***** ***** *****
Frankie Tyler's inventory included much more than the pretty faces that MaryAnne had joked about. The Big Man considered prostitution a small-league source of revenue. Hence, he had never invested much in his own stable of call girls.
Instead, he knew that he would acquire enough talent from the future kidnapping of the Syndicate's working girls. Once they had no one to defend them, the Syndicate women would be helpless to refuse his offer of employment.
Tyler's employment would be roughly equal to slavery, but the Big Man cared nothing for humanitarian ethics. He'd wear the girls out and then replace them with new, young recruits...that he would have kidnapped off the streets. Good enough for a sideline income.
Meanwhile, he had comfortable earnings from the Syndicate's old suppliers. His disco now sold enough drugs to keep the cash flow impressive, even by his standards. Young, well-heeled partiers were getting a taste of the high life. Frankie attracted his future customers by giving out free samples on a regular basis. When the free samples were suddenly cut off, the kids would beg for the product at any price. Frankie would then cheerfully supply the product, for double the Syndicate's old prices. Naturally, the customers would run out of money eventually, and then they'd turn to crime to support their new "hobby" and turn to him for work. It was sinister and efficient.
Tyler gazed out the window of his top-floor office and smiled to himself. He was proud of his intelligence, smug about his accomplishments.
The gun business had proven the most successful of his operations. It was amazing what people would pay for such commodities. Tyler no longer considered himself an Atlanta crimelord. No, he thought to himself. He was now a broker of international commodities - drugs, guns, human flesh. Given another year, he could buy enough politicians to make sure he was fully protected beyond the Atlanta city limits.
Only minor, mundane details remained, such as the scheduled murders of old enemies. Contracts were a petty business, but enormously gratifying.
Ketterhagen came into the office, walking through the twin set of brass-trimmed doors, and waited until Tyler turned from the window. Dressed smartly in an elegant suit of silver-grey, the Big Man looked more like a real estate tycoon than an underworld kingpin - but Ketterhagen never forgot his boss's true nature. He waited, respectfully, until he was given permission to report. When it came, he wasted no words on idle courtesies.
"I staked out the Jigsaw for a few hours. The Coltranes are all holed up there, along with those two hicks from Hazzard," Ketterhagen said.
"Good. This gets easier all the time. Although I'm curious why the Don has tolerated the likes of such company," Tyler mused aloud.
"I have an answer for that. There was a Coltrane family discussion on the street. It looks like Brian Coltrane got himself a promotion. He's wearing the ring, Tyler. He's the Don."
For a moment, Tyler said nothing, and stared at Ketterhagen with a look that chilled the weathered hitman to the core.
"You're certain?" Tyler rasped.
Tyler was unnaturally quiet for several minutes. Ketterhagen became worried, and after Tyler showed no indication of speaking again, finally interrupted. "Does this change any of your plans?"
"No. However, there is one thing I'd like to see."
Tyler's eyes became feral. "I'd like to see the look on MaryAnne's face when we kill her cousins…shortly before we conduct her to the same fate. I don't care what it takes, Ketterhagen! I will see the end of her!”
"I'll see to it personally," Ketterhagen promised.
***** ***** *****
As Tyler and Ketterhagen reviewed their plans, the Syndicate was conducting business as usual. Except that half the working girls were distracting themselves over two handsome country boys, who were amusing them with stories of Hazzard adventure. Brian looked over at the bar, shook his head, and then went back to talking shop with Rusty and Tony. "Let me get this straight," he told the two thugs. "Lou's Deli is behind on protection payments, the liquor store refuses to pay us at all, and the Night Owl Grocery told you to go to hell?"
"Yeah," Tony answered. "We're getting the same reaction all over town. The word is that the Syndicate's days are numbered, and that Tyler's gonna take care of us all real soon."
"Want us to bust up a few places?" Rusty offered helpfully.
"No," Brian answered. "No, they'll fall back into line once we've shoved Tyler aside. Leave 'em be. We can't afford to lose even one of us to the law, or to a gun-totin' store owner right now."
Tony looked disappointed. "But what about the doughnut shop that's behind on the loan we gave 'em? You ain't gonna let 'em ride, are ya?"
"Look, use your heads. If we take the place out of business, then they'll never be able to pay the loan back. I want the money, not a burnt-out storefront. Go back there and tell 'em that as long as they cover the interest payments, I'll defer the rest for awhile."
"Okay..." Tony shrugged and went off to obey. Rusty took Brian aside and whispered urgently. "Look man, the boys are starting to think you're half-yellow! You ain't killed anybody yet, you haven’t shut nobody down, you haven't-"
Brian suddenly grabbed Rusty by the jacket and slammed him back into a wall. "I'll show how red my blood is when we're fighting Tyler! Anybody else who’s got doubts on me can bring them to my attention anytime..."
"Easy, man! Easy..." Rusty swallowed. What he saw in the Don's dark eyes unnerved him. Sometimes Brian seemed like the friend he remembered; but other times, he was a complete stranger.
"Just remember who's running this show," Brian snarled as he gave Rusty one last shove. "I'm not gonna give out any more free advice." The Don stalked off to the staircase, displaying his intent to retire for the evening. The Jigsaw would have to see to itself for a few hours.
***** ***** *****
Rosco had just entered the gaming area when Brian made his fiery departure. The Sheriff glanced over at Rusty, but the enforcer didn't see Rosco's look. Rosco figured to just let it go. He was sure that being the Don was not the easiest job in the world.
As he looked around, Rosco realized he wasn't sure what he was doing in the gaming room. He was too wound up to try to sleep, and going through his bags and weapons didn't appeal to him at the moment. Bo and Luke were still keeping company with the Syndicate's girls.
Rosco walked over to the bar and ordered a bottle of beer. He paid for it and carried it to an empty table, not too far from the jukebox. Various Syndicate members watched him as he moved. He looked at them but made no gesture or comment. His black Stetson found it's way to the table top and the Sheriff sat down, prying the top off his beer bottle.
With MaryAnne not present, there was a tension in the room that Rosco could feel, radiated from the eyes of the Syndicate members. The laughter and loud music thinly veiled it, but it was there. Rosco sipped at the beer and stopped looking around the room. Every eye he had met looked at him coldly.
Across the room, the blonde hitman, Ace, was watching the Sheriff. He then chuckled to himself. If the Don wouldn't let him carry out contracts, Ace figured he could at least test the mettle of the new recruits. Regardless that they were the Don's kin and friends, they were strangers to the Syndicate; and the one sitting at the table with a lone bottle of beer...he was law.
He was also supposed to be dead, but the hitman would let that slide. This Coltrane was a Sheriff, and that alone was cause for the tall blonde's doubts about Rosco.
Ace put his beer bottle down and proceeded to walk across the room. Everybody in the gaming room saw him and where he was heading. Rosco was still looking down at the table.
Rosco noticed conversations were starting to quiet down before he sensed somebody standing beside his table. He placed his beer bottle down and looked up at the blonde-haired thug. "Uh...Howdy."
"I should have killed you myself," Ace growled in greeting.
"Well...you didn't," Rosco replied. "But don't feel bad, you're not the first." He started to reach for his beer bottle when the hitman grabbed it up. Rosco watched the bottle and then looked at his visitor, who took a swig of the alcohol before holding the bottle over Rosco's hat, pouring the remaining contents over the Stetson.
The gaming room was silent now. Bo and Luke shook off the girls and stood up, keeping an eye on both Rosco and the blonde thug but they held back. The hitman was looking to challenge Rosco exclusively at the moment.
Rosco watched the beer drip off his hat and then looked at the thug.
"You’re a cop," Ace said. "You look cop, you talk cop...you even smell cop."
"Well, I'm gonna smell like a beer when I put that hat on..."
"I don't trust you. I think you should prove yourself to us. Prove your intent in being here. Just as all of us have done once before. The fact that you're the Don's kin don't mean nothin' to me...and it sure as hell doesn't give you a free ride." Ace withdrew his weapon and laid it on the table in front of Rosco.
Anxious faces watched the standoff with interest. Everyone was thirsting for some action. If the Sheriff accepted the hitman's challenge, they were sure to get a hell of a show.
Rosco, however, wasn't sure what he was supposed to do at this point. He looked at the gun laying on the table and then up at Ace. The sneer on the blonde's face didn't offer an answer, and Rosco didn't want to partake in a shoot out. Since the gun was out of the man's hand, it might as well stay out...
Rosco used a trick the Dukes would of been proud of. The table in front of him suddenly turned up, black Stetson, gun, and beer bottle all went flying as the table made contact with Ace. Rosco leapt up from his chair and watched as the enforcer threw the table out of his way, looking hostile.
Customers fled any tables within proximity of the two men, and Syndicate members gathered around to witness how well the Sheriff would fair against Ace.
Rosco figured he was in big trouble now. He was no fighter and he knew it.
So did Bo and Luke, who started to step forward to try to intervene before the fight started…but were stopped by one of the girls. "Your friend must prove himself," she said simply.
Ace lunged towards Rosco and grabbed him around the midsection, tackling him down to the floor. The hitman held Rosco to the floor, one fist full of the front of the Sheriff's denim jacket, the other fist wound tight in the air, ready to hammer down.
