Welcome to the free preview page for Fatal Infraction. Below are the free preview chapters of the new book! Happy reading (and don’t forget to pre-order your kindle edition now!). Paperback, hardcover, and audiobook versions will be available July 15.
You can listen to the “raw” audiobook files by clicking on each chapter below. Note that these files have not been mastered yet for audio quality. Below the audiobook file links you can read the text of chapters 1-3.
Chapter 1 – Team Chemistry
Everyone agreed that Jimmy should not have slept with Nate’s girl. Within the team, some things were out of bounds. As the quarterback and leader of the offense, Jimmy should have known better – or at least kept it a secret. Nobody was surprised when it blew up.
Nate Bedford, a five-year veteran wide receiver, was nearly dressed when Jimmy Rydell strolled into the locker room at the practice facility. A dozen players lounged in the comfy chairs in front of the video game consoles, shouting at the screens and at each other. A dozen more were in various stages of undressing or dressing. They were halfway through their three weeks of voluntary spring practices. Jimmy was accompanied by four offensive linemen who had been lifting weights with him after the organized drills ended. Jimmy’s shirtless upper body glistened with sweat, emphasizing each cut in the dark muscle of his chiseled physique.
“Lookin’ good, Jimmy,” linebacker Billy Davis called out as he wagged a finger at the quarterback.
Nate nudged Austin Riley, a rookie free agent who was trying to make the team. “Look at that. Showin’ off. There’s more to life than muscles.” Riley smartly said nothing and turned away.
Jimmy took two steps toward Nate, holding his workout jersey in his left hand. “Some people prefer some muscle instead of your skinny white ass. I know Candi does.”
“You shut yer mouth!” Nate’s Louisiana accent always became more pronounced the angrier he got. He took a stride toward Jimmy, fire in his eyes. A large arm, belonging to the all-pro center Kevin Mahwah, reached out and blocked him momentarily.
“Keep a lid on it, Nate.”
While Nate stopped, Jimmy kept walking. Five feet of carpet and one low wooden dressing bench separated them. “You got a problem with me? Huh, Nate?”
“You’re damn right! Somebody’s gotta teach you some respect.”
“You want a piece of me?” Jimmy flung his jersey to the floor and held up a hand, gesturing for Nate to step forward.
Nate showed off his cat-quick reflexes by stepping onto the bench and launching himself toward Jimmy in the same motion. As a quarterback, Jimmy was accustomed to large men hell-bent on his destruction assaulting him. He took a quick half-step back, planted his left leg, and landed a right jab dead center on Nate’s nose before the two athletes went tumbling to the floor in a knot of arms and legs.
Nate was an inch taller than Jimmy, but leaner and lighter. When Jimmy rolled on top of him, a dazed and bleeding Nate had no chance of gaining the upper hand. Jimmy delivered two sets of right-left combination punches to the side of Nate’s face before a gang of teammates grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him off.
Nate struggled to his feet, a stream of blood from his nose covering the front of his face, neck and white polo shirt. As he gained his balance, he spewed a torrent of expletives and lunged toward Jimmy, but two large pairs of arms held him back. “You bastard! You don’t touch Candi again, ya hear me?! I’ll kill you! I’ll cut your dick off!”
Everyone in the locker room was silent as the two men stared at each other across ten feet of empty space. Nate had caught nine touchdown passes from Jimmy the prior season and the team was counting on him to be their primary deep threat in the season ahead. Chemistry between a quarterback and a wide receiver was both essential and fragile. This wasn’t good. But it was private. What happened inside the locker room stayed between the players. That was an unwritten rule. Of course, so was the rule about not sleeping with other players’ girlfriends.
Jimmy shrugged off the hands that were lightly restraining him and waved dismissively toward his most reliable receiver. “Candi’s all yours.”
“Yer damn right she is!”
Jimmy walked away toward the showers, accompanied by three of the offensive linemen with whom he had entered. Everyone else exhaled and returned to the normal buzz of conversation, now a bit more hushed. Someone tossed Nate a white towel, which was quickly stained red as he attempted to wipe the blood off his face and shirt. He said nothing, but glared at Jimmy’s back until the quarterback rounded a corner of green-tinted marble tile and disappeared from view.
