A Dish Served Cold (2+3)
Heavy rain hammered the cement with a dull, relentless assault on the senses. Sheets of rain waved and oscillated back and forth on the street in front of him like a dancer macabre waiting for its ghostly partner to arrive.
Occasionally brilliant lighting would flash ripping the night away with the strobe effect of blinding white light—soon followed by the thundering, bone jarring concussion seconds later.
But in the darkness of the cab he remained dry. Safe. In the deep shadows of the condemned he moved not a muscle. Like carved stone. Watching and waiting. Waiting like some primeval saber toothed anticipating the arrival of its prey. Waiting with Lucifer’s patience for sinners to congregate. Waiting like the hand of destiny invisibly hovering over the unsuspecting. Ready to pluck the hapless soul from this miserable plane of existence with the snap of a wrist. One by one they came. By ones and by twos the dark specters appeared from out of the night. Running madly through the rain in some desperate attempt to get into the warmth and safety of the brightly lit neighborhood drug store. One . . . and then two . . . three. Four. And finally . . . the sixth.
All six at last together again in the small drugstore with its bright lights glaring out through the giant plate glass window like some unblinking monolithic eye. But it wasn’t a drugstore. Not just a drugstore. More, far more, was it to him. The front part of the building was indeed a drugstore which catered to the needs of the residents which surrounded it in the middle of this blue color neighborhood. The back of the store was the central distribution center for a mob owned drug ring run by the six youths who had gathered together on this lifeless, listless, luckless night. Tonight was Sunday. Tonight was when all the street dealers brought in their profits. Tonight the money would be counted and then transported by van to a safer place. Tonight a quarter of a million dollars sat in the back of the drugstore waiting to be taken. Taken . . . by him. The door to the cab opened and he slid out with the smooth feline grace of a powerful hunting cat. Moving to the rear door of the cab he opened the door and pulled out two heavy looking sports bags and laid them on top the trunk of the car. The rain, falling perhaps even heavier, cold and hard, bounced off him with a rude disinterested shrug. Dressed in a heavy cotton hoody, blue jeans and sneakers, he gripped the bags firmly in his hands and started walking toward the drugstore. In the warmth and light of the drugstore Bobbie Martin stood in front of the main counter of the store with a cigarette in his hand. Frowning, he gazed at the five men—the main members of the gang—and wondered who the hell called for this meeting. This was stupid. Putting the top five leaders of the gang in the same room was an open invitation for the cops to raid the place. Ever since joining up with the mob, and the expansion of their drug trafficking transactions, the cops were becoming more than just casually interested. Bribes could go only so far. Pay offs could only take care of a few well placed officials. Killing that cop two years ago had added more heat.
Who the hell called for this?” he growled, glaring at his comrades. “I thought you did,” a big black kid with bulging eyes and a massive forehead answered, turning with a surprised look on his face. “I got the message on my phone about an hour ago. It was your voice.” “Yeah, me too,” the others agreed, nodding as they turned and faced their leader. The small bell above the entrance door rattled with a startling clarity. Everyone turned to stare at the person entering. A short kid wearing a dark hoody and carrying two sport bags in his hands. Dripping wet with long, stringy black hair pouring water on the linoleum floor. “Beat it, kid. The store’s closed,” Bobbie growled loudly, gesturing with his head to leave and to leave immediately. The kid—face unseen—closed the door behind him and walked straight toward Martin oblivious to the sudden tension and hostility which filled the store. “Didn’t you hear me, kid? Are you deaf? Beat it! The store is closed!”
The small creature with the startling white hands gripping the bags kept walking toward Martin. Surprised—angered—and growing concerned, Martin turned and faced this odd creature full on, tossing the cigarette in his hand onto the floor and squashing it with a shoe. Behind him he felt his comrades coalesce and gather in closer to back him up. There was something odd about this kid. Something in the way he moved—something in the paleness of his skin, like that of a corpse, which bothered him. “You want me to rip your head off and give it back to you, punk? Get the hell outta here or I’ll cut your pecker off!”
