The past is only as alive as you want it to be or just as dead and buried as you need it to be-or so thought Florida Keys bartender and sometime drug dealer Joe Taranto. But that's before a hurricane, a lost stash of cocaine and a murder fast-forward him into his hidden former life, and make him a fugitive from the shady disguise that had kept that life his darkest secret. Now he is faced with a choice: to make up for the past sins that haunt him by saving a disturbed young man from prison; or to run away again from himself, as well as the law, by still believing you can live a few steps ahead of your past. The decision he makes will measure how much his life can be changed by one good deed.
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
Dave Rosi (pseudonym) is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in New York City. He is on the faculty at a local medical school, and has a private practice. His novels, One Good Deed and For Love, Thats All have been Hard Shell Word Factory bestsellers.
"Part-psychiatrist, part police detective, and part cocaine trafficker Joe Toricelli aka Joe Torento is a new breed of hero. And Dave Rosi is a new breed of detective writer. Look out Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard!"Steve -- Amazon reviews
"The lurid underbelly of the dark world of a twisted Park Avenue psychoanalyst is starkly revealed in this gripping novel of steaming sex, international intrigue, horrific mayhem, and cold-blooded murder. One can only imagine the mind of the author ... perhaps the next Dash Hammett ... with more than just a bit of Rod Serling or Stephen King. In One Good Deed, the venerable mystery-thriller becomes a device that tells more than a story; it is a manifesto for a new morality. One may predict that more than one master's thesis will be written comparing this novel to Milton. Rosi has redefined the genre!"Sammy Peeps, London -- Amazon reviews
I didn't expect to hear from my cousin Jake in August. So it shook me out of my summer spell on Crossroads Key, where the water was a milky blue and the hard road blazing hot and mostly silent. The annual ritual of family contact had always been in December. That's when I'd get his card, lately enclosed with one of those goofy family newsletters, inviting me to come up to Westchester for the usual rounds of Christmas house visits, present unwrapping and lots of booze. When had I been there last? It had to be seven or eight years ago by now.
But there it was, this little note folded up in a little envelope, almost lost in the pile of stuff I'd picked up from the post office box I kept in Miami. It said:
I need your help.
Call me in New York as soon as you get this.
Jake, your cousin.
The "your cousin" part looked like it got scrawled in as a nervous afterthought, just so I'd remember who he was. Ah well, Jake was never known for any kind of epistolary elegance.
So I tried to imagine what the hell he needed my help for. It crossed my mind that he might be coming to the Keys and wanted a place to stay. But as best I could remember, he hated the sun, the salt water, and the summer heat. Besides, I thought, he and the Mrs. and the brood would definitely get drawn into the Disney World gravitational field before they'd ever find their way down here. Staying with me was out of the question in any case. I wasn't blowing my cover for anyone, anytime.
Then I remembered how he used to ask me about drug smuggling around South Florida, when he was doing some liaison work with DEA. But that had been a few years ago. He must have learned damn well then that whatever I knew, I wasn't going to share with him or his eager beaver brethren. Anyway, I'd been trying to keep my nose clean for quite a while and couldn't tell him much even if I tried.
I walked inside to the cooler behind the bar, grabbed a beer, and went back to sit on the porch steps. I kept turning the note over and over in my hands. Pretty soon, my gaze drifted out to the white causeway of Highway 1, connecting the flat expanse of mangroves, and then beyond that to the swirl of blue water that ran slightly darker to the horizon. The sea was empty, except for a little sloop yawing in the channel. I looked down at Jake's note again, and then folded it up and stuck it into a crack in the steps. A piece of paper like that could, and maybe should, get lost pretty easily.
As the afternoon slipped by, I hung out on the porch in the rocking chair, drank a few more beers, and felt the air getting more and more restless. A big bank of gray-black clouds had been building up in the northwest and, gradually, the day grew real dark. Suddenly, the sky was torn up by lightning and flooded with rain. The droplets drummed hard on the porch roof and a gust of wind swooped up Jake's note and blew it onto the gravel parking lot. I was half considering chasing what might as well've been trash, when Vera pulled up on her motor scooter. She waved like she had good news, but I knew it was just a little habit of hers.
"Thought you weren't coming back 'til six," I yelled through the rain.
"Russ wanted to visit his father this afternoon," she said, "he's teaching him some kind of tennis thing. So we decided to forget about the dentist."
