Cold City: First in Series Excerpt

Cold City by F. Paul Wilson
Cold City by F. Paul Wilson
An unusual first in series, this is an excerpt of Cold City, the first of three Repairman Jack prequels that reveal the past that turned Jack into what he is today (published November 27, 2012).

We join Jack a few months after his arrival in New York City. He doesn’t own a gun yet, though he’s already connected with Abe. Soon he’ll meet Julio and the Mikulski brothers. He runs afoul of some Dominicans, winds up at the East Side Marriott the night Meir Kahane is shot, gets on the bad side of some Arabs, starts a hot affair, and disrupts the smuggling of preteen sex slaves. And that’s just Book One.

Chapter 1

Jack might have reacted differently if he’d seen the punch coming. He might have been able to hold back a little. But he was caught off guard, and what followed shocked everyone. Jack most of all.

No surprise where it came from. Rico had been riding him since the summer, and pushing especially hard today.

The morning had started as usual. Giovanni Pastorelli, boss and owner of Two Paisanos Landscaping, had picked him up at a predesignated subway stop in Brooklyn—Jack lived in Manhattan and trained out—and then picked up the four Dominicans who made up the rest of the crew. The Dominicans all lived together in a crowded apartment in Bushwick but Giovanni refused to drive through there. He made the “wetbacks”—his not-unaffectionate term for them when they weren’t around—train to a safer neighborhood.

Jack had arrived in the city in June and came across the Two Paisanos boss in July at a nursery. His landscaping business had started with two paisanos but now had only one, Giovanni, who almost laughed Jack off when he’d asked if he needed an extra hand. He was a twenty-one-year-old who looked younger. But he’d worked with a number of landscapers in high school and college, and ten minutes of talk convinced the boss he’d be taking on experienced help.

But Jack’s knowledge of Spanish, rudimentary though it was, clinched the hire. The boss had come over from Sicily with his folks at age eight and had lived in Bath Beach forever. He spoke Italian and English but little Spanish. Jack had taken Spanish in high school and some at Rutgers. The Dominicans who made up the rest of Giovanni’s crew spoke next to no English.

Giovanni worked them all like dogs seven days a week but no harder than he worked himself. He liked to say, “You’ll get plenty of days off—in the winter.” He paid cash, four bucks an hour—twenty cents above minimum wage—with no overtime but also no deductions.

Though a newcomer, Jack quickly became Giovanni’s go-to guy. He could understand the Dominicans if they spoke slowly, and was able to relay the boss’s work orders to them.

Before Jack, that had been Rico’s job. He spoke little English, but enough to act as go-between. He probably felt demoted. Plus, Giovanni loved to talk and would launch long, rambling monologues about wine, women, and Italy at Jack, something never possible with Rico. That had to gall him. He’d been with Giovanni—or jefe, as he called him—for years, then Jack strolls in and becomes right-hand man within weeks of his arrival.

Jack had come to like Giovanni. He was something of a peacock with his pompadour hair and waxed mustache, and could be a harsh taskmaster when they were running late or weather put him behind schedule. But he was unfailingly fair, paying on time and to the dime.

He liked his “wetbacks” and respected how hard they worked. But his old-country values didn’t allow much respect for his clients.

“A man who won’t work his own land don’t deserve it.”

Jack had lost count of how many times he’d heard him mutter that as they’d unload the mowers and blowers and weed whackers from the trailer. Giovanni charged jaw-dropping lawn maintenance fees, but people paid him. He had the quality homeowners wanted most in their gardener: He showed up. On top of that, he and his crew did good work.

On this otherwise unremarkable late October day, the Two Paisanos crew was in Forest Hills performing a fall cleanup around a two-story Tudor in the shadow of the West Side Tennis Club stadium. Last month they’d worked at the club itself, planting mums for the fall. His dad was a big tennis fan and Jack remembered seeing the place on TV when the US Open was held here.

