Eddie Senta has a problem, in this hard-boiled, fast-paced novel of crime. His attractive second wife, a highly successful marketing research executive who hears her biological clock loudly ticking, wants a baby. She also wants Eddie to clean up his act. Their marriage is going bad. Nothing’s going great for Eddie, in fact. His stints as a firecracker word processor in the legitimate business world dull him, and the kick he once got running for the mob has turned into mere efficiency. Maybe it’s a midlife crisis, like his wife’s unsympathetic therapist says. Uneasy with the feeling that his world is daily shrinking, Eddie seizes the opportunity, when it presents itself, to make an easy score and at the same time to help out a friend. While Eddie by no means needs the five grand he’ll make on the deal, he longs for the thrilland the reinvigoration of his stale fortyish selfthat a quick, uncomplicated robbery might bring. What it brings instead is disaster, for Eddie finds himself implicated in a case of triple murder and in an increasingly dangerous contest with the FBI, a ruthless killer under federal witness protection, two New York City homicide detectives, and a Russian mobster. Eddie gets more excitement than he bargained for in this shrewdly plotted, frequently humorous, and often poignant tale, as his crisis turns out to be a matter of life or death.
|Publisher:||Avalon Publishing Group|
|Edition description:||1 CARROLL|
|Product dimensions:||6.06(w) x 10.78(h) x 0.96(d)|
Read an Excerpt
The tiny diner on the lower east side of Manhattan was empty except for a heavyset man eating an omelet at the counter. The lone waitress, a tired redhead in her mid-thirties, leaned against the opening in the counter. The cook, somewhere in the back of the kitchen, was reading a newspaper.
Eddie Senta set a hand on the Back of Tommy Gaetani's right shoulder as the two men filed down a narrow aisle with booths on either side. Eddie was a broad, stocky man with a thick neck. He had short, curly, black hair with streaks of gray, and a bright smile. He waited for the thinner Gaetani to slip into a booth before moving past his friend to sit across from him.
The two men signaled for coffee before the waitress made it to their table. Eddie was dressed in a light black windbreaker that he immediately took off. Tommy was wearing a heavy sweatshirt jacket and a wool cap. He removed the cap only.
"I didn't think I'd make it tonight," Tommy said. He rubbed at his thick mustache with one finger. "I got Backed up on 195 outside Stamford. I thought I'd spend the rest of the night there."
"There aren't enough hours in a day," Eddie said. He folded his right leg up on the bench as he turned sideways in the booth. "I just did a shift for a law firm downtown. From noon to seven. They wanted me to stay but I wasn't in the mood. I can use a break from that shit."
The waitress brought two coffees and set them on the table. "Would you like to order dinner?" she asked.
Tommy looked to Eddie. "This place safe?"
Eddie winked at the waitress. "He's got a sensitive stomach."
The waitress smiled. "The special isn't bad. Stuffed peppers."
"Stuffed peppers it is," Tommy said.
"He's also a lot braver 'n I am," Eddie told the waitress. "Give me a cheeseburger deluxe."
The waitress wrote down the orders. Both men watched her ass as she walked away from them.
"To be young again," Tommy said.
Eddie stirred sugar into his coffee. "Tell me about it," he said. "I used to play football. I could run five miles a day, touch my palms flat on the floor. I can hardly make it up a flight of stairs anymore."
Tommy smiled as he sipped at his coffee. "I heard."
Eddie leaned back. "I didn't know it was common knowledge."
Tommy held his smile. "Although the guy I heard it from said it sounds a lot funnier coming from you."
"The guy you heard it from Nick Russo?"
Eddie sipped his coffee. "He embellished it," he said as he set the cup down. "What happened was I was collecting for Joe Sharp, some guy went bust on him a few weeks earlier. Small change, four or five hundred. But the guy got under Joe Sharp's skin, you know what I mean? So he asks me to go to this joint on Fourteenth on the West Side. Ninth or Tenth Avenue someplace. Just off the corner. I find the super, ask about this guy I'm supposed to see, and he takes me on this adventure up five flights of stairs. It's a walk-up, for Christ sakes. I'm dying the entire time. I gotta stop at least two times on the way. I finally get to the top, and you know the guy isn't there. There's no way he's gonna be at the end of that journey. Not that I'm complaining, because let's face it, if the guy is there, he tells me to go and fuck myself, I'm not so sure I'm in a condition to do anything about it. Not after the five flights. Anyway, I'm leanin' against one of the crumbling walls in the hallway up there, huffing and puffing, trying to catch my breath."
