Disclaimers, etc., in Installment 1
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Crimes Against Criminals
by Jayne Leitch
Oh, you ain't getting no younger
And your pain and your hunger
They're driving you home
And Freedom, oh and Freedom
Well, that's just some people talking
Your prison is walking through this world all alone...
The clock radio chimed in with a too-perky news reporter, and Gary unearthed his hand from the covers to slap at the snooze button. "Come on, I had a late night last night," he wheedled into the pillow without opening his eyes. "Can't I have just a half hour more sleep?"
The Cat's response was the sound that Chuck used to prompt by trying to steal the sports section.
"Okay, okay..." Heaving a massive sigh, Gary stumbled out of bed and across the room, blinking against the sunlight streaming in from outside. "I'm up," he told the Cat once he had manipulated the doorknob and was muzzily staring down at the beast. "What's so important today, huh?"
The Cat simply stepped off the neatly-folded Paper and sauntered past him. No answer was forthcoming, so Gary turned his attention to the newsprint in his hands; the only headline of interest on the front page was an article halfway down about an ex-police officer who had been in prison for two years for conspiracy, but there was nothing for Gary to do about it, so he flipped the page, then the next one. It was on the fourth page that he saw the small picture under a headline proclaiming:
"Jane Doe Dropped at Hospital
--Police making inquiries"
Gary pushed the door shut behind him and wandered to a chair as he read the article. A young woman carrying a wallet but no ID was going to be found lying on a bench outside County later that afternoon, unconscious and badly beaten. No one would see her be dropped off, but the paramedic who was going to find her would also find a hastily-scrawled note tucked in her hand saying simply, 'I can pay.' The police were going to look into it, but as of tomorrow morning the woman was still unidentified and unconscious.
Gary turned his attention to the picture. It must have been found in her wallet or in a pocket; she was awake and smiling. It was hard to decipher close details from the grainy photo, but it was clear that she had long, full dark hair and a fair complexion; large, soft eyes gazed out over high cheekbones and rounded cheeks, creased slightly by the grin that curved her full lips. She was pretty in a somehow intimidating way, and Gary had no idea who she was.
Furrowing his brow, Gary looked up at the Cat, who was lounging in the warm indent in his mattress and watching him. "Nothing about how I can stop her getting beat up?" he asked hopefully.
The Cat blinked, then began washing itself.
"Great." Shaking his head, Gary stood up and tossed the Paper on the coffee table. Peeling off his tee-shirt, he headed for the shower, muttering blackly about mindreading and his own shortcomings.
At least he had some time to get to the hospital, he thought as he stepped under the warm water. The woman wasn't going to be found until four-thirty that afternoon, and judging by the usual busy state of hospitals Gary assumed that she couldn't have been left for very long before someone noticed her. All that was left for him to do was show up around four and try to catch whoever dropped her off.
Cut and dried. He had that figured out. Lathering up the shampoo, Gary turned his thoughts to something that wasn't so easy.
Last night Sonny Maurice had stayed at the bar, just talking with him, for hours. It had taken some time for him to get used to the fact that he was living his lie, becoming a mafioso's confidant--but as their conversation progressed, Gary had stopped seeing the all-powerful mob boss, and realized that, against all expectations, Sonny was human. He had seemed a little shy at first--obviously the idea of seeking a sympathetic ear in a complete stranger was as unnerving to him as it was to Gary--but once they had gotten into a rhythm of speaking, not to mention a few more drinks, both men had loosened up...although Gary made an effort not to say too much about his family and friends.
Sonny was a thinker. He liked to read, among other things, medieval poetry, and was on his fifth time through Dante's _Divine Comedy_ as pleasure reading. He liked almost all music, had a penchant for latin rhythms and something called 'zydecko', and shared with Gary an affection for old rhythm and blues. He wore the suits because they were a quiet way of expressing that money and the things that came with it don't have to be showy to make their point. He acquired his taste for scotch from his older brother, who had brought a different brand every week to the family dinner until he died in a car accident when Sonny was nineteen. His family had been relatively small--mother, step-father, two boys and a girl--but both his parents were dead, and his sister lived in Canada. Sonny had lived in the Dominican Republic until he was seven, when his family moved to Chicago and bought the house he lived in now; he'd given Gary the address and told him to stop by whenever he was in the area. He hated exercise, but had a treadmill and punching bag...
And through all of this, Gary had come to realize that, despite his position or because of it, Sonny had no friends. He was as close as he could be with his sister considering the distance between them, and he had any number of bodyguards and associates--one impressive example named Johnny had attached himself to the wall across from their booth and stood there like a statue all night--but Sonny had no one to talk nonsense to, no one to babble with at the end of the day when all anyone really needs is to unwind over a drink. That was what he needed Gary for, and in a way he felt honoured to be chosen. Sonny had to keep up appearances around everyone in his life; a moment of weakness, a hint of tiredness and he would be eaten alive. Too long under that kind of stress meant death in his line of work, a fact he freely admitted.
That was something else, Gary recalled, sweeping his dripping hair back under the water: Maurice never came out and said that he was a mob boss. He never denied the fact when it entered the conversation, and he certainly never came outright and lied about his profession--but for the most part the topic was understood, and flowed along under the current of conversation, there but not harped upon. It was all just too strange.
Reaching over and turning off the water, Gary shook his damp head and wiped soap out of his eyes. At the end of the night Sonny had stood up, smiled, and shook his hand, then collected his bodyguard and left without comment. It was enough to keep Gary awake for a few more hours, puzzling out what had been said and revealed--on both sides--but even after inspecting each tiny gesture with a fine-toothed comb, he was no closer to understanding the man than he had been at the beginning of the night. And Marissa, who had hung around until closing to make sure he escaped unscathed, was just as mystified.
Gazing at himself in the mirror as he shaved,
Gary decided to leave Sonny Maurice for later. As per instructions,
he would call Brigatti and tell her about the conversation--hopefully the
fact that nothing important had been revealed would mean that he wouldn't
have to divulge the more private details--but after that, he was determined
to concentrate on the Jane Doe. After all, not everything was about
You're a bitch, but I love you anyway
Oh, you can't sing, but you still put me to sleep
Baby, you're a bitch, hey-y, hey-y
You make me sick, but don't ever go away...
--Bowling for Soup
"Winslow, have you seen the Mansfield file?"
Brigatti's partner looked up from his own work to see her rummaging fiercely through her briefcase, a scowl darkening her features. "Did you take it home with you last night?"
"I must've." Toni made an annoyed sound in the back of her throat, then dropped her briefcase on the floor with an exasperated snort and fell into her chair. "Yeah, that must be it," she muttered.
Winslow raised his eyebrows and turned back to his papers, wisely deciding not to comment.
Toni glared at the stacks of paperwork on her desk, as if they held the elusive file and were simply being obstinate. She was still bothered by the back hall light, despite the fact that she knew she shouldn't be; the way her days had been going lately, it was a wonder that she didn't leave every light in the house blazing when she rushed out the door in the morning. She hated to admit it to herself, but the Hobson thing was preying on her mind more and more, and not just on professional channels...
"Did you hear about Dasney's latest attention-seeking behaviour?" Startled out of her thoughts, Toni looked up to see Winslow peering at her over their desks.
"What? Dasney...Sam Dasney?" she asked, frowning at the connection her brain suddenly made.
"The very same. Guy from Corky's old precinct who was busted by IA for working with the mob." Leaning a little closer, Winslow lowered his voice and spoke conspiratorily. "Apparently he's started making some noise about another dirty cop, someone he knew of who was in just as deep as he was, but wasn't caught. Can you believe it? Two years since he was busted, and he's stirring everybody up again."
"Are they taking him seriously?" Pitching her voice at the same quiet level, Brigatti suppressed a shiver--she'd had her fill of dirty cops, thank you very much...
"I don't know. He hasn't given any names, he's just making himself heard." Winslow leaned back, his mouth tightening into a stern line for a moment. "I overheard the captain talking about it on the phone when I came in this morning; he did not sound very happy. I don't know if he believes Dasney or if he thinks the guy's yanking our chain, but..." He paused, then offered a quick smile. "Look, I'm not sure if they want the papers to know about this yet, so don't say anything, okay? I'd hate to be busted down to traffic duty for spreading gossip."
Toni flashed a smile back, hiding her uneasiness. "Promise. But if Dasney's telling the truth--"
She was interrupted by the phone; raising her eyebrows at her partner, she lifted the extention. "Detective Brigatti."
"Brigatti, it's me." Despite herself, Toni perked up at the voice.
"Hobson--" Ignoring the little sing-song hum that came from across the desks, she half-turned her back on her partner and asked, "Did something happen? Maurice tell you something?"
"Not--not really." Hobson sounded tired, and even slightly defensive. "We had a conversation last night, that was all. I thought...you'd want to know."
"Oh." Brigatti thought for a moment, perplexed. Hobson was calling to tell her that he had nothing to tell her? "Well...thanks." She paused. "He didn't say anything?"
"You two getting along okay?"
She sighed. "You're not helping me here, Hobson," she scolded after a moment.
"I--I guess I'm not." He didn't sound too sorry about it, Toni thought with a flash of indignation. "Look, you told me to call after we talked, so--"
"That was when I hoped you'd have something to tell me." Across the room, Winslow was stifling a grin. Badly. "Well, let me know next time if--"
"He invited me to his house, okay?" It sounded like the deathbed confession of a mass murderer, and Brigatti leapt on it.
"He invited you to his *house*?! Why didn't you tell me that?" Closing her eyes in irritation, she hurried on, "No, never mind. When are you going?"
There was silence on the other end.
"Hobson?" After another second, she opened her eyes and glared at the phone. "You are going to take Mr Maurice up on his very generous offer, aren't you?"
His reply came out in a rush. "Well you see, he's a very busy man, I didn't want to intrude--"
"Hobson!" A quick glance at Winslow confirmed that he had a bad case of hiccups--at least, his shoulders were shaking and he seemed to be having trouble breathing. Brigatti mentally shot a few daggers into her partner's skull, then turned away to focus on the call. "Hobson, listen to me. You are going to visit Luka Maurice. The sooner the better; how's today?"
"Today?" For a moment she thought he was going to argue--but then, surprisingly, he backed right off. "I could go today, I guess."
"Good." Straightening her shoulders, Toni leaned back in her chair and sent silent thanks to whoever was responsible for Hobson's less-combative-than-usual attitude. Softening her tone slightly, she decided that since she had won, she could afford to be gracious. "Look, Hobson, I don't mean to boss you around--"
"Brigatti?" he interrupted, a shade of the usual banter entering his voice, "Yes you do."
"Only because you need it," she retorted, all graciousness forgotten. "Anyway, you're the best link we've been able to get to Maurice in a long time; you need to keep his confidence, no matter what. That means going to his house when he invites you, serving him drinks at your bar, listening to any confessions he has to offer, whatever--you do it. Do you understand me?"
Hobson was silent for a moment. "Yes."
"Good." Settling back in her chair, Toni ground her jaw. It was her job to keep Hobson in line; why did she feel like such a bitch everytime she did?
After a moment, he spoke up. "Anyway, I have...things to do today. Before I visit Son--Mr Maurice. I should..."
"Of course." Shoving her issues with Hobson aside, Toni sank gratefully back into professional dialogue. "If you learn anything today, let me know. And remember, keep his trust no matter what."
"Okay." There was a sound from his end--a sharp breath?--but when he spoke again, it was simply to say, "Goodbye."
"Goodbye." She hung up.
When she turned around, Winslow was sitting casually at his desk, pen in hand, eyes studiously on his work. "Was that Hobson?" he asked, looking up at her with wide, innocent eyes.
* * * * *
Gary double-checked the address Sonny had given him, then turned down the street and began walking as the taxi he'd just departed squealed away. For some reason he had been dropped off a block away from his destination; putting it down to the fact that the cabbie hadn't seemed incredibly fluent in English, he decided that a little fresh air wouldn't hurt, and strode off down the sidewalk.
It was just lucky that his appointment with Jane Doe was still three hours away, he thought as he strolled along. Brigatti had seemed so adamant that he visit Maurice--
Gary shook his head, and firmly stuck all thoughts of Brigatti in the back of his mind. He'd had enough of her during their phone call. Deciding to find something else to occupy his brain, he looked around at the area of town he was in.
It was gorgeous. Not too far from the heart of the city, it was as if a whole suburbs' worth of estate lots had grown up in the middle of Chicago; the houses were set back from the street with plenty of lawn between each one, and tall, thick trees muffled the sounds of the city--and the neighbours--while providing enough shade to give the whole street a cool, isolated atmosphere. Houses in the style of chalets, cottages, even a massive Grecian mansion lay behind well-kept gardens and quaintly gravelled laneways. Not for the first time, Gary wondered just how rich the mobster was.
After a few moments he reached the right house; pausing on the sidewalk, he stared, awed.
Sonny Maurice's house was one of the most imposing Gary had ever seen. Nestled into a small stand of trees, it was an elegant reminder of the man's views on wealth and taste. Its rich, dark brick was covered in lush ivy, and jutting elegantly from the right side of the second storey was a small turret, quaintly rounded and roofed, incredibly, with something resembling thatch, which nevertheless complimented the rough shingles elsewhere. The trim was a rich, earthy green that framed gleaming windows and the massive, wooden front door; stained a deep golden brown, it was in the centre of a porch laden with newly budded vines. A colourful garden curved around the left side of the house towards the back, carefully cultivated to look overgrown and romantic; as an accessory to the house, it pulled off the effect magnificently.
Gary suddenly wished he had worn nicer clothes.
Putting his feet in motion, he moved across the lawn to the front door, ducking a little to avoid the trailing vines that hung over the stoop. As he reached over to ring the doorbell he inhaled their fresh scent deeply, wondering just how a criminal could live amidst such beauty. The house was set back far enough from the street to give an impression of privacy, creating a quiet lot that seemed to transport him straight out of the city.
Gary pressed the doorbell, wondering idly at the security that would be in place. After all, this was Luka Maurice's home; if he travelled through town with bodyguards and business associates, his house must be crawling with--
"Get in here!" Gary jumped at the sudden command from within. The voice sounded like Maurice, but while the mobster usually spoke quietly, evenly, he bellowed now, his tone harsh and fierce. Warily, Gary reached out and tried the doorknob--it was unlocked, and he stepped carefully over the threshold.
The inside of the house was more lavish than the outside; Gary found himself standing in a wide foyer facing a flight of darkly stained stairs that curved gently over his head to the second floor. A rich mahogany table stood against the wall closest to him, displaying a large crystal vase filled to the brim with fresh flowers; the scent hung in the air, almost overpowering the lingering freshness of the vines outside. To the right of the stairs was a narrow doorway, beyond which Gary could see a dim hallway stretching to another door at the back of the house.
It was from that hallway that Sonny's voice issued, loud enough so that Gary could tell it was him, but low enough that he couldn't make out the words. Suddenly convinced that something was very wrong, he stepped hesitantly to the doorway and peered through it. There were entryways branching off the hallway, two on the left, and one wide one on the right; as Gary stepped carefully forward he saw that the wide one led to a large, empty dining room, and the first one on the left was an office. That left the second entry; his steps muffled by thick, plush carpeting, Gary stepped to the threshold, looked in--and froze, stunned.
It was a tableau of fear and anger, set in a comfortable-looking
living room. Sonny stood, arrested in motion in the middle of the furniture,
his usually precise clothing rumpled, his hair falling across his forehead.
His face, usually set in a carefully-controlled expression of alert disinterest,
was twisted angrily, his mouth curved cruelly under blazingly helpless eyes
that bored into Gary's with such intensity that he couldn't help taking a
step back. And in the mobster's arms, huddled limply against his chest,
was the bruised and beaten Jane Doe.
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth--I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah...
Gary stared at the scene, his mouth open in shock.
Maurice's eyes widened when he realized who was watching; then, in an instant, his jaw clenched and he nodded towards the couch. "Clear it off, Gary. Do it!"
The tone was pure, angry command, and before he knew what he was doing, Gary was moving to comply. His mind spinning, he stepped past Sonny and his burden and began tossing throw cushions from the couch to the floor. He could hear the mobster murmuring behind him, and the woman's soft, barely coherent replies--but whatever words were being said were unintelligible.
The second the last pillow was out of Gary's hand, Sonny pushed past him and laid the woman down gently. Gary took a step back and watched uneasily as the mobster leaned over her, tenderly smoothing her hair away from her face, being careful not to disturb her injuries with his careful ministrations. He was so absorbed in his movements that he seemed to have forgotten Gary was there.
"What happened to her?" Gary asked softly after a moment. When no response came, he took a step closer and hardened his voice. "Sonny--what happened to her?"
The mobster didn't even glance away from the woman. "Don't ask questions, Gary. This doesn't concern you."
