Power Plays - Collin Wilcox - ebook

Power Plays ebook

Collin Wilcox



After an ice pick is used for murder in San Francisco, the Washington elite comes down on Hastings. It starts as an everyday fender bender: Two cars collide in heavy evening traffic. But when the police arrive to take statements, the occupants of one car take off running. They leave another man behind, slumped in the backseat, dead of a single stab wound to the chest. Lieutenant Frank Hastings abandons a family dinner to take charge of the scene, which rapidly devolves into chaos. The police corner one of the runners in an abandoned building, capturing him after a standoff. The night's excitement may be over, but the real trouble has yet to start. The dead man is Eliot Murdock, a washed-up political commentator who came west from DC to chase the scoop of his career. As Hastings digs into Murdock's story, he finds himself hemmed in by Washington big shots - formidable men who have made the mistake of underestimating the strength of one very tenacious cop.

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About the Book

After an ice pick is used for murder in San Francisco, the Washington elite comes down on Hastings.

It starts as an everyday fender bender: Two cars collide in heavy evening traffic. But when the police arrive to take statements, the occupants of one car take off running. They leave another man behind, slumped in the backseat, dead of a single stab wound to the chest. Lieutenant Frank Hastings abandons a family dinner to take charge of the scene, which rapidly devolves into chaos. The police corner one of the runners in an abandoned building, capturing him after a standoff. The night’s excitement may be over, but the real trouble has yet to start.

The dead man is Eliot Murdock, a washed-up political commentator who came west from DC to chase the scoop of his career. As Hastings digs into Murdock’s story, he finds himself hemmed in by Washington big shots—formidable men who have made the mistake of underestimating the strength of one very tenacious cop.

About the Author

Collin Wilcox (1924–1996) was an American author of mystery fiction. Born in Detroit, he set most of his work in San Francisco, beginning with 1967’s The Black Door - a noir thriller starring a crime reporter with extrasensory perception. Under the pen name Carter Wick, he published several standalone mysteries including The Faceless Man (1975) and Dark House, Dark Road (1982), but he found his greatest success under his own name, with the celebrated Frank Hastings series.

Power Plays

A Lt. Hastings Mystery

Collin Wilcox




Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG


Copyright © 2015 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany


For the original edition:

Copyright © 2011 by The Mysterious Press, LLC, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY. U.S.A.


Copyright © 1972 by Donald E. Westlake


Project management: Lori Herber

Cover adaptation: Christin Wilhelm, www.grafic4u.de

Cover design by Michel Vrana


E-book production: Jouve Germany GmbH & Co. KG


ISBN 978-3-95859-582-8




All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this e-book or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This book is dedicated to

Lurton Blassingame,

a gentleman


I WAS SITTING AT the head of the table; Ann was sitting at the foot. Ann’s two sons, Billy and Dan, sat on either side. The occasion was a small celebration. A grammar-school teacher, Ann had just learned that tomorrow a TV crew would film her fourth-graders as they painted a mural on a playground wall. So we were celebrating with a rack of lamb for Ann, spaghetti for Billy, macaroni and cheese for Dan and pound cake for me. It was a family-style scene, evoking family-style memories, and during the meal I’d constantly found my thoughts wandering back into the past—the distant past and the recent past. I’d been divorced for more than ten years; Ann had been divorced for two years. I’d met her a little less than a year ago when Dan, her teen-age son, had been a witness to murder—briefly a suspect. I’d been looking for Dan when I’d first seen Ann. I’d been standing on her front porch when she’d opened the door. In my left hand I’d held my badge. My right hand had been free, ready to draw my revolver. Teenagers, I’d learned, could be dangerous.

When Ann saw the badge she’d taken a quick, involuntary step backward, at the same time raising one hand to her mouth in the classic gesture of a woman distressed. She’d been wearing blue jeans and an old turtleneck sweater. Her thick, tawny hair had been loose around her shoulders. Her feet had been bare: five toes with pink-painted toenails peeping from beneath denims that dragged on the floor. Her eyes had been wide, mutely searching mine.

