Books - Excerpts

RAGE OF ANGELS
by Sidney Sheldon

1

NEW YORK: SEPTEMBER 4, 1969

The hunters were closing in for the kill.

Two thousand years ago in Rome, the contest would have been staged at the Circus Neronis or the Colosseum, where voracious lions would have been stalking the victim in an arena of blood and sand, eager to tear him to pieces. But this was the civilized twentieth century, and the circus was being staged in the Criminal Courts Building of downtown Manhattan, Courtroom Number 16. In place of Suetonius was a court stenographer, to record the event for posterity, and there were dozens of members of the press and visitors attracted by the daily headlines about the murder trial, who queued up outside the courtroom at seven o'clock in the morning to be assured of a seat.

The quarry, Michael Moretti, sat at the defendant's table, a silent, handsome man in his early thirties. He was tall and lean, with a face formed of converging planes that gave him a rugged, feral look. He had fashionably styled black hair, a prominent chin with an unexpected dimple in it and deeply set olive - black eyes. He wore a tailored gray suit, a light blue shirt with a darker blue silk tie, and polished, custom - made shoes. Except for his eyes, which constantly swept over the courtroom, Michael Moretti was still.

The lion attacking him was Robert Di Silva, the fiery District Attorney for the County of New York, representative of The People. If Michael Moretti radiated stillness, Robert Di Silva radiated dynamic movement; he went through life as though he were five minutes late for an appointment. He was in constant motion, shadowboxing with invisible opponents. He was short and powerfully built, with an unfashionable graying crew cut. Di Silva had been a boxer in his youth and his nose and face bore the scars of it. He had once killed a man in the ring and he had never regretted it. In the years since then, he had yet to learn compassion.

Robert Di Silva was a fiercely ambitious man who had fought his way up to his present position with neither money nor connections to help him. During his climb, he had assumed the veneer of a civilized servant of the people; but underneath, he was a gutter fighter, a man who neither forgot nor forgave. Under ordinary circumstances, District Attorney Di Silva would not have been in this courtroom on this day. He had a large staff, and any one of his senior assistants was capable of prosecuting this case. But Di Silva had known from the beginning that he was going to handle the Moretti case himself.

Michael Moretti was front - page news, the son -in-law of Antonio Granelli, capo di capi, head of the largest of the five eastern Mafia Families.

Antonio Granelli was getting old and the street word was that Michael Moretti was being groomed to take his father -in-law's place. Moretti had been involved in dozens of crimes ranging from mayhem to murder, but no district attorney had ever been able to prove anything. There were too many careful layers between Moretti and those who carried out his orders. Di Silva himself had spent three frustrating years trying to get evidence against Moretti. Then, suddenly, Di Silva had gotten lucky. Camillo Stela, one of Moretti's soldati, had been caught in a murder committed during a robbery. In exchange for his life, Stela agreed to sing. It was the most beautiful music Di Silva had ever heard, a song that was going to bring the most powerful Mafia Family in the east to its knees, send Michael Moretti to the electric chair, and elevate Robert Di Silva to the governor's office in Albany. Other New York governors had made it to the White House: Martin Van Buren, Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. Di Silva intended to be the next. The timing was perfect. The gubernatorial elections were coming up next year.

Di Silva had been approached by the state's most powerful political boss. "With all the publicity you're getting on this case, you'll be a shoo - in to be nominated and then elected governor, Bobby. Nail Moretti and you're our candidate."

Robert Di Silva had taken no chances. He prepared the case against Michael Moretti with meticulous care. He put his assistants to work assembling evidence, cleaning up every loose end, cutting off each legal avenue of escape that Moretti's attorney might attempt to explore. One by one, every loophole had been closed. It had taken almost two weeks to select the jury, and the District Attorney had insisted upon selecting six "spare tires"—alternate jurors—as a precaution against a possible mistrial. In cases where important Mafia figures were involved, jurors had been known to disappear or to have unexplained fatal accidents. Di Silva had seen to it that this jury was sequestered from the beginning, locked away every night where no one could get to it.

The key to the case against Michael Moretti was Camillo Stela, and Di Silva's star witness was heavily protected. The District Attorney remembered only too vividly the example of Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, the government witness who had "fallen" out of a sixth - floor window of the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island while being guarded by half a dozen policemen. Robert Di Silva had selected Camillo Stela's guards personally, and before the trial Stela had been secretly moved to a different location every night. Now, with the trial under way, Stela was kept in an isolated holding cell, guarded by four armed deputies. No one was allowed to get near him, for Stela's willingness to testify rested on his belief that District Attorney Di Silva was capable of protecting him from the vengeance of Michael Moretti.

