As NYPD veteran Joe Rizzo edges toward retirement, things only seem to get harder: a promise to his wife to quit smoking, a new partner, and the most baffling case of his career.
Robert Lauria was practically a hermit and was dead ten days before anyone found him. Fired from his job weeks ago, he rarely left his apartment and had no visitors except his cousin, who says she hardly knew him. So who strangled him and made tea in his kitchen? And could there be a connection to the headline-grabbing murder of a Broadway producer?
Armed with more street smarts than the Manhattan cops assigned to the more glamorous case, Rizzo and his partner, Priscilla Jackson, are tasked with navigating the labyrinths of the case and NYPD politics in order to bring the killer to justice. Full of the sounds and sights of walking the beat, Rizzo's Fire brings the streets to life in a way that no New York City crime novel has before.
Rizzo's Fire is a Kirkus Reviews Best of 2011 Mysteries title.
About the Author
Lou Manfredo, author of Rizzo's War, worked in the Brooklyn criminal justice system for twenty-five years. Raised in Brooklyn, he now lives in New Jersey with his wife.
Read an Excerpt
By Lou Manfredo
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 Lou Manfredo
All rights reserved.
DETECTIVE SERGEANT RIZZO PARKED his Camry in a perpendicular parking space on Bay Twenty-second Street, in the shadow of the hulking mass of Brooklyn's Sixty-second Precinct building. He walked around to the front entrance and, once inside, waved a greeting to the desk officer and stepped to the keyboard positioned above the radio recharger.
After removing car keys from the hook marked "DET 17/22," Rizzo turned to leave. As an afterthought, he reached for a thin Motorola hand radio and slipped it into the outer pocket of his coat.
Back on the street, he scanned the vehicles along both sides of Bay Twenty-second Street, all the cars sitting with front wheels up on the sidewalk. He spotted the gray Impala, crossed diagonally to it, and unlocked its passenger door. He rifled through the glove compartment and removed a crumpled pack of Chesterfields. With one leg in the car and the other extended outward onto the curb, he spit the Nicorette gum he had been chewing into the gutter and quickly lit a cigarette. Drawing on it deeply, he frowned.
"A fuckin' junkie," he said aloud, shaking his head sadly. A fleeting thought of his wife and the promise he had made some three weeks ago now crossed his mind. "Sorry, Jen," he said. "I'm doing the best I can."
Joe Rizzo was fifty-one years old, a veteran New York City cop with more than twenty-six years of service. He had lived in Brooklyn since age nine and had first met his wife, Jennifer, when they were seniors in high school. Married for over twenty-five years, Rizzo, his wife, and three daughters resided in a neat, detached brick home located within the boundaries of the Sixty-eighth Precinct in the Bay Ridge–Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn.
Just as he finished the Chesterfield, the deep, rumbling sound of an engine caught his ear. Turning slightly, he watched as Detective Third Grade Priscilla Jackson swung her crimson red Harley Davidson Softail off Bath Avenue and onto Bay Twenty-second Street. She slowly nosed the bike into a spot near his Camry, straddled it, and reached down to kill the motor. Rizzo lit a fresh smoke and got out of the car, slamming the door behind him.
"Good morning, Cil," he said as he reached her. "Welcome to Bath Beach, the heart 'n soul of Bensonhurst."
Priscilla Jackson was a thirty-two-year-old Manhattan patrol officer and the ex-partner of Mike McQueen, Rizzo's last partner. She was reporting for her first day of field work as a detective third grade. While still in uniform, she had assisted Rizzo and McQueen on one of the last cases they had handled.
Now Priscilla pulled the black helmet from her head, shaking out her short, straight hair. She smiled, highlighting her beauty, eyes dark and wide.
"Hey, Joe," she said, "how are you? And I gotta tell you, brother, I just rode through this neighborhood, and I didn't see a whole lot of what I'd call soul."
Rizzo laughed. "Yeah, well, Italian soul, mostly. And when did you start ridin' again? I thought you had this thing locked up in a garage somewheres."
Priscilla swung a long leg over the rear bobtail fender, dismounting. "Yeah, well, I did. When I was renting over in Bed-Sty. But me and Karen have a place together now on East Thirty-ninth Street. A bike is a lot easier to deal with in the city. Karen keeps her Lexus garaged and it costs more than my old apartment rent did."
