The blue Fairlane sped along for eight minutes before squealing to a stop again.
"Why are we stopping now?" demanded Alastor.
"We've gone too far, we should have seen her by now," insisted Alfonso.
"We can't have passed her without seeing her," said Izzi.
"Unless she was hiding back near the gate where I thought I saw movement before."
"Possibly," said Alastor, unconvinced. "Shit, okay, take us back there."
"Gotcha," said Alfonso doing a U-turn with some difficulty in the laneway.
Then they sped back the way they had come.
"This is it," called Izzi and the car pulled up with a squealing of tyres as they reached the gateway.
"Okay, let's have a look," said Alastor as they climbed from the blue Ford. "You two hunt out here, I'll look inside the backyard."
A minute or two later Alastor was crouching to look at what could have been a woman's footprint. When from outside Alfonso called: "I've found something."
"What have you found?" asked Alastor, straightening.
"The heel from a woman's shoe," said Alfonso holding it up.
"I can see that," said Alastor. "But that doesn't necessarily mean it's hers."
"It's gotta be," said Izzi.
"Why does it gotta be?" taunted Alastor.
"Because we drove too far without seeing her, before coming back," said Alfonso.
"He's right," insisted Izzi as Alastor started back out into the alleyway.
"Maybe, maybe not," said the chief executioner, sounding unconvinced.
* * *
The squad car was barrelling along when the radio squawked again. Danny picked up the handset and said:
"Talk to me, Maur?"
"Just got word Valerie Celentano may have been involved in a skirmish at the Western Mercy Hospital."
"Okay, we're on the way," said Danny.
"And the real feds are still pressuring the mayor to let them investigate the fake feds without our help."
"Shit!" said Danny and Tim as one.
"Don't worry, she's a stubborn bitch. The more they pressure her, the more she's digging her heels in. They'll have to kill her to get her to drop this case."
"Shit, don't say that, they just might do it," said Danny hanging up the handset. Then to Hank: "Western Mercy Hospital."
"Gotcha, Serg," said the constable putting the squad car into a sharp U-turn.
* * *
"Well, where could she have gone to?" asked Alastor fifteen minutes later, when they still had not tracked down Valerie.
"She could be hiding out in a hotel," suggested Izzi. "There are plenty of them in this area."
"Good idea," said Alastor; "why don't we get a phone book and ring around them all."
"Do you think there are many in this place?" asked Izzi, taking the bait.
"There can't be more than eleven- or twelve hundred them in this state. If we start ringing round now we could track her down in a year or two at most."
"There's no need to be sarcastic!" said Izzi.
"Assuming she doesn't move during that time," added Alastor.
"Shut up already!" said Izzi petulantly, to the amusement of Alastor and Alfonso.
* * *
Racing down the alley as fast as her heelless shoes allowed, Val turned left into a main street and almost hobbled past the Shady Rest Hotel before noticing the Vacancy sign was lit up.
Panting from a mixture of fear and exhaustion, she staggered into the foyer and almost collapsed against the front desk.
"Lady, you don't look so good," said the weasel-faced desk clerk.
"Man, I don't feel so good," said Val between gasps. "Have you got a room for the night?"
"Sure, ten bucks. No luggage means you pay in advance."
Reaching into her handbag, Val extracted a $10 note from her purse and gave the money to the desk clerk in exchange for a room key.
"Is there anywhere around here I can get a bite to eat."
Pointing toward a small doorway to Val's left, he said: "Mrs Chung can do you fried rice for a five spot."
Val took the money from her purse and gave the $5 to the clerk.
"Can you bring it up to my room?"
Shrugging, he said: "I guess so."
"Thanks," said Val. She walked across to the elevator, but seeing the Out of Order sign, changed direction and started up the three flights of stairs instead.
"Oh, God," gasped Valerie as she finally reached the third landing. She started slowly toward her room, then stopped and stared at a red pair of women's shoes outside the room opposite hers.
Tip-toeing across the carpet, she checked the size, which was half a size larger than her own.
"They ought to fit," she said. Removing her broken shoes, she left them on the carpet in lieu of the red shoes, which she put on before going across to open the door of her room to step inside.
