THE BLACK Mustang tore around the corner of
Tenth Street and
June Boulevard, fighting to keep from spinning out of control. It smashed
end-on into an SUV and then roared up the street, tires squealing. It accelerated
as another car gained the same corner, following. It was a junker, a Sebring or
a Vega or a Pinto. It spun out of control and flipped over—
—and landed back on its wheels. The driver, who should've had the good sense to quit right there, instead hit the accelerator, following, while pedestrians on sidewalks gawked and the waiting traffic honked.
The four-beater sounded like it was in its death throes. It left behind a cloud of blue smoke as it lurched ahead, gaining speed as fast as it could.
The Mustang should've been
out of sight, gone, history. But the driver managed to snag himself and his two
passengers in a jam half a mile up. He threw the car in reverse and backed up
with a squeal, slamming into the vehicle behind.
With the extra space, he spun the wheel right and jumped the sidewalk, horn blaring. The Mustang rounded the corner as pedestrians screamed and scurried out of the way.
The snarl eased up a block later. The car flew over the sidewalk and back onto the road. It swerved dangerously to avoid oncoming traffic, but was only occasionally successful. It pinballed into cars, spitting fans of sparks as metal ground against metal. At an alley it jerked left and disappeared.
That should've been the end of it. But the driver of the clunker knew this city like the back of his hand, and had left June right away, seeing the traffic jam ahead. Already in the same alley, he watched as the thieves squealed into it.
A determined grin spread across his face as he jammed the pedal to the metal. He slammed into trash bags and had to swerve to avoid bums and restaurant workers smoking—he sniffed—well, whatever the hell it was they were smoking. He gained the one-way street and just managed to cross it before a delivery truck slammed into his right side.
The ‘Stang was a hundred yards ahead. It careened into a dumpster, pushing it into a loading bay, the men on it yelling and leaping out of the way. But too much of it was still blocking the thieves’ escape. With half of the black car’s hood crumpled and its tires squealing blue smoke, it backed threateningly towards the junker, whose driver grinned even wider.
"Gotcha, boys," he said. "Come to poppa."
A thief popped out the Mustang's passenger-side window, submachine gun in hand. The muzzle flared.
Bullets peppered the hood with hollow pops. One tagged the windshield, shattering it. The clunker driver grinned no more as he ducked and jammed his foot into the accelerator, swearing like a truck driver.
The cars came together before the gunner could squeeze off another round. He ducked his head back into the car—
The driver of the four-beater just managed to get his seat belt on. The crash hurled him into the steering wheel, knocking the wind out of him. He watched the back end of the muscle car crumple and ride up the hood as it came to crush the life out of him.
The thieves piled out.
"In here! In here!" yelled its driver.
The submachine-gun-toting passenger opened fire, raging at the top of his lungs. The bullets tore into the heap, shattering the rest of the glass.
"No time, Clowny!" yelled the driver. "We'll get that jerk later. C'mon!"
The assailant joined his fellows as they threw open an alley door, which belonged to another restaurant, and vanished inside.
The clunker driver kicked open his door, groaning. The hail of bullets had showered glass and car seat stuffing all over him—but miraculously he wasn't hit. At least he didn't think he was. He gave himself a quick inspection as he pulled himself out.
"Son of a ..." he muttered angrily, shaking glass out of his hair.
He got to the alley door and twisted the handle, or tried to. Locked. He backed up two paces and pulled out his forty-five, aiming at the handle.
The door suddenly burst open. A Chinese man in an apron glared at him, then started yelling in rapid-fire Broccoli-With-Beefese, pointing up the stairs that were just inside and to the left.
"Got it. Got it!" he yelled over the caterwauling. "Thanks, Kwai Chang!" He leapt up the stairs. "I owe you one!"
Four flights of stairs led to a dimly lighted corridor at the end of which was a service elevator. There were five doors on the way, any one of which the thieves could be hiding behind. He growled at the probabilities, then bolted down the corridor to the service elevator, where he impatiently jammed the UP button.
"C'mon ... c'mon!"
A muffled scream. Behind one of the doors.
A woman's scream.
But which damn door did it come from?
Back against the wall, gun at his side, he sidled as quickly along to the first door as he could, listening intently.
The elevator dinged and opened just as he heard another muffled scream.
... Or ... was that just the Chinese cooks downstairs? He could hear sirens. Cops were coming.
"About damn time," he murmured.
He would have to guess.
He went to shoot at the doorknob of the third door.
Just before he squeezed the trigger, he stopped and, listening to a tiny voice inside his head, jumped in front of the next door instead. He aimed and squeezed off three shots—
He kicked the door in—
The submachine gunner was taking aim—
He dove out of the way—
Wood and plaster sprayed everywhere.
The end of the smoking barrel of the submachine gun appeared around the corner of the decimated door like a sniffing attack dog—
On his back, covered in debris, he fired—
The submachine gun tore free of the grip of the thief and landed spinning down the hall.
The woman screamed.
He jumped to his feet. Instead of waiting, he bullrushed through the doorway, weapon leading the way at the end of a statue-stiff arm.
The thief who tried to riddle him with holes jumped him.
They crashed yelling into a large desk. The woman was gawking at him from the corner: another thief had a knife at her neck and a black-gloved hand over her mouth.
The thief riding his back was punching his kidney.
Trevor pushed back against him. The thief grabbed his hair, bowing his back, the other over his gun hand, smashing it into the desk.
"Get the piece! Get it!"
Trevor stomped as hard as he could on the man's right foot just as the driver wrenched his pistol from him. The assailant stepped backward to avoid another stomp, which was exactly what Trevor wanted. He wrapped his arm about the man's neck and threw him over his shoulder just as the driver fired. The bullets bit into the back of Trevor's assailant, killing him instantly. Trevor used the dead man as a shield, his arm wrapped about his neck, as the driver continued firing, the bullets powering into the dead man's body with staccato sprays of blood. Trevor could feel the bullets’ shocks against his stomach. But now the shooter’s clip was empty.
"We'll kill her!" roared the driver, jerking the now-useless weapon in the direction of the woman. "I swear to God we'll cut her throat! We'll—"
That was all he got out. Trevor chucked the knife he'd pulled out of his boot with his free hand. The blade spun with a hiss and sunk into the man's sternum. He gurgled and fell limply atop the desk, staring lifelessly at the black handle as the woman bit into the hand of the thief behind her. He roared and released her a split second before she drove a sharp elbow into his rib cage. She tore herself out of his reach as Trevor got to him. He grabbed the slimeball by the throat and heaved him into a corner.
"Don't ... don't kill me, Trevor ... don’t!" he coughed. He wasn't even looking at him; he was goggling over his shoulder at his dead friends.
"Two seconds," growled Trevor. "Where is it? Answer me! One ..."
"In ... in his pocket—his pocket, his pocket!" the thief squeaked, his face turning blue. He pointed at his dead comrade.
"Well, then ..." said Trevor releasing him. "I guess that means you're under—"
Trevor unleashed an elbow into his face. The only surviving thief crumpled to the floor.
The sirens were much closer. His fellow badges would be here in just a minute. He dug into the pocket of the leather jacket of the dead thief, from which he extracted an enormous diamond wrapped in tissue paper.
The woman gawked, half in fear and half in open-mouthed admiration.
Holding the rock in his upraised fist, he took a bow.
"Josh Trevor, ma'am, at your service ..."