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FLIP MORRISCONE WAS NOWHERE to be found, all day Wednesday. He didnt make his three oclock appointment with Monroe Hall or, so far as they could tell, any other of his appointments. To be certain the man had neither overslept nor died in his sleep, the union team of the conspiracy trooped through the Morriscone house one last time, then came back out to report to capital, Not there.

Now that theyd finally made their decision, and had finally accepted the need and utility of cooperation between the two groups, it was frustrating that their very first decision couldnt be acted upon. Before parting for the day, all five gathered in their usual places in Buddys Taurus, where Buddy said, Were still not getting anywhere.

One day, Mark pointed out. Maybe he had food poisoning, went to the hospital. Maybe his uncle came to town, he took the day off, they went to the races.

Buddy, looking confused, said, Races. Oh, the track, you mean.

Mac said, Theres no point giving up after just one day.

Exactly, Mark said.

Ace said, How much longer you wanna go spinning your wheels?

Well give it the rest of this week, Mac said. Two working days, and Saturday. If we dont find him before, and if he isnt home Saturday, well try to think of something else.

Os said, I know some people in the Army Reserves.

They looked at him. Even Mark seemed a little nervous, when he said, Os? And?

If it goes into next week, Os said, I borrow a tank.

Fortunately, it didnt come to that. They did find him, late Thursday morning. Following what they knew of his schedule, they drove along, packed together into the TaurusMark and Os were truly sacrificing for this joband there he was at last, Flip Morriscone, coming out of the well-appointed home of one of his clients. His green Subaru was parked at the curb of the public street, as they pulled to a stop farther along.

Here he came, long canvas bag bouncing on his shoulder, the satisfied look of the successful torturer in his eye. Mark and Mac, as representatives of the combined team, approached him as he reached for the rear door of the Subaru to toss the bag in, Mark saying, Mr. Morriscone. If we could have a moment?

It had been decided that an Ivy League accent would be more reassuring than a union accent for the initial approach, and that Mark was just naturally less scary than Os. In the Sancho Panza role, Mac was deemed by all to be the most acceptable.

Morriscone continued his movement of tossing the bag into the back of the wagon, then slammed the door and turned to them, seeming not at all worried to be accosted by strangers. Yes?

Theres a certain someone that you and we know, Mark began, smooth and calm, that we have a dislike for.

Morriscone looked baffled. Theres somebody I know that you dont like?

Exactly. Now, we want to do something to this fellow

Hey, Morriscone said, taking a step backward. Keep me out of this.

Not to kill him or anything like that, Mark assured him, but to, let us say, cost him something.

Good God! Morriscone was getting more and more agitated. What are you, gangsters?

Not at all, Mark said, we are perfectly respectable people, as Im sure you can see for yourself. All we ask is a little assistance from you, for which you will be well reimbursed as soon as

Bribery! Morriscone was actually shouting by now. Get away from me! he shouted. Ive got trouble enough, I cant beDo you want me to call the police?

Mac could see that Marks oil was not smoothing the waters the way theyd hoped. Theyd agreed beforehand not to mention the targets name until they had Morriscone convinced to help them, just in case hed feel the need to go warn Monroe Hall, but maybe all in all that strategy hadnt been such a good one. Taking a deep breath, speaking forcefully into Morriscones agitated reddening face, Mac announced, Monroe Hall!

Mon Morriscones jaw dropped. He stared at them both like long-lost brothers. You want to get even with that son of a bitch, too? A broad grin creased his features. Why didnt you say so?

| The Road to Ruin | c