Authors: James Patterson,Howard Roughan
“Christ, did I say immunity? What was I thinking?” joked Green, dialing up her deadpan sense of humor. As an assis.tant DA she was smart enough to know when to fall in line behind her boss. “Okay, so let’s wait on playing the tape. Who knows? Maybe Pinero will dig his own grave.”
Sorren’s scowl crept up slowly into a satisfied smile.
“Exactly,” he said. “Now let’s go give the prick a shovel.”
EDDIE PINERO GAVE a quick tug on the starched French cuff of his Armani spread collar shirt as he watched the three people enter the interrogation room.
Look who it is, the Three Stooges!
If he could whack each one of them and get away with it, he would. In a heartbeat. He’d pull the trigger himself, smile while he did it.
Especially when it came to Sorren, that Eliot Ness wannabe!
Pinero was sure that if it weren’t for the DA’s hard-on for organized crime, he wouldn’t be on his way to serving two to four years upstate. Of course, his former lawyer, Marcozza, hadn’t exactly helped the situation. Pinero still couldn’t understand how his consigliere had allowed him to take the fall for some trumped-up loan-sharking charges. At the trial it had been as if Marcozza had been phoning it in.
Pinero had a new attorney now, Conrad Hagey, called the “White-Collar Knight” among New York defense attorneys. His usual clientele were Wall Street and CEO bigwigs, mostly WASPs. In fact, Hagey had originally turned down Pinero’s request to represent him because he hadn’t wanted to sully his image.
That’s when Pinero had taken out his checkbook and a diamond-encrusted Montblanc pen. A half-dozen zeroes later, the tall and lean Hagey had had a sudden change of heart. Funny how that happens.
“Gentlemen,” began Hagey. “I’d like to reiterate for the record that my client has come here voluntarily and will certainly leave here voluntarily. It’s further understood that the sole purpose of this meeting is to ask him about the death of his —”
“Excuse me?” said Hagey.
“Vincent Marcozza was
. As were two New York City police officers. All three of them were
“And my heart goes out to all of their families,” said Pinero, inserting himself into the conversation.
“I’ll bet,” said Sorren with a sneer. “You’re just all beat up over it, aren’t you?”
Hagey resumed his preamble only to have Pinero raise a palm to him. “Let’s get to the questions,” he said before turning to Sorren. “Sound good to you,
Sorren smiled at the jab but gave away nothing more. He wanted to tangle with Pinero but not about his own political aspirations. Indeed.
Let’s get to the questions
“Do you have any idea who might have wanted Vincent
Marcozza dead?” asked Sorren for starters. “That is, besides you?”
“I loved Vincent,” Pinero shot back. “We were very close, for a lot of years.”
“Even after he completely botched your trial? I mean, that was a real butcher job he did. Why am I telling you — you were
Pinero turned to Kimberly Joe Green, the assistant DA. Green had prosecuted the case. “Your boss sure doesn’t give you much credit, does he?”
Green didn’t take the bait. She simply waited for Sorren to continue — and he did.
“Here’s the thing, Mr. Pinero. If Marcozza was so close to you, who would have been crazy enough to kill him — and disappoint you so greatly?” asked Sorren.
“That’s a damn good question. I guess I’ll have to keep watching the news to find out,” answered Pinero. “Which reminds me, how’s that little news reporter of yours, Brenda Evans, doing? Nice little piece you’ve got there, if I do say so myself.” He leaned forward on the metal table, his arms crossed. “Listen, do you really think I’d be stupid enough to whack my own lawyer?”
Sorren shrugged indifference. “Stupid enough? I don’t know about that. Angry enough? Perhaps.” He turned to Hagey. “Better watch your back with this guy, counselor. Either that or just make sure you never lose a case of his. Like this one.”
“Don’t you worry,” said Hagey, an ex-forward on the Princeton basketball team. He’d taken more than his share of hard elbows while delivering a few in return. “All I’ve heard
here so far is a lot of talk and zero evidence. You do remember what evidence is, don’t you, Mr. Sorren?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” said Sorren. “Not only do I remember it, I have it.”
