|Jump Street Archive|
The vagrant huddled against the side of an 18-wheeler and propped an unlit cigarette between his lips. His breath formed a plume in the frigid night air, and the nails of his hand, visible where the fingers of his gloves had been cut away, were blue with cold. He crouched in the meager shelter of the truck, shielding himself from the wind and the harsh glare of the overhead arc lamps that flooded the shipping yard, while he hunted through his clothing for a light. The pockets of his filthy, ragged jeans contained nothing, and his flannel shirt produced only a disposable lighter that had long ago surrendered its last flame. From the depths of his overcoat, where they had slipped through a hole into the pocket lining, he finally dredged up a crumpled book of matches.
In the flare of light from a match, his features were suddenly visible. His face, though pale and pinched with cold, was much younger than his defeated posture and decrepit clothing might suggest. Long, scruffy, jet black hair tumbled around his face and over his shoulders, falling forward to mask him from view as he bent close to the tiny flame. Almond-shaped eyes gazed blankly at the light, with a kind of unearthly calm in their brown depths.
He took a long drag on the cigarette, then he tossed the match into the gray slush at his feet. As the light went out, he sank again into the dense shadows of the winter night, becoming nothing more than a shadow himself, marked by the glowing tip of his cigarette.
Harry Ioki settled his shoulders back against the panel of the truck and turned his gaze toward the shrouded sky that seemed to sit, brooding, on the top of the light poles that ringed the yard. He smoked in silence, his face calm, his eyes empty and unblinking, no trace of his thoughts visible. In fact, he was not thinking about anything much. He was listening, straining to hear over the whistle of the wind and the hum of the powerful arc lights, all his attention focused on the shipping office and the men who had disappeared inside it a few minutes ago.
Just as he lit his third cigarette, he heard the door creak open, and the voice of the foreman came to him clearly.
"Lemme see how many crates we got. The shed is full, but we maybe got room for 'em in here."
"I still don't get why we gotta unload 'em," another voice grumbled. "We're just gonna turn around and put 'em back on the damn truck."
Two pairs of heavy footsteps squelched through the slush toward Ioki's hiding place. He quickly sat down on the ground, arranging himself in his best vagrant posture.
The foreman growled, "Save it, Jake. You know the drill. 'Sides, Keeler's coming to inspect this lot himself. There was some kinda problem with the last shipment from down south."
The footsteps stopped at the rear of the truck. Ioki huddled into his coat, wishing silently that he didn't have to sit in a freezing puddle, and pasted a look of utter vacancy on his face. As the two men drew near, he let his head fall limply back against the truck's tire and mumbled something in Vietnamese. The footsteps halted. A switch clicked loudly, and Ioki assumed that the foreman had turned on a flashlight.
"Son of a bitch! What the hell is he doing here?!"
"He's been here all day," Jake answered. "He was sleeping in the shed, before, but I figured..."
"Get him away from the truck. And get him off the lot, before Keeler shows up! Jesus, Jake, you want the Boss to see some lousy bum hanging around here?"
"Aw, he's harmless. Poor little guy."
"He's not a stray cat, you idiot. He's a filthy, brain dead bum, and he doesn't belong in the yard!"
"Hey, I seen you giving 'im half your donut yesterday."
The foreman muttered something under his breath, then barked, "Just get rid of him. Now."
Ioki ignored the conversation, still huddled against the truck and talking to himself in slurred, broken Vietnamese, until Jake grabbed his upper arm and hauled him to his feet. Harry staggered to catch his balance, in a very good imitation of drunken disorientation. Then he lifted his head and turned his most vacant and confused gaze on the larger man.
Jake hesitated and his grip softened, as he wilted under the power of The Look. They all did, even the biggest and meanest bruiser on the lot. That was how Ioki had survived nearly two weeks of this masquerade in one piece and how he'd managed to get into the yard when his colleagues were kept out on the sidewalk. In the perverse way that otherwise cold, brutal people have of warming to small and helpless creatures, the teamsters had adopted him. They gave him bits of food, cups of coffee, and a sheltered place to sleep in the worst weather. And they shielded him from the wrath of their bosses, even going so far as to "forget" orders to evict him from the yard.
This time, Jake could not pretend that he hadn't heard the foreman's instructions, but he still treated his pet vagrant with surprising care. With a firm hand on Ioki's arm, he guided him toward the gate and the small kiosk that stood just inside it. He planted Ioki in the deep shadows behind the building, where neither the foreman nor Keeler would be likely to spot him.
"Stay here, outta the way, kid. Catch some Zs. Nobody's gonna hassle you."
Ioki crumpled up in an abject, obedient heap against the flimsy plywood of the kiosk and schooled his features into blank stupidity. Jake gave him a rough pat on the shoulder, then lumbered back across the yard, in the direction of the truck. Ioki took advantage of the darkness to make himself completely invisible. He stubbed out his cigarette, pulled his dark coat around him, and ducked his head to shield his face from the overhead lights. The shadows swallowed him up. He fell totally still and concentrated all his attention on listening.
He could hear the foreman opening the rear of the truck and climbing inside. Crates moved against the floor of the trailer. The foreman called something to Jake from deep inside, his words muffled, then clambered down the lowered tailgate and landed with a crunch on the half-frozen ground.
"We're gonna have to clear out the shed. There's no room in the office to sort all this stuff. How many boys we got on tonight?"
"Doby's whole crew, and those two new guys Mr. Keeler sent over. They're in the shed."
"Good. Get 'em started making room for these crates. And Jake, I don't want them anywhere near this truck, got it? Especially the new guys!"
"I got a phone call to make, then we can start unloading."
With that, the two men trudged away to the buildings at the back of the yard, leaving Harry alone with the cold and the darkness. He waited until he heard the door of the office bang shut, then he fished out his pack of cigarettes and lit a fresh one to help him think.
The truck stood, unattended and unlocked, only fifty feet away, tempting him. That truck was his sole reason for being here tonight. He had to get inside it and find out what Keeler's southern distributors had sent him in those crates, before Keeler got to them. If he succeeded, if he found something they could use to nail Keeler, then this miserable case would be over. He could burn his filthy clothes, wash his hair, soak in a hot bath for about a year, and feel like a human being again. And then he could spend an evening with Ty - lovely, fastidious Ty - whom he missed more with every cold, hungry, lonely day that passed. Yes, he had to get into that truck, if only so he could get clean enough that his girlfriend could stand to be close to him again.
It had to be now. He could not afford to wait until those crates were moved or Keeler, the big, bad Boss himself, made an appearance. It was now or never.
Harry ground out his cigarette and pushed himself stiffly to his feet. It took him a moment to get his circulation going again, then he stepped away from the shelter and support of the kiosk. He had developed a very good sense of direction over the last two years, and he could still hear the voices of Jake and the foreman replaying in his head, pinpointing the location of the truck for him, so he headed for it unerringly. For what felt like an hour in his current jumpy state, he crunched over the icy ground toward his goal without meeting any obstacles. Then his knee cracked painfully into a three-ton chunk of steel. He had found the truck - the hard way.
