Disclaimers, etc., in Installment 1
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Crimes Against Criminals
by Jayne Leitch
I spoke to you in cautious tones
You answered me with no pretense
And still I feel I said too much
My silence is my self-defense...
"Here, sweetheart, let me."
Sonny hurried into his bedroom and over to the bed; taking a pillow from Charlotte's unresisting hands, he tucked it in behind her, arranging it behind her back so she wouldn't have to move too much to make herself comfortable. "How's that?"
"Better. Thank you." Charlotte sank back gratefully, a tiny smile curving her swollen lips. "I could have got it, though," she added reproachfully. Her position on the bed betrayed the lie, however; her tiny body, swathed in crimson silk sheets, looked so fragile that any movement, be it arranging pillows or trying to stand, could break her in two.
"I know you could've. But why am I here, if I can't fluff your pillows?" Ignoring the tightening in his chest and throat as he watched his lover try to laugh against her pain, Sonny seated himself beside her and took her hand, stroking his thumb lightly across her knuckles. "Sorry I was gone so long; I had a visitor who needed my attention."
"Johnny told me." Her large eyes growing troubled, Charlotte gazed intently into his eyes. "The man who's informing to the police--Hobson? What did he want?"
Silently cursing his bodyguard's talkative nature, Sonny tried to blow the question off with a quick shake of his head. "Nothing, preciousa, nothing important. Just some business--"
"Business? I thought you weren't going to see him again," Charlotte interrupted, frowning. "I thought he didn't want anything more to do with you."
"He might not, but I'm sure his contacts with the police want him to keep talking to me." Sighing at her expression, Sonny explained, "Gary came to me with...an offer. He wants me to use his restaurant to bring in the jewels from Italy."
At the mention of Italy, Charlotte's face froze. "What did you tell him?" she asked quietly. When he didn't answer, she pushed herself painfully off the pillows, her voice hardening as she said, "You did turn him down, Luka." It wasn't a question.
Sonny silently cursed himself; he shouldn't have mentioned it at all. "I...considered it," he replied carefully, keeping his expression tranquil and his voice soft. "But I think accepting the offer is the best thing for me to do right now."
"Oh, Luka..." Her arms were shaking; Sonny reached out and supported her as she fell back again. "He's working to put you in prison! Why take him up on something that can't possibly be any better than a trap?"
"Because it's the best option right now." Charlotte opened her mouth to object, but he hurried on. "Look, I can handle Gary Hobson, especially when his plan is so obvious. He came here this afternoon with his hat in his hand and the most abject apology I've ever heard in my life sliding off his lips; I knew something was up, so I accepted the apology and invited him in. Talked a little shop, dangled a few threads to see which one he picked up--and the one he took was Italy." Pushing himself off the bed, Sonny began pacing the spacious area beside it, his hands gesturing loosely at his sides as he spoke. "He offered me McGinty's as final destination for those stones from Italy, probably in the hope that I'd walk right in to pick the things up, only to find a kitchen full of cops waiting to arrest me. I was going to reject the idea completely--I was kind of wondering how stupid he thinks I am--but then I realized that what he was proposing would be a hell of a lot easier and cheaper than anything I organized on my own." Pausing for a moment, he glanced sideways at Charlotte, quirking a smile. "So I took him up on it."
"Luka..." Her brow furrowed in worry, Charlotte asked, "How are you going to work around the police? And if Zefferelli finds out..."
She had hit on precisely the point he'd wanted her to miss, but Sonny didn't want her to know that. "I have the police under control," he told her, his eyes avoiding her face by studying the late afternoon light that was streaming in through the window. "All I have to do is let the Italians know to send the shipment a day early; Gary's dropping off old shipping orders and labels for me, so once I know more about how the deliveries usually work, I can get the Italians to put together a mock shipment with the stones inside. I pick the boxes up unannounced, the police never have to know the jewels came into the country at all. And whatever complicated sting they set up will be a day late, which means they'll come up with nothing."
A few of the lines on Charlotte's face eased, but Sonny knew she hadn't missed his intentional avoidance of her other question. "Hobson believes you'll do the whole thing his way, then," she said, disbelief lying flat on the surface of her tone. "He thinks you'll play by his rules?"
Sonny sighed, and sat back down beside her. "Honestly? I think he will," he answered, reaching out and taking her hand. "Gary...trusts people. He makes no sense to me, you know? I'm used to dealing with the way people are in the life, closed off, making sure nobody gets the chance to figure out your real deal..." He trailed off, then continued, "Gary's different, which is why I've kept stringing him along. He's an honest to God caring human being, and I knew I could use that...but now that I know the guy..."
Charlotte squeezed his hand as he fell silent, giving him an understanding smile. "He's different from what you expected."
Sonny chuckled. "What I expected. Charlotte, I expected to find a guy who'd been hardened by something, who'd turn on somebody he didn't even know for the reward money. What I got--" He broke off, trying once more to pin down the impressions he'd formed of Gary Hobson. "When I first saw the guy, he was talking to his friend, Marissa Clark. They were at the bar, just...having a conversation, talking about their business and making a couple of jokes. But...there wasn't one *ounce* of mistrust between them. You could see it in their faces; they knew each other, and trusted in the security of that knowledge. It threw me."
"You've been in the business too long..."
"That's what I told myself." Sonny took a deep breath. "I told myself that I'd been around the boys for too long, that I'd just got used to everybody keeping something hidden, and the difference with Gary was that he thought he was hiding something, but I knew what it was. So I...let my guard down a little, let myself get in on some of that trust I saw between him and Miss Clark." He shook his head. "Stupid. I confused Gary with that tactic, but I ended up confusing myself, too. Couldn't keep straight what I was using him for and what I wanted out of him, and because of that he got in deeper than I wanted him to."
Charlotte's fingers threaded nimbly through his own. "You kept him under control, though," she commented, her voice encouragingly spirited. "You've made him useful, and you're going to turn this plan of his to your advantage."
"Yeah, but--" Feeling his anger at himself mushrooming up inside him, Sonny disentangled his hands from Charlotte's and pushed himself abruptly to his feet once more. "I know I have him where I want him now, but--he makes no sense to me. One minute I'm reading him like a book, I can see every step in his weak, obvious plan to take me down--and the next he's treating me like a human being, and I can't figure out where the hell all this compassion and feeling is coming from." Raising his hands, he ran his fingers through his hair, leaving a rumpled mess of waves spilling onto his forehead. "If he's just in it to put me away, why hasn't he done it yet? I've given him plenty of opportunity; I've been distracted, I've told him things. Why hasn't he worn a wire yet? Why didn't he go straight to the cops after he saw you--" He stopped himself, but Charlotte had already figured out where he was going.
"He saw me--when I was hurt?" Her eyes widened, and she stared up at him in disbelief. "He knows about what Zefferelli did, and he hasn't tried to do anything about it?" Another thought occurred to her, and she struggled to raise herself up. "Is that why you're taking the deal he offered? Because he didn't go to the police with the information about Zefferelli, and you want to punish him for that? Luka..."
"It's not about punishing anybody!" Sonny snapped, gesturing sharply with his hand. "It's not about getting back at Gary, or Zefferelli! It's about knowing what it's like--" He broke off, forcing himself back under control before finishing, "It's about knowing what it's like to want to trust someone so bad, even though you know they'll hurt you in the end."
He couldn't look at Charlotte, but he heard the sympathy in her voice. "Oh, Luka...I know, love. I understand."
He saw her hand out of the corner of his eye, stretched out towards him, and he heard the invitation in her voice, an offer of a moment's comfort and rest...but he couldn't let himself accept. Not right now. Not when he was this upset.
Instead, he placed his hand in hers for a moment, squeezing her fingers once before pulling it away. "I should...let you get some rest," he muttered, too consumed in his own thoughts to notice the worried shadow in her eyes. "Do you need anything else?"
Her voice shook a little, and Sonny cursed himself for shutting her out. "No, I'm fine. You go and...work out this plan of yours."
"Call if you need me." With that, without looking back, he turned and fled out into the hall, pulling the door closed behind him.
Sonny paused at the top of the stairs, his shoulders slumping, his face falling for a long moment into the expression of weary anguish he refused to let Charlotte see. Then, slowly, he straightened once more, his features smoothed, and his eyes cooled. He began walking down the stairs, intent on getting to his office.
He had glossed things over for Charlotte, and she knew it. The plan for McGinty's, for example--it was a hell of a lot more complicated than he'd let on to her, but he hadn't seen the point in making her worry with too many details. Like the olive oil company; 'Oliva-Bocca' was one of the companies under the Italian group's influence, and changing whatever details of the shipment they needed to make it suitable for transporting precious gems was going to be easier than even Gary could have suspected. All Sonny needed was for the boxes to arrive a day early--such a minor detail was going to be a piece of cake. As for the cops--if Sonny was right, Gary had come up with the plan on his own; it didn't seem like the kind of acceptable risk that would be approved of by the city's police force, simply because there were too many things that could go wrong with it. Sonny's own twist was proof enough of that; even if he hadn't put Dasney and the other incriminating evidence in place, the holes in Gary's strategy--and the strategy the police were going to be forced into playing with--could help him enough that he could pull the whole thing off.
It was Zefferelli that was the problem. For some reason, the man knew too much.
Sinking absently into his leather chair, Sonny rested his elbows on the armrests and folded his hands together in front of him. For some time now--even before Gary had entered the picture--Zefferelli had been making trouble, more than normal. It was all based around the Italian deal, but there was a troubling element to it that made Sonny extremely worried; somehow, crucial information was getting to Vincent's camp, information that had caused problems in a number of Sonny's business operations--the most recent being the murder of Francis Sorrilla. It was almost certainly an informant--but Sonny was at a loss as to who it could be. His bodyguards, his accountants, everyone who was in a position to know anything important--they all checked out, but all that told him was that somebody was smart enough to know how to cover his ass. He'd hoped that Sorrilla, in the meeting at Pier 11, would have been able to tell Renaldo who the traitor was in addition to the information about Zefferelli's finances that would have given him a leg up on the Italian deal--but the unexpected visitors at that meeting had quashed any possibility of learning anything helpful. And now that the man was dead...
Sonny sighed heavily. He'd been intending to visit Sorrilla in the hospital personally, but his meeting with Gary had put an end to that idea; finding out about the murder had thrown him, and raised the stakes that much higher. Obviously, Zefferelli was doing something big. Sonny only wished he knew for sure what it was.
Shaking his head a little, he straightened up in his chair, and pulled a file towards him. He needed to bury himself in some work; stirring up all the questions and concerns from the past while was going to make him even more unpleasant to be around than he already was. A flash of guilt over how he had brushed Charlotte off rose through his mind, and he vowed to make her a special dinner that evening--he'd send Johnny out for some flowers, or those chocolates she liked, or something. For now, though, it was better to work; if nothing else, it would get his mind off of puzzling out whoever was betraying him to Zefferelli.
* * * * *
Vincent Zefferelli glanced up from his books at the tentative knock on his office door. Recognizing the stoic figure standing in the threshold, he smiled, and waved him in. "Back so soon, are we?" he asked, scribbling one last signature before closing the account. "To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"
"I have more news," his informant said, stiffly taking his usual seat on the other side of Zefferelli's desk. "He's going to get the Italian deal."
The mob boss' face darkened, and he leaned back in his own chair, steepling his thick fingers under his chin. "Really," he answered, allowing a trickle of displeasure to leak into his unemotional tone. "And how is he going to manage that?"
The other man's eyes narrowed, and he spat out a single name: "Hobson."
Despite himself, Zefferelli's eyebrows rose in surprise. "The police lackey? I hardly thought he would throw in with Maurice. Didn't think he had the stones--pardon the pun," he added, without humour.
"Sonny's taking advantage of a plan Hobson came up with; the guy thinks he's trapping Mr Maurice, but instead he's the one getting trapped." The figure in the chair leaned forward, pulling a thin sheaf of paper out of his jacket and dropping it on the edge of Zefferelli's wide, metal desk. "There's the specifics. Sonny was explaining things to Miss Vaughn and some of his other associates, so I took notes."
"Very good." Reaching across the desk, Vincent took up the papers and leafed idly through them, catching a word here and there and making a note to go through the information thoroughly once his accomplice had left. "Ah, it involves the bar. Perhaps this will give me an excuse to try their Buffalo wings; I hear they're quite good." Setting the precious matter to the side, he slid his gaze back to the other man. "How is Miss Vaughn?" he asked coyly.
If it was possible, the man across from him tensed even further. "She's recovering," he answered shortly, his crisp blue eyes fixed on a point somewhere over Zefferelli's right shoulder--probably looking at the stainless steel abstract 'Thinker', the mafioso decided idly. It was a new piece, and one he'd spent a lot of money on. "She's confined to bed." Suddenly, the informant leaned forward, slamming a fist down onto the desk and meeting his superior's eyes. "I didn't know you were going to do that," he said harshly. "You should have told me--"
"Why?" Zefferelli met the gaze calmly, with more than a hint of steel in his voice. "So you could have warned her? I know where your loyalties are, and I know that above me, and above him, you'd choose the helpless damsel every time." He met the man's eyes with a piercing glare of his own, waiting for him to back down--which he did, very shortly. "It needed to be done," Vincent stated, with no room for argument. "If you object, too bad--it's already done. It's nothing he doesn't deserve; I know you agree with me about that."
After a moment, his guest nodded, once, curtly. "Yes, I do. But in the future, Miss Vaughn is left out of it, right?"
Waving a hand expansively, Zefferelli acknowledged, "In the future, yes. I think my point was made, anyway." He flashed one of his more unpleasant smiles at the man, then added, "By the way, have I paid you lately? I know how...expensive this life can be."
His guest was silent as he watched Vincent make out the cheque; accepting it with as much dignity as his position would allow, he folded it neatly and tucked it inside his jacket. "Thank you."
"No; thank you. This information about Hobson will be very helpful." Zefferelli tapped the illicit papers with the tip of a finger, his mind turning over what he knew about the man already; police informant, bar owner, do-gooder. He'd even looked the part, in the surveillance photos Vincent's informant had brought him as well as in person; the mafioso had been startled when his nemesis' new friend had barged into the fitting for his new suit, but had afterwards been struck by the irony of the situation. Gary Hobson, apparent hero to humanity, apparently working with Luka Maurice, had saved the life of Vincent Zefferelli's tailor's daughter--an act which indirectly helped Zefferelli himself, since DiVenni would have been crushed by the loss of a child and probably completely unable to make quality suits ever again. Really, Hobson's interference had benefitted everyone...
Well, not everyone. Zefferelli's eyes grew distant as he thought about Francis Sorrilla; granted, he'd tried to kill the man before anyone knew anything about Gary Hobson--but when that first attempt at Pier 11 had failed, Hobson had provided the cruical information, through Vincent's informer, that led to a successful second attempt. In some ways, Zefferelli had been sad to realize that Sorrilla had to die; he had been an excellent, if unimaginative bookkeeper, and his rapport with some of Zefferelli's clients had been invaluable. Learning that the man was going to betray him had made the decision easier, of course--but it was never totally easy to kill one of your people. Not even to frame your worst enemy...
A slight cough from across the desk brought Zefferelli's mind back to the present, and he smiled at the obvious discomfort of his guest. "Anxious to go, are we?" he asked, a little too brightly.
The other man picked up on his meaning. "I don't want to be late getting back," he explained. "We don't need undue suspicion..."
"You're quite right, we don't need that." Fluttering his beringed hand vaguely towards the door, Zefferelli turned back to the paperwork on his desk. "Don't forget to pick up your weapons from Adrian on your way out. I don't need them cluttering up my front hall table." He bent over the information that had just been delivered, clearly and preemptorily dismissing his visitor.
Taking his cue, with the usual traitorous rage
and vengeful sorrow boiling mercilessly under his cool expression and crisp
suit, Johnny left the office.
I never felt alone, 'til I met you
I'm all right on my own, then I met you
And I'd know what to do if I just knew what's coming...
But we were broken and didn't know it
We were broken and didn't know it...
--Third Eye Blind
Gary paced his loft, his eyes jumping restlessly around the room--clock, Paper, telephone, Cat, clock--his body twanging with nervous energy. He'd called Brigatti as soon as he returned from the day's saves, and left a message with her very curious partner; despite having changed his mind constantly since then as to whether or not he should be bringing her into his plan, he was getting anxious for her to get back to him. As the hours had dragged on into evening, Gary became more and more uneasy--maybe Winslow hadn't passed on the message, maybe Brigatti was still too upset from their last meeting, maybe, maybe, maybe...
He was so caught up in his internal struggles that he almost yelped at the knock on the door. His heart pounding in his chest, Gary strode quickly across the room and yanked the door open.
Sure enough, there was Brigatti, standing uneasily at the threshold, her hands unconsciously balled into white-knuckled fists at her sides. She looked startled for an instant, but covered well; schooling her features, she arched an eyebrow and said, "Winslow told me you called?"
