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DOUBLE DARE

Edward Keyes

mp

To Curtis Kelly,

who dared me on

Reason deceives us often; conscience never.

—JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU.

PART ONE

1

Late afternoons, when there were few customers in the restaurant, Farrell liked to come out of his windowless office in the rear and work on menus or accounts at the table near the bar. Somehow it gave him a warmer sense of belonging to Anthony’s—and Anthony’s to him. The restaurant was something he’d long yearned for, and he’d persuaded himself that, everything considered, he’d earned it. At only twenty-nine, he felt his life was in this place—in more ways than one.

This Monday afternoon, he’d left the office door ajar so he could hear the telephone, and it rang at a few minutes past four. On schedule, if it was the call. Pete, his manager, behind the bar, looked over to the table. “Want me to get it?”

Farrell stood. “I’ll take it,” he said, and walked back to the office.

Alison: “Mr. Green, please?”

She sounded cool. “In about forty-five minutes,” he said.

“All right. Thank you.” Click.

Choosing a key from a full keyring, he unlocked the file drawer of his desk, lifted out a small black satchel and set it on the desktop. With a smaller key he unlatched the bag and examined the contents: the two Christmas-wrapped, quart-sized bottles of Black & White were undisturbed. Snapping the bag shut, he dialed a number on the desk phone. “This is Tony Farrell. Could you get my car ready? I’ll be around in five minutes.”

He put on the black cashmere blazer, adjusting the open-necked soft white shirt over the jacket’s collar, and checked himself in the full-length mirror inside the closet door. One night some babe at the bar had told him with melting eyes that he reminded her of Al Pacino, who absolutely turned her on. Now he idly searched his angular features. With a wry smile, he could only shake his head. “You’re good, kid, real good—but Al Pacino you just ain’t.” Bogart had always been his favorite anyway.

He started out of the office with the briefcase, then turned back to the desk. From deep within the top drawer he took a small revolver in a slim black half-holster with a metal clamp attached. Withdrawing the pistol, he inserted the holster inside the waistband of his gray trousers forward of his left hip, the clamp hooking out over the top; he spun the .32’s loaded cylinder once, then shoved the gun down into the hidden holster. He inspected himself again in the closet mirror, holding his jacket open wide with both hands. The bulge was almost invisible. He rebuttoned the jacket.

Farrell switched off the lights and locked the office door behind him. Several early customers were in the restaurant now, a few at tables, a couple at the bar. He beckoned to Pete. “I’m going out for a while. Be back in an hour or two. If anything comes up, call the apartment. Liz should be there if I’m not.”

The manager nodded, and Farrell walked through the restaurant, acknowledging the frank attention of an attractive young woman over the head of her escort at a table by the window. Who needs Al Pacino? He stepped out onto First Avenue. It was a clear, crisp late autumn day, and he was invigorated. Around the corner on 69th Street, his tan Audi Fox was waiting just inside the garage entrance. With a wave at the attendant in the glassed-in office, Farrell tossed the briefcase onto the passenger seat and eased behind the wheel. He made sure both doors were locked before pulling out.

Driving west on 69th, he turned downtown on Fifth Avenue. As usual at this time of day, traffic was heavier on the southbound avenue, a ponderous mass of vehicles, most of them cabs and buses, inching ahead. For once he didn’t chafe. Farrell felt good. It was the charged feeling of Manhattan surging: the thronged, harried traffic, the sidewalks’ urgent flow, the insistent blare of sound and sight; and the smells, the musky fragrance of foliage moldering in the park, of roasting chestnuts and hot giant pretzels—it was what they wrote the song about, the New York magic, the way it should be.

That was one thing that made Tony Farrell feel well off today. The other was that he was on his way to becoming another fifty thousand dollars richer.

He made a left off Fifth at East 54th Street and halfway to Madison Avenue turned into a large open parking lot. Taking the briefcase, he walked back out onto 54th; continuing east, across Madison, he made his way against a growing tide of people.

The dour uniformed doorman threw him a tentative glance as Farrell ducked jauntily in toward the recessed canopied entrance of the Elysée Hotel between Madison and Park. He strode across the small lobby past the front desk and reception area, the stair and lone elevator to his left, the Monkey Bar with its tinkling piano on the right, direct to the glass doors of the restaurant opposite, La Veranda. Pausing at the doorway, he scanned the room, his eyes not yet adjusted to the subdued lighting. Alison was alone at the table on the left nearest him. His gaze rested casually on her a moment—young and attractive, well-groomed, ash-blond hair, good legs, a gaily colored shopping bag at her feet. She glanced at him without expression, then, looking away, lifted a stemmed glass to her lips.

Good. Still no problems. Farrell turned to the coatroom just to his right. It was open but unoccupied, as he expected; the attendant did not come on until five, when evening action would begin to pick up—which was why he’d chosen this time, to avoid any hassle over claim checks. He swung open the shelved half-door and set his briefcase on the floor against the back wall. Then he strolled into La Veranda, paying no further attention to the young woman as he passed her table.

He eased himself onto a padded stool at one end of the three-sided bar, from which he had an unobstructed view through the doorway out to the street entrance.

“So what’s new, Tony? Still checking the competition?” The dark, impish Celtic-handsome face of the barman twinkled at him.

