I thought too soon. The door opened letting in extra light from the corridor. Through my half-closed eyes I noticed the man who entered. Though he wore a white coat he was not a hospital employee. They do not carry a hunting knife in their hand to bring treatment to a patient. A voice came from the corner of the room behind my head. I realised it was the woman who had been there when I first woke.
|Shock By David O'Neil|
â€œWrong move, Iverson! Only hospital cutlery allowed.â€
The intruder laughed, â€œWrong time, wrong place, Lucy. I get two for the price of one.â€He was moving forward as he spoke and the knife was headed for my chest when a baseball bat hit his fore arm, the bones broke. I watched the arm fold around the shaft of the bat the fingers unclosing, and the knife drop out of sight floorward.
The smile turned to a grimace as the manâ€™s other hand lifted a Glock automatic from his belt, fumbling to release the safety one-handed.
On the return swing the bat contacted the back of the intruderâ€™s head with a soggy thud. His head hit the pillow beside me, his staring eyes blazing into mine. Then his lights went out. The head followed the body to the floor out of my sight.
I realised that the lady behind me had dropped the bat when I heard the clatter as it hit the floor. Then I felt the weight of her body sitting on the edge of the bed.
A shaky, but still sexy, voice asked, â€œAre you OK?â€
I managed a nod and, â€œYes. Thanks to you, and the baseball bat.â€
â€œHe should not have managed to get in here.â€ She stood and came round the bed to where I could see her. Stooping, she picked up the Glock where the intruder had dropped it. Cocking it she went to the door and cautiously peered out. Then she stepped through letting the door swing shut.
When Lucy returned she was accompanied by dapper man in three piece suit with blue tie, carrying a gabardine raincoat and a trilby hat.
People had been in already to remove the body of the intruder. The soggy head strike of the baseball bat had been decisiveâ€”and finalâ€”for Mr Iverson, the would-be assassin.
Mr White, the dapper man, spoke in a cultured voice. â€œMr Harry Ross, you appear to have become involved in a matter of national importance, perhaps inadvertently, but nonetheless, involved. While you are under investigation you will be kept in a safe house where you can be protected. If you are cleared you may be released to carry on your own lifeâ€”though I warn you now, that the attempt on your life indicates that the opposition do not regard you as free and clear.â€
Whilst I had been awake, I established that I had been injured in my left shoulder and my right leg and, though both wounds stung, neither was life threatening. My immobility in bed was largely due to the bedclothes, tightly tucked in to keep me from thrashing about.
I was able to release my body from the constraints of the bedclothes and venture on shaky legs, gingerly over to the cabinet where I guessed my clothes were stored. The blood had dried on the tear in the jacket and holes in the right leg of my pants were not as obvious as anticipated.
Removing the drip was no problem. I found a plaster in the small medical tray left by the nurse which allowed me to cover the needle site on the back of my hand where the drip had been inserted.
Dressed in my own clothes once more, I rested briefly on the bed before I set off for the outside world. In the corridor I encountered Lucy, who attempted to persuade me to stay and wait for the escort provided by Mr White.
â€œIf you insist on leaving, I suggest you take this with you.â€ She produced the Glock automatic from the drawer in her station in the corridor.
I took the gun and checked the safety was on, then slipped it into the waistband in the small of my back. â€œThanks, Lucy. Iâ€™ll call you and let you know how I get on. If Mr White asks, tell him you tried to stop me, but I wouldnâ€™t listen,â€
She smiled, passed over her card with her cell number and a landline. â€œIf a man answers come and get me. I live alone, and I am unattached.â€
I read the card. Lucy Woods, Registered Nurse. The address was in the village. I guessed a walk-up. I looked her in the eyes. They were serious and blue. I realised I was having a meaningful reaction to Lucy Woods. I managed, â€œThanks for everything,â€ and left.
The battered Mustang was parked where I had left it, when I had set out on foot the previous night. It started instantly. The deep rumble of the engine belied the scruffy-looking exterior. With a sigh, I settled into the form-fitting seat and eased away from the kerb.
I was away from the parking area and well downtown before I spotted the car following me. It was a black Lincoln, not agency issue. Ford Crown Victoriaâ€™s were the standard for FBI and most of the police services. Secret Service tended to use the Galaxy SUVâ€™s.
I was aware, and that was the main thing. I would not allow myself to get carried away with worry over the trailing car, but I would also need to keep it at a distance. At least until I knew a little more about the reason for the attack on my person. I was interested in the preoccupation of Mr White, who wished to keep me under wraps, â€˜For my own protection,â€™ while they cleared the field of whatever mischief his department was involved in. He had not divulged which department. The alphabet soup of security organisations proliferating in the central Government meant he could be from anywhere. I was left to guess that he would either be FBI or NSA. Since he did not fit the image of the FBI, I favoured the NSA or perhaps even a moonlighting CIA operative. I had not asked for a badge when he introduced himself, nor had he volunteered his background.
I managed to beat a red light and turned off my route home to Toniâ€™s garage, which lay beneath the arches of the Elâ€™. There was space for me to slip the Mustang into the stack car-parking elevator which rose as soon as the four wheels located on the tray. The voice-box beside the door clicked on, and the nasal tones of Slim Carlucci enquired if I required anything.
â€œHide the Mustang and find me some wheels, Slim. Iâ€™m making too many friends, and I could do with a little privacy.â€
â€œSure thing, Mr Ross. Thereâ€™s a navy blue Cutlass on floor six. The keys are in it. Toni .keeps it for emergencies. Iâ€™ll let her know.â€
â€œThanks, Slim. Iâ€™ll leave the keys with the Mustang.â€ I tucked a twenty dollar bill into the key-ring before I left the car. In the elevator, I punched the button for the sixth floor, and found my ride as directed. I have a thing for muscle-cars. It wasnâ€™t a Mustang, but it would do until I could use my own car again.
I tooled the growling Oldsmobile out of the garage and drifted back onto the main drag. The car felt eager to go, but I held back, hoping to spot my follower. I had no luck, so I made my way to the Bronx, and pulled over and parked where I knew I could use my I-pad without a problem.
GGâ€™s was one of the many restaurants in the area. The place was protected by the local mob, though only because the owner was related to the local Capo. It was old fashioned. Giorgio Giacometti, the patrono, allowed no drugs, numbers, or other mob activities within his walls. The family-run establishment was known to a select group of people who enjoyed fine country food from the south west of Italy. Members of the family, two daughters and a son, served at table and, one day each week, took over the cooking while Mama and Papa went to Coney Island in the summer, or in winter their cottage on Long Island. They had been married there in 1947, after Giorgio returned from his army service.
How did I come into this small haven of civilisation?
I had stood and defied the DA when he decided that Pietro Giacometti, Giorgioâ€™s son, was the perfect subject for a murder rap. This was despite evidence to the contrary.
The DA was ambitious. By concealing the proof of the boyâ€™s innocence, he could close the case, and his career would climax in the next mayoral campaign.
I had been lucky. Despite the efforts of the DA, I was able to reveal the hidden evidence and prove the DA had deliberately tried to conceal it. I made a lifelong enemy of Mark Archer, the deposed DA, and lifelong friends with the Giacometti family.
I am a consultant, at least thatâ€™s what my business card says. I was born rich and attended the right schools and obtained a law degree from Harvard, but I did not stay a lawyer. I had interned at a major law partnership during my training and swiftly realised that it was not for me.
My father was disappointed. My mother smiled sweetly and said, â€œTake a little time and decide later.â€ So I took her advice, left my home in Boston and settled for a life in the Army.
After six years in the Army, as a Delta Lieutenant, I was injured in a raid in West Africa, lost a little weight, gained a few new skills, and was no longer permitted to continue as a Delta officer. So I resigned.
A meeting with Pietro Giacometti occurred, and as a result, I became a consultant.
That was two years ago and history. I am now in GGâ€™s with a coffee mug beside me, I-pad in operation, researching possible reasons for the recent attack. I had an office upstairs above the restaurant, but mostly I worked downstairs where people could see me, and I could see them. If the restaurant was busy, I worked upstairs.