She turned off the scooter, pulled it back on its stand, and ran her hand through her short, soaked, yellow hair. As she dismounted, I noticed my piece of postal litter pressed against her front wheel spokes. In the next second, she noticed it, too, and bent down to pick it up.
"Vera, I'll take care of that." I stood up.
"Take it easy, Joe. I'm already half drowned."
She bent down and peeled Jake's note off the wheel. Then she squinted over it for a few seconds. I was glad I still had the envelope, with Jake's address, in my pocket.
"Hey, private correspondence," I said to her, as she stepped up on to the porch.
"Yeah, I'll bet. Cousin Jake, huh? And he needs some kind of special help in New York? Now c'mon Joe, don't you trust me yet to tell me you're some kind of spy?"
"Okay, Vera," I gave an exaggerated sigh. "I'll level with you. This job I've got here as general handyman, gofer and barkeep at your nonprofit establishment -- it was all the idea of the boys in Langley."
"That's right," I said. "CIA."
"Uh-huh," she said, like she'd heard it all before, "so what is it you're really doing?"
"Keeping tabs. Real close tabs. On the unscrupulous practices of Pan American land speculators, Euro-tourist theme park refugees, and Canadian retiree fast food franchisees."
"Okay, Joe, you can play all you want. One day you're going to tell me what I've known all along, anyway."
"And what's that?"
"That you ain't no bartender type. You ain't no working man, neither."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah, that's so, like the way you talk sometimes. Just a little too fancy, if you ask me."
"Too fancy? So what do you want me to do, snort and grunt and use hand gestures?"
"You always think you can joke your way out of it, don't you, Joe? But I know better than you think. Something about you just don't fit, I said that from the first day you come to work for me. I said to myself, 'something about the man just don't fit'. It's not just the way you talk, Joe. It's... it's like you're supposed to be someplace else, altogether."
I turned my face away from that wide-eyed stare of hers, and found myself trying to picture how she could have looked twenty years ago. She must have been a fair-skinned, willowy lass I reckoned, who probably used to turn a few heads around on this little spit of sand and palm trees.
But the sun had baked that fair skin to leather and what must have been a real heart-breaking mane of light blonde hair, was now just a stringy, thinned-out, muddled cap. When she smiled, like she did now as I turned back to face her, she showed a crooked row of bad teeth and a road map of lines across her brow.
"Thinking up a good one, Joe?" she said, when our eyes met again.
"I don't know what I'm thinking, but, gee whiz Vera, don't you have something better to do right now than getting all nosy with me?"
"You're getting awful touchy." She laughed. "At least I'm not gossiping about you, the way ol' Larry's been down at the filling station."
"Larry? What the hell is he saying about me?"
"He thinks you're a fugitive," she lit a cigarette, "and that you killed somebody before you showed up here."
"Well old Larry's got himself a real outsized imagination now, doesn't he?"
"Oh, I don't know, Joe, but I suppose it don't make no never mind anyhow. I like you well enough, just how you are. That's why you get to work here."
"Now that's some kind of good luck. Isn't it?"
"Damn straight it is," she said, smiling. "Now why don't you tell me what that note's really about, huh?"
"You're not going to let go of this, are you?"
She didn't say anything.
"All right," I said, "the hell with it. I don't know exactly what the note's about. All I know is, it's from my cousin. He's a cop up in New York City, homicide detective last time I checked."
"You're a cop, too, aren't you Joe? Undercover, right?"
"Yeah, that's a good one. While you're at it, make sure I'm well paid, and getting laid by all the best women."
I cut things short with Vera and walked back into the bar. I paced around in there awhile, 'til the rain passed and the full press of the day's heat returned. Then I decided I'd go ahead and give Jake a call. There was something about that note, and Vera as well, that was really beginning to gnaw at me.
I went over to the pay phone by the pinball machine, and dialed up police headquarters. It was a little before five and I figured Jake would still be there. The switchboard operator answered the phone, and connected me to a clerk who transferred me to a secretary who put me on hold for ten minutes. I was just about to hang up when Jake picked up the phone.
"Hello, Joe? Joey?" he said, "is that you?" He sounded oddly happy.
"Yeah, Jake, it's me. How are you doin'?"
