Read an Excerpt
By Kieran Crowley
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1999 Kieran Crowley
All rights reserved.
Kim's thick mane of ebony curls bounced and swayed with the pounding rhythm of the music and flashing lights on the dance floor. The floating hair framed an oval face with a cute button nose. Her large, wide mouth had smiling red lips that pointed up at high cheekbones beneath silky skin. Kim's eyes seemed to sparkle — a reflective effect caused by the blue-tinted contact lenses that she wore over her dark brown pupils. A large, ornate gold crucifix studded with garnets swung from a gold chain around her long, graceful neck, and glittering gold shell earrings sparkled from inside her hair. As the beautiful twenty-year-old danced alone, men turned their heads to watch her, their eyes following the sensuous motion of her body. Kimberly Antonakos was clothed, not in a revealing miniskirt, but in the height of dress-down fashion — as a construction worker. Brown Timberland boots that had never trod timberland added an inch or two to her lithe, 5-foot-3-inch frame, as she spun to the throbbing beat and staccato horns of the Salsa music. She wore a brown vest over a blue-and-white- striped long-sleeved blouse which was tucked into black denim pants. A message beeper was clipped to her waist. On her right hand, she wore a ring with a big, round purple gem surrounded by white stones, and a thick gold bangle bracelet. An expensive brown Giorgio designer bag, with a cellular phone inside, swayed from one shoulder.
It was a slow weeknight at "Soul Kitchen," a traveling "club" that was held in different establishments on different nights. It was, essentially, a floating disco. That night, Soul Kitchen was being held at the "S.O.B.'s," a singles night spot on Varick Street in the trendy TriBeCa section of Lower Manhattan. "S.O.B." stood for Sounds of Brazil, a Mecca for the Latin music scene — from Salsa to "tribal hip-hop." The décor of the club had been described as "urban tropical." The pungent smell of marijuana from the gyrating crowd wafted through the air, and mixed with the underlying odor of beer and cigarettes. For those not aroused by the stirring sounds, the bar served up a special secret potion called "roots," which, they claimed, was an old Jamaican aphrodisiac recipe. After the dance, Kim and her friend Liz each got a beer. They curled their long, pearly fingernails around the cold, dark bottles, and checked out the room. Liz Pace, 21, also had black hair and brown eyes, which she set off with heavy makeup. Liz was two inches taller and a few pounds heavier than Kim, whom she knew from her Canarsie neighborhood in Brooklyn, when Kim had attended South Shore High School.
"Is the family still there?" Liz asked.
"Yeah," said Kim.
Liz was asking Kim about her girlfriend April, who was staying in the second bedroom of Kim's apartment along with her boyfriend Josh and their two-year-old son *Timmy. Kim was kindhearted and couldn't say no to a friend. Two weeks earlier, April had asked Kim if they could stay over while the floors in their apartment two blocks away were being refinished and then painting completed.
Kim and Liz had started their night out rather late. Liz had called Kim, and the pair had agreed to go out clubbing. They often hung out together at Salsa clubs. Kim loved to dance and also loved rap music, like "Mary J" and "Notorious B.I.G." At 9:30, Kim had driven the fifteen blocks to Liz's house on East Ninety-third Street. The two young women spent a full three and a half hours chatting, applying nail polish to their long fingernails, and getting dolled up to go out dancing. They arrived at S.O.B.'s at 1:30 a.m., March 1st, 1995.
Kim looked around the club, but she didn't see anyone who interested her. It was mostly older guys. She was looking for a young, powerful, good-looking guy with wads of money, who would buy her only Moet champagne, and treat her like a goddess. She liked guys who dressed well, who wore gold, who knew how to handle themselves. Kim respected that. In the glitzy Manhattan clubs — unlike at work or at school — Kim was a star.
Kim knew she would always be the shining star of her father's life, of course, but it was time for her to find a life of her own, and she was enjoying her new independence and freedom. She had been on her own, and in her own place for more than a year, but the heady novelty of being able to stay out late and burn the candle at both ends had not yet worn off. Kim and Liz drank a few beers, but did not dance with any guys. They decided to leave at 4 a.m., when a lesbian, the only person to show interest in them, came over to the girls and made a pass at Kim.
After almost three hours of hanging out, Kim and Liz left the club and walked out into the freezing air. Kim got behind the wheel of her almost-new white Honda Civic for the trip back to Canarsie. Kim crossed a bridge above the East River toward the "City of Churches." Below, in the dark waters, the southwest wind had changed direction, and came up stronger from the west, whipping the blue-black waves up to an unquiet four-foot sea that battered against the Brooklyn shore. The streets were empty and the girls made good time.
Kim lit a Newport. As she drove, the little brown beehive deodorizer that hung from the rear-view mirror swung back and forth. Kim was a diva, a star in the clubs at night, but she wasn't an airhead. Like most young women her age, Kim was playing the field. She hadn't found the right guy, and, at twenty, she certainly wasn't ready to settle down yet.
