A Crowdsourced Novel
Read it here – Say what comes next.
Stan Harris checked his service revolver and slipped his arms into his suit coat on the way out the building. The back seat of the Crown Vic made almost enough room for his big frame and he settled back while Special Agent Paul Schneider steered the car into traffic, then handed back a phone. Harris still refused to carry one. “St. Louis on the line, Stan.”
Harris took a deep breath before raising the phone to his face. “Sammy? Stan. No, I’m on my way to Joliet Airport to check on some dead mobsters. You got that St. Louis gravel truck shooting covered?”
“Missouri State Police are on it. On my way to talk to them now. Get back to you, soon as I know something.”
“I’m following up a lead. Give me whatever you know now.”
A pause on the line then Sammy’s voice, less jovial. “Prints on the gun belong to Frank Smith, a local insurance agent, but I got to check it out.”
“Okay, keep me in the loop, Sammy. It may connect up with something at my end.” Harris cut the connection and the phone chimed immediately. “Harris. Talk to me.”
“Mahoney here.” Harris recognized the voice from the organized-crime task force in Washington. The guy’s nasal accent always irritated him. “Your mystery woman is Roya Fetova, one of our best undercover assets till about six months ago. She and her partner worked up some good intel on the Russian Mob in Chicago and connections in Boston and New York. I’m sending her picture now.”
Harris quickly looked at the photo on his phone. “Nice face. Still blonde?”
“As far as we know.”
Harris frowned at that. “Something slip at your end, Mahoney?”
“You might say that. Sergey went down in a turf war with the Italian mob. Ugly killing. Execution style, you know. Roya was convinced Don Grasso pulled the trigger himself. Oh by the way, we caught Sergey and Roya expanding on the department’s definition of watching your partner’s back. We had to pull her in.”
“Wanna spell that out, Mahoney?”
“Let’s say her professional conduct was compromised. Officially, she’s on leave of absence. She dropped out of sight and might be looking for some…” He paused. “Some personal justice.”
Harris winced. A federal agent gone rogue made for trouble. One bent on revenge made a mess. Stupid—pulling a trained agent off a case, just because she cared. Sometimes the department made no sense at all.
Again the nasal voice. “The photo of the male suspect checked out as one Tony Ferragamo, known hit man.”
Harris paused to consider what he wanted to reveal about his runaway witness under protection. “I think the guy in the photo is a lookalike. Last known name for Ferragamo is Frank Smith. He used that in St. Louis and then got lost. There’s a real Frank Smith in this with his prints on a gun that killed a truck driver. That give you any ideas?”
“Something slip at your end too, Stan?”
Harris didn’t immediately answer. Losing a protected witness didn’t look so good. “I’m trying to figure out if Ferragamo, Smith, and your suspended agent have anything in common.”
“I’ll run a check on that name and get back to you. Smith did you say?” He chuckled.
“You do that.” Harris handed the phone back to Paul then slammed his fist against the door. That Washington bastard just laughed in his face. Paul offered no comment, just inched the car forward in traffic.
Half way to Joliet, the phone rang again and Paul handed it back to him. “Harris. Talk to me.”
“Sammy again. Re-ran the prints of the gravel truck shooter. One Frank Smith. Ran his driver’s license photo. Came up with Tony Ferragamo, but the prints don’t match Ferragamo. What I got shows Smith about a year older, an inch shorter and about ten pounds lighter. The guy’s clean—not even a speeding ticket. Insurance agent. Census duty. Service record. Air Force pilot. But he’s definitely our shooter—not Ferragamo.”
“What about the car?”
Harris ran a hand across his chin. How did Smith kill a truck driver in St. Louis, then end up in a Joliet hotel with a loose-cannon FBI agent and a credit card in the name of Luigi Gastroni? “You’re sure this Smith whacked the truck driver?”
“Looks that way, yeah.”
“Okay, keep me posted.” Harris leaned back and closed his eyes. So the rogue FBI agent hired some new muscle. But an insurance agent? And what about the connection with Ferragamo?
They turned in at Joliet Municipal. Paul drove past the FBO and pulled up to a roped-off crime scene, lit with halogen lights. A tied-down Cessna and a handful of agents looking busy. The flashing lights of an ambulance. The driver turned to Harris. “Like I said, you gotta see this for yourself.”
