Milt was at his desk, studying the old file, when the phone’s sharp peal disrupted his concentration. Lifting the handset, his gaze still on the file notes, he grunted, “Hello.”
“Judge! Thank goodness you’re there! You’ve got to help, right away! He had a gun!”
Straightening sharply, all his attention on the call, Milt replied with brisk control, “Who is this? Teddy Hollins? Calm down. Who’s got a gun?”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s me, Teddy. I think it’s Joey – he took Mark and a woman, probably Lindy, just a few minutes ago. I got most of the license number.”
“Give it to me,” Milt ordered, and grabbed a pen from the desk drawer. He could find out who Joey and Lindy were later, as well as why Joey was waving a gun around.
“California plate,” Teddy gusted, and Milt scribbled down the three of the five numbers and two letters that Teddy could recall. “Dark blue or black. Cutlass, I think.”
“Okay, good, I’ll get this information to the police. Where are you?”
“The bowling alley, about a block from the restaurant where they were taken. I was walking home when I saw –”
“Teddy, take a breath,” Milt cut in. “Which bowling alley?”
“Hollywood Lanes, on Sunset.”
“Stay there. I’ll come get you.”
“Alright, Judge, thanks.”
Teddy was still talking – Milt heard ‘I’m really sorry,’ even as he terminated the call and dialed Frank’s direct line. “Frank, a few minutes ago, McCormick and a woman, Lindy something, were taken by a gunman from a restaurant near the Hollywood Lanes on Sunset. Teddy Hollins called me; gave me a partial plate. You ready?” When he got the go-ahead, Milt relayed the information. “I’m going to get Teddy. Sounds like he might know the gunman – figures. I’ll bring him down to the station.”
With that, he slammed down the receiver, pulled his revolver from the desk drawer and bolted from his chair. Grabbing his jacket and ballcap in the hall, he headed out to his truck in a lumbering run.
Mark squinted in an effort to resolve the fuzzy double world into one that made sense, but the glare of oncoming headlights only aggravated the sickening headache thundering in his head. Giving up, he closed one eye and did his best not to hit anything. Fortunately the further they went, the less traffic there was – or maybe unfortunately. Less traffic meant fewer people around who might be able to help. The world grew darker and it took him a moment to realize it wasn’t because he was passing out. Though they were only about five minutes from the restaurant, they’d entered a ramshackle neighborhood of rundown, boarded up, and abandoned houses, duplexes and tenements. Most of the streetlights had been shattered by well-thrown rocks. This was so not good.
“Stop here,” Joey directed from the back seat, where he held his pistol pressed into Lindy’s side. “We’ll walk from here.”
“Walk? Where?” Mark murmured as he let the car drift to the curb. Briefly, he closed both eyes, very glad to just stop and do nothing, if only for a few seconds. Leaning forward, he rested his forehead on the steering wheel and seriously wondered if he could stand, let alone walk.
Not that he had a whole lot of choice. He was pretty sure that if he couldn’t get out of the car, Joey would finish him off right there. And then poor Lindy would be on her own. With a muted groan, he forced himself to sit back to open the door.
“C’mon, get a move on. I haven’t got all night,” Joey snarled. Taking a deep breath, Mark eased out of the car and up, onto his feet. Weaving a little, he put one hand on the car to steady himself while he fought down the bile burning the back of his throat. “This way,” Joey directed, gesturing to a narrow, overgrown lane between two dark, evidently abandoned houses. The windows were shattered, one door was hanging half off its hinges – the other house had boards nailed where a door had once been.
Taking a deep breath to clear his head, Mark walked as straight as he could in the indicated direction. It was nearly pitch black, which made his double vision irrelevant. When he nearly giggled in gratitude for such small mercies he knew he was really losing it and wondered just how bad the concussion was. He was jarred out of his thoughts when he stumbled badly and nearly fell. He didn’t know whether it was roots from a nearby tree or abandoned toys or … well, he just didn’t know. Didn’t really care. He just had to keep walking because Joey was yelling at him and still had his pistol against Lindy’s ribs. Mark was sure he didn’t want to upset the man any more than necessary.
They crossed another darkened street, and seemed to walk forever though Mark knew it really couldn’t be all that far. Joey directed them across a third empty street and behind yet another broken-down house. But this time, Joey led the way to the back door. Inside, the place smelled rancid and moldy, making an already nauseous Mark gag helplessly. Impatient, Joey pushed him forward, through a doorway. Mark lurched into what he’d thought was a hallway but flailed in terror when there was nothing but air under his foot. With a startled yelp, he tumbled down rough, wooden steps to sprawl on the basement’s concrete floor.
Milt slammed on his brakes in front of the bowling alley, calling through the open passenger window, “Get in!”
Teddy didn’t need to be told twice. He scrambled inside and was still connecting the seatbelt when Milt pulled back into the stream of never-ending traffic on Sunset Strip. “I thought you were having dinner with McCormick,” Milt snapped. “What happened?”
