Even Jilly Sappone knows they should never have let him out. Ever since a bullet fragment embedded itself in his brain, he has been prone to uncontrollable rages. Opiates help dull his anger, but only blood can make it go away. When the parole board makes the mistake of freeing him, Jilly knows it’s only a matter of time before he goes back behind bars. Until then, he plans on having some fun. He starts by visiting his ex-wife, and leaving with his four-year-old daughter. The police have no hope of getting the girl back alive, so the mother turns to Stanley Moodrow, an ex-cop turned private investigator whose bulky frame conceals a fury that can nearly match the kidnapper’s. With the help of his new partner, Ginny Gadd, Moodrow will do what no prison ever could: break Jilly Sappone.
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A Stanley Moodrow Crime Novel
By Stephen Solomita
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Stephen Solomita
All rights reserved.
GILDO (JILLY) SAPPONE WANTED to see himself. That's all. Just to look into a mirror on his day of liberation. He wasn't asking for the moon. Wasn't demanding a comb, a brush, or even a throwaway razor. He knew why the screws wouldn't give him anything he could make into a weapon. That was natural; if he was in their place, it was exactly what he'd do. But the mirror wasn't even glass; it was metal, and it was cemented to a recess in the wall, and you couldn't get at it, nobody ever had. So why take it away?
Jilly ran his fingers through his beard, let his eyes take inventory. A steel bunk, a steel sink, a steel toilet; no desk, no books, no commissary. He had to brush his teeth with cold water, comb his hair with his fingers; he hadn't made a phone call in months, or received a letter, or spoken to anyone but Deputy Warden James Cooney. And you couldn't really call the dep's visit a conversation.
Cooney had opened the slot in the door, announced the parole board's reversal of its decision to keep Jilly Sappone in prison, added, "If it was up to me, you piece of shit, I would'a voted to put your ass up against a wall and shoot you. I would'a done it for the good of society. Now, I gotta let you go, but I'm telling you this, Sappone, give me any excuse, I'm gonna have an extraction team beat you into the hospital. That'll give me a couple extra weeks to change the board's mind."
Jilly, struck dumb by the unexpected news, hadn't registered the threat until after Cooney left. Which was just as well, because Jilly Sappone didn't take to threats; threats usually made him go off right then and there. And he wasn't afraid of a beating, either. That was why the system had finally shipped him off to Southport, New York's only maxi-maxi prison. The COs had used fists in Attica, batons in Greenhaven, ax handles in Clinton; they'd locked him away in the hole for months at a time, but whenever he came out, somebody said something or did something or just looked at him out of the corner of an eye and ...
But not this time. Cooney had turned on his heel and marched off down the catwalk; Jilly had paced (four steps to the rear, four steps to the front) the length of his cell while pondering the meaning of the dep's visit. Thinking that maybe it was a joke. Thinking Southport was created for cons who couldn't be controlled anywhere else in the system. If the New York State Department of Corrections had transferred Jilly Sappone's miserable ass to a prison where they locked you in a cell for twenty-three hours a day, then systematically had withdrawn every privilege, including his blanket and mattress, there was no legit way the board could've voted to cut him loose.
No legit way.
The obvious answer was that Carmine Stettecase, who maybe had the juice, had somehow been persuaded to reach into the system, pluck him out. But that didn't make sense because Carmine had dumped Jilly Sappone years before he got sent up. Never mind the fact that Carmine's son was married to Aunt Josie's daughter, Mary. Or that Aunt Josie had raised Jilly Sappone after his father got whacked. Blood didn't mean shit to Carmine Stettecase.
Twenty years later, Jilly could still remember Carmine's dismissal speech, word for word.
"What you are, Jilly, is a bug." Delivering it deadpan, voice as calm as the lead in a bullet before you pull the trigger. "Maybe it ain't ya fault—I wouldn't know about that—but a bug is what you are. I can't send you out for coffee without ya goin' off on the jerk behind the counter. Tell me, do I look like the fuckin' janitor? Huh? You think I oughta be pushin' a broom?"
