Raymond Donne wasn't always a schoolteacher. Not only did he patrol the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as one of New York's Finest, but being the nephew of the chief of detectives, he was expected to go on to bigger things. At least he was until the accident that destroyed his knees. Unable to do the job the way he wanted, he became a teacher in the same neighborhood, and did everything he could to put the force behind him and come to terms with the change.
Then Frankie Rivas, a student in Ray's class and a baseball phenom, stops showing up to school. With Frankie in danger of failing and missing out on a scholarship, Ray goes looking for him, only to find Frankie's father bludgeoned to death in their apartment. Frankie and his younger sister are gone, possibly on the run. But did Frankie really kill his father? Ray can't believe it. But then who did, and where are Frankie and his sister? Ray doesn't know, but if he's going to have any chance of bringing them home safely, he's going to have to return to the life, the people, and the demons he walked out on all those years ago.
Intense, authentic, and completely gripping, Tim O'Mara's Sacrifice Fly is an outstanding debut from a stellar new voice in crime fiction.
About the Author
TIM O'MARA is a teacher in the New York City public school system. Raised on Long Island, he lives in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen with his wife and daughter.
Read an Excerpt
I WAS ABOUT TO GET RUN OVER.
I thought about moving left, maybe right, but my knees were having no part of it. So I tightened the grip on my umbrella, braced myself, and waited for the impact.
When he was less than ten feet away, he slammed on his brakes and skidded to a stop. With his back to me, he moved his head up and down, admiring the four-foot-long black comma left on the pavement. I took off my sunglasses as he spun his bike around and checked me out.
“Hey,” he said, leaning over the handlebars. “Ain’t you that teacher from school?”
“Yep,” I said, slipping my sunglasses into my front shirt pocket. I rubbed my lower lip and flipped through my mental yearbook. It took about ten seconds. “Ain’t you that kid from Miss Levine’s class?”
He didn’t answer, choosing instead to look over his shoulder at his friends, who were too busy putting the piece of plywood back on top of the cinder blocks to notice him shooting the shit with that teacher from school. He turned back to me, wiped his hand across his forehead, and blew the sweat off his brown fingertips. Four o’clock on the second-to-last Tuesday in May, and the temperature was over ninety.
“Whachoo doin’ here?” he finally said. “Afta school and all?”
“Homework patrol,” I said. “You do yours yet?”
“Ahh, that’s wack.” His grin faded. “Ain’t no homework patrol. Is there?”
“Not yet,” I said and shifted my umbrella to my left hand. “I’m here to see someone.”
“He in trouble?”
“I hope not,” I said.
I wasn’t sure the little daredevil heard me as he raced back to his buddies singing out, “Somebody’s in trouble,” happy in the knowledge it wasn’t him. This time.
I looked up at the towering building in front of me. Twenty-plus stories of aging air conditioners, Dominican and Puerto Rican flags hanging from balconies that were used to store old furniture, to park bikes, and to hang wet clothes out to dry. Frankie Rivas lived up there with his grandmother. Frankie was one of my eighth graders, and I was doing a home visit on this tropical Tuesday in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, because I hadn’t seen the kid in almost two weeks and I got tired of listening to a busy signal every time I called.
The two glass doors that made up the front entrance to the building were propped open, allowing the outside air—and anyone who wanted—to come in. Above me, in faded gold script, was a sign informing me that this was, indeed, Building One of Roberto Clemente Plaza. “Plaza” sounded far better than “the projects,” which always made me think the people living here were part of an experiment. Or “housing complex,” something someone did not live in so much as suffer from. No, “plaza” would do just fine; this one was named after the late, great Pittsburgh Pirate who died a few months after getting his three thousandth hit.
I stepped into what passed for a lobby and went over to the intercom to the left of the bulletin board. I punched in Frankie’s apartment number and waited for a response. After thirty seconds, I tried again. Nothing. The elevator dinged, and as I turned, the door opened and a Hassidic family stepped out. The father was dressed in black from hat to shoes, and was followed by his wife and six kids: four girls in matching plaid skirts and two boys dressed like their father. You’ve got to have some kind of faith to dress in black in this kind of heat.
The door to the elevator stayed open, and I moved toward it. I stopped when a voice behind me said, “Somebody in trouble?” An older black man in a maintenance uniform and pushing a mop bucket was coming through the front door.
