Set amid the social turmoil of the late sixties, Right to Kill is a Brooklyn tale about street smart characters, loyalty, romance, gritty combat, murder, and a touch of humor - all contributing to epic moral dilemma.
A law student from a blue-collar neighborhood, Sean Cercone, puts his life on hold to join the Marine Corps. He makes his way from Gravesend, Brooklyn through Marine officer training and onto the blood soaked fields of Quang Tri. The crucible of vicious combat in Vietnam and a senseless killing back home crush his moral compass.
Sean makes a clandestine trip out of the war zone back to his neighborhood to carry out vengeful mission and subsequently returns undetected to Vietnam. Coming home a second time damaged in body and mind, his family, boyhood friends, a war widow, and a holocaust survivor all try to help him attain peace and move on with his life.
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Right to KillA Brooklyn Tale
By Jim McGinty
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Jim McGinty
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Year Earlier Gravesend, Brooklyn Late October 1966
The Culver Line subway train caused a deafening roar as it snaked through Brooklyn on an elevated steel platform that disfigured the otherwise tranquil neighborhood of Gravesend. The shrill of iron wheels on steel tracks drowned out conversation within a couple of hundred feet of the El. The McDonald Avenue Park ran parallel to the Culver Line El, and a silent mode went into effect whenever the boxlike train roared past on its way from Coney Island through Brooklyn to its terminus in a remote part of the Bronx.
As soon as the train was out of earshot, Sean barked at the guys. He hated it when they executed a sloppy play. "Come on, pick it up, Gremlins, pick it up. You're sleepwalking. Frankie, cut sharper—eight yards, not twelve. It's a quick hit. Timing's gotta be right." Waving his arm past his ear, Sean cried, "Mickey, take the snap. Quick look left and zing it. It's timing, all timing. Come on, do it again."
Eight men moved into a formation. Joe D'Angelo, muscled arms protruding from his dirty gray undershirt, led them to an imaginary line, and five men assumed a three-point football stance. Two others positioned themselves a few feet apart behind the five down linemen.
The last of the group, Frankie Ryan, tall and lanky with wavy black hair pulled back in a ponytail, placed himself slightly behind and ten feet to the left of the five linemen.
Sean and his gang considered touch football serious business, in contrast to the touch football shown in TV documentaries depicting the recently slain president and his brothers frolicking on a manicured lawn in Hyannis Port. Touch in Brooklyn was a brutal game, played much the same as regular football except that there was no protective equipment and the playing field was concrete.
Six feet tall, lean with an almost too erect posture, Sean Cercone differed from the others. He had clean-cut good looks, dark brown hair cropped short with a slight part, and a tan complexion accenting his gray-green eyes. A newly commissioned second lieutenant on weekend leave from the Marine Corps Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, Sean was on his first leave since officer candidate school in midsummer. He was happy to be home again, helping his old teammates prepare for their next battle.
"Hey, Sean, did the damn Marines make you Vince Lombardi or what?" chided Mario, an interior lineman.
"Shut your mouth, you 4-F prick," grunted Joey D'Angelo, a rookie cop, former Army paratrooper, and captain of the Gravesend Gremlins. "Have some respect. He's the only officer we got in the crowd. Besides, he's right. We gotta get sharper."
Sean smiled at the retort from D'Angelo, who, like most of the neighborhood guys, had done peacetime military service after high school. He knew Joey and the guys were proud of his recent enlistment in the Marines, since Vietnam was fast becoming a real war and most college guys were not exactly storming the recruiting centers. That's right, Joey. Probably the most difficult decision of my life. Now I'm on a different team in a different ball game—playing for keeps. Hope I can hack it.
A smallish man with a ruggedly handsome face and jet-black hair dressed in a dark business suit strolled up the sideline. "Sean, how them Marines treating you?"
"Hey, Jimmy. I'm good! How's the best detective in Brooklyn South doing? Not here on official business, I hope."
Detective First Grade Jimmy Napoli glanced toward the field. "Maybe! Keeping an eye on your wide receiver. The one with the ponytail."
"Who? Frankie? Hey, Nap, known him all my life. He's like a brother to me. And knowing him the way I do, doubt if you could get anything on Frankie."
"Yeah, maybe. Just wanted to give you a heads-up. Friend, buddy, or neighborhood good guy, don't give a shit. If he crosses the line, I'll lock him up."
Sean smiled. "Jimmy, only had a year of law school, but I know the score. If somebody commits a serious crime and you can prove it, you gotta put 'em away."
