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Rocco had connections. He had plants. He had moles. This meant that he had a reliable flow of information coming to him at all times. And he had an organizing kind of mind and an uncanny ability to keep track of many different threads at once. One of his leisure activities was the reading of detective fiction, and then writing up critiques of the discovered culprit afterwards. His mind was really good at finding patterns and assembling clues.
The people who sent all this information to Rocco did not know that they were serving as the ad hoc intelligence agency for a hit man. They just knew that if they shared information with him, apparently harmless information, then a very nice sum of money would appear in their checking account within two business days. They knew they were breaking the rules of whatever establishment employed them, but they didn’t need to inquire about the uses to which the information was put. It most certainly would not be put to nefarious purposes. They were counting on that. Man was basically good, right?
This was an arrangement that Rocco had with more than a handful of individuals at the NSA, the CIA, the IRS, the FBI, numerous metropolitan police departments up and down the east coast, along with state DMVs. Their soft corruption was put to hard uses by him, but nobody expected them to know that.
Hugh was on his list of individuals needing a visitation, but not at the top of it. Maurice and Leon had been different—they had been directly involved in the attempted hit, and could easily spill something valuable to the cops. So once they were out of the way, Rocco’s attention turned to the task of finding Helen. Hugh could wait a bit.
Rocco decided to start with the neighbors, and identifying who had driven Helen away. But rather than doing a little sleuthing of his own, he decided to tap a resource that he had on retainer in the Annapolis Police Department. The name of the person who drove off with Helen Greene that morning? He had the answer in fifteen minutes. Cody Vance. From there he was able to get the license plate number, and from there he had someone who could do a search of all the traffic surveillance cameras in the area, and to give him a map of where Cody and Helen had been. They had apparently been driving around in circles mostly, and with one jaunt down to Lynchburg. They were apparently still down there.
Presumably they were going to be coming back up. They didn’t appear to have any particular plan. So Rocco had men placed at all the on ramps on the northwards side of the toll booths on the main routes north. He had his source with the state police send him a notice pronto when those plates came through the staked toll, and then he could have his man on the scene get on the tollway and drive real slow until he was passed by a black Tahoe. It worked like a charm, and he had a firm tail on Cody and Helen almost right away. Rocco sent out word to his other men on stand by that they were dismissed for the evening, and then sent word to Oscar and Dante that their services would likely be required later on that night.
The man tailing Cody and Helen, whose name was Joaquin, called Rocco up about a half an hour after he made contact. “Real curious thing, boss,” he said. “I was following ’em, standard distance, when this pick-up blows by me, and shoots out their back windshield, and then exits, smooth as hot butter. Probably fake plates, but I got a picture of ’em for ya. Somebody else is in this game.”
“Huh,” Rocco said. “Let me think about that one. Wouldn’t be the first time.”
Rocco had Cody’s credit card numbers, and he also had somebody who could tell him if anybody had used one of them to purchase something, or make a reservation. That answer came back promptly also. Holiday Inn Express in Culpeper. The people he had on retainer liked his meaty approach to bonuses, and that is why he consistently got good results. All those overhead costs were going to be passed along to Steven Lee anyhow.
Culpeper would be perfect. Oscar and Dante weren’t that far away and could get there well before Cody and Helen.
He put his phone down, and starting rubbing his forehead. Who else could be after Helen? He decided to give Steven Lee a call, and give him a little unshirted hell. That might shake something loose.
To think was to act. He probably ought to have called Lee by this point anyhow. He was not wrong—Steven Lee jumped at the call. “Any news?” he said querulously. It sounded like someone was messing with his tremolo knob.
Rocco explained, in his smoothest professional manner, that he had the needed info on them, and that now it was just a matter of time. No worries, all was well in hand. Well in hand. Don’t worry about it. Stop worrying about it.
He then moved smoothly into the purpose of his call, which was to put Steven Lee even further back on his heels, and shake loose any useful information that might fall off him. “So what did you mean by hiring another outfit to deliver the hit? Didn’t you know that that is the way for someone to get badly hurt?” Rocco pulled out his very best, raspy, accusative voice.
The implication was not lost on Lee, and so he quavered a little bit more than previously. “What do you mean? I didn’t hire anybody else. Only you. I mean, I hired that Hugh guy, but that was before I called you. That’s it, honest.”
The quavering had the ring of sincerity, the tremolo levels of truth. Rocco spoke a little more softly. “Well, my man was tailing your two lovebirds earlier today on the freeway, and someone in a pick-up truck drove right by him, as sleek as dammit, and blew out their back windshield.”
As it happened, Steven Lee was an aficionado of action movies, and he saw an immediate problem. Despite his nervousness in talking to Rocco, he couldn’t help himself. This was an area where he had some real expertise. He had even submitted some film reviews to different blog sites under a pseudonym, and two of them had actually been published. “That’s not an attempted hit, is it? That was a warning. I don’t think you should be asking who else is trying to bump them off besides you. You should be asking what the warning is for. I need Helen out of the picture because of something she already did. But a warning is over something that might happen in the future. That’s not Helen. That’s your other guy, that’s Cody. I don’t know what he might do, but it must be pretty ripe.”
Rocco gruffly ended the call, set his phone down, and stared at it malevolently. He was clearly losing a step or two. He swore at himself savagely. Lee of all people.