Rizzo stepped slowly around the Harley, examining it. "Nice lookin' bike," he said, expelling smoke. "Looks fast."
Priscilla shrugged. "It's not a pig, but it ain't a real hot rod, either. Fourteen-fifty cc motor. I spent a lot on doodads, like the Badlander seat and the drag bar on that high riser. The bullet headlight cost me a fortune. But don't it look cool?"
Rizzo nodded. "Yeah. Cool. Me, I figure my twenty-eight-mile-to-the-gallon four-cylinder Camry is cool enough."
"Whatever floats your boat, Partner," she replied with a laugh. "So, shall we go in and meet the boys and girls? Get this shit over with?"
Now it was Rizzo who laughed. "Sounds good. It'll be nice to have a steady partner again — that bouncin' around filling in for guys on sick or annual leave really screwed up my stats. I'd hate to end my stellar career on a downturn. I was planning on doing about six more months, but I think a year is more like it. I recrunched the numbers: a year from now, I'll be about maxed out, pension-wise."
Priscilla smiled broadly. "So I get a year out of you, same as Mike did. Maybe I'll get over to One Police Plaza like he did, too."
Rizzo tossed away his cigarette. "Not likely. That was a freak thing. Someday I'll tell you all about it, but it's kinda like how you got that gold shield."
Priscilla nodded, a serious look entering her eyes. "Well, I don't need to know all about that, Joe. I just know I owe you. Big time. The bump-up to detective pay let me do this move-in with Karen. At least now I can half-ass carry my weight with the finances. Thanks to you."
"You earned that shield. If it wasn't for your help, me and Mike would still be lookin' for Councilman Daily's runaway kid. All I did was make a call and explain that to him. Daily did the rest. The hacks over at the Plaza musta tripped over their own shlongs getting you that promotion so they could kiss up to him a little more." Rizzo's voice had hardened as he spoke.
After a moment he went on, his tone once again conversational. "Besides, you're gonna be my sharp young partner, helping me get my stats back up. Then, I go out a legend and spend the next couple a years cookin' dinner for Jen till she retires and we move to Drop Dead Acres in Florida somewheres." Rizzo reached up and tapped his temple. "I got a plan."
"You'll miss the job, Joe. You just won't admit it."
"Yeah, I guess. But it sure has changed. Twenty-seven years ago, you told me I'd have a black female partner in the Six-Two, I'da told you, 'no way.' And here we are."
"Not to mention a gay black female," Priscilla said, her eyes twinkling.
"Oh, we always had gays, Cil," Rizzo replied. "Not open, maybe, but we always had them. Women and men."
Priscilla nodded. "Damn right," she said.
"But the job's changed in bad ways, too. It used to be like a family. One big family. Now ... well, maybe we got a few too many half-retarded cousins wanderin' around at the holiday meals. You know what I mean?"
Priscilla reached out and patted his shoulder. "Yeah, Grandpa. The good old days. I got it. Now let's go sign in. And I'm feeling a little hungry. Do detectives start the day tour with breakfast, or is that just uniforms?"
"Cil, we start every tour with breakfast. C'mon, I'll introduce you to the boss, then we'll get going."
* * *
RIZZO SIPPED at his coffee, rereading the blurry copy of the precinct fax he held. The two detectives were seated at a rear booth of Rizzo's favorite diner awaiting their meals.
"Son-of-a-fuckin'-bitch," he mumbled.
Priscilla looked at him over the rim of her mug. "Damn, Joe, readin' it over and over ain't going to change what it says."
Rizzo compressed his lips. The fax had come from Personnel Headquarters at Police Plaza, addressed to all members of the force and distributed to all precincts in the city. The police recruitment civil service exam scheduled for early November would result in expedited hiring. Due to an unusually large number of impending retirements, anyone successfully completing the exam could reasonably expect to be hired within six to nine months as opposed to the usual fifteen- to twenty-four-month window.
"This is exactly what I didn't need," Rizzo said. "My youngest daughter is taking this friggin' test. In six months, she'll have enough college credits to get appointed. I was figurin' on a hell of a lot more time to talk her out of it. This jams me up real good. My wife is gonna freak on this."
