The morning ritual was an intensive process for the modern woman. Unlike Bean, Irene “Rally” Vincent’s undergarments were not threaded with Kevlar, so she compensated with volume. By the time she’d clipped every garter and attached every snap clip, it was 9:55 am. Short on time, she could only manage two pieces of toast and a quick blend of the last six apples in her apartment before walking down the hall to Bean’s pad.
“Bean, you in there?” She called through the double-reinforced door, “here I come!”
Bean shoveled so much money into the maintenance of the Road Buster that he’d never even bothered with a cot—the couch was as good a place as any to touch down after a day’s work. Opening the door, Rally just hoped this time he wouldn’t be naked or wasted or both.
Thankfully, he was neither, content to snore on the couch not saturated in a dried layer of his own vomit.
“Wake up, Bean, it’s ten thirty already!” No response. “Bean!” Rally drew her old police taser and settled its to chromed teeth against his thick neck. He jumped, eyes flapping open for a second, then he flopped back down. It looked as if she had just knocked him deeper into an unconscious state. What now?
In the kitchen, something was sizzling on the range. Apparently, Bean had gotten up at some point in the morning, cracked two eggs over a skillet and gone back to sleep. She picked up the skillet, walked back to the couch and settled the hot iron directly over Bean’s eyes.
His shriek was heard from two blocks away.
Later at the breakfast table there was a stern silence. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. Bean took a bite out of the commercial-sized sausage he hadn’t bothered to heat or prepare in any way past peeling back a bit of the foil.
“Well, you awake now?”
“Rally, your wake up technique leaves a lot to be desired,” he said. “Were you going to fry my eyeball for breakfast?”
“Well you didn’t wake up when I used the stun gun. But anyways how did it go? Did you get the money OK?”
Bean reached for one of the pineapples he kept on his table along with his modified SEAL knife. “Mhm, but I’ve had it with these trigger-happy airheads and their pint-sized,” he swung down with the blade, bisecting the fruit so clean not a drop of juice bled onto the polished wood, “partners.”
Rally bit into some toast. She knew her partner had a soft spot for kids, perhaps his only soft spot.
“What’s our schedule for the rest of the week?”
“Nevermind the week, there’s nothing on for the month!” she said.
Bean paused with half the pineapple in his right hand. “Huh?”
“For the most part our forty-thousand minimum is too expensive.” She sighed. They’d had this conversation before as well. “We can’t go on unless we lower our prices and get more work.”
“Our prices have nothing to do with it. Problem is we can’t advertise!” Bean took a bite of the fruit, tearing off a chunk of the fibrous outer skin with it. He’d spent several years developing an immunity to the inedible elements of pineapple rind.
Rubber screeched against asphalt through the blinders on the window down on the street. Rally’s professional acoustics training let her hear the faint sound loud and clear. “Is the wiretap on the police phone rolling?”
Bean picked up the carafe, still filled halfway. “Uh huh, but there’s nothing interesting on it.” He killed the last of the coffee.
The front door to the apartment complex was kicked open, even Bean could hear that. He leaned over. “You think…” Footfalls on the front stairs. “Is that a customer?”
“I hope so.”
Knocking on Bean’s door. “Who’s there?” he said.
A male voice came from the other side. “I have a delivery request! Please let me in!”
Was it a sting? No respect for the proper protocols… “This ain’t UPS, fella.”
“This is a request for the Road Buster! Please let me in!”
Rally already had the Mossberg 500 at the ready, cocking the wood-finish pump action. Hot lead wasn’t Bean’s style, he left that to his partner, but at her insistence he kept the street sweeper under the couch at all times, fully loaded with five 12-gauge shot shells in the internal tube magazine.
“I’m not the police!” the voice yelled. Bean glanced into the peephole and waved away the shotgun.
He slid on his shades, just to be sure. “Hang on a sec.”
Their prospective client was the clean-cut young Reagan-voting type more in character behind a desk downtown at some hedge fund office than a transporter’s living room.
“Please help us. We just escaped from a gang of kidnappers.” He held a sack of something in both his hands.
Looking down, Bean saw the sack was in fact a kid.
