“Lieutenant! Over here!” Lt. James Flood made his way across the driveway to the sergeant calling him. The great stone mansion loomed out of the darkness lit in patches by the lights of a half dozen squad cars. The slight NYPD detective felt dwarfed by the immenseness of the place. It seemed to be built in a style keeping with Italian villas he read about in a book but he had no way of being sure, Flood had never left the Boroughs before.
“No need to shout, Faber, you’re the only one here I recognize. Why the hell’d they send me out here to Hoboken? It’s three in the morning, fuckin’ Jersey…” This last was mumbled around a cigarette as the lieutenant attempted to strike a match. He succeeded on the third try only to have the first rain drop of a storm obliterate his efforts. Flood growled and reached for another match as he crossed the lawn. Faber, a heavy patrolman from the same precinct, met him on the grass and held out a blazing lighter. “Thanks. What the hell is so important that we got brought all the way out here? It’s out of our jurisdiction.”
Faber shrugged and pocketed his flame. “Apparently the chief out here wanted an outside detective. Someone with a clean history, as it were. This is the Vacarri house and it’s a fuckin’ slaughter. Ten bodies so far and we ain’t been in all the rooms. Neat job, though. All of them clean, except Vacarri himself. He’s a Goddamned mess, that one.” The two cops walked side by side to the front door. Behind the bushes just to the side of the door was the first corpse in Flood’s night.
“The body was armed when we found him. Colt 1911 still in the holster, never fired a shot. This and a few others were done up real neat. Next to no blood, hard to find the cause of death.” Faber lit a cigar and shook his head as he knelt next to the body. “We rolled him over and found a small wound at the back of the head, where the spine disappears into the skull. It was punctured with something thin, like a scalpel, and about an inch wide. Either poisoned or long enough to get into his brains, won’t know until the autopsy.”
Flood nodded and bent to examine the body himself. The body was well dressed in a three piece suit of good quality. Leather shoes were well shined and he was clean shaven. A hat that matched the suit was lying further under the bush. “Where were the other bodies?” He asked as he went through the dead man’s pockets.
“Mostly upstairs. One at the back door, two in the kitchen. Vacarri was in his office with two guys in the hall. One each at the tops of the staircases and one in the bathroom. That unlucky son of a bitch got it while taking a shit.” Flood pulled the dead man’s wallet. His driver’s license and checkbook pronounced the corpse to be Vincenzo Giannini, 37. He also had cigarettes, matches, a pocket knife and several bits of candy in wax paper. An ankle sheath held a six-inch stiletto. Flood asked, “You get this yet?”
The German patrolman shook his head and called over one of the Jersey cops to log the presence of the blade. “Most of the others are like him: neat. Couple of ’em with neat little holes in the backs of their heads, a few stabbed in the heart, two had a blade sent up under the chin and one stabbed right in the fuckin’ eye.” He snorted smoke out his nose. “Thirty years on the force and I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ll show you up to Vacarri. This was about him, make no mistake.”
“Faber, a mob boss is dead in his own home with half of his top enforcers. I think it’s safe to assume this was about him. Lead the way.” Flood crushed his cigarette and gave the beat cop a scathing look. The beat cop didn’t really deserve the attitude but Flood was in a foul mood after being called out of his city at three in the morning.
Faber, to his credit, flushed red and stumped his way into the house, beckoning the Irish detective to follow him. The interior of the mansion was just as impressive as the outside. It was sparsely decorated, Vacarri preferred to let the enormity and craftsmanship of the front hall carry the grandeur rather than throwing expensive decorations about. They went up the stairs, with the carved mahogany banister to guide them, and made their way down the hall to the corner room.
Vacarri’s office was walled with books. Floor to ceiling bookshelves contained legal volumes, history texts and leather bound copies of famous literature. A glass covered pedestal stood in the corner and contained a very old copy of “Trattato di Scienza d’Arme” by Camillo Agrippa. Flood walked the room carefully, avoiding the body, and taking in the scene. The chair behind the desk was on its back and a small stack of legal documents sat upon the desk. He came back around the desk and looked at what had formerly been the leader of one of the largest criminal organizations in the nation. Massimo Vacarri had been a man just entering the distinguished portions of middle age. His chiseled features were accented by streaks of grey through his black hair at the temples. Laugh lines crinkled at the edge of his mouth and finely made glasses framed his face. His eyes were closed.
