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For All Nails #122: The Unforgettable Fire

by Johnny Pez



New York City, New York, N.C., CNA
21 September 1974

When Paddy O'Roark unwrapped his fish and chips and found a tape recorder, he knew that he had just been offered another job by Mike. For some reason, Mike (whom Paddy had never met and whose real name Paddy neither knew nor wanted to know) liked to put his job offers in unexpected places. Once it had been a manila envelope in a copy of the Globe, FN1 once a recorded message in place of the song on a Lokes record, and once it had even been a fortune in a cookie. Mostly, though, it was tape recorders.

Paddy removed the tape recorder from the greasy newspaper (a copy of the Herald, he noted), wiped it off, and switched it on. The voice that Paddy had come to think of as Mike said, "Good afternoon, Mr. O'Roark. Justice Press is a small publishing firm located at 33rd Street and Third Avenue. The owner and publisher is Steven Taylor, who has an office on the fourth floor. Taylor has a safe in his office hidden behind a portrait of Thomas Jefferson. Inside the safe is an accordion file with the words "Camacho Project" on it. Your mission, FN2 should you choose to accept it, is to retrieve the contents of the Camacho Project file and drop them into a rubbish bin located at the southwest corner of 25th Street and Second Avenue. As always, if you or any member of your team is caught or killed, that's your problem. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Paddy."

With a practiced gesture, Paddy ejected the tape and tossed it into the kitchen sink, where it could safely burn itself into ashes. The recorder itself was as good as anything on the market, and could be fenced to an electronics dealer of Paddy's acquaintance. The tape recorders made a very nice addition to the fees Paddy collected from Mike. FN3



New York City, New York Province, N.C., CNA
22 September 1974

Sunday nights were Paddy's favorite time of the week. The city was as dead as John Hancock, leaving him a clear field of operations. The citizens were all out of town visiting their in-laws, and the millies were busy eating doughboys and drinking coffee. FN4

Tonight, Paddy's "team", as Mike liked to call it, consisted of Kenny the Stick, Fingers Cianci, and Paddy himself. Kenny dropped Paddy and Fingers off at the mouth of an alley, then took the getaway loke around the corner. Paddy led Fingers down the alley to the building's back entrance, then held a penlight pointed at the lock while Fingers got down to business. It only took Fingers a couple of minutes to get the door open, after which Paddy led him inside.

On a Sunday night, even the busiest publishing company wasn't likely to be printing anything, and Justice Press was not one of your busier concerns. They had exactly one bestselling author under contract, and she took two or three years between books. The press room was dark and deserted as Paddy led Fingers past the dormant machines and up the stairs at the far end. They paused to listen at the top of each flight, but Paddy didn't hear anything but old building noises.

The door from the stairwell opened onto a hallway on the fourth floor. Even in the weak light of the penlight Paddy could tell that it had been a while since the walls had received a fresh coat of paint. The metal name plates on the doors showed more than a touch of tarnish, even the one that said STEVEN TAYLOR, PUBLISHER. That door was locked, but it didn't take Fingers more than a few seconds to open it.

Paddy had expected the office to be a cluttered mess, but it was as neat and orderly as a military formation. Probably, he thought, because they didn't do enough business to keep the publisher's office cluttered.

There were two windows in the office, and Paddy switched off his light until he could lower the blinds on them. Then it only took a quick scan of the walls to find the Jefferson picture -- it was the one the Mexicans used to use on their two-dólar bill, back when two dólares was worth enough to rate a banknote. FN5 Fingers swung the picture away from the wall to reveal the safe, then set to work.

As he always did when opening a safe, Fingers began to mutter a low monologue, half a running commentary on his progress, half a conversation with the lock. Paddy was used to it, and paid it no mind as the cracksman worked.

Paddy leaned in closer when Fingers' commentary turned into a repeated "That's it that's it that's it ... ", which meant that he was almost done. The door to the safe swung open at the same time as the door to the hallway.

There was no time to try and get out of sight before the lights in the office went on. The man standing in the doorway looked at them for a moment with a shocked expression, then said, "Who are you?"

Paddy's chief emotion was irritation. What the hell was this bloke doing at his workplace on a Sunday night? Didn't he have any in-laws to visit?

"That's none of your concern, Mister," Paddy began to say, but before he was able to finish there was a gunshot and the man in the doorway collapsed bleeding onto the floor. Paddy spun around and knocked the gun from Fingers' hand.

"What the fucking hell did you go and do that for?" Paddy demanded.

"He saw us," Fingers snarled. "He could tell the millies what we look like."

"The fucking millies wouldn't have a fucking clue who we are," Paddy insisted. He was interrupted by a low moan. The man Fingers had shot, still bleeding like a stuck pig, was trying to crawl away. Fingers snatched up his gun and emptied it into the man's back.

"Shit, Fingers, now we're facing a murder rap!" Paddy exclaimed. "The millies wouldn't care about a safe job, especially from some jeffy publisher, but they don't never give up on a murder case."

"Then we don't leave 'em no clues, do we?" said Fingers. "There's a shitload of paper all over this place, all we gotta do is light it and the whole fucking building'll burn to the ground. The millies'll be lucky if they can even find the fucking bloke after that, let alone say what did him. You grab the stuff from the safe and I'll start the fire."

Paddy couldn't think of anything better to do, so he rifled the safe while Fingers started dumping papers onto the floor of the office. The Camacho Project file was there, just like Mike said it would be. Paddy also took some other papers from the safe, because you never knew what could be fenced. No money though, dammit.

By the time Paddy was done going through the safe, Fingers had a fire going. Paddy headed for the door, then stopped. The way was blocked by the dead man and the spreading pool of blood. Fingers solved that problem by stepping on the body on his way out. Feeling queasy, Paddy did the same.

The fire was still spreading as the two men entered the stairwell.



New York City, New York Province, N.C., CNA
23 September 1974

Joan Kahn stood silent in the red light of dawn as the firemen prepared to leave the still-smoldering building housing the Justice Press. The fire, luckily, had never spread beyond a pair of offices on the fourth floor, so there probably wouldn't be any delays in putting out books and pamphlets.

The New York Municipal Militia had called her at her Brooklyn apartment an hour before and asked her to come and help them identify the body they had recovered from one of the burned offices. Although most of his hair was gone, and the heat had blackened his features, Kahn had been able to assure them that it was the publisher of Justice Press, Steven Taylor.

According to the militiamen, Taylor had been shot several times at close range before being left to burn in his office. They had asked her who would have had a motive for killing Taylor, and she had replied truthfully that he had made a lot of powerful enemies over the years, and that any one of them could have had him murdered.

She didn't believe it, though. There was only one man ruthless enough to try to destroy an entire building in another country just to protect a secret.

There was a telephone number in Kahn's pocket, given to her by Timothy Liddy before she left New Orleans. Call the number, he had told her, and let it ring three times, then hang up. I'll be in touch within 24 hours.

Vincent Mercator had just murdered her best friend, and Joan Kahn wouldn't rest until he was brought to justice.


Forward to FAN #123: Waste Management.

Forward to 21 September 1974: Black September.

Forward to Joan Kahn: Where Are They Right Now?

Return to For All Nails.

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