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Authors: Andrew Vachss

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Footsteps of the Hawk

BOOK: Footsteps of the Hawk
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for Baby Boy E…

You took Death all the way through the last round.

And got jobbed by the judges.

Again.

 

No more fixed fights for you, little warrior.
Now it's—finally—time to play.

Acclaim for
ANDREW VACHSS

"Vachss is in the first rank of American crime writers."


Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Vachss seems bottomlessly knowledgeable about the depth and variety of human twistedness."


The New York Times

"Burke is an unlikely combination of Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, and Rambo, operating outside the law as he rights wrongs….Vachss has obviously seen just how unable the law is to protect children. And so, while Burke may be a vigilante, Vachss's stories don't feature pointless bloodshed. Instead, they burn with righteous rage and transfer a degree of that rage to the reader."


Washington Post Book World

"Vachss is America's dark scribe of the 1990s….His protagonist Burke is our new dark knight, a cold–eyed crusader."

—James Grady, author of
Six Days of the Condor

"Move over, Hammett and Chandler, you've got company….Andrew Vachss has become a cult favorite, and for good reason."


Cosmopolitan

"The best detective fiction being written….Add a stinging social commentary…a Celinesque journey into darkness, and we have an Andrew Vachss, one of our most important writers."

—Martha Grimes

"Burke fills a void….With his soiled white hat, this Lone Ranger of the '90s asks difficult questions of readers, while also shining a light into the darkest recesses of their souls."


Chicago Tribune

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

To Alan Grant

a volunteer in a war not his own

to free all the Children of the Secret

FOOTSTEPS OF THE HAWK

I
n my business, if you're the last one to a meet you could end up being left there when it's over.

I watched the refrigerator–white Range Rover work its way around the broken chunks of concrete dotting the asphalt that used to be a parking lot. Those luxo four–bys cost big bucks—I guessed Saunders had come into some serious money since the last time we did business. The big rig nosed forward, came to a halt at the start of the pier, then reversed so its rear end was backed against the abandoned building.

I trained the binoculars on the driver's door, watching the man get out. It was Saunders all right, dressed in a suburban safari outfit, right down to a pair of gleaming black boots. The passenger door opened. Another man. Medium height, with a face too chubby for his build, wearing a camo jacket and combat boots, eyes covered with mirror–lensed aviator sunglasses. I climbed down from my perch atop a heavy crossbeam using a rope ladder dyed black. As I moved closer to the door, the ladder merged into the shadows.

The mid–afternoon light was strong, fractured by the wreckage inside the abandoned warehouse—I could see all the way across the grimy Hudson to the Jersey waterfront. The door swung open and they stepped inside.

"Burke," Saunders said, offering his hand. "Long time no see."

"You said business," I told him.

"Same old Burke," he chuckled, dropping his hand…but keeping it in view. "This is the guy I told you about. Roger Cline."

"That's Cline like Patsy, not Klein like Jew," the guy said, smiling with his mouth, his eyes invisible behind the mirror lenses. "Saunders here tell you what we need?"

"Yeah," I told the man. "Ordnance."

"
Heavy
ordnance, my friend," he said. "Can you do it?"

"Sure," I told him. It was the truth—with all the military base closings, it's easy enough these days.

"What we need is—"

"You ever do time?" I interrupted.

"Huh?"

"You ever do time?" I repeated, watching my reflection in the mirror lenses.

The man turned his head slightly to his right, looking for an ally, but Saunders only shrugged, shifting his weight slightly to his outside foot, letting his body language tell the story.

The man turned back to me. "Yeah, I pulled some time," he said, a hostile undercurrent to his reedy voice. "So what?" He pulled off the sunglasses and glared at me all in the same motion—I guess it had worked better when he'd practiced it at home.

"Not
so
what," I told him. "
For
what?"

"What's it to you?" he asked.

"I like to know who I'm dealing with," I told him in a reasonable voice.

"Hey, I ain't asking your daughter for a date, man."

"Suit yourself," I said.

He was quiet for about fifteen seconds, still trying to stare me down—good fucking luck. Then he ran a palm over his close–cropped brown hair, bit into his lower lip for a split–second, said, "Armed robbery."

I nodded as if I was absorbing the information. "You go down alone?" I asked him.

"Huh?"

"When you went to the joint, your partners go with you?"

"No. I mean, I didn't have no partners."

I nodded like that made sense too. "All right," I told the man. "I'll see what's available. Take about three, four weeks. No guarantees, though."