Quickly now, while a little voice in the back of his head screamed at him to hurry, he followed the trailer around to the tailgate. Sure enough, the foreman had left it standing wide open. He hopped onto the ramp and swore under his breath, as his boots rang alarmingly against the cold metal surface. Dropping to his hands and knees, he crawled up the canted surface, being careful not to knock his toes against it as he went. Luckily, the inside of the trailer was lined with plywood, and he could walk on it without waking the entire neighborhood. Two steps in from the opening, he ran headlong into a pile of wooden crates.
His hands were sweating, in spite of the cold, as he pulled the pocketknife from the top of his heavy boot. Adrenaline flooded his system, and for the first time in two weeks, he did not notice the arctic chill in the air. With the blade of the knife, he pried up the lid fairly easily. Inside, he found an abundance of sawdust, a layer of shrink-wrapped objects, and finally, a tightly packed heap of cellophane bags. A careful incision, a cautious inspection, and the contents were revealed as refined heroin.
Smiling grimly to himself, Ioki began repacking the crate. Keeler would know someone had been in it, but by that time, it would be too late. Their pet vagrant would be history, and the police would be lined up outside the gate.
He was still up to elbows in sawdust and cheap Japanese toys, when he heard the office door bang shut. Rapid steps approached the truck, and the foreman called, "Let's get rolling, Jake!"
Harry jerked his hands out of the crate and reached for the lid, which he had propped carefully against his own leg for quick retrieval. Slapping it down on the crate, he ran for the tailgate. His hand closed around the edge of the door, and he dropped to a crouch, ready to swing himself down and to one side of the lowered ramp in the same motion.
"What the fuck?!!" the foreman yelled, and he lurched to a stop in amazement at the sight of the vagrant framed in the back of the truck. Ioki glanced up at him, frozen, momentarily at a loss for what to do.
That half-second of hesitation saved Ioki's life and cost the foreman his own. The bomb planted beside the maintenance shed detonated just as the man broke stride, his huge body directly between Ioki and the concussive blast. In spite of that modicum of protection, the explosion picked Ioki up and tossed him into the truck with bone-breaking force. His head struck the corner of a crate, and he crashed to the floor, unconscious.
*** *** ***
Tom Hanson tore down the street at full speed, leaping effortlessly over frozen puddles and dodging pedestrians who had stopped to gawk. He could still see the fireball expanding above the rooftops. Every power pole was limned in a ghastly, orange glow, and a rain of debris was beginning to sift down onto the streets. He put on another burst of speed and rounded a corner onto Hudson Street.
Two blocks, and he would be there. Two blocks, and he would know if the knot of panic in his stomach was paranoia or premonition. 'Please, God,' he thought, 'please let me be crazy! I'll sit there and take it, while they laugh themselves sick at me, just don't let that be what I think it is!'
A stabbing pain in his side forced Tom to slow his headlong pace. Fighting impatience and fear, he dropped to a swift walk and sucked air into his straining lungs. He could see a familiar stretch of cyclone fence ahead and, to his horror, a phalanx of police cars and fire engines converging on it. The fierce blaze behind them threw the vehicles into sharp relief. With a small sob of frustration, Tom broke into a run again.
He arrived at the gate just in time to see an ambulance back into the yard. Uniformed officers and frightened teamsters crowded around it. Sidling between two onlookers, Tom pushed his way up to the fence and peered through the mesh.
For a full minute, he just stood there, his fingers locked around the freezing wire, his eyes staring uncomprehendingly at the destruction in front of him, trying to accept what he saw. The maintenance shed was gone - nothing left but smoking hunks of wood and a few bits of paper floating down out of the smoky sky. The entire north end of the big storage shed was engulfed in flames, as was the main office. Tom counted at least three motionless bodies lying in the mud, all of them large men in work clothes, and a half dozen other men staggering around the wreckage.
Big men, all of them. Big. Too big. Even that hump of singed fabric by what used to be the office could not be anything less than two hundred pounds of dead meat. But somewhere in this mess, there had to be one smaller person, one slight figure in a tattered overcoat and fingerless gloves. He had to be here, somewhere...
Tom's fingers tightened desperately on the fence, and he shook it in an outpouring of helpless rage. This could not be happening! Not again, not to them! After all the odds they'd beaten and all the holes they'd climbed out of, this simply could not be happening!
Flinging himself away from the fence, Hanson crossed to the gate. A burly Uniform guarded the entrance, and he stopped Hanson with a hand on his chest.
"Sorry, sir. I need you to step back."
"I have to get in there!"
The cop shook his head. "Emergency crews, only. Please step back and keep this area clear."
"There's someone..." His throat closed up for a moment, and he had to swallow hard before he could try again. "I think a friend of mine is in there."
"Give me his name, and I'll pass it on to the Lieutenant."
"He didn't have any ID on him." Tom fixed wide, panicked eyes on the cop and asked, "Have they taken anyone out, yet? To the hospital, or the... morgue?"
"Not yet. Paramedics just got here. Try to relax, sir, and be patient. Let us do our job."
Tom muttered a word of thanks and turned away. He knew the cop was only trying to be helpful, but he had no intention of waiting for a bunch of strangers to come out and tell him that his partner had gotten his head blown off by a bomb. He had to get inside that fence. Now.
He headed back up the street at a run. At the corner, he found a convenience store with a payphone on the sidewalk outside. He pulled a handful of coins from his coat pocket and fed them into the phone.
On the third ring, the line opened and he heard Doug Penhall yawning into the receiver.
"Doug?" he called, before the other man could speak.
"Huh? What's up, Tom?" There was a pause, while Doug glanced at the clock, then he spoke again with a distinct edge to his voice. "Something's wrong. Did you meet Ioki at the yard?"
"No. There's been an explosion."
"At the shipping yard. Someone blew the place to hell."
"I don't know. I was on my way over there when I saw the fireball go up. By the time I got there, the place was crawling with emergency crews, and I couldn't get in. I looked for Iokage, but..."
"Maybe he'd already left," Doug offered, desperately. "Or maybe he got out after the blast."
Tom's tone was grim and certain. "He knew I was coming, Doug, and he knows which route I always take to get there. He'd have found me by now."
"He's in that yard somewhere, and I'm damned well going to find him."
"I'm on my way."
"Good. But Doug..."
"What? What?!" he demanded.
"Bring Fuller with you." Dead silence met his words. "If you call him... tell him what happened... he'll come. And he'll get us inside the gate."
"You really think he'll do it?"
"For Harry, yes."
"I hope you're right, man."
