Mike Tozzi and Cuthbert Gibbons were once odd-couple partners in crimesolving. But Gibbons has gone into retirement—and Tozzi has just gone renegade.
After hot-headed Tozzi leaves a trail of bodies in his wake, Gibbons heads back to work to stop him. Instead, the two of them team up—and uncover a secret crime family headed by a convicted mobster pulling the strings from the safety of the witness protection program.
But it’s when Tozzi gets involved with the gangster’s sexy ex that the fur really starts to fly . . .
“[A] crackling thriller . . . This slick, fast-moving narrative offers interesting inside looks at the FBI and the Mafia and some delicious characters.” —Publishers Weekly
“Grisly . . . Tense . . . Good stuff.” —The Washington Post
“The best fictional cop duo around.” —People
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"You wanted to see me, Mr. Varga?"
"Wait in the living room, Vinnie. I'll be with you in a minute."
Vinnie "Clams" Clementi nodded. He looked at Varga standing over a ledger open on the dining-room table. Richie Varga was a weird guy, Vinnie Clams thought. He had a shape like a woman and a mind like a snake. He'd invite you in, let you get warm and cozy, then strike. Vinnie was glad he was working for Varga and not against him. "I'll be right out here when you want me, Mr. Varga."
Varga stared blankly at the obese drug dealer until he disappeared, then he shut the ledger and eased his wide hips into one of the dining-room captain's chairs. Stroking his cheek softly, he stared at the two sleeping dogs, one a few feet away at the edge of the rug, the other across the room blocking the doorway to the kitchen. They were big dogs, Rottweilers, black with brown markings on their bellies, paws, and faces. One was named Blitz, the other Krieg.
"Blitz," Varga said evenly to the dog at the edge of the rug, the pitch of his voice just slightly higher than you'd expect from such a large man.
The dog didn't move.
He plucked a grape from the fruit bowl on the table and called the Rottweiler again, but the dog didn't respond.
Suddenly he whipped the grape across the room and it smacked the dog's shiny black flank. The dog raised her head and growled.
In the same even voice, he said, "Quiet."
The dog stopped growling, tilted her big square head, and looked at her master in puzzlement. A moment later she settled back down to her nap.
Varga picked a few more grapes from the bunch and set them down on the edge of the table, then reached for the red Trimline phone on the sideboard and started punching numbers.
It rang four times. "Hello?" a child's voice answered.
"Is your father home?" Varga asked.
"Just a minute."
He heard the kid calling to his father, then the sounds of plates and silverware and people moving around a crowded space. No one told him to have six kids.
"I know. What's up?"
"Is everything set for Paramus?"
"All set, don't worry."
Varga didn't like it when people told him not to worry. "Who do you have doing the job?"
"The jockey. He's good."
Varga didn't say anything. He stared at the dog for a moment, then flung another grape at her. This one hit her on the ear. She whipped her head up and growled at him again, baring teeth this time.
"Quiet, Blitz," he said calmly. The dog hesitated, then dropped her head and closed her eyes.
The man on the other end didn't have to ask. He could picture those nasty dogs — overweight Dobermans, as he preferred to think of them — sitting in the looming shadow of their master. Poor animals.
"You use him a lot," Varga finally said. "Do you have anyone else on tap besides the jockey?"
"There's one guy who used to work for Mr. L's people. He's experienced, but unfortunately the will isn't there anymore. I've got a kid I'm bringing along. In time I think he'll work out very well."
Varga picked up another grape and beaned the dog in the face. The pissed-off bitch got up on her front paws, bared her full set of choppers, and alternately barked and growled at him.
The dog snarled once, then was quiet.
"I was wondering," Varga suddenly asked, his voice higher. "Would you be interested in doing another catering job for me? You know, something like what you did in Brooklyn."
"You put out a very nice spread, Steve. I'd like to have that fancy platter again. Maybe not that fancy, but something ... impressive."
Steve pictured the three eyeless heads arranged on blood-soaked paper doilies. "I don't think so."
Varga could hear one of the kids wailing in the background. He picked up another grape. "I can make it worth your while."
"Let me think about it."
"You think about it and let me know. Soon, though."
"Take it easy now."
Varga hung up the phone and rolled the last grape between his thumb and forefinger. He glanced at Krieg sleeping in the doorway, then looked at wary Blitz, who was already growling low, anticipating his intention.
Suddenly the grape flew from his hand and hit her in the eye. She was up on her feet, charging and snarling, a blur of teeth, spit, and tongue. Blind rage carried her to his knees, but when the flat of his palm slapped down on her forehead, she froze. "Quiet, Blitz."
It was like a faith healer's touch. The dog slumped down between his ankles, panting hard, brows furrowed.
Varga almost smiled.
"Vinnie," he called. "Come on in."
Mike Tozzi splashed cold water on his face, then stared at himself in the bathroom mirror. He stared at himself for a long time, wondering what the hell he was doing there. He was sick and tired of lying, afraid that he was lying to himself now. He used to think of himself as a man with a purpose in life, but now he wasn't so sure. Maybe his life had no purpose at all.
