I’m back, Mammon fans — first chapter written on a treadmill, so if it reads like none of the blood is making it to my brain anymore, let me know. As always, referrals are welome. And thanks for reading.
Lynch and Bernstein started the morning going through red light camera shots from the intersection near the shelter. The problem was, the camera only took a shot when someone ran the light, so they had to put all the spots in order, make a timeline, see if they could pick out any likely cars. Lynch had the tech guy send up shots from so far that morning as well. Several cars in sight of the camera were still there, or were parked within a spot or two of where they’d been that night – had to be locals. Bernstein made a list of the plate numbers and sent them to be run. Local could have done it or could have seen something, but it didn’t feel like it.
Starting an hour or so before the game, each shot would show cars cruising the street, hoping to save the $35 it cost to park at the stadium. About forty minutes to tip off, Bernstein got a clean shot of a Lexus backing into a spot and ran that plate. It was registered to a Harry Weber in Lisle.
“Christ,” Lynch said. “You park a car worth forty grand on that street trying to save twenty bucks?”
“No explaining people,” said Bernstein.
They flipped through the post game shots, but the Lexus was gone about half an hour before the shooting at the shelter. Five minutes before game time, a black Escalade that had been parked one spot up from the shelter was gone, replaced by a medium gray sedan with a low roofline. There was an old Suburban in front of it, so they couldn’t make out much on the vehicle, just part of the roof and the top corner of the windshield on the driver’s side. Again, they flipped to the post game shots. Somebody ran a light about ten minutes before the shooting and the car was still there. Next violation was twenty minutes later, and the car was gone.
“Looks like a Malibu,” said Bernstein. “One of the new ones. You think?”
“Yeah,” said Lynch. “What’s that white spot on the windshield? Some kind of sticker?”
Lynch called the IT guy who had pulled the photos, gave him the ID number on the shot. They IT guy blew it up on his screen, couldn’t get a lot of resolution, but he told Lynch it looked like one of the bar code stickers some of the rental car companies put on the windshields of their stock. Lynch asked him to run through anything they had around the stadium half mile in every direction for the 10 minutes before and the ten minutes after the first and last shots of the car, get him the plate number of every gray Malibu – bonus points if it had the white sticker. Guy said he would, but it was going to take a day or so.
Lynch was about to grab some coffee when the desk sergeant called up from downstairs.
“Got a Kim Martin here to see you – says you talked to her out at the UC on the Stein thing?”
“OK,” said Lynch. “Send her up.”
Martin was less made up, hair in a pony tail, wearing jeans and a Blackhawks jersey that was too big on her. It hung down off one shoulder, showing the strap to a running bra. Perky. Still perky. She sat in the chair next to Lynch’s desk. Bernstein rolled his chair around.
“So, Ms. Martin. What can I do for you?”
“It’s about that man from Abe’s box – the one I thought I remembered? I saw him again today.”
Lynch sat up in his chair. “Where?”
“On TV. He was on Oprah. Well, not on Oprah, but on a clip they ran.”
“You know Shamus Fenn is in town, right, shooting that film? And there’s been all this stuff coming out about him being abused when he was just a kid? Well, he was on Oprah, and they showed the clip from that big charity party they had in Darfur last year? When he got in a fight with that guy? It was all over the news then.”
Lynch had a vague recollection – some stupid drunk celebrity shit. “Yeah, OK, I remember that.”
“The guy from the box? He was the one that got in the fight with Fenn. That’s where I’d seen him. The video was all over You Tube back then.”
Jesus, thought Lynch. I got a dead zillionaire, a dead one-armed refugee, and now some mystery guest at an African charity party who punched out a movie star – and both him and the movie star where in town. “They mention his name?”
“I wrote it down. Nick Hardin. They said his name was Nick Hardin.”
Hardin knew he had to move, had to get outside of town, get some space to get a line on things. He took the Marquis back up to the garage, dumped it, drove his rental back to O’Hare, grabbed the EL back downtown, then jumped on the Burlington out to Aurora. Going home.
Hardin left for the Legion in 1994. Of course he wasn’t Hardin then. He was Mike Griffin. He was home on leave at the end of his second hitch in the Marines, ready to re-up, on the road to being a lifer. It was a few weeks before Christmas. He hitched up with his best friend from high school, Estaban Sandoval – they were heading out to celebrate Estaban’s kid sister’s 21st birthday. Hardin always thought Juanita was a cute kid, but he hadn’t seen her in three years. Now, she was a knockout.
