Chance of a lifetime (ch.., p.1
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       Chance of a Lifetime (Chances Are #1), p.1

           PT Dilloway
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Chance of a Lifetime (Chances Are #1)
Chance of a Lifetime (Chances Are #1)

  By P.T. Dilloway

  Part 1:

  The Fall

  Chapter 1

  Like most events in my life, this story begins in a bar. Squiggy's is my favorite watering hole, the kind of place where a man can get a drink without too much conversation. I motion to Big Al the bartender. "Fill 'er up?"

  After seven shots of bourbon a nosier bartender might ask if I've had enough. Not Big Al. He knows the drill well enough after twelve years. He just waddles over and splashes more booze in my glass. Then he returns to his stool to watch a women's soccer game from England, the only game on at four in the afternoon.

  I watch the screen for a few minutes, but I don't see the game. Instead I see Maddy at eight years old; she runs around the backyard with our golden retriever Max in pursuit of the soccer ball. "Daddy, watch!" she squealed before she kicked the ball into the refrigerator box she used as a goal.

  I down another shot of bourbon. It doesn't erase the memory from my brain like I hope it would. "Could you put something else on?" I say. "I hate this fucking game."

  My memory of Maddy turns to one of her face red, tears in her eyes. "How could you do that?" Debbie shouted. She poked me in the chest. "Do you have any idea how much she was looking forward to you being there?"

  That was the last time Maddy asked me to go to one of her soccer games. It was the last time she asked me to do anything for her. Six months later I was in a tiny apartment, my stuff still in boxes. That was exactly twelve years ago.

  It's my anniversary. Ironic that Debbie and I divorced on the same date as we got married. I plan to get plastered in this grubby bar to mark the anniversary as I usually do. Later I'll drag myself into a cab-or Al will carry me-and I'll pass out on my lumpy bed.

  Jake used to be the one to drive me home. He would sit next to me and heroically stick to club soda while I gorged myself on booze. When I needed it, he would second my sentiments about Debbie and her lawyers and the whole cesspool that is the world. But after his daughter was diagnosed with cancer about five years ago, he had other priorities. I don't blame him for that.

  Big Al's been here all along. Though tonight, when he thinks I've tortured myself enough, he says, "Why don't you call that daughter of yours? I'll even give you the quarters."

  "I don't need your fucking quarters," I say. I reach into my pocket for a handful of change. There are probably a couple of quarters in there, though at the moment my vision is too blurry to know for sure. "Anyway, I don't know where she lives."

  "I'm sure you can find out," Al says. "Don't you cops have computers like on TV?"

  "Yeah, probably," I say with a snort. Then I wave my hand dismissively. "She don't want to talk to me."

  I reach into my wallet and take out a picture of Maddy in a cap and gown, both newsprint gray. Her face is yellowed because I never bothered to get the clipping laminated. It's the only recent photo I have of her. Debbie's lawyers made it clear that I was not to see Maddy. I can't blame Debbie for that; no sane mother wants her daughter to hang around with a broken-down wreck who smells like rum and lives in a roach-infested flophouse. She could have at least sent me some pictures so I could have something to remember Maddy by.

  She's twenty-two now, old enough that I can call her if I want to. She can call me if she wants; I'm listed in the book. That she hasn't yet says everything. I'm not a part of her life anymore, if I ever was in the first place. And for me she's just a ghost that rises every year at this time.

  "You better leave the bottle," I tell Big Al and slap down two twenties.

  ***

  I'm not sure what time it is when I hear a familiar voice ask Big Al for some dollar bills. I'd know that whiny, high-pitched voice anywhere, even drunk and nearly passed out. My head is on the bar; I turn it to the right and open my eyes.

  Carl Kovacs, aka the Worm in professional circles. The Worm's made a career out of squeezing his tiny body into all sorts of places: windows, air ducts, and even a garbage can once. We could have put him in jail for life about ten crimes ago, but the Worm's other talent is for snitching.

  "Hey Worm," I say and give him a little wave. "Whatcha doing on this side of town?"

