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Welcome

I’ll be writing about my writing: my novels and short stories, what motivates me, what moves me and the writing resources that help me. Alas, I am not yet published other than here, though I am trying hard to drop the un– prefix formative from unpublished novelist. In one sense that’s good, because an unpublished novel is not finished. I edit, and edit, and edit, always trying to make what I write better, more coherent, more in tune with the sub-head of my site. You, yes you, who love to read fiction, can influence the stories by participating in the dialogue I hope will develop. If you think it sucks, say so. If you think it sucks but can be salvaged by doing… whatever, say that too, especially the whatever. It’s a two-way conversation and I encourage comments.

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Jonathan Tyne’s formidable opposition

What Jonathan Tyne is up against

This excerpt from Rogue Elephants shows what Jonathan Tyne is up against.  It needs no further explanation from me; the piece stands on its own.  Enjoy.

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Peter Napoletano’s patience with Jimmy Tosca’s vendetta against Jonathan Tyne had just about run out its string. What happened to Tyne, whether he lived or died, was of no consequence to Peter. Jimmy wanted Tyne dead, had paid good money to make it happen and Peter had done his part but now Jimmy was involving other people. Tyne’s girlfriend for one, who also was of no consequence to Peter but also his ex-wife, who was now the wife of someone who did matter to Peter and should matter to Jimmy if he had half a brain. Jimmy wanted Tyne dead, yesterday, and since Tyne was proving difficult to locate, Jimmy was getting impatient and was beginning to act irrationally and Peter, who had sponsored Jimmy to the commission, had vouched for him that he was a serious man to be taken seriously, was in the middle of what promised to be a clusterfuck of truly Biblical proportions. Or so Peter thought as he reviewed for the sixth or seventh time the e-mails passing through his computer between Jimmy and Rocco LaPone.

. . .

At forty-nine Peter Anthony Napoletano was at the height of his physical and sexual vigor. Tanned and incredibly strong – power-lifter strong – at five-nine, two hundred five pounds he could bench press two-fifty in sets of five and dead lift twice his body weight. He also swam, not in the 30 by 50 foot pool favored by his guests at his walled estate in the Oakland Hills, but in a separate device called an Endless pool, something like a water-borne treadmill capable of generating a 3 mph current. He did a pretty decent crawl for an hour at least three times per week at the fastest setting. Married five years to Jennifer, a statuesque former Las Vegas showgirl fifteen years his junior, he boasted to his drinking pals he could keep her satisfied without any pharmaceutical help, whenever they commented, politely and respectfully of course, what a lucky guy he was to have such a drop-dead gorgeous wife. Peter was born blond and at forty had gone prematurely gray. Now, his hair almost white but still thick, Jennifer often teased him that he looked the way John Kennedy would have looked had he lived. Peter’s response was always the same: that Kennedy never looked as good on his best day.

Peter, a made guy since age twenty-nine, worked for and was the most important protégé of Tino Cassili, the boss of New Jersey.  Born in “Little Italy” in the Bronx walking distance from Fordham University, he attended Fordham Prep and then the university on a football scholarship.  Tino Cassili became his benefactor after his father’s death when Peter was fourteen.  Peter never knew exactly what his father did for Mr. Cassili but after his father died in a construction accident, Cassili acted as if he was somehow responsible for him.  His father fell four stories to his death at a construction high-rise, which made no sense to Peter since whatever else he was, his father was not a construction worker.

Peter studied statistics and probability at Fordham and was a three-year starter for the Rams at offensive right guard.  He was a ferocious blocker and in his senior year was named to the AP’s Little All-America team, which was doubly impressive since he was a straight-A student.  Too small for the NFL even as a fullback, he tried his hand at semi-pro ball.  In 1972 and 1973 he played for the New England Colonials, a team affiliated with the Boston Patriots, of the short-lived Atlantic Coast Football League until his second concussion in the ‘73 league championship game ended his playing career.  In that game the Colonials beat the Bridgeport Jets 41 to 17 but Peter had to leave the game late in the fourth quarter.  It was then, organized sports behind him, that he went to work for Tino Cassili.  Cassili put up fifty grand and taught Peter the basics of being a shylock.  Always a quick study, in five years Peter had run that seed money up to a half-million dollar book.  It was time, so Cassili reasoned, to either induct him into the family or put him to work in some legitimate place in his vast enterprises.  Everyone knew that the ultimate test was whether a soldier would whack someone if his superior ordered him to do it.  That year an opportunity presented itself that set Napoletano on his life’s path.  Peter never looked back.

