PI Marty Stiles was shot and paralyzed and is now in rehab, trying to decide whether to fight to recover. Meanwhile, his agency is being run by two women: the street-smart and savvy Alessandra Martillo, who’s the muscle, and Sarah Waters, a naïve, single mom, new to the job but who quickly becomes the brains. Though the two women grew up only a few miles from each other in Brooklyn, it might as well have been worlds apart. Now they’re partners, and for all their differences, are committed to their joint venture. When Sarah’s deadbeat ex-husband gets into trouble, Al would rather let him suffer, but she agrees to help Sarah figure out where he is and why another man has ended up dead.
This follow-up to The Last Gig features a tough and edgy, one-of-a-kind heroine—an entirely fresh take on the hardboiled women private investigators who dominate so many crime fiction classics.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Norman Green is the author of five crime novels, most recently The Last Gig. Born in Massachusetts, he now lives in New Jersey with his wife.
Read an Excerpt
Sick Like That
By Norman Green
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Norman Green
All rights reserved.
Alessandra Martillo did not like Marty Stiles, she thought he was a pig, but if so he was a pig with many useful skills and she had learned a lot from him. In short, she owed him, and she hated that, which was why she sat on the hard plastic seat of a southbound A train that was headed for Coney Island where Stiles slumped motionless in a wheelchair and waited for death.
Death, it seemed, was taking her own sweet time.
Please, his sister had begged, tears in her eyes. Please ... I flew all the way up here from Valdosta, he won't even look at me, he won't even press the call button for the nurse when he makes a mess in his ...
Oh, Jesus, Al told her, uncomfortable under the weight of obligation. I ain't trying to hear about that.
Please, oh God please, I'll pay you whatever you charge, please just go talk to him, I can afford it ...
All right all right all right, Al told her, not too graciously, but she knew it was something she needed to do. I'll go. I've got business this afternoon, but I'll get down there after I'm finished. About nine-ish.
Thank you, thank you, the sister told her, sick with gratitude. I'll call ahead, I'll make sure they let you see him, they won't care if it's late, I'll make sure ... How much do I owe you?
Don't worry about it, Al told her.
And they got hospitals all over town, Al thought, but no, they have to send Marty's fat sorry ass to some rehab all the way down in Coney Island, God ever decides to give Brooklyn an enema, here's where the bone goes in ...
Guy in a stocking hat sitting across the aisle stared at her, she stared back until he finally looked away. Your own fault, she thought, the dress was the shortest one she owned, but she had her reasons for that. This dress don't wake Marty up, maybe he's better off dead after all. Still, it was late, it was dark, and she and Mr. Personality were the only two passengers in the car. One other guy riding between cars, he peered through the dirty door glass, made eye contact with Mr. P, then looked away.
Al felt a flutter somewhere between her stomach and her throat.
So it's like that.
Well, baby, you ain't gonna outrun anybody in those high heels ...
She picked up the camera bag she used in lieu of a purse. Not heavy enough for a weapon, she thought, nothing in there to stab someone with or shoot them or otherwise inflict bodily harm. Shove a lipstick into his eyeball, maybe ...
Al got up, walked over and stood in front of the center set of exit doors. Mr. Personality got up, too, stood smirking at his reflection in the glass of the rear exit doors.
You could lose the shoes and run, she thought.
Buck eighty for those babies, yo. How long's it take you to clear a buck eighty to piss away on a pair of shoes?
The train slid into the empty station and stopped with an echoing jerk, and then all the exit doors rattled open simultaneously. Al stepped out, watched as Mr. Personality did the same. She stood, waiting, and he stayed by his doors, too, just in case she decided to try and jump back in when they began to close. Al guessed that Mr. Personality's associate, the guy who'd been riding between the cars, had gotten off, too, but he had to be a bit farther away and so she focused on the first guy.
The doors closed behind her, the train lurched into motion.
The guy turned to her and smiled. "Hey, chica," he said. "Where you goin', baby? All dress up nice like that? You like to party?"
She turned her head to look at him. "Yeah, I do," she said. "I'm going to a party at my cousin's house."
