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Murder Takes Time Excerpt


Book I in the Friendship & Honor Series

a novel by

Giacomo Giammatteo

jim@giacomogiammatteo.com

 

Chapter 1

Rule Number One―Murder Takes Time

 

Brooklyn, New York—Current Day

He sipped the last of a shitty cup of coffee and stared across the street at Nino Tortella, the guy he was going to kill. Killing was an art, requiring finesse, planning, skill—and above all—patience. Patience had been the most difficult to learn. The killing came naturally. He cursed himself for that. Prayed to God every night for the strength to stop. But so far God hadn’t answered him, and there were still a few more people that needed killing.

The waitress leaned forward to refill his cup, her cleavage a hint that more than coffee was being offered. “You want more?”

He waved a hand—Nino was heading towards his car. “Just the check, please.”

From behind her ear she pulled a yellow pencil, tucked into a tight bun of red hair, then opened the receipt book clipped to the pocket of her apron. Cigarette smoke lingered on her breath, almost hidden by the gum she chewed.

Spearmint, he thought, and smiled. It was his favorite, too.

He waited for her to leave, scanned the table and booth, plucked a few strands of hair from the torn cushion and a fingernail clipping from the windowsill. After putting them into a small plastic bag, he wiped everything with a napkin. The check was $4.28. He pulled a five and a one from his money clip and left them on the table. As he moved to the door he glanced out the window. Nino already left the lot, but it was Thursday, and on Thursdays Nino stopped for pizza.

He parked three blocks from Nino’s house, finding a spot where the snow wasn’t piled high at the curb. After pulling a black wool cap over his forehead, he put leather gloves on, raised the collar on his coat then grabbed his black sports bag. Favoring his left leg, he walked down the street, dropping his eyes if he passed someone. The last thing he wanted was a witness remembering his face.

He counted the joints in the concrete as he walked. Numbers forced him to think logically, kept his mind off what he had to do. He didn’t want to kill Nino. He had to. It seemed as if all of his life he was doing things he didn’t want to do. He shook his head, focused on the numbers again.

When he drew near the house, he cast a quick glance to ensure the neighbors’ cars weren’t there. The door took less than thirty seconds to open. He kept his hat and gloves on, walked into the kitchen, and set his bag on the counter. He removed a pair of tongs and a shot glass, and set them on the coffee table. A glance around the room had him straightening pictures and moving dirty dishes to the sink. A picture of an older woman stared at him from a shelf above an end table. Might be his mother, he thought, and gently set it face down. Back to the kitchen. He opened the top of the black bag and removed two smaller bags. He set one in the fridge and took the other with him.

The contents of the second bag—hair and other items—he spread throughout the living room. The crime scene unit would get a kick out of that. He did one final check, removed a baseball bat from the bag, then sat on the couch behind the door. The bat lay on the cushion beside him. While he stretched his legs and leaned back, he thought about Nino. It would be easy to just shoot him, but that wouldn’t be fair. Renzo suffered for what he did; Nino should too. He remembered Mamma Rosa’s warnings, that the things people did would come back to haunt them. Nino would pay the price now.

A car pulled into the driveway. He sat up straight and gripped the bat.

#

Nino had a smile on his face and a bounce in his step. It was only Thursday and already he’d sold more cars than he needed for the month. Maybe I’ll buy Anna that coat she’s been wanting. Nino’s stomach rumbled, but he had a pepperoni pizza in his hand and a bottle of Chianti tucked into his coat pocket. He opened the door, slipped the keys into his pocket, and kicked the door shut with his foot.

There was a black sports bag on the kitchen table. Wasn’t there before, Nino thought. A shiver ran down his spine. He felt a presence in the house. Before he could turn, something slammed into his back. His right kidney exploded with pain.

“Goddamn.” Nino dropped the pizza, stumbled, and fell to the floor. His right side felt on fire. As his left shoulder collided with the hardwood floor, a bat hit him just above the wrist. The snap of bones sounded just before the surge of pain.

