The Dark Side of Midnight: Excerpts
P R O L O G U E
Through the dusty windshield of his car Chief of Police Georgios Skouri watched the office buildings and hotels of downtown Athens collapse in a slow dance of disintegration, one after the other like rows of giant pins in some cosmic bowling alley.
"Twenty minutes," the uniformed policeman at the wheel promised.
Skouri nodded absently and stared at the buildings. It was an illusion that never ceased to fascinate him. The shimmering heat from the pitiless August sun enveloped the buildings in undulating waves that made them seem to be cascading down to the streets in a graceful waterfall of steel and glass.
It was ten minutes past noon, and the streets were almost deserted, but even the few pedestrians abroad were too lethargic to give more than a passing curious glance at the three police cars racing east toward Hellenikon,the airport that lay twenty miles from the center of Athens. Chief Skouri was riding in the first car. Under ordinary circumstances, he would have stayed in his comfortable, cool office while his subordinates went out to work in the blazing noon heat, but these circumstances were far from ordinary and Skouri had a two - fold reason for being here personally. First, in the course of this day planes would be arriving carrying VIPs from various parts of the globe, and it was necessary to see that they were welcomed properly and whisked through Customs with a minimum of bother. Second, and more important the airport would be crowded with foreign newspaper reporters and newsreel cameramen. Chief Skouri was not a fool, and it had occurred to him as he had shaved that morning that it would do no harm to his career if he were shown in newsreels as he took the eminent visitors into his charge. It was an extraordinary stroke of fate that had decreed that a worldwide event as sensational as this one had occurred in his domain, and he would be stupid not to take advantage of it. He had discussed it in great detail with the two people in the world closest to him: his wife and his mistress. Anna, a middle - aged, ugly, bitter woman of peasant stock, had ordered him to keep away from the airport and stay in the background so that he could not be blamed if anything went wrong. Melina, his sweet, beautiful young angel, had advised him to greet the dignitaries. She agreed with him that an event like this could catapult him into instant fame. If Skouri handled this well, at the very least he would get a raise in salary and—God willing—might even be made Commissioner of Police when the present Commissioner retired. For the hundredth time Skouri reflected on the irony that Melina was his wife and Anna was his mistress, and he wondered again where he had gone wrong.
Now Skouri turned his thoughts to what lay ahead. He must make certain that everything went perfectly at the airport. He was bringing with him a dozen of his best men. His main problem, he knew, would be controlling the press. He had been astonished by the number of important newspaper and magazine reporters that had poured into Athens from all over the world. Skouri himself had been interviewed six times—each time in a different language. His answers had been translated into German, English, Japanese, French, Italian and Russian. He had just begun to enjoy his new celebrity when the Commissioner had called to inform him that he felt it was unwise for the Chief of Police to comment publicly on a murder trial that had not yet taken place. Skouri was sure that the Commissioner's real motivation was jealousy, but he had prudently decided not to press the issue and had refused all further interviews. However, the Commissioner certainly could not complain if he, Skouri, happened to be at the airport at the center of activity while the newsreel cameras were photographing the arriving celebrities. As the car sped down Sygrou Avenue and swung left at the sea toward Phaleron, Skouri felt a tightening in his stomach. They were now only five minutes from the airport. He mentally checked over the list of celebrities who would be arriving in Athens before nightfall.
ARMAND GAUTIER WAS suffering from airsickness. He had a deep - seated fear of flying that stemmed from an excessive love of himself and his life and that, combined with the turbulence usually found off the coast of Greece in summer, had made him violently nauseous. He was a tall, ascetically thin man with scholarly features, a high forehead and a perpetually sardonic mouth. At twenty - two Gautier had helped create La Nouvelle Vague in France's struggling movie industry and in the years that followed had gone on to even bigger triumphs in the theater. Now acknowledged as one of the world's greatest directors, Gautier lived his role to the hilt. Until the last twenty minutes it had been a most pleasant flight. The stewardesses recognizing him had catered to his needs and had let him know they were available for other activities. Several passengers had come up to him during the flight to say how much they admired his films and plays, but he was most interested in the pretty English University student who was attending St. Anne's at Oxford. She was writing a thesis on the theater for her master's and had chosen Armand Gautier as her subject. Their conversation had gone well until the girl had brought up the name of Noelle Page.
