Private Investigator Jacob Diamond and San Francisco Detective Sergeant Roxton Johnson are famous for not getting along. Cats and dogs. Oil and water. Liston and Ali. Jake and Rocky.
When an assistant district attorney is murdered in his high-rise apartment building, and Johnson suspects his lieutenant may have something to do with it, he can think of no one else to turn to for help—no one he can trust except Jake Diamond.
If the mismatched duo can avoid stepping on each other’s toes long enough—they may be able to stop circling the runway and land on the villain’s doorstep. Lieutenant Laura Lopez, Detective Ray Boyle, Joey Clams, Vinnie Strings and Darlene Roman are all back in the first new Jake Diamond escapade since Counting to Infinity.
James Bingham stood at the curb in front of the high-rise residence, talking with the taxi driver who had dropped off the occupant of apartment 3501 a few minutes earlier. Bingham was inquiring into the availability of deeply discounted cartons of cigarettes. The cab driver assured Bingham he would hook him up that weekend.
Bingham walked back into the lobby as the cab pulled away.
As James Bingham approached the security desk he heard footsteps approaching from behind. Before Bingham could turn to the sound, his head was clamped between two large hands and with the twist of two powerful wrists Bingham was dead.
The woman opened the door leading from the stairwell to the thirty-fifth floor apartments only wide enough to see the hallway in both directions. Finding the hallway deserted, she pushed the door open just enough to slip through. She moved down the hall to the right and stopped in front of the door marked 3501. She pulled a plain white letter-sized envelope from the pocket of her coat and slipped it under the door. She returned to the stairwell doorway, passed through it and started down the stairs. She looked at her wristwatch—it was twenty-six minutes after midnight. She walked down to the thirty-second floor and took the elevator to the lobby. She glanced out of the elevator door. The security guard station was still unoccupied. She quickly exited, nearly colliding with a man walking a dog in front of the building.
The dog walker, Ethan Lloyd, would later say he saw a woman wearing a long blue coat at nearly half-past twelve, alone, sporting sunglasses. A blue scarf wrapped around her head. Ethan considered the coat unnecessarily heavy for such a mild evening, thought the dark glasses were oddly inappropriate for the time of night, and added that the scarf did a very good job of hiding her face and hair. He watched the woman as she moved away from the building along Third Street. Lloyd lost sight of her heading north toward Market Street.
Ethan Lloyd entered the building wondering, as he had wondered going out less than twenty minutes earlier, why James Bingham, the lobby doorman, was not at his post.
Bingham was actually there, but Ethan Lloyd could not see him. James was on the floor, hidden behind the large desk with a broken neck.
The man who had unceremoniously snapped James Bingham’s neck moved to the door of apartment 3501 and he used a key to enter. Less than three minutes later he was about to open the apartment door to leave when he saw a white envelope slide under the door. He stood perfectly still. He heard footsteps moving away from the door and he heard the stairwell door close. He waited a full fifteen minutes before leaving and, as instructed, used a shoe found in a hall closet to keep the door from shutting completely.
The man left the building through the parking garage and he walked calmly down Third Street to Howard Street. Before reaching the intersection of Third and Hawthorne, just beyond the Thirsty Bear Brewing Company, the passenger door of a parked Cadillac opened to the sidewalk and he was invited by the driver to get in.
“Well?” the driver asked.
“Done deal,” Sal DiMarco answered.
“Did you ditch the key?”
Fuck me, Sal thought—remembering he had forgotten to ditch the key.
He carefully slipped the apartment key from his pocket and dropped it under the seat of the Cadillac while the driver was occupied watching for an opening in the busy street traffic.
“A bit of collateral damage, no worries.”
“Tell me about it,” the driver said as he pulled away from the curb.
The woman in blue continued walking up Third Street to Market Street, crossed Market to O’Farrell Street, went west to Powell Street and circled back down to Market.
The woman disappeared down into the Powell Street BART Station.
