THE TOMB WITHOUT A BODY
Her hands were lightly burned and colored black from the soot on the ground. Her fingers trembled slightly as they traced the rubble below her like she was looking for something. Her eyes hardened though when she spotted a faint but silver glimmer right below her. Mandy tightened her jaw with anticipation and felt her stomach drop when she pulled it from the ground. A silver bracelet with daisies on it. She speculated that it must've been a present John gave to Helen before she passed. John never told Mandy about this but it didn't take her much to figure out the pattern. It must've been her favorite flower.
She continued to stare at the bracelet with these eyes that burned like a million suns, glowing brighter than anything. She held the bracelet tightly in her hand and pondered for a moment on what to do with it. There was one thought though that crossed her mind. It was fleeting and faded in seconds, but for a moment, she had a strong urge to throw it away, knowing it would've been lost forever if she did. She stomped on those devilish thoughts though and locked it in her hand, marching out of the remains of the charred house that once held the cherished memories of the Wick family.
The long night was still far from over and there were at least a few hours of darkness left before the sun could rise and finally put an end to the day. Time felt like it was moving by slowly though, just as slow as Mandy strolled back to the parking lot where the police cars and firetrucks were. Their flashing blue and red lights were absolutely blinding in the darkness but she was able to spot John sitting by a truck with the unnamed dog beside him.
John glanced up and hesitated to even speak since he wasn't sure if Mandy was still mad or not. Good chance that she was though since she was quiet. "Mandy?" he said, a bit surprised to hear how much his voice cracked by just saying her name. "Mandy, are you alright?" He at least wanted to make sure of that.
She didn't say anything to him though and just kept her eyes pressed forwards, petting the dog and scratching behind his ears. "Yeah," Mandy answered quickly. She glanced down to her clenched hand before clicking her tongue. "Here." She opened her hand and presented the damaged bracelet in front of his eyes. "Found this under some of the rubble. Thought you'd want it."
John blinked wildly and stared at the dancing bracelet that swung back and forth before his eyes. He grabbed it but not before catching a glimpse of Mandy's hand. They were covered in soot that bunched under her fingernails, which was strange since she made it sound as if it was a coincidence. That didn't seem to be the case though since her hands told him a different story. He believed that she must've been looking for it to begin with.
He swallowed a hard lump down his throat and dropped his head. "Thank you, Mandy," he said with a croaked voice.
"Yeah, whatever." She crossed her eyes over her chest and groaned loudly. "Out of the pan and into the freaking fire..."
"So what's gonna be the cover for this? A huge damn gas leak?
John looked back to his house that was nothing but a smoldering pile of black wood. He really couldn't recognize it anymore. "Yeah, I guess..." He got up and gestures for the dog to follow. "Come on, boy." John began to walk off down the road when he noticed that Mandy wasn't moving. He wasn't going to lie, it made him panic a bit when she just stood there. "Mandy, are you coming?"
She breathed in deeply and felt the dense smoke enter her lungs and exit back out. "A partnership that is bound by blood," Mandy muttered and turned her head over to him, cocking a brow. "Don't really got a choice, now do I?" She swayed her body to the side and dipped her head down low. She stuck her hands into the pockets of her oversized sweatpants and walked at a casual pace to catch up to John.
Never once did Mandy think she would end up crawling back to the Continental Hotel shortly after leaving it. The fact that it only been a couple of days still dumbfounded her. So many things have happened during that time that made it seem like she was stuck in an eternal loop. The previous night, the night that truly made it feel like everything had finally ended, felt like a distant dream to her now. Little did she know that it was actually the calm before the storm.
The concierge looked up from his desk when at the corner of his eye, saw two shadows approach him, filling the air with the smell of smoke as they stopped in front of the desk. His eyes furrowed with deep confusion when he saw that it was Mandy and John, back once again. Their clothes were covered in soot and their whole appearance looked slightly disheveled. Mandy was the worse though, not only was she not properly dressed and lacking shoes, but there was also chilling hailstorm brewing just at the surface of her eyes. No one needed to take a second glance at her to know that she was angry and barely keeping it at bay.
