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Authors: Tim Baker

Fever City (10 page)

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‘Turn around . . . both of you.'

They exchange a look that says they're about to rush me. I have to move fast. I get in first, slugging the big one, then the loudmouth, with the bottom of the gun grip. The big one crumples into unconsciousness at the foot of the girl. The smaller one moans, cradling his head.

‘I said, let them go.'

‘But we haven't even touched them yet.'

‘Shut up. Do as I say.'

‘Take your pick. You can have them both.'

I kick him. ‘If you don't uncuff them, I'm putting one through your shoulder . . . ' He doesn't move. ‘You think I won't do it?' There is a defiant silence in answer, finally broken by me cocking the gun.

‘Okay . . . okay, you fucking killjoy.'

Just then the big one moans. The other one tries a grab at me, but I step back just in time, bringing the Colt's barrel down hard on the back of his knuckles. He curses, clutching his hand in pain. I turn to the big one, sending him back to lullaby land with a kick to the temple.

‘Some fucking tough guy.'

‘Shut up. Who the hell are you?'

‘FBI. Let me go, motherfucker, or I'll have your nuts for breakfast.'

‘So you're the one trying to snatch our suspect?'

‘I have a warrant.'

‘Horseshit.'

‘And now you've obstructed a federal agent making an arrest.'

‘Don't make me laugh . . . '

‘It's true.' He points to the trembling couple. ‘Caught them red-handed, lewd and lascivious. Fucking in a public restroom. You're in serious trouble, asshole, obstructing a federal agent in his duty—'

I can't listen to him another minute. I let him have it behind his ear, then find the cuff keys in his jacket pocket. There is the snap of release, then the sigh of liberation. The girl is sobbing. ‘Did they hurt you?'

The man looks away. The woman shakes her head, hurriedly pulling up her underwear. ‘They didn't have time . . . '

‘What happened?'

The woman turns to the man. He avoids her gaze. And mine. ‘We're engaged . . .' The couple exchanges a brief look. Something tells me the wedding's just been cancelled. ‘We live with our parents . . . '

‘We work together.' His voice breaks as he speaks.

‘That's how we met. No one ever comes down here. Not normally . . . '

Normally
is finished for this couple. Forever.

‘No one knows about us . . . ' The man's voice echoes off the tile walls as he dresses, his back to me. ‘And we want to keep it that way.' He turns, his eyes hooded with suspicion. ‘No one must ever know about this'

‘No one ever will . . . Did they identify themselves as Federal agents?'

‘Federal agents? Wait a minute . . . ' The man starts circling me, his fists clenched. Someone jumped him once. He's never going to let it happen again. At least, that's what he thinks. ‘They never said a word. And come to think of it, you didn't say who you were . . . '

I snatch the kid by the lapels then send him soaring backwards into the wall. There is the soft crack of his skull hitting tiles. The blow drives the air, and the aggression, out of him. ‘Your guardian angel, so show a little respect.' I turn to the girl. ‘Tell me exactly what happened . . . '

‘We were . . . doing it. And the next thing you know, these two just appear out of nowhere . . . ' She looks away.

‘Did they talk about anything? A Cuban called Hidalgo. Or a kidnapping . . . ?'

The girl is trembling. She shakes her head.

I start with the big guy, cuffing his hands to the legs of separate stalls so he's spread-eagle before I frisk him. I find a driver's license inside his wallet. Arthur Leigh Allen, born December 18th, 1933. I pocket the wallet. There's a Zodiac Sea Wolf wristwatch, expensive; probably stolen. I pocket it too, as well as a couple of knives: a USMC KA-BAR and a Frost Moose Hunter. Then I frisk the other assailant, the loudmouth. His wallet's heavy with an FBI shield. The same name as on the card Schiller showed me: H. Paul Rico, from Boston, Massachusetts.

I look up at the couple. ‘You two better go . . . ' The one called Allen groans. I let him have another crack across the crown of his head. The girl looks from my pistol to Allen's head to my eyes. ‘And I wouldn't come back here for a few days if I were you.'

They're both gone without another word. Outside in the sunshine they'll find relief and anger. Rancour and regret. Why didn't you do anything? How could you have let them jump us like that . . . ? It was your fault, if your mother had gone away like she was supposed to, we wouldn't have had to do it in the john.