Even in that first moment I’d sensed something unique about her—something special, for me. Without her shoes, dressed in her old sweater and faded jeans, she’d seemed very vulnerable: a small, slim woman, deeply troubled. In her hushed, wide-eyed anxiety for her child, she’d seemed especially feminine, especially appealing. Looking down at her toes, I’d decided that she was slightly pigeon-toed. Later, I discovered that I’d been wrong.

Now, dressed in a beige silk blouse that accented her hair, sitting at the foot of a polished pine table that had been in her family for three generations, Ann seemed very assured—and still very appealing. She reached for her wineglass, smiled at me and lifted the glass in a silent toast. As she drank, her gray eyes regarded me with grave good humor. About the time I discovered that she wasn’t pigeon-toed, I also discovered the intriguing difference between Ann’s public and private personalities. With strangers she was often remote, reserved. With her friends, though, she shared a private warmth and quiet sense of pixy-lit humor.

Making love, she could be bold—playfully bawdy, even.

Noisily swallowing a huge bite of lamb, Billy turned to me. At age eleven he was a quick-thinking, quick-talking extrovert with a lively imagination and a vivid sense of himself.

“When I’m sixteen,” he announced, “I’m going to learn how to fly an airplane. That’s all you have to be—just sixteen. Then, after I get out of college, I’m going to be an aeronautical engineer. They design airplanes.”

“Oh, God.” Dan, seventeen, raised his eyes to the ceiling. “Last week he was going to be a scuba diver and discover sunken treasure. That was after he saw The Deep.”

“And after you saw The Deep,” Billy retorted, “you bought a poster of Jacqueline Bisset.”

“In her T-shirt,” Ann added, smiling mischievously. “Wet.”

Suddenly flushing, Dan lowered his eyes to his plate. Frowning, he began to cut his meat busily. Whenever Ann mentioned sex, however obliquely, Dan quickly dropped out of the conversation. If she persisted, he’d leave the room. As Billy’s high-pitched voice trilled in the background of my thoughts, I tried to recall whether I’d ever talked about sex with my mother. When I was thirteen my father had deserted us. He’d been a big, good-looking man with broad shoulders, bold eyes and an easy smile. As a young man he’d played semi-pro baseball. Later, after several unsuccessful big-league tryouts, he’d done “a little of everything.” Finally settling down in San Francisco, he married my mother and began selling real estate. Eventually he opened his own real estate office. One day I’d come home to find my mother crying. Silently, she’d handed me a letter. My father had gone away with his secretary. He was sorry, he said. He couldn’t help himself. He was taking the car, but nothing else. When he was settled, he’d send money.

Four years later he’d died in an auto accident in Texas. The car had caught fire, and he’d been burned beyond recognition. Except for the checks he mailed at Christmas, and sometimes on my birthday, he never sent us the money he’d promised.

In those four years my mother and I had never discussed sex. I was sure of it. I couldn’t remember our talking of anything substantive. We almost never argued. But we never really talked, either. She’d been numbed by despair and loneliness. I’d been trying to find my way through adolescence—alone.

Obliquely, I glanced at Dan. What were his fantasies, contemplating Jacqueline Bisset in her wet T-shirt? Dan was a handsome boy, big for his age. He carried himself gracefully. His features were regular; his dark eyes were calm and clear. He was a quiet boy, slow to reveal either anger or pleasure. While Billy warbled, Dan watched.

“Are you ready for coffee, Frank?” Ann asked.

I shook my head. “I think I’ll pass.”


“No. Nothing.”

“We’ve got some Ovaltine,” Billy said. “How about some Ovaltine?”

I smiled at him. “Thanks, Billy. But—”

In the hallway close by, a telephone rang. Dan quickly rose from the table and answered the phone. During dinner he’d already taken two calls. Both the callers, I’d guessed, had been girls.

“It’s for you, Frank,” he called. “Inspector Canelli.”

Resigned, I dropped my napkin beside my plate and pushed back my chair. I alternated “on call” nights with Pete Friedman, my co-lieutenant in Homicide. Tonight was my turn.

