Steve Cavanagh Excerpt: The Plea

An innocent client. A wife in jeopardy. A locked-room mystery. The Plea by Steve Cavanagh is the second book in the Eddie Flynn series (available February 13, 2018).

Billionaire David Child swears he didn’t murder his girlfriend, Clara. But the evidence overwhelmingly shows that David killed her: the security video showed no one else entering their apartment, the murder weapon was in his car, and he was covered in gunshot residue he can’t explain.

The FBI believes David’s arrest and obvious guilt could help them take down a huge money laundering scheme—if they can get him to testify.

Con-artist-turned-lawyer Eddie Flynn is given the job: persuade David to plead guilty and give the agents the evidence they need. If Eddie can’t get David to take a plea bargain, the FBI has incriminating files on Eddie’s wife—and will send her to jail. But David insists that he didn’t murder anyone.

As the FBI pressures Eddie to secure the guilty plea, Eddie becomes increasingly convinced that David is telling the truth. With adversaries threatening, Eddie has to find a way to prove David’s innocence and find out if there’s any way he might have been framed. But the stakes are high: Eddie’s wife is in danger. And not just from the FBI…

CHAPTER ONE

SUNDAY, MARCH 15TH
48 hours until the shot

My key slid into the lock.

I froze.

Something wasn’t right.

The mahogany front door to the four-story sandstone building that housed five offices, including my one-man law practice, looked like any other at this end of West Forty-sixth Street. The area was a mix of bars, noodle houses, high-class restaurants, accountants’ practices, and private medical consulting rooms, with each set of offices becoming classier the closer you got to Broadway. The paneled front door to my building had been painted blue about a month ago. The reverse side of the door boasted a hand-cut, steel-back plate—a little surprise for anyone who thought they could kick through one of the panels and open the door from the inside.

It was that kind of neighborhood.

When it comes to locks, I don’t have much experience. I don’t carry picks; never had a use for them, even in my former life as a con man. Unlike a lot of grifters, I didn’t target the ordinary inhabitants of New York. I had my sights set on the kind of individual that deserves to get his pocket picked. My favorite marks were insurance companies. The bigger the better. The way I saw it, they were the biggest con operation in the world. Only fair that they get their pocket felt once in a while. And to con an insurance company I didn’t need to break in; I just had to make sure I got invited. My game wasn’t all about the talk. I had the physical moves to back it up. I’d spent years studying sleight of hand. My dad had been quite the artist, a pro who worked the bars and subways. I learned from him, and over time I’d developed a deft touch: a profound sense of weight, feel, and movement. My father called it “smart hands.” It was this finely honed sense that told me something was wrong.

I removed the key from the lock. Slid it back in. Then out. Repeat.

The action was quieter and smoother than I’d remembered. Less clunky, less resistance, less pressure required. My key almost slid in by itself, as if it were moving through cream. I checked the teeth; they were as hard and sharp as freshly cut keys could get. The face of the lock, a standard double-cylinder dead bolt, bore scrapes around the keyhole, but then I remembered that the guy who ran the travel agency in the downstairs office liked bourbon in his morning coffee. I’d heard him fumbling with his keys a few times, and on the one morning that I’d passed him in the lobby, his breath had almost knocked me over. A year ago I wouldn’t have noticed. I would’ve been just as drunk as the travel agent.

Scrapes on the lock face aside, there was no denying the drastic change in the key action. If the landlord had changed the lock mechanism, my key wouldn’t have worked. No discernible odor from the lock or the key, which was dry to the touch. If a can of WD-40 had been sprayed in, I would’ve noticed the smell. There was really only one explanation: Somebody had forced the lock since I’d left the office earlier that morning. Sundays in the office were a necessary evil since I’d taken to sleeping in the place. I could no longer afford to keep up the rent on my apartment and an office. A foldout bed in the back room was all I needed.

The landlord couldn’t afford an alarm system. Neither could I, but I still wanted some measure of security. The door opened inward. I cracked it half an inch and saw the dime resting in the hollowed-out section on the right-hand side of the doorframe, the lock side, the door itself covering half the coin, stopping it from falling onto the step. In the evening, when I went out to get food, I slipped a dime into the gap between the frame and the door, slotting it into the dime-shaped hole I’d cut into the frame with a penknife. If somebody broke in and didn’t want me to know, he would hear the dime fall, recognize it as craft, and be careful to replace it. The hope lay in the intruder focusing on the noise and sparkle of the falling dime and failing to notice the toothpick jammed precisely ten inches above the first hinge on the opposite side of the door.

