Companions of Fear
"I want you two to seriously consider this," said Chinslow. "By next Thursday either I pay Johnny St. Martin two million or I'm a dead man. That means if I'm a dead man, then you two are dead men. Understand?" He flicked his cigarette over a small pile of ash on the desktop next to the ashtray.
Gage, a gray man in his early fifties, crew cut and a twice broken nose, shook his head and whistled low. He sat in a rocking chair too small for him, his arms hanging straight, one leg crossed over the other. His gaze was fixed on the toe of his wingtip while Chinslow glared.
"Two million in a week or I'm finished."
"Johnny would have us killed too if you don't deliver?" asked Mink, who sat in a folding chair to Gage's right, also facing the boss, also averting his gaze.
"Forget Johnny, I'll kill you both myself if you blow this job. You won't make it till next Thursday."
Gage sat forward and looked up to meet Chinslow's stare. "Relax, we'll take care of it."
Mink nodded and said, "No sweat."
Chinslow stubbed out his cigarette in the pile of ash. He waved his hand to clear the smoke and sat back. "You're right," he said. "I do trust you two, which'll show you how fucked I am."
"What do you want? You want us to lighten some wallets?" asked Mink.
"No, I want you to go to this address I'm gonna give you and pick a woman up and bring her here without calling attention to yourselves." His tanned face was a loose sac and the rings beneath his eyes nearly shiners. The white pants and blue blazer looked slept in. His comb-over had erupted into a tiny storm.
"What do you mean by pick her up?" asked Gage, getting to his feet. The boss held out the slip of paper with the address on it.
"She may take some persuading, but she lives alone, no husband, no kids. I doubt anyone'll miss her for a few days," said Chinslow.
Gage folded the piece of paper and slid it into the interior pocket of his gray blazer. "We've got this covered," he said.
"What's her name?" asked Mink.
"Nestis March," said the boss.
"That's a crazy name, Nestis, but I've heard it before," said Gage, squatting back into the rocker.
"Was she on the television?" said Mink. "I think I might remember that too."
Chinslow lit another cigarette. His eyes were half-closed. "Do you remember last year when that kid went missing? The boy from up on 10th street? After he didn't turn up for a few days, they figured he'd been abducted. They searched for him everywhere, cadaver dogs, Amber alert, helicopters, road blocks, volunteers, crying jags on the tube. Nothing."
"That's right," said Mink. "The cops brought in that psychic and she showed them where the body was. The guy had buried the kid alive in a box."
"Scumbag," said Gage. "Did they get to him in time?"
Chinslow shook his head. "The kid was history, but the old lady also helped the cops find the killer. When they finally caught up with him in the basement of a boarded deli over in the Crumble, he'd already put a bullet in his head. "
"So you want Ms. March to locate some buried treasure for you?" asked Mink.
"Sort of," said the boss. "Guess what's happening Tuesday?"
"We're getting a raise?" said Gage.
Even the boss laughed.
"Actually, you might," said Chinslow. "But what's happening is the drawing of the powerball. It's up to 30 million."
"You've got to be shitting me," said Mink. "You're gonna get the old lady to pick you a winner?"
"Look," said Chinslow, "I'm desperate. St. Martin's guys'll go to work with the ice picks and then make me eat my own dick before they cut my throat. Besides, this woman is touted as the real deal. She doesn't advertise, she works solely with the cops, and she takes no fee. She's a fuckin saint."
"You don't think she ever gets the urge to hit the track?" asked Gage.
" I had her tailed. She doesn't work, she has no relatives we could find and yet she lives in her own house in a pretty nice neighborhood on the east side of town. She shops, she drives a car. All that costs money. Where's it coming from?"
"That plan's pretty thin," said Gage. "A lot of ifs."
"Thin or not, I'm gonna squeeze a winner out of her if I have to choke her till I get a hernia."
"What makes you think she won't tell the cops afterward?" asked Mink.
"The cops?..., either way, whether I win the powerball or not, we're gonna ice her. We'll ship her corpse over to the Beautician and he'll shred her in that machine he's got. Then you guys can take my boat out and disperse Nestis March chum all over the ocean. She can't be traced without a crab net."
"Cool," said Gage, "but if this fails do you have a plan B?"
"This is plans A,B,C,D,E, and F for fucked. She's gotta come through for me. We'll make it happen." Chinslow's tired eyes were wide, and he was sweating.
"If you don't mind my asking," said Mink, "what'd you blow the two million on?"
"I do mind you asking. Now get the hell out of here. Treat that woman like she was your mother."
Mink stood, tall and lanky. He wore a baggy black suit, white shirt, and a string tie. He had a crew cut and a two inch scar on his left temple . "Later, Chin," he said and headed for the door of the boss's den. The instant he turned away, his face broke into a smile.
