Shielding me from the curious looks of his colleagues, Renna clipped a police ID to the lip of my shirt pocket, then pulled the pocket flap over the photograph. With his barnlike mass, the lieutenant could have blocked out a whole squadron. Even my tallish frame and broad shoulders were smothered in the shadow of his looming six-four brawn with an upper trunk wider than that of most NFL defensive linemen. When he pointed a gun and yelled halt, sensible people did.
"There," he said, inspecting his work. "No one will look twice." "Reassuring."
Renna took in my jeans and lightweight flannel shirt, then squinted at the lettering on my baseball cap. "What's the HT stand for?"
"Who the hell are they?"
"Japanese ball club out of Osaka."
"I tell you wear a cap, you give me exotic? Why can't you do anything like normal people?"
"Part of my charm."
"Someone somewhere probably thinks so." Renna jerked his head at the badge. "Says you're undercover. Means you're here but you're not. Means no one expects you to talk much." Renna's steady gray eyes looked weary. This was going to be bad.
Dropping back a step, the lieutenant favored me with another thoughtful inspection.
"There a problem?" I said.
"This is . . . different from your usual stuff. It's not, uh, stolen goods."
Behind his words I heard doubt: he was wondering if I could make the leap from things people created to things they destroyed. Lately, I'd been wondering the same thing.
I'd met Renna years ago when he and his wife had walked into Bristol's Antiques in the Outer Richmond, near the end of Geary. They'd come for the English walnut lowboy in the show window. As soon as Miriam Renna pointed to the piece, her husband had grown unnaturally still and glanced my way. The sparkle in Mrs. Renna's eye told me the piece had caught her. She'd probably dreamed about it. Lost sleep over it. Begged and wheedled until her husband had caved, helpless to curb her compulsion. When a good piece of art grabs you, that's how it works. And it was a good piece.
I could have closed the sale with a few choice comments about the quality of the inlay and the elegance of the cross-banding. I knew it and Renna knew it. But his expression and her modest jewelry told me the purchase would be a painful one, so I guided her toward an equally elegant nineteenth-century Pembroke table a century newer and a quarter of the price. With time, I told her, the piece would appreciate.
On that day, a bond of trust was born between the Rennas and myself that has deepened over the years, not unlike the patina of their Pembroke. Back then I was winding up my apprenticeship as an art dealer with old Jonathan Bristol, who specialized in European antiques. These days I had my own place out on Lombard, with a strong focus on Japanese artifacts and a scattering of Chinese, Korean, and European. After our first meeting, Renna had taken to swinging by on occasion to ask my opinion about some Asian aspect of one of his cases, usually in the evenings over a pint of Anchor Steam or a good single malt. But this was the first time he'd invited me to a crime scene.
Renna said, "This is going to get grisly. You want, tomorrow I could bring snapshots. You wouldn't have to look at the rest. None of the guys you know are around, so you can still walk."
"I'm here. Might as well do it."
"You sure? This is leagues away from inlay and filigree."
"Don't say I didn't warn you."
"Fair enough," I said, squinting into the glare of the flashing police lights.
"Nothing fair about it," Renna muttered under his breath, and I understood he was referring to whatever lay beyond the barricade.
Far above our heads, a chilly gale bullied a dense fog bank past, smothering the city's loftier peaks in brooding billows but leaving the flatlands, where we stood, bare and exposed to capricious wildcat winds.
"Awful big turnout this late at night," I said, speculating about the crowd of uniformed and plainclothes cops milling about the mall entrance. "Any particular reason?"
"Everyone wants a look-see."
This is going to be real bad, I thought as Renna led me toward the kill zone.
On a rooftop two hundred yards away, a man who used the name Dermott Summers when he traveled lay flat on his stomach and watched Lieutenant Frank Renna walk toward ground zero with a recent arrival.
Summers sharpened the focus of his night-vision binoculars and frowned. Jeans, flannel shirt, hat, an obscured badge. No city official would show up dressed like that.
Undercover cop? Maybe. But then why did the lieutenant go over to greet him?
Summers zoomed in on the newcomer. There was something in his stride, but no, he wasn't law enforcement. Summers set down the binoculars and picked up his camera. He adjusted the range of the telephoto lens and captured several shots of the new guy.
This time he noticed the HT, and the hairs on the back of his neck rose. Japanese ball cap? Bad news. But just the kind of news he was charged with discovering—and defusing. That was the beauty of Soga. With deep-cover surveillance on site after the kill, no one could trip them up.
Summers trained his camera on the new man's car and snapped a close-up of the license plate, several of the Cutlass, then called in the number. He'd have name and vitals inside thirty minutes.
At the thought, Summers's trigger finger twitched. The takedown had been perfect. He'd brooded over being sidelined during the kill, but here was a bonus straight from heaven. He might see some action yet.
© Barry Lancet
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