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Authors: James Patterson

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BOOK: Midnight Club
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30

HE HAD READ
somewhere, in one of the magazine interviews, that Sarah McGinniss was an extremely hard worker. She was supposed to be dedicated to her small son and to her writing, and she wouldn’t let anything get in the way of either.

By two o’clock on Sunday afternoon, Stefanovitch absolutely believed what he had read about her. His eyes were burning and he had a throbbing headache. His shoulders ached from too much sitting in one place.

She showed no signs of tiring, though. She had mentioned lunch once, and he feigned indifference. She had then plunged on for another hour and a half of note taking, reading lengthy court transcripts, searching through as much original background material as Stefanovitch had seen in all his past homicide investigations put together.

The street law… the crushing reality of organized crime around the world in the middle 1980s… Sarah McGinniss had done exhaustive research on all of it.

Alexandre St.-Germain was mentioned everywhere in the files:

In his early years, but as recently as the previous spring, the Grave Dancer had proven to be the most violent and vengeful of the crime lords. Behind the veneer of his good looks, his charm, St.-Germain had been a psychopath. Was that why he had been murdered? Had his methods been too extreme? Had he embarrassed or worried someone? But who? Who was calling the shots in the Midnight Club? Who had gotten more powerful than St.-Germain?

The Grave Dancer had enjoyed “wet work,” performing many of the nasty murders himself. He had taught his horrifying “lessons” all over the world.

A drug dealer, but also his two girlfriends, beheaded in Morocco. Their faces ruined. Their genitals slashed with razor blades.

Five young policemen blown to bits during their weekly card game in Los Angeles.

The two daughters of a judge in Rome kidnapped from private school, then raped and murdered. A twelve- and a fourteen-year-old.

A West German hospital bombed to get to a trial lawyer.

A nightclub bombed in London, fourteen dead, eleven of them young women.

So many lessons; all of them vivid and horrible and premeditated.

That was why the street law had been so effective.

But now somebody didn’t want or need the old laws. Who could that be?

What had changed so dramatically?

Solve the murder of the Grave Dancer, and all the other mysteries would solve themselves. Stefanovitch was almost certain of it.

Meanwhile, Sarah McGinniss’s files went on and on.

When the French/Marseilles Connection had been temporarily broken, the Sicilian Mafia headed up the flow of most heroin trade into the United States. There had been incredible violence against the Italian judiciary and members of Parliament who interfered with the mob. The street law.

More than a hundred policemen, but also magistrates, had been murdered in Sicily during the past decade alone. Italy continued to have the world’s largest black economy, the economia sommersa, or submerged economy.

In recent years, the Midnight Club had opened up negotiations between the Sicilians and the Marseilles group. The Club had connected the mobs with legitimate businesses in France and Italy. An Italian labor official announced on television that it was becoming impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Stefanovitch read on through the source material:

By agreement of the international crime leadership, presumably the Club, the Colombians had cornered the cocaine pipeline into the United States. A justice minister and twelve judges were murdered in 1985 for their efforts to help control drug traffic in Colombia and Peru. Another dozen drug policemen, trained by Americans, were murdered up-country.

In November of 1985, a band of Colombian assassins had actually assaulted the Palace of Justice in Bogotá. They went to the fourth floor, where judges were hearing requests for ex-tradition of drug traffickers to the United States. The assassins killed a dozen of the judges right there. In total, 95 people were killed during the bloody siege. The street law once again.

The Yakuza, in Japan, had recently joined with the international cartel, working outside of their own country. Alexandre St.-Germain had been involved in effecting the negotiations. It represented the first time the Yakuza had ever worked with outsiders. At the same time, the Midnight Club had become heavily involved with buying and trading in the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

* * *

According to page after page of Sarah’s notes, crime was truly organizing this time.

Taiwan’s United Bamboo gang was currently operating successfully in Houston, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Hong Kong, and Japan. United Bamboo had reportedly completed an agreement with Alexandre St.-Germain, just before his death.

At about three o’clock, Stefanovitch checked his wristwatch. He finally collapsed against the back of his chair.

Sarah saw him, and she laughed. “I’m
really
sorry. Some hostess, right? I’m conditioned to grunt work behind a desk. Reading tomes of stuff like this. I’ll bet you’re starving. I’ve got deli food hidden away in the kitchen. Bought for just such an occasion. Where would you like to eat?”

Stefanovitch stared up at the thin streak of ocean blue, visible just over the luminous white of the sand dune.

