Raiders of the last . . . Aaargh!
The Man drew deeply on his cigar. Looked at Smooth Mario. Nodded approvingly and blew an expensive cloud of smoke. "Good work with Fava, Mario. He's been . . . fired, I hear. Nobody's going to try any hostile corporate takeovers on us again for a while. A pity the holy water didn't work. But then neither did the smartarse's idea with the mercenaries. Just one chopper got back . . . and none of those so-called professionals. So tell me, how much did that . . . piece of shit offer you to downsize me?"
"Five hundred, Boss."
"Five hundred grand! The guy's a cheapskate. For that alone he's got to go."
Smooth Mario shook his head. "Five hundred million."
There was a stunned silence. That kind of money could buy a lot of deaths.
"Now, look here. This is a raid, not a war. We're not going to try to put the whole place to fire and the sword, Korg. We go in, we keep a nice low profile. We deal with these hoods and we come home," Squigs had said, while they stood waiting on the top of the Ziggurat.
Their casual agreement hadn't reassured him much.
Now, in the grubby back streets of Chicago, it reassured him even less. They were all dressed in floor-length shabby coats, the best Zoar-style garments Squigs had been able to find which would hide their dragon-leather clothing and weapons. They looked like an out-of-work circus-act on its way to watch a kinky movie.
Squigs had left them in the garbage-can lined back-street, while he ventured into the seedy looking pawn-shop.
He looked nervously around on leaving it. For all that the pawn-broker had cheated him outrageously, on what Squigs had claimed were his great-grandmother's gold knick-knacks from his great-grand uncle's mining efforts in the Yukon, he wouldn't put it past the man to call the cops. And the city was already having a marked effect on his little band of raiders. Crum it made nervous, Korg more aggressive than usual, and the baron and Mungo merely curious. Squigs sighed warily. He didn't need any more complications.
But during the three minutes he'd been away, the first complication had arisen.
"I just wanted a quiet pee," said Korg defensively. "That beer we had at the Green Monkey while we were waiting went through me just like that." He snapped the fingers of the hand that wasn't holding a blood-dripping axe. "I mean, when a man's got to go he's got to go. So I just stepped into that alley. Truly, Squigs, it was their own fault. They pointed these little bitty knives at me."
"And called you 'kid'!" said Mungo, smothering a chuckle.
"But the third one will probably live, if he gets to an armorer pretty quickly," the dwarf went on, wiping his axe-blade on the jacket of the dead man at his feet.
"Oh, God! I told you to stay out of trouble. Now let's get out of here before the place is crawling with police," said Squigs, leading them off as fast as his long legs could stride.
The dwarf had to trot. "Bloody barbarians, these mudders. What sort of people insult a man while he's got his John Thomas in his hand?"
Two blocks further on they arrived at a cheap hotel with a neon-flashing bar-sign.
"And what would that be, boyo?" Mungo looked curiously at the flickering martini glass. "A place 'o worship of some kind?"
"It's just a bar . . ." Squigs wished he'd bitten his tongue.
"Let's go!" said Crum eagerly, for the first time looking cheerful.
Mungo nodded. "Well, maybe just a dram to play off the dust, eh, Squigs, boyo. Hot dry work this . . ."
"NO! Dammit, we've only got forty-six more minutes," said Squigs looking at his watch.
"Well, just a quick one," said Mungo.
"No, No, NO! Forget it. We have a job to do. Come on. There is a cab," Squigs pushed them toward the vehicle.
Mungo eyed the car with extreme doubt. "You want me to get into that thing without even a drink? Well, dammo, 'tis a fine thing I brought a small jar . . ."
"Come on. In," said Squigs, determinedly.
"Not six of ya!" the cab-driver protested. The black hand squeezed his shoulder. He changed his mind, hastily.
"Take us to this address." Squigs handed him a piece of paper.
The driver swallowed. He nodded respectfully. He drove across town until he spotted two police cruisers parked in front of a scrap-metal dog statue.
