Authors: Leonard Goldberg
Tags: #Medical, #General, #Blalock; Joanna (Fictitious character), #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction
“I said the weather is getting real bad,” Artie repeated. “Watch your step out there.”
“Oh, I will,” Sara assured him, and walked out into a very light rain.
She couldn’t understand the people who lived in Los Angeles. All it took was a little rain, and they scampered for cover. And the television news programs, with their stupid anchors, went on storm alert. For a drizzle.
Sara sighed, wishing she were back in New York, where she owned her own apartment and had all her things. New York was so electric and exciting, with everything on the move twenty-four hours a day. Sara missed that. But she had to be in Los Angeles because most of her work was now here. She had to know the city and the lay of the land. Often she had to follow her targets for days and sometimes weeks, learning what they did and where and when they did it. And most important, what were the target’s habits and vices and foibles? Only after she had all this information and thought about it at length could she decide how to kill the person. Although she occasionally did straightforward hits, most of her work involved her specialty—making death look accidental.
Sara came to the intersection and waited for the red light to change. She glanced over at the front window of a bookstore and saw her reflection in the glass. Her brown hair was cut too short, she thought, and the blond streaks were too obvious. But it did make her seem younger. She moved in closer to the window and studied her angular face and thin lips and doelike brown eyes. There were no lines, but there weren’t supposed to be any at the age of thirty-two.
, Sara thought. That was the number of people she’d killed so far.
The light changed, and she crossed the boulevard, then turned down a smaller street. Up ahead she saw a bar named Club West. Most people believed it was named after the bartender and presumed owner, David Westmoreland. But in fact, the club was owned by the Westies, a powerful New York–based gang that had recently expanded into the Los Angeles area. David Westmoreland was a midechelon lieutenant in the organization. Among other things, he provided a hit service that could have anyone killed—for a price. Straightforward hits cost ten thousand dollars. Difficult high-profile hits could run as high as twenty-five thousand. Minus the Westies’ 20 percent commission, Sara thought sourly.
But she had to admit, they were worth it. David always set everything up in a smooth, efficient fashion. Although their relationship was strictly business, she felt a strange loyalty to David, who had gotten her started as a hitter. But when he announced he was moving to Los Angeles, she balked at the idea of following him. She wasn’t convinced there would be a great demand for her talents in Los Angeles. She was wrong. Business was booming. She was averaging two hits a month.
Sara entered Club West and walked to a booth in the far corner. She sat facing the door.
“Be with you in a minute,” David Westmoreland called out from behind the bar.
“No rush,” Sara said.
She reached for her cigarettes and then remembered California’s law against smoking in public places. She groaned, again wishing she were back in New York. Her gaze went to the well-dressed men sitting at the bar. They were laughing at something David was saying. Probably a joke. She wondered how hard the men would be laughing if they knew the number of people David had arranged to have murdered.
David carefully poured a martini from a shaker into a glass. That’s what he was doing when she first saw him in New York, Sara recalled. He was tending bar. At the time she was getting a master’s degree in English literature at Columbia. Her friends had dared her to go into Westies, a bar not far from her apartment. It was known to be a hangout for toughs and wiseguys. Sara had hesitated, but eventually she worked up enough courage to go inside. She found the bar exciting and fun and filled with interesting people who had wonderful stories to tell. And they treated her so well, particularly when they learned she was a college student at Columbia. At times they made her feel as if she were one of them.
David befriended her and looked out for her at Westies. It was he who introduced Sara to Richie Malfitano, a handsome tough guy who tried to sweep her off her feet with gifts and flowers and trips to Atlantic City and Las Vegas. She really liked him and slept with him a few times a week, but she knew the relationship wasn’t going anywhere. Richie was a hood. He was also married, with three kids. But, Lord, how exciting he was! Everything about him was a thrill, even his job. He told her he was in the disposal business. She knew what that meant. And with his last name, she thought he was connected. But he wasn’t. Richie was a freelance hit man. She learned about that one night when he was taking a shower. He had left his .38 caliber Smith & Wesson in its holster on the bed. She picked up the weapon and was inspecting it when Richie came out of the bathroom.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Put that down before you hurt yourself.”
