This Makes It Even
We were cruising on Wilmont in the ’91 Z-28 Camaro ragtop and enjoying the first truly summer day. The sun was out and hot. There was a slight breeze stirring the trees lining Wilmont and young girls were strutting their stuff in tank tops and scandalously short cut-off raggy blujeans. It felt good to be alive. Funny how one’s luck can change in the blinking of an eye.
Inside my coat pocket the cell phone buzzed. I pulled it out and flipped it open and hefted it to an ear.
“Turn, we need to talk. Now. You know where.”
The phone went dead. Frowning, I glanced at my partner. He was setting in the bucket seat beside me, arm draped over the car door and his stringy, short carrot top hair blowing in the wind. He was also eyeing me quizzically.
“That was Willie. Says we need to talk.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” the big shouldered, no-neck nightmare grunted and frowned. “At the usual place?”
“Uh huh,” I nodded, flipping on a right hand signal and turning into a narrow gap in the traffic and hitting the gas at the same time.
Willie was one of our stoolie’s. We—Frank and I—are cops. Homicide is our gig. And like all good cops we rely on a few select small time hoods to feed us information whenever and wherever they get it. Usually when we need information we have to track them down and shake it out of them. But when a stoolie calls you and is as cryptic as Willie can be you know there’s something wrong. Very wrong.
Twenty minutes later we were standing in front of the black with white racing stripes Camaro in an alley a normal human being wouldn’t be caught dead in. It was a narrow alley walled in on either side by decrepit and abandoned brick buildings. Cat shit, overflowing trash cans and piles of ripped open trash bags and other assorted piles of dendrites I didn’t want to examine too closely littered the place. The alley was deserted and deathly quiet. Always a place which made the both of us a bit nervous whenever came there. To our left was a weathered, paint chipped wooden door which led into the back of Ollie’s Pool Hall. Wille’s primary residence while awake and plying his trade as a bookie and pool shark.
The door opened and Willie came out quickly, closing the door rapidly behind him. A tall, thin black kid in his early thirties with long, delicate hands and a boney, narrow face. On his ears were diamond studs punched into his earlobes. All of his fingers had on gold rings loaded with diamonds. He was dressed in light blue slacks, an outrageously loud Hawaiian print shirt and a light tan sport coat. White loafers and neon green socks completed the picture. He turned his head and looked at us, flashing a big toothy grin of the whitest enamel I’ve ever seen. But this grin wasn’t a friendly one.
“What the fuck have you two clowns done this time!”
His voice was a high pitched whiney southern drawl. Stepping between us he glanced one way down the alley and then the other and then looked at me and shook his head knowingly.
“Jesus, every time I turn around I hear you two pitiful crackers have your white peckers on the chopping block again. But this time y’all, this time it’s really heavy. Really, really heavy.”
“Willie, what the hell you talking about?” Frank grunted, his tiny little eyes glaring at the kid angrily. “Come on, spit it out.”
“Some big hitters flew into two last night. Hired guns. Came in on the red eye I hear to do a couple of hits. I mean these are no amateurs y’all. They’re pros. Real pros.”
“Who’s their targets?” I asked.
For an answer Willie lifted up a hand and a long, thin finger pointed first at me and then at Frank. On Willie’s face was a look of genuine concern. Even sadness. Like a man has when he’s talking to people he knows are about to die.
“You two. Word has it someone with a lot of clout is fed up with you two nosing into his business. Wants the two of you taken out fast and dirty. The word is a big time hitter by the name of Rosa and someone by the name of Smitty came into town. Know’em?”
Rosa was new. But . . . glancing at Frank and frowning . . . Smitty we knew quite well.
“You sure about the last name. About the guy named Smitty,” Frank said his tone growing soft and quiet.
Frank and I deal with killers and dope addicts and homicidal maniacs on a daily basis. Over the years we’ve met some really cold blooded people who killed for pleasure. But no one . . . no one matched the ruthless efficiency and the cold unemotional professionalism Smitty exhibited in each of his kills. The guy sent chills up my back just thinking about him being in town. The man was like Antarctic frigid in his line of work.
The thing was, when it came to icing someone, he was an artist. His method delivery was varied and imaginative. Almost anything—any ordinary item—could be a deadly weapon in his hands. The only way we knew to stop him was to find him first. And that was going to be a problem. If Smitty didn’t want to be found . . .
