Authors: James Patterson
Isiah Parker; The East Side
IT WAS A
little past nine-thirty and traffic on Third Avenue was getting noticeably lighter, moving at a steady pace. Isiah Parker and Jimmy Burke waited in front of a closed, darkened Doubleday bookstore on the corner of Fiftieth Street.
Both men were dressed in beige linen suits. They looked like any of the businessmen still slouching out of high-rise offices on the midtown avenue. Isiah Parker had often speculated that a mugger or thief who dressed like a successful businessman in Manhattan would probably never get caught, never be stopped and questioned by most street cops, anyway.
When he finally saw the Caddie limo approaching the fancy awning in front of the Smith & Wollensky Steak House on Third, his mind went blank. He concentrated on nothing except what had to be accomplished in the next ninety seconds.
“Let’s walk,” he whispered to Burke, standing at his side. “We’re East Side businessmen. We’ve had a nice supper for ourselves. We do this right, nobody will remember us. We’re
John Traficante and the
James O’Toole were feeling full of the good life after two Steak Wollenskys and several cocktails inside the East Side restaurant. Traficante, a first underboss in the New York Mafia, was also known in the underworld as Johnny Angel, the Angel of Death. This presumably had to do with the number of murders he had committed since growing up in the mob-spawning grounds of Howard Beach and later Canarsie, in Brooklyn. Traficante had been the favored hit man inside the Lucchese family. He had remained “hands-on” as he rose all the way up through the ranks. His murder victims included a federal judge, several New York policemen, a newspaper writer, and potential witnesses, including women, and two young children on Long Island.
O’Toole, the lawyer, pushed open the glass and mahogany doors as they left the steak house. They passed a couple waiting for a cab under the forest green canopy. Caesar DeCicco, their bodyguard-driver, was opening the front door of Traficante’s limo.
“He’s a good boy,” Traficante said of his forty-seven-year-old bodyguard. “Loyal as a pet snake.”
Some jerk in a business suit wasn’t looking where he was going out on the Third Avenue sidewalk. He bumped into O’Toole, then brushed against Traficante’s Gucci suit.
“Hey…hey, easy. Whutcherrush?” the gangster bristled.
“I’m sorry. Excuse me, sir. Sorry,” Isiah Parker said.
The Uzi appeared out of nowhere.
A short burst followed, and the stocky bodyguard, DeCicco, was thrown bouncing up on the hood of the Cadillac.
The couple walking toward their cab dove to the ground, the woman shrieking. Patrons inside the restaurant suddenly stared at the scene in horror. The maître d’ went down on the floor.
A Colt Magnum flashed against Traficante’s mottled face.
“Cop killers,” Isiah Parker hissed at him. “Scumbag.”
The Magnum fired twice under Traficante’s chin. It lifted the mobster’s head right off his shoulders.
Parker dropped the gun right there. He and Jimmy Burke quickly, but calmly, walked down East Fiftieth to a waiting Buick Skylark. The two N.Y.P.D. detectives disappeared inside, and the nondescript sedan drove off.
John Stefanovitch; One Police Plaza
AT A LITTLE
past eight in the morning, Stefanovitch propelled himself between the double-glazed front doors and into the main lobby of One Police Plaza. He had two newspapers, a
New York Times
folded over his lap. The news was all bad. “M
.” His high from Coney Island was definitely over.
A used and battered VCR had been set up by Audio-Visual in a cozy interrogation room near his office. By eight-fifteen, he was viewing the first of the videocassettes that had been discovered at Allure.
As he watched the tape, Stefanovitch kept thinking about St.-Germain’s words, the phrase the two call girls had heard him use.
“Are you from Midnight?”
For years, there had been stories about something called the Midnight Club. Supposedly, it was a small group of crime lords who controlled organized crime around the world. The precise makeup of the Club remained mysterious.
Had the secretive Club ordered the deaths of St.-Germain and Traficante? Who inside the Midnight Club would be giving the orders? What might be on the sex tapes from Allure?
Stefanovitch had decided to watch the videotapes alone. He couldn’t imagine what might be recorded on the tapes, but he didn’t want anyone else there when he found out. Crime figures? Powerful New York businessmen? Entertainers? Politicians? Members of the Midnight Club?
The fewer people who knew what was on the tapes, the less complicated and political the murder investigation was going to be.
Sarah McGinniss was hunched forward inside a Checker cab. She was trying to leaf through some of her files on Alexandre St.-Germain as the taxi sped down the West Side Highway.
