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Hardin dumped the room service tray from breakfast outside his door. He’d been staying in hotel room as much as possible, keeping in his head down. He’d taken the underground tunnel from the hotel over to the Macy’s store on State Street, picked up some clothes. Everything he had he’d bought in Africa and most of it came from Europe. Couldn’t put his finger on it exactly, but everybody else’s clothes looked just a little different. Different wasn’t what he needed just now. Although Macy’s had been a shock. Marshall Field’s gone? He remembered when he was a kid, the Field’s out at Fox Valley Mall. Not where he shopped, of course. Sears was splurging in his family. But he remembered hanging around in Field’s, the rich people carrying around those dark green bags with the script on them, bags he always figured would smell like money.
He fired up his laptop, checked his e-mail. Nothing he needed. Reached for the remote. He’d watched more TV in the last day and a half than he had in the previous twenty years.
And there was that fucker Fenn, sitting on Oprah’s couch, tears in his eyes, spilling his guts about some neighbor who’d made Fenn his regular punch for a couple years two decades back. Something about it didn’t sit right with Hardin. Fenn hadn’t struck him as damaged, just as an asshole. And so what if some guy had turned him out twenty years ago while he was getting three squares a day in his upper middle class home? Hardin figured there were a couple hundred thousand kids in Africa who would consider that an idyllic upbringing.
And then, of course, Oprah has to cue up the fucking tape – a cell phone video from the damn Darfur party that had had a short run on You Tube when the thing went down, but that was well past its shelf life.
“That’s really when I knew something was wrong with me,” said Fenn. “I’ve been doing the work in therapy, and I’ve been trying to make it right with people I’ve gone off on. But I look back at this, and I think of all the damage I did to the good work that Jerry Mooney was trying to do. And I worry about Nick Hardin – he’s the guy I’m taking the swing at here. I mean this cost him his gig with Jerry, and who knows what else a guy like that has.” Hardin noticed they’d cut the tape right after Fenn took his swing and Hardin took his fall. Didn’t show Hardin busting Fenn up.
Just great. All Hardin wanted to do was to keep his head down for a few days while Fouche put a deal together. Then he and his $10 million would find some place nice to live out their days. Now his face and his name were on Oprah. Hardin remembered bivouacking in some pissant village on the ass-end of Benin maybe 15 years back. This old jou-jou insisted on throwing the bones for them. He throws Hardin’s, and his eyes get big, and he grabs Hardin by the arm. “Beware the powerful black woman with a million eyes. She will be your downfall.” Creeped Hardin out a little at the time, but he hadn’t thought about it in years. Never figured the guy meant Oprah. Time to move. And time to get a fucking gun.
Beans Garbanzo and Snakes DeGetano were two hours into their second morning sitting on Hardin’s car when Snakes took a look down at his picture and nudged Beans. “Here he comes – make the call and pull up behind him.”
Garbanzo pulled out his cell.
“Yeah?” the voice answered.
“It’s Beans, I’m working that thing for Tony Corsco. Kill the camera.”
“OK, you got five minutes. Just remember, they got you coming in, so whatever you’re gonna do, don’t leave a mess there.”
Hardin popped the trunk to the rental and had just dropped his duffle inside when he heard a car stop behind him. He slammed the trunk shut and turned around. A skinny guy in a blue Adidas track suit got out of the back seat of a black Grand Marquis holding a 9mm Glock down along his right leg.
“Take your coat off a second, Hardin.”
Hardin had no play. He slipped off the jacket.
“Turn around once for me.”
Hardin did a slow circle.
“You ain’t packing some little sissy gun somewhere, are you?”
“No,” said Hardin.
“You cross your ankles and I see some throw away, I’m gonna take exception.”
Hardin hitched up the legs of his pants. Nothing but socks.
The guy moved away from the door and nodded his head at the back seat. “Get in and slide over. Somebody wants to have a chat.”
