27 SEPTEMBER, 3:15 p.m.
The two men in the beat-up Chevy had been sitting in the same position for more than two hours, their eyes hidden behind wraparound sunglasses, their minds tuned into the little earplug each wore in his left ear. On this busy street on the north side of Chicago, with active small businesses on the first floor of most of the apartment buildings, the men’s presence had gone relatively undetected. Even if someone had noticed them, it was highly unlikely that anyone would approach to question their motives; like New Yorkers, most Chicagoans had long ago learned to ignore anything not thrust directly into their face as a threat.
“They been going at it for forty minutes, for chrissakes!” the shorter of the two men muttered, rubbing the spot where the cord ran behind his left earlobe.
A shrill, shuddering cry echoed in their ears, and the taller man turned to his partner and smiled. “She sure is a good actress.”
“How do you know it’s an act?” the other asked with a leer. “Could be real.”
“Right. With that loser?”
A deeper series of grunts sounded for almost twenty seconds, then there was silence. A man’s voice was heard, the first words in the third floor apartment across the street in quite a while.
“I’ve got to go, Jill. I’ve got to get back to the office.”
A woman’s voice purred in reply. “How about another twenty minutes, babe?”
There was a pause, then the sound of a bed creaking. “I’d love to, but I’ve really got to go. Tony’s stopping by and I have to give him some paperwork.”
The taller of the watchers removed a revolver from a shoulder holster, snapped open the cylinder, and checked the rounds. “He’s a stupid fuck, mentioning names like that.”
His partner laughed, not a particularly pleasant sound, as he inspected his own weapon. “He’s out of his league.”
The tall man snapped the cylinder shut with a flick of his wrist, the noise of metal on metal loud in the close confines of the car. “He’s about to get sent back to the minors.”
They listened to the sounds of the couple dressing. Their eyes now focused on the front door of the building.
“Can I see you tomorrow?”
“Why wait until tomorrow? You can have me tonight—full time— if you really wanted, Phil.”
“Oh, come on, babe. Don’t start on that. I’ve explained it all to you a thousand times. It just isn’t possible right now.”
“Why? All you have to do is—”
“Please! Enough, all right? Just drop it for now.”
There was a long pause, and the two men strained to hear the sound of the apartment door. They were disappointed when the woman’s voice came back.
“All right. I’m sorry. It’s just that I miss you so much and it gets so lonely here at night.”
The short man started laughing again. “What a buncha bull. Does he really believe that crap?”
The taller man didn’t bother to dignify the question with an answer.
“So. Can I see you tomorrow?” The man’s voice was edged with pleading.
The voices faded slightly. They were moving out of the bedroom. “Sure. Just give a call so I can be ready. All right? We’ll do something a little different tomorrow.”
“You’ll just have to wait, hon.”
At the sound of the apartment door closing, both men pulled out the earplugs and threw them under the seat alongside the receiver for the bug.
The short man stepped out of the car as the other started the engine. The short man was just outside the building’s front door when Philip Cobb opened it, right hand fumbling in his pocket. Cobb was a tall man with a pudgy face and wore round spectacles. His hairline had moved back as the years had gone on, complementing the comfortable roll of fat around his waist, which defied his sporadic diets and exercise routines.
As the building door slammed shut behind him, Cobb saw the muzzle of a gun pointed at his face and froze in his tracks. A car pulled up to the curb with a screech, the door to the backseat swinging open.
“Get in the car, asshole.”
“Who are you?” Cobb looked at the cold black eyes that were staring at him over the muzzle of the gun and realized the futility of the question.
“Get in the car.”
Cobb stepped forward, feeling his body being pulled to the car by the command in the man’s voice and the power of the weapon. He couldn’t think; his brain refused to process information as a wave of cold fear swept over him. The man grabbed his suit jacket with his free hand and propelled him forward.
“Hey! You! What are you doing?”