Sean crossed his arms over his head, signaling a break in the practice. "See you around, Jimmy. Gotta get some water." He trotted toward a fountain on the far side of the field next to six clay tennis courts.
Looks like Nap had a guilt trip about busting a neighborhood guy—why else would he tip me off about Frankie?
Gulping down the not very cool water, Sean glanced at the game of mixed doubles on the court closest to the fountain. He couldn't help but notice an exquisite pair of bronze legs that ran up the short white skirt of a girl hunched in a tennis stance. After making a quick sliding move, she ambled to the rear court, and he got a full view. She was tall, maybe five-nine, thin but not skinny, with big, dark eyes and a sharp jawline.
He lingered at the fountain, watching her arch her body and launch a powerful serve. For the second her body vertically extended, Sean caught sight of her round, slightly oversized breasts. Her follow-through caused her skirt to flap momentarily, revealing a well-developed butt.
"Hey, Marine, you gonna drown staring at that babe," said Sal "the Scribe" Lente, a defensive back and close friend of Sean's since their altar-boy days.
"Tell you what, Sal," Sean said, never changing his line of sight. "I could drown myself all day looking at her. Who the hell is she?"
"That's Sandra Gold, What's-His-Name's kid sister. You remember the tall guy who lived on Third off the Parkway. He went to Brandeis. An All-City tennis player, couple of years ahead of us at Lincoln."
"Yeah, I remember him. He just graduated from St. John's Law school. Met him last fall. Bob Gold. He was editor of our Law Review." Sean laughed. "He interviewed me for Law Review last spring. Didn't know he had a sister like that—woulda made him my best friend."
Sal took a quick drink, and the two began jogging back to the practice. Sean glanced over his shoulder, trying to catch one last glimpse of Bob Gold's kid sister. "Woo Sal, you see that? Those two really collided. She took a bad hit. Let's get over there, see if we can help."
A guy with skinny legs, the girl's doubles partner, was on the ground holding his head, moaning. She was flat on her back, hands covering her face, one of her ankles turned in an awkward position.
Sean bent over the sobbing girl. The large bump over her right eye didn't look serious. He moved to her ankle, touching it softly, and she let out a screeching cry. A bad sprain, maybe even a break.
The other players were useless, appearing more in shock than the two casualties. Sean barked at Sal to get some ice from the Gremlins' cooler. Sal bolted off toward the other end of the park.
"Okay, just take it easy," Sean whispered, his face inches from hers. "You got a bad bump—doesn't look too serious. I'm afraid your ankle may be a problem. Just take it easy." He placed one hand behind her head, and she settled down.
Sal returned with the ice in a towel, and Sean wrapped her ankle. The skinny guy and the two others clamored for an ambulance.
"You guys can wait for an ambulance. I'm taking her to Coney Island Hospital. I'll make it in ten minutes."
"Just take me home," she pleaded. "I only live a few blocks away. Just take me home, please."
Sean scooped her up and carried her out of the park toward his car. Despite his firm grip, her leg wobbled, and she screamed. She relented and agreed to go home via the hospital.
* * *
Mid-Saturday morning, the emergency room at Coney Island Hospital was clear of the Friday-night frolics, and it was too early for the parade of high school football injuries. They waited only twenty minutes for a doctor, who complimented Sean on his icing. The ankle didn't appear broken, but the doctor wanted X-rays and sent them to the second floor.
Sean introduced himself and tried to make her comfortable in the waiting room, her legs across his lap. "Just take it easy. Keep that leg elevated."
"Sorry about all of this." She pulled herself up on her elbows and grimaced. "I'm Sandy. I can't thank you enough." Her gravelly voice sounded sexy. "You were right about coming here, but you're wasting your Saturday. I'm such a klutz. I can't believe this is happening."
Her voice and the smoothness of her legs rendered him speechless. He grinned, his mind racing for something to say. "It's Sandy Gold, isn't it? I know your brother Bob. Met him last year at St. John's. He helped me to apply for Law Review."
"Oh, you're at St. John's Law School. And Law Review, that's quite impressive. What year?"
"Was at St. John's, left a few months ago, took a leave of absence, sort of."
She pointed to the small black letters on Sean's gray T-shirt. "What does USMC stand for? Is that a frat?"
Sean jolted upright. "You're kidding, right? You have to be kidding. You really don't know what USMC stands for?"
Sandy's face reddened. "Not really."