Hardin got in, scooting over behind the driver. The driver was a hugely fat man wearing some kind of velour pullover. The skinny guy got in on the passenger side and shut the door, staying away from Hardin, holding the gun on him across his lap.
“Let’s go Beans,” he said. The fat man drove the car out the Madison street entrance and took a left down to Lake Shore Drive, and then headed south.
Nobody said anything. They cleared the park and the museum campus, took the curve past Soldiers Field, McCormick Place sliding by on the left. The driver stayed in the right lane, keeping the car right at 50, cars flying past on the left. They sure didn’t look like Hezbullah. Looked more like something out of a Soprano’s episode. And Hardin had a bad feeling he already had all the chat he was going to get.
“This about the diamonds?” said Hardin, trying to get a feeling.
“Shut the fuck up,” said the fat man.
“Just drive the damn car, Beans,” said the skinny guy.
Hardin heard a squishy burble from the fat guy, and then the odor hit him.
“Jesus fucking Christ, Beans,” said the skinny guy.
They kept heading south until Lake Shore drive turned into South Shore drive, heading down toward the abandoned US Steel plant. The fat guy farted again. The skinny guy cracked his window.
“Mind if I crank this down a crack?” said Hardin.
“Shut up,” said the skinny guy.
“So you aren’t after the diamonds,” said Hardin.
The skinny guy didn’t say anything.
Finally the skinny guy said, “So tell me about the diamonds.”
“Better than a hundred million in uncut stones. Gotta be about the diamonds,” said Hardin.
The fat guy turned his head. “Don’t listen to this guy’s bullshit, Snakes.”
“Shut up Beans,” snapped the skinny guy. “There’s a reason I’m riding in the back and you’re driving. It’s cause your colon works a hell of a lot harder than your brains. Just drive the fucking car.”
The skinny guy twitched the gun at Hardin. “Some reason I should believe you ain’t full of shit?”
Hardin shrugged. “From the smell of things, there’s only one guy in this car full of shit.”
Skinny guy snorted. The fat guy turned his head. “You ain’t gonna be so funny in a few minutes, asshole.”
Hardin said, “I’m going to get something out of my coat, so don’t get excited, OK?” Hardin had maybe five grand of his cash in an envelope in his inside jacket pocket.
Skinny guy lifted the gun up a little. “Slow and easy.”
Hardin nodded. He shifted his hips so he was facing the skinny guy, and then he slipped his hand in his coat, grabbing the envelope and the Air France ballpoint he’d pocketed on the flight over. He dropped the envelope on the seat between him and the skinny guy, angled so the money peeked out.
“Earnest money on the rocks,” said Hardin.
The skinny guy leaned over to pick up the envelope, the gun tracking a little away from Hardin.
Hardin did two things. He shot his left hand out and clamped it down on the barrel of the pistol while he backhanded the Air France pen into skinny guy’s trachea with his right hand. The pen went in deep.
Skinny pulled the trigger, putting a bullet through the back of the passenger seat and into the dashboard, blowing up the radio. Skinny tried to keep the gun, but his mind was on getting some oxygen, which wasn’t going so well, what with a pen through his windpipe and blood running down into his lungs. Hardin twisted the gun out of skinny’s hand and slammed it hard against his forehead. Skinny slumped against the passenger door, a little blood bubbling out around the pen in his throat.
The fat guy was squirming, trying to drive the car with one hand and pull a gun off a holster on his belt with the other, but his gut was in the way. Hardin put the Glock to the back of the fat man’s head.
“OK Beans. Get the piece out real easy and hand it back here.”
The fat man worked the gun loose and handed it back to Hardin.
They were coming up on 86th street, where it cut across the railroad tracks and on to the old US Steel property.
“Turn in there,” said Hardin. “Looks like we’re going to have that chat after all.”
“OK,” said Beans.
“And if you fart again I’m gonna kill you.”
