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SNEAK PEEK!! The First 3 Chapters of: THE ART OF DYING

July 11, 2019

 

 

                        Chapter One

   

     Detective Ray Hanley shielded his eyes from the sun as he exited the Moakley Courthouse and gazed across the channel toward the steely peaks of Boston’s financial district. Today’s testimony had lasted longer than he’d expected, and as he hurried past the rusting steel girders of the old Northern Avenue Bridge, he knew he’d never make his appointment in time.

     His cell phone chirped as he squeezed his broad frame into his unmarked Ford Explorer and fired up the engine. He was expecting his brother, but the display registered his partner, Billy Devlin, instead.

     “You gotta get down here,” Billy said.

     “Can’t. I’m supposed to meet Jacob for a charity golf tournament.”

     “You’ll want to see this.”

     “What is it this time? Prostitute? Junkie? Another dead gangbanger?”

     “It’s Danny the Mule.”

     Ray sucked in his breath. Danny was a foot soldier for the Irish mob who’d vanished more than a month before. “Where’d they find him?”

     “The quarry.”

     “Christ,” he said. “I’m on my way.”

 

                                                             ***

 

     The Granite Rail Quarries hadn’t been used to mine granite since the ’60s. Since then, the sheer cliffs and onyx waters made it a favorite dumping ground for stolen cars, shopping carts and, of course, the occasional body. Teenagers from the city’s South Shore neighborhoods considered it a rite of passage to leap from the treacherous ledges, some of which measured over a hundred feet high. Eventually, local politicians wised up and converted the area into a park, filling in the deepest quarries with dirt excavated from the Big Dig. But some of the smaller quarries still contained water.

     Ray headed to the first of the water-filled quarries and found Billy standing shoulder to shoulder with a pair of state troopers on a rocky ledge scrawled with graffiti. An Underwater Recovery Team truck idled on a gravel path nearby, the winch on the flatbed whirring as it wound the cable back up.

     Billy turned at the sound of Ray’s approach, folding his arms across his rumpled sports jacket. He reminded Ray of a 1950s wise guy, both in attitude and in appearance. At forty-five, he was thirteen years Ray’s senior. He seemed out of touch with the new millennium, and the fact he was rocking the graying pompadour of an aging doo-wop singer didn’t help.

     “Glad you could carve some time out of your busy schedule,” Billy said.

     “This better be good.”

     Billy exchanged a glance with Ty Garrison, one of the state troopers they’d come to know very well over the years. Garrison was in his early thirties and resembled a mocha-skinned Mr. Clean with his shiny bald head and a muscular frame that always seemed on the verge of tearing his uniform.

     Garrison snickered—a funny sound coming from that giant’s body. “Wait till you see this.” He stepped aside to give Ray a look at the bloated corpse strapped to an inflatable rescue stretcher.

     In his eleven years on the force, Ray had seen his share of bodies fished out of the water. They all had the same waxen pallor, their skin and nails tinged with blue. But he’d never seen a body come out looking quite like this.

     The last time Ray had seen Danny the Mule was five years ago on the Southie docks. As part of the city’s Organized Crime Task Force, Ray had taken part in a sting operation that netted a hundred pounds of heroin off a container ship originating from Hong Kong. They caught Danny unloading a container full of toy pandas stuffed with fifty million dollars’ worth of smack.

     When Danny saw the cops closing in, he retreated into a maze of brightly colored shipping containers, a cuddly panda flopping under each arm. Trooper Garrison was at Ray’s side and he doubled over in hysterics at the sight of Danny waddling away like a petulant child. Ray resisted the giggles bubbling up in his own chest and chased after Danny, ultimately taking him down with a shot from his Taser. Danny wound up serving three years of a seven-year sentence but had disappeared without a trace just over a month ago. 

     Ray stared down at Danny’s corpse and shuddered. “What in the hell is that?”

     Except for a ragged purple scar, Danny’s pelvic area was as bare as a Ken doll. Oddly, the missing organ had migrated to his face, grafted dead center over the space his nose had once occupied… and hanging just a bit to the left.

     Billy shook his head. “Reason number twenty-three why you don’t cross Sal Giabatti.”

     “What’s that on his ear?” Ray asked. “It looks like stitches. Why would he have stitches on his ear without an obvious wound?”

     Billy shrugged. “I think the better question is why is there a dick on his face?”

     Garrison chuckled as the medical examiner’s van rolled up beside them. “You don’t see that every day.”

     “No,” Ray said, “you don’t. But I think the new look suits him.”

     “Sort of reminds me of an aardvark,” Garrison said.