“Okay, Paul.” He climbed out of the back seat, ducked under the yellow tape and pointed his flashlight at a stretcher, then at the coroner.
“O’Reilly. What you doing this far from the loop? It’s enough I have to deal with you back there.”
“I might ask you the same.” He unzipped the body bag. Harris immediately recognized the face of Luigi Gastroni. “You know him, right?”
“Yeah. What’s the story?”
Somebody snapped his neck. Martial arts move. Pro, I imagine.”
O’Reilly stiffened. “You’ll have my complete report in the morning.” He closed the bag.
Paul steered Harris away by the arm. “Stan, c’mere a minute. There’s more I want you to see before they bag the other body.” He pointed his flash at the open passenger door of the Cessna. “Ever see anything like that?”
Harris immediately recognized the huge awkward form and ugly features of Giovanni Ragliani, all the more hideous after strangulation. He stepped closer and fingered the material that bound the giant’s neck to the headrest. “A brassier? What’s up with that?”
“You tell me.”
“Gort caused me a lot of trouble over the years. Nobody ever messed with him—not ever. Oumo Grasso is gonna be pissed when he hears his two top enforcers got snuffed. What do we know about it?”
“We found gags and duct tape in the back of the plane. Waiting on prints. I’d like to get some skin samples for DNA.”
Harris flashed his light in back. “Seat’s gone. You check the frame for traces of drugs? Good.” He looked closer at Gort. “No woman did this—except the strong lady at the circus, maybe.” He snorted a short laugh. “What kinda martial arts pro goes up against a giant armed with woman’s underwear? Both these guys have guns?”
“That’s odd. Maybe caught by surprise. Tell O’Reilly to check for any sign Gort was unconscious before he got strangled. Luigi flying?”
“We found him in back.”
“That’s strange, too. Maybe killed on the ground?” Harris inserted a finger behind the wrapped brassier and tested the tension. “Anybody see this plane land?”
“Nobody. Airport closed during the storm.” Paul answered his phone. “Okay, thanks.” He pocketed the device. “Frank Smith’s prints are all over the plane.”
Harris nodded. “So Smith flew here from St. Louis. Then he used Luigi’s credit card. Smith looks like our man. We got some new muscle in town, maybe a new mob.”
* * *
Tony Ferragamo leaped onto the train just as the doors slid closed and moved slowly through the rear half of the car, scanning for his two targets. He opened the lavatory. He moved to the front half of the car. Nothing. He passed through to the next car. Frank and that arrogant blond could be anywhere along the line, but there was no place to hide. He’d just go from car to car until he found them.
Frank heard the door bang open but didn’t dare peer over the edge to the lower floor. He and Roya lay prone in front of the upper-deck seats, arms stretched forward to fit flat to the narrow aisle, invisible to anybody below. A man closed his computer lid and glared at them. Other people glanced, then glanced away. Frank heard the lavatory door open and slam shut. Then nothing but the noise of the train.
Would the guy climb to the upper deck?
The recording announced the next stop. The door to the entryway opened and shut. Frank peeked over the edge at the floor “He’s gone.”
“Don’t get so cocky, Frank. He might come back. He might be sitting below us.” Roya dusted off her jeans and grinned. “On the other hand, he might not.”
Frank didn’t like being hunted. At the next stop, he caught sight of the guy moving along the platform. “Roya.” He signaled her to get low. “He’s scanning windows. We’re lit up like a store display.”
The train jostled into motion again and Frank wondered whether Speck, or whatever his name was, got back onboard or stayed behind.
The PA announced Union station. “Frank, I want to split up. We’ll be less conspicuous. Meet me at Ogilvie Station in 10 minutes. Get on the train for Crystal Lake—fourth car, upper right deck. I’ll find you there.
At Union Station, Tony got off the first car in the midst of a sea of people and quickly moved to the head of the pack, then found a corner to watch every passenger as they passed.
There was Frank Smith. Alone.
Tony held his breath, not wanting to lose Frank, not daring to put himself ahead of that bitch.
There she was. Hair pulled back in a ponytail. Not much of a disguise. Probably hanging back to see if Frank picked up a tail. He dropped in behind her, letting her lead him to Frank.
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.