Authors: Loren D. Estleman
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective
“EMS?” she demanded.
I shook my head. Something cold climbed my belly.
“Jesus Christ, it’s twenty minutes since I called nine-eleven.”
“Called them for what?”
“I mean, I got better service from Byron, and he broke my fingers once when I held back on him.”
I got the lapels of the housecoat in my hands. “Called them for what?”
“See for yourself. Jesus Christ. I’m going to look like shit in the morning I don’t get my ten hours.”
I let go of her and powered past. A lamp burned in the entryway, its shade on crooked, and the hallway stretched dark beyond it to where some people stood in the light spilling out of an open door at the end. I pushed a path through the women in dresses and slacks and nightgowns and less and almost tripped over Jonesy lying on the floor with his legs in the hallway. Someone had shoved a pillow under his bald head and Mary M, dressed in the same red slacks and black sweater I’d seen her in last, knelt next to him dabbing with a wet washcloth at the blood on his forehead. Something had opened a deep gash from his right temple to the crease between his brows. His eyes were half open with the glaze of shock over them.
Mary looked up at me. She had trouble focusing. “She’s gone. They took her.”
“Nobody saw them. I was upstairs, the girls were all in their rooms. They must have broken in and hit him and grabbed her and left. Some bodyguard.”
“You told me you didn’t need one. Anybody hear anything?” I spotted platinum-haired Sara in the group.
“A car taking off,” she said. “Big engine.”
The room was a bedroom, in good order with the bed made and a magazine lying open on the arm of a chair covered in green chintz.
, if it matters. The closet door was open and I recognized a couple of the outfits hanging inside. “This room is Iris’?”
Mary said it was. She was pressing the washcloth to Jonesy’s wound, trying to stop the bleeding. “I think they cracked his skull.”
I squatted and groped inside his jacket. My fingers touched the alligator butt of an automatic in an underarm holster. He hadn’t drawn it. I gestured at Mary, who took her hand away. I peeled aside the wet cloth. The gash was a long inverted comma with the point on top; an upward blow. I had seen others like it, in martial arts training in the army when someone miscalculated. “He say anything?”
“He was out cold when I found him,” Mary said. “That’s been half an hour anyway. Where the hell is that ambulance?”
A telephone rang. I thought at first it was the siren. She glanced toward the hallway and I stepped out over Jonesy and unhooked the receiver from the wall.
“Your boy Ang’s getting sloppy,” I told the accent. “He left him alive.”
Mozo hesitated. “Off a man, anybody can do that. You got to be good to just put heem down. Hey, you didn’ tell me you was working with them Acardos.”
“Get to it.”
“Hokay, hombre, you like to talk turkey. I can get next to it. You give me the tape, I don’ cut off your girlfriend’s head and send it to you parcel post, how’s that?”
“Man, you disappoint me. Just when I was starting to make you some respect. Time I met you, I didn’ know you been in that Anglo’s office, got the tape out of his safe. Hokay, this is America, land of opportunity, man got ambition, I don’ hold it against him. Talking’s over, chamaco. We trade.”
“What, a tape for a corpse?”
A hand covered the mouthpiece on his end. Through my other ear I heard the siren now, switching from wail to yelp as it came off the Chrysler.
“Amos?” It was Iris.
“You all right?”
“My ass is freezing, what do you think? All I’ve got on is pajamas and a coat.”
She started to say something else. The receiver was taken away.
“The tape, chamaco. Or the rest of her gets as cold as her ass. Call you later, your office.”
“Just a second.”
“Thirty minutes. You don’ answer, I mail a package.” The connection broke.
The ambulance was on the street now. I turned my back to the racket and called Information and got the number of the Adelaide Hotel. After a moment the clerk in the lobby put me through to Frank Acardo.
When I finished talking the attendants were in the hallway, sporting the snappy dark blue police-type uniforms they wear now and carrying a stretcher. I tried to get Mary M’s attention but she was too busy herding her houseguests out of the way. Heading out I checked the lock on the front door. Detective work, it never ends. Flynn, the big red-headed Irishman who walked Tomaso Acardo’s dog, was waiting for me in front of the Adelaide when I stood on the brakes. He opened the door on the passenger’s side and got in. His hat perched warily on his big head with the narrow brim resting on the end of his pug. If there was still humor in his eyes it was lost in shadow.
