At break time, Ken left the construction site and walked through the side door that lead to the school parking lot. The sun burned fiercely, but he couldn’t get a good signal unless he left the shade of the eaves. He stepped out and hit speed dial.
“Hi, Grace, it’s me. How are you?”
Silence. “What do you want, Ken?”
“Okay,” he said evenly, “enough with the pleasantries. I called to tell you I can’t pick up the kids from school Friday.”
“I have to go to Philly for jury duty.”
“Oh, come on, Ken, jury duty? Give me a break. You’re the only person in the world who can’t get out of jury duty?”
“I already have, three times. They keep calling me back, and I’ve pretty much run out of dead parents and broken legs.”
“I don’t get it, you don’t even vote. And, Philly? Why Philly?”
“It’s federal duty.”
“Oh. I suppose you pay some taxes. Well, what the heck am I supposed to do Friday? I can’t leave work early again, they’ll dock me, if they don’t fire me. You keep pulling this shit, Ken.”
“Grace, what can I do? It’s just this Friday afternoon, I’ll be there that night to get them. If it was anything else, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
“Yeah, sure, it’s always just this one time, then another, and another. You make me sick, Ken, with your constant bullshit.”
“Believe me, it’s just this Friday. It’s the last day, I’ve been going all last week and this week. I might even be able to make it Friday; if we don’t get called for a case, they let us go for the day. I’ve been showing up to work for half days. If they let us off tomorrow, I can call you and pick Penny and Josh up just like always.”
“But, if you don’t, I have to walk into my boss’s office and tell him that I have to leave suddenly? That’s really well thought out, Ken, genius.”
Ken pressed his lips together, then breathed, “Grace, what can I tell you? It’s the feds.”
“And next time it’ll be the terrorists. Well, forget it. If you can’t make it on time Friday, then don’t bother showing up at all.”
“But I haven’t seen them for two weeks, Grace—” but she had hung up.
Ken’s face darkened even in the brilliant sunlight. He looked at the phone as if it was at fault, then moved to smash it on the pavement. But, he held up. His fury turned cold, and he calmly hit redial. No answer. He paused, then hit it again.
“Hi, this 215-930-9734, a private residence ....”
Ken closed the phone and slipped it into his pocket as he headed back into the school.
Despite his troubles, Ken had found the jury duty to be pretty interesting. After passing through a security gate at the entrance to the federal court building, everyone was sent up to a big room with a hundred chairs. Tall, lean, and blond, and sporting a truck-driver’s tan on his face and arms, he’d worn his only sports coat over his usual blue work shirt and jeans, a concession to what he imagined the dress code would be in federal court, like in church. He got over that soon enough, ditching the coat and allowing his blond stubble to grow for a few days before shaving it off, then starting over again.
On the first day, a clerk explained to them how it all worked. They were thanked for appearing, and told that their service would last two weeks or the length of any trial upon which they might serve. They would be called by name and asked to report to a courtroom where a new jury would be chosen.
“The number of names called depends upon the case. If it’s a fairly regular kind of case, thirty or forty people might be called to find a jury of 12 plus one or two substitutes. If it’s a big, high profile case, like that Peterson Case out in California, they could empty the room and still not find twelve objective people.”
“Is O.J. up again?” someone called out, and the room broke into laughter.
The clerk smiled, a very attractive black woman dressed smartly in a black business suit and a violet shirt.
“As far as we know, a case involving Mr. Simpson has not been scheduled. But, we do a few fairly well-publicized cases, which can test our capacity to find a jury. In all but a few, rare instances, we do seat a representative jury. Most cases last two to three days, some as many as five. If you find yourself on such a case, and it ends after a few days, you will need to return here to possibly be available for another case. If you aren’t selected again, sometimes you are permitted to return home before the full two weeks have passed.”
“Do any of the cases last longer than two weeks?”
She said, “Some do,” and everyone groaned.
“Listen,” she said, grimacing slightly, “some last for much longer. It all depends on what kind of case it is, and how much evidence is to be presented. An investment fraud case tried here did not reach the jury for a month and a half. But, be thankful that you’re not in Washington facing a big government scandal case. You could be sequestered in a hotel for the entire time.”
She then explained the voir dire process, and how the attorneys were allowed to dismiss a certain number of potential jurors just because they didn’t like their looks, nothing personal, and everyone laughed again. Also, she warned, the judge would ask each candidate if there was any reason they shouldn’t serve on this case, whether they knew the defendant, the attorneys, like that.
“These questions are not to be answered frivolously,” she said firmly, “Jury duty is not just something to get out of, it’s a public service of vital importance to the fairness of our jurisprudence system. Voir dire means ‘to tell the truth.’ So, please answer honestly. Even if you don’t, you’ll find yourself right back in one of these chairs for the next case, one that you can’t wriggle out of, and it could be a lot worse!”
They laughed again. Ken remembered going to his first voir dire, riding in the elevator with Pat Kennedy, a black postal carrier, and some others. They went in, sat down, and the judge explained the case in which a postal worker was shot five times by a young man sitting in a car blocking his truck. When he went to complain, the young man shot him, three times in the front, and twice in the back as he tried to run away. Miraculously, the postal worker had survived, and would testify. The federal case hinged upon whether or not the postal worker, by leaving his truck, had been pursuing a personal folly.
“Mr. Kennedy, you feel that you cannot serve on this jury?”
“Yes, your honor,” said Kennedy, “I work for the United States Postal Service, and I believe that might prejudice me against the defendant.”
“Thank you, Mr. Kennedy, you are dismissed from this case.”
“I kill that little motherfucker, I break his fuckin’ neck I see him in the street. I stick that gun up his ass!” yelled Kennedy as they rode back down to the second floor in the elevator. Ken smiled slightly as the others laughed. He had been dismissed summarily, no questions, no reasons given.
They straggled back to the waiting room to sit and talk, or read. Most had found afternoons dragged, with little likelihood of another call to a trial. The talking helped.
Ken listened to Ed Muftee talk about the time he pulled someone out of a raging fire in a row house near his. “I got him out, all right, and got this burn on my arm.”
He rolled his sleeve up to show a long, wide, nasty flash scar on his arm running from his wrist to his elbow. “I fell against a metal cabinet door. Couldn’t see a damn thing from the smoke and all. I finally dropped to the floor and crawled forward, reaching ahead of me with my hand until I felt his leg. I dragged him out that way, out the front door and down the steps.”
He sighed, “Of course, he didn’t make it, but some people still said I was a hero. I don’t see it if he didn’t make it.”
Ken looked him over, a quiet, light-skinned black man, curly hair fading back from his brow. He looked like a nice guy, not assuming that defensive, fierce pose like Kennedy, who seemed just as nice when you talked to him.
“I’d call you a hero, Ed,” said Ken. “It wasn’t like your life was in any less danger because the guy died. You earned honor.”
“Yeah,” Muftee said quietly. “I still dream about it now and then.”
Kennedy looked at Ken, and said, “You military, Pruitt?”
Ken glanced at him. “Yeah. Navy.”
“Unhuh. How many fires you jumped into?” Kennedy asked.
Ken paused, then said, “What about you?”
“That’s right, I was in the service, too, the Army, but no deep shit. Fort Belvoir, the motor pool, you know, Sergeant Bilko and all that. But, you, you saw some shit, right, some spooky stuff? I can tell just by the way you sit there, all catlike relaxed and shit.”
Ken shrugged, “I was in the Seals.”
Kennedy exploded laughter, “I told you, man! Hey, Muftee, don’t mess with this one, he’ll tear you up! He’ll definitely tear you a new one. The Seals, huh? Shit, man, what’d you see, you into that Iraqi shit?”
“I retired a long time ago. I’m too old for that kind of stuff anymore.”
“Oh, yeah,” giggled Kennedy, “I buy that. Don’t mess with him, Ed, he’s a bad, baad man! Yessir, Mr. Pruitt, yessir.”
“Hey, cut it out, will you, I’m just a damn carpenter, now, that’s all.”
‘Yeah, I’ll bet you can swing a hammer!”
“Kennedy,” Ken said, “shut up, will you?”
“You betcha, Mr. Pruitt, yessir. Get you some coffee?”
Ken feinted, and Kennedy flinched, almost choking with laughter.
“See how slow that was?” Ken said, and the three of them laughed.
This Friday morning, Ken was hardly relaxed. If he was lucky, he thought, maybe he could get through the morning fast enough to call Grace and salvage something out of this. Otherwise, he wouldn’t see the kids for three weeks. Josh could be a foot taller by then and calling that asshole Grace dated his father.
He took his seat next to Ed Muftee and Kennedy and waited for the clerk to call the first case. Just then, Mary Roberts, a short, round woman sat down with them.
“You want to hear something cold-blooded,” she said. “That young boy who shot the postman? He was sitting right next to me on the train, plain as you!”
“He ain’t in custody?” Kennedy asked, amazed.
“No!” she said. “There he was, looking as slick as he could be in a beautiful, brand new suit. I swear he bought it for the trial.”
The three of them joined in fast conversation, while Ken flipped open his cell phone to see if he had any messages. None. He started to dial when the clerk started talking. One by one, Kennedy, Muftee, and Mary Roberts were called, but not him. Most of the chairs were empty, now, on a Friday morning. The old lawyer rule seemed to apply, everyone wants to get home for the weekend. Ken did, too.
Kennedy, Muftee, and Mary Roberts came back in and sat down. “A product liability case,” Kennedy said. “Some guy went home, drank a couple of beers for lunch, then came back to work just in time to lop his finger off in a drill press. But the suit says it isn’t his fault, it isn’t his bosses’ fault for not keepin’ a safer workplace, it’s the drill press manufacturer’s fault. The damn thing was made in 1915! But, it’s their fault, no matter.”
They sat. Ed broke out a deck of cards to play gin with Kennedy. Mary put on some thick glasses and dove into the middle of a thick paperback, Love’s Knave something.
Ken squirmed, checked his watch, then the big clock on the wall. Ten-thirty.
He twisted in his chair, then darted up and strode to the front desk.
“Excuse me, m’am, but it’s getting late. Think they’ll keep us much longer? It’s Friday, and ....”
“Maybe ‘til noon,” she said, smiling warmly. “If there’s nothing by then, I’m pretty sure they’ll let us all go home, thank God.”
