The New York Times
The Last Dark Placeby Stuart M. Kaminsky
Handcuffed to a dead man, Lieberman vows to take on the Chicago mob
Thirty-three years ago, Connie Gower decided to raise hell in a synagogue. Drunk, armed, and out for revenge, he came to hunt down Abe Lieberman, a young cop he believed had killed his brother in a shoot-out. Lieberman takes him down, unafraid to return fire. Since then, Gower has had few/b>… See more details below
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Handcuffed to a dead man, Lieberman vows to take on the Chicago mob
Thirty-three years ago, Connie Gower decided to raise hell in a synagogue. Drunk, armed, and out for revenge, he came to hunt down Abe Lieberman, a young cop he believed had killed his brother in a shoot-out. Lieberman takes him down, unafraid to return fire. Since then, Gower has had few run-ins with the law, even as he made a name for himself as one of the Chicago mob’s most feared contract killers. When he finally gets nailed in Yuma, where he’s fled to avoid a murder charge, the Chicago police send Lieberman to bring him home. Handcuffed to each other, they are about to board the plane when a geriatric airport janitor shuffles towards them, puts on his glasses, and shoots the hitman dead. Though stooped, thin, and old, inside Lieberman is still the young firebrand who wasn’t afraid to draw his gun to protect his family and synagogue. The men who had Connie Gower killed have interfered with justice, and Lieberman will do anything to make them pay.
The New York Times
Read an Excerpt
The Last Dark Place
An Abe Lieberman Mystery
By Stuart M. Kaminsky
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2004 Stuart M. Kaminsky
All rights reserved.
July 16, 1969
The little old man was nodding his head and mumbling to himself as he walked down the gray corridor of the synagogue. It was not an unusual sight, but this particular old man was unfamiliar to Morrie Greenblatt, who approached him.
Morrie towered over the old man, who wore a black yarmulke atop his freckled, nearly bald head and a white-fringed tallis over his shoulders. Under his arm the old man was carrying a black prayer book.
From the main sanctuary, the sound of voices, a man and a woman, went back and forth nervously.
"Excuse me," said Morrie.
The old man stopped and looked up at the tall slope-shouldered man who had stopped him.
"We need you," Morrie said, glancing at his watch.
"Me?" asked the old man in a voice that sounded raspy from too many hours of prayer.
"We need one more for the morning minyan," Morrie said. "A tenth man."
"But I ...," the old man began, looking toward the main sanctuary.
"It won't take long. I promise. Prayers and then if you have time we have bagels and coffee. We need you. Sid Applebaum was supposed to be here but he has a stomach something and with the rain ..."
"You need me?" the old man said.
The old man shrugged and said, "Then I'll come."
Ten Jewish men who had been bar mitzvahed at the age of thirteen were required to meet the minimum number set forth in the Holy Bible for morning prayers. Morrie, who owned a bath and tile store on Lawrence Avenue, was the congregation's unofficial gabai, the one who saw to it that things got done.
No one, not even Morrie, was sure whether Morrie had volunteered for this job or it had simply evolved. Morrie, now almost fifty, accepted the responsibility, the principal task of which was to see to it that there was a minyan for each morning's prayers.
The regulars, if they were healthy, were no problem. He could always count on Rabbi Wass and his son, Cal Schwartz, Marvin Stein, Hyman Lieberman, Joshua Kornpelt, Sid Applebaum, and himself. He would check the night before with phone calls and if it looked as if they would be short, Morrie would ask Marv Stein to bring his brother or Hy Lieberman to bring his sons. Some days they had as many as sixteen or more. Some days they had walk-ins who were from out of town or regular congregation members there to observe yahrzeit, the anniversary of a loved one's death.
When he had counted this morning, Morrie had been sweating. Both of Lieberman's sons had come, looking none-too-happy to be there. Maish Lieberman explained that their father Hyman wasn't feeling well. Maish was thirty-six and by this time in the early morning was usually at the T&L, the new deli he had opened with a loan from his father and Sid Applebaum. Abe, at thirty, was the puzzle of the lot. Short and lean like his father with the same dark curly hair, Abe was a policeman who came to services only when his father pressured him into doing so. Only last week Abe had been promoted to detective and an unimposing detective he was, a shrimp beanstalk with a sad face too old for his years. A few minutes ago, Maish, his yarmulke perched precariously atop his head, had nodded and talked about the price of eggs and the courage of astronauts. Abe in a sport jacket and tie looking like a shoe salesman had politely asked Morrie, "You want me to call Alex?"
