Drawing from her own past as a dynamic, hard-charging district attorney and judge, Emmy award winner Jeanine Pirro's page-turner is ripped from the headlines, full of gripping details, authentic thrills, and suspenseful realism that can only come from a courtroom litigator who's been in the trenches.
Prosecutor Dani Fox has handled some gruesome homicide cases, but her investigation into the brutal murder of a local Mafia capo's daughter goes from tricky to downright dangerous. Although the victim has ties to the New Jersey Mafia, she was also secretly engaged in an affair with someone from a rival New York crime family. As if squaring off against two powerful crime families weren't enough, Dani suspects that the murder is more than a simple crime of passion, and getting to the bottom of this grisly homicide puts Dani and her long-term boyfriend, Will, in harm's way. Clever Fox has you rooting for Dani in this deadly fight between the ace prosecutor and an elusive and dangerous killer.
About the Author
In 1990, she became the first elected female judge to sit on the Westchester County court bench. In 1993, Judge Pirro was also elected district attorney of Westchester County, once again setting a precedent as the first female to hold that position. Judge Pirro received national recognition for founding one of the country's first domestic violence units and has worked tirelessly to change the legal landscape to reflect the needs of the silent victims of violent crime. She has two children, two dogs, and a pig, and lives in Westchester, New York.
Read an Excerpt
A Dani Fox Novel
By Jeanine Pirro
HyperionCopyright © 2014 Jeanine Pirro
All rights reserved.
Twelve minutes before midnight, December 31, 1979
"Get ready!" Will Harris exclaimed as he wrapped his left arm around my waist while hoisting a plastic cup of champagne to his lips with his other hand. "I can't think of anyone who I'd rather be spending New Year's Eve with."
He leaned down and gently kissed my cheek.
"I feel exactly the same way," I replied.
But his comment made me curious. It sounded as if he had done a mental inventory of all the women in his life before he'd decided that I was his best choice for the evening. Or maybe that was just the prosecutor in me coming out, reading too much into what was clearly supposed to be a compliment. Maybe it was because I had been hurt and lost at love before. My former boyfriend, Bob, had taken away my faith in men. Could I ever believe a guy again? How would I know if it was real?
Both of us looked upward at the glittering ball on the rooftop of One Times Square. It was a clear night, the stars visible in a dark blue sky.
Will had wanted to spend New Year's Eve at my house in suburban White Plains, New York, lounging in front of a cozy fire counting down the final seconds of 1979 along with Dick Clark.
But I'd insisted on escaping into Manhattan to watch the ball drop in Times Square.
My name is Dani Fox and I'm an assistant district attorney in Westchester County, a wealthy suburban enclave. I'm our county's only female prosecutor. Just 110 male assistant district attorneys and me. My specialties are crimes against women and children. Two years ago, I created one of the nation's first Domestic Violence Units and I often spend my days prosecuting husbands who believe their marriage vows give them the right to beat their wives senseless.
These last few months have been especially difficult. My boyfriend, Will, is a reporter at the White Plains Daily and he chronicled several of the incidents that have turned my life topsy-turvy. My troubles began after I filed charges against Carlos Gonzales, a popular Hispanic businessman who'd beaten and raped his teenage daughter. It was a high-profile case and as soon as I got a jury to convict him, our esteemed Federal Bureau of Investigation rushed in to save him because they wanted Gonzales's help in a Manhattan drug case and that was considered more important than punishing a father for beating and raping his own daughter. The Justice Department offered Gonzales a free pass. In return for his testimony, he was told that he'd get a new identity and a fresh start in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Oh yeah, the Feds were also going to relocate his younger kids with him. I was horrified, did some digging, and discovered that this dirtbag had also murdered his wife. Her death had been considered a suicide. I got a jury to convict him again, which stopped the FBI from turning him loose. As you can imagine, that case hadn't made me any friends in the FBI.