He squeezed the cab in between them. "Get out, or I yell for the cops!" he snarled. "I'm not getting involved with no mob business."
Squigs' black hand tensed briefly. The fellow wasn't going to be yelling for anyone. But he wasn't going to be driving either.
A burly cop came over from his industrious ticket writing. "Watcha stopping here for? Can't ya see dis is a no stopping zone!"
"I'm sorry, officer. We're English tourists on our way to Lincoln Park Zoo. Our driver must have fainted or something. He said he just had to pull over."
"Yeah? Well you'd better get outa de cab den," said the living proof, in police uniform, that man is related to Australopithicus. "Hey, Joe. Chance for ya to practice your Rescue 911 stuff here."
As his companion came over, the heroes got out of the cab. Most of them succeeded in getting out without revealing their garb or their weapons. Except Crum. His sword nearly tripped the cop up.
The other policeman had gone straight to cab-driver's door, so he wasn't involved.
"Jeez! What are you doing wid dat thing?" asked the ape-policeman, untangling his legs from the sword. "I don't like the looks of this. Fred. Jose." He called to the other two cops who were busy administering to the safety of the nation by dishing out parking tickets, while the crack-sales continued peacefully behind them. As they came up, the cop pulled his gun, grabbed for Crum's arm and twisted it behind his back, "Okay, ya long-haired scum-bag. An' the rest of you. Up against de car. Hands above your heads. Come on! Up against de car."
The heroes looked at the policeman with varying degrees of astonishment, irritation and, in Squigs case, "Oh, God, why does it have to happen to me?"
Crum ungrabbed himself. Swatted the gun pressed to his kidneys to the ground, and, as was his habit, raised the unfortunate policeman to face height. The cop, unable to reach for his gun, and in danger of choking, broke his billy club on the head of his assailant. That was a waste of effort on Crum's granitic skull.
All it achieved was to make Mungo pull the cop free of the blinking Crum, and toss him across four lanes of traffic. A shot ricocheted off the Crum's leathers.
The trigger-happy policeman found himself with his wrist pinned to a no-parking sign by a skillfully wielded rapier. "Squigs tells me that you are supposed to be officers of the law. I am Lord Ashill, and a justice of the peace. I am accustomed to being treated with respect by people of your order. Now, I suggest you go away and leave us to our legitimate business."
The third cop had advanced, pointing a wary gun at the evil looking 3'6" fellow, who beckoned to him. The poor man was foolish enough to bend down.
However, the policeman who had gone to the cab-driver's assistance astutely sneaked quietly back to his squad-car. He had radioed for help before Squigs and the mercenary captain noticed him and hauled him out. "I fink," said the mercenary captain, "that we'd better get the hell out of here." They bundled into the cab again, with Squigs behind the wheel.
Having cautiously driven his mother's elderly mini around the streets of a relatively quiet English university town was, Squigs decided later, a poor preparation for six lanes of insane American motor mania. At least there was more room in these American cars, but he was used to driving with his knees next to his ears.
After three blocks of hooting, screeching and swerving insanity it occurred to him that in the US they drove on the other side of the streets.
He managed to force his way onto the right-hand side of the road. It was a grave disappointment to the dwarf, who had been bouncing up and down on the unconscious cabby yelling, "Faster! Go! Go!" with a maniacal grin.
And then . . . the road miraculously cleared. Before Squigs could be grateful, he realized why it was clear. It was because eight squad cars, lights flashing and sirens howling merrily, were gaining rapidly on them. Squigs executed a daring turn into a side street, a la classic American movie car-chase. Unfortunately, he did it to the best of his failed-three-times-British-learner's-license driver's ability.
A skilled stuntman would have done it on two screaming wheels at ninety miles an hour.
Squigs did it in a juddering fashion, at about ten miles an hour. On the wrong side of the road.
The cab shuddered to a gentle stalled stop next to the curb. The speeding police cars crashed to a halt all around them. At this point in the movie car-chase, the police leap behind their cars, weapons at the ready, and someone produces a loud-hailer.
