Terminal Life: A Suited Hero Novel

Terminal Life: A Suited Hero Novel

by Richard Torregrossa


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Terminal Life: A Suited Hero Novel by Richard Torregrossa

Luke Stark, a Special Forces veteran, returns home from his second tour in Afghanistan to learn that his wife has been mysteriously murdered and his son has disappeared. These tragedies, in addition to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, push him over the edge. He has also been diagnosed with an incipient form of cancer, but he forgoes treatment, a decision that is akin to a slow suicide. Although he languishes in a shelter, he wears an impeccable suit, an eccentric characteristic that sets him apart from his fellow down-and-outers and just about everybody else. He is nicknamed, somewhat ironically, The Suited Hero. Revenge and the search for his son spark a kind of rebirth in him that is as cathartic as it is brutal. This leads him into the dangerous world of illegal prescription drug distribution, where nobody in this gripping mystery crime thriller- not even some family members-is who they appear to be.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608091201
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
Publication date: 07/01/2014
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Richard Torregrossa is an author and a journalist whose work has appeared in The Financial Times, Town & Country, Newsday, The New York Post, The Chicago Tribune, Self, Cosmopolitan, Yoga Journal, Family Circle, and many online outlets. His books include the acclaimed biography Cary Grant: A Celebration of Styles. A first-degree black belt, he is an enthusiastic martial artist who teaches and continues to study a variety of disciplines. He resides in Brooklyn, New York.

Read an Excerpt

Terminal Life

A Suited Hero Novel

By Richard Torregrossa

Oceanview Publishing

Copyright © 2014 Richard Torregrossa
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60809-120-1


Luke jogs up the subway steps and catches a glimpse of his reflection in a store window. His suit is freshly cleaned and pressed, his shoes polished, his shirt crisp despite the summer heat. The dimple in his necktie required three attempts to get the symmetry just right, but it was worth it. He thinks to himself that he looks and feels quite well for a man who doesn't have long to live.

The job interview is set for one o'clock, but he is kept waiting for twenty minutes until Shelly, the director of human resources, is able to see him.

His suit seems to be as much a candidate for employment as he is, for he sees, at times, her glancing at the smooth roll of his lapels, his rectilinear white pocket square, the way his trousers drape when he crosses his legs, and the sliver of white sleeve that contrasts with his Glen plaid jacket, all intended effects that follow the law of angles.

Shelly seems both puzzled and impressed. Puzzled in that she does not quite understand the sartorial fine points that have created the force of the suit's gravitas, its crafted geometry, its arresting statement of order, its monochromatic subtlety.

She will never be able to see that we are all on our way to becoming someone else and his suit is his vehicle, a discrete entity, a bulwark against chaos, a whole and not an array of disconnected accessories.

She rudely answers the phone in the middle of their conversation as if he is not even in the room. Zaftig and curvy, her confident body language makes it clear that she finds her girth empowering, a useful substance over her trim and lithesome colleagues. Her black dress with white polka dots has a plunging neckline that shows off her plump breasts and an alabaster neck around which she wears a black beaded necklace with a gemstone pendant.

She fixes her elbow on her desk so that her arm stands straight up like a phallus, showing off her sizeable wedding ring and gold wedding band encrusted with diamonds. She rotates the rings with her thumb, a habitual gesture that has an element of preening about it.

Luke listens to her conversation because it is impossible not to listen.

"Tampons! Exactly!" She giggles and glances at him as if suddenly remembering that he is present but present in some deeply insignificant way.

It is a bright summer afternoon, the view panoramic from the fifty-first floor of this Midtown office building. The window blinds divide the abundant sunshine into shards as sharp as glass and they seem to cut rather than lightly shine on her.

He has no plans for the afternoon, nowhere to go, no one to see, just back to the streets, back to the shelter. The job has no practical interest to him because he is not here for a job. He is here for another reason, the best opportunity he's had since his breakdown, since the murder of his wife and the disappearance of his seven-year-old son, a first step toward finding the truth, the truth that is being kept hidden from him.

White clouds scud across an arresting azure sky. They are soft and vaporous as if they have emanated from a genie's lamp. Luke is comfortably seated in the plush chair across from Shelly's desk, rolling his MetroCard over his fingers like a card shark. He does this carefully because he has sharpened one edge of the MetroCard with a razor blade.

Shelly finally concludes her phone call and offers a halfhearted apology that is really no apology at all.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Now, where were we?"

"We were nowhere," he says and gets up to leave. "That was discourteous and unprofessional, behavior that reflects badly on the company as well as on you. We are concluding this interview."

Flustered, her mouth falls open and forms a vacuous moue. Her lips are full and her red lipstick is as thick as cake icing. She is taken aback by his insolence, his flouting of her authority, until she sees the cold look in his eyes, the stalwart stance of the man in the smart suit before her.

Clearly, she senses the imminence of danger, of something awful happening if she makes the wrong move. Her composure vanishes, her confident demeanor turns to nervousness and fear. No longer does she feel protected by her girth, her diamond ring, and the job title that makes candidates fawn and grovel before her.