In the year Ford came out with the piece of American automotive coitus that was this particular model of the Shelby Cobra GT500, Inspector W. Percy had been slogging through the fetid shit that Vietnamese maps called Huang Lo Valley, Central Highlands, jammed, mud-spattered M16A1 in hand and a radio set slung over his back with two 7.62mm Warsaw Pact rounds plugged into its mechanical guts. Two years later he came home to Chi-town, enlisted in the CPD and continued to slog through shit until this day. Today everything would change.
The thought made him press down harder on the shammy rag he stroked over the Cobra’s sleek, nigh-organic curves.
Downtown Precinct’s underground lot stank of economy-grade motor oil and, like the rest of the building gross, criminal incompetence. The voice Percy heard echo off the granite pillars didn’t help the stench. “Inspector!”
Detective Dick Li had been Percy’s partner for almost a year now, surprisingly the most tenacious among the rotating cast he’d been going through. “The Chief wants you.” There had to be some tragic story behind the testosterone imbalance in Dick’s voice, but Percy had never dug up the personnel file on him.
“Oh, all right.” Percy said.
Dick seemed to notice the object of the inspector’s affection for the first time.
“That’s a nice car! Is it a Mustang?”
Any syrupy sympathy that had been trickling out from the softer remnants of Percy incinerated. What a maroon. “Hahahah!” He barked. “It’s a Cobra. A Shelby Cobra GT500. With this that Road Buster bastard won’t beat me again.”
Dick was smiling vacantly. Percy went on. “It’s a hot machine, souped up to three-hundred-and-fifty-five horsepower.” He staggered towards Dick, who staggered back. “Maximum torque fifty-eight kilos! She’s got Goodyear Eagles…” Dick didn’t seem to appreciate his raves about the custom shocks on the Cobra, but Percy couldn’t care less. He grabbed the detective by the arms. “That Road Buster’s gonna be busted!”
“Uh waaah…” Dick said.
Percy’s voice descended into a growl that could match the Cobra’s 350 HP engine. “Seventy-four squad cars trashed because of him. This time he’ll pay!” He guffawed, projecting every Victor Charles, every fifty-yard blood trail through the jungle that led to nothing save a C ration booby trap, onto this one transporter. Then the serotonin crashed back down and he was mute once again. “Chief’s on the fourth floor?”
“Uh, yes, sir.”
The Chief was a law-abiding citizen. Not even in his personal office did he light up the stogies he kept stashed everywhere. Gnashing one between his teeth, he looked over the files of this new case.
Percy swung open the door without bothering to knock. “What can I do for you, Chief?” ‘Go after the Road Buster,’ please. He thought. ‘Whatever it takes, Inspector. You’re the only man in this department for the job and we’re all behind you.’ Dear God, let me do it. For once in your pathetic, pedestrian career get your beady eyes off seating your fat ass in the mayor’s office and cut me loose onto those streets you get such a perfect view of from here to get some real police work done. Or Christ, are you like the rear-echelon fucks we had back in country; giving all of us real soldiers lectures on how important a decisive victory is, then telling us to get results while tying our hands behind our backs. All the same: give me some room to work! Give me some motivation! give me validation as a law enforcement professional! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa—
“Percy,” The Chief muttered. “How about opening doors quietly?”
He sat on the Chief’s desk. “You sent for me just to tell me that?”
“No, for work, dummy.” He flapped the case files in the inspector’s face. “That Road Buster case you’re always working on…” Percy was pissing him off more than usual today. He reached for his ashtray-lighter.
Using Marine reflexes he had half thought were gone, Percy gripped the Chief’s wrist and lit his own crumpled Lucky Strike with the finger of flame coming from the ashtray. Thank you, sweet Jesus. Thank you, General William Westmoreland. He let out a jet of smoke. “Ah! Leave it to me! I’ve finally found the car that can take his out!”
“Forget about it for now.” The Chief ignored Percy’s facial expression. “The daughter of the president of the Grimwood Company was kidnapped.” He rapped his fist against the papers. “Get-on-the-case.”
