A remarkable new antihero, mob hit man Peter Macklin must end a hostage crisis on a tour boat in Lake Erie
Siegfried, a terrorist group made up of a killer, a bassist, an ex-marine, a demolitions expert, a Black Panther, a national guardsman, and a couple of spoiled teenagers, is about to become Detroit’s worst nightmare. The motley gang boards a river cruise boat armed with M16s and enough explosives to burn the city down. They have eight hundred hostages, and if they don’t get what they want, Siegfried will kill every soul aboard.
Rescue is impossible. No cop could get on the boat. The only man with the skills for the job is Peter Macklin, a professional killer with ties to the local mob. Hired by the FBI bureau chief to sneak aboard the ship and destroy Siegfried from the inside out, Macklin will find killers in front of him—and another on his tail.
Set in Detroit, this fast-paced thriller introduces another great series from the three-time Shamus Award–winning author of the Amos Walker Mysteries.
Kill Zone is the 1st book in the Peter Macklin Thrillers, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Loren D. Estleman (b. 1952) has written over sixty-five novels. His most enduring character, Amos Walker, made his first appearance in 1980’s Motor City Blue, and the hardboiled Detroit private eye has been featured in twenty books since. Estleman has also won praise for his adventure novels set in the Old West, receiving awards for many of his standalone westerns. In 1993 Estleman married Deborah Morgan, a fellow mystery author. He lives and works in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Read an Excerpt
By Loren D. Estleman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1984 Loren D. Estleman
All rights reserved.
In the end they voted to name themselves after the eight notes in the scale.
The decision capped four weeks of planning. Early on, someone had suggested that they address one another by code names to keep the pigs guessing about their identities; just what those names should be had sparked as many arguments and consumed as much time as anything else in their strategy. One of the women pitched the months of the year and the signs of the zodiac, but the others voted that down because it was trite and left four names unused, which ran counter to their ideal of precision in every detail. The days of the week were considered and abandoned because there were only seven, and the gods of Olympus and Asgard were dismissed because someone snickered every time someone else was hailed as "Zeus" or "Balder."
After that it got to be a game, with the eight sitting around whatever room they were meeting in that day, brainstorming names as a way of winding down from more intense things like stations and timing. Even when they weren't gathered, one of them might call up another in the middle of the night and bark out his idea in place of "Hello," and the two who played handball could be overheard on the YMCA court grunting names of Walt Disney and Sesame Street characters between serves.
But as their deadline loomed and the minor point became one of the few still unresolved, then the last, then at last the jokes stopped. Two of the men almost came to blows when one called the other's idea "fucking stupid." They were restrained, but it had become obvious that the success of the entire undertaking was in danger for lack of popular aliases.
Appropriately, it was the key figure in their plan, the black musician who would later be called Mike, who supplied the solution. They were arguing after midnight in the rented house in Hamtramck where the thing had started, and Mike, sitting on one hip on the piano bench supporting his head in one hand, was plink-plunking on the keyboard with one finger of the other. The leader, a tall, ruddy blond with a sleekly drooping moustache — they would call him Don — swiveled his head and shouted at him to stop the racket. But he broke off in mid- shout, and as the others' voices died they heard Mike running up and down the scale over and over.
Don liked it because there was precision in music, because it went well with Siegfried, the name they had chosen for the group, and because the names of the notes adapted easily into common Christian names they could all remember. Whatever Don liked Larry liked, and because Larry liked it Doris liked it too, and with Mike they had a majority, since Sol never voted. The eight notes it would be.
Don had fought in the siege of Khe Sanh, been wounded twice, and recommended for a DSC, although the recommendation was withdrawn because of certain psychological data in his medical file that later led to his discharge. He had an X-shaped scar on his right cheek where a piece of shrapnel had been removed. It figured prominently under SCARS AND MARKS in his FBI file. He was 36, the oldest in the group.
Ray, 28, held a degree in demolitions from a small California trade college. A small, thin man with a sharp face and incurable acne, he had served fourteen months in San Quentin for manslaughter after a charge he had planted on location in Malibu went off prematurely, killing a fellow MGM special effects man.
Mike had played bass fiddle for the house orchestras of a number of hit television series until he was arrested for selling narcotics to an undercover police officer. At 30, this wide-set black man was supporting a $150-a-day heroin habit. He was here for the money.
Fay was 24, a native of Detroit who had kept her hair cropped close to her skull since her first battle with lice at the age of six. Her lover, a Black Panther chief later slain in an FBI raid on his Mt. Elliott Street safe house, had drilled her in the operation and maintenance of automatic weapons. She in turn served as instructor for the group. Don was the only white person she trusted. She felt no kinship with Mike, whom she accused of demeaning their race by performing for the hoojies, but at present he was her only covenient source of cocaine.
Sol killed for a living. Somewhere in his twenties, from somewhere back East, this slender man with a tight cap of platinum hair was an independent contract murderer, an expert with blade and gun whom Ray had met through a former fellow inmate from San Quentin. Of all of them, Sol alone was on salary. Don was paying him out of the proceeds of the fencing operation he ran out of his pawn shop on Gratiot.