He took a step in her direction, patted his rear pocket unconsciously before spreading his hands out wide. Probably got a knife there, she thought. "You don't got to go no place, chica. We gonna party right here."
She heard unhurried footsteps coming from the other direction, but they weren't close yet. "Don't you wanna know who my cousin is?"
His smile faded. "So? Who is he?"
"Rocco Parisi," she said. Parisi, a mobster with a well-earned reputation for violence, was known from one side of Brooklyn to the other.
He considered that, but after a few seconds his smile returned. "Well, you know what, baby, that jus' mean we got to cut you, after." He reached into his pocket and pulled it out, it was a butterfly knife, it flashed as he flipped it open.
She was ten.
An old-fashioned pork shoulder roast with the skin still on and a thick bone sticking out of one end sat on the corner of the kitchen counter. Victor Martillo, her father and the toughest Puerto Rican in the shore patrol, stood in front of her with a six-inch knife in his hand. He was dressed in civilian clothes, but to Al it seemed that everything became a uniform when he wore it.
"Are you watching," he said.
One quick step, he spun, swung the knife in a glittering arc, and the pork shoulder fell over so the round end stared at her.
Victor laid the knife aside carefully. "Come here," he said. It was not a request.
She stepped up.
He knelt down, the pork shoulder in his hands. The knife had gone deep, Al could see white bone behind the severed muscle tissues. In her imagination a pig screamed, made whatever noises a pig makes when you cut it just about in half.
"This is what a knife can do to you," he said. She could see her mother silent in the kitchen doorway, her face white, but her father's brown eyes never left hers. "You don't need to be afraid of a knife," he said, "but you can never forget what it does."
"Yes, Papi." Her voice was barely audible.
Victor put the meat back on the counter, picked up the knife. "Are you paying attention," he said, even though he had to know that she was.
"Good. Now you're going to take this knife and try to cut me with it."
The guy behind her was closing in, but she had no time for him. "Attack the weapon." Her father had drilled it so deeply into her that she didn't need to think about it now, and when Mr. Personality slashed at her he had merely performed the opening steps of a dance she had done a thousand times.
Circles, her father's voice said. You see how the knife moves? It's going in a circle because my shoulder is still, my arm is the radius ... Are you listening to me? Do you know what a radius is? Don't they teach you anything in that school you go to every day? Pay attention, we'll do it slower this time.
The knife missed her midsection, went by like a ball on a string, clockwise if seen from above. She spun counterclockwise, faster than her assailant, doing the next step of the dance, and then she had his wrist and she twisted, hard. He tried to turn away from her, instinctively trying to relieve the sudden pressure, but that left his arm extended, elbow locked, exposed.
Only two more steps.
Her momentum carried her.
The heel of her left hand slammed into the back of Mr. Personality's elbow and it broke with an audible snap.
She released him, he tripped and went down, silent, eyes wide. His knife skittered away, slid over the lip of the platform and down onto the tracks.
The pain hadn't hit him yet.
The second guy, the one coming up behind her, he must have had a nanosecond of indecision, she could hear it in the cadence of his footsteps, but his momentum brought him right to her, off balance ...
Do you see this circle, her father's voice said. This circle is you. This dot in the center, this is your center of gravity. Do you understand what that means? Now listen to me. When you do something stupid, okay, like you attack another person, this dot moves. It's not in the middle anymore, it's near the edge of the circle. That means you are out of balance. And the dumber it is, whatever this thing is that you're doing, the farther out the dot moves, and the easier it becomes to beat you. Are you getting this? Your opponent doesn't need to attack you now, you've already done the work for him. All he needs to do is push, just a little bit, right where that dot is, and you will fall over.
You see what I'm saying?
Doesn't matter how big and strong you are.
It's just physics.
He was so close she could smell the detergent his mother used to wash his clothes.
Or his girlfriend.
The woman who cared for him, whoever she was.
Let him sleep in her apartment, on her couch.
Or in her bed.
The one who went bail for him.
Who washed his fudgy shorts.
The one who would scream when they found him, after his idiot life was over.
