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by Andrew Vachss

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TERMINAL, a Burke Novel, by Andrew Vachss

The house was mostly dark. A few lights on, all on the first story. The key I'd been given opened the back door. The security codes I punched in clicked.

Then we started working.

The bodyguards were in one of those "great rooms," their eyes magneted to the gangbang porn playing on a wall-sized plasma screen. Claw had his spike deep in the shooter's neck before the glazed-over slug could even touch leather, but the karate guy caught the peripheral flash and was out of his chair like a rocket, launching a kidney-killing side kick at Claw's back. Gigi plucked him out of the air like a gorilla snatching a butterfly on the wing.

I went up the carpeted stairs, rubber-soled and plastic-gloved. A faint glow spilled from the room I wanted. I slipped inside. The old man saw me. I wasn't wearing a mask. He had to know what that meant, but he didn't move.

I knew what he was, right in that moment. The kind of human that would make lice jump off his skin and vultures refuse to eat his flesh.

I crossed to him. The room's shadow shifted, darkness inside gloom. Before I could whirl, a heavy forearm wrapped around my neck like constrictor cable. Something slammed into the back of my thigh. I slid down, not resisting, trying to get my chin tucked while I still had time.

The choke artist came down with me, still locked on. Darkness was closing.

I thumbed my sleeve knife open and stabbed his cabled forearm deep, raking the serrated edge through muscle tissue. He made an ugly noise as his grip loosened. I slipped out, stepped back, sucked in a deep, ragged breath. The choke artist, a powerfully built black man, staggered to his feet, left arm limp at his side. I circled, buying time, hoping the knife would make him hold off long enough for me to get more air into my lungs.

But he knew, and he stepped right to me, firing a Shotokan right hand off his front foot. His balance was off enough for me to slip the punch, toss the knife to my left hand, and hook him to the liver with it. He made a sound I recognized as he went down.

Quick! rang in my head as I spun toward the old man. He still hadn't moved. Hadn't reached for a phone or a panic button. Just kept staring at a portfolio-sized display case, standing open on a shelf. Inside were dozens of tiny compartments, mirror-backed.

"I warned that filthy little cunt," he said, rheumy eyes blazing with righteous conviction.

His last words.

I heard a crack-snap noise behind me. Spun again, weaponless. But it was just Gigi, making sure the bodyguard the Mole's friends hadn't known about wasn't going to bleed out.


We ransacked the place like amateurs on angel dust. Grabbed all the loose cash, cleaned out the medicine cabinet, chopped off the shooter's ring finger, and left it there—some TV-trained cop would spend a lot of time checking pawnshops for a ring that had never existed.

But the prize was the display case: constructed of what looked like Hawaiian koa wood, it folded into the size of an artist's portfolio. The intricate fastening clamps were gold. I saw the OCR-font printout from one of the pages the Mole had given me as clearly as if it was projected on the wall:

Among certain individuals, it is well known that Target possesses these items. They were created a minimum of two hundred years ago, each of handcrafted ivory. One of a kind, every one. Unduplicatable. Literally priceless, but could never be sold openly. The security Target employs is to protect his treasure, not his person.

I couldn't stop myself from looking before I closed the case. Each tiny figurine was really two: an adult male and a girl child. I wished the craftsman whose magic hands had created such intricate, complex scenes on such a small scale was still alive. So I could take my own trophy.

While I was doing the hophead-burglar thing—opening the chest of drawers starting at the top, then turning each one upside down—Claw was razor-slitting a bunch of cushions, the way you do when you're looking for a hidden stash and don't have much time. He made sure to take the shooter's piece—looked like a Sig P210, way too expensive for junkies to pass up, even with the serial number showing—and empty everyone's wallet. He even snatched the karate guy's G-Shock watch and platinum neck chain.

Gigi just wrecked everything, including a Sub-Zero that it should have taken two men even to move, much less turn over. We went out the way we came in. Standing outside, Gigi kicked in the back door, then smashed the wall next to the security box with a brass-knuckled fist. Claw immediately reached in and cut the wires.

Then we split for real, leaving enough clues to keep crime-scene techs busy for months. Every meth-head within fifty miles was in deep trouble.

Back at the car, we all stripped, tossing everything we'd been wearing into a thick canvas bag. I tied it at the top, wrapping the wire around one of the Mole's little boxes and put it in the trunk. Anyone who tried to open that bag before it got to the crematorium would destroy a lot more than evidence.

We'd gone in double-sheathed;all our prints were in the system. But we'd also splattered some random DNA-carried in baggies, emptied by hands covered in surgeon's gloves—in a few spots.

For cops, the only thing worse than no clues is too many.


Gigi dropped Claw at a subway on the West Side. Dropped me on a corner in Chinatown.

"It's mine from here," he said. "This"—meaning the car—"is a big fucking paperweight in a couple of hours."

We'd already divided up the cash—equal shares. Everything else went into another bag for the Disposal Three-Step: cremation; sledgehammer; then the river. The "collection" was going to stay inside the paperweight. I trusted Gigi to handle that part. He was a stand-up con, and he wouldn't back-deal a partner. Plus, even if he looked, he'd know he'd have to reach way out to sell something like that. But trust only goes so far-I'd spent the return trip sitting in the backseat, carefully using a pair of needle-nose pliers to crush each of the figurines into ivory dust.


© 2007 Andrew Vachss. All rights reserved.

Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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