A Crowdsourced Novel
Read it here – Say what comes next.
Tony cursed the traffic. A four-hour drive stretched to five in the aftermath of the downpour and it was getting dark. He pulled into a gas station. Tony wanted to keep tabs on his patsy, Frank Smith, but had to remain anonymous. It wouldn’t do to have two Frank Smiths around. Any number of two-bit street thugs might turn him in to the mob. In the dirty men’s room, he took off his suit and pulled on a worn pair of blue jeans and plain white tee shirt, tight, showing off his shoulders and biceps. He hadn’t shaved that morning and he let the stubble grow. A Cubs hat and a pair of wire-rims completed the disguise.
Tony decided to crash at his sister’s house. Dolores would hide him. His brother-in-law, Mario, had a two-month union job putting in A/C and heating units at a Wal-Mart distribution center somewhere in South Carolina.
His phone rang. “That flight you asked about diverted to Joliet Municipal.” The line went dead. Okay, he’d check out the airport then plan his next move. He paid for the gas with cash, carefully laid the suit flat in the trunk of his car and drove back onto the expressway.
Tony cranked up the radio when a Mustang passed his car and he got a quick look at the driver’s face in the light of the car’s panel. The babe from the garage? If so, she was on the loose and Frank Smith must be free. He wasn’t in the car–maybe she’d meet up with him. Tony let her make some ground then followed her running lights from a distance. Easy with such a flash car. The triple tail lights of a Mustang could be spotted a mile away.
* * *
Desi Grasso keenly felt the sting of his uncle’s opinion. Uomo Grasso thought him weak. Said so plenty of times. True, he’d been sickly as a child and never showed any aptitude for family business—drugs, gambling, extortion, prostitution. He hated the brutal enforcement side of the operation. But that didn’t make him a pansy and Desi had a skill that Uncle Uomo needed—a knack for cyber-crime.
In a little storefront located in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, he set up shop between two third-generation businesses—Bertinelli’s Deli and Bracco’s Barber Shop. What was once a TV and Radio store became a legitimate computer repair business. Desi liked electronics. On the second floor, he maintained a sophisticated computer hacking operation. Identity and credit card theft made the bulk of the daily work of Desi Grasso.
The phone rang and his computer monitor signaled a direct line from his uncle. He punched the keyboard and talked through a headset. “Hi, Uncle Uomo.”
A pause on the line. “Yes. A small errand only.” The voice of the fat man intoned deep and smooth. “Find if Luigi’s credit card was used recently and specifically where it was used.”
“Hold on.” Desi keyed the computer and immediately got a hit showing a charge at a mid-grade hotel in Joliet. “Here it is. Got a pen?” That didn’t take any time at all. Desi hoped he’d impressed Uncle Uomo.
“Go there immediately and meet Nicklaus and Petro. I want you to find whoever is using that card and bring him to me.”
Desi grinned. “On my way.” Uncle Uomo had just handed him a job and assigned some muscle to take care of the nasty work. It must be important if Uomo wanted to see this guy himself. This was a chance to be in charge—a chance to prove himself. He crammed an automatic into the belt of his blue jeans, right at the small of his back, and slipped on a suit coat.
* * *
In the upper deck, Frank sat on a vinyl seat, his back to the window. He sweated freely and repeatedly craned his neck, looking outside at the lighted platform for Roya. She was the only one that could corroborate his crazy story and exonerate him—the only eyewitness to the shooting of the truck driver back in Missouri—the only one who could testify that they killed the kidnappers in self-defense.
There she was.
She stepped onto the train just as it started to move. The door opened and a tough-looking guy in a ball cap came in behind her. A recording announced the next stop. From the aisle below, she spotted Frank and soon slipped into the seat next to his.
“You almost missed the train.”
“Worried about me, Frank? That’s nice. I had business.” She graced him with a smile. “I’ve got a good friend in the city where we can lay low and develop a game plan. What say we stop there for dinner?”
* * *
Desi Grasso found Nick and Pete sitting in a Cadillac in a dark section of the motel lot. Nick rolled down the passenger-side window.
Desi put his sweaty palms in his pockets. “Whatta you got, Nick?”
Nick didn’t turn his head as he spoke. “They wasn’t at Midway. No Luigi, no passenger—nothin’. We got a call to meet you here. Took you long enough.” Finally he turned and handed a photo of Tony Ferragamo out the window. “That’s the guy Mr. Grasso wants.” Desi met Nick’s eyes and wished he hadn’t. No life behind them, no emotion. A cruel face.
“Okay, let’s go.” Desi headed for the motel lobby while Nick and Pete climbed out of the car and followed. He smiled inwardly, knowing he was in charge. He also knew the appearance of the two enforcers was enough to encourage cooperation.
The desk clerk looked at Nick and Pete, then settled on Desi. “Yeah, a guy about 30 checked in earlier. Terrible storm. Suit was soaked—filthy. Asked for laundry service. Funny thing—he left a few hours later with a girl. Didn’t spend the night. Drove off in a red Mustang.” The clerk gave Desi the tag number.
“Ever see this guy?” Desi flipped the photo of Ferragamo.
“Yeah, that’s him. You shoulda seen that gal—blonde, nice.”
The clerk handed him a key card in a paper jacket with the number written in ballpoint pen.
HOW TO PLAY–This is an interactive story based on Nate’s game in my novel. You get to say what comes next:
1.) KEEP IT SHORT – It’s easy to play Nate’s game. Just enter your idea as a comment like, “their jeep drives off a cliff.” Don’t worry about form—just suggest the next step in the story. I’ll pick one, write it, and post it as a scene in serial form.
2.) KEEP IT CLEAN – I hold the veto pen. In general, if it wouldn’t fly in an old 60’s Bond movie, then it’s out. Since this is an experiment, I get to add rules as we go along.
3.) SHARE – Your posts are a precious gift to me. Maybe you’ll help write my next novel. If so, I’ll list your name prominently as a contributor. If not, then we’ll just have a great time. I take you at your word that all ideas are your original thoughts. No criticism. No arguments. No lawsuits allowed. Let’s have some fun.