Read Angel Face Online

Authors: Stephen Solomita

Angel Face

A Selection of Recent Titles by Stephen Solomita
available from Severn House
Stephen Solomita
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
First world edition published 2011
in Great Britain and in the USA by
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
Copyright © 2011 by Stephen Solomita.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Solomita, Stephen
Angel face
1. Prostitutes – New York (State) – New York – Fiction.
2. Gangsters – Crimes against – Fiction. 3. Organized
Crime – New York (State) – New York – Fiction. 4. Suspense fiction.
I. Title
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-142-2 (ePub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8076-5 (cased)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
arter exits the M14A bus at Fourteenth Street and Ninth Avenue, stepping into a light, but steady, May rain. He stops for a moment on the sidewalk to adjust his leather hat's six-inch brim, turning it down at the back to deflect the rainwater on to the sidewalk. Beneath his arm, he carries a small cardboard box wrapped in a plastic shopping bag. He wants to protect the box from the rain, even knowing that its contents, the ashes of his sister, Janie, will soon be consigned to the waters of the Hudson River.
Death is nothing new to Leonard Carter. Carter's been to war in Afghanistan, a Delta Force spook operating far from the main force, and far from any concept as irrelevant as rules of engagement. From Afghanistan, he'd moved to Iraq, working as a mercenary for Coldstream Military Options, a private contractor with a penchant for summary executions. The west coast of Africa followed, where he spilled enough blood to color the waters of the mighty Hudson. Searching for diamonds soaked with that same blood.
Carter walks two blocks to the West Side Highway, his eyes sweeping the ground for enemies, a reflex cultivated in war and never surrendered, though he doesn't think himself pursued. He waits several minutes for the light to change in his favor, watching the cars zoom along, the whine of their tires and the growl of their engines rising and falling as they cross his path. He finds little release from the din when he finally reaches Hudson River Park, a narrow pathway running north and south along the banks of the river. The traffic sounds continue to dominate, as they dominate all of Manhattan, as much a part of the city's character as the trash on the sidewalks.
Carter turns south, toward Wall Street and the financial district. Normally, the bike and pedestrian pathways are crowded, even on a Wednesday afternoon, but today, what with the mist and the rain, he has the park pretty much to himself.
As he walks along a wrought-iron fence separating him from the river, Carter's thinking – and not for the first time – that he's supposed to reflect, to measure out the ways Janie anchored his life, the protections she offered, the justifications. But he can't permit himself to grant death any great importance, death being only a bit less common than birth. Which is not to say that Carter isn't affected by his sister's passing, only that her death was not just expected, it was a blessing as well. And truth be told, Lou Gehrig's disease had taken her life months before a doctor placed a stethoscope against her chest and failed to detect a heartbeat.
Janie had begun the long descent into paralysis six years before that day, the progress of the disease as unrelenting as it was slow. Her feet first, then her hands, then her legs, her arms, her mouth, her lungs, until she was unable even to blink her eyes.
When her heart finally stopped, everyone at the Cabrini Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation – the aides, the nurses, the administrative staff, the doctors, the nuns – used the same word.
Blessing, blessing, blessing, blessing.
Carter had nodded agreement. Stirring controversy wasn't his game. But he couldn't help wondering what the fucker assigned to bestow blessings was doing when Janie originally contracted the disease.
Carter turns a corner to find himself confronted by a series of rose beds fronting a Department of Sanitation garage that extends out into the Hudson. These are shrub roses, rising waist high and growing tight enough to form a hedge. Their intricate petals drift between a soft pink and the red of a baby's blush, the blossoms clustered together at the end of narrow, fragile stems. Taken off-guard, Carter stops to stare. Drops of water on the leaves and the blossoms sparkle despite a mist that blends form and color into a seamless whole. Behind him, the traffic rolls by.
Carter's impressed, but he moves on after a moment, wondering, as he goes, if the roses were planted here to soften the featureless brick façade of the Sanitation garage, this being, after all, a city park. If so, the landscapers weren't entirely successful. The fragrance of the roses and the fertile odor of the Hudson are overlaid by the smell of garbage emanating from a dozen trucks parked in a fenced yard.
The park widens a bit as Carter passes an elaborate wrought-iron gateway set before a concrete pier. Faded letters reveal the pier's original function: CUNARD LINES. Back in the day, between the two World Wars, Cunard's many ocean liners ferried passengers between Europe and New York in luxury. No more. Though cruise ships still dock at piers to the north, the liners disappeared, the luxury too, with the advent of the airplane. Carter equates coach with steerage.
