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Authors: Christopher Reich

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The Patriots Club (8 page)

BOOK: The Patriots Club
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Reaching behind his back, he pulled a pair of ten-inch batons from his waistband. The sticks were cut from oak, as hard and as heavy as pig iron. “Hit him on the neck or on the kidneys. He’ll go down like a rock.”

“With this thing?” asked Philly.

“Just watch me and do what I do.”

The house was easy to spot. Even among a neighborhood of eyesores, it stood out: a one-story shake with wrecked gray siding, and its every window boarded up. A spindly hedge ran around the house and a fractured walkway led up to it.

Bolden directed Philly to a spot on the curb a few houses down. “Red BMW,” he said, sitting down, his head turned up the street. “Keep a sharp eye.”

“But he’ll see us,” Philly protested.

“So? We don’t exactly look like Mr. T and Hulk Hogan.”

“What if he’s got a gun?”

Bolden didn’t bother answering.

Precisely at eleven, the red BMW rolled into view. The car parked in front of the crack house. A man dressed in jeans and a hip-length leather jacket got out. He was thirty with shaggy brown hair, and he walked bent forward, as if he were fighting a strong wind. Bolden and Philly waited until he was inside, then dashed across the street. Thursday was trash day and the two squatted behind a six-pack of battered garbage cans.

The drug dealer emerged a few minutes later. Bolden let him get close to the car, then jumped from his hiding spot and ran at him. The man barely had time to notice him—this tall, lanky kid charging at him like a crazed Mohican—before Bolden brought the baton down on his neck and shoulders. With every blow, Bolden promised himself that it was the only way that he would ever be free.

The man crumpled to the sidewalk with hardly a whisper.

“Philly, get over here!”

Phil Grabowski remained glued to the spot. “I c-c-c-can’t.”

Bolden struck the dealer in the kidneys, then kicked him in the stomach. Falling to a knee, he searched the man’s pockets. “Bingo!” he said, coming up with a wad of grimy bills. He tried the other side and found a hash pipe, car keys, and the pistol Philly had sworn every self-respecting drug dealer carried. It was a small-caliber automatic, hardly bigger than the palm of his hand. He put it in his pocket.

“Come on,” he shouted, standing and waving Philly over. “Let’s jam!” He ran around the car and slid into the driver’s seat.

“Wait,” cried Philly. “Here I come.”

The limp form of the drug dealer lay between him and the car. As Philly jumped over him, a hand rose up and grabbed his leg. “Where you goin’?”

“Tommy!”

Bolden looked out the window. The dealer was trying to stand, using Philly as a crutch.

Bolden lowered the window. “Hit him! Hit him harder!”

Philly thrashed wildly with the baton. “He won’t let go. Tommy!”

At that instant, the front door of the house flew open. Drawn by the shouts, three men bounded down the stairs. Bolden took in the situation. He had the money. He had the car. He had the gun. He could be down the street in a minute and out of the city ten minutes after that.

“Harder!” Bolden yelled. “On the head!” Philly had gotten himself into the jam. If he’d come when Bolden asked, none of this would be happening.

“Tommy!”

Bolden was out of the car a half second later. He did a Starsky and Hutch, sliding over the hood and landing with both feet on the sidewalk, the compact silver pistol extended in his right hand. “Stop!” he shouted. “Hold it.”

The three men froze in their tracks. Two of them raised their hands.

“Get in the car, Philly.”

“He won’t let go.”

“Let go!” shouted Bolden.

The dealer had his hands locked around Philly’s ankles. “A lighter,” he said, squinting at Bolden. “The gun. It’s a friggin’ lighter. You two punks are fucked.”

Bolden stepped toward the dealer. He’d never handled a gun before. He studied the pearl handle, the finely tooled slide. It felt like a real gun. It had a weight to it. A heft that he liked. This thing was a lighter? A toy? Suddenly, he felt cheated. Pointing the gun at the dealer, he pulled the trigger. The gun bucked, the shot cracking like a bullwhip.

“I’m shot! I’m shot! Oh, Christ! I’m shot!”

A plume of smoke rose from a tear in the leather jacket near his shoulder.

Philly screamed. The three men took off in different directions.

“Go,” said Bolden calmly. “Get out of here.”

Philly remained rooted to the spot. “What about you?”

Bolden gazed at the wounded man. A trickle of blood emerged from his back and snaked down the sidewalk. The trickle grew wider, then wider still. “I’m staying.”

