DEAD CALLER FROM CHICAGO


It was March, well past midnight, and it was cold. The only light came dim from the street lamp at the far corner.

The blurred shape of the bundled-up man moved low through the shadows of the fronts of the darkened houses. His feet crunched loudly on the crusted snow. The noise would sound no alarm. It was late. No one would be about.

Except this night. Another man followed fifty yards behind, tight to the same dark buildings. His shadow, too, was formless and indistinct. This man dared to make no sound at all.

Suddenly, the bundled-up man in front froze, and in the next instant, rose from his crouch to look behind. In that instant, he was backlit by the pale milky light at the corner, a man wrapped so thickly against the cold he appeared more square than tall. He strained, listening.

There was nothing, only the wind moving restless up the street.

The shadowing man had melded into the darkness, invisible.

The bundled-up man dropped back into his crouch and ran on, down to the last house before the gap torn in the row, and disappeared up the stairs into the darkness of the brick arch.

The shadowing man charged at a dead run, his feet loud on the hard snow. He ran up the stairs and slammed open the door.

For an instant, there was nothing. Then bright flashes of blue-white fire lit the front windows, one, two, three. Gunshots, muffled by thick plaster and old glass.

An instant passed, and then another, and then the door banged open again.

The man in the center of the room, a faint ghost in the acrid gunpowder haze made yellow by the light of the streetlamp, turned without haste at the new intrusion. The revolver dangled heavy in his right hand.

Behind him, a man lay with his back against the wall that faced the dining room, where a piano topped with graduation pictures and perhaps a flower in a vase might have once stood. His eyes were still open, and still surprised. Three little holes surrounded by irregular spots showed dark on the wall above him. Through shots; blood splatters.

The man in the center of the room raised his gun. “You're here for your friend?” he asked softly.

“Of course.”

He shrugged. His knuckles bulged as he squeezed the trigger.