Round Robin . . .
Just outside Dayton, Ohio
The young man, really just a boy—twenty at the most, lay on the hard, cold and unyielding concrete, slowly bleeding to death. His breath came in ragged gasps. Two shots from the short-barreled .357 had taken out the lower spine, along with three or so feet of his intestines. Several blood covered fragments of both could be seen scattered on the cement. Now, the moaning and pleading for mercy had mostly stopped, with only an occasional soft and keening call for his mother. She will not be coming for you, Moradi thought with amusement. Deep bone chills and violent tremors had taken over the youngster’s body, a sure sign that death was near. The boy’s face and lips were blue—his teeth audibly chattering in his death agony.
Moradi watched in silence, and with abject fascination. He squatted on his haunches a few feet away from the boy’s final struggle, the smallish stainless-steel Smith and Wesson magnum loosely dangling from his hand. Death had always interested him. The many stages of it. The awesome finality of it. First shock, and then dismay; denial, bargaining, anger—and finally, acceptance. That’s where the kid was now, twenty some minutes after his fatal wounding. He had stopped begging for his life long before. No point in not giving in to the Reaper, Moradi thought. Too late to save him now, even if he had wanted to. Most of his blood was presently on the outside of his body—and running slowing across the warehouse floor like a small stream.
Moradi was interested too to note the hardness of his own penis. It throbbed dully—an odd mixture of pleasure and pain. The death struggle of the young man was not without its sexual component. Oh, not the gender of his victim specifically—a dying woman would have had created the same effect in Moradi’s body. Rather it had to do, Moradi thought, with the lurid inevitability of death. And the absolutely certain and remorseless nature of it.
Yes, he thought. Death had been a constant and lifelong companion to the man of many faces. And it was a lover to him as well. Did that make him a monster, he pondered? Yes, he supposed that it did.
But it also made him a god—after all, life and death was the stuff of deity.
This night Moradi wore a different face. That of a silvered-haired old man. Complete with cane, drooping mustache, and stooped-over shuffling walk. Even if O’Brien and Wahl were to see him at this very moment, they would most certainly not have recognized him. The feeble old man routine had taken the young and inexperienced security guard completely by surprise. He had never stood a chance. No sooner had he walked up and asked the old man if he could help him, than Moradi had shoved the silenced magnum into the boy’s stomach and pulled the trigger twice. It was fun to watch the wild-eyed expression on his hairless face as he flailed backwards and piled up on the floor—the lower half of his spine severed and his legs useless. It was exciting to watch him hopelessly struggle to regain his feet, spreading his own blood, urine and feces in an ever widening circle with his efforts as he did so. It formed a sort of “blood angel,” Moradi thought with amusement. It was a good look.
Moradi bent over him now—his hardened penis straining against the fabric of his pants. “Ask me to kill you,” he said softly to the child. “Ask me for my mercy. Beg me to end your torment and pain.” He nudged the boy gently with the toe of his shoe. “Say to me, Sir, would you please be so kind as to put the barrel of your gun into my mouth and scatter my brains across this floor. Come on boy. Prove to me that at the end you are a man. You can say it. It’s easy. It will end your struggle. It will end your suffering. It will end your misery. It will speed you to heaven’s door.”
In response, the boy only moaned deeply, as he expelled even more darkened blood and gore from his mouth and nose. Moradi had no idea how there could have been any more still left inside.
As Moradi watched, the boy’s body suddenly quivered and stiffened, as his breathing slowly ceased and the eyes glazed over. Death had found him at last. “Too late, my child. Too late,” the god said. “No mercy for you.”
He would have liked to have reached inside his pants and pulled out his swollen member. It would have felt good to have given himself release. It wouldn’t do though, to spread his DNA across the scene of the crime. That particular pleasure would simply have to wait until later. Anticipation, he thought to himself with a smile, was ninety percent of the pleasure. And he had an “almost” willing candidate in mind to catch all the DNA he could produce.
For now, he would settle for that for which he had come. They were just across the warehouse floor. Stacked on shelves—all in a most handy row. Moradi loaded the stacks of plastic explosives and state-of-the-art detonators into his rather roomy backpack. He would take more than he required. Always better to have plenty and not need it, than to need plenty and not have it, he thought with another smile.
