Fifteen Digitsby Nick Santora
A GRITTY THRILLER SET IN THE WORLD OF POWERFUL NEW YORK LAW FIRMS, FROM NICK SANTORA, WRITER OF THE HIT CRIME DRAMAS THE SOPRANOS, LAW & ORDER, PRISON BREAK and BREAKOUT KINGS AND THE NATIONALLY BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF SLIP & FALL.
Is it really insider trading if you've been an outsider your entire life?
Five men. Five walks of/i>/i>/i>/i>/i>
A GRITTY THRILLER SET IN THE WORLD OF POWERFUL NEW YORK LAW FIRMS, FROM NICK SANTORA, WRITER OF THE HIT CRIME DRAMAS THE SOPRANOS, LAW & ORDER, PRISON BREAK and BREAKOUT KINGS AND THE NATIONALLY BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF SLIP & FALL.
Is it really insider trading if you've been an outsider your entire life?
Five men. Five walks of life. Every day they come together at the white shoe law firm Olmstead & Taft. But they're not lawyers. They're "Printers": blue-collar guys consigned to the dark basement of the firm charged with copying, collating and delivering the mountains of paperwork that document millions of dollars of sensitive legal secrets.
Until the five are approached by an ambitious young attorney who teaches them what they have: insider information. Together they make a plan to take the classified documents that pass through their hands every day and use them to get rich. They create a joint account to deposit the spoils. An account with a safeguardeach one only knows one section of the access code.
Which means that for all five conspirators, there's no way out. But as too much money piles up to go unnoticed, the Printers will discover there's one thing even worse than being an outsider: being in too deep.
FIFTEEN DIGITS is a taut, gripping thrill-ride that appeals to the white collar criminal in all of us. I couldn't put it down."Terence Winter, Creator and Executive Producer of Boardwalk Empire, Executive Producer and Writer of The Sopranos"
A propulsive thriller that hurtles along to a brutal andtrust mevery unexpected conclusion. Santora has a TV writer's sense of pacing, but he also has an eye for character that keeps a reader emotionally engaged in the story. People looking for a Grisham-esque thriller with dash of The Sopranos will find the novel a great summer beach read."The Hollywood Reporter"
The tension is palpable as very bad things begin to happen to the protagonists, and the reader will race through the book to see what horrors the next page brings."Booklist, starred review
Though we are told from the start that things will end tragically, the brutality and shocking suddenness of the climax still catch us by surprise . . . Santora pulls no punches with his Faustus-like story."Kirkus Reviews
"Nick Santora's characters will ensnare readers and pull them into the good, bad, and ugly of Robert Principe's life--a gripping thriller."
- Little, Brown and Company
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Read an Excerpt
By Santora, Nick
Mulholland BooksCopyright © 2012 Santora, Nick
All right reserved.
The problem with all you lawyers,” Mauro lectured Spade, “is you think the support staff’s nothing but replaceable parts—just warm bodies in blue blazers running your files up and down the floors whenever you snap your fingers. You guys treat us like we’re invisible.”
Rich Mauro sat back in the booth and took a pull on his beer. Spade studied him for a moment, then smiled a disconcerting grin—a Cheshire Cat That Ate the Canary kind of thing.
“And that’s why you’re where you are and I’m where I am,” Spade pointed out smugly. “Where you see problems, I see opportunities.”
Jason Spade leaned across the table, over the half-finished Harp’s and the untouched onion rings. In the crowded bar, between the blare of the Smithereens on the jukebox and the howl of drunk Irish electricians toasting some dead union brother, there was no need to whisper, but Jason Spade’s was the kind of idea that demanded secretive tones. Even if whispers weren’t required by the environment, they were called for by the very nature of what he was about to propose.
“The benefit of being invisible,” Jason whispered, looking straight into Mauro’s eyes, “is that people don’t see you when you’re robbing them blind…now, how ’bout you and I get rich, Rich?”
And with that simple question, a chain of events began that changed, destroyed, and ended lives. People would be maimed, tortured, and killed. Millions of dollars would be stolen, then stolen away from the thieves themselves.
It was a question that would eventually make Rich Mauro, Jason Spade, Vicellous “Vice” Green, Dylan Rodriguez, and Eddie Pisorchek suffer beyond measure. Some of them would die because of it.
After it all went down, to the ill informed, it appeared that it happened because of money. But to those who were involved in it, to the guys who were so deep in the mess that it covered their mouths and pushed up into their nostrils, they understood that it all happened for love—love that was pure and real or love that had never been there to begin with, but love nonetheless.
And all of it—every cry of agony, every drop of blood—it all began with that conversation between Rich Mauro and Jason Spade, a conversation that lasted less than fifteen minutes, on a summer night, over a couple of beers in a graffiti-stricken booth in the back of McMahon’s Pub.
Rich Mauro dragged the razor deliberately—starting just below his ear, continuing down along the side of his face, moving across his jawline. He rinsed foam and stubble away under the faucet and then traced the plastic disposable across his chin, careful to scrape off every whisker. It was a big day; he had to look good. Satisfied all facial hair was gone and forever part of the Queens County sewer system, he splashed cold water on his cheeks, mouth, and neck and studied himself in the mirror.
Rich knew he wasn’t a traditionally handsome man, not like the guys you saw in the movies anyway. But he had his father’s chin and it was a damn good one. Hell, the Marlboro man would kill for his jaw. It was solid. Granite. It not only gave his face character but had held up in at least a half-dozen scrapes, and it wagged a mile a minute so he could talk his way out of a half-dozen more.
Other than a cream-colored 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix and a leather tool belt, the jawline was the only thing his father had left him when he and Rich’s mother were killed.
When shaving, Rich would sometimes stare at himself, unaware of the minutes passing. If he looked deeply enough and blocked out his peripheral vision, the image in the mirror would morph, and soon Rich would find his father looking back at him. His old man would stare silently, almost with wonder at how his little boy had grown up so big—the father’s eyes always loving, but also burdened with the slight weight of melancholia.
Then, and always too soon, his father’s image would slowly fade away, leaving nothing behind but the reflection of a much younger version of the man, shrouded in a thin film of steam rising up from the sink.
Towel wrapped around his waist, Rich padded on his wet feet across the hallway’s hardwood floor and entered his small bedroom to find his Uncle Jimmy laying a tie flat across the bed. Next to the tie was a pair of tan slacks and a white button-down shirt. All the clothes still had the tags on them.
“Whoa, Jack LaLanne,” Jim Mauro joked, jabbing his nephew a few times in the chest, “I remember when I could take you down.”
