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“It’s like Groundhog Day.”
Smith backed the van into the garage and punched the button that closed the garage door. Carrie Flanagan lay still, finally done with her frantic squirming. A pillowcase covered her head and duct tape covered her mouth. Smith opened the sliding door to find Dean, David, and Monica pulling their ski masks back on. He pulled his own back on, then knelt down to Carrie and slid the cover off her head. He spoke softly.
“Carrie, we don’t want to hurt you,” he said, his hand placed lightly on her stomach. “We’re not going to hurt you. We’re not going to rape you. That was not why we’ve gone to all this trouble, okay? I want you to nod your head that you understand.”
Flanagan nodded. Smith continued.
“I know you’re afraid, but I want you to understand that we’re after money. You’re simply a means to an end. Once we get what we want, we’ll let you go. Okay?”
“Good, Carrie. If you play ball, things will go better.”
She nodded her head one more time. Smith smiled through his black mask.
“We’re going to move you inside the house now. You can’t break free, so it will be better for you to just be still and let us carry you, all right?”
She nodded again.
The brothers lifted her out of the van, Dean carrying her under the arms and David by the feet. Flanagan was relatively light in their arms, although a little heavier than the petite Hisle. Smith opened the door to the basement bedroom and Shannon Hisle turned her head to see them coming in.
“Carrie, like I said, we have no desire to hurt you,” Smith repeated. “Over on the other bed is Shannon Hisle. Do you know who she is?”
“She has her arms and legs cuffed to the bed, but she hasn’t been harmed in any way.” Smith looked over to Hisle. “Shannon, you haven’t been harmed, have you?”
Hisle shook her head.
Flanagan nodded, but she still had a frantic look in her eyes. Smith wanted her calm.
“We’re going to do the same with you. It will be easier if you just let us do it, okay? We’re not going to harm you, all right?”
Carrie nodded again, but the eyes were still wide.
The two brothers laid her on the bed. David got on top, sitting on her waist and holding her down while Dean cut away her restraints. He cuffed her arms and then her legs to the bed. Once she was secure, David eased off and moved back while Smith sat on the edge of the bed.
“Carrie, I’m going to remove the tape, okay?”
She nodded again.
“Because if you do scream, I will have to hurt you.”
Carrie looked over toward Shannon, who nodded back. Carrie looked up at the masked man and nodded her head.
“Okay, this will hurt a little,” Smith said as he yanked the tape from her mouth. Flanagan gasped for air, breathing deeply, trying to speak.
“Why…” She gasped. “Why… why are you doing….”
Smith laid his fingers lightly over her mouth.
“Why? Like I said upstairs, we’re after money. Your fathers have a lot of money and we want it. That’s all,” he said, his voice almost monotone and totally conversational. “This isn’t about you; this isn’t about harming you. That’s not what I want to do. It’s not what I intend to do.”
“Okay,” Flanagan answered weakly.
“Alright then,” Smith said and then looked over to Hisle, who was gagged. “Do you need to go to the bathroom?”
Smith looked back to Monica, “Let’s get her to the potty. Then get her something to eat and drink.”
Monica, ski mask over her face, simply nodded while Dean and David undid the manacles for her arms and legs from the bed. Hisle then laid still while David put a different set of manacles on her feet that allowed her to shuffle out of the room.
Once Hisle was out of the room and the door was closed, Smith turned back to Flanagan.
“Now see. We have no desire to harm you. After we finish what is next, we’ll get you to the potty if you need it and some food and water as well.”
Flanagan, while still scared, had calmed down.
“Do you know who my father is?” Carrie asked.
Smith smiled through the mouth hole in his ski mask.
“You mean the revered Charlie Flanagan, chief o’ police for the city of St. Paul? Oh, we’re quite familiar with who your father is.” Smith smiled through his mask. “And we are not the least bit concerned about it.” He paused and patted her on the thigh. “Now Carrie, if you play ball with us and your daddy follows directions….” He leaned back and clasped his hands across his stomach. “Well, everything will all work out.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means, if you do as we ask, your chances of making it out of this are a lot better. If you don’t help us out, well… it certainly could go much worse.” Smith paused. “Now that’s not what I want, so let’s play ball, okay?”
“Do you really think my father will pay you?” Carrie asked in disbelief. “He’ll hunt you down with everything he’s got.”
“Oh, I expect he will,” Smith replied calmly, unconcerned. “But in the end, your father will pay us.”
“Because you’re his little girl. That’s all the motivation he’ll need.”
* * * * *
“It’s like Groundhog Day,” Mac quipped.