"You used to be her director, didn't you?" she said. "I hope I can get into her trial. It's going to be a circus."
Gautier found himself gripping the sides of his seat, and the strength of his reaction surprised him. Even after all these years the memory of Noelle evoked a pain in him that was as sharp as ever. No one had ever touched him as she had, and no one ever would again. Since Gautier had read of Noelle's arrest three months earlier, he had been able to think of nothing else. He had cabled her and written her, offering to do whatever he could to help, but he had never received a reply. He had had no intention of attending her trial, but he knew he could not stay away. He told himself that it was because he wanted to see whether she had changed since they had lived together. And yet he admitted to himself there was another reason. The theatrical part of him had to be there to view the drama, to watch Noelle's face as the judge told her whether she was to live or die.
The metallic voice of the pilot came over the intercom to announce that they would be landing in Athens in three minutes, and the excitement of the anticipation of seeing Noelle again made Armand Gautier forget his airsickness.
DR. ISRAEL KATZ was flying to Athens from Capetown, where he was the resident neurosurgeon and chief of staff at Groote Schuur, the large new hospital that had just been built. Israel Katz was recognized as one of the leading neurosurgeons in the world. Medical journals were filled with his innovations. His patients included a prime minister, a president and a king.
He leaned back in the seat of the BOAC plane, a man of medium height, with a strong, intelligent face, deep - set brown eyes and long, slender, restless hands. Dr. Katz was tired, and because of that he began to feel the familiar pain in a right leg that was no longer there, a leg amputated six years earlier by a giant with an ax.
It had been a long day. He had done predawn surgery, visited half a dozen patients and then walked out of a Board of Directors' meeting at the hospital in order to fly to Athens for the trial. His wife, Esther, had tried to dissuade him.
"There is nothing you can do for her now, Israel." Perhaps she was right, but Noelle Page had once risked her life to save his and he owed her something. He thought of Noelle now, and he felt the same indescribable feeling that he had felt whenever he had been with her. It was as though the mere memory of her could dissipate the years that separated them. It was romantic fantasy, of course. Nothing could ever bring those years back. Dr. Israel Katz felt the plane shudder as the wheels were lowered and it started its descent. He looked out the window and spread out below him was Cairo, where he would transfer to a TAE plane to Athens, and Noelle. Was she guilty of murder? As the plane headed for the runway he thought about the other terrible murder she had committed in Paris.
• • •
PHILIPPE SOREL S TOOD at the railing of his yacht watching the harbor of Piraeus moving closer. He had enjoyed the sea voyage because it was one of the rare opportunities he had to escape from his fans. Sorel was one of the few sure box - office attractions in the world, and yet the odds against his ever rising to stardom had been tremendous. He was not a handsome man. On the contrary. He had the face of a boxer who had lost his last dozen matches, his nose had been broken several times, his hair was thin and he walked with a slight limp. None of these things mattered, for Philippe Sorel had sex appeal. He was an educated, soft - spoken man, and the combination of his innate gentleness and truck - driver's face and body drove the women frantic and made men look up to him as a hero. Now as his yacht approached the harbor, Sorel wondered again what he was doing here. He had postponed a movie that he had wanted to make in order to attend Noelle's trial. He was only too well aware of what an easy target he would be for the press as he sat in the courtroom every day, completely unprotected by his press agents and managers. The reporters were certain to misunderstand his attendance and think that it was a bid to reap publicity from the murder trial of his former mistress. Any way he looked at it, it was going to be an agonizing experience, but Sorel had to see Noelle again, had to find out if there was some way in which he could help her. As the yacht began to slide into the white - stoned breakwater of the harbor, he thought about the Noelle he had known, lived with and loved, and he came to a conclusion: Noelle was perfectly capable of murder.