At half-past midnight the raucous crowd at Johnny Foley’s Irish Pub and Restaurant was so deafening that Tom Romano, Ira Fennessy and Jake Diamond had to escape. They clawed their way out onto O’Farrell Street heading for the Powell Street BART Station one block away to grab a taxi.
“Did you see that woman?” asked Ira, as they crawled into a cab.
“What woman?” Tom asked.
“Going down into the station. Did you see her, Jake?”
“I can’t see anything, Ira. What about her?”
“She was all in blue.”
“Should have been green, don’t you think.”
“I can’t think,” Diamond said.
“Where to?” asked the cabbie.
“O’Reilly’s Bar, Green Street, North Beach,” Ira answered.
“Jesus, Ira, have a heart,” Jake pleaded. “Let’s end this nightmare.”
“Not until the fat lady sings Danny Boy.”
“God forgive us,” said Diamond. “We should have played pinochle.”
“Anyone in the market for cheap cigarettes?” the taxi driver asked as he pointed the cab toward Broadway.
Benny Carlucci stumbled out of The Chieftain Irish Pub on Third and Howard Streets. Carlucci was asked to leave—not very politely. He found himself out on the street alone. He tried to remember if he had arrived with anyone, but soon gave up trying.
He walked west on Howard Street toward Fourth, passing the Moscone Center on his left and the Metreon to his right. Benny walked down Fourth toward the train station at King Street. He spotted a black Cadillac parked halfway up on the sidewalk between Harrison and Bryant under the Highway 80 overpass.
There was definitely something not right about that car in that place at that time.
Benny was a curious kid. The vehicle stimulated his interest.
Carlucci casually approached the Cadillac, looking up and down Fourth Street as he moved. Other than what appeared to be three teenage boys horsing around a few streets down toward the train station, the area was deserted.
Benny expected to find another drunk, like so many others running and falling all over town—this one most likely passed out cold behind the wheel of the big car. Carlucci peered into the passenger door window. The vehicle was unoccupied and the keys dangled from the ignition. He quickly surveyed the street once again and tried the door. It was unlocked. Carlucci pulled it open and slipped into the driver’s seat. He was thinking a ride home in a Coupe de Ville would beat the hell out of a long drunken trip on the train and then a bus ride from the train station to his place on Cole Street off Fulton. The car started with the first turn of the key. Carlucci turned left onto Bryant Street, turned up Third one block to Harrison, then Harrison onto Ninth Street heading toward Market. Market onto Hayes onto Franklin to Fulton Street and Benny Carlucci was on his way home in style.
The police cruiser, siren blaring, pulled Carlucci over at Masonic Avenue, across from the University of San Francisco, just three short blocks from Benny’s apartment.
The attractive woman who came out of the Civic Center BART station had little resemblance to the woman who had walked down into the Powell Street station twenty minutes earlier. Gone were the dark glasses. Also gone were the heavy blue coat and the blue scarf, replaced by an emerald green two-piece jogging suit and a mane of strawberry blond hair tied back with a green elastic terrycloth band. The .38 caliber Smith and Wesson was now strapped around her ankle.
Once above ground, on Hyde across from the plaza, she jogged in place for a minute before starting up McAllister to the Civic Center Parking Garage. She picked up her car and drove out Geary Boulevard to 25th and then up Lincoln Boulevard to Baker Beach for a solitary run in the sand.
Just before one in the morning, Blake Sanchez stood at a dark street corner in Oakland and watched as one of his least favorite neighbors moved the doormat on his porch and lifted a loose board. Sanchez saw the man place something through the opening and under the porch and then replace the board and the mat before entering the house.
Sanchez took another deep pull off his dope pipe and made a mental note.
What I don’t know would fill a book. What I didn’t know about her could fill a library. It felt as if I was getting closer to her, but it was like looking into a fun-house mirror. She had constructed so many layers of self-deception, she could deflect a jackhammer. I had no idea what she wanted and I convinced myself I didn’t care. It was not an attraction based on the intellectual or the spiritual. It was nothing logical, just biological. The sex wasn’t all that great, come to think of it—and I was thinking about it too often. I thought I was in love with her long after I was sure I didn’t like her. If she had any idea about what she wanted, she kept it a deep dark secret from herself. At first I saw something in her, honesty, selflessness—something she couldn’t see, because it was never really there.