  The Worm's face goes pale as he sees me-paler than usual since like a real worm he rarely sees the sunlight. He drops the money Big Al gives him on the counter. "Shit," he whispers.

  I may be skunked, but I'm still fast enough to get off the stool and collar him before he can make it to the door. "Where you going? Can't I buy you a drink?"

  "I don't want no drink."

  I scoop his money off the counter. "How about a pack of smokes then? That's why you came here, isn't it?"

  "I shoulda gone to that fucking chink grocery."

  The Worm looks to Al for help. Big Al starts to wipe down a glass. "Try not to break anything, would you? I don't need the insurance on this dump going up."

  "Look, I don't want no trouble. I got nothing to tell you," the Worm says.

  From the way his mouth twitches, I bet he does have something to tell me. Something big. I drag him over to a stool and shove him onto it. I reach into my jacket for two cigarettes. I put one in his mouth and then catch it before it falls out. On the second try he holds on to it and keeps it steady enough for me to light it.

  "You know how it is, Worm. You give me the goods and you keep your ass out of jail." I light my own cigarette and then blow smoke into his face. It's part of our ritual. If he doesn't break then the next step is for me to give him a peek at my gun. That usually makes the Worm think about self-preservation.

  "I can't tell you nothing."

  "Can't or won't?" I sweep aside my jacket on the left side so he can see my .45 in its holster. He knows it's loaded; he also knows I don't bother to bluff.

  "Take your pick. I can't help you this time."

  "Then I guess I won't be able to help you." I reach behind me for my cuffs. I give him a nice long look at these. "What's it going to be?"

  "I'd rather go to jail. Better there than in the harbor."

  I give him a grin, which is easy enough when I'm drunk. "You know what they do with guys like you in prison, Carl? They'll make you into a pincushion. In two months you're going to have to shit standing up."

  The Worm takes a drag on his cigarette. He's doing the mental calculations, to weigh his options. I take the opportunity to down another shot of bourbon. The bourbon buzzes me a little, just enough that I can't feel the weight of so much guilt on my shoulders.

  "Well?" I prompt him.

  He tosses the cigarette on the counter. "All right, but you didn't hear this from me. There's something big going down at Lennox Pharmaceuticals."

  "Big in what sense?"

  "Big as in Lex is going to be there hisself."

  Lex as in Artie Luther. He got the nickname Lex because of his bald head and also because he's a real son of a bitch. We all know he's behind most organized crime in the city. The problem is to prove it; people who try to testify against Lex usually wind up in the harbor with a pair of cement shoes.

  "No shit?"

  "No shit. Now, can I go?"

  "Not yet. When's it going down?"

  "Tonight. About midnight."

  I check my watch; it's ten o'clock. Just enough time for me to sober up with a few cups of coffee. "Good. Now get lost."

  The Worm doesn't need me to ask again. Before he can slime out the door, I say, "You better not call in any anonymous tips. Otherwise you're really going to piss me off."

  He nods slightly before he leaves. I call Big Al over for a pot of coffee. It'll
be a long night.

  Chapter 2

  The smart thing to do would be to call Captain Archer for some backup, preferably the SWAT team. The only problem with that is ninety percent of the force is in bed with Artie Luther; one of them is sure to give him a tip if I make a call. I ought to at least call my partner. I consider it for a minute before I shake my head. This is one of the few nights of the year when Jake gets to spend a whole night with his wife; one of the few nights when he knows he won't have to bail me out of a tight spot.

  Besides, there's always a chance the Worm had lied. He could have given me a bum tip for fun or to keep me out of the way while Lex does his dirty business somewhere else. Might as well go in and then call for backup once the bullets start to fly.

  Two pots of coffee and half a pack of cigarettes have cleared my head enough so I can get behind the wheel and not see double. I'm still moving a little sluggish, but by the time I get to Lennox Pharmaceuticals I'll be fine. All I need is the air conditioner on full blast and some Creedence on the stereo to get me the rest of the way to sober.

  As "Fortunate Son" comes on, it reminds me of Maddy again. I remember her in the backseat when she was four. She whined, "Daddy, what is this?"

