Never Say Die

The Destroyer 110 - Never Say Die

Chapter 1

“If I’da known about this in advance, I woulda kept my mouth shut,’ said the bookkeeper.

Vinnie Donatello wasn’t buying it. “That’s total bullshit, Ira. Balducci’s people were about to let you take the fall for tax fraud, and you got pissed off. You knew exactly what would happen if you talked.”

“I didn’t know nothing about hiding out in the fuckin’ house where Honest Abe was born,” said Ira Goldblum, staring at the log walls with a pained expression on his doughy face.

Greg Brady laughed at that one, lowering himself into a chair directly opposite the bookkeeper. “Get over it,” he said. “You know how long you’d last back in Detroit.”

“We coulda gone down to Miami,” Goldblum whined. “They got the ponies running now, at Hialeah. We could make a few bucks on the side. I got a system.”

“And Balducci’s people could make you,” Blair Rooney said, returning from the kitchen with a sandwich on a paper plate. “They got a system, too.”

“You guys.” The witness scowled and shook his head. “I’m goin’ nuts up here.”

“Just two more weeks,” Marsh Lockwood told him, staring out the window at the tree line, twenty yards away. “You lose your mind, we’ll fly a shrink in from Milwaukee.”

“Now you’re talkin’,” Goldblum said. “Nice little blond shrink, maybe. Watcha think?”

“I think you’re dreaming, Ira.”

“That’s the problem, pal. I need a dream girl, help me get to sleep at night. This back-to-nature shit is killing me.”

The safehouse was a one-time hunting lodge, upstate Wisconsin, east of Long Lake, in the Nicolet National Forest. It stood at the dead end of an unpaved logging track, five miles back from the nearest two-lane highway, in a clearing cut by hand from tamarack, dogwood, white oak, red maple, elm and sassafras. The single-story layout featured three bedrooms, a spacious kitchen, living room and bathroom, with detached two-car garage out back. The place was new to Lockwood and his team, but they had run the drill in other hideouts.

It would do.

They made an odd team, at a glance. Blair Rooney was a slender, red-haired Irishman. Greg Brady was a giant carved from ebony at six foot eight, the blackest great-great-grandson of the Congo you could ever want to meet. Vince Donatello was a stocky, olive-skinned Italian, constantly on edge about his weight. Marsh Lockwood was the senior member of their team, with sixteen years in service as a U.S. marshal. He was native white-bread all the way. Their mark had taken one look at the four of them and labeled them the Rainbow Coalition, after Jesse Jackson’s late, lamented pressure group.

The mark was Ira Goldblum, forty-something, balding with a body like a roly-poly punching bag; Armani suits helped cover some of it, but Goldblum was nobody’s dreamboat. Ira had been the chief accountant for Local 137 of the National Waste Handlers’ Union, in Detroit. The union represented garbagemen, and it was run by one Leonardo James Balducci, second-generation Mafia, with prior convictions that included statutory rape, assault with deadly weapons and attempted murder. Those had all been youthful indiscretions, though, and Leo B. had skated through the past two decades of his life without so much as an indictment or a traffic ticket

Until now.

Their pigeon had been cooking Leo’s books for eight years when the roof fell in. Local 137 was serving as a laundry for Balducci’s secret income, which included weekly takes from prostitution, drugs, extortion, usury and an expanding line of child pornography he brokered out of Scandinavia. When one of Goldblum’s flunkies was arrested with a teenage hooker of the male persuasion, he began to sing like Whitney Houston, spilling everything he knew about the union operation, plus a few things he dreamed up, for good measure. Enough of it proved true to put the squeeze on Ira, and it soon became apparent that Balducci was content to let his chubby Jewish accountant take the fall.

Which brought them to the former hunting lodge, where Ira would be chilling out until a federal grand jury opened hearings in Detroit in two weeks’ time. He had already given statements running upward of two hundred pages, with supporting documents and copies of the “special” books he kept for Leo B. but justice runs on certain tracks and has to stop at every station on the route, or else it gets derailed. Once the grand jury handed down a list of federal indictments—which was guaranteed—then Leo B.’s attorneys would begin constructing paper roadblocks, putting off the trial as long as possible, while Leo’s shooters beat the bushes for a certain book-keeper and tried to shut him up for good. It could take months, or even years, Marsh Lockwood realized, and while the lodge wasn’t intended as a long-term hideout, it would serve well enough, while Ira waited for his first appearance on the witness stand.

