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The Ophelia Cut

A Novel
By John Lescroart

Read an Excerpt

The Ophelia Cut

PROLOGUE


ANTHONY XAVIER RICCI never set an alarm clock because he never needed one. When his eyes opened in the darkened room after a fifteen-minute afternoon nap, he didn’t move for a couple of minutes, letting full consciousness creep up on him. The clock next to his bed read 4:30.

Ricci was thirty-one years old and after eight years in the NYPD, a sergeant. He lived alone in the basement of a beautiful brownstone in Brooklyn. A couple of windows up front by the sidewalk let in a good amount of light and kept his spacious living room from feeling like a cellar. Ricci was proud of his place and kept it pin neat. Over the past three years, he had accumulated some very nice things: a Persian carpet in bright yellows and blues, and several strikingly colorful, contemporary paintings that were already worth more than he’d paid for them. He’d also bought a brown leather sofa, two low, modern armchairs, and an antique wood marble-topped coffee table. On the wall opposite the paintings, built-in bookshelves held his library, his CDs and collection of LPs, a turntable and a pair of out-of-date but excellent JBL speakers, and a large flat-screen TV. Not many of New York’s Finest lived so comfortably at his age.

In the back half of the apartment, he’d recently redone the kitchen—stainless steel stove and refrigerator and granite countertops. A high-tech wine cooler that held thirty-six bottles hummed quietly next to the sink. Abutting the kitchen was the bedroom, where he was just opening his eyes.

He’d needed the nap. The previous night he’d been out with about twenty other cops, dinner at Mario’s to celebrate the retirement of Captain Greg Sheppard, his boss in Vice for the last five years, and a well-liked figure in the department. They’d closed the bar at 4 A.M., and then this morning Ricci had been up at dawn for his weekly seven-mile run, after which he’d done his laundry, picked up his dry cleaning, done some grocery shopping, had lunch with his cousin Victor and Victor’s wife, Bette. But he had big plans tonight as well—some business and then dinner at home and perhaps bed for the first time with the lovely Andrea Bernardi, whom he’d been seeing for a month; she was coming over at 8:00. The nap was a hedge against fatigue.

He showered, shaved, weighed himself—rock steady at 180. In ten minutes, he was dressed in Dockers, tennis shoes, a Knicks sweatshirt against the light September chill. He’d also be grabbing his bulkier generic gray hoodie before he ventured out, and a knit cap to pull down over his hair, cover his ears, though not so much for the cold.

Sitting on his bed, he turned his cell phone back on and on a whim decided to take a look at his photo stream. In a minute he’d traveled back six months and was staring at a picture he’d taken of Teri Wright, a fellow cop and former girlfriend.

A twinge of regret seeped into his consciousness. What had he been thinking when he let her go? Andrea was a beauty, sure, with a fragile Anne Hathaway look about her. But all of his past girlfriends were beauties—it was the Golden Age of the single straight man; the pickings were endless.

Teri, even among the stiff competition, was still near the very top. Now he stared at her smiling face on the screen of his phone. Much more Scarlett Johansson than Anne Hathaway, with a sexual energy and vibe that was even more powerful because of her maturity. Andrea wasn’t yet twenty-five, still with (he guessed) a lot to learn; Teri was thirty-two and, from his experience, had pretty much mastered it all. And there had been a sweetness to it, too, combined with an ability to laugh at herself. And to make him laugh, which was much more rare.

Ricci was a serial monogamist; in general, he loved the chase and the first few weeks, sometimes even months, of sexual intimacy, but after a while the excitement and desire, even with a Teri Wright, always tended to pale. He told himself that that was just who he was. He usually didn’t worry about it, although now flipping back through some more pictures of Teri—that topless monokini shot when they’d been on their weekend at Turks and Caicos . . .

Lord.

He felt the beginnings of arousal.

Maybe he should call Teri again. It hadn’t been the easiest breakup—lots of tears and anger, but there was no way she could deny the chemistry they’d shared. What about their true love? The commitment they’d talked about? That breakup day came back to him now; it had been pretty ugly.

Nevertheless, he thought it was entirely possible he could get her back. He could just give it a little more time, let things play out with Andrea over a couple more months, then give Teri a call. She’d no doubt be resistant at first, but he was confident he could wear her down. It was definitely an idea. Let time work its healing magic, then move in.

Shaking himself from his reverie—he had work to do, after all—he got out of the photo stream, left the phone facedown on his bedside table, grabbed his hoodie, and headed out.

