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Death by Rodrigo: A Novel

Death by Rodrigo: A Novel

by Ron Liebman


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When El Salvadoran crime boss Rodrigo González is finally nabbed in Camden, New Jersey, for high-volume drug trafficking, he hires criminal defense attorneys Mickie Mezzonatti and Salvatore "Junne" Salerno, Jr. He's been told they're the best and that, as former Camden police officers, they know all the blind spots and loopholes (read: the ins and outs) of the local courts. All Rodrigo asks of Junne and Mickie is that they get him out on bond so he can jump bail and escape back to the comforts of El Salvador. Problem is, the judge denies bail. Soon Mezzonatti and Salerno are receiving a few unwelcome guests — friends of Rodrigo — asking questions. And the boys need to find answers, fast.

Mickie and Junne have an enviable professional success rate. With their street smarts and learned-on-the-job courtroom skills, the blue-collar boys enjoy trouncing self-righteous, Ivy-educated district attorneys. But they also know when they need help. Like with Rodrigo.

So they approach Professor Mumbles, a brilliant though eccentric former white-shoe lawyer who suffered a spectacular corporate burnout. As Junne and Mickie duck and dive to make Rodrigo's case (or at least fake it with Mumbles's help), they're also juggling their regular caseload — like local drug lord Slippery Williams, whose badass nephew may have turned informant; and the gorgeous hooker Little Chip, whose prostitution bust leaves her pimp hopping mad. And through it all, the boys attempt to keep a happy home life. That's no sweat for Mickie, a natural Casanova, but it may prove to be trickier than Junne ever imagined. 'Cause he's got a secret. And if Rodrigo does not kill him, his family just might....

The first installment of a hilarious new series, Death by Rodrigo is a romp through the seamy side of criminal law by one of the foremost attorneys in America (who also has a wicked sense of humor).

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416535270
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 09/11/2007
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Ron Liebman spent two decades at the Washington, D.C. office of one of America's top law firms. He specialized in litigation, both domestic and international. He is the author of Death by Rodrigo, Grand Jury and Shark Tales. He is married to the artist Simma Liebman. Their two daughters live and work in New York.

Read an Excerpt


"That's it? That's all you can say?"

"Oh, give me a fucking break."

"Great. He wants us dead and you want a fucking break."

Mickie looks at me, his cagey eyes searching. If I had something, he'd see it. I'm the open book he can read. But I don't have anything. We are in the shit. Full fucking stop.

Silence. Except for the background din from the few others in the café. The usual prelunch crowd from the Camden, New Jersey, Federal Courthouse directly across the street. A smattering of court clerks on break, a table of past-their-sell-by-date, court-appointed defense lawyers huddling over coffee, gossiping before crossing the street to pick up some small-time offender too inept at his thievery or thuggery to afford even a bad lawyer on his own. That's not us. Nope, Mickie and me take only the occasional court appointments. When we have to. Meaning, when one of the judges makes us. They do. But only from time to time. We are retained lawyers. Our clients might be the scum of the earth: drug dealers, pimps, whores. The occasional low-level Mafia thug. But we are paid. Mostly.

Mickie keeps his eyes on me, then shakes his head.

"Great. Just great," he repeats, his voice thick with sarcasm.

"Somethin' else?" Tamara asks, holding the coffeepot at the ready, her ebony forearm previewing the luxurious tint that covers her fine body head to toe. The top two buttons of her waitress uniform are, as always, unbuttoned so her sizable breasts can bulge. Tamara makes it a point to lean just a little too close when pouring or serving, letting those at the table get a glimpse of what lies beneath, really nice boobs with an indigo tattoo saying "Tamara" in homemade letters. Both Mickie and I shake our heads no, taking in Tamara on display. Smiles exchanged all the way around. The three of us enjoying this even though Tamara's off-limits. No moves are made on her in here. This café is Switzerland. Even the perps are welcome here. Sometimes seated directly across the narrow aisle from their arresting cops. Eating a sandwich before their court hearing, drinking coffee, evil-eye mumbling, How you doin'? at the cops at the other table. Still, our delight with Tamara's feigned come-on momentarily interrupts the problem facing us.

