Jersey Law: A Novelby Ron Liebman
NOT SINCE THE SOPRANOS HAS THE UNDERBELLY OF THE STATE OF NEW
“There are no doubt more qualified lawyers around here. Most probably across the river in Philadelphia. But know what? Me and Mickie have got them scratching their heads. They’re thinking, How come those two guys keep winning their cases?” —from chapter two of JERSEY LAW
NOT SINCE THE SOPRANOS HAS THE UNDERBELLY OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY BEEN BROUGHT SO VIVIDLY TO LIFE.
Meet Mickie and Junne. That’s Mickie Mezzonatti and Salvatore “Junne” Salerno of Camden, New Jersey, a lovable pair of cops-turned-attorneys who defend and corral New Jersey’s worst of the worst.
Set in the streets and courtrooms of Camden, JERSEY LAW is the story of Junne and Mickie’s attempts to spring longtime client Slippery Williams, a charismatic drug lord who rules the local underworld, from jail. Junne and Mickie owe Slippery big time. He once saved their lives—literally—after a previous client tried to have our heroes murdered. But this case turns out to be much more complicated and far more perilous than Junne and Mickie imagined, and, once again, they’ll be lucky if they survive to hear the verdict.
Dark, witty, and fast, JERSEY LAW is a juicy, cinematic thriller that will enthrall readers through the very last page.
“Being a lawyer never looked so good....or so dangerous! Mickie and June are outright heroes. But warning: If you hate lawyers now, you'll love them afterJersey Law.”
–Nancy Grace, host of HLN'sNancy Graceas well as Swift Justice and author of Death on the D-List.
“Hey, what’s not to love about Death By Rodrigo? You got your quirky characters, you got a story moving faster than a boosted Caddie on the Jersey ‘Pike, you got side-splitting humor, you got a gritty look at life on the meanest of mean streets. We’re talking fast and furious fun.”
“Rich with sharp, crackling dialogue, memorable characters and local color.”
“[A] suspenseful, often very funny first novel.” Booklist
“Engaging and often funny. Colorful characters and a clever plot are supported by believable portrayals of the judicial system, legal ethics, and the street-level drug trade.” –Booklist
The two bottom-feeding South Jersey lawyers from Death by Rodrigo (2007) are at it again, their goal not so much to excel in court as to survive outside it.
You don't want to mess with Slippery (nee Avon) Williams, whether you're dealing drugs on the fair streets of Camden under his watchful eye or running a parallel organization in Atlantic City, which Chink (nee Reginald Shawn) Dupree was doing from prison until Slippery got him transferred into the Camden County Jail and iced. But now, it seems, Sami Khan, South Jersey's premier electronics dealer, is doing just that. As if fencing stolen property and evading taxes weren't enough for his family business, Sami has been laundering money for Slippery's outfit—which would be fine if Camden County DA Robert Cahill weren't leaning on Sami to flip. The situation is even trickier for Sami's lawyers, Mickie Mezzonatti and Junne Salerno, whose youse-guys narration guides innocent readers through this jungle. Having accepted $50,000 from Slippery to join upscale Philadelphia attorney Gerald Rubino at Sami's defense table, they realize too late that the service they're being paid for is to tip Slippery off to any hint that Sami's about to roll over on him. Of course, if they betray a client's confidence, they'll be disbarred. But disbarring sounds pretty good compared to getting whacked by Slippery, especially once Arty Bernstein, the landlord of their bucket shop, indicates that he's perfectly willing to sell them out to Slippery the minute they make a wrong move, or even before.
The dilemma is so authentic that it's sad to see how cheaply and easily Liebman lets his two heroes off the hook. Fuhgeddaboudit, but be sure to check back next time.
- Simon & Schuster
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Read an Excerpt
Location, Location, Location
Reginald Shawan Dupree, inmate number 65392, Camden County Jail, is definitely not liking the situation he has found himself in.
He shrugs as best he can, given that Slippery Williams’s two beefy fellow inmates have effectively strapped him in place, each man firmly grasping Reginald’s muscled arms, just about lifting his feet off the ground. He’s like a suicide-to-be up in his attic, precariously balancing tiptoe on the wobbling chair under the noose he’s secured to the rafters. Even though they are in an opened-door cell—this being tier community time—they are enjoying relative privacy. Ensured no doubt by some of Slippery’s other crew out on the tier, forcefully keeping any curious inmates at bay.
