The windows of the warehouse stared down at my partner and me with a sullen, gray insolence framed in moving shadows and simmering anger. As Frank and I climbed out of my car and closed the doors our eyes never left the ominous pile of brick and battered windows.
It was a slumbering slum of discarded stonework on the south side of town. It sat empty in a long row of empty buildings just like it. Most of the windows were boarded up, the wood weathered and splintered from maleficent neglect. A security fence, with faded signs in big letters saying “Keep Out” hanging from it in thirty foot spaces, did nothing in keeping people at bay. Weeds, coated in a starling silver-white luminescence of moon light, jutted up rudely from several cracks and crevices in the empty parking lot facing it. From somewhere the hot breath of summer was playing with an open door. The door’s hinges squealed; the noise adding a tint of grim reality to an already grim night. As I watched shafts of bright moon light race across the front of the building a thought crossed my mind;
Not a warehouse.
A mausoleum. A tomb.
From underneath my left armpit I pulled out the .45 caliber Kimbler and slid the carriage back and clicked off the safeties as I thumbed the hammer back. The weight of the big gun felt reassuring in my hand. Reaching inside my sport coat I felt for the spare clips. I would need them tonight. Laying the Kimbler on the hood of the car I reached behind me and pulled out the small framed Walther PPK .380 I carried as a back up. It didn’t have the knock-down power of the Kimbler if you hit someone in the chest with it. But if I had to use it I wouldn’t be aiming for the chest. To my right I knew Frank had his 9mm Glock in hand and would be checking the snub-nosed .38 caliber Smith &Wesson he had for his back up.
Someone was going to die tonight.
There was no other way around it.
Debts had to be paid. Justice had to be metered out.
Inside the warehouse were four men and a woman. The men, Mick O’Toole, Chucky Mickelson, Bobby Hardaway, and ‘Beep’ Nickles, were together. A gaggle of young toughs who thought they were good at knocking off jewelry stores and small time bookie joints. Most of the time they were successful. They would target a jewelry store, cut the power to the alarm systems, drill a hole through the roof of the building and slide down ropes. Beep was a talented safe-cracker. He could crack a safe’s tumbler faster than I could pour a cold beer from the bottle into a glass. If he couldn’t, Bobby Hardaway was good at explosives. He knew how to use just enough plastique to shape a charge and blow open a safe door making the least amount of noise. When it was time to get away Chucky Mickelson was the driver.
But the man who was the brains of the outfit was Mick O’Toole. A true Irishman, said to be on the lamb from the IRA. Somehow he had pissed them off. Pissed them off enough to force Mick to leave Britain permanently.
That takes talent. How do you piss off the IRA that much and still live?
All four of them had two things in common. Two traits which made them hook up together and work as a team. Greed was one trait they shared in common. Meanness the other. Each one them wanted dough. Each one wanted to hurt people getting the dough. That’s why they liked knocking off small fry bookies. They’d stroll into a bookie joint, splatter the bookie with a shotgun, kill anyone else who got in the way, grab the take and leave.
The woman in there with them was a young girl by the name of Lois Hogan. Nineteen. Her father was Gill Hogan. Bookie—or more precisely, dead bookie. About a half hour ago Mick and his boys walked into the small restaurant Gill ran for his boss just as the place was closing up for the night. They pistol whipped Gill and then shot him three times in the chest before throwing the night’s bets into a bag and leaving. Gill’s daughter had been sitting out in the restaurant waiting for her father. Mick and his thugs grabbed Lois and threw her into the van they used for a getaway car and came out here. We knew this because twenty minutes ago a guy by the name of Caesar Ortega called me on my cell phone and told me he wanted to talk to Frank and me. Told us to meet him underneath a burnt out lamp post on the corner of Monroe and 113th Street South . Just two blocks away from where we now were standing.
And as the old saying goes, when Caesar calls, one answers. If they valued living.
Caesar Ortega was Gill Hogan’s boss. Gill ran one of Ortega’s bookie joints plus the restaurant. Ortega played the numbers, ran a string of strip joints and whore houses, had his hand in smuggling illegals up from Mexico . He stayed out of the drug business because he didn’t want to butt heads with larger crime syndicates and/or the crazy drug lords coming up out of Mexico and South America . He was a tough hood who knew the streets. A smart businessman who knew how to make a profit and stay out of a police lineup at the same time. That was Caesar Ortega.
