Authors: Mark Winegardner
But it didn’t come back on.
In this hole, there was no day, no night, and now no time. It could have been anywhere from two days to two weeks before he put the chair back where it was and gave up his vigil.
He wondered why he hadn’t started making tally marks on the wall, like a hard case in a prison movie, so he’d know how long he’d been down here. His clothes were starting to come apart from the harsh detergent he’d used too much of and the scrub board he’d used with too much force. That and the trouble getting dressed made him start walking around naked. He kept bathing but stopped shaving. A beard might come in handy.
Geraci was a reader. He had a night-school history degree and half a law degree, too, and he prided himself on reading big new biographies and histories. Once he finished the history of Roman warfare he’d brought with him, all he had left were the books that were already there: dime novels, dog-eared pornos, and Machiavelli’s
He couldn’t bring himself to read the dime novels, and even touching another man’s pornos gave him the creeps (though of course he did, in a few weak moments). He’d already read
but he reread it several times as a hedge against going nuts. Soon he realized that it wasn’t exactly the right tool for the job.
That was about when he started messing around with the typewriter. It was a hulking old black one. At first, he used it to try to write letters—the Parkinson’s made longhand difficult—but the impossibility of ever sending the letters made him stop. He liked the writing, though. Banging on that old contraption was a good thing to do with his hands. And it gave him something to do with his mind. He started to fool around with what he eventually thought of as a book. His life’s story. If he didn’t make it, it would let his daughters know who he’d been and how he’d lived. If it was good enough to be published, maybe it could provide for them.
He pined for his wife and daughters. Every session at the typewriter, his longing for them crept in. He’d read over what he wrote and cringe. He loved them, but they were human beings, too; he was idealizing them into nothingness. He’d wad up the page, then close his eyes and try to
them. Moments later, all he’d be picturing is Charlotte naked and doing various things in bed, especially that cute maneuver of hers when he made love to her from behind. He’d jerk off and then spend the next however-long time hating himself. Also, she’d done that thing maybe twice. Maybe one time and then just a little bit once more.
Another problem was that he’d get carried away and write exciting, violent passages that felt true as he wrote them but had never happened. By and large, these scenes amused him. It was what people wanted, wasn’t it? But then he’d think that what readers really want are books that give them the inside dope on how things are. Thus, more wadded-up paper, more time wondering just who the fuck he thought he was kidding.
The wadded-up pages far outnumbered the keepers. His supply of typing paper wasn’t going to last, so he started unwadding and using the other sides and brown paper towels, too. He used fresh sheets only when retyping a page he thought was done.
Strike that. They were never done. Invariably, he’d read back over what he thought was done—a day later? a week?—and he’d hate himself all over again. Geraci was a smart man who’d always done well in classes where he’d had to write papers, but it turned out—to his surprise—that writing a book was a pain in the ass.
He loved his title, though:
By Fausto Dominick Geraci, Jr. He hadn’t decided whether to use Ace, his nickname. It would help people say his name in the Americanized way he preferred. He’d boxed under that name (on those occasions he hadn’t pretended to be somebody else entirely), so some readers might know him for that. Also, Geraci planned to write about his adventures flying planes in the early days of his narcotics operation, which made using Ace a good idea and had, in fact, been partly why the nickname stuck. On the other hand, it might give people the wrong idea. Geraci wouldn’t get on a plane now for anything. Plus, when he typed out
it looked bad.
Look at me, I’m Ace!
Nobody would want to read that asshole’s book.
And that was just the work the title page took.
Soon, he was reading the dime novels, if only for pointers. He was shocked how good many of them were.
Home Is the Sailor. I Am Legend. A Swell-Looking Babe. Cassidy’s Girl. Sweet Slow Death.
So good, it was hard to stop and think about how the writers were doing what they were doing and how Geraci might steal from them. Even the worst ones—like
Sex Life of a Cop,
which turned out to be a porno—seemed better than what Geraci had been churning out, although he was aware that he might be losing his mind.
It was about then that he started hearing things.
The bedrock underneath Lake Erie was honeycombed with salt-mining tunnels. For years, there had been rumors that Forlenza had contracted to have a passageway drilled that would allow someone to walk from here to the mainland, yet even though Geraci sometimes thought he could hear drilling, he wasn’t holding his breath.
He heard what he thought might be footsteps. Off and on, he heard what sounded like furniture being dragged around. Several times, he thought he heard dogs bark. Occasionally, he’d have sworn he could hear rushing water, and he’d stare at the walls, waiting for the lake to burst through and drown him like a rat. Once, Geraci thought he heard Handel’s
, which might have meant that it was Christmas but might also have meant that he was dreaming.
Soon he found himself asleep and dreaming about being asleep, awake and unsure if he might really be asleep.
He might have been down in that hole for a year. Or it might have been six weeks. One morning, he woke up and thought, fuck it, whatever’s up there was better than living no life at all in this rat hole. Or maybe he dreamed it and then woke up, he wasn’t sure. Still, he got out of bed with a sense of mission. He bathed. He did what he could to trim the beard. His shortcomings with the scissors convinced him that trying to cut his shaggy hair would make him look even worse, so he slicked it back with pomade—there was a case of the stuff—and hoped this would not be how he looked in his mug shot. He found a ball of twine and tied together what he had of his book, cursing at the difficulty of making a decent knot. Then he found clothes that weren’t yet reduced to rags, took a deep breath, and submitted to the hell of buttoning and fastening. But he was having a good day, and it came easier than he’d feared. His clothes hung on him loosely.
