Dead I Well May Be (Michael Forsythe Series #1)

Dead I Well May Be (Michael Forsythe Series #1)

4.2 15
by Adrian McKinty

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This Irish bad-boy thriller -- set in the hardest streets of New York City -- brims with violence, greed, and sexual betrayal.
"I didn't want to go to America, I didn't want to work for Darkey White. I had my reasons. But I went."
So admits Michael Forsythe, an illegal immigrant escaping the Troubles in Belfast. But young Michael is strong andSee more details below


This Irish bad-boy thriller -- set in the hardest streets of New York City -- brims with violence, greed, and sexual betrayal.
"I didn't want to go to America, I didn't want to work for Darkey White. I had my reasons. But I went."
So admits Michael Forsythe, an illegal immigrant escaping the Troubles in Belfast. But young Michael is strong and fearless and clever -- just the fellow to be tapped by Darkey, a crime boss, to join a gang of Irish thugs struggling against the rising Dominican powers in Harlem and the Bronx. The time is pre-Giuliani New York, when crack rules the city, squatters live furtively in ruined buildings, and hundreds are murdered each month. Michael and his lads tumble through the streets, shaking down victims, drinking hard, and fighting for turf, block by bloody block.
Dodgy and observant, not to mention handy with a pistol, Michael is soon anointed by Darkey as his rising star. Meanwhile Michael has very inadvisably seduced Darkey's girl, Bridget -- saucy, fickle, and irresistible. Michael worries that he's being followed, that his affair with Bridget will be revealed. He's right to be anxious; when Darkey discovers the affair, he plans a very hard fall for young Michael, a gambit devilish in its guile, murderous in its intent.
But Darkey fails to account for Michael's toughness and ingenuity or the possibility that he might wreak terrible vengeance upon those who would betray him.
A natural storyteller with a gift for dialogue, McKinty introduces to readers a stunning new noir voice, dark and stylish, mythic and violent -- complete with an Irish lilt.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Michael's pure and relentless pursuit of Darkey, and a dazzling epilogue set in 2003 in which his past catches up with him, could not be improved upon. McKinty, who now teaches in a Denver high school, is a writer to watch, and Dead I Well May Be, as a portrait of violence and revenge, is a gem. — Patrick Anderson
Publishers Weekly
McKinty's second novel is a brutal tale of revenge starring a young illegal immigrant from Ireland who chooses a criminal career in New York over unemployment in Belfast. Arriving in the city in the early 1990s, the antihero Michael Forsythe lands a spot as an enforcer for Irish mobster Darkey White. Though Forsythe at first keeps his hands relatively clean, he soon racks up a significant number of kills in skirmishes with rival crews as well as with Dominican gangs warring for control of the streets. An affair with his boss's girlfriend leads to a setup: he and his mates are trapped in a drug sting in Mexico and abandoned in a remote prison. "If someone grows up in the civil war of Belfast in the seventies and eighties, perhaps violence is his only form of meaningful expression," McKinty writes early in the novel, and the bulk of the story recounts Forsythe's grisly efforts to escape and avenge himself, including a stint with a Dominican group seeking to oust Darkey White. The pace is brisk and energetic, but Forsythe remains a cipher-a self-educated intellectual who listens to Tolstoy on tape during a stakeout but exhibits puzzlingly little interest in finding an alternative to the gun and the knife. The dark, brooding tone is reminiscent of Dennis Lehane, but McKinty has yet to achieve Lehane's depth and complexity. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A breakout second novel (after Orange Rhymes with Everything, 1997) careens boisterously from Belfast to the Bronx, and 'tis naught but Troubles all the way. Michael Forsythe's on the run, everlastingly it seems. He's 19, psyche-scarred, battle-scarred, Belfast-scarred, so that violence has become "his only form of meaningful expression." To avoid jail, he slips out of the O.C. (Old Country) and into the States, illegally, and almost at once finds his talents in demand: he's good with his fists, his guns, icy in a tight spot, and noticeably cleverer than most. It's 1992, crack is king, and an ambitious Irish gangster named Darkey White wants his turf free of the Dominican influence. Michael's made to order for him-until, that is, the advent of Bridget. Bridget is beautiful, reckless, and, to Michael, fatefully irresistible: "Aye, you can imagine her . . . summoning you to a barrow in the earth. You would know all this and still you would bloody follow her." And Michael does-to his cost, because she belongs to Darkey, who, while unreservedly pleased at Michael's performance on his behalf, has zero tolerance for hanky-panky. Michael and three young colleagues are dispatched to Mexico, on a routine drug deal to be followed by some well-earned downtime, they're told. But it's a betrayal. Instead, they're peached on to the Mexican police and, as a result, imprisoned-in a very bad prison, chillingly evoked, bad enough so that only Michael survives. Eventually, he escapes, taking with him the heaviness of a promise made to a friend: an eye for an eye, invoked on a dying breath. How Michael goes about the business of revenge, and how it reshapes him, is the burden of the rest of the tale.McKinty, born in Northern Ireland and now Colorado-based, is a storyteller with the kind of style and panache that blur the line between genre and mainstream. Top-drawer. Film rights optioned to Anonymous Content. Agent: Bob Mecoy
From the Publisher
Peter Blauner Author of The Last Good Day and The Intruder If Frank McCourt had gone into the leg-breaking business instead of school teaching, he might've written a book like Dead I Well May Be. Adrian McKinty's novel is a rollicking, raw, and unsavory delight — down and dirty but full of love for words. This is hard-boiled crime fiction with a poet's touch.

