Prison–or maybe just time in general–had not been kind to Tony Dracon. Whereas he had once possessed a certain bad boy attractiveness that would have made him a succesful career date-rapist had he chosen to go that route, those looks had since eroded away into a man who looked far older than his thirty-four years. His hair had gone gray, although one could still see a vertical streak of pure white running along it. His eyes looked permanently tired, and had lost any shred of confidence they might have possessed a decade ago. A network of wrinkles had begun colonizing his face. He might have been high. Not that this was a great loss–to Elisa, the mobster’s looks now finally matched his inside.
“What makes you think I’ll help you?” Elisa repeated.
“We’ll, you’re a cop right? Protect and serve and all that?” Dracon said, trying to gesticulate despite having his arms handcuffed to a chair–Elisa was not in the mood to take chances.
“Sure, if you want to get technical… Why come to me, thought? There’s thousands of other cops.”
“Because I don’t need a cop, I need protection. You’re the only one I know who can give me that.”
“That’s…pathetic.” Still, while she hated to admit it, his instincts had been on the mark. Gargoyles protect, even the dregs of society–how could she do any less? If Dracon was indeed in danger, then that protection would (unfortunately) extend to him. Of course, that didn’t mean she couldn’t make the best of it. “Okay, Dracon, you have my attention. However, if you want my help, you’re going to have to tell me everything. You’re going to tell me why you’re not in prison, who’s running your old turf, and everything you know about the massacre at the docks.”
“I noticed ‘who’s trying to kill you’ wasn’t in that list. Anyway, the story goes something like this:
“About five years ago, me and all the leaders of The Five Families began getting visits. I’m not exactly sure how it went for the rest, but for me, it was this Japanese guy, Kozue Nagayami–I think he actually did crap soap, he was so smooth. In any case, he made me an offer–50 mil if we just abandoned our turf and gave all our products and contacts to their group.”
“Did the group have a name?” Elisa asked, with obvious interest. If true–and she knew that there was a good chance it wasn’t–this was career making intel. The circumstances beyond The Five Families’ disappearances were the stuff of legend in police circles, with a thousand theories circulating. To actually learn what had happened…
“Well, they didn’t really give us one, and I wasn’t exactly asking. Still, anyone suicidal enough to talk to the cops will tell you they’re called The Foot–it’s really an open secret at this point.”
“The Foot, huh. Doesn’t ring a bell.”
“It shouldn’t. Rumor is they have ways of knowing if the police ever hear the name, and people who mention it to the wrong people don’t have a good track record of surviving. Anyway, where was I…oh yeah: as a bonus, they’d have those of us who were in jail–and our top people–out on parole. I still don’t know how they managed that.”
“And you took it.”
“Damn, Maza! Of course I did! I don’t know if you know, but by then, my crew was basically done–it’s a small miracle that I had any strings to pull with my group at all. Plus, a carrot that big usually means a damn big stick. So yeah, I took it. I eventually got out on parole, and even after paying off my own people, I had enough money to do whatever I wanted. Most of the other families did the same.
“So by the time I got out, the Foot already had the Purple Dragons working as their people on the ground on most of the city. Anybody who was left wised up and decided that it was time to run. And that’s the way it was for until now–prostitution, protection, narcotics…they were in charge of anything, and God help you if you tried to take it away from them.”
“So what happened? I’m guessing they were weakened in some way, right?”
“Right. A few months ago, word came down the grapevine that a group of crazies had somehow gone and killed The Shredder and that the whole thing had gone clusterfuck-shaped. I don’t need to tell you how that’s turned out.”
“Um. Yes, you do. That’s the deal.”
Dracon sighed. With marked hesitation, he began again. “Fine. So the five families got back together in order to make their bid. As our first move, we were going to steal the Foot’s shipment of heroin and sell it ourselves. It didn’t quite turn out that way, though.”
“Yup. We’d managed to take care of all the Foot Ninja–yeah, ninja; don’t give me that look–when these two guys show up and just start wailing on us. I’m talking some seriously fucked up shit. You remember Pal Joey? These one of these guys just punches him, and his face turns to…you know how mosquitos look after you squash them? Like that.”