“Oh, that’d be great. Listen, I can’t get a signal in here, do you think it would be okay for me to step outside quick and make a call?”
She looked both ways, then smiled, “Well, if you make it fast. You never know when they’ll call.”
“Okay, great, thanks so much.”
He turned to leave, and the phone on her desk rang.
She picked it up, then looked at him, frowning sympathetically.
“Right,” he murmured as he headed back to his chair.
“Oh,” she said. She stood up. “Could I have everyone’s attention. That was from Courtroom 16-A. I’m afraid they need all of you to go upstairs.”
Ken’s chin sunk into his own chest. Everyone.
“All of us?” cried Kennedy. “What the hell kind of case would need all of us up there?”
The suit looked them over, wearing a kindly expression. Ken couldn’t recall seeing a collar whiter than the one sticking out of his jacket, which in itself was made of some soft, almost velvet-like material. The man in it was deeply tanned, and bald except for some strands of black hair moussed back against each side of his head.
“Have any of you heard of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act?” he asked. No one responded. “How about a RICO case?”
“Law and Order, that’s a mob case, man, Tony Soprano.”
The lawyer addressing them glanced down at a woman sitting at a table next to him, and she took a note.
“Yes, well, that’s television, but this is the real thing. In front of you, today, is a federal indictment for conspiracy of Mr. Peter Innunzio, formerly Gabriele d’Annunzio until 1965. Also known as Pistol Pete, he is the current CEO of the Scarfo family, which has dominated organized crime in Philadelphia for 30 years.”
“Hey,” Ed whispered, nodding his head in the direction of the speaker, “he’s the prosecutor. The way he looks, I thought he was the Bruce Cutler dude in this.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the suit went on, “you are here to be considered as a juror in a Mafia trial.”
Shit, thought Ken, the weekend is screwed.
The voir dire plodded on for the two hours left in the morning, and three more in the afternoon. Thirteen of the necessary 18 jurors had been selected. Trained to be infinitely patient, Ken drummed the back of the chair with his fingers until Kennedy glared at him. He switched to his thigh, which made no noise. One by one, Ed Muftee, Mary Roberts, and Pat Kennedy— surprise, his first name, thought Ken—were interviewed and dismissed without prejudice. Kennedy stood and patted him on the back as he left, “Hang in there, Pruitt, another hour or so, you’ be on your way home for the weekend. Take care of yourself, man.”
Too late, thought Ken.
The federal attorney called out, “Number 181.”
Ken gazed at the cardboard square in his hand: 181. Finally.
He raised his hand and the attorney motioned to his counterpart, Peter Innunzio’s lawyer.
A short, round man with a florid complexion and greying hair, he spoke with a discernable accent, more New York than Philly. He, too, wore an expensive suit, charcoal grey, impeccably fitted. On his left pinky, he wore a gold class ring, nothing else.
“Mr. 181, I’m Earl McCarthy, counsel for Mr. Innunzio. How are you?”
“I’m fine, he said in a short tone.
“Yes, well, we all want to get home. Let me start by asking you if you’ve ever heard of the Mafia? Have you?”
“Sure. ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Godfather II,’ ‘III,’ ‘Donnie Brasco,’ all of them. Who hasn’t?”
“Right, all very entertaining cinema. Do you think they were based in reality?”
“Do you mean do I think there’s a mob here? Sure, there’s one everywhere in the world.”
“You believe an Italian Cosa Nostra exists in China?”
“No,” Ken said scornfully, “they have their own outfits. This isn’t an ethnic thing.”
“No, of course it isn’t” said McCarthy. “Do you read the newspapers?”
Ken shook his head, “Not regularly. The sports page. Headlines, occasionally.”
“Unhuh. Watch the news on TV?”
“Nope. The History Channel, though some people call it the Hitler Channel.”
Those left in the room laughed weakly.
“Are you familiar in any way with the name Peter Innunzio?”
“No. I have heard of the Scarfo family, though,” Ken said hopefully, “on the History Channel.”
“Umhuh. But not Mr. Innunzio. Nor the sobriquet ‘Pistol Pete’?”
“Sobriquet? Is that something like AA?”
McCarthy laughed, “Thank you, that’s all.” He glanced at the federal attorney, then took his seat.
The federal attorney rose and approached the gallery. “My name is Harry Lupino, the federal prosecutor in this case. It says in your form that you were in the Navy. Is that so?”
“I retired after nine years.”
“Why nine, why not twenty?”
Ken shrugged, shifting uncomfortably. “Nine years means you don’t have to be in the reserves. My wife wanted me out.”
“I see, of course. But you were pretty much a career serviceman, is that right?”
“For nine years.”
“That means that you believe in your country, correct? Defending your country?”
“I guess so, sure.”
“Would you have given your life for your country?”
Ken raced back to drops in Bagdad, painting targets for the wire-guideds, decommissioning that sentry on his way back out into the desert to be picked up. He recalled rappelling into the Guatemalan jungle to stand black-leafed against a tree while rebel after rebel stole by, for nine hours until the mission was aborted, waiting another four before he could move.
“Sure,” he said, “I guess.”
“Then you believe in the principles that guide our country, the values? You know the difference between right and wrong, is that so?”
Ken pinched his lips, then said, “I suppose.”
Lupino faced the judge and said, “Number 181 is acceptable to the prosecution, your Honor.”
The judge turned to McCarthy, who half rose from his seat, “Mr. 181 is acceptable to the defense as well, your Honor.”
Ken left the chamber, stunned. Instead of fretting, why hadn’t he listened to the rest of them answer questions? He might have picked up on some key words that would have gotten him out. Now, he was relentlessly fucked.
They were to be sequestered, and were told to get their affairs in order for a long stay, as much as six months. He’d lose his kids for forever.
“Hello?” Penny answered.
“Hi, Penny-for-Your-Thoughts. Daddy here.” He pictured her lounging on the divan, watching the TV on mute while she talked, twirling her strawberry curls with her free hand, the same as her mothers, twirling them just the same way.
“Hi, Poppa, why couldn’t you come get us this weekend? We miss you and we’re bored.”
“I know, I know, I couldn’t help it. I’m downtown on jury duty. I’m going to be in a trial, and it looks like it’s going to take a long time.”
“Trial? What did you do? How long will you be in jail?”
He smiled, “No, I’m not going to jail, I didn’t do anything. I’m on the jury, I’ll be deciding whether this other guy committed a crime.”
“Did he? What’d he do?”
“I don’t know that, yet, I have to hear what everyone says, first. They say it’s going to take a long time, like months.”
“Oh, that’s too bad, Daddy. Can you tell me about it when you pick us up?”
Ken grimaced silently. “That’s why I’m calling, Sweets. I don’t think I’ll be able to pick you or Josh up anytime soon. They’re keeping us in a hotel downtown while this goes on.”
“Oh. That’s not good.”
“No,” he said trailing off. They didn’t speak for a time, he figuring that some show had caught her eye. “Okay, Sweet Stuff, I gotta go. Say hi to Josh for me, will you?”
“Sure, Daddy. I’ll miss you, I love you.”
“Yeah, me, too.”
“Oh, and Daddy?” She paused, then said, “‘ospital!” in a Cockney accent.
He laughed, and repeated it back to her ‘ospital.’”
Years ago in Pakistan, he’d partnered up with a Brit Ranger who, whenever he saw him, would meet him with a balled-up fist and a lethal squint, and say “‘ospital, Mate, ‘ospital!” Ken had brought it home with him to tease his kids, who would scurry away gleefully, laughing at an almost hysterical pitch. Now, it was Penny’s greeting for him, Penny-for-Your-Thoughts.
“Six months? Well, that’s it, Ken, that’s enough. These kids have lived their entire lives with an absentee father. They’re better off without one at all.”
“Oh, come on Grace, this isn’t my fault. I got picked for this, I didn’t volunteer.”
“I’m sure that’s true, at least in your mind. But, somehow you managed to be in the thick of it. Well, the kids don’t need this, and neither do I. While you’re judging your Mafia boss, I’ll be filing for full custody.”
“For Christ’s sake, Grace!”
“I am, I’m going to do it—”
“On what grounds?”
“Oh, bullshit, that’ll never fly!”
“Well, you just think so. While you’re playing with your cops and robbers, think of what the judge will say when you don’t even show up in court!”
“God damn it, Grace, why are you doing this? I love the kids, our kids.”
“If you love them, you’ll let me do this so that they can have a normal life.”
“Oh, right, normal, like every other normal kid from divorced parents. Like you, for example.”
She hung up. The case began.
Except for the first day, when they first saw Peter Innunzio, the case bored them to tears. Free on bail after surrendering his passport, he walked in with his lawyer and took his seat at the defendant’s table. Innunzio wasn’t particularly anything, Ken thought, not tall, not skinny or fat, in his early to mid-sixties, maybe, with undistinguished grey hair a little bit in need of a haircut. His skin was sallow, his eyes droopy with bags, and he wore thick glasses, graduated apparently, since when he read anything, he looked down his nose. Ken noticed that his wrists were small, almost delicate. Occasionally, when he crossed his legs, Ken could see them, whiter than white, muscular calves, hair worn away by the brush of his pant legs. His suits looked to be of good quality, but old, as though they’d been hung in the closet for a long time without being worn. Just like many head men that Ken had seen in his day, Pistol Pete didn’t look at all hard, which didn’t mean a thing. He must be smart, at least smarter than his friends, and ruthless. But, right now, he struck him as more of an Uncle Innunzio, let’s sing a Dean Martin song.
Days dragged on as the prosecutors took turns introducing evidence, long-winded tapes from wiretaps that sounded like guys on television talking in street code about this thing or that. The prosecutors then would swear in an expert witness, who would interpret the tape for the jury.
After which McCarthy would get up and cross-examine, trying to befuddle the witnesses into a mistake. While this went on, Ken inspected the large chamber, the exquisitely varnished wood paneling, the handsome ceramic tile floors, all a contrast to the stylized, faux sash windows that looked like they dated back to the 50s, Twelve Angry Men.
This jury wasn’t like that, of course. They started with 18, but two claimed to be sick, and one begged off because of a family crisis. Ken had been toying with the idea of trying to get out, but just as he was ready to give it a shot, the family-crisis member cried. The judge let her go, then immediately turned to reprimand the rest of the jury about dodging their civil duty.
