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The Coldest Mileby Tom Piccirilli
Chase's first day on the job they took the sobbing chauffeur out back, gutted him, then handed Chase the cap and the little white gloves.
They threw the guy in the open trunk of a Chrysler 300 Super Stretch, where he clutched at his belly and bled out between his fingers. There was a full bar in back of the limo and the others sneaked some booze and talked about horse track results.
In his gradually lessening terror the chauffeur quietly spoke in a trembling but resonant voice of grace. Prayers, passages from the Bible, names of his family. Bobby. Emily. Maria. Maria. His eyes met Chase's only once. A charge danced through the air. The dying man's mouth eased open into a strangely empty grin. Maria. Chase's fists were stones at his sides. The trunk was lined with plastic bags duct taped into place, and when the chauffeur vented, the others smelled it, finished their drinks, then slammed the trunk hood.
Chase thought it must be a test, snuffing the guy right in front of him like that, twenty minutes after walking in the door. But nobody seemed to give a shit what he thought.
He was told that the chauffeur had been pinched a couple months ago for running whores out the back of the limo during his _off-_hours. He'd drive around the west side of Manhattan with a couple drunk businessmen and three or four girls lying across the leather seats, giving head. He ran a light on 91st in front of a black-and-white, and that was the end of that setup. The chauffeur had met with the DA on the sly to talk about the Langan family and cut a deal.
Assuming this was an object lesson meant for him, Chase did his best to appear both impressed and intimidated. Someone handed him the keys.
He tossed them back. He explained how this wasn't his area of expertise. He'd been hired to be a driver, not a hitter, and not a shovel man. They told him he'd do what he was goddamn told. They said there was room in the trunk for another body. One of them started to get especially loud and tried to take a poke at Chase. Moe Irvine showed up and told the others to take off, go find a landfill in Newark or some fucking place.
That afternoon Moe brought in a stoop-shouldered Jewish tailor from North Bergen, who got Chase up on a tiny stool, made him put on an oversized suit, then stuck pins in and drew chalk marks all over the black cloth. The tailor noticed the bandages beneath Chase's T-shirt but said nothing about them.
"Single-breasted or double?" the tailor asked.
Moe Irvine answered. "Single."
"High rise or low?"
"Full sleeve or narrow?"
"Narrow, of course."
"You have two."
"You heard what I told you, Isaac."
The tailor said nothing more and slipped from the room, giving Chase a slight eye roll as he passed.
Moe, who would've been called a consigliere if the family had been Italian instead of blue bloods going back to the Minutemen, told him the suit would look nice, now he needed some ties.
It took Moe a couple minutes to find a few he was satisfied with. He held them up to Chase's collar, let them drape this way and that, then pinched them down in place like there was a tie tack. Finally, Moe nodded to himself and pulled four aside, then plucked a diamond stickpin from his pocket.
"You understand your duties here?" Moe asked.
Chase looked at him for a moment until he realized Moe was serious and actually wanted a response.
"I drop people off and I pick them up again?"
"Their well-being is your responsibility. You protect them."
"I'm not a bodyguard."
"You are now."
"That's not what I do. You've got plenty of hired muscle in the crew for that. I'm a driver."
"While you drive, you are the bodyguard. That's the job. If you're not up for it, tell me now."
Having just watched a guy get aced, Chase figured the time to say no had already wafted past.
"All right," Chase said.
"Good. You have a piece?"
"You don't carry a gun?"
"I told you, I'm a driver," Chase said, sounding stupid even to himself. It was impossible to make some people understand that the best wheelmen never carried hardware.
Reaching into his briefcase, Moe appraised Chase once more, searching deeper this time, his face heavy with thought. Chase did the same thing, studying Moe and seeing a man who was used to running a dangerous but lucrative machine that was suddenly breaking down all around him through no fault of his own.
A carefully hidden, slow-burning anger leaked out at the seams around Moe's mouth and eyes. He was around sixty, well kept and solid, with silver-white hair receding from a prominent widow's peak. He had the kind of maple-syrup tan that you had to spend months working on, slathered in baby oil in the backyard holding a metal reflector up around your neck. A broad spatter of caramel-colored freckles flecked his nose and cheeks. They looked this close to going cancerous. His three-piece suit was formfitting with just a little heft in the shoulders to square him off.
