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Authors: Jon A. Jackson

Hit on the house

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Also by Jon A. Jackson:

The Diehard

The Blind Pig

Grootka

Deadman

Dead Folks

Man with an Axe

La Donna Detroit

Copyright © 1993 by Jon A. Jackson

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove/ Atlantic, Inc., 154 West 14thStreet, 12thFloor, New York, NY 10011.

Published simultaneously in Canada

Printed in the United States of America

FIRST GROVE PRESS EDITION

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Jackson, Jon A.

Hit on the house / by Jon A. Jackson

ISBN 0-8021-3705-9

eISBN: 978-0-8021-9123-6

I. Title.

PS3560.A216H58  1993     813’.54–dc2092-22723

Cover design by David High

Grove Press

154 West 14thStreet, 12thFloor

New York, NY 10011

00 01 02 03    10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

I'd like to acknowledge the assistance and inspiration of the following people by dedicating this book to them. They are S. Clay Wilson (for the title), Mike Gouse (for the guns), my brothers for their technical and artistic input, and my son and my daughter and my sweetheart for their variously wry, caustic, and loving support. Thank you.

Hit on the House

One

“Yeah,” said a man after a single ring.

“This is Hal. I got a message to call.”

“Oh, right. Just a minute, Hal. He's waitin’ to hear from ya.”

After a moment another voice came on the line. “Hal! Hey, how are you?”

“Me?” he said, as if surprised. “I'm just fine. I, uh, got a message . . .”

“Yeah. Say, that's pretty quick service, Hal. Where you calling from?”

“Does it matter?”

“Well, it could, Hal. See, I got a kinda rush job for you, and it's here, in Detroit. If you're in Alaska or some place like that, you won't be able to make it. But you sound like you're right next door.”

Hal considered for a moment, then said, “What's the problem, Fat?”

The Fat Man chuckled, a thick, gurgling sound that wasn't necessarily mirthful. “Jeez, you don't take no chances, do you, Hal? Whata you, paranoid or something?”

“No, I'm not paranoid, Fat,” Hal said without a trace of annoyance or disrespect, “but I have my system, you know.”

“Oh, that's all right,” the Fat Man assured him. “I like that. Better safe than sorry. But listen, this is really a rush thing. Twenty-four hours. Can you do that?”

“Just about anywhere that has a phone is within twenty-four hours of Detroit,” Hal said. “But it's never a good idea to rush.”

“You got a point, kid. But the deal is we got something goin’ down here, and we don't got a lotta time. It's worth a Benjy. Can you make it for a Benjy?”

“I'm practically there, Fat Man.”

The Fat Man gurgled. “That's my boy. You want me to pick you up . . . the airport, maybe?”

Hal thought for a moment. He was extremely interested in what the Fat Man wanted, but he knew it wouldn't do to seem too available. This was not a business that could be conducted by telephone normally.

“Why don't you call me back,” Hal suggested, “from some other phone.” He knew the Fat Man would understand that he meant from a pay phone.

“I can do it,” the Fat Man said, “but I don't wanta be standing around outside all night. It's cold here, Hal.”

“Call the service in the next fifteen minutes,” Hal said, “and give them the number. I'll get back to you within twenty minutes. I wouldn't normally work this way, but you're the one who's in a hurry.”

After he hung up, Hal went back to the bar for another drink. There was a large window beyond the bar that looked out onto the bowling lanes, but only a few people were bowling. The pins resounded faintly as the balls crashed into them. “I guess people don't bowl so much anymore,” he said to the bartender. For some reason he felt like small talk. Idly he wondered if it was simply a way of putting off thinking about what he was sure the Fat Man would be asking of him. But then he dismissed the thought.

“It's always slow on Sunday night,” the bartender said. “We're between leagues. Come in here tomorrow night, and it'll be jammed,” he said. “The new leagues'll be starting.”

Hal sipped at a beer and chatted a bit about the Tigers. Spring training was starting. The bartender felt that the Tigers didn't have a chance. “They don't want to pay the money for the big guy” was his theory. “Well, you can't blame ‘em—it's gonna cost ‘em four, five mil. That's what you gotta pay these days. But so what? You gotta paymoney to make money, right? So come August and we're five, six games out and then they'll be thinking pennant, but where you gonna find the big gun? You can't buy him then. Who's gonna sell you a hammerman, or a stopper? The Yankees? Get serious. Am I right?”

