West 47thby Gerald A. Browne
A woman steps out of a limousine on the Upper East Side, her jewels glittering brightly, and the/b>/i>
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An investigator who recovers stolen insured jewelry steps into a web of international deceit and murder in New York Times–bestselling author Gerald A. Browne’s spellbinding tale set in New York City’s world-renowned Diamond District
A woman steps out of a limousine on the Upper East Side, her jewels glittering brightly, and the doorman looks her over. A few phone calls later, the heist is planned. Thieves descend on the woman’s home, planning to swipe the jewels and depart silently. Instead the robbery turns violent.
Mitch Laughton doesn’t intend to solve a murder case, but he will find the stolen jewels. A professional investigator of stolen gems, he is hired by the victims’ insurance company to recover the $6 million haul. But in pursuing the missing swag, Mitch learns about a pair of emeralds worth far more—enough to turn thieves into killers. Now not only will he have to face down dangerous informants, he will have to tangle with a gang of murderous thugs and two very different but vicious mobsters.
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By Gerald A. Browne
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Gerald A. Browne
All rights reserved.
To look at him no straight person would think Charlie Gusano was anything more than a doorman.
He had the part down pat: the automatic off-and-on smile, the eagerness to serve, the anticipation and gratitude for tips. The whole convincing package.
Gusano, or Charlie Eyes as he was called by certain guys around who really knew him, had been at the game for twelve years. For seven he'd worked the curb of an upscale restaurant on 53rd Street. The place folded because the people who really owned it, those in the back, as they say, took too much out of it. Otherwise, Charlie would have still been there. For his purpose it was a prime spot.
Since then Charlie hadn't worked anywhere steady. That was his choice. Usually he'd do only a few nights here or there. Sometimes he didn't mind filling in for a couple of weeks or even a month. It depended on the place. It had to be upscale, a place that catered to the well-offs.
Apparently, Charlie was just being practical. People who had plenty could, without second thought or later discomfort, slip a ten or twenty into a palm merely for having a door opened or an umbrella held overhead.
But that wasn't it.
The sobriquet was appropriate and well-earned. At any reasonable distance Charlie had the ability to tell the precious from the fake. It was like he had natural, built-in loupes. For instance, say a well-to-do finger provided him with a glimpse of a ten-carat diamond ring. He didn't require a closer or even another look to know it was authentic. On the other hand, when even the finest grade, perfectly faceted, cubic-zirconium ten-carater flashed at him he saw it right off as the make- believe it was.
He wasn't infallible, of course, but right more often than not. About eight out of every ten times, on average, which was considered remarkable and appreciated by all concerned.
On that particular July Saturday night, Charlie, properly uniformed, capped and gloved, was tending to the comings and goings at the entrance of a way-overpriced restaurant on East 50th. It was his third consecutive night there. He'd worked the place in the past and it had never failed him. It wouldn't now. Already he had two sure things memorized. As good a night as he was having, in that regard, it didn't, however, make up for the rain.
At six, when he'd come in, there'd been a thunderstorm in progress and, since then, two more heavy downpours. A lot of rumbling and crackling above the city. During the letups the raindrops beaded like gems on the roofs and hoods of cars. The gutters were brooks.
Charlie's shoes were ruined. They were a pair of his newest best. Lightweight, thin-soled, Italian made. Three-hundred-dollar shoes. He'd bought four pair at the swag price of fifty a pair, but these were the only blacks. They'd never be the same.
Fucking weather, Charlie complained in the back of his throat. He flexed his toes and felt the squish of his socks. By two when he got off his feet would be drowned-looking, shriveled. He'd hate them.
He glanced up at the space between the high-rise office buildings. The purgatorial glow of Manhattan. More clouds were roiling, ganging up, getting ready to let go. The city was washed but it didn't smell fresh. It smelled steamy, Charlie thought, like the Upper West Side cleaners where he usually waited while his suits and uniforms were being pressed.
His legs were hurting, the calves, the left one more. An ache and every once in a while a sharp spasm. They'd gone varicose from too much standing over the years. The doorman's ailment, the doctor called it. His advice was to move around more, and that was what Charlie was doing, pacing six or seven steps back and forth beneath the restaurant's canopy.
When the Lincoln arrived. A that year's white Lincoln stretched to the limit. It pulled up to the curb with insolent precision. At once the driver was out, scurrying around. He got to the handle of the rear door a reach before Charlie.
Charlie made the driver. A bully Hispanic in a gray, hard-finished suit that was tight on him. The piece underneath behind his right hip was obvious. It had become the thing for well-offs to hire ex- cons, formidable-looking guys such as this, to drive and be around. The meaner they looked the better, and, having done major time in some hard joint like Dannemora being the best kind of reference, it did wonders to ease paranoia.
The limo door was open.
Charlie was right there with the umbrella so the passengers wouldn't have to suffer a drop. He looked in and saw they were two. A man and a woman. The man was speaking on the car's cellular phone. A serious, important man having a serious, important conversation. He had dark, tight hair and a dark, neatly clipped mustache and beard. Arabic looking. The woman was seated on the far side, most of her out of Charlie's view.
