The midnight wind traveling down Chicago’s streets, like the blood coursing through Bean Bandit’s veins, was like water on the brink of freezing over: sharp and clinically cold. A streak of headlight washed over his face and the lenses of his shades for a moment before he adjusted the mirror to face away. He reclined back into the driver’s side darkness. Unlike his ride, it would take more than a simple key twist to warm him up.
It was an audacious operation, even by Chicago standards.
The Century mall boasted your standard cadre of rent-a-cop security: brain-dead punks from the upstate who got off on authority trips, but were too upstate to make it through academy; middle-aged, paunchy wash-ups supplementing their CPD sergeant pensions (normally they’d run smack up through the Eastside and into the veins of Downtown, but that was work for younger cops still on the force). The difference was that these ones packed real heat. Century’s poorly closeted owner had a “special” relationship with the mayor’s office and pulled strings and other things to get the weapons licenses for his private cops waved.
One of those rent-a-cops lay slack against the far wall of the accounting office, a rosette of viscera and buckshot furrowed into the wallpaper above his slack head. The rest of his guts hung limp from the scorched crater in his chest, ruining a starched blue shirt and looking to everyone in the room like a deep bowl of steaming spaghetti spilled into his lap.
The shooter in the Nike jacket was no more than four feet and a half in height. He almost stood at equal height with the prostrate clerk to whose head he held his Type 54, a Chinese knockoff of the TT-30 chambered to take 7.62x25mm rounds. The clerk was too preoccupied sweeping as many stacks out of the floor vault into the shooters’ bootleg Burberry bag to notice. As he hyperventilated the heavy musk of fresh, unmarked bills almost drowned out the stench of aerated gore and activated gunpowder.
The second shooter held his 12-gauge Benelli M3 Super 90 at hip, aimed roughly at the quivering, naked intern. They’d stripped her, a standard hold-up control tactic that worked surprisingly well considering the bother it required one to go to. She was a strawberry blonde, not one of those peroxide bitches he couldn’t stand. Of course, she held both her arms over her chest, but didn’t bother to do anything about downstairs. Typical bitch.
Despite the mix-up with the hero rent-a-cop it looked like it would be a manageable op from here out. Two hostages wasn’t ideal, but as long as no one else showed up their primary issue would be making sure their ride showed up on time—
The office door swung open and a suit walked in. “Here’s those expense requests you wanted…”
Not according to plan at all.
Bean popped the last of the Fritos into his mouth and checked his watch. It was time to move. He prided himself on a level of punctuality sharp enough to contest diamond. Indeed it was the one of the two reputations one had to maintain to the utmost in his line of work, the other was anonymity.
The Road Buster was not the most anonymous car prowling Chicago, but a professional had to allow himself some liberty, and Bean was a professional among professionals. He turned the key. Road Buster’s eight cylinders snarled to life under the cherry-red hood, a sound of almost reluctant obedience to the man behind the wheel. The dash lit up, dripping soft diode light over the immaculate interior. He gave it some gas.
The suit had moved faster than either shooter could have calculated. By the time the vertically challenged shooter swung out the door and placed two rounds between his shoulder blades and a third into the back of his skull, the not-so-silent alarm was already pulled. Scowling under his balaclava, the shotgun shooter grabbed the naked intern with one hand and cracked the Benelli’s folding stock over the clerk’s head with the other.
What a fuckup.
They sprinted through The Century’s central atrium, discretion thrown to the wind. The mooks strolling the halls drew their eyes more toward the blonde staggering behind the two shooters than the hardware in their hands or the bag of cash slung over the vertically challenged shooter’s shoulder.
Less than sixty yards behind another rent-a-cop of the upstate punk variety turned a corner and raised his sights on them. “Everyone, get down!” He yelled. The mall rats were screaming now.
The girl in tow behind the shotgun shooter screamed, head thrashing this way and that. The blonde was smart enough to know she was being used as a roving shield.
It worked, too. The rent-a-cop froze up on the trigger of his Browning Hi-Power, even as the patrons in his line of sight and beyond dropped down to the carpeted floor. He couldn’t get a bead on anything past the girl’s two-tone tan lines. It was enough time for the shotgun shooter to spin on heel and clip the top of his head off with a shot from the Benelli.
The shooter allowed himself a laugh. “Want a blast? Come and get some on the house!”
Mall patrons descended into blind, rat-like panic.
Bean knew something had gone wrong when he turned the corner into the approach to The Century and saw civvies scattering out from the well-lit doors into the sidewalk. Someone fucked up.
The driver popped the clutch and felt as much as heard the eight cylinders’ decelerating roar, stick and wheel hummed under his hands. This street-hugging cheetah had a heart full of napalm tonight. Bean was pretty revved up too.