* * *
Captain Fuller stood in the middle of the shipping yard, eyeing the destruction in patent disbelief. The two young men flanking him recognized the set, grim look he wore as one of concern, not anger, but they both did their best to make themselves inconspicuous. Fuller had a nasty habit of taking the heads off of those who stood too close to him in this mood.
"You want to tell me what Ioki was doing in here?" he growled. His burning glare touched Penhall first, but Doug was too consumed by his own shock and horror at the scene in front of him to answer, so he turned on Hanson instead.
"We're on a case," Hanson explained, almost apologetically.
"That's not good enough, Hanson. Not if you want my help."
"I can't tell you any more than that. We have to protect our cl... uhhhh..." A glance at Fuller's face choked the words off in his throat. After a moment's silent struggle with himself, he said, "We're trying to get the goods on Keeler."
"I'd already figured that much out!" Fuller snapped. "But do you hot-shots have any idea who you're messing with?! Spiffy Keeler is one of the biggest mobsters on the West Coast. He's rumored to have connections as far away as Chicago, New York, Colombia, and even Hong Kong. The man has buried more cops than you've ever met in your life. And you think you're going to waltz into his main distribution warehouse, and waltz out again with the evidence to put him away?"
Doug shook his head firmly, though his eyes still dwelt on the burning office. "We weren't planning to put him away. We just wanted a little leverage."
"Why?" Fuller demanded.
Penhall glanced over at Hanson and saw agreement in his eyes. Client confidentiality be damned. If Fuller needed information, they would give it to him. "Keeler's been trying to force our client out of business. Burning his warehouses, threatening his employees, stuff like that. Our client wants Keeler off his back, and getting him in hot water with the local cops, or even the Feds, seemed liked the best way. A guy I know in Intelligence says they've had to back off Keeler, because they didn't have enough evidence to get the warrants and court orders they need. So..."
"So you figured you'd give them the evidence."
"Right. That's why Iok was here. Keeler was all worked up about a big shipment from his southern distributors that was due in tonight. Iok was s'posed to get a look at what was inside that truck."
"Interesting choice of words," the captain mused, sourly, as he started across the yard toward the main storage shed. "Which truck are we talking about?"
Hanson scanned the yard quickly, then gave a grunt of frustration. "It's not here."
"You're sure?" Fuller prompted.
"I know every pothole in this place, and every hunk of metal that has come through the gate in the last two weeks. It's not here."
"Maybe not," Penhall said, "but somethin' sure as hell was." He panned his flashlight beam over a spot halfway between the shed and the front gate, and all three men clearly saw the deep tire ruts in the freshly-thawed mud of the yard.
They hurried over to the nearest rut, Fuller flashing his badge to ward off a pair of uniformed cops who moved to intercept him, and stooped to study their find. Sure enough, a very large and heavy vehicle had been parked here when the bomb went off. They could see its outline in the dirt, where it had blocked the falling debris, and they could trace its muddy tracks to the gate.
Fuller was still frowning over the tracks, when Hanson gave a sharp whistle. Penhall and Fuller came immediately to investigate what he had picked out with his flashlight beam, but it took Fuller a moment to register its importance. Not until Penhall muttered, "That's Ioki's brand," did he realize what the scattering of cigarette butts meant.
He crouched swiftly beside Hanson and lifted one of the soggy cigarettes in gloved fingers. "He must have been here awhile." Shooting the others a searching glance, he asked, "How did Ioki get picked for this job, anyway?"
"He's the only one who could get inside the gate," Penhall answered, grimly. "Believe me, if I could've found a way to stop him, I would have."
"He's done it often enough," Hanson reminded his partner, "and never had any trouble. Who knew there'd be a bomb on the lot?"
Fuller grinned humorlessly. "Somebody did. Your client, maybe?"
Penhall and Hanson exchanged startled glances, then both scrambled to their feet at the same time.
"If he did," Penhall growled, "he's gonna wish he'd been sittin' on that bomb!"
Hanson nodded his agreement but said, "First things first. Let's find Iokage."
They spent the next hour or more combing the yard for signs of their friend. Penhall found a couple of cigarettes in the dirt behind the gate kiosk, but a search of that corner of the yard turned up nothing. The looked into every corner of every building, even the charred remains of the big shed, and Fuller braved the horrors of the coroner's body bags to make sure Ioki wasn't zipped up in one of them. They questioned a few of the more coherent teamsters, but none of them had been outside when the bomb went off and none remembered seeing Ioki near the truck.
Finally, they picked their way past the last remnants of the fire crews and out onto the sidewalk. Fuller led the way to where his car was parked, halfway down the block, then he leaned tiredly against the fender and turned grim eyes on the two younger men.
"They may have taken him out in an ambulance before we got there."
Penhall nodded mute acceptance, feeling the old, comforting impulse to trust and believe his commanding officer - even if Fuller was not his commanding officer anymore.
Hanson bit back an angry denial. He knew that Ioki had not left that yard - not in an ambulance or on his own two feet - but he also knew that they had to go through the motions. Cover all the bases. And the familiar routine helped calm him. Keeping his voice level with an effort, he said, "Knowing Harry, he wouldn't hang around and wait for a bunch of cops and paramedics to show up. If he could still walk, he'd clear out and head for someplace safe."
Fuller brightened at that suggestion. "Okay, you two hit all the places he might hole up, and I'll hit the hospitals. You can reach me at the Shop, if you find anything."
Hanson and Penhall murmured their thanks to the captain for his help, then they headed down the street toward Hanson's car. He had parked it several blocks away, so they each had ample time to think as they walked, but neither of them seemed inclined to share his thoughts. By the time they reached the Mustang, Hanson had come to a very unpalatable conclusion.
He unlocked the passenger door, then moved around to climb in behind the wheel, but he stopped with one foot inside the car and his arm resting on the roof. Staring over at his friend, he said, softly, "There's only one place he can be."
Penhall straightened up and met his gaze, a growing panic in his face. "The office. Or Ty's place. Maybe she..."
"He didn't leave the yard."
"But, what you said to Fuller was right. That's exactly what Iok would do!"
"C'mon, Doug, do you really think Harry would put us through something like this? Letting us believe he was dead?"
"No. Not if he could help it." He left the rest of that statement hanging, unvoiced, between them.
"So, there's only one place left."
"He's in the truck," Penhall whispered, almost soundlessly.
"He's in the truck."
"And the truck is gone." Penhall's pleading gaze locked with Hanson's, and his partner knew what he was going to ask before he opened his mouth. "Where'd it go, Tom?"
In one, fluid movement, the two men spun away from the car, slammed its doors, and headed back down the street at a dead run. They arrived at the shipping yard and slipped through the gate, unnoticed, in the confusion of emergency personnel packing up the last of their gear. In the shadow of the decimated shed, they found a handful of Keeler's men huddled together in deep conversation. Penhall strode directly up to them and grabbed the nearest behemoth by his flannel shirt.