Every player in the room had an opinion about Jimmy – and about Nate. Most were worried that the two teammates might not be able to put this incident, or their underlying conflicts, behind them in order to move forward on the field. None of them imagined it would be the last time they saw Jimmy alive.
Jimmy Rydell Found Murdered
By Dexter Peacock, Sr. Correspondent
and Kristi Olson, Staff Writer
June 1, 2019 12:15 p.m. ET
Jimmy Rydell, Heisman Trophy winner and number one overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, was found dead today, the victim of an apparent murder. Rydell’s naked body was discovered this morning on the carousel in Central Park. A spokesperson for the NYPD would say only that the investigation is underway and no suspects have yet been identified.
In January of 2017, Rydell led the Mississippi State University Bulldogs to an unexpected SEC championship. Rydell’s record-setting 43 touchdown passes earned him both the Heisman Trophy and the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s top quarterback.
Before his first professional season, Rydell was involved in several off-field incidents, including a fight with security officers in a New York nightclub and an arrest for driving while intoxicated in New Jersey. He became a controversial figure when he took a knee during the singing of the national anthem prior to the opening game of the 2018 season, despite a league directive that all players should stand. Rydell was fined, (but not suspended) for the incident, and continued to display his support for the Black Lives Matter movement on and off the field. A knee injury ended his rookie year after eleven games, in which the team went 5-6.
Rydell’s 2018 season was similarly marred by off-field incidents, culminating with his embarrassing arrest in a Manhattan strip club after he shot himself in the foot with a registered gun. He later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor weapons charges, for which he was serving a period of probation and public service at the time of his death. Rydell returned for the last three games of the 2018 season, winning only one of those games, but playing well. In a recent interview, team General Manager Chip O’Meara said he was optimistic going into the 2019 season with Rydell at quarterback.
Last May, Rydell was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor when he and actress Brenda Cooper were filmed swimming in the fountain in Central Park near Columbus Circle at 2:00 a.m.
Team owner Woody O’Meara said in a statement this morning that the entire organization is shocked and saddened by the tragic death of their quarterback. “Despite his troubles off the field and his injuries, Jimmy Rydell was a young man of tremendous character and amazing talent who will be missed by everyone in our locker room and front office.”
Since the end of the 2018 season, rumors have circulated linking Rydell and two other New York players to a league-wide investigation into possible point shaving. Rydell had declined to comment on the rumors and the league denies that there is any ongoing investigation. However, inside sources told The New York Times that federal agents are working on the case and that involved individuals linked to the Gallata crime family are under investigation. A spokesperson for the NYPD declined to comment on the existence of a link between the Rydell murder and the ongoing federal probe.
Funeral services for Jimmy Rydell will be held at Riverside Church on Thursday, beginning at 3:00 p.m. The team has made a donation of $100,000 in Rydell’s name to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater New York, a charity for which Rydell did substantial fundraising work during his troubled time in New York City. Mr. O’Meara will also match all donations from fans up to an additional $100,000. Fans are urged to make donations via the link on the NFL’s website: http://www.NFL.com/JimmyRydell in lieu of sending flowers.
Chapter 2 – Welcome Back
Saturday, June 1, 2019
NYPD HOMICIDE DETECTIVES Mike Stoneman and Jason Dickson sat across from each other in the small conference room on the third floor of their precinct on 94th Street. Captain Edward Sullivan leaned into the pock-marked wood, trying to get his face closer to the chrome speaker box positioned in the middle of the table. Sullivan, whom everyone in the precinct called “Sully,” was growing increasingly impatient with the conversation. His bosses were focused on politics and public relations rather than police work. Sully’s always ruddy face was turning a darker shade of crimson, which Mike and Jason knew from experience was a signal to back off until the pressure released.
Being in the precinct at all on a Saturday was unusual. Being there with Sully, and being on a call with Police Commissioner Earl Ward, was nearly unprecedented. Mike and Jason only worked on a Saturday if they were on a significant case. This one certainly fit the bill. They had not been dispatched to Central Park, where the body was found. Instead, Sully had called and told them to meet him at the precinct. A forensics team was at work in the park, but it was pretty obvious to the responding officers that the body had been dumped there, not killed there.