Carlos, Juan, and Ramon were happy-go-lucky sorts who loved having a job and money to spend in the midst of a recession. But Rico had a chip on his shoulder. Today he’d started in the moment he got in the truck. Childish stuff. He was seated behind Jack so he began jabbing his knees against Jack’s seat back. Jack seethed. The months of bad ’tude and verbal abuse were getting to him. But he did his best to ignore the guy. Rico never seemed to be playing with a full deck anyway, and appeared to be missing more cards than usual today.

When they reached the work site Rico started with the name-calling in Spanish. One thing lacking in his Spanish classes in Rutgers had been vernacular obscenities. But Jack had picked up quite a few since July. Rico was using them all. Usually the comments were directed at Jack, but today Rico had expanded into Jack’s ancestry, particularly his parents. With Jack’s mother buried less than a year now, the guy was stomping on hallowed ground. But he didn’t know that. Jack set his jaw, tamped the ?re rising within, and put on his headphones. He started UB40’s latest spinning in his Discman. The easy, mid-tempo reggae of Labour of Love II offered a peaceful break from Rico’s rants.

Rico must have become royally pissed that he couldn’t get a rise. So pissed he hauled off and sucker-punched Jack in the face.

As his headphones went ?ying and pain exploded in his cheek, Jack felt something snap. Not physically, but mentally, emotionally. A darkness enveloped him. He’d felt it surge up in him before, but never like this. He took martial arts classes but whatever he’d learned was lost in an explosive rush of uncontrollable rage. Usually he fought it, but this time he embraced it. A dark joy ?lled him as he leaped at Rico with an animal howl.

He pounded his face, feeling his nose snap beneath his knuckles, his lips shred against his teeth. Rico reeled back, and Jack quarter-spun his body as he aimed a kick at his left knee. His boot heel connected with the outside of the knee, caving it inward. Even over the roaring in his ears he could hear the ligaments snap. As Rico went down, Jack stomped on the knee, then kicked him in the ribs, once, twice. As Rico clutched his chest and rolled onto his side, Jack picked up a bowling-ball-size rock from the garden border and raised it to smash his head.

A pair of powerful arms encircled him and wrenched him around. He lost his grip on the rock and it landed on the grass, denting the turf. Giovanni’s voice was shouting close behind his left ear.

“Enough! He’s down! He’s ?nished! Stop it, for fuck’s sake!”

The darkness receded, Jack’s vision cleared, and he saw Rico on the ground, his face bloodied, wailing as one arm clutched his ribs and another his knee.

“All right,” Jack said, relaxing as he stared in wonder at Rico. “All right.”

What just happened?

Maybe five seconds had passed. So little time, so much damage.

Carlos, Juan, and Ramon stood in a semicircle behind Rico, their gazes shifting from Jack to their fallen roommate, their expressions alternating between fear and anger.

Giovanni released him from behind and spun him around. He looked frightened, upset.

“What were you gonna do? Kill him?”

“I don’t know. I mean, no. I guess I lost it.”

“Lost it! Damn right, you lost it!” He looked over Jack’s shoulder at where Rico lay. “Christ, I never seen anything like it.” His expression darkened. “You better get outta here.”

“What?”

“You can catch an E or an F back into the city over on Seventy-?rst Avenue.”

Jack felt a new surge of anger, but nothing like before. “Hey, aren’t we forgetting something here? I was the guy who was minding his own business when he—”

“I know all about it, but you’re still upright and moving. He ain’t walking anywhere after the way you fucked up his knee.”

“So—”

“So nothing. I know these guys. They’re thick like brothers. You stick around you’re gonna ?nd some hedge trimmers chewing up your face. Or a shovel ?attening the back of your head. Git. They’ll cool down if you’re not around.”

The heat surged again. He was ready to take on the remaining three right now.

“They’ll cool down? What about me?”

“Don’t be a jerk. You’re outnumbered. Move. I’ll call you later.”