* * *
Shirley, the triage nurse, was still on duty at the Western Mercy Hospital when, with a screeching of tyres, sirens blaring, the squad car pulled up outside the emergency ward.
"Fuck, what now!" said Shirley.
"Young lady, you have a bad attitude and a dirty mouth," said blue-rinse Alma. Who, along with her husband and the Vietnamese lady Tilda was still waiting to be seen.
"Fuck off, you old skank," said Shirley, still angry at having been threatened with death by Alastor, having temporarily forgotten the maxim: 'Maintain the illusion at all costs.'
"How dare you talk to my good lady wife like that," said Clive climbing unsteadily to his feet.
"Shut up and sit down, you stupid old fart," said Shirley as the glass doors suddenly whooshed open to admit Danny Walters and his two constables.
"Who's in charge here?" demanded Danny.
"I am," said Shirley smiling sweetly again, having been reminded of the need to maintain the illusion at all costs by the sight of the three police uniforms.
"We've received a report that Valerie Celentano, who is wanted for questioning, was in here earlier," said Danny, stating a fact, not asking a question.
Thinking quickly, Shirley decided not to deny it, instead saying: "That's right, I tried to detain her here till the police could get here, but I think she panicked after seeing herself on TV."
I bet the poor cow did! thought Danny: "What was wrong with her?"
"A flesh wound in her left shoulder," said Shirley, considering lying, but deciding against it.
"She'd been shot?" questioned Danny.
"Yes, but the bullet only grazed her. We were treating her when she suddenly got violent; beat up an elderly patient, then attacked me."
"That is a damn lie!" said Clive, refusing to be shushed by his wife. "Mrs Celentano, if that's who she was, was a gentle lady. It was that slag who attacked her --," pointing at the triage nurse. "And when Morgan went to her aide, the nurse pushed him over and he hit his head."
"Well?" asked Danny staring at the nurse.
Smiling broadly, Shirley said: "Don't listen to Mr Westlake. I'm afraid he's more than a little senile and he imagines all kinds of things."
"How dare you, I am not!" protested Clive Westlake.
"He'll be telling you next that the Martians have invaded," said Shirley. "He did recently. Had all the poor old dears in a tizzy."
"That's a damn lie!" protested Clive.
"My husband does not imagine things!" said Alma.
"No, he's as sane as I am," said Tilda. "That bitch attacked Mrs Celentano and poor Morgan, just like Mr Westlake said."
"I suppose she's imagining things too?" asked Danny.
"Yes, we call her Silly Tilly," said Shirley, her smile almost slipping. "They're all old and senile. You can't believe any of them."
"How dare you! Silly Tilly indeed!" said Tilda.
Taking handcuffs from his belt, Danny said: "I think you'd better come with us, so we can get this sorted out at the station."
As he cuffed her, Danny instructed the two constables: "Get the names and contact details of everyone here; we'll need to get in touch with them all tomorrow to get official statements."
"Got you," said Hank Guynes.
The two young officers took out there notepads and did as instructed.
"No, no, you can't arrest me," protested Shirley. "They'll kill us all if you do!"
"Who will kill us all?" demanded Danny Walters. And everyone in the emergency ward turned round to stare at the triage nurse.
When she refused to answer, he said: "The fake feds who murdered Anthony Celentano and the three people at the Westernfeld Mall?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," hissed Shirley, looked as though she thought they were all already dead.
"Book her, Danno," called Clive as Danny led her across to the automatic doors.
"Shut up, you old shit!" hissed Shirley, almost head butting the glass doors as they opened too slowly.
* * *
Valerie was on the brink of falling asleep, fully clothed on the hotel bed, when she was startled awake by the sound of knocking on the front door.
"What …? Who …?" said Val sitting up, startled. She looked around, not knowing where she was at first. Then as the knocking continued, she looked up slowly, her memory finally starting to return.
"Oh God!" she said, covering her eyes having almost started to believe that it was all a nightmare. But the sight of the sleazy hotel brought the brutal truth back to her - including the murder only hours earlier of her beloved husband, Tony.
Looking around, as the tapping came again, she asked: "Yes, who is it?"
"Lorelei Chung," said a female voice. "I've brought your fried rice."
"Oh good, come in," said Val. Feeling ravenous, she hurriedly sat up on the side of the bed.
