The following story is the EE project that's kept me into the show since the beginning of January, when my TV affiliate wasn't airing it and I was getting depressed. It's been through lots of downtime, lots of frantic composition, and *lots* of cursing, but it's finally here...kinda. :)
This is a mob story, and at the heart of every mob story is a mafioso;
I'd like to have a quick word about mine. Luka "Sonny" Maurice is
based on a man who is my god when it comes to acting smooth and intense and
and looking darn good while he does it. That man is Maurice Benard, who plays Sonny Corinthos on General Hospital (and now you know how I named my mobster). However, I would like to make it clear that my mobster is *not* crossover-ish; he's in homage, which is much more complimentary. :) Please enjoy him.
Okay, I guess it's time for the Legal, starting with spoilers.
If you haven't seen 'The Wall', 'The Iceman Taketh' or 'Fatal Edition',
you're gonna have them both entirely wrecked by this story. Also, the
first two episodes with
Brigatti in them are kinda important, but not spoiler-warning worthy. I don't think any other eps are delved into too deeply here.
Disclaimers: Early Edition, its characters and situations do
not belong to me--although, with the way CBS treated 'em, I kinda wish they
did. Song lyrics are the same way; they're attributed within the story.
No copyright infringement is intended, and even if you sued, I spent all my
money in Alberta, so you wouldn't get much. :) I promise to play
as nice as I can (which, y'know, isn't all *that* nice, but anyway...).
If you like this story, please let me know; my addy is at the bottom of every
part, and I *crave* feedback, so please send me some. Good, bad...whatever.
But I *like* the good.
I said above that EE's original characters and stuff don't belong to me. That's true, but as this is *my* fiction, there is a heck of a lot here that is *my* creation, so if you want to do anything with the story itself or any of my original creations contained therein, please, *please* ask me. I'm nice, and will probably say yes...but if you don't get my permission I will most definitely say no, if you catch my drift. :) Permission to archive goes to the GTA website , which is fantastic. Go check it out if you haven't already.
Many, many thanks to my beautious beta, MaryKate. She's put up
with my Canadianisms, my late night ramblings, my frantic 11th hour e-mails,
and everything else that's skewed about me, and has helped immensely in making
this story the best it can be. Any odd spellings are not her fault; I'm just stubborn about writing in Canadian. She points them out; I just ignore her.
RealLifers who helped this story even though they've never talked EE with me--Pinaforeans, Mexi's Folks, Medway's Tenors, Basses, Altoes, and Sopranos, the guy who imprinted Winslow on my brain, Patrick of the LOLs, and Susan. Thanks bunches, folks; you're the best.
Okay...I think that's it. Thanks for sticking with me through
my extremely egotistical ramblings. Oh,
one more thing--the quote. :)
"And suppose we solve all the problems it presents? What happens? We end up with more problems than we started with. Because that's the way problems propagate their species. A problem left to itself dries up or goes rotten. But fertilize a problem with a solution--you'll hatch out dozens." --N.F. Simpson
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Crimes Against Criminals
by Jayne Leitch
Here I slumber to awaken my daze
I find convenience in this savior I save
Am I a prison, am I a source of dire news
Am I a picture perfect reason for you...
I don't need nobody
And I just need to learn the depth
Or doubt of faith to fall into...
"...If I understand you correctly, your problem is that you're hanging onto the relationship you *had*, and are refusing to grow into a deeper, more intimate one that could ultimately be more rewarding. You're stagnating, okay? You need to move on, with or without this guy--you have to make the choice. I'm not going to do that for you, and it sounds like he's not going to, either. Okay? Was that any help?"
Toni Brigatti sighed heavily and reached out to change the radio station. She hated radio shrinks; two minutes of listening to their caller, and they felt they were qualified to ramble on endlessly about that person's life and mental issues, only allowing interruptions if they sponsored the show or digressed into the shrink's own troubled, yet firmly dealt with and happily left behind past. It was annoying as all hell, especially since Brigatti herself had always strongly suspected that outside interference would be the only thing that could get her to tidy up her own mental issues. The thought that less successful people than herself managed just fine tended to irk her.
Before she could hit the switch on her small desktop radio however, she heard her name being called from across the room. Looking up from her paperwork, she turned and saw Captain Corcoran staring straight at her. "Yes, Captain?"
"My office, Brigatti, if you'd be so kind." The words were clipped, but Corcoran smiled as he said them. As she stood up, Brigatti breathed a silent sigh of relief: it wasn't anything serious.
"What can I do for you, sir?" she asked respectfully once the door was closed behind her. "Is it the Mansfield case?"
"No, your report on that one was very thorough." Theo Corcoran, a tall, slender blond man with hints of gray at his temples, gave her a professional nod. "Actually--have a seat, Toni--I wanted to ask you about a friend of yours."
Brigatti took the proferred chair, her brow furrowed in puzzlement. "A friend of mine?"
"Well, maybe not a friend--" The Captain broke off when he saw her perplexed expression, and seated himself on the corner of his desk. "To tell you the truth, I'm a little fuzzy on the details myself. Ever since this thing came up I've been going over reports, talking to people--" He paused, shaking his head. "But it was all before my time, and the official records tend to be sketchy if you're not looking for cold, hard facts. And Paul Armstrong said I should talk directly to you, so--"
"Oh, no." Brigatti shook her head slowly, her eyes widening as Corcoran looked down at her. The mysterious 'friend', official reports, Paul--they could only add up to one thing. "We're talking about Hobson, aren't we?"
"We are." The Captain frowned slightly at the look on her face. "I didn't get the impression that this would be a disturbing topic for you..."
"Oh, it's not," Brigatti rushed to assure her superior, then rushed even faster to correct herself, "I mean, there's nothing wrong with Hobson as a topic of conversation. It's just that..." She trailed off, then sighed. "It's just that the last time he merited a mention around here he was wanted for murder, and I was almost killed. And for some reason, people thought I had some kind of personal conflict or something."
Corcoran nodded, his slight smile returning. "I read the reports on that one; hell of a case, but, as I said, it was before my time. I'm still the rookie captain at this division, remember; I'm not privy to all the juicy interpersonal secrets yet."
Brigatti stared up at him in disbelief, then noted with relief the teasing gleam in his eyes. "Well, in terms of Hobson, there's nothing very juicy that I know of, much less interpersonal."
"Yes, but as I look over my notes, I see that you've had more experience dealing with Hobson than anyone else on record." Glancing down at an open file on his desk, Corcoran held up his hand and corrected, "Except for a Marion 'Zeke' Crumb, who it says here is retired. And Armstrong made some notes about an apartment fire last year, but other than that--you're my girl." He looked up again and smiled.
Brigatti took a deep breath and looked away, more confused than ever. "Sir, can I just ask--why the sudden interest in Gary Hobson?" Meeting her superior's eyes, she asked point-blank, "Has he been arrested again?"
Corcoran blinked, then chuckled, shaking his head. "No no, nothing like that, Detective. I'm sorry, I haven't even explained--" Pausing, he half-turned and shuffled through a stack of file folders, picking one out from near the bottom. "We had a phone call from Mr Hobson today," he began, offering her the folder while he spoke. "It seems that he's somehow got the ear of Luka 'Sonny' Maurice, and he's willing to play informer for us."
Brigatti looked up sharply from the file. "What??"
* * * * *
"Well, it was all I could think of."
Gary Hobson picked up his coffee cup, risking a glance across the bar at Marissa to see if she'd calmed down at all. At the incredulous expression on her face however, he quickly stared back into his mug.
"Gary, Sonny Maurice is a *mobster*!" Sliding onto a stool and resting her hands on the bar, Marissa lowered her voice from its original, disbelieving shriek. "Even I know that he controls half the docks on the east side! What are you *thinking*?"
"The Paper? The Paper doesn't tell you how to fix the stories! You could have told them something else!"
"Yeah, like what?" Setting his mug down on the bar with a thunk, Gary turned to face his friend fully. "Look, the police still aren't very happy to hear from me, Marissa, they always seem to think I'm gonna sue them or something. But they're still police, and with my record, they expect something solid, something they can put in their books and keep tabs on, in case it turns out that I *have* done something wrong." He paused for an instant, then continued a little wistfully, "It's not like when Crumb was there; I can't go over there with a feeling or a hunch and expect to get anybody to listen to me."
Marissa's expression softened a tiny bit. "I understand that, Gary, I do. It can't be easy..." She raised her eyebrows. "Wait a minute. Why couldn't you have just given them an anonymous tip? If they didn't know it was you--"
"Well, I tried that." Turning back to his coffee, Gary explained, "Their computer'd already traced the call by the time I'd given the information." He took another sip, then added, "Besides, I can't do anything about that now, can I, so why bother with should-haves?"
Marissa sighed and nodded. "I guess. But still..."
"I know the guy's a mobster, but I have thought it over, and it will work." Shaking the rolled-up Paper absently at his side, Gary continued, "The Paper said that this guy, this Francis Sorrilla, is gonna be killed tonight on Pier 11. And it mentions that Sorrilla had ties to the Zefferelli family--"
"Who, according to gossip, are the biggest competition for Maurice." Marissa shook her head, her lips settling into a thin, disapproving line. "Gary, don't you think this is a little dangerous? These people kill each other for a living!"
"Which is why it's important for me to get as many of 'em locked up as I can." Hearing the concern in his friend's voice, Gary explained, "If I can get the police to the Pier before the murder, they can be there to catch both sides before any more blood is shed. It'll be like a--a sting operation, or something."
Marissa was still unimpressed. "And what if they ask you to testify?"
"They won't need me to testify, because they'll have caught all these mobsters involved in an attempted murder. They'll have enough evidence without me." Gary sighed. "Look, I really don't want to have to go down to the Pier and try to stop this myself. If the police are involved, they can take care of it, and I'll have made the streets of Chicago a safer place."
"Yes, by pretending to be a mafioso's confidant."
"Which won't *matter* when the mafioso's in jail." Tired of arguing, Gary placed his hands on Marissa's shoulders and squeezed reassuringly. "There's nothing to worry about. The Paper will tell me if anything's going to go wrong; as long as I keep my eye on the headlines, I'm fine. Okay?"
Marissa looked as if she was about to disagree--but then she sighed and nodded. "Just be careful."
"I am being careful." Gary turned back to his coffee, took a sip, then added nonchalantly, "And if, for some reason, this doesn't work out--you have full permission to issue I told you so's."