  "This is music, honey."

  "It's yucky." I popped the tape out and put on her Beauty and the Beast soundtrack. That was always her favorite movie; she pretty much wore out our VCR with it. What is her favorite movie now? I don't know. What kind of music does she listen to now? I don't know that either. I don't know a damned thing about her.

  I pop the tape out. The radio is set to the local sports talk station. Listening to former or would-be jocks shout doesn't help sober me up, but it doesn't make me dredge up old memories either.

  Along the way I try to think what Artie Luther would want with Lennox Pharmaceuticals. Sure there are a lot of chemicals there he could use to make crystal meth, crack, or other drugs. He might even be after some of the machinery. Doesn't explain why he would be there himself. A man with as much money as Lex doesn't need to stoop to grand larceny; he has people for that.

  And why Lennox? There have to be a half-dozen drug companies in the area. Maybe he has an in with someone who works at the place, someone who can slip him in there without an alarm.

  How did the Worm find out? A job this big has to be on a need-to-know basis and Lex isn't stupid enough to involve the Worm. Could be he overheard something he wasn't supposed to. Or maybe Lex fed him a bogus tip.

  It's five minutes later when I get to Lennox Pharmaceuticals. The company made a big publicity splash five years earlier when they renovated an old factory by the waterfront to use as their new state-of-the-art labs. The old smokestacks no longer have any smoke coming from them, but I can see lights on inside. Again I wonder if it's a trap. Or maybe I'm on a wild goose chase.

  Under other circumstances it would be easy enough to get inside. I could pull up to the front gate and hold out my badge. These aren't normal circumstances. If the security guard is still alive and conscious then he's in the employ of Artie Luther; to flash my badge would be a quick way to get six feet under.

  I have to do it the old-fashioned way. I park the car across the street and hide it behind some old pallets. Before I get out, I make sure I have a couple of extra clips for my gun. I try to look as casual as possible as I walk around the fence. I keep my hands in my pockets and look down at the ground as if I'm just out for a little stroll.

  The air still has the reek of rotten eggs leftover from when the factories down here still made transistor radios and car bumpers. The smell is enough to sober me up the rest of the way. The walk feels good too, a little exercise to limber me up before the big event.

  As I walk, I steal a few glances at the fence, to look for a weakness. It's a pretty good system, with barbed wire on top of an electrified fence. No way to climb over that unless I want an impromptu appendectomy. It's too low and I'm too fat these days to crawl under it either.

  But even the best systems have their holes. In this case it's a rickety wooden pier nobody bothered to fence off; they probably figured it would sink on its own soon enough. Or maybe they figure no one will be crazy enough to try to swim in this water to get on the pier. Usually they'd be right, but if it means I get to nab Lex then I'm game.

  I don't have to swim, just wade through waist-deep water. The stuff smells even worse than the air, bad enough to make my eyes water. I hope there's nothing toxic in it to give me cancer or turn me radioactive.

  I grab onto the rotten pier. It holds together well enough for me to lever myself onto it. While I lie there, I hear something slap against the surface of the water. A boat is on its way to the pier.

  And on the bow, like George Washington in that old painting, is Artie Luther.

  Chapter 3

  I don't have time to think. I just roll off the dock, into the water. I slide beneath the dock as I hear Lex command his minions to tie the boat up. I claw at the rotten wood until I get a grip between a couple of slats.

  While I try not to swallow any of the fetid water or mud around me, I hear footsteps on the dock. I slip one hand into my jacket to pull my gun from its holster. So long as I don't make any sounds, they shouldn't be able to see me down here, but it doesn't pay to take chances.

  Between the cracks of the boards, I see a pair of combat boots. The boots step over me but no one calls attention to me. Once the boots take a couple of steps, I can see a pale, gangly man in a black overcoat. Will O'Neill, referred to as "the Tall Man" because of his height and no one could think of a better nickname. He's Lex's top assassin, responsible for at least two hundred deaths and probably a lot more than that.

