Richard Montanari (5 page)

    Jessica
looked at Nicci, at Dino, back at Stansfield. Dino looked at the table. He
didn't know exactly what was coming, but he knew
something.

    'So,
let me get this straight,' Jessica said, squaring off.

    'Sure.'

    'Is
that 26.5 miles counting each insertion, or all the cocks added up
individually?'

    Stansfield,
all of a sudden, started to redden a bit himself. 'Well, I'm not sure. I don't
think the survey said.'

    Nothing
killed a dirty joke like discussion and analysis. 'Not very scientific, then,
is it?'

    'Well,
it was—'

    'Now,
if we're counting per insertion,' Jessica continued, unbowed, 'that might be just
one hell of a weekend.' She leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms. 'If
we're counting each dick just once . . . let's see.' She looked at Nicci, while
gesturing to Stansfield. 'How many times does four inches go into twenty-six
miles?'

    'Twenty-six-five,'
Nicci added.

    'Right,'
Jessica said. 'Twenty-six-five.'

    Stansfield
was now as red as a Roma tomato. 'Four inches? Uh, I don't think so, darlin'.'

    Jessica
looked behind her, at the woman setting up the next table. 'Hey, Kathy, is there
a ruler in the office?' Kathy was one of the owners of the Hot Potato Cafe.

    'Oh
yeah,' Kathy said with a wink. A Philly girl herself, she had heard the whole
exchange and was probably dying to leap into the fray.

    'All
right, all right,' Stansfield said.

    'Come
on, Dennis,' Jessica said. 'Drop that big hot spud on the table.'

    Suddenly
Stansfield had somewhere else to be. He glanced at his watch, downed his
coffee, mumbled his goodbyes, made his exit.

    Jessica
could ignore the Cro-Magnons of the world on a day like this. A killer was in
custody, they had a pile of evidence against him, no civilian or police officer
had been injured in the arrest, and a gun was off the street. It didn't get any
better than that.

 

    Twenty
minutes later they split up. Jessica walked to her car alone. She knew that she
had to keep up a front with her fellow detectives, a shield of hubris and
bravado. But the cold truth was that she'd had a gun pointed at her. She knew
that everything could have been taken away in the time it took to pull that
trigger.

    She
stepped into a doorway and, making sure she was not observed, closed her eyes,
a tidal wave of fear rushing over her. In her mind she saw her husband Vincent,
her daughter Sophie, her father Peter. Both Peter Giovanni and Vincent Balzano
were cops - her father long retired - and knew the risks, but Jessica
envisioned them both standing over her casket at St. Paul's. In her mind she
heard the bagpipes.

    
Jess,
she thought. Don't go there. If you go there, you might never come back
.

    On
the other hand, after all was said and done, she was tough, wasn't she? She was
PPD. She was her father's daughter.

    Fuck
it all, she was
dangerous.

    By
the time she reached her car her legs were steady. Before she could open the
door she noticed someone across the street. It was David Albrecht. He had the
camera on his shoulder. He was filming her.

    
Here
we go,
Jessica thought. It's going to be a long week.

    She
got in her car, started it. Her cellphone rang. She answered, and learned
something she'd always suspected.

    She
wasn't the only dangerous female in her family.

 

 

    

Chapter 3

    

    
I
hear a truck pull into the driveway. A few moments later, a
knock at the
door. I open it. In front of me stands a man of forty, just beginning to
paunch. He is wearing a red windbreaker, paint-splattered jeans, a pair of
soiled running shoes with frayed laces. In his hand is a clipboard.

    
'Mr.
Marcato?' the man asks.

    
Marcato.
The name makes me smile.

    
'Yes.'
I extend my hand. The man 's skin is rough, calloused, stained. He reeks of
cigarettes and turpentine.

    
Tm
Kenny Beckman,' he says. 'We spoke on the phone.'

    
'Of
course. Please come in.'

    
Except
for a few plastic trash barrels and dusty glass display cases, the space is
empty.

    
''Man,
what's that smell?' Beckman asks.

    
'It's
coming from next door. There used to be a sausage shop there and I think they
left some meat to rot. I intend to speak to them about it.'

    
'You
better. You're not gonna do any business in here if it smells like this.'

    
'I
understand.' I gesture at the room. As you can see, we're going to need quite a
bit of work here.'

    
'You
can say that again.'

    
Beckman
walks around the room, touching the moldering drywall, fingering the dust-caked
sills, shining a flashlight along the baseboards. He produces a measuring tape,
takes a few dimensions, jots them on the clipboard. I watch him carefully,
calculating his speed and agility.

    
A
minute or so later: 'You've got a pretty good sag in the floor joists.' He
bounces a few times, driving home his point. The parched joists creak beneath
his weight. 'The first thing we're going to need to do is shore that up. You
really can't do too much else with the floor out of level.'

    
'Whatever
is necessary to bring this up to code.'

    
Beckman
looks around the room again, perhaps in preparation for his closing. 'Well,
you've got a ways to go, but I think we can handle it.'

    
'Good.
I'd like to get started right away.'

    
'Sounds
like a plan.'

