Unknown Remains: A Novel

Unknown Remains: A Novel

by Peter Leonard


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Jack McCann is a high-stakes Wall Street trader who sneaks into his office early one morning to try and clear out his things and get out of dodge; he knows he’s in trouble, deep legal trouble, a fact highlighted by the urgent phone calls from his boss. Outside his office window, Jack hears a booming sound, and then the worst thing imaginable. He works in the World Trade Center, and it is September 11, 2001.

His wife in Connecticut, Diane, is visited the next day by a grief counselor, and then the mob, where she learns her husband owes them $750,000. Their personal bank accounts have been emptied. She’s totally and utterly broke. Lost in grief and now shock, Diane soon learns her husband was not the loving spouse he appeared to be. But neither is she, owing to that Beretta she keeps tucked into her handbag.

The perfect summer read, Unknown Remains boasts an exciting crime story, inventive plot twists, and a cast of rogues, who just might be using a national tragedy to cover up their own deep transgressions and greed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781619029484
Publisher: Counterpoint Press
Publication date: 07/11/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Peter Leonard is the son of crime novelist Elmore Leonard. In 1980, Peter was the founding partner of advertising agency Leonard Mayer & Tocco. For nearly thirty years LM&T created award-winning advertising for Volkswagen of America, Audi of America, Hiram Walker, and Pennzoil. He wrote his first novel, Quiver, in 2007; he has since published five more novels: Trust Me, All He Saw Was The Girl, Voices Of The Dead, and the sequel, Back From The Dead. Peter retired from the advertising business in 2009 and now writes fiction full time. He is the father of four children and lives in Michigan with his wife Julie and his dog Sam. Learn more about his work at peterleonardbooks.com.

Read an Excerpt


Duane Cobb parked on Church Street and watched the mark get out of a taxi and cross the World Trade Center Plaza. It was 8:12 in the morning, perfect blue-sky fall day, slight breeze, when he opened the window, sun glinting off the domed glass buildings to his left. Cobb watched a couple good-looking babes cruise by, wondering what it would be like to work here, Jesus, all that tail walking around you all day.

"You going to go see him or what?" Cobb said to Ruben Diaz sitting next to him in the passenger seat. He reminded Cobb of a Puerto Rican Ray Mancini, big head, square jaw, dark hair combed forward. Diaz looked like what he was, a former boxer: bent nose, scar tissue around his eyes. Ruben Diaz wore a gray suit with white stripes and a white open-collar shirt, diamond earring, gold Rolex on his right wrist, and a silver bracelet on his left. The middle-finger knuckles on both hands looked permanently swollen.

"I give him a little time," Ruben said, heavy barrio accent. "Let him get his coffee, get settled. I want him to be relaxed."

"What difference does it make he's relaxed or not?"

"That's the way I do it. You do it a different way, that's up to you."

Cobb looked up at the 110-story building, morning sun reflecting off it like a mirror. The mark, whose name was Jack McCann, worked for a brokerage firm on the eighty-ninth floor of Tower One. Cobb glanced at Ruben Diaz. He hardly knew him. This was only their second time working together. "Miss being in the ring?"

"I miss the life. All the money and the babes coming around. It was a good life."

"I can see it. You like bling, huh?"

"I like flashy shit. Flashier the better."

"What's it like being a fighter?"

"It's about how bad you want it. Most people have no fucking idea. You think you're tough, get in the ring and prove it."

"I don't think it's a matter of being tough. It's a matter of being smart. I wouldn't get in the ring for anything, get my ass handed to me."

"I can see it. Man, you're soft."

"What does that mean?"

"Look at your hands, uh. You got hands like a girl. Make a fist."

Cobb did and Ruben wrapped his big distressed mitt around it and squeezed until it hurt. Cobb clenched his jaw trying not to show anything. "Okay, that's enough."

Ruben let go but kept his eyes on him. Jesus, this freak almost broke his fucking hand. Cobb was mad now, but thought, wait a minute, why're you letting this over-the-hill, punch-drunk idiot get to you? He sipped his coffee and got himself under control. "You say it was a good living. You looked in a mirror lately? I see your whole boxing career on your face. How many stitches you got?"