The door clicked quietly shut as he quickly exited the building, and walked to the waiting car. The Ice-Queen was agitated. “Where were you?” she demanded. “Why were you taking so long?”
“Sandra dear, have no fear,” he rhymed. “I was just visiting with one of the night staff. A very nice young man.”
“Did you get them?”
“Of course I did.”
“Is it really the best?”
“The best there is, Sandra dear. At least five times the power of conventional plastics. Strictly experimental. This stuff isn’t even close to being on the market yet.”
“Why wasn’t there more security?”
“Reverse psychology, my lovely. Less security—less interest. They had no idea that anyone even knew this stuff existed yet.”
“All hell’s going to break loose when they realize it’s been jacked.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’ll be far too late to do anything about it. Besides, no one will ever dream the use it’s going to be put to.”
“Drive. We have miles yet to go. Are the men in place?”
“Yes—just as you ordered—waiting for us. All the hardware too.”
“Then stop a few miles out of town, Sandra.”
“Anywhere. Doesn’t matter. Somewhere dark, and quiet.”
“Why?” she asked, a hint of fear suddenly rising in her voice.
“Why? Because I have another job for you to do—that’s why. Don’t question me—that is if you know what’s good for you.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t find O’Brien. I tried. I tried really hard. It’s like he dropped off the face of the earth.”
“It’s okay, Sandra. I know you did your best. I don’t know for sure if he’s still in Detroit or not—at least at the present time, that is. Doesn’t matter. He’ll be back; a misguided hero come running to save the universe one more time—just like old space-cowboy Captain Kirk. And that’s when I’ll have him—right where I want him—right in the middle of my lovely killing fields. Now drive.”
They rode on in silence—heading due east into the night.
Las Guijas Mountains
It was just after ten 0’clock when Joshua McCabe finally awoke from his sleep. He probably would have slept longer, but even in the spring, Southern Arizona heat builds up early. It would easily top ninety degrees by afternoon. It was an impediment to sound sleep, McCabe thought—that, and the endless supply of bloodthirsty and tormenting bugs.
A quick tour of the campsite confirmed his worst fears—Matt was gone. Joshua was not exactly sure at what time he had left, but he was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be coming back anytime soon. Joshua was aware of Matt’s increasing suspicion over the past few weeks. Almost as alarming was the fact that the two elder McCabes were gone as well, their bunks unmade but from the looks of them, empty for some time.
Joshua began the long hike down the mountain and to the old road. It would take him several hours of hard walking to get to the tiny and very quaint town site of Arivaca. An old mining camp from the gold rush days, Arivaca—meaning literally ‘dry-cow,’ was now mostly home to winter season snowbirds and resident town drunks. The town watering hole, the Silverbelle Bar, did a land-office business year-round.
Joshua had barely began his walk when he heard the distinct sound of start and stop digging just off to his left in a small grove of cottonwood trees. Making his way there, he could just make out the form of old Aedan McCabe leaning on a shovel and trying to regain his breath. It was plain that he had been digging a grave, and it was also plain who it was for as Joshua bent over the cold and stiff cadaver of Roan McCabe.
“What happened?” Joshua asked
“My son is dead. That’s what happened. I found him in his bed this morning.”
“How did you get him here?”
“Over my shoulder. That’s why I’m about all in. I can hardly finish this hole.”
“Why are you burying him here?” It had been plain that the cancer in Aedan’s body was going to kill him soon, but Joshua had hoped that he would at least make it long enough to get off the mountain and back to civilization.
“Because that’s where we are,” Aedan replied testily. “Do you want me to let him rot in the sun?”
“Yeah, me too. A man should never have to bury his son. It goes against all the laws of God.”
“But saving him from a firing squad . . . well, that didn’t violate any of those precious ‘laws,’ right, grandpa?”
“No, great-grandson—that violated God’s laws too. I’ve spent a lifetime paying the price of those violations. My son, my precious wife and daughter—all gone. I’m the last one left. All because of me and my foolish, foolish pride—and hate.”
“So, what now—gramps?” Joshua sneered.
“Help me finish this grave and bury Roan. Then we’ll wait for Matthew to return.”