    
'And
by the way, you've come highly recommended.'

    
'Oh
yeah? Who recommended me? If you don't mind me asking.'

    
'I'm
not sure I recall. It was a while ago.'

    
'How
long?'

    
'March
21, 2002.'

    
At
the mention of the date Kenneth Beckman tenses. He takes a step backward,
glances at the door. 'I'm sorry? 2002? Is that what you said?'

    
'Yes.'

    
'March
of 2002?'

    
'Yes.'

    
Another
glance at the door. 'That's not possible.'

    
'And
why is that?'

    
'Well,
for one thing, I wasn't even in business then.'

    
'I
can explain,' I say. 'Let me show you something.' I gesture to the dark hallway
leading to the back room of the first floor. Beckman takes a moment, perhaps sensing
that something is slightly off kilter, like a radio that cannot quite find a
signal. But he clearly needs the work, even if it is for a weird man who speaks
in riddles.

    
We
head down the hallway. When we reach the door I push it open. The smell is a
lot stronger here.

    
'Fuck!'
Beckman exclaims, recoiling. He reaches into his back pocket, takes out a
soiled handkerchief, brings it to his mouth. 'What the hell is that?'

    
The
small square room is spotless. There are two steel tables at the center, both
bolted to the floor. The night-black walls have been expensively soundproofed;
the drop ceiling is made of acoustic tile purchased by mail order from a Swiss
company specializing in outfitting the finest recording studios in the world.
Above the tables is a microphone. The floor is a high- gloss enamel, painted
red in the name of practicality. Beneath the tables is a drain hole.

    
On
one of the tables rests a figure, supine beneath a white plastic sheet pulled
up to the neck.

    
When
Beckman sees the corpse, and recognizes it for what it is, his knees trick.

    
I
turn to the wall, unpin a photograph, a clipping from a newspaper. It is the
only adornment in the room. 'She was pretty,' I say. 'Not beautiful, not in the
Grace Kelly sense, but pretty beneath the coarseness of all this paint.'' I
hold up the picture. 'Don't you think?'

    
In
the pitiless fluorescent light Beckman's face contorts with fear.

    
'Tell
me what happened,' I say. 'Don't you think it's time?'

    
Beckman
retreats, waving a forefinger in the air. 'You're fucking nuts, man. Fucking
psycho. I'm outta here.' He turns and tries the knob on the door. Locked. He
pulls and pushes, pulls and pushes. It is a mounting frenzy, with no success.
'Open the goddamn door!'

    
Instead
of unlocking the door, I step forward, remove the sheet from the figure on the
table. The body underneath has begun to decompose, its eyes now descended into
their sockets, its skin fallen sallow, the color of overripe corn. The form is
still recognizable as human, albeit emaciated and on the precipice of
putrefaction. The hands are gray and shriveled, fingers stiff in supplication.
I do not gag at the sick-sweet smell. In fact, I have begun to anticipate it
with some measure of desire.

    
I
pry back the index finger on the corpse's left hand. There is a small tattoo of
a swan. I look at Kenneth Beckman, and say, in my best broken Italian:

    'Benvenuto
al carnevale!'

    
Welcome
to the carnival.

    
Beckman
staggers against the wall, horrified by the sight, the fresh surge of decay in
the air. He tries to speak, but the words bottleneck in his throat.

    
I
lift the Taser and place it to the side of Beckman's chest. Blue lightning
strikes. The man folds to the floor.

    
For
a moment the room is silent.

    
As
silent as a womb.

 

    
I
take the three killing instruments out of their sheaths, lay them on the table,
next to the salon-quality hair trimmer. I open the hidden cabinet concealed
behind a door that has a touch latch, revealing the recording equipment. The
sight of the matte-black finish on the six components, free of dust and static,
fills me with an almost sexual sensation. The warmth coming off the components
- I always warm everything up at least an hour before a session - coats me in a
thin layer of perspiration. Or maybe that is just anticipation.

    
Beckman
is shackled to the table with tape over his mouth. His head is held in place by
a neurosurgical clamp, a precision device used to fix a patient's head to a
table during stereotactic procedures for the placement of electrodes, an
operation requiring rigid immobilization. A year ago I ordered the apparatus
from a German firm, paying by international money order, receiving the product
through a series of remailers.

    
I
slip on a surgical gown, stand next to the table, open the straight razor. With
the index finger of my left hand I probe the soft skin on the man's forehead.
Beckman howls into his gag, but the sound is muffled.

    
That
is about to change.

    
With
a steady hand I make the first cut across the forehead, just beneath the
hairline, taking my time. I watch the skin bisect slowly, revealing the glossy
pink tissue beneath. The surgical clamp does its job well. The man cannot move
his head at all. With a foot pedal I press Record, then remove the gag.

    
The
man gulps air, pink foam leaking from the corners of his mouth, lie has severed
the tip of his tongue.

    
He
begins to scream.

    
I
monitor the sound levels, make a few adjustments. Beckman continues to shriek,
blood running down both sides of his face now, onto the polished stainless
steel of the table, onto the dry enamel of the floor.

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