I rang a contact at the FBI, to see what he could tell me about Mr White. I was not surprised that there was nothing he could help with. The name was obviously a cover. In these days anyone could buy an authentic-looking badge and warrant card from any toy store. I shrugged. He would show up again. People like that always did.
My client had asked me to find out about a company her husband had become involved with. She was concerned because he was showing signs of serious stress, which was affecting their home life. It was the reason I was in place to get shot at. It was also my main concern, as I looked for any information on line, which I may have missed when I did my initial enquiry.
Giorgio came across the room carrying a mug of coffee, â€œYou have been hurt, my friend?â€
I shrugged and regretted it, as the wound in my arm twinged the stitches pulled. â€œSome guys doing a random shoot out. I got in the way.â€
â€œYou saying it were accidental?â€ Giorgioâ€™s accent was only faintly Italian these days. I noticed it got stronger when he was dealing with customers.
â€œProbably. Who knows? One minute I am talking to this guy. The next he is on the pavement with his head spread out in bits. The guns keep firing and Iâ€™m down there with him, using his body to cover me. I hauled out my gun and blasted off in the general direction of the shooter. Then nothing, I woke up in hospital.â€
â€œWho were you talking to?â€ He paused. â€œPerhaps he knew something he shouldnâ€™t talk about and someone was making sure he kept his mouth shut. You would go on the list if they think he might have told you.â€
I thought about this. It had occurred to me, but the man I had been talking to was a complete stranger. I was asking him for directions.
I shrugged and said, â€œThe only reason I know the guyâ€™s name is because Mr White mentioned it in hospital. So I see two options: jump a jet to LA and hit the beach: Or find out who the guy really is and why anyone wanted to waste him, and subsequently me. That way I can maybe, stop looking over my shoulder, and get on with my life.â€
â€œYou need a hand, call me.â€ Giorgio stood up to return to his kitchen. â€œCall me!â€ He repeated, as he disappeared through the kitchen door.
For a brief moment I wondered how Giorgio, who was in his sixties at least, was able to help me. Then I remembered who his brother was, and decided perhaps he could help me more than I realised.
The two men who came into the restaurant while I was still sitting drinking coffee were blueprints of Agency men. The grey suit, white shirt and dark tie, with black oxford shoes, were a dead giveaway. They had the purposeful look of men with a mission and their focus was on me. Which was unfortunate, because right behind them two Armani-clad heavies stepped in. They grabbed the pair. A short discussion was followed by their enforced departure.
I watched the incident with interest. The intruders had produced badges. Their evictors showed no interest. All four left. I was working my I-Pad when one of the Armani men returned.
â€œMy apologies, Mr Ross. Those guys were NSA. They wanted to chat, they said. I told them you were not to be disturbed, so they said they would call when you were not so busy. My advice would be to use that gun if they show up again. They are removal specialists.â€
â€œThank you, sir. I appreciate the heads-up.â€
He nodded and left the premises.
I sat back. It seemed that Lucyâ€™s instincts were correct. I really would need to watch my step from now on.
Thinking of Lucy, I pulled her card from my pocket, I guessed she would be off duty now so I rang her cell number.
â€œHarry Ross.â€ I said.
â€œHi, Harry. Whatâ€™s up?â€
â€œI was getting hungry and wondered if you were interested in joining me for dinner?â€
â€œWhere would you be if I said yes?â€
â€œOutside your door in 30 minutes in a dark blue Cutlass.â€
â€œLook for me. Iâ€™ll wear a red dress.â€
She chuckled as she rang off. I thought, this woman is my sort of people! I gathered up my gear, paid my tab and, waving farewell to Giorgio, went to meet Lucy.
The village is full of little places, lots of quiet spots and plenty of outlets for the wide variety of â€˜artisticâ€™ talent living in the area.
Lucy had a favourite spot. It buzzed with quiet chat, and hungry people. Nobody bothered with anyone beyond the rim of the table edge. The dim flicker of candlelight made reading difficult, but only if you were interested in reading. The clientele knew the menu off by heart, so why bother trying to read. Newcomers took their chances with the recommendation of the waiter, or took one look through the door and left. Their loss!
We enjoyed a murmured conversation, getting to know each other without pressure. I realised that the food in front of me deserved attention. The lengthened silent periods were a sign of our mutual appreciation of the genius of the chef.
Between the main course and the dessert, we spoke. But it has to be said, there was more unspoken between us than expressed in words. When we left the restaurant we walked back to her apartment. I found that her hand connected and gripped mine quite naturally and, once the connection was made, it stayed that way to her door.
Her apartment was above a dress shop. We parted at the door. Well, we kissed and parted at the door. She had an early shift, and I had things to do. There would be time.
Mr White was not happy. He was in the office they were using for the current project. The report on Harry Ross was that â€˜there was no report on Harry Rossâ€™. The reason? Harry had dropped off the grid, despite the fact that this operation involved the most skilled agents from the three top agencies.
Mr White, in real life Alfred Simmons, was Agent-in-charge of the dedicated team known as Paragon. Set up to deal with threats to the nation, specifically identifying those involving the President Martin Desmond and his family. The current enquiry involved the person shot whilst meeting with Harry Ross.
While the actual importance of the man had not been established, the fact that he was killed whilst talking with Ross, suggested that he was regarded as more than just a foot-soldier, in whatever scheme was underway.
Harry Rossâ€™s failure to come up with any feedback on the man was irritating, and Simmons was inclined to believe that Ross was holding something back. The problem with dealing with someone like Ross was that he had a wide circle of friends. He was former Special Forces, and he had retired as a result of injury. His legal training had been of use in deposing Mark Archer, the corrupt DA. The case had not highlighted any fault on the part of Ross. On the contrary, his conduct had been demonstrably correct, but it had caused a few skeletons to rattle in the upper reaches of law enforcement, making life uncom-fortable for the young lawyer/investigator.
He had dropped off the radar. That was until recently. The case involving the Giacometti boy had brought him into the spotlight. It seemed now he was once more doomed to upset the establishment, this time at a level, way higher than that of the former DA, Mark Archer, which was where Albert Simmons/Mr White became involved.
Simmons smiled as he thought of that aspect of things. It certainly made it clear that if you are going to abuse public office, it is better to remember, even if you think you have got away with it, that the chances are there was someone looking over your shoulder you had not taken into account.
I woke in my own bed and for a moment just lay there checking my body for aches and pains. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, apart that is from the plasters covering the stitches at shoulder and leg, I rolled out of bed and stretched. Then, after a visit to the shower, I poured cornflakes into a bowl, added milk and wondered, as I crunched my way through them, what my mother would say. She had always insisted that cereal was good for me, whilst I fought for toasted pop tarts, and called for pancakes and bacon. Now I enjoyed cereal. I sighed, Mom would be proud. I switched on the TV. Car chases, shootings, same old stories. I flipped channels and stopped when I reached â€˜Lovejoyâ€™.
The imported program was a favourite. The attitude of the rogue antique dealer was one that amused me. Certainly, I admired his ability to evade the consequences of some of his more dubious actions.
The phone rang as the program ended. I switched off and picked up the handset.
A female voice said, â€œHarry Ross?â€
â€œThatâ€™s what they call me.â€ I answered flippantly.
The called hesitated a moment, then spoke, the voice was feminine and breathless. â€œIâ€™m Robert Baylissâ€™s sister.â€
â€œSorry. Robert Bayliss. I donâ€™t recall anyone of that name...?â€
She broke in, â€œHe was shot when he spoke to you.â€
I made the connection. â€œOh, right. Iâ€™m sorry I was not told his name and we didnâ€™t get that far in our conversation.â€ I suddenly realised how unfeeling that was since I was talking to the dead manâ€™s sister. â€œSorry about that.â€ I said again.
â€œCan I see you, please? You could be in serious danger.â€ She had control of her breathing now, sounded calmer.
â€œSure. Where would you like to meet?â€ I guessed my office would not be on the list. I was right.