"C'mere, man. We've got some unfinished business."
"What the..." The man turned on Penhall, one fist raised to pound him, then hesitated. He had talked to Penhall and Hanson earlier that night, in company with an angry-looking Police Captain, and he had a sudden premonition that he was about to get into very hot water. His arm dropped to his side, giving Penhall an opening to grab him again and shove him away from his glaring, muttering friends. Hanson covered Penhall's back, as he hauled the unlucky teamster behind a parked truck. Tom was only half the size of the watching men, but the expression on his face warned them not to interfere, and none of them tried to follow.
Once out of sight of the other men, Penhall shoved the bigger man up against the side of the truck and drew his gun. "Gordo, isn't it?" he said. "Remember me?"
Gordo swallowed audibly, his eyes riveted to the gun, which Penhall waved negligently in front of his face. "Yeah. You're a cop."
"Wrong answer, friend." He slammed his forearm across Gordo's throat and pressed the barrel of the gun up under his jaw, forcing his head up painfully. "I am not a cop. I am one very pissed-off guy, who's just dyin' to shoot somebody!"
"What the hell d'you want from me, man?!"
"I want to know where the truck went."
"What truck? We got a hundred trucks in and out of this place..."
"Wrong again!" Penhall thumbed back the hammer on his weapon, his knuckles showing white with the intensity of his grip. "That's two, Gordo. You hit three, and you'll be lookin' for pieces of your skull in the dirt!"
"Christ! I ain't done nothin' to you!"
"You're lying to me, and that's the worst thing you can do right now. So, let's try this one more time, okay? There was a truck parked right over there, a truck that arrived tonight from Keeler's southern distributor. It was here when the bomb blew, but it wasn't here by the time the cops arrived. Now, for the sixty-thousand-dollar grand prize, the new RV, and whatever's behind door number three... Where did that truck go?"
Gordo stood there, paralyzed with fear and indecision, while his eyes jumped from Penhall to the silent, but somehow threatening Hanson. When he finally spoke, it came out as a harsh croak, half muffled by the pressure of Penhall's arm on his windpipe.
"Where in Chicago?"
"You're Spector's boys, aren't you? You want the shipment."
For the first time, Tom spoke. He kept his tone soft and level and his face calm, but his voice sent a chill through Gordo's body. "We don't want your shipment. All we want is to get something that belongs to us from the back of that truck, before Keeler or anyone else finds it. You can keep the drugs." Gordo hissed in surprise, and Tom smiled at this confirmation that he had guessed correctly. "If you tell us where to find it, nobody will get hurt."
"And if I don't?"
Hanson nodded at his partner. "He'll kill you."
"I told you!" Gordo shouted, his eyes rolling in panic. "Chicago! Jake... Jake said that was the only safe place. He pulled the truck outta here two minutes after the blast."
"Gimme an address," Doug growled.
"I don't know! It's a big lot, run by Mr. Keeler's mid-west partner!"
"Then, gimme a name!"
"Gross. Alexander Gross. The company's named something like Great Lakes Industrial Supply."
Penhall nodded once and eased up on the shaking teamster. He lowered his gun but did not holster it. It seemed to exercise a beneficial influence on Gordo. "Okay, we're done. But I want you to think about something, Gordy. I figure you're planning to run straight outta here and call your boss. Tell him what we told you. Is that right?" Gordo didn't have to nod. The wariness in his eyes confirmed Penhall's guess. "Well, if you do that, Mr. Keeler's gonna know that you spilled your guts to the first guy with a gun who asked for directions to the freeway. But if you mind your own business, he never has to know we were here. We're not gonna tell him. And he's not gonna lose so much as a gram of that white powder he's hauling around in his precious truck. So, what's the point, huh? Just keep your dumb mouth shut, and we'll all get what we want."
Penhall did not wait for his answer. Holstering his gun with a decided gesture, he fell into step beside Hanson and strode toward the gate. Back out on the street, they headed for Tom's car by unspoken agreement. They were more than halfway there, when Hanson finally broke the silence.
"Chicago," he murmured.
"You sure he's on that truck, Tom?"
"I'm sure." Shooting Penhall a sideways glance, he added, "I've got that feeling in my gut."
Penhall nodded grimly. "Then we're goin' to Chicago."
*** *** ***
Ioki woke to the unexpected roar of a diesel engine and the jolt of enormous tires over rough pavement. The vibration of the floor beneath him sent grinding pain through his head and body, and in a moment of disorientation and weakness, he gave a wrenching cry that turned into something close to a sob. No one heard him, for which he was profoundly grateful, and as he forced back his first, terrified reaction, he began to remember and to absorb his surroundings.
He was alone in the huge trailer, lying on a pile of shattered crates, with small, celophane-wrapped lumps of heroin strewn around him and cushioning his bruised back. When he realized what he was lying on, he almost laughed. But then the truck hit a pothole, and the flare of agony in his head sent him spinning into darkness again.
When he staggered back to consciousness, he found himself curled up on his side among the sinister little plastic bags, both hands clutching his head in a vain effort to hold it on. He lowered his arms and wrapped them around his ribcage, while vertigo and nausea gripped him. The truck seemed to spin sickeningly, and the noise battered viciously against his skull. He lay as still as he could, his teeth clenched against his protesting stomach and the treacherous cries that rose in his throat, waiting for the nightmare trip to end.
It went on for what felt like an eternity. He could not move, could not lift his head, without throwing up or passing out or both, and the truck never slowed its headlong charge. How many times Harry slipped in and out of consciousness, he had no idea. He only knew that the cold seeped into his bones and his body grew inexorably weaker. A deep, tearing ache in his right leg told him that he had another injury of some kind, but he could not muster the energy to worry about it. The world narrowed down to thirst, cold, and the shattering, crippling pain in his head.
He was awake but lost in a thickening fog of misery and paying little attention to anything outside his own battered skull, when he heard the note of the truck's engine change. They were slowing. He opened his eyes to stare blankly at the roof above him, while he strained to catch any sound that would tell him where he was.
Very little penetrated the walls of the trailer, and even less got through the white noise in his head, but he was aware of coming to a stop. The truck idled for a moment, then lumbered ahead again. After a short drive, it slowed to a near stop and swung ponderously around a corner. Ioki felt a sharp bump as they drove over a curb. Then, finally, blessedly, the engine cut out.
Silence. He'd never thought he'd be so grateful for silence. His relief at the cessation of the battering noise was so intense that, for a long moment, he could not think beyond it. Then he heard and felt a door slam, as the driver climbed down from the cab, and his brain kicked into gear again.
He had to get out, now, while they were stopped. This might be his only chance to escape unnoticed, and if he stayed alone in this trailer for much longer, he'd be dead before they found him. He had no clue where they were, but it didn't much matter. Any place was better than this rattling steel torture chamber.