Hal looked thoughtful. He knew nothing about baseball and cared less, but he nodded sagely.

“Yer damn right I'm right,” the bartender said. “ ‘Cause when you come down to it, it's always one guy is the right guy. And if you didn't get the right guy in the first place, then yer ass is in a bag. Right? You gotta have the guy who can do the job, not some dipstick who can maybe do the job. So you saved a few bucks in the spring . . . big deal. Now you gotta pay twice as much. Whaddidyou save? You gotta spend money to make money. Am I right?”

“You're right.” Hal carried his beer back to the phone and called his service in Los Angeles. He rarely called this service direct. It relayed messages to a service in Omaha, which routed them on to Miami and thence to Fort Smith, Arkansas. The system was cumbersome, but Hal preferred it that way. It was more expensive and slower, but the security was worth it. In this instance, however, time was pressing, and the potential breach of security had to be risked.

“This is Harold Good,” he told the Los Angeles operator. He gave her his account number and instructed her not to forward the message this once. Then he called the Fat Man in Detroit.

“Hey, that was fast,” the Fat Man said. Hal could hear traffic noises in the background. “Well, what we got is Sid.”

Hal felt a chill. Somehow he had known it would be Sid, but he must have suppressed it. “Sid?” he said carefully.

“Yanh. Big Sid. You know him, you know where he lives. It's gotta be tomorrow night the latest. You got any problem with that?”

“I don't think so,” Hal said, “but I can't guarantee anything on this short notice. Um, it would be helpful to know what the rush is.”

“I thought you didn't like to know the details,” the Fat Man said. “You always say you don't wanta know.”

“Usually,” Hal said, “but it helps to know if Sid's going to be on his guard.”

“Nanh, he thinks he's pulling a fast one. But . . . he might be a littlejumpy. He's gonna run, see. He's s'posed to be taking a little vacation to the islands only he didn't buy a round-trip ticket. It might not be so easy to find him once he flies. He's over at Carmine's right now, blowing smoke.”

“I understand. I'll get right on it. Normally I'd have to have half up front,” Hal said calmly, “but under the circumstances it'll have to wait. I'll get back to you.”

Hal hung up but didn't immediately leave the phone booth. It was an extremely delicate situation, he realized, absolutely vibrating with danger. A part of his mind said, “Trap!” Sid was talking to Carmine? Hal knew Sid too well . . . and Carmine. Sid couldn't talk to Carmine without letting something show. Maybe it wasn't a trap, but how could he be sure? Well, he'd soon find out. He reminded himself that he'd always felt he was in this game for the sake of the game, the thrills, not for the money. The money was nice, but he really got off on the game. What he felt this instant was that if he'd wanted a game, this was the Big Table.

There was no point in trying to see Sid again, Hal thought, except for the big moment. If the Fat Man wanted Sid, that was it. Either they knew he was in on it, or they didn't. He didn't believe that they were kinky enough to play games. They had called him because he was their ace, the stopper, the hammerman. Hal liked that thought.

He drove back to Kercheval in a light rain. It was nearly eight o'clock and traffic was nil. He turned a block before Sid's street. He knew Sid's place well enough, but he chided himself for not having paid professional attention to the neighborhood. Now he had to spy it out. It was all residential, small single-family frame houses on this street. Most of them had garages on the alley, but they all must have had a couple cars apiece because all the spots on both sides of the street were filled. There was just a narrow driving lane. Everybody was home, it seemed, eating dinner or watching television.

He turned onto Sid's street. Compared with the streets around it, Sid's was at least twice as wide, almost a boulevard. No shortage of parking places here, not that he'd park on the same street where he'd do the job. The houses were correspondingly larger as well. Some of them were in fact mansions, set well back from the street, with enormouslawns and a towering old tree or two. It was interesting, he thought, that this fancy street was here, like an island of luxury and privilege in a sea of modest working-class homes.