“Man, it’s like he’d sic the IRS on us,” Colin Brady moaned. He was in his 20s, single, and antsy about having to sit still for so long.
“He just might, pal, he just might.” Another juror, Ira Leopold sat quietly most of the time, unless he was expressing his skepticism about anything associated with the government. McCarthy must have picked Ira, Ken thought.
“If he let three people go, I can’t see how he’d let anyone else,” Bea Towe said, a slight woman with streaked blond hair. She was a grade school administrator from Tamaqua who worried about the time she was missing with her staff, her students, her family. Yet, her sense of civic duty pulled her the other way, too, Ken noted.
“I don’t think any more of us are likely to get off the hook,” he said to her. “We’ll just have to tough it out.”
He couldn’t believe he was trying to console her when he felt almost frantic himself.
“She’s doing what she can in court,” Bobbie, his lawyer told him. “She’s painted a pretty nasty picture of you, playing up the crazy Navy Seal, PTSD aspect, you know? It’s hard to refute when you can’t make the court dates, and the judge hasn’t been completely patient about rescheduling. You can’t shake loose for one day?”
“No, I can’t. They’ve got us all locked up for our own protection in an old hotel which I can’t even name. They even told us they spot-check our cell calls, listening in to be sure that no one outside talks about the stupid trial. We’re not supposed to ask anything, and you can’t tell us anything. The judge has threatened to jail any of us who cross the line for contempt. You’ve got to tell the family court judge all of this. I mean, isn’t there any professional courtesy extended, here?”
“Not when it’s municipality versus the feds.”
“Well, shit, then.”
A pause ensued, until Bobbie said, “Also, uh, she’s showing up not alone.”
“What? That asshole? He’s with her?”
“He sits near her in the gallery. The judge can see that she has that kind of support.”
“God damn it! Bobbie, what can I do?”
Again, silence. “Look, if she gets full custody, she still has to let you see your kids.”
“She barely lets me see them now! What if she moves?”
“She won’t move, Ken. Remember the asshole.”
Ken sighed. “This sucks, Bobbie.”
“I know, I know. There’s another hearing next week. I’ll let you know how it turns out.”
Yeah, and how am I going to pay you? He asked himself this after she’d hung up. How long are you going to do this for free?
During recesses, Ken spent most of his time with Ira, Colin, and Bea. He knew the other eight jurors by name and profession, the tinker, the tailor, and all that. But, mostly, he lived with those he’d first met. White-haired Ira had worked at the newspapers until he retired ten years ago. “First hot type, then cold type,” he said, “all at the Inquirer, the best newspaper in the business, those cheap bastards.”
Colin had majored in dance, and now delivered pizza at night so that he could audition during the day. “That’s why I’m here, I guess,” he said forlornly. “It’s easier to impose on those without fixed incomes.”
“Most of us here have jobs,” said Bea.
“Yeah, but you get the summer off.”
“I still have to work in the summer. We have summer school. Besides, I have a family.”
Bea had a three-year-old son, and a husband who, from what Ken overheard on their phone conversations, wasn’t completely supportive of his wife when he learned that the boy had another six-months of potty training in front of him. “After hanging up on the phone at the six-week mark, she cried silently. Ken hugged her, and said, “As bad as it is for you, Bea, it could be worse.”
She sobbed a laugh, “Yeah, but it could get that way. Or are you telling me it’s going to get better?”
“Well,” he said, “it could be worse for now.”
They stood in an alley in back of the courthouse, the only place where they could get good signals on their cells. Other jury members smoked, while the guards stood by. A corps had been assigned to babysit them, take them back and forth from the courtroom to their deliberation room, then drive them to their hotel at the end of each day. In conversation, Ken had mentioned that he’d been in Special Forces, and Colin told one of them, Joe Fagley. A red-faced dreamer in his early 30s and far removed from his sporting days, Joe immediately asked Ken to tell some war stories. At first, Ken demurred, until he thought that he might be able to work a few extras out of the relationship. So, he told Joe a few, watching the eyes of the heavy guard go puppy-dog.
Hugging Bea wasn’t bad, Ken thought. He wondered just how lonely they all would get, stuck here as they were, when his cell phone went off. He pulled himself reluctantly away from Bea, stepped away with a smile, and flipped it open.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Right, that’s me, who’s this?”
“‘ospital,’ Pruitt,” without any trace of a Cockney accent.
Ken’s smile faded into a frown. “Who is this?”
“A friend, maybe. Go to the office where you pick up your mail. There’s a bench right outside the door. You’ll see a guy holding a brown paper bag on it. Have lunch on us.” He hung up.
Ken snapped the phone shut, and said to Joe, “Joe, I forgot to pick up my mail.”
“Well, you better hurry,” he said. “The judge will be calling you all back in a couple of minutes.”
Ken speed-walked to the front of the large building, past a phalanx of elevators to an administrative office at the right corner near the X-ray machines. Even before he got there, he could see an old black guy in worn-out clothes clutching a bag in his lap. As soon as he saw Ken approach, he propped the bag against the arm of the wooden bench, stood up, and left. Ken picked up the bag and looked inside. A salami sandwich, chips, an apple, and a large, chocolate chip cookie. A cell phone, prepaid, one that couldn’t be monitored since the guards didn’t know about it.
He opened it and found a sticky inside with a number on it, and beneath that, “After five.”
Walking toward the elevators, he dumped the bag into a trash bin, and pocketed the cell.
The same voice answered, “Hello.”
“What are you doing with my daughter?” Ken said, barely keeping his voice even, resisting the overwhelming desire to rain epithets on the unknown caller. The horror of sitting through the drone of the testimony for three hours had been enough to wear him out, but adrenaline pushed through him now. Once released by the judge, he’d pounded down the stairs to the back of the courthouse, moving to a far corner away from any other jurors or guards.
“Nothing, Ken, nothing at all. She’s perfectly safe, believe me, she’s fine. We didn’t do nothing that the government doesn’t do. Even to civilians these days, as it turns out.”
Wiretap. They’d wiretapped the phones in his home, Grace’s home.
“What do you want?”
“A service, Ken, a very simple, easy service, one that will make sure that your daughter and your whole family stays safe and healthy. And you, too, Ken.”
“What do you want?”
“Nothing for free, of course. If you do this service, we’ll make it worth your while. Say, ten. Ten for school for your kids.”
“Last time: what do you want?”
“Simple. Just say no.”
The line clicked off. Ken dialed the number again, but no one answered. He waited until a disembodied voice informed him that the phone had transferred him to voice mail, but that this customer did not possess voice mail, Goodbye.
Dinner never excited the jurors much, but Ken seemed to eat in a trance, as though the meal tasted more like cardboard than ever before. Bea leaned over and said, “Are you all right, Ken?”
He shifted his eyes to her. “I’m fine. Everything is just fine.”
He called Grace right afterward.
“How are you?”
“I’m all right. Surprised that you called.” She sounded unsettled, maybe by his tone, he thought. He tried to lighten up the mood, “I’m bored. Our bent-nosed defendant is, basically, boring.”
“Oh. I thought it’d be more interesting, I guess.”
“Yeah, how are the kids?” Again, he tried to keep anxiety out of his voice.
“They’re fine,” she said in a measured tone. She hesitated, then said, “You haven’t heard, have you?”
“Your lawyer hasn’t spoken to you?”
His stomach fell as far as it could, the same as when he’d received the anonymous phone call.
“Ken,” she said, “the judge has granted me full custody.”
He was wrong; his stomach hit a new bottom.
“I’m sorry, Ken,” she said almost in a sob, hurriedly, “but it’s for their own good. You’re never around, they need a full-time father. The uncertainty undermines their confidence, Ken. They need stability.”
“For God’s sake, Grace, not more Doctor Phil. I see them when I can, and they seem to be fine with it.”
“That’s how much you know. You don’t see them, how they look when you miss a soccer game or an awards ceremony at school.”
“I work, Grace, to pay you support. Those awards always get given out in the morning. If you transferred them into the school I’m working on now, maybe I could see them on my breaks!”
Silence, until she said in a stone-cold voice, “That just isn’t good enough, Ken, it doesn’t even make sense.”
More silence, until he said, “I suppose I’ll never see them, now.”
“Of course you will, but on a different schedule.”
“Unhuh, and what if you decide to move? Then what?”
“I’m not planning to move.”
“Yeah, but what if you do? What’s keeping you here?” No answer, and he gradually figured it out. “I get it; the asshole. You’re not planning to move while he’s in the picture. I suppose he’s the perfect father that I’m not, huh?”
“Good night, Ken,” she said.
“Maybe it’s in my interests that you do move,” he said, but she was gone.
Damn that Bobbie. And now he had to deal with Pistol Pete and his friends.
The next morning, the testimony droned on, the circumstantial evidence mounted, and the jurors endured. During a short recess, Bea came to him and asked, “You feeling okay? You look like you slept standing up.”
He smiled, and said, “I’m okay. I’m sort of sorting things out. And, I think they’re coming together.”
No other call came through to him, either on his phone or on the lunch bag cell. He had spent all night up, cycling through the misery of his life, the fear, and wild ideas for solving all of his problems. To break the thoughts looping through him, he hit the floor and pushed out 50 push-ups, collapsing airless and embarrassed at his poor condition. This sitting all day for months was sacking his strength. As he sat and thought about his options, he realized that he needed to get in shape for whatever might come.
“Joe, did I ever tell you about the bar fight in Mission, California?” He watched Joe’s eyes light up as he continued. “A pal of mine Dick Wise and I were dredging for beers and babes there, on the wrong side of town, and we found a whole lot of the first, and none of the last until we entered this one bar where there were a few sweethearts. So, we walk in, order a beer, and sidle up to a table where a couple of rough-looking cuties were sitting. In our beer haze, what we hadn’t noticed was that this was a biker bar.”
Joe emitted a nervous laugh, and leaned forward in anticipation.
“I start making time with this one honey, when the biggest mountain shaped like a man walks up, grabs my arm and twirls me around. ‘Hey, man,’ he yells, ‘what the hell do you think you’re doing with my old lady?’
“It was then that Dick and I noticed that twenty other guys, all wearing this dude’s colors, were closing in on us, waiting for him to say jump and how high. I’m thinking then, ‘Oh shit, we’re dead,’ when Dick flashes by me fast as hell. He always was faster than light.