Rosco blocked the punch and grabbed Ace’s leather jacket, pulling him down to the floor and shoving him aside. Rosco got up in a hurry. He turned around just as the hitman also scrambled back to his feet. Ace charged after Rosco, pushing him back against the wall hard. It knocked the wind out of Rosco for a moment and a sudden punch in the stomach from Ace didn't help things.
Rosco lurched forward, but the hitman pushed him back against the wall again, and cut the Sheriff a hard punch across the jaw.
Bo was getting antsy watching Rosco get whipped. "Luke..."
Luke held his cousin back, but kept his eye on the fight. "He's gotta fight it himself, Bo...Come on Rosco!"
The other customers and Syndicate members were cheering as well...some for the Sheriff, most for the hitman.
Rosco managed to barrel-load a punch into the hitman's stomach. His hand hurt, but not as much as his back and stomach did. He really wanted to breathe normally, and the only way to do it was to get the gorilla off him.
The air-depleting punch slowed Ace up, so Rosco repeated it. When the thug backed up enough, Rosco let loose with a return punch to the face. With his hand throbbing in protest for no more punches, Rosco grabbed the hitman by his jacket and bodily threw him over a poker table, sending chips, cards and beer bottles flying. The table took the weight of the hitman and then tipped, sending Ace to the floor.
"YEEEEHAAA!" Bo exclaimed.
Rosco pushed the table out of the way and hauled Ace up, gripping the leather jacket tightly. The Sheriff spun Ace around and pushed the hitman face down onto another table. He grabbed Ace’s right arm and turned it behind the man, twisting and pulling it up tight. Ace grimaced in pain and let out a strangled oath.
"There now...." Rosco growled, breathing heavily. "You got that outta yer system now? Huh?? So much for pickin' a fight with an old guy..."
The hitman squirmed a bit. "Lucky shot..." he muttered through his teeth.
"I don't think so..." Rosco paused, still trying to get his breathing under control. He gave the captured arm another jerk. "Now...did any of that answer your question? Do we have an understandin' here or what?"
"Just lemme up..." Ace gritted. He didn’t admit defeat in so many words, but his tone of voice conceded the loss.
Bo and Luke came to stand behind Rosco as the Sheriff let the hitman go. The Ace stood up, wincing, rubbing the pain from his right arm. He then lightly touched his jaw. He looked at Rosco and started laughing. It had been a better fight than expected, and the Sheriff had surprised him one.
"Whattaya say boys?" Ace asked, turning to face his comrades. “Does he pass?”
"Yeah!!" came the shouts and whistles from around the Jigsaw. "Way to go, man!" The working girls ran up to Rosco and started to fuss over him, making the Sheriff blush slightly and the blonde hitman chortle with laughter. The chant for the victor started up, the rowdiness of a good fight elevating the Syndicate's spirits. "ROSCO! ROSCO! ROSCO! ROSCO!"
Ace held his hand out to the Sheriff. "Not bad for a cop. I’ll gladly fight beside you against Frankie Tyler."
Rosco nodded and returned the handshake. He flinched, however. It was the hand he had hit with and it still hurt.
One of the girls took a hold of it and gently kissed it. "Ooh..uh, jit jit."
Bo and Luke laughed at the sight. "Hey," Bo said. "Maybe they'll get us into a fight next." Luke snorted and elbowed his cousin.
The cheers for Rosco continued as money started changing hands. Those who had bet on the Sheriff were reaping the profits. Those who had bet against him had no hard feelings. He was a Sheriff, maybe, but he was a Coltrane first and foremost to them. Somebody yelled that the beer was on the house without checking with the Don.
Brian, however, had no objections. He had watched the end of the fight from the second story loft. Rosco had proven he could take care of himself, and Brian was damn proud. He joined in the chant with the crowd below, unnoticed. Then he slipped quietly away and went back upstairs.
MaryAnne had watched the fight from the bottom of the stairs, and had to fight her impulse to run into the gaming room to stop it. She realized, however, that Rosco had to fight it on his own, so she had watched. And prayed.
When it was clear Rosco was victorious, she hooted and hollered along with everyone else, chanting Rosco's name. She now made her way towards the center of the victory celebration.
She paused long enough to pick up Rosco's hat off the floor and then looked up at her cousin. Rosco looked almost apologetic, but when he saw MaryAnne's smile, he smiled too.
"Ya did good, cousin," she said. She handed his hat to him as the gathered thugs, customers and working girls all agreed. But the girl that had kissed Rosco's bruised hand took the hat before he got a hold of it. She shook it out and brushed it off, and not caring that it reeked of beer, she tried it on for size and then looked up at Rosco, puckering up for a kiss in exchange for the hat’s return.
Rosco flushed pink, and MaryAnne rescued him by plucking the hat from the working girl, who pouted prettily. "Uh..yes, well thank ya, MaryAnne," Rosco said, keep his eyes focused on his cousin.
MaryAnne laughed. "Come on, we'll git some ice for that hand..."
The working girls reluctantly let Rosco go, and he walked with MaryAnne over to the bar. "Got some ice back there, Mugsy?" she asked.
"Sure thing, Miss Coltrane."
A moment later, Mugsy laid a towel and dish of ice on the bar. MaryAnne wrapped the ice in the towel and then handed it to Rosco. "Feel better now?" she asked in hushed tones. Her question had little to do with his hand.
Rosco looked her in the eye and grinned. "Khee...much."
The rest of the Jigsaw's night was peaceful, or what passed for it. Bo and Luke only had to prove themselves by fighting half the Syndicate with three-to-one odds. It was a brawl worthy of the Boar's Nest, and the chant of "DUKE! DUKE! DUKE! DUKE!" rang out when they too had proven their worth.
After this achievement, the Dukes were invited to participate in a knife-throwing contest. Rusty drew a small target on the furthest wall of the Jigsaw, one that could barely be seen through the neon-hazed and smoke-filled bar. It took a good deal of strength just to throw the knife that distance and have it stick clean in the wall, let alone with aim. But the Duke's country-honed skill impressed even the most seasoned thugs in the Syndicate.
Watching in awe as Luke's last throw beat his best shot, Rusty clapped the Dukes on the shoulders. "No wonder Brian never finished you two off. You're too damn good."
Bo smiled. "Aw shucks, that ain't nothin'. You should see us with a bow n' arrow. Luke, who was that Syndicate fella that we had to take down in Hazzard?"
"Oh, that was Vinnie. Remember?" Luke said casually. "He ran out of shots before we did."
"Yeah, that's right!" Bo grinned. Rusty had turned a little pale, but he kept his smile.
Luke retrieved his knife from the wall, walked back over and tested the blade by easily cutting a hair in two. He looked over the blade at Rusty. "So, you or any of your friends likely to visit Hazzard in the near future?"
"Uh...not that I can imagine. Excuse me..." Rusty's grin was decidedly nervous. He elbowed his way back over to MaryAnne and spent the duration of the evening as her shadow.
***** ***** *****
The next morning gave rise to everything but the Syndicate itself. Nobody stirred before noon in the sprawling hotel, except for the guards who kept constant vigil from the loft’s second-floor windows. The other exceptions were MaryAnne and Rosco.
"Ya ready?" MaryAnne asked when Rosco met up with her in the hall.
"Yep. Where we goin' anyway?"
"You'll see. C'mon..."
Rosco followed MaryAnne out of the Jigsaw, both cousins having to squint in the bright morning sunlight. The got into the black Trans Am and drove away from the Jigsaw. MaryAnne noticed two cars across the street were occupied, their occupants trying not to look like they were not watching.
"Keep yer eyes peeled," she said. "Somebody may be watching us."
Rosco nodded somberly. MaryAnne cruised the Trans Am around two blocks and pulled up in front of Lou's Deli. She wondered if Lou would be surprised to see her again. Rosco held the door open and then followed her inside and up to the counter.
Lou looked up from the deli case and broke out in a wide smile. Not knowing who Rosco was kept Lou from demonstrating more reaction than that. One didn't live in the Syndicate's turf for twenty-five years without picking up some caution. "What can I do for you folks?" he said pleasantly.
MaryAnne grinned. "Lookin' for coffee..." She nodded to Rosco. "This is my cousin. Rosco, meet Lou, the best damn sandwich maker in the city of Atlanta."
Rosco smiled. "Howdy."
"Hello there!" Lou wiped one plump hand on his apron and then offered a handshake to Rosco. "Yes, been in business a long time here. Nice to meet you, Rosco. Coffee for both of you, then?"
Rosco shook the man's hand as MaryAnne nodded. "Yes, please," she said. The two cousins sat down at the counter and while Lou prepared the java, MaryAnne continued with the accolades.
"I'm tellin' ya, Rosco, this guy makes the best roast beef sandwich, the best coleslaw...hell, even the best coffee!"
Rosco chuckled. He couldn't help but wonder how being at a deli was going to get them a connection to Mayson.
"You're working your way up to a free meal," Lou said to MaryAnne's flattery. He came out from behind the counter to bring their coffee. "You're not the only one who thinks I've got great coffee here. One of the biggest coffee-drinkers in town was here yesterday. He'll probably be back tonight, if I know him."