“Ah, you can still take me, Unc,” Rich lied. The truth was, Rich was built like a brick shit house, five foot ten and two hundred pounds of muscle. He wasn’t one of those guys who looked like they worked out, all biceps and six-packs. In fact, he hadn’t been inside a gym in years. When you worked construction, you didn’t need a gym—every day was a work out. He just had that trademark stocky, fireplug frame that was embedded in the genetic code of so many Italian men.
“What’s this?” Rich asked, pointing to the clothes.
“That’s nothing. Just, you know, first day of work and all.”
Rich picked up the shirt and inspected the tag.
“Mur-Lee’s?” Rich scolded. “We can’t afford clothes from Mur-Lee’s.”
“We don’t need to afford them. I bought them.”
“Fine,” Rich countered, “then you can’t afford clothes from Mur-Lee’s. We’re returning ’em.”
Jim grabbed the shirt and the pants and ripped the tags off each. With a defiant smile, he tore the tags up and sprinkled the little pieces over his nephew’s head like confetti.
“The shirt is going on your back, the pants are going on your ass, and as for the tie, you have a choice…either the tie or my hands are going around your neck. You decide.”
Rich brushed the paper from his hair.
“Fine, but no lottery tickets for two months.”
“Deal.” Jim smirked. “But that doesn’t even cover the cost of the tie. Sharp, huh?”
Rich looked at the tie lying on his bed. It was too skinny and had a paisley pattern that had been out of fashion since forever. It was hideous.
“Sharp as a tack. I love it,” he said, giving his sixty-four-year-old uncle a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you.”
Jim’s face flushed with pride, partly for his nephew and partly for having been able to walk into that snooty Mur-Lee’s, pick out an outfit, and pay for it in cash. Jim would never admit it, but buying those clothes was one of the biggest thrills of his life. About thirty years earlier, when he worked for Garibaldi Construction, he had helped build the five-store commercial strip where Mur-Lee’s was located. He’d hung the drywall, done the ceilings—he even came up with the idea for the built-in mahogany display cases that became the store’s showpiece and were still there.
A year of his life he worked on that job—his skill in every piece of floorboard, his heart in every driven nail. Thanks to an unexpected sneeze and a sharp Sheetrock knife, Jim literally gave his blood to that job. The store was perfect. Crown molding, solid oak changing rooms. He had never been so proud of a project. But as soon as it was completed, Mr. Murrel and Mr. Lee opened up shop, the union hall sent Jim to work on a housing project in Uniondale, and he could never afford to step back into what he had built.
But for a day like this, he didn’t care about cost. He’d raised Rich, his brother Richie’s son, since the boy was ten. And he loved him like he was his own. Jim had never married, since he realized early on that his two biggest loves—scotch and the ponies—would never take a backseat to any woman. He had a deep respect for people who fell in love, committed themselves wholly to each other, and built lives together. His own parents did it, and it was beautiful—so he swore he’d never sully the institution of marriage with his own bastardized version of it.
As a result, Jimmy had accepted the fact that he’d never have kids, and that was fine because having a child had never been a burning desire of his. The occasional romp with a young bar girl had always been enough for him—but the by-product of such activities was something he knew he could do without, so he always took precautions, despite what Father Dolan had taught him about “wasting God’s seed” during Jim’s education at Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
But after the accident, Jim had a child to care for whether he wanted one or not. His nephew had no place else to go. The same week he buried his brother and sister-in-law, Jim moved all of Rich’s belongings into his home. And despite the circumstances, it was never awkward or uncomfortable. Rich and Jim had been close before the deaths of Rich’s parents, and they just became closer afterward—closer than Jim would have ever imagined almost twenty years earlier when he first took Rich in.
Jimmy once told a friend of his (after a snort or two of Black Label made such emotional displays by men socially acceptable), “I loved my brother Richie with all my heart and I’d trade places with him in an instant if I could, and God forgive me for sayin’ this, but his dying was the best thing that ever happened to me…’cause it gave me my boy.”
But as Jim watched his nephew get ready, he knew he was no longer a boy; he was a man—and though Jim Mauro had been flying blind a lot of the time while trying to raise the kid, he couldn’t have been happier with how that man had turned out.
“Lemme get my shoes and we’ll see how I look in this getup,” Rich said, opening the closet door. He knelt and opened a shoe box to reveal a pair of thirty-dollar black dress shoes that he had bought three years earlier for the funeral of a third cousin he barely knew. He hadn’t worn them since, but somehow, they shone like mirrors. Rich picked up the box and stood, raising his eyebrows suspiciously at Jimmy.
“I polished them last night when you were out with Elyse,” Jim confessed. “Can’t go to your first day with scuffed shoes.”
As Rich put the shoe box back in the closet, his eyes landed on a faded brass hook on the inside of the door. It was empty.
“Where is it?” Rich asked, all playfulness gone from his voice.
“You won’t need it anymore—”
“Where is it? I want it.”
“What for? You’re done climbin’ scaffolds—”
“It’s mine, Uncle Jim.”
“It’s my brother’s.”
“No, it’s my father’s, which makes it mine,” Rich said a little more forcefully than he had wanted to.
“Your old man wouldn’t want you usin’ it anymore. And neither do I,” Jim answered. He didn’t get loud—Jim Mauro never turned up the volume; it wasn’t in his nature. He was as big and thick as a cement mixer but also gentle as a lamb, especially with Rich. Rich couldn’t remember a time when his uncle had yelled at him.
“It’s not like I’m gonna throw it away or anything,” Jimmy promised. “I’d never do that. It’s just…it’s just not an option for you anymore. I mean, you’re wearing a tie to work today, Richie. That means something.”
Rich regarded his uncle for a moment. He could see the pride, the hope, in his uncle’s face. He didn’t want to upset him, but he felt he had to try to clarify things.
“Look, I know it means a lot to you, but I’m just a glorified copyboy—”
“It’s a step to bigger and better, Richie,” Jim interrupted. “A step to bigger and better.”
“Hopefully. We’ll have to see, won’t we?” Rich said, knowing he wasn’t going to win this argument. “But in the meantime, I’m gonna want the tool belt back.”
Jim sighed. “Your dad was thick as a brick too, ya know.”
Jim exited the room. Rich stood patiently, listening to his uncle rummage around. He could tell from the sound that the tool belt had been hidden on the top shelf of the hall closet—most likely behind a bunch of videotapes of vintage 1950s TV shows that Jim never watched but refused to throw away.
Jim appeared in the doorway and tossed the tool belt onto the bed. “Satisfied? Now hurry up and get dressed. You don’t wanna be late.”
As his uncle moved back down the hall, Rich looked at the weather-beaten tool belt lying next to his brand-new dress shirt. It was cracked and faded and there was a faint chalky-white salt line in the leather where it had absorbed decades’ worth of sweat that had rolled down his father’s back. The belt had known his father better and longer than Rich had.