"United States Marine Corps," Sean said, almost glaring. "I'm a Marine. That's why I'm not in law school. I enlisted."
She reached for his hand. "Sean, I know nothing about the military. Of course I've heard about the Marine Corps. They're the best; everybody knows that." She squeezed his hand.
"Well, I guess—I don't know." He searched for something to say. "Maybe it's because you're pretty shook up."
Sandy raised her head and opened her wide dark eyes, still clutching his hand. "I'm sorry."
He took a deep breath, exhaled, and spoke slowly. "You didn't do anything. I'm the one who should apologize. I shouldn't be so uptight. It's just that everybody thinks I'm making a mistake—Dean McNight, my professors, my law-school buddies, my family." He shook his head. "The only ones who understand are the neighborhood guys. And some of them say I'm crazy for joining the Marines."
Sandy's brow wrinkled, and her face hardened. After some hesitation, she asked, "Sean, is that war more important than your family, your career? Why the Marines?"
He responded in a determined, almost lecturing tone. "Vietnam is really a part of our protracted conflict with Communism. Not much different than the situation we had in Korea. In some ways, the fate of all Southeast Asia is on the line. Why the Marines? My dad was a Marine; so was my godfather." He shrugged. "Guess it's in the family. Kind of have a moral obligation to serve, just like they did."
He continued as if talking to himself. "Leaving law school to go to Marine Officer Candidates School was a tough decision. Dean McKnight didn't approve but said they would hold my scholarship. I'll get back there after my hitch. This is more important. It's what I want to do. Everybody just has to understand."
Sandy nodded. "What about your girl, what does she think?"
Sean grinned. "Had someone in school a while back, but it didn't work out. Just as well. Probably not a good time for a relationship. Wouldn't be fair."
A green-clad Filipino intern walked up pushing a wheelchair. He told them Sandy had a bad sprain with no sign of a fracture. Placing a soft cast on her now-swollen ankle, he gave instructions to stay off of it and motioned to Sean to get Sandy in the chair.
* * *
Sean helped Sandy into his backseat and pulled out onto Ocean Parkway. Been talking nonstop, didn't let her get a word in edgewise, hardly know her. "So, Sandy, now you know all that heavy stuff about me, what about you? Who's Sandy Gold?"
Sandy tried in vain to get comfortable with her foot extended across the backseat. "I'm a senior at Brooklyn College, an ed. major. Live at home with my folks on Third, off Avenue T. Graduated from Lincoln, where I played a lot of tennis. I love tennis. Played varsity at Brooklyn for the past two seasons. Want to teach, but I'll probably go for my masters first, maybe focus on early childhood."
During the five-minute ride from the hospital to Sandy's house, she didn't get past the basics and the fact her parents were well off—a fact that became apparent when Sean pulled in front of a large, two-story brick house with a Spanish-tile roof. It sat on a double lot surrounded by well-manicured shrubs and huge old oak trees, one of several homes lining Avenue T a few blocks off Ocean Parkway. Sean knew this little enclave of wealth, since his own modest two-story stucco house was only three blocks away.
"Hold it. Let me help you out," Sean said. "Put your arm around my neck and keep that ankle up. When we get to the stoop, let me pick you up." He carried her up four stairs and was startled when the ornate door burst open.
A slim, attractive woman with jet-black hair stood in the foyer. "My God, what happened? Sandy, what did you do to yourself? What's that on your leg? Look at you—your forehead, God!"
"It's okay. I'm all right."
"She's okay—just a sprain," Sean said. "Nothing serious, but she is getting a little heavy. Can I park her somewhere?"
The woman pointed to a room off the foyer. She was in her late forties, perhaps fifty, but looked much younger. Tall, with her black hair pulled tightly in a chignon, long-necked and regal, she was not nearly as dark as Sandy but every bit as beautiful. Her lips were not as full, but she had the same straight, white teeth and the same way of smiling.
She led them to a long, Spanish-style sofa opposite a white brick fireplace in a good-sized room with a twelve-foot ceiling. Sean listened as the two exchanged words about women playing mixed doubles. "Your sister is right, Sandy," Sean said, thinking the situation needed some levity. "Better listen to her and stay away from—"
"I'm her mother!" The women glared at Sean, then smiled slowly. "But thank you just the same." Retaining her smile, she turned to her daughter. "And who might this charming gentleman be?"
Sean laughed, and Sandy blushed. "Mother, this is Sean Cercone. Actually, it's Lieutenant Sean Cercone. He's a Marine."
