By Barry Ergang

The night air smelled of distant rain. At shortly before eleven, Tindall parked his car near the southern entrance to the city park. He switched off the headlights and ignition, climbed out, and locked the doors with a remote device on his key ring.

Cool wind ruffled his hair and the trees in the park. He pulled up the collar of his overcoat, then put his hand around the gun in the coat's right-hand pocket. He crossed the sidewalk to the low stone wall that separated the park from the street and went down concrete steps to a walkway bordered by trees whose crests shuddered in the wind. Street lamps spaced at intervals cast wavering shadows of branches on the walkway. A teenage couple on a bench broke off kissing to glance at him. They resumed as he went past. Huddled against the trunk of a maple tree, alongside a shopping cart, someone stirred to adjust the blanket that covered him, then lay still. Tindall strode toward a narrow stone bridge that arched over the creek gurgling beneath it. Acorn husks crunched under his shoes.

Halfway across the bridge he stopped and waited. Two men stepped from behind a stand of oaks at the far side. Both wore overcoats, both were hatless. The man in the lead, wearing the darker overcoat, was solid but not fat. The man behind was a head taller and slimmer. He wore gloves.

"Odd time and place for a meeting, Craddock," Tindall said.

The man in the darker overcoat said: "Maybe you'd like it better if I came to your office."

"Point taken. But what's this all about?"

"It's all about I gotta talk to you."

Tindall looked at the tall, slender man.

"This is Mr. Plum," Craddock said.

Mr. Plum nodded. He did not take his eyes off Tindall's face.

"It's okay to talk in front of Mr. Plum."

"Talk about what?" Tindall said.

"What I'm hearin' on TV and readin' in the papers."

"Which is?"

"Which is that a certain D.A. who's up for re-election swears he's gonna prosecute a certain crime boss."

Tindall's right hand clenched around the gun in his pocket; his left waved away Craddock's statement. "That's nonsense. I'd never come after you."

"Damn right you won't, if you want to keep your job and keep livin'."

"Then why are we even having this conversation?"

"Because I don't like this crap I'm readin'. Go after Brand and his outfit. Brand's gettin' too ambitious for his own good. That's the deal. You keep me out of it. I made you happen and I can make you go away."

Craddock stood less than half a foot from Tindall. Tindall took a step back and said: "I know that. I've got my staff investigating Brand."

"Yeah?" Craddock leaned forward, his face close to Tindall's. "Then how come my name keeps gettin' into the papers? I don't like it."

Wind rattled the trees; shadows of branches danced in the pooled light of street lamps.

Craddock said: "The papers say there's an 'unnamed source' in your office who says I'm under investigation."

Tindall looked at Mr. Plum. Mr. Plum's long thin face held no expression. His hands were in the pockets of his overcoat.

"That'd be Rickert," Tindall said. "I'll handle him."


"An assistant in my office who is overly ambitious."

"What's his story?"

"What I just said. He has political intentions."

"Meaning he wants your job."


Craddock jabbed Tindall's chest with a forefinger. "Do what it takes to keep your go-getter under control or I will. We clear?"

"We're clear."

"Control Rickert. Take out Brand and his outfit. I made you happen and I can make you go away."

"I'm not out to jeopardize our arrangement. I'll--"

Wind muted the chuff from the silenced gun. Tindall was flung backward against the bridge's stone parapet. Blood bloomed against the fabric of his overcoat in the center of his chest.

Craddock spun to face Mr. Plum. "What the hell--?"

"He's carrying a gun," Mr. Plum said.

"What're you, outta your mind?"

Mr. Plum unscrewed the silencer from the gun's barrel and dropped it into a pocket. He stepped forward to Tindall's body. He pulled Tindall's arm until Tindall's right hand came out of the pocket of his overcoat. Mr. Plum reached into the pocket and retrieved a .32 automatic he held out on his gloved palm.

Craddock said: "Christ, it's just a belly gun."

"Even so."

"You goddamn idiot, I didn't want you to burn him. I needed him."

"No, you didn't," Mr. Plum said.

The .32 cracked twice. Craddock sagged to the concrete surface of the bridge. His hands clutched his mid-section. He tried to speak; blood gargled over his lips. His eyes glared a question.

"Mr. Brand and Rickert have ambitions of their own," Mr. Plum said.

Sightless now, Craddock's eyes stared at the night. Mr. Plum knelt and put his gun into Craddock's hand. He slipped the .32 into Tindall's slack right hand and watched it fall to the concrete beneath.

Mr. Plum stripped off his gloves, slid them into his overcoat pockets, and walked into windy darkness that smelled of distant rain.