"Hello," said a pleasant-faced elderly Asian lady as she entered carrying a tray with fried rice and a pot of coffee. "I didn't know if you liked China or Ceylon tea, so I brought coffee instead."
"Coffee will be fine," said Val as Mrs Chung placed the tray on a small wooden bedside cabinet.
"Eat hearty," said Mrs Chung, turning to leave.
"I will. I'm starving."
Suddenly stopping, Mrs Chung looked back and pointed at the red shoes, and said: "Ooh, nice shoes. Miss Piedersen across the hallway has a pair just like them."
"Oh … really?" said Val guiltily, almost choking on a mouthful of rice and peas.
"Just like them," enthused Mrs Chung. Then, to Val's relief, she waved goodbye and turned and walked out into the corridor. "I'll come back later to collect the plates."
"That's all right, I'll bring them down," said Val; thinking, It'll give me a chance to get acclimatised to Miss Piedersen's shoes!
"As you like, honey," said Mrs Chung, closing the door as Valerie began devouring the rice ravenously.
* * *
The desk clerk, Fred Larkins, was watching the news on TV, as Mrs Chung returned.
"How'd it go, Lorelei?" asked Fred.
"She's a very nice lady," said Mrs Chung. "And she's got a pair of red shoes just like Miss Piedersen's."
"They're probably common enough if you can afford them."
"I suppose so," said Mrs Chung. She looked down at her own dowdy loafers for a moment, before heading through to the kitchen.
"Shoes is shoes as far as I'm concerned," said Fred to himself. "Why women have to treat them like works of art is beyond me!"
He suddenly stopped and stared at the television screen as they flashed a photograph of someone he recognised.
"We repeat," said the newsreader; "police have asked people to notify them on the number at the bottom of your screen if you see this woman. Valerie Celentano is wanted for questioning in the murders of her husband, Tony, an elderly man, and two policemen at the Westernfeld Mall."
"Jesus wept!" said Fred hurriedly writing down the number, before muting the TV set, and reaching for the telephone.
* * *
"How are they hanging?" asked Maureen Nunn, a plumpish brunette dispatcher with a silky, sexy voice like Nina Simone, as Danny Walters, Hank Guynes, and Tim Wyatt returned from booking the triage nurse, Shirley.
"Very low at the moment. Almost touching the ground," said Danny, making Tim Wyatt laugh.
"Don't listen to that," teased Maureen; "you're too young."
Tim blushed like a schoolboy, although he was twenty-two.
"I'll be glad when this double shift ends," said Danny.
"Well, it ain't over yet," said Maureen.
"What's up now?" asked Danny, somehow resisting the urge to sigh from frustration.
"They want you to go to a house in Godless Avenue.
"Sounds appropriate after everything that has happened tonight," said Danny. "How come, Maur?"
"Valerie Celentano's sister-in-law, Roberta Robinson lives there. She has agreed to allow us to bug her house, in case Valerie turns up there."
"Seems logical," said Danny, taking a slip of paper with the full address from the dispatcher. Winking at the plump brunette, he said: "See you in my dreams, gorgeous."
"You wish!" said Maureen in her silky, Nina Simone voice.
* * *
Valerie carried the dinner tray down the three flights of steps, careful not to trip in the unaccustomed shoes.
She had reached the now vacant front desk, when with a squealing of tyres the blue Fairlane stopped outside the front door.
"Shit!" said Valerie dropping the tray onto the counter. She hurried around to hide behind the front desk, feeling uncomfortably vulnerable.
* * *
"Come on!" Come on!" shouted Alastor ding-dinging the reception bell hard enough to almost break it.
"Hold on," called a voice from the kitchen. Then Fred Larkins appeared from the back room devouring a large slab of cheese. "Can I help you?"
"You phoned us," said Alastor impatiently. "About the Celentano woman."
"Oh, yeah," said the clerk; "she's on the third floor."
The three assassins raced across toward the small elevator, only to find it out of order.
"Elevator's broke," said Fred Larkin.
"Elevator's broke," mimicked Alfonso.
"Shit, don't the elevators ever work in these 1-star hotels?" cursed Alastor.
"How dare you," said Fred. "This is a 2-star hotel."