“Don’t worry,” Sara said, and expertly emptied the rounds from the revolver. She held the weapon up to the light and peered into the barrel. “You’d better clean this or you’re going to get your hand blown off.”
“How do you know so much about guns?”
“My father taught me.” Sara told him about the suburb she’d grown up in just outside Pittsburgh. It was a good neighborhood, but break-ins and robberies were happening there like everywhere else. Her father spent a lot of time traveling as a senior sales representative for a major steel manufacturer, and he thought it best to teach his wife and daughter about firearms so they could defend themselves.
“But can you shoot?” Richie had asked.
“There’s one way to find out.”
They went to an all-night firing range where she hit so many bull’s-eyes she qualified as an expert marksman. She was so good the owner of the range offered her a job as an instructor at fifteen dollars per hour. She politely declined.
Later that night they went to Westies, where Richie bragged to David about Sara’s incredible marksmanship. David listened while he made their drinks. He appeared to be uninterested, but Sara could sense he was storing information away. Lord! David and Richie and Westies in New York. It all seemed so long ago now, Sara reminisced.
David broke into her thoughts. “Here you go, Sam, a vodka martini with a lemon twist.”
“Thanks,” Sara said. He was the only person in the world who called her Sam. It was a nickname he made up from the initials of her full name, Sara Ann Moore. “Do you mind if I light up in here?”
“Can’t. It’s against the law.” David grinned, but his green eyes stayed ice cold. He was a big, barrel-chested man with thinning red hair and a ruddy complexion. “You can take your drink out back and have your cigarette there. I’ll join you in a few minutes when Eddie gets back.”
Sara studied his face briefly. Something about his voice bothered her. “Have we got trouble?” she asked in a low voice.
“I’ll see you out back,” David said, and walked away.
Sara took her drink and went out the back door of Club West. She stepped into the narrow alleyway and lit a cigarette, wondering what the trouble was. Her last two hits had gone really well. The schnook last night had half his head blown off. He was surely dead as hell. And so was the millionaire she tapped on the head and pushed over the side of his yacht. There was no way the old man was still alive, unless he could swim ten miles while unconscious. No. It wasn’t that. Maybe, she thought, the customers weren’t paying their bills. She shook her head at the idea. If you owed the Westies, you paid or you ended up with broken legs. And if you still didn’t pay, you ended up dead. She wondered if she had made a mistake, if someone had seen her. Deep down she had the feeling that was it. And in her line of work, a mistake was very bad for business. It could also get you killed.
She remembered back to the night Richie Malfitano had bought it. He had a contract to ice Two-Ton Tony Giamarro. Two-Ton Tony was stealing from his family big time and was also trying to muscle in on another family’s bookmaking business. He was causing trouble and ignoring repeated warnings. He needed to be killed, but he was connected and he was the don’s nephew, so nobody in the family wanted to do it. They contracted out for the hit.
Richie botched it. Sara watched the whole thing from the front seat of Richie’s Cadillac, which was parked in a lot next to the health club. Two-Ton Tony came out the side door, and Richie jumped out from behind a Dumpster and opened fire. His first shot missed. His second jammed in the chamber. An associate of Two-Ton Tony’s suddenly burst through the door, gun drawn, and put a slug right through Richie’s handsome face.
Sara quickly slid down in the front seat, praying they hadn’t seen her, because if they had, she was dead. She sweated blood as she waited, but they never came.
! she kept thinking. He thought he had all the bases covered, that he had done his homework.
Two-Ton Tony, Richie had explained to her, was a creature of habit. He did the same things at the same time every day. A steam bath and massage at the health club at 6:30 P.M. was part of his daily routine. Richie planned to clip Two-Ton as he left the club and walked to his car. But Richie didn’t get there early enough to see Two-Ton Tony enter the club—with one of his soldiers at his side. He didn’t know there’d be two of them. And he didn’t look after his weapon, either. Richie Malfitano hadn’t done all of his homework. And that cost him his life.
