Angela Amato is a former NYPD detective who left the force and became a Legal Aid attorney. Her reasons for going over to the other side are shared by Gerry Conte, the detective in LadyGold who is assigned to baby-sit a young mobster-turned-informant who is being kept "on ice" while he is telling what he knows and can learn. Conte goes with him on "dates" and spends time chatting with him - a useful way of coaxing information out. She also has the courage to worm her way into the confidence of his Mafioso uncle Tony. And as time goes on, the feeling between the goldshield detective who hates what the mobsters do to the reputation of honest Italian-Americans and the young wiseguy who thinks he can go through life without paying for his actions edges into an odd and moving love story.
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About the Author
Angela Amato and Joe Sharkey are the authors of Lady Gold.
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By Angela Amato, Joe Sharkey
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1998 Angela Amato and Joe Sharkey
All rights reserved.
I should have let the answering machine pick up. Unhappily I didn't, so I heard the cigarette voice of Sergeant Duffy, who had been the Saturday-night desk officer at the Manhattan Borough Office since he'd accidentally shot himself in the groin while directing traffic outside Yankee Stadium in 1988. He said they wanted me to come in, overtime—an all-night shift.
In the living room, Kevin slurped his egg-drop soup and glowered. Like me, Kevin was a New York City police detective, and we'd both been on the job long enough to have regular weekday schedules, Monday through Friday. On Saturday nights, we liked to stay home, order Chinese, watch television. Kevin did not like changes in his routine, especially on Saturday nights.
But I was bored enough that working a shift seemed interesting, so I told Duffy, "I guess I can do it if you're really stuck. What time?"
"Immediately, if not sooner, Detective. Somebody called in sick."
"What kind of job?"
"Undercover, they tell me. Temporary assignment. Your name came up."
"An assignment so special that somebody called in sick?"
"You got that right."
"So where do I report?"
He made a noise that sounded like a lawn mower trying to start. Then I heard him flipping through some papers. "That would be ... 257 West Twenty-seventh Street. That would be room 538—five-three-eight. Tell her what she won, Duffy! Yes, indeedy, Detective Geraldine A. Conte, you have won an all-expense-paid shift with an Organized Crime Task Force unit. To collect your prize, you must see one Lieutenant Campo, first name unknown. C-A-M-P-O. That's 257 West Twenty-seventh, New York, New York."
"Okay, Sarge," I said.
Actually, I liked the prospect of a tour in an organized-crime unit. In my five years as a detective, I'd worked a lot of undercover, but never OCTF. OCTF was selective and haughty, like a hotshot fraternity. The feds and the state were coming down on the New York Mafia families like sledgehammers, in independent and highly competitive operations. Everybody knew that OCTF was obsessed with Sally Seashore, the Glitz Godfather. Sally Seashore was public enemy number one, the most brazen of the current bosses, real name Salvatore Messina. He ran the Giavanni family and, besides murder, had so far gotten away with armed robbery, hijacking, loansharking, gambling, extortion, labor fraud, arson, assault, and conspiracy to commit all of the above. And that was just the felonies. Only a month earlier, Messina had swaggered out of federal court in his alligator loafers, acquitted of racketeering, and held a press conference. The tabloids were still swooning.
Sally had schemed and bashed his way to the top of the Giavanni heap during the 1980s, when he acquired a subscription to The Wall Street Journal as a fashion accessory and began dressing like a star mutual-fund manager. Unlike old-line Mafia bosses, who tended to become fresh corpses if their pictures turned up in the newspaper, Sally unfurled brilliantly white capped teeth and flashed his diamond cufflinks whenever the photographers spotted him at a trendy East Side cafe or at the marina on the Hudson below the World Trade Center where he docked his fifty-foot boat, My FantaSea. "Hiya, boys," he would say, like in the movies, as the paparazzi scuttled forward and genuflected to make their shots.
A criminal who gets that much attention drives cops crazy. So I figured that spending a tour with OCTF would at least be an interesting break from the depressing grind of work I'd been assigned to for the past year, the Special Victims Unit, women and children abused in ways a normal person couldn't even dream of. An infant in a dryer, cotton cycle. A little girl with a hatchet in her crotch. A wife nailed sideways to a headboard. Some days, I'd get home feeling like someone had put a spigot into my heart and drained it.
As I was about to hang up, Duffy said, "Wait, Detective. One more thing. You got to dress up nice. Supposedly this is crucial. 'Dress up nice,' it says. You got to go to some nightclub, apparently. You know, wine and dine courtesy the taxpayers of the city of New York. Tough work at time-and-a-half."
"Dress up," I said, knowing better than to ask what that was supposed to mean. To male cops, it meant they put on sportscoats and ties. Naturally, it wouldn't occur to them that a female cop would need more specific information about where they were sending her on an undercover assignment. The Waldorf? The bowling alley at Port Authority Bus Terminal?
I went into the living room and laid my arms on the top of the couch like it was a backyard fence and watched Kevin dab mustard from a little packet onto his egg roll. My dinner was barely touched.
"I have to go in, honey."
"What in the hell for?" he said, clearly peeved.