â€œHow about the cafe in Central Park, at the Park Avenue side. Maybe lunch time?â€
â€œOkay, how will I know you?â€
â€œI will know you. I saw your picture when you helped that Italian boy with the DA.â€
â€œRight. 12:30. Cafe in the park. Iâ€™ll be there.â€
I put the phone down and sat back. Contrary to popular belief I did not stick my neck out for the hell of it. I thought for a few minutes, running through the people I knew who might be of use as back-up in a tight corner. I used the phone and spoke to Pauly Oâ€™Brian. I found him at the second try. â€œPauly, what are you doing today?â€
The Irish lilt in his voice was responsible for the destruction of many a colleenâ€™s defences, but to me it was just a â€˜Mickâ€™ accent.
â€œMr Ross, what a pleasure to hear your voice after all this time. I understood you were in hospital.â€
â€œRumours, Pauly. Just rumours. I need backup for a meeting at the cafe in the Park. Are you available?â€
â€œFor you, Mr Ross, Iâ€™m always available. What time do we go? Together, or do I follow you in?â€
â€œ12:15. Follow me in. Iâ€™m meeting a young lady, but there are one or two people about who are not very friendly. So bring your friend with you, just in case.â€
â€œThat I will, sir. That I will. You will see my Peugeot in the car park there. Youâ€™ll know I am about with my eyes open.â€
â€œGood. The usual rates.â€ I put the phone down gently and stepped over to the window. I kept out of the direct line of sight. If you wonder why I did this, it is because I am thirty-two years old. I reached that milestone by being careful and following my instincts, something was telling me that there was company about which I did not really wish to meet at this time. I still had no idea what I was involved with. In this case I decided I should be aware of the reason and the stakes, before I got too acquainted with whoever was targeting me.
The guy who was in the street worried me. He was so not dressed for this sort of stake-out. The suit was just too upright, if you know what I mean. In this area people dressed in decent clothing, but Brooks Brothers or Armani meant FBI or the Mob. The guy was like a sore thumb. My guess was Mr White had something to do with it.
I left the apartment through the garage, the Cutlass being still unidentified. I passed the watcher without him realising I was gone.
I parked the car in the parking area, opposite the Peugeot that I recognized as Paulyâ€™s.
As I walked over to the cafe with its scatter of open-air tables I made no attempt to locate my back-upâ€™s position. In this business you may or may not have expert opposition, so you donâ€™t take chances if you wish to survive.
I glanced at the customers seated around the area. No lone ladies, no unoccupied tables. I scored point one to my date for finding a place inside the cafe. I headed through the door into the interior, where a murmur of conversations hovered over the busy scene.
Toward the back wall a hand lifted and waved as I closed the door, so I threaded my way through to a table for two occupied by a young woman. Maybe 24-5, neatly assembled inside a grey business suit. The white blouse had a vee neck hinting at the soft curves it concealed. She did not get up as I approached, but she smiled and gestured at the empty chair opposite.
â€œHarry Ross, I presume.â€ She said in a quiet voice.
â€œAnd you are?â€ I countered.
â€œMegan Bayliss, sister to Robert Bayliss....The late Robert Bayliss.â€
I now knew the name of my recently deceased companion. It meant nothing to me, but maybe now I would find out why he had been shot, and perhaps why me?
â€œSorry for your loss, Miss Bayliss. What can I do for you?â€
â€œYou could tell my why you were meeting my brother perhaps?â€ Her voice was soft and I realised that this conversation would not be heard by anyone else nearby, unless they had directional micâ€™s trained on us.
â€œSadly, I cannot. I had stopped your brother to ask for directions to a local address. That was it. I did not know him and I have no idea what his business is or why anyone should want to kill him. I am anxious to know what he was involved in, because I am now on the hit list of whoever shot us at that time.â€
She put her hand to her mouth. â€œOh! I was so sure you could tell me why he was killed like that. He was an accountant. He was not involved with crime. His business was based on looking after the accounts for a select group of people.â€
â€œAnyone who may be connected to questionable dealings?â€
A brief smile appeared, and disappeared as she said wryly. â€œSenators, four, maybe six of them. Plus a local supermarket chain.â€ She paused, then slowly said, â€œI believe, Paul Gritti, though I understand that he had insisted on dealing only in above the line dealings, or nothing.â€
â€œOur godfather, Andrew Duggan, and Ed Garland and 3/4 others. I think maybe Henry Fielding. I cannot recall the others.
â€œThe supermarket chain is operated by Charity 6. Iâ€™m not sure of any others, but all were above board with no mob or terrorist connections, apart from Paul Gritti as far as I am aware. And in fairness, he has always been very careful to only deal on the basis of the legitimate companies in the area.â€
â€œWhy would you think of there being a mob, or terrorist, connection to your brotherâ€™s death?â€
â€œWho else sends killers out to murder people on the street?â€
â€œRandom shooters for the fun of it. Maybe I was the target and your brother got in the way?â€
â€œYou donâ€™t think that! The attack at the hospital indicates that your name has gone onto the list, but I would guess that would be in case my brother told you something.â€ She stopped at that point, realising that she had said perhaps too much.
â€œYou know about that attack then?â€
â€œI was at the hospital arranging about Robertâ€™s body, when the story came round about the attack. They brought the body of the killer into the morgue while I was there. I recognized him straight away.â€
â€œYou knew the man?â€
â€œHe came from my home area, went to the same school, although he was two years ahead of me. Everyone knew he would come to no good. Nobody was surprised when he joined the local gang, running numbers, leaning on people. Then there were the girls. At that point he was run out of the area. The local Catholic Church was powerful, and they did not approve of the trafficking of women. Getting away with drugs, murder, extortion, that they could accept. The line was drawn there, at least as far as the church was concerned.â€
The bitterness in her voice at the mention of the church was interesting, I mentally filed it with the other things I was learning and asked the burning question. â€œYour brother was going somewhere when I met him. Do you know where?â€
She looked at me narrowly for a moment, â€œHe did not tell me, but I was sure he was going to see one of his clients. He was unhappy with some of the information that he had been given. He did not mention which one it was, but it was not something he expected from the client concerned. I guessed, from a part of a telephone conversation I overheard, that the client was not pleased to hear from him. Robert was angry that he was being used. That was the word I got. He went out in a rush after that call.â€
I leaned forward. â€œIâ€™m told he worked from home, are his computer and records still there? Did he take any records with him when he left the house?â€
The waitress arrived with our food. After she left I reminded her of the question I had asked.
She turned the sandwich she had ordered over before answering. â€œHe left them there but they are no longer where he left them.â€
â€œWhat do you mean! No longer there?â€
â€œI am not stupid. I was brought up in the neighbourhood. When I was told of his shooting I took everything and placed it somewhere safe.â€ She smiled, â€œJust in case.â€
I was relieved to hear this, though I didnâ€™t point out at the time that she had posted herself as a target for any of the clients who thought they had things to hide.
I saw the man out of the corner of my eye. He came into the cafe and looked around.
It was the suit that gave it away, that and the fact that he did not select a table and sit. He looked around and obviously not finding what he was looking for, he turned and left.
The problem with carrying a gun in a formal suit is that if you button the jacket, turning tends to tighten the fabric and can outline the hard outline of a gun in an underarm holster. Personally, I did not need to see the gun as I was already aware that he would be armed.
I was not fooled by his casual manner. He was a pro, of that I was certain. My problem was why so many agencies seemed interested in me?
I turned back to my table companion, â€œAre you going to tell me why your brother was shot?â€
â€œBecause he had found an account that should not have been there belonging to one of his clients.â€
â€œDo you know which client?â€ I was curious. I was already thinking that a trip to Bali might be a good idea. This was not a happy scenario. The mix of politicians and agencies and charities, whilst eclectic, added up to a toxic situation for anyone caught in the middle and it appeared that, if I was not already there, I was too close for comfort. â€œAre you older or younger than your brother?â€
â€œIs there a reason why you ask such a question?â€ She said a little sharply.
â€œIs there a reason why you do not wish to answer?â€
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter. I am, was, older by a year since you ask, and I really do not mind answering, I just get fed up with all the personal questions Iâ€™m expected to answer. In fact I believe that the account that was bothering him was that of a Senator.â€
â€œDo you know which one?â€ Itâ€™s an obvious question but getting information from her was like drawing teeth.