“Fuck.” He rolled to the side and reached for his gun.

The bat swung again.

Nino’s ribs cracked like kindling. Something sharp jabbed deep inside him. His mouth filled with a warm coppery taste. Nino recognized the man who stood above him. “Anything you want,” he said. “Just kill me quick.”

#

The bat struck Nino’s knee, the crunch of bones drowned by his screams. The man stared at Nino. Let him cry. “I got Renzo last month. You hear about that?”

Nino nodded.

He tapped Nino’s pocket with his foot, felt a gun. “If you reach for the gun, I’ll hit you again.”

Another nod.

He knelt next to Nino, took the shot glass from the coffee table. “Open your mouth.”

Nino opened his eyes wide and shook his head.

The man grabbed the tongs, shoved one end into the side of Nino’s mouth, and squeezed the handles, opening the tongs wide. When he had Nino’s mouth pried open enough, he shoved the shot glass in. It was a small shot glass, but to Nino it must have seemed big enough to hold a gallon. Nino tried screaming, but couldn’t. Couldn’t talk either, with the glass in there. Nino’s head bobbed, and he squirmed. Nothing but grunts came out—fear-tinged mumbles coated with blood.

The man stood, glared at Nino. Gripped the bat with both hands. “You shouldn’t have done it.”

A dark stain spread on the front of Nino’s pants. The stench of excrement filled the room. He stared at Nino, raised the bat over his head, and swung. Nino’s lips burst open, splitting apart from both sides. Teeth shattered, some flying out, others embedding into the flesh of his cheeks. The shot glass exploded. Glass dug deep gouges into his tongue, severing the front of it. Shards of glass pierced his lips and tunneled into his throat.

He stared at Nino’s face, the strips of torn flesh covered in blood. He gulped. Almost stopped. But then he thought about what Nino had done, and swung the bat one more time. After that, Nino Tortella lay still.

He returned to the kitchen and took a small box from the bag on the counter then went back to the living room. Inside the box were more hairs, blood, skin, and other evidence. He spread the items over and around the body then made a final trip to the kitchen to clean up. He undressed and placed his clothes into a large plastic bag, tied it, and set it inside the black bag. He took out a change of clothes, including shoes and plastic covers for them. Careful not to step in any blood, he went back to stand over the body.

Nino lay in his own piss, shit, and blood, eyes wide-open, mouth agape.

You should never have done it, Nino.

He blessed himself with the sign of the cross while he repeated the Trinitarian formula. “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.” Then he shot Nino. Once in the head. Once in the heart. An eye for an eye. And then some.

Before stepping out the door, he removed the plastic covers for his shoes, placed them into the bag, then closed and locked the door behind him. The wind had picked up since he arrived, bringing a cold bite with it. He turned his collar up and tucked his head into his chest.

Forgive me, Father, for what I have done.

He walked two more blocks, almost to the car, when an image of Donnie Amato appeared in his head.

And for what I still have to do.

 

 

Chapter 2

A Big Mistake

 

Four of Tony Sannullo’s men waited outside of Cataldi’s restaurant, alert for signs of trouble. A gold Lexus pulled up, and a big man dressed in a Brioni suit stepped out. Paulie “The Suit” Perlano straightened his blue silk tie, ran a comb through a full head of dark hair, then walked up to the guys gathered by the door.

“Hey, Suit,” one of them called.

“Hey, Paulie,” another said.

“Anyone tell Tony yet?”

Four heads shook at once. “You fuckin’ tell him,” one of them said.

Paulie stood on his toes and peeked in the window. Tony “The Brain” Sannullo sat alone at a round table that seated six, his back against the wall. An espresso sat to the right of his crossword puzzle, and he chewed on the end of a ballpoint pen. Despite the advice he’d received all of his life, Tony was a creature of habit. On Friday mornings he took his espresso, along with breakfast, at Cataldi’s.

