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A Bomb Built in Hell: Wesley's Story

Overview

Before Burke, Andrew Vachss created Wesley, the ultimate ice-man. A Bomb Built in Hell is Wesley’s story.
 
While doing time for manslaughter, Wesley meets prison boss Carmine Trentoni, an Old School gangster who no longer believes in the blood-oath he took years ago. Carmine’s triple life sentence hasn't cut him off from all his outside sources—he has waited with the patience of stone for someone capable of absorbing his ...
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A Bomb Built in Hell: Wesley's Story

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Overview

Before Burke, Andrew Vachss created Wesley, the ultimate ice-man. A Bomb Built in Hell is Wesley’s story.
 
While doing time for manslaughter, Wesley meets prison boss Carmine Trentoni, an Old School gangster who no longer believes in the blood-oath he took years ago. Carmine’s triple life sentence hasn't cut him off from all his outside sources—he has waited with the patience of stone for someone capable of absorbing his knowledge . . . and carrying out his sworn vengeance. Wesley emerges from prison as the perfect hit man: calculating, deadly, and ice-cold. He follows Carmine’s instructions: locate “the last of us,” one “Mr. Petraglia,” then assassinate a Chinatown gang boss and a Mafia chief—both had overstepped their bounds. But then Wesley finds his own mission: As he begins to see the root of all he has learned to hate, he and a youth just out of reform school, known only as The Kid, begin to take out political targets. In a final burst of understanding, Wesley decides to leave The Kid behind. But not before he writes his own suicide note . . . in dynamite.
 
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
 
“Vachss doesn’t sugarcoat things in this brutal, detailed piece of work, but that’s what makes it fascinating. Vachss’ fans will love this example of the author’s early writing, which predates his Burke books by several years. Rejected by publishers decades ago due to its high level of violence, the years have not diminished its impact.”
    —Mystery Scene
 
“History has caught up to Wesley’s bleak odyssey, repeatedly rejected for publication decades ago but now unnervingly prescient.”
    —Kirkus Reviews
 
A Bomb Built in Hell presages motifs Vachss employed in the Burke novels, but even crime fans unfamiliar with Burke can relish it. Wesley is utterly remorseless, and the story is told in the coldest and sparest of prose.”
    —Booklist
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307950857
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/13/2012
  • Series: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Series
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 485,436
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 7.84 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Vachss is a lawyer who represents children and youths exclusively. His many novels include the Burke series and two collections of short stories. His books have been translated into twenty languages, and his work has appeared in Parade, Antaeus, Esquire, Playboy, and The New York Times, among other publications. He divides his time between his native New York City and the Pacific Northwest.
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Read an Excerpt

Wesley sat quietly on the roof of the four-story building overlooking the East River near Pike Slip. It was 4:30 on a Wednesday afternoon in August, about eighty-five degrees and still clear-bright. With his back flat against the storage shack on the roof, he was invisible to any- one looking up from the ground. He knew from observation that neither the tourist helicopters nor the police versions ever passed over this area.
 
In spite of the heat, Wesley wore a soft black felt hat and a dark suit; his hands were covered with dark-gray deerskin gloves. The breeze blew the ash away from his cigarette. Aware of his habit of biting viciously into the filters, he carefully placed the ground-out butt into his leather-lined side pocket before he got to his feet and stepped back inside the shack.
 
A soft green light glowed briefly as he entered. Wesley picked up a silent telephone receiver and held it to his ear. He said nothing. The disembodied voice on the phone said, “Yes,” and a dial tone followed at once. So Mansfield was going to continue his habit: Wednesday night at Yonkers, Thursday afternoon at Aqueduct. It never varied. But he always brought a woman to the Big A, so it would have to be tonight. A woman was another human to worry about, another pair of eyes. It increased the odds, and Wesley didn’t gamble.
 
He walked soundlessly down the steps to the first floor. The building was over a hundred years old, but the stairs didn’t creak and the lock on the door was virtually unbreakable. The door itself was lead between two layers of stainless steel, covered with a thin wood veneer.
 
Wesley stepped into a garage full of commonplace cars. The only exception was a yellow New York City taxicab, complete with overhead lights, numbers, a meter, a medallion, and the “crash-proof ” bumpers that city cabbies use so well.
 