  Another pair of shoes step over where I lie, a pair of work boots. These go past to reveal Bobby Blades. No one's sure if he was born with the name "Blades" or if he gave it to himself; all we do know is that he uses knives like a surgeon. He's O'Neill's polar opposite: brown-skinned, short, and mouthy. "Hurry up, man. Let's get in there already."

  "Patience, Robert," Lex says. He wears expensive loafers that would be ruined if someone were to push him off the dock. Someone like me. I'm tempted. The only problem is I don't have anything on him yet except for trespassing. Whatever he's up to, I've got to let it play out before I can intervene.

  The last member of Lex's crew shows up a minute later. I know who it is long before I see him just by the way the pier creaks as if it will shatter at any moment. Thomas "Bruiser" Malloy looks like what you get if you shave a gorilla and then stuff it into a tank top and jeans. Malloy used to be a boxer, though never a good one. He's strong as an ox but dumb as a gnat. He can take orders and hurt people, which makes him useful to someone like Artie Luther.

  I wait until the dock stops shaking from Bruiser's footsteps before I slide out from beneath the dock. I crawl to the bank and see the moonlight reflect off Lex's bald head. They're heading for the factory. Then that's where I'll go.

  My overcoat is heavy with mud now, so I abandon it on the shore. I take off in pursuit of Lex and his boys; I try not to go too fast in case they look behind them. When I see a flash of light from the front gate, I flatten myself against the building.

  I peek around the side of the building just in time to see someone lean out of the van that's pulled up to the gate and chat with the security guard. A couple of pops later and the security guard is down. Another tally for the Tall Man no doubt. The truck's tires squeal as it backs up. Soon it's gone. The driver might have got more than he bargained for when he signed on to be Lex's decoy.

  I watch from around the corner as they split up. Lex swipes a card in front of a security reader-probably something he picked up from his decoy-and then disappears into the building with Bruiser. The Tall Man and Blades head for the front door. It's choose your own adventure moment. I can follow Lex and see what he's up to or Tall Man and Blades, who will probably take care of the rest of the bu
ilding's security.

  It's not much of a choice. As much as I want to get Lex, I don't want any more innocent people killed. So I get down into a crouch that makes my knees scream and then scurry as fast as I can towards the front doors.

  Along the way I take my cell phone from my pocket. Now's the time to call for backup. There's no signal. Shit. Either Lex has jammed the signal or else he bribed the local carriers to "accidentally" lose coverage in this area for an hour or two. You can do stuff like that when you're the mob kingpin of a major city.

  For now, I'm on my own.

  ***

  By the time I reach the doors, I hear two soft pops. Another guard down, or else some poor schmuck working late. I peek through the doors to see a pair of feet sticking out from behind a reception desk.

  I bolt inside and throw myself against the wall behind the desk. I get a better look at the dead man, a security guard about my age, with a beer gut that spills over his waist. Doesn't even have a gun on him, just a taser. Poor bastard.

  I pick up the phone at his desk. The line's been cut. Maybe there's a phone somewhere else in the building that will work. That is if Lex didn't bribe the phone company to turn off those lines too. Only one way to find out.

  I turn left and run past a bank of elevators. As I do, I catch sight of Blades and the Tall Man down the hall, at the stairs. I break into a run to catch up to them. I throw open the stairway door. I can hear footsteps below me. I look down and see Blades going downstairs, probably into the basement.

  I try to line up a shot from the stairwell, but the angles are no good. I'll have to get in closer to take the bastard down. I descend the stairs as quietly as a guy who's six-three and two hundred thirty pounds can, which is to say not very. It probably sounds like a buffalo is charging down the steps after him.

  I stop at the last landing before the bottom of the stairs; the hair on the back of my neck stands up. It's an instinct honed after thirty years as a cop. Turns out my instinct is right; a knife flies through where my head was a few seconds ago. Then I hear a door slam shut.

  It's dark in the basement. I'm tempted to get out my cigarette lighter, but that will give Blades an easy way to home in on me. Instead I feel around with my hands like a blind man. It reminds me of when I had to go downstairs in the house I shared with Debbie whenever a fuse blew out.

 
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