About the Author
Jeremiah Healy (1948–2014) was the creator of the John Cuddy mystery series and the author of several legal thrillers. A graduate of Rutgers College and Harvard Law School, Healy taught at the New England School of Law before becoming a novelist. He published his first novel, Blunt Darts, in 1984, introducing John Francis Cuddy, the Boston private eye who would become Healy’s best-known character.
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The Staked Goat
By Jeremiah Healy
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Jeremiah Healy
All rights reserved.
I swatted the snooze button on my clock radio twice. The ringing noise didn't stop, so I picked up the telephone.
"Yeah?" I said.
"Shouldn't you be answering 'John Francis Cuddy, private investigator'?" A gruff, hearty male voice.
I blinked at the time. "Not at 7:05 a.m. Who is this?"
"Or, at least, 'Captain Cuddy, Military Police, retired'?"
"In a minute you'll be talking to yourself, my friend. Who is this?"
"Christ, John," said the voice through a deep laugh, "you always were a pleasure to wake up in the morning."
"Al?" My head began to clear. "Al Sachs?"
"The one and only."
"It's been ..."
"Actually, that's not true, not anymore. You know Martha and me got married four years ago? Well, I'm no longer the one and only, being the proud father of Alan G. Sachs, Junior, age two-point-eight years."
"Al," I said, getting upright and rubbing the sleep from my eyes, "you're Jewish. You're not supposed to be naming your children after somebody still living. It's bad luck."
"Yeah, I know," said Al, "but Martha, she's Lutheran and my folks are all gone, and I'll bet you've been to Temple more than I have since we got back to The World. Hey, remember that time in 'Nam, when you were going to some feast-day Mass to get out of being duty officer? I went to tag along and when the old man tried to stop me, you told him I was your technical advisor on the Old Testament readings." Al laughed for me. Kind of nervously, I thought.
"So, what are you doing in Boston?"
"Making my fortune, John, making my fortune. I had a lotta luck with the B's last night."
I had watched the game on television. "Al, you're crazy to bet on hockey in this town, even in favor of the Bruins."
Another nervous laugh. "Yeah, yeah, you're right. Listen, John-boy, I'm a manufacturer's rep now for Straun Steel. They're a Pittsburgh outfit that fabricates little steel gizmos for building construction, and I gotta go, I got an eight-fifteen appointment at a jobsite. Listen, whatsay we roll for drinks and dinner tonight, maybe eight-thirty, nine o'clock?"
"Where are you staying?"
"A place called the Midtown Motor Inn. On Hunterton Avenue."
"That's Hunting ton Avenue, Al. Also, it's a Tuesday, and Boston tends to close down early during the week. Want to make it seven?"
A quick cough and again that nervous edge in his voice. "No, no, can't. Got another appointment. Can you swing by my motel at eight-thirty?"
"Sure, Al. I'll see you then."
"Oh, and John?"
"Remember 13 Rue Madeleine." He hung up.
13 Rue Madeleine. As I put down the receiver, memories of Al bubbled back to me. The best, if also the oddest, guy I knew from the service. We went through military-police training together. Not an altogether easy time. The Jew from CCNY and the Harp from Holy Cross. Tossed in with fifty or so Ivy Leaguers, West Pointers, and Old South military school graduates. At first, Al and I were more ignored than actively hated. Then we started to win a couple of friends by sheer force of personality, in which many of our classmates were sorely lacking. Our newfound acceptance wore thin on some hardliners who picked a fight with me one day in the TV lounge of the bachelor officers' quarters. I had decked a Yalie when a Virginia lad, who I later found out had prepped with the Yalie, swung a chair ungentlemanly close to the back of my head. The Virginian missed because Al had clouted him on the upper arm with the edge of his hand, thereby breaking a bone above the swinger's elbow. The battle was joined, as they say, with a West Pointer named J.T. Kivens siding with us. The real MPs eventually arrived, and the official box score went Yale/Virginia. Al, J.T., and I eventually found ourselves as street MP officers in Saigon. I heard that Yale and Virginia ended up "guarding" VIPs in some appropriately front-page—but tightly secured—battle sectors and conferences.
Al and J.T. had preceded me to Saigon by about eight weeks. Al was billeted in a former hotel converted into a bachelor officers' quarters. The connecting bedroom shared his bath and was available, so I moved in.
