Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

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9780743442855: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

In the full-throttle, noir-soaked tradition of Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly, the acclaimed young author of Bad Connection unleashes an ambitious and edgy new thriller pulsating with raw, urban energy.

Decorated NYPD Officer John Coglin always thought his picture on the front page of the newspaper would be one for the scrapbook.

That was before he had the bad luck to be forced into a witness-free, kill-or-be-killed confrontation with a drug-dealing thug. It's of no help to him that the incident took place during the run-up to a bitter mayoral election campaign, and that his adversary was sixteen years old and black.

Now, instead of another commendation, Coglin is staring down the barrel of a media- and politics-stoked murder rap.

But on the eve of his sure conviction arrives a fateful telephone call.

It's not the governor, but his long-lost uncle, Aidan O'Connell.

A veteran of the IRA and a recently released guest of San Quentin Penitentiary for armed-to-the-teeth robbery, Aidan offers his nephew a pardon that has nothing to do with lawyers.

Coglin is about to find out that the type of amnesty Uncle Aidan is proposing is the kind that involves a beautiful but dangerous Mafia widow, a car trunk full of M-16s, and thirty million dollars in jewels smack dab in the middle of Rockefeller Center.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is a highly entertaining, deliciously gritty, super-fast thriller that takes us on a cutthroat ride into an urban realm where criminal intent collides head-on with the vagaries of fate and the inscrutabilities of the human heart.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Michael Ledwidge is the author of Bad Connection and The Narrowback. He lives in the Bronx.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter Two

The place they went to eat called itself a diner, but it was little more than a large coffee shop. It was empty except for the old Spanish cook and the middle-aged waitress, his daughter, who turned from where she sat smoking at the front counter.

"Oh no, you again," she said. It was what she always said.

They sat in the deepest booth and put their radios up on the table top next to the ketchup. They ordered burgers and ate them slowly. Nobody came in or out. The waitress took their empty plates and went for coffee. Baker shifted in the silence.

"If it's about what I said about Karen," he said.

"No," Coglin said, looking out into the rain through the plate glass. "It ain't that."

"What then? That EDP? The lady?

Coglin turned from the rain to his partner.

"You notice how pretty she was?" he said.

Baker nodded.

"Now that you mention it."

"Well, there was a picture of her in her apartment, when she was a kid. She looked like an angel, like a little girl in a fairy tale."

"And?" Baker said.

Coglin placed his hands on the table in front of him and stared down between them as if some answer lay there in the paled swirls of worn linoleum.

"I guess I never really thought about how fucked up it is to be crazy like that," he said quietly, "so alone and fucked up."

Baker looked at him in shock. He was at a complete loss for a response.

"Does this have anything to do with that fancy TV you're watching now?" he said.

Coglin gave him the finger as he looked back out the window. When the waitress brought the check, Baker grabbed it.

"Gotta try something radical to cheer your ass up," he said, taking out his wallet.

A thin, hunched form appeared up the block, pushing a shopping cart as they exited the coffee shop. As the figure passed under a streetlight, Coglin could see that he was an older black man with a messed-up face: his nose a swollen bag; his eyes purple, puffed slits; his lips split.

"Is that Smilin' Ronnie?" Baker said.

"Hey, Smilin'!" Coglin called, taking a step toward him. "Hey, Smilin'! What happened?"

The old man slowed for a moment, his pulverized face turning vaguely toward the sound of Coglin's voice. Then he began to step quickly. The metal rattling of his cart off the breaks in the sidewalk was suddenly more rapid, like the clatter of a train skipping a stop.

"What the hell happened to him?" Baker said. "Took a spill?"

"Off a roof, maybe," Coglin said.

"Ream knocked him out," said a voice behind them.

They both turned. There was a recessed window in the old, dark building beside the coffee shop, and behind its rusting bars stood a small Hispanic boy of no more than seven. He gripped the bars with his little fists like a miniature, irate inmate. Blue television light flashed from the room behind.

"C'mon," Coglin said. "You saw it? A little guy like you?"

"Shit, yeah," the child said proudly. "Only happened right there on the corner. Ream and his crew, out drinkin' forties, see the bum roll up, so they play them some Knockout."

Coglin exchanged glances with his partner.

"Knockout," Baker said. "What's that?"

The kid rolled his eyes and shook his head with a "where the fuck you been?" expression.

"'Knockout,'" he explained slowly. "It's when you coldcock some sucka in his cranium an' try an' knock his ass out with one punch."

"What happens after you knock 'im out?" Baker asked. "You rob him?"

"Straight up. Stomp his sorry ass, too. But they didn't vic no bum." The kid rolled his eyes again. "What they gonna take? His cans? Shit."

"They stomped on him, though, huh?" Coglin said.

"Word," the kid said. "Beat his old ass." The dark child laughed for a second, the sound chilling for the unlikely innocence in it, a tickled baby.

"And they pissed on 'im. He was lyin' on the ground and they whipped their shits out and showered the stinky old fuck."

Coglin checked his desire to reach through the bars and wrap his hands around the kid's throat.

"Little man," Coglin said "I don't believe a word of your bullshit. You believe him, Daryl?"

"He's spittin' lies," Baker said.

"Hey, I seen it," the kid whined. "I seen it right there."

