PMM’s Birthday Party! – The Switch by B.R. Stateham

Through the window of the blue ZR-1 Chevrolet Corvette he watched the big boned man step out of the front door of the museum, pause as he looked in both directions, then bend down and step into the stretch limousine waiting for him. A big man. With a beefy looking face and heavy jowls and a thick black mustache.

From Rumania . A little town past Hel. Odd, in a way, coming from Rumania since the man was actually Russian. Not a nice man people often commented. Had anger issues. Sadistic tendencies. That’s why the Russian mob liked him so much.

Gripped in the man’s hand was an attaché case.

Actually, it was cuffed to his wrist by a pair of high strength stainless steel handcuffs that would be damn near impossible to cut in two. It was the attaché case he was interested in. Or more precisely what was in the attaché case. Apparently the clients back in Washington very much wanted the contents within the case. And were very reluctant to say much else. Frowning, he reached for the small spiral notepad sitting on his lap and clicked his pen and glanced at his watch.

Precisely 4: 05 p.m.

Every day. Like clockwork. Like death itself, Vladislav Nerensky climbed into a waiting stretched limo and disappeared into the downtown traffic to head off to his apartment complex across town. Twenty five minutes later the limo would slide silently up in front of the main entrance to his apartment up on the tenth floor. Four big Russian mobsters—ex-Speznets agents would be waiting for him to escort him up to his condo. Tough bastards who liked to play rough. Liked to hurt people. To get to Nerensky someone would have to get through the guards. And survive.

The smile of mischievous kid played across the brown eyed man’s thin lips as he started the big engine of the Corvette up and slipped into traffic. Downtown Chicago traffic in the early afternoon is always brutal. But he was in no hurry. Drumming fingers on the thick leather covered steering wheel of the ‘Vette he hummed to himself the tune playing on the radio and didn’t mind a bit the intermittent traffic jams which trapped him momentarily on the streets.

A half hour later the dark blue ‘Vette pulled up behind a white Lincoln Continental sitting along side a curb next to a high rise office building. Climbing out of the low slung sports car the tall man with the narrow hips and wide shoulders walked to the left rear passenger door of the Lincoln and slid in swiftly.

“What the hell did you drag me all the way down here, Beano? I could be home with the kids and the wife waiting to eat supper. Tonight she’s fixing my favorite meal. Southern fried chicken and mashed potatoes. But you drag me down here. For what?”

Benjamin ‘Beano’ Benvenuti grinned the big, boyish grin he was famous for and nodded, then lifted his left hand up and looked at the face of the Rolex watch.

“Fifty-eight . . . fifty-nine . . . six p.m.” he said, a hand up with a finger outstretched and pointing to the glass revolving doors of the office building directly across the street from where they sat. “That’s the item which I wanted you to see exactly at this moment, Huffy.”

From the mass of people exiting the building one person in particular stood out. A thickly built, bullet head of a man dressed in a very expensive suit followed by a thug of similar construction. Both men walked out of the office building and up to the curb. The thug lifted a hand up and snapped his fingers and a black BMW 750i slid up to the curb quickly. Both men got in and the car didn’t hesitate. The car pulled out into the traffic and disappeared in seconds.

“Boris Gargarov? You wanted me to look at that ugly bastard again? I know who Boris Gargarov is. He’s the number three man in the Russian mob here on the eastern seaboard.”

The man with the brown eyes and curly blond hair nodded, the grin on his lips widening as he reached inside his sport coat and pulled out a sheet of paper and handed it to the dark man dressed in a dark suit and scowling with a dark frown.

“I love the way the Russians are so precise in their timing, don’t you? It’s like they can’t function without a clock running somewhere timing them.”

Huffy Huffington wasn’t listening to Beano. He had flipped open the folded piece of paper and was scanning the short list of items neatly typed in numerical order. One item in particular caught his attention.

