At the start of this tepid stand-alone from Vachss (Haiku), professional thief Tim "Sugar" Caine finds himself in an interesting dilemma--a rape victim has mistakenly identified him as her attacker, but he hesitates to tell the cops the truth because he was participating in a jewel robbery at the time. The canny ex-con figures that if he does time for the sex crime, he will evade scrutiny for the crime he did commit. Caine ends up serving a five-year sentence for sexual assault before he's back on the New York City streets, where he reconnects with Solly Vizner, the man who put the jewel heist together. Most of the book concerns Caine's efforts to track down another member of the crew who Vizner fears could squeal on everyone else, but a less than exciting lead and a slow-moving plot make this one of Vachss's weaker crime novels. (Nov.)
A criminal who's spent five years in prison for a crime he didn't commit finds that life on the outside is just as violent and unfair.
Timothy (Sugar) Caine is a pro's pro, a methodical thief built like a stone wall who's forsworn violence on the job. Even though a rape victim has picked his mug shot from a photo array, there's no way he could be her assailant. Sugar knows it; the cops know it; even the victim would probably know it if she took a good close look at his mismatched eyes. But when the NYPD detectives who found him packing heat ask for his alibi, he clams up for the best reason in the world—he doesn't want to confirm their assumption that he was part of a crew that was robbing a jewelry store instead. Unwilling to give up his confederates—Solomon Vizner, who set up the job; Big Matt, the engineer; and Abner Jessop, the newbie Solly's old friend Albie had vouched for—Sugar elects to take the weight for the rape instead. Five uncomplaining years later, he emerges from prison expecting a warm welcome and a big payoff from Solly. He gets the first, but in lieu of the second, Solly sics him on Jessop, who's taken off for the Sunshine State, where Solly also hopes to recover a little blue book Albie left behind when he departed to join the heavenly choir. Under the Florida sun, Sugar tracks Jessop with the help of Albie's girlfriend Rena Rosenberg, but not before he and Rena have formed a uniquely salt-and-pepper relationship that begins in mutual wariness and moves through mutual back-scratching to sexual congress to something altogether richer and more unexpected. The ensuing chain of bait-and-switch seems to have been plotted by someone with a truly fiendish interest in frustrating his hero.
Even in the absence of his signature tough-guy hero Burke, Vachss (Haiku, 2009, etc.) is just as macho, jaundiced and relentlessly didactic about what a hard, hard world it is.
From the Publisher
“Vachss conveys his protagonist's reality in and out of prison in a knowing manner. Along the way, he creates sympathy for a criminal whose code of honor, and whose survival, turns out to be a work in progress.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Sugar and Rena are a canny, lethal team that bears watching in the hopes they become future players in Vachss's ever-growing arsenal of tarnished, avenging angels.” —Los Angeles Times
“Rippling with the whip-smart dialogue we have come to expect from Vachss, this is yet another classic from the master.” —Irish Independent
“The prose is red-hot, mean, stripped down, and sometimes, just plain serious.” —San Francisco Book Review
“Few plumb the . . . integrity of the ‘honorable’ criminal mind like Vachss. [These] brutal insights provide only the lexicon for what is really a battered and bruised romance—a salvation . . . for those who shoulder life’s true weight.”—Winnipeg Free Press
“Damn scary. Vachss’ fans will not be disappointed.” —Booklist
“[Vachss writes] some of the cleanest, meanest, stripped-down-and-sparkling prose ever penned.” —The Austin Chronicle
“There’s no way to put a [Vachss book] down once you’ve begun.” —Detroit Free Press
“Vachss is red-hot and as serious as a punctured lung.” —Playboy
Read an Excerpt
Whatever it was the cops had snatched me up for, they had to believe I was good for it. But not all that good. Otherwise, why go tag-team on me?
One of the cops on the second shift was an older guy. He looked the way some people say all cops used to: tall, big hands, straw-colored hair. Back then, they’d say, cops would catch a kid doing something wrong, they’d kick him in the ass, send him home, and go back to walking their beat. They never paid for a meal, but nobody thought that was graft. Some might even take money from bookies or whorehouses. But never from a dope dealer.