“Dinner, no, not me,” Teddy replied, looking confused. “I was working and was just on my way home when I saw them. Mark was just supposed to deliver a message to Lindy.”
“I don’t remember her last name,” Teddy admitted with a chagrined look.
“Okay, then what message?” Milt demanded with no little exasperation as he flashed a narrow-eyed glare at Teddy. “Maybe you better start from the beginning.”
Teddy blinked and then frowned as he tried to get his thoughts in order. “Jimmy and me, we went to see Mark earlier today. Jimmy wanted someone to take a message to his girlfriend, Lindy. He couldn’t take it himself because he thought his brother was following him, and his brother might know me, too. I’ve known Jimmy since we were kids, but I never met Joey. Or, I don’t remember meeting him, anyway.”
The names were jangling alarm bells for Milt, but he gritted his teeth, focused on his driving, and asked, “Jimmy who?”
“Jimmy Cavalieri,” Teddy reported. “You see, Jimmy’s family is tied into the mob, but he doesn’t want any part of it. Never did. He’s planning on taking off tomorrow, but he didn’t want to leave Lindy behind.”
Milt felt as if he was trapped in some nightmare. What were the odds? “Does this Jimmy know that Mark knows me?”
“Uh … yeah, Mark mentioned it this afternoon. I forgot to tell Mark that, well, you probably don’t remember him, but Jimmy doesn’t much like you, Judge. I guess you sent him away a few years ago. He says you wouldn’t listen to him; wouldn’t believe he was innocent, that it was his brother that framed him.”
Cold with dread, Milt rubbed his hand over his mouth. “I remember him,” he said with hoarse control and trying very hard not to remember the photographs from the trial, photographs of what had been done to the victims. “He doesn’t have any brothers.”
“What are you talking about?” Teddy asked even as he shuddered when they turned into the cop shop parking lot. “Sure he does; a couple of them. He told me all about them.”
Milt shook his head as he climbed out of the truck and led the way inside. “He’s James Joseph Cavalieri, an orphan – there’s no mob ‘family’.” Hardcastle held the door open and waved Teddy in ahead of himself. Pacing briskly down the hall, he grated, “He does not have, and never did have, any brothers.”
“But …” Teddy began, only to falter, his worried expression softening into sadness. “I knew he’d had a pretty rough time as a kid. We all did. I guess … well, I knew some of the other kids made up stories about their families, their past. Stories that were better than what really happened to them. Is that what he did?”
“Yeah, Teddy, I think that’s what he did,” Milt sighed, sick at what the psychiatric report said had probably been done to the boy; terrible things that had made the kid blank out reality and invent a tough brother who could make things right. Frowning, reflecting on what Teddy had just said as he guided Teddy along the brightly-lit hallway, he wondered what kind of ‘rough time’ Teddy had suffered all those years ago.
Milt stopped in front of the elevator, but just as he was reaching to push the button, the doors opened and Frank stepped out.
“Milt, good, you’re here. You made good time,” Frank said, his face carefully devoid of expression or judgment about the fact that Milt had to have broken every speeding law to have made it there in such a short time. “I think we’ve found the car – a black Cutlass sedan registered to a Linda McPherson. She owns a trendy restaurant near the bowling lanes.”
“That’s her: Lindy,” Teddy confirmed, eager to please, to somehow make amends for having landed Mark in such trouble. “I’d forgotten her last name.”
“Where’s the car? Any sign of McCormick or the girl?” Hardcastle demanded.
“They found it over in East Hollywood. Abandoned, looks like. No sign of them,” Frank replied. “Come on. I’m heading over there now and you can ride with me.”
“I’m sorry,” Teddy blurted. “Really sorry to have gotten Mark into this.”
Milt sighed, and then laid a reassuring hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “I know you are, Teddy. This isn’t your fault.” Teddy didn’t look reassured, but he didn’t resist when Milt gently pushed him to follow in Frank’s wake.
Jagged pain erupting in his side jolted Mark back from the brink of unconsciousness. Joey kicked him again, ordering, “Get up, dammit, or I’ll shoot you right now.” Mark tried not to groan as he struggled onto his knees. Bracing his hands on the wall, he staggered onto his feet. Everything hurt, even breathing. Especially breathing.
Joey had pulled out a flashlight and Mark winced at the brightness. One arm pressed across his body, the other hand sliding along the rough, cobwebby cement wall, Mark limped forward in the direction the light was illuminating. Behind him, Lindy put a hand on his back, to steady him. “You need to lean on me?” she whispered, only to be clouted by Joey.
“Don’t talk to him!” he yelled.
Pausing to lean against the wall, Mark very badly wanted to take the bastard apart, but he could barely stand. “Why are you doing this?” he husked, breathing as shallowly as he could in an effort to stave off the blinding pain. “What do you want from us?”
“You betrayed Jimmy. You’re going to pay for that.”
