Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Monopoly: A Novel of Atlantic City (Part Two)

Monopoly: A Novel of Atlantic City (Part Two)

Click here to read the first five chapters of Monopoly, with the accompanying introduction.

Chapter 6

Slumped on the sofa, Debbie was staring at the flickering TV set with a gaze as blank and unchanging as an old Conelrad test pattern broadcast at five in the morning. A teen dance show was on the tube, relayed live from happenin' Philadelphia, and Debbie's gaze was lost in the gyrations of the teens boogieing their hearts out up there for the camera's sake, while a disco diva moaned out her orgasmic cries. This was the sight that greeted me in my sunny living room, when I emerged from my shower at two the next afternoon after I got up. A sight out of The Twilight Zone. She looked like a fuckin' zombie. No, I take that back. As soon as I walked in the room, she looked like a hunted animal.

"The TV didn't wake you up, did it?" she asked fearfully.

After assuring her it hadn't, I drifted into the kitchen for coffee. We exchanged some small talk, but it was nothing to engrave on the Lincoln Memorial. Mostly I could tell when she looked at me that she was ashamed; because I'd seen her crying and afraid last night and I knew she'd been violated by the cops, she was worried that in my eyes she was soiled now.

I started breakfast. Life goes on. Initially she was transfixed by the constellation of phosphor dots in the next room, but the smell of the bacon seduced her, as I knew it would. She returned to the kitchen with a little less of the Jonestown look to her.

"I better be going," she said. "Like now."

"Stay for breakfast," I said. "You owe me that."

She glared at me. She actually glared at me. It was the first time she hadn't acted like she was crawling into a hole to lick her wounds and die.

"What do I—" she started to say. "What do I—"

"Where are you going? You got anyplace?"

She blinked at me.

"You got anyplace to go to?"

She took a deep breath and got ready to say something.

"I wasn't just out hitching a ride last night," she said. "I was running away from home. I can't go back. Things are too bad there."

"Your mom?"


"What about your dad?"

Her dad, it seems, had skipped out when she was two years old, and when last heard from, had mailed them a cheerful postcard from a tavern in Phillipsburg, Montana.

"At least sit down and supply me with a little company during breakfast, okay?" I asked. "I could use that."

She blinked violently and sat down at the dining-room table as if my invitation to breakfast had been as shocking as a hard slap to the face. I served bacon, scrambled eggs, toast, orange juice—the great all-American start-up. Although she didn't attack her vittles ravenously, she did eat. God knows I was starved. Afterwards we each sat back and enjoyed a smoke.

"So how are you doing?" I said. "Should I ask?"

She just stared at me. And otherwise, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the show?

"How do you think I feel? I feel shitty."

"I'll tell you the first thing I think we should do. Contact your mother. What's her phone number?"

Horror. "No. Oh no. I can't let her know. What'd she think?"

"Debbie, your mother has got to know sooner or later."

"No she doesn't. Nobody has to tell her."

"What about the cops? What they did to you? What are you going to do about them? Are you going to let them get away with it?"

She turned her face away. "Leave me alone."

"What about the other girls who're going to come after you? What about them?"

"You mean you think—"

"You think you're the first girl they've done this to around here? Or the only girl? Christ, Debbie, it's probably a regional sport. You think you're going to be the last girl?"

She began sobbing. I got up and smoked a cigarette quietly and looked out the window. Outside, bright sunlight was splashing down on the stippled green lawn. A beautiful summer day at the seashore. A great day to be alive.

When she finished, I got her a box of kleenex, and after she wiped her face and blew her nose several times, I asked, "Can I get you anything?"


"What's your mother's number? I'll talk to her."

She gave me a number with a 201 area code, 561 prefix. I dialed the number and hung on. The phone rang. Several times.

"Hello?" I got a slurred female voice: middle-aged. "Whoizit?"

"My name is Scott Lawrence. Is this the Miller residence?"

"I'm—Laurie Miller."

"Mrs. Miller, I'm calling from the Atlantic City area. I'm afraid your daughter Debbie has gotten into some trouble."