I took off while he was pulling the door shut. He gripped the dash as we cornered. “How’s Jonesy?”
“Still breathing when I left. You carrying?”
He bared his teeth at the windshield and said nothing. His big-jawed profile looked like flecked stone under the street lamps.
“Could be we’re in a hell of a hurry just to wait,” I said. “But if Mozo knows anything about kidnapping, when he calls he’ll give me just enough time to get to the next contact spot and I can use the muscle.”
“Just don’t pick up any cruisers.”
“I thought you mob guys owned the law.”
“You read too many books.”
It was quiet in the car for the next two blocks. I said, “Your boss gave you up without a fight. He always that generous with the talent?”
“Only when it involves Sam Mozo.”
“You don’t sound excited.”
“They ought to make all the little hard-ass punks wear numbers so we can tell them apart.”
“Your boss’s old man was one. Back in the dry time.” I spun onto Grand River, spraying slush. He leaned on the door handle.
“Prohibition. The good old days. I had it to here with that crap. The Purple Gang, me and Jonesy could take the whole bunch apart with our hands. Tight-ass little Jews, sharp suits and tommy guns. Christ.”
“You two friends?”
He shut down. “I just work with him.”
“I didn’t hit him.”
“All I know is you don’t just walk up to Jonesy and take him while he’s looking at you. Not if he don’t know you.”
“I was thinking the same thing.”
There wasn’t any more time to talk. I parked in a tow-away zone in front of my building and the telephone was ringing when we reached the outer office. The lock was stubborn at first. I took a deep breath and tried the key again. The tumblers let go and I speared the receiver on the dive.
“Chamaco, I was about to hang up.”
I made an effort not to sound out of breath. “Your watch is fast.”
“No way. Fi’teen t’ousan’ dollars, accurate to within two seconds a month for a year. You got the tape?”
Pause. I heard echoes where he was. It sounded like a bus station.
“Lady’s going to be disappointed, hombre. She could lose her head over a thing like that.”
“You know I don’t have it here or you’d have broken in and searched the place. I can get it, but it has to wait for morning.”
“That’s when the place opens where I’ve got it stashed. Eight o’clock.”
“No jokes. My English ain’ so good, I don’ get them. Frustrates me. I lose my sense of humor.”
“ ’S’the only kind I deal.” More echoes. “Hokay, chamaco, call you tomorrow. Eight-thirty.”
We hung up. I looked at Flynn standing in front of the door. “I bought us some time.”
“What’s he want?”
“I figure it’s a videotape made by a dead man named Charm at a motel Mozo owns on Tireman. Charm’s retirement plan was wrapped up in hidden cameras all over the place.”
“Of Mozo, by Charm. If I read the dead man’s notebook right, Mozo was the S.M. who was paying Charm $5,000, probably on a regular basis, for something Charm taped in room 212.”
“Mozo doesn’t strike me as the inhibited type.”
“A dope deal then,” Flynn said. “Or a hit.”
“Who’s he hit lately?”
His Irish face ignited slowly. “Jesus. Not Jackie Acardo.”
“It’s a thin hunch. But you can spit from where Jackie was last seen to the motel.”
“Jesus. You got the tape?”
“No. If I had I wouldn’t need Mozo to answer my questions.”
He touched his big jaw. Moonlight coming in through the Venetian blinds behind the desk striped him. “You play it right on the edge, don’t you?”
“It’s starting to feel like home.” I switched on the desk lamp and opened the top drawer. I took out my Smith & Wesson, checked the cylinder, and holstered the gun. He watched me clip the holster to my belt under my overcoat. “Where you going?”
“I think I know where he is.”
“No, Jimmy Hoffa. Sure Mozo. I’ve got good ears. It’s just what’s between them that hasn’t been working so hot.” I picked up my keys. “You coming?”
“What if he’s there and the girl ain’t?”
“What if I meet him tomorrow morning and I don’t have the tape?”
“Okay, I’m coming. Jesus. You dicks got to have everything spelled out.”
We went downstairs. The city hadn’t towed my Chevy, which was the first break I’d had in days.