Mike leaned back in his chair, a notepad on his lap. He wore his usual work outfit of tan slacks, a well-worn blue dress shirt with a conservative striped tie, and his signature navy blue sports jacket. Since it was a Saturday, he was wearing his loafers and he had skipped his morning shave. Mike’s face was placid, but still showed a few more lines than he liked to admit. He stretched his left arm over his head – a remnant from the physical therapy exercises he was still doing daily. He had finished the 22-week program less than a month earlier after having shoulder surgery the prior December. His therapist recommended that he keep up the exercises. He lowered the arm and ran his fingers through his wavy brown hair, which was sprinkled with gray, especially behind his ears. He had just celebrated his fiftieth birthday, but he was in denial concerning the creeping advancement of age.
Jason sat straight up, as always. His six-foot-three muscular frame was as imposing as ever, although he was not wearing his normal pressed suit and crisp-collared shirt. He looked like he had received the call from Sully while out on a sailboat, although he did not sail. His khaki slacks, blue-and-white polo shirt, and dockers were a far cry from his general fashion-plate look. He was the only Black man in the room, and the only Black detective in the Manhattan North homicide division. He stood out in any crowd.
Jason’s left arm was wrapped in an Ace bandage above the elbow. He was still healing from a gunshot wound received two and a half weeks earlier onboard Epic Cruise Lines’ Colossus of the Ocean. The other detectives in the precinct had not stopped ribbing him getting into a gunfight while on a vacation cruise. Jason thought that the trip with his girlfriend Rachel, along with Mike and his recent romance Michelle McNeill, seemed more than two weeks earlier. It had turned out to be less relaxing than they had hoped.
Sully’s face was getting redder by the minute. Jason made eye contact with Mike and shrugged, silently mouthing, “Shit show,” to his partner.
“There’s more press on this than on the royal wedding,” Kimberly Williams said with unmasked anxiety. Williams was the head of communications for Mayor Frederick Douglass. Her job was to make sure the mayor’s media profile was positive and that any public statements from city agencies, including the police department, were politically appropriate.
“I’m not concerned about the damned press!” came the angry voice of Commissioner Ward. “We’ve got a dead athlete, a city full of freaked-out residents, and a ton of evidence that’s getting stale while we sit around and argue about the optics and the publicity angles. Nobody seems to have seen Jimmy since Wednesday, so there’s a big gap to fill here. I want Stoneman and Dickson over at Rydell’s apartment building with a squad of uniforms right now!”
Sully agreed. Mike and Jason sat passively, not speaking. They pretty much knew how this was going to end, so adding their commentary would not shorten the call. After several more minutes of discussion about the pros and cons of letting the NFL’s internal security guys participate in the investigation, Ward finally cut off the conversation, told Williams that he would speak to the mayor directly, and gave Sullivan the order to get his team on the case right away.
Sullivan punched the button to end the phone call. “OK you two, take four uniforms and get over to Rydell’s building.”
Mike stood up, hearing his knees creak. He had been hoping for a relatively quiet first month back to work after their less than restful vacation, and after the excitement of the week before that. The shootout at the Alexander Hamilton Hotel in Brooklyn seemed like a year ago, but it had only been four weeks. Sully and other detectives didn’t want to hear about how exhausted they felt. They refused to believe that six days on a cruise ship with an unlimited premium drink package could have been stressful – the bullet wound in Jason’s triceps notwithstanding.
As they walked out after Sullivan and headed for the stairs down to the street, Jason remarked, “I don’t know how you root for this team.”
Mike shrugged. “It’s genetic. My dad was a big Joe Namath fan. He taught me to chant J-E-T-S before I could say my name. My childhood bedroom was all green and white, with green jet planes hanging from the ceiling. I now consider it to have been child abuse to saddle me with a rooting interest a team that does nothing but break my heart and drive me crazy. But the Gang Green is in my blood.”
Twenty minutes later, Jason parked a nearly new Lincoln Town Car in the loading zone on Riverside Boulevard in front of Park Towers, the sparkling high-rise where Jimmy Rydell lived. The plan was to interview the staff, check out the apartment, and then get over to the team’s practice facility in Florham Park, New Jersey. Team owner Woody O’Meara and his son Chip, the General Manager, had agreed to talk to them as long as they arrived before 4:00. Since they needed a car for the trip to Jersey, they had checked out an unmarked departmental car and drove to 69th Street. A black-and-white squad car pulled in behind them and four uniformed officers piled out.