He reached past the belt and picked up the shirt from Mur-Lee’s. He slid his arms into the sleeves and fastened the buttons—they were those thick kind of buttons, the real high-quality jobs that don’t ever fall off. The 180-thread-count cotton surrounded and caressed his skin. He had to admit—it felt damn good.
When Rich entered his three of the fifteen digits, he didn’t have to think too long as to what they would be: 4-2-4. April 24—the day his parents died. That was the day when his life as he knew it changed forever.
He knew that once he typed those three numbers, his life would once again change forever, so the numbers somehow seemed appropriate.
If he’d known then how things were going to eventually turn out…what was going to happen to his friends, what was going to happen to him…he would have never sullied his parents’ memory by using that date.
He would have chosen something else.
The N/R Train dropped Rich off in the heart of New York City’s financial district, just a few blocks from his ultimate destination, 55 Water Street. He was pretty early, but he walked quickly, wanting to start his new job, and his new life, as soon as possible.
Even though there was only two thousand feet of river separating Queens and Manhattan, for Rich Mauro, a kid from Astoria, the city might as well have been another world.
As soon as he exited the subway onto Broadway, he felt the difference. A different pace, a different energy—swarms of people walking in a hundred different directions, pressed closely together in ungodly narrow sidewalks lining ungodly narrow streets, white faces next to black next to yellow next to brown, all with the same thought: green. Simply put, the energy of the city was the result of one thing and one thing only—New York was where people came to make money.
Hell, that was why Rich got up that morning, showered, shaved, got dressed, and got on the train. That was why he’d left a decent, but far from spectacular, job in construction. That was why he had started night school, even though the tuition costs were making the slightest luxury, like a night at the movies with Elyse, an event that had to be budgeted sometimes weeks in advance.
Rich Mauro was in New York to start making some damn money. He knew it would be a long road, but he’d never been scared of hard work. His father had worked his ass off. His Uncle Jim had worked his ass off. Now Rich was ready to work his ass off. He’d be working at a desk inside a building instead of on a scaffold outside one, but it would be hard work just the same. Max Seymour had prepared him for that.
As Rich turned onto Water Street, he had nothing but business on his mind. Business. Money. Work. Achieve. He was taking the first step to becoming a lawyer and he was ready to knock down any barriers that got in his way.
He wasn’t aware of it, but the intensity of his thoughts that morning caused his brow to furrow and his eyes to narrow.
Nothing was going to stop him, no matter how hard it was, no matter how difficult. He was laser-focused on the task at hand.
And then he spotted her.
And his brow relaxed. And his eyes opened wider. And he smiled.
In a city of eleven million people, Elyse Crane stood out. She was waiting by the front steps leading up to 55 Water Street, with scores of people moving past, by, and around her—yet amid all that chaos, she, as always, looked painfully beautiful.
Rich believed love at first sight was bullshit and anyone who said he knew as soon as he looked at someone that he was in love was either lying, delusional, or stupid. With Elyse, Rich always said, it was love at first talk.
He’d met her at Pete’s Tavern when he was twenty-five and she was twenty-four. He’d been working on a job downtown and sometimes he’d go grab a drink with his uncle and some of the guys after work. Chauncey’s, the place where they normally went, had been temporarily shut down by the board of health for an infestation violation. It seemed a tenant in the apartment above Chauncey’s had let his pet boa constrictor out of its cage, and, via a ventilation duct, the reptile had found its way onto a plate of cheese fries on the bar downstairs. Pete’s Tavern just happened to be the next closest watering hole to the job site, and that’s where Elyse was working.
Rich wasn’t particularly religious, but a few weeks after meeting Elyse he stopped inside Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s, threw a buck in the poor box, lit a candle, and thanked God.
I know you sent Saint Patrick to drive the snakes out of Ireland, so if you had anything to do with diverting that serpent into Chauncey’s to get Elyse and me together, much appreciated.
When Rich bellied up at Pete’s Tavern, he knew instantly that the girl slinging beer on the other side of the oak was the most stunning thing he’d ever laid eyes on. He even told his Uncle Jim so, and he didn’t use the word thing in a derogatory way. He meant it in the purest sense.
To Rich, Elyse was more beautiful than anything he’d ever seen—more beautiful than the sunrise peeking its weary head over the Atlantic when he was driving east on Ocean Parkway at five a.m. to get to a job down at Long Beach, Long Island; more beautiful than any rainbow arching over the East River after a downpour broke the oppressive humidity of an August day in New York; more beautiful than any thing Rich could imagine, any thing God himself had ever dreamed up. And Rich didn’t even waste time comparing her with other women—that bout was over before the ref rang the bell.
She was a true beauty. A stunner. An angel with a pint of Guinness in one hand and a bar rag in the other.
So Rich Mauro was presented with a predicament—what to do with this woman pouring lager in front of him. If he spoke to her and she sounded like Fran Drescher with a head cold (a real possibility in New York), the love affair would be over before it started. But what if she didn’t? What if she talked him up and was as smart as she was gorgeous? That would be even worse. What could he say that could possibly impress this goddess?
Hi, my name’s Rich. I still live with my uncle, a man who likes eating Jarlsberg cheese smeared with peanut butter and arguing with TV newscasters. I have no money, no parents, and thanks to my uncle’s love of the ponies, no inheritance coming my way. My dad and every man on my mother’s side of the family went bald, so my forties should be interesting, and though I’m Italian, if I eat tomato sauce, let’s just say you can’t light a match within twenty yards of me for safety reasons…and, oh yeah, since I haven’t had sex in almost six months, if we do ever become intimate, you can expect our first little romp to be quicker than a hummingbird’s heartbeat.
Rich took a long look at himself in the mirror across the bar—his flannel shirt with a light cover of drywall dust, his hair pressed and matted from his hard hat, grease under his nails from oiling the skill saw. She was probably a grad student (he later found out he was right), wealthy (her parents were), and bartending to kill time between semesters (right again). Guys like him didn’t get girls like her. So when Elyse approached him, he decided to keep it strictly business.
“Beam and Coke, please.”
Elyse smiled, grabbed a tumbler from underneath the bar, reached behind her, and snatched a bottle of Maker’s Mark. She began to pour.
“I’m sorry, I said Jim Beam—”
“I know,” Elyse interrupted as she looked up to Rich. “But a workingman deserves top shelf, and you look like you put in a full day.”
She had read Rich like he was the freakin’ New York Post—his attraction to her, his insecurity in his own appearance, his acceptance of the fact that she was out of his league.
Elyse could tell he wanted to talk to her—she picked up that vibe from guys all the time. But unlike all those other times, for some reason, she wanted to hear what this particular boy had to say. There was something about him that she instantly liked—a sincerity that was practically visible. She was certain, almost instinctively, that this guy sitting at the bar didn’t have it in him to ever hurt her, or hurt anybody for that matter. She could tell just by the way he interacted with his uncle that Rich Mauro was, simply put, a good man. But she could also tell he was, at that moment, a self-conscious man. So she said the absolute perfect thing—something that let Rich know that she not only understood his blue-collar world but respected it.