Lou made brief eye contact with MaryAnne. Without so many words, he had just given her the message that Mayson had been here yesterday and would be returning shortly. His round, cheerful face held the unasked question. Any messages?
MaryAnne nodded and glanced at Rosco. "You and I have a lot in common with that big coffee-drinker, Rosco."
"Uh-huh. We all drink A LOT of coffee...and that's why we're here now..."
Rosco paused a moment and then the light came to him. He looked at Lou and realized that the deli owner was an informant. "Ohhhhh...." he said.
MaryAnne smiled and looked at Lou. "We'd appreciate if you could let that big coffee drinker know that we have some buddies with a new coffee brew in the works. Haven't quite got the flavor all worked out yet, but we're gonna need his expertise before we start to distribute it."
Rosco looked at his cousin and smiled. She was pretty good at this cryptic thing.
Lou never changed expression. "Something big is brewing?" he said with a straight face.
MaryAnne nodded. "Real big. Could change the face of the fine art of coffee and cigarettes in this town for a long time..."
"I see. When did you want to meet?"
"As soon as possible. Preferably today...otherwise the brew's gonna boil over and it won't be any good..."
"Name a time."
MaryAnne looked at her watch. It was quarter to nine. She debated silently when this meeting should take place. In an hour? Two hours? Should we wait here for Mayson? What if we're bein' watched? How do you explain sittin' in a deli for two or three hours?? "Now."
Lou actually looked startled. If the young woman wanted to see Mayson now, it meant that all hell was about to break loose. "I'll make a call," he said after a minute, and went back behind the counter. MaryAnne could only catch bits and pieces of his phone conversation, but she could tell it was carefully designed to sound like ordinary business. Lou had no urgency, no nervousness in his voice at all. When he hung up the phone, he looked over at MaryAnne and Rosco and gave them an "ok" sign with fingers, then followed it with two flashes of his chubby palm. It meant wait ten minutes.
MaryAnne nodded and took a casual sip of her coffee. "Ten minutes..." she whispered to Rosco. "Try to act natural, in case we're being watched ok?"
Rosco gave a slight nod. He drank some of his coffee and then cleared his throat. "Coffee is good..." he said for lack of anything else to bring up for a topic.
MaryAnne turned to face her cousin, propping her elbow on the counter. "Yeah, it is. You know what's really good? The coffee flavored ice cream over at the Tasty Freeze in Finchburg...." and she went on like that for the next ten minutes with Rosco falling into line, with a comment, a nod, a laugh. It was the most conversation they had had in a long time, it was about absolutely nothing.
MaryAnne was still sitting, facing her cousin, when someone came into the deli ten minutes later. The man was dressed in blue jeans, a dark shirt and black bomber jacket. MaryAnne glanced at him as he approached the seat at the counter next to her.
"Maybe you should be doing this," she said, never turning around to face the counter or the other man. "You're better dressed for the part."
"It blends," Mayson said. "What's up?"
MaryAnne turned towards the counter now. She pulled out a dollar to pay for the coffee and placed it on the counter. "Stay here, Rosco. Frank...follow me out to the Trans Am."
She stood up and nodded to Lou, who handed a cup of coffee to Mayson with a lid already on it. The Commander followed MaryAnne out of the deli and to the black Pontiac. A moment later, the car pulled away from the curb.
Once the car was moving, MaryAnne got right to the point. "Brian's got a plan to hit Tyler head on with everything the Syndicate has to offer. Unfortunately, that ain't much. We were thinking of a possible three way squeeze, tho'...Syndicate, Feds and the city PD."
"Head on?" Mayson repeated.
"The boys are spoiling for action. Brian can't hold them back much longer. Before too long they'll start considerin' mutiny. We can't wait any longer for Tyler to do something."
The Commander carefully removed the lid from his coffee and took a drink. "Makes sense. If Brian doesn't take some kind of action soon, the Syndicate will no longer think much of him as a Don." Mayson paused. "You realize of course, that this plan of action is half suicide?"
"Whole damn operation's been half suicide. I tried to get Brian to listen to an idea of maybe baitin' Tyler into comin' to us...but I didn't get through. The basic premise of his plan is to flush Tyler outta that high-rise office building he's in. Whether or not he lands in Fed hands, Syndicate hands or the P.D....doesn't matter. As long as his operation is shut down."
Mayson nodded thoughtfully. "You're thinking simultaneous raids? A Fed raid and a police raid? More or less to get more manpower there?"
"Yeah...there's the office building itself, a parking garage beneath and then a warehouse in back. We got about enough man power to get in the front door...but otherwise we spread ourselves too thin trying to cover every entrance and exit."
Mayson nodded. "Yes. What Tyler has at that office building is a fortress. Guards, cameras the whole works."
"Basically what we need is cover on the entrance and exit of the parking garage and the warehouse. There's a good guess that there's a tunnel connection between the garage and the warehouse. Even if we managed to block the exit out of the garage, Tyler could sneak out through the warehouse." MaryAnne glanced at Mayson. The Commander's eyes were shadowed. The weight of everything was being felt now.
"Commander, I realize what we're asking for has the potential to completely backfire on us. It could be devastating to everyone involved. I'll understand if FBI involvement stops right here. If you think it would be best that the Syndicate go up against Tyler alone, then I'll take that back to Brian."
Mayson was quiet for a long moment, gazing out at the passing cityscape. "The Syndicate can't go up against Tyler by themselves. They’ll lose, and Tyler will play it up. He’s bought friends in city hall…it won't be too long before he becomes so untouchable that the FBI won't be able to move in on him."
MaryAnne nodded. "I was figurin' as much."
Mayson looked at MaryAnne. "I can substantiate a Federal raid. I've got evidence to support warrants, thanks to your cigarette samples. I have justification to search the warehouse. But as for the PD...I'll have to talk to them. I can't guarantee anything from them, and I probably won't have a chance to let you know their answer beforehand."
Mayson's last comment didn't go unnoticed by MaryAnne. She knew that this was probably going to be the last time she could talk to the Commander one on one.
"Then...there will be a Federal strike force?" she asked, to clarify. She had to be sure.
Mayson nodded. "I can at leat promise that much."
MaryAnne brought the Trans Am to a stop at a read light and sighed. "Okay..." she said. "Whether or not you get the P.D. to join with ya, I want to ask you something."
"Assuming it works, and Tyler's caught...what happens when it's over? What happens when you've got Tyler's gang and the Syndicate all right there in front of you? Are you gonna net 'em all?"
Mayson thought for a moment. "We're going to net Tyler and his gang," he said simply. "That's the objective."
"But...yer gonna have the Syndicate all there too."
“Tyler’s gang.” Mayson was no fool. He knew why MaryAnne was concerned.
MaryAnne looked Frank Mayson in the eye. "Off the record, Commander?"
Mayson nodded for her to continue.
"You don't give a shit about the Syndicate do you?"
He almost laughed. He had spent most of his career studying the Syndicate, gathering evidence against it, and making a few arrests that had only pruned the tree without killing it. At one time, removing the organization from the face of the earth had been his overriding goal. But not this time. "Nailing Tyler is more important to me than what's left of the Syndicate," Mayson said. "Cutting off the drug supply into Atlanta is more important to me. Goddamn drugs..." He sighed and looked at the streets ahead as the car started moving again.
"MaryAnne, the Syndicate will always exist in one form or another in this town. Keeping it at bay as much as possible is the constant prerogative. Keeping it from getting too big, too powerful, too dangerous...that's the key. It's rooted here, a wicked tradition. Somebody will always band criminals together, offer them sanctuary, call themselves the Don, wear the ring. I can cut the plant back but I can't kill the root. And even if I did...I’m not so sure things would be any better."
MaryAnne was quiet for a moment and then shook her head. "It's crazy, ya know? Part of me is glad you're not gonna worry about the Syndicate. The other half of me is askin' what the hell is wrong with you?" She snorted. "What the hell's wrong with me??"
Mayson chuckled. "It may prove fool-hearted in the end. Ten...fifteen years from now I may regret not nailing them all. Unfortunately, there's too many variables when it comes to predicting what will happen in the long run. In the short run, leaving the Syndicate alone is the better way to go. At least we’ll know who to watch, know where things are centralized.”
"You mean the lesser of two evils."
"Yes, that." The Commander looked at his agent. It was time they addressed another aspect. "Besides, officially speaking...where Brian happens to be a field agent under your command...it might look odd if we were to nail the Syndicate while he’s in charge of it.”
MaryAnne grinned. "Can' t go nailin' yer own unofficial Fed agents. How ya gonna explain that in your report? 'The Syndicate was workin' in an unofficial and unknown capacity for the Federal government.' Oh, they'd love it if they ever heard that. Khee!"
“I don’t plan to explain it in my report at all. I might use your phrasing, though,” Mayson laughed. When it faded the car was filled with a silence that spoke more than words ever could. It was all coming down to the last battle. Everything would be on the line when the office doors of Frankie Tyler were stormed. There was so much to gain...and just as much to lose.
But there was more to lose if they backed down.
