The murders of an ambitious Teamster and members of his family lands Chief Assistant D.A. Butch Karp on one of his most challenging cases--one that will threaten his own family with violence as he probes ever deeper into big-city labor corruption. (Suspense)
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Robert K. Tanenbaum is one of the country's most respected and successful trial lawyers and has never lost a felony case. He has held such prestigious positions as homicide bureau chief for the New York District Attorney's Office and deputy chief counsel to the congressional committee investigations into the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He is teaching Advanced Criminal Procedure at his alma mater, the University of California at Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law and conducting continuing legal education (CLE) seminars for practicing lawyers in California, New York, and Pennsylvania. His previous works include Enemy Within, True Justice, and Act of Revenge. This is his fourteenth novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Killing people is so easy that the iron laws of supply and demand make it hard to earn a decent living doing it. As a result, murder for hire is almost always a sideline, and the people who engage in it are by and large stupid losers, quickly caught, and quicker still to rat out the idiots who hired them. The very few real professionals in the business are careful never to meet their clients. Instead, they deal through people like Mr. Ballantine. Mr. Ballantine is sitting in the driver's seat of his Mercedes sedan at the corner of Gansevoort and Washington Streets at 7 P.M. on a Sunday evening, about the loneliest place you can be on the island of Manhattan. This is the old meatpacking district, deserted at this hour, except for the occasional street person. It's early summer, the sky is the dull color of galvanized metal and seems to reflect the heat of the day down upon the City. Although the river is close by, there is no breath of air. The bits of trash on the street do not stir. Mr. Ballantine has the air-conditioning on high. He is listening to a Frank Sinatra CD. Frank is singing "Fly Me to the Moon."
A white car goes by, brakes at the end of the street, and does a clumsy U-turn. Its driver parks behind the Mercedes and gets out and, as he has been instructed to do, enters the rear seat. Mr. Ballantine does not turn around. His dark eyes meet the watery blue ones of the other in the rearview mirror.
"That's right. Did you bring the money?"
"I can get it. I wanted to discuss the details."
Ballantine allows himself a small sigh and glances at the dashboard clock. He had hoped that this would go smoothly, as he has an appointment downtown, but obviously he was wrong. He studies what he can see of the man in the mirror. A pale disk of face, late forties, running a little to fat. Stiff sandy hair, sideburns somewhat longer than the current fashion in New York, a dark suit jacket with a gold pin of some fraternal order in the lapel, a thick tie with a heavy, mixed pattern. An out-of-towner, a hick. A little cornpone in the voice, too. A Southerner? That would be unusual. Southerners usually did it themselves.
"No, we don't discuss the details," Mr. Ballantine says. "You give me twenty-five now and it gets done and you give me twenty-five again. That's it, end of discussion."
"I don't know. That's a lot of money, you know. Just to hand over to someone you never seen before."
Not Southern; a hillbilly of some kind. Mr. Ballantine is tempted to cut it off right there, tell the hick to get lost, but he has already invested some time and money. He has paid the bartender who picked up the job, and the guy the bartender told, who told him and set up the meeting. He could write that off as overhead, but still...
"Look," says Mr. Ballantine, "you never did this before, am I right?"
"I've done it a lot, which tells you something. That I know what I'm doing. Because, you know, this is illegal."
A short bark of a laugh from the rear seat.
"Right, and I'm still here, on the outside. Also, think about it for a minute: I'm dealing all the time with people who want to get rid of other people, they're not going to sit down for getting ripped off. I wouldn't be in business if I did that. This is the way it has to be. No questions. I don't know you, you don't know me. You don't know who I'm going to get to do the job. He doesn't know you. Me, I'm just a voice on the phone and an envelope full of cash in his post office box as far as he's concerned. Everyone is sealed off from everyone else, you understand? Seal-off is the main thing. That and the professional job, experienced personnel, guaranteed operation, and so forth. Now, I'm not saying there's not cheaper ways to go."
"For example?" said the man in the backseat, his tone avid. Mr. Ballantine checked his mirror. The man's eyes were wide with interest.
"For example, you could find some guys in a bar around where you come from, a couple of tough guys, what d'y'call them, good old boys. And you could give them a couple of grand and they'd go do it for you. Assuming they do it at all and not get drunk and fuck it up, it'd take maybe three, four days before they told someone, or the cops traced something they dropped at the scene back to them, and a couple of hours after that, they'd come and arrest you, because those boys'll give you up quicker than shit. On the other hand, you saved all that money."
"I'm not that stupid, Mr. Ballantine," said the man coldly, after a brief silence.