She puts her hand on the phone as if on the handle of a weapon. Her expression makes her thoughts easily readable. He might be loony, the kind who would do her harm. She must call security.

"I'm sorry," she says again, starting to pick up the phone.

But it is too late.

He slashes her neck with the sharpened edge of the MetroCard. The gesture is so quick and surgical that it makes a perfect incision — so perfect that it seems not to cause pain nor even draw blood at first, just surprise, but when the blood rises to the surface, it comes fast and fluidly. She presses her hand to her neck, but the blood oozes through the interstices of her fingers. Droplets fall onto his résumé.

The blood is deceptively profuse, but she will be okay, for the compression of her hand on the incision will stave off the flow. But the look on her face is one of shock and fear and surprise and confusion and that was his intent. That was his assignment. Mission accomplished.


He leaves her office, shutting the door behind him, and calmly walks past the receptionist. "Have a good day," he says. She nods, smiles perfunctorily.

The elevators are unavailable, all on different floors, so he takes the staircase to the suite below. He is aware of the security cameras and avoids them by ducking his head. He is also aware of the landscape of cubicles manned by workers who are transfixed by the lambent light of their computers. They do not look up. They do not pay him any mind. Still, he keeps his head down until he is on the elevator. In the palm of his hand is his MetroCard, a concealed weapon. He is surprised when the elevator doors open and there are no security guards to accost him.

But as soon as he turns the corner, two appear. One is beefy, tall, and dark-skinned, a Puerto Rican, and well fed; his stomach hangs over his belt. The other one is white, perhaps Irish, with red hair and freckles, pale and pasty with a neatly shaved head that is oddly lumpy. Both are holding walkie-talkies. He appraises them quickly, reads their name tags. Brandon and DeShawn. They have been aroused from the boredom of inaction, but just barely, and their expressions clearly reveal that they are bovine, slow-footed, dull, feckless. He keeps walking and that's when the Puerto Rican security guard confronts him by holding up his hand, a signal for him to stop.

"Hey, Brandon! DeShawn!" He greets them cheerfully, as if they're friends, and they pause, struggling to recognize the stranger. This makes his assault all the more unexpected.

He grabs DeShawn's hand, rolls it back and to the left until he hears a slight crack and then jerks it forward as his knee rises up to strike his solar plexus. DeShawn coughs, sputters, and tries to catch his breath. Luke brings an elbow down into the center of his back, which causes him to drop to the floor.

Brandon is frozen, confused, scared. He clumsily reaches for something on his belt — pepper spray or a baton, but he fumbles, and the leg that felled DeShawn, without touching the ground, juts out like a spear into Brandon's kneecap. It makes a sound like the snap of a dry twig. Brandon crumbles to the floor and grabs his leg as if it might fly apart. In one fluid movement they have both been disabled.

Luke pauses briefly, ready for some kind of manly retaliation from at least one of them so that he can preempt it, but they both remain in a polyester heap, gasping, groaning, so he walks slowly to the revolving doors that open onto the street, sidesteps a few onlookers who have not comprehended what has happened because they are too distracted by the text messages streaming into their smart phones. By the time they realize what has happened, Luke is gone, long gone.


The sidewalk is teeming with pedestrians and Luke blends easily into the eddying crowd. He casually walks two blocks to the subway near Bryant Park, where the throng is thicker, and uses his MetroCard for the purpose it was intended, to pass through the turnstile.

McKenzie is waiting for him on the subway platform, but he does not have the rest of the money. Luke grabs him by the throat and pushes him against the wall.

"She ruined me, that bitch," says McKenzie. "It was a fling, that's all."

"Yeah, yeah, I heard it all before. Everybody's got a hard-luck story," says Luke. "Tell it to your priest."

"Fired me after eighteen years of loyal service. I lost everything. I'm broke. Not a dime in my pocket."

"That's what you get for cheating on your wife."

"Everything, man. I lost it all."

"You've still got your life," says Luke, holding the MetroCard to his neck, "but you'll lose that too unless I get the rest of my money. See that train coming into the station? How'd you like to take a tumble onto the subway tracks?"

Luke grabs his arm and forces him through the crowd to the edge of the platform.

"All right, all right. I'll get you your money."

"Let me have your watch."

"It's the last thing of value I own," says McKenzie in protest, but strips it off and gives it to Luke. He tries to wriggle free from Luke's grasp but Luke subdues him by incising his arm at a pressure point; his sharpened thumbnail draws a nipple of blood. Almost anything can be made or used as a weapon — everything from a towel to a toothpick, one of the many skills he learned as a Navy SEAL. Improvisation is the key to survival, in combat or on the streets.

The train rumbles into the station. The crowd ebbs and flows and McKenzie, glistening with sweat, looks around to find that Luke has vanished. He is as relieved as he is surprised.

Luke boards the downtown Q train and returns the MetroCard to his wallet with more care than is usually associated with this act, like returning a gun to its holster. He will need it again, for it has taken him exactly where he wanted to go.


