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7

Lieutenant Jack Fawcett was tired and exasperated, and he didn't care who knew it.

He didn't like being roused from sleep in the predawn hours to drive across town and stand above the remains of two leaking stiffs, even though the assignment was nothing new or extraordinary for a lieutenant in homicide division. It was still a drag, even after fourteen years on the job. It would always be a drag.

He watched the uniformed officers moving listlessly as they herded the little clutch of sleepy residents back from the crime scene and onto the sidewalk. All around the little cul-de-sac, people in bathrobes and slippers were sprinkled across lawns and sidewalks, gawking morbidly at the silent residue of violent death.

Behind Fawcett, to the east, the sky was showing the faintest line of pink along the horizon. On the little residential street it was still dark, however, the scene lit eerily by the flashing lights of black and white police units and the city tow truck he had ordered up.

If Jack Fawcett couldn't sleep, hell, nobody would sleep.

The tow truck had just finished winching the long sedan over and onto its tires again from its previous inverted position. The medical examiner's two orderlies were removing a limp body from the driver's seat, laying it out on the street for preliminary examination. To Fawcett's right, in the middle of the street, a second prone figure lay shrouded in linen.

A young junior-grade detective approached Fawcett. His youthful face was already hardened around the eyes and mouth from exposure to violent death. He carried a large manila envelope, the contents jingling, and popped it open to show Fawcett a glittering pile of shell casings inside.

"Nine millimeter," the young detective said. "We picked up a couple dozen back there." He jerked his thumb over one shoulder to indicate the middle of the cul-de-sac.

Fawcett grunted in reply, unwilling to waste words on the obvious.

The young detective wouldn't be put off. He was anxious to display his knowledge and professionalism for the ranking officer on the scene.

"Probably an Uzi," he began, "or a Smith and Wesson M-79. Of course, it could have been..."

"What about the D.O.A.'s?" Fawcett interrupted gruffly. "Were they packing?''

The young cop faltered, breaking his verbal stride, finally nodding.

"Uh, that's affirmative," he said. "We found a silenced .380 back where the vehicle started its roll, and the driver's wearing a .45. The .380's been fired recently."

Fawcett allowed himself a small, sardonic grin.

"Turkey shoot," he said softly to himself.

"How's that?"

Fawcett scowled, scanning the crime scene with narrowed eyes and a pointing index finger.

"See for yourself," he said. "These cocks came barreling in here, hell for leather and ready to rip. Only they weren't ready enough."

"A mob hit?" the younger man asked, sounding excited.

Fawcett shrugged wearily. "What else?"

It was the young cop's turn to frown.

"Well... maybe radicals... or..."

Fawcett snorted. "When was the last time you saw radicals riding around after midnight in fancy suits? Jesus."

The young man's face reddened; he half turned away from the lieutenant, trying to hide his embarrassment from his superior officer. Fawcett sensed that he was on the verge of making an enemy and pulled back, his tone softening.

"Listen," he said more gently, "why don't you finish inspecting the scene and get started on your report. You know how to handle it?"

The young detective brightened immediately as he realized he was being placed in temporary charge of the investigation.

"Yes, sir," he snapped, almost standing at attention. "I'll get right on it."

He hurried off, barking orders at a pair of uniformed patrolmen and bustling around personally to examine the ruined hulk of an automobile.

Fawcett ambled over to where the middle-aged coroner's assistant, an old acquaintance and sometime friend, was crouched beside the dead man from the car. As he approached, the M.E. glanced up and shot him a sarcastic grin of welcome.

"Well, now," he said, "I thought you were working days."

Fawcett treated the guy to one of his best scowls.

"I'm working when they call me. Somebody thinks this one's special, I guess."

The medical examiner cocked an eyebrow.

"Somebody could be right. I haven't seen one like this in... oh, two, three years."

"Do I need to ask the cause of death?" Fawcett inquired listlessly.

The M. E. straightened up, knee joints popping like small-arms fire.

"Take your pick," he said amiably. "Multiple bullet wounds to head and chest, obvious internal injuries from the crash. They had a rough night, Jack."

"You read this as an organization thing?" Fawcett asked, lowering his voice slightly.

The medical examiner nodded. "Gotta be. Who else plays these kinds of games?"

"Nobody," Fawcett answered wearily. "I'll need a copy of that report."

The examiner smiled and lit a cigarette, blowing the smoke in Fawcett's direction.

"Right now, or just immediately?"

"Everybody's a comedian," the homicide lieutenant growled, turning away and walking back to his unmarked cruiser.

He had reached the vehicle and had one hand on the door when a big man dressed with expensive good taste materialized beside him, as if out of thin air. Fawcett blinked twice, glancing rapidly around the scene and wondering where in hell the guy had come from.

"Jack Fawcett?" the big guy asked, smiling thinly.

The lieutenant's eyes narrowed with instinctive suspicion.

"Who's asking?"

The big guy flashed an official-looking card, then pocketed it again before Fawcett could focus on it.

"La Mancha, Justice Department," he said, smile fading. "We need to talk."

Fawcett exhaled heavily. "It figures."

The big guy raised a curious eyebrow. "How's that?"

"Sure, whenever the wise guys start to burn each other, the federates are never far behind."

