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Authors: William Brown

Tags: #Mystery, #Murder, #Hackers, #Chicago, #Washington, #Computers, #Witness Protection Program, #Car Chase, #crime, #Hiding Bodies, #New York, #Suspense, #Fiction. Novel, #US Capitol, #FBI, #Mafia, #Man Hunt, #thriller

The Undertaker

BOOK: The Undertaker
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The Undertaker

Copyright 2011 by William F. Brown

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Cover Design by Rickhardt Capidamonte

Capital Akimbo image
by
rcsj (Rob Shenk)
.

Scalpel image
by
aesop (Andrew Eason)
.

Interior Book Design by Rickhardt Capidamonte

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THE UNDERTAKER

a novel by

William F. Brown

 

First and foremost to my wife Fern, for all her love, support, and time spent proofing and reviewing. But I'd also like to thank our friends Andi Kunio, Judy Williamson, and Julie Horewitch for their diligent editing and proofing on this and my other books over the years — proofing is pain best shared with others.

 
THE UNDERTAKER
PROLOGUE
 

We decided to put it all down on paper
in case they came after us again.

 

I
know exactly what Louie must have gone through that night. Exactly. He would have woken slowly, blinking, looking up into a bank of harsh, white lights set in the ceiling high above him. White. Everything in the room was white: the ceiling, the walls, even the floor tile. So waking up, the bright lights would have hurt his eyes, the back of his head would have throbbed in pain, and he was cold — a teeth-chattering, shivering cold.

As his eyes slowly cleared and the fog inside his brain cleared, he realized he was lying on his back, staring up into a bank of bright, white fluorescent lights set in an acoustical tile ceiling. Slowly, painfully, he raised his head and looked around the room. There were no windows, nothing but those gleaming, white tile walls, a set of tall glass-front cabinets set against the wall behind him, and an odd-looking aluminum table to his right and one to his left, leaving him even more confused. He looked down at himself, at the fat, pale-white mound of his own chest and stomach, and realized he was stark naked. No wonder he was so damned cold. He was laying buck-ass naked on some kind of strange, cold, aluminum table. He tried to get up and roll onto his side, but he couldn't move. Something was holding him down. That was when he would have felt the thick, leather straps – one across his upper chest, one across his lower abdomen, and one across his knees – and the smaller straps with heavy buckles that held his wrists and legs down. He could kick and strain and yank on his arms until he wore himself out, but there was no give in those thick leather straps and heavy buckles.

His eyes darted around the room. Everything looked immaculately clean. The tall, glass-front cabinets and cases behind him held a curious array of sharp knives, rubber tubes, and clamps, all neatly arranged on clean white towels. And there was that strange, sticky sweet odor. He sniffed the cool air of the room and swore there was a soapy, antiseptic smell to the place with the faintest hint of something else lurking just beneath? What was it? Flowers?

“Ah, Louis, you are finally awake,” a friendly voice called to him from the far end of the room. “How nice of you to join us. Virgil gave you a pretty good rap on the back of the head and I was beginning to wonder.” That was when he would have recognized the voice and realized where he must be. And that was when the real panic would have set in. He would have bucked and kicked and struggled even harder against those damned leather straps, to no avail.

The other man finally walked into his field of vision and stared down at him. He was tall, well built, and very distinguished in an expensive, dark-blue suit with a blue and gold silk tie and white shirt. He held his arms across his chest and looked down, studying him like a doctor making his rounds. However, this was no doctor. He looked down and smiled as he watched the fat man strain, pulling and pushing against the thick leather straps until he finally fell back on the table, exhausted and shivering in a pool of his own sweat.

“You've been a very bad boy, Louis. You've been talking to Jimmy's people in New Jersey again, haven't you?”

“Ralph, what do you think you're…? You can't do this.”

“Sure I can, Louis. I can do anything I want to you, because you're already dead. Remember?” he stated quietly, confidently. “Now tell me where they are. We've torn your office apart. We've torn your house apart. Where are they?” He stared down at the fat man, but he could see there was no answer coming. Finally, he shrugged. “Have it your way, Louis,” he said as he turned away. He took off his suit coat and carefully hung it on a brass hook on the wall, pulling out a white cotton smock from a drawer in one of the cabinets. It was the kind with a high neck in front and the opening in back. The fat man watched as he pulled it on and carefully tied the drawstrings around his waist. Then the man stepped over to one of the glass-front cabinets, opened a door, and reached inside. When he turned back and looked down at the fat man, he was slipping his hands into a pair of thin, latex gloves. He pulled them on and let the wrist bands snap in place with a loud, dramatic flourish.

“There. All set,” he smiled again as he reached back into the cabinet. This time his hand came out with a stainless-steel scalpel. He held it up and let the edge of the razor-sharp blade catch the light.

“What?” the fat man blustered. “You think you're going to torture it out of me?”

“No, Louis, I think I'm going to kill you,” he answered with a thin, cruel smile. “I'm going to start opening a vein here and an artery there until you slowly bleed to death.”

“You're crazy!” The fat man starred up at him, heart pounding.

