Authors: Dorothy Uhnak
Codes of Betrayal
After his wife leaves him Nick O'Hara, a part-Irish, part-Italian New York policeman turns to drinking and gambling. To pay debts he resorts to dealing in drugs, is caught and given a choice, jail or become an undercover agent against his grandfather, a Mafia don.
To Dr. Kishore R. Saraf,
who has brought light to my dark places
for more than twenty years.
To the Tuesday night artists’ group, who have given me more support and encouragement than they realize.
All of you, but especially Janet Culbertson,
Mamie Hutchinson, Rose Slivka,
Mary Jane Meaker, and Marggy Kerr.
Again, always, to my husband, Tony,
and daughter, Tracy.
They know why.
HERE WAS A HARD
, cold wind blowing from the Hudson River, with Thirty-fourth Street acting as a corridor. The steelworkers, braced on the open skeleton of the twentieth floor of what would eventually be a forty-two-story condominium, were used to the weather. The tension among them was prompted by the presence of three men in suits, obviously not construction men. The tallest, Vincent Ventura, was one of the owners of Ventura Construction, Incorporated. The two men with him were common, ordinary, run-of-the-mill thugs.
Ventura stood back and watched as his two henchmen talked, quietly at first, to a workman. They moved in closer, and in response he moved back a little. They began to shove the man back and forth between them as Ventura watched without expression. The steelmen glanced at each other but no one made a move until Danny O’Hara, the crew chief, arrived on the scene.
“Hey, what the hell’s the matter with you guys? This is open work up here. Vincent, your guys have no right to be up here. You got a beef, you take it down to ground level.”
As long as Danny O’Hara was there, nothing could happen. After all, he was Vincent’s brother-in-law.
But something did happen. The thugs got a little louder, a little rougher. It was about an unpaid debt, and although the construction guy pleaded for more time, they ignored his words. One of them shoved him a little too hard and the usually surefooted man slipped, or maybe twisted an ankle. He went flying off the temporary flooring, smashed into a beam, and disappeared into space. It was so windy that his cry was muffled almost immediately, although it could be assumed that he yelled all the way down.
The two thugs turned to Vincent Ventura, whose face had gone pale. He licked his thin lips, then motioned his men toward him. The other workers moved in a semicircle; but suddenly guns were pointed at them, and they froze.
Only Danny O’Hara made a move—toward the field telephone. Vincent intercepted him, and within seconds his men held Danny firmly by the arms.
Vincent Ventura picked up the phone, dialed a number. His eyes stayed fixed on Danny as he spoke and then listened. He replaced the receiver, took a deep breath, and turned his thumb down. In response, the two thugs shoved Danny O’Hara, husband of his sister, father of his nephew, over the side.
The three men then turned slowly and confronted the other workmen.
Vincent spoke in a quiet voice that seemed to shake just slightly. “This is a terrible day, right? Two men swept off by a strong wind.”
There was absolute silence as Vincent and his men boarded the open-air elevator. “Remember,” he told them, “you all tell the cops the same story. Danny reached out, to try to save Charley, and instead of saving him, he got caught in the wind too. We all got that? I’m sorry I wasn’t here when it happened, but how could I have helped? I’m not a high-rise man, right?”
Before he pushed the “down” button, he told them, “One more thing. Please remember this. Accidents can happen anywhere. Anywhere at all. At a man’s home, with his family sleeping, or watching TV or eating. In his car; his wife’s car. Jesus, even his kid’s school bus, right? Terrible things can happen.”
They watched as the open elevator slid down with a loud humming noise.
No one could meet the eyes of any of the others.
Accidents do happen. Anywhere. At any time.
DDIE MANGANARO PUSHED HIS
sunglasses to the top of his head and held the newspaper to the light coming through the passenger window of the unmarked, beat-up Chevy surveillance car. He held his finger under the tiny print.
“Nick, listen. This has got to be the best. What they call a saver. I gotta keep this one.”
His partner, Nick O’Hara, rubbed his eyes. Every time they had a fixed surveillance, Eddie distracted himself by trying to find the craziest memoriam printed on the obit page of the
New York Daily News.
It seemed that every single person being remembered—on a birthday, or death date, or significant anniversary—had been too good for this earth. A saint with a smile the angels envied. Nick wondered how many of the relatives ever told the poor bastard how terrific he was when he was alive.
“Lemme ask you something, Ed. Do these people being remembered have a subscription to the
up in heaven? Who delivers the papers to them?”
