Chapter 35

BARRY THE BLADE ENTERED THE WAREHOUSE ALONE. Gone was the swaggering strut of the quickest gun in town. Gone was the smirking scowl of the cocky street hood. Gone were the flashy suit and Italian loafers. The earrings were in a pocket. The ponytail was tucked under his collar. He'd shaved just an hour ago.

He climbed the rusted steps to the second level, and thought about playing on these same stairs as a child. His father was alive then, and after school he'd hang around here until dark, watching containers come and go, listening to the stevedores, learning their language, smoking their cigarettes, looking at their magazines. It was a wonderful place to grow up, especially for a boy who wanted to be nothing but a gangster.

Now the warehouse was not as busy. He walked along the runway next to the dirty, painted windows overlooking the river. His steps echoed through the vast emptiness below. A few dusty containers were scattered about, and hadn't been moved in years. His uncle's black Cadillacs were parked together near the docks. Tito, the faithful chauffeur, polished a fender.

He glanced up at the sound of footsteps, and waved at Barry.

Though he was quite anxious, he walked deliberately, trying not to strut. Both hands were stuck deep in his pockets. He watched the river through the ancient windows. An imitation paddle wheeler hauled tourists downriver for a breathtaking tour of more warehouses and perhaps a barge or two. The runway stopped at a metal door. He pushed a button and looked directly into the camera above his head. A loud click, and the door opened. Mo, a former stevedore who'd given him his first beer when he was twelve, stood there, wearing a dreadful suit. Mo had at least four guns either on him or within reach. He nodded at Barry, and waved him on. Mo had been a friendly guy until he'd started wearing suits, which happened about the same time he saw The Godfather, and he hadn't smiled since.

Barry walked through a room with two empty desks, and knocked on a door. He took a deep breath. "Come in," a voice said gently, and he entered his uncle's office.

Johnny Sulari was aging nicely. A big man, in his seventies, he stood straight and moved quickly. His hair was brilliantly gray, and not a fraction of the hairline had receded. His forehead was small, and the hair started two inches above the eyebrows and was slicked back in shiny waves. As usual, he wore a dark suit, with the jacket hanging on a rack by the window. The tie was navy and terribly boring. The red suspenders were his trademark. He smiled at Barry and waved to a worn leather chair, the same one Barry had sat in as a child.

Johnny was a gentleman, one of the last in a declining business being quickly overrun by younger men who were greedier and nastier. Men like his nephew here.

But it was a forced smile. This was not a social call. They'd talked more in the past three days than in the past three years.

"Bad news, Barry?" Johnny asked, knowing the answer.

"You might say so. The kid's disappeared in Memphis." Johnny stared icily at Barry, who, for one of the few times in his life, did not stare back. The eyes failed him. The lethal, legendary eyes of Barry the Blade Muldanno were blinking and watching the floor.

"How could you be so stupid?" Johnny asked calmly. "Stupid to leave the body around here. Stupid to tell your lawyer. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid." The eyes blinked faster and he shifted his weight. He nodded in agreement, now penitent. "I need help, okay." "Of course you need help. You've done a very stupid thing, and now you need someone to rescue you." "It concerns all of us, I think." Johnny's eyes flashed pure anger, but he controlled himself. He was always under control. "Oh, really. Is that a threat, Barry? You're coming into my office to ask for help and you're threatening me? Are you planning to do some taUdn'? Come on, boy. If you're convicted, you'll take it to your grave." "That's true, but I'd rather not be convicted, you know. There's still time." "You're a dumbass, Barry. Have I ever told you that?" "I think so." "You stalked the man for weeks. You caught him sneaking out of a dirty little whorehouse. All you had to do was hit him over the head, coupla bullets, clean out his pockets, leave the body for the -whores to trip over, and the cops would say it's just another cheap murder. They woulda never suspected anybody. But, no,1 Barry, you're too dumb to keep it simple." Barry shifted again and watched the floor.

