Absolution, a stand- alone murder mystery novel featuring NYPD Lt. Mike Simon.
A teenager, Joey "Noonz" Mastronunzio, is forced to participate in a home invasion in Queens leaving a young couple dead and their infant son an orphan. Although he did not pull the trigger, he is determined to atone for his actions that night by joining the Marine Corps and then joining the seminary after his military service. The baby, Michael Simon, grows up to become an NYPD homicide lieutenant determined to locate and arrest the "guy who got away" from the scene of the murders. When Lieutenant Simon finally discovers the identity of the second perpetrator, he is shocked to learn he has known him most of his life. What follows is an unlikely alliance between Simon and the Bishop of Brooklyn as they uncover the rampant pedophilia in the Church. Battling threats, intrigue, deception, and murder, the duo comes up against the highest echelons of power in the NYPD and the Church as both institutions desperately seek to keep their records of depravity and cover-ups from ever being released to the public.
BestThrillers Review (BestThrillers.com) - "A must read crime thriller about an NYPD detective attempting to solve his own parents' murder....Buckle up and get ready for plenty of twists..."
NetGalley Review - four stars - "Wow, what a read!"
IndieReader Review - 4.3 stars -approved. "Be it the premise, characters, or setting, there's little in Henry Hack's Absolution that wont't immediately feel familiar, but the author's air tight plotting and exceptional character development makes for an exceptional read."
The Coastal Buzz - "... ticks all the boxes - believable characters, realistic setting, and a compelling plot...provides plenty of mystery and even philosophy. It is by turns infuriating, then heart rending..."
Here's the first chapter:
I bolted out of the screen door into the blackness of the sweltering early morning air, tightly clutching my upper left arm with my right hand. One thought raced repeatedly through my mind – My God, what have I done? I momentarily stopped on the sidewalk deciding which way to turn. Pete’s car was around the corner, but the keys were in his pocket back in the house. Why did I ever get in the car with Pete Selewski? I took off running.
I sprinted blindly for seven or eight blocks before becoming winded. I staggered to a stop, gasping for air. That was probably a good thing. A young guy running through a residential neighborhood at one o’ clock in the morning could most certainly attract a few phone calls to the police, who would be most interested in how he happened to have acquired a gunshot wound.
Regaining my breath, I began to walk, followed by intermittent bouts of slow jogging in the particularly dark areas. I took a zigzag direction toward my house in Richmond Hill, about four or five miles to the north and west of Cambria Heights. I stayed on the residential avenues and cross streets, avoiding the main drags of Linden and Springfield Boulevards, where passing patrol cars could easily spot me.
By the time I reached home it was about 3:00 a.m., but tiredness had not yet set in. I unlocked the front door and crept up the stairs to my bedroom which was at the opposite end of the house from my parents’ front bedroom. Their door was ajar, and I could hear my father snoring away. The two bedrooms in between were empty as my two older brothers were gone and married. The bathroom was across the narrow hall from my room, and I went inside it and softly closed the door. I took off my shirt and looked at my wound. It burned like hell, and I realized the bullet had grazed me and not entered my arm. I swabbed the wound with some witch hazel, biting my tongue to keep from screaming out. I followed that with some hydrogen peroxide, which also burned like the blazes.
I flushed the bloody tissues down the toilet and bandaged the wound, which had appeared to be no longer bleeding. I took the shirt with me into my bedroom and stuffed it in a corner of my closet. I’d figure out how to get rid of it later, but not too much later, if the cops were already on my trail. Fortunately, the wound was high enough on my upper arm that most of my short-sleeved shirts would cover it.
I needed to sleep, but I also needed to think this out. My parents arose around eight, and suddenly realizing it was Sunday morning, I knew we would all go to the ten o’clock mass at St. Mary’s. I had to get a few hours of sleep. Mercifully, the mental and physical exhaustion of the past few tension-filled hours finally set in, and I closed my eyes.
* * *
I managed to keep my eyes open throughout the high mass as my mind raced through the events of the past several hours. I must have left some blood, and my fingerprints, in that bedroom. Jesus, what had I touched? I dreaded the walk home from church. I was sure a police car would be parked in front of my house waiting to nab me. We stopped at the bakery for rolls and buns, and at the candy store for the Sunday editions of the Daily News and Daily Mirror. As we rounded the corner to our block, I felt an immense sense of relief to see the empty parking space in front of our house and no police cars in sight.
We went inside and Mom put coffee on as Dad and I looked at the papers. He glanced over at me and said, “You look like hell, Joey. You were yawning all through the mass. What time did you-a come home last night anyway?”
Knowing my parents were usually in the sack by ten, I said, “About eleven, maybe a quarter after, but I couldn’t sleep thinking about final exams and graduation, and do I go to community college or join the service. It kept me awake most of the night.”
