On the twentieth floor of a half-finished skyscraper, two brothers-in-law stare each other down. One is Vincent Ventura, a made man who fancies himself a real estate mogul. The other is Danny O’Hara, an honest foreman who’s just seen Ventura’s thugs throw one of his employees to his death. O’Hara doesn’t think Ventura will harm his own kin. He’s wrong. Ventura barely hesitates before pushing his brother-in-law over the edge.
Thirty years later, Nick O’Hara—Danny’s son—is a cop, and Ventura is king of the New York mob. Though he avoids his uncle’s business, Nick makes the mistake of allowing his twelve-year-old son to pay his respects at the old man’s birthday party. A gun battle erupts in Little Italy, and young Peter is caught in the crossfire. As his life collapses around him, Nick risks everything for vengeance—taking on the Italian mob in the name of his son, and the father whom he never knew.
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About the Author
Dorothy Uhnak (1930–2006) was the bestselling, award-winning author of nine novels and one work of nonfiction. Policewoman, a memoir about her life as a New York City transit police detective, was written while Uhnak was still in uniform. The Bait (1968), her first novel, won the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery Novel. She went on to hit the bestseller lists with novels including Law and Order (1973) and The Investigation (1977). Uhnak has been credited with paving the way for authors such as Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Patricia Cornwell, and many others who write crime novels and police procedurals with strong heroines. Her books have been translated into fifteen languages.
Read an Excerpt
Codes of Betrayal
By Dorothy Uhnak
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Dorothy Uhnak
All rights reserved.
EDDIE MANGANARO PUSHED HIS sunglasses to the top of his head and held the newspaper to the light coming through the passenger window of the unmarked, beat-up Chevy surveillance car. He held his finger under the tiny print.
"Nick, listen. This has got to be the best. What they call a saver. I gotta keep this one."
His partner, Nick O'Hara, rubbed his eyes. Every time they had a fixed surveillance, Eddie distracted himself by trying to find the craziest memoriam printed on the obit page of the New York Daily News. It seemed that every single person being remembered—on a birthday, or death date, or significant anniversary—had been too good for this earth. A saint with a smile the angels envied. Nick wondered how many of the relatives ever told the poor bastard how terrific he was when he was alive.
"Lemme ask you something, Ed. Do these people being remembered have a subscription to the News up in heaven? Who delivers the papers to them?"
Eddie ignored him. He narrowed his eyes. "This is great. Jesus, it's signed 'Grandma.' Listen—listen up. 'Michael, it's two years since they did that to you. Don't worry. Every day since then, they pay and pay. They never get off the hook and they know why and their mothers will cry when they rot in hell. Rest in heaven remembering my promise to you. Love, Grandma.' Wadda ya think about that?"
Nick was impressed. "I think Grandma is some tough cookie."
"Sometimes I think these messages are coded. Y'know, not what they seem to be. Coupla years ago, I used to read the personals in the Times and—"
Nick turned to his partner. "The New York Times? You read the New York Times?"
Manganaro shrugged. "I worked with a better class of partner then. Anyway, there was a message, like four times a year, to some guy named Paul. Very cryptic. Like: 'We waited for the phone call. Michigan was cold. What happened?' Then, a few months later: "Paul, like clockwork. How are the classes going? Don't call.'"
Despite himself, Nick was curious. "Any messages from Paul?"
Manganaro shook his head. There were strange things in the world, if only you looked for them.
Nick chewed on a pencil; consulted his watch; tried to conjure up an eight-letter word for "doubled consonant" that would fit the three letters he already worked out on the down words. What he did to kill time was to work out crossword puzzles. He had stored away an endless number of esoteric, totally unusable words. He wondered when the hell he'd ever get a chance to use "acrolect." Someday maybe he'd have an investigation that took him to New Orleans, so he could impress the hell out of the cops there: ask if any of them spoke that particular variety of Creole that approximates most closely standard language. That'd make him popular down south.
