|The Con Man's Daughter
By Ed Dee
Published by Mysterious Press
November 2003; 0892967943; 304 pages
Monday, April 6, 1998
THE SINS OF EDDIE DUNNE'S PAST returned on a cold morning in April, more than four years after he'd turned his life around. The fifty-four-year-old ex-boxer and former cop was walking his granddaughter to school when he spotted a black BMW moving slowly behind them. Every few yards, it swung in behind parked cars and waited while Eddie and Grace strolled a few steps farther down the steep incline of Roberts Avenue. But the driver was far too anxious, twice creeping to within a block of them. Close enough for Eddie to hear the engine tick. Eddie Dunne knew an amateur tail job when he saw one.
"Knock, knock," Grace said. His granddaughter was in the middle of her favorite joke, a long, strung-out knock-knock joke. The longer she could string it out, the funnier it became. Everything is hilarious to a six-year-old.
"Who's there?" Eddie said.
"Banana," she said.
Eddie stared straight ahead, following the car's reflection in store windows. The BMW wasn't a total surprise. Lately, he'd spotted other strange cars skulking through the shadows of his neighborhood. It could be anybody in that car, he thought: jilted lovers, vengeful bartenders, screwed bookmakers, Russian thugs, or cops. It didn't matter. They'd all be looking for someone he used to be.
"Granpop," Grace yelled, her eyes teary with laughter. "I said 'Banana.' "
"Banana," she said for the fifth time in a row.
Eddie turned up North Broadway toward Christ the King elementary school, climbing another Yonkers hill in a city of hills, where nothing was on the level. He held on tight to Grace's hand. He knew that by the end of this joke she'd be laughing so hard, he'd have to hold her or she'd fall to the ground.
"Banana who?" he said.
"Knock, knock," she said, trailing off in a fit of giggling.
All his instincts told him a cop, someone new to the art of tailing, was driving the BMW. Eddie knew how cops worked. Before the bottom fell out of his life, he'd spent eighteen years in some of the best detective squads in the NYPD. After that came a blur of alcohol-drenched years as courier, chauffeur, and bodyguard for a Russian businessman, whom the FBI considered a crime lord. Lately, he'd heard rumors that the Justice Department had declared war on the Russian mob. The odds said this was about the Russians.
Grace squeezed his hand, prompting him to say his line.
"Who's there?" he said.
"Banana," she said as they cut across the wet grass of the school yard.
He hoped it wasn't the FBI. Feds were the worst. They started working you on the word of a paid informant, some skell who'd been selling them a line of shit about you just to stay on the government gravy train. The agents then fed the story to their supervisor, some guy from Horseshit, Nebraska, who thought he was sitting on the next French Connection. They'd wind up spending too many man-hours on you, and they'd get nervous. They needed to show results. Feds only knew one result: your name on an indictment. And they always found something. The trick was to stop them before they got their claws into you. No matter who was driving the BMW, he had to put an immediate kibosh on their grand plan.
"Say your part, Granpop," Grace said as she skipped up the steps to the school's blacktopped playground. Eddie took one last glance back. The car hadn't followed them onto North Broadway, but he knew it wasn't gone.
"Okay, here we are, babe," he said. "All your pals are waiting for you."
"First say, 'Banana who?' "
"Knock, knock," she said, now laughing so hard, her nose began to run.
"Who's there?" he said.
"Orange who?" he said, knowing the punch line had finally arrived.
"Orange you glad I didn't say banana?" she said, bending over and laughing so hard, she went limp and her backpack slipped down her shoulders. She let it fall to the ground, because that seemed to make the joke funnier than it had been yesterday or the day before. Eddie picked up the heavy backpack.
"I laughed my backpack off, Granpop," she said.
"What have you got in here, a case of beer?" he said, but it was a mistake, because that ignited the laughing again. Eddie didn't understand why this little girl thought he was so funny, or why she loved him so unconditionally. God knows, he didn't deserve it. He knelt down, took a tissue from his pocket, and attacked her runny nose. He'd learned he should always carry a pack of tissues. His face inches from hers, Eddie saw himself in those liquid blue eyes.
"Mommy says I gave my cold to her," Grace said.
"No, you didn't. Your mom works in a hospital. She catches all her colds there."
"Will you take her to the doctor today?"
