell aside and slumped over the edge of the bed. Felix quickly backed out of the room and stopped, turning crazed eyes on the small group of men gathered at the door.

“He’s dead now.” Felix held his hands out to his side. A maid and a cook scurried out a side door, terrified. “This is mine!”

“No,” Mac corrected sharply. “It’s Gustavo’s.” He turned a hard eye on the men and they parted, allowing Tiger’s Eye to leave.

Felix blinked in disbelief, looked back toward his dead father - and a fine thread of sanity snapped.

“HE CAN’T HAVE IT! IT’S MINE!”

Felix came alive again, charged to the huge stone fireplace and began throwing smaller pieces of furniture into the massive hearth. End tables splintered, lamps crumpled and couch cushions smoked as the fire consumed the new fuel. Felix ripped the curtains from the windows and threw one end in the growing flames, then dragged them all over the living area. Soon, carpets, books and drapery caught and the fire eagerly consumed and grew.

The other men stepped inside with trepidation, terrified by the actions of their usually controlled boss. When Felix retrieved a gun from his room and began shooting out the windows, the men bolted outside. Black smoke billowed at their heels and Felix’s furious screaming accompanied the wild shots.

Everyone ran as the mansion burned.

Vin watched it all from the hillside, taken aback by this unexpected turn of events. He saw the birth of the inferno through the mansion windows and witnessed Felix Carnicero’s raging, and wondered for a moment what was the catalyst of this meltdown.

MacMillan managed to stay out of Vin’s sight, but he knew the man was there and must have been responsible for the chaos. When the gunshots began, panic flashed - was Mac dead inside? How would he get the evidence he needed?

Like ants, the workers fled from the scene in all directions. Vin looked for Mac in the crowd but the black smoke billowing from the building made it impossible to see.

“Fuck!” Vin snapped. He rolled to his feet, leaving the rifle and snatching up his handguns. His sudden action woke the horse and it pulled back, eyes rolling in fear. Vin forced himself to calm and spoke soothingly, settling the animal enough to mount up. “Good boy,” he said softly. “Let’s go.”

Vin reined the horse downhill, urging him forward into a frightening pace. Vin felt the horse’s hind legs tuck deeply under, allowing a quick descent as he sat back, using his front legs to control speed and direction - this horse knew this terrain well.

They crashed through brush and low limbs, arriving at the bottom amidst a landslide of rubble. Vin kicked hard and the horse leaped in response, charging ahead toward the road. The sun was almost gone and the settling grey of the coming night slowly turned into black shadows. The horse leaped over boulders and brush, and Vin saw Mac’s black Hummer burst through the compound gate.

He urged the horse on and charged the vehicle at an angle. Vin pulled out his Sig and shot out all the windows on the passenger side, emptying the clip before the Hummer weaved precariously on the dirt road, finally spinning out and slamming the right side into a stout scrub oak.

Vin reined around and stayed on the crumpled side, using the vehicle body as cover. Hauling the horse into a sliding stop, he jumped off and pulled out his Glock, and then ran to the steaming car with the gun raised and ready. The air stank of hot antifreeze and burned rubber. The horse wasted no time turning for home, and Vin heard hoof beats fade away, leaving behind the groans of the damaged Hummer.

Vin stopped a few yards from the back of the vehicle and slowed his approach. He could hear people running into the trees and down the road, and other cars raced by without pause - they had other concerns. Vin had only one. He caught his breath, tightened his grip on the Glock and stepped around and into the open on the driver side of the Hummer - and right into the gun sight of Tiger’s Eye.


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