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72

Christopher stared up at Dez Romano, blinking rapidly under his glasses. Hed intentionally let his head fall toward his shoulder, letting the glasses slide farther down his face. He made himself shrink even more, into an almost fetal position. Romano was buying the cowering routine and liked it, Christopher could tell, which was good. The guy would have his defenses down. But Christopher needed to bring them down further.

Dez Romano took a few steps toward him, looking down over his nose with arrogant sympathy, as if he were coming upon a beggar on the street. Its too bad you didnt have the right answer. I really wanted this to work out for all of us. He shook his head back and forth in a grand show of discontent.

Dez didnt deliver any clich'e parting words, even though Christopher could tell he was thinking about it. He simply gave an audible exhale, then started to turn toward the door.

I know about UND, LLC.

Romano froze and cocked his head toward him.

Paul Crane is the lawyer who set it up and is your registered agent.

Romano turned now.

And I know Belle Joseph is the principal officer, Christopher said. I know everything.

Romano sniffed deeply. What else do you think you know?

Which meant there was something else to know. Which meant Dez Romano must be running some of his money through UND, LLC, just as theyd thought. Good work, Izzy.

Why should I tell you? he scoffed at Romano. Youre going to leave me here anyway, right? Youre going to kill my daughter, my son, my wife. And then come back and kill me. He acted as if saying those words didnt cause succinct blows of pain to his stomach.

Yeah, thats right. Thats exactly whats going to happen. And if you dont tell me what else you know, Ill bring your family in here and make you watch it. Ill bring your daughter in here, and-

Christopher forced himself to interrupt Romano. He couldnt bear to hear what the man was about to say. Do it, he said loudly. If anything happens to me today, my associates will take that information and have it to the Feds within hours. DeSanto wont take the fall this time.

Dez Romano did nothing, but Christopher could tell hed hit a chord. Dez had thought no one knew about UND, LLC. He believed that he and Michael had covered their tracks.

I know how youre working it with DeSanto, Christopher said. Youre going to act all sympathetic, right? Tell DeSanto to do his time and youll have a place for him when he gets out, yeah? And then youll fuck him. He gets out and hes persona non grata. Hell have a record, which will make it tough to get a job, and so hell be forced to take whatever dregs you leave him. Hell-

Shut up! It was Romano who interrupted him now, taking a step forward as he did.

Which was exactly what Christopher was waiting for.

In one second, Christopher filled himself up with the power of his breath and let his body unfurl out of the cower. His leg shot out. His right foot hooked Romanos, and not expecting it, he went down fast. Christopher summoned up every bit of strength in his body, and with a roar, he heaved himself toward Romano, pulling the desk with him. He managed to get to a crouch and and then launched himself right toward Romano, falling atop him. As hed anticipated, Romano reacted quickly, using his strength to throw Christopher off him, tearing Christophers shirt in the process. And Christopher used the extra momentum to lift the desk off the ground, just for a second, to slip the cuff out from under the leg.

His hands free now, he wrapped one around Romanos neck and yanked his head to the side. He raised the hand still cuffed and brought it down with a blasting punch against Romanos temple. Romano crumpled, temporarily knocked out. Christopher knelt over him, felt under him until he found the gun and the blade and shoved them away. He wanted to blow Romanos skull to pieces, knew that legally, he was in the right to do so-self-defense. But he didnt want to explain himself, or his Italian passport, to the Chicago police or anyone else. And he thought then of what Izzy had said about not hurting people even if theyd hurt you. Just as hed told her, he didnt agree. Not at all. But he wanted his daughter to respect him. If that was possible.

He rolled Romano onto his back. In his dark suit and dotted tie, Dez looked like a well-dressed corpse waiting for his casket. Christopher wished that were so.

He crouched at his head. He didnt have much time until Romano came to. Five minutes, maybe. But that was all he needed.

Counting off the seconds, he manipulated Romanos head, neck and body in a series of maneuvers, holding certain positions. He cocked Romanos head forward at the neck, tugging back at the base of the skull; he pushed Romano into a seated position then cocked the head slightly left; he twisted Romanos head one way, then another, moved his torso to the left, then slightly right, counting out the seconds.

When he was done, he laid Romanos head back. When he regained consciousness, he would sit, and the room would tilt and spin. With the swirling of his surroundings he would have a very hard time getting to his feet or executing even simple bodily tasks, all due to BPPV-Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. BPPV was usually brought on by natural calcium debris in the inner ear that sent false signals to the brain, severely affecting balance, but it could be induced manually, as well. Christopher had utilized it before, often using weak electrical currents to excite neurons in the brain, but if he had to he could also do it positionally, the old-fashioned way.

He raised his hands off Romano and took a step back. Romano was still out. Perfect. When he came to, the BPPV wouldnt last forever, but it would buy them a fair amount of time.

Christopher spun and opened the door. He shut it behind him, then took off in a sprint down the hallway, barely noticing the handcuffs on one hand banging into his thigh.


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