“No contest, Dan,” Farrell smiled. “It’s a bright new world uptown—not like this dungeon. Like I keep telling you, you ought to come up with me and give us a try.”

“Like I keep telling you, make me an offer I can’t refuse.” Dan slid a napkin in front of Farrell. “The same?”

Farrell nodded and, lighting a Marlboro, watched as the barman deftly put together a tall Campari and tonic and set it before him. In the public relations job he’d had before, Farrell had frequented many a bar, from 21 up and down the board, and in time had settled on La Veranda as his more-or-less “regular” hangout. Not particularly for its charm, but for Dan. Farrell rated Dan Mulcahy the best all-around barman he’d come upon, unfailingly attuned to the variable humors of the “clients,” as he called his regulars.

“The joint still swinging?” asked Dan.

“Better all the time,” replied Farrell, rapping the bartop with his knuckles.

“Your uncle talking to you yet?” Dan asked with a knowing smile. Farrell had confided in him about many things on those darkest nights.

“Michael. Well, he’s hard to convince. But he’ll come around.”

Dan moved off to attend a new customer across the bar, and Farrell contemplated Michael Palmieri. He hadn’t seen much of his uncle lately and had gotten too caught up in other things to give him much thought. Michael, really a father to him since childhood, who had reared him in security and in a like image of sure, practical toughness … and who had so vehemently opposed the restaurant venture. That Farrell could have elected to chuck a blossoming P.R. career (which Michael had used his own influence to get him into!), to plunge into a go-for-broke business that had eight chances out of ten of winding up in bankruptcy had been inconceivable to Michael. And unforgivable. He had stalked away from his nephew, vowing not to lift a finger to bail him out when, inevitably, the foolhardy enterprise went down the tube. But Anthony’s had survived the predicted worst, and it had been coming on big for nearly a year. And while Michael had yet to allow that Anthony’s might be the exception that proved the rule, Farrell didn’t doubt that, sooner or later, his uncle would swallow his stubborn pride and concede. He would have to take into account Farrell’s lately conspicuous trappings of success—the custom threads, the imported roadster, the elegant East Side duplex, the bulging bankroll—and read as the bottom line that his nephew’s own stubborn faith in his dream had been vindicated after all.

Which was as much as Farrell hoped he’d ever make of it. If Michael ever suspected any of the rest of it, he would positively go apeshit.…

Farrell brought himself back to the business at hand. There were only two other executive types at the bar. He swiveled to re-survey the body of the room. The cocktail area was still barely a quarter full. The dining section, separated by a baroque flowered screen, was freshly set and empty except for its claque of uniformed waiters hovering about expectantly. Okay. Deliberately he reached for his glass and took a long first swallow of the Campari.

Over the rim of the glass, Farrell watched the young woman at the table near the entrance gather her belongings and rise to go. He eyed the retreating figure appreciatively. Alison Fournier was sharp, picked right up on her cues and moved out. And he did enjoy the way she moved. On the surface, she didn’t seem his type—more the Bloomingdale’s Junior League set—but he thought he’d detected, beneath that casually decorous facade, powerful animal signals. Maybe sometime.… Alison disappeared into the checkroom. A moment later she emerged, paused before the glass doors to heft her shopping bag from one hand to the other, then continued out of his sight, toward the hotel elevator.

Farrell kept his eyes on the hotel lobby. No unusual activity in her wake; no sweat. He hadn’t really expected any. He downed his drink in one long draught, extracted a five-dollar bill from his money clip and tossed it on the bar. Catching Dan’s eye, he called: “Later.”

“Have a good night, Tony.” The barman nodded, winking.

Outside the hotel, the street lights were coming on. Farrell breathed deep, savoring the snap in the air, and glanced both ways on 54th. No one appeared to be loitering about. He strolled across the street and paused to browse the window of a chic wine and spirits shop; then, edging away from the bright storefront, he folded himself into shadows alongside an old brownstone directly opposite the Elysée. He checked his wristwatch: Alison and Gerard should be out in about ten minutes.

Farrell felt at ease on this street, almost as though it were his home ground. For years, while he was in P.R., East 54th had been a regular byway of his in midtown—a conduit to the corporate and media worlds he used to ply, as well as the location of several of his favored pit stops.

As for what was taking place on the eighth floor of the Elysée, he was expectant, but not anxious. The way he’d set it up, it figured to be a piece of cake. Still, when you were juggling a kilo of cocaine and seventy-five thousand dollars in cash you couldn’t take anything for granted—not even with the caliber of the people involved in this deal. So he was here standing shotgun, watchful for any unanticipated fuckups when the girl and her escort would emerge from the hotel with that briefcase full of goodies for him. It was his way, seeing that all bases were covered—and it had paid off for him this past year.

He’d had good vibes about this deal from the minute Alison Fournier had brought it to him. She’d buttonholed him one night at Anthony’s and told him of this very respectable dude who was in the market for a quantity of white lightning and willing to pay premium for discreet service. Farrell had learned that it could be reckless dealing with amateurs, but Alison he trusted. She was a regular patron, and he’d judged her a cool, standup kid. She also had a pedigree that he’d checked out: foaled out of the Old Westbury thoroughbred set, the only daughter of a prominent corporation counsel who was being talked up lately for a top cabinet spot with the new Albany administration—the kind of connection that, if someone could get a small lock on it, just might be useful one day.

