Chapter Excerpt

Chapter 1
 

UNCLE SAM’S FIRST big mistake was to trust someone outside of his circle. Especially a reporter. What was he thinking? What—because she worked for a distinguished newspaper, that was supposed to imply good faith? Did that mean her word was her bond and that her trust was guaranteed? Did it mean she would uphold her promise to keep certain facts and details out of her story?

And what of the Times, that so-called distinguished newspaper? Says who? Who was the authority in these situations? Who made up the rules and ethics, and who enforced them when they were broken?

Breaking the rules. Poor girl, that Michelle, thinking she was doing the right thing when in fact all she did was kill herself. Suicide. What was she thinking . . . that L.T.K. wouldn’t come to get her?

Had she lost her mind?
 
“MICHELLE WAS A good friend, Evelyn. Unfortunately she got involved in something that was too heavy for her—but had I known just how deep, I would’ve told her to stay away.”

“From who, Charles?”

“L.T.K. She got in—literally. She was right there with the major players. How else would she be able to videotape them?”

“You mean there’s a tape?”

Judge Charles Pullman looked up from his drink, a Brazilian daiquiri: one part Bacardi light rum, two parts dark, one tablespoon of brown sugar, half as much vanilla extract, and two slices of pineapple.

The Judge had to sweep such unimportant things aside, how his mind had suddenly assessed the ingredients of his drink at a time like this. He was deep into Evelyn’s eyes now, the daiquiri fucking with his head, making him fight to even think.

It always came down to this: the matter of trust. Somewhere along the line, there had to be someone you needed to trust . . . something or somebody who you had to confide in.

Can I trust you, Evelyn? Or will I be the next to die?

Charles shut his eyes—one of those slow-motion gestures—opened them again, then turned his gaze far and away from the moment . . . past the waitresses, the dining activities of this or that couple, the large dinner party over in the corner—

“For he’s a jolly good fe-e-lloooow . . . which nobody caaaan de-nyyyy!”

—beyond the mirrors decorating the far wall of the restaurant, which made Copeland’s seem so much larger an establishment.

The way the Judge’s mind wandered like this was his way of foretelling the future, whether he would live or die. Hell, he did it for most everyone else or at least those defendants who stood before him day in, day out for ultimate judgment. Ten years here, twenty-five there, life without parole. Sure, in the courtroom he was immortal, he could play God. Make or break a man.

So then, why wasn’t it just as easy for him to determine his own fate?

“Can I reserve my answers to that question?” replied Pullman, knowing that talking about the tape would lead to her wanting to see it. He didn’t want to endanger her or anyone else.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean? Reserve your answer? This is not your courtroom, Charles . . .”

The way Evelyn put him in check made Charles take a long, deep breath—trying to maintain some sense of calm before his heart jumped out of his chest. It would be time for that next hypertension pill soon.

“Charles,” said Evelyn, with that chuckle in her throat, “you might be the reigning senior court judge ’n all, but to me, we’re like this.” She twisted her middle and pointer fingers together—a python wrapping itself around a pole. “Since when do you know me to jeopardize our relationship?”

“Evelyn, this . . .” The Judge stopped himself. He was not in his courtroom. This was not his house. Calm down, mister. Lower your voice, he told himself. And to his future daughter-in-law he said, “This is about my life. I may be required to uphold the law at my day job . . . I even bend it—we all do—so our lawmen and -women [he remembered to add] can enjoy an edge. But darling, as a human being, I must save lives.” The Judge took a moment to think, then went on. “If not me, then who? And if not by the book, then who else should have the authority to take the law into their own hands?”

“Charles, I’m trying to hook onto what you’re saying, but I’m afraid you’re not clear. Could you make your point?”

“Evelyn, we’ve got dirty cops committing crimes—and I know that’s no secret—but lately, the dirty cops are killing cops. And they’re not just killing the cops, Evelyn, they’re killing anyone who gets in their way. As long as these . . . these imbeciles get what they want.”

“I’ve never seen you like this, Charles. And I’ve never ever seen you take underworld activity so personally.” Evelyn Watson, U.S. Probation Officer, put her young hand across the table, consoling the older man.

“It’s never been this bad. And it’s never touched me this close. Michelle was . . . was—” His voice broke off and he put his hand over his face.

He was losing it. And seeing him like this made her tremble. It was as if the world was coming to an end, and he was the only one who knew how or why.

“Evelyn, we must proceed now. There are lives at stake.”

“Okay, wait, let’s back it up a bit. First of all, I need you to calm yourself and look me in the eyes, Judge.” He did. “Don’t think of me as strange when I say that I would give up my right arm to protect you. Do you believe that?” She squeezed Pullman’s hand, hoping to drive her statement home.

