Lieberman's Lawby Stuart M. Kaminsky
In the fifth book in this richly woven and satisfying series, Chicago police detective Abe Lieberman is reminded just how deep the roots of hate and revenge can go when the local temple is vandalized. As Abe investigates, he finds that the conflict strikes close to home and may tear apart a piece of his personal world.
Throughout Lieberman's fifth case (Lieberman's Thief, 1995, etc.), Kaminsky lets even his wildest-eyed characters have their say on the tough issues; the effect is evenhandedly humane, never schematic. Next time, though, Kaminsky better watch the loose ends, or he'll drive this fine series into as soapy a rut as the Gideon stories.
Read an Excerpt
An Abe Lieberman Mystery
By Stuart M. Kaminsky
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Stuart M. Kaminsky
All rights reserved.
The morning rush hour at the Edgewater Restaurant, which was little more than a small diner, was over. Traffic hurried by in the late spring rain. People scurried with and without umbrellas down Lawrence Avenue. There were only three customers in the diner; two of them were Korean businessmen who owned shops in the area, one a cleaning store, the other a shoe store. They were sitting in a booth finishing a late breakfast and arguing in Korean about something. The only other customer, a burly, weary-looking white man, sat in the booth behind them drinking coffee from a white mug and reading the Sunday Times.
The old counterman in a white apron filled white ceramic containers with packets of Sweet'n Low, Equal, and sugar. When the diner door opened, letting in the sound and smell of falling rain, the counterman barely looked up. The burly man sipped his coffee and turned to the sports pages in back. But the two Korean businessmen turned, rose from their unfinished breakfast and hurried to the counter to pay. One of them placed a ten-dollar bill near the cash register.
The other businessman, the one with the shoe store, tried not to look at the trio who had come into the restaurant, one of whom was now closing the door behind him.
"I'll add it up," said the counterman, putting aside his packet container and wiping his hands on his apron.
"No need," said the cleaning store operator. "You keep change."
"Suit yourself," said the counterman with a shrug and reached for the ten spot while the businessmen made their way around the three men who had just entered.
The three were in their twenties, Korean. Two were dressed in black jeans, nicely laundered white button-down shirts, and identical leather bomber jackets. The third Korean was slightly older than the other two and wore a black London Fog raincoat and sunglasses. The three moved to the counter and sat as the old counterman smoothed his white mustache and asked, "What'll it be, gentlemen?"
"Mr. Park," said the one in the middle, the one wearing sunglasses.
"Park's sick," said the counterman. "You wanna start with coffee?"
The three young men sat silently, barely wet from the pouring rain, their car probably parked within a few feet of the diner. The three men watched the old man pour them coffee. Their cups sat untouched. The old counterman put out the sugar and sugar substitutes and a small metal pitcher of milk.
"When will Mr. Park return?" the young man with glasses said, without a trace of accent.
The old counterman shrugged his thin shoulders and said, "Couldn't say. Pretty sick. Something with his stomach. Hypotonectosis. I'm talking over the place for a while, maybe a long while." The counterman heaved a heavy sigh and looked around the place. "Thought I was safely retired, but ... what'll it be? Hotcakes, eggs, fruit and yogurt cup? Strawberries are fresh."
"Fruit and yogurt," said the young man, removing his glasses to clean the rain off with a napkin.
The old man looked at the flankers who shook their head without speaking. The old man shrugged and called the order back to someone in the kitchen. Then he moved from behind the counter with the coffee pot in his hand to give a refill to the burly man who grumbled something about the Cubs having no pitchers again, about someone named Dickerson giving up two runs in the eighth.
The old man shook his head sympathetically as he retreated behind the counter and returned the pitcher to the hot plate. He picked up the fruit cup and delivered it to the young Korean whose glasses were now cleaned to his satisfaction and back on his nose.
"We have come to collect," said the young man. "I am sure Mr. Park informed you that we come in every other Friday to collect."
The old man looked puzzled. "Park got sick suddenly. Rushed to the hospital. I talked to his daughter, said I'd take over. Park's an old friend. How's the yogurt cup?"
"These strawberries are not fresh," said the young man. "They were frozen."
"I swear on my mother's life," the old man said shaking his head. "I thought we had fresh strawberries. You want me to take it back? No charge."
He reached for the cup. The young man grabbed his wrist and held it tightly. One of the other two men looked at the man reading his newspaper. The burly man didn't seem to be paying any attention.
"We collect one hundred dollars every two weeks," the man in the glasses said softly. "Today is collection day."
"Collect?" said the counterman, trying to pull his arm away. "For what?"
"Protection," said the young man.
"From who, what?" the old man said, still trying to free his arm.
"From us," the young man said softly. "Park pays. We don't break his windows. We don't mess the place up. We don't mess up Park or his family. What we could do to Park, we could do to you. Hypo ..."
"... tonectosis," the old man finished.
"You'll wish you were in the hospital with it next to Park. You understand?"
"This is a shakedown," the old man said, frightened but also angry. "This is blackmail."