“What the hell do you want a small canister of Agent 15 and its antidote? That stuff’s hard to get a hold of and I doubt our clients will be too willing to just hand some over without a good reason.”

“Boris Gargarov is going to be our patsy. Our fall guy. And the requested item asked for is going to provide that needed benefit.”

Huffington’s eyes narrowed and the scowl deepened.

“What the hell are you talking about, Beano. Cough it up. I’m not asking for this stuff unless I know what it’s going to be used for. And where.”

Beano expected this. Expected to be grilled. Huffy’s ‘clients’ were a difficult bunch of Washington bureaucrats to work with. Surreptitiously of course. They wanted to make sure their involvement never became official.

“Boris is an up-and-comer in the mob. He’s openly campaigned to take over Nerensky’s job. Boris claims Nerensky is more important back in Europe . So if he leaves, Boris is ready to take over. There’s no love between Nerensky and Gargarov. Neither trust’s the other. And for us, that’s a perfect set up.”

Huffy scowled as he nodded. He could see where the brown eyed, blond haired private detective—and all around fixit expert in various and sundry areas of legal and illegal venues—was taking this.

“So you’re somehow going to use the gas to make Nerensky think Gargarov took the attaché case.”

“That’s the plan,” nodded the smiling Beano. “Want the particulars?”

“No! Huffington growled swiftly, folding the paper and its list and sticking inside a coat pocket. “The less I know the better my plausible deniability will be. When do you want the stuff?”

“By Friday. No later than Friday night before eight p.m. ”

The scowling man nodded as Beano opened the Lincoln ’s rear door and slid out. Walking back to his ‘Vette he was whistling a tune and eyeing the young ladies in their flashing smiles and trim outfits eyeing him as they passed by on the sidewalks.

Late Monday afternoon the elevator doors to the floor just below Nerensky’s suite opened and out rolled a janitor’s dolly followed by a man dressed in the uniform of the building’s janitor department. Onto the carpeted hallway the janitor pushed the dolly in front of him toward a large wood door. Stopping in front of it he reached inside his pants and pulled out a thick wad of keys. Thumbing through several of them the janitor found the one he wanted. Unlocking the utility closet he swung the door open and wide and then reached out to grab the dolly and pull it into the closet. And all the while he was keenly aware of the dark lens of security camera whirring around to watch his every movement.

Beano knew he had about twenty—maybe twenty-five—seconds at most before one of Nerensky’s goons would step out of the elevator and walk down the hall and open the closet door. They always came down from the suite above to check out the cleaning staff. The heating and air conditioning in the mob boss’s apartment was a separate, self-contained system. But in the closet was a recycling air duct that went up to the apartment. If anyone wanted to use . . . say, something like Agent 15 for example . . .the best place to insert the gas into the closed system would be from this closet.

Beano reached down into the large canvas bag of the janitor’s dolly and grabbed the heavy foam plastic mask and slipped it over his head. A mask that looked remarkably like Boris Gargarov. No sooner had it place than he heard the bell to elevator out in the hall ring. Reaching inside the canvas bag again he wrapped fingers around the butt of the oddly constructed gas-powered dart gun and lifted the barrel up and toward the closet door just at the door opened.

Pffutt! The dart containing the potent and fast-acting anesthetic impaled the Russian thug in his left thigh. The thug, a look of total and complete surprise written all over his Belarus ’ face, blinked a couple times in shock before suddenly collapsing into a mass of arms and legs in the closet doorway.

Dragging the sleeping goon into the tight closet Beano used the back of the sleeping thug as a step stool as he quickly drilled a hole in the exposed air duct and then lifted up the small canister of Agent 15 and screwed it into place.

Agent 15 was an Iraqi gas designed to incapacitate its victims. Very similar to NATO’s BZ 15 gas, the Iraqi version was perhaps a tad more potent. Used properly it made the intended target begin to lose control of its bodily functions and coordination. More importantly, it made the victim hallucinate. In small amounts the victim would be semi-conscious and unable to move. And wildly susceptible to vivid hallucinations.