"I'll find someone," Morrie had answered. It was a matter of pride, but time was against him.
"Alex can be here in ten minutes," said Abe.
"I'll find," Morrie had repeated.
"Morrie, this is my third day on the job. I've got to be downtown in an hour and a half."
"You'll be there," Morrie assured him. "The bad guys'll wait."
"Bad guys don't wait," Abe said. "Let me call Alex."
"I'll find," Morrie repeated. "With God's help, I'll find."
Abe Lieberman had shrugged and moved over to talk to Rabbi Wass's son, who at the age of thirteen was almost as tall as the policeman. The boy wore thin glasses that kept creeping down his nose. A sudden jab and they were back up again ready to start slipping.
Now, less than five minutes after he had left, Morrie entered the small chapel across from the central sanctuary and announced,
"We have a minyan."
As Morrie ushered his treasured old man in, Marv Stein let out a loud sigh of relief. Marv was reliable, but he was also retired and Marv had a tee-off time in a little over an hour. God willing the rain would stop. "This is Mr. ...," Morrie began.
"Green," the old man said, taking Marvin's outstretched hand.
"Nice to meet you, Green," Marv said, and then added, "Let's get started."
The rabbi moved to the front of the small room, lectern before him, son at his side. The eight men and the rabbi's son sat in the chairs facing Rabbi Wass, a somber man with well-trimmed white hair, clean-shaven. To Abe, Wass looked like Lee J. Cobb with a stomachache.
Morrie smiled in relief, ready to lose himself in the comfort of daily prayer, looking forward to a poppy seed bagel with cream cheese and arguing with Josh Kornpelt on some point about the U.S. role in Vietnam and God's role in JFK's murder or why none of the astronauts were Jewish. They would move on to the Cubs' hope for a pennant next.
Green, the old man from the corridor, stood next to Morrie, who smiled at him. The Lieberman boys stood on the other side of the old man. Green gave a tentative smile back and the services began.
They didn't last long. Maybe five minutes. Maybe ten.
They were stopped by a loud, high-pitched raspy voice behind them. Not a shout but a high-pitched insistent demand.
"Hold it," the man said.
Rabbi Wass stopped and looked up through the narrow aisle that separated the cluster of ten men.
All heads turned to the man who had entered. They saw a tall young man in dark pants and a black T-shirt. He was about twenty with long uncombed dark hair and bad teeth. He was carrying a gun.
He didn't look like an Arab. Morrie concluded that he was a drugged-out wanderer who was there to rob them. Just so he wasn't an Arab terrorist.
"We are at prayer," said Rabbi Wass guiding his son, who had run to his side, behind him.
"You think I'm fucking blind," said the man, pointing his gun at the rabbi. "I can see what you're doing. I know where I'm at. I didn't think I was at the damned Dominick's supermarket or some shit."
The gunman shook his head and looked around at the men who had turned to face him. There was no doubt that the intruder was drunk, on drugs, or insane, possibly all three.
"You can have our money," Rabbi Wass said calmly.
"I know I can have your money," the tall man said, closing the door behind him. "I can have your money, your shirts, your shoes. I can have your goddamn lives."
He looked into each face before him growing more agitated.
"I don't want your goddamn money," he said willing himself, without success, to be calm. "Maybe I just want to come in here and let you know Jesus is coming and your asses are not getting into heaven. Don't matter how much you pray. You're going to hell."
"We shall take your opinion for what it is," said the rabbi, who had now completely shielded his son with his body.
"You're boning me," said the man with the gun.
"Boning you?" asked the rabbi.
"Making fun of me."
"I'm not in a position to make fun of you," said the rabbi.
"You're goddamn straight not in a position," the man said. "You are not in a position. Which one of you is Lee-burr-man?"
