A Dish Served Cold (6+7)
Sitting in the darkness of the cab he sat behind a long line of cabs in front of the airport terminal and waited. Directly across the wide street from him was a green Jaguar sedan.
Three men sat in the Jag. The two in the front seat were goons who worked for Jesus Garcia. Just foot soldiers. Muscle. Unimportant. In the back seat sat Garcia. And from the sound of it, Garcia was nervous. In the microphones he could hear the henchman drumming fingers nervously on the leather seat and humming to himself.
In the darkness of the cab a grim, cruel slit of a smile pulled the man’s lips back in pleasure. Five minutes earlier, while standing out in the light rain, leaning against his cab and smoking a cigarette, he flipped the cigarette to one side and crossed the busy street to buy himself a big cup of steaming hot coffee and a fresh donut from a small outdoor kiosk. As he walked past the back of the Jag he paused, bent down to tie his shoe, and eyed the rear bumper of the car. No one paid him any attention. But as he tied his shoe he slipped the high intensity receiver underneath the rear bumper of the car. Now he was hearing the three men inside as clearly as if they were sitting in his cab.
“Boss that’s him,” one of the goons said in a surprising soft voice. “Over there. The guy in the tan raincoat and fedora. That’s Grundy.”
Black eyes . . . as black as sin itself . . . turned and looked at the gathering crowd collecting itself in front of the revolving glass doors of the terminal. A tall man dressed in a tan rain coat and wearing a black fedora low over his eyes stood to one side of the crowd holding with one hand a garment bag over one shoulder. He didn’t look like a professional killer. More like an insurance salesman.
“Get him in here. Let’s get the hell out of this rain,” Garcia growled, a note of relief in his voice.
The right side front passenger door opened and out slid a goon. Hopping through the rain the big guy moved surprisingly gracefully as he tried to avoid the larger pools of water lying on the pavement. Quickly enough he had Grundy in tow and the two were making their way back to the Jag. Climbing in, the Jag pulled out from behind a black limo and began making its way through the crowded lane and toward the nearest cross street.
With a lone White Cab following two cars behind.
“Did you get the first half of your fee?” Garcia said in the darkness of the Jag.
“Yes,” the second voice replied. Dry. Raspy. A smoker’s voice.
“And everything is satisfactory in your eyes?”
“Good. I want this job done as fast as possible. Fast. Efficient. Quietly. Understand?”
“Who is it you want me to remove?”
“Uh . . . . well . . . . “
In the dark shadows of the White Cab two car lengths behind the man with the black pits for eyes smiled. Smiled with a wicked pleasure of malice and forethought. Now to bring the two together. Bring them together and let the sparks fly. And oh . . . what lovely sparks he had in mind for them.
Collar up to protect him from the cold and driving rain Dr. Maranaja slipped out of his Lincoln Continental and hurried up the steps of the morgue. Dark night—cold and blustery. And the rain. This constant rain. Forever falling. When would it ever stop?
Sliding underneath the safety of an ex-loading dock roof, the gaunt frame of the doctor hurried to enter the tomb of the dead. As he approached the entrance to the building the automatic doors hissed open for him expectantly.
And waited. And waited. And waited . . .
Maranaja stood motionless just in front of the open door, gloved hands in his heavy overcoat, his face etched cold granite. Motionless. As if frozen in time. Eyes unblinking. Face drained of what little color he had originally. Yet within his chest—deep within his soul—the tormented souls of the underworld twisted and twitched violently. Screamed in anger. Howled for revenge. Demanded Justice. Justice long overdue.
An eye for an eye.
Blood for blood.
Biblical retribution. Violent revenge as ancient as man himself. The dead . . . the dead were restless tonight. But the screams of the lost souls were not uncommon to hear for him. He was born with this gift. Communed with the dead often. Hearing their wails and torments was nothing surprising.
But this was . . . this was a new feeling. This new intrusion. A life force. Someone living intruding his will into the underworld. A powerful, thriving, life force. Neither angry nor happy. Neither evil nor good. But . . . . powerful. Determined. Unflinching. A life force bent on exacting Justice. A justice of his own definition. And close to where he stood. Very close to the morgue somewhere in the night.
Turning, the forensic pathologist retraced his steps. Stepped out from underneath the covering safety of the loading dock and into the rain. Eyes unblinking he turned his head to the right and stared into the night. Slowly, as if his eyes could see into the inky, wet night, his eyes swept the dark images in front of him. From right to left. Forgetting the rain. Forgetting the cold. His soul transported to some other place. Some other time.