“What do you think?”
“About what?” asked Ira Fennessy.
“I wrote that,” Tom Romano said, sitting between Jake and Ira in the back seat of the taxicab, holding a tattered sheet of paper in his hand.
“Why would you write something like that?” Ira asked.
Jake decided to stay out of it. His head felt the size of the Trans America Pyramid, point and all.
“I don’t know,” Tom said. “For fun I guess.”
The taxi pulled up in front of O’Reilly’s to let them out. The insane crowd was spilling out onto Green Street.
“You have no idea what fun is,” Ira said, “but you are about to find out.”
Jake wanted to protest. He desperately wanted to say something, anything that might rescue them.
But he couldn’t get his tongue to work.
“I liked what you wrote,” said the cab driver as they piled out of the taxi to join the mob.
It was well past midnight, a new day—but it was still St. Patrick’s Day in San Francisco.
Thursday, March 18, 2004.
Trouble is like rain.
It arrives when you least need it.
And when you are least prepared for it.
I opened my eyes and looked up.
The time was projected on the ceiling in large bright green numbers and letters from the clock radio beside the bed—a birthday gift I thought was cute for about two days. It was like an advertisement for unfulfilled wishes. I had hoped it would be much later. I wanted to close my eyes again. Not move. But my bladder was a merciless bully.
I tossed off the bed covers and the cold hit me like an ice cream truck. I discovered I was dressed for going out, or at least dressed the way I had dressed to go out the night before.
I felt infinitely worse than I had when I fell into the bed only three hours earlier, which seemed incredible though not surprising. I tried remembering how I had made it home, but gave up on it quickly. Not a clue.
It had been nearly a year since I had moved back into the house near the Presidio, but I often woke up forgetting where I was. At that particular moment I was having a lot of trouble remembering who I was.
I slipped on my baby blue Crocs and staggered to the bathroom to urinate, intending to be back in the sack in record time. Instead, I finished my business and stumbled down the stairs, found my jacket on the steps halfway down, tried keeping my balance as I put it on and made it out to the front porch for more self-abuse.
I lit a Camel non-filtered cigarette.
It was colder outside than in, but wouldn’t be for long. The porch faced east and once the morning haze burned off it would be drenched in sunlight. The house had been marketed as being cool in summer. The pitch neglected to publicize the frigid in all other seasons feature. On a balmy day in late winter, which this day promised to be, when you entered the house was when you battled the elements.
Both cars were safe in the driveway, which led me to believe I had not driven either one the night before. If I had, one or both would have been twisted knots of tortured rubber, glass, vinyl and steel. Most of the automobiles in the neighborhood were less than two years old and had names that were German or Swedish. My vehicles were a brown 1978 Toyota Corona four-door sedan and a red 1963 Chevy Impala convertible. I loved them both for different reasons and used them accordingly. I was relieved to find them both intact after a stupidly excessive night of green beer and Jameson’s Irish whiskey. I am not a big drinker—but give me a good excuse like St. Patrick’s Day, a pal’s birthday, a Friday or Saturday night, or the joyful sounds of birds singing and I can usually keep up with the Jones’.
I dropped my unfinished cigarette to the ground, to be picked up and discarded at some later time, and returned to the chill inside. I removed the jacket, grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator, and I carefully negotiated the stairway. Up. I washed down a couple of Excedrin to ease my aching body—understanding it was like using a Band-Aid to treat a severed limb.
I struggled free of my party clothes and into sweat pants and shirt. There are many good things to say about down comforters which you forget completely when you are not under one. I covered myself to my chin in an urgent attempt to recall the wonders of goose feathers. I used the remote control to start up a Five For Fighting CD and prayed against all odds that the gentle piano would quiet the drum beating in my head. The projection on the ceiling insisted it was twenty-three minutes after six. I promised myself I would figure out how to disable the slideshow as soon as humanly possible. I closed my eyes and begged for sleep.