I waited for Dan to return to the dining room before I answered the phone.

“Lieutenant Hastings?” Canelli asked.

“Yes. What is it, Canelli?” As I spoke, I took a notebook and pen from my jacket pocket.

“Well, Lieutenant,” Canelli said heavily, “I hate to bother you. But I’ve got a real situation here, it looks like. And I gotta have some authorizations.”

“What’s the situation?”

“The situation is that there was this traffic accident at Columbus and Vallejo. It was a fender bender, no big deal. A woman driving a silver-colored Mercedes hit a couple of guys in a brown Buick. She ran a red light and hit them in the right front fender. But then, Jesus, it all hit the fan. Because the two guys in the Buick—the driver and another guy in back—they suddenly jumped out of the car and started to run. Well—” He paused for breath. Canelli had his own long-winded, rambling style, making a report. No matter how tight the time frame, he built the suspense. “Well, Columbus is pretty heavily traveled, as you well know. And there just happened to be a two-man black-and-white unit going north on Columbus that saw the whole thing. When they see the two guys running away from the Buick, one of the patrolmen from the unit took out after the driver. And his partner, he secured the accident scene. So then—” Again, he paused for breath.

“Listen, Canelli. Get to the point, will you? I haven’t had dessert yet.”

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry, Lieutenant. Well, the goddamn point is that it turns out there was another guy in the Buick. He was in the back seat. And he’s dead.”

I sighed. From where I stood I could look into the dining room. Billy was serving the dessert: chilled fruit cocktail with a slice of pound cake on the side. Anticipating the dessert, I’d only had one small helping of the rack of lamb.

“Go on, Canelli,” I said heavily. “What’s the rest of it?”

“Well, Lieutenant, I just got here. I haven’t been here for more than five minutes. So I’m flying blind, you might say. But to me it looks like the guy was either shot or stabbed. But that’s not the problem.”

“What’s the problem, Canelli?”

“The problem is the goddamn traffic, Lieutenant. It’s backed up all the way down to Market Street. There’s two sergeants from Traffic here. Ferguson and Durrant. And they’re raising hell. They want me to move the car. But I’ve told them that I can’t move the body without authorization. So they claim that all I’m moving is the car, not the body. So that’s why I’m calling, Lieutenant. For instructions.”

“You tell Ferguson and Durrant on my authority that the cars aren’t to be moved. Tell them they’ve got to set up a permanent traffic diversion.”

“Okay, Lieutenant.” It was a doubtful-sounding rejoinder.

“Make them swallow it, Canelli,” I said. “If the victim was shot, the shot could’ve come from outside the car. If we move the car, we lose our angle of fire.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Still doubtfully.

“What about the two men from the Buick? Did they get away?”

“One of them—the guy that was sitting in back—he got away. But the driver, he might be cornered. Like I said, one of the patrolmen took out after him and saw him duck into an alleyway that runs beside a three-story building. So the patrolman called for a backup, instead of going after him alone. Which was the right thing to do, of course. But then, when the backup arrived, and they swept the alleyway, they didn’t get the guy.”

“What does the patrolman think?”

“He thinks the guy’s hiding in the building. There was a window broken, so I guess he’s probably right.”

“Have you got the building sewed up?”

“Yes, sir. Sewed up tight.” He hesitated, then said, “Are you going to come down, Lieutenant?”

Reluctantly, I nodded. “I’ll be there in about ten minutes, Canelli. Just keep the lid on until I get there. Don’t move the cars. Don’t go in after the suspect. Don’t do anything except make the calls to the coroner and the lab. Just keep it cool.”

“Right. Thanks, Lieutenant. Thanks a lot.”

“You’re welcome.” I stepped into the dining room, kissed Ann, apologized, and reached across the table for my slice of pound cake. I’d eat it while I drove.