Love at first talk.
Rich was speechless. But Uncle Jim wasn’t.
“Don’t let her get away, Richie.” He snorted as he got up from the bar, patted his nephew softly on the back, and left the two of them alone. Rich turned red, since Jim had said this loud enough for Elyse to hear. But Elyse just laughed, and then so did Rich. They’d been laughing together for a long time now; her tractor-beam smile always pulling Rich away from whatever was bothering him (usually his lack of money) and pushing him toward a much happier place.
It was that amazing smile that greeted Rich in front of 55 Water Street.
“Hey, big shot,” she said, leaning in to give Rich a soft kiss on the lips. She wrapped her arms around him and pressed her forehead against his, grinning wildly. “You excited?”
“Clearly not as excited as you are, psycho woman.” Rich smiled back. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to give you this…” She handed Rich a greeting card.
“And this…” She handed Rich a key.
“And this…” She laid another kiss on Rich, and this was nothing like the sweet little we’re-in-public peck she’d graced him with just moments earlier. This one lasted—her hand on the back of his head, her fingers moving ever so lightly through his hair. God, he loved when she did that—it was the fingers on the back of his head that got him every time.
“Thanks.” Rich smiled. “But maybe it’s not the best idea to have intercourse right in front of my new job.”
“That’s what the key’s for,” Elyse said with a gleam in her eye. She removed her fingers from his head and softly placed them on his chest, gently scratching. “Come by tonight, so we can celebrate in a way that isn’t accommodated by a public sidewalk.”
Damn, Rich thought, I’m about to start the most important job of my life and I’m half considering skipping work to have sex with this woman all day long.
“You’re distracting me right before I start my first day?”
“Sorry.” Elyse winked devilishly. “Now open your card.”
Rich did. It was a photo of a kid sitting on a training potty with his arms triumphantly in the air. Inside the card was printed: you did it! At the bottom was written: I know you’re going to do great. I love you. Elyse.
“Wow, a semi-child-pornographic greeting card. Much appreciated,” Rich said, putting the card in his pocket.
Elyse laughed. “Now go kick some ass.”
They kissed once more and said good-bye. Rich watched her go—her long chestnut hair bounced lightly with each step, almost joyously, like it was happy to just be part of the wonderful group effort that made up this exquisite creature. The hair, the legs, the face, the eyes—they all had their roles on Team Elyse and they were all all-stars. Rich hated being away from her, but he sure as hell enjoyed watching her walk away. The walk-away was pretty damn sweet.
Unfortunately, Rich noticed that a tough-looking Puerto Rican guy passing by was enjoying watching her walk away as well. The guy turned his head just slightly to get a good look at Elyse as she crossed the street, and when he turned back, he found Rich staring at him. Their eyes locked—for a second or two at most, but in New York, that’s all you need. The look was more than long enough to let the guy know that Rich had seen him leering at his girl and that if his look had lasted any longer, it would have been a problem.
Normally Rich wouldn’t have been too worried—he never enjoyed fighting, but you can’t grow up in Queens and avoid it. He’d spent the majority of his youth on the asphalt basketball courts of the inappropriately named New York City Department of Parks and Recreation—and since those fence-enclosed blacktops looked substantially more like penitentiary yards than parks, it was only logical that some pretty serious brawls would break out. Though he was the furthest thing from a guy who looked for trouble, Rich had always been able to hold his own when necessary.
But when the Puerto Rican looked back at Rich, his eyes made Mauro quickly understand that if things did jump off, Rich would have his hands full. They weren’t the eyes of a street-tough kid who had thrown down with other street-tough kids throughout his youth. They were the kind of eyes you could earn only by doing some very bad things. Really bad things. The guy was about forty feet or so away. Rich tensed, waiting to see if their two-second eye-lock would lead to something else. He was sure it was about to. But then, to Rich’s complete surprise, the guy just slowly shook his head from side to side, almost imperceptibly, as if to say: Silly white boy, you have no idea what just almost happened to you. And then he walked past Rich to a roach coach and ordered a café con leche.
Wow, I just somehow avoided a very severe beat-down…today’s gonna be a good day, Rich thought to himself as he turned and climbed the steps of the building where, he hoped, he’d be working for years to come.
He stopped at the electric revolving doors for a moment. His body was reeling a bit—the adrenaline that had kicked in from his near run-in with the Puerto Rican was mixing pretty hard with the rush of new-job excitement. He took a step and let the revolving doors guide him forward before momentum caused the structure to swallow him up.
Once inside, he looked around the lobby—the three-story-tall atrium, the gleaming brass elevator doors, the giant plants that reached ten feet high. As he moved toward the elevator he crossed the interlocking O&T in the center of the marble floor that let anyone who entered know, in no uncertain terms, that he was treading upon the hallowed ground of Olmstead & Taft—the biggest, baddest, toughest, and most powerful law firm in all of New York City.
It was a legendary firm.
It was a New York institution.
It was also where Rich would soon make choices that would get some very good men killed.
The offices of Olmstead & Taft were known in legal circles to be the nicest in New York. The firm owned the entire building, and the partners took pride in their home. Each office had custom bookcases with hand-carved crown molding, a personal thermostat for a climate-controlled work experience, and burgundy carpeting in a razor-thin crosschecked pattern that was replaced every four years whether there was even a hint of wear or not. Almost every office had a view of New York Harbor overlooking either the Brooklyn Bridge or Governors Island, and the lucky few, mostly partners and those associates being groomed to become partners, got the privilege of practicing jurisprudence under the watchful eye of the Statue of Liberty herself.
The marble-floored elevators were operated by old black men in gray wool suits who had to memorize what floor every attorney worked on. Considering that 55 Water Street serviced about four hundred of the more than one thousand worldwide Olmstead & Taft attorneys, this was no small feat. The elevator operators were instructed to say “Good morning, Counselor,” or “Good afternoon, Counselor,” or “Good evening, Counselor,” and press the button for the floor of that lawyer’s office. Some believed this practice was instituted to intimidate adversaries who were attending conferences at Olmstead & Taft—If we demand perfection from our elevator operators, imagine how prepared our attorneys are.
Others just figured the elevator policy existed so the lawyers wouldn’t have to stoop so low as to talk to the help.
The hardest time of year for the operators was July and August, when a fresh crop of summer associates would arrive to work between their second and third years of law school. There would often be thirty to forty of them and even though only some would actually make the cut and get to be full-fledged members of O&T after they graduated, for those two summer months, the elevator crew was expected to memorize their floor numbers as well.