The scene was eerily similar to the one from the day before in River Falls. The burned-out van had been found behind a vacant building on Lake Street. The entire area was essentially deserted, the alley lined with abandoned houses and the storefronts empty, except for a small printing company a block to the west. Signs on the front of the vacant and now burned-out building announced a future home for street level retail, with condominiums overtop. It was all part of Minneapolis’s efforts to rehab the Lake Street area.
For the past twenty or thirty years the area had been one of crime and drug dealing, with seedy bars interspersed between hit-and-miss storefront businesses. In the 1950s and 1960s, it had been a thriving business area surrounded by large Victorian and Tudor homes. Minneapolis was in the process of revitalizing the Lake Street strip, rehabilitating historical buildings and sweeping away dilapidated ones. Soon, those efforts would overtake the vacant and crumbling building Mac and Lich were now standing behind.
As on the day before, the van had been parked and then incinerated after the kidnappers left the scene. However, in an area with an already high crime rate, the van was immediately recognized as a crime scene. The Minneapolis cops established a wide perimeter. The FBI and Minneapolis and St. Paul crime techs were working the scene, walking around carefully, photographing, marking, bagging, and collecting anything they could. Another helicopter was flying overhead.
Mac and Lich walked up to the scene and found a diminutive Minneapolis uniform cop that Mac knew named Norman.
“Hey Mac,” Norman said.
“Norms, what do you know?”
“Not much really,” the Minneapolis cop replied. He pointed toward Lake Street. “Old guy was walking along Lake Street and saw the smoke rising behind this building. He came around back and saw the burning van, walked a block or two to the gas station and called it in.”
“Anyone see anything?”
Norman shook his head.
“Not that we’ve found. Everything on this side of the street is abandoned, awaiting demolition. In fact, the wrecking ball hits this building after the Fourth of July holiday. And of course, some of the normal clientele of this neighborhood are a bit averse to talking to us police.”
“Drug trade?” Mac asked.
“So you’ve checked all these houses behind us?”
“Yes. But as you can see, they’re empty. If anyone was hanging inside them, they skedaddled before we got here.”
“Looks like a second set of tire tracks,” Lich said, pointing to the left of the van.
“Agreed,” Mac said. “Truck or van of some kind, based on the width of the tracks. We’ll get molds of the tire tracks, see what that tells us.”
“Let’s get one of the pros on it then,” Norman said as he waved over one of the crime scene techs.
“Probably a van,” Mac said, “if it’s our assholes.”
“We’ve got some footprints as well,” Lich noted, bending over carefully and pointing with his pen.
“Two that I see,” Norman added. “Similar size, big feet – I bet size twelve or thirteen.”
“That makes some sense,” Mac answered, now standing and looking around. “Witnesses have given us the general description of a big man.”
“Great,” Lich said, unimpressed. “We have van tracks leaving the scene. Two sets of footprints for bigger dudes. Only if we’re extremely lucky do we get any forensics off the van. And, we appear to have no witnesses who saw anything at all. We’ve got nothing.”
Mac simply nodded as his cell phone went off.
“It’s Peters,” he said to Lich as he looked at the display and then answered. “Hey Cap…. Huh?... You want us to do what?”
“You’re a pugnacious shit aren’t you?”
Mac exited from Interstate 94 at West Broadway, just north of downtown Minneapolis. The north side of Minneapolis west of the interstate was a rougher part of town. In the 1950s and 1960s, it had been a proud and prosperous working-class area. However, since that time, the area had slowly deteriorated. Pockets of poverty and drug-dealing slowly eroded the once-bustling businesses and homes. Now, what businesses still remained did so with metal bars over the window and bulletproof glass around the cash registers. It wasn’t uncommon to find bullet marks, drug paraphernalia, and graffiti around the exteriors. Gangs patrolled neighborhoods, drugs were dealt in the open, and the sound of gunfire was not uncommon, particularly at night. Much like the case of Lake Street, the city was trying to help the area. Unlike Lake Street, solutions for the north side had proven far more elusive.
One person who was prospering on the north side was the man Mac and Lich were on their way to see – Fat Charlie Boone. Boone was the north side’s most prominent and notorious businessman. Six months ago, Boone’s sister’s son was killed in a hit-and-run accident. The driver was a wealthy, white businessman, and Boone’s nephew was a young black man with some legal trouble in his history. Lyman Hisle represented the driver and, as he so often did, got him off on a legal technicality, largely due to the bungling of the cops working the accident scene and the county prosecutor working the case. The chief was front-and-center, accepting the blame, explaining how the accident scene was mishandled and the breathalyzer test was improperly administered. Boone loudly claimed that if the victim hadn’t been black, the outcome would have been different. It was a rare public display from someone who built a fortune operating in the dark shadows of Minneapolis’ north side.