RICCI KEPT A small storage locker about five blocks from his house. There were perhaps eighty units in a low-rise brick building at the back end of a public parking lot—$8 ALL DAY!—although on a Saturday evening at a little past 5:00, the lot held only three cars. With his key, he unlocked the left-hand side door and let himself into the building. Turning on the overhead lights, he walked about a third of the way down to his locker. As usual, there wasn’t a soul in the place.

After working the combinations both on his own Master Lock and a built-in dial on the locker itself, he had the door open. Inside, the contents of the four shelves were arranged as neatly as he kept things in his home. The top shelf held a shoebox full of hundred-dollar bills—$33,700 worth. He kept the exact updated count of deposits and withdrawals on a lined sheet of paper taped to the inside of the door. On the next shelf, he kept stored several boxes of ammunition and one of surgical latex gloves. The bottom two shelves held the guns—some registered (not to him, of course) and some not, of several different calibers and makes—that he’d picked up in the course of his work over the years. Seven, all told.

Moving quickly, he pulled out his new favorite, a Ruger LCR revolver—five .357 Mag rounds and a barrel under two inches for easy concealment. Flipping open the cylinder, he slid the bullets home, snapped everything back into place. Five rounds were plenty. Hell, one was plenty for his needs, but he generally took two shots for certainty. If he needed more than five, he’d probably wind up dead.

Putting the gun in his hoodie’s front pouch, he grabbed a couple of latex gloves, checked the shoebox for luck, just to see that the pile of bills looked all right. Checking both ways one more time, seeing no one, he closed the locker, twisted the first dial, and hooked in his own Master Lock.

JAMES DI MARCO didn’t want to let the summer get away without one last barbecue. Now here it was, the last weekend in September, and the forecast next week was rain, possibly sleet, the temp going down to the thirties. So yesterday he’d bought four fat rib eyes and started them marinating soon after he’d woken up this morning. They were going to be outstanding.

The Weber was perfuming the entire Coney Island neighborhood with the smell of cooking meat, while James and Carla and the Jensens from down the street sat out in the backyard with their second pitcher of margaritas. Everyone was in slacks and sweaters, but nobody was cold. The sun wouldn’t be setting for at least another half hour, and they had positioned themselves to enjoy its last rays.

At forty-five, improbable as it was, James felt that his life had turned around at last. He didn’t kid himself that this was through his own efforts, although he had learned how to play the game better, learned how to take advantage of opportunities he routinely couldn’t identify when he’d been younger. He wasn’t part of Mr. Tedeschi’s inner circle, of course, and not being related by blood, probably never could be. But he’d worked his way up as Mr. Tedeschi had transitioned out of the stolen goods and drug business to an emphasis on the flesh trade, from driver and deliveryman to manager of an entire block of apartments, a euphemism for massage parlors, in Queens.

And this was where James had begun to realize the bonus that Mr. Tedeschi had made available to him. It was simplicity itself, and though he knew that technically it was skimming, certainly as sins went it was more or less venial: reporting just a little less than he actually collected from the girls, he’d been doing it so long and so successfully now that he’d come to believe that Mr. Tedeschi actually, albeit tacitly, condoned it. This was how his lieutenants augmented their earnings, improved their lifestyles, and he didn’t begrudge them for it. Over the years, the additional income had allowed James to keep Carla happy with a yearly cruise, some nice jewelry, and, perhaps most of all, this second house a few blocks from the beach.

Out in the backyard, he heard the front doorbell ring. Tipping up the last sip of his margarita, he stood up from his chair, put his glass on the patio table, and asked, “Anybody want anything while I’m up?”

From the hallway, he could make out the outline of the caller through the glass of the front door. The sun was low and glaringly bright behind the man’s figure, but as he got closer, James saw that it was a friendly-looking, young white guy. Opening the door and squinting in the sunlight, James said, “Help you?”

“I sure hope so,” the young man said, flashing a winning smile. “Sorry to bother you, but I’m looking for James Di Marco.”

“You found him.”

Still smiling, he said, “Mr. Tedeschi says to tell you, ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal.’ ”

In an instant, Joe’s face started to go dark with fear, and also with understanding.

Ricci didn’t hesitate. “Oh, one last thing,” he said, pulling the Ruger out and up. In one smooth motion, he stuck it under James Di Marco’s chin and pulled the trigger twice.

FORTY-FIVE MINUTES LATER, the gun locked away in his storage unit, the surgical gloves and the spent cartridges thrown into a trash container in the subway station on the way back, Ricci went down the four steps leading to his apartment, took out his key, inserted it into the lock, and started to push open the door.