"This is a 2-star hotel," mimicked Alfonso, making Izzi snigger.
"Shut up," said Alastor, unamused.
As they turned to start up the stairs, Fred called: "Don't you want the pass key?"
"We'll make do," said Alastor as they raced up the first flight. To Izzi and Alfonso he added: "If necessary I'll rip the bloody door off its hinges."
"Ah-ah mustn't do things like that," said Alfonso. He was already panting from the effort of running up the stairs.
"Remember we must maintain the illusion at all costs," teased Izzi.
"Shut up! Both of you!" said Alastor, who barely seemed to slow as they reached the second floor. Unlike Izzi and Alfonso who were starting to lag behind the chief executioner.
* * *
Fred Larkin watched the three men sprint up the stairs for a moment then turned to leave. Seeing the plates on the counter he stared at them.
"When the hell did she put them there?" he wondered aloud.
After a second he shrugged and picked up the tray and walked across to the door to the kitchen.
"Lady upstairs has finished, Lorelei," he called to Mrs Chung.
"Fine, bring the plates in. I've washed everything else," said the old lady. "I'll be relieved to be able to slip off to bed for a few hours rest."
* * *
Crouching behind the front desk, Val listened to the goings on in terror. As Fred Larkins walked across to the kitchen she could see him past the end of the front desk and feared he would look round and see her.
As Fred walked into the kitchen, Val leapt up, raced around the front counter, and out toward the front door of the hotel.
* * *
Reaching the third floor, Alastor and the others started looking around.
"What's the room number?" asked Izzi.
"Shit, I forgot to ask!" said Alastor. "I guess we'll just have to try them all."
As Alastor went across to knock on the front door, Alfonso looked around, and called between panting breaths: "Hang on, I might have just found her."
"What?" asked Alastor, looking around.
Alfonso walked down two doors to where there was a pair of dirty brown woman's shoes outside the door. Holding up one of the shoes which had lost its heel, he said: "Look!"
"Good man," said Alastor walking across to kneel beside him.
Alfonso took the broken heel from pocket and tried it. However, it did not fit. So he threw down the shoe and picked up the second shoe. This time the heel clicked into place like a jigsaw piece."
"Bingo," said Alfonso.
"We have a winner," said Izzi, grinning like a retarded Cheshire cat.
"Okay, kick it in," said Alastor standing again.
Alfonso straightened and the three men drew their handguns. Then Alfonso and Izzi both kicked the thin door, which flew inwards to reveal a tall blonde standing in her panties and bra beside a floor-length mirror.
The woman screamed as Alastor, Alfonso, and Izzi all opened fire on her.
Alastor walked across to where the blonde had fallen backwards onto the carpet. Kneeling beside her, he put away his revolver and took a folded picture of Val from his coat pocket. Opening the picture, he held up the blonde's head with his left hand to compare her features to those in the photo.
The blonde, Rosie Piedersen, looked nothing remotely like Valerie Celentano.
"Shit, it's the wrong woman," said Izzi.
Dropping the woman's head, Alastor looked up at him and said: "You're a master of the understatement, Izzi."
"What'll we do now?" asked Alfonso as Alastor stood again and put away the picture.
"Maybe she switched shoes," suggested Izzi.
Sighing from frustration, Alastor said: "Sometimes your genius confounds me, Iz."
"You mean astounds," corrected Izzi.
"I know what I said," said Alastor. Alfonso laughed, but Izzi glared at him.
As the three assassins headed back to the corridor, Alastor said: "We'd better check all the rooms on this floor to be on the safe side."
"Okay," agreed Alfonso and Izzi.
* * *
Sophie Martin was sitting at her dressing cabinet, trying to work out what to do with her brassy red hair, which made her look like a fifty-year-old Little Orphan Annie. "More like Little Orphan Granny," she said; laughing at her own joke.
Outside she heard men talking, but thought nothing of it. The 2-star hotel was not above renting rooms by the hour to ladies of the night and their customers, so men came and went at all hours.
She started, however, at the sound of a nearby door being kicked in.
Probably someone being thrown out for not paying their rent? she thought. Looking at her watch she said: "That Piedersen whore has been there for over two days now. At five bucks an hour, she would owe them a fortune if it's her." She was still trying to work out what $5 times forty-eight hours was, when she heard the gunshots.