"Okay, guys," Tamara says, turning and giving us a nice long view of her excellent ass and legs.

"Not a white girl alive got an ass like that," Mickie says for the umpteenth time.

With her disappearance behind the swinging kitchen doors our situation reappears like fire ants at a summer picnic.

"This is bad," Mickie says, shaking his head. He stares at me. What am I supposed to say?

"No shit, Sherlock," is the best I can come up with.

He looks away. This is, after all, as serious as it gets.

"I told you we should of stayed out of this," Mickie tells me. "Told that shitbag client of yours to get other lawyers. But no. The fucker waves some money under your nose and that's it. You know what? You carry your brains same place as your wallet."

"Hey," I say, as angry as I'm scared. "Client of mine? You were there. I didn't hear a peep from you. Or am I missing something here?"

Mickie shrugs. We are in this together, no question about that.

Mickie and I have been practicing law together since the beginning. But we go further back than that. Sixth grade, to be exact. Both from immigrant Italian families, our fathers carpenters. Like their fathers in the old country. But we were born Americans. Public high school. Protestant girlfriends. Football. Then college. Sure, neither of us were what you'd call scholars. Our skill on the athletic field helped. Mickie did Temple in Philly. Did it straight through. Finished seriously below the middle of his class, but he finished. Me? Well, it took me three schools, if you need to know, but I finally finished up at U Conn. Then we both did military, then became cops. Mickie went into the force in Philadelphia, across the river, first as a uniform, then with vice. Me, I became one of Camden, New Jersey's finest. You know, I actually did pretty well. Went from uniform to homicide detective in less time than anyone else had. I seem to have some sort of knack for crime. Probably would have made a halfway decent crook.

It was Mickie's idea. Law school. At night.

Rutgers' actually took us. Probably because of our law enforcement backgrounds. Both of us older guys, married at the time. But that's another story. Anyway, we did it. Graduated. Okay, it took us more than once to pass the bar exam. Mickie made it the second time. It took me three shots. And if truth be told, without Mickie's help, I'd probably still be taking that fucking test. But you know what? I have to say this. Both of us — yeah, me included — are pretty good at what we do.

I guess you'd call us street crime lawyers. We try cases, negotiate plea bargains, all for a certain kind of client. The people we represent are all guilty. Sometimes not of what they've been charged with. But they're all crooks of one kind or another. Like I said, dopers, bikers, whores, even stone-cold killers.

Mickie and me aren't brief writers — our court motions are store-bought, right out of the form books or "borrowed" from what other lawyers have filed with the court in other cases. You won't ever see too many business letters with our names on them. But juries like us. We're Everyman in lawyer suits. In a way, I guess we're tradesmen, like our fathers were. They were craftsmen. Talented. So are we. Italian genes, right?

And these cases aren't rocket science; one's pretty much like the other. We deal with witness identification. Now tell me, ma'am, how far away was the man you say held up your store brandishing a loaded sawed-off shotgun right in your face? You were scared out of your wits, right? You were shaking? Didn't really see him all that well, did you? Not a hundred percent sure, right? Or search-and-seizure issues. Did the cops really have probable cause, or did they make up stuff and put it in the warrant application for the judge to sign? Cops lie. They want to take their perp down, and to do it they follow the cop way, which, I am sorry to say, isn't always the court way. I mean, who should know better than a couple of ex-cops who did it too. Right?

