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S.T.R.E.S.S. might be Detroit's elite police undercover squad, but to black rookie cop Charlie Battle, it's nothing less than an execution squad targeting blacks. As Battle tries to walk the thin blue line between supporting his fellow officers and his own racial pride, he is compelled to speak out in a police department where talking against the squad may be the ultimate crime. HC: Mysterious Press.
Don't look for any mystery about which of the cast members is guilty—they all are—but enjoy this as a peerless exercise in style, an evocation of a dirty page in urban history, and a brutal descent into "any civic architect's picture of hell."
If being rich meant having to listen to live music all the time, Kubicek would just as soon take his three hundred a week and an eight-track player.
Always conscious of his Hamtramck background in the company of that Grosse Pointe crowd, he'd felt low-brow at first for being bored by the string quartet playing in one corner of the half-acre living room, but as one show tune treacled into another and the conversation of the guests continued to drown them out, he realized no one was listening. Even the musicians—a fat bald guy, a pair of faggots in ruffled shirts with their hair curling over their ears, and a pasty-faced girl in her twenties dressed in black who looked like the female half of Boris and Natasha—wore expressions that said they'd rather be home watching Guy Lombardo. He wondered if this was typical, and for the first time in his life he didn't envy the wealthy.
The house was a fucking museum. Murky old religious paintings leaned out from the walls in gaudy gilt frames and glass cases stood in inconvenient places showing off stone axes and bits of rusted armor. He'd shit a brick when told the cost of the Oriental rug in the dining room and had avoided the room ever since, terrified of tracking something into it. He couldn't imagine growing up in a place like that. It did a lot to explain the behavior of the spectral six-year-old girl who had appeared briefly when the party was just getting started, hiding behind the architecture and looking out with huge haunted eyes.
Kubicek looked at his watch, a Waltham with a heavy steel case and a Twist-O-Flex band. Quarter past nine. It seemed later. He was bushed. Some last-minute paper fuck-up had kept him at 1300 past his shift and he'd had to abandon his plan to stop off at home and shower and change before going on to the party. He felt sticky under the shirt he'd had on since six o'clock that morning, and out of place in his sturdy gray suit among the tailored tuxes and poofy low-cut gowns. The sight of all those bony spotted bosoms did nothing to lift his fatigue. Rich women were by and large sixty years old and looked more like men than their escorts.
The White Rock club soda in his glass had gone flat. If the party didn't pick up by ten, he'd treat himself to a bourbon and branch, and to hell with his reflexes. It didn't look as if they were going to be needed anyway.
"Having a good time, Sergeant?"
Ted Ogden's sudden appearance from the crowd of chatterers startled Kubicek. That irritated him. He was paid to be alert. But Ogden was a small man, easily overlooked. He might have bought his white 007 dinner jacket in the boys' department at Hudson's.
"Not my job, sir. I'm here to make sure you have a good time. You and the guests. Nothing breaks up a party like a heist."
Ogden showed a set of beautifully bonded teeth that made the other man want to check his own for spinach. He had a head of tightly coiled auburn hair—a tribute to the wigmaker's craft—and large moist brown eyes that looked as if they would soak up details like twin sponges. "Relax, Sergeant. You're only here to keep the insurance company happy. One of the advantages of living in a depressed area is no one expects to see this many diamonds in one room. All the jewel thieves are in Palm Beach this time of year."
"I didn't know Grosse Pointe was depressed."
"I mean Detroit. Drive five miles down Jefferson and you're in the Third World. Can I get you a drink?"
"Thanks, I'm fine."
A woman who was taller than Ogden by a head and looked older by several years came up behind him and slung an arm around his neck, dribbling green-tinted liquid from the tall glass in her other hand. Her hair was dyed bright copper and the glittery blue dress she wore left a trail of sequins on the parquet floor, reminding Kubicek, disloyally, of a snail. Her eyelashes were long enough to erase a blackboard. "Teddy, you're marooning our guests."
"I am not. I'm talking to the sergeant."
Her oyster-colored gaze skidded past Kubicek's face without stopping to focus. Caryn Ogden, born Caryn Cooper Crownover, was already a furlong ahead of everyone present when it came to swamping away the year 1972 with buckets of alcohol. "Bullshit. You're paying him to be here, so he can't go. When people start asking after their host, they're this far from calling for their hat and coat." She released her husband's neck to hold up a thumb and forefinger. "Hank and Christina have to leave soon. I don't want them to go home thinking you're upstairs banging one of the caterers."
"Don't be coarse." Ogden shook Kubicek's hand, squeezing hard. "Make yourself at home. In case I don't work my way back through the mob before midnight, happy new year."
"You too." He watched his employer being dragged into the high human tide, thinking, Poor pussy-whipped bastard. If this was what life was like married to Crownover Coaches, a city salary and a part-time security job were looking better all the time.