Chinslow closed his eyes and rested back in his swivel chair. Gage stood and hesitated a second, taking in the sight of the boss. As he passed down the hall to the front foyer, he shook his head and whispered, "This could be it."
Out in the enormous driveway, Mink stood, arms folded, leaning ass to trunk against Gage's ancient, sea foam green sedan. As soon as he noticed his partner approaching, he laughed. Gage tried to hold it back but couldn't. Eventually he dried his eyes, and said, "This shit is serious, though. If the Chin goes, we go. And if you ask me, he's already gone a long way."
"Just get him a psychic and the powerball and he'll do the rest," said Mink and laughed again. "But I get what you mean. He used the term, "desperate." That really sums it up."
"Listen brother, as this thing goes down, we're gonna have to stick together," said Gage. "If worse comes to worse, I'm pretty sure, if we play our cards right, we could wipe out St. Martin and his grunts in a couple of nights."
"Brave talk from an old man."
"True, what it'll probably come to is us having to run away and hide."
"Of course, I'm in," Mink said and pushed off the car. He held his hand out to his partner and they shook on it.
Gage drove slowly across town, hunched over the steering wheel.
"When are you gonna let me drive?" asked Mink.
"Never," said Gage. "You know what I was thinking?"
"Say this psychic woman gives him a winner. If he hits, it's two to Johnny, which leaves him with 28 pounds of flesh. I'm betting he'll give us a retirement bonus of, shit, I'm thinking big."
"$500,000 a piece?" asked Mink.
"That's what I'm hoping."
"Let's stop on the way and get a bottle of Count Brown's."
"Agreed," said Gage.
"Man, I don't want to be there when he watches that power ball drawing slide like a wet deuce into the crapper," said Mink. "That's gonna be a one-legged dog of a situation."
"After you left the room, he fell asleep. I was looking at him for a minute, thinking about all the shit he pulled for money and power and here's where he winds up. Death's at his backdoor and his response is to kidnap an old lady."
"No one wins," said Mink. "I knew that when I was ten."
"It's come as a surprise to me," said Gage.
"It won't be the last, I'm sure."
Gage slammed the breaks. "This mother fucker in the black CRV. He drives like he's inventing it. I should send him to the Beautician and push his car off a cliff."
"The next left for Doodle's," said Mink.
"I could find it with my eyes closed."
"I thought they were ."
Gage turned the wheel . The car had four bullet holes in its trunk, rusted fenders, and a passenger side door that sometimes popped open going around sharp turns. It sailed into the lot of the liquor store and parked beneath the huge Doodle's sign, which depicted an empty Scotch bottle with a pathetic clown trapped inside. Gage took out his wallet and removed eight singles. He handed them over to Mink, who opened the door and got out. He said, "I know Count Brown's, but which one do you want -- the Short Days or the Long Nights?"
"What's the one with the lemon in it?"
"Short Days. The Night shit has pomegranate. Good choice." Mink shut the door and Gage watched him cross the parking lot. Once his partner was in the store, he adjusted the rear view mirror so that he could survey the action on the street behind him. While glancing every now and then into the glass, he removed the semi-automatic from his shoulder holster. He popped out the clip, checked it, loaded it again, and returned it to the holster. Then he searched his left jacket pocket to ensure the extra clip was there. Satisfied, he loosened his tie, turned on the radio and leaned back, keeping his gaze on the mirror. A girl group sang and he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. The wind picked up and blew litter and dead leaves. Dark clouds moved across the blue.
Back in the car, Mink unscrewed the plastic cap on the Count Brown's and took a long drink. He handed it to Gage.
"Every time I taste it, for a second, I picture a girl in a hula dress under a palm tree," said Mink.
Gage wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Exotic in a cheap-ass way."
"We should save some for Ms. March, she's probably an old lush," said Mink.
Gage started the car and backed out of the parking space. "Say she's really psychic, she could know what you just said about her."
Mink looked upward and said, "Nestis, are you there?"
"It's just dawning on me that she could have a gun, which could get sticky, especially if you consider she knows we're coming."
"If she can see the future then she can see we'd plug her if she pulled a gun on us, and so she knows already it's smarter just to come along quietly and meet the Chin."
"So she'll be all packed up and waiting for us when we get there?"
"She'll have her travelling gloves on," said Mink and passed the bottle. At a red light, Gage took two quick pulls. He belched and said, "That lemon is good at first, but after a while it turns to medicine."
"Pass it back. I want to see if I can catch another glimpse of the hula girl.""There's only one thing to consider here," said Gage. "Is Nestis March a fraud with a gun or a fraud without one? Everything else is bad breath."
...to be continued...