Authors: James Patterson,Howard Roughan
For Phalen, however, it was like being given the answers to a test in advance.
He always knew the smart thing to say in every situation. He always had a heads-up.
Right up until that afternoon, when he had asked Nick Daniels if he liked pasta fagioli so they could get out of his office and talk in private.
That’s when the big surprise had come.
The six-foot-four Ian LaGrange had come bounding down the hallway from his office almost like a linebacker for the New York Giants. Right then and there Phalen had known this seemingly coincidental meeting at the elevator was no coincidence.
LaGrange was very interested in Nick Daniels and what he had to say about Eddie Pinero and Vincent Marcozza. A little
interested, in fact.
Something wasn’t right about this. It stunk to high heaven already.
That’s why Phalen was about to return the favor to LaGrange.
Patiently, he waited in his office until everyone else had gone home for the night. He even waited out the cleaning crew until they’d emptied every last can and mop pail.
Now it was just him and a little birdie.
A Flex-8 “F-Bird,” to be exact. The latest, most sophisticated digital recording device used by none other than the OCTF itself. Battery powered, smaller than a quarter, and on its way to a brand-new home.
The Godfather’s office.
Phalen slowly turned the doorknob at the end of the hall and stepped inside, quiet as a mouse.
Or a bug.
Here’s listening to you, Ian
I HAD TO ADMIT, Derrick Phalen knew his pasta fagioli. It was good stuff, very good. Reminded me of my favorite Italian restaurant in the world, Il Cena’Colo, back in my home-town of Newburgh.
But even better than Phalen’s pasta fagioli was what came with it — and I’m not talking about a piece of Italian bread. It was my next move.
Thanks for the jump start, Courtney
Phalen had listened calmly to everything I said at lunch, asking a logical question here and there, but mostly listening. He wasn’t about to print up any “Free Eddie Pinero” T-shirts, but he didn’t look at me as if I were crazy, either.
What he did do was take a pen from his pocket and write a phone number on a napkin.
“I know a guy out in Greenwich who might be able to
help you,” he said, pushing the napkin toward me. “Call him and make an appointment.”
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“You’ll see when you meet him. Tell him you’re a friend of mine. That’s all.”
“What does he do?”
“You’ll see,” Phalen said again.
I shrugged my shoulders.
The following afternoon I was on a Metro-North train out to Greenwich, Connecticut, for a two o’clock appointment with someone named Hoodie Brown. When I’d told him on the phone “Derrick Phalen sent me,” it was as if I’d delivered the secret password at the door of an underground nightclub. I was in.
“Follow me,” said the receptionist at his office.
Greenwich was the capital of the hedge fund world, but what I was doing in the lobby of one such company I had no idea. D.A.C. Investments? Why would Phalen send me to a trader?
He hadn’t. The receptionist, a tall, slender brunette who looked as if she’d stepped off the set of a
magazine shoot, led me past a long, bustling trading floor to a quiet office tucked away in the back of the building. That’s where I met Hoodie Brown.
The name made sense immediately.
Not only was the man who shook my hand wearing a hooded sweatshirt — gray, with the Caltech insignia — he actually had the hood pulled over his head à la the
Unabomber. Hell, this guy even looked a little like the Unabomber.
“So, who’s the P.I.Q.?” he asked, settling in behind his desk. I noticed there was no place for me to sit. No chair, no couch. Nada for visitors.
“P.I.Q.?” I asked.
“Person in question,” he explained. “Who are we investigating?”
Oh. “Dwayne Robinson,” I said. “The pitcher for —”
“I know who he is,” said Hoodie. “Or was.”
“Specifically, I’m looking to see if he has any ties to organized crime,” I added.
Hoodie nodded and began tapping away on one of the three keyboards lined up on his desk. At least twice as many computer screens stared back at him.
“Are you a private investigator?” I asked.
He didn’t answer. He didn’t even acknowledge that I’d asked him a question.
“We’ll pull up all domestic bank statements and any police records to start,” he said barely above a whisper. “Then we’ll see if he has an FBI file. It shouldn’t take too long.”
