(Synopsis: Jack Scully, a partner in a Jersey City law firm, has a nice practice until his old Aunt Maude guns down a policeman and insists that he handle her case. What’s her defense? She claims the cop was really a hitman hired by her alcoholic husband Teddy. As Scully digs into the shooting, he learns that a gang of crooked cops is moonlighting for organized crime boss Carmine D’Annunzio and carrying out contract killings. One of the cops, charming Tommy McGann, is also squiring the crime boss’s gorgeous daughter Angela. As Scully pressures the crooked cops, they begin cleaning house. Maude’s husband Teddy takes a swan dive out the sixth-floor window of a seedy hotel, and the cop shot by Maude gets a dose of poison. Scully zeros in on Tommy McGann as the killer. Then McGann turns up dead, burnt to a crisp. But is the body really McGann’s? Scully learns the truth when he sets a trap for the crooked cops and gets caught in his own snare. A fiery escape leads Scully to what he’s wanted all along, the luscious Angela D’Annunzio – and he follows her blindly into the final betrayal. Copies available from Amazon at http://amzn.to/L4ewfm Barnes and Noble at http://tinyurl.com/buvc8hk and Kobo at http://tinyurl.com/c32w3cy )
The hitman was late. Maude Ryan didn’t want to be in her bathrobe when he arrived. So, just after daybreak she took a shower and slipped into the black Ralph Lauren knockoff that Teddy had given her for her birthday almost eight years earlier. Times were better then, at least for Teddy. He still had his job and did not have to depend on her for money.
She had applied her makeup a bit thick. Her skin was rough and pitted, and no amount of powder could fill in the deep wrinkles around her eyes or lift her sagging jowls. She was generous with her perfume. It was a hot August morning and would get hotter as the day wore on. If her deodorant broke down, she’d still have the perfume.
Maude studied her face in the mirror and tried playing with her reading glasses. If she could get them to perch half way down her nose, she might look like a sweet grandmother. But it was no use. She wasn’t a grandmother and didn’t look like one. She was a big-boned woman with a prominent jaw and a beaked nose that dominated her face and made her look grim. “What the fuck,” she muttered and went looking for the gun.
The gun was Teddy’s. That was the funny thing. She had always been afraid of guns, afraid that a child would play with the gun and get hurt or that she’d get angry at Teddy and start shooting.
It was a small gun with a long barrel, a .22 caliber Smith & Wesson. The salesman had told Teddy that he’d get much more accuracy with it than with a larger gun, but Teddy wanted something with more pizzazz, like a Magnum. That was when Maude cut into the conversation. “But, Teddy, what if you’re not home? What if I’m all alone and someone breaks in?”
Now her remark seemed prophetic. Teddy had been gone for over a month, and just the week before, she had packed the rest of his things in cardboard boxes and taken them to the Salvation Army. She relished the thought of his coming back for his stuff and finding his bedroom stripped clean. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Teddy, I thought you didn’t want them.”
The gun was in the top drawer of her nightstand, alongside a fully loaded clip. She shoved the clip in place and then wrapped the gun in the morning newspaper as if to hide it from prying neighbors.
She had fed the dog and had tried to eat a donut but couldn’t. The donut was two days old, and her mouth was dry. She brewed a cup of tea and took a few sips. Then with the teacup in her hand and the morning newspaper under her arm she walked out onto the porch and sat down on the couch. She put the tea on the rattan table in front of her and unrolled the newspaper. The gun slid out of it and fell into her lap.
She sipped the tea slowly and kept checking her wristwatch. After an hour she began wondering what she’d do if her bladder started to act up.
Her left leg was aching — varicose veins. Now that she had Medicare, she could afford to get them stripped out. But for the time being an ace bandage wrapped around her leg like a puttee was the best she could manage.
She was pretending to read the comic strips, but her eyes kept darting up from the newspaper to check the road. The gun was sitting in her lap, her right hand resting on it. The safety was off. When the hitman came, she didn’t want to be fumbling around. She’d just aim the gun and pull the trigger.