"Tell me what happened, Sonny." There was still no response, and Gary felt a wave of fury overwhelm the fear and shock of a moment ago. "Damnit, if you--"
Sonny whirled on him, his eyes blazing. "You think I could do this?" he demanded, jabbing a finger at the woman's swollen face. "Do you? You think I could--" He broke off, his anger choking him into silence.
Gary stared, his accusations dying on his lips as his eyes were drawn to the mobster's hands.
They were shaking. The hands that normally moved assuredly, as completely in control as the rest of his body, were trembling likes leaves in a gale. Maurice seemed unaware of it, but when his eyes followed Gary's, he deliberately squeezed them into white-knuckled fists and lowered them to his sides, closing his eyes for a moment and taking a slow, deep breath.
Gary watched him as he brought himself under control, and was amazed; while Sonny didn't relax, he did calm himself to a state where his involuntary quivering stilled. His shoulders, which had been tight with rage, gradually unwound, his face smoothed, his breathing slowed. After a few moments he opened his eyes, and Gary shivered at the sudden cold, flat expression they held; his eyes looked dead.
"I thought you were the doctor," Sonny said, his voice back to his quiet, level tone of normal conversation. "I didn't mean for you to know about this."
Watching as Sonny knelt back down beside the couch, Gary asked carefully, "Who is she?"
The mobster paused for a moment before replying, and Gary got the feeling that he was weighing something in the silence. "Charlotte Vaughn," he answered finally, a slight bitterness entering his tone. "My girlfriend."
"Your--" Gary's eyes widened, and he glanced from one to the other. "You didn't tell me you had a girlfriend," was all he could think to say.
Sonny's response was a humourless chuckle and a sideways glance. "You were editing what you told me. I figured I had every right to edit what I told you."
Gary started, guiltily. "Editing? I--"
Rising swiftly to his feet, Sonny stared at him through half-lidded eyes, decidedly unimpressed. "You grew up in Hickory, Indiana, at 124 Grove Street," he stated, as if reading from an inner source. "Your parents, Lois and Bernard--Bernie to his friends--still live there. You're an only child. You married Marcia Roberts, whom you met in college, when you were twenty-six, and got divorced four years later. Your best friend, Charles 'Chuck' Fishman, used to be your partner at McGinty's until two years ago, when he moved to LA to work in television. You made Miss Clark your full partner a few months later." He paused, arching an eyebrow. "Do you want me to keep going?"
Gary was stunned. He hadn't told Maurice any of that during their conversation; whenever the topic of his close family or friends had come up, he had cautiously glossed over the specifics and changed the subject, always aware of who he was talking to. The fact that Sonny seemed to know almost as much about his close relationships as he did unnerved Gary no end. "How did you--"
He was interrupted by a distressed moan from Charlotte; at the sound, Sonny immediately turned away from Gary and knelt down beside her again, his hands stroking her hair and face gently, reassuringly. "Shh, sweetheart. You're okay." Not taking his eyes off of her, he addressed Gary: "Could you get some ice, please? The kitchen's at the end of the hall."
Gary opened his mouth to comment--then closed it again, as the mobster's careful, gentle treatment of the injured woman registered. Holding off for a moment on the questions he was dying to ask, he turned and headed off to find the ice.
The kitchen was indeed at the far end of the hall; as Gary rummaged through the freezer and cupboards, he tried to arrange his thoughts. Jane Doe--Charlotte Vaughn--was Maurice's girlfriend, and she was in bad shape. Whatever had happened must have been recent, because Sonny had been perfectly calm and controlled the previous night at the bar; judging by what Gary had seen since arriving here, if Charlotte had been in trouble then, the mobster wouldn't have been such a pleasant conversationalist. That left the question--what had happened to Miss Vaughn?
Having located the ice and wrapped it in a dishrag, Gary paused in the middle of the spacious kitchen and pulled the Paper out of his jacket. He unfolded it to the proper page--the article was still there, along with the picture. Puzzled, Gary refolded it and hid it away again, then headed back to the living room.
"Ice," he announced as he stepped over to the couch. Sonny reached out and took it wordlessly, then touched it with care to the bruises that were forming on Charlotte's face, his eyes flinching slightly as she murmured in pain.
"Sonny?" Gary tried again after a moment of uncomfortable silence. "What happened to her?"
This time, the question was met with more restraint. Maurice sighed, then leaned back on his haunches, refusing to meet Gary's eyes. "If I tell you," he said finally, "You'll have to keep it to yourself. The reason I haven't taken her to the hospital is because I don't want anyone knowing..." He trailed off, then sighed heavily and ran his hand through his hair. "You won't say anything to anyone, right?"
Gary nodded, a horrible suspicion sending a tremor up his spine. Maurice confirmed it with his next words:
"It was Vincent Zefferelli. My...competition."
* * * * *
"Heads up, Toni."
Brigatti glanced up from her paperwork and gazed quizzically at Winslow as he seated himself at his desk across from her. "Why?"
Her partner gave her a look. "Oh, come on. The Lockerbie evidence? Corky's on the warpath."
Furrowing her brow, Toni tried to figure out what he was talking about. "Lockerbie? It's in the evidence locker; I signed it in personally last night. And warpath? Corcoran? He hasn't settled in enough to feel comfortable--"
The stern voice from behind her made her pause; noticing the way Winslow suddenly made himself very busy with his paperwork, Toni decided that, comfortable or not, Corcoran was indeed in a bad mood. Turning in her chair, she gazed up respectfully at her superior officer. "Yes, captain?"
Corcoran, obviously ill at ease, brandished a file that Toni recognised as the evidence log. "I hate to have to ask you this, Detective, but there's something amiss with the evidence from the Lockerbie arrest. Could you explain this?"
Still puzzled, Brigatti reached out and took the file, aware of the sudden drop in background noise throughout the bullpen. "Lockerbie evidence: one handgun, loaded, fired twice while resisting arrest; one notebook, containing the names of his suppliers. What's the problem?"
Corcoran stared down at her, his usually clear eyes troubled. "This isn't the place, Detective. Come with me, please." With that, he turned on his heel and strode off across the room, heading for the stairs. Brigatti exchanged a worried look with Winslow, then followed.
The two officers made their way down to the evidence locker; Corcoran signed them in, then led Toni down the racks of confiscated items to the 'L' section.
"Captain, what's this about?" Pausing as they reached the appropriate area, Toni placed her hands on her hips and gave Corcoran a blunt look. "Is something wrong with the way I've entered the evidence?"
The captain turned and gazed down at her, shaking his head slowly. "No. Something's wrong with the evidence itself."
"What?" Brigatti shook her head, disbelieving. "Impossible. I logged it in myself! Harriet can vouch for me."
Corcoran frowned. "Toni, the notebook has a page missing. According to your description, the list starts on the third page in, and ends four pages later." He paused, then finished heavily, "I checked it this morning, and there's only three pages of list."
Brigatti raised her eyebrows. "Four pages? No; I remember counting them at the crime scene. There were three pages that listed names, and one that had a memo on it. But the memo had nothing to do with the case."
"Are you sure?"
Squaring her jaw, Brigatti nodded briskly. "Positive. It's in my report."
Corcoran watched her for another long moment, and Toni realized that he was sizing her up. "Captain, just read my report again. There were only three pages of names."
An anxious eternity later, and the captain nodded. "It's on my desk?"
"Yes, sir. Typed and ready to read."
Another long second--then his shoulders relaxed noticably, and he raked his hand through his hair. "I'm sorry, Toni," he said, sighing heavily. "Probably it's just the fact that I'm so damned preoccupied over--"
"Dasney." Softening her stance, Toni felt her heart start beating again. "I understand. But captain?"
Corcoran looked up again expectantly.
She smiled. "Next time, read my report before accusing me of tampering with evidence."
The captain smiled. "Next time?"
He knows if he ever gets to try
He will bite down hard to make the monster cry
He knows if he ever even gets a chance
He'd sell his soul to make the monster dance
He knows if he ever even gets to play
He will stomp like god to make the monster say
They can't hurt you unless you let them
They cannot hurt you unless you let them...
"There's been...an offer."
Gary sat uneasily on one of the overstuffed chairs beside the couch, watching Sonny as he tended to Charlotte and attempted to explain. "A...business offer?"
"A very lucrative one." Intent on his girlfriend, Maurice kept his eyes trained on her face; his words seemed somehow detached from the story they were telling, as if he were narrating the tale, entirely unconnected. "I was approached by a group from Italy a couple months ago, a group that I've been keeping my eye on. They're very powerful, and as my associates, they could prove invaluable. They made me an offer."
Gary's mind immediately supplied the rest of the quote, which he refrained from saying out loud. Instead, he asked tentatively, "What was it?"
The ghost of a smile curved Sonny's lips. "You sure you want to know?"
Swallowing thickly, Gary nodded.
"It was a smuggling contract." The mobster placed his makeshift icepack on the arm of the couch, and finally looked up from Charlotte's injuries. "A certain amount of precious stones that can't be given away in Italy, but have a strong market here in the States; the complications that make them bad news overseas don't exist here--" he took a deep breath "--Yet. The Italians need them out of their country and into ours fairly quickly, and they got my name from a certain mutual acquaintance who assured them that I could take care of things quickly and quietly." He paused for a moment, glancing back down as Charlotte murmured restlessly. "The thing was, Vincent Zefferelli heard about their problem, and offered his services the same day I was scheduled to talk to them about offering mine. The Italians saw an opportunity to manoeuvre us into cutting our prices, and took it."
"They let each of you know they were considering doing business with the other," Gary realized. Competitive markets between crimelords; he was learning more about things he never wanted to know every day.
Maurice nodded. "The thing is, Zefferelli won't give up what he says is his claim to the shipping contract. And both of us need the business from Italy; the agreements we're dealing with make it a fairly expensive venture--but also very rewarding in the end."
Gary couldn't believe his ears. "So Zefferelli beat up your girlfriend because you're not backing off of a business deal?" Too agitated to remain sitting, he leapt to his feet and began pacing the wide living room. "Is it *worth* that?"
Sonny rose to his feet as well, his face setting angrily. "Of course it's not worth Charlotte getting hurt!" he exclaimed, his voice surprisingly low for the emotion it contained. "I want this deal, but I haven't resorted to personal attacks to get it. Zefferelli's different; he sent some men to break into her place last night and bring her back. He kept her with him all last night, Gary, then drove past an hour ago and dumped her on the lawn! Johnny didn't even want to touch her, she looked so bad--" He broke off, ducking his head and squeezing his eyes tightly as he struggled once more for control. A minute later, he blinked and gazed over at Gary. "I had her brought inside, then sent Johnny to get my doctor," he continued roughly. "I called for Johnny's replacement right before you came, but he hasn't shown up yet. I have--I have a meeting with the Italians this afternoon, but I'm not leaving her alone."
Gary stared, speechless. The mobster was as far from his normal cool demeanour as possible, but he maintained an air of self-contained command, even now. He wore his control like a cloak, wrapped in the knowledge that no matter what he said, someone was going to obey--and right then, Gary could no more resist the man's wild eyes and taut muscles than he could a hurricane. "I--I'll stay with her."
Sonny stared at him for a moment, and Gary wondered if it had somehow been the wrong thing to say--but then that tiny, flickering smile reappeared, and the mobster nodded. "Good man. Just wait for the doctor; I'll call Johnny so he knows to expect you to be here, and once he's looked at her, make sure she's comfortable. The meeting won't be long--" He broke off again, his eyes straying to Charlotte's trembling, barely conscious body, so tiny and bruised on the couch. "I'll be back as soon as I can." It was spoken as an afterthought; as Gary watched, Sonny went back to her side and knelt down, bending his head in close to hers and murmuring something in her ear as his hands gently stroked through her hair.
It was an intensely private moment, and Gary turned away, embarrassed. His mind was spinning with the knowledge it had just been bombarded with; men fighting for the illegal right to smuggle gems into the country, fighting so dirty that a woman who happened to be attached to one of the men was beaten, bloodied, for the sole purpose of gaining an upper hand...it was unreal.
"Right." Gary turned at the sound of Sonny's voice, and saw the man shrugging into his suitcoat by the door. It was amazing; all of a sudden he was entirely businesslike, his face composed, his eyes shuttered, his every movement controlled, poised. "I won't be long," he repeated, sounding every inch the unconcerned negotiator. "I'll call Johnny's replacement--his name's Sebastian--he should be here soon, and he can wait with you. Okay?"
Gary nodded, a little too stunned to string a sentence together. "Yeah..."
Sonny paused, then stepped over to him. "Gary, are you okay with this?" he asked, his eyes reflecting the intensity of the meaning behind the question. "It's a lot to take in, I know. But can you handle it?"
Too dazed to back down from those eyes, Gary attempted a weak grin. The mobster he was supposed to sell out to the police had just confided everything he needed to have the man put away, yet here he was, agreeing to stay alone in his house and keep watch over his girlfriend--a woman who had been horribly attacked over a business deal--while Maurice went to conduct *more* business with some of the men responsible.
Gary nodded again. "I'm okay. I can handle it."
"Good." One no-nonsense syllable, and Sonny was headed for the door. Gary turned away, unable to bring himself to watch the mobster striding confidently away from the woman lying on the couch--but he froze as Maurice's steps paused just past the threshold. Thinking he had forgotten to tell him something, Gary turned expectantly--and stiffened as the mobster's eyes met his own once more.
"Gary...thank you." And then he was gone, taking all of his searing intensity with him, leaving Gary alone with his stunned thoughts.
* * * * *
Sonny Maurice waited until he was out of the house. He waited until he was in his car, and had told the driver where to take him. He waited until he had phoned Johnny and Sebastian, and relayed to them the information about Gary. He waited until the car was snaking through streets far away from his house, until the tree-lined avenues of his suburb were far behind him. He waited until Charlotte's face, purple and blue with bruises and streaked with tears and blood, floated before his eyes, ressurected from the space in the back of his mind where he had buried it so he could think while dealing with Hobson.
Then, silently, he cried.
Can you get away from your head
Can you feel with your heart instead
'Cause it's not like I can't see through your lies...
Can't believe I let you let me down
You seemed so true without a doubt
Now look at the one who's sufferin' now
Look who's sufferin' now...
--486 Chester St.
Sebastian had appeared five minutes after Maurice left, and was making Gary nervous.
The monstrous specimen of brawn over brains was standing just inside the arch to the living room, glancing uneasily from Gary to Charlotte to the windows and back again. He seemed distinctly uncomfortable, but Gary was in no position to judge; his nerves were stretched just as tight as the bodyguard's, and together they made for silent, wary company.
Gary, at least, had something to occupy his mind--he tended as best he could to Charlotte, who was hovering painfully just inside of consciousness. The ice he pressed to her face and arms seemed to be helping the swelling a little--but it did nothing for the ugly scrapes and brusies along her jaw and around her eyes. Occasionally she would shift her body on the couch as if to make herself more comfortable--but every tiny twitch of movement seemed to cause her more pain, and Gary began to worry that she had internal injuries that he wasn't able to soothe.
It didn't help that Sebastian was obviously ill at ease with the entire situation; the man jumped at every sound from their direction, and grew a shade paler with every passing minute. Gary wondered if he had been in Sonny's employ very long; he hadn't seen many of the mobster's bodyguards, but those he had were much more stolid and unflappable. Sebastian looked like he was getting ready to bolt.
Gary longed to read the Paper. The article about Charlotte had said that she was found at the hospital around four-thirty, and the last time he'd glanced at his watch it was getting close to four. It was approximately a twenty minute drive to County from this part of town, so if she was going to be taken there, she would have to leave soon. Gary would've been much more comfortable if he could have been sure that the article had changed, but he dared not reach into his coat with Sebastian's eyes on him every moment. It was positively unsettling; both he and the bodyguard knew that Johnny should have returned with the doctor long ago, and the wait was almost too much...
Gary was jolted from his thoughts by a soft moan at his elbow. Looking down, he saw Charlotte's large green eyes flutter closed and her entire body go limp; alarmed, he raised his hand to her neck and checked her pulse.
"What is it?" The bodyguard had stepped anxiously closer, his hands bunching at his sides. "Is she okay?"
"She passed out," Gary answered grimly, taking his hand away and reapplying the dripping ice to her face and neck. He glanced up at Sebastian and felt his heart sink--the other man's eyes had gone wide, and he was reaching into his coat.
"Where's the damn doctor?" the bodyguard demanded, pulling out a cellular phone and flipping it open. He checked his messages, then shoved the phone back into his coat, his mouth tightening into a firm line that was betrayed by the wild expression in his eyes. "She needs a doctor!"
Gary stood up and turned to face him. "Look, Sonny told us he'd be here; maybe Johnny ran into traffic, or they got held up--"
Sebastian shook his head. "No. No, they should've been here by now." His eyes darted to Charlotte, and he stepped forward. "She needs to be looked at! I--I'm gonna take her to a hospital..."
It clicked. Gary moved unobtrusively to stand between the bodyguard and the woman, holding his hands up in a calming gesture and speaking in a low, easy voice. "Look, Sebastian, Sonny told us to stay here. The doctor's on his way; you don't want Mr Maurice to come back and find that you disobeyed him, do you?"
