(This is a second draft of the story that was posted on Writing Exercise 2. The opening lines have been streamlined.)
My lunch of grazed foie gras and salted octopi was rudely interrupted by a rugged looking man in faded blue jeans and a worn leather jacket that seemed to have ducked through a hundred gun fights. His moustache was cut apart by scars that made it look like a Hitler moustache with broken wings coming in for an emergency landing.
“Yes,” I said.
He flashed his badge. NYPD.
“We need to talk.”
“I’ll see you in my office in thirty minutes,” I said with my usual smile.
I was having lunch with a Republican senator at a restaurant that had recently won the James Beard Award entertaining him with my vast knowledge of movies and television programs relating to police work. I was not about to drop my pretense at being a competent liaison officer.
The detective grabbed me by the arm and lifted me off my chair.
“Excuse us senator,” I said. I barely had time to tell the waiter to send the tab to my office before I was walked out of the restaurant.
He kept his hand firmly on my arm, his fingers biting into flesh through my tailored business suit, until we rounded two corners and reached a non-descript diner. We sat down and he ordered two cups of twenty-five-cent coffee.
“I am lieutenant Jack Piraino,” he said.
My first reaction was that I wanted to ask for his autograph. This man was the embodiment of my dreams. He started his career in narcotics where he accumulated a substantial number of successful drug busts until a turf war with the DEA put a stop to his winning streak. He then took the rap for a run-in with a rogue DEA agent and was briefly demoted to traffic duty but soon re-emerged as a homicide detective. After an impressive forty three arrests with twenty six convictions and twelve plea bargains, he disappeared off the map. He was rumored to have gone undercover. Every now and then, there was an arrest that was quietly whispered to have been a “Piraino case” but nobody knew for sure. According to his records, he should have been in his mid-thirties but it was hard to place his age from his looks. His pock marked cheeks, his brittle moustache, his scarred knuckles and his hardened demeanor screamed “Tough Guy” like nobody I had ever seen. I was immediately in awe. This was the cop I wanted to be. It was almost like falling in love.
“What can I do for you lieutenant?” I said.
“I need you to help me find a man,” he said.
“He’s a difficult man to find.”
“Right down my alley.”
“I’ve been through every police record, every file. Birth records, death certificates, driver’s licenses, social security, school records, everything. No luck. But then I heard about this guy at the liaison office who could complete any report, find any data…”
That would be me. I made my reputation as a data miner.
“Who are you looking for?”
A fat waitress in a pink uniform and white apron came and dropped off the two cups of coffee.
Lieutenant Piraino paused until the waitress was gone. And then he spoke in a hushed voice.
I nearly choked on my coffee.
“He is also known as Danny the Ghost. He’s a mechanic. He specializes in tampering with cars. He also uses some kind of toxin to illicit an ischemic attack to provoke car accidents. He has been linked to at least seven homicides.”
“Seven.” I was shocked.
“That’s assuming he has no other MO. He might have killed more people with other methods, but his signature method with a car has killed seven people. He is a legend primarily among the Italian mob but these days you hear his name from other people too.”
“What other people?” I asked in a hoarse whisper.
“Most recently a New York leader of the yakuza clan Marubatsu Gumi choked to death on a spider roll and there were some whispers that it was the work of Danny the Ghost.”
“That… could have been an accident,” I said defensively.
“All the deaths attributed to Danny Abatangelo could have been accidents. That’s the point. He never leaves a trace.”
“He could be an urban legend. Maybe he doesn’t exist.”
“A lot of people seem to think so. But he does.”
Lieutenant Piraino produced a crumpled piece of paper with a sketch of a man’s face drawn with a ballpoint pen. I could make out that it was supposed to be a Caucasian male with short hair, clean shaven face and a square jaw but that was about it. The artist was not very good. You could not tell who the picture was unless you already knew who you were looking at, but for me it was unnervingly accurate. It was a portrait of me.