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FACES AND FINGERTIPS

 

Trapped by isolation...

 

Ken Connell is a former Buffalo detective who has lost everything: his wife, his job, even his striking good looks, thanks to a shotgun blast that punctured his neck. These days he investigates insurance fraud, reminisces about the woman he loved, and dreams of moving south, while convinced he is being followed.

 

R.J. Sorrentino has always lived on the fringe. He was angry before leaving for Vietnam and grew angrier when he returned. He’s a survivor; yet lately, surviving isn’t enough. His one chance at redemption is his ability to draw. Now working as a police sketch artist, a grisly discovery twists him back into uncertainty.

 

Laura Pantera inhabits a world that looks different from everyone else’s. Her cheating husband is gone, and she’s haunted by a painful childhood. Days are long and nights turn surreal when she plunges into an abyss. Yet a mysterious neighbor may just provide a lifeline to happiness...

 

Faces and Fingertips may be read as a stand-alone novel, continuing characters introduced in Broken and Profane and Boneshaker.
When these lonely souls converge, results are hopeful, electric, and sometimes heartbreaking.

 

The third installment of the Buffalo Crime Fiction Series

Prologue (1971)

     Frank Nowak called Ken Connell’s name from the door of the break room.  A veteran detective, Nowak was a big man, with leathery skin, wide shoulders, and frizzy, Einstein hair.

     “Got a minute?” Nowak inclined his head toward the hallway.  Connell nodded and stood, pushing away memories while tightening his tie.  He crossed the tile floor, exited the squad room, and found Nowak twenty feet away, waiting in front of a soot-stained window.

     “What’s up?” Connell wondered.

     “I got a guy in Interview Two,” Nowak said, aiming a thumb behind his shoulder.   His voice twisted into a tight knot, like he was perpetually fighting laryngitis.  “Picked up alongside his buddy, who was shoplifting.  Long-haired kid.  I’m all ready to cut this one loose.  He didn’t steal nothing, his idiot friend did, and he just happened to be there when the uniforms nabbed him.  But before I get to the paperwork, this knucklehead starts flapping his lip, getting abusive.  Pig, oinker, why aren’t you out there catching rapists and murderers instead of hassling the little guys, that sort of thing.”

     Connell shook his head.  “You’re trying to let him go and he starts with that?  When did it become okay to badmouth coppers?  Screw him.  You taught me to arrest people like that and be done with it.”

     “Yeah, I could, only...”  Nowak bit his lip, eyes darting away.

     Connell prodded.  “Only what?”

     Nowak’s face stretched.  He spoke reluctantly, words nearly a whisper.  “He’s a vet.  Just back from Nam.  My read on the kid is that he’s pissed at the world, and I kind of don’t blame him.”

     Although Nowak was in his forties, too old to have been drafted, he had talked with Connell about a young cousin who had been in a firefight near Da Nang.  He was sympathetic to soldiers, knowing Connell had served two tours.

     “Okay,” Connell said neutrally.

     “You wanna talk to him?”

     “Talk to him?  What am I gonna say?”

     “I dunno.  Tell him you were there too.  Explain we’re trying to cut him a break if he’d just shut his big mouth.  It’ll mean more coming from you.  I don’t want to hassle this kid, but he calls me Wilbur one more time, I’m gonna knock out some teeth.  Maybe a bad ending could be prevented, you know?”

     Nowak was a good cop and a good guy.  Like many of the older detectives, he had taken an interest in Connell, teaching the new guy about the daily grind of a job that could be all-consuming.  Connell recognized that the best detectives practiced situational awareness.  Everything was a situation.  Unlike some of his fellow workers, Nowak didn’t

    

simply act to the letter of the law.  He put some thought behind his judgement.  

      “What makes you think I’m not gonna punch out his teeth?”

      Nowak offered a half smile.  “Again, it’ll mean more coming from you.”

      They moved down the tiled hall, past the drab off-white walls, turning a corner to a row of windowless doors.  Nowak stopped before the metal frame with a painted number two, unlocked the handle, then swung it open, stepping behind so the suspect did not see him.  Connell entered the tiny boxed room.

      Seated on the far side of a table was a round-faced kid with beady eyes, wavy dark hair that spilled onto his collar, and a fuzzy goatee.  Before him was a pencil and yellow legal pad with its top pages rolled back.  He wore a plain gray t-shirt, exposing thin arms.  Above his left elbow, tattoo ink peeked from beneath the sleeve.  His neck was thin.  After a momentary pause, he scowled.

     “What is this, second shift?”  Although the pitch was high, his voice was weary and deliberate.  “You bring the brass knuckles?  The other pig late for feeding time at the trough?”

     Oh, this is going to be beautiful, Connell thought.  He stared toward the one-way mirror, wondering if Nowak had already positioned himself behind it.  Could he see Connell’s stoic annoyance?

      Without betraying emotion, he pulled the door closed and stepped to the table.  Slowly he sat in the chair opposite the man.  Nowak had left the typed incident report in a manilla folder.  Connell didn’t look across the table, but read the information in silence.  The kid’s name was Russell J. Sorrentino, 22, with a west side address.

      Nowak had provided a legal pad so Sorrentino could write down his version of events on the street.  Connell glanced up, noticing the lined paper.  It contained no words, but some kind of doodle, the size of a hockey puck, shaded in pencil.  Russell quickly uncoiled the top sheets, covering the drawing.

     “You’re younger than the other one,” Russell snarled.  “They send in a pretty boy to intimidate me?”

     Connell did not speak.  A few seconds passed.

     “You don’t scare me, man,” Sorrentino assured him.  “I’ve seen things you ain’t ever dreamed of, you dig?”

     Connell continued studying the file before him.  The detective’s silence unnerved the man.  He shifted, licked his lips, then crossed his arms.

     “Hey, you gonna say something, or you just here to knock me senseless?”

     Expressionless, Connell held a stare for five beats.

     “Well?”

     “Keep saying stupid things,” Connell spoke quietly, “and we’ll see how it goes.”

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