Key West based writer Michael Haskins is the author of the highly successful Mick Murphy books.
The next in the series, tentatively titled To Beat The Devil, is the sequel to the best-selling Stairway To The Bottom.
It will be published in March 2013 and you can have an exclusive peek at the first two chapters here.
Michael Haskins is a member of The Hardboiled Collective.
Real friendship is shown in times of trouble; prosperity is full of friends.
Euripides, 480 – 406 BC
There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.
Thomas Aquinas, 1225 – 1274
Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship. Others have their family; but to a solitary and an exile, his friends are everything.
Willa Cather, 1873-1947
Friendship is a common belief in the same fallacies, mountebanks, and hobgoblins.
H. L. Mencken, 1880 – 1956
A friend in need . . .
What’s friendship’s realest measure? I’ll tell you. The amount of precious time you’ll squander on someone else’s calamities and fuck-ups.
Richard Ford, author
The Russian mobster sat naked in the old office chair, his cloths discarded in a pile on the warehouse floor. Duct tape secured his wrists to the armrests and more tape forced his legs backward, attached to the wheel spokes below the seat. Welts and open bruises, red, purple and black, covered his chest and stomach, blood flowed from his broken nose, both eyes were swollen closed from the beating, and on the left side of his head, he had a torn ear. The mobster breathed through his open mouth and I could see broken teeth and blood. His engorged scrotum looked like a red and purple softball.
My friend Liam Mick Murphy stood in front of the condemned man, a three-foot length of rubber garden hose in his hand. The hose still had its new-bought shine except where blood stained it.
I stood about twenty feet away and slowly scrolled through the mobster’s cell phone.
“He’s not gonna talk,” I said, but kept my attention on the cell phone. “He knows you’ll kill him if he does. If you don’t kill him, Alexei will.” I looked up.
“You tell me what I want and you can run and hide from Alexei,” Mick Murphy said to the man.
The mobster said nothing.
“I think what we want is in his cell.” I held the phone up and pointed to the screen. “Names and numbers. He has eight on the speed dial. One and two are men, the others are clubs.”
“And what does that tell us, Norm, that this fucker won’t?” He raised the hose and brought it down hard on the mobster’s shoulder. A moan squealed from the man’s bloody mouth.
“How do you arrange the names on your speed dial?” It was a rhetorical question because we prioritized our speed dial.
“Is one of the names Alexei?” He hit the mobster again.
“No.” I didn’t expect it to be, neither did Mick Murphy.
“Then how the hell does it help us?” His words came slowly, angrily. Torturing a man tires you and Mick Murphy needed sleep, but he was frantic and wanted to find Alexei and kill him. It was a difficult task, finding and killing him, but Murphy was determined and for reasons that would’ve made me determined too.
I’ve known Mick Murphy for more than twenty years and I’ve seen him caught in situations between leftist guerrillas fighting government soldiers, and Mexican drug cartels fighting everyone, and know he can be tough and defend himself.
I tried to tell him before this crusade to find and kill Alexei began that being the aggressor was a whole different world than using violence to defend yourself. He would be responsible, I told him, for what went down, not someone else, because he was the initiator. What he wanted to do would close doors that would never open for him again. I don’t know if he heard me, or if he cared. I talked from experience.
He lived in a world of hurt and thought killing Alexei, the guy who put the play in motion that killed his fiancée, sank his sailboat and all but killed him, was what he needed. His physical wounds took six months to heal but his head was somewhere else, far from the carefree, Key West, sail-bum/journalist I know, and far from healing. He used vengeance as a painkiller. I watched his detachment as he beat the mobster.
“We’re moving up the food chain.” I read the names to myself. “Two men. He reports to one of them, maybe both. One and two on the speed dial.”
“We done here?” He grunted the words with rage and frustration.
The mobster turned his head slowly and looked toward me. He couldn’t see with the swollen eyes, but he knew the direction of my voice and his fate.
“Yes.” I put the cell phone in my jacket pocket.
“Let’s go climb that food chain.” Mick Murphy dropped the hose and walked to the exit door. “Coming?” He said it as a dare.
“Be right there,” I said.
Mick Murphy walked outside and when he opened the door, the harsh South Florida sun shot into the room, blinding me. He closed the door and the warehouse was dim again.
The mobster’s damaged stare followed me as I walked toward him.
“Alexei will kill you both.” The words spit from his mouth between bloody bubbles. “And not so quickly.”
“He’ll try,” I said, and shot him between his swollen eyes with a small twenty-two semi-automatic. He couldn’t see the gun but knew the shot was coming. It was his destiny and he accepted it. The shot’s report was lost within the empty warehouse as his screams had been.
Mick Murphy sat impatiently in the SUV, as I exited the dark warehouse and into the scorching June heat. Even in the morning, the mugginess of Fort Lauderdale was high. I stopped in the empty, fenced-off parking lot and dialed my cell phone.
“SoFlo, fifteen,” I said when the call was answered. “Cleaning crew.” I hung up.
The warehouse was oneof many safe house locations, a secret branch that joint military intelligence agencies controlled around the country. The address, for my purposes, was SoFlo, fifteen. It meant Southern Florida, number fifteen. When we returned, the body would be gone.
The industrial complex that housed the warehouse, took up a few city blocks in a once-thriving area on the fringes of Fort Lauderdale, but companies found cheaper labor outside the country and now only a few buildings had occupants. It was the perfect location for our purposes, not many inquisitive neighbors.