AS PHILIPPE SOREL'S yacht was approaching the coast of Greece, the Special Assistant to the President of the United States was in a Pan American Clipper, one hundred air miles northwest of the Hellenikon Airport. William Fraser was in his fifties, a handsome gray - haired man with a craggy face and an authoritative manner. He was staring at a brief in his hand, but he had not turned a page or stirred for more than an hour. Fraser had taken a leave of absence to make this journey, even though it had come at a most inconvenient time, in the midst of a congressional crisis. He knew how painful the next few weeks were going to be for him, and yet he felt that he had no choice. This was a journey of vengeance, and the thought filled Fraser with a cold satisfaction. Deliberately Fraser forced his thoughts away from the trial that would begin tomorrow and looked out the window of the plane. Far below he could see an excursion boat bobbing its way toward Greece, its coast looming in the distance.
AUGUSTE LANCHON HAD been seasick and terrified for three days. He was seasick because the excursion boat which he had boarded in Marseille had been caught in the tail end of a mistral, and he was terrified because he was afraid that his wife would find out what he was doing. Auguste Lanchon was in his sixties, a fat, bald - headed man with small stumpy legs and a pockmarked face with porcine eyes and thin lips that constantly had a cheap cigar clamped between them. Lanchon owned a dress shop in Marseille and he could not afford—or at least that is what he constantly told his wife—to take a vacation like rich people. Of course, he reminded himself, this was not truly a vacation. He had to see his darling Noelle once again. In the years since she had left him, Lanchon had followed her career avidly in the gossip columns, in newspapers and magazines. When she had starred in her first play, he had taken the train all the way to Paris to see her, but Noelle's stupid secretary had kept them apart. Later he had watched Noelle's movies, seeing them again and again and remembering how she had once made love to him. Yes, this trip would be expensive, but Auguste Lanchon knew that it would be worth every sou of it. His precious Noelle would remember the good times they used to have together, and she would turn to him for protection. He would bribe a judge or some other official—if it did not cost too much—and Noelle would be freed, and he would set her up in a little apartment in Marseille where she would always be available to him when he wanted her.
If only his wife did not find out what he was doing.
IN THE CITY of Athens Frederick Stavros was working in his tiny law office on the second floor of an old run - down building in the poor Monastiraki section of the city. Stavros was an intense young man, eager and ambitious, struggling to make a living from his chosen profession. Because he could not afford an assistant, he was forced to do all the te dious background legal research himself. Ordinarily he hated this part of his work, but this time he did not mind because he knew that if he won this case his services would be in such demand that he would never have to worry again for the rest of his life. He and Elena could be married and begin to raise a family. He would move into a suite of luxurious offices, hire law clerks and join a fashionable club like the Athenee Lesky, where one met affluent potential clients. The metamorphosis had already begun. Every time Frederick Stavros walked out into the streets of Athens, he was recognized and stopped by someone who had seen his picture in the newspaper. In a few short weeks he had jumped from anonymity to the attorney who was defending Larry Douglas. In the privacy of his soul Stavros admitted to himself that he had the wrong client. He would have preferred to be defending the glamorous Noelle Page instead of a nonentity like Larry Douglas, but he himself was a nonentity. It was enough that he, Frederick Stavros, was a major participant in the most sensational murder case of the century. If the accused were acquitted, there would be enough glory for everyone. There was only one thing that plagued Stavros, and he thought about it constantly. Both defendants were charged with the same crime, but another attorney was defending Noelle Page. If Noelle Page was found innocent, and Larry Douglas was convicted . . . Stavros shuddered and tried not to think about it. The reporters kept asking him whether he thought the defendants were guilty. He smiled to himself at their naïveté. What did it matter whether they were guilty or innocent? They were entitled to the best legal defense that money could buy. In his case he admitted that the definition was stretched a bit. But in the case of Noelle Page's lawyer . . . ah, that was something else again. Napoleon Chotas had undertaken her defense, and there was no more brilliant criminal lawyer in the world. Chotas had never lost an important case. As he thought about that, Frederick Stavros smiled to himself. He would not have admitted it to anyone, but he was planning to ride to victory on Napoleon Chotas' talent.