"Why?" asked the rabbi.
"I don't have to tell you why," the man said, stepping down the aisle. "I've got the gun. Just which one of you is Lieberman?"
"What do you want with Mr. Lieberman?" asked the rabbi.
The man with the gun shook his head.
"What do I want with him? I want to blow his damn head off. That's what I want with him. Now let's get it down and done and I'll get out of here."
"Why?" asked Rabbi Wass.
Someone was praying softly. Cal Schwartz. Cal was over eighty. His eyes were closed and he was gently swaying.
"What's he saying?" the gunman demanded.
"It's Hebrew," said Morrie. "He is saying that God is Almighty. That there is but one God and that His will will be done."
"Jesus, you people," said the gunman. "Lieberman, which one are you?"
"Why do you want to kill Mr. Lieberman?" asked Rabbi Wass again.
"Okay," said the man. "I got out of prison last week. I went home. I found out my little brother was dead. Over a year dead. A cop named Lieberman had shot him when Lance was just minding his own business. They kept it from me, told me Lance was away or some shit. Then I find out. I ask my mom where's Lance and she says, 'Connie, he was killed by some Jew in a uniform, killed for doing nothing, for being in the wrong place minding his own business.'"
"What makes you think Lieberman is here?" asked the rabbi.
"Because I'm no fucking dummy," said the man, tapping the barrel of his gun against the side of his head. "He's right in the phone book. I went to his apartment, brushed my hair back, smiled, and said to the woman who opened the door that I was an old friend of Lieberman. Little girl was standing next to her. The woman told me Lieberman was here. Short walk. Big gun."
"I'm Lieberman," Abe said.
"I'm Lieberman," Maish said.
And, not to be outdone and having seen Spartacus twice, Morrie said, "I'm Lieberman."
Then, one by one, each of them, even Mr. Green, who had been brought in as a stray from the hall, identified himself as Lieberman. The only ones who didn't were the rabbi and his son.
"All right then," the man with the gun said, "I can shoot all of you."
"You ever shoot anyone, Connie?" asked Abe.
The man looked at him, cocked his head to one side, and leveled the gun toward the thin young man who had asked the question.
"If there's got to be a first time," the man said, "it should be for good reason. I've got good reason."
"To kill eight, ten people?" asked Maish.
"If need be," said the gunman. "If need be."
"And if we rush you?" asked Kornpelt. "We get you. You shoot one, maybe two of us and you probably don't get Lieberman. You get the electric chair or life in jail is what you'll get."
"You're Lieberman," the gunman said to Joshua Kornpelt.
"I already told you I was," said Joshua.
The gunman was looking decidedly nervous now, his fingers clasping and unclasping the weapon in his head.
"I'll start with you," he said to Maish. "I shoot you. Odds are I've got the right guy. If not, Lieberman can let me know now who he is. How about them apples, Lieberman? I'm going to shoot big mouth now unless you step up like a man."
Maish tried to move past his brother to the gunman. Abe barred his way with his hand and stepped past Mr. Green and Morrie into the narrow aisle between the chairs.
"If you shoot any one of us," Abe said, "we'll all tell you that you shot Abe Lieberman. And we may be telling you the truth. Odds are eight to one you're wrong. Or maybe you're right. You kill another one of us and you still won't know. You said we're all going to hell. What about you? You kill innocent people and Jesus'll take you to heaven on a big white bird?"
"I'll repent," the gunman said.
"You'll be lying," said Lieberman. "You think Jesus won't know you're lying?"
"Shut up," shouted the gunman, pushing the gun inches from Abe's nose. "I'm starting with you. Right now."
"I'm Lieberman," Abe said.
"You're a smart-ass Jew, probably a lawyer."
"I'm Lieberman," Abe repeated.
"You armed?" the man answered.
"We don't wear guns in the synagogue," said the rabbi.
"You have a last name, Connie?" asked Lieberman. "If you're going to shoot me, I think I've got the right to know your name."
"You have the right? And what right did Lance have? Lance Gower. Remember him? You're Lieberman? Prove it."