"We don't know that yet. If you're not stupid, either you're going to forget about the job, kiss and make up with this fella, or you're going to give me twenty-five large in assorted unconsecutive currency. Those are the two nonstupid options. Up to you, Jim. I could care less either way."
"I'll have to think about it," said the man, easing across the seat. "Other people are involved in this."
That would be another mistake, thought Mr. Ballantine, but said nothing as the man walked back to his rental. When the car had disappeared, Mr. Ballantine got out into the heat and snapped off the magnetized fake New York plates and tossed them in the trunk, revealing the authentic Jersey plates underneath. Sealing it off.
The voices of children woke her out of a sun-dazed nap and she sat up in the beach chair, checking first of all to see if Lizzie was there, and of course she was, building her sand castle where the sand got damp. There were two boys, about ten years old, both dark-haired and lean, one in a red Speedo suit and one in baggy cutoffs. They were splashing in the shallows of the Sound, playing with something big and black, a truck-tire inner tube? In the distance was an adult, obscure now in the glare and salt haze. A woman.
Rose allowed herself a moment of annoyance. Crab Point was a private beach, although who it actually belonged to just now was a lawyer's guess. But it had been in her family for generations. She had come here as a child, to the big white house on the beach, and she had brought the boys here when they were babies, and now, after a long hiatus, she had brought Lizzie, and who was this woman to come here as if it were a public park, with her two noisy kids and her Dog. The thing was the size of a calf, black, dripping sea spray and slaver, and it was rushing directly at her and Lizzie. Her belly jumped with fear. She started to get to her feet to get between the monster and her little girl, who was kneeling next to her sand castle, her back to the onrushing dog, oblivious.
There came a piercing double whistle and the dog, now not more than three yards from Rose, spun instantly around like a mechanical toy, throwing a gout of sand as it skidded, and immediately began to race back toward the other woman.
Who waved and called, "Sorreeee!"
Rose experienced a rush of anger, at the woman and that animal, but also at herself, for her appalling cowardice. She had never been frightened of dogs before.
"Can I go in, Mom?" asked Lizzie. "It's boiling." She had her little red tube around her waist.
"Sure, honey, I'll come with you." Rose was afraid of the water, too, afraid of letting the girl go in by herself, although Lizzie had been a good swimmer since the age of five. When had she become a coward? As soon as she asked the question, she knew.
From the water, floating on her back, she watched the other woman spread her blanket and set up her backrest, and, with somewhat more interest, her undressing. She wore a small, blue-striped bikini, although she was rather mature for a bikini -- late thirties, early forties, Rose judged. A terrific, lithe body though, obviously one of those disgusting women who could eat anything and went wiry rather than slack with age. Another reason to dislike her. Rose rolled over and began to swim back and forth on the gentle swell. Maybe she could work off a few pounds before Red got here.
The next day, the woman was there again, with the boys and the dog, although the dog did not repeat its threatening dash. It played with the boys or sat like a basalt sphinx by the woman's side. She waved, and Rose returned a barely polite one. The next three days were the same. They arrived around four and stayed for a couple of hours. The woman rubbed herself with baby oil, but did not apply sunblock, nor was she apparently worried about her children burning up, unlike Rose herself, who was constantly laving her own skin and that of her daughter with Plus 20.
The boys were identical twins. Through her covert observations, Rose learned that the one with the red Speedo was called Zik, and the one in the baggies was Zak. They were oddly different: Zik spent his time making elaborate sand sculptures; Zak spent his chasing shorebirds, and throwing sticks for the dog, and building crude sand castles, which he demolished with thrown clods as soon as built. Eventually he would squash part of his brother's work and there would be a short, noisy brawl.
Rose was glad the woman kept to herself, but she could not help her curiosity. On a trip into Holden, she'd asked Donna Offut at the grocery, who knew everything, and learned that the family was from the City and had bought the old Wingfield farm. The woman raised big dogs and trained them for guard work. There was a husband, too, who worked in New York and came out on the weekends.
The woman was named Ciampi. Apparently she'd made a pile in the market and spent a chunk of it buying and fixing up the derelict place. In all, thought Rose, not the sort of person she particularly wanted to know. The South Shore was, of course, loaded with that type, but up until now the less attractive, less accessible far North Shore had been relatively unscathed by nouveaux hordes. But maybe that was going, too; another little gritty bit of sadness.