The kid stopped just in front of Martin and sat the sports bags down on the floor just in front of the gang leader. Standing up, the kid’s eyes came up and looked directly into Martin’s. Unblinking eyes. Dark eyes like the unblinking stare of a pit viper about to strike.
“I want it all. Fill the bags up with money.”
The voice was a harsh, rough whisper—a voice much too powerful even in whispering mode for a kid this size to have. Startled, Martin half turned to glance at his men and then turned his attention back to the kid.
“That just cost you your life, buddy. Nobody comes in here and shakes us down. Nobody.”
With a snap of his fingers all six leapt at the kid at once. All six landed and attempted to reach the kid at the same time. But it was a useless gesture. That night chaos reigned. The kid—hardly half the size of Martin—somehow transfigured himself into a killing machine. Those horribly white hands came up with a sudden flash of speed, catching someone by the arm and giving it a violent twist. Bones snapped. Someone screamed. And then the carnage began. In the thousands of years man has fought hand to hand combat many different fighting forms have come and gone. This night, in this store, the kid became a fighting machine using two brutal forms blended effortlessly together. Krav Maga and Muay Thai. Not the Krav Maga of polite society. Not the Muay Thai of sporting fame. No. Each was the darker, meaner kind—the forbidden, outlawed form designed to kill and maim. This was a fighting not for sport but for survival. This was savagery designed to take down an enemy with the fewest possible moves and never to let them get up again. Every part of the kid’s arms, hands, elbows, knees and feet became a weapon. Blows to the throat, to the groin; knees broken in half with a kick, ribs crushed with a hammering blow—all done in seconds in the midst of a group of street thugs who had no idea . . . no chance . . . of surviving. In seconds the fight was over. Silence filled the brightly lit drug store. Bodies littered the floor and counter top. Only the small framed kid with the long stringy black hair remained standing. Neither looking right nor left the kid bent down and retrieved the two bags sitting unmolested on the floor. Standing up he stepped over bodies and began walking toward the back of the store. Back toward the money. “Jesus. Would you look at this,” Detective Noel Sergeant whistled, bending forward in the chair he had pulled up in front of the TV monitor. Joseph Abrams looked up from the coffee pot and toward the group of detectives huddled around the TV monitor. The squad room was filled with detectives. Those whose shifts were just about completed. And those who were about to come on duty. Abrams was one about to come on duty. A strong cup of brew was what he needed. He hadn’t slept last night. His mind kept going over and over the series of incidents which brought him to the library the day before. Every time he closed his eyes he heard that odd, deep whisper for a voice coming out of the tape recorder. The voice alone, enough to give him nightmares.
“What’s that,” he asked, as he moved across the squad room, coffee in hand, and came to a halt behind his current partner, Noel Sergeant. “Got a call about 0400 hrs. Anonymous. Said there was a disturbance over on Granger and Reed in a drugstore,” Vic Edwards, third watch detective grunted, his eyes glued to the screen in front of him. “You know the place, Joe. It’s the hang out for the Reed Hellions.”
Joe gagged and hot coffee splashed onto his freshly pressed white shirt. The Reed Hellions. The gang rumored to have gunned down his old partner. Lowering his cup, hands shaking slightly, he bent forward and gazed at the monitor.
“Got over there about 0415 and found this, buddy. Found bodies. Lots of bodies. And drugs. And this tape. Here, let me rewind this so Joe can see it all.” Oh Jesus, Joe kept muttering to himself silently. Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus.
