The car was waiting for me when I stepped out of my home on a 110th West. Seven o clock. Sharp. I couldn't help but respect people who could reach at precisely the appointed time. In my line of work timing was everything and I had tended to carry that on into everyday life. Meaning that generally I had a big problem with tardiness. So sue me. The car itself was no rare beauty, merely a sleek black Lincoln Town Car. Powerful and nondescript. It could belong to any one of Chicago's many men of wealth. As I approached the vehicle, the passenger side door opened and a man exited. In sharp contrast to the car, this man was anything but nondescript. He looked like a professional body builder turned successful business owner. He was freaking huge. His arms were about thrice the size of mine, and it was possible that he outweighed me by at least a hundred and fifty pounds. Whatever else happened, avoid a hand to hand confrontation with this guy at all cost! His bright red hair was cut short and his blue eyes narrowed as they took me in. The man's expensive tailored suit looked like it was in danger of ripping at the seams at any minute. I glance down to his jacket where the bulge of a gun was a bit obvious alongside his great bulk. I gave him a little nod. I wasn't really afraid of him, if worst came to worst I could certainly fillet him. But if there was one lesson that my old sensei had taught which I had learned well was that only a fool fought when there was no need to fight. The big man replied with a grunt before walking around to open the backseat door. I took a deep breath and hesitated briefly as the last hints of doubts flashed across my mind. I had very good reason to be doubtful. Not that I was afraid mind you, but you didn't go swimming with a shark lightly, no matter what assurances was given to you by its keeper that it had just been fed. There was simply no contemplating the mind and purposes of such a predator, and that was what made it so very dangerous. The man I was about to meet was quite same. But in the end, greed and curiosity won out. They had always been my two biggest character flaws I'm ashamed to say. He was offering me five g's just for this sit down and another five g's at its completion whether I took the job or not. I could definitely use that money. That thought brushed away the doubt like a category five hurricane brushes away wooden shacks. Without further ado I slipped into the car's backseat and the big man closed the door behind me.
Gentleman John Marcone greeted me with a pleasant smile.
"Mister Sawyers," He said holding out his hand. "Your reputation precedes you."
The man had a strong grip without trying to make a show of strength, a neat trick. I didn't miss the fact that his hand was hard and calloused as well. It was safe to assume how he had gotten them if half of the rumors I had heard about him were true. What was really scary was that John Marcone didn't look like a ruthless mobster who had gone toe to toe with the last of the Vargassi retainers and come out on top. He didn't look like a man who had drenched the street of Chicago in the blood of dozens of petty criminals and even pettier gangs. He didn't look like a man who now ran one of the biggest most organized and most lucrative crime syndicates in America; and who had influence from here to Washington and back. To tell the truth, he looked more like a retired sailor. He had short salt and pepper hair perfectly groomed and maintained, his skin had that craggy tanned look you see in all outdoorsmen who love the sun, and his eyes were the green of fresh grass clippings. The blue business suit he wore was about five times my rent, and the shoes half as much that. He sat perfectly at ease and confident.
"I didn't know I had one to tell the truth," I replied with a smile of my own. "Learn something new everyday."
"Quite, you and your special sword comes highly recommended." He replied smoothly. At that my smile stiffened and only years of practice and training kept my jaw from dropping in shock. How the fuck did he know about my sword? The half mocking smile on Marcone's lips told me that he knew he had had just drop a bombshell on me. Slimy bastard, I thought. Rage erupted in my soul. At Marcone and at myself. I had had fallen for the age old trap of my kind when dealing with Marcone's kind. Hubris. No matter how hard I tried not to, I just couldn't help but look down at vanilla mortals like him. Sure I knew he was dangerous, but the fact that he wasn't Spooky kept me from appreciating just how dangerous he could be. The fact that he had done something that Spooks had been trying to do for half a century came as a cold slap to the face. What's more, if Marcone truly knew that I possessed the Dijimono Masamune it meant that sooner or later I would have to kill him. Well I had always been the sooner rather than later type of person in such matters. I couldn't allow him to prance around with that type of knowledge. If word got out…..a lot of Spookes were interested in the blade, and some of them were really scary.
"I'm told that you are the best at what you do." Marcone continued on as if though nothing had occurred. Rotten bastard. I bottled down the anger and kept my smile pleasantly in place.