Frank was on his cell phone and waiting for someone on the other end to answer. I knew who he was calling. Claudia—his wife. I reached for my phone to make a couple of phone calls myself. We needed information on this Rosa . Somehow we needed to find a way to remove one, or the other—or preferably both of them—as quickly as we could.
“Let’s go,” Frank grunted, snapping his phone shut and heading back to the car. “We’re in a hurry, Turn.”
I nodded and flipped my phone shut, nodded to a worried looking Willie, and walked to the car and got in. Starting up the engine, the rumble of instant horsepower was a low growl of impatience as I turned to Frank.
“Claudia’s at the Hopper Mills Shopping Mall. Second floor. Says there’s a big guy dressed like an Italian gigolo following her. Been following her for a half hour now.”
I nodded, threw the car into gear and moved out of the alley at a rapid clip. The Hopper Mills Shopping Mall was on the other side of the city and there was no fast way to get there.
“Told her to into Betty’s—you know, that restaurant you like—and find a seat where a lot of people can see her. Told her to stick. Don’t leave for any reason and if anyone bothers her she’s to start screaming at the top of her lungs.”
God help the person who bothered Frank’s wife. Frank’s built like a block of cold rolled steel with no neck and a head shaped like a cement block. And although he’s roughly about the same height I am—roughly about six-three—he’s a good hundred pounds heavier. But there’s not an ounce of fat on him. It’s muscle. All muscle. He’s ugly. He’s deceptively fast. He’s got an I.Q, the size of a Cray computer’s memory banks and he can be very nasty when it comes to someone bothering his family.
Professional killers look for a person’s weak spot to attack. Frank’s only weakness was his family and kids. Me? No family to speak of. No one at home to worry about. But I partner with Frank. We’re a team. So anything that upsets Frank eventually works its effects on me. Frank was upset. I could see it written on his mug. He worried about his wife being out in a mall alone with a potential killer following her.
A normal guy would make a foolish mistake in a situation like this. Rush to find his wife and not worry about anything else. And that’s when the hit would come down. Worried about a loved one made you unobservant. Sloppy.
But Frank’s not normal. Never saw him sloppy. Yes. He was worried about his wife and wanted to find her as soon as possible. But he also knew the opposition was expecting him to make mistakes. Frank doesn’t make mistakes.
The drive across town was fast. We ran several traffic lights and kicked the Z-28 well past ninety in downtown traffic. But we got to the mall in record time. The moment we climbed out of the car Frank went in one direction and I went in another. We would rendezvous at the restaurant where Claudia was waiting for us. But we would arrive in opposite directions. Don’t give a hit man two targets packed close together.
In the mall I scanned the crowds as I walked up to Betty’s. I didn’t see anyone fitting the description Claudia gave Frank. Entering the restaurant I scanned the crowd closely before glancing over to Frank and Claudia. They were sitting in a booth and Claudia was speaking rapidly in Italian to Frank, her hands waving about expressively. I didn’t go over to the booth. Stepping up to the long counter I ordered a cup of coffee and kept watching the crowd.
Frank glanced over at me and nodded his head slightly before the two of them slid out of the booth and walked out of the crowded restaurant. I waited five seconds and then pulled myself off the counter and followed. We both knew—Frank and I—that nothing was going to happen inside a crowded mall. A pro wouldn’t be so stupid. But out in the parking lot and away from the crowds and things could be different. Different and deadly.
In front of me Frank and Claudia were making their way through the crowd holding hands. I couldn’t help it—an appreciative smile played across my lips. Frank looked like a red headed Neanderthal risen from the extinct. Claudia was a drop-dead Italian fashion model that’d make the dead drool in their graves. Both madly in love with each other. As four kids and a mortgage in suburbia would testify. They were like the ingredients of salt. Two deadly poisons which, when combined, made something completely different.
I almost yelped when the cell phone in my coat rang. We were almost out of the mall as I yanked it out and threw it up to my ear.
“Listen carefully. It’s gonna come down fast and mean in about twenty seconds.”
I recognized the voice. Hard. Cold. The nightmare of a wolf on the prowl. Smitty’s voice.
“ Rosa works with a team. Six of’em. Their preference is knives. Three of them are going to go after Frank and Claudia the moment they reach your car. Two of’em are yours. Take’em out. Leave Rosa to me.”
Two thoughts hit me at the same time as I speed dialed my partner’s phone. One was an immense sense of relief. Smitty wasn’t hunting us. He was after Rosa . That was good. Very good. The day would come when we would have to go after Smitty. But this wasn’t that day.