Deadpan, she said, â€œEd. Garland!â€
I sucked in my breath. Ed Garland. Playboy Ed, renowned for his private life, loved for his bitter battles with his fellow Senators. Ed, the champion of the underdog. The peoplesâ€™ politician.
â€œDo I detect a problem with this, disapproval perhaps?â€
Her face hardened. Mr Garland had been a friend of the family for years. He was one of Robertâ€™s godfathers. There seemed to be some sort of mistake with his information, so you will realise that Robert was not about to spread the word about without considerably more investigation.
â€œWhen the news came about Robertâ€™s death in your company, we presumed he was contacting you to conduct enquiries into the Senatorâ€™s affairs.â€
â€œWe? Who are we?â€
â€œMy godfather, Andrew Duggan, and me.â€
My eyebrows rose at the mention of the name. Duggan, a doyen of the House of Representatives, was a member of the most exclusive political clubs in the nation, rubbing shoulders with the President, among other senior dignitaries. Certainly on first name terms with the movers and shakers in Government.
Suddenly, I was aware of the reason for that agent at the door who did not see me.
â€œTell me, Megan. Why are you here today?â€
â€œI was asked to meet you and find out what you know.â€
I rose to leave. â€œSince you now know all I know, I will get moving.â€
â€œNo, please! Donâ€™t go. I am still worried about the way Robert died, and the fact that you were targeted in addition. It was such a callous attack and I see now that it was JIC.â€
â€œOh, sorry. â€˜just in case. Text talk, Iâ€™m afraid. Spending far too much time these days just generating trivial texts between friends, â€˜so calledâ€™.â€
I started to move. â€œI need to get going. If you remember anything call me on my home number. Anything new that is. If Iâ€™m out I will call back. I am interested in anything on Senators, good or bad.â€ I raised my hand to stop her going ballistic. â€œI need to make sure that there are no threats, that no one is fabricating evidence to involve them, or to blackmail them with.â€
This seemed to make it right, and I rose to leave. Turning to the kitchen door, I flipped the door open and stepped through. As the door swung back, I saw the front door fly open. Two men ran in guns poised and made straight for the kitchen. The room was open, the three staff in there busy with their jobs. I stepped to one side behind the door and hauled out my own gun, cocked it and waited. The door was flung open and the two men rushed in.
â€œStop right there!â€ My voice was loud enough to get their attention. Both stopped. â€œNow turn slowly around and put your weapons on the table and step away from them.â€
They complied, but it was plain to see they did not like it. Pauly stepped through the outside door quietly. One of the two chasing me made a grab for his gun, unaware that Pauly was behind him. The frying pan made a resonant clunk as it hit his exposed head. It made the point as the man collapsed in a heap on the floor.
By this time the chefs were getting restive, the boss man was waving his chopping knife and speaking in a foreign language excitedly. Pauly looked the frying pan speculatively
â€œLeave it, Pauly. Let us leave while we still can.â€
We left the car park in a shower of gravel in Paulyâ€™s Peugeot. I had already decided to have the Cutlass collected later.
â€œWhere to, boss?â€
I looked at the big man beside me. He had not raised a sweat. â€œLet us visit Senator Duggan. I believe we may find him on Long Island, since the Senate is not in session.â€
â€œLong Island? Are we talking the Hamptons? Because if we are, I recommend we change cars.â€
I looked around the Peugeot. He had a point. â€œLetâ€™s see what Toni can find us.â€
Pauly turned off the Avenue and threaded his way through to the Bronx.
â€œHey, Mr Ross? What happened to my Cutlass?â€ The voice of Slim sounded wounded.
â€œItâ€™s in the Central Park Cafe car-park. I was hoping one of your guys could collect it for me. We had to leave in a hurry. By the way have you something suitable for a visit to Long Island, perhaps a Caddy or a Lincoln?â€
Slim appeared in person. Up to now, the entire conversation had been conducted through the com system, on our way up in the elevator.
His diminutive figure belied the fact that he was four foot six of whang-leather, and renowned in the district for his ability to look after himself effectively.
â€œWe got a Mercedes 320. Will that do?â€
I shrugged. â€œSounds good to me.â€ I turned to Pauly. â€œCan you manage that?â€
Deadpan, Pauly turned to me and said, â€œIâ€™ll need a hat.â€
Shock David Oâ€™Neil
Using my cell phone, I called the Duggan household to see if the Colonel was at home. Though he was a Senator of considerable standing, Andrew Duggan was best known to me as the one-time Colonel of the Ranger battalion that I had worked with in some of the brush wars we were involved with, during my service with Delta. It meant that I was known to the Colonel and that we were, if not friends, acquainted well enough to offer and receive advice, and occasional information. Since he was Robert Baylissâ€™s and Meganâ€™s godfather, I thought it reasonable to visit and discuss Robertâ€™s death with the Colonel.
The colonial-style mansion reflected the benefits of established wealth. It had been the home of the family ever since the civil war. Rumour had it that the property had been the stake in a wager on the battlefield between two young officers in the New York Volunteers. The original ownerâ€™s family dated back to the Mayflower, so it was said. The Duggan element sprang from recent immigrants at that time. Phillip Duggan, having been an officer in the British Army, blooded in the final stages of the Crimean War, could not face the thought of barrack duties at Hounslow with his cavalry regiment.
In 1860 he had resigned his commission and sailed to America where he could make a life on the frontier. His enlistment into the volunteers was during a visit to New York at the outset of the civil war and at the instigation of his friend, Jack Hamilton, who was the sole heir to the family estates on Long Island. Having saved his friendâ€™s life, and guided him through the process of becoming an officer, Jack had made Phillip his heir in the event of his death.
The story of the poker game, so widely accepted, was just a story that no one in the Duggan family bothered to refute.
I stood on the veranda in front of the big double doors and tugged the cast-iron handle of the doorbell.
The door was answered by a well-dressed young man, who was obviously expecting me.
Now, seated in the drawing room, I was just a little nervous, and hoping it did not show.
Andrew Duggan walked into the room looking a little older than I remembered, but the grey hair was neatly cropped and the military bearing disguising a thickening waistline, with a well cut suit.
I rose to my feet and accepted the offered hand. â€œGood to see you, Ross. Itâ€™s been some time!â€
â€œJust over three years I believe. At the memorial dedication, in Arlington.â€ I reminded him.
He clicked his fingers. â€œRight. So what can I do for you?â€ He sat down waving me back to my seat.
â€œI was with Robert Bayliss when he was shot down in the street. I did not know whether you were aware of that fact?â€ I watched to see what reaction my words had.
Duggan stirred in his seat. â€œI was aware, but I guess I expected that, if there were anything I would want to know about the shooting, you would be in touch.â€
â€œI have absolutely no idea why Bayliss was shot. In fact, I was asking a stranger for directions when the bullets started flying. I discovered who the victim was when I woke in hospital. What is troubling me now, is that I have attracted the interest of half the Government agencies and at least one section of the mob, because of my being at the scene of the murder. This means they suspect I am somehow connected to whatever your Robert Bayliss was involved with. All I know is that he was an accountant and had a variety of clients, from senators to whomever. I am also informed that he was pissed off with one of them.â€
I sat back and waited for comment. I guessed what it would be, and I was right.
â€œWhere did your information come from?â€
â€œAm I right so far?â€
He shrugged. â€œIt lines up with my own information. Now where did you find this out?â€
â€œMegan and I had a chat, which ended with her suggesting I check out Tahiti or Bora Bora, and take a vacation for the next year.â€
â€œKnowing you as I do, I presume you do not intend to follow the advice?â€
It was my turn to shrug,
â€œItâ€™s difficult to change the habits of a lifetime, but it could get you killed someday. Meanwhile, I guess you are after the name of the villain of this piece, and, like me, you guess it will be the man or woman that Robert was pissed off with.â€
I looked at him expectantly.