"Now you understand," the young man said, letting go of the counterman's arm. "Every other week we collect one hundred dollars from every Korean business in the neighborhood."
"I'm not Korean," said the old man.
"As of right now, till Park returns, you are acting Korean," said the young man, adjusting his dark glasses as the counterman rubbed his wrist and looked at all three of the young men. The one on the right smiled slightly.
"Blackmail," repeated the old man.
"Extortion," the young man with glasses corrected.
"I'm not paying," said the old man, backing away from the counter.
The young man in the middle, the leader who had grabbed the old man's wrist, put his palms together and touched his hand to his lips as if in prayer.
"Then," he said, "we will begin by breaking two of your fingers and destroying the kitchen."
The two young men flanking the leader got up from their stools. One of them moved around the counter heading for the counterman. The other headed slowly toward the kitchen.
"You hear all that?" the counterman said.
"Clear as spring rain," answered the burly man, still looking at his newspaper.
"Leave now," the young man with glasses said to the burly man. The man who was heading for the kitchen paused at the customer's table and a knife suddenly appeared in the young man's hand, a long, thin-bladed knife. He pointed it at the burly man.
"OK," said the old counterman, wearily stepping back in front of the bespectacled Korean.
The young man smiled and then, to his total surprise, the old counterman reached over, grabbed the front of his jacket, and with an unexpected strength yanked the young man onto the counter, overturning the yogurt plate and one of the cups of coffee. The young Korean was appalled to find the barrel of a pistol pressed up against the right lens of his glasses.
When the other two young men moved to help their leader, the burly man lowered his newspaper, revealing a pistol in his hand. "Stop there," he said.
The two ignored him and took a step forward. The young man looking into the gun barrel shuddered.
"I said 'stop' in clear, plain, loud English," the burly man shouted, firing his weapon into the ceiling.
This time, the two men stopped.
"You OK, Rabbi?" the burly cop said, sliding out of the booth, weapon aimed at the frozen young Koreans.
"Lovely, Father Murphy," said the old man, releasing the young man with the glasses but keeping the gun leveled at his head.
"Tape?" asked the burly cop, knocking the knife from the hand of the young man nearest him.
Gun still leveled, the old man reached beneath the counter and pulled out a small tape recorder. "I'll leave it running in case these gentlemen have anything more to say."
None of the three Koreans spoke as the two policemen handcuffed them behind their backs.
"Let's set a record booking 'em," said the burly man, pushing the two young men toward the door. "Iris and I have an appointment with Father Parker about the wedding."
"You could've told me earlier," said Lieberman, removing his apron and pocketing the tape recorder.
"Slipped my mind," said Hanrahan.
"Slipped his mind." Lieberman said to the bespectacled young man as if they were friends. "You believe that?"
The young man said nothing as Lieberman guided him around the counter and had him join his partners at the front door. The young man was known only as Kim to his small gang and to the Korean businessmen he robbed. Kim's goals in life were to look as dry as Clint Eastwood and as cool as a young Robert Mitchum and to become very wealthy and respected. He and his gang had been at this extortion game for almost a year. They had done well. Until now. Kim was humiliated, beaten by a skinny old man.
"I'll get the car," Hanrahan said, putting his gun back in the holster under his jacket.
"I'll entertain our visitors," said Lieberman.
Hanrahan opened the door, looked at the downpour and turned to say, "I'll have the door open. Get 'em in fast."
"Like the Flash," said Lieberman, and his partner dashed out into the rain. "You know the Flash?"
The question was directed at the three handcuffed young men. The one nearest Lieberman was having trouble keeping his glasses on his nose with his hands cuffed behind him.
"The Flash was in the comics," said Lieberman with a sigh at the lack of education of the young. "When I was a kid he wore a tin helmet with wings, like Mercury. Then they stuck him in a tight red suit."
The Koreans seemed even more bewildered.
"OK now?" came a timid voice behind Lieberman.
"OK now," Lieberman answered.
From the kitchen two people emerged. Park and his wife. They were in their fifties and held back in fear, not completely sure that what they had done was the right thing.
"We will talk again," the young man in glasses said to the couple.
"That would be a bad idea," Lieberman said, moving to Kim's side. He moved close enough to whisper in the man's ear. "Much to my regret and in the hope that God has forgiven me through my prayers, I have killed four people and cooperated in doing very unpleasant things to about six others. If anything happens to the Parks, if anything happens to this diner, if he even tells me that you or one of your gang has returned here, I'll find you and I'll shoot you."
The young man twitched his nose trying to keep his glasses on. Lieberman helped him by pushing the glasses back with the barrel of his gun.
"You believe me?" asked Lieberman.
Kim didn't answer.
"You know the Tentaculos?"
The three men looked at the skinny cop with the almost white hair and the white mustache. He looked a little like an undernourished old dog, one of those dogs with the sad, tired faces. They didn't answer, but Lieberman knew the answer.
"You get in touch with El Perro," Lieberman said in his ear. "Tell him that El Viejo said he would shoot you. Ask him if you should believe me."