Griffin had plenty of dough saved, and he was playing big shot. Dinner at Red Lobster out at the mall, which was about as high end as Griffin knew back in those days, and then the old Toyota dealership on New York street that some guy had turned into a dance club. Juanita was turning some heads. Fuck that, she was turning all of them. And Griffin was falling for her. Halfway through the night, on the way to the men’s room, he told Estaban.
“I think I’m getting a little thing for your sister, man. You cool with that?”
Estaban slapped him on the shoulder. “Better you than most of the scum in the neighborhood, dude. You gonna be a gentleman, right?”
“Part of the Marine code, hombre.”
They danced, they drank, best night Griffin had had in a long time.
Closing time, Griffin, Estaban and Juanita were walking out to the car, halfway across the lot, when a stretch Caddy cut them off. Tiny Hernandez and two of his goons got out. Hernandez ran the Latin King’s gang on the east side. He was also the younger brother of Jamie Hernandez, who was a major dealer tied in all the way to Mexico. Tiny looked like a human cement block – six feet tall, six feet thick, a flat, feral face on a stump neck.
“I been watching you, muchacha,” he said to Juanita. “You like the finest thing ever been in that dump. I ‘m gonna take you out, show you were the real players hang.”
Juanita just shook her head, hanging back behind Griffin’s shoulder.
“Thanks for the offer, sport,” said Griffin. “But I don’t think she wants to go.”
“You got shit in your ears? I didn’t ask. Puta like that, she don’t know what she wants, not till I give it to her.” Hernandez’s goons got a chuckle out of that.
Hand-to-hand training is a big deal in force recon, where Griffin had spent his last four years, one of them playing whack-a-scud with a few Mossad boys who were supposed to be home in Isreal. They’d schooled him pretty good in their Krav Maga moves, too, which was some nasty shit. And Estaban was no pussy – he and Nick had their share of scrapes. The east side wasn’t easy on pussies.
Nick caught the look from Estaban – no way his sister was getting in that car, and nothing good was going to come of waiting for the other side to make a move. Estaban yelled for Jaunita to get inside, put his shoulder down and drove into the goon on the right, catching him in the gut, driving him back against the Caddy hard. Griffin feinted toward Tiny, knowing the other goon would rush to help, then planted, turned and put a knife strike into the guy’s throat. Way the guy went down, he might be dead. Too bad. Hernandez had is hand is his coat, a nine coming out – Griffin closed, locking both hands on the pistol, turning it down and in. Hernandez pulled the trigger, blowing a hole through the inside of his own thigh. Griffin twisted the gun out of his hand as Hernandez went down. He turned to check on Estaban. The first goon had soaked up the slam against the car and had forty pounds on Estaban. The goon got a knee up into Estaban’s groin, shoved him back, and pulled his gun. Griffin shot him the goon through the side of the head.
Hernandez was on the ground, cussing, blood arcing out of his thigh.
“You gonna die, you fuck. You know who I am? You gonna fuckin’ die.”
“You first, sport,” said Griffin. “That’s your femoral artery emptying out there. Unless you’re up on your first aid, you got maybe a minute or two before you bleed out.”
Hernandez looked down at the blood jetting out into the parking lot for a moment, then looked back up to Griffin. “Jesus, you gotta help me. I mean this shit? We let it go, right? Shit happens. But you gotta help me.”
“No,” Griffin said, turning back toward the club, where Juanita was waiting. “I don’t.”
The DA didn’t file any charges. The Aurora cops knew Hernandez and backed Estaban and Griffin right down the line. But a week later, some dumb-ass kid, maybe sixteen, made a try for Griffin with a knife while Griffin was in the checkout line at Jewel. Word was out. Jamie Hernandez wanted Griffin’s head on a wall, and he’d pay top dollar to whomever delivered it. Even the Marines was no good – Griffin had seen enough gang sign carved into enough latrines to know better.
Estaban and Juanita drove him to O’Hare the day he left for France.
“I owe you my life,” Estaban told him as they shook hands. “Anytime, anywhere, you need me, you call.”
Juantia stepped up, held Griffin’s face in her hands, and kissed him.
Hardin had been dreaming about that kiss for sixteen years.