Rico's coming round. I grab him by the scruff of his thick neck. ‘Okay, you little shit, you have one minute to tell me everything.'

Rico tries to sit up against the wall but slides back down against the tiles, hitting the side of his head against the can. ‘Police brutality.'

I grab him by the collar. ‘Listen, you fuck, I'll show you some real police brutality unless you talk. Start with your buddy Allen. Is he FBI too?'

Rico gives a disgusted snort. ‘That tub of shit? Are you kidding? He's a fucking child molester. I arrested him three days ago in Atascadero.'

‘He didn't look like he was under arrest.'

‘Yeah well, he was showing me around his network and we decided to have some laughs.' He gives a grunt of merry remembrance, as though recalling a series of harmless schoolyard high jinks.

‘You think this is funny?'

‘What do you want, tears?'

It takes everything inside me not to bury the pistol barrel deep inside his ear. ‘The truth. Who told you to arrest Hidalgo?'

‘Hoover. And that's the truth.'

‘And where were you planning on taking him?'

Rico clams up. I grab his head and shove it into the toilet bowl, yanking the chain. Water thunders down, nearly drowning out his screams. Something moves behind me. Allen's getting to his feet. I kick him in the shin. He drops to one knee. I kick him in the windpipe. He falls backwards, gasping. I haul Rico out of his own private porcelain torture chamber. ‘You got thirty seconds before the cistern refills. Why do you want him?'

‘Miami office wants him.'

‘Why?'

‘Fucked if I know, I'm just following ord—'

I plunge his head back into the toilet. There is the cascade of water, and then the sobs of a nearly-drowned man. ‘Next time I'm not letting you up for air, so you better talk: what's Hidalgo to Hoover?'

‘Hidalgo ain't nothing to Hoover, but he's something to Nixon.'

‘Nixon? The vice president?'

‘The fucking street sweeper—of course the vice president.'

‘What was Hidalgo doing for Nixon?'

‘Apart from giving him a blow job . . . ? No!' He screams as I go to flush his head down the can forever. ‘Hidalgo is part of Operation 40. He's controlled by David Sánchez Morales. Morales practically runs the entire outfit. Nixon has oversight, but Morales runs it on the ground. No wonder they keep fucking up: there should be Americans in charge.' He wipes his stinking wet hair out of his eyes, focusing on me. There's that snorting laugh again, offensive, derisive; obscene in its total contempt. ‘You don't know what the fuck I'm talking about, you dumb shit . . . ' Then, ‘Let him have it!'

Allen sucker punches me from behind, my ear singing in agony. Rico charges me, battering into my chest with his sopping bullet head. We careen backwards into the sink, my gun clattering out of my hand. I take the rim hard against my spine. ‘When I'm through with you . . . ' Rico is literally frothing at the mouth. He yanks his gun out of my belt, rams the barrel under my chin and pulls the trigger. Nothing.

I knock the gun out of his hands and he goes for the throat. I try to twist him away but his grip is strong. I pivot, searching for a stronghold, my hand finding a faucet behind me. I try to rip it out to use as a weapon but all I do is turn it on. In seconds hot steam is gushing up my back. The tap is so hot I have to let go. My hand flays for something else, and yanks a cake of soap off its metal rod holder. I smash the little bastard in the eye with the soap. He lets out a shriek, and bites my hand. I drop the soap and snatch him by the ears, slowly turning him around, bending him backwards over the sink.

Rico resists every inch. There's an explosion of wood behind me. I glance up at the mist-fogging mirror. Allen has just torn one of the cubicle doors off its hinges and is right behind me, aiming my revolver at my head with his free hand. I'm gone. Then Allen disappears. I catch a glimpse of his feet high in the air, then the mirror clouds over. One last effort, and Rico's head is under the blasting hot water.

He lets out a wild scream, exploding past me in pain, running straight into the door, then rocking backwards, his nose broken from the impact, bits of gristle and blood splattered on the wood. Rico lands hard, out cold. I look down at Allen, taking my gun from his hand. He's slipped on the cake of soap and is out too, a trickle of blood from a crack in his head worming its way across the filthy floor.

