FOUR

Delaware Cancer Society Building, Fourth Floor Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia Wednesday, September 9, 4:46 A.M.

“Oh shit,” Matt Payne muttered as he put down the stainless-steel thermos. Payne, a twenty-seven-year-old with dark intelligent eyes and conservatively cut dark thick hair, was sitting-shirtless, wearing only boxer shorts on his lithely muscled six-foot, 170-pound frame-at the notebook computer on the desk of his Center City apartment. He stared at his cellular telephone, which had caused him to utter the obscenity. It was vibrating and, on its color LCD screen, flashing: SOUP KING-1 CALL TODAY @ 0446.

Not good, he thought.

With his body clock still not reset to local time after his return from France, Payne had been up since four and, counting the last drops from the thermos, drunk five cups of coffee.

Near the computer were a pair of heavy china mugs. The one that actually held coffee was navy blue with a crest outlined in gold that had gold lettering reading PHILADELPHIA POLICE and HONOR INTEGRITY SERVICE and, above the crest, in gold block letters, DETECTIVE MATTHEW M. PAYNE. The other cup-with a chip on its lip, and holding pens and pencils-was black and emblazoned with the representation of a patch. The center of the patch had the likeness of the downtown Philadelphia skyline, complete to a statue of William Penn atop City Hall, behind which stood a black-caped Grim Reaper with a golden scythe. Circling this scene was, in gold, the legend PHILADELPHIA POLICE HOMICIDE DIVISION.

Sergeant Payne, Matthew M., Badge Number 471, Philadelphia Police Department, was in fact on leave from the department in general and its homicide unit in particular.

That Matt’s relationship with the Philly PD-with police work-had created a quandary for him was one hell of an understatement.

On one hand, being a cop was in his blood; his family had a long history with the cops. A long and tragic history. When Matt was still in the womb, his natural father had been killed in the line of duty. Badge 471-assigned to him only recently-had belonged to Sergeant John Francis Xavier Moffitt when he’d been shot dead while answering a silent burglar alarm. And, five years ago, Matt’s uncle, his father’s brother-Captain Richard C. “Dutch” Moffitt, commanding officer of the Philadelphia Police Department’s elite Highway Patrol-had been off-duty at the Waikiki Diner on Roosevelt Boulevard when a drug addict tried robbing it. Dutch was killed when he thought he could talk the hopped-up punk into handing over the.22-caliber pistol.

Yet, on the other hand, Matt had been indisputably raised in a life of privilege. Fact was, he did not have to work at a job-and certainly not risking his life as a cop-thanks to an investment program established for him at age three. It had made him a very wealthy young man, and for that he could thank the man who’d adopted him.

Following the death of Matt’s natural father, his mother had had to find employment, and after taking classes she’d become, with some effort, an assistant at Lowerie, Tant, Foster, Pedigill, amp; Payne, one of Philly’s top legal firms. Soon after, the young and attractive Patricia Moffitt came to meet Brewster Cortland Payne II, son of the firm’s founding partner. “Brew” had recently become a widower, one with two infants, his wife having died in an automobile accident on the way home from their Pocono Mountains summer place. One thing led to another with Patricia, and Brewster Payne had then felt it necessary to leave the firm to start his own, particularly after his father expressed his displeasure of “that gold-digging Irish trollop” by boycotting their wedding.

The union of Patricia and Brewster produced another child, a girl they named Amelia. It was not long thereafter that Brew approached his wife with a request to adopt young Matt, whom he loved as his very own flesh and blood.

Matthew Mark Payne had grown up on a four-acre estate on the upper-crust Main Line, attended prep school, and from there went on to the Ivy League, graduating summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania. And, accordingly, it was more or less expected, certainly reasonably so, that Matt would go on to law school, and from there very likely join the prestigious Philadelphia law firm of Mawson, Payne, Stockton, McAdoo amp; Lester.

Matt, however, had felt the pull of service to his country, and went out for the United States Marine Corps. Yet when he’d failed the Corps’s precom missioning physical examination-thanks to a quirky complication of his vision one no one knew he suffered from, nor had cared about since-everyone then was convinced that the writing was on the wall: He’d now simply go back to school.

Everyone but Matt, who confounded them all by taking, just after his Uncle Dutch had been killed, the civil service exam for entry into the police department.

Matt’s passing the exam shocked no one-he was as far as anyone knew the first, very possibly the only, summa cum laude university graduate to apply to the department-but many were surprised at his passing muster during his thirty-week stint in the demanding Police Academy.

And that had really worried more than a few, because there was talk that the only reasons he’d joined the cops was to prove his manhood-failing to make it into the Marines had damaged more than a little pride-and to avenge the deaths of his natural father and uncle. And, further, behind the worry was the genuine fear that not only would walking a police beat leave Matt, the product of such a privileged background, less than satisfied, it damn well could leave him hurt, or dead.