â€œWhy do you think that I would have a list of his clients?â€ Andrew Duggan said defensively.
â€œIf I said, â€˜To be ready to watch his back if things go wrongâ€™, would that be acceptable?â€
He considered for a moment, and then shook his head. â€œNot entirely. More likely the quality of the clientele made him a possible source of information, over a wide field of activity, thus well worth cultivation. Plus a fall-back excuse, to keep him from harm.â€
I studied the man and, as I had observed on past occasions, this was not a man to play poker with. â€œSo what went wrong?â€
Duggan looked at me intently. â€œBluntly, you did!â€ He lifted his hand to stop me as I went to protest and continued. â€œRobert was boiling when he left home, furious at one of his clients who, he discovered, had broken their working agreement. He was being followed by one of my people, and apparently by two of the other interested parties. You were obviously recognized, and one of the followers panicked. It seems he thought Robert spoke to you, rather than the other way round. He shot first. My man took him out, sadly too late to prevent Robert from being shot. You were shot by the other follower, who hasnâ€™t yet been identified.â€
â€œAny idea why me?â€
Duggan looked me in the eye. â€œGet real, Ross. Youâ€™re an enquiry agent. That would raise a question straight away. You are known in the district for being the guy who bounced the DA. Why not you? You are speaking to a guy who is boiling at one of his clients, not quietly in his office, loudly, on the street. His clients include big wheels in industry, politics, and who knows. Any one of the bunch could, Iâ€™m sure. Most will have something to hide, so which one? So far he has not said. Just in case, they keep an eye on him. Meeting you was his bad luck, and it looks as if he had passed that on to you, like it or not!â€
I sat back. I had learned nothing new, whichever way you looked at it I was in the sights of some very influential people, many quite capable of having a gun levelled in my direction. I looked at Andrew Duggan. Including my present company.
I rose to my feet, â€œDo you have any idea who Robert was mad at?â€ I did not expect the answer I received.
â€œMe! For one. He did my accounts and they came up short. An overseas transfer got lost in electronic transport and finished up in my personal account instead of the Companyâ€™s. It was adjusted, of course. But, in passing, it flagged up the fact that it was of doubtful origin. But I believe it was another account that was bothering him more. I am not the only Senator on his list.â€
â€œYou think another senator is involved?â€
Duggan nodded slowly. â€œI believe so. Not because Robert mentioned it specifically. Just a judgement based on some of our recent conversations.â€
I left the house with things on my mind, not convinced that Duggan was in the clear by any means. I needed to get access to the accounts in question, and that was unlikely to happen.
Pauly broke into my train of thoughts. â€œWhere to, boss?â€
â€œTake us to Toniâ€™s. This car makes me more than a little uncomfortable.â€
â€œItâ€™s a nice drive.â€ Pauly said wistfully.
I shrugged. â€œItâ€™s a bit rich for my blood, so I think weâ€™ll dump it and get back to the real world.â€
The Cutlass was back at the garage when we arrived, along with Paulyâ€™s Peugeot. I slumped thankfully into the driving seat, listening to the up-to-date report of the condition of the Mustang which was undergoing a facelift whilst it was in the garage. The voice of Slim Carlucci droned on as the elevator took us down to the street level.
â€œThanks, Slim.â€ I called., â€œIâ€™ll pick the Mustang up another time.â€ Turning the wheel, I drove onto the street and goosed the throttle. The throaty roar of the big engine re-assured me and made some of the sidewalk idlers jump.
I parked and walked up to the office above GGâ€™s restaurant. It had been a store room but now cleared it had a desk a chair and a settee for visitors. There was also a safe, a computer, and a file cabinet containing little at present. I confess I spend more time working in the restaurant downstairs than I do in the office. Just occasionally I lock myself away to think, and I had, now, plenty to think about.
I was not happy with the glib assumption that I had been shot in haste by a trigger-happy gunman tasked with following Robert. If Robert had been scheduled to be hit, or even marked as expendable, I would not have expected that the few seconds between my question and his possible answer would have made a professional go off at half cock. An opportunist hit I could understand, and the facts indicated that this had been just that. My approach, especially since I could have been recognized, would muddy the waters of the investigation. After all, I could have been the target and Robert was collateral damage. Two different guns indicated to me that Robertâ€™s follower, and the second gunman had different priorities. Or maybe there was only a single gunman, with two guns?
I was getting nowhere now. I needed to stand off and let things settle in my mind, which, not surprisingly, turned to Lucy. I checked my watch she would be coming off duty soon, now she was on the day shift. I messaged her to call me when she got home, suggesting I could bring some GG special takeout to go with the chilled soave I had ordered.
My cell beeped. â€˜6.00 sharp. Iâ€™ll be hungryâ€™. The message said it all. I locked the office and dropped in to the kitchen downstairs, and ordered the seafood risotto, breadsticks and cassata to go, while they put the white wine into the thermal sleeve to keep it chilled for the short journey to Lucyâ€™s apartment.
One of the things I was liked about her was that she did not pick at food daintily. She tucked in and enjoyed it along with the wine and still managed to converse socially while she was at it. Harry Connick sang softly in the background.
She rose and cleared the table, returning with a bottle of Hennessey cognac. From the cabinet came two balloon glasses. Into each glass she poured a healthy dram.
She passed a glass to me and seated herself at the other end of the settee, legs folded, facing me. Raising her glass, she breathed in the fumes from the brandy, eyes closed, enjoying the experience. I followed suit, appreciating the heady perfume. Then I sipped and allowed the warm alcohol to warm my being.
Lucy laughed. I opened my eyes. She said, â€œYou have never done that before, have you?â€
â€œNo. I havenâ€™t. But I will do it again in future. How about you?â€
â€œMy father made sure that I learned to appreciate wine and brandy. I never really managed to take to scotch to the same extent, though there are one or two that I can enjoy.â€
I confess that this was a moment that I did not wish to end. I was relaxed in company I was comfortable with.
I found myself saying, â€œI donâ€™t want to leave.â€
Lucy smiled, â€œThen stay.â€
Pauly called in the morning. The call woke me in a strange bed. There was a note on the next pillow. â€˜There is cereal in the kitchen cupboard, eggs and bacon in the fridge. Iâ€™ll see you tonight. Love, Lucyâ€.
I spoke with Pauly, â€œWhat?â€
â€œDonâ€™t go near the Cutlass. They have â€˜madeâ€™ it and they are staked out on the street where you left it.
â€œMeet me in GGâ€™s in 30 minutes,â€ I said. â€œIâ€™ll come in the back way just in case.â€
I was drinking coffee in GGâ€™s when Pauly wandered in and sat down in the booth opposite me. Pietro put a mug of coffee in front of him, raised an eyebrow, and when Pauly mimed Danish, he smiled and brought the plate from behind his back, there was a custard Danish on the plate with a little Italian flag stuck in the centre. Mama Giacometti did all her own baking.
As Pauly made a start on the pastry, I told him that, if he was interested, I would like to use his services on a permanent basis.
â€œBusiness picking up, I guess?â€ He spoke around a flurry of little flakes of the pastry.
â€œWhether I like or not, I am no longer prepared to operate a one man band. If you are willing I will hire you to watch my back and join me in future enquiries. It seems that this business is turning out to be more hazardous than I anticipated.â€ I sat back and removed the Glock from my waistband, laid it on the seat beside me and waited for an answer.
â€œDo I get to carry a gun?â€
â€œYou do, and you get a PI licence to justify it. Until then, this is unregistered and unlicensed, and kept for self defence only until you become official. Understood!â€ I slid it under the table to his waiting hand. â€œIt stays out of sight.â€
He looked down and checked the safety was on before slipping it into his waistband.