Her tone was like being dunked in a bucket of ice water, and all the anxiety Gary had been suffering through the entire afternoon evaporated, leaving him stranded with a keen sense of wariness. He stepped aside, and waved her in. "I did. I...have some news about Maurice."
Watching him carefully, the detective entered the loft, turning to face him as he stayed behind her to shut the door. "What kind of news?"
"Well..." Gary looked down at her, his hands finding their way to each other and rubbing together nervously in the silence. For her part, Brigatti didn't look any more comfortable to be alone with him than he felt being alone with her; after barely a moment of eye contact she looked away, her right hand coming up to sweep a lock of hair behind her ear. "Do you want to sit down?" he asked suddenly, remembering his manners.
Brigatti paused for a second, as if trying to figure out whether or not she was being trapped--then she nodded and stepped towards the furniture. "Sure." She took the armchair, folding her hands together on her knees and fixing him with an overly-professional stare. "What's the news, Hobson?"
Propping himself uncomfortably on the edge of the couch, Gary crossed his arms and took a deep breath. "I went to talk to Sonny today," he began, trying not to meet Brigatti's eyes. "I'd had...an idea, and wanted to see if it would...work out."
"What kind of idea?" The detective looked warier than usual, and her voice held a note of caution, as if she was screening everything she said.
Gary opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again, ducking his head for a minute to escape her laser-like eyes. Incredibly, he found slight courage studying his shoes, and keeping his head bowed, he took another deep breath and blurted out, "I offered Sonny the use of McGinty's to bring illegal goods into the country."
There was dead silence. But not for long.
After a suitably long, shocked pause, Brigatti leapt to her feet and stood over him, the tension in her body evident even with his eyes fixed on the floor. "You did *what*?!"
"There's a group from Italy that was offering him a contract to bring gemstones into the country illegally," Gary rushed to explain, raising his head but keeping his eyes trained on his shoes. "But since the police are all over his usual warehouses, I offered to let him ship the stones to McGinty's using one of our food suppliers--"
"Hobson, are you *crazy*?" Now Gary did raise his eyes, and he cringed back at what he saw. Brigatti's eyes were burning with anger, her shoulders hunched up in knots, her hands waving sharply through the air, threatening to connect with his already damaged face at any moment. "Do you have any idea how dangerous something like that is?" she demanded, her voice at once disbelieving and furious. "You were supposed to work Maurice for information, not set up deliveries of his merchandise! Did you even *think* about what could go wrong with this? Of course you didn't," she answered her own question, her hands coming to rest on her hips. "You were too busy thinking of ways to help out your good buddy Sonny!"
"Brigatti!" Feeling his own anger bubbling up inside him, Gary stood, forcing the detective back a step as he loomed over her. "I didn't think this up to help Sonny, I thought this up so you could *catch* him! Arrest him! Get him off the streets and outta my life!"
"Well you didn't think very hard, did you?" Brigatti retorted, glaring up at him. Taking a deliberate step into his personal space, she lowered her voice, hissing, "You went behind my back and offered a career criminal the use of your place of business. I should have you locked up for conspiracy; if you weren't the best chance we have of nailing this guy--"
"Well that's it, isn't it, Brigatti?" Narrowing his eyes, Gary said firmly, "I *am* your best chance of nailing Maurice. And if you would let me *explain* what I offered, you might see that I've come up with a fairly good plan." He paused, then couldn't resist adding, "You're just put out because I figured out a way to end this whole mess before you did."
Brigatti snorted, her eyebrows arching. "Right. My job is a big game of Risk, and whoever comes up with a working strategy first wins." Spinning around, she stalked a few feet away, then turned back, her face losing a little of its menace. "Don't forget, Hobson, right now my job is *at* risk. If this thing you've dreamed up to catch Maurice goes wrong somehow..." She trailed off, then muttered, "I just wish you'd run it by me first, before taking it to Sonny. We could have...worked through any kinks, made sure it was foolproof..."
"Got police approval," Gary added, watching her nod slowly. He began to feel a little sheepish, and reached up to scratch at the back of his neck. "Look, maybe...I was a little quick to take it straight to Sonny, but Brigatti--" He paused, and waited until she met his eyes again before continuing, "I know it'll work. Would you just let me explain what's going on?"
She looked ready to argue--then, an expression of tired acceptance flashed across her face, and she nodded, returning to the chair and sinking down into it. "Go ahead, Hobson. Explain your plan."
Gary watched her for a moment, trying to decide if he'd heard any sarcasm in the sentence--then took his seat again on the couch. "Every month, McGinty's gets a shipment of olive oil from a company in Italy," he began, and went from there.
* * * * *
Marissa stood at the top of the stairs, her head tilted to the side, listening intently to the quiet voices coming from Gary's loft. She'd wanted to talk to him about his strange behaviour earlier; she'd arrived at McGinty's early that morning, hoping to talk over the Paper and whatever was happening with Maurice, but Gary had breezed past her on his way to the first save of the day, waving off her questions with a distracted "I'm very busy right now, can it wait 'til later?" He hadn't come back until midafternoon, but all Marissa had wormed out of him then was another half-hearted dismissal and a lukewarm promise to tell her about everything later.
Well, it was later, and she'd wanted answers. Robin was handling things at the bar, so Marissa had made her way up to Gary's loft, intending to barge in and not let her friend leave until he'd talked to her--only to hear his voice and Brigatti's raised in an angry confrontation about...something. They'd quieted down mere seconds after Marissa reached the landing, and had continued to speak relatively civilly since. Which was fine for their conversation, but simply made things more mysterious for Marissa.
She hadn't intended to eavesdrop. Technically, she wasn't eavesdropping now; the lack of distinguishable words made getting any meaning out of what they were saying impossible, but some strange sensation kept Marissa standing on the carpet beside the window, stock-still and straining to make out even a hint of their conversation.
She'd realized what she was doing after a minute, and chalked it up to being worried about Gary. He'd all but shut her out of the specifics of his business with Sonny. She knew the bare facts--Sonny was in a bargaining war with another mobster, Sonny had probably had Sorrilla killed, Sonny had belted Gary when he made the mobster mad--but other than that, she felt completely in the dark, a dark she wasn't used to and didn't feel comfortable in.
Was Gary in danger from Maurice? Marissa didn't know. Were the police handling the mobster and providing protection against anything that might happen? She didn't know that, either. But then there was Detective Brigatti, who had sounded so...adrift, if polite, the last time they'd exchanged words. She was in there with Gary, having a civilized conversation about something, hardly raising her voice at all--an odd occurrance if ever Marissa knew one. She knew that Gary and the detective didn't despise each other as much as they pretended to, especially to each other...but there was still the question of how much of a negative value that emotion had, especially after the whole Scanlon mess. Marissa knew that something had happened between them then, something that had made them each a little more distant from the other, a little more wary. And now that they were being thrust together by circumstances beyond their control yet *again*...
Marissa sighed, and turned to go back down the stairs. Her interrogation of Gary could wait; if he was busy being courteous to Antonia Brigatti, she wasn't going to interrupt him for the world.
If only she knew what was going on...
* * * * *
Brigatti leaned back in the chair, her face expressionless. "I'm impressed," she said flatly, sounding anything but. "You say you came up with that all on your own?"
Gary felt a flash of defiance sear through him. "Look, it's the best we were gonna be able to do--"
"You don't know that." Her hands fidgeted for a moment on the armrests, and she leaned forward again. "You don't know that we weren't forming our own plans at the station, you don't know if we were coming up with something foolproof that would guarantee an arrest. You don't know, because you didn't ask. You just went off to be a hero, or whatever it is that you do."
Gary opened his mouth to protest again--then closed it, deflating a little. Brigatti was right; he'd had his idea, and he'd gone straight to Sonny, convinced that it would work out. He hadn't even considered some of the objections the police would have to his plan, hadn't thought of some of the holes that Maurice could no doubt find too easily...if he were to look for them. And that was it, really; Gary didn't believe that Sonny would go looking for a way to doublecross him, because there was no reason for him to do so. The mobster didn't know that Gary was with the police, he didn't know that the whole plan was really just a cover to bust him. He'd trusted Gary with information about his business, his personal life, his loved ones--why shouldn't he trust Gary with this?
Straightening up a little, Gary turned his gaze back to Brigatti. "Were you?" he asked pointedly.
She blinked, apparently dragged out of a reverie of her own. "Was I what?"
"Formulating strategies at the station. Coming up with foolproof plans to arrest Maurice."
The detective's eyes widened, and her fingers began playing their uncomfortable tune on the armrests again. "No," she admitted finally. "But we could've been, and you should've asked."
Gary held up his hands in an 'I surrender' gesture. "No argument. I'm sorry." He paused, watching her--then asked, "So will it work? The idea I came up with?"
Brigatti scowled. "It sort of has to now, doesn't it?" Seeing his expression, she relented slightly. "Probably. But I'm bringing Winslow and Captain Corcoran in on it as soon as possible; Corky'll run the show from here on in, got it?"
Gary nodded. "Please."
"Good." Heaving a loud sigh, Brigatti levered herself out of her chair and rotated her shoulders, stretching away some of the tenseness that had accumulated over the explanation. "Maybe I should call him at home and tell him about it tonight," she commented, her eyes searching the loft until they found a clock. "It's not too late, he should still be up..."
"Whatever you think is best." Sprawling a little on the couch, Gary watched her wander closer to the door--and a thought occurred to him. "Brigatti?"
She paused, but didn't turn around. "Yes?"
He swallowed, suddenly uncomfortable. "Did you tell Corcoran about...how you were being set up?"
She waited a long moment before answering. "No."
"Why not?" He stood up, eyeing her curiously. She was unconsciously mirroring the other night; her shoulders had tensed up again, and she stood with her back square to him, with no visible intention of turning around. Stepping slowly towards her, he said, "It...would be better to let him know what you suspect before things--get out of hand."
"You the expert on this now?" Her voice could have cut diamonds, but she still didn't turn around.
He grimaced as the skeleton of a smile twisted his lips. "More than anybody else you could talk to." He paused a few feet away from her, waiting for a response, any response--and not getting one. His fingers writhed together at gut level, and he could feel his stomach follow suit. "Brigatti, I--I want to tell you something."
"So tell me."
Not the most encouraging opening, but in his present state, Gary hardly noticed. "You know...this last November, it wasn't--it wasn't the first time I'd..." He trailed off, his exasperation mounting as she refused to turn and face him. "Do you think you could at least look me in the eye?" he demanded, stepping another foot closer.
This did the trick; slowly, Brigatti swivelled around until they were face to face, keeping her eyes downcast for another long moment before setting her jaw and blinking up at him. "Is this better?" she asked defiantly, visibly holding his gaze in response to his subtle dare.
Gary gazed back, and realized that this was no better than before. In fact, having to say what he wanted to while firmly fixed by her eyes was going to be much, much worse...
Mentally squaring his shoulders, he took a deep breath and said, "About three years ago, I was framed for the murder of Harry Hawkes, who was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times." He saw Brigatti's eyes widen, but forced himself to continue before she interrupted or he lost his nerve. "It was part of a plan to set me up as President Tyson's assassin during his trip through Chicago. There was a Secret Service agent, J.T. Marley, who set the whole thing up; he shot Hawkes, planted a gun and a map of the route of the president's motorcade in my room, and lured me to the thirteenth floor of the Randolph Building where he kept me handcuffed me to a scaffolding while he loaded a rifle. That rifle had my prints on it, and Marley would've used it to shoot President Tyson--and me--if Zeke Crumb hadn't barged in and shot *him* at the last moment. I was going to be dead, and my name was going to be the one people cursed for the rest of history as the lone gunman who shot the American president as he was on his way to important trade talks in Chicago." Gary paused, his breathing ragged. He hadn't expected this to drag up so *much*... "What saved my life, and President Tyson's life, and even Crumb's life, was the fact that other people knew why I wasn't guilty. Marissa, Chuck, an archivist from the newspaper--they could all back me up, and they did. And if they hadn't..." He broke off, swallowing hard. "If they hadn't, I would be dead, and the only way you would know me would be as the man who killed the president and then shot himself in an empty building in Chicago. So yes, Toni--I *am* an expert at this. And despite everything, I *would* like to help keep you alive."
Brigatti looked stunned, and as the adrenaline of finally telling someone about Marley began to die down, Gary realized that he probably didn't look much different. Toni's eyes were wide, her face drained of colour; her lips were parted, and her breath came in short, sharp gasps in sympathy with his own. As he stared down into her eyes, Gary found that his hands were reaching up, slowly, towards her face, and his palms burned to smooth her hair back, to cup those pale cheeks and bring some colour, some life back into them... But when she finally spoke, her voice soft and catching on all the emotion that filled her eyes to the brim, he froze, all the way down to the bone. "Despite everything?"
The two words slammed Gary back to earth, and he turned away, dropping his hands, angry at his own clumsy phrasing. "I didn't mean--"
"No. No, I know what you meant." Her voice firmed up, and Gary heard the soft rustle of her clothes as she shifted uncomfortably. "I know what you meant."
And before he could think of how to fix what
he'd done, she was gone, the slam of the door echoing through his empty loft
like a gunshot.
They say this fruit be like unto the world
So sweet. Or like, say I, the heart of man
So red without and yet within, unclue'd,
We find the worm, the rot, the flaw.
However glows his bloom the bite
Proves many a man be rotten at the core.
Theo Corcoran gazed across his desk at Detectives Brigatti and Winslow, his mind churning over the information he'd just received. "Well," he said finally. "This is certainly turning out to be an interesting case."
The detectives exchanged glances, and Brigatti sat forward in her chair. "I realize that Hobson's plan might not be ideal, sir, but under the circumstances I think we'll have to make it work."
"Oh, of course." Folding his hands on top of his paperwork, Corcoran's mouth quirked into a halfhearted smile. "We don't exactly have other options anymore, do we?"
Now Winslow spoke up, his face serious. "It's not a bad idea," he offered, "if we figure the angles properly. We've wanted Sonny Maurice for a long time; this might get him."
"Might. That's the word that worries me." Turning his attention back to Brigatti, Corcoran watched her closely. She seemed slightly unfocussed; her gaze was low, as if she was staring at the modesty panel on the desk, and her fingers twined together in her lap as if trying to screw themselves off her hands. He'd never seen her so distracted; it was slightly worrying. "Toni?" he said quietly, making her jump and turn her eyes to his with a guilty start. "Something wrong?"
She shook her head, her jaw tightening as she visibly pulled her mind from wherever it had been and forced it into the present. "Nothing wrong, Captain," she answered, almost managing to convince him. "I was just thinking about Hobson--his plan. I think Logan's right; if we're careful to keep it under control, it could work out well."
"I'm glad to see it has your endorsement." Corcoran rolled his chair back and pushed himself to his feet, then strode around the desk to stand beside his detectives. "The problem is--and I know you've already realized this--the problem is that there are too many variables that we don't have enough control over. We can't guarantee a high probability of success with this thing, which is why I *wish* that Hobson had spoken to you first, Toni, before taking his plan to Maurice." He sighed, and leaned his hip against a corner of his desk. "Still, it's too late to think like that; we'll just have to make the best of what we have. Detective Brigatti, I take it you're going to be in charge of this operation?"
She took a moment to respond, and when she finally spoke it seemed to Corcoran that she was weighing every word that left her mouth. "With all due respect, Captain, I'd like Winslow to take control of this operation."
Furrowing his brow, the captain asked slowly, "Is there any particular reason for this change so late in the proceedings?"
He watched as Brigatti and Winslow exchanged another long glance, and seemed to come to an unspoken decision. After a moment Toni looked away, clearing her throat. "There's...something else, sir. I've been noticing certain discrepancies pertaining to my job performance lately, and a few days ago Detective Winslow found...what could be considered incriminating evidence against me."
Corcoran felt his heart stop. "Incriminating evidence?"
When Brigatti didn't answer, Winslow stepped forward and explained, "A note placed in her papers, which could be interpreted as containing proof of bribery. We believe that Toni's being set up, sir."
"Really." Both detectives' faces were stone walls. Corcoran sighed. "Well, this raises the stakes a little. Do I have to ask who's behind it?"
"I thought it was Maurice, but from what Hobson's told me, that doesn't make any sense." Brigatti's fidgeting got to be too much, and she rose to her feet and turned to pace. "Hobson honestly believes that Maurice didn't have Sorrilla killed, sir, or that Sonny knows anything about Hobson's ties to us. If he's right, then Maurice doesn't have any reason to frame me; I'd be one random detective taken down for no reason whatsoever."
Corcoran nodded thoughtfully, turning over her words in his mind. "That's if Hobson's right," he emphasized, meeting Brigatti's eyes. "Do you think he is?"
The detective's nervous pacing stilled, and she stared back at him. "I think that, of all of us, Hobson knows Sonny Maurice best," she answered frankly. "And I think that I know Hobson. I...trust his opinion."
The captain couldn't help arching an eyebrow; glancing over at Winslow, he saw her partner wearing much the same expression of surprise. "I see. Well then, Toni, why are you being framed? Could it be Zefferelli?"
