Read The Punishing Game Online
Authors: Nathan Gottlieb
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thriller
The Punishing Game
By Nathan Gottlieb
The Punishing Game
Published by: Endless String
Published: March 2013
Copyright © 2013 by Nathan Gottlieb.
All rights reserved.
For Cara Taback
It is impossible to suffer without making someone pay for it.
No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution.
On a hot summer night in a rundown section of Brooklyn, a black limo with tinted windows turned off the street into a dark alley strewn with garbage. The car crunched its way over the debris until it reached the end of the alley and stopped near a recessed doorway. Out from the shadows of the doorway came a black kid in his early twenties wearing baggy carpenter jeans hanging low on his hips, red Giants football jersey, and a white Yankees cap turned sideways.
As the back window of the limo came down, the kid leaned in closer to the car, spoke briefly to someone in the backseat, then snatched a thick white envelope that was thrust out the back window by a hand wearing three gold rings and a Rolex. The kid quickly stuffed the envelope into a pants pocket and moved back into the recessed doorway, then peeked out to watch as the limo backed out of the alley, reached the street, and disappeared. As soon as the car was gone, the kid pulled a Beretta out of his pants pocket and began pimp-walking toward the sidewalk. He showed more bravado then he really felt. At the sidewalk, he scoped out the street, looking for signs of potential trouble. This was
Brownsville, the worst part of Brooklyn, and the kid didn’t want to get caught with the envelope. Spotting a black Land Rover speeding his way, he blew out a sigh of relief. The car slowed down alongside the alley but didn’t quite stop, so the kid opened the passenger side door while the car was still moving, jumped in, and slammed the door. The Land Rover sped away.
When it reached the East Bronx, the limo pulled over to the curb in front of a boarded-up brownstone. At the same time, a clap of thunder exploded in the sky, setting off alarms in parked cars up and down the street. Heavy rain began pelting the overheated streets and sidewalks, turning the air into steam.
Within seconds, the brownstone’s basement door opened. Up the stairs came a man whose face was shadowed by an umbrella. He hustled over to the car, collapsed his umbrella, and ducked inside the back.
Minutes later, the limo passed Yankee Stadium, where the field lights illuminated the slashing rain. Shortly after passing the stadium, the limo turned onto the Major Deegan Expressway and headed south.
A couple of cars behind the limo came a Crown Victoria without chrome, its
front seats occupied by two men in their forties. The driver, Carlo Monetti, was paunchy and sported a two-day stubble. Riding shotgun was Andy Colligan, who had a hawk nose and face pitted with acne scars. They were plainclothes cops winding down their shift on a wet dreary night.
The floor of the Crown Vic was littered with Styrofoam cups, greasy brown bags, and a Dunkin’ Donuts box. In the space between their seats there was a recording device that was picking up conversation from somewhere.
How’d it go with the kid?
a Hispanic voice said on the recorder
A man with a throaty voice replied.
I hope he doesn’t fuck up. Did you warn him about drugs?
Throaty Voice said.
He’ll stay clean. How far along are you on your end?
Good. Everything is just about in place.
As long as our
Brooklyn friend comes through,
the Hispanic said.
He’ll do as told. He likes the color of my money.
You know, amigo, this is a big operation. Bigger than anything you’ve ever done. Are you sure you can handle this?
hacked out a cough.
Worry about yourself. My whole life prepared me for this.
I hope so. Meanwhile, where’re you taking me to eat?
You like aged
The Hispanic laughed.
Any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
I made a reservation for us at
Gallagher’s on 52
Street. They dry age their prime sirloin in house. Cuts like butter. Sweet.
The cops in the Crown Vic looked at each other and frowned.
“What are we supposed to do with this mumble jumble?” Monetti said.
Colligan waved a dismissive hand. “Turn the tape in to the friggin’ captain, go eat, and then hit a strip club.”
Monetti took a hit on a can of Coke. “Why the hell did Burgess order this surveillance in the first place?” he asked almost rhetorically.
Colligan shrugged. “Who knows? The asshole’s a fucking desk jockey. Watches too many cop shows. Apparently one of his snitches told Burgess these two jokers might be up to something.”
Monetti nodded. “Yeah, they’re going to dinner,” he said. “Like we should.”
“I guess you’re right. This is a waste of time.” Colligan turned off the recording device. “Let’s knock off.”
“That’s the first thing you said all night worth listening to.”
As Monetti cut into the right lane and went down the
Willis Avenue ramp toward the Third Avenue Bridge, the Crown Vic disappeared into the night.
After changing into street clothes, Danny Cullen left Nino Biaggi’s One Punch Gym
with his trainer, Ryan McAlary, and Nino Biaggi himself, a rugged-looking man with a crooked nose and more than a few scars on his face. Biaggi locked the gym’s two dead bolts, then the three men headed down a couple flights of creaky wooden stairs attached to the outside of the building. Biaggi’s gym was on the second floor above a Laundromat on Nostrand Avenue in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. As usual, the sidewalks were crowded with an ethnic mix of Jamaicans and blacks, with a sprinkling of Hassidic Jews, Latinos, and whites.
“Danny,” Biaggi said as they wove their way down the crowded sidewalk, “you looked real sharp sparring today.”
Cullen nodded. “Yeah. I’ve got a ways to go. But I feel like I’m going to be in the best shape of my life. Right, Ryan?”
McAlary, a former world champion from
Ireland, seemed less impressed than Biaggi. “We’ll see,” was all he said.