Marissa's exasperated snort could be heard all the way back to the kitchen.
* * * * *
"Sonny Maurice visits him at the *bar*?"
Captain Corcoran took the file folder back from Brigatti and nodded. "That's what Hobson said. Apparently, our friendly neighborhood godfather started visiting--McGinty's, is it?--a few months ago, and has rather taken to Hobson. This is the first real information he's let slip, though."
"Impossible." Brigatti shook her head. "Hobson doesn't stay in one place long enough to become his best friend's confidant, much less any random patron's." Narrowing her eyes, Brigatti continued, "I don't like this, Captain. Hobson may be an okay guy, but--something doesn't seem right about his story."
A wry smile grew on Corcoran's mouth. "I completely agree with you, Detective. However, since Hobson seems so sure that something's going to happen at Pier 11 tonight, I think it might be a good idea to send some people down there. You included."
Brigatti raised her eyebrows, then sighed heavily. "How did I know that's where this conversation was headed?"
"Lucky guess?" Corcoran's smile widened, and he turned back to his desk. "Hobson said the hit was going to take place at about ten-thirty. He was a little fuzzy on who exactly would be there, but I think we should be safe and send a whole team out, cover our bases. If I put you and Winslow in charge, that leaves..."
Brigatti listened with half an ear as the Captain began outlining the operation. All she could think about was the fact that, yet again, Gary Hobson had managed to appear in the middle of her job--her life--and, yet again, she seemed powerless to avoid him. Ever since her transfer to Chicago a little over a year ago she'd had four run-ins with the man, all of them in the course of her duties, all of them somehow concerning Hobson's interference in the performance of those duties. It was almost as if she'd been cursed...
It wasn't that she disliked Hobson. Brigatti thought about the time she'd spent with him when he'd almost blown her cover on that jewel thief case--that little charade hadn't been so bad, once she'd got used to the idea of pretending that Hobson was her husband. After all, he wasn't repulsive--in fact for the most part he'd been a complete gentleman--and in the end, he had made it possible for her to identify the thief. But there was something about him that was--Brigatti narrowed her eyes and nodded slightly--odd, something he was hiding. Even the lie detector had confirmed that--
Brigatti blinked and looked up to see Corcoran staring down at her, his eyebrows raised. "Something wrong with the operation, Detective?"
"The operation? No." Clearing her throat, Brigatti leaned forward and indicated the list of names the Captain had been going over. "But a couple of the people you've assigned should be switched around. Blaine and Cooper on technical, for one, they're more familiar with the new system..."
As she continued with her review, she resolutely pushed thoughts of Hobson to the back of her mind. With any luck, the bust would be big enough that they wouldn't have to rely on Hobson's supposed friendship with Maurice, and she wouldn't have to see him again.
* * * * *
At nine-fifteen that night, Gary paid his cabbie and turned to face the water beyond Pier 11. He took the Paper out of his back pocket and unfolded it, intending to scan through the article one last time--but before he got past the headline, there was a soft touch on his elbow, and a quiet voice said:
He turned to see a serious-looking blonde woman in a dark coat staring back at him expectantly. "Yes, I'm Gary Hobson."
"Officer Blaine, sir. Please come with me." The woman flashed a badge at him, then turned and headed off towards the corner of the loading dock, glancing back once to make sure he followed.
Gary raised his eyebrows in surprise, then took off after her, his long strides just barely managing to keep up with her quick, short ones. "I came because Captain Corcoran thought I should be here, but I'm not sure why," he commented, glancing down at his escort. "I thought that I wasn't going to be needed for the actual arrest."
Blaine kept walking, her gaze fixed on a door straight ahead of them. "You're the one with the information, Mr Hobson," she answered straightforwardly. "The Captain wanted you easily accessible in case things don't turn out tonight."
"Oh." His eyes widened, and Gary suddenly felt the Paper's weight, heavy in his pocket. "Thanks for the answer."
They reached the door, and Blaine rapped briskly on the wood, three quick taps. It opened immediately, and she ushered Gary inside.
The building was a loading dock, with a large, rolling door facing out into the water, and another at the opposite end where trucks could park for deliveries or pick-ups. Both doors were closed, and aside from a few stray pallets, the dock was empty. Against the nearest wall, however, a cluster of what Gary assumed to be plainclothes police stood around a makeshift table that was littered with what looked like laptops and wires. Apart from them but still nearby was an even larger cluster of men in black protective gear, their helmets pushed back on their heads, their guns hanging comfortably at their sides.
Not for the first time that day, Gary wondered what exactly he'd caused to happen. Despite his assurances to Marissa, he was more than a little concerned about the actions he'd taken towards stopping the murder; this close-up view of the police measures that were being taken didn't exactly inspire utter confidence.
Beside him, Officer Blaine was talking. "You'll be in here with the tech crew and the team leaders all the time," she said, pulling off her gloves and gesturing towards the plainclothes officers at the table. "Just try not to get in the way."
Gary gave her a bemused look. "Thanks. I think." He followed her as she strode to the table, then hung back as she took a seat and picked up a set of earphones. He was about to ask if there was anywhere in particular they wanted him to stand--but a voice from behind made him freeze, his eyes going wide.
"Blaine, you're back, good. Set up the auxiliary audio on channel four; Cooper has the main line on two, and I want one other channel open in case we get more than we expected, okay? We'll patch in through the old system if this one goes down. Oh, and talk to Lavery about his unit; he says he's getting fuzz on his backup..."
Slowly, Gary turned around, unwilling to believe what his ears were telling him. Sure enough, there she was, holding a battery pack and an earpiece, her coat off, her gun plainly visible in its holster. She was facing him directly, and her eyes widened in recognition as she abruptly broke off her string of orders.
They stared at each other for a moment, and Gary felt the whole room quiet down and turn to look at them. Feeling an uncomfortable blush start to heat its way up his neck, he opened his mouth to greet her.
Brigatti beat him to it. "Hobson. What the hell are you doing here?"
Gary blinked. Not the greatest of greetings, but nothing he couldn't handle. "I--um, Captain Corcoran called me, and...don't you know?"
Her eyes narrowed, and Brigatti turned to the tall, dark-haired man who stood beside her. "Cooper?"
The man gave her a properly abashed look. "Sorry, Detective. Corky wanted him here in case things went south; I guess the message didn't get to you."
"No, it didn't." Brigatti sighed, and for a moment Gary thought he saw a flash of annoyed comprehension cross her face--but only for a moment. "Well, he's here now, so I guess there's nothing I can do about it, right? But listen up--" Raising her voice, she glanced around the room and addressed the assembly, "--That is the *last* communications slip-up we're gonna have on this operation, understood?" The room murmured its acknowledgement. "Good." As the others turned back to their preparations, she took a step closer to Gary and fixed him with a piercing look. "That goes for you too, Hobson. You got anything to tell me about what's going to happen tonight, I want to hear it now."
Slightly bewildered, Gary shook his head. "I told everything I know to Corcoran this morning."
Brigatti continued her inspection of his face for a moment longer, then relaxed slightly. "Okay. But if you think of anything you forgot to mention, at any time--"
"I'll let you know." Gary nodded obediently.
"Good." Brigatti nodded back, then stood for a moment, staring at him as if she was trying to think of something else to say.
The silence lengthened--then Gary cleared his throat and attempted a smile. "So, uh--'Corky'?" he asked, trying to sound as nonchalant as he could.
To his surprise, Brigatti returned the tiny smile. "Corcoran's the new Captain at the division," she explained, "And he's through the uncomfortable stage of not knowing anybody, but not quite through the settling in stage. Jokes and nicknames; maybe not the funniest in the world, but we are cops, after all; nobody expects us to come up with hilarious one-liners anyway." Abruptly her smile disappeared, and she finished, "That's not to say that I want to hear you calling him that, ever. Got it?"
Gary shifted uncomfortably under the sudden heat. "Okay."
With that, Brigatti turned back to her troops, and was led off to handle some important detail.
Gary took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. He hadn't expected to find her in charge of the operation, but it wasn't a problem. He knew first-hand that Brigatti was a good cop; if anyone could manage to catch Sonny Maurice for good it was her, and Gary felt a little safer knowing that she was the one running things. No, it wasn't professional concern he was feeling...
The first time he'd seen her, she'd been assigned to keep him from getting killed. The last time, she'd been sitting in an ambulance, waiting to be taken to the hospital after someone had almost killed *her*. And in between...Gary set his jaw as his eyes followed her movements around the dock. In between, she'd been in the Paper a few times, and he'd changed the stories. That was it.
"Mr Hobson?" Gary blinked, and turned to see Officer Blaine staring at him impatiently. "Mr Hobson, why don't you have a seat. We're ready to go."
"Oh--right. Thanks." Taking the chair
she proferred, Gary settled in beside the tech table and watched as the team
was sent out. Almost as an afterthought, he checked his watch--9:49.
It was now or never.
Don't it feel right like this
All the pieces fall to his wish
Suck up for that quick reward boy
Suck up for that quick reward they said
Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel
Is just the freight train coming your way...
Renaldo Munoz flipped his cell phone closed and tucked it back into his coat pocket. He wasn't nervous; he'd spent enough time in his particular line of work to know that even a minor case of nerves made you dead, and he'd long ago steeled himself to every eventuality so that if something nerve-rattling came along, he'd be able to face it and emerge breathing. It was a valuable trait, in his line of work, to be able to face down a roomfull of business associates without breaking a sweat, and Renaldo prided himself on his ability.
Even so, if he was a less-disciplined man, he knew he'd be worried right now. Feeling the comforting pressure of his gun against his side, Renaldo stepped to the edge of his hiding place and peered around the corner, staring intently at the dark expanse of Pier 11. He didn't see anything out of the ordinary, but the phone call had been very specific--someone was there who shouldn't be. And while nervous reactions could get you killed in situations like this, a finely-tuned sense of obsessive concern could be very healthy indeed.
The sound of an approaching car made Renaldo duck back into the shadow of the building he waited behind, and he stood silently as the vehicle slowed to a halt on the other side, in front of the Pier. He heard the engine cut, and again craned his neck around the corner so he could confirm the new arrival.