If an operator made too many mistakes or, God forbid, accidentally forced an inattentive partner to endure an elevator ride a whole two floors above the actual location of his or her office, that operator would be terminated.
Some lasted just a few days. Others lasted a few years. And then there was Chip.
Chip was a seventy-six-year-old sharecropper’s son who had begun at O&T when he was seventeen. Rumor had it that it was Chip who actually created the floor-memorization policy. He allegedly knew early on that he didn’t have many skills in life save for an uncanny memory, so he established the ritual back in the 1950s, knowing the status-seeking lawyers would instantly take to it. He also knew it would guarantee him a job forever: even though Chip was now well into his seventies, no one could outmemorize him.
The luck of the draw at the elevator bays allowed Rich to step onto the car run by the legendary operator, but as soon as Rich was inside, the old vet looked offended.
“What you thinkin’, copy jockey?” he barked, every basset-hound-esque wrinkle in his dark face contorting in indignation. “Get your khaki-covered ass off my litigator-conveyor.”
“What? O and T’s hirin’ foreigners now? You don’t speak English? Get out of my attorney-only elevator and take one of them lifts on the south wall.”
“Oh, sure, I’m sorry,” Rich apologized. “Max Seymour just told me to go to the Printers and I didn’t know where—”
“Oh, you’re Max Seymour’s boy,” Chip said, his affront subsiding a touch. “I heard you were startin’ up. Didn’t know it was today. Okay then.”
Chip pressed a button and the door quickly closed, sucking them into the guts of 55 Water Street. The elevator, however, did not move upward and onward to the grandiose offices located high in the clouds over Manhattan. Chip had pressed B, as Rich’s new job was located in a decidedly less glamorous section of Olmstead & Taft—the basement.
As the elevator hit bottom and the door opened, Chip left Rich with some advice.
“Blazers ride the south-wall elevators. I ain’t been doing this fifty-plus years to be a chauffeur to no paper pusher, understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Rich answered.
“I don’t wanna see you on my elevator again. Don’t care if you are Max Seymour’s boy…I been here longer than him,” Chip said as the doors closed and he disappeared back upstairs.
“Blazers s’posed to ride the south-wall elevators,” a voice said from somewhere in back of Rich.
Mauro turned to find the voice belonged to a man standing just a few feet behind him. He was dressed in the same outfit as Rich (white button-down shirt, tan pants) except he was wearing a navy blue sports coat. The man was about five foot eight, a little bit husky but solidly built, and he had a mess of brown hair that was parted not so carefully to one side. From the slightest beginnings of crow’s-feet at the corners of his eyes and the small recession of a widow’s-peak hairline, Rich could see that the man was several years older than he was, probably in his midthirties.
It was also clear to Rich that the man was mentally retarded.
“Yeah, I know, I just found out,” Rich answered warmly.
“I’m Eddie Pisorchek,” the man said, extending his hand. Rich shook and almost fell to his knees. Eddie squeezed incredibly hard, driving Rich’s index finger and pinkie together. Rich could tell Eddie wasn’t trying to hurt him; he was just very strong and clearly unaware of his strength. “And Chip is not your supervisor…I am.”
Now, Richard James Mauro wasn’t a bigot or an elitist—he had been raised by his parents and his uncle to judge people only by their deeds. That being said, if someone had told him when he was in high school that one day he’d be working in a basement and his supervisor would be retarded, he probably would have been a little concerned.
How ya doin’?” Rich said, delicately disengaging his now throbbing hand from Eddie’s.
“No ties,” Eddie said.
“Blazers don’t wear ties. We wear tan pants, white shirts, black belts, and blue blazers. No ties. Only lawyers wear ties.”
“Yeah, I don’t even really like this tie, my uncle gave it to me—”
“No ties,” Eddie repeated, clearly not interested in excuses.
“Yeah, right,” Rich said, quickly removing the tie and shoving it in his pocket.
“Follow me. You need a blazer. Only the supervisor can hand out the blazers,” Eddie announced, more as a way of bragging than as a statement of fact.
The ceiling of the drab, gray, cement-walled basement was a cross-section of air ducts and pipes, some of which dripped water onto the slab floor. They passed a group of maintenance men in gray jumpsuits who were heading in the opposite direction.
“Morning, guys,” Eddie said. None of the maintenance workers returned the greeting; none of them even looked his way—they just ignored Eddie and kept on walking. Rich thought it was pretty damn rude of them, bordering on hurtful, but he kept this thought to himself.
Eddie didn’t mind, however. A thirty-five-year-old virgin who lived with his grandparents, who collected anything having to do with Green Lantern, and who had the cognitive ability of an eleven-year-old, Eddie Pisorchek knew what it was like to be ignored. He was used to it.
His retardation was mild enough for him to realize that people spoke to him—when they did actually speak to him—in different tones than they used with others; he knew that he was different. Yet his condition was also substantial enough that the challenges of raising a special-needs child like Eddie had made Ed Pisorchek Sr. catch a bus out of town, reportedly to Missouri, when his son was four, never to be seen again.
And it was this abandonment by her not-so-better half that tipped Mary Pisorchek into a chasm of severe bipolar swings and depression that earned her a small room and footwear with no shoelaces at Pilgrim State Mental Hospital. And it was both parents’ flaking of their responsibilities that had earned Glenn and Edna Pisorchek the honor of raising their grandson just when they thought their days of child rearing were over.
Little Eddie was their blood, they couldn’t turn him over to the state, but at the same time, they truly wanted no part of bringing up the boy. They took him on, an unwelcome burden, and proceeded to handle the responsibility half-assed and begrudgingly.
Eddie got the basics from his grandparents, but that was it. A bowl of Frosted Flakes in the morning. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch—a pickle on the side for a vegetable. Dinner rotated—SpaghettiOs on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; and to top off the weekend, sloppy-joe Sunday. This was what Eddie ate every week. Every day of every week.
Eddie’s room had a bed, a small desk salvaged from an elementary-school dumpster, and nothing else. He didn’t have a closet, but there was an old dry-cleaning rack on wheels in the corner. On it hung six pair of tan pants from JC Penney (all bought on sale), six white oxford shirts (all identical), and one blue shirt with an extra-wide collar for Sunday services.
Eddie’s grandparents didn’t make him attend church; Eddie wanted to. He went by himself, and though he was technically Roman Catholic, he never stepped foot in St. Rita’s. When he was about nine, heading home after having purchased the latest Green Lantern comic from Ernie & Esther’s Stationery Shop, Eddie passed the storefront for the Chicken Shack. He waited for air heavy with the stench of deep-frying grade-D poultry to wrap his face, as it always did, like a hot, greasy barber’s towel. But instead of the thick stench of trans-fat-covered animal flesh wafting out toward him, music filled the air. It was the most incredible sound Eddie had ever heard.