What had really tickled Farrell was the identity of Alison’s prospective buyer: a law associate of her father’s in town from Chicago. She didn’t say it in so many words, but Farrell deduced that they’d been balling.

When Farrell asked how much powder the lawyer was shopping for, Alison’s answer almost floored him: a kilo the guy wanted. That was the high-rent neighborhood.

Farrell had handled dope, all kinds, this past year, but not in such quantity. He would get top dollar hustling small amounts here and there, but when it came to big orders of anything he’d always been no more than the service manager for the guys with the connections, like his “mentor,” Cheech Donato.

Then, too, whenever Farrell had been involved in dealing bulk, it was always “trade” business, wholesale, where the net markup would be maybe 300 percent at best. But here, thought Farrell with a surge of anticipation, he alone stood to realize a minimum return of 500 percent—and, if everything broke right, up to 1,000 percent!

What had him pumped up about this opportunity, as much as the richness of the score itself, was its incipient promise of independence. It was the first time he’d been in the position to make such a deal on his own. Cheech Donato had given his okay. He could hardly have done otherwise at this point: Farrell had made himself increasingly valuable to Cheech’s assorted enterprises. In fact, Farrell had come to the view lately that Cheech might now need him as much as the other way around. That was the impression he’d gotten when he was brought up front in Cheech’s blue-chip setup with the Giant as “my partner”—like a bright new account executive being showcased to reassure the prized client. The Giant had approved. Farrell could only take that to mean he’d achieved parity.

Some year! He’d had no idea, before, how much money there was floating around, accessible to any with the urge and the daring. I’ve been poor, and I’ve been rich … and rich is better. Well, he wasn’t rich yet; but he’d had a taste of it, and he wanted it all. In just this brief period, he’d come from bankruptcy to relative affluence—without breaking a sweat.

So this coke deal represented to Farrell his debut into the big leagues. His planning had been deliberate and precise. He’d arranged to get the coke from Donato’s most reliable Florida connection, Harry Loman, with whom Farrell had dealt often enough as agent for Cheech to have established a mutually trustful relationship. The goods were shipped north in a van loaded with produce and deposited with a packing company in Brooklyn, a mostly legitimate spinoff of the Giant’s, which they’d used before. From there it was delivered across the river to the storage basement of Anthony’s as part of a shipment of dry ice. Farrell separated it personally and locked it in an antique cast-iron safe to which he alone had the combination. Only then did he get in touch with Alison Fournier and instruct her to contact her friend in Chicago and set up the timetable.

The small, nestled-in Elysée was perfect for the exchange. Farrell knew that a lot of guys, when setting up meets like this, went for the mammoth, bustling convention-type hotels, with their mazes of wings and miles of corridors and forty-nine different exits—where, in case of a sudden jam-up, people could get quickly lost. He’d picked the Elysée for precisely the opposite reasons: for its compactness and limited accessibility or egress. There were just three ways in or out of the hotel, all facing on 54th Street, squarely opposite his vantage point: the main entrance; five steps to the right, the glass doors of the Monkey Bar; and another fifteen feet or so to the right, in a shallow areaway, a metal-sheeted service door. The Elysée, in the middle of the block, was a self-contained unit not connected from the inside with the buildings on either side or to its rear. For Farrell’s purposes, it was a box canyon and he stood at the pass. He wanted to be sure that no one concerned with this transaction could get lost.

The room on the eighth floor had been reserved in advance for the man from Chicago. He was to have come in on an early plane and stayed put in the hotel until he heard from Alison. Farrell took the precaution of having the hotel staked out all day by a young fellow named Gerard who did odd jobs for him and Cheech, to confirm that the buyer arrived alone and stayed alone. When Gerard was satisfied, he was to signal Alison, who would take it from there. Her first task was to go up to the lawyer’s room—escorted by Gerard; Farrell wanted no indiscreet hanky-panky—with a display sample (a few ounces of powder in a tiny plastic bag tucked inside her compact) and there also to examine the cash, which he had stipulated was to be in denominations no higher than hundred-dollar bills.

Gerard, last name Trantz, was a quiet blond with delicate features and arms like most other men’s legs; a physical-culture freak—and also a fag—who could break human bones with one hand. Gerard also was proficient with a well-oiled, hair-trigger derringer he carried in his handkerchief pocket as well as a four-inch switchblade strapped to a calf. While Farrell didn’t think Alison’s “respectable” friend would pull any kind of switch, nor did he much fear police interference in a privately set-up deal like this, whenever drugs were involved, Farrell knew there was always the risk of word having leaked somewhere along the line and of some wise guys trying to muscle in for a takeoff. Gerard’s presence on the inside was one defense against any such attempt, and Farrell himself, patrolling the outside, was the other.

When everything seemed kosher, Alison would leave the room to pick up the rest of the merchandise, leaving Gerard with the lawyer. What she would do actually was go downstairs to the Elysée’s public phone and dial Farrell at Anthony’s: If she asked for “Mr. Green,” it was an all-clear and he could deliver the goods; if she asked for “Red,” it meant problems, and then it would have been up to Farrell to decide what to do next. With the go-ahead, Farrell had headed downtown with his briefcase, while Alison waited in La Veranda over a drink—keeping a sharp eye on last-minute comings and goings in the hotel lobby.

