June 3, 2015

Good to Go for Sunday: an excerpt of Steven Rappaport's "If Jack Had"

ABOUT IF JACK HAD by Steven Rappaport

What’s the difference between a serial killer and an assassin?
… A paycheck.”

Jack is a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist with a secret second job. Since he was a smart-ass grad student slinking around New York’s Upper West Side and Brighton Beach, he’s been working as an assassin for the Russian mob.

Beginning at the end – that is, with an aged, incontinent, and at last truly alone Jack, his mind made up that tomorrow will be the first day he kills someone he loves: himself – IF JACK HAD [Black Rose Writing, June 4 2015] tells his story in rearview, providing an all-access-pass into the enviable, high-flying life he clear-cut for himself against all odds…and the (literal) trail of dead he left along the way.

The debut novel from sixty-eight-year-old Manhattan author Steve Rappaport, IF JACK HAD is, much like its protagonist, more than meets the eye. A caper comedy featuring sex and drugs, blasphemy and blood, far-flung exotic locales and all the other stuff that makes for good, not-so-clean fun, If Jack Had also happens to have a big, beating heart. Beneath the surface, it’s a meditation on family, fatherhood, the indignities of aging, the inevitability of loneliness, and the preciousness of life itself.

From spending peaceful mornings with Jack in Paris’s Le Marais district to experiencing the hedonism and glamour of Manhattan’s downtown art scene in the 1980s at his side, readers of IF JACK HAD will be swept up in a world that’s all at once ordinary and extraordinary, where life and death collide with the regularity of a ticking clock, and in which appearances can be every bit as deceiving as the storyteller himself.
If Jack Had [Black Rose Writing] will be available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in brick-and-mortar bookstores nationwide as of June 4, 2015. Find it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25320799-if-jack-had?ac=1




