Chapter 1

This may have been a catastrophically unwise decision. If so, it will dramatically affect the rest of my life, which, in all likelihood, will not exceed sixty seconds.

Frank Ryan had his arm extended pointing the barrel of a gun at me. He wasn't ready to shoot me yet.

"Go on. Take the gun and shoot Mickey."

I twirled a finger. "You know, customarily a gun is handed over with the barrel pointed away from the recipient."

"Just take it and let's get this done."

"I'm afraid I have to decline on principle. I'm sure I've mentioned it's against my philosophy to commit any more crimes than absolutely necessary."

"Yeah, well, Mickey needs killing and I'd feel a lot more comfortable if you'd prove you're not a cop."

I would have expected Mickey to be leaving the building about now, but Frank's two humorless associates were holding their own weapons.

I was unlikely to get off two shots before one of them shot me from less than six feet away.

"Don't be stupid," I said.

I'll grant that's not the customary form of address to a career criminal in charge of myriad underlings. But I had some dynamite, follow-up material.

"I know the movies love that if-you-make-a-mistake-I'll-kill-you crap, Frank, but you're too smart for that. How could you ever get anyone to work for you?

"Just imagine the job posting: 'If you ever make a mistake or if things just go wrong, I'll kill you. Low-wage, high-risk opportunity.'

"You think they're going to be lining up at the door for that?

"I've got to assume this is just a test anyway and I'm hurt that you feel the need for confirmation. Do I act even remotely like any undercover cop you've ever met? No. I stand out.

"I shave every day. I don't have a record and there aren't any cons to vouch for me because I stay under the radar.

"Did you ever meet an undercover cop who didn't have some phony background including prison time? No.

"Did you ever meet one who didn't at least have some low-level bad guy to vouch for him? No.

"Did you ever meet anyone at all who refused to commit minor crimes he thought were unnecessary? No, you haven't.

"How many undercover cops have you met who don't drink? None?

"There may be some cops with my redoubtable language skills, but I'll bet you never catch one using them.

"And to top it off I use a name guaranteed to arouse your curiosity: John Smith. Really, Frank, it's like I'm wearing a red shirt with a target and my hair dyed pink to say, 'Look at me!' What would you do if one of your guys did that?"

He laughed. "You mean if I didn't have him killed?"


"I'd probably have him killed."

"The Department brass wouldn't be too thrilled about a cop like that either."

I might be dead soon, but at least I hadn't shown any weakness. Show weakness and you lose your credibility on the street.

Frank stood there for a while. His face gave no indication which way he was leaning.

"Do you want us to shoot him, Mr. Ryan," said the smarter of the two guns. Maybe he was the dumber one; it was too close to call.

"Not today, boys," said Frank. He put his gun away and started to laugh. His think tank followed his example.

Frank headed to the office and we followed. He sat behind the desk and put his feet up. The rest of us took seats.

"I've yet to figure out what you are, lad, but for sure you're not a cop. I think you're a lunatic, but that's your problem," said Frank.

"I'm a movie critic, Frank. Honestly, when I see that kind of scene in a movie, I'm thinking: if I were one of his crew I'd better put a bullet into his head before I make a mistake."

Frank laughed. "I think you are a movie critic. Anyway, let's get down to business.

"You've shown some decent planning skills so far, but it's been pretty small stuff, John. We got a very big score coming up. We're going to grab a truckload of legal narcotics. I've a man on the inside tipped me off when they're being shipped. Unfortunately, I don't have any of the drivers tied up, so we've got to come up with a plan."

"What's the inside guy's name, Frank? I need it for my report."

He gave me a sharp look then started to shake his head. "You are some kind of smartass."

"Some kind," I said. "So how long do we have to come up with something? When are we doing this? I don't mean to seem pushy. But if you include me because of my planning skills, give me a chance to use them."

Frank hesitated. "Wednesday a week. And if the cops get involved, I know where it came from."

"You're gonna make me paranoid, Frank. Too much looking over my shoulder I could become a lunatic."

He laughed heartily.

"Do we know who's driving? Maybe I can learn enough about him to get him to work with us."

"We got guns to get him to work with us," said the one I had considered smarter. The only thing that made me cling to that opinion was that I had heard the other one speak at length about I have no clue what.

I decided to make an effort with him.

"You want to buy a car, do you go to the bank and fill out some papers to get a loan, or do you bring in your gun and rob them?"

He thought about it much too long. "I get the loan," he answered.


"I don't get in no trouble. Besides, I can pay it off."

"So if I can figure out a way to get this driver let us have the load, do you still think it's a smarter option to stop him with guns blazing?"

"Don't bother with him. He doesn't understand the business," said Frank. "Sometimes we have guys inside and sometimes we don't.

"We know what's being shipped. We know when it's being shipped. We even know who's taking it. We just don't have any relationship with him. And, at this point, it would take too long to cultivate him for this job."

He started to talk about the possibilities for where we could stop the driver. I wasn't sure how smart he was, but he knew the hijacking business from many years of experience. We kicked ideas around for an hour.

"Planning sure is thirsty work," said Mickey.

"That's a fine idea, lad," said Frank.

"Good thing I didn't kill him," I said.

"Give it a rest, my boy," said Frank. But he said it with a smile.

It's part of the culture to bust each others' stones. You learn that on the streets.

I'd never been on the streets, but I pay attention.

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Story tagged with:
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