Unfortunately, deciding to get out and actually doing it were two very different matters. The instant he lifted his head from the floor, his stomach heaved in protest, and pain exploded behind his eyes. He instinctively put one hand to the back of his head, where the worst of the pain was centered, and it came away sticky with blood. Several choice words came to Harry's mind, foul words he would love to shout at whatever higher power had seen fit to do this to him - again - but he couldn't unclench his teeth to let them out. Only by clamping his jaw shut, closing his eyes tightly, and ordering himself to get up in a mental voice that sounded suspiciously like Captain Fuller's, could he force his body to move.
Very slowly, he rolled over onto his stomach and levered himself up on his elbows. Then he pulled his left knee under him and cautiously straightened up. The floor tilted sickeningly beneath him, but he held on to a convenient crate until the worst of the vertigo passed and managed to stay upright. When the floor steadied enough for him to be sure which direction it lay, he used the crate to haul himself to his feet.
He'd done it! He was standing up! Now, if he could just find the door... He took a step away from his supporting crate and remembered, a split second too late, about the wound in his leg. The instant his right foot touched to floor, agony tore through him and his leg collapsed. With a startled cry, he fell headlong into a stack of crates. Wood snapped, pieces went flying, and something hit the side of the trailer with an ominous clang.
Harry lay in a pile of sawdust, shrink-wrap and narcotics, too stunned to do anything more than try to breathe without sobbing aloud. He could hear heavy footsteps running around the truck, and someone cursing. Then the rear door slid up with a painful crash, and cold air washed over him. Boots clumped on the plywood floor. A man's harsh breathing sounded above and beside him. And a familiar voice muttered, "Jesus!"
Jake. It was Jake. Harry looked up at him for a moment, wondering if he had the strength to keep up his idiot vagrant act, then he sighed and closed his eyes. To hell with it. He was a dead man, anyway.
Jake stared down, aghast, at the ashen, pain-lined face turned up to him, at a complete loss for words. When the familiar blank eyes fell shut, he gave another curse and reached down to catch the injured man by the arms.
"Come on, kid. You can't stay in here."
Harry just groaned. Jake's powerful hands lifted him easily to his feet, but a fresh wave of dizziness robbed him of breath and words. He went limp in Jake's supporting arms and let the larger man lift him down from the high trailer. The falling sensation, as Jake jumped to the ground, was the last straw. With another groan of pure misery, he leaned forward over Jake's massive forearm and threw up.
He had eaten almost nothing in the last thirty-six hours, and there was precious little in his stomach to bring up, but his body didn't care. Once he had started, he couldn't stop, and the spasms kept coming more and more violently, until his muscles were too exhausted to move anymore. As he finally relaxed, he became aware that Jake was still holding him up, one huge hand across his forehead and the other arm around his waist. The big man rumbled occasional words of encouragement and concern that would have struck Harry as highly funny under other circumstances. Right now, he felt only intense gratitude.
Jake helped him sit down on the cold pavement, then he produced a bottle of water and offered Harry a drink. To his disgust, Harry found that he could not even hold the bottle himself. His hand was shaking too badly to close around it. Thankfully, Jake had not yet looked any farther than his obvious illness and still thought he was dealing with a mental basket case. So Harry allowed him to tilt the bottle to his lips and pour water down his throat. And he made no protest when Jake scooped him up in his enormous arms and carried him up to the front of the truck.
"It's warm in the cab," Jake explained, though he did not expect his companion to understand. "You can rest in there. I've gotta fill the tank and pick up some supplies - maybe they got something I can use to wrap up that cut on your leg - then we'll hit the road." As he muscled the door open and set Harry on the seat, he said, "I can't take you to a hospital, kid. I'm sorry. Maybe... maybe when we get to Chicago, Mr. Gross will okay it..." He didn't sound like he believed that.
Harry said nothing, as Jake fished behind the seat and pulled out a blanket to drape over him. And he gave no sign of awareness when the other man placed the water bottle in his hand and conscientiously tightened his hold on the slick plastic.
"Drink a lot of that," Jake urged. "You need it." Stepping down from the running board, he put a hand on the door. "I'll be right back. Don't worry, kid, you'll be okay here."
As he heard the door begin to creak shut, Harry turned his empty gaze on his rescuer and smiled slightly. "Thanks, Jake."
The other man gave an audible gasp. The door slammed shut, and Harry heard him swearing fluently. With another small smile, he leaned his head back against the cushioned seat and closed his eyes. Things were looking up. He was still going to die, but at least he was warm.
*** *** ***
The office door crashed back on its hinges, and two young men strode angrily into the room. Behind his desk, Mr. Harrison looked up in mingled amusement and annoyance. His rugged, handsome face brightened in a smile, and he flicked his fingers in dismissal at his secretary. She scurried away, just as Penhall slammed the door in her face.
Hanson crossed to the desk in three swift strides. Bracing his hands on its leather top, he leaned over Harrison and said, through tight lips, "Did you do it?"
"Plant the bomb?" His smile turned gloating. "No, but I'd like to shake the hand of the man who did."
"At least he's not wasting our time playing stupid," Penhall commented, sourly, to his partner.
"I'm a long way from stupid, Mr. Penhall. And I don't like being bullied in my own office, so I suggest you call off your friend."
"Not 'til you tell me the truth," Hanson said.
"I already did. When I hired you, I told you exactly what I wanted you to do and why."
"You didn't tell us everything."
"You didn't ask."
Tom eyed him in growing wrath, his eyes hard and his delicate features contorted with the effort of controlling himself. "I'm asking now."
Harrison leaned back in his chair, trying to appear relaxed but actually maneuvering to put a little distance between himself and the furious young man confronting him. "Be my guest."
"Who planted the bomb?"
"I don't know for certain, but I'd guess it was one of Spector's boys."
"Spector?" Penhall's eyebrows shot up his forehead. "He's the heavyweight from California, isn't he? Got lots of interests in the Piedmont and on the waterfront."
Harrison nodded amiably. "Spector and Keeler have been fighting over that waterfront territory. Lately, things have gotten pretty ugly between them."
"You knew this?" Tom hissed. "You sent us in there, knowing Keeler was involved in a territorial war, and you didn't tell us?"
"It wasn't relevant."
"You son of a..."
"Wait, Hanson." Penhall's hand on his arm halted Hanson's move to swing at the grinning Harrison. "Let's get it all, then you can pound 'im flat. How come you know so much about Keeler and his problems, Mr. Harrison?"
"I know a lot of things."
Penhall bared his teeth in a snarl. "I did some checking on you this morning, and I got to know a few things myself. Like, you've been looking for an opening to move in on Keeler's business for months. You ain't no innocent bystander. You're a two-bit thug, who wants to play with the big boys. And you thought you could use us to hamstring Keeler."
"Very good. I'm impressed."
