A Dish Served Cold (10+11)
In the night he watched.
Black eyes—black eyes of a bottomless pit—as cold as a Black Mamba’s.
Watching everything, behind the wheel of the cab he was driving. Driving through the rain in heavy traffic. Seeing the constant flash of bright tail lights flaring and being magnified a thousand fold by the falling rain all around him. Sensing the movement of the hundreds of souls surrounding him in their steel vessel of solitude. The sharp edge of low beams knifing through the darkness and rain.
He saw it all.
He felt it all. And drove. Drove three car lengths behind the big Mercedes sedan filled with bodies. Bodies of the dead yet still living. Knowing. Knowing that soon they too would be buried and forgotten. And he would be the source of their demise.
They called him Smitty. Just Smitty. Few knew what he had been called in his past life. A life he only was dimly aware of. Few knew him at all. In his line of work, it was best that way. The fewer who knew him the safer they would be. The safer he would be. Safer the world would be.
It was the best way. The safest way. For everyone. Killing for a living forced one to live a certain lifestyle. Forced him into a cocoon of loneliness. Of solitude. Of distance. Rightly or wrongly it was the life he took on after . . . after . . .
No. Not any more. Not ever.
Don’t look back, pilgrim. Never look back. In this profession, it was a mortal error to look back. To second-guess. To hesitate. To remember good times. Or bad times. It would get you killed thinking about the past. About what had been. About what should have been.
About . . . old friends.
Old friends cruelly murdered by ruthless, uncaring moguls of the underworld. Killed by crime bosses like Kirkland Barrows. Being a cop . . . or a killer . . .had oddly enough, the same set of potential issues to face on a daily basis. Track down the foe. Eliminate it. Be wary of traps. Of lies. Of deceit. Of treachery. Especially of treachery. Trust no one. No one except . . . maybe, maybe . . . your closet friends.
But not now. Not now. Not in this profession. There were no friends. No partners. No one to trust. On the lies . . . the deceits . . . the treacheries. The next victim. Always the next victim.
Like the carload of victims riding in the expensive Mercedes three car lengths in front of him. Riding through the wet streets and falling rain heading for the secured, heavily guarded compound of Kirkland Barrows. The dead walking among the living and not knowing they were dead. That described Mario Gibbons and his men in the car with him. Dead men walking.
Gibbons was Kirkland Barrows’ most trusted lieutenant. The smartest. The smooth criminal who got things done. Quickly and efficiently. The reliable one. Barrows’ right-hand man. Take him out—take out everyone immediately around Gibbons—and do it violently—would severely rattle Barrows. Rattle him and infuriate him at the same time. Make him do stupid mistakes. Rattle his confidence level. Begin to distrust everyone.
Set him up, in the end, for his fall.
Take out the lieutenants. The two most trusted, most reliable, soldiers in Kirkland Barrows’ pay. Take one out in one fashion. Violently. Bloodily. Viciously. Take the other out by persuasion. By conviction. By dire necessity. In a way that would convince the other lieutenant—Jose Garcia—would have to do something unthinkable if he wanted to live. That would be running to the cops and confessing . . . confessing all the sins of Kirkland Barrows and he had committed together . . . was the only way. The only way to live. To grow old. To survive.
Kill one. Make the other confess. Do both and destroy Kirkland Barrows.
So in the night, he drove. Drove slowly, carefully, through the driving rain and darkness in heavy evening traffic. Swam in a sea of steel and exhaust fumes in a dark ocean. Prowled like a shark waiting for his prey to dangle his feet in waters close enough for him to strike.
“We think we are looking for an ex-cop. John Urban’s first partner while John was still in the patrol division,” Noel Sergeant began standing at the head of a long conference table with a thick folder lying on the table in front of him. “Open your folders and take a look at what our suspect looked like sixteen years ago.”
Twelve men—four detectives pulled from the three different divisions within the detective branch and eight patrolmen—opened their folders at the same time and looked intently at the large 5×7 photo of a grinning man dressed in a blue patrolman’s uniform. A man with sandy blond hair, a good set of shoulders, powerful arms, and dark eyes. Very dark eyes.
“Sixteen years ago the department knew him as Johnny Kilpatrick. For a little over a year Johnny Kilpatrick and John Urban worked the lower docks. Kilpatrick was decorated four times for acts of bravery. His personnel file says he was a crack shot with a pistol and just as deadly with a rifle. There’s also evidence suggesting our man may have been a black belt in a hand-to-hand combat technique call Krav Maga.”
One of the men sitting at the table whistled softly to himself and shook his head in quiet admiration.
“Paul—you got something to say?” Noel Sergeant said, looking at the patrolman.
“It’s just that, the other night at the drugstore where the Hellion gang was iced, I was one of the first to arrive on the scene. If this guy took out that many toughs with just his hands he’s going to be one mean son of a bitch.”
“You know what,” one of the detectives said frowning and looking up from the folder in front of him. “I knew this guy. A good man. Tough as nails. I remember those eyes. Those eyes could look straight through you. Nail your ass to a wall if they decided to get mad. He had a wife, didn’t he? Seems I remember some trouble he had with his wife.”
Joe Abrams, who so far had been leaning against the conference room wall, arms folded across his chest and keeping silent, decided it was time to say something.