Sid was into plenty, of course. But this didn't really seem like Sid's style. Not flashy enough. This was an older neighborhood, originally the homes of lesser executives in the auto industry, just a few blocks from Grosse Pointe, where the real big shots lived. He cruised slowly by Sid's house. It was much like the others: a massive brick pile of no remarkable style, square, ugly, with a broad veranda. It was surrounded by a wrought iron fence, and a brick path curved across the lawn. There were heavy drapes on the front windows, but Hal could see the glimmer of lights. There was no way of telling if Sid had returned home. There were no cars in the drive, but as Hal recalled, there was a large garage, practically a stable, in the back that had been remodeled into apartments for Sid's men. Not more than a half-dozen cars were parked on the street.

He cruised the flanking streets again, but there were still no parking places. It was just as well, he decided. He parked two blocks away, on Kercheval, in a supermarket parking lot, and sat in the car for a long moment.

Now what? Might as well go take a closer look, he thought. He toyed with the idea of leaving the gun in the car. This would just be a preliminary walk-through. But he decided to take it. You never knew. He got out and locked the car, then opened the trunk. It was chilly and damp, but no wind. He drew a pair of dark gloves from his raincoat pocket and slipped them on. They were thin, like another skin. He liked the feel of them. He had tried many kinds of gloves, but these were the best. They were some kind of man-made fiber and had a tactile quality that silk gloves, which he had sometimes used, lacked. These were never slippery like silk, even when wet.

He glanced around. It was much too light here. From the trunk he took the slim case, rather like an attaché case. He set off through the misty rain, swinging the case in a casual manner. He thought he must look like an insurance agent or perhaps like someone's husband coming home late from the office, and the idea pleased him. But then he remembered that it was Sunday night, and he was disappointed. Thetemperature was about forty, he thought, but the chill was penetrating, nasty, as it often seemed to be in Detroit. But he didn't mind. A good night for something. He smiled.

He stepped into an alley and went about ten paces before stopping to open the case. He picked the revolver, a Smith & Wesson K-22 Masterpiece, out of its molded foam bed and checked to be sure it was loaded. Well, of course it was loaded. He'd loaded the shells himself: .22 Super Vels. He slipped it into his coat pocket along with a couple of HKS Six Second speedloaders. It wasn't particularly noticeable despite its long barrel. He closed the case and set it next to a brick wall. It was invisible in the shadows, and he noted its position from the utility pole. He returned to Kercheval and turned toward Sid's street, gloved hands deep in his coat pockets.

It was after eight. There was no traffic on Sid's street. That was neither good nor bad. Of course, he told himself, he'd choose a later hour to do the job—when people were not walking their dogs, as an old lady was doing across the street. She was heavy and bundled into a long coat and wore a kerchief on her head. The dog, a waddly hound, was practically dragging his ears on the sidewalk, and he stopped to cock a leg at nearly every tree. The old woman tugged him on without stopping. She never saw Hal.

The block was very long, and when he was five or six houses away from Sid's, Hal was pleased to see that there were still no cars parked in front, though a Chevy Suburban sat across the street and down a few houses. The gate to the brick path was padlocked, Hal observed, as was another gate across the drive that ran up alongside the house. Two huge evergreens stood on either corner of the house, and the light still glimmered through the heavy drapes.

He wondered again what fantasies of respectability had motivated Sid to prefer this old neighborhood, and he strolled on. It wasn't usual for him to know the target, but it had happened before. He had no strong feelings about it, but he felt now that he had been foolish to get involved with Sid. The man was not stable, he realized. Impressive at first, in a loud and blustery way, very palsy-walsy. From the instant the Fat Man had said the word, Hal had known that he'd miscalculated. He'd be out some money, but assuming it wasn't a setup, which he toldhimself it couldn't be, the Fat Man's fee would be ample compensation. Obviously, however, it made the approach to Sid more difficult.

The layout looked promising. The fence was no problem, and with all the trees . . . hell, it was practically like a farmhouse in the country. Nice and private. He couldn't remember if there was a dog, though. No sign of one. He should have paid more attention, he realized. Not very professional of him.

