Avenging Angel: Love and Death in Old Brooklyn

Avenging Angel: Love and Death in Old Brooklyn

by Charles S. Isaacs

Paperback(First Printing ed.)

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A riveting tale of revenge, survival, and redemption, wrapped around an unlikely love story, and set against an urban backdrop marked by bigotry and misogyny.

Following a racially motivated rape by three Ku Klux Klansmen, 12-year-old Cassandra Monroe vows revenge. After eight years of training, now a strikingly beautiful assassin, she accomplishes her mission.

Her campaign continues with solitary walks through dark city streets, hoping to be assaulted by men with bad intentions. Those entrapped by her spider’s web pay dearly for their efforts.

Surrounded by three armed men one night, she’s rescued by Mike Borelli, an Italian-American passerby. A stormy, up-and-down relationship ensues. Ultimately, as her rage matures into purposeful action, and as he begins to see the world through her eyes, they become a team.

Along the way, they encounter serial killers, wife-beaters, actual and would-be rapists, gangsters, crooked cops, a kidnapper and a pedophile priest, as well as numerous women in desperate need of their help. Beneath all the action, though, is the blossoming of a most unlikely love story.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781684332472
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Publication date: 04/25/2019
Edition description: First Printing ed.
Pages: 394
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

Charles S. Isaacs has been a schoolteacher, a college professor, a community organizer, a Congressional consultant, a social activist, a gambler and an occasional journalist. He has written opinion columns and feature stories for numerous newspapers and magazines. In recent decades, he has been a consultant to dozens of non-profit organizations operating in the social justice arena.

He is the author of the award-winning Inside Ocean Hill-Brownsville: A Teacher's Education.

Read an Excerpt


October 25, 1957 — Manhattan

The last time Tony Coppola would drive his boss to the Park Sheraton, it was on a bright, sunny day, the type of crisp autumn weather that makes one glad to be alive. At the hotel's entrance, Mafia kingpin Albert Anastasia climbed out of the big Olds 98, and headed into the street-level barbershop. Coppola parked the car at an indoor garage, and then went for a walk.

A half hour later, while his bodyguard was admiring the fall foliage in nearby Central Park, two masked men entered the barbershop and fired five shots into Anastasia's chest and head., then melted into the panicky crowd in the hotel lobby. The other dozen people in the busy shop were left unharmed. Soon after that, Coppola retrieved the car and drove straight home. Anastasia, whose well-earned nickname was "Lord High Executioner," had been executed.

It was a huge news story. The front page of every paper featured a photo of Anastasia slumped in the barber chair, his face still swathed in hot towels. At New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst, the "Little Italy" of South Brooklyn, the assassination was all anyone wanted to talk about. I was in my senior year then and, like most of my friends, pretty familiar with the cast of characters who ran the New York-based Mafia's Five Families. Three of the five godfathers lived right there in our neighborhood.

Bensonhurst wasn't exactly engulfed in grief, though. In fact, less than a dozen people showed up for the boss's burial in Green-Wood Cemetery. Never one of the mob's masterminds, he'd been a murderer his whole adult life. Twenty years earlier, he'd been closely associated with Murder Inc., the gang of Jewish contract killers based in Brooklyn's Brownsville section. On his orders, they'd killed scores of people. He'd done plenty of his own dirty work too, including at least 31 murders by his own hand according to the police, and had been arrested a dozen or so times. Fortunately for him, the prosecution's witnesses all seemed to conveniently disappear before trial. He made his way to the top of the heap by killing everyone in line ahead of him, one by one. The body of his immediate predecessor, Vincent Mangano, godfather since the mob was first organized, was never even found.

What made this such a compelling topic of conversation was that no-one could say for sure who was behind it. Despite eleven witnesses, hundreds of investigators and no shortage of theories, the police could never uncover enough evidence to charge anyone with the crime. The godfather had made enemies galore, so the city abounded with suspects. The Five Families, which included half the Mafiosi in the entire country, often bumped heads with one another, forming constantly shifting alliances and rivalries.