“We think that’s the trigger device that made Johnny Kilpatrick go off the reservation. His wife left him. Apparently, she and Johnny Kilpatrick’s twin brother ran off together. Leaving Johnny behind with a mountain of debt and an empty bank account. The day after his wife and brother dumped him he handed in his badge and gun and disappeared.”
“Disappeared?” a different patrol growled, frowning. “What do you mean disappeared?”
“Gone. Evaporated into thin air,” the younger detective standing beside Abrams answered. “Like a ghost. Left town, changed his name, was never seen or heard from again. Until the other day when he contacted Joe.”
“He contacted you, Joe?” the older detective sitting at the table, the one who said he remembered Johnny Kilpatrick, said and lifting an eyebrow in surprise. “Why? What did he have to say?”
Abrams eyed the twelve men sitting at the table and wondered if he should tell them. Tell them that Johnny had returned and was hunting. Hunting for the man who killed John Urban. Should he tell them? Tell them this specter—this spirit—told him he knew who gave the order to kill John. Why not? Each of these men was hand-picked. Hand-picked by him. He trusted them. Trusted each one with his life.
“Our man is going after Kirkland Barrows. He says he’s going to give us evidence to take Barrows and his entire organization down. Said we’d have the evidence by Sunday night.”
“Sunday night? Hell, that’s day after tomorrow,” the first patrol said out loud, eyes showing surprise. “How’s he going to take down someone as powerful as Barrows? The guy must be nuts.”
“Nuts or not he’s already kicked Barrows in the balls,” a second detective growled from the far end of the table. “Twice. Taking out the Hellions and shutting down their drug ring was the first kick. Burning down that warehouse filled with stolen Army weaponry was the other. The guy may be nuts. But he acts like he knows what he’s doing.”
“What about the murder of the Detroit gunman who flew into town the other night. One dead and another hitman accused of murder. Did our man have anything to do with that?”
“Probably,” Joe Abrams said, frowning and nodding. “He called me last night and told me where I could find them. When we got down one of ’em had a knife sticking out of his chest and the other one was lying in the alley unconscious. Looked like someone worked him over pretty good with a crowbar.”
“Crowbar? Wasn’t that in the dead man’s hand?”
“Yeah,” Noel Sergeant nodded, grinning impishly. “A nice touch, if you ask me. Kills one guy with a pig sticker as big as a friggin sword and works the other over with a crowbar. The knife has a set of fingerprints of the guy living. The crowbar has the fingerprints of the dead man.”
“So it was a set up all along,” the first detective grunted, shaking his head in disbelief. “Our man takes out two high priced hit men Barrows hired to clean up this mess. But instead, our man cleans up. And hands one of them to you, Joe, on a silver platter. Yeah—I’d say this guy we’re looking for isn’t your typical sicko killer.”
Abrams nodded and lifted a finger up and pointed to two detectives.
“You and you are going to dig into Johnny Kilpatrick’s life. Go find people who knew him. Went to school with him. Knew his wife. His brother. Find out if there’s anyone, maybe any place, out of town our man traveled to. Build a profile of Johnny Kilpatrick. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find something we can use.”
The two detectives nodded and closed the folders in front of them and waited for the meeting to end. They knew they had a lot of work ahead of them and then wanted to begin as soon as possible.
“All you uniformed officers are to hit the streets and start looking for this guy,” he said, reaching down and tapping the 5×7 photo with a finger. “He’s gotta be staying somewhere. Knocking off and cleaning out the Hellion’s drug money netted him a big pile of dough. So look everywhere. Flophouses to the presidential suite over at the Hilton Acres. I’m betting someone on the streets has picked up this guy’s vibes.”
All eight patrolmen nodded. And waited. Waited to see what else their new task force leader had up his sleeve.
“Jeff . . . Terry, you two are the best interrogators I’ve ever seen. I want you two to tackle the one guy alive who’s encountered Smitty and came out more or less still in one piece. Break him down. Extract as much info as you can. Including anything we can get on Kirkland Barrows. Tell him if he talks we might be able to cut a deal with him. Keep him off death row. Might even shorten his sentence altogether if he gives us good Intel.”
“Smitty,” one of the patrol officers said as he looked at Abrams. “Is that what Johnny Kilpatrick is calling himself now?”
“That’s our boy,” Abrams nodded and seconded by Noel Sergeant. “Okay. Did we get all our assignments down? Good. Noel and I are going to start monitoring the comings and goings of Barrows. Our boy has thrown a monkey wrench into Barrows’ organization. My gut tells me before Sunday night gets here something big is going to happen. Something spectacular. So let’s get to it.”
All the men nodded and came out of their chairs in unison. Abrams and his partner watched as they filed out of the conference room one by one. When the last one left and closed the conference door behind him Noel frowned, pulled on his ear, and looked at his senior partner.
“Joe, what I don’t get is how John Urban is involved in this. Or maybe more like how is Kirkland Barrows involved in John Urban’s death. What did Smitty tell you about your old partner that’s got you interested in Barrows?”
Joe lifted a foot up and set it down on the seat of a chair. Leaning forward he braced himself with both elbows on his upraised leg and looked over at his partner. Noel Sergeant’s face was as wide open as a book to read. Curiosity. Interest. Confusion. An open book.
“Nothing,” he answered, smiling. “At least nothing specific. Just hinted. Forget it for now. Come on, let’s go to lunch. I’m buying.”