Whoever my intruder was that night, he’d been careful to replace the dime, but had missed the toothpick, which lay on the step.

Of the building’s five offices, three were occupied: a travel agency that was in the throes of liquidation, a financial adviser whom I’d yet to see anywhere near the place, and a shady-looking hypnotist who liked to do home visits. They were mostly nine-to-five operations, or in the case of the travel agent and the hypnotist, eleven-to-three operations. No way they’d come in on a Sunday, and no way they’d bother to replace the dime. If it had been my neighbors, they’d pocket the coin and forget about it.

I dropped my newspaper and bent down to pick it up. While I was resting on my haunches, I decided to retie my shoelaces. No one on my left. Nothing on my right.

Shuffling around to get at my other shoe, I scanned the opposite side of the street. Again, nothing. A few cars way down the street on my left, but they were old imports and the windshields were misted up; no way were they surveillance cars. Across the street to my right, a couple walked arm in arm into the Hourglass Tavern, theater junkies grabbing a bite before the show. Since I’d moved here I’d been in the tavern twice, ate the lobster ravioli both times and managed to avoid the mystery beer and shot special, which changed with the turning of the large hourglass on the wall behind the bar. Abstinence was still a one-day-at-a-time deal for me.

After closing the front door, I retrieved my paper from the steps, hugged my collar around my neck against the lingering winter chill, and started walking. As a con artist I’d made plenty of enemies, and I’d even managed to make a few more in my law career. These days I figured it paid to be cautious. I did a three-block loop using every countersurveillance technique I knew: turning down random alleyways; bursting into a light jog before I turned a corner, then slowing way down once I was on the other side; picking up my rearview in car windows and Plexiglas bus-stop advertising; stopping short and making quick turns and then retracing my steps. I began to feel a little foolish. There was no tail. I figured either the hypnotist got lucky and brought a client back to his office, or maybe the financial adviser was finally showing up to either empty his overflowing mailbox or to shred his files.

As I caught sight of my building once again, I didn’t feel quite so foolish. My office was on the third floor. The first two floors were in darkness.

A light shined from my window and it wasn’t my desk lamp. The beam of light appeared small, muted, and it tilted and moved.

A flashlight.

My skin prickled and my breath left me in one long, misty exhalation. It crossed my mind that a normal person would call the cops. That wasn’t how I was brought up. When you make your living as a hustler, the cops don’t feature in your thought process. I handled all such business myself, and I needed to see who was in my office. I carried a tire iron in the Mustang’s trunk, but there was no point in going back to the parking lot to fetch it, as I didn’t feel like carrying that on the open street. I don’t own a gun; I don’t like them, but there were some home defense products that I didn’t mind using.

I opened the front door quietly, caught the dime before it hit the tiles, and took off my shoes in the lobby to keep the noise down before moving to the column of mailboxes on the wall.

In the box labeled EDDIE FLYNN, ATTORNEY, I had all the backup I would ever need.
 

CHAPTER TWO

Taking a small key from my chain, I gingerly placed the rest of the keys on top of the mailboxes before opening the new padlock I’d installed. Underneath a pile of thick brown envelopes and junk mail I found a pair of brass knuckles. In my teens I’d boxed for my parish. A lot of poor Catholic kids in New York did the same. It was supposed to instill discipline and sportsmanship—but in my case, my dad had insisted upon it for an entirely different reason. The way he figured it, if I could punch out a guy twice my size, he wouldn’t worry so much about my rookie mistakes when it came time to strike out on my own as a con artist. All I had to do was train hard in the gym, work smart with the grift, and make damn sure my mom didn’t find out about any of it.

The lobby was in darkness, quiet and still except for the odd moan from the heating pipes. The stairs were old and creaked like crazy. Weighing my options, I decided the stairs would carry less noise than the ancient elevator. I kept my steps light and close to the tiled wall. That allowed me to watch the upper levels as I ascended and helped avoid the worst of the groans from the old boards, which barked if you put weight near the center of the stair. The brass knuckles felt cold in my hands. Their icy touch was somehow reassuring. As I neared the top of the third flight of steps, I could hear voices. Muffled, hushed tones.

The door that led to my office was wide open. A man stood in the doorframe with his back to the hallway. Beyond him I could see at least one man with a flashlight craned into the top drawer of my file cabinet. The man with his back to me wore an earpiece. I could see the translucent wire snaking down from his ear to the folds of his black leather jacket. He wore jeans and thick-soled boots. Law enforcement, but certainly not cops. Earpieces are not standard issue for NYPD, and most didn’t want to cough up the hundred dollars for the privilege of appearing either tactical or cool. The federal law-enforcement budget did stretch to an earpiece for each man, but feds would’ve posted a man in the lobby and they wouldn’t care about replacing the dime in the doorframe. If they weren’t feds or PD, then who were they? The fact that they had coms made me nervous. Coms made them organized. This wasn’t a couple of crackheads looking to make a quick buck.