One such person who’d shared this fear was then-Chief Inspector Dennis V. Coughlin. The last thing Coughlin wanted to have to do was tell Matt’s mother that there’d been another shooting-Denny had been the one who knocked on her door and delivered the news that John Francis Xavier Moffitt, her husband and his best friend, had been killed in the line of duty.

Coughlin had toyed with the idea of hiding Matt in the School Crossing Guard Unit and getting him bored to tears helping snot-nosed second graders make it to the next curb-making Matt bored and pissed off enough to quit the department-then decided it was safer to have him assigned to a desk as administrative assistant to Inspector Peter Wohl. Wohl, it was hoped, would keep an eye on him and make sure he suffered in the line of duty nothing worse than a paper cut.

And that had worked. But only for a short time. A very short time.

Neither Matt’s godfather (Coughlin) nor his rabbi (Wohl) on the police force, despite all their efforts to the contrary, anticipated that Officer Matt Payne would find himself in shoot-outs with bad guys-and they sure as hell had no idea that he’d ultimately come to be known as the Wyatt Earp of the Main Line.

First, with not even six months on the job, he’d been off-duty when he spotted the van used by the doer whom the newspapers had dubbed the Northwest Serial Rapist. Matt had attempted to question the van’s driver, at which point the driver had tried to run him down. Matt responded by shooting the sonofabitch in the head. Then, in the back of the van, he’d found the rapist’s next victim-a neatly trussed-up, and naked, young woman.

The reaction of Matt’s godfather and rabbi-and damned near everyone else on the force-was to quietly declare Matt impossibly lucky that (a) he’d stumbled across the rapist and (b) that he hadn’t died from the blunt-force trauma of the van’s bumper.

And so they redoubled their efforts to keep Matty safe until he came to his senses, recognized that he damned well could have been killed, and rejoined civilian life.

But not a year later, in the middle of a massive operation designed to arrest a gang of armed robbers on warrants charging them with murder during a Goldblatt’s Department Store heist, Matt again made headlines. He’d been assigned to sit on a Philadelphia Bulletin reporter in an alley that was deemed to be a safe distance from where the arrests were going down-for the reporter’s safety but, conveniently, for the safety of the reporter’s “escort,” too.

The foolproof plans unraveled when one of the critters, who hadn’t been made privy to the foolproof plans, stumbled into the “safe” alley and started shooting it up. One of the ricocheting bullets grazed Payne’s forehead, and he returned fire.

In the next edition of The Philadelphia Bulletin, the front-page photograph (“Exclusive Photo By Michael J. O’Hara”) showed a bloody-faced Officer Matthew M. Payne, pistol in hand, standing over the fatally wounded felon. Above the photograph-written by Mickey O’Hara, who well knew Payne’s background, as he’d written the Bulletin piece on Dutch Moffitt’s death-was the screaming headline “Officer M. M. Payne, 23, The Wyatt Earp of the Main Line.”

And again came the quiet accusations, particularly considering that the vast majority of cops over the course of a twenty-year career on the beat never found cause to pull out-let alone fire-their service weapon at a murderer or rapist or robber.

Yet here was a cop-a goddamned Richie Rich rookie at that! — with two righteous shootings proverbially notched on his pistol grip.

It didn’t help that not long afterward, Matt Payne had taken-and passed, the summa cum laude college boy’s score having placed him first-the exam for the rank of detective.

The quiet accusations gave way to those on the force who made it loud and clear that they regarded Matt Payne as a rich kid who was playing at being a cop, and whose promotions and assignments were thanks to his political connections, not based on his abilities.

And then there were those who weren’t quite so accommodating and mindful of their manners-and more than happy to share their opinions directly to Matt’s face.

There hadn’t been a helluva lot that Payne could do about them, of course, except just stick it out and do his job to the best of his ability. And Matt had found that he not only liked being a cop but thought that he was good at it, further proof of that having come twice in the last six months.

The earlier episode had involved one Susan Reynolds, a beautiful blue-eyed blonde with whom Payne saw himself winding up living happily-ever-after in a vine-covered cottage by the side of the road. However, Susan, blindly loyal and trying to protect an old girlfriend, stupidly got caught up in a group that included Bryan Chenowith, a terrorist hunted nationwide by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Payne set it up for Philly’s FBI special agent in charge to take down Chenowith behind the Crossroads Diner in Doylestown. They bagged the bad guy-but not before Payne saw his dreams with Susan literally die when the lunatic Chenowith cut her down with a stolen fully automatic.30-caliber carbine.

