As Chicago Police detective Vince Bonelli picked up his gun and his star from the dresser, his girlfriend Gina came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. She rested her head against his shoulder. “Maybe you should cancel.”
He stopped and turned to her, breaking her embrace. “Why?”
Gina brushed her short, black hair from around her face. “I don’t know. I don’t trust Frank Calmonico.”
“But this was your idea. Meet with him so he’ll know I wasn’t behind someone taking a shot at him.”
She shrugged. “Maybe I was wrong.”
Vince shook his head. “Frank may be crazy, but he’s not stupid. He’s not going to whack me in my own neighborhood, on my own turf. Besides, he knows it wasn’t me shooting at him last night. He’s known me since we were kids and it’s not my style.”
“I know, I know. Still, I don’t trust anyone in the Outfit, especially not Frank. You told me he’s a real sociopath.”
“He is and I don’t trust him either, but if Frank wanted to kill me, he wouldn’t do it at lunch. Too many witnesses. I’d just get gunned down walking on the street.”
She studied him for a moment, her brown eyes pleading. “If you won’t cancel, then at least wear your vest.”
“You know I hate that thing. It’s hot and uncomfortable. Besides, it makes me look like a penguin. I’ll be fine.”
She reached up and gently touched his cheek with her palm. “Do it for me. Besides, if you look like a penguin, other women won’t make passes at you. After all, women are hot for Nicholas Cage.”
Vince smiled. As if any other women would be making passes at him. Gina was the only person who had ever said he looked like Nicholas Cage. Well, and maybe his sisters. But that’s how sisters are. Nearsighted, when it came to their little brother. Still, he knew better than to simply refuse Gina’s request. She was as strong-willed as she was beautiful. Heads turned when she walked into a room wearing her sexy high heels.
“Well, if you insist. But I expect compensation for looking like a penguin.” His hand roved down, gently caressing her rear.
“Later, Stud, I have to get to work,” she whispered in his ear before pulling away. She paused, then asked, “You want to meet somewhere for dinner?”
“Um . . . yeah. Why don’t we meet here and go someplace romantic? I’ll make the reservation. I’ll surprise you.”
“That’d be nice. Don’t make the reservation too early, though. I should be home by six, but I might be late.”
Vince paused. “Yeah, and I might be late, too.”
“But you always call if you are.”
“I might be too busy.”
“Sure. I believe that.” She flashed him a quick smile. “You’re so dependable. That’s part of why I love you. I’ll see you around six unless you call. And don’t forget your vest.” With that, she gave him a peck on the mouth and left.
Vince stood a moment. A quick kiss and saying that he was “dependable?” After only a few weeks, maybe he was already boring her. Perhaps it was time for him to be a little bolder, a little dashing.
True to his word, he reluctantly went through the ordeal of re-dressing with his bullet-proof vest under his sports jacket. Then he went to the hall closet to get his coat. Hanging there, in drab conformity, was his black, wool overcoat. In the back was a zippered bag that held a camel hair coat his mom had given him last Christmas. The only time he had worn it had been to one family gathering after Christmas, just to show his mom he liked it. It had seemed just too . . . flashy.
Screw dependability. Time to start adding a little flash to the wardrobe.
He pulled the coat out of the bag and tried it on. Looking in the mirror, he saw a tan penguin.
Dang, getting a pot. Hair’s getting a little thin, too. Can’t do anything about the hair, but it’s time to start exercising. Maybe tomorrow. Wouldn’t do to look like a chunky Nicholas Cage with someone like Gina on his arm.
For now, he’d shed the vest. Besides, Frank would probably weird out if he showed up with one. “Don’t cha trust me, Vinnie? You feelin’ guilty ’bout somethin’?”
Vince tossed the vest back in the closet. Although his profile in the mirror was still not perfect, it was much better.
As he started for the door, the phone rang and he picked it up. “Detective Bonelli.”
“Vince, it’s Phil. I think we’ve got a break on the Malone killing. Some punk locked up for assault in Central D wants to talk. Can you meet me there?”
Phil O’Reilly was his partner in the Chicago Police Department. Vince looked at his watch. “Sure. I’ve got an 11:30, but we should be finished in time.”
“Great. See you in a few.”
As he was about to leave, Vince remembered the small box in the pocket of his other overcoat. The ring. This might be the right night. What would be the most romantic restaurant?
Before he left, he stowed the box safely in the right pocket of his camel hair coat.
Screw Murphy and his stupid law. Things were going right in his life. What was the saying? “Fortune favors the bold.” Virgil. Choose the right restaurant and pop the question.
The trip to Central Detention didn’t pan out. The punk was just trying to make a deal with nothing to offer. A time waster.
Rushing to make his lunch appointment, Vince left 11th and State under dark-clouded Chicago skies. On Roosevelt, near Blue Island, his Thunderbird’s engine suddenly died. It was a struggle to steer his heavy car’s dead weight to the curb.
He banged his head on the steering wheel in frustration. “This can’t be happening. Not today. Not now.”
His car never broke down. It was a classic, a ’65 T-bird convertible, and he cared for it like the baby he never had. But it picked that moment to throw a tantrum, about ten blocks from the restaurant and his meeting with Frank.
