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Authors: A.M. Madden

Stone Walls (32 page)

BOOK: Stone Walls
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I glance at her once before walking out into the hall. Her livid expression shouldn’t surprise me.

Chuck nods when I say, “I’ll be back.” He steps closer to the apartment door as I head toward the stairwell. Needing the adrenaline, I run down the stairs toward the ground floor. Half way down, I regret my overreaction.

What the hell is really bothering me?

Not until I’m out on the sand, walking away from our building, does it hit me. It’s
everything
that’s bothering me.

Every goddamn part of this whole situation is bothering me. I quickly glance up at our balcony. My throat tightens when I see her watching me. Even with the distance between us, even in the dark, the intensity in which our eyes connect can’t be mistaken.

I’m literally hanging on by a thread. That thread that’s keeping me tethered to this earth at the moment is stretched right to her. If that thread breaks, it will cause her to plummet with me.

With every moment that passes, I can feel the thread tighten.

It’s dangerously close to snapping.

In the span of three minutes, that man can turn me to mush and boil my blood.

I don’t even know how to deal with him, right now. Most couples get to move through the learning phase of their relationships by focusing on each other, their needs, and triggers. It’s hard enough to survive in the normal world and make it through. So much to overcome, and so many challenges cause couples to bail before they even reach phase two.

And then there’s us, who get to grow as a couple while simultaneously facing shit that’s only found in movies.

Am I paying for my father’s sins? Is this my punishment for being a Volante? I fall in love with a cop who has dedicated his career to eliminating the very people I come from? A cop who is tormented by his past, also because of my family? A cop who is tortured because he chose to love me?

The chilly air mixing with my chilled blood causes me to shiver. He should be here with me, warming me. Instead he’s down on the beach, sulking, slowly walking along the edge of the surf. The distance stretching between us physically is a cruel metaphor representing the distance between our objectives.

As if he feels my presence, he turns and looks up, zoning in on where I stand watching him. Even from four flights above, I can see his frown as he works through his thoughts. We’re suspended in time, each watching the other. After a full minute, he turns away to resume his walk.

He needs a few minutes to think. I get that. I appreciate it. It’s how I often deal with a crisis. I’m not at all worried that once he composes himself and comes back, we’ll be able to discuss it calmly. What I do worry about is how far he’ll go to get his way. He thinks he’s protecting me, but his overbearingness is stifling. When will it end? What else will he forbid me under the guise of my safety?

My request isn’t so outlandish. Farley himself said Razzo went to great lengths to protect my mother, to honor my father’s wishes. He wouldn’t hurt me, intentionally at least. Besides, it doesn’t have to be a face to face. I could speak to him over the phone. Maybe that’s why Ben freaked out. Once he returns, I’ll explain it’s not the meeting I need but rather the connection. I just need to speak to someone who is connected to me. Once I explain that better, maybe Ben will back off.

I chastise myself, knowing damn well that his response was warranted. Especially when you consider how close he’s been to the situation. I need to take into consideration how this affected his life. He’s been exposed to these kinds of detestable, poor excuses for human beings, a lot longer than I have. My experience is less than a day old in age and less than a folder full of papers in content.

I continue to watch him walk up the beach in the moonlight. His broad shoulders hunched, his posture one of defeat. This must be so difficult for him.

“He loves you, Ella,” I say out loud to myself. “He loves you.”

A muffled popping sound travels through the open window, drawing my attention to the apartment. My heart stops when a few seconds later, a man barrels through my door. My subconscious screams that those were gunshots I heard. He shot Chuck. That’s the only way he could have gotten in.

The open window causes the blinds to billow sometimes obstructing my view. I plaster myself to the side of the building to hide in the shadows. My gaze flicking between the intruder and Ben up the beach. To call out to him will result in being exposed. The element of surprise is the only thing I have going for me now. Full body tremors take hold, causing me to shake and making it impossible for me to breathe normally.

I need to focus, try to maintain my breathing and keep calm. My thoughts are disarrayed. I consciously need to remind myself that I’ve trained for this. If I immediately kick him in the balls, hopefully that will give me time to incapacitate him further or run.

He’s wearing a uniform of sorts, a black jacket with the company name, Ace Air, embroidered on the chest and a hat on his head. He scans the apartment quickly and immediately heads toward the bedroom. Just as I look through the blinds, he focuses on the sliding patio door. I slam a hand over my mouth to muffle my gasp.

It’s Politto
.

The face matches the pictures Farley flipped before me just two days ago. The gun he holds in his hand is suddenly pointed my way.

My heartbeat cancels the sounds of the surf as it thrashes in my ears. Bordering on hysterical, I look around at my surroundings, trying to find a way to escape. My phone sits on the table at the other end of the patio. The neighboring patio is too far. I’m afraid to peer inside to see how close he is to the door.

Far up the beach, Ben turns and begins to walk back. I quietly slip off my sneakers, holding them tightly to my chest. Internally, I plead that he doesn’t come back. Not now, not while this animal is here. If he’s here to kill me, let it just be me and not Ben, too.

