Sipping the soda pop. Spicier than Coca-Cola. He liked it.
Paul considered his situation. If it was O'Banion or Rothstein or Valenti, well, none of them gave a good goddamn about Malone, a crazy riveter from the shipyards turned punk mobster, who'd killed a beat cop's wife and done so in a pretty unpleasant way. He'd threatened more of the same to any law that gave him trouble. Every boss in the area, from the Bronx to Jersey, was shocked at what he'd done. So even if one of them wanted to touch off Paul, why not wait until after he'd knocked off Malone?
Which meant it was probably Dewey.
The idea of being stuck in the caboose till he was executed depressed him. Yet, truth be told, in his heart Paul wasn't too torn up about getting nabbed. Like when he was a kid and would jump impulsively into fights against two or three kids bigger than he was, sooner or later he'd eventually pick the wrong punks and end up with a broken bone. He'd known the same thing about his present career: that ultimately a Dewey or an O'Banion would bring him down.
Thinking of one of his father's favorite expressions: "On the best day, on the worst day, the sun finally sets." The round man would snap his colorful suspenders and add, "Cheer up. Tomorrow's a whole new horse race."
He jumped when the phone rang.
Paul looked at the black Bakelite for a long moment. On the seventh ring, or the eighth, he answered. "Yeah?"
"Paul," a crisp, young voice said. No neighborhood slur.
"You know who it is."
"I'm up the hall in another apartment. There're six of us here. Another half dozen on the street."
Twelve? Paul felt an odd calm. Nothing he could do about twelve. They'd get him one way or the other. He sipped more of the Royal Crown. He was so damn thirsty. The fan wasn't doing anything but moving the heat from one side of the room to the other. He asked, "You working for the boys from Brooklyn or the West Side? Just curious."
"Listen to me, Paul. Here's what you're going to do. You only have two guns on you, right? The Colt. And that little twenty-two. The others are back in your apartment?"
Paul laughed. "That's right."
"You're going to unload them and lock the slide of the Colt open. Then walk to the window that's not sealed and pitch them out. Then you're going to take your jacket off, drop it on the floor, open the door and stand in the middle of the room with your hands up in the air. Stretch 'em way up high."
"You'll shoot me," he said.
"You're living on borrowed time anyway, Paul. But if you do what I say you might stay alive a little longer."
The caller hung up.
He dropped the hand piece into the cradle. He sat motionless for a moment, recalling a very pleasant night a few weeks ago. Marion and he had gone to Coney Island for miniature golf and hot dogs and beer, to beat the heat. Laughing, she'd dragged him to a fortune teller at the amusement park. The fake gypsy had read his cards and told him a lot of things. The woman had missed this particular event, though, which you'd think should've showed up somewhere in the reading if she was worth her salt.
Marion...He'd never told her what he did for a living. Only that he owned a gym and he did business occasionally with some guys who had questionable pasts. But he'd never told her more. He realized suddenly that he'd been looking forward to some kind of future with her. She was a dime-a-dance girl at a club on the West Side, studying fashion design during the day. She'd be working now; she usually went till 1 or 2 A.M. How would she find out what happened to him?
If it was Dewey he'd probably be able to call her.
If it was the boys from Williamsburg, no call. Nothing.
Copyright © 2004 by Jeffery Deaver.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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