He killed his first man and became “made” – made his bones as it were – on the order of one of Cassili’s top lieutenants, the underboss Peter actually worked for, as a test of his courage and commitment.  The guy’s mistress had cheated on him with another made guy, the penalty for which posed a serious problem for all concerned since to kill a made member without permission was forbidden.  The offended mobster wanted the harshest retribution meted out.  He wanted the guy’s dick and balls to rub the babe’s nose in, force her to take the bloody severed organ in her mouth before he kicked her ass and turned her out on the street.  Cassili was agreeable but he also wanted to see whether Peter had the stones to do the hit.  If he couldn’t the cuckold would whack them both on the widely held assumption that an undercover cop or potential informer would never kill a guy no matter who ordered the hit.  He might talk about it, however; talk about what he was asked to do.

As mediator Cassili arranged a meet, ostensibly to “work things out.”  Peter sucker punched the guy and they held him down while he separated him from his manhood.  Peter grasped the man’s penis and testicles in his hand, stretched them out and with one swipe with an incredibly sharp knife made the guy a eunuch.  Worse than a eunuch, he was bleeding like a stuck pig and would have bled to death had not Peter ended his agony with a backhanded swipe aimed at his jugular.  Peter preferred the knife and the exercise was as much a learning experience for him as it was a test of his bonafides.  Over the years he did four more men with that throat slash and one woman with an equally gruesome mutilation of her sexual organs.  Peter wasn’t a sicko, he didn’t relish giving pain but he wanted information from the woman’s husband and the fastest, surest way to get it was to make the guy watch what he did to his wife.

Over the nearly two decades since that seminal undertaking Peter developed two specialties that proved invaluable to the Cassili organization.  The first was an uncanny knack for recruiting professional assassins; all of Peter’s men as they came to be known were good but six in the last dozen years were without peer.  These were on call to any Cassili affiliate that had the price of admission.  Not only was the deployment of these men lucrative but it gradually allowed Cassili to become the arbiter of who got whacked, not just in New Jersey but on both coasts as well as Chicago and Las Vegas.  Peter’s latest was a man named LaPone, a freelancer currently on assignment in Oregon, hunting the elusive Jonathan Tyne.

His second was a logistical masterstroke even more valuable to Cassili and friends; a money laundering pipeline to a bank he established in the Caymans.  The key component was a bottled water plant he owned in Pennsylvania.  The plant shipped tons of bottled water to the West Indies and secreted within many of the pallets were bundles of cash.  To get the cash to the bottling plant Peter used his own trucks.  He owned six trucking companies in the three West-coast states as well as financial stakes in three companies that supplied materials to the plant.  From Advanced Plastics Research, Inc., in Beaverton, Oregon the plant bought drums of PETE pellets, polyethylene terephthalate, used to make unbreakable polycarbonate bottles.  From Aurora Paper in Menlo Park, California the plant purchased its paper packaging products and from Superior Industrial Supply of Tacoma, Washington, sulfur dioxide used to disinfect and sanitize the bottling equipment.  All nine companies were profitable in their own right but it was their ability to conceal large quantities of cash in the trucks carrying supplies to the water plant that made them invaluable.  Peter took a commission from each phase of the pipeline some of which he shared with Cassili.  He was, without question Cassili’s most profitable money-maker.  For the Toscas he also took a cut from the investments made with the laundered money coming back into the country from his bank since he had connected them with his financial partner, Arthur Rhoades.

Ostensibly Peter had been sent west to “round off the corners” to help the Toscas make a success of the wholesale cocaine distribution business.  His real mandate was to look after Cassili’s interest, to make sure Tino got an honest count.  For thirty points Cassili had advanced Francesco and Jimmy Tosca five million bucks to get their fledgeling operation off the ground.  Peter had overseen the early negotiations with the Sinaloa cartel, the source of the cocaine and, of course, controlled getting the cash offshore.  With Arthur Rhoades he packaged real estate investment partnerships that made all of them millionaires many times over.  Rhoades was worth at least 300 million while Peter’s net worth was somewhere between forty and fifty million.  Tino Cassili, at seventy, was a billionaire and owed much of his wealth to Peter Napoletano.

. . .

Peter was waiting in his office at the Bull Shot Lounge for Art Rhoades to arrive for their hastily arranged meeting and was appalled at how truly stupid Jimmy could be.  LaPone was searching in Oregon for the elusive Jonathan Tyne and since Jimmy had already paid a hundred and seventy big, he was not being shy about giving LaPone advice.  His latest bit of wisdom was for LaPone to lean on the girlfriend, Catherine Duvall and the ex-wife, Madeleine Valdés-Obregón, to get from them the location of Tyne’s Oregon ranch.  And Peter had to agree, leaning on the Duvall cunt was not a bad idea, he was contemplating doing it himself, but messing with Valdés-Obregón was insanity.  Insanity because she probably didn’t know the location of his ranch since Peter already knew she had never lived there with Tyne.  Worse than insanity for the heat whacking her would bring down upon them.