Much of the material in her St.-Germain file had been compiled by an unusual researcher, a former Organized Crime Task Force member. According to the files, many of the women involved in high-level prostitution weren’t professional hookers these days. They were more likely to be aspiring types in the glamour professions: models, actresses, women who worked at employment agencies, film-production houses.
According to her source, the super-rich didn’t have to exert themselves much in order to obtain sex. If they were at a Mortimer’s in New York, at Chasen’s or Spago’s in L.A., the maître d’ might have the names of available women, or men. The same was true at exclusive hotels. Bordellos like Allure operated in several cities around the country: Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas, even Cincinnati and Cleveland, and much smaller cities as well.
Sarah finally shut the folder holding her notes. At eight-thirty, the Checker pulled up in front of its destination downtown. Sarah jumped out and hurried up the front steps, then across the pedestrian mall into Police Plaza.
She checked the name she’d scribbled in her notepad—
Lieutenant John Stefanovitch.
“SHIT. CHRIST ALMIGHTY,
what? what is it, Bear?”
The first images had no sooner flashed onto the VCR monitor screen when Bear Kupchek entered the darkened office and interrupted the movies. Stefanovitch reached over and flicked off the set.
you I wanted to screen these by myself.”
Kupchek’s doughy face twisted itself into a frown. “I heard you the first dozen times. I think I understand the situation. You want to be alone with the dirty movies.”
“So what’s the problem? I have about a hundred hours of tapes to watch before lunch.”
Kupchek was jiggling change in the pockets of baggy gray trousers that looked like the pants of an old man. A plastic protector for pens stuck out from his white shirt pocket. Kupchek was about as stylish a dresser as the guys who hung out at the OTB betting parlor near Stefanovitch’s apartment. All his clothes looked borrowed from someone who’d had his heyday in the Depression.
“I just took a message for you from reception down in the lobby. A Ms. Sarah McGinniss is on her way up now. Ms. McGinniss has the P.C.’s permission to screen the home movies. She’s a writer of note. Apparently, she traded favors for some inside things she knows about St.-Germain. Make your day?”
“I heard something about that. The captain mentioned her to me. Listen, there’s no way some investigative reporter, writer, whatever she claims to be—”
Stefanovitch stopped himself in midsentence. He had no choice. Someone—presumably Sarah McGinniss—had just entered the room.
“Good morning,” she said in a pleasant, very low-key voice. “Lieutenant Stefanovitch, I’m Sarah McGinniss. The writer you were just mentioning?”
Somehow, Stefanovitch succeeded in masking his frustration. He managed to smile, and muttered hello to the slender, dark-haired woman at the door. She was no Kay Whitley, but she was attractive, certainly not what he’d expected when he heard a writer was coming around.
“Bear, could the two of us, Ms. McGinniss and I, have a minute?” he asked.
His hands thrust deeply into his pockets, his tongue planted even deeper in his cheek, Kupchek slowly backed out of the room. He shut the door behind him, letting it click with great effect.
“May I say one thing before you start, Lieutenant?”
“I don’t think so.” Stefanovitch sighed and shook his head. He understood that he had to be absolutely stubborn with her, maybe even unreasonable. “Look, we’re both busy people. You’re writing your story, your book. I’m conducting a nasty, complicated murder investigation. One that’s particularly difficult for me.”
“Lieutenant Stefanovitch, I think maybe—”
“I can’t get involved in New York City politics right now. I won’t. I like what I know about your work. I read
A Mother’s Kindness.
But these videotapes are part of an ongoing homicide investigation. I don’t care what you can tell me about Alexandre St.-Germain. So, please leave.”
“I like the way you said all that, Lieutenant. The compliments about my book especially.” When Sarah finally got to say a few words, a disarming twinkle came into her eyes. “The problem is, I’m not so sure it tracks.”
“I don’t particularly care what—”
“I listened to you, Lieutenant. Play fair, please?” Sarah smiled. She seemed slightly amused by the outbreak between them. “For one thing, the tapes are under the police commissioner’s jurisdiction, not yours. Second, the P.C.
interested in the material I have on Alexandre St.-Germain, and especially the Midnight Club. I promise not to get in your way, Lieutenant, as long as you don’t get in mine.”
Sarah began to slip out of her jacket, an old electric-blue-and-pink windbreaker. Besides the cheery jacket, she wore a faded club shirt, khakis, and old running shoes. The outfit was comfortable, and it seemed appropriate for a long work session at Police Plaza.