Having disinterred the entire scores of Man of La Mancha and Jesus Christ, Superstar, the quartet had turned to the theme from Love Story. Sweet holy shit. He set his glass down on a convenient ring and opened a sliding glass doorwall leading to the terrace: terra-cotta tile enclosed by junipers trimmed into perfect domes and a sweep of winterkilled lawn to Lake St. Clair. He drew the door shut behind him. The air was cold but not biting. The surface of the lake, not yet frozen, was graphite-colored under a spray of dusty stars with Canada a zigzag of lighted-windows on the far side like a jagged line on a business chart. From somewhere in the darkness the chainsaw whine of a motorboat drifted his way. At any hour of any day or night some idiot was out trying to extend the previous season. The spring thaw would find him dodging patches of thin ice at the wheel of a snowmobile, if he didn't hit a stray floe tonight.
Kubicek ran his fingers through his thick graying hair, missing the springy feel of his brush cut. It had been his wife's idea to let it grow out after twenty years. "You look like Goldwater," she'd said, and although that didn't sound half bad he'd sensed her disapproval and stopped going to the barber as often. At forty-eight it was the small changes that nettled. There were so many of them. Before long they piled up like driftwood, forcing the current of your life in strange new directions. Longer hair, reading glasses, a sudden intolerance for caffeine—friend of a thousand stakeouts and three all-nighters cramming for the sergeant's exam—and suddenly you were flouting department regulations and applying for a private detective's license to finance your divorced daughter's education in law. In his mind it was all connected. He went back inside. Absently he checked the time. Twenty-eight minutes past nine.
Questioned by the shooting team later, he would say he went for his piece when he spotted the guy with the shotgun, but that was just for the record. He'd testified a hundred times in court and had learned early that the gutty tingle shared by cops everywhere was a mystery to lawyers and judges. He felt the change in atmosphere before he saw anything. The musicians were still playing, unaware of the wave of unease washing their way, when Kubicek reached inside his jacket and unclipped his .45 automatic from the speed holster strapped to his ribs. It was already cocked when he located the first weapon.
It was a Remington pump shotgun, chopped down from both ends to a length of less than twenty-two inches. The gunner swung it up from under his quilted army fatigue coat, jostling the partygoers nearest him, and leaped onto a three-hundred-year-old trestle table, kicking over dishes of pastry and shouting for everyone to kneel.
But it was that jostling and the guests' reaction—outrage over this breach of the social contract—that rippled through the packed room before anyone was aware of the man or his threat.
The bottom half of his face, below mirrored glasses and a navy watch-cap pulled down to his eyebrows, was caramel-colored, and his afro rolled out around the bottom of the cap. He spoke with a delta twang, either real or inherited; but by the time he spoke Kubicek was looking for his partners.
He knew where to find them. One, dressed similarly but without glasses, had stationed himself at the arch to the dining room. He held a short-barreled revolver twitchingly between both hands, extended at arm's length. The third, evidently proud of his natural—an impressive eighteen inches in diameter—or unable to contain it, had dispensed with headgear and coat, preferring a macramé vest that brushed his hips and a gray sweatshirt hung tail out over bell-bottom jeans. Hampered by the press of bodies, he was heading for the door to the terrace. His right hand was in his pants pocket.
Kubicek couldn't believe rich people. You had to be really caught up in yourself to miss three black guys in street duds entering a house in Grosse Pointe.
The man with the big hair was closest, but shotguns took precedence. Kubicek turned sideways and sighted along his arm at the man crouching on the table. The heavy automatic bucked twice in his hand and he saw the soles of the man's tennis shoes. He turned toward Big Hair.
But the scenery had shifted. The guests were moving now, scrambling to clear the line of fire. He lost his man.
He spun and shot the gunman standing in the dining room arch. The man doubled over, wobbled back two steps, and sat down on the Oriental rug. His revolver played spin-the-bottle on the slick parquet on the living room side. Then a scurrying guest kicked it away.
The music had stopped. There was shouting and squealing and a long shivery splintering of crystal.
A whoosh and a spray of cold air brought him back around to the sliding door and Big Hair's macramé back on the terrace. Kubicek gave him three yards, then spread his feet and took two-handed aim through the handy frame of the doorway, just like on the police range.
Three times between the shoulder blades, his best group in years, in or out of qualification. Ruptures opened the size of poker chips. The man was still falling when the nasty ripping howl of a four-cycle engine climbed the scale close to the dock below the terrace and faded away. The wake of the retreating motorboat, an indistinct dark wedge, glittered in the reflected light from the house.
Kubicek glanced at his watch. Nine twenty-eight and thirty seconds. Less than half a minute had passed since he'd come in from the terrace.