Reality, however, is always somewhat different. The lieutenant, sitting in the first car, still somewhat shaken by the crash, found himself roughly hauled out of the vehicle by the baron. Baron Ashill looked at him sternly, "You mustn't stay in them after they've crashed, you know. Squigs says they sometimes catch fire. Now, give me a hand getting the rest of your men out. Don't you know how to drive these damn chariots of yours properly?"
The bad guys run away, or shoot at you. They do not haul you out of your cruiser and ask if you are all right. They do not treat you like joyriding school kids. The only uncrashed squad car did attempt a quiet U-turn retreat. Unfortunately, the driver reversed onto Mungo's toes. He, with a bellow, had picked up the back end of the vehicle, so that the wheels spun madly. Then, having moved his toes, he dropped the car, the engine now racing frantically. A few seconds later the vehicle was no longer un-wrecked, and its occupants also had to be helped out.
Some foolish soul at this point decided on some pistol-action. The baron disarmed him, then pulled the terrified patrolman's trousers down, and spanked him, then and there, with a long and whippy rapier. The he gave the man back his weapon, telling him to be more careful with it in future.
"I fink," said the mercenary captain, with the wicked smile of a man paying back a lifetime of speeding-fines, "Myneer Korg, that those animals stuck in the little boxes in the cars mus' be injured. Hear how they're squawking and yammering on and on. I fink you'd better put them out of their misery with your axe."
Korg nodded. "It 'ud be the kind thing to do. No sense in leaving the beasts to suffer. Where are they trapped?"
"Here. It is marked 'RADIO,' see."
"Sounds almost like human speech . . ." said Korg, pausing.
"Ja. They're sort of like parrots," explained the Captain.
"I'd bloody do them in, anyway, even if they weren't in pain!"
The crash and the sudden silence caused by the destruction of the radios produced pandemonium back at the control centre. The captain took a deep breath. Bit his lip. Picked up the microphone.
"All units. This is Captain Swennenburg here. I don't know what the hell's going on. I'm afraid it sounds like Lieutenant Harvey and his boys have bought it. Some kind of ambush, I guess. Pull back all cars a couple of blocks from the intersection of 42nd and Clements. I want those blocks cordoned off. I'm calling in a couple of SWAT teams and alerting the national guard."
The captain sighed. He wasn't looking forward to explaining this to Harvey's wife.
John Harvey was probably not going to enjoy explaining it to her either. How the hell was he going to explain away the mess on his uniform? It had all started with that big guy suggesting that they all needed a drink after that wild chariot ride. When someone that size, who had just bent that brown-noser Johnson's hand-cuffs into pretzels, says you all need a drink—you have one. And that one drink had led to a few more. Quite a few more. And then all of them had decided to come along to join in the fun of these guys paying a visit to the Carpaccio Corporation. He winced and held his head. It had all seemed bloody funny at the time.
They'd all cheerfully walked out of the police cordon as a mob, assumed, by the scurrying policemen there, to be part of the chaotic attempt at organization. Strolled into a gang-bosses headquarters without so much as a by-your-leave, never mind a search-warrant! It was only when they ran into a serious attempt at stopping them that the lieutenant had come to with the sobering realization that their friendly drinking companions were very dangerous and bullet-proof people, engaged in a potentially deadly mission.
The Man was on the phone to a certain person of high political office, to whom he had made several substantial campaign contributions in the past. "Of course, I'm sure it's a raid. No, they don't have warrants, or anything. What do you mean the whole police force is involved in the hostage drama down on 42nd Street? . . . then . . . Shit! This is a trick!"
Somebody kicked down the door. Big Danny did his Personal Assistant best, but Mungo was feeling a little short-tempered by this time. As a result, the plaster on the far wall would never be the same again. It was all those cops' fault. They had drunk most of the five gallon jug of mixed arak, peppermint liqueur and tequila he'd brought along, and Mungo, while an affable man by nature, was feeling a little dry.
