“If Sam wants a great story, he should call 555-7113, ask for Gloria and follow instructions.”
Sheila relayed the message to her husband word for word. “He was nice and polite and soft spoken, not like some of those politicians who call here.”
“Big Benny Schline is a professional hit man,” Grieger replied without trying to sound condescending. “Being nice and polite and soft spoken is the way hit men do business.” He wanted Sheila to understand the difference between professional killers and politicians. “Hit men don’t want to stand out because of the nature of their work.” The possibility of a big story, however, could not be ignored.
Sam dialed the phone as instructed and asked for Gloria, who answered with a deep, base voice. “Drive to the Seagram Circle dead end by the beach, then park. You got thirty minutes.” Click. That was it.
“I’ll be home late, Sheila. Don’t wait up.” She had already put dinner away, and handed him a thermos of coffee as he left. He had an understanding wife.
As he drove to Seagram Circle, Grieger reviewed his theory about dealing with the Big Bennies and Bernardo Guis of this world. If you don’t do business with them, don’t borrow money from them and don’t marry their daughters, they have no reason to kill you or break your legs. They are essentially businessmen. There is no profit in killing reporters. Well, marrying their daughters might change the equation.
It took Grieger just under thirty minutes to drive to Seagram Circle. It was one of those cul-de-sacs that ended in marshy woods. No houses, no cars parked for the night. He turned off his engine and waited.
Moments later an unshaven man appeared at the driver’s side window. “Get into the car parked behind you.”
“You sound a lot like Gloria,” Grieger said as he exited his vehicle.
“I am Gloria,” the man replied.
Grieger followed instructions and got into the front passenger seat. Gloria got in behind him and blindfolded him. Grieger questioned whether his theory about no profit in killing reporters was actually valid.
They drove for about a half hour.
“Get out,” Gloria said.
Grieger found the door handle, opened the door and staggered to his feet. He started to remove his blindfold when a hairy hand stopped him. “I’ll tell you when,” Gloria said in his no nonsense voice.
He was guided up a flight of outside stairs. He heard a door open. “Take the blindfold off when you get inside, and turn left. Don’t trip,” Gloria advised. “I wouldn’t want to see you get hurt.”
Grieger did as he was told. When he took off his blindfold, he caught a glimpse of a woman and a child watching a cartoon on television in a living room. They ignored his entry. Grieger was steered down a flight of stairs into a partially finished basement of what appeared to be a private home. The basement door closed behind him.
The room was large, but the windows were small—too small to crawl through. The basement was brightly lit by four sets of fluorescent bulbs, which gave a shiny finish to the cheap cream-colored linoleum floor. The walls were a rough cinderblock. The only furniture was a table and two chairs placed roughly in the center of the room. Grieger wondered if he could pull a leg off one of the chairs if he had to defend himself.
The basement door opened and Big Benny Schline started down the stairs. He was not a tall man, maybe five-foot-ten. He had a hard build. He was wearing a white T-shirt, the sleeves stretched tight by his bulging biceps. Thick blue veins guided the muscles of his arms. Grieger noticed a whiskey bottle in Big Benny’s right hand. Is he going to beat me to death with a cheap bottle of booze?
As Big Benny reached the last step, he smiled and pulled two shot glasses out of his pocket. In the soft voice that so captivated Sheila Grieger earlier in the day, he said, “Sammy, let’s drink some shots while I give you the biggest story of your life. In a nutshell, my business partner is Chief Assistant District Attorney Bryon Hatfield, the same guy who is prosecuting me for extortion. The son-of-a-bitch just decided he didn’t want to split our profits. He wants to have it all.” Between shots, Big Benny gave the names of individuals and dummy corporations involved in illegal land grabs, insurance fraud and case tampering. It was a big story indeed.
I was right, Grieger thought as Gloria drove him back to his car blindfolded. There is no profit in killing a reporter when you can use him to screw somebody else.
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