"Why us, Harrison?" Hanson demanded. "Were you hoping to take out a few ex-cops, as a side benefit?"
Harrison looked genuinely surprised at that suggestion. "Not at all! I hired you boys for your expertise! After what you did to Trumbull and Shumacher, not to mention how you ran those Chinks out of town with their tails between their legs, you're an urban legend. Hell, Elliot Ness has got nothing on you!"
"There's just one little problem."
"My boss... my friend was on that lot when the bomb went off! Now he's missing, along with the evidence we needed to nail Keeler for you."
"Too bad. But there'll be another shipment, and you'll get your evidence. In the meantime, I trust you to handle the case, Boss."
Penhall swore vividly and grabbed a double handful of Harrison's fancy suit. Hauling the man half out of his chair, he glared into his eyes from a distance of about an inch. "Tell us where to find Alexander Gross, before I hurt you!"
"Somewhere in Chicago," Hanson prompted.
Harrison, his calm ruffled for the first time, gave Penhall a nervous look. He rattled off an address, and Hanson jotted it down on his desk pad, then tore off the page and tucked it in his jacket pocket. As he pulled his hand out, he brought another slip of paper with it. Penhall tossed Harrison back into his chair, and Hanson leaned close again, holding up the paper between his fingers.
"Recognize that?" It was obviously a check, and it had Harrison's signature at the bottom. Without taking his eyes from Harrison's face, Hanson reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a lighter. One deft flick of his finger, and the hungry flame began eating through the paper. Hanson waited until the check was half gone, then he dropped it contemptuously on the leather blotter in front of Harrison. "We don't work for you anymore, Mr. Harrison. And if we can find a way to bring you down with Keeler, we will."
"Count on it," Penhall chimed in.
"You boys are making a mistake," Harrison said.
The two men exchanged a disgusted look, then turned to leave. As he stepped through the door, Hanson tossed a farewell crack over his shoulder. "You could have come up with a better line than that." Then the door snapped shut behind him.
They moved purposefully through the building and out to Hanson's Mustang, without so much as glancing at the people they passed. Once in the car, Hanson pulled out of the parking lot and pointed their nose toward downtown. Beside him, Penhall shifted uncomfortably in the seat, visibly bothered by something.
"You think he gave us the right address?" he blurted out.
"Why not? It's in his best interests to help us." Hanson swung around a tight corner. "Either way, we'll find out when we get to Chicago."
"It'd be faster to fly."
Tom shook his head. "I checked this morning. They got two feet of snow last night, and O'Hare is down to one open runway. They're closed to commercial flights."
"Then where are we going?" Doug demanded. "Chicago is east, and you're driving west."
Tom shot him a sideways glance. "To pick up Ty."
Doug opened his mouth to protest, then seemed to reconsider. Shutting his jaw with a snap, he fixed his eyes on the road and maintained a rigid silence. Tom let him be, grateful that he wouldn't have to fight another battle over this, until they pulled into the hospital parking lot. Cruising up to the front of the building, he pulled to a stop in a doctor's assigned space and cut the engine.
"She's in the ER. Let's go."
Doug climbed out of the car and slouched along at Tom's side. As they approached the doors, he said, softly, "She might not want to come."
"She'll come. And before you say anything else you'll have to take back later, remember that Ty's a doctor. We may need her."
"I wasn't gonna say a word."
Tom gave a grunt of approval and strode through the automatic doors. Inside, he quickly spotted a triage nurse he recognized from other trips to the ER, and he hurried up to the counter where the man sat. "Excuse me. I'm looking for Dr. Martin."
The nurse glanced up at him, took a moment to register who he was, then hooked a thumb over his shoulder toward the exam cubicles. "Right there."
On cue, a tall, slim figure in surgical scrubs and a white lab coat stepped into the hallway. She was talking earnestly to another nurse, but when Tom called her name, she glanced up and around, hunting for the source of that well-known voice. Hanson and Penhall both started jogging toward her. She broke away from the nurse and met them a few feet from the counter.
"Tom? Is something wrong?"
"We're going to Chicago," Penhall said.
"And we want you to come with us," Hanson added.
"To Chicago? Why?"
"To find Harry."
She looked from Tom to Doug, reading the seriousness of the situation in their faces. Stepping over to the counter, she dropped the chart she carried into a rack and snapped, "I'm out of here, Dave. Call Ralph to cover for me."
The triage nurse started up off his stool. "Hey, wait a minute, Ty. You can't just..."
"Yes, I can. If the Chief has a problem with that, tell him he's welcome to fire me." She turned away and strode down the corridor, calling back over her shoulder, "Give me a minute to grab my stuff. I'll meet you outside!"
Two minutes later, Ty dropped into the back seat of Tom's car and leaned her head back against the cushions. Closing her eyes, she murmured, "I'm probably going to lose my job for this."
"Well I guess you've gotta make a choice, then, don't you?" Penhall snapped. "You gotta decide what's important."
Ty gave him a sour look. "Didn't I just do that?"
"Beautiful," Tom muttered. He slammed the car into gear and shot onto the street, his accelerator foot responding to the tension in his muscles. "I'm stuck with you two for how long?"
"Hey, you invited her," Doug said.
Ty bit her tongue to hold in an angry retort. Slumping down in the seat, she closed her eyes and tried to tell herself that Doug didn't mean it. That's what Judy and Harry kept telling her - Doug didn't mean it. He just couldn't adjust as quickly as the rest of them. He needed someone to blame, and unfortunately for her, she was the most convenient scapegoat.
Poor Doug. He loved Harry so much and so desperately wanted to protect him from the cold, cruel world. In the past two years, he had finally learned how to let go of Harry and forgive him for outgrowing Big Brother Dougie's care. But that forgiveness did not extend to Ty, the evil temptress who had seduced him away from a safe, quiet life and planted dangerous ideas in his head. Even worse, she had now made a place for herself in Harry's life and threatened to take him away from his adoptive brother permanently. No, there would be no forgiveness for Ty.
She sighed at that thought. She honestly wanted to like Doug. He had many wonderful qualities, and she could see how warm-hearted and sincere a man he was. But none of that was for her, and she had long since grown sick of trying to win him over. Now she just wanted him to shut up. Or find himself a nice woman to occupy his time and keep him out of her hair. That's what Doug needed - a girlfriend. And failing that, a frontal lobotomy.
*** *** ***
Harry drifted out of yet another unpleasant dream to find himself in the same, old predicament. He lay curled up on the front seat of the truck, under a slightly musty blanket, with his head propped on the door and cushioned by Jake's jacket. His head ached relentlessly, his leg burned with a fire that grew worse with each waking, and vertigo still hit him with even the slightest movement. His relief at being warm had given way to discomfort, as the infection in his leg flourished and his fever rose. The one bright spot in this mess was that he had plenty of water. His stomach wouldn't sit still for food, but at least he wasn't dying of dehydration.
