Excerpts from Doppelgangster
(January 2010, DAW Books)
All excerpts © Laura Resnick 2009
While waiting tables in Little Italy between acting jobs, Esther Diamond witnesses a
mob hit, which circumstance draws her into a dangerous world of guns,
gangsters, mysteriously appearing-and-disappearing doppelgangers, and
an unusually devious enemy of great mystical power.
Semi-retired hit-man Lucky Battistuzzi asked me, "Did Charlie say anything to you before he got whacked?"
I nodded. "In fact, he said a lot."
"He had problems? He knew something was up?"
"He knew he was going to die," I said. "He said he'd been cursed, he'd been marked for death."
"Hmm. Marked for death?" Lucky nodded. "Go on."
"He talked about la morte—"
"He talked Italian?" Lucky stiffened, as if the use of Italian made the situation doubly serious.
"A little. La morte was the only part I understood. Oh, and something about a dope."
"Um... a doppio?"
"Doppio." Lucky frowned, puzzled. "A double?"
"Yes! He kept babbling about a double."
Lucky asked me, "What about a double?"
I thought back. At the time, I'd been convinced Charlie was having a medical or psychotic episode, and I'd been more concerned with trying to get help than with listening to him.
"I don't know... He said something about the Evil Eye," I said.
Lucky clutched the pew in front of us. "The Evil Eye?"
"I thought it sounded silly, but he—"
"Hah! Don't mock the Evil Eye, kid."
"He said he'd seen his perfect double. That it looked, walked, and talked like him. I thought he had looked at a mirror and had a hallucination, but he insisted it was real. He said that he'd looked into its eyes, that it had spoken to him, and so now he was marked for death. I know it sounds crazy..." I spread my hands.
Lucky rubbed his jaw as he thought it over. I noticed he needed a shave. "But is it crazy?"
"Well, something was certainly affecting his brain," I said. "Remember how strangely he behaved the other night? The night he came back to the restaurant and acted..." The memory suddenly hit me in a completely different light. "Acted as if..."
Our eyes met.
"As if," Lucky said, "he hadn't been to dinner yet."
"Hadn't asked me to sing for him," I said. "Hadn't been inside the restaurant at all yet."
"As if he was..."
A chill crept through me. "A different Charlie."
"A second Charlie," Lucky said.
"Charlie's perfect double." It took me a moment to realize my jaw was hanging open. "My God, Lucky, we saw him! It? Er, the double."
He nodded. "The same night we saw Charlie."
"So which one of them was the real Charlie?" I wondered. "And which was the double?"
"I dunno. They both looked like Charlie to me."
"And they both behaved exactly like Charlie," I said.
"But one was a fake. A ringer."
"Why?" I wondered. "And how?"
"And where the hell did it come from?"
"That was the last thing Charlie said before he died," I recalled. "That he didn't know who had sent it."
Lucky thought it over. "So did Charlie's double whack him?"
"Wouldn't someone have seen it? Charlie's double was every bit as big as Charlie, after all."
"Yeah, that's another problem we got. If the double was the hitter, did it become invisible or something?"
Wondering just how big a can of worms I was opening, I said, "I know someone we should talk to about this."
"Not your boyfriend," Lucky said firmly.
"No," I said. "Definitely not him." Lopez might have me locked up in a padded cell if he knew what I was planning to do. "Lucky, I'd like to introduce you to Max."
I decided to just tell Lopez the truth. "Lucky shot up Max's place. "
When Lopez planted his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands, I decided that maybe honesty wasn't the best policy after all.
"What were you doing with Lucky Battistuzzi this morning?" he asked, head still in hands. "No, wait, that's not my first question. My first question is, what was Lucky doing at Max's? No, wait—" He lifted his head and scowled at me. "What were you doing at Max's?"
"On a scale of one-to-ten," I said, "how important are these questions?"
"What?" he snapped.
"I mean, what did you come here to talk to me about?"
He looked dumbfounded. "You drop a bombshell like that—telling me you spent the morning watching a notorious Gambello hit man shooting up the home of a guy who you know I think is crazy and probably a danger to you—"
"Max isn't crazy," I said patiently, "and he's certainly not dangerous."
"—and you expect me to remember what I came here to talk about?"
"I didn't realize the truth would upset you this much," I said.
"Max is bad enough," he said in appalled tones, "but Lucky Battistuzzi? Don't you realize how dangerous it is to hang out with him?"
"Don't worry, I took away his gun," I said, thinking this would soothe my concerned suitor.
Lopez's eyes bulged. "You took away Lucky Battistuzzi's gun?"
"Actually, I guess Max took it away," I said, recalling the spell which had briefly transformed it into a winged bat. I decided not to mention the details. "But I hid it. So Lucky doesn’t have it anymore.
"He has plenty more of them," Lopez said tersely. He shook his head as if trying to clear it. "Why were you with him in the first place?"
"He wanted to know what I could remember about Charlie's death."
"You shouldn't be talking to him about that!" Lopez exploded. "It's a police matter!"
"I know," I said, "but Lucky and Charlie were... Well, I guess 'friends' would be a wild exaggeration."
"For all you know, Lucky was questioning you on behalf of the killer!" Lopez said in exasperation. "To see if they need to get rid of you!"
Vinny said, "So about an hour passes. I'm stocking the shelves, and then... BOOM!"