"What …?" said Sophie starting to stand, then she decided, Must be a car backfiring outside! Although as she sat again she had a vague memory of having read somewhere that cars had not backfired since the 1980s when they had improved their engines somehow. Or changed the formula of the gasoline or something! she thought.
She considered for a moment, then shrugged; thinking, None of my beeswax. If I go out there I could get shot too!
So, she went about trying desperately to beautiful her brassy, unbeautiful face, for a few minutes, until she heard knocking at the door to one of the neighbouring rooms. After a moment she heard men talking and thought, They're probably looking for the room of that Piedersen whore so they can buy an hour or two of her services!
She was still looking dissatisfied at her blotchy complexion, which seemed to stay blotchy, no matter how much powder and rouge she applied to her cheeks, when she was startled by the sound of knocking at her own door.
Getting up impatiently, she strode across to tell them they were at the wrong room, that she was not that kind off women. But opening the door, she stopped at the sight of Alastor, who was tall and quite handsome, and asked:
"Yes, what can I do for you, sweetie?"
Holding up a picture of Valerie Celentano and his fake federal police ID card, he said: "I wonder if you have seen this lady tonight, madam."
Without even looking at the picture, she said: "Lady? She looks more like a whore. Like that Piedersen tramp."
"Yes, indeed she is," said Alastor, smiling. He thought, A woman of my own heart, not afraid to call a whore a whore. "But we actually want her in connection with some murders, including those of two policemen at Westernfeld Mall yesterday afternoon."
"Oh my God!" said Sophie. "Yes I heard about that on the TV news earlier." This time she took the picture to look at it closely for a moment, before saying: "No, I've never seen her around here, sweetie."
"That's all right, madam," said Alastor giving her a broad smile. Immediately regretting it as the brassy redhead leered back at him.
Shrugging back over her shoulder she asked: "Would you like to come inside for a moment, sweetie?"
"Er, thank you, but no I cannot stop until we have found this lady," said Alastor, hurriedly backing away from the room. "She can be very dangerous."
"So can I, sweetie," said Sophie with her sexiest pout - she hoped. "Why don't you come inside and find out."
"Sorry, but my insurance doesn't cover being mauled by a middle-aged Orphan Annie clone," said Alastor as he hurried across to knock on the next door.
"Oh, pooh!" said Sophie Martin, watching Alastor for a moment. Then reluctantly she closed the door to head back to her beauty cabinet.
* * *
Seeing Izzi heading across to the door that he had just checked, Alastor warned: "I've just checked that one. And watch out, there's a middle-aged barracuda in there, ready to lure any man she can get into her room."
"Thanks for the warning," said Izzi hastening across to knock on, then kick in the door across the hallway. He looked inside then said: "No-one here."
"Nor here," said Alastor, who had kicked in the door to the room after Sophie Martin's. He went across to the next door, but found that Alfonso had already kicked it in.
"No-one in that one," said Alfonso. "And, I think this is the last of them."
He knocked on the door, and then raised his left foot to kick it in as the door was opened by a pink-rinsed old lady.
"Yes?" asked the lady.
Holding up his fake ID and a picture of Valerie, Alfonso asked: "I wonder if you have seen this woman in the hotel in the last few days."
The old lady looked at the picture, shook her head, and then said: "Sorry! I don't get out much. Mrs Chung kindly brings me up my meals, since I can't manage the stairs when the elevator is out of order. As it usually is."
"Yes, I can sympathise," said Alfonso. He still recalled his exhaustion after struggling up three flights of steps in the futile search to find Valerie Celentano.
"Sorry," said the old lady closing the door again.
"So much for that," said Alfonso, heading back toward Izzi and Alastor.
"So what do we do now?" asked Izzi. He narrowly avoided the door to Sophie Martin's room, where the brassy redhead was standing again, giving him the glad eye.
"Sure, you don't have time to come in for a moment?" asked Sophie in what she hoped was a Marilyn Monroe pouty voice.
"Thank you, but I'd rather die,' said Izzi.
Glaring at the assassin, Sophie said: "Come in here and at least you'll die happy."