"Who did it then?" Baker said. "Who knocked him out?"

"Ream did it. Ream turned that old nigga's fuckin' lights out."

"Who the fuck's Ream?"

"Ream deals rock in the park across from Tubman. Ask anybody. Tall ass nigga with a red Lex. Got silver loops in his ears."

"Yeah, we'll see," Coglin said, pushing himself off the wall.

"You playin' us," Baker said, "and we're gonna be comin' back."

The kid kicked the bars with his small, sneakered foot.

"Dang," he called after them, offended. "Why the fuck would I be lying?"

Back in the car, Coglin looked off in the direction the bum had gone, a tightness spreading through his body. Adrenaline injecting into his bloodstream at the anticipation of contact. He rolled his neck, his thoughts racing back to the crazy woman.

Maybe there were some problems that he or anybody couldn't do anything about.

But luckily some punk kids torturing an old defenseless man wasn't one of them.

"Whataya say we take a little spin by the park?" he said, starting the car. He stomped on the gas, making the engine roar.

Baker smiled and nodded his approval.

"Now, that's my Coglin," he said, grasping the dash as the car shot forward. "Let's see how much Mr. Ream likes havin' his own cranium cracked."

The drug spot was empty when they pulled in front of the Harriet Tubman projects five minutes later. Normally, the wooden benches facing the street in the adjacent park would be filled with the dealers, circles of hooded young men glancing constantly about like some strange order of cautious persecuted monks.

"I think Harriet would have skipped this stop on the ol' Underground Railroad, don't you?" Baker said. "I think she would have taken the express right on past if she had the choice. Business is slow with this rain."

Coglin took a deep breath and looked out at the desolate complex of dark stone high-rises, the pale cement paths crisscrossing the mud between.

"Yeah," he said. "I've seen that red Lex around, though."

"Me, too," Baker said.

A train blasted past on the El two blocks away, and its electric spark's soft blue glow lit up the dismal brick for a moment.

"You think it was what? Some kind of gang thing?" Coglin said.

"Yeah. Some kind of sick initiation," Baker said. "At least the LA gangs have the decency to beat the fuck out of each other."

They sat in silence.

"Fuck it," Baker said after a while. "We're gonna cross paths with the animal sooner or later. Hopefully sooner in one of these hallways with the back of his head opened up for him."

He checked his watch. "It's time anyway. We gotta get back."

Coglin turned to his partner.

"Smilin' ever show you his union card?"

"Used to be a plumber, right?"

"Steamfitter," Coglin said. "He told me he used to be the house steamfitter at the Plaza hotel till he got fired."

Baker shook his head grimly.

"Pissed on him, Daryl," Coglin said. "Who does that? What species?"

"I agree," Baker said. "That's some bothersome prehistoric shit. But it's still time."

Coglin glanced out at the dark, desolate fa?ades of the buildings. He blew out a pent-up breath loudly.

"You're right," he said quietly, shifting the transmission down into drive.

They pulled out and drove in silence, the rain on the roof a low, constant rattle.

"I just wish he'd been there," Coglin said after a few blocks.

"Me, too, man," Baker said. "Me, too."

Back at the precinct house, they parked the radio car in the garage, handed in their paperwork and went up to the locker room. It took Coglin less than ten minutes to put away the belt and gear, change out of his uniform, and exchange his service automatic for his off-duty .38. He closed his locker and sat down next to Baker, who was still getting dressed.

"So you want me to bring the cradle tomorrow, right?" Baker said.

Coglin nodded.

"I appreciate you letting me use your basement to work on it," he said.

Baker shook his head.

"You know I was just fuckin' with you about Karen," he said.

"No," Coglin said. "I don't know that. But I think I know what you were getting at. Don't worry about it."

"You gonna be OK," Baker said with a grin, "or you want me to call the rubber-gun squad for you, maybe? Ask if they got any openings?"

"You're a sensitive motherfucker," Coglin said, shaking his head with a slight smile. "I ever tell you that? A real warm individual. It's easy to share with you."

Baker smiled widely.

"Glad to see you're feeling better, partner," he said.

"Shoo, shoo," Coglin told him as he rose. "Under a hedge."

Coglin left the locker room, walked out through the musty stationhouse and crossed the street to his car. He turned the engine over and waited, letting it warm. He glanced at the precinct, its narrow windows still burning with their grim but steady yellow light. He backed out.

He was passing under the elevated track on his way to the highway when he saw them: a group of teens -- a half dozen or more -- crowded in the roofed stairwell leading up to the El. At first, the older man in their midst seemed to be a friend of theirs, a concerned father maybe taking his son home. Then a forty-ounce malt liquor bottle crashed across the side of his head, and he buckled and fell.

Coglin was out in the rain and running almost before his fishtailing car had stopped completely. He was less than twenty feet away and closing when they noticed him. Young, hooded bodies spilled over the black-painted stair rail, through the thin opening, up the stairs. He caught the last one out -- a squat, overweight punk -- with a slap that set him down on the pavement. The kid managed to push himself to his feet and then ran off.

The victim was middle-aged and Hispanic. He was wearing a suit that was wet and soiled, and he raised his bloodied head with a moan. Coglin looked up the stairs in time to see the sneaker soles of one of the pack gain the top landing. He helped the man into a sitting position and reached at his side for hi...

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