Callahan Boyle sat in the back row of Chicago’s CIBC Theatre trying to get comfortable, which was tough given the complete lack of legroom for a man of his height. He was there for The Book of Mormon’s evening show, yet he wasn’t interested in the performance—he’d already seen the play ten times. The target of his interest was his next victim, who was sitting in the front row on stage right.
He’d been following George MacErlean for weeks and figured the show’s final performance was his best and last chance to make his move. With MacErlean’s girlfriend cast as Nabulungi, the female lead, Cal had repeatedly shown up to stake out the man in a setting where he knew MacErlean couldn’t weasel away.
Unlike his other trips to the theater, Cal wasn’t alone this time. As the most ruthless and efficient of the Chicago mafia’s hit men, Cal rarely needed backup. Yet during the previous performance, Cal had felt several eyes glued to him, suggesting MacErlean had watchdogs. Cal had brought his good buddy Alfonso “Fonzie” Benetti to help take out MacErlean’s men should they interfere. Fonzie was waiting to do his part in the car with Cal’s driver, Tony Fregosi.
Intermission was in a few minutes, and Cal couldn’t wait. He was anxious to get this over with. Weeks of tailing and hard work would manifest itself in a brief moment of perfect execution. He only hoped it went according to plan.
Fonzie’s voice sounded in the Bluetooth earpiece. “What’s up, my brother? We’re still circling the block. Should be back on Monroe in no time.”
Cal coughed his acknowledgment. The last song of the first act was almost finished, then he’d be free to speak. Until then, he had to listen to the smacking of Fonzie’s gum through the earpiece.
“Tony, turn up the goddamned air-conditioning,” Fonzie said between chomps. “I’m sweating my black ass off.”
Even though Tony, the driver, was only eighteen and Cal preferred not to drag him into such a critical mission, he’d come to trust the boy over the last several months. Tony’s ambition and fire reminded Cal of himself when he was younger, when Cal had actually wanted something more out of life than an easy paycheck.
The curtains closed and the lights lifted, springing Cal into action. He rose from his seat and beelined for the hallway before a crowd could form. He wanted to make sure MacErlean came outside, as was his custom, and to see if any of his goons were staying close to him.
MacErlean was quite the conversationalist. He enjoyed glad-handing with the audience, trying to prove how good of an actor he could be. Cal hadn’t known much about MacErlean prior to being asked to tail him, but he had heard the man was the classic definition of a struggling actor, failing time after time to land a role of significance.
Must live through his girlfriend’s success, Cal thought.
Once MacErlean grew tired of bragging about his girlfriend and cracking wise, he often moseyed out the theater entrance for a smoke. Today, Cal was hoping to catch him before his cigarette transformed into a pile of ashes.
“True to script so far,” Cal said into his microphone. “I can’t wait until we find out what this jerk has to say and can end this.”
“Don’t get too excited. This motherfucker is mine to grab. Time to show the boss what I can do.”
“You’ll be able to get your hands all over him, Fonzie. Just let me be the bait to get him outside.”
“Why the hell are we grabbing this guy anyway?”
Tony’s voice was audible through Fonzie’s mic. Cal felt annoyed at the boy’s question but figured it was best to explain the situation.
“MacErlean had a meeting with the mayor. At least that’s what Alfredo’s been made to believe. Remember the mayor’s State of Chicago press conference a few months ago? He specifically cited the mafia’s activities in his speech. Alfredo thinks he’s onto us and that MacErlean was the one to spill the beans.”
Cal had to lower his voice as he ended his explanation. A large crowd of theatergoers flooded the lobby and headed outside, despite the sweltering late-August heat.
Fonzie exhaled into the mic, creating a harsh sound in Cal’s earpiece. “I still don’t think it’s a great idea grabbing him in public, even at night. He hasn’t been one of us for a while, right? What could he know that could rattle Fredo’s old bones?”
“I’m not sure, but if he’s giving dirt to the mayor, it could be dangerous.”
“How do they know it was MacErlean? Could’ve been anybody.”