Beth and I weren't married then, and Al and I did our best to keep each other alive and sane. When we got back to The World, he was terrific about staying in touch. When we didn't reciprocate his happy-holiday card the year Beth died, Al called me. He must have called every few weeks from there, after Empire Insurance fired me for refusing to falsify a jewelry claim, after I started to sink into the bottle, and again after I began to pull myself back out with my own private-investigator business. Then I stopped hearing from him, which I now realized was surprising.
Al Sachs. He was the oddest guy I knew because you could never figure him out. One day he ran around literally putting tacks on everybody's chairs. When I asked him why, he said it was something he suddenly remembered he had wanted to do since grade school. Another time, on an R-and-R in Hawaii, he spent fully two and a half hours of our precious time going through a Honolulu telephone directory looking up the names of his CCNY classmates, just in case one might have moved six thousand miles southwest. A third time, in Saigon, he broke down crying at the sight of a bunch of street orphans in rags because he said they were posed like a photograph he had seen of the starving Jewish defenders in the Warsaw ghetto.
But 13 Rue Madeleine. An old World War II movie with Jimmy Cagney. Contrary to popular belief, we did not always get first-run (or even second-run) films in Vietnam. One night Al and I saw it. I remembered Cagney as an American secret agent caught by the Nazis in Europe and tortured for information. They were going to just dump him on the road as though he had been hit by a car or mugged. Cagney has the last laugh, though, because intelligence that he relayed out before his capture results in an Allied bombing raid that destroys the German headquarters in which he's being held.
After the movie, Al and I were drinking back in his room. He said to me, "John-boy, if I'm ever captured by the other side, like Cagney was, and I figure they're going to fake my death—like an accident, you know?—what I'll do is break my little finger, and then you'll know I was killed by them instead."
"Christ, Al," I replied, "what 'other side' is going to be interested in a pissy-ass MP lieutenant like you who doesn't even deal with combat intelligence?"
He went on as though he hadn't heard me. "Yup, I'll break my little finger so you'll know, and then you'll go after them for me like I'd go after them for you. To square things."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Evening things up. A repayment for all we've been through together. I get them if they get you, you get them if they get me. See?"
I told him I saw. I changed the subject, and I couldn't remember it ever coming up again.
'Til Al's phone call.CHAPTER 2
I had to testify at the D'Amico trial the morning that Al called me, so I did my best to push our dinner out of my mind. When Empire fired me, I was quickly blackballed in Boston insurance circles. Then I received some pretty good press from a case I worked on involving a judge and his missing son. Thereafter, a few heads of claims investigation began to call me for special assignments.
About six months ago, a worried fire and casualty company contacted me. They had been tipped that one of their insureds had hired an arsonist to torch a warehouse containing obsolete merchandise. The only problem was they didn't know when. The Boston arson squad is professional but limited in personnel. It simply cannot stake out indefinitely a building where one act of arson might occur, while being crucified by the media for not nailing the perpetrators of twenty definite arsons that have occurred. Accordingly, the company asked me to watch the warehouse from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., the most likely arson period.
Since the warehouse owner, one Harvey Weeks, obviously could not be let in on the surveillance, I checked through the neighborhood until I found a nice elderly couple whose house backed on an empty lot behind the warehouse. I was frank with them, and they swore that they would not tell anyone why I was there. Their name was Cooper. Jesse was black, Emily was white. They came north from Alabama to escape racist remarks, slashed tires, and occasional beatings. I suppressed a desire to ask if things proved better for them in Boston. They hated violence of any kind, and they agreed to let me use one of their closed-off back bedrooms that faced the warehouse grounds. It wasn't perfect, but no one observer can watch all four sides of a building except while hovering in a helicopter above it. The Coopers insisted on leaving me food and fixing the old daybed in the room. I goosed the head of claims investigation for twenty dollars more per week than he wanted to spend on them.
The first seven nights passed without incident. The arson squad had run a discreet check on the nightwatchman. His name was Craigie. He was seventy-one, nearsighted, and straight as an arrow. With my binoculars, I could see him outlined in the reflection of his battery lantern, the warehouse owner being too cheap to use floodlighting. Craigie was as punctual as a steeple clock, and I began to feel that I knew him as well as I did the Coopers.