“But . . .” Philly’s eyes blinked madly, and he began to cry. “But . . .”

“Just go. I won’t tell your mom. Go now.” Then he jumped at him and shouted, “Get out of here!”

Philly turned and ran.

Bolden knelt by the drug dealer. He stuck the bills back in the pocket of his leather jacket. It was cold. His fingers were numb. He opened the man’s jacket, then removed his Stones T-shirt, crumpled it into a ball, and pressed it very hard against the wound.

“That was stupid to say it was a lighter.”

“You’re crazy, kid.”

In a minute, he heard the first siren. A second joined in, and then another. Soon, the entire world was crying out for Tommy Bolden’s arrest. He began shivering. He’d realized that he’d exchanged one jail for another, and the new one was going to be a lot worse. The Dungeon, they called it. The Illinois State Home for Boys.

All of which brought him back to the present.

Why had Guilfoyle come after him?

Nothing happens without a reason.

10

The man who had taken the name of Nathaniel Pendleton sat at his desk, his eyes glued to the ship. “Marvelous,” he whispered to himself. “A goddamned masterpiece.”

Housed in a custom-built glass case rested a 1:300 scale model of a United States second-class battleship originally constructed by the New York Naval Ship Yard and launched in 1890. The hull was shaped from wood and painted white, with an armored belt below the waterline to protect it against torpedoes. The ship boasted four 10-inch guns in revolving armored turrets. The secondary armament consisted of six 6-inch guns, fifteen small rapid-fire guns, and four 14-inch torpedo tubes. Even the pennants were authentic, and according to Pendleton’s painstaking research, the same that were flying that fateful February eve just over a hundred years ago.

He closed his eyes, and for a moment caught the smell of the harbor fresh in his nostrils: frangipani and diesel oil, the scent of fried chicken wafting from the officers’ mess, and from far away the acrid hint of a fire burning in the cane fields. The boat rocked gently, moaning as she tugged at her mooring lines. From land drifted the merry sounds of a mariachi band. Laughter. Catcalls. Closer, a sailor called out, “Lieutenant. Vessel off the starboard bow!”

And then the explosion.

Pendleton jerked in his chair, eyes wide open. But in his mind, he saw the blinding flash, felt the deck buckle beneath him, the boat pitch hideously to starboard on her journey to the bottom of Havana Harbor. He shook himself and the room came back into focus.

He’d been there. By God, he was sure of it.

Standing, he walked to the model, letting a hand graze the glass enclosure. The reason for her sinking was still officially a mystery. He knew better. A limpet mine attached to the forward bow had ripped through the ship’s hull and detonated the ammunition bunker.

He felt a presence stir behind him. “Well,” he asked. “How did he find out? It was Stillman, wasn’t it? They’d recruited him.”

“No,” said Guilfoyle. “He’s a blank slate.”

“Come again.”

“Bolden didn’t know a thing.”

Pendleton turned. “But he had to know. His tracks were all over our reports. He was a Class Four offender. You said so yourself.”

“My guess is no.”

“I take it you questioned him?”

“That’s what you bring me in for.”

“And?” demanded Pendleton.

“I’ve never had a more innocent responder. He was forthcoming. Didn’t play any games. Wasn’t afraid to get steamed. I gave him the test. Genuine all the way.”

“What about Stillman?”

“The name meant nothing to him.”

“It’s in the reports. There’s a trail . . . a nexus.”

“We have to examine the possibility that Cerberus kicked out a false positive.”

Pendleton returned to his desk and sorted through a sheaf of papers. Suddenly, he slapped his hand against them. “There! Look! Phone calls. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Don’t tell me Cerberus made a mistake. The system’s cost the government eight hundred million dollars and counting. It doesn’t make mistakes.”

Guilfoyle held his position. He stood placidly, hands clasped behind his back. “It could be a question of faulty data. You know, ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ We’ve only been fully operational for a few months. There’s plenty of—”

“Faulty data?” Pendleton shook his head. “Cerberus took the information directly from Ma Bell. We didn’t tell the damn thing where to look. It found it by itself. A Class Four offender. That means four indications of hostile intent. Cerberus didn’t make a mistake. It can’t.” He took a breath, rubbing a finger across his lips, studying Guilfoyle. “Maybe it’s time to admit that a machine knows better than you.”

Guilfoyle said nothing.

Sometimes he stood so still, Pendleton thought he’d been embalmed.