Oblivious to the reactions of her superior and partner, Brigatti shook her head. "I don't think so; he was implicated in the note as well. It might just be a fluke..."
"But we all know how likely that is," Corcoran finished the thought, frowning deeply. "So this part of recent events remains inconclusive," he continued, "And we're back where we started--with Gary Hobson's plan to trap Maurice."
A small smile grew on Winslow's face, and he crossed his arms. "I guess we should start going over variables, huh Captain?"
"You read my mind, Detective." Turning and returning to his desk chair, Corcoran sat and began listing duties on his fingers. "Get the necessary information from Hobson about the restaurant and the supplier that'll be used in this thing; go over every detail with a fine-toothed comb. Also, get out the files on Maurice and his business; try to find patterns of operation that we can look for and try to head off in the unlikely event that he catches on to us..."
As he talked, he noticed Brigatti slipping back into her thoughts once more, and decided to let her stay there for a while. Logan Winslow was a perfectly capable detective; he could be trusted to examine the plan until Toni worked out whatever had happened with Hobson. There had been no admissions, no clear-cut indications that something had happened between them...but Theodore Corcoran hadn't become Captain by being blind to human nature. Something was going on between Brigatti and Hobson, and it would be better all around if they could figure it out *before* the shipment arrived.
* * * * *
Sonny leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers under his chin and gazing across his desk at his assembled subordinates. He was slumped against the rich leather of his desk chair, misleadingly so; even though his posture blatantly proclaimed that he was bored and listless, his eyes shot laser-like intensity at his men, making the less-experienced one--Sebastian--squirm uneasily at the mixed signals. Johnny and Renaldo, however, met his gaze with professional detachment and carefully subdued curiosity.
After a suitable period of silence, Sonny cleared his throat and began. "You all know about the arrangement with Hobson," he said, his voice carefully emotionless. "Basically, I want to give you a few specifics so you can go over what might happen, and plan on being ready for it. All the arrangements have been made; the shipment from Italy is coming in on Wednesday, which is a day earlier than Gary thinks it's coming in. The Italians have specified that it doesn't arrive until the restaurant's closing time; we're all going to be there to receive the boxes when they get there, and handle any questions or concerns Hobson has.
"Johnny, you and Sebastian will be on guard outside," he continued, sliding his gaze from one man to the other. "I'd prefer you didn't stay in the bar; covering the exits would be a good idea, one of you at the front, one at the back. I'm not expecting trouble--Hobson expects me to play by his rules, so he shouldn't call the cavalry when I show up--but it's better to be careful, right?" Dropping his hands to his desk, he stated, "Renaldo, you'll come in back with me, and help me take possession of the shipment. I'll be handling Gary, probably get him to help you separate the stones from the boxes--but other than that, you're on your own. Get the stones, make sure they're safe, then go straight to Johnny. The two of you escort the stones to one of the cars and get them to the safe house; don't wait for me, I'll have to deal with Hobson. Sebastian will return with me."
Renaldo cleared his throat slightly, indicating his desire to speak. "Mr Maurice, why don't I take care of Hobson? The less time you're at the restaurant, the less likely it is that you'll get caught."
Sonny shook his head. "I appreciate the offer, Renaldo, but the stuff between Hobson and I...it's personal. I'll deal with it myself."
"Excuse me, sir." Johnny's stony eyes met his gaze, and the bodyguard asked, "What time exactly will this meeting be taking place? If the shipment is arriving at closing time, there'll be customers to consider..."
Waving a hand lazily, Sonny answered, "Don't worry about the customers or the staff; Gary lives upstairs, so if we need privacy we can have it. I don't think we'll need it, though; Gary told me that with his living arrangements, he's usually the one who closes everything down after everyone's left, so all we have to do is wait long enough, and we'll have him alone." His eyes gravitated to Sebastian, waiting for his question.
The bodyguard shifted in his chair. "And...if the police show up?"
Sonny allowed a predatory smile to spread across his face. "Then you handle them."
Sebastian's eyes widened, and he swallowed thickly. "Yes, sir."
"We have an understanding?" Glancing at the three men one last time, Sonny noted their reactions to the meeting; Renaldo stood easily, hands draped behind his back, his eyes fixed at a point just over his boss's shoulder. Johnny also took the orders with stoic calm, although a faint downturn to his mouth seemed out of place. Sebastian was trying his hardest not to fidget; his hands twitched gently at his sides, and his feet seemed undecided as to how they should best balance his weight--but to Sonny's relief, the man's eyes were calm and clear. He was obviously trying to emulate the others' practised cool, and managing a degree of success--a step in the right direction, at least. The mafioso grinned inwardly as a wave of confidence washed over him. "Gentlemen," he said, breaking his emotionless facade to smile up at them, "This is going to be simple, and very rewarding. Do your jobs as I've laid them out for you, and everything should go smoothly." With a wave of his hand, they left his office.
When they were gone, Sonny seated himself once more and pulled an account towards him, intent on working through some numbers. He really *did* have a good feeling about the situation; the preparations he'd made with Hobson and the Italians, the insurance against any police interference--it was going to work. Zefferelli was going to be out over two million dollars in precious stones, and Sonny was going to win. It was almost laughable how easy it had been...
The only problem was the still-unknown informer,
but Sonny pushed that worry to the back of his mind. There had been
no indications of problems over the last week; if his luck held, the turncoat
would reveal himself in due course and Sonny could take care of him.
No, this was going to pull itself off beautifully...and he had Gary Hobson
He pulled and pulled 'til someone pushed him
And he fell on the front page of America...
'Cause the bone of contention
Has all our attention
And the bone of contention
Was all our invention...
--Spirit of the West
"Good morning, Chicago! Carla Jones has called in sick this morning; filling in with your news, sports, and weather, here's Sue Williamson..."
Gary removed his pillow from where he'd bunched it around his ears, murmuring a quick prayer of thanks to whatever bug had infested the Perkiest Morning Show Host in Chicago. Whoever Sue Williamson was, she seemed a whole lot...mellower.
A few moments later, Gary stumbled across his loft, his comforter wrapped tightly around him as his stockinged feet slid over the hardwood floor; reaching the door, he braved the chilly air to extend a hand and turn the knob. "Tell me it's gonna warm up today," he begged the Cat, who simply stared up at him for a moment before trotting past him. "All I want is mid-sixties. Can't I get at least mid-sixties?" Without waiting for an answer, he bent down and grabbed the Paper, folding it over and pulling it into the warm folds of his blanket as he turned back into the loft, pushing the door shut behind him.
Only once he was back in the comfortable fug of his bed did he glance at the newsprint; his eyes skimmed over the front page headline once, then again. Then, his heart frozen in his chest, he dove into the article itself; it wasn't very long, despite the blazing headline it accompanied--but rough as it was, Gary didn't need any other information:
'Mob Violence Blamed for Death of Man
--Police still uncovering evidence
'The details are sketchy at best, but what seems clear is that the man whose body was found in a dumpster in an alley off of Illinois Street early this morning was a victim of mob violence. The body was found by Detective Antonia Brigatti, a member of the 27th precinct, when she was returning home from a meeting at a restaurant in the area; she was alerted to the alley by a noise as she walked past. In an official statement, Chief of Police Robert Humphries said, "Detective Brigatti noticed two men down the alley; when she made her presence known the men fled in a dark, late-model vehicle. When she investigated, the Detective discovered the body of the deceased." The man had been shot once, execution-style, and sources say that evidence was found to link the shooting to the notorious Zefferelli crime family. Police are witholding the man's name until more information can be uncovered.'
Gary sat back against his pillow, his mind blank. He had no illusions about the identity of the man in the article; it was him. Somehow, Zefferelli was going to kill him, and not a moment too soon--tomorrow was the scheduled delivery of the stones from Italy.
His hands clutching the Paper so hard it nearly ripped, Gary looked across the room at the Cat; it was sitting alertly on the back of the couch, gazing back at him, its endless green eyes boring holes straight through his brain. "So how do I stop this?" he asked it, his voice a gravelly whisper. "Do I go through with the shipment, or do I call the whole thing off?"
Another piece of the article clicked, and his eyes widened. "Brigatti...Brigatti finds me..." Dropping the Paper, he buried his face in his hands, squeezing his eyes shut against the pit that was growing in his stomach. "God. What do I *do*?"
Everything had been going so smoothly... Taking a deep breath, Gary raised his head and tried to think things through. The shipment was practically a done deal; Sonny had made all the arrangements with the Italians, and the stones were even now entering the country, ready to be dropped off at McGinty's tomorrow night. Winslow, Corcoran, and Brigatti had handled things on the police end, and a whole team was coming by early tomorrow to set up surveillance equipment in the kitchen and office. Obviously, Zefferelli probably knew that Maurice had beat him out of the contract--but how could he have found out *how*? And how could he have learned of Gary's involvement? Unless...
Gary shook his head. No, Sonny wouldn't have made the specifics of the arrangement known; that would open up too many holes in the plan, holes that would only wreck his chances of success. There had to be something else...
Try as he might, however, Gary couldn't figure it out. And he had other things to do today; after pulling his thoughts back to the Paper long enough to look all the way through it, he discovered half a dozen smaller saves that had to be taken care of. Rousing himself from the indent in his bed, he began to get ready for his day.
The idea didn't occur to him until he was almost out the door. Backtracking into his apartment, Gary headed for the phone and dialled quickly, feeling his heartbeat speed up as he waited for an answer.
It came on the third ring. "Hello?"
"Sonny? It's Gary Hobson."
"Gary?" The mobster sounded mildly surprised, but cleared his throat and continued somewhat more normally, "What can I do for you?"
Gary swallowed back his anxiety and forced his voice to mimic the other man's calm. "I--I need you to come by McGinty's tonight. I thought we could go over what's happening tomorrow, make sure everything's ready."
"Sure, we can do that." A note of suspicion entered Sonny's voice, and he asked, "You think something's going to go wrong?"
"No! No, I think everything'll be fine." His fingers twisted the phone cord, and Gary closed his eyes, summoning every last ounce of sincerity. "I just have a few concerns, that's all. Can you come by around ten?"
There was a pause, but Gary didn't have time to wonder about it before Sonny answered, smooth and collected. "I can't make it for ten; I have a meeting that goes late tonight. Will you be up at closing?"
It was awfully late, but Gary was ready to agree to anything, as long as Maurice showed up before he was supposed to die. "Yeah, that'd be fine. I'll stay in the bar and let you in."
"Okay. I'll be there."
"Great." The two men said their goodbyes and hung up. Letting out a whoosh of breath, Gary pulled the Paper out of his back pocket and flipped it open--but to his dismay, the article hadn't changed. "Maybe--maybe it won't until after the time of the--the murder," Gary muttered, half to himself and half to the Cat. A hopeful glance at the animal, however, gave him no answer; Cat simply stared back at him, eyes wide and tail lashing. Gary swallowed. "That must be it."
He left the apartment.
* * * * *
"Marissa? Are you busy?"
Gary stepped into the office as his friend's hands stilled on the sheet they were reading; angling her head in his direction, she smiled. "Nothing that can't wait. What's up?"
Perching himself on the edge of the desk and squeezing the rolled-up Paper between his hands, Gary cleared his throat. "Not much," he began slowly, unable to meet her sightless eyes. "I was just wondering--are you planning on being here late tonight?"
Marissa's brow furrowed. "I don't know; I hadn't thought about it. Why? Do you need me to stay and take care of something?"
"Oh, no. No, I was just...wondering." Unable to sit still, Gary slid to his feet and began pacing the small area of floor. "I just thought--well, you've been working fairly hard lately, organizing accounts, taking care of shipping orders--I just thought you'd like an evening off, that's all. Or two; you could take tomorrow off, as well..."
Marissa sat motionless in her chair for a moment--then her eyes narrowed. "Okay Gary, what's going on? No offence, but you've never offered me an evening off before, not once. Is something going to happen tonight? Tomorrow?"
His hands made their way to each other and began twisting nervously as Gary gave a false, jovial chuckle and said heartily, "No, of course not. Just regular closing stuff--"
"Enough, Gary." Leaning back in the desk chair, Marissa arched an eyebrow and commanded, "You know you can't lie to me. Now out with it; does whatever's going on have something to do with Maurice?"
Gary's pacing stilled, and he stared across the room at his friend. "How do you do that?"
"Years of practise." Her face softening into an expression of worry, Marissa began, "If you're in some kind of trouble..."
"Not...exactly." He paused, trying to decide how much to tell her--and settled on the better half. "Sonny's using our Italian olive oil supplier to smuggle precious stones into the country; we've set up a sting to catch him when the shipment arrives. Here. Tomorrow night." Marissa's eyes widened, and her mouth opened to respond, but he kept going. "It's already a done deal; the police are coming in tomorrow morning to set things up, and Sonny's coming in tonight to go over the details and tomorrow to pick the stones up. Once he has them in his possession, the police can arrest him--and we'll never have to worry about him again."
Marissa was quiet for a long minute--and when she spoke, her voice was thick with disapproval. "Gary, I wish you'd have run this by me before making it official," she said, folding her hands together on top of her papers. "I own half of this business; if you were going to do something to jeopardize it, I should have been made aware of it."
Gary ducked his head, pausing for a moment before continuing to pace. "I'm sorry. I just thought that this would be the easiest way to deal with Maurice once and for all--"
"That's another thing. How do you know this is going to work?" Her face slipped into an expression of unabashed concern, and Marissa continued, "Gary, you're putting your life on the line dealing with Sonny like this. And for the past week, I thought things were dying down with him; you've shut me out so completely that I thought we'd heard the last of the mob for a long time. Now you tell me about this plan--it's sudden, and unexpected, and unsettling. I'm your *friend*, Gary; you should've trusted me enough to tell me what was going on."
A hot wave of shame flooded his face, and Gary strode over to the desk. Resting his knuckles on the flat top he leaned down, gazing at Marissa with the full force of his earnestness. "I do trust you, Marissa. I also worry about you; the less you know about this stuff, the safer you are. I just want to keep you out of--"
"The line of fire?" Her mouth softened, and she turned her face up to his. "Is there any way I can get you there with me?"
His mouth quirked into a tiny smile. She understood; Marissa always did. "No."
"I didn't think so." She sighed, ducking her head for a minute while she thought. Then, raising her eyes so he could clearly see how troubled they were, she said, "Be careful, Gary. I'll go home early tonight and tomorrow, but you have to promise me you'll be *careful*."
Reaching out and touching her shoulder, thankful that he'd at least been able to keep her safe, Gary smiled.
Satan ain't nothin' but a
Snake in the grass
He's a conjur
He's a liar
--Moses Hogan (Traditional)
Toni sighed, and bunched her pillow under her head in an attempt to puff up the part that was supporting her neck. The last thing she needed was to be battling stiff muscles tomorrow.
Rolling her head around, trying to get comfortable, she glimpsed the clock and sighed. Make that today. It was rounding one o'clock in the morning, and she still wasn't asleep; of course, battling overtiredness wasn't anything she needed to be doing tomorrow either, but she didn't want to take anything to help her nod off. The way her life was going, she'd end up oversleeping and being two steps behind everyone while all the action happened--and there was no *way* Toni Brigatti would let herself be a liability like that. Especially considering the people involved...
Her restless movements stilled, and she stared wide-eyed at the shadows on the ceiling of her bedroom.
She'd checked out Hobson's story. The tiny part of her that hadn't been furious or sad or frightened had held the rest of her together long enough to pull up some files, contact some people, and generally call in enough favours to get the official story out of those who knew about it--only to find that the official story didn't officially exist, and the unofficial story told her nothing new. What Hobson said had been the truth, and as soon as she'd realized that, her brain had checked out for a few hours to try to figure out why that bothered her so much.
The man was a magnet for trouble. It was a tired cliche, and Toni hated using it--but it fit. Even Paul Armstrong had noticed Hobson's tendency to get involved with things that weren't good for him; not long after the Scanlon case, she'd heard the other detective talking in the commissary, drawing comparisons to some old cartoon character and generally trying to puzzle the guy out. She'd steered clear of the conversation, but the gist of what she'd overheard had stuck with her; Gary Hobson was always in the wrong place at the wrong time, and because of that, things happened to him.
He hadn't always been that way; part of her research had included pulling all the files on him, and the funny thing was, there was nothing on him older than four years. *Nothing*, not even a parking ticket. Then, mysteriously, in November of 1996, Gary Hobson's name appeared in a police report for the first time--and kept appearing. Now, four short years later, he had a file thicker than her arm, listing charges for everything ranging from parking tickets to murder.
What the hell had happened to make him so high-profile?
Breathing out another massive sigh, Toni half-raised herself on her elbows, flipped over, and pummelled her pillow into submission. Flopping back down on it, she tried to close her eyes--but they popped open again, her brain continuing to tick rebelliously over.
Now, tonight, he was going to have another note entered into his file--he was helping them nab Sonny Maurice. Twenty-four hours from now--she hoped--Maurice would be behind bars, she would be out from under the shadow of the frame-up, and Gary...what about Gary? Did she even *care* about what happened to Gary?