“What makes you think he’s coming back?”
“Because he has a job to do and a work to finish. Because he needs to destroy, once and for all, the monster I created.”
“You think he can do all that?”
“With my help.”
“What ‘help,’ can you be old man?” Joshua sneered again.
“I can take a bullet for him, Joshua,” Aedan said solemnly. “That’s what I can do.”
“What the hell did you just say to me?” The President of the United States did not seem amused, as he listened to a report from his chief of security.
“I’m sorry sir—I don’t know what else to say. I don’t know anything more.”
“No one ever arrived at Sunny Side?”
“Officer Pulini is dead?”
“Yes sir. Chained to a refrigerator and then shot in the head.”
“No word from Agent Kessler?”
“None. No answer on his cell either—it goes straight to voice-mail.”
“What’s going on, Captain—at least according to your best guess?”
“I don’t know, Mr. President. But somethings going wrong, and it’s going wrong fast.”
“Yes sir. Call Moradi. He needs to know what’s happening, and he’s going to need real-time updates. By now he’s on the road, maybe even here.”
The President nodded his head. “I don’t like this at all. If we play this thing wrong, we could all end up dead—either shot to death or on a hangman’s scaffold.”
The Captain waited patiently. Finally the President spoke. “Call him. Call Moradi. Use the red phone, and send the call to my office as soon as you have him on the line.”
The Captain nodded quickly and headed toward the open elevator doors.
“What do you mean, Kessler—you know one thing I don’t?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know Agent Faris.”
“I would. And you are going to tell me.”
“Now just why the hell would I do that?”
“Because if you value nothing else, I know you value your own life.”
“And you and your little boy-toy cops are going to make me talk? Really? Don’t make me laugh, Faris. There is nothing that you could do that would make me spill so much as a single solitary bean. I was a hard-ass old son-of-a-bitch when you and your two brats hadn’t even dribbled out of the end of your father’s dick yet. I was a ‘guest’ at the Hanoi Hilton for nearly three miserable years of my life. Trust me little lady—the Viet Cong were not exactly warm and fuzzy hosts. Do you really think you can scare me princess? Go ahead—do your worst. I’d really like to see your pathetic little torture attempts. Go ahead, make me laugh.”
Shahida merely smiled. “Okay, laughing boy—no problem. I’ll be glad to.” Looking across the room to the seated Weeks and Wiggins, she simply said, “Would you two please be so kind as to unlock Mr. Kessler here and see him safely out of the building.”
“No problem at all,” Weeks responded with a grin as he began to unlock and remove the handcuffs from the FBI agent.
“What are you doing?” Kessler demanded.
“Turning you loose. That’s what. You are free to go. Have a nice day, sir.”
Kessler looked confused. “You can’t do that.”
Shahida smiled again. “You bet I can. Again, have a nice day, Agent Kessler, and please be sure to not let the screen door hit you on the ass on your way out.”
Kessler’s confusion was turning to panic. “You can’t let me go.”
“Why not, Kessler? We haven’t put so much as a tiny little mark on you. It’s your lucky day, and this is your ‘get out of jail free’ card. Goodbye. Live long and prosper, and all that jazz.”
“But Moradi and the President will think I’ve ratted them out. They’ll think I helped you escape. Moradi will kill me.”
“Hardly my problem, Kessler. Don’t worry. I’m sure Moradi will make it quick and painless. I’ve heard he’s just the salt of the earth. Goodbye.”
“Please, Faris. That’ll be signing my death warrant.”
“Again, you crooked little bastard—your continued good health is not any part of my problem. Unless you want to reach an accommodation with me that is.”
“Like telling me just what that one little thing is.”
“Will you keep me here?”
Faris nodded her head yes. “You have my word on it. Comfortable, cozy, and very much alive. Best deal you’re going to get this week.”
“The one little thing is that the President thinks Moradi works for him. To create an incident that he can use to suspend elections and stay in office.”
“But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there, Agent Kessler.”
“Sure there is. Moradi works for no one but himself. And the President is the target.”
“An assassination of a sitting United States President?”
“Yes. And all his evil little Minions with him—each and every member of both houses of Congress that are present at the time. It will probably be near to five hundred people, all in one place to hear an emergency address by the President.”
