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He took it from me and studied it, a line forming in his smooth young forehead. "Looks a little like Luis-like maybe when he was a kid. Who's the stoner?"
"I'm not sure. You said Luis came to Milwaukee to kill someone?"
Eddie nodded. "Luis told me he came here so he can find the guy who killed his brother. I think this guy used to live in Luis's village in Mexico."
"Luis didn't tell you the man's name?"
"Just that he was some big shot bolillo."
"Bolillo. White guy?"
Eddie nodded. He and Rico spoke perfectly ungrammatical Milwaukee English sprinkled with Calo-pungent Chicano street slang. I'd heard enough of it during my teaching years to be able to name every s.e.xual organ on the human body.
"The guy had a nickname, though," Eddie said. "He called himself Uncle Teddy."
"Uncle Teddy?" As in Teddy Bear?
"Yeah. Luis, the dumb ojete, says he's got to keep the real name secret because Uncle Teddy is rich and powerful and if word gets out, he might send out his bad guys to take care of Luis. Luis says he's going to hunt down this bolillo, but it might take awhile. In the meantime, my mama helps Luis find a job over in Piggsville, at this pickle plant where they ain't too finicky about checking papers. He does a lot of other off-the-books work, too. Like waiting tables or patching roofs for rich people who slip him a C-note. Once he gets a couple paychecks under his belt, Luis buys a gun. I found it when I snooped under his mattress, looking for his dirty magazines."
Rico came back with a cardboard tray holding four cup of suds, settled back in his seat, and started happily slurping away. I wondered how dumb a vendor would have to be to sell him beer. Rico looked like he ought to be spending his allowance on Pokemon cards.
A food vendor came by and Eddie sprang for brats. I hadn't had a brat since I'd gone to prison. I moaned as I bit into it. Spicy pork sausage baptized in beer, slathered in spicy sauce, and plopped inside a Kaiser roll. Heaven on earth. m.u.f.fin got his very own brat, minus the sauce, and a paper cup of water. Eddie and I had Mountain Dews. Rico had another beer.
By the time we finished our brats and licked our fingers clean, it was the middle of the sixth, time for the Racing Sausages. They trotted up to the starting line: Italian, Polish, Hot Dog, and Bratwurst, all the old familiar sausages I remembered from before I'd gone up the river. Then a new sausage, this one wearing a sombrero, trotted up to the starting line.
"That's Chorizo," Rico explained. He toasted the Mexican sausage with his third beer.
The starter pistol fired and the Sausages sped around the bases, tiny arms and legs pumping furiously. The Sausages, a Milwaukee icon almost as famous as Harley Davidsons, are a gimmick dreamed up by a local meat company. They race one another during the sixth inning of every game. One time a Pittsburgh player standing on the sidelines stuck out his bat and tripped Italian, which resulted in a sausage chain reaction collision. The player got a three-day suspension, while the Sausages came out with a line of Don't Whack My Weiner T-shirts and made a quick million.
Today, Bratwurst won and jogged a victory lap.
Rico booed loudly.
"Shut up," I hissed at him. "People are looking up here."
"Sorry, baby," Rico smiled loopily at me and oozed back into his seat. Eddie rolled his eyes so hard he may have sprained his eyeball muscles.
The teams came back on the field and everybody settled back down. The warm sun was making me drowsy. I shook myself awake. I couldn't afford to sleep. I had detective work to do. "You don't know the man in the photo?" I asked Eddie.
Still holding the snapshot, Eddie studied it carefully. "The white guy? No."
Rico leaned over and stared gla.s.sily at the Polaroid. "Looks like a pederasto de nino."
A child molester.
Eddie pointed at the boy in the photo. "The more I look, the more it looks like Luis. And the big blond guy-maybe that's Uncle Teddy."
That was what I was beginning to think, too. "When was Luis killed?"
"Let's see-some time in early fall about four years ago. Things were going good for Luis that year. He moved out of our place, got his own apartment over on National Avenue. School started and I didn't see him much, so I figure he's okay. Then one night, must be the end of September, he phoned. He sounded scared. Said the bad guys knew where he lived and they'd already whacked someone."