“I’m here to see Frankie Rivas,” I said. “Or Matilda Santos? They’re in 1705.”
He motioned with his head and said, “You buzz up?”
“I tried. No answer.”
He went over to the buttons and pressed the apartment number as the elevator door shut. “She expecting ya?”
“No. I tried calling but the phone’s been busy. For two days.”
He gave me a look, not unlike the one I got from the kid on the bike outside, readjusted his belt, and said, “You a cop?”
“I’m Frankie’s teacher.”
He took a moment to get a better look at me. “You look familiar.”
“I work over at the middle school.”
I told him.
“All my kids’re grown and gone,” he said. He walked over to the desk on the other side of the elevator, reached over the top, and pulled out a clipboard. “Don’t know no one over at the school no more.” He handed me the clipboard. “Go ahead and sign in. Make it official.”
I took the pen that was hanging by a string from the clipboard and noticed as I put down the date of my visit that no one had signed in for two days. Official. I handed the clipboard back. He checked out my name and whispered it out loud.
“Raymond Dawn,” he said, mispronouncing my last name. “Raymond Dawn.”
“Donne,” I said. “Like finished.”
He said it a third time, this time correctly, checking out my face. I looked over his shoulder at the yellow-and-brown tiled mosaic of Roberto Clemente embedded into the wall. The legendary ballplayer’s flawless swing, frozen in tile forever.
“You know Frankie?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Everybody knows Lefty. Don’t know why the grandmother ain’t picking up. Saw her go on up with Elsa and some bags of groceries not more than an hour ago.”
“Seen him lately?”
He thought about that. “Not in over a week, I guess. Maybe more’n that.” He looked back at the clipboard and mouthed my name one more time. “Whyn’t you go on up, Mr. Donne. I’ll try her again. Maybe by the time you get up to the seventeenth, she’ll be answering.”
I turned and pushed the Up button to the elevator when I heard his fingers snap behind me. “I remember you now,” he said.
I took a deep breath and wished for a cold bottle of water.
“You used to work around here.” He touched his finger to the clipboard, tapped it a few times until it came to him. “You was a cop, right?”
“A long time ago. Yeah.”
“And now you a teacher?”
“What’sa matter, mister? You don’t wanna be popular?”
I shrugged and gave him a polite smile. How slow was this damn elevator? As if on cue, it appeared and I walked in.
“I’ll see ya on the way out, Mr. Donne,” he said, as if I’d be interested in carrying on the conversation. I raised my umbrella to him as the doors closed.
The elevator smelled of ammonia and artificial lemon. In less than a minute, the doors opened up onto the seventeenth floor, and I followed the arrows to number 1705. Two dark-skinned girls in shorts and T-shirts but no shoes were blocking the hallway, lying on their stomachs, moving crayons across a large sheet of poster paper. I cleared my throat. They stopped and looked up at me. The one to my right slid over a centimeter, and I took the opportunity to squeeze by. I got to 1705 and pushed the black rectangle just below the peephole. It made a hollow thud, and I waited a full thirty seconds before trying again. The girls looked over at me. I gave them my best teacher smile. They went back to their artwork.
“¿Quien es?” a voice from the other side of the door asked.
I leaned in, my ear about an inch from the peephole, and said, “Mrs. Santos?”
“Sí. ¿Quien es?”
“It’s Mr. Donne, ma’am. Frankie’s teacher?”
A few seconds later, she said, “Frankie no here.”
I raised my voice a notch. “Mrs. Santos, this is Raymond Donne. Frankie’s teacher. I need to speak with you or your grandson.” One of the girls gave me a mean look as the other placed a finger to her lips, shushing me.
“Ay Dios.” The sound of a lock turning was followed closely by the door being opened just enough for me to see the chain on the other side. A pair of bright blue eyes appeared, just over the chain. “Frankie’s teacher?” she said. “Senor Donne?”
“Yes.” My voice was lower now. “I need to speak with you. Would you mind if I—”
“Frankie,” she said. “He is in trouble?”
“You can say that, yeah.” The hint of cooler air and the smell of meat cooking wafted into the hallway. I remembered how thirsty I was. “He hasn’t been coming to school.”
“Frankie no here,” she repeated. “He stay at his father’s.”