He turned up his collar and strolled on, shoulders hunched against the cold and the mist. He wished he'd worn a hat. A street like this, he felt, you had to be careful not to attract attention. You didn't want anybody looking at you too closely. But except for the woman with the dog, who was gone now, there wasn't a soul in sight. Not a car had passed.

He stopped before reaching the end of the block and turned back. No reason not to check out the front again before taking a look at the alley. The alley would put him in a position to check out the garage quarters. He had a hunch it might be the best way to go in, but he wanted to check again for signs of a dog.

As he approached the gate, his attention wholly concentrated on the yard, a large car swept up behind him so silently that he was surprised when it abruptly pulled across the sidewalk, practically at his heels, and stopped at the closed gate.

He whirled around to see the door of the car open and Mickey Egan bounce out from behind the wheel, evidently bent on opening the locked gate. Egan glanced at Hal and stopped as if noticing him for the first time. His mouth fell open in surprise.

“Hal!” Egan cried out, his face opening into a smile of recognition. “Hey, I thought you was going—” And then he came to his senses. “Oh shit,” he said. He jammed his hand into the left shoulder of his coat.

There was nothing for it. Without hesitation Hal drew the .22 and fired. There was little noise, not much more than a sharp pop. Mickey went down. Before Hal could stoop and look into the interior of the car, Sid piled out of the back on the opposite side. He ran out into the street, hunched over but scrambling for his life.

Hal looked over the roof of the car. Of all things another car had chosen this moment to come sizzling down the wet street toward them.Sid straightened and planted his feet widely, waving his arms as if to halt the oncoming car. Hal swung the long barrel past Sid's head, then back, steadied, and squeezed off three shots. He was certain that all three had hit Sid in the head. The man stumbled forward aided by the impact.

Brakes squealed, and the car swerved to miss the stumbling man. It struck the parked Suburban, then ricocheted across the street, and ran up the sidewalk to slam into Sid's wrought iron fence. It stalled.

Hal looked down. Mickey Egan lay on his side, at Hal's feet, his mouth and eyes open. He looked as if he were frozen in midstride, except that one foot was turned in an awkward way.

Hal thought he was surely dead. But he didn't hesitate to lean down and fire two more shots into the cranium through the left eye. That sure ought to do it, Hal thought. He stepped over the body and into the street, shucking out the empty shells and dropping them into his coat pocket in the same motion with which he withdrew the speedloader and punched six fresh rounds into the cylinder of the K-22. He rolled Sid over with his foot and fired a shot into each eye and one into the mouth. He turned to survey the scene. No movement from the car that was stuck in the fence. That was good. But there was something odd about Sid's car. He couldn't make out what it was. There was no movement. Just something amiss.

Mickey? he thought. But no, Mickey was surely standing on the porch of hell, blind in one eye. Hal watched for a moment, but there was no other movement. He toyed with the idea of walking back the hundred feet or so, to make sure, but he decided it wasn't necessary, and now it was time to go. Anyway, he hadn't contracted for more than Sid, and already he'd tallied one extra in Mickey. Forget it. Move.

He continued on across the street, away from the scene, walking as casually as he could manage. Porch lights were flicking on. Hal glanced back over his shoulder at the car that had hit the fence. The driver's door was being forced open with a creak, and somebody was groggily clambering out. Hal kept walking. In a curious way he seemed only now to hear the sounds of the car's impact with the parked car and the tinkling of glass, then the whump as it hit the fence, even though those things had occurred several seconds earlier. Obviously the noisehad penetrated beyond the lawns and muffling pines. Detroiters are sensitive to the sound of a car hitting another car, especially when they have one parked nearby. People stepped out onto their porches. They peered into the gloom and called back into their houses to unseen questioners.

Hal suddenly felt the coolness of the rain on his face, and he shook himself, his head clearing as if he had walked out of a matinee and found himself in unanticipated evening. Then he felt alarmed and anxious, but he controlled the feelings. He quickened his pace until he was out of the range of the disturbance behind him, the porch lights and the cautiously calling voices. He slowed down to a normal pace. He could hear distant sirens.

When he came to a storm drain in the curb, he flung the pistol into it, along with the empty cartridges and the remaining speedloader. A little farther along he peeled off his gloves and tossed them into the branches of a large evergreen.

