Hard Stop by Chris KnopfHard Stop by Chris Knopf

Hard Stop

byChris Knopf

Paperback | May 18, 2010

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In this, the fourth installment in the Sam Acquillo series, Sam’s past reaches out to pull him back into the world of big money and even bigger egos, where the term “corporate intrigue” is redundant and ambition the only virtue. It seems a woman vital to the private life of a very important person has gone missing in the Hamptons. And it looks like the best way to get her back is to extort the cooperation of Sam Acquillo. After finally achieving some measure of peace and contentment on Long Island, Sam is yet again an accidental player in other people’s dramas. It takes him into the world of private security goons, predatory financiers and lifestyles of young hedonists, some brave, some beautiful, all a bit lost. This time Sam has a few ambitions of his own that lead him into something all his battles in the ring and corporate boardrooms could never have prepared him for.

From the Hardcover edition.
Chris Knopf is a principal of Mintz & Hoke, a marketing communications agency. Occasional copywriter and cabinet maker, Knopf lives with his wife, Mary Farrell, and their Wheaton Terrier, Samuel Beckett, in Connecticut and Southampton, Long Island. He is the author of three other Sam Acquillo novels.From the Hardcover edition.
Title:Hard StopFormat:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8 × 5.1 × 0.85 inPublished:May 18, 2010Publisher:Random House of CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307357538