WITH MY SIREN WAILING and my red light flashing, I drove the final two blocks on Vallejo Street against an angry, wildly weaving flow of one-way traffic. Ahead, I could see the Columbus-Vallejo intersection. Canelli hadn’t exaggerated. With emergency lights winking from roofs and windshields, a half-dozen official vehicles blocked three of the four traffic lanes on Columbus Avenue. I parked beside a fire hydrant, left my card on the dashboard and locked my car. As I walked the last half block, I pinned my badge on the lapel of my corduroy sports jacket. The night was soft and warm, unusual for November. Overhead, stars sparkled in a dark, clear sky. If there was fog tonight, it lay west of the Golden Gate, miles from the city.

Columbus Avenue passes through the oldest, most historic section of downtown San Francisco. Carrying two-way traffic, Columbus begins among the towering skyscrapers of the city’s financial district, touches the bawdy glitter of the old Barbary Coast and ends at Fisherman’s Wharf. The Vallejo intersection is about halfway between the financial district and Broadway, center of the skin trade. On Vallejo Street, most of the buildings are old, built of brick and stone. Many of the buildings had survived the 1906 earthquake.

As I ducked under a makeshift rope barricade loosely strung between two lamp poles, I saw Canelli step from behind a coroner’s van and walk quickly toward me. At age twenty-seven—at a suety, shapeless two hundred forty pounds—Canelli looked more like an overweight fry cook than a homicide detective. When he walked, he waddled. When he was worried, he perspired. Now, in the glare of police department floodlights, his broad, swarthy face glistened with sweat.

As Canelli approached me from the left, Traffic Sergeant Ferguson came at me from the right. We converged close to the brown Buick sedan. The car was angled across an inside lane of Columbus, headed north. The silver Mercedes had evidently come west on Vallejo, crashing into the Buick’s right front fender and grill. The position of the cars made it impossible for either the Mercedes or the Buick to be driven forward.

Both cars were four-door sedans. On the driver’s side of the Buick, the front door was standing slightly ajar. On the opposite side, a rear door stood wide open. Ignoring Canelli and Ferguson, I stepped to the open rear door, crouched and looked inside. A five-hundred-watt floodlight had been set up to shine through the open door. In the glare I saw the body of a man propped in the far corner of the rear seat.

He was wearing gray woolen slacks, a thigh-length brown car coat and a lemon-colored turtleneck sweater. His brown loafers were brightly shined; his expensive clothing was neatly pressed. His head lolled back against the seat cushions. From where I stood I could only see his throat, the underside of his chin and his foreshortened face. His thick-growing hair was gray, modishly long. The flesh of his neck and jowls was flaccid, middle-age slack. He’d worn a tweed hat that was now jammed between his head and the cloth headliner of the car. His coat was double-breasted, with leather buttons and leather trim at the collar and cuffs. The coat was unbuttoned, open across his chest. Above his heart, the ribbed, yellow material of his shirt was stained by a small circle of blood, hardly larger than a half dollar. The blood was red, still wet. The area around the stain was smudged, as if someone had tried to rub the stain—or stop the bleeding. His left arm was close to his side, pinioned against the car door. His left hand lay in his lap, palm up. His right arm was flung away from his body, lying across the seat cushions. The fingers of both hands were crooked in death’s final claw of agony. On his left hand he wore a gold signet ring. The hands were long and thin, crisscrossed by blue veins. Like the neck and jowls, the texture of the hands suggested a man in his fifties or sixties.

Careful not to touch the car with my hands, I leaned forward through the open door until I could reach his right hand, lying on the seat. The flesh was still warm. Clammy, but still warm. He probably hadn’t been dead for more than an hour.

Still crouching, I minutely examined the interior of the car, and the seat cushions. I saw nothing—no spattered blood, no bits of discarded paper, no cigarette butts or burned matches or other refuse. My shadow lay across his legs, obscuring the floor of the car. Stepping aside and squatting on my heels, I looked carefully at the richly carpeted floor. I saw an ice pick lying between the victim’s polished brown loafers. It was a professional-style pick, with a solid metal handle. The pick’s tine was bloody, but the handle was unstained, doubtless wiped clean of both blood and fingerprints. Behind the victim’s left foot, between the loafer and the door, I caught a glimpse of a torn scrap of wax paper.

