A few years from today . . .
The young woman laughed and swung the child back and forth.
Words came from Jake, but he couldn't make them out because they were muddied and slow, as if made of molasses.
The woman frowned at him. She pulled the child in and said underwater words that made no sense. The look on her face was angry. Wild.
A nasty mechanical buzz blasted him—his alarm clock yelling at him. Jake groped and turned it off, then realized that he was holding his breath, his jaws clenched.
As he did every morning, he turned to a snapshot in a plain black frame on his nightstand—Amy in her favorite flowery party dress, forever five years old. He touched the tiny silver crucifix hanging from the frame by its chain. Amy wore it in the picture.
Why could he see her face in the photo but not in his memory? The crucifix glittered, and he couldn’t look at her picture any more.
He swung out of bed and his foot came down on an empty wine bottle. God, his head hurt—the price of self-medication. He scowled at all the damn sunshine coming in the window.
Should he blow off his meeting with the attorney general of the United States? After she’d come all the way to Chicago so she could keep the meeting secret? Should he stiff a woman with lots of lawyers to inquire into a certain mercenary’s activities? Okay, not a good idea. But, with her resources, what could she want from a hired gun?
Outside, fat clouds in a sepia sky drifted over Lake Michigan. On the water, white triangles of sails leaned before the wind. On Lake Shore Drive, sunlight flared from ant trails of cars thirty stories below. Most days he felt like an ant, mindlessly marching toward an unknown destination, especially since the numbness in his mind had set in right after Amy was—his mental anesthetic choked off that line of thought.
In the bathroom, his red, puffy eyes stared at him from the medicine-cabinet mirror. He wondered about the moisture on his cheeks. More and more, he found it there when he woke up. He touched it with a fingertip and then tasted. Salty.
The numbness said it didn’t matter.
He downed a few painkiller tablets and turned to readying for his noon appointment with the attorney general. As he shaved, he debated whether to wear a suit or not. Suits sucked—but he was meeting Marion Smith-Taylor in a luxury hotel—but he hated wearing a tie . . .
* * *
Searching for Murphy, Jewel Washington pushed through the lunchtime crowd that filled the plaza beside the Chicago River. For her brother’s sake, she had to find the lard-ass cop before she went back to the office. She spotted Murphy, a big, round boulder parting a stream of girly secretaries cramming in a buzz of noontime shopping, a boulder that leered at their bobbing chests.
As she strode toward him, a breeze reeking of car exhaust swirled around the skyscrapers, but her skin liked its touch. She welcomed the sun’s warmth, imagining she could feel it turning her gold-brown color a shade darker.
Murphy’s piggy eyes stumbled across her when she closed on him. His gaze went for its usual tour of her body—yeah, she was wearing a scoop-neck top and a mini-skirt, but what the hell, couldn’t a girl enjoy a spring day without some slob feeling her up with his eyeballs?
She handed Murphy five twenties and he gave her a dose of pink in an inch-long vial. She’d hated the drug since it hit the streets—God, had it only been a year? But it was the only thing that could stop Timmy’s pain—for a while.
Murphy said, “You get tired’a paying cash, I’ll be glad to take it in trade.”
“I don’t think so.” She tapped a tarnished spot on his badge. “That’d be prostitution, and you’d be doing something illegal.”
He chuckled, his chins jiggling. “Damn, wouldn’t want that.”
A bony white kid shuffled up to the cop, his nose leaking, body shivering, winces flickering across his face. Jewel knew the signs; it had been too long since his last hit of pink.
He held out a handful of grubby bills. “N-n-need one.”
Murphy took his time counting the money while the kid jittered. It hurt her to look at him, he was so much like her brother—no, she wasn’t going to go there. Too nice a day.
The clock on the Wrigley Building said she had time to do a little window-shopping before she had to be back at work, so she walked north for Water Tower Place, not that she could afford anything in the boutiques there.
A clot of gangstas swaggered along the sidewalk, dangling pistols in their hands, radiating dares that no one answered. Creeps oughta get a life. Jewel glanced back at Murphy, who gazed at the punks and then turned his back. She cut wide and strolled.
She stopped at a restaurant window to eye a cupcake display. In her reflection, her ice-blue eyes—donated by some honky ancestor—jumped out at her. So did her scar, a three-inch trail curving down from high on her cheekbone.
