Tomorrow the e-book omnibus THE ASSASSIN TRILOGY, the Silver Bear novels by Derek Haas that Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times Book Review proclaimed “a devastatingly cool series,” goes on sale for just $2.99.
Get started today with the below excerpt of the first in the series, The Silver Bear. Get ready for Derek’s new novel THE RIGHT HAND coming November 2012, and Derek’s new show, Chicago Fire, this fall on NBC!
The Silver Bear
THE LAST DAY OF THE CRUELEST MONTH, AND APPROPRIATELY IT RAINS. Not the spring rain of new life and rebirth, not for me. Death. In my life, always death. I am young; if you saw me on the street, you might think, “what a nice, clean-cut young man. I’ll bet he works in advertising or perhaps a nice accounting firm. I’ll bet he’s married and is just starting a family. I’ll bet his parents raised him well.” But you would be wrong. I am old in a thousand ways. I have seen things and done things that would make you rush instinctively to your child’s bedroom and hug him tight to your chest, breathing quick in short bursts like a misfiring engine, and repeat over and over, “It’s okay, baby. It’s okay. Everything’s okay.”
I am a bad man. I do not have any friends. I do not speak to women or children for longer than is absolutely necessary. I groom myself to blend, like a chameleon darkening its pigment against the side of an oak tree. My hair is cut short, my eyes are hidden behind dark glasses, my dress would inspire a yawn from anyone who passed me in the street. I do not call attention to myself in any way.
I have lived this way for as long as I can remember, although in truth it has only been ten years. The events of my life prior to that day, I have forgotten in all detail, although I do remember the pain. Joy and pain tend to make imprints on memory that do not dim, flecks of senses rather than images that resurrect themselves involuntarily and without warning. I have had precious little of the former and a lifetime of the latter. A week ago, I read a poll that reported ninety percent of people over the age of sixty would choose to be a teenager again if they could. If those same people could have experienced one day of my teenage years, not a single hand would be counted.
The past does not interest me, though it is always there, just below the surface, like dangerous blurs and shapes an ocean swimmer senses in the deep. I am fond of the present. I am in command in the present. I am master of my own destiny in the present. If I choose, I can touch someone, or let someone touch me, but only in the present. Free will is a gift of the present; the only time I can choose to outwit God. The future, your fate, though, belongs to God. If you try to outsmart God in planning your fate, you are in for disappointment. He owns the future, and He loves O. Henry endings.
The present is full of rain and bluster, and I hurry to close the door behind me as I duck into an indiscriminate warehouse along-side the Charles River. It has been a cold April, which many say indicates a long, hot summer approaching, but I do not make predictions. The warehouse is damp, and I can smell mildew, fresh-cut sawdust, and fear.
People do not like to meet with me. Even those whom society considers dangerous are uneasy in my presence. They have heard stories about Singapore, Providence, and Brooklyn. About Washington, Baltimore, and Miami. About London, Bonn, and Dallas. They do not want to say something to make me uncomfortable or angry, and so they choose their words with precision. Fear is a feeling foreign to these types of men, and they do not like the way it settles in their stomach. They get me in and out as fast as they can and with very little negotiation.
Presently, I am to meet with a black man named Archibald Grant. His given name is Cotton Grant, but he didn’t like the way “Cotton” made him sound like a Georgia hillbilly Negro, so he moved to Boston and started calling himself Archibald. He thought it made him sound aristocratic, like he came from prosperity, and he liked the way it sounded on a whore’s lips: “Archibald, slide on over here” in a soft falsetto. He does not know that I know about the name Cotton. In my experience, it is best to know every detail about those with whom you are meeting. A single mention of a surprising detail, a part of his life he thought was buried so deep as to never be found, can cause him to pause just long enough to make a difference. A pause is all I need most of the time.
I walk through a hallway and am stopped at a large door by two towering black behemoths, each with necks the size of my waist. They look at me, and their eyes measure me. Clearly, they were expecting something different after all they’ve been told. I am used to this. I am used to the disappointment in some of their eyes as they think, “give me ten minutes in a room with him and we’ll see what’s shakin’.” But I do not have an ego, and I avoid confrontations.
“You be?” says the one on the right whose slouch makes the handle of his pistol crimp his shirt just enough to let me know it’s there.