Eddie exaggerated breathing hard as he continued the story.
"And I say to the super: 'You tell this guy ... the next time I see him ... I'll drag his ass ... down the block ... behind my car.'"
Both men laughed and sipped at their coffees. "P.S., you ever get the money?" Tommy asked.
"The guy dropped half of it off the next morning. I guess he figured I was serious, climbing all those stairs."
Both men paused to glance around the diner and then leaned in closer to each other across the table.
"When do you need the radio car?" Tommy asked.
"Couple days," Eddie said. "If I go through with it. I'm stuck in the hesitation waltz right now. The way things are, I mean, it's sometimes hard to pass on things like this. A guy blows smoke in your ear, you don't know it might turn into something. It looks attractive but it could just be smoke. I'm waiting for a vote of confidence. Something to tell me to go for it."
"Like a sign from God or something?"
Eddie shrugged. "Something like that."
"Because I do a mean Charlton Heston as Moses," Tommy said. "You ever see me do that one?" He sucked in some air, furrowed his eyebrows and spoke in a deep Charlton Heston-like voice. "I am the Lord thy God. Go for it."
"Heston played Moses," Eddie reminded him.
"How about a voice in the night then? Because if that's all you need, you got it right here. I'm not God or nothing. Let's face it; I'm a nobody. But it is dark outside, and I do have a voice. I can sure use something right about now, if that counts for anything. I'm a guy in need of miracles. Trust me."
"Except I'm not really hurting right now," Eddie said. "Knock wood."
Both men knocked the top of the table with their fists.
"Not that I'm rich," he said. "Nothing like that. Between the computers and the street, I'm all right. My son just turned fifteen, so I'll always need a little something extra, but I'm okay, as money goes. Except there's something missing, you know what I mean? What it might or might not be is a mystery to me. Maybe a spark of life I need in my old age. Diane, when she isn't flaking off about some new Internet gimmick, she wants a kid. I can't even imagine one right now. So I know the spark isn't that, having a kid."
Tommy smiled. "How is Diane?"
Eddie rolled his eyes. "It's two years now we're married, and I still can't figure her out. Although she sure as shit thinks she's got me figured out."
"She still hate me?" Tommy was still smiling.
"Please. It's not you she hates. It's us, what we are."
"Wannabes? Because she should know better than that by now. Especially living with you."
"She thinks we're out of touch," Eddie said. "At least I think that's what it is. I won't see a therapist, so that disqualifies me from being in touch. You know how that goes."
Tommy mimicked chatter with his right hand. "Women like to talk about their problems. Whatta you gonna do?"
"Hey, we only knew each other a couple months when we got married," Eddie said. "We both thought it was the right thing to do, you know. Like it was magic or something, I don't know. We got along. I liked her flakiness. I know she was intrigued with me, with us, what we do. Brother, did that rub off fast. Now she wants a kid. Her eyes get wet every time she sees one. Scares the shit out of me."
"I know the feeling," Tommy said. "My old lady sees a kid, her eyes get all fucking big, and I want to catch a flight across the country. They just don't get it, some broads. At least now, though, the hole I'm in with money, Val knows enough not to bring it up."
Eddie creased his napkin in quarters. "So, I'm searching, Tommy. You know what I mean? I'm searching for something."
Tommy laughed. "Something deep, right?"
Eddie continued folding the napkin. "The meaning of fucking life."
Tommy offered a cigarette. "You find it, let me know," he said.
Eddie signaled the waitress and held up the cigarette, mutely asking for permission to smoke. The waitress glanced around the diner and shrugged one shoulder.
"There's nobody here to complain," she said.
Both men lit up.