“How about on the deck there? That looks pretty good to me. I’ll help with the food.”

“All right, sure. That’ll be great. If you’re interested, there are extra bathing suits, towels and things inside the house. I’m going to change into something myself.”

Sarah smiled at Stefanovitch.

“Please make yourself at home. Okay, Lieutenant? End of amenities.”

She went off to change and to fix lunch. As instructed, Stefanovitch showed himself around the spacious and open downstairs of the beach house.

He found a changing area with a selection of cabana jackets and swimsuits, a couple of them obviously for Sarah’s little boy, Sam. He appreciated the way Sarah hadn’t found it necessary to show him around, or to tend to him too much. The single largest complaint about being “handicapped” was people always trying to “help”—except when you really needed it.

31

FIFTEEN MINUTES AFTER
he went inside, Stefanovitch had commandeered a pair of loose gray sweatpants and a well-worn, kelly green T-shirt that said “Boston Celtics.” He imagined he looked like a typical New York cop, summering on the Irish Riviera. Well, not exactly typical.

He came down the walkway to the deck overlooking the sand dunes. For a couple of minutes, he just watched the surf gently rise and fall in the distance. Then he went back to the house and returned to the deck with plates and silver for lunch. He was making himself useful, which had always been his way, but which since the shooting had become a psychological necessity.

Eventually, he heard Sarah coming from the house. He swung around to see her carrying a tray with lunch.

Sarah had a slender, very sexy body. She was wearing a simple black one-piece. She’d let her hair down, combed it out, and pinned it behind one ear with a cherry red barrette.

“That’s a pretty suit” was as far as he would let himself go. Intense confusion clouded his mind.

The two of them were comfortable enough with one another to be fairly quiet as they ate their lunch. Eventually, Sarah talked about her little boy. Listening to her, Stefanovitch got the sense that everything wasn’t quite resolved between Sarah and her former husband. He didn’t push her on it. He didn’t have a book to write, after all. He didn’t have an excuse to ask a lot of personal questions.

As he finished off an overstuffed crabmeat salad sandwich, he noticed that Sarah was gazing out to sea, momentarily off in her own private world.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked her. “You’re not already working again, are you?”

Sarah shifted her face out of profile. There was a softness that appeared sometimes; it understated her intelligence, and made her very approachable.

“Not really. No. Can I ask you a serious question?… There I go again. Another one of my famous probing questions.”

“No, it’s all right.”

Sarah set down the last portion of her salad. “Will you tell me about your legs? Only if you feel comfortable talking about it. You still have some feeling in them, don’t you?”

“More than I want to sometimes,” Stefanovitch said and smiled faintly. “There’s an operation I could try. I’ve been told the chances are eight in ten I’d wind up paralyzed from the neck down. I don’t think I like the odds. My doctor, actually about three different specialists, doesn’t like the odds at all. It’s not a real-world possibility. But I do have some feeling, yes.”

They were both quiet for a moment, perched amid the dunes under the clear, blue sky. Sarah looked over at Stefanovitch again. He was so different from what she’d sensed that first morning at Police Plaza. He had this aura about him, something special. If anything, his being in the wheelchair increased it.

She had the intuitive feeling that she had crossed some barrier he’d set up between himself and the outer world. She was becoming curious about what he’d been like before the accident.

“It’s as hot as the Mets were last year,” Sarah finally said. It was the kind of silly thing she might have remarked to Sam. It made her think that maybe she hadn’t been spending enough time around adults lately.

Her eyes traveled down toward the water, which looked cold and inviting.

“The ocean’s something I don’t think I could handle,” Stefanovitch said. “I couldn’t get this chair down there through all that sand. You go ahead. I’ll amuse myself up here.”

“Mr. Self-sufficient,” she lightly mocked him. She stood up on the creaking wooden deck. Finally, Sarah began to trot down toward the shimmering blue sea.

She provides a nice view from the back, Stefanovitch thought as she bobbed away. California girls. The little touch with the red barrette was the best part. Well, one of the best parts.

He would have been lying to himself not to admit that he was captivated. He was. But he cut it off there. Fantasies in that direction were too painful and ridiculous. He cursed softly, but he let it go.

He kept his eyes on her all the way down to the sea, every step.

32

THE SUN CREATED
millions of perfect jewels on the ocean surface. The line of surf was like a delicate white lace collar.

