Falling Beneath the Magnolia

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Exit Bruce McKean

Chapter 23:

Exit Bruce McKean.

23A, Burt Lineman Point of View:

The sedan pulled up to the curb, he had to call his ride a block away from the Delmore shop. Burt had been on the streets during the Pale Deaths assault on Purdue Street. He had sprinted over to the pet shop to find the street littered with bodies. Burt hid in the shadow of an alley, the Pale Death didn’t seem to sense Burt, he had been hiding in the Dellmore shop and saw Lucifer perform some sort of spell.

Burt witnessed firsthand that Bruce and the Pale Death still live, he didn’t know what happened to the girl, he could only guess she is safe. He had come with nearly half a dozen seasoned men. To have wasted good soldiers as cannon fodder, the thought pained him.

The Breeze Street Crew had gone punch for punch with them and the end would be close at hand. Lineman had one more part to play and if he played it well than a ceasefire might be reached. He hoped so; he couldn’t stand interacting with these people anymore would have too, but even though he was unwillingly playing the part he dares not refuse. His life depended on it, but some how he felt betrayal is near.

Burt enters vehicle that pulled up near the curb. Inside are two men, a man with dark hair drives the car, his passenger is the one in charge.

“Come on in” Says the simple tone and dialect of Danny McFarland.

When the car pulls away from the curb Danny begins to delve conversation.

“So where is he headed?”

“Out of town?”

“You sure, how can you be? Do you have a source?”

“I overheard the Pale Death speaking, I had snuck back into the shop after his assault. I saw that he had a small vial of blood and saw McKean standing in a Pentagram. The boy held the head of Tom, Tom.”

Danny looked shocked. Burt explained what he overheard in the Dellmore shop.

“They think there is going to be a lull in the action after the Purdue Street slaughter. The boy is going to slip the city amid the fallout of tonight incidents.”

“Did the pentagram symbols look like this?” Asks Danny.

The swirls on the diagram are arranged in a counter clockwise position, with a dot underneath the swirl. Burt looks at him surprised.

“Yes, how did you know?”

“Lorrents can perform limited magic, one of their powers is a natural cloaking agent. But they can cloak pray they have manipulated. but it requires a curse with access to a powerful source. He has the head of the most powerful warlock in the city. But he didn’t know that I had Tom, Tom put a trace on any magic Lucifer might perform. His cloaking agent won’t work.”

“That’s smart.”

“I didn’t get to where I am by acting as simple as I sound. Now did you happen to know where McKean is gonna be?”

“I don’t have too; I knew him as a client for almost two years… There is no why a guy like that is going to leave without his money.”

“I doubt he would tell you where he keeps it?”

“No, he is the careful type. But he uses the same guy as his dear old boss. There is no better person to keep your money safe than Barney Weinstein.”

“Not bad Mr. Lineman”

“Well I suppose you will be going after him, perhaps you could drop me at the next corner I have to coordinate my men.”

“Mr. Lineman I am gonna need you to stay with us, you see this is gonna be a three-man job and there is a lot of prep work to be done. Butch drive us to the commerce zone. Mr. Lineman when we get closer please provide my associate with the building number. I haven’t been privy to Barney’s business in many years.”

Lineman nods his head with the firmest and steadiest look he could. Inside he is screaming, he didn’t want to cross paths with the Pale Death. Another thing, all this talk of spells and magic cut through him. He saw magic used once and it was such a cruel boondoggle. Lineman had caught a person using a spell to commandeer the eyesight of his poker opponents.

The fool had been a novice and had overused the power and he blinded three people at the table. He had called Tom, Tom to undo the magic. It pained Lineman to see Tom, Tom dead. They had been friends and associates for ten years.

He hoped that McKean kid would get his.

The black sedan slowly makes it way down the road, soon it pulled off Decatur. Lineman had slipped a mask over his face. Danny and Butch had done the same, they linger outside of the building. Then they see it, the unmistakable sight of a man in a torn coat hopping off a moving box truck. The driver keeps driving as if he hadn’t had an injured gangster hanging off the back of the truck.