MaryAnne explained that she didn't know exactly when Brian wanted to strike. The answer depended on whether or not the FBI and the PD would be joining the party.
"If it's as soon as tonight, leave a message with Lou," Mayson said. "I'll be checking with him later today."
MaryAnne drove back to the deli. Before they exited the car, Mayson turned to her. "I usually don't say something melodramatic at a point like this. But we both know that anything could happen when the raid is commenced. Just remember, MaryAnne...nothing you've done in all this has been lost on anybody. I know you've been through some harsh experiences...and perhaps the worst is yet to come. You're damn good at what you do...that's why I asked you for this assignment. You’ve been getting the job done, despite some of the high personal costs I know you've been paying."
MaryAnne nodded, looking at the steering wheel. High personal costs... "Thanks," she mustered.
Mayson nodded and stepped out of the car. MaryAnne followed suit and they returned to the deli. Rosco was still sitting at the counter and he turned slightly when they came in. MaryAnne gave him a single nod when she made it to the counter.
Mayson cryptically told Lou that he would be checking in later and then left the deli.
When Rosco tapped his empty coffee cup on the counter, MaryAnne figured they should be leaving as well.
"Thanks again, Lou, for the excellent coffee," she said as she and Rosco stood up.
"Anytime," Lou called out from behind the counter. He waved to them cordially as they left, hoping that whatever happened next...that it didn't cost him any more customers.
Outside, MaryAnne and Rosco had just stepped onto the sidewalk when Ketterhagen made his move. His Mercedes jumped out from the alley and headed towards the deli at full speed, the humming whine of the foreign engine giving the barest of warnings.
Rosco and MaryAnne both looked up at the car as it came speeding towards them. They both realized it was one of Frankie's dudes and they had little time to react. MaryAnne leapt for the door of the Trans Am and yanked it open as Rosco took cover, removed his gun from the denim jacket, and took aim.
Ketterhagen fired first. The Rueger pistol he favored was equipped with a silencer, and the short burst of shots were fired with quiet precision. The ping ping ping from his gun disabled the Trans Am in seconds, two flat tires sinking the Pontiac's driver's side low to the ground. The Coltranes would not be escaping.
Ketterhagen saw them crouched behind the car, taking shelter behind the open passenger door. He couldn't get a decent shot at either Coltrane for the moment, so he sped by them with the intent of making another pass.
"Goddammit!" MaryAnne exclaimed. Rosco fired at the Mercedes, managing to shatter the back window of the car. MaryAnne scrambled out of the Trans Am and grabbed Rosco by the sleeve of his jacket. "C'mon! We ain't got wheels, we'll have to duck him on foot!" They turned and ran hell bent down the sidewalk.
The squealing tires of another Mercedes announced their doom. Ketterhagen's back-up man rounded the corner and saw the Coltranes running headlong in his direction. He fired at them. Ketterhagen himself made a sharp u-turn in the middle of the street, barreling back towards the prey. The plan had been simple: disable the Coltranes means of escape; flush them from hiding, and catch them in a crossfire. It was working.
Only they didn't count on the Coltranes to immediately and blatantly submit to that plan. Rosco and MaryAnne managed to escape being hit by the bullets from the other Mercedes. They stopped in their tracks on the sidewalk and together took the riskiest route of escape.
They bolted into the middle of the street.
With MaryAnne facing one direction and Rosco facing the other, they had less than five seconds to do something. The two Coltranes looked at the attacking Mercedes coming from opposite directions, and fired off a couple of shots. They immediately dove out of the way as Ketterhagen and his back-up man fired shots in return…embedding bullets into each other's windshields.
Rosco rolled under a car on one side of the street, while MaryAnne scrambled to take cover behind a dumpster. Both cousins watched the two Mercedes confused swerving in the street.
Ketterhagen yanked the wheel to avoid hitting the other Mercedes. He now understood Tyler's deep hatred of Cotlranes. He checked his mirrors and saw that MaryAnne and Rosco were now split up and behind cover. Getting them now would be real work. Still, the gas tank of the parked car covering the Sheriff could be fired at, and the dumpster could be rammed. Ketterhagen did another u-turn, as did his associate.
The Mercedes each chose a target on their respective sides of the street. Ketterhagen went for MaryAnne. His partner went for Rosco.
MaryAnne looked straight at the Mercedes as it hurled towards her. Her gun was held tight in her grip, which got tighter as she silently repeated her prayer. The courage is not to die...but to live…
Gunshots were suddenly echoing down the street. Ketterhagen assumed it was his partner, firing at the parked car that sheltered Rosco. Then he remembered that his partner had a silencer on his gun. He barely had time to register the thought when a front tire blew and sent his Mercedes lurching off course. Instinctively, Ketterhagen hit the brakes, but it was too late. His car had been aimed for the dumpster, but thanks to the blown tire it went careening radiator-first into a streetlight. The crash stopped the Mercedes cold.
His partner changed course, ignoring Rosco and pulling up sharp to the wrecked Mercedes. Dazed, Ketterhagen staggered into the passenger side of his associate’s car, which pulled away even before the door was shut. The gunfire from down the street continued and was getting more intense by the second.
Two more black cars screeched up to where Rosco and MaryAnne were hidden. One was a well-known Chevy Impala, the other was Rusty's Ford. The two cars swung themselves around, screeching broadside across the road, blocking the street off.
Lou was running out from the deli, yelling at the top of his lungs, his usually-amicable expression reddened with outrage. "You call this protection?! I've paid you boys plenty for protection money over the years, and this is what happens, my customers get attacked right in front of my store!"
Rusty jumped out of his car, gun in hand. It didn't intimidate Lou at all. He ranted at the red-haired Syndicate thug as Rusty looked up and down the sidewalks for Rosco and MaryAnne. Brian sprang out of Diablo, also holding a gun and desperately searching the street. He walked quickly down the sidewalk, black-suited and frantic. "MaryAnne! Rosco!" he called urgently.
Rosco came half way out from under the car, gun still in hand and looked up at Brian and Rusty. "Goddamn, Brian..." he said, impressed with the timing and grateful for it.
MaryAnne bolted out from behind the dumpster and ran to Brian, nearly knocking her cousin to the ground in a bear hug. "Y'all couldn't have gotten here any faster!! Goddamn Tyler's gang...!!"
"God, I thought you two had bought it! You're lucky that me and Rusty were just comin' out to look for ya when we heard the commotion! Good Lord...." Brian returned MaryAnne's hug and then gave Rosco a warm grip on the shoulder. "What the hell were y'all thinkin', leavin' the Jigsaw in broad daylight without somebody to watch your back?"
"I just wanted some coffee. Yeesh!" MaryAnne shook her head and looked at Rosco. "Ya all right?"
"I'm standin'." The Sheriff looked over at the wrecked Mercedes and his eyes narrowed. He then looked at Lou. "Sorry, Lou," he said. "We sure weren't expectin' on causin' any trouble."
"Trouble! In this neighborhood? NAH!" Lou was still full of steam. He poked Rusty in the chest. "These punks either die on me or kill off my other customers! How the hell I'm supposed to make a living in this neighborhood at all and then pay these goons for their stupid 'protection' on top of it -"
More black cars were pulling up, interrupting Lou. Tony and Mugsy ran up, looking at the wrecked Mercedes and then at MaryAnne and Rosco. They knew a botched hit when they saw one. "Damn, that looks like Ketterhagen's car," Tony said with a whistle.
"Tyler's throwin' the big guns at us," Mugsy agreed. He looked at Brian expectantly. "Don Coltrane, we can't let this one go by unanswered -"
"Awright, that's enough!" Brian snapped his fingers. "TONY! Get that Mercedes outta here! Bury it in the gravel pit! Lou, you didn't see nothin', ya hear? The cops ask about that streetlight, it must of been some drunk doin' a hit and run, dig?"
"Mugsy, getcher ass back to the Jigsaw and tell the rest of the boys to look alive! No tellin' what Frankie's gonna pull next. Rusty, get out on the streets and tell our scouts what just went down. Next time a black Mercedes or BMW or any damn car like that gets within ten blocks of the Jigsaw…I'm gonna have somebody's head!"
As his associates scrambled off, Brian took Lou aside and slapped a fifty-dollar bill in his hand. "For any business you lost today," Brian explained. Lou held the bill up to the sunlight, suspiciously. "It's real!" Brian said. "Now get outta here!"
Lou finally left, and Brian turned back to Rosco and MaryAnne. "We'd better get outta the street ourselves."
Neither Rosco nor MaryAnne protested. They nodded and followed Brian to his Chevy. MaryAnne looked at the Trans Am and swore under her breath. Had it been Maverick, Ketterhagen wouldn't have gotten away so easily.
Once inside the car, MaryAnne turned to Brian. "Tell me when you wanna hit Tyler. Yer gonna have back up."
"How much backup?"
"A Fed raid, at least. Judging by what just took place, we ain't gonna have time to find out if the PD's in it or not."
"Probably not." Brian had Diablo back to the Jigsaw in a minute. He parked the car but didn't get out right away. "So I take it y'all talked to Mayson. What else did he have to say?"
"All he cares about nailing in this raid is Frankie Tyler's gang, and cutting off the drug supply into Atlanta. And that's it."