“Oh, no, Louis, quite the opposite.” he said as he stepped over to the table and held the blade in front of the fat man's face. “I'm the sanest man you've ever met. More importantly, I've done this before, many times before. I assure you, when the blood starts to run out of you, you will talk. And the more it flows, all sticky, warm, and wet, the faster you're going to talk. That's when you're going to tell me where they are, Louis, because there are no secrets down here, not then, not at the end, at the very end.”

He bent over and lightly touched the fat man at the base of his neck with a fingernail. The fat man jumped. He began to breathe heavily and sweat began to pour off him again.

“That's the carotid artery and the jugular vein in there, Louis. Nick those babies and it'll be all over in a couple of minutes.”

The fat man couldn't take his eyes off the sharp edge of the scalpel as it came closer and closer to his neck, and he began to shake.

“Personally though, I prefer the iliac. That's down here near your hip and groin.” The man droned on, his voice calm, as if he was discussing the weather or a favorite golf club. He stood up and let his eyes slowly scan the white, flabby body from head to toe. “That is, if I can find it. You are a mess, Louis, an absolute mess. Look at you – all fat and so out of shape. Now where are they!” he suddenly screamed and lashed out with the scalpel. The blade flashed in a big arc and sliced lightly across the fat man's gut, cutting deep enough to draw blood.

That did it! The fat man's head shot up. He saw the blood and the cut. His face turned deep red. He felt the panic rise in his throat as a sharp, angry pain exploded in his chest. “Ahhhh…!” he groaned as the pain pounded and sucked the life out of him. Then, there was nothing. His head dropped back on the metal table with a loud “Clang!” His eyes grew round and his body went limp against the leather straps, and he was dead.

CHAPTER ONE
 

Boston: where California meets Jersey…

 

I
knew I was in trouble when Gino Parini shoved that .45 automatic in my face and made me read my own obituary. I'm not talking about something vague or California-cosmic, like the San Andreas Fault will turn Nevada into beachfront property, or those McDonald's French fries will seal my arteries shut, or second-hand smoke will give me lung cancer. I'm talking about my own honest-to-God black-and-white obituary ripped from page thirty-two of that morning's Columbus, Ohio newspaper:

TALBOTT, PETER EMERSON, age 33, of Columbus, died Sunday at Varner Clinic following a tragic automobile accident. President and founder of Center Financial Advisors of Columbus. Formerly of Los Angeles, a 1999 graduate of UCLA and a lieutenant, US Army Transportation Corps...

 

That was me. I was Talbott, Peter Emerson, 33 years old, and formerly from Los Angeles. I had graduated from UCLA and I had been a lieutenant in the Army. Coincidence? I didn't think so. There was only one of me and I didn't die in the Varner Clinic or anywhere else last Sunday. I was an aeronautical software engineer and I had never been to Columbus or heard of Center Financial Advisors much less been its President. Still, when you're looking into a set of hard, dark eyes and a .45 automatic, it's hard to argue the fine points.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

That day began normally enough. For the past two months, I had been settling into a new job as a systems designer and software engineer with Symbiotic Software in Waltham, Massachusetts. It was one of a hundred programming shops in those big, mirror-glass office buildings that dot the Route 128 Beltway around Boston. You know the kind: no hard walls, no doors, just dozens of low, pastel-colored cubicles filled with a mixed bag of grungy 20-somethings in every size, shape, color, orientation, and gender. My cubicle was like all the others, except for the cheap plastic nameplate that said “Peter E. Talbott, Senior Systems Engineer” hanging at the entrance. Inside, the wall behind my chair featured a framed poster of Eric Clapton, signed by The Man himself, ripped-off from a LA record store back in my younger and much crazier days. On the wall across from my desk hung a beautiful Air Mexico travel poster: a color shot of a beach at sunset near San Jose down on the Baja, with a thin, solitary young woman in a bikini walking away down the sand. That was where Terri and I were supposed to go that last fall, but she got sick and we never made it. Other than the simple 8” x 10” photograph of her sitting on my desk smiling up at me, the Baja beach poster was easily my most prized possession.

It was already 5:30 PM. Headset on, I stared at my big, flat-screen computer, pounding away at the keyboard, dressed in my treasured, but badly faded, Rolling Stones 1995 Voodoo Lounge World Tour T-shirt, blue jeans, and a worn-out pair of Nikes. Like the shoes, I was a tad older and more scuffed than the rest of the hired help, so clothes helped me fit in during those first awkward weeks after I moved there from LA. Anyway, I had just finished a crash project and was slowly coming back down as I listened to the last tracks of a two CD set of
Clapton's Greatest Hits
. When I really get into a problem, the building could go up in flames, and I'd never notice unless my monitor went blank.

I leaned back in my chair, eyes closed, playing air guitar riffs along with “Tears in Heaven,” when a cold hand lifted one of the ear pieces and whispered in my ear. “Earth to Petey, you
are
going to have the sub-routines done by tomorrow, aren't you?”

“You said “tomorrow”, as in “close-of-business tomorrow,” not “tomorrow-tomorrow,” or “tomorrow morning”, or “today-tomorrow,” I answered.

“I know, but I've got a problem and “tomorrow” just became first thing tomorrow.”

Looking over my shoulder was Doug Chesterton in his “harried boss” costume: a wrinkled white shirt, a cheap necktie with soup stains, and a pocket full of pens. It read MIT all the way – smart as hell, but dumb as a rock.

BOOK: The Undertaker
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