It was the morning of the fifth day of the trial.

• • •

It was Jennifer Parker's first day at the trial. She was seated at the prosecutor's table with five other young assistant district attorneys who had been sworn in with her that morning. Jennifer Parker was a slender, dark - haired girl of twenty - four with a pale skin, an intelligent, mobile face, and green, thoughtful eyes. It was a face that was attractive rather than beautiful, a face that reflected pride and courage and sensitivity, a face that would be hard to forget. She sat ramrod straight, as though bracing herself against unseen ghosts of the past.

Jennifer Parker's day had started disastrously. The swearing - in ceremony at the District Attorney's office had been scheduled for eight a.m. Jennifer had carefully laid out her clothes the night before and had set the alarm for six so that she would have time to wash her hair. The alarm had failed to go off. Jennifer had awakened at seven - thirty and panicked. She had gotten a run in her stocking when she broke the heel of her shoe, and had had to change clothes. She had slammed the door of her tiny apartment at the same instant she remembered she had left her keys inside. She had planned to take a bus to the Criminal Courts Building, but now that was out of the question, and she had raced to get a taxi she could not afford and had been trapped with a cab driver who explained during the entire trip why the world was about to come to an end.

When Jennifer had finally arrived, breathless, at the Criminal Courts Building at 155 Leonard Street, she was fifteen minutes late. There were twenty - five lawyers gathered in the District Attorney's office, most of them newly out of law school, young and eager and excited about going to work for the District Attorney of the County of New York.

The office was impressive, paneled and decorated in quiet good taste. There was a large desk with three chairs in front of it and a comfortable leather chair behind it, a conference table with a dozen chairs around it, and wall cabinets filled with law books. On the walls were framed autographed pictures of J. Edgar Hoover, John Lindsay, Richard Nixon and Jack Dempsey. When Jennifer hurried into the office, full of apologies, Di Silva was in the middle of a speech. He stopped, turned his attention on Jennifer and said, "What the hell do you think this is—a tea party?"

"I'm terribly sorry, I—"

"I don't give a damn whether you're sorry. Don't you ever be late again!"

The others looked at Jennifer, carefully hiding their sympathy. Di Silva turned to the group and snapped, "I know why you're all here. You'll stick around long enough to pick my brains and learn a few courtroom tricks, and then when you think you're ready, you'll leave to become hotshot criminal lawyers. But there may be one of you— maybe—who will be good enough to take my place one day." Di Silva nodded to his assistant. "Swear them in."

They took the oath, their voices subdued.

When it was over, Di Silva said, "All right. You're sworn officers of the court, God help us. This office is where the action is, but don't get your hopes up. You're going to bury your noses in legal research, and draft documents—subpoenas, warrants—all those wonderful things they taught you in law school. You won't get to handle a trial for the next year or two."

Di Silva stopped to light a short, stubby cigar. "I'm prosecuting a case now. Some of you may have read about it." His voice was edged with sarcasm. "I can use half a dozen of you to run errands for me." Jennifer's hand was the first one up. Di Silva hesitated a moment, then selected her and five others.

"Get down to Courtroom Sixteen."

As they left the room, they were issued identification cards. Jennifer had not been discouraged by the District Attorney's attitude. He has to be tough, she thought. He's in a tough job. And she was working for him now. She was a member of the staff of the District Attorney of the County of New York! The interminable years of law school drudgery were over. Somehow her professors had managed to make the law seem abstract and ancient, but Jennifer had always managed to glimpse the Promised Land beyond: the real law that dealt with human beings and their follies. Jennifer had been graduated second in her class and had been on Law Review. She had passed the bar examination on the first try, while a third of those who had taken it with her had failed. She felt that she understood Robert Di Silva, and she was sure she would be able to handle any job he gave her.

Jennifer had done her homework. She knew there were four different bureaus under the District Attorney—Trials, Appeals, Rackets and Frauds—and she wondered to which one she would be assigned. There were over two hundred assistant district attorneys in New York City and five district attorneys, one for each borough. But the most important borough, of course, was Manhattan: Robert Di Silva.

