Maeve Donnelly turned off Madison Boulevard and drove into the dark alley. The rumble from the Ford Mustang GT's exhaust echoed back and forth between the tall buildings, and caused a few rats to scurry this way and that.
She stopped the engine and got out of the car. She closed the door and leaned against it with her arms crossed over her chest, making sure her right hand was close to the Beretta 92F she wore in a shoulderholster.
She was an impressive sight. Everyone knew her as White Fever, a street name she had received for always wearing white jeans, and for her spiky, white hair. Some people mistakenly called her 'petite' - At 5'5", she wasn't tall, but a closer look at the abundance of muscles on her torso, arms and legs proved them wrong.
Other people called her a skirt-chaser, and *they* definitely weren't wrong. Her Irish green eyes, her cute smile and the two dimples saw to that. Maeve Donnelly could pick and choose from a wide selection of women... and she often did.
She looked around. The alley was like any other: plenty of trash, mostly discarded cardboard boxes and a few overturned shopping carts. A horrendous stench of God knows what hovered in the air. Two large dumpsters were placed down the far end of the alley, and by the looks of it, neither of them had been emptied this year.
She checked her watch, which read 10 past 10 PM. She sighed and ran a hand through her hair. Jimmy Snakes, the man she was waiting for, was late, and she was going to tell him in so many words when he arrived.
'I don't know what the hell that junkie wants from me, anyway. Even that nitwit must know that I'm working for uncle Freddie, and that I'm not some two-bit dealer...'
she thought and sighed.
Another five minutes went by, and by now, she was getting furious. She reached into the car and took out her cellphone. She dialed Snakes' number, and waited. Her black silk shirt stuck to her in all the wrong places, and she grumbled a bit about the weather being so muggy.
She jumped when Snakes' telephone started ringing not far from where she was standing. She threw the phone back into the car and drew her weapon.
"Snakes, you son of a bitch! If you think this is funny, wait until I kick your balls around the moon!" she roared out into the dark alley.
No reply was forthcoming, so she started going in the direction from where she had heard the phone ringing.
Suddenly a flashlight was turned on right in her face, blinding her. Instinctively, she shielded her eyes with her free hand, and fired off two rounds into the darkness beyond the flashlight. She knew she had to get out of the way, but before she could move, Snakes returned the fire.
Two bullets hit her squarely in the chest, one just above her heart, and one on her right breast. The force of the impacts made her stagger backwards and she tripped over a piece of trash, making her fall heavily down onto the filthy surface. When she landed, her gun flew out of her hand, and she hit her head on the tarmac.
A young man came out of the shadows, holding a smoking .32 revolver. He was in his late 20's, with long, greasy hair and a scraggly beard. He wore a dirty, white muscle shirt and he was heavily tattooed around his neck and down his arms.
He let his eyes roam slowly up Maeve's body, at the tight white jeans, at the black silk shirt, now sporting two ugly holes right in the chest, and at the spiky white hair.
An evil grin spread out over his ugly face as he bent down to pick up Maeve's Beretta.
"Spoils for the winner. What a trophy, man. I killed White fuckin' Fever! Me, Jimmy fuckin' Snakes, man!" he roared into the alley and thumped his chest like a wannabe gorilla.
Several dogs began barking in the apartments, and a window was opened.
"Will you people keep quiet down there!" A female voice suddenly said from one of the windows above him.
He pointed the gun at the woman, but she slammed the window shut before he could get a good aim. He threw the old revolver away, and stuck the new Beretta in his pocket before walking back to his car, an old, beat-up Buick Century. He started it and quietly drove out into the traffic on Madison Boulevard.
After he had driven for a few minutes, he flipped open his cell phone and dialed the number to Salvatore Coluzzo.
"Yo, babe, tell your boss that Jimmy Snakes is calling," he said to the woman who had received the call.
a voice said on the other end of the connection.
"Fever's dead, Bossman."
A long pause.
the voice hissed.
"Dead, man, don't you hear good? I capped the bitch twice in the tits, man. Just like you told me. The rats are gnawin' on her bones right now."
'I didn't tell you to kill her, you goddamned moron! I told you to take her out of the picture for a few hours!'
"I don't know what the hell you're talking about, Bossman. She's out of the picture, permanently..."
'I meant you should detain her! ...Hold her up! ...Stall her!'
"What the hell? You obviously haven't seen her, she had arms bigger than my ass, man! I had to ice her."
'You stoopid fuckin' idiot! Don't you understand what you have done? You've fuckin' killed Fast Freddie Donnelly's number two! He's gonna start a full scale war!'
"So? Don't you think he'd ha' done that if I had beat her up, or sumpin'? Fuck it, man. When do I get paid? 10 G, like we agreed on, Bossman."
A very long pause.
'That was for detaining her. For killing her you'll get a bullet,'
Coluzzo said, in a disturbingly calm voice.
"Fuck you, man. 10 G."
Snakes looked dumbly at the phone and then threw it on the passenger seat.
Back in the alley, Maeve's body had indeed attracted the attention of a few rats, but they scurried away when she coughed. First once, then twice, and finally a big one that made her chest throb.
"Ouch..." she croaked, and coughed again. She sat up gingerly and very slowly in the middle of the filthy alley. Her fingers touched her chest, and found the bullet holes in the black silk shirt.
"Snakes, you sonovabitch."
She rapped her knuckles on her Kevlar bulletproof vest and breathed a sigh of relief.
The lack of weight under her left shoulder made her aware that her gun was missing. She looked around for it, but moving her head made her dizzy. She had a throbbing headache, and when she tried to feel if she had a bump on the back of the head, her fingers got coated in blood.
"Crap," she growled as she looked at the sticky red stuff.
'Shit, Maeve, you're in trouble now...'
she thought, and looked up and down the alley. The gunshots hadn't attracted any attention, so she was the only one there. Even though she hated being dependent on others, she knew she had to get that bleeding looked at.
She rasped off a string of curses as she tried to get up. As soon as she moved her head, the headache worsened, and she had to slam her eyes shut to escape from the blue flashes that invaded her vision.
"Snakes, you son of a bitch," she repeated in a growly voice, still with her eyes closed.
After a minute-long struggle, she finally got up and had a closer look at where she was. She knew she shouldn't be driving in her condition, and it was too far back to the Mustang anyway, so she started walking in the other direction.
As she came to the end of the alley, she tried to remember which people on Madison Boulevard she could trust, but the beehive inside her head made it difficult to concentrate.
She leaned against the building on the corner of the alley and had a look around. She breathed a sigh of relief when she spotted the Irish green marquee outside Rose Dougal's bar.
Rose's place was on the other side of the very busy Madison Boulevard, and Maeve pondered how the hell she could get over there without being knocked down. Usually, she'd just run across, but that was out of the question now.
She took a deep breath and staggered out between the parked cars. A couple of people honked and shouted obscenities at her, but she made it across all six lanes in one piece.
In her battered state, she considered that a victory, and she grinned broadly as she opened the door to Rose's establishment. Now all she had to do was to safely navigate the four steps up into the bar itself.
"Staci, I need to go to the can. Hold the fort while I'm away," Rose Dougal said, and left the bar room for the bathroom.
Rose was in her late 50's, but she had so much spirit that she looked ten years younger. With her red hair and green eyes, she couldn't have hid her Irish ancestry even if she wanted to, and if those clues weren't enough, her brogue and fiery temper gave it away instantly.
Staci Hart nodded and grunted.
"No problem. We haven't had much to do this evening, anyway, so why should that change just because you need to take a leak?"
"True... but you never know, right?" Rose said, and disappeared out of sight.
Staci turned her head and looked down the narrow bar room. They had seven tables on the right up against the window, and nine against the wall to the back room. Currently, only one of the tables was occupied - three older gents were playing cards very noisily.
She wiped off the last of the wine glasses and hung them upside down in a rack above the bar. When she was finished with that, she polished the tap to the keg of Guinness, and then the surface of the counter.
"Oi, lassie, 'nother round of pints, if you will!" one of the card players said. On the table next to them, all the beer glasses they had emptied already were lined up - nine in total.
"More? What'll your wife say, Donnie?" Staci said as she poured three more pints.
"She says plenty, but I hav'n listened to her in years!"
The other two card players roared with laughter and slapped the first man on the back.
Staci put the three glasses on a tray and brought them down to the table. Without spilling a drop, she expertly avoided the inevitable gropes and pinches and put the tray down on the table top.
The little bell above the door jangled, and Staci looked up. For a second, she thought the figure standing in the doorway was a ghost.
"Rose, I need your hel... Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Staci Hart!" Maeve said loudly as she recognized the woman holding the tray.
Even in her fuzzy state, Maeve could still appreciate comeliness when she saw it - her eyes performed a slow journey upwards, over Staci's mile-long, jeans-clad legs, her deliciously accentuated hips, the flat planes of her stomach, now covered by a dark blue long-sleeved shirt, and up to her ample chest that Maeve remembered so well from years gone by. Reluctantly, her eyes continued upwards, over Staci's pale blue orbs and up to her jet black hair that was cut a lot shorter than it used to be.
The only things spoiling the ensemble were Staci's jaw hanging somewhere right above her navel and the gobsmacked look in her eyes.
Maeve grinned mischievously, but the headache returned with a vengeance, and she groaned. She put a hand up against the wall so she could lean on it, but unfortunately, this left a bloody handprint on the pale green wall.
The sight of the blood kicked life into Staci. She put the tray down on one of the tables without even looking where it landed, and leapt forward to help Maeve. She put her arm under Maeve's and more or less dragged the injured woman over to the door to the back room.
At the same time, Rose came back from the bathroom, and immediately understood the situation.
"Quick, get her out back."
A few minutes later, the back of Maeve's head had been thoroughly washed, and the bleeding had stopped - at least temporarily.
"Jeez, Maeve, how many tubes of gel lost their lives for your 'do?" Rose asked as she wiped off her hands on a towel.
"That stays between me and the manufacturer. How does it look back there?" Maeve said, and tried to get her hand to the wound, but Rose swatted it away.
"It looks good now. What the hell have you been doing, anyway?"
"Little o' this, little o' that. I left my phone in my car, can I borrow yours? I gotta make a couple of calls."
"Sure. It's over there," Rose said and pointed at an old-fashioned telephone hanging on the wall.
"A landline? How quaint," Maeve said and chuckled. Rose rolled her eyes, and went out front to serve the customers.
Maeve looked at Staci, who hadn't said a word throughout.
"Hi, I'm Maeve. How's it hanging?" she teased, and put out her hand.
"Hi. It's been a while, huh?"
"Sure has. You look great."
"You look like shit."
"Yeah, and this is one of my good days," Maeve said, and winked.
"Are those bullet holes?"
"Yep," Maeve said and stuck her index finger out through one of them.
"Oh. Still up to your old tricks?"
"I'm an expert in those old tricks, Staci."
"Well... apparently, you got outplayed by someone..."
"Yeah. So..." Maeve said and pointed at the phone.
"Knock yourself out."
"Gee, thanks, kiddo," Maeve said and went over to the phone. She dialed the number, and marveled at the disc spinning as it returned to zero after each digit.
"Hey, Danny, it's Fever. Just so you know, a cockroach just took a potshot at me, but tell uncle Freddie that I'm not harmed, OK? ... Jimmy Snakes ... Yeah ... No, I'll deal with that scumbag myself ... All right, but I need to go home and change clothes first. I'll be there in forty-five minutes ... OK. Bye."
She hung up and looked at Staci with a dangerous gleam in her eye.
"Staci... ah... I could use your help. When do you get off?" Maeve said, making Staci roll her eyes and guffaw loudly over the double entendre.
"I get off from work in three hours, I'm working 7-to-2 right now."
"Oh. Listen, do you..."
"Don't mind me, girls," Rose said as she came out into the backroom, carrying an empty keg of Guinness. She put the empty keg next to the wall, and unwrapped a new one. She started to drag the heavy keg back into the bar, but she soon stopped and wiped the sweat off her brow.
"How do you two know each other, anyway?" she said.
"Well, a couple of years ago, we lived tog..." Staci started to say, but Maeve cut her off.
"We used to be bedmates."
"We were a damn bit more than that, Maeve!" Staci said in an offended tone.
"Oh. That disappoints me, Staci," Rose said and appeared to frown.
"How so?" Staci asked apprehensively.
"I really, honestly thought that... well, someone like you... would have better taste in women..." Rose deadpanned.
Staci guffawed again over the insulted look on Maeve's face.
"Well, excuse the hell out of me! Kick a woman while she's down, why don'cha?"
"Anymore lip from you, and I'll give you another swab of iodine," Rose teased.
"Gawd, no, not the iodine, anything but the iodine. I only need two Aspirin and half a bottle of O'Connor's Finest Irish Whisky, and I'll be back on my feet," Maeve said, and appeared to sob.
Rose left the back room in a hurry so she didn't have to listen to Maeve's nonsense, and that gave the blonde woman a perfect opportunity to move closer to Staci.
The dark haired beauty was leaning against the back wall, and Maeve walked up to her and stood very close. She took Staci's hands in her own and placed them around her well-toned waist.
"You're right, we used to be a lot more than just bedmates," she said seductively, and inched so close to Staci that their legs touched. She moved in for a kiss, but at the last possible moment, Staci evaded her lips and moved away.
"Won't work this time, Maeve," she said flatly, and walked trough the door to the bar room, leaving the blonde woman by herself.
Maeve sighed and ran a hand through her hair - and then went back to the phone.
She dialed the number she had used before for Snakes' cell phone, but after it had been ringing for a minute or so, she hung up.
'Nah, he must've tossed it. Not even he would be stupid enough to keep it,'
Maeve thought, and left the storage room.
"Maeve, I'm making you a mug of liquid gun powder, I thought you looked like you could need it. Milk and sugar?" Rose said.
"Nah, I'll take it black. Thanks, Rose."
"Don't mention it. That'll be $2."
Maeve's eyes narrowed ever so slightly, but Rose's grin broadened.
"I'm not laughin'," Maeve said, and sat down on one of the tall chairs at the bar. She looked at Staci who was busy serving yet another round of Guinness to the three men playing cards.
Staci walked back from their table and sat down on the tall chair next to Maeve. She made a point of not looking at the enforcer.
Maeve, however, took in all of Staci's beauty. 'She hasn't aged a day,'
she thought, and a cheeky grin spread out over her lips.
"Rose, would it be all right with you if I borrowed Staci's services for the evening? I promise I'll bring her back to you in one piece," Maeve said.
"Well... Why the hell not," Rose said, after looking at the half-empty bar. She put down the steaming mug of coffee on the counter.
"I don't think I can drive yet, and I've told Fast Freddie that I'd meet him in... thirty five minutes," Maeve said after checking her watch.
"Besides, I really need you to help me look for my Beretta over in the alley," she continued, looking at Staci.
Staci sighed. On one hand, she wasn't completely disinterested in spending some time with the fiery Fever, but on the other, she knew that the woman could be the most infuriating human being on the planet.
"Huh? Whaddaya say?" Maeve said, and flashed Staci her trademark crooked smile that could make the knees knock on any woman who were thus inclined - well, any woman apart from Staci Hart.
"All right. I'll go with you. But you gotta promise me one thing, Maeve - that you'll drop me off at the first sign of trouble. I'm not a thrillseeker like you are."
"Deal," Maeve said and took a long swig of the coffee.
Salvatore Coluzzo hadn't calmed down yet. He sat in his expensive leather armchair and cursed every last one of Jimmy Snakes' ancestors. His tie was crooked and the top button of his shirt was missing, the result of him being so pissed off that he'd simply ripped it open.
He had a fierce scowl on his face, and his eyes were burning a hole in the plush carpet.
He couldn't believe a relatively simple plan had gone so wrong. Coluzzo was expecting a big shipment to arrive tonight. He knew his men in the docks were quick and efficient, so they'd only need two hours, if that, to get the crates from the ship over into their trucks. However, with Donnelly controlling the docks, Fever would be on site at once with the entire Donnelly cavalry. So she needed to be 'detained'. Fever would never agree to meet someone from the Coluzzo family, so it was decided to use an outsider.
And now that whole plan was FUBAR. As soon as Fast Freddie heard about the shooting, he'd mobilize every single man he had, and completely shut down his part of the city in the hunt for his niece's killer. Coluzzo was surprised it hadn't happened already.
Someone knocked on the door to the office, and Coluzzo turned around and straightened his tie. It didn't look good for a Don to be breaking his own dresscode.
"Enter!" he growled. His secretary opened the door and a man walked in.