The second thought was more of a question. Why was Smitty after Rosa ? There had to be a story behind that. But one that I didn’t want to hear. Sometimes you ask questions as a cop and find the answers. Sometimes you keep your mouth shut and just go with what they give you.
Just like Smitty said, the attack came fast and sudden. In the sea of cars for a parking lot we didn’t see a soul as we approached my ragtop. But when we got to the Camaro we heard car doors slam shut. Turning, I barely had time to block the long blade of a knife coming in to slice out a kidney. Between tightly packed cars a desperate struggle ensued. I was too busy with my two newly made acquaintances to see how Frank and Claudia were doing. Personally I get a little testy when someone is trying to kill me. So rules about a fair fight were forgotten. Taking the knife away from the first killer I broke his arm doing so and then used his blade and rammed it deep in the man’s rib cage. Not quite a death blow. But damn near it. The surprised killer staggered back and fell into his partner’s lunge. Blocking the second knife with a hand I threw an elbow up, and with all the force I could put into it, brought it across the man’s jaw as hard as I could. Bones snapped as the man’s rolled up into his skull. Both fell into the gab between the cars and didn’t stir.
Turning to help Frank I was just in time to catch one of the killers by his shirt collar. The guy was bent over and holding his bloody face. Catching the long sliver of a high heel in the eye can do some damage—especially so if you’re not anticipating such a blow from a beautiful woman. I threw the man across the hood of a car and broke his nose with a fist. The guy slid off the car, unconscious, like a spilled bowl of jello.
Turning again to help, I noticed Frank didn’t need any. More importantly, about two cars behind Frank I saw a car door open and a thin man with blonde curly hair dressed smartly get out of the back of a Ford LTD . He was lifting a cell phone to his ear as he started walking away at a brisk pace. I thought about going after him. After Smitty. But I thought, as my cell phone rang, why tempt fate?
“ Rosa won’t be bothering you any more, Turner. And Turner . . . this does it. This makes us even. All debts are paid.”
In the LTD we found Rosa slumped over in the back seat with his throat slit. Rosa and his team preferred blades. A big guy dressed like an Italian gigolo. It seemed appropriate he should go out that way. And Smitty—being Smitty—was like smoke. He disappeared into thin air.
Only Lucifer, and Smitty himself, knew when we would see him again.
He stood behind a book rack in the large mall bookstore thumbing through the pages of a thick book. Yet his eyes—as black as those of a Balinese cobra—kept roaming back and forth over the milling crowd moving down the concourse. Hundreds of people in all sizes, shapes and persuasions flowed like a river in the concourse. But he wasn’t interested in any of them. He had an interest in only three people. One in particular. His eyes would move to the crowd and then drift back to the man sitting on a bench.
A malevolent smile of pleasure pulled his thin lips back in a barely perceived snarl as he eyed the big man with the gold chains around his thick neck and dressed in the expensively cut suit and opened collared shirt. Like an Italian gigolo. Flashy. Shallow. Too confident n his abilities and underestimating the two men he had been paid to kill.
If you’re gonna kill two cops—especially two like Turner Hahn and Frank Morales—you’d damn well better know who you’re going up against. There are flat foot numbskulls for cops who barely knew how to chew gum and walk in a straight line. And then there are really tough yahoos who know how to handle themselves in tight situations. Turner and Frank were homicide detectives. Two of the best he had ever come up against. Naturals. Hard as nails and as tough as Teflon armor. Add intelligence to the mix and you had two men who could be very deadly when push came to shove.
Turner Hahn and Frank Morales were about as smart as they came. But he knew Rosa hadn’t done his homework. Knew the hired killer thought Hahn and Morales were going to be easy targets for him and his team to take out.
That over confidence was going to get him killed.
For the last twenty minutes he had been following Rosa who was, in turn, keeping well back but within eye contact of a very beautiful long haired beauty wearing a tight fitting skirt and bright yellow cotton blouse. On her head was a wide brimmed white hat decorated with a bright yellow ribbon. Draped over her shoulder was a huge yellow purse. On her dainty feet was a pair of yellow long stiletto heels. Breathtaking beautiful didn’t fully describe this woman. She was a dream. A vision. A beauty that made both men and women stop in their tracks and turn to watch her as she walked past them.
She was Frank Morales’ wife. A thin smile creased his wolfish lips. Never figured out how a mug like Frank could marry an Italian fashion model. It didn’t make sense a woman like her falling in love with a clone-like Neanderthal like Frank. But there it was. Madly in love. Four kids, a house in suburbia filled with baby toys, dogs and other assorted domestication.
