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For All Nails #122: The Unforgettable Fire

New York City, New York Province, 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/, [1] 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, [2] 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. [3]  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.


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. [4]

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. [5] 
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 f-king 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 f-king millies wouldn't have a f-king 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.

"S-t, Fingers, now we're facing a murder rap!" Paddy exclaimed.  "The millies
wouldn't care about a bag 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 s-tload of
paper all over this place, all we gotta do is light it and the whole f-king
building'll burn to the ground.  The millies'll be lucky if they can even find
the f-king 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 out was blocked by the dead
man and the 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 smoking remains of the Justice Press.  The New York Municipal Militia
had called her in her Brooklyn apartment an hour before and asked her to come
and help them identify the body they had recovered.  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 the building.  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
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.

Notes:


[1]  The New York /Globe/ is the least reputable of the city's three
tabloid-size newspapers.  Its founder, Paul Wilitzer, is notorious for
allegedly saying, "I want a gang murder, and I want one now!"  Fortunately,
nobody within earshot took him literally.

[2]  Paddy had noticed that Mike always called his jobs "missions".

[3]  The reason for "Mike's" interest in the Camacho Project file can be found
in FAN #117, "Hanging on the Telephone".

[4]  This is not a coincidence.  The fundamental laws of the universe require
that all law enforcement officers, regardless of timeline, spend their down
time relaxing with fried pastries and caffeinated beverages.

[5]  Ever since the devaluation of the Mexican dólar in 1971, denominations
below fifty dólares have taken the form of coins, and all coins below one dólar
have been retired.