These were a couple of ways the two detectives from the Seventeenth Precinct Detective Squad Unit passed the heavy time of waiting. Not that they weren't watching the comings and goings of various people in and out of the three-story brownstone across the street and a few houses down from where they sat slumped in the Chevy.
What they were watching was an upscale whorehouse. The clientele included movie stars, in New York on a promotional jaunt; athletes, celebrating or lamenting after a basketball or baseball or hockey game; even high-level diplomats taking a quickie on a lunch break from their duties at the UN or their desk at the embassy. These bastards even had the balls to park illegally. There were a lot of familiar, public faces coming in and out of the elegant building—which housed, according to a small, neat, brass nameplate, something called the Whalen Institute. It was supposed to be a center for new age, new wave, relaxation, rejuvenation, or stimulation, all for two hundred bucks an hour. That was what they reported as income to the IRS. What the institute forgot to mention were the services over and above steamy massages, herbal wraps, weird music: the charges for lithe young women doing lithe interesting things.
Nick and Eddie were on a fill-in assignment, as a favor to a couple of guys who had court appearances. They didn't actually know too much about the operation, or who specifically was interested in the Institute. There were allegations of heavy drug turnover, money laundering, illegal meetings—or, rather, indiscreet get-togethers between foreign nationals. There were probably enough scandalous things going on to take up a hundred hours of TV talk showtime, not to mention pages in the sleaze press. As well as the so-called straight press—it was hard to draw a distinction nowadays.
Nick and Ed weren't the only people on alert. There were probably a couple of guys monitoring what was going on via camera surveillance. Wires may or may not have been tapped. When you are on a temporary basis, just doing a favor you hope will one day be returned, you do what's asked of you. Nick and Ed wrote down the arrival and departure times of various vehicles and their license plates; descriptions of persons entering and leaving. It was boring work; they were glad they weren't too involved.
Eddie Manganaro, thirty-five, son of two immigrants from Sicily, looked like a poster boy for the Irish Tourist Board. He was a green-eyed, redheaded, snub-nosed, pale guy with the face of an altar boy. He had a punch like a sledgehammer, developed as a result of being the fourth in a five-boy family. Many a culprit was surprised to learn a skinny boy-face like Eddie, with his sweet smile, could be so rough. And calm about it.
Nick O'Hara, a couple of years older, inches and pounds larger, also looked like a guy with the wrong name. He was a swarthy man with a strong face, black eyebrows, and unruly black hair; he had startlingly blue eyes, unexpected against his complexion. The dark coloring came from the Ventura side of his family; but so did the blue eyes. Whatever was Irish about him didn't show, but his father's ethnicity made him a member of the Irish fraternal organization. And his mother's family qualified him as a member of the Italian organization. Of course, all ethnic and fraternal and religious organizations were more political than fraternal. It was essential to belong to one or another—or more than one, if you could, in order to give you some solid backing when promotions or assignments came up. Or if you were in trouble, and needed some friends with clout.
Nick was eight years old when his father died in a construction accident. His mother died of a heart attack just six months later. He had been adopted by his uncle, Frank O'Hara, a New York City Police Department lieutenant. He had known, without ever asking for reasons, that the O'Haras and the Venturas had nothing to do with each other. Routinely, he had spent time with his grandfather on birthdays, some holidays, anniversaries. Both sides of his family loved him; neither side talked about the other. After two years in the army, Nick took and passed the police exam. His uncle, Frank, then a captain, was very pleased. When he spoke to his grandfather, Papa Ventura listened quietly and asked only if this was his idea, or had the O'Haras influenced him? It was the only time he ever asked such a thing. Assured that Nick had made his own decisions, his grandfather nodded, kissed his cheek, then looked directly into his eyes.
"Whatever you do in your life, Nicholas, do it honorably. It is all a man has at the very center of himself. His honor."
Through his fifteen years on the job, the question arose many times in Nick's experience: What, exactly, is an honorable man?
