Read The Vulture's Game Online
Authors: Lorenzo Carcaterra
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #General, #Crime
“It wasn’t a yellow cab, that I can tell you,” Lisa said.
I looked at her. “You mean a gypsy?”
“If that’s what they call the ones without meters,” Lisa said.
“Yes,” I said, resting my head against the soft pillow and closing my eyes, resisting the urge to laugh. “That’s what they call them.”
Two days later I was sitting next to Jimmy, on the back porch of my uncle’s estate. I was sipping an espresso through swollen lips when I saw my uncle step out of the library behind us. He stared at my bruises for a few moments and then bent down and kissed me on top of my head. “Don’t need to be an Einstein to know who did this,” he said. “And don’t have to guess what happens next.”
“I’ll take care of it,” I told him.
“He came after you, Vincent,” my uncle said. “So he came after me. And
“He wouldn’t have done it if the guy you had on my tail had been on the ball,” I said to my uncle, referring to the gypsy cab driver.
Uncle Carlo shrugged, looking sheepish. “That’s on me,” he said. “I wasn’t figuring Scanlon to use muscle on one of my own so I gave the job to a newbie. He’ll be dealt with, no worries there.”
“No,” I said, “keep him on the detail. He won’t mess up again.”
“Good, now that we got that burden off my mind, can we focus on the bigger picture here?” Uncle Carlo said.
“Nothing’s changed. You gave me a job and I’m going to see it through,” I said. “I know how to get to him. Me and Jimmy have it all figured out.”
“You’re going to end him?” Uncle Carlo asked. “Is that what I’m hearing? You and Jimmy, the two of you?”
I nodded. “We’re going to take care of it,” I said.
Uncle Carlo pulled back a chair and sat down. He looked at me and at Jimmy and then leaned across the table and reached for a hot pot of espresso and poured himself a cup. He drank it down in three quick gulps. “I’m giving you two weeks,” he said, holding the empty cup in his hand. “That’s enough time for it to work or flame out. After that, if there’s no resolution, then you’re off the job and Scanlon comes back under my radar. Is
that clear enough for the two of you?”
Jimmy and I both nodded.
“It won’t come to that,” I said.
Uncle Carlo stared at me and smiled. “One time this guy puts his eight-year-old kid up on top of a park fence,” he said. “Kid is scared, shaking. His father tells him to jump, not to worry, that he’ll catch him before he hits the hard ground. The kid’s still not sure, his fingers clutching the top of the fence so hard they’re drawing blood. Father insists, swears nothing’s going to happen. He’s the boy’s father and he loves him and he needs for him to trust him. The kid, tears running down his face now, closes his eyes and makes the jump. The father steps out of the way. The kid lands hard on the concrete, scraping his knees, arms, and face. He looks up at his father, his eyes wide open and his mouth barely able to toss out a few words. You know what the father tells his kid?”
I shook my head.
“He leans over, holds his son’s face in the palm of his right hand and he tells him, ‘If you remember anything, remember this—in this world, never trust
.’ ” Uncle Carlo then pushed back his chair, stood, and began to walk toward the library. “I never forgot that story, Vincent,” he said. “And neither should you. You’re about to jump off a fence and there’s going to be nobody there to catch you. Make sure you land on your feet.”
I glanced over at Jimmy. He was looking at me in a way I had never seen before. His eyes, normally bright and alert, were now hard and distant.
“What?” I said. “You have a story to tell me, too?”
Jimmy held the look for a few more seconds and then reached for his pen and scribbled a few words on a notepad. He stripped off the paper and handed it to me. I glanced down at it and looked back at him.
“You’re in this with me,” I said. “We’re going to get him and we’re going to do it together. You good with that?”
Jimmy smiled, the harsh look fading away.
“Let’s get to it,” I said.
I was in the middle of a construction site on West 57th Street, Jimmy next to me, two hard hats standing across from us. “We can talk in the trailer if you like,” one of them said, “a lot cooler in there and the air’s better.”
“This will do fine,” I said.
“What is it you need?” the younger of the two asked.