Thomas Kelly Author of The Rackets and Payback Dead I Well May Be is a startling, dark poem of a thriller that takes you to the heart of New York City's most bloody era. McKinty writes with élan, and his dialogue is as hard and true as the streets. His hero's quest for vengeance and redemption kept me reading into the loneliest hours of the night. McKinty is the real deal.

Barbara Seranella Author of Unpaid Dues Adrian McKinty has written a literary thriller full of surprising humor of the best kind — dark and intelligent.

Anthony Swofford Author of Jarhead McKinty's Michael Forsythe is a crook, a deviant, a lover, a fighter, and a thinker. His Irish-tough language of isolation and longing makes us love and trust him despite his oh-so-great and violent flaws. When you finish this book you just might wish you'd lived the life in its pages, and thought its thoughts, both horrible and sublime.

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Michael Forsythe Series , #1
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Chapter One: White Boy in Harlem

I open my eyes. The train tracks. The river. A wall of heat. Unbearable white sunlight smacking off the railings, the street and the god-awfulness of the buildings. Steam from the permanent Con Ed hole at the corner. Gum and graffiti tags on the sidewalk. People on the platform -- Jesus Christ, are they really in sweaters and wool hats? Garbage everywhere: newspaper, bits of food, clothes, soda cans, beer cans. The traffic slow and angry. Diesel fumes from tubercular bus engines. Heat and poison from the exhausts on massive, bruised gypsy cabs.

I'm smoking. I'm standing here on the elevated subway platform looking down at all this enormous nightmare and I'm smoking. My skin can barely breathe. I'm panting. The back of my T-shirt is thick with sweat. 100 degrees, 90 percent relative humidity. I'm complaining about the pollution you can see in the sky above New Jersey and I'm smoking Camels. What an idiot.

Details. Dominican guys on the west side of Broadway. Black guys on the east. The Dominicans are in long cotton pants, sneakers, string T-shirts, gold chains. The black guys are in neat blue or yellow or red T-shirts with baggy denim shorts and better sneakers. The black guys are more comfortable, it's their turf for now, the Dominicans are newcomers. It's like West Side bloody Story.

In the deep pocket of my baggy shorts I start playing absently with the safety on my pistol. A very stupid thing to do. I stop myself. Besides, these guys aren't the enemy. No, the enemy, like the Lord, is subtle, and in our own image.

Some kids playing basketball without a hoop. Women shopping; heavy bags weighing them down, the older women pushing carts, the younger wearing hardly anything at all. Beautiful girls with long dark legs and dreamy voices that are here the only sounds of heaven.

Harlem has changed, of course. I mean, I'm not talking about the 125th Street of today or even of five years ago. There's a Starbucks there now. Multiplexes. HMV. An ex-president. This is before Giuliani saved the city. Twice. This is 1992. There are well over two thousand murders a year in New York. Gang wars. Crack killings. The New York Times publishes a murder map of Manhattan with a dot for every violent death. Once you get above Central Park the dots get thicker and east and north of Columbia University it becomes one big smudge. A killing took place yesterday at this very corner. A boy on a bicycle shot a woman in the chest when she didn't give up her pocketbook. Those guys down there are packing heat. Shit, we're all packing heat. The cops don't care. Besides, what cops? Who ever sees a peeler around here except in Floridita? Anyway, it's 1992. Bush the First is president, Dinkins is mayor, Major is PM, John Paul is the pope. According to the New York Daily News, it was 55 degrees yesterday and raining in Belfast. Which is par for the course in the summer there.

With a handkerchief I wipe away the sweat from the little Buddha fat gathering on my belly. The train is never coming. Never. I wipe under my arms, too. I stamp out the fag and resist the temptation to light another. Are people giving me looks? I'm the only white person at the station and I'm going north up to Washington Heights, which, when you think about it, is just plain silly.

