Authors: John Dobbyn
Also by John F. Dobbyn
John F. Dobbyn
Copyright Â© 2013 by John F. Dobbyn
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, and incidents either are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, businesses, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published in the United States of America by Oceanview Publishing,
Longboat Key, Florida
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
I can't help wondering if this book or any of the others would ever have been written if it had not been for the joy and inspiration and faith and love I see in the eyes of the one who gives everything in my life real meaning. She is my first reader of every word and the one I want to please more than anyone on earth. I love her more than I thought possible. My bride and adventure mate and title-writer and very closest pal. I thank God for My Lois.
It was two a.m. when I pried my fingers off the keys of the piano at Big Daddy Hightower's Boston Jazz Club. I groped my way through the darkness around tables of die-hard listeners toward the anticipated smack of crisp autumn air outside. On the way out, I owed a quick wave of gratitude to Sonny, one of Boston's top ten bartenders, for the evening's flow of Famous Grouse Scotch.
As I leaned over the bar to catch Sonny's eye, I felt an arm around my shoulder the size of a wrestler's leg. I thought it was Daddy Hightower, owner of the club and legendary jazz bassist, saying, as he always did, “See you next Monday, Mickey.” Only Daddy could make “Mickey” an acceptable nickname for “Michael.”
It was a jolt to look back into blue eyes under flaming red hair on a six-foot six-inch titan who could only be a descendant of ancestors from the Emerald Isle. The grin on his face was, at first, comforting. The point of the blade just below my ribcage less so.
The accent was unmistakably South Boston Irish.
“No unfriendliness intended, Mr. Knight. Consider this a gentlemanly invitation. Unless, of course, you've a mind to decline.”
I was frozen to the spot. I could feel the blade penetrating two layers of clothing and working through one layer of skin.
“I'm inclined to accept. Could I ask what âgentleman' sends the invitation?”
“I think not. If he wanted you to know, he'd deliver it in person now wouldn't he? Shall we be on our way?”
The arm on my shoulder turned me away from the bar in the direction
of the door. I braced in that position for a second and showed him my empty hands. “Let me just do this.”
I reached slowly into my pocket and pulled out a twenty dollar bill between two fingers. I waved it at Sonny down the bar and tossed it in his direction. “Good night, Sonny. Tell Daddy it was cool. Especially, the Cole Porter.”
I could feel the blade begin to make more serious inroads. It was now through at least a second layer of skin.
“To be clear, Mr. Knight, I'm under instructions to deliver you in one piece. I could improvise on that if you get cute. Are we on the same page?”
“I'm not being cute. I tip Sonny every week. He'd be offended if I didn't. Make sense?”
His only answer was to usher me in lockstep toward the door. I slowed our movement as much as I dared. The darkness of the club made it impossible to make out anything but moving silhouettes. I knew if we cleared the door, I was down the rabbit hole and no way back. I also knew that if that knife went in much farther, I'd be beyond caring.
In the slowest steps I could manage, we reached the door. I could visualize the sign, “Abandon hope all ye whoâ”
In that instant of incipient panic before the final step through the door, I felt the arm fly off my shoulder. I tumbled off balance onto the floor. My first instinct was to roll as far from the door as I could get, but I found myself frozen against a still form that was massive enough to block any movement. My second instinct was to scramble to my feet and grab the nearest chair for support.
Before I could do either, the lights came up, and I saw my six-foot-eight-inch guardian angel, Big Daddy Hightower, standing over the unconscious form of my Irish escort.
“I'll never understand your taste in friends, Mickey. Who's your buddy?”
It took a few seconds to get my voice out of soprano. “Thank you, Daddy. You were quick on the uptake. You got my message.”
I wanted to thank Sonny too. He and I had an agreement for a
lobster dinner at Durgin-Park twice a year on me in lieu of weekly tips. When I threw him the twenty, he knew something was off. He must have gotten the word about the bozo with his arm around me to Big Daddy, who remembered that the only Cole Porter we'd played all night was, “I've Got You Under My Skin.” Daddy apparently put it together as I prayed.
I propped up against the end of the bar and took a minute of breath catching. “Let's let him catch a nap, Daddy. Would you check him for weapons? He's got at least one knife with a wet blade.”
Daddy did a quick body search and tossed me his billfold. His driver's license showed a South Boston address and the name of Paddy O'Toole.
I speed-dialed the number of a particular security service that I could literally trust with my life. In the two years that I'd partnered with the redoubtable lion of the criminal bar, Lex Devlin, to give legal defense to some strange clients in some strange walks of life, I'd had more than one occasion to do just that. In spite of the hour, Tom Burns caught it on the first ring.
“What's up, Mike?”
“Sorry to break your sleep, Tom. I need a good man, not without artillery,
“I never sleep, Mike. You know that. Where?”
“Daddy's. How soon?”
“I just sent the message. Do you want him seen or unseen?”
“Seen. Tell him to come in. I'll wait.”
“You won't wait long. He's almost there. He was in the neighborhood.”
“You're golden, Tom. What's his name?”
“Depends on what he has to do to get you out of the fine mess you've gotten yourself into this time. Probably best you didn't know. Call him âCharlie.' He likes that name.”
I turned around and the open door was filled with the form of yet another giant. Charlie had arrived. At my mere six foot one, I was beginning to feel like the runt of the litter.
“Charlie, can you bring this bozo back to consciousness?”
I had sorted through the options that seemed obvious. First and most desirableâget the hell out of Dodge. Not actually the best choice. Whatever and whoever put Paddy O'Toole's arm around my back in the first place would still be out there, and as a criminal trial lawyer, I'd be readily accessible to a second try.
The second option, less desirable, but safest in the long run, was to accept the invitation of whoever sent himâbut on my terms. Charlie scooped up the now-groggy disarmed body of my escort and propped him against the bar.
I asked Sonny for a straight shot of Jameson's Irish Whiskey and waved it under his nose. It speeded the process. When he was back to consciousness, I handed him the shot. He eyed it with suspicion, but the familiar scent led him to down it in one gulp.