Taking on a shadowy terrorist cartel, New York DA Butch Karp struggles to uncover those responsible for planning the murders of innocent schoolchildren. Meanwhile, he must also travel to Idaho to help his college roommate's younger brother, who has been unfairly suspended as a college baseball coach. Joining her husband in Idaho, Marlene Ciampi soon befriends a Basque sheepherder who is searching for his daughter, whose disappearance may be related to Karp's case. And if that wasn't enough, the couple's daughter, Lucy, is furiously working to unmask an assassination attempt planned to occur in the heart of Manhattan a traitor's plot to further empower an evil criminal empire.
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Butch Karp wasn't sure what it was that woke him. He'd been dreaming of murdered schoolchildren and gun-toting terrorists. But it was something else that pulled him from sleep, something to do with unfinished business.
Disoriented, he lay quietly trying to remember where he was. It wasn't at home where he belonged in bed with his wife in their Lower Manhattan loft. That's for damn sure, he thought, fighting off a small surge of apprehension.
As a prosecutor for the New York District Attorney's Office, and as the district attorney for the past couple of years, he had a reputation among friends and opponents for his ability to concentrate on "what really mattered" to the exclusion of all else. It made him a formidable adversary in the criminal courts where in a nearly thirty-year career he'd lost only one homicide trial. But for that loss, Karp tried successfully a who's who of major league evildoers: assassins, career criminals, contract killers, and your classic Gotham homicidal sociopaths. Now he called upon that famous focus to clear the cobwebs.
Breathing deep, he let the anxiety subside and thought, Okay, you're in Beth Israel hospital. You were shot.... What month is this?...Mid-October? Time they let me out of this place.
Karp looked around the room. Or at least tried. Except for a diffused glow from beneath the door, there was little illumination beyond the small green blips that stared out from the machines next to his bed like the eyes of lizards caught in a flashlight beam. All he could see were shadows within shadows, and there was nothing there to cause alarm or disturb his sleep.
Yet something wasn't right. He sniffed the air and would have sworn that the usual antiseptic bouquet of the hospital room now carried a faint earthy odor, like the windowless basement of his parents' home in Brooklyn when he was a boy. He held his breath to listen. But all he could hear was the death rattle of a fluorescent bulb in the hallway and the far-off voices of the late-night shift hovering around the nurse's station. He could make out a male voice engaged in banter with a bevy of female voices and supposed that the young police officer who'd been assigned guard duty outside his door was taking a break.
Flirting with the nurses, Karp thought. Good for him. I don't see the point of wasting the night, sitting in a chair to protect me. Never wanted it, but that damn mother hen Clay Fulton...
Detective Clay Fulton was the head of the DAO's criminal investigations unit, a squad of NYPD officers and detectives assigned to the DA's office to provide investigative and protective services. He and Karp had been friends for three decades, but the big detective a former fullback for the Syracuse University football team sometimes treated him more like a witless child than the top law enforcement official in Manhattan, or his boss.
Karp glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand across the room: 3:00 a.m. The witching hour...try to go back to sleep. He tired easily and had been sleeping a lot over the past couple of weeks since the shooting. I guess that stands to reason after being shot three times, he thought.
Karp's memory of the attack was a series of surreal vignettes like watching one-act plays from just offstage. He remembered that he was leaving the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building at 100 Centre Street, which housed, along with the courtrooms, the Manhattan House of Detention for Men, affectionately referred to as the Tombs, and the Office of the New York District Attorney. He and his longtime colleague, Ray Guma, had just won a murder conviction against political power broker Emil Stavros, who'd murdered his wife a dozen years earlier and buried her in his backyard. As he walked down the steps of the entrance, he'd glanced with satisfaction at the inscription carved into the marble on the wall: "Why Should There Not Be a Patient Confidence in the Ultimate Justice of the People." Why not indeed, he'd thought.
When he looked up, he saw his wife, Marlene Ciampi, waving to him from across Centre. They were going to go out to celebrate the victory with an expensive Italian dinner on Marlene's dime at Il Mulino on West Third Street, not too far from the West Village. He remembered smiling and distinctly recalled the warmth that coursed through his body whenever he saw her petite but well-proportioned frame at least when they weren't fighting like bantam roosters even after nearly twenty-five years of marriage. He'd had no clue that danger was approaching, not until he saw Marlene's attention suddenly shift to some point farther up the street.
Karp thought that he would have developed a better sixth sense for impending peril. After all, he'd grown up across the East River in a fairly rough-and-tumble Brooklyn neighborhood, and then spent most of his career working at the DAO putting assorted murderers, rapists, sociopaths, thugs, and terrorists in prison. But it was Marlene, a former Catholic schoolgirl, who had discovered a latent talent for recognizing the pungent aroma of danger before anyone else caught a whiff.