Lineman buys that Bruce is a stowaway he wonders if the other two will as well. They see Bruce open the iron gate for the courtyard. With his arm taped uncomfortably to his body moving the gate is an awkward looking motion.

“Let me get him?” Pleads Butch.

“No, we don’t know if other men live there we are in the heart of Dellara’s territory. Just wait.”

Moments later a pair of headlights come ripping out of the courtyard.

“Easy Butch don’t be erratic we know where that car is headed. Go ten under until we cross the Quarter boundary then speed up.”

Lineman is impressed Danny treated this as if it were a hunt, then again they were after the world most elusive pray, this kid wouldn’t die. The DeLucas, Giambi and Simon had all met their ends to this kid alone. Then there was Lucifer, he had killed scores of their men and some of their most powerful Captains. Lineman is shaking even thinking of being in the same room as those men.

Danny however shows not a hint of fear; in fact, one could say he is enjoying the chase. They still kept their masks on when they left the Quarter. They didn’t fear being stopped; Lineman hadn’t seen anything resembling law enforcement. He hadn’t even seen a fire truck.

The half dozen fires used to distract them on Purdue street were mostly put out by the shop keepers as they were small but not even the fire department showed. Maybe they were scared of being caught in the crossfire. So far only a handful of civilians had been killed as a result of the night.

Their car slows as they near the building. Butch used an alleyway to make the approach, he kept his lights off while getting closer they could see that the Red Chevy of McKean’s with its headlights on there is someone still sitting in the car.

In his simple tone Danny addresses the two men, between his feet is a dark knapsack, Danny pulls out a device with wires, it is connected to a piece of plastic explosive.

“Butch when McKean goes inside I want you to wire this into the ignition of his car. Lineman you are gonna slip down the street. You are gonna call this number from the payphone. Then you will come back, when he gets into the driver’s seat you are gonna stick this heater in the direction of the window and squeeze the trigger once. Shoot from the sidewalk it will cause him to start the car in a panic, unfortunately this car bomb I rigged up wont activate the detonator until he puts the vehicle in park.”

“What are you gonna do while I risk my neck?” Mutters Lineman.

“I am gonna make sure neither of you fucks this up, this is our last chance so if either one of you deviates from this plan I’ll leave you for the gators.”

Burt gulped he hated the bayou, the thought of the gators almost scared him as much as the prospect of shooting at Bruce McKean.

“Once you are done come back to the car and go I am gonna watch from one of these buildings. I will make sure that he is dead. I will meet you two at the gas station in Mandeville in three hours.”

Danny hands off the explosive to Butch who opens the car, the three masked men spread out. Lineman walks briskly down the road forty yards to the nearest telephone booth.

He picks up the phone and slides a quarter into the coin slot several minutes after he sees Bruce exit his car. He waits as the dial rings the voice of a man answers.

23B, Bruce Point of View:

It felt surreal to be fleeing New Orleans, he felt drawn back to that Thanksgiving day in Mississippi. It had been years ago but still the thought clung to him. The vivid recollection of the violence he inflicted that day paled in comparison to the sins he committed tonight.

His hands grip the glossy steering wheel of his Chevy 150 coup. He bought this car for three thousand dollars. He remembered the first day he drove Callie Bee in it. She had looked stunning riding shotgun; she must think he was a total piece of shit now. She had seen him at his worst, still he found himself thanking god that they had grabbed Marie instead of Bee, he felt slightly guilty about murdering Marie, but he was in a no-win situation. He would only willingly give his life for one person.

Brought back to his current dilemma, the situation as it stood would only get worse he would have to put his feeling and turmoil aside, he would need to focus this next part would be sticky. Ready to exit the car, he reaches over awkwardly to open the driver’s door with his right hand, he had to push the door with his left and it is just as painful as ever.