"You're threatening me," said Kim.
"You are a very perceptive young man," said Lieberman softly. "I turned the tape recorder off long before I did it."
"You are the Jew cop. Liebowitz," the man in sunglasses said calmly. "You are the one who has been talking to our clients, costing us business. I've heard of you."
"It's nice to be famous," said Lieberman. "The name is Lieberman."
Three quick honks of a car horn. Lieberman nodded the trio out into the rain. He turned and smiled sadly at the Parks, who were pressed close to each other. Mrs. Park raised her hand slightly in what was probably a wave.
Lieberman ushered the three onto the street and into the back seat of the unmarked blue Geo. It took about ten seconds. Lieberman closed the door and slid into the passenger seat. He was almost as soaked as Hanrahan who gunned the car into the dark wet traffic almost colliding with a bright, white, double-parked Lincoln Town Car.
"That your car?" asked Hanrahan, nodding at the Lincoln as they passed it. "Bockford Towing gets them in minutes around here, even in the rain."
"I'll book 'em," Lieberman said, running his hand through his hair and glancing back at their silent prisoners. "We'll get you to the church on time."
"Meet you back at the station at noon?" asked Hanrahan, now driving merely recklessly instead of insanely through traffic.
"Make it one," said Lieberman. "I've got an appointment too. You three comfortable back there?"
The three men in the back seat started to talk in Korean.
"Silence," said Lieberman, half turning in his seat and pointing his gun at them. "I might think you're planning some kind of escape. You don't want me to think that. You have long lives and short prison terms ahead of you unless we find you're wanted for something else."
The young man directly behind Hanrahan said something in Korean. He was clearly frightened. The one in the middle, with sunglasses, answered him with two or three clipped words and the frightened one grew quiet.
"I think, Father Murphy, that we have a winner in the back row."
Hanrahan nodded. If one of them was wanted they would work him over, make a deal with his lawyer, get better counts on his partners. On the other hand, all three of them could be back on the street the next day. The ways of judges and lawyers were a mystery to Hanrahan. He checked the car clock and his wristwatch. He had a little over half an hour to pick up Iris and ten minutes after that to get to St. Bart's. There was just enough room between the Bekin's truck and an old Dodge. Hanrahan sloshed through, heading up Broadway.
"What the hell is hypotonectosis?" asked Hanrahan.
"Made it up," said Lieberman.
"Why didn't you just give him a real disease?"
"Spring is the mischief in me," said Lieberman.
"What?" asked Hanrahan.
"Robert Frost," said the bespectacled prisoner. "It's from Robert Frost."
Lieberman looked at Kim.
"English major," Kim said.
Lieberman sat forward and shook his head. He listened to the torrent of rain on the car roof and thought about his lunch meeting with Eli Towser. Capturing the three in the back seat was like eating a strawberry danish at Maish's compared to what he expected from Eli Towser.
In spite of the faded jeans, the red-and-black flannel shirt, and the little black kepuh on his head, the beard gave Eli Towser away. He was not just a Jew, he was very much an Orthodox Jew. In fact, he was not just an Orthodox Jew, he was also a rabbinical student and had come highly recommended by Rabbi Wass of Temple Mir Shavot. Since Rabbi Wass was neither Orthodox nor particularly brilliant. Lieberman had been suspicious of the lean young man who had appeared at his door a little over a month ago. The young man had introduced himself seriously, touched the mezuzah on the doorway and entered.
Eli Towser, no more than twenty-five years old, had explained that he and his wife made a modest supplement to his scholarship, she with the money earned by a part-time job while she too went to school, and he by tutoring Jewish boys for their bar mitzvah and Jewish girls for their bat mitzvah. Towser had been dressed more seriously the day he first met Lieberman, Bess, and their grandson Barry. Winter had just made up its mind to depart but left a late chill behind and the young man before them had worn a black suit, hat, and coat.
He answered all of their questions and assured them that Barry's being bar mitzvahed in a Conservative temple would be no problem, and they came to a price. Bess took care of the payments and Barry had reluctantly prepared. If there had been no reluctance from a twelve-year-old boy, Abe would have worried. For the first four sessions—two per week, after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays—the rabbinical student and the resigned boy, who bore a distinct resemblance to his father, were left alone in the Lieberman kitchen.
They practiced. Much of what Barry had to learn was simply memorization. His reading of Hebrew was going slowly. The whole process was about to go even more slowly.
Now sitting among the early lunch crowd at Kopelman's Kosher Restaurant, Lieberman said "Eli," as he pushed aside his bowl of rice pudding, leaving just enough left to delude himself that he was indeed eating with moderation.
The rabbinical student was methodically dipping mandel bread cookies into his coffee. With each dip, Towser smoothed down his beard to make room for the dripping delight. Four pieces of the almost oval cookies remained on the plate.
Excerpted from Lieberman's Law by Stuart M. Kaminsky. Copyright © 1996 Stuart M. Kaminsky. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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