Paulie shook his head then walked up three steps to go inside. “He’s not gonna like it.”

Anna Cataldi greeted him. “Buongiorno, Paulie. Beautiful day, huh?”

“That depends,” Paulie said, but then he laughed. He had an easy laugh, the kind that came from frequent use. “How you doin’, Anna? How’s that new baby?”

“Good, Paulie. And your kids?”

“Hey, Anna, kids are kids. They’re always good. Pains in the ass, but good.” As they walked toward the back, Paulie asked, “He in a good mood?”

Anna raised her eyebrows and shrugged. “It’s February.”

“Ah, shit.”

“Yeah,” she said, and waved Paulie on.

He headed toward Tony’s table, the rumbling in his gut a combination of hunger and nerves.

Tony scratched in one of the final answers of his crossword as Paulie came to the table. “When are you gonna dress like the rest of us, Paulie? Nobody wears suits anymore.”

Paulie fidgeted with his silverware while he stared at Tony’s crossword. “Still got a few to do, huh?” Nobody liked to interrupt Tony’s crosswords.

“You got a seven-letter word for radiant or dazzlingly bright?”

“Sure, Tony. It’s right on the tip of my tongue.”

“Starts with an ‘f.’”

“Yeah, I got one—fucking—as in fucking brilliant.”

“That’s my buddy, Paulie. I knew I could count on you.” Tony chewed on the end of his pen while the waiter brought another espresso for him and new one for Paulie. “Fulgent. That’s the word I was looking for.”

Paulie fidgeted more. Might as well spit it out. “Okay, Mr. Fulgent, if you can take your nose out of that puzzle for a minute, I got something to tell you.”

“What?”

“Nino Tortella got clipped last night.”

“Shit.” Tony slapped the table. “How?”

“Same as Renzo.”

“You know what this means.”

“Yeah, I know. There’s no way Nino didn’t talk. Might be a couple of guys smart enough not to talk, but not Nino.”

“Anybody seen Donnie Amato?”

Paulie sipped his espresso. “I called. Got no answer.”

“Send a couple of guys to warn him.”

“You know how hardheaded Donnie is. He thinks he can handle himself.”

Tony slugged the last of his espresso. “Fat chance of that.” He tossed two twenties on the table. “I’ve got to call Tito. Catch up with me later.”

Paulie narrowed his eyes. “You didn’t have anything to do with this, did you?”

“You know who’s doing this.”

“We shouldn’t have done it, Tony. It was wrong from the get go.”

“Tell me about it,” Tony said, and headed for the door. Lot more people are gonna die now.

 


Chapter 3

Ties to the Past

 

Detective Lou Mazzetti pulled to the curb and got out of the car, his creased Oxford loafers splashing slush onto frayed pant cuffs. He buttoned his coat, positioned his hat to cover a bald spot, then went up the walk toward the old brick house. The house was still in nice shape—most were in this neighborhood, a community of predominantly Italian and Irish, but with a good mix of Poles and a smattering of Jews. Lou nodded to a patrolman stationed at the door as he climbed the steps. Today he felt as tired as he was old.

“How is it?” Lou asked.

“Neighbors didn’t hear anything, but they didn’t get home till late.” The patrolman shook his head. “Looks the same as the first one.”

Same as the first one. A disturbing thought, but as Lou examined the scene it proved to be true: dead male shot once in the head, once in the heart. And damn near every bone in his body broken. No shell casings, and he felt certain the crime scene unit would find hairs, blood, skin, and DNA from a wide assortment of people. Lou looked at the medical examiner, Kate Burns, a pretty girl with skin as pale and freckled as her Irish name suggested. “Anything?”

Kate shook her head, wrapped up her kit and tucked it into a bag. “I’m sure we got his DNA, but it’s mixed in with the rest.”

“Process it all.”