Karp had followed Marlene's glance to a sedan with dark-tinted windows that was pulling away from the curb and rolling slowly toward him. He heard her shout something a warning that he couldn't make out over the din of taxi horns and human voices and then watched her dash into the street with a gun in her hand.
Drivers slammed on their brakes to avoid her and hit their horns. Marlene was pointing her gun at the sedan. He looked and saw that the window on the passenger side was down. But he never saw who shot him, just flashes from the gun.
The force of the bullets striking him in the chest, leg, and neck propelled him back across the sidewalk on which he'd landed with a bone-jarring thud, like the morning delivery of the Sunday New York Times. Pedestrians around him screamed and ran to get out of the way.
Then he was just lying there, looking up at the sky and remarking to himself how white the clouds looked against the blue background, while around him there were more shots and more screams. Marlene's face appeared above him. She was yelling something and crying. He wanted to tell her that it was all right: Don't cry. I love you. He tried to say the words but his mouth was full of warm liquid that he realized was his own blood.
Then something was pulling at him, lifting him from the sidewalk. He looked down and was surprised to see his body lying in a spreading pool of red as his wife and a man he didn't recognize pressed at his wounds. He noticed the sedan was partly up on the curb, stopped where it had run into Dirty Warren's newsstand.
Vaguely, he heard Marlene calling him back. Butch! Butch Karp! Listen to me. You're not leaving me, Karp! Please don't leave me, baby.
It was difficult to keep his eyes open. He was so tired; he just wanted to rest. His mind filled with a white light. So that part's true, he'd thought. I wonder what's next.
He felt at peace and was ready to go. But Marlene's pleas were irritating him when he just wanted to be left alone. Opening his eyes, he'd looked at her with annoyance. "What?" he complained. "Can't you see I'm sleeping?"
Somebody else was pressing on him, and it hurt. It was the man he hadn't recognized, who now looked at him and smiled. The stranger had a thick crew cut of pewter-gray hair that matched his eyes, which were kind and steady, as if nothing fazed him. Then Karp glanced down and saw the collar. A priest?
"I'm Jewish," Karp had croaked through the blood in his mouth, thinking the priest meant to administer last rites.
"That's okay, Mr. Karp," the priest answered. "I'm not trying to convert you. But do hang on, I believe you have some unfinished business here."
The next thing Karp was aware of was waking up at Beth Israel with Marlene's head on his chest and the voice of the priest in his head telling him that he had unfinished business. It ain't over till it's over, he'd thought, recalling one of the aphorisms of Yogi Berra, a New York Yankee and boyhood hero. He'd stroked the short, dark curls of Marlene's hair until she gradually woke up. First covering his face with kisses, she'd then run out of the room to announce his return to the world.
"What happened?" he'd asked after a half dozen doctors and nurses who'd flooded into the room to verify Marlene's happy prognosis had left again.
"Rachel Rachman shot you," she'd replied tersely.
Karp caught the hitch in her voice but was too stunned by the identity of his attacker to do much more than stare at his wife with his mouth hanging open. He could have understood if it had been some killer he'd put away in prison and was out on parole. Or maybe some terrorist belonging to a group whose plans he or his family had foiled. But Rachman? The same woman who'd once been Marlene's protégé when his wife was running the Sex Crimes Bureau for the DAO?
It didn't make sense. Sure, she'd been abrasive and aggressive and wasn't well liked in the office. But she'd also been a good prosecutor, tenacious in her pursuit of convictions for sex offenders. Unfortunately, at some point her dedication became an obsession and justice had flown the coop. He'd had to fire her and even tried to bring charges of malfeasance against her for lying and hiding evidence in her zeal to prosecute an innocent man.
Party politics had saved Rachman from an indictment. The state attorney general had declined to prosecute under smarmy political pressure after Karp had recused his office to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. But then she'd announced herself as a late entry into the race for the district attorney seat. She'd immediately tried to make up ground by running a vicious, mudslinging campaign. In particular, she'd repeatedly accused Karp of being soft on sex offenders, part of the old-boys network that supposedly coddled rapists and blamed the victims for the crimes.
One of her main political backers in her party had been none other than city power broker Emil Stavros. When Karp's office brought a murder indictment against him, she howled that the charges were trumped up and "dirty politics."
Still, he'd never figured her for a nutcase, much less an assassin.
"I think she heard about Emil's conviction and knew that she'd look like she'd supported a killer. I guess at that point the only way to win the election was by killing her opponent," Marlene said when he'd wondered aloud what caused Rachman to snap.