"Are you kidding?" he said, thinking that Grace's mom, his stubborn daughter, Kate, like every nurse he'd ever known, thought she could diagnose and treat herself better than any doctor. "She'll get some sleep and be better by the time you get home."
Grace kissed him, then ran to join a cluster of girls in burgundy jumpers. The school uniform had changed since the years when Kate attended. Twenty-five years ago, the girls wore dark green tartan, a color that accentuated the striking red hair of his tall, rawboned daughter. Twenty-five years ago, Sister Mary Elizabeth would clang a handbell and Kate and her friends would freeze on the spot, the class clowns twisting into exaggerated poses. On the second bell, they'd line up with their respective classes, two by two. On the third, they'd march to their rooms. All this was accomplished in thirty seconds, in total silence.
Silence had fallen out of style long before the tartan jumpers. These days, the noise level actually rose after the final bell. Eddie waited until his granddaughter and the rest of the first grade meandered into the building; then he turned, planted his foot on the handrail, and tightened the laces on his running shoes. He couldn't see the black BMW. Either it was hidden by the bushes to the south of the school or waiting back on Roberts Avenue.
Eddie leaned against the fence, stretching his hamstrings, taking the extra few seconds to look for heads in the cars parked along the street, making sure there wasn't a backup. The wind off the Hudson carried a hint of a late-season snow, and all he'd worn was a light sweatshirt and a pair of nylon running pants. Normally, he'd start his morning run now, but he needed to get this over with. He needed to confront his trackers, blow whatever fantasy they were concocting.
If the trackers had done their homework, they'd expect to see him running back down the hill. They'd figure he'd stay on North Broadway, straight ahead for three miles north, then come back to Roberts Avenue. Six miles in under fifty minutes. But that wasn't going to happen today. He blew warm breath into his fist, then reached around, pretending to scratch the small of his back. His knuckles brushed the Sig Sauer P228, which rested snugly in the pocket of the elastic bellyband holster.
The number 2 bus, spewing gray smoke, crawled up steep, curving North Broadway, making its return trip from this outpost of aging Yonkers Irishmen. Eddie waited until it passed; then he crossed to the other side of the street to run against traffic. He always ran on the blacktopped road rather than on the concrete sidewalk. Concrete guaranteed knee problems. He began running slowly, giving his body a chance to heat up. The movement felt good, crisp air filling his lungs, his blood flowing. Even in his heavy-drinking days, Eddie had stayed in great shape, working out at least three days a week in the homemade gym below his brother's bar. He could still do sit-ups and push-ups until he got bored.
Eddie coasted down North Broadway, his feet slapping softly on the blacktop. He didn't spot the BMW until he was almost through the intersection. It was halfway down Roberts Avenue, partially hidden by a parked delivery truck. Eddie made a swooping turn through moving traffic, picking up speed as horns blared. His adrenaline kicked in as he hit the corner of Roberts in a full sprint. God help me, he thought, I love a brawl.
A coffee cup flew out of the driver's-side window of the BMW, its contents splashing onto the street. Eddie came on hard, thirty yards back. The driver made a screeching U-turn. Eddie focused on the rear license plates, a New York registration, but he couldn't make out the number. The car lurched forward, its transmission grinding. He was within twenty yards when the engine roared and the driver jumped the light at Palisade Avenue. Sparks flew as the back end bottomed out on the base of the hill when the driver floored it, and the car ate the hill alive, ascending Roberts Avenue as if it had been launched into space. A clean, incredibly quick getaway. Eddie slowed. Nothing he could do without the plate number. Besides, in less than a minute, it would be on the Saw Mill River Parkway.
Then the driver fooled him.
Four blocks ahead, at the crest of the hill, the BMW turned into Bellevue Avenue, Eddie's narrow and curvy little street. It was a move that could only slow down their escape. A move that didn't make sense. Purely stupid. A seasoned wheelman should know the escape route cold and never get trapped on clunky little back roads.
Then a rush of bile flooded the back of Eddie's throat as he realized that it was way too stupid. The driver had turned down the street for a reason. Someone needed to be warned or picked up. Another player was in the game. The BMW wasn't a tail-it was a lookout.
Focusing only on the next few steps ahead, Eddie pumped his legs in short, quick strides. It has to be cops, he thought. Probably feds, the bastards. Best guess was that they were going back to pick up some technician who was attaching a tracking device to his Olds. Standard FBI operating procedure-they used all the toys in the box. The BMW had merely been keeping tabs on him until the tech man had the thing installed. Now they were hustling back to pick him up. They wanted Eddie to lead them to the Russians, to Anatoly Lukin, and they knew they couldn't tail him without electronic help. He put his head down and leaned into the hill.