Vacarri’s wrists were each bound to the legs of his heavy desk by a short length of cord. His right shoulder had been stabbed just below the collar bone. It was difficult to see as the front of his suit jacket was covered with blood but the tear in the fabric gave it away. What had killed Vacarri was in no question: his heart had been cut from his chest.
“Are all of their eyes closed?” He glanced at Faber, who looked confused. “His eyes have been closed and the body at the door had his eyes closed, too. Check the other bodies, see if it’s consistent. This was personal. The way Vacarri died, still alive and having his heart cut out, was meant to be a message. Where is the heart, by the way?”
Faber swallowed, “It, uh, it’s not here. Not in the office. We didn’t bother looking for it elsewhere. Didn’t, uh, think it was relevant.”
Flood smiled grimly. “It’s relevant. Check the oven, if it’s not there then it went with the assassin.”
“You mean ‘assassins,’ right?” Faber asked. “I mean, it couldn’t be just one guy. Ten people done in with knives by one guy? Had to be more than one.”
Lt. James Flood shook his head, “No, they were all too clean, too neat. Similar. You want to tell me that more than one assassin this good with a knife was available and hired for the job? I’ll bet you fifty dollars it’s one guy who is just very, very good. I don’t think we’ll ever find him. Guys this good don’t fuck up often. Chances are he’s not even from around here. Probably Sicilian, smuggled into the country. About the best we can do is make sure we pin down his MO, we’ll check it against what records we have. There might be some record of victims elsewhere. It’s about the best we can do.”
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Dirk waited patiently with a glass of wine for company. Cavendish had left instructions for him to be at the steak house for dinner promptly at seven o’clock so naturally Dirk had arrived early. The place was public with little possibility of an ambush. Other treachery was possible but unlikely. The old man had never once given a hint of betrayal in all the long years he had done business with the family. At two minutes to the hour, Cavendish arrived at the front door. He was dressed in a suit of impeccable taste, dark wool with a green tie. The host quietly showed him to a private room and the old man glanced across the main room with hard eyes as he followed the way back. He walked without the aid of a cane or the shuffling gait of the elderly despite his apparent age. Dirk knew him to be even older than he looked and was doubly impressed.
Setting his wine aside, Dirk took up his hat and made his way to the front to await the host’s return. “I am to dine with Mr. Cavendish tonight,” he said when the maitre d’ returned. A brief cloud of annoyance passed over the restaurateur’s face before he nodded and motioned for Dirk to follow. The private dining room was small and sparsely furnished. A table, with two chairs set opposite one another, were in the center of the room with a small standing cabinet at the back. Candlelight from an ornate chandelier lit the room. Cavendish was already seated at the far end of the table, Dirk would have his back to the door. He sat when the maitre d’ pulled out the chair and waited for the man he had heard so much about to speak.
Cavendish was direct. “I was told you were talented, Dirk. The best in generations. Would last night be your work or was your older cousin brought in from Europe?” Dirk sipped at his water to buy a moment. Cavendish knew the names and histories of the family almost as well as Dirk. The man who knows your secrets is a man with control over you. Despite the family’s best efforts very few of Mr. Cavendish’s secrets had been revealed to them. It made Dirk uneasy to think control was one-sided. It also meant that Cavendish was given more liberties than any other man outside the family.
“I did the job. The timetable was too short to bring Hans all the way from Germany even though he would normally be given precedence due to experience.”
“It was impressive. A virtual fortress, a dozen armed guards about the premises and the alarm was never once raised. Of course, now it is known that you have reached the United States. Do you enjoy your work?” Cavendish looked at the young man before him with curiosity. The curiosity was tinged with a hardness behind the eyes Dirk had never seen before.
“It’s work. I am a part of the family, we do what we do. Killing doesn’t bother me but I’m not a psychopath. Death isn’t my passion, it’s work. That’s all there is to it.”
“What if I offered you a different sort of work?” Mischief glittered in the old man’s eyes. “The family would be paid, of course. They would get a handsome retainer while you would be salaried in my company.”
The hairs stood at the back of Dirk’s neck. “What sort of work?”