"What happened to her after she shot me?" he asked, then wished he hadn't when he saw the look on his wife's face. That was the first time he recalled the image of her running into the street with a gun in her hand.
"I killed her," Marlene confirmed, her eyes dropping. A tear rolled down her cheek and fell on the bed. He reached up and brushed away another. He knew the tears weren't for Rachman; they were for her own seeming inability to escape the cycle of violence that had taken over her life. She'd been trying to put that behind her with varying degrees of success, but in general seemed more at peace than she had in years.
A burst of hushed laughter and giggles from the nurse's station brought Karp back to the present. Clay would cut this young bull's balls off if he pulled a surprise inspection and caught him away from his post, he thought.
Fulton's already overprotective nature had only been exacerbated by the shooting. Hard to believe, but true, considering he'd already gone overboard following the murderous escape of the sociopath Andrew Kane from a police motorcade while being transported to a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York. Even though he was blameless, the detective, who'd been shot during the escape, wore the guilt like a coat of lead on his broad shoulders.
The thought of Kane's escape brought back the images of the children from Karp's dream. He could see the photograph from the crime scene of their bodies lying next to an overturned bus. He knew each of their faces from the school yearbook photographs kept in the evidence file back in his office. Smiling, happy children with freckles and ponytails who'd been butchered by terrorists as a diversion to ambush the police escort and free Kane.
Lying in the hospital bed, Karp felt anger rise in him like bile as he returned to the question that had haunted him for all the months since: Who else was responsible? Kane didn't do it on his own.
The last time Karp had seen him, Kane was diving into the turbulent waters where the Harlem and Hudson rivers meet a place called Spuyten Duyvil, or the Devil's Whirlpool to avoid recapture. He'd been followed into the depths by the half-mad vigilante David Grale. But neither man nor their bodies had been found despite an extensive search of the heavily wooded shores of the Hudson to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. But that was not a big surprise, according to the NYPD harbor patrol team leader.
"We've pulled strong swimmers from those waters," the officer had told him before the shooting. "Some of them dead by the time we could get to them. It doesn't look bad on the surface, but the combination of all that water coming down the river and the pull of the ocean tides makes it damn nasty underneath. It's like jumping into a big washing machine; it's not easy to tell which way is up. These two you're looking for both fully clothed and not exactly Olympic swimmers they're dead. And with those tides, their bodies could be ten miles out to sea."
He knew they were dead, but the lack of closure troubled Karp. He'd made the mistake before of assuming that Kane was finished. He would have rested easier seeing his body.
On the other hand, Karp was torn in regard to his feelings toward Grale. He'd first met him several years earlier when Grale was a young Catholic layman working in a soup kitchen for the homeless. Actually, it was then that teenaged Lucy, Marlene and Karp's daughter, who'd been working in the soup kitchen, had developed a schoolgirl crush on the handsome social worker. She'd even brought him home to meet her parents.
Grale had been intelligent, personable, and gentle. So it had come as a surprise to all of them that he turned out to be a killer who'd been hunting down men who preyed on the homeless. He believed that the men he hunted were literally possessed by demons and that God had appointed him to the task. But while there was little doubt that his victims were themselves murderers, there was no provision in the law that allowed for the summary execution of demons or unconvicted killers.
Grale had become a fugitive, wanted for murder. He'd fled underground, literally, living in the labyrinth of tunnels and sewers some man-made, some natural beneath Manhattan. There he'd become the spiritual and temporal leader of an entire population of societal refugees who lived beneath the streets and called themselves the Mole People, or sometimes "underworlders."
In the dark, Grale had devolved further into madness until he saw himself and his followers as the vanguard for God in an upcoming apocalyptic battle against the gathering forces of evil. In his worldview, Manhattan was at the epicenter of Armageddon, and events such as the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack was proof to him that the final war had already begun.
"The demon's face that was seen, and even photographed, in the smoke rising from the World Trade Center was not an accident, or trick of lighting, or the caprice of the wind," Grale had once told him. "It was a warning."
Karp knew that Grale was dangerous, a killer and therefore subject to prosecution under state law in the County of New York. But time and again, this madman, this cold-blooded killer had shown up to rescue some member of the Karp-Ciampi clan, and in fact, thousands of people owed him their lives for his actions against terrorists intent on attacking Gotham.
Grale's alleged death had brought a mixture of relief and sadness. Karp was no longer going to be faced with the prospect of prosecuting him for murder. But part of the unfinished business alluded to by the priest was the desire to simply thank him for the lives he had saved.
As if he'd summoned a ghost, Karp was startled by a sound that emanated from the darkest corner of his room. It sounded like a man trying to suppress a cough. "Who's there?" he demanded.