On the same night that Gonzales was convicted, I was attacked in my own house by a deranged husband intent on carving the word bitch into my chest. Fortunately for me, Detective Tommy O'Brien, a big Irish cop who works with me at our unit, arrived just in time to stop the attack by firing a gut-ripping round of buckshot into my knife-wielding assailant.
Like I said, 1979 was a tough year.
There were some good things, though. My pet pig, Wilbur, had survived a nasty encounter with pneumonia and nearly died. And I'd started dating Will, although I doubt Will would appreciate being lumped together with my pig's nearly fatal cold when it came to recalling the year's highlights.
Being with him—Will, not Wilbur—in Times Square tonight was exactly what I needed to take my mind off the pain and suffering that I witnessed every day in my office. It is heartbreaking to see the violence that men commit against the very women whom they'd promised to love and cherish as long as they both shall live.
"Five minutes!" Will said, sounding like an excited schoolboy.
I glanced at him. No one would mistake him for a fashion model, but Will was nice looking, tall, and fit. He had a strong jaw, a mop of sandy brown hair that always seemed to need a trim, and wore wire-rim glasses that he was constantly pushing up on his nose. It was his personality that first attracted me to him. Will was curious and smart, a workaholic—just like me—and passionate about his job. If you asked Will who he worked for, he wouldn't answer with the name of the company that owned the White Plains Daily. A corporate official might have signed his paycheck, but Will said that he worked for the public.
The mob in Times Square crowded together more tightly. A tipsy, tall brunette bumped against me, spilling her champagne on my new black leather coat. I didn't complain. 'Tis the season. "Nineteen eighty is going to be our year," Will declared.
Our year? What, exactly, had he meant? There were still parts of Will that remained a mystery; parts that I felt he was keeping hidden from me. Maybe he is just more private than I am. I say what's on my mind and rarely hold anything back when I'm in a relationship. Maybe Will is just more cautious about protecting himself from being hurt.
"Ten, nine, eight, seven," everyone began chanting in unison.
Will and I joined in.
"Six, five, four."
I felt wonderful. It wasn't the cheap champagne that Will had brought with us. It was a feeling of anticipation, renewal, and saying goodbye to one hell of an awful year!
"Three, two, one!"
A roar of "Happy New Year!" enveloped us as Will pulled me close and we kissed. I stood on my toes with my hands around his neck.
We held each other tightly for a minute and were about to kiss again when I felt the pager in my coat pocket shaking. The pager in his jacket began vibrating, too. We reached for them simultaneously. The only pages I get are emergencies so I knew it was not some New Year's Eve greeting from a friend. When the police call, they use a number code on my pager to tip me off. Will's newspaper does the same. We glanced at our codes and both said, "Shit!"
Without uttering another word, Will guided me through the sea of loud partygoers who were completely oblivious to the fact that someone had just been murdered. From a pay phone in a jammed bar on Forty-Third Street, I called the Yonkers police dispatcher who'd paged me.
"The vic's a woman," he said matter-of-factly. "Murdered and more."
"Some asshole cut pieces of her skin off."
I handed Will the phone after I finished my call. He dialed the newspaper's city desk. After he finished, he said, "Sorry, Dani, this isn't how I expected the first night of our new year together to end."
"Me, either," I replied, grabbing the lapel of his coat, pulling him close, and kissing him. But my mind was already miles away. Someone around us broke into a chorus of "Auld Lang Syne."
"How you getting there?" Will yelled above the singing.
"The usual. Squad car. Lights and sirens."
Will knew better than to ask for a ride. Arriving together would have crossed a line. "I got to go," he said. "It's going to take me much longer to get to Yonkers than you."
As he started to leave, I said, "See you at the homicide."
The Dunwoodie neighborhood in Yonkers is known as Little Italy for obvious reasons. It's a long-established Italian immigrant enclave.
Over the years, Yonkers has not kept up with the wealthy Westchester villages that edge it. The neighborhood is more middle-class New Jersey than upper-class New York.