"Hey, what're you doing in there?" she called from the other side of the bathroom door.
Alice. Tozzi had to remind himself that her name was Alice because she didn't look like an Alice. A nice girl from south Jersey up here for the housewares convention, she said. A real sweet kid with real nice legs, looking for a little fling at the convention. Everybody does it at the convention, she said. Probably has a boyfriend back home. But if she was such a nice kid, what was she doing in bed with him? Tozzi wondered.
"Did you fall in or what, Mike?"
"No," he called back, then pressed a towel to his face and forced a smile before he opened the door.
She was lying on the bed with nothing on but a deep blue slip with lace trim along the hem. Her hair was short and dark and stylishly punky. He guessed she was about twenty-three, twenty-four. She was perky, like those models you see in panty-hose commercials, the kind of girl you dream about having a one-nighter with. Tozzi sighed and looked out the window. Across the highway at the Meadowlands sports complex, the racetrack was all lit up. He could just make out a pack of trotters coming around the backstretch.
He sat on the bed next to her, looked into her perky dark eyes, and kissed her, running his hand over her silky hip. She giggled and seemed even younger than she was. Tozzi wished he didn't feel like he was doing something wrong. He wished he could stop thinking and just enjoy this.
She rubbed his bare back, working her hands down to his belt buckle. "Tell me the truth. You're not really in housewares, are you?" she asked as she undid his belt.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you don't look like a salesman. I mean, come on, what kind of salesman wears Levi's to a big convention?"
"I told you I was a salesman. Why don't you believe me?"
She grinned slyly. "Who's Vinnie Clams?"
Tozzi glared at her in the dim light, but she didn't pick up on it.
"Come on," she said teasingly. "You're not a salesman. You're a cop or a bounty hunter or something like that. Am I right?"
Tozzi didn't answer. He could hear his own pulse throbbing.
Finally she realized that he was very upset about something. "Hey, come on, Mike, don't get mad. I was just looking around for a Kleenex and I found that piece of paper. I only looked at his picture and read his name. I thought it was funny."
Tozzi sat up and whipped open the nightstand drawer. He pulled out the folded piece of paper. He opened it and stared at the fuzzy picture of the fat man in the upper left-hand corner. It was a copy of the top sheet of Vinnie Clementi's FBI file.
"Why are you so interested in this?" The muscles in his neck were tight.
"I told you, Mike. I just happened to find it. I wasn't snooping or anything." She started to sit up. She looked scared. Or guilty, he thought.
"Why do you think I'm a cop?" he demanded, pushing her back down. He reached under the bed. "Did you happen to find this too?"
Her eyes shot open when she saw the gun in his hand.
"Huh? Answer me," he said through clenched teeth. He pressed the muzzle of the revolver into the hollow of her cheek. He was digging his fingers into her tit. "Say something!"
Her face crumpled and her lips trembled. She started to sob in soft squeaks. "No, don't ..." she cried.
"Get out," he yelled, bouncing off the bed. "Get out," he repeated, but she was frozen in fear. He yanked her up by the arm, then gathered up her clothes from the armchair and thrust them at her. "Just get the fuck out!"
She stood motionless, clutching her dress to her chest. Her contorted expression was caught in the moment just before the crying begins.
He picked up her shoes, grabbed her arm, and pulled her to the door. "Just get out of here," he said as he pushed her into the hall and slammed the door shut.
Turning away from the door, he threw the .38 into the pillows at the head of the bed as hard as he could. He fell into the armchair and kneaded his temples with one hand.
What the fuck is wrong with me? She was a nice kid. What's wrong with me?
Suddenly he bolted up from the chair and went into the bathroom for his shirt. He had to get out of there before she called the cops.
This'll be over soon, he kept telling himself as he got dressed. This one and two more, then it's done.
Vinnie Clams squinted as he emerged from the shadows of the Lincoln Tunnel, tailgating a bus loaded with commuters heading home to Jersey from their office jobs in Manhattan. He flipped down the visor and gunned the accelerator to pull up alongside the crawling bus so he could get a look at the face on the blonde he'd been watching all the way through the tunnel. Her sexy hair had given him a hard-on, which was putting undue stress on his already overstretched size-48 burgundy double-knits.
He leaned over the expansive pearl-gray leather seats of the Lincoln Town Car and tapped on the horn to get the blonde's attention. "Yo! Honey babes!" he yelled through the closed window. "How'ja like some salami?"
The blaring horn turned heads on the bus, including the blonde's. She reminded Vinnie of a young Joan Rivers, a pinched fox face with heavy makeup. Not bad, he'd had worse.
Like everyone else on the bus, she squinted to see through the dark- tinted windows of the black Lincoln swerving alongside the bus.
Vinnie Clams laughed and snorted, delighted that he'd gotten a rise out of the blonde. He waved goodbye to her, then hauled himself back up behind the wheel. He had business to attend to.