In his late 30's, Pietro Cazale was a suave and sophisticated man. His street name was The Silencer, based on his favorite method of offing Coluzzo's enemies. His suit was in a deep navy blue, and his crimson tie stood out against his white shirt. His hair was slicked back, and even his eyebrows looked like they had been treated with gel.
Even though he had been in the Don's office plenty of times before, he took a good look around. The Don himself was sitting behind a mahogany desk that had a few picture frames on it, and the entire room was lined by expensive looking sculptures and paintings. One whole wall was covered by a tall bookcase, containing what Pietro knew to be leatherbound originals.
"Good evening, Pietro. Have a seat. A drink?"
"No, thank you, Don Coluzzo," Cazale said, and pulled out a chair. He sat down and crossed his legs in a very orderly fashion. He pulled out his cuffs from the sleeves of his jacket, and removed an imaginary piece of lint.
"I take it you've been filled in?"
"Yes, Don Coluzzo. Too bad about White Fever. I respected her."
"Hmmm. Yes, I suppose you might say she was your opposite number."
"Indeed, Don Coluzzo."
"Jimmy Snakes. Do you know him?"
"I've know of him. A no-good bum."
"Unfortunately, that's very true. I need you to kill him. Quickly. He's a loose cannon, and right now, he's rolling around on the deck, you understand?"
"I understand, Don Coluzzo."
"I'm sixty five goddamned years old, and I've been in this business all my life. I haven't come this far only to get screwed by an upstart..."
Coluzzo ran a hand through his silver-gray hair and cursed again.
Pietro shuffled uncomfortably in his chair over the unusual outbursts from his normally impeccable boss.
"Oh, and don't bother making it look like an accident. I want him to serve as an example. Make it look gruesome."
"As you wish, Don Coluzzo," Pietro said and nodded, already planning Snakes' demise. The Don wanted it to be gruesome... well, if there was one thing Pietro Cazale was really good at, it was to kill people in gruesome ways.
After ten minutes of searching through the garbage for the missing gun, Staci and Maeve had to give up.
"Shit!" Maeve said loudly, and began to rasp off a string of curses that threatened to strip the last of the remaining paint off the derelict buildings.
Above them, a window was opened, and a woman stuck her head out.
"I told you before, keep quiet down there! The next time, I'm calling the cops!"
"Mind your own goddamned business, lady!" Maeve roared back at the unknown woman. They could hear a window being closed forcefully, and Maeve cursed again.
Staci sighed over Maeve's lack of people skills, but she still felt relieved that the wildcat was basically all right. She shook her head, and continued to search for the missing Beretta.
"What the hell are you doing back here, anyway? I thought you'd left the city for good?"
"Well... I had, but I came back," Staci said, as she kicked aside some cardboard boxes.
"Obviously. You could've called."
"Didn't have your number. And we wouldn't have had anything to talk about, either."
"Hmmm. Seems to me we're talking just fine right now?"
"You know what I mean."
"Not sure I do, actually," Maeve said and looked at Staci.
"You know damn well chances are I would've interrupted you boinking some leggy blonde. Like last time."
"Well, I apologized for that. More than once..." Maeve said and shrugged, even though she knew Staci couldn't see it in the dark alley.
"An apology doesn't change the fact that you cheated on me."
"Staci, let's not stir up all that old shit again. You're back, and well... I know we can't start over, but can't we at least be friends?"
Staci smiled sadly. She and Maeve had lived together for more than a year, and she had really loved the feisty woman back then - but it all changed one dull Thursday afternoon. She remembered well the thousands of emotions rushing through her when she caught Maeve in the act with a blonde from one of the bars. Anger, an acute sense of betrayal, even pure hatred... she had felt it all.
"We can be friends, Maeve. But no more than that."
"All right. I'd like that. Thank you."
"Snakes must've taken your gun, Maeve, because it sure as hell ain't here," Staci said and shrugged.
"He would've, the son of a bitch. Gawd, I feel so naked. Are you packin' heat?"
"I have a .22 in my purse, yeah."
"A .22! You couldn't hurt a flea with that pea-shooter," Maeve said and snorted.
"Well, excuse me for carrying a weapon I feel comfortable with!"
"It's a false sense of security, Staci. You won't be able to stop anything... or anyone."
"Let me worry about that. What are we going to do now, Maeve?"
"First of all, we're going back to my apartment. I need to change my shirt and get my spare piece... and then I'm gonna visit Fast Freddie. I need his blessing before I hunt down Mr. Shit-For-Brains Snakes."
"Sounds like you could really use my help," Staci said, and Maeve recognized a genuinely caring undertone in Staci's voice.
Even though the worst of the pain and the dizziness had died down, Maeve's chest and the back of her head were engaged in a fierce competition to see which body part could ache the most. Right now, the head was winning, though not by much.
"I could, yeah. You really wanna come with me?"
"Well... yes. Unless you don't want me to?"
"Oh, I want you to, baby," Maeve said and winked.
"OK. I need to get my purse first," Staci said and started walking back towards the entrance to the alley.
"If you only have that pea-shooter in it, forget it!" Maeve yelled after her, and laughed.
Staci dismissively waved her hand over her shoulder and didn't look back.
Maeve admired the tall woman's swagger for a little while, and then she turned around and headed for the Mustang - slowly.
"Where the fuck have you been? You were supposed to be here a fuckin' hour ago," Janine McFarland said to her husband as he entered their crummy apartment.
"I'm sorry. dear. I lost track of the time," Jerry McFarland said, and hung his work jacket on the hallstand.
"You'll lose track of your fuckin' brain one day, Jerry. Now shut the fuck up. I can't hear the teevee."
She was sitting with her feet up in a stained couch, eating a tv dinner. Janine was 47 and looked it, too. The bathrobe she was wearing hadn't been washed this decade, and her teeth and her fingernails were yellow from years of nicotine abuse. She was living off a disability pension for a chronic back injury, but Jerry knew she was faking it.
He prepared himself a dinner similar to his wife's, and sat down next to her and started to eat. The tv was showing one of those mindless talk shows where some poor slob had to face his enemies. The theme of the talk show was "your girlfriend's twotiming you with your stepdad."
"What the fuck you lookin' at? I hate it when people look at me, you know that. Stop fuckin' lookin' at me!" Janine said.
"That's right, cocksucker! You tell that skank she's a piss poor fuck," Janine bellowed out to the things happening on the tv.
Jerry finished his tv dinner and went into his bedroom. He sat down on the bed. From time to time, he could hear his wife swearing or laughing, and he wished he had the balls to do what he'd spent months planning on.
He got up from the bed and went into a small storage room. He stood up on tiptoes and reached for a cigar box he had placed on the top shelf, buried under a heap of t-shirts he couldn't fit anymore.
He placed the cigar box on the bed and took out three items - a lipstick that he had stolen from the local supermarket, a piece of rope, and his prized possession, a 10" bowie knife. He kept it in an impeccable condition so it was ready for use whenever he felt like it. He had traded every last one of his Hustlers for it, but for him, it was a fair trade.
He couldn't count the times he had fantasized about slitting his wife's throat when she slept, or even when she watched tv. Sometimes he couldn't understand why he didn't just go out there and did it... but he usually only got as far as the bedroom door, and then he'd run out of courage.
"What the fuck you doin' in there, anyway? You can't get it up, so I know you ain't jerkin' off!" Janine shouted, and banged on the door on her way to get a new pack of cigarettes. She laughed over her own joke, and moved back to the couch.
Jerry looked at himself in the mirror on the closet. In his prime, he had been a goodlooking, well-built man, but that was over twenty years ago. Now, he was just a miserable, fat, bald, fifty-one year old loser with a wife who refused him sex.
Once again he cursed the day that goddamned Chicano bitch came into the bus he was driving and tried to rob him. He didn't have more than $35, but she didn't believe him, so without warning, she cut his face with an old, rusty blade. Everything had changed that day. Everything. He ran his fingers down the right side of his face, where the long, snaking scar was still visible.
He started thinking about the filthy whores he had met. The first one was six months ago. A Mexican that had reminded him of the bitch from the bus. He could clearly remember the look in her eyes when he drew the blade instead of paying for her services. Pure fear. That look awoke something within him that he wasn't sure what was, but that he knew he couldn't control.
The next one was three months ago, a white girl with a dirty mouth - even worse than his wife. She didn't even shut up when they did the deed. He beat her half to death and finished off by breaking her jaw. That shut her up... She was also the first one where he cut open the clothes and used the lipstick to paint 'FILTHY HORE' on the body. Yes, that one had given him a lot of inspiration...
The last one had been only two weeks ago. A very pretty girl, with curls and gray eyes. At first, he was only going to use her service, but then... but then she had laughed at him. She shouldn't have. He made sure it would be a while before she laughed at anyone again.
He gripped the handle of his knife so tightly that his knuckles turned white. He felt a familiar need rising inside him like a wave. He had to get out of here, right now.
He quickly put on his favorite sports jacket and put the lipstick and the rope into the pocket. Grabbing a leather sheath for the knife, he clipped it onto his belt and zipped his jacket.
He took a deep breath and looked again at his reflection in the mirror. The body was still the same... but the eyes had changed. Before, they were watery and dull... now, they were on fire.
he thought. 'Tonight is going to be a very special night.'
"What the fuck? Are you leavin' already? You only just fuckin' got here!" Janine barked at him as he exited the bedroom.
"Yes, dear. I need to get some fresh air," he said without looking back.
"Ain't the fuck nothin' wrong with the air in here, asshole," Janine said and snorted. She took a long drag from her cig and blew out a large cloud of smoke to prove her point.
After having driven for ten minutes or so, Maeve and Staci turned off the main street and went into another alley. Maeve made a wide turn and reversed up to a sliding garage door.
Staci was sitting very awkwardly in the passenger seat because she had to hold a handkerchief against the back of Maeve's head - not because the enforcer was bleeding again, but because Maeve didn't want to risk getting blood on the upholstery.
"Staci, see if you can find a small plastic key-thingamajig in the glove box. It's the remote for the door."
Staci used her free hand to rummage through a heap of miscellaneous items before she found what she was looking for.
"Just press it, it's automatic."
Staci did as she was told, and the sliding door slowly crept upwards, revealing a dark garage. Maeve reversed into it, and as she moved past the entrance, a photoelectric cell turned on the lights. She killed the engine and reached out to press a blue button marked 'Door' that was placed on a metal pillar next to the car. At once, the garage door began sliding down again.
"Watch this, baby!" Maeve said and pressed a green button on the metal pillar.
"Whoa! It's an elevator!" Staci said very surprised as the entire garage started moving upwards.
"Sure is." Maeve grinned mischievously at Staci.
When they reached the top floor, the ninth, the elevator stopped, and they got out of the car. Maeve opened an airtight door and invited Staci inside.
Staci could hardly believe her eyes. The entire loft of the building had been converted into a single apartment, making it at least 25 by 60 yards, possibly even more.
The part nearest to the entrance was one, large open space with a leather couch, three armchairs and a sideboard with a lot of electronic equipment to the left and some exercise and weightlifting gear to the right. A bit further back, two white walls had been erected across the loft, both carrying massive paintings. High above them, the ceiling had four skylights, all equipped with automatic curtains so the sun wouldn't damage the leather furniture.
"This place is absolutely huge! It's a palace!" Staci said gobsmacked as she took in the splendor. She looked around at the high quality furniture and the art, not to mention the plush carpets, and she simply couldn't take it all in.
"Yep. It's meant to impress the ladies. Are you impressed?" Maeve said, and winked.
"Good. I need to get this blood out of my hair and some new clothes. If you want a drink, help yourself. It's over there," Maeve said and pointed at the corner of the apartment that had been set up as a fully equipped bar.
"Thanks.. I'm almost afraid to set foot in here!" Staci said and laughed out loud.
"I'll find you if you get lost. Don't worry 'bout that."
"Gee, thanks, Fever."
Maeve went over to a large, gun metal gray safe that stood behind the exercise equipment, and punched in the twelve-digit combination on the keypad. The locks released, and she swung open the heavy door.
Scanning her collection of firearms, she decided on taking a black Beretta 92F, identical to the one Snakes had stolen from her. She checked the clip, and then inserted the gun into the shoulderholster.
"Ahhhh, much better. Staci, do you want a more potent weapon than that pea-shooter?"
"What do you have?" Staci said from the couch.
"How about a chrome-plated Smith & Wesson .38 revolver?"
"It's too heavy for me."
"Oh." Maeve looked at the other weapons, but there wasn't anything better suited for Staci.
She wasn't a gun-nut like so many of her colleagues, but she did like the feel of a powerful weapon in her hand. She had even kept the first pistol she had bought for herself, a Colt M1911. It could only hold six rounds in the clips, and that just wouldn't cut it today. The Berettas held fifteen rounds, and she always carried five spare clips, which added up to 90 rounds in total.
Maeve went into the bedroom and looked at herself in the full-size mirror. She winced at the ruined state of the black silk shirt, and took it off with a curse.
She unclipped the shoulderholster and the bulletproof vest and pulled them off, revealing a black t-shirt. When she moved her arms, her chest muscles still hurt from the impacts, so she took the t-shirt off as well to check how bad the bruises were. The two dark brown spots were very visible, one just above her sternum, and one on the swell of her right breast.
"That asshole," she grumbled. She went into her walk-in closet and picked out a fresh muscleshirt and a new silk blouse.
She sat down on the bed and took off her boots and unbuckled her jeans. For a split second, she considered to ask Staci if she would join her in the shower, but then she decided against it.
Ten minutes later, Maeve emerged from her shower, and put her clothes back on. She picked up the bulletproof vest and went back into the living room.
Staci was resting on the couch while sipping a drink of some kind.
"I'm back. What's your poison?"
"I didn't even know I had that."
"Well, that's understandable, considering you have close to fifty bottles of booze in your cabinet, Maeve. Your stash is larger than Rose Dougal's."
"I get a lot of company."
Staci raised an eyebrow, but chose not to make a comment.
"Jeez, Maeve, you've really gone ahead in the world. I thought you still lived in that run-down old apartment complex. Who said crime doesn't pay?"
"I wouldn't know, I'm not a criminal," Maeve said matter-of-factly.
"Uh-huh...? But anyway, this place is amazing."
"Glad you like it. Wanna see the bedroom?"
This time both Staci's eyebrows went up, then down.
"Come on, Miss High And Mighty, I just wanna give you a tour," Maeve said and winked.
"You do, huh? All right, impress me, 'Fever'."
As Staci had expected, the bedroom was large and exquisitely decorated. The ceiling was a lot lower than out in the main room, and it created a very intimate atmosphere. A king-sized bed stood in the middle of the room, covered by a white bedspread. A huge flatscreen TV was bolted to the opposite wall, and the black remote stood out on top of a small, white nightstand.
The white carpet was nearly ankle-deep, and very plush.
Staci looked up, and then over at Maeve, who was grinning broadly.
"A mirror in the ceiling? Jeez, Maeve," Staci said and chuckled.
"Well, you know..."
"No, your neighbor. I'm almost surprised you don't have a video camera hooked up in here..." Staci said and looked around.
"Nah. I'm not a pervert."
"I beg your pardon!" Maeve said and grinned.
"Weren't we on our way to Fast Freddie?" Staci said and checked her watch in an exaggerated fashion.
"We were. And we'll get there, but you gotta check out my bathroom."
"I'll bet you have a bath tub of pure gold, or something," Staci said, as Maeve opened the door to the bathroom.
"Nope, but a genuine Finnish sauna, and a Jacuzzi with room for four," Maeve said and flashed Staci a beaming grin.
Staci looked at the extravagant bathroom mainly held in white and chrome, and at the Jacuzzi, complete with a wine cooler and a tray for the glasses. The Jacuzzi was placed in front of two large windows with automatic curtains, overlooking the skyline. There were even little orange lights installed inside it.
"In the evenings, it's really cool to sit there with a glass of wine, and the lights dimmed, and just watch the city live, you know," Maeve said.
"And a blonde on your left arm and a brunette on your right... I'll bet you get a lot of mileage out of that thing," Staci said, and winked.
The Mustang rumbled down the street, heading for Fast Freddie's domicile. Once they got there, Maeve pulled up to the gate blocking the driveway, and waited for the sentry to come out.
This was Staci's first visit there, and she was quite surprised to see that the house wasn't the opulent mansion she had imagined, but rather a non-descript two-storey building, separated from the road by a very tall and sturdy fence and a small park with a duck pond.
The sentry came out of a booth and checked them out.
"Sean. Any problems tonight?"