Carmine had paused there, expecting an answer, but Jilly kept his eyes on the floor, figuring if he opened his mouth anything might come out. Knowing what would happen to him if he disrespected Carmine Stettecase.
"So, why the fuck," Carmine had finally asked, "am I spendin' all my time cleanin' up ya goddamned messes? If I'm not a janitor?" Another pause, this one a lot shorter. "I don't care what ya do with ya life, Jilly, but don't do it on my turf. Ya fuck around down here, I'm gonna kill ya."
Which, in a way, was exactly what he eventually did.
Jilly let his head and shoulders settle against the cool steel of his bunk. "Carmine," he said out loud, "if you could only see me now."
The joke was that he'd gotten worse, that he was barely in control from moment to moment, that his one hour a day out of the cell was an adventure for all concerned. The joke was that Jilly Sappone wasn't going to make it on the outside and he knew it. He'd be lucky to last a month.
The doc had said it straight out. Doctor Bannerman. The bullet (not even a bullet, just a little piece of lead, a dozen milligrams at most) as it punched its way through his temple and down into the back of his brain, had left a trail of scar tissue behind. It had all happened a long, long time ago, but the memory lingered on.
"Think of it," the doctor, standing on the far side of an inch-thick plastic partition, had explained, "as if someone had punched a hole in a pressure cooker. When the pressure builds up ..."
He did think of it, of course. Had been seeing it in his dreams for more than thirty years. The shards of bloody glass sparkling in his lap, on his shoulders, in his hair. Daddy's brains on the windshield, pink and wet. It wasn't something you could forget about.
But it didn't mean that he heard voices; it didn't mean he saw monsters. No, the problem was that some little piece of bullshit a normal person would just find annoying set off bolts of lightning in Jilly Sappone's mind. Shitstorm was the word he used to describe it to himself.
"It's better if it ain't Carmine," he told the ceiling over his bunk. "Because, if it was Carmine, I couldn't do what I gotta do." He sat up on the bunk, shook his head, tapped his foot on the floor. "Aunt Josie," he finally said. "You really gone and done it now."
Because Josie Rizzo was the only person in the world who gave two shits about Jilly Sappone and Josie Rizzo didn't have the juice.
No, if Josie Rizzo wanted her nephew out of jail, she'd have to make a deal. She'd have to trade something for her Jilly's freedom and Josie Rizzo only had one thing to trade.
Jackson-Davis Wescott searched his face in the vanity mirror of Carlo Sappone's 1984 Buick Regal as if trying to remember something. As if his features (if he could only assemble them, make a single image out of the puzzle) would reveal some obvious truth he'd once known, but had long forgotten. Though he'd never told anyone (not Aunt Josie and definitely not Jilly Sappone), he did this whenever he was alone. If there was no mirror handy, he'd find a chunk of chrome, a darkened window, a polished tabletop.
On this particular occasion, the day of Jilly Sappone's liberation, Jackson-Davis raised the forefinger of his right hand and touched the individual parts of his face as if taking inventory. Assuring himself that it (or, he) was all there. First, he ran his finger from left to right across his ultrafine platinum hair and said, as he usually did, "Damn near to an albino."
That was what his daddy had said whenever he'd taken young Jackson-Davis on his knee. His ole ma had called it "angel hair," which was what Jackson-Davis said when he didn't say "Damn near to an albino."
From the part in his hair, he let his finger drop along his right cheek, down to a soft, flat jaw, then up to lips so thin they looked more like raised scar tissue than a real mouth.
"Maybe the reason," he said, "the boy don't talk much is that he ain't got no mouth to speak with."
Jackson-Davis couldn't remember who'd first said that. Could've been his ole ma or his daddy. Or maybe even Reverend Lucas Barr down at the Gethsemane Pentecostal Church. Jackson's ole ma had been real keen for the Pentecostal message, had called on Reverend Luke for all kinds of advice.
"Don't rightly know what's the matter with the boy," she'd say. "Seems awful slow to me. Don't rightly know what to do."
