The Naked Face Chapter Twenty Three

ANGELI SWITCHED ON the headlights. It was four o'clock in the afternoon, but the sun was buried somewhere behind the mass of cumulus clouds that scudded overhead, pushed by the icy winds. They had been driving for over an hour.

Angeli was at the wheel. Rocky Vaccaro was seated next to him. Judd was in the back seat with Anthony DeMarco.

In the beginning Judd had kept an eye out for a passing police car, hoping that he might somehow make a desperate bid to attract attention, but Angeli was driving through little-used side roads where there was almost no traffic. They skirted the edges of Morristown, picked up Route 206 and headed south toward the sparsely populated, bleak plains of central New Jersey. The gray sky opened up and it began to pour: a cold, icy sleet that beat against the windshield like tiny drums gone mad.

’’Slow down,’’ DeMarco commanded. ’’We don't want to have an accident.’’

Angeli obediently lightened his foot on the accelerator.

DeMarco turned to Judd. ’’That's where most people make their mistake. They don't plan things out like me.’’

Judd looked at DeMarco, studying him clinically. The man was suffering from megalomania, beyond the reach of reason or logic. There was no way to appeal to him. There was some moral sense missing in him that allowed him to kill without compunction. Judd knew most of the answers now.

DeMarco had committed the murders with his own hand out of a sense of honor - a Sicilian's revenge, to erase the stain that he thought his wife had placed on him and his Cosa Nostra family. He had killed John Hanson by mistake. When Angeli had reported back to him and told him what had happened, DeMarco had gone back to the office and found Carol. Poor Carol. She could not give him the tapes of Mrs. DeMarco because she did not know Anne by that name. If DeMarco had kept his temper, he could have helped Carol figure out whom he was talking about;but it was part of his sickness that he had no tolerance for frustration and he had gone into an insane rage, and Carol had died. Horribly. It was DeMarco who had run Judd down, and later had come to kill him at his office with Angeli. Judd had been puzzled by the fact that they had not broken in and shot him. But he realized now that since McGreavy was sure Judd was guilty, they had decided to make his death look like a suicide, com mitted in remorse. That would stop any further police investigation.

And Moody...poor Moody. When Judd had told him the names of the detectives on the case, he had thought he was reacting to McGreavy - when it was really Angeli. Moody had learned that Angeli was involved with the Cosa Nostra, and when he followed up on it...

He looked over at DeMarco. ’’What's going to happen to Anne?’’

’’Don't worry. I'll take care of her,’’ DeMarco said.

Angeli smiled. ’’Yeah.’’

Judd felt a helpless rage sweep over him.

’’I was wrong to marry someone outside the family,’’ brooded DeMarco. ’’Outsiders can never understand it like it is. Never.’’

They were traveling in an almost barren section of flatlands. An occasional factory dotted the sleet-blurred skyline in the distance.

’’We're almost there,’’ Angeli announced.

’’You've done a good job,’’ DeMarco said. ’’We're going to hide you away somewhere until the heat cools down. Where would you like to go?’’

’’I like Florida.’’

DeMarco nodded approvingly. ’’No problem. You'll stay with one of the family.’’

’’I know some great broads down there.’’ Angeli smiled. DeMarco smiled back at him in the mirror. ’’You'll come back with a tanned ass.’’

’’I hope that's all I come back with.’’

Rocky Vaccaro laughed.

In the distance, on the right, Judd saw the sprawled build ings of a factory spuming smoke into the air. They reached a small side road leading to the factory. Angeli turned into it and drove until they came to a high wall. The gate was closed. Angeli leaned on the horn and a man in a raincoat and rainhat appeared behind the gate. When he saw De-Marco, he nodded, unlocked the gate, and swung it open. Angeli drove the car inside, and the gate closed behind them. They had arrived.

At the Nineteenth Precinct, Lieutenant McGreavy was in his office, going over a list of names with three detectives, Captain Bertelli, and the two FBI men.

’’This is a list of the Cosa Nostra families in the East. All the Sub-Capos and Capo Regimes. Our problem is, we don't know which one Angeli is hooked up with.’’

’’How long would it take to get a rundown on them?’’ asked Bertelli.

One of the FBI men spoke. ’’There are over sixty names here. It would take at least twenty-four hours, but...’’ He stopped.

McGreavy finished the sentence for him. ’’But Dr. Stevens won't be alive twenty-four hours from now.’’

A young uniformed policeman hurried up to the open door. He hesitated as he saw the group of men.

’’What is it?’’ McGreavy asked.

’’New Jersey didn't know if it's important, Lieutenant, but you asked them to report anything unusual. An operator got a call from an adult female asking for Police Headquarters. She said it was an emergency, and then the line went dead. The operator waited, but there was no call back.’’