If it was possible, the bodyguard paled even further--but the fear in his eyes didn't change. "But what if she gets worse? If she dies, he'll--"
"She's not dying, Sebastian." Trying a smile, Gary gestured at Charlotte, very slowly. "I checked her pulse; it's strong and steady. She's just in a lot of pain; once the doctor gets here, he'll take a look at her, and fix her up. Okay? But you have to keep her here."
Sebastian looked like he was waging a war with his better instincts--one that Gary could easily admit to fighting himself--but eventually, loyalty won out. "Ten more minutes," he said uneasily, backing off step. "Ten more minutes, then we're taking her to a hospital."
"Okay." Settling himself back on his chair, Gary watched out of the corner of his eye as Sebastian retreated back to his spot inside the door. The man looked no less nervous--but at least he'd bought some time...
Gary sighed heavily, drawing a suspicious glance from the bodyguard. First Brigatti, now this; and he'd woken up with such hope for the day...
There was the sound of a car crunching up the gravel of the driveway. Sebastian jolted to attention, then ran out of the room; Gary heard the front door bang open, and hurried footsteps moving down the hall. A moment more and the bodyguard returned, accompanied by a dark, older, distinguished-looking man carrying an old-fashioned black bag, and trailing Johnny behind him like a vigilant afterthought.
The older man took in the scene, then hurried to kneel beside the couch, his movements impeded by an apparent stiffness in his right leg. "How long has she been unconscious?" he asked, a strong accent colouring his words.
Gary glanced at the bodyguards; when it became obvious that he was going to have to do the talking, he cleared his throat and answered, "Four--maybe five minutes. She was awake all the time up until then. She wasn't alert, but she was awake."
"And you had some ice--good man." The doctor spoke carefully, as if he was having to search for the words; his English was clear, and Gary assumed he was fluent in the language--but the accent was a heavy, sharp one that interfered with his inflections. "I am Doctor Soterios," he introduced himself absently as he began examining Charlotte. "You are--?"
"Gary. Gary Hobson." Averting his eyes as Soterios' examination became more personal, Gary stammered, "Is--is she going to be okay? Because she was pretty worked over, and you took some time getting here--"
The doctor paused in his movements long enough to aim a piercing look at Johnny. "The cars. Traffic, yes?" He immediately bent to his task as Johnny fidgeted uncomfortable. "The beating was severe," he continued after another moment, "Very serious. But not life-threatening; Zefferelli is a careful man. Miss Vaughn dies, Mr Maurice is angrier than necessary, can afford to be ruthless. Miss Vaughn is incapacitated, Mr Maurice is...distracted. Still angry, but with his heart out of the business, his mind on other things..."
Gary stared, wide-eyed. "You mean you--you know about all this Zefferelli stuff?" he asked, incredulous. "About the business deal?"
Soterios glanced up from his stethescope, a flash of amusement in his eyes. "I am Mr Maurice's doctor," he said, "He must tell me things. So I can help with stress, yes?"
The bodyguards actually chuckled at that. It was a nervous chuckle, but it was laughter nonetheless; Gary was floored. "...Oh."
The doctor turned back to his work. After a moment, Gary stood and made his way to the window across the room; it looked out on the garden that was visible from the front of the house, all romanticly overgrown tangles and flourishes of colour set against lush green leaves. His eyes settled on its beauty, but his thoughts churned mercilessly, trying to sort out the afternoon.
As far as he could tell, Sonny had taken him entirely into his confidence. He had shared information that could conceivably get Gary killed--but he had also apparently withheld enough vital knowledge to make Gary question everything they had talked about the night before at McGinty's. Maurice also knew more about Gary than he had ever wanted the man to know, personal things that put everyone Gary cared about in danger. And to make matters worse, he had apparently become involved in the mobster's life at a crucial, hazardous time, when a man who had no compunctions about brutalizing a young woman had everything to gain by attacking those around Maurice.
Gary's brow creased in worry. How the hell was he going to get out of this?
* * * * *
"I don't know how, just do it!"
Sonny Maurice slammed his phone closed and tossed it across the seat, damning his accountant for his incompetence. He was angry, and part of the reason was because he didn't have a scotch in his hand; he'd been this way before, and drinking hadn't helped then--but knowing that didn't make him want that drink any less.
The meeting had been unbearable. It had taken every ounce of self-control he had not to think about Charlotte and Gary; the tricky negotiations he was involved in demanded his full attention, and he couldn't afford to be distracted for even a moment--but it had been damn hard. As soon as the handshakes had gone around the room he was gone, feeling the oppressive weight of the unfinished business at home pushing him out the door even as the unfinished business of the meeting nagged at him to stay and attempt to force the deal. Compared to the thought of Charlotte the way he had left her, however, work's call was far too weak to keep him.
Now, as his car sped him back across town, he could feel the impatience welling up inside him, as well as a measure of pure fear.
He had told Hobson everything. He still didn't know why; the man was with the cops, for godsake, yet he had told him everything about the problem with Zefferelli, and then left him with Charlotte. It had been an insanely stupid thing to do, and Sonny glared at his reflection in the tinted window, cursing the nervous reaction he'd had to seeing Gary enter the livingroom when he'd been expecting Doctor Soterios. He'd been in the business long enough to have wiped out any instinct for information-sharing; why the hell had he kept talking to Hobson? It wasn't as if he had any concrete reason to trust the man...
It had been the shock of finding Charlotte. Sonny dropped his chin against his chest, squeezing his eyes shut as he remembered the panic that had gripped him when Johnny burst through the door, carrying her. Sonny had been told about her kidnapping when he returned from McGinty's--he'd left standing orders not to interrupt him when he was working Hobson--and despite the zealousness of her own bodyguards in following the car she'd been forced into, they still hadn't come up with where Zefferelli was keeping her by the next morning. He'd been about to call the Italians and postpone the meeting when Johnny had yelled from the front hall and ran out to gather up the body that had been pushed out of a passing car. Sonny had seen the car speeding away from his bedroom window, and rushed down the stairs just in time to watch Johnny stagger in the door, pale-faced and smeared with Charlotte's blood, cradling her in his arms. The bodyguard's frantic explanation had been so much noise in the background as Sonny took her away and carried her upstairs; he laid her down on his own bed and assessed her injuries with a cool eye and a shaking hand, then immediately barked out an order to get Soterios. Johnny had jumped to comply, pausing only long enough to change his shirt before going to get the doctor personally; Charlotte was well-liked by Sonny's closer employees, and seeing her injured so badly was unsettling in the least.
It was a while after Johnny left that Maurice had realized that Soterios wouldn't be able to climb the stairs to the bedroom; an old injury had left his right knee stiff and incredibly arthritic, and stairs presented a problem. Sonny had murmured an apology to his girlfriend, then picked her up and moved her again; he'd been halfway down the hall when the doorbell had rang, and he'd assumed that Johnny had brought Soterios.
Consequently, Gary Hobson had seen something incredibly hard to explain, and had learned more than Sonny ever wanted him to know.
Opening his eyes, the mobster took a deep breath and worked at calming himself. He was getting close to home, and it wouldn't do to let anyone see him this upset, much less Gary. A moment of weakness was all that man needed to realize that now would be the perfect time to talk to the cops...
The cops. Sonny latched onto the stabilizing thought they presented; at least he had worked that angle to his advantage. Even if Gary did talk to his police contact, she could be persuaded not to relay the information she received; it might not work forever, but the safeguards he had put in motion could at least buy him time. He had put Antonia Brigatti into a very precarious position--important files missing, reports suddenly not as clear as they should have been, questions raised about her performance--and all he had to do to keep her in line was use his ace in the hole: Samuel Dasney. He'd been a valuable asset when he was a functioning cop, but now that he was in prison with a bunch of Sonny's former employees who were still *very* loyal to their crimelord, he was almost more cooperative. One word from Sonny, and Dasney dropped the name of the recently "remembered" dirty cop--and if she looked poised to become a liability, Brigatti would easily be that name. No, the police could be handled.
So could Zefferelli. And compared to him, Hobson would be a cakewalk; feeling the usual coolness stealing through him, Sonny drew on the sensation, slowing his heartbeat and smoothing his face into an emotionless mask, centering himself as the car slowed and turned into the driveway. Sonny could see Johnny's sedan parked haphazardly near the door, and allowed himself a wave of relief that Soterios had been brought. Hopefully, Charlotte wasn't as bad as she had looked...
Steeling himself for another long discussion with Hobson, Sonny stepped out of the car and headed for the door. Strangely, he realized that, if nothing else, Gary would have kept Charlotte as safe as he could; one thing that had struck the mobster was how absolutely genuine the man was, and the very fact that Gary had edited his life so heavily resonated profoundly with Sonny--it meant that he cared deeply for the people around him, and was intelligent enough to know what to do to keep them safe. If nothing else, Gary Hobson was an honest humanitarian, a character trait that could serve both men well in the long run. Sonny admired him for it.
Nearing the door, the mobster took another deep
breath. Mumuring a short prayer for Charlotte, he pushed his introspection
to the back of his mind, and stepped into the house, bracing himself for what
he would find.
Tho' to catch your drift I'm striving
It is shady, it is shady
I don't see at what you're driving
Mystic lady, mystic lady.
Stern convictions o'er me stealing
That the mystic lady's dealing
In oracular revealing
Yes I know; that is so.
"How is she?"
Gary turned at Sonny's voice; the man was striding into the room, all his attention focussed on the cluster of people around Charlotte. The bodyguards immediately stepped back from the scene, pulling themselves to attention in front of their boss. Doctor Soterios remained on his knees, but smiled reassuringly up at Maurice as the mobster came to stand beside him.
"Nothing very bad, Mr Maurice," he reported, "But she needs rest and this prescription. You, ah, have no need to be angry, yes?"
Gary was watching for it; otherwise he would have missed the tiny movement of Sonny's shoulders as he relaxed at the news. "I have every reason to be angry, Doctor," he replied mildly, reaching down and smoothing Charlotte's hair. "I'm just not gonna be stupid about it."
"Whatever you think is best, I'm sure." Soterios leveraged himself against the arm of the couch and pulled himself slowly to his feet, waving off Sonny's offer of assistance. "The ice is good; it will keep down the swelling, and the medicine will help with the pain. Do not let her move very much; in fact, keep her on this couch for at least a day." As the doctor stepped past him, he patted Maurice reassuringly on the shoulder. "She is young and strong, and so are you. Do not make any mistakes, and you will both live to be very old. Good?"
An easy smile--the first one Gary could recall seeing from Sonny--dimpled his cheeks. "Thank you, Doctor. Sebastian will see you home."
The doctor and the bodyguard nodded, and left the room. Johnny, with the ease of habit, stepped back into a corner and seemed to fade into the background; Sonny knelt beside Charlotte and closed his eyes, the smile still very evident as his fingers played through her hair.
Gary, feeling incredibly out of place, stepped away from the window and spoke up hesitantly. "Uh...Sonny?"
Maurice half-turned, keeping his eyes closed. "Thanks, Gary," he said quietly, "For staying with her, for keeping her safe."
"You--you're welcome." Watching the mobster carefully, Gary moved closer, his right hand moving up automatically to rub down the back of his neck. "So...how was the meeting?"
Sonny's eyes opened, and sparkled for a moment with relieved, dark humour. "You sure you want to know?"
"Not really." The man's smile--and almost tangible relief--was infectious, and Gary felt his own mouth quirk at the edges. "But, you know, I've come this far..."
"Why stop now, right?" His fingers played once more across Charlotte's face, then Sonny stood up and faced him. "The meeting went well. I didn't get everything I wanted, but..." The smile finally began to fade, and he shuffled his feet as if trying to dig himself into the carpet. "I couldn't concentrate, to tell you the truth," he admitted after a moment, his shoulders slumping. "I don't think the Italians noticed, but...my head wasn't in the business. And it should've been."
Gary cleared his throat nervously. "Well, Miss Vaughn--"
"Charlotte was Zefferelli's deliberate distraction, and it worked!" Sonny's eyes were blazing now, his voice rough and angry. "He's desperate, Gary. He wants this deal so bad, he doesn't care how he gets it! I don't know what you've heard about the business," he went on, his hands beginning to gesture sharply through the air, "But there is a line between business and personal, and it is *not* supposed to be crossed. It's *not*. But Zefferelli doesn't care; this isn't the first time he's pulled shit like this, and it won't be the last. If it can give him an edge, he'll do it. He will."
The mobster's fury was almost hypnotic. Gary stared at him, at the hardness in his eyes, the set of his jaw, the tightness of the muscles in his neck and shoulders--and couldn't help but ask, "What about when you can get an edge?"
The soft question froze Sonny in his tracks, and Gary immediately wished he hadn't said it. The mobster's eyes widened, and he swallowed thickly, dropping his hands to his sides. "When I can get an edge?" he repeated quietly, a dangerous chill creeping into his voice. "Would I attack Vincent Zefferelli's wife or son to get an edge? Would I make his family, his *personal family* bleed on his carpets, just to distract him long enough to grab the advantage? Is that what you're asking me?" He glared at Gary, his eyes flat and furious. "Is it?"
Suddenly very aware of the easy strength Maurice hid behind his sleek suits, Gary held his hands up, desperately trying to placate the angry mobster. "Sonny, I didn't mean that--"
"Yeah? What did you mean?"
"I don't--" Gary broke off, dropping his hands and backing off. "I don't know much about your--your business," he explained, hoping like hell that he sounded as apologetic as he felt. "I barely know *you*, Sonny. I...I didn't mean to offend you."
The mobster continued to glare for a long moment--then, to Gary's relief, he ducked his head and took a deep breath. "I know you didn't," he acknowledged finally, the heat gone from his voice. "I know this is...difficult...for you." Sonny looked up then, and Gary was caught off-guard by the lack of passion in his eyes; it was such a sudden change, he wasn't sure whether to be relieved or frightened. "I know what you were asking. And no, I wouldn't take personal extremes to get ahead in business. I'm not crazy."
Unsure of what Sonny was saying, Gary repeated, "Crazy?"
"Zefferelli is." The mobster shook his head a little, glancing back to Charlotte as if he couldn't trust the world if he loooked away from her for too long. "You do this kind of stuff too often, attack too visciously, play hell with the consequences--it catches up to you," he explained. "And it doesn't end up doing you any good. In fact, more often than not, it ends up causing you more trouble and work to fix the fallout you didn't predict. People are good at reacting in ways you don't want; Zefferelli doesn't seem to care about that, he just does whatever the hell he thinks will get him to the top the fastest."
"He sounds...impulsive," Gary contributed. It was the safest thing he could think of to say; he didn't want to stick his foot in his mouth again, because it might make Sonny stop talking, and right then Gary wanted as much information as he could get. After all, he mused, he was up to his ears in the mob already; he might as well make the most of it.
"Oh, he's not impulsive. He thinks things through..." Sonny sighed, despondent. "My problem is, I can't figure out *how* he thinks. And that would help."
A question that had been nagging at Gary finally possessed him with enough courage to ask it: "Is that why you had the meeting with Francis Sorrilla? To find out what Zefferelli was thinking?"
Sonny's brow furrowed for the tiniest fraction of a second--but the expression of confusion was gone so quickly that Gary wasn't sure if he hadn't simply imagined it in the first place. "You figured that out, huh?" he said, glancing back up and smiling a little. "Sorrilla had contacted me, told me he would give me the information I needed to win the smuggling contract away from Zefferelli. I sent one of my men, Renaldo, to do business with him; unfortunately, things...didn't work out."
Despite himself, Gary began to be intrigued. "Well, why did you trust Sorrilla? If he was so trusted by Zefferelli--"
"I had a contract out on his life." It was stated so blandly, in such a matter-of-fact tone, that it took a moment for Gary to realize the implication behind it. "We'd had dealings before, and he hadn't lived up to his part of the bargain; I hadn't been pleased, and had made that known. Sorrilla was going to trade the information for his life, a trade that I was more than willing to participate in. As I said, though...things went wrong."
Gary blinked. His brain had stuck on the 'contract', but he'd still digested the rest of the information; he swallowed, then supposed, "Maybe Zefferelli found out that he was going to be betrayed...?"
"Maybe. But then he would've shot to kill." Seating himself on the arm of the couch by Charlotte's head, Sonny picked up the ice--now just a cool baggie full of water--dipped the tea towel in it, and began gently wiping the dried blood from Charlotte's face. "It might've been Vincent; I don't know. But if it was, Sorrilla's in danger, and I still don't have what I need to shut Zefferelli down. If I could find him before his boss does..."