WHILE FREDERICK STAVROS was toiling in his dingy law office, Napoleon Chotas was attending a black - tie dinner party at a luxurious home in the fashionable Kolonaki section of Athens. Chotas was a thin, emaciated - looking man with the large, sad eyes of a bloodhound in a corrugated face. He concealed a brilliant, incisive brain behind a mild, vaguely baffled manner. Now toying with his dessert, Chotas sat, preoccupied, thinking about the trial that would begin tomorrow. Most of the conversation that evening had centered around the forthcoming trial. The discussion had been a general one, for the guests were too discreet to ask him direct questions. But toward the end of the evening as the ouzo and brandy flowed more freely, the hostess asked, "Tell us, do you think they are guilty?"
Chotas replied innocently, "How could they be? One of them is my client." He drew appreciative laughter.
"What is Noelle Page really like?"
Chotas hesitated. "She's a most unusual woman," he replied carefully. "She's beautiful and talented—" To his surprise he found that he was suddenly reluctant to discuss her. Besides, there was no way one could capture Noelle with words. Until a few months ago he had only been dimly aware of her as a glamorous figure flitting through the gossip columns and adorning the covers of movie magazines. He had never laid eyes on her, and if he had thought of her at all, it had been with the kind of indifferent contempt he felt toward all actresses. All body and no brain. But, God, how wrong he had been! Since meeting Noelle he had fallen hopelessly in love with her. Because of Noelle Page he had broken his cardinal rule: Never become emotionally involved with a client. Chotas remembered vividly the afternoon he had been approached to undertake her defense. He had been in the midst of packing for a trip that he and his wife were going to make to New York where their daughter had just had her first baby. Nothing, he had believed, could have stopped him from making that journey. But it had only taken two words. In his mind's eye he saw his butler walk into the bedroom, hand him the telephone and say, "Constantin Demiris."
THE ISLAND WAS inaccessible except by helicopter and yacht, and both the airfield and the private harbor were patrolled twenty - four hours a day by armed guards with trained German shepherds. The island was Constantin Demiris' private domain, and no one intruded without an invitation. Over the years its visitors had included kings and queens, presidents and ex - presidents, movie stars, opera singers and famous writers and painters. They had all come away awed. Constantin Demiris was the third wealthiest, and one of the most powerful men in the world, and he had taste and style and knew how to spend his money to create beauty.
Demiris sat in his richly paneled library now, relaxed in a deep armchair, smoking one of the flat - shaped Egyptian cigarettes especially blended for him, thinking about the trial that would begin in the morning. The press had been trying to get to him for months, but he had simply made himself unavailable. It was enough that his mistress was going to be tried for murder, enough that his name would be dragged into the case, even indirectly. He refused to add to the furor by granting any interviews. He wondered what Noelle was feeling now, at this moment, in her cell in the Nikodemous Street Prison. Was she asleep? Awake? Filled with panic at the ordeal that lay before her? He thought of his last conversation with Napoleon Chotas. He trusted Chotas and knew that the lawyer would not fail him. Demiris had impressed upon the attorney that it did not matter to him whether Noelle was innocent or guilty. Chotas was to see to it that he earned every penny of the stupendous fee that Constantin Demiris was paying him to defend her. No, he had no reason to worry. The trial would go well. Because Constantin Demiris was a man who never forgot anything, he remembered that Catherine Douglas' favorite flowers were Triantafylias, the beautiful roses of Greece. He reached forward and picked up a note pad from his desk. He made a notation. Triantafylias. Catherine Douglas.
It was the least he could do for her.
Copyright © 1973 by The Sheldon Family Limited Partnership. Originally published by William Morrow and Company, Inc
Posted with Permission of Harper Collins
Rage of Angels
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 D I S I LVA 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.
• • •
I T 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 S T E L A 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?"
"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?"
"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.
"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—"
"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?"
"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?"
"And that you are under oath and that a man's life is at stake?"
"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."
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
Copyright © 1980 by The Sheldon Family Limited Partnership. Originally published by William Morrow and Company, Inc
Posted with Permission of Harper Collins
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 5.