She gave her body the once-over like Murphy had. Still lookin’ good . . . wait a minute, was that a little bit of extra tummy? She turned sideways. Damn, gettin’ poochy. She sucked her gut in and walked on, wrestling with whether to diet or exercise, or both.
Two punks slouched against a gun-shop window smacked kisses at her. A ridiculous green stripe ran down the center of the blond’s buzz-cut hair. A red do-rag decorated the smaller guy’s shaved head—he cupped his balls and licked his lips. Ugh. She picked up her pace, her mini-skirt riding high.
They pushed off from the store and swung into step on each side of her. Green-Stripe edged close. “Hey, Brown Sugar.”
“I’m not your sugar.” Keeping her gaze straight ahead, she said, “There’s a cop back there.”
“Yeah.” He laughed. “Murphy.”
His sour stink hit her and the skin on her arms goose-bumped. Wishing she wasn’t wearing high heels, she broke into a run and darted between a couple holding hands.
* * *
Striding through the gray trudge of pedestrians along Michigan Avenue, Jake puzzled over why the U.S. Attorney General had asked for a meeting. Sure, she had her hands full with violent crimes that had been escalating since the flood of gun buying that followed Obama’s election. Jake hadn’t been surprised when a deluge of new guns had ballooned the supply available to nuts and bad guys in a perverse trickle-down.
And then there was the pink epidemic. The crimes that rippled out from each addict’s efforts to stay supplied were swamping Chicago’s law enforcement, same as cities everywhere.
But she had an army of agents—the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals. Why a freelancer?
A tiresome clump of a half-dozen gang jerks swaggered toward him with cocky menace, semi-automatic pistols visible. The gangbangers blocked most of the sidewalk, forcing people to step off the curb or sidle along a building front. Jake locked his gaze onto the eyes of the guy in the center and walked straight at him.
The kid kept his cool as they came together, but one stride from colliding he dropped his gaze and sidestepped. Never slowing, Jake cut through.
He focused on what he knew of the attorney general. He’d heard from his old contacts in Justice that she was honest and devoted to the law, and that she hated the under-the-table deal-making of politics. He had too . . . once upon a time.
* * *
Do-Rag flashed past Jewel and then stopped a few feet ahead, arms spread wide. A hand grabbed at her elbow from behind. She jerked free, cut around a woman with a stroller, and then ran back toward the cop. “Murphy!”
Green-Stripe caught her arm and yanked her to a stop. He swung her to face him and leaned close. “You need somethin’ to relax you, chocklit, and I’m it.”
She yanked free and spun. His partner stood waiting for her.
They grabbed her arms and hauled her backward toward an alley. She pulled with all her strength, but couldn’t tear free.
Fifty feet away, Murphy stood and stared at her.
She cried, “Murphy?”
The punks dragged her into the alley; her call ricocheted from concrete walls. “Help me! Somebody! Hey!”
Glances flicked at her from the throng on the sidewalk and then skittered away. See no evil, don’t get involved, stay safe; she’d done the same a thousand times.
Now what she had to do was live through this.
* * *
A scream cut into Jake’s thoughts. Ahead, two scruffy punks pulled a young woman into an alley. A reflexive impulse to go to the rescue started up . . . but then his mental ground fog of deadness sucked it under. A policeman headed her way. Let the cop deal with it.
The woman’s cry came again. “Murphy!” The officer, a wide man with multiple chins, halted at the alley entrance and gazed at the action.
Jake reached the alley and stopped a few feet behind the cop. What the hell, he could spare a minute if needed.
The shorter punk held the woman’s arms from behind while the blond with a stupid green stripe in his hair ripped her shirt open.
She yelled to the cop, “Murphy! Murphy, it’s me!”
Clothes-ripper turned to the officer and gave him a screw-you smile. Quick, smooth, he slipped his hand inside his Bulls jacket and pulled out an automatic pistol. He didn’t aim the gun, just held it ready.
How would the uniform handle it?
The cop moved on, hands clasped behind his back as if out for a stroll in a park.
There was a time Jake would have chewed the guy out for not doing his duty. Today it was just another swirl in the fog.
The kid replaced his pistol and unzipped his pants. A cry from the woman shriveled into a wail. “Murphyyyy.”
The cop didn’t look back. People flowed past, blinders on.
Jake looked north toward his waiting appointment.
Back into the alley.
The woman staggered her attacker with a kick to his leg. He slapped her, and then had to dodge a knee aimed at his crotch. Girl had guts.