When we pulled up to the curb we saw Ortega leaning against the grill of his black Mercedes, dressed in white slacks, a yellow Hawaiian print shirt, and white tipped loafers. He looked tan and in shape. And—from the frown on his face and the way he had his arms crossed—about as pissed off as a man could get.
“Turner. . . Frank,” he grunted, nodding his head, as we stepped around the front of our car and faced him.
“Caesar,” I said, nodding.
“You two working on the Hogan killing?”
Frank almost smiled and nodded.
“Word gets around fast, Caesar. Gill was killed only ten minutes ago.”
“I know, I was there when it happened.”
That was a surprise. I grinned as Frank popped off the obvious line.
“A confession, Caesar? From you?”
A dry, cruel smile stretched across Ortega’ lips as his hot, blazing dark eyes stared at Frank. It wasn’t a smile one would call humorous. Unless the smile of a Great White just before his attack could be considered humorous.
“I was setting across the street when those four creeps came in and wasted Gill. They killed him, took the cash, and threw his daughter into the back of a van and drove off. I know who they are and I know where you can find them.”
“Why are you telling this to us, Caesar?” I asked as I looked at the expensively dressed hood standing alone in front of his Mercedes. “What’s your game?”
“It’s vermin like that that gives a man in my position a bad name, my friend. People in town think these guys work for me. They think I give the orders to hit this joint or kill that fool. Word gets around. People higher up in the food chain start to get nervous and ask questions. When they start to get nervous I start to get nervous.”
Feeling a little pressure from the mob are you Caesar? Starting to look over your shoulder some? Interesting.
“So why don’t you take them out?” Frank asked bluntly.
Ortega flashed us that shark’s mirthless grin and spread his hands out eloquently as he shrugged.
“I’m just an honest businessman, Frank. My organization tries to stay away from trouble like this. But suppose, god forbid, someone in my organization took it upon themselves to clean house and take out the trash? A situation would arise which could easily spiral out of control. These four punks do have friends in certain parts of the city. These friends could become irritated at me. Rivalries could be established. It would be an unfortunate time for all of us.”
“But if we cleaned up the mess for you . . . ,”
“Exactly, Turner. If the police took care of the situation my hands are clean. There’s no room for doubt. Everybody remains friendly. Know what I mean? But Hahn, Morales . . . I gotta tell you. These guys are not going away peacefully. All of’em are fucking crazy. They’ve been in and out of the slammer so many times they’ve got permanent reservations waiting for’em. I’ve been told all of’em have said they’d rather die than go back in. Your work is cut out for you.”
So here we were—standing across the street in deep shadows which kept prying eyes off us as we checked our weapons for the second time and then slipped into our bullet proof vests. Frank, my no-neck lookalike Neanderthal clone flicked open his snub-nose .38 and checked the cylinder before flicking it close and glancing at me.
“How you want to play this?”
I shrugged, curled a finger around the trigger of the Kimbler and gripped the Walther in the other.
“They’ve got the girl. We can’t wait for the tac squad to arrive. She could be dead by then. We go in and take’em out as fast as possible.”
Getting into the building was easy. We moved from one dark shadow to the next, slipped across the big parking lot and found an open window. Slipping into the darkness of the warehouse we paused until we heard sounds of men laughing and bottles rattling on the floor above us. We found stairs and moved quietly up the rickety thing making as little noise as we could. On the second floor we found lights burning in a room which was away from any exterior windows. We also heard the moans of Lois Hogan. Moans coming from a woman who had been beaten and abused. Moans from a woman who was alive but knew she was dead.
Our backs against the wall I motioned to Frank I would circle around and enter the rooms where our friends were from the opposite side. He nodded as I moved off and slid around the corner at the far end of the hall. So far we had not been discovered. So far no gun play had happened. So far no one had died.
It all changed in the blinking of an eye.
