On the streets of downtown Manhattan, there is no better disguise than the vacant stare and limp slouch of the junkie. Masquerading as an addict, Johnny Katanos goes undetected as he slithers up the fire escape towards the biggest heroin operation in the city of New York. He disables the alarms, distracts the guards, kills the Dobermans, and is waiting with a grenade when Ronald Jefferson Chadwick, drug kingpin, returns with a suitcase full of cash. A few minutes later, the money is gone, Chadwick is dead, and the factory has been reduced to a fireball. Though the New York Police Department rarely investigates a dealer’s death, a Russian-made grenade appearing downtown is cause for fear. The case falls to Stanley Moodrow, a beefy detective who knows that in an investigation like this, there’s no time to go by the book.
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A Twist of the Knife
A Stanley Moodrow Crime Novel
By Stephen Solomita
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1988 Stephen Solomita
All rights reserved.
WHEN THE RAIN BEGAN to fall, Attorney Street emptied almost as fast as the Half-Moon Social Club on the night Carlos Perez tossed a seven-foot diamondback rattlesnake through the front window. The rain ricocheted from the windows and walls and quickly rose at the intersection of Attorney and Rivington, backing over the curb and down into the basement apartment at 1672 Attorney. Bigelow Jackson, current occupant of that apartment, noticed a dark stain growing magically from the front door of his living room and dashed outside to clear the drain. For a moment the water ran freely and Big Jackson threw up his arms in acknowledgment of his victory, but then, responding to some deeper, inaccessible clog, the water began to rise again, quickly covering Jackson's shoes. Condemned to fight a holding action with towels and sheets, he turned to go inside, just noticing a man standing by the alleyway which ran between his building and 1684 Attorney. The man stood in a half-crouch, bent forward, hands hanging limply by his sides. His head rolled to the left, almost resting on his shoulder. To Bigelow Jackson, he represented the most common of all the exotic phenomena existing on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the stoned-out heroin addict so deep in his somnambulistic world, he did not even notice the rain which emptied the neighborhood.
"Fucking junkie," Bigelow screamed. He was so angry at the idea of the lake on his carpet, he seriously considered tearing the junkie to pieces, but it was raining very hard and his rug was getting wetter and wetter even as he stood there, so he contented himself with hurling one of several small flowerpots at the motionless figure. The pot bounced off the man's shoulder and broke into pieces on the sidewalk. "Now you get yourself gone, motherfucker," Bigelow Jackson bellowed. "I mean don't let me find your ass here when I come back." He slammed the door triumphantly.
Johnny Katanos, streetnamed Zorba the Freak, beamed inwardly, though he remained as still and lifeless as a statue. This was his craft, he thought. This was what he alone could do. Facing away from the enraged Bigelow Jackson, he'd had no warning when the flowerpot crashed into him, yet he hadn't moved a muscle, not even a twitch of the shoulders. That was his conception of how the waiting should be done—absolute patience in the pursuit of his goal.
Patience made the waiting easier, but the difficulty would emerge later when he had to come to life, to perform some action quickly and accurately. Muscles stiffened as the waiting time increased and any movement, no matter how carefully rehearsed internally, was likely to be jerky and unpredictable. The trick was in the breathing and Johnny, bent forward in a seeming trance, took each breath deeply, counting, forcing the rhythm so that he had to concentrate, so that his muscles would not cramp when he needed them most. Carefully, he divided his attention, alternately contracting and releasing the muscles of his upper arms. Four repetitions and then to the forearms and then back to the feet.
The windows overlooking Attorney Street are rarely empty. To the elderly, often without TVs or even telephones, the windows are at once entertainment and communication. An occasional "Hello" or "How are you?" produces a pleased smile as neighbors check up on each other. These old people watch everything on the street, silently cursing youthful predators, often in Yiddish. They are the last white people living on Attorney Street and they never leave their apartments after dark. Even so, the local street demons pick one of them off every week or two, rob and sometimes beat them as well, often for an imaginary treasure stashed in a mattress or beneath a dresser. Rosa Wertz, eighty-two, hidden behind a dark green windowshade, witnessed Bigelow Jackson's assault on the junkie and she continued to watch after Bigelow returned to the flood in his living room. She saw the junkie move slowly forward, stagger slightly, then turn and retreat into the alleyway, but as his route went directly away from her door, she simply returned to her radio, though later she would insist on telling her story to Officer Timatis who would only pretend to write it down. After all, the officer reasoned solemnly, who cares about a fucking junkie?
As Johnny Katanos shuffled back into the darkness between the two apartment buildings, he fought the urge to look up, to check for observing eyes. This was the most dangerous part of the plan, because there were many eyes assigned to watch this particular passageway, but he'd been standing in the alleyway for two hours and the few pedestrians racing toward shelter had ignored him completely. Even Bigelow Jackson, who knew Johnny Katanos well, had been fooled by a disguise consisting as much of a seamless junkie posture as of darkened hair and wispy beard. Crouched in a back doorway long ago boarded up and triple-locked from inside, Johnny felt sure that anyone coming to investigate would take him for a junkie, would dismiss him with a kick or an open-handed blow. But no one came, and only Rosa Wertz, now engrossed in radio psychiatrist Dr. Bella Effenhauser's explanation of the intricacies of pleasuring, had seen him and she was no threat to the plan.