Sarah broke the white lace with a nearly perfect dive. It made his heart grab in spite of his commonsense resolve just a moment before. She was so “regular” and just plain good to be around. He couldn’t imagine anybody leaving her, as her husband apparently had done.

Around four-thirty, the two of them got back to work. They agreed to cover the remaining files before calling it a day.

As he watched her jot down several notes, Stefanovitch began to understand why Sarah McGinniss had become a successful journalist and author. She was single-minded, and absolutely driven by her work, at least by the writing of
The Club.
Sarah also seemed immune to the danger attached to writing her book.

Late afternoon breezes off the ocean arrived in refreshing swells for the next hour or so. Stefanovitch thought that he hadn’t felt so sandy, so windblown, so good, in years.

He had completely lost track of time, and was surprised to look up and see that night had fallen. His watch said nine.

“You’ve really got yourself a beautiful spot here.” He finally spoke. He moved away from the worktable, up closer to the porch railing with its view of the sea.

Sarah came over and sat on the whitewashed rail beside him. Her profile, difficult to ignore in any lighting, was alluring against the moon and the night sky.

“I still can’t get it into my head that this is actually my place. The house. This little vantage point on sun and sea.”

Stop staring at her,
Stefanovitch was thinking as he listened to Sarah.
You’re acting like you’ve never been around a beautiful woman before.

Odd things were happening to him. A sense of excitement; of imminent adventure; a feeling that something strange and shining was going to take place.

“Listen, Stef, I have some lobsters in the fridge. It’s getting kind of late. Should we knock off? Will you have dinner with me?”

“If you let me cook something, I’d consider that invitation very seriously.”

“We can do a tag-team act in the kitchen.” Sarah smiled and gave a thumbs-up sign.

Stefanovitch wasn’t really sure what happened next. Whether it was he or Sarah, or a little of both? Or
if
it really happened at all.

He was leaning forward at the same time that Sarah was slipping down from the rail. They were closer than either had intended. Their lips met. They were kissing as uncertainly as children trying it for the first time.

Sarah pulled away first, stepping back awkwardly toward the porch railing.

“I’m sorry. That was a…I’m sorry, Stef,” she stammered.

She was obviously as confused as he was, and he was very confused.

“Yeah. No problem. Just the moon working its magic,” Stefanovitch managed.

He followed Sarah inside to the kitchen. For a moment, everything was uncomfortable between them, very quiet. Slowly they found some balance again, a comfort level. They had both made a mistake. That was all. It happened sometimes.

The preparations for the lobster dinner were interrupted by the telephone’s ringing.

The call was for Stefanovitch. It was Bear Kupchek with news about the investigation.

It was an unusually excited Bear, Stefanovitch discovered as he took the call. He could see Sarah in the kitchen as he listened to New York. He thought he could still feel her kiss on his lips.

“Stef?
You there?
Anybody home?” Kupchek asked.

“Yeah, I’m here.” He tuned in to the phone conversation.

“Stef, I think we’ve caught a break.”

He concentrated on the Bear’s gruff, excited voice over the phone.

“We’ve found somebody who was at Allure the night Alexandre St.-Germain was shot. He says he can identify one of the hit men, maybe the people behind it. Says we’re in for a big surprise. Big shockeroo. I’m going to meet him tonight, then I’ll come by your place. Say by eleven, at the latest. I’ve got a feeling it’s important.”

Stefanovitch calculated how long the drive back to Manhattan would take. He told the Bear that he would be at his apartment by ten-thirty.

“Well, that settles that.” He shrugged as he returned to the kitchen. His heart was still pounding from the phone call.

“Who was it?” Sarah had two-pound lobsters in either hand.

“Duty calls, Sarah. That was my partner. He has a lead on the St.-Germain murder, finally. It’s important. I’ve got to go back to the city.”

As soon as he was out on Dune Road, a sharp pain struck Stefanovitch. He had let Sarah McGinniss get to him, he realized. For someone who prided himself on common sense, he didn’t seem to be using a lot of it.

During the hour-and-a-half ride back into New York, he couldn’t stop thinking about Sarah. She was surprisingly down-to-earth. Even the way she talked about her little boy Sam had charmed him. Then there was the kiss on the porch.

Finally, as John Stefanovitch saw the cold, electric Manhattan skyline, he got his head back into the search for the Midnight Club, whatever that was going to turn out to be.

He wondered what Bear Kupchek had been able to find. A real shocker about the St.-Germain murder, he’d promised. Well, he would know soon enough. The Bear always delivered.

BOOK: Midnight Club
4.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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