Two hours before the relief team would arrive, both partners spotted the van at exactly the same instant. It was large, light tan, driven slowly by a young black guy. Another black guy walked stealthily behind a well-dressed woman, carrying a Bonwit's shopping bag, a pocketbook dangling from her right arm. The van practically crept down the street, pacing the mugger. The woman was in a world of her own, totally oblivious of her dangerous situation. And she was in danger: Nick and Ed both recognized the van, knew who was inside. This team had not only robbed, but beaten, more than eight or nine women on the Upper East Side in the last month. And were suspected of ten or more similar hits in midtown earlier and in Queens before that.
The detectives couldn't leap out to scare off these mutts; someone from the brownstone might spot them. There was no way they could just sit and watch what was about to happen. Nick grabbed the car phone, hesitated a split second. He couldn't hit nine-one-one; that would send a couple of squad cars racing, sirens blasting. Nick squinted at the brass plate outside the brownstone: The Whalen Institute. He punched out the phone number engraved on the plaque.
A woman's soft voice answered. "Whalen Institute. Linda speaking."
In a hoarse distortion of his own voice, Nick said, "I'm a neighbor. There are two guys right outside your place—gettin' ready to mug a woman. Black guy, right behind her, another in a van following. I don't wanna call the police any more than you do." He hung up; let them wonder later who the hell called.
The message must have been relayed instantaneously. Both of the Institute doors burst open and two very large men in gray maintenance uniforms barreled down the steps, each carrying a baseball bat.
The intended victim turned, startled; before she could make a sound the bat-men had turned her toward the corner, told her to Get the hell outta here. She didn't stop to ask questions.
The stalker froze for a moment, then tried to react—but was stopped mid-motion by a blow to the back of his skull so loud that both Nick and Ed gasped and sunk deeper into their seats. They heard the sound of glass breaking; watched as the bat wielders not only broke every window on the van but smashed the headlights, taillights, and, for good measure, took a few swings at the van's body.
The passenger's side of the van was yanked open and the stalker was shoved in next to the driver, who was wiping a bloody eye with smashed fingertips. Apparently acting on instructions, he put the van in gear and raced down the street, swerving as he went.
The two gray-clad maintenance men, having preserved the peaceful condition of their community, stood, hands on hips. They glanced around at the two-and three-story brownstones, as though expecting applause or at least a nod of thanks. New Yorkers, being by nature very private and discreet citizens, did not appear at any window. Both lit cigarettes, took quick drags, then regretfully stamped them underfoot.
Apparently, no smoking was permitted within the walls of the Whalen Institute. Obviously: It was a health facility.
Neither Nick nor Ed would mention the incident in their notes or reports. What for? A few more limos dropped off somewhat stealthy, though expensively dressed, "health seekers." Finally, they received the phone call they had hoped for, earlier than expected. Relief was on its way. Nick kicked the motor on just as a gray-blue Toyota pulled alongside. The driver, grinning and nodding, ecstatic at his good luck—how about that? he'd been anticipating an hour's search—backed up so Nick could pull out. Nick pulled down his window and shook his head.
"Sorry, partner," he called out politely. Rolled up the window so he didn't have to hear the wails of indignation, disappointment, and despair. Hey, he had to save the spot for the next team.
Which arrived about two minutes later. Nick pulled out, the new team pulled in. When Nick reached the corner, the guy with the Toyota, double-parked, was standing outside his car, looking around wildly, when he spotted Nick.
"You bastard," he screamed. "You bastard! You selfish rotten bastard!"
Eddie looked at Nick. "Friend of yours? He seems to know you."
Nick shrugged and pulled away without acknowledging the hysterical man. "He must think I'm someone else. Happens all the time."
They dropped the car in the police garage, prepared the necessary forms. They were both tall men and cramped by the hours of inactivity. In the squad room, Nick checked his mailbox, pulled out a sheaf of papers. A report had been returned.
He glanced at the notes, written in red ink. "Oh shit! The lieutenant wants more information on the Sobelman killing. Jesus, looka this. He's correcting our grammar, for God's sake. Hell with it—it'll keep until next week."