“Yeah?” Jack said, resisting the urge to take a swing at Giovanni. “Don’t bother.”

Railing silently at the unfairness of it all, he picked up his Discman and started walking.

Chapter 2

He got off the F at the 42nd Street stop with his cheek throbbing, his right hand swollen and tender, the knuckles scraped and purpling.

He’d cooled off but was still angry at Giovanni for sending him home. Yeah, well, what else was new? He’d spent most of the year angry at something.

He’d got off a good ways from what he called home these days—a tiny apartment he’d found over a ?ower shop down in the West Twenties. But he didn’t want to go there. He didn’t hate the place, but didn’t much like it either. Two rooms, good for sleeping and reading and little else. Except maybe watching TV—if he’d had a TV.

He was feeling pretty low, and sitting in that drafty, empty box would only push him lower.

He didn’t know what to do with himself. Free time? What was that? Here it was October and he hadn’t had a day off since hiring on with Two Paisanos back in July.

He came up to street level in front of Bryant Park, which wasn’t much of a park at the moment. The city had rimmed it with boards and a high chain-link fence, closing it for “renovation,” whatever that meant. A black guy in a crisp blue Windbreaker and jeans saw him looking and stopped.

“Yeah, used to be a great place to get high.”

“So I hear,” Jack said.

As he’d heard someone put it: “Home to the three H’s—hookers, heroin, and homeless.”

“Speakin’ of gettin’ high, you lookin’?”

Jack glanced at him. Didn’t look like a dealer. Had to admit, a little oblivion might ease the pain, but he’d never got into that. Tried weed in Rutgers but found beer more to his liking. Sure as hell tasted better.

“Nah.”

A preferred form of oblivion waited farther down the Deuce.

“You have a nice day, then,” the guy said and strolled on.

Jack looked around. He saw the back of the New York Public Library. He could walk up to Fifth Avenue, pass between the stone lions guarding the entrance, ?nd a book, and read.

But the siren call of the grindhouses beckoned.

He crossed Sixth and started walking west on 42nd. Halfway along the block the porn shops began to appear. Not exclusively. The XXX peep shows competed with delis and a pizza place and an electronics shop, and of course the ever-present souvenir stores offering the tacky cast-metal Empire State Buildings, World Trade Center towers, and sickly green Statues of Liberty. All made in China.

Dinkins had been mayor for close to a year now and was threatening to clean up the Times Square area. Jack didn’t know how he felt about that. Sure, it would be great for tourists who wanted to bring their kids here, but…West 42nd was the Deuce, and it wouldn’t—couldn’t be the Deuce without the sleaze factor.

But so far, no cleanup, no change.

The Deuceland uber alles.

He crossed Seventh and entered Grindhouse Row—the stretch of the Deuce between Seventh and Eighth, a cheek-by-jowl parade of glittering movie marquees, each trying to outblaze the next along the length of the block.

A back alley of heaven.

Some of the theaters showed ?rst-run hits from the majors—GoodFellas had come out last month and was still going strong here, as was Arachnophobia—but most offered either reruns or low-budget exploitation ?lms. Choices ranged from Zapped Again and 10 Violent Women to ancient oldies like The Immoral Mr. Teas and The Orgy at Lil’s Place. None of those appealed. But then he came to a Sonny Chiba triple feature: The Streetfighter, Return of the Street?ghter, and The Street?ghter’s Last Revenge. He’d seen these on videotape but never on the big screen.

Yes!

He checked the twenty-four-hour timetable on the box of?ce glass and saw he had about twenty minutes before the next feature began. So he walked back up to Times Square and hit the Roy Rogers there for some roast beef—or was that Trigger?—on a bun with extra horse—see?—radish sauce.

He wandered as he ate. The newspaper that gave the square its name was published half a block down 43rd. The Light had of?ces here too. An Armed Forces recruiting station sat on the downtown end of the triangle formed by Broadway’s angled path across Seventh. Not much activity there. With all the saber-rattling since Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait a few months ago, enlistment was essentially a nonstop ticket to the desert.