I was suddenly very alert. "Who?"
"Didn't say. Maybe some fool Luis roped into his big revenge scheme."
"Did Luis know Kip Vonnerjohn?"
"That's the guy you were married to, right?"
"The guy they said you killed."
"Well, I didn't."
"So you ask did your husband and my cousin like, know each other? Nah. Luis didn't even legally exist in this country, and your hubs was a rich b.i.t.c.h from the North Sh.o.r.e. So where are them two going to meet, at the charity ball?"
Where were those two going to meet? Good question.
"So anyway, Luis phones me, he's drinking, raving, scared. I tell him he should go to the police with what he knows. Being deported is better than being killed. But Luis just hangs up." Eddie crushed his soda can and set it under his seat. "Three days later the cops come to our door. Say they found a body they think is Luis's, want Mama to go to the morgue and do a positive ID. I don't want Mama to face this thing alone, so I go with her. Gruesome, man. Someone done a number on him before he died. Cigarette burns, broken ribs, face all cut up, ring finger cut off. The police think it's g.a.n.g.b.a.n.gers. They say Luis maybe tried to screw them on drugs. But the cops don't waste a lot of time on Luis. He's just another dead g.a.n.g.b.a.n.ger far as they're concerned. Quien da una mierde? Who gives a s.h.i.t?"
"Was he shot?"
"No. Get this, Mazie-he died from a heart attack. That's what the autopsy said."
I blinked. "The guy was what, in his twenties?"
"Maybe what they were going to do to him was such bad s.h.i.t he was-"
"Asustato a la muerte," Rico supplied.
"Yeah," Eddie said. "Scared to death."
"Anyhow, a couple days later Luis's landlord calls," Eddie went on. "Says Luis's apartment was broke into and we better take care of it. The place was destroyed, like ripped to pieces. So Mama and me, we clean up the mess. Only when we clean his cupboards, I find this key taped to the bottom of Luis's Cocoa Puffs box. He loved those little chocolate crunches, ate 'em like candy. Didn't care they were for kids."
Eddie took out his wallet and removed a small bra.s.s key with the number 1019 inscribed in the head. "I figure it's a lockbox key and I get excited, thinking I'm going to find thousands of bucks stashed away in some bank lockbox."
I took the key from him and examined it. "Lockbox keys are longer."
"Yeah, I found that out. I took it to some banks. They just laughed at me."
The Brewers' heaviest hitter came up to the plate. He slammed the first pitch into far left field, tripling in two runs. Tied game. The crowd came to life, cheering and whistling. Rico whooped and hollered, sloshing his beer on Eddie and me.
"So then I figure it's a locker key," Eddie said once things quieted down. "I try every place I can think of, the lockers at the bus station, the Amtrak station."
"The storage area in his apartment?" I turned the key in my hands, as though it could reveal its secret by touch.
"I looked. Nada. So after I think of all the places Luis the moron would of hid money, I try the places he wouldn't of. The colleges where they rent lockers by the semester, the malls-"
"I tried the downtown one and the ones in the 'burbs. No sale."
The Cubs coach trotted out onto the field to argue with the first base umpire.
"What about that place he worked at?" Rico was slumped down on his spine with the cardboard cup holder crammed on his head like a sun visor and his beer balanced on his belly. "Higgledy Piggledy Pickles." He belched. "Or whatever they call it."
Escape tip #24: Never trust any food that can run faster than you.
We both stared at Rico. I examined the key again. The dull bra.s.s glinted in the sunlight. "This place is where?" I asked Eddie.
"Piggsville." He was starting to sound excited. "It's worth a shot."
Rico lurched to his feet and reeled into the aisle. "Gonna hurl."
Eddie groaned. "I better go with him."
I palmed the locker key-a skill I'd picked up in my cellblock's Pickpocketing 101 course. It's easy: you just have to momentarily distract your mark, and Rico had provided the perfect distraction. The boys ran down the ramp leading to the indoor concourse. I hoisted m.u.f.fin into my backpack and hurried after them.
Rico dived into the nearest mens' john. Sounds of copious upchucking came from inside. "Maybe you ought to go check on him," I told Eddie.