Eddie ignored him. He narrowed his eyes. “This is great. Jesus, it’s signed ‘Grandma.’ Listen—listen up. ‘Michael, it’s two years since they did that to you. Don’t worry. Every day since then, they pay and pay. They never get off the hook and they know why and their mothers will cry when they rot in hell. Rest in heaven remembering my promise to you. Love, Grandma.’ Wadda ya think about that?”
Nick was impressed. “I think Grandma is some tough cookie.”
“Sometimes I think these messages are coded. Y’know, not what they seem to be. Coupla years ago, I used to read the personals in the
Nick turned to his partner. “The
New York Times? You
New York Times?”
Manganaro shrugged. “I worked with a better class of partner then. Anyway, there was a message, like four times a year, to some guy named Paul. Very cryptic. Like: ‘We waited for the phone call. Michigan was cold. What happened?’ Then, a few months later: “Paul, like clockwork. How are the classes going? Don’t call.’”
Despite himself, Nick was curious. “Any messages from Paul?”
Manganaro shook his head. There were strange things in the world, if only you looked for them.
Nick chewed on a pencil; consulted his watch; tried to conjure up an eight-letter word for “doubled consonant” that would fit the three letters he already worked out on the down words. What he did to kill time was to work out crossword puzzles. He had stored away an endless number of esoteric, totally unusable words. He wondered when the hell he’d ever get a chance to use “acrolect.” Someday maybe he’d have an investigation that took him to New Orleans, so he could impress the hell out of the cops there: ask if any of them spoke that particular variety of Creole that approximates most closely standard language. That’d make him popular down south.
These were a couple of ways the two detectives from the Seventeenth Precinct Detective Squad Unit passed the heavy time of waiting. Not that they weren’t watching the comings and goings of various people in and out of the three-story brownstone across the street and a few houses down from where they sat slumped in the Chevy.
What they were watching was an upscale whorehouse. The clientele included movie stars, in New York on a promotional jaunt; athletes, celebrating or lamenting after a basketball or baseball or hockey game; even high-level diplomats taking a quickie on a lunch break from their duties at the UN or their desk at the embassy. These bastards even had the balls to park illegally. There were a lot of familiar, public faces coming in and out of the elegant building—which housed, according to a small, neat, brass nameplate, something called the Whalen Institute. It was supposed to be a center for new age, new wave, relaxation, rejuvenation, or stimulation, all for two hundred bucks an hour. That was what they reported as income to the IRS. What the institute forgot to mention were the services over and above steamy massages, herbal wraps, weird music: the charges for lithe young women doing lithe interesting things.
Nick and Eddie were on a fill-in assignment, as a favor to a couple of guys who had court appearances. They didn’t actually know too much about the operation, or who specifically was interested in the Institute. There were allegations of heavy drug turnover, money laundering, illegal meetings—or, rather, indiscreet get-togethers between foreign nationals. There were probably enough scandalous things going on to take up a hundred hours of TV talk showtime, not to mention pages in the sleaze press. As well as the so-called straight press—it was hard to draw a distinction nowadays.
Nick and Ed weren’t the only people on alert. There were probably a couple of guys monitoring what was going on via camera surveillance. Wires may or may not have been tapped. When you are on a temporary basis, just doing a favor you hope will one day be returned, you do what’s asked of you. Nick and Ed wrote down the arrival and departure times of various vehicles and their license plates; descriptions of persons entering and leaving. It was boring work; they were glad they weren’t too involved.
Eddie Manganaro, thirty-five, son of two immigrants from Sicily, looked like a poster boy for the Irish Tourist Board. He was a green-eyed, redheaded, snub-nosed, pale guy with the face of an altar boy. He had a punch like a sledgehammer, developed as a result of being the fourth in a five-boy family. Many a culprit was surprised to learn a skinny boy-face like Eddie, with his sweet smile, could be so rough. And calm about it.
Nick O’Hara, a couple of years older, inches and pounds larger, also looked like a guy with the wrong name. He was a swarthy man with a strong face, black eyebrows, and unruly black hair; he had startlingly blue eyes, unexpected against his complexion. The dark coloring came from the Ventura side of his family; but so did the blue eyes. Whatever was Irish about him didn’t show, but his father’s ethnicity made him a member of the Irish fraternal organization. And his mother’s family qualified him as a member of the Italian organization. Of course, all ethnic and fraternal and religious organizations were more political than fraternal. It was essential to belong to one or another—or more than one, if you could, in order to give you some solid backing when promotions or assignments came up. Or if you were in trouble, and needed some friends with clout.