"Now --," said Alastor, glaring at the brassy redhead until she reluctantly backed into her room again --, "go downstairs and call Ralph to collect the blonde. Maybe they could come this time as a baker's van."
"Or as a butcher's van," said Izzi. "Then they could carry her out as a side of beef."
Sighing from frustration, Alastor said: "I've told you before, Iz, leave the jokes to me."
"How do we explain the disappearance of the blonde to the two downstairs?" asked Alfonso as they started toward the staircase.
"We make them disappear too."
"Fair enough," said Alfonso grinning Cheshire-like, as the three of them started down the stairs.
Downstairs they found the front desk abandoned.
"Where the hell are they?" said Izzi. And as though in answer to his question, they heard voices coming from the small kitchen.
"Izzi, call Ralph and the collectors. Alfonso, come with me," said Alastor pulling his revolver from his coat.
"Got you," said Izzi. He walked across to the phone on the front counter.
* * *
"She can't be a murderess," protested Mrs Chung as they put away the last of the dishes in the overhead cupboards. "She seemed like such a nice lady."
"I'm telling you, Lorelei, she's wanted for half-a-dozen murders at least," insisted Fred Larkin. "Your problem is that you always want to believe the best of people."
"There's nothing wrong with giving people the benefit of the doubt," insisted Lorelei Chung.
"Even murderesses?" asked Fred.
"'Forgive them for they know not what they do,' the Good Book says," pointed out Mrs Chung.
"Lorelei that was Jesus talking about his oppressors."
"It doesn't matter, it's in the Good Book," she insisted. "And I say Mrs Celentano, if that's who she was, is a very nice young lady."
"Lorelei!" protested Fred Larkin. Then hearing the door open behind them, they turned and saw Alastor and Alfonso standing, grinning in the doorway.
"Sorry, guests aren't allowed in the kitchen," said Mrs Chung, smiling at them.
Ignoring her, Fred said to Alastor: "Finished?"
"Finished," agreed Alastor.
"I hope you haven't forgotten my reward for calling you?"
"Of course not," said Alastor; "I'll give you tour reward right now."
Grinning broadly, Fred Larkin started forward as Alastor raised his left arm and shot him twice.
"Shit!" cried Fred, dying before he hit the floor.
As Mrs Chung screamed, Alastor turned to Alfonso and said: "Why don't you give the old battleaxe her reward, Alfonso?"
"No sweat," said Alfonso shooting the old lady.
"Nice shootin' Tex," said Alastor, and the two men laughed as they turned to start back into the lobby of the sleazy hotel.
* * *
Seeing an ATM machine, Val hurried over to it and searched through her handbag until finding her Visa card.
"Hopefully they won't be able to track me from this," said Val; "but I must have more money."
When she placed her card into the slot though, a message appeared on the screen: "Card reported stolen!"
With a rattle of machinery, the ATM confiscated the Visa card.
"Stupid thing! It is not stolen!" shouted Val.
She kicked the front of the machine and alarms started pip-pipping.
"Damn it!" cried Val. Turning, she raced over to the nearest cross street.
* * *
In the lobby of the Shady Rest Hotel, Izzi had just asked Ralph to collect three corpses from the hotel, when suddenly with a clicking sound Ralph was cut off and a new voice appeared over the receiver:
"What the hell are you all up to, Izzi?"
"Mr Rodrigo?" asked Izzi, sounding terrified.
"What the hell is going on there?"
"We almost got her this time," said Izzi, realising how lame it sounded as soon as he said it.
"Almost?" asked Rodrigo, sounding unimpressed. "I told you to recover a single sheet of A4 paper … Not to start a massacre!"
"I'm sorry, Mr Rodrigo, but we've only killed those we had to."
"You've killed seven so far! Seven!"
"Yessir," agreed Izzi.
"And that dumb priest has killed two also."
"Two?" asked Izzi. "Who was the second one?"
"His housekeeper. He says because she found him standing over the body of his verger. But I suspect it was because the old witch nagged him too much!"
"Oh, I see," said Izzi, somehow resisting the temptation to snigger.
"Well, don't kill anyone else, except in self-defence or if they've read the paper," ordered Rodrigo. "We must maintain the illusion at all costs!"
"Yessir," said Izzi.