"I'd like to see the manager," John asked, still polite as ever.
"How good to see you again so soon, Mr. Wick, Ms. Rose," he greeted them. "Shall I announce you?"
"Yes, please." John glanced down at the dog who had followed them inside the hotel. He felt his heart sway a bit when he looked up at him with those identical brown eyes that looked exactly like Mandy's, just less angry. "Stay," he ordered and watched as the dog did as he was told and sat down.
Mandy was about to follow after John before she stopped and backed up to the desk. She snapped her fingers and gestured towards the concierge. "Charon, You wouldn't have some spare clothes for me to borrow, would you?"
"We do in fact have some. Shall I prepare a set for you?"
She nodded. "Yeah, if you can." She tried to smile but it faded away to quickly to be actually genuine.
John opened up the double glass doors and headed out onto the balcony where he and Mandy saw Winston. He was sat down at a table with another gentleman with a box of gold coins in his hands.
Mandy walked right up to them with an intense gaze staring straight through him. Her jaw was set and she truly looked moments away from snapping. "Where is he?" she demanded with a voice made of burning steel.
Winston turned grim and sighed, quickly wrapping up his business to not try and anger the madwoman anymore. He got up and shook the gentleman's hand."Thank you, my friend. Beautiful work. Beautiful." He waited a minute after everyone left before he finally addressed the two. "What are you two doing?"
"He burned down my house," John answered.
"You rejected his Marker. You're lucky he stopped there." He took in a deep breath and shook his head. "What the hell were you thinking, giving a Marker to a man like Santino D'Antonio?"
John looked away, taking a quick glance over to Mandy, only to find that she was staring dead at him with these disappointed eyes. "I...didn't have Mandy with me anymore. It was the only way I could get out."
"Oh. You call this 'out'? What do you think was going to happen? What did you expect?" Winston took a seat and gestured for John to do the same. Mandy continued to stand and lean on the back of John's chair. "Did you really not think this was never going to come?"
Winston stared at them for a silent moment and studied their behavior. No doubt John was mad but he seemed very reserved about the topic around Mandy. Mandy, on the other hand, was quiet and seething. It's not like it wasn't unheard of but just the thought of her being mad at John was an unfathomable idea. Then again, John didn't have a choice so Mandy didn't have room to talk, but her anger was understandable knowing her sheer dislike of the job. Winston knew that all too well, which is probably why John rejected the Marker.
"What does he want you to do?" Winston asked.
"I didn't ask. I just said no," John answered.
"Three rules that cannot be broken, Jonathan. No blood on Continental ground, a Partnership cannot be undone, and every Marker must be honored." Winston explained shortly and saw Mandy squirm with the idea. "Now, while my judgment comes in the form of excommunicado, the High Table demands a more severe outcome if traditions are refused. If it wasn't for Santino D'Antonio, Mandy would've been hunted down and executed a long time ago."
Mandy felt her blood run cold in an instant as her anger gradually simmered away. "Yeah...I know that already," she muttered weakly. "So we're stuck."
"You dishonor the Marker, you die. You kill the holder of the Marker, you die. You run, you die." Winston laid it out for them. "This is what you agreed to, Jonathan. Do what the man asks. Be free. Then, if you want, go after him, burn his house down, be my guest. But until then..."
"Rules," they both said.
"Exactly. Rules. Without them, we'd live with the animals." Winston grabbed a pencil from off the table and pulled a sheet of paper out from a document in front of him. "But I will offer you one last piece of advice." He quickly wrote down what looked to be an address and handed it over to Mandy. "When you do go and meet him...do not bring Mandy with you," he said it like a warning.
John nodded and didn't even disagree. "Yeah, I was planning on seeing him by myself," he said and ignored the insulted look Mandy gave him.
She scoffed and looked down at the paper, slightly offended but not really surprised. "You guys are a bunch of assholes." She squinted her eyebrows together and she read the address. "Fine, whatever." She gave a wave to both of them and head back into the hotel to get dressed. "We'll meet back up later."