Gary watched the slow, careful movements of Sonny's hand, his mind racing. The police had been keeping Sorrilla's location a secret in the hopes that whoever had tried to kill him wouldn't get a chance to finish the job while the man was injured--but as far as Gary could tell, Sonny genuinely wanted to find the man and keep him alive. If Zefferelli really had been behind the shooting, then Maurice and Sorrilla had a common enemy--and from what Sonny had said, it sounded like the mob dealt in enemy-of-my-enemy ways. And if Maurice could find a way to keep Zefferelli from becoming any more powerful...well, it really came down to a case of the lesser of two evils, when he thought about it.
Besides, Gary reasoned as the mobster stood and headed for the kitchen to refresh the ice, Brigatti had told him to keep Maurice's confidence no matter what. Anything he could do to make the man trust him, whatever he could offer to keep the information flowing--it would all work towards his usual goal of making the streets of Chicago safer; that was the reason he had gotten himself into all this in the first place, after all. Granted, now that he'd seen Sonny Maurice up close and personal, Gary realized that the mobster was just as human as he was, and turning on him did seem a little more questionable than it had when he'd been able to group the man in with the rest of the crimelords. If he had to betray the man's trust, however, the least Gary could do would be to help him fight against this unquestionable bad guy in the process. It would make things...right. In a way. And Brigatti had said...
Sonny returned, carrying a fresh bag of ice and some damp cloths. He arranged his supplies beside Charlotte and bent to the task of cleaning her wounds; as he dabbed gently, he said, "Sorry about dragging you into all this, Gary. I thought I'd be able to keep you separate from my business; the last thing a guy like you needs is to be caught up in my line of work." He paused for a moment, turning to smile softly at Gary. "Doesn't mean you have to be all about the business from here on in, though. Would you like a coffee?"
Gary shook his head slowly. "No, thanks. I--I really need to get back to the bar; Marissa and I have some paperwork to go over."
"Okay. I know how it is, having stuff to run." Setting his supplies down again, Sonny stood and strode over to him. Offering his hand, he met Gary's eyes. "Thanks again for everything; you might not know it, but you showed up at just the right time today. I'm grateful."
The man radiated sincerity, and when Gary looked into his eyes, the warm gratitude hardened his resolve. Taking Maurice's hand, he smiled back. "It was no problem. And Sonny...if you were serious about wanting to find Sorrilla..."
Sonny's expression changed to one of curious anticipation as Gary trailed off. "Yes?"
Encouraged by the uncharacteristic openness of Sonny's face, Gary took a deep breath. "He's at County, ICU. The police admitted him under the name of Thomas Williams."
Maurice's eyes widened in surprise. "How do you--"
Smiling, Gary released his hand. "I've got a bar and a face people can talk to," he said, hoping the explanation would take.
Judging by the look in Sonny's eyes, it did.
* * * * *
"Any news from our man on the inside?"
Brigatti shook her head, moving into Corcoran's office at his beckoning gesture. "Not since yesterday. He called; Maurice invited him to his house."
The captain raised his eyebrows. "I'm impressed. Mr Hobson works quickly; is it the looks or the charm?"
Ignoring the blush that started to heat up her neck at the mention of Gary Hobson's charm, Toni shook her head briskly. "Neither. He's just good at ingratiating himself."
"I see." The boyish grin that made Theo Corcoran difficult not to like brightened his face for a long moment; then, as it faded, he began hunting through the ever-present heaps of papers on his desk. "Now, Toni, about that evidence from yesterday--"
Brigatti seated herself in the visitor's chair, glad for the change of topic. "You read my report?"
"I did." Giving up on the papers momentarily, the captain looked up at her, his serious eyes meeting hers. "Now, I think I know you pretty well, Detective, and I've come to appreciate your reports as being straightforward and thoroughly detailed. However, this Lockerbie account, and a few others I've pulled from files--"
He was interrupted by the shrill sound of the phone; Corcoran paused, letting it ring while he rolled his eyes. "Just a minute, Toni...This is Corcoran..."
While the captain listened to whoever was on the other end, Brigatti puzzled over what he had been about to tell her. It sounded almost as if her report hadn't been up to code, which was ridiculous; one thing she had learned from the US Marshall's office was the importance of in-depth, concise, above all factual written accounts of everything that happened while on-duty. She prided herself on her ability to put together above-average reports; even Paul Armstrong, who was notorious for detailed, professional write-ups, had been heard to compliment her work. It didn't make sense that Corcoran would be displeased; maybe he wasn't understanding something...
"What?" The sharp query caught Toni's attention, and she looked up to see the captain gazing at her tensely, his eyes hard, his face set. "Is there any information--no, I mean witnesses, surveillance cameras--" He lapsed into silence again, his expression darkening with every passing moment. Then, finally, he said, "All right. Tell them I'll want to talk to the night staff. And no press; we don't need this getting out yet. Thanks."
"Captain?" Brigatti asked as he hung up the receiver. "What happened?"
Corcoran gazed across his desk at her, his expression
grave. "That was County Hospital," he informed her, his voice low.
"Francis Sorrilla was murdered last night."
I walked around my good intentions
And found that there were none...
I blame myself for being too much like
I never thought I would just bend this way...
--Our Lady Peace
Gary Hobson was reading a book, and was well enough into it to know that it was rather a good book. Every once in a while he would pause his reading for a moment, just to revel in the knowledge that for once the Paper had given him enough time off to be literary. It was practically unheard of.
He was stretched out on the couch in his loft, his old plaid blanket tossed over his legs, a steaming cup of hot chocolate within easy reach on the end table, the book cradled in his hands. He had been contemplating getting up and making lunch--he hadn't checked the clock in a while, but his stomach told him that time was drawing near--but the pull of the plot was overriding even his hunger, reaffirming his opinion that it was, truly, a good book. So, he kept reading.
Until the sharp knock on his door penetrated his concentration. Slightly irritated, Gary glanced up and tried to make out who it was through the glass. "It's open."
The words were hardly out of his mouth when Brigatti barged in, took in his cozy appearance, and scowled, slamming the door behind her. "Comfortable, Hobson?"
"Brigatti! What--" His legs tangled in the blanket, and he almost tripped on his way to standing up. "What are you doing here?"
The detective crossed her arms, still glaring. Her hair was mussed, as if she'd taken the stairs at a run, and a rose flush coloured her cheeks. "What did Maurice want yesterday?" she demanded, ignoring his question. "What was he doing? What did he say?"
Suddenly on guard, Gary shook his head. "We--we had a conversation. Not really very much different from the one--ones we have at the bar."
"I seriously doubt that the man invited you over for drinks and a chat, Hobson." Stepping closer, Brigatti tilted her head up and glared at him through narrowed eyes. "Tell me what you talked about--specifics--or I'll drag you down to the station and *make* you tell me."
She was practically vibrating with anger; Gary found himself leaning away from her slightly, and made a conscious effort to lean forward again. "Threats? So soon? You just got in the door, Brigatti--"
"I mean it!" The fierce conviction in her tone made him pause. For the first time he noticed that her face held none of the beleaguered sufferance it usually did when she was talking to him; instead, her jaw was tight, her eyes flat, her expression one of pure, determined professionalism. She hadn't seemed this unsettled since--
Gary's mind shied away from that train of thought, and he allowed himself to step back. "What happened?" he asked, a nameless dread opening a pit in his stomach. "What's wrong? What did Maurice do?"
Brigatti's eyes flashed angrily. "Tell me what you talked about--"
"You first. What *happened*?" Despite himself, Gary felt the old exasperation flare up at her demands, and couldn't help being stubborn. Punctuating his words with a sharp gesture of his hand, he began, "You barge in here, interrupt what I'm doing to tell me--"
"Francis Sorrilla is dead."
Gary froze in mid-stream. "What?"
"He was suffocated last night at the hospital." Brigatti sighed, then backed off very slightly. "Corcoran got the call an hour and a half ago; the nurses were changing shift when they found him. They figure it was somebody who knew what they were doing; the monitors he was hooked up to were bypassed somehow, kept feeding the right information to the nurses' station even after the guy died..."
Gary listened with half an ear as Brigatti talked; his thoughts were occupied with what all of it meant. Sorrilla was dead--but how could he be dead? There hadn't been anything in the Paper--
The Paper. If he'd missed the article... Gary's eyes widened, and he turned away from Brigatti to grab the Paper from the end table. Ignoring the detective's irked, "Hobson, what's the newspaper have to do with anything?", he flipped frantically through the pages, scanning the headlines, searching...and coming up as empty as he had that morning.
Looking back up, he told her, "It's not in the Paper."
The look Brigatti shot him could have frozen lava. "Of course not. It happened this morning; if it was going to reach the media, it wouldn't happen until tomorrow. And it's not going to be reported anyway, because Corcoran doesn't want it getting out that Vincent Zefferelli's right-hand man was murdered while in police custody until he can find some way to put a positive spin on it." She shook her head, then dropped her hands to rest on her hips. "In any case, he's dead, and I need to know how Sonny Maurice found him."
"Sonny...?" All of a sudden, the whole picture became crystal clear in Gary's mind, and he almost stopped breathing. "You think Sonny had Sorrilla killed."
Brigatti gazed back at him impassively. "Yes, I do."
"Of course. It makes sense." His knees were weak; slowly, Gary pitched backwards until he sat on the couch, his hand still clenched around the Paper, his book forgotten. "It does...make sense," he repeated softly, as if he was talking to himself. "If Maurice wanted him dead all along, and if he had found out that I was with the police...and what happened to Charlotte made him angry..." He shook his head, feeling anger mushrooming up inside him as images from his afternoon at the mobster's house flashed before his eyes--Sonny, cradling Charlotte possessively, telling him about Zefferelli's underhanded tactics, thanking him for Sorrilla's location with a smile and a warm handshake... "And I fell for it. I gave him what he wanted, because he made me feel sorry for him. He showed me what I needed to feel sorry for him--I'm so stupid!"
He was aware of Brigatti watching him, concerned. She had stepped closer to him when he sat down, and was standing practically over top of him, throwing him into shadow as she blocked the light from the windows. "You told Maurice where Sorrilla was?" she asked quietly, her voice strained.
Gary's lips pressed into a thin, angry line, and he nodded, unable to meet her eyes.
"I see." She was still being incredibly quiet, incredibly subdued; Gary had expected her to hit the ceiling when he told her, but instead all she did was turn and pace a little away from him. "He told you he wasn't going to hurt Sorrilla, that he just wanted to talk to him? That he could fix things without any more bloodshed?"
It was something in her tone. Gary turned his head, his eyes narrowing as he glared at her back. "You told me to keep his confidence," he reminded her, unable to keep a note of irony out of his voice. "You told me to go to his house and do whatever it took to keep him talking to me; well, I did that." Brigatti turned, her mouth open to object, but he continued, relentlessly. "I told him where Sorrilla was because he told me that Sorrilla could help him keep Zefferelli under control. And before that, he showed me just how out of control Zefferelli is; when I got to his house, I found him in his living room, going crazy because Zefferelli had beat up his girlfriend. And before that, I'd talked to him at McGinty's and found out that his parents were killed when he was twenty, which probably led to his getting involved in the mob in the first place. And before that--" Gary broke off for a minute, his eyes finding Toni's across the room, "Before that, he looked me in the eye and asked me for help, because he couldn't not talk to anyone anymore."
Brigatti's eyes softened, and her shoulders slumped. "He was playing you, Gary."
"I know." Ducking his head, Gary laced his fingers across the back of his neck and sighed. "And now a man's dead."
Both of them were silent for a moment; then, Brigatti echoed his sigh. "It's not your fault, Hobson," she said tiredly. "I let you know where Sorrilla was being kept, and I told you to make Maurice keep trusting you. You're hardly a professional at this; you couldn't know--"
"Not to trust a mob boss?" Gary interrupted bitterly. "Thanks, but I used to think I wasn't quite that naive."
The silence descended for another long moment. It was finally broken by the shuffle of Brigatti's feet as she moved to the door. "I have to tell Corcoran about this, Hobson," she stated, her hand on the knob. "And...you'll have to keep up appearances with Maurice, at least for now."
Gary couldn't bring himself to look up. "I understand. Thank you."
He couldn't see her, but he thought he heard her take a deep breath, as if she was going to say something else--but when she spoke again, it was simply to say, "Goodbye."
The door clicked shut behind her, and Gary did not move.
* * * * *
Toni pulled the door shut behind her, then took a step to the side and leaned against the wall, exhaling in one long breath the tension from her visit with Hobson.
She shouldn't have done it that way. She shouldn't have barged in, throwing around accusations and demanding answers to questions that he obviously hadn't been expecting; it was callous and incredibly unfair, and Hobson had every right to be defensive--and utterly crushed when she told him what Maurice had done.
That was the thing, Toni realized, her brow furrowing as she replayed his reaction to the news of Sorrilla's murder--Hobson had been caught completely off-guard by the information. He hadn't expected that Sonny would do anything wrong once he knew where Sorrilla was being kept, he had believed whatever the mobster had told him...but why? Why had Hobson been so completely fooled by a man he was on the defensive about in the first place?
Brigatti chuckled, a low, humourless sound that had nothing to do with realizing something funny. Why was it such a mystery? Gary Hobson was possibly the most trusting person she'd ever met; he still believed in the integrity of the police, for godsakes, even after everything he'd been through--
Even after everything she'd put him through.
The chuckle died on her lips, and Toni sighed. She hated that this particular self-recrimination came so easily, but she couldn't seem to do anything to make it go away.
Hobson had come to her for help when he was wanted for murder, and she had ignored him. It wasn't that he'd had no right to expect her to help him, either--after his involvement with the Icewoman case, he had every right to think she trusted him, that she would help him. After all, he had saved her life, he had saved her job, and he had saved her from jail; the least she could have done in return was believe in him enough to help him find Frank Scanlon's real murderer. But when she had turned on the lights and found him there, standing in the dark in her apartment, looking every inch the fugitive he was--
What was she supposed to do? She was a police detective, and he was wanted for murder. He could have been there to kill her while she slept.
Brigatti shook her head, annoyed with herself. It had been Hobson, the same Hobson she'd been ordered to keep in protective custody, the same Hobson who had saved her life, the same Hobson she'd been so very close to giving in to in that hotel room--
She pushed herself away from the wall, her hands squeezing into fists at her sides. It had also been, standing in the dark after breaking into her apartment, the Hobson who demanded a lie detector test only to panic when asked if he had a secret, the Hobson who clearly had a "propensity towards deception". And no matter how she tried to think of him, that lie detector always, *always* got in the way.
It had been on her mind when she came home that night, and finding him there--well, she had let herself get scared, and had pulled her gun. And because of that, Hobson had had to go up against the real murderers on his own, with the entire Chicago Police Department hunting him through the city. He hadn't deserved that...but she had betrayed him because she couldn't bring herself to trust him.
That was the problem, Toni realized, not just with what had happened between them before, but what was happening now. She was too cynical; she expected mobsters to break the law and mess with people's heads, while Hobson still had some kind of...gullibility, maybe, that let him believe that a mobster could be a decent human being at heart. And that was exactly the quality that Luka Maurice had noticed in him, and exploited without a second thought.
And now Hobson felt responsible for a man's death. Perfect.
Toni took a deep breath, then let it out in a whoosh as she started for the stairs. When it came to Gary Hobson, her life seemed to be a series of mistakes and bad judgements; the problem was keeping him and all of her issues with him separate from the work they had to do together. It was harder than she almost always convinced herself it was.
Stepping softly on the carpet, Brigatti squared
her shoulders and tucked her thoughts back into the corner of her mind.
Luka Maurice was a far more pressing concern than any lingering guilt she
had over Hobson; with any luck, Sorrilla's murder would give her what she
needed to put the mobster away, and she wouldn't have to deal with Hobson
I wanted to believe that I'd get caught up
When the rage in me subsides
In this white wave I am sinking
In this silence
In this white wave, in this silence I believe
I have seen you in this white wave
You are silent...
The soft knock on the door could have been Brigatti coming back, but Gary muttered, "Come in" anyway.
It was Marissa. "Gary?" she said, her tone one of careful concern. "Are you all right? I just passed Detective Brigatti on the stairs--"
"I'm fine, thank you, Marissa." Leaning back on the couch, Gary crossed his arms and gazed impassively at his friend. "Brigatti had some news for me, that's all."
Marissa's hands slid over her cane, folding it as she moved to a chair and sat down. "What kind of news?" she asked, studiously nonchalant.
"Oh, nothing really important." Gary's eyes settled on the Paper, lying in a mess where he had dropped it on the coffee table, and he sighed. Dropping every trace of sarcasm from his voice, he admitted, "Francis Sorrilla was murdered last night."
Marissa gasped, her eyes widening. "Murdered? How?"
"Someone found out where the police were keeping him, and they suffocated him," he explained in a dull monotone. Ducking his head, he brought his hands up to rub down the back of his neck. "The doctors at the hospital didn't even know until this morning when the nurses changed shift. And I didn't know because it wasn't in the Paper; the police are keeping the media out of it."
