Two weeks later, Joe stood in the McAllister’s living room. Chuck sat on the couch. He wore a baggy flannel shirt.
“You can’t see it,” Chuck said, “but I got shot twice. Once in the gut. The other grazed me. I had my doc sew me up.”
“How did it happen?”
“I’d just dropped by King’s Smokes. The owner was on my list of people to contact. I talk to the guy and the whole time I could smell that he’s scared as hell and just getting worse. So, I cut it short. On my way, I climbed up the building across the street and when I looked back, I saw that he was on the phone. Before I got even a block over, people in one of the passing cars started shooting at me. Luckily my doctor’s house wasn’t far.”
Joe nodded, then said, “Wait, did you change or does the doctor know about Night Wolf now?”
“The doc’s one of my wife’s cousins and he’s known for a while. It’s not the first time I’ve walked in there bleeding. I’ve stayed active, you know? I should give you his number. You might need it.”
“If something gets past the Rocket suit, I’m not going to need a doctor. I’ll need a morgue.”
Chuck laughed a little and then grimaced. “Yeah. You’ve got a point there, but still, you never know.”
“Yeah. You don’t. I guess I’ll take that number.”
* * *
King’s Smokes closed at seven at night. Joe landed the Rocket suit half a block down the street at six-thirty and walked down the sidewalk to the store.
A few cars moved slowly down the road. None of them stopped.
Joe guessed that the Rocket had been forgotten during the eight years between the end of the war and now. That and it was dark by six in the winter. It could be that they just couldn’t see him very well.
He opened the door to the smoke shop and walked through. Even through the helmet, he could smell the pipe tobacco. Boxes of cigars and tobacco covered the shelves. Behind the counter, a bald, mustached man smoked a pipe.
The pipe dropped from his hand when Joe walked through the door, his armor golden in the light.
“Hi,” Joe said. He didn’t quite sound like himself.
Before leaving, he had experimented with the PA system in the helmet, modifying his voice to sound deeper.
“I’d like you to do something for me,” he said. “Yesterday Night Wolf came to visit. You called the mob and they came and shot him. I’d like you to do the same for me.”
The man pulled his pipe off the floor, then, hands shaking, dropped it on the counter.
“I didn’t call the mob. I don’t know anyone in the mob… He didn’t die, did he?”
“No. He didn’t die, but he did see you calling somebody. Who were you calling?”
“My… wife. I was coming home late.”
“I don’t buy it.”
“It’s true, goddamn it. What is it with you people? You’re a bunch of thugs just like they are. Can’t you leave things alone? I’m trying to run a business here.”
Joe wondered when he’d stepped into a Raymond Chandler novel.
Stepping up to the counter, he said, “No. We can’t just leave things alone. I don’t see the point of being shot at all over the world only to get home and find mobsters in my own home town and people like you helping them.”
He smacked the counter for emphasis.
It made a loud booming noise, but didn’t break.
Even as he did it, he felt like was in two places — hitting it and watching. When had he gotten this angry? He needed to step back and calm down.
The man backed away from the counter, bumping the shelves behind him. A box of cigars fell to the floor.
“Look at it this way,” Joe said. “You’ve been paying them protection money for years, right? If we’re just a bunch of thugs, it’s time to call them and get your money’s worth.”
“OK. OK, I’ll call them, but can you just get out of the store? I don’t want to be near you if they come in shooting.”
It almost made him want to stay. The kind of person who informed on people to the mob deserved to get his store shot up.
Giving the guy a final look, he said, “I’ll walk outside. Just make that call quickly. I don’t want to stand out there any longer than I have to.”
The man didn’t reply, but he did pick up the phone and start dialing.
Joe walked outside and let the door swing shut behind him.
He walked a few steps away, waiting while the snow fell, appreciating the heater he had built into it.
He didn’t wait long.
The car came around the corner, traveling quickly up the street.
Not a bad response time, he thought.
It stopped directly in front of him, maybe ten feet away. The passenger side door opened and a man stepped out. He wore a winter coat instead of a trenchcoat as Joe might have expected from the movies, but he did hold a gun in his hand.
From what Joe could see, the other three guys in the car also had guns.
Not that that mattered.
“Hey you,” the mobster said, “get away from that store and stay away. Tell all your friends to stay away too.”
The mobster had a typical Midwestern accent. Joe couldn’t hear even the slightest hint of Italian. It figured. He’d heard that the Chicago mob included more than just Sicilians.
He whistled. He didn’t whistle a tune. He started with one note, slowly adjusting pitch higher, using the suit’s PA system to increase the volume to unbearable levels.
The mobster held his hands to his ears.
The car’s windows shattered. The ones on the side nearest to him went first, followed by the windows on the front, rear and the other side all at once.
The man opened the door and jumped back into the car.
Joe closed the distance in one long step. Crouching, he grabbed the bottom of the car and pulled it upward, flipping it over on its side.
The rear tires rotated uselessly.
“Tell your boss,” Joe said, “that one way or another you guys are going to leave Grand Lake.”