“Yeah, I understand, and-a your mother and I gonna give you something else you gotta think about. Let’s go have coffee in the kitchen.”
Mom and Dad, Vincenzo and Maria Mastronunzio, were first generation Italian-Americans but spoke only Italian as youngsters, learning English when they began school in Brooklyn. Every so often a bit of Italian accent came through from both of them. Now, as I took my chair at the old white-painted wooden kitchen table, I wondered what the heck the “something else” I had to think about was, when I hadn’t even thought about what I really had to think about.
“Joey, you graduate in-a ten days, right?”
“After that me and your mother are gonna put the house up for sale. We wanna move to Florida. You could go to community college down there.”
“Aren’t you both too young to retire?” I asked. “You’re only in your mid-fifties.”
“Who said anything about retiring?” my mother said. “Your dad can cut hair and do shaves, and I can do cuts and perms down there as easily as we can up here.”
I can’t say I was surprised as I had heard comments about warm, sunny Florida from them before as well as how our neighborhood was changing, and not for the better, if you get my drift. Both my parents were not great examples of religious or racial tolerance and strongly believed in sticking to your own kind.
“Good for you,” I said. “I’ll have a few weeks to think this over, but right now I have to go to my room and study. I have two final exams left, and the rougher one is tomorrow.”
“You’re a good boy, Joey,” Mom said, “You come-a with us and go to college in Florida.”
“We’ll see,” I said as I finished my coffee and headed up the stairs to my room. I put a second pillow under my head and picked up my Latin textbook and opened it up. Despite the caffeine I had ingested, I closed my eyes and felt the heavy volume slip out of my fingers.
When I awoke, I glanced at my wristwatch. I had been out for over three hours, but I still felt groggy. I went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face and changed the bandage on my upper arm. The one I took off was sticky, but no new blood had flowed and it looked as if it was already healing up. I guessed the hot bullet had cauterized it as it passed through my skin.
I went downstairs and grabbed a couple of crumb buns and heated up the remaining coffee from the percolator. I scarfed down the heavily crumb-laden buns hoping the sugar, cinnamon, and coffee combo would clear the cobwebs from my brain and let me come up with a plan of action. A plan, and an airtight alibi, to save my young ass from a seat in the electric chair.
The sugar and coffee worked their wonders and twenty minutes later, notepad on my desk, pencil in hand, I began from the beginning. Last night, Saturday, June 15, 1957, I went to the movies with three of my friends, Al, Bill, and Georgie. We saw Gunfight at the O.K. Corral starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, two of my favorite actors. We got out about 10:30 and went to Mulligan’s Bar for a couple of beers. Bill and Georgie had already turned eighteen so they were legal. Al and I would turn eighteen in a couple weeks, and if the owner, Timmy Mulligan, knew we were still seventeen, he certainly hadn’t cared.
We left the bar around 11:20 and walked our separate ways home. My house was in a different direction from theirs, and I was strolling along Lefferts Boulevard near Atlantic Avenue, when I heard a horn beep twice, and a car with its radio blasting out Little Darlin’ by the Diamonds pulled to the curb next to me. “Hey, Noonz!” a familiar voice called out. “Hop in. The top’s down and it’s a great night for cruising around and scouting up some chicks.”
I wasn’t tired, and riding around in Pete Selewski’s white 1955 Ford convertible seemed like a good idea at the time. I didn’t hesitate one bit, not knowing girls were the last thing on Pete’s mind. What was on his mind, I was shortly to discover, were two things, heroin, and obtaining the money to buy it.
Pete had gone to Richmond Hill High School as did most of my friends. Georgie and I went the Catholic high school route, and we had to schlep into Brooklyn on the bus and subway to be taught by the kindly brothers of Bishop Loughlin. Pete had dropped out of school at age sixteen and worked full-time at the A & P supermarket, where I met him. I worked there after school three times a week and all day Saturday. We had worked together today, both getting off at six o’clock.
Pete was two years older than me and with his curly blond hair, blue eyes, good looks, and trim body, he was a natural chick magnet. The shiny white convertible with the red leather interior didn’t hurt either. I guess I was thought of as a fairly good-looking guy myself because of my dark-brown curly hair, and my wide smile with a perfect set of white teeth. But my classic Roman nose could be considered on the large side, and when I was razzed about it I replied, “Just like the great singer, Tony Bennett’s handsome nose, you jealous jerks.”
Now, in retrospect – 20-20 hindsight is great, isn’t it? – I should have paid attention to the warning signs. I knew Pete smoked pot on and off the job. He looked like he lost weight, particularly around his face. His complexion was sallow and his cheeks sunken in a bit. And he had taken to wearing long-sleeved shirts despite this early heat wave. As we pulled from the curb, it must have been 80 degrees out there, but he had on a long-sleeved black shirt and black jeans to match.