"That's horrible." The expression on Marissa's face displayed her feelings all too plainly; after a moment, however, her eyes softened and she leaned forward. "Gary, I know this is upsetting, but I'm sure that Detective Brigatti doesn't blame you. It wasn't your fault--"
"Oh, I know that," Gary interrupted, leaning forward again and aiming a piercing look in her direction. "I know it's not my fault. It's Sonny Maurice's."
Marissa started back in shock. "What? He killed Sorrilla? How did he find him?"
Unable to stay seated any longer, Gary leapt to his feet and began pacing through the loft. "Well, that part I am responsible for--he's such a smooth operator that I told him straight out where to find Sorrilla." Marissa opened her mouth to object, but Gary kept on. "So some of the blame for his death does belong with me. But that doesn't mean that I'm gonna feel guilty for Maurice; he killed Sorrilla, I didn't. And he's going to have to answer for that."
Across the room, Marissa shifted uneasily in her chair. "It sounds like you're thinking about revenge," she said carefully. "Gary, do you really think that's a good idea?"
Pausing in mid-pace, Gary shook his head. "Oh, I'm not thinking about revenge," he assured her. "One mobster killed over a business deal isn't worth it. But Sonny--" He paused, trying to think through the haze of anger that seemed to be burying his mind. "Sonny deliberately manipulated me into feeling sorry for him, into trusting him, and that made me as much of an accomplice as if I was there. I'm going to tell him--" He took a deep breath, then announced, "I'm going to tell him that he can't use me like that."
Marissa's brow furrowed in worry. "Gary, he's a mafia don who just had someone killed! Don't you think that giving him a piece of your mind might not be the safest thing you can do?"
Smiling grimly, Gary noted, "He hasn't killed me yet, even though it looks like he knew all along I was with the police. He might think I'm too important; if I don't let on that I know that he knows--"
"Gary, listen to yourself!" Shooting up out of her chair, Marissa took a step toward his voice and held out her hands beseechingly. "Think about what you're doing. Maurice might have known you were working with the police all along, but he might not've. You don't even know if he realized that you knew where Sorrilla was being kept! If you're angry with him now, he might start to think that you're more trouble than you're worth--and I don't want anything to happen to you."
Gary shook his head. "I know you don't. But Maurice used me to kill someone; I can't just sit back and pretend I'm okay with that." He sighed, then stepped closer to his friend. "The police are backing me up, Marissa. If I can get Maurice to tell me that he had Sorrilla killed, I can get him put in jail. It'll all work out; I'll be fine."
Her eyes troubled, Marissa said softly, "When do I get those 'I told you so's?"
* * * * *
Detective Logan Winslow liked working with Toni Brigatti for lots of reasons, but mostly because she actually liked typing up reports. It made life a whole lot simpler knowing that, at the end of a long day, she would offer to write the case summaries that he usually fell asleep at the computer over; it didn't hurt that she was better at composing the things than he was, either. Logan was honest enough to put credit where credit was due, and shrewd enough to know when he had a cushy deal; working with Toni, the two roads usually met halfway, and happened to make his job much easier than it had been with other partners. Brigatti was the woman for accuracy and detail; it was probably one of those feminist cop things, but Winslow held his partner in enough esteem that he wouldn't dream of saying that aloud. Whatever the reason, she turned out complete, official reports for every case under her authority.
Which was why the folders he had in front of him were so interesting.
Shaking his head, Logan leaned over a case file from a few months ago, the Icewoman jewel thief case. He had transferred to Toni's precinct a couple weeks after that one had died down, but he remembered hearing the unofficial gossip about it; they had been after a diamond thief, believed at first to be Paul Kettner, and Toni was supposed to have gone undercover with Lawrence Kennedy, playing newlyweds to flush him out using the Laramontov diamond as bait. But Kennedy had been delayed at the last minute, and somehow Toni had roped none other than Gary Hobson into playing the role of her husband, Larry Thurston. It turned out that Kettner hadn't been the thief, a woman going by the name of Amber Lamonte stole the diamond, but it hadn't been Brigatti who figured it out--it had been Hobson. And if he hadn't gone after 'Amber', Toni would have been charged with stealing the Laramontov, and probably would have gone to jail.
Of course, gossip around the doughnut shops had been that near the end of the operation, Brigatti and Hobson had been getting a little closer than the job strictly required; Winslow remembered hearing about that time that the Icewoman case hadn't been the first time those two had crossed paths, and judging by their passionate--and vocal--dislike of each other, it probably wouldn't be the last time, either. The strange happenstance that made Hobson, a civilian, such an integral part of the case had made it stick in Logan's mind, and when he'd been assigned to be Toni's partner, he'd made sure to watch for any hint of a developing non-professional relationship between her and Hobson.
Winslow was a firm believer in the positive power of a healthy internal rumour mill, and strove to provide grist for his precinct's wheel at every possibility; harmless stuff, nothing that would hurt the gossippee or create uncomfortable situations, but preferably with grains of truth within the chaff of exaggeration. To his neverending delight, whenever Gary Hobson got involved with Toni Brigatti's duties, something fun usually resulted. He'd never really looked up the case reports from Icewoman--or Toni's other two cases involving Hobson--but now he was beginning to wish he had. You could find the most interesting tidbits if you read between the lines of official reports...
Sighing, Winslow closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose; the light from his desk lamp was hardly strong enough to read by at night, and Toni's obsessive inclusion of every tiny detail of her time on-duty did not make for light reading. Logan chuckled as it occurred to him that the off-duty intensiveness he would've appreciated in formulating his scuttlebutt would've made the files that much more difficult to wade through; as much as he'd love to read about what happened in the honeymoon suite of the Hilton outside of business hours, he just knew that Brigatti's report would undoubtedly feature details like 'cotton-blend comforter' and 'precise measurement'.
Still laughing quietly to himself, Winslow shuffled aside the Icewoman file and opened the one under it. As soon as he saw what it contained, however, his smile died on his lips, and his eyes grew troubled. The Frank Scanlon murder--the one that Hobson had been wrongfully accused of, the one that flushed out a dirty cop and M.E. Toni had been right in the middle of that one, as had Paul Armstrong--who had also had dealings with Hobson in the past, but wasn't nearly as open to the possibility of Hobson's innocence as Brigatti had been. Logan's brow furrowed as he glanced over the information contained in the file; that one had been messy, and even after Hobson had been cleared Toni had been awfully quiet around the precinct, generally steering clear of Armstrong and the coroner's office. She'd relaxed again after about a week--come in to work tough as nails and slinging comebacks to his bantering jokes like she usually did--but whenever that specific case came up, she'd close herself down again a little, become more defensive than normal. Privately, Logan thought that something had happened when Hobson had escaped custody and gone on the run, and every so often he would be tempted to just come out and ask his partner what exactly was up with the guy--but common sense usually prevailed, and he would never go past getting her attention.
A notation near the bottom of the second sheet caught his eye, and Winslow held the folder closer to the light, squinting. Ah, yes--the lie detector. Hobson had asked that one be administered, but the results had been firmly inconclusive. The man had a tendency to deceive, but...what *was* that under the second last line of test results...?
Squinting irritably and wishing that he hadn't forgotten his reading glasses on the kitchen table, Winslow reached for the lamp on Toni's desk, trying to flick the switch without looking--then jumped as his questing fingers encountered lukewarm liquid. He looked up in time to watch the nearly-full styrofoam cup of forgotten coffee send a wave of sludge onto Toni's paperwork, drenching the top of a stack of paper and spreading to the edge of the desk where it began to drip onto the floor.
Cursing, Winslow leapt to his feet and rushed around to the other desk, grabbing his shirttail and mopping inexpertly at the wet patch on the papers. If there was anything really important in that stack, Brigatti was going to kill him...
A few moments later the papers were only very damp, and the bottom of Logan's shirt was an uneven brown. Shaking his head, he let out an annoyed breath--only he could be that clumsy after the janitors went home--and began sorting carefully through the sodden pages, making sure that they would still be readable once they were dry and looking for any official documents that would *really* get him killed for mucking up. To his relief, there didn't seem to be anything really crucial--
A word caught his eye, and Winslow paused. There was a memo in the stack, stuck neatly between a page of transcript from the Pier 11 audio feed and a psychological profile of Vincent Zefferelli. Unlike the rest of the handwritten material on her desk, the memo wasn't in Toni's neat cursive; despite the growing guilt that was nagging at his conscience, Logan leaned over the papers and peered closer at the note.
"Tomorrow: locksmith730, Zeff. cheque deposit
to accnt. 377[unreadable] last in schedule
Re: Sorrilla, aka 'Thomas Williams', nurses 6:45-6:50 am, doctors 7:00 am
Winslow read the note again, then placed the papers back on the desk and walked slowly back to his chair. Ignoring the files in disarray all over his desktop, he folded his hands on top of them and stared at nothing for a long moment.
It wasn't in Toni's handwriting, and it wasn't in Corcoran's handwriting, and it wasn't in his handwriting. And the number of people within the precinct who knew about Sorrilla's alias at County, added to those three, could finish off the fingers on one hand--and that was the way it was supposed to be. And Logan had a sinking suspicion that he knew what a 'Zeff. cheque' was...
He shook his head. "Snap out of it, Logan," he muttered, forcing his black thoughts away. "It's Toni's desk, and Toni's papers. It's *Toni*, for Chrissake." Standing up, he blinked once, stretched, and began gathering his things. "Time to go home," he continued to speak to himself. "It's late, and you're getting paranoid." Tossing his coat over his arm, Winslow picked up a few files to take home and headed for the door.
He didn't even pause when he remembered Sam Dasney's
claim that there was another dirty cop. He was a few moments later leaving
than he wanted to be, however, on account of having to go back to his desk
for the photocopier key.
Company with honesty
Is virtue, vices to flee
Company is good and ill
But every man hath his free will
The best ensue, the worst eschew
My mind shall be
Virtue to use, vice to refuse
Thus shall I use me.
Gary took a swallow of beer, and sighed. He was doing the books, but they weren't doing anything for him.
He glanced at the clock, then sighed again irritably and pushed the ledgers away from him. He'd been working for an hour, trying to distract himself from thinking about what he was going to say to Maurice if he ever showed up--but it wasn't working. All he'd managed was to stare, unseeing, at the columns of numbers, remembering Sonny's grin when he'd heard where Sorrilla was, and getting even more angry with himself for falling for the mobster's act. If anything, the time alone in the office was only making him more anxious to speak his mind.
He had finally given in to his thirst for a beer ten minutes ago, fully aware that he was strictly limiting himself to one, despite the fact that two would have made the world a much better place. Gary knew his tolerance, but he also knew that alcohol wasn't the smartest thing to seek courage in at any time--much less when he was about to go head to head with a murderer. Still, he had been hungry, he had been thirsty--and if anything, the burger and drink calmed his twanging nerves.
Or they had--if Maurice didn't show up soon, he was going to finish the bottle, and then there was no helping him.
Sighing, Gary leaned back in the desk chair and gazed at the bottle on the desk. There were maybe three more good swallows trapped within the green-tinted glass; he gave himself ten more minutes at the outside before they disappeared and left him debating whether or not to call Robin to get him another. "Come on, Maurice," he muttered, drumming his fingers on his thigh, "You're killin' me here."
As if on cue, there was a light rap on the office door. Jolting upright in his seat, Gary cleared his throat, feeling his heartbeat skip, then jackhammer in his chest. "Come in."
The door opened enough to admit Sonny and a wave of crowd noise from the bar. The mobster slid into the room, impeccably groomed and dressed as always, his sleek black suit making him look like a stylish shadow. He nudged the door closed behind him, and Gary caught a glimpse of a bulky shape moving into position on the other side of the glass--he wondered briefly if it was Johnny, or the more skittish Sebastian who was providing the protection this evening. Either way, Maurice didn't seem the least bit worried; as he stepped farther into the room he flashed a quicksilver smile at Gary, the whiteness of his teeth practically glowing against his browned skin. He didn't look like a man who had just had someone killed--but he did look awfully satisfied about something.
"Hey, Gary." Maurice leaned comfortably against the partition, bringing his right arm up to drape casually over the top of the wood. One finger idly traced the pebbled pattern of the glass as he spoke. "I got your call. There's something you want to talk to me about?"
How could he be so casual? Feeling the anger building up inside him, Gary turned his chair so he faced away from Sonny, unable to look at the smiling face. Ignoring the question, he asked instead, "How's Charlotte?"
"Getting better." The mobster sounded relieved, and Gary marvelled at how he could hold certain lives in such regard while having nothing but contempt for others. "Doctor Soterios said that what she needs most right now is rest; I'm keeping her in her room at my place, making sure she sleeps okay. She'll be able to move around again in a day or so."
"That's good." Gary purposely let a note of frostbite enter his voice, and heard Maurice shift at the change. His mouth twisted in a momentary smile that had no humour in it. "And how about Francis Sorrilla? How's he?"
The air changed; it was such an abrupt, palpable transformation that Gary nearly shuddered. Suddenly the office seemed a lot colder than it usually did... "Sorrilla? I don't know." Sonny paused, then stepped into Gary's line of sight, his dark eyes inscrutable, and trained on him. "Why do you ask?"
The smile returned, unbidden, and Gary met the mobster's eyes unflinchingly. "Because he's dead," he answered softly.
He was watching for the reaction, and he got it. Across the desk the mobster's eyes widened and he swallowed once, thickly, his Adam's apple bobbing against the round, almost clerical cut of his collar. "The gunshot?" he asked, his voice suddenly tense.
"Oh, the gunshot was healing nicely." Gary stood, then walked slowly over to Maurice, not once breaking eye contact. "In fact, the doctors think he would have pulled through with almost full mobility in his left arm. He would have *healed*--" He stopped a foot away from Sonny, drawing himself up to his full height and glaring down at the smaller man. "He would have healed, but somebody decided he was better off dead. He was suffocated yesterday."
The mobster stared right back up at him, not giving an inch. "You think I had him killed," he stated after a moment, in the blunt, matter-of-fact way he had of speaking about business.
"Yes I do." Gary looked, searched, for some sign of remorse or guilt, some indication that Maurice knew that he had been caught and regretted *something*, even if it was only that...but there was nothing. The man's eyes were closed off, flat and dull, and his face was as smooth as ever. And for the first time since he'd heard about Sorrilla's death, Gary felt a tremor of uneasiness shake his rage at Maurice. "Did you?"
"Why should I answer that?" Sonny's mask was firmly in place; even his voice gave nothing away. "Sounds like you've already decided. That easy for you, huh Gary?"
The other man's calmness unnerved him; turning away, Gary began to pace out of habit, his arms waving as he gestured, emphasizing each point with his hands. "Well what else am I supposed to think, huh?" he demanded. "You find out where the guy's being kept, next morning he turns up dead! And I told you where he was." He stopped short, swinging around to point an accusatory finger squarely at Maurice. "*I* told you. You used me, damnit, to find out where he was! And then you killed him!"
"I thought you knew my reputation." The words were spoken evenly, but behind them Gary got the impression of water coming to a boil. "Hell, you did know my reputation. And when you came to my house, you saw *exactly* what goes on in my life." Sonny tilted his head to the side and narrowed his eyes, watching Gary from across the room. "And you still wanted to know more. Well--" His arms were suddenly spread out at his sides, as if he was indicating his world. "Now you know. Can't handle it? Too bad. Too late, Gary."
"I never wanted to be involved in a murder!" He was almost shouting; abruptly lowering his voice, Gary took a quick step back towards Maurice and continued, "I'm a simple man, Sonny. I run my bar, I try to help people. You've read up on me; you know that. I do *not* take lives! You were so angry when Charlotte got hurt--"
Maurice was beside him in a moment, eyes burning, hands raised in fists. "Do *not* compare Sorrilla to Charlotte--"
"Why not? They're both human beings!" His fury overriding any uncertainty, Gary met the mobster's gaze and pressed on, his own hands squeezing tightly at his sides. "They both have people who care about them, they both mean something to somebody! Sorrilla had friends, he had a brother, he had a son! How's his death gonna affect them, huh? How would you have felt if Zefferelli had dumped Charlotte on your lawn with a bullet through her--"
The punch staggered him. Shocked into silence, Gary looked up through watering eyes at Maurice, standing above him, positively seething with fury. "I would kill the fucking bastard with my own hands," he said sincerely, and Gary believed him completely. "But that's different, and if you keep on with Charlotte, you'll get a taste of what exactly I'd do."
Gary didn't need it; his jaw stung like hell, and when he took his hand away to steady himself as he got to his feet he saw that his fingers were smeared with blood. Glancing at the mobster, he realized that Sonny had hit him with the hand that displayed an expensive-looking jewelled ring; while his knuckles had shaken the bone, the metal had sliced through his skin just deep enough to draw blood. "Just drawing a comparision," he muttered.
"Don't." The physical violence seemed to have drained some of his rage, and Sonny stepped back, giving Gary enough room to stand and regroup. "You think I don't know what the price of a life is? You think I've never seen what this business costs the loved ones of the people in it? I'm not that stupid, Gary. You don't stay alive long if you're that stupid."