"Or a score," Tommy said. "Maybe it's that you're looking for."
Eddie nodded. "What I've been thinking, yeah."
"I hear what you're saying," Tommy said. "Except I'm in no position to choose right now. At least you got that other thing with the computers. I'm sweating this dry spell out cold turkey. Nothing but crumbs falling around me. Nothing serious. Few bucks here, and another few there, but not enough to make a difference. I'm late two months inna row on the mortgage, and I'm not so sure I'm gonna make it next month. I got less than ten grand out on the street and at least half of that is delinquent. Why I was in Stamford this afternoon, chasing another deadbeat. So, whatever you need this radio car for, consider me in. It's a guy owes me anyway. The guy with the ear. I lent him the ten grand he needed to buy the radio. He owes me, so the car's a freebee. And I can use whatever score you got. Computers, cash, cigarettes, nylons, or bloody fuckin' tampons. Beggars can't be choosers."
"Diane thinks it's a midlife crisis," Eddie said. "At least that's what her therapist tells her. I can hardly tell anymore who's doing the talking, whether it's Diane or her therapist."
"Maybe it is a midlife crisis," Tommy said. "I admire you for having one. Guy like me, in the shape I'm in now, I can't afford to have a midlife crisis."
Eddie took a drag on his cigarette. "If that's what it is, I hope I get over it soon."
Tommy set his cup down on the table and touched the edges of his mustache with his fingertips. "So, what are we talking about, if you don't mind my asking?"
The waitress brought a basket of sliced Challa bread to the table. Eddie took a slice and buttered it. Tommy bit into a slice without any butter.
"Your food should be ready in a few minutes," the waitress said to Eddie. "More coffee?"
Eddie smiled. "Thanks."
Both men waited for their second cup of coffee to be poured before resuming their conversation.
"We'll take a ride near the place after we eat," Eddie said. "You'll let me know what you think. Maybe spot something I don't see. I've been led to believe in a great expectation on this one. But you know the problems with that, right? One man's great is another man's pittance. That's my problem. I'm confused about where I am on this. Is it something great I want or just another pittance?"
"Well, a pittance is still more 'n what I got going right now," Tommy said. "So, whatever it is, I'm in. I can have the car on a day's notice. We're going to see the place tonight, that'll just get me more excited. Just to have an iron in the fire gives me a woody these days. I don't know if blue balls have anything to do with a midlife crisis, but mine turned purple like six months ago. I don't find something out there to make payments with, I get the feeling I can start contemplating alimony along with the child support I'm already late on."
Eddie smiled. "We'll make something happen. Let's eat and then go take a look-see."
The waitress brought both dinners and set them on the table. She grabbed a full bottle of ketchup from the next table and handed it to Eddie.
"Thanks, hon," Eddie said.
The waitress offered him a wink. "Sure," she said. "My pleasure."
Tommy caught the action between Eddie and the waitress. "I'd take that as a vote of confidence."
Eddie nodded. "Yeah," he said. "Maybe it was."
Twenty minutes after finishing their dinners, Tommy and Eddie were cruising Lexington Avenue in Eddie's Saab. Traffic was heavy but moving. Eddie parked on the northeast corner of Lexington Avenue off Thirty-third Street. Both men lit cigarettes.
Eddie pointed across the avenue up the hill that was Thirty-third Street. "Up there," he said. "On the southeast corner of Park. It's a residential building with a couple floors of office space. The residential lobby is in the middle of the block, next to the Citibank there. Our spot is on the other side of the building, on Thirty-second Street, on the third floor. There's one elevator stops at the second and third floors. There's a medical office takes up all of two and most of three."
"So there won't be anybody up there," Tommy said. "That's good."
"Nobody should be, that's for sure. The place has got about fifteen computers, in case the other thing don't go down. It's supposed to be there. If it is, we're in and out with whatever else we can carry. Laptops, I figure. Whatever we don't have to go back for."
"What's the other thing?" Tommy asked.
"Cash," Eddie said. "Fifteen, maybe twenty thousand. Like I said, we find that, maybe we forget the computers altogether, except to make it look like a kid-type thing. Break in and run."