Begrudgingly, John left Mandy at the Continental Hotel and made the track over to Santino's residence. It was a grand estate that acted as a museum of modern art. There were multiple floors with peculiar exhibits and interesting sculptures with paintings all over the place. There was also a lot of staff there that had someone stationed in every room that gave no opportunities for an attack, and after being patted down thoroughly by Ares, John was let into an art room to meet Santino.
The man was sat silently in a room that had a large painting in front of him that took up half the wall. "This was my father's collection," he said when John stopped beside him. "I see a little more than just paint on canvas, of course. But I do find myself here." Santino gestured for John to take a seat."I didn't want to do this, John. Had you stayed retired, I would have respected it...and if Mandy had stayed gone, then..." He let his words trail off.
John's face was stone cold with not a hint of emotion on his rough profile. His eyes were the only dead give away to what he was really thinking though. Maybe Santino was telling the truth and maybe he wasn't. He didn't care though since the line had already been crossed. Not only his, but both his and Mandy's life had been burned away.
"You didn't bring Mandy with you?" Santino pointed out and looked around to find her. Now noticing that John really did come alone. "I'm surprised. Why did you?"
"I didn't want to risk it...because I know what she would do if she saw you." John placed his hands on his lap and locked them together until they turned white.
Santino laughed a bit as his lips slowly moved up into a smirk. "You seem to know her quite well. You two have been working together for what? 7 years up to her disappearance?" Despite John's warning, Santino didn't look the least bit concern about the threat. "But I doubt she would be able to get to me on time."
"No," John cut in firmly and turned his head in his direction. There was only reassurance and confidence in his words. "She would."
Santino looked perplexed with what felt like needles running down his spine and under his skin, chilling him to the bone. he sucked in a deep breath and tried to compose himself. "Are we still talking about the same woman. You're partner, Mandy Rose...doesn't have the best reputation. She's known for being mad and reckless to the point of absurdity."
"Then...you can explain to me why she is still alive." His rough voice made the hairs on the back of Santino's neck stand up.
His body felt cold and his breathing became shallow. "Which is why I needed you both. A boogeyman and a grim fairy tale. I needed both John Wick and Mandy Rose."
John cut in sharply and simply just wanted to end the conversation. Being in this room made him feel sick and listening to Santino talk for so long but not getting to the point only made it worse. "Just...tell me what you want."
Santino took a moment to reflect on his decision before he spoke, his voice softer than usual. "I want you two to kill my sister."
John froze and his eyes grew wide with denial. "Why?"
"There are 12 seats at the High table. Camorra, mafia, and Ndrangeheta. The Chinese, the Russian. When my father died...he willed his seat to her. She represents Camorra now. And I can't help but wonder what I might accomplish in her stead."
John needed more than just a second to prosses everything. He needed hours, days, weeks. It was like his brain wasn't working fast enough. "You want me to kill...Gianna D'Antonio?"
"I could never do it." Santino dropped his head. "She is my blood. I still love her."
"It can't be done." John shook his head.
"She's in Rome for her coronation. You will take the catacombs in..."
"It doesn't matter where she is."
Santino snapped his head over and stared right at him, locking his gaze in place with this sheer desire for power flowing out of him."That's why I need the ghost, lo spettro. That's why I need you two. Do this for me, and your Marker is honored. What say you?"
John didn't give this corrupted man the satisfaction of an answer. He only got up and left the room, leaving behind a chilling and haunting silence in his stead.
"Never one to waste words."
John's fingers were still twitching after he left the museum. His heart was racing so much that he had to sit down on the curb and just take a moment to calm himself before he could do anything. It also gave him a minute to finally take everything in that had happened and what Santino wanted from him and Mandy. But killing Gianna though...it was the last thing he would have expected.
John didn't know what to do with himself for the longest time and just sat silently on the curb as cars rolled by him, one by one, counting them until he was up in the '50s. He didn't know how long he sat there but it had to have been at least twenty minutes, that until he felt his phone ring in his pocket that snapped him back to reality. He pulled it out and saw that it was Mandy calling him. For some reason though, he felt his stomach drop with the thought of having to tell her.
