has spent the last few years glued to a bar stool in a seedy establishment. When Marta, daughter of his old mentor Master
Sergeant Manny Fernandez, walks into the bar one evening and reveals that her only child has been brutally murdered and her terminally ill father wants to see Barone right away, he cannot refuse the widow's request. After Marta's father extracts a promise from Barone to find his grandson's killers and exact revenge, Barone begins a quest that leads him to a gang of small-time drug dealers, corrupt cops, and a radical Muslim Imam. He stumbles upon a connection-a funding of the Imam's terrorist training program by an organized, nationwide distribution of drugs. Dozens of hoods are involved, but those odds have never bothered Barone who is a man consumed by a hatred of rats who kill for pleasure.
Besides, he is a man of his word and Manny is counting on him. From the crowded streets of Hollywood to the vast farmlands of central Florida, Nick searches for answers and,
in the process, finds a measure of personal redemption.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.59(d)|
About the Author
Massachusetts, in 1935. A Korean War veteran, he moved to Florida with his wife, Tarese, in 1961, and raised a family. This is his fifth novel.
Read an Excerpt
DIG DEEP THE GRAVEA NOVEL
By EUGENE BASILICI
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Eugene Basilici
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe night it all began, I was sitting on a stool at the packed bar, working on a buzz, trying to keep my mind from thinking about anything. The sour smell of stale beer and sweat-stained work clothes meandered over the unhappy patrons and melded with a rising cloud of tobacco smoke. It permeated every molecule of space between the smoke-stained ceiling and the much-abused concrete floor. But the odors were familiar and expected, and like a raunchy blanket against the cold, gave perverse comfort to those of us who wanted company without conversation and a place to sit and brood and drink away the sharp edges of empty lives.
Then she walked into the joint looking as out of place as that cooking show kid, Rachel Ray would in a twenty-dollar whorehouse. All I could see above the corner of the bar was a gorgeous face, regal, framed by dark, curly hair above a dressy, black jacket open from just above the waist, and something white and silky flaring at the throat. Well, a class act slumming had nothing to do with me and I checked out Fox News on the plasma TV high on the wall just as Britt Hume was going into a two minute riff. But I couldn't get myself interested in that, either. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Big John point her in my direction.
"Mr. Barone," she said. Her voice had a tight, but quiet tone, "I'm Marta Hernandez."
All around me, the small snatches of conversation died, and I scowled, resenting the intrusion. I'm a big guy, 6'3", and a mean look from me usually gets people to leave me the hell alone. This time it didn't work, so I gave her the slow once-over. Close up, the black jacket looked expensive; likewise the black skirt beneath that ended just below the knee. The legs were good. They were very good.
Now, this bar is on the corner of Pembroke Road and 441, in Hollywood, Florida. It's a crummy neighborhood of used car lots, payday-advance pawn shops and Mexican fast food joints fronting for sixty-year-old apartment buildings and duplexes. The structures haven't seen any paint in at least twenty years and you could see the outlines of the cinder blocks in the walls climbing up their spines like so many bones. Believe me; my home away from home, the A & B Bar and Grill, fit right in.
First of all, there's no grill-at least, not in all the years I've been coming here, and Big John serves mostly beer and maybe a little Carlo Rossi for the few, tired-looking, ladies-of-anybody's-evening that hang out here. On payday and when the government checks arrive, the locals upgrade to boilermakers-that's the guys. Its rum and coke for the gals, of course; then, a few days later, it's back to beer or wine for everyone. But, for me anyway, it sure beats going home.
A & B is a square, one-story juke-joint with a forlorn pool table and an oblong bar that gives you the choice of either staring at somebody opposite you, or looking straight down at your beer. Most of the patrons choose the latter. It was the kind of seedy that no amount of paint and air freshener could ever cover; the kind that makes you look down as you walk in, hoping not to slip on anything nasty or maybe have a roach run up your leg, and Marta whatever-her-name-is, sure as hell didn't belong anywhere near this bar or this neighborhood.
