In Brooklyn, a female jogger is brutally raped; the assailants are convicted and later exonerated by the Kings County DA. Now the guilty are filing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the city of New York, the police, and the two assistant DAs who tried the case. While the cops and the criminal justice system are under media assault and opportunist political demagoguery, Karp has suspicions that there is corruption within his own office.
Against a backdrop of Russian mobsters and corrupt lawyers, Butch and Marlene are on a mission to restore the system's lost dignity and bring the rapists to justice. All the while terrorists are at it again, planning to blow the roof off Times Square on New Year's Eve. Alas, the Karp family finds itself in lethal jeopardy, and to survive, they must team up and fight their greatest battle yet.
Robert K. Tanenbaum has written a mindboggling thriller involving a web of corruption and courtroom confrontations. Fans of Butch Karp, as well as the classic New York crime drama, will find plenty to sink their teeth into with Fury.
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Friday, December 10
Hugh Louis shifted uncomfortably in the chair next to the desk of the television talk-show host. He'd once played tight end for the semipro New Jersey Packers football team as he worked his way through law school. But those days were more than twenty years under the bridge, and the chair complained like a bitter housewife beneath his bulk.
As he waited for the taping to begin, Louis mopped away with a handkerchief at the interlocking streams and tributaries of sweat that coursed over his broad face. The stage crew bustled around, including an intent young woman who dabbed away at his host, Natalie Fitz, with last-minute applications of makeup to disguise encroaching wrinkles and a chronic fatigue that had settled in when she realized some years before that her chances of anchoring network news were slim and none.
Unless, she thought with a glance toward Louis, making nice with this fat shyster gets me an Emmy. Then who knows, maybe not the evening spot but one of the news magazines or a morning show. She turned up the wattage on her smile when Louis caught her looking. He returned it with the same show of teeth and lack of sincerity.
The other reason for Louis's prodigious amount of sweat was that he always started producing it when he was preparing to lie. It didn't matter that he lied all the time and, in fact, had made it the hallmark of his legal career. But his body never had gotten used to going along with what his mouth was saying. He guessed it had something to do with the strict Baptist upbringing his dear departed mother had beat into him while he was growing up poor and black in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.
"Damn, it's hot in here. You folks never hear of air-conditioning?" he said to Fitz, adding a chuckle just to let her know he meant it in a friendly way. Like hell I do, he thought. Bitch probably had them turn up the heat to put me in my place. Well, won't be long, and I won't need the skinny old bag. Then we'll see who turns up the heat.
Louis never worried about the ethics of lying. He'd hated his mother and despised her for working at menial jobs -- and for being dark as roasted coffee beans, whereas he'd inherited the milk-chocolate complexion of the father he'd never met.
As a kid, he'd dreamed of the day he could leave Bed-Stuy and his mother. Fortunately, his size and an early athleticism had been enough to get him a football scholarship at a small Virginia college. He'd hoped for an NFL career but an affection for fast food had buried whatever slim chance he had beneath rolls of fat. So he'd accepted his "wink and a nod" diploma given to less-than-deserving athletes at the school and moved on to Plan B. His mother had wanted him to join the ministry. "Like hell I will," he told her. "I'm going for where the jack is; I'm going to be a lawyer."
Subsequently, he'd been turned down by the finest law schools in the land. But a small, nondescript institution in New Jersey that faced probation with the national law school accreditation board had happily accepted him under its "nontraditional students" program and had even given him a partial scholarship. The Packers (regrettably not the team in Wisconsin) had paid him enough to handle the rest. He'd graduated with a law degree mostly by cheating and plagiarizing. But he'd already developed a reputation for playing the race card when things weren't going his way, so none of his professors were about to challenge him lest they find themselves defending a lawsuit instead of teaching about them.
Louis had perfected the art of sliding through holes to advance himself. He took and passed his bar exam in New York under a program that allowed for a certain amount of leniency for minority students, "recognizing that these tests have certain cultural biases that preclude such students from a fair opportunity."
