Authors: Regan Black
Praise for Regan Black:
"Fans wanting an exciting something different starring a marvelous heroine will appreciate Regan Black’s terrific tales..."--Harriet Klausner, Amazon Top Reviewer
"A perfect blend of mystery, paranormal, and suspense to create a pleasure of a reading experience."--Fallen Angles Reviews on the Shadows of Justice series
Did I say, "This series is compelling?" Did I say,"What a roller coaster ride?"
Have I said, "Get the
books!"--Gloria Lakritz, Senior Reviewer Paranormal Romance Guild
Shadows of Justice, Book Four
with a bonus short story: A Gala Extraction
By Regan Black
This one's for Alysan
For your constant encouragement and unwavering belief.
For all the blood, sweat, tears, and time only a sister would invest. And for always nudging, pushing, pulling, or flat-out dragging me (in every good way) to new heights! I wouldn't be 'here' without you! Love you!
Chicago, October 2096
He stared at the twisted remains on the sidewalk as if a piece of his heart hadn't just died in equal agony. Ten stories up, the empty, open window mocked him. He, along with the other stunned pedestrians, stared up at the curtain flapping at the open window. Whoever pushed her was up there, watching the street, likely watching for him. The police evidence van arrived with a squeal of brakes and technicians vaulted out to gather pieces of the broken woman, speculating aloud as they bagged and labeled. By tomorrow they'd be calling him out for questioning.
Or wanting to.
He might shock them by answering this time. Talking to the cops would shred his street rep, and his vital anonymity, but like every smuggler before him who'd reached the summit of the Chicago underworld and earned the title of Slick
Micky, he'd known the reckoning day would come.
It was one of those inevitable elements of a smuggler's career when a man's enemies found the thing he cared for too much.
He melted a little deeper into the shadows and the camouflage of the onlookers, watching for anyone who looked like they might have just ended a life. It gave him something to do until he could continue his annual pilgrimage. He'd never detoured before, he wouldn't detour now. Looking away from her broken face, he knew she'd appreciate his diligence.
The day, the girl, the place all added up to serious trouble.
For him, and by nature of the business, for all who depended on him.
One of the cops called out when they matched her prints and her name. "Shannon Irene Sevier." Her name bounced off the hard street and echoed through his memories.
Shannon Irene Sevier
In all their years together she'd never fessed up to the middle name. He'd called her 'Sis' so long most people believed they were really related. Now here she was, his first contracted 'mule', dead in the street, because of a nickname. It certainly limited the pool of suspects, but the police wouldn't know that.
Unless he told them.
As if his year hadn't been going to hell already with a rogue judge culling six of his mules and dealing the women like cards to the highest bidder.
He sighed. This time when they demanded Slick Micky show up at the station, he'd go.
An hour later, when Sis's body had been officially declared dead, when the evidence van was done, and the sidewalk was only a sidewalk again,
Micky shuffled away from the tragedy.
Every year, he walked this specific route. It was his private way of honoring Gypsy Smith, the vibrant evangelist who'd changed so many lives in Chicago's Levee district way back in 1909.
He could count on one hand the number of people who knew he made this annual trek. Yeah, that suspect list was short, but he'd recently gained a solid connection to the department. If he made the right deal it might be enough to avenge Sis and protect his mules.
As he walked on,
Micky considered the admirable improvement in law enforcement since the early twentieth century. No, he wasn't in the market to bribe or compromise anyone in the department. But he wasn't about to give up the service he provided to those upstanding citizens who considered the federal government's restrictions of caffeine, nicotine and sugar unconstitutional.
Contrary to the government mandate du jour, he wasn't dealing hard core substances.
Odd how law enforcement procedures improved while public choice and personal accountability were tossed aside.
It didn't surprise him to hear Sis's voice in his head. She'd been with him since his first days dealing real sugar in high school. And taking a page from his family matriarch who'd transformed her brothel after Gyspy Smith's march, he'd taken steps to ensure loyalty in the organization he wanted to build. The sort of loyalty that went beyond a cut of the take, to a lifetime of unprecedented success for all parties involved. The sort of loyalty that vaulted him to the title of Slick Micky earlier than any of his predecessors.
marched on, letting the feelings come and go, seeing beneath the current sparkle to the grit and temptation that had once been advertised in every doorway back when vice was king. Decades of clean ups and crack downs hadn't changed humanity's underlying desire for black market products and services.
Sis's life, her life as his friend, passed before his eyes as he trudged onward. From their sketchy first days on street corners when the future was only a wild brainstorm in the high school cafeteria to the hidden empire they'd built and stocked with every luxury. She'd made it bearable during their rocky
start up phase and she'd been the catalyst behind several exponential expansions in their distribution. God, what was he going to do without her?
Following his annual pattern, he paused at the end of the evangelist's original route and envisioned the streets clogged with quiet marchers and observers.
"And let's not forget all those new customers," he muttered, thinking of the tale handed down from his many-greats grandmother about the busiest night the district had ever enjoyed.
The skin on his neck prickled. Someone was watching him. He held steady, tempting Fate to take her best shot.
No bullet, no blade, not even a sucker punch from a passerby.
So he'd been given time to stew over Sis's death. If his enemies thought mind games would help their cause, who was he to spoil their fun? Another day alive meant another day for him to plan and protect the people who mattered.
Just for the benefit of the lurking hit team, he pretended to choke back a sob. Hunching deeper into his jacket, he headed for the elevated train platform. The pinch points at the el offered the epitome of temptation for an assassin looking for payday.
If it was one thing
Micky understood, it was temptation.
* * *
Micky wasn't too surprised to make it back to his warehouse alive. A smuggler didn't reign for long in Chicago if he didn't know how to hide from a variety of threats and he'd been
smuggler in town for more than fifteen years.
April, Sis's latest recruit – last recruit – was waiting for him at his office door. "Is it true?"
He glanced down at her glowing face. She seemed too happy to be talking about Sis. "You'll have to be more specific."
"They're saying one of
Dr Kristoff's experiments is in the hospital wing."
He shook his head. One thing about working with women never changed: the gossip chain. "Whoever is using our facilities has my permission to be here." He raised an eyebrow, daring her to push the limit. Smart girl, she backed down, proving her street smarts were still intact.
"Are you still rooming with Sis?"
"No, I moved last week."
That was one positive anyway. He nodded once. "Come inside a minute."
He told her about Sis, handed her tissues when the tears flowed, and then asked her what she knew about Sis's plans or contacts over the past few days. Mentally, he crossed his fingers that April would know something he could use as a lead. While he gave her points for trying despite her distress, the girl didn't give him anything useful.
He scribbled a note, preferring to avoid any tech signature an electronic memo might leave, and asked April to deliver it to a guest suite upstairs.
April blotted her eyes with another tissue.
He nodded once.
"I hear she's nice, but I haven't met her yet."
"She is nice. And lethal."
April gave him a wobbly smile.
"Heard that too. She won't kill a messenger will she?"
He shook his head and shooed the girl out the door. Sis had been the buffer between him and this type of nonsense. The bastards who killed Sis had no idea the layers of agony they'd created. Bad enough he'd lost his best friend. She'd handled the day to day details with the mules, teaching them everything from self-confidence to recruiting clientele, freeing him up to negotiate product and manage security.
Like the sucker punch he'd been expecting on the street, the grief hit him hard, battering his senses until he could barely open the drawer where he stashed his best tequila.
"Got one for me too?"
He jerked his chin, inviting Brian Thomas, former chief of the Chicago police department, into his office. Knowing Jaden sure made life complex. April must have run the whole way to deliver the note. He poured a second shot and thought of asking if April had met her idol. "Thanks for coming straight down. I know you've got your own problems at the moment."
Brian just tossed back the shot and sat down. "What's happened?"
"One of my mules was murdered today. The evidence team should make the connection to me. Probably sooner than later."
"So? You've never answered a summons from the department before."
Micky smirked at the open resentment from the former chief. "Not the best business move to answer this one."
"It was Sis. We've been together since..." He cleared his throat. "Since day one."
"Are you related?"
Micky shook his head, studying the golden tequila. Another shot could wait. Numbing the grief wasn't worth the risk of telling Brian too much.
"Is your connection common knowledge?"
"So you need a shoulder to cry on or you just didn't want to drink alone?"
"Sorry, man. Old habits and all that." He pushed a short list of names across the desk. "Someone here wants me out or dead, but only after I suffer."
Micky cleared his throat, weighed his options and found too few. "I've got a profitable system. Plenty of people want to replace me." He didn't like the look Brian gave him. A mix of pity and comprehension that his girls, his system, all of it actually mattered.
Sis's death was a painful example of what
happened when people knew who and what mattered most. It was the worst form of blackmail, the riskiest form of insurance.
"I didn't know her, but I'm sorry for your loss."
"You have no idea," he muttered. "I can point the department in the right direction, but doing so leaves me vulnerable. Leaves this whole place vulnerable."
The former chief wasn't a fool and
Micky knew he'd pushed the right button as the man paled.
Brian would do everything necessary to protect Jaden and her unique interests. No matter that the woman could take care of herself and frequently trained others on both sides of the law to do the same.
Micky traced the rim of his shot glass, letting the silence drape the moment. He was no fool either. He knew recent efforts, aided by the absolute anonymity of his concealed warehouse complex, were making Jaden and her friends targets of high ranking officials.
"What do you want?"
Micky smiled at Brian's hoarse demand. "I want to negotiate."
"I know you've got pull. That sterilized report about Judge Albertson's death?"
Micky chuckled. "Yeah, you've got pull. That list there?" He pointed at the paper. "Those three crime bosses have been gunning for the Slick Micky title. One of them hired the hit on Sis. Paid top dollar to make it look like suicide."
"You're sure about this."
"Damn straight." Micky pushed to his feet, his grief and frustration making him twitchy. "If I go talk to the police, I'll be doing hard time until I die. I won't just roll over for these bastards. If I go after them myself, I may as well dig the mass grave. Sure as hell I'd avenge Sis with my life, but not with all of theirs." He threw the shot glass at the door and swore when it didn't break.
"Look, Thomas. I didn't expect to ever be your host and I wouldn't call you 'friend' in public. But I need this. Call in a favor, plant a name or create a loose connection in the records. I need time to develop an exit strategy that doesn't expose my girls, my customers, or my guests."
Brian bristled at the implications. "You just want to stay in power. You like being the king of Chicago smuggling."
spun on his heel to glare at Brian. "Of course I do. Always the best view from the top. I might serve the masses from the wrong side of your system, but ask yourself if you really want one of the thugs who runs the hard shit the hard way sitting here in a week's time."
"I have options too."
Micky leaned back against the door. "And yet you're here, using my facilities and resources."
"Is that some sort of threat?"
"Just an observation."
"I'm not the chief anymore and I won't apply a force I respect to do your dirty work. Chicago corruption is a thing of the past."
"Says the man married to the vigilante."
"A lack of evidence does not make her reformed."