Reverend Luke would rub Jackson's head, say, "Trust in the Lord, Martha. Trust in the Lord."
Then one day Jackson's daddy had caught Martha trusting in the Lord's messenger. Jackson-Davis had been with his daddy on that afternoon, had seen his mother try to run, seen her panties catch at her ankles, seen his daddy's boots come down on his old ma's back while Reverend Luke's white moon of a butt flew out the window.
It was the last anybody in Ocobla, Mississippi, ever saw of Reverend Luke. Jackson's daddy, on the other hand, became a local hero for killing his wife. That's the way Sheriff Powell saw it, the way Judge Buford Addison saw it, the way the jury saw it, the way the entire damn county saw it.
"Hell's bells," his father said whenever he was drunk (which was every Friday night and all through the weekend), "if I would'a had me a pistol, I would'a got that preacher sunabitch, too."
Jackson-Davis ran his finger over a tiny, insignificant nose, muttered, "Cute as a button," then touched each of the twenty-two freckles sprinkled below his soft, pale cheekbones. The count completed, he dropped his hand to the steering wheel and stared into his own eyes.
"The eyes are the windows of the soul."
He couldn't remember who said that. Not his daddy, that was for sure. And not his ole ma, either. Maybe Miss Carson, his first grade teacher. Jackson-Davis had stayed with Miss Carson for three years before it became obvious that he was too slow to learn. Three years was a long time and Miss Carson must have said a lot of things.
Jackson-Davis searched for his soul. Tried to find it in his dark blue eyes. He'd been told that his eyes were sad. "Hurt-like" was the way Betty Ann, his first and only girlfriend, had put it. And hurt-like was what he'd put on Betty Ann one sweltering August night when she said she didn't love him any more. Enough hurt-like to put her in the hospital for a month.
Not that Jackson-Davis had waited for the doctors to count Betty Ann's broken bones. Betty Ann Strothers had enough brothers, uncles, and cousins living around Ocobla to field both sides of a football team. And they all kept shotguns in the back windows of rusting Chevy pickup trucks.
"I might be slow," Jackson-Davis said to his reflection, "but I wasn't dumb enough to stick around."
He'd hitched a ride all the way to Augusta, Georgia, then stolen a car and headed north, just stopping long enough to commit the odd burglary in the odd little town. Somewhere along the line—somewhere in Maryland, if he remembered right—he'd come through a farmhouse window to find a woman napping on the sofa.
The hurt-like he'd put on her was a lot more satisfying than rolling around on a blanket with Betty Ann. In fact, it pleased him so much, he decided to repeat the experience four days later in the town of Cobleskill, New York. That mistake had cost Jackson-Davis fifteen years of his life, because the stupid woman had picked up a knife and he'd gone and killed her, and the cops had gotten him an hour later on the Interstate. He was never sure how they picked him out, but the bloodstains on his white T-shirt had left no room for a claim of mistaken identity.
"Ole Jilly, he saved me from a life of shame," Jackson-Davis said. "Without ole Jilly, them niggers down to Clinton would'a tore me a new asshole for sure. Reckon for a fact I owe Jilly a big one."
As Jackson-Davis turned his attention back to the windows of his soul, the steel gate at the entranceway to the Southport Correctional Facility slid off to one side and a tall, bearded figure stepped through. The man stopped for a moment, let his head swivel from side to side, then began to walk toward the parking lot.
Jackson-Davis didn't recognize the man at first. It'd been a few years, of course, and Jackson's memory wasn't all that good under the best of circumstances. Plus ole Jilly had a thick, bushy beard, which he'd never had in Clinton, and his hair—what he had left—stuck out in a curly brown halo that only called attention to the prison-gray skin on the top of his head.
"Move it over, Jackson," Jilly Sappone called through the open window. "We gotta get outta here before I go off."