Hardin had the fat man pull the car up behind a pile of rubble most of the way down toward the lake. The whole US Steel plant was gone, ripped down, nothing but gravel and empty concrete slabs. Hard to believe. Hardin had an uncle that worked at US Steel back in the 70s. He remembered going down one time to the plant, sprawling parking lot full of Oldsmobiles and Chevys. Dirty, hulking building puking gray-black smoke out over the lake. Clanging noises, thudding noises, the big-ass ore ships in the channels at the south end of the plant, and everywhere slope-shouldered men with meaty faces in their coveralls. Now, just a flat expanse, grass poking up everywhere through the stone and rubble, like the civilization that needed the steel had been gone a thousand years.
Hardin nudged the Glock into the back of the fat man’s head. “Gimme the keys,” said Hardin.
The fat man tossed the keys to him. Hardin put them in his pocket.
“Give me the phone, too.”
The fat man unclipped the phone off his belt and tossed it to Hardin as well.
“Get your buddy out of the back seat,” Hardin said.
The fat man opened the rear passenger door, grabbed the skinny guy by his track jacket and dumped him out on the gravel. There was a little gasp out of skinny when he hit the ground.
“Jesus,” said fat man. “He still alive?”
Hardin looked down at him. Didn’t look like it. Probably just some left-over air getting forced out of his lungs. “If he is, he’ll get over it. He’s got a phone on him somewhere, too. Get it.”
The fat man went through the skinny guy’s track suit, found the phone, and tossed it to Hardin.
Hardin wiggled the gun at the fat man, and then pointed it at the pile of rubble. “Let’s head over there.” As soon as the fat man turned, Hardin kicked him hard behind the left knee, buckling his leg, and then put the sole of his foot against the fat man’s ass and shoving him face down on the ground. Guy seemed docile enough, but at his size, if he got a hold of you, it was all over. Hardin figured it would take the fat man a week or so to get to his feet, plenty of time to shoot him.
“What the fuck you do that for?” said the fat man, rolling over to sit on the ground.
“Shut up,” said Hardin. Hardin stuck the 9mm in his belt, walked over to the rubble pile and picked up a fist-sized rock.
“So who you working for?” asked Hardin.
“I can’t tell you that,” said the fat man.
Hardin took a short wind up and zipped the rock of the fat man’s right thigh.
“God!” the fat man shouted.
Hardin grabbed another rock.
“So, who you working for?”
“They’ll fucking kill me,” the fat man whined.
Hardin threw the rock into the fat man’s gut. “Been in Africa a long time,” said Hardin. “Don’t play much ball over there, so it will take a while to get loose. Seen this done though. Get up in northern Nigeria where they’re big on the Sharia law shit and they’re always stoning someone to death. Usually some skinny-assed chick they think’s been sleeping around or something. Even then, it takes awhile. Don’t know what your boss has planned for you, but this,” Hardin grabbed another rock and hit the fat man in the chest, a little harder this time, “this is one nasty fucking way to go. Big guy like you, I’m gonna get through most of this pile.”
The fat man started crying.
Hardin didn’t want to do any real damage, at least not yet. He found a smaller rock and bounced it off the side of the fat man’s head, opening a decent gash. The blood started flowing down the side of the fat man’s face and onto his shirt. The fat man put a hand to his head, and then looked at the blood on it.
“Corsco,” he blubbered. “Tony Corsco.”
“Who’s that?” asked Hardin.
Fat man looked up, stopped blubbering. “What do you mean who’s that?”
Hardin bounced another rock of the fat man’s leg. “I’m not from around her asshole, remember? So who the fuck is this Corsco?”
“Ouch. Fuck, knock that off. I’m fucking talking, OK? He’s the boss – Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, the whole Midwest.”
“Boss like mob boss?
“Yeah, what the fuck did you think?”
Not that, thought Hardin to himself. “So what’s he want with me?”
“He wants you dead, that’s all I know. Gave me and Snakes the picture, told us your car was in the garage there, told us to take you out.”
The fat man pulled a sheet of paper out of his shirt pocket and unfolded it. Screen grab from the Darfur video they’d run on Oprah. They’d been waiting when he got to the garage – which meant they’d been looking for him since before the show aired.
