by Gerald Petievich
When Eddie Sands decides to shake down a famous Hollywood star whose sex life could ruin his screen career, he sets off a chain of events that leads straight to the white-hot center of Las Vegas, and brings down on himself the attentions of Tony Parisi, the mob's kingpin of Las Vegas, and FBI agent John Novak.
"Shakedown is a gem. Stopped writing to read it, something I have sworn I would never do, but couldn't help it." - Elmore Leonard
"The novel is superbly written with never a false move in either style or characterization. This is an absolutely superior piece of work." - New York Times
Red Haynes, a lanky, sleepy-eyed man with fiery tousled hair and oversized ears, sat in the stuffy waiting room of the Federal Health Clinic. His arms were folded across his chest. Seated opposite him was an emaciated, stringy-haired woman wearing an extremely short skirt. He watched as, keeping her knees primly together, the woman nervously reapplied both lipstick and pancake makeup for the third time during the twenty minutes or so that he had been waiting. A wired-up pillhead, he said to himself.
To Haynes's right was a fortyish man dressed in a bureaucrat's uniform --short-sleeved white shirt with ballpoint-pen marks on the pocket, baggy trousers, and cheap wing-tipped shoes. Come to think of it, Haynes said to himself, except for the on-sale polyester sport coat that covered his gun and handcuffs, he was dressed the same way.
A door opened. A tall, bubble-butted black nurse stepped into the room. "Agent Haynes?"
"Dr. Rhodes will see you now."
Red Haynes came to his feet and shuffled behind bubble-butt into the doctor's office. The doctor, a parrot-nosed man much younger than Haynes, looked up from his paperwork and nodded. Haynes took a seat in front of the desk. On the walls were diplomas, psychiatric-internship certificates and other crapola which impressed Haynes about as much as a television commercial. The door closed behind him.
"Your file says you've been an FBI agent for twenty years," the doctor said as he removed his thick glasses and wiped the lenses, then the frames, on a small rag.
"Do you know why you're here?"
"Because I received a low yearly performance evaluation and the agent-in-charge said I'm depressed."
"Do you think you're depressed?"
Dr. Rhodes nodded his parrot beak. Why do you suppose your supervisor said you were depressed?"
"To screw me."
"Why do you think your supervisor would want to...uh...to cause you problems?"
Red Haynes interlaced his bony fingers. With a brisk, well-practiced movement, he loudly cracked his knuckles. The doctor winced.
"Because that's the way he is."
"What do you mean by that?"
"He is an asshole."
"And you feel he wants to cause you harm?"
Haynes shook his head. "If you are born an asshole you cause people harm whether you want to or not."
Dr. Rhodes lifted his eyeglasses from his nose for an unnecessary cleaning, lenses only this time, then tipped them back onto the deep eyeglass indentation on his beak.
"Do you ever have nightmares?"
"I did a few years ago."
"What were they about?"
"Anyone in particular?"
"A bank robber."
"What was occurring in your life around the time you started having those nightmares?"
"I'd just shot a bank robber with a twelve-gauge shotgun."
Dr. Rhodes stared at Haynes for a moment, as if doing so would help solve some great riddle.
"What did you do immediately after the shooting?"
"I went to a bar with the other agents. We celebrated."
"And it was after that you began to have nightmares?"
"That very night."
"What occurred during the nightmares?"
"I would shoot the guy and see the blood an gore all over again. It was in Technicolor."
"Perhaps you felt guilty about what had occurred?"
"I just told you we went and had a party after the shooting. Does that sound like I felt guilty?"
"You had nightmares."
"They went away after a while."
"There's a notation in your file that you received a reprimand after the shooting incident. What was this about?"
"I got written up for following the FBI manual."
"Please go on."
"It says in the FBI manual that all prisoners must be handcuffed, no matter what the circumstances of the arrest."
"So you handcuffed the man you shot?"
"That's right. If I hadn't, the supervisor at the scene would have written me up for not following procedure."
Dr. Rhodes maintained eye contact with Haynes. "Then what exactly was the dispute concerning the handcuffing of the...uh...prisoner?"
"The supervisor said what I did was unbecoming a federal officer."
"Why would he say that?"
"Probably because some of the onlookers in the bank got upset."