"I'm Juliana Gold. And I really am her mother. A pleasure to meet you, Lieutenant. A Marine officer, how wonderful." Glancing at her daughter, she raised one eyebrow. "Sean's a lovely name. Irish, isn't it?"
"I'm half Irish, half Italian—tough combination to beat." Sean grinned.
"Tough combination indeed." She fixed a stare at her daughter. "I'm sure my Sam would find it especially tough for his Sephardic Jewish princess. Sean, perhaps you might want something cold to drink, maybe something to eat."
"Thanks, Mrs. Gold, but I have to catch up with some friends." He extended his hand. "Well, Sandy, get better soon. Hope to see you again."
Sandy pulled herself upright, reached for Sean's hand, and gave a half-smile. "Thanks so much for everything, Sean. Good luck at Quantico." She hesitated, her voice faltering. "Please stay in touch."
Juliana escorted Sean to the door and thanked him for helping her daughter.
Sean flashed a sideways smile. "It was my pleasure, Mrs. Gold. Hope to see you again sometime."
Juliana rushed back into the living room. "A Marine! Your father would just love that. Are you really planning to see him again?"
Sandy smiled mischievously. "I hope so."
Chapter TwoThe Golds' House The Next Day
Sean stood at the Golds' front door, adjusted his uniform, and rang the doorbell.
When the doorbell chimed on Sunday morning, Mr. Gold was startled. When it chimed again too rapidly for any polite visitor, he was annoyed. Bolting from his chair, he rushed to the door, a cigar clenched in his teeth and the sports section of the Times in one hand. He swung open the door to find a young Marine, gold bars on his neatly pressed shirt, clutching a bouquet of flowers.
"Who the hell are you?"
Sean removed his garrison cap and looked into wide dark eyes that dominated a whiskered face. And a good morning to you too! He extended his hand. "Name is Sean Cercone. I'm here to see Sandy. I take it you're Mr. Gold."
"Yeah, it's Sam Gold. Come in, come on in. So, ya know my daughter?"
Sean glanced over his shoulder. "Yes, sir. Met Sandy yesterday. How's her leg doing?"
"Juliana, call your daughter!" Sam shouted. "Some guy got flowers for her. Juliana, ya hear me?"
"I'm right here, Sam," Mrs. Gold said with a pained expression. "No need to shout. Oh, Sean, how good to see you again. What beautiful flowers! Let me get them in a vase." She rushed out of the foyer, ignoring her husband, who still held the door, and called through the hallway, "Sandra, you have a caller—it's Lieutenant Cercone."
Sam's dark eyes narrowed. "Well, mister, you the dumb son of a bitch who ran into my daughter on the tennis court?"
Sean slipped through the foyer and glanced back at Sam. "Nah, I'm the one who took Sandy to the hospital after that dumb son of a bitch ran into her."
Sandy hobbled down the hall in tan sweatpants and a red tank top that flattered her athletic figure. "Sean, how nice of you to stop by. Please come in. Sit down." Motioning Sean into the living room, she turned. "Dad, this is the boy—I mean, the young man who took me to the hospital."
Excerpted from Right to Kill by Jim McGinty Copyright © 2012 by Jim McGinty. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Jim McGinty has written a wonderful story that has brought to life an era and stories that was told to me by my father. I felt a deeper understanding of the time and place in which my he grew up. The story kept me always wanting to read the next page. Sean and his experiences in both Brooklyn and Vietnam are vivid, historicaly accurate and heartfelt. I am better for reading this novel and have a better connection to my father and his experiences growing up and what made him the wonderful man that he and his childhood friends are. Every one, not only those with a connection to Brooklyn shuld experience this story, like me you will be better for it.
Excellent story. A fast read. Could not put book down. Plot keeps you wondering how the main character will survive at the end. Look forward to more from the author.
Be sure to schedule enough time to read "Right to Kill" to completion or it will keep you up way past any reasonable bed time. That's what happened to me when I couldn't stop reading. Many readers will rehash their own memories, some will laugh and cry, but few will be able to put it down and all will enjoy the experience. It's a vehicle of some emotional closure for those who served in any war or conflict, not just Vietnam, and a real life-like learning experience for those who haven't. An excellent effort for any author, in my view, this novel rates as outstanding. I'm now looking forward to Jim McGinty's next novel -- "Right to Kill" will be difficult to top. --Thomas G. Domogala, fellow Marine Officer and classmate of the author at Marine OCS and TBS, Quantico, VA.