Wescott slid over without a word, waited patiently while Jilly drove aimlessly through the New York countryside. For the better part of ten years, he'd survived by following Jilly Sappone's advice. Jilly had taught him how to make a shank, where to hide it, when to use it. In the course of his instruction, Jackson-Davis had learned patience; he'd learned that, being slow, it didn't pay to rush into things like he'd rushed into that woman's house when he knew she'd seen him through the window. No, what it paid to do was hold his tongue, try not to think until Jilly told him what was what.
"Jeez," Jilly finally said, "I almost lost it back there." He pulled the car off the road, slid the transmission into park. "The goddamned screw was suckin' a piece of hard candy. Slurp, slurp, slurp. Like a baby suckin' a tit. It got on my nerves, Jackson. But I'm better, now." He rolled down the window, breathed the spring air, stared at the forest across the road. How long had it been since he'd seen a tree? Three years? Four? In Southport, you never saw the sun. That was part of the punishment.
"Real pretty, ain't it, Jilly? Real homey like. Kinda reminds me of Ocobla." Jackson's thin lips moved apart to reveal a set of tiny, yellow teeth. "Nice weather for gittin' out."
Jilly grunted, turned back to face his partner. "You done what I told you, Jackson?"
Jackson-Davis took a few seconds to get the sequence right before he spoke. "Sure I did, Jilly. Went direct to Aunt Josie after I got out. Took the subway and, boy, that was weird. Never did see a train go under the ground like that. More people on that subway than lived in Ocobla."
"Get to the fuckin' point, Jackson."
Jackson-Davis listen to the rumble in Jilly's voice, heard it as thunder before a storm. Thunder before a shitstorm.
"Well, Aunt Josie was real good to me. Sent me off to Cousin Carlo on Long Island. Carlo was real good to me, too. Had me doin' deliveries and things. And he give me a little house, first place I ever had all to myself."
"This house in your name, Jackson?"
"Pardon?" Jackson-Davis stalled for time. He had no idea what Jilly meant by "in your name."
"Did you sign anything? When you got the house?"
"Uh-uh. Just moved in."
"That's real good, Jackson. You get me that address?"
"The bitch, the fuckin' bitch," Jilly roared. "What the fuck is the matter with you?"
Jackson-Davis felt his mind slide into a familiar whirl. Thoughts flew by like dry leaves in a twister. He usually handled this particular situation by striking out at the closest breathing object, but when the closest breathing object was Jilly Sappone ...
"Awright, Jackson," Jilly continued. "Slow it down. My wife, Annunziata. If you recall, I told you to get her address before you came up. I admit that was a long time ago. Anybody could forget a thing they got told that long ago."
Jackson's face suddenly lightened. "Well I guess you just pegged me wrong, Jilly, because I sure did get your wife's address. Aunt Josie wrote down a whole bunch of addresses and give 'em to me. Guess I jus' forgot for a minute."
Jackson-Davis handed over a carefully folded sheet of paper, and Jilly read it slowly, trying to absorb the facts without going off. His wife, Annunziata, who now called herself Ann, had divorced him (which he knew), then remarried a Con Edison worker named Paul Kalkadonis (which he didn't know), and had a kid, Theresa-Marie, now four years old. Six months ago, Paul Kalkadonis had been electrocuted on East Twenty-Fifth Street when a thoroughly stoned coworker with a known history of drug abuse failed to throw a switch. Ann was now suing and, according to Aunt Josie, the only relevant legal question was exactly how many millions Ann Kalkadonis was going to get.
So you take care of her, Josie had concluded, and the rest of them except for Carmine. Carmine's not for you.
"I brung ya these here, Jilly. Aunt Josie said they might help."
Jilly Sappone looked down at the small, pink tablets in Jackson Wescott's palm and knew exactly what they were. Dilaudid was what the docs called them; pink dope is what they were called on the street. Jilly had never injected himself with heroin, because he was afraid of needles, but somewhere in early adolescence he'd learned that opiates relieved the pressure. Not that dope made him a nice guy. No, the shitstorm was always there, but when Jilly Sappone was stoned, he could sometimes decide when the winds would blow. Sometimes.
Excerpted from Damaged Goods by Stephen Solomita. Copyright © 1996 Stephen Solomita. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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