"Oh, God, why? Why?"
She got his belt and a piece of his shirt, and she pushed on the dot.
She swung with him, they were two dancers waltzing, but then she pitched him away from her, he stumbled, cracked his head on a steel support column and bounced off, went down hard on the concrete platform.
Behind her, the first one screamed.
She ripped the stocking hat off his head and shoved it into his mouth, pushed hard, got a surprising amount of it into him.
Didn't hardly sound like screaming anymore.
His good hand flailed at her, but he had nothing left.
She rolled him over onto his belly and knelt on his back. The sounds in his throat went high and squeaky, then stopped.
"Bet that hurts, huh," she said.
He didn't try to answer.
She fished his wallet out.
"Diego Ponce," she said. "Is that you?"
He made a sound then, it might have been an affirmative.
"Diego," she said. "You wanna know what really pisses me off about this? Hmm?"
He held his breath, waited for it.
"You know what they're gonna say on the news tomorrow? 'Two Hispanic males.' In the paper, on the radio, and maybe even the television. Might not make the TV unless you both buy it right here in the station."
All she heard was his labored breath.
"'Two Hispanic males.' And in the morning when my father goes to work, all the white ladies on the bus are gonna look at him and wonder about all the bad things they think he would do to them if he got the chance. Do you hear me, you fucking piece of shit?"
The air whistled in and out of his nose.
You're wasting your time, she thought.
Diego Ponce kept no money in his wallet, but he had six hundred and change in his front pocket.
His buddy had about ten bucks less.
They must have had a good night, up until now ...
She took it all.
I should do it, she thought. Relieve them of the burden of life.
Charitable act, really ... If they were at all equipped to deal with reality, they wouldn't have gotten into this mess ...
She could hear his mother screaming to God for answers why.
She stared at the back of Diego's head. You should have roasted his ass, she told the woman silently, the first time you caught him skipping school, the first time you caught him stealing money out of your purse, you should have beat him stupid.
You goddam cow, how can you still love him when he's like this?
Fucking women, she thought. Can't do what they need to do, always making up excuses.
We're sick like that ...
"It isn't catatonia."
"What the hell is it, then?"
The Filipino nurse stared at Alessandra reproachfully. "Some days Mr. Stiles is more responsive than others, but the doctors here think that he's basically in a minimally conscious state." She had soft brown eyes with an Oriental caste, a round Madonna's face, large breasts. Many men, maybe most men, would probably find her irresistible. She was beautiful, exotic, had a job, and she looked like she would yield to you, have your children, keep your house, care for your aging parents.
Well, if that was what you were looking for, Al was not your girl, and she knew it. She looked good enough if your tastes ran her way, she was tall, athletic, with dark brown hair, eyes, and skin, but there was little that was soft about her. You would probably guess that a relationship with Al might be a strenuous affair, perhaps of a somewhat predatory nature, and your enthusiasm might be muted just a tad by the knowledge that you could not be quite sure who hunted whom.
Hard to imagine her as someone's mom.
"I could never work here," she said.
The nurse just looked at her.
"I mean, I think it takes a special kind of person to do what you do," Al said.
The nurse, obviously unfamiliar and uncomfortable with compliments, looked down at her hands. Typical female, Al thought. She pours out her guts in this place, nobody notices, nobody gives a shit.
"So anyhow, you're saying Marty won't recognize me."
"No," the nurse said, "I'm not saying that at all. He might respond to you and he might not. I do think he remembers me, but he didn't seem to know who his sister was. What I'm saying, Ms. Martillo, is that it's hard enough to adjust to paraplegia if one is mentally strong, but if a person is vulnerable ..."
"Yeah," Al said. "I get it. You already fed him his dinner, am I right?"
"Yes." She glanced at her watch. "I usually take him a snack right about now."
"Marty does like his food," Al said.
"Yes, he seems to enjoy ..."
"Let me take it to him," Al said. "And do me a favor, stay away for a while. Leave him to me."
The nurse stared at the hem of Al's skirt, so high in her lap that it barely kept her situation covered. "If you're thinking you can arouse him, let me assure you, it would purely be a physiological response. It won't do any good. A man in his state ..."