The second episode had happened in the last thirty-odd days, and the Wyatt Earp of the Main Line again had made headlines.

Payne and his date had been in his Porsche 911 Carrera. They were headed for his apartment, about to leave the parking lot of La Famiglia Ristorante, when they came across a middle-class black couple who only moments earlier had left the restaurant and been robbed by two armed men. The doers had pistol-whipped the husband, knocking out teeth, and had gotten only as far as the end of the lot.

Sergeant Payne, Matthew M., Badge Number 471, Philadelphia Police Department, automatically gave chase-and almost immediately his car took the brunt of two blasts from a sawed-off shotgun. Payne then pulled his Colt.45 Officer’s Model pistol and put down the shotgunner with a round to the head and severely wounded the accomplice, who had fired at Payne with a.380-caliber Browning semiautomatic pistol.

Payne’s date-the extremely bright and attractive Terry Davis, a heavy hitter in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles-had not been badly hurt, but their budding relationship died in that parking lot.

While Matt Payne’s shootings were all righteous ones-ones in which he not only was found to be justified by the system but also ones in which he’d been hailed a hero by the public-they haunted him.

And this last shooting had put him over the edge.

It set up a series of events that found him hospitalized and briefly under psychiatric care. After careful examination-and a more or less completely clean bill of health-he was ordered to take a thirty-day leave of compensatory time. The purpose of this leave was (a) to fulfill the prescription for recovery that the psychiatrist said was necessary for such an overworked and overstressed police sergeant, and (b) to be a period of reflection, in which said police sergeant could consider if he might be better suited to another career path at the somewhat tender age of twenty-seven, such as that of a lawyer.

Sitting at his computer in his Rittenhouse Square apartment, Matt Payne had begun his morning-after making coffee and filling the thermos-reading e-mails and the online edition of The Philadelphia Bulletin. Then he’d moved on to reviewing the files saved from websites he’d studied the previous night. These had extolled the virtues of various law schools he’d looked at across the country, from Harvard Law-a short scull ride from the Atlantic Ocean via the Charles River and Boston Harbor-to Pepperdine Law, overlooking the surfers in the Pacific Ocean at Malibu. He also had a yellow legal pad on which he’d listed the pros and cons for each of the schools he was considering-or not considering, as there were more schools marked through than not.

And, just as last night, they had begun to bore the shit out of him.

About the time he had poured coffee cup number three, Payne started clicking on another website that he found far more exciting: 911s.com. It had, among other things, a search engine that required the user’s home zip code. Payne had first punched in and searched his home zip code, 19103, and almost instantaneously was offered a listing of twenty one-year-old and two-year-old Porsche 911s offered for sale by dealers and brokers and individuals within twenty-five miles of his apartment.

He scrolled through the list, clicked on a few Carrera models, idly wondering as he read the pages how much of their histories were truly factual-“Only 10,250 pampered miles! Always garaged! Never driven in rain!”-and how many of the cars actually, say, had been raced from Media down I-95 to Miami Beach, or run in last month’s Poconos Mountain Off-Road Rally then hosed off for resale before the tires-as the stand-up comedian Ron White was famous for saying-fell the fuck off!

Matt had grinned at the thought of the comedian’s shtick-not a day went by, especially when on the job, that he couldn’t apply at least one of White’s hilarious observations to a particular situation, most often “You can’t fix stupid”-and then he had thought: Or an even worse abuse-the cars used as daily commuters, rain or shine.

Porsche actually built their cars to fly down the highway at the hammers of hell.

Stop-and-go traffic is the equivalent of a slow death.

Especially in salt-laced snow sludge.

Figuring he would search major cities that had no snow, and thus no road salt to rust out body panels, he’d punched in 90210, 85001, and 75065, and read the results from those. They belonged, respectively, to Beverly Hills, Phoenix, and Dallas. And each offered three times as many 911s as did 19103.

Ones with no road salt.

Maybe I could get one shipped back here.

Or maybe go get one, and drive it back here at the hammers of hell. Now that would be fun…

He then punched in 33301, which was one of Fort Lauderdale’s zip codes. In the search field that asked for a radius in miles from that geographic point, he’d typed in “50.”

Fifty miles easily covers Miami to the south and Palm Beach to the north.

Then he’d chuckled as he clicked the SEARCH button.

And plenty of Everglades swamp to the west and Atlantic Ocean to the east.

If there’s a Porsche in either, it’s going to be worse off than my shot-up Carrera.

Maybe I should donate mine as an artificial reef. It’d sink like a rock with all those shotgun pellet holes…

It took a long moment for the page to completely load on his computer screen.

Jesus! Look at all those Porsches for sale!

Ninety Carreras alone!

Who the hell is buying them?

