Love & Bullets: Megabomb Edition by Nick Kolakowski: New Excerpt
By Crime HQNovember 22, 2021
But it’s probably a whole lot better than waking up in an Oklahoma hospital room, plugged into a dozen beeping machines, while a red-cheeked FBI agent screams in your face. Insult to my (serious) injury, it felt like a sadist of a nurse had shoved something very wide and long up my back exit.
The agent wore a black windbreaker with ‘FBI’ in giant yellow letters on the right breast and sleeve. He was bald and short, and thick in that way of bald, short men who think that regularly pumping three hundred pounds of iron to the point of aneurism is the best way to compensate for being bald and short. He was so angry that I could barely discern what he was actually saying through his clenched jaw, or maybe that was the morphine flowing into my veins from the jumbo IV bag hanging beside the bed.
“And after you tell us about the barn,” the agent hissed, bending so close I could smell the gas-station burrito on his breath, “you’re going to tell us where your little asshole friends went, you understand, you piece of shit?”
I swallowed. It took a Herculean amount of energy to open my mouth. “FBI,” I said.
“FBI.” The agent nodded vigorously. “That’s right, fuckface. And now you need to get seriously scared, because if you don’t answer my questions, you’re going in a hole for the next fifty years, I swear on all that’s…”
“Female Body Inspector,” I said, and grinned.
The agent jerked back. “Excuse me?”
Laughter would have hurt my busted ribs too much, so I made do with a loud snort. “Funny Business Incorporated,” I tried.
A vein in the agent’s temple twitched in a way that reminded me of The Dean. “You… don’t you…”
“Fun Beyond Imagination,” I tried. Not exactly my best effort, but then again, considering everything I’d gone through in the past day, I figured I would cut the comedy-producing part of my brain a little slack.
“I…” The agent’s stubby finger jabbed in my face, but some of the fight seemed to have drained from him. “Okay, cut the crap. What’s your name? Who do you work for?”
“Food Borne Illness.”
Instead of yelling, he glanced out the window that framed the corridor. Someone must have been out there, gesturing, because he raised his eyebrows and nodded. Swiveling back to me, he said, “I’m going to get a cup of coffee. And when I get back, you better give me some damn answers, you understand?”
“Fat Boys of Illinois.”
“Fuck you,” he said, and stomped out.
I was alone. Excellent. The hospital room was drab and small, with a dead television bolted into a high corner. Tilting my head a few degrees to the left gave me a better view of the windows that presumably opened onto the outside world, but the curtains were drawn. Tilting to the right, I could see a sliver of the corridor through the interior window. Either the FBI agent had left, or he was standing a bit too far to the right, in the blind spot created by the edge of my pillow.
I sensed that my next movement would spark a lot of pain, so I shifted my gaze forward again, taking a few deep breaths to prepare myself. That’s when I saw the FBI’s version of an insult: There was no clock on the wall beside the television, although there was a lighter circle on the paint where one had hung recently. They must have taken it down in a pathetic attempt to mess with my mind. They couldn’t even do sadism right.
Now came the hard part. Taking a deep breath and holding it, I tilted my head downward for a better look at my body, sparking an agony in my spine so intense it pierced the morphine’s warm, happy cloud. My wounds were hidden beneath the hospital gown, but my stomach and chest burned in harsh lines where the surgeons had cut to save my life. I could wiggle my toes, a heartening sign that the bullet had missed all my vertebrae. I tried to think through the opiate brain-fog, to recall those final moments in front of the burning barn…
She’d been the only one positioned during the gunfight to put that bullet in my back.
That little minx.
I didn’t blame her at all. I know that sounds strange, especially after I saved her and her hustler boyfriend, but we all worked a peculiar business. Someone who saves you today could very easily shoot you over a failed deal tomorrow. That lack of sentimentality is something that precious few people can handle well.
I needed to escape from this hospital, pronto, and not just because the FBI would stuff me under the jail once they found out I held the world record for killing the most people with common household tools. Once The Dean heard I was alive, he would send lots of men to finish me off. Those big, scary specimens of ill-developed manhood would work out all of their daddy issues on me with a couple of chains and a power saw, after which they would cut off my head, stuff it in a box of dry ice, and bring it back to New York for preservation and display. Spending my afterlife as a juicy paperweight on The Dean’s desk wasn’t the most appealing idea, to put it mildly.
During my self-examination, I’d noted that either the FBI or the cops had handcuffed me to the bedrails. Both wrists, because you can never be too careful with a bedridden gunshot victim. Combined with my wounds—and not to mention the enormous whatever jammed up my chocolate starfish—that was a real problem.