"Nope. Heard you had some."
"Nothing I couldn't handle. This is Staci, I can vouch for her."
"Sure thing, Fever. Go right ahead, I'll alert Danny," the sentry said, and went back to the booth where he pressed a button that opened the heavy gate.
"See ya," Maeve said, and waved out of the window as she drove past him.
As they drove up the curved driveway, Maeve turned to Staci with a mischievous grin on her face.
"Staci... you don't know Danny, do you?"
"No, I haven't had the pleasure."
"When you see him, try not to act too... ummm, surprised, OK? He knows his height is against him, especially when it comes to women... I don't want him to feel uncomfortable around you, you know."
"Oh, no problem. I know my height can intimidate some men... you can count on me," Staci said.
They parked the car in front of the house, and went up to the very large double doors, seemingly made of a very fine wood. Maeve made eye contact with Danny though a gun slit, and she winked at him.
Staci turned around and looked at the park, which was quite nice. She could hear the door open behind her, and she turned around again to walk in... and froze in the middle of a step.
Danny was standing in front of her, or rather above her. She had to lean her head back to see above his neck.
The former wrestler was 6'11", and still close to his preferred fighting weight of 340 lbs. His black suit was strained severely to accommodate his barrel chest and his broad shoulders, and his buzz cut was a good match for his steely gray eyes and square jaw.
Staci's eyes popped wide open and her jaw fell down to her chest. Loudly, she exclaimed...
"Awwww, Staci, you promised not to say anything," Maeve teased, and broke out into a big grin.
Danny did similarly, and Staci began to feel she had been set up. She narrowed her eyes and raised an eyebrow in Maeve's direction.
Maeve grinned again and gently slapped the big man across the stomach.
"Staci Hart, meet Danny Watts, all-round good guy and uncle Freddie's personal bodyguard."
"Pleased to meet you, Miss," Danny said in a rumbling voice. When he smiled, his whole demeanor changed, and he looked almost human.
Staci shook her head, and put out her hand.
"Hello, Mr. Watts. Fever's a bit of a joker, isn't she?"
"By all means, call me Danny. And... yep, she is. Come in. I'll let Mr. Donnelly know your here," Danny said, and stood aside so the two women could enter the hallway.
"Thank you, Mr. Wat... I mean, Danny," Staci said, and walked in.
The house was far more impressive on the inside than on the outside. The hallway was held in mostly deep red and golden colors, and it was lushly decorated with large paintings and exquisite furniture. Four white double doors, two on each side, led away from the hallway, and a large white staircase went up to the first floor.
Staci looked down at her blue jeans and felt horribly out of place.
"It's all right, Staci. This is mostly for show," Maeve said, and put an arm around the taller woman's waist.
"I better wait out here while you talk to your uncle."
"Yeah. I promise it won't be long."
The double doors that were closest to them slid open, revealing a smiling Danny.
"Mr. Donnelly is ready to see you now, Maeve."
"Thanks, Danny," Maeve said and tickled Staci's sides, making the taller woman squeal and jump in the air.
Maeve grinned and hurried into the office, with the double doors closing softly behind her.
Fast Freddie Donnelly was sitting in a leather armchair behind a huge desk, signing some papers. When he heard Maeve enter, he looked up, and his face lit up like a Christmas tree.
"Maeve! Jeebus, child, I'm so glad to see that you're all right!"
With some trouble, he got up and lumbered over to Maeve. Belying his nickname, Fast Freddie was only a few inches taller than Maeve but he was at least three times her size around the waist. He weighed in somewhere above 275 lbs. - his exact weight was a mystery as he flat out refused to be weighed - and most of it was fat. Back in the day, however, he had been a very accomplished boxer.
He hugged the white-haired woman furiously, and she laughed heartily.
"Thanks, uncle Freddie. Yeah, I sorta got the short end of the stick that time. That's what I'm here for."
"Figured as much."
Fast Freddie Donnelly was sixty-two, but looked slightly older. His eyes were the same green color as Maeve's, and they almost shared the same hair color, too - only Maeve's white hair was out of a bottle, Freddie's wasn't.
"Have a seat. A drink?" Freddie said and lumbered back to his armchair.
"Not for me, thank you," Maeve said, and sat down in a very exquisite leather armchair, crossing one leg diagonally over the other.
"Rose Dougal was a great help tonight, uncle Freddie," she continued.
"I'm glad to hear it. I like Rose Dougal. She's a firebrand." Freddie chuckled as he thought of the redhaired woman.
"No two ways about that."
"Hmmm... I think I'll call and ask her out some time. Anyway, Maeve... what the hell was all that shootin' business about?" Freddie said.
"Here's what I know: A bum called Jimmy Snakes phoned me and told me he had some interesting information that he'd like to share. We arranged to meet in an alley off Madison. When I got there, he had already arrived, and had set a trap for me. He shot me twice in the chest and drove off."
"Son of a bitch," Freddie growled.
"That's what I said," Maeve said and chuckled.
"And he's an independent?"
"What are your intentions?"
"Well, I respectfully request your permission to hunt Jimmy Snakes down."
"You have it, Maeve. Hell, you have my full blessing for huntin' him down. Any way you see fit, and with any force necessary. Am I clear?"
"Loud and clear, Sir."
"But take care while you're doin' so. Your late mother will come back to haunt me if you get hurt," Freddie said with a smile.
"Oh, that goes without saying. I'll be so careful he'll never hear me comin'," Maeve said and flipped open her phone.
"Who are you calling?"
"Patrick Daly and a few others. To let 'em know who we're lookin' for."
Maeve finished the brief conversations and put the phone into her pocket.
"Now, go out there, find him and kick his ass, you hear?" Freddie said.
"Yep!" Maeve said and got up from the chair.
Maeve opened the double doors and looked for Staci. She found the dark haired woman playing cards with Danny, and judging by the matching smiles on their faces, they seemed to have a good time.
Maeve instantly became transfixed by Staci's smile. She had the most beautiful smile imaginable, never fake, never goofy... always just right. And when she smiled, her eyes twinkled in a way that was almost humanly impossible.
'Way to go, Fever. You lost all of that just because you couldn't keep your libido in check. Ace work, jackass,'
Maeve thought, and felt her guilty conscience give her a kick in the pants.
She cleared her throat, and Staci looked up. For a brief second, Maeve saw the faintest hint of that twinkle in the blue eyes.
"I'm glad to see the two of you get along so well. What are you playing?"
"Texas Hold 'Em," Danny said and grinned broadly as she slapped down a winning hand on the table, much to Staci's chagrin.
"I don't need to ask who's winning," Maeve said and chuckled.
"Actually, Miss Hart sure knows how to play a mean hand," Danny said as he collected the toothpicks they were playing for.
"Maybe so, but I'm glad it's not strip poker," Staci said as she looked at her meager pile of toothpicks and compared it to Danny's large stack.
In an instant, Danny turned serious.
"I'd never do that, Miss Hart. Never with a friend of Fever's," he said, and looked directly at Maeve.
"Oh, I didn't mean it that way, Danny," Staci said, but Maeve waved her hand.
"'s all right, Staci. We have an agreement, Danny and I. I don't steal his girlfriends, and he doesn't steal mine," she said and slapped the big man on the shoulder with a wide grin.
"That's right. Fever would kick my ass in point-five flat, and it would be hell for my street cred," Danny said.
"An' don' you fer-get it," Maeve deadpanned in her best cowpoke voice, making them all laugh.
"Staci, are you ready? We're about to get the show on the road."
"Yep. It was nice meeting you, Danny," Staci said, and put out her hand.
"Likewise, Miss Hart," he said and shook it.
After they had climbed aboard the Mustang, Staci turned to face Maeve.
"You couldn't really kick Danny's ass... could you?"
"Of course I could, baby," Maeve said, and flexed her right biceps a couple of times. As she did so, she thumped her left hand on the inside of the door for effect.
"Can you hear that? There's a beast inside, and it wants to get out!" Maeve whispered.
Staci's eyed narrowed dangerously until they were nothing more than blue slits.
"It's true!" Maeve said and turned on the ignition. She didn't dare look at Staci's face, so she concentrated on reversing out of the parking space, and onto the driveway.
After driving for a little while, Maeve turned off Third Street and onto Jefferson Boulevard.
Jefferson was a six-lane boulevard, and acted as the main artery of the city. It carved its way past the upscale fashion boutiques in uptown and all the way down to the derelict buildings and closed shops on the South Side. Along the way, it would pass through the entire length of the downtown area - four miles of bright lights, loud music, and horny young men and women cruising around in souped-up vehicles.
"Welcome to my world, Staci. A world of pimps, prostitutes and pickpockets. A world where hustlers play Diamonds in the shadows between the street lamps, and where bodegas, night clubs, strip joints and porn shops are side by side all along the Jefferson. Yeah. This is my world," Maeve said, as they slowly cruised in the inside lane of the boulevard, going south.
The night was still incredibly muggy, so they both had their side windows rolled down. Maeve had her arm out of the window, and she'd occasionally wave to people she knew. A few times, someone on the sidewalk hollered at them when they saw the characteristic Mustang driving past, and Maeve answered by honking the horn.
The traffic almost slowed to a stop when a car full of young men drove slowly past one of the strip clubs. They all stuck their heads out of the windows to gawk at the colorful billboards advertising the new dancer, 'luscious Lola from Buenos Aïres'.
A barker came out and walked next to the car for a few yards, trying to get the young men to visit his establishment, but they drove off.
Maeve and Staci drove past the barker, and he nodded at them before returning to the sidewalk.
"Lola from Buenos Aïres," Maeve said and laughed.
"Sure, and I'm Mary Jane from Kansas City," she continued.
Two street rods raced each other away from the traffic lights on the other side of Jefferson, and Maeve turned her head to check them out. An orange Charger won over a blue Mustang, but not by much.
"The rich people from up north never see Jefferson like this. You know, I think they'd be poopin' their panties if they ever came down here after dark," Maeve said.
"I believe you. It's been a long, long time since *I* was in this part of town after dark, and I've lived here for nearly all my life."
"Yeah, I, er... when I drive home from work, I always take the long way round. Well... it's a long story."
"Don't worry, I understand," Maeve said, and patted Staci's thigh.
The traffic lights ahead of them turned red, and Maeve slowed to a halt.
"Yeah, this isn't for everybody. Staci, please let me know if this is too much for you. If it is, I'll drive you back to Rose's in a heartbeat."
"Thank you, Maeve... but I think I'm good to go for a little while yet."
"All right. Just say the word, OK?"
The lights were still red as a bright yellow Corvette drove up next to them. The driver blipped his throttle a few times and the exhausts roared.
Maeve looked over at the driver who was a young man with a crew cut and a white t-shirt.
"Not this time, buddy," she shouted, but she didn't know if the other driver heard her, because the lights changed to green at the exact same moment.
The Vette took off in a cloud of tiresmoke, but Maeve wasn't tempted to race with Staci along for the ride, so she left the intersection at a more sedate pace.
"What are we actually doing here, Maeve?"
"Well, we're cruisin' Jefferson, baby."
"No shit, Sherlock. I meant apart from that. How are we going to find this Snakes character driving here?"
"I have a couple of things I need to do, some people to see. I made a few calls back at my uncle's place, and I'm hoping that one of those people will have some info that'll lead me to him."
"Finding Snakes in this beehive would exceed even my skills," Maeve said, and winked.
"Uh-huh?" Staci replied dryly.
"I'm in no rush, I have all night. Hasty decisions only makes for messy solutions. Besides, I've got what I want right here, a fast car and a beautiful dame," Maeve said, and patted Staci's thigh again - this time, she let her hand linger there, and she was pleased that Staci didn't tell her to move it away.
"Thank you for the compliment."
"You're welcome. Have you eaten lately?"
"Me, neither, and my gut is about to walk out on me. Burger Palace is just up the road. I was thinking we could stop there for a quick bite? My treat."
"Sure. I'd like that."
"Cool. It'll be like a date," Maeve said and grinned.
"A strictly platonic date."
"But of course," Maeve said and activated the turning signal.
Twenty minutes later, they were back on Jefferson, this time cruising in the other direction after having made a u-turn at 14th Street, the bottom end of downtown.
Staci looked at the little clock on the dashboard, which read ten past twelve. She couldn't believe how big the crowd still was here - at Rose's over on Madison, the last of the regulars would've left by now, leaving the bar pretty empty until those working the nightshift arrived at just before two.
The big difference was of course that Rose's customers were older blue collar workers, and the people cruising Jefferson appeared to be much younger.
Suddenly she realized that Maeve had spoken to her.
"I said, when we reach the intersection at Third Street, I'm taking a detour off to the left. There's a gay bar on Third that has had a bit of creep trouble lately, and I promised the owner I'd pop by now and then."
Three cars behind them, a black Cadillac kept to the same speed as Fever's Mustang, and had done so for several minutes.
'If Fever ever needs to travel incognito, she better find another car; that black Mustang GT sticks out like a sore thumb with those fat silver racing stripes and those bling-bling wheels,'
Pietro Cazale thought.
He had noticed the characteristic car when it was parked on the Burger Palace lot, and he had been trailing it ever since. He had ID'ed Fever when she and another woman left the fast food restaurant, and right now he was thinking heavily about what this could mean.
Either Jimmy Snakes was in cohorts with Fever, and that seemed unlikely, or the dumb fuck couldn't shoot worth a damn, and he had made up the story to cover his ass - which seemed much more likely.
In any case, Cazale needed to tell Don Coluzzo. He picked up his phone and found the number to the office.
"This is Pietro Cazale. I have some interesting news for you, Don Coluzzo. I'm driving on Jefferson Boulevard right now, and three cars ahead of me is none other than White Fever."
'What?! Are you sure?'
"One hundred per cent, Don Coluzzo. It's her. Another woman is with her, I don't know who she is."
'Hmmm. Interesting. So Jimmy Snakes lied to me. Hmmm,'
Salvatore Coluzzo said on the other end of the connection, and Cazale could almost hear the cogs working in the Don's head.
'Where are you right now?'
"We've just passed Sixth Street, going north."
'Hmmm. I don't know what to make of this.'
At the same time, Maeve kept checking the rear view mirror. There was a black Cadillac a few cars behind them, and although she hadn't paid particular attention to it as such, she was sure it had followed them since the u-turn.
"Staci, buckle up. I think we've picked up a tail."
"Snakes?" Staci said, as she clicked the seatbelt into its lock.
"Not unless he stole a black Caddy. No, it's someone else."
They came up to the traffic lights at Fifth Street, and Maeve slowed down to about 20 mph.
"Hang on, Staci."
"What are you gonn..."
Just as the lights turned yellow, Maeve gunned the engine, and the Mustang thundered over the intersection. On the other side, she slowed down again, and looked behind them.
"Jeez, Maeve! You coulda warned me!" Staci said, prying her fingers off the panic grip above the door.
"I did," Maeve said without taking her eyes off the mirror. The Cadillac had been caught by the red, and was waiting in the line.
"Don Coluzzo, she's spotted me. She just ran a yellow at Fifth Street to flush me out."
"Do you want me to take care of Fever before she can get knowledge of the business at the docks? It isn't long until the ship comes in."
'No. Not now. Then Donnelly will know for sure something will happen. No, get Snakes out of the way first, then Fever. Call me when Snakes is dead,'
Coluzzo said and hung up without waiting for a reply.
Cazale put the phone into his pocket and turned away from Jefferson when the lights changed to green.
"He's gone. Hmmmm. I wonder who that was..." Maeve said, and resumed a normal speed.
"It could be anybody. A spurned lover, perhaps?" Staci said surly as she unbuckled the seatbelt and shuffled around to get comfortable again.
"I very much doubt that," Maeve said, grinning widely.
A few minutes later, they cruised slowly past the Fairy Godfather Bar on Third. Everything looked quiet, and the bouncer gave Maeve the thumbsup when they drove past.
She waved at him out of the window, and continued down the one way street, headed for Franklin Boulevard.
Ten minutes later, Pietro Cazale parked on a grassy field at the back of a derelict building in an alley off Adams Boulevard. He picked up a piece of paper and re-checked the address.
He looked around and scoffed over the condition of the houses there. The three eight-storey concrete monstrosities were placed in a horseshoe, surrounding the backyard. Judging by the very tired appearance of the buildings, Cazale quickly came to the conclusion that they had been neglected for decades.
'How typical that a bum like Jimmy Snakes would live in such an environment,'
The backyard had once housed an auto repair shop, but all that was left now was a shed with a collapsed roof, and a few abandoned cars - two of which were burned out hulks.