"They want me in on OT."
"Jesus," he said. On Saturday nights, Kevin wouldn't leave the couch if it was on fire. Annoyed at the sudden disruption in the routine, he dropped the egg roll into his soup container and pushed it away, spilling puddles of glop on the coffee table.
"For Christ's sake, Gerry. It's Saturday night. I keep telling you, you shouldn't answer the phone. You never learn. So now the whole night is shot in the ass."
"Sorry," I called over my shoulder, hurrying into the bedroom.
Kevin and I had been engaged for a ridiculous period of time: five years, reasonably happily for about the first half of that time and now merely coexisting. We lived in his old bachelor place, a one-bedroom third-floor walkup on Bleecker Street over a Chinese restaurant called Cheng's Happy Good Luck Garden.
Having Chinese food delivered from three flights down was one of those amenities that compensates for the endless inconveniences of life in New York, which is the only city I know of where adults with well-paying jobs actually choose to live like college students, the only place in America where you routinely associate with grown-ups who have never had a driver's license.
Lately, the apartment walls seemed to have moved closer together. I was thirty years old, vaguely unhappy, but too busy to do much about it. I was a third-grade detective, one of the youngest women ever to get a gold shield in the NYPD. I was also in my third year of law school, meaning I had classes most nights after work. My father, who had always treated me more like a son than a daughter, who showed me how to wire a lamp and throw a punch, wasn't much impressed when I became a detective. My enrolling in law school, though, was the proudest moment of his life.
Like most cops, Kevin loathed lawyers and thought it was ridiculous that I wanted to be one. Kevin was thirty-eight and set in stone for the rest of his life, complacently content as the years fell away toward the only things in life in which he had invincible faith, my presence and his retirement pension. Other than the calendar and the color of his hair, which had gone attractively gray at the temples in the past few years, little ever changed for Kevin. We had no pets, no plans beyond the next summer, and a vague, unexpressed understanding that we would someday get married.
He was a good and honest cop and a faithful supporter—until the night when I raced home four years earlier to tell him I'd been promoted to detective:
"What do I tell my friends? Now you're the same as me," he said.
"Honey, you'll always be the better detective," I'd assured him. But it was never the same after that. I continued loving him out of habit, the way I continued going to work.
The routine was our constitution. Usually we worked late on Fridays. Sundays, we were in bed before the ten o'clock news, meaning that Saturday nights were really our only free times together, and we had a ritual. Around five, he'd go out for the early Sunday edition of the Daily News and plant himself on the couch to work the "Jumble" puzzle, which he did with the intensity of a man cracking an enemy code. Around six, I'd phone Cheng's, and the delivery man would show up about a half hour later. The order was always the same. For me, beef with broccoli in garlic sauce. Kung Po Chicken Ding for him. Three fat egg rolls.
My job was to answer the door. He seemed to think it was his to make sure the delivery boy didn't slip into a higher tax bracket.
"The guy's here with the food, honey. Do you have two dollars for the tip? All I have is a twenty."
"Unbelievable," he grouched, with exaggerated effort digging his wallet out of his back pocket. "I would have gone down for it, for God's sake."
"So sue me," I told him in my most nasal New York voice. "For two bucks, I'm Ivana Trump."
The same delivery man always came, carrying the brown bag like a birthday cake. Chinese delivery having as strict a protocol as Japanese tea-serving, names were never exchanged.
"Beef with broccoli? And Kung Po?" I said, checking the order.
Jokes never worked. "Egg-drop soup!"
"Honey, I'm only kidding. Egg-drop soup is right."
I paid him and shut the door.
"Two bucks," Kevin said, eyeing the food. "Ivana Trump."
"I gave him three bucks," I said, pleased at my rebellion.
"That's one buck for each flight of stairs!"
"Kevin, you're wearing out the needle playing that song. Give me a freaking break."
Actually, the routine had changed slightly over the years. In the old days, we'd go to bed at one o'clock on Saturday night and have sex. Our "appointment," Kevin always called it, with an annoying stage leer. But that had dropped from the agenda, without comment. Now, I'd slip into the bedroom around eleven to study torts or criminal procedure. Kevin stayed up late in the living room playing his old LPs, volume low, draining long-neck beers. When he had his load on, he got out his favorite album, The Greatest Hits of the Ink Spots.
He sauntered into the bathroom when I was in the shower. "Talk to me," he demanded above the splash of the water.
"I don't have a lot of time, Kevin."
He sat on the toilet lid, separated from me by the shower curtain, like in a confessional. Years ago, he might have yanked the curtain open, taken his clothes off, got under the spray.
"It's Saturday night. This is pure bullshit," he said.
"Don't start, Kevin."
He ignored me. "Instead of spending our one night together, you want to go play cops and robbers? You used to tell me you wanted to have a kid someday. What kind of a kid grows up with his mother running out on a Saturday night?"
Here we go, I thought. "The kid discussion? Again? Can we give it a rest right now?"
"You never want to talk."
The kid discussion only came up in fights. It was, I think, our way of avoiding discussing marriage. "Listen, I want to have a kid at some point," I told him wearily. "After law school, after I'm situated for a year or two. Maybe I can take a year off."