It was near dark before the rain slackened into a fine, dense mist. In the alleyway, far from the few streetlights on Attorney Street, the gloom was relieved only by the dim glow of windows covered by sheets and blankets. In this darkness Johnny reflected, I am invisible. He jumped up to grab the lowest rungs of the fire escape and easily pulled himself up. Once again—but this time more powerfully—he felt the elation grow, felt the blood rush into his face and scalp until his ears burned red. For an instant he abandoned himself to the sensation. Then he began to climb.
The first two windows Johnny passed looked into empty apartments, though, technically, both were rented and the landlord, Miguel Evans, received a check each month from the occupants. These apartments served as a buffer between the unremitting avarice of the streets and the fabulous wealth of the fourth-floor factory where, each day, a half-kilo of heroin was broken down into small units and distributed throughout the neighborhood. It was not an operation that went unnoticed and many an upwardly mobile street hoodlum had hatched a scheme for the liberation of that wealth, but the businessman who owned the company, Ronald Jefferson Chadwick, had so far been able to stave off all threats. The doors of the lower apartments were always open, affording an unobstructed view of the stairs and hallway. Four heavily armed guards, one stationed in each apartment, were enough to discourage the greediest street criminal, and Mr. Chadwick felt quite secure.
This partially explains the Greek's unnoticed ascent. Two further reasons, Theresa Aviles and Effie Bloom, were holding open house on the other side of the building. They were encouraging the nymphomaniacal obsessions of seven ghetto criminals and just at the moment when Johnny hoisted himself past the darkened windows, Effie Bloom was pulling Enrique Vasquez' head between her huge, motherly breasts while five merciless criminals looked on. A seventh, Paco Baquili, commander in chief in the absence of Mr. Chadwick, emboldened by the privacy of a closed bedroom door, pressed his face between the hard, slender thighs of a grinning Theresa Aviles. This is just the greatest piece of luck, he thought. That asshole, Katanos, Zorba the Freak, had introduced the girls only one night before and they had come sniffing around the very next day. He sighed, inhaling deeply. They would show these bitches a good time tonight.
A large, Fedders air conditioner sat in a window of the fourth-floor factory, the only air conditioner in a neighborhood of ancient tenements where the electrical wiring was barely sufficient for the energy needs of a toaster. Johnny wasn't fooled. Even in the gloom, he easily picked out a wire running across the landing. It ran to a shotgun concealed in the empty air conditioner. Not very impressive in a world of lasers, but enough to permanently discourage the odd burglar or two. There was no sense in disarming the trap. He wouldn't be coming back this way, not according to the plan. Johnny had to force himself to go slowly. He could see the fifth-floor window and the two dark, canine shapes leaping against the glass. It was almost miraculous. He had been so quiet, so careful, and still they were waiting for him. He wondered what it would be like to have those abilities, to taste the surrounding world so deeply. The dogs were nearly perfect. Trained from puppyhood to respond only to their handler, they had been conditioned to victory, to the belief that no creature could withstand their attack. Their trainer had used declawed cats, old toothless dogs and once a staggering drunk to reinforce this conviction. Unfortunately, their greatest strength was their greatest flaw: Attack was all they knew. They would always come straight at you.
Calmly, unhurried, Johnny Katanos took off his jacket and spread it beneath the window to catch the falling glass. The window itself was protected by a barred gate and Johnny reached between the bars to break the glass with the butt of a long-handled hunting knife. The space between the window and the gate was instantaneously filled with the teeth of two enormous Dobermans. Their snarls were silent, however, and there was no barking. Their vocal chords had been removed so that they could attack without warning, without giving their target any chance of escape. Unless, of course, you knew they were there.
Johnny smiled for the first time. It was too easy. The dogs thrust their heads through the bars of the gate, so absolutely confident they made no effort to protect themselves. They almost seemed to offer their throats willingly and as they fell away, gushing blood, they were unable even to whimper. Johnny ignored them and began to work on the padlocks holding the window gate in place.
It was much warmer inside the building, warm enough to allow Johnny to acknowledge the chill that had penetrated to his bones. The door leading from the bedroom to the living room was closed, which meant the dogs' trainer would not have to enter the apartment to clear them out before Chadwick, who feared the animals as much as anyone, could enter. The Dobermans protected the fire-escape window leading to Chadwick's personal quarters. The guards, who were supposed to be in the second- and third-floor apartments, protected the doors. Johnny stepped over the animals, staying well clear of the bloodsoaked carpeting. The room smelled strongly of animal waste, strongly enough to cover the smell of blood. Opening the door, Johnny entered the darkened living room. It was getting close now. He pulled the tape away from his calf and took the automatic pistol into his right hand. The perfect familiarity of its weight against his palm made the blood rush into his face once again. He screwed the silencer into the barrel of the pistol and settled down to wait.