Cal sighed and kept his eye on his mark. MacErlean was visible from Cal’s vantage point in the lobby. Any minute now and the target would be acquired.
“They all insist it was him. There are a lot of people on the payroll in City Hall, and any of them could be leaking stuff back to Alfredo.”
Tony’s voice sounded over the mic again. “When you say this guy was one of us, you mean he was a flunky?”
“You may be an errand boy, but I ain’t no flunky,” Fonzie said. “I may not be made yet, but I’ve killed more men than you ever will.”
Cal tuned out the arguing and watched as MacErlean drew closer. There were no signs of the men Cal had previously seen protecting the potential informant.
Out of the corner of his eye, two men in brown tweed jackets and matching slacks began charging up the aisle inside the auditorium, arousing his suspicion.
MacErlean was only feet away from Cal, his jacket brushing against a short old lady. Cal watched him exit and turn to the left for his usual smoke break. All according to plan.
“Are you guys out front? He just left, heading right for you,” Cal said into the mic. “Let him light up first. When his back is turned, make the grab.”
Cal thought he saw the old lady’s eyebrow rise. He matched her gesture and turned his head to the left. The men in the tweed jackets were trying to push their way through the crowded lobby, both pairs of eyes fixated on the exit doors.
Cal knew he had to step in. The taller of the two men, bearded and donning Ray-Ban sunglasses, brushed against a poised, slender woman conversing with the eyebrow-raising dame. Cal dashed around the old lady, much faster than he probably should have, and stopped the two men in their tracks.
“What do you want?” the shorter man asked in a thick Eastern European accent. Cal couldn’t tell whether it was Ukrainian, Romanian, or perhaps Russian.
“Yeah, out of the way,” Bearded Man said.
Cal wasn’t the best at creating distractions with words. He was a man of action. On instinct, his fingers reached inside the pocket of his black dress slacks, grasping his jackknife. The men’s eyes were like daggers attempting to tear through Cal’s pocket. Cal met their gaze with a steely glare of his own. A loud, feminine scream pierced the air behind them.
The shorter man charged forward, attempting to pass Cal and get outside. Cal decked him with a sharp punch in the stomach. The man slumped forward, and Cal threw him back into the crowd, eliciting more shrieks inside the theater lobby.
Bearded Man clubbed Cal in the back of the head and attempted to follow with a punch to the gut, but Cal blocked him and threw a hard right hook at his assailant’s face, knocking the man’s sunglasses off in the process.
Cal heard honking outside. Time to go.
He dashed out of the lobby, unconcerned about the panic-stricken eyes trailing him outside.
The first thing Cal saw was Fonzie holding his Glock 9mm in his left hand. In plain view of a large crowd of theatergoers, he was dragging a petrified MacErlean, who had his hands raised like a police suspect, into the back of Tony’s black Hyundai Sonata. This was not how MacErlean’s pickup was supposed to go.
Cal rushed through the crowd, drew his Beretta from his inside-waistband holster, and held it in the air. He wanted to scare the crowd back indoors and prevent the goons he’d encountered from following.
“Everyone back inside. This man is a crook and he is being brought to justice.”
Before anyone could whip out their cell phone to record the incident, Cal jumped inside the passenger seat while Fonzie tackled MacErlean into the back seat.
Cal’s plan to use the scared theatergoers as a shield was dashed as the short goon came racing through the crowd. Cal saw him reach inside his jacket. He was pulling out a gun.
“Punch it, Tony!”
The kid put the car into drive and sped away from the curb. Screams pierced the air. Cal ducked when Bearded Man ran out, gun drawn, and joined his friend shooting at the car.
“Holy hell, Cal. I didn’t think anyone would be shooting at us.”
“Dodge this traffic, we can’t have our tires shot out.”
Tony swerved between two cars after making it through the Monroe and State intersection. They sped down the street before turning right onto South Wabash Avenue. Cal let out a deep exhale from his closely held breath once they were headed south.
That was close. Too close.