“You buy this Boone business?” Lich asked.
Mac was doubtful.
“Seems kind of obvious don’t you think?” He thought a little more. “I mean I know about those rumors for the last few months, Boone wants payback on the department, the county attorney’s office, Hisle, all that. I’ve heard that noise, but it just all seems a little too convenient.”
“Yeah, but,” Lich answered, “he’s wealthy, he’s got resources, and he’s smart.”
A mile west along West Broadway, Mac turned into an aging Super America gas station. At the station were two plainclothes Minneapolis homicide cops, one bald and the other with a head full of gray Einstein-like hair and a cigarette hanging from his mouth. They were both leaning against an unmarked car and, despite the heat, sipping tall coffees. Pulling up alongside, Lich laughed as he powered down the window.
“Aren’t you two fossils lookin’ at daisies from the wrong side yet?”
“Diiiick Liiiiick,” the bald one called out.
“If it ain’t the Beeeaaaver Lick,” Einstein replied boisterously, loud enough for everyone in a three block radius to hear. Lich was known, loved, and ridiculed all over. Dick exchanged handshakes and profanities with them and then introduced Mac.
“Mac, these two relics are Bud Subject,” Lich pointed to the bald one, “and Ed Gerdtz,” the grey-haired one.
“Mac, I knew your old man. Hell of a cop, one hell of a cop,” Gerdtz replied in a deep, raspy voice, damaged from all the years of pounding coffin nails. They all shook hands, and Gerdtz never stopped laughing, talking, or smoking. You’d have thought they nominated a new pope with all the white smoke that came out Gerdtz’s head. It took five minutes to get back on task and into a car to drive to Boone’s.
Subject was behind the wheel while Gerdtz turned to them, blowing smoke through his mouth and nose as he spoke.
“Fat Charlie’s office, if you want to call it that, is over on the corner of Lowry and Penn. He’s got a hardware store and law office over there.”
“Law office?” Mac asked.
“Yeah,” Gerdtz answered, “One of Charlie’s sons – he has eight of them you know – runs his practice out of the basement over there. Get this though, his kid graduated from Stanford Law School.”
“Stanford?” Mac asked in disbelief.
“Hell yes! Did quite well, bright kid. Now he helps the old man run his businesses,” Gerdtz answered.
“Stanford law degree and he runs the old man’s drug business? I don’t get it.”
“It’s a lot more than a drug business these days,” Gerdtz replied, smiling. “Fatso’s gone upscale. He has that hardware store, law firm, a funeral home, three restaurants, four laundry mats, and now he’s branching into real estate.
“Real estate? A slumlord?” Lich inquired.
“No, downtown real estate, the high-end shit,” Gerdtz answered ruefully, shaking his head. “We’ve heard he’s got money in the condo developments that have been exploding down by the river and might even be getting into some of the development going up around the new Twins ballpark. Charlie’s moving up in the world.”
“So, let me guess,” Mac said. “He hasn’t touched drugs, a gun, or the dirty side of things for years. Now he’s just the bank.”
“That about sums it up,” Subject answered, slowing for a stop light. “Charlie’s gone legit, and there are way too many layers between him and the street.” The veteran cop sighed as he pulled up in front of the Lowry-Penn Hardware Store, a fairly nondescript building with a red brick exterior and large storefront windows displaying a power-washer, lawn mower, power generator, and table saw. Peering inside the windows, one could see rows and rows of shelves deep into the interior.
“Seems like a big hardware store for this area,” Lich said.
“Half the building used to be a law office,” Gerdtz answered. “I grew up around here, and an attorney named Riley ran a street practice in the left half of the building. He retired in the early ‘80s, and sold the building. It turned over a few times before Charlie bought the whole kit and caboodle, in ’90 or ’91 I think.”
“So you guys know him,” Mac said. “Taking the girls sound like his style?”
Gerdtz turned serious.
“I’ve got my thoughts on that, Mac, and so does Bud. We were talking about it a lot before you and Dick Lick got to the SA. But I want you to form you own opinion first.”
Subject waved them past the front door and around the south side of the building, past a sign that said “Attorney’s Entrance in the Rear.” They walked around the back and down a narrow set of cracking steps. At the bottom, Gerdtz knocked on the door. A large, black bodyguard dressed in black jeans and a black T-shirt tight over bulging muscles let them in and walked them through a kitchen and the law offices to a large room. There they found the man himself: Fat Charlie Boone.