     Ray folded his arms. “I feel like we need a new nickname. You got anything?” he asked, turning to the rookie trooper standing beside Garrison.  

     The young trooper, whose name he could never remember, shook his head, lacking either imagination or the confidence to offer a response.

     “How about Danny the Tool?” Billy asked.

     A curt clearing of the throat drew Ray’s attention and he looked up to see Tina Bolton from the medical examiner’s office approaching to collect the body. Equal parts brilliant and beautiful, Tina had a no-nonsense reputation.

     “I’m sorry,” she said. “Am I interrupting your frat party?”

     Ray grinned at the other officers. “Make way for the fun police.”

     Tina pushed past him. Her curly brown hair tickled his cheek as she strode by with her forensic tech, Luis, who was biting back laughter. 

     “What’s with her?” the younger trooper asked.

     Garrison smirked. “Ray used to date her.”

     “That was nine years ago,” Ray said. “And I’d hardly call it dating.”

     “Oh yeah?” Billy said, arching a bushy eyebrow. “What would you call it?”

     Ray ignored the remark and turned to watch Tina conduct her field exam, which included the customary poking and prodding that went along with testing the degree of rigor and liver mortis, as well as getting a core temperature read from Danny’s liver. When she was finished, Luis zipped Danny into a body bag, slid him onto an ambulance gurney, and loaded him into the van.

     Ray approached Tina as she walked toward the passenger side of the van.

Tina stripped off her latex gloves and wheeled on him. “Don’t ever belittle me like that again, Ray. Do you understand? This job’s hard enough without you cutting me down in front of your buddies.”

     “What the hell are you talking about? You’re the one who started it with your frat boy comment. And I know it may seem callous, but humor’s the only thing that keeps us sane with this job. You should try it sometime.”

     “Is that supposed to be an apology, Ray? Because it sounded an awful lot like an insult to me.”

     “Are you still fishing for an apology? Is that what this is about?”

     “Don’t flatter yourself, Ray. You threw away your chance a long time ago.” But the intensity in her hazel eyes hinted at a deeper truth. “Why’d you come over here, anyway? Just to piss me off?”

     Ray motioned to Billy and Garrison. “They think this is a Giabatti versus Flaherty dispute. Just your classic territorial battle between crime families. But something about this seems off. Whoever did this wanted Danny to suffer. They wanted to hurt him, to emasculate him, so I get why they cut off his junk. But why go through the trouble of grafting it onto his face? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s too elaborate for a crime family dispute. It feels more personal, like someone was trying to shame him. You know what I mean?”

     “It’s certainly not your typical gangster-style execution.”  

     “Let me know if you find anything else unusual during the autopsy. I have a feeling we might only be seeing the tip of the iceberg.”    

      “Oh, I definitely saw the tip of something,” Tina said, and winked at him before climbing into the van.

     Ray shook his head at her sudden change in mood and watched the van pull away, the cloud of dust spiraling up from its tires hanging in the air like an unformed question.

 

 

 

 

                          Chapter Two

 

     Ray strode across the fairway and tried to shake the image of Danny the Mule’s freakish corpse from his mind. He spotted his brother teeing off beside a dense stand of pine and yelled into his backswing. “That’s a terrible shot, Jacob. You realize the fairway’s that way, don’t you?”

     Jacob lowered his club as Ray crossed over the cart path. People were always saying he and Jacob looked alike. Same liquid brown eyes, same pale skin, same smattering of freckles around the bridge of the nose. If it wasn’t for Ray’s three-inch height advantage and his broader frame, they could’ve passed as twins.

     “I’m very familiar with the course,” Jacob said. “Seeing as I’ve been here for an hour already.”

     “So how come you don’t know where the fairway is?”

Jacob turned to the other two partners from his CPA firm. “Wes, Gary, you remember my obnoxious brother, Ray, don’t you?”

     “He’s hard to forget,” Wes said, raking his hand through a crop of salt-and-pepper hair.

     Ray nodded a greeting. “Looks like I got here in nick of time.”

     “How so?” Gary asked.

     “Three accountants on a golf course? Another minute and you would’ve bored yourselves to death.”

     Jacob grabbed a Heineken from the cooler on his golf cart and tossed it to Ray. “Are you going to play nice in the sandbox today?”

     “I play to win, little brother. You should know that by now.” He watched Gary and Wes climb into their cart and speed off down the fairway. “We playing best ball?”

Jacob slid behind the wheel of their cart. “Yes, and I don’t want to hear any complaints about my driving.”

