Chase, page 1part #9.50 of Michael Bennett Series
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Fall in New York
At the end of the dark, crowded bar, a man in black twirled an e-cigarette through his fingers and over his thumb like a little baton, again and again as he watched and waited.
It was an aggravating, fidgety habit, he knew. But when he was anxious, it was harder to resist than smoking the damn thing.
The bar was in a hip industrial-chic hotel on 67th and Broadway called Index House, with a cutting-edge meets Roaring Twenties vibe. Charging stations blended into a décor of exposed brick and tufted chairs. With his downtown black silk suit and dark GQ looks, the man belonged there.
He deftly flipped the cigarette into his inside jacket pocket as the bartender finally approached with his drink. It was a Zombie, four or five different rums and some cognac with a splash of pineapple and mango juice. One of the rums was 151-proof, and flammable. He’d seen drinks lit on fire many times over the last seven years, in many places, from Jamaica to Jakarta.
Too damn many, he thought.
“So are you a Walking Dead fanatic, or do you just like the demon rum?” the doe-eyed bartender asked, over the crowd murmur and slow jazz piano playing from the lobby.
There were two bartenders, a guy and a girl, but he had ordered from the guy.
“Entschuldigen Sie?” he said, staring at her like he’d just stepped off a flying saucer. It meant “excuse me” in German. The one and only phrase he’d picked up in three useless months in Munich four years ago.
That did the trick. She went away with his two twenties, and quick. Lovely as she was, he didn’t need any distractions. Not now. He began rubbing his thighs nervously as he scanned the hotel lobby. He looked out at the dark of Broadway through the plate glass behind him, a clear moonless October evening in New York, bright lights twinkling.
At this critical juncture, he needed to stay on his damn toes.
Where the hell is this guy? he thought, taking out his phone to check his messages. It was 9:25. Almost a half hour late and still no call. Did this joker’s phone die? He just wasn’t coming? No way to know. Great. He’d just sit here on his ass some more.
He placed his phone on the zinc bar top and reached for the drink. Then he stopped himself and instead took out the e-cigarette again. Back and forth, and back and forth, over and through his fingers faster and faster, he twirled the metal cigarette until it was just a black blur across his knuckles.
In the crowded library off the hotel bar, Devine sat listening to the boss man on the phone.
“What’s Pretty Boy doing now?”
“Nothing,” Devine said. “Just sitting at the bar, playing with a pen or something. Got himself a tropical drink. He’s looking a little melancholy. And nervous.”
“That right?” the boss said.
Devine, who was from Tennessee, loved the boss’s hard-ass southern voice, the power in it. It reminded him of a backwoods Baptist minister, perpetually on the verge of going all fire-and-brimstone on his congregation.
“Well, he’s going to be singing the blues all right. You just make sure you don’t join him for a few. He slips away again, it’s your ass.”
Devine winced. He didn’t take criticism well. Especially from one of the few people he respected.
“So, plan is still in place?” Devine said. “Hit him when he goes back to his room?”
“Yes, Devine. You remembered from five minutes ago. Bravo,” said the boss. “But if a chance comes up right there in the bar, if you can be discreet, you take it. That’s why I sent you in instead of Toporski. You know how to improvise.”
Devine shook his head as the boss hung up. He’d never heard the man so tense, so—dare he say it—nervous. Pretty Boy had him rattled. Had them all rattled.
That’s why they were up in New York now, all of them. There was a team a short block west in front of a gym on 67th and Amsterdam, and another outside the hotel.
They had Pretty Boy boxed in once and for all.
“El Jefe still got his boxers in a wad, eh?” said Therkelson.
“Yep,” Devine said as he glanced over at the blond, middle linebacker–sized Therkelson. His big iron Swede thumbs were flying on his Galaxy, playing some game. “You know, Therk, you got a real funny way of conducting surveillance with your face in that phone.”
“Ah,” Therkelson said, not even glancing up. “You got it covered. I’m the muscle here in our little partnership, Timmy. Be wrong not to let you do anything. I want to make sure a little guy like you feels like you’re contributing.”
Devine munched a handful of complimentary jalapeño peanuts as he kept his eyes trained on the target.
He didn’t know how they’d tracked Pretty Boy down. A few of the guys were saying the boss man had an old friend in the NSA, which seemed valid. With access to phone and credit card tracking, you could pinpoint any old Tom, Dick, or Harry in the civilized part of the planet in half an hour.
And what Pretty Boy was doing, they didn’t know that, either. All they knew was that it wasn’t part of the playbook. He’d bugged out for a little R&R for the long weekend like the rest of them, but then come Tuesday, he didn’t show up. No word.
That was a week ago. Now they’d finally run him down, here in New York in this fancy Pajama Boy gin mill, of all places.
Devine watched as the hot bartender tossed Pretty Boy another interested glance. Had a woman, even an ugly one, ever looked at him like that? he thought. No. Not even when he gave them the money first. The bitter inequities of the world.