He felt like hell. In the last forty-eight hours he had maybe two hours of sleep. His nerves were ragged, raw pulp. And the gentle tremor in his right hand was persistent. He could not make it stop. When not at work he found himself sitting alone in the kitchen nursing another cup of coffee and staring at the walls with this vacant, lost look etched into his weathered, lined face. His wife kept asking him what bothered him. But all he could do was mumble something under his breath and walk away. At work he found he could not concentrate. The daily file of work on his current case load was becoming a nightmare for him. He kept finding himself sitting back in his old chair, staring out the window at the city skyline and wondering when . . . when would this specter strike again. Monday he had sat in the library and heard that eerie, unnervingly quiet voice of approaching carnage. Monday night this . . . thing . . . this ghost . . . tore to pieces the six main leaders of the Reed Hellions. Four of the six were dead. Two were in critical condition and in comas at City General. It was now Wednesday morning. When would he strike next? Who would he target? How could he stop him—stop this madness from escalating? But there was a more disturbing question he had to face. A question that cut like a wicked blade straight to his soul. Did he want this vigilante to stop? Whoever he was . . whatever he was . . . he had just single handedly destroyed one of the prime drug distribution networks in the city. A network run by a gang controlled by Kirtland Barrows. A mean, sadistic, but powerful mob boss who seemed to be untouchable when it came to pinning a major crime on him. The streets were filled with rumors. Burrows was furious. He wanted the head of the long haired, skinny kid. One hundred G’s for the man who—literately—brought in the head of the kid and delivered it to Burrows personally. Supposedly two professional hit men, one from Detroit and one from LA, were flying in to find the kid. Burrows was determined to make an example of this skinny kid. A warning to others not to mess with him. “Joe . . . . Joe!” Startled, Abrams sat up in his chair and turned from the window to face his desk. His partner was standing in front of it, a thick folder in one hand, a look of concern etched on his face. “You all right, Joe? I mean . . . are you feeling okay? ‘Cause, I gotta tell’ ya, buddy, you look like warmed over monkey shit.” That brought almost the suggestion of a grin to Abram’s lips. Noel Sergeant had this wise-ass, sarcastic attitude about him that pissed off just about everyone in the department. Everyone except him. Abrams found he actually liked working with the younger man. Sergeant was a good cop. A good detective. Not as good as John Urban—but then, no one was as good as John had been. “I’m fine, Noel. Just preoccupied with this kid who took out the Hellions.” “Yeah? So why did you ask me to run down to Records and come up with the autopsy files of your old partner?” “Huh? Oh . . . . it’s nothing. Nothing. I just wanted to check something. Wanted to see who was the attending coroner the night . . . the night he died.” “Hell, I could have told you that,” the younger detective coughed, sitting down at his desk opposite Abram’s and propping feet up onto the desk top. “Doctor Amar Maranaja. The spookiest guy this side of Hannibal Lecter you’ll ever meet.” ‘Huh? What was that?” “You ever meet the good doctor, Joe? Doctor Maranaja? No? Well, when you do, make sure you’re wearing a cross around your neck and take some silver bullets just in case. And some wooden stakes. He makes Dracula and the Wolfman look like pansy-assed choir boys. The hair on the back of my neck just crawls every time someone mentions his name. I’m telling ya, the guy is just plain freaky.” Joe Abrams stared at his partner for a moment or two and then looked down at the thick forensics folder. On the front cover in big letters was the name John Urban. In the upper right corner was the file number. In the upper left the date when the file was officially completed. Grimly he stared at it for a heart beat or two and then slowly opened the file cover and began reading. With a practiced ease, the big Ford delivery van drove through the open gate in the fence line and into the empty parking lot of the warehouse. Tired brakes screeched as the truck came to a stop and then started backing up to the loading dock. Standing on the dock were two burly looking men dressed in blue jeans and wearing rain slicks. The rain—this constant deluge—seemed to never end. The rolling waves of gray clouds hung close to the ground and continued to pour water down relentlessly. The rain, the cold, and the frigid wind made every one edgy and surly. And careless. The warehouse was big, dark, and set away from the rest of the warehouses in the industrial park on the south side of the city. A tall security fence