“Now!” Harry barked into a hand-held radio. A half dozen shots rang out in unison and the airplane’s tires exploded. Before the echoes died away, two dozen agents emerged from the woods, brandishing their weapons like they were just itching to squeeze off a few hundred rounds. They soon got the chance. The two black men I had met in Stalin’s apartment, Mr. Mustache and Mr. Non-Mustache, pulled their heavy machine gun from the back of one of the Chevy vans. They trained it on the attacking agents but before they could squeeze off a single round, they were cut down by a prolonged fusillade from M-16s.
I followed the agents, sprinting hard in a straight line past the dead bodies of the gangsters toward the entrance of the shed. There were a half dozen men in the shed. Most of the men were dressed in tuxedos and holding long-stem champagne glasses. They seemed frozen in shock.
“Where is she?” I screamed at them.
Mellgren was the first to come to his senses—sort of. He threw his glass to the concrete floor and rushed me.
“You sonuvabitch,” he screamed, trying to throw a punch at my face.
I used his momentum against him, blocking his punch with my left forearm, bringing my right arm up under his left armpit, sweeping his legs out from under him and throwing him over my hip on top of the limousine’s hood. I locked my fingers over his windpipe and squeezed.
“Where is she?”
When he didn’t answer I squeezed tighter. Mellgren gasped for air.
“Where is she?”
I angled my head toward the voice that had called out. Merci Cole was sitting in the back of the limousine and looking out of the window. I left Mellgren gasping on the hood and went to her.
“Are you all right?”
“I am now,” she said and smiled. “You want a drink?”
I opened the door and sat next to her. She handed me a square crystal decanter filled with scotch that she had found in the back of the limousine. I gladly took a long pull.
“The FBI and those other guys, were they part of the plan?” she asked.
“Yes, they were.” ’Course, I didn’t explain that it was their plan and not mine.
“How come you didn’t mention ’em before?”
“Must have slipped my mind.”
I took another sip of scotch. As I drank, Harry and Alec and their band of happy warriors led Warren Casselman, Stalin, the airplane pilot, three disgruntled Russians, and Geno Belloti into the hangar. Not a shot had been fired since the two gangsters went down.
“Congratulations,” I said, raising the decanter in salute.
“Your girl okay?” Harry asked.
“Safe and sound.”
If looks could kill, Casselman’s expression would have put me six feet under.
“Is this yours?” I asked, displaying the scotch. I made a production out of taking another sip. “Smooth.”
An excited agent spoke to Harry. “The trucks are on their way. ETA fifteen minutes.”
I turned back to Merci. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
She shook her head. I gathered her up in my arms. She rested her head against my chest. I held her tight.
“I kept thinking of Jamie. I kept thinking …”
“You’re safe now. It’s all over.”
“You’re safe,” I repeated.
I held Merci for a while longer. I thought she might cry, but she never did. Instead, she asked for more scotch. While she nipped at it, some of the agents busied themselves reading Miranda-Escobedo to the suspects and chaining them together for the drive into Minneapolis. Another group isolated the three Russians.
“Welcome to America, comrades,” Alec told them. “I know you’ll enjoy your stay. We have the best prisons in the world.”
“Look what we found,” an agent said, walking toward Harry. He was carrying a briefcase. He set the briefcase on the hood of the limousine and opened it. It was filled with American currency.
“At least half a million dollars,” he said. “Maybe more.”
“We’ll count it later.”
Harry was smiling brightly. In fact, everyone wearing a windbreaker was smiling, including me. Only the prisoners looked like they were in mourning. It would have made a great picture, except you never have a camera when you need one. Casselman’s mood had already swung from anger to despair. He was standing next to Stalin near the limousine, a single agent training his weapon on them. Stalin glared at the agent and muttered, “Fucking F, fucking B, fucking I …”
Merci took another sip of scotch and handed the decanter back to me. I raised it toward Casselman.
“Why?” I asked him. “You’re a wealthy, respected man. All of you are wealthy, respected men. So, tell me why. Why did you do it?”
“The supply of product had decreased sharply following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, yet the demand had remained consistently high, not only here but throughout other markets in North America that we were able to identify. We determined that a comparatively low-risk investment would reap significant rewards, especially if a streamlined distribution system could deliver the product to our customer base in an efficient, secure manner.”
I chuckled at Casselman’s response. Even now, with his world collapsing around him, Casselman was unable to appreciate the moral or legal implications of what he had done. To him it was simply a business decision.
“Be sure to tell that to the jury,” I told him. “I’m sure it’ll appreciate your logic.” I shook my head. “You’re never gonna see the sun again, you moron.”
“Kiss my ass,” Stalin snarled contemptuously.
“Whatever you say, Raymond.”