"Knee deep in shit. So what do you say? Your ass must be steaming down there, am I right? Gotta be 200 degrees in the shade?"
"More or less," I said. "So look, what's going on up there? Some kind of trouble or what?"
"Joey, you're always so nervous, you know that? No trouble, big boy. Just thought you might be interested in a little summer vacation, that's all. A few weeks of fun and games on the isle of Manhattan."
"I want you to help me in a little investigation we got going here, you'd be an expert consultant, see? I figure we can get you maybe three, four hundred bucks a day, you know? That's gotta be more than you can make down there, chief, legally that is."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing, nothing. Hey look, Joey. I mean, I got an opportunity for you here, see? You really wanna give this a shot."
"So let's get to the point. What exactly is it you need me for?"
"It's complicated. I mean it's a... special situation. To tell you the truth I don't want to get into all the details right now, especially on the phone. No, you got to come up here, sport, and I'll lay it all out for you."
"Now that's a little vague, Jake. I mean, I'm going to take a trip up there just to get some details? About something I don't even know I'm interested in? You think I've got nothing better to do than jump through my ass for you?"
"Aw, now take it easy. You can't tell me you don't have some time to kill. Besides, I'll pick up the tab for the flight, all right? So what do you got to lose?"
"I'm not interested in playing games, Jake. Now just tell me what it is you want me for."
"You're an impatient prick, you know that? Look, we just want you to interview some suspects, that's all."
"What do you mean, 'suspects'?"
"Just what I said."
"What kind of suspects?"
"What kind, what kind," he said. "Murder suspects that's what kind, Joey."
"Well... look... some of them are a little unbalanced and..."
"Unbalanced? What's that supposed to mean?"
"Joey, come on now, unbalanced, you know? Not playing with a full deck,see? And I thought, well, you know, with your background..."
"Yeah, with your background..."
"Forget it," I said.
"Now, Joey, slow down, all right? This could be an opportunity for you."
"What kind of opportunity?"
"To rejoin the human race, chief. Let's face it. You're dying down there, anybody can see that."
"I'm minding my own business and hurting no one," I said. "People can do a lot worse."
"Yeah, sure they can. But tell me something, what are you afraid of?"
"Who said anything about being afraid?"
"Aw c'mon, it's obvious. You're afraid something's going to come up and bite you in the ass. So you got to hide out and..."
"Hey, thanks for the analysis, doc," I said, "but I got to go now. Goodbye."
Then I hung up on him.
The rest of that afternoon and evening I was pretty rattled. I tried reading the paper, but I couldn't get halfway down a column. Some article with scientists arguing over whether we were heating up or cooling down, as a planet, that is. On the T.V. there was Bette Davis being an old hag in some lame English movie. It looked like she was suspected of killing the kids she was supposed to be a nanny for. There wasn't much to concentrate on there and my mind kept returning to Jake. I knew he meant well, and no doubt he'd gotten some prodding from the rest of the family. With both my folks gone, there were still a few people in the family who figured I needed some good looking-after.
But I couldn't see any way I was going to get involved in any murder investigation. And what about these suspects being "unbalanced"? What was he trying to be, delicate? Did I somehow need delicate handling?
I sacked out early that night, around ten or so, in my little room in the back of the bar. It was muggy as usual, and as a rule that didn't bother me. But that night I was shifting under the sheets every two minutes and my skin felt like it didn't fit right on me. Then I had this dream. In it, I woke up in my own bed, to what sounded like footsteps out on the front porch. I listened, holding my breath, and without a doubt there were footsteps, someone was just outside the house. I knew I had to get out of bed and find out what sort of danger there was, but my legs were like over-cooked spaghetti. Somehow, I was able to get up and barely get one foot in front of the other, to get out the front door and onto the porch. There, in the shadows, I saw Bette Davis like she was in the nanny movie, but with huge, glistening claws. She caught me out of the corner of her eye, smiled, and turned to move toward me. Her claws were growing longer and longer and I knew I was going to be impaled against the wall. I tried to turn and escape but my legs were still spaghetti-like. In a second she came up next to me and I felt the knife-claws running right through my gut. I managed to get my hands around her throat and bear down on her windpipe. For a second her malevolence dissolved into fear, our eyes met, and I wanted to let up. But then her lips curled up into this nasty, mocking grin and I squeezed her neck even harder. She gasped and hissed.
