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Authors: Richard Hawke

Speak of the Devil

Synopsis

It’s a beautiful Thanksgiving morning in New York City. Perfect day for a parade, and Fritz Malone just happens to have drifted up Central Park West to take a look at the floats. Across the crowd-filled street he sees a gunman on a low wall, taking aim with a shiny black Beretta. Seconds later, the air is filled with bullets and blood. Fritz isn’t one to stand around and watch. A child of Hell’s Kitchen and the bastard son of a beloved former police commissioner, Fritz is all too familiar with the city’s rougher side. As the gunman flees into the park, Fritz runs after him. What he doesn't know is that he is also running into one of the most shocking and treacherous episodes of his life. Though Fritz assumed that chasing down bad guys is perfectly legal, the cops hustle him from the scene and deliver him to the office of the current commissioner, who informs Fritz that someone dubbed “Nightmare” has been taunting the city’s leaders for weeks, warning of an imminent attack on the citizenry. What’s worse, Nightmare has already let the officials know that the parade gunman was a mere foot soldier and that there’s more carnage to come unless the city meets his impossible demands. The pols don’t dare share this information with anyone — not even the NYPD. What they need for this job is an outside man. And in Fritz they think they've got one. Racing against the tightest of clocks, Fritz finds himself confounded by Nightmare’s multiple masks and messengers. The killer is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. But as Fritz’s frantic investigation takes him from a convent in the Bronx to a hookers’ haven in central Brooklyn, the story behind the story — complete with wicked secrets on both sides of the law — begins to emerge. As Fritz zeroes in on the terrible, gruesome truth, the killer retaliates by making things personal, forcing Fritz to grapple with his deepest fear: sometimes nightmares really do come true. In his brilliantly paced and stunningly original debut, Richard Hawke delivers a tale of flawed and unforgettable people operating at the ends of their ropes. It’s literary suspense that doesn’t let go until the last page.

 

 

Speak of the Devil
Richard Hawke

 

Copyright © 2005 by Richard Hawke

 

To Julia
How lucky are we?

 

 

 

1

 

IF SHE HAD KNOWN SHE WOULD BE DEAD IN ANOTHER FIVE MINUTES, maybe she wouldn’t have swatted her son so hard. That’s just my guess. His balloon had been drifting into my face, that was the problem. It wasn’t bugging me, but it was bugging his mother. He was a towheaded kid with a round pink face. The balloon was larger than his head. I couldn’t say one way or the other if the kid was having fun, but Mom clearly wasn’t.

“Ezra, if I have to tell you one more time.”

She seemed to be wound awfully tight for nine-thirty in the morning. But I’ve never been a parent, so I’m hardly the person to judge. Maybe the kid was an absolute handful and his actions drained his mother daily of her reservoir of patience. Maybe the reservoir wasn’t terribly deep to begin with. Or maybe the two were running late that morning and Mom hadn’t gotten her caffeine jangle for the day.

Maybe this, maybe that. Maybes all over the place. Cheaper than a dime donut, as my father used to growl.

It was a Thursday. Thanksgiving is always a Thursday, so that part is easy. Fall was playing out nice and slow. The trees in Central Park were more yellow and red than I’d seen them in years. A high, bright sun was sending down just about zero warmth through the bracingly crisp air. What they used to call apple-cider weather.

I was standing at the corner of Seventy-second and Central Park West. I wasn’t supposed to be standing there. I was supposed to be making my way up five flights of stairs in a turn-of-the-century brownstone halfway down Seventy-first, swinging my bag of bagels and whistling a happy tune. I had fetched the bagels (three poppy, three sesame) from a place on Columbus that makes them on the premises, but instead of trotting directly back to Margo’s like a good dog, I had drifted up the street, lured by the sound of crashing cymbals, and was standing on the corner dodging a white balloon and watching Mother Goose roll by. Big pointy hat. Oversize smile.

Mother Goose, that is. Not me. I was hatless. And I wasn’t smiling. When I see a gun being drawn in a crowd and it’s not attached to a cop or to someone I know and trust, generally speaking, I don’t smile.

 

 

CENTRAL PARK WEST RUNS NORTH–SOUTH. THE PARADE RUNS SOUTH. Been that way since the late twenties. Back then they used to release the big balloon figures at the end of the parade. There were only a few of them, so it wasn’t as if the skies of Manhattan suddenly darkened with a flotilla of giant balloons. You couldn’t do it today. You’d have scrambled F-16 fighter jets intercepting the balloons faster than you could blink.