I jumped a little.
"Shotgun blast," Lucky said. "Always loud."
"I didn't know what it was at the time," Vinny said. "I just knew it sounded like a cannon and had come from the cellar. So I went downstairs. There's only one way in or out of that cellar, and no one had gone past me. So I figured that one of Danny's Glocks had gone off."
"Semi-automatics can be a little jumpy," Lucky said with a nod.
Vinny continued, "I wanted to make sure Danny hadn't shot himself by accident—or, you know, shot a two hundred dollar bottle of wine. I called to him through the door a few times, but that didn't work, of course. That door is pretty thick."
"It's why Danny chose the place," Lucky said.
"But I was worried when he didn't open it and tell me that everything was okay, that he'd just misfired by accident. So I keyed in the combination to unlock the door, and I opened it." Vinny was shaking as he crossed himself. "As God is my witness, this is the truth. What was left of Danny was lying there in a pool of blood. His face was all gone, his chest was blown to bits, his skull was splattered—"
"The lady don't need so many details," Lucky said.
"Oh. No. Sorry, miss," Vinny said. "I'm real shook up, you know?"
"Of course," I said.
"And his Glocks..." Vinny shook his head. "Danny's guns were still in their holsters, fully loaded. Untouched."
I glanced at Lucky for confirmation.
"They ain't been fired," Lucky said. "Danny didn't get a shot off."
"I don't understand," I said. "How did the killer get past Vinny, unseen, and then through a locked steel door? And then how did he vanish so quickly? With a shotgun?"
Shaking like a leaf, Vinny started weeping. "Sorry. It's nerves. Just nerves." He wiped his streaming eyes. "Danny was my cousin, but to be honest, I didn't like him. Not enough to cry over his body, anyhow. But what the hell is going on here?"
Lucky looked at me. "This doppelgangster business is getting to be a real pain in the ass."
If actress Esther Diamond, the heroine of Doppelgangster, kept a diary, it might read something like this...
It's been two weeks since the off-Broadway musical Sorcerer! closed and I, as a result, began "resting"—which means I'm waiting tables 50 hours per week at Bella Stella, a restaurant in Little Italy.
Detective Connor Lopez, who might become my boyfriend if we could find time to work in a few dates between my busy schedule as an out-of-work actress and his overtime hours as a New York City cop, is worried about me working at Stella's. There have been two Mafia hits at the restaurant in the past five years, so he thinks it's not safe for me to be there.
But, to be honest, the money is good—wiseguys tip well. Besides, I'm only working there until I get my next job—a real job, i.e. an acting job. I'm calling my agent daily in search of auditions.
Anyhow, the only "dangerous" thing I've seen so far at Stella's is Chubby Charlie Chiccante, a wiseguy who's behaving so strangely, it's almost as if he's two different people (both of whom have a foul-mouthed personality and a gargantuan appetite). I can't explain Charlie's behavior—though mental illness seems like a safe guess.
Things have gotten a little weird.
It turns out that, unbeknownst to anyone, Chubby Charlie did indeed become two different—yet completely identical—people. Now one of them, the real Charlie, is dead. And we can't account for the other one. Whatever that thing is, it has disappeared, as if it never existed. But it did exist—I know, because I met it. How's that for creepy? Anyhow, one thing we know for sure is that Charlie saw his perfect double shortly before he was murdered.
By "we," I mean me, Lucky Battistuzzi, who's a semi-retired hit man for the Gambello crime family, and Dr. Maximillian Zadok. Max is Manhattan's resident sorcerer and local representative of the Magnum Collegium, a secret, worldwide organization whose mission is to confront Evil (yes, really). Lucky couldn't stand Charlie, but since Charlie was a "made" guy, a "button man," a Gambello soldier, Lucky has to find out who whacked him and do something about it.
Charlie babbled a lot of strange stuff about the Evil Eye and being cursed by his own perfect double right before he died. Lucky takes this very seriously.
And since Charlie was murdered right in front of me, while I was serving him a plate of pasta al forno at Bella Stella, I'm taking it pretty seriously, too. Okay, I didn't like Charlie, but I didn't want to watch him die.
Anyhow, since the manner of Charlie's murder is strange and mysterious, I decided that Lucky and I had better consult Max, who's a 350-year-old expert on strange and mysterious events. And Max thinks it sounds as if Charlie saw his doppelgänger—a perfect double that portends the duplicated person's imminent death.
Lopez, however, thinks Charlie was whacked out by a rival Mafia family, and that this hit signals the start of a mob war. He also thinks that since I witnessed the hit, I'm in danger and should go into protective custody.
But I'm wondering how the cops plan to protect me from an invisible assassin who can shoot bullets around corners?
I seem to be trapped in the middle of a classical tragedy in which everyone—including me—will wind up dead by the final curtain.
By now, several more doppelgängers—or, as the wiseguys are calling them, doppelgangsters—have been spotted, and three more mobsters are dead. Like Charlie, they were whacked out in mysterious ways that the cops can't explain, and they died soon after seeing their own perfect doubles.
Max is searching for a solution, and Lucky's trying to prevent a full-scale mob war from breaking out. I've tried to explain the truth to Lopez, so he can work effectively against this menace, but he clearly thinks I've gone insane. Meanwhile, I can't believe what's just happened...