As adults, Dante O'Donnell followed his dead father into the police force; Jimmy Burns, closer than a blood brother, went along. JoJo Paradiso's future was fore ordained: He would be, first, an underboss in his father's crime family, eventually step ping into Salvator Paradiso's shoes. So JoJo is now a criminal who walks the Queens streets freely and doesn't worry about the law.
When Detectives O'Donnell and Burns are assigned to get the goods on JoJo Paradiso, it can't be a simple matter of cop against crook. In their world, there is no black and white-only gray. There are tear ing conflicts, greed, a choice among betray als. And there are secrets that, once out, could rip apart the friendship that since boyhood has been vital to the existence of both Dante and Jimmy.
Bob Leuci knows the ambiguous world of the New York cop better than most; he's lived it. He knows the wiseguy community, from Karl Marx Syracusa, the dwarf hitman, to the widow Rosalina, who scolds old Salvator and cooks up gargantuan and mouthwatering Sicilian meals to strengthen a gang of hoods on their way to a shootout. Leuci doesn't need electronics to create vir tual reality; he takes us to the gritty boule vards of Queens and we know we're there. This is a book to be moved by, to laugh with, and to remember for a very long time.
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About the Author
Daley's bestselling book, Prince of the City, and the movie made from it. Leuci subsequently has written several books of his own including All the Centurions, Captain Butterfly and Odessa Beach. He lives in Rhode Island, near Providence.
Read an Excerpt
By Bob Leuci
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1995 Robert Leuci
All rights reserved.
1969, Queens, New York
The telephone rang in the brick row house on Eighty-fourth Street, and Jimmy Burns looked at his watch; it was just before two, five minutes before two. He gave the ringing phone his shrewd look and bet himself twenty bucks it was Dante on the other end of the line. He turned away, thinking you can wait and let the phone ring for two reasons, one major and one minor.
The minor reason was that he was vigorously combating a need to pee and at that moment on his way to the second-floor bathroom. The major reason was Dante's undisguised urgency. His buddy's frenzy made him nuts, the guy always moaning and groaning about being left alone with JoJo. The damn phone kept ringing, which meant that Dante was not going to give up. Christ, he'd just hung up with the numbnuts, told his pleading pal that he was on his way. Running his fingers through his hair, he stared at the phone, studying it. For a horror-filled moment he thought he might pee on the sofa.
Jimmy made for the stairs, counting how many rings it took to pee, flush, and return. Nine.
He took his time picking up the receiver and listened to that slow voice. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his brother Josh standing in the kitchen holding a cup of coffee, watching, his face perfectly still.
In the kitchen of a railroad flat some twelve blocks away Dante O'Donnell held the phone between his shoulder and chin. He raised a bottle of Bud to his lips and swigged, saying whataya doing? Jimmy said talking to you. I'm coming, whataya think I'm doing? Dante said ey buddy, you've been coming for three hours. How long you think we're gonna wait over here? Jimmy told him that he just now scored, and that the pot was top quality. No twigs or seeds, it's clean, looks smooth. You'll like this, he told Dante.
"Get down here, will ya," Dante said. "We'll be on the roof."
Jimmy said is JoJo still off the rails with this Nancy business? Dante said yeah! Sure. The boy's in love, man. It's a real headache. The guy's bummed, saying crazy shit. Nobody can talk to him, except maybe you.
"Talk to him goddammit, reason with him," Jimmy said.
Dante thought of saying to him you're kidding me right? His mind telling him that nobody can talk sense to JoJo Paradiso. He would be willing to bet some money that before this day was over JoJo Paradiso would make some oddball move, come up with something eerie, something only JoJo could do. He saw that look on JoJo's face, that smirk saying you ready? You're gonna be with me or gonna be gone? Dante paused, thinking a moment, asking himself that very same question over and over. Since they were in sandbox, JoJo made him wacky.
Jimmy examined himself in the hallway mirror, listening to Dante, hearing him but thinking about JoJo, wondering why his buddy had been so quiet that past week. What the hell was wrong with him? Even when they were alone, JoJo gave him his Mexican bandit grin and said nothing. The last damn thing he'd said was, "Jimmy, it's time you discovered the life of the mind. You need a fantasy, or a trip to London." The guy was spaced out lately, nothing was registering.