I figured her for a real estate chick, maybe commercial sales, coming to see me about some buildings I own, and I glanced up. "I don't know how you found me here, lady," I said, "but I'm not interested."
She held my eyes with hers and my interest reversed course. She had those deep, black eyes that could screw up your depth perception and I widened my gaze to keep from falling in. Cuban, I guessed; beautiful features and full-bodied; not Reubenesque like so many Hispanic chicks that blossom real early and then, before their thirties, go from stacked to lumpy. No, this one, probably on the far side of her thirties, was a knockout. Suddenly, I found myself wishing I'd shaved that morning. She ignored my appraisal.
"Manny Fernandez is my father. He asked me to find you."
Manny Fernandez! That changed things. I straightened up and motioned to the stool beside me. "Sit down," I said. "Have a beer."
Big John plopped a bottle of Dos Equis in front of her-probably the most expensive brand he had-and twisted off the cap. She arched onto the stool and lifted the bottle and chugged a third of it before coming up for air. I was beginning to like her. "How's Manny doing?"
"Not good," she said. "He wants to see you right away."
"Right away? Uh, I haven't talked to old Manny in years. What's so important now?"
Her eyes went flat, like obsidian, "His grandson was murdered." Her voice caught in her throat, and she swallowed hard, "He was butchered and the police aren't even making a pretence of finding out who or why."
She paused and stared down at her bottle of beer. I could see her throat working; the carotid pulsating under the pressure of holding in the pain. "He was my only child, Mr. Barone." Her agony etched itself in the hollows and contours of her face and neck, but her voice remained soft. "But that's not why you must come see him right away. My father doesn't have many hours to live."
I was shocked, both about the kid and about Manny, and I slouched back on the stool and twisted the can in my fingers, wiping off the beads of moisture, and gaining time as my mind traveled back.
Manny Fernandez, I thought, instantaneously flashing back fifteen years. Hell, over sixteen, now. I could even remember the exact date and the time; February 26th, 1993, quarter to two in the afternoon; the last time we'd worked together. A huge explosion had blown a hell of a hole in the World Trade Center, killing maybe hundreds-we didn't know then-and Manny, me, and two other SFCs, Grover and Edmunsen, on a scuba exercise off a Coast Guard, go-fast boat along the Brooklyn waterfront, hauled ass back aboard and headed down New York's Lower Bay. We rounded Staten Island. The Coastie, Chief Petty Officer Jimmy Pearson, the boat's commander, kept it wide open and continuously radioed his position as we headed for Perth Amboy. The other Coastie, a Seaman Apprentice named Corso, uncovered the front-mounted, 50 caliber machine gun, and that's when we got lucky-well, that's not really the best word for it.
Ahead was a Wellcraft, maybe 35-foot, running wide open and refusing Pearson's hail. We caught up pretty quick and were almost abreast when they opened up on us with automatic weapons. Corso never had a chance to cock the Browning. He got stitched across the chest and crumpled to the deck. I crawled up and pulled the kid back just as the boat heeled sharply to the left, almost throwing me out. I looked back and saw Manny grab for the helm. AK-47 slugs had torn Pearson almost in half. Both Coasties down and we hadn't even got off a shot in return. I can still feel how my lips peeled back in a wolfish grin. Those bastards were going to die.
Manny swung us back on track and we roared up the wake of the Wellcraft. This time there'd be no warning hail. I yanked back on the handle and sighted down. I loved the M2. Those big .50 BMG bullets have less drift than smaller calibers and all I had to do was point it right. I let her rip and she chattered her lethal song, hammering the twin outboards into Swiss cheese. In seconds the Wellcraft lost power. Her nose came down and her wake caught up to her, lifting her bullet-riddled stern high in the air. I waited until she leveled off and my finger again curled around the trigger.
"Hold fire!" Manny yelled, "They're giving up." He pointed ahead. Regretfully, I pulled my finger off the trigger.