Leaving Frank, I made a right hand turn down a long hall moved down it without making too much noise. I came to an intersection of a third hall and carefully peaked around the corner to make sure the coast was clear. Seeing it was I slid around the corner and took three steps before Beep Nickles stepped out of an office door unexpected and turned toward me. Beep was a tall straw of a man with thin arms and thin legs. He had a face that a weasel could appreciate and slick, oily black hair. When he came through the door and turned toward me he was looking down at the shotgun in his hands, an oily rag stuffed into the belt of his slacks, chewing on a toothpick and grinning to himself. Apparently he had just finished cleaning the shotgun. But looking up and seeing me his mouth dropped open in sheer surprise and instinctively he pumped the gun once and brought the barrel around and toward me.
The Kimbler in my right hand exploded twice in two rapid shots. The noise of the .45 was loud enough to chip plaster off the walls. Both slugs smacked into Beep’s chest so close together one could put a quarter down and cover both holes. He flew back into the wall and slid down to the floor leaving a long red trail on the faded plaster wall behind him in the process.
Men began screaming. Guns were going off in rapid succession. I hard the sharp bark of Frank’s Glock go off twice. Someone had grabbed a shotgun and was pumping double-0 buckshot through the cheap plaster walls in front and behind me. I ducked and slid into the room where all the commotion was going on.
On the floor to one side of Frank was the body of Chucky Mickelson. There was a 9mm hole in his forehead just above the bridge of his nose. Where there had been the back of his head now was nothing but blood, brain matter and pieces of flesh surrounding a gaping hole about the size of a man’s fist. On the other side of Frank was Bobby Hardaway rolling on the bare linoleum floor gripping what was left of his right knee cap with a set of bloody hands. He was screaming in pain and bleeding like a broken bowl of cherry jello. In the opposite corner from Bobby was the trussed up figure of Lois Hogan lying on the floor. Hands and feet were tied together. Her face was nothing but a bloody mask She was alive. Barely.
But there was no Mick O’Toole.
“That way,” Frank said pointing the barrel of his Glock toward a door I had not seen entering. “I’ll stay here and make sure he doesn’t double back. Be careful, buddy. Be careful.”
I nodded and went after the Irishman. It didn’t take long to find him. He was four rooms away trying his best to open a window. But the old window had been welded shot from years of neglect. So Mick used the shotgun in his hands to blow the window out just as I entered the room behind him.
“Drop the gun and hands above your head, O’Toole!”
For an answer the Irishman whirled around, stepped to one side and let go a round of double 0 toward me. He was fast. Unfortunately for him I was faster. The moment I saw him begin his move I leapt to one side and rolled on a shoulder, coming up on my feet in a squatting position. The roar of the shotgun filled the room and a huge chuck of the wall behind and above my head disintegrated into a fine white powder of plaster and sawdust.
I didn’t let him get a second shot off. The Kimbler barked two more times in my hand. The slugs found their mark. Each leg just above the Irishman’s knees caught some lead, buckled visibly, and collapsing the madman onto the floor in howling rage and pain. But he still wasn’t finished. He rolled onto his back, slid himself back to lean against a wall and reached inside his shirt for a weapon. But too late. I was too close to him. He brought a 9mm Smith & Wesson auto out and started to lift it up toward me. I used my left foot to kick the weapon from his hands and then brought the foot down hard onto the gaping hole of his left leg.
“Not getting out of prison time today, boyo!” I said, grinding my foot into his wound.
The pain was too much. The Irishman’s eyes rolled up into his skull and he slid down onto floor unconscious. I cuffed him, searched him, then grabbed him by his shirt collar and dragged him back to the room where his comrades were.
“Jesus. What a fucking mess.” Frank grunted, a wiry smirk on his face, coming to his feet after checking the woman’s wounds. “We’ll be up all night with the fucking paperwork. And the lieutenant’s not going to be happy we had to use deadly force.”
“Yeah, it’ll just tear him up, won’t it,” I said, grinning.
Our lieutenant down at South Side wouldn’t say a damn thing about the use of deadly force. The Irishman’s gang was well known to us. Nobody was going to be second guessing our use of force tonight. No one.
BIO: I am a sixty year old ex-teacher who currently has two novels out on the market. One is a police-procedural called Murderous Passions. The second is a fantasy novel called Roland of the High Crags: Evil Arises.