“Whenever the Prez called for the emergency joint session. Probably within hours of Moradi hitting a number of civilian targets. It will be made to look like radical Islamic terror.”
“Capitol Building—where else? House Chamber side. Only place big enough to hold that many lawmakers all at one time. Every seat will be filled, plus standing room only. Fish in a barrel.”
“What’s in it for Moradi?”
“The only thing that matters to him—immortality.
“The crime of the century,” Shahida said.
“The crime of all the centuries, to quote a certain megalomaniac I know,” Kessler replied, sitting back on the big comfy sofa and gently locking the handcuffs back around his own wrists.
This late in life I was starting to get pretty good at adding twos and twos and coming out with fours—at least most of the time—so, thinking that my mathematical skills were still decent, I took a shot.
“What time’s your brother going to be here, Sam?”
Sam looked slightly amazed. “Soon—and very good Johnny. You’re as sharp with your head as you are with your hands.”
“Sometimes, Gabriel—when all the brain cells fire. It has a lot to do with the nose as well.”
“Meaning I smell a set-up.”
“Right again. You don’t call yourself a detective for nothing, do you?”
I shrugged. “I’m guessing you and your bro aren’t all that close anymore, right Sam? Hence the surname change, to your brother’s middle given name. Don’t need to be much of a detective to figure that one out.”
“Yeah, we went our own separate ways years ago. The new name was for my own safety. I always like Gabriel. Sometimes it ain’t all that good for your health to be a full-on Capone.”
“I’ll bet that’s true,” I observed dryly. “What are you doing here, Sam?”
“The Kid never got over losing his little girl,” Gabriel said softly.
“No—I wouldn’t. She was a sweet kid, Johnny.”
“You know something Sam?”
“Maybe—but nothing for sure.”
“I’ll be honest with you Sam,” I said. “I’m looking into it for the Kid.”
“No, Sam—I’m the lowest paid detective on Earth—it’s the story of my life. It’s personal for me.”
“Because the Kid saved my life. I owe him.”
“What do you think happened, Sam?”
“I hardly knew the Kid then, Johnny. We didn’t get to be pals until he retired and started coming here to drink. But even at that, I smelled something bad.”
“Your brother ever part of your happy little group?”
“Alvin was in San Quentin then. They only recently kicked him out because of his bad health. The times that he and the Kid were ever together, well—let’s just say they didn’t seem to like each other very much.”
“Alvin wanted to buy the Kid. Wanted to make him part of his stable.”
“And the Kid said no?”
“Yeah, and in no uncertain terms. The Kid would have had to throw some fights. And, well—that’s just not the way he’s made.”
“No, Sam—I’m pretty sure it’s not. What do you recommend?”
“Find a way to get Alvin off by himself. I don’t think for a minute he had anything to do with it personally, but he knows things. Even from his prison cell, he knew things. The fight game was as crooked a business as ever was, Johnny—and a major source of money for the mob. Hell, it still is. I don’t know how you’re going to get him off on the side though, or even why he would be willing to talk to you, but try.”
“I know a way, Sam. Can you get me close to him? Real close?”
“I can introduce you. Handshaking distance. Close enough?”
“Close enough,” I answered.
“You’re not going to hurt him, are you? He’s still my brother.”
“Not a hair on his head, Sam,” I promised. “Not a single hair on his head.”
Sam nodded his assent. Before we could continue with our conversation, I heard the door swing open behind us. Each and every head, at each and every table, swiveled toward the sound. Witnessing that reaction, I was pretty sure that when I turned around I would be about to come face to face with one of the most famous, and deadly dangerous gangland killers of all time.
I was wrong.
I could hardly believe my eyes. I almost wanted to rub them to make sure I was awake, as Matthew and Linh McCabe, Howard James Carter, and of all people, Maggie Moran, wordlessly stood looking at me and smiling broadly. For a few seconds all I wanted to do was look back at them, and marvel at the miracle that we had all found each other and were back together again. My heart glowed warm in my chest. It was practically another Hallmark moment.
It didn’t last long.
Turned out that I didn’t miss my guess by much.
‘Scarface’ Al Capone walked in right behind them.
Thanks so much for reading! . . . See you again in a few days.
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