"Hmm." Brian turned in the driver's seat and looked at MaryAnne. "You buy that?"
"Yep, I do." She leaned a little closer to her cousin. "And ya know why? Because Mayson's been around long enough to understand things like you do. Only one faction can survive. Otherwise, Atlanta becomes a free for all. Organized crime will never be completely eradicated. Like Mayson said himself, you can cut back the stems but you can't kill the root. Tyler's outta control. Running a gaming joint, selling liquor, protection rackets...that's kid stuff compared to what Tyler's doin,' and he has to be stopped. No ifs, ands or buts about it either."
Brian looked MaryAnne directly in the eyes. He believed her, but he couldn't shake the feeling that there was some tidbit of information that she was leaving out. Then again, he realized that he hadn't exactly opened the Syndicate's ledger to her either, kin or not. Brian sighed and then made his decision. "I've trusted the law this far. I guess it's too late to decide I don't like my own ideas," he said with a hesitant smile.
"It's too late to back down, Brian," MaryAnne replied. "Lord knows I've followed through on some ideas I didn't like at the last minute either." She held her hand out to him. "Do you want peace, cousin?"
Brian took the offered hand. "Yeah...."
"Then keep working for justice...albeit Syndicate justice." She smiled and squeezed his hand. She then glanced at the Jigsaw. "Ain't it about time to be callin' the troops into action? Ya ain't gonna let an attempted hit on yer kin go unanswered, are ya?"
"Hell no." Brian grinned. He looked in the backseat at Rosco. "If y'all can get a few walkie-talkies for my boys, I've got enough ammo and stuff here to fire on Fort Sumpter again. We may not have a huge chance against Tyler, but with the help of your Fed buddies, we do have a chance."
"Khee! Have I got walkie-talkies? Never leave home without 'em." MaryAnne giggled. "That, and a standard Coltrane Bag O' Tricks. You'll have to check out Rosco's Rollin' Renegade Supply Store he's got in the trunk of his car!"
"Well, hot damn, cousins!" Brian laughed. "Then let's get in the Jigsaw and rile everybody up. Atlanta ain't never gonna forget the name Coltrane after tonight."
The three Coltranes climbed out of Diablo, and Rosco and MaryAnne followed Brian into the Jigsaw.
"Awright, listen up!" Brian yelled as he marched up to the bar. The collective Syndicate quieted.
"I'm sure y'all heard that Frankie Tyler made his last mistake today in comin' after my kin. We're hittin' him back -"
Wild yells erupted from the Jigsaw. Brian let it go a moment then held up a palm. "We're hittin' him back tonight. But we're doin' it with a plan, and with a purpose! Now listen! Anybody who needs to spend some time with their loved ones before then - do it! Anybody who needs to see a priest beforehand - do it! Anybody that needs to call their momma, sniff a flower, meditate or get a new tattoo, do it this afternoon, because tonight...." Brian paused, making eye contact with everyone. "Tonight, WE RECLAIM ATLANTA OR DIE!"
The Syndicate rose it's voice in a roar, and guns were fired into the air. Fists pounded the bar, pool cues hammered on the tables, and boots stamped on the floor. The energy was furious. Chants of Don Coltrane! burst from the Jigsaw, the noise like that of a battalion called to arms.
Brian knew there'd be no settling the gang down for awhile, so he motioned for Rosco and MaryAnne to follow him to the back to his private table. The Dukes slipped out of the crowd and joined them.
"Okay," Brian said once they were as far out of the noise as possible. "We're committed to action. Bo, Luke...I'm sure you know that MaryAnne and Rosco nearly got their posteriors shot off in the process of hookin' up with Mayson.”
The Dukes nodded soberly.
“Well, the Feds are gonna join us, MaryAnne can tell ya more. Now I'm gonna split my boys up into four groups for the initial assault, then regroup once we've neutralized Tyler’s gaurds. We'll go through the fine points here shortly, but I want you Dukes to know that you're welcome to fight beside me. Whether you fight with MaryAnne n' Rosco with the Feds, or take the front line with my boys - I'm damn glad to have ya here."
Both boys nodded. "We're glad to be here," Luke said for both of them.
"Awright. So were all gonna die," Brian said with grim humor, a smile breaking out on his face. "But we've agreed to do it for the same noble cause of kickin' Tyler's rear end out of business. MaryAnne, you've worked with the Dukes under fire before, whereas I've just seen 'em from the other end of the arrow. You want 'em on your team with the Feds?"
MaryAnne looked at the boys. "The Feds are gonna be raiding the warehouse around the same time the rest of the boys are hitting the office complex. Why don't we go into the details that Brian's got and go from there. At that point you can determine where your talents will be better suited."
Luke grinned, and Bo said, “Put us where the action is.”
"Scuze me, here..." Brian moved a few things off the table. He then took the tablecloth and flipped it over. The back of the tablecloth had a large map of Tyler's office building, warehouse, and parking garage. "Sometimes the best way to hide somethin' is to put it right under somebody's nose," he explained to the grins of his cousins and the Dukes. Brian took a pen from his pocket and added some notes to the drawing. "There's six points of attack here. Four to the base of the office building, which the Syndicate will cover - then the warehouse and the underground parking garage, which the Feds will cover. The thing is...I only got about twenty men, not countin' you all, and I don't know how much the Feds are bringing in. I can figure that Mayson is keepin' this skirmish "local" and therefore he's only gonna bring what he can spare from the Atlanta bureau without attractin' attention."
Brian drew a line from the parking garage to the warehouse. "I got the nasty feelin' that Tyler can reinforce any of his operations from the other. I also know that he's a rat with more than one way out of the drain - so once the Syndicate shakes him out of the office building, the critical thing for Feds is to prevent Tyler's escape."
"The Syndicate will attack first. So long as Tyler thinks it's just us, he won't have a real reason to panic. Once he knows that his exits are bein' cut off, though, he'll fight his way out with whatever it takes. The Syndicate will try and slow him down, keep him contained if possible. But I have to warn ya. I have no idea what's in his warehouse, how many men he has throughout his operations. Tyler is not only going to have the motive of protecting his property and wipin' out the Syndicate - but he's gonna want MaryAnne." Brian put the pen down and looked at his cousin.
"MaryAnne, you're the biggest trophy that Tyler could get out of all this. When the gunfire starts, if any of his gang has a chance to either capture or kill you - they're gonna do it. And if they succeed in takin' you alive...they'll use you as a hostage to guarantee their escape. You can't be protected enough, cousin. For this reason, I'd like to see the Dukes with you, too give you a better chance."
"I've faced Tyler's gang before--"
"Luke and I will be going with MaryAnne," Bo said, cutting her off.
MaryAnne looked at Bo, surprised to have been cut off and not liking the feeling of being treated as somebody who couldn't fend for herself.
"You faced a different Tyler, of a different time," Rosco reminded her gently. If anything, the Big Man was more deadly than ever.
"Yeah well, you don't have treat me like some frail little girl that has to be protected all the time. If they try to take me down, you can damn well bet that a bunch of 'em will be going with me!"
"Maybe I should let the Dukes help Tyler to even things out," Brian joked. His smile gradually faded, and he looked seriously at his cousin. "MaryAnne, I sure as hell don't doubt ya. I'd just feel better if the Dukes were with you, 'cause they've fought at your side before. I've heard the story about the last time y'all gave Tyler a headache. Call me superstitious, but I don't mess with what worked before."
"Migraine was more like it," Luke said getting a chuckle from his cousin, MaryAnne and Rosco.
"Awright," MaryAnne said. "I'll have the boys with me."
"Good. Believe me, I'm sure y'all will have plenty of action to handle. Too much, maybe. We need a contingency plan. Rosco, that's gonna be you. MaryAnne said that Mayson couldn't guarantee us any help from the Atlanta PD. I have a feelin' that some of that's politics with City Hall and the local influence that Tyler's been buyin'."
Brian looked at his cousins and the Dukes with a grave expression. "Nobody's gonna like what I'm about to say next, but we need to prepare for the worst-case scenario." He turned to Rosco. "Sheriff, if we're losing this fight, and the Syndicate and the Feds ain't enough - then you've got to get the Atlanta cops there. You're an officer. You send out a distress call over police channels and get them there. And it's gonna be up to you to direct them to where they're needed most."
Brian took a heavy breath, and his dark eyes locked with Rosco's steel-blue. "And you've got to remember that stopping Tyler is the most important thing."
Rosco nodded grimly. "Understood...." And he understood all too well...but what if the Atlanta PD didn't listen to him? What if they didn't come? Wasn't he still considered wanted...? The police had no idea about MaryAnne’s assignment, last anybody knew. Then he remembered the young officer he had met earlier. Franklin... Maybe he'll listen... maybe...
"Then it's all over but the shootin'." Brian sighed and looked back down at the tablecloth sketch. "I've got to brief the Syndicate on the objectives, and tell 'em I want as much of Tyler's gang taken alive as possible. I don't think that Tyler's gang is gonna have the same restraint, but there's no reason to sink to his level...is there."