Johnny glared at him and unwrapped a cigar. "Answer my questions slowly, okay? I don't wanna know too much, you understand?" " "Yeah." "Is the body here in the city?" "Yeah." Johnny clipped the end of the cigar and licked it slowly. He shook his head in disgust. "How stupid. Is it easy to get to?" "Yeah." "Have the feds been close to it?" "I don't think so." "Is it underground?" "Yeah." "How long will it take to dig it up or whatever you have to do?" "An hour, maybe two." "So it's not in dirt?" "Concrete." Johnny lit the cigar with a match, and relaxed the wrinkles above his eyes. "Concrete," he repeated. Maybe the boy wasn't quite as stupid as he thought. Forget it. He was plenty stupid. "How many men?" "Two or three. I can't do it. They're watching every move I make. If I go near the place, I'll just lead them to it." Plenty stupid, all right. He blew a smoke ring. "A parking lot? A sidewalk?" "Under a garage." Barry shifted again, and kept his eyes on the floor.

Johnny blew another smoke ring. "A garage. A parking garage?" "A garage behind a house." He studied the thin layer of ashes at the end of the cigar, then slowly placed it between his teeth. He wasn't stupid, he was dumb. He puffed it twice. "When you say house, do you mean a house on a street with other houses near it?" "Yeah." At the time of the burial, Boyd Boyette had been in his trunk for twenty-five hours. Options were limited. He was near panic, and was afraid to leave the city. It wasn't such a bad idea at the time.

"And these other houses have people living in them, right? People with ears and eyes?" "I haven't met them, you know, but I would assume so." "Don't get cute with me." Barry slid an inch in his chair. "Sorry," he said.

Johnny stood and walked slowly to the tinted windows directly above the river. He shook his head in disbelief, and puffed his cigar in frustration. Then he turned and walked back to his seat. He placed the cigar in the ashtray and leaned forward on his elbows. "Whose house?" he asked, stonefaced and ready to explode.

Barry swallowed hard and recrossed his legs. "Jerome Clifford's." There was no eruption. Johnny was known to have ice water in his veins, and took great pride in staying cool. He was a rarity in this profession, but his level head had made him lots of money. And kept him alive. He placed his left hand completely over his mouth as if there were no way he could believe this. "Jerome Clifford's house," he repeated.

Barry nodded. At the time, Clifford had been skiing in Colorado, and Barry knew this because Clifford had invited him to go. He lived alone in a big house with dozens of shady trees. The garage was a separate structure sitting by itself in the backyard. It was a perfect place, he had thought, because no one would ever suspect it.

And he'd been right-it was a perfect place. The feds hadn't been near it. It was not a mistake. He'd planned to move it later. The mistake had been to tell Clifford.

"And you want me to send in three men to dig it up, without making a sound, and dispose of it properly?" "Yes sir. It could save my ass." "Why do you say this?" "Because I'm afraid this kid knows where it is, and he's disappeared. Who knows what he's doing? It's just too risky. We gotta move the body, Johnny. I'm begging you." "I hate beggars, Barry. What if we get caught? What if a neighbor hears something and calls the cops, and they show up, just checkin' on a prowler, you know, and, son of a bitch, there's three boys diggin' up a corpse." "They won't get caught." "How do you know! How'd you do it? How'd you bury him in concrete without getting caught?" "I've done it before, okay." "I wanna know!" Barry straightened himself a bit, and recrossed his legs. "The day after I hit him, I unloaded six bags of ready-mix at the garage. I was in a truck with bogus tags, dressed like a yard boy, you know. No one seemed to notice. The nearest house is a good thirty yards away, and there's trees everywhere. I went back at midnight in the same truck and unloaded the body in the garage. Then I left. There's a ditch behind the garage, and a park on the other side of the ditch. I just walked through the trees, climbed across the ditch, and sneaked into the garage. Took about thirty minutes to dig a shallow grave, put the body in it, and mix the concrete. The floor of the garage is gravel, white rock, you know. I went back the next night, after the stuff had dried, and covered it with the gravel. He's got this old boat, and so I rolled the boat back over it. When I left, everything was perfect. Clifford never had a clue." "Until you told him, of course." "Yeah, until I told him. It was a mistake, I admit." "Sounds like a lot of hard -work." "I've done it before, okay. It's easy. I was gonna move it later, but then the feds got involved and they've followed me for eight months." Johnny was nervous now. He relit the cigar and returned to the window. "You know, Barry," he said, looking at the water, "you've got some talent, boy, but you're an idiot when it comes to removing the evidence. We've always used the Gulf out there. Whatever happened to barrels and chains and weights?" "I promise it won't happen again. Just help me now, and I'll never make this mistake again." "There won't be a next time, Barry. If you somehow survive this, I'm gonna let you drive a truck for a while, then maybe run a fence for a year or so. I don't know. Maybe you can go to Vegas and spend a little time with Rock." Barry stared at the back of the silver head. He'd lie for the moment, but he would not drive a truck or fence or kiss Rock's ass. "Whatever you say, Johnny. Just help me." Johnny returned to his seat behind the desk. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "I guess it's urgent." "Tonight. This kid's on the loose. He's scared, and it's just a matter of time before he tells someone." Johnny closed his eyes and shook his head.

