Frankie has taken two oaths in his life—the one he took to uphold the law when he became a cop, and the one he took with his two best friends when they were eight years old and inseparable.
Those relationships have forced Frankie to make many tough decisions, but now he faces the toughest one of his life; he has five murders to solve and one of those two friends is responsible. If Frankie lets him go, he breaks the oath he took as a cop and risks losing his job. But if he tries to bring him in, he breaks the oath he kept for twenty-five years—and risks losing his life.
In the neighborhood where Frankie Donovan grew up, you never broke an oath.
Chapter 1 Rule Number One―Murder Takes Time
Brooklyn, New York—Current Day
He sipped the last of a shitty cup of coffee and stared across the street at Nino Tortella, the guy he was going to kill. Killing was an art, requiring finesse, planning, skill—and above all—patience. Patience had been the most difficult to learn. The killing came naturally. He cursed himself for that. Prayed to God every night for the strength to stop. But so far God hadn’t answered him, and there were still a few more people that needed killing.
The waitress leaned forward to refill his cup, her cleavage a hint that more than coffee was being offered. “You want more?”
He waved a hand—Nino was heading towards his car. “Just the check, please.” From behind her ear she pulled a yellow pencil, tucked into a tight bun of red hair, then opened the receipt book clipped to the pocket of her apron. Cigarette smoke lingered on her breath, almost hidden by the gum she chewed.
Spearmint, he thought, and smiled. It was his favorite, too.
He waited for her to leave, scanned the table and booth, plucked a few strands of hair from the torn cushion and a fingernail clipping from the windowsill. After putting them into a small plastic bag, he wiped everything with a napkin. The check was $4.28. He pulled a five and a one from his money clip and left them on the table. As he moved to the door he glanced out the window. Nino already left the lot, but it was Thursday, and on Thursdays Nino stopped for pizza.
He parked three blocks from Nino’s house, finding a spot where the snow wasn’t piled high at the curb. After pulling a black wool cap over his forehead, he put leather gloves on, raised the collar on his coat then grabbed his black sports bag. Favoring his left leg, he walked down the street, dropping his eyes if he passed someone. The last thing he wanted was a witness remembering his face.
He counted the joints in the concrete as he walked. Numbers forced him to think logically, kept his mind off what he had to do. He didn’t want to kill Nino. He had to. It seemed as if all of his life he was doing things he didn’t want to do. He shook his head, focused on the numbers again.
When he drew near the house, he cast a quick glance to ensure the neighbors’ cars weren’t there. The door took less than thirty seconds to open. He kept his hat and gloves on, walked into the kitchen, and set his bag on the counter. He removed a pair of tongs and a shot glass, and set them on the coffee table. A glance around the room had him straightening pictures and moving dirty dishes to the sink. A picture of an older woman stared at him from a shelf above an end table. Might be his mother, he thought, and gently set it face down. Back to the kitchen. He opened the top of the black bag and removed two smaller bags. He set one in the fridge and took the other with him.
The contents of the second bag—hair and other items—he spread throughout the living room. The crime scene unit would get a kick out of that. He did one final check, removed a baseball bat from the bag, then sat on the couch behind the door. The bat lay on the cushion beside him. While he stretched his legs and leaned back, he thought about Nino. It would be easy to just shoot him, but that wouldn’t be fair. Renzo suffered for what he did; Nino should too. He remembered Mamma Rosa’s warnings, that the things people did would come back to haunt them. Nino would pay the price now.
A car pulled into the driveway. He sat up straight and gripped the bat.
Nino had a smile on his face and a bounce in his step. It was only Thursday and already he’d sold more cars than he needed for the month. Maybe I’ll buy Anna that coat she’s been wanting. Nino’s stomach rumbled, but he had a pepperoni pizza in his hand and a bottle of Chianti tucked into his coat pocket. He opened the door, slipped the keys into his pocket, and kicked the door shut with his foot.
There was a black sports bag on the kitchen table. Wasn’t there before, Nino thought. A shiver ran down his spine. He felt a presence in the house. Before he could turn, something slammed into his back. His right kidney exploded with pain.