Peter was convinced Duvall could reveal Tyne’s whereabouts, since he believed she had visited him at his ranch over Christmas past.  And whacking her afterwards would present few problems.  The standard way to eliminate a woman deemed disposable was to give her a hot shot of nearly pure heroin.  Peter had done it several times and LaPone was a master of the technique.  He was never without a kit or two, just in case.  The heroin always contained a trace of lactose – milk sugar – to suggest the person doing the cutting had made a simple mistake.  And in Duvall’s case three phone calls to Montreal, New York and Seattle would guarantee arrest records for using and prostitution dating back to her college days so that when her corpse was found with a needle in its arm everyone would believe she ODed.

Not so Valdés-Obregón.  There is no way anyone would believe that lady used heroin, certainly not her husband who probably had her background checked out before he married her.  Even Jimmy knew that much since he was pressuring LaPone to make her death look like an accident.  In Peter’s opinion this was very bad thinking since staging accidents that would pass police and insurance scrutiny was not LaPone’s long suit.  He would surely make some mistake and if Charles Eversoll, her current husband, even suspected foul play the heat he could bring to bear would be felt from coast to coast.  If Tyne’s ex-wife turned up dead, because of the public death threat someone close to Jimmy had made against Tyne, perhaps Jimmy himself, Jimmy would be a prime suspect.  No way that could just be a coincidence.  And Jimmy was either forgetting or he did not know how much money his brother had invested in Eversoll’s hedge fund, Twenty First Century Fund.  Knowing how smart Francesco was and how dumb it was becoming increasingly apparent Jimmy is, he probably doesn’t know because Francesco didn’t trust him with the information.

That afternoon Peter was scheduled to fly to New York to discuss Jimmy with Tino Cassili.  He was ruminating about what to do about Jimmy when Rhoades knocked on his office door.  Peter invited Art to avail himself of whatever he wanted to drink from the built-in bar and asked him to pour a couple of inches of Dewar’s Signature over ice for him.  Rhoades chose Pellegrino bottled water from the built-in refrigerator.  When he was seated in front of Peter’s ultra-modern glass and stainless-steel desk he said, “You sounded a little upset on the phone.  Is there a problem?”

“The problem is Jimmy.  He’s off the reservation in this Tyne matter and I’m in the middle.  I agreed to run interference for him to the commission but now he’s using me as a conduit to LaPone.  If that isn’t bad enough some of the things he’s telling LaPone to do are incredibly stupid.”

“Can he do that, give LaPone instructions?”

“Yes, because he paid both the commission’s fee and the up-front money LaPone demanded.  I’ve tried telling him LaPone does not need his help but it’s like talking to a wall.  But that’s not what I want to discuss with you.  Last night you said you had some information about Tyne and I meant to follow up with you but this shit with Jimmy keeps happening.  So, what about Tyne?”

“I ran into him the other day at a gas station in Seattle.”

“You’re sure it was Tyne?”

“Absolutely.  I remembered him from Bend and he remembered me.”

“What did you two talk about?”

“Continuing as Catherine Duvall’s accompanist in Bend when we reopen; he again refused and then I asked whether he was seeing Catherine.  He said he has not worked with her professionally since the fire in September.”

“Did you believe him?”

“I tried to trap him by reminding him that as Michael Ware he made a CD with Duvall that she is hawking to restaurant patrons and he conceded that but said it was in lieu of the last week of their Bend gig.  Playing for her on the CD fulfilled his contractual obligations to her.  He reminded me of the conversation we had about chemical-based sprinkler systems and he mentioned that the royalties he’s getting from CD sales are better than what Duvall and I were paying him to accompany her.  He said in the beginning he thought it would be fun playing for her but it wound up costing more than it was worth.”

“What do you think he meant by that?”

“Possibly that Catherine wasn’t putting out for him as he thought she would.  He had a woman with him in the car, a very attractive Asian woman.  When I asked about Catherine his eyes went reflexively to the woman and he said he has been a little distracted.  That’s how he put it – a little distracted.”

“This woman; was she as good looking as Duvall?”

“Better and at least ten years younger.”

“What kind of car was he driving?”

“A Chrysler rental.”