My guess was that Carlo Gambino, Anastasia's underboss, ordered the hit, simply because he was next in line for the big job. In any case, while the murder went unsolved, Carlo did take over what then became known as the Gambino Family.

For many of my classmates, whether they graduated or dropped out of school, this would be their career path. Some were following their fathers and uncles into the "family business." Others were just attracted by the new cars, the silk suits, the diamond-studded watches and gold necklaces, the women, all flashed around by the neighborhood loan sharks, racketeers and hit men.

For the rest of us, few were headed to college. Many found work in auto repair and machine shops, construction sites, or the Sanitation Department. Some went to work on the Brooklyn docks, where Anastasia's brother, "Tough Tony," still controlled the union, the hiring hall and the thefts. The military was a popular choice too, especially since the country wasn't at war. I had no particular direction, so I joined the Navy and served three uneventful, peacetime years.

When I got back, I signed up for some training, passed a test, and soon became a rookie in the New York City Police Department, Patrolman Michael C. Borelli. As soon as I got my badge, I proposed to my high school sweetheart, Angela DiBruzzi. After a six-month engagement, we tied the knot.

Angie and I saved enough money during our first year to get a V.A. mortgage on a small 82nd Street row house, just a couple of blocks from our old school. We bought a used Plymouth from Angie's uncle. Once I moved a step or two up in the ranks, we would start a family.

A career, a house, a car, a very pretty wife and soon some kids. Maybe I'd retire with a pension when I hit about fifty. But I was already living the American Dream. Just 23 years old, and I had it all figured out ...


October 9, 1963 — Brooklyn, NY

Madison Monroe knew they were in danger as soon as Cassandra, his 12-year-old daughter, told him three white men had broken into their house, back in Mississippi. He'd taken a bold step during lunch break that day, leading two black co-workers down to the courthouse, where they all tried to register to vote. They were rudely turned away, but word of their effort had apparently gotten around. Beaumont's power structure had been on edge ever since Northern civil rights workers came through town during the previous summer.

Now, he felt the effort had been a mistake. Just two days earlier, the Ku Klux Klan had murdered Medgar Evers, the head of the state's NAACP. If Madison was being targeted, that put his only child in danger. With her mother gone, she would have had no-one to look after her, if anything happened to him, So, that summer, he got himself transferred to a New York City post office. He and Cassie moved to Brooklyn, leaving Jim Crow Mississippi behind them.

For him, the move worked out well. With a steady government job, he easily found a two-bedroom apartment in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section. The neighbors and his new coworkers, many recent migrants themselves, were helpful and welcoming. He joined an all-black community center called the Central Brooklyn Community Council. He made new friends, and was happy to call this new place home.

For Cassie, though, it was a different story. Even before the move, she'd been uncharacteristically withdrawn for weeks. She still did all her household chores, but now she never wanted to talk. She didn't want to go out and play. He hardly ever saw her laugh or even smile. He thought she was going through a difficult, early adolescent phase, and just hoped it would pass.

Once they made the move and school began, things got worse. For the first time, she refused to do homework. "I ain't doin' nothin' for them cracker teachers," she announced.

"It's not 'ain't doin' nothin'. It's 'not doing anything,' Cassie. And it's not 'them teachers.' It's 'those teachers.' Like I told you, we're not in Mississippi anymore." Madison's response arose from frustration, and he wasn't surprised when she just crossed her arms and sulked.

Actually, he could understand her frustration with school. In her segregated Beaumont school, most of the teachers were black, and they lived among their students' families. In her segregated Brooklyn school, nearly all the teachers were white, and they dashed out of the neighborhood before the dismissal bell even stopped ringing. She was passing her tests, but only because this school dumbed everything down.

A bigger problem was that she was constantly getting into fights, which never happened down home. Many of these were with boys, and she gave as good as she got. But it pained him deeply to see her coming home with cuts and bruises. Before the summer, she'd been the sweetest child he could have wished for. Now, she seemed to be angry all the time.