Reginald is called Reginald only by his grandmother. To the rest of the world—which for him consists of a narrow slice of southern New Jersey—he’s known by his street name: Chink.
Chink’s never had the pleasure of actually meeting his biological father. His mother, dead now maybe three years, was eventually discovered in the abandoned and condemned building that was her home away from home, with the overdosing needle still stuck in her rigor mortised, track-marked arm. She earned her livelihood by sucking and fucking anyone having the price of admission.
Chink is an exceedingly good-looking guy. The penis-wielding side of his DNA design was clearly Asian, most likely Chinese. So, there’s the street name. Chink. Political correctness not being a feature of the thug life.
Chink is milk-coffee complected, well built, thanks to years of in-and-out incarceration providing near-unfettered use of the prisoners’ weight room. One of the few perks of doing serious time. He sports the requisite gang tattoos. Wears his African hair in tight, short braids. But it’s his mix of Oriental features with what was once his mother’s striking beauty that makes Chink a standout. Asian wedged green eyes, high forehead, thinnish nose.
“Ain’t no thing,” Chink repeats to Slippery Williams, like maybe he didn’t get it the first time he said it when they came in here. Soon as they grabbed him. Showing Slippery he’s cool with whatever.
These men do not speak in sentences; their well-worn street phrases have all the meaning needed to convey their intent.
Slippery Williams has heard Chink. Knows exactly what he’s saying.
Let’s forget about the whole thing. My mistake. That’s what Chink is saying.
The Camden County Jail is overcrowded. Seems like it’s been that way since forever. And like all jails, the place reeks of stale urine, male sweat, excessive testosterone. Day and night an asylumlike rumbling and shrieking bounces from cement wall to cement wall; diminished in volume for only an hour or two sometime near dawn.
Other inmates can be heard from where Chink is being uncomfortably detained.
“Motherfucker, motherfucker, motherfucker,” someone is rapid-fire shouting. Without question, the most frequently used word in the prisoners’ lexicon.
“Fuck you, you pussy-assed bitch,” someone else can be heard shouting above the ever-present din, no one giving any thought to how that makes no sense at all.
Hard metal gates clank. The occasional guard can be heard ordering some inmate to “stand down, stand down.”
But right now, in this open, lonely cell, Chink is doing his best to alleviate what he has no trouble seeing as a bad situation.
It was a coincidence, a real fortuity, Chink at first decided, when he was transferred here from the also pitifully overcrowded neighboring Atlantic County Justice Facility.
Camden County claims ownership to the worn-down city of Camden, but Atlantic County has the rejuvenated jewel of Atlantic City in its tattered crown. And Chink is, and has been, the drug kingpin of Atlantic City.
On paper, Chink looks to be more successful, and better positioned, than Slippery Williams, who has quietly held the reigns of power over Camden’s flourishing drug markets longer than any of his predecessors, each and every one of whom is either doing life with no parole or is dead with bullet holes in his rotting corpse.
But appearances can be deceiving. Chink has to answer to Atlantic City’s organized crime syndicate. Guys mostly from New York and Vegas. Law enforcement may have weakened its hold over the years, but a mere street thug like Chink is no match for them. He’s an indentured servant who has been allowed to plow the land. The land in this instance being the street corners of his town and the boardwalk hotels when a guest has made inquiry of the bellman where he/she might score a little something to make their stay a bit more exciting.
So while Chink’s gross revenues may be higher than Slippery’s, his take-home pay is considerably smaller. And that’s why he at first found his transfer to the Camden County Jail so fortuitous.
It gave him an opening to seek a liaison with Slippery. A high-level parley of two street-corner CEOs. His stated intention: to explore some sort of fee-sharing partnership arrangement. A combination of crews and drug distributions. A pursuit of the economies of scale.
Naturally, Chink saw no need to mention how big a slice the uptown boys have been helping themselves to of his operation. Nor how, if he could only get inside Slippery’s network, with a minimum of time, he would be able to “dispense” with Slippery altogether. Chink naively fancying himself the Donald Trump of the New Jersey drug trade. Where “You’re fired!” is communicated in lead.
So they met. Over dinner, so to speak.
