“God damnit, Mickey. You shoulda’ told me about this sooner.”
“Hey, I’m sorry. They obviously aren’t watching the joint you’re hitting, so I didn’t think it was a big deal.”
“Not a big deal? Jesus, Mick, what if they’re recording audio? They might pick up even this conversation when they went back through it. What if one of them steps out for a piss or a cup of coffee and sees me and Leyla skulking about tonight? They’d catch us straight away. Having cops anywhere near a job is just bad news.”
“Well, you don’t know they’re cops.”
“I don’t know they’re not. Even if they aren’t, they’re bad news either way. They’re either cops or in league with cops, otherwise you or I would’ve heard about it.”
“What about your friend on the force? Wouldn’t they have told you if something was going down?”
“Quiet down about that, dummy. And, no, we have a working relationship: a favor for a favor. They don’t tell me every little detail of what their precinct is up to, and we’re not in their jurisdiction anyway.” Connor wasn’t sure if playing the name game made it more or less obvious that his ‘friend on the force’ was a woman.
“That’s bad luck. What are you gonna’ do about it?”
“I dunno’. I might have to call off the job.” Connor grimaced at the thought. “Let me do a walk-by, see what I can see. Maybe, if I can figure out what they’re looking for, we can come up with a way to get them to move.”
“How? Cops aren’t particularly happy to be told what to do, even if you say please.”
“I’m playing this one by ear, Mick. If I had a better idea, I would’ve said it already.”
“Well it’s less than half an hour to four, so you’d better be quick.”
“Yeah, thanks for the reminder, pal.”
Connor drank down the last of his coffee then stood up. Looking at the car, it felt like his day had been filled with annoying, last minute complications. Maybe he should’ve just stayed in bed with Leyla and left the job for another day. He couldn’t do that, though. There was a cost to delaying, he knew. You started delaying things, and sooner or later your whole damned life was just one prolonged delay. He didn’t want to fill up his days with should’ve dones and would’ve dones. For better or worse, he was a person who saw and did. If he wanted something, he took it. If he planned a job, he executed it. If he found a wrinkle in the plan, he smoothed it. He took a deep breath as he neared the white sedan. That’s all this was: a wrinkle that needed smoothing.
He put his hands casually to the side and put his head down, purposefully avoiding any eye contact as he passed the white sedan. Eye contact made a guy memorable, avoiding it made a person forgettable, especially when that person was as slight as Connor was. His shorter stature provided a tremendous advantage for this particular task, giving him a clear view into the car as he passed.
Romsky and Lennon, he recognized them immediately. They were detectives from Lizzie’s side of the street. Romsky was a fat, balding guy with a donut obsession that made him feel like a cliche in a trenchcoat. Lennon was the more touchy-feely of the two. He had that long hair that was blond and braided like a hippie that just wasn’t ready to let free love die. Right now he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt that made the cops stand out all the more in their car. Connor had seen them around a few times with Lizzie on the murder beat. He knew their names and maybe little bits here and there through coaxing stories out of Liz. It was at least better than he might have had otherwise.
It didn’t make much sense though; he knew for a fact they were from Lizzie’s precinct. Why would they be this far out of their area? As he passed by them, he settled himself casually in an alcove and took stock of the buildings in the area. There was a record store, a clothing store, a little cafe, Securities, the coffee shop, and a dry cleaners.
He tried to clear his head and figure out what the cops might be after. All the locations were businesses with storefronts, so a long-term sting wouldn’t make much sense. The same car with the same joes day in and day out would be noticed. That meant they had to be looking for a specific guy, someone hard to find and probably dangerous. Either they wanted to nab him here or follow him to his buddies.
It was a guess, true, but the one that fit best. The only thing he needed now was to figure out a way to narrow down which building they were watching. He felt he could rule out Securities, Ltd. They were too far away to be able to look inside to the lobby, and places with security guards are a poor choice for a bust anyway. A lot of dry cleaners served as a money-laundering outfit, so that was a strong possibility. On the other hand, a lot of people went to the record store to buy a music platter, and who didn’t need new socks now and again? Even restaurants had regular clientele, any of whom might be wanted by John Law. Unfortunately there was no way of making enough inferences to pick one out. Connor found himself wishing that he and Lizzie did exchange more small talk. If he only had a clue as to what kind of cases these two were working, he’d have a firmer foundation to build on. No use in wishing, Connor thought, gotta’ work with what I got.
