“Them. The Entrepreneurs, you mean?” When he didn’t reply I asked, “What business do you have with them?”
He didn’t say. I glanced over the apartment again. What was I missing? I looked back at Stalin. His smile had returned. I was tempted to wipe it off his face. At the same time I realized that he was probably telling the truth, that he had nothing to do with Jamie’s and Katherine’s murders. I could see him raping both women before killing them. Raping them and then bragging on what a fine lover he was. But the rest? You don’t do that in front of an audience and I couldn’t imagine Stalin doing anything without a chorus applauding him.
I also realized that I wasn’t going to get any more from him—I had learned precious little considering the huge risk I was running.
“We’re leaving,” I said.
I gestured at the door. He went to open it. I shoved the muzzle of the Beretta against his spine.
“It’s real simple,” I said. “If anyone does anything foolish, I’ll kill you.”
“And then you die.”
“Do you really want to trade your life for mine?”
“You gonna go down, McKenzie. You gonna die.”
“Just not today.”
“Day ain’t over yet, man.”
Stalin opened the doors. The guards had retrieved their weapons and the machine gunner still had his. They pointed them at us. Stalin smiled.
“Me and McKenzie goin’ for a walk. I don’t come back you kill him, you kill his momma, his old man, his brother and sister and aunts and uncles and cousins—you kill everyone he ever knew.”
“It’s done,” said Mr. Mustache with the machine gun.
Satisfied, Stalin led us out the door, along the corridor, down the stairs, out the back, and across the field. His people watched but didn’t interfere. When we were on the other side of the hole in the fence, I told Stalin to remove the pin from my pocket. He did. I told him to slip it back into the grenade. He didn’t like that plan at all but the Beretta convinced him. I was pleased to see his hands shake as he carefully shoved the pin through one side of the firing mechanism and out the other. I smiled at him then and tossed the grenade through the open window of my Cherokee. It landed on the passenger seat, bounced off and rattled on the floor.
“You nuts, man,” Stalin said.
He heard no argument from me.
Stalin was breathing hard now and looked sweaty and tired—he burned energy like a highway flare. I fought the impulse to blow his brains out.
“Next time,” I said.
“Next time gonna be real soon.”
I shifted the gun to my left hand, opened my car door, and slid behind the wheel while making sure the Beretta was pointed at Stalin through the open window. I closed the door and started the car.
“The Jag in the parking lot. The XJ6. That yours?”
“Cost fifty K,” he announced proudly.
“Just the kind of car you’d expect a Motor City pimp to drive.”
The remark seemed to disturb him more than the grenade.
“I ain’t no pimp,” he yelled at me as I drove off.
I went north, then west, then south, then west again, then north, then east, then south, making sure I wasn’t followed until I was completely lost. My hands were shaking so badly I could barely control the Cherokee—it was like the lug nuts had fallen off and all four wheels were wobbling. Finally, I pulled over and shut down the engine. I had intended to stir the pot and see what surfaced. Yeah, I stirred it, all right. What was I thinking of, letting Molly Carlson’s tears move me to such a risk? Or was it Bobby and Clayton Rask accusing me of murder? My hands shook and my legs shook and my stomach churned with fear. I was perfectly calm in the apartment, almost arrogant, thank God. Only now I just wanted to go home. You’re gonna die. The words echoed through my brain. How do I get myself into these situations?
I was nearly thirty-seven. In medieval times I’d be considered ancient. In ancient times I’d most likely be dead of old age by now. In this century I was merely stupid.
I leaned back against the seat and closed my eyes, waiting for my nerves to quiet themselves, breathing deep, exhaling slowly. Eva Cassidy was on the CD player. I thought her exquisite voice would help. It took both her and Ella Fitzgerald.
“You don’t look like a detective,” the old man told me. I hadn’t told him I was one. Like Nina Truhler, he connected his own dots.
“Who does?” He gave me a little head shake, suddenly embarrassed, so I answered for him. “James Garner? Tom Selleck?”
“Robert Mitchum,” the old man said. “And Bogart. He was good.”
“I always liked Alan Ladd. Remember This Gun for Hire?”
“He was a bad guy in that one. A hit man. ’Sides, Ladd, he was a pretty boy. And short. They made all his leading ladies stand in slit trenches.”