Bruce pulls his pistol from his waistband. With no care, he openly brandishes his firearm, knocking on the heavy iron door, the eye slot opens.

“What’s the code?” Asks the doorman.

“Oh, that coffee is terrible.” The door opens and Bruce surprises the doorman with the barrel of his 1911 pressed against his temple.

Entering the room Bruce walks the doorman into the main room.

“What the fuck Bruce” Hisses a familiar voice.

“What I had to make it look convincing.” Barney shakes his head.

“Well you made Pete piss his pants” Pete reluctantly makes his way back to the door.

Four other men greets Bruce. Two are Barney and Lucifer, there is also a man the exact same height as Bruce. With him is a weasel of a man, standing only five feet even with a narrow frame and balding head, the man extends his clammy hand for Bruce to shake.

“I am councilman Scruggs; this is Mr. Tucker an out of town associate. He has a terminal condition and as such he needs money to provide for his family, twenty-five large should cover his expenses, my expenses will be rather stiff at twelve and you will need thirty when you arrive at your destination.

“Mr. Tucker, McKean come to the backroom with me, we need to begin.” Hisses Lucifer, only the three men go to the back room. The room is more or less an office, the desk is pushed against the wall. There are two small shoulder width pentagrams. Bruce stands in the one labeled host, and Mr. Tucker stands in the vessel spot.

“I need that angelic knife of yours, a token and I will provide the magical kick for the spell with Tom, Tom’s head.”

“What kind of token?”

Outside the room Bruce hears the phone in the office ring.

“Something personal, given to you by a loved one.”

Bruce racked his head he didn’t have anything like that, then his mind clicks. He slides his hand into the pocket of his slacks and pulls out the long faded red silky ribbon Callie Bee had given to Bruce. He always had it on him.

“Callie Bee gave this to me, only I don’t want to give it up.”

“I will only need half of it but cut the ribbon with your knife.”

Bruce does as he is bid and hands the knife to Lucifer slipping the ribbon’s remaining half into his pocket...

Lucifer holds the handle of Bruce’s knife with a gloved hand, he barely holds it for a moment before Lucifer’s hand smokes slightly. He places it in another chalk circle drawn. Lucifer takes a vial of blood. Bruce didn’t want to know what creature or person the blood came from.

Using a stopper Lucifer drips three droplets onto the blade of the knife, suddenly Bruce felt like he is locked into place within the circle. He tries to extend his arms but can’t. It is strange he attempts to talk but can’t, he tries to breath but nothing. He doesn’t need to take air in, he feels like he is in a state of conscious stasis.

Stuck in the vacuum the only thing he can do is watch.

Lucifer then places the Head of Tom, Tom in between Bruce and Mr. Tucker. Lucifer hisses a single Latin phrase.

“Artis Corpora”

Bruce then saw the ribbon Lucifer put into to Tom, Tom mouth light up in a blue flame. Then Bruce felt pressure unlike anything he ever felt, he felt his vision push forward and then an outlined shadow of his body lurches forward. Mr. Tucker begins to scream in pain, but Bruce felt nothing painful just the massive pressure compressing his body, then as quick as the feeling shook him, it is over…

Able to breathe again Bruce felt himself and didn’t feel any different, then looking at Mr. Tucker he is shocked. Mr. Tucker looked hand to fist an exact copy of his face.

Now able to move, Bruce runs to the mirror on the wall, and his face is gone, the scars are gone it is replaced with the face of Mr. Tucker.

The pale face of Lucifer looms behind him in the mirror.

“This change will only last you ninety days at max, I didn’t have enough power to make it last longer, by then you will be healed with a new identity. You are never to come back or call.”

Bruce felt his face and looked over to Tucker.

“Why didn’t my arm heal, why is his arm messed up?”

“You just swapped appearances, since you’re the host he takes on all your traits, but you keep your own. He felt all that pain you endured all at once.”

Barney enters the room and looks around; he only sees that the person who looks like Bruce is on the ground.