’’Where did the call come from?’’

’’A town called Old Tappan.’’

’’Did she get the number?’’

’’No. The caller hung up too quickly.’’

’’Great,’’ McGreavy said bitterly.

’’Forget it,’’ Bertelli said. ’’It was probably some old lady reporting a lost cat.’’

McGreavy's phone rang, a long, insistent peal. He picked up the phone. ’’Lieutenant McGreavy.’’ The others in the room watched his face draw tight with tension. ’’Right! Tell them not to make a move until I get there. I'm on my way!’’ He slammed the receiver down. ’’The Highway Patrol just spotted Angeli's car going south on Route 206, just outside Millstone.’’

’’Are they tailing it?’’ It was one of the FBI men.

’’The patrol car was going in the opposite direction. By the time they got turned around, it had disappeared. I know that area. There's nothing out there but a few factories.’’ He turned to one of the FBI men. ’’Can you get me a fast run down on the names of the factories there and who owns them?’’

’’Will do.’’ The FBI man reached for the phone.

’’I'm heading out there,’’ McGreavy said. ’’Call me when you get it.’’ He turned to the men. ’’Let's move!’’ He started out the door, the three detectives and the second FBI man on his heels.

Angeli drove past the watchman's shack near the gate and continued toward a group of odd-looking structures that reached into the sky. There were high brick chimneys and giant flumes, their curved shapes rearing up out of the gray drizzle like prehistoric monsters in an ancient, timeless land scape.

The car rolled up to a complex of large pipes and conveyor belts and braked to a stop. Angeli and Vaccaro got out of the car and Vaccaro opened the rear door on Judd's side. He had a gun in his hand. ’’Out, Doctor.’’

Slowly, Judd got out of the car, followed by DeMarco. A tremendous din and wind hurtled at them. In front of them, about twenty-five feet away, was an enormous pipeline filled with roaring, compressed air, sucking in everything that came near its open, greedy lip.

’’This is one of the biggest pipelines in the country,’’ De-Marco boasted, raising his voice to make himself heard. ’’Do you want to see how it works?’’

Judd looked at him incredulously. DeMarco was acting the part of the perfect host again, entertaining a guest. No - -not acting. He meant it. That was what was terrifying. De-Marco was about to murder Judd, and it would be a routine business transaction, something that had to be taken care of, like disposing of a piece of useless equipment, but he wanted to impress him first.

’’Come on, Doctor. It's interesting.’’

They moved toward the pipeline, Angeli leading the way, DeMarco at Judd's side, and Rocky Vaccaro bringing up the rear.

’’This plant grosses over five million dollars a year,’’ De-Marco said proudly. ’’The whole operation is automatic.’’

As they got closer to the pipeline, the roar increased, the noise became almost intolerable. A hundred yards from the entrance to the vacuum chamber, a large conveyor belt car ried giant logs to a planing machine twenty feet long and five feet high, with half a dozen razor-sharp cutter heads. The planed logs were then carried upward to a hog, a fierce por cupine-looking rotor bristling with knives. The air was filled with flying sawdust mixed with rain, being sucked into the pipeline.

’’It doesn't matter how big the logs are,’’ DeMarco said proudly. ’’The machines cut them down to fit that thirty-six-inch pipe.’’

DeMarco took a snub-nosed.38 Colt out of his pocket and called out, ’’Angeli.’’

Angeli turned.

’’Have a good trip to Florida.’’ DeMarco squeezed the trigger, and a red hole exploded in Angeli's shirt front. An geli stared at DeMarco with a puzzled half-smile on his face, as though waiting for the answer to a riddle he had just heard. DeMarco pulled the trigger again. Angeli crumpled to the ground. DeMarco nodded to Rocky Vaccaro, and the big man picked up Angeli's body, slung it over his shoulder, and moved toward the pipeline.

DeMarco turned to Judd. ’’Angeli was stupid. Every cop in the country's looking for him. If they found him, he'd lead them to me.’’

The cold-blooded murder of Angeli was shock enough, but what followed was even worse. Judd watched, horrified, as Vaccaro carried Angeli's body toward the lip of the giant pipeline. The tremendous pressure caught at Angeli's body, greedily sucking it in. Vaccaro had to grab a large metal han dle on the lip of the pipe to keep himself from being pulled in by the deadly cyclone of air. Judd had one last glimpse of Angeli's body whirling into the pipe through the vortex of sawdust and logs, and it was gone. Vaccaro reached for the valve next to the lip of the pipe and turned it. A cover slid over the mouth of the pipe, shutting off the cyclone of air. The sudden silence was deafening.

