Captain Robert Decker sat stiffly behind his desk, chewing his nails and eyeing the telephone in front of him as if it might at any moment explode.
He had been doing more or less the same thing all morning, dreading the call he knew was coming and growing more anxious with every second that it was delayed. Oblivious officers who ventured into the office seeking to brief him on developments in the Showstopper investigation or bring a host of important matters to his attention were driven out by a barrage of shouting and nasty names.
Many thought the Captain was just jumpy because of Stevens’ assassination. Some imagined it was because Decker feared, as they privately hoped, that he would be next on the Showstopper’s hit list.
What they didn’t know was that Decker was already in the crosshairs of his own private nightmare, and he was only now beginning to realize it.
The telephone jingled in its cradle, making him cringe. Decker cautiously picked up the receiver and put it to his ear.
“Yes?” he croaked, his mouth dry.
“Beg pardon, sir,” said Officer Kelly, “but there’s a man on the line. Says he has information on the Showstopper.”
“What sort of information?”
“No idea, sir. He just said it was very important and that he’d only talk to you.”
“Very well. Put him through,” said Decker, licking his lips.
“Right away, sir.”
There was a tone, a click, and then the voice he had grown to hate slithered through the line.
“Captain Decker, if you please. How’s it going, guv’nor?”
Decker cupped his hand over his mouth and leaned low to his desk, peering around to make sure no one was watching.
“You lunatic,” he hissed. “What were you thinking? Gunning down one of the council’s top men in broad daylight? You’ll kill us both!”
“I don’t think I appreciate your tone, Decker,” the Saboteur snarled. “I thought you’d be down on your knees and licking my boots after what I did. You should be thanking me!”
“Thanking you? What in the hell for? For almost getting me compromised and destroying everything I’ve built up here? I thought we had an agreement!”
“I killed Stevens for the sake of our bloody agreement, you idiot bastard! Do you know how difficult it is to find competent help in this sewer of a city? It took me months to work him over, and now I have to start from scratch again. So if you don’t want a bullet in your head, I suggest you start acting a little more grateful.”
“How was killing Stevens part of our agreement? You’re not making any sense.”
“It never ceases to amaze me how thick you are,” the Saboteur said. “Knowing people like you proves to me that humanity has no future. You told me Stevens was getting greedy. You were fairly pissing your trousers. You asked me to do something, and I did. I hope you’re happy now, you gutless whelp.”
“I meant for you to keep him on a leash, not kill him! I was in charge of his security. Do you have any idea how stupid I look right now? Not to mention the next man from the council might be even more of a wild card than he was.”
“Then I’ll kill the next man, too! So sod off, Decker. You’re damn lucky I’m a man of my word, or they’d find you tomorrow morning with a scarlet necktie. After tonight, you’ll have all the information you need to catch the Showstopper, and you’ll never have to hear from me again. Believe me when I say I’m looking forward to it more than you are.”
“Fine,” said Decker. “I’m through with your games and your lunacy anyway. Good riddance.”
“And one more thing, mate,” Archer drawled, with an unmistakable edge to his voice. “When I tell you where to find the Showstopper, you’d better catch him. If you cock this up, I might have to seriously rethink the terms of our agreement. Especially the part where you’re still alive afterward. Understand?”
The Captain gulped.
“Good. And when you do nab him, make sure you interrogate him nice and slow. I’d like to torture that sneaking scum myself after what he pulled. Make sure that when they sentence him, they do him for the longest and most painful death possible. I want to see him bleed.”
“What the devil are you talking about?” asked Decker.
“I’m talking about the goddamn bloody Showstopper!” the Saboteur roared, and Decker jumped as the sound of something shattering lanced over the line. “It’s his fault all of this happened! You really think Stevens just decided to grow a mind of his own all of a sudden? No. The Showstopper must have gotten to him and given him ideas.”
“That’s ridiculous, even for you,” Decker scoffed. “You’re a loon, and you’re paranoid to boot. What could the Showstopper have possibly promised Stevens to make him turn traitor?”