Jake sighed, stepped into the alley, and drew his .45 Colt automatic from the holster under his windbreaker. He pulled the silencer from his pocket, twisted it on, and settled into a marksman’s stance.
The punk holding the woman saw Jake, and his grin O’d toward a shout. Jake couldn’t allow a warning; the one with the gun was fast. Jake’s bullet stopped the kid’s yell in his mouth and slammed him back. His hands didn’t know he was dead and pulled the woman on top of him when he fell.
Jake shouted, “Freeze!”
The tall one spun toward Jake. He jerked his gun out of his jacket as he yelled, “You’re dea—”
Jake shot him in the heart. The kid staggered back, looked down at his chest then up at Jake, his eyes wide like a scared little boy. His knees buckled and he collapsed, his gun clattering on the pavement.
A familiar rush of nausea hit Jake. He swallowed the sick feeling and focused on the mechanical rhythm of removing the silencer and stuffing his pistol into his holster.
The woman scrambled to her feet. Clutching at her torn top, she stared at the mess that had been her attackers, then looked at Jake.
He turned his back on her and stepped into the mindless herd. His internal fog blanket smothered his revulsion at killing, and his thoughts went back to his meeting.
What did the attorney general want him for?
Would he give a damn?
Could he give a damn?
* * *
Jewel trembled, the scar on her cheek throbbing as though it remembered old trouble. She settled herself down. Her mama had always said, “In this world, you got to be hard. Ain’t nobody there for you but you.” Hallelujah, Mama.
She’d been lucky this day. She had to thank the guy, even if he was white—Mama’d taught her manners, too. Jewel hurried after him, trying to arrange her torn top into decent coverage, but one tit or the other kept falling out. Great, now she had to walk down Michigan Avenue with her boobs hanging out. And wouldn’t they love it back at the office.
She spotted her rescuer slicing through the crowd. She really should get back to her job, but, hell, he’d pretty much saved her brown ass. She shouted, “Hey!” No response.
He crossed the street. She hurried after him; the man could move. The crossing signal switched to “Don’t” as he entered the Chelsea Hotel.
Jewel ran for it.
* * *
Jake scanned the Chelsea’s lobby, alert for body language that signaled a threat.
With all the glamour and finery of models posing for a fashion shoot, the usual high-priced hookers littered red velvet furniture. The usual bellboys idled, and the usual executives eyed the usual high-priced hookers. Except for a long table featuring posters of a gray-haired man, nothing seemed other than ordinary.
The long table was manned by three cheerful-looking women ranging from twenty-five to forty. The youngest—red-haired, trim and smiley and pretty—accosted people with handfuls of material while the other two helped lines of men and women, lively with chatting and smiles, register for something. Signs on the table told Jake to “Get information about the Alliance here.”
A faint memory surfaced; some kind of cult out West?
When he passed the table on the way to the elevator, the redhead approached with a sprightly smile and said, “Excuse me, sir, I’d like to tell you about—”
He stopped the proselytizer with a look; her smile dimmed. He strode into an elevator and punched the floor for his floor.
A brown-skinned young woman whirled through the revolving doors on the lobby’s far side. She struggled to keep a torn top together—the girl from the alley? What the hell was she doing here?
The elevator doors shut.
* * *
Jewel’s rush dwindled to a sudden stop when the elevator doors closed with her goal behind them. Robbed of purpose, she stood, unsure of what to do.
The terror of the attack in the alley surged into her mind and the room tilted sideways. Hands came from behind and caught her under the arms.
Jewel straightened and turned. The hands belonged to a perky redhead. Jewel said, “I’m fine, I’m okay.”
Her knees sagged, Red caught her again, and Jewel told her pride to find something better to do. She let the woman help her to a chair beside a long table. Looking up into worried green eyes, Jewel said thanks.
Red’s concern lightened into a smile. “You just sit till you feel better.” She pointed to Jewel’s gaping blouse. “I can help you with that.” The woman rummaged in a box under the table and pulled out a white t-shirt. She aimed a finger at a corner of the lobby. “The Women’s is over there.”
“Thanks again.” Jewel took care standing. She was steady enough. Clutching the shirt to her chest, she hurried to the women’s restroom. In the privacy of a stall, she took off the remains of her top and pulled the t-shirt on.
At the sink, she dampened a paper towel with cold water and wiped her face. Feeling better, she checked out her new look.