Knees cracking, I straightened and half turned to Canelli. “What’s that?” I asked, pointing to the scrap of wax paper.

“I’m not sure,” he answered. “I didn’t want to move it until you got here.”

I took out my ball-point pen, leaned into the car and used the pen to push the fragment of paper away from the victim’s foot. A larger piece of paper was attached to the fragment. Both torn pieces, fitted together and flattened, formed an envelope measuring about eight inches square. “Compress, 6 x 6 Inches” was printed in blue block letters on the envelope. I returned the fragments to their original position and backed out of the car without touching anything but the carpeting.

“It’s the wrapping from a surgical pad,” I said. I pointed to the small circle of still-wet blood in the center of the yellow turtleneck shirt. “He was probably stabbed with the pick, and then a compress was used to soak up the blood. That’s the reason for those smudges around the wound.”

“I’ll be damned,” Canelli said, surprised. Then, marveling, “That’s planning.”

“Is there anything else? Anything I missed?”

“There’s a big lump over his right temple. You can see it through the rear window.”

“Was the skin broken?” I asked.

“No, sir.”

I nodded thoughtfully, at the same time turning my attention to the front seat of the car. The mirror, I noticed, was angled so that the driver couldn’t see into the rear seat. For the first time, I realized that the car’s engine was still running—and the temperature gauge was glowing red. I took out my handkerchief and turned the ignition key, killing the engine. “Take this key to the lab,” I ordered.

I looked carefully at the death scene one last time, then stepped away from the car. Ferguson, the traffic sergeant, stepped forward. Ferguson was an old-timer—a motorcycle cop who still preferred two-wheelers to a squad car. Wearing a white helmet, dressed in a bulky double-breasted black jacket, with a big .44 Magnum swinging on his hip, he looked like a storm trooper.

“When can we move the car, Lieutenant?” His voice was thick and hoarse, roughened by years of riding in the wind. “I got traffic backed up for two miles.” As he spoke, he turned to face me squarely, gauntleted hands propped pugnaciously on his hips, fists clenched. His booted legs were spread wide apart.

“First,” I said, pointing to the body, “I’ve got to have pictures and prints and measurements.” I nodded to three lab technicians and a photographer standing close by, each carrying the tools of his trade. “And also,” I said, “we’ve got to see if we can find that driver.”

Beneath the visor of his helmet, Ferguson was scowling at me. I turned to Canelli. “Where’s the suspect? Which building?”

Canelli pointed north on Columbus, toward Broadway’s pornographic neon glare. Half a block away, two patrol cars were parked in front of a brownstone building. Three patrolmen stood in front of an alleyway that opened on the north side of the brownstone. A six-foot ornamental iron gate secured the alleyway. Since the building was attached to its neighbor on both sides, the gate offered the only outside access to the rear of the building. The gate was standing open. As I watched, a technician was setting up a floodlight in front of the open gate. A long electrical line snaked across Columbus to a portable generator placed on the opposite sidewalk. I saw the technician attach the line to the floodlight and throw a switch. The empty alleyway was bathed in bright white light.

“One of those patrolmen from the black-and-white unit knows the terrain, Lieutenant,” Canelli was saying. “His name’s Hunsinger. Or Hunsicker. Something like that. Anyhow, he’s the one I told you about—the one that chased the driver. You want me to come with you?”

Instead of replying, I took a moment to survey the scene. In the glare of the floodlight, amid the confusion of electrical cables and cordoned-off spectators and the impersonal metallic blare of police radios, we might have been on a Hollywood set. “Is anyone else here from Homicide?” I asked.

“No, sir.”

“Then you stay here. Make sure the technicians don’t screw up when they go over the Buick. Especially be careful of that compress wrapping. It’ll take good prints. Be sure it’s photographed. Then you—personally—put it in a plastic bag, and take it downtown for printing. Don’t let them print it here. It looks like the handle of the pick’s been wiped. And maybe the door’s been wiped, too. But he might’ve forgotten that wrapping. Clear?”

“Yes, sir.” Canelli nodded. “That’s clear.”