Eddie hesitated, shot me a mistrustful look, then pushed through the door. The second the mens' room door swung closed, I took off. Sorry, fellas. Better hurt feelings than a juvie record. Slipping the locker key into my backpack and tugging my hat brim, I hurried along the concourse, heading for the exit. I wanted to get into that pickle factory and look for a locker marked 1019. Of course with my luck this would turn out to be a wild goose chase, but for now it was all I had to go on.
As I approached the escalator that led down to the exits, a door on my right marked Employees Only opened. Two Racing Sausages emerged and stood there, blocking the aisle, staring at me. Polish Sausage wore a racing cap and a striped T-shirt. Hot Dog, an anemic peach color, looked like a big p.e.n.i.s wearing a baseball cap. Chorizo slumped between them, looking like a deflated balloon. Only it wasn't Chorizo, I realized; just his costume, a bandito-mustached head topped with a giant sombrero.
Down on the field the Sausages had looked tiny, but up close they were eight feet tall. And creepy. There was something chilling about Polish's expressionless sungla.s.ses and Hot Dog's wide, painted-on grin. These were not friendly sausages. These sausages gave off evil vibes. These sausages, I was willing to bet, were the Janitors!
I wheeled and tried to run, but they sprang forward and in one synchronized move plunked Chorizo over my head and slid it down over my body. It was like being swallowed by a python. I was instantly blind, struggling to breathe. The head had a kind of interior harness that pinned my arms. The costume was straight and narrow-sausage shaped, naturally-and the serape shirt bottom came down nearly to my ankles. I lost my balance and began to pitch forward, unable to brace myself. Clawing through the harness binding, I punched one arm through a side opening and flailed wildly for something to hold on to. I latched onto Hot Dog's leg and we both toppled to the floor, rolling around, trading blows, our blubbery foam m.u.f.fling our grunts of pain. m.u.f.fin was barking insanely from inside the backpack.
Eventually Polish separated us, hauled me upright, and set me on my feet. "Behave," he snarled. "Walk." At least that's what I think he said. He sounded as though he was speaking from inside a sofa. Somehow my costume had twisted around so that now I could see out through the eyeholes, which were located in Chorizo's mouth and provided all the clarity of a Vaseline-smeared window.
Yanking my arms, they hustled me along so fast my feet left the ground. Customers at the food stands in the arcade waved and smiled at us, everyone a.s.suming we were putting on an act for their benefit. We came to an exit door; Polish held it open while Hot Dog shoved me through into a stairwell. We climbed down endless flights of stairs, Polish handling the backpack as though it were a sack of potatoes, roughly jostling m.u.f.fin, who was barking furiously. Finally we emerged from the stairwell onto a loading dock. The green Lincoln was parked there between a beer truck and a potato chip van. Hot Dog opened the trunk and tossed my barking backpack in while Polish roughly yanked the Chorizo costume off me. Before I could open my mouth to scream, he picked me up and tossed me in the trunk. A moment later the trunk lid slammed down, plunging me into blackness.
I felt as though I was back in the grave.
Escape tip #25: Blood is thicker than water, but slicker than duct tape.
"Tell me about this key," ordered Kim Jong, his eyes drilling into mine as he held up Luis Ruiz's key.
I was lying faceup on a rubber-coated conveyer belt, my wrists and ankles strapped to its surface with duct tape. We were in a vast, echoing room, walled with grimy, crumbling brick and strewn with old crates and boxes. Dust motes danced like tiny swarming insects in the fading light. The place smelled smoky, like a barroom at closing time. Close behind me, an enormous steel contraption threw off heat, its dull roar punctuated with thunks and clunks. I had a bad feeling about the roaring thing.
The Janitors, who'd ditched their Racing Sausages costumes, had hauled me out of the Lincoln's trunk and into what appeared to be an abandoned factory, dragging me along miles of rubble-strewen corridors until we'd reached this room. They'd roughly patted me down, s.n.a.t.c.hing up Luis Ruiz's key as well as Labeck's keys and all my spare change. Most devastatingly, they'd found the Instamatic snapshot, the photo that had started this whole bizarre sequence of events.