Yeah, Devine thought, nodding as he looked at Pretty Boy. He was going to enjoy this little piece of work.
It was about three minutes later when Pretty Boy put down his empty glass and stood up. He was heading toward the can. Devine had been monitoring it. There was no one in there.
Welcome to an evening at the improv, Devine thought as he suddenly slapped the phone into Therkelson’s lap.
“C’mon,” he said, already moving as he watched Pretty Boy push open the restroom door.
He sent Therkelson in by himself while he watched the hall to keep out any civilians. He heard some scuffling behind the door, a muffled grunt. Therkelson knew his orders. Neutralize him, then do a strip search if necessary.
He waited a full minute, checking his stainless steel Rolex, and then another.
What the hell was taking him so long? Devine thought.
He couldn’t take it anymore. He pushed open the door.
And came face to face with the shocking and unthinkable.
Therkelson, the incredible Therk himself, was lying unmoving, facedown on the white tile.
As if that weren’t enough, as Devine stood there still gaping in wide wonder, one of the stall doors slammed open and cracked him right in the forehead.
An instant later came a searing pain in his neck as Pretty Boy hit him with Therkelson’s stun gun for a buzzing moment. Devine threw up jalapeño peanuts all over himself when Pretty Boy savagely kneed him in the balls. Several times, lightning-quick, like a Thai boxer.
Before he knew it, Devine was down nex
Palming himself up from his own vomit a few dazed and throbbing minutes later, Devine shook his head as he fished out his phone.
Here we go again, he thought as he dialed the boss man.
The man in black was a serious runner. He ran seventy miles a week on a strict plan. He did tempo runs and speed training. He didn’t just run 5Ks, he usually won them.
But he was gasping like a day-one Biggest Loser and had sweated clean through the back of his suit jacket by the time he came up the sixteen flights of steps and burst from the stairwell door out onto the hotel’s roof deck.
He scanned the deck. Dark blue-black sky and cold air. Rattan couches under string lights. A gas fire pit turned off now. No people. No team. They weren’t up here. At least not yet.
He thought he could find a way out the back of the hotel, but there was only the stairwell. There was no way he could have gone out the front. If Devine and Therkelson were here, they were all here, strung out in a perimeter.
He was in a slipknot now, which was tightening as he stood there.
Beyond the fire pit, there was an enclosed rooftop bar with a Reserved sign on a stand in front of its French doors. Through the glass, he could see guests and wait staff and tables set with flowers and white linens. A DJ in a tuxedo shirt bent by a turntable, and then there was a sudden blast of swinging trumpets and Sinatra singing “Come Dance with Me.”
Clueless civilians. No help in that direction. No time to even ask.
He went to the roof’s edge and looked down on Broadway. Sixteen stories down. Two lanes of moving traffic. Lights of Lincoln Center. Some people on the sidewalk. No way to tell the good guys from the bad guys.
He rushed along the roof deck, skirting the building’s perimeter to 67th Street, looking for a fire escape. At the northeastern edge of the building down 67th, he was hoping for another building he could escape onto, but there was nothing except a huge empty dirt lot with a bunch of construction equipment.
He’d come along the southeastern back corner of the hotel when he finally saw his out.
Behind the hotel was an old building under renovation. They were doing brickwork and had an outside scaffold set up, a cruciform track running from roof to ground with a movable scaffold forming the horizontal part of the cross. The right-hand end of the scaffold was about fifteen feet away from where he was standing, and about a floor and a half below the level of the hotel roof.
He looked behind him at the path he’d just come down. If he went back to the other edge of the hotel by 67th, ran full-out and got a little height as he leapt off the top of the waist-high wall, he could do it. He could long jump it.
Don’t think. Don’t look down. Just do it.
He made it to the other end of the roof deck and had turned back for his running start when Therkelson came out of the shadow on his right and grabbed him.
Forgetting his knife, the dark-haired man scrambled with animal panic to break the bigger, stronger man’s iron grip. He bashed the big son of a bitch in his mouth with the heel of his right hand, trying to get a thumb in his eye with his left.
But Therkelson didn’t let go.
Gripping the struggling dark-haired man by his lapels, Therkelson lifted him up off his feet and, without preamble, easily and silently threw him hard off the side of the building.
In that first terrible instant out in the black space and open cold air, the dark-haired man saw the city around him, like an upside-down I♥NY postcard snapshot. Window lights and water towers and the setbacks on the apartment buildings.
Then he was spinning and falling, the cold air rushing and ripping in his eyes and face.
No, no, no! Can’t, can’t! Not now! he thought over the blasting of the air and his heart, as he free-fell faster and faster through the cold and black—down, down, down.
At the barrier to the construction site, Devine ripped a piece of plywood free and rushed in.
The place was empty and unlit. He pulled the wood back into place and scurried along the wall of the hotel, searching the concrete-dusted iron pipes, snarls of cable, and mounds of brick rubble and ash-gray dirt.