A tall, thin shadow removed itself from the dark and moved toward him. "Please, not too loud, Mr. Karp," the shadow said.
"David Grale," Karp replied as a pale, hooded face appeared in the minimal light. "We thought you were dead."
"Yes," Grale whispered. "But I can assure you that the rumors of my demise were once again greatly exaggerated...though, perhaps, that is no great comfort to you."
As usual when it came to David Grale, Karp found himself in a conundrum. He didn't know whether to shout for the police officer or listen to what his visitor had to say. He decided to wait.
Grale seemed to sense both the debate and its outcome. He smiled, an act that showed his once perfect smile was now marred by gaps. "Thank you," he said. "I'll take your silence as meaning you won't turn me in. I have what I think is an important warning."
Whatever he was going to say next was interrupted by more deep, wet-sounding coughs that Grale tried to cover behind the sleeve of the monk's robe he wore. Karp recalled that the last time they'd talked, Grale had been racked by a similar bout, and he'd seen him wipe blood away from his mouth.
"Maybe you should get that cough checked out," Karp suggested.
Grale's haggard face softened for a moment. "Oh, this...just a summer cold." He laughed lightly. "But thank you for saying that the elixir of human kindness is the best medicine. A few more years in the sewers and I'll be better than ever." He tried to laugh but was interrupted by another fit.
"Perhaps not," he added when the coughing subsided. "But never mind, I don't have much time before your guardian remembers what he's supposed to be doing. The truth is that I wanted to see you after I heard that you'd been shot and make sure you're okay. But I'm not exactly welcome around here, or anywhere, even during visiting hours. However, the more important reason for my visit is to warn you that there's a traitor in your midst. I don't know who yet, but it's someone close and they're working for someone or something with a lot of clout and no conscience."
"What makes you think there's a traitor?"
"Don't tell me that you haven't considered the possibility," Grale said. "But we can start with Kane's escape."
"We already know who betrayed us there," Karp said. "The FBI agent, Michael Grover."
"Yes, Grover was the guy on the inside. But who was he working with or for? He was obviously just an expendable pawn, otherwise Kane would not have been so cavalier about killing him."
"What makes you think Grover wasn't working for himself and just doing it for the money?" Karp asked. Even though he'd reached the same conclusions, he wanted to test the theory on Grale.
"This was bigger than one agent gone bad for cash," Grale replied. "Even Kane couldn't have pulled this off without a lot of help. I assume most of his assets had been frozen, so he probably didn't have the funds to pay for it. And even if he did, making arrangements with such disparate allies as Islamic terrorists and Grover was beyond the capability of someone sitting in a jail cell in the Tombs."
"Go on," Karp said.
"Whoever was helping him and the terrorists thought nothing of the consequences of murdering a half dozen schoolchildren, as well as nearly a dozen cops and federal agents, to do it. And it must have cost beaucoup dollars to finance and carry out Kane's plan to seize St. Patrick's Cathedral and hold the Pope hostage. You do realize the real purpose was to kill everyone, including the Pope, and create a terrorist public relations bonanza that would have made the attack on the World Trade Center look mild?"
"The thought's crossed my mind," Karp admitted. "But who? And to what end?"
"As for who, we don't know," Grale said. "The faces and names are unknown even to those of us who live in the shadows and make a living off of secrets. But whoever they are, they apparently can infiltrate federal law enforcement agencies and even the Office of the District Attorney of New York."
"No one in my office would reveal confidential information," Karp growled.
"Jesus might have said the same thing about his disciples," Grale replied, "until Judas took his thirty pieces of silver."
"Not my guys," Karp insisted.
Grale shrugged. "I'm here to warn you, not argue. But I can tell you that what I'm telling you is not just the opinion of your favorite mad monk, David Grale, but the collected wisdom of others who take an interest in your activities, as well as the safety of you and your family. But you're a grown man, what you do with the information is up to you."
"And this 'we' you mention," Karp said, "do 'we' have anything concrete to go on? This is all pretty conspiracy-theory stuff. Grassy knoll, two shooters, the CIA, and Castro."
"Yet, there are laws against conspiracy to commit murder, so sometimes conspiracies are real," Grale pointed out.
"Touché. Yeah, I know, 'You aren't paranoid if they really are after you,' " Karp replied.
Grale laughed. "Good to know...sometimes it seems that way. But back to your question about who might be responsible. We have one name linked to much of this Jamys Kellagh...J-A-M-Y-S...K-E-double L-A-G-H. Ring a bell?"
Karp racked his brain for the name but drew a blank. "No, not that I can recall."