“I’ll process it, but unless you get something more, it won’t do you a damn bit of good.”

#

Detective Frankie Donovan stepped through the door and wiped slush from his Moreschi shoes using a monogrammed handkerchief. He unbuttoned his cashmere coat, hung it on a rack behind the door, then surveyed the crime scene with the hazel eyes he inherited from his father. Rumor was he got the Irish luck from his father, too, but that’s where the gifts stopped. The dark skin, bold nose, and brown hair came from his Sicilian mother, along with a birthmark on his neck, which his grandfather swore resembled a map of Sicily. It was a dark pigment, almost black, and it sat just below and left of a solid, square jaw that looked as if it might shatter. He’d had it hit enough times to know it wouldn’t.

“I just ran into Kate. She said we got nothing.”

“Hey, Frankie.” Lou walked over and gave him a slap on the back. “They told me you were coming. Anybody fill you in?”

“The lieutenant gave me the basics. He said you’ve had three now.”

Mazzetti nodded. “Three, yeah, but this might be the worst.”

Frankie motioned for Lou to join him in the kitchen. “Lou, listen, I—”

“Donovan, don’t worry. I knew the captain was gonna give the lead to someone. I’m glad it’s you.”

“Thanks, Lou.”

“Let me fill you in. First one was bad, like this. The guy makes them suffer. Kate says they’re dead before he shoots them.”

Frankie listened as Lou went over the details, then he spent time walking around. He checked the body, looked at the mess on the floor, picked a few things off the dresser then headed toward the kitchen. “What’s this?” he asked, looking at an evidence bag on the counter.

“Rat shit.”

“You said there were no clues.”

“I bagged it, didn’t I? But it’s no clue; it’s rat shit.” Mazzetti laughed. “You want more? We got cat hairs in the sink, but he doesn’t have a cat. There’s probably dog shit in the bedroom, or who knows, maybe in the fuckin’ freezer. But no dog. And we got enough DNA to represent half the criminals at Riker’s.” Mazzetti waved his hand in the air, as if to surrender. “It’s the same old shit. That’s why I got no leads after three killings.”

“Guess we got too many clues,” Frankie said, and picked up a brown paper bag at the end of the counter. “What’s in here?”

“Dead rat. Found it in the fridge. How’s that for a psycho? You think this guy ate them?”

Rat shit and a dead rat. “Mazzetti, I want everything you’ve got on these murders. Every scrap of information. Every photo.”

“I just told you. We got nothing.”

“Get it ready for me.”

“You know something?”

Frankie remembered the time Nicky and Tony broke into Billy Flannagan’s house and stuck a rat in his fridge. “Maybe I do.”

“Don’t you think you ought to share?”

Frankie considered his answer carefully. Some things even partners didn’t share. “I’ll think on it.”

“What the hell are you talking about? Is this how you work with a partner? I’d have been better off with Jumbo.”

Frankie opened the door, turning to Lou before leaving. “I think somebody sent me a message. If I’m right, you don’t want to know.”

#

Frankie pulled into a parking space and walked toward his apartment. Alex and Keisha, two of the kids from the building, were sitting on the stoop. He was in a hurry to get upstairs, but he always made time for these two. Alex was ten years old and, like a lot of young street kids, he was nothing but ribs and skin. Keisha was twelve and going through one of those slightly chunky phases that young girls hated. “What are my two favorite brats doing out in this cold?”

Alex didn’t bother to look up. “Not everybody hates cold like you, FD.”

“You know why we’re here,” Keisha said.

Frankie sat next to them, shivering when his ass hit the concrete. He reached over and rubbed Alex’s head. “Your mom got company?”

Alex’s chin rested on his hands. “Yeah.”

“Besides that, how’s it going?”

That drew a smile. “Not bad, FD, how ’bout you? Still catching bad guys?”