It was an incredibly long block. At the moment it looked like a mile to the bright light of the through street at the end. He saw the flickering blue lights of a patrol car as it turned onto Sid's street and then came rushing past him. He did not look back but strode resolutely on. He was only a few paces from the corner when a large Chrysler cruiser skidded past the end of the street, halted, and backed up. It turned slowly onto the street and moved ominously toward him. It drew up and a window rolled down. A very bright light blinded him.

“Hey, you!” a voice commanded. “Come over here.”

“Me?” To Hal's dismay his voice squeaked.

“Yeah, you. Who the fuck you think? C'm'ere.” The front passenger door opened, and a huge man in a raincoat and hat got out. Another man, also in civilian dress and nearly as large, unfolded out the back door of the cruiser. The speaker shined an enormous flashlight full in Hal's eyes. He considered running, but only for a second.

“What is it?” he asked, his voice under control now. He raised a hand to block the light.

The big detective moved closer, not lowering the light. “You just come from down there?” He gestured down the street with the light.

“Down there?”

“What is it, some kinda fucking echo around here?” the voice demanded harshly. “Down there! You see the accident?”

“Accident?”

“All right, that's it,” the giant detective said. “Up against the car, asshole. Arms out. Spread your legs. Spread ‘em!” He kicked at Hal's legs, the toes of his shoes cracking painfully against Hal's ankle bones, the heavy hand planted firmly in the middle of Hal's back. The detective handed the light to his partner, then roughly ran his hands up and down Hal's ribs and legs, not neglecting to bang against the testicles. Hal winced. The detective snorted and reached around to check Hal's chest and pockets. Finally he released the pressure on Hal's back and stepped away. “All right, get in the car, asshole.”

The junior detective held Hal by the wrist and forced his head down with a broad palm so he'd miss the roofline of the car, forcing him into the backseat of the cruiser, next to yet another large plainclothes detective. The smaller detective crowded in next to him, and the boss jumped into the front, making the car sway. He ordered the uniformed driver to go on down to the accident.

When they got there, the boss got out, ordering the others to stay put. He strolled over to the scene. There were two patrol cars now, their lights flickering, casting a weird blue light on Sid's car, the wreck, the bodies, the people gathered across the street on the sidewalk, the young man sitting on the curb. Uniformed policemen were talking to the people, talking to the young man. Hal sat silently, trying to look mildly interested but not too interested. The boss man stalked about, talking to the cops, to the people, gesturing, occasionally laughing.

To add to the circus atmosphere, the ambulance arrived with flashing red lights and a dying siren. Then another car drew up, a black Checker, and two detectives got out, one of them a tall, young black man and the other a somewhat older, good-sized fellow wearing a raincoat and hat. He smoked a cigar. The others deferred to him, pointing out one thing or another, while he said little or nothing but just looked on. Hal concluded that this must be the detective in charge.

More cars arrived with more detectives, and still Hal sat, squeezed in the back of the cruiser between his bulky keepers. A van nosed up to the scene, and more plainclothesmen got out, setting up lights andstarting to take pictures of everything, using strobe lights to make it a real light show. The cruiser boss laid a hand on the cigar smoker's arm and pointed back toward the cruiser. The detective listened absently, not looking at the cruiser boss but watching the men around the body of Big Sid. He had a long face with a narrow nose and hooded eyes. His mouth was thin, and when he grimaced, he revealed long, slightly spaced teeth.

A uniformed officer approached the two detectives and called out, “Mul! The medical examiner's here.” The detective started to move away. The cruiser boss looked annoyed. “Mul!” he roared, “what about this jerk?” He pointed toward the cruiser.

“Take care of it, Dennis,” the detective called back over his shoulder; “you know the procedure.” And he disappeared into the throng of men around the body of Sid.

The cruiser rocked as the boss folded himself back into the front seat. “To the Ninth, Stanos,” he growled. “Fuckin’ Mulheisen, in a cloud as usual.”

The driver placed his arm across the back of the seat and backed the cruiser at a reckless speed, dodging around squad cars and police vans, occasionally shouting jocular obscenities at cops who scuttled out of his way. He had to back up for nearly the entire block, but finally he was able to turn around, and they sped away, toward the Ninth Precinct.