Her chest bore “The Alliance” created with a checkerboard of pinks and tans and browns. She touched it with a fingertip—one spot matched the color of her skin. Well, it wasn’t pretty, but at least it covered her.
Back in the lobby, the redhead waited with a question. “Are you all right?”
Because the woman had been a help, Jewel smiled and said yes.
Red offered a brochure. “Maybe you’d be interested in the Alliance?”
“Sorry, I’m not buying anything, and I’ve got to get to work.”
“Oh, we’re not selling anything, just trying to, uh . . .” She shrugged and grinned. “. . . this’s gonna sound really corny, but to make the world better.”
Jewel snorted. “You want to do that, you start with a great big match.”
Red laughed. “It’s all in the brochure.”
Jewel took it. A silver square reflected her face; below it a caption said, “You’re looking at someone who can make life better.” At the bottom was a smaller version of the Alliance logo.
Probably a con that promised to turn your life around quick and easy, no sweat, no strain, all-you-gotta-do-is-believe-and-buy-our-salvation-program-complete-with-a-free-poster, only $289.95.
Red handed her a slip of yellow paper. “This’s about tonight’s rally. I hope you’ll come.”
Not meaning it, but not wanting to cloud the sunny woman’s enthusiasm, Jewel stuffed it and the brochure in her purse and said, “Sure.” She checked her watch. “Damn, they’re gonna fire my ass.”
In the Presidential Suite, Marion Smith-Taylor finished a cigarette, glanced at the No Smoking sign on the door, lit another one from the butt, and paced. She wasn’t happy about having to come to Chicago—she hated tiptoeing around, but these days too many eyes in D.C. were on the Attorney General of the United States, and the president would have her scalp if word of this meeting got out.
She wasn’t happy about having to include Kurt Dengler, either. Being in the same room with the chief of staff’s arrogance was galling. She thought the allegation by the president’s minister buddy that the Alliance was a religion was no more than some kind of harassment, but when the president asked you to do something, that was what you did. There were times when doing his bidding left bruises on her soul. Still, she’d been itching to dig into the Alliance, and maybe she’d find a way to stop their attack on the Constitution.
Her watch alarm beeped—ten minutes until they were due. She slipped into her gray blazer and checked her appearance in the dresser mirror. She had to stoop a little to see all of her head because the damned thing was set too low for somebody six feet tall. Hair looked okay, but she didn’t like the gray starting to show. On the other hand, she didn’t like the deceit of coloring it, either.
Time enough for one last hail-Mary—she opened her cell phone and auto-dialed her office. Suzanne Fisher answered. “Ms. Smith-Taylor’s office, how may I help you?”
Marion pictured Suzanne, not in an office outfit but bundled up in her pale blue terry-cloth robe, blond hair tousled, fair cheeks flushed. If Marion had her druthers, Suzanne would be helping her to a tumbler of Scotch—but that would have to wait until she was home. “Hi, Suze, it’s me.”
“I was just thinking about you.”
That was one of the things Marion loved about Suzanne—no coy games, she just said how she felt. “Me, too. Listen, they’re about to get here. Anything on the Alliance from Joe Donovan or Sally Arnold?”
“Damn.” She’d been praying for better information on the Alliance before the meeting. But she wasn’t surprised; Joe and Sally had been less than helpful for months. Something had changed with them. “If you hear from them in the next hour, call.”
* * *
In his hotel room, Kurt Dengler knotted his tie and then cocked his thumb and aimed an index-finger gun barrel at Noah Stone’s smile.
Stone looked up at the fingertip muzzle from the cover of a Time magazine on the dresser; the headline read, “The Alliance’s Pied Piper.”
Kurt squeezed the trigger, and there was no hole in the enemy’s forehead.
Like Daddy used to say, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
His cell phone rang. The president’s gravelly voice said, “New poll in, Kurt, and that Alliance son of a bitch’s killing us out West. Have you got Marion moving on Noah Stone yet?”
“Meeting in just a few minutes, Mr. President.” His gut tightened the way it always did when the president was upset. He pulled a mini Tootsie Roll from the stash in his pocket. The rush of chocolate eased him even though it meant trouble with his ulcer. For the millionth time, he wished smoking wasn’t bad for people. Not that Tootsie Rolls were much better.
The president said, “This is a matter of national security, Kurt.”
Damn right it was. Their opponents were campaigning on repealing half the things they’d worked so hard for four years to put in place. As far as Kurt was concerned, weakening America in this troubled world amounted to treason. “Do you want me to tell Marion that?”