He pressed his face against the window, peering between a crack in the blinds, and saw the most amazing thing he had ever seen—a large group of black people singing and dancing and shouting and screaming.
It was loud.
It was energized.
It was beautiful.
Eddie was instantly hooked. Barely aware of his actions, practically hypnotized by what he was seeing and hearing, he opened the door, walked inside the onetime Chicken Shack, and sat down next to a muscular teenage boy, who looked at the little white boy rocking back and forth next to him like he was either insane or lost. Eddie just looked back at the boy and smiled. The teenager then realized that Eddie was neither insane nor lost…he was, as the teen’s mother used to say, one of God’s “angels on earth.” The teen smiled back, and before long, Eddie was singing and clapping with the congregation as if he had always been one of them. After that, he went back to the First Baptist Church of Fourth Street every Sunday, the only white face in a sea of black and brown.
As the decades passed, parishioners came and went, pastors changed, the dilapidated storefront even got a new paint job, but the one constant at First Baptist was Eddie Pisorchek, singing and clapping and smiling along with everyone, every Sunday, rain or shine, in a button-down blue shirt with an extra-wide collar.
“Don’t know why you spend all your time with them jigaboos,” Eddie’s grandfather would say to him each week as Eddie was leaving for church.
Eddie didn’t know the true meaning of that word or of the many other synonyms for jigaboo that his grandfather liked to toss about. He thought it just meant people who liked to sing and dance—until one Thanksgiving mass when Eddie was twelve and Pastor Morris came around with a microphone, asking people what they were thankful for.
The music was blaring, the testifiers were testifying, and everyone was feeling a big, fat mess of the Holy Spirit when Pastor Morris reached Eddie. Eddie, grinning from ear to ear, just happy as hell to be surrounded by such happy people, grabbed the microphone and shouted loud, proud, and clear: “I’m thankful I get to sing and dance with all you jigaboos!”
The music stopped.
The singing stopped.
The testifiers stopped testifying.
Eddie’s sentiment was from the heart—he was truly thankful that he got to sing and dance with these wonderful people; it was the only bright spot in his otherwise dark life. But it was his noun choice that was the problem, and for the rest of that particular service, a very understanding congregation taught Eddie the concept of prejudice. After hearing all the pain such words caused, Eddie promised never to use the offending terminology, or anything like it, again. And he never did.
The First Baptist Church of Fourth Street was the one place where Eddie felt like he belonged. His grandparents fed him, clothed him, and took him to the doctor when he was sick, but they never loved him because they’d never wanted him. Eddie grew up lonely. He grew up ignored.
The only time Eddie could remember his grandfather paying any attention to him was when he was eight. He had just watched an old black-and-white rerun of The Mickey Mouse Club on WPIX. He was captivated by the huge castle that Tinker Bell flew around at the end of every show and imagined the secret passages and hidden catacombs that awaited him inside.
He rushed to his grandfather. “Can we go to Disney World?”
“Please. I wanna go to Disney World.”
“I said no.”
“I wanna go to Disney World. I wanna go to Disney World. I wanna go to Disney World.”
Glenn knew the kid wouldn’t stop—Eddie could be a stubborn son of a bitch—so he just folded his newspaper, slid it under his arm, stood up, and walked away. But Eddie trailed after his grandfather, right on the old man’s heels, continuing his plea over and over. “I wanna go to Disney World.”
Eddie followed the old man upstairs, down the hall, and toward the bathroom, getting louder: “I wanna go to Disney World, I wanna go to Disney World, I wanna go to Disney World, I wanna go to Dis—”
The slap hit Eddie’s face so hard he spun to the floor, landing on his hands and knees. He was so shocked and numb from the pain that he didn’t even feel his grandfather pick him up and grab him by the shoulders.
Glenn Pisorchek shook his grandson as he yelled.
“We are never going to fuckin’ Disney World! We don’t have enough money to go to Disney World because we have to take care of you! Don’t ever mention fuckin’ Disney World again! ”
Glenn looked at the stunned boy with a red handprint on his face. He wasn’t proud of what he’d done, but damn it, he hadn’t asked for this life. He had waited forty-two and a half years for retirement to come so he could leave his miserable job as a groundskeeper for the county so he could sit on his miserable ass in front of the miserable tube and watch the miserable world pass him by on the miserable news programs. Then, if he was lucky, one day his miserable heart would stop and end his miserable life. He hadn’t asked for his son’s retarded child to be dropped into his lap, but he was. So now he was Glenn’s miserable problem.
After a moment, Glenn turned and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. Eddie just stood there, alone in the hall. He wasn’t that upset that he had been hit because it was the first time his grandfather had actually had any physical contact with him in over a year.
At least he still knows I’m here, Eddie thought.
When Eddie graduated from the Staten Island High School for Special Needs, his grandparents were terrified. They didn’t know what to do with the boy—Would he be with them all day, every day now? They couldn’t have that—there was too much TV to watch and unhealthy food to cook; they couldn’t have him around. So for the first time in their lives, Glenn and Edna Pisorchek actually did something for their grandson. They contacted government agencies and charities that aided the developmentally challenged and got Eddie into the Just Like You program, a nonprofit that placed special-needs citizens in paying jobs.
The job found for Eddie was not particularly glamorous but it came with real responsibility and a steady paycheck, which Glenn and Edna promptly told Eddie he had to cash each week so they could “store it away safely.” Most of Eddie’s money was stored away in car payments on a new Buick Skylark for Glenn and cheap jewelry and salon appointments for Edna, which did little for a woman who had canyon-deep grooves on her face consistent with a pack-of-Luckys-a-day habit.
Eddie had no idea he was being robbed by the very people who were supposed to be caring for him but he probably wouldn’t have cared because Eddie loved his new job so damn much he would have done it for free. He got to work with computers, which he found incredibly exciting. And he got to ride the subway all the way to Manhattan, which, prior to his working, he had only seen on TV and from across the water. And there were even copy machines that each shone a bright green light that looked just like a blast from Green Lantern’s power ring.
Eddie loved working at the Printers of Olmstead & Taft. On his first day there, when he was just eighteen years old, as soon as he walked in the door, he knew he’d never want to leave.
But Eddie would eventually leave the job he loved so much.
Almost seventeen years exactly from his first day of employment, Eddie Pisorchek would be dragged out of the basement’s loading bay in the middle of the night—scared, bleeding, and crying.
When it was Eddie’s turn to sit down at the computer and enter his three numbers, he was faced with a problem. He wanted to use 2-8-1-4, for Sector 2814, the section of the universe that Hal Jordan, the alter ego of Green Lantern, was assigned to defend with his superpowers.
