My publisher informed me this morning that Jerkwater Town: A Historical Novel is available now directly through Ingram’s Books in Print Database, the publisher at http://www.iuniverse.com, or through the book order hotline at 1-800-AUTHORS. It also is available in bookstores everywhere and online as an e-book, but there is a delay in delivery at this early stage. To order, you may need the ISBN: Paperback (978-1-4917-4351-5); Ebook (978-1-4917-4352-2).
In celebration of this long-awaited event—at least on my part—I thought it would be fun to share an excerpt, which follows below:
JERKWATER TOWN (EXCERPT), F. JAMES GRECO, © 2014
June 16, 1990
Saturday, 10:00 a.m.
Vito Erbi had showered, shaved, dressed, and eaten breakfast, yet it seemed like only moments had passed since he had risen from his cot. As he paced his cell, he was reminded of one of the many quotes his Nanno Emilio would rattle off in what Vito thought was a vain attempt to impress the family with his command of the English language.
He failed to recall the context in which Emilio had shared this particular axiom, one his grandfather had credited to a guy named Van Dyke: “Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear.” Vito thought, Shit, I’d love to be fearing my freedom right now rather than waiting for some punk writer to show his fuckin’ face. You’d think Maria could’ve at least dug up a decent attorney.
The echo of four federal issue leather heels approaching his cell disrupted Vito’s reverie. He clasped the bars and watched a pair of screws parade to a halt in front of his cage like the toy soldiers his grandfather would display on the mantle at Christmas.
“Step away from the bars,” the taller of the two commanded.
Vito shuffled back a few steps, then stood in place as the guards shackled his feet and cuffed his wrists.
“We’ll be your escorts to the visitors’ room this morning.”
“Yeah, buddy, I know the drill. Let’s take our time and enjoy the view.”
June 16, 1990
Saturday, 10:15 a.m.
Nick waited in visitors’ quarters, where he had been led after announcing himself to the front lobby officer. The visitor flipped through a reporter’s pad, one he had squirreled away in a moving box when he relocated to Portland, and scanned his prep notes. Prior to being allowed to enter the room, which was located on Vito’s floor, Nick endured a barrage of procedure and policy delivered in monotone by a chunky, short-haired, female officer.
“Welcome to San Diego Metropolitan Correctional Center,” the twenty-something staffer droned with an expression that told Nick she would rather be plopped in front of her TV watching a soap opera and spooning ice cream into her face. “I see from the Request for Visitors form and Visitor Information form BP–629 that you received from the inmate, dutifully completed and returned in timely fashion, that you are scheduled to meet with inmate Vittorio Erbi. Because you are neither a relative nor his legal counsel, you have been granted a special media pass.
“It is mandatory that you understand and abide by the visitation policies of this institution. For your convenience, a restroom has been provided here in the front lobby and across the hall from the visitation room. Neither you nor Mr. Erbi will be allowed to use restroom facilities during your visitation. Should you or Mr. Erbi request use of restroom facilities during that time, you will not be readmitted.
“Pursuant to your request, the two tables placed in the visiting room for attorney use have been left in place. For a social visitation, such tables normally would be relocated to the elevator lobby. Your visitation may extend no more than one hour.”
After withstanding her recitation, showing proper identification, and clearing the metal detector, Nick gained monitored access to an elevator that took him to Vito’s floor. Heeding the obese diva’s advice, he obediently paused during the allocated time period to empty his bladder.
Like pugilists tapping gloves at the beginning of a match, Vito and Nick took inventory of each other. Nick felt an immediate dislike to the surly convict, who slouched in a chair across from him dressed in a white T-shirt and regulation trousers. He fiddled with his glasses, breathing on them heavily before swabbing them with a shirttail. Nick took special note of the inmate’s haute detachment—exacerbated by his penchant for avoiding eye contact.
An innocent man in Vito’s position could hardly be more inappropriately disinterested, Nick thought. Even someone far less jaded than me would be struggling to empathize with this clown.
As Nick concluded an explanation of his professional background, why the Gallo sisters had solicited his help, and initiated his first line of questioning, Vito doodled on a notepad he had brought with him.
“You and your family operate or operated a realty firm here in San Diego, right?”
“Yeah. My grandfather started it.”
“Are you aware of any illicit operations—bookmaking, extortion, protection services, that kind of stuff—coming down behind Erbi Realty’s legit front?”
“You sayin’ my family operated a shady business?” Vito’s face reddened and his fists tightened. Nick raised his arms, palms forward.
“Whoa, Vito. I’m not accusing anybody of anything. I’m just asking questions.”
“Then ask about something else.”
Nick glared at Vito, then dropped his eyes to his notebook.
“Okay, then, how well did you know Frank Bompensiero?” Nick raised his head and looked at Vito as he made his inquiry.
“Who says I knew him at all?”
“My research indicates that you were known to have associated with him or at least been in his company, say maybe when you worked at the resort?”
“If I did, they weren’t memorable occasions.”