DeMarco turned to Judd and raised his gun. There was an exalted, mystic expression on his face, and Judd realized that murder was almost a religious experience for him. It was a crucible that purified. Judd knew that his moment of death had come. He felt no fear for himself, but he was consumed by rage that this man would be allowed to live, to murder Anne, to destroy other innocent, decent people. He heard a growling, a moan of rage and frustration, and realized it was coming from his own lips. He was like a trapped animal obsessed with the desire to kill his captor.

DeMarco was smiling at him, reading his thoughts. ’’I'm going to give it to you in the gut, Doctor. It'll take a little longer, but you'll have more time to worry about what's going to happen to Annie.’’

There was one hope. One slim hope.

’’Someone should worry about her,’’ Judd said. ’’She's never had a man.’’

DeMarco stared at him blankly.

Judd was yelling now, fighting to make DeMarco listen. ’’Do you know what your cock is? That gun in your hand. Without a gun or a knife, you're a woman.’’

He saw DeMarco's face fill with slow rage.

’’You have no balls, DeMarco. Without that gun, you're a joke.’’

A red film was filling DeMarco's eyes, like a warning flag of death. Vaccaro took a step forward. DeMarco waved him back.

’’I'll kill you with these bare hands,’’ DeMarco said as he threw the gun to the ground. ’’With these bare hands!’’ Slowly, like a powerful animal, he started toward Judd.

Judd backed away, out of reach. He knew he stood no chance against DeMarco physically. His only hope was to work on DeMarco's sick mind, making it unable to function. He had to keep striking at DeMarco's most vulnerable area - his pride in his manhood. ’’You're a homose*ual, DeMarco!’’

DeMarco laughed and lunged at him. Judd moved out of reach.

Vaccaro picked up the gun from the ground. ’’Chief! Let me finish him!’’

’’Keep out of this!’’ DeMarco roared.

The two men circled, feinting for position. Judd's foot slipped on a pile of soggy sawdust, and DeMarco rushed at him like a charging bull. His huge fist hit Judd on the side of the mouth, knocking him back. Judd recovered and lashed out at DeMarco, hitting him in the face. DeMarco rocked back, then lunged forward and drove his fists into Judd's stomach. Three smashing blows that knocked the breath out of Judd. He tried to speak to taunt DeMarco, but he was gasping for air. DeMarco was hovering over him like a savage bird of prey.

’’Getting winded, Doctor?’’ he laughed. ’’I was a boxer. I'm going to give you lessons. I'm going to work on your kidneys and then your head and your eyes. I'm gonna put your eyes out, Doctor. Before I'm through with you, you're going to beg me to shoot you.’’

Judd believed him. In the eerie light that spilled from the clouded sky, DeMarco looked like an enraged animal. He rushed at Judd again and caught him with his fist, splitting his cheek open with a heavy cameo ring. Judd lashed out at DeMarco, pounding at his face with both fists. DeMarco did not even flinch.

DeMarco began hitting Judd's kidneys, his hands working like pistons. Judd pulled away, his body a sea of pain.

’’You're not getting tired, are you, Doctor?’’ He started to close in again. Judd knew that his body could not take much more punishment. He had to keep talking. It was his only chance.

’’DeMarco...’’ He gasped.

DeMarco feinted and Judd swung at him. DeMarco ducked, laughed, and slammed his fist squarely between Judd's legs. Judd doubled over, filled with an unbelievable agony, and fell to the ground. DeMarco was on top of him, his hands at his throat.

’’My bare hands,’’ DeMarco screamed. ’’I'm going to tear your eyes out with my bare hands.’’ He dug his huge fists into Judd's eyes.

They were speeding past Bedminster heading south on Route 206, when the call cracked in over the radio. ’’Code Three...Code Three...All cars stand by... New York Unit Twenty-seven...New York Unit Twenty-seven...’’

McGreavy grabbed the radio microphone. ’’New York Twenty-seven...Come in!’’

Captain Bertelli's excited voice came over the radio. ’’We've got it pinned down, Mac. There's a New Jersey pipeline company two miles south of Millstone. It's owned by the Five Star Corporation - the same company that owns the meat-packing plant. It's one of the fronts Tony DeMarco uses.’’

’’Sounds right,’’ McGreavy said. ’’We're on our way.’’

’’How far are you from there?’’

’’Ten miles.’’

’’Good luck.’’

’’Yeah.’’

McGreavy switched off the radio, hit the siren, and slammed the accelerator to the floorboard.

The sky was spinning in wet circles overhead and something was pounding at him, tearing his body apart. He tried to see, but his eyes were swollen shut. A fist smashed into his ribs, and he felt the agonizing splinter of bones breaking. He could feel DeMarco's hot breath on his face, coming in quick, excited gasps. He tried to see him, but he was locked in darkness. He opened his mouth and forced words past his thick, swollen tongue. ’’Yous-see,’’ he gasped. ’’I was r-right... You can - you can only hit a man - when he's down...’’