“Goddamn.” Nino dropped the pizza, stumbled, and fell to the floor. His right side felt on fire. As his left shoulder collided with the hardwood floor, a bat hit him just above the wrist. The snap of bones sounded just before the surge of pain.
“Fuck.” He rolled to the side and reached for his gun.
The bat swung again. Nino’s ribs cracked like kindling. Something sharp jabbed deep inside him. His mouth filled with a warm coppery taste. Nino recognized the man who stood above him. “Anything you want,” he said. “Just kill me quick.”
The bat struck Nino’s knee, the crunch of bones drowned by his screams. The man stared at Nino. Let him cry. “I got Renzo last month. You hear about that?”
He tapped Nino’s pocket with his foot, felt a gun. “If you reach for the gun, I’ll hit you again.”
He knelt next to Nino, took the shot glass from the coffee table. “Open your mouth.”
Nino opened his eyes wide and shook his head.
The man grabbed the tongs, shoved one end into the side of Nino’s mouth, and squeezed the handles, opening the tongs wide. When he had Nino’s mouth pried open enough, he shoved the shot glass in. It was a small shot glass, but to Nino it must have seemed big enough to hold a gallon. Nino tried screaming, but couldn’t. Couldn’t talk either, with the glass in there. Nino’s head bobbed, and he squirmed. Nothing but grunts came out—fear-tinged mumbles coated with blood.
The man stood, glared at Nino. Gripped the bat with both hands. “You shouldn’t have done it.”
A dark stain spread on the front of Nino’s pants. The stench of excrement filled the room. He stared at Nino, raised the bat over his head, and swung. Nino’s lips burst open, splitting apart from both sides. Teeth shattered, some flying out, others embedding into the flesh of his cheeks. The shot glass exploded. Glass dug deep gouges into his tongue, severing the front of it. Shards of glass pierced his lips and tunneled into his throat.
He stared at Nino’s face, the strips of torn flesh covered in blood. He gulped. Almost stopped. But then he thought about what Nino had done, and swung the bat one more time. After that, Nino Tortella lay still.
He returned to the kitchen and took a small box from the bag on the counter then went back to the living room. Inside the box were more hairs, blood, skin, and other evidence. He spread the items over and around the body then made a final trip to the kitchen to clean up. He undressed and placed his clothes into a large plastic bag, tied it, and set it inside the black bag. He took out a change of clothes, including shoes and plastic covers for them. Careful not to step in any blood, he went back to stand over the body.
Nino lay in his own piss, shit, and blood, eyes wide-open, mouth agape.
You should never have done it, Nino.
He blessed himself with the sign of the cross while he repeated the Trinitarian formula. “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.” Then he shot Nino. Once in the head. Once in the heart. An eye for an eye. And then some.
Before stepping out the door, he removed the plastic covers for his shoes, placed them into the bag, then closed and locked the door behind him. The wind had picked up since he arrived, bringing a cold bite with it. He turned his collar up and tucked his head into his chest. Forgive me, Father, for what I have done.
He walked two more blocks, almost to the car, when an image of Donnie Amato appeared in his head.
And for what I still have to do.
I live in Texas now, but I grew up in Cleland Heights, a mixed ethnic neighborhood in Wilmington, Delaware that sat on the fringes of the Italian, Irish and Polish neighborhoods. The main characters of Murder Takes Time grew up in Cleland Heights and many of the scenes in the book were taken from real-life experiences. Somehow I survived the transition to adulthood, but when my kids were young I left the Northeast and settled in Texas, where my wife suggested we get a few animals. I should have known better; we now have a full-blown animal sanctuary with rescues from all over. At last count we had 41 animals—12 dogs, a horse, a three-legged cat and 26 pigs.
Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar, who takes walks with me every day and happens to also be my best buddy.
Since this is a bio some of you might wonder what I do. By day I am a headhunter, scouring the country for top talent to fill jobs in the biotech and medical device industry. In the evening I help my wife tend the animals, and at night—late at night—I turn into a writer.