Low chicago, p.23
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       Low Chicago, p.23
 

         Part #25 of Wild Cards series by George R. R. Martin

  The guys dressed as policemen took shotguns out of the back seat of their police car and opened the back door of the garage. Then they walked in while the two guys with the Thompsons waited silently, one on either side of the door. A few moments later, Khan heard shouting from the inside of the warehouse, someone shouting commands, a dog barking. The two guys with the Tommy guns waited a few beats, then followed the fake cops inside.

  The roof of the SMC Cartage building was two floors below that of the brownstone, so Khan swung himself over the edge of the roof and climbed down, using his claws for traction and the vertical gutter tube on the corner of the building for a handhold. He dropped onto the garage roof as quietly as he could. Then he jumped from the edge of the garage roof to the alley, an easy twenty-foot drop. Both cars in the alley had their engines running, and the black sedan behind the police car had a driver behind the wheel who gave Khan a wide-eyed stare. Khan decided that he didn’t have the time to deal with the driver. He just shot the guy a hard look and went inside through the back door.

  There was a truck parked in the garage. It stood between the back doors and the main part of the warehouse, where the two fake cops had finished lining up Moran’s men against the wall. They were busy disarming them, pulling weapons out of waistbands and pockets and tossing them toward the middle of the garage. There was a dog tied to the bumper of the truck, a German shepherd, and it was barking at the fake cops, who went about their business undeterred. The two smartly dressed hoodlums with the Tommy guns stood by the front of the truck, just out of sight of the men who were lined up against the wall, and with their backs turned to Khan.

  This is going to be a piece of cake, Khan thought. He covered the distance swiftly and quietly. Maybe he could pull this off and save Moran’s men without any shots alerting the neighborhood.

  Then a car horn blared outside in the alley. The driver had found his nerve after all.

  Khan was almost within arm’s reach of the two suits with the submachine guns when they turned around at the sudden noise. One of them was a little faster than the other, and obviously not new to the killing business. He brought up his Tommy gun just as Khan reached him. Khan swiped at the gun with all the force he could muster, which was a lot. The ten-pound submachine gun went flying across the garage and crashed into the brick wall to Khan’s right, hard enough to make the stock shatter and the drum magazine fall out. Gun, stock, and magazine clattered to the cement floor of the garage. The back of the drum magazine popped off when it hit the floor. The .45-caliber cartridges inside, propelled by the wound-up mainspring of the magazine, spewed out of the drum with a strangled-sounding sproing. With the gun out of the way, Khan grabbed the gunner by the coat and threw him roughly along the same trajectory the gun had taken. He hit the wall hard, bounced off with considerably less resilience than the Tommy gun, and fell to the floor.

  The second Tommy gunner managed to get a burst off just as Khan grabbed the muzzle of his gun and pushed it away from him. The hot gases from the compensator at the end of the barrel burned Khan’s hand, and he let out an inadvertent roar. He doubled his grip on the barrel of the Tommy gun, yanked it away from the shooter, and flung it backwards and out of sight. Then he grabbed the goon by the lapels of his coat and head-butted him. The move had the desired effect—the Tommy gunner went slack—but the plaster mask on the tiger part of Khan’s face took half the hit and crumbled like an eggshell. A good chunk of it fell off and disintegrated on the cement floor.

  In the garage in front of Khan, things had gotten a little more restless at his appearance. Moran’s men, who had been lined up along the wall in grudgingly docile fashion, were now turning their heads to see just what the hell was going on behind them. The two fake cops, both holding their double-barreled shotguns, clearly didn’t know what to make of this unplanned turn of events. Khan could smell sudden and sharp fear on both of them.

  “Guns down,” he half roared. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

  When you tell someone to not do anything stupid, they’ll go ahead and do something stupid nine out of ten times. One of the fake cops couldn’t quite make up his mind whether to keep aiming his shotgun at Moran’s men or swing it around at Khan, so he did neither, kind of waving the barrel around halfway. The other cop wasn’t plagued with indecision. He brought his own shotgun up to his shoulder and aimed it right at Khan.

