Chapter 7

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Perch arrived at an Armenian restaurant called Dolma’s. Sitting at a bar stool adjacent to the dining area, Mad Dog Moogalian was smoking a Virginia Slims menthol. Mad Dog was the kind of guy who could smoke menthols without other guys making fun of him. 

Perch slapped him on the back and pulled up a stool next to him. 

“You know what billionaire investor Warren Buffet once said?” 

Mad Dog didn’t care about Warren Buffet, Jack Welch or any of the other CEOs Perch was fond of quoting. 

“He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, he said that risk is when you don’t know what you’re doing.” 

“For my work,” Mad Dog said, exhaling smoke. “Risk is when I don’t know what someone else is doing.” 

Perch thought that one over. He liked it. 

“You’re right,” Perch said. “We don’t know what our little friend is doing. That’s our risk.” 

“Do you think he’s still in the city?” 

“I think he ran like hell to get out.” 

“Then you have two risks,” Mad Dog said. “You don’t know what he’s doing and you don’t know what you’re going to do.” 

“I guess that brings me to why I asked to meet you here.” 

Mad Dog blew out mentholated smoke, nodding. 

Perch made eye contact with the bartender who immediately brought over a vodka martini and turned the music up loud enough to drown out any eavesdropping devices. 

Mad Dog waited for Perch to take the first sip, then said, “I have no family.” 

Confused, Perch said, “I’m your family. My family is your family.” 

“I have no one for you to take care of,” said Mad Dog. “I confess to the shooting. I go to jail. You have no one to send money to.” 

Perch put down his drink, was about to set his longtime friend straight but Mad Dog raised a finger sternly. 

“I have a new plan,” he continued. “I admit to the shooting. You post my bail. Then I disappear.” 

Mad Dog took a long mentholated hit off his ladies’ cigarette. 

Perch wouldn’t do business this way, but he was interested now, enjoying the brainstorming session with Mad Dog. 

“You disappear,” Perch said, talking it through. “The money I would ordinarily give your family goes to you?” 

Mad Dog Moogalian nodded, exhaling purplish smoke. 

“Only instead of drawing it out over your sentence,” Perch said. “You get it all in one lump sum?” 

Mad Dog nodded again, slower this time. 

Perch took a sip of his vodka martini. He liked Mad Dog. Working all these years, just plugging away doing what he was paid to do. Never getting greedy. Never asking for more than his share. Here he was ready to confess to a crime that could land him in jail for the rest of his life and he was willing to do it. For a price. Perch was looking at Mad Dog with new eyes. It wasn’t loyalty or honor or any of the things Mad Dog might want Perch to believe was motivating his sacrifice. Perch realized Mad Dog was a faithful employee who only wanted what every good worker is entitled to: a retirement plan. That meant he was looking to get out. 

Perch tousled Mad Dog’s cropped head with a growl. 

“Suppose I were to accept this offer,” Perch asked. “Am I to let the authorities believe that someone within my organization is responsible for your disappearance?” 

Mad Dog’s cigarette hissed when he dropped it into an almost empty beer bottle. 

“Either that,” he said. “Or they think I returned to Armenia.” 

Perch swirled his martini. 

“I appreciate all you’ve said,” Perch began. “But I’m afraid you haven’t looked at our situation with a 360 degree view. Allow me to enlighten you. The problem is that there’s a man walking around who claims he saw me commit murder. If you admit to it and take off before the trial, they’ll say I put you up to it before killing you. And then this guy testifies anyway.” 

Mad Dog hung his head. He knew it was over but Perch kept talking. 

“Let’s just say your plan works,” he said. “You admit to murder, I pay you to go live in Yerevan for the rest of your life. Now my problem has doubled. Now I’ve got two guys out there, the only two who saw what took place on that bridge, and I can’t really trust either of them.” 

This made Mad Dog look up. 

Perch gulped his drink and smiled. “But if you’re on my side, I trust you.” 

He slapped Mad Dog on the back. 

“Let’s start over,” he said. “You know why I’m here?” 

“No,” said Mad Dog. 

“I’ve got a job for you,” Perch said. “And I know you don’t like to be micromanaged so I need you to handle every detail of this assignment.” 

Mad Dog picked up the beer bottle with the cigarette butt, then thought better. 

Perch counted the objectives on his fingers. “First you have to find out where they’re keeping him. How we can get to him. Where we’re going to dump him. It’s basic project management: discovery, planning, execution.” 

Mad Dog cracked his knuckles one finger at a time. 

“I know you’re thinking retirement,” Perch said. “But as a consolation prize, I’ll offer something of an incentive bonus if you successfully execute this project.” 

“Incentive bonus?” 

Perch handed him a fountain pen. 

“Think of a number, the amount you want, and write it on my coaster.” 

Mad Dog closed one eye while thinking, looking at the coaster, then back at his boss. He scribbled something then slid the coaster back face down. 

“The car’s outside,” said Perch. “I’ll meet you out there.” 

Mad Dog left the bar and Perch sighed before flipping the coaster. Whatever the amount, he wasn’t sure he could trust Mad Dog anymore. What’s a knee-capper thinking about retirement for when he’d probably die of mentholated lung cancer first anyway? 

Perch hoped Mad Dog had laid out a big number, that way he wouldn’t feel so bad having to terminate him. When everything is at stake, you can’t have your go-to guys getting soft. And here was his go-to guy, inadvertently throwing away a perfectly good career for a measly—Perch looked at the number on the coaster, then smiled. That’s why Mad Dog was his man. Scribbled almost illegibly on the coaster was the word Risk with a line cutting through it. 

With Mad Dog getting soft, it worried Perch there were two eyewitnesses out there who could put him away. For now he still needed one of them to get the other. If Mad Dog successfully managed this little project and helped minimize his risk, perhaps Perch wouldn’t have to kill him after all. 

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