Sure enough, the man who stepped out of the car was the man Renaldo had been told to meet with: Francis Sorrilla, right-hand lackey to Vincent Zefferelli, Sonny Maurice's biggest competitor. As Renaldo watched, the other man glanced around at his surroundings, frowning slightly. The Pier seemed to be empty; checking his watch, Renaldo saw that it was 10:06, the agreed-upon time. If he didn't make his presence known soon, Sorrilla would get spooked and leave--and Renaldo knew for certain that Mr Maurice did not want Sorrilla to leave this meeting.
Taking a deep breath, Renaldo measured his chances. He could try to shoot from where he was--but in terms of honour and decency, that was out of the question. The man was going to die tonight; the least he could ask for would be to look into his executioner's eyes before he went. Besides, a man who shot someone in the back, no matter where his loyalties were, wouldn't be very safe for very long; Renaldo's steely eyes narrowed as he thought back to dishonorable hits in the past, and the fallout for the men involved. There weren't many rules in his business, but the ones he had he followed to the letter.
That left his original plan--direct confrontation. He would have to go over to Sorrilla and greet him formally, tell him why Sonny Maurice needed him dead, and then do it, hopefully before Francis was able to pull his own gun. The only problem with that, Renaldo thought ruefully, is if that phonecall was right, and there was someone else at the Pier. Especially someone who was on Sorrilla's side, and could get the drop on him...
Suddenly, Renaldo's thoughts were shattered by the sound of gunshots. Startled, he reflexively dropped to the ground--then realized that the shots were coming from the Pier. Scuttling to the corner of the building, he peered carefully around the corner, and saw Sorrilla taking refuge behind a stack of pallets that stood at the corner of the property. The car that had delivered him was careening wildly out onto the road; Sorrilla looked none too pleased with the desertion, and Renaldo thought absently that if the man lived, his driver wasn't going to.
There had been three shots, all of them directed at Sorrilla; he just barely managed to flinch away from the bullets as they splintered the wooden pallets that provided his flimsy protection. He had his own weapon in his hand, however, and as soon as the bullets stopped coming he was leaning out, taking potshots into the blackness where his attacker was hiding--sending out curses with each shot.
"Munoz, you bastard!" Renaldo's eyes widened at his name. "Come out where I can see you, you son of a--"
But before the epithet was fully out of his mouth there was one last shot--and Sorrilla collapsed backwards, dropping his gun and falling silent.
Renaldo stared at the fallen man--then was surprised again as, suddenly, various people dressed in black protective gear came out of the shadows and clustered around Sorrilla. "Cops..." he whispered, more than a little dumbfounded. For what was supposed to have been a routine hit, this was turning into a hell of a bust.
Across the road, the door to one of the loading docks opened, and more police spilled out onto the scene. Renaldo made out jumbled words exchanged between the officers--confusion over what had happened and orders to call an ambulance--then realized that being caught in these circumstances would not be a good thing. He turned to disappear down the alley--
--And found the barrel of a police rifle aimed squarely at his chest.
* * * * *
The whole police station seemed to be talking about the night's work.
Gary sat in a chair he'd grabbed from the confusion and swirled his bad coffee as close to the rim of his styrofoam cup as it would go. It was horrible stuff; he only had it because Brigatti had shoved it into his hand when they'd returned from the Pier, accompanied by terse orders to stay where he was and drink it. The detective had placed him on the opposite side of her desk then gone off into the fray, talking a mile a minute to Officers Blaine and Cooper about getting a hard copy of the audio from the operation, along with who knew what else. She'd returned five minutes later with a ream of paper, seated herself in her desk chair, and had been ignoring him ever since in favour of going through the printouts.
Gary looked up from his untouched drink to see a tall, older man with greying blond hair striding purposefully through the bullpen, his face alert and questioning.
Across the desk, Brigatti stood up. "Captain Theo Corcoran, Gary Hobson," she said, gesturing quickly from one man to the other.
"Good to meet you face to face, Mr Hobson. Now report, Detective." The Captain jumped tracks easily and efficiently, coming to rest beside the detective after sparing Gary the briefest of glances.
"We got Maurice's man, sir," Brigatti said. "Renaldo Munoz; Winslow's keeping him company in the interrogation room until his lawyer shows up."
"Was he the shooter?"
Gary saw Brigatti's lips tighten for an instant before she answered, "I don't know. Harriet and Lavery found him in an alley across the street; he had a gun on him, but--"
"Let me guess--direction's all wrong." At Brigatti's nod, Corcoran's shoulders slumped--but only briefly. "Does Mr Munoz have a record?"
"Right...here." Riffling through the papers scattered on her desk, she slid one out and handed it over. "Several possibles, but nothing we've been able to make stick. This guy shares Maurice's lawyer; I'm amazed he's even gone to trial before."
Captain Corcoran glanced over the file, then closed it with a snap. "I don't need to tell you, Toni, that this did not work out the way I wanted it to." He glanced at Gary, whose eyes widened. "Now, it's not as bad as Mr Hobson here said it would be--Sorrilla got the bullet near the heart, but he's been stabilized at County, and is expected to pull through."
Gary breathed a quick sigh of relief at the news; he hadn't seen the mobster go down, but what he'd heard from the police hadn't been encouraging.
"Even so," Corcoran continued, his blue eyes hardening as he looked from Gary to Brigatti, "We don't exactly have what we wanted--Sonny Maurice isn't directly implicated in any of this, and unless his friend in there gets talkative, he isn't likely to be. Which begs the question," now his eyes settled firmly on Gary, "What's our next step?"
Gary felt his stomach drop to the floor. The Captain was watching him expectantly, and there was no way he could help him--but he had to say something. Hearing Marissa's voice admonishing him in the back of his mind, Gary opened his mouth, took a deep breath--
--And was interrupted by Brigatti's low whistle. "Hobson, get back."
Now Corcoran was moving, taking him firmly by the arm and pulling him into the crowd of officers behind Brigatti's desk. "My office is on the other side of the room, the door closest to the water cooler. Go there, and stay there."
Confused, Gary tried to dig in his heels, but the blond man was inexorable. "Wait a minute, what--?"
Corcoran paused for the briefest of moments, and locked eyes with him. "Sonny Maurice is here."
* * * * *
"Hey Munoz, tell me something."
Renaldo shifted in his chair, then slowly looked up and met the annoying detective's gaze. "Anything in particular you want to hear?"
"Now that you mention it..." The detective, a slight man with pale, floppy hair, leaned across the table, trying to look intimidating. Renaldo didn't flinch; he was almost twice the size of the guy, besides which, his practised cool was in full effect. "Why don't you tell me a little about what happened tonight?"
Renaldo simply stared back, his eyes wide, his expression immovable. Then, after a suitable amount of time, he began to work his jaw, very slowly.
The detective rolled his eyes and backed off. "Stop it, you're scarin' me."
There was a knock at the door to the interrogation room, and a uniformed officer poked his head in. "Hey Winslow, this where Munoz is? His lawyer's looking for him."
The detective nodded, sighing. "Send him in. It's like trying to get jelly from a fritter with this guy."
The officer chuckled, then stepped aside to open the door fully. Renaldo smirked as Mr Kizer's considerable bulk filled the doorway--but the smirk disappeared as he noticed who was with the lawyer. "Mr Maurice--"
Luka Maurice, more commonly known as Sonny, stepped just inside the door and gave the room's inhabitants a cool, almost bored look. "Renaldo. I hope you haven't been getting friendly with your company, here."
Renaldo shook his head. "Just waiting for Kizer. Very quietly."
"Good." The lawyer stepped up to face the detective, who had crossed his arms and was leaning against the wall. "Because it would be a horrible thing if this man's basic rights and freedoms were being denied by this department. We could have grounds for a harrassment suit."
The detective heaved a massive sigh. "I can assure you, Mr Kizer, that Munoz's rights have been followed to the letter. Now, do you have some actual law to back you up here?"
"Groundless arrest." Producing a piece of paper from his briefcase, Kizer handed it over, explaining, "From what I gather, my client was simply out walking when your officers ambushed him and forced him at gunpoint to come with them. You have no evidence to prove that Mr Munoz was in any way connected to the shooting on Pier 11; in fact, he tells me that he was almost a full block away when it happened, and very much in fear for his own life."
"Terrified," Renaldo broke in, sending a quick glance at his boss.
"In any case," Kizer finished, "You cannot prove that my client shot any weapon this evening. Therefore, I would now like to request that you turn him loose."
The detective glanced over the paper, then shook his head in disgust. "Come with me, and we'll arrange the paperwork." Without waiting to see if the lawyer followed, he strode out.
Once the two men had left, Renaldo stood up and turned to Maurice. "I didn't shoot Sorrilla, boss. Somebody else was there."
The shorter man's dark eyes widened almost imperceptibly. "Did you see who?"
"No; whoever he was was almost directly opposite my position, somewhere out by the water. And Benny had called to tell me something might be up; I'm not sure if his information meant the cops or the shooter."
"Benny?" At Renaldo's nod, Sonny bowed his head a little, furrowing his brow. "Hmm."
"That's not it, sir." Taking a deep breath, Renaldo recalled what he'd heard in the cop car on his way to the station. "We've got a bigger problem--some kind of informant."
At this Sonny's head snapped up, and he looked more alive than he had since stepping through the door. "An informant? Who?"
"That's the thing; he's nobody I've heard of."
Lowering his voice, the mobster reported, "I think his name is Hobson."
How did we wind up this way?
Watching our mouths for the words that we say
As long as we stand here waiting
Wearing the clothes of the souls that we choose
How do we get there today?
When we're walking too far for the price of our shoes...
Gary handed an almost-overflowing beer stein to a patron and collected his money, then sighed and moved on to the next order. McGinty's was packed, Robin wasn't due to arrive for another ten minutes, and the other bartender had called in sick. He'd been filling in for just over an hour, and already he longed for his couch and the book he was trying to read. The Paper had given him a free night, and he'd been looking forward to reading until he fell asleep; a busy evening after the one he'd had last night wasn't his ideal at the moment.
He had to admit, being too busy to worry wasn't all bad; the mess he'd managed to get himself in with the mangled mob hit was something he didn't care to think about. After Sonny Maurice had left the police station the night before, Captain Corcoran had convened a meeting in his office to figure out what their next step should be; with Brigatti's eyes drilling a hole in the back of his neck, Gary had been hard pressed to keep up his story, but he'd managed. And then Corcoran had sat quietly behind his desk for a while, his hands steepled against his chin, his eyes hooded--only to finally pronounce that Gary was to keep talking with the mob boss, and relay whatever he learned to the police--specifically, to Brigatti.