"I take it this was because the man you handcuffed was injured?"
"No. It was because he was headless."
"You handcuffed a headless corpse?"
"It was either that or be written up for not following procedure."
Dr. Rhodes stared at the personnel file for a moment, shook his head.
"Did you really believe that your supervisor would have reprimanded you for failing to handcuff a dead man?"
Dr. Rhodes swallowed a couple of times, reached for his eyeglasses, and then stopped himself. He picked up a report, cleared his throat, spoke in a businesslike manner.
"This rating report says that you lack initiative, seem constantly 'blue,' and that you have a 'tendency to find fault with everyone and everything.' What is your reaction to these comments?"
Red Haynes gave his right ear a tug. One by one, he cracked each of the knuckles on his right hand by tugging sharply on each finger. "My reaction is that the person who wrote that is a pencil-necked Bureau asskisser and a general all-around prick who's not qualified to write an evaluation on anyone."
"Nevertheless, he's someone you have to work with," Dr. Rhodes said.
"Not anymore. He transferred me from the Las Vegas field office to the Organized Crime Strike Force almost ten months ago."
Rhodes flipped the file folder's cover to check the date. He blushed as he noted it. "We are a little behind in consultations."
"The whole government is behind. That's because it has second-rate people working for it. In fact, if you were such a hot-shot psychiatrist you'd be out making big money somewhere, instead of collecting a federal paycheck to work in a chickenshit government clinic."
Dr. Rhodes made a notation in Haynes's file. "I think you are suffering from severe depression, Agent Haynes."
Haynes cracked his knuckles again. The sound was extra-loud, like twigs breaking.
Exasperated, Dr. Rhodes let out his breath. He made notations in the file. "I'm going to recommend that you get into an exercise program...jogging, maybe. When you feel stress coming on I want you to drop whatever you are doing and start jogging."
"I should start the moment I feel stress coming on?"
Dr. Rhodes stopped writing, looked up. "That's right."
Red Haynes came to his feet in a quickstep march. With his bony knees and arms working like pistons he jogged to the door. Keeping his legs moving, he opened the door and jogged directly from the room, through the reception area, and out the front door.
At the federal courthouse, Novak parked the G-car in his assigned spot in the parking lot. Inside, he took and elevator to the third floor. At the end of a hallway he stopped in front of an unmarked door. He punched numbers on the door's cipher lock. The lock mad a snapping sound, and he let himself into a drably decorated room which contained six government-issue desks, some filing cabinets, a radio base station, and a teletype machine. Next to the window was a bulletin board covered with black-and-white photographs -- blown-up surveillance shots of Tony Parisi talking to men in casino parking lots.
At an immaculate desk in the corner of the room, Along-for-the-Rid Frank Tyde, a seedy, middle-aged U.S. Customs agent who invariably wore the same brown polyester sport coat and frayed necktie, sat with his feet up on his desk, head turned to face the window, hands behind his head with fingers interlaced, meerschaum pipe jutting form the side of his mouth emitting smoke. It was a position from which he seldom moved. Probably because it would have caused him an unnecessary expenditure of energy, he did not acknowledge, Novak's arrival in any way.
John Novak sat down at his desk, rummaged through some paperwork.
"Big day planned, Frank?" Novak said as an aside.
"This afternoon I'll get a haircut, do some shopping at the government store, make a few phone calls around the country to see who's getting promoted...and brief Elliot, our fearless prick of a leader, on an old case. That'll be the hardest part of the day, " Tyde said without taking the pipe out of his mouth.
"No overtime planned for today?"
"Already logged in my two hours. I came in early and made some phone calls."
"That sounds like an honest deuce at time-and-a-half," Novak said facetiously. He yanked open a file drawer.
Tyde swung his feet off the desk, ambled to a metal duty-schedule board. He picked up a magnetic metal dot, placed it under his name on a section of the board marked "Sick Leave."
"Yes, these long hours can sure take atoll. I'll be taking sick leave tomorrow...to rest up." Then Along-for-the-Ride Tyde's lungs displaced precisely enough air to make a sound that could be recognized as a laugh. Having arranged the duty board, he checked his wristwatch, sat back down at his desk, returned to his pipe-smoking rest position.
Red Haynes shuffled into the room. He looked as if he had been running.