Kim was a heartbreaker — not because she was cruel, but simply because she was sweet, beautiful, charming and sexy. When she dated a guy and it didn't click — when she realized that she wasn't in love — she would move on. Kim expected a date to treat her like a princess, and be faithful. But as soon as a guy slowed down and tried to get into a serious relationship, it would turn her off and she would break up with him. She wanted to have fun, and be in control. By not reciprocating the deep feelings of a boyfriend — simply by not falling in love with him — she could arouse powerful emotions. Some guys couldn't handle that. Kim, like most pretty girls, was learning the hard way about the male ego. Some guys would not accept rejection from a woman. They became possessive, jealous, and angry. Kim thought they were a real pain.
Kim's most recent boyfriend, Jay, was one such guy. Kim thought Jay was smooth — he was cool, and looked great. He had spent the previous night at her apartment. Kim had more or less broken up with Jay, but they had gotten together for the night. It meant a lot to Jay, but not to Kim. The next afternoon, after Kim returned home from school, she sat on the living room couch and watched music videos with Jay, their friend Josh, and Josh's little son Timmy. She also spent time alone with Jay in the bedroom again, before going out to a doctor's appointment and to do some shopping before dinner.
Josh had introduced Kim to Jay, whom he had grown up with in Bushwick, a tough neighborhood. Jay, whose full name was Julio Negron, thought Kim was beautiful, sweet, and a lot of fun. He felt that Kim treated him as an equal, even though he was unemployed and had grown up in poverty. Kim was not one to flaunt her father's wealth. That was one of the things he loved about her.
But Kim was not in love with Jay. She had already moved on. When Kim gave him the news that she felt they should "see other people," Jay reluctantly agreed. He really had no choice, and was obviously very upset. He thought that he had lost a good thing, the best thing in his life. He believed his relationship with Kim meant that he had turned a corner in his life — but then it was all over, after only a few months.
Every time Jay loved someone, something went wrong. It fell apart. It wasn't fair. He tried to be cool about it, but Jay couldn't hide his fury a few weeks later, when he twice ran into Kim and some tall black guy named Shawn in the neighborhood. Jay had recently gone to a club that he knew Kim went to, hoping to see her. He found Kim, but she was with her new boyfriend. Jay watched Kim turn her back on him and leave with Shawn.
Kim went out with Shawn Hayes and things clicked. Kim never knew exactly where he lived, just that it was somewhere on the Lower East Side — they always stayed at Kim's place. It was just as well because Shawn lived in "Alphabet City" on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a fifty-six-square block area infamous for drugs, prostitution, violence, and other mayhem, and he supported himself by selling dope. Drug dealers lived in a very violent world, but Kim didn't give it a second thought. She didn't do drugs and felt it had nothing to do with her. After several months, Kim moved on, because Shawn refused to stop seeing other women. In the end, the break-up was easy, even though she had feelings for him.
The time that Jay saw Kim at the club with Shawn, Shawn had been with another woman, whom he immediately drove home. "Come out with me," Shawn said to Kim when he came back to the club alone. Kim agreed to go out to dinner with him, and they had a nice meal. After dinner, Shawn asked to spend the night with Kim again at her place. Kim said no. Shawn was angered at her refusal, but drove her home to Brooklyn. Because she dated guys she met in clubs, Kim kept running across men who turned out to be involved with drugs. Who else would be covered in gold, decked out in expensive threads, and flashing a wad of cash in a nightclub in the early hours of the morning on a weeknight?
* * *
Two months earlier, at a 1995 New Year's party in a Manhattan club called The Tunnel, Kim had met another wad-of-cash guy who went by the nickname "Psycho." He was thin and had pale, milky skin. She couldn't stand his looks. He totally turned her off, but Kim thought she might be able to bring him home to Daddy. After treating Kim to a bottle of Moet champagne, the youth asked her to go on a trip with him.
"I'm going to Florida in the next day or two, and I've got an extra ticket if you want to go," said Psycho.
Kim agreed to go with Psycho so she could visit her mother in Florida, but had no intention of sleeping with the guy. Psycho, who had seemed high, was ecstatic. Within minutes, he started professing his love for her.
"You're the one," he told Kim. "You're the girl I've always dreamed of."
Psycho later took Kim to his parents' house in Brighton Beach. He brought her home to meet his family before she could bring him to meet hers. Kim smiled and was polite. A day later, Psycho picked Kim up in a cab, but there was another guy with him. They both seemed to be stoned. At the base of Psycho's neck, Kim could see the tattooed word "TOGETHER." Around the back of his neck was the word "FOREVER." Together Forever was the name of a Canarsie street gang that the police believed were involved in weapons and drug dealing, but whose members claimed to be socially concerned rap artists. In Miami, Kim, Psycho, and his friend took a cab to a motel. She then took another cab to her mother's house, where she spent the night. The next day, Kim went back to the motel where Psycho was staying and found both guys on their beds, stoned out. Kim turned to leave, but Psycho followed her and pulled her back into the room.