As soon as he got out of the car, two stray dogs ran up to him and started sniffing him and the car.
"Get away from me, ya fuckin' fleabags," he growled, and they seemed to listen. He clicked on a button on the remote, and the doors locked. He looked around again, but there weren't any people around.
The backyard was lit by a row of streetlamps, but all but two had been vandalized, leaving it very dark. About a third of the apartments still had lights in them, and he could hear a faint strain of music from somewhere.
He started walking towards the door to the nearest building, trying desperately to avoid ruining his leather shoes by stepping in dog poo.
When he reached the door, he wasn't in the least surprised to find that the light bulb above the door was broken, nor that the lock was long since gone. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his black leather gloves. While putting them on, he thoroughly checked the area for any possible witnesses.
Finding none, he put his gloved hand into another pocket for the silencer.
Tightening it onto the muzzle of his 9mm Walther P99, he once again looked over his shoulder, and then opened the door with the tip of his shoe. Silently, he slid through the door and into the building.
In his apartment on the fourth floor, Jimmy Snakes was pacing back and forth, wearing another hole in the already trashed carpet. He was pissed off about the whole deal, and he had gone over Fever's shooting again and again in his head. He couldn't come up with a single thing he had done wrong, and he couldn't understand why that jerk Coluzzo had a beef with him.
"If that asshole didn't want me to kill that bitch, why the fuck did he even bother asking me!" he said loudly to himself.
He sat down on a horribly stained couch and put his head in his hands.
"And now that dickhead won't even give me the fuckin' money I worked so fuckin' hard for! Fuck!" he shouted.
He got up again and went over to a table by a window that overlooked the backyard. He picked up the Beretta he had stolen from Fever and looked at it with glee. It was in far better condition than the old .32 he had thrown away, and he couldn't wait showing it off to his buddies.
"I bet this baby will bring me at least $50," he said, and tried in vain to act cool by twirling it around his index finger. It didn't quite work, so he started looking for his cell phone instead.
After searching high and low for it for several minutes, he came to the conclusion that it was gone. He slapped his forehead and started retracing his steps after he had called Coluzzo in the car on his way back from the alley - not an easy task, as he had forgotten most of it already.
"Crap!" he shouted, and threw his arms in the air. Life could be so unfair sometimes. He knew he could forget all about ever seeing that phone again - and it was brand new, as he had only stolen it the week before. Cursing, he went over to a desk and pulled out a drawer. He paused for a moment to decide which of his seven other stolen phones he should choose.
After choosing a silver and black one, he went over to the table and picked up the keys for his car. As he did so, his peripheral vision spotted an unusual car parked in the backyard. It was hard to see in the darkness, but it looked like a black Cadillac.
He furrowed his brow. A car like that could only belong to a wiseguy, or possibly a drug dealer. His foggy brain prevented him from thinking too clearly, but he knew a car like that in a neighborhood like this could only spell trouble.
He took the clip out of the Beretta and checked how many rounds were left. Satisfied with the result, he clicked it back in place and stuck it down the back of his pants.
After locking the door to the apartment, Snakes started walking towards the stairs. He was halfway there when he heard a step creak very close to where he was.
He leaned flat against the wall of the hallway and tried to blend in - which didn't work particularly well, because he was mostly grungy white, and the wall was painted in a pale brown color.
A man wearing a black overcoat came slowly up the stairs. Even though the gap between them was close to twenty yards, Snakes instantly recognized the thing the man was holding in his hand - a pistol with a silencer.
Snakes knew he was outclassed, so he frantically looked around for a way out. He spotted the window at the end of the hall, and remembered there was a fire escape on the outside.
He started walking backwards, but he didn't pay attention to where he was going, and the handle of the Beretta clanged against a doorjamb with a loud ka-lonk
. He froze to the spot, but it was too late.
Pietro Cazale's head snapped around, and he raised the arm holding the gun. Snakes turned on his heel and bolted down the hallway towards the fire escape. He could hear two strangely muted coughs behind him, and two bullet holes appeared on the wall in front of him. He ducked and ran even faster towards the window.
Just before he got there, he remembered the Beretta and reached behind him to grab it. He stopped in the middle of the hallway and fired off three rounds towards the hitman.
"Fuckin' yeah, man! That'll fuckin' teach ya, man!" he shouted as he saw Cazale duck behind a pillar and out of sight.
Snakes turned around to jump through the window, but before he got to it, it was hit by one of Cazale's bullets and exploded in a shower of shards. He was already committed to jumping through it, and he was carrying so much speed he nearly continued out over the edge of the fire escape.
After flailing his arms in the air for a few seconds to find his balance, he fired off two more rounds into the hallway. He didn't bother hanging around to see if he had hit Cazale, but rushed down the fire escape at a breakneck speed, taking two or even three steps at a time.
It was almost suicidal to run down stairs so fast in the darkness, but Snakes knew he'd stand no chance against a pro hitman like that, so he'd rather take his chance with the fire escape.
"Damn, damn, damn!" Cazale shouted as he was leaning out of the broken window to see where Snakes had gone. He could see from the vibrations in the fire escape that the worthless bum was still on it, but Snakes soon reached the ground and ran like a greyhound over to a couple of parked cars. He got into an old Buick and quickly left the backyard in a cloud of dust.
Cazale sighed and took the silencer off the Walther. He pondered his next move, and came to the conclusion that he had to tell Coluzzo about the fiasco. He sighed again, and flipped open his phone.
Snakes drove away from the backyard like the devil was on his tail. Without even bothering to look for traffic, he burst out onto Adams, wrestling with the car as he took the corner on two wheels.
"Think! Think! Think, ya stupid goddamned idiot, think!" he shouted to himself as he ran several red lights on his way northbound on Adams. He zig-zagged between the other cars, forcing a few of them to brake hard to avoid hitting him.
When he arrived at the intersection at Ninth Street, a thought suddenly flashed through his abused brain. At the last possible moment, he turned right onto Ninth, heading for the gas station behind Burger Palace.
When he got there, he turned sharp left, and the car bounced over the paving stones that marked the entrance to the gas station. The old car's springs and shock absorbers squeaked and creaked loudly in protest over the rough treatment, but they held together.
After driving far too fast past the gas pumps, he turned right behind the car wash. He stepped on the brakes, and the Buick came to a smoky stop next to the large gray building.
He jumped out of the car and ran first to one end of the car wash, and then to the other, each time peeking around the corner to see if the black Caddy had followed him. Everything seemed calm... for now.
Running a shaky hand through his greasy hair, he breathed a sigh of relief, and walked back to the ticking and steaming Buick. He got in and opened the glovebox, searching for a glass of stolen prescription medicine he knew was in there somewhere.
He found it and quickly swallowed two pills - and then added another just to be on the safe side. He leaned back in the seat and waited for the kaleidoscopic colors to engulf him.
Ten minutes later, he was feeling muuuuuuch better. Everything always seemed to be clearer and easier when he was chillin', and this time was no exception.
He took his phone off his belt and dialed a number. He was surprised he could even remember what it was, but his thumb seemed to have a life of its own.
'Talk to me,'
a gruff voice said.
"Which one are you, man? Randy or Marshall?" Snakes said and snickered.
'I'm Abraham Lincoln. Who wants to know?'
'Oh. In that case, I'm Marshall.'
"I have a job for you, man."
"Yeah. Both of you. Meet me behind the gas station at Burger Palace on Jefferson."
'All right. We need to finish off some things first, so ETA is twenty minutes,'
the voice said, and the connection was terminated.
"Yeahhhhh..." Snakes said, and closed his eyes again so none of the pleasant buzz would go to waste.
Back on Jefferson, Maeve parked at the curb in front of Sammi Jo's Three-In-One Club. With a discotheque in the basement, a night club on the first floor and a fancy restaurant on the second, Sammi Jo's establishment was one of the largest on Jefferson.
"So... this is Sammi Jo's," Maeve said with her hand resting on top of the steering wheel. She put the car in Park and turned off the engine.
"Oh, I know about the Three-In-One Club."
"You do? From where, 'cos... I can't see you being a regular customer, you know," Maeve said and laughed.
"A guy came over to Rose's last week with a flyer. I won a free entry ticket in a raffle, actually. I threw it in the trash."
"Well, it's no fun to go to a night club by yourself..."
"Trust me, baby, you would've picked up a date within thirty seconds of walkin' through that door," Maeve said and flashed her cheekiest crooked grin at Staci.
"What are we doing here, anyway?" Staci said, completely ignoring Maeve's attempts of flirting with her.
"It's our first social call of the night," Maeve said, waiting impatiently for the traffic to pass so she could get out of the car.
"That's a fancy way of sayin' I'm here to collect."
"Do I want to know what it is you're collecting...?"
"Protection money," Maeve said matter-of-factly.
They left the car and nodded to the 300-lbs. bouncer, who let them in without hassle, provoking several loud protests from the people waiting in the long line snaking its way down the street.
A pumping bassline greeted them as they entered the night club. The main room was large with mirrors on the ceiling and the outer walls, and a 120 feet long, rectangular catwalk in the center. Four dancing poles were spread out evenly along the catwalk, and two of them were in use by leggy dancers wearing very little in the way of clothing.
The outside walls of the room were lined with booths with red velvet benches and small tables, and there were two dozen bar stools along the catwalk, to allow the patrons to get a clear view of the dancers. Several waitresses were bringing drinks and snacks to the tables, wearing only slightly more than the dancers.
Maeve and Staci walked past the catwalk and further into the room, heading for Sammi Jo's private office at the back of the room. Suddenly one of the dancers recognized Maeve, and she squealed in delight.
Maeve looked up and saw the cute redhead waving at her with all she had... which was plenty. The dancer was wearing tiny red hotpants, and her breasts were only covered by a very loose vest made of purple silk, and two pasties on her nipples.
She might have had a pretty face in the daytime, but now, she was wearing what looked like an inch of makeup. Huge, fake, purple eyelashes and far too much rouge mixed with little sparkly stars on her cheeks gave her complexion a sickly hue, and made her look five years older than she really was.
"We're in no rush. I think we should take five," Maeve said, turned around on her heel and made a beeline for the catwalk.
"Hi Fever, you gorgeous creature!" the dancer squealed.
"Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?"
"Sure. Staci, this is... another of my friends."
"I'm Brandi, nice to meet you," the redhead dancer said, frowning over the fact that Fever had forgotten her name. She decided to let it slip.
"Hello, Brandi," Staci said.
"You look great," Maeve purred.
"Yeah, tell me about it! Quite an improvement, huh? They cost me plenty, believe me..." the redhead said and wiggled her assets. Staci's eyebrow shot up, and the corner of her mouth twitched.
"Brandi! Get back to work!" someone shouted from behind Maeve and Staci. They turned around and saw the owner of the establishment, Sammi Jo Bradley, standing in the door to her office.
Sammi Jo was in her late forties, with slightly curly hair in a deep mahogany brown that had come straight out of a bottle. She was wearing pumps and a very expensive pinstriped navy blue pant suit, and her gun metal gray eyes were protected by a set of fashionable titanium-framed glasses.
Two decades ago she'd been quite a looker, but the years hadn't been kind to her, and a slew of botox injections had only made it worse - her skin appeared waxen, and her face was frozen in a permanent scowl. Her lips, colorless despite Max Factor's best efforts, were merely a thin line in her face, and they hardly moved when she talked.
"Yeah, yeah..." Brandi said and waved her hand.
The song segued into the next one, and she started boogying to the beat, displaying an impressive array of dancing moves.
"Gotta go, see ya later, huh? Especially you, Fever," Brandi said and flicked her tongue a couple of times at the enforcer in between her moves.
"Lookin' forward to it," Maeve replied with a cheeky grin, but Brandi was already moving up the catwalk.
"*Cough*Birddawg*Cough*," Staci said, making it sound like she was coughing. She put her hand over her mouth for effect.
"That's a horrible cough you have there, Staci... you really oughtta have it checked," Maeve said and winked. She looked back over her shoulder and noticed that Sammi Jo was still standing in the door.
"I need to handle this myself. Sammi Jo ain't one of my favorite people, if you catch my drift, and it might turn nasty."
"All right. I'll stay out here, then."
"Yep." Maeve looked around and locked eyes with one of the scantily clad waitresses. She came over to the two women, holding a tray.
"Bourbon on the rocks, please, Danielle," Maeve said and winked at Staci again.
"You remembered... I'm flattered."
"I never forget the important things. See you in a few."
Two minutes later, the waitress came back with a glass of Bourbon. Staci had found a table and was looking at the dancers. Brandi was working the other end of the catwalk now, and a bosomy blonde had taken her place at the pole, sliding up, down and around.
The waitress put down a napkin and the glass on the table, but when Staci asked her how much it was, she shook her head.
"It's on the house."
"Does the house know?" Staci said, looking at Sammi Jo's office.
"No. Are you with the Donnellys?"
"No, I'm an independent. I'm usually tending the bar for Rose Dougal, but M... I mean, Fever needed my help, so..."
"I'm Danielle," the waitress said and sat down opposite Staci.
"Staci Hart. Nice to meet ya." The two women shook hands.
"I have to say, you're far better looking than the women Fever usually hangs out with... much more natural."
"Oh...?" Staci stuttered, her cheeks crimson red. She gulped down half the Bourbon to cover her blush.
"Yeah. Were you ever a model?"
"Ah... no. Not as such."
"Really? That's surprising, I mean with your height and cheekbones, an' everything..."
"Nah, it's just... you know," Staci said, and loosened her collar. She was sure the waitress would be able to spot the steam coming from underneath her shirt.
"Yeah, trust me, I do. There are so many sleazebags in that business it's not funny," Danielle said and looked at the dancers for a while. She checked out the number of customers, and decided that she could stay and talk a little longer.
"Fever's a fantastic woman," she said.
"Last year, she drove my sister, Michelle, back home to our parents upstate. She had gotten herself involved with drugs... and prostitution, and... she was a mess. I couldn't afford the busfare back, but Fever came to our rescue."
"Really?" Staci said, intrigued by the unexpected soft side to the hardened enforcer.
Through the pumping music, Staci could hear Maeve and Sammi Jo shouting at each other, and she glanced at the office from time to time, almost afraid that Maeve would end up killing the owner.
Suddenly the door was flung open and Maeve strode out, holding a small envelope in her hand. Behind her, Sammi Jo emptied a glass of something and slammed the door shut with a bang that rattled the mirrors in the ceiling.
Maeve had her gameface on, all steely-eyed and square-jawed, but her features loosened up considerably when she saw Staci talking to Danielle.
"Hi, Fever," the waitress said.
"You have a bitch for a boss, you know that?"
"No kiddin'," Danielle said and winked.
"Danielle just told me you helped her and her sister last year," Staci said.
"Er... yeah," Maeve said, and looked curiously uncomfortable.
"Michelle's doing great. She's gone back to school, and, well... it's not easy for her, but she's coping," Danielle said.
"I'm glad to hear it. Staci... are you ready to leave?"
"Yep. Thanks for the drink, Danielle," Staci said, and emptied the glass of Bourbon.
They got into Maeve's Mustang and she started the engine. As soon as there was a gap in the traffic, she turned out onto Jefferson and left the busy night club behind.
"Did I say something wrong? I apologize if I did," Staci said.
"No... but I don't want to appear soft. It's not good for my line of work."
"There weren't anyone else there, Maeve."
"The walls always have ears."
"What's the story with her sister?"
"Well... when I first met Michelle, she was a dynamite girl. Curves in all the right places, a spunky attitude, beautiful eyes, the works. When I drove her home last year, she had been reduced to a 100 lbs. wreck with a pale gray complexion and needletracks all over her body."
"Yeah. Michelle had become a $10 a pop hooker, and she was usually so stoned that she didn't notice if the tricks paid her or not. Her pimp beat her up regularly. That son of a bitch busted her teeth, her nose... everything. When I got back from my trip upstate, I took care of business."
A pregnant pause.
"Meaning you killed him?"
"Meaning I cut his throat from ear to ear and left him to rot in an alley," Maeve said with an ice cold undertone that made Staci shudder.
A little while later, Maeve made a u-turn at Third Street and they went back to cruising south on Jefferson.
They had only driven a few hundred yards when an African-American woman dressed in impossibly high heels and a very skimpy gold lamé dress walked out on the street to flag them down. Maeve pulled over, and the woman came over to the driver's side door and stuck her head in the opening.
"Whassup, Dolores?" Maeve said.
"Fever, we've got trouble. One of the girls is late back from a job."