Beano glanced at the Rolex on his left wrist and waited. It took time for the gas to take effect. When time passed he stepped out of the closet—but this time dressed and looking like the thug who came down to check out the janitor—and walked to the elevator.

A slumbering thug lay in the doorway leading into the Nerensky apartments. Apparently the man was walking out when the gas hit him. Stepping over the sleeping beauty Beano—now wearing the Gargarov mask—checked out several of the other sleeping beauties. Satisfied they all were half delirious and completely unable to move, he moved across the room to where Nerensky sat in his favorite chair in front of a tv screen. On the coffee desk beside the chair was now the unattached attaché case.

Stepping in front of the dreamy eyed mobster Beano bent down and almost stuck the mask he was wearing into Nerensky’s face. Reaching inside his pants pocket he pulled out a small digital recorder and held it up to Nerensky’s ear and clicked a button.

“I told you it’d be easy to fool that idiot, Nikolai. Did I not tell you that? As simple as stealing candy from a baby!”

It was Boris Gargarov’s voice. A recording Beano had recorded two weeks earlier with a spike mike as Boris and his lead body guard left an apartment. The two had roughed up a minor goon who had tried to steal something from Gargarov. That’s when Beano came up with the plan. The plan to steal the attaché case and blame it on Gargarov.

Stepping back Beano moved to one side and reached for the handle of the attaché case. But the cold steel of a gun barrel touched the back of Beano’s head. Lifting hands up Beano’s eyes darted to one side. In a mirror attached to the wall above a writing desk he saw the masked image of a Russian thug holding an American made .357 revolver to the back of his head. Somehow the goon realized what was happening around him and had time to find a gas mask and slip it on before going down himself.

“Nerensky, when he wakes up, is going to cut out your heart and feed it to you, Boris.” the goon grunted in Russian.

Beano moved. Moved suddenly and violently.

The goon had made a cardinal mistake. By standing close enough to Beano to stick the barrel of his gun against the back of Beano’s head he opened himself up for a swift and sudden attack. Beano bent forward suddenly and at the same time used his right foot to kick violently backward. His foot slammed into the right kneecap of the thug. The thug grunted in pain and lost the grip of his .357. Beano whirled around. He lifted a hand up, intending to use the edge of his hand and bring it down on the exposed neck of the thug. But the ex-Speznets assassin countered. For five or ten seconds the two fought. But the bum leg of the goon was enough to decide the issue. Not able to move laterally fast enough Beano finally got the advantage and ripped the goon’s gas mask off with one violent swipe of the hand. Two gulps of air and the man froze and his eyes almost popped in cold fear. A hard blow to the sternum and then a chop of the hand down on the neck dropped the goon to the carpet.

Beano took the attaché case and walked out of the suite quickly. Riding down to the floor below, he retrieved the canister of Agent 15 from the air duct and tossed it into the car’s trash bag. Pushing the janitor’s cart in front of him he moved to the elevator and stepped in. Only after the elevator’s doors closed did he pull off the Gargarov mask and drop into the trash container.

It went without saying that Huffy and his clients were very grateful in obtaining the attaché case. A week later Beano and Huffington sat in the white Lincoln in the vast expanse of a suburban shopping mall.

“Here’s you fee, Beano. As agreed,” the frowning man said, handing Beano a sealed envelope. “As you asked for. A bank account in Hong Kong . And by the way, you were right. Nerensky didn’t like Gargarov at all. Let’s just say there has been a change in leadership and call it good. Okay?”

Sure, why not, Beano thought, grinning to himself, as he rolled out of the Lincoln and walked back to the blue ‘Vette waiting for him. Sometimes change is good.

B.R. Stateham is sixty-one years old and serious infected with the bug to write noir stories. Soon he will be sixty-three–but the bug will still be there.

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