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And If He Sees His Shadow Part 2

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"You loaned this particular friend some money, and he's having some trouble paying it back."

DuPage lit up, blowing his smoke out the corner of his mouth farther from me, so as not to blur his line of sight. Tedesco waved a hand in front of his face long before any smoke could have reached him.

Then Tedesco shrugged again. "This economy, it's tough for everybody."

"Except not every creditor breaks bones."

DuPage spit a bit of tobacco onto the floor. Tedesco frowned but didn't speak.



From the wall, the enforcer said, "That what somebody did to you, Slick?"

I raised my bandaged right hand gingerly, the gauze covering everything up to the wrist like a white boxing glove. "Burn, actually."

DuPage huffed out some more smoke. "Somebody be doing their collecting with fire now?"

"You moron," said Tedesco. "Who you ever hear collected using fire?"

DuPage bristled. "Was the reason I asked."

"Yeah, well, how's about next time you think first, huh?" Tedesco turned back to me. "Those cancer nails haven't destroyed what little brains you started the game with."

Marilyn Alongi had said all was not hearts and flowers between the two.

Tedesco stayed focused in my direction. "Look, the bartender, he tells me your name's 'John Francis.' Is that square?"

"Yes."

"Well, Mr. Francis, let me tell you something, then. All those people you saw out there in the lounge, how many of them you think a bank's gonna lend to, huh? I can tell you. Zero. Half of them are illegal, and the other half re running from something in their own country more than to something over here. But they're in the States now, so they need money to grease the wheels. I loan it to them, and these clients are grateful, refer me other business. They're so grateful, in fact, they pay their loans back to me, so my houseboy here don't have to go out cracking heads."

If DuPage bristled before, he nearly boiled over now. "I been telling you, Lou, you don't-"

"It's 'Mr. Tedesco,' we got business people in front of us. You don't show me no respect, how you expect they gonna?"

Tedesco did that last in street-black dialect. DuPage's nostrils were flared wide in a way that I didn't think had to do with the cigarette smoke now belching from them.

The fat man said, "How many times I got to give you a lesson before it sinks in?"

DuPage said, "Lessons, they something runs both ways."

Tedesco bit back his reply, then turned to me. "Mr. Francis, what I'm saying here is that I run a business, strictly business, so if your friend says-"

"Is it strictly business for DuPage here to refer you clients that he's sleeping with?"

A leap of faith, but the only card I had to play.

Lou Tedesco's face grew red. "What?"

Glancing up at his enforcer, I said, "Well, to be technical, DuPage is sleeping with your client's wife, but that's how you got the referral."

Tedesco's face turned toward DuPage as it veered toward purple. "You're hosing one of my-"

"Slick here don't know what he's talking about."

I said, "There another reason why you smoke her brand?"

"Say what?"

I pointed to the nearly-gone cigarette in his hand. "Players Light, from Canada."

Tedesco's voice had a grinding quality to it. "You sonofabitch, you just started smoking those wolf turds and told me-"

DuPage dropped his cigarette to the floor, mashing it out with the toe of his shoe. "I do what I want."

Tedesco screamed. "You stone-stupid half-breed, you don't stamp your butts out on my floor! I told you once, I told you a hundred times."

DuPage flapped open the right side of his trenchcoat, the belt flailing in the air. "I give you a hundred times of something."

The Tec-9 chattered through most of its clip, though thanks to the initial report inside the enclosed room, I didn't hear the slugs that followed. Tedesco shuddered in his chair like an urban cowboy riding a mechanical bull. Staying seated myself, I brought my right hand up slowly. When I gauged that DuPage realized he should save a few rounds to share with the eyewitness, the little derringer under my bandages hiccuped four times against my palm. DuPage slumped into the wall behind him before sliding down it, his torso trailing a smear of blood from a through-and-through wound.

Then I remembered to breathe again. That acrid smell of cordite filled my lungs with memories, none of them especially happy ones.

In the lounge, the three of us sat at the table the Cambodians had been using. Lieutenant Robert Murphy had his back to the office area, the medical examiner's people not yet having released the bodies from the crime scene. A gold pen nearly disappeared in Murphy's large black hand as he jotted notes on a little spiral pad such as a journalist might use. Sergeant Detective Marilyn Alongi didn't have to take any notes, since there wasn't any crime in her area beyond the killings themselves.