His luck continued when he was snapped up by a mid-Manhattan white-shoe firm looking to enhance its positioning in the black community. He'd put in his time, taking advantage of his status as one of three young lawyers of color to work half as much as the young white attorneys, and for that matter, the other two minority colleagues. But then he'd noticed that while his color bought him a certain favoritism among the peons, he wasn't going to go much farther up the totem pole. The firm had only one black partner -- an older, quiet, Harvard-educated tax attorney named Harvey Adams, who was about as black, in terms of how even he viewed himself, as Donald Trump.
Adams had been added to the partners list the same year that Louis was born. It dawned on Louis that he might be Adams's age before the next black would gain that distinction, so he'd quit to hang his shingle in Harlem and took his constituency with him.
When the firm's partners complained that he'd signed a no-competition contract and therefore had to return their clients to the firm's fold, Louis had gone to the newspapers and cried racism. The big white bully -- who by the way had a glass ceiling when it came to minority partners -- was trying to prevent the oppressed, young black victim from succeeding. It was his first experience with cultivating the media, which loved a race baiter nearly as much as it loved serial killers, adulterous politicians, and dirty cops. He rather enjoyed the experience and promised himself to employ the technique whenever necessary to achieve his ends.
Louis did not particularly believe that The Man was holding down his people. In fact, he thought a large percentage of his people were too stupid to walk their dogs. He much preferred the company of the fawning white liberals who peed all over themselves to coax him into accepting invitations to their parties -- living proof that they weren't racists like those Nazis in the Republican Party. His monthly quota of invitations doubled after he started getting involved in politics and quickly made himself one of the top power brokers of the black vote.
Early on, he'd found it advantageous to keep a cadre of young black thugs on his payroll who could be counted on to show up at any staged event and work their way in front of the television cameras. They'd angrily denounce whatever Louis had decided and shout slogans and look for all the world like the beginning of a race riot, until Louis showed up to calm them down and bring peace to the situation. The white liberals, who feared unruly blacks the same way the antebellum South used to view a slave uprising, would then breathe a sigh of relief and extend their invitations so they could tell him in person that they were relieved they could count on his "voice of reason" when all looked lost. Their hearts spilling over with gratitude, they'd ask what could be done to prevent such further uprisings, which was his cue to suggest that they contribute to various charitable organizations in the black community. He didn't bother to tell them that most of these were controlled by his employees, who were adept at siphoning off the biggest share for his private bank accounts. Of course, a small number of "good works," as his hated mother used to say, served to keep up appearances but these were mostly used whenever the media needed a feel-good feature with some black faces in the photographs and videos.
As a result, Louis had grown fatter and richer, not necessarily in that order. He'd bought a palatial home on the Upper West Side -- close enough to Harlem to appear to be still in touch with "my people," but far enough away to alleviate the fears of whites he invited to dinner at his house.
On occasion, someone in the black community -- especially those pesky ministers who declined to be bought and were his biggest critics -- would question his choice of neighborhood and friends. But he'd piously explain to his sycophants in the media and from friendlier pulpits that it was important for black men and women to see other successful black men and women living in fine estates as good as any white man's, and collecting fine art and finer automobiles. "I see myself as a role model for young men and women of my community. They see me and know there is no height to which they cannot aspire with hard work and perseverance."
Those who persisted in their criticism would find themselves looking down from their pulpits into the angry eyes of those same young men who mugged for the television cameras. Nobody seemed to notice that an unusually high number of outspoken ministers and other conscientious community leaders became victims of crime -- assaults and robberies, after which they tended to grow strangely quiet, although not always.
Such drastic measures weren't always necessary. Several ministers earned a better part of their "salaries" from monthly deposits set up at banks in their names, and were happy to invite him to deliver the occasional sermon -- or call to action -- in his fine, stentorian voice that added to the grandeur (as he saw it) of his three-hundred-plus pounds.
Louis kept a small, plain office in the heart of Harlem. It was the quintessential poor man's lawyer office furnished with chairs, desks, and tables that looked as if they had been taken from a high school cafeteria. He put in an appearance two days a week and did a certain amount of pro bono work, especially if there was a possibility of publicity. White cops shooting black teenagers. White slumlords evicting old Puerto Rican tenants.