My prayers were answered for precisely six minutes.
My eyes popped open. I looked up. The lit numbers on the ceiling screamed six twenty-nine. Judging by the sound that woke me I expected to find myself sitting beside Quasimodo atop the cathedral tower, him pulling the rope with one hand and punching me in the side of my head with the other. Another peel of the deafening bell and another sock in the ear and then another. When it happened the fifth time, I realized at last it was the telephone. I struggled to grab the receiver and hit the talk button. It reduced the buzzing in my head by fifty per cent.
“Since when does my name have five syllables?”
“Give me a break, Darlene. I’m not doing very well.”
“I’ll say. I’ve heard myna birds with better diction.”
“Did you call this early to torture me?”
“I called this early because Joey tried calling you and when he couldn’t reach you he called me.”
“I was outside smoking and must have missed the call.”
“Well, I was having a very pleasant dream featuring Hugh Jackman.”
“What’s so special about Hugh Jackman?”
“You’ll never know until you see the X-Men movies.”
“And what is it with grown women dreaming about movie stars?”
“It’s probably a bit like a World War Two G.I. keeping a photo of Betty Grable in his locker or like the picture of Rachel Weisz you keep in your wallet. Are you going to ask why Joey called, or do you want to continue trying to beat the subject of idol worship to death?”
“Why did Joey call?” I asked.
“Tony Carlucci called Joey so Joey called you.”
“I’m having some difficulty putting the two actions together.”
“The way you’re slurring your words makes me wonder if you could manage to put your two hands together,” Darlene said, without a hint of sarcasm. “Call Joey.”
“Are you going back to sleep?”
“Too late for that, Hugh’s gone. I may as well go for my morning run and get ready to go to the office. Pay some bills, stare at a silent telephone, and calculate the odds that you will show up there before noon. Call Joey.”
The line went dead.
Joey was Joseph Vongoli a.k.a. Joey Russo a.k.a. Joey Clams.
From the day I met him, and for the next five years, he was Joey Russo. Nearly a year ago he took a trip to Chicago to save my neck, and while he was at it he avenged the death of his sister and reinstated the family name.
Joey’s father, Louis Vongoli, a.k.a. Louie Clams, was forced out of the Chicago suburb of Cicero, Illinois by the Giancana family in the thirties. Vongoli relocated to San Francisco with his wife and son and he changed his name to Russo for protection against reprisal. When Joey reclaimed the name Vongoli he went from being known as Joey Russo to being known as Joey Clams, vongoli being the Italian word for clams and clams being easier to pronounce for Anglos.
Tony Carlucci was generally a world of trouble.
I called Joey to find out exactly what sort this time.
He picked up the phone after half a ring.
“Joey, what’s up?”
“Jake, you sound like crap.”
I’d managed three words and he already had me pegged.
“Too much Jameson’s last night.”
“Don’t tell me you went Irish pub hopping.”
“It was Ira Fennessy’s idea.”
“You call that an idea?”
“We got together to play cards with Tom Romano and Ira talked us into checking out Celtic landmarks instead.”
“Sorry to hear it. Tony Carlucci woke me up earlier this morning.”
“Tony needs to speak with you as soon as possible.”
“What did I do this time, leave food on my plate?”
Carlucci ran a restaurant in North Beach where I ate occasionally because his mother was on some kind of mission to fatten me up. Not unlike my own mother’s crusade. If I didn’t clean my plate it caused undue grief. If Tony’s mom was not happy, Tony was not happy.
And when Tony Carlucci was not happy with you, he was a nightmare.
“It’s no joke, Jake. Tony sounded very upset. Don’t ask me what about, he wouldn’t say—but he insisted he had to talk with you right away. He will call at your office at nine and expects you to be there. Be there, Jake.”
“I certainly will be, Joey.”
“Give me a call as soon as Tony’s done with you.”
Interesting choice of words I thought.
I promised Joey I would call immediately after Tony was done with me and then I painfully negotiated my way across the hall toward the shower.
Kenny Gerard was nothing if not punctual.
Kenny was never late for work or, for that matter, early.
