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Chapter 1: JULY 30
Eddie McCoy heard his wife's muffled scream.
He awoke in a bleary daze in the warm, firm bed, his eyes probing the charcoal darkness. A dull ache pulsed at his temples. Too much wine with dinner, he thought. On the night table a digital clock radio with soft blue numerals offered the only light and told McCoy that it was 3:57 AM.
He had fallen asleep listening to a talk radio show where the top state assemblyman and top state senator were debating a legalized-gambling resolution vote looming in the New York State Legislature. The radio host was still gabbing about it at low volume when McCoy heard his wife's strangled whimper again. Then he felt her thrashing as if in seizure.
McCoy said, "Sally, honey, wha'..."
He never got to finish the word, as the barrel of a .357 Magnum-Smith & Wesson was jammed into his open mouth, chipping his right front tooth, driving a hot needle into his brain. As his wife whimpered in muzzled panic beside him, McCoy saw two white eyes peering down at him through the holes of a black ski mask. The eyes didn't blink. The cold steel circle of the four-inch pistol barrel triggered McCoy's gag reflex as it thrust against the back of his throat. He sucked for air through his nostrils. Only one worked. He felt his own frantic pulse thumping against the barrel of the gun. He could smell the fresh leather of the gunman's new black gloves. Only a killer wears gloves in July, he thought.
From outside his West Side tenement building a half-block from the banks of the lower Hudson River in downtown Manhattan, McCoy could hear sporadic traffic. As the dark river tirelessly emptied into the harbor he could hear a buoy ding, a ferry horn moan, a dock dog barking. He gagged again and shifted his head to the side on the down pillow and looked over at his wife. Silver duct tape covered Sally's lovely full lips. Her eyes were wet, deep, smeared with mascara, and looked to him like little muddy graves. Her left foot was wrapped in a bloody towel and covered by a plastic bag that was secured by duct tape.
When their eyes met, Sally looked ready to implode, raging screams leaking from her nostrils like a puppy's sobs.
Sally was also bound at the wrists and ankles with duct tape.
"Face China," the gunman whispered to Eddie McCoy.
The gunman slowly removed the gun from McCoy's mouth and as McCoy made the turn to his belly, he lashed out at the intruder with a poorly thrown right hand. He missed and felt the heavy thump of the one-pound gun thwack the bone over his right eye. He felt warm blood lick down his face, saw silver amoebas of light swimming in front of his eyes, thought he might pass out, but struggled for consciousness. For Sally's sake.
"Try that again and I'll violate your wife in a very unpleasant fashion," the gunman said. "And make you watch."
He heard a chilling clash of steel on steel and then saw the gunman opening and closing a pair of heavy-duty cable nippers used by electricians, saw the blue hue of the radio reflect in the shiny blades. The gunman placed the blades under Sally's earlobe and swiftly nicked it, bringing forth a round ruby of blood, which dropped onto the white sheet beneath her.
"Please, no," McCoy said, blotting his bloody eye on his white pillowcase. "Please don't hurt her. Take anything you want. I'll give you my bank card. There's six hundred and fifty-eight bucks in there. The PIN number is eight-two-six-seven. My computer is worth about another eight hundred. My wife's jewelry is a couple of hundred. Please, don't hurt her. Don't hurt us."
"Stop begging," the gunman said. "Begging's for dogs."
The gunman motioned for McCoy to roll onto his belly. He did and the gunman pulled McCoy's arms behind him and snapped a pair of handcuffs on his wrists. McCoy heard them ratchet tight, felt them pinch his skin. He lifted his head as the gunman fastened duct tape over his mouth. His head dropped back on the pillow and he stared at Sally. He winked at her with his good eye, hoping she knew it meant he loved her. Her body was vibrating, spastic in terror.
McCoy continued to stare at his wife, wanted to see as much of her as he could in what he was sure were their last minutes alive. He heard the gunman walk across the apartment, open the door, and drag something loud, hollow, and metallic into the room.
"Lie flat," the gunman whispered in McCoy's ear. "Your foot is gonna feel a pinch and then go numb. Novocaine. To kill the pain. Your wife didn't feel a thing when I did her."
Then McCoy felt the prick of a needle in his left foot, felt it quickly turning fuzzy and numb. McCoy saw the gunman look at his watch, as if counting, and as each second passed his foot became increasingly void of feeling.
After a minute the gunman said, "Just a little snip now."
Eddie McCoy saw him take out the cable nippers again and then felt a sickening pressure on his foot. It wasn't painful as much as it was a humiliating violation.