"Merely exaggerations," I replied. "They're must be someone better. Only that such a person has yet to show up."
Marcone laughed at that as the car started up and pulled away. It was time to take a ride with a mobster. Lucky me.
I decided to err on the side of frankness. "You said that you had a job for me. What is it?"
"Straight to business," Marcone replied unruffled. "That is to be commended. I will let you know at once that what I propose is no easy task. I have in fact hired three other professionals before you, including Hiji Fung, and none of them have returned. As I said before I have heard that you are the best, you'll have to be for this."
Mixed emotions of heightened curiosity, a bit of grief, and a very real thrill of fear assaulted me. Hiji Fung was a long time rival and a sometimes business partner. We had teamed up several times and if there was one thing I had learned during those times about Hiji was that the Asian bastard was as steadfast as a rock and had a sense of honor just as unwavering, if he had accepted Marcone's job and had not returned it was because he was dead. End of story.
"Tough job," I grunted. "Hiji Fung was as good a thief as I have ever met."
"You worked with him in a museum heist in Belgium," Marcone remarked nodding his head. "Then in another in New Zealand."
Once again the acuteness of his knowledge stunned me. If he had meant to rattle me by this second revelation he had. Like with the sword there was no way that he could have known I was responsible for those gigs. They had been completely private, nobody had chartered us for them. They were something between me and Hiji and a few trusted associates when we had been strapped for cash and faced with a shortage of employers. The fact that Marcone had found out about them meant that I would have to look very hard at the few people I trusted with my life, never a good thing. There was always the chance that he was guessing which I highly doubted, there was also the chance that Hiji had told him which was even less likely. No, the only logical conclusion was that someone from my team was talking to him. Son of a bitch!
"You're well informed." I replied coldly as the rage I have been bottling up since he made mention to my sword once again came bubbling back up. This asshole knew way too much to continue living. It was settled. The only reason I hadn't removed his head from his shoulders yet was out of curiosity for whatever job had killed Hiji, that and five thousand dollars of course. Bills still had to paid.
"I make it my business to be." Marcone replied calmly. "Knowledge is after all power."
"Yes it is." I agreed. "That is why when people garner this much intelligence on me and my affairs I tend to get this overwhelming urge to kill them."
There was the distinctive click-clack of a round being chambered from up front, undoubtedly the big guy. Marcone smiled coldly.
"And when people threaten me I tend to react appropriately."
Okay enough was enough, time to show him that I wasn't a pansy prick two bit thief to be walked over and scoffed at. Quick as a snake I launched myself forward towards the passenger seat and wrenched the gun out of the surprise grip of the juggernaut before he had a chance to react. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Marcone's hand shot towards his jacket but I was faster than he and before he could reach for his own weapon the one I had just taken from his henchman was jammed between his eyes. The car came to an abrupt screeching halt as the driver quickly stomped on the breaks, much to the chagrin of fellow motorist if the loud sounding of horns was anything to judge by.
"Listen asshole," I said calmly. "Listen I_ big guy you move again and I'll splatter your boss's brains all over this window try me_ as I was saying I don't like what I do looked into. You know way too much about me and it makes me nervous, I don't like being nervous. I'm tempted to kill you here just to be safe but killing a client is never good for business, especially at a meeting. Now if you please, you will stop fucking around and tell me about this fucking job before I loose fucking control."
I noticed two alarming things at this point. First was that even this close to death Gentleman John Marcone was supremely and completely unconcerned. His intense green eyes only flickered to the gun once before locking unto my own. I now knew why this man was considered one of the most dangerous men in Chicago, he was completely and utterly insane. Something in Marcone eyes shifted as he continued to stare into my own, it was as if though a door had been locked or a switch flicked or something. It was…eerie. But I knew without knowing how I knew what it meant. Johnnie Marcone meant to kill me. It was no scoffing matter. I felt a cold sweat break out on my back. With every passing second it become more a more apparent that Marcone was human the way a lion was a cat. Marcone raised his hand and my finger immediately tensed on the trigger but the man merely straightened his tie before speaking.
"A lesson in diplomacy would not go amiss Mr. Sawyers," Marcone said in a flat emotionless voice. "But as you wish, Miss Gard if you please."
