From Chapter 1 of Circle of Assassins:
To Whom It May Concern:
Though I will never meet you, I want to thank you for your help.
I will provide the necessary information below, but first I would like you to understand why I have been driven to these extreme
Have you ever worked hard, so impossibly hard, for
something? Have you saved your money for decades, going without vacations, cars, and even meals so that you could purchase
something that would last you a lifetime? And then, after you've worked and slaved, someone comes along to ruin everything?
That is exactly what has happened to me, and I'm not going to put up with it any longer. I have worked too hard for too
long, and I'm not going to sit by idly while one man destroys my life.
the first six decades of my life, I lived in a tenement building in the Bronx. In the old days, that part of the Bronx
wasn't so bad. All the apartments were filled with immigrants whose youngest children were the first to be born in America. None
of us had a lot of money (nobody did in the years after the Depression), but the building was always clean and safe. But
over the decades, the neighborhood changed little by little. One day I woke up and I realized: I live in the ghetto. For
the last two years before I left, I used to literally nail my apartment door shut each night. Everyone else who lived
on my floor had been mugged or robbed in the previous twelve months, and I couldn't let that happen to me.
My father had died when I was quite young, and for a few years my mother
made ends meet by working on the assembly line at a factory in Morris Park and doing part-time work as a maid. But she'd
never been healthy, and when the factory increased her hours, she kept collapsing on the job. Her maid work lasted until
I finished high school, but then her arthritis kicked in. She was bedridden within a year.
fewer choices back then. I had to go to work, and I started cleaning houses, too. Just after high school, I’d
taken some shorthand classes, so I was able to find a decent full-time job as a secretary with an insurance company. The
job paid enough for me and Mother to survive on. We didn’t live high, but we got by.
I got small
raises every year, usually just enough to cover the rent increases. Maybe you can imagine my frustration at seeing the
price of the apartment increasing as the neighborhood got worse. But there was nowhere else to go, and Mother's health
was always declining....
I know precisely when the idea started to form…it was the evening of Mother’s
60th birthday. She innocently said something like, "Some day, I'm going to die in this apartment. It's
both comforting and depressing." And I started crying so hard that I couldn’t catch my breath. Of course
the thought of Mother dying upset me terribly. But I was also crying tears of self-pity, too, because I knew the same
fate awaited me. That night I vowed I was not going to die in that apartment, too.
So I started
saving my pennies. It's amazing how cheaply you can live if you’re willing to deprive yourself of everyday things
that are nice to have but not necessary for survival. Mother still got everything she needed, of course, but I did without. After
only a short while, it didn't feel like sacrifice. Staying home and watching TV all night costs no money, except for
the electricity, and we were always careful to turn off all the lights while we watched the big black box.
Every once in a while, I'd get a sudden windfall, like a small bonus at work, and it would all go into my sock, or my
doll, or my hollowed-out book, or the cookie jar, or the ice box, or behind my picture frame, or underneath my shabby area
rug. And over the years, as my hair turned gray, my stash grew.
Things did get a little easier in
the years following Mother's passing. I missed her terribly, but life went on much as it had before. I kept saving
and thought that in another five years or so I'd have the money I needed.
And then a miracle happened. Three
months after Mother died, I was struck by a taxi cab while crossing West 230th Street, and my right leg was broken. It
was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. The leg healed quickly (it was strong after all those years of climbing
up and down the stairs to the apartment), but the man who’d hit me had been driving drunk. I got more money in
the settlement than I'd ever seen in my life.
As soon as I could walk again, I started calling real
estate agents. For years I'd been researching towns and neighborhoods, and I knew what I wanted. After sixty years
in New York City, what I wanted more than anything was space, solitude, and quiet. Because you can’t
have any of these things in the Bronx, or anywhere else in the City, I focused my search on the suburbs. Despite the
money from the settlement, I certainly wasn’t wealthy enough to quit the secretarial job I’d held for forty years,
so I needed a place that would allow me to commute into the City fairly easily. Fortunately, as I’d discovered,
many towns in New Jersey, New York State, and Long Island have decent train and bus access to Manhattan.
In the third month of my quest, I found it: the sweetest little Cape Cod a person could ever hope for. It was summertime,
and the yard was full of hollyhocks and sunflowers. Every one of the four bedrooms had at least two windows. There
was a picture window in the kitchen, and even a window in the bathroom! The basement was pristine; so was the attic. I
could walk to the bus stop and be at work in a little more than an hour.
I moved in three months to the day
after seeing the house for the first time. The down payment took almost all my savings, and buying curtains, carpeting,
and used furniture took the rest.
The next few years were a dream. Through watching home
improvement shows for so long and borrowing every home improvement book available at the Bloomfield, New Jersey public library,
I learned how to make a house look pretty and new on a budget. Nothing like a fresh coat of paint with some faux finishes,
which I learned how to do at a free class at the Y, to spruce a place up. Living in an apartment for so long, you learn
how not to accumulate junk, so my basement, from the beginning, was clean and uncluttered. To have your own washing machine
and your own dryer in your own basement! That alone was worth the price of the house.
my neighborhood, and my town were everything I'd hoped for. The neighbors are friendly and watch out for one another,
but we also keep a certain respectful distance. We have a mix of older, established families and younger people who are
just starting out. In the summer, lawns are mowed promptly every Saturday morning, and in the winter, snow gets shoveled
as it falls. Best of all, my house (yes, my house!) is on a dead-end street, so there's very little traffic and noise. The
people who live here are good, honest, hard-working people whose homes are their only asset. So the quality of the neighborhood
is important to all of us.
I've gotten used to the peace and tranquility of my wonderful, modest home. I
expected that the joy would go on forever, until I was lying stone cold in the ground alongside Mother. I was wrong. It
all changed six months ago when he moved into the neighborhood.
His elderly mother had been living
on the block for more than fifty years when she died. None of us even knew she had a son—we’d never seen
him before. A week after she passed away, a U-Haul pulled up and we watched as a slovenly, straggly-haired man of about
forty took out a key and unlocked the front door of Nora's house.
The next night, trucks, motorcycles,
and vans from three states descended on our quiet block and plunged us into misery. Profanity-filled music blasted from
outdoor loudspeakers until the wee hours. We shut our windows and turned up the air conditioning, thinking it would all
be over the next day. But it was just the beginning.
We know he sells drugs. Cars pull up
in the middle of the night and leave a few minutes later. Four of the houses on the block have been robbed; two neighbors
lost precious heirloom jewelry that had been in the family for generations. The noise never stops, and the police
can't, or won’t, do anything about it. As soon as they leave, the music starts up, louder than before.
And the very worst part: The children aren't safe, either. One of his "friends" was driving an SUV too
fast and struck a three-year old boy who was playing kickball in front of his house. (The boy lived, thank God.) The
pretty teenage girls have been leered at, gawked at, propositioned, threatened. They're afraid to leave their houses
without their fathers, brothers, or boyfriends....