I turn back to the sink. The clogged drain is already overflowing. I leave them there. If they're lucky, they'll come to before the boiling water strips the skin off their scalps and hands. If there's any justice, they won't . . .

Schiller and the ambulance driver are lounging against the side of the vehicle, smoking and trading jokes. A real man of the people, Schiller. I wouldn't be caught dead next to that driver—even if I was. Schiller glances up at me, his jaw dropping in astonishment. ‘What happened to you?'

‘You should see Rico.'

‘Are you nuts? You don't touch a Fed.'

I pull Schiller out of earshot of the ambulance driver. ‘Fuck Hoover. Hidalgo's not a foreign spy, he's working for Nixon, in some outfit named Operation 40.'

‘What the hell is that?'

‘No idea, but I intend to find out.' I weigh the set of cuff keys in my hand. ‘We uncuff Hidalgo but we hold on to him. He's the only bargaining chip we have. And by the way, there's a fat fuck back inside there who has an outstanding warrant for child molestation.'

I pull out his wallet and hand it to Schiller. ‘His name's Arthur Leigh Allen, from Atascadero. From what I found on him, he's a cutter-collector.'

Schiller curses darkly. ‘I'll take care of him.' Just then someone bursts out of the exit, making us both start. I spin around, the cop holding his hands up in alarm at the sight of my gun. I holster it quickly as Schiller motions for him to come over. The same asshole who shoved Hastings outside the bus. He's breathless from running. ‘Captain? You better come.'

Schiller and I exchange glances. Have they already found Rico? ‘Is it the Fed?' I ask.

The cop looks right past me, talking directly to Schiller. ‘The kidnappers called Old Man Bannister again.'

Schiller speaks through gasps of breath, struggling in the heat as we trot to a patrol car. ‘And did they trace the call?'

The cop hands him a note. Schiller swears. ‘How the fuck is that possible?'

‘What?'

‘The call. Same as before. It came from the goddamn Bannister Estate.'

C
HAPTER 15
Los Angeles 1960

T
he siren's still wailing as we pass through the gates. Again I leave Schiller behind as I race up the stairs. Mrs. Bannister's standing at the top. She's wearing black Capri pants and a white blouse tied in a knot at the waist. Gold glimmers around her ears and neckline, and there is the ostentatious glitter of a diamond and emerald chain tracing an orbit about a slender ankle. Her hair is tied in a short ponytail with a red silk scarf. The outfit is more for the beach houses of Rio or the Riviera than for a mansion in the grip of fear. I realize it's the first time I've actually seen her dressed. I'm about to make a crack but she cuts in first. ‘He's going to pay them.'

Of course he is. What choice does a father have—especially a very wealthy father. ‘How much are they asking?'

‘A million . . . '

A good round figure. Substantial enough to cause pain, but not too excessive for an old crook like Bannister. I go to step around her but she gets in the way. For a moment, I feel her breasts against my chest. Their warmth. Their promise. ‘Mr. Alston, you're not going to actually let him pay the ransom, are you?'

‘You don't really think he's going to miss the money?'

‘It's more the principle of the matter . . . '

‘When a kid's been snatched, your principles get reduced to basics, Mrs. Bannister. Will he or won't he?'

‘Pay?'

‘Come back alive . . . '

Inside the room, the lawyer called Granston is standing over Old Man Bannister's wheelchair, arguing with a sour look on his face—you'd think it was his cash that was being put on the line. ‘Jesus, Rex, we can't pull that kind of money out of thin air.'

‘They said one million and by God they will have it!'

Granston exchanges looks with Betty Bannister as he storms out. Sam's still manning the tape machine, holding one earphone to his head. ‘They're sure about the trace?' He looks up with fear in his eyes and nods. Schiller comes in, heaving painfully from his slow trot up the stairs.

‘How is that possible?' Schiller roars. ‘There's no one else here, the servants are all away.'

‘Not only that,' Sam nods to a table. Seven phones are sitting there. ‘The one Mr. Bannister is using is the only remaining functioning phone in the place.'

‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph.'

‘Maybe they're sending your signal back to you, like an echo, masking where they're really calling from?'

Sam stares at me. He doesn't know what the hell I'm talking about. He's not a rocket scientist, he's just a kid in a police uniform put in charge of a goddamn telephone.

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