Mac remembered seeing video footage of Charlie Boone walking into court six months ago, when the fat moniker fit and he was well over 300 pounds. The moniker no longer fit. Fat Charlie was still a large man, well over six feet, but now, like many, he was just a bit overweight. He sat in a high-backed armchair and wore a gold golf shirt open at the collar, tan slacks, and a lavender sport coat along with several gold rings and a gaudy gold watch. He held a cigar between the fingers of his left hand and a drink in his right. A haze filled the room, a prime specimen of early “pimp” styling with two round green felt card tables, a large bar with “Fat Charlie’s” stenciled on it in burgundy, and a series of couches and chairs set around a big screen TV. The floor was black-and-white checkered tile, contrasting against the dark-paneled half walls and red shag on the upper half. Two other men, probably Charlie’s sons, watched the cops over their own drinks.
“Detectives Subject and Gerdtz,” Charlie said in a deep but even voice.
“Charlie,” Gerdtz replied evenly. Then, spreading his arms, he boomed out, “What the fuck happened to you? You look like you’ve wasted away, fat man.”
“Had me that gastric bypass by whatchamacallit.” Charlie laughed out loud, standing up and opening his coat, showing the svelte new Fat Charlie and conveniently proving that he wasn’t armed. “What do ya think? A new me, eh?”
“New you,” Subject said. But his next comment took the air out of the room. “Of course, the business is the same.”
“Well, let’s talk bidness then,” Charlie replied flatly, sitting back down in his chair.
“These boys here are from St. Paul,” Gerdtz said.
“I recognize these men,” Charlie replied, a little smile on his face. “I’ve seen them on TV. The young one, I believe, is Michael McKenzie “Mac” McRyan, and the other is detective Richard Lich.” He sounded well prepared for the meeting. “Grab a chair,” he offered, waving them toward similar high-backed chairs. He held up his glass. “Care for a nip?”
Mac waved him off, as did Lich.
“So, what can I do for you gentlemen?” Boone asked.
“You know why we’re here,” Mac said.
“About those girls, I suspect. Just saw the report about the chief’s daughter on the big screen over there.”
“I saw you six months ago. You had some pretty harsh things to say about Hisle, our department, and particularly the chief,” Mac said. “I quote: ‘Maybe people like Hisle and Flanagan ought to experience the loss of a child. Then they’ll know what my sister and I are feeling today.’” Mac sat back in his chair. “Now Hisle and the chief are both missing a child. Sounds a lot like payback. What better way to get it than going after the chief and Hisle?”
“You’re right, of course. But I had nothing to do with that.”
“Bullshit,” Mac retorted, turning on the pit bull tone. “You and your people have never feared taking a body or making one disappear. I’ve heard about it for years. Maybe your hands aren’t dirty, you haven’t touched the body directly, haven’t pulled the trigger, but you sit in that throne over there, drink your drink, smoke your cigar, and give the orders on who lives or dies.”
Lich jumped in as if on cue, the good cop.
“Look, my partner here can be a little harsh.”
“Being an asshole is more like it,” Fat Charlie added.
“Fuck that,” Mac countered angrily, playing the bad cop. “What’s taking the chief’s and Hisle’s daughters to someone like you? It’s no different than going after someone trying to move in on your drug real estate here on the north side, like Pinky Miller ten years ago. One day he’s king shit over here, the next he’s gone, never to be heard from again, and you’ve got his ten blocks of real estate over by North High School.”
“Thanks for the history lesson,” Charlie calmly answered. “But again, I have nothing to do with the disappearance of those girls. It’s not my style.”
“What’s not your style?” Mac said sarcastically. “Killing? Taking lives? Abductions? Your name’s been attached to all of that stuff over the years. It’s the way people like you operate.”
“You’re a pugnacious shit, aren’t you?” A big smile washed over Charlie’s face, his perfect white teeth contrasting with his dark black skin.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Lich said and everyone laughed and the tension eased.
“I like it, no bullshit. We should all operate that way,” Charlie said, and he meant it. “But to directly answer your question Detective McRyan, I’ve got nothing against your chief or Mr. Hisle. I said those things, sure, and I was pissed – I was damn fucking pissed at that department of yours. But Hisle was just doing his job, and from what I know of Flanagan, I doubt he wanted the case to go south like it did.” Boone took a sip of his drink and gestured. “Now I’m pissed at the cops who blew the case and the prosecutor who screwed the pooch. And if I were to be going after people, that’s who I’d go after. Not the people responsible for cleaning up the mess.” Boone paused and then leaned over, elbows on knees, looking at Mac. “But Detective, I didn’t do this, because it’s simply not my style.”