Maybe cops were really like that once. I don’t know; I wasn’t around then. I only know how they are now.
I’ll say this for the older cop: He dressed like a guy who lived on his paycheck. And he wasn’t there to dance. He walked in with his partner, sat down, and threw his Sunday punch: “This one just doesn’t look like your line of work, Sugar.”
That told me he was sharp enough to do more than just check me for priors. Not by calling me “Sugar.” The first pair, they’d called me that, too. Sliding it out of their mouths like they knew something dirty about me. This cop, he just said it like it was my name.
The first two cops, I think all they did was scan my record for a “Registered Sex Offender” ticket. When they didn’t see one, they were out of gas; it’s the only card they know how to play.
The older cop shook his head, like he was confused about what they’d arrested me for.
“I got to say, I don’t like you for this one at all.”
“Then what am I here for?” I asked him.
He made his eyes go sad, showing he was disappointed in me. It was a good trick. A guy who’s been around as long as him, he probably knew a lot of them.
We’d already been sitting in the interrogation room for a couple of hours when he did that. Maybe it was part of his act, I don’t know. But it was as clear as if somebody wrote the rules on the wall for us all to see: As long as I didn’t say the magic words, we were going to play it like men. No disrespect, not in either direction.
Those magic words could only come out of my mouth. Door Number One: “I want a lawyer.” Door Number Two: “Yeah, you got me.”
I tell them I want a lawyer, they’d give me a look like I’d just screwed myself, cuff me back up, and have one of the bluecoats walk me into a holding cell.
But if I started talking, they’d hold off until they squeezed as much juice out of the lemon as they could. Say I told them I wanted a deal. They’d tell me that I could get damn near whatever I wanted . . . depending on what I had to trade.
The way they were working me, walking so soft, that was just to stop me from asking for a lawyer. Good cops—I don’t mean like they were good guys, just good at their job—they think the same way we do. They know if you get all impatient you can mess everything up.
So they stayed decent and respectful, like I said. Not kissing my ass or anything; making it just three men, talking. The way they’d figure it, so long as they could keep me talking, talking about anything, there was always the chance I’d take Door Number Two. Or stumble through it.
They had to know it was a-thousand-to-one against them getting me to confess. And I knew it was even worse odds against me convincing them they’d grabbed the wrong guy.
A weak hand, sure. Who hits a gutshot straight-flush draw? But I wasn’t drawing dead, not yet.
We each had our reasons for staying with it. They had all the time in the world. And that’s how much time I was looking at.
So I had to stay to see the last card drop. Because, no matter what those sex-crimes clowns had told me, I knew this couldn’t really be about a rape.
The rape they kept asking me about, it must have been a bad one. For the cops, the worst one would be if it happened to some kind of famous person. I hadn’t seen a paper for days, but I knew they’d been sitting on my place, waiting for me to come back. At least six of them, round the clock. That’s a lot of cops.
I didn’t know how long they’d been waiting, but they couldn’t have started until after I left, and that was only a few days ago.
Sending the sex-crimes cops in first, that didn’t mean anything—it could just be a hype to get me to take my eye off the ball. Misdirection, like three-card monte. They pull you in for something big, get you so scared of that charge that you drop your guard and give up something about whatever they’re really after you for.
I knew they hadn’t bagged any of the others. If they had, they’d drop their names, so I’d know they weren’t just blowing smoke. Then they’d have their magic words. Door One: one of the other guys had turned canary, put all the weight on me, trying to cut himself a deal. Door Two: here was my chance to help myself before it was too late.
Only the second pair of cops would try a move like that. The first two, the sex-crimes boys, they mostly made speeches. Or asked me stupid questions, like a TV camera was filming them. Big guy like me, all those muscles—what happened? I’d been on steroids so long I couldn’t get it up, and she’d laughed at me? I hadn’t meant to hurt her, just slap her around a little, maybe? Come on, isn’t that how it went down?
I yawned in their faces.
“Got nothing to say now, huh?” one of them had said. Like he’d just nailed me to the cross.
I wanted to ask him if that pathetic crap ever worked. What kind of chumps show you their hand first and then try to bluff you off a better one?
