This posting features Chapter 35 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
With a sigh, the man struggled to his feet, turned to face the wall, and extended his arms behind his back. Yeah, he knew the drill, all right. Tony the Knife had spent most of his adult life behind bars. He knew the drill better than almost anyone else did. He could write a book about life inside institutions if he were so inclined.
Rodriguez appeared to derive special pleasure from fixing the handcuffs tighter than necessary. They tore into Tony’s flesh like wasps stinging his wrists. The old man grimaced but refused to give the little pup the satisfaction of hearing a groan. If there was one thing Tony the Knife was famous for in Sing Sing, it was his stoicism. Soon, he vowed, he would measure Officer Rodriguez’s tolerance for pain against his own to determine who was found wanting.
When the inmate was safely handcuffed, he turned and exited the cell. Rodriguez stood slightly behind him and to the left. If Tony made a sudden move, he would receive two immediate blows from a nightstick: One to the back of his legs, just behind the kneecaps, and one to his right shoulder. If he persisted in resisting the young officer, subsequent blows would land on his head, probably tearing his scalp from its perch. Tony knew these things from long experience in the joint. Rodriguez would gleefully administer the blows. He craved any excuse to bully his famous prisoner.
They entered a small interrogation room at the end of a narrow hallway. Passing through too huge metal doors, Tony frowned. Normally, visitors were herded into the visitation room at the far end of the hall where inmates could converse via telephone with loved ones and lawyers on the other side of a large glass enclosure. This visitation was special.
He entered an interrogation room outfitted with a large table and several metal chairs. Officer Rodriguez warily removed the handcuffs and pointed his nightstick at a chair near the table. "Over there," he muttered.
Rubbing his wrists, Tony leaned next to his nemesis and whispered in a voice barely audible, “your day will come, Guillermo. Vi sentirete la mia ira.”
The officer’s eyes went wide for an instant, but he said nothing. Perhaps he realized a line had been crossed, or maybe it was a reflex. Whatever the score, he turned without comment and sidled over to the door.
Smiling, Tony surveyed the room. He spotted a gentleman sitting across the table in a gray, custom-tailored suit. Tony knew fine clothes when he saw them. This man’s threads contrasted sharply with Tony’s bright orange jumpsuit. The visitor was a short man with a receding hairline, but his gaze was sharp and penetrating. Although he did not know the man’s identity, he guessed the fellow’s profession before the visitor spoke his first words.
“Thank you. That will be all,” the man said to Rodriguez with a dismissive wave of his hand.
I already like this guy, Tony thought.
“Yes, sir. I’ll be right outside.” He glared at Tony.
“Thank you, officer.”
When Rodriguez had exited the room, the man turned to address Tony. “Mr. Marciano,” he said as he crossed his legs. "Have a seat."
Tony meandered over to the table and collapsed into the empty chair. When the mysterious visitor did not speak again, Tony nodded. “Have we met?”
“I am Robert Roth, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta.”
Tony yawned and looked at the man through hooded eyes. “You’re a long way from home, counselor.” He yawned again.
“And you are sleepy.”
“Yes, I am a long way from home.” Roth smiled. So this is how he wants to play it. He leaned forward. “I’m sure you know why I’m here.”
“No, I don't. Why don’t you enlighten me?”
“It’s about Steve Harris.”
At the mention of the familiar name, the old man smiled. “I watch CNN,” he said matter-of-factly.
Roth nodded. “I am quite sure you do.” He slipped a pair of half glasses on his nose and glanced through a stack of papers on the table in front of him. “Now, then: Let's get right to the point.”
Tony the Knife examined his cuticles and waited for the suit to cut to the chase. “Okay. I’m a busy man, you know.” Whether it was irony or sarcasm was unclear.
“You may be aware that someone tried to have Mr. Harris killed last week. Notice I said: ‘have Mr. Harris killed.’ We believe someone targeted Mr. Harris as revenge for Mr. Harris’s testimony. Although he was provided with a new identity and lived far away from his previous home in Florida, two men with assault rifles attacked him. They were unsuccessful, but their knowledge of his identity was, and is, disturbing.”
Roth paused as he turned pages. “Am I going too fast for you?”
“No. This is a compelling narrative.”
“You’re not too sleepy to continue?”
Tony ignored the barb.
The U.S. Attorney pulled the glasses from his face and leaned back in his chair. “Since that time, several more attempts have been made on Mr. Harris’s life, including an attempt in a cemetery yesterday that has been all over the national news.”
The inmate nodded. “Like I said: I watch CNN.”
“Mr. Marciano,” Roth explained, “I’ll get right to the point. You seem to be the one man who had both the motive and the means to perpetrate this crime against Mr. Harris. His testimony put you away, isn’t that correct? Who else would have a motive to have him killed?”
“How should I know? I ain’t running a detective agency.”
“We believe the assault on Mr. Harris was your doings.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, counselor, I’m in the joint. My alibi is airtight.”
Roth smiled. “That is why I said someone tried to have him killed. We believe that someone was you, sir.”
The Mafioso shrugged. “You flew all the way up here to tell me this? It was a waste of the taxpayer’s money, if you ask me.”
“I did not come here to debate fiscal policy, sir.”
