David Levien

Thirteen Million Dollar Pop


Frank Behr walked two steps ahead of the principal toward the blacked-out Chevy Suburban. The winter had cracked a few weeks earlier, and the night air swirling around them had lost its bite. The report of their hard shoes on concrete reverberated off the walls of the underground parking garage of the Pierson Street office building. The principal was half a foot shorter than he was, so looking back, Behr had a clean view of the amber-lit geometric rows, now mostly devoid of cars due to the late hour, that spread out around them.

“Yeah … yes,” the principal said into his cell phone, “it’s going to happen. Tomorrow morning, tomorrow afternoon latest. Shugie’s just getting the press conference together.”

The principal was Bernard Kolodnik, a prominent businessman with a real estate and property development background who was so smooth and successful in his dealings that he was admiringly known around greater Indianapolis, and throughout the Midwest, as “Bernie Cool.” Fit at fifty, Kolodnik had a strong jaw, blue-gray eyes, and hair the color of steel-cut wheat.

“What? What?” Kolodnik said, fighting reception that was growing choppy as they got farther underground. “You’re crapping out on me, Ted … Ted?” He clicked off the call.

“Damn things,” Kolodnik muttered to himself of the cell phone, and began walking more quickly. Behr, in turn, stepped up his pace.

Executive protection. It wasn’t an area in which Behr was expert. He was pinch-hitting for Pat Teague, who had approached his desk at 6:15, when he’d been about done for the day, and asked him to fill in. Teague was an involved father apparently, and had a few kids playing several sports or vice versa. Either way, there were a lot of games for him to go to, as Behr had gotten similar requests a few other times over the past six months he’d been at the Caro Group, the private investigation and security company that was as close as it got to a white-shoe firm in the field.

The job was an uneasy fit for Behr. Working for someone else-along with the starched collars, the suits and ties, and the stiff and shiny black Florsheim wingtips he was required to wear-rubbed him the wrong way. In fact, the outfit chafed his feet and neck raw for the first couple of weeks. But with Susan near nine months pregnant he found himself doing what he had to to earn a living, and trying to make his peace with it.

Behr had been reluctant about filling in for Teague the first time he was asked, not being professionally trained as a body man. But Teague assured him he was up to it without any advance preparation, that Kolodnik was a low-maintenance client who just wanted someone to organize his table at restaurants and to keep away “wakeboppers”-his term for business aspirants hoping to make contact and gain by the association. There was nothing against the switch in company policy, so Behr had asked a few questions, read some tactical guidance in the archives, and gone ahead in order to collect the extra money. He soon learned he was basically meant to be a hybrid of chauffeur and babysitter.

All sound besides their footsteps dropped away as they neared the P3 level. The elevator wouldn’t take them lower than P1. It was broken, or perhaps they needed a key card this late in the evening. Though Behr wasn’t an experienced bodyguard, even he could see that this should have been a two-man detail, minimum, had they been going by the book: one man to accompany the client to his meeting and a driver to stay with the vehicle and pull up to a rear or side entrance of the building when it was done. Three men, with a backup for the walk, would’ve been even better. But in the current economic climate the “book” was out the window, and no one who earned his own money, even a guy like Kolodnik, was springing for multiman teams unless there was real reason. That was Behr’s guess anyway.

So when Kolodnik had asked him to come inside, to wait while he took his meeting, and to help him carry some stuff out, Behr had done so. He’d parked the Suburban on a low floor in the visitor spaces because the garage had been full at that time, rode the elevator upstairs with Kolodnik, and waited outside the glass-walled conference room while a nearly three-hour meeting took place between Kolodnik, a redheaded woman, and a pair of gray- haired men, all dressed in sober blue business suits. Now Behr toted two bankers’ boxes full of files back to the vehicle.

They turned the corner and reached the head of the row where the Suburban and a few other cars were parked, when Behr felt a blip on his mental radar. He transferred the boxes to one hand and was fishing in his pocket for the Suburban’s key fob when it caught his eye. There was an aberration in the lighting pattern. A black gap, like a missing tooth, in the otherwise uniform yellow light grid of the garage, and then it was too late.

The gunshots punched through the air in a broken chain of crackle and thunder. A stripe of rounds tore into a Toyota Camry near them as Behr dropped the bankers’ boxes and jammed Kolodnik to the ground beneath him. The air went out of Kolodnik upon impact. A breathless “fuck” was all Behr heard before more rounds wanged off the concrete behind them and started getting closer.

Behr had never been fired upon by an automatic weapon before, and he instantly found he was not a fan. The buzz-saw sound scrambled his mind, and he felt the urge to make his six and a half feet and two hundred forty pounds as small as he possibly could, but that urge competed with the instinct to cover Kolodnik. He stayed over the businessman and scramble-crawled them toward the Suburban, shredding the knees of his suit pants as he went.

He scanned the darkness for a target, but between bursts, the area the gunman fired from was pitch-black. Another stripe of rounds ripped past them on the ground, and Behr was sure he was killed as he pressed the key fob. The Suburban unlocked with a chirping sound that joined the ringing in his ears. The fob tumbled from his hand and fell to the pavement as he reached up and jerked the door open between them and the shooter. There was little chance they’d be driving out anyway, as the shooter let off another burst.

Dead, Behr thought, with just a piece of flimsy Detroit steel between him and what were undoubtedly full-metal-jacketed.223 or 7.65mm shells coming their way.

The door shuddered with the impact, and Behr expected he and Kolodnik to be covered with shattered glass and worse. But there was merely spalling, and the window held. The door shook and absorbed the live rounds with a dull whump.

Armored. The realization echoed in Behr’s head. But getting the principal up and inside the vehicle would be more dangerous than leaving him down right now.

“Oh, Jesus,” he heard Kolodnik grunt from behind him, and Behr realized this wasn’t going to end on its own.

Return fire, Behr exhorted himself. His hand, slick with sweat, found the holstered Glock 22.40 caliber that Caro required him to carry on his hip. He didn’t generally favor the gun, the squared look and plastic feel of it, but he loved it at the moment.

When firing in low-light or no-light conditions, the idea is to keep the shots within an imagined two-foot box, centered on the opponent’s muzzle flash. Another burst erupted at them. There was some muted flare coming from the weapon across the garage, but not the three-foot stream of flame he expected.

Flash suppressor. Nice information but not that helpful at the moment. Behr sprawled out beneath the bottom edge of the door and put the tritium dot of his front sight where he’d last seen a muzzle burst, hoping the shooter didn’t know enough to fire and move, and emptied a mag. Ten rounds pitched worthlessly into the darkness. Behr tried to determine if he’d made any hits as he dropped the clip and reloaded. At least he’d stopped the incoming fire for a moment. Then Behr’s desperation to survive fed him an idea. He rolled onto his back, accidentally kicking Kolodnik along the side of the head as he did, and shot out all the nearby lights along the ceiling. Plastic and glass sprinkled down on them along with a thick blanket of darkness.

Behr had gone through his reserve mag now, but he hadn’t quite shot himself empty. He grabbed at his ankle where he wore his Bulldog.44 as a backup gun, strictly against company policy. He had the five rounds in it and then they’d be done.

He tried to listen as he held fire, but there was only a hollowed-out buzzing in his ears after all the shooting.

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