INVITATION TO A SIDDOW
“I think we got him on RICO,” Alexa said as soon as they left Valentine’s estate. “Once we get the rest of the money, I can pay the budget office back and tomorrow you can start shutting down the movie.”
“Honey, what you did back there was brilliant. That extra money buys me a few days.” She turned to stare at him, so Shane rushed ahead. “Valentine wants me to go to Jersey to meet Don Carlo DeCesare. If I can get Little Caesar on tape offering us money, then we’ve got one of the biggest goombas in organized crime.”
“Shane…” It was said as a warning.
“It’ll only mean staying open till Monday, and I don’t think we’ll spend all that much money over the weekend. Check with Filosiani, see what he says.”
“He’ll say do it. He still hates the DeCesares from when he was in New York.”
“Look, we’ve got some serious money now. Valentine’s half a mil oughta see us through.”
Alexa nodded but said almost nothing all the way back to North Chalon Road. Once he pulled into the driveway and parked, she finally turned in the front seat to face him. “Look, I think I need to apologize to you.”
“I’ve gotta say this.” She sighed. “You did the right thing on Farrell. You read something on him at that party, you looked into it, and it turned out to be true. I was wrong to make you promise not to check him out. I mean, if I really thought Farrell was so bulletproof, what was I afraid of? I’ve been thinking about it since you told me. I must have sensed something wrong, too. We’re cops; cops follow hunches. You did the right thing. It’s just…”
“You want her life to be perfect.”
“She’s due for some happiness, Shane.”
“Honey, there has to be a reason she keeps falling for these dirtbags with tans. It’s like she’s got some kind of tragic flaw.”
“I’ve never seen her so in love. Now one of us has to break this to her.”
“If you want, I’ll do it,” Shane said.
“No, I think it should be me.”
“Before you do, at least let me go to his bachelor party tomorrow night.”
“You don’t have to do that now.”
“Look, there’s still an outside chance that we’re wrong.” A puzzled expression crossed her face.
“I got the prints off the gold lighter he was using to light everybody’s cigars in the pool house. It’s possible somebody else handled it after he did.”
She continued to sit very still, afraid to invest any hope in that idea. They both knew that the facts were against them. Why would he be a clean screen on everybody’s computer unless WITSEC was controlling it? But for Nora’s sake, they were both praying for a long shot.
“I can get a fresh set at his bachelor party. This time, I’ll hand him a clean glass, make sure nobody else touches it, then we check it against the prints on the lighter. I think we should be absolutely, one hundred percent certain before we do anything.”
“I guess that makes sense.” She opened the door, got out of the car, and Shane followed.
Alexa took her briefcase out of the trunk, walked a few feet to the Crown Vic, then Shane opened the door for her.
“Y’ know, it would be nice to have a little winery up in Napa Valley, take Chooch there…” Shane said. “Live a simple life without all these hairpin turns and abrupt stops. Being in this house makes me wonder if maybe we couldn’t have more in our lives.” Shane hated the sentence even as it was coming out of his mouth. But then he thought, what was wrong with trying to improve? Shane was tired of rubbing elbows with drug dealers and gang leaders. What had once seemed a noble profession now seemed like useless calisthenics.
“You’d die of boredom,” Alexa said, frowning.
“Probably right.” Then, to escape her look of disapproval, he changed the subject. “I gave Chooch’s plates and picture to CRASH. They’re gonna look around for him up in the Hills.”
“Whatta you really think he’s doing?”
“Amac doesn’t believe Delfina has been kidnapped, but I’m not so sure. I think there’s a good chance the Crips or Bloods snatched her to slow him down. I also think Chooch is out driving around looking for her. That’s what’s got me frightened.”
She thought about that for a few moments, nodded, then kissed him on the lips. “I’ll try and get home a little earlier… before midnight, if I can.”
Once he was back inside the house, Shane was struck by a profound sense of loneliness. He walked through the halls looking for Carol’s cat and found Franco sitting on the kitchen counter. “Hope you washed your hands and feet before walking around up there.” The animal cocked his head, and then, almost as if he understood, started furiously licking his paws. “Too fucking late, buddy. Damage is done.”