The night before, Farrell himself had carefully packaged the cocaine. Weighing out half the kilo stored in his basement safe, he’d measured out an equal amount of the cutting agent lactose, a white powder derived from milk, and sifted it with the coke to make a full kilo’s weight. Dividing this again in half, he’d filled and sealed two bags of durable polyethylene. Each half-kilo package then was stuffed into the false bottom of a quart bottle of Black & White scotch (chosen primarily for its dark, almost opaque glass), the top third of which, the tax stamp unbroken, actually contained whiskey. For a finishing touch, he’d encased each bottle in festive holiday wrapping, including sashes of red ribbon, and locked them in his desk.

Now it was nearly time. Any moment, Alison and Gerard should come out of the Elysée, and they would stroll west on 54th, across Madison and into the parking lot. Farrell would meet them at the Audi and they would all pile in and drive out together—just a friendly, energy-conscious car pool. He would slip Gerard two thousand dollars, a generous enough tip for being on call a few hours, and later, in private, give Alison twelve thousand five, roughly 20 percent of his profit after figuring all costs. Which would leave him, give or take a few dollars, a nice round fifty grand.

And that wasn’t all. He still had that other half-key stashed, expandable to a whole kilo or more. Contemplation of it made him lightheaded. With this as a stake, if things kept breaking right, in another year or two he’d be home free. He could retire, for Christ’s sake!—at thirty or thirty-one!—and he and Liz could split somewhere, Europe, South America, the Pacific.

At that moment there was a flurry at the hotel entrance as its doors flew open … out stumbled Alison Fournier … just behind, one hand gripping her arm, a burly man in a plaid sport jacket, propelling her ahead of him—a stranger! Farrell gaped, immobile for a stunned instant: The sonofabitch had the briefcase! Where was Gerard—? What in Christ—?

Hijack! The realization was explosive.

Well, fuck this!

The two had reached the curb as Farrell bolted across 54th toward them, groping as he ran for the bulge at his waistband. The guy, still holding onto Alison, was looking up the street and didn’t see him coming. Yanking out the .32, almost upon them Farrell yelled: “Hold it, you motherfucker—!”

Alison’s features contorted as she saw him. “No!” she screamed.

The man reacted instantly—dropping the briefcase, jerking Alison back and behind him, crouching and plunging his free hand inside his own jacket, all in an almost continuous motion. Farrell charged into him, driving a knee into his midsection where he thought the unseen hand should be, and with a grunt the guy tumbled backward, pulling Alison down with him. Farrell retrieved the briefcase and went for him again to break his hold on Alison. She was crying: “Stop it! Stop it—!”

Farrell heard screeching tires nearby and sudden shouting and pounding footsteps closing behind him. He’d started to swing about when a sharp command stabbed through him: “Freeze or you’re garbage!”

He froze. And knew. Not a takeoff. A bust. And he’d suckered himself right into it. Daydreaming. Shit.

Alison was gawking at him with fearful, wet eyes. He shook his head and tried to smile and mouthed, Take it easy, kid. Then the revolver was being wrested from him and he was being shoved against the brick wall of the hotel and rough hands were pawing him systematically from armpits to ankles.

“You all right, Frank?” someone panted behind Farrell.

“Yeah. But who the fuck is this dude?” Agitated. The one Farrell had knocked over.

“We seen him across the street. All of a sudden he goes for you. Must be their shotgun.”

“Maybe. Or a free-lance. He was after the bag.”

“So where’s everybody? How come just you and her—?”

“They’re coming. We had a small accident upstairs.”

“Anybody hurt?”

“Yeah—sort of. None of us.” The hard voice chuckled. “The one with her?—Mr. Muscles?—he makes a quick move when we bust in—goes for his back pocket like this, see. Before he can blink, Hutch hits him a shot, and right away there’s this little zap … and the sonofabitch jumps three feet off the floor, holding his ass and squealing like an alley cat. Turns out he’s carrying a popgun back there, a derringer. Shot himself clean through his butt! The guys fell down.”

“All right, you”—brawny hand on Farrell’s shoulder, pulling him around—“let’s have your story.”

In spite of himself Farrell was unable to suppress a grin. Gerard—in the ass? Far out!

2

If Brendan Hartnett had left his office that November evening just a few minutes earlier, it probably would have escaped his notice until the next day. And that could well have been too late for any chance of salvaging the operation.

He was about to leave when the preliminary report of the Elysée affair reached his desk. He had a seven o’clock dinner engagement for which he was already late, and this would delay him still longer. He began leafing through the report without enthusiasm: Late that afternoon, between five and five-thirty, a combined federal/city anticrime squad (dubbed JUST, for Joint Undercover Strike Team) had broken up an illegal transaction involving narcotics at a small, elegant hotel on Manhattan’s mid–East Side. Four persons were arrested—three, including a young female, inside the hotel, and one male who attempted to interfere outside. Nothing to get excited about.

Then his eye caught the name of the man picked up outside the hotel. Oh good Christ, no!

After all the months of careful, patient setting-up, to have him blunder into their hands now!

Where in the name of God were Stabler and Thomas?

“It’s me. That you?” said the familiar gruff monotone through the earpiece.

Roy Thomas twitted him, “You couldn’t stand one whole day without me?”