The agency kept most of its safe houses empty, though a few stored items that came from or went to Mexico or Central America. We needed empty and this was available with no questions asked. It was a favor owed and now paid.
Mick Murphy sat with the door open, looking straight ahead. He could’ve started the engine and had the A/C running, but he lives in Key West and likes the heat. Maybe he’s preparing for his time in hell. I got in and had the A/C on high right away. If Mick Murphy thought he was taking me to hell with him, he was mistaken. I live in Southern California where the heat isn’t usually as brutal, but my time spent in Central American countries helped me adjust.
“What now, Norm?” Mick Murphy is a get-to-the-point kind of guy.
He was in a hurry but didn’t have a clue as to where he was going. I’ve spent the last six months trying to help him get well, to slow him down, control his anger, set a direction. This kind of shit, seek and eliminate, is what I do for the military, for the decision makers in Washington, but I do it outside the country where laws and rules are a lot more flexible. The golden rule is don’t get caught. I have no delusion about what would happen if I were caught, the brass and decision makers would deny involvement with me.
“We go back to the hotel and sleep,” I said. We had hotel rooms in South Beach because that’s where Alexei and the Russian mob had its private clubs. “I call the clubs on his speed dial.” I drove toward the freeway.
“And then?” He played it like a chess game and always thought two or three moves ahead of where he was. At least that hadn’t changed. Yet.
“Either Viktor or Yakov run the clubs. I call, ask for them and someone will tell me when to call back.”
“Simple as that?”
“No,” I said. Kidnapping Russian mobsters is never simple, dealing with them is near impossible. “But someone will tell me and then we’ll know which club to go to.”
“Late, like with this bird?”
“They show up when the action begins, so late. Maybe before midnight.”
“And this gets us to Alexei how, Norm?”
“One of these guys runs the clubs in South Beach. He knows when Alexei is expected. He’s in Alexei’s outer circle, maybe knows his local routine because he wants to be impressive, and that gets us closer. Both these guys want to be in the inner circle, that’s where the power and money are. One of them is on top of things, to look good to the boss. Maybe even knows where the boss is. Alexei protects himself with layers and doesn’t trust too many, even in his circle.
You don’t get to be old an old KGB agent if you’re too trusting.”
“How come Alexei walked up to me in Key West, if he’s so cautious?”
“You weren’t a threat to him,” I said. “He wasn’t alone. He’s never alone and that’s going to make taking him difficult. Messy.”
“You think there’s a better way to do it?”
“No, not if you want to face off with him.”
“I want him to know it’s me.” Mick Murphy’s words came out hard, determination pushing them.
“It’ll take time and we have to be as cautious as Alexei,” I said and turned onto I-95 and hit bumper-to-bumper traffic. “I’m not interested in a suicide mission.”
“You’re right, Norm.” Murphy slumped in the seat.
“Tired, I guess.”
“You having second thoughts about interrogating these guys?”
“Whatever it takes to get Alexei,” he said and closed his eyes. “I’ve got no problems with it.”
“It’s gonna take more than you and me,” I said and Murphy grunted a reply. “Whichever one of these guys we go after, it could be hard to grab him. They’ll have some form of security.”
“I’m not afraid of hard, I’m afraid of failure,” he said without looking at me. “What about your spook buddies?”
“I’m off the radar,” I said, only a half lie. Traffic moved forward a few feet. “We’re lucky to get the warehouse.”
I’m with Mick Murphy because he’s a friend in need. I owe him for saving my life a long time ago. I’m indebted and spent the past few years paying him back, though he never asked me to. He has never asked me why I’m there for him, either. Then again, I’ve never asked him why he’s shown up in my life the few times that I’ve needed him.
My usual array of magic tricks that were called-in favors from the intelligence agency when in trouble, were less available to me now. All I could offer him for sure was my experience and support.
“You always have a plan, what is it?”
“Someone to do surveillance for us. You with the red hair and beard stand out too much and I don’t want to run into any Russian thug that might remember me.”
“I trust Pauly.”
Pauly is an ex-drug smuggler friend of Mick Murphy’s who retired to Key West. I, personally, have a hard time thinking he’s retired, or even liking him, but he’s Mick Murphy’s friend and proved it a few times. Trusting him, from my point of view, is a whole other issue.
“If Alexei thinks that you’re looking for him, it’s as good as over. You understand that, right?” The words sounded cynical because I was repeating the warning for the hundredth time.
“I’ve spent the last six months listening to you,” he said, matching my sarcasm. “If I didn’t believe you, I wouldn’t be here. You do this for a living. I’m along for your expertise and expect to get Alexei. I’ll do the rest. You tell me what to do and I’ll do it, no questions asked.”
“Mick, you don’t know how to not ask questions.” He’s a journalist, and like cops are always cops in and out of uniforms, Mick Murphy is always a journalist in his ways.
“I’m learning from the best,” he said and smiled to himself, but I caught it. “I’ll call Pauly if we ever get out of this traffic and back to the hotel. Then we’ll get some sleep.” Three cars stopped at a red light in Key West is traffic to Mick Murphy, not like on I-95, it was making
him anxious. “When I wake up, I want to know your plan.”
“So do I.” Traffic moved at a snail’s pace. It reminded me of Los Angeles and that put me in my comfort zone.
(c) Michael Haskins.