Occasionally, he even managed to break into national headlines, such as during the case of a fourteen-year-old girl from the projects who claimed she'd been abducted by three white men who'd raped her and then branded her arm with a swastika before letting her go. Louis had appeared on the steps of 100 Centre Street with his arm draped around the girl, decrying "the racists in our midst" and lambasting the New York City police for not trying hard enough to catch the criminals.
During subsequent questioning, the girl had given conflicting reports. The NYPD spokesman indicated that the investigation was "ongoing" but that the BOLO (Be on the Lookout) for the suspects had been canceled. Louis held another press conference, this one outside his Harlem office, where he suggested that a "white, Catholic-controlled police department" was reluctant to pursue the case because of "racists in their own midst, and where that might lead." Sopping up a monsoon of sweat, he even suggested that the perpetrators were police officers.
"My client, who is only gradually recovering from this traumatic event -- including, with the aid of a counselor, regaining memories she had understandably blocked -- remembers that her assailants 'talked like police officers.' I'm not saying that they were police officers, but it is certainly a possibility." His Greek chorus of young hoodlums mugged ferociously for the television cameras and jeered a couple of cops who'd shown up to see why the crowd had gathered.
When it finally came out that the girl made up the story because she got pregnant by her twenty-one-year-old boyfriend and had simply been afraid to tell her parents, Louis did not offer an apology. Instead, he went on the offensive. The girl, he said, was the exception, not the rule.
"For every mixed-up child who tells a little fib to get out of trouble, there are hundreds of young black women who have been abducted and raped by the sort of men my client described, and the police do nothing."
Undaunted and logically incomprehensible, he then threatened to sue the City of New York because one of the detectives had slipped up and actually referred to the girl as "a liar" in the New York Post, which had, of course, used the statement as its main front-page headline. For once, J. Samuel "Settlement Sammy" Lindahl, the city's attorney known as Corporation Counsel, held firm under pressure from the Police Benevolent Association, the powerful police union, and because anybody with the vaguest idea of the law knew the city had no liability.
Although publicly he'd expressed outrage at Lindahl's refusal, privately Louis smiled, slicked back his heavily pomaded hair, and moved on. Didn't hurt to try. He laughed to himself.
Louis's favorite office, however, was actually in a Fifth Avenue high rise. The interior had been tastefully furnished in rich leathers, dark woods, and lots of polished brass by the city's hottest professional designer, who'd charged a cool million dollars for her services. That was where he spent the bulk of his working hours, meeting with his "money clients" -- many of them white businessmen who merely wanted him to "smooth the way" for their ventures into the black neighborhoods of Manhattan, as well as across the rivers in Brooklyn and New Jersey.
Of course, such favors came with a price. After all, he had expenses that went beyond maintaining two law offices, the dozen or so classic automobiles, a condominium in Aspen, Colorado, that he rarely visited because he didn't really like snow, and frequent vacations in five-star hotels around the world. His most expensive possession, however, was Tawnee Renoso, a pretty little sixteen-year-old child of a black woman and a Puerto Rican man.
Louis was married. In fact, he'd been married since shortly after getting out of law school. Back then, Bobette Jones had been an attractive, light-skinned young woman who'd actually bought into his line that he was an idealistic lawyer out to champion the cause of poor people.
She'd borne him three children -- none of whom seemed to think much of him -- but life with Louis had taken the life out of her. She seemed to have lost the weight he'd gained and was a disenchanted, dried-out husk of the woman she had once been.
There had been numerous women over the years but none had captured Louis's attention like Tawnee. He considered her his property; her father had been one of his clients, and when he couldn't pay, he'd offered up his then fourteen-year-old daughter.
Initially, the girl had been frightened and cried out in pain from his "attentions," but she was clever and had soon turned the tables. Two years later, he was paying for a penthouse apartment in SoHo and had just given her a BMW for her sixteenth birthday. Now she wanted a second one in a different color so as not to clash with some of the expensive clothing he bought her.
As for his wife, she was happy enough to let someone else have to struggle beneath his weight. She raised no complaints when Louis stayed out of the house for days at a time.