“He allegedly had a friend—if he could be called that—up in LA, Jimmy Fratianno?”
Vito’s pupils slid upward and left, as did the same side of his mouth.
“Yeah, I know about him. Got a rep as quite the vocalist back in the day.”
Nick tossed his notes on the table, then clicked his mechanical pencil closed and slid it into his shirt pocket.
“Being a wiseass doesn’t cut it, man. You won’t discuss the family business; claim you don’t recall your contacts with Frank; allege you only know of Fratianno from the media coverage. Really?”
Vito shrugged. Nick’s eyebrows knit, his forehead wrinkled, and his lips pressed together.
“Last chance, asshole: Moe Dalitz?”
Vito sat up in his chair; his expression appearing to Nick as though the inmate were channeling Sugar Ray Leonard reacting to a Roberto Duran insult. Nick glared back, as if to say: Don’t expect me to plea no más.
“As for an asshole, only ones I know is the one I’m sitting on and the one across from me.” His face twisted from anger to a smirk. “As for Dalitz, the name sounds familiar. Yeah, I think he’s a Vegas guy that financed the resort.”
“The La Costa Resort and Spa, where you worked in realty management?”
“Yeah. That’s it.”
“How many times did you associate with Dalitz?”
Vito pursed his lips and rubbed his chin.
“Gee. Can’t say.”
“What can you tell me about your dealings with the Teamsters and Gallo Development Enterprises for the purchase of Teamster land in Rancho Peñasquitos?”
“My family company brokered a sale once, as I recall.” Vito stiffened. “And that was a straight up commission deal.”
“Should I have thought it involved anything else?”
Vito glared, then looked away.
“Okay, what can you tell me about any of Bomp’s crew here in San Diego: Adamo, Bonventre, Mandri, Mirabile, the Matranga brothers, or their cousin, Big Frank?”
“Some of those names seem familiar, but I might of read about them in the papers.”
“I gotta say, Vito, this tough guy act’s grating on my patience.”
As he spoke, Nick’s facial muscles tensed. His lips protruded upward and firmly set; creases gathered at the corners of his mouth. His eyebrows canted downward, and a furrow gathered between his eyes as he stared across the table. He straightened in his chair and tucked his legs in, one hand-held close to his stomach while the other rested atop his discarded notebook.
“Look, Mr. Erbi, I’m trying to do you a favor here, but if you aren’t willing to cooperate, there’s nothing much I can do.”
Vito appeared focused on more doodling, his face a blank page. Then he yawned, nudged his chair closer, leaned forward, and extended his arms along the tabletop. He splayed his fists, as though stretching his fingers, before withdrawing an arm to rub his index finger under his nose. In the process, his other hand had brushed Nick’s noteook.
“Guess like maybe I’m coming down with somethin.’” Vito glanced at Nick’s pad as he spoke. “Makes me a little irritable.”
Nick followed the direction of Vito’s glance and noticed a small piece of paper lying on his pad. He retrieved the pencil from his pocket and pretended to be studying his notes, which afforded an opportunity to scan the handwritten content of Vito’s scrap of paper: Can’t appear cooperative. Camera. Mics.
“Irritable, huh?” Nick said as he palmed the note and dipped his head. “Unless you want me to leave now, I just have a few more questions for you, from the court record, okay?”
“No harm in listening. I’m sure not going anywhere.” Vito shrugged, his eyelids drooped, and he yawned again.
“In his opening statement, your attorney stated that evidence would show you were nowhere near Pacific Beach at the time of the shooting, that there were witnesses who could testify to that. Yet, no witness testified, and no evidence was presented to that effect.”
“Nope. Sure as hell wasn’t.”
“Is there a witness who could prove you weren’t at the scene?”
Vito interrupted his intermittent doodling, lowered his pad, and raised his palms face up at chest height. He stared at the pad as he responded to Nick’s inquiry.
“Lawyers tend to exaggerate sometimes. No witnesses I know of.”
Nick once again followed the trail blazed by Vito’s gaze and read five words: Tala, Filipina tender, Star Bar. Nick’s face, which parodied a freshly erased chalkboard, offered Vito no acknowledgement.
“Okay, so no witness, despite your attorney’s opening remarks.” Nick paused before speaking again. “You ever own, rent, drive, or ride in a black ’76 Impala with a grey-primed right front fender?”
“Sounds like lowrider shit to me. Wouldn’t be caught dead in one.”
“The case record indicates you were identified as the person entering that car at the scene and shortly after shots were fired at Frank Bompensiero.”
“Well, if the record says it …”
“Then, you do recall a car like that?”
“Could be. I’m not a car nut, and my memory’s not so good after all the time I’ve stewed in here.”
“Have you ever owned a firearm?”
“Ever been on a firing range?”
“Not my thing.”
“Ever taken any lessons in the use of a weapon?”
“No, no need.” Vito straightened in his chair, and his eyes widened as his eyebrows and cheeks rose. He glanced down at his lap. “Lotta broads have told me I got one big pistola, but I never needed no lessons for using it.”