But Goldblum had a point: the place was boring. They had television, with a VCR hooked up, but no one on the team had thought of bringing any videocassettes along. Lockwood started working on a mental list of titles, thinking he could phone it to Milwaukee and have a runner from the service bring some tapes out. And some deli food, to keep their pigeon quiet for a while.

“I’m going to the can,” he said to no one in particular.

“Hey, thanks for sharing,” Ira cracked. “At least the joint’s got indoor plumbing, huh?”

“All the conveniences of home,” Lockwood replied. He turned from the window, leaving Goldblum to amuse the others with his wit.

“Hope everything comes out all right,” the pigeon told him, chuckling to himself. “Comes out all right! Ya get it?”

“That’s one thing about you, Ira,” Brady told him. “You’re a card.”

“You, too, big guy.” The bookkeeper was grinning ear to ear. “I figure you must be the ace of spades.”

The cleaner worked his way in from the north, no trail to guide him, but he had his compass and a hand-drawn map. He didn’t know who drew the map, and didn’t care, as long as it was accurate in all particulars.

The muddy access road off Highway 55 had been exactly where the map said it should be. Six miles due east, and he had left the stolen Chevy Blazer sitting in a turnout, with a set of new plates—also stolen—to confuse the police if any happened by.

The cleaner traveled light. He had a two-mile hike in front of him and was dressed for it, in denim jeans and jacket, with a black T-shirt beneath, and Doc Marten boots. No backpack, but he had a plastic Kroger shopping bag. Inside the bag, a matching set of Colt 191 A-l semiautomatic pistols, each with an extended magazine accommodating twenty rounds. Four extra mags, in case the job took more than he expected from a simple hit.

Besides the rat, he was expecting several Feds. They wouldn’t send an army to protect a piece of shit like Ira Goldblum, but they wouldn’t leave him open, either, knowing that the Family was out for blood. Three-agents minimum, he guessed, but no more than six. It was a high estimate, and he had enough hardware on hand to. waste them fourteen times apiece.

The afternoon was cool, and that was fine. He didn’t much like sweating, especially when the perspiration dribbled in his eyes and spoiled his aim. The ideal temperature for killing someone in the great outdoors was anywhere from sixty-five to seventy degrees. Above that, he would rather visit them at home and work where there was air-conditioning.

The safehouse wasn’t bad, all things considered. It could easily have been some corporate jerk-off’s weekend hideaway, someplace to bring the girlfriend while his wife thought he was out of town on business. Lay a little pipe and go home with the batteries recharged. Instead, the government had used taxpayers’ money to acquire the property and use it as a roost for stool pigeons.

He circled once around the safehouse, staying well back in the trees and watching out for any movement of the curtains that would indicate a watch on the perimeter. Their vehicles must be in the garage, he thought. A passerby might think the place was vacant, perfect for a little B&E, unless guided to the spot by someone in the know.

The lodge had one door, in the front, with windows on three sides. Around in back, the blind side, storm doors opened on a cellar that would almost certainly grant access to the ground floor via stairs or a ladder. It was worth a try, and for sure a damn sight better than a stroll up to the porch. If he was forced to go in through the door or windows, he would have to wait for nightfall, six or seven hours yet.

He knelt behind a massive oak and took the pistols from the shopping bag, cocked each in turn, made sure they both had live rounds in the firing chamber. Then he tucked the extra magazines inside his waistband, the metal cool against his flesh. He left the bag where it was, to rot or blow away.

From the garage, he had to cross roughly twenty yards of open ground. No facing windows, but you could never tell when someone would come out to check the grounds, fetch something from the cars. He kept both pistols pointed at the lodge until he reached the storm doors, knelt before them. Only then did he reluctantly put down his weapons, setting one on either side of him, and take the lock picks from a pocket of his jeans.

The padlock was a good one, but he knew his business. Forty seconds saw it open, and he set it on the ground beside one of the .45s Took time to check the hinges on the storm doors, ensure they wouldn’t scream out in the quiet of the woods and give h ...

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