  Khan was still holding the unconscious Tommy gunner by his coat lapels. He picked him up and threw him toward the cop with all the force he could muster, which was a lot. The unconscious guy probably weighed two hundred pounds, and when he hit the fake cop, both went to the floor hard. The shotgun in the cop’s hand barked and spewed a load of buckshot into the wall above the back door.

  The other fake cop had finally made up his mind about which threat to prioritize and swung his shotgun toward Khan. Now unencumbered, Khan dodged to his right and crossed the distance with a single leap just as the shotgun roared. Then Khan had the gun barrels in both hands, wrenched the shotgun from its owner, and snapped it in half. The fake cop scrambled backwards and pawed at the holster on his belt to get out his revolver. Khan swiped his tiger hand down the front of the fake cop’s uniform, and his claws sliced neatly through leather harness, pistol belt, uniform fabric, and skin. The leather harness gave way, and the gun thumped to the floor, still in its leather holster. Khan made a fist with his right hand, the human one, and pounded the fake cop in the temple. He was a big guy, six one at least, but he went down like a dropped sack of cement.

  If Khan had intended to keep his intervention low-key, the plan was a total failure. Two shotgun blasts, a burst from a Tommy gun, one very loud and angry tiger roar, and now lots of yelling and screaming as Moran’s men finally realized that the cops weren’t genuine, and that the guy roughing up the hit men was half Bengal tiger. Nobody even tried to go for the guns piled up in the middle of the garage floor. They all just started running for the back door. Outside, in the alley behind the garage, the getaway driver must have heard enough to convince him that things had very much not gone according to plan, because Khan got a brief glimpse of his face as the car drove past the back door and up the alley at what passed for full throttle in 1929. A few moments later, the garage was empty except for Khan, the four unconscious would-be killers, and a dog who was barking himself hoarse.

  “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Khan said.

  He went over to where the dog was tied up and severed the leash with a swipe of his claws. The dog shot off toward the back door without so much as a look back.

  “You’re welcome,” Khan shouted after him.

  FIVE: MORAN

  MORAN’S MEN HAD SPLIT up in the alley. Most of them were running to the left, toward Dickens Avenue. Two had picked the other way and turned right to run north. One of them—Khan couldn’t decide if he was the smartest or the dumbest of the bunch—had climbed into the fake cop car to make a motor-assisted getaway, but he was either not familiar with the car model or not a very skilled driver. By the time Khan reached the back door, the cop car was just barely in gear and moving. Khan caught up to it easily. He jumped onto the passenger-side running board, opened the door, and plopped himself down on the passenger seat. The driver yelped and tried to open his own door to jump out on the move, but Khan yanked him back by the collar of his shirt.

  “Whoa there, sport. You sit tight.”

  “What do you want?” The driver sounded like he was about half a degree away from blowing his mental circuits. Khan reached over with his right hand and straightened out the steering wheel before the car continued its momentarily rudderless course and plowed into the side of the brownstone next to the garage.

  “I want you to calm the fuck down. Take the wheel and drive this fucking car before you kill us both. Now look forward. Don’t look at me.”

  “All right, all right,” the driver said.

  “You try to jump out again, I’ll haul you back and twist your head off, do you understand me?”

>   “Yeah, okay. Okay. Jeez. Okay.”

  Khan tried to file the face of the driver in his brain’s database of historical knowledge, but came up short. He knew what Capone and Moran looked like, but he hadn’t known the names of most of the people at the garage, would-be killers or would-be victims.

  “Keep it straight. Get out of the alley and take a right on Dickens, go toward the park. Got it?”

  “Yeah, I got it.”

  “What’s your name?”

  The driver looked at him sideways and swallowed hard. Khan supposed it didn’t help that the side of him the driver could see was his tiger half, not the human one.

  “May,” the guy said. “Johnny May. Look, I’m not even with those guys. I’m just a mechanic. I fix cars.”

  “Johnny May,” Khan repeated. “Turn right here on Dickens.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  They took the turn, and Khan looked around for the rest of the Moran gang, but they were all out of sight already. Fear can make a man pretty fast, Khan thought.

