INT. KITCHEN—REGENCY HOTEL, NEW YORK CITY—DAY
It’s the height of the breakfast rush at the Regency’s
Powerful dining room. THE CHAMELEON slips quietly
into the busy kitchen. His sandy hair is now dark,
his skin copper. He blends right in, just another nameless
Puerto Rican in a busboy uniform. He goes totally
THE CHAMELEON HAD stared at those words in his script hundreds of times. This morning they were coming to life. His movie was finally in production. “And action,” he whispered as he entered the Regency kitchen through a rear door.
He did not go unnoticed.
“You!” one of the black-tied, white-jacketed waiters yelled. “Get out there and top off the coffee cups at table twelve.”
Not exactly what he’d scripted, but so much better than he could have hoped for. Like most New York actors, The Chameleon knew his way around a restaurant kitchen. He filled one chrome carafe with regular coffee, another with decaf, and pushed through the swinging door into the dining room.
The cast of characters was even better than he had expected too. Today was the start of Hollywood on the Hudson week, the city’s all-out push to steal more film production business from LA. So in addition to the usual East Coast power brokers, the room was chock-full of Hollywood assholes chewing on multimillion-dollar deals and hundred-dollar breakfasts. And there, holding court at table twelve, was none other than Sid Roth.
If you could go to prison for destroying careers, families, and souls, Sid Roth would be serving a string of consecutive life sentences. But in the movie biz, being a heartless prick was a plus if it translated into the bottom line, and over the past three decades Roth had turned Mesa Films from a mom-and-pop shop into a mega-studio. The man was God, and the four other guys at the table were happily basking in His aura.
The Chameleon began pouring coffee when Roth, who was regaling his tablemates with a Hollywood war story, put a hand over his cup and said, “Get me another tomato juice, will you?”
“Yes, sir,” The Chameleon said. One tomato juice and a featured cameo coming up for Mr. Roth.
He was back in less than three minutes with Roth’s juice. “Muchas gracias, amigo,” Roth said, and he emptied the glass without giving his waiter a second look.
And vaya con Dios to you. The Chameleon went back to the kitchen and disappeared through the rear door. He had ten minutes for a costume change.
The men’s room in the lobby of the hotel was posh and private. Cloth hand towels, floor-to-ceiling walnut doors on each stall, and, of course, no surveillance cameras.
Half a dozen Neutrogena makeup-removing wipes later, he went from swarthy Latino to baby-faced white boy. He traded the waiter’s outfit for a pair of khakis and a pale blue polo.
He headed back to the lobby and positioned himself at a bank of house phones where he could watch the rest of the scene unfold. It was out of his hands now. He only hoped it would play out half as exciting as writ.
SOME PEOPLE ARE harder to kill than others. The Ghost was thinking about this as he huddled in the deep, dark shadows ofGrand Central Terminal. A man named Walter elvas would have to die tonight. But it wouldn’t be easy. Nobody hired the Ghost for the easy obs.
It was almost 11 p.m, and even though the evening rush was long over, there was still a steady stream of weary travelers.
The Ghost was wearing an efficient killing disguise. His face was lost under a tangle of matted silver-and-white hair and shaggy beard, and his arsenal was hidden under a wine-stained gray poncho. To anyone who even bothered to take notice, he was just another heap of homeless humanity seeking refuge on a quiet bench near Track 109.
He eyed his target. Walter Zelvas. A great hulk of a man with the nerves and reflexes of a snake and a soul to match. Zelvas was a contract killer himself, but unlike the Ghost, Zelvas took pleasure in watching his victims suffer before they died. For years, the ruthless Russian had been an enforcer for the Diamond Syndicate, but apparently he had outlived his usefulness to his employer, and the Ghost had been hired to terminate him.
If he doesn’t kill me first, the Ghost thought. With Zelvas it was definitely a matter of kill or be killed. And this would surely be a duel to the death between them.
So the Ghost watched his opponent closely. The screen on the departures monitor refreshed and Zelvas cursed under his breath. His train was delayed another thirty minutes.
He drained his second cup of Starbucks cappuccino, stood up, and crumpling his empty cup, deposited it in the trash.
No littering, the Ghost thought. That might attract attention, and the last thing Zelvas wanted was attention.
That’s why he was leaving town by train. Train stations aren’t like airports. There’s no baggage check, no metal detector, no security.
Zelvas looked toward the men’s room.
All that coffee will be the death of you, the Ghost thought as Zelvas walked across the marble floor to the bathroom.
A half-comatose porter, mop in hand, was sloshing water on the terminal floor like a zombie tarring a roof. He didn’t see Zelvas coming.
A puddle of brown water came within inches of the big man’s right foot. Zelvas stopped. “You slop any of that scum on my shoes and you’ll be shitting teeth,” he said.
The porter froze. “Sorry. Sorry, sir. Sorry.”
The Ghost watched it all. Another time, another place, and Zelvas might have drowned the man in his own mop water. But tonight he was on his best behavior.
Zelvas continued toward the bathroom.
The Ghost had watched the traffic in and out of the men’s room for the past half hour. It was currently empty. Moment of truth, the Ghost told himself.
Zelvas got to the doorway, stopped, and turned around sharply.
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