"Trouble? What kind of trouble?"

"She had a run-in with the cops. They nabbed her on what they say is a drug possession charge—"

"Drugs? She had drugs?"

"No Mrs. Miller, it looks like a frame-up, but—something more serious happened. They hurt her."

"How'd they hurt her? Put her on the phone."

Cupping my hand over the mouthpiece, I turned to Debbie. "You want to talk to your mother?"

"Okay," she said hesitantly, and took the phone from me.

"Hello Mom. No I'm—I'm not hurt bad. It's just— What?" She paused. "No I didn't have anything on me. You don't understand. They—" She was cut short.

She sat there listening, wide-eyed. Finally she clamped her eyes shut and the tears began to flow, and she held the phone away from her.

Quickly I snatched the phone and spoke into it. "Hello?"

The line was dead.

"What happened?"

"She hung up on me," she sobbed. "She said I shouldn't of been there in the first place, and anything I got I deserved. She said I could take care of myself. She was drunk."

"Yeah, I guessed that," I said and dialed the number again.

"What is it?" the lush on the other end demanded.

"Now listen Mrs. Miller. I don't think this is the kind of thing that can be adequately explained over the phone, but Debbie's in trouble. Deep trouble. She needs help. And I wanted to contact you—"

"Who the hell are you?"

"Scott Lawrence. A private investigator from New York. And your daughter has been seriously hurt."

"She seemed okay to me." There was a pause as she fumbled with a cigarette and lit it. "She shacking up with you?"

"Mrs. Miller, this conversation doesn't seem to be getting us anywhere. I was under the mistaken impression you—"

"You didn't answer my question. You fooling around with my daughter?"

"Your daughter was gang-raped by five policemen last night," I shouted. "Her rights were violated, among other things. So I'm throwing the book at the bastards who did it. You want to help me?"

A stunned silence. "What did you say?"

Debbie was hunched over in her chair, face buried in splayed red hands. She made no sound, no whimper, but it was terrible, terrible, terrible.

"You heard me. She was coerced into having sex in a jail cell in a small town down here at the shore. Bay City. I was—"

"I don't believe it," she said, followed by a crash as the phone dropped, and then silence.

Debbie raised her head. "Why did you have to tell her?"

"I love dealing with drunks," I said. I yelled, "Hello? Hello?" into the mouthpiece several times, but no response, and then the phone on the other end was hung up. When I tried again, the line was busy. She'd taken the phone off the hook.

"A great lady," I said, and replaced the phone. "I can imagine what your home life must be like."

"I wish I could just like disappear," Debbie said miserably, and pitching forward she disintegrated into hopeless broken sobs. It must be so wonderful to break the news to your parents. Dear Mommy and Daddy: Last night I was fucked by five cops. I was a little shaken up but now I'm fine.

I let her cry herself out, and then after the long drawn-out whuffling sobs had subsided into weak sniffles and occasional whimpers, I assisted her to her feet and escorted her to her room, where I put her to bed.

In the dining room, I sat down at the little pink telephone table and dialed my friend Jim Montgomery of the New York Times, who covered New Jersey state politics out of Trenton for the New Jersey Section, specializing in political corruption stories. He was seldom at a loss for material. Like many reporters, he was an intense, driven, doggedly unhappy person, married to his work, interested in little else but the pursuit of the truth, whatever the hell that is.

When his office informed me he was at the Trenton statehouse, covering today's legislative session, I rang the press room there and finally got him.

"Hello, Scott," he announced in his dry, humorous voice. "What's up?"

"I think I've got a story for you." And I elaborated on what'd gone down—emphasizing how the cops had intimidated Debbie in my presence when she started to blurt out what they'd done and then delivered a pretty thinly-veiled threat if she didn't shut up. I guess I got pretty worked up.