Taking a quick look around, Connor finally came up with a line he thought would work. He hurried towards the white sedan, opened the door to the back seat, and climbed in. The sedan wreaked of B.O. and stale potato chips. He had noticed on the first pass that this vehicle must have been chosen for it’s incognito qualities. There were none of the accoutrements on the inside of a regular police vehicle, including auto-locks on the doors. Connor scooted in the middle, leaning forward towards the men as if they were all best buddies and him being in the car was the most natural thing in the world. The two detectives in the car were, needless to say, agog. They turned towards Connor, who gestured for them to keep their eyes forward. “You fools! Do you want to give yourselves away?”
They looked confused and annoyed, but kept their gaze ahead. It was Romsky who finally spoke up. “Who the hell are you, and what the fuck are you doing in our car?”
“I’m Sergeant Stan MacKenzie, with the fourth. And I’m here because this is my precinct.”
Lennon shook with agitation, “Mind if we ask for your badge, Sergeant?”
“Yeah, because flashing badges in a place like this is the best idea on the goddamn planet. Do I look as stupid as you obviously are, Detective Lennon?”
This obviously took both men aback. Lennon’s voice was terse, “You know who I am?”
“You remember when you called this sting in? Of course I know who you are!”
The pair seemed dubious still. Romsky spoke up, “If you saw or heard the call, then you must know what we’re doing here, MacKenzie was it?”
“Yeah, and personally I think you’re stupid.”
“You wanna’ trust some half addled snitch that you-know-who comes here like clockwork, who am I to judge?” He could see that he had guessed pretty accurately. The pair sunk their heads a bit in agitation, but he could see the faintest flick of their eyes towards the dry cleaners. “But it occurs to me that there are a lot of reasons for a man to not pick up his dirty drawers. Especially with the reputation this guy has.”
They were glancing nervously back and forth. He could see the question in their eyes: If he’s not a cop, how could he know that kind of stuff? Lizzie had told him once that they had received training on ‘cold reading.’ She advised him to never try it on her, because it would never work. What Connor knew, but hadn’t wanted to tell her at the time, was that it didn’t matter if you had received a lesson about the technique, it would work anyway. It was all about human nature. You put the pressure on them, you forced them to defend themselves, and you made it look like you knew everything, then they would eat up any lie. These two schlubs were just about convinced, he just had to jerk them around a little bit more.
“I really do want to see your badge before we discuss anything about the case.”
“Hey, I don’t wanna’ get shot, but that’s just me. The real question is: why do you two wanna’ die so bad?”
“What exactly is your plan here once the target shows up? The two of you stride up like John Wayne and make an arrest?”
“No, of course not! We’re only supposed to follow and report in. SWAT will be mobilized once we have his location.”
“Oh, SWAT, you say? Too bad they won’t bring a mop and bucket with all that riot gear to clean your blood off the sidewalk.”
“Nobody has made us. We chose this car specifically to blend in.”
“Yeah, the only problem is that the guy is expecting to be followed.”
“We’ve had training, Sergeant. We know how to tail a target discreetly.”
“Gee, thanks, Detective Romsky. And so I suppose you’ve heard how to get around a Chinese Labyrinth?”
Lennon’s eyebrow shot up so high that it almost disappeared in his greasy, blond hair. “A Chinese Labyrinth?”
“Yeah, don’t tell me you’ve never even heard of it.”
Connor was bullshitting his ass off, but the incredulity of his previous statement allowed him a pause to make up the details. “Let’s say I’m a suspicious man, like the perp. I want to make sure people aren’t following me. So I take a few extra turns here and there, make sure it’s a winding road home. All standard so far, right? Well, then I add in a few turns through a neighborhood where there’s a high minority population. Guess who stands out like a sore thumb? The two white boys in the white sedan, that’s who!”
They looked at each other as if the thought had never occurred to them. Connor knew he hadn’t quite convinced them yet, so he continued. “What’s more, if you got the right connections, you can pay a few lookouts to set up a nice trap if someone gets caught up in your labyrinth. For a few grand, you can be sure that anyone following you ends up on a slab.”
He could hear Lennon whispering, “That would explain the Salvadorean connection. We never did figure that part out before.”
“Even without the Salvadoreans, as soon as he knows you’re coming he can lay down a little surprise for you himself.”
Romsky looked sullen, “I think we can defend against a knife attack. Thank you, Sergeant.”
Jesus Christ, a knife? Their general behavior and that final tidbit gave him a clue as to who they expected. Connor kept his composure, but deep down there was a sliver of panic trying to work its way out. “Hey, you think you can take on our guy, let’s call him ‘T.C.’ for brevity’s sake, when he has the Salvadoreans on top of his ‘family’ connections, you go right ahead.”