Elisa flinched. She did not, in fact, remember Pal Joey, but she had seen the crime scene pictures which confirmed Dracon’s claim. She and Cedric had been trying to determine what had caused that injury–the coroner’s report had been unsatisfactorily wishy-washy on the matter–but it never would have occurred to her that it had been made by a fist–well, maybe it had been Goliath’s… “So these two people, they were unarmed…” she not-quite-asked.
Dracon shot the detective a “what are you, stupid?” look. “Yeah, unarmed. They didn’t need them–they were like The Silver Sentry, but evil. Fast, strong…nothing could hurt them. And we tried, believe me.” He had a look with suggested contrition, which was not an emotion that Elisa would have ever associated with Tony Dracon.
Summoning every reserve ounce of professionalism in a situation that was increasingly anything but, Elisa carried on with the interview. “So, these two men…I don’t suppose you’d have their names…”
“Actually, I do. Mr. Touch and Mr. Go. They made sure we knew. ”
Elisa stifled a chuckle; although Dracon’s story wasn’t terribly implausible, there was a limit. Dracon wasn’t laughing, though, and given that he’d given her what appeared to be their first solid lead in the massacre investigation, she was willing to believe him, but still…Touch and Go? Dracon’s physical description of the men didn’t help–they sounded like something out of a James Bond movie. Then again, so had the Gargoyles.
“So what happened afterwards? You survived, obviously.”
“Yeah–they weren’t paying too much attention, so I managed to play dead until they left and managed to sneak away before you cops came. Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. ”
Dracon explained how, as the sole (conscious) survivor of the initial massacre, he’d become the target of The Foot’s retribution. In the past two days, his apartment had been torched, his car stolen, and his every movement watched. Finally, he decided to take a shot with the one cop that had landed him in jail in the first place.
“So you see? I’m a marked man. You send me back to prison, and I wake up one morning with a knife stuck through my heart.”
Elisa looked at Dracon’s eyes. He really did look high. Still, she was convinced. “Give me fifteen minutes.”
Fifteen minutes later, a tapping could be heard on the windows leading outside. Elisa drew the curtains open, revealing their visitor, a seven-foot tall winged panther.
“Hey, Derek,” Elisa said nonchalantly. “Thanks for coming.”
“No problem, ‘lisa,” said the beast–Derek. “So, is this the guy?”
“Yup. Talon, Tony Dracon—career criminal. Tony, Talon—ex-pilot, all around good guy.”
Talon moved to shake Tony’s hand, but desisted once he realized that Dracon’s hands were (still) handcuffed together. Tony had yet to say anything, stunned as he was at the sight of a creature whose very existence violated everything he knew to be true. And yet, even as his brain shut down from the terror, he felt a tiny blip in the back of his mind, almost like déjà vu…
“Tony, you alright?” Elisa said, bringing him back to the present. “Like I said, Talon’s going to help you.”
“I’m going to take you to my home, The Labyrinth. You’ll be safe there until everything blows over.”
Tony opened his mouth to complain, but nothing came out. Even if this was a baroque plan of Elisa’s to have him killed—and his gut told him it wasn’t—it was better than dying at the hands of The Foot. “Well, as long is it’s not someplace in the sewers…”
“Not quite,” Talon assured. “We’ve fixed it up over the years, and now it’s actually quite homey.”
“Talon’s ready to take you whenever you’re ready. Just say the word, and he’ll fly you over there.”
Keys in hand, Elisa moved behind Tony and undid the locks to the handcuffs. “You’re free to go, criminal-man. Just to let you know, once this is over and we patch up our leaks, I expect you to turn yourself in and tell everything you’ve told me to the cops. You got that?”
“Will do—Scout’s honor.” Then, more sober, he added, “Hey, Su—Elisa, do you have something private we could talk? I’d like to tell you something, and I don’t need Bagheera here listening.”
Elisa led Tony to her bathroom and closed the door. “What is it?”
“Well, I just wanted to thank you for doing this for me. I know we kinda hate each other and all, but still, it’s real stand-up of you. So thanks.”
“Don’t. I’m just doing my job. By the way, I do have something to ask you.”