"I thought you could—"

"What? Go over the wall and
steal
the stuff? Get real, pal. I got an inside man—that's the only way to pull off this particular thing. What's for sale is what he can get, that's the story. Whichever way it comes up, that's the way it is, that's the way it
stays,
understand?"

"Yeah. But…" He let it trail off, looking over at Saunders.

"Let me talk to you for a minute," Saunders said. "Just a little one–on–one, okay? For old times' sake?"

I nodded.

"Wait for me outside," Saunders told the other man. "Here's the keys."

Cline–like–Patsy started to say something, changed his mind. He took the keys from Saunders, walked out through the sagging doorway.

"What was that all about, Burke?" Saunders asked me.

"He's counterfeit," I told him. "A three–dollar bill."

"How do you know?"

"Nobody says they went inside for
armed
robbery—that's social–work talk. You say you went down for stealing, or you say you re a thief. You gonna rob, you're armed—how else would it be? And you see his face when I asked him about partners? He never
had
partners—not for what he was doing."

"So what do you care about his pedigree?"

"Look, this guy may be one of those lame Nazis or whatever they call themselves this week, but he's no white–tribe warrior—he's a fucking tree–jumper. And he ratted out a bunch of people when he went in."

"So?"

"So he's not reliable. You know it, and I know it."

"His money spends just as good."

"And you already got some," I said.

"Look, I—"

"Drop it," I told him. "You had an order for hardware, you would have come to me yourself—we did business before. Then you would have marked it up, sold it right over to the chump without me ever knowing."

"I—"

"But you wanted to stay out of the middle on this one, right? So it's one of two things: either you don't think this guy's good for the money or he's got you spooked."

"I don't spook," Saunders said, a hurt tone in his calm hustler's voice.

"How much did he pay you to set up the meet?"

"Five."

"Half's mine."

"How do you figure?"

"I'm not doing business with him, and neither are you. You stung him for five to make the meet. Later you'll tell him I couldn't pull it off. He won't be mad at me—I didn't take any of his cash. So you figure it's harmless…a nice score for a few hours' work."

"If it was a score, it's
my
score," he said.

"You think I'm a fucking 800 number? Toll–free?"

"I was up front with you, Burke. Come on, no hard feelings. How does a grand strike you?"

"You told me five, he probably duked ten on you. Cut me a deuce we stay okay, you and me."

"And if I don't?"

"You never know," I said quietly.

Saunders reached into the side pocket of his safari jacket. Slowly, with two fingers. Pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Held it forward, offering me one.

"No thanks," I told him. "I don't smoke."

"The last time I saw you, you did."

"The last time you saw me, we were doing some real business."

"Ah…he mused, firing up his smoke. "Tell you what. I don't want hard feelings, all right? How about if I give you the deuce, but I throw in some information? Valuable information. You pay whatever it's worth, okay?"

"I'm listening."

He stepped closer to me, dropping his voice. "I've been working out of the city. Understand you were doing some work up there too. In Connecticut?"

I kept my face calm, waiting.

"A cop's on your trail, Burke. A lady cop. She was up there, asking around."

"That's what cops do."

"It doesn't concern you?"

"No. I never do anything to bother the locals."

"Okay. Whatever you say. Just trying to do an old friend a favor."

"I'll remember," I said, holding out an open hand. For the money.

 

 

T
he creep with the sunglasses hadn't gone to prison alone. I had—more than once. But I never come that way to a meet. Max the Silent dropped out of the shadows, disdaining the rope ladder, landing as softly as moonlight on dark water.

Max is my partner. If I'd lit a cigarette while talking to Saunders, Max would have dropped on him like an anvil on an egg.

I pocketed seven fifty off the roll Saunders had finally handed over, gave the same amount to Max. The extra five would go into our bank.

Max nodded his acceptance. I heard the Range Rover pull away. Max was in motion before I was—he can't hear, but the vibrations of that big rig on the rotting boards of the old pier were so strong even I could feel them. Max glided to the warehouse door, looked outside.

When he nodded again, I followed him out the door.

My old Plymouth was parked on the other side of West Street, looking the way it always does—abandoned. I unlocked it and we both climbed inside.

I keyed the motor and we took off, heading for the bank.

 

 

W
e cruised by the front first. The white–dragon tapestry was in the window—All Clear. I stopped in the alley behind the restaurant. The seamlessness of the dirty gray wall was broken by a pristine square of white paint. Max's chop was inside the square, standing out in meticulous black calligraphy. You didn't have to read Chinese to understand it: No Parking. Ever.