My jaw literally dropped.
An FBI file? It shouldn’t take too long?
“How are you able to do this?” I asked incredulously.
“One-hundred-and-twenty-gigabyte fiber-optic connection speeds,” he answered.
“No, I mean —”
“I know what you meant, friend. The answer is, you don’t want to know. You may think you do, but trust me, you don’t.”
If you say so, Hoodie … whoever you are
I suddenly felt like a little kid swimming into the deep end for the very first time. Maybe I’d be fine.
Or maybe I was in way, way over my head.
And to be honest, I knew the answer to that one. Worse, I still wasn’t wearing a bulletproof vest like Derrick Phalen had.
I STOOD THERE quietly in Hoodie Brown’s office, watching and waiting, respectful. Nearly shivering, too. The damn room felt like a meat locker, it was kept so cold. Hoodie, of course, was dressed appropriately. I sure wasn’t.
Thankfully, the guy was right and the wait wasn’t too long. After another few minutes, Hoodie looked up from his slew of computers for the first time.
“Do you know a Sam Tagaletto?” he asked.
The name didn’t mean anything to me. “No,” I said. “Never heard of him.”
“Apparently Dwayne Robinson did. About a month ago, he wrote him two checks over the span of a week. Both were for fifty grand.”
“I didn’t think Dwayne had that kind of money anymore. I’m almost sure of it.”
“He didn’t,” said Hoodie. “Both checks bounced.”
Red flag, anyone?
“So who’s Sam Tagaletto?” I asked.
“Definitely not a Boy Scout, that’s for sure. He’s been arrested twice for illegal bookmaking, among other things, once in Florida and most recently here in New York,” he said.
“A year ago. He got six months’ probation.”
“Anything about his having ties to the mob?” I asked. Hoodie cocked his head in my direction. “You mean other than his being a
“Yeah, I know, but I’m looking for actual names. Maybe somebody I
“Give me another minute on that,” said Hoodie.
He went back to the keyboard, his fingers tapping away almost as fast as my mind was racing.
Think, Nick. What does all this mean? What
Dwayne Robinson had owed a bookie a big chunk of change and couldn’t pay it off. He hadn’t bounced just one check to this guy, Sam Tagaletto, he’d bounced
Maybe that’s why Dwayne had killed himself. Or had gotten thrown out of a window by somebody. Because he’d owed money to a bookie and had showed disrespect.
But there had to be more to it than that. It was now officially impossible to believe that my being at the table next to Vincent Marcozza had been a coincidence.
But if it indeed had been a setup like Pinero told me, then
had set it up?
Dwayne Robinson? I doubted it. Dwayne had been a former major league pitcher, not a former brain surgeon.
Or had it been someone else and that’s what Dwayne had wanted to tell me?
All I knew was that it was time to get to know a certain Sam Tagaletto a little better. Presuming I could find him.
“Do you have a current address for this guy?” I finally asked Hoodie. “Tagaletto?”
He was already two steps ahead of me. I’d no sooner finished the question than the purr of a printer filled the room. Hoodie handed me not only Tagaletto’s last known address but also his latest mug shots.
“Anything else I can do for you?” he asked.
Yeah, you can tell me what the hell you’re doing working for a hedge fund firm. On second thought, never mind. I probably don’t want to know that, either
“No, that’s more than enough,” I answered. “Thanks a lot, man.”
I shook Hoodie’s hand, thanked him again, and was about to show myself out the door.
“Oh, one more thing,” he said. “It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway. This meeting never took place.”
I nodded. “What meeting?”
I WAS NEVER one to keep secrets from Courtney, personally or professionally. Nonetheless, I felt I owed it to Hoodie Brown — not to mention Derrick Phalen — to keep mum on the meeting that had supposedly never happened.
What I did plan to tell Courtney was that Phalen had promised to try to help me out, albeit on the down low. That wasn’t a lie; it just wasn’t the entire truth. A sin of omission, as they say. Or, as one of my journalism professors at North-western used to put it, “The truth may set you free, but it’s the little white lie that will save your ass.”