The solution to this confused man's problem was evident to Morrie. Just tell everyone to pull out his wallet and show his driver's license. But Connie the gunman, Connie the intruder was clearly not operating within the realm of reason.
The gun was now aimed at Lieberman's right eye. Lieberman blinked wearily.
"Your brother Lance had just beaten a pharmacist nearly to death. Your brother Lance had a Kmart bagful of money and drugs in one hand and a gun bigger than yours in the other. The pharmacist hit the alarm before he passed out. My partner and I got there as your brother was coming out of the store. He shot at us. We shot back."
"Bullshit and a half," the gunman sputtered, his face turning crimson. "Bullshit and a half. Lance was a good kid."
"The pharmacist nearly died. He still can't talk so you can understand him," said Lieberman.
"I will have my revenge. A life for a life."
"I prefer 'Live and let live,'" said Lieberman. "Or 'Vengeance is mine saith the Lord.'"
"I know the Good Book from cover to cover and back again," the gunman said. "I had seven years behind the walls. I read it. Now I've made a promise to myself, to Jesus, to my dead brother. I made a vow. Moses said, 'If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word, he shall do all that proceedeth out of his mouth.'"
The gunman looked around the men proudly. He could outdo these Jews with his eyes closed, outdo them with their own Bible.
"I took an oath," he said. "And I mean to keep it."
"'But if any man hate his neighbor, and lie in wait for him and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into one of these cities," said Rabbi Wass. "'Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die.'"
"Amen," said Morrie.
"Connie, let's go outside," Lieberman said to the gunman.
"Here suits me just fine," the man said. "I'm going to blow your head off right here. Mess up your walls and all of your memories the way I'm messed up about Lance."
Lieberman was in the aisle facing the man. Something touched Lieberman's back. He reached back slowly, keeping his sad eyes on those of the man with the gun whose bad breath wasn't overridden by the smell of alcohol.
"Mortal sin going down here," said Lieberman, taking from Maish's hand whatever it was he had poked Lieberman with.
"Maybe. Maybe not. That's the future," the man spat. "This is now. I'll be here tomorrow. You won't. I saw on the TV we're putting a man on the moon in a couple of days. Going to be right there live on television. Let me ask you. Are they sending NB-fucking-C TV up there to the moon? What the hell will you care? You'll be dead like my brother."
"One of the other astronauts, Collins, Murphy, something," said Morrie. "He'll have a camera."
The gunman's face was inches from Abe's now. He whispered, "Won't that be something to miss?"
The gunman saw a movement over Lieberman's shoulder. He stepped to the side just in time to see the rabbi's son duck through a door behind his father and slam it shut.
"Shit. Shit," said the gunman, shaking his head. "Now I gotta hurry. I didn't want to hurry. I wanted to stretch this, make you sweat, beg."
"We don't beg," said Maish.
"Give me the gun, Connie," said Abe wearily. "We've got a service to finish. We all have to get to work or to our families."
The gunman stepped back, shaking his head and smiling. Then he started to laugh.
"You got balls for a Jew. I give you that. But you'll be making 'em laugh in hell in a minute."
Lieberman pulled his hand from behind his back holding the gun that Maish had pressed into it. The gun was small. Abe hoped it was loaded.
"Give me the gun," Abe repeated.
The gunman's mouth dropped open. He looked from the gun to the sad face of the thin policeman.
"Like hell," he said leveling his own weapon at Abe Lieberman. "Looks like we're in for stormy weather."
"I'm not waiting for it," said Lieberman. "Give me the gun."
"Can you beat that?" Connie the gunman asked, looking around at the frightened faces of the men about him. "Can you beat that? Hell, I might as well shoot. Maybe we'll both die. No way I'm going back inside the walls, back inside and no evening-up for my brother."
"Suit yourself," said Abe, unsure of the weapon in his hand, concerned that a wild bullet might kill someone else in the small sanctuary.
"A suggestion," said Rabbi Wass, behind Abe.
"It better be a goddamn good one," said the gunman, looking into Lieberman's eyes. "We got ourselves one hell of a situation here and running out of time."
Excerpted from The Last Dark Place by Stuart M. Kaminsky. Copyright © 2004 Stuart M. Kaminsky. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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