Crawling up the last few stairs, I made sure to keep my belly on the ground. I could hear whispered conversation but couldn’t make it out. The man with the flashlight in the file cabinet wasn’t speaking. There were others in the office who I couldn’t see; they were the ones having the discussion. As I got closer, the voices became clearer.

“Anything so far?” said a voice.

The searcher closed the file cabinet drawer and opened the one below it.

“Nothing relevant to the target,” said the man as he selected a file, opened it, and began reading with his flashlight.

Target.

That word, like a shock wave, sent boiling adrenaline through my veins. My neck muscles tightened, and my breath quickened.

They hadn’t seen me.

I had two good options: slide out of there, get my car, drive like crazy all night, and then call the cops from the next state. Option number two was to leave, forget the car, jump into the first cab I saw, and head to Judge Harry Ford’s apartment on the Upper East Side and drop a dime to the cops from the safety of Harry’s couch.

Both choices were sound; both were smart; both carried minimal risk.

But that wasn’t me.

I got up without a sound, rolled my neck, tucked my right fist under my chin, and charged the door.
 

CHAPTER THREE

The man who stood at the door began to turn as I broke into a run. At first he was startled by the sudden, heavy footfalls. When he saw me, his mouth opened, sucking in a huge gulp of air, and his eyes opened wide as his survival instincts hit him before his training. First came shock, and then came the reaction. Even before he could call out, I could see the mental conditioning struggling to take over the panic as his right hand began to fumble toward the gun strapped to his side.

He was too late.

I didn’t want to kill the guy. Someone once told me it was unprofessional to kill someone without knowing exactly who they were. Ordinarily, if I’d hit him in the face or the head, there was a fifty-fifty chance that blow would prove fatal, either from the force of the brass knuckles cracking his head and causing massive hemorrhaging or from the poor guy breaking his own skull when his unconscious body hit the deck. My momentum easily added an extra thirty or forty pounds of impact pressure to the punch. At that kind of speed, the odds of fatal damage increased, and if I made it a head shot, I would likely put this guy’s lights out permanently.

All I needed to do was disable the man.

He was right-handed.

At the last second I lowered my right fist and adjusted my aim.

The punch hit him bone-deep, right biceps, and the fingers of his hand instantly opened and then relaxed; it was just like cutting down a power line—pulverizing a big muscle like that would mean the man’s arm would be dead and lifeless for hours. My momentum took me past the guy just as the first scream left his throat.

His partner dropped the files he’d been reading and swung the flashlight at me. This man was left-handed, and I met his swing. The two and a half pounds of Cleveland brass wrapped around my left fist met the flashlight and cut it in two. The bulb exploded, and the light died in a shower of sparks. At the point of explosion, the man’s face became momentarily illuminated, and I saw his mouth open, eyes flash wide as shock tore across his face. Only it wasn’t shock. I must have caught part of his hand with the brass knuckles. In the half-light from the streetlamps, I watched the man fall to his knees, cupping his broken fingers.

“Eddie, stop!” said a voice from the dark.

The lamp on my desk went on.

“Ferrar, Weinstein, stand down,” said the man sitting behind my desk. I’d first met him around six months ago. This was the guy I’d saved when we’d both had a run-in with the Russian Mafia—Special Agent Bill Kennedy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was addressing the men I’d assaulted, both of whom were on their knees. The one with a buzz cut gritted his teeth against the pain of his ruined fingers. The other, larger man in the leather jacket rolled around on the floor, holding his arm with his gun still safely holstered.

Kennedy was the last person I’d expected to find in my office. He leaned back in my chair and placed his legs across the desk before crossing his feet. He looked at his men, then looked at me like I’d broken something belonging to him. The navy-blue pants of his suit rode up a little, enough for me to see his black silk socks and the backup piece strapped to his left ankle—a Ruger LCP.

Copyright © 2018 Steve Cavanagh.
 

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Steve Cavanagh is a leading civil rights lawyer from Belfast, Northern Ireland. His debut novel, The Defense, was nominated for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for Thriller of the Year. In 2010 Cavanagh represented a factory worker who suffered racial discrimination in the workplace, and won the largest award of damages in Northern Ireland’s legal history. Cavanagh continues to write and practice law. He is married and has two young children.

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