He glanced up at the buildings around him. Three hundred and sixty degrees of endless windows, in rows and columns. Had somebody seen?
As if. The phone-faced folks of this metropolis didn’t so much as look up while walking across the damn street these days. The chance of some Jimmy Stewart type laid up with a broken leg at a window witnessing Pretty Boy’s Superman audition was as about as remote as him surviving his assisted sixteen-story swan dive.
Welcome to New York City, Devine thought as he walked around a pallet of cinder blocks. Apathy central. Home of eight and a half million ways to not give a shit whether another human being lives or dies.
He found Pretty Boy on the other side of the battered steel tower of a pile driver, between some orange netting and a bunch of empty spackle buckets. He was on his back, blood covering his face.
Devine looked down and clicked his penlight. Oh my. The worksite wasn’t the only thing that needed reconstruction. Pretty Boy wasn’t looking too pretty anymore, that was for sure. Devine looked around; he must have hit the steel housing on the pile driver on his way down.
As he knelt beside the body, he realized that, unbelievably, Pretty Boy was still breathing. Devine lifted his wrist and expertly took his pulse. Very, very faint. But still there, for the moment.
“You did this to yourself, you stupid ass. You know I’m right,” Devine said as he searched him. “You screwed yourself real good, Pretty Boy. What did you think was gonna happen?”
He found some cash in his right pants pocket, along with a hotel room card and a little flip knife at the back of his belt. The man’s phone was in his inside jacket pocket, and he slid it out. It was still on. The phone was in one of those industrial waterproof shock cases and had survived the fall unharmed. How do you like that?
“Who says they don’t make good products anymore?” Devine said as he pocketed it.
He patted Pretty Boy down, took off his shoes and socks, and unbuckled his belt. He did a quick professional groin probe with his green rubber-gloved hands. There was nothing else on him. Not even a wallet. It had to be on his phone then, on his contacts or in his notes. It wasn’t in his room. They’d already checked there. No luck. Found what looked liked a couple of grand in cash, sure—but left it. Give the cops a chance to chase their tails.
Devine shook his head as he took Pretty Boy’s pulse again. Still alive, the stupid ass. Too dumb to die. Was he conscious on some level?
“Where is it?” he said to him. “On your phone, right? Is it on your phone? Tell me, bro, and I’ll save you. You still have a chance.”
He waited. Nothing. He looked at the state of him. His face and jaw. Pretty Boy couldn’t have talked if he’d wanted to.
“Okay, have it your way,” Devine said, pinching Pretty Boy’s nose and closing a hand over his mouth.
Devine clucked his tongue and shook his head down at Pretty Boy as he made the smallest groan of protest.
“No, Pretty Boy, it’s time for me to talk,” Devine told him quietly as he squatted there, killing him.
“See, everybody always said how top-notch you were. Mr. True Team Member, grace under pressure and all that jazz, but I never bought it. I never liked you. I always knew you looked down on me, that it was just an act.
“You had it all, bro. But you had to go and screw yourself up and ruin everything. We’re all really disappointed in you, man. Me and Therk and the boss. You had such potential, dude, such amazing potential, but you blew it like the loser that you deep down are and always were. Okay? I just wanted you to know that. Get it off my chest and set the record straight. I feel better now. Thanks a bunch, bro. Good night now.”
“Good morning, Detective Bennett.”
A little after 8:30 on a Tuesday morning late in October, I smiled at the double row of kids sitting cross-legged on the linoleum at the front of the classroom. They were seven-year-olds, about thirty of them, very cute and trying to stay still so as not to muss their Catholic school uniforms.
I was doing a little free PR work for the NYPD. It was Holy Name’s career day, and I was there in front of my youngest daughter, Chrissy’s, second grade class.
It wasn’t the first time I had spoken at the school. In fact, I had spoken at the second grade career day for pretty much all of my ten adopted kids.
But because of my not-so-stellar track record as a speaker, I’d already been told by my older daughters to keep my talk brief and to the point. There was to be no going off script, and there would be absolutely no displays of the patented Bennett sense of humor.
I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. My kids were far too sensitive.
I took a breath and Chrissy’s teacher, Sr. Claire, smiled at me encouragingly.
“Try to keep the f-bombs to a minimum, Serpico, would you, please?” whispered my grandfather, Father Seamus, who was at my side to observe the proceedings. “Try not to scar the minds of these fine young Christians any more than necessary.”
“I’ll do my best, Monsignor. Thanks for the pep talk. It means a lot coming from a man of the cloth.”
Seamus was my actual grandfather and, yes, a priest. He’d gone into the seminary after Nana passed. Though well into his eighties, he was still as sharp and sarcastic as ever.
“Hello, boys and girls. I’m Chrissy’s dad, and I’m a police officer. Who knows what police officers do?” I started.
A cute, nerdy little kid with glasses, Henry, raised his hand from the back.
by James Patterson / Literature & Fiction / Mystery Thriller / Young Adult have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes