Authors: Lorenzo Carcaterra
More praise for
The Silence of the Lambs
seem a bit of an Aesop fable. … Carcaterra makes us rethink our notions of American culture. … Nobody makes you root more for the Dirty Harrys. … And nobody leaves you wondering more about that line—so very thin indeed in Carcaterra land—between revenge and justice.”
The Atlanta Journal & Constitution
“Darkly atmospheric … Carcaterra’s novel succeeds admirably in describing a hostile, unforgiving world in which a life can be snuffed out ‘in a New York minute’ and where good and evil frequently intermingle. … A fervent cry for justice and a tribute to crime’s courageous avengers.”
The Hartford Courant
“Carcaterra is an excellent writer, changing the pace here and there but never letting the reader go.”
The Denver Post
“Consistently hard-hitting … Savage … Wrenching.”
“A gritty revelation of the underbelly of life … A story that grabs you from the beginning and just doesn’t let go.”
Affaire de Coeur
By Lorenzo Carcaterra
A SAFE PLACE:
The True Story of a Father, a Son, a Murder
For the fallen.
None of what follows would have happened without the help and guidance of many. Here are a few:
Peter Gethers, who proved once again to be a great editor and, as I learned with the writing of this book, a patient one. The jokes aren’t bad either. No writer could hope to have a better publisher or friend than Clare Ferraro. A tip of the hat to the rest of my Ballantine gang: Linda Grey, Alberto Vitale, Sally Marvin (no more Big Macs), Liz Williams, and Nate Penn.
Loretta Fidel has always had my respect and this time around, she earned her stripes; Amy Schiffman, Rob Carlson, and Carol Yumkas are great agents and good friends. A big thank-you also to Arnold Rifkin. Thanks to Jake Bloom and Robert Offer for taking me along for the ride. And to Barry Kingham for being there.
A warm thanks to Jerry Bruckheimer, Susan Lyne, Jordi Ros, Donald De Line, and Joe Roth for their passion. And to Christy Callahan and Christian McLaughlin for their help.
To John Manniel for all he did for my family. A heartfelt thank-you to Steve Collura. I’ll see you at Toscana’s. And to Sonny Grosso, the best cop ever to pin on an NYPD badge and a friend for life. The next Fernet’s on me.
To my phone circle: Liz Wagner, Leah Rozen, William Diehl, Stan Pottinger, Mr. G., Brother Anthony, Hank Gallo, and Joe Lisi. Thanks for listening.
To Vincent, Ida, and Anthony—for the great meals and the happy nights.
To Susan, who makes what I write read better than it should. In return, I can only give my heart. And to my two best accomplishments: Kate, who lets me steal her great plot ideas without complaints, and Nick, who keeps me laughing.
They have taught me how to love.
My mother groan’d, my father wept,
Into the dangerous world I leapt;
Helpless, naked, piping loud,
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.
Santori wanted nothing more than to be alone.
They had planned this weekend getaway for six months, their first one in fifteen years. No kids, no phones, no work, nothing but music, dance, and a little bit of romance at the Jersey shore.
They left behind their fifteen-year-old son, Anthony, to care for the house and his twelve-year-old sister, Jennifer. They felt that both children were old enough to be trusted, allowing them to enjoy a short respite from the daily grind of parental responsibility. Carlo handed Anthony the house keys and three simple instructions—don’t stray from the neighborhood, set the burglar alarm and lock the house, and never let Jennifer out of your sight. The boy stared at his father and swore to obey all three.
Anthony, however, had his own plans for the weekend.
His parents were no less than ten minutes out of the driveway when Anthony woke Jennifer from a sound sleep, yelling for her to get ready. They had two hours to catch a bus for a ride into Manhattan, to spend a Saturday in the city his parents had always told him was not to be trusted.
Anthony needed to get away almost as much as Carlo and Anne. He was a teenager eager for the taste of a day without parents, without rules, and with pockets jammed with allowance money. All of it out there waiting less than an hour’s ride from the safety of a New Jersey colonial. His only obstacle had been to convince Jennifer.
She balked when she first heard the plan, and it was all he could do to keep her from spilling the secret. Jennifer was afraid something would go wrong, believing all the horror stories she had heard. But she stayed silent, her arms always wrapped around a Kermit the Frog doll, confident Anthony would protect her and allow nothing bad to happen.
Confident that he would be the one to keep her safe.
Jennifer was a frail girl, with a thin, freckled face, eager to cross the bridge from preteen to young adult. She wore a long-sleeved Gap denim shirt over a white pocket T. The jeans were tight and bleached, bottoms scraping a pair of red hightops. Black bangs brushed the corners of her eyes.
“Should we really do this?”
“Stay home if you’re scared,” Anthony said, walking from her room.
“I’m not scared,” Jennifer said right back.
“Then get ready,” Anthony told her. “And don’t forget to bring your own money.”
They walked down a sloping hill, ice, dirt, and moldy leaves brushing against their shoes. Jennifer kept her hands inside her coat pockets. On her shoulders was a backpack filled with a change purse, Kermit, and a hairbrush. Anthony kept his face away from the arctic blasts of wind bouncing past trees and houses. They moved in silence, each excited at the prospect of doing something forbidden.
Anthony held the door to the 7-Eleven across the two-lane street from the bus shelter. He checked his watch as his sister walked past.
“Ten minutes,” he said. “Get what you want and meet me by the stop.”
They boarded the 11:04.
Anthony paid for the one-way tickets with exact change. They walked down the center aisle toward the back of the bus, taking two empty seats four rows from an old couple bundled into down coats. Anthony
unzipped his black leather jacket and leaned back, thick black curls resting against the torn edge of the seat. He closed his eyes as the bus swung past a series of minimart shops, fast-food outlets, and used car dealerships, heading for the speed lane of a congested thruway and the streets of New York City.
“I can’t wait to see the stores,” Jenny said, her Styrofoam cup of tea now cold in her hand.
“We’ll walk around a bit,” Anthony said, eyes still closed. “Get a feel for the place.”
“Will it be crowded?”
“It’s New York.” Anthony turned his head toward the window. “It’s
“We gonna be home before dark?”
Anthony didn’t answer, rocked to sleep by the motion of the bus.
“I hope we’re home before dark,” Jennifer Santori whispered to herself.
• • •
HE BUS PULLED
into the top level of New York’s Port Authority terminal at 11:56
., three minutes past its projected arrival. Jennifer put a hand on her brother’s shoulder and woke him.
“What will we do first?” Jennifer asked, zipping her parka.
“Find a bathroom,” Anthony said.
They walked among thick crowds, Anthony holding Jennifer’s hand. He repeated his warnings not to leave him. To wait where he left her.
To speak to no one.
To look at no one.
Anthony pushed open the men’s room door, the one directly across from the Papaya King. He left Jennifer against the wall next to the door, pointed a finger in her face, and again told her not to move.
She answered with a nod.
He was out in less than five minutes.
He looked to his left and swallowed hard, feeling the sweat and the chill. Anthony Santori stood there and did the only thing he could think to do. He shouted his sister’s name. Again and again and again and again. He shouted it as loud and as strong and as often as he could.
But there never was a response.
His ears were filled with the din of passing conversations. People stopped to stare at him now, curious about the panicked boy shouting out a girl’s name. But he didn’t care. Not about them. Not about what they thought. Not about what they were saying.
There was only one truth that mattered.
Jennifer had disappeared.
His only sister was gone.
Swallowed by a city not her own.
No hero without a wound.
never wanted to be a cop. He was a three-letter athlete during his school years at St. Bernard’s Academy, a private high school in downtown Manhattan his parents insisted he attend. He would leave their cold-water railroad apartment each morning before sunup and return each evening after dark, eating dinner and doing homework at the kitchen table facing the fire escape. He was a model student, never complained about his packed schedule, and kept the friends he trusted to a minimum.
He had two younger sisters, Angela and Maria, whom he would either dote on or ignore, depending on his mood. His older brother, Carmine, had already dropped out of school and followed their father, John, into the heavy-lifting, well-paying labor of the meat market. Their relationship was reserved, at best.
John Frontieri was a stern man who commanded respect and demanded his family’s full attention. His upper body, conditioned by years of lugging 250-pound hindquarters off the backs of refrigerated trucks, was a weight lifter’s dream. He was quick to give a slap of the hand to one of the children if he felt they were out of line, but never hit or screamed at his wife, Theresa, a homely, chunky woman whose face displayed a weariness far greater than her years.
On spring and summer Sunday mornings, after the nine o’clock mass, Johnny Frontieri would change quickly out of his blue dress suit and into work pants, construction shoes, and a sweatshirt. He and little Giovanni would then
take their fishing poles and tackle down from the living room closet and rush out of the apartment for a twenty-minute subway ride downtown. There, after a brisk walk, the two would spend the day, feet brushing the sand on the edges of the East River, their backs to the Manhattan Bridge, fishing for whatever could survive the currents.
It was their time together.
“If I catch a shark, can I stay home from school tomorrow?” Giovanni, then nine, asked his father.
“You catch a shark,” John said, “and you can stay home from school for a
“What about if I catch an eel?”
“You reel an eel and I’ll make you go to school on weekends,” John said.
The two looked at one another and laughed, the morning sun creeping past the expanse of the bridge and onto their faces.
“You’re always lookin’ to get outta school, Giovanni,” his father said. “Why is that?”
it,” Giovanni said.
“Then quit.” His father shrugged. “Quit right now. Today.”
“You mean it?” Giovanni asked, his face beaming.
“You should always walk from somethin’ you hate doin’,” his father said. “Turn your eye to somethin’ else.”
“You can come work with me if you want. Put in your ten, twelve hours a day, help bring some table money home. Or maybe go down to the docks to work with your cousins. Do a full four-day shift with them and get locked into the union. How’s that feel to you?”
“I don’t know, Dad,” Giovanni said, swaying his fishing line to the right of a swirl, pulling on the reel. “None of it sounds like fun.”
“If you’re gonna forget about school, then you can forget about fun,” John said, sitting down on wet sand, gripping his fishing rod with both hands.
Giovanni stared down at his father and then back
across at the water, concentrating on a nibble. “
have fun,” he said after a long stretch of silence. “And you didn’t go to any school.”
“Working man’s fun,” John said. “It’s not the same.”
“Mama thinks I should become a dentist,” Giovanni said. “I don’t know why.”
“I think she’s got a thing for Dr. Tovaldi,” John said, lifting his face to the sun. “She always dresses up nice when she goes to him and gets her teeth cleaned.”
“What do you want me to be?” Giovanni asked. “You never say, one way or another.”
“What you end up becomin’ is up to you,” John said. “I can’t lead you down any road. But whatever it is you do, don’t go into it half-assed. You’ll only wind up hatin’ yourself. Give it everything, the full shot. This way, at the end of the day, when the sun’s down and you
you put in a hundred percent, you’ll feel good about yourself. Maybe even feel proud.”