The short man swung his gaze to the left; his gun quickly followed as he spotted the uniformed police officer walking toward them from the corner. While the officer was trying to pull his weapon out of his holster, the short man fired off three rounds in rapid succession. The cop dove behind a parked car. Cobb stood frozen, the sound of the gun echoing in his ears. The short man had let go of his jacket to shoot at the cop, and now he turned back toward Cobb, centering the muzzle of the gun on Cobb’s forehead.
“Let’s go!” the driver of the car screamed, gunning the engine. “Forget him!”
“I’m gonna finish him!” the short man yelled back as his finger tightened on the trigger. He flinched as the cop fired for the first time, the deep-throated blast of the pistol reverberating through the cool fall air.
Changing his mind, the short man turned and jumped into the open back door of the Chevy, and it was gone with a roar down the street. Cobb still hadn’t moved.
The cop came running up, yelling into his portable radio. It was only then that Cobb realized he had soaked his pants. He staggered back against the welcome support of the building wall and resumed breathing.
“Are you all right?” the cop asked as he returned the radio to its slot on his belt. “I got backup coming and I sent out a description of the car. Did you know those guys?”
Cobb shook his head weakly. “I don’t know who they were.”
A crowd was starting to gather, and Cobb felt foolish with the large stain clearly visible on the front of his pants. The sound of sirens pierced the air.
“Are you all right, Phil?”
Cobb turned in surprise to see Jill standing in the doorway to the apartment building, clutching a robe around her.
“Get out of here,” he hissed, glancing nervously at the police officer, who was trying to get the crowd back.
Jill bit her lip and nodded, backing reluctantly into the dark of the building foyer.
Two hours later, Cobb was still within twenty feet of the site of his almost death, sitting in the backseat of an unmarked police car, trying not to cough from the stench of the detective’s cigar. Detective Guyton sat two feet away, staring at him with passionless eyes. He was a large man, his muscular bulk encased in a well-cut suit. His hair was gray, almost silver, and his face was flat and hard, with twenty-four years of street experience etched into it.
“So let’s go over this one more time, Mr. Cobb. You’re a real estate developer and you say you were here to see a client. A Miss Jill Fastone? Is that correct?”
Detective Guyton nodded. “Uh-huh. So why didn’t you tell the officer who was first on the scene why you were here when he asked you two hours ago?”
“I was confused. I’d just been shot at, for Christ’s sake.”
“Couldn’t be something funny going on between you and Miss Fastone, now could there, Mr. Cobb?” Guyton asked, glancing down at the wedding band on Cobb’s left hand.
Guyton leaned forward. “Bullshit. Don’t fuck with me. A cop almost got his head blown off saving your sorry ass. And you sit here and lie to me. I know who you are and I know who you work for.
“Don’t bullshit me anymore. The name Michael Torrentino mean anything to you?”
Cobb closed his eyes and sagged back against the worn upholstery. His already fragile world was crumbling.
“And don’t you think I know who Jill Fastone is? She used to work for Torrentino—if you want to call what she does work. Maybe she still does. I know you do.” Guyton shook his head. “You should have stayed in your little real estate office in the suburbs, Cobb. Did Fastone bring you into all this? Did you think you could start laundering money and being a middleman for the number one guy in ‘The Outfit’ here in Chicago and no one would notice? Wake up.” Guyton tapped Cobb on the chest with a stubby finger. “You got any idea why those two guys tried to grab you?”
Cobb shook his head.
“You’d better talk to me,” Guyton growled. “‘Cause if you don’t talk to me, you know what I’m gonna do?” He didn’t bother to wait for an answer. “I’m not gonna take you downtown. I’m gonna let you get out of this car and go home. And I can guarantee you one thing: next time they try to whack you, they’ll do it. You were lucky this time.”
“But I don’t know who they are or why they would try to kill me,” Cobb whined, missing the look of satisfaction that settled on the detective’s face.
“You been juggling the numbers? Maybe skimming where you shouldn’t have been?”
“No. I swear it.”
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