Except for the paperboy no one had come near the house all morning, not surprising since 11 Cutler Circle was the last house on a dead-end street, a street that curved like a fishhook with Maude’s house at the point of the hook. Between the houses were fifteen-foot-high hedges that provided privacy and muffled the noises from the New Jersey Turnpike.
Maude had inherited the house from her grandmother, so it was hers. Teddy couldn’t lay claim to it, nor could he touch her 401(k) or her Social Security benefits. He had his own pension and benefits, but they didn’t amount to much. When he whined about having no money, she told him to learn Spanish and move to Nicaragua. “You’ll be rich, Teddy – a rich gringo in a white linen suit with a beautiful brown-skinned girl clinging to your arm.”
The sky was cloudless. The morning sun was glaring off the windows; the summer heat was rising off the grass. Her hand felt moist against the cool steel of the pistol. She was thinking of brewing another cup of tea when the hitman finally came around the corner.
He wasn’t what she was expecting. No tattoos on his arms, no gold rings in his ears. He was young, with a full head of black hair and a handsome face, the kind of face that’s easy to trust, the Judas face.
He was wearing a navy-blue windbreaker. That was the giveaway. Who wears a windbreaker in the middle of August? It was zipped up, and his hands were buried in the pockets as if to protect them from some chilly breeze. What if the windbreaker’s pockets had been cut out? He could reach down and pull a pistol out of his belt before she could react. She wiped her hand against her dress to get rid of the sweat and clutched the pistol. Her hand was trembling.
The hitman was nonchalant. He smiled at her as he approached. When he was directly in front of the porch, he said, “I’m a police officer,” and his hand came out of his pocket.
Even before she saw the glint of metal, Maude was on her feet, holding the twenty-two in both hands and firing.
The first shot struck him in the shoulder and drove him backward. The second shot missed, but the next two buried themselves in his side. He screamed, pitched forward and then collapsed onto his knees. He held his hands in front of his face, screaming, “Stop! Stop!”
Maude moved cautiously down the porch stairs, a step at a time, the gun in front of her, grasped tightly in both hands.
“You bitch,” he yelled.
She crouched, aimed and fired a fifth shot, this time striking him in the chest. He slumped forward still on his knees, his forehead resting on the sidewalk, his arms wrapped around his chest. “My God! My God.” His voice was a high-pitched wail.
Maude moved cautiously toward him. “You bastard,” she screamed and kicked him in the ribs. The kick sent him rolling onto his side. “Thought you could kill me, just walk up and kill me. Is that it?”
His voice was so weak Maude could scarcely hear the words. “Fuck you,” she yelled and kicked him again. The hitman rolled into a fetal position and stopped moving. His only sign of life was a low keening sound. A dark trickle of blood meandered slowly across the sidewalk and disappeared into a crack in the concrete.
Maude stood over him, the gun hanging loosely at her side, and took a deep breath. Her body shuddered; she started to shiver. She stepped backward and looked around. It was only then that she saw people running towards her.
“Maude, Maude, are you all right?” a man yelled. Maude couldn’t answer; her mouth was too dry. Then a woman said, “Put the gun down, Maude. It’s okay. You’re safe.”
The woman ran over to Maude and put an arm around her shoulders, then turned her away from the bleeding man and guided her back toward the porch. When Maude got to the steps, she plopped herself down and let the pistol fall out of her hand.
By now a dozen people had gathered in the roadway outside Maude’s house, and more were coming, a few men but mostly women and children. A man walked over to the hitman, bent down and placed his fingers on his neck. “He’s still alive.”
Maude closed her eyes, leaned back and listened. In the distance there were sirens, a lot of them, coming from all directions. The first to arrive was a police car. It came around the corner at high speed, then screeched to a halt in front of the crowd of people. The car door flew open, and a patrolman stepped out, pistol in hand. He looked around and then spotted Maude sitting on the steps next to the gun. “Okay, lady, don’t move.” With his gun pointed up in the air, he ran to the steps and picked up the .22 by its barrel. “Any more guns?” He looked at the faces of the people in the crowd for some kind of sign, but no one said anything.
Maude waved her hand at the wounded man. “He tried to kill me. My husband hired him.”