His work was that of a doorman slash security guard in a high-rise apartment building at Mission and Third. Kenny worked the day shift, seven in the morning until three in the afternoon, five days a week. His work area was limited to the building lobby, the street-front just outside the building entrance, and occasionally the elevator bank if a tenant needed help with shopping packages. Radios, iPods, portable televisions, chats with friends and book reading were all prohibited while on duty. Fraternizing with the tenants was frowned upon—though there were a good number of young woman residents who Kenny would have loved to do some fraternizing with.
Gerard bounced into the lobby at exactly seven on that Thursday morning. The first thing he noticed was that Jim Bingham was absent from his post.
The large duty desk was an L-shaped affair, fronted by a tall counter which hid the desktop and all but the top of the head of a seated person. Kenny often used the cover of the counter to take in a few pages of a graphic novel or to struggle with the Examiner crossword puzzle.
The days were long and boring.
Kenny sometimes thought he might prefer the three to eleven shift, when there was more activity—tenants coming in from their jobs and going out on the town. Women were friendlier in the evenings than they were rushing away in the morning to their workplaces. But Gerard would rather have the day shift than the graveyard. Kenny pitied James Bingham. The poor bastard was stuck with nothing to do and not much to see from eleven at night until he was replaced at seven. And at seven, Bingham was usually standing right at the doorway itching to get away, waiting on Kenny Gerard like a member of a tag team race.
But not this morning.
And Kenny Gerard continued to wonder where Bingham was until he discovered James hidden behind the security desk.
Bingham didn’t look good.
First at the scene were two San Francisco patrol car officers who were closest when the call came in. Murdoch, a rookie, and Winger, a three-year veteran. The pair were affectionately known at the station as the tall skinny kid and whatshisname.
Kenny Gerard thought they appeared to be very young, and he was correct.
The two officers looked down at the body, which was stuffed under the desk between the counter and the chair. Only Winger had touched the body, and only long enough to check for pulse. James Bingham’s head sat at an angle to his torso that brought Linda Blair to Kenny Gerard’s mind, though he didn’t mention it.
“Do you think he slipped way underneath the desk and snapped his neck?” Murdoch asked.
“I suppose it’s possible,” Winger answered.
“Who do we call now—the forensic guys, the M.E., or homicide?”
“Call it in as a D.O.A., cause of death unknown,” said Winger. “Let them figure out who the hell to send.”
Darlene Roman did her laps around Buena Vista Park alone.
She missed having Tug McGraw running beside her.
Her best friend Rose and Rose’s husband were taking the kids up to Stinson Beach for a four-day weekend and the two little girls pleaded with ‘Aunt’ Darlene to let Tug go along.
Darlene couldn’t say no because the girls were just too cute and the dog loved the beach. Darlene had joined them for dinner the night before and she left Tug there with them when she left for home, so they could get an early start north in the morning. At the dinner table with Rose, Daniel, and the two girls, Darlene wondered how she would like a family of her own.
She often speculated, but never for very long. There was a lot about being free to be herself she was not willing to give up. Sometimes Darlene felt it could be a selfish reluctance. Most of the time she understood she definitely had it in her to love and comfort and be loyal and be compassionate and passionate, but she was far from ready to have anyone be wholly dependent on her and would never let herself be totally dependent on another.
Meantime, she did have her trusty pooch.
And she did have her fun.
Darlene jogged in place for a minute before skipping up the front stairs and entering her small house opposite Buena Vista Park. Norman Hall stood across Roosevelt Way in the park and watched as Darlene Roman closed the front door. Norman had been watching her jog around the park nearly every morning for more than a week. Hall sat down on a park bench and he stared at the house. He lit another cigarette and wondered where the dog was.
Sergeant Johnson was having one of his worst days in recent memory and it was not yet eight in the morning.