Grale nodded as if Karp had confirmed his suspicion. "We think that it's an alias for whoever pulled the strings on Kane. We also have allies in Brooklyn who believe that he was the liaison with the terrorists who helped Kane."
"So you think all this is being controlled by one person? This Jamys Kellagh?"
"No, no more than we believe that Kane was doing all of this on his own either."
Grale glanced over at the clock radio. "I haven't much time," he said, "but you'll recall that when Kane tried to flee upriver from the Columbia University boathouse, my people intercepted his band. We were able to capture two of them alive and take them back to our little underworld home where we...um, persuaded them to speak candidly about what they knew. One died before he said anything useful. But the other seemed to have been somewhat higher up in their food chain. He said that Kane was in contact with someone named Jamys Kellagh, who apparently was getting inside information from the authorities."
"Anything regarding his identity?" Karp asked.
"Nothing much," Grale said. "There is a photograph perhaps someday you will see it. I'm told that it shows our friend, Kane, the Russian agent, Nadya Malovo, and this Jamys Kellagh. Apparently, it is not good quality, and its owners are trying to decide how best to use the information to derail Kellagh's plotting. His face is turned and it is difficult to identify him in the shadows, but he is wearing a short-sleeved shirt and a tattoo can be partly seen here...." Grale touched the inside of his right bicep.
Karp contemplated the information. "Tell your source that the New York DAO would be happy to take the photograph and put it to good use."
"My 'source' is well aware of that," Grale said, "but is concerned with the security breach."
"Well, what happened to your prisoner, then?" Karp asked. "I'd like to talk to him."
Grale gave him an amused look. "I'm afraid he didn't survive our attempts to glean information from him. I can assure you, however, that he was an empty vessel before we dispatched him to the hell that awaits these demons."
Karp shuddered. The bastard probably thought he'd already gone to hell before they killed him. "What about Kane?" he asked. "You survived. Is he dead?"
A scowl creased Grale's face. He appeared to be weighing an old debate in his mind. At last he nodded. "Yes," he replied. "I believe that he is dead. We struggled beneath the water for what seemed like hours. He was fast and strong and knew what he was doing with a knife. He cut me here" Grale touched his side "but the wound was not fatal. However, I had the pleasure of feeling my knife go deep into his chest."
Grale paused to suppress a cough. "I would have liked to have questioned him about those whom he served. But the current swept him away, and I was desperate for air."
"Your people find his body?" Karp asked.
Grale shook his head. "We searched better than the cops. We also listened to word on the streets and in the dark places of our world. But there was nothing to suggest he lives. My mind tells me he is dead."
"What does your heart tell you?"
Grale grimaced. "It tells me not to stop looking for him until I have his skull in my hands."
Karp shuddered. A sociopath named Felix Tighe had once been about to rape and murder Karp's daughter, Lucy, until Grale showed up and put a stop to it. A few days later, the killer's rat-gnawed skull had shown up at the New York Medical Examiner's Office, where it was identified from dental work. Karp suddenly had a vision of Grale sitting on a throne surrounded by mounds of skulls like some Mongol king and flinched when Grale suddenly moved toward him.
Grale backed away with a look of sadness on his gaunt face. "I wouldn't hurt you, Mr. Karp," he said.
Karp relaxed, ashamed of his reaction. "I know that, David. I'm just a little jumpy. And it's Butch, okay?"
Grale smiled, moved again to the side of the bed, and reached above Karp's head to push the nurse's call button. A moment later, the buzzing of the fluorescent light in the hall stopped and the glow beneath the door disappeared. A red light appeared in the corner of the room indicating that the machines next to his bed were running on the backup power system.
"Good night, Mr.... Butch. I'll contact you again when we know more, though I may not have the pleasure of bringing it to you myself. Just be careful of who you trust."
Karp heard the door click open and remembered the thought in his dream about unfinished business. "Oh, by the way, David, I wanted to thank you for all you've done," he said. But silence was the only reply, and he didn't know if he'd been heard.
There was the sound of running feet and his door was flung open by the young police officer, who entered with his hand on the butt of his gun. The officer shined his flashlight directly in Karp's eyes and then around the room.
"Uh, sorry, Mr. Karp," he said. "I was, uh, down at the nurse's station making sure they were okay when your room buzzer went off and then the power went out."
"That's all right, Officer," Karp replied. "I must have hit the button by accident in my sleep, and these old hospitals are always dealing with little power outages. There's nothing to worry about."
The officer turned off his flashlight, wished him good night, and left the room. Alone in the dark again, Karp repeated himself. "Nothing to worry about at all."
Copyright © 2007 by Robert K. Tanenbaum