"What I'm thinking is that I know Marty Stiles better than you do," Al said. "I know what he wants."
"And what would that be?"
Two things she knew he wanted: first, he wanted someone to feed him and clothe him and keep him warm and wipe his butt for him, and second, he wanted Al.
"Just gimme his dessert," she said.
It was an odd-looking wheelchair, and it took her a minute to figure out why: it had small wheels at all four corners. There was no way a person who only had the use of his arms would be able to motivate himself anywhere in it. "Hiya, Marty," she said.
He didn't look at her.
At least, he didn't seem to. His eyes moved in what might have been a random way, but she had known him for a long time. It could have been her imagination, but she swore his eyes had paused twice, once at the amount of leg she was showing, and once again at the bowl of rice pudding she carried. "You look like shit," she told him. She plopped down on a windowsill about six feet away from his chair. The spoon clanked on the bowl when she stuck it into the rice pudding.
That could have been an involuntary jerk, she thought. Like Pavlov's dog salivating. Maybe she was being unfair, and mean.
She ate a spoonful of the pudding. Stiles swallowed.
"So anyhow, this broad comes into the office. I'm babysitting, right, answering the phone and whatnot, because Sarah, you remember her? Sarah Waters? You hired her when you were gonna kick me to the curb, remember that? Check this out, Marty." She paused long enough to eat another spoonful of pudding. "Turns out she's really sharp. You remember all those corporate clients you used to have? You know, CFOs all worried about corruption and like that? Managers with their fingers in the till? The CFOs love her, Marty. Once I showed her how to do it, right, Sarah goes tearing through that kind of work like a sailor with a free pass to the whore house. Who knew?"
Marty Stiles swallowed again.
Al ate another spoonful of his dessert.
"Where was I? Oh, yeah, this broad comes into the office. I'm answering the phone because Sarah took the day off. Kid had a soccer game or something, so I covered. People gotta have time for that stuff, am I right?" She ate some more pudding, then leaned forward and gestured at him with the empty spoon. "I had to give her a raise, Marty. I knew you were cheap, but Jesus. Matter of fact, she and I are sorta like partners now. I couldn't help it, Marty, she's really something, gets along with clients way better than you ever did, and we both know I'm no good at that shit. But Sarah, Marty, she's unbelievable. I'm telling you, Marty, she's bringing in more business than we can handle, I hadda hire a kid just to do the paperwork, can you believe that?" She was more than halfway through the rice pudding. "Marty, you know what, this stuff is not half bad. I mean, it's not really that horrible. You remember Daniel Caughlan, Marty? Your old buddy? He calls me the other day, he's in this arrested-living facility upstate somewhere, but he wants to pay up for that job I did. Wanted to know who to make the check out to. A hundred and fifty large, you believe that? I told him Houston Investigations, that's what we're calling it now. Me and Sarah."
Excerpted from Sick Like That by Norman Green. Copyright © 2010 Norman Green. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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
I just love this character. She's beautiful, bold and so strong. Green really has it with this one.
While her employer private investigator Marty Stiles is in rehab following a gunshot wound that has left him wheelchair bound and without a will to live; Alessandra "Al" Martillo takes charge of the office. She assigns the tedious tasks to office receptionist Sarah Waters, but also takes the newcomer out into the field. Sarah searches for a dying wealthy client Mrs. West's estranged stepson Jake. Al seeks Sarah's ex-husband, Frank, who vanished after informing his former wife he scored a terrific job that sounded suspiciously too good. Sarah's simple job takes a nasty turn while Al finds herself surrounded by law enforcement when Frank becomes a person of interest by NYPD and the Feds. Each Brooklynite struggles with their respective case but reacts differently. Although both females are from Brooklyn and kick butt, they are different and thus their particular subplot handled radically dissimilar. Al and Sarah make the tale work as their nominal boss Marty may have seen his Last Gig. Readers will appreciate this exciting double dose female noir as the dual searches don't quite go by the book as written by Norman Green. Harriet Klausner