“No, we’d better stick to our preacher friend’s idea that the Alliance is a church.” A short, bitter laugh. “I couldn’t have asked for a sharper, more honest attorney general, although there are times I wish Marion was a little more . . . flexible.”
Kurt didn’t mind telling a little white lie to Smith-Taylor. Hell, he wouldn’t mind telling her a big fat one. “She’s just going to want to investigate, sir. I don’t see her doing anything unless she finds evidence.” Although digging up even a hint of something crooked could do the job. Noah Stone’s image was so unbelievably clean that it wouldn’t take much dirt to force him to retreat. Maybe Born-again Bobby’s religion-tax dodge allegation was true. He smiled at the thought. A bust by the feds would do it.
Kurt flicked a glance at the Time cover. “I’ll do whatever it takes, sir.” Noah Stone was an evil bastard. His ideas were toxic, and his initiatives stole basic American rights. If there was ever a man who was an enemy of freedom, that man was Noah Stone. It was his duty to stop him.
The president was silent. No doubt thinking about evidence. But their cell phones were secure and scrambled. “Keep this private. Small. Very small. It has to be deniable.”
“Like we agreed, I told Marion to use a freelancer.” Yeah, the way the press and those damned bloggers lived in the administration’s shorts, they didn’t dare use government resources on political opponents until after November. If something happened to Noah Stone, it couldn’t be seen as the administration’s doing.
“Okay. Get ‘er done, and soon.”
* * *
Marion slipped a pewter flask from her overnight case for a warming swallow of Scotch. Mid-swallow, a knock sounded on her door. She crammed the flask away, took deep breaths to flush out the odor of alcohol, and opened the door.
Dengler stood there. Except for his bald pate, so opposite the president’s white hair, the two men could be brothers—same stocky, strong-looking body, same sun-weathered skin. Prosperous looking in a designer suit that belied his redneck beginnings, Dengler projected the image of a wealthy, powerful politician. But it was the president who radiated the real strength she needed to see in a leader; even though Dengler was a strong personality, she sensed softness that she had a hard time trusting.
And damn the man for coming early.
She exchanged phony smiles with him. “Good morning, Kurt.” He nodded, went to the mini-bar, set his briefcase on it, and poured a bourbon. She wouldn’t mind another sip from her flask, but Dengler would probably find a way to use it against her with the president.
Sirens from the street below cut into the uneasy silence—the damn things had been continuous during the night and had cost her considerable sleep. Marion checked her watch. Where was Jake Black?
Dengler sipped his drink and then said, “You sure this guy can do the job?”
She answered with a look that let him know his question didn’t deserve a reply.
Dengler lived up to his reputation for being a persistent bastard. “The info you sent on him wasn’t clear about why he went from the Secret Service to mercenary.”
She flashed on what she’d read in Black’s file about killing his wife, and why. She’d had to fight back tears. “A personal tragedy.”
“We don’t need a guy with personal problems.”
Marion shook her head. “My friends at the Service tell me he’s ruthless. It’s as if he doesn’t feel anything.”
“Sounds good.” When she glanced at Dengler, he said, “It’s good that he’s, well, neutral. He’ll be objective.”
Certain that he didn’t mean that—he was the most partisan man she’d ever met—her irritation boiled over. She went to him and confronted him, eye to eye, hands on her hips. “Listen, Kurt, you got me here, and I’ll do what the president tells me to do, but what’s going on? This is political, isn’t it?”
Dengler didn’t even blink.
“And why in hell do I have to go outside to—”
A knock on the door. She opened it and a man dressed in jeans and a windbreaker stepped in. His gaze swept the room—Marion sensed power coiled to spring.
Nothing struck her about his size: average height, perhaps broader in the shoulders and deeper in the chest than ordinary. She resented his lack of proper attire—he could at least have put on a tie. He was in his early thirties, brown eyes, brown hair, ordinary features that she thought were pleasant but not striking. His capacity for violence wasn’t apparent . . . but then his gaze settled on her with probing intensity. Even more unsettling, there was no emotion in his expression. It was absolutely neutral, as if he were looking at a thing instead of a person.
She girded herself with the armor of her rank and offered a handshake. “Mr. Black, I’m Marion Smith-Taylor.”
He didn’t take her hand. “Yeah.”