Seconds feel like hours before I hear the slider move along its track. Glancing at Ben, I mouth the words, “I love you, Ben.”

Politto turns his head to the right, seeing Ben on the beach. With all my force, I throw my shoe through the open patio door causing a distraction behind him. He turns just as I charge at him, slamming my body into his. When he stumbles back, I lift my knee with all my might to connect with his crotch.

“Fucking bitch,” he spews as he doubles over, howling in pain and giving me the opportunity to ram my elbow down with all my force at the back of his neck. His carnal grunt is the last thing I hear as I run through the apartment.

A blast causes me to freeze for a nanosecond before my brain takes over, propelling me to run faster. I’m able to reach the hall just as he fires another shot. The second one hits, and my leg buckles from the pain that sears through me instantly. I can feel warm wetness spread along the back of my leg. The third shot comes from the opposite direction. A uniformed cop in full SWAT gear stands at the end of the hall shooting toward me.

“Down!” he screams as I try desperately to get my legs to work.

On his command, I drop to the floor. The intense pain in my leg takes my breath away. I’m not sure if the next shot that I hear is what causes me to lose my focus or if it’s from the bullet that hit me earlier. Everything in my line of vision blurs. I’m too tired to try to make sense of it and welcome the blackness that comes. It’s comforting. It’s easy to give in to.

The sight of flashing blue and red lights illuminating the sky stops me in my tracks. I take off running. The closer I get to the building the slower my legs feel as if I’m running through a thick pool of mud. I know I’m moving, but the distance between that balcony and me doesn’t seem to lessen.

My elevated pulse makes me feel winded. It has nothing to do with my running and everything to do with my panic.

Sirens and unintelligible commands fill the air.

Officers line the entire perimeter of the building. Armored SWAT vehicles block the street. Armageddon has struck while I was pathetically strolling on the beach. I push and shove my way through the hoards. I feel like I’m getting nowhere. Even with all the chaos around me, I hear nothing except for Ella’s voice calling for me over and over in my head.

“Farley!” I scream as I see him entering the building. “What the fuck happened?” My spit-riddled bark hits him square in the face.

“I don’t know, Ben. She’s alive. She’s been shot, but she’s alive. That’s all I know right now.”

He runs into the building, dismissing me. When I follow, a cop stops me from passing through the front door. With all my strength, I shove him up against the glass door when Farley says, “He’s with me.”

The scene in the lobby is one of death and destruction. The cop that was on desk duty lies dead in a pool of blood. It may as well be Ella. I need to get to her, see her now. As I desperately wait for the elevator door to open, I squeeze the back of my neck to the point of bruising. It’s too slow, three seconds is too long to wait. On impulse, I bolt for the stairwell, taking the steps two at a time. Along the way, a uniformed SWAT officer stands at each door stopping me as I try to pass. At the fourth floor, with a final flash my badge I barrel through the door.

When I step into the hall, the oxygen leaves my lungs with such force it causes me to stumble sideways. “Ella!” I call out pitifully as if she’ll turn and respond.

Everything I feared has happened. This moment will forever be burned into my memory, another memory to be haunted by, and another event to forever run from.

Paramedics’ hands are all over her.

Chuck lies dead at the end of the hall.

Politto lies a few feet away with his own caretakers trying to save him.

Fury rumbles through me. “Let him die!” I roar as I drop beside her.

“You need to move aside, sir.”

“NO!” I spew venomously.

“She’s losing a lot of blood. We’re airlifting her to St. Luke’s.” They lift her onto a gurney in one swift motion and proceed as if I’m not there. Her clothes are drenched in blood. The rug is drenched in blood. Her blood. There’s so much of it, everywhere. Her skin looks ghostly gray in contrast to the red dots that are scattered over her face, her neck, and her arms. I clutch her clammy hand between mine. My fingers skim her wrist, searching for her pulse. It’s faint, but it’s there. In spite of her lifeless body, she’s still with me.

“Two shots?” I ask as we push her into the elevator.

“The first passed through. Actually, it looks as if it grazed her. The one to her thigh may have hit an artery.”

One of the paramedics holds a thick pad to her side while another holds a thicker pad under her left leg as he elevates it over his shoulder. A tourniquet squeezes her upper thigh. The slowest elevator that was ever created by man moves lower, floor-by-floor. When the door finally opens, it spares me from a complete and utter meltdown.

An ambulance screeches to a halt inches away from where we emerge. A helicopter hovers above before landing on the beach. I know everyone is moving as fast as they can, but to me, they look like they’re in slow motion. The paramedics and I sprint to the helicopter, my eyes trained on her. Is she secured? Is she safe?

This time when they push me aside after we crawl into the small space, I let them. I watch as they cut away her clothes, revealing a gaping hole in her leg and shredded flesh at her waist. Her wounds are being dressed as best as they can be. Her pressure and heart rate are monitored. The landscape below goes unseen, and all I can focus on is her face. Minutes later, we are on the roof of the hospital. A medical team and a police escort are waiting and rush us into the building. Rob steps forward as I run after the gurney, trying to keep up. At my slight hesitation he says, “Go. I’ll find you.”