Maeve didn't know Mary well, the young woman had only recently started working Jefferson Boulevard, but she knew that she was in her 20's, and a natural redhead, hence the nickname.
"The new kid?"
"Yeah. Her walking mate Vanessa told me ten minutes ago. Oh, hi... sorry, didn't see you before, I'm Dolores," she said to Staci, and nodded.
"Hi. I'm Staci."
"Have you seen any new creeps tonight?" Maeve said to Dolores.
"Nah, only the usual nutjobs and perverts, but Mary Red already knows about them."
"How long has she been gone?"
"An hour and a half. I was working at the time, but Vanessa told me Mary was picked up by a wealthy looking john in a Bronze-colored late model Caddy."
"Maybe he bought her for the night?"
"Mary wouldn't do that. She always leaves at Midnight to get home to her kid."
"Yeah... all right. I'll keep an eye out for the car. Have you told the others?"
"It's probably a long shot, but have you checked the Majestic?"
"Suze was just there... nothing."
"Suze was working!?" Maeve said incredulously.
"Yeah. We've got our hands full... literally. Business is boomin'," Dolores said and chuckled.
"It must be for Suze to be working. All right, Dolores, see ya. Call me if there's any news."
"Sure thing, Fever."
Maeve put the Mustang into Drive, and they rumbled away from the curb.
"Shit, that was the last thing we needed tonight," she said, and sighed.
"What's a walking mate?"
"We've told the girls to always walk around in pairs. I guess that wasn't enough tonight."
"How many prostitutes do you have?"
"Fast Freddie employs a few dozen. Everyone here on Jefferson, and a few over on Franklin."
"It must be a hard life."
"Well, I'm sure it is, but we take good care of them. We have a standing agreement with the Volunteer's Clinic so the girls can go for health checkups as often as they want or need, and if one of them gets hurt in a fight, we have connections at the community hospital so the bill is sent to us."
"Rose chased away two of 'em last weekend. She said she doesn't want them hanging around near the bar. We depend on our regular customers, and if their wives hear about Rose's Bar being a place their men can meet prostitutes, we'll lose them in an instant."
"I understand that, but... they're just trying to make a living, you know," Maeve said and shrugged.
"Well, so is Rose. And she's the one who pays my wages."
"Would you mind if I turned on the radio? I'd like to listen to some music," Staci said a little while later.
"Don't mind at all. Here, I'll do it," Maeve said, and turned on the stereo.
The radio came alive in the middle of an old rock'n'roll song, and Staci looked at Maeve in a funny way.
"A 1950s rock'n'roll station, Maeve?" she said, slightly disbelieving.
"Hey, I'm an old-school rock'n'roller."
"You're a regular John Milner, you know that? The only thing missing is the pack of Camel in your T-shirt."
"Nah, I've never smoked. But, just so you know, John Milner was and still is a hero of mine. When I started out, I wanted a yellow '32 Deuce Coupe just like his, but then I found out how expensive it would be to keep it in a good condition, so... I chose this baby here instead," Maeve said, and tapped her fingers on the steering wheel.
"Yeah... and besides, rock'n'roll is simple music... I like simple music. Not all this contemporary singer-songwriter woe-is-me stuff. Gets on my last nerve, that," she continued.
"Yeah," Maeve said vehemently.
The song ended, and the DJ cut away to a few commercials. Maeve turned down the volume a bit, and checked her wristwatch. It read a quarter past one, AM. If they didn't find Mary Red pretty damn quickly, someone would have to take care of her kid. Maeve sighed and gripped the leatherbound steering wheel a little harder.
The intersection at Burger Palace turned red just as they approached it, and Maeve slowed to a halt.
"It's strange about that black Caddy from before. I haven't seen it since."
"Me neither. And now we're looking for two Cadillacs. Weird how these things always come in pairs," Staci said, and shuffled in her seat.
"Whassamatter, Staci? Doesn't your world class tush appreciate my exquisite upholstery?"
"Ha, ha. I'm just not used to sitting down all night, 's all."
The traffic light turned green, but Maeve was a little slow away. That made the driver in the vehicle behind them, a black, customized GMC van with dark-tinted windows and a wide, pale blue stripe down the side, honk his horn.
Maeve scowled at him in the rear view mirror, but decided against giving him a piece of her mind. She noticed that the van turned the corner onto Ninth Street and headed for the gas station lot.
"Is there anything in this city Fast Freddie doesn't control?" Staci said, and turned in her seat to look at Maeve.
"Plenty. We own downtown, the port and parts of Midtown, out to the eastern bank of the river. Salvatore Coluzzo controls the rest of Midtown on the other side of the river, uptown and the 'burbs. To the south of us, two gangs are in the middle of a turf war, but it looks like the Southside Chicas are winning."
"So the Monroe River marks the limit between your and Coluzzo's territories?"
"I wonder if I'll be able to get home tonight, after having been seen with you so much... I live in Midtown West, on the other side of the Monroe..." Staci said and laughed dryly.
"Nah, you'll be all right... or, if you want to, you can come and sleep at my place...?"
"Just sleep. Nothing more," Maeve said, looking at Staci with a mischievous twinkle in her green eyes.
"No, for Chrissakes, Maeve. Quit askin'."
"Because one thing will lead to the next, and soon, we'll be... you know."
"Sittin' nekkid in my Jacuzzi?"
"Grow up," Staci grumbled and folded her arms across her chest.
Maeve grinned and hung her arm out of the window.
The GMC van drove slowly through the gas station, clearly looking for something. Suddenly the driver spotted the old Buick behind the car wash, and headed over there.
After the van had stopped next to the old car, two beefy men got out, both sporting crew cuts and wearing similar outfits - sturdy army boots, black jeans and black special forces-style sweaters. Randall and Marshall Webster were identical twins, and they were equally lethal.
"He's comatose again, that pothead," Marshall said, and rapped his knuckles on the roof of the Buick. Snakes didn't stir at all.
"Yo, Snakes, wake up, man. We ain't got all night!" Marshall said loudly, and rocked the Buick left to right.
Finally Snakes came to, and he stared dumbly at the two broad-shouldered badasses, like he couldn't remember he had called them less than half an hour ago.
"Oh... hi, man. You here already?" he said, and got out of his car.
"Obviously. I'm Marshall."
Snakes felt agitated and his palms were sweaty, like they always were when he was dealing with ruthless people. He didn't know much about the Websters, except that both of them had been dishonorably discharged from the Army. He had a sneaking suspicion that it was because they enjoyed killing a bit too much...
"Yeah, all right... I... I have a little problem I want you to take care of."
"Name the problem, and we'll name our price," Marshall said, putting his hands in his pockets.
"Er... yeah, but I kinda haven't got any money right now, but I'll guarantee you'll have it by tomorrow night... at the latest."
"Did you make us come all the way down here just to blow hot air in our ears, Snakes?"
"No! No, I... I really do have a problem, man. Some dude in a black Caddy is followin' me, and I think it's because I killed Fever, and now he's..."
"White Fever? Donnelly's enforcer?"
"We just saw her in her black 'Stang, not two minutes ago. She was with her dish of the day."
"What?! No way, man. I capped her twice at point blank range, man!"
"She's wearing Kevlar, jerkoff, everyone knows that."
"A bulletproof vest, Mr. Shit-for-brains!"
"Oh... so I didn't kill her?"
Marshall rolled his eyes, and even Randall, who usually was the strong, silent type, groaned.
"I'd say... no. You didn't kill her. Betcha 10 bucks she's on the war path, though," Marshall said, and grinned.
"But why the fuck is that hitman after me, then?!"
"How the hell would we know? Do you want us to take care of your problem, or not? Just say the word."
"Er... yes. And... and..." Snakes said, and thought really, really hard about his next move.
"... and, how about adding Fever to that list?"
Marshall furrowed his brow.
"Well, we could do that, but that'll cost ya plenty. In fact, that'll cost ya more than plenty. 100 G."
"Do I look like I have 100 fuckin' G ? For fuck's sake, Marshall!" Snakes said, and threw his hands in the air.
"Then I guess Fever's off the list. Your other problem can be dealt with for 10 G."
"... all right," Snakes said and sighed.
"I don't know who he is, but he's driving a black Caddy, and he's wearing very fancy clothes. And he's using a silencer on his gun," he continued.
Marshall looked up like he had been stung by a bee.
"A silencer? Snakes, you're in way over your empty head. If someone sends The Silencer after you, you're in real fuckin' trouble. The price has just gone up. 100 G."
"You fuckin' asshole! You fuckin' owe me a favor, man! I gave you an alibi last year when you beat up that goddamned Doctor!"
"No favor's worth offing Donnelly's or Coluzzo's enforcers, moron. Don't you understand what kind of heat will come down on us if we do that?"
"Coluzzo? Coluzzo fuckin' told me to take Fever out of the picture, man! And when I go and do it, he sends his fuckin' enforcer after me!" Snakes said and repeatedly stamped his foot on the ground.
"Snakes, I don't know what the hell it is you're trippin' on, but I'd hold the dosis if I were you. You're not making any sense whatsoever. And, for the last time, you didn't kill Fever. She's out there, cruisin' Jefferson right now," Marshall said and pointed at the busy boulevard.
Snakes looked like he didn't understand anything, and Marshall was finally fed up.
"All right, that does it. The favor has been squared, moron. The next time you call us, you'll get to see our nasty side. And ya don't want that. Trust me," he growled, accentuating the last words by thumping his index finger into Snakes' scrawny chest.
"But you can't leave me like this! What the fuck do you want me to do?"
"Rent a couple of pornos and go back to your pad... lie low for a few days."
"I can't go back there! That's where the hitman found me..."
"Well... then you're shit outta luck, Sunshine," Marshall said, and grinned evilly.
"Oh, fer Chrissakes. Go to Conor's, or somewhere. I don't give a shit what you end up doin', just as long as it's far away from us. Comprende?"
The two Websters got into their van and drove off, leaving a very frustrated and very confused Jimmy Snakes in their wake.
Pietro Cazale was parked in the shadows in an alley off Jefferson, looking through the windscreen at the busy boulevard. His head was still spinning from the earful he had received earlier from Don Coluzzo for not getting Jimmy Snakes, and he was tapping his fingers on the Cadillac's steering wheel in a frustrated manner.
He checked his watch - forty minutes to go until the ship was supposed to come in. The mission would be more dangerous now with White Fever still roaming the streets, but they couldn't let the crates sit in a warehouse for days either. He only hoped he had brought enough manpower... and firepower. If Fever brought the whole Donnelly crew as reinforcements, it would inevitably turn into one hell of a shootin' match down there.
His phone rang, and he flipped open the display.
'It's Salvatore Coluzzo....'
The hitman cringed, and he fully expected to get another telling-off.
"Yes, Don Coluzzo?"
'I've just spoken to the Captain of the freighter. He says they're right on time. The paperwork is fully sorted for all the crates, so they shouldn't get stuck in customs. If they do, grease the customs officers until they let them through.'
"Yes, Don Coluzzo."
'The larger crates are to be driven to our warehouse as planned, but the Captain informed me that a special, late deal came through, so there'll be a smaller crate as well. That crate must be delivered here and to me. I want you to personally take care of that. Understand?'
"I understand, Don Coluzzo."
'It's marked Fragile, and it has number 1707. A very small crate. You can't miss it. And Pietro, it really is fragile. No tossing it around.'
"Yes, Don Coluzzo."
'Good. Have the trucks arrived yet?'
"Not yet, Don Coluzzo, but they can't be far off."
'All right. Call me when you've secured the load.'
"Yes, Don Coluzzo."
A few minutes later, the characteristic low rumble of truck engines heralded the arrival of two delivery trucks - one from 'Amico Flowers', and the other from 'Salvatore Meat Packing Co.'.
Driving at a very low speed, they turned off Jefferson and rumbled into the alley. The lead truck came to a stop and flashed its headlights. Cazale turned the ignition key halfway over so he could do the same.
The delivery truck acknowledged by blinking his hazard-lights twice, and Cazale turned on the engine of the Cadillac. He quickly made a u-turn in the alley, and drove slowly down towards the other end, with the two trucks following him at a safe distance.
The small convoy turned onto Madison Boulevard and drove north. They turned right onto Fourth Street, and followed that for a few miles until they came up to the final intersection before entering the port.
Cazale rolled down his window and put his hand up in the air. He pulled over and watched the two trucks do the same.
He checked his watch - twenty-two minutes to go. So far so good, but he knew it wouldn't last. He scanned the area, but it was too dark to see if anyone was waiting for them.
He sighed and tightened the silencer onto his Walther. After making sure it was secure, he waved his hand at the two trucks, signaling them to follow him.
Maeve let the Mustang glide up to a red light. As they were waiting for it to turn green, Staci yawned widely and rubbed her eyes.
"Getting tired?" Maeve said.
"Yeah. I'm usually off in twenty minutes. It's close to my bedtime," Staci said and scratched her hair.
"Wanna take a break and go shoot some pool?"
"There's a pool hall over on Eighth. It's uncle Freddie's, so we don't have to be on full alert there. I often go there this time of night, anyway."
"Lead on, Fever," Staci said with a grin.
Maeve dropped Staci off at the sidewalk before driving around the corner to park in an alley next to the pool hall.
One of Fast Freddie's men was protecting the parked cars, and she stopped when she reached him.
"Hiya, Fever," he said.
"Gav. Any trouble tonight?"
"Nope. Calm so far. That'll change now you're here," he said and grinned.
"No date?" he asked when he saw the empty passenger seat.
"She's waiting out front," Maeve said, and winked.
"I'm relieved. I was worried you might be sick, or something."
"Cheeky, Gav, cheeky."
She took her foot off the brake and rumbled further down the alley. There were more cars there than usual, so she had a bit of trouble finding a spot to park in, but she eventually managed.
Staci was glad to finally get to stretch her long legs, and quite enjoyed the peace and quiet while she waited for Maeve to walk back from the alley.
Eighth Street was considerably quieter than Jefferson, with only a few cars passing now and then, and there weren't any pedestrians either, apart from a man out walking his dog.
She looked at the non-descript building the pool hall was in. It was a rundown pale gray one-storey building, with two large windows on either side of a narrow glass door - all of them painted white so it was impossible to look inside. If Maeve hadn't told Staci it was here, she never would have guessed it.
She put her hands in her back pockets, and put one leg slightly in front of the other - the stance made her back relax, and it was a trick she had learned after spending countless hours standing up behind the bar at Rose's place.
A gentle, but muggy, breeze made her long hair flow back from her face and her shoulders, and cascade out behind her.
"Gawd-*damn* you're sexy!" Maeve growled in a husky voice. She was standing at the corner of the alley, looking intently at Staci's form.
"Uh-huh? I thought we were gonna play pool?"
"O-yeah, we are. Just allow me a few seconds in heaven. Mmmm. Mmmmmm. Done."
Even though she tried, Staci couldn't suppress a throaty chuckle over Maeve's antics.
For a few heartbeats, the familiar twinkle returned to Staci's eyes, and once again Maeve found herself cursing the day it all went wrong.
"I better go in first. These guys don't like surprises," Maeve said, and led the way through the door.
After shooting a few frames, they bought some beers, and sat down at one of the booths overlooking the pool tables.
Staci could feel Maeve's eyes burning into her, so she turned to look.
"Oh, nothing. Just admirin' your profile. It's great, you know. Especially from the side," Maeve said and took a sip of the beer.
"Come on, that was a joke. You may laugh."
"Oh. Ha. Ha."
Maeve sat up straight and put her elbows on the table.
"We used to laugh all the time, Staci."
"Yeah, well... I didn't want that to end. But it did."
A long pause.
"I'm sorry for what happened back then, Staci, you know that. I've told you a hundred times."
Staci turned and looked intently at the other woman - at her cute nose, her Irish green eyes, and at her enticing lips that all signaled life... and at the shoulderholster, the five spare clips, and the Beretta that all signaled death.
"So you say. And yet, you still respond to anything in a skirt, even tonight."
"If we were back together, I wouldn't."
"Maeve, you can't stop chasin' after every skirt within a fifty mile radius any more than you can tell the sun to stay the hell away. But when I'm in a relationship, I expect... hell, I demand commitment from both parties," Staci said, slightly more heated than she had intended.
"Are you seeing someone?"
"No. Not right now," Staci said and took a long swig from the bottle.
"Is that why you came back to the city?"
'Damn that Maeve Donnelly, she's much too smart for her own good,'
A long pause, and then a barely audible grunt and a non-committal shrug from Staci confirmed Maeve's suspicion. Maeve put her hand on Staci's jeans-clad thigh, and clawed gently.