With a start, Toni realized that she did--and she could have kicked herself for not seeing it sooner. He'd made her life hell from the first instant she met him, he'd provoked hours of grief and anger and guilt, he'd sniped at her with all the gusto she put into sniping at him--but somewhere, somehow, he'd become...not important, he didn't mean *that* much...he'd become--big. There, that was it; he was big in her life, always there, always ready to royally mess her up--and as unwelcome as that interference was, as confused and hurt and bewildered as he could make her...it meant that she *did* care about what happened to him.
And the last time they'd spoken, she'd shut him out entirely. Cursing herself--and wondering for a moment just why the curse had such bitterness behind it--Toni sat up in bed, kicked the covers off and pushed herself to her feet. If she was lucky, she could get to McGinty's before he went to bed; she could say what she'd wanted to about his story, what she would've said if her stupid insecurities hadn't blocked out everything except what she needed to hear to stay insecure.
That brought her up short for a moment. Toni wasn't unaccustomed to late-night flashes of brilliant inspiration that turned out to be not so brilliant the next morning; despite her previous thoughts on the matter, the absolute *last* thing she needed was to make a fool of herself in front of Gary Hobson. After a moment's tortured consideration, however, she continued getting dressed. All she wanted to do was talk to him; after the risks he'd taken in telling her about Marley and going along with the police to catch Maurice, it was the least she could do.
She just had to do it now, before she talked herself out of it...
* * * * *
The last employees had just trickled out of the bar when Gary heard the soft knock on the main entrance. Leaving his dishrag at the bar where he'd been trying to keep his mind occupied with cleaning duties, he strode over to let Sonny Maurice and his bodyguards in.
"Thanks for coming," he said, making sure the door was closed and locked behind the small entourage. "I know it's late, but I wanted to go over some things about the shipment."
Sonny waved off his apologetic tone. "Don't worry about it, Gary. I have a few things I need to do before tomorrow, too." Suddenly, he seemed to remember something; turning a little away from Gary, he gestured at the three men standing behind him. "You know Johnny and Sebastian, but have you met Renaldo?"
The indicated man stepped forward. He was everything Gary had come to expect from Sonny's associates; tall, imposing, and possessing an easy strength that said plainly, I can hurt you, and if you give me an excuse, I will. As Gary reached out to shake his hand, Renaldo's hard, dark eyes focussed, unwavering, on his own, the expression that glimmered below their surface unnerving Gary completely. "N-nice to meet you, Renaldo."
"He was at Pier 11."
Sonny's frank statement made Gary start, and he felt Renaldo's hand tighten around his own for a brief, excruciating instant. Forcing his surprise not to show, Gary slackened his own grip, hoping the man would get the idea and end the handshake. "Really? I--uh--hear that was a bust. I mean--"
Through the hot red waves of his mortification, Gary saw Sonny smile--a quick, humourless twist of his lips that disappeared almost immediately--and nudge Renaldo's elbow. The other man released Gary's hand, his eyes breaking contact; silently, he faded back behind his superior and stood at watchful ease, seemingly oblivious to the other people in the room.
"Gary?" Sonny's voice made him jump; turning his attention back to Maurice, Gary tried to steady his nerves enough to pay attention. "Do you want to go discuss the shipment in the back rooms? I could do with a scotch and some privacy."
"Oh--right. Of course." Ducking quickly behind the bar, Gary poured the drink with a trembling hand; something seemed off about Maurice, and it was unnerving in the extreme. "Do--ah--the rest of you want something?"
The bodyguards' mouths remained closed; Sonny answered for them. "Nah, they're working. You go ahead, though."
"Right." Deciding that it couldn't hurt, Gary grabbed a beer out of the bar fridge, set both drinks on a tray, and made his way back out to Sonny. "To the office?"
"To the office." The mob boss nodded once at his men before striding towards the back; before Gary followed, he watched Johnny step towards the main door, ushering Sebastian before him.
Renaldo, however, gestured after Maurice. "After you."
When he entered the office, trying not to be too worried about turning his back on Sonny's beefy 'associate', Gary found the mafioso comfortably ensconced in the desk chair, seated as regally as if he owned the place. For some reason, Gary's hackles rose at the thought, and he took a moment to shake off the feeling that something was very wrong before handing over the scotch. It was *Maurice*; he was there to protect him. Zefferelli was the one he had to worry about. Gary took a deep breath, picked up his beer, and went across the room to lean against the filing cabinet; it was just the article in the Paper that was making him nervous. Nothing was wrong...
"Great scotch." Glancing up from his silent assurances, Gary watched as Sonny took another appreciative sip of the amber liquid. "That's something I've liked about you from the start, Gary; your place has excellent taste in liquor."
Gary attempted a smile, his eyes drawn to Renaldo as the man wandered around the room, apparently inspecting the walls. "Actually, Marissa handles the imports."
"Really? I'll have to give her my compliments." He raised the glass to have another sip--then paused, his hand hovering halfway to his mouth. "I hope she didn't handle *our* import."
"Oh--no, no. Of course not." Now Gary tried a chuckle; it died quickly in the face of Sonny's eyes, hooded and emotionless, staring at him as if they were trying to memorize every line of his face. Instead, he turned the sound into a cough, which was worse. "Uh...about that, I was wondering--"
"Where do the boxes come in?" Sonny interrupted, setting his glass down on the desk and folding his hands beside it. "I want to know where to tell my men to get them; let Renaldo here look the place over, assess any weak points in security."
Gary furrowed his brow and set his beer on top of the filing cabinet, still untouched. "I can show you, if you'd like..."
"Great." Rising out of the desk chair, Sonny indicated that Gary should lead them with a sweep of his arm and another quicksilver smile. "Lead on."
"Well, it--it's just back behind the kitchen," Gary said, walking slowly past Maurice and Renaldo and trying not to look as mystified by the mob boss's behaviour as he felt. Sonny seemed...on edge, as if he'd plastered on his business mask a little too thick...
Moving through the dark kitchen towards the storage room where the delivery doors opened onto the alley beside McGinty's, Gary kept talking. "There shouldn't be anything in here right now; we didn't have any arrivals today, and the stuff that came in on Monday has been packed away." Pushing through the door, he moved to the side to let his two guests follow, reaching out for the light switch on the wall. "It's pretty empty-looking, but--" The room flooded with light and Gary froze, his babbling explanation dying on his lips.
In the middle of the room was a small stack of boxes, all of them stamped with the 'Oliva-Bocca' company label.
"What? But it's not due until tomorrow--" His mind racing, trying to think of something, anything to say to Maurice that would salvage the bust, Gary turned--
--And found himself staring down the length of a gun aimed squarely at his heart.
Sonny cocked the weapon, the tiny click echoing
around the room. "Looks like it came a day early."
It was no comfort to identify
The pallid flesh; a life deprived...
When something is that intense
You can never tell what will happen next...
--Single Gun Theory
Gary couldn't move. Sonny's words echoed around his brain, his eyes were glued to the small black hole at the end of the short barrel of the gun--and he couldn't move.
One thought forced its way out of the silence, and it screamed through his head in confusion and fear--it was supposed to be Zefferelli...
Sonny's eyes, as black and depthless as the muzzle of the gun, watched him intently as the mafioso instructed Renaldo. "Open the marked one; see if the stones arrived unharmed."
The command broke a certain amount of Gary's stupor, and he turned a little--slowly--to watch as the bodyguard stepped to the pile, selected a box with a zigzag scrawl of marker on one side, and ripped into it with a jacknife. Once the flaps of the box were up the knife disappeared back into his pocket, and Renaldo reached in and lifted out two bottles. Turning, he held them up to give the others a better view.
Gary's eyes widened, and he heard a wordless sound of satisfaction from Sonny. Instead of being filled with rich, clear olive oil, the two bottles were stuffed to the brim with sparkling, colourful gems of varying shapes and sizes.
It took a moment for him to realize that Renaldo was speaking. "There's another two bottles in here, sir, both of them full. Should I take them out to the car?"
Gary turned back to look at Maurice. The mobster's face was split with a lascivious, triumphant grin--but his eyes remained untouched by the emotions, and lay hidden behind his heavy lids. "Do it. Leave the bottles with oil in them here and carry the stones in the box; the less they're out in the open, the better. Remember, take Johnny with you. Sebastian and I will meet you later."
Renaldo nodded, and turned to arrange the bottles. A moment later, he picked up the box with its precious cargo, nodded once at his boss, and strode swiftly out of the room.
Gary eyed Maurice carefully; the man's grip on his gun never wavered, and the smile was gone from his face, giving him an air of deadly intensity that seemed to crystallize in the atmosphere around him. His eyes, still flat and cold, stared back at him, as if urging him to speak.
Incredibly, Gary found that he could. "Was this a set-up?" he asked cautiously, keeping his hands limp at his sides.
Sonny nodded. "It all was. You underestimated me, Gary; I'm a hell of a lot smarter than you thought I was."
Gary swallowed thickly. "I'm getting that." Still mindful of the gun, he stepped slowly to the side; when Sonny didn't react except to turn with him to keep him in his sights, Gary moved a little easier out of the store room.
For a moment, he thought he was actually going to be able to make it to the office--but as soon as he was beside the large metal food preparation island in the middle of the kitchen, Sonny pulled him up short with a calm, "That's enough."
Gary turned around again, and made an effort to focus on Sonny's face instead of his weapon. "So how much did you know, Sonny?" he asked, forcing his voice to remain low and steady. "And for how long? The beginning? Or did you just put it all together yesterday?"
The mobster swayed slightly as he arranged his balance on the balls of his feet--but the gun never wavered. "Well, I've known about this little plan of yours to bust me pretty much since you pitched it to me. And I've known that you're with the police since Pier 11. Oh, come on," he continued, in response to the shock on Gary's face. "Why did you think I came to McGinty's the day after my hit went sour? Renaldo heard the cops talking about their informant; he relayed the information to me--a name that I couldn't put a face to--and I decided to check it out. Find out who had the intelligence on me, see how badly he was gonna make me suffer." He paused, then said, with more than a hint of irony in his tone, "What I found was you."
Gary's arms ached from keeping them motionless; he felt a trickle of sweat seep down the back of his neck, and yearned to reach up and wipe it away. "So if you knew I was bad news, why didn't you kill me then?"
Sonny shurgged. "You made me curious. You, Mr Hobson, are not exactly mob material. And you're definitely not informant material; the first time I talked to you, I could barely keep from laughing at how nervous I was making you." Breaking off for a moment, he raised his left hand and switched the gun over to it, dropping his right arm at his side. Despite the substitution of his weaker hand, however, Gary didn't like his chances any better; Maurice's aim was still straight and true. "So I decided to string you along," he continued, almost conversationally. "See what you could do for me; you did have important contacts, you know. I could get a lot out of you...so I did."
"You did, huh?" Everything began sliding into place, and despite the growing danger, Gary felt a swell of anger rise through him. "Of course you did. Like where Sorrilla was being kept, right? You *did* kill him, didn't you!"
"Ah--" His finger tightening a little on the trigger, Sonny raised his chin, admonishing, "Calm down, Gary. Uncontrolled emotions can kill you." He flashed an overly-sincere smile, then continued, his voice tinged with regret, "Actually, I was telling you the truth in regards to Francis Sorrilla; I didn't kill him. And I didn't have him shot at the Pier--although that was the original idea."
Gary furrowed his brow, fighting to keep his fury in check. "Then who *did* kill him, huh? Tell me that!"
"If I knew, I'd tell you. Believe me, I'm not planning on holding out on you this late in the game. I owe you at least that." Shifting his stance a little, the mafioso kept talking. "I sent Renaldo to Pier 11 because Sorrilla had contacted me with a deal--the one I told you about, where he would give me inside information on Zefferelli so I could win the Italian contract, in exchange for getting me to drop the contract I had on his life." He twisted his neck in a lightning-fast movement, as if cracking out a kink. "I agreed to the meeting, but not to the terms. Renaldo's orders were to hear what Sorrilla had to say, then put a bullet in him and drop him in the lake. Unfortunately, there were unexpected guests at the Pier that night, and not just your cop buddies. Whoever it was aimed right, and hit Sorrilla before Renaldo had a chance to react; then the police got involved, and it was taken out of my hands."
"I see." Gary nodded, exaggerating understanding. "But you took it back into your hands by striking up--what was it, a friendship?--with me. You knew I could tell you where Sorrilla was being treated, didn't you?"
"I did. Your cop friend isn't nearly as low-key as she should be...Brigatti, isn't it?" The corners of Maurice's mouth quirked. "She seemed a little excited that first time she saw us together, I thought."
Letting out a long, steadying breath, Gary nodded. "You saw her talking to me and checked her out. You *are* the one who's framing her, aren't you?"
The mobster raised his eyebrows, impressed. "So she figured it out. I thought she might; her record is...glowing." At Gary's expression, he rolled his eyes. "I couldn't have her credibly reporting anything you happened to tell her, now, could I? But I also couldn't exactly go right up to her and make threats; the police don't take kindly to that kind of tactic. So I used the back door; planted some things, had some judicious editing happen to some of her past reports and files--"
"Made Samuel Dasney concoct a story about an unnamed dirty cop," Gary interrupted, his eyes blazing. "Was he working for you when he was on the force, Sonny? Is he still on your payroll in prison?"
"Sam was very helpful before he got arrested, yes. And once they caught up to him, I made it clear that life inside could be a lot better than he expected--if he maintained good relations with certain influential people." His head tilted to the side in a gesture of modesty, and Sonny commented, "I take care of the people who take care of me, Gary. There's a lot of people in the keep who are still loyal to me, even though they've been away for years; they never know when they can be useful to me, but they make sure they *can* be. It's really a win-win situation."
Gary stared at him, disbelieving. "You're a career criminal who couldn't tell right from wrong if it was written on your knuckles," he said eventually, getting a soft chuckle in response. "You use me, you use Brigatti--and now what? You gonna kill me, Sonny? Just because I got in your way?"
"It's a hell of a lot more complicated than that, Gary, but--yes." He spoke so frankly that a pit of ice opened in Gary's stomach. "There are rules in the business--there's honour, and there's honesty, and there's a lot of other things you wouldn't expect to find--but they're *there*, and I have to live by them. Otherwise, you'd end up with wars in the streets and innocent people dying for no reason. You'd end up with--Charlotte, and what happened to her, happening all the time to anybody who stepped in the wrong flowerbed." There was a glimmer of sorrow woven over his face for a long moment--then Sonny blinked, and all expression disappeared once more as he stared speculatively at Gary. "There's just one thing," he stated.
Mustering all the courage he could find to stretch the moment, Gary stared back unflinchingly. "What?"
Sonny's eyes narrowed, and he asked curiously, "How did you get your information about Pier 11 in the first place?"
"I mean, at first I thought you were an old associate who still had ties to someone in the know." Holding the gun almost casually, Sonny continued as if he hadn't noticed Gary's slip. "I thought maybe you'd used a fake name, or been in witness relocation--but when I saw you, I knew that you couldn't be associated with the life at all."
As Sonny paused, Gary regrouped enough to counter weakly, "Yeah? And why not?"
"You radiate honesty." Maurice's face was blank once more, his eyes shuttered--and that was odd, Gary realized, because there was nothing to hide--or hide *from*--in that statement... "And if you were in the business, you'd have trained yourself not to by now." He paused once more, then cleared his throat. "So--how did you know, Gary? Who were you talking to?"
In the silence that followed the question, Gary reviewed his options--and discovered that he had none. Maurice had a gun trained on his heart, and an incredibly steady hand. There was no one else in the bar--or probably even outside, considering the time--who could come barging in at the last moment to save the day. The Paper was buried under the detritus covering the desk in the office, but even if he'd been able to read it, all it would tell him was that he was going to die--admittedly, it said that Zefferelli was the one behind his death, but in the face of reality Gary was willing to admit that maybe the Paper was wrong. When he considered it, really...what could he do?
He took a deep breath and met Sonny's eyes. "I wasn't talking to anyone."
The mobster's forehead creased in surprise. "Noble to the end, huh Gary? Fine by me. I guess I'll just have to wait a little longer before the mole shows himself."
The wording caught Gary off-guard, and he blinked. "Wait--a mole? But--"
"No; don't bother." Sonny cut him off, and gestured sharply with the gun, his face closed off. "I'm not putting this off any longer; on your knees. On your *knees*, Gary!" When Gary still remained standing, Sonny stepped forward quickly, clamped his free hand on the taller man's shoulder, and forced him down with shocking violence.
Gary barely had time to react before he found himself kneeling, Sonny having moved himself away to a safe distance once more. His heart began thudding mercilessly, seeming to vibrate his entire body; raising his eyes to gaze up at his murderer, Gary realized he was trembling. "Sonny, you don't have to do this. I swear, I'll get out of your life, I won't say a thing to the police, you'll never hear from me again. You don't *want* to do this!"
To his amazement, Sonny nodded, his eyes softening. "You're right. I don't want to kill you...but I *have* to."