On the set of the television talk show, Louis closed his eyes and happily pictured the lithe, barely brown body of Tawnee. But his reverie was soon interrupted by the angry voice of the young man sitting on the other side of him from Fitz.
"What the fuck? Keep that shit away from me."
Louis turned in time to see his client, Jayshon Sykes, swat at the makeup girl, who was attempting to pat dry the sheen on his forehead. The girl nearly dropped her kit as she hastily backed out of range.
Summoning a "boys will be boys" laugh, Louis patted Sykes on his knee. "Now there, Jayshon," he said. "This pretty young lady is just trying to do her job. Remember what I told you about these people being our friends. They're here to see that justice be done. Ain't that right, Natalie?" His chair screamed in agony as he turned his mass to look at the talk-show host.
Natalie hardly heard him. She was musing over opportunities lost and how to still find a way to the top. There'd been a time when she was a real beauty -- the New York Times's media columnist had called her "a sure thing for the big time." Then again, she'd slept with him for the publicity, just as she'd screwed every executive producer who might possibly help her achieve her dreams. But it didn't help. No man trusted a woman who faked orgasms so poorly that he was able to tell.
She had pretty much resigned herself to the fact that a late night local talk-show gig was as far as she was going to get. She'd even taken to hanging out at TriBeCa bars, hoping that some wealthy divorced doctor or stockbroker looking for a second chance would settle for a still good-looking, if fortysomething (she wasn't saying exactly how something), Number Two. But then a friend who owed her a favor had introduced her to Louis, and she'd landed the interview that all the major networks, including CNN and Fox, were clamoring for. In a few moments, she'd have an exclusive not only with Louis but the leader of "The Coney Island Four."
"That's right, Jayshon," Fitz beamed. "That's the job of the Fourth Estate -- the press -- keep an eye on government, especially an exploitative, racist justice system." She beamed at Sykes.
He returned her smile. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "It's just that when you are as young as I was, wrongfully accused but sent to prison anyway, you have to adopt a...how should I say this...a tough persona in order to deal with the sort of men who truly belong in a place like that and would do you unspeakable harm. I've been under a lot of stress lately, and I'm so sorry if I reverted to prison mentality."
Hmmm, Fitz thought. Articulate and well spoken. I guess our researcher was right about him having been his high school class valedictorian. Fitz smiled and tried to let her eyes suggest what her mind was thinking. "That's quite all right, Jayshon," she said. "Understandable, considering all you've been through. It's amazing that you've done as well as you have and come out so...strong and...I don't know...almost noble the way you handle yourself."
He'd gone to prison a skinny, six-foot-three nineteen-year-old, hit the weights, and come out ten years later at 250 pounds of muscle. He gave the television host his most winning smile.
Fitz began daydreaming about a reinvigorated career. She'd worked out an exclusive deal with Louis and had already arranged to have her interview aired on the national affiliate. The station's managers were also trying to get her on Larry King Live.
The director called for everyone to take their places. Fitz turned to the camera and put on her best "this is an important story" face. In the chair next to her, Louis wiped one last time at his brow and practiced his righteous scowl. Sykes practiced being contemplative, thoughtful -- the aggrieved young black man, set upon by a racist police department and district attorney's office, perhaps because he was too smart, too articulate, and they'd wanted to slap him down. How'd the bitch put it? Oh, yeah, noble.
Someone cued the techno music, as a stagehand counted down and at the right moment pointed to Fitz. "Good evening," she responded, looking at the camera, "and welcome to this edition of Brooklyn Insider." She expertly stopped talking to one camera and turned to the next. "A little more than twelve years ago, a twenty-eight-year-old woman named Liz Tyler left her Brighton Beach home one morning and went jogging along the shore toward Coney Island."
On the monitor in front of her, the picture shifted to a scene of a long, wooden-legged pier that jutted from the sand out over the water. The camera zeroed in to an area beneath the pier, as Fitz continued her voice-over. "However, beneath this pier, Liz Tyler was brutally beaten, raped, and left for dead."