“And this giant biker dude starts screaming at the top of his lungs, standing there with one of his eyes hanging out of its socket. He’s screaming, until Dick shouts ‘Hey!’, and the guy stops yowling all at once.
“‘If you take him to the hospital right now,’ Dick says, ‘They can put it back in the socket.’ Well, I’m telling you, they fell all over each other saying, ‘Yessir, that’s a good idea, thank you sir, we’ll get him there right away.’ And, that’s what they did; we walked right on out of there ourselves at the same time, no worries.”
Joe’s mouth sagged, fixed open. “You’re shittin’ me,” he said breathlessly.
“No, I’m not. And, one of these days, I’ll show you how to do it. Now, I need some exercise, Joe. You know, this sitting around is wearing on a guy like me.”
“Sure, I understand.”
“I knew you would. So, I thought running the hotel stairs would be good, maybe after dinner or in the morning. Think you could help me keep the stairwells open while I do that?”
“You bet Ken,” he said, then, “In fact, I might even join you.”
“Now, that’s all right, Joe, you’ve got a job to do. But, when this is all over, maybe we can get together to work out.”
“Aw yeah, man!”
After a week, he felt more like his old self, nowhere near operations level, but good enough for anything that might come along. The phone hadn’t rung, but it didn’t matter. Nothing would happen to Grace or the kids while the trial went on, nothing until he’d spoken to Innunzio’s friend again. So, he trained, and he waited.
Two weeks later, the new cell rang.
“Hello, Ken. Have you considered our offer?”
The voice sounded detached, as though this was a routine sales call. Considering Pistol Pete’s track record in court, and that of his associates, maybe it was routine.
“You have a name?”
“Not on the phone, I don’t. Anyway, all you got to say is yes or no. And it better not be no.”
“Okay, I’ll give you a name: how about Louie? You like Louie?”
A pause, and the voice, somewhat nasally, said, “How’d you know my name was Lou?”
“Why, I tossed up a bunch of wise-guy names in my head and came up with Louie,” Ken said. “Louie’s a wise-guy name, isn’t it, Louie?”
“You can call me anything you want, asshole, as long as you answer the question right. What’s it gonna be?”
“Listen, Louie, I appreciate the offer, and I’ve thought it over, and I have a counter-offer.”
“A counter-offer? What do you mean a counter-offer? This isn’t Let’s Make a Deal, motherfucker. If you mean more money, you’re lucky you’re gettin’ jack-all. Keep talkin’, Ken, and I can arrange that.”
“No, no, the money’s okay for what I have in mind,” Ken said, starting to feel giddy this deep into it.
“And what do you have in mind, shithead?”
“A job. I want you to give me a job.”
The cell sounded like it had gone dead. “Can you hear me, Louie?”
“I can hear you. What are you, addicted?”
“No, I need a job.”
“You better start getting serious, Ken, or somebody could get hurt.”
“No, no, listen to me, Louie, listen carefully. You give me a job, I deliver Mr. Innunzio back home as soon as I get the opportunity. Simple as that. Consider the ten thousand payment for the job. And, if you like my work, I’m happy to entertain more work.”
“What’re you, nuts? This call is over.” He hung up.
Shit, thought Ken. He redialed the original number, and got the voice-mail/no voice-mail message again. Now what?
The trial continued, and since he knew what his vote would be, Ken ignored it and started to observe the other jurors. Another week passed, until he saw who it was. Bea.
After the morning break, she came back to the jury’s room appearing as though she’d suffered an acute attack of anemia. Clutched in her hand was a brown paper bag.
Ken went over to her and gently grabbed the bag. “Come with me,” he said.
He led her into the hall, stopped to whisper to Joey, who smiled knowingly. Then, he led her into the men’s room, with Joey outside the door.
“What, what are you doing, give me back that bag, I need it.” She stuttered, “I’m hungry, Ken,” as she grabbed for it.
“Bea,” he said, holding it away. He turned it upside down over the trash bin. The sandwich, fruit, chips, and cookie tumbled into the bin, but he snatched the cell phone out of the air before it followed them.
“I know, Bea,” he said. “The same thing happened to me. The night you saw me look like death warmed over, that’s when it happened.”
She started crying, heaving uncontrollably, slipping to the floor.
Ken leaned over and patted her back, “Don’t cry, Bea, I’ve got this. Nothing’s going to happen.”
“He played a tape of him saying he missed me, he missed Mommy!”
“Don’t, Bea. Don’t worry, your boy and your husband will be safe, I guarantee it.”
“Why?” she cried, “What can you do to save them?”
“Nothing. Except, I can make sure it’s me, not you, or the others.”
“You? Why is that a good solution? You have a family, too.”
He was moved. In her worst nightmare, she could worry about his family.
“To tell you the truth, it’s not much my family anymore. Anyway, I’ll take care of it, and them, and no one’s going to get hurt.”
“How can you be so sure?”
At the end of the day, he slipped out to the back of the courthouse with Bea’s new cell. He snapped it open and dialed the number, a new one, of course.
“Hello, Bea.” The same nasal tone.
“Hello, Louie, how’ve you been? Miss me?”
“Who the ... how’d you get this number?”
“I got her phone, too, dickhead. Who do you think you’re dealing with, some asshole?”
“You just got yourself some problems, Sailor Boy. Oh, yeah, I know who you are, Swabby, Mr. Fix-It, and you just walked into it.”
“Wrong, Louie, and don’t hang up. If you send another phone to another juror, I’ll be on the other end. See, I’m here, and you’re there, and there isn’t a goddamn thing you can do about it, get me?”
A moment passed. “Shit!”
“Right, now listen to me. You’re supposed to be handling this for, I don’t know, one of your bosses, McCarthy, maybe Pistol Pete himself.”
“That’s Mr. Innunzio to you, and he would never have anything to do with something like this.”
“Yeah, Mr. Innunzio. And you’ve screwed it up, Louie, your jury has run away, just like in the movie.”
“Bullshit. I’ll get somebody, and you won’t be able to stop me.”
“Oh, you don’t know me that well, Louie. But, don’t worry, I’m not in this to make you look bad. I was serious about a job, a certain kind of job.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Oh, you must have something I can do, something wet that you need cleaned up.”
Ken waited for an answer.
“You must watch too much television. You need to get back on your meds, pal.”
“You said that before, Louie, but I have very unique skills, believe me. Tell you what, I’ll do it on the cuff. You pay me after I’ve completed my work.”
“I need to get off this phone.”
“Sure, Louie, let’s not talk about it now. I’ll meet you somewhere to discuss my counter-offer.”
“Are you kidding me? How you going to get out? They got you locked up!”
“Oh, I can get out, Louie, no worry about that. It’ll be part of my demonstration, part of the test. I show up, and you give me a job. If I don’t show up, you move on. What have you got to lose from that?”
Again, a pause. “Give me an address, Louie, and I’ll come see you. We’ll talk. Just give me an address.”
Ken waited. “Go get a lunch bag tomorrow. Call the number for directions.”
The cell went dead. Ken smiled to himself.
Joe didn’t work the night shift, but a good friend of his did. Ken mentioned to Joe that he and Bea wanted time alone, so that he should tell his friend not to do too close a bed check in either room. Joe smiled, and said, Sure, he understood. It wasn’t the first time it happened during a long, dragged-out trial.
At nine, Ken knocked on Bea’s door. She let him in, and he gave her a quick hug, then passed through her window and rambled down the fire escape. He headed west two blocks to a bus stop at Market Street where he caught the 127 south on 7th Street. The bus took the I-95 ramp north for ten minutes, then pulled off at the Cottman Street exit, and wended its way through to Hegerman, then Princeton.
Ken left the bus at Princeton, and walked two more blocks to a side street, Baron. He walked down until he found a small deli, its name announced on a grimy green awning, Mickey’s Deli Sandwiches. He stepped inside.
It wasn’t big, two rows of tables on the side walls separated by little more than a body’s width, a counter in the back for ordering. The walls were a bright orange, the tables were linoleum and chrome, and signs hand-written in faded black magic marker announced the deli’s policies: No shoes, No food; No Seating without Ordering; The Management Reserves the Right to Deny Service Any Customer.
One man sat at the second table in on the right. Greying, and in his fifties, he sat reading the paper. In the back, two young men worked making sandwiches and pizzas.
Ken glanced over his shoulder, then moved closer to the seated man.
“Where’s your order?” he asked.
He looked up from his paper. Folding it, he rose and said, “Wait here.” He walked back behind the counter. Ken stepped back near the door and waited.
A young man wearing an open, double-breasted jacket and no tie emerged from the back. Loose-limbed, he walked slowly toward Ken. When he was two yards away, Ken said, “You must be Louie.”
He smiled, a slender, dark-haired man, maybe 30, tan and good-looking.
“That’s right, Sailor, I’m Lou. How’d you know?”
Ken laughed, “Just a lucky guess. Shit, what a stereotype.”
Lou frowned, then said, “You’re not. I have to admit, I’m surprised you showed up.”
“In so many ways, I’m sure.”
Lou smiled, “Not that way. I’m impressed. Why don’t you sit down, we’ll talk. I’ll get you a sandwich, anything you like. What do you want to drink?”
Ken shook his head, “This isn’t going to take that long.”
The grey-haired guy came back from behind the counter and sat at an end table, and unfolded his newspaper. Just then, the door opened, forcing Ken to move closer in to the middle of the room. The man, big, strolled past him to the counter to order.
“Look, what can I tell you? We’ll raise the ante to 20 grand, how’s that? We don’t want any hassles with you, just this simple thing. Why do you have to go and complicate it?”
“I need a job. I’m bored, and I need to make more money. Surely you have someone who you’d rather was somewhere else? I can help you with that.”
Lou shook his head, “You’re just nuts, aren’t you? You wearing a wire?”
Ken pulled up his t-shirt.
“Ah, that don’t mean shit. But, I’m not that interested in conducting a cavity search.”
“Louie, you don’t have to say anything more. Just give me a name and an address. I’ll do the rest. I’ll even work for you on the cuff, for the original ten as an act of faith. I’m interested in a long-term association, a new career. Just give me a name and address, and we’ll be in business. And, think of it this way; if I do this for you, you’ll not only have a valuable new resource, untraceable, you’ll also have enough leverage on me to be sure that I’ll do that other little thing for you when the time comes. Just give me a name and address. What have you got to lose?”
