Mob “troubleshooter” Kevin Markinson would like to retire from his profession and join his family in New Hampshire — but some jobs are hard to leave behind.
A former Marine sniper who is also a fugitive for a crime he didn’t commit, Kevin soon finds a greater challenge when he returns home and tries to settle down with his wife and two sons… who are little more than strangers. And while his family might not want him back in their lives, his mob bosses can’t seem to do without his services—forcing Kevin to juggle between the dark world of organized crime, his role as a husband and father, and his need to keep one step ahead of the law.
If he can’t, he stands to lose everything — including his freedom.
“An unusual crime novel about what happens after a life of crime: when the killer has aged, when he’s hobbled by multiple old gunshot wounds, when he’s deeply entrenched in habits that accommodate a raging case of post-traumatic stress disorder. Most significantly, this damaged loner has to insinuate himself back into family and social life — tasks for which he has no skills. Lead Poisoning is a character study, not just of Kevin, but also of his wife and two sons, and each person’s hard struggle to move closer to something like family.” — Rae Francoeur, Cape Ann Beacon
“The reader cannot help but root for this family. Parts of their lives are familiar and routine; basketball games, school board meetings, shopping for a new car, passing a driver’s license exam, a poignant afternoon at a family funeral. But (and the reader knows from the first page that there will be a ‘but’) Kevin cannot easily let go of his past life.Whether this family can make it into a secure future is the chief question of the book.” — Woodstock Pickett, Crimespree Magazine
Kevin Markinson liked his routine. Wake up at ten. Stretch out the kinks with some tai chi. Shower, shave, dress. Breakfast at his favorite Whitestone bakery.
“Morning.” The black-haired man behind the counter handed over a black coffee and a plain doughnut.
Kevin nodded and paid. He grabbed a copy of the Wall Street Journal out of the rack and slid into a booth, facing the front door. Before he settled down with his paper, he opened his wallet to the pictures of his family and studied them. He put it away and scanned the store. The place was empty; it always was at this time of day. That was one of the reasons Kevin came here.
The morning crowd had long since gone to work, and Demetrios Mitropoulos, the owner of the bakery, didn’t make lunch. Kevin had been coming here on and off for at least fifteen years. Demetrios’s accent had pretty much disappeared through the years, but his hair remained as dark as it was the day Kevin had first wandered in, drawn by the smell of fresh coffee.
Today was Wednesday, which meant that Tony Masiello would be in to pick up the paper bag he came for every week. Two cream puffs on top of a certain amount of cash. Kevin wasn’t sure of the amount, but he was sure the cash was there. It wasn’t part of his responsibility to make sure that Demetrios paid the money or Tony collected the money, but he watched the transaction every week just the same. Tony knew him. Kevin knew that, but Tony never acknowledged him. Even if he had, Kevin would have ignored him. Kevin didn’t want Demetrios to know that he knew what was going on.
Tony had been doing this same thing every Wednesday for as long as Kevin had been coming here. Tony was starting to show his age; he had to be over seventy, and he was slowing down. Kevin wondered why he didn’t send somebody else on this errand, somebody younger.
Tony came through the door at eleven. Kevin glanced up from the paper, met his eyes for a moment, and saw something unusual there. He set the paper down to watch the interaction between Tony and Demetrios, wondering what was wrong with Tony. Tony turned away from the counter and met Kevin’s gaze again, looking away in a hurry. There were beads of sweat on his face, unusual in the cold weather. Kevin watched as he turned and headed out the door.
Just outside the bakery were two large kids, maybe eighteen, nineteen years old. They were dressed in the popular gangsta style—baggy pants, huge jackets, and bandanas on their heads in a color that Kevin associated with a gang. He had no clue what gang; he was too old and out of the loop to have any knowledge of that sort of nonsense, but something in the back of his mind told him there was a connection there. Two gang members, hanging around this neighborhood on the day when Tony just happened to be making his rounds? Did they know the old man would be carrying cash?
Tony stepped away from the kids, Kevin watched them crowd him, and he got to his feet and pulled on his jacket and gloves.
“See ya around,” Kevin said to Demetrios.
“Yes, sir,” the man responded, craning his neck to look outside as well. The glass windows of the bakery were a bit foggy, but not so much as to block the view. Kevin zipped up his jacket, put on his sunglasses, and closed his right hand on his Colt 1911. Then he shouldered the door open and limped into the chill.
The two teens backed up as though joined at the hip. Kevin could read confusion in their eyes as he glanced from face to face. One kid was white with brown hair peeking out from under his rag, the other Hispanic with rough dreadlocks. The first kid had the paper bag in his hand, and the second kid had something hidden under his jacket.
Kevin saw the flash of a blade and had the Colt out in an instant, backpedaling as he drew the weapon, putting some distance between himself and the knife.
The kid turned pale so fast that his tanned skin took on a grayish tinge and Kevin thought he might faint. The knife clanged to the ground. The other kid shifted his gaze from Kevin to Tony, hesitated, then turned and ran, still holding the money.