An ancient man was lazily polishing one of the cars, a beige Eldorado that looked new. He looked up as Wes- ley entered. Wesley pointed to a nondescript 1973 Ford with New York plates.
 
“Ninety minutes.”
 
“Plates okay?”
 
“Give me Suffolk County.”
 
Without another word, the old man slipped a massive hydraulic jack under the front of the Ford and started pumping. He had the front end off the ground and the left wheel off before Wesley closed the door behind him.
 
 
 

 
Wesley took the back staircase to his basement apartment. It was actually two apartments; the wall between them had been broken through so they formed a single large unit. He twisted the doorknob twice to the left and once to the right, then slipped his key into the lock.
 
A huge Doberman watched him silently as he entered. Its ears had been completely, amateurishly removed, leaving only holes in the sides of its skull. The big dog moaned softly. It couldn’t bark; the same savage who had cut off its ears when it was a pup had cut out its tongue and damaged its larynx in the process. But the Doberman still had perfect hearing, and Wesley didn’t need it to bark.
 
The dog opened its gaping mouth and Wesley put his hand inside. The dog whined softly, as though remembering the emergency surgery Wesley had performed to stop it from choking on its own blood.
 
Wesley would have killed the human who carved up the dog anyway; dogs weren’t the only things that he liked to cut, and a practicing degenerate like that automatically attracted the police, even in this neighborhood.
 
He had ghosted up behind the target, who was still squatting obliviously before a tiny fire he had built out on the Slip. Wesley sprawled in the weeds, looking like a used-up wino, and quickly screwed the silencer onto a Ruger .22 semi-auto.
 
The first shot sounded like a soft wet slap, audible for only about fifty feet. It caught the freak in the back of the skull. Wesley stayed prone as he pumped three more bullets into the target’s body, working from the mid-spine area upward.
 
He was about to leave when he heard the moaning. He thought it might have been a little kid—the freak’s usual prey—and he was about to fade away when the dog struggled to its feet. Wesley went over then; a dog couldn’t identify him.
 
Wesley still didn’t know why he had risked someone spotting him as he quickly cleaned the dog’s wounds, protecting his hands against the expected attempts to bite that never came. Or why he carried it back to the old building. It wasn’t playing the percentages to do that. But he hadn’t regretted it since. A man would have to kill the dog to get into Wesley’s place. And that night on the Slip, the Doberman had proved itself very hard to kill.
 
The police-band radio hummed and crackled as Wesley showered and shaved. He carefully covered his moderate-length haircut with Vaseline jelly; anyone searching for a grip would end up with a handful of grease instead.
 
Wesley changed into heavy cotton-twill work pants that were slightly too baggy from the waist to the thighs, ankle-length work boots with soft rubber soles, and an off-white sweatshirt with elastic concealed around the waistband. The steel-cased Rolex came off his left wrist, to be replaced by a fancy-faced cheap “aviator” watch. A Marine Corps ring with a red pseudo-ruby stone went on his right hand; a thick gold wedding band encrusted with tiny zircons on his left.
 
Wesley carefully applied a tattoo decal to his left hand, a tricolor design of an eagle clutching a lightning bolt. The legend “Death Before Dishonor” ran right across the knuckles, facing out. The new tattoo looked too fresh, so Wesley opened a woman’s compact that contained soot collected from the building’s roof. He rubbed some gently onto his hand until he was satisfied.
 
Next, he took an ice pick from a steel-drawered tool case and carefully replaced the thick wooden handle with a much slimmer one. The new handle had a sandpaper-roughened surface and a passage the exact size of the ice-pick steel right through its middle. The old steel was anchored to the new handle with a four-inch screw at the top. Wesley applied a drop of Permabond to the screw threads before tightening the new tool.
 
After laying the ice pick on the countertop, Wesley crossed the room to a brightly lit terrarium which held several tiny frogs. The terrarium was too deep to allow the frogs to jump directly out; still, it was covered with a screen as a precaution.
 
Four of the frogs were the color of strawberries; the others were green-and-gold little jewels.
 