An excerpt of IF JACK HAD

Serge kept a low profile.
He housed his entire operation in a small apartment above a gourmet grocery store he owned on Coney Island Avenue. From those three rooms Serge ran what was probably a billion-dollar business. He did this with a staff of less than ten people. One could correctly compare him both in style and substance to the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet. Each modest man preferred to own basic businesses and let professionals manage them. They looked only to take their tithe; thus, obviating the need for any complex corporate structure. Serge, the Brahmin of Brooklyn, had a parallel portfolio.
Buffet owned Coke; Serge sold coke.
Buffet had multiple insurance companies, protecting millions of people from disaster. For a weekly amount, Serge offered stores protection from a different sort of disaster. The airlines and hotels he controlled put Buffet in the travel and leisure business. Gambling and prostitution put Serge in the same industry. Buffet was in the natural resource business, through his oil and gas companies; Serge’s entry into this area was the gas stations he controlled that watered down the product, and evaded huge amounts of federal and local taxes. If a particular business didn’t perform as expected, Buffet fired the management.
Serge had them killed.
That’s where I came in.
I was his Human Resources Department.
I ran up the two flights to get to the office. I asked to see Arnon. The old crone Elizabeth sat at the front desk, her bright peroxide-blonde hair peeking out of a babushka. She knew exactly who I was; yet, she shouted: “Who are you?” Nasty old thing, but hardly as nasty as the greeting I got when she finally ushered–– or actually shoved me–– into his tiny, windowless, room.
“Mr. Big Shot from the city finally gets here, an hour late. I told you to be on time. I got a busy day and you make me sit on my ass and wait for you?”
“Cut me a break. I overslept a bit, then there was traffic, and then I couldn’t find a place to park.”
“I’ll cut you a new asshole if you give me that lame shit again. You’re always late. You’ll be late to your own funeral, which I will be happy to arrange if you have the balls to do it to me again.”
“Sorry, Dyadya. You’re right; it is an issue with me. So I’m not perfect, but I’m a perfect shot and that’s why you love me.”
“Cut the Dyadya crap. I’m not your uncle and I don’t love you. Maybe Serge does, and why I can’t figure out. I think he really wanted you as a son-in-law, to bring more respectability to the family. He got your pal Rod instead, a smart guy that one is. I like him. Very good at our business, but I don’t trust him a bit. You, I don’t like too much, but I trust you.”
“Nice left-handed compliment. Can we start to work?”
“I’ll give you the back of my left hand and the tip of my right boot in your skinny Manhattan ass, if you are ever late again. Simple solution to the cars for the wop you’re going to whack. Here’s the card for Sam-at-Ace Car Service at 2109 Coney Island Avenue. Go now to talk to him. He’ll supply you with a different car each time you have to drive through the neighborhood. Black limos are not nearly as noticeable in that neighborhood as private cars.”
“Perfect. What about my other tools -- gun, silencer, knife -- to impale his hairpiece with?”
Arnon opened his desk drawer and pulled out a gorgeous hunting knife with etchings on the six-inch blade. “Here’s the knife. It’s Russian, a Kizlyan Sterkh handmade in Dagestan. They’ll know it’s from us. And here’s your gun: it’s a Sig Sauer P226 9mm with a T. Rant silencer. Now, you’re set. Go see Sam and figure out about the cars. And get this done within ten days. Serge wasn’t clear enough with you about the timeline.”
I left after a very short goodbye, quite glad to be gone.
Arnon was not a pleasant guy on his best days. When irritated, he could be a bear: a big black ugly Russian bear. I deserved a bit of his anger. Lateness was an issue with me. I was one of those. I couldn’t seem to overcome that problem. Not that I cared all that much.
Nobody’s perfect.
The black Town Car Sam supplied to me was a bit beat- up. It smelled of stale smoke supposedly masked by a sprayed musk deodorant. It made me nauseous -- to good effect. I made it a short drive-by and stopped only a minute outside the entrance to the Rug’s home. Anything longer and I was afraid I would be busted as an interloper. This car stood out in this wealthy enclave.
I should have demanded a new model.
This near-junker spelled ghetto car service: a bad choice. But in the time that I was there, I noticed a cut-out in the hedges surrounding the entrance to the driveway. This could be a perfect place to hide and wait while he wheeled out the trash at night. But what were the alternate days the garbage was collected? I guessed a Monday, Wednesday, and Friday early-morning rotation. That meant he would be out there Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday nights.
Today was Tuesday.
I’d do a return visit tonight to confirm. If right, I had the rest of the week to get myself as familiar as possible with the scene. Then, I’d do the deed Sunday night. I had a perfect plan. I drove off, pleased to have figured out a lot in a little time. My guess about timing was confirmed when I went back at nine in the evening. There was my target; thankfully, he was a punctual putz. The big-shot gangster was off-loading his garbage from the cart he used to haul it from his home.
He was short and scrawny, but powerful.
He hoisted those cans with ease, an ability garnered from all his years spent at his cover job: working for the Sanitation Department. The Rug wore a luminescent blue tracksuit. This was a loyal man. He adhered to the wise-guy dress code.
I came back a few more times in the next days at different times. Sam smartened up and gave me late-model cars. I got the lay of the land pretty quickly. Once, I parked a dozen blocks away and did a jog by to get up close to where I planned to do the deed. I had purchased a glowing green Adidas running outfit for the occasion. I laughed at myself in the mirror when I put it on -- and amused myself with the thought of asking Serge to reimburse me for the business expense.
Thursday night, the Rug was out there exactly at nine. This guy was a dream. He gave me a new appreciation of timeliness.

I would try to be more like him.
I was good to go for Sunday.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steven Rappaport, age 68, has been a stock trader, pot dealer, itinerant hippie peddler, cab driver, retailer, and is currently a successful commercial real estate salesperson in Manhattan. He offers a simple rationale for his first novel: “My eldest son, Jack, died at forty from a progressively debilitating, unknown neurological disorder. This brilliant boy, a Vassar grad, never got to live the life he deserved. I’ve infused him with one.”

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