Jennifer sat in the courtroom now, at the prosecutor's table, watching Robert Di Silva at work, a powerful, relentless inquisitor. Jennifer glanced over at the defendant, Michael Moretti. Even with everything Jennifer had read about him, she could not convince herself that Michael Moretti was a murderer. He looks like a young movie star in a courtroom set, Jennifer thought. He sat there motionless, only his deep, black eyes giving away whatever inner turmoil he might have felt. They moved ceaselessly, examining every corner of the room as though trying to calculate a means of escape. There was no escape. Di Silva had seen to that.

Camillo Stela was on the witness stand. If Stela had been an animal, he would have been a weasel. He had a narrow, pinched face, with thin lips and yellow buckteeth. His eyes were darting and furtive and you disbelieved him before he even opened his mouth. Robert Di Silva was aware of his witness's shortcomings, but they did not matter. What mattered was what Stela had to say. He had horror stories to tell that had never been told before, and they had the unmistakable ring of truth.

The District Attorney walked over to the witness box where Camillo Stela had been sworn in.

"Mr. Stela, I want this jury to be aware that you are a reluctant witness and that in order to persuade you to testify, the State has agreed to allow you to plead to the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter in the murder you are charged with. Is that true?"

"Yes, sir." His right arm was twitching.

"Mr. Stela, are you acquainted with the defendant, Michael Moretti?"

"Yes, sir." He kept his eyes away from the defendant's table where Michael Moretti was sitting.

"What was the nature of your relationship?"

"I worked for Mike."

"How long have you known Michael Moretti?"

"About ten years." His voice was almost inaudible.

"Would you speak up, please?"

"About ten years." His neck was twitching now.

"Would you say you were close to the defendant?"

"Objection!" Thomas Colfax rose to his feet. Michael Moretti's attorney was a tall, silver - haired man in his fifties, the consigliere for the Syndicate, and one of the shrewdest criminal lawyers in the country.

"The District Attorney is attempting to lead the witness." Judge Lawrence Waldman said, "Sustained."

"I'll rephrase the question. In what capacity did you work for Mr. Moretti?"

"I was kind of what you might call a troubleshooter."

"Would you be a little more explicit?"

"Yeah. If a problem comes up—someone gets out of line, like—Mike would tell me to go straighten this party out."

"How would you do that?"

"You know—muscle."

"Could you give the jury an example?" Thomas Colfax was on his feet. "Objection, Your Honor. This line of questioning is immaterial."

"Overruled. The witness may answer."

"Well, Mike's into loan - sharkin', right? A coupla years ago Jimmy Serrano gets behind in his payments, so Mike sends me over to teach Jimmy a lesson."

"What did that lesson consist of?"

"I broke his legs. You see," Stela explained earnestly, "if you let one guy get away with it, they're all gonna try it." From the corner of his eye, Robert Di Silva could see the shocked reactions on the faces of the jurors.

"What other business was Michael Moretti involved in besides loan - sharking?"

"Jesus! You name it."

"I would like you to name it, Mr. Stela."

"Yeah. Well, like on the waterfront, Mike got a pretty good fix in with the union. Likewise the garment industry. Mike's into gamblin', juke boxes, garbage collectin', linen supplies. Like that."

"Mr. Stela, Michael Moretti is on trial for the murders of Eddie and Albert Ramos. Did you know them?"

"Oh, sure."

"Were you present when they were killed?"

"Yeah." His whole body seemed to twitch.

"Who did the actual killing?"

"Mike." For a second, his eyes caught Michael Moretti's eyes and Stela quickly looked away.

"Michael Moretti?"

"That's right."

"Why did the defendant tell you he wanted the Ramos brothers killed?"

"Well, Eddie and Al handled a book for—"

"That's a bookmaking operation? Illegal betting?"

"Yeah. Mike found out they was skimmin'. He had to teach 'em a lesson 'cause they was his boys, you know? He thought—"

"Objection!"

"Sustained. The witness will stick to the facts."

"The facts was that Mike tells me to invite the boys—"

"Eddie and Albert Ramos?"

"Yeah. To a little party down at The Pelican. That's a private beach club." His arm started to twitch again and Stela, suddenly aware of it, pressed against it with his other hand.

Jennifer Parker turned to look at Michael Moretti. He was watching impassively, his face and body immobile.

"What happened then, Mr. Stela?"