Pinero immediately broke into laughter. It was loud and from the gut, like he was in the front row at Caroline’s comedy club. He kept laughing until everyone in the interrogation room had to stop to watch him.
This was the very last thing Sorren would ever have expected him to do, and Pinero knew it. Or maybe it was the second to last thing.
last thing was what happened next.
“So, is this when you play us the recording from Lombardo’s?” asked Pinero. “Gee, I can hardly wait.”
Sorren’s face said it all. He couldn’t hide it.
How the hell does he know about the recording?
Pinero tugged on the cuff of his shirt again, leaning back in his chair with a self-satisfied grin that stretched straight back to his porcelain-capped molars.
“What’s the matter now, Sorren?” he asked. “Cat got your tongue?”
“I’LL TAKE ONE dog with the works,” I said. Culinary snobs will tell you that ordering a hot dog on the streets of New York is like playing Russian roulette with your gastrointestinal tract. Maybe so. But what better way to find out if you can stomach this city or not?
I’ve never gotten sick once. Well, maybe once. But that was on the Staten Island Ferry.
It was a little past noon now and I’d just come from the
headquarters on West 33rd Street, where I was picking up my latest fix of Yankees tickets from my buddy Ira at the paper. Years back I had helped him get a job there as a sports reporter. Ever since, he’s been regularly landing me in the first row behind the Yankees dugout right near where Rudy Giuliani always sits.
That’s my kind of quid pro quo
“Here you go,” said my hot dog man from behind his cart.
Clearly he took pride in his work, as he bestowed upon me a perfectly layered masterpiece of onions, ketchup, mustard, and sauerkraut. I took it on faith that somewhere beneath it all was the actual hot dog.
Not that it really mattered by this point. I was starving, having worked straight through breakfast. This was my first bite of food all day, and as I began walking east on 33rd Street, I couldn’t wait to dig in.
That’s when I heard a guy’s voice over my shoulder. “Hey, aren’t you Nick Daniels?”
It’s pretty rare that I get recognized out on the street. It happens maybe once or twice a year, mainly because my picture appears every week in the Contributing Writers section of
I’d be lying if I said these little encounters didn’t stroke my ego a tad, but unfortunately this guy’s timing couldn’t have been worse.
I spun around, hot dog in hand, praying that whoever the guy was, he didn’t want to talk my ear off about some article I’d written.
Turns out, he barely wanted to talk at all.
Standing before me was a stone wall of a guy wearing dark wraparound sunglasses and a New York Knicks sweatshirt. At least I thought it was the Knicks — the orange and blue logo had faded more than the team itself during these past few years, ever since that James Dolan guy took over and ruined everything.
“Yeah, I’m Nick Daniels,” I said to the guy. “How you doing? What’s up?”
“Get the fuck in the car!” was his response.
He jerked his head at a beat-up black van parked alongside the curb. The side door was already open. As if to give me a little encouragement, he lifted the side of his sweat-shirt to reveal a pistol tucked between his jeans and a bulging gut.
Is this really happening? Right here in broad day-light?
Hell, yes, it really was.
In case there was any doubt, the guy swiped the hot dog out of my hand. The onions, ketchup, mustard, and sauerkraut landed
on the sidewalk.
And just like that there was one more ugly, sticky mess in the middle of Manhattan.
I was “going for a ride.”
SO THIS IS IT
, I couldn’t help thinking.
This is how I die. What a joke
Not while fleeing an attack by the Janjaweed militia in Darfur, or by catching typhoid fever, as I did a couple of years back in India while doing a piece on the prime minister, Manmohan Singh.
No, I go down in my own backyard, New York City. All because of a recording I had never intended to make.
Christ, how did Eddie Pinero find out about me so fast? Then again, am I really that surprised? He probably has more people on his payroll than the NYPD
“Where are you taking me?” I asked from the back of the windowless van. I was sitting on the metal floor. There were no seats.
There were also no answers forthcoming from my captors.