"Two hundred seventy-one."

"Were you a bleeder?"

"No, but you're going to be," Ruben said, "you don't watch it."

"I don't mean anything," Cobb said. He had to be careful with this guy. He was looking at Ruben's swollen lids and the scar tissue around his eyes, and saw how he got his nickname: Winky.

"I'm having fun with you," Ruben said with a grin, accentuating the wrinkles and creases on his face. "Don't think of it as something bad. Boxing saved me."

"Yeah, from what?"

"From me. I didn't get into it, I'd be in prison."

Cobb didn't expect this, Ruben getting philosophical. "How many fights?"

"Forty-two. I was thirty and ten. Two draws."

"Yeah? Who were they?"

"Hector Camacho. The macho man."

"I remember that little curlicue of hair came down his forehead like it was mocking you. I bet you wanted to knock it off, huh?"

"He was a good fighter. The Puerto Rican Ali. Beat Duran twice and Sugar Ray."

"Yeah, but Leonard was forty," Cobb said. "Shouldn't have been in the ring in the first place." He sipped the coffee. "What was your toughest fight?"

"They all were. But I'll tell you Micky Ward was a motherfucker. That left hook to the body would stop your fucking clock."

"You beat him?"

Ruben glanced at his watch. "What about you," he said, changing the subject. "What'd you do before this?"

"I was a debt collector in Detroit."

"But you're not from there with that accent."

"I'm originally from Little Egypt."

"Where's that at?"

"Southern Illinois."

"Why they call it that?"

"There's a town called Cairo." He didn't want to go into it, explain the whole thing.

"Oh." Ruben had probably never heard of Cairo and let it go. He paused and said, "So now you're a debt collector in New York."

"This is a little different than what I was doing."

"Lot of people skipping out on their bills in the Motor City?"

"You want to get in debt collections, Detroit is the Promised Land."

"Who you work for?"

"A collection service. Person goes crazy with a credit card, can't or won't pay the bill. After a period of time, the bank sells the debt to a buyer, who goes to a collection service, who gives it to me. We had a contest in the office every week, see how many losers we could make cry."

"You never had any hard luck, uh?"

"My job was to collect money. You don't get it if you're nice. These people spent it, decided they didn't want to pay it back."

"Or couldn't. Maybe their circumstances change," Ruben said, surprising him. "Ever been hungry? I'm not talking about you missed a meal. I mean you don't have enough to buy food. You ever in that situation, you'd be more sympathetic." Ruben paused, looking pissed off. "So what'd you do, threaten to take their car?"

"I'd call up, say I'm in the fraud department. They don't have the money in twenty-four hours, I have no choice but to hand their claim over to the district court. That got people's attention."

"That's good." Ruben Diaz grinned big, showing a gold front tooth with a diamond pattern on it. "Nobody wants to fuck with the court. Know what I mean?"

"Or I'd say, 'I know where you live, where you work' — like I'm watching them. 'You don't have the money tomorrow I'm going to tell everyone you know, your friends, your neighbors, and co-workers, what a fucking deadbeat you are.' Only I didn't really say 'fucking,' 'cause it's not professional."

"Anyone threaten you?" Ruben said, taking off the seat belt, leaning back against the door.

"Threaten me, are you kidding? They'd say things I've never heard before, yell and swear and ask my name and address. I'd say, 'My name's Duane, but giving you any more would violate my right to privacy.'" Cobb smiled, thinking about it, more relaxed now.

"Violate your privacy." Ruben shook his head. "That's good."

Cobb looked at the clock on the dash. It was 8:44. "Think he's settled enough, you can go up and see him?"

Ruben opened the door, got out, and started across the plaza.

Jack McCann walked into his office at 8:25. He'd bought a blueberry muffin and a medium coffee at a coffee shop in the mall and rode the elevator up to the eighty-ninth floor and passed through the lobby. Bonnie, the receptionist, waved to him. McCann went to his office and closed the door. He took off his sport coat, folded it over one of the chairs at his mini conference table, sat at his desk, turned on the computer, and looked north out the window at the Empire State Building. The visibility was good; he could see Manhattan, almost the whole island bordered by the rivers.

