Detective Young stepped out the door of the cafe into the night, into the rain coming down in waves, sheets like sails in an angry wind. He turned up the tall collar on his trench and turned his back to the gale, carefully cupping a cigarette against the fatal falling drops before lighting it. The smoke from his first grateful exhalation was whipped away in great locomotive puffs, looking almost tangible in the heavy, humid air. From beneath the brim of his hat, his face was shadowed, his expression hidden from the streetlight. The buzz of the light made itself heard even above the sound of the pounding rain.

This is never going to work, Young thought. Never in a million years is Jimmy Twangs gonna take the bait. No chance, but damned if I can think of anything better.

James "Twangs" Scarliotti was a bad-ass jazz bass player-turned-buttonman, with a steel-reinforced bass he had the habit of tuning up while some poor bastard's neck was looped in the strings. He'd record himself twanging tonelessly away on the strings while the unlucky sonofabitch first screamed, then pleaded, and finally gargled into silence. Then Twangs would torque the strings way up high and record the sound of popping arteries and vertebrae. Then, just out of spite, he'd send the tape--and the aforementioned poor bastard's head--to the department.

As Young continued down the sidewalk, he became aware that a vehicle--a black caddy--was pulling up slowly beside him. Refusing to look over, Young simply said "Yeah?"

"Hey buddy," came a voice like pebbles being shoved through a harmonica, a horrible, grating wheeze--the voice of a man who has spent too many years in smoke-fogged basement jazz clubs drinking bourbon till daylight. "Which way is it to Flushing from here?"

He's taking the bait.
Shit, I'm the bait. Those stakeout guys had better not fuck this up. You watchin', guys?

Young had time to consider his position briefly before a shadow in the alley behind him detached itself from the other shadows. As Young turned toward it, there was a sharp pain at his left temple, and then the lights went out.

And he was at the bar in the cigar lounge at The Mighty Hotep Casino and Resort in Reno, and he was wearing a mauve shirt and a baby-blue suit and white shoes and feeling like maybe he'd had five or six too many Singapore Slings the night before, and over in the corner a couple of cats were bent way over the bar nursing some deadly-looking concoction out of glasses shaped like rabbits and some fucking psycho was playing Jaco's The Chicken, and then someone with a voice like a steamshovel driving over broken glass was saying "Hey, are you absolutely pos-


". . . -sitive this is the guy?" The voice continued as Young began slowly, painfully, to regain consciousness.

"Sure thing. Look- Mr. Fancy-Pants detective R.P. Young. Here's his badge."

Young opened his eyes, saw nothing, and shut them again. The bag over his head explained the muffled quality of the voices in the room. For a moment he'd thought the blow to his head had damaged his hearing, but the world was beginning to clear, darkly. He let his body remain limp, letting them think he was still unconscious. If he moved, they might jump the gun--literally--and who knew if the cops had had time to set up an ambush or not? The voices continued.

"Aight, I just wanted to make sure. This one's gotta be done right. My employer says this one's gotta be perfeck'."

"It's him, all right? You can tell Chief Hultzer you got the right guy... I mean, they're gonna get his head in the morning anyway, yeh?"

Holy fucking shit. The Chief?

Young felt his hands go numb.

I really am fucked.

The bag was lifted from his head. They had him in some kind of abandoned-looking warehouse. Maybe somewhere in the skids. He looked up into the biggest, ugliest, smelliest face he'd ever seen. The mug shots never did this kind of scum any justice. Twangs was instantly recognizable. The guy with him, though... little guy with a big nasal voice...

I should know that voice.

"Ya hear that, detective? The big man wants you to go bye-bye. Whaddaya think?"

"I think the big man's even more of a dick than I thought before."

"Ha ha!" Twangs laughed. "Yeah, I guess so. Whadja do to piss him off bad enough to have me whack ya?"

That's it. Keep talking.

Young shook his head. "I don't know. Could've been any number of things. I've been a pain in his no-good ass for a long time now."

"Ha ha! I like this guy! Say, dick, you like jazz?"

His favorite topic, I'm sure.
"Sure. I like jazz. Not too into that smooth shit, though."

"Fuck yeah! Gimme that gritty shit, all the way. Say, who you like better- Monk, or Hancock?"

"I'm actually sort of a Tatum man, myself."

"Holeee shit! You know your peeaner players, I'll give ya that. This son of a bitch might be worth keepin' around, Ro!"

Ah. Got it. Freddie "Romeo" Pizziculli. That squeeky little sonofabitch.

Sweat began seriously to collect on Young's brow. He could feel his clammy palms and dampness in his armpits. If this operation included not only the Chief, but Pizziculli, who was very big in the internal affairs department, it was a pretty sure bet that there would be no backup, no sting, no nothing--just Young's head in a paper bag on the front stoop of the station downtown in the morning.

Young's mind felt like it might pop.

Well, that would save Twangs some trouble, anyway...

Part II