My escort in the Knicks sweatshirt was sitting sideways up front, riding shotgun. His dark sunglasses were fixed on me, and his mouth was shut tight. After he had demanded my cell phone — which I had reluctantly handed over — he hadn’t said another word.
Same for the driver, who was big and baby-faced, at least from his profile. He looked barely twenty-one. On his right arm was a large, seemingly new tattoo of a Harley-Davidson logo. The orange color was so bright, it made the ink look as if it were still wet.
Again I asked where we were going, and in their continued silence I realized that there might be something scarier than being told you were going to die.
For twenty minutes, I sat idle with only my thoughts, a panic beginning to feast on me. From the floor of the van I couldn’t see the windshield, but I could tell we were out of the city; we were going too fast. The van was old, the suspension shot. I could feel every bump, every pothole.
We’re going to some out-of-the-way, deserted landfill, aren’t we?
That’s where they were taking me, I was almost sure of it. Out to Brooklyn. Out to the middle of nowhere. I could almost smell it — some godforsaken dump with a stench so thick it hung like fog.
“On your knees!” one of them would order me. I could hear the words in my head, cold and without mercy.
Would they have me turn away, face the opposite direction?
Hell, no, not these sick bastards. Not if they worked for
Eddie Pinero. They’d shoot me straight on, a bullet to the brain. Probably stare right into my eyes, too.
Oh, God. My eyes! Were they going to carve my eyes out?
I was sweating now, shaking a little, scared shitless a lot. Most of all, I was convinced I had to do something to try to get away from these two gorillas.
But what? They had my cell phone, and at least one of them was carrying a gun. So what could I do?
what, I realized.
Tuck and roll! The sequel to the desert.
The handle to the sliding door of the van was there in front of me. If I could reach it before Mr. Knicks could stop me, I could jump for it, maybe outrun them and survive to write another day.
Of course, I had to survive the jump first. And this time I wouldn’t be landing on desert sand in Darfur.
Still, those odds had to be better than staying in the van, right? Those odds sucked. But I couldn’t make myself jump out of a speeding van, could I?
Yes — I had to do it.
So this is it
This is how I
I swallowed a deep breath and pushed the air down into my lungs, past my heart, which was beating so loud it was scary in itself.
Slowly, casually, I shifted my right foot so I could launch myself toward the sliding door. There would be no do overs, no second chances. I had to time this just right.
On three, Nick, okay? You can do this. You’ve done it before …
I counted backwards to myself, the adrenaline pumping through every vein in my body.
The van suddenly made a sharp hairpin turn, the tires screeching and then skidding on what sounded like a slip-stream of gravel.
Mr. Harley-Davidson at the wheel didn’t just hit the brakes, he pummeled them into submission. Newton’s third law of motion did the rest. I tumbled face forward in the back of the van, my head smacking the metal floor.
But instead of twinkling stars and Tweety Birds, it was a blast of sunshine I encountered next, as the sliding door of the van opened with a rusty grind.
Then out of the sunshine he stepped, a greeting party of one.
Eddie “The Prince” Pinero.
He motioned for me to exit the van. As I did, he extended a hand to help.
A helping hand? That doesn’t mesh. What’s going on here?
The “here,” as I quickly saw, was the driveway of what I presumed to be his home. Check that.
was more like it. With its lush gardens and a water view contained behind wrought-iron fencing, monstrous stone walls, and a show of armed guards, the property reminded me of a cross between the Kennedy and Corleone compounds.
“Thanks for making the trip out to see me, Mr. Daniels,” said Pinero. “I appreciate it.”
“You say that like I had a choice,” I said, immediately regretting it.
But Pinero actually seemed amused. He smiled, anyway. “Hope I didn’t give you the wrong impression. I just wanted to speak with you in private,” he said. “Can I get you a drink? A Laphroaig, perhaps? Fifteen year?”
He knew what I drank. What else did he know about me?
“Okay, sure,” I said. “Laphroaig would be good.”
Pinero nodded at Mr. Knicks, who disappeared inside the enormous Tudor home that boasted a magnificent wraparound porch. A few minutes later, I was sipping a generous pour of Laphroaig from an etched crystal tumbler initialed