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Chapter 10: Loose ends

Heather Hopp-Bruce/Globe staff

“The Mechanic” is a novella by best-selling author Ben Mezrich. The fictional work will publish exclusively on BostonGlobe.com over the next two weeks. Read more about this book at globe.com/themechanic. Sign up to be alerted when the next installment goes live here.

Chapter Ten

At first, the vast, open room was shrouded in darkness, save for the cone of light streaming in from the open doorway. She could make out a concrete floor and ridiculously high ceilings; what she’d thought was a four-story building from outside was actually one big open warehouse, with metal catwalks ringing the upper levels all the way to the unfinished, beam-marked ceiling. Huge shipping crates lined the walls to her right and left, stacked by machines that sat dormant in the shadows; she could see the frame of a forklift on one side of the room, and some sort of wheeled ladder contraption in the far corner, rising up almost to the ceiling.

But when Nick finally found a light switch on the wall close to where they’d entered, Hailey’s attention was immediately drawn to the center of the room. First, because the crates were hard to ignore. A half dozen of them, wooden, lined up next to each other on the concrete floor. The crates were all open, and as she followed Nick deeper into the warehouse she could see that at least the closest few were empty. Next to the nearest crate was a crowbar, and the shattered remains of one of the crates’ lids. And next to the crowbar ...

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“Is that a shotgun?” Hailey asked.

She’d never seen a shotgun before, not in real life. You didn’t see many guns at MIT. And even after she’d run away at 12, old enough looking to pass for 16, even older looking when it was dark, and was living mostly in cheap motels by way of the fake ID and what money she could make at odd jobs, she’d managed to avoid the sort of people who knew a .22 from a .38. Guys like Nick, who was already kicking at the shotgun with the tip of his boot, looking it over carefully.

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“Still loaded. They didn’t even get a shot off.”

And then she followed his gaze to the two men lying on the floor behind the last crate, right up next to each other. The strange thing was they looked almost peaceful, side by side, arms stiff at their sides. As Hailey took another step forward, she realized that everything about them was stiff — not just the arms, but their entire bodies, rigid and stiff like human statues. Both of their faces looked young, and so similar they could have been brothers. One had blondish hair swept back by too much gel and the other had more of a buzz cut, but their eyes were the same, blue and wide-open, frozen in place. The same as the mouths, open lips caught somewhere between a shout and a scream.

“They look paralyzed,” she whispered, stating the obvious.

Nick went down on one knee to check their pulses. Then he shook his head.

“This happened fast. Someone, or a lot of someones, came in through the door, disarmed the twins, did something awful to them.”

“But why kill them like this?”

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Nick thought for a minute, still looking over the empty crates.

“Fingernails,” he said, simply.

Then he rubbed a hand over his eyes.

“Jimmy the Lip must have known about the warehouse. Not a surprise, he had enough connections in this part of town to know every sea gull by the patterns of crap they leave on the sidewalk. Whoever took his fingernails found out about the warehouse, and got a little more creative with the twins’ here.”

“The paintings weren’t enough?” Hailey asked. “What more were they looking for? Why not just take the paintings and go?”

“Whoever did this is a professional, and professionals don’t leave loose ends behind. But a bullet to the skull is way easier than whatever this is.“

“Loose ends?” shot a woman’s voice from behind Hailey. “Maybe you can speak at the funeral. The twins could be assholes, but they didn’t deserve this.”

Hailey spun in place, a second ahead of Nick. The short, heavy-set woman standing in the open doorway had a mop of curly hair and square features, from her boxy jaw to her wide-set eyes. She looked about 40, maybe a little older. Her shoulders were slumped, but Hailey couldn’t tell if that was a natural state or because of sadness over the two dead men. The woman was clearly upset. But the way she was now glancing at the open crates made Hailey think her sadness carried a healthy component of self-interest.

“They took the paintings,” she said. Then she looked at Nick. “The down payment?”

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Nick shook his head. Hailey made a quick guess as to who this woman was — the daughter of Bobby Donati’s driver, who’d uncovered the stash and had set this all in motion. Hailey did the math in her head; the woman must have been around 10 at the time of Gardner heist. All those years, half a billion in stolen art bouncing around South Boston, lost, almost forgotten. And now lost again.

“Cursed,” the woman grunted. “Those damn things are cursed.”

“It’s a lot of money,” Nick said. He seemed strangely resigned. “There’s nothing mystical about it. People die when there’s lots of money at stake. You know how they say some businesses are too big to fail? Well, some things are too big to steal.”

The woman shook her head.

“That’s the crazy thing about all of this,” she said. “Bobby wasn’t even supposed to take those damn paintings. He was no good at following orders. Probably why he ended up in the trunk of his car.”

The woman turned and headed for door. Nick, who’d dealt with her in planning for the deal, called after.

“Gail, wait. What do you mean, he wasn’t supposed to take the paintings?”

Hailey was still digesting what the woman was saying. Bobby was the gangster who had supposedly robbed the Gardner. Gail’s father was his driver. Following orders? Then he really hadn’t planned the heist himself?

Gail reached the open door, then waved at Nick and Hailey to catch up to her.

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“Bobby was hired to rob the museum. But he wasn’t being paid to steal paintings. It was something else they wanted. Bobby had gone over and over it with my dad, because it had never made any sense. The thing they wanted — it was pretty much worthless. So Bobby, with all that priceless art around him, had taken his own initiative. He’d turned a little B&E for hire that might have gone pretty much unnoticed, maybe a police report growing cobwebs in some filing cabinet somewhere, into the robbery of the century.“

They exited the warehouse, back into the bright morning light. Hailey looked past the woman and saw a car parked at the curb. A Buick, at least 10 years old, that needed a good wash and a new set of tires. The woman was heading for the trunk, her keys already in her hands. Hailey knew that she shouldn’t have still been following, that the bodies were now compounding as fast as the bad decisions, but she couldn’t turn away. It wasn’t just the money anymore, it was the criminal equation, the puzzle that kept getting more complex, adding more variables, twisting and turning as the story evolved. It was baffling and irresistible. That was the thing about Hailey and equations — she couldn’t walk away until they were solved.

“Whoever had hired Bobby — my dad called them ‘serious people,’ and he’d only used that term when he’d really meant it, hadn’t been happy about what Bobby had done. They didn’t like the attention. The thing was, they’d also hired Bobby for a second job, another robbery. Something connected to the first. But that second job never happened, because instead Bobby ended up in the trunk of his car.”

The woman smirked at that, because she’d arrived at the trunk of her own car. She put her keys in the lock, then looked at Nick and Hailey.

“No,” she said. “Bobby wasn’t hired to steal those paintings. He was hired to steal something else. Something that’s pretty much worthless, in comparison. So worthless, I didn’t even include it in the deal with the twins.”

With that, she yanked open the trunk.

Hailey took a full beat to understand what she was looking at.

“That’s…“ she started, but the woman cut her off.

“Yeah. And you can have it. I don’t want anything to do with it anymore.”

Gail shook her head, her curly hair bouncing in the harbor breeze.

“Because everyone involved with that damn thing seems to end up dead.”