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Paul Artisan did not expect to need his gun that day, but you never knew. Sometimes things got very personal very quickly.
People reacted strangely when they were caught in squalid little lies. Sometimes their posture drooped and their faces slackened, and they seemed almost relieved to be found out, to have their cheesy deceptions discovered and ended. Other times people seemed almost proud of themselves for being recognized as liars, cheats, adulterers, and frauds; confronted with their sins, they couldn't quite squeeze back sick and twisted hints of smiles, nasty twinkles in narrowed eyes. Look at me. I'm hell-bait!
But sometimes people did get violent. Like cornered animals, they soon ran out of subtle options. If they couldn't slink away and hide, they saw no other possibility but to stand and fight, to the death if necessary. It was better to take the gun.
The problem was how. This was an incognito job. A country-club job. The disguise was tennis clothes. There was no room to stick a 9 mm pistol in a pair of tennis shorts; there was no place to hide a holster underneath a natty, cabled tennis vest. Artisan decided to stash the gun in the zippered bag that held his racquets. This was not ideal-it would take time and a bizarre ruse to free the weapon from a tennis bag-but it would have to do. He called down to the garage to liberate his car, took his cell phone off the charger and stuck it in his pocket, and locked up his tiny office.
It was August, and an excellent day to get out of Manhattan. The air had an unwholesome brownish-orange tinge; a deep breath felt grainy in the nose. The softened asphalt of Tenth Avenue seemed to suck at the tires of Artisan's old Volvo. Heading uptown toward the George Washington Bridge, he used red lights as opportunities to review the small folder that held a photo and some background information on his intended target.
Her name was Sally Handler. Age forty-eight. Occupation: Housewife and investor. Divorced from a midlevel executive in the telecom business. Two grown children. She did not look like a criminal, a would-be perpetrator of a multi-million-dollar fraud. She looked like a lady from Teaneck. Hair a fraudulent blonde, though if that were a crime, the jails would be as crowded as Calcutta. Friendly seeming eyes with some moderate wrinkling at the corners. A bit of thickening beneath the chin. A woman you might meet in any supermarket in America, especially in the aisle where they sold the low-carb crap. Not a crook. Artisan gave his head a small involuntary shake. With human beings you just never knew.
On the Jersey side of the river, he found his way past shopping malls and town-home developments to the Palisade Pines Golf and Tennis Club. The club was miles from the Palisades and Artisan did not see any pines. Then again, there hadn't been any towns where the town-homes were. What there were, on this weekday morning in the parking lot of this midlevel suburban club, were a lot of Acura and Lexus SUVs, the usual sprinkling of BMWs and Benzes. Retired men in unforgivable trousers bent painfully to retrieve their golf clubs from their trunks. Knots of chattering ladies adjusted their visors so as not to squash their beauty parlor hairdos. Artisan slung his unnaturally heavy tennis bag over his shoulder and headed for the door.
Inside, a chipper desk clerk wished him a good morning, tentatively reached a towel in his direction, then asked if he was a member.
The simple question allowed Artisan to do one of the things he was very good at, namely, gain admission to places where technically speaking he did not belong. The scary part was how easy this usually was. In recent years, people had gotten crazy about security, but security tended to be yet another fraud, at best a comforting illusion. Put a bouncer at the door. Give him a stun gun and a walkie-talkie. So what? Even locked doors had to open now and then. There were plenty of ways to get past the velvet rope. Bribes still worked, though they were crass and seldom necessary. Usually all it took were a few magic words suited to the particular occasion and said in a calm, unthreatening manner.
For example, Artisan now confessed that he was not a member. Then he said, "I'm new to the area. Still seeing what's available. I've booked an eleven o'clock lesson with Ryan."
New to the area was a magic phrase. It conjured images of initiation fees, a nice commission for the membership rep, a few bucks for the clerk who'd made first contact. Booked a lesson was a magic phrase. It meant some poor bastard of a teaching pro would make seventy-five bucks on a Tuesday morning when things were generally dead.
"Ah. Welcome!" said the clerk, and extended the towel. "If you don't mind, there's this liability form-"
"No problem." Artisan knew from liability. He filled out the form, even signed his real name.