But the guys said he could only use three numbers. Each of them got to use three numbers and that was it, they said. Jason even yelled at him and called him Special Ed and told him to hurry up.
Eddie hated being called Special Ed.
So he entered just the first three numbers—2-8-1. It wasn’t exactly what he wanted, but it was close enough.
When he was done, Eddie smiled. He was proud of himself.
The Document Production and Disbursement Department of Olmstead & Taft was universally referred to throughout the firm as the Printers. Though every major law firm had some version of the Printers, nothing rivaled O&T’s. It had state-of-the-art equipment that put any Kinko’s to shame. In that dungeon of a basement office, every week literally tens of thousands of pages of briefs, motions, appeals, and filings were copied, collated, and bound for some of the most powerful attorneys in New York. Each piece of machinery was computerized, and since New York and federal courts were broken down into multiple districts and departments, all of which had their own irrationally diverse rules as to the format of how pleadings should be submitted, the machinery had to be reprogrammed for each job depending on the type of filing and where it was to be filed. And that doesn’t even take into account the various government agencies like the SEC, EPA, IRS, and countless others that needed their paperwork done just so.
It was complex, confusing work that would have taken any college graduate several weeks or more to master, but Eddie Pisorchek had it down pat. With Rich’s hire, there were now four men working in the Printers, but when it came time to program the metallic beasts, everyone just let Eddie do his thing.
The work was not only complicated but also entirely thankless. A document was e-mailed down to the Printers, where it was formatted, printed, copied, velo-bound, and rushed upstairs to whatever team of condescending pricks had requested the job. More often than not, they would complain that the materials hadn’t gotten to them quickly enough. Some lawyers even had the balls to complain that their papers had gotten to them too quickly—they’d argue that there was no way the boys in the Printers could have handled the document production with proper care and diligence and still gotten it to them so fast.
So Eddie knew which projects to sit on and which to rush; he knew who liked their briefs printed on high-quality watermarked stock and who wanted them on copy paper because he would just red-line the documents with notes anyway. He knew how to get the right job to the right lawyer looking the right way. He might have been mentally challenged, but when it came to his work, Eddie was a savant. He was the Master of the Printers and he didn’t suffer incompetence from any of the Blazers working under him.
“Vicellous,” Eddie shouted to a rail-thin black kid hunched over a copier in the corner of the basement office and working furiously. “You didn’t bring these up.” Eddie pointed to a pile of SEC filings in a large wire-mesh basket with wheels that was sitting by the door.
“I’m doin’ the briefs for Portnoy,” Vicellous shot back without looking up. “He said they’re a top priority. Where the hell’s Ricky Ricardo? Tell him to wheel that shit upstairs!”
“Dylan’s on a run. You have to follow the system, Vicellous—”
“C’mon, Special Ed,” Vicellous said, his head now buried in a cardboard box that he was filling with briefs fresh from an output tray. He had yet to bother to look at Eddie while he talked to him, but Eddie was used to that; it was just another way of being ignored. “How many times I gotta tell you to call me Vice. And where the hell’s that cracker that’s supposed to start today? Make him do it.”
“Cracker’s right here, Vicellous,” Rich said.
Vicellous slowly turned to face Rich and Ed.
“Son of a bitch, Special Ed, you gotta tell me when someone else is up in this mothafucka.” He stood and walked over to Rich, put out his bony hand, and gave him a multilayered bro-shake that no white man could possibly keep up with.
“Name’s Vice Green,” Vice introduced himself. “Don’t take that cracker remark as an insult. I love me some crackers—Saltines, Ritz, even Britney Spears, once she let her ass get all nice and fat. I’m all about the love, baby.” He flashed a wide, gap-toothed grin.
Almost everyone in East New York, Brooklyn, knew that smile, and they all loved Vice for it. Twenty, black, and with a rap sheet thick as a phone book, Vicellous Green would have been a stereotype if he weren’t such a great guy. Vice reveled in making people laugh; he lived for it.
If he saw a kid with a scraped knee crying on the corner, before Vice even realized it, he was pulling faces and mugging for the kid until the tears stopped. When his neighbor Miss Claire was dying from all the various things that make old people die, he visited her every day, swapped gossip about the folks on the block, and told her dirty jokes until she cackled her toothless smile that made them both just crack up.
He loved that he could help people forget about whatever kind of pain they were in…even if just briefly. The reason Vice loved making people laugh was that it helped him forget about all the pain he was in…even if just briefly.
Vice was a legend in East New York for not once but twice getting the cops to let him go just by being funny. No guns, no running, no weapon but his humor. The first time it happened, a couple of badges from the Seventy-Fifth Precinct had nailed Vice as he was climbing over the back fence of an electronics store he had just robbed. Earlier that day, Mr. Singhal, the owner of the business, told Vice in a heavy Indian accent and in no uncertain terms to get “his sticky fingers and poor black country ass” out of his store, that his store was for “paying customers, not welfare babies.” The ironic thing was, Vice actually had money that day and wasn’t planning on lifting anything—granted, he had lifted the money from the handbag of a woman sitting next to him on the bus, but he had money nonetheless, and Vice was pissed because there was no reason for Mr. Singhal to embarrass him in front of the fine young ladies who were there shopping for iPods. So Vice struck back the only way he knew how—he robbed the bastard.
But as he was hopping Mr. Singhal’s fence, a pillowcase full of loot over his shoulder like he was some skinny, black reverse Santa Claus, he spotted the cops coming down the alley. Vice rushed his dismount, and sharp metal at the top of the fence caught his inner thigh, making a gash that instantly started to bleed. He fell to the ground and by the time he opened his eyes, the cops were standing over him.
“Get up, Vice,” Spano, the white cop, told him. Every cop in Brooklyn knew Vice.
“Looks like you cut your shit up bad, man,” Hughes, the black cop, said.
Vice looked down at his thigh. There was blood, but he knew he wasn’t hurt that badly. So he didn’t look at the cut as an injury but as an opportunity. He quickly scurried onto all fours and started searching on the ground.
“What the hell are you doin’?” Hughes asked.
“Shut up, brother, and help me find ’em!” Vice shouted back in mock anguish.
“Find what?” Spano asked.
In his best Amos ’n’ Andy voice, Vice cried out, “My balls, nigga! They gots to be round here somewhere!”
Vice knew when he was working for a laugh, especially when his ass was on the line, it was good to “black it up.” Hell, he’d seen Oprah do it when she had black guests on her show, and Hillary Clinton sounded like Florence from The Jeffersons when she wanted to pander to an urban crowd, so Vice figured if it was good enough for a billionaire and a politician, it was good enough for him. He’d black it up until he looked like Al Jolson if he had to.
It worked. The cops laughed.
“C’mon, we’ll get you fixed up at the station.”