On the fifth day, the Ciampi woman arrived without the dog and with only Zik in tow. She waved, and Rose waved back and watched the usual baby oil routine. Rose was again astounded. Had the woman never heard of cancer? And letting that boy run around in this blazing sun was close to child abuse. Had she appeared stark naked, Rose could not have been more shocked. On the contrary, she might even have approved, as long as a reasonable sunscreen had been applied. Rose adjusted her position under the shadow of her beach umbrella to leave no skin subject to the toxic rays. Taking up her Harper's, she read four pages about the horrendous state of agricultural inspection before dozing off.
When she opened her eyes, she found Lizzie and the boy were building a sand castle of prodigious size, not the usual lumpy kid construction, but something far more sophisticated, with sheer, smooth walls pierced by arched gates, buttresses, and high, round towers. The boy was dabbing wet sand onto the structure and talking, weaving a story about the tiny lead figures they were arranging on the walls, a dungeons-and-dragons sort of tale: wizards, warlocks, imprisoned queens, dark riders, heroic elves. Lizzie was chattering along with this, as if she had known the boy for years. Rose listened, fascinated and amazed. It had never happened in her experience that a ten-year-old boy had volunteered to play with a girl of the same age. Then Lizzie became aware of her mother's stare and grew self-conscious enough to break the enchantment. She stood and walked over to Rose's blanket, the boy following.
"We want a drink," said Lizzie, reaching into the insulated bag.
"Drink, please. And offer one to your friend, Elizabeth," said Rose, smiling at the boy, and getting her first close look at him. He was at the very peak of his boyish beauty, and the peak in his case was remarkably high. Dark curls, bisque skin, large black eyes with thick, unforgivable lashes, a cupid-bow mouth, and the germ of what would become a straight Roman nose.
"What do you want, Giancarlo, Coke or Sprite?" asked Lizzie.
"Coke, please," said the boy, and Rose said, "I thought your name was Zik?"
"Oh, that's my baby name. My brother is Isaac or Zak and so I had to be Zik. Parental humor, ho ho. My brother is the only one who still calls me Zik." He lowered his voice and looked grave. "He's profoundly retarded."
Rose's brow twisted in sympathy. "Oh, how awful. I'm sorry."
"Yes, well, we try to cope and all. That's why he's not here today. He had to go to Creedmore for his...you know, his treatments."
Lizzie said, "Their dog killed all their rabbits, Mom."
"Yes," said the boy. "It was a huge mess. He ravaged them. There were bunny parts all over. That's why he's not here either. My mother flogged him with the dog whip and locked him in the cellar. She might shoot him, or sell him to, you know, a dogfight man." He took a long sip from his Coke as they stared. "Boy, I was really thirsty. My Mom never brings anything but beer, but, you know, a couple of beers on a hot day and I get a headache and Zak is uncontrollable and has to be whipped."
"Whipped?" said Rose with a gulp.
"Oh, sure. My mom's quite the flogger. Look!" He half-twisted to show his upper back. Two thin parallel scars ran from his shoulder almost to his spine, pale against the tan. "I overturned a pitcher of martinis and she got out the dog whip on me. She's totally out of control when she gets plastered. I think she feeds us beer to destroy our brain cells. She's really quite sadistic. She used to give my sister sherry in her baby bottle."
"Did it work?" asked Lizzie, openmouthed.
"Partially. My sister speaks forty-eight languages perfectly, but otherwise she's a complete idiot. She sometimes puts her shoes on the wrong foot."
Rose sighed and said tartly, "You know, it's one thing to make up stories and another thing to tell fibs. I'm sure your family would be very unhappy if they heard you talking about them that way."
Giancarlo's response was a smile of such devastating charm that light seemed to leap from his face, and Rose's irritation melted away and she laughed, reflecting in the moment that laughs had been few and far between recently. Lizzie broke into giggles, too. In a moment they were all three roaring like a sitcom laugh track.
"What's the joke?"
Rose looked up and saw that Giancarlo's mother was standing at the edge of their beach blanket, holding a long-neck Schlitz.
"I was being amusing, Mom," said Giancarlo.
"I bet," said Marlene. She nodded to Rose. "Hi, I'm Marlene Ciampi. I'm more or less responsible for this creature." Rose introduced herself and her daughter, who asked, "Did your dog really eat up all the rabbits?"
Marlene gave her son a sharp look. "A rabbit got out and Gog chased it. Gog is not built for chasing rabbits. The rabbit is safe. What other lies did he concoct?"
"He said you flogged him with a dog whip and gave him a scar," said Lizzie.
"That's more of a prediction," said Marlene. "In point of fact, he got those scratches falling on a bale of razor wire he was told more than once not to go near."
"And I assume his brother isn't retarded either," said Rose.
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