“I could have walked here from my apartment,” Mike grumbled as he climbed out the passenger door.
“Then you would have missed that enjoyable meeting.”
Mike couldn’t suppress a chuckle. “Alright. Let’s get this done efficiently. There’s a uniform upstairs securing the apartment, right?”
“That’s what Berkowitz said. They sent one over as soon as they found the body.”
Mike knew that homicide detective Steve Berkowitz was a detail man. He had no doubt that the apartment was secure. Whether it was a crime scene remained to be seen. “How long do you figure it will take us to get to Jersey later?”
Jason stepped aside for a man emerging from the building, walking two Golden Retrievers. “Might take an hour. The later we start, the longer it’ll take.”
A doorman in full uniform, including white gloves, held the glass-and-chrome door for Mike and Jason and welcomed them to Park Towers. The uniformed officers stayed outside. Mike had given them instructions to interview anyone entering or leaving to see if they knew Jimmy Rydell and if they had seen or heard anything unusual concerning him since Wednesday.
Park Towers was one of a dozen huge apartment buildings that had sprung up like bejeweled mushrooms along Manhattan’s West Side over the past decade. Like the others, it was built on reclaimed parkland between the newly created Boulevard and the Hudson River, with spectacular views of New Jersey. This particular building was closest to the southern end of Riverside Park, which ran from 129th Street all the way down to 72nd Street. The southern end of the park had been refurbished to reflect the developers’ desire to create an instantly upscale neighborhood. They even commissioned a statue and a memorial for Eleanor Roosevelt, which now sat just north of the nearby park entrance.
The two detectives strode across the marble-tiled lobby, flanked by potted palms, and approached an imposing front desk formed from polished blonde wood. Mike flashed his badge and announced that they wanted to speak to the building manager. The desk attendant, in a uniform the same as the doorman’s but without the white gloves, held Mike’s stare without expression. Dealing with celebrities, paparazzi, and police was not an unusual occurrence. The man was dark-skinned, with large, bushy eyebrows. Mike could not put an age estimate on him; somewhere between 35 and 60. He spoke with an Eastern-European accent.
“Is this related to Mr. Rydell?” When Mike nodded, the man, whose nameplate identified him as Cesar Conarrubias, walked through a doorway into a hidden back room without another word.
While they waited, Jason turned to Mike. “Any chance we get the autopsy report before Monday?”
“What makes you think I have any inside information?” Mike deadpanned.
“Oh, I don’t know. I figured maybe somebody who’s sleeping with the ME might be in a position.”
“I haven’t spoken to Michelle,” Mike replied with a smile. “But, knowing how hot this case is, I would expect her to be working the weekend on our dead quarterback. Too bad she doesn’t get overtime like we do.”
Before the discussion could continue, Cesar the deskman returned, followed by a somber-faced man in a pressed business suit. He was a few inches shorter than Mike’s 5’10”, with slicked-back black hair. He spoke to the detectives with a practiced confidence. “Detectives, I’ve been expecting you. I’m Charles Stafford, the building manager. We’re all stunned about Mr. Rydell. We want to fully cooperate. What can I tell you?”
Jason extracted a notebook and pen from his inside pocket. “When was the last time anyone on the staff saw Jimmy?”
“As near as we can tell, the dayside desk attendants recall Mr. Rydell coming in early in the evening on Wednesday. That’s the last time anyone remembers seeing him.”
Jason took down the names of the two men and one woman who were working the lobby on Wednesday. All three of them would be back at work Monday afternoon. Stafford volunteered to get their home addresses and phone numbers if the detectives wanted to speak to them sooner.
Jason then asked Cesar, “He has a reputation for throwing huge parties up there. Is that true?”
“Yes, sir. That is correct, but mostly on weekends. Mr. Rydell has many guests, but many nights he has none.”
“OK.” Jason made a note on his pad. “What about Thursday morning? Were any of you working then?”
Stafford pointed toward the door. “Henry was here. He works Wednesday to Sunday.”
Mike and Jason exchanged a glance, then Mike said to Stafford, “Can somebody else cover the door for a few minutes while we talk to him?”