Lou turned to the man reading the paper. He looked at Lou, shrugged, then returned to his reading. At the counter, the big man received his order in a brown paper bag, and turned to leave.
Lou faced Ken. He reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a slip of paper, and handed it to him. “See what you can do with this.”
Ken grinned. “You’ve made a wise decision, Louie,” he said, as he opened the slip.
The slip was blank. Without looking up, Ken slid between the table and chair on his right, ending in a crouch, just missing a crack on his head from the wide arc of the big man’s brown bag. He shoved the table into Lou as he stepped behind the extended arm of the big man and formed a stiff hook with his left index and middle fingers. Grabbing the big man’s throat with his right hand, Ken plucked out one of his eyes with his left.
The man screamed, dropping the brown bag to cover his face with both hands. The bag landed on the floor with a thud. Still holding his throat, Ken groped inside the man’s jacket, pulled out a gun and aimed it at Lou on the floor, then at the grey-haired man in the back.
Both of them stared with their mouths hanging open, only thinking to cover themselves with their hands in turn when Ken drew down on each of them, back and forth.
He pushed the big man back slowly to sit on the left table, then said, “If you take him to the hospital right now, they probably can put the eye back in.”
Completely astonished, Lou almost forgot to keep his hands up. Glancing to make sure that the grey guy wasn’t moving, Ken slipped over to Lou onto one knee and put the barrel of the gun, a Glock nine, up against his temple.
“I should send you to the morgue, motherfucker, threatening my kid.”
Stark panic fled across Lou’s face, until Ken said, “But I need a job, Lou.” He stood up.
“Get me a name and address, and we can work together.”
The trial could be winding down, he thought. The prosecutors had piled up a ton of evidence, but apparently this was only the background stuff. The jurors weren’t allowed to read newspapers, but nobody could control the rumor mill. Apparently, lead P.A. Lupino had a star witness that could lay a murder directly at Pistol Pete’s feet. When this happened, the guards murmured, the defense wouldn’t have much to say.
“God, when will they put the guy in the box?” Colin wailed. “I’ve got to see the end of this soon, or my life will be over.”
“Don’t be too sure this star witness will sink Innunzio,” Ira said, shaking his finger. “Air-tight cases frequently have a way of leaking air.”
Colin groaned, but Ken’s ears pricked up. He looked at Ira hard, then waited until he could corner him alone.
“They got to you, huh, Ira?”
“What do you mean?”
“The phone call, the lunch bag?”
Ira’s eyes flashed. Then, he relaxed. “The sandwich was good, the cookie stale.”
“Did you call them back?”
“I did. I told them to go fuck themselves. How can they hurt me, those schmucks? My wife’s dead, I got no kids, and I hate everybody. Hah!”
Ken laughed, “Too bad, Ira, I like you.”
Ira huffed, “Huh,” then said, “They got hold of you, too?”
Ken nodded, “I think they’ll go after all of us if they can. You know, why take a chance? They only need one vote, but why not three, or twelve?”
“Yeah,” Ira said, rubbing his beard.
“But, don’t worry about it. I’ve found a way to make sure we don’t have to worry.”
“Okay,” Ira said skeptically.
Ken called on Ira’s phone. When he heard him answer, he smiled, but resisted the temptation. “Hello, Lou. How’s your friend’s eye? Twenty-twenty?”
“You shit, why didn’t you tell me you were a Seal?”
He didn’t answer, saying instead, “What’d I tell you about going after other jurors? I hear Ira told you to go fuck yourself.”
“That old dick, so what?”
“So, I told you, I have them all sewn up. They’ve been persuaded to follow my lead. Understand?”
“Now, let’s get down to it. If you want that little thing done, you need to get me a name and address quick. I hear the prosecution is getting ready for the big finish.”
Silence. “You hear me, Lou?”
“Yeah, I hear you. Okay. It’ll be in the mail.”
“The mail? Isn’t that a bit chancy?”
“They don’t open your mail, it’s against the law. For Chrissake, you’re not Al Qaeda or anything.”
“Right. Okay, the mail.”
Buddy Stanfield, a north Philly address; according to Wikipedia, he was a small-time dealer in the Solito family, Pistol Pete’s main competition. Al (Umberto) Solito was thought to be responsible for dropping the dime on Pete by way of Buddy. Buddy tipped the feds off about the star witness, Jerry Abbruzzese, who had been caught red-handed transporting narcotics and weapons across the New Jersey state line. With the new gun laws, Abbruzzese could be facing life in prison, unless he rolled on Innunzio. Abbruzzese was third in the family and knew everything. Apparently, Lou—Lou Cuscinetto—felt that a message needed to be sent, starting with Buddy Stanfield.
The first night, Ken waited outside the furniture shop where Buddy managed his dealers. Sitting in a parked car across the street, he waited for Buddy to leave at the end of his workday, three in the morning. He came out, smoking a cigar, all three hundred pounds of him. He looked much bigger than the Wikipedia photo, and older. Buddy and two other guys talked in front of the shop for another 20 minutes. They separated at last, and Buddy climbed into a new Lexus SUV, alone. Ken shook his head at the arrogance.
The next evening, Buddy climbed into the Lexus, where Ken, hiding in the back seat, wrung his neck.
“Well done, Ken. We’re impressed. You are a useful guy.”
“And I’m all yours, now, Lou.”
“Absolutely. And, how can I get you what’s yours?”
“Mail it to me. They can’t open it, remember?”
“Of course. And the other little thing will be taken care of?”
“Oh, yeah. That could be a problem, Lou.”
Again, silence pressed down. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that with the P.A.s’ star witness out there, our friend won’t ever be safe. I can perform that little service that we’ve discussed, I can get my friends here to do what you want. But, that doesn’t mean that the P.A. or the judge won’t smell a rat. The judge could throw out the whole thing, and you’d be back at square one with an entirely new jury.”
“Shit,” said Lou.
“Right,” said Ken. “But there’s another way to make this all go away forever.”
“Yeah. Can you meet tonight to discuss it?”
“Okay, sure,” said Lou, “for dinner. I owe you that much. Salvatore’s Ristorante in the same neighborhood.”
“I’ll find it,” said Ken.
Salvatore’s Ristorante evoked old Italia, but lushly, with maroon velveteen-covered walls and thick linen tablecloths. The silver shone gold from age, and the hand-painted settings displayed gorgeous pastel scenes of city life, country life, and robin-egg blue seas in the old country.
When Ken walked in, Lou stood to greet him, extending his hand to shake Ken’s while patting him on the arm.
“Hi ya, Kenny, good to see you, or do you want me to call you just Ken?”
Ken laughed, “Whatever you want, Lou. I work for you, now.”
“Nah, it’s a business arrangement, see? We didn’t know how valuable you are. We’re going to have plenty for you to do when all this shit is over, believe me. See, even Georgy doesn’t hold a grudge, do you Georgy?”
The big man had been sitting at a table in the back, the outsized white pad taped over his right eye seeming to bounce light off of his deeply tanned skin.
“Naw, Mr. Pruitt,” he said, “just a misunderstanding. I know you had to do what you did, and the doctors say my eye will be as good as new.”
He reached his hand out to Ken, who said, “Yeah, sorry Georgy, I didn’t have much choice, I didn’t want to hurt you permanently.”
Georgy’s eyes turned steely, and his grip suddenly came close to crushing Ken’s hand. Ken readied his left, but Georgy let go and returned to his table.
“Sit, sit, let’s eat.”
They sat and ate incredibly delicious Italian dishes, a five-course meal. Ken had never eaten so well, and it was difficult to pace himself to ensure that he could move, if necessary. Lou offered wine, but Ken declined, which genuinely seemed to disappoint his host. Finally, dessert and cappuccino were served.
Ken pushed back in his seat, full, but not uncomfortable, and alert.
Lou paused, then said, “I’ve got something for you.”
He pulled out a yellow envelope and pushed it across the table. Ken opened and peeked inside. U.S. bills.
“That’s okay, I know it’s all there.”
Lou shook his head, “There’s more. A little bonus on account of how clean you work. As I said before, very impressive.”
Ken nodded his head.
“So, what’s this other idea you got for handling our situation?”
Ken said, “Jerry Abbruzzese.”
A somber cast immediately fell across Lou’s face. “What about that shit-bird rat?”
“I can take care of him for you.”
Lou laughed, and Georgy joined in. Lou looked at Georgy and they both laughed hard, brittle laughs into each other’s face, as though it was some kind of competition.
“Are you nuts? They got that prick hidden in a deeper hole than they got you guys, and we don’t even know where that is.”
Ken shook his head, “I have the run of the courthouse. The guards love me, they love hearing how I swung from a Blackbird into Baghdad and cut the throats of those terrorist pricks. They fall all over each other showing me around, how tough they can be when the bad guys are brought in for trial. I know exactly where they’re going to hold Abbruzzese. All I need to know is the time they’ll bring him to the courthouse and the day, and I can find that out from the guards, too.”
Lou grimaced, shaking his head. “How sure are you, Kenny?”
“How sure were you that I couldn’t do what I’ve done? You want the Abbruzzese problem to go away for good, this is the only way.”
Lou thoughtfully nodded his head. “Okay.”
“It’ll cost you. Plenty. And up front.”
Unhappy again, Lou said, “How much?”
“You’re kidding. You’re out of your mind.”
“Innunzio’s freedom isn’t worth three million? He’ll be happy to hear that.”
Lou rolled his eyes. “Come on.”
“Lou, don’t ask me, ask him. See what he thinks.”
Lou pouted. “If he does say yes, how do I get you the money? I can’t give all that to you in a business envelope.”
Ken laughed, “Laundry bag. No, I’ll let you know what to do. Just, you better find out soon, because this case has been dragging on for too long. Lupino’s got to be thinking about springing his star witness soon.”
“Well, thanks for dinner and the present,” he said, patting his pocket. He stood, and said, “Keep an eye out, Georgy,” and left, Georgy glowering at him all the way out the door.
He climbed through Bea’s window, and saw her drowsing on her bed. He tiptoed to the door, but she woke up. “How’s it going?”
“Good. Things are pretty much under control. Tomorrow’s Saturday and I have to go to the library again. So, I’ll need you to tell Joe that we want another nooner, if you’re up for it.”