His eyes moved back to Rosa .
The gigolo was following the woman. Making it obvious. She had noticed him some time back but she hadn’t panicked. Hadn’t raced for the parking lot trying to flee. Smart girl.
When Rosa came off the bench and started strolling down the concourse he slid the book back onto the rack and moved quietly out of the bookstore. Up ahead he saw the woman quickly open her purse and pull out a cell phone. She paused, her hands moving eloquently as she talked, but made no effort to turn and look at the man following her. But he knew. He knew the word had reached Frank and Turner a couple of gunman were hunting for them. And Frank was making sure his wife was safe.
His efforts to acquire his target were unfolding exactly as he planned. He glanced at his watch. In about twenty minutes he knew Turner and Frank would show up. Knew they would come to rescue the gorgeous dame from a thug like Rosa .
Right on cue Frank enter the mall through glass doors and come striding in like a man with a purpose. As big as a mountain. A no neck behemoth with carrot colored hair and hands as big as street maintenance snow plow. A man you didn’t want to upset. Interestingly, he came in alone.
Turning his head the dark eyed man smiled appreciatively. Coming from the opposite direction was Turner. Turner—with his curly black hair and that signature comma hanging over his right along with the thick black mustache. He looked like a movie star. A movie idol from the thirties whose name momentarily escaped him. Big. Strong. Wary. He watched the man as the man’s eyes took in the crowd looking for Rosa .
Pros. Coming from opposite directions meant an assassin would have to move quickly to take both of them out. A damn near impossible gambit knowing how fast these two could move. Watching from his advantage point he saw the back of Rosa as the gigolo slammed his way through the glass entrance and headed for the parking lot just as Frank took his wife’s hand and lead her into a restaurant called Betty’s.
Turner followed the two into the restaurant but didn’t join them. Instead he leaned against the counter and a waiter brought him a cup of coffee. As Frank listened to his wife speaking rapidly Turner kept eyeing the crowd as if he was expecting trouble.
Damn these two were good.
A few moments later he watched as Frank and his wife slid out of the booth and walk out of the restaurant with Turner bringing up the rear. When he saw the three of them heading for the parking lot he reached for his cell phone and used a thumb to speed-dial a number. When the dark haired detective jerked his phone out of his sport coat he started talking.
“Listen carefully. It’s gonna come down hard and mean in about twenty seconds. Rosa works with a team. Six of’em. Their preferences are knives. Three of them are going to go after Frank and Claudia the moment they reach your car. Two of’em are yours. Take’em out. Leave Rosa to me.”
He folded his phone closed and dropped it into pocket and watched Turner dial a second number. Frank’s number. Frank didn’t say a thing but listened and then dropped his phone into a slacks pocket. By now all four of them were in the parking lot and moving toward Turner’s classic ragtop Camaro.
Rosa and his men were sitting in a big Ford LTD just two cars away from Turner’s Camaro. Waiting. Waiting for the moment when five of them would come rolling out of the car with knives in hand and murder in their eyes. Turner, Frank, and Claudia walked past the LTD and stepped up to Camaro’s right passenger door just as the attack came.
He forgot about Turner and Frank and their problems. A hand reached down and yanked open the left side rear door of the LTD . He slid in like a wind-swept malaise and faced a surprised Rosa .
“What the fu . . . !”
Those were the last words the gigolo said in this lifetime. A knife, thin and razor sharp, flashed and a spurt of vivid red blood from a severed jugular vein painted the back side of the front seat. Rosa threw his hands up and tried to stop the blood but it was too late. He had only seconds to live. Throwing the rear door open Smitty came out of the seat and slammed the door shut behind him. A quick glance toward Turner and Frank told him they were okay. All five of their assailants were down and bleeding on the parking lot asphalt. Walking away briskly he reached for his phone and speed dialed a familiar number.
“ Rosa won’t be bothering you any more, Turner. And Turner . . . this does it. This makes us even. All debts are paid.”
Flipping his phone shut he smiled maliciously. He knew what Turner was thinking. A cop like Turner always asked questions. Always.
Where had the two met before?
He knew the black haired movie idol would lay away at night for days on end mulling over those questions. Good.
B.R. Stateham is almost as old as dirt. And almost an accomplished writer. Almost. For forty years he’s been writing stories and stacking them up in a closet hoping the day would come along and someone would ‘discover a fresh new voice in the detective genre.’ He’s still waiting. Discover his writing interests at this web site. www.brstateham.com