She'd beaten his protest with her own, and Gary had been a little wounded by the vehemence in her tone--until he'd heard the same thing in his own objections. In the long run, neither of them had any impact anyway; Corcoran put his foot down, and when Gary left the precinct just after midnight, he was officially a police agent.
He tried to tell himself that it didn't matter; even if the Paper did tell him about another hit, he wasn't going to go running to the cops, perpetuating his lie. He'd already caused enough trouble that way...
"Hey, buddy, my beer?"
Jolted out of his reverie, Gary realized that the stein he was filling had overflowed. Quickly shutting off the tap, he wiped the glass with his dishrag and handed it over, then leaned against the cash register. He needed a break, a minute to clear his head and get his thoughts off his mobster problems. He glanced over to the corner of the bar where Marissa was sitting, then made his way over to her. "Why do things always get busy on my nights off?" he asked her, allowing a hint of good-natured grumpiness to creep into his voice.
His friend placed her hands flat on the papers she was reading and smiled at him. "Just life's way of letting you know there's other things in the world besides the Paper, I guess," she replied cheerfully.
"Hmm." Gary wiped his hands on his dishtowel and reached over to slide one of the papers out from under her hands. "How are these working out for you?"
"Better than last month's." Marissa made a face and ran her fingers over one column of neatly arranged bumps on another sheet. "At least this month the vegetable oil people sent the right number of cartons. And we have an offer from some skillet company for a free trial of non-stick...something or other."
Glancing up from the paper Gary hazarded, "Skillets?"
Marissa rolled her eyes. "No, cake pans, if you can believe it. The letter said they were trying to diversify."
"Oh." Sliding the sheet back into the pile of inventory, Gary sighed. "Well, I should go back to the taps; a line's forming." Noticing the resigned look on Marissa's face, he paused. "You gonna be okay with all this?"
"I'll be fine." Smiling wearily, she explained, "It's been a long day with lots of paperwork. Bring me something caffeinated?"
"Sure." Smiling back, Gary turned to resume his work--then turned back as he caught a gesture out of the corner of his eye. "Sorry; were you trying to get my attention?"
The man on the other side of the bar paused a short distance from Marissa and met Gary's eyes. "Yeah, I was. Can you tell me where I can find Gary Hobson?"
"That's me." Shifting a little under the man's searching gaze, Gary asked, "What can I do for you?"
"Sorry." His eyes still fixed firmly on Gary's face, the man smiled. "Please, let me introduce myself." He extended his hand across the counter, and as Gary grasped it he said, "Luka Maurice."
* * * * *
Toni Brigatti tossed her keys on the table and flopped down into a chair, sighing loudly. The day had been far too long and far too full of paperwork for her taste; cleaning up after the supposed bust of the night before was turning out to involve more uncomfortable questions than she wanted to deal with.
Her eyes strayed to the small kitchen area across the room, and Toni made a decision: nothing had happened today that a mug of hot chocolate couldn't cure. Propelling herself out of the chair she made her way to a cupboard and pulled out the tin, then busied herself with preparing her drink.
It wasn't just that the operation had gone wrong, she reflected as she set the kettle on a burner and turned up the heat. It wasn't even that Corcoran had given her that silent, disapproving look he used whenever someone had disappointed him; he'd been one of the lower ranks recently enough that he understood about the unpredictable nature of field operations, and beyond a quiet comment about keeping tighter surveillance, there'd been no more to say on the subject. And it certainly wasn't her own self-recriminations; if she'd learned one thing during her years in law enforcement, it was that some things couldn't be controlled, especially criminals. As far as Detective Brigatti was concerned the bungled operation was simply a temporary setback--they could always catch Maurice's crew another way. As long as Hobson kept feeding them information...
The kettle's whistle pierced her thoughts, and Toni jumped. God, she hated this; busying herself with turning off the burner and pouring the water, she inwardly cursed her mental ramblings. Every time Gary Hobson got involved in her work something went wrong--either she messed up, or the world went off-kilter whenever he decided to poke his nose in--she could never figure out which. All she knew was that every time--every time, damnit!--the mere fact of his presence threw things out of whack.
Toni sighed and blew impatiently on her hot chocolate. Hobson was an annoyance; he either knew much more or much less than he let on about this whole mob thing, and he was playing whatever cards he had too close to his vest. He was hiding something, and had been for a while, of that she was positive--if only that lie detector had shown anything conclusive--
Her hot drink burned her tongue and Toni swallowed quickly, then coughed as the fire spread down her throat. Suddenly the idea of a quiet evening alone lost much of its appeal, and she dumped the rest of her steaming mug into the sink and grabbed up her keys and coat. She needed to go someplace with lots of people. People and noise...
* * * * *
Gary froze. The noise of the bar seemed to solidify for a moment, turning into a leaden backdrop for Maurice's face and the pressure of his hand--the smile that didn't reach his eyes, and the easy strength behind his grip.
It was Marissa's voice that broke the spell. "Gary?"
In an instant the handshake was over, and Maurice was turning to face her. "I'm sorry; I didn't know I was interrupting, Miss...?"
Marissa hadn't heard the introduction; extending her hand, she smiled lightly and supplied, "Marissa Clark. You're a friend of Gary's?"
"Not yet, but I was actually looking forward to making his acquaintance." Gary watched as Maurice's hand clasped easily around Marissa's, an accompanying smile flashing solely in her direction, as if she was capable of seeing it. "A pleasure to meet you, Miss Clark. My name's Luka Maurice."
Marissa's own smile froze, but Gary hastily spoke up, drawing Maurice's attention away from his friend and hoping he hadn't noticed her expression. "Uh--what can I do for you, Mr Maurice?" he asked, taking refuge in the knowledge that they were in a crowded bar, surrounded by witnesses.
If he noticed the move, Maurice didn't acknowledge it. Leaning comfortably against the bar, the slightly shorter man glanced at his surroundings, seemingly in approval. "I'd heard about this place from a business associate," he explained, his dark eyes following the movements of the wait staff as they moved through the crowds, "And I had some free time, so I, you know, thought I'd come and check it out for myself." Pausing a moment, he turned his eyes back to Gary's and smiled, the quick, genuine flash of white teeth dimpling his darkly tanned skin. "It's nice. Busy."
"Thanks." Gary gestured at a vacant bar stool, then watched cautiously as Maurice seated himself, trying to size the man up without being obvious about it. He appeared much less dangerous than his reputation made him out to be, but just as wealthy; the charcoal gray jacket he wore over a silky blue shirt looked expensive, probably specially tailored, and a circle of burnished gold gleamed around the second last finger of his right hand as he moved it across the bar. His shoulders were broad and powerful, and he moved with the easy grace that came with accustomed physical strength. Above all, Gary was taken aback by the man's sheer aura of power; his face, angular and intelligent, radiated an almost indifferent demeanor--but his eyes, dark under heavy lids, were sharp and aware. The overall effect was that Luka Maurice was a man who didn't care about his surroundings, but was nevertheless aware at all times of everything that was happening around him; he wore his easy confidence like a shield, and moved languidly through the tensions caused by his very presence.
And right now he was sitting in McGinty's, subjecting Gary to a speculative look.
Gary cleared his throat and moved to his position behind the bar. "Can I get you something to drink?" he offered, for something to say.
Maurice pursed his lips, then nodded. "Scotch on the rocks."
Grateful to turn away from the mobster, Gary set about pouring the drink. Even with his back turned, however, he could still feel Maurice's gaze on him; as he reached for the scotch he inwardly shuddered, cursing the Paper and the way he always managed to get himself in deep whenever he tried to help out. "So, uh--was there something in particular you wanted to talk to me about?" he asked, keeping his voice as studiously nonchalant as he could.
"Not really." The mobster's voice was equally casual, and as Gary turned to hand him the drink he saw that Maurice's face had reverted to the same schooled expression it had worn when he noticed him across the bar. "My associate had been impressed by your place here; I wanted to meet the man behind it all." He accepted the scotch, his gaze flickering to the golden liquid for an instant before taking a sip.
Gary wondered briefly at the inspection. "Well, you've met me," he commented with false heartiness, pasting on a smile and leaning a little against the bar railing. "Am I what you expected?"
Maurice returned the smile and ignored the question. "How long have you owned the place?" he asked, now seeming genuinely interested.
"Three years, more or less." More than a little unsure of the direction the conversation was headed, Gary busied himself with his dishrag and a tray of beer steins, carefully avoiding the mobster's gaze.
"And you're still working the bar." Rolling his glass between his palms, Sonny continued, "It's great to see the owner of a place like this taking an interest, getting involved. Not just sitting in the back room doing the books."
"Oh, I never did the books," Gary replied, his nervousness loosening his tongue. "My old business partner had his cousin take care of them once, but Marissa stopped that after we got a letter from the government accusing us of creative bookkeeping for the mob--I mean--" He broke off, horrified, and glanced hurriedly up at Maurice.
The man simply smiled again, the coolness returning to his eyes. "Nothing beats a creative accountant," he commented idly before turning back to his scotch.
Inwardly, Gary cursed. Five minutes with the man and he'd already slipped up. It must've been what the mobster wanted--to test him out, find out what Gary knew about him--and he'd delivered, in spades.
As Maurice took another sip of his drink, Gary
turned back to his polishing job. He was a dead man.
I've got to be honest, I think you know
We're covered in lies and that's OK
There's somewhere beyond this I know
But I hope I can find the words to say
Never again no
No never again...
Somehow, she'd ended up at McGinty's.
Toni shook her head, annoyed by the unintended irony; she'd wanted to go where there was noise, people, distraction from thinking about Hobson--and her feet had taken her straight to the bar he owned. Noisy and distracting, yeah--but that wouldn't do much good at all if she had to watch the man serve drinks all night.
She turned away from the door, intending to head for a pub she knew that was just around the block--but a sudden idea made her pause.
This whole situation with Hobson and the mobster seemed completely ridiculous to her. She knew Hobson--well, she was acquainted with his lifestyle, anyway--and if he stayed in one place long enough to win Sonny Maurice's confidence, she was on the fast track to stay at home motherhood. He didn't seem willing to explain how he'd managed this arrangement when he was around other cops--but maybe, in the relaxed, familiar surroundings of his bar, in a private conversation...
Toni considered the situation carefully; as the detective in charge of the case, she wanted to know as much as she could about as many angles as possible, and she got the impression that Hobson had a lot he wasn't telling. Besides, she was dying of curiosity.