"Wanna tell me what happened?"
"It ain't pretty."
"I'd like to hear it, anyway."
Staci sighed, and leaned back in her seat. She cleared her throat.
"When I split from you, I went back to live with my parents for a few weeks... but that just doesn't work for a 35-year old, so I looked for a house upstate and found one pretty quickly."
Maeve nodded. She already knew that much.
"A year or so later, I met a woman who was beautiful, and caring, and... well, we started dating. It wasn't quite a 'true love' thing like in the movies, but we clicked. She moved in with me after a couple of months or so. We had a pretty good time for a year and a half... but..." Staci took a swig off the bottle, but didn't continue.
"But then I came home early from work one day, and caught her in the act with the neighbor's wife."
"Aw jeez, Staci... I'm so sorry to hear that. I really am," Maeve said, and ran her hand up and down Staci's back.
"Story of my life, apparently. I gave her five minutes to pack her gear, and then I threw her out on her two-timin' ass. I couldn't sleep for two days, because I didn't want to be in the bed she had used when she cheated on me... my own goddamned bed!" Staci said and slammed her fist down onto the table.
"Everything had turned to shit, anyway, so I rented a u-haul and came back here, six weeks ago. Rented a flat in Midtown West, and... well, you know the rest."
"Staci, I'm sorry that you lost out again, but the way you look, you'll find a new squeeze in a flash," Maeve said, and started to gently scratch Staci's back.
"I'm not sure I'm on the market."
"But you said..."
"I'm not seeing anyone, but I don't know if I want to, either."
For several minutes, an awkward silence filled the small space between them.
"Well, you know what I say about being in a funk. It ain't never so bad it can't be cured by a quick hump. We have few minutes... whaddaya say?" Maeve finally said, bumping shoulders with Staci to try to coax a smile out of her.
"No, I don't wanna hump! Jeez, Maeve! You're a sex maniac, you know that? ...and besides, anything short of an hour is too fast."
"Hey, I've never had any complaints!"
"That's because the type of women you're with don't dare tell the Great White Fever that it wasn't good for them," Staci said and emptied her bottle.
"Ouch! Come on, gimme some credit, Staci. I'm a big girl, I know what goes where. You know that!"
Staci shot Maeve an exasperated look and shook her head.
"Sex is all about what-goes-where, making love is about emotions and forming a magical connection with your partner, Maeve. You might wanna look that word up."
"Oh, I know what sex means," Maeve said and grinned wickedly.
"What a shock," Staci replied sarcastically.
Maeve laughed and put her arm around Staci's waist. She felt the other woman lean almost imperceptibly into her touch, and it made her feel really good.
"I know what you're thinking," Maeve said, and grinned at Staci.
"Oh, you do, do you?"
"Yep. You're thinking 'I wonder if Maeve can still French Kiss the panties off a nun.' And you're also thinking 'I wonder if Maeve still makes those purring sounds just before she comes'... Right?"
"Jeez, you're deluded, Maeve. The whole world doesn't revolve around you!"
"But am I right?"
"Not even close," Staci said, her eyes lingering on Maeve's enticing lips.
On their way back to the Mustang, Maeve's phone rang.
'It's Dolores. Mary's turned up... badly beaten.'
"Fuck! Where?" Maeve said, stopping dead in her tracks.
'The construction site on the corner of Tenth and Adams.'
"I'm over on Eighth Street, I'll be there in five minutes. Don't call the paramedics until I get there," Maeve said and closed the phone.
"News about Snakes?"
"No. It's about Mary Red. Some prick has used her for a punching bag. Come on, we gotta hustle," Maeve said and jumped into the car.
They stopped in front of the construction site and Maeve got out. Staci opened her door, too, but Maeve put up her hand.
"This is probably gonna be ugly, Staci. Perhaps you should wait here."
"No. Maybe I can do something for her."
"Well... all right. I just hope we're not too late," Maeve said, and quickly found the gate in the fence surrounding the construction site.
Two large yellow and black signs proclaimed 'HARDHAT REQUIRED' and 'PROTECTED BY DONNELLY SECURITY', but neither Maeve nor Staci took any notice.
Somebody had already kicked open the rusty gate, and the remains of the latch was still hanging off it. Maeve forced the gate to a side and jammed it behind a heavy clump of concrete, so the paramedics would have room to drive a stretcher through it when they arrived.
Maeve and Staci had no problem finding the spot where Mary had been dumped - she was lying in plain sight on a slab of concrete close to the fence, and she was bathed in the pale yellow light from a nearby street lamp. Five working girls were standing over her, talking loudly.
"Give her some breathing space, for Chrissakes!" Maeve said as they pushed their way through the crowd. The five prostitutes all took a few steps back, but didn't stop yapping.
Finally there, Maeve and Staci kneeled next to Mary's broken body. None of them could believe their eyes - not only had Mary's clothes been cut open from the hem of her blouse to the fringes of her skirt, two words had been written across her chest with what appeared to be lipstick - 'FILTHY HORE'.
Maeve's jaw began to grind, and a vein on her neck started pumping furiously. She reached down and tried to pull up the remains of the tattered clothes so that Mary could regain some of her dignity. The clothes were too ruined to do much good, but at least she managed to cover Mary's modesty.
Dolores hadn't exaggerated - Mary Red had been very badly beaten. Her abdomen and chest were covered in purple bruises, and it looked like several of her ribs were broken. Her face was hideously swollen, and her left eye was very bloody. The right eye was clear, and through it, Mary looked at Maeve with such unrestrained shock and terror that even the hardened enforcer felt like she was being stabbed in the heart.
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Maeve... have you ever seen anything as bad as this?" Staci whispered hoarsely. She put her hand under the back of Mary's head so the young woman wouldn't have to lie directly on the cold concrete.
"Any of you have a jacket or something to put behind her head?" Staci said to the prostitutes, but no one responded.
"You heard the lady," Maeve growled in a guttural voice that startled everyone there. Dolores quickly took off her gold lamé jacket, rolled it up and offered it to Staci.
"Will this do?" Dolores said, never taking her eyes off Mary's prone form.
"Yes. Thank you," Staci said and placed the jacket under Mary's head.
"Fever, I'm calling the paramedics. They don't like this part of town, so it'll take them several minutes to get here," Dolores said, holding the phone.
"Whoever did this knew his stuff. Looks like her jaw's broken," Staci said, and pointed at a very ugly bruise across the left side of Mary's jaw.
"Yeah. Mary, can you hear me?" Maeve said.
The young woman tried to nod. She reached out with her hand, searching for someone to hold on to.
"Did the wealthy guy in the Cadillac do this?" Maeve said, taking Mary's hand and squeezing it.
Almost imperceptibly, Mary shook her head.
"No... after that," she whispered, but the faint sound was almost drowned out by the working girls.
"Will you shut the fuck UP!" Maeve roared, and the others instantly fell quiet. After making sure the girls got her message, Maeve turned back to Mary.
"You worked again after the rich guy had dropped you off?"
Mary nodded again.
"Fat... ugly... bald man... scar on his... his face..." she whispered, but it was evident the strain was too much for her.
"All right, Mary. Calm down. We'll get you to the hospital."
"Josey..." Mary whispered and coughed.
"That's her daughter," Dolores said.
"Don't worry about her, Mary. We'll make sure she's all right, you have my word," Maeve said.
Mary nodded and coughed again. A narrow trickle of blood came out of the corner of her mouth and ran down her cheek.
Maeve bared her teeth in a fierce sneer, and her eyes turned darker and darker. She found a small handkerchief in a pocket and wiped the blood off Mary's face.
"Someone's gonna pay for this crime, so help me God..." Maeve whispered, unaware that she had spoken it out loud.
Staci glanced at Maeve, and felt an ice cold shiver run down her spine from the savage tone in the enforcer's voice.
"I'm... I'm worried that her lung might've been perforated by a cracked rib," Staci said.
"Does Mary's kid know about Vanessa?" Maeve said to Dolores.
"Well.. I think so."
"Call Vanessa and tell her to go to Mary's apartment and spend the night with Josey. I'll square it with her later."
"Will do," Dolores said and opened her phone again.
Mary's breathing grew more labored and another trickle of blood appeared from her lips.
"I think you're right about the rib, Staci."
Maeve squeezed the young woman's hand again, but Mary's grip felt weaker than what it had been only a few moments ago. Her good eye had glassed over, and she didn't seem to be able to focus anymore.
"We're losing her," Maeve said and sighed.
The paramedics arrived a few minutes later and loaded Mary into the back of the ambulance. They drove off towards the Community Hospital with the sirens howling into the darkness of the night.
Maeve closed her phone after having talked with Danny to give a full update on the situation. She looked around for Staci, and found the tall woman leaning against an unfinished concrete wall.
Maeve could see Staci was badly shaken, so she put a steadying arm around the dark-haired woman's waist. She smiled at her, and was glad to see at least a small one in return.
"Hey. Are you all right?"
"Christ, that was bad," Staci croaked.
"I agree. That's among the worst I've ever seen."
"It wasn't the blood, I've seen plenty of that in the fights at Rose's... but I've never seen a woman beaten to a pulp before... and I don't *ever* want to see anything like it again," Staci said, and took a deep breath.
Maeve reached up and gently caressed Staci's cheek with her fingers. She was about to speak when Dolores cleared her throat.
"Mary was found by two girls that usually work on Adams. They walked past the construction site and heard Mary crying and moaning."
"Are they still here?"
"Yeah. They're right over there," Dolores said and pointed at two women who were waiting by the fence. One of them was a tall Puerto Rican of indeterminate age, wearing an orange wraparound sarong, and the other was a short Caucasian brunette with a haggard face, dressed in a fake leather miniskirt and a fake fur overcoat.
After having checked that Staci was all right, Maeve went over to the two prostitutes. She hadn't seen them before, but they were clearly experienced working girls.
"I'm White Fever. If you're working on Adams, you must be independents, right?"
"That's right," they both said.
"Ever seen a creep who's fat, ugly, bald and with a scar on his face?"
"Doesn't really ring a bell," the Puerto Rican said. The brunette shook her head.
"You gotta watch your asses, this guy's a psycho," Maeve said and pulled out a roll of dollar bills from her shirt pocket. She picked out six c-notes and gave each woman three.
"Fast Freddie Donnelly appreciates the help, ladies. If you're ever in trouble, he's your friend. Understand?"
The two prostitutes nodded and the dollar bills quickly disappeared into their purses.
Wordlessly, Staci and Maeve walked back to the Mustang and got in. Staci softly closed the car door and leaned back in her seat. After a few seconds, she let out a long, trembling sigh and shook her head.
"Why are there so many sick bastards in this world?"
"I don't know, Staci. I honestly don't."
Maeve started the engine, and they drove away from the construction site.
Jerry McFarland continued walking North on Adams, going further and further away from the construction site where he had dumped the redhead. In the far distance, he could hear the wailing siren of an ambulance, so he figured that someone had found her. He snorted and thrust his hands further into his pockets. Paramedics didn't pose a threat to him, and the cops were few and far between this time of night - they'd never catch him.
He felt thirsty, so when he reached the corner of Adams and Ninth, he turned right to go down to Burger Palace.
He ordered a diet Pepsi and found a table by the window. Even though he had accomplished everything he set out to do, he felt curiously dissatisfied. He started analyzing why it was so.
He came to the conclusion that it was because it wasn't enough anymore just to pretend that he humiliated and beat up his wife. No. That wasn't nearly enough anymore. This latest whore had been a redhead, just like his wife, but even that hadn't done the trick.
He gripped the handle of his knife and listened for advice.
A few minutes later, he left Burger Palace feeling very refreshed and ready for a new challenge. With a spring in his step, he started to walk North on Jefferson.
Too late he realized that he'd arrived just when the Three-In-One Club's restaurant closed for the night, and he had to wade his way through a large group of people - all of them walking towards him.
He hated crowds in general, and fancy dressed crowds in particular. All those tuxedo-clad men, and all those women with their high heels and their delicate little purses... they made him sick. He made sure to look every woman he passed in the eye, so he could send them a telepathic message that they were nothing but filthy whores.
Escaping from the crowd, and feeling slightly better with himself for making at least one of the women look frightened, he picked up his speed to clear his lungs of the last scents of their wretched perfumes.
When he arrived at the corner of Jefferson and Sixth, he slowed down, and then stopped completely. At first, he was confused as to why he had done so, but then a crystal clear voice in his head told him to turn around.
He spotted four prostitutes standing under a streetlamp on the other side of the boulevard, talking loudly amongst themselves. Two blacks, two whites. He looked from one to the other, trying to decide which one to choose. He finally settled for one of the blacks - after all, he had never tried one of those before.
Through the jacket pocket, he checked that his bowie knife was still where it should be. With a firm grip on the handle, he strode across the busy boulevard, heading for the four women.
Staci hadn't said a word since they had left the construction site, and Maeve felt really bad that she had dragged Staci into all this. Hunting for Jimmy Snakes was one thing, but this was something else entirely.
Despite the fact that it was twenty past two in the morning, the traffic was just as intense on Jefferson as it had been the entire evening. Cars were still driving bumper to bumper, or in some cases, racing each other away from the traffic lights.
Maeve hit the gas to beat the yellow light at Sixth street, and she barely made it. On the other side of the intersection, she slowed down again and looked in her side mirror.
Something caught her eye - a fat man in a blue windbreaker walking next to an African-American working girl. They were in the shadows between the streetlamps, so their faces were obscured.
Suddenly a black GMC van, with dark-tinted windows and a pale blue stripe down the side, burst out of an alley and appeared right in front of the Mustang.
"Watch out!" Staci cried, making Maeve jump on the brakes.
"Watch where yer' fuckin' drivin'!" Maeve shouted at the black van. She let it move several car lengths ahead before releasing the brakes. She checked the mirror again, but the man and the working girl had vanished.
Ahead of them, the GMC van hit the gas with a loud roar and ran a red light at Fifth Street. The van never slowed down, but disappeared into the night.
Maeve rolled her eyes. It was the same van that had honked at them down at Burger Palace earlier in the evening - perhaps she should get Danny to ask their police connections to check it out.
"Staci, we're going up to Third Street. The Fairy Godfather is closing, and I want to see if there's any trouble."
"Please be honest with me... do you want me to drop you off at Rose's so you can go home?"
"You know..." Staci said, but then fell silent.
Maeve didn't want to press her, so she concentrated on driving instead.
After a long pause, Staci cleared her throat.
"... no. I prefer to stay here with you... if you don't mind?"
"Of course not. I love your company, you know that."
"Thank you. Well... it's just that I don't want to be alone right now."
"I understand," Maeve said, and turned left onto Third.
When they came closer to the bar, the bouncer flagged them down, and Maeve pulled over at the curb.
"Nope. The last few guests are just leaving. It's been a quiet night. Thanks for comin' by, Fever."
"Anytime, big boy. See ya tomorrow."
"You betcha," the bouncer said, and stepped back from the car.
Maeve drove on, but they hadn't gone further than a few hundred yards when a text message beeped in on her phone.
"Staci, do you mind checking it?"
"Nope," Staci said, and unclipped the phone from Maeve's belt.
"4 Fvr urgnt - Colzz in dcks unldng shp," she spelled out.
"Huh? Come again?"
"It's from someone called Eileen. Another old flame?"
"Er... don't think so. Read it again... in English, please."
"OK, here's what I think it says... For Fever, Urgent, Coluzzo in docks unloading ship."
"He's what?!" Maeve said and slammed on the brakes. After the Mustang had come to a stop in the middle of the street, she took the phone from Staci and looked at the display.
"What the hell is Coluzzo doing in the docks at this time of night? ... and what ship? No one comes in or out without our approval."
"Maybe he's found a loophole in the system?"
"He's greased a few of the customs officers is what he's done," Maeve said.
She rubbed her forehead, and suddenly looked at Staci.
"Is it a full moon tonight? Or perhaps it's this damn muggy weather? Everyone's going nuts at the same time!"
A taxicab behind them honked, and Maeve waved the yellow car past. The cab honked again, and Maeve stuck her head out of the window.
"Drive around me for Chrissakes! You could drive a goddamn 7-4-7 through there!"
When the taxi driver drove past them, he repeatedly tapped his forehead with his index finger and then pointed at Maeve. She didn't even bother to look at him, but dialed Danny's number instead.
"Danny? I've just received a text message that says Coluzzo's unloading a ship in the docks... yeah ... who do we have down there? ... Eileen McLennan? She must be the one who sent me the message ... no, I don't know what the hell is going on ... all right ... I'm on it."