I checked my cell-phone then rang Toni at the garage. When she answered, I said, â€œThe Cutlass is on the street on the next block to my apartment. Have it picked up, but make sure whoever collects it checks it for nasty surprises. Back at the garage I imagine you will find a bug or two attached. Iâ€™ll leave it to you to decide what to do with them.â€
Toni laughed. It was a deep healthy gurgle. Toni was no Pirelli calendar girl, but she was all woman. She survived in a manâ€™s world. Her husband was bedridden, dying of MS, but she ran the business and looked after Benny, whom she adored, with a tenderness that few would have believed. â€œYou want the Mustang back? You may not recognize it. Slim has been giving it some attention. Man, he loves that car. So what will it be?â€
â€œIâ€™ll take the Mustang. Oh, by the way, Pauly Oâ€™Brian has joined me. can you put him on my list.â€
â€œItâ€™s about time, I guess. We were getting worried about the way you were always working alone. Heâ€™s a good choice, I hear. Okay. Iâ€™ll put him on the list.â€
I put the phone down and said to Pauly, â€œIf you have finished your pastry, let us visit with the guys on watch and see just who is who on the other side.
The watchers in the black Lincoln were surprised. Pauly and I popped the trunk on their car, and when the driver came out to see what had happened, I slipped in to cover his companion, while Pauly pushed the driver onto the back seat.
We relieved them of their guns and I drove us down to the riverbank.
I turned to the man beside me. He looked tired his skin grey and patchy with dark rings round his eyes. â€œYouâ€™ve been a busy little fellow these last few days. Just who do you work for?â€
He indicated his inside pocket, but did not actually reach in. I said, â€œSlowly, just finger and thumb.â€
He produced a badge wallet. I was not surprised to see his credentials. He was Agency, specifically protection detail for senior Government Officials, a sub branch of the NSA.
â€œIâ€™m flattered. I presume you are assigned to protect me? Perhaps it would have been a good idea to let me know. It would have saved this embarrassment.â€
I noted the glint in his eye as I said this, realising that his task had not been protection, rather the opposite, though at a better time and place. Pauly passed over a similar wallet from the second man. Both carried Glock automatics, and both had an ankle gun, the preferred .32 colt revolver. I used their own plastic cuffs to secure them to the steering wheel.
Pauly and I walked back to the Mustang. Though there was no one obviously about, we checked the car to see if it had been interfered with, before I allowed Pauly to drive us off to the hospital, to collect Lucy.
She was introduced to Pauly and allowed herself to be taken to GGâ€™s to be fed, vetted, and approved by Ramona, Mama Giacometti.
It was a measure of my acceptance in the family that I made this gesture, since I was living in the city. Here they had become my surrogate parents. I treated them accordingly.
Lucy accepted and approved, and as she commented in my apartment later that night, for the first time since she had come to New York, felt she belonged.
That night I discovered that she was studying for a degree to qualify as a doctor. Her nursing qualification had been the first step. Unlike my own situation she was not wealthy enough to fund the studies for a career that she may not eventually wish to follow. Having tested the waters as a nurse, she now knew that medicine was her choice and she had enrolled in the courses necessary to qualify as a doctor. Her final exams were due in three months time and I was on notice that it would take precedence over her activities for the immediate future.
I realised that her comments implied that I would be expected to be patient during this time. I also realised that she had accepted that my interest in her was more than passing.
Sitting in the lounge of my apartment, I ran over the events of the past few days. I recalled that she knew my attacker by name.
Lucy was quite open about it. â€œPete Iverson had been a porter at the hospital for several months. He was not well liked, though he did his job well enough. I suspect that he took bets from some of the patients, and his wandering hands had brought one or two complaints from some of the younger interns.â€
The other thing was that the baseball bat was one of several distributed around the place, clipped under the bed frames. â€œThe city hospitals can be dangerous places, especially at night. We always have cops in the building to give us protection, but they cannot be everywhere, hence the bats. Back home in Kansas I played little-league baseball, then soft ball in High school, so I knew how to swing a bat.â€ She shivered. â€œI did not realise that I had killed Iverson, but I would use it just the same, in the circumstances.â€ She wrapped her arms round herself. The shivering getting worse.
I slid over and put my arms around her, holding her close and feeling the shivers running through her body. The tears came in a rush and I just knew that I had to hold this woman tight and let her know she was not alone and, as far as I was concerned, would never be alone again while I lived. We sat like that until the shivers stopped and the tears dried up. She turned her head up toward me, and I kissed her, and that was it. An unspoken promise: an unspoken acceptance.
Later in GGâ€™s, Lucy disappeared with Maria, Giorgioâ€™s elder daughter, and Giorgio joined me at my table. â€œShe is the one, I see.â€
I looked up in surprise. â€œIs it that obvious?â€
â€œThe moment you walked through the door we all knew that the deal was done. It was written all over both of you.â€ He smiled. â€œIt will take some getting used to, but youâ€™ll survive.â€
I was shaken, possibly because I had a reputation for my poker face. I thought I managed to hide my feelings pretty well. I shrugged. What could I say?
Giorgio laughed out loud, causing some of the other customers to look up to see what the joke was. â€œWeâ€™ll have the party this Monday. I will close early and we will just admit friends. Donâ€™t forget. Let your people know!â€ With that Giorgio left me with my thoughts, and the problem of Robert Bayliss, accountant.
I still knew nothing. Whatever I guessed I was still guessing.
Leaving GGâ€™s, my street senses on full alert. I made it to the Mustang without noticing any tags. As I settled in the custom leather driving seat I plucked out the paper tucked into the glove box. The note was signed Pauly. It just said black Jag. I glanced in the rear-view mirror as I pulled away from the kerb. There was a black Jaguar saloon rolling two cars back. I was beginning to feel comfortable with my choice of associate.
The party went off well, several of Lucyâ€™s colleagues from the hospital managed to attend and, to my surprise, my mother and father appeared and apparently approved of my choice. In truth I was pleased to see them, surprised, but pleased none the less. I was also amazed at how comfortable they seemed in the company of Gorgio and Ramona, his wife.
My father joined me and took me to one side. He was still a trim, well-kept-looking business man, clean shaven and clean cut if you know what I mean. â€œYouâ€™re looking good, Dad.â€ I ventured, â€œIâ€™m happy you decided to come along.â€
He grinned, and lost 20 years in an instant. â€œSon, I would never pass on the chance of a party with Ramona in the kitchen. Your mother and I spent several happy years in this neighbourhood, before my business went mad and I became rich. We had to move. You were born and, for a while, we lost touch with who we were. When you grew up and left us, your mother and I started drifting apart.â€ His head dropped. â€œThank God, we managed to sit down and take a look at what was happening. We are both proud of the way you have managed to get on with your life. Gorgio has been keeping us in touch with how you are doing.â€
I was feeling guilty. I had not really bothered with my parents for some time. After the disagreement with my father about continuing as a lawyer, I had kept clear. I now realised that disagreement or not, family is still family.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, Dad. I guess I got so wrapped up in myself, time slipped past. Iâ€™m happy you are here.â€
Jonathon Ross grinned. â€œNow I have met Lucy, how can I blame you? However you managed to broker that deal, you must have been doing something right. Just promise me you are not going to let her go.â€
Lucy and Martha, my mother, joined us at that point.
â€œWhat did you promise between you two guys?â€ Lucy asked with a smile.
â€œI promised to never let you go.â€ I said, looking her directly in the eye.
She caught her breath...
The four men came through the front door as if it was not there. All were armed with mini-guns with thirty round magazines. All were masked and none said a word. The guns were doing the talking. Pauly and I dropped, dragging the women with us. I found my gun in my hand without realising I had drawn it. I took the lead man down with two shots. The second dropped as another guest put a bullet through the face mask the man wore. The chatter of the mini-guns ceased abruptly as the other two were taken down by Pietro and Gorgio, both with thrown knives.
Apart from a cut on her arm from a broken wine glass, my mother was unhurt, upset but unhurt. Lucy was attending to the bleeding as we regained our feet. There were two people badly injured by the raiders, but the only dead were the four intruders. As we attended our casualties, an Armani suit said, â€œAmateurs!â€ He stripped the masks from the three that still had faces. â€œMercs!â€ The contempt in his voice said it all. â€œIf they were real proâ€™s they would have known. In this part of town, when guns show, the people drop fast. The shooters were aiming far too high. The only injuries they really inflicted were on the slowest to drop. My guess is, this was set up in a hurry using whoever was available. If they had used local talent, they would have known the score. Instead of a noisy scare, there would have been bodies.â€
I took a look at the dead. Two I recognized. I had seen them both over the past three days involved in the surveillance I had been under. They carried no ID.