     “Alright, but you’ll never improve without the proper coaching.”

     They finished the hole with a birdie but had to wait for an older foursome to tee off ahead of them before moving on. Ray could see them shuffling around the tee box, all white hair, plaid pants, and labored movements. He leaned against the golf cart and rolled his eyes at Jacob. “I got a feeling we’re gonna be here awhile.”

     “Whatever gave you that idea?” Jacob asked.

     “Oh, I don’t know, maybe because that one guy is wheeling around an oxygen tank.”

     Jacob took a swig of Heineken and glanced at his colleagues, who were taking practice swings in the distance. “How’d it go at court today?”

     “A whole lot of grandstanding, not a lot of evidence.”

    “What do you mean?”

     “The DA’s running for governor and I get the feeling he wants to use this case to make a name for himself.”

     “What was it, a murder trial?”

     Ray shook his head. “Grand jury hearing. You’ve probably seen it on the news.”

     “It’s not the Coleman case, is it?”

     “That’s the one.”

     The news outlets were salivating over the story. It had all the trappings of a made-for-TV-movie: a thirty-year-old man wakes up covered in his wife’s blood. She’s missing but he claims he was asleep the whole time. So far, there’s no body, no murder weapon, and no witnesses, but the DA wants to charge him with first degree murder.

     Jacob adjusted his glasses. “You think the DA’s jumping the gun?”

     Ray finished his beer and tossed the empty into the back of the cart. “I don’t think they can get a conviction with the evidence they have so far, so yeah, I think he’s jumping the gun. Right now, we’ve got Coleman locked up for possessing a firearm without a permit. Unless they charge him with another crime, he’s set for release in a few days. And that won’t look good for the DA, the mayor, or the chief.”

     “But if they charge him now,” Jacob said, “they could deny bail and hold him until the trial, which could drag on past election day.”

     “Exactly. And at that point what do they care about the outcome of the trial?”

     “But how can they charge him with murder without a body?”

     “The doctor who testified said there was enough blood to conclude Coleman’s wife probably died from her wounds. Also, they found blood in the trunk of Coleman’s car, which is strange considering the car needed a new starter and wouldn’t even turn over. A tow truck showed up while we were out there investigating. Turns out Coleman had called the dealer the day before to arrange a tow.”

     “So why would he put a dead body in a car he knew wouldn’t start?”

     “That’s a good question, little brother. The way I figure it, he either forgot the car wouldn’t start or someone really is trying to frame him.”

     “We’re up,” Wes called, motioning to them from the tee box.

Jacob exchanged a glance with Ray as they selected their clubs. “Do you think he did it?”

     “Let’s just say I’ve got a lot of unanswered questions. And I don’t think the DA liked my testimony.”

     “Why not?”

     “Because I think there’s more to this case than meets the eye, and I said so in court. You’ve got to remember, these grand jury hearings are conducted in secret, without the defense present, so a lot of times they end up returning a rubber stamp indictment.”

     “But you got in the way of that, which I’m guessing pissed off the DA.”

     “You got that right,” Ray said, clapping Jacob on the back. “Now hike up that skirt of yours and hit a decent shot for once.”

 

 

 

                        Chapter Three

 

 

 

     Ray navigated the Explorer through the cobblestone streets of Boston’s North End, where the narrow thoroughfares and maze-like alleys dated back to 1630 and seemed better suited to horse-drawn carriages than SUVs. For the past century, the neighborhood had served as Boston’s little Italy, and the brick row homes crowding the streets housed the largest concentration of restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and groceries of anywhere in the city. Measuring less than a half square mile, it was home to over ten thousand residents and more than one hundred restaurants, which put the odds of finding a parking spot on par with winning the lottery.

     After circling the block more times than he could count, Ray wedged the Explorer into a resident permit space on Hanover Street, then hoofed it several blocks to the restaurant owned by the neighborhood’s most notorious son, Sal Giabatti. The restaurant’s darkly tinted windows showcased a sputtering neon CLOSED sign to discourage unwanted guests, and as Ray opened the door and stepped inside, a row of thugs swiveled their heads in his direction.

     Two men at a back booth rose to their feet, their hands dropping to their hips, and Ray found himself staring into the coal-black eyes of a pair of Glocks. He raised his hands slowly and unfurled a dollar bill between his fingers. “Any of you boys got change for the meter?”

     The bigger of the two mobsters—a roided-out twenty-something with a fake-and-bake tan and more veins than brain cells—muscled up to Ray and pressed the Glock’s muzzle against his forehead. “You just made a big mistake coming in here.”