She closed the display and looked at Staci.
"Baby, I'm about to go to war, but first I'm gonna drop you off at Rose's."
"Wait a minute, didn't we just talk about that...?"
Maeve gunned the engine and drove off in a roar.
"Yeah, but you told me that you wanted out at the first sign of trouble."
"Well, that was then, this is now..." Staci said, and fumbled with her seatbelt. She tried desperately to find the lock between the seats, but the damn thing eluded her.
"It's your call," Maeve said as she took the corner onto Adams on two wheels.
Staci finally found the lock for the seatbelt. Her hands now free, she instantly gripped the panic handle bar above the door, and held on tight.
Reality struck Jerry McFarland like a slap in the face. He started to hyperventilate, and he had to lean against the building he was standing next to as the gravity of the situation started to sink in.
He wiped the sweat off his brow with his left hand, and looked with morbid curiosity at the knife in his right. He always kept it spotlessly clean, but now it was completely coated in blood, as was his hand, and the sleeves of his jacket and shirt.
He glanced down at the whore lying on the ground. She was dead. Stone dead.
He had killed her, and in his mind, it was fully justified - it could even be called self defense. After all, she had attacked him when he drew his knife after they had finished the job.
She had clawed his face with her talon-like fake fingernails... the good side of his face. He couldn't allow that, of course, so in a single motion, he had grabbed her hair and jerked her head back. And then he had plunged the bowie knife up through her throat, as far as it would go. The blood had been cascading out of the horrible wound and onto the sleeve of his best jacket.
Her eyes had been as wide as saucers and she'd made a few gurgling sounds, but it only took a few seconds for her to turn to dead weight.
Jerry took a deep breath to calm down, and looked around. No one seemed to have noticed anything. He crouched down next to the dead whore and used his knife to cut open her clothes. He pulled them apart, revealing a female body so like his wife's, except this whore actually had curves.
Because he held his right arm away from his body so he wouldn't get more blood on his jacket than absolutely necessary, he had to use his left hand to reach into the pocket on the right side.
After fumbling for a handful of seconds, he pulled out the lipstick - and then he suddenly realized the red lipstick wouldn't show at all on the dark skin of the woman.
His jaw fell and he took a step back. Overcome by a sudden surge of anger, he violently kicked the dead prostitute several times in the ribs.
"Fuckin' whore! Denyin' me even the simplest of pleasures!" he shouted, and kicked her again, even harder this time.
A dog began to bark somewhere close, and Jerry snapped out of his rage.
'The knife... I need to clean up the knife,'
Even in his foggy state, he knew that he'd be arrested in an instant if he walked around on the street looking like this - but he didn't want to dump the knife, either.
'The gas station! Of course... they have several taps on the back side of the car wash so that people can wash their windows and stuff,'
he thought and grinned.
Carefully, he put down the knife on the ground and took off his jacket. Turning it inside out, he placed the knife on the lining, and then bundled it up and wrapped it around his right forearm.
It looked unusual, but he figured that no one would pay attention with all the freaks roaming the streets at this time of night. And most importantly, all the blood was concealed.
He looked at the dead body again. Despite what the guys in the bars had told him, screwing a black woman hadn't felt particularly different to him. He shrugged and left the alley.
Marshall Webster's phone rang, making The Ride Of The Valkyries
blast through the van at maximum volume.
He lazily unclipped the phone from his belt and looked at the caller. It was an unknown number, but he still took it.
"Talk to me," he growled.
a female voice said on the other end of the connection.
"Lady, I think you've got the wrong number."
'N-n-no... you're the Websters, aren't you?'
The voice sounded nervous, but from the intonation of the words, it was obvious the caller was a sophisticated woman.
"Who wants to know?"
'Someone who needs your help.'
Marshall scrunched up his face. It definitely wasn't Jimmy Snakes, but it was entirely possible that he had bought an upper-class call girl to do it for him.
"Who is this?"
'What's your price for killing someone?'
Marshall put his hand over the phone and waved at Randy.
"Slow down, bro. Some woman's got a job for us."
Randy pulled over, and looked expectantly at his twin brother.
"Who is this?" Marshall repeated into the phone.
'Like I said, someone who needs your help.'
"All right. Name the target, and I'll name the price."
"Jimmy Snakes, you better fuckin' listen to me! If you ever call me again, I'm gonna hunt ya down and rip ya fuckin' heart out with my bare hands!"
'No, no, no... wait a minu...'
Marshall closed the display and slapped his forehead.
"I'm tellin' ya, bro, that Snakes character is as dumb as a ton of dogshit."
Randy snorted and stepped on the gas.
Two seconds later, the phone rang again. Marshall looked at the display - the same number. His lips creased in an evil grin and opened the phone.
'Look, I don't know who this Jimmy Snakes is, but I'm not him. Meet me at Burger Palace in ten minutes. I'll prove to you that I'm serious,'
the female voice said.
"OK. Ten minutes. If you're bullshittin' us, you'll be sorry," Marshall said, and ended the connection.
"Get this, the broad wants to meet us at the Palace. What do you think, Randy?"
"We ain't got nothin' better to do."
"My opinion exactly. Let's go."
Ten minutes later, Randy parked the van next to the car wash where they had met Snakes much earlier in the evening.
"No one's here. Shit, whoever it was must've gotten cold feet," Marshall said.
"No. Look," Randy said and pointed at a woman in a brown overcoat walking briskly towards the van.
Marshall got out of the van to wait for the woman. He briefly looked at a large puddle of water mixed with blood over by the taps, but soon lost interest.
He crossed his arms over his chest and stared with cold eyes at the approaching woman. He knew that this was his most impressive pose, and he always got a kick out of seeing the look of intimidation on people's faces when he was standing like that.
The woman slowed down for a few steps, and a look of uncertainty flashed across her face. When nothing further happened, she resumed her pace.
"You're the Websters?" she asked.
"Yep. Let's get to the point. We can kill White Fever for ya, no problem, but it'll set ya back fifty big ones."
"Fi-fifty thousand...?" the woman said, clearly shocked.
"Fifty G, yes."
"That's a lot of money..."
"There's a lot of risk in it for us."
"...All right. Fifty thousand... I'm good for it," the woman said.
'Whoa, she must have one hell of a beef with Fever to accept that price with only a small hesitation,'
Marshall furrowed his brow and studied her closely. With her high heels and brown overcoat, she looked horribly out of place. The woman took off her designer glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose. The movement caused her overcoat to part, and Marshall could see she was wearing a navy blue pin stripe pant suit underneath.
"Here's $5000 in advance. I'll have the remainder ready when you... when you show me proof that Fever is dead," the woman said, and held up an envelope.
Marshall took the envelope and threw it into the van without even counting the money.
"All right. What kind of proof?"
"A picture... anything."
"Of her head on a silver platter?" he said with an evil grin.
The woman's face lost all color, and she took a step back.
"Just kiddin'," he said, but he did so in a tone of voice that betrayed that he wasn't joking at all.
"A regular picture will be sufficient," the woman said hoarsely.
"I'll call you from time to time to hear if you've been successful."
"Unusual... but... we're OK with that," Marshall said, and turned on his heel. He went into the van and slammed the door behind him.
Within a few seconds, the GMC van started and drove off, leaving the woman standing all alone in the deserted parking lot.
The Mustang rumbled past the entrance to the port. Maeve couldn't see any indications of activity, but the pier where Coluzzo was supposedly unloading the ship was hidden behind several large warehouses.
"Let's be dark and quiet," Maeve said and turned off the headlights.
"We can be dark, but we sure as shit can't be quiet. This is just about the noisiest car I've ever driven in."
"It's a 427 V8, it's supposed to be noisy."
"Are you running without mufflers?"
"No, I'm using glasspacks."
"I have no idea what that is..."
"Well, it's just a different type of muffler. It's made of fiberglass, and..."
"... and I have no interest in finding out, either."
"Oh," Maeve said and pouted.
They drove a bit further into the docks. A strong breeze was blowing in from the sea, and the air was laden with the smell of saltwater. The heavy chains on the loading cranes were swaying in the wind, creaking and moaning like a pack of ghosts.
The piers were poorly lit, so Maeve was driving very carefully. The last thing she needed was to go over the edge and take an early morning swim. They drove very slowly, passing row after row of dark warehouses where the only living things were rats, pigeons and seagulls.
"It's a bit scary out here, ain't it!" Staci said, and laughed nervously.
A few times, Maeve thought she could hear someone shouting, but the words were swept away by the breeze.
"There's somethin' fishy about this. There aren't any sentries anywhere, but there's absolutely *no way* Coluzzo would be here without security," Maeve said, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel.
A flash from a headlight in the rear view mirror made Maeve slow down. The new car turned its lights off as well and slowly crept up behind the Mustang. When it was close, Maeve could see it was Danny with a few of Donnelly's men.
He drove alongside them and nodded at Maeve - and then furrowed his brow.
"Fever, is it wise for Miss Hart to be here?"
"Don't you worry about that, Danny. Did you bring any hardware?"
"In the trunk," he said, and pointed backwards with his thumb.
"All right. This is the way I see it... if they're here, they'll be out at pier #1. That's the one furthest away from the road, so they can work without their lights being seen. Let's park a few warehouses short of that. The shadows are so deep no one'll be able to see us coming. Understand?" Maeve said.
"Let's do it."
After they had parked behind warehouse #3, which was roughly 120 yards back from pier #1, Danny and four other equally huge guys left their Lincoln and went to the trunk of the car.
When it was opened, it revealed enough weapons to equip a small army - handguns, sub-machineguns and shotguns in all shapes and sizes. The four men each took a weapon and disappeared out into the darkness, trying to find the best place to see what was going on without being spotted themselves.
Maeve put the Mustang in Park and turned off the ignition.
"I'm going with Danny and the boys, and... please stay in the car, OK?" Maeve said, and put her hand on Staci's thigh.
"I got it. Don't forget, I'm packin' heat, too," Staci said, and reached for her purse. She pulled out a tiny .22 pistol and held it for Maeve to see.
"Ah... yes, of course. Your pea-shooter."
"Fever!" Danny whispered from his position at the trunk of the Lincoln. He held up something long and black.
"Two seconds, Danny."
Staci looked directly into Maeve's eyes. Suddenly feeling an acute need to connect with the enforcer, she pulled her close and placed a kiss on her full lips.
"For good luck. Please be careful," Staci said, and winked.
"I will... and thank you," Maeve said and grinned broadly.
Danny handed Maeve a Heckler & Koch MP5 with a night scope and a specially prepared clip, consisting of two regular clips taped together.
Maeve inserted the clip and unrolled the shoulder strap of the H&K. After putting the weapon over her shoulder, she checked the clip in her Beretta.
"Time to kick Coluzzo's ass," she whispered and gave Danny the thumbsup.
Pietro Cazale checked his watch - a quarter past three, AM. So far, everything had gone without a hitch. The six men he had brought had worked faultlessly and efficiently, and they were well ahead of the schedule. The first truck had been loaded already, and the second was nearly full.
'Another fifteen minutes, and we'll be out of here,'
he thought, and wiped some sweat off his brow.
The crane on the freighter swung around again and offloaded another crate. The shipment was made up of twelve crates, each weighing 3000 lbs., so the trucks would be at the limit of their capacity.
"Two more to go!" a sailor shouted to Cazale, who responded by waving his hand.
Even though the breeze was stiff, the weather was still incredibly muggy, and Cazale was sweating like a pig underneath his camelhair overcoat.
Finally deciding that enough was enough, he went over to his Cadillac and took off the coat. He folded it very neatly and put it on the backseat. He took off his gloves as well, and placed them next to the coat.
He went back to the trunk and opened it. The loadmaster had reluctantly agreed to give him Coluzzo's special crate first, and it was now safely tucked away in the trunk, wrapped in two layers of bubble wrap.
A metallic 'clink' somewhere behind him caught his ear, and he briefly froze - there were hundreds of such sounds on the pier, but until then, none of them had come from that direction. He closed the trunk, and went back to the side door. He reached into the coat pocket and took out the Walther P99.
He strained his hearing, but the sound wasn't repeated. He looked at the men who were busy using a forklift to get the tenth crate into the truck, but the sounds they made weren't similar to the one he had heard.
He turned around and looked at the first warehouse. Everything appeared to be quiet, but he knew better than to go against his instincts, so he decided to check everything thoroughly.
Cazale walked next to the wall of the warehouse, straining all his senses - and careful not to step in anything gross.
He stopped dead in his tracks when the metallic 'clink' was repeated very close to him. He looked around and saw a light flicker through one of the windows of the warehouse.
The window was next to a door with the sign 'Coffee room' above it, and he tried turning the door handle. It opened with a creak, and he stepped inside.
The room wasn't extravagantly decorated by any stretch of the imagination - the only items in there were four chairs, a small table and a stove with a kettle on it in the far corner. A noticeboard on the near wall had a few pinups on it, and someone had painted a mustache on one of them.
A lit candle was flickering merrily on top of the table, and a cell phone and a steaming mug of tea was next to it.
A strange-looking bundle in the corner caught Cazale's eye, and he cocked the Walther.
"I'd come out if I were you," he said, aiming the gun at the bundle.
A hand appeared and pulled away the tarp, revealing the face of a middleaged woman.
"Get up," Cazale said.
She rose and dusted off her hands. She was wearing dark clothes, and her graying hair was kept in a neat ponytail.
"P-p-please don't hurt me... I'm... I'm homeless, and I... I just use the coffee room to get warm..." the woman said, clearly frightened.
"A homeless person with an almost new cell phone and with tidy clothes? Yeah, right. And I'm the Pope. Who are you?"
"I've... I stole it! You gotta believe me, it's... I'm homeless. I lost my apartment in a fire, and..."
"You gotta believe me! I... I won't tell anyone you've been here..."
The woman wisely stopped talking, and took a sideways glance at the cell phone on the table.
Cazale noticed, and picked up the phone with his left hand. He thumbed through some of the phonenumbers, but the names were all initials.
He went out of that menu and checked the messages sent from it.
"For Fever, Urgent, Coluzzo in docks unloading ship... tsk, tsk, tsk," he said, looking at the woman.
"Fuck you, asshole. When Fever gets here, she's gonna kick your balls to kingdom come," Eileen McLennan hissed.
"Oh, how charming," he said and held the tip of the silencer a few inches from her forehead.
Knowing the game was up, Eileen suddenly lurched forward and took a wild swing at Cazale.
He swiftly stepped aside and let the older woman move past him. As her back was turned to him, he cold-cocked her across the back of her head with the butt of the Walther, striking her with a loud thump
. She immediately became unconscious and fell very heavily on top of the table, which couldn't hold her weight, and promptly collapsed.
The candle had fallen to the floor, but Cazale crouched down and blew out the flame. Then he placed Eileen's phone on the ground, aimed, and squeezed the trigger. It shattered in a hundred pieces from the impact of the bullet.
He growled and loosened his tie. He wiped some sweat off his brow and started to run back to the pier. With Fever alerted, they had to move fast.
In the darkness, Maeve stepped in a deep puddle of something she hoped was water - the putrid smell told her it probably wasn't. She could feel her sock had been soaked, and her pant leg grew wet around her ankle...
She scowled fiercely and cursed under her breath at the horrible sloshing sounds that were heard each time she put down the boot.
'What the hell good does it do to have a waterproof boot when the water goes in over the top!'
she thought and cursed again.
The small team had already moved past warehouse #3 without finding anything untoward, and were now halfway across a narrow alley, heading for warehouse #2.
Suddenly the quiet of the night was torn by a long, howling squeal of metal scraping against metal. The horrendous sound, reminding Maeve of nails running down a blackboard, was immediately followed by a loud metallic crash that made Maeve and the others jump from the loudness.
Maeve looked at Danny, who shrugged in return.
A plethora of agitated voices filtered through warehouse #2 and reached the small team.
"Sounds like something just went splat," Danny whispered.
"Yep. We need to have a look-see."
"Agreed. Doyle, go see what's going on," Danny continued, and waved his hand at one of the men.
A few minutes later, the small team were leaning against the wall of warehouse #2. Maeve's boot was still dripping wet, despite her best efforts to shake her leg to get the last of the liquid out.
Danny looked with a great deal of amusement at Maeve shaking her leg, but he knew better than to make a smart-ass comment.
The sounds of men working and talking were much clearer now, but that didn't necessarily mean that it was Coluzzo's people, it might just be a few low-grade criminals trying to pull a heist from the warehouse - it wouldn't be the first time that had happened.
