It was early in the morning on the day Bruno was supposed to turn state's wittness, and the bodies were missing. He knew he was in the right place. He had drawn the short straw, and been the one who burried them. Before his current excavation, he was still able pick out the dark spot in the empty lot, where the discolored dirt and gravel betrayed that it had been disturbed. But his shovel was much to deep down now, and he had still not encountered the leather jacket of the undercover agent who had the misfortune to be sniffed out.

Bruno started to chew on a caloused knuckle, as the panic started to set in. Someone had moved the bodies. Who? Why? Who even knew where they had been burried? Was he going to be arrested before he turned state's wittness? Had someone else beaten him to it? Had his boss realized what he meant to do?

Calm down, Bruno, he told himself. Clarence wouldn't need to catch him in the act of anything. If you were Family, you didn't have to prove anything. No trials or evidence needed. Clarence was Family, Bruno was muscle, and if Clarence suspected anything, he could have put a bullet in Bruno, tossed the body in a dumpster, and that would have been it. One dead thug, one more body on the shaky case that the state's department was putting together, and Bruno's mother would cry behind closed doors, but tell anyone who listened that this was what her boy got for falling in with a bad crowd, just like his father.

Bruno started filling his hole back in. He'd widened it enough to make sure that he hadn't just missed, but he hadn't needed to. He knew exactly what orientation the bodies were in. Nicky, throat cut, covered in dried blood, had been face down 40 paces from the street lamp. Two paces to the right was Maria, his woman, who got antsy and turned him in. Clarence had been about to let her go and commend her for loyalty, when Pierce showed up. Bruno guessed Maria had died of a broken neck, but he couldn't be sure. Laid across the two from chest to chest was body number three. Number three was an unknown to Bruno, an overweight man in his 30's, with some impressive exit wounds on his temples.

But they were missing now, and as Bruno shoveled gravel back into the hole, he tried to think. Think, Bruno, he told himself over his thundering heart. Think.

There were only a few options, he figured. Someone had moved the bodies. Someone who knew where the bodies were. And that was a short list. Clarence, Bruno, maybe Pierce, and anyone they might have told. Which could be the world. Shit. Or, someone who had seen Bruno bury them. He had worked only by ambient light, and there hadn't been much of it, but he supposed someone could have seen. Cops? Feds? The Ruskies?

Filling was easier than digging. Bruno patted down his work with the flat of the shovel and checked the time. 4:17 AM. Dawn was still a little ways off, but it would be here soon enough. And he had no bodies to display to the feds when he called his contact. If he turned state's wittness now, it would be with hersay and nothing else.

His out having seemingly evaporated, Bruno slumped back to his pickup, and collapsed into the driver's seat. He needed a shower, a cup of coffee, and to think.

He put the pickup in gear, and headed off to the Y.


Agent Adam Hastings sat in his car and pretended to text. The newspaper for the modern age, he thought, as he watched Joey "Numbers" stop by the korean dry cleaner's for the weekly extortion fee. Joey was collecting in person this week, apparently. That might mean some shake-ups in his operation, and Adam made a mental note to look into that. He had been watching Joey's operation for about two weeks, and so far, all it had turned up was a very ordinary extortion racket. Joey Numbers' lackeys made their collection rounds on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. They visited between 70 and 100 locations, once a week each, to pick up their cut. Everyone paid. Adam had never seen Joey Numbers deploy any leg-breakers.

Hasting's predacessor had had a single incident on file, where a new business had resisted the extortion demands. According to the report, which admitted possible inaccuracy, the shop had been a deli, and the owner had had his finger removed, a sliver at a time, by the slicing machine. The report had no concrete information, but rumor or no, no one in Cicero doubted it was true.

Joey left the dry cleaners and moved next door to Mike's Pawn Shop, where he collected an unmarked white envelope, and stopped to eye the merchandise. Joey Numbers was thin and toe-headed, rather short at 5'6", and, Adam thought, posessed of a Napoleon complex. He wasn't a hard man to spot, styling himself after hard-boiled detectives from the bogart era, fedora and all. He selected a small item from the jewlery rack, waggled it at Mike to show he was taking it, and sidled outside, a brand-new immitation Rolex on his wrist. Gaudy, Hastings thought, but there was no accounting for taste among gangsters.

The phone on which Adam was pretending to text vibrated briefly in anticipation, and started playing the chorus of "Hard Knock Life." Adam winced a bit, waited two rings, and answered.

"Hastings here," he said, much more chipper than he felt. Phone conversations with this particular coworker never ceased. Ever.

"Adam, its Mina," his unofficial partner said, sounding a little breathless.

I know, woman, I have caller ID, he thought, but let it go. "Mina, what can I do for you?"

"We need to meet. Can you be at the Taco Bell off 94 in about 20?"

"Uh, yeah, I think so," Adam said, his eyebrows going up. "Everything OK?"

"Twenty Minutes. I'll see you there," Mina said. And then hung up.