He was seated in the dark, alone, behind the desk of Hajib Kafir, staring unseeingly out of the dusty office window at the timeless minarets of Istanbul. He was a man who was at home in a dozen capitals of the world, but Istanbul was one of his favorite cities. Not the tourist Istanbul of Beyoglu Street, or the gaudy Lalezab Bar of the Hilton, but the out - of - the - way places that only the Moslems knew: the yalis, and the small markets beyond the souks, and the Telli Baba, the cemetery where only one person was buried, and the people came to pray to him.
His waiting had the patience of a hunter, the quiet stillness of a man in control of his body and his emotions. He was Welsh, with the dark, stormy good looks of his ancestors. He had black hair and a strong face, and quick intelligent eyes that were a deep blue. He was over six feet tall, with the lean muscular body of a man who kept himself in good physical condition. The office was filled with the odors of Hajib Kafir, his sickly sweet tobacco, his acrid Turkish coffee, his fat, oily body. Rhys Williams was unaware of them. He was thinking about the telephone call he had received from Chamonix an hour earlier.
". . . A terrible accident! Believe me, Mr. Williams, we are all devastated.
It happened so quickly that there was no chance to save him. Mr. Roffe was killed instantly . . ."
Sam Roffe, president of Roffe and Sons, the second largest pharmaceutical company in the world, a multibillion - dollar dynasty that girdled the globe. It was impossible to think of Sam Roffe as being dead. He had always been so vital, so full of life and energy, a man on the move, living in airplanes that raced him to company factories and offices all over the world, where he solved problems others could not deal with, created new concepts, pushed everyone to do more, to do better. Even though he had married, and fathered a child, his only real interest had been the business. Sam Roffe had been a brilliant and extraordinary man. Who could replace him? Who was capable of running the enormous empire he had left? Sam Roffe had not chosen an heir apparent. But then, he had not planned to die at fifty - two. He had thought there would be plenty of time.
And now his time had run out.
The lights in the office suddenly flashed on and Rhys Williams looked toward the doorway, momentarily blinded.
"Mr. Williams! I did not know anyone was here." It was Sophie, one of the company secretaries, who was assigned to Rhys Williams whenever he was in Istanbul. She was Turkish, in her middle twenties, with an attractive face and a lithe, sensuous body, rich with promise. She had let Rhys know in subtle, ancient ways that she was available to bring him whatever pleasures he wished, whenever he desired them, but Rhys was not interested. Now she said, "I returned to finish some letters for Mr. Kafir." She added softly, "Perhaps there is something I can do for you?" As she moved closer to the desk, Rhys could sense the musky smell of a wild animal in season.
"Where is Mr. Kafir?" Sophie shook her head regretfully. "He has left for the day." She smoothed the front of her dress with the palms of soft, clever hands.
"Can I help you in some way?" Her eyes were dark and moist.
"Yes," Rhys said. "Find him."
She frowned. "I have no idea where he could—"
"Try the Kervansaray, or the Mermara." It would probably be the former, where one of Hajib Kafir's mistresses worked as a belly dancer. Although you never knew with Kafir, Rhys thought. He might even be with his wife.
Sophie was apologetic. "I will try, but I am afraid I—"
"Explain to him that if he's not here in one hour, he no longer has a job."
The expression on her face changed. "I will see what I can do, Mr. Williams." She started toward the door.
"Turn out the lights."
SOMEHOW, I T WAS easier to sit in the dark with his thoughts. The image of Sam Roffe kept intruding. Mont Blanc should have been an easy climb this time of the year, early September. Sam had tried the climb before, but storms had kept him from reaching the peak.
"I'll plant the company flag up there this time," he had promised Rhys, jokingly.
And then the telephone call a short while ago as Rhys was checking out of the Pera Palace. He could hear the agitated voice on the telephone. ". . . .They were doing a traverse over a glacier. . . . Mr. Roffe lost his footing and his rope broke. . . . He fell into a bottomless crevasse . . ."
Rhys could visualize Sam's body smashing against the unforgiving ice, hurtling downward into the crevasse. He forced his mind away from the scene. That was the past. There was the present to worry about now. The members of Sam Roffe's family had to be notified of his death, and they were scattered in various parts of the world. A press announcement had to be prepared. The news was going to travel through international financial circles like a shock wave. With the company in the midst of a financial crisis, it was vital that the impact of Sam Roffe's death be minimized as much as possible. That would be Rhys's job.