The man called La Mancha nodded toward the cluster of officers and rubberneckers around the battered crew wagon.

"You're calling this a syndicate hit?" he asked.

"Hell, yes," Fawcett snapped. "It's got all the signs."

The big guy was circling Fawcett's cruiser, already climbing in on the passenger side as he said, "Let's take a ride. I'm parked around the corner."

Cursing softly, angered by the fed's take-charge attitude, Lieutenant Fawcett slid behind the wheel, fired the cruiser's engine, and put the unmarked car in motion.

"The Twin Cities are supposed to be quiet, Jack," La Mancha said when they were rolling.

Fawcett shrugged, further annoyed by the first name familiarity.

"Sure, sure, but hell, who can figure these animals? Probably they got mixed up in some damned vendetta or something."

"Maybe."

The big fed's tone was clearly skeptical.

Fawcett bristled, shooting a sidelong glance toward his uninvited passenger.

"You don't think so?"

La Mancha avoided the question, changing the subject.

"How's business in homicide, Jack?"

Taken by surprise, Fawcett blinked rapidly, putting his thoughts in working order.

"Huh? Aw, nothing special. Why?"

"I understand you've got yourself a headcase who doesn't like the ladies."

Just like that, cool as you please. Fawcett stiffened in the driver's seat, hoping at once that it didn't show. He felt his guts going into a slow barrel roll.

"First I've heard of it," he answered after a moment, fighting to keep the tightness and hostility out of his voice.

"Really?"

The goddamned guy next to him was all cool, calm, and collected, sitting there calling Jack Fawcett a liar without really saying so. The lieutenant began to see red and fought the feeling down. He swung the cruiser in to curbside and stood on the brake, forcing an even tone into his voice as he turned toward La Mancha.

"What the hell is this all about?" he demanded. "What does the organized crime unit want with a headcase?"

"Who said I work the org crime unit?"

The damned guy was smiling at him!

Fawcett's insides completed their roll. He felt dizzy.

"Well... I just assumed..."

The federal man's smile broadened, without gaining any warmth.

"You know what they say about assumptions, Jack."

"Well, what do you want?"

"I'm with SOG," La Mancha said simply. "Sensitive Operations Group."

Fawcett was nonplussed.

"I, uh, guess I'm not familiar with that unit," he said.

"It's need-to-know, Jack. You don't."

Fawcett felt as if he had been slapped.

"So, okay," he said, forcing a casual tone he didn't feel, "why are we having this conversation?"

"I was asking you about your problem. The headcase."

"And I'm telling you that there isn't any goddamned headcase. I don't know where you get your information..."

"That's right," the big guy cut him off, still smiling. "You don't."

Jack Fawcett felt like a tire with the air slowly leaking out of it.

"Listen, La Mancha, somebody's been feeding you a line. There's no way I wouldn't know about something like that."

"That's what I thought," La Mancha said, nodding.

Fawcett's hands fidgeted on the steering wheel like nervous spiders.

"Okay," he said. "So you asked, and I told you. That's it, right?"

"We'll see."

"Well, what the hell..."

"About those D.O.A.'s, you may need to rethink the syndicate connection."

Fawcett was on firmer ground now, and he felt some of his old self-confidence returning.

"Says who?"

"Call it intuition," the fed replied. "While you're at it, you might want to pick up the other three."

He was already out of the car and leaning in through the passenger's window, big forearms neatly crossed on the frame.

Fawcett was flustered now, hopelessly confused.

"Other three what?" he asked.

"Bodies, Jack," La Mancha said patently.

And the man called La Mancha proceeded to tell the dumbfounded Jack Fawcett exactly where and how to find a Caddy with three cold ones in the trunk. Fawcett had just enough presence of mind to memorize the details for future use.

"You have to get on the right side of this thing, Lieutenant," La Mancha was saying from the window. "We don't want to see a career man get caught with his pants down."

Jack Fawcett felt numb.

"I don't know what you're talking about, mister."

The federale's smile was back in place.

"Okay. I'll be in touch in case you change your mind."

And Fawcett was still trying to think up a snappy retort to that when he noticed that the big guy was gone. He craned his neck, catching a brief glimpse of the man's retreating back in the rear-view mirror before he disappeared entirely. After another long moment, Fawcett came to himself and put the cruiser in casual, aimless motion.

I understand you've got yourself a headcase.

Jack Fawcett cursed, softly and fluently. It would be the homicide lieutenant's job to find out how much this guy knew and where he was getting his information.

And along the way, he might have to check up and see just who Mr. No-Name La Mancha really was. That Justice Department ID looked okay at first glance, and yet...

Another thought came to Jack Fawcett, banishing all others in an instant.

He would have to get in touch with the commissioner, no doubt about that. And no delaying it, either.

He checked his watch, wincing at what it told him.

The commissioner wouldn't like being roused from a sound sleep this early in the morning. When you reached his station in life, you were accustomed to something like bankers' hours.

Fawcett grinned mirthlessly to himself. If I don't sleep, nobody sleeps, he thought.

But he didn't feel the bravado, not down inside where his guts were still quaking and shifting.

And he wasn't looking forward to his next encounter of the morning. Not one damned bit.


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