“Scanlon’s got a new building on the Upper West Side,” I said. “Just opened, I hear. Or about to.”
“It’s occupied,” the older man said. “But officially next week is when all the gears swing into motion.”
“Those condos go for a couple of million, easy, I would imagine,” I said.
“Higher the floor, higher the freight,” the older one said. “Penthouse sold for over six million. Guy who bought it paid it off in cash, gives you an idea the kind of crowd it’s drawing in.”
“Any problems in the building?”
“No,” the younger man said. “Came out pretty solid and clean. A white glove building without a doubt.”
“I think you’re wrong,” I told them. “I think that building has quite a few problems.”
“Such as what?” the older man asked.
“It’s over by the river, right?” I asked. “I read where practically every apartment comes with a water view.”
“Yeah, and?” the older man asked.
“Where there’s a river, there’s sure to be rats,” I said. “Lots of them. Especially in a city as big and as dirty as this one. You know, what are there, about nine million people living here, right? They tell me there’s two million more rats than there are people.”
Jimmy wrote down a few lines and handed me the slip of paper. I glanced at it and
smiled. “My friend here is right,” I said. “You see a rat in a walk-up, that’s enough to piss you off. But see a rat in a place that put a seven figure dent in your back account, that’s going to be all it takes for you to call a lawyer if not the mayor himself.”
“What are you saying?” the younger man asked. “Just so we’re clear.”
“I want that building overrun with rats,” I said. “And I want you to make it happen. Sometime next week, say around the grand opening would be an ideal time.”
The two men stared at me and then slowly nodded.
“An infestation like that, do they shut the building down, relocate the tenants?” I asked.
“Depends on how severe,” the older man said. “But yeah, if the inspectors decide it’s not safe to be in there, the owner is obligated to find them temporary shelter until the problem’s solved.”
“Make sure that happens,” I said. “And make sure it doesn’t open again until we give the go-ahead.”
“That it?” the older man asked.
“No,” I said. “This building here, how deep into it are you?”
“Just a few months,” the younger man said. “Barely got three floors done, not supposed to be finished until spring of next year.”
“Then it won’t take much to bring it down,” I said.
“What?” the older man asked.
“Blow it,” I said. “Late at night, bring it all down to rubble. And make sure no one gets hurt. This is strictly a pocketbook job.”
“Best case,” I said, “I would like it to happen at the same time as the rat festival on the West Side. Cover both ends of town.”
“I don’t mean any disrespect,” the older man said, looking from me to Jimmy. “But I think before we make either one of these two moves, it would be best if we got your uncle to sign off on them first.”
I put a hand on his shoulder. “Want to guess how much my uncle likes it when people get in the way of one of his projects by not trusting the guy he sent?”
I grabbed the handles of Jimmy’s wheelchair and began a slow walk out of the
The restaurant was crowded, the lunchtime patrons giving off the whiff of money and power. It was one of those East Side places where the seating arrangements meant more than what was on the menu. I didn’t care much for such places, not then and certainly not now. I slipped the maître d’ a note and a fifty along with my handshake, and still he gave me the once-over before glancing at the name I had written down. I was in a Brioni suit but the bruises on my face along with the stitches did not help. Then again, the fact my uncle owned a silent fifteen percent share in the place more than made up for that minor issue.
I wedged myself past the numerous tables, each filled with patrons, the talk blending into one low buzz. A few of them were separated just enough to let a thin waiter through. Eventually I was led to Frank Scanlon’s table. It was in a corner by a window that looked out onto Park Avenue traffic. Frank was sitting with his back to the window, the sun highlighting his overtanned features and hand-tailored suit. He was halfway through a large platter of shrimp scampi, three large glasses of ice water lined up to his right. There were four other men and a woman at the table, each of them wedged in tight, Scanlon alone spreading out as if he were at a picnic in the park.
He looked up at me and smiled. “I hope you at least got the plate number of the car that hit you,” he said, smiling, waiting as the others looked up at me, either smiling or chuckling at the remark.
“I didn’t need to,” I said. “I know who was driving it.”
“You should take him to court, then,” he said, still holding the smile. “Get a few dollars out of it at the very least.”
