Madman's Thirst, page 1
A Novel By
Lawrence De Maria
Madman’s Thirst, a novel by Lawrence De Maria
Copyright © Lawrence De Maria 2012
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this
book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Published by St. Austin’s Press
To Patti, without whose love, support and faith this book
– and others –
would not have been possible
“If him whom God destroys He maddens first,
Then thy destruction slake thy madman’s thirst.”
-- George Herbert Clarke
The Hechler-Koch roared in the confined space of the shooting booth and its spent 9MM shell casings bounced and pinged on the concrete floor. The 20 total shots had taken less than 30 seconds. Scarne ejected the empty magazine and rammed another one home. He worked the slide and resumed firing. When he finally put the automatic down, the smell of cordite was heavy in the air.
Scarne took off his ear protection and pushed the button that would bring the man-silhouette back to him from its position 50 feet down range. As the target whirred closer, even at a distance he could see that there was little left of the face and the area where the heart would be.
“That’s some shooting, Jake.”
Scarne took the shredded target from its holder and turned around. He hadn’t seen the other man enter the range. Fred somebody, F.B.I., from the Anti-Terrorism Task Force. A few Bureau agents on Police Commissioner Richard Condon’s “not assholes” list got to use the secret N.Y.P.D. range in the basement of an old Borders bookstore on 21st Street and Sixth Avenue in the Flatiron District of Manhattan, rather than trek out to the 54-acre Police Training Facility at Rodman’s Neck in the Bronx.
“I was trying to shoot him in the leg,” Scarne deadpanned.
The Fed smiled and said, “How about a little shoot-off? Twenty bucks?”
“Twenty? You Feds are so cheap, you must be on the take. But sure. How many shots?”
“My Glock holds 15.”
If you need 15, Scarne thought, you will probably also need a coroner.
“My Heckler holds 10. Let’s shoot five and five, head and heart. We’ll only count what’s in the rings. Winning total takes all. And let’s do 75 feet, just to make it interesting.”
“You’re on, pal,” the other man said, and moved into the adjacent booth.
It was early in the morning. They were the only ones at the range. Scarne could hear the man loading his magazine. The two new targets sped out and stopped. It took a second for them to stop fluttering. Scarne put on his ear protection. He knew the other man would, too.
“Can I keep my eyes open when I shoot,” Scarne said loudly.
Fred somebody laughed and said, “I’m ready. How about we go when we slam the magazines in?”
They both said “go” simultaneously. Slides ratcheted and both automatics fired. It was over in seconds. The targets headed back. They pulled them from their respective clips and compared them on the walkway behind the booths.
Four of the Federal officer’s shots were in the head ring, as were four of his heart bullets. The two misses were just millimeters outside their respective rings. At 75 feet it was incredible shooting. He smiled until he looked over at Scarne’s sheet.
“Shit,” he said. Scarne’s groupings were tighter, and all 10 were inside the rings. The five in the heart were almost dead center. “Where the hell did you learn to shoot like that? The goddamn Olympics?’
Scarne had been a crack shot since growing up in Wyoming hunting jackrabbits. Later, in the Marines, he was occasionally picked to fill in on a few inter-service competitive teams. He smiled grimly. Only an expert could put a single bullet through the heart of someone on the pitching deck of a small boat. Easier than a jackrabbit. Only had one bullet, too. Pity it went through the heart of a woman I loved. For a second Alana Loeb’s beautiful face swam out of Scarne’s memory. He quickly pushed it back into its vault.
“Come on,” he said, pocketing the $20, “I’ll buy you breakfast.”
After their meal, during which he promised Fred (whose name he still didn’t get) a rematch, Scarne walked the half mile from the range to his apartment overlooking Washington Square Park. He would have to remember to thank Condon again for use of the range. As far as he knew, he was the only private investigator in the city with the privilege. His relationship with the Police Commissioner had its up and downs – years earlier Condon fired him for holding a City Councilman off a balcony by his ankle – but the man came through when the Ballantrae affair blew up in Scarne’s face and various state and Federal prosecutors started baying. Not only had he kept Scarne out of jail but he’d also thrown some work and favors his way, the shooting range being one of them.
After he showered and dressed, Scarne called his office and told his secretary, Evelyn Warr, he’d again spend the day staking out the Brooklyn Heights brownstone where one of his clients was sure her husband kept a love nest with his “spic whore” girlfriend. Actually, Scarne knew, the girlfriend was Venezuelan and was a pretty nice lady. He could tell from Evelyn’s voice that she disapproved of this kind of work. Too bad. A job was a job. And a nice sordid marital squabble was just what he needed right now. He could do without the kind of cases, like Ballantrae, that almost cost him his life and his sanity. It would take wild horses to drag him into something like that again.
CHAPTER 1 – THE CABLE MEN
The two men in the idling Inter-Boro Cable Company van weren’t cable technicians. That wasn’t surprising; Inter-Boro Cable didn’t exist, at least in any of the five boroughs of New York City. What was surprising was the whiff of conscience cutting through the van’s embedded odors of tobacco, Big Macs and sweat.
