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Authors: Paul Batista

Death's Witness

BOOK: Death's Witness
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“Grabs a reader by the

throat from page one

and won't let go.”


author of

Freethinkers: A History of

American Secularism



“Only a veteran trial lawyer could write a thriller
like this! The plot twists and turns are incredible!

It made me want to leap from the anchor chair into
the courtroom and try the case myself!"


anchor on CNN and Court TV





Paul Batista

Copyright © 2007 by Paul Batista

Cover and internal design © 2007 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover photo © Stone/Getty Images

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

(630) 961-3900

Fax: (630) 961-2168

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Batista, Paul A.

Death's witness / Paul Batista.

p. cm.

1. Murder--Fiction. 2. Trials--Fiction. I. Title.

PS3602.A893D43 2006



Printed and bound in the United States of America BVG 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Dedicated, with all a father’s love,

to my children, Aaron and Sara.

Special Note of Thanks

Writing this novel was an exuberant experience for me. My legendary editor, Hillel Black, brought his rare insight, special experience, and own sense of disciplined exuberance to his work on this novel. And in the process, Hillel became a friend and mentor to me. For all of that, I’m profoundly grateful.


Like the thousands of other runners who regularly used Central Park, Tom Perini knew precisely how long its outer roadway was: a total of six-point-two miles. There were various exits, entrances, and combinations of the internal roadways which Tom had charted for years, beginning at twenty-one when he first spent a heady week in New York for his Heisman Trophy ceremony, press conferences, and appearances. Tom knew how to switch and integrate the roads that dissected the interior of the park for the length of any particular run he wanted: one mile, two-and-a-half miles, four, or the full six-point-two.

On this long May evening he wanted three miles. He entered the park at the Engineers’ Gate at 90th Street and Fifth Avenue.

The run to the top of Central Park—the no-man’s land where Harlem and East Harlem joined at an invisible seam—and then the gradual southern sweep to the east-west transverse above the reservoir would combine for the three-mile course.

Around the area of the Engineers’ Gate there were, as he expected, other runners, dozens of them. The light from the setting sun washed to a smooth glow the gray stone surface of the Church of the Heavenly Rest across Fifth Avenue from the Engineers’ Gate. Stretching his legs and arms, he stared at the distinguished church and the huge, colorful banner hanging over the entrance’s carved wooden doors. There was only one word on the banner: Rejoice.


As he began the northward run, the crowds of runners thinned out. The upper reaches of the park were not only embedded in Harlem, they were also steep and difficult. At this time of the day and at this season, only the serious runners headed in that direction. Just a few years earlier, a woman out for a run in the predawn hours on a rainy Sunday morning had been dragged off the northern roadway, raped, and murdered. She was a Brazilian who worked in the cosmetics department at Bergdorf Goodman.

When he saw a picture of her in the
, Tom recognized her dark, remarkable face because she had often run by him in the

park. Often they nodded at each other. They silently shared the same dedication to running in the immense, leafy park, itself a sacred place. Her killer had never been found. Tom made the sign of the cross whenever he ran by the stony creek in the woods where her body was found.

As he moved gradually northward, Tom saw the tallest building on the uptown stretch of Fifth Avenue, a modernistic black tower which was part of Mount Sinai Hospital. At the periphery of his vision, the blocky, windowless structure looked like an iron ingot, rusting. After a mile, on the park’s upland, Tom broke into a luxurious sweat. His pace was strong and swift. He gained speed on the long downward slope that descended to the pool and skating rink on the northern edge of the park. Black teenagers, most of them in hoods, stood in the drained rink. They were loud, excited. Firecrackers resonated, tossed into the rink.

It was then that he heard behind him the Southern-accented, convivial voice of a man he hadn’t seen or heard approaching him. “Great pace,” the man said over Tom’s left shoulder. “Mind if I run with you for a while?”

It sometimes happened, although not often, that a stranger would join Tom on a run. The friendly, short-breathed conversations were always about running, nothing else. Tom gave a welcoming wave of his left hand. He instinctively knew that the man, like so many other people Tom encountered in his life, recognized him. After graduating from Stanford with his Heisman D E AT H ’ S W I T N E S S

Trophy, Tom had played football with the New York Jets for four seasons.