“Then why did you come? ‘Cause I don’t know nuthin.’” He spoke this last comment in a deliberately low-class, exaggerated Italian accent. Tony Marciano was a master thespian.
Roth smiled. “No, no, no. We’re beyond cat-and-mouse, Mr. Marciano.” He sat up and rifled through his briefcase. When he found what he wanted, he pulled a sheath of papers from a folder. Slipping the glasses on his nose, he read the pages silently.
Tony cleared his throat. “Let us say, hypothetically speaking, that this ain’t news to me. What’ll it get me if I can supply missing details to this quaint little story?”
Nodding, Roth slid the papers across the table. “I figured as much. Here — read this affidavit. It explains everything.”
Tony glanced at the text. It was double-spaced, the pages stapled to a blue backing. As a man who had spent much of his life dealing with lawyers and the criminal justice system, he recognized the legalese immediately. The affidavit, to be signed by Tony if he chose to cooperate, promised immunity from prosecution for crimes that he might have committed.
Leaning back in his chair, the kingpin rubbed his eyes. “In case you hadn’t noticed,” he said, “I’m already doing time. So — what? You gonna promise me I do no time on sumpin’ I ain’t gotta tell you about in the first place?”
Tony had not finished college, but he was no illiterate oaf, either. When he was angry, ready to prove a point, he lapsed back into the uneducated gangster-speak of the old neighborhood. Or perhaps it was a carefully calculated role he chose to play.
Roth was unimpressed with the lingo. “I know about your, ah, situation here, Mr. Marciano. I know that a man of your stature enjoys certain privileges.” He smiled. It was insincere and a bit off-putting. “You have a single room in a prison that assigns double occupancy cells to other inmates. You are served special foods. You do not take showers with other inmates. You are not required to engage in manual labor. Your television enjoys unprecedented satellite reception. Do you see where I’m going with this?”
Tony felt a surge of anger. Didn’t this little twit with the soft hands and shiny shoes realize that Tony could reach across the table and snap his fucking neck like a twig?
Roth must have recognized something in the old man’s eyes. He slid his chair back from the table out of Tony's reach. Placing his hand in his suit coat, he pushed it back to reveal a .38 revolver jutting from a holster under his arm.
“That’s supposed to scare me?” Tony seemed almost amused, as though he had faced down dozens of punks sporting big guns and even bigger egos. Perhaps he had.
Roth was recovering his composure. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way,” he said in a small voice. It was supposed to sound tough, but instead it sounded like a silly Hollywood line out of a bad gangster movie.
Tony was still angry, but he felt the white-hot rage slipping away. “You got a lot of fuckin’ nerve comin’ in here and threatenin’ me,” he complained. His voice was soft, but the threat was clear, an insinuation emanating from a man accustomed to uttering threats sotto voce.
“It need not be this way, Mr. Marciano.”
“Hey, you’re the one making the threats.”
Roth stood and paced around the room as he got his nerves and breathing back under control. “I’m not threatening you, sir, merely pointing out the facts as I see them. But it need not be this way. Perhaps we can help each other.”
Tony shrugged. Business was business. “I’m listening. What do you propose?”
Roth wandered over to his chair with as much swagger as he could effect. “I want to know about Steve Harris. Everything.” As he spoke, he slid into the chair and looked at the ceiling as if to telegraph indifference.
Tony stared at the affidavit. “Assuming I know anything, what does it get me?”
“Immunity, for starters — assuming the recent attacks against Mr. Harris cease and desist. I can also make sure that your amenities continue, and perhaps improve. I’m far more interested in how you came by your information, Mr. Marciano.”
“Let’s say I’m interested in cooperating. What would you want to know?”
“Okay, we’ll start with the name ‘McLean.’”
“Yes, sir. Does that name mean anything to you?”
The mafioso leaned back in his chair. Now it was his turn to feign indifference. Reaching into his pocket, he found a stick of gum, unwrapped it, and popped it into his mouth.
Roth leaned forward. He could feel the sweat on his neck. “Do you know that name?”
Tony smiled. “How rude of me. You want a stick?”
“Answer the question. Do you know the name ‘McLean’?”
Tony nodded as he smacked his gum. “Yeah. I’m familiar with the name.”
Roth grinned. Up until this moment, he had refused to consider McLean as a possible perpetrator, despite Harris’s assertions to the contrary. “Arthur F. McLean of the Department of Justice — is that the name?”
Tony nodded. “Yeah. That’s the one.” He fell silent, determined to make the U.S. Attorney fish for anything he could get.
“How do you know Arthur McLean?”
Tony slouched even further in the chair. “He’s the head of the Feds' witness protection program.”
“And how do you know him specifically?”
“I need a smoke.”
“You already have gum.”
“Yeah, but that ain’t cuttin’ it. I’m a very oral person, you know. If my jaws are gonna be workin,’ my jaws gotten be workin.’ You see what I’m saying?”
“Sometimes I chew nicotine gum, but that shit’s nasty.”
Nodding, Roth produced a pack of Marlboros and a lighter and slid them across the table. “So tell me about McLean’s involvement in this hit on Steve Harris.”
“No, you don’t understand,” Tony said as he spit gum from his mouth and reached for the cigarettes. “You got it all wrong, counselor. It ain’t McLean that’s your problem.”