The guys wearing the wool hats are West Africans. I've seen them before. They sit there serene and composed, chittering about this and that and sometimes scratching out a game of dominoes. They're going downtown. On that side there's no shade, it's boiling on them and they're as mellow as you please. They sell watches from suitcases to marks on Fifth Avenue and Herald Square. I know their crew chief. He's only been in North America four months and he has a twelve-man unit. I like him. He's suave and he's an operator and he never flies off the handle. I'd work for him but he only employs other boys from the Gambia. If you've ever checked, it's a funny-looking country and I mentioned that to him one time and he told me all about the Brits, colonialism, structural exploitation, the Frankfurt School, and all that shite and we got on fine and laughed and he took a Camel but still wouldn't give me a job selling knockoff watches from a briefcase. And it's not like they're kin to him either, it's just a question of trust. He won't even hire Ghanaians. I can understand it. Do the same myself, more than likely. Today no dominoes, they're just talking. English, actually, but you can't follow it. No.

I put the hanky away and try and breathe for a while. Look around, breathe. The cars. The city. The river again: vulgar, stinking, vast, and in this haze, it and Harlem dissolving and despairing together. There are no swimmers, of course. Even the foolish aren't that foolish.

I look away from the water. In this direction you wouldn't believe how many empty lots there are, how many buildings are shells, how many roofs are burnt away, and it gets worse as you go east towards the Apollo. You can see it all since there's a fine view from up here where the IRT becomes elevated for a while. 126th Street, for example, is behind the state's massive Adam Clayton Powell Jr. building, where I got my driver's license and you get social security cards and stuff and you'd think that that would be prime real estate. But it isn't. Nearly every building is derelict for about three whole blocks. And 123rd, where I live, well, we'll get to that.

Yawn. Stand on tiptoes. Roll my head. Lazy stretch.


Sooner or later -- minutes, hours -- the train is going to come and it's going to take me to 173rd Street and I'm going to meet Scotchy coming down from the Bronx and Scotchy is going to be late and he'll spin me lies about some girl he has going and then Scotchy and I will impose our collective will on a barkeep up there and after that just maybe the tight wee bastard will spring for a cab to get us down to the other bar on 163rd where we have a bit more serious work to do with a young man called Dermot Finoukin. Because walking those ten blocks would just about kill me on a day like this. He won't though, he'll make us walk. Nice wee dander for you, Bruce, he'll slabber. Yeah, that will be the way of it. Crap from Scotchy. Crap from Dermot. Down by myself. Dinner at KFC and a six-pack of beer from C-Town Supermarket for four dollars. Shit.

A black girl is talking to the Dominican boys outside the bodega and it's more Leonard Bernstein than ever as the hackles rise between the blacks and the Dominicans on this side of the street. Jesus, gunplay is all I need. Just make the train come and when it comes make the aircon work. But it doesn't and I look away from the boys in case afterwards I'm asked to be a witness by the peels. Lights appear in the tunnel at the City College stop. The downtown train comes and the Gambians and the other passengers get on and it's just me now and a few wee muckers at the far end spitting down the sixty feet to Broadway beneath us.

A homeless man comes up the steps having leapt the barrier. He's filthy and he smells and he's going to ask me for a quarter. He's coughing and then he says:

Sir, spa-carter.

His hands are swollen to twice what they should be and he could have anything from untreated winter frostbite to fucking leprosy.

Here, I say, and I don't want to touch him, so I put the quarter on the ground and then immediately repent of this. How unbelievably humiliating to make a sixty-year-old man bend down and pick up a quarter. He does bend down, picks it up, thanks me, and wanders off.

The pay phone rings. Who knew the phone even worked? It rings and rings. The kids, spitting, look over at me, and eventually I go and pick it up.

Yes? I say.

Michael? a voice says.

Yes, I say, trying not to sound amazed.

It's Sunshine, he says.

Sunshine. Sunshine, how in the name of bloody Jehovah do you know this pay-phone number? I ask, giving up any attempt to play it cool.

I'm paid to know these things, he says mysteriously.

Yeah but --

Listen, Michael, it's all off for today. Darkey's going to see the Boss and he's taking myself and Big Bob with him. The rest of you have the day off. Scotchy'll call you tomorrow.

All right, I say, and I'm going to ask him about money but he rings off. The prick. Sunshine is Darkey's right-hand man, and if ever there was a more weaselly-looking man-behind-the-man type of character, it's Sunshine. Thin, thinner than Scotchy even, with one of those skinny mustaches, and a bald head with a ridiculous comb-over that makes him look a bit like Hitler. I had him pegged for a child molester the minute I saw him but apparently that's not the case. Scotchy says not and Scotchy hates him. I don't. After you meet him a bit he's ok. Actually, I think he's a nice bloke, on the whole.