Reluctantly, he answered it and spoke right away. "Mandy?" he waited for a second but she still didn't answer him back. She was quiet and he could hear her soft breathing on the other end. "Mandy, are you alright?" he said more urgently after picking up on her uneasy silence.
After a minute of stuttering and annoyed groans, she finally spoke. Words poured from her mouth but there was no emotion. Her tone was flat and defeated. "John...I can't do this."
The New York Marble Cemetery was a place enclosed by tall stone walls with a large black gated entrance. It was closed today but the latch was still unlocked and slightly cracked open. John walked towards the gate with a duffle bag over his shoulder that had gloves, small shovels, and a sledgehammer inside. It's what Mandy told him to get in vague detail before hanging up abruptly. He was surprised to know that she was at a cemetery. She didn't sound panicked though or anything like that...just distant and sad.
He walked past the gate and closed it behind him, looking around briefly to see if he could spot his partner among the sea of stone heads. A lot were old and faded but some were newer than most. There were also a couple of mausoleums too, one in which he saw Mandy sitting down in front of. She had her head in her hand with a half-empty body of vodka right next to her.
John felt a bit hesitant and didn't know how to approach the situation at first. He made his footsteps as light as possible and approached her cautiously. "Mandy?" he said as gently as he could to not startle her. The moment she looked up at him though he realized that she was far from being startled. Her face was slightly flushed and her eyes were glassy, a sure sign of being a bit tipsy.
Mandy smiled wickedly at him and ran her words together slowly and slurred. "Well...if it ain't Johnathan Wick. How the fuck has your day been?" Her words were spiteful and her smile dropped in record-breaking time. Apparently she wasn't drunk enough to deal with whatever this was.
John put his things down on the top step and kneeled down in front of her. He placed a hand on the side of her face and felt how warm her skin was. He even spotted another bottle behind her that was completely empty. "Have you been drinking this whole time?"
Mandy's eyes hardened and her jaw clenched. "It's a tomb, John. They put my passport, ID, and other work-related things in a freaking tomb. This isn't a damn joke anymore!" She looked outraged by this and even close to tears. "So I called you...and tried to get drunk while I was waiting. Should've gotten three bottles though." She grunted through her teeth and grabbed the bottle to down more of the bitter liquid.
John looked up at the door of the mausoleum and saw that the chain was still wrapped around the handle. "You haven't opened it yet?"
Mandy's voice was meek like a small mouse. She pulled her eyes away from him to fiddle with her fingers. "I didn't want to do this alone..." She took in a deep breath and sighed. "Sorry for calling you here over something like this. I know I'm being a chicken shit but what else is new? I'm a freaking coward and that's just how it is for me, I guess," she said it like it was a stone-cold fact when John knew with all his heart that it wasn't true
"Mandy, you're not a coward."
"I never told you about Adrian and I ran away from my problems for 10 years because of it," Mandy said bluntly and looked him straight in the eyes. "If you don't think that is cowardness than I really want to hear your definition of one."
John got back in front of her and tugged at the bottle in her hand and pulled it away. Luckily she didn't fight him on it, only because she didn't have the strength to do it. "Hey," he said and gently touched her shoulder. "I mean it. You're not a coward." That was the truth and no one could tell him otherwise. He didn't care how much time has passed. He knew this woman like the back of his own hand. He hated the fact that she thought so little of herself though.
Mandy kept her eyes locked with his and scoffed. "Really?" She was sarcastic with her answer so John couldn't tell if she was serious or not. She got off-topic pretty fast though and got up off the stairs, turning around to face the tomb that was definitely old looking. 10 years certainly weren't kind to it. "Ah...son of a bitch. A tomb without a body. Is that even still a tomb?"
John got up and joined her at the door. "I don't think so."
"Yeah. Me neither. Imagine if they did put a body in it. That would be Winston's idea of a cruel joke." Her voice had a hint of a smile but he couldn't see in time to confirm it.
"Let's hope that isn't the case."