MaryAnne shook her head. "No...just do enough to take 'em outta commission...." She looked at Rosco. "Like we did in Finchburg."
Rosco nodded. His face suddenly broke into a grin. "We gonna throw Molotov Cocktails?"
MaryAnne chuckled. "Ya never know...we might."
The Dukes smiled, and Brian did too. "That's all I got for now," he said as he flipped the tablecloth back over. "MaryAnne, I know you gotta coordinate stuff with Mayson yet. Tell 'em that we'll be leaving the Jigsaw at midnight tonight. Y'all meet me here at this table at about eleven-thirty, and we'll cover any last-minute stuff. Meantime...I got business to do...prayers to say...guns to load. I'm sure it's about the same for ya'll."
MaryAnne nodded. "And this time I'll take Bo and Luke with me as back up when I send the message to Mayson, so Rosco and I don't get sneak attacked by Tyler's gang again. Maybe we can find a couple of tires today and get the Trans Am back running again as well."
"Just be careful. All of ya."
"You too," MaryAnne said, sincerely. "We'll see ya later."
Brian nodded and left to tend to the Syndicate angle of things. Rosco, Bo and Luke followed MaryAnne out to the sidewalk in front of the Jigsaw, gathering around her as the young woman paused for a moment of thought.
"What do we do first?" Rosco asked.
"Gonna leave a message for Mayson first," she said quietly. "Then we'll see about getting some tires and checkin' the supplies you got in your car, Rosco."
Luke leaned closer to MaryAnne so that only she could hear him. "How'd you talk to Mayson before?"
She smiled at him. "Easy. But I'm not taking that route again. That's how me and Rosco nearly got our fool heads blown off." She looked around up and down the street. "Come on...we'll take the General. I'll drive...and I'll explain."
A moment later the black Charger pulled away from the curb.
***** ***** *****
Captain Anthony Briggs of the Atlanta police department slowly hung up his telephone after speaking with Commander Mayson at the FBI. He looked out the window towards the squad room, nervous. In his nearly 20 plus years of law enforcing, he had never felt so bound by orders...or betrayed of the badge.
He stood up and walked his six-foot frame over to his filing cabinet. Frankie Tyler was like a cancer that was spreading at an alarming rate. The Feds, however, were taking a chance to stop it, Commander Mayson explained. They would be raiding the office complex in the very near future. Would the Atlanta PD would be interested in getting it's licks in?
If it were my decision, hell yeah, Briggs thought. Goddamn Deputy Chief Hilstrom would say otherwise...
Briggs pulled open the third drawer of his filing cabinet and pulled out the thick folder, full of information he had been collecting for several years on Frankie Tyler. He wanted to kick himself. Here was the chance to take part in finally eradicating the man from the criminal face of Atlanta, and remove his influence in City Hall...
But that was just the problem. He had too much influence in City Hall already. Enough to convince almost the entire police department to look the other way while he ran his illegal operations...and Lord knew what other operations.
Briggs scowled. He flipped through the copies of reports that had been filed by officers in past cases. Officers Tate and Delany, who were now sergeants. Officer Franklin...good officer. Former Sargent Nevins, now a Lieutenant. A somewhat detestable individual but he otherwise got the job done. Officer Coltrane....
Coltrane... He looked at the photocopied handwriting of MaryAnne, and then recalled the APB's he had heard a couple of weeks ago. Armed Robbery... Her car had been picked up and was still sitting in the 16th street impound yard...her kin hadn't even come to try to pick it up...?
Briggs looked up from the report and stared at the wall in thought. There had been APB's on her kin too, issued by the FBI. Those had been dropped in the last few days...odd. The whole thing was odd.
Officer Franklin had filed a report almost two weeks ago, describing the pursuit of a black Chevy...model unknown in a high-speed chase that took place down Wilson Blvd. The vehicle perused had given the officers "the slip"...but Briggs could clearly recall Franklin's voice squawking on the radio that the car had matched the APB that had been issued by the FBI at the time. His report, however, made no such mention of that connection.
Briggs closed the Tyler file and returned it to the drawer. He walked out of his office and into the squad room, zeroing in on another file cabinet. He found the file he was after and then started to head back to his office, pausing long enough by the desk Officer Franklin was working at to say, "My office. Now."
The young officer jumped up and followed his Captain.
***** ***** *****
"That's why I won't go back to Lou," MaryAnne said, capping her explanation to the Dukes of the neighborhood informant. "I don't wanna be bringing any heat down on him either...he's a nice guy ya know? I also don't want the Syndicate boys to know he's an informant either. I don't wanna disrupt things anymore than I probably all ready have."
Bo and Luke nodded from the back seat. "Doesn't he take a big risk by being an informant tho'?" Bo asked.
"Yeah...but as long as he pays his protection money to them...they don't care what he does. But I don't want to be arousing any suspicion by going back there so soon. I'll be honest with y'all...we're constantly being watched by somebody. Whether it's Fed scouts or Tyler's scouts or what...there's always a pair of eyes following us."
"So how do we contact Mayson this time?" Rosco asked.
MaryAnne glanced at her cousin with a grin. "We go shoppin'." She drove the General around a few blocks and monitored her mirrors. Satisfied no one was following her specifically...she pulled the General into the alley near the pawn shop, driving down far enough that someone would have to be directly across the street to see them.
She turned to the boys. "Go ahead down and in the front door. Look around, make like yer looking for something, I don't care what. Gimmie about 15 minutes or so and then meet me and Rosco back here."
The boys nodded. "You got it," Luke said. Once the four were out of the General, the boys headed down to the front entrance of the pawn shop. Rosco and MaryAnne headed to the back entrance.
"You said we were goin' shoppin'..." he complained with a grin.
"Well...them, whatever!" She chuckled. "C'mon..." she said, shaking her head. She opened the door, letting Rosco in before her. They were up inside the apartment upstairs in a moment and MaryAnne had Commander Mayson on the phone in less time.
"Where are you calling from?" Mayon asked.
"An undisclosed location. Listen, I can't go back to our coffee shop because a couple of non-java dudes tried to cut me and Rosco down as soon as we walked out the door this morning. Kinda soured the coffee. Anyway...the big party is tonight at midnight. You gonna be there?"
"Midnight..." Mayson scribbled on a piece of paper. "Okay...yes, I'll be there."
"Didja extend the invitation to our mutual friends?"
"I did...they've declined to take part in the festivities."
MaryAnne was very disappointed. "Oh..." she said. "That's too bad."
"Yes, it is... Who's going to show up first? Me or you?"
"Me...but you better be right behind me coming up the walk. You got local buddies comin' with ya or outta towners?"
"I don't have any choice, they're local. The rest of the..uh..coffee drinkers wouldn't dig this party, ya know?"
"I hear ya on that. Well, tell yer buds to stop at the warehouse for their goods first, and make sure they park in the parking garage..."
Mayson scribbled down the locales. "Got it." He paused. "Your party-goers don't know I'm showing..."
"No, but my man does and he'll make sure there's no trouble. Are your party goers gonna have a problem with my people showin' up?"
"No..." Mayson chuckled. "I think we can all get along in the name of a good time."
MaryAnne grinned. "That's what I was thinkin' too. Make sure you stay well-communicated tho'...you know how these things can get kinda wild..."
"I will. I'll see you tonight."
"You bet." MaryAnne hung up and looked at Rosco.
"Think he got everything?" he asked.
"I think so. He knows what time, he knows what door and he knows some action will already be going on when he gets there. We're set." She stood up. "Come on, we'll go get the boys." Rosco followed MaryAnne out of the apartment.
***** ***** *****
"That was it," Officer Franklin said. "There was some shootout at the Jigsaw and she was caught in it. Sir, I don't know what's going on now, or what the heck was going on that night but MaryAnne Coltrane was shot and the whole thing's been bothering me for two weeks! Sir, I realize my report is not full and complete...and that I was made aware of another crime and didn't report that but..."
Captain Briggs shook his head. "No, no...it's alright, this report will stand." He stood up from his desk and paced around it, thinking of what Franklin had told him and trying to tie it all together with what was happening now. "It bothers me too..." Briggs said softly.
"She was a hell of a cop, Captain," Franklin said. "I just don't believe the rumors of her having gone bad. I refuse to believe it."
"I know. I've had a hard time believing it myself. And all that I just told you with her car and the APB's on her kin...only convince me that something is going on." Briggs stopped pacing and looked Franklin.
"Do we even know if she's still alive?" Franklin asked. "Can we even find out?"
"We may know after tonight."
"How? Why? What's happenin' tonight?"
Briggs leaned against his desk and crossed his arms. "What I'm about to tell you is unofficial and is not to be repeated outside this office..."
Franklin's eyes widened a bit. This was serious stuff to be taken into the Captain confidence, and not repeat whatever was about to be said.
"The FBI is going to raid Frankie Tyler's office complex tonight. I got a call from Commander Mayson earlier asking if the department would like to join in..."
Franklin shook his head. "Deputy Chief Hilstrom...no way...goddamn..." The rumors of the Deputy Chief's connections were apparently not lost on the patrol officers.
"Exactly," Briggs said, sympathizing with the young officer. "I officially declined but..." Briggs paused as he made an internal decision. "Can you come for the midnight shift tonight?"
