The next morning, Lila made her way to the warehouse office from one of the other offices in the building she had been using as her “room.” When she got to the warehouse, she found Mickey and Leroy tying some rope to the underside of Maxwell’s Crown Vic. The rope snaked upward to the ceiling and draped over one of the steel beams. The other end of the rope was looped in a hangman’s noose.
She looked toward the office, where Bill was still seated, blindfolded, and tied to the chair.
“Okay, Leroy, move the car,” Mickey said. Leroy got behind the wheel of the Crown Vic and moved it away several feet, while Mickey held the rope. He waved when Leroy had gone far enough.
“Mickey, what are you doing?” Lila asked.
“Getting the Fed’s last photo op ready.”
She looked uncomfortable at the hangman’s noose and the set up with the car. “Seriously?”
Mickey started laughing. “Yeah, seriously!” He turned to Leroy. “Go get him…”
Leroy went to the office and got Bill. He stood Bill up from the chair and it was then that Lila realized the Fed wasn’t tied to the chair but the ropes instead were wrapped around him, his arms behind him. Leroy guided Bill out of the office and to the hangman’s noose. The loop of rope was placed over Bill’s head, settled under his chin and tightened just enough.
Bill raised his head up in recoil. “Um…can we talk about this?”
Ill at ease at seeing the rope around Bill’s neck, Lila turned away and walked toward the office.
Mickey chuckled. “You like westerns, Fed?”
Bill gulped. “Usually the lawmen died more heroically than this…”
Mickey laughed. “Gonna take your picture one more time and show it to Mayson. Then I’m gonna call ‘em and make the arrangements to meet him.” Mickey lowered his voice so that only Bill would hear him. “Only you’re not comin’ with me. You’re gonna stay standing right here. Right in the middle of this big, wide, empty warehouse with a rope around your neck, pulled just tight enough and anchored by your own car. The car of which is far enough away that you can’t walk to it to lean against or anything. See, I figure eventually you’ll grow tired standing on your feet. Maybe you’ll get nauseous from your punishment the past day or so. Maybe you’ll feel light headed, since you’ve refused to eat. Maybe you’ll collapse in exhaustion or pass out. And when you do…it’s game over.”
Bill gulped again and craned his neck in reaction. Mickey laughed again and stepped back. Leroy handed him the Polaroid camera. Mickey took a photo of Bill by himself first, with the noose snug around his neck. Mickey then backed up further to get a photo of the entire set up, Bill in the middle of the warehouse floor with his car several feet away and anchoring the rope.
Lila watched with dread as Mickey took his pictures. He’s not really gonna leave him there like that is he? I thought he was gonna trade Maxwell for Mayson?
Mickey finished taking his pictures and he grinned maliciously as the images faded in.
Leroy walked up with an envelope. “They ready?”
“Yeah.” Mickey placed the photos in the envelope. He then turned and walked toward Lila. He saw the look on her face. “This is the last one, I promise,” he said. “It’ll be all over after today.” He held the envelope out to her.
“I hope so,” she replied, taking it. “Because it’s getting to a point where I’m not even sure I know who you are anymore…” She turned to head toward the exit.
Mickey grabbed her arm. “Baby, I swear. After today we start living. All those plans and dreams are gonna start happenin’ after today.”
Lila didn’t seem all that convinced. She glanced toward Bill. “You’re trading him for Mayson, right?”
“Yeah! This is all just to scare Mayson, make sure he agrees to meet for the swap. I’ll let Maxwell go, babe. I promise.”
After talking with Bill last night, and knowing one Fed was dead somewhere already, Lila began to doubt Mickey’s sincerity when he used the word promise. She wanted to believe him, but for the first time in twenty years, she was finding it hard.
When she said nothing, Mickey began to walk with her toward the exit. “C’mon. Let’s go deliver those pictures…”
*** *** ****
Commander Mayson’s phone buzzed.
“I got another photo for you,” Mickey said. “Only you’re gonna have to pick it up yourself this time, I’m sure you understand. It’s on Broad Street , North West, in the planter in front of the Sparrow Café. It’s tucked in the southwest corner. You better hurry. If I don’t see it picked up soon I’m gonna assume you don’t wanna deal and the next phone call will be directions on where to find Maxwell’s body.” Mickey hung up before Mayson could say anything.
Mayson slammed the phone down. He then hurried out of his office.
Broad Street NW was a one-way street located in the heart of downtown Atlanta, with cafes, coffee shops, and small fast food joints lining both sides of the street. The sidewalks were extra wide to allow for outdoor tables in front a few of the cafes and the street was busy with pedestrians, auto traffic, and customers in the restaurants.