Cullen frowned at his trainer. “How come you can never give me a compliment?”
“If you keep your nose to the grindstone,” McAlary said, “and win this fight, then I’ll say congratulations. How’s that?”
Cullen laughed. “You’re some piece of work.”
McAlary cracked a smile. “So I’ve been told.”
“Well, I think your boy looks terrific,” Biaggi said. “Danny, Ryan’s just being ornery. About the only time I’ve ever seen him truly satisfied was when he beat me in the first and third fights of our trilogy.”
McAlary punched Biaggi’s shoulder. “I kicked your butt in those two fights, buddy.”
“And I returned the favor in the second bout,” Biaggi said. “Personally, I thought I beat you in the first fight. You must’ve had the judges in your pocket.”
“Keep dreaming,” McAlary said. “The record book shows that I beat you twice in one of the greatest trilogies in boxing history. And that’s all she wrote.”
Biaggi laughed. “Whatever.”
Just up ahead they saw several young Jamaicans sitting on a row house stoop listening to reggae rap on a boom box.
Biaggi lowered his voice. “
Jamaican street gang,” he said. “But they’re cool with me.” Reaching the gang, he stopped and pointed a finger at a well-built Jamaican kid leaning back against the railing.
“Yo, Chili. When am I gonna see you in my gym?”
Chili shrugged. “Dunno, mon. I’m, like, real busy, you know.”
“You mean lazy,” Biaggi snapped back. “Listen, son, don’t you want to be the first Jamaican-born world champion?”
“Nah. I’m busy with my reggae career. Chili gonna be famous like Bob Marley.” The kid patted the pants pocket of his baggy jeans. “Besides, I got me a gun. What I need to work in that smelly gym of yours for?”
Biaggi pointed to Cullen. “This boxer’s gonna make three hundred thousand in a fight coming up at the Garden.”
Chili glanced at Cullen. “That’s a lot of cake for one fight,” he said. “Maybe, like, I’ll think about it, you know, mon?”
Suddenly Chili looked past Biaggi and his eyes widened. Biaggi turned to see what he was staring at. A black Land Rover approaching them had just slowed down. Visible through the passenger window was a man holding what looked like a semi-automatic rifle.
“DOWN!” Biaggi shouted just as the gunman fired off a burst.
Cullen felt a bullet graze the top of his head as he dropped to the ground alongside McAlary. Biaggi was less fortunate. He caught three in the head and was dead before he hit the concrete.
As the Land Rover burned rubber, the Jamaicans pulled guns and fired a torrent of bullets at it. But the car screeched around the corner and was gone.
After Cullen had been treated for a scalp wound at the Kings County Hospital Center, the cops questioned him and McAlary about the shooting, which they had pegged as a drive-by involving two street gangs, the Bloods and Jamaican Posse.
“You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” one detective told them.
McAlary’s wife Kate walked over to Cullen. She was a pretty woman with tight, curly black hair, green eyes, freckles, and a feisty temperament that belied her girl-next-door looks. She had been McAlary’s manager when he was fighting and now was Cullen’s.
“You got lucky, Danny,” she said. “Another inch lower and—”
Cullen blew out a sigh. “Don’t even go there,” he said.
“Nino wasn’t so lucky,” McAlary said glumly. “I can’t believe he’s dead.”
As they grabbed a taxi outside the hospital and climbed in, Cullen’s iPhone rang. Slipping it out of his pants pocket, he checked the caller ID, frowned, and answered.
“I’m fine,” Cullen said to the caller. “It was just a flesh wound. The police told us we got caught in the middle of a gang shootout. … Duh, why am I not surprised you don’t believe the cops?”
“Who is it?” McAlary asked.
Cullen turned to his trainer. “Boff.”
McAlary rolled his eyes. “Jesus Mary! Not that wanker again!”
Cullen listened to Boff for a couple of minutes, shaking his head the whole time. Then he responded. “How the hell can you say that? There isn’t a shred of evidence to support your idea. And you aren’t even here to nose around, thank God.”
McAlary tapped Cullen on the arm. “What’d he say?”
Cullen ignored his trainer. “No, no,” he said into the phone, “no, I don’t want you to come to
New York and investigate. … I don’t care if you haven’t seen your mother in the Bronx for two years. You wanna visit her, come next month when I’ll be gone. … Look, you’re pissing me off, and I’ll end up opening my stitches.”
As Cullen cut the connection, he saw that McAlary and Kate were staring at him.
“Let’s hear it,” the trainer said.
“The Great Boffer just read about the shooting on the Internet. He thinks I was the real target, not the Jamaicans. He says those two gangs have never tangled before and aren’t enemies.
Boff’s ridiculous theory is that the shootout was just a charade to get at me.”
McAlary made a face. “The man’s mad crazy,” he said. “Why would someone want to kill you?”
“He didn’t say. I just hope he doesn’t catch the next flight here out of Vegas.”
Although Cullen didn’t buy what Boff had said, he knew all too well that his semi-friend had an uncanny way of always being right. That made Cullen uneasy. The last thing he needed before a big fight was dealing with Boff and some crazy gang trying to kill him.
Kate touched her husband’s arm. “Ryan, do you think Boff really has a mother in the Bronx?”
McAlary grinned and shook his head. “Not a chance. I bet that wanker was hatched from a vulture’s egg. Or the mating of two gorillas.”
The trainer stared out the window a few moments before turning to Cullen. “So, Danny, do you think he’ll be coming?”
Cullen threw his hands up. “With Boff, I’m never sure of anything.”