Pauly said â€œAgency?â€
I shrugged, â€œWhich one?â€
While we spoke ambulances had arrived and Lucy was supervising the loading of the wounded. She accompanied them to the hospital. I arranged to pick her up later. The Armani suit went with the wounded, riding shotgun, just in case.
My mother stayed with Dad. Her cut had been attended to and she refused the offer of hospital, preferring her own bed. In fact she stayed the night with the Giacometti family, who insisted that it was too late to drive all the way to Boston that night.
In the morning I sat down with Gorgio and a distinguished looking silver haired man, who was introduced as Carmine, and whom I knew as the local godfather of the Mob, and Gorgioâ€™s brother.
Carmine, having established that I was to be trusted, said, â€œI have been speaking with contacts. I am pleased to say that there will be no re-occurrence of last nightâ€™s debacle.
â€œThere will be plenty of eyes on the place, just to make sure that nobody slips through the cracks.â€ He sat back and considered for a moment. Then â€œIt seems that Robert Bayliss was the preferred accountant for a diverse list of clients No one has come up with what he had discovered or done which had led to his death.
I studied Gorgioâ€™s brother. The suit and accessories, all correct. The urbane manner, a product of education and upbringing, this man was as far removed from the picture of a menacing capo of the Mafia as I could imagine, but I would think long and carefully before I upset him. I had discarded any suggestion that the mob had taken part in the attacks so far, apart from the interference they had run, that is.
It became more and more important that I got a look at Robert Baylissâ€™s records, so that I could get a line on who was pulling the strings up to now.
I leaned forward, â€œEd Garland and Andrew Duggan.â€ I spoke quietly but clearly.
Carmine Giacometti smiled faintly. â€œNeither seems too likely as a suspect, though I suppose since you mention them both are...were clients of Bayliss. Both Senators, both could suffer seriously if they were playing financial games below the line.â€
I considered this and then selecting my words carefully asked, â€œDo either of those people have any dealings with your operation?â€
He looked sharply at me, â€œHave you any reason to suppose either of these men would be involved with my organisation?â€
â€œLet me just say that politics seem to creep into just about every aspect of life, and it would not be the first time that it had brushed with the limits of legality.â€
Gorgio grinned. â€œYou guys make me laugh. We all know what we are talking about. Tell us, Carmine, how many government people do you have on the payroll?â€
â€œCarmineâ€™s poker-face cracked. Shamefacedly, he said, â€œHow the hell could I know. I leave that sort of thing to others. I do know we have four Congressmen on the books, but I do not recall any Senators. Iâ€™ll find out. Okay!â€
He rose to his feet, and turned to me. â€œYou did good work for Pietro. Letâ€™s have a little more of the same on this case. Call on me if you need money.â€ With that he left.
One of my former Delta unit, having lost his leg, had returned to his roots and made a career as a newspaperman on the political beat. I called him and arranged a sit-down meeting in Washington for the following day. Having tossed up whether to use the Mustang for the mad dash south sharing the driving with Pauly, or getting the commuter flight to Dulles Airport, common sense prevailed and I took the flight.
I met Barton Henry in the Sheraton lounge. The slender, fit young man I had known four years ago was still fit looking though a little wider round the waist, and the brush cut of dark hair had become a mane surrounding a small bald patch. The eyes were the same, searching, piercing, icy blue. The smile was genuine.
â€œHey, Harry,â€ He tapped my waistline. â€œGetting soft man. Howâ€™s life in the Apple?â€
â€œTalk about me getting soft.â€ I looked at his waist line. â€œYou seem to have been adding a few inches yourself!â€
He led me to a booth and waved an attendant over and ordered coffee. â€œSo what brings you the Capital of this great country?â€
I sat and waited for the coffee to arrive before answering his question. Then I looked around before saying, â€œEd Garland!â€
â€œOff, or on, the record?â€ He asked.
He sat back and studied me for a moment. â€œSerious stuff?â€
â€œEd is an actor. The playboy politician, the outrageous womaniser is all an act. He is a very serious part of the political scene, with friends everywhere, and I mean everywhere, Unions, Mafia, the NRA, the Republican Party hierarchy, his facade is just that, a facade. It belies that fact that he has influenced the creation of homeland security, relations with Arab countries.â€ He stopped and looked at me. â€œI seriously think that he was partly responsible for the murder of several people who would have been in the path of his ambition.â€ He stopped. â€œIâ€™m joking. There is no evidence of him actually having people killed, but, being honest, I would not discount it. Ruthless, is the word I would use to describe him.â€ He sat back and drank some coffee.
â€œAny thoughts on possible illegal money move-ments.â€ I put in.
He looked up sharply. â€œWhy did you ask that?â€
â€œI have a dead accountant who had two clients who were Senators. He was heading to see one of them when he was shot. He was very upset with something the Senator had done that was not legal.â€
â€œWho was the other Senator?â€
â€œAh! Colonel Duggan of the Rangers. The incorruptible soldier, the man who would not, could not be bought!â€
â€œI guess so, but do I detect a little dissent here?â€
Barton Henry signalled the waiter.
He was obviously well know here, and ordered black label on ice twice. When the drinks came I lifted mine. â€œI presume I will need to brace myself for what is coming.â€
Barton smiled. â€œHe is not the same man who backed us in Iraq. Since he has been here, the life seemed to have drained out of him and his friends are abandoning him.â€
â€œAny ideas why?â€
The two word explanation dropped into the discourse inevitably. â€œHis wife!â€
On the return flight from Washington I thought about the discussion with Barton Henry. What he had passed on about Ed Garland had been interesting though not unexpected. It was the mention of the wife of Andrew Duggan that had really shocked me. I knew nothing of his having a wife. No newspaper or official report that I had seen had mentioned marriage.
I was met at the airport by Pauly, who took me direct to my apartment where Lucy was waiting.
Pauly had said nothing about Lucy. In fact, we had said little to each other on the entire journey from the airport. There was atmosphere. It was just that I had been tired and thoughtful, and Pauly always left me to myself, when I was in that sort of mood.
It was a pleasant surprise to be greeted with a kiss and a warm hug. â€œI could get used to this.â€ I murmured as she released me to breath.
â€œYouâ€™ll have to. Itâ€™s in my genes.â€ Was the swift reply.
I liked this girl, big time.
I flung my coat and case down in the bedroom and went back through to the living room stripping off the tie I had worn for the Washington visit. I passed my lap-top over to Pauly to let his see my notes on the interviews I had listed. On the return flight I had summed up the results of my day in the Capital. While Lucy prepared drinks I rang Megan Bayliss.
The handset was lifted at the other end, then dropped back into its cradle.
â€œPauly, get the car.â€ I jumped to my feet and grabbed my jacket.
Lucy said, â€œTrouble?â€ She grabbed her coat.
I slid my gun into my waistband holster and grabbed my jacket. â€œI think Megan Bayliss has visitors.â€
We joined Pauly in the Mustang and set off for the short trip to Meganâ€™s apartment.
We met the opposition at the entrance to her building. Three men were struggling with a rolled rug, which they dropped when they saw us. Their problem was, we were ready for them and moving, before they realised we were there. Their lookout had the door of the limo open, but there was no way they were going to get the rug through the door before we got involved.
Lucy stepped forward and the familiar baseball bat thudded against the lookoutâ€™s back sending him head-first through the open door, half in half out of the car. Pauly clubbed the nearest man across the back of the neck with his clenched fists.
I clouted the man reaching for his weapon, across the face with my palmed handgun. I felt his jaw break and winced inside. That was until I recalled what he was doing. As I spun round I backhanded the other man with my gun hand and felt the satisfying thud as he took the full force of hand and gun and sent him flying across the pavement into the road.
My first victim flung his hand out at me, and I realised, too late, that he had a knife. I missed the full impact as I was still turning, but the slash in my side was enough to produce a a sharp intake of breath.