Good thing I was a lunatic. We have all kinds of useful knowledge for causing trouble.
Bracing myself, I bent forward again to peer into the corridor. Moving just a few inches felt as if someone had filled my torso with gasoline and struck a match. I would have screamed if the morphine hadn’t taken the edge off.
I assumed it was night, because the hospital floor beyond my room lacked the usual bustle of doctors and patients. A lone nurse hunched at her station, her face tilted toward a bright screen as she made notes in a folder. An officer sat beside the door to my room, the tilt of his head suggesting he was awake but barely, his hands folded in his lap. The FBI agent had disappeared. Maybe he had headed to the cafeteria for a cup of substandard coffee, or to the bathroom in order to conduct an aerial strike on Porcelainistan.
As I flopped back in bed, a traitorous part of my brain whispered that prison wasn’t so bad, at least you got three meals a day and books and an hour to run around the yard. Not that I would live to see any of that, if I let them book me into the system.
I rocked my left arm back and forth until the tube feeding drugs into my bloodstream swung close to my jaw. I snatched it between my front teeth, then bent my head back until the needle in my arm pulled free. Ow. A faint rill of donated blood trickled down my skin to stain the sheets. Leaning forward, trying not to whine in pain, I twisted my head until the loose tube flopped against the bedrail, the red-flecked needle close enough to my right hand.
Twisting my wrist, I gripped the needle between my thumb and forefinger. Jabbing its tip into the handcuff lock, I did my best to bend the thin metal without breaking it. A hard-enough task when sober, much less with a pharmacy’s worth of drugs in my system, but I managed. With the needle now curved at the right angle, I wiggled it deeper into the handcuff’s cheap mechanism until the loop popped open, freeing my wrist.
After cracking the handcuff on my other wrist—easy enough, with one hand free—I braced my hands against the bedrails, pivoted my body, swung my legs over the edge of the bed, and stood. Saying it hurt would be like describing a tsunami as a wave: technically true, sure, but nowhere close to capturing the scale. I ground my tongue into my teeth to stop from screaming. The true extent of my wounds was a mystery to me, although I suspected a single punch to my abdomen would burst me like an overfilled water balloon.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the hospital gown, which opened in the back, left my pasty ass flapping in the breeze. And I’d forgotten about the tube slipped deep in my chili hole, which slithered free, my sphincter spasming with a once-in-a-lifetime mixture of needling discomfort and almost orgasmic relief.
The pain I could barrel through, but my ability to work—that worried me a good deal. Perhaps the surgeons had replaced my leg-bones with chopsticks, and my leg-muscles with bags of gelatin. It was the only way to explain how my legs felt utterly weak and unable to support my weight. It’s a cognitive illusion, I told myself. On a big-picture level, you are totally fine. Totally!
I believed that enough to lurch toward the door. The next step was pretty simple: Succeed or die. Easing the door-handle down as smoothly as I could, I cracked the door open. The cop was right in front of me, in his plastic seat. Despite my quiet, he must have heard the faint click of door-lock against jamb, because he started to move. But I already had a hand on his holster, freeing the pistol there.
“Hey,” he started to say, but I had the pistol’s barrel jammed into the back of his neck. I felt a momentary flush of pride: You could pump me full of lead, cut me open, sew me back up, and then flood of body with drugs—but I still had my reflexes.
“Hey yourself,” I said, and grit my teeth, willing myself to keep standing as my knees wobbled. Just as I feared total collapse, though, my brainstem came through with a nice dose of adrenaline that made me stand a little straighter.
“You got to get back inside,” the cop said, as if I was a naughty kid who’d escaped his room.
“Don’t think so, Dad,” I said. “Stand up.”
He did, swallowing hard as he did so, and I felt a little weird about that ‘Dad’ wisecrack. He was no more than twenty-two, his cheeks covered with faded blots of acne. His eyes rolled from side to side, trying to lock on me, but I made a point of standing directly behind him.
“What now?” he asked.
I scanned the empty corridor. “Where’s your partner?”
“The guy you’re on shift with.”
He shook his head. “Had to leave.”
I would choose to believe that for the moment. “Where’s that FBI guy?”
“He had to leave, too.” Another swallow. “Somebody called something in. Something big.”
What was bigger than me wiping out most of this county’s police force, along with its corrupt sheriff and probably a few townies? Suddenly I understood how Elvis must have felt when he heard about the Beatles for the first time, overshadowed by something far bigger. I was tempted to ask about the nature of the emergency, but my soul would have been crushed if he’d said my infamy was eclipsed by a shootout at the local meth lab.
“Elevators,” I said, glancing over his shoulder at the nurses’ station, whose lone occupant was still focused on her computer. “Move. Now.”