My hosts extended their bedtime so they could have tea with me before I went upstairs. They both wore cardigans off the 2-for-$5 rack at Zayre's. Jesse was one of the first black Marines in combat in World War II, losing most of one hand to a Japanese grenade. Emily had retired from teaching fourth grade in a non-Catholic parochial school. The whole time we talked, rarely more than twenty minutes a night, Emily would hold Jesse's good hand. I did my best not to think about the times Beth and I had kidded about what we would be like when we grew old.
On the eighth night, Craigie made his nine, ten, and eleven o'clock circuits, lantern bobbing. No lantern at 12:00, or 12:05, or 12:10. At 12:15, I was dropping over the security fence at the back of the warehouse. I had a highbeam penlight in my hip pocket, and a .38 Smith & Wesson Combat Masterpiece in my right hand. I followed the perimeter of the warehouse until I found a window ajar. The owner was no more lavish on alarm systems than he was on searchlights. I edged the window up and stepped through, into the warehouse. I tried to slide the window back down, but at the first squeak I stopped. While my eyes were adjusting to the darkness, my ears picked up a soft, flapping noise above the industrial hum all large buildings, however vacant, produce. The flapping sound grew closer, the sound of running feet.
He might have had me if he hadn't tripped over a wooden pallet some forklift operator had failed to stack. He cursed and stumbled just as my adjusting eyes picked him up, fifty feet to my left.
"Freeze!" I yelled, dropping to one knee.
He said something as he let fly two quick shots. In the quiet darkness of the warehouse, the firing sounded and looked like atomic bombs launched by a flamethrower. One slug thumped harmlessly into a bale of something three feet from me. The second ricocheted two or three times, whining crazily through the dead air above our heads.
I pulled the trigger of my already cocked weapon. I cocked and fired again before his scream from the first registered on my ears. I thought I heard the skittering clatter of a lost weapon, too. Just to be sure, though, I circled around and came in on him from ninety degrees off where I had fired.
He was curled like a fetus on the cold floor, rocking side to side with his left hand high on his right shoulder and his right hand on his thigh. He was moaning, "Jesus, Jesus." I flicked on my penlight and caught the dark outline of his revolver ten feet away from him.
I moved over to him and held my weapon against his temple while I quickly and unfruitfully patted him down. He was bleeding freely from both wounds.
"Where's Craigie?" I asked.
"What the fuck are you talkin' about?" he said.
I shined my penlight into his face. He was thirtyish, heavy features, curly black hair.
"The nightwatchman, where is he?"
"Man, get me to a fuckin' hospital!" he yelled.
I put the ball of my right foot onto his wounded shoulder and pressed about as much as you would to ease forward twenty feet in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The lump on the floor emitted a nerve-curdling scream and flopped left to right like a gill-hooked sunnie.
"You tell me where the nightwatchman is or I'm the only surgeon you'll ever see."
"Oh sweet shitting Jesus, man, he's in the back, in the back!"
I took off for the back, scoffing up the torch's weapon on the way. I got sixty or seventy feet when a wall of flame whipped up in front of me. I jumped back, lost my balance, and went down in a heap on my left elbow. It was bruised but not broken. By the time I got up, the flames were three feet closer and impenetrable.
"Craigie," I yelled, "Craigie, can you hear me? Craigie?"
It was like asking after coal pitched into a furnace.
I walked back toward the torch, rubbing my left elbow.
"Christ, get me outta here. Get me out!" He was yelling before he could have heard me coming. "Mother of God, sweet Mary, get me out, get me out!"
I grabbed him by the left arm and yanked him over to face me. Although it was barely forty degrees outside, and not much warmer inside when I had entered, the sweat from my fire-sided forehead was pouring down my nose and into my eyes.
"Who, fire man," I asked the lump. "Who paid the price for this one?"
"What's wrong with you, man? Get me outta this place. Please God, fuckin' Jesus, get me out!"
"You're talkin' like a baked potato, fire man," I said softly. I looked behind me, then grabbed his hair and twisted his head to assure him the same perspective. "That flame looks twenty, maybe thirty feet closer than it was the first time I asked the question. You can't outrun it, fire man. Now who was it paid your price?"