He was out there. Somewhere out there in the night formulating his plan for extracting Justice. Out there in the night planning . . . . what?
Turning, the good doctor strode with a purpose into the morgue and as he slipped each glove off fingers one at a time walked directly toward his office. Shrugging off his soaked coat he tossed wet leather gloves onto a chair beside his desk and reached for the phone which sat on the right hand corner of a paper, file cluttered desk.
“Records? Ah. This is Doctor Amar Maranaja at the morgue. I need all the records you have of a deceased police officer named John Urban. Especially any of his early records when he first became a detective. Can you send that over to me as fast as possible? Ah . . . I see. Two days wait is unacceptable. I tell you what. I’ll send one of my lab techs over to Records. He’ll sign for it and bring to me. Is that acceptable? Good. Good. Expect him about a half hour. Thank you.”
Life forces. Either dead of living. They always left a stamp on your soul. A marker. An identification impossible to erase or hide. As this life force possessed. There . . . but confusing. Unclear. Not a marker. But markers . . . as if dozens of other souls lived within the living and blurred the one true marker.
Strange. Most strange.
In the darkness of the hotel room the phone began ringing. Barely two rings complete and a hand reached out and lifted the receiver off the cradle and brought to his ear.
“Taggert? This is Gibbons. You know that taxi driver you pointed out to me last night? The one that kept eyeing you? I’ve done some checking. He ain’t a taxi driver. Nobody knows who he is. What does that tell you?”
“Tells me he might be our man. Got someone watching him?”
“That’s what I’m thinking. Yeah, I got a set of eyes on him. Just heard from him. This kid is sitting in a bar over on 56th street called Hooch’s. Been there for a couple of hours knocking back four or five beers.”
“Okay. I’ll check him out.”
The phone clicked dead just as a light in the hotel room clicked on. Rolling out of bed, Taggert reached for his shirt he had neatly draped over the back of a chair. After that he threw over his shoulder the holster and webbing of his 9 mm Smith & Wesson 925CP with the five inch barrel and took his time strapping the weapon’s webbing across his chest. To finish up his attire he pulled off a hangar the long trench coat he had worn from the airport to the hotel. Slipping it over the chromed steel of the Smith & Wesson he buttoned three buttons and then turned.
Business. Just business.
If the kid was the kid that’d been messing with Kirtland Barrows’ business . . . well . . . too bad, kid. Barrows wanted your head. Literately. And Barrows was paying the bills. With that in mind, the small man turned and walked to the package wrapped in plain brown wrapping paper setting on the table beside the room’s television. Unwrapping it he opened the box and pulled out the long, heavy serrated chrome blade of a hunting knife. Brand new. The satin chrome of the blade’s steel unmarked and waiting. Waiting for the first taste of blood. Examining the blade for a few seconds he nodded, pulled out of the box a leather holster for it, slipped it in the leather, then dropped the weapon into an inside pocket of the trench coat.
Too bad, kid. Too bad. Nothing personal. It’s just business. Just business.
Across the street from the hotel a lone White cab sat against the curb in the pouring rain. Lights out. Dark tinted windows hiding the car’s interior from any curious passing pedestrians—as if there might have been any lunatic enough to walk in this driving monsoon.
Inside the cab, the man Joe Abram knew as Smitty pulled a small microphone off his cell phone and then reached over and clicked the OFF button of the small digital recorder setting on the car seat beside him. A cruel, thin smirk played across Smitty’s lips. Reaching a gloved hand out to the small recorder he lifted it up and thumbed down the settings to a new recording.
Taggert’s phone call. It had been Mario’s Gibbons’ voice talking. Genuine Gibbons. Hours and hours of editing to get the perfect recording. It had to sound convincing. Had to be flawless. Glancing to his left he watched a yellow cab roll up in front of the hotel. The compact frame of a man wearing a hat and a trench coat stepped out of the revolving glass doors of the hotel and quickly opened a rear door of the taxi and disappeared inside.
Taggert was on the move.
The sneer on his lips widened slightly as he returned his attention to the small microphone and the digital recorder. Dialing a second number he waited until he heard the line connect and then he pressed the ON button of the recorder.
“Grundy, this is Garcia. Listen, I think we got a line on our man . . . “
Jesus Garcia’s voice. Genuine. Sounding flawless. Convincing.
He tossed the cell phone and digital recorder on the seat behind him when the phone call ended. Starting up the cab’s engine he pulled the gearshift down in the drive and slowly moved away from the curb.
Too bad, boys. Too bad. But it’s just business. Very, very, very personal business.