"Just so we have it straight," said Murphy, his pen coming up and tapping against his collar stay under a stylish tie, "you called me, I gave you Alongi, and you spoke to her before coming here, all over Tedesco and his sidekick muscling one of your friends."

"Right. Tommy Flaherty.

"And despite the fact that this friend of yours owed the late Lou some considerable bread, instead of just throwing you out on your ass, DuPage and Tedesco get into a name-calling contest with each other."

"The effect I have on some people."

Alongi said, "Lieutenant, I did tell Cuddy there was some kind of hassle brewing between the two of them. I just didn't know what."

Murphy hooded his eyes to slits. "And you, Cuddy, just had to stir the brew, huh?"

"I really wasn't involved in their give-and-take."

He reached down, came up with two Evidence baggies, each containing a firearm. "DuPage gave to Tedesco, and DuPage took from you."

The little derringer I'd bought didn't look like much next to the Tec-9. "A pepperbox, four twenty-two caliber hollow-points."

Alongi said, "They were enough."

"Look, folks, I didn't come here to kill anybody. I was just trying to help a friend."

The lieutenant closed up his pad. "Why don't we all pay a visit to your Mr. Flaherty, then."

I said, "Might want to call first."

Alongi said, "I tried twice. No answer."

As the three of us rose from our table, the M.E.'s people cleared the back corridor, wheeling a gurney holding a filled body bag. some bulk slopping over the edges.

Sergeant Detective Marilyn Alongi clucked her tongue off the roof of her mouth. "And to think, I nearly went to the prom with, that guy."

"Looks pretty dark in there."

I said, "Lieutenant, he keeps it pretty dark."

Murphy turned to me, then spoke to Alongi. "Side door?"

"I knocked. No answer."

As Murphy said, "Batting a thousand," I thought I caught some thing move in the dim light inside, near Tommy's desk. Then I saw the movement again and identified it.

"Lieutenant, there's somebody down in there." "Where?"

I pointed. "Bare legs, rolling a little on the floor." Alongi said, "Side door'd be easier to force." Murphy said, "Let's hit it."

When we arrived at the door, I looked to Murphy, and he nodded. I cocked my right foot over the door knob and kicked out, just below the lock. The jamb splintered enough for me to shoulder through it.

"All right," said Murphy. "I'm in first, Alongi behind me. Cuddy, you wait till tomorrow. Got it?"

We both nodded as Alongi drew her Glock and Murphy unholstered his own.

I followed them, close enough to Alongi to touch her shoulder blades. Even without having smelled it within the hour, there was no mistaking the cordite pong still hanging in the air. The smell got stronger as we reached Tommy's office up front.

Dim light spilling from the doorway to the couple's second-floor apartment showed us an image I still can't shake.

Tommy Flaherty, on his knees, cradling Hildy's head in his lap and stroking her hair. He's keening softly, almost to himself. There are irregular blotches on her robe and flesh, like somebody's slapped a brush-saturated with red paint-four or five times against her. On the floor to Tommy's right lies his Smith & Wesson four-inch; on the floor to Hildy's left, her cordless hair dryer.

Since the revolver was within Tommy's reach, Murphy edged over to it, Alongi covering him. With his foot, the lieutenant slid the gun away like a soccer player in slow motion. Then Murphy let his own weapon slump down against the outside of his thigh. He said, "What happened here?"

Tommy clenched his jaw, then managed, "I was over ... by the safe . . . Closed a policy, putting the cash inside ... A door opened, and I looked up, and it was DuPage, against the wall there." My eyes went up above the safe. Jesus.

Tommy howled like a dog locked in a shed. "Only it wasn't DuPage, it was his shadow. . . . And after I turned with the revolver and fired, it wasn't even his shadow, jeez, it was Hildy's, with her robe like his coat-the belt and all-and her hair dryer like a machine gun, and ... and ..."

Tommy Flaherty just stroked the hair of his dead wife, the style fresh from the salon, her probably just wanting his take on it after shampooing. Only the style she'd chosen from among the photos I'd seen was the two-inch all-around perm. A lot like an Afro, at least in silhouette. Sergeant Detective Marilyn Alongi said, "Mother of God."

I thought, "And if he sees his shadow ..." but kept it to myself.

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