They sat silently as the waitress delivered their meals. When she left, Priscilla spoke.
"Don't you have three girls?" she asked.
Rizzo nodded. "Yeah, Carol's the baby. She's almost twenty, a sophomore at Stony Brook. Marie is my oldest, she's twenty-four. She's in med school upstate. Jessica is twenty-one. She graduates from Hunter College in June."
Priscilla buttered her toast and winced. "What a tuition nut to crack," she said.
"I can't even dent it, let alone crack it. Everybody is borrowed to the balls."
"Well," Priscilla said, "you gotta figure one of them for the job, Joe. They're all a cop's kid."
Rizzo shook his head. "Bullshit. I told you, the job's changed too much. For the worse. These kids, all starry-eyed, gonna save the world. Ends bad for most of them. You know that."
She shrugged. "It is what it is," she said. "You make it work for you if you got the balls."
Rizzo leaned forward and spoke softly. "Let's just drop it, okay? This ain't your problem."
Priscilla smiled. "Whatever you say, boss. My lips are sealed."
They made small talk as they ate, discussing their individual relationships with Mike McQueen, who had partnered with both of them at different times, and what Priscilla might expect in Brooklyn.
"In case you haven't noticed," Rizzo said with a smile, "this ain't exactly that Upper East Side silk stocking house where you worked uniform."
"I noticed that as soon as I pulled my bike offa the Belt Parkway and hit the streets. Now," she continued, taking a last sip of coffee and patting her lips dry with a paper napkin, "let's go do what we're supposed to be doin': cruising the precinct, getting the lay of the land. I'm anxious to start raisin' those stats of yours, Mr. Legend."
Priscilla stood, stretching out her back muscles. "Let's go," she said again.
They left the diner, pausing outside for Rizzo to have a quick cigarette. Priscilla had made it clear: no smoking in the car.
"I don't want you stinkin' me up with that crap you smoke," she told Rizzo.
Rizzo had her take the wheel. As she started the Impala, he reached under the front seat, pulling out a bottle of green mint Listerine. Priscilla watched as he raised the bottle to his lips, swishing the liquid around in his mouth, then opening the door slightly and spitting into the gutter. When he was done, he replaced the bottle, then shifted in his seat and pulled on his shoulder harness. Feeling Priscilla's eyes on him, Rizzo turned to face her. Seeing her expression, he frowned.
"What?" he asked.
"What? You asking me what? What the fuck did I just see? You got a date, Joe?"
He shook his head. "No. Jen thinks I quit. If I gargle after every couple a smokes, my breath won't smell when I get home tonight. That's all."
Priscilla shook her head and glanced into the mirrors, easing the car from the curb. "Damn, Joe. Cops ridin' this car next shift find that bottle under the seat, they're gonna figure I'm givin' up some head for that shield you got me. Don't leave that shit there. Please."
He chuckled. "It's been awhile since I worked with a dame," he answered with a smile. "I forgot how all of you think."
"Besides," Priscilla said, "Jen isn't stupid. You come home all minty-breath, your clothes smelling like horse shit, she probably knows exactly what's going on."
"You could be right," he said with a shrug.
They spent the next two hours cruising the varied areas of the Sixty-second Precinct, from the bustling, thriving commercial strips of Eighteenth and Thirteenth Avenues, Eighty-sixth Street and Bay Parkway, to the nestled residential blocks, tree-lined and glistening under the October sunshine. Rizzo pointed out the trouble-spot bars and social clubs, the after-hours mob joints and the junkie haunts. Beneath the elevated tracks on New Utrecht Avenue, he pointed to a grimy, antiquated storefront, its plate-glass windows opaque with green paint.
"The Blackball Poolroom," he said. "It's nineteen fifty-eight inside there, Cil. Totally."
He showed her sprawling Dyker Park, with its adjacent golf course, and pointed out the bocce, basketball, and tennis courts. There multiple generations of neighborhood residents played their distinct games with equal intensity. As they cruised slowly along Nineteenth Avenue on their way back to the precinct, Priscilla slowed the car for a red light. Rizzo reached across and lightly touched her arm. When she turned to face him, he pointed diagonally across the intersection.