"I can see you're very caught up in this, Scott, but—do you think this is really a story for the Times? I mean, a standard—"

"This is a Hot Springs, Arkansas, deal, Jim. This kind of shit only happens in Mob-controlled communities. Where the cops know they can get away with it. Now I'm taking this all the way. The County Prosecutor's office is investigating and we're suing the city of Bay City and its police department for police brutality, police malpractice, rape, you name it. If you think the Inez Garcia or Joanne Little cases were big, jump back. Wait till the good fathers and mothers of America who flock to Atlantic City learn their sweet little innocent teenage daughters who come down here are getting bent over a barrel by the cops and fucked up the ass. If you're not interested in this story, Jim, I know Tom Evans at the Washington Post is just dying for a nice juicy outrage like this."

"Where's the girl now?"

"Staying at my cottage here in Bay City. It looks like she's my responsibility. Mom is incompetent and Dad's MIA. I'm engaging an attorney for her this weekend. Morris Goodman."

"Goodman? You mean Goodman who used to be with the—"

"U.S. Attorney's office under Lacey and Stern, that's right. He'll stick up for her. You coming down or not?"

"Scott, I'm just about to leave on vacation tomorrow."

"Goddamnit Jim, they picked the girl up off the fucking street and fucked her to death! Doesn't that mean anything to you? Why the hell are you a journalist anyway? I thought you were one because—"

"Don't yell at me. Or use that tone on me. Did the story really happen the way she tells it?"

"The medical report backs her up in every detail. And the honcho from the Prosecutor's office saw the bruises."

"You've done well in corroborating your case from the start. Look. I'll tell you what. I'll talk to my editor, but—I think I could come down tomorrow. Just to take a look around. Any more than that I can't promise."

"It's a deal. When can you make it?"

"How's noon sound to you?"

"Fine. What's happening in Trenton?"

"The usual. They caught an assemblyman from Middlesex County sodomizing a page in the toilet and a state senator from Burlington County is trying to explain why the agribusiness interests have been depositing paper bags full of small-denomination bills on his desk for the last three years."

Jesus defending the woman taken into adultery

"Glad to hear the place hasn't changed."

"What's her name?"

"Debbie. Debbie Miller."

"It sounds like you've got a lot of personal involvement in this case, Scott."

"Man, do you want to live in a world where teenage girls get gangbanged by small-town cops?"

We signed off and I hung up.

When I sauntered out the front door to fetch the morning paper—the Atlantic City Press—and stooped over to pick it up from the concrete path leading to my house, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. A cop car. A Bay City cop car. Parked directly across the street from me. They were staking my home out.

Straightening up I gazed at it hard. A brand-new shining ivory-white police cruiser, with the gold Bay City seal on the door. Conover and Rossi sat in the front seat, Conover behind the wheel wearing mirrored sunglasses. They both stared at me coldly.

* * * * *

Nicky Scarfo, former Mob boss of Atlantic City

Chapter 7

The blazing sun beat down on me. Sweat trickled down the back of my neck. I don't know why it was so hot, or why it took me so long to cross that narrow street, my shoes scraping against the asphalt. But finally I was standing by the car, the paper rolled up in my hand, and Conover was looking up at me with cool insolence, the sunlight glinting off his mirrored shades. For what seemed like a long time, nobody said anything; the cops just stared at me contemptuously. It was dark inside the car. I shielded my eyes from the sun with a hand.

"Anything wrong, officers?"

"We got a call from the Atlantic City Medical Center," Conover said. "Seems there was a commotion at four in the morning."

"Related to some scurrilous rumors someone was mouthing off last night," Rossi said.

"What kind of rumors?"

"Everyone knows that bitch is a fuckin' liar," Conover said.

"She was examined by a doctor in the emergency room last night. There's medical evidence."

"No shit."

Rossi just smiled up at me. "So what? So who you gonna go to? The County Prosecutor? The State Police? The FBI maybe?"

"I just talked to a friend of mine from the New York Times. He's coming down tomorrow to do a story on it."

"Whoopee," Rossi said, twirling his index finger. "I'm shakin'."

"You don't understand how things run in this town," Conover said with an understanding smile.

"Yeah, buddy," Rossi said. "You don't watch it, you'll wind up slapped in jail."

