Members of a Chicago jazz band are being murdered by a mysterious hitman known as The Cleaner. Could it have anything to do with the romance between a Mafia princess and one of the band members? The worlds of jazz and the mob collide in this tense, witty, and clever novel.
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By Thom August
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2008 Thom August
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Cleaner
The Near North Side Thursday, January 9, This Year
8:00 P.M.: Drive over to the place we keep, up the Near North Side. Close to everything. Get anywhere in thirty minutes. Down the Loop in ten. What's the word? Convenient.
Park it down in the alley. Lock it up nice and tight. Slip on the latex gloves.
No excuse for carelessness.
Pull down the fire stairs. Quietly. Climb up the fire stairs. Quietly.
When we rent the place? This safe house? One of our guys puts a key-lock in the rear window. Easy in, easy out. Across the alley from a warehouse. Nobody sees nothing.
At the landing. Third floor. Find the key. In the lock. Slide open the window. Step over the transom. Close the window. Lock it up. Pull the shades. Flip the switch.
8:11 P.M.: Have a look around. Have a good look around.
Traps are in place. All clear.
Another job. A simple one. Got a location. Got a target. Got a description. Got a time frame, couple hours away.
Plan is, get there and back in the van, the one parked two blocks away. There is a set of panels inside, with magnets-Cook County General Hospital, Little Sisters of the Poor, Leukemia Hospice Service, Joe the Cleaner. Little joke, that one. Pick one out. Slap it up. No one is gonna give it a ticket. Park near the place. Walk on over. Do the job. Drive away. Easy.
Got a plan. No reason to be careless. No excuse.
Review the objectives:
Do not get caught Do not get seen Leave nothing behind Hit the target Do it at the right time Avoid civilians
Walk to the trunk in the closet. Who to be? North Loop, late at night, from the outside, in the snow. Narrows it down some.
Here is one. Workingman? Watch cap, plaid coat, lunch bag. But what's he doing up on Lincoln? At night? In the snow? No.
Next? Officer, some kind? Police, Fire, Parks, you name it. Got them all.
Always the same pluses, the same minuses, this one. And besides. Been saving these.
Here is one. Could be the bag lady. Not too conspicuous, common enough. Dirty, messy. People do not want to look at her. Invisible.
Have not used this one in a while. Could work.
Open the wall safe. Pick a weapon. Close range, line of sight, one shot. Has to go through a pane of glass. And glass, not that other stuff, what is it? Plexiglas. No rifle, no shotgun, no scope, no silencer. Just a simple pistol. Revolver or automatic? Automatic ejects the shells. Do not want to be trying to find empty cartridges in the snow.
That pane of glass. Need something with a little oomph. One shot only.
Here is a big-ass Colt forty-five. Long barrel, big loads. Could stop a horse. Glass? What glass? Maybe too much. Go right through the target. Go right through three people, the other side of the target. Also got three nine-millimeters, a three-fifty-seven. Too much. All too much.
Here we go. A thirty-two-caliber Police Special. Mr. Smith & Mr. Wesson. Good stopping power. But with the four-inch barrel, not the two. Makes it accurate enough, this range. It is a revolver. Shells stay inside. OK. This is the one.
9:10 P.M.: Pull back a small flap in the curtains. Look outside.
Check all perimeters. No reason not to. Snow starting to pile up. Be less people on the street. Less cars. Bad visibility. Van has snow tires. Long as there is no rush? An advantage.
Strip down to shorts, T-shirt, socks. Reach inside the trunk. First is the bodysuit. Latex. Fastens in back with Velcro. Next the long underwear-dark enough to cover the hair, my arms and legs. Next the panty hose-the warmth feels good.
Next the dress. Extra touch, really. No one would see it under the coat. But if spotted, extra security. Fits OK. Looser than it used to be.
9:15 P.M.: Early yet. Sit and wait. Do not want to leave too early, drive around. Get in. Get out. Instructions are very particular: 10:05, no earlier, no later.
Call comes in yesterday, usual channels. Not my friend, not the Guy Himself. Someone lower down. A messenger. Know the voice, from before. Big-ass guy. Tiny little voice. Says: Here it is, here is the details. Terminate. 10:05. A little picky, you ask me. But no one asks me.
Do not know why. Do not ask why. Not the one who decides. Just the one who acts.
Take the time to fieldstrip the thirty-two, oil it, test-fire it. Good action, no problems. Load the rounds-five shells. One is enough. But. You never know.
9:20 P.M.: Put on the wig, flatten it out. Tape it on. Tie the scarf on top of it. Just to be sure.
Choose a purse, midsize. Plenty big enough for the thirty-two. Get a pair of gloves, black wool with no fingers. Put them on, over the latex gloves. Fit is OK.
If the gloves do not fit, it can all go to shit. Ha-ha.
Boots, for the snow. Tie the laces behind the tongue-flap to make them look untied. Laces tucked in. To avoid tripping. Check them. Look loose, but they are on good.
9:25 P.M.: Time to leave. Into the bathroom. Pull all this stuff aside. Take a piss. Flush. Flush again. Straighten up. Then the coat. Then the topcoat, for camouflage. This will stay in the van. No one will see the outfit underneath on the way out of here.
