New Orleans, Louisiana
A blanket of angry black clouds passed over the Crescent City, blotting out the moon and suffusing the air with the scent of rain. A paddle-wheeler glided upriver, making for its dock on the edge of the French Quarter. The voices of the revelers on the deck fought a pitched battle with the optimistic strains of the Dixieland band. After the boat passed by, its wash slapped at the pilings under the pier and the warehouse.
A dark Mercedes sedan was parked in the doorway of the warehouse, its trunk open. Dylan Devlin looked up and down the pier, then finished loading the cargo, closed the trunk gently, and removed his gloves.
People usually visited New Orleans because of the fine dining, for the atmosphere of revelry--to stroll up and down Bourbon Street clutching a plastic cup of beer. Tourists flocked to the city to enjoy the architecture, the history, the casinos. But Devlin had no interest in any of that. To him, New Orleans was just another piece of geography to be learned, streets to be navigated, and problems to be solved or avoided. Dylan was a lucky man who had discovered his true passion: He was paid to do something he would have done for free.
A red-haired man of thirty-six with a youthful face, he had light-green eyes, and his smile was as disarming as a baby's. Since he was a child, women had wanted to coddle him and, as he matured, to offer their bodies and hearts, although only the former held any interest for him.
He opened the car door, climbed in, and drove out of the lot, leaving the loading-dock door wide open--like an unblinking yellow eye staring out over the Mississippi River.
The wall of rain moved down the river and closed like a curtain over the departing riverboat. Dylan pressed a button and the window purred up just as the downpour slammed into the pier.
The two boys were seventeen years old. They were in a white Lexus 400, which belonged to the driver's mother, a divorced real-estate attorney.
The teenagers had consumed two six-packs of Heineken and had managed to smoke most of a half an ounce of marijuana in the hours since sundown. It was raining hard and the wipers kept a beat along with the music. The Lexus was doing sixty-six miles an hour as the car approached the intersection of St. Charles and Napoleon Avenues. The driver saw the light change to red, but its meaning didn't penetrate the fog in his brain until it was too late to apply the brakes. A black Mercedes seemed to materialize before him, as if from nowhere.
The Lexus sent Dylan Devlin's Mercedes skidding seventy feet into the oncoming lane. It rolled over and disgorged the trunk's contents into the middle of St. Charles Avenue--a spare tire and two limp bodies. The bloody sacks on the corpses' heads and their contorted limbs made them look like a pair of discarded scarecrows.
Devlin shoved aside the physician's case on the passenger seat, which held his tools--the .22 automatic and silencer, the handcuffs. More than enough evidence to send him to death row. He slid from the stolen Mercedes through the shattered side window, dragging himself toward the curb like an injured dog. He gazed across the rain-slick asphalt at the corpses and marveled at how ridiculous they looked. He remembered shooting them, loading the two heavy bodies into the trunk.
Cars were braking and people were running into the street, shouting. When he saw the blue lights converging, he smiled because he knew it was over. He knew, too, that it was only just beginning.
Two days after the newspapers and TV news teams in New Orleans first reported that a man had been arrested with the bodies of two warehouse workers he had murdered gangland-style, Florence Pruette started her day without once thinking about it. She'd seen the pictures of the bodies lying in the middle of St. Charles Avenue, but she hadn't paid much attention to the fact that the two dead men had worked for one of her employer's competitors.
At precisely 6:45 that morning, Florence got out of a taxicab in front of Parker Amusement & Vending Company on Magazine Street to open the offices for business. At five that afternoon, the seventy-year-old woman would turn on the answering machine, lock up the office, and go home to her one-bedroom apartment on the eighth floor of the Versailles apartment building. Florence had kept the same routine every weekday all her adult life. The exceptions to the rule were Christmas day, Thanksgiving day, and Fat Tuesday. In 1971, the office had closed for Dominick Manelli's funeral. Manelli had founded and run the company for thirty-nine years before he retired.