Speaking of tickets—a big crowd was gathered around the TKTS booth on the same triangle. With the recession in full swing, discount Broadway tickets seemed in greater demand than ever. Cats and Les Mis were still going strong, and The Phantom was somewhere down one of these side streets. Jack hadn’t seen any of them, and had no desire to. Well, The Phantom might be okay if it weren’t a musical.

A pang stole through his chest as he remembered how his mother would buy all the Broadway soundtracks as soon as they’d come out. Broadway was the Muzak of his childhood. That had been one thing he hadn’t missed when he’d moved out to live at school.

He shook his head. Still couldn’t believe she was gone.

He tucked the memories away and covered the still-open wound. Yeah, he really needed an afternoon of chop-socky.

Might even stay and see the trilogy a second time.

Chapter 3

Vinny Donato stood back and let Tommy do the talking. Tommy Totaro loved to talk. He was known as “Tommy Ten-thumbs” because he had the god-damnedest thickest, shortest fingers anyone had ever seen. Like little Genoa salamis…like, well, like eight extra thumbs. But these days he should have been known as “Tommy the Snorter,” on account of how he liked the powder. And once he had a snootful, he became “Tommy the Talker” and never shut up.

Vinny preferred eating to talking. And the only white powder he liked was the sugar on his zeppoles. He pulled one from a grease-stained sack from his favorite bakery in Bensonhurst and popped it into his mouth. He offered the sack to Aldo D’Amico standing next to him, but Aldo shook his head and took a drag on his Camel instead. That was why he was so skinny—he preferred smoking to eating. Anyways, he only had eyes for Tommy and the guy seated beside him.

Vinny almost felt sorry for Harry Detrick. Almost. Some guys never learn.

“So Harry,” Tommy was saying, waving and wiggling those salamis in the air. His left nostril was rimmed with white. “You and me we got this…this connection, y’know. It’s a very complex thing. It’s cosmic, it’s karmic, it’s…money. It binds us. It ?ows between us like…like love. I love people and you love the ponies but you can’t love the ponies the way you’d like to love them without money, and so money has ?owed between us to facilitate that love. But lately, Harry, the love has been ?owing only one way, and that hurts me.” He placed a hand over his heart, or at least where it was supposed to be. “It hurts me in here, and it hurts me deeply.”

Harry Detrick squirmed in his wrinkled suit. Vinny guessed he was about forty, maybe five years older than Tommy; no guessing about him being overweight—his gut was as big as Vinny’s. His comb-over had got messed up when Vinny and Aldo dragged him into this West Side garage; its sweat-soaked strands were plastered down every which way, exposing his pink scalp.

His lower lip trembled. “Look, Tommy, I can—”

Tommy grabbed his wrist, almost gently. “Shh, my brother. The love not only connects us, it binds. But that’s not all that binds us. Our karmas are intertwined, and binding us as well. And yet, with all that, there’s still more that binds us.”

The click of the handcuff closing around Harry’s right wrist echoed off the bare concrete walls.

Harry jumped. “What—?”

Here we go with the cuffs again, Vinny thought.

The cuffs were part of Tommy’s act. The coke he used before he braced losers brought out not only his inner blabbermouth but his inner drama queen as well. Pretty soon the little black book would appear.

“Hush now,” Tommy said softly as he clicked the other half of the pair around his own left wrist. “We now have a more tangible bond, one that will remain in place until I feel a little of that love reversing its course and flowing toward me.”

Harry got this panicky look and started twisting in his chair, pushing at the cuff as if he was going to slip out of it. Whimpering, he jumped up from the chair and began shaking his arm which, of course, shook Tommy’s arm.

Vinny knew what was coming next. Because Tommy didn’t like the customers shaking his arm.

Tommy gave him the look. “Vinny?”