Rhys Williams had first met Sam Roffe nine years earlier. Rhys, then twenty - five, had been sales manager for a small drug firm. He was brilliant and innovative, and as the company had expanded, Rhys's reputation had quickly spread. He was offered a job at Roffe and Sons and when he turned it down, Sam Roffe bought the company Rhys worked for and sent for him. Even now he could recall the overwhelming power of Sam Roffe's presence at their first meeting.
"You belong here at Roffe and Sons," Sam Roffe had informed him. "That's why I bought that horse - and - buggy outfit you were with." Rhys had found himself flattered and irritated at the same time.
"Suppose I don't want to stay?"
Sam Roffe had smiled and said confidently, "You'll want to stay. You and I have something in common, Rhys. We're both ambitious. We want to own the world. I'm going to show you how."
The words were magic, a promised feast for the fierce hunger that burned in the young man, for he knew something that Sam Roffe did not: There was no Rhys Williams. He was a myth that had been created out of desperation and poverty and despair.
HE HAD BEEN born near the coalfields of Gwent and Carmarthen, the red scarred valleys of Wales where layers of sandstone and saucer - shaped beds of limestone and coal puckered the green earth. He grew up in a fabled land where the very names were poetry: Brecon and Pen - y Fan and Penderyn and Glyncorrwg and Maesteg. It was a land of legend, where the coal buried deep in the ground had been created 280 million years before, where the landscape was once covered with so many trees that a squirrel could travel from Brecon Beacons to the sea without ever touching the ground. But the industrial revolution had come along and the beautiful green trees were chopped down by the charcoal burners to feed the insatiable fires of the iron industry.
The young boy grew up with the heroes of another time and another world. Robert Farrer, burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church because he would not take a vow of celibacy and abandon his wife; King Hywel the Good, who brought the law to Wales in the tenth century; the fierce warrior Brychen, who sired twelve sons and twenty - four daughters and savagely put down all attacks on his kingdom. It was a land of glorious histories in which the lad had been raised. But it was not all glory. Rhys's ancestors were miners, every one of them, and the young boy used to listen to the tales of hell that his father and his uncles recounted. They talked of the terrible times when there was no work, when the rich coalfields of Gwent and Carmarthen had been closed in a bitter fight between the companies and the miners, and the miners were debased by a poverty that eroded ambition and pride, that sapped a man's spirit and strength and finally made him surrender.
When the mines were open, it was another kind of hell. Most of Rhys's family had died in the mines. Some had perished in the bowels of the earth, others had coughed their blackened lungs away. Few had lived past the age of thirty.
Rhys used to listen to his father and his aging young uncles discussing the past, the cave - ins and the cripplings and the strikes; talking of the good times and the bad, and to the young boy they seemed the same. All bad. The thought of spending his years in the darkness of the earth appalled Rhys. He knew he had to escape. He ran away from home when he was twelve. He left the valleys of coal and went to the coast, to Sully Ranny Bay and Lavernock, where the rich tourists flocked, and the young boy fetched and carried and made himself useful, helping ladies down the steep cliffs to the beach, lugging heavy picnic baskets, driving a pony cart at Penarth, and working at the amusement park at Whitmore Bay.
He was only a few hours away from home, but the distance could not be measured. The people here were from another world. Rhys Williams had never imagined such beautiful people or such glorious finery. Each woman looked like a queen to him and the men were all elegant and splendid. This was the world where he belonged, and there was nothing he would not do to make it his.
By the time Rhys Williams was fourteen, he had saved enough money to pay for his passage to London. He spent the first three days simply walking around the huge city, staring at everything, hungrily drinking in the incredible sights and the sounds and the smells. His first job was as a delivery boy at a draper's shop. There were two male clerks, superior beings both, and a female clerk, who made the young Welsh boy's heart sing every time he looked at her. The men treated Rhys as he was meant to be treated, like dirt. He was a curiosity. He dressed peculiarly, had abominable manners and spoke with an incomprehensible accent. They could not even pronounce his name. They called him Rice, and Rye, and Rise. "It's pronounced Reese," Rhys kept telling them.