We rode around the main drags – Atlantic Avenue, Jamaica Avenue, up and down Lefferts Boulevard, listening to DJ Alan Freed play the top rock ‘n roll hits of the day, but there were not many girls wandering around at this time of night. Pete took to the back streets and lowered the radio just as Bye, Bye, Love by the Everly Brothers came on. He turned the radio even lower as he headed east, in and out of residential areas, driving slowly, and checking out the houses. I said, “Looking for somebody you know? A house number?”
“Uh, no,” he said, and I could see the sweat beading on his face. He kept cruising through these residential neighborhoods, and I wondered what the hell was going on. I mean if there were no chicks on the main drags, there certainly wouldn’t be any lurking behind trees in these dark places. All of a sudden he said, “Yeah, that’s it!”
I had no idea what “it” was and Pete continued driving to the next intersection, turned the corner, and parked half way down the block. “Get out,” he said. “Let’s go.”
I opened the door saying, “Go where?” as he reached across and grabbed something out of the glove box. Holy shit! It was a gun. One of those shiny, chrome-plated revolvers the bad guys pull out in the gangster movies. “Pete, what the hell is going on?”
“Noonz, we’re going to rip off a house. I gotta get money – right away.”
“Don’t do this, Pete. Here let me give you all I got.”
“Thanks pal, but whatever it is, it ain’t enough. I need a lot of dough – now.”
“But, why –”
“Noonz, I’m hooked. I owe two of my suppliers over a hundred bucks each. They cut me off. I need a fix bad. I gotta pay them off and have enough left to buy more dope. Now let’s go.”
“Where are we going?”
“Around the corner I spotted a house with a front screen door without a solid inside door closed behind it. They probably left it that way because of the heat. Listen, this will be easy. I know people will be in there sleeping, but this way we’ll be sure to find the loot. Money and jewelry are all I’m interested in.”
We turned the corner, and still hoping to talk him out of this insane idea, I said, “Pete, how about detox?”
He turned the gun toward me as if I had never spoken and said, “I’ll cut the screen and unlock the door. We’ll go right to the master bedroom. You switch on the lights, and we’ll wake them up. When they see this gun pointed at them they’ll willingly tell us where their stuff is. You collect it all, and then we beat feet. Five minutes is all we need. In and out fast.”
“No way, Pete. I ain’t doing this,” I said loudly.
“Shut up!” he screamed, bringing the gun up and pointing it right at my face. His hand was shaking, and sweat was dripping off his chin. I stared down that big hole in the barrel and felt my legs weaken. “You will do this, Joey, or so help me God I’ll kill you right here.”
It seemed I had no choice as he urged me forward. We had no masks and there were a lot of things that could go wrong, but I was afraid for my life. Pete had convinced me he was in such a condition that he would shoot me – his friend. “Okay, Pete,” I said. “Calm down.” I desperately hoped no one would be in that house, or if there were people in there this theft would go as easily as Pete said it would go.
“Here it is,” he whispered as we climbed up the steps of the front stoop. He took out a box cutter and slit the screen next to the lock. He reached in and unlocked the latch on the door and we crept inside. No masks? No gloves, either. Pete must have been in a bad way not to have given this caper any rational planning. He took a small penlight from his front pocket, at least he thought of something, and panned it around the room.
We headed around the corner to a hallway where the bedrooms probably were. All the doors were wide open, and the first one was the master as a brief view inside with the penlight showed. The glimpse was enough to reveal two sleeping people in the bed. Pete whispered, “Feel for the light switch on the wall.”
It was not on the first side I tried, but I located it on the opposite side. My fingers were wet with sweat and shaking badly. All of me was shaking badly. “Turn on the light, Noonz,” he whispered, “I’ll take it from here.”
I switched on the light as Pete walked to the foot of the bed and yelled, “Don’t move or I’ll kill you both!”
As he was saying that, the guy started coming up from his side of the bed, the left side facing us, and his right arm began to rise. His hand held a small dark gun. The room came alive with deafening gunshots, the bullets whizzing back and forth in the confined space. Neither shooter could possibly miss they were so close together. I don’t know who got off the first shot, but I think Pete and the guy got hit simultaneously. The woman suddenly sat up and Pete turned the gun on her – one shot. Then he turned back, shooting at the guy who let two more go, one of which hit me in the arm. Pete turned back to the woman and shot her again. Then he dropped the gun and said, “Oh, Joey,” and fell to the floor.
I didn’t stick around to help anybody. I assumed all three of them were dead. I mean blood was spurting out everywhere, like in the movies. Everything had gone so fast, and now I was in full panic mode. I hustled out of the bedroom trying to close the door on that horrible sight. The copper-penny smell of fresh blood mixed with a flowery smell of body powder or perfume deep in my lungs sickened me. As I turned to run for the front door I heard it – loud and piercing over the deafness and ringing in my ears caused by the loud gunshots – the sound of a baby crying coming from down the hall.
Oh, my God, what have I done?