“Of course,” the manager responded, but he made no move to make it happen.
“Now?” Mike prompted.
“Oh, of course.” He motioned to the other man behind the desk to relieve Henry.
“What’s the security camera set-up?” Jason looked toward the ceiling, scanning for the familiar smoked-glass domes of surveillance cameras, but did not immediately see any.
Stafford smiled and puffed out his chest, then went into what Jason figured was a prepared spiel for prospective tenants and real estate brokers. “We have a state-of-the-art security system here. All the apartment doors are equipped with electronic locks that can be opened with a smartphone app or a key pad or pocket fob, and include a rotating access feature that allows domestic assistants entrance on a scheduled or one-time code. There are automated motion-sensitive security cameras in the common areas and elevators as well as in most hallways. We have 24-hour security in the lobby, and each apartment is equipped with an external door alarm if the door is opened without authorization while the resident is inside.” He finished the confidently delivered recitation, then looked toward the front entrance, where Henry was on his way across the expansive lobby.
“So,” Jason said, waiting for the building manager to look back in his direction, “we should be able to see Jimmy on the security system from the moment he entered the building until he went into his apartment, and then we should be able to see whether he exited the unit or whether anyone else entered, is that right?”
Mike gave his partner a soft elbow to the rib. “Should be the easiest murder investigation in history.”
“Well, actually,” Stafford said hesitantly, lowering his previously proud chin. “Mr. Rydell objected to having a camera in the penthouse vestibule, for privacy reasons.”
“What does that mean, exactly?” Jason asked impatiently.
Mike jumped in to take a stab at a translation before Stafford could equivocate further. “I think it means that there’s no camera between the elevator and Jimmy’s penthouse, is that right?”
“Unfortunately, that’s true.”
“Yeah, figures. Couldn’t be that easy. Alright, we’ll reckon with that when we go upstairs. What about the gym? I understand Jimmy was famous for his middle-of-the-night workouts. Are there cameras there?”
Stafford’s shoulders slumped further. “I’m sorry, Detective, the residents here include a number of celebrities, who don’t want video of themselves sweating in the health club. So, no, there are no cameras in the gym.”
“What about the entrance doors into the health club?” Jason pressed. “There must be security there.”
“Not exactly,” Stafford said slowly. “The health club is accessible only by residents who have already cleared security into the building. For the same reasons the residents don’t want cameras inside the club, there is no video of the residents in their workout clothes entering the spa doors.”
“Great,” Jason sighed. “But there would be video of anyone using the elevator to get to the health club. Where is it? Basement?”
“Yes,” Stafford said quickly. “The health club is on the lower level. If you take the elevator, then you’d be on video.”
“Is there another way to get there besides the elevator?”
The building manager looked pained. “Well, yes. You can access the spa via the fire stairs.”
“Fine,” Jason said, barely hiding his annoyance. “Is the gym open 24 hours?”
“Not generally. Except, well, for Mr. Rydell. We allowed him access any time. He preferred working out alone. He had the code to the door and could get in and out even outside the posted hours of operation.”
“Are there electronic records of when the doors are accessed?”
“No,” Stafford said quickly. “We don’t keep track. There is really no need. And the cleaning staff goes in and out at all hours, using the same code.”
Mike spoke softly in Jason’s direction. “It just keeps getting better and better.”
Jason tried another idea. “What about the apartment doors? You said they were electronic locks. Do you have a record of when the door locks are opened, and by what method?”
“No. The building management does not have that. If a resident used the smartphone app to unlock the door, their phone might record that, but we don’t have it. Again, it’s a privacy issue.”
“Of course it is,” Jason grumbled. “So, we should have him on a camera coming in the building, going into the elevator, and exiting the elevator in his penthouse lobby. But after that we would only have more video of him, or any other record of his activities, if he got back into the elevator. Is that about right?”
“But he couldn’t leave the building without being seen on camera, right?”
By that time, Henry the doorman had made his way over and was standing silently, listening. He reached out his hand to get Jason’s attention. “Unless he left through the service entrance.”
Stafford spun in Henry’s direction, having not realized he was there. The building manager’s face showed extreme displeasure that his underling had spoken out of turn. “Henry, please let me do the speaking to the police.”