The steel door to the back of the restaurant opened as we approached. A pudgy Chinese man stood in the opening, wearing a white chef's apron, a butcher axe in one hand. When he saw who it was, he stepped aside. I heard the door snap closed behind us.

We walked through the kitchen, past the bank of pay phones. Took my booth in the back, sat down.

Mama left her post at the cash register and came over to our table, snapping out some instructions in Cantonese. The waiter was way ahead of her—he vanished, then reappeared with a large tureen of hot–and–sour soup.

Mama served me and Max first, while she was still standing. Then she sat next to Max and used the ladle to fill her own bowl. Max and I each took the obligatory sip, made the required gestures of appreciation.

"We got—" I started to say.

"Finish soup first," Mama replied.

Okay. We drained our bowls, sat for a second helping. Worked that one more slowly, mixing in some dry fried noodles. The waiter came and exchanged our bowls for a blue glass ashtray.

"So?" Mama asked.

I handed her the five hundred. "For the bank," I told her.

"From both?" she wanted to know.

I nodded. Mama made the cash disappear. Max and I would each get two hundred dollars' credit in Mama's bank—the remaining 20 percent was her fee. The score was really too small to go through all that—we turned it over as a gesture of respect.

"That girl call again," she told me.

I knew who she meant. The same lady cop Saunders told me about. Belinda Roberts. That was the name she'd told me one day in Central Park. I was tracking, setting up a job, had Pansy along with me for cover. Belinda was jogging along, a fine–looking woman with a careless mass of reddish–brown hair topping a curvy, muscular body. She said she liked my dog. Said she liked me too. Gave me a number, asked me to call.

I never did. When I saw her again, she was in the same place. It was Clarence who made her for a cop. She was in the park, working. Maybe undercover to catch a rapist, maybe on observation for a drug deal. Maybe working me. No way to tell.

No way…until she called the restaurant, asking for me. Asking for Burke. I'd never given her my right name, never gave her the number.

Lying Belinda. Persistent bitch. Whatever she wanted, she'd get tired before I would—I'm a sensei of patience, a Zen master at waiting.

 

 

M
ax coiled his fists, cocked his head—a boxer assuming his stance. Looked a question over at me.

I shook my head, tapped my watch. Too early.

"Good investment, Burke?" Mama asked.

I guessed Max had told her about the Prof's latest get–rich–legit scheme. Some fighter he was training in a converted warehouse in the South Bronx. I had wanted us to all pool our cash and get a racehorse—I've always coveted a trotter of my own. But convicted felons can't own racehorses—the authorities don't want the wrong kind of people in that game. They run an extensive background check, photo, prints, checkable references, all that kind of thing. That's for owning a racehorse—you want to open a nursery school, they don't care about any of that background crap.

"I don't know, Mama," I told her honestly "I never saw this kid work."

"Prof says maybe big money," she said, her dark eyes alive with the flame of cash. "You invest?"

"Yeah. He took me for five large."

"Max too?"

"Sure."

"Why no ask me?"

"It's
gambling,
Mama," I said, keeping even the slightest tinge of sarcasm from my voice.

"Not gamble, Burke. Invest, right?"

"If you say so."

"So! How big piece you get for five thousand?"

"I guess I never asked."

Mama made a clucking sound with her tongue. Then she turned and said something over her shoulder to one of the waiters. He bowed, disappeared. When he came back, he was holding a battered gray metal box. Mama opened the lid, reached inside without looking. Handed me a stack of hundreds.

"Five thousand," she said. "I get same piece as you and Max, okay?"

I nodded, awestruck as always with her ability to count money by feel.

 

 

M
ax and I played a few dozen more hands in our life–sentence gin game. Mama was more animated than usual, shouting advice at Max, once smacking him on the back of his head when he made a spectacularly boneheaded play. Max ignored the slap, but kept following her advice. As a result, I was up another three hundred bucks by noon. I made a steering gesture with my hands. Max flashed a smile—time to ride.

We took the FDR to the Triborough, exited at Bruckner Boulevard and motored peacefully until I found the block. It was dotted with Bronx burn–outs, abandoned buildings with that charred look they get after a while. The warehouse was set back from the street, past a concrete apron once used to load trucks. I pulled onto the apron, climbed out and activated the security systems. The Plymouth didn't look worth stealing and it came prevandalized—but even all that won't protect a car once you're into the Badlands.

Clarence was just inside the door, comfortable in an old easy chair, resplendent in a goldenrod silk jacket over a black shirt. He's always dressed to the nines—as in millimeter. The young gunman got to his feet, said "Burke" to me, bowed to Max.

BOOK: Footsteps of the Hawk
11.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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