Authors: James Patterson
John and Anna Stefanovitch; Brooklyn Heights
Stefanovitch and his wife, Anna, had gone out to dinner. He had taken her to the glittery River Cafe, tucked like an expensive tiara beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.
After dinner, they had gone back to their apartment in Brooklyn and snuck up to the indoor pool on the roof. It was closed after nine, but Stefanovitch had a key. He brought a tape deck, and they danced on the rooftop, first to Robert Cray and his blues, then to the romantic Brazilian Laurindo Almeida.
“We’re breaking the law that you’re sworn to uphold,” Anna whispered against his cheek. She was so soft and fine to hold; a great slow dancer, too. Elegant and totally desirable.
“Bad law. Unenforceable,” Stefanovitch whispered back.
“Some policeman you are. No respect for authority.”
“You bet. I know too many authority figures.”
He started to unbutton Anna’s dress, which picked up the green of her eyes, the gold of her hair, and which felt like the smoothest silk under his fingers.
“You going to try for indecent exposure now?” Anna smiled softly.
“For starters maybe. I have some other felonies in mind, too.”
After they slipped out of their dinner clothes, they did a few slow laps; then they floated languorously in the moonlit pool, under the glass rooftop, the twinkling stars.
With Anna, Stefanovitch had a way of doing wonderfully romantic things. He’d become a master of the unexpected: a dozen American roses arriving at the grade school where Anna taught fourth grade; a weekend ski trip to Stowe, in Vermont; gold shell earrings he spent an hour at Saks picking out himself.
He reached out and pulled her body closer in the deep end of the pool. Her green eyes were warm and wise—spectacular eyes. Her body seemed glazed in the moonlight. She was a fantasy he’d had since he’d been a kid in school. The two of them fit together perfectly.
“Sometimes I can’t believe how much I love you,” he whispered, his breath catching slightly on the words. “Anna, I love you more than all the rest of my life put together. I’d be lost without you. Sad but true.”
“Not so sad, Stef.”
They made tender, then passionate love in the still, blue-green water of the swimming pool. In the middle of the coldest March in years.
At the moment, John Stefanovitch was sure he had everything he had ever wanted out of life. Getting St.-Germain would be the icing on his cake.
The Grave Dancer; Long Beach
UNTIL PAST MIDNIGHT,
Alexandre St.-Germain had been at a black tie affair given at a Fifth Avenue penthouse in Manhattan. The party-goers were mostly investment bankers and other Wall Street power brokers; their wives; assorted young playthings. A very good black combo played, and seemed particularly out of place in the setting.
St.-Germain himself fit in splendidly: he was sophisticated; wittier than any of the bankers; a wealthy and respected European investor with seemingly unlimited capital…
Now, the Grave Dancer was approaching Long Beach Island, cruising along in a dark sports car. He was feeling particularly sanguine about the past few weeks. He had been mapping out a strategy that would ultimately change the face of organized crime. He had financial backing, both in New York and abroad. He simply had to make certain nothing went wrong during the next few critical months.
One man has been interfering lately, St.-Germain was thinking as he crossed the bridge onto Long Beach. A detective named Stefanovitch had taken it upon himself to make St.-Germain’s life in America difficult, if not impossible. He was a master at harassment. He was persistent, and cleverer than most policemen. He had already caused more trouble and embarrassment than St.-Germain could allow.
Twice he had trailed St.-Germain to Europe. He had conducted surveillance watches outside his apartment on Central Park West. One evening, he had followed St.-Germain into Le Cirque, practically interviewing the restaurant’s owner, Sirio Maccioni.
This desire to prevail against the odds, to tilt against windmills, seemed to be an American trait. St.-Germain had watched it fail miserably in Southeast Asia during the early seventies; he would watch it fail again now in New York. Stefanovitch was challenging him, and that couldn’t be permitted.
His sports car finally entered Long Beach, and he gunned it toward his rendezvous. An important lesson had to be taught tonight.
John Stefanovitch; Long Beach
and Nassau County detectives walked single file, making uneven lines on either side of Ocean View Street in Long Beach.