Vinny swallowed his zeppole and reached into his jacket pocket. The Taser was all charged and ready to go. He whipped it out, jammed it against Harry’s upper arm, and hit the button. Harry stiffened, then dropped to the floor where he did a little twitching. Vinny had hit him with a short zap. By the time he’d pocketed the Taser and put down his donuts, Harry was quiet and limp, breathing hard, eyes staring.

Vinny and Aldo hauled him up and draped him back into the chair where he dangled like overcooked linguine. In a little bit he got control of his muscles again and straightened.

“Tommy…” His voice sounded strangled. “Tommy, please…”

Tommy motioned to the donut bag and removed a zeppole when Vinny held it out to him.

“Harry, Harry, Harry.” He bit into the zeppole. “I need love, Harry. You gonna give me love?”

“Tommy, please. After all these years, ain’t I always been good for it?”

“You know the expression, Harry: Yeah, but what have you done for me lately?”

“I been sick, and business has been slow. Maybe you don’t feel it in your business, but there’s a recession going on out there.”

“Yeah, I’m hearing that a lot lately, Harry, and I sympathize, I really do, but it’s not like I’m in this alone, you know. If it was just me, I’d give you a break. But I got Vinny and Ali-D here to worry about.”

He noticed Aldo shift on his feet. He hated that name. Only Tommy Ten-thumbs called him Ali-D. No one else dared. To everyone else he was Aldo. Al-doe. The whole name. Forget Paul Simon—you did not call this guy “Al.” Aldo. Nothing else.

“Yeah, they don’t look it, but my guys need love too. But even then, considering our karmic connection, I might even be able to let them go without love. But let me ask you, Harry. You ever hear that expression, ‘The buck stops here’? Hmmm, Harry?”

Harry nodded. “Tommy…”

“Just listen. The problem is that the buck don’t stop here, it don’t stop with me. It’s gotta go beyond me. And you know who that buck goes to, don’t you, Harry.”

Harry shuddered and nodded again. “Tony Cannon.”

“Righto. Tony ‘the Cannon’ Campisi. And Tony ain’t got no love connection with you, Harry. Tony’s all about the money. Now, the money I loaned you comes from him. He wants it back—with his interest. And if he can’t get the principal, he wants the vig, he wants his juice.”

Tommy finished the zeppole and reached into his back pocket with his free hand. Out it came: the little black book.

“Let’s see, Harry. I got you bookmarked here and it says…it says you’re late—way late—with principal and vig.”

“Ten percent a week.” Harry groaned. “I can’t keep doing it. Can he give me a break on the rate?”

“He already did, Harry. It’s been twelve for a while now. He let you have the old rate because you were a return customer. Now you’ve made him regret that. I mean, you’re backed up three weeks, Harry, and that’s not good because now not only are you paying ten percent on the principal, you’re paying ten percent on the vig as well.”

“You couldn’t ask him? Please?”

“And get my balls cut off with a butter knife? We’re bonded, Harry, but not that close. Tony wanted me to deliver a message.”

Which was bullshit. Tony Cannon had said, “See that he catches up.” Nothing more. All this drama was Tommy’s idea. At times like this Vinny felt like he was in the cast of some sort of traveling troupe. The Ten-thumbs Theater.

Harry sobbed and blubbered as Aldo began to pull on black leather gloves.

“I don’t want you to take this personal, Harry, because it’s not. I like you, I really do, but I ain’t got a choice. Really, I feel so bonded to you that I’m going to let Ali-D deliver Tony’s message. You know why I call him Ali-D, don’t you? Because he’s got a punch like Muhammad Ali. And what’s more, he likes to punch. Me, I’ve got no taste for it. Especially when a karmic pal like you is involved.” He motioned Aldo forward. “Harry, meet Ali-D.”

…he’s got a punch like Muhammad Ali…

That was what pissed off Aldo so much about the name. He didn’t want to be connected to no moulinyan, even if he’d been world champ.

Aldo landed a right jab into the center of Harry’s face, rocking his head back. He groaned as blood began to trickle from his nose.