Wesley slowly reached in with a tropical-fish net and extracted one of the green-and-gold frogs. He placed the little creature on a Teflon surface that was surrounded by wire mesh. After replacing the cover of the terrarium, Wesley gently prodded the tiny frog until clear drops stood out visibly on its bright skin. Holding the frog down with a forked piece of flexible steel, Wesley rolled the tip of the ice pick directly across the skin of the squirming frog.
 
He put the ice pick aside, returned the frog to its home, replaced the wire screen across the top, and then dropped the Teflon pan in the steel sink. Holding the ice pick in one hand, he poured boiling water over the Teflon surface so that the residue ran into the drain. He knew, from extensive tests, that the minute secretions of the golden poison-arrow frog were almost instantly fatal. The two men he had tested it on were slated to die anyway, and the buyer hadn’t been particular about how they exited.
 
A circlet of cork was placed around the tip of the ice pick, which was then inserted into the screwdriver pocket of the work pants. Wesley flexed his leg and saw that the outline did not show. He wasn’t surprised.
 
Wesley walked back into the entranceway, where the Doberman now reclined. He didn’t bother to see if the dog had food—it knew how to get food or water by push- ing one of the levers under the sink. He checked the closed-circuit TV screen above the door, saw that the hallway was empty, and left. The door locked silently behind him.
 
 
 

 
6:00 p.m. Wesley went up to the garage. The old man was checking tire pressures on the Ford. Wesley noted that the plates had been changed to ones with the characteristic “V” prefix of Suffolk County. He climbed behind the wheel and slipped a key into a slot hidden beneath the dash. An S&W Airweight dropped into his waiting palm. He pushed the release and examined the opened cylinder—three flat-faced aluminum wadcutters and two steel-jacketed slugs—then snapped it closed and put it back under the dash.
 
He held the pistol in place and turned the key again; the electromagnets regripped and the gun disappeared. The Ford had four coats of carnauba wax on its dusty-appearing flanks; it wouldn’t leave paint smears unless it hit something head-on. Even in the nearly air-tight garage, the idling engine was as silent as a turbine. Wesley raced the engine, but the volume rose only slightly. He looked questioningly at the old man, who said: “It robs you of some power, but it don’t make no noise. If you want to go and you don’t care about the sound, just pull the lever next to the hood release.”
 
Wesley pulled the lever. Even with the engine idling, the motor rumbled threateningly.
 
“Muffler bypass,” said the old man.
 
 
 

 
Wesley drove slowly out of the garage mouth. The street was empty, as it usually was. The old man would have warned him if it were otherwise. He turned onto the FDR Drive, heading for the Triborough Bridge. Traffic was still slow.
 
The races didn’t begin until 8:05 p.m. Of course, Mansfield would be there early, since the Daily Double window opened about 7:25. Wesley hit the exact-change lane on the bridge—one less face to remember him or the car, as unlikely as that was.
 
Traffic lightened up as he approached Yankee Stadium and was moving along fairly quickly by the time he spotted the track ahead on the right. He paid the parking-lot attendant $1.25 and nosed the Ford care- fully along the outer drive of the lot, looking for the spot he wanted. He found a perfect place and pointed the front of the Ford back toward the highway.
 
Just as he was about to get out, a red-faced attendant ran up screaming, “Hey, buddy, you can’t park there!”
 
Wesley computed the risk of arguing and making himself memorable against the gain of having a safe place to exit from. He immediately rejected the idea of a bribe—nobody bribes parking-lot attendants at Yonkers, and any attempt would be remembered. He decided instantly: either he got the spot he wanted, or he’d wait for another night.
 
The attendant was a fiftyish clown with an authoritarian face. His wife probably kicked him all over the house; but here in the lot he was boss, and didn’t want an ignorant working stiff like Wesley to forget it.
 
“Get that fucking car outta that spot!”
 
“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t know. I’ll do it right now.”
 
Wesley climbed back into the Ford and pressed the ignition-disconnect button with his knee. The starter screamed, but the engine stayed dead. “Shit! Now the fucking thing won’t even start!” Wesley made himself sound frightened at the attendant’s potential anger, and got the result he wanted: the clown, having established his power, relaxed.
 
“S’all right, probably just the battery. Maybe it’ll start after the races.”
 
“Goddamn! I’ll call a garage. But then I’ll miss the...”
 
“Oh, hell. Leave it there,” the clown magnanimously told him.

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