“Hold on there. Hold up. Please don’t get yourself comfortable.” John Stefanovitch was pushing his wheelchair toward her.
“Listen,” he said. “Either I watch these tapes by myself, and this homicide investigation proceeds…or
watch the tapes, and the entire investigation shuts down until you’re finished in here.”
“That’s your choice.” Sarah shrugged. “If you want to wait, that’s fine with me.”
She sat down in one of the two hardwood chairs inside the cramped, musty, rather inhospitable office. The office was tiny, no more than seven by nine. She’d been in bigger clothes closets, nicer Port-O-Sans, classier phone booths.
Sarah suddenly stood up again. She walked over to a small wooden counter and poured herself a cup of coffee.
“Why don’t you have some coffee?” Stefanovitch said from across the room.
“Thanks.” Sarah took a sip, her lips poised over the Styrofoam. “My God, it’s liquid ash. Do you make your own coffee?
“I make my own coffee, and I happen to like it strong. As my father used to say, ‘It puts hair on the chest.’ I wasn’t expecting company. I didn’t invite any company. All right, watch the videotapes.”
STEFANOVITCH HIT THE
button of the VCR with the heel of his hand. Two naked bodies appeared on the television screen. An appropriate punctuation to the conversation.
“Great. Really terrific.” He couldn’t remember the last time he had boiled over the top like this. The investigation definitely had him uptight. He couldn’t stop baiting her, either.
“You usually watch your X-rated videotapes at home, I imagine?”
“Sometimes at home.” Sarah was beginning to enjoy herself. At least she was winning most of the skirmishes, she felt. “Hotels with pay TV are great, too. Occasionally I catch a pornographic movie by myself, over on Ninth Avenue.”
John Stefanovitch’s eyes bored into the flickering television screen. He tried his best to concentrate on the sequence of images.
The tapes from Allure were as explicit as anything shown on Ninth Avenue in New York, or Zeedijk Street in Amsterdam, or the Peeperbahn in Hamburg. But there was a subtle, important difference. Nobody seemed to be acting on these tapes.
On the television screen an exotic blonde, who didn’t look any older than eighteen or nineteen, posed seductively. She lolled on the edge of a double bed draped with silver lamé sheets. The young prostitute was slender and narrow-waisted, as entrancing as any
A gauzy, cream white nightgown revealed the outlines of her breasts. Her large brown eyes were dusted with delicately applied eyeliner. Her hair was clipped back on one side, held by an exquisite ivory barrette. He thought of Kay Whitley and Kimberly Manion; of the perfection demanded at Allure.
Where did they get such beautiful women? Sarah McGinniss was also wondering. What did any of this have to do with the murder of Alexandre St.-Germain? With some kind of gang war that might be erupting around the world? With the shooting of John Traficante on Third Avenue? With the Midnight Club?
Watching the glossy film, she thought that she understood what a high-budget pornographic movie might look like. Sarah also began to feel embarrassed. Then, a bit later, more than a little embarrassed.
A well-preserved, silver-haired man, probably in his early fifties, entered the scene from camera left. He sat beside the blond woman on the bed.
Sarah could tell that the man worked out. He also looked rich; there was something pampered about him. His silverish hair was still wet, combed straight back. He wore a puffy, white half-robe. She thought she ought to be writing some of this down.
“I haven’t been with anyone for three weeks,” the blond woman said. Her voice was soft, melodic. Her smile was slightly crooked, even more appealing because of the imperfection. The nipples of her breasts poked and pointed against the nightgown.
“You look so good to me, but you always do. I love the way you dressed for me tonight. All over Chanterelle, men and women were staring at you. Did you happen to notice, Gerard?”
The older man smiled, and seemed taken in completely by her. His ego was obviously close to bursting. A pair of expensive Italian loafers lay turned on their sides near the bed.
“Where did you go on your little trip?” he asked.
“Oh, I was on St. Bart’s. Lazing out completely. A friend of mine owns a villa up in the hills.”
“Oh, a girlfriend.” The young blonde’s movements were almost feline; she had a natural grace, a poise that suggested dance training, maybe even professional dancing. There was a faint rustle of her nightgown, silk against soft skin. Sarah imagined somebody paying for her dancing lessons once upon a time. It made her sad to think about that. What a waste.
The girl curled herself around the old man’s back. She began to massage his furrowed temple with both hands. Her nails were bright vermilion. He sighed at her touch.