"Take a good look at that guy and remember him. The tall kid wearing the Giants cap and black coat. That there's Joey DeMarco, seventeen years old, future serial killer. About once or twice a year the house gets a call. This guy lures stray cats with food. Then he douses 'em with lighter fluid and sets them on fire. They run like hell, squealing like banshees. Usually they die in midstride. Time the uniforms get there, the thing is stiff and charred like charcoal. God only knows how many times he's done it and never got caught. He's a real sadistic little prick. So far he hasn't grabbed some kid or old lady to kill, but mark my words, it's coming."
Priscilla glanced up as the light turned green, and she eased the car forward.
"Why's he still out free, roamin' with the citizens?" she asked.
Rizzo shrugged. "Why you think? Every time they lock him up, he gets psyched over to Kings County Hospital G Building. The geniuses over there drug him and squeeze Medicaid, or insurance or whatever, dry for thirty days. Then they pronounce him cured, and he walks. The charges get dismissed, and Joey starts savin' his nickels to buy some more Ronson. And, of course, Mommy and Daddy are no help: they know it's just our cruel society victimizing their little shit."
Priscilla studied DeMarco as they drove past him. "Duly noted," she said.
Rizzo fumbled through his jacket pocket and produced a packet of Nicorette. "See, that's what I mean," he said as he began to wrestle with the packaging. "How the job's changed. Years ago, a kid like that, if he torched a cat, a sector car would grab him and break his fuckin' arm. After that, he'd either knock it off or go do it somewheres out of the precinct. But not anymore. Those days are gone."
Priscilla smiled. "There is something to be said for the old-fashioned corrective interview, that's for sure," she said.
"Damn right," he mumbled, at last freeing the gum and popping it into his mouth.
"Joe," Priscilla said gently, "I never smoked a day in my life, but even I know you got to either chew the gum or smoke the weed. You can't do both. That nicotine is poison, brother. They spray it on crops to kill insects."
Rizzo chewed slowly. "Well," he said with a small smile. "Fuck it. Something's gotta kill ya. Might as well be chewin' gum."CHAPTER 2
THAT EVENING, PRISCILLA JACKSON GAZED across the table into the happy, animated face of Karen Krauss. Karen raised her glass of Chardonnay.
"To your promotion," she said. "We never really celebrated. Let's do it now."
Priscilla reached out, clinking her vodka gently to Karen's glass of wine.
"As my new partner would say," Priscilla said, "salud."
The restaurant, on Third Avenue in Manhattan, stood just two blocks from their newly rented brownstone apartment on East Thirty-ninth Street. Its main room was softly illuminated beneath a deco style ceiling, a massive oval wooden bar dominating the center of the dining area. Discreet servers hurried to and fro as the restaurant began to fill. It was the start of the long Columbus Day weekend.
Priscilla looked around. "Nice place," she said. "How are the prices?"
"Not bad, considering the location and style. Not to mention the food, which is terrific."
Priscilla sipped at her drink. "Sounds good," she said. "We should make it an early night, though. I'm off till Monday. Tomorrow we can pick up paint and rollers and stuff and get started painting the apartment. Hell, it's only four small rooms; by Sunday night we can have it mostly done."
Karen's smile broadened. "Well, we'll have to talk about that. But first, tell me about your day. How'd it go? Anything exciting?"
"Yeah," Priscilla said. "Lots. I took a tour of the precinct, met the squad boss. They call the guy 'The Swede,' and believe me, he's even whiter than you are. Then I got hit on by some asshole lover-boy first grade named Rossi. Had to straighten him out. Word should get around the house pretty fast that I'm one of those."
Karen chuckled. "You know, Cil, there is something to be said for subtlety."
"Yeah, right. Maybe at your law firm, with all the good little boys from Hah-vaard. But not at the Six-Two. I got the message across the way I had to. Like a brick through a plate-glass window."
Karen beckoned for a server. "Let's order," she said. "I'm starved."
When the waiter had left them, Priscilla continued. "The rest of the tour, Joe and I went over his caseload. He brought me up to speed. On Monday, in Bensonhurst, most people will be off from work. They take Columbus Day very seriously there. He says it'll be a good day to work the cases."
As they ate their first course of soup, Priscilla asked, "So what's up? You said we have to talk about the painting."
Excerpted from Rizzo's Fire by Lou Manfredo. Copyright © 2011 Lou Manfredo. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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