The patrolman paced around the man, careful not to step in the trickle of blood. “Anybody see anything? Any witnesses?”
“I saw her kick him,” a little boy said. His mother grabbed him by the shoulders. “Shut your mouth! It’s none of your business.”
A moment later a second patrol car pulled up in front of the house, and a large policeman climbed out. He glanced over the crowd standing near the roadway and shouted, “Okay people, move it back! Move it back!” He nodded to the patrolman who had been first on the scene. “Any weapons?”
“Just a pistol, lieutenant, and I’ve secured it.” The patrolman pointed toward the steps where Maude was sitting. “The old lady over there shot the guy on the ground. Claims he tried to kill her.”
The lieutenant walked over to the bleeding man. “Oh, shit!” He bent down on one knee and took a closer look at the man’s face. “It’s Larry Serido. Christ, she shot Larry Serido.”
The patrolman turned towards Maude and shook his head. “Jesus, lady, you just shot a cop.”
“He had a gun. He tried to kill me.”
The patrolman looked at where the man was lying. “Where’s the gun? I don’t see no gun.” He walked over to Serido’s shield lying in the grass and picked it up. “Is this what you mean?” He held the shield in front of Maude’s face. “That’s no gun.”
Maude stared at Serido’s shield. “He had a gun. He was trying to kill me. And I can prove it.”
The lieutenant, a large man with a florid face, knelt down and unzipped the front of the wounded man’s windbreaker. Hanging from the man’s belt was a leather holster. His revolver was still holstered. The lieutenant stood up, drew his pistol and pointed it at Maude’s face. “Okay, down on the ground! Down on the ground!”
Maude stood up slowly. “Are you kidding?” She grabbed the folds of her dress and held them up. “This is a Ralph Lauren.”
The lieutenant stopped and stared at her, his mouth half open. Then he holstered his pistol, grabbed Maude by the upper arms and turned her around. A moment later she was standing in front of the porch, her hands cuffed in front of her. “Stay right there,” he yelled at Maude. “Don’t you move.” Then he turned to the patrolman, who was busy pushing the crowd away from the wounded policeman. “Forget that, Hannigan. Help Serido. Try to stop the bleeding.” When Hannigan gave him a blank stare, he yelled, “Use your shirt to staunch the wounds. Move it!”
Within minutes a half dozen police cars and an ambulance were parked in the street outside Maude’s house. Cops, their arms outstretched, were moving the growing crowd back. “There’s nothing to see. There’s nothing to see,” the cops kept yelling, as little kids struggled to squeeze past the adults and get a closer look at the bleeding policeman.
Medics slipped an oxygen mask onto the man’s face and slowly eased him onto a gurney. Maude, standing a few feet away, kept saying in a weak voice, “He tried to kill me. He tried to kill me.”
The big lieutenant walked over to Maude. “You’re under arrest, lady.” From his pocket, he drew out a piece of paper and began reading from it. “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
“He’s the criminal,” Maude said, nodding toward the gurney. “Why don’t you read him his rights?”
“Shut your mouth and let me finish.” The lieutenant glared at her and continued to read. “You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you at interrogation time and at court.”
“Yeah, I want an attorney.”
The lieutenant put his hand on her shoulder and began pushing her toward the open door of his patrol car. “The county will get you an attorney.”
“I want Jack Scully.”
“Who’s Jack Scully?”
“He’s my nephew. I’m not going to waste good money on a bunch of shysters.”
The lieutenant put one hand on her shoulder and the other on the top of her head and guided her into the back seat of his cruiser. He waited until the ambulance taking Larry Serido to the hospital had driven away. Then he got into the cruiser and drove Maude to the Hillcrest Police Station. There she was seated in an interrogation room. In front of her was a small metal table.
A policeman came into the room. Without saying anything to Maude or looking at her, he placed a spiral-bound notebook on the table and left. A few minutes later a policewoman entered the room and set a Styrofoam cup of black coffee in front of Maude. She too said nothing.
For the first time Maude sensed that something was terribly wrong. Maybe the woman who told her about Teddy had lied. How could Teddy have hired a hitman? He had trouble just tying his shoelaces.