"And to make matter worse that dumb bitch of a mayor, Marla Goldenberg refuses to let the C.I.A. take over this case."
"How would the C.I.A. taking over help us?" asked Izzi, regretting the question as soon as he had uttered it.
"Because, you idiot, they aren't really the C.I.A. The dumb bitch has been dealing with our other team: Dad, Rae, and Hannibal. Who she thinks are the C.I.A."
"How did you manage that?" asked Izzi, trying his best to sound impressed.
"Let's just say she was convinced to go to the wrong address when she went to speak to the Agency."
"Well done, sir," Izzi said in his most grovelling voice. However, the phone had already gone dead.
Hearing footsteps, Izzi turned as Alastor and Alfonso reappeared from the kitchen doorway.
"Did you arrange it, Izzi?" asked Alastor.
"Yes," said Izzi, looking very pale.
"What's up, Iz?" asked Alfonso.
"Mr Rodrigo cut in and said we mustn't kill anyone else, except in self-defence or if they've read the paper. We must maintain the illusion at all costs."
Looking pale, Alastor pointed back to the kitchen and asked: "Does he know about those two?"
"I think so. He cut in after I told Ralph we had three to go."
"Perhaps we'd better wait here to talk to Ralph, before we go after the bitch again?" suggested Alfonso.
Alastor looked at the clock on the wall behind the front counter, and then said: "Yeah, maybe you're right."
* * *
A blue Fairlane pulled up outside the historic bluestone building in Exhibition Street.
Most of the building was in darkness, but a single office had the light on on the top storey.
"The dumb bitch is a hard worker, I'll give her that," said Dad.
Rae and Hannibal both brayed like donkeys.
"Come on, let's go wait for her."
"Okay," said Hannibal, and the three men climbed out. In business suits like Alastor's team, the second team could also have passed for accountants, wearing smart, pale blue suits as though to match their Ford.
"She normally comes out the front door," said Hannibal, the self-appointed leader of this team; "but walk around the back and wait, just in case, Rae."
"Got you," said Rae, a tall black man who was built like an Olympic runner. He turned and started at a run around the building, without even panting.
"All right, Dad," go across to the other side of the doorway," instructed Hannibal. "I'll wait this side, and we're bound to get her in a crossfire."
"No sweat," said Dad braying like a donkey at the thought of putting the smart bitch into her place.
* * *
Inside the cream walled office, Marla Goldenberg sat slouched over some papers, seemingly doing a double-shift like the police. She was just rubbing at a crick in her neck when two hands encircled her throat.
"What?" she said startled, looking round to where one of her assistants, George, stood behind her.
"Lie back and let me ease the tension for you," advised George, a trained masseur as well as a marksman.
"Oh God, that's good," said Marla as George carefully rubbed the aches from her neck and shoulders.
"What's going on here?" asked a teasing voice behind them.
Looking round they saw a tall Asian man doing his best not to laugh as he tried to look shocked as though he had caught George and Marla in some compromising situation.
"I can come back later, or not at all, if you're doing anything private."
"It might end up not at all, if you don't watch yourself Aaron," teased Marla, trying her best to sound miffed. "Don't think you can be sarky at my expense, just because you've been my assistant and friend for fifteen years now."
"Sorry, Madam Mayor," said Aaron doing a low, Japanese-style bow.
"This, after you've just told him not to be sarky," said George.
"Yes," agreed Marla. "Maybe it's time I gave up for the night and went home, rather than stay here and be derided by my own assistants."
"Ah so, so sorry," said Aaron in his best Charlie Chann voice.
"Now he's taking off Charlie Chann," said George.
"Oh that's it, I'm going home for the night," said Marla. As she stood up, George reached for her mock ermine coat to help her into it.
Heading toward the office door, Marla teased: "Well, Number One Son, are you coming too? You are supposed to be one of my bodyguards."
"Ah so," said Aaron doing a low bow as he followed Marla and George out into the corridor.
* * *
Outside the city hall building, Hannibal and Dad waited on either side of the doorway, ready to catch Marla Goldenberg in a crossfire, when an off-white Lexus suddenly pulled up in the doorway.
A tall, athletic-looking black man in a chauffeur's uniform got out of the front of the car and walked around to open the passenger door for the mayor.