McCoy watched the gunman wrap his bloody foot in a towel, encase it in a plastic bag, and fasten it with more duct tape.
"There now, all done," he said.
McCoy watched in horror as the gunman trimmed his second toe like a gourmet butcher, leaving the scraps on the bloody sheet. He placed McCoy's toe into a plastic Ziploc baggie alongside a smaller toe. The red nail polish on that one told him it was his wife's.
If this is a kidnapping and the toes are going to be sent to someone with a ransom demand, we're dead, he thought. He didn't know anyone who could afford a ransom. The only family he had was a sister and she didn't have any money. Sally had no family.
The gunman pulled up a small desk chair. He sat McCoy up in the bed and motioned for him to mount the chair and to climb into the four-by-four-foot wheeled garbage bin that the Chinese landlord used to collect recyclables in their rent-controlled building. It was the last occupied building on Empire Court, which had become a desolate night street in the past couple of years as, one after another, the surrounding dwellings had been abandoned.
McCoy did as he was instructed, hobbling on his bleeding numb foot, almost falling as he climbed into the trash cart.
Now the gunman gently lifted Sally McCoy from the bed and placed her on McCoy's lap in the recycle bin. "Cute," the gunman said. Sally looked at Eddie and buried her head between his left shoulder and his head, leaving smudges of wet mascara on his white T-shirt as she wept. A thin trickle of blood coursed from her nicked ear.
The gunman opened the bedding-chest at the foot of the bed and yanked out a floral patterned down comforter with a flourish and placed it snugly over the McCoys and wheeled them out of the apartment, leaving the door unlocked and ajar behind him.
He rolled the bin to the small waiting elevator, which was jammed open with a broom. The whole snatch had taken less than three minutes. He took the elevator to the basement, the old cables groaning in the pre-WWII shaft. The dank cellar smelled of mold, cats, molting cockroaches, and rodent droppings. The gunman pushed the bin across the basement, to the rear door, which led to the alley where Chung, the landlord, always took out the building's garbage. McCoy could hear the soft meows of a three-week-old kitten and the mother cat that patrolled the basement. Sally usually brought the mother table scraps every day. She had found homes for two of the kittens. She was going to take the last one for herself this week. McCoy felt his beloved Sally sob harder in the dark under the comforter as they passed the meowing kitten.
The air was almost gone and McCoy thrust with his head to move the edge of the blanket. His wounded eye glanced along the inside wall of the bin, leaving a bloody streak. He used his head to nudge Sally's bloody earlobe against the wall so that she would also leave an evidence trail. It's all we can do, McCoy thought.
"Be still," the gunman instructed, opening a flap of blanket for air.
McCoy breathed deeply through his one functioning nostril as the gunman shoved the bin out the back door and up the cement incline to the alley. The wheels rolled roughly over the cement of the alley, which ran like a dark, century-old slot canyon between the tenements of Empire Court and the barren warehouses of Ellis Walk. McCoy heard the doors of a vehicle open. He felt the bin shift as it was pushed up a ramp by the grunting gunman into the back of a van. He heard the van doors close and the heavy breathing of the gunman as he climbed into the driver's seat. The engine started and they were soon rumbling through the streets of lower Manhattan.
The trip was eerily brief. One block, less than a minute, McCoy thought. The waterfront. Of course. The terminal. This wasn't a robbery. Or a kidnapping. This wasn't about the apartment. This was about the terminal. This was about untold millions, maybe billions...
McCoy heard the water lapping against the boats of the Harbor Head Marina, nestled almost unnoticed near the tip of the nose of Manhattan Island. He could smell the dirty bay water as the back doors of the van opened and the bin was wheeled out.
"Nice and easy," said the gunman.
The bin jolted over the wooden planks of the dock, and finally, as they came to the end of the deserted pier, the gunman lifted the heavy comforter off the McCoys. He cut the tape fastening Sally's legs and helped her out first. Then Eddie. Stars riveted the night sky and the muted hue of the brightest skyline on Earth bathed the fitful waters near the shore. McCoy sucked in the night air, looked out at the black water, at Empire Island, which lay a half-mile out like a sleeping sea monster. McCoy realized he had indeed been driven a scant block from his home. He could see his own bedroom window from the dock. He should be in there, sleeping, with Sally, waiting for another bright morning.
Instead the masked gunman led McCoy and his wife aboard a twenty-foot Regal boat with fifty-horsepower engine and quickly down into the cabin. He placed the comforter over them.