Grover and Edmunsen tied the boats together, then jumped on, their side-arms out, cocked, and ready. I had the four bad guys under my gun less than thirty feet away, and the .50 swung between them. Manny told the guys to disarm them and bring their weapons over, then go back and check out the cabin.
But, even with their hands up, the rag-heads were having a great time laughing and talking. One of them, probably the leader, said there'd be no trouble from them. They'd done their job. The Blind Sheik would give them a hero's welcome and the mujahedeen lawyers would tie up the American courts for years. Sons of bitches spoke better English than I did.
They were practically doing a little dance, when the leader made a big mistake. He pointed to the bodies of the two Coasties and laughed; said they'd be nothing but bones in the ground and forgotten, long before he and his followers ever got to trial. He was grinning at me. I smiled back. I remember that; and I remember the Browning jumping in my hands, and I remember the shocked look on their faces as the M2 chewed them to pieces. Let the Blind Sheik pray over that.
I looked over. "Another beer?"
She shook her head.
I figured I'd be going up on charges, but Manny covered for me. As Grover and Edmunsen came charging up out of the hatchway, Manny yelled, "God damn it; search them again. One of you missed a handgun and Nick had to take them out!"
The two SFCs pulled the bodies apart and roughly searched them again. "No weapons now, Top," Grover called out. "Don't see that handgun, either."
"It popped out backwards when the shooter got tapped," Manny answered. "If it ain't on the deck, it must've gone overboard."
He looked up at me still leaning on the .50. I didn't say a word.
Later, through the Board of Inquiry testimony, Manny stood fast and that ended it. But the Army had its own ideas. Colonel Eberhardt passed the word down. If I wanted an Honorable, I'd have to put in my papers now. So, that's how I left the Special Forces.
"Well," I said, "I'm sorry for your troubles. I don't know how I can help, but your dad was a good friend and a mentor, and I owe him. He taught me a lot."
I looked at her. How that bull-chested, craggy-faced refugee from Castro's Cuba could sire a beautiful babe like this was a mystery to me. From her black, lustrous hair to perfectly arched eyebrows, and those hypnotic eyes and light-olive skin; the high cheekbones sloping down to a mouth that I swear was begging to be kissed-Jesus; I actually felt a tremor go through me. I needed to get under control. "Ah, look; tell Manny I'll come by in a couple of days."
"Tomorrow." She said it quietly, but the tone was unmistakable. "My dad may not have a couple of days." She was dead serious.
"OK," I agreed. "I'll be there tomorrow. Give me the address."
She opened her pocket book and wrote out the address. I watched her hand, the long, tapering fingers and graceful wrist. I grabbed the address. "Thanks," I mumbled. "Look, I'll walk you to your car."
"That won't be necessary," she said, and rose from the stool. "Tomorrow; don't forget."
I watched her walk out the door. So did every other swinging dick in the joint; and that aggravated me, too.
I signaled for another beer and stared morosely at the empty in my hands. It had been a crummy couple of days-hell, a couple of crummy months; crummy years-and the news that one of my few, true friends from the past was dying, full of troubles, put a capper on it. Then my mind groused back to this morning and Jessie. It was all bad.
The absence of sound and movement beyond my closed and gummy eyelids had brought me up out of a sour sleep. It was Monday morning, wasn't it? Usually on a Monday morning, (Jess worked Tuesday through Sunday, ten to seven, and always came over straight from work, Sunday night), I'd wake up to the vacuum cleaner growling through the weeklong detritus in my apartment. The windows would be wide open; curtains snapping in the breeze. I'd do a little protesting once in awhile, but I really liked the routine.
But last night, like a lot of Sunday nights in the recent past, I was either too drunk to hold a decent conversation or take her to bed, or I pretended to be.
She was a big-hearted woman, early forties, still attractive, and way too strung out on me. I liked her and didn't want to hurt her, but I wasn't willing to give her what she wanted. Anyway, there was a note pinned to my Chinos lying on the floor next to the couch. It said, 'I'm leaving. Call me if you decide you really want to. Jessie'.