Inside the Euro Kafe, across from the Sparrow Café, Mickey walked from the payphone back to the table where Lila sat. She sipped only on a coffee.
“You sure you don’t want something to eat?” he asked.
“No, I’m not hungry.”
Mickey looked at her. Lila had her eyes downcast to the table, absently stirring her already well-stirred coffee. “Baby, it’ll be over soon,” he said.
“Yeah, I know.”
“How come you’re not all excited? You were yammering my ear off a week ago about the plans we got.” He chuckled. “I figured you’d be telling me what we’re gonna do first once I finish my business with Mayson.”
Lila shrugged. “I’m not sure what we’ll do first.”
Mickey studied her. He’d never seen her this subdued. He frowned. “You’re not mad about that Fed Maxwell are you?”
She lifted her eyes to him again and her answer was clear. “You promised to let him go.”
“And I will babe. I told you, Leroy’s at the warehouse. Once we get Mayson and take care of everything, I’ll let Leroy know and he’ll cut Maxwell loose. He goes on with living his life and we go on living ours.” Mickey reached across the table and took hold of Lila’s hand. “Honey, I’m sorry for making you wait just a little longer on all your dreams. But it’ll be worth it. In many ways, Lila, I’m not a free man yet. Not until I make Mayson pay for what he did to me. He took away twenty years of my life. Twenty years you and I could have had together. Twenty years when I could’ve been buying you all those pretty things you’ve gone without, taking you to all those pretty places you’ve wanted to see. I’m gonna make up for all that when this is over.”
Lila nodded but there was little conviction. The man across the table from her now seemed like the Mickey of old. But the man she had seen the past two days, beating on Agent Maxwell, taunting Commander Mayson, being irritable with her…she didn’t know that Mickey. More than that, she wasn’t sure now if that Mickey was the real one, or the man sitting across from her now.
“California, babe…” he said.
She nodded again and gave a halfhearted smile.
Several minutes later, Commander Mayson and a team of federal agents were canvassing Broad Street. The street was busy already at eight in the morning and there were a lot of people around. Mayson, Roger Kelly and another agent approached the planter in front of the Sparrow Café.
From the window of the Euro Kafe, Mickey and Lila watched. Mayson reached in to the southwest corner of the planter and found the envelope. They could both see him as he opened the envelope and removed the two photographs.
Mayson stared at them for a long, sobering moment. The bustle and activity of the street went on around him, oblivious. Agent Kelly stood next to Mayson and peered at the photographs, mouthing an obscenity.
After another moment, Mayson slipped the photos back into the envelope and the agents walked away from the planter, heading back down the street.
Mickey smiled as he watched them go. He had no doubt now. Mayson would deal.
Mickey waited a half hour before calling Mayson again from the Kafe’s payphone.
“Did you find my latest work of art, Frank?”
“Mickey,” Mayson growled. “You’re a sadistic bastard…”
Mickey laughed. “I thought it had a nice dramatic flair. Now, unless you’d rather see Maxwell swinging from those rafters you best be agreeing to swap.”
“All right,” Mayson said. “We’ll swap. Me for him. That’s the deal.”
“That’s the deal. I return Agent Maxwell safe and…well, a little harmed and you take his place.”
“Where and when, Mickey?”
“Murphy Avenue, the backside of the old Chandler Warehouse in 45 minutes.”
Mayson looked at his watch. “You’re cutting it close. It’s going to take me nearly that long to get over to that side of town.”
“Then I guess you better hurry.” The phone clicked.
Mayson hung up and looked at Agent Kelly. “Murphy Avenue. The backside of the old Chandler Cotton Warehouse in 45 minutes.”
“Christ, he’s cutting it close enough.”
“He’s not giving me time to set up any kind of net, we’re going to have to do this on the fly.” Mayson headed for the exit out of his office with Roger following.
“He sure picked a nice part of town,” Roger grumbled.
“Yeah. The Chandler Warehouse is set back from the road and the other side of Murphy Ave is railroad tracks and a used tire place, which is also set back far from the road. He picked it so he can keep an eye out for any other Feds showing up.”
“Frank, have you stopped to think that Mickey may just gun you down when you show up? Maxwell may already be dead.”
“I have no way of knowing that for sure, Kelly. I’m doing this on the assumption that Maxwell’s still alive and on the slim chance that Mickey will bring Bill with him to the swap.”
“He won’t,” Kelly said. “I’m sure he won’t. This is all a set up. A bad one. He’ll gun you down the moment you step out of your car.”
“Well, then I suggest you get as many sharpshooters over there as fast as you can. I’m going to take one of the small radio transmitters with me. Have everybody listening and be prepared for anything!”