"I love you so much," he told her.
He gave her a ring and said it was their engagement ring — after knowing her just those few days. He really was "Psycho," she thought. It was horrendous. Kim was scared to death. She was afraid that they had come down on some kind of drug deal, and she did not want to get caught up in it.
Psycho wanted her to do drugs, but she refused. He was able to talk her into going shopping, however. Psycho bought her $2,000 worth of clothes, including a big, baggy designer jacket.
Then he took her to a tattoo parlor. Psycho already had the word "FOREVER" tattooed on the back of his neck. To demonstrate that he wanted to be together forever with her, Psycho had the tattoo artist engrave "KIM" in large letters on his calf. This made Kim nuts. It wasn't that she was against tattoos — she had two of her own: on her right hip, a scorpion, because her astrological birth sign was Scorpio; and, in the small of her back, an "infinity" tattoo — a headless, naked entwined man and woman, engaged in an act of love. No, she wasn't against tattoos, but stenciling someone's name on your body was no joke — it was permanent. She also had the feeling that Psycho thought he owned her, now that he had her name imprinted on his milky white skin.
When they got back to New York, Kim just wanted to get rid of Psycho. She returned his engagement ring, and had him drop her off, not at her own place, but at her friend April's house. She didn't think he knew where she lived, and she wanted to keep it that way.
"I love you. I want you to stay with me forever," Psycho told her before leaving. "We'll be together forever."
Together Forever. With Psycho. No way.
For the next few days, Psycho beeped her non-stop. He was obsessed. Her beeper would go off over and over and over. Kim thought that he was going out of his mind. She realized that taking the plane ticket and clothes from Psycho and then not staying with him was not enough. She told Liz she was going to have to "diss Psycho big-time" to get him to leave her alone. But eventually after she'd ignored Psycho's beeps for days, they stopped. She thought it was over.
A few weeks later, when Kim returned to dance at The Tunnel, a guy who resembled Psycho walked up to her.
"You're Kimberly, aren't you?"
"Okay, we know you, Kimberly. I know where you are now," he said, before walking away.
Kim got the feeling that the guy was connected to Psycho. Kim was unnerved by the odd incident, but nothing seemed to come of it.
A few weeks earlier, she had brought a boyfriend home to dinner on Staten Island to meet her father and grandmother. Kim had met * Albert DeSoto, 21, in a club the previous year. After a month or so, things were not clicking, and she dropped him. But after her father had asked her several times to bring her boyfriend home, Kim brought Albert. He was a car salesman, handsome, hard-working, the kind of guy a young girl should bring home to Sunday dinner. Kim liked Albert, but she wasn't in love. She had last seen him a week earlier, and had called him at work the morning before she went out dancing with Liz. Nobody Kim was dating at the moment was really suitable to bring home to Daddy, no matter how much fun they were. She would no sooner bring home an unemployed guy like Jay than she would show her hidden tattoos to her family.
On February 28th, Kim got up early for school. She drove across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into Staten Island to attend a morning class in business administration in a red brick building on the sprawling neo-colonial College of Staten Island campus in the Willowbrook section. Kim did not date guys from school. She thought that they were nice, but mostly nerds. The campus was just ten minutes from the gray-and-white two-story home in the suburban Arden Heights section, where her father Tommy Antonakos and her grandmother Mary lived. Kim would often stop in at home for lunch, but not that day — she had to be at work by midday at Amelia Interiors, where she did filing and bookkeeping work for the furniture firm. Kim's dad insisted that she work while she was in school, so she could contribute money toward her rent. If she wanted to have her own place, Tommy wanted her to experience the responsibility of paying at least part of her own way.
Tommy Antonakos, at fifty, was a successful businessman who had made money in insurance and real estate and was the head of a Long Island firm, Vista Systems of Ronkonkoma, that sold mainframe computers to "Fortune 500" companies. He was also a partner in a fire insurance business in Queens with his brother Joseph, who had shortened his name to Joey Anton. Both firms employed a total of about a hundred people. Tommy had kept his promise to a younger Kim not to re-marry after divorcing her mother, although Kim's mom Marlene had married again. It was difficult for Tommy, but he kept his promise. He never brought any of the women he dated to stay at his home while Kim lived there, because he didn't want to make her uncomfortable. Tommy was a man's man, handsome, half-Greek, half-Italian, with wavy black hair and brown eyes.
Excerpted from Burned Alive by Kieran Crowley. Copyright © 1999 Kieran Crowley. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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