“Bruce we just got a call, a tip someone named Mickey called and said a group of Marcello’s men are coming for you. If you have gotten what you need from Mr. Tucker we need to go.”

“Mr. McKean has had a change of heart; he would like Mr. Tucker to have all the remaining money in his account.”

Barney had a sack of money; he looks at the person who looks like Bruce gripping his arm.

“Mr. McKean is that what you want?” The fake Bruce nods his head.

Mr. Tucker takes the sack of money. He steps out of the room and he is shocked by who he sees. His boss Chris Dellara.

Dellara must not know about the magical switch. He walks over to the fake Bruce.

“I know you have got to skip town; I am meeting Marcello in a few hours for a ceasefire. Boy I am sorry for green lighting you that piece of shit twisted my arm. Thank you for saving my little girl I am indebted to you. That said, it is a favor you can’t cash if you escape this city, if Marcello gets word you are alive it is all over. Take care cowboy.”

After the handshake the fake Bruce walks out of the door with the keys to the Chevy in his hand.

23C, Danny Point of View.

Watching from the rooftop he sees that after the call, Lineman has positioned himself with the pistol Danny gave him. He would be twenty feet from the explosion it would knock him to the ground, but he would live. Butch crawls out from under the Chevy.

Butch goes back to the driver’s side of his car and waits for Lineman to take his shots before making the getaway. Danny perks up at the sight of the door to the money launder’s opening. Danny’s face tenses when he sees that it is Bruce, but he is happy to see he is still alone. He carries a bag which Danny assumes is full of money. It will be a shame it incinerate what Danny assumes is a nice fortune since Bruce risked his life for it.

Danny feels some slight anxiety; he is so close. He waits as Lineman lurks from the shadows of his sidewalk. The casino manager and wise guy raises his arm and then pauses for a moment, he fires once.

Bang!

The loud pop rings out through the silent business district. The round strikes the driver’s side window, shattering the glass, the spiderweb of the glass is stained red from the fresh blood of Bruce’s newly injured left arm.

The car starts as it lurches forward one foot, inside the car, the light from the bomb illuminates the handsome face of Bruce McKean. The doors eject outwards the car flips over the hood tilting backwards. It comes to crash down on its hood.

Lineman gets to his feet and in a daze stumbles over to the getaway car. He closes the door, when he does so, Butch turns the ignition and reverses, putting the vehicle in gear activates a second car bomb. The blast is enclosed in the tightly compressed alley, the blast explodes out the windshields the car bounces off the wall preventing it from flip.

Danny had felt the heat from both explosions on his face. With all the loose ends tied up, Danny sits back and watches as the police, corner and finally the media. With his superior hearing he picks up what the officials are saying they believe that Bruce had died.

Before the authorities arrived the money launders loaded all the money in a hidden armored van they had stashed. Five minutes before the first cop showed they had peeled off.

Danny smiles at the satisfaction of job well done, this kid knew how to draw things out. Danny’s joy is short lived as he climbs down from the building he felt like he is being watched. He walks though the alley, but he hits a dead end. White fog begins to fill in the alley and Danny knew then that he had lost once he saw a pair of blue eyes staring through the fog.

Baton Rouge 8:30 am.

23D, Mr. Tucker: Point of View.

Stale air and musty leather are all he had been able to breath for the last two hours. He had been in this box since the scramble, Lucifer had used his fog to blend into the night, he was more than capable of lifting the trunk Bruce hid inside.

They hadn’t anticipated the car bomb, Bruce or Mr. Tucker as he looked like him, Mr. Tucker assumed they would try and kill him once outside the city or on his way out. He figured that they would have killed him with a hail of gunfire.

To be killed in a car bomb seemed well, anticlimactic from the brutal war he fought through.

Currently his shoulder is screaming in pain, it was numb for a while, but the pain returned, Mr. Tucker had finished the last of the four pills Lucifer had slipped him before he closed the trunk. His legs are tucked into his chest and press on the wound to his side.

At some point the truck he is riding in stops, he hears the opening of a cargo door, then he stays quiet as the trunk he is riding in is lifted. The two men grunt as he is carried. He feels himself carried for what must be five minutes at least. At last the trunk is dropped on the floor. The impact almost causes him to cry out in pain, but he keeps quiet.

He sat in silence for another long stretch of time. At last he hears someone enter the room, a key is placed into the lock of the trunk and at last fresh air rushes into the box once the lid is open.

Sitting up he lets his eyes adjust to the light, after his vision returns to normal he spots his liberator. The man is in his fifties and has a high and tight haircut, a straight razor had obviously been taken to the sides of his head to give it that extra military flare.

The man wore an officer’s uniform. Looking around the office Mr. Tucker sees Army posters and other military paraphernalia. The officer offers him a smile and a hand, Mr. Tucker accepts help, he is stuck in the box. Once free of his escape pod Mr. Tucker finds a seat. He left his torn and tattered trench coat in Barneys.

The only things he had on him were his soiled clothes, trusty 1911, his ivory knife and half of Callie Bee’s Red Ribbon. He also had what remained of his savings.

Mr. Tucker looks at the desk across from him and spots a paper featuring a black and white image of his car, what had caught his attention is a college yearbook photo they used next to his car. The caption said. New Orleans Turf War Over. Bruce McKean dead.

“Can I see that?” He asks.

The officer nods his head and Bruce snatches it off the desk. He holds the front page to his eyes, and then rips it open to page five. There is no mention of anyone else dead, the city covered up all the mess, the only thing that read was that Bruce is a high up lieutenant for the Breeze Street Crime organization and that his death placed a Ceasefire for the war.

“Are you almost finished we have to get you situated before the morning rush. My name is Colonel Stallman, you are slightly different than the clientele I normally get. Usually it’s guys who pay me to stay out of the service but occasionally we get someone who hides in the ranks.”

“So, what am I going to pay you to fight Charlie?” Asks Mr. Tucker

Stallman laughs.

“That would be a pretty shitty way to treat someone who paid thirty grand. No, you may be forced to idle stateside until something in West Germany or Paris opens.”

“Paris”

“Settle down kid we have a lot of things to go over. First we are gonna have to put you under a fake name and enroll you in a military hospital. How many gunshots have you endured?”

“I been shot twice both recent, they are several months old.”

“Have you had a secondary surgery to work out any kinks?”

Mr. Tucker thought about it, Farrah’s little trick had definitely made his wound better, if he could avoid being cut open he would lie.

“Yes, I have, I just need a room to rest while it heals.”

“If that’s the case we will forgo the hospital stay, the next basic training that I can push you off until will be four months from tomorrow. I cannot give you any more time than that. I know the Drill Sergeant that will be leading your platoon, he will be the only one aware that you are participating with a previous gunshot wound. Outside of ignoring you he can provide occasional painkiller. Other than that, you will be treated like everyone else.

“Well I guess then if that all… I’ll be your huckleberry.” Says Mr. Tucker, that he felt was his last act of cockiness as Bruce McKean…

23E, Thomas Spaulding Point of View.

It is freezing outside, but the cold is made worse from the constant downpour. The rain hadn’t made them let up. It is Bruce’s or Thomas’s 40th push up of the exercise. His left side is screaming in pain, but he as always silently endures. It had been raining for the last five days it is the evening of the sixth. The earth under him is a slush pit of slime and filth.

Thomas pushes himself up again his hands had sunk an inch into the mud, somehow even with no grip, he keeps pushing himself up, he does so another fifteen times. It has been six weeks since the start of basic training, he never gave in and always finished exercises in at least third place.

It was slightly disheartening to know that his fellow comrades were gonna be sent off to fight in the East. Still despite the occasional blind eye and the odd spit of whiskey, Thomas didn’t see any sign that he wouldn’t be going with his platoon to Vietnam at the conclusion to basic training. He had paid good money, yet he is at the mercy of this plan.