And as Gary watched, Sonny Maurice became the tired, haunted man he'd been so long ago, when he spoke quietly of needing someone just to talk to. His shoulders slumped, and he wore the weight of absolute power--and absolute enforcement of that power--as a massive burden that he could never get rid of. His eyes deepened with sorrow and rage and passion until Gary drowned in them, and his face expressed in one long, agonizingly explicit moment all the horrors and wonders of his lifestyle.
And then it was all gone, and Gary stared up, moved beyond words, into the heartless face of a killer.
Sonny's finger tightened on the trigger, and Gary started forward, finding just enough voice to say, "Wait--"
The bang of the swinging doors was deafening, and both men jumped, turning wide eyes to the person standing in the threshold.
"Don't stop on my account," said Vincent Zefferelli.
All your thoughts are in me; all your faults in me
What would you say if we lived on TV
Besides all the things they told you to?...
The reasons for being are easy to pay
You can't remember the others
They just kind of went away
We're done lying for a living
The strange days have come and you're gone...
Sonny didn't hesitate; in one smooth motion, he swung his arm around in a tight arc until his gun was pointed at Zefferelli.
The other mob boss simply arched an eyebrow at his rival. "Don't get ahead of yourself, Maurice," he said blithely, and Gary saw too late that the man hadn't come unprepared. A large, red-headed version of Renaldo had appeared from nowhere, and was pressing the muzzle of an ugly-looking pistol to the back of Sonny's neck.
Maurice tensed--but his grip on his own weapon never wavered. "Awfully messy way to kill someone," he commented, his voice tight with forced ease.
Zefferelli shrugged, and nodded to Gary. "Didn't seem to bother you."
"I had personal business with him."
"Then I'm sure he's glad I interrupted." Zefferelli gestured at the redhead. "Go on, give Geoff the gun. We wouldn't want to do any damage to this charming restaurant."
Sonny's expression didn't change, but he shifted his grip on the gun so that his finger was off the trigger. His arm swung slowly to the side until the weapon was within arm's reach of the goon; without removing his own weapon from its place against Sonny's neck, Geoff reached forward and took it.
"Mr Hobson?" Gary jumped, his eyes darting back to Zefferelli. The mafioso--Gary recognized him from surveillance photos Brigatti had shown him, and realized with a start that he had been in the tailor's shop the other day--was staring down at him, an idly amused smile twitching at his fleshy cheeks. In the bright lights of the kitchen every crease of his face seemed magnified, and Gary's eyes were drawn to the gentle pucker of a scar that bisected his left eyebrow. "Feel free to stand up. I know how uncomfortable a hard floor can be on the knees."
Slowly, his brain numb with fear and screaming at him to get to the Paper *somehow* and find out what was going on, Gary placed a hand on the top of the island and levered himself up. "Mr Zefferelli, I presume?"
Vincent's eyes lit up and he chuckled, the low, gravelly sound grating against Gary's already frayed nerves. "So he does recognize me. How flattering; I didn't know if you'd warned him about me, Maurice."
Gary opened his mouth to respond to the unsettling way the mobster was referring to him in the third person--but Sonny beat him to it. "Gary is in this room with us, Zefferelli. The least you could do is treat him with courtesy."
The larger man arched an eyebrow. "And only minutes ago you were ready to put a bullet through the man's head. What prompted the sudden decency, Sonny?"
Maurice shrugged, his professional cool in icicle-forming effect. "You did, Vincent. Enemy of my enemy...you know how it is."
"That I do." Turning once again to face Gary, Zefferelli nodded slightly in acknowledgement. "So we're suddenly enemies, Mr Hobson," he stated, his tone holding a hint of iron. "Tell me--why is that?"
Gary opened his mouth, then closed it, in an attempt to buy time during which he could marshall his thoughts. After the briefest of pauses he opened it again, and replied with manic brightness, "Well, I really couldn't say, Mr Zefferelli. Unless being angry at someone who attacks innocent people counts as a valid reason."
Zefferelli actually laughed at this; his eyes danced as he turned them back to Sonny. "Well done! He's completely on your side. I doubt I could have done better myself."
Sonny's reply was a quick and totally humourless smile. At least, Gary thought, his mind running nonsensically from panic, it had to have been a smile; his lips curved and he exposed gleaming teeth. "So Vincent--why have you interrupted my private dealings, hmm?" the mobster queried, the fabric of his jacket rustling softly as he crossed his arms.
"I didn't know they were private," came the reply. His legs swinging stiffly under his long coat, Zefferelli wandered away from the door and over to the long island. Moving along on the opposite side from where Gary stood, he trailed his hand over the spotless countertop as if inspecting for dust. "I thought that the Italian contract was *business*."
Sonny nodded. "I see. So you thought you could show up, steal the gems, and--what--not have to answer for it? Sorry," he continued, turning to follow his rival's movements and forcing Geoff to move with him. "But our business doesn't work like that. You should know that, shouldn't you?"
Zefferelli paused in mid-step and spun around to stare thoughtfully at Gary. Ignoring Maurice's steely gaze, he asked, "Mr Hobson, are you really working with Sonny here, or is there more to your involvement than meets the eye?"
Gary shifted uneasily under the sudden scrutiny. He'd been ignored for so long that he had begun to comtemplate running for it; unfortunately, the combination of the mobsters' attention and his too-close brush with a bullet had left his knees rubbery and weak. He risked a glance back at Sonny; the smaller man was watching him, eyes hooded, radiating a frigid air of control. Turning back to Zefferelli, Gary encountered once more the expression of blatant cunning that made him sure the mobster knew more than he was admitting. And if what Sonny had said before about a mole was true...
Summoning a certain amount of weak bravado, Gary straightened his shoulders and gazed impassively back. "I'm working with the police," he stated clearly, somehow managing to keep his voice from shaking. "I helped Sonny set up the Italian deal so that they would have something to arrest him on."
Zefferelli nodded, failing to look at all surprised. "I see. Maybe it's better that you're *not* on my side, then."
At the other end of the island, Sonny made an exasperated noise and stepped away from Geoff towards Zefferelli. The bodyguard moved to subdue him--but his boss simply shook his head and turned to watch his competitor as he spoke. "Look, Vincent--this was a stupid move you made here. The stones have already arrived, and I've sent them to a safehouse with two of my best men. The only business I had left to take care of here was with Gary, and he can't possibly mean anything important to you--so really, you busted in here for nothing. Why don't you let me finish, and we can do business some other time?"
Vincent's bushy eyebrows arched, and he pursed his lips. "On the surface, Mr Maurice, you would appear to be correct," he said, his voice a study in nonchalance. "The stones came earlier--due to your own brilliant strategizing in managing to outwit Chicago's boys in blue; good job on that." He drew himself up to his full height, seemingly oblivious to the lightning-quick expression of surprise that flickered across Sonny's face at the disclosure. "However I must point out that, as for the rest, you are in error, my friend. You see--" He nodded towards the doors to the dining room, which swung open to admit the stumbling form of Renaldo, still carrying the box of jewel bottles. "--The gems are still on the premises. And I hate to tell you this, but one of your best men...isn't yours."
Gary watched, numb, as the doors swung open one more time. As they parted, the threshold darkened with the hulking, swaggering form of Johnny, his gun trained on Renaldo's back, his usually expressionless face twisted in a vicious sneer.
As he stepped into the room, the bodyguard surveyed its inhabitants with hard, glittering eyes, coming to rest on Sonny. "He's right, Mr Maurice," he confirmed, his voice thick with hate. "I'm his."
Gary watched Sonny's face go ashen at the declaration, and for the millionth time that night, he felt ice run through his veins. Johnny's mouth had curved into a ruthless grin, and his eyes slid a quick glance at Zefferelli before returning to glare triumphantly at his former boss.
Vincent wore a grin of his own. "Johnny's been very handy, Maurice, for quite a long time. You must've noticed that certain crucial pieces of information were making themselves known without your approval, yes?"
Visibly restraining his fury, Sonny bit out his reply. "Oh, yeah. How did you get him, Zefferelli, huh? Money? 'Cause I could've sworn he was better than to let himself be bought--"
"I am!" Johnny interrupted harshly, his grin metamorphosing into an expression of wild loathing.
He quieted when Zefferelli raised his hand. "It's the truth," he confirmed airily. "He wouldn't have left you for money, Maurice. No, my boy Johnny needed a *reason* to turn his back on you. And you gave him one, better than anything I could offer on my own."
Gary hung back silently, praying that the mobsters would keep themselves occupied with their treacheries long enough for his movements to be completely ignored. He was only a few steps away from the phone; if he could get it off the hook and dial 911 without them noticing...
Sonny's eyes widened, and realization spread across his face. Turning to face Johnny squarely, he asked, "Your sister?"
Gary took a slow step back as the bodyguard nodded. "You didn't have to kill her. You could've sent her away, shut her out of the business--but no, that wasn't good enough. You had to prove you were in charge, damn you!"
Zefferelli continued idly, "The loss of Miss Stantini hit me hard; she had been very adept at providing me with insider knowledge. Imagine my surprise when I had the opportunity to speak with her poor, distraught brother at the funeral; he seemed almost eager to listen to my thoughts on how you were posion."
Sonny nodded, his lips pressed into a thin, angry line. "So then what, Johnny?" he demanded, his voice sharp enough to draw blood. "He offered you a spot on his payroll? A way to get revenge? She was a traitor! I had to deal with her!"
"You didn't have to kill her," Johnny maintained. Gary took another step backwards; the phone was a foot to his left, but he kept his eyes glued on the others... "Mr Zefferelli knew that. He knows that you don't have any appreciation for life!"
"Like he does?" Sonny had reigned himself in once more; he spoke softly, but his shoulders were tense with the effort. "Did he tell you he appreciates life? Was it before he beat Charlotte or after?"
Johnny's eyes flared with rage and he took a step forward--but Zefferelli brought him up short with a harsh word. "In any event," he said, turning his attention back to Sonny, "I gained his services, and he has proved very helpful. He has relayed each development with your recent tie to the police--speaking of whom, Mr Hobson, if you don't stop reaching for the phone, I'll have to have Geoff shoot your hand off--and he has watched out for my interests during this operation tonight--in fact, as I was entering, I saw him deliver a very surprising bullet to your shaky blond man out in the dining room--all of which has led us to this, the crowning moment." He smiled, and gestured to Renaldo. "Bring me the jewels."
Gary felt sick. His hand, which had dropped back to his side as soon as Zefferelli had mentioned it, was shaking like a leaf, and he *knew* that the article in the Paper wasn't going to change at the last moment. Sliding his eyes over to Sonny, he realized that the mobster was staring back at him with desperate intensity; meeting his eyes, he tried to understand the message they carried...
"Lovely, aren't they?" Zefferelli placed the bottle he'd taken out to inspect back in the box, and smiled widely. "I see why you wanted them for yourself, Maurice. Sadly, that was just not to be..." He clapped his hands together, the sudden sound making Gary jump. His voice firmed up, and he waved at Geoff and Johnny. "Get Mr Maurice, his bodyguard, and his naieve little helper standing together. We're done here."
Johnny herded Sonny and Renaldo to a corner of the room by the chopping block while Geoff stepped menacingly towards Gary, indicating where he should move with the barrel of his gun. His mind wrapped in blackness, Gary joined the others, taking his place beside Sonny. It was strange, he thought; not long ago, he'd wanted to be as far away from Sonny as he could get--now, it gave him a measure of security, no matter how unreal, to know that the mobster was close by.
As Zefferelli, Johnny, and Geoff drew together a few feet away, the bodyguards training their guns on the trio across from them, Sonny spoke up--and Gary couldn't believe his casual tone. "What are you gonna do, Vincent, shoot me? Even you have to know how stupid a move that would be."
His rival tilted his head in acknowledgment. "You're right. Killing you would create far too many problems for me, especially since you're the focus of so much attention from the police right now." He shrugged. "However, I feel no compunctions about killing your friends. With just a little effort, and some help from Johnny, I can make it look like *you* killed them, and he couldn't stop you until it was too late. The police will show up, here you'll be with a couple of stiffs--the guy who was snitching to the cops and the guy who Johnny'll say was feeding information to your rivals--presto, you're out of my business. And I'll have the gems."
Zefferelli clucked his tongue disapprovingly. "Oh, Sonny--the language."
"That's insane, Zefferelli." Gary raised his voice tremulously, trying to pull together any amount of courage he could find. "It'll never stick; you leave Sonny alive, he's alive to contradict whatever Johnny tells 'em. At best, he's in prison for a coupla years--then he's out again, and you're in trouble."
To his amazement, Zefferelli simply shrugged. "So he gets out after whatever sentence they give him. Even if it's just two years--that's a lotta time in the business." He turned to Sonny. "Enlighten me; how were you going to cover up your involvement in his murder?"
Sonny turned and met Gary's eyes while he answered. "I know your signature; I was gonna make it look like you killed him."
Gary swallowed thickly, the hairs on the back of his neck itching from the sweat that was pooling among them. The Paper had been wrong because Sonny had planted false evidence...
His rival gave a humourless snort of laughter. "I'll bet you thought that was clever." Turning away, he strode to the box of Italian gems and picked it up, tossing his order over his shoulder as he moved. "Kill them."
Geoff and Johnny aimed. Sonny turned to Gary, and for a moment, his eyes expressed his regret. "I'm sorry," he breathed, reaching out and grasping Gary's hand in a firm, desperate shake. "I didn't want this; any of it. Not even the way it was before..."
He trailed off, and Gary saw that he meant it. They were going to die, and Sonny Maurice was truly sorry... He squeezed back. "I--"
The doors to the bar swung open with a deafening bang, and the gunmen jumped, turning wide eyes to the person standing in the threshold.
"What the--" Brigatti said, before all hell broke
Okay you made me scared
You did what you set out to do
I'm not prepared
Really had me going there for a minute or two
He said, you made me scared too
I wasn't sure I was getting through
I gotta go; it's been a pleasure doing business with you...
--The Tragically Hip
There was the barest moment of shocked silence during which everyone in the kitchen stared at the new arrival--then Gary was tugged violently off his feet as Sonny dove behind the chopping block. He heard Zefferelli swear, and then--gunfire hit the wall where he'd been standing.
It was deafening.
Gary gazed fearfully at Sonny as the other man reached into his jacket, jerking back as bullets hit the edge of the thick wooden block they cowered behind. After a moment's frantic search, however, the mobster's eyes hardened, and his mouth twisted into a grim smile. He pulled a gun out of some inner pocket--and held it out for Gary to take.
"Look, it's either take it or wait for them to get close enough that they won't miss!" he said sharply, shoving the weapon into Gary's fumbling hands. "The more people able to defend themselves, the better." Another quick search produced a weapon of his own; Sonny cocked the chamber, risked a glance around the block, and shot. "That goddamn Zefferelli; I should've known. I should've *known*--"
Gary simply crouched down, staring from the gun in his hands to the man who'd just saved his life. "Sonny, I can't shoot at people!"
The mobster squeezed off another shot, and Gary flinched as he heard a voice--it must have been Geoff--scream in pain. Ducking back into the meager cover provided by the wood, Sonny waited while a hail of bullets slammed into the other side, and Gary jumped as a wayard shot broke a bottle of pickles on a shelf beside his elbow. Sonny turned his eyes on Gary--and for once they looked truly, completely *alive*. "No," he said after a moment, his voice husky with adrenaline and emotion, "I don't expect you could."
There was another pause, and Sonny took the opportunity.
* * * * *
Brigatti saw one of the huge men in expensive-looking suits turn towards her, his face a scowl of fury, his gun swinging around to aim at her chest. Without thinking, she dropped to the side, rolling slightly into the alcove by the phone while her hand groped under her jacket for her gun.
She'd seen Hobson standing across the room with Maurice and Renaldo Munoz; it had looked like she'd arrived in the nick of time, judging by the nasty-looking group that had stood opposite them, in typical execution arrangement. As gunshots echoed around the spacious kitchen accompanied by the sound of breaking glass and pinging metal from bullets ricocheting off cookware, Toni felt an icicle of fear stab her throat--something had gone very, very wrong, and Hobson was in the middle of it.
And she had no backup...
A second's lull in the noise level prompted her to take a deep breath and bellow, "Police! Drop your weapons, you're under arrest!"
She flinched back further into her refuge as the reply to her order banged around her, one lucky shot exploding a jar of pickled onions on the counter around the corner. Then, as the shots died down, she heard a voice: "Maurice, did you hear that? Your friends from the police have arrived! Pity there's only one of them, don't you think?"
An answering voice, gruff with command, replied, "You made this mess, Zefferelli. Why don't you clean it up before it gets any worse? Turn yourself in!"
"Do you hear that, Ms Police Woman?" Brigatti shuddered as the first voice--Vincent Zefferelli--sneered back. "Mr Maurice advocates working with law enforcement every chance he gets; even after he's gunned down my bodyguard!"
