Dedicated, of course, to Tammy Ng...
I'm not usually one to worry, at least not about Tammy Ng.
With a good head on her shoulders, a black belt and a marksmen's certificate, on a rational level I've assumed that she could take care of herself in the two years we've been partners. Even for a dame, she's downright dangerous. But there are some things you just don't learn on the target range or the gym mat. You can hit the target every time, or leave your opponent in competition looking up at you as they lie on their back on a gym mat, but none of that indicates whether you'll shoot straight or move fast when things get real.
Technical skill is important, but the target range isn't real people trying to kill you and no matter how dedicated your sansei or judo master, in the back of your brain you still know it's a class. Only when someone is pointing a gun at you or running at you with a broken bottle or a tire iron will you find out if you've got the stuff. And if you don't then you have no business working on the streets.
Tammy had all the right skills, and there are all kinds of neat things I can say about her, but she is young. Strong, smart, cultured in ways I'm not, dedicated and a strong sense of Truth, Justice, and the Armenian Way, but still, young.
That's one of the reasons I was worried when Sammy the Sleeper walked into our office that night. That, and the memory of Ben Siegal.
Years ago, before I was a P.I., before I was in the C.I.A. and before Steinbrenner screwed up the Yankees, some gangsters had some small measure of class. They were hoodlums all right, but they were somewhat organized and they occasionally operated out of a sense of honor, loyalty to family, friends and organization, something I value. Today, since Gotti and his ilk have followed the traditional career path, the whole bunch have been acting exclusively like the lowlifes that they are. Today they are almost all stupid murderous bastards. Years ago they were in it for the money, or the excitement, or because they were total psychos, but some of them were also rebels of some sort. The old guy I first worked with went back to the early forties and he'd known Benjamin ("Bugsy") Siegel. He hated the nickname "Bugsy," went to concerts and plays, laughed at Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker and saw larceny as a game. He was still a guy who did illegal things, but his word could be trusted most of the time, and most of his crimes were relatively victimless. If you get taken at a crooked card game, not too many people lose sleep over it, nor should they. Ben used to say, "We only kill each other," and to a great extent, that was true then.
It isn't anymore, and that was the other reason I got worried when Sammy came through our door. Tammy had insisted on doing this job alone, in a city with war zones where kids get shot in crossfires every month. Where cheap crack has cheapened life while it fries brains and spreads AIDS. There are not very many Ben Siegels nowadays. Whenever I walk down Grand Street near Seward Park and Amalgamated Houses I pass Ben's old office and I think about him, and how things have changed.
P.I.'s like me have traditionally maintained some contact with the bad guys 'cause when you work on the street you have no choice. Your credibility, your word, your honor are were worth something and sometimes you took a job as a negotiator or go-between when two groups of local bandits had a falling out but didn't quite feel like killing each other off. Tammy has gone off that afternoon to make a routine message drop to Bobby R. Bolizi and his brother Sean. They've been in a dispute with another of what the papers like to call "underworld families." I like to call 'em pathetic sleazeballs.
Tammy had insisted that she go alone on this, something I wasn't entirely sure had been a good idea. But as a backup, I'd had one of my street informers, Sammy the Sleeper, quietly hang out on the corner of Bleecker and Broadway, where Tammy was supposed to make the delivery. When he walked in at 7:30 P.M., I wasn't entirely surprised at his message or excited tone.
"Mr. B, dey took her."
"Whaddya mean, 'they took her', Sammy?'"
"Four of 'em came at her at once, real fast. Right in front of me as I was makin' like I wuz sleeping on da street. She kicked one in da balls right away and he goes down. She jabs another and smacks him in the ribs and he goes down, too. Another one of Ratso's guys walked up to her while another stuck a needle in her from behind. She turned and slugged da guy who stuck her, but then she slumped and they loaded her in their car and drove North.
"Three out of four, not bad for a kid. It mas a mistake to let her go alone. She ended up falling for the old, 'Stuck with a hypo while you're distracted' trick. Shit. Did you get the transceiver on the car?"
"You mean da chip thing?"
"Yeah the 'chip thing' You get the license number?"
"No, but I got da chip thing on."