There had been four mornings in the fifty-two years when Florence had been too ill to come in, but otherwise she was as punctual as the sunrise. Florence had worked at Parker Amusement first as a receptionist, then secretary, office manager, and finally as private secretary to Dominick. After his death, his son, Sam, kept her on. In all her years with the company, she had never asked either of her employers a non-business-related question. She was paid generously, lived comfortably in an apartment she owned outright, and had good medical insurance. She could eat at any of Sam's restaurants for free as often as she chose. Because she tipped generously, Florence was fussed over by the restaurant staff. The taxi that chauffeured her to and from work was an additional perk. Best of all, Sam had promised her a paycheck for as long as she lived, and, although he had offered to let her retire whenever she wanted, the company was her life.
The offices had not been renovated since the company moved into the building on Magazine Street in 1967. The walls were stained brown from decades of cigarette and cigar smoke issued from employees who, like the nonsmoking employees, answered to Florence.
The office workers kept the books, taking orders for vending and gaming machines. The warehouse workers delivered the machines. Collectors picked up the coins and bills and stocked the machines with candy, soft drinks, cigarettes, CDs, and condoms. One warehouse stored the machines and was the site where necessary maintenance was performed, while another held the stock and was a subsidiary--MarThon Distributing Company. All of Manelli's businesses were separate entities, grouped under the master banner of SAMCO Holding Company. SAMCO owned bars, gas stations, adult bookstores, a travel agency, a tobacco shop, a French Quarter art gallery, an antique shop, a tour company, a limousine firm, parking lots, and more. Its entire holdings were worth over 60 million dollars, every dollar of which was squeaky clean. Every morning at seven-thirty Sam Manelli showed up at his Parker office to preside over his kingdom. It was unnecessary because people seldom stole anything from Sam Manelli. The downside of stealing his money was too frightening to contemplate. Sam was the most feared man in Louisiana for good reason. He was a Mafia don, a monster whose sadism was the whole cloth from which nightmares were cut.
Florence was aware of Sam's reputation as a gangster, but she had never seen any evidence of it. She had heard that his illegal companies generated four times what SAMCO Holding was worth in cash, every year. A million dollars a day was the figure she had read in the Times-Picayune. It was said that Sam owned everyone he needed to maintain both of his empires. Books had been written about him, documentaries filmed, movies were based on his legend. He was famed as the last of the big-time mobsters, a tyrannosaur that had somehow survived the evolutionary process. Everybody knew what he did, but Sam had never once been convicted of a felony.
Florence came in that morning, like every other, but on that Tuesday something was different. It was so different, it almost gave her a stroke. Minutes after Sam arrived, four FBI agents strolled into the office. They flashed badges, passed by Florence without answering her questions, and handcuffed Sam.
"What's this about?" Sam asked calmly.
"You're under arrest for conspiracy to commit murder. Among other things."
"That's a state rap."
"We're getting the first bite on the federal charges. The state can dine on the crumbs after we've boxed you up for life."
"Whose murder?" Sam demanded.
"You hired one Dylan Devlin to come to Louisiana and kill two of your competitors' employees: Austin Wilson and Wesley Jefferson. You are charged with paying Devlin to murder an additional ten people."
"That's crazy! I don't know no Dylans, period."
Florence trembled as the four men hustled Sam out. Sam, sensing that she was upset, stopped in his tracks, forcing the agents to do likewise. He smiled at Florence and then winked, dropping the lid over a bright-blue eye. Florence Pruette relaxed instantly, certain that everything was going to be just fine.
"Miss Flo, do me a favor and call Bertran Stern. Tell him to get to the Federal Building and straighten these birds out."
JFK Airport, New York City
Two weeks later
Since she had left Buenos Aires she had been holding on to a mental picture. She would be in a throng of people walking down a wide corridor and he would be standing framed in the throat of the hallway, in the waiting area with a hundred other anxious people. He would be wearing an Italian blazer. His red hair slightly damp from the shower, he would have rushed to the airport, parked, and walked in as close to the customs area as he could get. After a year of marriage, he was still romantic. He might be holding flowers behind his back, or he'd have a small gift in his pocket. He would beam at the sight of her. After two weeks apart, he would be more attentive than ever and they would end the evening in bed, making noise. That part of the image made her smile--in fact, blush.