"Look, calm down!" Using every last rule she could recall from her training, Brigatti clamped down on her fear and struggled to clear her mind of the emotional confusion that would only cause her to make mistakes. Sparing one thought for a fervent wish that the phone was lower down the wall, she commanded, "I don't want any more bloodshed. Things are already out of control; let's not make them worse, okay?" Miraculously, her suggestion wasn't greeted with another hail of bullets; not loosening her grip on her gun, Toni decided to take a risk. "Hobson? You okay?"
There was a pause in which all she could hear was the thudding of her heart in her chest--then Gary's voice floated from the other end of the room. "I-I'm okay, Brigatti. The, uh, shipment from Italy didn't work out as planned, though."
She rolled her eyes. "Does that matter right now, Hobson?"
"I guess not--"
"The shipment from Italy is irrelevant now!" Zefferelli's voice broke in, and Brigatti realized that the man must be hiding behind the centre island; it was long enough that, even with her in the alcove at one end and Maurice and Renaldo--and Gary--behind the chopping block at the other, the mafioso could stay shielded if he stayed at the centre...and maybe even be able to move more than the rest of them. "I have the stones, and you can't stop me from leaving with them!"
"I think we can." This was Maurice; closing her eyes for a moment, Brigatti wished she could better picture the layout of the room and the people in it--how long was the island exactly...? "You do have the stones, but you also only have yourself and one functional bodyguard, Vincent. Whereas I have myself, Renaldo, Gary, and Detective Brigatti over there--and we might not play well together in normal circumstances, but right now we're all pretty dedicated to one thing." He paused, and when he spoke again Toni could swear she heard him grinning. "Enemy of my enemy...you know how it is."
Apparently the mobster had struck a chord; barely an instant later, the shooting renewed in earnest.
* * * * *
Winslow hated being in charge of major operations. When he was, he always had more paperwork to do--paperwork that led to overtime, overtime that led to less time spent with Portia. And the way his girlfriend been acting lately, he couldn't afford not to spend time with her. It was her birthday in a few days, and since he hadn't been able to find that pendant she'd been hinting at for the last month, Logan had been hoping that quality time spent--or served, depending on how she was acting at the time--would be a suitable substitute...along with flowers, dinner, and the plush bear with the plaintively compelling expression he'd found in an antique shop.
Logan had heard that the course of true love never ran smooth, and was beginning to wonder why the course of hormonal attraction couldn't be any better, all things considered.
He sighed, and dropped the file he was reading onto his desk. His fingers gravitated to the bridge of his nose and began massaging, eyes drifting closed. It was long past midnight, and he was still buried in preparations for tomorrow's bust. He wouldn't even be in charge, except for the fact that Toni had asked him to take over...
Logan opened his eyes and stared across the desks at her chair. Brigatti was having a rough time; the set-up, the stress of making the bust, whatever was going on with Hobson, it was all bearing down on her. Winslow had been worried, and when she'd called him after finding out about Hobson's plan, he'd said he could help any way she needed him to. He hadn't realized how much extra work that help would entail--but once he'd offered he couldn't back down.
And now he was sitting in the office at two in the morning, wearing a too-wrinkled shirt and drinking really bad coffee, just trying to stay awake. Logan grimaced. Every good deed should be done in hipwaders, indeed...
The shrill ring of the phone jolted him back to the present, and Winslow glared at the unit on the edge of his desk. "This better be important," he growled, reaching over to pick up the receiver. "Detective Winslow."
There was a pause--then a hushed voice, almost too quiet to hear, said, "You in charge of the Maurice bust?"
Winslow furrowed his brow, alarm bells starting to go off in the back of his mind. "Yes, I am. Who is this?"
"Doesn't matter." There was a brief burst of noise in the background--Logan thought it sounded like loud voices, followed by the sharp clang of metal--and the voice became a little louder, sounding slightly more frantic. "Look, you have to get to McGinty's now. Things are--bad. You gotta come..."
"What?" Now fully alert, Logan clenched the handle of the receiver tight, pressing the earpiece against his head in a futile attempt to make out what was happening. "What's going on? How do you know? Who--"
"I'm at the restaurant, all right?" The background noises disappeared, and the voice immediately dropped back to a shaky whisper. "Vincent Zefferelli showed up; he's going to shoot everybody with Maurice. He's here to steal the stones from Italy--they arrived a day early because Mr Maurice set Hobson up--"
Winslow didn't need to hear anything more. Dropping the receiver back on the cradle, he leapt out of his chair and headed out into the bullpen, shouting orders to get Corcoran and assemble an emergency operations team.
* * * * *
Sebastian heard the line go dead and stopped speaking. Dropping his cell phone, he awkwardly slid further under the booth where he'd taken cover right before he'd lost consciousness.
With trembling hands, he reached up and gingerly parted the front of his jacket, steeling himself to look down at his chest. An instant later he squeezed his eyes shut, fighting against the bile that rose in his throat at the image of the thick, sticky blood oozing from the bullet hole in his gut.
Sebastian began to shake. He wasn't meant to be a bodyguard in the mob; he'd known that forever, but hadn't had the strength or smarts to do anything other than obey the wishes of his father--a member of Sonny Maurice's old honour guard. In truth, Sebastian knew he was better with numbers; he should've been Maurice's accountant, not his muscle...
It didn't matter now. Collapsed against the back of the booth, Sebastian prayed that the police would show up soon; from the sounds issuing from the kitchen, there wasn't much time left for them to find anyone alive to rescue.
* * * * *
Gary glanced at Maurice, who was glaring down at his gun with fire glowing deep in his eyes. "Damn peashooter--give me that gun."
Handing over the other weapon--still unfired--Gary took the empty one and held it gingerly as Sonny readied himself for another exchange of fire with Zefferelli. "Shouldn't he be running out of bullets soon?"
"Not if he was smart and brought refills." Slamming his free hand against the block, Sonny cursed again. "I should've made sure somebody besides Johnny and Sebastian had extra bullets, but I thought I'd only need one--" He broke off at the sight of Gary's face. Leaning in closer, the mobster's eyes found his, and gazed seriously into them. "It was only business, you know," he whispered. "I didn't want to."
Gary took a deep breath. "I know," he said at last.
Sonny's reply was a relieved smile--which immediately vanished as he broke eye contact and raised his gun.
Gary's eyes widened, and he ducked, squeezing them shut--
The shot thundered in his ears and he felt, rather than heard, the body fall behind him. Another moment and he raised his head to see Maurice gazing distractedly past him, the smoking gun in his hand filling the air with the sharp, metallic tang of gunpowder. Shaken, Gary turned around...it was Johnny. He'd fallen on the shattered remains of the pickle jar, but the discomfort of lying on broken glass probably wasn't bothering him--he was most certainly dead.
He turned back to the mobster and choked out the only words he could think of: "I'm sorry."
Sonny blinked, and he seemed to mentally shake himself before replying. "Me too." Then, his professional mask slipping firmly into place once more, he turned back to the edge of the block and raised his voice. "Johnny's dead, Vincent. It's over."
* * * * *
There was silence, and Brigatti dared to think that Zefferelli had seen the hopelessness of the situation. In the quiet, she scrubbed the hand that wasn't clutching her gun across her face; the adrenaline and terror were still very present, but they couldn't quite make up for the week's worth of sleepless nights she'd been suffering. She was dead tired--and then she realized why that was apt, and almost laughed. She was getting giddy; what if this went on for much longer?
The rest of the room was too quiet, and Brigatti focussed her mind and her ears on anything, any little wisp of sound that would tell her what was going on. Anything at all...
There it was. A slight rustle of cloth from around the island; her eyes widened as she realized what was happening. Pushing herself to her feet and rounding the corner out of her shelter, she took a deep breath and opened her mouth.
* * * * *
Both Gary and Sonny jumped, startled at Brigatti's sudden cry--but before they could do anything more, Gary felt a strong arm slide around his throat and yank up. He had no choice but to stand as Zefferelli hauled him to his feet, his arm tight across Gary's upper chest, his gun pressed sharply to the side of Gary's head.
His eyes rolled down as Zefferelli backed up, and Gary saw Sonny's mouth open in a shocked 'o' before the man rose to his feet and steadied his gun in their direction, nothing but iron-clad control in his face and body. "Let him go, Vincent," he ordered, his voice low and hard.
Zefferelli shook his head, the movement jostling Gary's precarious balance. "He's my ticket out. I'm taking him, and I'm taking the gems. And if you try to stop me--" Gary heard the click of the trigger as it shivered under his captor's finger, and he shuddered. "So don't try to stop me."
They were moving, slowly, towards the door that led out into the back alley; Zefferelli made sure his back was to the empty space between him and the door leading outside, and he swung Gary in tiny arcs so that there wouldn't be any breaks in his shield that Maurice or Brigatti could take advantage of. The two of them stood at opposite ends of the room, but both had their weapons trained on Zefferelli. Gary wondered for a moment where Renaldo was, then caught a movement out of the corner of his eye; the other bodyguard was collapsed against the wall a few feet away from where Geoff lay, clutching a bloodstained hand over a wound in his arm. He'd turned paler than chalk, and try as he might he couldn't grasp his gun in his slick hand.
Gary's thoughts slid through his brain like molasses, while every sensation from outside his head arrived with crystal clarity; it took him a long, tense moment to think of something to say, because during that long moment his whole world was the metallic clink of the gun as it shook in Zefferelli's hand and the musk of the mobster's sweat-diluted cologne. The words came eventually, though, and Gary swallowed thickly before opening his mouth. "Look, Zefferelli, I'll go with you. I swear I will, I'll get you outta here safely, and then you can take off and get outta the country, if you want. You can go, you can just get on a plane and go to--to Italy, if you want.
"But Vincent--" He broke off, squeezing his eyes shut and licking his lips before continuing, "Vincent, listen to me. You have to leave the stones, okay? Fair trade; you can go, but you gotta leave the stones."
His captor snorted, and tightened his grip. The box with the gems in it was lying on its side a few steps behind them--or at least it had been, before Gary had been forcibly turned away from it. One of Zefferelli's crew must have pulled it off the island when the shooting began, and if the mobster was careful, he could still shuffle it along behind him as he made his way to the door. "You hear that--what's your name--Brigatti? He's making deals for you now!"
"Maybe you should listen, then." Toni's voice seemed to come from a long way away, but Gary clung to the sound with all of his attention. "Let Gary go. We can work something out if you just let him go unharmed."
Gary felt Zefferelli's lips curve beside his ear. "I see now! Yes, how perfect; Miss Brigatti cares about Mr Hobson's well-being...so she should care very much about *my* well being, as well." His voice grew louder, and Gary recoiled from the shrill tone only to be brought up sharply as the mobster's arm tightened once again. "You want him alive so you don't have to answer to your superior? ...Or is there more?" Gary caught a glimpse of Brigatti's face before Zefferelli jerked him to the side again, and he wondered at the frightened realization written all over her expression. "Do you think I haven't done my homework? Antonia Brigatti and Gary Hobson have crossed paths many times, and always ended up proclaiming more loudly than before how much trouble the other is. Sounds like...love?" Gary started at the mobster's suddenly lewd tone, his mind rebelling against the implication of his words. "Do you want his arms to have life to take you up in them and hold you close? You want his throat to be clear of blood so he can whisper sweet nothings into your ear? Then don't try to stop me from leaving!"
Brigatti's voice when she answered was flat and sarcastic. "You're very poetic, Vincent. But this isn't about me, it's about you. I can't let you go."
The mobster chuckled, and Gary felt the jarring motion as he fetched up against the wall by the door. "See how she changes her mind as I get closer to escaping?"
Gary wasn't listening. The position that Zefferelli was holding him at gave him a clear, straight view of Brigatti--and all he could do was stare at her.
He had almost died--God, countless times tonight. He had stared down a seemingly endless number of gun barrels, had turned away at the last second expecting the bullet, only to be granted a reprieve for another few minutes.
He hadn't felt a more dizzying drop into the past than the one he felt now, staring across the room at Toni Brigatti.
She was looking beyond him, her jaw set, seemingly oblivious to his gaze. Instead, her eyes were trained on Zefferelli, and as the thought crossed his mind, Gary realized that his captor was moving again, slowly, towards the door. He heard Brigatti's voice, and he saw her hand tighten around her gun. "Zefferelli, stay where you are! Stop!"
And with a horrible, numb sense of deja vu, Gary's mouth moved with Zefferelli's response: "Or what?"
That, she noticed. Toni's eyes locked on his, and her face paled as her lips parted in surprise. Gary stared across the room, reading her every impulse and feeling as her emotions swept across her face, drowning in the expanding darkness of her eyes as she read him as easily as he read her. And they were back in her apartment, and she was holding her gun on him, and he was so alone and so was she and neither of them could say it because they couldn't *trust* each other--
They stood in the kitchen, and Toni's face set. And Gary understood, and ducked at the precise moment her finger squeezed the trigger, dropping to the floor as Zefferelli fell, a single shot from his own weapon echoing the shot from Brigatti's.
The body fell, and then there was silence.
It was broken by Brigatti's harsh breathing as she lowered her gun and walked slowly over to where Gary had pulled himself into a seated position on the floor, his back to Zefferelli's body. She knelt beside him, and he raised his head to meet her eyes, a manic smile twitching his lips.
"Are you okay?" she asked, holstering her gun and searching his face with her eyes.
Gary nodded, and couldn't stop. His eyes felt full of unshed tears, and he gazed at Toni's face as if it would disappear if he looked away. After a moment, he felt her hands slide onto his cheeks and still the ridiculous bobbing of his head; the coolness of her fingers on his fevered skin made him shiver, and he closed his eyes, feeling a tear slip past his lashes and trace its trail between her fingers.
Toni moved her arms, and suddenly Gary found himself collapsed against her, shaking with pent-up fear and anger and guilt and sorrow. His hands slid over her back to clench in her hair, and he held her back just as tight as she trembled in return.
Neither of them knew who said it first, but it was all they could hear.
Into the fire
Into the fire
I am the spark
Into the fire
I yearn for comfort...
Winslow stepped softly through the open door of McGinty's, his gun held tightly in front of him, his heart thudding so hard in his chest he felt sure the rest of his team could hear it.
Corcoran was waiting outside with the rest of the people they'd been able to round up in the short time since the phone call. They were ready to step in with help if things suddenly exploded, and Winslow reminded himself of that as he moved further into the too-quiet restaurant. He'd never been to McGinty's before, and as his eyes darted around the dining room Logan decided that it looked like a good place, if damn eerie without the patrons and servers that gave it life. In the dim lights, two long bars with novelty covers over the beer taps and stools upside-down on the counters looked like stylized jail cells, and the silent, dimly-lit jukebox at the back of the room threw an oddly ominous glow over the hardwood floor in front of it. The whole room looked too put-together; whoever had called had said that things were out of hand, but the only thing out of place was a chair that had toppled onto the floor beside a table in the centre of the room.
As he navigated carefully through the tables scattered throughout the room, Winslow nodded the rest of his group towards the doors in the wall ahead. The team split into two; half backed him up as he closed in on the set of wide swinging doors that he assumed led to the kitchen, while the other half headed for a smaller door near the front of the bar. And even as he positioned himself beside the doors, his nerves twanging with silence and tension, Winslow couldn't help but wonder why he hadn't been able to get ahold of Brigatti...
Taking a deep breath and holding it, Logan leaned in close to the door, listening for anything that would indicate trouble. It took a moment--his heart was hammering almost too loudly for him to hear anything else--but then he made out the soft murmurings of voices, the words as indistinguishable as the speakers. There was definitely more than one person beyond the doors, but who were they...?
Steeling himself for what he would find, Winslow took another deep breath and called, "Police! Identify yourselves!"
The voices beyond fell silent, then-- "Winslow?"
Logan felt some of the tension in his shoulders ease, and he loosened his grip on his gun--slightly. "Brigatti? What's going on?"
"Noth--plenty. You can come in."
Relieved at the ease of her invitation and more than a little curious at its stunned undercurrent, Winslow pushed into the kitchen--and froze, his eyes widening at the sight before him.
The caller hadn't been exaggerating--something bad had happened. The kitchen looked like a stainless-steel war zone; pots and dishes were strewn, broken, across the floor, mixed with generous amounts of food from shattered jars. The body of a red-headed man lay in the middle of the floor, a ragged bullet wound in his chest, and another, darker man had fallen further back in the room, and lay flat out beside a large chopping block. A trail of blood led from in front of a huge refrigerator to a door at the back of the kitchen...a door with its threshold partially blocked by the sprawling corpse of Vincent Zefferelli. And struggling to their feet in front of it, being very careful not to look behind them, were--
"Toni? Hobson?" His throat tightening against the macabre scene, Winslow focussed on his partner and their informant, stepping anxiously towards them as they turned large eyes on him. "Are you okay? What *happened*?"
Brigatti shook her head a little, as if trying to jumpstart her brain, then cleared her throat. "I--came to talk to Hobson," she said finally, her dishevelled, shaky appearance undermining the skeleton of strength supporting her voice. "When I arrived, Hobson was about to be s-shot by Zefferelli. He had Hobson, Maurice, and Renaldo Munoz at gunpoint. The situation--deteriorated--" She tripped slightly over the word, and swallowed once before continuing. "The situation deteriorated into a shootout, during which Zefferelli's men were killed and he tried to escape using Hobson as a shield. I was forced to...take measures."