"I see." The shock of the hit had sobered him down a little, and Gary thought for a moment without any anger burning through his brain. "So--what, you don't kill people unless it's absolutely necessary? If they piss you off bad enough, then it's okay?"
To his amazement, Sonny shrugged, and a huge amount of tension seemed to leave his shoulders. "You do what you have to," he said, his voice retaining its intensity. "You don't stay alive long if you let stupid people live, either. It's a fact of the life. You live--or die--with it."
"Oh, yeah?" The skeleton of a smile crossed Gary's mouth, and he winced as the expression pulled at his torn skin. "So Sorrilla was too stupid to live, huh?"
"I don't know." Maurice met his eyes, his gaze clear, cool--and honest. "I didn't kill him."
Gary froze, positive that he had heard wrong--but the words were there, hanging in the air, and one look at Sonny's face told him that, whatever else he had lied about, he was telling the truth right now.
He couldn't even figure out what to say before Sonny strode past him and out of the office, pulling the door shut behind him.
* * * * *
"Toni? You got a minute?"
Glancing up from her paperwork, Brigatti saw Winslow standing in the door to their shared, cubicle-like office, looking at her with a peculiar expression on his face. "Just about. What's going on?"
As she spoke, Logan stepped fully through the door, then turned and closed it behind him. When he turned back, instead of going to his own chair, he walked around their desks to stand beside her; after a moment he perched himself on the only clean edge of her desk and gazed thoughtfully down at her. "I was here late last night," he began, "Looking through old files for information."
"You mean fodder for gossip," Toni added, flashing him a puzzled half-smile. Logan Winslow was the only man she'd ever met who passed along scandal with more than half the flair of some of the women she'd worked with; not long after she'd become his partner she'd decided it was an awfully good thing he had the sense of humour and personability he did, because anyone else spreading some of the news he happened upon would fast become the precinct's social leper. With Logan, though, you knew that he wasn't out to hurt anyone--so you tolerated his little habit, and even got into asking for the latest dish on this person or that. Even Toni, who was normally loathe to even exchange words with a precinct's unofficial newsmonger, liked Winslow for two reasons: he had an instinct for the more abstract problems that she sometimes tripped over, and he tended to edit any gossip he received and sent out about her. She had no illusions about him--she knew that he still dug up as much as he could on her, maybe even a little more whenever Hobson was involved--but the fact that less than half of what she knew he knew about her had been released to the general public made her grateful that he was the one handling that information. He was like a little brother who actually had some tact, and she valued having him. "I know you, Logan. What'd you find?"
A self-deprecating smile stretched Winslow's lips. "Since when are you eager to talk trash, Toni?" he shot back mildly. Then the smile disappeared and he gazed down at her, his eyes serious. "Actually, it's not something in the files I wanted to talk about. I, uh--" He broke off, ducking his head.
Perplexed, and a little worried by her partner's unusual reluctance to say what was on his mind, Toni leaned forward and asked gently, "What is it, Logan?"
Winslow sighed. Looking up again, he squared his shoulders and said, "I found something on your desk. I wasn't snooping, but I spilled some coffee, and--"
"I thought that was you." Arching her eyebrows, Brigatti indicated the sheaf of papers on her desk that featured a recent brown stain. "Don't worry, nothing was wrecked beyond readability. But you need to watch for my coffee; sometimes I forget it's there--"
"No, Toni, that's not--" Pausing, Logan stared for a moment into her eyes, then stated point-blank, "I found a memo in one of the stacks on your desk that isn't quite...right. I wanted to ask you what it means."
In the back of her mind, a warning light started to flash. "A memo?"
Winslow nodded, gesturing at a pile of paper that had been pushed aside to make room for the latest work. "Between the audio feed from Pier 11 and Zefferelli's profile."
Brigatti obediently dug into the pile, her mind racing. A questionable memo? For Winslow to be asking about it, it must be something fairly important--but she couldn't remember saving any memos recently; normally she threw the things in the trash as soon as possible, to cut down on clutter. And Logan was one of the more discerning people in the precinct--a by-product of his penchant for gossip--so anything he found odd must really be wrong...
She almost flipped past it, but Winslow pointed just before she turned the page. Sure enough, a small, neon-yellow sticky-note stood out against the dull white pages, covered in messy, scrawling handwriting that wasn't hers. Brigatti slid her fingers under it--most of the glue had worn off, and it didn't stick very well--and lifted it up, reading the words that she was sure she'd never seen before. "Who wrote this?" she asked.
"You don't know?"
"Winslow, I've never seen this before." Her eyes slid over the words "Zeff. cheque deposit to accnt." a few times, feeling a pit open in her stomach. "And I don't recognise the handwriting. But this information about Sorrilla--"
"Not many of us knew that." Crossing his arms, her partner tilted his head to the side and observed her closely. "I knew you didn't write it, but I wanted to make sure..."
"I understand." Furrowing her brow, Brigatti turned the note over, looking for more writing, or an impression, or something that would give a clue as to who wrote it. "I suppose you picked it up last night," she commented, mentally discarding the possibility of finding clear fingerprints. "And my prints are all over it now, too..."
"So you have no idea where it came from? What it means?" Winslow's voice held a note of interrogation--but Brigatti knew it was there more out of habit than from any real suspicion of her.
"I've never seen it before today. As for what it means, well, that I can...guess..." Suddenly, a whole list of inconsistencies clicked together, and Toni's eyes widened in shock.
Corcoran's sudden problems with her reports. The Lockerbie evidence. The missing file, the light in her house--and now this memo that could be incriminating--and Samuel Dasney, and Luka Maurice...it all fit. All of it.
She was being set up.
Winslow was speaking, something about taking the memo to Corcoran... "No!"
Brigatti looked up to see her partner staring down at her incredulously. "Toni, if this is the trouble I--and you, it looks like--think it is, then the Captain--"
"Look, don't tell him, Winslow." Her mind was buzzing, and she knew that her partner was right, she should go to Corcoran...but something, some germ of an idea, made her completely positive that she could handle this on her own. "Trust me, okay? If this is tied to the Maurice case--*if*--then I think I know how I can turn it to our advantage."
Logan was looking at her as if she had sprouted another head. "Come on, Brigatti, someone's setting you up! And probably Hobson, too, and he's in such a delicate position--"
"I can handle it." Nodding firmly, Toni ripped the memo into pieces, then wadded it into a ball and tossed it into the trash, ignoring her partner's wordless protest. "Look, the whole point of this case is to get Luka Maurice behind bars, right? Hobson's on the verge of getting us what we need to do that, which is probably why all this stuff's been happening to me. Maurice must have figured out that I'm linked to Hobson somehow, and is trying to distract me, keep me off-balance so I won't do my job." She set her jaw. "It won't work."
Winslow shook his head--but relented. "If you're that close to nailing him..."
"I am." She was bluffing on a mediocre hand at best, but if there was one thing Brigatti had, it was a poker face made of stone.
It might not have been working on her partner, but it was having an effect. After a moment of searching her expression, Logan held up his hands and backed off. "This is against my better judgement, Brigatti," he said, "But if you're sure--I won't mention the memo to the Captain."
Relieved, Toni threw him a quick smile. "Thank you, Logan."
After he had left the office, she leaned back in her chair, letting out a long sigh. Her head was buzzing; was this how Hobson had felt when he was being set up for Scanlon's murder? A fresh wave of sympathy and guilt flooded through her, and Brigatti closed her eyes.
What the hell was she going to do now?
Reach, she said, for no one else but you
'Cause you won't turn away
When someone else is gone...
I'm so terrified of no one else but me
I'm here all the time
I won't go away...
Gary accepted the proferred baggie gratefully, then touched it gingerly to his already-bruising jaw. Wincing, he muttered, "Thanks."
"I suppose we should be grateful that all he did was hit you," Marissa commented, moving around the furniture in the loft, then seating herself beside him on the couch. "It could've been worse."
"Yeah, brass knuckles come to mind. Wait, he already had those." Closing his eyes as the ice slowly numbed his injury, Gary sighed. "At least I won't see him again. He seemed pretty upset with me for dragging Charlotte into it; I doubt he'll come around anymore."
"We can hope." Marissa gave him a tiny smile, then settled back against the cushions. "What are you going to tell Brigatti about all this?" she asked after a moment.
"I don't know. I guess..." Gary pondered his options, then continued, "I guess I'll just tell her that Sonny and I...well, that we had a falling out, that's all. If he won't talk to me, I can't exactly inform on him, can I?"
Arching an eyebrow, Marissa replied, "Let's hope she sees it that way."
Gary turned to give her a half-hearted glare. "Do you always have to be such an optimist?"
Marissa smiled and opened her mouth to answer--but was interrupted by a brisk knock at the door. Curious as to who was calling this late, Gary angled his head to see around his friend. "Come in."
Brigatti looked much calmer than she had the last time she'd visited, but something about the expression on her face made Gary sure that something else had gone wrong. She stepped coolly through the door, nudging it closed behind her, then nodded courteously towards the two on the couch. "Miss Clark. Hobson."
"Detective Brigatti," Marissa responded before Gary even opened his mouth. "Come in. You're here to talk to Gary?"
The detective nodded, then realized who she was talking to. "Yes, I am." She paused--then, to Gary's astonishment, looked almost sheepish as she continued, "Miss Clark, I do need to speak with him about police matters. If you don't mind...?"
Smiling, Marissa stood and unfolded her cane with a snap. "Actually, I was just on my way out." Maneuvering easily around the furniture, she strode past Brigatti--and paused before opening the door. "If you need me, Gary, I'll be in the office."
"Thank you, Marissa." Gary watched his friend make her way out the door, closing it behind her. Then, he turned his attention to Brigatti. "What now?"
The detective had been staring after Marissa; at his voice, she visibly started and turned back to look at him. "What? Oh..." Brigatti gave her head a tiny shake, as if trying to clear it. "I just--wanted to ask if you'd seen Maurice since we talked last."
"Oh." Gary nodded. So it really was police business; somehow, her demeanour had made him believe she'd wanted to talk to him about something...else. And it was strange that he thought that, he realized, because after all this was *Brigatti*--
"So did you?"
"Huh?" Jolted out of his musings, Gary blinked up at his visitor. "Did I what?"
"Talk to Maurice." Brigatti met his gaze for a moment, then folded her arms, repeating, "Did you?"
Gary was amazed. He could swear that he saw a tiny flush of colour seeping through her cheeks... "Uh--yeah, I did," he answered, turning his eyes away from her face and fidgeting a little with his baggie of ice. "But it didn't really go very well..."
"What happened?" Gary turned his face so she could see the swelling on his jaw, and she frowned. "Sonny did that?"
"Yup." Smiling with ill humour, he glanced over at her again and joked half-heartedly, "At least he didn't get one of his goons to do it for him."
Brigatti's eyes widened, and she moved to the couch and sat down, taking the space that had recently been vacated by Marissa. "Let me see," she commanded, reaching over and taking the ice out of his hand as she spoke. When he angled his head to give her more light, she winced, then applied the baggie to the purplest region. "It's not too bad," she lied gamely.
Gary wanted to roll his eyes--but for some reason that he couldn't understand, he looked squarely down at Brigatti instead. "You're not the one he hit."
The detective's gaze flickered up to meet his, and the hand holding the baggie paused against his cheek. "You're right."
The eye contact continued, and Gary noticed again how nice Brigatti's eyes were to look into; a soft brown, they had a way of expanding into his whole field of vision, until all he could see was her carefully-guarded vulnerability--
--And then he noticed that he'd thought 'again', and *then* he noticed that he'd thought of Brigatti as 'vulnerable'. His legs went into action before his brain had finished the thought, and he found himself struggling to his feet even as Brigatti snatched her hand away from his face, a flustered expression skimming across her features.
Their eyes, however, still hadn't disconnected, and for a moment Gary was awash in a sea of uncertainty as he struggled to put together a sentence, any sentence, that would save them both from continuing their respective lines of thought.
As usual, Brigatti beat him to it. "This ice is melting," she blurted out abruptly, standing and thrusting the soggy bag towards him.
Gary took it. It was better than any of the topic changes his perplexed mind had offered. "I'll just--I'll just change it, then."
"Good." She nodded once, then yanked her hand away from where their fingers were grazing together on the baggie. "I'll--wait."
Clutching the dripping plastic, Gary turned and staggered purposefully to the kitchen area, where he dumped the melting water and then refilled the baggie with fresh ice. His mind was swirling, and the throbbing pain from his jaw wasn't helping him think.
What had just happened? They had been talking, discussing Maurice, more than a little appalled at his violent behaviour--and then suddenly, they'd been back in the honeymoon suite at the Hilton, and she'd let down her guard and was taking care of him, and he was in pain but trying not to show it. And for a brief moment, they hadn't been *arguing*...
Gary reached up and scrubbed his hand across the back of his neck, letting out a silent whoosh of breath he hadn't known his lungs were holding. The baggie was full, Brigatti was waiting--with her back turned, he noticed--and they had to sort out this Maurice thing. Squaring his shoulders, Gary squashed his mental confusion into a corner of his brain, then made his way back out to the couch.
As he approached, Brigatti turned around, her professional mask firmly in place. "So he slugged you, huh Hobson?"
"We were arguing." Gary was surprised at how easy it was to match her unemotional tone, but continued with it anyway. "He came by the bar earlier, and we started talking...and I brought up Sorrilla's death."
"Well, that was a brilliant move." Brigatti placed her hands on her waist and gazed at him impassively. "He obviously took your disapproval well."
Gary grimaced. "I also brought his girlfriend into it."
"Oh." Shaking her head, Brigatti commented, "You really know how to push people's buttons, don't you?"
"Well, I was angry," Gary rebutted. "I thought he'd used me to get to Sorrilla, and I didn't appreciate that--"
"Wait a minute," Brigatti interrupted, arching an eyebrow and subjecting him to a penetrating gaze. "You 'thought' he'd used you? Why the past tense, Hobson?"
Gary's eyes widened, and he mentally replayed the last thing he'd said. "Oh..."
Her shoulders tensed, and the detective glared. "Okay Hobson, when Maurice wasn't talking with his fists, what did he say to you?" she demanded. "I assume you came right out and accused him of being behind that hit..."
"Oh, I did." His hands began to fidget with the ice-filled baggie, and Gary glanced at her sideways. "He denied it."
Brigatti's mouth dropped open. "He what?"
"It was right after he hit me," Gary rushed to explain. "He began talking about how stupid people don't last in the mob--"
"They sure don't," Brigatti muttered.
"--And I asked if Sorrilla had been too stupid to live...and Maurice said he wouldn't know, because he wasn't the one who had him killed." Gary took a breath, creating a moment of silence that, thankfully, Brigatti did not try to fill. "He didn't explain anything more, and I was still a little shaken by the punch, so...he left before I could find out more..." He trailed off, watching Brigatti and waiting for the explosion that was surely on its way.
Oddly enough, the detective simply stood and looked at him, her eyes still round with surprise. There was another long moment of silence--then, finally, her head shaking slowly, Brigatti spoke. "No," she said, her voice hushed as if she didn't mean for anyone besides herself to hear. "No, that can't be right..."
Mystified, Gary took a step closer to her, watching her carefully. "Brigatti? What's wrong?"
At the sound of her name, she glanced up. Her brow was knit in the battle to solve some internal struggle, and she blinked at him once or twice before responding. "Maurice is setting me up."
It took a moment for her words to set in--then Gary started, shocked. "What?"
"He's framing me, making me look like I'm dirty." The expression on Brigatti's face was frozen, perpetually bewildered, and she spoke with a leaden, relentless tone that seemed very far away from her usual tough liveliness. "Someone broke into my house a few days ago, but I didn't realize it until today. A couple of my files have gone missing. There've been unexplained errors in some of my older case files, and an evidence slip-up in one recent one--maybe more. Last night Winslow found what could be an incriminating memo stuck into the paperwork on my desk. And a former cop who's been in jail for conspiring with the mob has been making noises about revealing the identity of another police officer who took bribes, helped the mafia..." She trailed off, then met Gary's eyes, managing a wan smile. "He's going to say it's me."
Gary was floored. If Antonia Brigatti was convinced that she was being set up... "Are you sure it's Maurice?"
A flash of the old annoyance crossed her face, and Brigatti answered sharply, "I'm sure. The memo mentioned a 'Zeff. cheque', which could only be a payment from Zefferelli. Somehow, I don't think he would incriminate himself in the bribing of a police officer." Dropping her gaze, Toni studied the couch intensely. "I thought that Maurice was putting all this evidence against me into place so that he could discredit me if I tried to arrest him for the murder; but if he wasn't behind Sorrilla's death..."
She was muttering to herself again, but Gary thought that he should make a contribution. "He seemed very sincere," he said helpfully. "Whatever else he's done, I don't think he had Sorrilla killed."