"He looks like a drug user," Conover said, eyeing me. "Don't he look like a drug user to you, Gene?"

"Definitely," Rossi said.

"Take your Abbott-and-Costello routine somewhere else. But don't park in front of my house. Don't harass me. And don't you dare ever, ever try to intimidate me."

"You don't like it?" Conover said, and made an expansive grin. "Call the cops."

With a scowl I wheeled around and stalked back to my house. The paper was still clutched tightly in my hand.

I had just crossed the street and I was just stepping onto the sidewalk when I heard the two car doors open at once, as if by signal, and listened to the soles of their shoes scuff against the macadam as they got out.

"Mind if we come inside?" Rossi said. "There's some things we'd like to discuss."

When I turned around slowly to confront them, they were both facing me, teeth bared in tight grimaces, their hands resting on their gunbelts around their hips.

"What if I don't feel like having you in," I said.

"We got a search warrant," Conover declared happily.

"You think of everything."

"We don't fuck around," Conover said.

"On what probable cause?" I asked.

"The drug connection," Rossi said. "You and the girl. The judge said look into it."

"Let's see it."

Rossi handed it to me. It had the signature, all right.

So opening the screen door, I stepped aside and held it open for them. I wasn't about to enter my house with my back turned to them. "Come in," I said.

Strolling past me, they entered my house confidently and I stepped in behind them, releasing the door.

The screen door slammed shut with a bang. Neither of them reacted. They both stood in the center of my sunburst rug in the living room, coolly glancing around the place.

Compared to the throbbing heat outside, the interior of my house was a haven of cool darkness. Rossi eyed the living room slowly. "Nice digs you got here," he said.

At the mantelpiece over the fireplace, Conover picked up the framed picture of my parents from the Forties. "How long you had it?" he asked inbetween snaps of his chewing gum.

"Ten years."

"You in the service?" Rossi asked, staring at me.

"Yeah," I said. "Americal Division in Vietnam, then I was an MP."

"Nice," Conover said, his gaze wandering around the house.

My heart was hammering and I was clenching my fists at my side. My palms were wet. And black with newsprint from gripping the paper. "What did you boys want to talk about?"

"We had a misunderstanding last night," Rossi said to me in a hard, restrained voice. "The young lady was hysterical. Out of her head. Didn't know what she was saying."

"How do you account for the semen inside her vagina?"

"Maybe she fucked her way down the Jersey shore," Conover said.

"You explain the bruises, cocksucker," I said.

Throwing me a murderous glance Conover advanced a step in my direction, but Rossi blocked him with an arm.

“Maybe she liked it rough,” Rossi said. "Look," he said in a conciliatory tone, "you can understand. You were a cop once. It's one in the morning and out of nowhere the sweetest little cupcake you ever saw turns up by the side of the road when you're on patrol and you get a little carried away. No harm done. It's like the birds and the bees. Natural. Are you gonna stand there and tell me you never got caught up in something like that when you were a cop?"

"You bastard," I said. "Oh you bastard."

"Gene," Conover said, snapping his gum, "I don't think it's workin'."

"Get out of my house."

"We're not leaving till you get one thing straight," Rossi said. "You make trouble for us over this and you won't have a home in this town." He was jabbing his finger against my chest.

"Are you threatening me?"

"No, we're tellin' you, asshole," Conover said.

"You can have it either one of two ways," Rossi said in a calm, deadly voice. His eyes were glittering blackly and his chest was rising and falling. "You go your way and we go ours. No trouble. Or you make the mistake of stirring things up, and we come down hard on you."

"And the cunt," Conover said.

Debbie appeared suddenly in the hallway. Without a word she had emerged from her room and now she stood in her bare feet, only a few feet away. Her hair was tousled and her heavy-lidded eyes were still half-asleep. "I heard voices," she said.

Conover grinned delightedly. "Well well," he said.

Rossi smirked. "Miss Miller."

"How's our little girl?" Conover asked warmly.