Her decision made, Brigatti pushed the last of her reservations to the back of her mind, opened the heavy door of the bar, stepped inside--
--And froze, her eyes widening at the sight before her.
Gary Hobson stood behind the bar, but he wasn't pouring drinks. Instead, he was leaning across the counter, deeply involved in a conversation with Sonny Maurice.
Toni couldn't help staring for a moment--then she realized that that made her somewhat conspicuous. Tearing her eyes from the unlikely pair at the bar, she sought out an empty table across the room and made a beeline for it; once there she grabbed a chair and angled it carefully so that she could watch Hobson and Maurice without being obvious about it.
"One thing about you, Hobson," she muttered balefully, wishing desperately that she knew how to read lips, "You're always full of surprises."
* * * * *
The silence was beginning to be awkward.
Gary felt a trickle of sweat seep down the back of his neck, and shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably. Maurice was just sitting there, sipping at his scotch and watching the patrons; he looked as if the last few minutes of conversation hadn't happened, as if he was actually enjoying himself.
For all Gary knew, he *was* enjoying himself; maybe that was what the mobster did, came and talked to people, made them paranoid about getting whacked, and then, just when the fear and paranoia got to be too much, then, one night in the shadows there'd be a beefy hand clamped onto a shoulder and a gruffly accented voice that said in no uncertain terms, "Mr Maurice is very unhappy with you", and then--
So caught up in his musings was he that Gary jolted noticably at the clink of Maurice's empty glass as he set it down on the counter. He looked up to see Sonny's eyes searching his face yet again, the straightforward gaze made even more disconcerting by the small smile that curved the mobster's lips.
"Look, Gary." Schooling his features once more into a serious expression, Maurice leaned across the bar and lowered his voice. "You've got a nice place here, but I have to be honest--it's not why I came to talk to you."
Gary's breath caught in his throat, and he swallowed thickly. "It--it's not?"
"No." The mobster gazed intently at him for another moment, then lowered his eyes, sighing heavily. "Look, I know that my reputation preceeds me around here," he began, his voice low and earnest, "And I know that that reputation isn't a good one. Hell, I'm making you nervous just by coming in and ordering a drink."
Gary shifted uncomfortably as Maurice paused. This wasn't what he expected; a few moments earlier the mobster had been cool as ice, but now...he was almost the polar opposite. A weary expression was growing over the man's face, and tiny worry lines around his eyes and mouth were becoming more pronounced as Gary watched. His body was hunching slightly, his shoulders tensing; it was as if he was under immense strain, the force of it cracking his composure. Despite his fear, Gary felt a twinge of sympathy.
"I mean, you must've seen the article in today's Sun-Times," Maurice continued, oblivious to the scrutiny he was being subjected to. "Some gangbangers get into a shoot-out on pier 11, a guy who works in my warehouse happens to be in the area, suddenly it's all, 'Mob Hit Gone Wrong' and--" a bitter note entered his voice, "--'Notorious Mafioso Called In for Questioning'. Nobody even takes into account that I'm a legitimate businessman with a warehouse in that district, so of *course* my employees are gonna be walking through there late at night."
Gary waited for something more, still at a loss to figure out Maurice's reasons for the conversation. After a moment of silence, he leaned in slightly and asked carefully, "I don't understand why you're telling me this, Mr Maurice..."
His response was a dry chuckle. "'Cause I've gotta talk to somebody, right?" He looked up again, and Gary was startled by the intensity radiating from those tired, dark eyes. "And you've got a face a man can trust." Suddenly, as if a switch had been hit, every trace of weariness evaporated from him, and Maurice slid off his stool. "Anyway, I've taken up enough of your time; you've got patrons waiting. Thanks for the drink." Producing a ten dollar bill seemingly out of nowhere, he placed it beside his empty glass and turned away, once more the collected, confident man he'd been when he first stepped up to the bar.
Gary watched him stride through the crowd and out the door, his mouth agape. "What the hell...?"
His mouth closed with an audible snap, however, at the next voice he heard. "Spill it, Hobson."
Jolting his attention away from the retreating mobster, Gary looked across the bar--into Brigatti's perpetually annoyed expression. "What? Spill what?"
The detective crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows. "Whatever it was Sonny Maurice just said to you. I wanna hear it."
Gary felt the blood drain from his face. She had seen him talking with the mobster; now there was no way he could distance himself from the police without coming under suspicion--well, without coming under more suspicion than he was already warranted. Shaking his head a little, he opened his mouth--but Brigatti beat him to it.
"And I don't want to hear that it's private. Whatever that guy tells you, it's my business, too." To emphasize her point, Brigatti reached over and picked up Maurice's empty glass, then sniffed at the melting ice. "Scotch; good brand. This what he always orders?"
Gary's eyes widened, and he grabbed the glass away from her. Turning away to dump the ice in the sink, he swallowed thickly, then took a few deep, calming breaths that really didn't help at all.
He was a dead man.
* * * * *
Luka Maurice settled into the soft leather seat of his limousine, and waited. The elegant car was parked a discreet distance from the front door of McGinty's, with enough of a view from the backseat windows for the mobster to observe who entered and left the bar. He kept his eyes fixed on the building, and cleared his throat when he saw his bodyguard tread heavily out the door and move towards the car.
A moment later and the man was sitting stiffly beside him. "So?" Maurice asked, carefully keeping any trace of expectation out of his voice.
The bodyguard turned to face him. "You were right; as soon as you left, the woman went up to Hobson and started in on him. He didn't look too happy, but he's talking to her now."
Maurice nodded; he'd noticed the slender brunette gawking at himself and Hobson when she walked in the place, and had some vague memory of glimpsing her face at the police station when he'd gone to bail out Renaldo. On his way out of the bar he'd told Johnny to watch her--apparently his memory was better than he'd hoped. "She must be the cop they assigned to him; when we get back to the house, see if you can track down a name on her. I want her file, and I want her reputation. If she's any good, I need to know." The bodyguard nodded, and slid out of the backseat to move to his usual place beside the driver. "Thanks, Johnny."
Alone once more, Maurice turned to gaze out the window as the car skimmed through the darkening streets. He'd been surprised to see Gary Hobson face to face; the man was no one he'd ever heard of, and certainly didn't look like he would be involved in the business in any way--much less as an informant for the cops. Maurice had privately considered that 'Gary Hobson' was really a cover name for one of his prior associates, but one look at the real thing told him that this was a real, honest civillian--a fact that made the whole thing that much stranger.
Maurice felt a smile pull at the corners of his mouth. On top of all the trouble with Zefferelli, now he had the cops and this unknown element to deal with. He appreciated the challenge--and if he could maneuver things, especially Hobson, the way he wanted...things might just turn out.
He allowed the smile to become a grin, and rode
on through the night.
I don't know if you feel this way all the time
Hear me, I don't think it's right
I know you've got nothing to prove
And I ponder why you're always trying to take what's mine
Hear me, I won't fight you
I know you've got nothing to prove...
"Look, I don't know what to tell you." Gary closed the door to the office and turned back to face Brigatti, who had settled herself uneasily against the corner of the desk. "Maurice showed up, I served him a drink, and he left. We didn't really talk that much."
"I find that hard to believe." The detective's lips thinned into a disapproving line. "You two looked thick as thieves when I came in; you must have been saying something."
"Really, it wasn't--" Gary broke off as the door swung open again, admitting a worried-looking Marissa.
"Gary, are you in here?" she asked, her cane jabbing his toe as she moved further into the room.
Exchanging a glance with Brigatti, Gary reached out and took his friend's elbow, guiding her around the door and closing it behind her. "I'm here, Marissa. And so is Detective Brigatti."
"Detective--" Her eyes widened for a moment, but Marissa quickly swallowed back her surprise and continued, "Detective Brigatti; hello. I didn't know you were here...I wanted to talk to Gary for a moment."
Brigatti glanced quickly from one to the other, her eyes narrowing. She set her jaw, then replied with painful politeness, "I'm sorry Miss Clark, but I have to speak with Hobson. It's official police business; you understand?"
"Oh. Of course; don't let me interrupt." Marissa smiled sweetly, tilted her head a little in Gary's direction--and then made her way confidently to the desk and seated herself in the chair. Gary stifled a grin and made a mental note to tell his friend about the look on Brigatti's face a little later. Marissa hated being talked down to, a lesson Brigatti should have learned long ago. "I just have some paperwork to do."
Brigatti's jaw clenched even tighter, and she sent a glare in Gary's direction. "Hobson. Kitchen." Without waiting for him to respond, she wove through the crowded furniture and banged gracelessly through the swinging doors to the kitchen.
Shaking his head, Gary followed--but paused as Marissa's smile disappeared and she caught his arm on his way past. "Gary, was that really Luka Maurice in the bar?" she asked quietly, her voice tight and her eyes troubled.
Gary swallowed. "Yeah, it was. Did he make an impression?"
"A little too good of one." Concern furrowing her brow, Marissa released his arm. "Be careful with him, Gary; he's too smooth."
"I know. I will." Gary patted her hand reassuringly, then followed Brigatti into the kitchen.
She was waiting for him in the alcove by the phone, arms crossed and eyes darting back and forth as she watched the staff bustle throughout the room. As soon as he stepped beside her, however, she was immediately all-business. "Hobson, let's get a couple things straight. You are a police agent. That means that you cooperate fully with the police. I am a detective. That means that you cooperate with me. Got it?"
Taken a little aback by the sharpness in her tone, Gary nodded, drawing himself up. "I can do that. As long as you don't patronize my friends."
Brigatti's eyes widened, and he felt a bit of a shock at having scored back so easily. Then again, he reminded himself as he watched the detective duck her head slightly and tuck a piece of hair behind her ear, their conversations had lost that old element of playful, if mildly nasty banter since--
"Luka Maurice isn't a man who drops by for a quiet drink in a crowded bar." Brigatti had fixed her eyes at a point just over Gary's shoulder, her cool professionalism back in place. "Whatever he said to you, it might help our case against him. Anything you could tell me would be...helpful."
Shoving his thoughts firmly to the back of his mind, Gary softened his stance a little. "He really didn't say much," he answered truthfully. "We talked about the bar; that was it. He seemed a little..." The image of Maurice's hunched shoulders and weary expression floated through his mind. "...Tired."