  “Do you have any idea how lucky you are, Johnny May? You and the other Moran boys?”

  “Look, I told you I’m not really—”

  “Yeah, you’re just the mechanic. Those guys that lined you up right before I got there? What do you think they were going to do?”

  “I don’t—I don’t know. The two cops came in and told us to get up against the wall. They frisked us. Took all the guns. Those other two? I didn’t even see them.”

  “They came in after the cops,” Khan said. “With loaded Tommy guns. Did they look like cops to you?”

  “Aw, jeez.”

  “Yeah,” Khan said. “Capone’s guys. They were after Moran. They were going to shoot everyone in there. And they wouldn’t have given a shit that you’re just the mechanic, trust me.”

  “My dog,” May said. “We gotta go back. I left the dog tied up.”

  “I cut him loose. Does he know where home is?”

  “It’s too far. I live on North May. We gotta go back for him.”

  “Forget it. Unless you want to talk to the cops. They’re probably on their way right now. That was some noise we made back there. What’s his name?”

  “Huh?”

  “The dog. What’s his name?”

  “Highball.”

  “Highball,” Khan repeated. “Shepherd?”

  “Huh? Yeah. I’ve had him since he was a puppy.”

  “He’ll be fine.”

  They drove in silence for a little while, Khan pointing whenever he wanted Johnny May to make a turn. He noticed that May tried to avoid looking at the tiger half of Khan’s face, but that he wasn’t quite successful, glancing at Khan quickly whenever he thought his passenger wasn’t looking.

  “Where are we going, mister?” May finally asked after they had gone five or six blocks.

  “You’re going to go home,” Khan said. “To your wife or girlfriend or mother, or whatever. After you ditch this car somewhere. It’s got cop markings all over it. But first, you have to do me a favor.”

  “And what’s that?”

  “You take me to wherever Bugs Moran hangs out these days. I need to talk to him.”

  May blanched visibly.

  “I can’t do that, mister.”

  “Sure you can. You think I want to kill the guy? If it wasn’t for me, he’d be seven guys short tonight. Do I look like I’m with Capone? Huh?”

  “No, mister, you do not.”

  May swallowed hard and focused on the road again. Khan hoped that nobody had called in a suspicious police car leaving the scene, because he really didn’t want to duke it out with the Chicago cops out in the middle of Lincoln Avenue.

  “So help a guy out. Drop me off and point me in the right direction. And then you can go home. Look for your dog. Have a damn drink. Be happy that you’re not bleeding out on the floor of that garage right now with a bullet in your brain.”

  May was badly shaken, and Khan didn’t have to pry much. They turned west, then north again, until Khan was pretty sure they were back in the general area just west of Lincoln Park. The snow had started to fall again, fat flakes drifting from the sky and reducing visibility. Somewhere north of Armitage Avenue, May pulled the car over and pointed ahead.

  “I don’t want to drive up there in this thing, but it’s the Parkway Hotel. Mister Moran’s apartment is up on the fifth floor, in the place that overlooks the corner. Look, just don’t tell ’em I showed you, okay?”

  “Relax,” Khan said. “But do remember that I have a really good memory, Johnny May who lives on North May Street and has a German shepherd named Highball. You lead me on a wild-goose chase, have me knocking on some Italian grandma’s apartment door while you hightail it back to town, I’m gonna come look you up. Are we clear?”

  He let out a rasping little growl for emphasis, just enough to make May squirm in his seat and lean over to get as far away from him as he physically could without opening his car door.

  “Yes, we’re clear, mister.”

  “Good. Now get out of here. Go home to your sweetheart. And start checking the paper for a new job tomorrow. Fix cars for people who don’t have enemies with machine guns.”

  “The money’s good,” May said. “I got a family to feed. I got seven kids at home.”

  “You won’t be feeding nobody when you’re on a slab at the city morgue,” Khan said. “Ditch the car. Go home.”

  It was snowing harder now, so it didn’t look too odd for Khan to cover his head with the top part of his coat. He got out of the car and watched as May drove off and turned right at the next intersection. Then he started walking in the direction May had pointed him.