Debbie blanched in abject shock. It was terrible. Horror catapulted her into full wakefulness. She gazed at them in naked terror, like nothing so much as a tiny mouse that has been clawed severely by two vicious bloodthirsty cats and yet manages to escape with its life, and who emerges the next day into the sunshine, relaxed and confident, only to be pounced on again.

"Lookin' good, Deb," Conover said with a grin.

"We were just talking about you," Rossi said with a small, private smile.

Staring at them agog, she tried to utter words of astonishment, but nothing came out. She choked on her vocal chords.

"Hey hey," Conover said with a malicious grin, "I bet I know why you've got her stayin' with you. You been slippin' it to her, right?"

"Get out," I said under my breath.

"Say, I think I hit a nerve there, Gene. That a fact, Mr. Lawrence? Tell us, Deb. You been keepin' Mr. Lawrence warm at night?"

Debbie was unable to move or speak. She just clamped her eyes shut and began to shiver.

"You mother," I said, staring at Conover.

"If you haven't tried her yet, you should," Rossi said. "She's got a roll like you wouldn't imagine."

"She's tight," Conover said.

"And bright," Rossi said.

"Tight and bright," Conover said. "And hot. Right, Deb?"

Debbie began to sob.

"Debbie, get back to your room," I said. "I'll handle these two. Debbie, I'm talking to you."

"I don't think she hears you," Rossi said.

"You see what you're putting this girl through?" Conover said. "That's what we were talking about."

I took Debbie by the shoulders, and turning her around, steered her back to her room. She fell on the bed and I went out, closing the door shut.

When I returned, Conover and Rossi were smirking at each other in the middle of the living room. I was furious.

"You motherfuckers," I said. "Get the fuck out of my house."

"Not till we get one thing straight, Lawrence," Rossi said. "Are you gonna keep your mouth shut or not?"

"Get the hell out of my house before I throw you out."

"That's an answer," Conover said brightly. "What'd I tell you, Gene? He's a dumb-ass. See, I told you he wouldn't go for it. Well while we're here I think I'll just pay a visit on my girlfriend and see how she's doing—" and he took a step toward Debbie's room.

At that point I went for his throat. I'd been bottling up my fury ever since they'd begun taunting Debbie in front of me, but when I saw that oaf moving toward Debbie's room something just snapped inside me and a blinding rage seized me and I was lunging for him.

For one brief tantalizing moment my hands were clamping around his neck and the bastard was reeling back and gasping in shock and surprise and all of a sudden he wasn't smirking anymore, and then the hard end of a billy was ramming into the pit of my stomach brutally. Rossi's hand

I pitched forward on my knees, holding my stomach and gasping futilely for breath. My diaphragm! I felt like I'd been stabbed with a sword. I was dying.

Standing over me, Rossi was breathing hard, billyclub gripped tightly in hand.

"Assaulting an officer," he said darkly.

Hands clutching his throat, Conover was staggering back. He was amazed. When he recovered, he got roaring mad and advanced on me, swearing, but as he was about to kick the shit out of me, Rossi restrained him.

"Bob," Rossi said, "when are you ever going to learn that the rough stuff went out a long time ago? Now we use persuasion. Now calm down and help me sit him on the sofa. That was a stupid thing to do anyway."

Each taking one of my arms, they pulled me to my feet and dumped me on one of the orange sofas. I was still wheezing for breath. I was also semi-paralyzed. A billy in the gut will make you think twice before moving again.

After I was half-slumped, half-sprawled in the middle of the sofa, Conover and Rossi each sat on either side of me, Rossi still gripping the billy, held casually in hand. The room insisted on spinning around me.

"Maybe there's something you don't understand about our community, Mr. Lawrence," Rossi said by way of making conversation. "Bay City is a real clean pretty little town. A nice little island. No muss, no fuss. It's real quiet around here. And we intend to keep it that way."

"Gene's a thinker," Conover said.

"You see, this here down around Atlantic City, it's a resort area," Rossi went on. "We're a summer community. So we rely on word-of-mouth. And if dirty lying stories ever got out about, well, any sort of trouble down here in Bay City—why, that might scare people off."