I turned to Ferguson, at the same time glancing pointedly down at the nonregulation Magnum slung low on his hip. Ferguson was a tough-talking, tough-acting cop—at least in the squad room.

“Let’s go take a look, Ferguson,” I said. “Let’s see if we can find him.”

As I turned toward the building, I thought I saw Ferguson’s habitual scowl give way to a blink of uncertainty.

“Are you Hunsinger” I asked a tall, loose-limbed officer with a narrow, unformed face and a fierce-looking gun-fighter’s mustache. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-two years old.

“That’s, ah, ‘Hunsicker,’ sir,” he said. “With a ‘k.’” His Adam’s apple bobbed apologetically.

“What’s the situation?” I asked, turning to stare into the alleyway. “Fill me in.”

“Well, ah—” Hunsicker edged toward the alleyway, at the same time awkwardly gesturing for me to precede him. “Well, we were coming south on Columbus, and we saw the accident. I was driving. So I pulled over to the curb. Just about then, the driver jumped out of the Buick and started running. I told my partner to check out the accident, for injuries.” He paused, tentatively looking at me.

I nodded approval. “You did right. What happened next?”

Hunsicker pointed back toward the scene of the accident. “The driver crossed in front of that bookstore—” His long, bony forefinger traced the route of flight. “Then he turned in this direction. I called for him to halt, but he just ran faster. This gate was half open. When he came to it, he dodged inside. I know these buildings along here. I know how they’re laid out, and I figured he was trapped. So I laid back, waiting for my partner.” Again he looked hesitantly at me; again I nodded approval.

“But when my partner got here,” Hunsicker continued, “he told me about the body. So we agreed that, first of all, we had to secure the accident scene. For evidence.”

“Good. I’m glad you did. Can you describe the suspect?” As I spoke, I studied the alleyway. On the right, a sheer concrete wall rose three stories high. On the left, I saw a doorway and three windows, all unbarred. Fragments of broken glass sparkled on the pavement beneath the third window.

“He’s medium height, medium build,” Hunsicker answered. “He ran like a young man. Dark hair, no hat. He was wearing dark pants and a light-colored jacket. It was short, like a windbreaker.”

“Did you see his face?”

“No, sir,” he answered regretfully. “Sorry, but I didn’t.”

“Did he show a weapon?”

“No. He just ran. He only looked over his shoulder once, when I first challenged him.”

I stepped back for a better view of the building. The ground floor was a lighted storefront displaying leather clothing, boots and accessories. Above the display windows I saw two floors of dark, empty loft windows under a sign that read “Anderson’s Theatricals.”

“They make theater props,” Hunsicker offered. “Scenery, things like that.”

“Is the back covered?”

“Yes, sir. But I don’t think he got out that way. I don’t think he had time. He had to’ve gone inside the building, through that window. From there—from inside the building—the only way out is by a fire escape. I knew that, so as soon as I got here and saw that broken window, I climbed up on that fence, there—” He pointed to an eight-foot fence blocking the end of the alleyway. For the first time I saw a uniformed man sitting on top of the fence. He was idly swinging his feet, like a boy dangling his legs over a riverbank. In his arms he cradled a shotgun. “That way, I could see both the fire escape and the side door,” Hunsicker said. “Except for the front door, through the store, there’s no other way out.”

“So you think he’s still in there.”

“Yes, sir,” he answered firmly. “Yes, sir, I think he’s still in there.”

“Where does that side door lead?”

“To the storeroom in back of The Latigo. That’s the name of the store. But there’s also an inside stairway that leads up to Anderson’s.”

“Have you ever been inside this building?”

“Yes, sir, I have. Several times. Until a few months ago, this was my beat on foot patrol. And, ah—He cleared his throat and shifted to a stiffer stance. “I, ah, knew a girl who worked at Anderson’s.”

While we’d been talking, two other uniformed men had arrived, both carrying shotguns. Counting the man on top of the fence, I had seven men on the scene.