“You mentioned a couple of times that going up against The Foot is suicidal. And yet you did it anyway. Why?”
“Glasses.” Tony answered brusquely.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Glasses. You remember—my second hand man? Black, wears horn-rimmed glasses? Well, ever since I can remember, we’ve always been watching each other’s backs. Best friends, he and I. Well, he was with me that night on the docks.”
Elisa nodded. According to the reports from that night, Glasses had been the only known survivor of the massacre, aside from Tony—although in the former’s case, it hadn’t been a particularly good thing.
“Back when I first heard about the Shredder, I got all gung-ho about the idea of going to war. I was restless, bored…I had an itch. One more big score for all the marbles? Getting some payback on The Foot? It was a dream come true.
“Well, the day after that night at the docs, I called Glasses to check in on him. I got his wife, Nora, who told me that Glasses had been taken to the hospital—that the doctors told her that even if he woke up, he probably wouldn’t be able to function properly on his own—he wouldn’t be able to eat, talk, stand…
“People tell you it’s all part of the game—dying, getting caught. Glasses and me? We never really believed it—even when you were giving us trouble, we were like ‘this is nothing.’ This, however? It’s too much. Glasses, Nora, the kids…they didn’t deserve this. And I couldn’t even go visit them, with the Foot on my tail.”
Elisa knew the feeling. For her first two years in the force, she’d been the same way, until Charlie, her partner back then, got killed working undercover trying to bust Dracon. It’s the kind of thing that sobers up a person.
“So yeah, that’s it. I may not be brave enough to think I can get all Scarface on The Foot for what they did to Glasses, and I’m definitively not stupid enough to try to martyr myself for him. Still, if I can hurt them in a small way without putting my life on the line, I’ll take it.”
Elisa stared at Tony’s eyes, trying to determine just how full of shit he was. To her surprise, his little speech seemed sincere. While she wasn’t about to give him credit for doing the right thing once doing the wrong thing had blown up on his face, she allowed herself to feel a measure of pity for her former nemesis.
Eventually, Tony and Elisa rejoined Talon over at the kitchen. After a short conversation explaining to a bewildered Tony that yes, Talon was going to carry the gangster to the Labyrinth on his arms as if he were some damsel in distress, the two men flew into the night, once again leaving Elisa alone.
Elisa went to the fridge and fished out a bottle of beer. Although she was now finally nodding off, the info Tony had given him needed to be organized before she began forgetting about the different details. With Lacey resting on her lap, she turned her computer on and began typing.
* * *
Gordon Miller was exhausted. The conversation had lasted only a minute so far, and he had already been condescended to, subtly insulted, and riled up to the point where assaulting a superior officer seemed like an attractive option. Chief Sterns may or may not have been good police once, Miller reflected, but he had a talent to compress an hour’s worth of conversation into one minute, a technique that at times involved shunning articles, adverbs, prepositions, and all sense of social grace–fun to watch, but hell when one was at the receiving end of it.
“This should not be so hard for you to understand. No.” Stern said. The “Fucking. Way.” after the “no” was implied.
Stay calm, stay calm. Even he can be reasoned with. “Because you’ve yet to give an actual reason why you won’t allow a good cop–a good cop who’s not doing anything, mind you–join my dangerously understaffed detail.”
“Reasons? Longer is insubordinate, troublesome, corrupt, irresponsible, a disgrace to this police force, and a general pain in everyone’s ass. The only way he’ll ever do any actual police work again is if everyone in One Police Plaza is killed in mysterious circumstances. Now. Ass. Office. Out. Now.”
Fuming, Miller exited his superior’s office. Stern’s argument may be one hundred percent grade-A bullshit, but that didn’t make it an ineffective one–after all, why should an insubordinate, troublesome, corrupt, irresponsible disgrace to the police force and a general pain in everyone’s ass be allowed to do police work? The only problem was that the description fit 80% of the police force, and the fact that Longer off all people would be disciplined in this manner–even after the Ruffington debacle–indicated that something was very definitively up behind the scenes. However, he was not in the mood, or in the position to investigate–not when there was still a score of murders yet to solve. For the moment, Longer was on his own.