This was finally the clincher. He had them hooked now. Lennon looked nervously to the rearview mirror and Romsky. “Then what do you suggest we do, MacKenzie?”
“If you got the time, do the work and get a warrant on this shop. If you get evidence of anything dirty, you can inspect the dry cleaners and put a tag into the perp’s clothing. He picks it up next week, and you got a location without ending up in a shallow grave on the edge of town.”
“That’s assuming we can find anything remotely illegal going on.” Romsky was sulking now.
“Hey, a couple clever guys like you, I’m sure you can figure it out. But, if you stick around here, the only thing you’re going to be figuring is what your blood looks like on the upholstery. I got a beat to work. You boys have a pleasant day.”
Connor patted them on the shoulders, exited the car, then disappeared around a corner. He waited for a few minutes, watching them from the shadows. He could see the discussion going on inside. They were clearly arguing about how much ‘Sergeant MacKenzie’ could be trusted. Connor tried to suppress the nervous tugging in his gut. He had played it just right, he knew. Even if Romsky wanted to disbelieve him, what argument did he have? Connor hadn’t asked for anything in return, hadn’t asked for any specific details, apparently already knowing them, and he had given nothing but sound advice. There was no reason to believe that anyone but another officer would come up and give good tips for catching a criminal. It was still a couple more minutes, but the detectives in the car came to the same decision. The sedan finally started up and rolled off down the street.
It actually had been good advice. Connor reflected on that fact with a mild dissatisfaction. He had heard of the guy they were chasing; he was a hitman that was famous for his elaborate ways of evading capture. If Connor hadn’t had a job this particular day, those two mooks would probably have been found floating in a river tomorrow or buried in a bed of daisies. Even the idea to plant a GPS tracker was a decent approach. Connor grimaced as he leisurely strolled back to the coffee shop. If they caught that guy, and he found out it was because of Connor’s idea, he was going to be beyond dead.
He slumped down across from Mickey again, who looked incredibly impressed, “Who were those guys?”
“What the hell did you do to make them leave?”
“Hey, it’s just like any other mark, Mick. You find out what they want then you figure out how to make them want something else.”
“You bamboozled cops? That seems a little risky, Connor.”
“Not as risky as what they were originally planning.”
“Oh yeah? What was that?”
“They thought that Terence was going to be here soon picking up his dry cleaning. They were planning on following him home.”
“They were going to follow Terence the Chopper? You’d think even a cop would know that’s suicide.”
“You know he hates being called ‘the Chopper.’ I mean, how stupid of a name is that?” It was a stupid name. Terence, that being the only name you ever got out of the guy, was a contract killer who famously hated guns. He was the silent and deadly type, preferring to sneak up and knife a guy. This M.O. made his work pretty recognizable, and the criminal world had taken to giving him a nickname. It was a nickname he hated. If you so much as breathed it near him, you’d find yourself next on the hit list. Connor had never seen the man, and he never wanted to. As far as he knew, Terence had only done a job for Joey once. Connor’s insides clenched when he thought about the ten grand he owed. If he didn’t make good, he might give Joey a reason to employ Terence’s services again.
“Hey, it’s what they call the guy. If they were creative, they’d be artists not criminals.”
“Anyway, I convinced them that they might be terribly inconvenienced when their plans were interrupted by their deaths.”
“Ha! You did those pigs a favor.”
“And now I need you to make a call to Joey. Pass it up the chain that the five-oh are looking for Terence.”
“The Chopper don’t usually care much about what the police are doing.”
“Yeah, well they wouldn’t be looking if they didn’t have something to pin on him. Anyway, that’s not for you to decide. We know they’re looking for him. We don’t pass that kinda info along, it’s our ass.”
“Yeah, you’re right. So now that the boys in blue are out of the way. Are we on or what?
“That depends, is there anything else you haven’t told me?”
“Of course not!”
“Then I guess we’re ready.”
“That’s good, because I think I spotted your diva entering.” Mickey made a brief gesture. Connor gave a casual glance to see Leyla’s minivan coming around the corner.
Connor stood up and headed off. “Stay sharp, Mick.”
“Always do, Connor.”
Connor walked across the street and around towards the alley the marked off one side of Securities, Ltd. He felt an anticipation that began down in his stomach and radiated all the way up through his chest. He was tense, breathless in anticipation of what was to come. He had worked hard, played smart, and taken every precaution imaginable. Now there was nothing but the job. Everything was riding on the next few hours. With any luck, by this time tomorrow Joey would be paid and they would all be rich beyond their wildest dreams. Connor held on to that hope. He needed to believe that every plan and precaution he had made was enough for any possible contingencies. After all, it always had before.