The minute he turned the knob, a pair of strong hands took hold of him from behind and pushed him forward into the door, which slammed open in front of him, and then he was thrown down onto the floor, his face into the Persian rug, three men holding him down. When he stopped struggling after only a few seconds—resistance was obviously useless—a calm and measured voice said, “There’s four of us here and we’re all armed and very dangerous, Tony. You are, by the way, under all kinds of arrest. But we’re really here to talk to you, which would be easier and so much more pleasant if you were sitting up. You think you want to do that?”

Ricci raised his head and saw a man sitting at his kitchen table with an open bottle of wine and a couple of glasses in front of him, one of them half-filled. “Sure,” he said, “I’ll sit up. Let’s talk.”

“No funny stuff.” The man reached under his jacket and showed a gun. “No kidding.”

“I get it.”

“Good.” The man nodded to his comrades, and the pressure behind him went away. “One of you get the door, please.”

Ricci slowly got to his feet. He looked around, and sure enough, there were three other guys, all about his size, complete professionals. “What do you want?” he asked the man at the table.

“Have a seat,” the guy said, indicating the other kitchen chair.

“Who the fuck are you?”

The man broke a tight smile. “Oh, yeah, the introductions.” He dug into his pocket and pulled out a wallet, which he opened to reveal a badge. “We’re a little posse of federal marshals, Tony. My name is Frank Ladoux, and I predict that you and I are going to be good friends for a long time. Please, have a seat. Can I pour you a little wine? You’re going to want, maybe need, something to drink pretty soon, I expect.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Ladoux tsked. “Tony, please. A little respect.” He leaned forward, picked up the wine bottle, and filled the bottom of Ricci’s glass. “Come on, take a sip. It’s your bottle after all. It’ll make you feel better.”

Ricci picked up the glass and drank. “Okay, now what?”

“Now you’re going to tell us how much you know about Martin Tedeschi.”

Ricci hesitated, scanned the kitchen, came back to Ladoux. “He’s a wine collector and business guy out in the Hamptons. He throws a lot of parties.”

“Parties where you’ve provided security.”

Ricci nodded. “Sometimes. So what? Half the force moonlights.”

“Maybe they do, but they don’t usually become pals with their hosts, do they?”

“I’m not pals with Tedeschi.”

“No?”

“No. If that’s what this is about, you got the wrong guy.”

Ladoux shook his head. “You disappoint me, Tony. You’re a cop. You know what it’s like to make an arrest. You don’t do it without preparation and evidence up the ass. Isn’t that right? So here we are, a team of four—and believe me, the team is much bigger than that—and you’re acting like you think we don’t have everything we need and then some. Of course we do. You’re done, dude. You have only two ways to go: one, you roll over on Mr. Tedeschi or, two, starting tonight you go to jail for the rest of your natural life, which won’t be too long.”

Ladoux poured himself a glass of wine, took a sip, and put the glass down. “Listen, you are the break we’ve been looking for for at least two years. We know you’re majorly connected to Tedeschi. We’ve got pictures, we’ve got tapes, videos, you name it. We know you’ve been working for him for five years and know everybody who’s anybody in his organization. We’re going to want you to testify against these people so we can put them away where they belong.”

Ricci barked a laugh. “And, even assuming that what you think you know is true, I’m going to do this why?”

“Because otherwise . . . I thought I’d made this clear . . . otherwise, you’re in prison forever.”

“For what?”

Again, Ladoux shook his head, smiling. “I’ll be honest with you, Tony. We don’t know for sure yet how many people you’ve hit, although the deposit list on the door of your locker ought to give us some leads on timing.” Ladoux nodded. “The locker? Oh, yeah, we know about that. In fact, we got its contents in evidence right now, collected by my colleagues right after you left, oh, about twenty minutes ago.”

Stalling for time, Ricci picked up his glass and drank up its contents.

“Here. Let’s pour you some more of that. I’ve got your attention now, don’t I? We were talking about the number of people you’ve hit, and the good news for us is we don’t need a lot of bodies. We just need one.”

“You’re saying you’ve got proof I’ve killed people?”

“Honestly, Tony, I’d have to call it an embarrassment of riches.”

“Because I have a locker?”

“It’s more what’s in the locker, but that’s a start. Seven guns that’ll match ballistics with who knows how many dead people. Thirty grand plus in cash. Ammo.” Ladoux held up his hand. “Now, I know what you’re thinking. That it’s all circumstantial. There’s probably no record you even rent that locker. Except we’ve been filming it round the clock for the past four months, and it’s pretty obvious it’s yours.”

