The case had gone cold as quickly as it had grown hot, no clues and no contact, but at least up until now there had been no body either. Crap, I lose one more client the hard way and I'm gonna have to take up drinking even cheaper rotgut than what I'm reduced to now.
Sipping and waiting, watching the phone like some sort of basket case. Because I know it's going to ring, I know Boehner inside and out, I just don't know how to make him stop the madness. He was a two-bit operator for years, a bag man in a fancy suit, passing out the payoffs from the big boys who owned his ass. He kept things under control in those days, didn't step out of line and get himself hurt like so many of the other cheap thugs that surrounded him. Maybe that's how he managed to get to the top, just by keeping his ass out of the scrapyard.
In twenty-four hours it would be too late to stop him. Eighteen hours to be exact, but who's counting? Eighteen hours until Boehner brings down the whole house of cards. But I know from experience that if I play my cards right, it's never going to fall. Boehner's not dumb enough to kill a goose that can lay a golden egg. At least I don't think he's that dimwitted, although it seems to me that power can do a hell of a job clouding the mind.
He'd had Sammy for about three months now. At first nobody believed it because this wasn't the sort of vice he had trafficked in for the last twenty years. Then Sammy called one day, nervous and stuttering, just a message on my phone and then a click. Said Boehner wanted thirty billion or he was gonna get hurt big time. The Company heard the message, didn't quite believe it, but decided that they'd pay anyway. Sammy was the head of the family, they didn't feel like they could survive without him, so they were willing to front the dough as an insurance policy. Bad decision. Boehner doesn't play that way and he's got nothing but scorn for anybody who does.
Of course you know what happens next, standard operating procedure. Thirty bills becomes sixty and all of a sudden there's a shitload of strings attached. Boehner wants the Company to give up certain vital business interests, interests that Boehner's owners insist on keeping for themselves - the medical racket, environmental 'protection', even their interests in the entertainment industry. And sure enough, these demands come with the usual persuasion, lurid photographs of Sammy stripped, bound and gagged, along with a threat that if they don't get four bills as an interest payment in the next week, things are going to get a lot worse.
The Company folded like a cheap suit and paid up. A hundred sixty-eight hours to decide what to do next, but they couldn't figure it out, because it looked like Boehner intended to put them out of business no matter what they decided. A week went by and a package slipped in through the mail slot. Grisly shit, but I've seen my share of grisly shit in my life and this was far from the worst of it. Two pinkies, individually wrapped in plastic, and there was no doubt as to the hands where they belonged. And there was a new demand, six more bills for two more weeks and then the cutting continued. The Company reluctantly paid, but they still had no plan.
The phone finally rang, startling me so badly that I nearly dropped my drink. I let it ring three times before answering.
"Harry R, Private Eye," I said, trying to sound casual. The voice on the other end was frantic but recognizable.
"Jesus, Harry, where are you? These guys are crazy! They just... I'm losing a lot of blood. Boehner just cut off both my middle fingers. They want twelve more bills for two more weeks and then they're gonna plug me. I think that..."
I heard a thud followed by the sound of something heavy sliding to the floor. Then a cold familiar voice came on the line.
"Hello, Harry. I'm guessing you were expecting this call. Give my regards to the Company, won't you, and tell them time has about run out. It won't be pretty what happens next, but you know that already... And Harry? Have a nice day."
"Christ on crutches," I mutter. To myself, because the line was deader than Max Cady in 'Cape Fear'. These are not legitimate businessmen, and I knew then and there that their demands would never end.
A man can survive the loss of a couple fingers once the bleeding is controlled, so I hadn't been overly worried about the loss of the pinkies. Even the absence of a ring finger, while unfortunate, is something less than tragic. Now the amputation of an index finger is pretty serious; it makes it almost impossible to properly puff a butt, although with enough therapy you can regain the ability to smoke with a modicum of dignity. But without a middle finger a man can't even flip off his tormentors, and that loss of dignity is a terrible thing to contemplate.
I sat there in a cold sweat, finally breaking out of my trance long enough to pour myself three fingers. Bad choice of words, I know. I though about it further and filled the glass. So little time and no viable options. I felt queasy, knowing that even if the Company did pay the ransom, my fee was probably a lost cause.
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