"Be terrible for our image," Conover said.

"Right," Rossi said. "Right. Bob understands. So whenever we find anyone in danger of spreading irresponsible malicious rumors around here, why then it's our duty as civic representatives to take that person aside and say—'Hey.'"

"'Hey,'" Conover said.

"'Sir, we don't mess on your turf—and you don't mess on ours.' You understand?" He rested the billyclub on my crotch. "Because we got a philosophy down here."

"You got a philosophy?" I gasped.

"Yeah," Rossi said. "It's okay to do whatever you want to—only just don't get caught."

Conover howled with laughter. Rossi allowed himself a few chuckles, but then his face went grim and he leaned over, staring at me, and pressed the end of the billyclub against my stomach.

"And buster," he said, "we don't intend to get caught."

A long moment of silence passed. Rossi nailed me with his fixed gaze. I was acutely aware of the end of the billyclub poking into my stomach.

Then the billy went away and Rossi turned his head to Conover. "What do you think, Bob?"

"I dunno, Gene. I don't think he's gonna buy it."

"You don't think so?"

"He's a wiseguy."

Suddenly Rossi sprang to his feet and smiled. "Then let's do it."

"What do you mean?" Conover said.

"Look at him." Rossi was staring at me heatedly. He was smiling but his eyes were not.

Conover looked at me. I sat there quietly, hugging my stomach, and said nothing. I was just trying to keep from throwing up.

"He's not going to shut up," Rossi said. "He'll blab the first minute we walk out the door. No, there's just one way to deal with jokers like him."

"What's that?" Conover's mouth was dry.

"You said so yourself, Bob. Look at this guy. He looks like a drug user. No, a drug dealer. A big-time drug dealer from New York. Doesn't he?"

"Why, now that you mention it, Gene, yeah."

"You know, I bet if we searched this house long enough, we could find out where he stashes his heroin."

"I bet you're right, Gene," Conover said excitedly, standing up.

"You start looking around. I'm going back to the car to get the drug identification kit."

"The planted evidence, you mean," I said.

"You're looking at ten-to-twenty in Trenton State, bud," Rossi said, "the prison not the college, and you brought it on yourself." He turned and went out the door.

"Guess I'll start shakin' down the place," Conover said to no one in particular, and stepping into the hallway, disappeared.

I sat there on the sofa, feeling my stomach churn and staring blankly at the wall ahead of me. I felt numb. They were going to frame me on a trumped-up charge and there was nothing I could do about it.

From the next room I could hear Conover's shoes clomping around. He was in the bathroom, rummaging through the medicine chest. He was in my bathroom, rummaging through my medicine chest.

And after checking out the toilet tank and figuring it was a good place to stash the dope so it could be "discovered," he would turn around and step out into the hallway, and the next place he would visit would be Debbie's room. His hand would close around the knob, and he would open the door slowly...

I stood up quickly, my heart slamming against my ribcage. I felt heat burning my armpits. My head was turned to the side and I was staring at the source of Conover's movement.

This was my house. I didn't have much in this world, but one of the things I prized most was having a safe, secure place to come home to. A place of my own. A place where I would not be disturbed.

I was not going to let them walk all over me.

Head buzzing, I stepped quietly into the hallway so that I could look into the bathroom. His back to me, Conover was pawing through the medicine chest. I flashed on the way he'd intimidated Debbie last night, and then I went nuts.

Acting swiftly, I moved into the bathroom and slammed my left fist into his left kidney, smashed my right fist into his right. He moaned and jerked upright, clawing at his back, and before he could utter a cry I grabbed him by the collar and rammed his head into the tile wall, then shoved him into the old-fashioned white enamel bathtub. He slipped and crashed into it, hitting his head with a crack.

"Help! Help!" I cried, and stationed myself behind the bathroom door. Blood was singing in my temples and I was light-headed.