"Tired?" The detective's gaze slid back to his face, and she hesitated for a moment of careful scrutiny. Then, allowing her eyes to soften, she backed away. "You're not giving me much to go on, Hobson," she commented, the tense moment passing with a tiny smile.
Allowing himself a weak chuckle, Gary replied, "Well, I can't make it too easy for you now, can I Brigatti?"
They looked at each other for a moment, then looked away, then pretended to be absorbed in the movements of the kitchen staff. Finally, Brigatti made a show of glancing at her watch and raising her eyebrows. "Well, it's getting late, and I still have reports to type." Glancing once more at Gary before turning her attention back to the doors leading to the dining room, she finished, "Remember Hobson, anything Maurice tells you--you tell me. Okay?"
Gary nodded. "Okay."
With that, she was gone. Gary watched her move quickly through the chaos of the kitchen, then out into the dining room. As soon as the swinging door had settled behind her, he slumped against the counter, his right hand moving automatically to rub the back of his neck as he breathed out a tense sigh of relief. "Brigatti..." Shaking his head he dropped his hand, turned, and strode back to the office.
Marissa still sat at the desk, her fingers running nimbly across a book that she snapped closed as he entered. "Gary, is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me. And Brigatti's gone."
"What did she want?"
Crossing his arms and resting against a filing cabinet, Gary explained, "She must've come into the restaurant while I was talking to Maurice; she wanted to know what he said to me."
Marissa furrowed her brow and folded her hands on the desk in front of her. "Well, what did he say to you? Anything...interesting?"
"I don't know." Perplexed, Gary pushed himself off the cabinet and began pacing the small office. "It was mostly chitchat, Marissa; I served him a scotch, he asked about the restaurant, it was all very...innocent. Neither of us really said much of anything that I could tell would be useful to anybody."
"He must've said something, Gary." When there didn't seem to be anything forthcoming, Marissa's eyebrows rose. "He wanted to talk to you specifically, but when he found you he didn't give any reason? That's more than a little suspicious."
"I know." Pausing in the middle of the room, Gary slid a glance at his friend. "It was strange; we were having an idle conversation, nothing much was being said--he was scaring the hell out of me, to tell you the truth--but then..."
Marissa's hands unfolded. "Then? Then what?"
Gary opened his mouth to answer that the mobster had changed, had gone from smooth and cool to worn and tired and back again in less than a heartbeat's time, and for no apparent reason other than to throw Gary off even more than he already had--but instead he shook his head. Speaking as noncommitally as he could, he simply said, "Nothing, really. He said something about my face, then left; I don't think he knew anything about last night."
Marissa sat expectantly for another moment. When nothing more seemed forthcoming, she grinned wryly and commented, "If you're trying to keep me distanced from this, it won't work. I can figure out what you're not saying, you know."
Gary blinked, then smiled back. "Yeah, I know. It's just..." His smile faded, and he finished, "I got the same bad feeling off Maurice as you did, Marissa. I got myself into this mess; that doesn't mean you have to deal with the mafia in McGinty's, too."
"I'm hardly a shrinking violet, Gary."
"Still, I'd rather you give me a chance to figure Maurice out before you jump into the fray." Sighing heavily, Gary seated himself across from his friend. "I'll be lucky if I sleep at all tonight."
* * * * *
"Sleeping on the job, Brigatti?"
Toni's eyes flew open and she sat up quickly, banging her knee painfully on the underside of her desk. Glowering up at Winslow, who was grinning down at her in entirely too much amusement, she rubbed the injury and retorted, "You were boring me too much to keep my eyes open. Can't you write more interesting reports?"
Her partner winced theatrically, his eyes losing not an ounce of their mischievous sparkle. "Ouch. Must've been working late last night, huh?" Finding himself on the receiving end of a laser-like glare, Winslow held up his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. Just thought I'd let you know that Corky's looking for you; I didn't think you'd want him to find you catching your beauty sleep, that's all."
Brigatti rolled her eyes and stood up, then purposefully brushed past her friend. "Hey, it's not like I'm the one who needs beauty sleep around here."
Winslow turned to watch her stride towards the Captain's office, miming being shot in the heart for the benefit of the other officers in the room.
Toni heard the quiet guffaws from the people around her, and realized that Winslow must be clowning behind her back. Suppressing a sigh, she simply continued on towards Corcoran's office. In truth, she hadn't slept much the night before; in the wake of Hobson's reluctance to divulge useful information about the conversation she'd witnessed between him and Sonny Maurice, when she'd finally returned home she'd been too keyed up to sleep. Whenever she felt about to drop off, she would remember Hobson's uneasiness--and her nagging feeling that there was something he hadn't said and she felt he was hiding--and suddenly she'd be wide awake again, turning over every word, every gesture, for something that quite likely wasn't even there. Finally she'd dropped off out of sheer frustration, but hadn't managed anything deeper than a restless doze; when her alarm clock sounded in the morning she rose with the impression that the day was going to be long and stressful, and that she was apt to bite off any number of heads before lunch.
So far, she'd had it spot on.
Reaching Corcoran's office, Toni shoved her bad night to the back of her mind and composed herself, then knocked respectfully at the open door. "Captain? You wanted to see me?"
Corcoran, who was bent over a stack of paper with a pen stuck between his teeth, glanced up and nodded, then gestured for her to come in and sit down. Brigatti obeyed, and waited while he pulled the pen free and scrawled at the bottom of a paper. "Budget balancing," he explained absently, referring to another sheet before taking up the whole pile and shoving it to the side. "I hate being the new guy; there's so much administrivia to file. Heard you spoke to Hobson last night."
Toni blinked at the sudden topic change, then nodded. "I went to his bar to see if he would share any more information, and saw him talking with Maurice. Once he left I asked Hobson what was said, but he wasn't very forthcoming."
Corcoran arched an eyebrow. "Did Maurice see you talking with Hobson?"
"No; I waited until he was gone." Sighing, Brigatti continued, "Like I said, Hobson didn't tell me much about what they'd said--but he did seem a little confused by something." Picturing Gary's expression when he had described Maurice as 'tired', she explained, "I'm not sure if Maurice has given him reason to worry about his cover, or just reason to worry...but something is off, at least by Hobson's standards."
"Well, when a mobster is off, it's everybody's problem," Corcoran commented, steepling his fingers under his chin and giving her a pensive look. "Word is that there's something up with Maurice's crew. Something involving Zefferelli, and something that might just blow up in all of our faces."
Brigatti sucked in a breath at the news. "Turf war?"
"Not sure." The captain sighed heavily, then pulled a file from the stack of paper in front of him. "This is the latest; read it, but don't let anything in there leak to Hobson. All he needs to know is that we need him to do his job; keeping Maurice's confidence is incredibly important if we're going to handle this successfully. Am I understood, Detective?"
Accepting the file, Toni nodded. "Yes, sir. Is this my copy?"
"It is. Don't lose it." Corcoran watched her stand and move to the door, then added, "And Toni? Make sure you're not spotted communing with Hobson. All we need is for the wrong person to identify you as a cop."
Brigatti nodded. "Understood."
Shrouded by the night and by the secret stair I quickly fled
The veil concealed my eyes while all within lay quiet as the dead
Oh night thou was my guide, oh night more loving than the rising sun
Oh night that joined the lover to the beloved one
Transforming each of them into the other...
He had actually broken the lock. He had broken through a locked door, and was now standing in the dark in her apartment, waiting for her to come home.
He felt like such a criminal--he *was* a criminal, according to the police and the news reports and the Paper. He had been cold and tired and hunted, and he'd wanted one blessed moment of peace, of knowing that someone was going to help him--and he hadn't had anywhere else to go. So he had broken the lock...
There was light, and suddenly she was facing him. Eyes wide, lips taut as she gasped in surprise--the little intake of air echoed through his brain, freezing him in place as she recovered and drew her gun, aiming it squarely at his chest.
"I can't do that."
All at once she was completely turned off. Her eyes hardened, her shoulders squared, and before he could say anything more...she pulled the trigger.
He felt himself falling to the floor, at the same time knowing, *sure*, that he was still standing. That they were still talking, even though he could see the matter-of-fact way that she set the smoking gun on a table, turned, and strode away without looking back. At once he was standing, immoveable, trying to talk her into helping him, as well as lying on the ground, staring up at the ceiling as she turned a corner and disappeared, leaving him to die alone. He could hear their voices--
"You know me better than that."
"I thought I did."
"You don't believe me...I thought you'd see it differently."
"You thought wrong."
Then the gunshot again, a single, loud report that echoed maddeningly through the room, drowning out the rest of the voices, until there was nothing left but the bullet.
He was on the floor, bleeding alone. She was gone. Had never been there. Had left him totally alone.
Then, suddenly, a face entered his field of vision, looming over him with concern in its eyes, smiling gently, inspecting him to his core--
Sonny Maurice spoke. "Wake up, Hobson."
* * * * *
The Cat's plaintive "Meow" jolted him awake and Gary sat up in bed, breathing hard.
Beside him, the clock radio was blaring the end of a song that he had never liked; moving automatically, he reached over and slapped the snooze button, cutting off the awful whining singer and filling the room with silence.
Taking a deep breath, Gary buried his face in his hands, letting the warm knowledge that he was in his bed, safe, and not being hunted by the police soothe the last vestiges of his dream away. After a moment he looked up, a faraway gleam in his eyes; he hadn't had a nightmare like that for months, but the familiarity of it came screaming back along with the usual phantom ache in his chest and the general wrung-out limpness of his arms and legs.
The Cat meowed again, but Gary ignored it. Whatever the Paper had could wait another five minutes; throwing his covers away he stood up and made a beeline for the sink, poured himself a glass of water and gulped it down. He set the empty glass on the counter, then leaned against it, hanging his head and closing his eyes.
It was this business with Brigatti that was bringing it all back, he decided. Their argument of a few nights ago hadn't helped, and he was still on-edge about Luka Maurice, as evidenced by the man's sudden appearance in a dream that Gary had first had months before even hearing of the mobster. But to be recalling that night at her apartment...
Straightening and crossing his arms, Gary shook his head. He had really, honestly thought that Brigatti would help him; he had gone to her because he trusted her, because he knew that she, of any other police officer he'd ever dealt with, would know that he couldn't possibly be the person who killed Frank Scanlon. She knew him better than that, in the same way that he knew she wasn't the heartless, emotionless cop that she pretended to be. And yet...