And I'll take our kind of clients any day over some fancy corporate suit. Telling me he's innocent, what he did technically complied with generally accepted accounting standards when he bled his company dry and cheated his shareholders out of their retirement money. And by the way, Counselor, they will say, what actually are your hourly rates and can we put a cap on what you'll charge? Bullshit to that. No, our clients have no illusions what they are. Who we are. They know they're likely to go down. Whatever Mickie and me can do, we will do. Sometimes that means an acquittal. Not so much because they didn't actually do it, but because we poked some holes in the prosecution's case, or the jury liked us better than some arrogant young Harvard Law graduate stopping off at the United States Attorney's Office long enough to put another notch on his/her résumé before joining some big white-shoe law firm and getting rich. Juries can smell arrogance like that.

Like I said, our clients understand what we are. We don't judge them: they pay, we play. We do what we can do. In most cases pretty damn well. Sure, some of the judges look down their noses at us. To them we're blue-collar lawyers. So what? In criminal it's almost all about the juries. No street-crime lawyer with even half a brain will waive his client's constitutional right to a jury and let his case be tried before the court alone. Nope. Rule of thumb in what we do? Never trust a judge. Never.

There are exceptions, sure, but most judges are out to help the prosecution convict your client. Most play by the rules, give you procedural due process. They don't flagrantly screw you, they're too smart for that, need to have what we lawyers call a clean court record, in case of an appeal, but you've got to watch them. They'll screw you by the rules if you let them.

Look, everyone in the damn courtroom, except maybe the jury, knows your guy's guilty. Like I said, if not what he's there for that particular time, then of something else. Some judges are friendly enough, though a lot of them — especially the federal judges — hate guys like me and Mickie. Sure, that bothers me. Though I never show it. These are more of the "Havvad" crowd. Mostly they made it to the big silk-stocking firms but failed there. What happens? They're smart, sure, but they just don't know how to lawyer. Book-smart doesn't always mean actual-smart. They start screwing up, messing up their firm's big-ticket corporate client cases. Their law partners start getting worried.

The big corporation's big fees are what keep the firm in big revenue. Which in turn pays for the partners' big homes, fancy clubs, Ivy League tuition for their legacy-admittance kids. So these screw-up partners, for all their fancy résumé entries, are jeopardizing the bottom line. That cannot be tolerated. The law firm's exit strategy? Get these bozos on the bench and out of the firm. Departure with honor. And these men and women who couldn't convince a jury that day follows night? They become the judges and, to them, guys like Mickey and me are bumblers, low-rent advocates whose briefs suck, whose educational backgrounds are barrel-bottom low. Sure, we're tolerated in the courtroom, but often barely. Sometimes through clenched teeth. That's why I love it when the jury foreman reads out "not guilty" for some scumbag sitting beside me in the courtroom. I always look up at the judge. My eyes saying, See? That's how you lawyer.

But at the moment the judges aren't our problem. We are our problem.

"So, what do we do?" Mickie asks.

Mickie is Michael Carmine Mezzonatti. His father was Carmine Alphonso Mezzonatti. Mickie got an American first name. His mother, Sophia, insisted, told Carmine her husband, We are in America, your son needs to be called like an American. Michael became Mickie on the street, in the neighborhood. Me? Well, everyone calls me Junne (spelled "Junne," pronounced like the girl's name but not spelled that way). To my family and those who go way back I'm sometimes Junnie. My dad was Salvatore Salerno. I have two younger brothers. Giancarlo, called Johnny, and, of course, an Anthony, called Tony. Of course. I was christened Salvatore Salerno, Jr. To my parents, America schamerica, what was good enough in old-country names for my old man was good enough for his sons. For me, Salvatore never stuck. From birth I became Junior. But Junior quickly morphed into Junnie, then, as I got older, Junne.

Mickie's getting a little dumpy-looking these days. I started noticing that a while ago. It's not something you tell a friend. Even your best friend. I mean, neither of us are jocks anymore. Yeah, we both still work out. But truth be told, it's like the guy I once heard that said he got it on with his babe "weekly" — very "weakly." That pretty much sums up our exercise regimen. We do it, but it's harder and harder to maintain. Know what I mean?