“Tell Archibald it’s Columbus.”
He nods, backs through the door, while the other studies me with unintelligent eyes. He coughs and manages, “You Columbus?” as if in disbelief. Meaning it as a challenge.
I ignore him, not moving a centimeter of my face, my stance, my posture. I am in the present. It is my time, and I own it.
He does not know what to make of this, as he is not used to being ignored, has not been ignored all his life, as big as he is. But somewhere, a voice tells him maybe the stories he heard are true, maybe this Columbus is the badass motherfucker Archibald was talking about yesterday, maybe it’d be best to let the challenge hang out there and fade, the way a radio signal grows faint as a car drives further and further down the highway.
He is relieved when the door opens and I am beckoned into the room.
Archibald is behind a wooden desk; a single light bulb on a wire chain moves like a pendulum over his head. He is not a large man, a sharp contrast from the muscle he keeps around him. Short, well-dressed, with a fire in his eyes that matches the tip of the cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth. He is used to getting what he wants.
He stands, and we shake hands with a light grip as though neither wants to make a commitment. I am offered the only other chair, and we sit deliberately at the same time.
“I’m a middleman on this,” he says abruptly, so I’ll know this from the get-go. The cigarette bobs up and down like a metronome as he speaks.
“This a single. Eight weeks out, like you say.”
“Outside L.A. At least, that’s where this cat’ll be at the time.”
Archibald sits back in his chair and folds his hands on his stomach. He’s a businessman, talking business. He likes this role. It makes him think of the businessmen behind their desks in Atlanta where he used to go in and change out the trash baskets, replace the garbage with new dark plastic linings.
I nod, only slightly. Archibald takes this as his cue to swivel in his chair and open a file door on the credenza matching his desk. From the cavity, he withdraws a briefcase, and we both know what’s inside. He slides it in my direction across the desk and waits.
“Everything you requested’s in there, if you want to check it out,” he offers.
“I know where to find you if it’s not.”
It’s statements like these that can get people into trouble, because they can be interpreted several ways. Perhaps I am making a benign declaration, or possibly a stab at humor, or maybe a little bit of both. But in this business, more often than not, I am making a threat, and nobody likes to be threatened.
He studies my face, his own expression stuck between a smirk and a frown, but whatever he is looking for, he doesn’t find it. He has little choice but to laugh it off so his muscle will understand I am not being disrespectful.
“Heh-hah.” Only part of a laugh. “Yeah. That’s good. Well, it’s all there.”
I help him out by taking the case off the desk, and he is happy to see me stand. This time, he does not offer his hand.
I walk away from the desk, toward the door, case in hand, but his voice stops me. He can’t help himself, his curiosity wins over his cautiousness; he isn’t sure if he’ll ever see me again, and he has to know.
“Did’ja really pop Corlazzi on that boat?”
You’d be surprised how many times I get this one. Corlazzi was a Chicago underworld luminary responsible for much of the city’s butchery in the sixties and seventies, a man who redefined the mafia’s role when narcotics started to replace liquor as America’s drug of choice. He saw the future first, and deftly rose to prominence. As hated as he was feared, he had a paranoid streak that threatened his sanity. To ensure that he would reign to a ripe old age, he removed himself to a gigantic houseboat docked in the middle of Lake Michigan. It was armed to the teeth, and its only connection with land was through a speedboat manned by his son, Nicolas. Six years ago, he was found dead, a single bullet lodged in the aorta of his heart, though no one heard a shot and the man was behind locked doors with a bevy of guards posted outside.
Now, I don’t have to answer this question. I can leave and let Archibald and his entourage wonder how a guy like me could possibly do the things attributed to the name Columbus. This is a tactic I’ve used in the past, when questions like his are posed. But, today, the last day of the cruelest month, I think differently. I have six eyes on me, and a man’s reputation can live for years on the witness of three black guys in a warehouse on the outskirts of Boston.
I spin with a whirl part tornado and part grace, and before an inhale can become an exhale, I have a pistol up and raised in my hand. I squeeze the trigger in the same motion, and the cigarette jumps out of Archibald’s mouth and twirls like a baton through the air. The bullet plugs in the brick wall above the credenza as gravity takes the cigarette like a helicopter to a gentle landing on the cement floor. When the six eyes look up, I am gone.