Pullman was hypnotized by Evelyn’s control, how she was able to be so direct with men, reading them with such depth and clairvoyance. He’d always admired this about her, that certain something that he had never experienced with women in his own life. No such personal encounters. Evelyn always kept her word in the courtroom. And it was amazing how she managed, mothered and sometimes manhandled the riffraff and gangsters on her caseload.

Pullman suddenly wondered how Evelyn handled men in other ways. What was she doing to or with Peter, his son, that had him so hooked? That thought jolted him. Jesus! What would make him think of such things? What was wrong with him? Evelyn was young enough to be his daughter—Peter’s age, for God’s sake—and here he was with his mind wandering in the gutter.

Still, despite all of that, he couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed.

“Charles?” Evelyn’s voice shook him from his spell.

“Y-yes . . . I’m sorry. I—I do trust you, Evelyn. No doubt about it. Yes, I’d trust you with my life.” Evelyn sighed loud enough to be heard, glad to get past that stage.

“Was. She was with the Times.”

“How do you know this L.T.K. group killed her?”

“I just know. She’s been missing for three weeks, Evelyn. And that’s just not like her. At the least, she’d have called.”

“Maybe she’s like you say: underground.”

Charles wagged his head of wavy gray hair, an effect that Evelyn cherished about the older man, how he looked so wise and gentle . . . how he was set in his ways with the things he said and with his conclusions. It was hard to believe that anyone would want him hurt.

“Afraid not, Evelyn. We have scheduled calls and meetings. She’s missed the last two. I’m telling you, these guys are ruthless.”

“Of course,” said Evelyn, already feeling a trace of sympathy for the woman, sight unseen. “But if you have all of this information, plus a tape from her, I don’t see why we don’t just inform the proper authorities—send in the boys—you have the power of the federal government to back you.”

“I thought about that long and hard. The thing is, their network is too wide. Based on what I’ve been told, they’ve got members in local, state and federal agencies,” the Judge explained, his skeptical eyes surfing the restaurant. “They’d find out in a heartbeat.”

“Oh.”

“And besides, a part of me is still hoping that she’s alive.”

“Michelle?”

“Yes, but I doubt it. Do you remember Amelia Cohen?”

“Of course. The former U.S. attorney who killed herself while she was parked down in Chinatown.”

“It wasn’t a suicide, Evelyn.”

Evelyn’s expression turned from curious to stunned.

“Now, think back to last Christmas Eve and Dudley Schmidt.”

“Doesn’t ring a bell,” said Evelyn, wagging her head.

“No matter. Just another robbery/homicide. Just the brother of Mark Schmidt, one of NYPD’s finest detectives, Evelyn,” Pullman’s eyes projected severity. “The man was strangled as he left Toys ‘R’ Us with a last-minute gift for his little boy.”

“And Dudley Schmidt’s killing is tied in with Amelia’s?”

“Is it? Schmidt had more than a thousand dollars in his pocket when he was found. It was a hit, cut ’n dried. If I were to sit here and detail all of the complexities, cover-ups and conspiracies behind these murders—almost three dozen others—you’d lose sleep for the next month.”

Evelyn was speechless in light of these revelations. It felt like someone had just revealed some truth about her: that she wasn’t really a woman, but a cow. Hard to believe.

“Evelyn, you sitting here with me right now is even dangerous. I could very well be the next one to go . . .”

She made a face, somewhat doubtful. As though to confirm his theory, the Judge said, “Of the four hundred homicides in the last twelve months, thirty-two victims were law enforcement. And I’m not talking suicides. I mean unsolved murders.”

“Slow down, Judge. What are you saying? What do those unsolved murders have to do with you, and why does my sitting here now have any relevance to that?”

For the first time this afternoon, Evelyn was uncomfortable. Afraid. And now she was glancing around the restaurant looking for possible threats.

“Because Michelle tried to get certain people to acknowledge this video. Anybody she spoke with . . . anybody that they think she spoke with is now dead.”

“And she spoke with you?”

“A number of times. I was sort of receiving updates from her. We had our . . . well, secret meetings.”

Evelyn noticed the hesitation in that statement and she read between the lines.

“But we never spoke out in the open. Not like this. I thought being amongst a daytime crowd might serve as a distraction in the event—well, you never know.”

“Secret meetings, Charles? Would that be in your chambers? Or at home?”

“Uh . . . err . . . just business.”

“I bet,” said Evelyn, wanting Charles to know that she understood more than he was telling her. “So now, I guess I wanna know who ‘they’ are. Do we have specifics? Names? Can I see the tape?” Again Pullman was staring. He knew it would come down to this. “Who and what is L.T.K.?”
 

Copyright © 2005 by Relentless Aaron. All rights reserved.

Excerpted from To Live and Die in Harlem by Relentless Aaron
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.