The girl took pity on him. Her name was Gladys Simpkins and she shared a tiny flat in Tooting with three other girls. One day she allowed the young boy to walk her home after work and invited him in for a cup of tea. Young Rhys was overcome with nervousness. He had thought this was going to be his first sexual experience, but when he began to put his arm around Gladys, she stared at him a moment, then laughed. "I'm not giving none of that to you," she said. "But I'll give you some advice. If you want to make somethin' of yourself, get yourself some proper clothes and a bit of education and learn yourself some manners." She studied the thin, passionate young face and looked into Rhys's deep blue eyes, and said softly, "You're gonna be a bit of all right when you grow up."
I F YOU WANT to make somethin' of yourself . . . That was the moment when the fictitious Rhys Williams was born. The real Rhys Williams was an uneducated, ignorant boy with no background, no breeding, no past, no future. But he had imagination, intelligence and a fiery ambition. It was enough. He started with the image of what he wanted to be, who he intended to be. When he looked in his mirror, he did not see the clumsy, grubby little boy with a funny accent; his mirror image was polished and suave and successful. Little by little, Rhys began to match himself to the image in his mind. He attended night school, and he spent his weekends in art galleries. He haunted public libraries and went to the theater, sitting in the gallery, studying the fine clothes of the men seated in the stalls. He scrimped on food, so that once a month he could go to a good restaurant, where he carefully copied the table manners of others. He observed and learned and remembered. He was like a sponge, erasing the past, soaking up the future.
In one short year Rhys had learned enough to realize that Gladys Simpkins, his princess, was a cheap Cockney girl who was already beneath his tastes. He quit the draper's shop and went to work as a clerk at a chemist's shop that was part of a large chain. He was almost sixteen now, but he looked older. He had filled out and was taller. Women were beginning to pay attention to his dark Welsh good looks and his quick, flattering tongue. He was an instant success in the shop. Female customers would wait until Rhys was available to take care of them. He dressed well and spoke correctly, and he knew he had come a long way from Gwent and Carmarthen, but when he looked in the mirror, he was still not satisfied. The journey he intended to make was still ahead of him. Within two years Rhys Williams was made manager of the shop where he worked. The district manager of the chain said to Rhys, "This is just the beginning, Williams. Work hard and one day you'll be the superintendent of half a dozen stores."
Rhys almost laughed aloud. To think that that could be the height of anyone's ambition! Rhys had never stopped going to school. He was studying business administration and marketing and commercial law. He wanted more. His image in the mirror was at the top of the ladder; Rhys felt he was still at the bottom. His opportunity to move up came when a drug salesman walked in one day, watched Rhys charm several ladies into buying products they had no use for, and said, "You're wasting your time here, lad. You should be working in a bigger pond."
"What did you have in mind?" Rhys asked.
"Let me talk to my boss about you."
Two weeks later Rhys was working as a salesman at the small drug firm. He was one of fifty salesmen, but when Rhys looked in his special mirror, he knew that that was not true. His only competition was himself. He was getting closer to his image now, closer to the fictitious character he was creating. A man who was intelligent, cultured, sophisticated and charming. What he was trying to do was impossible. Everyone knew that one had to be born with those qualities; they could not be created. But Rhys did it. He became the image he had envisioned. He traveled around the country, selling the firm's products, talking and listening. He would return to London full of practical suggestions, and he quickly began to move up the ladder. Three years after he had joined the company, Rhys was made general sales manager. Under his skillful guidance the company began to expand.
AND FOUR YEARS later, Sam Roffe had come into his life. He had recognized the hunger in Rhys.
"You're like me," Sam Roffe had said. "We want to own the world. I'm going to show you how." And he had.