“You’re sure it was a rental?”

“Yep, I’m certain, it had an Enterprise sticker on the rear bumper.”

“A rental, eh; that means he flew to Seattle, probably from Redmond or Portland on either American Eagle or Southwest.  Did you write down the license plate number?”

“No, when I saw it was a rental I figured it was a waste of time.”

“Not true.  With the license number I could get information on his contract and maybe learn when he’s flying back to Oregon.  It would be easier with the plate number but if he flew commercial I can get his schedule, but if this sort of thing ever happens again, write down the fucking plate number.”

“It’s possible we might see him in Redmond or Bend, maybe even here in Berkeley in the coming days.  When I asked how long he was staying he said something vague about being there for a couple of days so I comped him the cover and dinner for two, good in any of our restaurants.  I gave him one of my business cards and told him to make a reservation and then hand the card to the maitre d.”

“Did he say whether he would use it?”

“No but he thanked me and put the card in his pocket.  I’ll let you know if he makes a reservation.”

“That was good thinking.  Did you ask where he was staying?”

“I did; he said at a hotel downtown but he would not say which one.”

“Did he say why he was in Seattle?”

“Some technical conference at UW, something like YAPC, whatever that is?”

Peter entered YAPC in the Google search field in his browser and learned that YAPC was an annual Perl conference this year held at the University of Washington April 5-7 in Seattle.  He searched in the YAPC page for Tyne and then Ware and discovered that M. Ware was scheduled to present a paper entitled, Using the Perl Debugger to Debug Apache mod-perl in Real-time the second day of the conference.

“Was this woman a nerd?”

“If she was she’s the best looking nerd I’ve ever seen.  Long black hair, huge dark eyes, nice tits and the little skirt she was wearing barely covered her jewels.”

“You saw a lot for a casual encounter at a gas station?”

“Well, from where I was standing the view of her in the passenger seat couldn’t have been better and naturally I was curious.”

“Un-huh; checked out the quiff okay but couldn’t get the goddamn plate number.”

“I mentioned to Catherine that I had seen him.  She was interested until I told her he had again declined our Bend offer.  After that she couldn’t have been more indifferent.  She said she has not seen him since they made the CD.”

“Are you fucking her?”

“No but not for want of trying.  She keeps turning me down even when I made it pretty clear to her that she would’ve had a contract a lot sooner if she’d been a little friendlier.”

“Stupid bitch.  How about the staff?  Do you know if any of them are fucking her?”

“I don’t see her hanging out with any of them and I’ve never seen her leave with anyone.”

“Is she a dyke?”

“I suppose that’s a possibility – or that she’s bi – but I think there was a man in Bend she was seeing and the pianist she came to Bend with was fucking her, of that I’m sure because he bragged about it.”  Here Art hesitated and looked away for a moment and Peter thought he intended to say more but was holding back for some reason.  Finally he said, “I didn’t tell you this when we hired her but I knew her before… some years ago… in ‘93, if I recall…”

“You mean you were fuckin’ her then but you’re not fuckin’ her now.  Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yeah… that’s what I’m saying.  I met her at a writers’ workshop at USF, just after I published my second novel.  She knew me back then as Andrew Carr, the name, my pseudonym, I write under.  She was recently divorced and feeling sorry for herself so… I dazzled her with my footwork and we had a thing.”

“Art, she was old even then.  She must have been pushing forty?”

“Well, yes… but she has a great body, does these crazy-intense workouts, just like you, she’s smart and pretty good in the sack…”

“No tits.”

“They’re small, sure, but she has great nipples… and…”

“Yes, and?”

“I just liked fucking her.”

“So what ended it?”

“She has this bourgeois notion about commitment…”

“She actually expected you to marry her?”

“No, but she expected me to keep it exclusive with her.  It ended when she caught me with another woman… and yeah, a woman younger than her.  So… it didn’t last long but there’s no question in my mind she likes men.  I’ve never seen her being cozy with any women.”

“So whom is she saving it for?  Apparently someone not connected with what she does for a living.  That could be Tyne or some other person we don’t know about.”

“I mentioned the woman Tyne was with to her and there was no reaction.”

“Or there was and you didn’t pick up on it.  It could have been something as subtle as a change in the width of her pupils and if you weren’t watching for it you could have missed it.”

“Yes, that is possible.”

“Write down her address in California.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Put a watch on her.  If she’s seeing him on the q.t., I’ll find out.”

“You wouldn’t hurt her would you?  I mean, she’s a nice broad and her act is sold out every night.  It would be a shame to ruin that,” his voice rising in alarm.