The party downstairs was in high gear. Patiently, dully, the lovers gathered about Effie Bloom, waiting for a turn. Effie lay on her back, having long ago abandoned even the pretext of passion. She pictured Johnny Katanos, cold as always, firing into the face of whatever man loomed above her. She timed these bullets to the slap of his groin against her belly. One cartridge for each thrust, for each grunt. This was rape. She could prove it by trying to leave. She wondered if they enjoyed what they were doing. Their faces were calm and concentrated, like men engaged in some complex work requiring every bit of attention. Content to twist her body as one would that of a department store mannequin, they did not even bother to speak to her.
Theresa Aviles, in the bedroom with Paco Baquili, was much more fortunate. Paco had been impotent, but had insisted, because he understood women and their needs, on performing orally and for an extended period of time. Theresa, as indifferent as Effie, was nevertheless convincingly passionate, erupting with provocative little cries of rapture every three or four minutes. And unlike Effie, Theresa never allowed herself to be moved by the injustice of the situation. When she finally pulled Paco's head onto her belly, she stroked his hair and whispered, "Do you want to kill me, man? You can die from too much pleasure. Like too much whiskey." The speech thrilled Paco who immediately launched into a story of his mother and the small town they came from in Puerto Rico.
At eleven o'clock the phone rang and Paco, naked, emerged from the bedroom. Grunting, he placed the phone to his ear, listened for a few seconds and hung up. Mr. Chadwick would return within forty-five minutes and the house must be made secure. Unfortunately for Ronald Chadwick, security, to Paco Baquili, meant sending out to the bodega for room deodorant. The girls were dressed and dismissed. The beer cans were picked up. In all events, as Paco understood it, the object was to appear as military as possible, considering the material at hand, and while this collection of ghetto freaks would never pass for Green Berets, by the time the boss walked in at midnight, the lower house had been restored to order and each of the defenders was in his proper place.
Ronald Chadwick was famous for his ability to sense danger, to taste it in the air, especially when large quantities of money were at stake. Still, when Paco Baquili opened the door with a smile which was echoed by that of DuWayne Brown sitting in the hallway with a shotgun in his lap, Ronald felt nothing out of place. Below the fourth floor, everything was as it was supposed to be and the players radiated confidence and security. Ronald and his escort, Parker Drabble, ignored all greeting and went directly to the fifth floor. The small suitcase, crammed with fifty- and hundred-dollar bills, seemed to push them forward. This was huge business even for them and if they hadn't been in such a rush, they might have noticed that something was missing. There should have been the sound of the dogs jumping against the bedroom door, just the scraping of the dogs' nails against the wood. But there was all that money. There was $550,000 in a suitcase in the safest place Ronald Chadwick had ever known.
Parker saw Johnny first and so he took the first bullet in the left temple. It was too late for Ronald Chadwick to stop the door from closing; he'd let go just an instant before the overhead light revealed his assassin, sealing himself into the room and thereby insuring his own death. He saw the right side of Parker's head explode and the process so absorbed him that he barely felt the bullet enter his own chest. It felt more like a blow, like a punch driving him back into the closed door. Then he was sliding toward the floor.
Without hesitating, Johnny lifted the still-breathing body onto his shoulder, walked calmly to the stairwell and tossed Ronald Chadwick over the railing. Pulling the pin from the hand grenade exactly as he'd been taught to do it, he listened carefully to the sudden commotion as the guards pounded up the stairs. Their voices rose and fell meaninglessly, excited shouts filled with fear and confusion. He waited until he recognized Paco Baquili's cry of astonishment, then dropped the grenade.CHAPTER 2
DETECTIVE SERGEANT STANLEY MOODROW, as his friend and commander, Captain Allen Epstein well knew, could be found in the Houston Street Killarney Harp Bar, an unfiltered Chesterfield smoldering in an ashtray, for at least two hours following any shift. Usually he drank Ballantine Ale, but on weekends, especially after a day's work, he drank straight shots of Cauldfield's Wild Turkey Bourbon, a thin, brown liquid that reminded Captain Epstein of the slop in the bottom of a morgue table after an autopsy. Captain Epstein considered policing to be an avocation particularly attractive to the mentally unstable—witness the high rates of suicide and alcoholism within the department—and Stanley Moodrow to be a fine example of this insight. It was irrelevant, of course. Arrest records, as he'd observed over the length of a twenty-two-year hitch, were unrelated to the abilities of the particular policeman. Stanley Moodrow, for instance, was regarded as ordinary by the department, yet, without him, Epstein would have been hard put to run his precinct at all.
Excerpted from A Twist of the Knife by Stephen Solomita. Copyright © 1988 Stephen Solomita. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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