A black-and-white drove me to a brick building in the 800 block on Midland Avenue, where a half dozen uniformed Yonkers officers were loitering near the front entrance. The cops directed me to Apartment 306, where another uniformed officer was guarding the door. He studied my credentials for several moments before stepping aside. Cops still aren't used to seeing a woman prosecutor, especially at a homicide, and especially a prosecutor who still had tiny shreds of ticker tape on her coat from an interrupted Times Square celebration.
As soon as I entered, I spotted Detective O'Brien speaking to one of our county's medical examiners in the apartment's tiny living room, which didn't contain a single piece of furniture. How odd.
O'Brien was a real-life cliché of an Irish detective in his midfifties, with graying red hair, a beer belly dangling over his belt, and an ever-present toothpick tucked into the corner of his mouth. We hadn't hit it off when we'd first met, mainly because he belongs to a generation of dinosaur cops who think women do not belong on a police force or in the D.A.'s office. I consider him a work in progress.
"A new year—a new stiff," O'Brien said. "I've kept 'em out. That way you'll see what the killer saw. Take a deep breath before you go in." He nodded toward the apartment's only bedroom.
"Dispatch said she'd been cut up," I replied.
"Cut up? Skinned and filleted, I'd say."
I stepped inside. The victim was dangling from an electrical cord as if she were a side of beef hanging in a meat locker. I put her at about twenty-seven, my age, but I couldn't be sure because of her condition. At first glance, it looked as if she were wearing a bright red jumpsuit, because of all the blood. Her attacker had slashed her face and cut pieces of skin from her breasts, abdomen, thighs, and buttocks. He'd made surgical cuts, removing swatches about the size of a standard envelope.
I tried to keep focused and ignore the gore. Because she was limp, it was hard to guess her height, but I estimated she was about five foot, four inches, and weighed about 120 pounds. She was busty and although the killer had removed skin from her breasts, they were perfectly formed. Too perfectly formed. She'd definitely had breast augmentation surgery.
I stepped closer for a better look, fighting the urge to gag. The victim had shoulder-length raven hair and, judging from the clothing that had been cut from her body and dropped on the floor, she had been wearing a pricey designer label, along with a sexy black bra and panties. There wasn't a bedspread on the double bed. It's cream-colored satin sheets were sprinkled with blood like a Jackson Pollock painting.
The large gold band and huge diamond on her finger showed she was married. Her left pinkie finger had been amputated by her attacker. He'd probably dropped it on the shag carpet just as he had done with the pieces of flesh that he had cut from her body.
"Judging from the spatters," O'Brien said, coming up behind me, "she was alive when he did this to her."
Blood on the bed, walls, and carpet showed clearly that she'd twisted and possibly even tried to kick her attacker, in the process raining blood all around her. The pain must have been unimaginable. By the time death had finally come, it would have been a relief.
"She got a name?" I asked.
"No purse. No ID. The building's manager and superintendent is waiting downstairs for us. As you probably guessed by now, no one actually lived here."
I glanced at the open bedroom closet. Empty wire coat hangers were all that was inside it. The double bed was the only piece of furniture in the entire apartment.
"A love nest?" I asked.
"Love?" O'Brien scoffed.
"What would you call this?"
"A nookie nest," O'Brien beamed, clearly proud of the alliteration.
"I'm trying not to say 'fuck' so often. You know, a New Year resolution. I've been told the word offends women."
I thought for a moment about O'Brien's uptight girlfriend. I could imagine her lecturing him about his salty language. "I'm glad you're getting more sensitive," I replied. "Now, who the fuck found her?"
"Nice," he said, smiling.
"The super found her. The victim showed up here twice a week in the afternoons, regular as clockwork. Stayed a few hours. He came in here just before midnight and found her."
"Why'd he come in?"
"Looking for leaking water. Upstairs unit flooded. He was worried water was leaking down."
"Did he know her name?"
"She went by Vicky. That's it."
"How about her boyfriend?"
O'Brien shrugged. "Super never saw the man's face until today."
"C'mon, O'Brien, how could she rent this place—or he rent it—without telling the superintendent a name?"