I slapped a hand on his shoulder before he started off, but he only needed to take a step before I realized this wasn’t going to work: He was too big, too fast, and I was too weak. Digging my nails into his uniform, I said, “Stop.”
“Nurse,” I called, raising my voice to a damaged warble.
She looked up from her computer, her eyes widening.
“It’s okay,” I told her. “I need you to bring some epinephrine, right now.” My adrenaline was doing its best, but I needed a real rush, the kind that came out of a biomedical lab in a little glass container.
“But.” Her mouth flopped open, closed, opened again. “I’d need to call a doctor…”
I jammed the pistol harder into the kid’s neck. “Pretty please,” I said, “and thank you.”
“It’s okay, miss,” the cop told her. “Just do it, please.”
The nurse stood, her wheeled chair rattling back, and scampered away, hopefully in the direction of a drug fridge. “Okay,” I told the cop. “Meanwhile, we’re heading for the elevators. And you go slow, understand?”
He nodded. “Whatever you say.”
As we inched down the corridor, I felt my bladder tremble and release, the warmth running down my leg and dribbling on the floor. Between that and my ass exposed for all to see, the embarrassment was becoming worse than the pain. I had never been the most elegant person, but even a broken-down schlub like me has some standards. We arrived at the elevators as the nurse appeared in the hallway ahead of us, carrying a syringe on a tray.
“If that’s not epinephrine,” I told her, “the cop dies.”
“I get that,” she said, taking the syringe in one shaking hand as she tucked the tray into her armpit with the other.
“Good,” I said. “Then inject it. Give me a meg.”
“That’s not how we say it.” She frowned. “It’s just ‘milligram.’”
“I don’t need a semantics lesson,” I said. “I just need that shit in my veins, understand?”
“Okay, okay.” Up close, I noted she was quite pretty, in an Italian Renaissance sort of way. Reminded me a bit of my ex-wife, who would probably pop a bottle of fine champagne and crank the Aretha Franklin if she heard I’d met a grisly end.
I stuck out my free arm, ready for the stick. “No tricks,” I said.
“No tricks.” Despite her nervousness, she was a wizard with the needle, sliding it under my skin so smoothly I barely felt the prick. As she pressed the plunger home, she offered me a little smile that threatened to crack my heart in two.
“Do this cop a favor: Don’t call for help for ten minutes, or he’s dead,” I said, as she removed the needle. “And I’m sorry for this, by the way.”
“You should be.” That smile widened a bit.
Damn, maybe I still had the old mojo.
The cop grunted, and I snapped back to reality. “Hit the down button,” I told him, pressing the pistol harder into the base of his skull, and he obeyed. The doors opened immediately. As we walked onto the car, I offered the nurse a cheery salute.
“You’ll never make it out,” the cop told me once the doors closed again. “If there are no cops in the lobby, the hospital staff will still see you, call it in. You won’t get three miles.”
“First floor, please,” I said. My arm was tingling, but nothing I expected from a shot of epinephrine—a racing heart, torrential sweats—seemed to hit. Had the nurse injected me with saline? Was she really willing to put a cop’s life at risk like that?
“Tell me,” the cop said, hitting the button for the first floor. “You actually kill all those people on that farm?”
I jabbed two fingers into my neck, feeling my pulse nice and steady when it should have been jackhammering like an overcaffeinated porn star. What the hell?
“They say you were wearing, um, an Elvis outfit,” the cop continued, seemingly undeterred by my silence. “That true?”
“Where’s my stuff?” I asked.
“I don’t know, evidence bag somewhere?”
Damn, I missed that white jumpsuit, although I suppose the blood and bullet-holes had ruined it for good. As the display overhead blinked toward the first floor, I told him to hit the emergency stop.
The cop smacked that bright red button, and the elevator wheezed to a halt.
“Take off your clothes,” I said. My arm tingled harder now. Saline wouldn’t have produced this kind of reaction. I wondered if the nurse had injected me with poison. She had a steely glint to her eye, despite her fear. A stunningly high percentage of serial killers probably enter the nursing profession. Imagine my luck if I’d stumbled upon Oklahoma’s gender-flipped version of Ted Bundy.
Before my brain could spiral any further down that worrying hole, the cop whined, “Do I have to?”
“Clothes. Off. Now.” When the cop hit the stop button, it must have done something to the current flowing through the fluorescents overhead, because the light had… changed. A little more bluish. It contrasted nicely with the green of the cop’s eyes as he tilted his head, trying to get a better look at me.
“Uh, why?” he asked.
“Because I’m leaving here dressed as you, idiot.”