“It was one of my best days since I know you—until just a little while ago,” growled Ed Stabler. “You didn’t hear?”

“Hear what?”

“We’re up shit creek, boy.”

“Okay, lay it on me.”

“It’s him.”

Our him?”

“Got his balls caught in the wringer. Follow?”

Thomas had a terrible sinking feeling. “Play that number again,” he said slowly.

“Crashed a party,” rasped his partner. “Walked in cold, for Chrissake!”

“Oh, shit, man!” Thomas groaned. “Who was it?”

“Our own bunch.”

“Beautiful. Talk about Murphy’s Law. Well, is it blown, or what?”

“We’ll find out real quick,” Stabler said. “The boss wants us downtown—like an hour ago.”

“I’ll bet. Is he hot?”

“Like a Saturday night special.”

“Should I pick you up?”

“No. I’m in the city already. Meet you there. Just hustle your black ass.”

“Up yours, honky.”

The subject under observation was literally “their man.” They had discovered him and established the exciting probability that they might have found at last an unsuspected entrée to the inner workings of an increasingly bold criminal machine, which JUST had been trying in vain to penetrate for over two years. They had transmitted their excitement in confidence to Assistant U.S. Attorney Hartnett, coordinator of the anticrime operations, so impressing him that he diverted them exclusively to surveillance of this single individual. Even within JUST, the pair’s activities were a tightly held secret; they acted independently and reported only to Hartnett, who assessed the stakes as high enough not to invite compromise—or possibly even betrayal from within—by advising any more of his people than necessary about this sensitive new facet of the investigation. For the time being, until it paid off or failed, Stabler and Thomas were the only ones who were necessary.

The thing that confounded both Thomas and Stabler, as each hurried separately to Hartnett’s office in the Federal Building in downtown Manhattan, was: how could Tony Farrell—so smooth and controlled—have let himself be scooped up like this?

Sounds echoed in the marbled corridors of the Federal Building after nine o’clock at night; an unseen door being shut, footsteps, the clank and shuffle of a cleaning person’s paraphernalia, each resounded distantly.

Within the carpeted inner office of the Assistant U.S. Attorney, however, it was still. A somber Brendan Hartnett hunched over his heavy polished-wood desk, intent on the typewritten pages before him under the glare of a high-intensity desk lamp. Opposite him, erect and motionless in a straight-backed chair, sat Roy Thomas. Off Hartnett’s left shoulder, Ed Stabler stood at a window, one foot on the low sill, noiselessly rocking back and forth. Chewing a dead cigar, he stared down at the city’s dark outline. No one had spoken for several minutes.

At last Hartnett stirred and leaned back in his leatherbound swivel chair, clasping his hands behind his head thoughtfully. The prosecutor was a handsome man, a husky six-footer who looked it even when slouching as now, with sparkling blue eyes, unlined fair skin that turned ruddy at the slightest encounter with either the sun or sudden anger—it was pink now—and, most remarkable, a shock of thick white hair that belied his forty-four years. His hair, once a luxurious black, had turned white when he was thirty—virtually overnight, for no reason that he could think of or that any medical opinion seemed able to explain—causing him acute discomfiture at that still impressionable age. In the years since, though, having been assured by admiring relatives that the magnificent crown made him look like one of the great ancient Irish kings, Hartnett had come to accept it—indeed, to prize it, for, being no less a practical than a prideful man, he’d come to see how so distinguishing a feature could only be an asset to one in quest of an early judgeship.

Such cosmetic trappings notwithstanding, Hartnett had earned a reputation as an earnest and uncompromisingly thorough prosecutor. He gave of himself with equal vigor to any case his office was assigned or his own people developed. In this case, cooking many months now, he’d smelled something special: This could be his pièce de résistance; to carry it forth successfully could be for him the critical leg up to the law’s upper chambers. But now the pursuit had stumbled. Recovery was possible, Hartnett had decided, but only if adjustment was rapid and sure-footed.

“Well …” He breathed it out as a long, contemplative sigh. It hung in the close room, like smoke. He looked across at Thomas, who returned his gaze levelly, without expression, waiting. Hartnett twisted his head in the direction of Stabler, behind him.

Without turning from the window Stabler growled: “Well … it’s a damn shame. Look at that, down there. You can’t tell the bad guys from the good guys any more. Used to be the bad guys all tooled around in big black sedans. Now …” He clamped his teeth on the stub of the cigar again.

“Deep. Very deep, Ed,” snorted Hartnett, swinging back toward Thomas, who, eyes lowered, was shaking his head, a smile at the corners of his mouth. “Well,” Hartnett repeated, “we do know the bad guys in this case, don’t we? And by the same token, we can recognize a—you’ll forgive my directness—a fuckup when we fall over one, can’t we? I acknowledge your prior contributions, gentlemen, by use of the singular objective noun in this reference.” He paused, commanding silence like a Dickensian schoolmaster.

“You two clowns come here with your bare faces hanging out and tell me you knew nothing of what our target was up to tonight—and for God knows however long he might have been setting it up?”

Thomas said quietly, “We never had a clue, Bren. The guy looked like he was coasting the past few weeks.”

“Gerard we know,” Hartnett said, again referring to the report. “Are you familiar with this Alison Fournier?”