Jimmy told Dante he'd be right there, then left his house at a run, the tremor in Dante's voice and the nickel bag of Panamanian red in his pocket putting a fire on his tail.
He quick-walked crossing Pitkin, then Sutter Avenue. It was mid June, a perfect New York day, about eighty-five degrees, warm for June. The sky was alight, pale blue and clear. In a couple of weeks he and the guys would be able to hit the Whitehouse down in the Rockaways. It was one of those Irish joints, a spot where you sucked down tap beer from paper cups, got loaded, then pulled chicks under the boardwalk. At night, if you got lucky, you could watch JoJo fistfight off-duty cops. Like JoJo and Dante, Jimmy was nineteen, and he loved every hour of every day of each week of his life.
At a half jog, Jimmy scanned the street and spied that handsome bastard Bobby Fives with Tony T and the Twins. They were sitting on their usual perch in front of Rosen's candy store watching him, and the cards were out.
Tony shouted, "Jimmie B, you gonna be around later?" Tony had a behind the size of a Volkswagen and he never got off it. "Ann Marie," he said, "my girlfriend, she don't come around anymore either. Says I'm depressing. It's probably the same with you."
Tony T grinned like a retard, but when you considered the amount of dope he ingested, you had to figure it would be a goddamn miracle if the guy had three working brain cells. His father owned Morton's, the drugstore, which gave the T easy access to all the pharmaceuticals. The guy'd remained seated and stoned his entire teenage life, and the monotony of it all made Jimmy woozy.
"I'll come by later," Jimmy lied.
The way Jimmy saw it, pot smoking was no big thing. But pills and powder frightened him. You could jump out of your skin with some of the crazy dope people were bringing around lately. It had been banging around the yom and Rican neighborhoods for years. South O.Z., South Jamaica, and Brownsville were flooded with the stuff. Now it was coming here. It was in the air, it was coming for sure, people were talking about it all the time. Junk, they called it, heroin. It turned people into gerbils on exercise wheels. He wanted no part of that shit. But pot, pot was cool, weed was harmless, no problem there. The worst it did was make him hungry for Clark Bars, Mounds, and Almond Joys. Jimmy Burns loved Almond Joys.
He carried his pot in a manila envelope, a small one, about the size of his palm, in the back pocket of his jeans. Angrily he thought of something that sent a roller coaster from his brain to his feet. He broke into a lope, feeling unsettled, wondering why it was him that always carried the pot, always him that was out front? He guessed it was because he was kind of, well, the slickest guy around. He never slipped up. Never had a problem getting through this life. Mr. Slick, Dante called him.
Jimmy Burns was born handsome and never thought much about it. He wasn't sure if he was born slick, cocky, and quick or if it was the Queens streets that had taught him. But he knew he was a smooth piece of work, probably more polished than JoJo and far more slick than Dante. Jimmy Burns was not given to modesty.
Jimmy paid money for the dope to his brother Josh, who was at the school of dentistry at NYU. Sometimes, when he was thinking, Jimmy wished that when he was in school he'd spent more time there. He flashed on his brother, the way Josh handed him the smoke with the tips of his fingers, saying, "You and your friends' tiny brains will light up with this stuff." Jimmy figured that it was a toss-up whether Josh was stoned more often than Tony T.
He jogged down two blocks and turned the corner near the Hornet's Nest Bar and Grill. Carmine Joey came out of the bar, grabbed at his crotch, and held up his hand like some kind of f'n traffic cop, stopping Jimmy cold.
Carmine Joey was a skeleton in a pale blue Hawaiian shirt, aviator sunglasses. He had stringy shoulder-length hair the color of dead grass. Carmine was always grabbing at his crotch. He thought it helped develop his street image as a James Dean type.
Carmine asked Jimmy where his hippie brother was. Told Jimmy he'd like to get some 'erb. 'Erb was what Carmine Joey called pot.
A blue-and-white with two uniforms in it turned the corner, slowed; the uniforms both gave Carmine Joey and Jimmy a drawn-out stare. Carmine Joey did look sinister, grabbing at his balls and squinting. You'd cast him as a child abuser or a serial killer. The cops were smart to keep an eye on Carmine. For his part, Jimmy smiled and waved at the cops, because part of being cool and slick was thinking that you were, and he was. The cops drove off. Carmine didn't smile. He seemed genuinely disturbed by the cops' scrutiny, his cool damaged. He told Jimmy to tell Josh to give him a call and Jimmy nodded and loped off.
