Big Tommy Bellini, the head of the ring, cleans up after himself better than an anal-retentive maid. The meanest, baddest, most vicious SOB in Detroit crime circles, but the one who maintained the lowest profile. Until two years ago. Then he kills another boss without permission, books himself on freaking Good Morning Detroit and disclaims any knowledge about the killings. Grabs way too much attention. So he basically gets kicked out of the mob. The other families can’t whack him, but they can’t work with him any further because he’s damaged goods. His wife used to be a Texas debutante, came from old money, so they head back to her home turf in Houston. He sets himself up as an importer of fine textiles, rugs, art, and so on. Totally legit, and he was being watched very carefully. He’s probably importing white powder and hash, but what do I know? Houston police roughed him up once, and he sued their asses into the ground, and he won a million-dollar settlement, and so I don’t know how hard they looked at him afterwards.’ Harry pulled out a newspaper clipping. ‘A month ago he had a stroke at the wheel of his Jaguar on the Gulf freeway and crashed. Badly. Two of his buddies were killed. Tommy Bellini’s been in a coma ever since.’

Whit tore the wet napkin under his beer in strips.

Harry leaned back. ‘Eve Michaels’ car ends up in Des Moines. It’s on the way to Detroit from Denver. She wasn’t running away, she was running toward something.’

‘Or the Bellinis caught up with her and killed her,’ Whit said. His voice was hoarse.

‘And she’s long dead. Or they might be grateful to her. And possibly she wanted something from them,’ Harry said.

‘What?’ Whit said.

‘A new life,’ Harry said. ‘You want me to see if there’s a connection between Eve Michaels and the Bellinis? It’s a thin chance, but it’s about all I got left to check.’

‘This could be worse than Pandora’s box,’ Whit said. ‘The mob. Jesus.’

‘I’m not afraid of these people, Judge,’ Harry said. ‘Okay, well maybe a little. Because I’m not foolish. I can go to Detroit tonight.’

‘Detroit? What about Houston?’

‘She might have stayed in Detroit once his organization fell apart there. But I’ll try Houston as well.’

Whit nodded at Harry. ‘Find her. Please.’

On the way back to Port Leo, they stopped at the Nueces County morgue for Whit to pick up autopsy results on a drowning victim who had been pulled from St Leo Bay. As justice of the peace for Encina County, Whit also performed coroner’s duties, ruling on cause of death and conducting death inquests, but the autopsies were performed by the pros in nearby Nueces County. Whit read the report as Claudia navigated through the traffic heading north out of Corpus Christi. The dead man was Lance Gartner, a young grad student from Austin who had gotten raving drunk visiting cousins in Port Leo, taken a rowboat out in the bay in the middle of the night, free- based heroin, fallen overboard and drowned. He was twenty-three. A life wadded up and thrown away.

‘Shame about that man,’ she said as he put the autopsy file away.

‘Yes. I don’t think his family knew about the heroin use.’ Sad silence hung between them. ‘Busy day tomorrow. I’ve got a full docket in small-claims court and then two days’ worth of juvenile court coming up this week. Get to have surly teenagers attempt to explain idiot behavior for hours on end. Time I could be spending with my dad instead.’

‘I know. Why don’t you take time off from work, be with him more?’

Whit said, ‘And not waste time trying to find my mother.’

‘Your father only has a while, Whit. Who cares about your mother? She’s hardly more than a concept to you,’ Claudia said. ‘If Harry’s theory is true, she was bent if she wanted a life with embezzlers and mobsters. If she is still with these people, then she won’t want contact from you and they won’t want you bothering her. She’s not worth five minutes of your time.’

‘I don’t care what she or anyone else wants,’ Whit said.

‘Whit, end this now. Tell Harry you changed your mind.’

Now he looked at her. ‘I have to know, Claudia.’

‘You’re up for election in another couple of years. You want the voters knowing your mother might have been involved in a murder?’

‘Are you going to publicize it? Fast way to get a fresh face to work death investigations with you.’

She gave him a quick sideways smile. ‘I would never breathe a word. But you know politics.’

‘If someone else wants to run inquests and juvenile court and small-claims court that bad, let them splatter me with mud. But that’s not what you’re worried about, is it?’

‘Promise me,’ she said. ‘You’ll wait to hear from Harry before you do anything.’

‘You’re afraid I’m going to run up to Houston, check out the Bellinis. See if I can find her myself if Harry backs out?’

‘I know you. Let Harry handle this. Be patient. Stay out of it, Whit, please. Promise me.’

‘My family was never much good in the promises department,’ Whit said. ‘But I won’t do anything you wouldn’t approve of, okay, worrywart?’

Claudia knew it was all she would get, and she silently wished that Harry found no trace of Eve Michaels.


When the strippers showed up, Eve Michaels knew the business deal was done and the Bellini family was going to get burned.

The negotiation dinner in one of Club Topaz’s private suites started winding down early, about ten, not nearly soon enough for Eve. She was bone-tired and ready for the deal to close. She suspected Paul Bellini was ready, too; she saw as the table was being cleared that the two strippers, fresh from performing downstairs, were waiting outside the suite. It was a subtle difference between Tommy Bellini and his son. Tommy would have been much more discreet with his whores. Tonight, when it mattered most that Paul be focused, he was thinking with his little soldier again. Cut a fast and possibly disadvantageous deal so the partying could begin.

Tonight the guests were a couple of Miami drug dealers in Houston for a five-million-dollar score, and behind the smiles Eve decided they were judging how much tattered flesh remained on the bones of the Bellini organization. The night had begun with business when the six of them sat down at the table and Eve put on her best poker face.

‘So you’ve got five million worth of coke to sell,’ Paul said. He was making his voice a low growl. On purpose. Eve didn’t look at him. Embarrassed.

‘Yeah. But we can supply you even more, if our deal works out.’ The head Miami guy, Kiko Grace, took a hit off his cigar, blew a stream of Cuban smoke above the table. The cigar fit in with the rest of him: tailored dark Italian suit, black hair trimmed in an expertly stylish cut, shoes polished so you could see your reflection in the calfskin. He had a small, delicate mole near the corner of his mouth, more like a woman’s beauty mark, the only softening feature on his hard face.

‘We’re bringing in sixty-plus kilos this week to see how it goes with you all. We can double it, triple it, no problem.’ Kiko’s voice was buttery-smooth, satisfied, like the deal was done. ‘But we want to be sure you can distribute fast enough for our volume. We can’t work with an organization who can’t sell it effectively.’

‘Our problem is you’re asking a premium price for the coke,’ Eve said quietly. ‘That hurts our margins.’ Paul glanced at her, as though he’d forgotten she was in the room.

‘Rethink your margins, Eve. You got suppliers lining up to work with you?’ Kiko said. He touched the little mole on his cheek. ‘No one’s eager to have more deals canceled because your organization took a body blow. I know and you know I’m doing you a favor.’

Eve glanced at her boyfriend, Frank, sitting next to her, but he had eyes only for the merlot in his glass.

‘Don’t misunderstand me. We’re sorry about your dad, Paul,’ Kiko said.

‘Thanks,’ Paul said.

‘He was a great man,’ Kiko said. Eve didn’t like the was. ‘But with him down, a couple of his lieutenants dead, there’s not a lot of confidence that you can keep the streets supplied. You don’t want to be the Mom-and-Pop store

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