"Be here. Anybody asks you, you're working a special assignment from me, understood?"
Franklin looked at the Captain for a long moment and then nodded. He understood his commanding officer's concern, and realized the Atlanta PD was not going to sit idly by during the raid. At least...a few select officers were not, despite the heavy threat that existed with the Deputy Chief.
"Yes, sir," Franklin said for added emphasis.
***** ***** *****
Rosco, MaryAnne and the Dukes spent most of the rest of the day getting things prepared and ready. The General Lee and Rosco's sedan were outfitted and readied. MaryAnne's black Trans Am was salvaged from the street by Lou's Deli after she and Rosco got tires from an old auto repairman friend, one that MaryAnne had known when she had served for the city PD. He gladly gave her two new tires with rims and accepted only half price for the parts. MaryAnne promised to make up the other half...hoping she would still be alive to do so when all was said and done.
Bo and Luke had brought their own hand-held radios with them. Rosco had enough for him and MaryAnne, plus more that could be divvied up amongst the Syndicate boys. Personal weapons were loaded and checked, the Coltrane and Duke bag o' tricks were checked, and the only thing left to do...was to wait. And worry.
At eleven-thirty that evening, the Jigsaw was fully roused and ready. Rifles leaned against the wall, handguns and loose bullets were littering the bar and the pool tables. Last-minute preps were nearly finished. Near the back of the Jigsaw, Brian was holding conference with Rusty, Ace and Tony.
The details of the plan were covered a final time, and then Brian dismissed his captains in order to make his own personal preparations. He went upstairs and changed from his expensive suit, settling instead for black jeans, a black tank top, and his well-worn leather jacket. He took a last look around the hotel suite that had been his since his tenure as Don.
The opulence of the room used to impress him. Yet after living in it for a couple weeks, he understood why so many of the Syndicate's Dons spent the majority of their time hanging out downstairs. The room was plush, but it had never felt comfortable to him. Maybe it was the oil portraits that adorned the suite's walls, the painted faces of every Don arranged to stare back at the current boss with haunting scowls. A dynasty of crime was there for the viewing.
Even Tyler's portrait still hung there. Cold-eyed, stiff, thin-lipped, handsome and cruel-looking, Tyler's image gave Brian the chills. Hot-headed Mancini had seemed like a reasonable man by comparison. But as Brian studied the portrait of Mancini, he noticed the same distance in the expression of the two men, the same detached bearing in their posture.
Spade's portrait had a similiar trait. Cool. Detached. As if he had been uninterested in anything at all, during the time the artist had painted him.
Brian hadn't gotten around to getting his own portrait done. He avoided looking in the mirror as he left the suite.
He checked his watch as he headed back down to the gaming area of the Jigsaw. It was eleven-thirty. He made a final check of the knife and gun in his pocket, then fidgeted with the gold ring on his finger. He was ready as he'd ever be.
He found MaryAnne, Rosco and the Dukes milling around by his private table. They turned to look at him, and he gave them a quick grin of bravado. Khee, we're all gonna die...
"Awright, ya'll," he said to them. "Ready for the big dance?"
"Yeah..." MaryAnne said with a sigh and nodded. "And whatever we're not ready for, we'll know right quick."
"That's the truth." Brian said. He took a deep breath, and looked in the eyes of his kin and the Dukes. "I"m gonna refrain from makin' any speeches here. I don't think I could walk out that door there, if I let myself say somethin' soft-hearted beforehand."
"I think that holds true for all of us..." MaryAnne said.
"But whatever happens," Luke said, "the one thing that will come of all this, is that Frankie Tyler is gonna be damn sorry he ever picked on anyone from Hazzard County." Bo muttered assent.
"Damn right," Brian agreed. He hesitated a moment, knowing he should say something, do something, in the way of goodbye, just in case. Impulsively, he stuck his hand out to Rosco, offering a handshake of friendship and respect. "Sheriff...good luck."
Rosco looked at Brian's hand and then slowly took it. The realization set in. There was a chance they would never see each other again. Rosco looked Brian in the eye, firmly shaking his cousin's hand with mutual friendship and respect. "Good luck, Brian..."
Brian nodded, managing a smile. They shared kinship…badge or not, ring or not. The thought was given to Rosco from Brian’s dark eyes.
He then turned to the Dukes. "And you two...maybe we'll have a chance to figure out if we're better off as friends, or enemies, when this is over," he joked. He offered a handshake to Luke.
Luke chuckled and shook Brian's hand. "Yeah..." he said with a grin, "we may just have that chance."
"Here's hopin'." Brian looked at Bo and grinned. "Same for you, blondie. I might have to kick your posterior one more time before we figure it out, though..."
"Of course," Bo laughed and shook Brian's hand. "But--" Bo's grin never faded, "I may have to kick yours as well..."
"Yeah, I know it..." Brian chuckled at Bo. He looked at each of the Duke boys a last time. No animosity stood between them, in this hour.
Then turned to face MaryAnne. This goodbye was especially hard. Brian swallowed, forced himself to smile again, and offered her a handshake. He couldn't find the right words, so he simply called her by the name that had always fit her best. "Deputy...."
"Brian..." She took his hand and held his gaze for a moment. Words failed her. "Dammit...there's probably a bazillion things I could say to you right now..." She shook her head. "But I can't think of any of it." She paused, thinking of how he had called her 'Deputy.' Did she really deserve such a title anymore? She kept this thought to herself and held her head up. "Whatever happens," she continued, "I want you to know that if I had to do everything all over again...I would."
And that was the God honest truth.
"I know you would," Brian said, shaking her hand and then letting it go. "I just hope it ain't necessary." He stepped back and gave MaryAnne a final, serious glance. Whatever happens...
He turned away and walked towards the bar, shouting orders to the Syndicate. "AWRIGHT! LET'S MOVE!"
Ragged cheers followed the order. Apparently, the reality of the situation had settled in on the minds of a few hoodlums. But they obeyed, grabbing rifles, pistols, knives, and shoveling in handfuls of loose bullets into their pockets. One by one, they headed out the front door of the Jigsaw, while the working girls watched with sober apprehension.
Bo and Luke shook hands with Rosco and MaryAnne, exchanging words of encouragement and their own goodbyes while they had the chance. The Dukes then headed towards the door, and Rosco and MaryAnne looked at each other.
"Think of what Brian said," MaryAnne suggested. "We say something soft-hearted, we'll never walk out that door."
"Yeah, I know...dammit..." Rosco paused, watching the last of the thugs leave the Jigsaw. He looked back to her. "Just remember I'm gonna be watchin' yer back."
"And I'll be watchin' yours." She grinned. "Just like always..."
They looked at each other for a moment longer, and then together, they walked to the front door and out, never looking back.
With quick efficiency, everyone headed for their cars. The door to the Jigsaw was shut and bolted behind the last ones out. Car doors slammed.
The Atlanta night was suddenly filled with the rumbling of car engines, the low, throaty growls of the Syndicate cars echoing through the street. The revving of the motors grew in volume, one black Dodge Charger making a lot of noise on it's own.
One at a time, the black cars pulled from the curb and turned on their parking lights, the small orange lamps the only brightness from each car. They drove single-file to the main boulevard, where the procession became organized. The cars paired up, now two-wide down the thoroughfare.
Brian's car, Diablo, took point and was flanked by MaryAnne's black Trans-Am. The General Lee and Rosco's car were next, cruising side by side. Behind them, ten more pairs of Syndicate cars followed, headed up by Rusty and Tony. The parade of black cars moved like shadows under the streetlights, gliding through Atlanta with a motorcade's authority.
The bystanders who observed this sight gaped at it with foreboding. Word quickly spread through the bars, pool halls, and city streets. The entire Syndicate was on the move, heading north. It could only mean one thing. The showdown with Tyler's gang was about to happen.
As the black cars closed in on Tyler's end of town, Diablo pulled slightly ahead and then flicked the high beams. It was the signal to break into groups and come at Tyler's stronghold from all sides. Diablo headed straight and was joined by the bulk of the Syndicate cars, while MaryAnne, Rosco and the Dukes turned down another street to rendezvous with the Feds.
Tyler's office building loomed into view through Diablo's windshield. It was a tall, narrow structure, a pillar of steel and glass that jutted into the skyline and shouldered other buildings for attention. In the darkness of the night, it looked cold and empty. Pockets of lights were on inside the building, the first-floor and top floor glowing with white fluorescence. Most of the floors in between were dark, save for the intermittent, scattered lights that seemed left on at random.
Brian parked his car close to the office building’s front door. Secrecy was pointless, as the Big Man was probably well aware of the Syndicate's approach, thanks to his spies. Buy with any luck, Tyler would not be aware of the Feds waiting in the wings.
Brian waited until he was joined by Mugsy and a couple other thugs. Rusty, Ace, and Tony were each heading up their own assault teams and would storm the other entrances to the office building. In the darkness of the Atlanta night, Brian thought he could see the shadowed outlines of MaryAnne's car and the Duke's Charger, further down near the warehouse. They were waiting, and Brian sincerely hoped they weren't waiting by themselves. If the Feds hadn't shown up after all....