“Mrs. Santos, it’s been seven days, and if he—”
“Yes, ma’am. Seven school days.” I unfolded the printout of Frankie’s attendance and held it up for her to see. “Since Friday of last week.” She didn’t quite get that, and I wasn’t sure how to say it in Spanish. I tried anyway. “¿El Viernes de … semana pasado?”
Part of it got through because she said, “Ay Dios,” again and then, “That is when he start to stay with the father.”
“¿Donde…? Where does the father live?”
“El Sud,” she answered. The Southside.
“Do you have a phone number for him?”
“No. No have a phone. He have the, ¿cómo se dice? the cell.”
“Okay. Do you have his cell phone number?” I asked, remembering my own cell phone, which was sitting in a drawer back at my apartment, unused and uncharged for over a year now.
“No. He no give.”
This was becoming a big waste of time. “Mrs. Santos, I need to speak to someone about Frankie’s attendance. He’s in danger of not graduating if he misses much more school.”
“Yes. No graduate. And as his legal guardian, you are—”
“No,” she said. “I am not the … I no have the, ¿como se dice?…”
“Sí. La custodia. The father,” she said with obvious disgust. “He have the custody.”
“Mrs. Santos, this is the only address the school has for Frankie. You are the emergency contact. According to all my records, he lives here with you.”
“Sí,” she said. “Most of the time … Pero Francisco, the father, he takes Frankie, and I no can do nothing. El Derecho,” she added. The Law. “Is best for Frankie to be here, I know.”
The blue eyes stared back at me over the chain, filling up with tears. They’re being wasted on me, I thought.
“And you have no way to reach the father?”
“I have his … his address.”
“Can you give it to me, please?”
“Sí,” she said. “Espera.”
Yeah, I thought as she shut the door on me, I’ll wait. Not so long ago, I’d be waiting on the other side of the door breathing cooler air. Maybe get a glass of water. When I knocked on someone’s door with my nightstick—always with the nightstick—it would be my decision whether or not I waited in the hall or entered the residence. A tip of the hat, a certain tone of voice, and a little “Mind if I come in?” and I would be on the other side.
I heard a door open down the hall. A woman’s voice yelled out, “Maria!” The two girls got to their knees, shoved all the crayons into their pockets, and ran down the hall. A few seconds later, Mrs. Santos’s door reopened. Her small hand eased through the opening, thin gray fingers clasping a piece of paper.
“Aquí,” she said. “Is where the father lives.”
I looked at the address. It was on my way home if I walked from here.
“You tell the father,” Mrs. Santos continued, “es necesario que Frankie be in school. You tell him he will be in trouble Frankie no go to school.”
“I’m not trying to get anyone in trouble, Mrs. Santos. But if Frankie does not graduate, he won’t be going to high school next year.”
She thought about that and then gave me a long look.
“You,” she said, “you are the one who got Frankie—the scolar…”
“Scholarship,” I finished for her. “I got him the tryout for Coach Keenan, yes.”
“You watch Frankie play? He pitch real good.”
Didn’t matter how good he pitched. He flunks eighth grade, and he can kiss the free ride to Catholic school good-bye. And it’ll be at least five years before Eddie Keenan even looks at another kid of mine.
“Yeah,” I said. “He’s very good.”
“You tell the father. No school? Trouble.”
Before I could answer, the door shut and the locks slid back into place. My conversation with Frankie Rivas’s grandmother was over.
Copyright © 2012 by Tim O’Mara
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Raymond Dunne is a very dedicated schoolteacher, working with eighth-graders in a middle school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and taking the welfare of his students very seriously. In particular, one of the most promising, Frankie Rivas, has obtained a scholarship to a private high school on the basis of his baseball skills and the fact that Ray has called in a favor from their coach. When Frankie fails to show up for school for a couple of weeks, Ray decides to try to find out why. His visit to the home of the boy’s father results in his discovery of the man’s dead body. Ray’s involvement at that point derives as much from his concern as his teacher as from the fact that Ray is a former cop. His feelings when he walks into his old precinct are made palpable to the reader, his emotions roiling as he remembers back five years, when “you fall thirty feet, and your whole life changes.” Among those changes are the physical ones; Ray has an umbrella with him every day, knowing it has to rain sometime; besides, it means he doesn’t have to carry a cane. Frankie and his younger sister are nowhere to be found, and Ray follows up every lead he can find in order to locate the two children and ensure their safety. Then the pace, and the suspense, move into higher gear, beyond the “controlled chaos” of Ray’s classroom, and the stakes go up as well. When one has a terrific protagonist [with a valuable friend, a wannabe cop, nicknamed “Emo”], a well-developed plot, writing that makes the Brooklyn streets come to life and, as the title might imply, a lot of baseball references, what more could one ask? [Well, this reader had to get past the fact that Ray is a Yankee fan, although he does don a Mets cap when the situation requires it.] This is a wonderful debut novel from a writer whose next book I will anxiously await, and it is highly recommended.