I turned to the two new arrivals. “You two men cover the front, here—the door of The Latigo. You two—” I gestured to another pair of patrolmen, strangers to me. “You stay in the alleyway here for backup. The three of us will go inside.” I took a moment to coordinate walkie-talkie channels, and ordered Hunsicker to take one of the shotguns. Then I waved the four men to their posts.

As they dispersed I turned to face Ferguson and Hunsicker. “I’ll go in first,” I said. “Hunsicker, you come next. Then you, Ferguson.” I turned away and walked into the alleyway, stopping before the broken window. On the pavement beneath the window, among the shards of broken glass, I saw a length of splintered broomstick. He’d used the broomstick to break out the glass.

I cupped my hands to my mouth and shouted through the gaping window: “All right, this is the police. The building’s surrounded. I want you to come out of there. Come out through the window, the way you went in. But before you do it, sing out. Tell us you’re coming. Otherwise, we’ll blow your head off.”

No response.

“You’ve got ten seconds,” I called. “Ten seconds, starting right now.”

Methodically, I counted off the seconds while I fruitlessly strained to hear some sound of movement from inside. With the time counted out, I whispered over my shoulder, “Have you both got flashlights?”

Yes, they did.

“Okay, here we go,” I said, still whispering. “Take it slow and easy. When you’re inside, get out of line with the window.”

As I pulled myself up on the window sill and dropped to the floor inside the darkened storeroom, I was thankful that I’d worn casual clothes, eating dinner at Ann’s. Over the years I’d torn too many suits in too many dark, unfamiliar rooms.

Drawing my revolver, I stepped cautiously to my left, away from the window. Holding the shotgun in one hand, Hunsicker followed immediately, landing light on his feet. Ferguson was next, awkward and noisy, dropping to the floor with a board-rattling crash.

“Stay here,” I ordered. “I’ll find a light switch.” With my eyes growing accustomed to the dim light from the window, I made my way between rows of stacked packing cases to an inside door. I found the switch, alerted the two officers, and turned on the overhead lights. While I stood motionless, Ferguson and Hunsicker searched the storeroom, unsuccessfully. I checked the door to The Latigo’s showroom. It was securely locked from the inside.

“Here, Lieutenant.” It was Hunsicker’s voice. “Here’s where he went.”

I found Hunsicker standing before a short flight of stairs that led to an old-fashioned glass-paned door marked “Anderson’s Theatricals.” The door was closed, but the small pane closest to the doorknob had been broken out.

“I’ll go up first,” I said, eyeing the two patrolmen. “Don’t bunch up behind me on the stairs, in case something happens. When we get up there, let’s spread out. Clear?”

In unison, the two men nodded. Hunsicker’s eyes were steady, meeting mine squarely. But second by second Ferguson was looking less ferocious. He was unable to meet my eyes—unable to keep himself from repeatedly swallowing.

I pointed to Hunsicker’s shotgun. “Have you got a round in the chamber?” I asked.

“No, sir.” Properly, he’d waited for orders.

“Do it.”

He jacked a shell into the chamber, then eased down the hammer. I nodded. I didn’t want him behind me with the gun’s hammer raised. At close range, a round of twelve-gauge buckshot would take off my leg. I would take a chance on the extra second it would take him to cock the gun and fire.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s do it.” I shifted my revolver to my left hand and used my right hand to reach cautiously through the broken-out pane and turn the doorknob from the inside. Then, standing aside, I pushed the door slowly open. Backlight from the storeroom illuminated the first few stairs of a longer flight that ended in darkness on the floor above. I saw a light switch just inside the door. Motioning for the two patrolmen to stand back, I flicked on the light at the top of the stairs.

Instantly, a shot crashed.

Then another.

The light exploded, showering incandescent fragments down on the stairs before us.

In a sudden, desperate confusion of guns and awkward limbs and incoherent obscenities, each of us found cover.

“God—damn.” It was Ferguson, blustering. “Goddamn son of a bitch.” Looking at him, I saw the six-inch barrel of the Magnum trembling. The gun’s hammer was drawn back, ready to fire.

“Lower that hammer,” I breathed.