The rolled rug produced a sleepy Megan. Pauly took the rug back into the apartment, after depositing Megan in the car.
From the amount of blood produced my wound should have been seriously worse than it was.
Lucy commented, â€œShould I get used to patching you up? What with bullets and knives, you seem to have a problem dealing with armed men.â€
I grinned. Well, it was probably more of a grimace as the needle pulled the lips of the wound together. â€œI have managed to survive without injury since I left the service, at least up to now. This case, from the beginning, has been painful to say the least. If I mention that I am getting annoyed by the casual display of weaponry by the people involved it is only because I seem to be the prime target. It does also mean that I am making progress, though for the life of me, at the moment itâ€™s not clear what that progress is.â€
Lucy sat back and examined her handiwork. â€œThere, provided you donâ€™t fling yourself about, that should hold you together until next time!â€
I laughed, and immediately regretted it as the stitches pulled.
Lucy patted me on the shoulder. â€œNow, remember what I said. Take it easy for a while and let your wounds heal.â€ From the cabinet she produced codeine tablets.â€ No more than two at a time, and only up to eight per day. Got it?â€
I lay back and nodded. â€œGot it. How is our guest?â€
â€œSheâ€™s in the spare room sleeping off whatever they used to put her out. My guess is that sheâ€™ll wake about noon tomorrow. I found the knock-out drops they used. They are good for at least 12 hours.â€
I relaxed for the first time since Washington.
I must have slept. I woke to find that Lucy had lain down beside me still fully dressed, and was sleeping quietly, looking beautiful and relaxed. I lay for a while watching her until I drifted off once more.
When I finally awoke it was daytime, there was a note on the pillow next to me. â€˜Gone to work, see you later. Rest! Love, Lucy. X Xâ€™
I moved, and was immediately reminded of the stitches in my side. I tried again, but carefully this time and managed to make it to my feet. By stages I made it to the kitchen where I stuck my mug into the stand on the coffee machine and remembered to switch it on. There were plenty of beans in the hopper and the kitchen was suffused in the scent of the grinding coffee, as the machine performed its function and eventually poured black coffee into the waiting mug.
From that time things began to look up. Pauly arrived and, having performed the ritual, duly sat with me with a cup of coffee in his hand and a silly grin on his face.
â€œOkay, Pauly. What is with the smiling face? Did you win the lottery perhaps?â€
â€œBoss, we got a break.â€
I lifted an eyebrow, waiting.
â€œNo, really. Remember those guys in the park?â€
â€œThe CIA men you mean?â€
â€œWhat makes you say that?â€
â€œLawrence, my cousin called last night to see my mother. He asked me why I was playing footsie with that bunch of losers in the park. I pointed out that they came out of the woodwork without an invitation. That was when he told me that all of them had left the CIA, to form their own business in counter-espionage, protection and general heavy-lifting for those who could afford the bills. Most of their clientele are politicians.â€
â€œDo we know who?â€
â€œApparently, they have worked for both our subjects in the past. Nobody is talking about the present arrangement, though they are aware that something is going on.â€
â€œSo they could be working for either, or both, at present?â€ I wondered aloud.
â€œI guess so, though possibly for different reasons. I hardly had time to read the notes on your Washington trip. How did it go with your friend?â€
I had not really had a chance to bring anyone up to date since my return. I pointed him to the laptop and mentioned, â€œHe came up with something I need to check out today. I creaked to my feet and took a look into the spare room. Megan Bayliss was still out, snoring quietly. I closed the door and sat once more. I was feeling the wound in my side more than I anticipated.
I took two more of the pills Lucy had given me. After a short while the sharp pain blunted enough to allow me to get properly dressed to go out later. Meanwhile, I awaited the return to consciousness of my guest in the spare room.
It was after mid-day before the bedroom door opened and Megan came through, She was still drowsy and her hair was a mess and her clothing rumpled. I pointed out the bathroom and when she next appeared she was looking a little more presentable.
â€œWhat the hell happened to me? I let the FBI guys in and then nothing, now I wake up in a strange bed and find you here. Iâ€™m not sure if I should start screaming or collapse in a sobbing heap on the floor.â€
I scratched my head uncertain what to recommend, not really having considered either option up to now. â€œI suggest neither. Just grab a chair and Iâ€™ll get coffee. Then we can sit down and talk.â€
That is exactly what happened. It was during our conversation that another three pseudo agents appeared, having broken the lock on the front door of my apartment. I shot the first man through the door the others entered carefully followed by Pauly, gun in hand, and deposited their weapons onto the table.
The injured man had been wounded in the leg, though the bullet had missed his knee. It was annoying and reminded me that I keep meaning to go to school and learn to shoot properly. All my training had been on the basis of shoot at the biggest target, the main torso and I had missed. I now needed to know why these ex-agents were at my door.
â€œGentlemen.â€ I addressed the two upright men. â€œYour colleague is wounded. Help him to his feet.â€ As they did so, I tossed a towel to the nearest man. â€œWrap the wound up/ I do not need blood on my carpet.â€
When the wounded man had been dealt with, I made them sit down on the settee facing me. â€œWho sent you?â€
There was no reply forthcoming, â€œThe way this plays out, gentlemen, is as follows. I ask a question. If nobody answers, I shoot a hole in the man on the left. I will not guarantee where that hole will be. If you answer and tell me a lie I will shoot a hole in the man on the left, I believe that is a simple choice to make. By the way, you can rearrange yourselves if you wish.â€
There was a pause, then. â€œI will ask the question again. Who sent you here?â€
I lifted the automatic and let the barrel stray along the row of men on the settee.
The man on the left said, â€œOur boss sent us to bring you in to see him.â€
â€œWith guns in hand?â€
â€œHe suggested you may not wish to co-operate. We were not to take no for an answer.â€
I indicated that they empty their pockets. Megan collected the results and went through everything. She found business cards for a private company with the names of the three men, with an address in the Bronx.
Holding a card up so that all could see, I asked the question. â€œIs this who you work for?â€
All three nodded. â€œAre you all from the same agency, Like CIA or FBI ?â€
The left hand man answered that one, â€œIâ€™m ex-CIA, the other two are ex-Secret service, and DEA. All of us are ex-agency of one sort or another.â€
â€œWhy do you do this? Is the pay that much better?â€ I was really curious.
The man grinned weakly. â€œMuch better. And the conditions make it even better.â€
He reached down and tested the bandage on his wounded leg. His move was fast, but not quite fast enough. Grabbing at the gun on the table, his aim was a little off and he did not get a clean hold of the weapon. Pauly shot him before he could do any harm. Sadly, Pauly took no risks, and the man died before he could line up the gun he had grabbed.
The other two captives reared back away from their colleague, distancing themselves figuratively and physically.
I told them to carry their dead partner through to the kitchen, where there was a carpet similar to that used to transport Megan. Pauly made them roll their partner up in it to prevent him spoiling my carpet.
The two agents and the body were collected by contractors. At least that was the name Pauly gave to the people who did the job with a black van and quiet efficiency.
Megan was mystified by my question that Andrew Duggan had been married. Despite being his godchild since she was a baby, the suggestion that he might be married had never arisen.
It seemed that it was something I would need to confirm or deny by myself. Megan still held the opinion that Senator Ed Garland was the main suspect, an opinion easy for me to agree with. Like many of his contemporaries Garland had a home on Long Island. It would also make sense of his using Bayliss as his accountant, on the premise that using a local man was much more convenient that using some anonymous character from some big city partnership.
I got Lucy to make the appointment posing as my secretary. Once more using the Mercedes provided by Toni, Pauly, Lucy and I made my way to Long Island.
Pauly found the house with no problem, rather like the last visit he was impressed by the stately grandeur of the building. The turrets gave it the appearance of a central European castle, the outline softened by the ivy and blossom covered creeper reaching high up the walls. There was a stable block off to the right of the main house and the activity there suggested there was a house party with many guests staying at the house. As they drew up outside the main door, one of the riders in skin-tight jodhpurs and a green jacket, jogged over and spoke to me as I stepped out of the car.
* * *