by Richard K. Lyon
I sent to Cleveland for a hit man, and he arrived in the next day’s mail, a neatly wrapped square cardboard box full of white ashes.
The other side of the Family has been known to play rough, but never anything like this. It didn’t make sense. We weren’t at war with them. Nothing was happening except a little readjustment of business districts. Business conditions change and, every few years, districts need to be readjusted. In the past we’d always settled these things in a perfectly friendly manner. I brought in some muscle, so did they. The muscle stayed in their hotel rooms, and after some bargaining the new districts were settled.
Maybe they had a beef with my hit man, but that was no reason to send him to me like this. Especially no reason for registered mail. I’d signed a receipt for him. That could easily be a legal problem.
It had been cold, but it was getting warm. The rest of the mail could wait. I started dialing. Several phone calls later I gave up trying to reach my lawyer. His answering service didn’t know where he was; neither did his country club, his several favorite bars, nor his mistress. I even called his wife, but she never knew where he was. For the money I pay him, you’d think I could snap my fingers and he’d appear.
I’m also paying a hell of a lot for this climate-controlled apartment that’s suddenly hot as an oven. The air conditioner isn’t cooling at all, but it makes a disagreeable sound, a low dull roar.
My cell phone rings, and I answer.
“Do you recognize my voice?”
It was my opposite number of the other side of the Family. I said, “Yes. Do you recognize mine?” Wiretap evidence can sometimes be admitted in court so it’s wise not to use names in phone conversations.
“Yes. Look, I just, ahh—”
He paused and I knew he was sweating. Words never failed this man unless he was scared, very scared. “Ahh, look, did you get a package today, registered mail?”
“You ought to know.”
He was silent for a long moment, then he blurted, “I got three of them. Two weren’t anybody special, but the third was my—”
“Stop. We’re on the phone.”
“Oh, yeah. Look, we gotta meet.”
“Where would be safe for both of us?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. It all started kinda gradually, and I thought it was just bad luck, coincidence, but now the packages... Why, can you tell me why? When we took care of those black independents... It was one of them maybe—”
“Shut up! Damn it, we’re on the phone!”
“Yeah, okay, but just speaking hypo–whatever. Suppose something bad happens to a bunch of guys, but they had a friend who was into Voodoo or whatever... You know how in the movies there are all these omens and stuff before anything really happens. Real life it wouldn’t be that way would it? It would go down BANG, like a hit.”
“WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP!” I snapped. “If we’ve got to have a meeting, I’ll tell you where. Police Headquarters, Lieutenant Gruber’s office.”
“But he’s an honest cop!”
“That’s why it’ll be safe. We’re just two law-abiding citizens taking our troubles to the police. Bring your lawyer and let him do all the talking.”
I hung up, then phoned Gruber and made the appointment. He was annoyed, suspicious, but far too curious to say no.
I’d taken off my shirt and tie, but the heat was unbearable. The roaring sound was louder; maybe it wasn’t the air conditioner. I had a little time before my appointment. I’d check my mail then try again to reach my lawyer. There were no letters, only the square box I’d opened and an oblong box, which obviously held the attaché case I’d ordered.
It was odd, but the oblong box had no return address. I opened the box. There was a note, “Julius C. Blame, Attorney at Law, is enclosed herewith.” The box was full of ashes.
It seemed I’d have to go to Police Headquarters alone. I went to the door, but it wouldn’t open. There wasn’t any handle so the door couldn’t be opened from this side. That didn’t make sense.
I looked around the apartment. Nothing was changed but somehow it all seemed wrong. I lived in a one-room apartment with firebrick walls, floor and ceiling, one door, no windows, no furniture, no telephone. The roaring was deafening and the flames were rising on all sides of me.
Lieutenant Harry Gruber was no little annoyed. As usual his desk was covered with a mountain of paperwork, but he couldn’t concentrate on it. Two of the city’s worst hoods had made an appointment, then not shown up. Obviously something was going down, and when Gruber learned what, it wouldn’t do his ulcer any good. Gruber sighed and got back to work. After he finished writing a letter, he’d open those two packages, which had arrived registered mail.
Copyright © 2007 by Richard K. Lyon