Vince got out and opened the hood. He fiddled with a few wires, wiggled some hoses, but to no avail. He was no mechanic, so he really didn’t know what he was doing anyway. But it was required that he go through the motions. Women were lucky. They could just open the hood, look helpless and some guy would stop to help.
After a couple minutes of fiddling, Vince shut the hood, pulled the keys from the ignition, and slammed the door. Glancing around, he saw no pay phones. He would have grabbed a cab, but cabs are only around when your car’s running and the weather’s nice. So he started walking. Now he would be late for his meeting with Frank Calmonico.
A sleety snow began to descend from graying skies.
Who would have thought there would be such weather in May? But what can you expect from Chicago? Besides, it was just another thing to go wrong.
As he slogged up a street of dirty trash cans and scattered rubbish, he pulled the collar of his overcoat over his neck. It would probably be ruined too. When he shoved his hands in his coat pockets, he found a driving cap in the left one. Where had it come from? A Christmas gift? That was it. From Cousin Tony.
Vince never wore caps. Caps were for dorks. But rather than catch a cold, he put the cap on and pulled it low. Then he sneezed.
Oh well, add another black mark to this day.
When he rounded the corner of the alley a block below the restaurant on Taylor, he saw Frank getting out of his black Cadillac. It was parked in the no parking zone in front of the restaurant. No traffic cop in the neighborhood would have dared to give Frank Calmonico a parking ticket. One of Frank’s goons was holding the door open for him. Frank wore a black overcoat over his tall, heavy frame and a purple, paisley scarf, but no hat. His thick, black hair was combed in a pompadour like a helmet against the elements.
But Vince also noticed someone watching the Cadillac from a motorcycle across the street. The way the biker had positioned himself, next to the wall of a building, only someone coming from the alley could see him. The biker, a study in black, wore leathers with a helmet and face shield and was astride a jet black trail bike.
Something was wrong here. Very wrong.
Vince broke into a clumsy jog in the deepening slush. As he closed the distance he saw the biker was holding something. A very large handgun, maybe a machine pistol like an Uzi. Vince tugged aside his heavy overcoat as he ran and started fumbling for his own gun.
“Police! Drop it!” he gasped, winded from his uphill run in the icy muck.
Then everything seemed to go into slow motion. The biker turned to him, swung the gun around and fired a burst. Bullets tore into his chest. Overwhelmed with searing pain and a sudden weakness, he pitched forward, vainly attempting to break his fall. Sprawled on the cold, wet sidewalk, Vince lay on his left arm with his right hand involuntarily gripping a handful of gritty slush. Helplessly, he watched the scene before him.
Frank dove into his car and his goon wildly fired a handgun at the almost-hidden assailant. The shell casings from his gun flipped high into the air in ironically graceful arcs. The goon got lucky, hitting the biker in the right arm. His head snapped back and he dropped his gun as red blood spattered onto the white snow.
With an odd clarity of vision, Vince saw the biker’s neck, the glint of a gold chain with what looked like a crucifix and a fringe of black hair below the helmet. Not only that, even the thick leathers could not completely camouflage a bustline. The biker was a she. And he was sure he knew that neck. It wasn’t the uniqueness of it. It wasn’t by simply seeing her neck at such a distance, even with the chain around it like the one Gina always wore, the one with the crucifix from her mother. Not by even the black hair that barely edged below the back of the helmet. But Vince knew he was right. He was absolutely positive. It was the throat he had caressed the night before. It was Gina.
The bike’s engine roared to life and it slued wildly on the sleety tarmac as it sped away. The goon ran after it, emptying his clip. Vince lay on his side, bleeding on the icy snow. With great effort, he reached inside his right pocket and clutched the box he’d put in there that morning. The movement sent tremors of agony through his body, almost causing him to lose consciousness. Tears of pain formed at the corners of his eyes.
“Gina,” he gasped.
Frank and the goon ran up, and Frank knelt by Vince. Rolling him onto his back and pulling back the camel hair coat, Frank’s look was that of one who had seen many gunshot wounds. Lifting Vince’s head and putting his paisley scarf under it, Frank’s face was grim.
“Don’t worry, pal. I’ll get you through this.”
“He’s a goner,” the goon said without emotion.
“Shuddup, asshole!” Frank snapped. “He saved my life. Yours too, probably. Call 911.” Then, as he looked at Vince’s wounds, he crossed himself. “And call a priest.”
Vince felt no pain now, only numbness. Looking down, he saw his blood steadily spreading and dripping onto the dirty slush. His coat was going to be ruined. He hoped the priest would get there in time. He didn’t want to die without absolution. It would be the ultimate thing to go wrong. Maybe Murphy was right. If anything can go wrong . . . .
Then he thought of Gina. Was she a pro, hired by one of Frank’s enemies? But why had she shot him? Was it because she no longer needed him to set up the hit? Had it all been a lie?
It was all a jumble in his mind: hazy and disoriented thoughts. Nothing made sense.
“Why?” he asked as the blackness enveloped him.