Smooth Mario stopped picking his teeth, and dropped quietly back into the far corner. His hand curled around the butt of his Glock, but that didn't mean he was going to waste his chances.
When Squigs came in, Mario caught his breath. This was the one he'd been sent after. This was the one he'd failed to kill. The one that had nearly had him lose his own life. Now . . . ! Then the mercenary captain came in. He was holding the Uzi in such a way that Mario knew that even one move would be fatal for quite a lot of people. And behind him, bundling into the don's office, came fifteen drunken cops. The sixteenth had stopped to be sick in a gutter outside, and never lived it down. He resigned soon after and went to live in Claremont, Oklahoma, under an assumed name.
Salvatore Volatelly, the silver-haired advisor, knew the law. He also kept his cool better than The Man, who was staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed at Squigs.
"What's the meaning of this outrage! Have you got a warrant?" Sal demanded.
The policemen began laughing hysterically, "Warrant, warrant, anybody here seen a Wa-ha-ha-warrant?" they sang in a swaying chorus-line.
The parrot chose this moment to appear eerily on Squigs' black hand. "Awk! Ah, shut uppa your face, you silly old fart. Buy your wife a vibrator."
Salvatore was an old man with some prostate troubles. He'd been Consigliore to the old man, who was a hell of a lot better man than his son. He'd seen many things. He'd seen men garroted. He'd seen others having quick-drying cement poured into their boots. But he hadn't ever seen any ghostly parrots appearing before. He'd heard pleading. He'd heard desperate defiance. He'd been called a murderer and worse. But he had never been called a silly old fart. And nobody, but nobody, knew about his impotence with his pretty young wife.
"You should try oysters," said the baron helpfully, to the purple-faced old man.
Mario saw his Uncle Salvatore's old, but still-powerful hands grab the parrot's neck, and pass straight through it. The old man stared at his hands with disbelief. The parrot, always believing in adding injury to insult, came and took a ghostly peck at the old man's nose. Salvatore retreated into the other corner and began muttering the names of saints to himself.
But the Consigliore had given The Man the breathing space he needed. "I have friends," he said, with quite convincing arrogance, "in very high places. You're all in deep, deep trouble." He also pressed the hidden button under the desk-top. Through the open window came the sound of distant sporadic gunfire as some of Captain Swennenburg's men caught sight of one of the SWAT team.
The threat might have cowed some of the police, if they hadn't just discovered a bottle of bourbon, and started to argue about who got the first drink. To the Zoar folk, the statement made little sense, or difference. The dwarf shrugged. "So. I got cousins who are mining up in the Abora's. That's eleven thousand feet. Your friends higher than that? Anyway, I came to fight, not to talk. You're ugly and your mother dresses you funny."
Don Carpaccio would have won any talent competition, hands down, with his gifted goldfish imitation.
"You can sort him out, when I've had some answers, Korg." Squigs leaned over the desk.
The man behind that desk remembered "M'lord" saying that this man was dangerous, despite appearances. He decided to attempt guile. "Look, you're making a big mistake. I'm just the head of a corporation that produces and imports olive oil. Truly. There's a bottle on the shelf there." There was. Mario insisted on having a bottle there, for tradition's sake.
Mungo took it down, opened the bottle and sniffed it. "Lousy bouquet," he said. "What's it say on the bottle?"
The baron took it. "Finest quality Italian extra virgin olive oil," he read.
Before this Korg had simply been looking for a fight. Now he was actually angry. It was a very different and far more dangerous thing. The dwarf jumped onto the desk in a single bound, his hobnails gouging its polished surface. He grabbed the Don by the shirt-front and hauled him out of his seat. "At last I've found you, you bloody blasted quack! So, you're the son of a seafaring cockroach that makes this RUBBISH. Do you know my poor sister drank seven bottles of that terrible stuff!? You are coming back with me to explain. Come on, Squigs, you can ask him your questions later. Let's leave this barbaric mud-heap where they'll threaten a man who is having a pee, and make quack medicine to trick poor, desperate, deluded girls."