They passed forty-year-old tract houses and a few Irish bars on the narrow street. Occasionally, there was a pizza stand or ramshackle novelty store, boarded up for the winter.
“I could use a slice of pizza,” Bear Kupchek cracked. “Pepperoni and onions, extra cheese.”
“I could use a sane partner,” John Stefanovitch whispered back.
They continued walking until they reached an even narrower street, called Louisiana. Nothing but parked cars were visible there, dented and rusting like the dank beach cottages themselves.
At the far end of Louisiana, the detectives entered a sharp bend, which opened into a wide fork. Two large beach houses stood at either end, like sentinels.
Stefanovitch knew everything about Alexandre St.-Germain: that he was the current drug star in Europe, the largest narcotics dealer in years; that he was also known as a businessman in parts of the world, a legitimate financier and investor—which made tripping him up that much more difficult. Stefanovitch knew that St.-Germain and his organization were moving very impressively into the United States; that St.-Germain had masterminded a Byzantine, highly effective system to control organized crime throughout Europe, known as the “street law.”
This street law applied to criminals and to the police alike. There were strict rules, and they were known to everyone. Rival crime lords, but also policemen, prosecuting attorneys, even judges who came into conflict with St.-Germain’s system, were dealt with ruthlessly. Murder and sadistic torture were the usual forms of retribution. Revenge against friends and family members was common. Alexandre St.-Germain said that he refused to live by the rules of the weak.
Tonight, Stefanovitch and his Narcotics detectives were breaking the street law. They were striking a major St.-Germain drug factory inside the United States.
Stefanovitch’s eyes were drawn suddenly to the far left of the cul-de-sac. The house lights there had blinked out.
“Uh-oh. The left. See that?” Bear Kupchek pointed.
Stefanovitch and everyone else stopped, their legs and feet suddenly frozen in step.
The wind from the ocean held a sibilant, almost ominous whistle in the background.
“What’s that all about?” Kupchek whispered. “I hope somebody’s just going beddy-bye late.”
“I don’t know. Hold tight.” Stefanovitch was slowly raising his Remington. He had a sick feeling, the beginning of an adrenal rush.
Through the trees the moon had cast everything in a pattern of strange black and white shapes.
“Hey, detectives! Big fucking surprise, huh?”
A voice suddenly boomed.
More gruff voices came from the opposite side of the narrow street. Several men were hiding in the darkness.
“No! Over here, cocksuckers!”
A row of blinding white floodlights went on. Bright crisscrossing lights bloomed in every direction.
Then heavy gunfire exploded from both sides of the street; a deadly commotion of noise and blazing light commenced on signal.
“Get down. Everybody get down!”
Stefanovitch yelled as he pressed the safety, pumped his own shotgun, and felt his body shift into automatic.
“Get down!” he screamed as he fired at the beaming lights. “Everybody, down!”
ALL OVER THE STREET
there was pandemonium. Detectives were screaming and cursing. Stefanovitch finally dropped on his stomach. He was gasping for breath. He had a flashing thought about Anna: the idea of never seeing her again.
He pressed his body against the freezing cold concrete. He didn’t know whether he’d been hit or not. He genuinely didn’t know. The odors of motor oil and gasoline stuffed his nose.
Down on his stomach, Stefanovitch wiggled until he was underneath the rear end of a parked car. He ripped his hands and knees as he struggled forward. Where the hell was the backup? What could he do now?
He made it to a second parked car. As he did, his head cracked against the undercarriage. He cursed. His lungs ached horribly. The submachine guns kept giving fire.
For a moment, he was hidden under a third parked car.
He wondered if he should stay there. The auto’s body was so low that his face scraped the ground. His mind screamed.
A fourth car was parked up tightly against the third vehicle, cheek to cheek. He kept straining to hear the sound of approaching police sirens.
Nothing. No one in the neighborhood had called the police.
He kept moving from parked car to car. Away from the killers and the massacre. Did they know where he was? Had anyone seen him?
He stopped counting how many cars he’d gone under. He was numb all over from the cold.
The last parked car was anchored at the corner of Ocean View. The attackers’ voices were fading down the street. He needed a breath, before he got up and tried to run.