Things had actually been going downhill since the previous day. His wife had flown to Philadelphia in the afternoon. She was attending a big bash to celebrate her parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary on Saturday. Johnson politely declined the invitation to join her. He didn’t get along particularly well with his father-in-law. If he had to describe the man in two words they would be pompous ass. The man never missed the opportunity to insult Johnson, never blew a chance to remind his daughter she could have done a lot better choosing a husband. Johnson’s wife, Amy, came from Pennsylvania aristocracy—and marrying a police officer, the son of a San Francisco welder, was something her father and other members of her self-important dynasty could never understand. Even after the old man’s stroke, nearly eighteen months earlier, when for two months he could hardly speak, he managed somehow to articulate his lack of respect for his son-in-law and his disappointment in Amy for bringing someone so common into the family. Rocky could only imagine what they all would think if they had known Johnson in his late teens and early twenties, when he ran with the Polk Street Pirates, a gang that plagued the neighborhood with an extended rash of vandalism and petty burglary. But, then again, to these people, being a cop was not all that different from being a thug.
Johnson had seen plenty of ugly things in his sixteen years on the job and sometimes had difficulty seeing the distinction himself, but he always saw a bad cop as the exception and not the rule and did not abide with anyone who preached police corruption was a given. He never saw himself as a knight in shining armor, but he knew when citizens needed protection or sought justice a good cop was their best bet.
And he was a good cop.
Every time Johnson was forced to deal with Amy’s dad he was given grief and the only thing that kept him from tearing the old goat’s head off after another barrage of unveiled insults was the thought of his own father and the pride in his dad’s eyes when Johnson graduated from the police academy after all of the troubled years when Bert Johnson feared his only son might end up on the wrong side of the jail cell bars.
The only ally he had in his wife’s family was Amy’s mother, who apparently cared enough about her daughter to wish her well. But to have to put up with an arrogant jerk-off like her husband for forty years made Amy’s mother a saint or a masochist or both. Johnson felt sorry for the woman, but not sorry enough to join the festivities in the Quaker State.
Amy, of course, was on his side.
She recognized his dilemma. She was very familiar with her father’s rudeness and understood Johnson’s reluctance to subject himself to verbal abuse. Amy Johnson could not insist her husband accompany her to Philadelphia, nor could she ignore her mother’s pleas that Amy be there.
So Johnson stayed at home alone.
And he tried preparing his own dinner after Amy left but he burnt the crap out of it.
He was cajoled into a drink fest with one of the old gang from his Polk Street days and was sick as a dog and couldn’t sleep, especially without Amy there to scold him and then hold him.
After lying in a very hot bath for more than an hour and drinking more than a gallon of water he finally achieved some semblance of sleep.
And less than two hours later the telephone rudely woke him.
Now, before eight in the morning, the sergeant was crowded behind a desk in the lobby of a high-rise apartment house looking down at a dead doorman.
The lobby was a menagerie by now. Police officers escorting tenants from the elevators out to the street, keeping them away from the security desk and the victim, more officers outside interviewing tenants and trying to keep rubber-necking pedestrians moving along the street, crime scene investigators collecting evidence, ambulance personnel waiting for the body.
Dr. Steven Altman, the Medical Examiner, rose from the corpse to stand beside Johnson.
“How did he break his neck?” Johnson asked.
“Someone broke it for him,” Altman said.
“Where is the lovely Lieutenant Lopez?”
“She has the day off.”
Johnson tried to imagine anything less appealing than attempting to create order out of this chaos.
For an instant, he thought that being in Philadelphia wishing a pretentious old fuck a happy anniversary might be worse. But maybe not.
J. L. ABRAMO was born in the seaside paradise of Brooklyn, New York on Raymond Chandler’s fifty-ninth birthday. A long-time educator, journalist, theatre and film actor and director, he received a BA in Sociology at the City College of New York and an MA in Social Psychology at the University of Cincinnati.
Abramo is the author of the Jake Diamond mystery series including Catching Water in a Net (recipient of the MWA/PWA Award for Best First Private Eye Novel), Clutching at Straws, Counting to Infinity, and the prequel Chasing Charlie Chan—as well as the stand-alone crime thriller, Gravesend.
Abramo is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Private Eye Writers of America and Screen Actors Guild.
The author lives in Denver, Colorado.
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