I woke up.
I saw the night darkness was just graying into early dawn, and the curtains swelled slightly in a puff of wind. It'd been a long time since I'd had that kind of dream. I'd always reckoned that if something stayed out of sight and out of mind long enough, you could come to believe it never happened. But now there it was again. I reached over and took a shot of Haitian rum from the night table and cursed my cousin Jake. Him and his damn extension of good will: "three to four hundred a day, that's gotta be more than you make down there, chief, legally, that is." As if I needed him to do my bookkeeping.
By the next morning I felt better. At least my skin seemed to fit pretty well again, except for some tightness at the back of my neck. Business was going to be even slower than usual at Vera's because Hurricane Amos was sliding off the north coast of Hispaniola and heading up our way. It was predicted to slam somewhere into the South Florida coast within the next forty-eight hours. I'd better get to boarding up the windows of Vera's place, but first I wanted to take a little morning row in an old dinghy I kept on the shore near the town marina. After I walked down to the beach and was about ready to push the boat off, I felt the sand and gravel voice of Horace Crassidy dirty up my ears.
"How 'bout it, Joe," He sounded vaguely threatening.
"Yeah, how are you doing, horse," I said. I didn't look behind me, hoping to get into the boat and row off without further conversation. But fat chance of that.
"Got some real good blow in, Joe," he said.
I didn't want to know about it.
"Come in from Veracruz, two days ago."
I really didn't give a damn.
"Might could be just the thing for what's ailing you, Joe."
I turned around. I was in knee deep water and he couldn't have been more than a few arm's lengths behind me.
"What do you figure is ailing me, Horse?" I wondered why I was taking his bait.
"Called small balls, Joe," he said, "could be a terminal condition, if you don't watch out."
"Why the hell are you so concerned?" Now he'd gotten my back up.
"You know damn well why. We could be making us some real easy money if you hadn't turned so goddamn chickenshit on me."
"Look, go play somewhere else, all right? I'm real busy today, I got to get Vera's place boarded up."
He started laughing, grunting really, like a pig, which seemed to suit him real well. "Now that's real important ain't it, Joe? She'd be liable to collect some real good insurance money if you didn't protect that shit-covered little rathole, huh?"
"There isn't any insurance on it, you moron, and it pays its way. Not that that's any of your damn business."
"Now don't push me Joe." His face darkened. Then he shook his head and tried to smile. "You know, it beats the hell out of me why you're working for that old dog anyway; shit, I can remember when she was one good looking piece of ass, many moons ago."
I climbed into the boat and put the oars in place.
"Yeah, I'm right happy you're taking care of her, Joe," he said, breaking into a high pitched laugh. "I just hope you ain't too jealous about her still carrying the torch for me."
I pulled on the oars and tried to get some decent distance from him as fast as I could. I didn't want to believe I'd once worked, if you want to call it that, with that black stubble-faced, crooked-nosed, wild-eyed son of a bitch. But the fact is, I'd done a few deals with him, and it'd more than paid the rent for awhile. But that's another story, at least for now.
I glided out in a jiffy over the blue glass and coral below, and in a couple of minutes I'd gone past the moorings and started to feel the slightest little chop at the bow. The stern of the dinghy was facing straight at Crassidy's anchored sloop -- the Skink -- and beyond it I thought I saw Vera walking down the ramp to the floating docks. Unfortunately, Crassidy was right about her feelings toward him. Who can explain why she, or for that matter anybody, would want that dung beetle. But there it was, she was his ever ready would-be help mate and servant. Every season I can remember, she'd scraped and painted that beast of a boat for him. As I rowed further out, I thought I could see her and Crassidy meet at the edge of the outer dock and stand together for a few minutes. I rowed harder and their figures faded into patches of color. Then she separated from him and moved up the ramp toward the parking lot. I let up on the oars and the boat slid quietly over a group of hovering barracuda. I wiped the sweat from my brow and took in the dazzling late morning sun.
When I look back now on that morning, I see it as one of the last few moments of a long anesthesia. All of what followed seems as abrupt and destined as the storm that was swirling up from the Caribbean and expected to crash into South Florida. I had lived with the illusion that if you kept your world small enough -- mean enough, even -- you could handle it all without too much worry, or regret. But I hadn't counted on events having a mind of their own, and recruiting whomever they wanted without warning or consent.