The Light of an Oncoming Train
by Gregory W. Ellis
|part 2 of 3|
“Dallas, this is crazy,” Guido grumbled over a mouthful of hamburger.
Guido Paccionelli was the most un-Sicilian made man I knew. He hated Italian food and drank water rather than wine. I’d never seen him touch alcohol. He swore he was Sicilian, but I knew his family had been in the States for at least six generations. I’d looked it up on Google, and the Net’s never wrong, right?
It didn’t matter though, because Guido and Luciano were tight with the Gambioli Family, the Tadeoshi Yakuza, and the Yasinov Mafia, or at least that’s what they claimed. They even claimed they had contacts with the Mexican cartels, where the real money was, but I doubted it. Guido and Luciano were good, and they had a lot of contacts, but no one was that good. They had acted together as mediators in a dispute between the local Family, the Japanese, and the Russians a few years back and had really made their bones, with a little help from yours truly.
So, in a sense, they owed me. Not that it made any difference. The cost was coming out of my pocket. And not just for lunch.
“It’ll be a piece of cake,” I said. “The Disciples probably don’t even know what they’ve got. We offer them a bundle, a small one, to move the merchandise, and we walk away with the mark’s goods, hand ’em over, and everyone gets healthy.”
“It’s too pat,” Guido said. “I’d almost like it better if we were going to try a snatch, but nobody steals from the Disciples. They wouldn’t rest until we were whistling Dixie through holes in our chests.” He was the talkative one. Luciano rarely said anything during negotiations, just sat there, nodding, and looking every inch as if he was about to murder everyone in the room, and do it with a smile on his face.
Luciano scares the hell out of me sometimes, but he’s Guido’s partner, and that calls for the making of allowances. Besides which, I didn’t want to piss him off.
There’s no art to negotiating with some people. You just keep putting more money on the table. Guido and Luciano didn’t want to see me dead, because we’ve been through too many scrapes together. There’s a certain loyalty that develops, even when folks are supposedly on the opposite sides of the law. But then I wasn’t the law, and Guido and his cousin knew I’d never squeal on them. Not for a measly guarantee of immunity anyway. They’d have to throw in a change of address and identity and a ton of money on top of it.
So, while Guido and Luciano didn’t want to see me dead, they wanted even less to get dead themselves. As I said, there’s no art to negotiating with some people. I eventually laid enough money on the table to get the cousins to stop griping. They even started to suggest some alternatives to my basic idea of just snatching the Count’s merchandise and running for it.
I was thinking about how to hit the Count up for expenses, but thought better of it. I was just thinking about what bills I could afford to not pay when my cell phone rang.
It was Vinnie the Finn. He needed to talk to me right away and guaranteed my safety. I told him where I was, but he wanted to see me at his place, which made me nervous. I excused myself from lunch and hailed a taxi.
* * *
Vinnie wasn’t really from Finland. They say he got his nickname after he personally rearranged the body parts of a guy who owed him the grand sum of five dollars and had refused to pay.
Vinnie was a small-time hood with a lot of money flowing through his fingers. And they were fat, greasy little fingers.
One of Vinnie’s hired muscle showed me in to see the man himself. That alone was a rarity, but Vinnie had called me. I’d counted out his money in the taxi on the way over and laid it on his desk. I did not sit down and Vinnie didn’t offer either of the chairs sitting in front of his desk.
I stood there waiting while he counted the money, checked a ledger, then slid the bills through a slot on the back side of his desk. Finally, he folded his fat little fingers together, steepled them, and leaned his elbows on his desk, staring at me with those cold, sharky eyes of his.
“After you called me this morning, Dallas, I did a little checking. Word on the street is you’re looking to make contact with the Disciples.” Vinnie’s voice is too high, too nasal and squeaky to be that of a crime lord, but he managed to pull off the shark-like menace with perfect accuracy. He finally motioned me to one of the chairs and I eyed it suspiciously.
There didn’t seem to be any wires running to it, no trap door under it, and no bomb attached to it, so I sat.
“Word gets around fast,” I said.
“Lots of people tell me things. Some of them I listen to. Some of them I don’t. Some tell me things I’m not always inclined to believe, but then along you come with all of the money you owe. Got yourself a big fish for a client, have you?”
“Big enough,” I said. Vinnie wasn’t one for small talk. I wondered where this conversation was going.
“Maybe too big,” Vinnie said. He made a small stage production out of lighting a fat cigar with an ornate silver cigar cutter and a real match. He exhaled a cloud of smoke in my direction. The dim light from his banker’s lamp twinkled off the gold ring on his pinkie, and he seemed almost to fondle the cigar. “From what I hear, you might be better off giving your client back his money.”
Huh, what? Vinnie suggesting I give back money? What was going on here?
“If I did that, I couldn’t pay my debts. Besides which, a sizable portion of it has already been spent here,” I said.
“I could arrange another small loan,” Vinnie said, twirling his lit cigar like a baton between those stubby fat fingers. “A payment plan could also be arranged; a fair one, I assure you. I do so hate to lose clients.”
What was this? Vinnie the Finn was worried about me? I studied him for a moment. “I can handle the Disciples,” I said.
“It’s not the Disciples you need to be worried about,” Vinnie replied. “Your new client is a lot more than he appears to be.”
“Aside from having an active fantasy life and a ton of money, he doesn’t seem that bad for someone just this side of the grave.”
“Not this side,” Vinnie said. “I made a couple calls on your behalf. The Disciples have the merchandise you’re after. At this address.” Vinnie slid a folded piece of paper across the desk to me.
I picked it up, unfolded it, and read the address. It matched up with what I’d heard from my street contacts. But Vinnie had just given it to me for free. That sent my spidey-sense all a-quiver. Vinnie and I were not friends. Information was a commodity. One didn’t just give it away. It cost money. “How much do I owe for this?” I asked.
“My contacts tell me the Disciples want to turn the merchandise over to its rightful owner. They’re also willing to pay a substantial, ah, they called it wergild whatever that is, in apology for the disruption in shipment to the owner. You make contact, pick up the property and this wergild, make the transfer, and everyone goes home happy.”
“Why would they do that?” I asked. I was beginning to sweat this job again. Vinnie never negotiated. I knew what wergild meant: restitution, ransom, a sort of apology fee for a deed done. Vinnie never apologized, and neither did the Disciples.
“You know why,” Vinnie said. He pulled a couple puffs off his cigar again, blowing gigantic smoke rings and appearing to enjoy the feel of the cigar as much as the flavor of the smoke. He wouldn’t meet my eye. “Your client has them spooked. He’s been nosing around, too, or so I hear. Or something they found when they opened the stolen shipment scared the hell out of them. They’re scared enough to want to make a deal. Anyone with enough sand to spook the Disciples is someone I don’t want to mess with, either. Any friend of this guy is also someone I don’t want to mess with. And that includes you — right now. Make this deal, Dallas. Keep my name out of things and we’re square. More than square. Capisce?”
“Yeah, I got it,” I said. But I didn’t get it. I was confused as hell, but I wasn’t going to look Vinnie in the mouth, gift-horse or not. I stood up. “Thanks, Vinnie...”
“Don’t thank me, Dallas. I think you bit off more than you can handle taking on this particular client. Just try to make sure he doesn’t turn around and bite you, huh?” Vinnie waved towards the door and one of his muscle opened it. The meeting was over.
Of course, Vinnie never offered to give me back the money I’d owed and paid him. But if this job went off smooth, we would be even. That might be worth it in the long run.
That light at the end of the tunnel was looking brighter all the time.
* * *
Copyright © 2010 by Gregory W. Ellis