McCann checked his messages. There were fifty-seven. He went through them as he sipped the coffee and ate the muffin. Two calls from Mel Hoberman, head of account services at the corporate office in San Francisco, asking Jack to phone him ASAP.

There was a knock on the door. Mary, his assistant, came in the office. "Stewart called. Wants to see you upstairs right away. Is something going on?"

"Why do you say that?"

"It was his tone. He sounded angry. He came down yesterday, looking for you, and said he's been trying to reach you for two days."

Stu Raskin, his boss, was a VP. His office was four floors up on ninety-three. Jack knew he was going to be fired, and possibly prosecuted, although he doubted the company would go to that extreme, risking such negative publicity.

At 8:45, he got up from his desk and saw something out of the corner of his eye, an object coming toward the building. At first he thought it was a helicopter — they were common enough — but this was an airplane in restricted airspace. It was several thousand yards to the north and closing fast, Jack waiting for it to pull up, change course, but it didn't. Seconds later he felt the impact as it hit the tower. Jack was thrown to the floor, felt the 110-story building sway, thinking it was going fall over, heard the creaking sound of the steel structure flexing and felt it swing back in the opposite direction. The lights blinked on and off. The ceiling was falling on him. He was hit on the head, knocked down, and buried under a pile of debris.

Cobb looked up, saw something big coming toward the building, looked like an airplane. Jesus, it flew into the World Trade Center tower, high up, followed by a big explosion and a fireball blowing a hole right through the building, and so much smoke he couldn't see the top.

"The fuck's going on?" Ruben said, running back to the car, looking at him, stunned. Like Cobb, he couldn't believe what had just happened.

"Jesus, a plane just crashed into the building," Cobb said. Black smoke poured out of the top of Tower One, drifting over Lower Manhattan and the river, and debris and shit was raining down on the plaza, steel and glass, chunks of concrete. Sirens wailed in the distance. People stopped in the street watching, staring up in disbelief, other people were running out of the building, and way up where the flames were, people were jumping, bodies falling and the ugly sound of them hitting the plaza.

Minutes later, cops and firefighters were everywhere, and more fire engines were roaring into the scene. Firefighters carrying equipment ran across the plaza, going into Tower One. A cop banged on the side of the car, telling Cobb to move out. He started the car, then looked up and saw an airplane coming toward the second tower. Another explosion shook the ground, and a fireball bigger than the first one blew out three sides of the building, black smoke pouring out of the gaping holes.

As Cobb and Ruben drove north on Broadway, emergency vehicles, with lights flashing and the high-pitched whine of sirens, were passing them speeding toward the Trade Center.

Ruben was turned sideways in his seat, looking at him. "You fucking believe this?"

No, Cobb didn't. He pulled over to the curb and they got out, standing next to the car, looking back at the towers engulfed in smoke seven blocks away, the sidewalk crowded with people staring, people in shock, who couldn't believe what they were seeing.

"It's a bomb," a man said.

"It's not a bomb, it's a gas leak," a second man said.

"Holy shit," a third man said.

Cobb smelled smoke and burning plastic and jet fuel. He stood there next to Ruben for over an hour watching the burning towers. Then Cobb heard sounds like sticks breaking, and the south tower went down with a thunderous roar, sending up mountains of dust that drifted toward them. He heard screams and shouts, women putting their hands over their mouths, others shaking their heads.

"The whole building," someone said.

"It just collapsed," someone else said.

He could see people running, trying to escape the cloud of dust that was blowing toward them, swallowing everything in its path.

"We better get outta here," Cobb said.

They got in the car and drove north toward Tribeca, parked and got out again, joining thousands on the sidewalks. Cobb could see the top third of Tower One above the dust cloud, black smoke drifting up against the bright blue sky. Not sure what else to do, they waited almost half an hour until Tower One collapsed, sending up another mountain of dust and debris.

Ruben said, "Think he made it out?"