So Mickie's getting a little dumpy. To the ladies, he's not what you'd call a head-turner. He's not a bad-looking guy. Still got that high-school-jock-walking-the-halls-before-football-practice gleam in his eyes the girls used to like. His face hasn't sagged or anything like that. He's just getting older. We both are. His hair's still got it, though. Budding flecks of gray just recently making their appearance, but he's got a head of hair just as thick and full like when he was twenty-five. Wears it just a little shaggy. On purpose. Mickie's suits aren't well fitting, his go-to-court ties the kind guys pick without wives standing next to them at the glass-topped counter telling them, No, no, honey, not that one. This one. And the man's got shoes. Spare-no-expense Guccis. Ferragamos. A collection of other high-end brands. His wop-kicks, he calls them.

Like I said, he may not be a head-turner, but the thing of it is? With all that, the women still like him. Beats me what it is, but they do. Mickie's been through two wives, though no kids. Shooting blanks, is how he put it after the doctor told him the news. And yet he always — always — has someone nice — at least nice enough — to share his bed. And his current? Okay, not a wife, but really — I mean really — nice. And with a Ph.D. Go figure. Mickie the Italian stallion.

So Mickie's question was the right one. What the hell do we do now?

Maybe the shit we were in was my fault.

You see, about this time last year I represented this little Salvadoran weasel named Hector. He was some low-level drug ring guy. His place got busted just after he takes delivery of five kilos. Really good stuff, not yet stepped on, ready for processing, then distribution. And he's got all the paraphernalia laid out. Scales, bags. You name it. Oh yeah, and an arsenal of guns. It's his third pop, so he's going down hard. That puts a lot of pressure on him to roll over on the guys above him. But that's hard too. Because those guys are not too forgiving. Give them up and they not only kill you while you're doing your time, but they take out your whole family to boot. Business is business.

So Little Hector's resigned to his fate. But he's figured out who set him up. Him he'll give up, but not to the cops. To his bosses. Like a kind of peace offering, letting them know he's straight with them. He may be headed for twenty years' hard time, but what are his options? That or slaughter of his mama, his sisters, his baby brother. And, of course, him too while he's in the can doing his twenty.

But I have a better idea. Give me the name of the guy, I tell him when we visit while he's in lockup. Keep him alive. Let me go after the probable cause for the warrant and the search. Let me take a shot at it. Put the guy on the stand at the preliminary hearing.

Little Hector shrugs. What's he got to lose? If I lose in court and the judge rules the search and seizure's good, he'll see to it — like the Beatles said, with a little help from his friends — that the snitch goes down later.

Lightning strikes. I cross-examine the snitch. Then the cops. I argue the motion to quash the warrant. I win. The judge says I'm right that the snitch told the cops only hearsay and that they lied to the magistrate who signed the warrant when they said all the information in the affidavit that supported the warrant application was based on sworn direct — not hearsay — evidence. Judge throws the case out. Blasts the cops for lying.

No evidence. No case. Little Hector walks.

Once out, he tells his bosses he's got a fucking genius for a lawyer. A few months later one of the bosses gets popped. Rodrigo Gonzáles. Seems he was in Camden, New Jersey, all the way from San Salvador for some big meet. He snuck into town because he's a wanted man. There's a warrant out for him. Little Hector tells him I'm the man. Mickie and me go to see Rodrigo in lockup. He tells us all he wants is for us to get him bail. After that he's good. Because he's not sticking around to prove his innocence. He's out of here and back to San Salvador. Passport or no passport, he's gone. Our job: bail. I say, Rodrigo, this will cost you big-time. In broken English he says, How much? I tell him. He shrugs, says the money will be wired to us. Then he looks at us, hard. Doesn't say anything more. Doesn't have to. Big fee. Bail. That's it. No excuses, no explanation. He delivers. We deliver.

