A Dish Served Cold (12+13)
Kirkland Barrows was apoplectic. Enraged. Filled with a mindless fury he no longer wished to contain. As the two of them walked into the library Barrows reached over, grabbed an ancient Chinese vase he had paid a fortune to possess, and hurled it with all his strength straight at the face of Jose Garcia. The darkly complexioned Latino barely had time to duck. Behind them they heard the priceless artifact shatter into a thousand pieces.
Barrows went on a rampage in the library. Throwing lamps. Sweeping the top of his desk clean of everything on it. Stomping into a thousand pieces an antique light stand. As they watched Mario Gibbons and Jose Garcia made no sound. Made no effort to calm their boss’ rage. Stood ramrod still and tried to make themselves invisible. When Barrows was this angry it wasn’t out of the realms of possibility for the man to pull out a gun and start shooting.
For several minutes Barrows continued trashing the library. But after maybe five or six minutes of mindless destruction he stopped facing the French doors leading out into the gardens, collected himself, straightened his tie and turned toward his lieutenants reasonably composed.
Barrows voice sounded controlled. Precise. Almost reasonable. And absolutely terrifying. Both men watched him walk back to what was left of the antique desk. Pulling out a top drawer they saw him reach inside and withdraw a long, slender, metal colored object. Both of them recognized the little item immediately. A switch-blade. Barrows’ weapon of choice.
“What happened?” he repeated, coming around the desk and moving toward the two. “I need someone to answer me. Now! What happened?”
“Boss, we have no idea,” Gibbons answered and looking straight into Barrow’s eyes unflinchingly. “Both of us picked up our man and took them to their hotels. We told them all we knew on who their target was. Ten hours later hotel records show each one got a phone call. Both left their hotels at almost the same time. Both took a taxi down to a bar called Hooch’s.”
“One of my men was down there,” Garcia began. “Said he recognized both Grundy and Taggert when they walked in. They stayed about fifteen minutes and then left. One after the other. It looked like they were following one of my own men out. A kid by the named Roberto. A nobody. Just a kid off the streets.”
“And this Roberto? What did he have to say?”
“Says he was drunk out of his gourd,” Garcia continued, a note of trepidation in his voice, his eyes once in a while flickering down at the switch-blade in Barrows’ hand. “Said he walked back to his apartment. Said he thought he heard something in the alley where the cops found Taggert and Grundy in. But he didn’t see a thing.”
“And you believe him?” Came the soft, almost silent, question.
“Yes,” nodded Garcia. “I know Roberto. Know his family. Known them for years. The kid is just a wet behind the ears kid. No brains. Just muscle. A nobody. He has no reason to lie to me.”
“Get rid of him,” the quiet voice came back. “Permanently. Understand? Permanently. Today!”
Garcia started to protest. But an elbow digging into his ribs from Gibbons made him close his mouth and keep silent. Their eyes on Barrows, both men watched their boss look down at the switch blade in his hand. And froze when a wicked smile played across Barrow’s face.
“Fuck ups. Miscues. Mistakes. We’re getting sloppy. Making too many mistakes. We lose cell phones. We loose an entire gang controlling drug distribution. We lose a warehouse of goods. And now we lose two of the best men in the business. Who is doing this to us? A ghost? A man? A cop? A government agent? Who is doing this to us? I want to know. Do either one of you know what the hell is going on?”
Barrows, eyes blazing in rage, walked calmly up and stood in front of Mario Gibbons. Inches away from his lieutenant’s face. Unblinking eyes staring at Gibbons. For his part Gibbons stared back and tried not to flinch. But he was all too aware of the switch-blade Barrows was holding gently. . . casually. Far too casually.
“Do you know who’s doing this, Mario?”
“No,” the answer came back. Firm. Confident. Unflinching. A façade.
Barrows stared a few seconds into his lieutenant’s face. Face drawn and colorless. Eyes filled with a rage . . . a madness . . . barely kept under control. Another heart beat or two of silent terror went by before Barrows moved. Moved one step over to stand in front of Jose Garcia. Looked into the man’s brown eyes with the same drawn, colorless face. The same enraged eyes filled with madness.
“Jose, do you know who is doing this to us? Who is trying to take me down?”