topped with layers of barbed wire surrounded the building. Signs from three different realty companies dotted the fence line offering to sell the supposedly empty building to any buyer needing warehouse space. But the voluminous building was far from empty. Close to forty million dollars in stolen weapons—mostly military grade—sat in wooden cases stacked atop each other waiting to be shipped out. Shipped out to anyone who had cash on hand. No questions asked as to who might be buying. The driver of the van rolled out of the high cab and pulled the bill of his baseball cap down low over his brow as he dashed to the covered safety of the dock. “Goddammit, Harrison! You’re late! Those Kalashnikovs are going to be picked up in about a half hour. Open the fucking truck up and let’s count’em.” One of the thugs reached underneath his rain slick and pulled out a Browning 9 millimeter. His partner had a Glock 9 mm in his hands as the two of them watched the van driver bend down and open the back of the truck. With a rattling thud the door slid up with a bang. Inside were sixteen cases of brand new Kalashnikov assault rifles. The full automatic version with ammo and extra clips stacked in the back. Harrison—tall and lanky, with a perpetual grin on his face and chewing gum—nodded his head and reached for the crowbar jammed down the bracing ribs of the van’s wall. Bending down he quickly and efficiently opened one of the wooden crates and stepped back for the thug with his Browning in his hand to take a look. The thug, almost a foot taller than Harrison, laid his Browning down one of the crates and started counting the brand new Kalishnikovs. Harrison smiled when the big man laid his weapon down and turned to glance at the other thug. The second guy, almost as big as the first, wasn’t paying any attention. He stood just in view on the edge of the dock and stared gloomily at the rain smoking a cigarette. Nodding to himself, Harrison turned his eyes back to the first thug, gripped the crowbar firmly, and cleared his throat. “Bobby.” “What?” the thug grunted, still counting the weapons. “Bobby,” Harrison mumbled again in a low, barely audible rough whisper. “What, dammit!” “Bobby.” The thug, losing count, whirled to glare at Harrison angrily. “Goddammit! I’ve lost cou . . . . “ Bobby never finished his sentence. The crowbar smashed into the bridge of his nose shattering it into a hundred pieces. Blood and spittle flew as a howl of pain escaped from his lips. Bending over in agony the bleeding crook’s mind was completely engulfed in pain. But the pain quickly went away. A second blow from the crowbar on the back of his skull dropped the big man to the flooring like a bull elephant being shot between the eyes with a big caliber elephant gun. The second gunman, hearing the crack of the crowbar on his partner’s nose and the scream that came immediately afterward, tossed his cigarette into the rain and stepped up to the door’s rear door bringing his Glock up at the same time. He never had a chance to get off a shot. The crowbar came sailing out of the van’s deep interior like a lance hurled by a dark, ancient god of war. It caught the second gunman in the throat with such a blow the man flew back and bounced off the loading dock’s door. Sliding down into a sitting position blood covered the dead man’s chest as sightless eyes stared up into the dark gray clouds above. Harrison—who was not the real Harrison at all—paid no attention to either dead man as he pulled from behind one of the crates a five gallon can of gasoline. With silent, ruthless efficiency he poured gas onto the wooden crates, on to the dead man lying on the flooring of the van, onto the side of the van itself. Tossing the empty can to the front of the van he turned and stepped out onto the loading dock. Reaching into a pocket of his jeans he pulled out a cheap lighter, thumbed it into life, and tossed it into the van. With a Whoosh! the gas ignited into a rolling ball of fire. Taking his time he jumped off the dock and started walking away, flipping open a cell phone and lifting it to his ear at the same time. “This is 911. What is your emergency?” the tinny voice sounded bored coming out of the phone. “There is a van on fire sitting up against the dock at an empty warehouse down on Florence Avenue. You’d better get some help over here fast. The truck is engulfed in flames and it looks like it could light up the warehouse as well.” He didn’t wait for a response. Flipping the phone closed he tossed it to one side and kept on walking. A smile played across his colorless lips. The cops would find the phone. That would trace it to its owner. Kirtland Burrows would have a lot of explaining to do convincing the cops he had no idea how his phone was found near a warehouse filled with contraband weapons.
From the first of two Smitty novella collection coming out soon entitled, Smitty: Two For The Road.