“Body shots, Ali!” Tommy cried, holding up his cuffed wrist and dragging Harry’s with it. “Body shots! We’re connected here, and I don’t want no splatter!”

So Aldo worked Harry’s ribs and gut, which wasn’t so easy on a guy in a chair. Harry pleaded at ?rst, tried to protect himself with his free hand, but Aldo was quick and strong and landed one solid shot after another. Vinny offered Tommy another zeppole but he passed. He was too involved in watching Harry receive his “message.”

Vinny popped another into his mouth and wandered away. He didn’t approve of beat-downs like this—not on someone who owed you money. Someone who’d ratted you out, that was a different story. You wanted to do major damage then. You wanted to in?ict major hurt before you put them down. Because you wanted their body found and its condition to send a message loud and clear.

But someone who owed you money, someone you were doing business with, like Harry, you didn’t need this shit. When Vinny was sent out to encourage a loanee in arrears to catch up, all he took along was a pair of pliers, or maybe a ball-peen hammer. A dislocated or broken ?nger was ninety-?ve percent effective. For the other ?ve percent, you brought out the artillery and asked Aldo along.

Harry stopped begging. Vinny turned back toward the others in time to see him slump forward and slide to the floor.

“Hey, what gives?” Tommy said. “You give him another head shot?”

Aldo shook his head. “Not even close.”

Vinny stepped up for a closer look. He watched Harry’s chest, waiting to see him take a breath. His gut clenched when he didn’t.

“Hey, he ain’t breathin’!”

“Oh, shit!” Aldo knelt and lifted Harry’s head. Unblinking baby blues stared ceilingward.

“He’s gone!” Vinny said.

“Whatta y’mean, ‘gone’?”

“Gone as in dead.”

“Christ!” Tommy cried, pawing at his pockets “I’m cuffed to a fuckin’ dead man! Get him offa me!”

“Where’s the key?” Aldo said.

As Tommy continued to search his pockets, Vinny thought about what deep shit they were in. Tony Cannon always warned about getting too rough with a loanee. If the guy was completely tapped out, a through-and-through deadbeat who was never gonna pay, then yeah, mess him up and make him disappear. But you did not want to lose a guy with assets of any kind, because that was a guy with paying potential.

“Dead guys don’t pay no vig.” How many times had he heard the Cannon say that?

Looked like he’d be hearing it again. Real soon. That would be the least of it. Because the Cannon—who more correctly should have been called Tony “Penny-pincher” Campisi—would be pissed to beat all hell.

Tommy ?nally produced the key but his shaky fat ?ngers couldn’t work it into the keyhole. After a half dozen tries, he threw it at Aldo.

“Unlock it!” His voice was rising toward girly levels. “Get this dead fucker offa me!”

Vinny turned away. Pathetic.

Chapter 4

Jack found a note slipped under his door when he got back to his apartment.

Your boss called.

The movies had siphoned off some of his anger, leaving him strangely relaxed. But he felt himself tensing up again as he plunked coins in the hallway pay phone. He recognized Giovanni’s voice when he answered.

“It’s Jack. You rang?”

“Why don’t you have a goddamn phone?”

“Because nobody calls me.”

And because the phone company wanted all sorts of ID.

“I do.”

“Yeah, well…”

Jack usually called Giovanni so he’d know where to meet up the next morning.

“Anyways, you messed up Rico pretty bad. His knee’s swole up like a cantaloupe.”

“Really.”

Jack rubbed his swollen cheek. Couldn’t dredge up much sympathy for the guy. All he felt was bewilderment about how much damage he’d in?icted so quickly.

“Yeah. Really. He can’t work. Which means I’ve got a short crew.”

“The four of us can handle—”

“Ain’t no four of you. Only three. You can’t come back.”

Jack tightened his grip on the receiver. “What?”

“They’ll kill you, Jack. You show up, you’re gonna get cut up.”