The car once again began moving forward. I hesitantly removed the gun from Marcone's head and with a quick flick of hand I removed the clip and unchambered the round, then I flipped it over so I was holding the barrel and held it out for the glowering giant. He yanked it from my hand with great violence. Yoinks, so much aggression.
"Tell me Mister Sawyers," Marcone said staring at me. "Are you familiar with the wizard Harry Dresden?"
Who wasn't? I'd never met the guy but he was somewhat of a living legend here in Chicago. If I knew people however, half the shit they bandied about him was deeply exaggerated.
"The warden?" I asked lazily. "Not familiar with him but I have heard the exaggerations of some of his doings. What about him?"
"Believe you me that whatever you have heard is probably true," Marcone replied with a bit of smile. "Mr. Dresden may be an extensively shallow minded and weak man but he is an astounding wizard. In the pass he has been of great use to me and my organization but recently his meddlesomeness has proven very annoying."
"He's a member of the White Council." I replied in a neutral voice. "A Warden nonetheless. I won't have anything to do with killing a Warden." I wasn't really scared. I had dealt with wizards in the past and I could do so again if need to. With the help of Victor I was relatively sure that no single wizard would prove too much to handle. But the thing with wizards, as I had found out in the pass to my own detriment, was that the slaying of one almost automatically meant the involvement of another. The wizarding population was a close knit organization, a clan almost. Kill one and a dozen come running. They really weren't keen on allowing people who could kill them to keep on breathing very long either, chalk it up to more wizarding arrogance. Granted that the Council was only a fraction of its former strength, the war with the Red Court and other matters had seriously taken a toll on it. But I wasn't about to start shitting where I had my meals, for the moment Chicago was my hometown. I had no intentions of having to leave it in a hurry with an angry mob of magic slingers at my back.
"I'm not hiring you to kill Dresden Mr. Sawyers," John Marcone replied. "Frankly, unless I am much mistaking such a task is even beyond your abilities." The last was said with a smirk. I saw no reason to respond so just waited for him to go on.
"Yesterday the wizard unknowingly stumbled by one of my recent…projects. He took from there a certain relic of great interest to me. I want it back and I want it back as quick as possible. I cannot even begin to stress the importance of time in this matter."
This was something much more in line with what my reasonableness.
"How long?" I asked at once all business.
"The previous failures has seen that the timeline has been severely depleted. You've got until tomorrow night." He replied promptly.
Jesus Christ! I'd done rush jobs before but this was pushing it. It was a simple burgulary after all but still. The timeframe meant that I had hours to plan and execute this operation and it means I would have to do it without observation. I just didn't move like that. Doing so left an awful lot of rooms for mistakes and unknown variables. I hated the first and absolutely loathed the latter. Since I was dealing with a wizard there would undoubtedly be additional complications as well.
"Dresden is out of town for the moment." Marcone continued as if reading my mind. Good that made it just a tad bit easier.
"How much are you paying?" I replied. That was really where my interest laid at this moment. If the price was high enough then the job would get done no matter what.
"Eighty grand." Marcone replied without blinking. Dear god that much? Stars above that was a whole sight of money for a simple burglary. Marcone was rich of course, but one did not stay the crime boss of Chicago very long by just giving away that sort of cash. My mind immediately started whirring with a myriad of thoughts. There was a deep sense of foreboding in my gut that I knew I shouldn't be ignoring. Something was off. But I just couldn't put my finger on it.
"Eighty five." I countered to buy myself time more to examine my instincts more than anything else.
"Done." Marcone replied smoothly and without skipping a beat. What?
The car had stopped. I hadn't even realize before now that we had only taken a complete circle around the block and were once again parked in front of my place.
Marcone reached into his coat slowly. At once I tensed up; prepared to rip his fucking head off if anything I could remotely consider threatening came out too suddenly. But from the coat he only produced a manila folder.
"Everything you need." He said simply. He held it out and I hesitated for a moment. A torrent of thoughts still running through my head. I felt like I was on the precipice of a mountain and was about to step off. There was no reason why this shouldn't be a simple job but some gut feeling was screaming to me that once I took this job I would end up deeply regretting. But once again greed won out, before I was conscious of it the manila folder was in my hand and I was exiting the car to one last glowering look by Marcone's oversized goon and a smile a didn't like one bit from Marcone myself. I stood and watched the black car drive off before turning around and heading towards my home already opening the file. It was time to get to work.