Seeing the tall man climb from the car, Dad and Hannibal stepped a little further back into the shadows.
From beyond the front door they heard a voice say: "Ah so, Number One Son only here to do Lady Mayor's bidding."
The two assassins looked puzzled, but the tall chauffeur grinned broadly.
"Shut up," said Marla Goldenberg as the door opened.
George stepped out and looked about, then looked at the chauffeur who nodded at him.
"Oh God, can I just get to the car, so I can get home?" asked Marla.
"We have to make certain it's safe," insisted Aaron. He was no longer doing his Number One Son act as he stepped out onto the concrete landing and started down the steps toward the Lexus. "Any problems, Derek?"
"No," said the chauffeur; "but I've just got here."
"Perhaps we'd better look around before she comes down," suggested Aaron.
"Got it," agreed Derek. He reached into his coat for a handgun, while Aaron did the same.
They looked about for a moment, then hearing rustling from some bushes on the left side of the council building, Aaron signalled for Derek to follow him.
"Shit!" said Dad as they started straight toward him. Stepping out from cover, he opened fire on Aaron.
"Jesus!" cried Aaron dying before he reached the gravel.
Squatting, Derek rapid-fired six shots at Dad from point blank range, knocking the assassin over onto his backside.
* * *
"Jesus," hissed Hannibal, seeing his confederate screw up badly. Abandoning the fallen assassin, he carefully avoided some metal garbage cans as he backed away to the blue Fairlane, to start round to collect Rae from the rear of the building.
"Did you get the bitch?" asked Rae as the Ford pulled up for him.
"No that idiot, Dad, screwed up and they gunned him down."
"No loss," said the tall athletic black man climbing into the front passenger seat.
"I'm not sure if he'll see it like that."
"Or Rodrigo," said Rae. His psychic powers having gone into overdrive, just before the car radio buzzed.
Looking down at it in fear, neither man touched the handset for a moment, then, reluctantly; Hannibal picked up the set and asked: "Yes?"
"Well!" demanded Rodrigo.
"Well, that idiot, Dad got himself gunned down," said Hannibal.
"I know that!" said Rodrigo, who had stronger psychic powers than either Izzi or Rae. "I meant what the hell went wrong?"
"Just bad luck."
"Bad luck!" demanded Rodrigo, almost snake-hissing the words out in anger.
"Yes, they just happened to check in his direction and the idiot panicked and opened fire. He killed one of her bodyguards, but another one got him."
"Second-rate idiots," cursed Rodrigo. "I wish I could spare Alastor and his team to take over from you idiots."
"In fairness, Mr Rodrigo, they've done no better than us," said Hannibal regretting it as soon as he spoke.
"Yeah, they haven't caught the Celentano woman yet."
"Shit idiots!" cursed Rodrigo. "I don't want alibis, I want results. Now follow that bitch mayor home and finish the job."
"Yessir," said Hannibal and Rae as one.
"And just hope I don't decide to send the three of you all up a level or two."
"Yessir," they both said as Rodrigo rang off.
Hanging up the handset, Hannibal gave Rae a worried look, and then started the car.
"Thankfully they can't find anything from Dad's body," said Hannibal.
"And they won't have it for long, before we get it back," said Rae, giving him a half-hearted grin.
* * *
Derek quickly checked the other side of the building, then finding no-one, signalled for George, who hurried Marla Goldenberg down the concrete steps toward the off-white Lexus.
"Oh God," said Marla. She stopped for a second as she saw the corpse of her friend and assistant, Aaron, lying face-up on the gravel.
"Come on! Come on, Marla!" cried George, almost throwing her into the rear of the Lexus. "Go! Go! Go!"
Derek had already leapt into the driver's seat and the car was roaring off into the darkness as George went over to examine Aaron's corpse for a second, closing his staring eyes with his fingers.
Then he strode across to the assassin's corpse kneeling to start checking for identification, when something caught his attention.
"What the …?" said George picking up the assassin's right hand to stare at his fingers. "Shit, no fingerprints. But that's impossible without reducing the fingers to stumps."
However, Dad's long, piano-player thin fingers were anything but stumps, despite having no fingerprints.
TO BE CONTINUED:
© Copyright 2011
Philip Roberts, Melbourne, Australia