“I’d like to hear what this man has to say,” Jason quickly interjected. “You’re Henry, right?”
“Yes, sir.” Henry was a tall, thin Black man in his 50s. His short black hair was neatly cut and his face clean-shaven. Dressed in his doorman uniform, he looked like a butler for a wealthy estate. He spoke with a mild southern accent.
“What was that you were saying about the service entrance?”
“Well, Sir, Mr. Rydell and some of the other residents want to avoid people who hang around the front entrance, looking for autographs or taking photos. They sometimes use the service entrance on the side of the building, or the breezeway, to come and go. There are stores on the street and the breezeway door is often open when deliveries go in and out. Some tenants use that door and take the stairs or the service elevator inside.”
Jason raised an eyebrow. “I’m sure you were aware of that, right, Mr. Stafford?”
“That’s not approved procedure,” he snapped, shooting daggers out of his eyes toward the doorman. “I suppose it could happen, but it is not permitted, strictly speaking.”
“Well, speaking not strictly,” Mike said to Henry, “if I were a resident and I wanted to slip out the service entrance, how would I get there?”
Henry hesitated, looking at his boss nervously. When Jason prompted him, Henry said, “If you use the service elevator, you can get there through the breezeway. Or, you can use the fire stairs that exit to the same place. Or, you could take the back fire stairs that exit directly to the street.”
“Is there a camera in the service elevator?” Jason asked, turning back to Stafford.
“What about in the fire stairs?”
“No, not in the stairwells.”
“What about this breezeway, by the service entrance?”
“Yes – there’s a security officer who sits down there and checks the trucks and deliveries in and out, and there is a camera on that door.”
Jason made a few more notes. “How do you get out of the building from there?”
Henry helpfully piped up, “You can exit through the service doors, if they’re open, or through the fire door.”
“Great. Well, Mr. Stafford, we’re going to need to look at what video you have available. We’ll send over a team to work with your security staff to review the recordings. Have your folks already started looking?”
“No, Detective. I instructed our security team to leave that to the police.”
“Thank you. We appreciate that. We’ll get a team over later today.” Jason then turned to the doorman, who was shifting his weight from side to side nervously. “Henry, Mr. Stafford tells us that you were working Thursday morning, is that right?”
“What happened Thursday morning?”
Henry explained that Jimmy’s routine was to come downstairs around 8:00 a.m. to meet his driver and bodyguard, a man he called “The Duke.” Henry didn’t know The Duke’s last name, or if Duke was actually his first name. All he could say was that The Duke was with Jimmy most of the time. He was always upstairs when Jimmy was having a party, and he drove Jimmy everywhere, including to and from practices across the river in Jersey. But, that Thursday, Jimmy never came down.
“That figures,” Mike mumbled, knowing that Jimmy’s driver’s license had been suspended after a DUI arrest.
“Tiger brought his coffee and bagel, like usual,” Henry said, “and The Duke was there, like usual, but Jimmy wasn’t there.”
“Who’s Tiger?” Mike asked.
“He’s a kid who hangs around. Mr. Rydell likes him. Mr. Rydell gives him money to get him coffee and a bagel every morning. He has a shoe-shine stand and hangs out on the sidewalk during the day. He don’t bother nobody. He’s a nice kid.”
“OK,” Mike said, cutting Henry off, “let’s get back to Jimmy. On Thursday, Jimmy was late, so what happened?”
“The Duke said he would go upstairs to get him, like maybe he slept late or forgot he had a practice. He went upstairs, then came down again, but said that Mr. Rydell was not there. We looked all over for him, called his phone, but couldn’t find him. After a while, The Duke said he’d go to Jersey and see whether Jimmy showed up there. That was about it.”
“Had that ever happened before?”
“No, Sir. Mr. Rydell sometimes went away. He told us about a trip to Las Vegas; that was just before he gave all the doormen a thousand-dollar tip. But he always let us know, so we would hold his packages. And he always told Tiger when he was going to be gone, so he wouldn’t bring his morning coffee. But not this time.”
Mike turned to Jason. “I guess we’ll have to add this Duke guy, and maybe the kid, Tiger, to our list of people we need to talk to. We need to finish up here and then get over to Florham Park, so that’ll have to wait.”
“Let’s get upstairs and see if Jimmy left us any messages.”