Tommy was smiling. "The thought of that kind of scratch right now is enough for me. It would go a long way to taking care of some things."
"Except we're working in thirds," Eddie said. "So, if it's there, fifteen large, or however much we find, it gets broke down to thirds."
"Who's the other third?"
"Person getting us inside. The same one brought this to me."
"I get the feeling I shouldn't ask anymore," Tommy said. "Which is fine with me. Five grand would do more than enough for me right now. And I don't see any other way of coming across it, other than walking into a bank with a note and a water pistol."
"What the hell," Eddie said. "I worked here about six months ago. Temping. Word Processing. I know the layout. I know the building. Somebody inside is a friend. She gave me the thing."
"A she?" Tommy asked. "She givin' you anything else?"
Eddie adjusted his rearview mirror to watch for cop cars cruising the area. "Please, I got enough problems at home with Diane. She wants space and a kid. I mention that? She's thinking of having and raising a kid alone. Smart as she is, sometimes Diane has a clear fucking head. No, it's nothing like that with this woman from the office. I met her through the job. The day I left, I forgot my CD player I use when I'm working and I went back for it after hours. I walk in on her and the guy owns the joint. I heard moans and shrieks from this office across from where I left my CD player. Who knew what was going on in there? I heard her yelp-like, and I opened the door. The prick was jackhammering her ass. He pulled out, Blood all over the end of his dick, and he yelled at me, "the fuck you doing here"?
I looked at Sarah, the woman, make sure it wasn't rape, and she waved me off, all red-faced. I asked anyway, you all right? The guy screams at me again, and I tell him to shut the fuck up or I'll turn him around and bleed him the same way. She waved me away again so I figure it was consensual. I went and got my CD player and that was that. Pretty freaky, huh?"
Tommy made a face.
"Exactly. I had some vivid fucking dreams from that image for a long time afterward. Then she calls me up later that same night through the agency I worked for. Tells me how sorry she was, that she wants to buy me lunch the next week. I was more concerned about her, if she wasn't damaged and all. She's all fucked up and wants to explain to me how the prick she works for told her I can't temp there anymore, duh, and would I please meet with her. Don't ask me why, but I said yes. I wind up feeling sorry for her. She's a sad story."
"Not if it was consensual."
"There's more to it. I find out she's a boozer. You know, in and out of the program. In and out of work, too. The guy there, her boss the prick, he lets her come back whenever she's out on binges and benders. She gives him some extra attention, and he keeps her employed."
Tommy shook his head. "Sorry, I still don't make her a saint for that."
"I know, I know," Eddie said. "Except she really is one of life's losers. Bad relationships, bad luck. Whatever. She's had a lot of dirt shoveled on her, one way or another. The booze, I guess, is what people like that do. They numb themselves."
Tommy shrugged. "She's your friend. I still don't see why she'd give you this kind of a score, fifteen grand, and only ask for a third. Especially when she's the insider. First thing they're gonna do, the cops, is look on the inside."
"The prick had her service one of his friends he does business with," Eddie continued. "The guy got physical with her, banged her around. The prick she works for slips her an extra couple hundred and gives her a few days off for compensation. I found out and managed to get the name of the guy from her, the one banged her around. I waited a couple months and took Jimmy Mangino with me."
Tommy's head snapped back. "Jimmy bench-press?"
Eddie nodded. "The same. The girl beater was on crutches shortly thereafter. I saw Jimmy do it. Broke the fucker's legs without the use of a bat. Anybody ever asks, you think Jimmy Mangino is tough? Tell them you're fuckin-A right you do."
"And he keeps a good secret," Tommy said. "I never heard a word about this. Nobody I know heard of it. And he went up, what, five, six weeks ago?"
"For heavy shit. I let him take the guy's Rolex. I'll bet he was wearing it, too, when he was brought in on that other thing."
"Jimmy liked the phones, too," Tommy said. "He probably bet and lost that Rolex before he had the chance to set the time."