Lump's face was contorting. I've yet to meet a torch who wasn't scared blind, and rightly so, of uncontrolled flames. "The owner. The bastard owner. Weeks. Harvey fuckin' Weeks! For God's sake, man, get me out, get me out!"
I dragged him by the bad arm 'til the screaming, actually one long shriek, stopped. Then I slung him over my shoulder and headed for the window. The Coopers must have heard me going down their stairs, because the first lonely siren hit my ears just as I shoved him through the window.
The lump's name turned out to be Joseph D'Amico. I attended his bail hearing three days after the fire, Joseph himself being under guard in a hospital room. His lawyer's name was Thomas Smolina, a short, fiftyish man in a blue polyester suit that affected a Glen plaid. The lawyer was trying to persuade Judge Harry J. Elam, then chief justice of the Boston Municipal Court, that his "Joey" should be released on $20,000 bail, cash equivalent. The "cash equivalent" part meant that instead of a bail bondsman putting up $20,000 for a nonrefundable premium of $2,000, the D'Amico family, arrayed in the first row of the courtroom, could put up two thousand cash themselves, thus saving the bailbond premium so long as Joey showed up at the trial. Smolina argued that the D'Amico family, solid citizens of Boston for thirty-nine years, provided the sort of stable base that would ensure that his client would attend the trial. The lawyer ticked off each family member, who stood up and nodded to the judge as his or her name was mentioned. Smolina reached Joey's brother, Marco, a man about my size and build in a black turtleneck. Marco nodded and then, as he sat back down, swiveled his head to glare at me. I smiled politely and thought that Joey's lawyer should have screened Marco from the family portrait presented to the judge.
Judge Elam thanked Smolina and turned to the assistant district attorney. She stood and began speaking without needing to identify herself. She pointed out the defendant's track record of four missed trials, one for armed robbery, one for arson. She mentioned Craigie's blackened and cottony body, escalating the expected indictments to felony/murder. She also mentioned co-defendant Harvey Weeks' suicide attempt upon hearing the police come knocking at his door. She felt $250,000, no cash equivalent, was more appropriate. In the front row, Mother D'Amico began to whimper, none too softly. Marco put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to him, none too gently.
Excerpted from The Staked Goat by Jeremiah Healy. Copyright © 1991 Jeremiah Healy. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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
Fairly good read. Scary stuff about torture during war.
PLOT OR PREMISE: John Cuddy is a former insurance investigator who lost his job when he started drinking too much following the death of his wife to cancer. A friend from Vietnam calls him up unexpectedly while visiting Boston, arranges to meet him for dinner and drinks, and misses the date only to show up dead the next morning. Cuddy smells a rat in the official story, and sets out to help clear his friend's name and help his family. . WHAT I LIKED: "Well, I was supposed to be studying French today. I even promised myself I would spend the evening doing that. Then I made the mistake of wandering over to a bookstore and looking through the Mystery section to see if there was anything that leaped off the shelves at me. Jeremiah Healy's ""The Staked Goat"" was feeling particularly restless and somehow not only forced itself off the shelf and into my hands, but also managed to take hold of my wallet and steer me to the register. That was, I think, somewhere around 5:00 p.m. Except for the time on the way to the diner and the time to walk home, I've been subjecting myself to the simply wonderful story contained within its covers ever since. I'm almost tempted to read it again over the next few days s l o w l y this time to see if there is anything I missed, and if not, just to savour it a while longer. In any event, a very enjoyable four hours. I liked the very realistic portrayal of the friends -- biting their tongues when they used idioms (""dead to the world"", etc), laughing occasionally, etc. But regardless of the fast-paced action after the visit to Pittsburgh, the part I loved the best was the portrayal of the gay couple. I lived with a gay male couple with about the same age discrepancy, who had been together for nineteen years, and it seemed like I was back in their kitchen having breakfast when I was reading the story." . WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: I did wonder about the accuracy of some of the details surrounding the Shivah sitting for Al (i.e. a funeral on the Saturday -- Jewish Sabbath -- I didn't think that was kosher, no pun intended). But it did say at the start that Al didn't go very often -- hope that wasn't a cop out...could've been an interesting sub-area. . BOTTOM-LINE: I was only going to read a little -- and lost an entire evening! . DISCLOSURE: I received no compensation, not even a free copy, in exchange for this review. I was not personal friends with the author, but I did follow him on social media.