Momentarily, he blinked at the fury in my voice before he looked down at the gun. Then, with the muzzle pointed at the ceiling, he lowered the hammer.

As I reached for Hunsicker’s walkie-talkie, I looked again into the young patrolman’s eyes. His answering gaze was still steady and calm.

“Bring some tear gas and a launcher to the alleyway window,” I ordered, speaking softly into the walkie-talkie. “And three gas masks. Now.”

On the walkie-talkie, a disembodied voice acknowledged the order.

“You take them through the window, Ferguson,” I ordered, “and holster your goddamn weapon.”

Muttering, he rose from his crouched position and wheeled away, angrily thrusting the Magnum into his hog-leg holster as he stalked toward the open window. I was standing close beside the open door, protected by a narrow angle of the wall. Hunsicker was in a similar position on the other side of the doorway. I watched him take off his hat and put it carefully on a packing case. Without the hat, Hunsicker looked even younger, more vulnerable. His sandy hair grew in cowlicks, like a boy’s.

“Give me the shotgun,” I whispered, holstering my revolver. “You shoot the gas.”

Silently, he handed over the shotgun. At the same time he stole a quick glance up the darkened stairs. From above, I thought I caught the sound of floorboards creaking. At the same moment I heard a familiar voice from behind me: “Psst. Lieutenant. Want me to come inside?” Holding a grenade launcher, Canelli stood in the open window. Seeing the familiar face, I was conscious of an irrational, knee-weakened rush of relief.

“Come in,” I whispered. “Bring the equipment. Leave Ferguson outside.” Then, as Canelli began clambering through the window, I stopped him.

“Tell Ferguson to put two men directly under the fire escape.”

Relaying the order, Canelli finally managed to struggle through the window with the tear-gas paraphernalia. Moments later, with the gas masks covering our faces, we were ready.

“Here goes the gas,” I said, speaking softly into the radio. “Is that fire escape double-covered?”

“It’s covered.” I recognized the rasp of Ferguson’s voice.

I put the walkie-talkie carefully on a lower step, then looked at Canelli. “Ready?” My voice was a stranger’s, muffled by the gas mask.

Pressing his outsized body against a sidewall, Canelli stood with his revolver crossed over his chest. Behind the goggle-round lenses of the gas mask, his soft brown eyes evoked the irrational image of a benevolent space visitor. Slowly he nodded. I turned to Hunsicker, asking the same question. He cocked the grenade launcher, released the safety catch and nodded. Beneath the gas mask his Adam’s apple moved convulsively.

“All right,” I said. “Do it.”

Quickly, Hunsicker ducked around the door frame, fired the grenade, than ducked back to safety. On the floor above, the grenade popped. A moment later I heard the angry hiss of C.S. gas.


Quickly, Hunsicker reloaded the launcher and fired. His movements were quick and sure.

“That’s enough,” I said. “Let’s—”

From upstairs I heard the sudden sound of violent coughing.

“We got him.” As I spoke, I stepped into the open doorway, holding the shotgun ready. Yellowish clouds of gas were billowing out of the darkness at the top of the stairs. The coughing was sharper now—but seemed to come from farther away. Footsteps rattled on bare wooden floors; something crashed to the floor, toppled by the blinded man above. The sounds came from my right, toward the back of the building. I realized that I was perspiring heavily. Inside my gas mask, the plastic eyepieces were fogging over. Beneath my mask, the gas combined with perspiration, stinging my neck. Belatedly, I realized that I should have buttoned my collar.

“Throw the gun down,” I shouted. “I want to hear it hit the floor. Then we’ll take you out.”

Two shots roared, followed in a few seconds by a crash of glass. A moment later Ferguson’s voice came from the walkie-talkie: “He’s thrown something through the window, back here. A chair. The window’s on the fire escape.”

I picked up the walkie-talkie. “You’d better take cover, Ferguson. Don’t take any chances.”

“Don’t worry.” Even through the soft sizzle of the walkie-talkie’s static, I could hear the fervor in his voice. Suddenly I realized that in all his years on the force, Ferguson had never faced a gun.