“Relax; I’m just going to watch her, to see whether Tyne is seeing her.”

Rhoades went to Peter’s desk and wrote down Catherine’s address on one of his business cards.  He extended the card to Napoletano who ignored it so he set it on the corner of his desk.  Napoletano finished his Scotch and then rose to replenish his glass and when he returned to his chair pocketed the card.

“I’ve been meaning to discuss something else with you and this is as good a time as any.  How familiar are you with our limited partnership agreements, specifically the provisions for succession and dissolution of partnership assets if a partner dies?”

“I know we included language to prevent an estate from forcing us to liquidate partnership assets if a partner should die.  If I remember correctly Francesco and Jimmy were both very insistent that the agreements have that language, I suspect because they secretly trusted each other least of all.”

“Yes, well I got to thinking about how Jimmy is the only Tosca left…”

“Aren’t you forgetting Sarah?”

“I should have said Jimmy is the only male Tosca left besides which Sarah knows absolutely nothing about Francesco’s investment holdings.  He never trusted her to keep her mouth shut so he told her almost nothing about what he was doing.  Before her heart attack she was the queen bee of all the guinea broads who moved out here from New York and settled in San Leandro and Castro Valley.  He knew she talked too much, couldn’t get her to stop so he told her nothing.

“Anyway, as I said I got curious so I had my attorney review the Blue Flame limited partnership agreements and he confirmed what I suspected.”

“And what was that?”

“That you and I, as surviving partners, would own on a pro rata basis Saratoga’s holdings… if and when Jimmy passes… that is, if we don’t liquidate the underlying assets.  If we did liquidate we would have to pay to the two estates the dollar value of their realized holdings.”

“Jimmy must have a will?”

“He does but he told me that after his wife died he changed it to leave everything to Sarah and Junior.”

“Which means Sarah inherits everything.”

“You know, Sarah would think she died and went to heaven if we sold off one of the limited partnerships, say that Arizona strip mall that we can’t seem to keep fully occupied, and gave her, say a million and paid the taxes on the distribution.  She would go off on one of her extended cruises and in a year or two probably succumb to another heart attack at which time you and I would own everything.  In fact, we could make up a story that in order to pay her the money and resolve some pending estate tax issues she would have to sign over the rights to the other limited partnerships or they would have to be sold off at fire-sale prices to avoid paying the deferred taxes.  She would look at the million tax-free bird in the hand versus the questionable future likelihood of realizing anything from the sale of the other assets, especially if you explained how much in taxes we would have to pay if we liquidated early, and take the money and run.”

“The only problem with that scenario is that Jimmy is as healthy as a horse.  Sarah may not have many years left but the same can’t be said about Jimmy.”

“Yes, that is a problem… isn’t it?”

Rhoades stared at him for a moment fully comprehending what Peter was hinting at and finally said, “Regicide is a very, very dangerous exercise frowned on in the extreme by the other crowned heads.  Jimmy may not be the best godfather but he’s our godfather and he has a great many friends back east who would take a very dim view of his untimely passing, particularly if it wasn’t by natural causes.  If the job were done by a known associate the details would eventually get back to Jimmy’s friends who would send their own messengers to demonstrate that regicide doesn’t pay.”

“I wasn’t thinking of using a known associate.”

“You’re not thinking of Tyne, are you?  Peter, he’s just a lucky amateur whose days are numbered.  When LaPone finds him that will be the last we will ever hear of Mr. Tyne.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re right but wouldn’t it be slick if before LaPone finished off Tyne, Tyne could solve our problem with Jimmy?  Jimmy’s friends would wring their hands and cluck their tongues but with Tyne disposed of life would go on and as a bonus, I would take over the Tosca businesses in the Bay Area.”

“You know that for a fact?”

“Yes, with Dellacroce gone I’m the logical choice.  I know more about what’s going on than anyone other that Donnie Apia and he and I go way back, in fact, we made our bones together.  He knows he could not run things without Jimmy to tell him what to do and he would transfer that loyalty to me if he knew he would always be the number two.”

“Well, I wish you luck but that is too risky for me.  If it’s all the same to you, I don’t want any part of getting Tyne to whack Jimmy.”

“But you will cooperate with me regarding the limited partnerships?”

“Of course, on that you can be sure we are of one mind.  I just can’t get involved in any of these operational matters.  Indeed, I would lose my usefulness to all concerned if I ever strayed from doing anything other than managing Blue Flame’s investments.”

Peter refilled Rhoades’ glass and his own and they clicked glasses and drank and Peter said, “Here’s to fewer partners and none named Tosca.”

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