He stripped, taking his time unbuttoning his shirt. He tossed it aside, kicked off his shoes, then dropped his trousers and stepped out of them. He wore boxer shorts with little hearts on them.
“It’s date night or something?” I asked him.
He flushed. “Actually, yes. My wife…”
“I don’t want your life story, jackass. Kick your clothes behind you. Then kneel down.” The world wavered, and I took a deep breath. If that nurse had tried to off me, couldn’t she have injected me with something that stopped my heart instantly? Was that too much to ask?
“You won’t kill me,” he said as he knelt.
I debated whether to try and pistol-whip him into unconsciousness. Unlike the movies, where smacking someone on the head with a heavy object will send them easily into slumber, a couple of swings with a piece of metal was just as likely to kill as knock your target out. And that’s if he didn’t fight back, and I was in no shape for a brawl in tight quarters.
Instead, I plucked the handcuffs from his pile of clothing. “Put your left hand on that rail,” I told him, meaning the one that ran along the elevator car’s walls at waist weight. He did as ordered, and I cuffed him to the far side of the support, limiting his movement to the front half of the car if he tried something stupid.
He was restrained and facing away from me, so I felt comfortable enough to set the gun on the floor behind me. With both hands free, I stepped into his trousers and pulled them up to my waist. The cop’s belt held a keyring loaded with about five pounds worth of keys, a small flashlight, and a few extra clips for the pistol, but only an empty nylon holster where a pepper-spray canister would have slotted.
In his pockets, I found a phone, wallet and a relatively clean handkerchief, which I stuffed into the cop’s mouth over his slobbery protests. “What did Cinderella do when she got to the ball?” I asked. “She gagged.”
The cop failed to laugh. Maybe he was too clean-cut to get the joke. Stepping behind him again, I stripped off my hospital gown, examining my damage in the elevator’s terrible light.
Oh damn, Fiona. You messed me up good.
My torso was a mess of bandages and tape. Gritting my teeth, I peeled back the edge of the dressing directly below my sternum, revealing a surgical slice crosshatched with stitches. Huge chance of infection. I would need a doctor at some point.
Buttoning the cop’s tunic over the mess, I stepped into one of his shoes, as if I could slide into it like a slipper, but the cop’s feet were at least three sizes smaller than mine. I’d made a lot of messy escapes in my time, but never barefoot. I loved always playing the game of life on the maximum difficulty setting.
“Here we go,” I said, releasing the emergency stop button. With a mechanical grunt, the elevator renewed its descent. First floor. Ding. I hoped nobody was waiting to get on.
The doors slid open, revealing an empty hallway. Finally, a bit of luck. Before I stepped out, I hit the button for the basement, then offered the cop my middle finger as the doors slid closed again.
Hoping that nobody noticed my bare feet, I followed the hallway signs that directed me to the lobby. I swiped the cop’s phone to life, just to verify that it was locked with a password, before dumping it into a trashcan. If I kept it, they could track me down in minutes. Maybe it was my blood pressure, but the fluorescents seemed to waver, the walls shimmering liquidly.
I almost fired the pistol into the ceiling. What the hell? Who was speaking? Spinning around made me dizzy, and only by slapping a hand against the nearest wall did I avoid toppling to my knees.
Whoa, there, partner! You don’t want to topple on your ass, do you?
A bright splotch in the corner of my eye. I turned to find myself face-to-face with a pink teddy bear, no bigger than the palm of my hand, floating in midair. I almost screamed.
The bear winked, speaking directly into my head: Don’t want to lose your shit, either.
“The fuck are you?” I blurted.
Your imaginary friend, the bear said. Its voice was surprisingly deep, like a Nixon-era lounge singer with a three-pack-a-day habit. Let’s get the fuck out of dodge, what do you say?
Copyright © 2021 by Nick Kolakowski. All rights reserved.
About Love & Bullets: Megabomb Edition by Nick Kolakowski:
Bill is a conman with a taste for high-end cars, beautiful suits, and top-shelf liquor. But he’s getting tired of the cons he needs to maintain that lifestyle—and he’s sick of the violence that’s sometimes part of the job.
Bill’s girlfriend Fiona doesn’t have a problem with violence, though. She’ll crush anyone who stands in her way—and some days, it seems like the whole world wants a piece of her. She loves Bill, but she’s tired of cleaning up after him.
When Bill decides to “borrow” a couple million from one of New York City’s most vicious gangs and flee for the tropics, it puts their relationship to the test—and while they’re working out their issues, they’ll also need to fend off crooked cops, dimwitted bouncers, and an irate assassin in the midst of the world’s weirdest midlife crisis.