Stefanovitch finally pushed himself from underneath the last car.
Then he ran as fast as he could, sprinting to his left.
He was numb and sweaty-cold, so otherworldly and out of it. He was running, though, and nobody was going to catch him. He zigzagged as he went, feeling like a ground missile released from its cramped vault.
Everything was unreal. His feet had never struck against the pavement quite like this before. His breathing was labored and very painful.
Just keep running.
It was a disembodied thought. It held him together.
Nothing else was important.
He finally saw the side street where he and his men had parked their cars. The cars, Mustangs and Camaros, Stingrays, BMWs, were sitting up ahead, silent and empty.
Stefanovitch rounded the corner onto Florida Street. He saw his black van.
Call for help,
his mind screamed.
He fumbled to get the keys out of his pocket as he ran. Finally, a siren screeched in the distance.
The wind and sweat-soaked clothes were biting cold against his skin. His hair threw off water.
Five yards from the van a shotgun thundered loudly in his ears. It went off directly behind him. The explosion reverberated against the bone of Stefanovitch’s skull. It rattled his insides.
The first shotgun blast passed clearly through his right side. It seemed so simple to say, to think—
shot in the side.
The first hit turned John Stefanovitch around, the way a caroming, speeding truck would have, the way a grown person can easily manhandle a small child.
The second shotgun blast exploded almost on top of the first brutal assault. The blast shattered the vertebrae on the left side of Stefanovitch’s spinal column. A jagged shard of bone broke through the flesh, like antlers on a wall.
The bullet actually ricocheted inside his body, twisting, turning, like an oblong object under water. Then it burst out his side, leaving a huge hole.
Shot in the back.
Stefanovitch was lying facedown. He was half on, half off the gritty, iced sidewalk pavement.
His eyes were watering, so that he seemed to be crying. He wanted to crawl away, to do something, but he couldn’t move an inch.
The hidden gunman finally appeared from the shadows. The gunman walked forward, stopping over the sprawled, spreadeagled body, staring down for a long silent moment.
Stefanovitch could hear the man’s breathing, the inhuman calmness…He could hear exactly what the gunman was doing. Suddenly everything was clear and distinct inside his mind. He was about to witness his own murder.
To hear the killer actually pump a third shell into the chamber. To hear him pause for a long, breathless second, then hear him fire again.
One final shot, point-blank into Stefanovitch’s back.
Then the Grave Dancer walked away from his supposed pursuer.
Alexandre St.-Germain; Brooklyn Heights
drove a Porsche Turbo Carrera, sleek and midnight blue. Nothing but black glove leather and dim red control lights were visible inside. The only sound was the racing tires against the pavement, a noise like tape being pulled away from an uneven surface.
Lessons, he thought to himself as he drove. The world needed object lessons, but especially the police detective who had come after him; who had stubbornly trailed him for two years.
The apartment building in front of which St.-Germain finally parked seemed all wrong. It was faded red brick, rising maybe nineteen or twenty stories. It was the kind of place where mothers on the high floors throw change wrapped in tinfoil down to their kids for ice cream.
The Grave Dancer followed a black woman inside the apartment building, some kind of nurse from the look of the white spongies and stockings showing below her cloth coat.
The hallway of the floor where he got off the elevator was like all the others in the building. The night’s stale cooking smells. A clicking in the heating system. Pale blue walls; a worn blue and black hallway runner.
Alexandre St.-Germain rang the bell for 9B. He rang the doorbell insistently, seven times.
Finally, a woman’s voice came from inside, sounding very hollow and distant.
“I’ll be right there. I’m coming. Who is it?”
The dark blue door for 9B swung open. The look on Anna Stefanovitch’s face instantly revealed her lack of comprehension.
“Something happened to Stef,” she said. A statement of fact, not a question.
“Yes. And now something is happening to you.”
There was no pain. Anna definitely
the hollow, muffled shotgun blast from less than three feet away. She saw the bright streak of light illuminate the hallway, a little like a photographer’s flash camera going off. Anna Stefanovitch was dead before she hit the floor inside the foyer.
Alexandre St.-Germain, the Grave Dancer, left the apartment building as confidently as he had arrived.