"I don't know, but if he did, I have a good idea where he's at." Cobb reviewed the timeline. Tower One was hit at 8:46, but didn't collapse till 10:28. That was an hour and forty-two minutes, plenty of time to get out before the building crumbled. He'd heard on the radio that there was no way to enter or leave Manhattan. The Holland Tunnel and all the bridges had been closed, and all commercial flights had been suspended.

They got back in the car. Cobb put it in gear and drove north in heavy traffic to the Village, sirens wailing around them, took a series of turns and pulled up in front of the apartment building.

Ruben squinted at him. "You really think he's in there, uh?"

"He's alive, it's a good possibility, so we check it out. McCann's there, we've got him. He's not, I don't know. You got any ideas, feel free to speak up, express yourself."

"I think is too soon. We have something to eat and come back."

"You're hungry, huh? You can eat food after what you just saw?"

"Yeah, why not?"

Cobb dropped him off at a tapas bar Ruben knew in SoHo. He sat in the car on the street in front of the restaurant, listening to Hank Jr. on the radio:

I got a shotgun, a rifle, and a four-wheel drive And a country boy can survive.

The sidewalks were filled with people like it was the Fourth of July. Even with the windows up, he could smell the smoke and dust from the Trade Center. Either that or he'd inhaled some and it was still in his lungs.

Ruben came out thirty-seven minutes later, got in belching garlic that was almost a relief from the smell of smoke, and closed the door. It had been almost two and a half hours since the first plane crashed into Tower One. Cobb drove back to the Village and found a parking space on Sullivan Street.

Ruben sucked his upper teeth like he had something stuck in them, gave Cobb a blank look, and opened the car door. He followed Ruben into the building, and they went up the stairs to the second floor. Somewhere down the hall, a baby was crying. They stood in front of the girl's apartment, Cobb and Ruben next to each other, Ruben a couple inches shorter even with the heels, but he had a pair of shoulders.

Cobb heard a TV on inside. He knocked on the door, waited, heard footsteps, and the door opened a couple inches and caught on the security chain. He could see her face in the opening, dark hair tucked behind her ears, eyes red and swollen like she'd been crying.

The girl said, "What do you want?"

"Where your boyfriend at, uh?" Ruben said, jumping in.

"You just wake up? You don't know what's going on?"

"Invite us in, we'll talk about it," Cobb said.

"You don't leave, and I mean right now, I'm calling the police."

She tried to close the door, but Ruben blocked it with one of his Puerto Rican fence climbers, got the pointy-toed boot in the opening, then rammed his shoulder into the hardwood and the chain snapped and the door flew open. The girl backed away from them, afraid now as they entered the apartment.

Ruben said, "Where you hiding him?"

"You want to see where Jack is? I'll show you."

They followed her into the living room, the girl pointing at the TV showing a high angle looking down at the mountain of debris, what was left of the Trade Center.

"You want Jack? He's in there."

As soon as she said it, Cobb imagined people being blown up and body parts compressed in the rubble. "Gimme your cell phone."

She took the phone out of her pocket and handed it to him. Cobb checked the call log. There were seven numbers. He checked the deleted calls. Jack's cell number didn't appear in either place.

"He would've called if he could," the girl said. "I know that. And because he didn't, I know what happened." She turned and looked at the TV showing rescue workers circling the rubble, and Cobb left her there with Ruben, moving through the apartment, first going to the bedroom, looking under the bed, checking the bathroom, pulling the shower curtain open, and then checking the closet, looking behind all the clothes on hangers.

The girl came in and said, "You really think he's in here, are you kidding? Get out of here. Get the fuck out of my apartment."

Cobb wouldn't have thought a girl this good-looking could get so mad, using language like that.

He closed the apartment door and they started down the hall. "You believe the mouth on that one?"

"Man, you don't let a niña talk at you like that," Ruben said. "Listen, they gotta show respect. You gotta demand it."

"She thinks her boyfriend's dead; she's blowing off a little steam. What do you care?"

"You don't teach them, they gonna give you trouble."

Cobb wasn't listening; he was thinking about Jack McCann. He liked the situation: guy in trouble, walking away from his problems, Cobb trying to convince himself Jack was alive. It was way more interesting that way, but now they had to find him.


Excerpted from "Unknown Remains"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Peter Leonard.
Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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