Rodrigo's sitting next to me and Mickie in court, orange jumpsuit, shaved head. The judge says, Bail? What are you smoking, Mr. Salerno? Bail for this Salvadoran drug kingpin? Next case.

Rodrigo just stares up at Mickie and me. Keeps staring at me and Mickie as the marshals reshackle him and shove him and his orange jumpsuit, "Prisoner" stenciled on the back like there was some doubt, out of the courtroom.

Next day we get a visitor.

Not what I expected. Not some Spanish-looking guy in a flowered shirt, gold neck chain embedded in a forest of thick black chest hair. No. This guy's wearing a nice suit and tie. Hair's trimmed. He's all polite and nice manners. And no accent.

Mickie and me share a small office space we rent from another law firm. What it is, is a room for each of us right in the other law office. They're plaintiffs' lawyers, meaning they're a bunch of Jewish guys who do slip and falls, car crashes, mostly small-time. But they seem to make about four times what Mickie and I do. We get to use their law library. Which we don't. And we get the use of their receptionist. Janice. Pronounced "Janiese" because she's Jamaican and that's how she says it. Our name's on the front door in smaller print. There's "Bernstein, Smulkin, Abramowitz & Wolf." Big print. Under it, like I said, in smaller print: "Law Offices Mezzonatti and Salerno."

So this guy asks Janice pronounced Janiese, can he please see Mr. Mezzonatti and Mr. Salerno. Together? she asks. If that isn't too much trouble, he says. Do you have an appointment? she asks, like she's supposed to. No, no appointment, he says. But if you tell them I am here on behalf of Mr. Rodrigo Gonzáles, that might do the trick. She calls us. It does the trick.

We meet in Mickie's room. It's bigger than mine. Mickie's behind the desk. Me and Mr. Well-Dressed occupy the two visitor chairs. He thanks us graciously for taking time out of our busy schedules to see him. Mickie and me nod, Yeah, sure, no problem. Behind this guy's calm is trouble. I mean, who's kidding who here? He crosses his legs, flicks some imaginary dust from the crease of his trousers.

"Mr. Gonzáles is quite unhappy," he says, still studying his trousers.

Mickie and me exchange glances. Oh boy. Here it comes.

"Yeah, well — " Mickie starts to say, about to add that we — meaning me, I guess — really did our best to get Rodrigo bail. What can you do? Mickie's about to say when Mr. Well-Dressed holds up his hand. Mickie stops about midword.

"I need to make a point here," Mr. Well-Dressed says.

His eyes have left the crease in his pants and slowly — like an enemy sub rising from the depths of the cold North Atlantic — they periscope on me. Then they shift to Mickie, where they stay, boring in on him. The temperature in Mickie's room drops. There's a chill. I can feel it.

Mickie's still as a deer in the woods.

"Your client, Mr. Gonzáles," he says, still sighted on Mickie.

Now, like I said, I have known Mickie almost my whole life. I know his every move. He's thinking, Can I make a joke out of this? Cut the tension here? Say, Whoa, pal — hey, don't look at me. Junne over there argued this, took the case. Heh, heh. You got a beef here, it's with Junne. Chuckle, chuckle. Roll those shoulders, pantomime-punch Mr. Well-Dressed's arm.

Nope. Mickie stays frozen. His self-preservation instincts override his let's-make-light-of-this escape response. Now I know exactly what he's thinking. Same as me.


"Mr. Gonzáles wants you to know that he has every confidence that you..." Now Mr. Well-Dressed looks at me and Mickie both.

Double shit.

"That you gentlemen," he continues, "will secure bail for your client. He knows that you will make this your highest priority. And that you will not fail."

He doesn't add the word "again." Doesn't have to. And he doesn't say, And if you don't, and Rodrigo has to remain in jail in his orange prison-issue jumpsuit, and not be able to jump bail instead and escape back to his mansion hacienda in the forests of San Salvador, where he can resume living like a king and not like some two-bit convict with a shaved head with some big brutish African-American murderer or Aryan Brotherhood blockhead cell mate, he will see to it — since you took his money to get him out and you didn't — that, not only will he have you killed, he will have your entire family killed, your office torched, and while his men are at it, the killing part that is, not the torching part, they will kill you really, really slowly. Got it?