She caught her reflection in a glass panel. The glove-leather jacket, tailored to accentuate her shape, was an Argentine purchase, as were the matching boots. Her shoulder-length dark hair was combed back and the glasses she wore made her feel--and look--like a model. She was young enough to be one, had been told that she had the bone structure, the figure. She was aware that she turned heads, but the only head she was interested in turning was her husband's.
Her customs agent was a woman with stiff bleached hair. The tightly cinched belt around her waist made her look like a wasp. Her fingernails were an inch long and had stars painted on them. She stared at the passport picture and back at Sean.
"Anything to declare?"
"This jacket and the boots," Sean said, handing the agent the American Express receipt.
"Yes," Sean said.
The agent looked into her eyes, then handed Sean her passport back. She opened Sean's briefcase. "What about this computer?" The woman had Sean lift out the Apple laptop and turn it on.
"It's mine. I took it with me. I don't have the receipt because it was a gift."
Satisfied, the woman nodded. A man wearing a skycap jacket strode up and placed Sean's bags on a dolly. "Mr. Devlin asked me to escort you outside," he said.
There were people waiting in the lobby, staring down the corridor, checking for arriving travelers. Several livery drivers stood in a receiving line, each holding up a sign containing the last name of their fares. Moving rapidly, the porter stayed just ahead of her.
They moved through the length of the terminal, passing empty ticketing counters for commuter airlines. They walked across an expanse without seeing anyone except a janitor polishing the floor. They kept going until they were at the last set of doors at the very end of the terminal. "We're just about there," he told her.
The porter pushed the cart outside. The sidewalk was deserted. She didn't see her husband's black BMW 750 or her prized 1991 Buick Reatta convertible that had belonged to her mother. Sean looked down the covered walk to where, some fifty yards away, vehicles were picking up and letting off passengers.
"You'll be safe if you just do what we say, Mrs. Devlin."
When she turned, the porter was standing beside the cart. His right hand grasped the handle of a machine gun, its barrel concealed under his jacket.
A battered blue van raced up and stopped, its tires screeching in protest. A back door flew open and a young woman wearing a black jacket and jeans jumped out. Sean saw the bulge of a gun inside her jacket. A scruffy man leaped from the front passenger's seat. The woman grabbed Sean's right arm firmly below her shoulder as the man seized her other arm, immobilizing her. They pushed Sean toward the van as the "fake" porter tossed her suitcases in the rear, then leaped into the van's front seat.
Sean's panic diminished sufficiently for her to try to break away.
"Help!" she yelled at the top of her lungs. The people down the walk didn't hear her--couldn't hear over the noise of the airport. She started kicking and flailing at her assailants, hoping at least to get someone in a passing car to notice and help--take down the license number, anything.
"Get in now!" the woman snarled as the pair strong-armed her into the van and slammed the door. Sean was trapped between them. The skycap jerked his wig off, leaned back over the seat, and snapped Sean's lap belt.
"Who are you?" she asked. "Let me go!"
"Any tails?" the woman asked the porter.
"Didn't see any inside." The tires screamed again as the vehicle sped away.
"What's going on?" Sean demanded. "What in God's name are you people doing? Where's my husband?"
"You'll find out soon enough," the woman beside her said.
"We're federal agents," the porter said, as he stared over Sean's shoulder to study the traffic behind them. "We're all alone," he told the driver.
Sean Devlin didn't believe for a second that these people were cops.
Concord, North Carolina
Winter Massey had visited the tombstone at his feet countless times in the past three years, most often at night. Tonight it was cold for October, and the wind whipped the black raincoat against his legs while icy rain stung his face. He wore a wool baseball cap and clenched a single long-stemmed rose in his gun hand. He had bought the rose, along with eleven others wrapped in tissue paper, from a young couple outside the airport for ten dollars. He suspected the pair were cult members because they wore identical, vacant smiles.
Winter twisted the gold band on his finger. The vow said until death parted them, but he couldn't let her go even now. Maybe, he thought, that's because the time they had lived together, only fourteen years, was so terribly short . . . flying by like clouds in a fast-moving thunderstorm.
Excerpted from Inside Out by John Ramsey Miller. Copyright © 2003 by John Ramsey Miller. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.