The camera zoomed in on Fitz's face. "That much is a fact. We also know there were no witnesses to what happened, except whoever attacked Mrs. Tyler. But Tyler suffered memory loss -- probably due to the savage blows she received to her head that fractured her skull, blinded her in one eye, and left her in a coma for nearly three months."
The monitor now changed to old footage of a young Jayshon Sykes and three other black teenagers being led into a courtroom in handcuffs as Fitz droned on. "No witnesses, but that didn't prevent the New York City Police Department from identifying five young black men from Bedford-Stuyvesant -- one of whom would become a witness for the prosecution -- arresting them and, significantly, after several hours of intense questioning, eliciting alleged confessions to having committed this heinous crime. The four young men, who maintained their innocence -- all of them fifteen years old when arrested, except for the eighteen-year-old Jayshon Sykes -- were convicted nearly two years later of rape and attempted murder."
Fitz turned back to the second camera. "During the trial, defense attorneys tried to raise questions about the serious doubts they had regarding the confessions, saying that the police had coerced, intimidated, and threatened the boys. However, perhaps the most damning testimony came from one of the five original defendants, Kevin Little" -- the monitor showed the thin, handsome face of a young black man -- "who managed to work out a sweet deal for himself by turning on the others. Kevin Little was allowed to move to California, while his former friends were sentenced to thirty years in prison."
The monitor showed a file tape taken of the walls of Auburn State Prison with a few inmates wandering around in an open area beyond the fences and guard tower. "The irony is that Kevin Little was gunned down in gang-related violence three months later. But Jayshon and his codefendants -- Desmond Davis, Packer Wilson, and Kwasama Jones -- were sent to Attica, where they spent the next ten years behind walls and razor wire, guarded by men in towers with guns. And there they thought they would remain for the next thirty years of their lives, until one day this man" -- the monitors flashed to the pockmarked face of a man with beady eyes and buck teeth, whose greasy black hair had been combed back, giving him the appearance of a rat -- "Enrique Villalobos, stepped forward and confessed that he alone had committed this crime."
The monitors cut away to a taped interview with Villalobos, wearing a gray inmate jumpsuit and sitting in what was obviously a prison setting with a sterile, white cinder block wall. "All I can say is that a positive prison experience has left me a changed man," he said with a lisp to an off-camera interviewer. "I was a terrible sinner, but I have accepted Jesus Christ the Lord as my savior and know that I will be forgiven....My conscience troubled me and so I have decided to come forward now to tell the truth, and that is I alone did these horrible things to that woman. I ask her forgiveness and that of the young men whose lives were stolen to pay for my sin."
The camera returned to Fitz, who had molded her face into a mask of moral indignation with a trace of anger. "During the trial, the prosecutors lightly brushed over the fact that the only DNA evidence found on the victim's body did not belong to any of the young men who had been charged. Instead, they chose to concentrate on the so-called Coney Island Four, presumably because they'd been involved in a minor altercation that night in the boardwalk area, as well as the questionable confessions.
"However, in a startling revelation, Brooklyn District Attorney Kristine Breman, who will appear on this show later this week" -- Fitz had a hard time keeping the gloating look off her face...Emmy, here I come -- "announced last spring that the mysterious DNA matched one man...and one man only...Enrique Villalobos.
"Hailed by civil libertarians as having made a 'bold move in the cause of justice,' DA Breman agreed to the demands of one of my guests tonight -- noted Manhattan attorney Hugh Louis" -- the camera panned to Louis, who nodded solemnly -- "and released the Coney Island Four and followed that by exonerating the young men. The prosecutors who led the charge to convict the four teenagers and, it would appear, jumped to a tragic conclusion, have since been placed on administrative leave pending a full investigation of the Brooklyn Sex Crimes Bureau's actions, as well as those of the New York police officers and detectives assigned to the case."
Camera One cut to Fitz's face. "Not too close...soften the shot...we don't want those crow's-feet showing," the producer whispered into his mike for the cameraman. Fitz's expression changed to one of deep regret, as if what she was about to say offended her journalistic sensibilities. "We should point out that the prosecutors in this case -- assistant district attorneys Robin Repass and Pam Russell -- were asked to appear on this show, or to at least grant an interview in the interests of fairness. But regrettably, perhaps understandably, they've declined."