The scout they had sent ahead came running back out of the shadows and crouched down next to Maeve and Danny.
"There's a freighter unloading some crates. Six men on the pier, two on the ship. Two white trucks, one with the loading ramp down. Looks like they were loading the crates into the truck with a forklift, but the crane on the ship has broken down. One of the crates is hanging in the air," the man said.
"Weapons?" Maeve said.
"Two of the men on the ground have M16s, can't see any on the men loading the truck."
"All right, thanks Doyle," Danny said, and gave the man a thump on his back.
"Hmmm... we won't find out what's goin' on by sittin' here," Maeve said.
"No. What does your intuition tell you?"
"My intuition? My *woman's intuition* ?"
"Yeah!" Danny said and chuckled.
"We should go in with our guns a-blazin', that's what it's tellin' me!"
"Thought it might."
"What does your wrestler's intuition tell you?"
"Much the same."
"That's why we're so great together, Danny-boy," Maeve said, and punched the big man on his arm.
A sudden, loud crash from somewhere down the other end of the alley made Maeve bring up the H&K to look through the nightscope. She scanned the area, and just caught a few glimpses of a man disappearing around a corner.
"I'm not one hundred percent sure, but I think I just saw The Silencer run around the corner down the other end of the last warehouse," she whispered.
"All right. That means they're here for certain," Danny said quietly.
"Yeah. They must've spotted us. I know Cazale, he wouldn't run unless the Devil was on his tail. We better move quickly."
Danny waved at the other men, and they ran towards him.
"This is it. Fever and I will take the point, you're the backup," Danny said and worked the action on his 12-gauge pumpgun so it was ready.
The small group ran to the other side of the narrow alley between the warehouses. Once there, they could easily hear the activity taking place out on the pier.
"Ready?" Maeve whispered and released the safety catch on her H&K.
The men all nodded.
"Time to rock'n'roll," she said, and went around the corner and onto the pier.
Cazale came sprinting around the corner onto the pier, continued past his Cadillac, and didn't stop until he had reached the trucks.
"We've gotta hustle, Fever can't be far off!" he shouted to the workers. Only then did he notice that a crate was suspended in mid-air, hanging off the arm of the crane - which had white steam pouring out of the chain drive.
"Fuck! What's happened?"
"The crane broke," one of the workers said and shrugged.
Cazale gave the worker the Evil Eye, and spun around on his heel. He started walking back to the Cadillac to get his phone, cursing loudly in Italian over the incompetent meatheads he had to work with. Yet again he had to explain a failure to Don Coluzzo.
Suddenly, a long salvo from a submachinegun ripped through the night, making everyone jump.
"Freeze, motherfuckers!" Fever roared, lowering the smoking MP5 to aim at the workers. Danny and the other men followed her onto the pier and fanned out.
Cazale dove behind his Cadillac, trying desperately to come up with an escape plan.
The two Coluzzo guards holding the M16s briefly looked at each other, and then raised their weapons.
"Drop 'em, morons... d'ya think I won't pull the trigger?" Maeve said loudly.
The message didn't seem to get across, because the two guards opened fire on Maeve and the others.
Maeve was caught in a shower of sparks from the projectiles hitting the concrete right in front of her feet, and she jumped for cover behind a drum. The guard stopped shooting, and Maeve squeezed the trigger of the MP5, cursing loudly in the process.
Her salvo shot out the legs from under the trigger-happy guard, and he went down hard. The other guard wisely gave up the fight, and threw down his weapon.
Some of the others were less willing to surrender, but a few rounds from Danny's pumpgun took the fight out of them.
Donnelly's men quickly rounded up their opposite numbers from Coluzzo's gang and collected their hardware.
Maeve used the night scope to see where Cazale was, and she found him about fifty yards further back from where the fight had been. He was crouching down next to a black Cadillac - Maeve recognized it as the car that had followed them up Jefferson earlier in the evening, and she grunted to herself.
She moved a switch with her thumb and set the MP5 to fire single rounds. She aimed carefully, and pulled the trigger. The projectile smashed the wing mirror on the right side of the Cadillac, immediately above Cazale's head. She could see him roll to his right, but she knew she hadn't hit him.
"Danny, the Silencer is down the other end of the pier. I'm going after him. Can you take care of the situation here?"
"Sure thing, Fever. We got it," he said, and gave Maeve a thumbsup.
Maeve ran in the shadows along the warehouse wall, constantly looking through the night scope to see if she could spot Cazale. She could see the Cadillac was abandoned, so she only checked it briefly once she reached it. She noticed Cazale's overcoat lying on the backseat, and she had to chuckle over the man's absurd neatness.
Movement ahead of her shook her back to the task at hand, and she brought up the night scope. Cazale came slowly around the corner of the warehouse, using a dark figure as a human shield. It was a woman, and she was very unsteady on her feet. Maeve suspected the unknown woman had something to do with the loud crash they had heard earlier.
Cazale came closer and closer, and Maeve quickly understood that he was trying to get to the Cadillac - but she was between him and the car.
"Fever! Put down your hardware and step aside. I'm leaving. If you try to stop me, this little old rat will lose what's left of her brains. You know I'm not bluffing," he said, and pressed his Walther P99 against the back of the head of the dark figure.
"You can't get out of here, Silencer. You might as well give it up."
"Don't insult me, Fever. You'd never give up, and neither will I."
"True. Who's that?"
"She's the one who called you," he said, now only forty feet from Maeve, and still moving closer.
"Which means she works for Fast Freddie... which means you really oughtta let her go, Silencer..."
"No chance. Do as I tell you. Lose the weapons and step aside."
Maeve made no attempt to move, and Cazale stopped his progress.
"Fever... why are you risking this woman's life? Move!"
Maeve briefly weighed the pros and cons, and came to the conclusion that the hitman would indeed kill the woman if Maeve didn't comply, so she put down the MP5 on the ground, and took her Beretta out of the holster. She held it by the barrel and placed it next to the submachinegun.
"That's a nice enforcer. Now move out of my way, and I'll take my car and get the hell out of here."
"Go ahead. I won't stop you," Maeve said, and put out her hands so Cazale could see they were empty.
They circled around each other, and Cazale opened the driver's side door of the Cadillac. In a single motion, he shoved the woman inside and jumped in behind her. He started the engine and put the car into Reverse.
Maeve quickly dove for her weapons, picking up the MP5 and her Beretta. She aimed both of them at the car, but she didn't dare pull the triggers. Cazale was angry enough already, and he wouldn't need much of an excuse to put a bullet in the other woman's head.
Cazale stepped on the gas, and the car flew backwards. Maeve moved away a bit and watched as it reversed along the pier, stopping with a squeal at the end, before roaring off to the left, and going out of sight.
Maeve sighed and started to run back to Danny.
Staci had heard the brief firefight, and she couldn't help but feel worried about Maeve. She knew the enforcer was a tough cookie, but it only took one stray bullet...
The port was a spooky place. Even though Maeve had been considerate and parked underneath the only working lamp in the entire parking lot, it was still dark, and the place was so deserted that Staci felt like she was the only person left on the planet.
It didn't help that it was so blustery. The edge of the wind carried all kinds of howling, creaking, and squeaking sounds to her, and Staci had twice rolled up the windows so she wouldn't have to listen to them - but both times it had turned so muggy inside the car that she'd been forced to roll them down again.
'What the hell am I doing in the port at half past three in the goddamn morning!'
she thought and yawned.
She sighed and absentmindedly toyed with a few random items she had found in the glovebox. Out in the far distance, she could hear the roar of a powerful engine, but she didn't give it much thought.
The noise came much closer, and she sat up straight. The car sounded like it was racing away from something, and Staci was suddenly worried that she might be getting a little too close to the action.
Cazale wrestled with the heavy Cadillac, which definitely wasn't built for racing in dark alleys between warehouses.
He turned sharp right, sharp left, sharp right again, and then he was finally on his way back to the exit.
As he raced along the pier, he saw Fever's characteristic Mustang out of the corner of his eye. He needed to get rid of the rat next to him, and dumping her at Fever's car would be a fair move.
He slammed his foot down on the brake pedal, making the Cadillac lean so much forward that it appeared to be in the middle of a nosedive.
He reached past Eileen and opened the passenger door. With the door fully open, he shoved the still groggy woman out with an almighty heave. She fell heavily to the ground, moaning as she hit the filthy concrete.
Cazale didn't even bother closing the door, instead he gunned the engine and let gravity close it for him. He roared out of the port and was soon on his way back to Don Coluzzo.
With the Don's special crate safely ensconced in the trunk of the Cadillac, the most important part of the mission had been accomplished, but everything else had been a total fiasco. Cazale thought of the lecture he'd get from Don Coluzzo, and sighed deeply.
To prevent the other driver from seeing her, Staci had flung herself across the seats of the Mustang when the Cadillac stopped, and it was only when she heard the car driving away that she dared to peek over the top of the door.
When she saw the woman lying very still on the ground, she immediately got out of the car and ran over to her.
"Are you all right?" Staci said, but the woman was too groggy to answer. Staci looked back and forth between the woman and the Mustang, and finally decided that the car was close enough for her to carry the woman over to it.
She kneeled next to the other woman and pulled her up in a sitting position. Then, Staci reached in under the woman and put her over her shoulder.
'OK. So far, so good... now for the hardest part,'
Staci thought, and took a deep breath.
She tried to stand up, carrying the woman over her shoulder, but on the first two tries, her knees wobbled so badly she had to put the woman down again.
"Goddammit, Maeve! Where the hell are you when I need you?" Staci said loudly.
She took another deep breath and really put her back to it. Slowly, and shakily, she lifted the woman off the ground and carried her to the Mustang.
Very gingerly, Staci lowered the woman onto the passenger seat. Staci's arms and fingers trembled from the heavy load, but she managed to loosen the woman's collar so she could breathe easier.
With a pained groan that made the hairs on Staci's arms stand on end, the woman came to, and as she regained consciousness, she started to look around.
"Where the hell am I?" she croaked.
"In the port... somewhere."
"Are you one of the good... well, girls, or one of the bad girls?"
"I'm with the Donnellys, if that answers your question..."
"It does. I'm Eileen."
"I'm Staci. Are you the Eileen that sent the text message to White Fever?"
"That's right. I'm guessing she got it?"
"Oh yeah. Fever's here with a handful of guys."
"Good. I hope they kick that sonovabitch's ass!" Eileen growled, but then started coughing.
"I'm sorry, I don't have anything for you to drink."
"It's all right."
Staci scrunched up her face and tapped her lips with her index finger.
"Do you know where the action took place?"
"Hell, yeah, I watched those bastards arrive... it's in warehouse #1, all the way down at the other end of the pier."
"Can you show me how to get there? 'Cos I think it's best if we drive down there."
"Sure thing, toots. Man the steerin' wheel, and I'll get us there in a flash," Eileen said.
Staci walked around the Mustang and opened the driver's side door. She got in and put her hand on the ignition key.
"You might wanna protect your ears, Eileen. It's kinda loud."
"I'm half-deaf anyway... I can take it."
Staci turned the key, and the V8 came alive. After reversing out of the parking space, she selected Drive and hit the gas. The car growled like a pre-historic beast and lurched forward. Startled, Staci took her foot off the throttle and tried again.
"Er... you didn't... steal this car... or something... did you?" Eileen said, slightly concerned over Staci's apparent lack of driving skills.
"Nah. It's Fever's car. I usually drive a Corolla."
"Yes, Danny-boy?" Maeve said, tying a knot on the rope holding one of Coluzzo's men.
"I think that's your car," he said, and pointed at two headlights coming towards them.
"What?" Maeve said, and raised the MP5 so she could look through the scope.
"Hmmm... it's Staci... and that other woman. Staci's driving my Stang!" Maeve said, her voice rising in pitch on the last words.
"Uh-oh..." Danny said and quickly turned around. He hurried over to the prisoners so he wouldn't have to listen to Fever giving the dark haired woman a piece of her mind.
Staci pulled up next to Maeve, and put the Mustang into Park. With a grin, she blipped the throttle a few times, making the car sound like a growling dinosaur.
Maeve's left eyebrow went up to her hairline, and she thrust her hands deep into her pockets.
"Hi, Maeve. Damn, I'm glad to see that you're all right," Staci said, and got out of the car. She wrapped her arms around the shorter woman and gave her a big hug.
Maeve grinned broadly over the unexpected display of affection and hugged Staci back. After they separated, Maeve cleared her throat and put her arm around Staci's waist.
"You were driving my car."
"Nobody drives my car... but me."
"Gimme a break, Maeve. It was 500 yards at the most," Staci said, and gave the enforcer a squeeze.
"She doesn't like anyone else but me driving her."
"'She'...? 'her'...? OK, Maeve, that's a car," Staci said, pointing at the Mustang.
"She's more than just a car... but never mind. Hi, I'm White Fever," Maeve said to Eileen, who was still sitting in the passenger seat.
"I'm Eileen McLennan. I'm the one who sent you the message. Did it help you?"
"It certainly did. Cazale got away, but we got all the crates they were offloading."
"Good. Too bad about that asshole, pardon my French. He clobbered me, and I would've liked to return the favor."
"Perhaps some other time," Maeve said and laughed.
"...Maeve?" Staci said, sniffing the air.
"What's that horrible smell?"
A little while later, Eileen waved goodbye to Maeve and Staci, and hobbled back to the small coffee room to begin sorting out the mess Cazale had created.
"Fever, what do you want us to do with the prisoners?" Danny said, and nudged the back of one of the six men with his knee. The captured men were sitting on the ground with their hands tied together, and they all looked distinctly uncomfortable.
"Hmmm... did you finish emptying the first truck?"
"All right, throw 'em in there. Then get someone to drive it down to the Monroe. They can walk home from there," Maeve said with a mischievous look in her eyes.
"Deal. All right, boys, you heard the lady. Get in the truck!" Danny yelled, and started pulling Coluzzo's men upright.
The man who'd been shot by Maeve was first, and he spat at her feet.
"That ain't no lady, that's a goddamned bit-huaadr
!" he started to say, but the sentence was cut off mid-stream when Maeve punched him hard in the stomach.
"I'm sorry, I didn't quite hear that...?" she said, and pulled the man up.
The man was in no condition to repeat his statement, so he wisely shook his head.
"I thought as much. Now git!" Maeve said, and gave the man a powerful shove towards the truck.
Maeve was quite interested in seeing what was inside the crates, so after finding a suitable crowbar in one of the warehouses, she went over to the largest crate.
"Let's see what this is all about," she said.
"Dope?" Staci said.
"Could be, but not necessarily."
Maeve jammed the tip of the crowbar into a small crevice and pulled hard. After a few tries, the front came off the crate, revealing a...
"Holy shit!" Staci said and gawked at the content of the crate.
"Hmmmm...!" Maeve said and put down the crowbar. She put her hands on her hips and stared.
Their surprised exclamations made Danny curious, and he walked over to them to see what the commotion was about.
"Oh, that's just so goddamned typical. Trust Fever to get the crate with the nekkid woman."
"Oh, shaddup ya big oaf," Maeve said and slapped Danny's stomach with a laugh.
The crate contained a life-sized marble sculpture of a naked and rather well-endowed mermaid with long, flowing, curly hair. She was sitting on a pedestal with her fishtail piously folded up underneath her - and her ample assets saucily thrust forward for the world to see.
"Hmmmm...!" Maeve said again.
"You're wonderin' if that'll fit in your bedroom... right?" Staci teased.
"You know me too well, Staci," Maeve said, and chuckled.
Danny went up to the sculpture and studied it closely.
"It's very lifelike... well, I guess I've never seen a mermaid before, but the rest seems to be OK," he said, and tapped the sculpture with his index finger.
"It's solid marble," he continued.
"I'll bet it's worth a fortune. Perhaps we can use it to give ol' Don Coluzzo a squeeze," Maeve said.
A distant echo of thunder made Maeve and Staci turn around and look out over the ocean. Even though they were looking East, the sky was pitch black with no signs of the coming dawn. An ominous thundercloud, frequently lit up by lightning, stretched from the horizon to the zenith.
"Danny, let's get the crates stored in the warehouse before that storm comes in. It looks nasty," Maeve said.
"Will do, Fever."
"You're on your own, Danny, I'm done here. Staci and I are going back to my apartment. I need to change my boots... and my pants. The stink's drivin' me nuts," Maeve said, and pulled up in her still damp left pant leg.
"Thank Gawd..." Staci teased, and quickly moved away so Maeve couldn't reach her.
Concluded in Part 2