Am I rambling? Fucking-A I am. Oh my. Shit. (I know, I've said that already. But believe me, you were sitting here with us? In this fix? Prey with an e, like us? Believe me, Shit is what you'd be thinking. I damn well guarantee it.)

Mickie opens his mouth. Nothing comes out. I watch him staring across his desk. Our eyes meet briefly. I see Mickie nod his head at Mr. Well-Dressed, trying, I guess, to portray some kind of gravity. Message received, he seems to be saying. We will take care of it.

"How long?" we are asked. Mr. WD looking first at Mickie and then over at me seated beside him.

How long what? I am thinking. How long will Rodrigo have to remain in jail before he gets bail? Or: How long do we think we will live if we fail to spring our client? Answer to question number one: Forever and a day. Answer to question number two: Triple shit.

Never underestimate the survival instinct. Finally, Mickie comes to life.

Mickie leans forward on his desk, elbows on his blotter. Looks professional, but my guess is he needs those elbows fastened to something sturdy and hard to prevent his visibly shaking.

"In my estimation..." Mickie says, all senatorial in his tone of voice. "In my estimation," he repeats with a quick eye flicker over to me. (Either to wrap me in here or to ask, How am I doing? Who knows which?)

" colleague and I..." (Quick wave of the hand over in my direction.)

"...believe that we will have our papers..." (Like I said, the last time Mickie actually wrote a legal brief, as opposed to cribbing something off another lawyer or the form books, he was in law school.)

" to the court within a week. Then I estimate..." (Now, when Mickie uses words like "estimate" the bullshit meter is in double digits. This is a guy who uses "fuck" as a major figure of speech: noun, adjective, verb. You name it.)

"...that the court will allow full briefing between the defense..." (Mickie smiles indulgently at Mr. WD, as if to say, That would be us.)

"...and the prosecution. Then the court will consider the briefs and schedule a hearing on our renewed application for bail in, say..." (I can't believe it! Mickie's actually rubbing his chin like he needs to consider this question of when the judge will hear from us. Like there is some leeway here. Listen. The judge is going to get our renewed motion and he isn't even going to require the prosecutor to respond. He will deny the motion the minute his eyes light on it. Bang will go the stamp. Denied! Next case. What the hell is Mickie up to? I ask myself.)

"Well, Mr...." Mickie asks our guest since he has not actually favored us with a name.

"Smith," Mr. WD responds, recrossing his legs, his gaze telling Mickie, You dumb schmuck, you think I'm gonna give you my name now if I haven't yet? What kind of idiots has Rodrigo chosen for lawyers? he's thinking.

"Smith," Mickie repeats as if to say, Yeah, okay, I buy it. If you tell me your name is Smith, I fully without reservation accept that as gospel truth. No problem, why would I question you, nice fellow that you obviously are and, by the way, nice suit and tie, really.

Rubbing his chin again. Oh boy.

"From three weeks to three months," Mickie says, adding, "Mr. Smith, you know how the courts are. Busy docket. Lots of cases competing for the judge's attention." Mickie shrugs. What can you do? he is saying to Mr. WD Smith.

WD Smith rises.

"Do it fast," he says, then turns and leaves.

The door closes behind him, and as it does, all air is sucked from the room. It's hard to breathe. For about a second or two neither Mickie nor I can look at each other. And then.

"Jesus fucking Christ," Mickie explodes. I wince, thinking, Is Mr.WD Smith out of earshot? Mickie doesn't appear to care. He is so distraught — so scared, he's just losing it. Of course, what I should do is calm Mickie down, keep the situation from spinning out of control. What I do instead, of course, is scream right back at him.