"I picked Eddie and Al up and drove 'em to the parkin' lot. Mike was there, waitin'. When the boys got outta the car, I moved outta the way and Mike started blastin'."

"Did you see the Ramos brothers fall to the ground?"

"Yes, sir."

"And they were dead?"

"They sure buried 'em like they was dead." There was a ripple of sound through the courtroom. Di Silva waited until there was silence.

"Mr. Stela, you are aware that the testimony you have given in this courtroom is self - incriminating?"

"Yes, sir."

"And that you are under oath and that a man's life is at stake?"

"Yes, sir."

"You witnessed the defendant, Michael Moretti, cold - bloodedly shoot to death two men because they had withheld money from him?"

"Objection! He's leading the witness."

"Sustained."

District Attorney Di Silva looked at the faces of the jurors and what he saw there told him he had won the case. He turned to Camillo Stela.

"Mr. Stela, I know that it took a great deal of courage for you to come into this courtroom and testify. On behalf of the people of this state, I want to thank you." Di Silva turned to Thomas Colfax. "Your witness for cross."

Thomas Colfax rose gracefully to his feet. "Thank you, Mr. Di Silva." He glanced at the clock on the wall, then turned to the bench. "If it please Your Honor, it is now almost noon. I would prefer not to have my cross - examination interrupted. Might I request that the court recess for lunch now and I'll cross - examine this afternoon?" "Very well." Judge Lawrence Waldman rapped his gavel on the bench.

"This court stands adjourned until two o'clock."

Everyone in the courtroom rose as the judge stood up and walked through the side door to his chambers. The jurors began to file out of the room. Four armed deputies surrounded Camillo Stela and escorted him through a door near the front of the courtroom that led to the witness room.

At once, Di Silva was engulfed by reporters.

"Will you give us a statement?"

"How do you think the case is going so far, Mr. District Attorney?"

"How are you going to protect Stela when this is over?" Ordinarily Robert Di Silva would not have tolerated such an intrusion in the courtroom, but he needed now, with his political ambitions, to keep the press on his side, and so he went out of his way to be polite to them.

Jennifer Parker sat there, watching the District Attorney parrying the reporters' questions.

"Are you going to get a conviction?"

"I'm not a fortune teller," Jennifer heard Di Silva say modestly. "That's what we have juries for, ladies and gentlemen. The jurors will have to decide whether Mr. Moretti is innocent or guilty." Jennifer watched as Michael Moretti rose to his feet. He looked calm and relaxed. Boyish was the word that came to Jennifer's mind. It was difficult for her to believe that he was guilty of all the terrible things of which he was accused. If I had to choose the guilty one, Jennifer thought, I'd choose Stela, the Twitcher. The reporters had moved off and Di Silva was in conference with members of his staff. Jennifer would have given anything to hear what they were discussing.

Jennifer watched as a man said something to Di Silva, detached himself from the group around the District Attorney, and hurried over toward Jennifer. He was carrying a large manila envelope. "Miss Parker?" Jennifer looked up in surprise. "Yes."

"The Chief wants you to give this to Stela. Tell him to refresh his memory about these dates. Colfax is going to try to tear his testimony apart this afternoon and the Chief wants to make sure Stela doesn't foul up."

He handed the envelope to Jennifer and she looked over at Di Silva. He remembered my name, she thought. It's a good omen.

"Better get moving. The D.A. doesn't think Stela's that fast a study."

"Yes, sir." Jennifer hurried to her feet.

She walked over to the door she had seen Stela go through. An armed deputy blocked her way.

"Can I help you, miss?"

"District Attorney's office," Jennifer said crisply. She took out her identification card and showed it. "I have an envelope to deliver to Mr. Stela from Mr. Di Silva."

The guard examined the card carefully, then opened the door, and Jennifer found herself inside the witness room. It was a small, uncomfortable - looking room containing a battered desk, an old sofa and wooden chairs. Stela was seated in one of them, his arm twitching wildly. There were four armed deputies in the room.

As Jennifer entered, one of the guards said, "Hey! Nobody's allowed in here."

The outside guard called, "It's okay, Al. D.A.'s office." Jennifer handed Stela the envelope. "Mr. Di Silva wants you to refresh your recollection about these dates."

Stela blinked at her and kept twitching.

Copyright © 1980 by The Sheldon Family Limited Partnership. Originally published by William Morrow and Company, Inc

Posted with Permission of Harper Collins