Sample text for Pictures / Robert Daley.


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Chapter i

A CAR TURNED OFF THE STREET, stopped in front of the barrier, and a guard came out of the booth and pointed his flashlight in on the driver. When he saw whose face he had illuminated he flicked the light off fast, mumbled an apology, jumped backward, and raised the barrier.
It was the middle of the night. The parking lot, empty of cars, was vast. Floodlights on poles lit up the perimeter fence, together with the trailer trucks backed up against it. The rest was dark, except for a dim bulb burning over the plant’s executive entrance far across the lot.
The car drove over there, stopped, and three men got out.
This was on Chicago’s north side close to the lake. The night was chilly. In some places spring was far advanced, but midwestern America was not one of them. The cold wind that blew in off the lake caused one of the men, who stood beside the car and whose name was Vincent Conte, to turn up the collar of his coat.
Gazing back at the guard booth, he said: “What about the guard?”
The driver said: “What about him?”
“We drive in here at this hour, he’ll tell everyone.”
“I trust him,” said the driver, whose name was Tinsley. “He’s been with me a long time.”
In a situation like this, Conte’s trust didn’t go far. He said: “Is there a watchman as well?”
“He patrols the perimeter. He doesn’t go inside.”
“Where is he now, if I might ask?”
The three men looked around.
“Probably asleep in one of the trucks,” muttered Conte. “I don’t think too much of your security so far.”
One was not supposed to criticize clients, in this case Tinsley, principal owner of the plant. But Conte was a brusque kind of man. In addition, the case wasn’t ready to break. Being here, in his opinion, was premature.
“I’m the one opens the plant,” said the third man, Lonano. “I’ll send them home before the workforce punches in.”
Conte did not trust Lonano either. He was the plant’s general manager but had come up through the ranks and was still a member of the union. If his sympathy lay with the men, he might try to warn somebody.
Tinsley unlocked the entrance, and they went inside.
The building, only one story high, measured about a hundred yards square, nearly all of it the cooler, an enormous refrigerator the size of a football field. The offices ran in a row along one of the sides of the building with a corridor in front, then a wall with windows that looked into the cooler, and a number of refrigerator doors that provided access. The doors were thick, insulated.
The three men went through one of them into the cooler.
It was very bright—Lonano had thrown a master switch somewhere—and Vince Conte was confronted by beef, tons of it. Beef piled on tables, beef hanging from hooks. A thermometer on the wall read 38 degrees. In this room at this temperature 250 butchers worked all day hacking up steers.
“We’re the second biggest meat packers in Chicago,” Tinsley said.
Conte was walking down aisles toward the scales. The aisles were quite broad; nonetheless, it felt like wading through meat.
“Someone is robbing us blind,” Tinsley said to his back.
“Yeah, you told me.”
“We sold a million and a half pounds last month. Didn’t make a dime.”
It was cold in here and Conte’s topcoat was thin. He snuffed the air which, despite the cold, had an unpleasant metallic tang.
He was a compact man with scar tissue over one eye that was still a bit raw, meaning recent. If he had been a boxer he would have been a middleweight. He was not a boxer. He was an ex–New York cop. He was 35 years old, and until recently had been the youngest captain in the department, with a future that seemed unlimited. But that was then, not now.
Conte said: “I don’t like the layout.”
He looked behind him at the heavy doors leading to the offices. During working hours they would open and shut every few minutes, people in bloody smocks going in and out.
The ex-cop was a man who weighed possibilities, weighed odds. The butchers and luggers were going to watch colleagues being led through into the offices, men who did not come back. It would not take long to figure out what was happening. And without the element of surprise, which was his principal tool, almost his only one, he would have nothing.
“This case is not ready,” Conte said. He had had agents working here for weeks, but they had not developed much.
Two months ago Tinsley had phoned him. Conte flew to Chicago and they had met in a conference room at the airport. Tinsley had spoken of shrinkage in his plant.
“Shrinkage?” said Conte.
Meat was going out that was not being paid for. To the tune of about $100,000 a month.
Conte had said only: “Are you sure of your figures?”
Tinsley had gone over them and over them, he said, and so had his accountants. “I went to the police. Without evidence they can’t operate. The only evidence I have is the figures. The figures don’t interest them. I went to the FBI. Same story.”
“So you came to us.”
“You’re supposed to be the best.”
Conte worked for Probe Consultations Inc. Already a major presence in America, Probe had begun to open offices worldwide. It employed accountants who traced laundered money, detectives who tracked down missing executives and whatever was left of what they had stolen. The recently hired Conte was in charge of the industrial theft division.
Conte had put two of his men into Tinsley’s plant, a white man named Bruno into receiving, and a black man named Simmons into shipping, because shipping and receiving were the two areas most vulnerable to employee theft. Tinsley was to pay the two agents a meat packer’s salary, and then stay away from them. It would be at least three weeks, perhaps longer, Conte told him, before the other employees felt comfortable with the agents, at which point they might see something, hear something. To steal as much meat as Tinsley claimed, the ring would have to be a big one, 20 or more men.
The investigation would take time, Conte warned.
Three weeks passed and Bruno in receiving had encountered nothing suspicious, whereas Simmons had overheard drivers talking about a certain supermarket that would buy hot meat.
Tinsley Meat Packers did not sell to that particular market. Conte pulled Bruno out of the plant, and put him in a rented car in the supermarket parking lot. The agent changed cars every day, asordered, and he watched the market’s loading bay but nothing happened.
Conte reported regularly to Tinsley, reports that were always the same: nothing. Each time the client was almost in tears until finally, en route to Oklahoma on another case, Conte had had to stop in Chicago to calm him.
At the start of the sixth week one of Tinsley’s trucks rolled into the supermarket lot that Agent Bruno was watching, pulled up to the loading bay, and the driver, Jack Ritinski, 32 years old, a big guy with a goatee, staggered inside under a side of beef weighing 180 pounds. He came out counting bills, which he shared with his helper, later identified as Anthony Amato.
A week later the same thing happened, except that the helper on the truck was a black man, Shawlee Summers.
Conte sent another agent to Chicago to follow other trucks. Within a week this agent observed a side of beef being delivered to a supermarket on the other side of the city. The driver was a black man, Roosevelt Kelley. The lugger and helper was again Anthony Amato.
It put Tinsley in a panic. Losses would continue for as long as the investigation lasted, the owner said. In addition he was paying for the meals, hotels, and rented cars of all those agents, not to mention their salaries. He wanted the four thieves arrested. He was insured against employee theft. He wanted whatever money the bonding company would pay him.
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Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Ex-police officers -- Fiction.
Princesses -- Fiction.
Monaco -- Fiction.
Tennis players -- Fiction.
Paparazzi -- Fiction.
Tabloid newspapers -- Fiction.
Italy -- Fiction.
Amsterdam (Netherlands) -- Fiction.