The breathing in his face stopped. He felt two hands grab him and pull him to his feet.

’’You're a dead man, Doctor. And I did it with my bare hands.’’

Judd backed away from the voice. ’’You're an - an a-animal,’’ he said, gasping for breath. ’’A psychopath....You should be locked up .. . in an...insane asylum.’’

DeMarco's voice was thick with rage. ’’You're a liar!’’

’’It's the t-truth,’’ Judd said, moving back. ’’Your...your brain is diseased... Your mind is going to...snap and you'll be...like an idiot baby.’’ Judd backed away, unable to see where he was going. Behind him he heard the faint hum of the closed pipeline, waiting like a sleeping giant.

DeMarco lunged at Judd, his huge hands clutching his throat. ’’I'm going to break your neck!’’ His enormous fingers closed on Judd's windpipe, squeezing.

Judd felt his head begin to swim. This was his last chance. Every instinct in him screamed out to grab DeMarco's hands and pull them away from his throat so that he could breathe. Instead, with a final tremendous effort of will, he put his hands in back of him, fumbling for the pipe valve. He felt himself beginning to slide into unconsciousness, and in that instant his hands closed on the valve. With a final, desperate burst of energy, he turned the handle and swerved his body around so that DeMarco was nearest the opening. A tremendous vacuum of air suddenly blasted at them, trying to pull them into the vortex of the pipe. Judd clung frantically to the valve with both hands, fighting the cyclonic fury of the wind. He felt DeMarco's fingers digging into his throat as DeMarco was pulled toward the pipe. DeMarco could have saved himself, but in his mindless insane fury, he refused to let go. Judd could not see DeMarco's face, but the voice was a demented animal cry, the words lost in the roar of the wind.

Judd's fingers started to slip off the valve. He was going to be pulled into the pipeline with DeMarco. He gave a quick, last prayer, and in that instant he felt DeMarco's hands slip away from his throat. There was a loud, reverberating scream, and then only the roar from the pipeline. DeMarco had vanished.

Judd stood there, bone weary, unable to move, waiting for the shot from Vaccaro.

A moment later it rang out.

He stood there, wondering why Vaccaro had missed. Through the dull haze of pain, he heard more shots, and the sound of feet running, and then his name being called. And then someone had an arm around him and McGreavy's voice was saying, ’’Mother of God! Look at his face!’’

Strong hands gripped his arm and pulled him away from the awful roaring tug of the pipeline. Something wet was running down his cheeks and he did not know whether it was blood or rain or tears, and he did not care.

It was over.

He forced one puffed eye open and through a narrow, blood-red slit, he could dimly see McGreavy. ’’Anne's at the house,’’ Judd said. ’’DeMarco's wife. We've got to go to her.’’

McGreavy was looking at him strangely, not moving, and Judd realized that no words had come out. He lifted his mouth up to McGreavy's ear and spoke slowly, in a hoarse, broken croak. ’’Anne DeMarco... She's at the...house...help.’’

McGreavy walked over to the police car, picked up the radio transmitter, and issued instructions. Judd stood there, unsteady, still rocking back and forth from DeMarco's blows, letting the cold, biting wind wash over him. In front of him he could see a body lying on the ground, and he knew it was Rocky Vaccaro.

We've won, he thought. We've won. He kept saying the phrase over and over in his mind. And even as he said it, he knew it was meaningless. What kind of victory was it? He had thought of himself as a decent, civilized human being - a doctor, a healer - and he had turned into a savage animal filled with the lust to kill. He had sent a sick man over the brink of insanity and then murdered him. It was a terrible burden he would have to live with always. Because even though he could tell himself it was in self-defense, he knew - God help him - that he had enjoyed doing it. And for that he could never forgive himself. He was no better than DeMarco, or the Vaccaro brothers, or any of the others. Civilization was a thin, dangerously fragile veneer, and when that veneer cracked, man became one with the beasts again, falling back into the slime of the primeval abyss he prided himself on having climbed up from.

Judd was too weary to think about it any longer. Now he wanted only to see that Anne was safe.

McGreavy was standing there, his manner strangely gentle.

’’There's a police car on the way to her house, Dr. Stevens. OK?’’

Judd nodded gratefully.

McGreavy took his arm and guided him toward a car. As he moved slowly, painfully, across the courtyard, he realized that it had stopped raining. On the far horizon the thunderheads had been swept away by the raw December wind, and the sky was clearing. In the west a small ray of light appeared as the sun began to fight its way through, growing brighter and brighter.

It was going to be a beautiful Christmas.


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