The shotgun lay across the stomach of the man who had fallen off the table. Kubicek put the weapon on the table and removed the man's mirrored glasses. Only the whites of his eyes showed.
The man in the dining room looked up as Kubicek entered, then sagged sideways. Kubicek felt the last throb in the big artery under his jaw and went outside.
There was no mistaking the position the man there had fallen into, all arms and legs like a pile of Lincoln Logs, but Kubicek kept the .45 trained on him as he pushed him over onto his back with a wingtip. Instinctively his eyes went to the man's hands, then searched the surrounding tiles. Finally he squatted and patted the body from chest to ankles.
He took the automatic off cock, lips pursed. This one wasn't armed.CHAPTER 2
"What's wrong with the gun business is there's too many cowboys in it, and more coming in all the time," Joe Piper said. "Dealing in absolute shit, pieces from Norway and Czechoslovakia—Prague, I'm serious, that great firearms capital of the world—where the blueing comes off in your hand. Not that it matters, because you won't have one after you pull the trigger the first time. They got no esprit de corps."
He knew he was talking too much and too fast. It was a family failing; when a Piper got nervous you couldn't shut him up. Like his Uncle Seamus, a clam all his fucking life who ran guns to Ireland in the twenties with the dough he made shoving booze for the Machine mob, then at age seventy-one turned into a canary, all because his prostate blew out and he thought he had to dump all his sins before he scaled the rainbow. So far as Joe Piper could tell from the little he knew of Gaelic, the worst of these to Seamus wasn't the smuggling or the killings or the partner he'd abandoned in Galway Bay and for all he knew was still rotting in some English prison, but the six-month marriage that had ended in divorce in Cleveland in 1930, and that he'd kept a secret from his children, his wife of forty-two years, and the Catholic Church. Fortunately Joe Piper's father, Seamus's brother-in-law and a partner on the American end of the old enterprise, had brought in a Polish priest who didn't know the language to hear the confession. Quinn Piper didn't care how many wives the old man had had as long as the source of the capital behind the family cement firm remained family knowledge.
Joe Piper's case of nerves had nothing to do with the prospect of dealing some guns. He'd been doing that all his adult life. Even before that, he'd fetched and carried for his father when the Edsel went bust in 1959 and the Detroit housing market fell down the same hole, and Quinn took up the slack by performing as go-between on a transaction involving surplus Korean War ordnance and some characters from Bolivia or some such shit place, who wore dark glasses indoors and handled English as if it weighed a hundred pounds. Nor was he agitated by the identity of his customer. In his line, a slot on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list just meant a higher ante. Anyway, he'd done business with Albanians, and those guys scared Mao Tse-Tung.
No, it was the venue that put him on edge.
He hadn't been down Twelfth Street since before the riots. In the living room of his house in Pontiac he'd watched its neighborhoods burning on television, paratroopers trading automatic-weapons fire with snipers in windows, and tanks—Sherman and Patton tanks, for chrissake—trundling along the pavement, all those great blind pigs and rib joints boarded up, and thought for the first time of moving to California. He'd thought martial law would put an end to the local gun trade; forgetting that this was Detroit, where the answer to a recession was to make more cars and the solution to widespread insurrection was to arm everyone who was big enough to haul a gun uphill without training wheels. The social order had broken down. When you couldn't count on the cops to protect you, you heeled yourself. Within two years his orders had doubled, and he could have doubled them again in the next three if he wanted to trade in the shit peddled by his competitors. A Joe Piper piece never misfired or blew up in your hand. That was what kept him above ground and out of jail in a business not known for its loyalties.
But he didn't delude himself. To the majority of his clientele he represented The Man, growing fat off his customers' need, and he might as well have put on a pigeon suit when he ventured into the Detroit Black Community to work deals. For six years now his only contact with the DBC had been through buffers whose skin pigmentations matched his buyers'. The first time this particular buyer had asked to deal directly with him, Joe Piper had refused. When he found out how big a shipment was involved, he'd suggested a meeting in Pontiac. Told the customer's name, he'd realized why that was impossible, and after sleeping on it agreed to the Twelfth Street location.
He'd regretted the decision the moment he left his Buick Electra in Redford and boarded the DSR to downtown. The bus was loaded with black passengers, and in his fur-collared overcoat and doeskin gloves he'd felt their suspicion instantly. He was Black Irish, but not nearly black enough, pale-skinned under his rebellious shock of black hair, blue-eyed, pug-nosed, and built like a retired heavyweight fighter spreading into his middle years. Freezing on sidewalks in the Michigan March they'd seen his kind capering in the St. Patrick's Day parade when Cavanagh was mayor, green-hatted and swinging a shillelagh, and it might have been a peek at life on Pluto for all it meant to the way they lived.
Excerpted from Stress by Loren D. Estleman. Copyright © 1996 Loren D. Estleman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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