Because of woeful overcrowding most inmates were forced to eat their meals in their cells, on paper plates and with plastic utensils carefully collected and inventoried after each meal. In an apparent random selection, due to diminished mess hall seating space, only a portion of the inmates got to eat at tables.
The tables in question are several rows of six-seaters, the stools on either side bolted to the cement floor.
For all intents and purposes Slippery Williams owns the Camden County Jail. His crew is dominant over any other incarcerated grouping: black, white, or Latino. Doesn’t matter. Not all the guards are on his payroll. Just enough to ensure his creature comforts, such as they are. So, Slippery eats in the mess hall.
Eventually he and Chink had their meet, each seated opposite the other at Slippery’s regular table. Each had been allotted three gang members—one seated on either side at the table, and the third on his feet behind. They had spoken as they ate, like all proficient businessmen and -women do.
“So, like I’m sayin’,” Chink had said, carefully chewing the stringy mystery meat he had fished out of the oily liquid in his bowl. “They no stopping us, we combinin’ like I’m sayin’. Know what I’m sayin’?”
Slippery Williams is a man of few words. He’s doing what’s called wait-and-see time. His first criminal trial ended with a hung jury. The judge called a mistrial. The Camden DA can’t decide whether or not to risk a retrial and a possible acquittal. That would be bad for his long-term elective office ambitions. So Slippery continues to reside in the Camden County Jail, marking time.
Chink, on the other hand, is actually doing time. Though not all that much. He cut a deal on his latest case, since the evidence of felony conspiracy drug distribution was painfully thin. So he copped to yet another simple possession. With his priors he got a year and a day. Then came the nonsensical transfer from one overcrowded jail to another.
Slippery sips from the tepid, watered-down coffee, replaces the cup on his mess hall tray. He simply nods at Chink seated across from him, knowing there’s no stopping this boy from motormouthing his way through his proposal. As Chink resumes his pitch, Slippery simply nods what could reasonably be taken for assent.
To an outsider, Slippery is just another thirty-something ghetto rat. He’s thin, medium dark, standard facial features. Not one outstanding characteristic. An inner-city African-American Everyman. But his intellect is aflame. Given different circumstances of birth, the world could have been his oyster.
“Yeah,” Chink had said, gently thrusting his close-fisted arm across the table for a consent bump from Slippery. Slippery complied, but remained otherwise mum.
“All right, then,” Chink had said, motioning to the two guys flanking him that this powwow was at an end. A tacit agreement in principle had been reached. He had lifted himself off the bolted stool, nodded at Slippery, told him, “Later, my brother,” and walked off toward his tier. Chink silently assuring himself it won’t take six months and he’ll have Slippery dead.
Slippery watched him go, his plan already formulated.
Chink knows there is no real point in struggling with the two giants who have him pinned in this cell. Still he wrenches one arm this way, the other that way. The only result is that the grip on his arms is tightened. He tries looking past the cell bars. His crew should be out there. Why aren’t they here? Chink listens for the sounds of bodies bumping bodies, threats shouted as the two crews confront each other out there. But all Chink can hear is the ever-present jailhouse drone.
Several days ago, Slippery had privately cornered Chink’s main lieutenant. He wasn’t hard to single out. Seated in another quiet cell, on side-by-side bottom bunks, he and Slippery had a heart-to-heart. Explaining the facts of life. Succinctly conveying how Chink was in a really bad place. A place he’d unfortunately put himself in.
Slippery gave the lieutenant a choice. Not much of a choice, really. But the guy didn’t need long to see where things were headed. He accepted Slippery’s gracious offer (the other choice being a premature death), making the lieutenant the presumptive new crown prince of Atlantic City drug trafficking.
So, after Chink was first isolated and brought to the cell he now so unfortunately finds himself in, this guy and some of Chink’s other crew stood as near the open cell as Slippery’s men would permit. Chink’s other crew members waiting for the lieutenant to make his move. Their muscles already tensed in anticipation of the impending clash. Instead, they watched as the lieutenant simply turned and walked away. Those remaining at the line of scrimmage exchanged looks.
Then they got it and they too took off. So, Chink’s posse-to-the-rescue evaporated. He returns his attention to Slippery.
“Slip?” Chink says, the pleading in his voice clear as a bell.