He took a sip of his coffee.

Stupid question. Who the hell else?

All the goddamned drug-runners.

It had been then that his cellular had started to vibrate, flash Soup King-and cause him to worry.

Matt Payne looked at the cellular phone and said aloud, “What’s he want at this hour?”

Payne told himself that it wasn’t the time of day that bothered him; rather, it was what it suggested. For as long as he could remember, certainly since his early teen years, his parents had told him that calls in the late of night or early morning almost never announced good news. And his experience as a Philly cop sure as hell had only proved their point, time and again.

Maybe he accidentally hit my auto-dial number?

And if that’s the case, and if I’d been sound asleep, I’d be pissed he’s waking me up.

Payne had been pals with the “Soup King”-Payne’s nickname for Chadwick Thomas Nesbitt IV-since they were in diapers, when Chad was merely the Soup Prince-in-Waiting. Later, they attended prep school together before both graduating from the University of Pennsylvania.

Had Payne’s cellular phone volume not been muted, the phone, having linked “Soup King” with the audio file Matt had saved to its memory chip, would have blared from the speaker their alma mater’s marching band playing:

Tell the story of Glory

Of Pennsylvania

Drink a highball And be jolly

Here’s a toast to dear old Penn!

The Soup King crack came from the fact that Chad’s family was Nesfoods International-his father, Mr. Nesbitt III, was now chairman of the executive committee-having succeeded his father, who’d succeeded his-and Chad was recently named a vice president, having worked his way up in the corporate ranks, just as his father and Grandfather Nesbitt had.

And Matt’s father and Chad’s father were best friends.

Chad never had lacked in the self-esteem department, and Matt often found it his duty to help keep him grounded.

Payne grabbed the phone from its cradle, which automatically answered the call. He put it to his head and by way of greeting said: “My telephone tells me that the Soup King is calling at four forty-six in the morning. Why, pray tell, would anyone-friend or foe or vegetable royalty-wish to awaken a fine person such as myself from a peaceful slumber at this ungodly hour?”

“Matt? Are you awake, Matt?”

Payne pulled the phone from his head and looked at it askance; it was as if Nesbitt hadn’t heard a word he’d said. He put the phone back to his head and replied: “Such a query calls into question the intelligence of one who asks it. Because, it would follow that if one were to telephone a person, and said person were to answer, then, yes, it could be presumed that that person was awake. Or perhaps rudely awakened.”

Nesbitt didn’t reply.

“Actually, you’re lucky,” Payne went on. “I wasn’t rudely awakened. I was, instead, accomplishing multiple tasks, from plotting my future to looking for a new car. All with the wonders of this miraculous thing called the Internet that’s ready at any hour of the day or night. I don’t know about you, but I think this Internet thing might be around for a while. Wonderfully handy. And you can go anywhere on it, even in just your underwear.”

Nesbitt either ignored the ridiculous sarcasm or again didn’t hear what he’d said.

“Look, Matt. I need your help. This is bad.”

Payne thought that Nesbitt’s voice had an odd tone to it, and that caused a knot in his stomach.

“What’s bad, Chad?”

Nesbitt did not address the question directly. “I’d heard-Mother said at dinner last week-are you still a cop or not?”

“Well, the days of the Wyatt Earp of the Main Line very well may be numbered. I’m thinking of taking a road trip. Any interest in-”

“So,” Chad interrupted, “does that mean no?”

“No. It means technically, yes, I’m still a cop. The real question, though, is: ‘Will I continue to be a cop?’ I’ve been put on ice to take time and consider just that-”

“Dammit, yes or no?” he interrupted.

“Yes. What the hell’s got you upset? And at this hour?”

“Can you meet me?”

“Now?”

“Now. Remember the Philly Inn? On Frankford?”

Remember it?

No way in hell could anyone forget a party like we had that night-what? — ten, eleven years ago.

Damn. Has it been that long? “Sure, Chad, I remember. Who could forget Whatshisface diving off the roof into the pool?”

“What? Oh, right.” His voice tapered off. “Skipper did that…”

“Yeah, that’s who it was. So, what happened? Did Daffy finally have enough and throw you out?”

Daphne Elizabeth Browne Nesbitt was wife to Chadwick Thomas Nesbitt IV, and Matt was godfather to their baby girl, Penelope Alice Nesbitt, named after the late Penelope Alice Detweiler, with whom, before she shot up her last vein of heroin, causing her to breathe her last breath, Matt had fancied himself in love.

Payne heard only silence, then said, “What’s the room number?”

“No. I’m at the All-Nite Diner, by the shopping strip just south of it. Thanks, pal.”

“Be there in-” Matt began but stopped when he realized the connection had been broken.

Contents