“Jesus, don’t fucking shoot me, man.”
The boy started to blubber and Kevin thought he was in danger of pissing all over his boots. This kid looked over at Tony, too, confusing Kevin for a moment. Why were they acting as if they needed Tony’s permission?
Kevin put the safety on and tucked the gun away.
“Go on, get out of here. Don’t let me catch you in my neighborhood again.”
As the youngster scurried off as fast as his huge, untied shoes allowed, Kevin heard an exhalation of breath and realized he’d forgotten that Tony was even there.
Kevin shot him an angry look. “You need to get someone to come with you or get someone else to do this. You could have been killed by those idiots, all for whatever little bit of cash was in that bag with your creampuffs.”
Tony was staring at him with his mouth hanging open. Kevin could see the wheels turning in the old man’s head and imagine what Tony wanted to say. But he also figured that Tony didn’t have the balls to say it. Sure enough, Tony just closed his mouth and turned to his car. Kevin watched him drive off, shook his head, and glanced back at the bakery. Demetrios was staring at him like he’d grown an extra eye. Great.
His hands were shaking, and he shoved them in his pockets. He took deep breaths, wanting a cigarette, but he waited to get to his car first.
He lit a Camel. It wasn’t easy, but he got it lit and sat there for a few minutes, breathing smoke.
Kevin parked in the lot down the street from his boss’s place of business and picked his way along the icy sidewalk. Glancing up at the abandoned building across the street, he looked for something that would tell him if it was safe here. Nothing to be seen, no reflections off camera lenses, no fogged-up glass where there shouldn’t be. He tugged open the heavy metal door marked “Aces Wild Social Club—Private—Members Only” and stepped out of the cold into the warm, smoky darkness.
The first floor had no windows at all, just a few lights along the walls above the small tables. The back of the room featured wooden stools in front of a long, wooden bar. The man behind the bar was polishing it with a soft, white rag, rubbing circles of wax into the surface. He looked up as Kevin came in, but didn’t say anything.
Kevin settled himself on a stool. The bartender set a cup of coffee on a coaster in front of him just as Justin Stewart sat down beside him.
“Is the man up there?” Kevin lifted his chin towards the ceiling.
“I need to talk to him.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Justin came back in five minutes, just as Kevin was draining the last of the coffee from the mug.
Kevin ground out the Camel, got to his feet, and followed Justin up the narrow stairs to the second floor.
Charles got to his feet and came around the desk, right hand extended.
Kevin shook his hand and nodded, then turned to the heavy leather couch. He watched as Charles sat back down behind the desk and smoothed his black hair back into perfection. Then he leaned back into the deep couch cushions.
“What can I do for you?”
“Tony Masiello got himself into trouble today.” Kevin relayed the story, emphasizing Tony’s inability to deal with the threat.
“You think this is a real problem, or do you think the kids are gone?”
“I don’t know. I just think Tony needs somebody watching him or needs to retire somewhere warm.”
Charles nodded, rubbing his chin. “I’ll look into it. Is there anything else?”
Kevin got to his feet. “No, sir.”
Kevin sat at the bar again in front of the TV, which was playing some sort of special news bulletin. Forty-one shots fired at an unarmed man. He got the gist of it, that an African immigrant had been killed by four undercover police officers in the Bronx, and riots were breaking out all over the city. He wondered if it would be a problem out here in Queens. The cops would be on edge, which wouldn’t be good for him.
He turned around as the door opened and Tony Masiello stepped into the dark room. The man stood for a moment, unbuttoning his long, wool coat. Tony stopped about three feet in front of Kevin, looking around the room. “You need to learn to mind your own business.”
Kevin narrowed his eyes. “Last time I checked, we both worked for the same guy. That makes it my business.”
Tony shook his head. “This had nothing to do with you, and now I get a phone call saying the boss wants to see me. Did you run straight to him, tell him what happened?” The old man took a step forward. “What are you, a rat?”
Kevin got off the stool, put his hand on his weapon. “What did you say?”
Tony blanched. “Mind your own fucking business.” He turned and headed for the stairs.
Kevin eyed the bartender, who looked at the floor.
When Tony came back down, he left without even looking at Kevin. Close on his heels came Justin.
“He wants to talk to you.”
Kevin sat on the couch, looking at a map of Europe that he wasn’t sure was there the last time he was here.
“So Tony is a bit angry with you.”
“You know he’s a made guy.”
“Yes, sir.” Kevin understood the implication. He could never be a made guy, he wasn’t even Italian. Tony had been around a lot longer than he had and was higher in the pecking order, even if he was an old man.
“You need to lay low for a while.”
“Didn’t your wife and kids move somewhere up north? New Hampshire, maybe?”
Kevin didn’t have an answer for that. He looked over at Justin, who wouldn’t look at him. Brought his attention back to his boss.
“You should go visit them for a while. Okay?” Charles got up and came around the desk. “Take a break, sort of a vacation. Just until Tony cools off. Let me talk to him, figure this out.”
Kevin swallowed. “Understood.”