Eddie's mind clicked through all the possibilities. It wasn't a burglar; burglars wouldn't go to all this trouble. Maybe the tech man was planting a bug in his house. They'd need to break in for that. Most likely, they'd put it in the kitchen, the room with the most conversations. No reason even to look in the bedroom. Kate would sleep through it all. He dug deeper, his lungs burning. He knew damn well she wouldn't sleep through it. A deep, racking wheeze escaped his chest.
Let it be cops, he prayed. Even feds; feds would be fine. They played by the rules. They weren't the worst. He knew the worst. Knew them all too well. The men who populated the dark side of his past were the nightmare scenario. They didn't acknowledge anyone's rules, and they didn't like surprises. Finding his daughter would be a huge surprise.
His pulse thumped in the back of his neck as he reached the crest of the hill. The old neighborhood was filled with huge trees and overgrown hedges. Eddie wouldn't be able to see his own house until he was standing directly in front of it. As he ran toward his house, he heard tires squealing. He pulled his gun from the bellyband holster as the black BMW flew out of his driveway and bounced over the curb. The driver started left, then swerved wide right, away from Eddie. This time, he was close enough to read the plate number. He said it aloud, his voice a hoarse rattle. The car fishtailed on the sharp curve and slid around the corner.
Eddie kept running, no longer aware of pain. His voice became a singsong chant as he repeated the number on the license plate over and over, memorizing a set of digits he knew were the most important numbers of his life. He ran until the car was out of sight and he could no longer see the struggle in the backseat. Until all he could think about was the green flannel shirt his only daughter was wearing, and how it set off her wild red hair, as once did the green of her grammar school tartan.Copyright © 2003 Ed Dee
Reprinted with permission.
Eddie Dunne's hands are swollen from fighting, his cell phone rings to the tune of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," and his spending money is in a metal box above his bathroom ceiling. Banished from the NYPD and retired from his job with the Russian mob, Eddie plays the ponies and baby-sits his six-year-old grandchild. Then, in the blink of an eye, his life is invaded when someone kidnaps his thirty-five-year-old daughter. Now he must risk everything to get her back.
Eddie knows Kate has been taken for something he's done. He knows the Russians are involved, and he knows where they live, how they work, and where their bodies are buried. But the cops and Feds will give Eddie more trouble than help, his tangled loyalties will cancel out, and the danger he faces is one he must attack head on with his own two hands. Because for almost twenty years Eddie and his former NYPD partner cut a swath of law and disorder through New York, hopping back and forth from both sides of the law amidst thievery, extortion, and violence on a scale ordinary citizens could never comprehend. Now he has to find out which of his misdeeds will lead him to his daughter- or to his death.
From the Coney Island beaches where the Russian mafiosos swim to a warehouse disco where nouveau criminals cut deals to a Queens bocce club where old Italians keep bloody secrets, Eddie starts bouncing like a pinball through a game of guts, guns, and gangsters. With the help of a tough woman cop, he is on a twelve-day, full-tilt race against time to save his daughter's life-and do one good thing with a career gone wrong. A story that only a former organized crime detective could tell, THE CON MAN'S DAUGHTER is a big, brawling, colorful novel of violent twists, shocking turns, and a tenderness all its own.(back to top)
Ed Dee was born in Yonkers, NY in 1940 and grew up in the city's west side projects. After graduating from Sacred Heart H. S. he spent two years in the U.S. Army. In 1962, after several Teamster Union trucking jobs, he joined the NYPD. He spent nine years in uniform walking the streets of the South Bronx, while earning a BA at Fordham University. During the last eleven years he supervised detectives in the Organized Crime Control Bureau. Ed retired from the NYPD as a lieutenant lugging a suitcase full of stories he had to write. He left Fordham Law School to obtain a MFA in Creative Writing at Arizona State University. His master's thesis became his first novel.
Although the horror and hilarity of his NYPD career are evident in his work, Ed focuses on the cops themselves; how the depressing grind of an impossible job infects and changes them, then spills over onto those they love.
Ed has two daughters and four grandchildren. He lives in Delaware with his wife, Nancy.