“What do you mean?” Lucas Gallo said as he angrily folded up his portable chess set. Banaszak had been acting funny lately. Today the dumb Polack had lost in four moves, suckered by a “Fools Checkmate,” the first thing you learned how to avoid. Gallo was trying to teach him the game and wanted more of a challenge from his partner. He glanced at the school entrance. “It’s a job, like any other.”
Whitey Banaszak started to stub out his cigarette in the console ashtray before noticing that it was overflowing. He rolled down the driver’s side window and looked both ways down the street. They were a few blocks from a precinct house and being cited for littering at this stage would have been ridiculous. He field stripped the butt, closed the window and dropped the filter into the breast pocket of his work shirt. He immediately lit another.
“I don’t like it.”
“Jesus,” Gallo said, coughing. A nonsmoker, he rolled down his own window and waved his arm as the fumes drifted his way. He was rewarded by a refreshing breeze tinged with the smell of salt water and diesel fuel. “We’re not paid to like it. We’re paid to do it. A shit pot. So don’t get mushy. It’s a little late for that, you honkie douchbag.”
He laughed. They busted each other’s racial balls constantly. It was a bonus that the guy’s nickname was Whitey. Banaszak gave as good as he got. (“Gallo? Funny name for a spade. They think you’d pass as a guinea because your name ends in a vowel?”)
“But her old man’s the problem,” Banaszak persisted.
“Can’t touch the guy. Worse than hitting a cop. They said this will do the trick.”
“I wonder why Lacuna isn’t using his own crew.”
“Probably doesn’t trust them to keep their mouths shut.”
“Maybe he couldn’t get anyone to do it. Sick fucker.”
Gallo, tiring of the conversation, changed the subject.
“Speaking of sick, you ain’t looking too perky, my man. I didn’t think you could get any whiter, but you are. Still got that pain?”
And the chills, Gallo reflected, which was why the guy wanted the windows up and the heater on, despite the warmth of the late September sun. But, screw him, I’m keeping my window down, so I don’t get asphyxiated.
“Yeah,” Banaszak said, twisting his torso back and forth, trying to find a position that lessened the ache under his left shoulder blade. “I wonder what it could be.”
“Maybe gall bladder. Usually presents itself on the right side, but it could radiate.”
“Presents itself? Radiate? Who are you, Dr. Kildare?”
“I used to date an E.M.T.,” Gallo said, wondering who the hell Dr. Kildare was. “You know, a first responder.” He thought a moment, and grinned. “She didn’t know she was balling a kind of last responder.”
He liked that. So did Banaszak, who laughed, grimacing with the effort.
“Soon as we’re done, I’m gonna see somebody. This sucks big time.”
“Maybe you should give up the cigs, Whitey. Next time I’m gonna ask for a bonus to work with a smoker. Just my luck I’ll get second-hand cancer from those coffin nails. Don’t you listen to the news?”
“Blow me,” Banaszak said equably.
Despite his two-pack-a-day habit, he prided himself on his physical shape. He’d worked the docks, and Army Ranger training had toughened him even more. Still trim and muscular, he delighted in beating his taller and beefier partner in arm wrestling. Made up for the goddamn chess drubbings. But a recent 10-pound weight loss accentuated the already prominent cheekbones in his face. That and his thinning white-blond hair and large forehead made him look all of his 63 years.
“Come to Memphis,” Gallo said, “I’ll get you a number. Got some first-rate clinics there. But don’t get your dick in a twirl. Probably something simple. You been into any Caribbean snatch? Caught some weird bug from a little momma down in the Dominican a while back. Served me right. She was awful nice, though. Could suck a Hyundai up an elevator shaft. But I about wore out a bottle of Cipro when I got home.”
A sharp blast from a tugboat shepherding a containership just offshore startled both men. They smiled at each other’s edginess.
“That’s a huge mother,” Gallo said. “Look how high those containers are stacked. Wouldn’t want to be on it during a hurricane. She’d roll over faster than my sister. Read somewhere the Japs and Chinks have some can’t fit under the Verrazano. Carry like 14,000 containers.”
“The slopes will run the world soon,” Banaszak said.
“Maybe they should. All we build in this country is sports stadiums. Bread and circuses, my man.”
Banaszak stared at the massive ship.
“Only a matter of time before somebody slips a nuke through in one of those containers.”
“Fuckin’ towel heads,” Gallo murmured.
Traffic was building on both sides of the street as cars began to pull up in front of St. Peter’s High School for Girls, which sat on a hill overlooking the harbor on Staten Island’s north shore a few blocks from the St. George Ferry Terminal. Horns honked to catch the attention of girls more intent on chatting than noticing their parents. It was the beginning of a new school year. The girls had a lot of post-Labor Day catching up to do.
“My folks never picked me up from school,” Banaszak said.
“If you looked anything like you do now, can’t say I blame them. Who’d want to own up to you?”
“The diocese is closing the school, after a hundred years,” Banaszak said. Too few students. Gonna sell the property.”
“Yeah, I saw that.”