Now if Courtney would only return my call.
There was no answer on her cell, and when I rang her secretary, M.J. told me Courtney had left the office without saying where she was going.
Of course, the last time Courtney did that, Thomas
Ferramore had stopped by the office with news of a certain supermodel’s YouTube video.
Why was I suddenly getting a weird feeling again?
The answer came soon enough as I stepped off the train back from Greenwich. Walking through Grand Central Station I passed a newsstand just as a guy was stacking the late edition of the
New York Post
Voilà! There she was again, the French supermodel Marbella, on the cover with yet another glass of champagne in her hand and a mischievous smile.
“JUST KIDDING!” read the headline.
Fifty cents later I was standing off to the side, my head buried among the pages.
Apparently Marbella had given an interview to a French television station claiming —
— that she’d never actually slept with Thomas Ferramore. It had all been a bad joke, she insisted, and she deeply regretted any problems it may have caused the billionaire or his “lovely fiancée” in America.
Color me sold, sweetheart
But there was more.
And on the believability scale, it was actually a bit more convincing, or at least creative.
The CEO of ParisJet, the company in France that Ferramore was negotiating to buy, had told the French business magazine
that Ferramore had been in talks with him day and night for his entire trip.
“Trust me, Mr. Ferramore had no time for any funny business or hanky-panky business,” read the money quote.
I closed the
and tucked it beneath my arm, walking toward the Lexington Avenue exit to hail a taxi. I could feel the whoosh of commuters rushing by me for their trains and the vibration of their footsteps against the wide marble floor.
But what I really felt was numb, confused, and more than a little lost.
For sure, Courtney hadn’t been scooped by the
. She had to be up to speed on this latest twist and turn in her marital saga. Ferramore probably even made sure of it. Why wouldn’t he? It was alibi city.
But was she buying it?
The verdict rang in my pocket no more than a minute later. Courtney was finally calling me back.
“I saw the story. Do you know what you’re going to do now?” I asked her.
“I do,” she answered.
IT WASN’T THE words themselves but the way Courtney said them. As if she were already standing at the altar with Thomas Ferramore.
I immediately fell silent on the phone. There was no need for Courtney to officially break the news. It was broken. Just like my heart.
“I need you to understand, Nick,” she said. “I’m marrying Tom, but I need you to be there for me.”
there for you,” I said.
“I know you were. Promise me you won’t stop now. Do you promise?”
What could I say? As much as I loved her, she had always been my friend first, before anything else.
“Please,” she said, pressing me. “Do you promise? I need to hear the actual words, Nick.”
I took a deep breath and swallowed it along with my pride.
“I do,” I said.
Of course, little did I know how fast I’d have to make good on that promise.
A few hours later, with the sun setting over Manhattan, I arrived downtown at the North Cove Marina to climb aboard
, Thomas Ferramore’s 180-foot Trinity megayacht. I’ve seen much smaller houses. Actually, I grew up in one.
In a word?
At the bow stood the bar, and at the stern was the live jazz band, a really good combo. In between was a veritable who’s who of publishing, fashion, and what remained of the decimated ranks of the banking and Wall Street elite.
You get one guess as to where I headed first, and it wasn’t to shake Thomas Ferramore’s hand.
“I’ll have a Laphroaig Fifteen Year Old,” I said to the rent-a-bartender, who barely looked old enough to drive, let alone serve drinks.
The young man looked at me as if I’d just spoken Swahili to him. “A what?” he asked.
“A Laphroaig Fifteen Year Old,” came a voice over my shoulder.
It was Courtney, and in her hand was an entire bottle of my favorite Scotch whisky.
“Here,” she said, handing the bottle to the bartender. “Please keep this behind the bar for Mr. Daniels, and
Mr. Daniels only
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, quickly pouring me a double. “Laphroaig Fifteen Year Old.”
Courtney took my arm as we moved away from the bar. “Thanks so much for coming,” she said. “It means the world to me. You’re the best.”