I was standing on the west side of the street, directly in front of the Dakota, when I saw the gun being drawn. If you’ve seen the movie
Rosemary’s Baby
, you’ve seen the Dakota, although they called it something different in the movie. In the book, too. Richard Nixon tried to get his suitcase in the door of the Dakota not long after he was bounced from the White House, but the residents there would have none of it. It’s
that
kind of place. When I think of that story, it’s actually Nixon’s wife I imagine. Poor beleaguered Pat. I imagine her standing on the sidewalk with her skinny arms crossed over her skinny chest, one of her dull practical pumps tapping irritably against the pavement.
Well, Mr. I-am-not-a-crook . . . what next
?

The gun was a Beretta 92F. That’s nine-millimeter. Eight and a half inches long, a fraction over two pounds. Magazine capacity of fifteen bullets. The Beretta is one of the most popular pistols these days with both police and military shooters. The guy holding this one was neither. And though it’s a good-looking gun, I didn’t suspect he was pulling it out simply so he could admire it in the morning sun.

I instinctively slapped at my left shoulder. My gun is a simple .38. Short-barreled snubbie. A simple workhorse. No fancy history. I use it in my line of work, which is private investigation. Margo calls it my associate, a little joke she picked up from her father, from when
he
was a private investigator and
he
used to call his gun his associate. This was before he took on a real associate. A junior partner. Which was me. Green, eager, fearless and, at the time, extremely pissed off.

Nothing came between my slap and my shoulder. My associate was back at Margo’s, in its holster, up on the dresser. Safety on. Facing the wall.

The guy with the Beretta was up on the low stone wall that borders the park. It was a fluke that I had a clear view of him. There was a gap between the Mother Goose float and the marching band in front of it, a high-stepping troupe of teenagers from Berlin, Maryland, and I happened to be standing where I could see right through the gap. The man was about five-eight or so. He was wearing a green windbreaker, khaki pants, sunglasses and a baseball cap. I saw him unzip his windbreaker and pull the Beretta from his belt, then take a step backward and drop off the wall, out of sight.

The white balloon drifted into my face again. The mother slapped the boy on his small arm. Very hard.

“Ezra, for the
last
time.”

I heard the boy begin to cry as I took off running.

As I hit the street, the shooter’s head reappeared above the stone wall. He planted his elbows on the wall and took aim. His target was clear. The easiest of all. Mother Goose.

“Get down!”

I threw my bag of bagels at the float. It hit the float just below the platform where Mother Goose was standing. I yelled again.

“Get down! Gun!”

I got her attention. The pointed hat dipped my way, a look of irritation replacing her waving-at-the-crowd smile. I saw the spark from the Beretta across the street and heard the shot a half-instant behind. Mother Goose dropped to her knees . . . and all hell broke loose.

I was still running. A chunky policeman who had been stationed on the corner not twenty feet from the shooter reacted simultaneously to the gunshot and to the sight of a loony—me—racing from the curb into the parade route, yelling and shouting. He started for me. I cried out, “Gun! Gun! Gun!” and pointed toward the wall, but the cop wasn’t hearing. He was going for his own gun. Behind him, the shooter rose calmly to his full height, swung the Beretta to the street level and fired again.

I swerved, crashing into a copper-skinned teenager holding a bass drum. More shots rang out as the drummer and I tumbled to the street. The shots continued. The drum head ripped as another of the marching band troupe—a tiny girl with a shiny alto sax—planted her foot on it. Blood was pumping onto the white bib of her uniform. Nothing had even registered yet on her face.

I got to my feet. People were scrambling for cover, though here and there were pockets of onlookers who remained frozen, unable to process. The chunky policeman was on the ground, not moving. The Mother Goose float had halted, its Styrofoam wings still flapping mechanically. The shooter might as well have been standing at a carnival shooting gallery. He was pointing and shooting, pointing and shooting, pointing and shooting. To my left, a skinny guy in a Macy’s T-shirt lifted off the ground with the force of the bullets slamming into his chest.
Pop! Pop! Pop
!

Hunched over, I scuttled across the pavement to the policeman. He was lying on his right side. I knelt down and shoved him onto his back. A piece of skull the size of a doorknob was gone from the right side of his head. Ignoring the gore, I unsnapped his holster and pulled out his service revolver, then ran to the near side of the float, putting it between me and the shooter. I ran along the float, flipping off the gun’s safety, and came around the rear with the gun in both hands, aimed at the stone wall.

He was gone. A squirrel was perched on the wall almost exactly where the shooter had been. Tail high. Head high. Tense and alert. I suppressed a roaring urge to blow it to bits.

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