“Where’d Corsco get the picture?”
“How the fuck should I know?”
Hardin zinged a rock into the fat man’s shoulder, just on principal. “When?”
“Fuck,” the fat man said. Huge bubble of snot hung down from his nose, the blood from his head now covering the left side of his face, soaking into his shirt. “Yesterday, right after lunch, OK?”
Hardin knew he should kill the guy. Hell, he’d killed plenty of guys. But something about plugging the fat man while he sat on his ass bawling in the middle of a ruin just saw funny with him. Besides, Corsco’s name, Hardin still didn’t know shit. Leave the fat man around, if he saw him again, maybe he’d know more.
“Give me your wallet,” Hardin said.
“Ah man,” said the fat man, shift up on his side, fishing the wallet out of his back pocket and tossing it to Hardin.
Hardin flipped it open. “Garbanzo? Really?”
The fat man shrugged. “Why you think they call me Beans?”
“I was thinking ‘cause you fart all the time.”
“Hey,” the fat man said, all indignant suddenly. “I got a condition, OK?”
“Sure,” said Hardin, sticking the wallet in his hip pocket.
“Can I have the wallet back?” Garbanzo said. “I mean you can keep the money and stuff. I got a picture of my mom in there. I don’t got a lot of pictures of her.”
Hardin flipped the wallet back open, picture in one of those plastic sleeves. Fat woman with an Italian afro of gray hair, speed bags of chicken-skin looking fat hanging down off her arms. Hardin took the cash and cards out of the wallet and tossed it back to the fat man.
Hardin whipped one last rock at the fat man, right off his kneecap. “I see you again, your dead,” said Hardin.
OK, Harding thought to himself as he spun the Grand Marquis around. I needed a gun now I’ve got two. Not a bad morning, aside from the whole mob wanting me dead thing.
Beans Garbanzo hurt all over and had shit himself. The gash on his head had stopped gushing and was just seeping now, but the side of his head was swollen up like he was one of them Special Olympics kids or something. His leg hurt bad, and his chest hurt when he breathed. It was gonna be a long walk back to South Shore, and who the hell knew how long once he got there before he could find a phone. Fucking Snake. He’d told him not to listen to this guy about the diamonds and now look at this shit. He’d call his sister, he figured. She could drive in from Palos, he could get out some feelers, see how much shit he was in.
Up ahead, a gray Malibu turned in off of South Shore and headed toward him. The car turned about 10 yards in front of him, blocking his path. The driver’s window slid down. Olive skinned guy, hair slicked back neat, dark suit and tie. What the fuck? Corsco have somebody out on him already?
The man smiled. “Hello,” the man said.
“Yeah, hi,” said Garbanzo.
“What is your business with Hardin?”
“Who the fuck are you and what are you talking about?”
The man smiled again. “You and your dead companion abducted Nick Hardin from the Grant Park garage and drove him here. Sometime during that trip, he killed your friend and disarmed you. He then knocked you to the ground and threw stones at you until you told him what he wanted to know. Whatever trouble you may be in, and with whomever that trouble may be, you are already in it. I simply want to know what you’ve already told him. And then I will be on my way.”
That actually made sense to Garbanzo. “Yeah, what the fuck. Tony Corsco sent us – Snakes DeGetano and me – to kill that Hardin fuck.”
“And who is Tony Corsco?” the smiling man asked.
“Jesus, second guy today hasn’t heard of Tony. Who the fuck are you people? Tony Cosco runs the goddamn mob.”
“I see. And what was his complaint with Mr. Hardin?”
“Look buddy, he don’t explain shit like that to me and Snakes. He tells us kill some guy, then we kill him.”
“Thank you, you’ve been most helpful,” the smiling man said. Then he raised the .22 from his lap and shot Garbanzo three times through the forehead so quickly that Garbanzo hadn’t even twitched before the third round hit him.