When he reached for the water bottle beside him, he drew Jake's attention.
"How's it going, kid?"
"Great." He took a long drink, then shifted his position, trying to ease the ache in his neck and shoulders. Even that slight movement turned him gray-green with nausea.
"Keep still," Jake ordered. "I don't wanna have to swab out this cab."
When his stomach had settled back down where it belonged, Harry asked, in a rough whisper, "Where are we?"
"No place you need to know about."
Jake drove in silence for a few minutes, then blurted out, "Why in hell would you do something so stupid, kid? You gotta know what's gonna happen!"
"Mr. Keeler's going to kill me."
"Yeah. And probably me, too."
"I'm sorry, Jake. I really am."
"Fat lotta good that does us. What were you doing in the truck, anyway?"
"It seemed like a good place to sleep."
"Naw." Jake shook his head emphatically. "Don't try that stuff on me, kid."
"My name's Harry."
"Okay, Harry. I may not be the sharpest nail in the board, but I don't fall for the same trick twice. No way are you gonna convince me that you were sleeping in our shipping yard because you like it there. You were up to something. You're still up to something, and the least you can do for getting me killed is tell me what it is!"
"I just wanted a warm place to spend the night."
After a slight pause, Jake said, ruefully, "I guess I deserve that for talking to you like a stray cat all those weeks. You scared the crap outta me, when you spoke English back there."
"I know." Harry hesitated for a moment, then admitted, "I should have kept quiet, but I couldn't let you do all this stuff for me and not say thanks. Now I've screwed us both."
"And you still haven't told me what you're up to."
"I'm not going to tell you," he answered, firmly. "You're in enough trouble."
"Like this could get worse? We are permanently and completely fucked, my friend."
"You could let me go, and Keeler would never have to know."
"Sure. Except that your blood is all over the place. And you broke up half the crates stumbling around in there."
"Then tell them I escaped. They won't shoot you 'til they find me, because you're the only person who knows what I look like."
"Huh. You wouldn't get very far."
"Won't matter, if you look in the wrong place."
Jake thought about that for a long time - so long that Harry began to hope he'd go for it. Then he gave a defeated grunt and said, "No. Keeler's not gonna buy it. The only way I got a prayer of staying alive is to hand you over to Mr. Gross and tell him everything. Maybe, if you do your crazy blind kid act, he'll let you walk, too."
"That isn't very likely."
"No. It's plain stupid. But you can try. Hell, you convinced me and every other guy on that lot that you were a couple cans shy of a six-pack. Why not Mr. Gross?"
Harry fell quiet and made no further attempt to argue with Jake. He had reason to regret his earlier candor when they stopped for a short rest, and Jake flatly refused to leave him alone in the truck. After renting a room in a grungy roadside motel, Jake carefully parked his truck out of sight of the highway and carried Ioki into the room. He dumped him on the bed and, in a further fit of caution, tied his hands behind his back and anchored them to the metal bed frame. Harry didn't tell him that the bonds were unnecessary, that the short trip from the truck to the room had rendered him incapable of moving, much less running. He was only barely conscious and couldn't tell Jake anything.
The teamster finished tying him up, pulled a blanket over him, and thoughtfully placed a wastebasket on the floor by the bed. "Just in case," he told his gray-faced prisoner. "Get some sleep, kid. We got a long way to go."
Harry mumbled something that might have been "thank you" and let himself slide quickly back into the running dream that had kept him company through so many hours. It was nasty, but it was better than being awake.
*** *** ***
Doug took a swipe at the sleeping figure beside him. "Wake up, man."
Tom stirred and dragged his eyes open. It took his sluggish brain a moment to figure out where he was, then he pushed himself upright and blinked at the man behind the wheel. "Time for a switch?"
"Nope. End of the line."
Tom stared out the window at the deserted street, his face bleak. It was deep night, bitterly cold even in the car, and snowing. He shivered and huddled a bit deeper into his blanket. "What a miserable place."
Behind them, a pile of blankets and coats on the back seat heaved upward to expose Ty's tousled head. She yawned once, shook herself, and scrambled forward to poke her head between the front seats. Years of working long, erratic hours had trained her to sleep anywhere, anytime, undisturbed, and then to wake almost instantly, so when she spoke, she sounded totally alert.
"Are we there?"
Doug grunted, without turning his eyes from the view outside the windshield. Tom nodded. Infected by their mood, Ty fell silent, and all three of them sat staring across the street at the building they had driven so fast and so far to reach.
It was a looming structure placed well back from the street, with a wide, flat expanse of pavement all around it. A tall chain-link fence ringed the property, topped with coils of razor-wire and dull, sulfurous yellow lights that illuminated the hulks of trucks parked in neat rows. A few of the warehouse windows showed lights, but there was no sign of activity.
Then Tom spotted a man strolling along the inside of the fence, smoking a cigarette. He was a large man, made even more imposing by the layers of clothing he wore, and for all his apparent nonchalance, he kept his gaze roving ceaselessly over the yard and street. Just as he passed out of sight of the gate, another man, moving with exactly the same wary casualness, came into view from the other direction.
Tom nudged Doug with an elbow and pointed to the sentry. "Handgun under his coat."
"Yeah, I see it." They waited until the second guard had strolled away, to be replaced by the first again, then Doug asked, "Is Gross always this paranoid? Or is he expecting a visit from Keeler's midnight bomber?"
"Does it matter? Either way, we aren't getting into that yard to look for Ioki."
"He isn't there, yet, anyway," Ty said.
Both men twisted around to look at her, and Doug asked, "How can you be so sure?"
"It's obvious. Look at the place. If they'd just gotten a truckload of narcotics, with a strange person locked up in the back, wouldn't they be doing something? That is not the behavior of people with a dangerous mess to clean up."
"What if the truck arrived hours ago, and they've already done their cleaning?"
Tom shook his head emphatically. "No way. There's no way that truck beat us here by that much."
"It left six or seven hours before we did."
"But we drove straight through. Jake was alone. He had to stop and sleep sometime."
After a moment's hesitation, Doug nodded acceptance. "I'd still feel better, if we could look around."
"I'm working on that."
Tom fell quiet, his eyes roving over the shipping yard, searching for inspiration. The yard itself appeared to be impregnable. But after a few minutes of brooding over the ugly coils of razor-wire, Tom let his attention wander to the property on either side of the yard. The warehouse on the right had a fair amount of security and no useful cover, but the lot on the left was a different story. It was a small yard, unlit and unguarded, crammed full of assorted construction equipment. Several pieces of heavy yellow machinery were parked right up against the fence that separated it from Gross's property.
The longer he looked, the better Tom liked what he saw. The owner of the construction lot must have figured that no one would be stupid enough to steal a rusty old back-hoe, because he had taken no precautions to safeguard his inventory. A simple padlock on the gate, a cyclone fence to keep out stray dogs... it would take a determined man about two minutes to break in.