When they’d started their job, Banaszak had insisted they buy the local newspaper every day. When Gallo first saw the masthead of the Richmond Register, he’d asked why they needed a Virginia newspaper. Banaszak explained that the borough of Staten Island was formally known as Richmond County. The Register was a paper he delivered in his neighborhood as a kid and it still conveniently ran a weekly roundup devoted to burglaries. It never hurt to know what the cops were up to, and where. There had been a recent spate of home invasions on Todt and Emerson Hills, two of the borough’s priciest neighborhoods. That’s where the police would be more observant. Randall Manor, the community that interested Gallo and Banaszak, hadn’t been mentioned. Both men thought it ironic the Register was proving so useful.
“Closing the school has nothing to do with the students,” Gallo said. He considered himself an expert on real estate and was investing in depressed condos in Memphis, regaling, and boring, Banaszak with his recent coups. “That land has to be worth a fortune with this view.”
“Tough on the kids,” Banaszak said, hoping to forestall another conversation about bankruptcies and short sales. “The church is farming them out to other schools in the borough. Most won’t graduate with their friends.”
“That stinks,” Gallo agreed, recalling his own high school days. “But look on the bright side. She won’t have that problem.”
Banaszak looked at his partner.
“You’re fucked up,” he said.
Gallo laughed and started to say something, then suddenly leaned forward.
“There she is. Let’s make sure she catches the bus.”
The girl walked to the bus stop across from the school and started talking to some other students.
“Some fine looking quiff, my man,” Gallo said. “Couple of chubsters to be sure, but nothin’ I’d send back. Look at the bee bites on that one on the end.”
“Give it a rest, will ya, Lucas. They’re kids for crissakes.”
“Listen to Dr. Phil. Wanna bet some of them nice Catholic girls have condoms in their schoolbags?”
“Please, I’m begging you, just shut up.”
Gallo’s shoulders rocked as he laughed silently. He loved getting the old guy’s goat.
A city bus pulled up and the girls got on. Banaszak put the van in gear and followed it, passing small clusters of students walking home along the shore. A car drove past and honked. The kids waved enthusiastically at classmates they had left moments before. The sight of pretty Catholic girls, books clasped to chests, sashaying in pleated uniform skirts, brought back pleasant memories of his high school years on Staten Island.
Banaszak had attended McKee Technical in St. George, his heart set on the fire department. Civil service. Out in 20 on three-quarters. Drinking with buddies in local taverns. He’d even gotten engaged. Karen Kelly, from Moore Catholic. Pretty little thing. Was sure he loved her, although looking back now he realized her refusal to put out for him probably had something to do with that. Her father was a fire lieutenant with good connections. Said he’d make sure Banaszak would move up in the department, Polack or no, if he could pass the demanding physical test and get through the academy. As if that would have been a problem after heaving 100-pound sacks on the docks.
Then he was drafted into the Army. Karen said she’d wait. Her initial letters were terrific. Gentle, moving, hinting of suppressed passion and delights to come. Then the tone changed. She began to sprinkle in anti-war bullshit. It got more and more strident. By the time Sergeant Banaszak (Silver Star, two Purple Hearts) returned home, she was marching outside the Pentagon, hair down to her ass, and blowing anybody with a beard. He asked for his ring back. She told him she sold it “for the cause.” Cause she needed more grass, he figured. She eventually straightened out, but by then Banaszak had left Staten Island and was using his military skills elsewhere. Last he heard, Karen was married to a principal of a high school in Westfiel
“Now, what?” Gallo said, exasperated.
CHAPTER 2 – OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD
The bus made several stops, disgorging kids along the way. The men carefully watched passengers disembark. There was a remote chance the girl might go to a friend’s house. But she was still on the bus when after a mile it turned left up Lafayette Street, the van a discreet block behind. She got off at Lafayette and Henderson with two friends, as usual. The three kids liked to hit the candy store on the corner for an after-school treat before walking to their respective homes nearby. Banaszak watched them enter the store.
“I wonder if you can still get an egg cream there,” he mused aloud.
“An egg what?”
“Let’s go. You’ll have at least a half hour.”
They headed up Henderson, past St. Peter’s Boys High School on the corner of Clinton, and four blocks later made a left onto a tree-lined street, pulling to the curb in front of a well-kept, two-story colonial in the middle of the block. Houses on both sides of the street had sloping lawns. Some, like this one, were bordered by hedges. The hedges had been neatly trimmed and the well-fertilized grass was mowed to an even half inch. The plants and azalea bushes along the driveway were surrounded by newly turned soil.
“Spics did good work,” Gallo said, adjusting his cap.
Gallo and Banaszak had taken exceptional pains on their surveillance, given their time constraints. Lacuna pushed for a rush job but they had insisted on at least a week to figure out a plan. Their caution had paid off in one respect. The prior day a landscaper’s truck had unloaded a working party of gardeners at the house. The two men had estimated that their own job would take 20 to 30 minutes, tops. But only if they were uninterrupted. They had no desire to tangle with four illegal Ecuadorans, at least one of whom wielded a nasty-looking power hedge clipper.
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