Feeling like a dolt, she turned her outstretched arm into a gesture toward Dengler. “And this is—”
Black said, “Kurt Dengler, the president’s front man.”
Black raised his eyebrows. “Did I get that wrong?” The coolness of his gaze said that he didn’t think so.
She wanted to say no, but couldn’t afford to alienate the president’s buddy. She didn’t want to hear Black’s summary of her, either. “Like some coffee?”
“I’d like to know why a freelancer, and why me?”
She glanced at Dengler to see if he would handle the question—he was the one who had insisted on somebody outside her department. But Dengler just sipped his bourbon. She said, “You have a reputation for discretion and getting the job done.”
“Bullshit. You’ve got good people.”
Dengler said, “Who haven’t been much help.”
Black raised an eyebrow at Marion. She hated being caught in an evasion. She looked him in the eye. “That’s true. And I need to know why.”
“Is that my mission?”
Dengler opened his briefcase and handed him the Time magazine with Noah Stone on the cover. It pissed her off that she’d gotten more information out of the Time article than she had from her agents at the scene.
Dengler said, “This man is.”
Black studied the cover. “Pied piper? He’s charming rats?”
Dengler frowned, apparently not in a mood for humor. Come to think of it, she’d never seen him in the mood for humor. He said, “You heard of the Alliance?”
Black said, “Those people downstairs?”
Marion nodded. “The reason you’re here.”
“And Stone is . . . ?”
Dengler slammed the magazine onto the bar, a rare show of emotion for him. “The Alliance’s preacher.”
Black said, “All right. I know the Alliance exists, but that’s about all.”
Marion said, “Time isn’t far wrong in calling Noah Stone a pied piper. A half-million have joined the Alliance, most of them in its home state, Oregon. The politicians it backs win elections. It’s stronger than the old Tea Party movement was.”
Dengler glanced at Marion. “It’s a damned religion.”
Marion shot a look back. “I was getting to that.” She said to Black, “We’re investigating an allegation that it is secretly a religious organization. The Alliance could be subject to criminal charges.”
Dengler smiled. “Yeah, and maybe somebody will go to jail.”
Was that a hidden agenda she was hearing?
Black raised a brow at her. “Your people?”
She sensed she’d better be straight with him. “I have a team of two in his headquarters town. Their reports are, well, too positive. I believe they’ve been compromised.”
Black turned to Dengler. “What’s the president’s interest?”
“Constitutional rights of United States citizens. You haven’t heard they banned guns out there?”
The lawyer in Marion compelled her to keep the record straight. “Technically, it’s not a ban. But Oregon law slaps you with an automatic felony conviction if you get caught with a lethal firearm. And they confiscate them when you enter the state.”
Black said, “That’s legal?”
“They think so.”
Dengler slammed his fist on the bar. “It’s not right!”
Black examined the Time cover. “So this Stone is the enemy?”
Dengler nodded. “If he isn’t, I don’t know who is.”
Black aimed his gaze at him. “You raise an interesting question, Kurt—is it all right if I call you Kurt?”
To Marion, Black sounded like he’d said, “Is all right if I call you asshole?”
Dengler shrugged. “Sure.”
“Just who is the enemy? For example, on my way here two punks dragged a woman into an alley to rape her.”
Marion said, “My God. Was she . . . did you . . . ?”
Black shifted to her; she thought she saw a hint of surprise in his expression, as if he didn’t think she’d care, and then he was back to cool. “Her attackers have retired from hurting people.” His gaze returned to Kurt. “So, those guys are the enemy, right?”
“A cop watched it happening and then walked away. One punk had a gun, but even so, the cop had a duty.” His gaze bored in on Dengler. “Now, I’m thinking that the cop is the enemy, too.”
“He should have blown those punks away. That’s why cops carry guns. Why it’s a good idea for everybody to carry one.”
“So where does it stop? Is there anybody who isn’t an enemy?”
Although Marion didn’t mind watching Black torment the president’s toady, she wanted this meeting over. “Stone is speaking at McCormick Place tonight. You can see what he’s all about there.”
“All right. My retainer?”
She took a fat envelope from her purse and handed it to Black. “As requested: fifty thousand in cash.”
He pulled a packet of currency from the envelope and thumbed the bills. He stuffed it back in and slipped the money into an inside pocket.
Black turned his gaze toward her. “Just a little private-eye work? Nothing wet?”
Dengler said, “Does ‘wet’ mean what I think it means?”
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