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If At First You Don't Succeed
About the Author: Michael Mallory is the author of 10 novels -- including the "Amelia Watson" and "Dave Beauchamp" series -- some 150 short stories, and more than 600 magazine and newspaper articles.

Fortunately, Marie and the kids weren’t at home when the package exploded.

Bruce was, of course, and the blast that blew the garage door out propelled him back against the tool cabinet. Nobody would ever know how much pain he felt.

Police and fire trucks were there when the rest of the family returned. Robbie and Maddie, eight and six respectively, were prevented from going near the house despite their growing hysteria. Nobody wanted them to see what was left of their dad.

Practically all that remained of Bruce Finnerman was an inexplicable mystery: who wanted to kill him with an explosive?

Who wanted to kill him with anything?

Lou Beratti knew why he was being summoned by the big man, but since he also knew he had done nothing wrong, he wasn’t worried.

He did the job he was hired to do and it was not his fault that it got screwed up. All he had to do was explain that.

He arrived at the penthouse suite of Western Towers on the Sunset Strip a little early, having used the private elevator that went straight to the top exclusively. At the appointed time Biggie Mann (that was really the name he used) emerged from his bathroom, which was rumored to contain a 14k gold toilet. On the way to his desk he grabbed a handful of grapes from a bowl and flicked one into the air, catching it with his mouth. Dropping into his oversized executive chair, still chewing, he asked, “See the news?”

“Biggie, I fulfilled my contract to the letter,” Louie responded. “I was told to leave a bomb on the porch and I did.”

“Yet the desired result was not achieved. The target, that Sowl woman, is still alive.”

“I can’t explain what happened. I don’t know how the bomb made it to someone else’s house. All I know is I dropped it at the address I was given.”

Biggie Mann leaned forward and placed his beefy hands on his desk, and glared at Lou with cold basalt eyes. But Beratti refused to flinch and look away. He had no need to. He was telling the truth. He absorbed the cold and said, “Come on, Biggie, what kind of idiot would I have to be to lie to you?”

Biggie Mann smiled. “A very large one,” he said.

“If I had it to do over again, I’d take a phone selfie with the package on the porch to prove I left it there. If you want me to drop another bomb I’ll do it, no additional charge. This time I will take a picture.”

Biggie lobbed another grape into his mouth, chewed for a moment, and then said, “Fine. Do it.” Then he swiveled his chair in order to look out the window at West L.A. far below.

Feeling things had gone even better than he expected, Lou Beratti silently got up and went to the elevator, punching the only button. When it arrived, he stepped in.

By the time he realized the floor of the elevator car was now an open trap, he’d already plummeted six stories. The muffled thud came even before the elevator doors closed again.

“They’ll be on the lookout for something now, idiot,” Biggie Mann said to no one. He had been forced into a corner with only one option left. Picking up his desk phone, the big man punched in a number, and said, “Get the plane ready to fly out eight this evening. Oh, and cleanup on aisle five.” Then he hung up.

Pulling out a prepaid phone, he thumbed in another number and waited. “Got a job for you,” he said, going on to explain in detail what he wanted. When he was finished, he cut off the call, put the phone on the floor and stomped it to bits, which he scooped up and threw away.

Let the Sowl woman testify against him; he’ll be gone and she’ll be dead in a matter of days.

If you can’t actually kill a witness prior to her testimony, Biggie Mann rationalized, you can at least send a message to others.

This story appears in our SEP 2022 Issue
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