“Sure,” she said, “I love sex, even if it’s imaginary.”
“Hey, don’t get me started,” he said as he slipped out, hearing the tinkling chime of her laughter fade as he closed the door.
You can Google anything, he thought, the mob, offshore bank accounts, anything.
The end of the fourth month of the trial was closing in, a month since his first call from Lou Cuscinetto, and a week since their dinner. Lupino and his clones droned on about narcotics, prostitution, gambling, money laundering, larceny, extortion, assault, conspiracy—did he forget to mention battery? Ken crossed his legs, patiently not listening. He gazed at Peter “Pistol Pete” Innunzio and wondered what he was thinking. Was the gardener taking good care of his yard without his direction? Was he thinking about lunch? Did he want someone to take care of Al Solito for all of this trouble? Or was he thinking about a vacation in the old country? Surely, he wasn’t thinking about transporting stolen goods across state lines.
Innunzio had a lived-in face, all rivers of wrinkles and crags. He’d gone through so much, Ken thought, and had made it this far. Sometimes, good things happen to bad people.
Lou called him at lunch time.
“It’s a deal. But, half up front. You’ll get the rest when it’s done.”
Ken paused, then said, “All right, good. Take down these numbers.” He read off four sets, and a telephone number. “Transfer a half million into the first account, and half a million into the second. Split the remaining half million between the other two.”
“You think ahead, don’t you, Kenny.”
“You bet, Lou, and you better transfer the money today. This trial is heating up fast. I need to know that the money’s there before I do anything.”
“Today? It’s going to take time to get that kind of dough!”
“You gave me the go-ahead, which means the money’s available. You don’t want Innunzio to find out that you’ve blown the whole thing by dragging your heels, do you, Louie?”
“Jesus, you’re a mean prick.”
“Yes I am, just what you need.”
“And, it’s Lou.”
“Sure it is. Get the money, Lou.”
He checked the accounts after dinner, and the money was all there. He breathed in, and out, deeply. The money was there.
“I have to go out tonight, and I don’t know how soon I’ll be back. Probably early morning.”
“Where are you going? Not to meet with them again?”
“No, no, that part’s done. This may be the last time I have to go anywhere, but it has to be tonight. Can you cover for me one more time?”
Bea pressed her lips together, and a strand of fine blond hair caught in the corner of her mouth. She said, “Okay, okay. Maybe it’d be nice if, for once, I wasn’t lying about you being here.”
“Oh, Bea, don’t. It’s okay for me to torture myself daydreaming, but you have your boy, your husband back home to think about. Don’t.”
She dropped her head. “Yeah, I miss them so much.”
“Well, this is almost over. Believe me, we’re all going home soon.”
He hugged her quickly, then slipped out the window early, taking his chances that one of the guards wouldn’t see him. He had a long way to go, and he couldn’t waste time.
He’d scouted the garage after his dinner with Lou and found in the monthly rental area a car dusty from a long stay. He picked the door and popped the steering column. A stark fear suddenly flashed through him as he wondered if it would start. He crossed the wires and the engine coughed, then roared to life. He sighed as he sat up. Enough gas, too.
He pulled out of the garage, and headed for I-676 north to 76 and up the Schuykill Expressway to 476. He got off on Route 1 West, and drove to Media.
From a distance, the house looked the same, white clapboard, scrubby lawn, the old garage in the back that had been his workshop. Closer up, he could see that someone had been working on the outside of the house. The shutters had been repainted, the flashing had been replaced on the front door, the driveway had been resealed. Evidence of the asshole, he thought. At least his car wasn’t in the driveway. It was a school night, however, so Grace was sure to be home with the kids. More luck.
He parked down the street under a tree, and walked back, slipping past one side of the house into the back yard. Gently, he tapped on the screen door.
The light flicked on, and he could see Grace silhouetted against the door, peering out with her hand held to her forehead like an old Indian statue. A beat passed.
She opened the inside door and talked through the screen.
“Ken, what are doing here?”
“I’m here to see you, Grace.” She stood leaning against the screen, standing on one leg while resting the other behind her. Her red hair fell just to her jaw line, curving toward him in two points at the end of a stylish page boy. Her skin still possessed that pinkish cast, so fair that a full summer of sunlight added just the slightest brown to her complexion. Her eyes were still green gems, too, he thought, and a slight ache rippled through him at the loss.
“I thought you were in that trial. You’re not supposed to be here, are you?”
“Then, why are you here? I’m a little scared, Ken. Could you leave please?”
“I can’t, Grace, I need to talk to you.”
“Ken, I don’t want to call the police.”
“Please don’t, Grace, I just need to talk to you for a short time, then I’ll leave. I promise. Just let me in for ten minutes, ten minutes and I’ll go.”
“Grace, in all that we’ve been through, I’ve never hurt you, I never wanted to. But this is really important, you have to believe me. You, the kids being safe, depend upon what I have to tell you.”
Again, she hesitated. Then, she unlatched the door and let him in.
She gestured to a seat at the kitchen table, and backed away to lean against the counter near the hallway. “Please make this not a mistake,” she said to no one.
“It’s not, believe me.”
He sat, taking in the kitchen, which looked the same for the most part, and completely different, too. The refrigerator was covered with photos and things from school that he’d never seen. She had some new plants on the windowsill above the sink, too. He remembered when they’d first separated, and the shock he’d had a year later when they met with their lawyers to sign the divorce papers. She was wearing a new winter coat, a stylish yellow parka with a fur collar, as if to show unthinkingly that her life had continued on while he was still stuck in the same misery. He felt that way, now.
“What’s so important, Ken?”
“How are the kids, are they asleep?”
“They’re fine, and yes, they’re in bed. What’s the big emergency that has you sneaking out of a federal courtroom?”
“A hotel, actually. They have us penned up in a hotel.”
“Fine, a hotel. What do you want?”
He winced, then forced himself to ignore it. “You know this case? It’s a Mafia case?”
“Sure, it was in all the papers, on TV for a while. It’s lasted so long, it’s in the back pages, now. But I remember it, sure.”
“Okay, it’s about this. This guy Innunzio is up for murder.”
And he told her, everything, even about “‘ospital,” so that she knew it was real and serious. As he went on, she drew slowly toward him, and sat down at the table.
“Oh my God, they tapped my phone? Oh my God, what’ll we do? My God!” She started to shake, “The kids!” she said, about to cry, and he grabbed her hand.
“Grace, don’t. Don’t worry. I’m going to take care of it. I’m going to get you all out of this.”
“Out of this?” she cried. “How did you get us into it?”
The irrationality of the question seared him. “I was put on this jury!”
“Well, why didn’t you get out of it? Why didn’t you lie, say you were sick or something? Why didn’t you stay out of it?”
He shook his head, “I don’t know, I don’t know. By the time I thought of it, it was too late. And, how was I supposed to know that the mob would go after me?”
“Oh, right, Ken, you never have anything to do with anything, it all just happens to you.”
He let his head roll back on his shoulders and stared at the ceiling. He sighed, and said, “All right, it’s my fault, and I’m sorry. But, I’ve got it worked out so that you and the kids will be safe. But, you’re going to have to do some things, precautions that you’re not going to like altogether. It’s the only way, just hear me out.”
He reached into his back pocket and pulled out the manila envelope and placed it on the kitchen table.
“What’s that?” she said.
“Back child support. Now, here’s what it is.”
Grace pulled back warily, but listened.
The night passed as he laid it out. They talked into the early hours of the morning, splitting a few Yuenglings along the way.
Grace looked tired, now, half-resting on the table top. “I’ve got to get up, soon,” she said, half asleep.
“Grace, you haven’t even gone to bed, yet.”
She smiled, the first time in years, he imagined, at least when he’d been around. Then, she frowned, “Ken, do you think ... do you ever think that if we had stayed together, that somehow all of this wouldn’t have happened, couldn’t have happened?”
Genuine sorrow swept over him then, the real deep thing he’d felt before when he was alone and knew why he was alone no matter what Grace had done.
“Hell, Grace, how could we have ever stayed together?”
Ken stood up, kissed her on the top of her head, and slipped out the back door.
He padded silently to the shed in the back, and was annoyed to find a padlock on the door.
The asshole, he thought. He pulled his belt from his trousers and wedged it through the loop of the lock. A quick yank, and it was sprung.
Everything in the shed had been reorganized, another moment of concern, until he found his box still hidden up in the rafters in the back. He grabbed the sweatshirt, some tape, vinyl gloves, a few small tools, and left.
Ken managed to make it back to Bea’s room just as light began to consume the lower edges of the night’s darkness. Bea stirred and stretched. Ken sat on the edge of the bed next to her.
“Joe was here, looking for you. I put him off, but I think he’s getting suspicious.”
She sat up next to him, hunched over. She wore a cotton undershirt with spaghetti straps and a
bikini brief. “I guess our torrid love affair is about over,” she said.
“That’s all right,” Ken said, “so’s the trial. I will miss the torrid part, though.”
Late in the morning, Ken and the other jurors sat, looking as bored as they felt. Harry Lupino asked another witness one question after another about mob minutiae. The witness, a very nervous fellow in his mid-thirties, wearing an ill-fitting suit, answered questions about delivering bags to Innunzio’s social club without ever knowing what was inside. More circumstantial evidence, thought Ken.
“Your honor, that concludes the questions I have for this witness.”
Ken jumped. Had he fallen asleep?
“All right, thank you, Mr. Lupino. Cross examine, Mr. McCarthy?”
“No, your honor, no questions for this witness.”
“Okay, then, let’s have lunch,” said the judge.
“All rise,” said the bailiff, mostly to the backs of the people already leaving the courtroom.
Outside of the jurors’ room, Joe the guard stopped Ken in the hallway waiting for the elevator.
“Uh, Ken, I need to see you for a sec.”
Mildly surprised, Ken said, “Sure, Joe, what’s up?”
Joe lowered his voice, “The, uh, the F.P., he wants to see you. Lupino. The prosecutor.”
“He does? What for?”
“I dunno,” the guard said, “but it isn’t ordinary.”
“Yeah,” Joe said. “I’ll take you to him. He’s in a meeting room on the tenth floor.”