The detectives exchanged discomfited glances. “There is a chick named Alison,” offered Stabler, “hangs out at Farrell’s place. ‘Now’ singles type.”

“She’s the seller—ostensibly. First offense, and a dilly. Daddy’s a lawyer, top-drawer and solid gold. That should be interesting. And how about Harmon P. Stratton, Esquire, of Chicago?”

“Never heard of him. Listen, Bren, are we sure this was Farrell’s deal? Couldn’t it have been a private setup, say between the girl and this Stratton? Maybe Farrell was just playing big brother, baby-sitting like—?”

“No, we’re not sure. So far there’s nothing tying Farrell to either the dope or the cash. The arrest team was zeroed in on Stratton, off a tip out of Chicago. They staked him out at the hotel and waited for the New York contact, and that turned out to be the girl. And Gerard. All of a sudden, out of nowhere they say, down comes this stranger—Farrell. So, all they’ve got is suspicion of complicity … and the gun charge. He is not, of course, licensed. And there’s a matter of reckless endangerment, not to mention assaulting a police officer. Farrell claims he was just helping a lady in distress. It’s possible. He might only have been passing by and come upon a girl he knew apparently being manhandled—or, as you suggest, he could have been acting chaperone on her first big date—

“But I don’t buy it either way. Simply because at the heart of it is half a kilo of cocaine. What First Avenue bunny would have the sort of connection who could swing that big a load? No, I think a safe guess is that it’s Farrell’s package down the line.” Hartnett regarded them. “And he slipped it right past you. My two ‘ace’ investigators.…”

The wall clock whirred. It was twenty before ten. Hartnett let them stew a few more moments before continuing.

“All right, it’s a setback. But it’s done. So what do we do now? Do we write Farrell off? Or can we adjust? Any ideas?”

Stabler picked a bit of tobacco from his lower lip. “We could come out of the closet now,” he muttered, “and land on him—squeeze him for all he’s worth. As long as the operation’s burned anyway.…”

“Uh-huh.” Hartnett toyed with a pencil. “What do you think?” he asked Thomas.

Thomas shifted restlessly. “I don’t know. How much is he worth to us at this stage? Sure, if we open our file on him we could send him away for a long time … but that misses the whole point of this exercise. He was going to be our master key to the big guys. We’re not close to that yet. We might make a case on Donato, but for the other crowd—Farrell’s only just got his foot inside the door. There have been signs the Giant digs the kid, might throw a lot more action his way, but for our purposes there’s a way to go before they’re tight. So, I don’t know.”

“Anything’s better than sucking wind,” insisted Stabler. “Anyway, what choice do we have? He sure as hell won’t be doing us no good up in the joint! Himself, neither.”

Thomas shrugged his doubt. “I suppose … but then, there’s also the risk of blowing everything we’ve put together so far. We lean on Farrell to cop a plea, and that tips the Giant, Donato, all of them, to just where we’re at. They just change all the locks, and we come away with a few nickels and dimes.”

“All right,” cut in Hartnett. “You’re both right and both wrong. Now listen. We’ve put too much patient time and effort into this fellow to lose him, and maybe the whole ballgame, on a freak. I think we have no choice now but to go for broke. Hit him with everything we’ve got.” He paused. “And turn him.”

Thomas and Stabler looked at one another. “Bring him over to us—all the way?” Thomas said incredulously. “Jesus! Have we got enough to trade for that?

“I believe we have. If we need sweeteners, I should be able to swing it.”

“Immunity?”

“In all probability. Full VIP accommodation would be justified, considering the payoff here, wouldn’t you think?”

“Shit!” groaned Stabler. “Sucking up to a goddamn stool!”

“Not just a stoolie, Ed,” Hartnett corrected. “A ‘special employee.’ A full-time operative, under rigid supervision. I want to keep Farrell inside—working for us. He produces, or he goes.”

“That’s one hell of a tough order, Bren,” said Thomas, “on both ends.”

“My end is less difficult. I’ve already started laying the groundwork with Justice. The brunt is on you two. However, as I see it, you do have a certain edge. One, Farrell may be as vulnerable now as we’re ever apt to find him. A fairly big caper was blown out from under him; and he suckered himself into the bust in the bargain. Whether it was his own setup or he was playing somebody else’s stake, the people he travels with don’t figure to be very impressed. Two, I’m persuaded he has no idea whatever of the book we’ve compiled on him these past months. This seems plain from his consistent behavior recently—loose as a goose, as you’ve put it, still confident he’s ‘invisible.’

“So when you come down on him with the full force of what we have got on him—I’d say it adds up to, in round numbers, a good thirty to forty years of his life, less time off—he may have to seriously re-examine his options.

“I don’t say it will be easy. We dare not underrate this subject. Tony Farrell is intelligent, composed, resourceful. He’s not your standard hoodlum. He must be made to understand that we are not bluffing. We’re playing it strictly down and dirty.”

“And if he does stiff us?” asked Stabler.

Hartnett shrugged. “We lose a good prospect. Maybe we have to start from scratch with the Giant. That’s a sizable risk. But suddenly it’s the only game in town.” He sat back, thoughtfully. “Prospects come and go. We’ll be around.”

The three fell silent. Then Roy Thomas spoke up: “When do we start?”

“Now,” Hartnett said. “We don’t have much time.”