As they drove, Hal made one attempt to save the situation. “I didn't see a thing, officer,” he said to the big man in front.

The detective responded by saying, “Read him his rights, Doug. Also,” to Hal, “shut the fuck up.”

Two

“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” Detective Inspector Laddy McClain said. He travestied a child's fluttering good-bye wave at the ambulance that was hauling away the remains of Big Sid Sedlacek and Mickey Egan. “And good-bye to you, Mul,” he added.

Mulheisen didn't acknowledge that remark. He looked at his cigar, which had gotten wet and no longer tasted very good. He was reluctant to heave it away, however. It had cost too much and was only half-smoked.

“You know something, Laddy . . .” he said finally. He bared his teeth in a grimace that could have been a smile but almost certainly was not. It was these teeth that had earned him the street moniker Sergeant Fang. “Whenever you've got a case you don't like, you shuffle it off on the precinct. I don't complain. But now here's this mob shooting, and you don't even suggest we do the prelim. Now why is that?”

McClain patted him on the shoulder. “I know how overworked and understaffed you guys are, Mul.”

“No. That's what you guys are,” Mulheisen reminded him. “I've got a couple guys in this outfit who are pretty good. A case like this can make a young detective like Jimmy,” he nodded toward a young black man standing nearby, “and it wouldn't hurt promotion chances for some of the older guys either. Now I seem to recall a case about six months ago, where a gunman got shot down in a garage and—”

“That was years ago,” Laddy said.

“OK, two years ago,” Mulheisen said. He struck a match and held it to the cigar for a moment before puffing it back to life. It still didn't taste right. “But you still owe me for that. And then there's—”

“All right already,” McClain said. He laughed and punched Mulheisen's shoulder playfully, but hard. “Do the prelim. Then we'll see.”

“Fine. And you'll do the press?”

“I'll do the press,” McClain said, rolling his eyes with mock exasperation.

“And keep Buchanan off my ass?”

“Buchanan's your boss, your problem, but I'll have a word with him.” He turned and looked up at Big Sid's house. “Isn't this something? A fine citizen like Sid gets blown away in his own driveway, and nobody even comes out to see what happened.” He shook his head.

Mulheisen waved Jimmy Marshall over, and the two of them stepped over the knocked-down fence and trudged up to the house. They rang the doorbell and waited a full three minutes, by Jimmy's watch, until someone came. It was a small, dark woman, about thirty years old. She was pretty, or normally she was pretty, Mulheisen felt, but at the moment her eyes had a hollow look, and her face was drawn. With no preliminary she said, “He is dead.” It may have been meant to be a question, but it came out a flat statement.

Mulheisen figured if a person were going to be that blunt about it, he could respond as bluntly. “Both of them,” he said. “Who are you?”

She said her name was Helen Sedlacek, daughter of the late Sid. Her mother was unable to see them, she said. She had collapsed. A doctor was coming.

Miss Sedlacek was clearly enraged, but she was containing herself admirably. She had a story and she told it straightforwardly.

“We didn't hear anything until we heard the car hit that other car,” she said. “I ran into the living room—Ma and me were in the kitchen, getting some food ready in case Papa wanted something when he got home, and—”

“Where had your father gone?” Jimmy Marshall interrupted.

The woman shrugged, her arms crossed under her breasts. She wore a black turtleneck jersey and black jeans. Her face was somber andcomposed, but her deep-set dark eyes glinted. “We wouldn't know,” she said. “Papa doesn't tell women where he's going. It was business, I guess. Or maybe he went to see his whore.”

“And who would that be?” Jimmy asked politely, his notebook ready. He glanced at Mulheisen, who moved his head slightly.

“You ask me?” she spat back. “You damn cops don't know? You watch us all the time, I thought you knew everything.”

Jimmy did not respond. Finally she said, “Germaine Kouras. She says she's a singer.”

“What did you see out the window?” Mulheisen asked while Jimmy scribbled in the notebook.

“I saw Papa's car with the doors open. The trees are in the way. I didn't see Papa or Mickey . . . I thought they might have gone to help the guy who hit the fence. But then I saw somebody lying in the street, and I thought maybe Papa had been hit by the car.”