Brigatti looked up again, her expression schooled once more. Her eyes narrowed, and she stared at him for a long moment, as if trying to decide if he was telling the truth. "You believe him?" she asked finally.
Gary nodded. "I know it doesn't help, but...I do."
Sighing, Brigatti folded her arms and turned away, striding a little way towards the door before pausing. Keeping her back turned, she was silent for a moment--then, quietly, she said, "If Maurice didn't kill Sorrilla, none of this makes sense. If he didn't expect you to tell him where Sorrilla was, then he couldn't have known that you were with the police. And if he didn't know you were with us, there would be no reason to bring all this false evidence against me..." She broke off.
Gary didn't know what to do. The entire mess had just made itself even more confused, managing to tangle him in even deeper than before--but all he could think about was the fact that Brigatti was being framed, and how horrible that must be for her. After all, he knew first-hand how it felt to be damned for something you hadn't done...
...And he wasn't going to make her suffer the way he had.
Gary stepped closer, pausing a foot or two away from her suddenly rigid back. He reached out hesitantly, then placed his hand on her shoulder, squeezed lightly, and was amazed at the knot of tension her muscles formed. "Hey," he said softly, "It's okay, Brigatti. We'll work this out."
The detective was motionless for a long moment--then, she took a deep breath and said, "It was hell for you, wasn't it."
His eyes widened, and Gary pulled his hand away as if he'd been burned. Speechless, he watched as Toni turned and met his eyes, her own filled with tired sorrow and months' worth of guilt.
"I know it was, and I'm sorry you had to go through that," she continued, her voice quiet and strained with the effort of not betraying the emotion her eyes did. "I knew you couldn't have killed him. But then..." Her eyes darted away, her mouth curving into a bitter frown. When she looked back up, her whole face seemed to speak her doubts. "But *then*," she repeated, her tone trying desperately to undercut her gaze and failing miserably, "...you might have."
With that she turned and fled the loft, not running, but stepping calmly, the police detective's measured stride.
His face ashen, his heart pounding, Gary could
only watch her go.
In our darkest hour
We're all just shades of gray...
Arturo DiVenni had a modest shop in one of the more ethnic areas of downtown Chicago. It was the kind of shop where the customers knew they would be served in comfort, the kind of shop where Arturo, his son and two daughters would welcome the better-paying customers with a smile, hot coffee and immediate service--and the lesser-paying customers with a smile, coffee, and a long wait. Arturo got away with this service hierarchy because all of his customers, rich and poor alike, knew that he was the best reasonably priced tailor in all of Chicago; whether they had to wait an hour before he saw them or not, they were nevertheless going to go away with an affordable, good-looking suit that would last for decades.
Arturo knew that his customers knew this, and therefore didn't change his habits. If they tipped well, they were seen to immediately. If they could barely scrape together his minimum asking price for a two-piece and vest, well...there was a reason the chairs out front always had new cushions. He sometimes made people wait--but he always made sure they waited in comfort.
Of course, then there were the customers who *never* had to wait...
Arturo had been expecting the appointment for a week, ever since his youngest daughter had answered the phone, spoken two words, then turned as pale as a sheet. Bella had turned the phone over to him, managing to convey enough with her large eyes for him to know to be courteous to whoever was on the line. Once the appointment had been made, Arturo had spent a busy hour sending his son on inventory checks and ordering the usual supplies from the grocer and the fabric house; after all, nothing was too much trouble for Vincent Zefferelli.
The gentleman was due in five minutes. Arturo swept a critical gaze around his shop, then turned to where his family--employees--were lined up, waiting to pass inspection. They hardly needed it; the DiVenni children were adults now, all but Bella, and Domini's wife had long ago taken over mothering duties for the entire family. Therese was there, Arturo noted, standing tall beside her husband with a nervous gleam in her eyes; Domini himself had remained faithful to tradition, and was ready to serve as waiter throughout the afternoon just as he had for the past twenty years, ever since Zefferelli had first been attracted to DiVenni's Tailoring through the pleased word on the street. Renata had only been six years old back then, but she had helped her father with the pins and tape during that first appointment with the silent, wide-eyed solemnity of an awed child; now a vibrant young woman, she still lost a bit of her usual vocality during Zefferelli's visits. She stood beside Therese, and smiled as Arturo's gaze swept over her, then down onto--
"Bella." The ten year old glanced up through her lashes at her father, giving him the look that usually wrapped him solidly around her baby finger. Arturo knelt down awkwardly to put himself at her eye level, and asked, "Why aren't you dressed nicely?"
His little girl gazed back at him. "Because I don't want to meet Mr Zefferelli," she replied with her usual bluntness. "Derek said he kills people."
Arturo stifled a smile. "Derek hasn't met Mr Zefferelli, has he?"
Bella shook her head. "But--"
"No buts." Propelling himself to his feet, Arturo firmed his voice and said, "Mr Zefferelli is not going to kill anyone today; he is coming to be measured for a suit, and we are going to serve him. It would hardly be smart for him to kill the people who clothe him, eh Bella?"
The half-hearted joke made no impression on the girl. Instead, she continued to gaze up at him, her large dark eyes imploring from under her bangs, her lower lip trembling ever so slightly...
Arturo sighed. "Very well, then. Go and spend the afternoon with Mrs Talmage." Trying not to look too much like he'd just been had, he watched his youngest grin in victory, then scamper out the door. "And don't fill up on her ginger cookies!" he called after her, in a last-ditch attempt at discipline.
Renata chuckled. "Whatever will you do when she wants her own way about boys?"
Ignoring the gentle laughter of his children, Arturo turned to the mirror and checked his own appearance, making sure that he looked presentable. His shop did a good business--he'd established a good name for himself early on, and had enjoyed many successes over the years--but in truth, he could have survived quite nicely on Zefferelli's business alone. Of course, there were certain things you had to do in serving the man, certain facts you had to forget, certain idiosyncracies you had to put up with--but when you were looking at the kind of pay you got from him...those things weren't difficult. You did them, because it would be worse if you didn't.
"I think we're--" Arturo was cut off by the soft jingle of the bell over the door, and he turned, slipping a smile onto his face.
The bodyguards always came first; the tailor recognized them, but didn't pay them any mind. Treat them the way he treats them--Arturo had learned that that was the best way to deal with anyone else in the shop during Zefferelli's visits. Treat everyone else the way Zefferelli treated them, and treat Zefferelli like a king...
The man himself entered after his beefy guards, dressed impeccably as always. Arturo noticed that Zefferelli's long coat was one he had made for the mobster three years ago; it complemented the gray fedora on his head, but obscured the pinstriped suit underneath--also a DiVenni original.
Oblivious to the expert observation his clothes were being subjected to, Zefferelli stepped into the shop, eyes sweeping across the room for a long moment before turning to Arturo. "DiVenni," the man rumbled in greeting, reaching up and taking the fedora off his head and smoothing a beringed hand over his thinning hair. "How are you today?"
Arturo's smile widened. "I am well, Mr Zefferelli; business has been good lately. And you?"
Zefferelli's somber expression broke for a moment, his fleshy cheeks creasing around a quick returning grin. "Can't complain, can't complain," he answered, moving more fully into the shop and sliding out of his coat. "My business has not been so good lately--many losses, unfortunately, most of them necessary--but I expect it will turn around soon." His smile widened, then disappeared as he levelled his serious gaze at the tailor. "And I found a week ago that my favourite suit had a hole in it; what was I to do?"
"Ah, sir, I promise, your new suit will never get holes." Relaxing into the careful banter he employed for Zefferelli's benefit, Arturo snapped his fingers at his family and commanded, "Therese, take the gentleman's coat and give his friends some chairs; Domini, the coffee should be almost ready in the back--two sugars for Mr Zefferelli, and don't forget the biscuits and fruit. Renata, bring me my basket..."
With that the appointment got underway; Arturo hastened everyone along until they were where he needed them to be, then got to his task of measuring the crimelord for his new suit. Conversation was kept to the weather and DiVenni's anecdotes, as Zefferelli seemed to have clear-cut ideas on interacting with the merchant classes and the DiVenni's really didn't want to hear this particular customer's tales from life anyway. The appointment went swiftly, and when Arturo checked his watch as he was finishing, he was surprised to see that a full hour had passed.
Pushing himself to his feet, the tailor smiled at Zefferelli. "All done," he stated, folding his measuring tape and handing it off to Renata. "I can start on it tonight, and have it ready for a fitting--three days from now? Okay?"
Zefferelli nodded in satisfaction. "Three days; you are very quick with the needle, eh?"
"For you, Mr Zefferelli, I am." Arturo gestured for Therese to bring the coats, continuing, "The price is not the same as last time; I got a deal on fabric, and--"
He was interrupted by Renata's scream. Turning to his daughter, he saw her staring out the front window, her eyes wide in horror, the floor around her strewn with pins and tapes where she had dropped the basket. Feeling his heart stop, Arturo asked, "Renata, what--?"
She barely glanced at him as she turned from the window and headed for the door. "Bella," she explained, her voice shrill with fear. "A car--" Stepping up to the door, she found her path blocked by one of Zefferelli's bodyguards, who had moved the instant she'd screamed to protect his boss from whatever threatened. He refused to move; Arturo saw Renata's jaw tighten as she tried to get past him. "Get out of my way!" she ordered frantically, to no avail.
Arturo exchanged a fearful glance with Domini and Therese, then turned to Zefferelli, his hands spread beseechingly before him. "Please sir, it's my daughter. Let her through--"
The mafioso nodded, and turned to his guard. "Adrian, step aside."
The bodyguard reluctantly complied, shuffling cautiously to the side--but before Renata could dash past him the door opened, and a tall, dark haired man stepped inside, carrying a pale, wide-eyed--
"Bella!" Renata reached out and stroked the child's face and arms, her eyes searching for injuries. "Are you all right? What happened?"
The girl seemed too shaken to speak; the man carrying her answered instead. "Bella was trying to cross the street, and a car ran the stopsign. I pulled her away just before the car got to her."
Arturo joined them, Domini and Therese close behind him. "My God," he breathed, reaching out and pulling his youngest daughter out of the man's arms. Cradling her close, he looked up into the stranger's concerned face. "Thank you. Thank you so much; if you hadn't been there--"
"Oh, I was just...in the right place at the right time." Seeing the little girl wrap her arms tightly around her father, the man's eyes crinkled in a warm smile. "I'm glad I was."
"Please--" Suddenly remembering his manners, Arturo nodded towards the table with coffee and food on it, offering, "Stay a while, have a drink. I want to thank you--"
"That--that's quite all right." The man shook his head, stepping slowly backwards as if trying to sneak out while in plain view. "I really need to be going, and you've got customers..."
Arturo's eyes widened; he had forgotten all about Zefferelli, something that could only happen if one of his children was in danger. Still clutching Bella, he half-turned, expecting to see the mobster glaring back, angry at the interruption--
Instead, Zefferelli was settling his fedora back on his head, as calm and professional as ever. "We were done anyway, weren't we, DiVenni?" he said, smiling. "I'll come back in three days for the fitting, and we'll work out price then."
"Oh--of course, of course. One moment--" He turned back to the stranger, about to ask his name...and came face to face with an empty space. The bell above the door was jingling, and he could just make out the man's form jogging across the street through the window. "He left?"
"Ah, DiVenni." The tailor turned back to Zefferelli to find that the bodyguards had taken up their usual places and were clearly waiting for the family to clear the doorway. "Some people, they do not like to be made heroes. What can you do?"
With that, the small but muscled group made their way out of the store, leaving the DiVenni's staring after them.
It was Bella who broke the silence. "Well, you could have offered him a free suit."
* * * * *
It was dark, and she was alone.
It wasn't the dark of a cloudy night, or the dark of a room with the lights turned off. It was a dark as black as sin, a primal dark that stifled sound as well as sight, that suffocated you with its sheer volume of blackness. She couldn't see, she couldn't hear--she couldn't move.
It was too cramped to move; she could sense the limits of the space she was confined in, and one was barely a foot from the end of her nose. She was bent double, her arms and legs felt like lead--but even though she wanted to move, she couldn't. The dark wouldn't let her.
Suddenly there was a voice echoing plainly in her ears:
"Wanna take a test, Brigatti?"
It was a familiar voice, but she had no idea who was speaking. She answered it anyway. "Not really."
She flinched at the sudden harshness; she might not know who was speaking, but she knew she'd never heard that voice so angry. "I don't want to take a test--"
"Two strikes, Toni. Look at that needle, jumping all over the place; you can't beat this one. It traps you."
A cold dread gripped her, and she asked, "Needle? What needle?"
"You're not hooked up yet. How silly of me." The voice was back to its pleasant tone--but the sudden sensation of straps and electrodes being attached to her body was utterly violating. She tried to shrink back from the onslaught, but phantom hands held her steady.
All the while the blackness kept closing in, and the air became staler and deader until she struggled to make herself keep breathing.
"Now," the voice said, and she strained her eyes to see who it was, because she *knew* it... "I think we'll start with the easy ones. Is your name Antonia Brigatti?"
"Is your shirt white?"
She had no idea what she was wearing, but her mouth said, "Yes" anyway.
"Did you kill Gary Hobson?"
"W-what?" She felt herself go boneless at the words, and a part of the blackness began to cloud the sharpness of her thoughts. Hobson was dead? Her heart pounded mercilessly in her chest, afraid that the slightest word could bring back that sharp, violently hateful tone. "No!"
"One word answers, please. Did you kill Gary Hobson?"
The entire roll of questions sounded so familiar, she knew she'd heard them before--but the blackness kept coming, invading the inside of her head, making it difficult to think. "No."
The voice sounded almost clinical. "Is your hair brown?"
"Did you shoot Gary Hobson?"
She opened her mouth to say no--and then froze as she saw herself standing in her apartment, gun levelled at someone she couldn't see but nevertheless knew. But that wasn't proof, she told herself; she couldn't remember pulling the trigger... Her voice trembled as she answered. "No."
She cringed back as if she'd been hit, stinging from the fury in the tone. "I didn't shoot him, I didn't--"
"You did! Stop lying!"
"No, I didn't, I couldn't!"
"Why should I believe you? There's as much evidence against you as there was against me."
She squeezed her eyes closed against the sudden light, and when she forced them open again a moment later, he was right in front of her. The dark was completely gone; she was in the white-panelled interrogation room, surrounded by people--Corcoran, Armstrong, Winslow--and the owner of the voice, Gary Hobson, was sitting right in front of her. He was glaring at her with such intense hatred that she shrank back against the chair she was strapped to, afraid that he was going to lash out at any moment with words in that horrible tone, or hands that were clenching on the table beside them.
"Don't lie, Brigatti," he said, his voice low and warning. "You see what lies can do to a person."
She met his eyes, feeling the blackness recede, leaving her mind painfully aware. "I see what lies can do to *me*."
And then she woke up.
I'm a bit unstable, she said, with a Cheshire grin
So many cracks in my sidewalk, boy
Where don't you fall in?...
She said, I'm naked and shameless and peeling back the layers
Like an onion girl
Don't try to save me, just stay away
'Cause I might make you cry...
Hot chocolate made her feel better. Especially when she added a dash of Bailey's.
Toni sipped at the steaming mug, feeling the warmth of the thick drink spread through her body, calming her heartbeat and relaxing her stiff muscles. She felt like hell; the nightmare had left her tense, uneasy, and completely unable to make herself fall back asleep. She'd made the drink in the hope that the familiar wash of chocolate with its gentle bite of liquor would be enough to send her back to bed to finish off her night dreamlessly; now, a third of her way through the cup, Toni actually felt like she might be persuaded to fall back asleep.
In the meantime, she sat curled on her couch in the living room, wrapped in the afghan her aunt had made, staring at the walls. She was trying to keep her mind completely blank; one wrong thought and everything would be dredged up, and she could kiss her sought-for slumber goodbye. So she concentrated on the chocolate, on taking slow, careful sips, on not burning her tongue, on keeping her breathing steady and slow.
It had been so hard to breathe in the trunk of the car...
Toni's lips pressed into a firm line. She hadn't been in danger of suffocating, she reminded herself. And when she'd gotten out of the trunk, she had been able to keep Paul from being killed. She'd needed to be at that train yard, and if her only way of getting there had been to be locked in the trunk of a car, then she should be grateful that at least there wasn't another body in there with her.
After all, she added with a grim chuckle, it was an M.E.'s car; Arbethnot could have had anything in there.
The chuckle died quickly, and Toni took another sip of hot chocolate. She didn't really remember being locked in the trunk, but what she did recall was an awful lot like the nightmare she'd just had; she didn't try to think about it too often, but when she did, the darkness was the biggest feature. And the sensation of a finite amount of space to move around in--if she'd been able to make her drugged limbs move at all, that is...
Toni shook her head, and breathed out an annoyed sigh. She was trying *not* to dwell on that old unpleasantness; beyond anything else, there was enough new unpleasantness to suffer over without the added burden of bad memories. She peered into the sludgy depths of her mug. Shouldn't the liquor be kicking in soon, anyway?