The two wads of cash he’d brought with him weighed about the same as baseballs. They had the same pleasing heft. In his pants pockets, they bulged out like tumors. He tucked a pistol in his waistband.
He stood in front of the steel door for what, even by his wrecked internal clock, was a long time. He kept his hand on the handle. Even if he somehow made it out of there, where would he go? Canada was only a few miles away, but he didn’t know shit about Canada. The Ohio shore was closer. He’d thought about it countless times but never settled on a plan.
He went. Manuscript in one hand, the other on the butt of the pistol.
His shoes on the metal stairs echoed in the stairwell like thunderclaps. The upper shelter was empty. It gave Geraci that feeling he got when he came back from a vacation and everything in his house was exactly as he’d left it and yet different. The reality of how a thing was didn’t square with how he’d been remembering it.
Geraci flicked on the light in the hidden guest suite, which was dusty and exactly as he’d left it, however long ago. His mind was pushing him back, but his legs carried him forward. He strode into the abandoned casino that had been down here since Prohibition. The bar was draped in a tarp. The mirror behind the bar was cracked, the bandstand water-damaged. Broken, dust-caked gaming tables were stacked with mundane household clutter too worthless to sell or give away. All just as he’d left it.
Then he heard the sound of running feet—boots—and froze. He set his papers on the bar and slowly pulled out his gun.
“You’re dead!” a shrill voice cried out. A boy’s. “I killed you.”
dead!” shouted a second boy. “I got you good! I’m telling.”
“If you tell, I’ll kill you for real!”
“If you kill me, my dad will kill you!”
They were running down the stairs, toward Geraci.
“My dad will kill your dad!”
“You think your dad can do anything, but he’s just a dad.”
Geraci put the gun back in his waistband, letting his untucked shirttail fall over it.
Two dark-haired boys dressed in cowboy gear came skidding around the corner, both about eight years old, the taller one chasing the shorter one, the taller one wearing a black hat, the shorter boy a white one. They saw Geraci and stopped. The smaller boy slipped on the old ballroom floor, then scrambled to his feet. The taller boy looked like he might be related to Vincent Forlenza—a grandson? great-grandson?—but Geraci couldn’t be sure.
“Are your parents home?” Geraci said. His voice sounded strange in his ears.
The boys exchanged a look, then, as one, raised their guns and pointed them at him.
“Who wants to know?” said the taller boy.
“I’m a friend of theirs,” Geraci said. “Are they home?”
“Where’d you come from?” the taller boy asked.
“You’re hairy,” the shorter boy said.
“That’s right,” Geraci said. “I’m Harry, a friend of your parents.” Then he realized what the boy meant. The beard.
“Give me one good reason I shouldn’t just kill you now,” said the taller boy.
“Everybody’s over at my house,” the shorter boy volunteered, and the other boy glowered at him. They kept their guns on Geraci.
house,” Geraci said, banging the heel of his hand against his forehead, then grabbing the manuscript and rushing past them. “That’s where I was supposed to meet everybody. How could I have been so absentminded?”
He took the stairs two at a time while, behind him, the boys set off a hail of cap-gun fire.
“I shot him
“I shot him
! Die, Injun, die!”
OUTSIDE, THE MIDDAY SUN SHONE ON WHAT
looked like six inches of new-fallen snow, and Geraci, half blinded, couldn’t remember when he’d seen anything more beautiful. He took a searing lungful of winter air. A sob caught in his throat. The mere thought of beauty made him think of Charlotte and the girls. He wiped tears from his face (it was the wind; unavoidable) and kept going, down the freshly plowed driveway toward the dock. There was no one in sight. He considered running back in the lodge and taking a coat, but odds were he wouldn’t find anything big enough. For now, the cold felt good, like the blade of a shovel driving the life back into him.
And then he saw that trying to brave the subarctic wind in a summer-weight sport coat was the least of his problems.
The lake was frozen.
Short of walking across the ice, the only way off the island was by air. There was an airstrip at the other end of the island, private planes he could (theoretically) steal or commandeer. But stealing a plane was tough even if you knew how to fly (which probably he still did), since making sure the maintenance had been done took time he didn’t have. Getting a pilot to fly the thing at gunpoint posed other problems.
Who was he kidding? Even under the best of circumstances, if given the choice between flying and the worst-case scenario, Nick Geraci would take his chances with that scenario.
He ducked into a service garage near the boathouse. He looked out a window, back up the drive. The boys hadn’t followed him, at least not yet.
“Who’s there?” A man in a red plaid overcoat and an earflap hat—the kind Nick’s father used to wear—peered out from behind a stack of bagged rock salt. He was sitting at a metal desk, sipping coffee from a thermos cup and flipping through a girlie magazine. “You a guest?”
Startled, Geraci took a moment.
The man frowned and got up. “Can I
you with something, buddy?”
” Geraci drew his gun. “What do you use to plow the snow?”
Geraci relieved the man of his hat and coat, stuffed a clean rag in his mouth, and wrapped him to the desk chair in duct tape.
The man had pissed himself.
Leave this guy here, and he’s a witness. Kill him, and move on.
Geraci squeezed the man’s shoulder. “The worst,” he whispered, “is over.”
But then Geraci lowered his gun.
If the cops or the Feds
on his ass, clipping this
was a sure path to becoming the highest-ranking made guy ever to hit death row.