Sara went to Westies that same night to tell David what had happened. For the first time she saw David Westmoreland become angry. He took a glass of beer and smashed it against the wall in his office, breaking it into a thousand pieces. Richie had screwed up royally. Not only had he missed the target, he had alerted Two-Ton Tony that someone had a contract out on him. Tony and his boys would search high and low to find out who set up the hit. And the Westies were out two thousand dollars, which would have been their commission for a successful kill.
“Shit!” David growled. “Two-Ton will look under every rock between here and Staten Island to find out who set him up. And he’ll come up with an answer, too.”
“Not if he’s dead,” Sara said matter-of-factly.
“And how is he going to get dead?”
“I’m going to do it for you.”
“Forget it,” David said, waving off the offer. “Even the best hit men won’t touch this now. Two-Ton Tony is really going to be on guard, and he’ll have two goons with him wherever he goes. Nobody is going to get near him.”
“You let me worry about that.”
David gave her a hard stare. “Just because you can fire a gun doesn’t mean you can shoot a man.”
“Who said anything about shooting?”
“Then how are you going to do it?”
“This is my offer,” Sara said, ignoring the question. “I can arrange for Two-Ton Tony to die within the next two weeks. For my work I want to be paid ten thousand dollars. And I guarantee you his death will look accidental.”
“Why is accidental so important here?”
“Because if he’s murdered now, the people close to Tony will come after whoever did it with a vengeance,” Sara explained. “Two-Ton Tony may be an asshole, but he’s connected.”
“If he dies accidentally, everybody will shrug and walk away. It’ll be like water under the bridge.”
“Ten thousand dollars.”
David hesitated. “Let me talk with—”
Sara shook her head. “You make the decision now. Yes or no.”
David hesitated again before saying, “Don’t get yourself killed, Sam.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
For six straight days Sara trailed Two-Ton Tony Giamarro. He was a creature of habit, all right, but a very closely guarded creature of habit with two goons constantly at his side. There seemed to be no detectable flaws in his schedule. Then, on the seventh day, Sara saw a possible opening. It was one she never expected.
On Tuesday afternoon, Two-Ton Tony visited his girlfriend. While his two bodyguards waited outside, Tony climbed the stairs of the old two-story apartment building. Moments later, Tony and a frizzy-haired blonde stuck their heads out a window. Tony yelled down for a pack of cigarettes. One of the goons threw a pack up to him. An hour later, Tony hurried out of the building, tucking in his shirt as he got into his car.
Sara carefully cased the building. There was a fire escape in the alleyway on the side of the apartment house. The front door had a buzz-in security system, but it wasn’t working, so Sara could just walk in. Leading up to the second floor was a steep staircase at least twenty-five feet long. And at the top of it was a large utility closet. At the bottom of the stairs was a rock-hard tiled floor. Sara had her plan.
The following Tuesday morning, Sara arrived at the apartment house at noon and waited in the utility closet for Two-Ton Tony’s arrival. He entered his girlfriend’s apartment at two o’clock sharp. Quickly, Sara strung a wire across the top step and went back into the closet, hoping no one else would use the staircase. No one did. Thirty minutes later, Two-Ton Tony hurried out of the apartment, tucking his shirt in over a grossly protuberant gut. He never saw the wire. Two-Ton Tony took a header straight down twenty-five feet. His head bashed into the tiled floor at the bottom of the staircase, with three hundred pounds of fat driving it in. Two-Ton Tony Giamarro was DOL—dead on landing. Sara hurriedly retrieved the wire and went back into the closet until the coast was clear. The next day she collected her ten thousand dollars.
Sara’s thoughts came back to the present. She again wondered about the concern in David’s voice. Something was bothering him. It had to be the hit before last, the old guy she’d conked on the head before pushing him into the ocean. No one had seen her—she was sure of that. But then again, how sure could one be? And if someone had seen her, the man’s death went from accidental drowning to murder. And that would be bad, very bad. She would have a dissatisfied client who might demand some sort of refund on the $15,000 fee. Sara would hate that. She had already invested the money.
The back door opened. David Westmoreland stepped out and looked up at the gray sky and light drizzle. “It’s more mist than rain,” he commented.