HERE WAS A
three-quarter moon that night. The sky had cleared so that the snow held the light and made the street lamps look like bureaucratic meddling. The air was raw cold, as it always is at night in February when there is nothing between the city and the frozen core of outer space. When I got out on Griswold and closed the car door the handle stuck to my hand and needles of ice pricked my nostrils. Flynn turned up his collar and cursed a cloud of thick vapor. His topcoat was too light, but he wouldn’t have chosen a heavier one. He was a man who liked to move. He looked heavy and slow; he wasn’t. Coming around the front of the car he was like a snow tiger rolling the stiffness out of its muscles, becoming fluid as he came. There was evil beauty in that gait. It was too bad he was a gangster.
The Park-a-Lot Garage had a spectral quality in that light, gray seamless columns rising like Grecian pillars and dark metal gleaming softly where the cars were parked in tiers. The attendant’s booth, visible from the street, was black and empty. The building looked deserted and we had been standing there almost five minutes before I picked out the faint yellow glow on the second level from the lights of the city itself behind the concrete latticework. I pointed at it and we entered at ground level.
The air inside seemed colder. It was rank with gasoline and sweet with auto exhaust. We found the painted fire door in the southeast corner and I pulled it open. A hinge squeaked, the sound sharp and echoing as in an amphitheater. We froze, but no one came to investigate. I picked up a square chunk of rough concrete that was used to prop open the door during the day and put it to work. I gestured to Flynn and he nodded and drew a black automatic from under his coat and took a stance at the base of the stairs while I climbed up. I unholstered the Smith & Wesson.
Stagnation lay like dead fish in that stairwell, remembering old urine and carnal nights, moonlight sliding down the color of pale flesh and folding soddenly over the steps. My breath curled around me. I held it.
The door at the top was open. I could see the office now, a glassed-in cubicle at the far end of the aisle I was standing in. Yellow light fanned out and painted streaks along the chrome bumpers of the cars parked in silent rows on either side. A shadow moved in the light.
I fished a penny out of my pocket and flipped it down the stairwell, arcing it out to miss the steps. It tinkled at the bottom like glass breaking. After a long time the air stirred in the shaft. Flynn was coming up, as quietly as smoke rising. When he was beside me, big and Irish and smelling faintly of Old Spice, I made a movement with the revolver to hold him there and worked my way down the aisle, scalloping around the ends of the diagonally parked cars. Traffic thundered along the John Lodge outside. It was a remote sound, a meteor shower in a different galaxy.
At the end of fifty feet I looked through the window from the shadow of a concrete post. Sam Mozo was sitting with his back to me, at a black pebbled-steel desk with three spindled stacks of white and yellow and pink papers on top, a different color to each spindle. He was smoking a brown cigarette and he had an old greasy radio on the desk tuned in to a Spanish-language station, so low I could barely hear it through the glass. I knew him by the roll of fat at the back of his neck and by his big white hat hanging on a corner of the radio. I smelled marijuana.
There was an old sprung sofa in the corner opposite the desk and Iris was lying on it, on her back with an arm flung across her eyes to block out the light. She was wearing the bright floral-print pajamas from that afternoon and she had her shoes off. While I was watching she turned over onto her right shoulder, showing her back to the office and Mozo. A jet of smoke left him in a silent sigh. I didn’t blame him. It was a nice back.
From my angle I couldn’t see if anyone else was in the office. In a building that depended on automobile space there wouldn’t be much more to it. I wondered where Felipe was. More than that I wondered where Ang was.
He told me. Something scraped the floor, three times very fast like a dance step, and he came at me across the aisle from between two cars on that side, flying, a bent javelin in a tan suit, with his right leg knifed out in front and his trunk in line with it and his left leg steering his flight. Flynn fired, the automatic’s report a ringing bark, but the bullet twanged off a post and punched a hole in a windshield. The Korean was still flying, coming down now, a lethal foot aimed at my throat and behind it the ugly ivory face scrunched into a toothy grin. My own snap shot missed and I threw myself back between a red Fiero and a four-wheel-drive truck and grasped the truck’s door handle. It wasn’t locked and I swung it open, bracing it with my body just as he piled into it. Glass sprayed. I fell back hard against the concrete wall and sat down. My wind was gone and so was my gun.