I muster a wordless nod and attach myself to the side of her gurney. Where she goes, I go…until a surgeon stops me in my tracks with a slam of the door.

In my hand is a clipboard of paperwork that I have no idea how to handle. I stare at the form for several long minutes, my eyes glued to the one word.

NAME.

By writing Ella Parker, I tell the world what her new identity is. By writing Gabriella Volante, I expose her to the mob world.

Rob finds me staring blankly at the forms in my hand.

“Any word?”

“No,” I respond, not looking up. “I don’t know what to do.”

Rob looks down at the forms. “Why?”

“Is she Ella or Gabriella? I’m not prepared for this. I need direction. Either way, this is going to change her life.”

He points behind him and says, “Ask Farley.”

Farley pushes through the doors, walking toward me with purpose. He motions to a small waiting room and closes the door once we all file inside.

“Here’s what we know,” he says as I stare at him. “Politto walked in and shot Grunn.”

“Who the fuck is Grunn?” I ask, not bothering to hide my impatience.

“The cop on duty in the lobby. He’s NYPD, 30
th
Precinct.”

This captures my attention. “Oh my God.”

“Video shows Politto entering the lobby, showing his work I.D. to Grunn, and immediately shooting him while he makes a call. The camera outside Ella’s apartment shows Politto emerging out of the stairwell, immediately shooting Officer Harris.” My blank stare has him clarifying, “Chuck.”

“How did he find us?” I ask robotically.

“We don’t know yet.”

“Is there anything you do goddamn know? So this proves that he
is
smarter than you!” His response uncorks my fury. “Can. You. Admit. You. Fucked. Up?” I ask through clenched teeth.

Farley matches my glare. “Two officers lost their lives. We were on the scene minutes later. You left the apartment without ensuring we knew.”

He’s right. I wasn’t concentrating. I wasn’t analyzing every piece of this puzzle like I normally would. I was acting like a boyfriend and not a cop.

Farley’s words to me, in the briefing today, ring through my head.
I brought you two on because you are the best in the city. You need to get your head OUT of your ass and get your head in the game.

“Why would he risk everything?” I voice what I’m thinking.

“No clue.” Farley sighs and says, “We are working on that.”

Ella’s paperwork still sits in my hands. “What do I do about these? Who is she?”

He takes them from me and glances at the forms. “She is Gabriella Volante. That’s who’s in that operating room right now.”

I sit heavily in an empty chair, defeated and beaten. Farley watches as I drag in deep breaths, trying to keep myself calm.

“Stone, we can’t expose her real name. You have to trust me on this.”

The surgeon appears in the doorway, forcing me to stand abruptly. “Relatives of Jane Doe?”

“Agent Farley, FBI,” he flashes his badge to the surgeon. “This is Officer Withers and Officer Stone, NYPD. The woman you are treating is Gabriella Volante. She has no living relatives or next of kin. She is a victim of Mr. Victor Politto Jr. He is under suspicion in a case we have been following. All information you have is to be used as evidence.”

He nods in understanding. “I’m Dr. Rouse. Ms. Volante is stable but remains in critical condition. The bullet missed the femoral artery and has traveled through soft tissue. It’s imbedded in the femur bone, causing severe splintering. Due to her massive hemorrhage, she is receiving transfusions.”

“Can you clarify what that means?” I ask.

“Of course. The massive hemorrhage she endured can cause her organs to shut down. We are carefully monitoring to ensure her liver, bladder, and intestinal functions have not been compromised. The biggest concern right now is hemorrhagic shock, infection, and possible loss of her limb. Open wounds, especially of that nature, are always prone to infection, and we are preparing for that possibility. We have repaired the tears caused by the bullet that passed through her side. The bullet in her thigh remains lodged and will be removed once we build her hemoglobin levels to better prepare her for leg surgery. At that time, we will remove the bullet, repair her femur, and check for signs of infection.”

“Will she survive?”

“The next twenty-four hours are crucial.” He avoids my question, maintaining an impassive expression.

The tether connecting Ella to my heart stretches tautly, causing pain to sear right through me. On shaky legs, I sit in the chair behind me, afraid that standing for even one more second would cause my knees to buckle. My reaction is not one an investigating officer would portray. Rob comes over and places a steady hand on my shoulder. The confusion toward our response is clearly written on Rouse’s face.

“Do you have any other questions?” he asks with his eyes still trained on me.

“Not at this time,” Farley responds for us.

“I’ll be back once I have more information.” Dr. Rouse glances my way one more time before he exits the room.

Everything I feared, everything I tried to protect her from is coming to fruition. The last thing I said to her was I needed air. I couldn’t even be with her when I disagreed with her decision. She trusted me. She trusted us, and we failed her.

I failed her
.

The weight of my failure settles on my shoulders as I hang my head in shame.

“She’ll be okay,” Farley says, trying to comfort me.

I don’t even bother looking up at him.

BOOK: Stone Walls
8.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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