Further on, Carter approaches a freshly mowed lawn. On clear days, when he'd happened to pass by, he'd found sun worshippers, their blankets spread across the lawn, the better to encourage future melanomas. As many of these were young, attractive women, Carter's attention was naturally drawn to them. He'd failed to notice a low granite wall that curved around the back of the lawn, but now he reads the legend inscribed on the polished gray stone in bold white letters:
I can sail without wind, I can row without oars, but I cannot part from my friend without tears.
How long has it been since Carter cried? In fact, Carter can't recall ever crying, though he assumes he must have.
The rain picks up now, spattering on the pathway hard enough to mute the traffic sounds. Carter barely notices. Ahead, Pier 45, the Christopher Street Pier, extends into the Hudson, its far end obscured by the closing weather. This is Carter's destination, and, as before, where there would ordinarily be dozens of strollers, Carter sees only a pair of fishermen packing their gear about halfway down. He walks by them without speaking, to a railing at the very end of the pier.
Carter's been to the Christopher Street Pier many times before. He knows that a skyline of high-rise apartment buildings crowds the waterfront on the Jersey side of the river just a bit to the south. But he can't see them. Nor can he see the Statue of Liberty a mile away in the harbor. Water and rain and mist recede into a blank curtain that might be vertical or horizontal or any combination thereof.
Now that he's made it this far, Carter hesitates. He's remembering the day Janie came to him after the years in foster care. That was back home in Indiana. She'd rescued him, no doubt about it, from a family that treated him as they would a crop on their farm. Carter's presence was intended to produce a return on investment, the less invested, of course, the greater the return.
Carter first reaction to his sister's appearance – he'd been told nothing beforehand – was fear, pure and simple. He'd adjusted to life without, to a paucity of food and clothing, to a world without even the pretense of affection. The Abernathys didn't beat him, as long as he did his chores, and they didn't try to guide his thoughts. Nor did they ask him to attend the Assemblies of God church they visited on Sundays for the service, and on Wednesdays for the prayer meeting. They didn't take the pigs or the chickens, either.
Safety first. The Abernathy's were safe, their demands simple and clear. They protected him and they wanted him, if only for the cash payments sent to them every month by the State of Indiana. When his mother died, when his sister was taken away, after months in a group foster home, the youngest of the young, Carter had wanted refuge. Not love, not kindness, not concern, not even food. Carter's dreams were of safety.
Carter leans out over the railing to look down at a ledge running over the outer pilings supporting the pier. About ten inches wide, the ledge is three feet down and wet with rainwater. But Carter doesn't hesitate. He vaults the rail one-handed and drops into a crouch before sitting down. The soles of his feet are within a foot of the gray waters now, and he can see individual raindrops pock the surface, unleashing small eruptions that hang in the air.
For a time, Carter loses himself in the heaving river, but then the waters suddenly part and a large black bird emerges from the depths, a cormorant. The cormorant throws its head back and swallows the fish caught in its sharp bill, then bobs on the swells for a few seconds, its head turning and tilting. Is the bird looking up, scanning the sky for predators? Or down into the depths, scanning the waters for prey? By way of answer, the cormorant slides beneath the surface, graceful as an eel, and vanishes. Back to work.
Janie had provided refuge, along with love, kindness and concern. She'd saved her brother, though she couldn't make him whole. But at least he knew that children didn't have to be treated like machines, that it wasn't some kind of rule. That has to count for something, although Carter can't say exactly what.
Carter unwraps the cardboard box and shoves the plastic wrapping into the pocket of his microsuede jacket. He opens the cover of a white box and discovers another box, this one black. Inside the black box, a clear plastic bag filled with gray powder is held closed at the end by a simple green twist-tie. Carter finds himself wishing for some more elaborate device, but it's too late. He might have buried Janie in a polished coffin and erected a marble headstone – he has the money – but he couldn't deal with the thought of his sister lying in a grave that nobody visited. Too much guilt. When Janie first contracted Lou Gehrig's disease, he was rampaging through West Africa, killing when he might have consoled. By the time he returned to the United States, Janie was bedridden, her movements limited, the end written plain.
So, now what? Carter has no religious beliefs. Beyond the occasional blasphemous epithet, religion plays no part in his life. Though his sister was religious, though he read to her from the Bible whenever he visited, even after Janie was unable to respond, he can't bring himself to pray, or even to recite the few verses he's memorized.

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