The hood of the Lincoln sparkled in the late-afternoon haze as it sped up the ramp that connected with Route 3. Vinnie was in a very good mood because he felt insulated from the world. It was hot and sticky outside, but the whispering whoosh of the air conditioner kept him nice and cool. Untouched, clean. Get a job where you keep your hands clean, they always said back in the old neighborhood. Truer words were never spoken.
The Lincoln zipped under the big sign that announced the New Jersey Turnpike turnoff, veering around a jacked-up Chevy Nova flying the Puerto Rican flag from its antenna.
"Fuckin' spics," Vinnie Clams muttered appreciatively. If it weren't for spics and niggers and jooches, his hands wouldn't be so clean. But they could be cleaner, and in a few months, if things worked out, they would be.
A cassette was sticking out of the customized Blaupunkt stereo system the Clam had installed. He pushed the tape in and instantly Olivia Newton-John was singing to him from six speakers Physical. It was the only tape he kept in the car, and that was the only song on the tape he really liked.
Spotting a pothole in the road up ahead, Vinnie Clams aimed for it on purpose. The front left tire hit hard, and Vinnie frowned at the soft thud he heard. He glanced down at the odometer. Seventeen thousand miles and the suspension's already shot. A few scratches on the doors, too. It was time for a new car, maybe a Seville this time or a Mercedes. If they're not too cramped up front. But what the fuck? After this pickup, he could spring for a stretch limo — easy. The Clam smiled.
Vinnie Clams believed that the secret of his success was caution, and even though it went against his better judgment to jinx himself by getting cocky, he couldn't help himself today. This was his biggest score to date, three hundred grand, cash. The smile stretched wider across his meaty lips. He'd come a long way from the days of selling nickel bags to high-school kids in Washington Square Park.
As Vinnie saw it, the turning point in his life came three years earlier when he was busted on a relatively minor possessions charge. Normally his lawyer would have plea-bargained the charge down to a fine plus probation, but that goddamn eager-beaver assistant DA wouldn't play ball. In his closing argument the asshole made Vinnie sound like some kind of child molester, and that old bastard of a judge sentenced him to six months upstate. When you're five foot seven and you weigh two sixty-five, sharing an eight-by-ten cell is no fucking fun. By the time Vinnie was let out, he'd lost thirty-seven pounds and swore to God that he'd never ever see the inside of a goddamn jail cell again.
Just thinking about that prison cell made him panicky. A day didn't go by that he didn't remember sitting in that cell, heaving and wheezing for air, promising himself over and over that he was through with penny-ante shit. He would tell himself every single day that when he got out, he'd work big drug deals for big payoffs. It would be less work and he'd be off the streets. He swore that he'd never get caught with shit on the street again. He'd learned his lesson. It was stupid even to be in the vicinity of a dope deal ... not when you can get someone else to do it.
The Clam's plan wasn't original; it was more or less traditional in his line of work, the established way a street pusher works his way up. A junkie will kiss his connection's ass, lick it clean, then lap up the turd off his shoes, just as long as he gets his fix. All of Vinnie Clams's regular customers were like that. So like many others before him, Vinnie Clams figured that he could take advantage of this available labor pool and form a small company of very loyal bagmen, whom he would pay with quality dope. There was only one problem with this: Vinnie Clams worked for the Mistretta family, and Mr. Mistretta, like a few of the other New York bosses, had these stupid old-world ideas about honor and decency. Vinnie thought the old man's rules were crazy. It was okay to sell dope to dealers; Mistretta just didn't want his people directly involved with the street action. The families considered selling dope directly to the junkies "nigger business," even though they handled better than sixty percent of all the dope sold in Harlem.
Sitting in jail, the Clam had worried that this would be a problem, but by the time he got out things were different. It was a whole new ballgame. After Richie Varga everything was different. It was incredible. The families had made Varga a prince, but the guy ended up screwing them all. What balls! Turned state's witness and fried their asses. When the Clam got out, the families were in chaos, their people scattered, their power just about gone. And with all the capi di capi either in jail or about to go, New York belonged to the small-timers, guys like Vinnie Clams. When Varga's testimony ruined the families, things really started to percolate in New York. Before long, disorganized crime swept through the city like a plague. And it was still going strong.
But for guys like Vinnie Clams, the disruption of the families was both good and bad. Sure, it freed him to operate the way he wanted to without all that outdated Code of Honor bullshit, but without the backing of the Mistrettas, he had nothing to start up with, no connections, no cash, no credit, nothing. So with no family affiliation, Vinnie Clams found himself out on the street again, an ex-con scrounging around his old neighborhood in Brooklyn, Gravesend, fencing hot VCRs and TVs. But that's when he got a call from a certain interested party, someone who wanted to invest in Vinnie Clams's drug expertise, someone who was getting in touch with a lot of the poor schlumps who were left high and dry without the families.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bad Guys"
Copyright © 2009 Anthony Bruno.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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