They rode the elevator down several floors, and Joe ushered Ken into a meeting room. Harry Lupino sat in a wooden chair on the far side of a conference table. Ken saw another suit sitting next to him on the right. Round-faced with a heavy beard and a blocky build, Sanchez sported a close-shaved perimeter of hair that crowned his otherwise balding head. To distract, he wore a lavish moustache. In his dull, rumpled grey suit, he represented the exact opposite of the slick, sharp-dressed Lupino.
“Please sit down,” Lupino said, gesturing to a straight-back wooden chair opposite to him. Ken walked over to sit.
“All right, Mr. Pruitt. This is Mr. Perry Sanchez, another federal attorney. I’ve asked him here to conduct this interview to ensure that no violations occur.”
Sanchez nodded his head at Ken without saying a word.
Lupino continued, “That means that we won’t be discussing the case, Mr. Pruitt, not any part of it. That would be illegal and grounds for a mistrial. A mistrial would mean that the four years put into this case by the FBI, the DEA, and every other federal agency and officer involved in investigating organized crime, including myself, would be wasted. The four months you and the other jurors have spent sitting in the courtroom, all wasted, gone up in smoke.” Lupino pointed his finger at the ceiling, “Poof. Do you understand what I’m saying, Mr. Pruitt? I can’t let that happen, and I’m sure that you don’t want it to happen either. Am I right?”
Ken shrugged and nodded his head.
“Okay, then, we will not be talking about the case. In fact, I won’t be talking about the case. In fact, I won’t be talking at all except I have to, you understand? Mr. Sanchez will be conducting this interview.”
Lupino paused, then nodded at Sanchez.
“Mr. Pruitt, it has come to our attention that an attempt has been made, at least one, to tamper with the jury.” Sanchez waited, staring at Ken.
Sitting calmly, Ken crossed his legs.
“You know what that means?” Sanchez continued. “Exactly what Mr. Lupino just stated. This entire case, the time you’ve spent here and everyone else’s could come to nothing. That’s millions of dollars at risk, too, Mr. Pruitt. It’s very unusual in this day and age to sequester a jury because of the expense. That’s how important Mr. Lupino and his superiors value this prosecution.”
“Worst of all, that shitbird piece of shit Pete Innunzio could walk,” Lupino spit.
“Harry,” Sanchez said.
“Yeah, Perry, I know. Mr. Pruitt, please pay no attention to what I just said about that cocksucker Innunzio.”
“Okay, okay. No more about Innunzio, I promise.”
“You see, Pruitt, this could be a very serious problem. So, I’m going to ask you a series of questions, and I want the truth. You understand, Mr. Pruitt, we need to know the truth.”
Ken nodded his head again.
“Now,” said Sanchez, “do you know about anyone on the jury being approached?”
“No,” said Ken, without hesitation.
“Anyone at all, by phone, or a note? A visitor, perhaps?”
Sanchez paused. “You’re sure you understand the repercussions? You’re absolutely sure?”
“Jesus, yes, okay? What, do you think I need a lawyer here? I have one, a divorce lawyer, but that’s all I can afford right now. I can barely afford her, to tell you the truth.”
Sternly, Sanchez said, “You will not need representation. No, sir. Absolutely not.” He
allowed a beat to pass. “So, no one you know of on the jury was approached, acted ill at ease, anything like that.”
“Nope, no one. I’d be the first to tell you if it was me. No one’s heard anything.”
Harry Lupino sat back in his chair.
“That’s very interesting, Mr. Pruitt,” said Sanchez, “because we know of one juror who
was approached. On a prepaid cell phone, left in a brown bag lunch in the courthouse lobby. This witness was threatened, then offered a bribe.”
Sanchez paused again. “This doesn’t sound at all familiar to you?”
“No. Not at all,” said Ken.
“That is surprising. It's surprising because members of organized crime usually
look for insurance. They try to cover all of their bets. Why compromise one juror when they
might be able to turn another? Sounds pretty smart, don't you think?”
Ken shrugged, “I wouldn’t know.”
“Hmm. Very surprising, because of course, you see, once Mr. Lupino heard about this, he had to check it out. But, he had to be circumspect as well. He could not risk talking to jury members for
the reasons he stated earlier. So, he followed a different strategy first. He started by reviewing the
courthouse security DVDs dating to the beginning of the trial.”
Ken tensed minutely.
“Do you know what he saw almost immediately? He watched you walk into the lobby on one of the very first trial days and pick up a brown bag left on a bench. Surprising, huh?”
“I guess so,” Ken said.
Lupino leaned forward. “What was in the bag, Pruitt?”
Lupino glanced at Sanchez. “Lunch. Just lunch?”
“Yeah,” said Ken.
“No cell phone,” Lupino said.
“No. Just a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a Coke, and a chocolate chip cookie, one of those
“The soft kind…. That’s it? Lunch.”
Sanchez said, “Your statement is that you went down to the lobby to pick up a bag left on
a bench for you, and the only thing it was lunch.”
“You fucking idiot,” snapped Lupino, “you expect us to believe this? What do you think,
we’re fucking stupid?”
“Harry,” Sanchez said, grasping Lupino’s arm. Lupino sat back, burning. Ken sat placidly,
“The problem is, Mr. Pruitt,” Sanchez said, “we watched more of the security videos and
saw other jurors picking up brown bags left on the same bench. We have them on tape, too. What about them? Those bags didn't have cell phones in them either? The other jurors weren't threatened and offered bribes?”
“Maybe they were. I don't know, you'll have to ask them.”
“But you were not.
“No,” Ken replied.
“There was no cell phone in your lunch bag.”
“Jesus Christ, you—” Lupino muttered. Sanchez gestured and Lupino sat back again.
“All right, no cell phone. Then,” Sanchez continued, “let me ask you this, Mr. Pruitt. How did you know the brown bag was out there for you on the bench?
Ken hesitated. “I ordered it. From a favorite sandwich shop of mine. I thought it
might be the last good hoagie I'd get for a while.”
“Really?” Lupino said. “Let me guess the name of the shop. Mickey's Deli Sandwiches. Is
Ken shifted slightly in his seat.
Lupino pressed, “You see, that was the name on the bag picked up by the other juror. Is
that where you ordered your sandwiches? “
Pausing again before answering, Ken said “Sure. On Baron Street. I'm a carpenter, I had a
job near there one time. I found out they have good sandwiches.”
“Mickey's is a known haunt of Innunzio's people. Are you aware of that, Mr. Pruitt?
“I know it's a mob joint,” Ken answered, “Everyone does. I don’t know if Innunzio has anything
to do with it. The food's good.”
Lupino said, “You expect us to believe that you had a bag lunch sent to you from
Mickey's, a notorious Scarfo front, and you didn’t find a cell phone inside?”
“I ordered the sandwich and there was no phone in the bag. Believe me, if there was, I
would have reported it.”
“And the other jurors?” Sanchez asked.
“I ordered sandwiches for a couple of them sort of as a joke. You know, the condemned’s
last meal before nothing but a steady died of bad hotel food. After a while, everyone was ordering them. You should try one, they're good.”
Sanchez said back. Then, he said, “Mr. Pruitt, you are sure about this? There are
consequences for obstructing justice and accepting a bribe.”
“I swear, I don't know about any phone or any bribe, just some sandwiches. Maybe the guy you let go ordered one, stuck a phone in the bag, and came to you with a story. I don't know.”
“How did you know the juror we dismissed was a man?” Sanchez said.
Ken frowned, looking exasperated. “Guy, gal, whatever. Whoever you let go, okay?”
Lupino joined in, calmer now. “Look, Pruitt,” “you're seeing this all wrong. This is your ticket out of here. Just tell us what happened and we'll have to dismiss you from the jury to preclude even the perception of any impropriety.”
“This is the first I've heard of this, believe me. If I knew anything, I'd tell you. I'd love to
get out of here.”
Sanchez and Lupino exchanged glances.
“All right, Mr. Pruitt,” said Sanchez. “You can go for now. You should know, however, that we will be interviewing the other jurors, and if their accounts do not match yours, you will be held for obstruction of justice. Do you understand?”
Ken nodded his head.
“Very well. Officer Fagley will escort you back to the juror's room.
Ken stood up and left the room with Joe.
Sanchez looked at Lupino, who said, “Well? Can you believe this bullshit about a brown
bag and no phone?”
“I don't know what to believe. Maybe he's telling the truth, but we better talk to the rest of
them. How many other jurors picked up bags?”
“Just two,” Lupino said, “aside from the kid that blew the whistle. Maybe Pruitt's telling the truth. Maybe he just bought the kid a sandwich and the little shit cooked the whole cell thing up to get off the jury.”
“Then it worked, didn't it?” said Sanchez
Lupino stiffened, “He was excused for medical reasons.”
“Unhuh. Jesus.” He gazed up at the ceiling, then said, “All right, let’s talk to the other
two. But, if the kid was telling the truth, who knows how many others were contacted? We can't dismiss them all, we only have so many alternates. The judge will declare a mistrial if we lose more than two or three.”
“If any of this gets out he might do that anyway. So, what the fuck can we do?” Lupino
“I think you better get your star witness in here as fast as possible and hope that their plan
was for a mistrial, not an outright acquittal.”
Lupino whined, “Jesus Christ, what a mess.”
“Also,” said Sanchez, “have someone keep an eye on Pruitt. Something about that guy
makes me wonder.”
Ken walked into the jurors’ room and looked around. Everyone seemed to be there except
Bea and Ira are sitting at the far end of the table. Ken strolled over and said in a low voice, “Have you seen Colin?”
Ira said, “He’s gone, excused from the jury. They didn't say why.”
“Fuck,” Ken breathed. He lowered his voice more and told them, “Colin got a bag with a phone. He told the prosecutor.”
“He did?” Bea said. She look hopeful, “Then, maybe it's about to end. They'll call it a
Ken flashed her a quick look of alarm.
“No. I just met with Lupino and another fed. They got me on a DVD picking up the bag. I was the first, but they say they saw others. I swore that I didn't get a phone and they sort of believed me, even though it's ludicrous. They want to believe me. They got four years invested in this trial and they don't want to start over. Which means they'll believe you, too, if you say the same thing. Tell them I ordered the sandwiches for you as a joke, but don't tell them about the phones, nothing.”
“Why can't we just do what Colin did and get thrown off the jury?” Bea asked plaintively.
Ken shook his head, “No good. They're pissed about this, they threatened to charge me
with obstruction because I didn't report it to them. They'll do the same to you, too.”
