Another day, another chapter, MAMMON fans. Can I keep up the pace? We’ll see . . . Got a comment? Question? let me have it. Need to catch up on the story? You can read all twelve chapters right here. Thanks for reading.
The tech boys pieced together a whole show on Hardin. Lynch and Bernstein watched on Lynch’s computer. Hardin gets off the plane. Hardin takes the tram to the car rental center, Hardin rents a white Ford Fusion. Got the plate on that, called the Hertz people – Hardin had used ID that said he was Nigel Fox. Ran that, Nigel Fox had been at the Hyatt down on Wacker until yesterday, turns out he was some British newsie Hardin ran with back in Africa. Ran the plate numbers on the Fusion through the system, Hardin had it parked at the Grant Park Garage from maybe forty minutes after Stein got hit until yesterday morning. Dropped the car back at the airport, took the EL back into town, jumped the commuter rail out west. That’s where they lost him. Didn’t do them any favors there, either. Train he caught was the local, twenty five stops between Chicago and Aurora.
“We figure he drove back from our South Shore crime scene to the garage, right?” said Lynch. “Just before he took his rental back to the airport? Rental never moved. Let’s see if we can’t rewind that.”
Back on the phone with IT. The entrances to the Grant Park garage were all near Hurley’s Millenium Park, his zillion-dollar-over-budget vanity fiasco., like some garish noveau riche attempt to one-up Central Park in ten percent of the space. There was the bandstand that was supposed to be another of Chicago’s architectural marvels, but that looked pretty much like a beer can that had been blown open with a firecracker. There was the Great Lawn, the one the security guys were always chasing the actual Chicagoans off of, had to keep the grass nice for when the paying customers from the suburbs came down for the concerts. There was the Bean, a giant, stainless steel kidney bean parked right in the middle. Supposed to be called Cloud Gate, Lynch remembered the artist getting his knickers in knot when even the media started calling it the Bean. Lynch wondered what it was about Chicago sometimes, some sense of civic inferiority or something that made them open up the checkbook for any artist looking for a payday. You had the Picasso, god knows what that was supposed to be. Across from that, next to the county building, there was what looked like a cement amputee with a fork in her head. You had the red spider or whatever it was down by the Federal Building. Even a giant baseball bat in the West Loop.
Millenium Park being Hurley’s baby, though, it was wired wall to wall.
Only took a few minutes. IT guy pulled up a shot of Hardin ducking into one of the stairwells off Randolph, tracked him back through the park , got him parking a black Grand Marquis on Columbus, behind the Art Institute. Ran that for a while, saw the tickets stack up, then the wrecker coming and hauling it off to the pound.
“Looks like the right ride,” said Lynch. He and Bernstein were at the auto pound lot on lower Randolph, gloves on, taking a first look at the car. The Marquis had some blood on the inside of the right rear door, some on the seat next to it. Also, there was a bullet hole through the front passenger seat, looks like the round hit the radio.
“Got a shell casing stuck in the seat cushion there,” Bernstein said, pointing.
“So the gun ever turns up, we can match it up. Match the blood to skinny from down on South Shore, and we got this Hardin guy roped in to that solid.” Lynch popped open the glove compartment, took out a sheet of paper and unfolded it. Picture of Hardin from that Oprah clip, with some writing on the bottom. WHITE FUSION GL4 655 GRANT PARK GARAGE NORTH END.
Lynch held the paper out to Bernstein. “This went down yesterday early, right?” Bernstein said.
“Little quick to have a screen grab from Oprah, don’t you think.”
“And what were a couple of goombahs doing with Hardin’s license number and location before we even had it?”
“That’s the one really eating me,” said Lynch.
Pound attendant came back down from the office. Lynch had sent him in to run the VIN.
“Got reported stolen up at Old Orchard three days back,” the attendant told them. “Retired couple up in Glenview. Plates are off a junker, scrapped better than a year ago.”
Lynch’s cell rang. McCord again. “Hey,” Lynch said. “We found your car from South Shore, or at least one of them. You’re gonna have to get some techs over to the pound and process it.”
“Got something for you too,” said McCord. “That pen? Got a hit on the prints. Michael Xavier Griffin. He’s in the DoD database. Marines, 1986 through 1994. Nothing in CID, so he was a good boy, far as we know.”
“Sure, except he used to be Michael Griffin and now he’s Nick Hardin. You know a lot of good boys that change their names?”
“Yeah,” said McCord. “Or that know how to kill an armed man using a pen.”
“There is a self-serve Italian restaurant called Pompeii on 56 near Highland, in front of the Home Depot,” said Bahram Lafitpour. “Be there at 3:00 pm. Sit near the windows. Have a sample with you.”
“How am I going to know you?” said Hardin.
“I’ll know you, Mr. Hardin. You’re famous. Part of your problem, as I understand it.” Lafitpour hung up.
