Today's Reading

But I wrote some notes anyway. As I wrote them I wondered where the rest of the pad was. I must have written a hundred pages and hidden them somewhere. And I knew that each and every day I would have made the same discovery and come to the same conclusions.

I looked up at the diner. The rain had eased and the diner was empty now apart from Daley and the guy in the jacket and the man who had previously been running the grill. He was now standing behind the counter and watching his last two customers. He was dressed in an apron and garrison cap sharp enough for a parade at West Point and he had a neat little gray moustache. He must have been the legendary Pepi himself. The lips under that moustache of his were twisting this way and that and he had his arms folded and he sometimes checked his watch. He was clearly eager to shut up shop and get back home to punch out a few army drills.

My target didn't seem to notice. He was still talking and maybe his peripheral vision was being dazzled by the other guy's jacket. The other guy just grinned and jammed the last of his French fries into his mouth. He shook his head while he grinned. Something was amusing. Whatever Daley was selling, the guy in the jacket wasn't buying.

I think I liked him, whoever he was. Apart from that fact that he was making a short job long and I had to get back to the office by dawn.

But then some of that luck I had been thinking about knocked on my door and walked right in. Touch Daley stopped talking and he picked up his hat and adjusted the brim with two long fingers and then he put the hat on while the other guy sat there watching and chewing his fries and enjoying the show.

Then Touch Daley stood up and left the table and his coffee carafe and his untouched coffee mug and he turned and headed to the door. Pepi didn't move from the counter but he watched him go. The other guy started to get busy with napkins and then he waved a hand to get Pepi's attention.

But my optics were on Touch Daley. He paused at the chromium hook to get his black coat and then he put it on and then he opened the doors and he tripped down the steps of the diner without any particular concern for the weather. I found myself putting the notepad back on the passenger seat and leaning forward over the wheel as I watched him.

But he didn't head for the parking lot. Instead he skirted the silver side of the diner and walked right past the window where my guy was giving Pepi another order. Then Touch Daley hit the street and he turned his back to me and he walked off into the night under the flashing colors of the neon sign. A moment later he had vanished into the hazy dark.

I was surprised he hadn't come by car. The diner wasn't far from anywhere, but the night was not a friendly one and I was of the opinion that people didn't walk anywhere in Los Angeles.

Showed what I knew.

But then again, he could have parked his car around the corner. The meeting hardly seemed a secret and my guy had parked his sportsmobile practically by the milkshake machine, but maybe Touch Daley was just following procedure. I glanced around the parking lot. There were still several cars around mine but none of them belonged to anybody in the diner, given that there was only Pepi and the other guy left and it seemed unlikely that Pepi kept a fleet of mid-priced sedans lined up outside his restaurant so he could look out over his automotive empire while he worked.

Touch Daley had either stashed his vehicle in a dark and narrow alley or maybe he had a comrade waiting, accelerator gunning, headlights low, sitting tight until his boss came back and gave the order for blast off.

Or maybe the damp had got into my neutronic ignition line and was giving me funny ideas. I had a job to do and sitting in the rain in a parking lot was not the way to do it.

I started my car and I kept the headlights off as I eased back clear out of my slot and then I danced a leather-clad bronzed-titanium toe on the gas as I rolled the car as quietly as I could to the exit. Out of the glare of the neon the night opened up around me and looking right I saw a tall dark shape I knew was my target walking down the sidewalk, his back to me, the rain bouncing off his hat and his shoulder like he didn't have a care in the world.

He was about to have a care, all right.

It was late. The street was clear. As was the sidewalk. I knew this part of town well and I knew just the right kind of places nearby that would come in handy for a job like mine.

I turned left and turned the lights on and turned my speed up and the shape of Touch Daley loomed bigger in my windshield as I came in for my final approach.

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.

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