Sounds like nothing. Some meaningless detail. Wrong. Part of a method. A plan. This is how you keep doing this. One job and another and another. You want to kill lots and lots of people? Not get caught? Use the method. Follow the plan.
One last check. Pain. Scale of one to ten? Four. Dull ache, not too bad. About average. Same place, one inch below the ribs, a shade to the right. Some back pain, too. Try to stretch it out. Like it's got anything to do with being stretched out. Right. Grab the bottle of water in the coat pocket. Take a long pull.
Slide the water bottle back into the coat. Bump into the pill bottle. Pull it out. Hold it up. Four pills. Two blue. Two white with the dark red stripe. Just in case. Tuck it away.
Grab the front door keys, the van keys off the hook. Open the door, step out. Stand, wait, listen. No one is around. Lock up, walk down the stairs.
Out the door. Walk two blocks to the lot. Snow is piling up. Couple a inches now. Open up the van, turn the engine on. Get the brush. Clean the windows. Pull two panels out of the back: Little Sisters of the Poor. Pop the panels into place. Get behind the wheel.
9:30 P.M.: Put the van in gear. Head out on the street. Over to Halsted, left and south. Not much traffic. Not in the snow.
9:35 P.M.: Taking my time. Going slow in the snow.
9:50 P.M.: The place is a nightclub. Up on Lincoln. The 1812 Club. Nothing to do with what's-his-name, Beethoven, or that war. Address is 1812 North Lincoln. Old days, used to be just Murphy's Pub. Added music, couple years ago. Changed the name. Big window in the front, three paces from the entrance. Bandstand in the window, band facing inside. Coming up on it now. There it is on the left. Check it once on foot.
Turn left. Find a space. No Parking? No problem. What Chicago cop is going to ticket the Little Sisters of the Poor? Turn the flashers on, leave the engine running. Check the extra key. On a rubber band. Around the left wrist. Step outside. Lock the door. Put the purse with the gun on that arm.
No one around. No workmen, no cops, no streetwalkers, no homeless.
9:57 P.M.: Directions are very clear. Five people in the band. Trumpet and sax up front. Bass, drums, piano in back. Shoot the black one in the back line, not the black one up front. Black, white? Just a way to mark them. They are not going to be wearing name tags.
10:00 P.M.: Coming up on the window. Move to get a good line of sight. Shit. Three blacks, not two. One in front, the trumpet player. Not the target. Drums and piano in the back, both black. Something is not right. Stop. Kneel down, tying the boots. Tying the boots with no laces.
Instructions say the black in the back. They are finishing a song. Hear the sound of clapping. They point to the drummer, little guy, turns right and bows, turns left and bows.
Drummer is not a guy. It is a girl. And she is not black, exactly. More like Japanese, Chinese. Got the short hair, got some muscular arms. But tits, definitely, smooth face, no stubble. The eyes, those folds, what do you call that? Fooled me there.
Standing up again, slowly. No sudden moves. Face turned out toward the street, walking ahead. Then around the corner. Pause. Lean up against the building.
10:04 P.M.: Stick with the piano player. They told me, the only black in the back. He is sitting there, hunched over. Not moving. Piece of cake. Grab the gun. Check the safety. Flick it off. Gun behind the purse. Purse against the chest. Walk around the corner.
Close to the building now. Dark and snowing. Wind is blowing.
Hear the music now. Something slow and sweet. Jazz. Nice.
Stop. Look around. No cars. No people. Just the snow and the wind.
And me and the gun.
Stop. Two deep breaths. Discipline.
10:05 P.M.: Take two steps into the light, a quarter turn to the left. Aim at the head.
Glass explodes, people scream. He is done.
Keep moving. Just a bag lady stumbling along. A gun by her side.
Around the corner, to the left. Open the van. Toss the purse on the seat. Slide inside. Flip the safety on. Tuck the gun between the thighs. The van is still running. Left foot on the brake. Put it into drive. Flip the flashers off. Turn the directional on. Check the traffic.
Drive due west. Nice and easy. North, then west again. Away from Lincoln. West over to Halsted, north up to Belmont, then one block past. Look around. No cars.
Pull over by a Dumpster. Open the window. Hear the howling of the wind. The sound of sirens far away.
Take the gun out. Make sure the safety is on. Empty the bullets into a hand. Empty the hand into a pocket. Hold onto the one empty cartridge. Close the cylinder. Wipe it all down with a rag. Wrap the gun in the rag. Wrap the rag in a McDonald's bag. Toss it all in the Dumpster. Drive.
Drive three blocks away. Stop at the light. Roll down the window. Flick the empty cartridge down a storm grate. Gone. Clean. Easy.
10:20 P.M.: Head to the lot. Park the van. Get out. Put the panels in the back. Lock up.
Clean up. Get dressed. Lock up. And down the fire escape and into the car and through the snow to home.
One more done.
Excerpted from Nine Fingers by Thom August Copyright © 2008 by Thom August. Excerpted by permission.
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