"A year," he snorted. "A year to raise a kid, and then back to the job?" He thought things might be better between us if I just stayed home with a child in our 850-square-foot apartment, whose main virtue was that it was rent-controlled at six hundred dollars a month.
"Kevin, last week I had to carry a six-year-old girl out of an apartment where her father had branded her on the behind. With a branding iron, Kevin. They had me hold up the kid for the tech guy to take a video."
"Like I haven't seen a lot of bad shit?"
"That isn't my point, Kevin! This is not the same world our mothers brought us into. I don't know how I could stand the risks a child faces every day."
"Well," he said, standing up. "Not that it matters much now. When's the last time we had an appointment, anyway?"
I turned off the water and reached out to grab a towel. I wasn't about to come out naked.
"I'm not getting into this now," I said, stepping out of the tub with the towel around me.
He heard the anger in my voice and backed off. "Okay, Gerry. I don't mean to give you a hard time. I'm just not happy about spending a Saturday night by myself." He looked me up and down, and tugged playfully at my towel, but I pulled away. I'd gained twenty pounds since we started living together, but he never criticized me. In fact, he'd said more than once, "I like you beefed up."
"Have it your way, Lady Gold," he said, retreating. "Lady Gold"—that was the nickname he gave he when I told him I had made detective. He knew I hated it.
The television belched a laugh track. In our tiny bedroom, where you couldn't do an about-face without hitting the mattress, I fidgeted at the closet. Dress up nice? It had been years since I felt a clothes panic. I riffled through the hangers and finally settled on something that my mother had bought me after I'd put on the weight. It was a two-piece silk Liz Claiborne outfit that I'd worn to my tenth high-school reunion two years before, a black skirt and yellow sheath top with puffed sleeves and wide cuffs dotted with seed-pearl buttons. The sheath hid my hips.
A blow-dryer tamed my hair, which I tied back with a gold ribbon from the box of Godiva chocolates Kevin had given me last Christmas. Eyeliner, mascara, lipstick, a little blush, and blue eyeshadow from a Bloomingdale's free sample that I'd got when I bought my mother her favorite moisturizer.
I pulled on the dress and walked out. Kevin watched with morose interest from the couch. It had been years since he'd seen me in heels and makeup.
"You look like you're going to a dance," he said evenly.
"I look okay, honey?"
He nodded. "You look real good."
I kissed him good-bye with a flush of affection that surprised both of us.
I took a cab to the address, an old ten-story building that was once a school administration headquarters. It was in the gloomy garment district, one of the only sections of Manhattan where you didn't see people on the street at night. The NYPD had commandeered a couple of floors, but the building was otherwise vacant. The front entrance was open. A linoleum-paneled elevator lurched up to the fifth floor as if it were on its last trip.
The OCTF office looked like a typical squad room, with dingy pea-green walls that hadn't been painted since the Kennedy administration, but it was busy for a Saturday night. About two dozen male officers, many of them in good suits, stood or sat around.
There wasn't another woman in sight. At the front entrance was one of the few sartorial delinquents, a detective in a short-sleeved shirt with a tie three inches too short lying on his paunch like something he'd spilled at lunch. He pecked with terrible intensity at a manual typewriter and would not look up.
"Excuse me," I said, more loudly than necessary, after he ignored me for more time than was appropriate.
Without a glance, he stood and waddled a few feet over to a file cabinet, mooning me with two yards of shiny trouser as he slid a file in the bottom drawer.
I rapped the top of the cabinet with my knuckles. "Hull-LOO!" I sang, moving in close to deliberately invade his personal space. Women who become cops quickly learn the importance of body language, the common physical aggressiveness you need simply to get someone to take you seriously.
I squared my shoulders and planted both feet apart. You never smile. "I'm Detective Conte, from the Special Victims Squad."
"And I was told to see a Lieutenant Campo." I smiled innocently. "Is he here, Officer?"
"Detective," he said hastily, finally meeting my eye. He pointed toward a tall, trim man across the room, late middle age, with wavy black hair. The lieutenant, a head taller than the three officers beside him, wore a starched white shirt with a crimson tie. In his right hand was an unlit panatela. The lieutenant interrupted his conversation when I approached. A cop with manners, I thought.
"Detective Conte," he said, shaking my hand with a firm, but not crushing grip. "Louis Campo. Listen, thanks a million for helping us out tonight. I'm really sorry about the short notice."
"No problem at all, Lieutenant."
Campo studied me. "Somebody told me you're engaged to Brian Murphy. Brian and I go way back, to Homicide. How is he?"
"It's Kevin Murphy, sir."
His face went red. "Oh! Right. Jesus. I'm lousy with names. Tell him I said hello, would you?"
He nodded at a table with a coffeemaker on it. "Some coffee, Detective?"
"Gerry," I said. "Yes, please."
He handed it over with a paper napkin, which struck me as the height of elegance in a squad room.
Excerpted from Lady Gold by Angela Amato, Joe Sharkey. Copyright © 1998 Angela Amato and Joe Sharkey. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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