Mandy tossed the key up in the air and John caught it. He inserted it into the lock and turned it very slowly until he heard the click. He unraveled the chains from the door and gently opened it up. The whole thing creaked with a dense musty and smell emitting from it. He left the door open so the outside light could flood in. The room was empty but on the right side of the wall was a black plack with gold lettering.
MANDY KATHARINE ROSE
1971 - 2003
"MAY THE DEVIL REST FOR AN HOUR BEFORE HE KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD."
"Not many cobwebs. Has someone been in here recently?" John looked around and noticed that something was sitting below the plack. It was a bouquet of wilted and dead flowers with some of its petals scattered around the floor. "What's that?"
"Roses." Mandy crouched down and picked up the bouquet that practically fell apart in her hands. There was a small slip of paper attached to it though. She furrowed her brows and looked at. A spark of emotions suddenly flooded her eyes before they wilted too, turning sullen. "Marcus."
Mandy reached up and handed him the small piece of paper to look at. There wasn't anything on it aside from his name and a couple of numbers, which was odd. It made sense though on why there weren't many cobwebs. Marcus must've come here a couple of months back and left roses for her.
"3,799? What's that?"
"Days, John. Up to the last time he's been here. I was missing in action for 3,799 days. That's 10 years."
John felt a strike of pain in his heart that made his body shudder. "Marcus was counting the whole time?"
The only reason why she knew that right away was because she was counting too. "Yeah...I guess." She dropped the roses and rubbed her hands over her eyes like she was trying to prevent herself from crying. She didn't turn around just yet and only snapped her fingers for him to give back the paper, in which he did and watch her quickly slip it into her pocket. "Shit..." she cursed under her breath.
"Yeah." She turned around and nodded her head. Her eyes were still glassy like before so he wasn't really sure how close she was to crying, trying her best to hold it back behind clenched teeth though. "Well..." she sucked in a deep breath and laughed awkwardly like she was using it to cover everything up. It would probably be best for her though to move on. "let's get this over with." She walked outside briefly and came back in with a sledgehammer from John's bag. "Hey, John. Would you mind...decimating my grave?" She flashed him a goofy grin and handed it to him.
John looked dumbfounded and just stood there. "Why me?" He cocked a brow and stared at her.
"Cause I don't want to do it."
"It's your grave though."
"No. We talked about this. Remember? It's basically a storage hold...in the shape of a tomb." Mandy saw how much he was hesitating and rolled her eyes. "I can't haunt you if I ain't dead yet. Man up already. This is what friends do." She gave him a rough pat on the back.
"No. We destroy each other's graves. Not to mention...I got shot in the back a couple of days ago, remember?" She pointed out.
John considered it for a solid minute before giving up, taking the hammer up into both his hands. "Alright. Just take a step back."
Mandy stood by the entrance while John held the hammer up. He slammed it once against her plack and the gold letters shattered into millions of pieces, flying in all sorts of directions before hitting the ground. It felt strange to do this despite Mandy standing right behind him. Back then, he didn't know if she was alive but he never once considered this place to be her final resting spot. Breaking her plack was like finally breaking a 10-year long delusion of her death. It didn't feel wrong. It felt liberating.
John tossed the hammer to the side after a couple more hits and finally made a hole big enough to look through. Mandy got down low and squinted her eyes hard to see if she could pierce the endless cavern. It was so dark that she was half expecting a surge of black hands to shoot out and drag her inside. Nothing like that happened though and all was quiet. Her eyes did finally adjust to the dark though.
"What's in it?" John got down to her level but still couldn't see anything.
"A suitcase." Mandy reached her arms inside the treacherous blackhole and felt around for the handle. "To be honest, I was half expecting there to be a real body."
"Why would they do that?"
"I don't know. I just psyched myself out, that's all." she groaned and finally pulled it out, setting it on the ground and dusting the 10 years worth of dust off. It was rather large but not that heavy. Mandy was about to go for the locks when she stopped."Which reminds me. What did Santino D'Dumbass want?" She looked up and saw brief panic sweep across John's eyes. "What is it?"