Larry was there because he worshiped Don. He had been a small boy when his brother was killed in combat and Don sent Larry's family a letter reporting the circumstances, but Don had been a frequent visitor to their home since his return from Vietnam and was like an uncle. The group had been drilling weekends on a private island in Lake Superior belonging to Larry's parents, who were vacationing in Europe. He was 18, the youngest in the group. With his delicate features and black hair worn over his ears, he looked a little to Doris like Lord Byron.
Teddy was a captain in the Michigan National Guard. The crewcut 32-year-old, having blamed politics for denying him his last chance to make youngest major in the command, had forged requisitions to arm the group with M-16s, .45 caliber semiautomatic pistols, ammunition, and some gelatin explosives. The Guard had a warrant out for his arrest.
Doris at 19 was a few months older than Larry, but they had been living together in his family home in Grosse Pointe in his parents' absence. Although the fine-boned blonde also came from wealthy people, she dressed in sweatshirts and jeans and sandals and always looked as if she had just come in from the rain. She thought she was in love with Larry. Since Larry was close to Don, the others tolerated her, but Fay had given up on teaching her how to fire an M-16 and had settled for letting her just hold it.
"Do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do," sang Don, in one of his rare mischievous moods. "People come and people go."
They picked the second Friday in August. That was far enough into the season, yet far enough away from its close to insure against having too many people on their hands. Even then they waited to see what kind of night it would be, because too much moonlight made them targets from outside and not enough made for poor pickings. If it rained they would scrub the whole thing. It sprinkled that morning, but by the time the sun went down a moon worn a little on one edge showed behind racing clouds. The air was cool and still damp. They separated the pluses from the minuses and voted to go.CHAPTER 2
The largest passenger-carrying steamboat in the world rocked infinitesimally on the wrinkled surface of the Detroit River, its eighty-year-old hull pale in the lights from the dock. Excursion employees referred to it and its slightly smaller sister vessel as the "ice cream boats," and their triple-decked configuration and many coats of white paint trimmed in blue and red did invite comparison to the dishes banana splits were served in. The champing of the engine was a soft moist sound at this remove, exhaling invisible black oil-smoke into the night sky above the broad three-toned stack towering over the pilot house.
Captain Edward Macomb Fielding — "Cap'n Eddie" to the men who sailed under him — bounded down the gangplank sucking a cold pipe and drawing a black leather windbreaker on over his white uniform shirt. Coming on 65, with a hearing aid in the bow of his steel-rimmed eyeglasses, he walked with a forward list and a slight stoop that concealed his startling height of six-foot-five until he was standing next to someone of lesser stature and looking down on the top of his head. His sunburned flesh was cross-hatched all over and his neck and wrists looked frail, but his handshake was bone-crushing and when he smiled — a thing he rarely did — he showed a double row of tobacco-stained teeth that had obviously grown in his mouth. He was in his eighteenth year of command on the river. Before that he had skippered ore carriers from the Detroit docks to the Keweenau Peninsula and back for twelve years.
Two security men in white uniforms stood at the gate of the cyclone fence, halfheartedly scrutinizing the well-dressed crowd lining up on the other side. The guards were window-dressing, there mainly to discourage riffraff, which on the moonlight cruise meant men without neckties and women in slacks. They had no authority to conduct searches or make arrests even if there were incentive to smuggle contraband aboard. Unlike the daytime excursions, this one didn't dock at Boblo Island on the Canadian side, just steamed up and down the river for four hours and tied up back here.
Cap'n Eddie nodded to his first mate, Phil Holliday, lit his pipe, and the two stood surveying their prospective cargo. Once or twice the captain caught sight of a familiar face from a previous trip and tilted his head in greeting, touching two fingers to his visor. Other tour captains, he knew, preferred to remain aloof on the bridge like some exiled Ahab, but for all his stern looks Fielding enjoyed people and always liked to see what kind of passengers he was carrying this trip. No two loads were exactly the same.
"More youngsters than usual," he commented. "I wonder how many of them know the old steps."
Holliday grunted. He had freckles at 40 and a sandy handlebar moustache he fussed over for an hour each morning. "Gigolos mostly, judging by all the stags."
"Just so they don't start doing the Twist to 'In the Mood' or something like that."
The first mate smiled but said nothing. He had sailed with Cap'n Eddie four seasons and still was not always sure when the old man was joking.
Don saw the two sailors watching the crowd and turned his head as if to cough, looking confidence back at Larry, fidgeting ten places behind with Doris on his arm. Larry was aware of the scrutiny. He hoped it wasn't that they'd been recognized. They had all made the trip before, usually during the daytime run when most of the personnel were different, never more than two to a cruise, and never the same person twice. But the two men in command of the vessel had no replacements and had seen them all before.
More than likely, though, their curiosity had to do with so many young faces among these mostly middle-aged revelers eagerly awaiting their chance to step out to their favorite tunes from the thirties and forties played by an old-time dance band. These sailors, Larry told himself, saw thousands of people every day. Don and Larry were just two more, even if Don was the only one with an X branding his cheek.