Josh was one year older than Jimmy and in the neighborhood people called him a hippie. Adhering to that custom, he read poetry aloud and smoked a ton of pot. He'd score ounces across the street from the university in Washington Square Park. His connection was this black guy who wore a dashiki, beads, and sandals and had one of those wall-to-wall Afros. They called him Razor, and a few weeks back Jimmy stood by and watched him grab Josh, digging his fingernails into his arms and hissing, "Jew boy, you have a nice way about you. But underneath you hate my black ass. Remember," he'd told Josh, "I ain't no tame nigger, so you best be careful."
Josh had turned over his money, saying, "Are you kidding me man?" Then he laughed a stupid little-boy laugh. Razor turned on Jimmy and Jimmy told him, "You remember, I ain't no tame Jew, so back the fuck off."
His brother Josh tried, but the guy just could not be cool. Violence terrified him for reasons Jimmy never quite understood.
In two years a mortar round will pick Josh up and toss him into the sky, and one day his name will be engraved on a black wall in the nation's capital.
Jimmy hurried along the sidewalk on Eighty-fourth Street, by the Jewish cemetery. He was feeling intense, on a mission, the rhythm of music in his head. Underneath the El at Eighty-fifth and Liberty Avenue he ran into Howie Blutstein, the baker's kid. Howie had a smile pasted on his face like he was happy or something.
Howie told him that he had lined up three chicks from City Line. Had his father's big-ass four-door red Buick and was gonna run over to the Pizza King, maybe grab a feel, play a little stinky finger. Howie was standing hip-cocked, grinning like a real dumbo, biting at a thumbnail.
Howie saying there was room for him, room for him and Dante too. The guy was real thin, you could say frail, and he didn't like JoJo Paradiso. JoJo terrified Howie, scared Howie to death since the day he saw JoJo beat the shit out of a school bus driver who was as old and as big as his own father, bigger.
Jimmy told Howie that he and Dante were real busy.
Howie kept talking and Jimmy heard him in a distant way, as if Howie were talking to him through some sort of f'n drug haze. Jimmy massaged his stomach and started to walk off.
Carmine Joey, showing up from nowhere, yelled from across the street, "Hey!" Then he grabbed his crotch with both hands, laughed, and turned and walked away, looking slightly disappointed at Jimmy and Howie's lack of amazement.
"I'm gonna tell you something Howie," Jimmy said, wanting to get going. "I'm gonna tell you that you got no talent with chicks. None. And second, you invite me and Dante you'd better invite JoJo. Because you don't want JoJo Paradiso to think you're disrespecting him. He just might want to kick your skinny little ass you treat him that way."
"You'll see man," Howie was saying, jumping up and down like somebody just nailed his toe with a hammer.
Jimmy spread his hands palms up like he was about to surrender. He'd had it with this jerkoff. "Seeya," he told Howie, and was gone.
Howie called after him, "A Jew's gotta be a nut to hang with the wops. Those greasers down on One-hundred-and-first are bad fucking dudes, man. You're gonna see, they're gonna get you in a jam. You and Dante too."
Jimmy turned down Eighty-fifth. The sun was high now, no clouds in the sky, heat came off the pavement making him sweat. Jimmy jogged on toward 101st Avenue, thinking that it was true, the more time he and Dante spent with JoJo, the greater the chance of some real trouble finding them. Nobody else from their neighborhood was brave enough or stupid enough to come down to 101st. Only the truth was he liked the craziness and figured that Dante liked it too. Nevertheless, he wasn't all that sure that he was ready for real trouble yet. Not just yet. Not today anyway.
Shit, it wasn't smart to fool with the bad guys from 101st in their stronghold. And that, he was certain, was exactly what JoJo had in his wigged-out mind.
The day before, down at the Eighty-third Street park playing a little handball, JoJo had told him that he needed to smoke some pot, feel feisty, and then go and lock horns with a pair of badasses. Forget it that they were his girlfriend's father and brother. Forget it that they were known hard guys, probably gangsters with mob connections to boot. Give JoJo a little smoke and he had all the energy in the world.