“No . . .no . . . boss, I ain’t got a clue. Honest.”
Fear. Hesitation. Indecision.
In Barrows’ hand the switch blade clicked and the blade came out a nanosecond before Barrow moved. Moved with lightning speed. Swept laterally across Garcia’s neck so fast Garcia had no time to block the blow.
Intense pain in his throat made the husky Latino scream in agony and drop to his knees. Both hands reaching up to his neck he felt something hot and wet. Looking down at his hands he saw them covered in blood. His blood. He screamed again just as Barrows grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked him backward in an unnatural position.
Pressing the sharp point into the cut flesh of Garcia’s neck the look on Barrow’s face was of murderous intent. His face close, very close to contorted mask of pain that was the face of his wounded lieutenant.
“Jose, you’ve got twenty four hours to clean this mess up. Twenty four hours to redeem yourself. Just one day to find whoever it is trying to take me down and bring his head back to me. I hope I don’t have to remind you what will happen if you come up empty handed. Now get out of here. Leave before I change my mind and slice you up like a grapefruit. Move!”
Garcia, both hands on his throat, the silk shirt he was wearing underneath his tailored sport coat drenched in blood and whimpering like a child, scrambled to his feet and ran. Mario turned and started to leave as well. But Barrow’s voice stopped him.
“You stay a minute longer, Mario. I have something for you to do.”
Barrows watched Garcia bounce off a divan before he fumbled with the door handled of the library door. A trail of blood from Garcia’s departure polka dotted the thick carpet all the way to the door. When the door closed behind his wounded lieutenant Barrows turned to Gibbons and used both hands to fold the blood switch blade back into safe mode.
“I gave him twenty four hours to clean this mess up. Twenty four hours. When his time is up . . . his time is up. Quietly remove Garcia and bury him in a vat of cement somewhere. After that you take over his operations as well. And no mistakes, Mario. Understand me? No mistakes.”
Mario Gibbons nodded. Turning, he started walking calmly toward the library door. And with each step a smile of pleased satisfaction spread further across his lips.
Dark eyes played across the relaxed, smiling face of Mario Gibbons as he sat at a large table surrounded by a dozen of his henchmen. Two gorgeous looking young hookers, scantily dressed, were pawing over Gibbons with loving attention. Acolytes worshiping their god.
Gibbons looked relaxed. Looked like he was enjoying himself. Sitting in a reserved section of a high priced restaurant the well dressed Gibbons looked like a king reigning over his court of fools. They were making noise and it was, looking around at the many patrons sitting at their tables and trying to enjoy their evening meal, impossible for others not to glance at them with various looks of irritation or open admiration.
A cold, cruel smile played across Smitty’s lips as he sat five tables back from the noisy party and drank his glass of wine and waited for his meal to arrive. Smiled, yet kept his eyes away from his intended targets. Life was such a brief spurt of intense pleasures and grueling pains. A short respite that briefly interrupted the long sleep of eternity. Nine years or ninety; whatever time the Fates delegated to someone it was all too short of a stay for most. Best to enjoy what little time we had on this planet and underneath the warm sun. Which, Smitty admitted, was exactly what Mario Gibbons was doing.
“Your meal, sir. Enjoy,” the waiter said softly as he sat down a large plate overflowing with a steak smothered with onions, red peppers, and mushrooms in front of him.
Smitty nodded and reached for his fork and knife. He would have time to finish his meal. Gibbons always came to this restaurant on Fridays and stayed exactly two hours. Two hours flashing money, drinking lots of champagne, being a generally loud and lewd presence for everyone else. Like clockwork Gibbons and his entourage were always here between the hours of seven and nine pm. Like clockwork.
A habit. Smiling again Smitty gave himself the luxury of one brief glance at his intended prey. Habits, my friend, were deadly. They became predictable. They offered avenues of access to those bold enough to exploit them. So enjoy yourself, pilgrim. Enjoy yourself. Because you will never see the sun rise tomorrow.