Eddie took one last drag on his cigarette and tossed it out of the car. "Anyway, my friend has it in for the prick she works for. Hearing this stuff, you can't blame her. I think she's tough and smart enough to keep her mouth shut once they find the place was robbed. All they can do is accuse her. Fire her probably, but she's fine with that. She says she wants out anyway. Her counselor wants her out. Says it's a vicious cycle she keeps herself in, doing whatever this prick wants just to keep a job she can get anywhere."
"It's your call, Eddie," Tommy said. "I'm just along for the ride. You say it's thirds, it's thirds."
"If this thing works out, we go in and take what we came for, and we're both up a nice piece of change," Eddie said. "Otherwise we take the computers. We go this weekend because the night-cleaning crews don't come back to work until Monday. Sometimes they have that weird shift when Thursday is Friday, but not in this building. At least that's what I was told. Shouldn't be anybody up there, say, three o'clock in the morning."
"Sounds good to me," Tommy said. "Could be the break you need. Use the money from this thing to take a break from the computers."
"Could be. The days keep rolling into one another, you know what I mean? Monday is Tuesday is Wednesday. Between the computers and collecting and fighting with Diane, I blink and the weekend has come and gone and the bullshit starts all over again."
Tommy played with his mustache. "Twenty-four hours, seven days a week. I hear you. Except you should try owing all the time. Then the twenty-four/sevens, they start to feel like a fucking avalanche waiting to happen. That's what it's like for me. One big fucking wait for the next financial disaster to pancake me."
"Sounds like we both need a break," Eddie said.
Tommy leaned to his left. "There's nobody up there the weekend, I say we go."
"Which is why I want to go with a radio car, you can get it from the guy owes you. We both get dressed so it looks like we're two Joes stopped back at the office to pick something up. The cops won't give us a second look, they see a corporate Lincoln Town Car. We go up to the office, we do our thing, and we come back down. We load the trunk fast and drive the fuck away. Two office Joes had a late night, brought their work home for the weekend."
"I like it," Tommy said. "I like it a lot. You're right, the cops won't think twice, they see a radio car parked out front."
"You're sure about the radio car, right?" Eddie asked.
Tommy nodded. "I'll get it first thing in the morning. The guy won't mind. He's backed up, what he owes me."
"I'm assuming we have access to the office. Alarms, keys, and so on."
"Done and done."
Tommy slapped Eddie on the arm. "So, all this for the sake of some broad you feel sorry for?"
Eddie held up a finger. "And the money. Don't forget the money."
"Who could forget that?"
Both men lit fresh cigarettes.
Tommy leaned back. "I'll tell you one thing, my friend. You lead an interesting life."
Eddie laughed. "Or a confused one. Depends you see a therapist or not."
"No thanks. I got enough problems I already know about."
"It doesn't matter, you know about them," Eddie said. "They'll just claim you're ignoring your problems, you ever admit to them. It's a failsafe system these clowns have." He counted on his fingers. "We're all nuts, every one of us. Two, we're all in denial about something. And three, none of us will ever be cured."
"At a hundred bucks a pop," Tommy said.
Eddie toasted Tommy with his cigarette. "Salute."
"Well, at least you can exist in two worlds. I tip my hat to you. At least you got that going for you."
"And maybe I can't fit into one or the other," Eddie said. "I can't give up the street stuff and do what my wife wants, which is to play ball with the office world, get a steady computer job, and take the Long Island Railroad every morning. And I can't see myself running coffee errands for wiseguys I don't respect. What's that, like lost in the middle someplace? Definitely lost."
Tommy pointed at Eddie. "Don't knock it. You still have choices. That's a lot more than the rest of us have."
Eddie waved that off. "Yeah, well, if I want smoke blown up my ass, I'll go to Diane's therapist."
Tommy slapped Eddie's arm again. "You're still my hero."
"What I am, Tommy, at least sometimes, is one big sucker."
"Some people like to know the difference. Between a hero and a sucker."
Eddie started the car. "You know what I think?" he asked, after the engine had settled and was idling. "In the end, I mean? There is no difference. None whatsoever."
Excerpted from Eddie's World by Charlie Stella. Copyright © 2001 by Charlie Stella. Excerpted by permission.