     Ray lifted an eyebrow. “How about I buy a cannoli and you validate my parking?”

A few of the made men in the back of the room started snickering, and Mikey Quick Trigger Maroni slapped a hand against the table, sending a splash of cappuccino onto the crisp, white tablecloth. Across from him, Jimmy the Weasel howled with laughter, his facing turning a shade darker than Giabatti’s house marinara.

     The door to the kitchen swung open and Sal Giabatti sauntered into the room. For a diminutive man in his early seventies, Sal possessed a surprising amount of style. He wore retro-cool glasses and an expensive suit, his white hair meticulously arranged into a perfect state of disarray. At first glance, he could’ve passed as an elder movie star or someone’s ultracool grandad, but one look at the intensity in his dark eyes and you knew you were dealing with a dangerous man.

     Sal turned his palms up in a gesture of disbelief. “No wonder we never get any customers.” He signaled to the goon holding Ray at gunpoint. “Ease up, Tony. What the hell’s wrong with you?”

     Tony lowered the gun, confusion clouding his Neanderthal face.

     Ray pocketed the dollar bill and suppressed a grin. “New recruit?”

     Sal shrugged. “He’s a little overeager.”

     “You think?”

     Tony slunk toward the back of the room, his shoulders slouched in defeat.

     Sal winked at Ray. “You’ve got some stone coglioni. Better be careful it don’t get you killed one day.”

     “Is that a threat?” Ray asked. He meant it as a joke, but Sal’s expression turned icy, and Ray imagined it was the same look Sal’s enemies saw right before their skulls opened up to let in some fresh air.

     “Don’t try my patience, Ray. Just consider it sound advice.”

     “We need to talk.”

     “So let’s talk. But how about something to eat? Today’s special is linguine al vongole.”

     “Sounds tempting, but I’ll pass.”

     “You know some cultures consider it a slap in the face to refuse a meal. Is that what you want to do, Ray? Slap me in the face?”

     Ray donned what he hoped was a disarming smile. “I can’t eat a big meal this early in the day, especially not with those extra ingredients Vinny mixes in just for cops.”

     Sal’s lips peeled back into a grin—the predatory smirk of a great white. “Someone had to teach your partner about respect. I see you didn’t bring him.”

     “I figured we could have a chat with just us gentlemen.”

     Sal motioned to an ornate mahogany bar that looked custom-made and insanely expensive. “Have a seat.”

      Ray settled onto a leather barstool and swiveled to face Sal. “What do you know about Danny the Mule?”

     “I hear he went for a little swim.”

     “Is that all?”

     “I understand he got some interesting cosmetic work done.”

     “How’d you know that? It’s not exactly public knowledge.”

     “I hear things.”

     “Your boys have anything to do with that?”

     “I got no beef with Danny.”

     “You mean not since you and Flaherty arrived at your business understanding a few years ago?”

     “That’s right.”

     Jack Flaherty ran the Irish mob in South Boston, and after years of bloody territorial disputes with the Italian mafia, Flaherty and Giabatti agreed to specialize in different businesses. Giabatti concentrated on gambling, loan sharking, and prescription drugs, while Flaherty concentrated on heroin, cocaine, robberies, and sex trafficking.

     It was a win-win for everyone. No one stepped on anyone else’s toes, which meant less violence between organizations and less innocent people killed in the crossfire. The mayor attributed the declining violence to his tough stance on crime and the establishment of an interdepartmental Organized Crime Task Force. What he didn’t want his constituents to know was that he’d brokered the peace deal himself. After all, he’d spent years distancing himself from his estranged brother, the notorious Jack Flaherty, whom he claimed he hadn’t spoken with in twenty years.

     It was a story everyone in Boston knew well—two kids from a broken home growing up in the blue-collar Irish neighborhood of South Boston. There was Tom Flaherty: altar boy, Eagle Scout, war hero, city councilman, and now, mayor. And then there was his older brother, Jack: neighborhood hooligan, high school dropout, alleged rapist, drug dealer, and murderer. Mayor Flaherty wanted nothing to do with his notorious brother, but only a fool believed their paths didn’t sometimes cross.

     Ray studied Giabatti’s face, but his expression was unreadable. The guy must be one hell of a poker player. “You sure Danny didn’t cross some line, break some unwritten rule, do something to disrespect one of your guys?”

     “If something like that happened, I’d know about it. And I don’t know nothing about nothing.”

     Ray decided not to press him on the double negative.

     Giabatti stood up. “We done here?”

     Ray nodded. “Yeah, we’re done.”

 

 

 

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