"What the fuck is the matter with you?" I shout in Mickie's face.

Now both of us are out of our seats, screaming and pointing and leaning at each other like a couple of completely around-the-bend, screaming — well, okay...idiots. Our voices are doubtlessly permeating the hallway and the rest of Bernstein, Smulkin, Abramowitz & Wolf is probably cringing as Mickie and I go at our simultaneous shouting, voice over top of voice. Then Janice pronounced Janiese knocks on the door, which Mickie and I can't hear in our hysteria. So she opens it, slowly at first, in case anything might come flying her way. When we notice her standing there we both stop in midsentence and look at her. She looks back at us, and if I didn't know better I would think she was actually smirking.

"Two of your G-note ladies are here," she says, looking first at Mickie, then at me.

All right, let me explain.

Rosco Jones, aka Buffalo Reds, is a pimp. He's called what he's called because he's originally from Buffalo and because he's got a kind of light coffee-colored, almost red-tinctured skin. He's one handsome guy, sort of dignified-looking — if you don't count the big gold tooth and the outlandish hip-hop clothes he favors, which, if you ask me, really belong on a younger guy — black or white, doesn't matter. What I'm saying is that Buffalo Reds is his street name. Mickie and I address him as Mr. Jones or Rosco depending on how he decides to address us, meaning by our Mr.'s or by our first names. He alternates. Like clockwork, never seems to miss sequence. Don't know why, but it's almost like he's keeping track. Anyway.

Buffalo Reds's girls are all white, every last one of them. It's part of his stock-in-trade, his signature. And the veneer of the street has been removed from them. See, when Reds picks a girl, he invests in her. Gone are the leaning into a car window, micro-mini up-the-crack-of-her-ass skirt, the halter top bulging with fleshy tits spilling into the car. He has a professional dresser he pays to re-outfit his girls. Saks, Neiman Marcus, strictly Fifth Avenue style. The hair is redone. Then come diction lessons. When he's finished with them, Reds's girls straddle that fine line between high-society girl and intimate cocktail lounge slut. It's a work of art, I have to say.

At first glance, if you didn't know better, you'd think you had paid for some good-looking corporate secretary or sexy female executive. But, undressed, the girls sport those whore tattoos they got before they hooked up with Reds. You know, the scrolled wings spread on their lower backs just above their unbelievable asses, the little heart northeast of their shaved you-know-whats. And so on. And if a john gets them angry, treats them with any disrespect, in a flash they can — and will — revert to their former selves and threaten to slice off balls and stuff them down throats.

How do I know? Reds constantly laments to me and Mickie how difficult it is to take the street out of the girl. Needless to say, threatened genital dismemberment does not advance Reds's illegitimate business interests. But one thing Reds's girls do not do. Ever. Is mess with him. One did, as Mickie and I heard it. She dissed him in front of the other girls on the let's-turn-all-our-hard-earned-money-over-to-Reds part of the evening.

As we heard it, Reds listened to this girl rant and rave, telling him she wasn't going to give up everything she made that night to his light-skinned black ass. She told him — scolded him, was how Mickie and me heard it — that she worked too hard for it and, by the way, while she was at it, she was fucking sick and tired of this let's pretend we're some kind of college-educated-bullshit sophisticated bitches who can't speak the way we do and don't know, by the way, what the johns want: like, Hey, baby, you wanna fuck me, don'tcha? As we heard it, this girl stood there, in front of the other girls in Reds's apartment in downtown Philly — where Reds lives since downtown Camden is...well, downtown Camden — glaring at Reds, her arm resting on, you should pardon the expression, her cocked hip.

Reds nods at her in front of the other girls, letting her know, Sure, baby, I can see your point of view, you being one of my best girls, a big earner, you looking fine all the damn time. He gently lets his hand with its long tapered fingers, manicured nails always clear high gloss, gently stroke her cheek. Then he lovingly turns the girl around so she's now facing the other girls. He's standing behind her. He puts his arms around her, affectionately pecks her on the cheek from the back. You my best girl, he tells her, but Reds is now looking at the other girls. Those not too dim-witted can see something bad in his eyes.