Finally the man got out. He was slender, a head taller than Charlie. He proceeded across the wide sidewalk and on into the restaurant, leaving the woman to follow along.
She emerged from the limo with her head lowered, watching where she stepped. As she raised her head, her earrings came into sight. Diamonds, pear shapes and rounds of fine quality, arranged around oval-cut rubies. To the eyes of Charlie Eyes the rubies were fine Burma quality and would scale around four carats each. The woman straightened up. Charlie saw nine more such rubies and the numerous diamonds of her necklace.
Important jewelry, Charlie knew. No doubt among her best, and that was just it. This attractive Arab woman contending with her late forties with as much artifice as plenty of money allowed would have more goods just as good where these came from.
During his ten o'clock break Charlie went to the pay phone on the corner of Park. He dialed Ralph Lentini's New Rochelle number.
Ralph picked up on the second ring. Instead of a hello from him a grunt like some kind of disturbed animal. No goombah talk. As soon as Ralph heard it was Charlie Eyes, he asked: "What you got?"
"Okay, let's have them."
"You still owe me for the last two."
"Fuck I do."
"Last week I gave you two."
"When last week?"
"Thursday I think it was."
"I was in Miami last Thursday."
"Then it was Wednesday."
"That could be," Ralph admitted, "but what I know for certain is the last two were shit. My crew came up empty."
"I heard different," Charlie bluffed.
"Anyway," Ralph bluffed back, "I paid you already."
"I marked you paid. I'm looking at it right now, paid."
"You haven't been around all week, Ralphie. When you coming around?"
Ralph let the question hang.
Charlie was used to Ralph's routine. It was nearly the same every time. "Look, Ralphie, I'm standing out here in the fucking rain."
"So give me the three."
"Then you'll owe me for five."
A reluctant yeah from Ralph.
"Say it to me."
"When will you be around?"
"Sometime during the week."
That was too vague to suit Charlie, however he told himself Ralph would eventually make good. Besides, at the moment Charlie didn't have anyone better to give his information to. Had he still been on good terms with Sal Crosetti he would have used him to make Ralph move. Okay, Ralphie, he would have said, I'm sure Sal will show me more respect. However, it was that sort of playing one against the other that had soured his arrangement with Sal.
From memory Charlie recited to Ralph the license plate numbers and letters of the three, including that of the white stretch, which happened to be a New Jersey. He ran them together and went too fast for Ralph and had to repeat them.
"Which would you say could be the bigger score?" Ralph asked.
"In my opinion?"
"No, in your ass." Ralph figured when he asked something it was asked.
"The Jersey," Charlie told him.
"What color is the Jersey?"
"A lot of white," Charlie replied. He could practically hear the churning of Ralph's greed.
"Sure they're not fugazis?" Fakes.
"Don't insult me."
No apology from Ralph, nor any thanks. This was business and he was laying out. He grunted goodbye and hung up.
Ralph had jotted down the information Charlie sold him on one of the telephone notepads he'd brought home from the Miami Hilton. He'd only stayed there two nights but that was more than enough time for him to load up on soap, shampoo, lotion, stationery, ballpoints and even some needle and thread mending kits. Also a couple of towels of better quality than he'd ever buy.
Ralph never stayed at a hotel that he didn't take such advantage. Whenever he came upon a maid's supply cart in a hallway he helped himself. Once at the Excelsior in Rome he'd gotten away with a solid brass hand shower, bracket and all.
As one of the more established and prospering fences in the metropolitan area, Ralph should have been above such pettiness. However it was in him, like a phobia. Just about any liftable or drivable thing that came before his eyes was automatically rated by him according to how easy it would be to steal.
What's more Ralph was cheap. Having to pay caused him psychological anguish, a sort of mental heartburn. Only rarely did he pay full civilian price for something and then only after he'd called around to find out if someone might be offering it at swag.
At the moment Ralph was seated at his kitchen table wearing nothing, not even his watch. The vinyl-covered seat of the kitchen chair was sticky to the cheeks of his bare ass. Charlie Eyes was also sticking him, Ralph thought, as he gave venal attention to the three plate numbers he'd just bought for two hundred each. Not long ago, Charlie's price per number had been a hundred. For doing nothing two hundred was taking advantage. Only way to deal with a guy who took advantage like that was to fuck him over. Next week when he straightened out with Charlie he'd give him only a hundred each and let him beef.
Ralph reached across the kitchen table and turned off the eight-inch Sony color television, reducing the ninth inning of a close Yankee at Cleveland game to a white dot. He hadn't been watching it anyway, even before Charlie's call. Rather, he'd been contemplating the open refrigerator across the way. It was something he often did. Sat there deliberating that vertical rectangle and its illuminated contents as though it was a rendered still-life.
Whenever his ex-wife, Carmella, had found him at it, she'd call him a spuce (crazy) and slam the refrigerator door shut. He'd just grin his most intolerant grin, say fuck with a long f and claim he was only trying to decide what not to eat.
Ralph was constantly unfaithful to his diet as well as to Carmella. She was gone but that thirty pounds too many were still with him.