“You didn't see Mickey Egan?” Mulheisen asked.

“No. I started to go out there, but Mama . . . she started to wail. And then Roman came in and told me to take care of her and not to go out.”

“Who is Roman?” Mulheisen asked.

“Roman Yakovich,” she replied. “He's a . . . an associate of Papa's.” She was clenching her small fists and pacing a few steps to one side, then another. Suddenly she asked, “Would you like a drink?” The detectives said no, but when she stalked to a liquor cabinet and poured a large shot of something from a dark bottle, Mulheisen called out that just a couple of fingers would be fine. She threw a wry glance over her shoulder, her black hair flying. “It's slivovitz,” she said. “Plum brandy. How about you?” she asked Jimmy.

“He's driving,” Mulheisen said. When she brought the drinks, he asked, “What else did Roman have to say?”

She gulped the brandy, then closed her eyes for a second, the muscles of her jaw visibly clenching. After a moment she opened her mouth, and at first she couldn't speak, but finally she said very deliberately, “Ma wanted to know if Papa was dead. Roman just shook his head. Then Ma collapsed.”

“Where is Yakovich now?” Mulheisen asked.

“Upstairs, with Ma. Well, what are you going to do about this?”

Mulheisen ignored this. “Your father was shot. You didn't hear any shots?”

“No. Just the crash.”

“You didn't see anybody else on the street? No car driving away? No gunman? Nobody walking?” Mulheisen asked.

“No, no, no, for the last time, no. If I saw something, don't you think I would tell you?”

“If you wanted to,” Mulheisen said. He drained off the brandy. He almost gasped but managed to ask, in a whispery voice, “You heard a crash?”

“Two crashes. The second crash was the car running into the fence. It wasn't so loud.”

“So you ran to the window, and you saw your father's car with the doors open, but you saw no one.”

The woman shook her head, a cloud of heavy shoulder-length black hair eclipsing, then exposing, her bone-white face. “I saw Papa's car. At first I thought it was part of the accident. Then I saw the other car in the fence and the car across the street—it was knocked sideways. Then I saw someone in the street.”

“Someone lying in the street, you mean?” Jimmy said.

“Yes.”

“What about Egan?” Mulheisen asked. “He was lying by the driver's door of your father's car. You didn't see him?”

“No, . . . I don't think so. I don't recall seeing him.”

“Do you live here?” Mulheisen asked.

“No. I have a place in Bloomfield Hills,” Helen Sedlacek said. “I come over every Sunday, to help Ma with the food.”

“Every Sunday?”

“Just about. Ma insists on cooking every Sunday. Friends and relatives drop in and out all day. Some Sundays quite a few. Not so many today.”

“How many?” Mulheisen asked.

“I don't know . . . a dozen maybe.”

“A dozen people drop by,” Mulheisen said. “What do they do?”

“They eat, they talk, they watch television, and of course, with thesituation in Serbia, they argue about politics. The kids play, mostly downstairs.”

“The situation in Serbia?” Jimmy Marshall said.

“The war. We're all Serbs.”

“Was your father involved in politics?” Mulheisen asked.

“No. Well, all Serbs are interested in politics.” She sighed. “Too much. But this had nothing to do with politics.”

“No?”

“No. You know what it's all about. Not politics.”

Mulheisen considered this, then looked at the woman more closely. She was about five feet tall but looked taller on account of the way she carried herself. She was really very pretty, he decided. She was compact and athletic looking, a trim figure.

“So every Sunday you come and help your Ma put on a spread for the folks,” Mulheisen said. “Are you married?”

“He's dead,” she replied, “a long time ago.”

“Mmmm. What kinds of things do you cook? Canapés? Cookies? Little wieners on a toothpick? What?”

She looked at him as if he were crazy. “What kind of food is that? No, no. Liver dumplings, pierogi,klenedljine od sliv-plum dumplings. You don't know any of this food,” she said with a mixed air of contempt and pity. “It's Serbian. And then there issarma-that's minced ham and pork with onions and garlic and rice, wrapped in cabbage leaves—and there is walnutpovitica. . . oh, lots of things. It's a lot of work. Ma actually starts cooking on Saturday night.”

