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Several days went by with Linc waiting to be told that a lawyer had appeared who would be handling his case, and in the meantime he had been bailed out. Instead, a woman visited him to announce that she was his state-appointed defense, and asked a list of insipid questions, making little attempt to disguise her distaste for him or the fact that what happened to him was not something that bothered her unduly. Linc told himself that these things took time. Busy people couldn't be expected to drop everything and appear overnight just to put his mind at rest. He created pictures in his mind of events taking place behind the scenes--phone calls being made and papers filed, harassed prosecutor's clerks fighting a tangle of complaints and legal points. His father came to see him, but had nothing useful to say. A social worker went through the usual dumb questions about life at home and what Linc did out of school. But as time passed and nothing more happened, Linc found himself getting anxious. Breece seemed to know it, and stopped by for another talk at just the right moment to further undermine Linc's confidence.

"It's not looking good for you, Linc," Breece told him. "You were the mover who recruited the two jerks you were picked up with. Did you ever work with them before?" Linc didn't answer. "The one they call Clay already has a place in the book for carving up his brother's face with a carpet knife. Did you know about that? It happened over some dope money that went missing. The other one, Slam, has a mental age of twelve." Breece stared across the table, worrying at a tooth with his thumbnail while he gave Linc a few seconds to reflect. "A great pair to go down in flames for. You sure you don't want to change your line?"

Linc stared at his hands and said nothing.

"Well, I'd advise you to think hard about it," Breece said. "We might be going to trial against Nass and Carolton, anyway, based on other evidence we have. But the case isn't as strong as it would be with your testimony added. In other words, you're in a position to make a decision that would please people who have a big say in how things might go for you from here. If there was ever a time to think about doing yourself a favor for once in your life, this is it. Do you get my drift, Linc?"

Linc would probably have held out doggedly come what might, refusing even to consider changing his story or compromising in any way, if it hadn't been for what happened a week after his arrest. He was taken by van to some offices adjoining the city court building, where he spent the next six hours sitting in waiting rooms in between seeing a series of people with the usual range of lines--nice-guys trying to sound reasonable, through to table-pounders shouting overt threats--all calculated to get him to change his mind. Linc wouldn't budge; through most of it he didn't even listen. Finally, late in the afternoon, Breece reappeared and received a summary of results from the last of the interviewers. In a muttered conversation outside the door, which Linc got the feeling he was meant to overhear, the interviewer told Breece, "Take him back. It's a waste of time. Nobody's going to get through to this one. He's gonna go down for max. Just dig a deep hole. You won't need a key."

A uniformed officer was detailed to take Linc down to the basement garage for transportation back to precinct headquarters, where he was still being detained. As they reached the second- floor landing, a sergeant in shirtsleeves appeared on the stairway above and called the officer back to query something on a clipboard that he was holding. For a moment, Linc was left alone by the stairwell, at the junction of two corridors of offices. Seconds later, one of the nearby doors opened, and who should emerge but Kyle! With him was an almost bald, tight-faced man in a gray striped suit, carrying a black briefcase. Linc stared for a second, hardly able to believe his luck. He glanced up the stairs. The officer was still explaining something to the sergeant. Linc moved a pace forward into Kyle's path, causing him to slow. Linc gestured, expecting some sign of recognition. Kyle looked at him blankly.

Linc spoke hurriedly, in a low voice. "I've been trying to figure out some way of contacting you. Everything has to be bugged. I haven't told them anything. Is everything okay? When will I get to hear something?"

"Who in hell are you?" Kyle growled. Only then did Linc see the coldness in his eyes. For a moment he didn't comprehend, but gestured again, making a quick shake with his head.

"Linc--Linc Marani. . . . Who do you think?"

"Never heard of ya."

"But--"

The man with the briefcase shouldered his way between them, his face mean and unfriendly. "You've made a mistake, punk. My client doesn't know you. You understand? Beat it." He took Kyle's elbow and steered him away. They disappeared quickly out of sight down the stairs.

"Marani, what's going on?" the escorting officer barked as he descended the half flight of stairs to where Linc was standing. "Stay right there. You don't talk to anyone, understand?"

It took Linc until the next day to face up fully to the meaning of it. He had been used. He had been set up. There was no intention to bail him out or help with his case. There never had been. Everything Breece had been trying to tell him was true. Kids like Linc were being sold a line and then dumped, while the hoods who made real money stayed clean. He found himself shaking with the anger building up inside like pressure in a boiler as the realization percolated through of how totally he had allowed himself to be led.

The obvious thing now was to turn his story around. He asked to see Breece again, and when Breece arrived Linc told him he'd decided to level. Everything was the way Breece had said. They wanted dates, places, details, names? Okay, they could take it all down, and he would sign. He didn't think too much about how he was going to handle the situation when he got out. All that mattered for now was to deliver as much as was within his ability to even the score.

And then, that same afternoon, he was told that he had a visitor. It turned out to be a kid called Sammy, who went to the same school. Linc was mystified, because they hardly spoke to each other, let alone mixed. Sammy's folks ran a sandwich shop on a nearby block, and he worked hard and stayed out of trouble. He talked vaguely about being sorry about the situation, and hoped Linc wouldn't get hit too hard, and all the time Linc found himself growing more and more puzzled. And then Sammy said:

"I got a message to give you that your parents and sister are all well." He paused and frowned, as if working to recall words exactly as memorized. "Nothing's happened to them, you'll be pleased to hear. It will be nice if everything stays that way."

Numbness overcame Linc while a part of his mind tried not to accept what was obviously meant. Then it hit him like a cannonball in the stomach. "Who told you that?" he whispered.

"This guy who drove up on the street. . . . I never saw him before. But he was pretty insistent."

Breece came back later with forms, papers, a witness, and a stenographer. Linc could only tell him that the deal was off. He had nothing to say, and he'd take whatever came next. He wouldn't say why, and he wouldn't answer questions.

That was the first time that Linc had seen Breece lose his cool. He yelled and shouted, threw the papers in Linc's face, told him he was washing his hands of him and he hoped Linc rotted before he saw daylight again. Linc guessed he couldn't really blame him. In a way, it was one of the rare times in his life when he'd felt bad for someone. But he'd make up for it one day, he vowed to himself as he was led away by guards to a van that would take him to a new location. They would pay.

Somehow, Kyle and Carolton would pay.

 
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