Jack swallowed. “You’re kidding, right?”

“I wish.”

“They didn’t look all crazy mad when I left.”

“That’s ’cause they was in shock. Me too. None of us ever seen anything like that. You was like—I don’t know what you was like. Like a psycho. But after you left and they ?gured out what kinda shape Rico was in, they was gonna go after you. I told them they leave the job, don’t come back.”

“You don’t think they’ll cool off?”

“No way. They’re super pissed because Rico’s down and won’t be bringing in his rent and food money and they’ll have to stake him that until he’s back on his feet. You know my Spanish ain’t that good, but I heard them talking about some new gang—‘day-day-pay’ or something like that. They want to sic ’em on you.”

D-D-P?

“Never heard of it.”

He’d heard of Bloods and Crips and Latin Kings, but knew next to nothing about New York’s gang culture.

“You know those machetes they like to use to clear brush? Well, they was swinging them around and talking about looking you up. They don’t know where you live—neither do I, for that matter—but they see you, they gonna cut you up in little pieces.”

“Jeez.”

“Yeah. Jeez.”

The realization hit him. “So I’m out of a job.”

“No way you can come back, man. Season’s coming to a close anyway. I can send what I owe you.”

Jack gave him the address of the mailbox he rented over on Tenth Avenue.

“Hey, Jack—good luck and…get yourself a gun.”

“What?”

“I’m serious. Somebody brings a knife, you bring a machete. Somebody brings a machete—like these guys—you better bring a gun.”

A gun…jeez.

“Well, it was good knowing you, Giovanni.”

“Yeah, me too. You’re a good worker, Jack. Sorry to lose you. Remember what I said.”

“Giovanni…just one thing.”

“What?”

“Fuck you.”

He slammed the phone down and, as soon as it hit the cradle, thought, Why’d I say that?

Really…what was the matter with him? Giovanni was a good guy. He’d just warned him about a possible threat to his life.

What’s wrong with me?

Jack returned to his apartment and stepped to his window. One floor below, Sixth Avenue churned in the growing darkness. Bumper-to-bumper cars and people heading home from their jobs.

He shook his head. He’d started the day with a job and not an enemy in the world. Now he was out of work and had a bunch of Dominicans out for his blood. But the worst of it, he was having trouble remembering the fight. Fight? Could he call it a ?ght? Rico had landed the ?rst shot and became a punching/kicking bag after that. Jack remembered the dark surge swelling within, and then something else had seemed in control. The rock was the scariest part of it all. Would he have really crushed Rico’s skull if Giovanni hadn’t stopped him?

Wouldn’t be the ?rst time he’d killed someone.

He’d given into that darkness once before, but he’d had some control then and remembered every detail about that time.

Giovanni’s words came back to him.

You was like—I don’t know what you was like. Like a psycho.

He guessed he’d just snapped. The combination of Rico’s riding him day after day, week after week, had built up a charge and the punch had hit the detonator. Never happened before. Hoped it never happened again. He didn’t like being out of control.

…Get yourself a gun.

Maybe not a bad idea. He’d wanted one since he was a kid but his father would never allow a gun in the house. No longer a matter of want. Now it appeared he needed one.

But where to ?nd one? He’d have to get on the radar to buy one legally, and he didn’t want to do that. So he’d have to go black market. And if he did ?nd one, how much would it cost? He was out of a job and his life savings were in a Ziploc bag behind the ?oor molding in his bedroom. He had monthly rent to pay and food to buy and jobs of any kind were scarce—especially jobs that paid cash.

He realized the middle of a recession had not been the best time to drop off the map. But he hadn’t thought about that in June when he’d packed up his stuff, emptied his bank account, and hopped on his Harley. He’d left a note saying he’d be on the road and not to worry.

Impulse had nothing to do with it.