“I don’t know about that,” Mac answered. “Maybe you’re feeding us a line of shit here, and you got the chief’s and Hisle’s daughters. Maybe that’s the price the chief and Hisle pay for screwing the pooch.”
Boone got a serious look on his face. He had enough of McRyan. “No. I have a rule, a rule which is not to be violated, ever.”
“Which is?” Mac asked.
“Never go after a citizen, never put a gun on a citizen, and never hurt a citizen,” Charlie responded. “I’ve never, ever gone after someone who wasn’t in the trade, who wasn’t in our line of business.”
“And you follow that rule?” Mac asked with a skeptical tone.
“It’s the golden rule,” Boone answered seriously, pointing at Mac with his cigar. “I ain’t gonna bullshit you, Detective. We’ve been in some nasty stuff over the years. But not once did any of that ever involve someone who wasn’t in the trade.”
“Cops are in the trade, aren’t they?” Mac asked. “I mean, aren’t we cops up in your shit all the time? And if cops are in the trade, wouldn’t their families be fair game?”
“For some people up here on the north side, maybe, but not me,” Boone answered, falling back into his chair. “Gertz and Subject, if they’re honest, will tell you that I’ve never, ever, picked a fight with the police. In this line of business, you don’t last long doing that shit. You keep your profile low. You buy for a dollar and sell for two is all you ever want to do.” Charlie took a sip of his drink and tacked in a different direction, “And one other thing.”
“What’s that?” Lich asked.
“I’ve got three daughters of my own, plus eight sons. Family is everything to me. I can’t imagine what those fathers are going through, but I sympathize with them.” He took a puff of his cigar and slowly blew smoke. “Taking those girls?” Charlie shook his head. “If I had a beef with someone, I’d go after them, not their wives or kids. What do they have to do with anything? Nothing. They’re just citizens. And I never go after a citizen.”
“So why then,” Lich asked, “is word out on the street that you’ve wanted payback on the St. Paul Police, the county attorney’s office, and Hisle? What’s all that noise about?”
“That’s my competition, I suspect.”
“Fellow drug dealers?”
“I think it might be someone worse.”
“Who’s worse? Lich asked.
“Politicians,” Mac answered, smiling.
Fat Charlie guffawed loudly.
“You’re perceptive, son. They’re some city-hall types who wouldn’t mind seeing me discredited. They don’t like the idea of my involvement in legitimate business, the real estate market, and the area around the ballpark. My money apparently has a different tint of green.”
“Perhaps it wasn’t sufficiently laundered,” Mac said acerbically.
Ten minutes later, they were driving back to the SuperAmerica gas station. “You guys knew this was a waste of time, didn’t you?” Mac asked Gerdtz and Subject.
“We both suspected that to be the case, although we heard the rumors, too,” Subject answered.
“So this golden-rule shit is the real deal?”
“Pretty much,” Gerdtz said. “While he’s never been afraid to drop a body, to the best of our knowledge, he’s telling the truth about that golden-rule business. He doesn’t involve citizens.”
“He sure talked out of school in front of you boys,” Lich said. “I mean, he didn’t exactly hide from his past.”
“No, he didn’t,” Gerdtz replied. “We’ve taken our run at him over the years, but now we’ll never get him. The county attorney’s office doesn’t want anything to do with him. They’ve been embarrassed too many times.”
“So what,” Mac asked quizzically, “there’s like a truce or something with him?”
“Kinda,” Gerdtz said. “You said it yourself, he’s the bank. There are just too many layers between him and the street. Hell, he’s making so much legitimate money now that I wouldn’t be surprised if he got out of the drug trade in two or three years. He’s gonna be what Michael Corleone always wanted to be.”
Subject echoed the thought.
“He’s even been helpful on occasion when other people operating in that part of town have violated Fat Charlie’s rule. People don’t know it, he asked us to keep it quiet, but you guys remember that stray bullet that killed the little girl four years ago?” Everyone nodded. “Fat Charlie clued us in on who to look at. Hell, Boone called me, me, the guy who’s been in his shit for years, to tell me.”
“What did he ask for in return?” Mac asked.
“Not one damn thing,” Subject replied. “He’s never even mentioned it since.”
Mac snorted. Fat Charlie Boone, one contradiction after another, a saint and a hood all at the same time. He exhaled.
“Well he did say he’d call us if he heard of anything.”
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