"Jesus..." Lightheaded, Logan turned to one of the men behind him. "Go get Corcoran," he instructed, before turning back to find Toni gazing at the carnage around her as if seeing it for the first time. Behind her, Hobson was looking shellshocked, and swayed slightly on his feet. Making a mental note to get both of them out of the kitchen as soon as he had all the facts, Winslow gazed once more at his partner. "Toni, where's Maurice? You said he was here? Where?"
"What?" Brigatti blinked, then her eyes widened, her face paling another shade whiter than it already was. "He's not--"
"The gems are gone." The soft statement came from Gary Hobson; Logan glanced at him and saw the man staring hard at Zefferelli's body for a long moment before clenching his jaw and looking away. "The box was just over there. He must've taken it and Renaldo and...gone."
"What the hell happened in here?" All three of them jumped as Captain Corcoran strode through the swinging doors, then came to a dead stop when he saw the room. "Lavery found a man out in the dining room who needs to get to a hospital; he was shot in the stomach and was passed out under a booth. What the hell *happened*?"
Winslow hurriedly turned to his superior, lowering his voice to an urgent whisper. "Look, Captain, from what I can tell, Hobson and Brigatti have just been through a massacre. Maurice set us up, and then Zefferelli showed up...it's a mess, sir, and I don't think they should be in here much longer."
Corcoran glanced up at his detective and her friend. They stood a short distance away, both of them studiously avoiding each other's eyes--but apparently unable to move farther than a foot or two away from each other, as if proximity alone was keeping them on their feet. The captain nodded, his mouth tightening into a concerned line. "I agree. You get them out of here, then get back here with a crime scene team and tell me what they told you. Once they've been checked out, I want to know *their* story, too."
* * * * *
"...And that's pretty much it."
Brigatti stared straight over Corcoran's shoulder as she listened to Hobson finish his report of what had happened. The three of them, along with Winslow, were in the Captain's office, ten hours and very little sleep having passed since the police's arrival at McGinty's. In that time, the man found in the dining room--Sebastian, Gary had called him--had been taken to the hospital and had been left in serious condition after emergency surgery; she and Hobson had been given a clean bill of health and a prescription for sleep aids should they need them; and the kitchen had been scoured by the crime scene team, and was in the process of being cleaned up. Now, all that was left was for them to explain...
Hobson had glossed over a certain moment in his recap, for which she was grateful. In truth, she'd glossed over the same period of time between her shooting Zefferelli and Winslow's entrance; they had decided, in an entirely unspoken agreement, to let whatever had happened between them in that time stay between them, and out of the report. In her own mind, Toni told herself that she wanted to figure out what had been behind their collapse before she dealt with the actual, physical event in any capacity, much less a professional one.
"Detective Brigatti?" Toni jumped, and turned her eyes guiltily to the Captain, who was watching her with warm concern. "Toni, you're tired and more than a little shellshocked, I know. You and Gary have more than earned a day or two off, so why don't you go home?"
Toni heard Hobson shift in his chair, but didn't dare glance over at him. "But there's paperwork--"
"Winslow can take care of it. It's what he lives for."
"Maurice is still out there--"
"Which is why I'm sending a uniform home with both of you. They can watch your backs." Holding up his hands to prevent further arguments, Corcoran nailed her, then Hobson with his penetrating gaze. "Don't get me wrong, this is far from over. Just...take some time to get a little rest, recover a little. Talk to your friends, get some more sleep. I'll be here tomorrow to grill you for details again, don't worry. Just go."
Hobson didn't even wait for her, and Toni wondered why that felt wrong. Then, as she gathered her coat and bodyguard and headed for her car, she realized that she didn't want to wonder about that, or anything to do with what had happened. All she wanted was to go home, bolt the doors, and lie in bed until sleep made her stop trembling.
* * * * *
Gary trudged up the stairs to his loft, his mind a whirling fog of dissipating adrenaline and fear through which the sounds of the police downstairs filtered without registering. They'd been there since this morning, gathering evidence--although what evidence they still needed after his and Brigatti's testimony Gary couldn't fathom--taking away the bodies and generally cleaning up. Someone from the precinct had even called the employees and relayed orders not to show up today; when his mind settled on that fact, Gary was grateful that it had been taken care of. He knew he couldn't handle it; all he wanted was to fall in his bed and sleep...
The second he reached the door it was flung open, and Marissa stood in the threshold, her face knotted in anxiety. "Gary, is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me."
"My God, you sound awful. Come inside, tell me what happened!"
Moving dazedly past his friend and into his apartment, Gary shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it away, not caring where it landed. He could see his bed...
"Gary? When the police called they said you'd been in a shootout!" Marissa was still there, behind him, her voice a floating cloud of quivering worry that barely penetrated his thoughts. "They said you were involved, but you're okay. You are, right?"
"Oh, oh yeah, I'm fine." Gary's shoes were kicked away in a complicated movement of his feet, and they thudded softly onto the rug as he drifted past the couch. "The doctors gave me a clean bill of health and sent me home with a bodyguard. I'm fine."
Marissa had trailed him as far as the armchair, but had stopped beside it to worry at the handle of her cane. "Gary, you don't sound fine--"
"No, I am, really." He was almost there; as he covered the last few steps to his bed, Gary assured her, "I'm just very tired, Marissa, that's all, and I'm going to get some sleep. It was a loud night, and there were a lot of bullets, but Brigatti's fine, and I'm fine. I'm not hurt, so you don't have to worry about me."
Marissa said something else, but Gary didn't hear her. Instead, he fell onto the top of his bed, losing consciousness on the way down and snoring before his head hit the pillow.
And when he woke up, many hours later, Sonny
had taken her place.
The mobster held up his hands in a gesture of harmlessness as Gary scrambled upright in bed, his mind zinging straight into wakeful alert out of the vaguely disturbing dreams of his sleep. "It's okay, Gary. I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to talk."
"How did you get in here?" Gary demanded, his voice gravelly with hours of disuse. Swinging his legs off the bed, he stood up to better meet his visitor's stance; staring down into Sonny's dark, even gaze, he tried to keep his own fear and worry hidden behind anger and the volume of his voice. "How did you get past the police? Why are you *here*?"
Sonny dropped his hands and shuffled his feet, settling his balance with the familiar gesture. "One question at a time, okay? First: I got in through the front door. Second: the police were busy in the kitchen and supply room, and didn't notice me go through the office and up the stairs, and your uniformed bodyguard, frankly, should keep his eyes on your door instead of on your bartender--Robin? The one with the long hair." Seemingly oblivious to Gary's shocked expression, the mobster continued, a little more warmly, "And third: like I said, I came to talk to you. I wanted to tell you some things before I...left."
Gary stared at him for a minute--then reached for the night table behind him, fumbling around until his hand found the clock. Pulling it around so he could see the display--7:53 AM--he blinked, then settled the timepiece gently on his rumpled bedspread. Holding up his hand, he said blithely, "Just give me a minute, would you?" and strode purposely past the mobster towards the door.
To his amazement, Sonny didn't try to stop him; all the man said was, "Gary, please don't tell the cops I'm here. I swear on my life, I'm not here to hurt you, or anyone else. I just want to talk..."
Gary ignored him and continued to the door. Once there, he opened it, stepped over to the banister, saw his so-called bodyguard chatting to a bemused-looking Robin in the doorway at the bottom of the stairs, snorted once in disgust, and headed back into his loft, pausing just once to scoop up the Paper from where it lay at the threshold. He glanced quickly through it as he pushed the door closed behind him, mildly amazed at the way his fright had evaporated at the mention of the police downstairs; all he felt now was a cool, emotionless distance, as if the worst had already happened and he was living on fumes. A quick check of the front page revealed no headlines involving the mob or unidentified dead bodies, so with a snap of his wrist, Gary tossed the newsprint onto the coffee table, then glanced back up to Maurice.
The mobster was staring at him, not bothering to hide his surprise. "Important news day?"
"You have no idea." Catching a glimpse of the Cat out of the corner of his eye as it leapt up onto the counter, Gary moved into the kitchen area to give the animal some breakfast. "Can I get you something, Sonny?" he asked over his shoulder, his tone one of strained brightness. "Coffee? Cereal? Bullets? I know you must've used up a few last night..."
Maurice's shoes tapped slowly across the floor, until they paused at the end of the counter. Gary heard him take a deep breath, and his voice was low and honest when he spoke. "Gary, I didn't mean for that to happen. I didn't *want* any of it--I had to take care of myself and my business. That was it."
Placing a full bowl of catfood mixed with milk on the counter, Gary kept his eyes trained on the Cat as it dove into its meal. "Oh, well thank you for making that clear for me, Sonny. I was thinking your putting a gun to my head was something personal."
There was a long pause, then Sonny was right beside him. "Gary, would you look at me?"
Every bone in his body felt frozen at the proximity, every muscle screamed in protest--but Gary slowly turned to look down into the mobster's face, steeling himself for the intense aura that would be radiating from the man's every pore.
It wasn't there. Instead, Sonny simply stared back at him, earnestness shining out of his eyes and issuing from every word he said. "Gary, I knew you were with the police from the beginning. I told you; you were a danger to my operation, and I had to deal with that danger or risk losing everything I had." He spoke slowly, his voice low and unhurried, as if imparting a particularly difficult secret to someone he wasn't entirely sure he should be telling. "I fully intended to have you taken care of the day I met you; before I talked to you, I'd told Johnny that I probably would want a hit planned for later that night. You were nothing to me; a man who had told the police enough to mess up my business once, who wasn't going to get the chance to mess it up again.
"But once I'd talked to you--" He broke off, his gaze faltering a little as he cleared his throat and brought a hand up to run distractedly over the countertop. "Once I had seen you, talking with Miss Clark and so damn scared of me...I saw *you*, Gary. Not a snitch, not a problem, not a liability--just a man who knew things he wasn't supposed to and had tried to do right by what that was."
Gary stood, spellbound, as Sonny spoke, listening as his story weaved quietly through the still room, hearing not just the words, but the significance behind them. And as Maurice paused, he couldn't help but say what he felt sure was coming next. "So you used me."
Incredibly, Sonny flinched at the statement--then nodded. "I used you. I checked you out thoroughly before I got into it, but yeah--you had the potential to be so helpful, I couldn't pass you up." Turning away, the mobster strode off into the middle of the room, turning back when he reached the couch. His hands gesturing vaguely through the air, he continued, "You care about people, Gary. You actually give an honest to God damn about what happens to the man on the street, and you want nothing more than to keep the people you love safe. I saw that, when you stepped up to distract me from Marissa, within the first minute of our first meeting. You knew then that I was bad for you, but even *then* you let me play with your sympathy and get you to let your guard down. And man, I was thrown so off balance by that--I came back for more."
"So you're saying--what?" Leaving his place behind the counter, Gary moved to stand beside his chair, facing Sonny but still a good distance away from him. "You tricked me into thinking you weren't all that bad; I know that, and I wish that I hadn't been stupid enough to fall for it." The old anger at feeling used bubbled up in him, and Gary felt his hands clench into fists at his sides as his voice rose. "Let me tell you something, Sonny, because I think you need to know it to understand something about me. I live with people turning on me, with people being ungrateful and angry and just plain lousy towards what I do for them every day of my life. And a hell of a lot of the time I spend around these people, I wish I didn't have to take it; I wish that I could just let them self-destruct or hurt themselves or live in pain, because it would be easier if I didn't have to get involved. But every day, same as always, I go out there and I make the decision to help those people, and to trust that somehow, they'll realize what's happened and try to do something right about it. I do it, because I'd hate to live in a world where no one can get help when they really need it--and in return, I *trust* that I'll only have to help the ones who *do* need it.
"And when you came to me," he continued, his eyes flashing a cool glare at the silent man across the room, "I knew that you were dangerous, I did. I knew that you were a criminal, and I knew that you could hurt me and the people I care about--but you came asking me for *help*, Sonny, and despite all of that, I had to listen to you. Because, God help me, I thought you *needed* it." Suddenly Gary chuckled, his hand coming up to rub once, visciously, across the back of his neck. "I trusted that you needed help, and where did it get me? You were gonna kill me, Sonny!"
"But I didn't want to!" The mobster's exclamation was loud and sharp after Gary's steady monologue, and Maurice took a step forward as he continued, as visibly agitated as he sounded. "Gary, listen to me, when I came to talk to you that second time, when I came to ask you to just listen to me, I was terrified. I was terrified out of my mind, because I had no idea what the hell I was doing! All I knew was that I'd seen you with your friend, and I wanted some of that. I wanted to know what it was like, just once, to be able to tell someone something without worrying that it would get someone I love killed. I wanted--" He broke off, looking hurriedly away. "I wanted to trust you, because I'd seen what that kind of trust meant. But at the same time..." Now he sighed heavily, and turned a little so that he could half-sit on the back of the couch. "At the same time, I knew that everything I told you was going to go straight to the cops, and I couldn't afford that kind of security risk. So I lied to myself. I told myself that I had to tell you enough to make you trust me, that everything I said to you was for a reason, that I wasn't really letting myself...rely on you. And then Zefferelli kidnapped Charlotte, and you came by and saw more than you were supposed to..." Sonny shook his head, then turned it towards Gary, still refusing to meet his eyes. "You got in too close, Gary, which was more my fault than yours. The thing with the shipment--I was angry with myself, I needed some way to turn things around in my head so that you had a place that made sense in my life. I'd let you in too far, and there was no way that the rules of the business--my business--were going to let either of us get away with that...I didn't want to kill you, Gary. I just *had* to."
Gary was stunned. He walked slowly around to stand beside Maurice, who didn't even glance up; the mobster's darkly tanned face was flushed red with emotion, and his hands worried anxiously at the back of the couch. As Gary stared down at him, he noticed that there was something different about the mobster; he'd seen it when he'd first woken up, but now it was...more, as if the revelation had brought it out...
Gary realized what it was, and started back. "You *believe* that," he breathed.
Sonny nodded. "I do."
Letting out a long breath, Gary turned a little away from him, his hands rising and skimming through his hair once before turning back. "Sonny, you--you're the boss. You *make* the rules, you didn't have to--"
"No, you don't understand." Taking a deep breath of his own, Sonny finally raised his eyes--and Gary was floored by the frank, open honesty in them as they met his own. "I might be in charge, but I have to live by the rules, same as everybody else. Zefferelli didn't get that, and he paid the price. Johnny didn't get that--" His eyes clouded for an instant, but a brief internal struggle quickly cleared them again. "Johnny had been very close to his sister, and I knew that he hadn't been the same since her death. But the thing was, if I hadn't taken care of her for her betrayal, somebody else would have, and nowhere near as nicely as I did. He was solid, but she...she was trouble, always had been. Gary, there are rules, and if I don't live by them, nobody will. And you saw what happens when there's no rules."
Gary shuddered, and tore his eyes away from Sonny's. He had no doubt that the mobster was telling him the truth; for once in the entire time he'd known the man, Gary believed every single word he said. "So you're here to kill me?" he asked eventually, very softly.
Sighing once more, Sonny pushed himself off the back of the couch, turning to face Gary fully. "Look at me," he commanded, his tone an odd one of subservient authority. When Gary did, Maurice met his eyes for a long, painfully sincere moment--then shook his head once more. "I have the stones from Italy; they're funding a little trip. I'm going away--it's the only way I can keep you alive, Gary, so don't tell me to turn myself in or stay and try to change things. Better men have tried, and now they're dead."
Gary felt his knees sag in relief, and he reached out a hand to steady himself against the furniture--only to feel Sonny's warm hand clasp it tightly, giving him the balance he needed. "Where are you going?" he asked, once he'd got his breath back.
Sonny's response was a dry chuckle. "Why do you think I'd tell you that?"
Feeling his own mouth quirk at the edges, Gary threw back a weak grin. "Trust me."
Still chuckling, Sonny released his hand and turned away, taking a few steps towards the door before slowing to a halt and turning back. "She does, you know. Detective Brigatti; whatever happened between you two, it's over now. At least as far as she's concerned."
Gary blinked, and felt a warm blush begin to heat his face. "Yeah, well--she didn't have as much to forgive."
"Not of you, maybe." Gary writhed uncomfortably under Sonny's gaze as he seemed to read the sum of his experience with Brigatti through his eyes. "But after last night, I'd bet that you're both ready to see what happens next." With that, he turned back to the door, striding confidently towards the exit.
His hand was on the knob when Gary realized what was happening. Stepping forward, he held out his hand as if he could catch Maurice's coat from across the room and hold him there, starting with a flustered, "Sonny--"
"Gary." He didn't turn around, but for one instant his shoulders slumped, his head bowed, and Gary knew his eyes were closed against all tiredness and sorrow and conflict. "Thank you."
Then the instant was over, and Gary was alone. Sonny Maurice was gone.