Ricci sat back. “I want to talk to a lawyer.”

Ladoux clucked. “Shit, Tony, I’m giving you a chance to live here, and you’re pissing about finding yourself a lawyer. You get a lawyer and go to jail to await your trial and Mr. Tedeschi has you killed in your cell. I promise you this will happen, and you know it’s true. So let’s stop this nonsense talk about lawyers. I am offering to protect you forever. You testify for us and then you start a new life. You don’t get that?”

But Ricci crossed his arms and sat back in his chair. “I never killed anybody. I want a lawyer.”

Ladoux looked over at his colleagues, who’d found themselves seats in the living room. “Can you believe this guy?” He reached into his pocket pulled out a cell phone, came back to Ricci. “It’s amazing the clarity you can get with the video on these things, Tony. Take a look at this. No, come in closer. Get a look.”

U.S. Marshal Ladoux pushed a button and the screen came up. Ricci saw himself walking along a sidewalk. With a rush of blood in his ears, he realized that this was the block where James Di Marco lived. He watched himself stop at the front gate, walk up the short little path, knock at the front door. He waited, the door opened, and then the camera zoomed in on him and Di Marco. Ladoux was right. The clarity of the zoom was excellent.

Ricci couldn’t take his eyes off the screen. It seemed to take forever, though he knew that the whole thing hadn’t lasted thirty seconds. There was a moment of discussion, then he pulled the gun and stuck it under Di Marco’s chin. In his kitchen chair, his whole body reacted with a jerk at the clearly audible reports of the gun as Di Marco went down.

Turning away now, they got Ricci directly facing the camera, his face nearly filling the screen. Out of zoom, finally, he broke into a lazy jog.

Dumbstruck, Ricci shook his head in disbelief. “You had a guy tailing me?”

“Tony, we’ve had a dozen people tailing you round the clock for the past four months. I told you, this is a big operation and you’re in the middle of it. When the word got out you were at your locker earlier, we kicked it up to high gear, and, I must say, you didn’t disappoint.”

“You just shot the video knowing what was coming down? Thinking I was going to do the guy? When you could have stopped me and saved his life? What kind of fucking guys are you?”

“I told you, we’re fucking serious guys. Really. Any one of us. And we needed you to actually shoot the poor fucker. You can understand that, I’m sure.” The marshal sipped wine and tsked again. “Hey. Get over it. The world’s a tough place. Whoever he was probably deserved it. And we got what we needed, too. That’s what counts.”

Ricci came forward, poured himself more wine, drank half of it. His hands were shaking.

“So look,” Ladoux said, “let’s cut the bullshit about how you never killed anybody. We got you killing somebody. You’re going down for this, unless you want to play ball with us. And I mean you’re going down now.”

Ricci reached again for the wine. “How’d you get on to me? You mind if I ask?”

“You remember you dated Teri Wright? A fellow police officer.”

“Shit. Teri?”

“Maybe you want to let ’em down easier in the future. She was a little bitter. And then she got to thinking about all the great stuff you’ve got around this place, all the extra money you had all the time. It got her thinking with her cop’s brain. Where was all that coming from? And, of course, she also knew about you moonlighting for Tedeschi. She knows that you’re working in Vice; she knows he’s running lots of girls. It all started to fit—she didn’t know exactly how—but she came to us.” He spread his hands in low-key triumph. “And then there was today.”

“So what do we do now?”

“Well, I’m afraid now you disappear.”

“Just like that?”

“Pretty much. We get you out of here tonight, right now, and into a safe environment, and then we get your initial testimony and get you set up in a new place with your new identity. And then when we need you to come back in to testify, you’re available for us. A case this size, it might be years. In the meantime, you got a life.”

“What about after I testify?”

“That is up to you, but you’ll probably want to stay in the program.”

“Forever?”

“Up to forever. But it’s your choice. You got family? Relatives?”

“No. Couple of cousins, but nobody especially close.”

“That ought to make it easier, the choice I mean.”

“And you set me up with a new identity, just like that?”

“Couldn’t be easier. I’ll show you. What’s the name of this wine we’ve been drinking? It’s delicious.”

“Solaia,” said Ricci. “It’s Italian. Wine of the year a few years ago in Wine Spectator.”

Ladoux put his finger into his wineglass and motioned Ricci to come in closer to him. “Anthony Xavier Ricci,” he said, touching his wine-soaked finger to Ricci’s forehead. “I hereby christen you Tony Solaia. Where do you think you want to live from now on?”

Tony Solaia reflected for a moment, then nodded and said, “I’ve heard good things about San Francisco.”

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