Moe pulled a Browning 9mm and a shoulder holster from his briefcase and handed them to Chase.
There was something almost precocious in how unsubtle these people were. Chase stared at him for an extra second and accepted the Browning. Chase hated guns but now wasn't the time to argue.
They let him bunk in the servants' quarters, a late-nineteenth-century, three-story brick building about a hundred yards away from the main house. It had been converted into a kind of modified duplex. He was told that fourteen people lived there. Most of the muscle, the hitters, the butler, and the landscapers stayed on one side, and the three Polish maids, the lady gardener, and the cook resided on the other. It was like a college dorm. The estate covered sixty acres, about a mile from the Hudson. Chase thought he could smell the water but it was probably his imagination.
He carried his gym bag to a small bedroom and checked the upstairs windows of the main house across the way. The big boss, Lenny Langan, was dying up there, wasting away from prostate cancer. An '07 black Buick Lucerne with medical plates was parked at the side entrance, on a slight angle, like the doc had come screaming up the driveway in a panic to help save Lenny. The guy going through the motions despite the foregone conclusion.
Before Chase could unpack and settle himself, a torpedo came marching in with the front of his shirt covered with dry smears of blood. The guy stopped just inside the doorway, gave Chase a quick once-over, and said, "Hey, welcome to the action," then proceeded down the corridor to another room.
Jesus Christ, these syndicate people, Chase thought, they're all fucked.
He shut his door and phoned the Deuce, asked him, "What the hell kind of mob outfit is this?"
Deucie sounded like he was talking around his cigar stub. "Thirty years ago, one of the best. Now, they're disorganized and on the run. Look, I told you it was a bad setup, with all the infighting and mob-war bullshit. But you wanted me to make the call, set up the meeting."
"You told me they needed a driver. Instead I'm a chauffeur. And a gun-toting chauffeur at that."
"Jackie Langan said he wanted a driver. Is it my fault the mook doesn't know the difference between a getaway man and some smoke he wants to call Jeeves? Do you have to wear a hat?"
Sometimes you couldn't let out a sigh or it would never end. "Yeah. They gave me white gloves too."
"Jesus, they like to play the role to the hilt, don't they? It's one of the reasons they're off the media's radar, because nobody takes them seriously anymore. All those news anchors storming into the fish markets and the butcher shops with their camera guys, chasing the old mob bosses down the street? They never hassled Lenny and his chauffeurs with the gloves. The feds never wanted to infiltrate them because it was no fun. They couldn't grow mustaches and wear Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses at night, use wiseguy accents. The feebs held classes, teaching their agents to say, 'fegeddaboutit' and 'pasta fasool.' But so who gives a shit? You sit back and drive those rich pricks into the city to do their shopping. Pretty soon Lenny will cough up the ghost and the rest of them will move to Chi or Palm Springs. You won't have to put up with it for long."
"They want me to play bodyguard too, Deuce."
"It's mostly for show. They can't get any of the regular crew to get behind the wheel—those wannabe wiseguys all figure the job is beneath them. No action to it. Sitting on your ass and taking orders is no way to get promoted and get your button. Besides, the family is afraid that some of those muscleheads waiting around behind the wheel might start taking some incentive on how to move up the ranks. So they farm the job out."
"But I'm a total stranger."
"Gives you less reason to pop them than one of their own."
Chase had been going full clip for more than a month now, with almost no rest. It was the way he wanted it. He didn't want to think about being alone in the world now that Lila was gone. But hearing the chauffeur's last words, spoken in that voice. Maria. It was starting to make Chase think again.
"They aced the previous chauffeur right in front of me. Those gloves I mentioned? They were still warm from his hands. Not a clean kill either—they opened him up and left him in the trunk crying for his kids."