* * * * *
Marissa sat on the couch in Gary's loft, listening as he finished his story. When he was done, she shook her head slowly, her eyes wide. "Gary..."
"I know." Smiling ruefully, Gary leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. "Believe me, after this, I'm going to think twice about getting involved with the mob, no matter what the Paper says."
"After *this*?" Marissa's sightless eyes stared back at him in disbelief. "Gary, this is the *fourth* time you've got yourself tangled up in the Chicago mafia! It's taken you this long to learn that they're not the best people to involve yourself with?"
Gary blinked. She was right. "I'm a slow learner?" he suggested after a moment.
Quirking an eyebrow, Marissa sighed. "I'm just glad you weren't hurt."
"So am I," Gary agreed fervently, pushing himself to his feet and heading for the fridge. As he grabbed a beer for himself and a sparkling water for Marissa, he continued thoughtfully, "But you know what? I think the Paper wanted me to get involved with Sonny. I think--here you go--I think it needed me to be there for him, somehow."
Marissa's brow furrowed, her hand pausing with her drink halfway to her mouth. "Why do you think that? No offence, Gary, but all you really did was mess up a shipment and almost get him framed for murder--*your* murder. I don't see how that qualifies as 'being there for him'."
Swallowing a mouthful of beer, Gary shook his head. "Not that way. Not in the business sense; I think he actually needed someone to confide in, someone he could trust who trusted him--at least a little. And the Paper thought I could do that--"
He was interrupted by a knock on the door. Three quick raps, followed by a silence that seemed to be dreading the response it would get; curious, Gary stood and strode to the door, beer in hand. He reached out, turned the knob, pulled--
--And froze, staring down at Toni Brigatti.
She looked much less rested than she should have been, given the days that had passed; her eyes, wide and startled from his abrupt appearance, were rimmed with red and shadowed heavily with sleeplessness. Her face was pale, and provided a stark contrast to the wisp of shining black hair that fell out from behind her ear and lay across the side of her cheek; her hand immediately moved in her usual gesture to slide it back into place, and Gary could've sworn he saw her fingers tremble...
He didn't know what to say. Luckily, she did. "Aren't you gonna let me in, Hobson?"
Gary blinked, and he stepped clumsily to the side, waving her past him and into his loft. His brain--the part of it that hadn't fused at the sight of her--screamed at him; invite her in, easiest thing in the world, was he just going to leave her standing there in the threshold, looking as rumpled as she did, in that dusky red shirt that brought out the shades of her skin tone and the fullness of her lips, and had her voice really sounded so fearful, as if she thought he might turn her away, and why had he just fixated on her *lips*?!
While Gary tried to think of something to reply, Marissa stood up and turned to face his visitor. "Hello, Detective. I hear you and Gary had a rough night together; I hope you're recovered?"
Gary's eyes widened at his friend's innocently suggestive tone; fielding a flustered glare from Brigatti, he tried to forestall the blush heating his face with a gulp of cold beer. It didn't help.
Brigatti, on the other hand, rallied much faster. Her tone one of polite suffrance, she replied, "Thank you, yes. It was a very...rough night...but things are starting to come together. I just need to get a few details from Hobson to wrap things up..."
"Well then, I won't intrude." Smiling warmly, Marissa flicked her cane to its full length with a snap that made both Gary and Brigatti jump, then made her way to the door, pausing once when she drew near the detective. "I am glad you're all right," she said seriously, tilting her head to include Gary. "Just promise me that if Gary gets involved in something this dangerous again, you'll let me know what's happening?"
Brigatti nodded, a little off-guard. "I will. Thank--thank you."
Marissa nodded, then strode straight past Gary and out the door, pulling it closed behind her.
Gary turned to his guest, who seemed utterly directionless now that they were alone. She shrugged out of her light jacket, then went to sit on the couch--then paused just as she drew near it, as if remembering that she hadn't been invited to stay. Half-turning back to Gary, her mouth barely formed the question before he gestured clumsily at the furniture. "Would you like to sit down?"
"Yes. Thank you." Brigatti took her seat, folded her hands in her lap, then studied them intently as she waited for him to seat himself in the chair across from her. She took a deep breath--and when she looked up at him, all the nervousness that had been radiating from her since the door opened seemed to have disappeared, hidden past the wall of sheer professionalism she was so good at hiding behind. With white-knuckled propriety, Brigatti fixed him with a cool gaze and said point-blank, "We've lost Maurice. Do you know where he is?"
Gary's eyes widened, and he delayed his answer for a moment while he half-turned to set his beer on the coffee table. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting from this encounter, but somehow business didn't seem right... "All I know is that he left town," he answered slowly, his own hands joining uncomfortably in his lap as he turned back to face her. "He didn't tell me where, but he's using the stones from Italy to pay for his...relocation." It hadn't hit him until he'd said it, but suddenly Gary was certain that that's what Sonny's 'trip' was--a relocation.
Brigatti didn't look pleased at the news. "Wonderful. Those gems could finance a trip to anywhere." Suddenly her eyes narrowed, and she leaned back against the couch cusion. "How do you know this? Have you been talking to Sonny since--"
The momentary silence rang between them as their eyes met in startled unease--then Brigatti looked away, and Gary sagged. So that's how it was going to be...
But then, with obvious effort, Toni dragged her gaze back to his, and kept it there. "Since...the shipment?" she finished, with iron-clad calm.
Unwilling to break the contact she'd obviously fought so hard to make, Gary forced himself not to blink as he nodded his confirmation. "He snuck in the day after the--shipment--and apologized, and set some things straight. And told me he was leaving." Leaning forward so his elbows rested on his knees, he rubbed his hands together and began, "Look, Brigatti--
"And you didn't try to stop him?" The detective arched an eyebrow, refusing to veer off-business. "That could be considered grounds for arrest, Hobson."
Gary's eyes widened, and he pushed himself abruptly to his feet. "Now wait a minute. I might not have liked what Sonny did for a living, and I really might not've liked that he was gonna kill me for that living, but he's not a horrible person--"
Brigatti's eyes flashed. "Well then, you must be a lot more forgiving than I am."
Drawing himself up, Gary sent an answering glare in her direction. "I'm starting to understand that."
At that, the detective's eyes widened, and Gary gave himself a point--then forgot all about scoring when she refocused her own frosty stare. "So you didn't make any attempt to keep him from leaving? Or to call the police?" Shaking her head, Brigatti stood, then turned as if to head for the door. "That wasn't a good move, Hobson--"
"Brigatti!" Totally floored, Gary strode over to her and grabbed her elbow, turning her to face him and glaring down into her wide, startled eyes. The fearful hope that shone out from them made him lose his train of thought, however, and suddenly all Gary knew was that he was less than a foot away from Toni Brigatti and no longer in the mood to yell at her. Instead, he stared deeply into her eyes, softening the anger in his own. "Brigatti, would you just listen to me for a minute?" he asked, his voice husky.
Brigatti nodded, seeming similarly dazed. "...Okay."
Gary gazed down at her for another immeasurable moment--then he took a deliberate step backwards, and attempted to figure out what he thought he had been about to tell her. "Okay. Now...look. This--this isn't right, Brigatti. I know you didn't have to come over here and tie up this case with me; really, it should be Winslow, since he's in charge of it, but Corcoran could have handled it, or hell, you could've sent an officer to take notes from me. But *you're* here, which tells me that maybe there's something other than Sonny Maurice that you want to talk to me about." Brigatti opened her mouth to interrupt, but he hurried on, "Now, we've been through a lot--more than is good for either of us, probably--and all of that contributed to our...whatever that was...in the kitchen. I don't know what you think it was, and I'm not really too clear on it myself, but I think that, whatever it was, it was long overdue."
Slowly, Brigatti crossed her arms, her eyes narrowing in a credible attempt at suspicion as she stared back at him. "What makes you say that?" she asked, her voice almost too interrogative.
Gary paused as he considered how to answer. For a moment, all he could think of was how it had felt to be able to collapse into her arms, to just sit and shake and apologise and know that she was atoning for the exact same things he was...but he realized that saying that would certainly be too much. Clearing his throat, he mimicked her stance and continued, "Look...Toni. I almost died that night; you know what that's like, I know you do. It...destroys some pretty big illusions, pretty quickly. So while Sonny was holding a gun on me, and while Johnny and Geoff were squeezing the trigger, and while Zefferelli was using me as a shield...I realized that some things just aren't worth staying unforgiven. Or...unthanked."
That knocked her off-balance. Dropping her arms to her side, Toni watched him warily. "Really?"
Warming, Gary nodded. "Really. So...I just wanted you to know that--well, that I know it must've been hard for you to...to trust me to get out of the way so you could take care of Zefferelli. And I also want you to know that I--understand how hard it must've been to trust me last November, too, because I saw it--I could see it, how hard it was," he repeated, feeling clumsy as Brigatti's eyes grew wider and wider. Taking one more deep breath, Gary rallied his courage and finished, "So I just wanted to say--to say thank you...Toni...for saving my life. Twice. And--I understand. About all of it."
She was completely still for a long minute, and Gary wondered if he'd misjudged the expression in her eyes--but then, slowly, she shook her head. "Last November," she said carefully, her voice even and almost casual, "After...everything, when you were getting into a cab and Paul and I were about to be taken to the hospital, he asked me how I knew that you hadn't killed Scanlon. I had driven him crazy over the course of the investigation because I kept insisting that someone else had to be the murderer, that you couldn't possibly have killed another human being." Meeting Gary's surprised gaze with a solid one of her own, she continued, "I couldn't answer him. I couldn't tell him how I knew you weren't guilty because...I didn't. Not all the time, not for sure. I wanted to be sure, I wanted to--to trust that I knew you better than that...but I couldn't. And I'm sorry for that, Hobson, I really am--but I'm a cop. I had to do my job, and right then my job was to arrest Frank Scanlon's killer. And as far as the evidence was concerned, that was you.
"Now, three nights ago," she continued, after taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, "I had to do something I have never done in my life, something that...scared me, a lot. I had to trust you. I had to have complete faith that you would get out of the way so I could shoot Zefferelli, because if you didn't, I was going to go through the rest of my life knowing that I'd killed you. And that split second was--" She broke off, bowing her head for a moment as a bitter smile twisted her mouth. "I don't trust anyone that much, Hobson...Gary. I can't. But in that split second...I had to do my job. So, I appreciate the thanks--but it's not all that deserved." With that, her eyes closed off a little, and her face shuttered itself as if she were expecting an explosion of disapproval.
Gary could only blink, stunned. He'd had no idea that she'd been so adamant about his innocence in the Scanlon case, he'd had no idea how torn up she'd been since then--God, it had been months since then--and he'd had no idea that the sight of Toni Brigatti fearing his anger could be so painful. She looked so--ready. Accepting. As if she knew the day would come eventually, and had been waiting ever since that night in her apartment...
He stepped in close to her, forcing himself to ignore the way she flinched back from him slightly. Reaching up, he placed his hands on her shoulders and stared down into her eyes, putting every ounce of sincerity into his response. "Well then, I guess I have to thank you again, for doing your job so well."
She froze, her eyes widening. "You mean you don't--"
"I mean I don't hold anything against you, Brigatti," he interrupted firmly, a tiny smile breaking through. "And you shouldn't, either."
He could feel her heartbeat vibrating through her body, and all at once he realized just how relieved she was to hear that. Her eyes cleared, her face flushed with colour, and under Gary's hands her shoulders fell as muscles he hadn't even noticed were tensed let themselves go. And suddenly she looked the way she had in the ballroom at the Hilton hotel, without months of self-recrimination and second-guessing and guilt pressing down on her, and Gary knew that she was stifling the same relieved grin that he was...
...And then they became aware of just how close they were standing, and just where Gary's hands were cupping themselves around her face, and just how smoothly Toni's hands had slid onto his waist, and just how close their lips were to touching--
They stepped away in synchronized horror, averting their eyes and diverting their hands. Gary rubbed anxiously at the back of his neck, while Toni reached up to skim a piece of hair back behind her ear, attempting a weak chuckle. "I really should get a haircut," she muttered, half-turning away and walking stiffly back to the couch. Seating herself a little too primly, she let out a loud breath, then cleared her throat.
Gary blinked, then turned and followed, pausing for a moment before taking his seat. "Would you--uh--like a drink? Or something?" he asked politely, studiously avoiding her eyes.
"What? No, thank you. I'm fine." Shifting in her seat, Toni crossed her legs, then uncrossed them, then stretched them out and casually crossed her ankles--then went back to sitting almost at attention, and watching Gary take his chair with something akin to desperation in her expression. "Did I tell you that Sebastian is going to recover?" she commented finally, as soon as he was settled. "He's even agreed to make a statement concerning Maurice's involvement in setting me up."
"Really?" Gary's eyebrows shot towards his hairline. "I wouldn't have thought that he would turn on his boss that easily..."
"Well, Captain Corcoran went to talk to him once he was removed from the ICU." Seeming to relax a little, Toni leaned back against the cushions and crossed her legs again. "He offered him police protection, relocation, whatever it takes to get him out of the mob. Sebastian has apparently claimed that he never wanted to be muscle at all; he told Corky that he wanted to take some legitimate business courses, maybe open up an accounting office, if you can believe it--"
"Well, I--I hope it works out for him," Gary said sincerely, reaching over and grabbing his still-full beer bottle. "So the frame-up has been discredited?" he asked before taking a large swallow.
Toni nodded, an expression of relief flooding her face. "Completely. As of yesterday, Sam Dasney told everyone that he didn't know anything about a dirty cop in Chicago, which pretty much proved that the other evidence had been manufactured. There's going to be a bit of extra work involved in finding out how my case files were changed and changing them back, but once that's taken care of--"
She broke off as, suddenly, the Cat appeared over the back of the couch, landing delicately beside her and giving her a speculative glance. Brigatti reacted as if it had just given her the Evil Eye; in under a second she'd leapt to the end of the couch and was clutching the arm rest like a life preserver, her eyes wide and her mouth open in a round 'o' of surprised anger. "That damn cat! Get it away from me! I'm allergic!"
Gary was frozen in his chair, still replaying the impressive gymnastic move she'd made to hurtle away from the beast--which was currently making itself comfortable right beside where she'd been sitting. After a moment, he set down his beer bottle and stood up, about to rid the room of the furball--but just as he took a step forward, Cat turned its head and fixed him with the most *knowing* look he'd ever seen...
Brigatti was also watching the animal. She glared suspiciously down at it, wrinkling her nose as if confused about something. Finally, she flicked her glare up to Gary and demanded, "Has that thing been in here all along?"
Gary blinked as the Cat looked away and began grooming itself. "I--I think so..."
"Well...that's strange." Her body relaxed its death grip on the armrest by a fraction, and Brigatti's expression turned to one of wary puzzlement. "Normally when a cat gets anywhere near me I sneeze, I break out in hives--I'm very allergic," she said, almost as if trying to convince herself.
Gary's eyes widened and he gazed down intently at the Cat, who ignored him. Something was going on, and he could almost realize what it was...
"It's just really strange." Oblivious to his concentration, Brigatti reached out hesitantly, patted the Cat once on the head, then yanked her hand away as if she'd just prodded a balloon full of anthrax. She inspected her fingers, and when it became clear that they weren't about to swell up and turn red, she slowly brought her hand up under her nose and took a tentative sniff.
Toni furrowed her brow. "I should be sneezing up my larynx by now," she stated dubiously. "You've seen me around this thing, Hobson; it's just too *wierd*."
Suddenly, everything made sense, and Gary found himself trying hard to stifle a grin. "Oh, yes. Very strange, very strange."
Luckily, Toni was too caught up in her mystery to notice. "I mean--you didn't get a new cat...?"
Losing his battle, Gary smiled widely. Reaching down, he grabbed the Cat around its midsection and tossed it casually to the floor, then took its place on the couch beside Brigatti. "Hey--would you like to go for a cup of coffee?" he asked, his eyes sparkling. "There's this place down the street--"
Toni blinked, half her brain still caught up in analysing her allergies. "What?"
Gary reigned himself in, his grin disappearing as his face suddenly projected studious nonchalance. "Well, you know--sometime, if you're not too busy at work, and I have a free afternoon from McGinty's, we could...have coffee?"
Brigatti stared at him for a long moment. Then, just as a sliver of doubt began worming into his mind, she cleared her throat and looked away, the hint of a blush colouring her cheeks. "That sounds--sure. Coffee would be good. Sometime."
The corners of Gary's mouth quirked up. "Food's good, too," he commented casually, making Brigatti's head jerk around, her eyes widening as she gazed back at him in disbelief. "Food like...dinner."
Their eyes played a silent battle of truth or dare--then Toni smiled back. "Don't get greedy, Hobson. Everybody needs coffee."
And as they fell back into their usual, double-edged bickering, the Cat leapt gracefully onto the window ledge, curled up...and watched. Unnoticed.
What, I that loved and you that liked
Shall we begin to wrangle?
No, no no, my heart is fast
And cannot disentangle.
End of Crimes Against Criminals.
Email the author: Jayne