He hadn't counted on the lie detector. Squeezing his eyes shut even tighter, Gary remembered the way his heart had skipped a beat at the quiet questions he hadn't expected: "Do you often tell lies? Is there a side of yourself that you hide from the world? ...Do you have a secret?" He'd asked for it, stupidly, because he hadn't thought through what it might mean he'd have to reveal. And he had betrayed himself.
Brigatti knew that something wasn't right; now that he thought about it, he'd noticed the change in her eyes when she'd come to his cell, but he had been too preoccupied by finding out how badly he'd crucified himself during the test to realize what that change meant. She had been cooler, more the closed-off cop than ever, and he *should* have noticed the matter-of-fact way she had looked straight at him and told him about his "propensity towards deception". He should have realized that she wasn't sure of him by the way she refused to talk to him and left without even one word of compassion.
She hadn't helped him when he asked her, alone and cold and tired in her apartment. She might as well have pulled the trigger, exactly the way she did when he had that dream.
A light scratching at the door finally caught his attention and Gary opened his eyes, letting out a whoosh of breath as he turned to get the Paper. He probably should have expected that working with Brigatti was bound to dredge up the...the stuff he'd been burying ever since Scanlon's death; on some level he realized that he'd been hoping his recollections wouldn't be as vivid and, well, painful as they were turning out to be.
Sighing once more, heavily, he opened the door and looked down at the Cat. The animal was standing at the threshold, one paw still raised from clawing at the door; after the briefest moment the paw dropped, and Cat trotted amiably between his legs and into the loft. Gary shook his head and bent to pick up the Paper. "I get it; enough with the early morning emotional analysis."
He had headlines to fix.
* * * * *
The bar had been calling her through the office door.
Settling onto her corner stool, the one she inhabited when the customers were out in force, Marissa folded her cane and laid it on the counter in front of her, then waited patiently until Robin placed her usual beside her hands. "There's your cappucino, Marissa."
"Thank you, Robin. Is Gary around?"
"I haven't seen him; I don't think he's come back from his errands yet."
A smile flit across Marissa's mouth, and she commented, "Well, with Gary's errands I guess I'll just have to wait for him. Thanks." She heard Robin move away behind the bar, and reached out for her mug. Sipping at the hot, sweet drink, she felt her smile grow wider; pure caffeine, and freshly-balanced books. It was a good night.
It was also still a fairly early night, and she couldn't figure out why a nagging impulse to talk to Gary had been with her for the last hour. Her grin fading, Marissa cupped her mug in her hands and tried to reason herself out of her worry; they'd spoken over breakfast that morning, and other than sounding a little tired he'd seemed absolutely normal. The Paper, while full of stories for him to fix, hadn't had anything really dangerous or troubling. He was on top of the latest delivery schedule for the restaurant. Best of all, he hadn't heard anything more from or about Luka Maurice for days, and it was looking like maybe the whole thing was blowing over.
So why was she nervous for him?
Setting the cappucino back on the counter, Marissa frowned, her fingers beginning to drum lightly against the ceramic as she thought. She had heard stories about Maurice and his connections--alleged though they may be--to Chicago's organized crime, just like everyone else in the city had. He was reputed to be the ultimate mob boss; cool, controlling, and seemingly untouchable, judging by the lack of success the police had had so far in convicting him of anything. There were rumours, of course--smuggling, loan sharking, wars with other mafiosos that usually ended in murder--but for the most part they were pure speculation based on reputation and inflated media interest. The man was very rich for unspecified reasons, certainly, but that wasn't exactly proof positive of illegal pursuits.
Marissa shook her head, remembering her brief introduction to the man. If he was an innocent, legitimate businessman, she was going to marry Chuck. Maurice had been polite, respectful--her mind kept gravitating back to 'smooth'--but underneath his quiet voice and courteous manner, something was...off. He was a little too practised in his interactions, a little too careful with the way he spoke; the one thing Marissa had noticed most of all about him was the way he presented his name, neglecting to mention it until after he had furnished the proper pleasantries and conveyed a sense of interest and appeal. He knew the effect he had on people, and he consciously used that knowledge to his advantage, setting up social situations so that all the power was his.
If she had still been taking psych, Marissa pondered, Maurice would be a fascinating case study. But when he was involved first-hand in Gary's life...she sighed, annoyed with herself. Gary knew how to take care of himself; besides, Maurice hadn't returned to McGinty's, and there hadn't been anything more about him or his associates in the Paper. It looked like the whole thing was winding down, and with any luck, Gary wouldn't have to get in any deeper than he'd already--
"Excuse me--Miss Clark, isn't it?"
Marissa froze, her fingers abruptly coming to rest against the side of her mug. "Yes. And you are...?" She trailed off, her heart sinking. Judging by the smoothness of the voice, it would appear that she had spoken too soon.
"We met the other night, Miss Clark. Luka Maurice."
Forcing a smile to her lips, Marissa held out her hand. Feeling his cool, dry skin meet hers, she replied, "Of course; you wanted to speak with Gary. Was your conversation informative?"
"Very." The gentle handshake ended, and Marissa heard the mobster seat himself on the stool next to her. "In fact, I was wondering if he was in again this evening."
Marissa shook her head apologetically. "I don't think he is. He had some errands to run, and I'm really not sure when he'll be back." She couldn't help but pause for the barest second before she continued, "You could wait for him, if you like."
"I could." He spoke almost as if he really wasn't going to; Marissa marvelled at the effortlessly deceptive tone. "Well, I came for the scotch as much as Mr Hobson's conversation; maybe I'll stay long enough for the drink, hmm?"
"If it won't inconvenience you." Still smiling, Marissa raised her voice a little and called, "Robin?"
A moment later she heard the steps on the matting. "Here, Marissa."
"A scotch for the gentleman, please."
"Rocks," Maurice added, then a genuine, "Thanks" as the drink was handed over.
"So, what brings you back to McGinty's, Mr Maurice?" Marissa asked brightly as the silence between them lengthened. It was unnerving sitting beside this man; he radiated an almost tangible air of self-possession, as well as an idle curiosity that made her sure that he was inspecting her in the most minute detail, going deeper every second. It was almost as if he was using the silence as a tool to create enough discomfort in his audience that they would feel the need to fill it up... "Business or pleasure?" She could have kicked herself for falling for it.
"Oh, pleasure, pleasure." And again, there was nothing in his answer to make her doubt it, except for the tiny, barely noticable hardness in his tone. "And please, call me Sonny. Mr Hobson said something about you being in charge?"
"I'm part owner."
"I see." For a moment, Marissa heard a genuine smile behind the words: "Hobson brings the beer, you bring the class?"
A little surprised, she found herself joining in his dry chuckle. "Something like that."
"Well, however you have the partnership worked out, you've got a nice place." The edge was back a little, and Marissa wondered at him again in the silence as he sipped at his scotch. "Busy, good clientele, really quite decent brands of liquor. It's nice," he repeated.
At a complete loss, all she could say was, "Thanks."
As the space between conversation lengthened
painfully once more, Marissa hid a sigh behind sipping at her cappucino.
Where the hell was Gary?
I promise not try not to [breathe] with your mind
I promise not to mind if you go your way and I go mine
I promise not to lie if I'm looking you straight in the eye
I promise not to try not to let you down...
"Hey! Get your hands off me, you creep!"
Gary released the arms of the woman who, moments before, had been in danger of being run over by a truck, then watched her stalk across the street--without looking both ways. "You're welcome!" he called after her sourly, raising his eyebrows at the sharp gesture she made at him behind her back. Shaking off his irritation at all the people he'd helped today who hadn't been the slightest bit grateful, he turned and began walking the few blocks back to McGinty's.
No one appreciated good deeds anymore, it seemed; jamming his hands into his coat pockets in an attempt to warm them, Gary muttered blackly against the supposed rewards of virtue. This morning he had caught someone's dog as it tried to leap onto the El tracks after a squirrel; the owner had made more of a fuss over the dirt on the mongrel's plaid sweater than over Gary. An hour later a businessman yelled at him for getting paint on his leather briefcase, when originally the paint can would've fallen on the man's head. A mugging and a playground accident later, and this late-night, stiletto-heeled rude-gesturer needed a lesson in road saftey which, Gary decided nastily, he hoped she never got.
Realizing what he had just thought, Gary sighed deeply. Days like this always seemed to crop up when he was preoccupied with other things; normal, low-maintenance saves somehow twisted themselves into incredible showcases of the indecency of humankind, and Gary ended up directing vitriolic thoughts at his fellow human beings as he walked home alone. Never failed.
A humourless chuckle escaped his pursed lips. At least the day had been busy enough to keep him from obsessing about Maurice; after the man's unexpected cameo in his dream, Gary had counted on being plagued by worries all day. It wasn't that he had anything concrete to worry about, but the very fact of the mobster's silence after his unusual visit to the bar had Gary on edge. He wanted to know why Maurice had sought him out, and what that meant for his chances of long-term survival; the police weren't telling him anything about the case beyond the barest bones of what he needed to know, which wasn't nearly enough. It was just...frustrating.
Gary shivered as a cold breeze whipped around the buildings and through the empty nighttime streets. Chicago weather, he thought ruefully; a week ago it had been warm and sunny, and you could believe that winter was finally easing off--but now, it was as if they'd been catapulted back into November. Squeezing his hands inside his pockets, Gary wished for the hundredth time that day that he'd grabbed his gloves on his way out of the loft; luckily, the soft glow of McGinty's was visible up ahead, and soon he would be thawing comfortably at the bar with Marissa and a much-anticipated beer.
* * * * *
"Miss Clark, could I ask you a question?"
Marissa started a little, guiltily, at Maurice's voice. They had been sitting quietly next to each other for a nearly unbearable stretch of minutes, each drinking their beverages in as much personal isolation as they could manage in the crowded bar. "I suppose."
She heard the mafioso stir in his seat, then felt the incredible sensation of his full attention being turned on her. "Which is better," he began conversationally, "Roses or orchids?"
Marissa blinked. Of all the questions she had been dreading, flower choice was probably at the bottom of the list. "Um...of those two, my personal preference would be roses," she replied carefully. "Although if you're looking for fragrance, lilacs can be incredibly sweet."
"Lilacs..." Maurice mulled over her answer for a moment. "I hadn't thought of lilacs. Thanks." And again he lapsed into silence.