“He’s probably already got his lawyer making bail,” Stabler said.

“Not yet. He hasn’t been able to make his call yet—a ‘communications problem.’ And he won’t be arraigned until morning. Bail will be set then. So you’ve got tonight—all night.”

“Terrific,” grumbled Stabler. “Where’re they holding him?”

“Right down the street. The Tombs.”

“The Tombs! You’re letting it go as a local collar?”

“Who does the honors doesn’t matter here,” said Hartnett. “It’s only paperwork. Frank Casanova happened to be heading the detail—made the arrests himself. He asked for it, said the Department needed it.”

Frank needs it,” Stabler declared. “He’s tired of lieutenant. This could get him captain.”

“What’s our story over there?” asked Thomas. “How do we move in on Farrell without attracting attention?”

“I’ve arranged that,” Hartnett replied, “with the assistant D.A. He’s straight; I trust him. I said Justice wanted to check him out on the firearm violation—in possible connection with a multistate gun-running operation. Of course, Farrell’s not into anything like that—so far as we know—but it’s enough to give us time with him … we can only hope enough time.”

“So what’s the drill?”

“You go down to Manhattan Criminal and get a pass from the A.D.A.”—Hartnett scrawled on a pad, pronouncing “Chris … Adamowski” as he wrote—“and then you go to the Tombs and collect your package.” He handed the note to Thomas.

“Then where?”

“Bring him back here. You can use an office down the hall where we’ll have him to ourselves.”

Thomas and Stabler gathered themselves, and Hartnett saw them to the outer door. As they moved off down the long corridor, the prosecutor called after them: “Be sure he’s had his ‘rights.’”

Stabler’s mutter echoed back: “… fucking stool pigeons don’t have no rights!”

The two walked through deserted Foley Square in silence.

There was only one way to describe Ed Stabler: a bulldog. He could have been a character drawn by Dashiell Hammett. At thirty-nine, a compact, brawny man beginning to give some ground to flab (“Muscle at ease,” he would crack), Stabler had the jaded yet coldly intimidating air of a bouncer in a Third Avenue saloon. An only child whose parents had separated early, he was by preference a loner, not given to easy partnerships. He’d married once and had one daughter; but his young wife found it impossible to compete with his absorption in police work, and they were divorced after only two and a half years. He had lived for several years in an efficiency apartment in Queens, not far from LaGuardia Airport and the abundance of on-the-go airline stews domiciled nearby. What time he allowed himself for recreation he gave to an occasional sexual sortie. Nothing, with the trivial exception of big-league baseball, held his attention for long outside his job.

Stabler had been a cop in New York since the age of twenty-one, without ever having been a city policeman. He passed the Police Department exam, but, discouraged by the several thousand applicants ahead of him on the appointments list, he signed on as a patrolman with the para-police of the Port Authority. It didn’t take Stabler long to decide there was too little challenge, and perhaps less future, in that job, and next he tried the State Police. This was better—but, for a city boy, not much. A couple of lonesome years upstate left him homesick for the urban grit and clamor, so he returned and joined the Housing Authority Police—where he found a niche that, if not completely fulfilling, afforded his restless, prowling nature a continuing source of “action.”

Stabler soon recognized that Housing cops were at least as well trained as, and possibly more versatile than, the run of NYPD regulars. Experiencing and learning to cope with every known human failing, seaminess and barbarism that eroded the city at large, Stabler developed an extraordinary sensitivity to evil. He trained himself to trust only his instincts, and they proved uncannily trustworthy. He could “feel,” almost without seeming to have noticed, a prospective rapist lurking, a ripoff in the conception stage, a furtive junkie on the make … and his arrest record bore that out. One of the most decorated Housing officers in ten years, he’d plowed ahead to unchallenged rank of senior detective. Which was where he was when tapped by Brendan Hartnett for detached duty with the JUST unit. It was the highest mark of recognition in Stabler’s professional life, but he took it in stride as fitting.

Ed Stabler’s acquired partner within JUST was unlike him in several notable ways. Roy Thomas, five years younger at thirty-four, was college-educated (an accounting major) and, as a law officer, not street- but FBI-trained. He was taller and athletic; well-groomed; soft-spoken, gentlemanly. What really set them apart, though—in Stabler’s view, at any rate—was Thomas’s blackness. Instinctively, Stabler viewed blacks with mistrust. It was thus a source of some wonderment to Stabler that in a year’s forced association with Thomas he should have, without any conscious accommodation on his own part, acknowledged a growing respect for this able man—even, he could not deny, a genuine affection. Yet this unlikely new bond had in no way blurred Stabler’s perception of Thomas as a black; somehow, it only made him see the other more clearly as “different.”

Thomas, one of the large family of a hard-working Yonkers carpenter, had made it to college through a basketball grant-in-aid. Accepted to the Bureau soon after graduation, he’d since done the standard apprenticeship time at FBI field offices in Seattle, Detroit and Atlanta, before his last assignment—with some promise of permanency, he hoped—to the prestigious New York bureau. Back “home,” he’d completed night courses at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and then gone on to NYU for a master’s degree in Contemporary Urban Sociology. A precise, scrupulous agent both in the field and administratively, Thomas was seen by his superiors in the Bureau as an excellent prospect for command responsibility—his added showcase value as a minority representative hardly escaping official attention. His ultimate goal was to teach at the college level.