In fact, First Mate Holliday recognized the tall young blond man with the gunfighter's moustache and the strange scar, but thought little of his presence tonight. Many tourists and natives made the same trip several times during the season. Boblo was a local institution, there was nothing quite like it in the country.
It was a long line and getting longer. Despite the slack period before the Labor Day rush and the cool weather, there were going to be more people to have to keep an eye on than anyone in the group had hoped. They were strung out through the line, Fay alone because Mike was gone and an interracial couple drew more attention than an unescorted black woman. They were all dressed better than usual, in keeping with the restrictions for the moonlight cruise; even Doris had climbed out of her teenage chic and into a white summerweight dress with small black polka-dots, a light blue sweater buttoned at her throat and worn over her bare shoulders like a cape. Larry had on the gray tailormade suit his parents had given him when he graduated from high school. Fay was wearing a simple green frock and the rest of the men wore sportcoats and ties. Ray's coat was large for his slight frame, but there was a reason for that.
Mike missing was a good sign. That meant he had succeeded in boarding with the band as arranged. That was the pivot their plan swung on. Mike had been rehearsing with the band for a couple of days now. Don had told him he had found and bribed the regular bass player to walk while Mike took his place. In fact, the regular bass player was lying in the Wayne County Morgue with a bullet in his brain and his body burned beyond hope of identification. Sol was earning his salary.
On board, Mike, broad as a barn in the band's uniform of scarlet blazer and white slacks, took his time selecting a cigarette from his pack and hunting up a match to cover the delay in opening his instrument case. The others were already assembling their horns and woodwinds and casting preliminary toots out over the empty dance deck. It had looked for a while as if he wouldn't get this far. When he'd showed up for his first rehearsal, the bandleader, a small thin man in his fifties with a bumpy brown toupee and the sour look of someone past his era, had glanced at Mike's union card and said, "Where the hell were you at rehearsal this afternoon, when I was on the horn all over trying to round up a bass man?"
Mike improvised. "Jack left a message on my answering machine before he went away on that emergency. I only got home and heard it an hour ago."
"Well, you can just go back home and listen to some more messages. I've done without a bass before."
Ordinarily Mike might have panicked at this point. But he'd shot up just before leaving the house and the calm was opening like an umbrella in his chest. He hiked the big case back under his arm. "Do what feels good, man. Personally I think a band without rhythm's like a bike without wheels. Catch you." He'd started to turn.
"Oh, sit down," said the bandleader. "You got music?"
Now, smoking, with one corny saddleshoe propped on the seat of his chair, he had second thoughts about the whole thing. What if the bandleader had found a replacement? If Don hadn't anticipated an unscheduled rehearsal, you had to wonder how many other things he hadn't anticipated. For the first time in a long time the musician felt the itch in his veins twice in one evening.CHAPTER 3
The gate was opened finally and the chattering line shuffled through and onto the gangplank while a deckhand took tickets and the eyes of the security guards prowled the excursionists' clothes for suspicious bulges. Don smiled as he passed them and said something Larry didn't hear. When it came his turn he felt Doris' grip tighten on his arm but let the deckhand's calloused fingers take the tickets from his hand and moved forward, feeling the damp cold under his arms. The guards were big men, the older of the two steely-haired and sour-looking with a hard paunch pushing over his gun belt. But the pair barely glanced at the teenaged couple before turning their attention to the next people in line. Larry and Doris glided past the curious looks of the captain and first mate standing next to the gangplank, and then they were on board. Larry let out his breath.
The deckhand, a tall black man with a long jaw, smiled at Fay, who ignored him except to hand him her ticket. She had a complexion like antique gold and her short hair accentuated her Egyptian profile. On Sherman her lithe figure with its lean hips and small but firm breasts had made her popular with the Johns, but her refusal to go to bed with a white man had earned her the nickname of Princess among her less particular colleagues.
Clean-cut Teddy received the same cursory examination from the guards as had Larry and Doris, and if they saw Sol at all their attitude didn't reflect it. His build and features were deadly commonplace, as forgettable as last week's lunch. They reserved their closest attention for Ray, whose narrow hunted look and scrawny build under his voluminous sportcoat had drawn official suspicion all his life. They looked him up and down on his way through the gate and looked him up and down again when his back was to them. Nothing showed. But something unspoken passed between the security men when their glances met afterward. No one else in the very long line sparked that reaction.
The boards of the dance deck knocked hollowly under the passengers' feet, a broad varnished area between the bandstand and rows of folding wooden chairs for the wallflowers and those who preferred to watch the dancers and listen to the mellow music. The interior smelled heavily of fresh paint. The boat wore so many coats that a thumbnail left a clear half-moon on the blue-painted steel railing. Whispers brushed the slightly soggy air under the rafters.
Excerpted from Kill Zone by Loren D. Estleman. Copyright © 1984 Loren D. Estleman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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