John closed his eyes and looked down. "You're not gonna like it."
Mandy sucked in a deep breath and set her jaw. "I already don't like it. It's only gonna get worse from here so just tell me already."
He didn't know what to say much less where to begin. "It's..." John sat down across from her and pressed his back to the wall. "It's...his sister." He waited for a blow-up with a slur of curse words to follow but all he got was wide-eyed stillness from her.
Mandy's mouth fell open as she turned stunned. For a moment she thought she was going into shock until she spoke. "Gianna? Why?"
"He wants her spot at the High table."
"And he can't do it himself? That fucking spineless prick." Her eyes sharpened when she looked back to the case. "There was a reason why she was chosen and not him." She moved down to the latch and unbuckled them both but didn't open it up. Her hands were trembling and she found that she actually couldn't will herself to open it. Instead, she sat down next to John and pushed the case away with her leg. "John...I don't wanna do this, and right now...I just feel like I'm trapped." She stretched her legs out and just sat there, slumped like a noodle. "You know...when I heard that you made a Marker with Santino...for the first time in my life...I wanted to hate you."
Her soft words struck him hard and left him disoriented. That was the first time she had ever said something like that to him. He wanted to apologize a million times but wasn't sure on what words to use. "Mandy...I, uh..." He sucked in a deep breath and cleared his throat. Still, nothing happened and he couldn't say anything.
Mandy playfully shoved him in the shoulder and smiled bitterly. "I couldn't do it though. I just couldn't." She closed her eyes and moved her legs up to her chest. "You don't deserve to be hated for something that was completely out of your control. I know that better than anyone...but I still wanted someone to blame. I was angry. But what's pissing me off the most right now is...is the fact that I don't think I apologized for abandoning you 10 years ago." Guilt was a deadly thing to come across that worked like a slow-acting poison, making her insides burn and throb. She hated feeling like this but it was an old sensation. It was familiar.
John thought he had seen Mandy at her worse, but this felt different. She looked different and acted that way too. Her voice was distorted and it sounded as if someone was talking in her stead, using these words he had never wanted to hear from her. "You don't have to apologize," he said.
"Yes, I do. I realized it when talking with Winston. Back then...I guess my mind was too scrambled to even grasp the fact that I practically threw you to the wolves. I know it was stupid and selfish. I get that and I'm sorry." She rambled on before suddenly gasping deeply. Her eyes shot wide open and bulged out of her head, glassy and shimmering like a golden sun against the light. "God...I just don't know what else to say. Just...I'm sorry," she said in a small, shuddered breath before covering her eyes with her hand and turning away.
How many times did she have these thoughts? And how many times did she follow up with a smile? John felt like he should know but right now he didn't. He always thought that if she smiled and laughed, then she was fine. But now...those smiles looked more like masks to him.
He reached over and grabbed her free hand and wrapped it up in his. She was warm but shaking like she had been left outside for too long. "Mandy...you can't keep thinking like this. I don't blame you for what happened. I'm willing to look past it and move on, but only if you are." This was a plea. He needed her to be alright. He begged for her to be alright.
Mandy sniffled and pulled her hand away from her eyes and dropped it on her knee. "You know Santino's going to betray us the moment everything's done, right? Can either of us really move on?" She rolled her head over towards him and pressed her cheek against the cold stone wall.
"I don't know. I'm sorry that I don't have all the answers, but the only thing I want to make sure of right now is to know that we're alright. Are we?"
"I wanna be. It's the only thing I got going for me right now." She grabbed his hands too and held them tightly. Desperately. "John...you're all I have left. If you weren't here then...God knows. I know I'm a shitty friend but...thanks for sticking with me." She let out a long-deserved breath and finally smiled, but this time it looked genuine.
John smiled back and moved his hand to the back of her head and pulled her close. He kissed the top of her hair and could smell the lavender shampoo that came from the hotel. "I love you."
Mandy laughed awkwardly and hid her burning crimson face in his shoulder before mumbling back in the smallest voice. "Yeah...Love you, too."