Thomas was married to a beautiful young woman he’d met four years before in Atlanta. Camille Dubois, American-born of Haitian parentage, had been a fashion consultant in a large department store. She was strong and vibrant, and they’d fallen thunderously in love. After their living together there, when he was summoned to the New York post, she’d soon followed—though not solely to be with Roy, for Camille was driven no less by her own career ambitions—and they’d resumed their passionate relationship. Finally, although neither had felt it necessary, there being no thought between them yet of institutionalizing their union with children, the couple had bowed to convention (and some gentle prodding from Thomas’s family) and taken one another ritually. For the past year and a half they’d lived in a 3½-room apartment in New Rochelle overlooking Long Island Sound.

It was a good marriage, if not without some sharp edges. Camille had not found it an easy transition, once wed, to acclimate to the often unpredictable, sometimes volatile life of an active policeman; while able to immerse herself by day in the zeal of her own pursuits, there were too many empty nights—and frequently, many nights on end—without Roy. At the same time, though she was an assertive woman who had long since shed herself of both sexual and racial restraints, in the depths of Camille’s black heritage dwelt a sore she found difficult to heal, as much as she loved her husband: an intrinsic distrust of and antagonism toward police, the timeless symbol and instrumentality of white repression.

Roy Thomas was not insensitive to this and, as in his relations with the outspoken Stabler, could only try to make the best of it. It had occurred to him more than once that, though their passions were at different poles, his wife and his partner were not unalike. Odd, Thomas thought now, he’d been with Stabler almost a year, and the detective had yet to meet Camille. Well, maybe not so odd at that—and probably for the better.…

“Okay, how do we work Farrell?” Stabler broke into his reverie. “He don’t know us, right? How about I play Snow White for once, and you be Grumpy?”

They’d started up the steep, broad steps of the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building. Thomas looked at Stabler and shook his head: “We’d better stay in character. Farrell would never go for you in drag.”

3

Tony Farrell had run a decathlon of emotional responses the past six hours, leaving him woolly-eyed and with the beginnings of a headache.

After the initial shock then anger then dismay, his mind had remained a turmoil of anxiety and self-reproach. Even so, for a while he’d been buoyed by a certain fascination with what was happening to him, as though he were an outsider observing a performance by others. He’d never been involved in an arrest situation before, and he’d followed the exhaustive procedure with curious interest—for a while … until he was shuffled from one location to another, from questioner to questioner with yet another set of forms to be typed, for what seemed the tenth time. All he knew was that he’d been dragged this way and that for hours, like a dry bone between a couple of bored dogs, finally only to be discarded without a backward look in a dank hole that stank of urine and mold. He hadn’t seen Alison or Gerard or the man Stratton; he hadn’t been given the opportunity even to call a lawyer, or anybody—he was going to scream bloody murder about that!

And then into his troubled night had come the two new dicks, the stony-jawed white one and the tall, smooth black. Now, locked alone in a small gray windowless room—vacant except for a bare metal desk and three wooden chairs, and a square mirror embedded in a wall—he was disoriented and cranky.

In the darkened office, the three watched him from the other side of the mirror. Hartnett had not seen Farrell in person before, knew his features only through tiny black-and-white contact prints or grainy blowups of shots taken with a long lens through rear windows of surveillance panel trucks. Farrell sat motionless by the desk now, slouched in one of the hard chairs, one leg over the other, arms folded, eyes closed, the brows knit and forehead creased. Except around the eyes, his face appeared placid, betraying no inner strain, although a dark shadow beginning to show up across the jaws and chin made the skin look unnaturally sallow in the harsh light.

“He shaves twice a day sometimes,” grunted Stabler.

“Well,” said Hartnett, turning to face them, “he’s had fifteen minutes to get spooked. Want to give it a go? You’ve got about eight hours before we have to get him back to the Tombs.”

The only movement by Farrell as they entered the room was his eyelids nicking open; the dark pupils were red-rimmed, but his gaze was unblinking as he gauged the two intruders. Thomas, giving him a polite smile, seated himself easily in one of the chairs by the desk. Stabler spun the other chair around and straddled it, arms crossed over the backrest.

“Anthony Farrell—” Thomas began.

“Tony,” Farrell corrected evenly.

“Okay. It is my duty to advise you that you have the right to remain silent—”

“—and also to have counsel present,” Farrell cut in, still matter-of-factly. “Six, going on seven hours, and I still haven’t had my call. You people are making big trouble for yourselves.”

“You mean nobody—?” Thomas displayed astonishment. He looked to his partner. “What is wrong with those people, Ed?”

Stabler shrugged, unmoved: “Coordination gets screwed up sometimes. Nobody’s perfect.”

Thomas turned back to Farrell with an expression oozing concern. “Of course you’re right. And we’ll straighten that out, I promise you. But first … so we all have a clear understanding of what this is all about … maybe we could talk a little.”

“Name, rank and serial number—that’s all you get.”

Thomas smiled appreciatively: “Your Army training.”

Farrell’s eyes narrowed. “What are you guys, feds?”

“Well …” Thomas considered. “Yes and no.”

“The team don’t matter,” Stabler picked up flatly. “What matters is the score. And we got you down as a heavy loser, mister.”

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