The response to that hidden button under the desk had been rather muted. Many of those who should have come were lying dead or injured. The helicopter pilot, and the ambitious "advertising executive" who did come bursting in were unprepared. Or at least unprepared for fifteen cops, five green-clad, greatcoated figures, and a mercenary captain that the helicopter pilot had thought definitely dead. Kaptein Francois repaid the helicopter pilot's desertion with his Uzi. The other fellow just got in the way. The police lieutenant chose this moment to puke.
Smooth Mario finally saw his chance to take a shot at Squigs. The bullet ricocheted off the treated dragon-leather over the toast-rack ribs.
Mungo plucked the gun away from him. And would have defenestrated him, if Salvatore had not bestirred himself.
"Please, sir . . . He's my only nephew. He's a good boy, even if he's a big-a stupid Mick. He was only doing what the boss told him to. Truly. Spare him, please, for an old man's sake. I'll keep him outa trouble in the future."
Squigs rubbed his ribs. "No harm done, Mungo. Just let me talk to him."
Mario looked at the black hand twitching towards him. He remembered the coffee-colored one he'd once delivered. "Not squid," he pleaded, kneeling, wringing his hands.
"Octopus," said Squigs, not knowing what Mario was talking about, but playing along, flexing the eight digits of his right hand. "If I ever see any of you suits again, that's what you'll get. Do you understand me?"
Mario just shook, but Squigs caught sight of the clock behind the frantically nodding man who now had a dark stain on his elegant trousers.
"Time to go. I think you're right, Korg. Let's take that one with us." They walked out, dragging the infamous "The Man" Carpaccio along like a bag of old laundry.
"Remember to try the oysters," said the baron, with a wave as they left.
Lieutenant Harvey looked at Salvatore.
The old man, who was trying to prod the shaking jelly that had once been Smooth Mario back to his feet, looked back at the Lieutenant. "I think we can reach some agreement about this, Lieutenant. Unwise of Vigo Carpaccio to have kidnapped and held hostage police officers. I'm sure the efforts of my nephew and myself in freeing you, will have us pardoned of any involvement in these serious charges. And that way nobody's gonna to have to explain what you were all doing here, blind drunk and without a warrant."
The police lieutenant stared blankly at the empty chair behind the hobnail-scarred desk. Nodded. Nobody would ever believe the real story anyway. He looked at the vomit trails on his sleeves and his shoes. He might not get thrown out of the force, but his wife was going to kill him for sure.
Salvatore stepped closer. "My nephew, Mario here, he knows some very good, quick cleaners," he said quietly, sympathetically. "Now, listen, I'm sure there is no need to go into too much detail about what happened here, and er . . . I'd appreciate it if . . . what that parrot said . . ."
The lieutenant nodded understandingly. "I won't mention it to a soul." He glanced hastily around, and said in a low voice, "You know, you should try ginseng tablets. They really worked for me. Oysters just gave me gas."
Before the policemen filed out, Salvatore had also received a quickly scrawled address (on the back of a parking ticket) of a doctor who really understood the subject, and a whispered suggestion from the Chinese officer that he should try eels, that his grandfather swore by them, and the advice not to waste his money on rhino-horn. There are certain areas in which the brotherhood of men rises above mere mundane things like hating each other's guts.
"Well," said Mungo, "there you are, boyo, as smooth as a silky bottom. We told you there was no need to worry. I doubt if anyone even noticed we were there."
Squigs shook his head in amazement. He wondered what the newspaper headlines would say about their exploits.
Actually, the heroes didn't even feature. The leader banners were all variants of "the night Chicago died, again," and the articles concentrated on the man who would be the new Al Capone, Vigo Carpaccio, and his audacious kidnapping of fifteen police officers, the hostage drama and their daring rescue. That's the media for you.
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