Barry continued. "Give me three men. I'll tell them exactly how to do it, and I promise they won't get caught. It'll be easy." Johnny nodded slowly, painfully. Okay. Okay. He stared at Barry. "Now get the hell outta here."

AFTER SEVEN HOURS OF SEARCHING, CHIEF TRIMBLE DEclared St. Peter's to be free of Mark Sway. He huddled in the lobby near Admissions with his officers, and pronounced the search over. They would continue to patrol the tunnels and walkways and corridors, and stand guard at the elevators and stairwells, but they were all now convinced the kid had eluded them. Trimble called McThune at his office with the news.

McThune was not surprised. He had been briefed periodically throughout the morning as the search fizzled. And there was no sign of Reggie. Momma Love had been bothered twice, and now she refused to answer the door. She'd told them to either produce a search warrant, or get the hell off her property. There was no probable cause for a search warrant, and he suspected Momma Love knew this. The hospital had consented to the wiring of the phone in Room 943. Less than thirty minutes earlier, two agents, posing as orderlies, had entered the room while Dianne was down the hall talking to the Memphis police. Instead of inserting the device, they simply switched phones. They were in the room less than a minute. The child, they reported, was asleep and never moved. The line was direct to the outside, and tapping in through the hospital switchboard would've taken at least two hours and involved other people.

Glint had not been found, but there was no valid reason to obtain a search warrant for his apartment, so they simply watched it.

Harry Roosevelt had been located in a rented boat somewhere along the Buffalo River in Arkansas. Mc-Thune had talked to him around eleven. Harry was livid, to say the least, and was now en route to the city.

Ord had called Foltrigg twice during the morning, but, uncharacteristically, the great man had little to say. The brilliant strategy of ambush by subpoena had blown up in his face, and he was plotting some serious damage control.

K. O. Lewis was already on board Director Voyles's jet, and two agents had been dispatched to meet him at the airport. He would arrive around two.

An all -  points bulletin for Mark Sway had been on the national wire since early morning. McThune was reluctant to add the name of Reggie Love to it. Though he hated lawyers, he found it difficult to believe one would actually help a child escape. But as the morning dragged on and there was no sign of her, he became convinced that their disappearances were more than coincidental. At eleven, he added her name to the APB, along with a physical description and a comment that she was probably traveling with Mark Sway. If they were in fact together, and if they had crossed a state line, the offense would be federal and he'd have the pleasure of nailing her.

There was little to do but wait. He and George Ord feasted on cold sandwiches and coffee for lunch. Another phone call, another reporter asking questions. No comment.

Another phone call, and Agent Durston walked into the office and held up three fingers. "Line three," he said. "It's Brenner at the hospital." McThune hit the button. "Yeah," he barked at the phone.

Brenner was in Room 945, next door to Ricky. He spoke in a guarded voice. "Jason, listen, we just heard a phone call from Glint Van Hooser to Dianne Sway. He told her he had just talked to Reggie, that she and Mark were in New Orleans, and everything was fine." "New Orleans!" "That's what he said. No indication of exactly where, just New Orleans. Dianne said almost nothing, and the entire conversation lasted under two minutes. He said he was calling from his girlfriend's apartment in East Memphis, and he promised to call back later." "Where in East Memphis?" "We can't determine that, and he didn't say. We'll try and trace it next time. He hung up too quick. I'll send the tape over." "Do that." McThune punched another button, and Brenner was gone. He immediately called Larry Trumann in New Orleans.