You my best earner, Reds is telling the girl, nuzzling her ear, almost whispering to her now, as his right hand slips away from her and goes to his pocket. The girl's still mad, but she's getting placated, thinking, Maybe now the man going to give me some respect — and more of my hard-earned money too.

In a flash Reds's hand reappears. He's holding his razor knife, something he's had made for him, shiny knife handle, razor-sharp embedded blade, and with lightning speed he slashes the girl's throat wide open. She hasn't made a sound, her eyes wide with shock and horror. The other girls gasp, but they don't move, frozen by pure animal instinct. Reds holds the girl up, her legs dangling to the floor, her throat now a huge hole, blood streaming down the front of her stylish clothes. She's gurgling, her eyes rolling back in her head.

We heard that Reds then sliced the girl's head straight off and tossed it at the other girls, asking them did any of them have a complaint they wanted to make. Mickie and I aren't sure that last part actually happened, but who knows? The girl's body was never found.

Reds's management style seems to have been effective. No more personnel problems from his G-noters.

Oh right. G-noters. They're called that because that's what they cost. You want to avail yourself of the services of Reds's high-class-looking — and speaking — white girls, it will cost you a G-note: $1,000. She's yours for an hour, or the night. Your call, but the cost: a G-note. So, as you can imagine, the clientele is pretty fancy. Some of Camden's and Philadelphia's finest citizens are repeat customers. And rarely, if ever, do they see Buffalo Reds. He is strictly a behind-the-scenes man.

But Reds takes care of his girls. If they get arrested, and that does happen from time to time, he sends them to us. Reds never complains about the fee. Says to us, Just take care of it. He also helps them invest some of their hard-earned money in stocks and bonds. He uses other lawyers for that. Mickie and me are strictly criminal. We've heard, though, that Reds takes fifty cents of every dollar of return on investment his girls make from their stock portfolios. After what happened to that other girl, I guess they're more than happy to comply. And, after all, if it wasn't for Reds's insistence on their investing some of their money, they wouldn't likely be doing it in the first place. Right?

Anyway, Janice pronounced Janiese is standing in the doorway. Me and Mickie are now silent, our voice-over-voice screamfest silenced by her presence. She's waiting. Okay, guys, she's signaling, we got these two well-dressed whores in the Bernstein waiting room, what you going to do?

"Okay, thanks, Janice," Mickie tells her. "Bring them back here to my office. Junne and I will see them here."

Janice nods sure, if that's what you want. But that look in her eyes. Something midway between amusement and pity. She's kind of hiding it, at least trying to, but I see it. Well, to hell with her, I'm thinking defensively, but at the same time, gnawing at my insides is an awareness that maybe Mickie and me aren't handling things here in the best way possible.

Janice closes the door. I look over at Mickie. Now it's his eyes I'm seeing. And he's doing the same. Looking straight at me.

Just like at the café across from the federal courthouse where Mickie and me are sitting, Mickie having just asked me, "So, what do we do?" Meaning about Rodrigo.

I don't know. Mickie doesn't know.

Tamara walks by, coffeepot in hand, doing a round of refills. Mickie signals for our check. Tamara nods yeah, sure, still walking by, not breaking stride, as she moves down the café corridor between the tables. She flashes us her trademark pantomime lascivious smile. Want some of this, don't you, boys? Both Mickie and I do what we always do, pretend we're dying for it. But right now our hearts just are not in it. We're doing a bad job of faking it. Tamara sees this. She still doesn't break stride, but her look tells me even she can see that Mickie and me have a problem. That we are sick with worry. Tamara the waitress can see this without even stopping at our table, without even one little inquiry. Without asking, Something wrong, guys?

My heart sinks.

Copyright © 2007 by Ron Liebman

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