Thudding footfalls were galloping through the house. As soon as a gun gripped by a hand was thrust through the door into my field of vision, I threw my shoulder against the door, slamming it shut on the wrist. Outside Rossi cried out in pain and his hand jumped open, the snub-nosed police revolver clattering to the floor.

Throwing the door open I saw Rossi standing there in the hallway, and while he was grabbing his wrist I kicked him high between the legs. He howled and collapsed in pain on his knees, clutching his groin.

Grabbing him by the collar, I slammed him up against the wall and screamed, "You motherfucker! Don't you ever come into this house again! You hear me? Don't you ever set foot in here again, and don't you ever, ever, ever—" and here I snapped his head against the wall each time "—try to threaten me again!"

Just then the hallway door opened and Debbie stood in the doorway, looking at me on my knees, slamming a cop up against the wall. "What's all the—" and then she stopped dead and stared at me woodenly.

"Get back inside your room!" I yelled. "Let me take care of this!"

She blinked and shut the door quickly. Scowling I turned my head and glanced into the bathroom, from which low moans were originating.

Conover was stirring in the bathtub. Falling over on one side, Rossi was cupping his groin, his face wrinkled in agony, and his eyes were clamped shut. Flinging him away I stood up and stepped into the bathroom to attend to Conover.

The cop lay stretched out on his back in the tub. His crewcut head was lifted a few inches and his face was screwed up into a grimace. Blood was streaming out of his nose. He was a real hurtin' little cowboy. Two shots in the kidneys delivered with triphammer force will do that to you.

Stooping over, I reached down and relieved him of his .38 Police Special and his billyclub. "Hey fucker," I said with a warm smile. "How does it feel to be on the receiving end for a change?"

He coughed and slumped against the enamel. Picking up the toilet plunger in the corner I prodded him with it and he whimpered.

"Why aren't you answering me?" I asked. "Where's the snappy comeback? I thought you were the tough guy with the funny answers who liked to dish it out. What's wrong? Where's the cop wit?"

A few feet away Rossi tried to sit up and collapsed on his side.

"You fucking bastards," I said, reaching down and seizing Conover by the collar. "I hate you fucking small-town cops. I was on the Philly force eight years and I never saw shit like this."

Out in the hallway Rossi groaned. "Ohh, my balls," he muttered, rocking back and forth. "My fucking balls."

The former Brigantine Hotel, originally built by Thirties Harlem messiah Father Divine for his "angels"

"You must be crazy," Conover croaked, "if you think you can get away with this. Your ass is grass."

"No it's not," I said cheerfully, and stabbed the hard wooden tip of the plunger into his belly. He doubled over in agony. "Because if you so much as dare breathe a word about this when you report in, I'll have some friends of mine from South Philly bounce your asses from here to Camden." It was a bold lie but I thought it might work. "You got it?" I poked him in the ribs.

"Yeah, yeah," he yelped quickly.

"Good." I hauled him up by the collar. He stood on shaky legs. "Now get out of here." He stepped out of the tub and I shoved him out of the bathroom. "And take your partner with you."

As he assisted Rossi to his feet, I said, "And I don't want to see either one of you around here ever again. Understand?"

"Yeah, we understand," Rossi said, leaning against the wall, and began coughing.

"So fuck off," I said.

"Can we have our guns back?" Conover asked.

"I'll put them in your car." While Conover helped Rossi make a few faltering steps into the living room, I went outside, emptying the shells from their revolvers, and dropped them in the back seat of the cruiser along with their billyclubs. When I turned around, Conover and Rossi were staggering out the front door, and the screen door slammed shut behind them. I stood and watched while they stumbled down the concrete path. As they approached the car I went over to them. "You'd better go home and get cleaned up before you report for duty."

"Right," Conover said and assisted Rossi into the prowl car.

"Don't bother the girl again either," I said. "Because I'd just love an excuse to kill you both."

I stood on the front porch, hands gripping the waist-high black iron railing that enclosed part of it, and watched while the cop car turned around and faltered its way back up the street, like a crippled animal. I stared at it intently as it made a left-hand turn onto Bay Avenue. I still wanted to kill somebody.

* * * * *

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