ISBN - 13:9780307357533

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Read from the Book

I didn’t like anything about that big, dumb, ugly SUV. I didn’t like the way it looked. All black, with a toothy gold grille. I didn’t like the windows, tinted nearly opaque. I mostly didn’t like where it was parked — a half block from my house.I’d seen it driving around Southampton Village, a standout among other moronic excess. I’d also seen it on Main Street in Sag Harbor and on the Montauk Highway. In fact, I’d seen it so often I was getting sick of seeing it.It was now parked up on the lawn of a house rented by a guy who would never do that. He was fastidious. He was also still in the City, at Mount Sinai, being treated for something bad enough to mean missing out on a whole season bought and paid for in the Hamptons.It was about nine o’clock at night and I was just getting back from dinner with my friend Paul Hodges at his little fish joint in Sag Harbor. I pulled my old Grand Prix in behind the tail of the SUV and into the sick guy’s driveway. Eddie, the mutt who lives with me, jumped into the driver’s seat expecting to follow me out the door. I told him to sit, stay and be quiet, words he understood, but considered only advisory.I walked the rest of the way to my cottage, getting close enough to see the light above the side door, which was supposed to be on, and a light inside the house, which wasn’t. I walked around the rear of the house to the other side, past another exterior door, and then up to the screened-in porch that faced the Little Peconic Bay. I could see the light left on in one of the bedrooms, something I wouldn’t do. My father never allowed such profligate use of electricity. I didn’t argue about his rules when he owned the cottage, and though he’d been dead a long time, I wasn’t going to start now.I saw another light, this one moving. A flashlight darting around the walls of the kitchen. You could get to the kitchen from that side of the house by going through a small pantry. It was a good route for me because it was close by and I could pick up my three-quarter-sized Harmon Killebrew baseball bat along the way. I kept it next to the door so I could hit tennis balls for Eddie to shag off the grass or chase over the breakwater down to the pebble beach by the bay.I probably should have taken a moment to develop a better strategy, but my adrenal glands had already opened the floodgates, relieving my judgment of command and control and turning them over to my lousy temper. This is how you end up doing things like confronting nighttime intruders with a kid’s baseball bat and a simple question:“What the hell’s going on?”I was in the pantry by now. I saw the flashlight in the kitchen flick off. I jumped toward the light switch on the far wall, but before I could get there a big black mass plowed into me.We fell back into the pantry. Before we hit the floor I twisted so the guy wouldn’t land directly on top of me. This didn’t completely solve the problem, but kept the worst of the blows he threw from doing serious harm. I wriggled out from under him and got back on my feet. I needed space to get my fists into play and protect my head, my greatest vulnerability.In my hurry to stand, I lost my bat and almost lost my balance, stumbling backwards into the kitchen. This was fortuitous, as it allowed more room to maneuver.The guy came at me again, his head down like a fullback trying to blow a hole through a defensive line. I sidestepped and sank a sharp uppercut into the vague black shape, connecting well enough to snap the guy into a full standing position. He staggered back against the wall. Before he could recover his momentum, I socked him a couple times in the general direction of his head. He was bigger than me, but not as quick, and not much of a fighter. At least with his fists. When the gun came out I wasn’t so sure.There was enough light seeping in from the living room to see the big black automatic. Since it takes less than a second to pull a trigger I wasted little time grabbing the barrel and pushing it toward the ceiling. When it went off the sound was literally deafening, though I could hear myself yelling a string of startled obscenities as I held the hot barrel with my right hand and shoved a series of enthusiastic jabs into the guy’s face with my left.When his grip on the gun weakened, I pulled it out of his hand. I managed to get the thing into the rear waistband of my jeans without letting up on the left jabs, which seemed to be having an effect. With the gun secured I got my right involved, using my left forearm as a shield against his faltering resistance.I’m too old to be much of a power hitter, but I was motivated that night. The guy was now slumping forward, covering his head with his hands, so my last important punch came from above, dropping him hard to the floor.I sank one knee between his shoulder blades and stuck the automatic against the back of his neck. I held my index finger along the barrel and away from the trigger so I wouldn’t accidentally kill the guy before I had a chance to find out who he was and what he was doing in my house.“Fuck you,” he said.I racked the slide on top of the automatic, ejecting the round that was already in there and putting another one in its place, just to be sure.“Come again?” I asked.“You’re not going to shoot me,” he mumbled into the floor.“You’re right.” I stuck the gun back in my waistband, gripped him by the hair and pulled his head up off the floor. Then I reached around, grabbed his windpipe and squeezed. “I’m going to strangle you.”He started to thrash around from shock and pain, so I squeezed a little harder.“Unless you want to chat,” I said.He gurgled something that sounded like a yes, so I let go of his throat and stood up. I turned on the kitchen light and retrieved the bat from the pantry. The man in black was now up on his hands and knees, though none too steadily. A gentle push with my foot sent him to the floor again, rolling him over and giving me a better look at his face. As good a one as I could get, through all the blood.He looked somewhere in his late thirties, though jowly, which can add years. White face, black hair, small upturned nose probably made more so by recent events. He was wearing a black turtleneck shirt, black pants and black shoes. His eyes were sunken and set too close together, and he coughed as he tried to catch his breath.“Take your wallet out of your pants and put it on the floor,” I told him.It took him a while, but he did it. I kicked it out of his reach and picked it up.