Smokey Annicelli promised Evan Bravere as his best friend lay dying he’d look after Evan’s son Ricky. It wasn’t a hardship—he was Ricky’s godfather. But years passed, and life happened, and he lost track of Ricky. Then one morning, he’s called to the scene of a brutal murder. The victim is his godson. Who murdered the charismatic young rock star, and who had he gone to 247 W. 29th Street to see? As Smokey throws himself headlong into the case, it brings back memories of a terrible night in Bronx River Park he’s spent the last thirty years trying to forget. With vicious thugs on his tail, he has to dig deeper than he ever thought he could to solve a mystery that, in many ways, explains his own life.
– Suspense Magazine
– Strand Magazine
I’ve got a funny feeling. It’s one of those mornings when even the air doesn’t feel right. At eight a.m. the sun hangs over Long Island City like a ripe plum. The sky is ash-gray with a glimmer of pink. And my teeth are about to break because they’re chattering so hard.
“Come on, Snowball, do your business,” I plead with Maya’s shih tzu as I stand on the rim of Manhattan, a knot of blue-jeaned kids behind me smoking a jay and giggling like they just invented getting high. My eyes are following a 737 up the river to LaGuardia Airport when my cellphone starts vibrating.
“What is it, Lukey?” I ask because his name appears on the screen.
“Smokey,” he says like something’s up. Luke is my oldest, bluest buddy in the NYPD. Fifteen years ago, when it was dangerous, we patrolled the alphabets together. That’s before I was booted off the force.
“How’s the family? How’s Luke Junior? He get those Fantastic Four comic books I sent him?”
Last I heard, the kid had been checked into Bethpage Hospital with double pneumonia. This unexpected call is making me think something’s wrong.
Luke says, “You’d better get over to Two-forty-seven West Twenty-ninth Street fast. Fourth floor.”
“Why?” “Go! Now!” “Sure, Luke. But how come?”
“They’ll explain when you get there. Just go.”
I ditch the dog at Maya’s on East 13th Street just as she’s getting out of the shower. Little bulbs of water cling to the slope of her back.
“How’d you sleep last night?” I ask, because lately she’s been having terrible nightmares about strange men chasing her through unfamiliar streets. She thinks they might be echoes from another life.
“Better,” she says, her dark skin warming the cool light. When it glows at night it turns more honey. Her eyes change, too, from amber to deep gold. Watching her and the way she moves, I’m reminded of a cheetah, which was my favorite animal as a kid growing up in the Bronx.
I’m damn fortunate she’s in my life. “Where you going, Smokey?” Maya asks. “We’ve got to talk.”
I know what she wants to talk about—the job that’s been offered to me by an international security firm in Miami. She wants to move out of the city for a bunch of reasons—her dance career is over, she’s tired of teaching, the city is wearing her down. But I don’t have time for that now.
“Sorry, baby, I gotta run.”
“You gonna walk out on this?” she asks, pulling back the terry towel to reveal a slice of her right breast and nipple, the taut contours of her stomach and thighs. We met three months ago squeezing tomatoes at the Chelsea Market, and we’re been together ever since.
Life has been good.
I give her a kiss, a quick pat on the butt and a “later” before scooting out the door. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror—dark penetrating eyes, strong nose, unruly black-and-silver hair, taut lines around my mouth that remind me I’m nearing fifty.
West 29th Street is a jag uptown and west.
“Can’t you move this thing any faster?” I ask the driver. He’s spouting a stream of Arabic or something into a mouthpiece then hits the gas. A couple near misses later, we skid to a stop in front of a nondescript six- story dirty gray building, the kind you hardly notice in the architectural jumble of midtown.
“Thanks.” I hand him a ten for his trouble then flash my PI badge at the red-haired cop guarding the entrance. He walkie-talkies upstairs.
“Detective Donnelly wants to see you,” he snarls.
I slap him on the shoulder. Ask: “Why? What’d I do wrong?”
He’s got no sense of humor. Points to the elevator. “Four.” Police tape and a crowd of officers tangle up the narrow hall. A paramedic with a mean goatee zips up the stiff. Behind him is the deepest, widest pool of blood I’ve ever seen.
“What happened?’ I ask a detective in one of those lived-in blazers. “Looks like someone squeezed him dry.”
He’s a squat guy unknown to me, with a big nose that juts in three directions and heavy hangdog eyes.
“That’s what happens when you get shot nine times in the back,” he says, squinting up. “What are you doing here?”
“I was called.”
“You a priest?” “Do I look like a priest?”
“You look like you don’t belong here.”
“The name’s Smokey,” I say. “Tony Annicelli.”
He sniffs at me like he smells something bad. “I’m Donnelly,” is all he says. Then his eyes light up like sparks. “Shit.”
A tall Irish-looking guy wrapped in a white apron screams a line of curses a mile long, and the cops clear fast. “You dumb cocksuckers! You stupid, clumsy bastards! You mess up my crime scene, and I’ll fry your asses.”
“It’s the crime scene investigator,” Donnelly says. “You’d better cool your heels downstairs.”
Twenty minutes of trying to get Luke on the phone, scanning the sports page and two cups of bitter coffee later, Donnelly pulls me inside. “Follow me,” he says, fishing something out of his nose.
We push past some uniforms chewing gum and sipping coffee. Take the elevator up to four then start down. The stairway is narrow and dark. Smeared across the worn metal steps lies a thick ribbon of blood.
“Watch your step,” he says.
We follow it down to between two and three. That’s when Detective Donnelly turns to me.
“This is where he got clipped.”
“Who?” Instead of an answer, he stares at me hard. “Who?” I ask again. He just keeps staring like he’s miles away. So, I ask, “Any suspects?”
“A Korean lady in the dry cleaner’s downstairs put an ID on a kid with a cap who nearly knocked her over when she was opening her shop. I got a dozen officers out there looking for him. Roughly five-seven, wearing jeans and a hoodie. Disappeared into Penn Station at rush hour. Gonna be a bitch to find him.”
“You recover the murder weapon?” I ask as I follow him up to three.
He doesn’t bother to turn, just shakes his head. Back up on four, he steps carefully over the pool of blood and pushes a door. It opens to a big loft space with bare walls, scraggly plants, cats looking for cover and a big desk piled high with papers and books. I follow him into a square bedroom. An older, baldheaded guy sits collapsed on the bed, his eyes flashing all over the place. As soon as he sees Detective Donnelly, he starts talking.
“I feel terrible,” the little man says. “My doctor told me no stress. Watch the blood pressure. And first thing in the morning, I’m drinking my cof- fee, smearing my bagel with cream cheese. Then, this,” he moans into his hands.
“What?” Donnelly asks.
“Someone banging on the door next door,” the baldheaded guy continues. “Then a slamming sound, like he’s breaking in. I get out my thirty-eight—I keep it loaded. It’s licensed. I’ve got rare coins here, officer. My friends tell me I’m crazy, but I’m a businessman and I got a right to protect myself.”
Donnelly looks uninterested. I’m still wondering what this has to do with me.
“Let me see it,” Donnelly says.
The bald man reaches under the bed and hands over what looks like an old service revolver. Donnelly sniffs it and hands it back.
“What happened next?” he asks.
The baldheaded man on the bed faces me for the first time. He’s got a mug that’s hard to look at—sallow skin, a mouth that twists to the left, a weak chin and jaw. He ain’t a looker.
I notice a plaque on the wall that reads Seth Breely, Rare Coins and Stamps.
He looks at me like he’s scared.
“What do you mean, what happened next?”
“I mean, what happened next?” Donnelly repeats, shifting his weight to his right leg.
“I opened the door to see what was going on,” Breely says, recovering.
“And what do I see? I see...this...this bloody mess. This terrible, terrible thing. This nightmare, detective. I don’t know how I’ll ever sleep.”
“You know him?” Donnelly asks.
“Of course not,” Seth shoots back. “Why would a decent man like me associate with something like that?”
Seems like a cruel thing to say given the fact the victim was brutally murdered less than an hour ago.
Breely tries to amend that with a quick “May he rest in peace.” Then, he starts trembling. First his legs, then his pale hands, then big convul-sions that run from his toes all the way to his head.
Donnelly puts a hard squeeze on his shoulder. “You ever seen the guy before?” he asks. Breely shakes his chin as a skinny shorthaired cat crawls into his lap.
Detective Donnelly slaps my arm. “Come with me, Annicelli” is all he says. Out of curiosity, I follow him downstairs to the street, where onlookers have gathered and are asking each other questions. A slick-looking His panic reporter from Eyewitness News pushes his way forward, blocking our path.
“Detective,” he demands. “Detective, just a minute.”
“Later,” Donnelly answers, shoving him aside. In the back of the medical van, Donnelly tells the female medical examiner to show me the body. With the rip of the zipper comes the question <Why? It hangs there like a plastic bag caught in the wind. I suck in hard.
The body’s a bloody mess of turned-out skin and entrails, but what strikes me is the face— young and old at the same time, handsome once, almost angelic; triangular-shaped, framed with shoulder-length bleached- blond hair. But now the nose and mouth are badly smashed. The part that grabs me is the expression—half-scowl, half-laugh. Caught between sarcasm and disgust.
“So?” Donnelly asks.
“It’s Ricky Bravere,” I say, smoothing over the damaged face, adding the familiar smile, the intelligent glint in his big brown eyes.
“So you know him,” he says, almost matter-of-fact. “Yes.” Or did. I feel sick as guilt floods over me and invades my head. I was supposed to look after him. Ricky was my godson, and my best friend Evan’s son.
Donnelly nods at the paramedic, who lifts Ricky’s pale left wrist out of the bag and turns it over. “Why do you think he has this on his wrist?” Donnelly asks.
I read my name and number written in blue ink. “I have no idea.”
Then he removes a plastic evidence bag from a case and thrusts it in my face. It holds a silver automatic that feels like it’s empty. “Any clue why he was carrying this?” Donnelly asks. “It’s empty. Hasn’t been fired.”
“I guess he was expecting trouble.”
“He found it.”
“Yes, he did.”