He got a stub of a pepperoni stick from the meat bin, closed the refrigerator and went up the back stairs.
Ralph's house was a nine-room, two-and-a-half-story Tudor situated in a residential area off upper North Avenue. Like most of the homes around there the twenties and thirties had been its better days. Ralph had lived in it nine years. During that time the side lawns had been mowed five times and the hedges trimmed twice. Upkeep, according to Ralph, was declogging a toilet with a plunger and throwing de-icer granules on the driveway a few times each winter.
It wasn't a house one could move about freely in, cluttered as it was with so much swag. A nine years' accumulation of things Ralph's crew of swifts had come in with. Jewelry was always their objective; however when a home didn't yield any jewelry, rather than waste the risk, they stole something. More often than not, even when they did score jewelry on their way out they'd throw something else into a pillowcase, some object they'd spotted and thought might possibly be of value.
"Why you bringing me this shit," Ralph would complain. "You go out for goods, you come back with shit."
He would indulge them, peel off an additional fifty or two for the lamp or vase or little bronze statue that he had neither use nor room for. It didn't matter that among these extras, as he called them, shoved beneath a sofa along with some swag scuba gear and a couple of swag VCRs, were two pair of Empire ormolu four-light bras de lumière worth at least twenty thousand. Or that the glass figurine of a girl gathering dust along with a crowd of bric-a-brac on the top surface of a stack of swag television sets was signed by Argy-Rousseau and worth twenty-five thousand. Or that those two blue vases in the legion of vases and lamps on the steps of the stairway were exceptional blue ground Meissen circa 1740 worth thirty thousand each.
It didn't matter because such things were beyond Ralph's appreciation and knowledge. All he knew and cared about was they weren't jewelry. Even if he had known that the Chinese-looking thing lost and lonely in a corner of the upstairs hallway was a gilt-bronze figure of an extremely rare eleven-headed Kuan-Yin, where would he sell it?
For some reason the swifts stole a lot of clocks. They were all around the house, upstairs and down. About fifty of them, at least fifty. On the fireplace mantel in Ralph's bedroom were six. An English brass carriage clock that had run out of time and four Seth Thomases with misleading antique faces. The other was truly old. It was mounted in Sevres porcelain and Louis XV ormolu. Ralph had seen a clock exactly like it, or perhaps this very clock, in a 1990 Sotheby auction sales catalogue. Its estimated auction price was twenty-five thousand.
No one Ralph could think of, not even one of his wealthy swagaddicted private clients, would give him twenty-five for it. Or even five.
"Shit Ralph, it's only a clock."
"Worth twenty-five large. Look." He'd show the auction catalogue.
"Probably isn't even running."
"It's been running for me. Besides I can have it fixed."
And he couldn't risk taking it to Sotheby's or Christie's hoping to have it auctioned. Their experts would most likely recognize it right off and never believe one of his highly original or ordinary lies.
So, there it sat in all its inconvertible spite, taunting him. Fucking clock, Ralph often said aloud at it. Someday it would get him so pissed he'd take it out somewhere and throw it in some dumpster.
Now he got dressed. No underwear. Sixty percent polyester slacks, the day-before-yesterday's shirt, Reeboks without socks and his Rolex Presidential. After patting his sparse hair into place he put to pocket a thousand in hundreds along with the slip of notepaper bearing the three plate numbers he'd gotten from Charlie.
An unimpressive gray guy in a four-year-old Pontiac, that was Ralph.
He took North Avenue to where it offered exit 18 of the Hutchinson River Parkway. Two miles north on the Hutch he caught sight of the New York State Police patrol car. It was parked on the wide, inclined grassy shoulder with its lights off.
Ralph pulled off and stopped about twenty feet in front of the patrol car. He took a good look at it. The rain on its windshield prevented him from making out who was in it, whether or not it was Stempke. If it wasn't Stempke he'd simply ask some directions.
The rack on the patrol car came on, began rotating and strobing. Ralph walked back towards it. The grass of the shoulder had been recently mowed. Its slant was slippery beneath Ralph's Reeboks. He nearly went to a knee. The fresh-cut grass was fragrant in the damp, night air. Ralph took no notice of it. He had no side that appreciated such things.
The wet window of the patrol car descended into the door to reveal Officer Stempke. He was close to forty, had a round face with a nearly lipless slash of mouth and not enough space between his eyes. He held Ralph with his look for a long moment before doing a slight smile. "What say?" he greeted.
"I got three," Ralph told him. He read them off so Stempke could jot them down. Ralph thought Stempke would read them back to check that he had them right, but he didn't, he went right at entering them in the patrol car's computer.
Excerpted from West 47th by Gerald A. Browne. Copyright © 1996 Gerald A. Browne. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Gerald A. Browne is the New York Times–bestselling author of ten novels including 11 Harrowhouse, 19 Purchase Street, and Stone 588. His books have been translated into more than twenty languages, and several have been made into films. He attended the University of Mexico, Columbia University, and the Sorbonne, and has worked as a fashion photographer, an advertising executive, and a screenwriter. He lives in Southern California.
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