When a suspension letter arrived, he took a day off and went to meet with the principal. It got him nowhere. This woman, it seemed, couldn't care less about what was troubling his daughter, but she was quick to issue a threat.

"Cassandra has shown herself to be incorrigible. If this fighting doesn't stop," she warned, "she'll be placed in a special school for disturbed children."

Frantic for support, Madison walked over to the Community Council. Dante Washington, a young staff member, invited him into an office, where he explained his concerns. By the time he left for home, the two men had come up with a plan. It was desperate, unconventional and far from foolproof, but it was something.

"Look, Cassie," he began once he sat her down. "I don't know why you're doing what you're doing, and you won't talk about it. But I think you know what path you're on. The principal is ready to put you in a school for disturbed children because of all the fighting. Those places are just warehouses for future dropouts. You want to fight? That's going on all the time, and most of the boys are much bigger and stronger than you are. Is that what you want?"

"Well, no. I guess not," she murmured distractedly.

"So then why do you keep looking for fights?"

Tears welled in her eyes. "I don't know, Daddy. They just make me so mad, and I lose my temper and I don't know when to stop." Of course, she did know what was boiling inside her, but she'd vowed never to talk about it, especially with him.

"Okay," he responded. "I have an idea. Do you want to hear it?"

"Well, sure."

"This is just a beginning. But my first priority is to keep you safe. Look, there's a new youth worker at the CBCC, who was an Army Green Beret. Part of his job is teaching martial arts. How'd you like to get some real training?"

"Wow, yes!" she exclaimed, perking up.

"But here's the deal. First of all, you do all your fighting in his class, not in school and not on the streets. If you get provoked, you have to walk away. Of course, you can defend yourself if you're attacked, but then and only then. And you'll get better at it. Now, you'll go back to school tomorrow, then straight to the CBCC, where Mr. Dante Washington will be expecting you. You'll do your homework there, and stay there until either he or I walk you home. You have to promise me that, when it comes to the training, or anything involving fighting, you'll do whatever he says. Can you make that promise?"

"Yes, Daddy, I promise. I really do." Now her bright smile, her old smile, brought tears to his eyes. He reached his arms out, and they hugged.

Madison knew this regime wouldn't get at Cassie's underlying problem, whatever that was. He only hoped it would keep her in school, off the streets and safe, until a better idea came along.

This turned out to be a turning point for Cassie. She and Dante saw something in each other, and they hit it off right away. While academics would never be her main focus, her disciplinary problems at school came to an end. She put everything she had into learning what Dante had to teach her.

Even though she started off as an unruly wild girl, she'd clearly become his star pupil during her first year of training. She became fast, disciplined and intensely focused. As she grew, she developed remarkable physical strength. Dante began giving her private sessions at night and, some nights, he ran out of gas before she did. Cassie soaked it up like a sponge.


During her high school years, Cassie got into only one fight with another student. Early in tenth grade, she'd shrugged off the advances of the football team's captain, who seemed to think no female could resist his charms. He grabbed her as school let out one day in front of a big crowd, pulling her in for an unwelcome kiss. Within minutes, his crumpled form lay on the ground, no longer a magnet for any female attention. After that, no-one messed with Cassie. She made neither boyfriends nor girlfriends, though, since she radiated a fearsome hands-off attitude. She just didn't care about other teenagers and their petty issues. Dante had what she wanted, and she was getting it.

During her senior year, the duo began team-teaching some martial arts classes. One of these included members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. After seeing her in action, one of the militants, referencing her speed, coal black eyes and dark skin, quipped that Cassie was "the only real black panther in the room."

A highlight of selected classes was a sparring session between her and Dante. They were careful not to hurt each other. Both were lean, muscular and skilled. At six-two and 200 pounds, he had a two-inch height advantage and outweighed her by about 50 pounds. The equalizer was her quickness and agility. These close exhibition matches were often met by the onlookers with applause.