Pendleton walked to the floor-to-ceiling window. Looking north he gazed down upon the Potomac, a dark, steely snake, and beyond it, stretching toward the horizon, the Lincoln Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, the Washington Monument, and at the far end of the Mall, its dome nearly obscured by cloud, the Capitol. The view stirred him. The seat of the greatest empire in history. A reach that would have made the Romans envious. Pendleton was here, at its center. A player. A force, even.

Arms crossed over his chest, attired in a three-piece charcoal suit, his lace-ups spit shined, he was the model of the patrician class. He was sixty-seven years old, tall and lean, with the stern, skeptical face that in films belonged to diplomats and spies. He had been both in his time, as had his father, and his father before that, all the way back to the Revolution. He would have been handsome, except for his eyebrows, which were gnarled and unruly as a briar thicket, and gave him a wild, unpredictable air. His hair was thinning, its once dictatorial black yielding to gray. Slick with Brylcreem, it was meticulously parted, and combed to the right. It was the same haircut he’d kept since 1966 and he was a young marine infantry lieutenant in the Republic of Vietnam. He’d seen no reason to alter it since. Good memories.

He swung around and looked at Guilfoyle. “What seems to be the problem?”

“There’s been a glitch.”

“I should have known it. You’re the only man on my payroll who prefers to give me good news on the phone and bad news face-to-face. And so?”

“Extraction went perfectly. Solutions got messy.”

“Elaborate, please.”

“Bolden messed up one of my men pretty badly. As soon as he’s fixed up, he’ll be transferred downtown to Police Plaza.”

“You mean he’s in jail?” Pendleton blinked quickly, feeling his heart jump a beat. “That’s no glitch. It’s a nuclear meltdown.”

“We have a team on it. Our man will be clear by noon.”

“You’re telling me a banker from Harrington Weiss got the better of a Scanlon contractor graded ‘Solutions capable’?”

“That’s correct.”

“But we’re talking trained killers. Special Forces. Green Berets.”

Guilfoyle nodded and lowered his eyes. It was as close as he ever came to offering an apology. “All the same, I’d advise you to let it go,” he said. “Bolden’s a busy man, as you well know. Like I said, he’s a blank slate.”

“Not anymore, he’s not,” said Pendleton. Shock had given way to fury. He couldn’t allow this kind of cock-up. Not on his watch. The others wouldn’t stand for it. “I’d say he knows everything.”

“A few words, that’s all. They’re meaningless to him. In a week, he won’t give it two thoughts.”

“I’m not concerned with a week. I’m more interested in two days from now. We can’t have someone snooping after the fact.”

“It’s more complicated than that.” Guilfoyle explained once more about the Scanlon employee sitting in a New York City jail, and the fact that both Bolden and his girlfriend had filed police reports that included descriptions of two other Scanlon men, Walter “Wolf” Ramirez and Eamonn “Irish” Jamison. “Should anything happen to Bolden, the police might be suspicious. It would be difficult to control a homicide investigation. I imagine Bolden’s given the police a fairly sharp description of me, too.”

“There’s a girl mixed up in this, too?” Pendleton frowned.

“She’s a nobody,” said Guilfoyle.

Pendleton rocked in his chair. It was a problem, but one that could be contained.

“Freeze him out. Discredit him. Take his life away. You know what to do. If we can’t kill Bolden, we can do the next best thing. We can make him wish he were dead. Oh, and the girl . . . let’s take her out of the equation. It’ll be a lesson to Bolden to keep his mouth shut.”

Guilfoyle stared at him, not saying anything. Finally, he nodded.

“All right, then,” said Pendleton. “It’s decided.” He banged on the desk, then stood and walked toward the model battleship. “See this?”

Guilfoyle joined him alongside the glass case. “Very sharp.”

“Take a closer look. She’s perfect. Made by a Dutchman in Curaçao. A real master. Cost me ten thousand dollars.” Pendleton raised a hand toward the model, as if wanting not only to reach into the case but into the very past itself. “Went down with two hundred fifty souls. They were good boys: well-trained, enthusiastic, ready to fight. They gave their lives so America could take her place on the world stage. Hawaii, Panama, the Philippines, Haiti. Five years after she went to the bottom, they were ours. Sometimes, the only way to get something done is to spill a little blood. Damned shame, really.”

Guilfoyle bent lower to read the name off the battleship’s bow. “Remember the
Maine
!” he whispered.

BOOK: The Patriots Club
11.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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