The disguise had worn off within time frame Lucifer had promised. By that time Thomas looked more like Bruce. And he had made the fullest recovery he could, he moved slowly at the start of the morning and felt that his joints were stiffer on days that he expected in climate weather. Everyone suspected he died in the explosion, the spell or body swap had given Mr. Tucker the exact dental records.

If they dug up Bruce now the investigators would be confused and he is sure the heat would be turned up, the world thought Bruce McKean is dead.

Being released from the muddy pushups, Thomas stands at attention, his Drill Sergeant moves through the ranks like a revenged wolf, he looks to chew out any sort of weakness, with the exception being Thomas. At times he figured that was well worth the money he spent.

Thomas still had to go through the motions with the other men, and he exceeded those physical demands refusing to give into weakness.

“Spaulding, straighten up those shoulders!” Shouts the Drill Sergeant.

That is about the extent of the Sergeant’s abuse he is subjected too. Thomas scream his acknowledgement to his superior.

“Yes, Drill Sergeant!”

After a few words they are dismissed. Thomas trudges back to the barracks; he felt cold to the bone and is looking forward to a few minutes of hot water. It was the only thing that kept his mind focused. He only wish he had a pretty woman to bathe him, but he would settle for just the hot water.

One of the platoon leaders pulls Thomas out of line.

“Private Spaulding, the Serge wants to see you in his office on the double.”

Thomas falls out and makes for the Sergeant’s office. The office door is open, the Sergeant stands near the doorway. He is still wet from training; his uniform is soaked. On his desk sits a piping hot cup of coffee. The Sergeant closes the door as Thomas enters to the office.

Thomas stands at attention waiting to be addressed.

“I have to say I don’t get too many fellas in here with two gunshot wounds, much less a man who comes nearly first in everything. I’ll say this you play your part well; we could have used you against Charlie.”

Thomas is smiling from ear to ear.

“This means I am not going to Vietnam?”

The Sergeant shook his head.

“You are getting what you paid for, a position in Paris. You will have to keep a low profile, so your old life doesn’t resurface. You are going to be assigned to company D. It is going to be a cushy gig for you, but if you get caught there it will be no fault but your own. The soldiers in Europe are all on edge so be weary and keep putting forward the work ethic you show here during training and you will breeze through this war.”

The Sargent pulls a pill bottle from his desk, he places three pills on the counter and a flask of whiskey. Thomas takes one pill and washes it down with half the flask, he coughs from the liquor hitting the back of his throat.

“Now then Private these are all the pills I have for the week, that is all you are dismissed.”

Thomas leaves the office. He is nothing but smiles, yet again things have worked out for him, a cushy job and in Paris, nonetheless. For some reason he heard the voice of the Delmore witch.

“Fate will place you in the city divided by the East and West, a foe becomes a friend and before the wall your friendship would be tested.” He couldn’t explain why his mind is fixated on this line.

He often thought of her fortune, nothing of what she said had come to pass, no foe embraced him in New Orleans, in fact, in addition to his foes, nearly all his friends are dead. Maybe Lucifer is right, and the women is full of shit.

Bruce was not going to let this bother him, he wasn’t Bruce McKean anymore, Thomas Spaulding wouldn’t worry himself about matters of Magic or other abnormalities. No Thomas would keep his nose clean, relatively, he knew he would never be able to turn down an opportunity, but he swears he will put a stop to this kill or be killed philosophy.

Thomas is excited to see where this new life will lead, who he would meet. Would he ever love again? Would Farrah somehow find him, on the latter he is good. But he somehow hopes there is a way to find love, but for him the only one his heart yearns for is Callie Bee, she was gone never to be seen again. All he had was the future… His life in company D would be interesting and he wondered what was in store for him.

Thomas pondered this while the hot water of the shower relaxes his sore muscles…

“I will find out what’s in store for me soon enough.”

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