He knows that the security cameras will contain images of him that will be used by the police. The information on his résumé is mostly false, but he assumes there's enough information on it for the police to track him down if they care to, but he knows that they have bigger crimes to pursue, for this is a city full of big crimes. Big crimes and overworked cops.

But it doesn't matter anyway. He doesn't really care because according to Dr. Ornstein, an oncologist at the VA Hospital, he has cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma, the classic type — nodular sclerosing Hodgkin's lymphoma to be exact.

The symptoms that prompted him to see Dr. Ornstein were fevers that would come and go for no known reason, night sweats, weight loss, and a lump on his neck above his shirt collar that was painless but annoying. The lump turned out to be a swollen lymph node.

Dr. Ornstein ordered a CBC — complete blood count — that revealed the number of red and white blood cells, platelets, and the amount of hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen) in the red blood cells. He also performed an excision biopsy on the lymph node and concluded that the cancer was in its very early stages and could be cured with treatment, but Luke declined.

A year, maybe less, is enough time to accomplish what he needs to accomplish and that is really all he cares about and that is why he often visits the intersection of Flatbush and Nostrand Avenues where Uncle Paulie has one of his many locksmith shops, all nifty money-laundering operations. He knows this because he used to work there before he went into the military.

But it has an even greater significance. This is where his wife, Crissy, was killed in what was reported to be a robbery.

Luke had been against her working for Uncle Paulie. It had been one of their worst quarrels. It was a job, she argued, and a good job, better than any she could find. It was local, in Brooklyn, and she wouldn't have to make the long trek into Manhattan by subway. She hated the subway. The stifling New York City subways, old rattletraps, filthy, overcrowded, dangerous, and filled with straphangers who looked like they all needed a good jolt of antidepressants and a shower.

The pay was good, too, a lot better than a minimum-wage job, the only kind she could find. She'd be a manager, increase her bookkeeping and computer skills. She'd be based in the Nostrand Avenue store, but she could manage the other stores with weekly visits.

Moreover, Uncle Paulie agreed to a flexible schedule that would allow her to come and go so that she could take Jack, then five, to school and pick him up. Crissy's family lived in Brooklyn, too, so they could look after Jack when she was busy at the store or worked late. Here, she had a support network and she and Jack could have at least a semblance of a family life while Luke was away for long periods. How could he deny her that?

"So why is Uncle Paulie being so good to you?" he'd asked her.

"He's family."

Luke snarled at this because Crissy didn't know the half of it and she never would now.

"He's a mobster."

"Yeah, I know, but who isn't around here? And who better to have my back than him while you're away?" she said, her voice rising in irritation as if it was his fault. "I'm alone. This is the best I can manage. For us. And money's tight."

He understood her anger, insistence, and frustration, and all of her points were well taken, so he backed off, let her have her way.

Still, he had a bad feeling about it. But what could he do? He was thousands of miles away on deployment in Afghanistan and had no idea when he would return home.

He should have been firmer. Yes, at least in hindsight, he should have been firmer. It haunted him as if her murder was all somehow his fault. As irrational as it might sound, maybe it was. He couldn't shake the notion and the guilt was too much for him to bear. When he heard the news that she had been shot in the face in a robbery, he had already been suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and it pushed him over the edge, nearly to the point of a psychotic break, eventually landing him in the VA psych ward, pumped full of meds.

He was unable to sleep. His mind raced, often with suicidal thoughts, but then he would think about Jack, his towheaded little boy who had just turned six and sent him drawings of his school teacher and the park where he played, which only made him feel cowardly. How could he abandon him? But the pain was too intense. He couldn't bear it. He just did not want to live.

Emotionally numb, paralyzed with depression, plagued by blackouts, hyperarousal, irritability, and bursts of uncontrollable anger — often directed at himself — he attempted suicide. Clumsily, in a daze, his hands so shaky he botched it. A nurse noticed him trying to slit his wrists with a pen. He had barely punctured the skin before she grabbed it away from him as if he was a naughty schoolboy defacing the classroom wall.

They upped his meds. Discussed shock treatment. Still, he felt emotionally dead, hopeless, inert, a failure as a man and un worthy of fatherhood. He couldn't take care of himself, so how could he take care of Jack?

Eventually, he was released, sent home, where he languished, damaged, unable to function, so he checked himself into a shelter, trying to pick up the pieces.

Now, staring out the window, he wonders how long he has been here. A year, maybe more, maybe less; time seems elastic; days seem like months, months seem like days, but he thinks about only two things: revenge, for the culprits were never found. This makes him wonder. This makes him wonder about a lot of things, things he needs to know, things he needs to resolve, put to rest, bury, kill, vanquish, avenge. He also thinks about Jack, now seven, growing up without him. They must reunite. They will reunite. For the first time since his breakdown he feels stirred to action and in his mind a kind of healing is taking place.


Excerpted from Terminal Life by Richard Torregrossa. Copyright © 2014 Richard Torregrossa. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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