Sam Roffe had been a brilliant mentor. Over the next nine years under Sam Roffe's tutelage, Rhys Williams had become invaluable to the company. As time went on, he was given more and more responsibility, reorganizing various divisions, troubleshooting in whatever part of the world he was needed, coordinating the different branches of Roffe and Sons, creating new concepts. In the end Rhys knew more about running the company than anyone except Sam Roffe himself. Rhys Williams was the logical successor to the presidency. One morning, when Rhys and Sam Roffe were returning from Caracas in a company jet, a luxurious converted Boeing 707 - 320, one of a fleet of eight planes, Sam Roffe had complimented Rhys on a lucrative deal that he had concluded with the Venezuelan government.
"There'll be a fat bonus in this for you, Rhys."
Rhys had replied quietly, "I don't want a bonus, Sam. I'd prefer some stock and a place on your board of directors."
He had earned it, and both men were aware of it. But Sam had said, "I'm sorry. I can't change the rules, even for you. Roffe and Sons is a privately held company. No one outside of the family can sit on the board or hold stock."
Rhys had known that, of course. He attended all board meetings, but not as a member. He was an outsider. Sam Roffe was the last male in the Roffe bloodline. The other Roffes, Sam's cousins, were females. The men they had married sat on the board of the company. Walther Gassner, who had married Anna Roffe; Ivo Palazzi, married to Simonetta Roffe; Charles Martel, married to Hélène Roffe. And Sir Alec Nichols, whose mother had been a Roffe.
So Rhys had been forced to make a decision. He knew that he deserved to be on the board, that one day he should be running the company. Present circumstances prevented it, but circumstances had a way of changing. Rhys had decided to stay, to wait and see what happened. Sam had taught him patience. And now Sam was dead. THE OFFICE LIGHTS blazed on again, and Hajib Kafir stood in the doorway. Kafir was the Turkish sales manager for Roffe and Sons. He was a shorty, swarthy man who wore diamonds and his fat belly like proud ornaments. He had the disheveled air of a man who had dressed hastily. So Sophie had not found him in a nightclub. Ah, well, Rhys thought. A side effect of Sam Roffe's death. Coitus interruptus.
"Rhys!" Kafir was exclaiming. "My dear fellow, forgive me! I had no idea you were still in Istanbul! You were on your way to catch a plane, and I had some urgent business to—"
"Sit down, Hajib. Listen carefully. I want you to send four cables in company code. They're going to different countries. I want them hand - delivered by our own messengers. Do you understand?"
"Of course," Kafir said, bewildered. "Perfectly." Rhys glanced at the thin, gold Baume & Mercier watch on his wrist.
"The New City Post Office will be closed. Send the cables from Yeni Posthane Cad. I want them on their way within thirty minutes." He handed Kafir a copy of the cable he had written out. "Anyone who discusses this will be instantly discharged." Kafir glanced at the cable and his eyes widened. "My God!" he said.
"Oh, my God!" He looked up at Rhys's dark face. "How—how did this terrible thing happen?"
"Sam Roffe died in an accident," Rhys said.
Now, for the first time, Rhys allowed his thoughts to go to what he had been pushing away from his consciousness, what he had been trying to avoid thinking about: Elizabeth Roffe, Sam's daughter. She was twenty - four now. When Rhys had first met her, she had been a fifteen - year - old girl with braces on her teeth, fiercely shy and overweight, a lonely rebel. Over the years Rhys had watched Elizabeth develop into a very special young woman, with her mother's beauty and her father's intelligence and spirit. She had become close to Sam. Rhys knew how deeply the news would affect her. He would have to tell her himself.
Two hours later, Rhys Williams was over the Mediterranean on a
company jet, headed for New York.
Copyright © 1977 by The Sheldon Family Limited
Partnership. Originally published by Warner Books in arrangement with HarperCollins
Publishers and The Sheldon Family Limited Partnership.
Posted with Permission of Harper Collins
The Dark Side of Midnight: featuring The Other Side of Midnight, Rage
of Angels, and Bloodline. Copyright © 2007 by The Sheldon Family Limited
Copyright © 1977 by The Sheldon Family Limited Partnership. Originally published by Warner Books in arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers and The Sheldon Family Limited Partnership.
Posted with Permission of Harper Collins
The Dark Side of Midnight: featuring The Other Side of Midnight, Rage of Angels, and Bloodline. Copyright © 2007 by The Sheldon Family Limited Partnership.