The one good thing about this situation was I knew I could probably figure out where they'd taken Tammy, although I didn't know why. The Bolizi Brothers were not very bright and had graduated from the Obvious Gangster School. I slid my chair over to my PC and began the process of logging into the city's Real Property Database. I conducted a search under the names Robert and Sean Bolizi, and came up with ten properties, only one of which seemed like the kind of place you'd take a hostage.
Then I switched to a terminal program that would pick up a signal from the transmitter chip that Sammy had clipped onto the car. Tammy also had one if the lining of her leather jacket for very short range, localized work. After studying the screen I screwed the silencer onto my 9mm, put on my shoulder holster, tucked the backup pistol and knife into their respective places, put on my jacket and headed out the door, along with enough electronic equipment to keep my ten-year-old nephew captivated for 15 or 20 seconds.
My $39.95 investment at Radio Shack brought me to a medium grade health club in Chelsea. I opted for the through the basement level. Three open workout rooms, two handball courts, and a third room with cardboard over the windows and a "Closed for Renovation" sign on the door. I flicked on the locator and listened to the beeping in my earplug as I walked toward and away from the suspect door. There were no other doors nearby down the hall and only a set of windows running almost at the ceiling level. I took out my mini stethoscope and placed it against the door. I could hear male voices. Not too neat and not very distinct.
I glanced up at the line of wire meshed windows near the ceiling. It would have to come to that. I jumped, grabbed the ledge, and recalling the colorful admonitions of my high school gym teacher's about the lifestyle choices of anyone incapable of doing at least ten pull-ups, brought my head above the edge. I peered through the small window.
It was a relatively large gym; large enough for a basketball court, as long as you weren't going to have TV cameras and there were only going to be a few spectators. Bobby, Sean and three of their steroid gladiators were talking quietly. Tammy, always the center of attention, was naked, spread eagled, ass on a bench. Her legs and arms were stretched and tied to four gymnast rings which had been lowered from the ceiling for this purpose. If the Bolizi's had been pros I would have surmised that they were playing on nakedness and humiliation as tools of interrogation. But Robert and Sean were not pros and you could be pretty sure that they had merely enjoyed the set up when they first saw it in "Teenage Cheerleader Sluts Held Captive" or something like that.
I couldn't see everything, but they were talking to Tammy and I could see she had that determined 'fuck you' look in her eyes. Clearly they wanted information. Under other circumstances, seeing Tammy this way might have made me want to reenact a scene or two from "Teenage Cheerleaders," or the Candida Royalle equivalent, but duty called. I looked around the room for alternative entrances.
At the very end of the corridor was another door. Unlocked, it led to a narrow stairway, which led to a corridor along the top of the gym, more doors and the tops of the mini bleachers and a catwalk that edged the entire gym. I tried each door quietly looking for a vantage point behind the Bolizi's that would let me get the drop on 'em.
"Look, liddle, girl, your boss has known the Wild Skull gang for five years. He's best friends with Romero Torres and he knows where they have their cash stashed. I'm betting you know that too and that you'll tell us rather than have us cut off your sweet little clit."
Robert Bolizi slowly played with a knife one foot away from Tammy. He slid the blade over her thighs and calves and stomach and then over her breasts. She was doing a pretty good job of looking aloof.
"I don't know what the fuck you're talking about. I gave you the package you asked for and if you had any honor you'd call that business and I'd be outta here."
"Not dat simple sweet cakes. If you're lucky, I'll have Sean here eat your pussy one more time before I end your life of orgasms. Or you tell us where the Skulls are this week. We need a quick infusion of cash and we decided they are going to be ripped off."
He cut her a nick on her left leg. Just enough to draw a drop of blood. That was more than enough for me. None of this wait till the last possible moment. I quietly opened the door and unfastened the hanging rope from its attachment against the high wall. I made a quick judgement, wrapped it around my right arm and stood at the ready.
I was probably the only one who heard the "Pfft!" of the silencer, but Bobby certainly seemed to feel the bullet shatter his hand as he dropped the knife, clutching his suddenly-bleeding appendage. I launched myself off the catwalk and swung downward, aimed at Steroid Monster No. 1. He turned just in time to get a face full of my boots and be catapulted into dreamland. Releasing myself from the rope I landed on my feet and promptly fell onto my ass. Hey, if you want perfection, go to Indiana Jones. The momentary fall left me pointed in the right direction and I got off a shot into Sean's arm before he could draw his gun and one into Bobby's knee which dropped him to the floor.