I hang up the phone and look foolishly at it for a second and one of the kids comes up and asks if it was for me. He's about ten, braver than the others, or more bored. Big hands that are restless behind him. Neat clothes, newish shoes.

I nod.

And who the fuck are you? he asks, squinting up at me and into the sunlight.

I-I'm the bogeyman, I say, and grin.

You ain't no boogy man, he says, his American pronunciation half accusing, half scared. After all, I can look intimidating on occasion.

You always do what your mother tells you? I ask.

Sometimes, he says, thrown by the question.

Well, listen. Next time you don't, don't be surprised if I'm under your bed or in your cupboard or out there on your fire escape. Waiting.

He turns and wanders off slowly, trying to appear unimpressed. Perhaps he is. Not easy alarming little kids around here. Christ, most of their goddamn grandmas scare the hell out of me.

Ok, home. No point lingering. I suppose it's impossible to get my token back since I didn't ride the train. I scope the clerk and she's a tough big lassie whose fucking shadow could kick my ass. She gives me the evil eye while I'm considering the options, so in the end I don't even bother. And then it's step, step, step down the broken escalator, which since I've been here has been unrepaired.

Slime on the bottom step.

I turn and walk along 125th past the live chicken store and the discount liquor and the horrible doughnut shop and the thinly disguised All-Things-Catholic, but really All-Things-Santer�a store. Cross the street. A man in a makeshift stall is selling bananas, oranges, and some green fruit I don't know the name of. It's all well presented but with all this pollution and crap around here you wouldn't eat anything he's vending, you'd have to be fucking crazy. People are, of course, and there's a queue.

At the junction you stop and you take a long look. You have to. For it's all there. The traffic. The pedestrians. Bairns and dogs and men with limps outside under the overhang. The slick off the Jackie Robinson. Public Enemy blaring from the speakers, Chuck D and Flavor Flav outsnapping each other. The hotness and the sizzle and the crack and the craic. Dealers and buyers and everyone in between. It's rich and it's overwhelming but really, in Harlem, all is sweetness. No one bothers me. They take me in. It's a scene. It's like the beach. The moisture, the temperature, the people on the dunes of sidewalk and the great hulking seething city is, in this analogy, the dirty gray Atlantic Ocean. Up the hill. It's only two blocks but by some freak of geography it's really the equivalent of about five.

I reach in my shorts for my keys and turn on 123rd. Vinny the Vet is ahead of me going in the building, having a full, angry conversation with no one at all. His shopping bag clinks. Danny the Drunk is on the corner in the sun propping himself up. That purple face is leaning down over his walking stick, dry retching. And me as the third representative of the Caucasian race on the street, what am I like?

Aye, what indeed.

Keys, pistol. Pistol, keys.

Nerves are bad.

Keys. But the lock is screwed up and I have to jiggle it. Must tell Ratko, not that he'll fix anything. But guilt-ridden by his laziness, he will invite me down for some foul Polish vodka and Serbian delicacies prepared last year or so by the missus. But at least in my warped brain it'll be home cooking.

Sounds like a plan.

It's 1992 and Serbs are beginning to get a bit of a bad reputation. But it's not so terrible yet. Ratko'll pour me a full tumbler of something clear and awful and we'll toast Gavrilo Princip or Tito or the memory of the bloody Knights of Kosovo and I'll have a cold sausage-and-lard sandwich and another glass and when the drink is sweating me close to a bloody heart attack I'll slink away and stumble up the three floors to the apartment.

Second thought, no.

Inside, Freddie's there doing the mail.

Freddie, I say, and we talk for a minute about sports. Freddie can see I'm beat, though, and lets me go. Nice chap, Freddie.

Go up the stairs. The door. Keys again. Inside. Hotter here than the street. I put on the telly for company. Free cable somehow. I look for something familiar and settle on Phil Spector and John Lennon and some irritated long-haired session musicians being lectured by Yoko Ono on chord progression. Run the bath. Water comes out brown. Sit on the tub edge and have a brief premonition of the phone ringing and me picking it up and it's Sunshine, come over all ominous, saying that Darkey wants to see me.

I shiver, get up, and take the phone off the hook. Disrobe, climb into the bath. Light a fag. Convince myself that this phone call will never happen. Get out of the bath and actually disconnect the phone from the wall, think for a moment, lock the door, get my gun, check the mechanism, leave it where I can grab it. Climb into the bath again. Sink into nothingness. Sink.

* * *

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