“Not so much catching as looking for, but it keeps me busy.” Frankie put as much enthusiasm as he could muster in his voice. “I’ve got to get out of this cold. Why don’t you two come up? I’ll make dinner.”

“I’ve tasted your cooking,” Alex said.

“Guess it’s just me and my girlfriend.”

Keisha straightened her skirt, grabbed hold of Frankie’s hand and walked inside.

Alex followed. “I didn’t say I wasn’t coming. Your cooking’s bad, but it’s better than what I’ve got.”

Frankie kept his smile as they walked up the stairs. What he wanted to do was bust Alex’s mother and haul her ass to jail. He would if he could figure a way to keep Alex out of child services.

When they hit the second floor landing, Keisha’s mother poked her head out the door. “Keisha, time to eat, baby.”

“We’re eating with FD.”

She stepped into the hallway, hands on her hips and a stern look on her cocked head. “Girl, how many times have I got to tell you—Detective Donovan doesn’t need you and Alex keeping him from work. Lord knows we need some people arrested in this city. We could use some arrested right here in this building.” She gave Frankie a raised-eyebrow stare when she said that.

Keisha protested, but her mother put a stop to it. “No arguing.” As she walked back into her apartment she turned. “Bring Alex if you want.”

Alex sniffed the air then looked at Frankie. “FD, I’m taking a pass on your invite. You smell that pot roast? Gonna be way better than what you make.”

“Don’t be surprised if I come down to eat with you guys,” Frankie said, and started up the steps toward his apartment. He was relieved to have the night free, but sad the kids weren’t joining him. Some people had soft spots for dogs or cats. For Frankie, it was kids. He couldn’t refuse a kid in trouble. Maybe because of his own troubled youth, or maybe he just thought he could make a difference.

By the time he reached the top of the stairs, he had his tie off and his shirt unbuttoned, despite the chill of the stairway. He turned the key and pushed open the door, greeted by a vast emptiness. An empty house for an empty person. That’s what Mamma Rosa used to say. He shrugged, as if accepting the inevitable, made his way to the kitchen, opened a bottle of Chianti, then took a shower.

When he came out, clad in shorts and a T-shirt, he poured a glass of wine and sat at his desk. Writing opened his mind and let him think differently. He thought about the day and the crime scene. Rat shit and a dead rat. The rat held special significance. To any other detective it would have been nothing, but to Frankie it said a lot. If someone from the old neighborhood was involved it reduced his suspect list from millions to a handful. At the top of that handful were two people—Tony Sannullo, crew boss for the Martelli crime family; and Niccolo Fusco, otherwise known as “Nicky the Rat.”

He clicked the top of his rollerball pen, took a narrow-lined notebook from the drawer and started. Frankie used computers for almost everything, but he preferred to write the old-fashioned way, with a pen on paper. The pen felt comfortable in his hand. Even the nuns back in grade school told him he’d be a writer someday.

Anyone with penmanship like yours will learn to write. That’s what Sister Mary Thomas told him. Maybe her inspiration kept him going when he wanted to quit. Frankie sipped the wine, put ink to paper and wrote:

‘This story started about thirty years ago, down by Philly. But that’s a long way off and a lot of years past. Even so, my memory is clear on this—how you ask—it’s easy for me. Tony, Nicky, and I were best friends. So how did Frankie Donovan, a Brooklyn Detective, and Tony Sannullo, a mob boss, and Nicky “The Rat” Fusco, come to be best friends?’

Frankie set the pen down and leaned back in his chair. He didn’t feel right telling this story. Maybe that’s why he couldn’t get started. People say that the past holds the key to the future. Frankie didn’t know how much of that was true, but he knew someone from the old neighborhood was involved with these crimes. If he hoped to solve them he’d have to figure out where things went wrong. Frankie put his hands behind his head and kicked his feet up. If this is about the old neighborhood, then it’s really Nicky’s story. Maybe he should tell it.

 Back to Murder Takes Time

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