He put Franco down, found the cat food, and set it out. Then he grabbed the last Amstel Light out of the fridge, sat in the living room, and tried to pull his thoughts together. He had trouble simmering on all burners. It seemed a reasonable assumption that Crip and Blood gangsters would research Amac’s family, his girlfriends and lovers, looking for any leverage they could use against him. His aunt had gone back to Mexico, but Delfina stayed behind, and now she was missing. Amac had told Shane he didn’t think she’d been abducted, but the more he thought about it, the more he knew that was probably bullshit. The last thing Amac would want right now was police interference in his personal revolution.
Shane dreaded the idea that Chooch might be driving around South Central asking questions, searching for her. But right now, there was nothing he could do to stop it. He didn’t know how to find his son, couldn’t even talk to him. All he had to ease his fears were the messages on the answering machine in Venice.
Suddenly Franco jumped into Shane’s lap and walked up his chest until he was standing up, nuzzling his face. Shane could smell cat food on Franco’s breath. Then, with Carol’s cat purring in his ear, Shane’s thoughts turned once more to her tragedy. Carol had paid the ultimate price. More depressing still, nobody had claimed the earthly remains of the prettiest girl from Teaneck, New Jersey. As a teenager she’d been sought after and adored; now she was just another dead junkie whore. The cop assigned to investigate her murder regarded it as a troublesome nuisance. Nobody wanted to pay for her funeral. Her value had slipped to zero.
Suddenly the doorbell rang.
Shane didn’t move; he was bone tired and didn’t want to answer it. The bell rang several more times. He had a sinking feeling he knew who was out there. He put Franco down, got to his feet, and crossed the room, again reholstering his 9mm Beretta Mini Cougar from his ankle to the handier spot at the small of his back. When Shane opened the door, Silvio Cardetti was on the porch cutting an ominous, garlic-breathing hole in the view.
“I figured it was one of you guys,” Shane said.
“Mr. Valentine wants you should go to a sit-down.” Only he pronounced it “siddown.”
“I just saw Mr. Valentine an hour ago.”
“He wants t’see you again.”
“Mr. Valentine oughta start scheduling regular business appointments instead of sending you guys out to ring my bell in the middle of the night.”
“Mr. Valentine don’t like scheduled appointments.”
“Yeah, well, I do, and right now I’m in for the night.”
“Here’s the deal on that,” Silvio said softly. “If Mr. V sends me out to do a job and I fuck it up, then I’m in the shitter. This is not good for my career, or my health. If you cause me this embarrassment, I will be forced to hold you personally responsible, which won’t be good for your career or your health.”
“You threatening me, Silvio?”
“Fuckin’ A. Now, come on, don’t make this into something we can’t get over.”
Shane heaved a deep sigh. “Can I get my coat?” “You look fine to me. Let’s go.”
“Do I follow you?”
“Not this time.”
He led Shane over to a new blue Mercedes four-door. Two overdeveloped steroid cases in suits were standing in front; a third, even larger man was on the far side of the car. All three of these American buffaloes were on the balls of their feet, ready to rumble. Silvio opened the rear door, stepped back, then moved several feet away.
This felt bad to Shane-like a ride he wasn’t coming back from. Maybe Dennis had figured him out, maybe he had someone down at Parker Center who had blown Shane’s cover.
Everything told him not to get into the car. Nobody knew where he was going; he could disappear without a trace. Shane was still ten feet away from the two guys by the driver’s door when Silvio made a tactical mistake. He passed between those two gorillas and Shane. In that second, he was vulnerable. Shane was tempted to push Silvio into his backup and take off, try to get away, slip between houses. But some instinct stopped him.
Then the moment of Silvio’s vulnerability passed. Shane had to take the ride.
He smiled, then turned to get into the car. As he did, Silvio reached out and plucked the gun from Shane’s belt, disarming him. When Shane spun back, Silvio was holding the Mini Cougar. “We’re all friends. You ain’t gonna need this.”
Shane was pushed into the backseat of the Mercedes, crushed between Silvio and a three-hundred-pounder.
The driver of the Mercedes put it in gear. As they pulled away, Shane saw Franco watching from the windowsill in the front hall, and he wondered if he would ever see Carol’s marmalade cat again.