Every Friday night Gibbons dined in this restaurant. Every Friday night precisely at nine pm he and his entourage would rise out of their chairs and depart. They would climb into two waiting armor plated Mercedes and drive back to the small farm Gibbons claimed as his base of operations. They would choose from four different routes out of the city for the drive back to the farm. But when they reached the edge of the city only two roads were available to them. First they had to travel six miles down a paved, narrow, county road. At six miles they had to turn onto a dirt road and roll across a badly maintained, rutted, dirt road to get to the farmhouse. Where the dirt road met the paved county road a large culvert lay underneath the entrance where dirt road met paved road. That’s where Mario and his henchmen would check out from this world. Violently.
But to do that the Mercedes filled with more of Gibbons’s henchmen had to be taken out. Taken out long before Gibbons reached the country road. So be it. Setting his eating utensil on the table Smitty pulled back a sleeve and glanced at the Rolex watch on his wrist. Eight thirty. He had fifteen minutes more to finish his steak. Picking up the knife and fork he began digging again into the steak.
At eight forty-five Smitty took the small folder lying on the table with the bill for the evening’s bill enclosed and dropped two C-notes into it and laid it back on the table. Rising from his chair he turned—never once glancing back at Gibbons and his table—and walked casually out of the restaurant. Stepping out into the cold now he noted two things instantly. It was no longer raining. Yet the threat of rain hung in the air underneath the heavy clouds above like a dangling sword.
Walking around the corner of the building, he stepped off the curb and clicked the button that would unlock the doors of a brand new CTS-V Cadillac sport sedan. Gone was the battered Crown Victoria of the cab. If all went well he would be leaving tonight. Leaving the city without saying goodbye to Joe Abrams. Without laying flowers on the grave of his old friend John Urban and his wife. Pulling away from the curb in his midnight black Caddy, tail lights flashing, he drove quickly to the spot where he planned to take out the first armored Mercedes.
Where the city street met the paved county road was in the north section of town in an area littered with empty warehouses and a labyrinth of dark alleys. Slipping the black Caddy into a dark alley that offered the perfect concealment to the city street and country road joining, Smitty killed the lights and sat back in the seat, folding arms across his chest, and began waiting.
Precisely at nine fifteen—habits again, pilgrim; habits—the glare of low beams from two cars exploded into view. Knifing bright lights down the dark wet street between two massive, and dark, warehouses. The second Mercedes filled with gunmen followed the Mercedes Gibbon and his four men were in with a distance of forty feet between them. Reaching a gloved hand down to the console on his right and between the seats Smitty wrapped fingers around the small plastic wireless detonator and waited. Waited for the car with Gibbons in it to pass across a certain point of the street. Waited for the second car following to arrive at the same certain point before pressing the red button on the firing detonator.
The explosion was strong enough to blast windows out of the two warehouses flanking the street. Strong enough to light up the entire block momentarily with a light as bright as the sun. Strong enough to dig an eight foot hole out of the street’s concrete and throw concrete shrapnel out powerful enough to punch holes in the flimsy wooden and tin walls of the buildings. Strong enough to lift the armored Mercedes thirty feet into the air and then drop it like a brick back on the street as if it were nothing but a kid’s toy.
There was nothing left of the armored Mercedes but a gutted, furiously burning hulk of twisted metal and melting rubber. There was nothing inside the car. Nothing. Just a fiery furnace. Twenty yards behind the burning hulk the police would find the charred, blackened remains of the four hoods who had been in the car.
The bomb had the exact effect on Gibbons and his remaining henchman as he expected. The moment the bomb exploded the driver in Gibbons’ car hit the accelerator and the big Mercedes leapt forward and hit the paved country road doing well over a hundred miles per hour. Rolling out of his protected position in the dark alley, Smitty hit the lights and turned onto the street. With 556 horses under the hood it didn’t take long for Smitty and his Caddy to catch up to Gibbons and his armored Mercedes.
The black Caddy flew over the asphalt of the paved county road like an avenging angel. In moments it was thirty yards behind the tail lights of the Mercedes. Behind the leather covered wheel of his car, Smitty placed a thumb on the second small red button on the detonator switch in his hand and waited. Seconds later the night in front of him lit up with bright flashing tail lights and the squeal of tires skidding across wet pavement came to his ears. The Mercedes almost lost control as it skidded to one side and slowed. But the driver kept control of the car and threw it around to his left and rolled the front wheels onto the mud of the dirt road leading out to the farm. The moment the front wheels touched the mud Smitty pressed the small red button.