Fitz let the moment sink in and then turned to her right to face her guests as the camera panned back. She smiled. "Good evening, Hugh."
Louis allowed himself a small can't-we-all-just-get-along smile. "Good evening, Natalie."
Fitz shook her head. "I guess your counterparts from the Brooklyn DA's office didn't want to talk to us, but we're glad to see you and your client tonight."
Louis combined a laugh with a sneer. "And the liars shall be known by their...lies," he said, patting his forehead with his handkerchief and hoping that he'd gotten the biblical phrase right. "Perhaps they're afraid that the truth will be exposed beneath these bright lights."
Fitz nodded as if she'd just been listening to Solomon himself. She looked beyond Louis. "Indeed. And good evening and welcome, Mr. Sykes, we're glad you could join us."
Jayshon Sykes looked at the camera and smiled shyly. "Good evening, Ms. Fitz," he said. "And thank you for your interest in justice. I'm afraid not all of your counterparts in the media are as willing to admit that the justice system might not be as color blind as we'd like. Unfortunately, it cost myself and my friends ten years of our lives. Ten horrible years that can never be reclaimed."
Ten miles away across the East River, sitting on a swaybacked mattress in a dark, shabby hotel room on the island of Manhattan, a haggard, gray-haired woman recoiled from her television, clutching her stomach as if she'd been punched. She gasped and fumbled for the channel changer, but it slipped from her hands and bounced off the floor and under the bed.
She should have known to turn off the television when the pitted face of Enrique Villalobos had first appeared...a positive prison experience...but she'd turned away as if slapped. However, as though forced, she'd slowly looked back and then watched in horror as Jayshon Sykes smiled at the camera, and she looked into those eyes for the first time in ten years....Ten horrible years that can never be reclaimed.
Unable to move or look away, she'd watched as the big black lawyer went on with comments about the "lazy white cops and venal white prosecutors" who had conspired to deprive four innocent young men "of their liberty and the flower of their youth." No amount of money could give them what had been stolen, he said, "but they will be asking -- no, demanding in the interests of justice -- $250 million to give these African-American men a fresh start and to punish the system that perpetuates the sin of racism."
As the man talked, a series of memories like slides from a projector flashed into her mind. She remembered waking up that morning when the world was still a good place...the warmth of her husband's body...the sweet-and-sour smell of her child.
After that the images grew more jumbled. She recalled jogging along the beach toward Coney Island. A pier, then shadows moving in the dark beneath the pier. Daylight on the other side, if she could just reach it. Hands reaching for her. Black faces...drunk...shouting...laughing. "Hey, bitch, want some of this?" The daylight on the other side of the pier. Safety. Hands groping, pulling at her clothing. Scratching at that face...the face on the television. Maybe not. I don't know. A brilliant flash of light, the horrible pain. Impossible to fight them all. Their voices like crows in the cornfields of Iowa..."Fuck her, homes, ain't you a man?" Violation.
The face of the other man from the television, a face cratered like the moon, only greasy. "Show you boys how to treat these bitches. If you want to teach them a real lesson, you got to fuck them dirty."
Violation...feeling so filthy, hoping they would kill her, disappointed when she realized they were gone and she was still alive...staggering into the ocean and washing and washing and washing and never getting clean...never again clean...
In the motel room, Liz Tyler's body shook as if she were being beaten again. The memory slide show stopped just in time for her to look again into Jayshon Sykes's eyes as he repeated his assertion -- this time prompted by the fat man -- that a terrible crime had been done to him and his friends. Another blow to the solar plexus. She couldn't breathe.
Tyler forced herself up from the bed and staggered toward the bathroom. She got only halfway there before she fell to her knees and vomited. Her stomach kept heaving as she hovered on her hands and knees above the growing pool on the filthy carpet. Finally, she had nothing left in her stomach and the dry heaves subsided. She shuddered and whispered to no one, "They're going to get away with it."
Copyright (c) 2005 by Robert K. Tanenbaum