It seems a person important to the private life of a very important person has gone missing in the Hamptons. And it looks like the best way to get her back is to extort the cooperation of Sam Acquillo.
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Chris Knopf is an award-winning copywriter and principal of marketing communications agency Mintz & Hoke. He lives with his wife in Avon, Connecticut and Southampton, New York.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I didn’t like anything about that big, dumb, ugly SUV. I didn’t like the way it looked. All black, with a toothy gold grille. I didn’t like the windows, tinted nearly opaque. I mostly didn’t like where it was parked — a half block from my house.
I’d seen it driving around Southampton Village, a standout among other moronic excess. I’d also seen it on Main Street in Sag Harbor and on the Montauk Highway. In fact, I’d seen it so often I was getting sick of seeing it.
It was now parked up on the lawn of a house rented by a guy who would never do that. He was fastidious. He was also still in the City, at Mount Sinai, being treated for something bad enough to mean missing out on a whole season bought and paid for in the Hamptons.
It was about nine o’clock at night and I was just getting back from dinner with my friend Paul Hodges at his little fish joint in Sag Harbor. I pulled my old Grand Prix in behind the tail of the SUV and into the sick guy’s driveway. Eddie, the mutt who lives with me, jumped into the driver’s seat expecting to follow me out the door. I told him to sit, stay and be quiet, words he understood, but considered only advisory.
I walked the rest of the way to my cottage, getting close enough to see the light above the side door, which was supposed to be on, and a light inside the house, which wasn’t. I walked around the rear of the house to the other side, past another exterior door, and then up to the screened-in porch that faced the Little Peconic Bay. I could see the light left on in one of the bedrooms, something I wouldn’t do. My father never allowed such profligate use of electricity. I didn’t argue about his rules when he owned the cottage, and though he’d been dead a long time, I wasn’t going to start now.
I saw another light, this one moving. A flashlight darting around the walls of the kitchen. You could get to the kitchen from that side of the house by going through a small pantry. It was a good route for me because it was close by and I could pick up my three-quarter-sized Harmon Killebrew baseball bat along the way. I kept it next to the door so I could hit tennis balls for Eddie to shag off the grass or chase over the breakwater down to the pebble beach by the bay.
I probably should have taken a moment to develop a better strategy, but my adrenal glands had already opened the floodgates, relieving my judgment of command and control and turning them over to my lousy temper. This is how you end up doing things like confronting nighttime intruders with a kid’s baseball bat and a simple question:
“What the hell’s going on?”
I was in the pantry by now. I saw the flashlight in the kitchen flick off. I jumped toward the light switch on the far wall, but before I could get there a big black mass plowed into me.
We fell back into the pantry. Before we hit the floor I twisted so the guy wouldn’t land directly on top of me. This didn’t completely solve the problem, but kept the worst of the blows he threw from doing serious harm. I wriggled out from under him and got back on my feet. I needed space to get my fists into play and protect my head, my greatest vulnerability.
In my hurry to stand, I lost my bat and almost lost my balance, stumbling backwards into the kitchen. This was fortuitous, as it allowed more room to maneuver.
The guy came at me again, his head down like a fullback trying to blow a hole through a defensive line. I sidestepped and sank a sharp uppercut into the vague black shape, connecting well enough to snap the guy into a full standing position. He staggered back against the wall. Before he could recover his momentum, I socked him a couple times in the general direction of his head. He was bigger than me, but not as quick, and not much of a fighter. At least with his fists. When the gun came out I wasn’t so sure.
There was enough light seeping in from the living room to see the big black automatic. Since it takes less than a second to pull a trigger I wasted little time grabbing the barrel and pushing it toward the ceiling. When it went off the sound was literally deafening, though I could hear myself yelling a string of startled obscenities as I held the hot barrel with my right hand and shoved a series of enthusiastic jabs into the guy’s face with my left.
When his grip on the gun weakened, I pulled it out of his hand. I managed to get the thing into the rear waistband of my jeans without letting up on the left jabs, which seemed to be having an effect. With the gun secured I got my right involved, using my left forearm as a shield against his faltering resistance.