  The Parkway Hotel building was right across the street from Lincoln Park. Khan had been sleeping a few hundred yards from Moran’s apartment, almost in his line of sight, for a week without knowing it. He went back to his hideout in Lincoln Park and made himself another burn mask disguise with the supplies from the drugstore. Then he waited out nightfall, reading the newspaper and eating cold baloney sandwiches. Well after dark, he went to the Parkway Hotel and ducked into a side alley. Fire escapes were easy to reach when your vertical leap was fifteen feet on a lazy day. He climbed up to the fifth floor and let himself into the corridor through a window. The corner apartment was directly to his left, and the locks in 1929 were shit compared to the modern high-tech stuff in his time.

  The apartment didn’t exactly scream “gangster boss,” but it was also clear that there was no little old Italian grandma living here. There was a booze cabinet, all the furniture was nice, and it took Khan only five minutes of snooping around to find a stash of cash and three guns hidden in various locations around the apartment, out of view but ready to access in a hurry if you knew where to look. He put the guns on the kitchen counter, picked up the nicest one—a lovely blued Colt 1911, the bare-bones ancestor of the gun he had carried in 2017—and unloaded the others. The Colt had a full magazine, and Khan chambered a round and flicked the safety on. Then he went over to the liquor cabinet, which was artfully concealed behind a bookshelf, and helped himself to some whiskey. It was rotgut compared to the stuff he usually bought back home, but it was his first drink in a week, and he sure as hell needed one after the last few days. He sat down in a comfortable armchair in the corner of the living room, put the gun in his lap and the whiskey on the side table, and killed some time counting the money from the stash.

  Moran and his lieutenants must have been thoroughly spooked by the shooting at their main headquarters, because they didn’t show up at the apartment until just before midnight. Khan could hear and smell them long before he heard the key turning in the lock he had picked earlier. He counted four different voices and smells, and three of them were familiar to him from the warehouse tussle earlier.

  The first one into the living room was one of the guys from the garage. Khan guessed he was one of Moran’s enforcers, because he smelled like violence and didn’t seem like the accountant type. Moran ca
me in second—Khan recognized him from the pictures in the history books. He didn’t know the third guy, but the fourth looked a lot like mook number one, so Khan guessed they were brothers. The living room was dark, and he waited until everyone was in the room before he turned on the little standing lamp next to the armchair.

  “What the f—”

  The brothers both went for their guns. Khan raised the cocked pistol and shook his head.

  “Nuh-uh, boys. Let’s not make any undue ruckus.”

  They hesitated, which wasn’t a hard thing to do when you stared down the barrel of a .45 automatic. Moran, to his credit, seemed more concerned than outright afraid. The guy behind him gasped when he saw Khan.

  “It’s the guy, Bugs. The same guy. From the warehouse.”

  “Tell your boys to keep their heaters in their waistbands, Mister Moran,” Khan said amicably. “I have really, really good reflexes. But I’m not here to harm you.”

  Moran looked at the two bodyguards, then back to Khan. He bit his lower lip and shrugged.

  “Pete, Frank. You heard the gentleman.”

  The two brothers relaxed their stances. Khan wasn’t worried about the third guy with Moran. He had kind of a bookish look to him, and he didn’t radiate the same sort of attitude the two enforcers did. Khan couldn’t even smell a gun on the guy despite the events earlier today.

  “You came pretty close to getting your tickets punched today,” Khan said. “All of you.”

  “You would know. You were there,” Moran said. “Or so Adam says.”

  “He was there,” one of the brothers confirmed, and the other one nodded. “Took out all four of them. He’s not lying about those reflexes.”

  “So you’re not here to kill me,” Moran said. “And you’re not here to kill my guys, or you could have done it back at the warehouse earlier. So why are you here?”

  “For a job interview,” Khan said. One of the brothers chuckled, and Moran joined him.

  “For a job interview,” Moran repeated, and looked at the guy next to him, the one he called Adam. “Can you believe this guy?”

 
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