Perplexed, Marissa blinked once more, then turned back to her nearly-empty mug. The man was incredibly unnerving; to break a long spate of silence with a totally inconsequential question--it was unexpected from the character she had come to associate with him. It seemed almost as if he was fishing for conversation, which couldn't be the case because he had seemed so confident before...he actually seemed to be out of his element with her.
Clenching her fingers around her cane, Marissa stifled a sigh. If Maurice was trying to throw her off-guard, she told herself ruefully, it was working.
* * * * *
Gary ran into a wobbling patron as a group of revellers exited the bar. Luckily, the young man appeared to be too drunk to notice, and tossed a jauntily floppy wave over his shoulder at Gary's half-hearted apology. Shaking his head, Gary stepped across the threshold and scanned the bar for Marissa, hoping she hadn't decided to go home early; the allure of casual company and that highly-anticipated beer was growing ever-stronger. As his eyes adjusted to the friendly glow, he noticed her at her usual spot at the far corner of the bar; he began to stride towards her--but froze a moment later as she leaned a little to the side, revealing the man seated on the stool next to her.
Eyes widening in horror, Gary put his feet in motion, hurrying to Marissa's side and pasting on what he hoped was an unconcerned smile. "Marissa, I'm back," he announced as he drew level with her.
"Gary!" Did he imagine the relief in her tone? "Hi; um, Mr Maurice was looking for you."
"Miss Clark, please, call me Sonny." The mobster looked every bit as cool as he had during his first visit, but Gary thought he detected a note of actual eagerness in his voice; sparing a quick glance at Marissa, he realized from her expression that she had heard something strange as well. "Miss Clark was just helping me with a decision," Maurice continued, a tiny smile curving his mouth. "Helped pass the time."
"Well that's--that's good." Gamely returning the smile, Gary leaned against the bar as casually as he could and asked, "You were, uh, passing the time until I got here?"
"Nah. Came for the scotch." The tiny smile blossomed into a grin as Maurice brandished his nearly-empty glass, shaking the melting ice into a spin around the sides. Then, abruptly, he turned back to Marissa and captured her hand in his. "Thank you for the conversation, Miss Clark," he said chivalrously, squeezing her fingers for an instant before letting her go. "We may meet again."
"Oh--of course, Mr--Sonny." Caught off-guard, Marissa stuttered through her response, then folded her hands awkwardly in front of her.
Maurice, nodding once in satisfaction at her use of his name, turned back to Gary. "Mr Hobson, if we could...?" The question trailed off, but before Gary could respond Maurice was sauntering purposefully towards a vacant, secluded booth, drink in hand.
As soon as the mobster was far enough away, Gary stepped close to Marissa. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, I'm fine." Her eyes wide, Marissa lowered her voice and explained hurriedly, "He came in looking for you, then decided to wait. We weren't really talking, Gary, just sitting together. It was like he was...uncomfortable."
"He didn't seem uncomfortable to me."
"As soon as you showed up he changed." Her lips tightened for a moment. "I don't like this at all, Gary..."
Sparing a quick glance at the booth, Gary saw Maurice seated calmly, almost lounging--but watching them with piercing intensity. "Neither do I, but I think I have to talk to him."
"Be careful, Gary."
"I will." Taking a deep breath, he squared his shoulders and strode over to the booth.
* * * * *
It was too damn late for her to be getting off duty.
Toni sighed as she stepped out of her car, juggling her briefcase full of files and her paper bag full of drive-thru dinner for the moment it took to hit the lock. She was dead tired; a full day of reviewing files with Winslow had left her brainweary, but there was still a stack of paperwork she hadn't finished that, naturally, needed to be done for tomorrow, and which she seriously doubted she'd be able to concentrate on. "Story of my life," she grumbled as she stuck her key in the door and felt her fries slip out of the paper bag and onto the porch. Sighing once more, she left the stricken potato products where they were and pushed over the threshold, nudging the door shut behind her.
Once safely inside Toni flipped the deadbolt, kicked off her shoes, dropped the briefcase beside them and headed for the kitchen, the fast-food meal clenched in her hand. "A little grease, a little cholesterol--I'll be good as new," she muttered. She dumped the badly-wrapped burger on a plate, adjusted her grip on the flimsy cup full of pop, turned to head for a comfortable chair in the living room--and froze.
The light in the back hall was on.
Her heart, which had stopped for an instant, started again at triphammer speed. She always turned that light off before going to work; there was something wrong with the circuit it was on, and it wasted bulbs. She was sure that she'd turned it off before leaving this morning...
Without turning around, Toni set her plate and drink back on the counter, then reached slowly and quietly for her gun. Its cool weight in her hand reassured her slightly, and she moved for the hallway.
"Hey--is anybody in here?" Brigatti listened hard for anything, any noise, any sound that would betray someone in hiding--there was nothing. Taking a deep breath, she continued her progress through the house, gun at the ready, prepared for the worst...
And utterly perplexed when she returned to the kitchen a few minutes later having found nothing out of the ordinary. Holstering her weapon, she went to check the doors; there was nothing to suggest forced entry, and other than the rapidly cooling fries, nothing left behind. The windows were the same; if someone had broken in, they'd been very talented at not disturbing anything.
Toni leaned against the counter, her brow furrowed. The locks hadn't been tampered with, there was nothing missing--the only clue she had was the light, and for all she knew she had been in such a rush this morning that she'd forgotten to flick the switch. "You're too keyed up, Toni," she berated herself, closing her eyes and shaking her head. "Way too keyed up."
Chalking it up to overtiredness and preoccupation, she picked up her food and had supper.
* * * * *
"Your friend Miss Clark is very perceptive."
Gary looked across the table to see Maurice's eyes averted, watching the ice melt in his glass as if it was the most interesting thing in the world. Gary's arrival had prompted a short stretch of silence as both men gathered their thoughts and carefully measured the other up, a silence that had seemed to grow heavier as the seconds ticked by. Maurice's casual comment created the perfect opening; Gary at least knew where he stood where Marissa was concerned. "You mean for a blind woman?" he replied just as casually--but with the hint of an edge behind his words.
At this Maurice glanced up, meeting his eyes for a moment before looking beyond to study the other patrons. "I didn't mean that. And you know I didn't."
"Do I?" Squelching the nervous tremble he felt wavering in his gut, Gary kept his voice hard and whispered harshly, "Look, Mr Maurice, you were right the last time you came in here. Your reputation precedes you, and it makes me a little nervous when you make a big deal about me and my friends for no good reason. Now, I wish I knew what I'd done to catch your attention--" He struggled for a moment to keep the lie from showing on his face. "--But since I don't know, I'd appreciate it if you told me. Before you pay me many more unannounced visits."
Across the table, Maurice was staring at him in bemusement. "Hoo..." he exclaimed softly, the sound little more than a tone on a rush of breath, "Boy!" As Gary watched, incredulous, the man's eyes began to sparkle, and his cheeks dimpled with an amused grin. "I should've left her out of this, shouldn't I?"
"Marissa's my friend." Unsure of what was happening, Gary leaned back in his seat and gazed at the mobster through narrowed eyes. "Does she have a place in...'this'?"
Maurice cocked his head, his eyes laughing. "Not really," he answered after a moment. "It's you who matters, not her. But she is a charming conversationalist."
"She's friendly. Why do I matter?"
"I've heard things," was the calm reply. "Things about your bar, about you, even. I have a couple friends at the Sun-Times, they say you help people." Now the smile was fading, the light disappearing from Maurice's eyes, leaving them dark and shadowed. "I hear you're a good person, Gary Hobson. And it makes me wonder--how rare is that?"
Gary shifted as those dark eyes fixed on him, studying him as if he was something unexpected in a petri dish. "I'm usually just in the right place at the right time," he began, unconsciously falling back on his usual excuse.
Maurice had none of it. "Right place, right time--that doesn't mean anything. You're there, and you help people who need it; what I'm wondering is...do you choose who needs it? Is there...criteria?"
The mobster's gaze dropped from his face as he asked, and suddenly Gary thought he understood. "You--you're asking me for help?"
Maurice was silent, gazing down into his glass.
Gary was stunned. A part of his mind still told him to be careful, that this could be a trick to get him to admit that he was working with the police--but a larger, kinder part looked at the mobster hunched over the table in the low light, refusing to make eye contact, seeming heavily wearied by some massive weight on his shoulders...and despite himself, Gary's heart went out to him.
"Look, I'm not sure how much help I can be," he began slowly, but Maurice cut him off with a sweep of his hand.
"I'm not...I don't want to drag you into something that doesn't concern you," he stated, his voice low and intense. "But when I came here the other night, I'd heard things about you, and you took the time to listen...and I meant what I said about your face."
Gary was puzzled. "My face?"
"You look like a guy who'd be easy to talk to, you know?" Ressurrecting a ghost of his old smile, the mobster said, "Listen to me. I've got more money, more power than the Stanfords, and...ahhh--" He threw his hands up in the air and leaned away from the table, his smile widening as he finally met Gary's eyes again. "I'm no good at this," he complained bluntly. "Feel free to tell me to go to hell. It was just an idea."
His head spinning, Gary watched Maurice for a sign, any tiny inkling that he was being had. But no matter how hard he looked...he couldn't find one. "You're...you're telling me the truth?" he asked finally. "You just want--you just want somebody to talk to?"
Maurice nodded, betraying nothing.
"And you chose me because you heard from someone at the Sun-Times that I help people."
"I have friends. They all mention some kind of Hobson file...?"
Gary's eyes widened, and he cleared his throat. That file of Miguel's... "Oh. Well..."
"I'll understand if you want to stay clear of me." Again the smile faded, and all at once Maurice looked old and tired. "I'm probably not very popular to be around, and my reputation..." He trailed off, averting his eyes once more.
Gary couldn't move. Here he was, being handed his way out of this entire mess by Luka Maurice himself; tell the mobster he didn't think he could help and the mobster leaves him alone, giving him a solid excuse for backing out of his deal with the police. It was the mob, after all--it was dangerous. He could get killed for being a mafioso's confidant...
...But across the table from him, a man who had millions of dollars and incredible influence all over the country was alone and asking for someone to listen. And he looked so very tired...
Gary found himself nodding. "If you--I understand. I can listen."
The look of genuine satisfaction in Maurice's eyes was one he would never forget. "Thank you, Gary."
Ignoring for a moment the inner voice that was screaming abuse at him, Gary smiled. "You're welcome...Sonny."
He was a dead man.
Email the author: Jayne