The power slide kicked up a choking cloud of Chicago grime, a perfect smoke screen for the two shooters as they burst out the glass doors, a girl in the buff behind them. The tall shooter shoved her to the wall and pumped two scatter shots over her head, spraying granite shards across her body. She screamed in hysterical terror.
Theatrical fucker, Bean thought.
The shooter cackled and dove into the back of the Road Buster with his partner and the cash. Bean peeled out and tore off into the night. Glowing white tracers flicked across the edges of his tunnel vision as the RPMs throttled all of them back into their seats. Being shot at was definitely not part of the plan.
When the potshots had ceased, the shooters opened their Burberry bag. “I can’t believe this! Nothing but ten-dollar bills in here!” The taller one snarled. He grabbed his partner by the collar of his gaudy jacket. “What the hell was on your miiiiiind?!”
There wasn’t time for a reply. Out of nowhere the rear window was blotted out with the harsh lights of somewhere around a dozen squad cars thirty feet behind them. Klaxons wailed.
“Cops!” The shooter turned back to Bean. “Hey, Joe, do something! Can’t you hear me?” The driver’s stonewall act had pissed him off since day one.
Bean answered the challenge, sliding left off the street into an unlit byway, tires screeching. The cops pursued one-by-one through the narrow breadth.
“We gonna be alright? There’s more of ‘em coming.”
“We’ll take the prearranged route,” Bean said. These streets were scorched onto his subconscious harder than any dog Pavlov had kept. Let them think we’re headed for Deerbourne.
They pulled out from the byway and hung another tight right back onto the streets. The only problem was the semi jackknifed clear across the width of their way out.
Bean slammed on the brakes. “What the hell is this?” Not even he could have predicted this.
“Well, how do you like that?”
The shooter leaned forward around the passenger’s side seat. “Cut out the jokes and get us out of here!” He shot a finger through Bean’s side window where chainlink fence stood, lit in the wide-angle beams of the semi’s headlights. “Straight through that fence, get us to the other side!”
It was almost a good idea. Bean had a better one. He flicked one of the switches next to the gearbox. It was one of the more premium perks on Road Buster’s 4WD: the car shuddered as if from a bad gear shift, but instead the custom wheels each shifted ninety degrees counterclockwise. Bean gave it some gas and sent them hurtling toward the fence.
The cops at the vanguard of the pursuit thought for a second that they were hallucinating the red demon’s tidy sidestep away off the street and through the side fence. But it was no dream, and the pileup of twisted metal, crumpled hoods and shattered, warbling sirens they made against the semi’s side was a true nightmare.
Secure in the rust-streaked alleys of the junkyard district, the second shooter, the short one, sighed and pulled off his mask. In the mirror Bean noticed she a brunette, middle school-age maybe, give or take a few years. He figured he was supposed to be surprised at something like that.
Neither of them noticed the security camera on the warehouse wall focusing into the car’s interior. Bean pulled up to the prearranged drop point.
They divvied up the takings. Bean took his cut and left it in the Burberry bag. “$45,000 exactly.” He zipped the bootleg luggage back up.
“Wait a sec,” the taller shooter said.
Bean slipped off his shades, revealing the crossed scar stretching between his narrow brown eyes and disappearing under his crimson Kevlar bandanna. “You got a, uh, problem?”
The shooter pulled off his balaclava. Close-cropped hair, white eyes—your average everyday shock-and-awe robber—utterly forgettable. “You can’t take that much, we’ll barely get anything!” The girl shooter said nothing, her hands inside the nylon Nike jacket and eyes concealed under a green cap.
“Not getting enough is your problem,” Bean said. A problem you’re used to, judging from your selection in partners. “Not mine. I did my part, I’m taking what we agreed on.”
The shooter sighed as Bean began walking away. The driver thought he was God’s gift to the Chicago syndicates. The thing is, he was half right. “Hey, the next job—”
“Not interested. Only amateurs work for the shipping charges alone.” Bean got back into the car. “Besides, I don’t work for dumb bastards who use kids as accomplices.” He shut the door and started the engine, confident he’d never see these two rookies again.
When the driver had gone, the girl pulled the brown wig from her head and shook out her own violet locks. Her partner unlocked the driver’s side door of their car.
“Come on, get in.” The engine purred to life.
Inside, they dumped the rest of their disguises. The shotgun shooter pulled the mask off her face and coughed up that handy brass ring, custom-designed to lodge in the throat, but still allowing air’s safe passage. The outer edges of the torus shape pinched specific spots on the larynx to drop the pitch of her voice down into the snarl she’d been using all night.
They took off.