"This apartment," he replied, "is rented by a Yonkers law firm."
I shot him a surprised look. "Anyone we know?"
O'Brien smiled. "Gallo & Conti. Ring a bell, counselor?"
The law firm of Gallo & Conti was infamous for having only one client, Nicholas Persico, better known as "the Butcher." He was a capo in the Battaglia crime family, one of the five New York Mafia families. Persico ran "Little Italy" with an iron fist from a family-owned butcher shop in the heart of Yonkers. Wielding a cleaver was also how he reportedly liked to end the lives of his victims, although no one in law enforcement had ever been able to tie any murders directly to him.
"Seems a bit obvious, doesn't it?" I replied.
"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. They aren't all mysteries."
"But they are tragedies," I replied, "especially when someone dies like this. Strung up and tortured. We're dealing with a real sicko here."
O'Brien pointed toward a radio alarm clock on the floor next to the bed. "I'm guessing he started cutting on her around three-thirty."
I glanced at the time on the radio.
The killer had used its cord to bind his victim's hands. The dial was stopped at 3:35. "Nice observation," I said.
"I have my moments. Let's go talk to the super."
"Give me a second."
I looked at the dead woman. It was so sad. A life snuffed out. Why? And why so cruelly? I wanted to make sure I remembered every cut, every piece of missing flesh, every torture that her killer had inflicted. I wanted to be able to describe this scene to jurors so vividly that they would understand how much this woman had suffered before she'd finally welcomed death.
"I just made a New Year's resolution," I announced, when I walked out of the bedroom and joined O'Brien. "I'm going to make sure this fucking bastard doesn't get away with this."
Roman Mancini met us at the door of his first-floor apartment wearing a sweat- stained wife-beater T-shirt, baggy brown pants, and well-worn slippers.
"Me and my wife, Maggie," Mancini said, "have been managing this building for fifteen years and never had no trouble like this." His apartment reeked of cigarettes, old coffee grounds, and booze. He nodded toward two threadbare chairs in a musty living room and plopped himself down on a lime-green couch across from them. Two long-haired cats were curled up on the sofa.
"My wife's not feeling well," Mancini explained. "She's got respiratory problems. Asthma. She went to bed early tonight, around ten, so she don't even know nothing happened. If it's okay, I'd rather not get her up."
"Let's start with you," I said, sitting in the blue chair. The yellow one had a third cat sleeping on it. O'Brien made eye contact with the feline as he walked over. He scooped up the cat and placed it on the floor before the pet could react. Mancini was short, stocky, and hairy everywhere but on his bald head. The stench of alcohol in the room implied a drinking habit.
"What can you tell us about the woman upstairs?" I asked.
"Not much. I mean, whenever I saw her, she always just said 'hello' but nothing more. I knew what they was doing up there, though."
"Doing up there?" I repeated, playing dumb.
"Her and that man—meeting there for sex twice a week."
"When did these trysts start?"
"Oh, sex. Three months ago. This young fellow comes around and looks at the apartment. Now, I run a respectable place. Most tenants are older. We don't attract a young crowd in this building. The kids want someplace modern."
Based on the Mancinis' unit, I guessed the place hadn't been remodeled since the 1940s.
Continuing, Mancini said, "I asked this young fellow why he wanted to move into our building. That's when he tells me, it ain't for him. He works at this law firm and he's renting it for a boss. He says the boss works late and needs a place to stay. The check he gave me didn't bounce, so I figure, what the hell?"
"I'd like a copy of the rental agreement," I said.
"I already pulled it out of the file. Now, my wife, she's the one who keeps track of the paperwork. I fix things up around here and keep the place running, you know, unclogging toilets, putting in lightbulbs, that sort of thing. In this job, I get to know all our tenants and which ones are okay and which ones are never happy."
Excerpted from Clever Fox by Jeanine Pirro. Copyright © 2014 Jeanine Pirro. Excerpted by permission of Hyperion.
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