As graduation approached, Cassie rebuffed inquiries from both Dante and Madison about what her plans might be. Both knew she hadn't applied to any colleges, though, and worried that she might slip into the neighborhood's violent street culture.

One night, after an early workout, Dante suggested they go to his place, just to relax and watch some TV. Madison was working late, and she wouldn't be needed at home for a couple of hours. While walking the few blocks to his apartment, he said, "I don't know if you've thought past graduation, but you could do pretty well now as an instructor on your own. What do you think?"

"No," she replied. "Right now, a teacher isn't what I want to be."

"Then what?" This got no reply, and they continued on in silence.

Once inside the apartment, Cassie asked, "Should I get undressed now?"

He was stunned. "Say what?" he stammered.

"Isn't that what men want? Pussy? Booty? They talk about it all the time. You've given me so much, and I owe you at least that. I thought maybe you brought me here to collect."

"Cassie, sit down," he replied. "You're developing into an incredibly beautiful young woman. Any man you choose to share your passions with would be very, very lucky. I guess I'm flattered by the offer, but this is simply not possible."

"Why not?"

"First of all, you're still 17, so it's not even legal. I'm 15 years older, so sex between us would be what they call statutory rape."


"More importantly, though," he continued, "I've been your teacher, your coach, for almost five years. If we had sex, I'd be exploiting the trust you've put in me all this time. And by the way, my return on investment has been watching you soak up the lessons and grow into a strong, disciplined, confident young woman. I don't need any other payment."

Cassie began to weep. "Besides Daddy," she said, "I never trusted anyone but you. I'm sorry if it sounded like I thought you were using me. I just didn't think I had a right to refuse you, not for anything."

Dante had been waiting for an opportunity to find out what was driving her, and now he pushed the issue. He asked, "Cassie, have you ever had sex with a man?"

She blurted, "No," but then the dam burst. She erupted in heaving sobs, punctuated by unintelligible attempts at a response, except by nodding her head up and down. Dante moved next to her, held her close, and said, "You're safe now. You can tell me about it." After a few minutes, she calmed down, pushed away and wiped her eyes.

"I want to tell you something I never told no-one," she said. "But you have to promise that you'll never tell anyone else about it. Especially my daddy."

He agreed. As the story came out, he could see this confident young woman shrinking back into a scared little girl.


June 14, 1963 — Beaumont, Mississippi

"Home alone" was nothing unusual for twelve-year-old Cassandra Monroe. Since her mother died two years earlier, the precociously mature girl had become the lady of the house. This afternoon, like most afternoons, she would finish her homework, do some cleaning and prepare dinner for Daddy. His job at the post office was the best one a black man could hope for in this town, but he worked hard. Cassie took pride in having dinner ready on the table when he came home, tired from a long, hot day. Tonight, it would be fried pork chops with collard greens and rice.

Deep into a math problem, she jumped when someone started pounding the front door. "Who's there?" she called.

"Open up," came the response. "We got to see Madison Monroe."

"But he ain't here now. Can't you come back later? I'm not supposed to let no-one in."

Suddenly, the thin wooden door crashed open, and three white men burst into the house. She recognized them from the small town: the owner of Bobby's Bar and Grill, a barber named Rufus, and Deputy Sheriff Scott. But she'd never seen them in what they called "Niggertown."

"Give it up, girl. Where's he hidin'?" the deputy demanded.

"I tol' you he ain't here." Cassie was getting frightened. How was she going to explain the broken door?

"You two search the house," Scott ordered. "And I mean everywhere. Every closet. Under the bed. Everywhere. If that coon's in here, you find 'im. I'll watch the girl."

The other two followed his orders. It was a small house, and they came back soon with empty hands.

"I tol' you he ain't here," Cassie repeated.

"Shut up, girl."

"What now?" asked the barber.

"We're gonna send a message," announced the deputy, "and this here girl's gonna be the messenger! He won't be doin' no more registerin' to vote, not when he gets this message."


Excerpted from "Avenging Angel: Love & Death in Old Brooklyn"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Charles S. Isaacs.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
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.

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