Whoever Jack had been during the ?rst twenty-one years of his life had begun to fade months earlier when, on a snowy night back in February, he’d let the darkness take over. But instead of today’s blinding black heat, he’d fallen under the sway of a fury as icy as the wind ripping along the turnpike that night. He’d hung a man by his feet from an overpass, made him a human piñata that the racing southbound traf?c battered to an unrecognizable pulp.

After that, the world changed—or at least the way it looked to him. Maybe cold-blooded murder does that. Killing Ed hadn’t eased the rage. Instead, it seemed to become a part of him, coloring all his perceptions. His grades at Rutgers plummeted. He was going to fail out so he dropped out. School, grades, they didn’t seem to matter.

Nothing mattered and everything—every goddamn thing—annoyed the hell out of him. His older brother Tom had always been an ass, and good thing he wasn’t around much because he might have ended up like Rico, or worse. Much as he loved his sister Kate, her marital bliss set his teeth on edge. And Dad…Dad was the worst. He hadn’t done anything about Mom’s murder beyond bugging the cops about ?nding her killer. Couldn’t he see she was just another statistic to them? He kept waiting for someone else to handle it. So many times Jack had wanted to grab him and shake him and scream in his face that he’d be waiting forever because the cops weren’t going to ?nd the guy because Jack had already found him and ?xed it so the fucker would never again throw another cinder block off another overpass. Ever. In fact he’d never do anything again. EVER!

Finally he couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t stand being Jack from Johnson another day. He needed to be Jack from nowhere. No family, no history, no last name except the one he’d chosen for the day or the week or the month or maybe just the moment.

And why the hell not? He was fed up with belonging, had it up to here with participating. He wanted out and goddammit he was getting out. No woman in his life—Karina had left for Berkeley and no one knew what she was into these days, probably Karina least of all. He had no one new he cared about or who cared about him. With Weezy and Eddie off to their respective schools and out of touch, he had no close friends. He was born before a Social Security number was mandatory and had never bothered to apply for one. No one had ever paid him on the books so officialdom had no tax records on him. Didn’t even have a driver’s license. He’d bought the Harley used from a newspaper ad and had never bothered to register it.

Beyond a name on the Rutgers University class of ’91 student rolls, he had no official existence.

Why not keep it that way?

So he dropped out.

Probably caused a lot of consternation and confusion at home, but he’d spent his whole life being the good son. No more. He was now a killer. And not by accident. He’d murdered someone in cold blood. That case was still open. The cops had expended tons more effort trying to solve Ed’s murder than his mother’s. After all, Ed’s death had made the national press, blurry photos of his battered body swinging from the overpass appeared in every major paper, while Mom had never been more than a footnote.

Earlier today on the turnpike, some lady riding along with her husband and son had the life crushed out of her by a cinder block dropped from an overpass. And in other news…

Subsequent details of Ed’s unsavory past had dimmed the hue and cry for justice. Eight months now and no announcement of a suspect. That didn’t mean they couldn’t get a break. Jack didn’t want to be around if they did.

Committing cold-blooded murder, even if no one else knew about it, seemed to have drawn a line in the sand between him and everyone he knew.

So far, so good. The building owner didn’t care who he was, only that he paid his rent on time. The rent included utilities. Jack paid cash. He worked for cash. The only tax he paid—at least knowingly—was sales tax.

The invisible man.

Well, not really. If truly invisible he wouldn’t need a gun.

Again…where to find one? No clue. But he had an idea of a guy who might point him in the right direction.

Copyright © 2012 by F. Paul Wilson

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F. Paul Wilson, the New York Times bestselling author of the Repairman Jack novels, lives in Wall, New Jersey. In 2008, he won the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Comments

  1. Andrew Kuligowski

    I am seeing a lot about this book / series recently – the publicity folks are doing their job. (Successfully, at least in my case, ’cause it’s got ME curious!)

  2. jane

    Sounds interesting

  3. MaryC

    Always interesting to read about the younger version of a character.

  4. Debbie Miller

    I have read every one of the Repairman Jack books. I would love to continue with the character.

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