Slippery stays eye to eye with him, until Chink can’t hold it any longer and looks away.
“Got to be,” Slippery finally says as Chink’s eyes shoot back to him.
“No, no,” Chink says. “Slip, lemme axe you …”
Chink never gets to finish his thought. Slippery brandishes the shank he’s been deftly holding behind his back. It’s a razor-sharp sliver from one of the mess hall trays that had worn and cracked to the point of having to be discarded. The guard who sold the shard had asked if any binding was needed for the handle. Slippery’s guy had said no, they had that covered.
Chink’s eyes saucer for the second or two he sees the shank materialize, his brain trying to catch up to the image his eyes have recorded. But Slippery is too fast as he surgically thrusts the shank directly into Chink’s windpipe.
Almost immediately, the two guys release Chink from their grasp. They and Slippery watch as Chink’s hands instinctively shoot to his neck. But he’s already in shock and so can’t get a hold of the shank, his hands violently tremoring. Chink’s head rolls back, he’s gurgling, now shoving himself from side to side as a pinkish flow of blood and saliva precedes the gushing of his blood down the front of his clothing. His eyes roll back in his head as he falls to the cell floor, still writhing, still gurgling.
It only takes a bit more time before Chink’s body gives out. Slippery waits until Chink has exhausted two or three violent body jerks and is then still before he exits the cell. His two men wait just a little while longer, simply to ensure no further cleanup action is warranted, and then they remove the shank and walk out.
Seeing the three file out from the cell, those few still standing nearby all make an orderly exit back to their own cells.
Lockdown is coming. Seconds from now the guards—including the shank seller—will make the discovery. Whistles will be blown, a siren sounded, and then will come the lockdown.
Slippery is already in his cell, on his bunk, reading his iPad. Devices such as these are definitely not permitted to inmates. On the occasions when cells are searched, Slippery hands the device off to a guard who will hold it until the all clear.
Years earlier, Slippery had trouble reading, having to sound out the words. But by now he’s become pretty proficient at it. Understanding the concepts, descriptions, and thoughts of the writers was far less difficult—almost second nature, once he acquired proficiency with the written word.
His iPad has e-mail capacity. But Slippery never uses it. Nothing he does is ever committed to writing. Today, he returns to Machiavelli’s The Prince. Days before, he read up on the book, using the Internet to take him to explanatory sites.
So the whistles are blaring, the siren has been sounded, and Slippery lies on his bunk reading.
Okay, so, here’s the thing: Slippery Williams is my client.
Mine and my law partner’s. Michael Mezzonatti. To just about everyone he’s Mickie. I’m Salvatore “Junne” Salerno. Junne morphed from Junior, my Camden neighborhood name.
Anyway, Slippery is, and has been, our client. You could say he’s our best and longest-standing client. (Okay, I just did.)
And me and Mickie actually like Slippery. Well, that’s an overstatement. It’s more a real-world kind of respect.
We understand Slippery. Can see his unrealized innate talents, how the circumstances of his birth have put him where he is. He’s unquestionably made a success of the hand he was dealt. And Slippery has always played it straight with us. He pays on time. Almost never asks us to do something we as lawyers shouldn’t do.
There is one little wrinkle involving a past client named Rodrigo GonzÁlez, who’s dead. Me and Mickie are alive thanks to Slippery. But that’s another story.
Anyway, guys like Slippery are our stock-in-trade. It’s what we do. Mickie and me. And maybe except for Dumpy Brown, our biggest Camden legal competitor (a guy whose business card says “Black On Black Get You Back”), we are the street’s go-to lawyers.
What can I say?
But the problem now with Slippery isn’t Chink. Chink’s gone. History. Another unsolved jailhouse murder. Mickie and me will hear about what happened with Chink later, but it’s of no professional concern to us.
No, the problem is Slippery’s wait-and-see time.
That’s why tomorrow the jailers will escort him to the Camden County Courthouse.
Me and Mickie need to do something.
That’s what he pays us for.
© 2011 Ron Liebman
Meet the Author
Ron Liebman spent two decades at the Washington, D.C. office of one of America's top law firms. He specialized in litigation, both domestic and international. He is the author of Death by Rodrigo, Grand Jury and Shark Tales. He is married to the artist Simma Liebman. Their two daughters live and work in New York.
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