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Walking After Midnight

Reporter Max Darenow's life was on the rebound. He’s on leave from his job as a tabloid reporter, house-sitting in the Hamptons and planning a novel. More important is winning back the love of Denise Overton, the beautiful art photographer whose trust he lost when his career hit the skids on Manhattan's fast track. Until the phone rings and Darenow receives the first half of a one-two punch that changes his life: Denise is dead. Her body was found in a vacant lot, and the cops have written it off as a routine overdose.

But Darenow knows something the cops don't know: Denise hated drugs, and the circumstances of her death are far more sinister than they seem. The second blow comes in the mail: Denise sent Max a letter the day she died, and now her own words become Darenow's most valuable clue.

Darenow races back to his old city beat. From the hip SoHo arts scene to transvestite bars, from police headquarters to multi-million-dollar triplexes on Park Avenue, he plumbs the decaying depths of the Big Apple. He bounces from the suspiciously high-toned Wately family and their well-connected Washington friends, to dangerous liaisons with Italian and Latino mobsters, from a pair of transsexual beauty queens, to deputy police commissioners and street wise homicide detectives. As one reviewer put it: “Nusser spins out a frenzy of complications, providing something for everyone: cocaine, mob wars, a CIA cover-up of covert operations and money laundering, sleazeball journalism, and incest among the rich and famous.”

Excerpts from Walking After Midnight

from Chapter One

I'm not one of those people who think life is beautiful. I imagine it could be, if you had loads of money and a clear conscience. Experience tells me that's rare. Life is a coincidental journey from womb to tomb, riddled with meaningless work and unfulfilled desire, ending in death. There have been times when I've lapsed into a less jaundiced frame of mind, but something always happens to restore my basic belief in man's inhumanity to man. Greed, stupidity, ignorance and lust rule the planet while mankind dreams of heaven, its mind in the gutter, its eyes on the stars.

Luck plays its part. We swing through life on a rope we weave for ourselves. If we're lucky it's a pendulum ride; if the knot slips it's a noose. I was lucky. I stuck my neck out but I managed to grab the rope before the knot slipped. A woman I loved wasn't so lucky. She was exploring the wild side of life when it happened. She was an artist. She was an innocent victim of a society so corrupt that blame can only be apportioned, never fixed. I miss her terribly. Thereby hangs this tale.

It all started on a crisp, clear Monday morning in December. I was house sitting, holed up in a secluded, 100-year-old stone “cottage” on the sandy cliffs of Montauk, Long Island, 125 miles east of Sodom and Gomorrah, AKA Manhattan. The owner of the property, a friend of a friend, had reluctantly put the place up for sale because the sea had clawed huge chunks from the base of the cliffs, imperiling the foundation of the house, which was built as a rich man’s hunting lodge during America’s Gilded Age.

from Chapter 13

Manhattan mornings are not made for late sleepers and open windows. The town is concrete and steel, anchored in a slab of glacial granite stretching from the Bronx to the Battery. A big tuning fork, muffled in asphalt. The racket starts with hundreds of tons of steel sliding against steel, screeching through tiled subway tunnels. It provokes a subterranean groan that reverberates upward through miles of cable, conduit, cast iron pipe, and the steel skeletons of skyscrapers. Scramble that with the whine of a few million cars, trucks, and diesel buses rumbling over a roadbed of Belgian granite paving stones, add the ear-piercing wail of ambulance, police, and fire sirens, the jarring rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat of pneumatic air hammers, the grinding clatter of mechanized garbage trucks, the grating roar of jet engines, and the tread of seven or eight million pairs of shoes on sidewalks, stairs, and hallways and you have some idea of Gotham's noise level.

The din starts around five-thirty A.M. when the trucks labor in from the suburbs and the buses and subways start running every fifteen minutes, then ten, then five. After a while you don't notice it unless you've just come from a place where the only sound is the wind in the pines and waves on the beach.

The clock said it was 6:15 when I opened my eyes to look. I knew I wasn't going to be able to get back to sleep so I got up and boiled water for coffee. I sat in the kitchen, drank it black, and browsed through a copy of Vanity Fair Ms. Dixie Cupps left behind. The rich and famous seemed to have lots of fun, even while out on bail. It was forty-five minutes before I felt bold enough to face the shaving mirror.

I was dragging a dull blade over an aching jaw when the phone rang. It was Ethel Wately, early riser, former debutante, and still eligible beauty.

"I called your paper, Mr. Darenow. They said you were working at home. Am I disturbing you?" She asked with confidence, as if it were noon.

"Not at all," I said warily.

"I won't be a minute," she said, her tone growing warmer. "We buried Jaime yesterday. I've had some time to sit down and think. I want you to know how much I sympathize with your loss."

I stammered my thanks but couldn't think of anything else to say.

"I'm hosting a small gathering in New York, Mr. Darenow," she said cosily. "Saturday night. Will you come? Just some old, very dear friends. I think you'll find it interesting."

I was nonplussed. Beguiled might have been a better word. The old brain alarm was trilling, somewhere deep in my cranium, but I ignored it. Don't be a fool, Darenow, a voice in my head answered. You may never have another chance like this.

"I'd be glad to come," I sputtered.

"Good," she replied evenly. "Come around seven o'clock. I'm looking forward to seeing you there."

"Yes . . ." I said, still trying to form a gracious reply.

"Oh," she added brightly, "you may want to bring your notepad." "My notepad?"

"You can never tell," she said amusingly. "Well, good-bye. See you then."

She placed the receiver very gently on its hook.

All right. Cocktails with Ethel Wately? Who in his right mind could refuse? But why the notebook? I was sorry the invitation carried a professional caveat.

So what? Ethel had to keep up appearances, didn't she? It made the razor feel good on an aching jaw. I imagined Ethel's soft, bejeweled hand stroking my cheek and approached the rest of the morning with a spring in my step and a promise to myself to get a haircut soon.