That was it, better no career than this career. He leaned forward straight into the Chief’s personal space. His cigarette fell onto the desk, hot ash spraying. “You gotta be kidding! Why do I have to work a lousy kidnapping case?!”
“What do you mean ‘why?!’” The Chief snarled back. “Do you have any idea how much Grimwood pays in taxes?! If the kid gets killed the mayor will have our have our asses. You won’t be able to go after that courier.”
Percy felt his gall stone coming back to life. He sighed and leaned back. You win this round. “What do we got?”
He flipped the papers onto the desk. Clipped to the top was a candid photo of the Grimwood kid. “Chelsea Grimwood. Age eleven. Last seen the evening of the fourteenth.”
The girl lay asleep or drugged on Bean’s armchair, frocked clothes surprisingly immaculate for someone who’d spent the past few hours in captivity. He guessed she was around eleven.
“So uh, Morris. OK, uh, Mr. Morris, why didn’t you just go straight home or run to the cops?” Bean popped the thing he’d found between the folds of the couch into his mouth. He assumed it was a chip.
Morris furrowed his brow, his hands clenched into fists. “Well, they seemed to be very well organized and they even have an informant working for them inside the police force. There’s no possible way we could make it to the mansion without your help.” He shut his eyes. “It’s nothing short of a miracle that we even made it here. So please, won’t you take us to the mansion in your car? Please, I-I implore you.”
Bean found another thing in the couch covers. He ate it. “How’d you know about this office?”
“Grimwood Financial also has an intelligence agency. And you’re already a well-known figure there.”
Rally reentered through the front door with a black rectangle in her hand. “Bean, it’s true. They were talking about it on the police line. This was recorded ten minutes ago.” She flipped a switch on the dictaphone.
A cop voice came through the speaker. “The Grimwood kid’s probably been carried off into the kiddy porn underground. She’s only eleven years old.”
Another voice: “The perverts will be drooling over her!”
Voice 1: “Don’t get so upset. Why don’t you go out for a meeting or something?”
Voice 2: “You know I don’t like him knocking investigations like that!”
Voice 1: “Would you at least give it some thought?”
Rally switched off the recording. Bean chuckled. “My man Percy, as I live and breathe.” He turned back to Morris. “For fifty grand we’ve got a deal.”
He stood. “You’ll take it?”
Bean smirked, eyes concealed behind his shades. “Cash in full. On arrival.”
Morris sighed, obviously relieved. “Of course!”
Someone cocked a machine pistol from close by—either a Micro Uzi or an Uzi Pistol. Rally’s situational awareness hackles were raised. Instantly she pinpointed it to the building across the street from the apartment. She drew the CZ-75 semiautomatic pistol from her shoulder holster.
9x19mm parabellum rounds came through the kitchen window, shredding the aluminum blinds and pulping Morris’ right side from the pant leg up to the temple in near-flawless grouping for an automatic burst. Bean watched, unshaken.
The precise fire died. Someone was either changing magazines or clearing a jam. Rally broke from her hard cover behind the wall and sprinted into the kitchen. She barely dodged the second barrage, plaster and window frame shards shooting into the apartment. By the time she peaked back out, the shooters were long gone, leaving only a shattered window across the street as a calling card.
The living room was in shambles. Bean was sitting coated in dust and wood bits with a hand holding up the collar of his Kevlar trench coat. Rally saw Morris sprawled out, eyes rolled back. “Is he dead?”
“Well I would think so with his brains on the floor.”
“What about the girl?”
Bean pointed to the far corner with his chin. “Over there.” The arm chair was toppled over onto its side by the destroyed TV. The girl was still unconscious. “I kicked the chair over before the glass blew out. She didn’t get a scratch.”
Rally walked over. “She’s still asleep,” she said in awe.
“Yeah, they must have really drugged her up.”
“Bean, are you alright?” She asked with mirth, already knowing the answer.
He chuckled, standing from his shredded couch. “Oh, it’s so nice to know you care.” He tugged the collar of his jacket, shaking free the flattened Uzi rounds that had come through the wall and used their leftover inertia against the Kevlar weave. They clattered onto the carpet by his feet.