When they'd unzipped my backpack, m.u.f.fin had burst out like a canine commando, biting, slashing, and inflicting puncture wounds on both men before they'd finally managed to wrestle him into a slatted wooden crate. He was still furious, rampaging around inside his prison snarling threats about how he was going to rip out their throats at the first opportunity.
"How did you find me?" I croaked.
Jong smirked. "Oh, we got our ways. A whole network of snitches. That bratwurst vendor at the ballpark spotted you and phoned us. So we hustled on over and watched you guys until we decided it was time to move in. 'Course we can't have everyone in the stadium seeing us drag off Mazie Maguire or the crowd's going to tear us limb from limb."
"I was the one thought of the Sausages," said Custer. "We find the kid in charge of the costumes, tell him we want to borrow 'em to play a joke, hand him a couple C-notes, and-bada bing-we're the Racing Sausages, everybody loves us! Anything we do, the fans think it's part of the act."
He fished a sack of ballpark nachos out of his jacket pocket, took out a chip and poked it through a slat in m.u.f.fin's crate, making little kissy sounds. m.u.f.fin lunged like lightning and Custer jerked back just in time to prevent his arm from being shredded. "Hey-you mad at me, poochie? I wike dogs. Yes I do, I wike widdle doggies wike you." He was crooning; it was sickening. m.u.f.fin's hackles rose. He growled deep in his throat, sounding like an entire troop of Irish boarhounds.
"Knock off the kissy-poo," Jong told him. "You're supposed to kill the little f.u.c.ker."
"Screw that! I'm gonna keep him. He'll get to like me. I'll be his daddy."
"He'll bite your b.a.l.l.s off."
"Maybe I ought to sell him. Them purse-sized poochies are hot stuff with the babes. Bet I could get two grand for him. This here is a purebred shih tzu-bichon frises."
"I don't care if it's a s.h.i.ts-on-your-shoes. Get over here. You got work to do."
Reluctantly Custer left the crate and approached me. "What's the little dude's name?"
Tactic three for staying alive when kidnapped by psycho killers: find common ground.
"m.u.f.fin," I said, forcing my dry lips to move. "He won't really bite you. He's just scared. I think he likes you."
Jong wrenched my head around so that I was facing him. "Luis Ruiz took something that belonged to our boss. We need to know where he put it."
Custer chuckled. "Yeah. We barely started slicing on ol' Luis before he went into cardiac whatchacallit. Kicked the bucket before he could tell us anything useful."
"Who knew he had a weak heart?" Jong shook his head glumly.
"Took all the fun out of it," Custer said, reaching into his pocket and drawing out something metallic. He touched a b.u.t.ton and five inches of razor-edged steel flicked out. It was a switchblade, sleek, elegant, and evil, eager for blood sacrifice. My flesh puckered into goose b.u.mps at the sight.
Jong pried my right fist open. Custer's bright blue Indian-killer eyes gleamed with antic.i.p.ation. He grinned, his teeth orange from nacho gunk "So where's the locker, Mazie?" Jong's voice sounded like oiled icicles.
"I don't know." My heart was stutter-stepping.
"You're ly-ing, Mazie," Jong singsonged. "That's going to cost you a fing-er!"
Stall, stall. Maybe if I stalled long enough, the cavalry would arrive. Blue-coated soldiers galloped across my mind, bugles blaring, swords flashing. Oddly enough, the one leading the cavalry charge was none other than Ben Labeck! He was brandishing a Ninja sword the size of a guillotine, lopping off heads left and right, freeing me and sweeping me away in his arms.
The vision disintegrated. Labeck wasn't coming to the rescue. n.o.body was coming to the rescue. If I was going to be rescued, I'd have to do it myself.
I took a deep, quavering breath. Time for tactic number four, the one inmates used against the nastiest guards: divide and conquer.
I looked up at Custer, forcing my stiff, dry lips into a smile. "Did anyone ever tell you that you look like George Armstrong Custer?"
He paused, ran a finger over his mustache. "Yeah, all the time. Happens I'm a distant relation. He was my great-whumpty grand-uncle or something."
"Get on with it," Jong snarled.