The second explosion of the night was not nearly as deafening as the first. Nor as deadly. But it was strong enough to lift the back end of the heavy Mercedes into the air and skewer it one side before dropping it again into the mud.
Smitty’s black machine slid in a controlled slide to a halt directly beside the hole gouged out of the mud and asphalt. Sliding the car’s automatic into Park, leaving the big engine running, Smitty reached behind him and grabbed a small canvas backpack and then threw the car door open and rolled out. Standing up he looked first to his left and then to his right and noted the county road was empty of any traffic. Turning to face the damaged, bent, slightly smoldering Mercedes to his right he reached into a side pocket of the backpack and pulled out the bulky form of Smith & Wesson 19ll Model .45 caliber semi-automatic. Throwing a single strap of the bag over his shoulder at the same time as he jumped over the ragged hole in the mud in used a free hand to pull the slide of the 1911 back and jack a round into the firing chamber. Walking to the car, holding the big gun in one hand, his other hand reached inside a second pocket on the bag and pulled out a small white square of something that looked plastic.
He moved toward the car in an angle that would make it difficult for anyone inside the car to shoot back at him. He doubted anyone would be capable of that at the moment. The explosive device in the road was strong enough to incapacitate both the car and the occupants inside it. Everyone inside was alive. But bruised, battered, and dazed. Too incoherent to offer any resistance.
He was correct in his assumptions. Through the stress-cracked armored Plexiglas of the sedan he saw dark, motionless forms slumped over in their seats. He didn’t hesitate. Walking up to the driver’s side front window he slapped the small white glob of plastic onto the window and then stepped away and to one side. There was not so much an explosion as a sharp, loud crack. Instantly the thick Plexiglas window dissolved into a thousand shards and flooded the inside of the car with its deadly remnants.
Stepping up to the open window Smitty reached inside the car, found the unlock button on the door and punched it. Throwing open the door he bent down and lifted the muzzle of his 1911 up at the same time. He squeezed the trigger four times. The roar of the gun lighting the night in swift succession was enough to make crows slumbering in the trees a thousand yards away scream in anger and rise in a black cloud out of the tree line.
Smitty didn’t care. Standing up he walked to the back door handle on the side where Gibbons was strapped in his seat and threw it open. In the night Gibbons surprised him. Gibbons was conscious enough to try and resist. A hand tucked inside his coat came sliding out fast with a 9 mm Glock in it. But not fast enough. With a swift slap across the face with the butt of the 1911, Smitty hit Gibbons with a blow strong enough to stun the man. The Glock dropped out of Gibbon’s hand as Smitty bent down and pulled the stunned lieutenant of Kirkland Barrows out of the seat.
He half dragged, half goaded the stunned Mario Gibbons away from the car and to the rear. With each step Gibbons seemed to gather more of himself together. When Smitty stopped pushing and came to a halt, Gibbons turned around and faced his executioner.
“Who the hell are you?”
“It doesn’t matter. All that matters is it’s payback time. You’re getting exactly what you gave to a friend of mine fifteen years ago.”
“Come on, let’s make a deal. All kinds of shit happened fifteen years ago. Surely we can let the past lay in the past and work out some deal here. You wanna be rich? I mean really rich? Come to work with me. I’ll pay you a ton of money. More money than you could dream of. Even more once we take out my boss and take over his business.”
Smitty’s thin lips pulled back into a cruel snarl.
“So much for loyalty, eh? You think maybe Barrows isn’t behind this little deal? Maybe I’m working for him and taking you out because he doesn’t trust you anymore. Too bad, Mario. Too bad. One bullet in the brain is a far better deal than you had your little gang do to my friend and his wife.”
“Who was your friend?”
“Why would . . . “
One bullet. Between the eyes.
A .45 caliber hollow point at very close range makes a messy corpse.
Turning, Smitty slid the 1911 back into the back pack and began walking through the mud back to his waiting Caddy. In the distance he heard approaching sirens. Sliding into the front seat he closed the door and slipped the gear into Drive.
And disappeared into the night.