Icy gravel crunched under the tires as he drove through the eighteen-foot iron security gate in the dim light of daybreak.
The tires went silent when he hit the blacktop, his Lincoln purring as he steered over the long, winding path with hushed stealth. He glided under the shadow of the second gate and hardened his face at the black arch, ornate with murky carvings of lions and dragons.
Like some fucking Paris monument, he thought.
At the end of the drive, he came to a stop, turned off the engine and sat staring at the twisted black briars in the yard. He didn’t want to go into the house.
Didn’t want to admit he’d failed.
It wasn’t his fault. Shooting from a distance wasn’t his forte, as they say. And the angle from that warehouse window had been hell. He wasn’t no goddamn sniper. He was a close-up man. The old boss would have known that. Dominick Carmelli would never have sent him on an assignment like this one.
But the old boss was locked up in Federal prison. And now, he worked for the New Boss.
Damn, he didn’t even get to leave his gun. Didn’t get to leave his mark. What the fuck was the point without the mark? The mark intimidated. Showed power. Showed that the Outfit still had clout. But New Boss said no, and new or old, a soldier did what the boss said.
Hell with it. He opened the car door and limped up the high steps to the massive front door, its gloomy gargoyles glaring down at him. Time to face the music.
He rang the bell. The servant opened it, ushered him in and led him up the long flight of stairs to the room.
* * *
“There, there, darling. That’s a good baby.” New Boss stood at a gilded cage in the corner of the high-ceilinged room, feeding a large, rainbow-colored bird from a golden platter of strawberries. Just like he’d seen Dominick Carmelli do a thousand times.
“That’s right, sweetheart. It’s your favorite.”
The bird’s beak opened and clamped shut on the fruit, red juice running down its throat, disappearing into the red feathers on its chest.
He thought he might upchuck.
After what seemed like an hour of birdie baby-talk, New Boss acknowledged his presence. “Come in, Jimmy.”
He hobbled into the room, cursing the bum leg that made him look weak. Right now, he hoped it might bring him some pity. He stood before the mammoth desk and waited.
New Boss settled into a high-backed chair. “We made our largest donation to the Illinois Audubon Society this year. They do such excellent work.”
He nodded, though he didn’t really give a fuck. “Commendable.”
“Sit.” New Boss gestured to a smaller chair behind him.
He sat. Two big goons stood like statues on either side of the desk. Avoiding their stares, he gazed at the high walls, which were as dark and ominous as the twisted ascent he’d just made into this hidden lair.
“Well?” New Boss said.
He wet his lips. “Well?” It was a stupid thing to say.
New Boss didn’t like it. “Did you think I asked you here for a fucking tea party? I want a report on tonight.”
Might as well get it over with. “I didn’t get him.”
He twisted in his seat. “I didn’t get him. I got his partner instead.”
He watched the hands. You can always tell feelings from the hands. New Boss’s fists opened and shut.Opened and shut. “His partner?”
“A cop named Perez. His field training officer. It was the angle. They were on a hill. I was aiming through that warehouse window. I knew that wouldn’t work. If it had been a straight shot—”
A hand snapped up.
He stifled. Why the hell was he making lame excuses? He sounded like the slobbering fucks he used to whack for Old Boss, when he made them beg for their lives.
New Boss thought a moment. “Is the partner dead?”
“They took him away in an ambulance, but he must be.” He hoped so.
“How do you know?”
“There was talk of charging the officer. Involuntary manslaughter.”
There was a long pause. “Involuntary manslaughter.” A slow smile spread over New Boss’s face. “You did good, Jimmy. Real good.”
He forced back a gasp as sharp relief hit him.
“Not what I asked for, but maybe better.”
“Did you get the picture?”
“Was Delaney’s team called in?”
He nodded again. “Just like you said. The fancy-schmancy team of schmucks collected evidence all night. The regular cops went around to question the locals.”
New Boss’s eyes glowered. “Did anyone see you?”
He shook his head. “No one saw anything.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course, I’m sure.” He wasn’t. There was no way anybody could be a hundred percent sure, but New Boss was too green to know that.
New Boss didn’t realize if somebody saw something and if that somebody wanted to talk to the cops, there were ways of keeping that somebody’s mouth shut. Besides, cops were always hemmed in by legalities. New Boss didn’t know that. New Boss was something of a schmuck.
His brain started to unfreeze and kick back into gear. He leaned forward. “May I ask…”
He waved a hand. “Why not, you know, just whack the bitch?”
New Boss’s fingers jerked to the forehead. What? Like he was stupid or something?
“Whack Lieutenant Maggie Delaney? You don’t understand, do you? Death would be too easy for that woman. Too simple. Too short. I have a much better plan for her.”
Yeah, he knew. The plan was to pick off the people Delaney cared about in an ever-narrowing circle. Tonight it was supposed to have been her cousin’s son. Next time it might be a friend or a coworker. Next, a closer relative. Until the famous cop bitch, Lieutenant Delaney, head of the GUTS unit, was broken down and driven mad with grief and terror.
Not a bad plan in theory, but the execution of it made him nervous. They moved slow. New Boss had to work out all the details. Jimmy didn’t like being micromanaged by a fucking neophyte.
New Boss’s hands opened and closed again. “How can we leave what she did unpunished? The honor of our family is at stake. After what she did to us, I want her to suffer. I want her to feel pain. Real pain. Horrible, excruciating pain. For a long, long time.”
He leaned back in the chair and almost grinned. He knew how to do that. “That can be arranged.”
This time it's not business. It's personal.