The clerk stuck the paper in a drawer and looked at a clock behind him. "It's only ten thirty. Would you like to have someone from Member Services show you-"
"Maybe later. I'd really like to hit some serves. Little rusty."
"Sure, sure. Have a good hit."
With that, the clerk gestured beyond the little pro shop to the tennis courts. And Paul Artisan, whom no one knew from Adam, and who had a 9 mm pistol nestled in his tennis bag, went out to find his quarry.
He had no doubt she'd be there. The papers from her own lawsuit confirmed she was a member of this club; one of her lies was that she could no longer use the facilities for which she'd already paid. She had a doubles game at 10 a.m. Ryan the teaching pro had in all innocence confirmed that when Artisan told him he wanted to schedule his lesson so he could say hello to her, as she was a friend of a friend. Didn't people realize how easy they were to find, how readily they could get nailed?
The tennis courts were arranged in a double row, with low wooden bleachers in between. Artisan strolled down the middle aisle, glancing left and right. There was a fair bit of suburban tennis going on; it wasn't pretty. Bandy old men with giant racquets, slicing and dicing and making bad calls. Matronly foursomes sending lob after lob into the humid Jersey sky. As at every club, a macho guy in too-tight shorts, trying to play like he'd seen on television.
Sally Handler's court was the last one on the left. Very casually, Artisan sat down on the bleachers that faced it. The women briefly looked up at him. Idle curiosity: a new man at the club. Then they went back to their game. Artisan put his tennis bag on the bench beside him; he partly opened the zipper to the compartment that held the gun.
For a couple minutes he watched them play, and he felt almost bad about what he was about to do. They seemed like nice ladies. They made little jokes between points. There was something sweet and heartbreaking about the little pleated skirts encircling tummies that were no longer flat; about the pastel bloomers stretching around soft thighs struggling to run; about the wristbands on plump arms trying so hard to be strong. They were just regular people of a certain age wanting to enjoy their lives. How had one of them turned out to be a would-be criminal? Was her ex-husband a total deadbeat? Was one of her kids in trouble or sick? Had she just messed up with her own investments, put herself in jeopardy of losing the modest privileges and comforts she'd forgotten how to live without? It was sad, but sympathy was a different thing from justice.
Finally it was Sally Handler's turn to serve. Artisan took his cell phone from his pocket.
She moved to the service line. He gently snapped open the phone. She bounced the ball in front of her, once, twice, three times. With a practiced lack of hurry, Artisan raised the phone toward his ear but then subtly shifted it in front of his face and focused it on Sally Handler.
With her left hand she tossed the ball a few feet above her head. Her right arm lifted, dropped into a backswing, then came up high above her visor and her hairdo to strike the yellow ball. Artisan snapped the picture at the moment of contact.
And that was it. That was the end of Artisan's workday and it was the end of Sally Handler's fraudulent five-million-dollar suit against her orthopedic surgeon. She'd had her rotator cuff 'scoped just under a year ago. Her suit alleged that the doctor had screwed up and she could no longer raise her arm beyond the level of her shoulder. Did she really expect not to be found out? Artisan would now send the photo to the orthopedist's insurance company. The company, most likely, would forward the image to Sally Handler's lawyer with a terse note saying they were not inclined to settle and would gladly meet her in court. Sally Handler would drop her case and Artisan would receive his day rate of five hundred bucks from the insurance company.
The detective slid the phone back into his pocket and secured the zipper of his tennis bag. He hoped to slip away without a confrontation, and he more or less succeeded. As he rose from the bleachers, Sally Handler's gaze locked onto him and irresistibly drew his glance in return. Their eyes locked only for an instant of mutually abashed communication. Sally Handler's eyes told him she knew that she'd been photographed; that she didn't want her tennis-lady friends to know what she had done. Artisan's eyes sent back the lame message that it was nothing personal.
Then he walked away. It was just after ten thirty when he got back to the front desk. He actually had time to take the lesson he had booked. But he didn't feel like it. He felt bad for Sally Handler. He felt bad, also, for himself. He paid for the lesson and he left the club.
Excerpted from BAD TWIN by Gary Troup. Copyright (c) 2006 Touchstone Television. All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion.