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Anticipating problems, a prestigious global restaurant convention hires Leo as a security liaison. His assignment: monitor the movements of two adversarial steak-house competitors whose “beef ” has previously made for some nasty confrontations and landed a food critic in the crossfire of two warring factions. Leo sends “the Boys” off to shadow all three parties and report back to him. But even the simplest of plans can cascade into catastrophe. And Leo soon finds himself served up as the prime suspect in a ...
Anticipating problems, a prestigious global restaurant convention hires Leo as a security liaison. His assignment: monitor the movements of two adversarial steak-house competitors whose “beef ” has previously made for some nasty confrontations and landed a food critic in the crossfire of two warring factions. Leo sends “the Boys” off to shadow all three parties and report back to him. But even the simplest of plans can cascade into catastrophe. And Leo soon finds himself served up as the prime suspect in a murder...realizing that both his life and career are at stake.
I never meant to break his thumb. All I wanted was a ride in the elevator. The burnished brass doors were no more than ten feet away when I was gently nudged toward the right.
"Pardon me . . ." I began.
He was a big beefy kid with a flattop, smelling of scented soap and Aramis. He kept pushing, his blue blazer now locked on my elbow, his big chest bending my path steadily toward the right, toward the stairs, away from the elevators.
I planted my right foot and swung back, only to find myself nose to nose with another one. African-American, this time; otherwise, same blazer, same size, same grimace.
"What's the problem, fellas?"
"No problem," said Flattop. "You just come along with us."
I stood my ground. "What for?" I said with a smile.
He reached out and locked a big hand onto my upperarm, squeezing like a vise, sending a dull ache all the way to my fingertips. His hard little eyes searched my face for pain. "Listen, Mr. Private Dick he sneered. "You just."
I took a slide step to the right, putting Flattop between me and his partner, jerked my arm free, grabbed his thumb with one hand, his wrist with the other, and commenced introductions. Something snapped like a Popsicle stick. His mouth formed a silent circle. When I let go, he reeled backward, stumbling hard into his buddy as he danced in circles, gasping for air and staring at his hand.
"Whoa, whoa," his partner chanted.
"You want some, too?"
He reached for the inside pocket of his blazer. I froze. He flipped open a black leather case. His picture over the name Lincoln Aimes.
"Hotel security," he saidquickly.
Flattop was still turning in small circles, eyes screwed shut, cradling his damaged hand, whistling "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" through his nose.
I shrugged."All you had to do was say so, fellas."
He rolled his eyes in the direction of his partner. "Lance wanted to," he said with a sigh. "You know, he—!"
His explanation was interrupted by a familiar voice rising from behind me.
"And what's this?"
Marty Conlan had put in his twenty-five years with SPD and then gotten himself a steady job. He'd been the security chief for The Olympic Star Hotel for the better part of ten years now. Other than having an ass that was cinched up fighter than a frog's, he wasn't a half-bad guy. "These belong to you, Marty?"
He ignored me, glowering instead at the twirling Lance.
"Did he attack you?"
I don't think Lance heard the question. He was otherwise occupied, making noises like a suckling pig and hopping about like a weevil.
Conlan turned his attention to Lincoln Aimes. 'Well? Did he?"
Aimes thought it over. "Not exactly," he said.
"Did you identify yourselves?"
"Not exactly," Aimes repeated.
"I thought I told you two —"
This time, Aimes interrupted. "Lance wanted to ..." he began.
Conlan waved him off, checking the lobby, whispering now. "Jesus Christ. Take him down to the staff room. Call him a doctor. I'll be down as soon as I can."
We stood in silence as the pair made their way around us, heading down the hall in the opposite direction from which they'd been trying to move me. "All they had to do was identify themselves," I said.
"Yeah, Leo. I know. You're famous for being the kind of guy who comes along quietly." He heaved a sigh. "Come on up to the office for a few minutes, will ya? We need to talk."
I checked my watch. Five minutes to ten. "I've got a meeting at ten."
"I know," he said, turning away. "That's why we need to talk."
I followed him up the carpeted stairs to the mezzanine and then around to the security office. Security consisted of two rooms. The first was filled with a U-shaped bank of TV monitors which nearly covered the room from floor to ceiling. Maybe a dozen in all. The cameras covering the entrances were left on all the time. The others, which monitored selective areas of the hotel, could be used on demand.
Another kid in a blue blazer stared at the screens as we entered the room. He had a wide mouth, large liquid eyes and absolutely no neck. His blue-and-red-striped tie seemed to be pulled tight, just beneath his ears. He looked like Stimpy.He started to open his mouth, but closed it with a click when he saw me.
Marty paused to speak. "Call Frank Cooney," he said. "Tell him we need him down here for the week."
"Frank's off this week, Mr. Conlan. He and the missus are gonna-"
Marty cut him off. "Tell him it's an emergency." He threw me a glance. "Tell him Lance had an accident and is going to be laid up for a while." Stimpy still hadn't moved. A mouth breather. I pictured him red with a blue nose and inwardly smiled,
"Call him," Conlan bellowed.
As the kid dove for the phone, Conlan pushed his hands deep into his pockets and kicked open the door at the back of the room. I followed him through, into his office.
Marty made his way around to the back side of the polished oak table that served as his desk and wearily plopped himself down into his black leather chair. "Have a seat," he said.
I stood in the center of the room and checked my watch Two minutes to. "I have an appointment upstairs," I said.
"Room sixteen hundred."
"If you say so."
The smile evaporated. "VVhat is it with you, Leo? Always the hard guy. Always making a pain in the ass of yourself.""Color me with a crabby crayon, Marty, but I don't like being strong-armed by amateurs.