“I don’t know, but that’s what happened. I know it in my gut. It’s not fair! I’m the one who sets the rules of this game, and he goes behind my back and cheats on me? You don’t get away with that schoolboy ballocks when you play with Jack Archer. I’ve got a good mind to hunt him down and skin him alive!”
“Well…you can’t,” said Decker impotently. “We have a deal, remember? I need him alive. And besides, there’s no way something like that could have happened.”
“You believe what you want,” Archer hissed. “Just shut your trap, do as you’re told, and we won’t have any trouble. I’ve taken every measure to make sure the Showstopper won’t be able to get away. No slip-ups if you want to keep breathing.”
“Fine. Now, for God’s sake, get off the line before someone gets suspicious.”
“God ain’t got nothing to do with it, Decker,” said the Saboteur. “He died a long, long time ago.”
There was a click as the line went dead. Decker leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on the desk, a wave of relief washing over him. It looked like things might be starting to go his way again.
“Getting comfortable in my office, Captain?”
So much for that, Decker thought.
Chief Calvin stood in the doorway of the room, giving him a glare that could have killed lesser men.
“I believe you’re mistaken, Calvin,” Decker growled. “This is my office. It’s always been mine, and it only became mine officially because your incompetence caused the deaths of numerous officers and civilians.”
“You’re the one who’s mistaken, Decker,” said the Chief scathingly. “If this was anyone else’s office besides mine, it was Stevens’ office. You’re just the lap dog who’s taken up his master’s mantle. A blind man could see that.”
The Captain rose to his feet, now genuinely angry.
“Shut up, you old fool. You’re just bitter that I finally got what I deserved and showed everyone what a proper idiot you are. I’m ten times the policeman you ever were, and everyone in this precinct knows it. Your bluster doesn’t scare me anymore. I’ve outgrown you, Calvin.”
The Chief snorted.
“If you really got what you deserved, you’d be at the bottom of the Hudson. You’re right. I am a fool. A fool for not seeing what a fair-weather turncoat you are, and not kicking your sorry ass out of this precinct when I had the chance.”
“You can say whatever you want,” Decker smirked. “But I’m still the one sitting behind the desk, not you. I make the decisions now. So if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like a moment of peace. With no due respect, sir, get lost.”
Rather than backing off, Calvin instead advanced toward Decker, making the Captain lean back involuntarily.
“All right, Decker,” he said. “You win. You call the shots for now. But how long do you think that will last?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The power’s gone to your head, Captain. You’re thicker than I thought if you really think the council will just leave you alone after what happened to Stevens.”
Calvin smiled grimly.
“I don’t know what kind of deal you and your buddy Stevens worked out, but the council won’t take the murder of one of their own lying down. They’ll send down another fancy-dressed bureaucrat to take his place, and you’ll be off your pedestal and back down in the dump with the rest of us soon enough. And I’ll be there to watch it happen.”
“You’re lucky I don’t have full authority yet,” said Decker, “or I’d put you out on the street myself. And as soon as I do, you’ll be the first one to go. Mark my words.”
“I don’t doubt it,” said Calvin, “if that were ever to happen. But it won’t. You’re a sham, Decker. You’ve made no progress on the Showstopper case whatsoever, and you’ve got no evidence to show the council that you’re the right man for the job. You may be at the top now, but you won’t be there for long. That’s politics.”
“You’re all talk. For your information, I did make a deal: one that guarantees I’ll go down in history. And you? Well, you’ll just fade away. In a few years, all the officers in this precinct will be standing around trying to remember who you were. You, McKenna, and all the rest of the slackers and bums will be gone, and I’ll still be here. That’s the day I’ll really win.”
The two men stared each other down for a long moment. Slowly, Calvin turned and walked out of the office, but not before throwing some parting words over his shoulder.
“I hope you’re prepared to pay the piper when the time comes, Decker, because it always does. And you mark my words; I’ll find out what your agreement was, and when I do, I’ll come down on you like a ton of bricks.”
The Chief strode out of the room, and once again Decker was alone. An ordinary man would have been unnerved, or perhaps even frightened by Calvin’s solemn oath, but the Captain brushed it off like so much dust.
He was not an ordinary man. He was destined for greatness.