I tossed the note into a full wastebasket and opened the refrigerator. But I felt like crap and decided to lie back down. Another wasted week coming up and I wasn't eager to get up and meet it. And that's the way this crummy day had started.
I tossed a ten and a five on the bar. "See ya, John," I said, and left.
Chapter TwoIt gets dark early in November. By seven o'clock, it was full night and cooling down. I hadn't eaten all day and my stomach was growling, but I decided to go back to my place, kind of hoping Jessie might be there and kind of hoping she wouldn't. The bar was only a block away from my building on Southwest 18th Street; not even far enough to get the car warmed up.
When I got there, I noticed Jimmy in the shadows, seated on the sidewalk across the street and using the storefront as a back-rest. I went over. "How's it going, Jimmy?" I asked. His stringy hair, snarled and greasy, hung down from under an old, stained, army fatigue cap and I could smell the acrid stink of urine from where I stood. Winter or summer, he wore the same fatigue jacket and pants, and I don't think they'd been washed in the two years he'd been on that spot opposite my building. He was ancient-looking; face as wrinkled as a crumpled-up paper bag; but in my book, he was a good guy, a wrecked reminder of the Vietnam War.
"Good, Nick," he answered, grinning up at me; the few teeth in his head, jutting up like blackened stumps from a long ago fire. "It's going good."
"Give you a fin," I said, "if you promise not to tell anyone."
He giggled and nodded his head and I tucked a five dollar bill into the upper pocket of his jacket. He was crazy in a lot of ways, but there was still a wisp of pride somewhere in the wine-rotted reaches of his mind. He'd always say he was good when you asked him how he was, and he'd push your hand away if you offered him money without asking something in return-even if it was something as innocuous as his agreement not to tell anyone. I knew one day he'd disappear. His body would just give out and he'd be gone, and no one on the planet would even mark his passing. So, as long as he occupied a few feet of space in my world, I'd ask him for something inconsequential and give him a few bucks.
I went back across the street.
Abe Rosen was tilted back on a chair beside my door. "Hey, Abe," I asked. "What are you doing out here? Why not inside watching tv?" Abe has a key to my apartment-so does hawk-eyed, Shirley Zimmerman, who lives next door in 1B. She was the grandmotherly type, round, gray haired, with the soul of a ferret, and a heart bigger than her height of 5' 4". Abe's apartment was directly over mine. I owned the ten-unit building, and if it could be said that I had any friends at all, it would be Abe and Shirley; well, and Jessie Sundstrom, of course, but that was a little different.
"I love these November nights," he said. "Nobody should be indoors on nights like these." He raised both arms up over his head and grinned at me. "Smell the night-blooming jasmine," he added.
Abe was in his seventies, a thin, wiry, bald, little guy with prominent cheekbones, a mashed-in nose, and a stubble of white beard. He'd been a club fighter in the late 50's, a feather-weight, and was still sharp-eyed and spry. "Grab the chair and come on in," I said, opening the door. "I'll tell you why I'm home early, and still relatively sober."
I went to the fridge and grabbed a beer for myself and poured a water glass half full of Carlo Rossi' Paisano that I keep just for him. We sat down at the table and I told him the story.
You know how a rooster will cock his head and stare at you with bright, beady eyes, then cock it to the other side and never take those eyes off you? That's what Abe did. Then he leaned back, took a healthy swig of wine and sighed.
"Florida, California-they're like fly paper for dumb, disconnected kids," he said.
"Yeah," I grunted, taking the bottle out of my mouth. "They tilt the country; everything loose either falls to here or the fruitcake state."
He nodded. "But this might be different. Sounds like somebody's leaving a message."
"How do you figure that?" I asked.
"Between Broward and Palm Beach, there's over 2,000 miles of canals hiding God knows what under their waters. Wrap him good and weight it all down with heavy iron, or stick him in a stolen jalopy. As weed-filled and turbid as those canals are, it'd be decades before he's ever found." He shrugged, "No body; no crime."
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