So Hardin was sitting near the windows, trying to decide whether the pizza was any good, but he’d lost his frame of reference. Hadn’t had pizza in 15 years. A large man walked in, looked around the room, then stepped aside. A medium-sized man walked directly to Hardin’s table. Tan suit, natural shoulder, very Brooks Brothers, but a couple dozen notches up the couture food chain. Starched white shirt, plain black tie. His graying hair was combed straight back and gelled in place. He sat.
“You have your sample?” the man asked.
“Nice to meet you, too,” said Hardin.
The man smiled briefly, but not like he meant it.
“The sample,” he repeated.
Hardin pulled the small canvas bag from his pants pocket, same one he’d given Stein. Lafitpour held it out a little to his side and shook it, still some dirt on it, then held it up at shoulder level. The larger man came, took the bag, and left the restaurant.
Hardin had another bite of the pizza. The man sat across from him, hands folded on the table, looking him directly in the eyes. Didn’t seem to blink much.
“So,” said Hardin. “I can’t decide. The pizza any good here? Been a while since I had any.”
The man smiled again, said nothing. His phone rang. The man opened it, held it to his head, listened for a moment, closed the phone, put it away, pulled a business card from his pocket and slid it across the table to Hardin.
“Your sample checks out. Be at this address the day after tomorrow at 2:00 pm. Have your account information and the rest of the material with you. You can bring the pistol you are wearing on your left side under the jacket if it makes you feel any better.”
“Thanks,” said Hardin. “I will. It does. Do I get my sample back?”
The man smiled again, got up and left.
Bahram Lafitpour pulled a tissue from the dispenser in the back of the Bentley and wiped his hands. The small bag had been dirty. That displeased him. The diamonds checked out and his read was that Hardin was exactly who he said he was. But really, his end of this would be a couple million at best, maybe two and a half if Hardin was gullible. Hardin didn’t seem gullible. Lafitpour was long past the rashness of youth, the age when he weighed his wealth solely in money. Or even predominantly in money. Favors, those owed and those owning. This was a man’s real balance sheet. He considered his course of action. Fouche would be upset, of course, but Fouche was not someone he needed. The Russians? A few years ago, more of a concern. But Putin had reigned in the criminal element, or, perhaps more accurately, nationalized the criminal element. Anyway, the men Lafitpour would run afoul of on this particular deal? A word in the right ears in Moscow, official ears, a few details about a deal gone bad and those involved . . .
Lafitpour opened his cell phone and placed the call.
“Bahram, a long time, sir. What can I do for you?”
“Mr. Martin, I just wanted to call to congratulate you on your new position. One grows tired, at the Bureau, I can assume.”
“You’re quick on the draw. They haven’t even announced it yet.”
“One hears things,” Lafitpour said.
“Yeah, well, you do, anyway. And I assume you’ve heard something else. Not really your deal, courtesy calls.”
“Quite right, Alex. There is a small matter I’d like to discuss, something that might allow you to make a bit of a splash, get your days as the US Attorney off on the right foot . . .”
Hernandez watched out the windows of the Gulf Stream as it made its descent into DuPage Airport, coming in from the southwest, over the east side of Aurora. From the air, he picked out the parking lot where his brother had died. Where his brother had been killed. The brother he had never avenged.
Not fully. Sandavol, he was dead. Hernandez had been with the crew that grabbed him, had watched while they used the blow torch on him, had used the torch himself. Had cut Sandavol’s throat himself, holding Sandavol’s head up, starring into the one eye he hadn’t burnt out with the torch, making sure the cabron’s last vision in this world was Hernandez’s face. He’d learned all there was to learn. Sandoval had taken Griffin to O’Hare, dropped him off at the International terminal. That was the end of the road.
Sixteen years. His brother dead and in the ground sixteen years and Griffin alive and breathing somewhere. Hernandez had never stopped looking. Or so he told himself. But was it true?
You forget, just a little, he had to admit that to himself. His power grew. His wealth grew. The complexities of running the business grew. Whole states in Mexico where he was power as much as the government, more than the government. Distribution networks – into Mexico, into the US. The gangs in the major cities all over America, managing those relationships, trying to keep over-armed teenagers focused on moving his product instead of on their silly imaginary wars with the gang up the street that looked sideways at their girls . . .
Had he done all he could? Who can know? He had contacts looking, all over the world. Every night, before he slept, his last thought was of his brother. And it was in that moment, the night before, that this Lee had called. Griffin’s fingerprints. In Chicago. He’d read through the e-mail package from Lee, the murder scene, Corsco’s people involved – he would talk to Corsco. The Hardin identity.
The wheels hit the tarmac. Lee would be waiting. Hernandez’s Chicago contacts would be waiting. Soon, very soon, he would be Griffin’s last vision of this world. And by that time, Griffin would be glad to see this world go.