Mark started to shake his head and then thought better of it. Fighting the dizziness and nausea, he retorted, “I didn’t betray him. I only met him earlier today, and I did what he asked.” He had to pant a little to catch his breath. “And Linda hasn’t even met Jimmy. She only knows J.J.”
“Don’t lie to me,” Joey screamed. “You tried to hustle his girl. I saw you!”
“Jimmy wouldn’t like you doing this,” Mark wheezed. “He doesn’t want you to hurt Lindy – you know he doesn’t. He’s here, isn’t he? Jimmy? And J.J., too. I want to speak to Jimmy.”
“Shut up! You’re a friend of that Hardcastle. I heard you say so. I can’t believe anything you say! And that judge’ll be sorry, when he finds you. I’ll get him, too. But for now, you’ll do,” Joey snarled as he fiddled with something from a shelf just over his head. Mark heard a strange, loud scraping sound behind his back that worried him, but he didn’t dare take his eyes off Joey.
“Lindy, demand to talk to Jimmy!” Mark gasped, certain that he was running out of time. “Keep calling his name, no matter what.”
“Shut up! SHUT UP!” Joey yelled, and pulled something from the shelf. Mark’s eyes widened but there was nothing he could do, nowhere he could go; no escape. He had less than a second to prepare himself as Joey activated the cattle prod and shoved it against his chest.
Agony blasted along every nerve ending, stealing away his ability to speak, to breathe, even to see. The last thing he heard was Lindy screaming, “Jimmy! Stop! Jimmy!!!” Jerking uncontrollably as the electric current coursed through his body, Mark lost all awareness and was already wrapped in darkness before he hit the floor.
Frank pulled up and parked behind the abandoned Cutlass. The three men got out and Teddy confirmed that it was the one he’d seen Mark and Lindy forced into nearly an hour before. Patrol cars sat at either end of the block, their red and blue lights whirling, fracturing the darkness. Patrols were checking every derelict house on the street, looking for the missing people, or at least for witnesses to where they’d been taken. But, so far, they were coming up empty.
Milt looked helplessly up and down the pot-holed road of what had once been a desirable neighborhood. But that had been sixty or seventy years ago. Where the hell was McCormick? With every passing second, his dread and sense of urgency were escalating.
Then, muffled and very far away, he thought he heard a scream.
Everyone stopped. A dozen pairs of eyes raked the night. But there was no way to tell where the scream had come from.
Remembering the photographs, unable to shut them out of his mind, Milt thought he might be sick. Was that what was happening to McCormick even as they stood around, close enough to hear but unable to do anything to stop it? He felt a tentative grip on his arm and looked up into Teddy’s wide eyes. “Mark’s tough, Judge. He’s gonna be okay. He has to be okay.”
Milt looked away and bit back the words that there was no way to know that. Killing every last shred of hope they had wouldn’t help him or Teddy – and it sure as hell wouldn’t help McCormick.
Mark gradually became aware that his head was lying on something softer than concrete. Smelled better, too. It was totally dark, though, and he had trouble getting his bearings. Where was he? What had happened? A hand lightly caressed his head. Lindy? The memories crashed back, bringing with them the awareness of pain he’d been holding at bay, but the pain still felt distant, not quite real. Mostly, he felt cold. So cold. He tried to sit up but collapsed with a groan before he’d hardly lifted his head.
“Shh, easy,” Lindy whispered. “It’s okay. He’s gone. At least for a while.”
“You should run,” Mark gasped. God, it was so hard to breathe. So hard to think.
“I can’t. He shackled us both to the floor,” she replied, fear quivering in her voice.
“Why … why’d he leave?” Mark asked, content now to just lie there, his head in her lap. There was no point in struggling. Even on his best day, he couldn’t rip open iron shackles. And this was a long way from his best day.
“I did what you said; kept calling for Jimmy,” she said. “He, he hit me, more than once. But I didn’t stop. And then … well, something really weird happened. It was like all the stuffing came out of Joey, leaving this very shy, trembling person in his place who kept saying he was sorry, so sorry.” She hesitated, then asked uncertainly, “Was that Jimmy?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Mark murmured. “I think he’s all three of them. Multi… multiple personalities.” So hard to talk. So very hard to stay awake.
“Oh, God, he really is crazy, isn’t he?” she replied with a shudder that Mark felt with every bone in his body.
“Sick,” he mumbled. “Not crazy. Sick. Terrible things must’ve happened to Jimmy ….”
“He cut you,” she said then. “After he shackled you. He has all kinds of knives on the wall over there. He laughed, said it was for Hardcastle. I don’t know how bad the cut is, but you’ve been bleeding a lot from your side. I can feel the blood on the floor beside us. I… I don’t know what to do to help you.”
Took most of his strength to reach up and cover the hand she had rested against his cheek. “Z … okay,” he managed to breathe. “Nothing you can do.” He wanted to say more. Wanted to say he was sorry that either of them had ended up in this mess. But it was so hard to think; harder to speak. His eyes drifted closed against the darkness, only to find a deeper, colder darkness within.
He didn’t hear Lindy start to cry.