But there was no time to worry about what might go wrong. Brian drew his gun from his leather jacket, and motioned to his group. It was time to see what Tyler's security guards were made of.
The north entrance to the office building was locked. Brian didn't risk shooting at it. Instead, Mugsy's lock-pick made short work of it. No alarm sounded as they opened the door and went inside, though Brian knew a silent alert must have been tripped by their entry.
A reception desk stood empty a few feet ahead. There was no operator at the switchboard, this time of night. But there was no security guard, either. Not good. No resistance, not even a token force?
"Where are they?" Mugsy whispered. There were no guards in sight. The large lobby of the office building seemed utterly deserted. The tile floor echoed the Syndicate’s footfalls, though they walked quietly.
"They're here somewhere. Stay close to the walls and keep your back towards them. Work your way to the elevators," Brian whispered back. Down the halls, he could hear the rest of the Syndicate breaking in and milling about in the same, cautious confusion. The lower level had sporadic, vacant desks, strategically placed to show the suggestion of a Monday through Friday business. But there were no papers in baskets, no loose pens, no paper clips on the floor. It was immaculately clean. Spotless. Like an automotive dealer’s showroom, only without cars.
Centered in the lower level, were the elevators. They were the focal point of the building’s interior. There were six sets of elevator doors that faced across from each other, three to each row. The doors were plated with polished brass, the buttons and floor indicators delicately designed. Tall, potted plants graced each end of the elevator rows.
It was altogether too quiet. "Maybe the Big Man already cut out," Mugsy speculated. "Maybe nobody's home...."
"We'll find out." Brian and his group walked up to the elevators. They waited as Rusty, Ace and Tony brought the rest of the Syndicate up.
"This is too damn easy," Rusty whispered. "No guards...not a damn soul, not so much as a cleaning person...."
"There's still cameras," Brian whispered back, pointing his gun towards one that pointed back at them from the end of the hall. It hung down from the ceiling like a rectangular bat.
Looking around, Brian spotted a few more cameras, and also noticed that all the cameras faced the elevators…and right at them.
Direct fighting was one thing; being clinically observed was other. The Syndicate was unnerved. Brian offered an explanation for the absence of guards. "Maybe Frankie is just savin' eveybody to protect his own rear." Still watching the nearest camera, Brian spun the pistol in his hand, until it was caught in the middle of his fist with the barrel poking straight up. He offered it as an obscene gesture to the camera.
"Great," Rusty muttered. "Charm yourself to the top, just like always...."
Snickers followed, and Brian grinned. "Let's go up and say hello..." He hit the elevator "up" button.
A soft ding sounded. But there was something wrong.
All the elevators were coming down at once, the ding echoed and multiplied by several chimes. The light above each elevator glowed in unison, as the doors were about to open. All the elevators had come down by only one floor…all at once, too quick…
Brian knew he'd been suckered. "BACK UP!! BACK UP!!" he yelled, motioning frantically for the Syndicate to split in halves, retreat, and cover each end of the elevator corridor. All the elevator doors opened.
Tyler's men spilled from the elevators with ready guns. The Syndicate dropped to the ground and began to shoot the moment the enemy showed itself.
Rapid, automatic gunfire rained back at the Syndicate. Brian's men had no choice but to roll away, jump up and scatter.
"GET TO THE TOP! TYLER'S GOT TO BE UP THERE!" Brian shouted over the noise. Things had definitely started off badly. The elevators were impossible to get to. But there had to be a stairwell….yet if Frankie had the stairwells covered, then the objective could be damn well impossible.
Especially since the white-shirted security guards were now watching from outside the office building’s glass doors, laughing. They were armed, standing at the doors, daring anyone to flee. If any of the Syndicate tried to escape, they would be cut down instantly.
***** ***** *****
Down by the warehouse, MaryAnne, Rosco and the Dukes had met up with a lone Commander Mayson on the sidewalk. The Fed reinforcements were waiting, he told them. They were parked along the street and once MaryAnne, or Rosco or the Dukes gave the signal they would move.
MaryAnne nodded, and she led her cousin and the boys towards the entrance of the warehouse as Commander Mayson disappeared into the shadows of the street. Bo and Luke readied their sharp-pointed arrows, and Rosco had his gun drawn, right behind his cousin.
MaryAnne pulled out her lock-picking kit and proceeded to unlock the warehouse door. She then pushed the door open.
Inside, there was nothing to be seen other than crates and boxes, stacked high to the ceiling. A couple of light bulbs hung down from extension cords, but they were far apart and kept the majority of the warehouse in dimly-lit gloom. There was no sound from inside.
The foursome paused and assessed the situation before them. It was awfully quiet.
"Anybody home?" MaryAnne said, hearing her voice echo. Nothing stirred.
She waved her gun at the boys and Rosco to follow her. They walked along the inside wall of the warehouse, watching everything ahead of them and around them.
Suddenly, the muffled echo of gunfire could be heard. All four stopped to listen and knew it was coming from the office building. But the warehouse remained still.
After a tense moment, there was a slow creaking sound, then a slam as the warehouse door shut behind them. It was followed by clicking and ratcheting sounds throughout the warehouse, such as those made by automatic weapons being armed and primed. A brusque voice cut through the silence, one that MaryAnne had heard before in her career, though she never knew the person's name. "Step into the light with your hands up!" Ketterhagen ordered.
"Bo..." MaryAnne whispered urgently. "Give the man some light..."
Bo quickly replaced his arrow, substituting it for one loaded with a stick of dynamite, while Rosco quickly pulled a match from his pocket.
"You need more light! It's too damn dark in here!" MaryAnne called, giving the cue. Rosco lit the fuse of the dynamite and Bo let it fly across the warehouse. Twang!
As the arrow flew, the four sought cover behind two crates, with the wall of the warehouse behind them. The explosion of the dynamite arrow rocked the inside of the warehouse, blowing out the windows on the backside of the building, and alerting the Federal agents waiting outside.
"LET'S MOVE!" Mayson yelled to the agents, and Feds swarmed the parking garage. More agents ran towards the warehouse. They were met with immediate and sustained resistance, automatic gunfire ripping from the hidden defense points that Tyler had established for the event of a raid. The dynamite arrow had alerted friend and foe alike.
Inside the warehouse, Ketterhagen and his group had been thrown into momentary panic by the blast of dynamite. It was worth it, however, because Ketterhagen had gotten what he wanted from the exchange...and that was confirmation that MaryAnne was in there. "GET THEM, BUT TAKE HER ALIVE!" he yelled to his men, and they moved in closer to the source of the attack, zeroing in on where MaryAnne's voice had last been heard, and where the arrow had originated from. Moving quickly through the semi-darkness, Ketterhagen's team split up and wove through the crates.
"Like hell they will..." MaryAnne muttered. She saw the shadows as the men advanced and she turned to Rosco, tapping on the pocket of his jacket. She then pulled out her silencer and screwed it on the end of her gun.
Rosco pulled out something completely different from his pocket; a small package of firecrackers. He soon had another match in hand and lit the fuse on the firecrackers, throwing them high and far into the warehouse.
MaryAnne zipped up to another crate and peered around the edge of it, just as the firecrackers hit the floor behind Ketterhagen's team of five. When they started snapping the team stopped, swinging around to see what was behind them, shooting blindly at nothing before attempting to seek cover. Systematically, MaryAnne picked a bad guy off...a shot to an arm, a shot to a leg...
Ketterhagen turned when the man beside him suddenly dropped like a fly. He had no clue where the shot came from and quickly lunged behind a crate, not wanting to be the next one hit.
MaryAnne hurried back to where Rosco was. "Where the hell is Mayson?!" She wondered looking over towards the door, and then up at the window that was just above where she, Rosco and the boys were. Meanwhile, the rest of Ketterhagen’s hit squad had fanned out, and was scattered among the towering crates.
Luke nudged Bo, holding on to another dynamite arrow. The confusion tactic MaryAnne started appeared to be working. "Hit 'em on the side...I'll try to get the door open," Luke said.
Bo nodded and readied an arrow. Luke lit the fuse and Bo let it fly, sending it towards several high-stacked crates on the right-hand wall. The explosion threw several crates into the air and triggered a domino effect, causing the remaining crates to collapse forward, tipping over and thundering down in an avalanche to the floor.
The boys ducked for cover and watched as the destruction ensued. "Yeehaa!!"
Ketterhagen's second team scurried out of the way of the falling crates. A set of crates and boxes stacked in the middle of the warehouse were taken down in the aftermath.
MaryAnne flashed a thumbs-up. Now they just had to get back on the offensive. She grabbed Rosco's jacket sleeve and they scurried over to where the boys were. There was still no back-up from the Feds, though the sound of gunfire from outside was easy to hear.
"We gotta git outta here! Something musta happened to Mayson and the strike team!" MaryAnne exclaimed. The warehouse door was still shut, and she had no desire to be trapped in here.
Tyler’s thugs were now throwing boxes and kicking away crates. They saw the foursome in the dim light and started to open fire.
The Dukes and Coltranes all ducked. As they prepared to return fire, MaryAnne wondered for a brief moment how Brian was fairing....