“Shit,” Ira spat. “No wonder he looked guilty when he slunk outta here.”
“Colin didn't know anything,” Ken said, “he just saw his chance is all.”
“They can't really do that,” Bea said, “can they? Arrest us?
“I don't know, but we better hope that they wrap this trial up soon. Anyway you look at it, it's not good for us for it to keep going like this.”
“So, what do we do in the meantime?” Ira said.
“Act like you don't know anything. I've got the phones, so they can't do anything to you if
you just sit tight. Maybe Colin's done us all a favor, maybe they'll kick it into high gear rather than be stuck with a mistrial, start pointing fingers at us.”
Bea sighed, looking down, deeply worried. Ken gritted his teeth.
“Colin, that fucking little shit,” barked Ira.
Everyone had taken their seat, McCarthy had ushered Pistol Pete to his seat at the defendant’s table. Now, they sat and waited for the judge to enter and make them all stand up again. After three tough days, Ken felt at ease. Grace had called him on his cell, said “Done,” then hung up. He’d slept well for the following two nights. He could wait forever, now, at rest. He crossed his legs, in sneakers and jeans of course, but also wearing his old sports coat again, over a dark blue sweatshirt. Bea glanced his way, and he gave her a big smile.
The judge entered, making them all stand up again. He turned to the prosecutor and said, “Mr. Lupino, are you ready to proceed?”
“I am, your honor. I would like to call to the stand my last witness, who is being escorted here from the FDC right now. He should arrive within the next 15 minutes.”
So, now, thought Ken. The gallery seemed to inhale collectively, letting out a collective rush of air that changed into murmurs. The Judge raised his voice slightly, “Order. Okay, Counselor, we’ll take a 15-minute recess.” He smacked his gavel down once, then rose and walked back to his chambers.
Everyone stood up at once, and milled about, unsure about what to do, or whether to go out or not for such a short break. Ken broke off from the rest and headed to the jury’s private restroom. In a stall, he switched the vinyl gloves from the pockets of his jacket, which he then hung on the hook of the stall door. He moved quietly to the door, cracked it open, and walked out briskly to the door in the opposite direction of the lobby and the elevators. He reached the emergency stairway and opened the door that he’d taped open on his last training run, thanks, Joe, and you too, Watergate burglars, for showing how it wasn’t done.
Ken dashed down the stairs, faster than running up, but trickier, too. Reaching the ground floor, he ran down the hall to the engineering maintenance closet, locked, but he forced it in no time. He flicked on the light, found what he was looking for, a long, thin, metal rod with a simple perpendicular key shape on the end. He tucked the rod into his jeans, then sped toward the loading dock at the side entrance, just around the corner from where the jury took outdoor breaks. Pulling on the dark blue vinyl gloves, he then slipped the hood of his sweatshirt over his head. He peered through the narrow window with chicken wire embedded in the glass. No one.
Ken slipped outside and reached in his pocket for one of the lunch cells. He tapped in the number, and waited.
“James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse, how can I direct your call?”
“There is a bomb on the 16th floor ready to go off.”
He snapped the cell shut, flung it toward the dumpsters, and bolted back inside, running the length of the hall and around the corner to the elevator that led up to the courtroom holding areas. He pulled out of his jean’s change pocket the hard, plastic key he’d made in his hotel room and inserted it into the elevator slot. He heard the generator come to life at the same time as the sirens outside. He ducked to one side and waited, now, forever.
The elevator stopped, the doors opened. Ken wrapped one arm around the doorway to hold the door open, and darted his head in quickly. Empty.
He jumped in, inserted the plastic key, and pushed the 16th floor button. The elevator began to rise as fire alarms sounded throughout the building. While the elevator rose, Ken tied the hood drawstring tight to his face so that only his eyes could be seen. He pulled the rod from his pants and held it out in front of him.
The elevator reached the 16th floor, and the doors opened. He could hear alarms yammering throughout the building, including one that filled the hallway with noise. Ken pushed the red button in the elevator so the doors stayed open. He tucked himself in the front corner, out of sight, and waited.
He could hear voices in the hall, indiscernible because of the alarms. Ken waited until he heard them at the elevator doorway.
“I don’t know,” one voice said, “a prank, maybe.”
Ken moved out to find Earl McCarthy and Pete Innunzio standing at the door, flanked by two courthouse guards. He grabbed Innunzio by the collar, twisted him around, and yanked him back with the metal rod pressed across his throat. McCarthy and the two guards stood stunned, completely surprised.
The guards made moves toward their guns, and Ken shook his head, “I’ll crush his windpipe.”
One guard dropped his hand to his side, but the other still fumbled with his holster; Joe Fagley.
Shit. Shifting to hold Innunzio with one forearm, Ken stepped out and snapped the rod out like a rapier across Joe’s hand, which jerked straight up. “Ow!” he cried, dropping the revolver.
Innunzio started hacking from the tightness of his grip as Ken jerked him into the elevator and turned the key. The doors slowly closed, he pushed the button for the 19th floor and released Innunzio, who dropped to the floor, still coughing, his glasses halfway up his brow.
Slowly, he regained his breath. Deliberately, he adjusted his glasses, and raised his eyes to Ken. “Who the hell are you?”
Ken said, “You don’t recognize me, Pete?” Ken loosened the drawstring and pulled back his hood. Innunzio squinted, then said, “You look familiar. You’re on the jury.”
Ken nodded, “Yes, I am. I work for you, Pete.”
The doors opened and Ken grabbed Innunzio by the back of his suit collar. He pulled him upright and marched him outside, taking the plastic key with him as he stepped out, but first pushing the button for the 20th floor.
“What are you doing?” Innunzio shouted above the ringing alarms. “You’re getting paid, what’s this all about?”
Ken watched the doors close, and listened for the hum of the elevator rising. Then, he inserted the keyed end of the metal rod into a small hole in the outer door of the elevator. He twisted it until the doors opened.
Innunzio struggled, crying out, “You better stop, you’re gonna get hurt! What are you doing? What the fuck do you want?”
Ken pulled him close to his face, “You ought to know, Pete, you’re a family man,” and tossed him down the shaft.
He heard the screaming, which was soon lost to the pounding of the alarms.
No thud, either. Too bad.
Ken removed the rod and dropped it down the elevator shaft as the doors closed. He ran to the stairwell at the opposite end of the floor and opened the door, pulling the tape loose sticking it in his jeans. He ran down the stairs to the 16th floor, tucking his hood inside his sweatshirt and the gloves in his pants. Scanning the hall outside, he saw that they’d all been evacuated. He quickly sped through the hall to the men’s room, where he turned the gloves inside out to wash them thoroughly. He broke up the key, then flushed it, the gloves, and the balled-up tape down the toilet, one by one, making sure that they all cleared. He put on his jacket and trotted to the stairways again.
Across the mall, Bea, stamping her feet from the cold, was the first one to see him. “My God, Ken, where’ve you been? Didn’t you hear the alarm?”
“Yeah, but I was in the bathroom. Sometimes you can’t leave no matter what’s going on.”
“There’s been a bomb threat,” she said, “and Joe told us that someone kidnapped Innunzio! They don’t know where he is!”
“You’re kidding,” Ken said. “What do you think that means?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “but maybe they’ll let us go home!”
Ken nodded his head, “I think they might.”
The cell rang. Ken smiled, ignoring it. He reached into his jacket and pulled out an envelope. “Here, Bea. This is for you.”
“What is it?”
“Just some numbers and how to use them. It’s a going away present, for torridness rendered.”
She smiled sheepishly, “Oh. Mustn’t be much, then.”
“Well. You might be surprised,” Ken said.
He turned to Ira and said, “This one’s for you, Ira.”
The cell kept ringing.
“You going to answer that?” Ira asked.
“Yeah, I guess,” Ken said. Still smiling, he moved away.
“What the hell happened?”
“You tell me, Lou. Lupino was about to produce the star witness when everything blew up. Abbruzzese never even made it into the building, they hustled his ass right out of here before I ever had a chance. And, now, Innunzio’s missing.”
“I know that, shithead, why do you think I’m calling?”
“I don’t know, Louie, this entire detail has been completely fucked. I was ready to go,
then all this.”
“You don’t know where he is?”
“Hell, no. They evacuated us out of the building, I just heard he was gone. Did you get him out?”
“Don’t be stupid, what good would that do?”
“Who’s stupid? You could’ve come for him as insurance, if you didn’t think I really could take care of Abbruzzese. Or, maybe you have other problems at your end, Louie, maybe someone doesn’t want your boss back home and tipped off Solito. Like you, maybe. In the meantime, here I am, stuck.”
“Don’t make up fairy tales. You got our money, pal.”
“Yeah, and I was ready to do my part. Now what?”
“You give back the money for starters.”
“Can’t do that, Lou, it’s gone. I gave it to my wife.”
“Your wife? Your ex-wife. I got news for you, sport. She’s gone.”
Ken smiled silently, then said coldly, “What do you mean? Where is she, what did you do to her?”
“Don’t get your ass up, we didn’t do nothing. Just checking up on her, and she’s gone, left town. Clothes gone, bathroom products, all that kind of stuff.”
“What about my kids?”
“Shit, I don’t know, gone with her. All we found was some asshole nosing about the house, asking about her himself.”
“Asshole, huh?” Again, Ken smiled.
“Never mind that, she’s gone and with your money, or so you say. Any way you look at it, you’re dead, Kenny boy, Navy hard-ass or whatever, you’re still done.”
“Sure I am, Lou,” Ken said. “Or, I could make good on the money.”
Silence. Like in their first calls, Ken thought, until Lou said,” How you going to do that?”
“Solito. He’s got to be of equal or more value than ten Jerry Abbruzzeses. I’ll take care of Solito to square us on the money.”
Again, Lou didn’t respond right away.
“How you going to do that?”
“I’m a Navy hard-ass, remember? Nobody will see me coming, they won’t expect me. I can get to anyone, Lou, even you if you still think you have to get to me. Better we pool our resources to take care of our problems together rather than risk each other’s well-being.”
After another long pause, Lou sighed, then said in a small voice, “I’ll have to check with Mr. Innunzio first.”
“Okay, Lou. Run it past him when he turns up. Remember, I work for you.”
He smiled, closed the cell phone, and walked back to the others waiting on the mall.