But I didn’t say anything. I’m a professional, not a punk with a pistol. You’ll never see my picture on a security camera sticking up a bodega. Or jacking some guy in a suit while he’s standing at an ATM.
I’m a thief, and I do clean work. I don’t hurt people for money, I don’t set fires, I don’t do any of those sicko sex things. Stuff like that, it gets spread all over: the papers, radio, TV. Gets everybody paying attention. Specially when there’s big reward money out there.
A man who does my kind of work, the only way he ever gets caught is if he goes in without a plan. Or if someone rolls over on him.
You never talk about your work, period. Too many guys walking around with heavy charges hanging over them. Anyone gets caught holding K-weight powder in this state, it’s the same as a murder beef. A street cop catches a guy holding that heavy, he can make the bust, but all that’d get him is another one of those “commendations” every cop has a couple dozen of. What he really wants is that gold shield, so he’d rather have that guy on the street, working for him. Any outlaw is going to be able to go places no undercover ever could. So all he has to do is listen long enough.
Guys like that, they’re all nothing but rats on leashes. If it wasn’t for informants, the cops would have to get damn lucky to ever make a case against a pro.
They’ll pretty much always get the amateurs—the clowns who leave a trail you could follow even with one of those white canes tapping the way.
The amateurs who stay out the longest are the ones who kill for fun. A random kill doesn’t even look like what it really is until the bodies pile up.
There’s also people who get off on being a rat. Nothing in it for them; they like doing that kind of stuff.
So it’s just as hard for people on my side of the law to sniff them out as it is for the law to sniff out a guy who does freakish stuff.
There’s even people stupid enough to rat on themselves. A pro can be smart about work and dumb about other things. Say you talk about your work to your girlfriend: all it takes is for her to get mad at you one time to put a whole crew under the jail.
A few years ago, that happened to a guy I’d worked some jobs with. He was real good-looking. Smooth talker, too. Always found some girl to pick up his tabs—I don’t think he ever paid rent in his life. This guy, he’d never talk about our kind of work, but any woman he ever stayed with, she’d have to know he wasn’t any W-2 man. Probably helped them get over the nights he didn’t come home. And explained the flashy way he always dressed, too. Whatever, they were always happy to help out with some cash while he was waiting on this big score he had coming.
Only this last one, she couldn’t leave it that way. She just had to satisfy herself he wasn’t spending her money on some other girl.
A lot of them do it now. They call it “playing detective.” You know what I mean: they buy their boyfriend a cell phone and pay the bill themselves. The mark thinks he’s playing her, but the person who pays the bill gets the bill. Which means she gets a lot of phone numbers.
So, anyway, the girlfriend, she finds a number she doesn’t recognize, dials it while the guy’s sleeping. Wakes him up and goes off on him. She’s taking care of him, and he fucking cheats on her!?
He should’ve just promised her he was done with that other girl. Better yet, just walked away and not come back.
But, no, he has to be a big man. Throws a fistful of hundreds on the floor, tells her, “Here, bitch. Go pay your little cell-phone bill.”
All their time together, she thought he was her kept boy, so seeing all that money sends her over the edge. A few minutes earlier, she was screaming at him to get out. Now she’s standing in front of the door. She’s got more to say, and he’s going to listen to it or . . .
He should have let her scream herself dry. But, the kind of fool he is, he’s got to play his role, just like he did flashing the money. Ends up banging her around pretty hard.
He’s not even a few blocks away when she goes 911 on him.
They pick him up right on the street. Once they tell him what he’s being pinched for, he doesn’t say a word.
This guy figures, they arraign him in the morning, he takes whatever they’re offering. What’s he looking at . . . thirty days and some anger-management class?
But he’s only in a few hours when the girlfriend waltzes in and tells the cops she’s decided not to press charges. Stupid broad, she thought it was her case. When they tell her it’s not up to her, she loses it again. By the time she’s done running her mouth, they’ve got enough probable cause to take her home and have a look around. That was all it took.
I’ll say this for that guy: maybe he played big-shot, but he paid for doing it, and he didn’t ask anyone he ever worked with to split the tab.