I’m too old to be much of a power hitter, but I was motivated that night. The guy was now slumping forward, covering his head with his hands, so my last important punch came from above, dropping him hard to the floor.
I sank one knee between his shoulder blades and stuck the automatic against the back of his neck. I held my index finger along the barrel and away from the trigger so I wouldn’t accidentally kill the guy before I had a chance to find out who he was and what he was doing in my house.
“Fuck you,” he said.
I racked the slide on top of the automatic, ejecting the round that was already in there and putting another one in its place, just to be sure.
“Come again?” I asked.
“You’re not going to shoot me,” he mumbled into the floor.
“You’re right.” I stuck the gun back in my waistband, gripped him by the hair and pulled his head up off the floor. Then I reached around, grabbed his windpipe and squeezed. “I’m going to strangle you.”
He started to thrash around from shock and pain, so I squeezed a little harder.
“Unless you want to chat,” I said.
He gurgled something that sounded like a yes, so I let go of his throat and stood up. I turned on the kitchen light and retrieved the bat from the pantry. The man in black was now up on his hands and knees, though none too steadily. A gentle push with my foot sent him to the floor again, rolling him over and giving me a better look at his face. As good a one as I could get, through all the blood.
He looked somewhere in his late thirties, though jowly, which can add years. White face, black hair, small upturned nose probably made more so by recent events. He was wearing a black turtleneck shirt, black pants and black shoes. His eyes were sunken and set too close together, and he coughed as he tried to catch his breath.
“Take your wallet out of your pants and put it on the floor,” I told him.
It took him a while, but he did it. I kicked it out of his reach and picked it up.
“Honest Boy Ackerman,” I read off his New York State driver’s license. “Honest?”
“That’s my mother’s fault. Nobody calls me that.”
There wasn’t much else in his wallet. A few credit cards and some cash. No baby pictures or membership cards for Breaking and Entering Professionals of America.
“So what do they call you?”
“Okay, Honest, you’re going to tell me what you’re doing here, and why, or I’m going to beat you with this baseball bat until you’re almost dead, or just wish you were. Whichever comes first.”
He looked hesitant, so I moved things along with a little tap on the noggin.
“That was nothing. I’m only getting started.”
“I am,” I said, then tapped him again, a little harder.
“Shit, okay. I was just looking around.”
“Of course. Why didn’t you just say that?”
I tapped him again. He put his hands over his face.
“Okay, okay. I was looking for dirt. Stuff we could use on you.”
“I don’t know. Dope, illegal guns, a wad of cash. Photos of you sleeping with a llama.”
“I’ve never even dated one,” I said.
“You don’t do shit, pal. Not even a computer.”
“Sorry to disappoint you. You still haven’t told me why.”
“I don’t know why. I’m just supposed to get the stuff. Why is somebody else’s job.”
“Is shooting me part of your job?”
“I wasn’t trying to shoot you. It went off accidentally. You should know better than to grab a gun like that.”
“So who hired you to look for dirt?”
“I tell you that, I’ll never work again.”
“You tell me that or you’ll be drooling on yourself and shitting in a bag for the rest of your life.”
I knelt down, got another grip on his larynx and cracked him on the forehead again, in case he’d forgotten what it felt like. He nodded ferociously and I let go.
“You’re a harsh son of a bitch,” he croaked.
“Out with it.”
“I work in security for Con Globe. I’m on special assignment to George Donovan, Chairman of the Board. I don’t know what it’s about. I just do what he tells me and that’s that.”
I sat down on my butt as if Ackerman had landed a decent punch of his own. Con Globe. The snappy corporate nickname for Consolidated Global Energies. My former employer. My only employer for twenty years of my professional life. Run by George Donovan, the guy who helped make sure twenty years was all I’d ever get.
Joe Sullivan could have sent Will Ervin, the patrolman who took over the North Sea beat after Sullivan was promoted to Southampton’s investigative unit. But this was way too interesting to pass up, and anyway, Sullivan was a...
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