This is a very great read
I'm dyslexic, I read slowly with a finger or pen traveling over the page. I started "Sacrifice Fly," yesterday, I finished it an hour ago on the walk facing the East River. First book I knocked off in two days since too long ago. Tim O'Mara's debut novel picks up speed when the dialogue flies. I think Elmore Leonard would have approved of several conversations. I'm in the classroom, the Brooklyn tavern, the police station. I smell it, I hear it, I see it and it kept me engaged straight through. This is not Iowa, it's Brooklyn. The neighborhoods, the characters and their parlance are genuine. They remind me of the honesty found in Betty Smith's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," and John McNulty's "This Place on Third Avenue."
Tim O'Mara does a great job of capturing the gritty underside of New York City and gives a great new sleuth in Raymond Dunne, cop turned schoolteacher. The characters are well-drawn and believable, and even the most corrupt of them have some redeeming qualities, as in real life. And Dunne has what every mystery protagonist needs: a tragedy in his past, a quirky sidekick, compassion, toughness and a drive to protect the people he cares about. A really great read, and I look forward to reading the next in what I hope is a series! By the way, I would have signed in, but the site was wonky tonight. signed: jajjaj
Good plot. Foibles of real people.
Good writing but plot a little thin. But worth finishing.
Once again, no," she said he kicked him again and climbe up a tree. As she like up, she lost her footkng an fell. When he hit the gound, there was the sickening crack of a bone breaking.
SACRIFICE FLY is a debut novel by Tim O'Mara with real potential to become the first in a series of mysteries staring school teacher, ex-cop, Raymond Donne. Raymond's uncle is chief of police and a real hard nosed policeman, serving in the tough parts of Brooklyn. When Raymond blew out his knees during a police incident, he left his friends, and the fast track in the police department, to become a teacher in the toughest part of town. But now, Frankie, one of Raymond's most promising students, has just gone missing after his father was murdered. The police suspect that the boy may have actually been the murderer since he has run away. Raymond does not believe Frankie would murder someone, and is anxious about Frankie's safety. Since Raymond does not see any real movement by the police to find Frankie, he decides to do some investigating on his own. Conflicts arise within the police department, and on the streets, where Raymond is getting too close to the truth of the murder. This story covers a tough part of New York, where poverty, conflicts between ethnicities, and lack of a good education can change people's lives forever. The combination of a protagonist who is a teacher and an ex-cop, makes the story a compelling read. Great combination of excitement, compassion and 'street cred' reality makes this a great read. Hoping this will become a series!
I was engaged in Sacrifice Fly, and always happy to pick it up at night and continue reading. I liked the author's voice, and the characters. A fun bonus was that I really enjoyed the "sidekick" character, Edgar.
I just finished reading SACRIFICE FLY and loved it. Tim O'Mara sure can write. I'm a giant mystery fan...read police and detective stories all the time...and this one is great. I hope he writes another one soon.
Sacrifice Fly is quite an intriguing, exciting read. Highly recommended.
So easily one becomes entwined through those haunts & intrigues, pages fly, as you almost become Raymond Dunne, searching and determined to find the anser to the murder. The bumbling Edgar becomes totally endearing while one weeps for Frankie. It's frighteningly graphic, but woven with surprises and love ..... you just can't put it down until you too discover the answers!!! Francesca0
Tim O'Mara does a wonderful job enticing the reader into the story and leading them on a roller coaster of exciting twists and turns as the protagonist tries to solve the mystery of who-done-it. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes murder-mysteries, criminal justice stories, and baseball. A great break-out book for this mystery novelist!
Enjoyed this book.