“Hell no! You best be ready to shoot me, Kojak, ’cause I ain’t leavin’ here till I find my plums! ”
Vice’s delivery and cadence were perfect—the absurdity and charisma of Chris Rock, the conviction of Bernie Mac, all rolled into one five-foot-six, 140-pound frame. The cops laughed harder.
Ah, the gazelles are hobbling, thought Vice. Time for the lion to strike.
“C’mon, use your flashlight, guys…if you see somethin’ that looks like a couple bowlin’ balls been rolled across a barbershop floor, those my nuts. Just roll ’em on back to me.”
Vice was shuckin’ and jivin’, steppin’ and fetchin’, whatever it took to not get in the back of that cop car. The cops were leaning against their cruiser now, crying.
Vice stood, clapped his hands together.
“Thank you, Officers, and don’t forget to tip your waitresses.”
He looked hopefully at the cops, who were now regaining their composure. Vice waited for them to catch their breath, then said, sincerely, “C’mon, guys, the asshole who owns this joint made me look like a punk in front of some fine ass today. It was a bitch move. I was just pissed.”
The cops looked to each other like parents processing some lame excuse their son had just given them for a bad report card.
“These girls were fine, huh?” Hughes asked.
“Brotha, they could fart in the tub and I’d still drink the water.”
Hughes chuckled again. He looked at Vice for a beat, then picked up the pillowcase of pilfered goods from the ground.
“Mr. Singhal will be happy that we got his stuff back. Shame the perp got away though,” Hughes offered with a knowing look.
That was all Vice had to hear.
“I love my boys in blue. Peace out!”
And Vice was gone before the cops could change their minds.
Just eight months later, Hughes and a new partner nailed Vice wheeling a shopping cart with a stolen air conditioner down Atlantic Avenue at 3:30 a.m. in the middle of July. Hughes just looked at Vice and said: “You got five minutes, kid; make us laugh or you’re goin’ in.”
Lucky for Vice, Hughes’s new partner, Dave Kang, was Korean.
Vice assessed his situation: one hot 5200 BTU Kenmore, two pissed-they’re-workin’-night-shift cops, and three seconds to figure out how he was going to respond. Vice didn’t need to check the stolen watch on his wrist to know what time it was—it was half-past Vice is fucked. Vice would have to bring the house down if he wanted to skate—the standard dick-and-balls jokes wouldn’t fly this go-round. And since desperate times called for desperate measures, he rolled the dice. Hell, he threw them off the fucking craps table.
Vice started by riffing on how Kang was everyone in East New York’s favorite cop because he could never get a positive ID on a perp due to his horrible eyesight. Then he pulled on his temples with his fingers to make Asian eyes, bucked out his two front teeth, and even went so far as to say “Me so solly” once or twice in a stereotypical Asian accent. It was totally offensive and politically incorrect. It was also funny as hell.
This time, the cops let Vice keep the air conditioner.
Any other perp who’d said the shit Vice had would’ve gotten Kang’s billy club to the side of the head. But everyone in town knew what Vice’s life was like. The cops had been called to his house so much when Vice was a kid, they’d practically watched him grow up. They knew why Vice stopped playing Little League—because the one time his drunk-ass father showed up to a game, he nearly beat the kid senseless for striking out. They knew why Vice always played shirts in pickup hoops—because he was ashamed of the scars that the belt had left on his back. And they knew why he was always playing the fool and laughing—because if he didn’t, he’d probably be crying.
Vice had eight brothers and sisters, and they all lived in a house of fear. His parents had all their kids trained. Any bruise or mark on one of the children that was questioned by the authorities was quickly explained away by the child as a fall from a bike or a punch from a playground bully.
Vice was the oldest of the kids, so when he was in junior high, Social Services tried to get him to testify against his parents. Vice wouldn’t play ball; he may have been young, but he was old enough to know how the system worked. If he turned in his parents, he and his brothers and sisters would be separated, sent to foster homes all over the city where things could be even worse for them. Then one day, his parents would get out of lockup and they’d get their kids back because the system was fucked, and what would happen next—well, nothing would be worse than that. Vice always thought it was best to take the beating you knew rather than risk the beating you didn’t.
Even now, when Vice was a grown man, his parents had a hold on him. He still feared them. His father, at thirty-seven, was only seventeen years older than Vice, and since Vice had inherited his mother’s small build, Cornelius Green still could, and often did, whip his oldest son’s ass. And compared to his wife, Cornelius Green was a pacifist.
So Vice’s life was what it was. He lived in the converted basement apartment of his parents’ run-down house, took daily verbal and occasional physical abuse, and often lay in bed at night listening to his younger siblings upstairs going through the same hell he had gone through when he was their age.
So most of the cops felt for Vice. They could care less if Vice was a petty crook—everyone in Brooklyn was onto some kinda scam to survive, and Vice’s was robbing. He never hurt anybody. He’d get busted once in a while, but half the times the cops would let him hang out in booking until his bail hearing so he wouldn’t have to spend the day in county lockup. The cops had been around long enough to know there were a lot of real bad guys in East New York, and Vicellous Green was not one of them. He was just another victim.
But then he got arrested for something he hadn’t even meant to do and everything changed. He meant to steal the gas for his moped, that was for damn sure. He just didn’t mean to forget to take the gas pump’s nozzle out of the tank when he sped off. And he sure as hell didn’t mean for the irate attendant (who raced after him screaming in Urdu, except for the curse words that were in perfect English) to trip over the pump hose that trailed from the escaping dirt bike. And he certainly didn’t mean to hurt Mr. Mohammed Al Mahmoud, but he did, in the form of a compound fracture of the right arm. Vice could have easily gotten away with it, but he couldn’t just leave the man lying next to pump no. 3, clearly in pain, so he stopped to help him up.
Then Vice called 911.
And then he waited with Mr. Mahmoud for the ambulance to arrive.
And it did. With the cops.
And then Mr. Mahmoud served up Vice to the authorities.
And then the cuffs came out.
Mahmoud’s injury had occurred during the commission of a felony. Under New York law, that meant that Vice, the guy who had been beaten more times than a piñata and had never even raised his fist in self-defense, was arrested and charged with criminal assault.
Vice knew this wouldn’t result in a few months in County like all of his other dalliances. With his record, he was looking at a fifteen- to twenty-four-month sentence at least. He knew he was going to do some time. But then he was assigned a very interesting public defender.
Excerpted from Fifteen Digits by Santora, Nick Copyright © 2012 by Santora, Nick. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
NICK SANTORA was a lawyer before his first screenplay won Best Screenplay of the Competition at the 2001 New York International Independent Film Festival. A co-creator, executive producer, and writer for the hit A&E show Breakout Kings and former writer and co-executive producer of Prison Break, Nick Santora lives in Los Angeles, California.
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