"Fuck sake, for what? Not tipping the hat? Driving over too many potholes? You better not make any sharp left turns." Deucie wheezed out a laugh that died abruptly, the way it should've. The Deuce had sharp instincts, and he could hear the wheels spinning inside of Chase, the shifting from first into second. "Wait a second here, you're not looking to boost the house, are you? You nuts? I didn't send you over there to score the joint."
"How could you not?" Chase asked. "I'm a thief."
"You been straight for the last ten years. Now I don't know what you are." Deuce let a few seconds go by, got rid of the cigar butt, spoke clearly into the phone. "Listen, kid, didn't you hear your own fucking story? These people aren't clean. They do things dirty and ugly. So why the hell are you even there? You don't have to be there."
"I've got to do something with myself."
"Go back to teaching auto shop."
"I think those days are all behind me now."
"Only if you want them to be. You should cut out—they probably got nineteen hitters on the payroll."
"Yeah, a couple live right down the hall. One just welcomed me to the family. I think he might be back soon with bundt cake."
"At least they won't have far to walk to ice you. That outfit's got grief up to the neck. Lenny was slick, but Jackie's an apple that fell too far from the tree. His sister Sherry is sharper and nastier and being primed to take over, so that just makes for more internal trouble. Already they can't hold off the Russians and the Chinese and the feebs. RICO cases are being made. Capos flipping, all kinds of backstabbing, taking potshots at one another in restaurants. You don't need that shit."
In the background, the Deuce's chop shop sounded way too busy for this time of the afternoon. Deucie was getting a little sloppy too, having his crew make runs in broad daylight. "Get out of there," he said to Chase. "Now. Just go. Don't score them. It doesn't matter if you take ten bucks or a hundred g's, it makes them look bad. You know these syndicates. They never stop looking for the people who rob them, hit them, betray them—it's their number one rule. It's what they live for. They'll come after you forever. You don't need that grief. I know you're still recuperating. Guy takes a beating like you did, bullet wounds, loss of blood, a couple cracks to the head, you gotta give yourself time to recover. You're not thinking straight. Depression, it's genetic, you got the gene. I know you're hurting about Lila, and what happened with Jonah, I know you're out there on the edge right now, and part of you wants to fall over. A lot of bodies are turning up in the Hudson, or not at all. Don't—"
"Yeah, they've got a landfill someplace," Chase said, and hung up.
There were fourteen cars and trucks in the estate garages, everything from a three-year-old Mercedes to an F430 Spider and a Ford pickup.
They were all in bad shape—scratched, dinged, rusted, sludge wearing out the engines. They'd been driven hard by amateurs who didn't believe in regular care. Chase was a little worried about just how well the crew had cleaned out the trunk of the Super Stretch.
Since nobody had given him anything to do yet, Chase went to work on the vehicles.
He pulled them out into the huge egg-shaped driveway in front of the main house and eavesdropped on the Langan crew as they milled about. There were supposed to be guards patrolling the grounds but everybody just stood around smoking and bullshitting.
He learned that in the six months since Lenny Langan had more or less cashed out of the game, lying in bed with tubes in his nose and down his throat and in his crank while everybody was on death watch, his son Jackie had really spiffed up the estate. The guy had added a nine-hole golf course out back and vamped the main house by stripping all the cherry paneling and painting the place a pale chamois. It was all wasted flash since they'd probably be leaving soon.
Chase picked up on the particulars. The Langans were being run out of Jersey by the Korean, Chinese, and Russian mobs, among others, and they'd soon be moving on to Chicago to start up again as a much smaller outfit. Most of the crew knew they were getting the ax and had started up little side businesses, like the chauffeur had done.
The Mercedes had a fine stereo system, and Chase climbed in and turned on the radio, found an oldies station, and felt the tuned engine hum through his bones. He shut his eyes. The music took him back to when he was a kid and his parents danced around the living room together, his mother staring over his father's shoulder and making funny faces at Chase. It brought him back to the nights when he'd drive down the ocean parkways with Lila, heading out to the point, where they'd find some stretch of beach and she'd say, "Sweetness, you get more than flirty with me down in the dunes and you're gonna scratch us both raw." He'd say he didn't care and she'd go, "Glad to hear it, love, 'cause neither do I."
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