Detective Johnson, a huge man with a florid complexion and a very small voice, looked at them and shook his head. "Well, looka the Bobbsey twins. How come you guys aren't in court bookin' all the bad guys? Ya fallin' down on the job or what?"
Eddie waved the report at him. "We been doing some research. You know, for our book. Very hush-hush, don't ask, okay?"
For three years, Johnson had claimed to be working on the next "big cop book," and the best way to needle him was to say you were working on your book. He believed everyone.
The team of Hoffman and Smith came into the squad office, dragging a frightened, bone-skinny woman by the arm.
"Tried to pick my damn pocket, can you beat it? I'm on the subway; just as I get off, there's this hand reaching ..." He held up the thin hand. The lightweight sleeve of a torn coat slid down the woman's arm, revealing needle tracks. "Sit here," he instructed her. He leaned to Nick. "She's in a helluva bad way. Four months' pregnant. Gonna try to get her into detox."
Hoffman only looked like a monstrous uncaring bastard. He was really softhearted under certain circumstances. It was known that he had a drug addict son doing time in a rehab somewhere in Minnesota. He had taken it very hard; hadn't been able to follow the edicts of the "tough love" group his wife insisted they join. Against all advice, he had hugged his kid and told him that he loved him and would love him forever. He didn't let anyone know that he would take the kid back over and over again, no matter what.
Hoffman poured a mug of hot coffee from a sticky pot and thrust it at the woman, who jumped. Not realizing how loud and threatening his voice sounded, he bellowed at her, "I'm gonna give ya this cuppa, now promise not to boff on me, okay?"
Nick told him, "Hoff, she don't know what the hell you're talking about. Look at her—you're scaring the hell outta her."
Hoffman shrugged and backed off, then remembered something. "Hey, Nicholas, my man. You goin' to that big seventy-fifth birthday party for your grandfather, right? Waddya gotta do, kiss the ring before you kiss his cheek?"
"You'll never know, Hoff."
A new member of the squad, a skinny Puerto Rican named Silvio but called Slick, listened in. He didn't know if he resented the nickname or not. He walked over to Nick.
"Hey, no kiddin', O'Hara—your grandfather is that guy Ventura, the big mob guy?"
Only certain guys are permitted to joke about someone's family. Slick was not one of them.
Nick stiffened and looked down at the smaller man. "Something you want to discuss with me about my family, Slick? 'Cause if there is, there's a coupla things I wanna talk to you about your mother."
Eddie grabbed Nick by the arm and tugged him to the door, waving Slick off. He whispered to Nick, "Christ, Nickie, c'mon, don't be mean. You know how those PRs are about their mothers."
As they walked down the stairs, Nick said loudly, "Sure, because they don't know who their fathers are!"
A furious voice called after them, "I heard that. I heard that."
There was laughter coming from the ready room, as the eight-to-four guys were being relieved by the four-to-one A.M. men.
"C'mon, that's Del White in there," Nick said. They entered the room, anticipating. He was the squad's storyteller.
"Nick, my man, lemme tell y'all about what happened to me on my watch through the night. You notice I'm still here at what? Four P.M. Had to collar a guy, damned if I didn't, just as I went off last night."
Detective Second Grade Delaware White's skin glistened ebony pure. He was handsome, meticulous, a regular GQ dandy.
"So I stop off at Healy's for a quick one and walk into the middle of a real ongoing brawl—fists and beer flying."
He had a magnetic voice, and he seemed to disappear into the scene he was depicting. Guys paused in their paperwork—those on the telephone only paid half attention to the voices coming from the receiver.
Excerpted from Codes of Betrayal by Dorothy Uhnak. Copyright © 1997 Dorothy Uhnak. 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.
Table of Contents
Part 1: The Truth,
Part 2: The Plan,
Part 3: Living the Life,
Part 4: All Fall Down,
A Biography of Dorothy Uhnak,