"Okay, Penhall, I'm going to take that look around for you. Sit tight, and try not to murder each other, while I'm gone."
"What do you think you're doing?" Penhall demanded.
Tom quickly found and stowed about his person a flashlight, a pair of binoculars and his gun. Then he pulled on his gloves, opened the passenger door, and slipped out into the night. Doug locked the door behind him, muttering under his breath about insanity and death wishes, but he made no attempt to stop him.
For more than ten minutes, Penhall and Dr. Martin waited in the car, staring intently through the increasingly opaque windshield. They did not have to work at being civil to each other. Neither one felt any inclination to talk, much less fight. Doug was straining to catch a glimpse of his partner and privately wondering how long a person could tolerate this cold, unprotected. Ty was trying to calculate the miles they had come, the speed of Jake's truck, and how long Ioki could survive in the trailer without food and water. Had they only been willing to admit it, they were more in sympathy at that moment than at any other in their strained and colorful relationship. More than anything, they both wanted the waiting to end.
A knock on the window announced Hanson's return. Penhall popped the lock, and Hanson scrambled into the car, shutting the door quietly behind him. In the weirdly fractured light shining through the icy glass, they could see that his face was mottled blue and white with cold, and his hands were shaking as he pulled off his gloves.
"God, it's cold out there!" he breathed, through chattering teeth.
Penhall handed him the thermos of coffee and helped him unscrew the top. "Did you get on the lot?"
"No, but I got right up to the top of the fence by climbing an old crane. It's the perfect vantage point. There's a spot in the fence, toward the back, where we can cut through if we have to and come out behind some cargo flats. No one would see us." He sipped the tepid coffee gratefully. "I think Ty's right. There's no sign of any activity, no trucks being unloaded, no nothing. As far as I can tell, the warehouse is empty, except for the night watchman."
"So, what do we do, now?" Penhall asked, though the sinking sensation in his stomach told him that he already knew the answer.
Hanson shrugged. "The only thing we can do. Wait."
*** *** ***
It went on forever. The trip from Hell. They drove, they stopped, they drove again, and nothing changed - or not for the better, anyway. Rest, warmth and time might have been improving the condition of Ioki's battered skull, but if so, he was in no shape to appreciate it. He could now move without throwing up, and he had managed to keep down a few bites of sandwich. But the infected gash in his leg had taken over where the concussion had left off, and his rising fever made him feel as lightheaded and disoriented as ever. He caught himself wondering, during the endless, featureless hours of travel, just how long it took blood poisoning to set in. Days, probably. But how many days? And how many more days would they spend in this rolling prison?
He whiled away the empty time with these questions, until his mind grew so clouded that he couldn't remember what he was supposed to be thinking about anymore. Sleep was his only refuge, and when Jake dragged him out of a fever-dream to tell him that they were nearing their destination, he felt nothing but a fretful irritation at having been disturbed. It took him several minutes of listening to Jake's rumbling voice to get his neurons firing and realize what he was hearing.
They had arrived. The trip was over.
Harry pushed himself carefully upright, holding onto the door for balance and clutching the blanket around his shoulders. For the first time in countless hours, he made an effort to focus on his surroundings. He could hear traffic noise - heavy traffic - and the whistles, horns and shouts that went with big cities. "Where are we?"
"The Windy City. Home of Wrigley Field."
Harry frowned in confusion. "Where?"
"Chicago! Ain't you ever been to Chicago?"
Harry shook his head.
"Must be three feet of snow on the ground," Jake went on, conversationally. "Looks like they just got the roads cleared. Shit. This traffic sucks. I wanted to hit the yard before dark, but it's gonna take us another hour, at least, just to plow through this mess. If it starts snowing again, we're really screwed..."
Harry tuned out the rambling voice, as he turned his crippled powers of concentration on the noises outside. He could hear other cars all around them, which meant that they were in a center lane, far from a sidewalk, and totally boxed in. The traffic loosened up in a fairly regular pattern, giving the heavy truck just enough time to get up to speed before they hit another stoplight and another line of waiting cars. A minute or two parked at the light, a crawl through the intersection, the grind of shifting gears as they speeded up, then the high whine of air brakes and a gradual slowing at the next light. He had picked up the rhythm of it and could anticipate each change.
Harry let Jake's running commentary leak back into his head and heard him say, "...if Mr. Gross is even there tonight. I think our best bet is to wait for Gross, instead of trying to deal with his boys. I've met some of those gorillas, and they don't have a whole lot goin' on upstairs. Know what I mean?"
Slipping his hand around the door handle, Harry waited until they had just begun the deceleration part of the cycle. Then he turned to Jake and said, as clearly as he could in his muddled state, "Thanks for everything, Jake."
He pried up the lock and flipped the door open in one, swift movement. As he hopped out onto the running board, he called back, "Take care of yourself! And try to look in the wrong place, okay?" Then he stepped down into the street, at the precise moment that the truck came to a full stop. The effort it cost him to heave the door shut sent him staggering backward a step. His right foot took his weight, and he fell against the hood of another vehicle. Grateful for the support, he ignored the shouts of the driver and leaned heavily on the car as he limped around it.
From behind him, he heard Jake bellowing, panic in his voice, "Harry!! Get back here! Are you nuts?!"
Ioki did not turn around or slow his steps. He knew that Jake could not follow him, not with his truck caught in rush-hour gridlock, his trailer full of illegal drugs, and the eyes of a hundred witnesses on him. The traffic started to move again, before he reached the sidewalk, but the last line of cars waited for him to get out of the way. They honked, yelled and swore, but they waited.
By the time he reached the curb, Harry was dizzy with pain and completely disoriented. He kicked the edge of the sidewalk with his right toe, sending a jolt of agony up his leg and pitching him forward into a pile of half-frozen snow. He scrambled clear of the drift and used a convenient light pole to regain his feet, but it took several barked orders from his mental Fuller-voice to get him moving again. Finally, he pushed himself away from the blessed solidity of the pole and started off down the street, trying to be unobtrusive, in spite of his ragged, bloody appearance and staggering gait.
He got off the main street as quickly as possible, then proceeded to lose himself in a network of narrow, noisy, garbage-strewn alleys. He walked in spite of the shattering pain of moving his leg and the remorseless aching in his head, driven to find some place that felt safe.
He found no such place, but he did reach the end of his endurance. He was moving down a moderately busy street in a neighborhood where the voices around him spoke in a dialect he could barely decipher, and the shuffling steps of homeless drunks moved among the garbage dumpsters. His foot landed on metal, a grating to judge by the hollow clang, and a miserly trickle of warmth drifted up from it. Too exhausted to investigate his location or worry about pursuit any longer, he sank down on the grate, eased some of the agony from his leg, propped his head on his arm, and fell asleep to the roar of the subway trains passing beneath him.