“I won’t need a courtroom to get this settled,” I said. “And I’ll end up with more than a few dollars. Maybe even a building or two.”
“I’m in the middle of lunch,” Scanlon said, “with
. Now, you got anything else to say to me, College Boy, call my office and make an appointment. Don’t make me
call the maître d’ and have you tossed out on your ass.”
I eased past two of the men at the table and stood standing over Scanlon. “What I have to say to you won’t take long,” I said. “All you have to do is listen.”
“Then get to it.”
“Your time is up,” I said. “Before this is over, everything you have will belong to me. But I will do you one favor.”
“And what’s that?” he said, smirking.
“I’ll let you eat here for free, every day if you want,” I said. “My treat. You’ll probably be eating alone, is my guess. None of your crowd likes to chow down with a guy whose pockets have been picked clean.”
“See that beating you got, it might have been the first,” Scanlon said. “But you keep this up, I guarantee it won’t be the last.”
“A beating I can shake off,” I said. “But what happened to Anthony Contorti needs to be made right. And I’ll make sure it will. The man led a decent life and deserved better than to be burned to death. One day, that chit will be cashed in.”
“You finished yet?” He pushed his chair back and stood, glaring at me, his face as red as the wallpaper behind him.
“No,” I said. “But you are.”
I turned away from Scanlon, eased past his lunch guests, and walked quietly out of the restaurant.
I stared out the window of my uncle’s study, Jimmy next to me. Behind us, sitting at his desk, my uncle was immersed in reading the half-dozen folders I had given him less than an hour earlier. He didn’t look up but waved his hand in the air to get our attention. “The two of you,” he said, “come over on the side where I can see you better.”
We moved from the window and stopped by the large globe next to the front of his desk.
“He owes all this money?” Uncle Carlo asked. “To all these banks? You sure on that?”
“We pulled all his financials,” I said. “I didn’t use any of your bank connections to do it. I wanted to keep you as clear of this as I could. Jimmy dug up some information I would never have been able to find on my own.”
Uncle Carlo smiled at his son and then looked up at me. “So, run it by me one more time. I want to be clear before I give you my answer.”
“Scanlon’s maxed out on six buildings and six mortgages,” I said. “The new sites he’s got going up are being funded off borrowed investor money. He’s living the large life, but he’s way behind the ball.”
“His worst case scenario, then, is he defaults on the mortgages and the banks take his buildings,” Uncle Carlo said. “The construction sites freeze up and his investors are left holding their asses. Guy like him has been at a rodeo like this before. He’ll sit it out a year or two, then come back and hit up a fresh bank and a new crew of investors.”
“Unless someone comes along and makes a deal with the banks,” I said, looking over at Jimmy and watching him nod in approval. “All of Scanlon’s mortgages get paid off, including the ones he has on two of the buildings his dad left him. In return, the banks freeze him out. No more loans. With his past track record, they would have ample justification to turn him down.”
“What about the construction sites?” Uncle Carlo asked.
“An approach is made to each investor,” I said. “They’ll be told that Scanlon’s been using shoddy equipment and skimming off the top, causing his buildings to be unsafe and a potential menace.”
“Why would they believe any of that?”
“They might not today,” I said. “But they will after what happens to two of his places next week.”
“Do I want to know any of that now?”
“You’ll be happier reading about it in the papers,” I said.
“The investors are offered three dollars for every one they put in, so long as they walk away from the project and never mention their involvement,” I said. “Once that happens, it leaves whoever has approached the banks and the investors holding all of Scanlon’s properties.”
“And I’m pretty sure once that happens, our friends in the casino, racetrack, and airline businesses will steer clear of him as well,” Uncle Carlo said.
“Especially if they are each offered a cut of the New York real estate action,” I said.
“That still leaves Scanlon access to the drug route,” Uncle Carlo said.
“It’s the least of our concerns,” I said. “First, you need money to get into that game, and he’ll be pinned in so tight he’ll fall way short. And anyway, that’s a dangerous racket. How long you figure a guy like Scanlon can survive with the machete crowd?”