"It'll get chilly out there," the gunman said.
McCoy watched the gunman climb up on deck, heard him cast off and then the low tremble of the engine coming to life. Within thirty seconds the boat was chugging out into the harbor. McCoy knew where they were going. Empire Island, he thought. Has to be. Coast Guard relocated. Abandoned now. Smack in the middle of the harbor of the richest city on the planet. Real estate bonanza. The mayor called it New York's Monte Carlo. Priceless. And worth killing for...
Sally had stopped crying. She sat in a state of catatonic arrest. When McCoy looked her in the eyes she didn't seem to be there as they bounded over the roiled waters for the next seven or eight minutes.
Then the engine was cut and the boat seemed to drift weightlessly, as if in space, and silence prevailed. Then McCoy felt the mild bump as the Regal met another small dock. He heard the footsteps of the gunman on the upper deck.
Within a minute Eddie and Sally McCoy were led onto Empire Island, in the center of New York Harbor. Behind them the great skyline sparkled. To the left Lady Liberty touched her torch to the starry sky. A Staten Island ferry floated over the water like a giant orange ladybug. Thin traffic glittered on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and laced up the FDR Drive of Manhattan. The downtown bridges fastened the city together like giant clamps. New Jersey lay beyond, etherized in the lunar glow.
As he got his bearings, McCoy heard the low grinding hum of a heavy machine off in the distance, something alive and animated in the stillness. The masked gunman pointed and the McCoys limped on their numbed, injured feet a few hundred yards up a cobblestone pathway. They passed between two large hillocks of gravel and sand, toward a rotating cement mixer, a forty-foot crane, and a backhoe that sat still and ominous around a gaping ten-foot-deep pit that was ten foot square.
McCoy listened to the slow, sloshing revolutions of the cement mixer, the twelve yards of gravel and cement clanking off the steel walls of the big barrel. A dump truck loaded with fifty yards of gravel sat six feet away from it at the edge of the gaping pit. In the upper-right-hand corner of the pit a four-foot-square section was compartmentalized off with timber framing and plyboard. Two fifty-gallon metal oil drums were sunk into that hole like dry wells.
Eddie McCoy looked at the chute of the cement mixer that was pointing directly into the pit. Now he knew how he would die.
The gunman led them between the cement mixer and the dump truck to the edge of the pit. Sally McCoy looked at the cement mixer, the pit, and then at her husband. He winked. Three times, as if to say, I...Love...You. He heard a sound rise from inside her that he didn't know a human being could produce, a high-pitched muffled eruption that he thought might exit through the top of her skull. Most of it came out of her eyes as horror when she looked at her husband.
The gunman urged them closer to the edge of the pit, which looked bottomless in the darkness. Harbor wind blew in circles around them. The gunman gently removed the tape from Eddie's mouth.
"I'll take off her tape too if you want," the gunman said. "As long as she promises not to beg. I hate that, the begging."
"Why are you doing this?" Eddie asked.
"It's what I do," he said.
"It's about the apartment, isn't it?" McCoy said. "The rent-controlled apartment. The landlord, Jimmy Chung, he sent you. So he can sell to Kronk for the terminal...Kronk is behind this...
"Look, do you want to kiss your wife goodbye or what?"
Eddie McCoy nodded. "Look, tell Chung we'll move. Tell Kronk he'll never hear a word from me...us...again. Never. Please..."
"No begging," the gunman said, waving a finger.
McCoy knew there would be no reversal, no reprieve. He was going to die. With his Sally.
This was it.
He leaned close to his wife and whispered in her ear. She sobbed uncontrollably but finally nodded. McCoy looked at the gunman and gave him the cue. The gunman removed the tape from Sally's mouth and before she could scream Eddie placed his mouth over hers, smothering her final wail. As they kissed their final kiss the gunman shoved them into the hole and yanked a lever on the gravel truck, which sent fifty yards of gravel down the chute into the hole on top of them. The screams of the McCoys were fast muffled as the gunman pulled the handle on the cement mixer, which sent twelve yards of wet cement on top of the gravel. He let the foot-deep cement settle and gurgle into a still beige bog. He quickly ran the broad side of a two-by-four over the bubbly top to smooth it out, the summer moon reflecting in the wet surface. Only the four-by-four-foot sectioned-off square remained unfilled.
The gunman shut off the cement mixer and walked back to the boat.
Copyright © 1999 by Denis Hamill