A treacherous part of her said, Hobson kicked in the back door...
Shaking her head, Toni tossed the afghan away from her legs and stood up, setting her half-full mug on the coffee table before starting to pace the floor. Gary Hobson had been under extreme duress, probably hadn't slept well for a couple of nights, and could be forgiven a lot, under the circumstances. Whereas she...was getting into sleepless territory. Much better to focus on today's problems, like Sonny Maurice and his frame-up job.
It was remarkably thorough, she had to give him that. Of course, most of it--the files, the memo--was also utterly circumstantial, and without anything more, a case against her couldn't possibly be brought to trial...but, of course, there *was* more. And that was the problem.
Toni remembered hearing about Samuel Dasney back when she was still a US Marshall; his case had been big, and had brought down Maurice's predecessor in the mob business, Clayton Salvatore. Theodore Corcoran had been promoted to Captain for his part in catching Dasney, and had been one of the star witnesses at the trial; his testimony about the bribes Dasney took from organized crime, as well as other treasonous activities that worked in the crimelord's favour, had ensured Dasney a long stay in prison alongside Salvatore, who everyone condemned as Sam's "other employer".
Come to think about it, the actual case against Salvatore hadn't been all that clear-cut; Brigatti remembered hearing about a deal the district attorney cut to get the mobster included in the trial, a deal that Salvatore's lawyers strenuously opposed on the grounds of inadequate evidence towards proving his guilt. In the end, though, Dasney had broken down and confessed to Salvatore's involvement in his backroom dealings, and both men had been sent up the river; when Brigatti transferred to Chicago ten months later, she'd been informally briefed about the new guy who had taken over Clayton's old territory less than two months after the mafioso's incarceration--Luka Maurice. She remembered admiring the new don's effectiveness and control in taking over the operation so completely in such a short amount of time--and making a private promise to herself to find some way to interrupt his power.
It seemed so long ago, Toni thought, pausing long enough to reach down and take up her mug again; Luka Maurice had been a name in a file--they didn't even have pictures of him yet--and Gary Hobson had been a two-time annoyance who she'd been able to put out of her mind with minimal effort.
She smiled, a sardonic glint in her eyes. Look at them now, she thought; her guilt--and whatever else--over Hobson was keeping her up at night, and Luka Maurice was making all their lives miserable. Granted, they were so much closer now to being able to put the mobster away...still, it felt like a massive dance of one step forward, two steps back--and Toni hated dancing with men she didn't trust.
She caught herself on that one, and cursed under her breath. Why did she still have problems trusting Hobson? She'd learned that lesson with the Scanlon case--or she thought she had--but if so, what had been the cause of that nightmare? Despite what she'd tried to tell herself since waking up, Toni knew that the inclusion of the lie detector hadn't been a fluke; it was a major sticking point in her distrust of Gary Hobson. She'd been present when he took the test, for godsake, she'd watched the lines and curves on the printout go from slow and steady to rabidly erratic and back again with each new query. She'd seen Hobson stiffen in alarm at the calm questions that didn't relate to the case, and emphatically--and truthfully--proclaim his innocence at all the questions that did. And she'd read the report of the session afterwards, and felt a part of her break when she told him about the results; if that experience couldn't explain her clouded objectivity, either about Hobson or about her job, then nothing could.
She didn't even want to *think* about why Hobson could affect her that way...
The small clock on the mantle chimed, breaking into her thoughts, and Toni started. It was three AM; she had to be up at six-thirty. Sighing once more, she wandered to the kitchen and dumped the cooling remains of her drink, then headed slowly back to her bedroom.
She'd be lucky if she could get any more sleep at all tonight.
* * * * *
Gary's eyes pried themselves open and glared at the ceiling. Right next to his ear, Carla Jones, recently voted Perkiest Morning Show Host in Chicago, was telling the city that it was going to rain today; as he reached out from under the covers to slap at the off button on his radio, Gary unknowingly joined the legions of early risers throughout Chicago who wanted her dead. And not in a perky way.
"Hey, Cat," he mumbled a few moments later as the orange and white animal trotted casually past him and into the loft. "Just tell me I won't get drenched today..." Scooping up the Paper, he absently nudged the door closed and headed back towards the couch, skimming the headlines.
There it was. A small article, a few days late, but *there*:
"Shooting Victim Dies in Hospital
--High-profile gangster murdered
Francis Sorrilla, reputed member of the Zefferelli crime family, was murdered while under treatment for gunshot wounds at County Hospital..."
Gary read the text twice; buried near the bottom of page three, it was barely a story at all. The last line, "The police are keeping sensitive information on the case out of the media", was supported by the entire article; solid facts were kept to a minimum, and the details were sketchy at best. Corcoran obviously had an iron grip on the inside track, and was being very choosy who he let in.
Sighing, Gary closed the Paper and tossed it onto the coffee table. There wasn't anything really urgent in it anyway; the day's saves began at nine, and if he was out the door at eight, he didn't have to worry about missing anything. Which left him plenty of time to worry about other things instead...
He hadn't heard from Brigatti since her visit two days ago, and he was concerned. Gary frowned as he wondered if she'd told Corcoran about the setup; she was so fiercely stubborn about taking care of her own interests at work, he doubted if she'd even let her partner know, much less her captain. It would be just like Brigatti to take the whole thing on herself and not ask for help--and end up with a bleeding ulcer, or worse, in jail for something she hadn't done. Shaking his head, Gary realized that she must really have been thrown to have told him; she'd never confided anything in him before, and this was such a big issue...
Then again, maybe it was his due. Flopping back against the couch cushions, Gary let his mind ravel everything that had happened over the past few days back to its source--and it all started with the little white lie he'd told to keep a man from being murdered at Pier 11. After that, the whole world had gone crazy--taking him and Brigatti along with it.
Gary sighed once more. He'd started the whole mess they were in--he knew that Marissa was just dying to give in to the 'I told you so' urge--if only he could find some way of finishing it. At this point, he realized, he didn't care if Maurice was arrested or not; he just wanted to get the man out of his life and out of Toni's with the least amount of damage to her career and his mortality. Anything, just to have the whole mess *over*...
The Cat meowed petulantly from behind him, and Gary turned his head to see the beast standing on the island, its tail switching back and forth in silent demand. "Sorry, Cat," Gary apologised, propelling himself off the couch and making his way to the fridge, "I'll get your breakfast. You want some milk?"
Cat mrrowed once more, turning to watch him expectantly as he rummaged through the cartons before him.
After a moment, however, Gary shut the fridge and turned back. "Sorry; can't do milk today," he informed the animal. "I'm out, and the stuff downstairs has to last until tomorrow's delivery. McGinty's is almost at the end of last week's shipment--" He broke off, ignoring the Cat's vocal disapproval in favour of catching the thought that had just snuck through his mind.
Gary stood stock still, staring at nothing, trying not to think about anything except the vague shape of a plan that was beginning to form in the farthest reaches of his brain. It was related to what he'd been saying... "No milk today," he tried--that wasn't it. The thought was trailing away even faster... "McGinty's." There it was again. Closer; try again, but not too hard... "Delivery--*shipment*..." His eyes widened as the idea burst forth in all its glory, and Gary stared, wide-eyed, at the Cat.
Oh, will you never let me be?
Oh, will you never set me free?
The ties that bound us are still around us
There's no escape that I can see...
--Link, Strachey & Marvell
Johnny greeted him at the door with crossed arms and an extremely unpleasant expression on his chiselled face.
Gary swallowed, then tried to look unintimidated. "Hi, Johnny. Is Mr Maurice home? I wanted to talk to him..."
Johnny simply stared, his eyes clear and glassy. He didn't seem eager to divulge any information, and Gary was beginning to think that they'd be locked in position on the front stoop all day--not a happy proposition, as he still had saves to take care of--when he caught a glimpse of the mobster behind the bodyguard, coming down the stairs carrying a tray covered in empty plates.
"Sonny!" he called out, taking a step forward and plowing into Johnny's outstretched hand. Inside, Maurice paused halfway down the stairs, craning to see around his bodyguard--then settling back into a comfortable, slow trot down to the first floor.
The mobster tapped his muscle on the shoulder, turning him around and handing him the tray. "Johnny, take this to the kitchen for me, would you? Thanks." With one last glare in Gary's direction, Johnny accepted the tray and headed towards the back of the house; Sonny took his place blocking Gary's entry, and turned a hostile gaze on his visitor. "Gary," he acknowledged curtly. "What can I do for you?"
Gary cleared his throat. "Well, I--I came to apologise," he began, noticing the surprised flicker in Sonny's eyes. "I kind of...jumped to conclusions the other night, and said some things I maybe shouldn't have--"
The quiet interruption brought Gary up short, and he watched Maurice for signs that his fuse was shortening; if this was going to work, he had to keep the mobster happy. Without missing more than a beat, he amended, "I said some things I shouldn't have, and I just wanted to tell you...I'm sorry."
Sonny cocked his head to the side and arched an eyebrow. "Why the sudden guilt?"
"I was wrong," Gary answered promptly. Moving his hands from his sides, he held them palms-up in a gesture of penitence. "And I can admit my mistakes. I should've had more faith in you--but when I heard about Sorrilla's death, I let my...fear of your business get in the way of what I knew about you." Forcing himself to meet Maurice's eyes, Gary hoped like hell that he sounded sincere; he was working off of half-truths, but Sonny had to believe he was being completely honest...
After a long, anxious moment of inspection, the mobster smiled--a thin, cautious smile, but a smile nonetheless. "Apology accepted. Come on in." He stepped aside and ushered Gary through the door, closing it behind him.
As Gary faced the mobster in the foyer, he realized that his widespread hands had made their way to each other, and were rubbing together in one of his more obvious nervous habits--and that the movement had Sonny's attention. Silently cursing his worrying hands, he pulled them apart and dropped them casually at his sides.
The show over, Maurice's eyes slid back up to his face, and the mobster winced a little, theatrically. "That looks nastier than I meant it to."
"What?" Realization dawned as Sonny indicated the bruise that was still prominent on his jaw, and Gary reached up with his left hand to finger the area--then stopped himself before he made the pain return. "Oh, it's not so bad. Throbs a little every once in a while..."
Sonny shook his head. "I'm sorry about that, Gary," he said, his voice coloured with honest regret. "I have a temper--I know that doesn't excuse it, but it's something I'm aware of. Hell, everybody who knows me is aware of it," he continued, a wry smile twisting his mouth, "And they tend to try *not* to get me angry."
Catching the knowing self-mockery behind the words, Gary returned the mobster's smile. "Why don't we just consider ourselves even, then?" he suggested.
Sonny grinned. "Good idea." Turning on his heel, he gestured for Gary to follow him down the hall. "I was just having lunch with Charlotte," he explained, turning into the first entry on the left--the office, dominated by a massive mahogany desk and high-backed leather chair, with shelf upon shelf of books lining the wall behind them. "She's staying with me for a while, until she feels like going back to her own place."
Gary took the plain office chair that Sonny offered, and watched as the mobster, instead of going behind the desk to sit in the imposing high-back, cleared off a corner of the desk and propped his hip against it, leaning almost casually on the sturdy wood. "Miss Vaughn's feeling better?"
"She's healing," came the careful reply. Sonny's eyes darkened, and his face smoothed into the blank expression Gary had come to associate with hiding strong emotions. "Like I said, she doesn't want to go back to her own place right now; Zefferelli scared her enough that she won't go back until this Italy business is taken care of."
There it was--the opening. His fingers began picking with interest at a thread on the worn knee of his jeans, and Gary asked nonchalantly, "So--you've worked out a deal for shipping the jewels?"
He heard Maurice shift position in the millisecond gap between question and answer. "Not exactly," the mobster said slowly. "The Italians are--concerned--about the attention my operation has been receiving lately from the police and the media. Attention I've been given because of Zefferelli's interference, not through any fault of my own," he added bitterly. "I think they want to go with my services, but..."
"Zefferelli's are looking better and better." Gary finished the thought, as if it had just occurred to him.
"Not to mention more discreet." Sonny rolled his eyes and folded his arms. "I can't really blame them; I can hardly move my usual merchandise. The cops keep showing up at my warehouses for surprise inspections."
Gary felt his heart speed up, and tried to ignore it; this was better than he could have hoped for. Maurice was setting up the perfect opening for him, mentioning all the things Gary had been suspecting, but unsure of--in other words, all the things that Gary himself hadn't wanted to risk bringing up in case he was wrong. All he had to do now was take advantage of it.
Of course, this was also the one part of his plan that he wasn't sure he could pull off. He might have got the hang of lying, but he was a lousy actor...
Taking a deep breath, Gary asked carefully, "If you had a place the police don't know about, somewhere you could move the gemstones in and out of quietly...would the Italians take your offer?"
Risking a glance up at Maurice, Gary saw the mobster watching him closely, an odd expression on his face. "What do you mean?"
"Well..." Gary steeled himself to make the suggestion. "I was thinking...I really am sorry about what I said, about Charlotte and Sorrilla and you and Zefferelli--see, the police--the only searches McGinty's ever has are health inspections--"
"No." Maurice shook his head emphatically, his eyes fixed on Gary. "I know what you're offering, Gary, and it's appreciated, but I'm not dragging you further into this business. I won't."
"Sonny, listen to me for a minute." The urge to move struck, and Gary pushed himself out of the chair to pace as he spoke. "You said it yourself, the police are all over your warehouses; you can't bring anything into or out of the city without them getting all over it. But McGinty's...well, we get shipments every week, two or three times, and we're a restaurant--nobody expects us to be hiding precious jewels in crates of sugar packets. It could work; you'd get the stones, the Italians would have them off their back, Zefferelli would be out of a contract, and the police would never know. It could *work*."
Maurice was staring at him incredulously. "Does Miss Clark know you're making me this offer?" he asked bluntly.
"No," Gary replied, quite truthfully. "And she doesn't ever have to find out about this, not if we do it right."
"Gary, she could face prison for this. *You* could." Sliding off his perch on the desk, Sonny placed himself in Gary's path, forcing him to stop pacing. "I appreciate the sentiment, but that doesn't mean I'm taking you up on the offer."
"You'd rather let Zefferelli win the contract?" Arching his eyebrows, Gary emphasized the question with a level stare of his own. "He doesn't have the police crawling all over his business; it was his employee who died, for godsakes. I'm not saying that I believe you were the one who had Sorrilla killed--but if I suspected you, the police will be sure it was you, and they'll step up their efforts to prove a case against you. McGinty's isn't on your property list; they'll leave it alone."
Sonny was silent for a long moment, and Gary wondered if it could really be that easy--then, the mobster shook his head. "It's too much of a risk. Gary, do you know how much has to go into smuggling something overseas? Just having a place to make the pickup isn't enough; you have to arrange transport from the exporter, figure out a way around customs, bribe certain inspection officials--all that and more has to happen before the merchandise even gets packed for shipping. Not to mention arranging the detalis of dropoff and pickup--this stuff is coming from Italy. It's a little more complicated than going cross-country or even from here to Canada."
"It could work, I know it could." A few facts clicked, and Gary held up his hands. "McGinty's gets a shipment of olive oil once a month from the 'Oliva-Bocca' company based in Firenze," he offered. "The next on the schedule is a week and a half from now. If the group from Italy is as powerful as you say they are, couldn't they arrange to have the gems included in that shipment?" Sonny opened his mouth to reply, but Gary continued, "It'd be a crate of olive oil going to a tiny Irish bar and restaurant in Chicago. The border officials wouldn't even glance twice at it."
Maurice looked at him, his expression inscrutable. An endless moment passed before he asked quietly, "Why do you want this so badly?"
Gary blinked. Here it was--the sell. "I guess I--I just want to help you out. You've had so much bad luck with Zefferelli--from what you tell me, he needs to be beaten. I can help you do that; I *want* to help you do that." He paused, and in that instant the perfect words to sway the mobster came to mind. Locking his eyes squarely with Maurice's, he finished, "Any man who's capable of doing what he did to Charlotte has to be stopped. Use McGinty's, and he will be."
Sonny's eyes widened almost imperceptibly, and he turned his head away, his gaze resting on a small statue across the room. Gary waited breathlessly for the mobster's response, watching Sonny's unconscious movements in case they gave the man away. There wasn't much; his fingers tightened slightly on the edge of the desk, his lips pursed, and he changed the angle of his body as he rested against the furniture. Nothing conclusive, nothing told Gary what his answer was...
Not until Maurice looked back up at him, and smiled. His eyes glittering in the low light, he pushed himself away from the desk and stood straight, extending his hand towards Gary. "If you're sure," he said coolly, "I'd be glad to go into business with you, Gary."
A wave of mixed feelings roared through him, and Gary grasped the proferred hand tightly, sealing the deal. "I'm sure."
They shook hands, and Gary couldn't escape the
feeling that he'd just drowned himself. And all the while, Sonny's
smile never faded.
Email the author: Jayne