Jimmy was moving real fast now, grateful for only one thing: Dante would be there. When Jimmy thought of locking horns with tough guys, he was reminded of how fortunate he was to have Dante at his side. Dante was tough, as savage as they came, except for maybe JoJo, who was demented. He figured that Howie was probably right when he said you're gonna get jammed up on 101st Avenue. Funny thing was, Jimmy wasn't sure right then if he cared. As crafty as he was, how bad could things get?
In five minutes he hit the avenue, slowed and began to walk toward JoJo's apartment house. He checked his reflection in the storefront glass as he went. He was slim, and tall, two inches over six feet. In spite of the hot weather, watchful men stood on the corner of 101st Avenue and Eighty-fifth street with their arms tightly wrapped around themselves as if they were cold. They eyed Jimmy as he walked past, with the patient interest of tourists observing some alien custom.
Greasers, he had this notion that the whole f'n block was choked with greasers. He looked up the street, then back again. A vast army of Guidos appeared, and the looks they shot him gave Jimmy a case of the creeps, made him feel like an intruder. He took care to ignore them. Guidos and Guidettes everywhere. It was how he referred to the Italians from 101st Avenue. Guidos and Guidettes and greasers.
Jimmy stopped in front of a four-story woodframe walk-up and looked up at the roof. Suddenly he felt great relief that he had made it. He was there, moments away from his buddies, the only two people in the world that gave him real emotional feelings, buddy feelings, whether things were going good or not. The good buddies were there, the closeness was there. Except people could change. And that was something that Jimmy Burns didn't like thinking about. Didn't like those kinds of thoughts at all.
Inside the building he moved up flights of stairs, passing open apartment doors. The air was heavy with the fragrance of basil and olive oil, garlic and simmering meats. These were the homes of hardworking men with big families and bad-tempered women who were lashed to gas stoves and looked it. Through the open doors he could hear soft curses and the clatter of pots and pans.
Somebody screeched after a kid named Paulie.
On the second-floor landing he ran into a girl he remembered from high school. Her name was Victoria, and she stood in the hall doing her nails with an emery board. Victoria was so wrapped up in herself that Jimmy felt invisible as he passed her. She was the type that always sat in school with spread knees and never said a word. Like she was waiting for someone. She smiled at him like a bad actress; her look said what the hell are you doing here?
The Paradisos lived in the top-floor apartment. When Jimmy passed their door and mounted the stairs to the roof a surge of optimism flooded his heart. He was ambushed by the smell of Louise Paradiso's cooking. JoJo's mother, with that high-gloss white skin of hers and those black eyes that would make heavy eye contact with him, never let him head for home without a bite of something. A sandwich, a plate of pasta. He'd eat her food and say very tasty, very tasty. She had a pair of legs like a world-class sprinter, and sometimes Jimmy would think about her in a certain way and freak. Christ, man, he'd think, thoughts like that could get you killed.
"Jimmy," she'd say, "you way too skinny, have something to eat." The basic trouble with the Italian food she pressed on him was that hardly any of it looked familiar. In the beginning, when he first met her, he felt uncomfortable taking the food she'd offer. More often than not he'd decline. He was not a big eater to start with. No thanks, he'd say, all courteous with a nice smile. Once JoJo told him, "Ey, you insult my mother one more time I'll bust you up. She offers you food, you eat!"
Excerpted from Fence Jumpers by Bob Leuci. Copyright © 1995 Robert Leuci. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reading this novel made me feel that I was back in lower Manhattan or Queens, where I spent I spent some forty years of my life. Written in the vernacular of the inhabitants made for a realism that was both uncomfortable and downright scary. The plot and characters were quite believable. and the tug-of-war between good and evil in the story line is compelling. After a few chapters, I was hooked and couldn't put it down, wanting to see how these boyhood relationships would develop and evolve. What surprised me was that between all the brutal and gut-renching Mafia-type and petty crimes, the author was able to sprinkle in some very humorous scenes. The juxtaposition of mindless criminality and a good belly laugh seemed incongruous, but it worked seamlessly. In all, this novel is a definite must read.