The other man was a better runner than Tom. His legs were long and elegantly muscled, his torso thin. In Tom’s eyes, he looked Australian—a lean, engaging man, with bushy blond hair and a large moustache. His face had deep smile lines. They communicated only in grunts as they swiftly engaged the steep climb of the roadway at the point where it began its turn to the West Side. Above them were big granite outcroppings and heavy tree limbs. Behind the granite, the interior of the park resembled a

jungle, hot and isolated.

On the heights of the massive rocks and the trees was a stone fortress with turrets and an American flag. The blockhouse was the oldest structure in the park, built at the time of the War of 1812 as an outpost to watch for British troops. That whole area, Tom knew, was now reserved for drug dealing. In all his years in New York he had never once left the paved road to explore that high, intriguing, out-of-place fortress and the woods around it. He didn’t know anyone who had. It was the one area of the park that runners, who began reclaiming it in the early 1970s, had never managed to recover.

The fast pace they set together as they climbed the hill’s steep grade pressed at the limit of Tom’s capacity. His strong, smiling companion had less difficulty with the climb. Without intending it, they were racing each other. They gave victory smiles as the road flattened and the effort of running became easier. Tom was grateful for the competition and the companionship. When he recovered enough breath on the gradual descent, he told the other man that he was going to cut across the transverse—which was essentially a footpath, although paved, stretching east-to-west under enormous trees—to regain the East Side. “Just three miles tonight,” Tom grunted. “Only three.”

“Can I cut across with you and then head on?”


The transverse was less than half a mile long. For Tom it was

always the perfect length and flatness for a closing wind sprint.

There were rolling hills to the north, covered with abundant trees.

From the perspective of that flat transverse, the northern fields and trees resembled an African plain thousands of miles from any city. There were no visible buildings.

Suddenly, two runners, a man and a woman, approached them from the opposite direction. Tom’s companion gave them a thumbs-up sign and said, “Don’t they look great? A real inspiration.”

“I don’t want to slow you down,” Tom answered, pleased with the way this engaging man could encourage these strangers, who

dashed to the foliage at the west end of the transverse. They were enveloped in the dark.

“Think I’ll move along.” He flashed a smile under his moustache and accelerated. “Thanks for the run.”

“Don’t mention it,” Tom said.

* * *

Seconds later, against the background of enormous trees, Tom Perini saw the man stop and turn to face him. The blond man planted his feet. He faced Tom squarely. His uplifted hands held a gun. Tom saw only the gun. He ran directly at it, unable to control his forward movement, unable to swerve, unable to save himself. They were the only two people in the world. The leaves of the thick trees were dark. The air, too, was dark, resonant with the sound of wind, cicadas, crickets. The gun’s force was so overwhelming that, as the newspapers later said, Tom Perini was not just decapitated. His head was totally shattered.


Hours earlier Hector had called him from the lobby. “Mr. Perini, got any appointments?”

It was the afternoon of the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.

Tom Perini had no appointments. He had worked alone in his office since noon. The weekend exodus was so swift and complete it was over by mid-afternoon.


“Guy down here says he got an appointment with you. Want to talk to him?”

“Sure,” Tom said. “I’ll talk to anyone. Put him on.”

Twenty-three stories below, the receiver was passed. “Mr. Perini, I’m so sorry I’m late but the plane was held up in Mexico City.”

“Held up

“In Mexico City. I wanted to be here at two for our meeting.”

“Do you know who this is?”

“Yes. You, Mr. Perini. What’s the matter, did you forget our appointment? This is Mr. Perez.” There was a tone of hurt in the heavily accented voice.

“Listen, I love a joke just as much as the next guy, but I don’t know who you are or what you’re talking about.”

“Wait, Mr. Perini. I’m carrying something for you, you know what, and I’ll come right up.”

“Slow down, Jack. Nobody’s coming up.”

“Now wait a minute, Mr. Perini. Just wait a minute.” The voice

had a clipped, absurd tone of indignation. It sounded like the young Peter Lorre—sibilant, quick, oddly formal. “I came a long way to talk to you about this. Flew all day. We have to meet.”

Tom didn’t have to insist that Hector get back on the line. The guard heard enough of the conversation and pulled the receiver away. Hector asked, “What you want me to do with him?”

“Get rid of him, Hector. He may have an appointment somewhere, but not on this planet.”

“Sorry to bother you, Mr. Perini.”

“Don’t worry, Hector. I needed a break.”

BOOK: Death's Witness
12.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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