After several minutes of massage, she suddenly left the bedroom suite. The romantic music in the background was subdued and sensual. Every detail had been attended to. Had it been this way for Alexandre St.-Germain? Was it always like this at Allure?
The young woman returned with a silver metal carton that looked like a pillbox. She and the silver-haired man each selected a different-colored pill from the many rolling around inside the box. They had obviously practiced this routine before. They were laughing now, giddy as children allowed to stay up too late.
Stefanovitch had heard about one or two highly expensive, very private bordellos in New York. So this was what they were like. “He took a Quaalude,” he said. “I don’t know what she had in her hand.”
Standing in front of Silver Hair, the prostitute slowly stretched the straps of her gown down over slender, freckled shoulders. The silk gown was finally bunched at her waist, her breasts revealed to the man, but not to the camera.
Next, she reached forward, underneath the man’s robe. Sarah felt that she finally understood the word “courtesan.” Things she had only read about in police reports were coming to life.
“I really missed you, Gerard,” the blond woman said in a soft stage whisper.
“Touch yourself down there, too.” The older man suddenly seemed humble. He slowly began to stroke himself.
Touch yourself down there,
Sarah silently mocked the scene. She was angry at the man for using the young girl. When she had heard about her husband Roger’s lover in California, she’d felt betrayed and used herself. She had also felt that somehow she must have been at fault for losing him.
“You’re such a beautiful, beautiful man. You’re so elegant. You do everything with such style, Gerard. I’m not just saying it because… you know.”
Sarah could tell that the silver-haired man needed to believe the words he was hearing. She had an urge to talk back at the movie. The scene was powerfully moving. Across the small room, Stefanovitch self-consciously cleared his throat.
“I have some Halls Eucalyptus, Lieutenant,” Sarah said. He deserved every zinger she could come up with.
Stefanovitch felt his face flush. His neck and his chest were tingling. He nearly laughed, though. Sarah McGinniss was quick on her feet. “The pills probably made their bodies more sensitive,” he finally said.
“Have you used Quaaludes yourself?”
“Once or twice,” Stefanovitch said. Then he frowned when he thought about his remark ending up in her book.
Many, if not most, New York City detectives use illegal drugs themselves.
“Let me undress you all the way now.” Silver Hair’s voice was a low, sibilant whisper.
“Not yet. Don’t rush this… Gerard?… There’s something even better we can do. Is that all right? …You trust me?”
“Of course. Whatever you want to do is fine.” Suddenly he was sounding closer to his age. Unsure of himself.
The call girl rose from the bed again. She moved two steps away.
Very sensually, she slid the straps of her gown back up onto her shoulders. She let her long nails slowly trail down her legs, making a long scratching sound.
Stefanovitch thought of a few steamy Hollywood movies he’d seen.
A remake of
The Postman Always Rings Twice.
They were tame and prudish compared with this.
And nothing had even happened yet. Just some foreplay…
But the real stuff.
Not wooden-Indian actors and actresses playing make-believe.
Midnight? Stefanovitch wondered again. What was Midnight? If it was the Midnight Club, what was the connection? Had the Club come after Alexandre St.-Germain?
Or was someone coming after members of the Club? There was a big difference right there. A huge difference for his investigation.
The blond hooker’s profile was turned sharply to the camera now. Did she know the scene was being filmed? By her employers? By someone else? Her lips parted, and they were ruby red and moist; they opened like an exotic string bag.
Her breasts were erect. If she was faking everything, she was a brilliant actress, much too good to be doing this film. Her palms rubbed against her nipples, blood rushing into her breasts.
With one hand, she reached underneath the gauzy white gown. Her knees were bent as far forward as possible. She was on her toes, her slender ankles arched.
Suddenly, the silver-haired man started to spasm. It was the first time he had lost control. Silver Hair looked as if he weren’t used to losing control. Stefanovitch was almost certain the older man was somebody important, somebody he ought to recognize.
Did he know about Midnight? Did the blond call girl know? Did anyone who visited Allure know the answers he needed?
There was no other sound inside the small office, only what was coming from the VCR.
Stefanovitch hadn’t looked over at Sarah McGinniss for the last several minutes.
“Two thousand dollars a night.” Stefanovitch finally spoke. He felt that he had to say something, to break the tension.
“She’s very clever,” Sarah McGinniss said from the other side of the room. “She never let him touch her.”