Mulheisen was intrigued. He would have loved to sample some of these exotic-sounding dumplings—surely there were some leftovers—but there was no way to suggest it, given the circumstances. He sighed. “Was there anything unusual about the guests today?” he asked. “Any strangers? No? What time did they all leave?”

“They were all gone by six, as usual,” she said. “This wasn't a Serb thing.” She stared at Mulheisen. Then, her voice harsh with bitterness, she said, “You aren't going to do a damn thing, are you? You know who did it. But you don't care. Just a bunch of thugs killing each other off. ‘Good riddance,’ you say.”

“I have no idea who did this,” Mulheisen said, “but I expect to find out. Who do you think did it?”

She looked at him with palpable disbelief. “It was Carmine,” she cried. “Who else? Not Carmine personally, but one of his hired killers. But they're too big for you, aren't they? You don't mess with the big boys, do you?” She was working herself up to a real blowout, Mulheisen thought, perhaps as a vent for her grief.

“Why would Carmine want to do this?” he asked reasonably. “Was Sid on the outs with Carmine?” She didn't answer. “The last I heard they were good buddies, friendly business associates. Not so?”

She glared at him. Mulheisen sighed. “Look, Miss Sedlacek, I'm not real current on organized crime . . . this, this Mafia dance. I'm just a precinct detective, but I'll be working with the Racket and Conspiracy Squad on this. If you have anything that could help us, why don't you tell me? I can't just go and bust Carmine, or any other citizen, because you say he hired a killer.”

“But you know all about him,” she burst out. “You watch him and the rest of us all the time! You know everything about us, you . . .” Suddenly she was incapable of speech. Her throat seemed to lock and her eyes blazed. She stepped forward and punched Mulheisen right in the chest, just where the abdomen meets the rib cage. Her tiny fist was like a rock, and Mulheisen reeled, staggering backward, gasping for breath.

Jimmy Marshall pounced. He whipped the woman's arms behind her back, and before Mulheisen had recovered, Jimmy had her cuffed and was holding her by the hair with her hands yanked up between her shoulder blades. Her neck was long, and her throat pulsed, her breasts thrust forward, heaving.

“Whoo!” Mulheisen wheezed, leaning against the wall with an outstretched arm. He looked over his shoulder at the little woman who stood firmly but belligerently in Jimmy's grasp, her legs set apart, her chin thrust out. “Hang onto her, Jimmy,” he warned hoarsely. “I'm going upstairs.”

It was a dodge, to get out of the room so that he could lean against a wall and knead his thorax and indulge the pain out of sight of itsinflicter and his young assistant. When he felt better, he climbed the stairs. By now the doctor had arrived and given Mrs. Sedlacek a sedative. She was a dumpy, gray-looking lady, tucked up in a large bed with a satin comforter. She was sound asleep, snoring slightly. Roman Yakovich sat in a chair by the door, watching her stolidly. He looked hewn out of granite himself. He stood to greet Mulheisen.

“I didden know nothing aboudit,” Yakovich said. “I was watchin’ TV in my room. I didden even hear nothing.”

“So how come you ran out to the street?” Mulheisen asked. He was fairly certain that Yakovich was packing a large pistol in a shoulder holster.

“I didden go down to the street,” Yakovich said. “Just down the drive a liddle. I dunno why. I just all of a sudden it was like I knew the boss was in trouble. I ran oudda the door, and I seen Sid's car at the gate, with all the doors open. I seen Mickey on the ground. And then I seen the boss in the street. There wasn't nothin’ to do. I come in the house to see if Mrs. Sid and Liddle Helen was OK. Then the cops came.”

It was a nice compact statement. Mulheisen admired it. It was hewn out of granite, too, not a seam showing.

“Who else did you see?” Mulheisen asked. “Did you recognize the gunman?”

“I didden see nobody, just a car smashed into the fence and some kid trying to get out. I thought I better see about Mrs. Sid and Liddle Helen.”

“No other car?” Mulheisen asked. “What about Sid's car? Who was with him?”

“Mickey,” Yakovich said.

“You said the car doors were open,” Mulheisen said. “All the doors?”