“Honest Boy Ackerman,” I read off his New York State driver’s license. “Honest?”“That’s my mother’s fault. Nobody calls me that.”There wasn’t much else in his wallet. A few credit cards and some cash. No baby pictures or membership cards for Breaking and Entering Professionals of America.“So what do they call you?”“H.B.”“Okay, Honest, you’re going to tell me what you’re doing here, and why, or I’m going to beat you with this baseball bat until you’re almost dead, or just wish you were. Whichever comes first.”He looked hesitant, so I moved things along with a little tap on the noggin.“Ow, Christ!”“That was nothing. I’m only getting started.”“You’re not.”“I am,” I said, then tapped him again, a little harder.“Shit, okay. I was just looking around.”“Of course. Why didn’t you just say that?”I tapped him again. He put his hands over his face.“Okay, okay. I was looking for dirt. Stuff we could use on you.”“Huh?”“I don’t know. Dope, illegal guns, a wad of cash. Photos of you sleeping with a llama.”“I’ve never even dated one,” I said.“You don’t do shit, pal. Not even a computer.”“Sorry to disappoint you. You still haven’t told me why.”“I don’t know why. I’m just supposed to get the stuff. Why is somebody else’s job.”“Is shooting me part of your job?”“I wasn’t trying to shoot you. It went off accidentally. You should know better than to grab a gun like that.”“So who hired you to look for dirt?”“I tell you that, I’ll never work again.”“You tell me that or you’ll be drooling on yourself and shitting in a bag for the rest of your life.”I knelt down, got another grip on his larynx and cracked him on the forehead again, in case he’d forgotten what it felt like. He nodded ferociously and I let go.“You’re a harsh son of a bitch,” he croaked.“Out with it.”“I work in security for Con Globe. I’m on special assignment to George Donovan, Chairman of the Board. I don’t know what it’s about. I just do what he tells me and that’s that.”I sat down on my butt as if Ackerman had landed a decent punch of his own. Con Globe. The snappy corporate nickname for Consolidated Global Energies. My former employer. My only employer for twenty years of my professional life. Run by George Donovan, the guy who helped make sure twenty years was all I’d ever get.–Joe Sullivan could have sent Will Ervin, the patrolman who took over the North Sea beat after Sullivan was promoted to Southampton’s investigative unit. But this was way too interesting to pass up, and anyway, Sullivan was a friend of mine.Ackerman ran out of things to say while we waited in the kitchen, except about the end of his professional life. I soured his mood even more by promising an avalanche of felony charges.“What do you get for hitting me with a baseball bat?” he asked.“Exercise.”When Sullivan made detective he hated giving up his uniform, so he designed a new one. Olive drab T-shirt and camo pants stuffed into a pair of steel-tipped boots. He wore an official ID around his bull neck and a non-regulation S&W 627 in a shoulder harness. At almost six feet tall with blond hair in a buzz cut and about fifty extra pounds hanging on a weight-lifter’s build, he rarely had to take the Smith out of the holster.I could tell the outfit made the right impression from Ackerman’s moan when Sullivan came through the door.“Yo, Sam,” said the cop, “what do we got here?” I tossed him Ackerman’s wallet.“Who says you can’t find an honest man?” I said, as Sullivan looked at the ID.I made him hold his questions while I freed Eddie from the Grand Prix. He was happy to see me, and happier to get to the nearest tree.“Sorry, man. I got held up.”He raced ahead to the house to say hello to Sullivan, having seen the cop’s Bronco drive by. When I got there he’d already been introduced to the idiot lying on the floor.“Want some coffee?” I asked Sullivan. “How ’bout you, H.B.?”While I worked on the coffee Sullivan pulled Ackerman to his feet and sat him in a kitchen chair. Then he brought a washcloth from the bathroom to wipe off the blood and assess the damage.“I better get him to the hospital,” said Sullivan. “That lip should be sewn up.”“Can you keep him from talking to anybody while you do that?” I asked.“First tell me what happened.”I went through the whole story, everything I knew, including the name of Ackerman’s employer, my old boss.“Jesus,” said the cop. “Why would he do something like that?”“I have no idea. I haven’t spoken to the guy in years. Or had anything to do with his company. It makes absolutely no sense.”Sullivan went and stood over Ackerman, who shrank involuntarily into his seat.“I guess we’ll find out when we book this lard-ass ninja.”“Could we talk about that? In private?”I got the look I expected from Sullivan. After cuffing Ackerman to a radiator, he followed me outside.“I’m not going to like this,” he said.“Don’t I have the option of pressing charges?”“Sort of. A B&E is pretty serious crap. At night, with a gun, assaulting the homeowner. Bad shit.”“I’ve got to know what’s going on. Donovan’s a very heavy guy. The worst Ackerman’s statement will do is prompt a firm denial and cause a little embarrassment. If you bring him in now we’ll lose whatever leverage we got.”“What are you talking about?”“I want you to take him to the hospital and get him patched up. Don’t let him talk to anybody or get near a phone. Then figure out a way to burn up some time. Lose him somewhere. Give me eight hours. Then I’ll call you and tell you what I want to do.”“What you want to do? Doesn’t work that way.”Sullivan was a straight-ahead type of cop. He not only followed the rules, he liked following the rules. He wasn’t self-righteous about it, it was just the way he was. For him, proper procedure was sacred doctrine.But then again, there was such a thick ledger of debt between us that we both knew he’d try to do what I wanted, no matter how much it endangered his career. A career we also knew was partly my doing.“This is not a typical situation,” I said. “This guy’s only here because I’m here. I’m the target. Nobody else.”“That’s a fine point.”“Just give me the time to do some things. Figure out how to deal with this.”“I may not agree with what you figure out.”“I understand. It’s your call. I just need a little wiggle room.”Sullivan had his hands on his hips, skepticism etched on his face.“Wiggle room for what?” he asked, then abruptly put up his hands. “Forget it. I don’t want to know.”“You don’t.”He’d given in. Though I could see the warning in his eyes — do not fuck this up.Sullivan retrieved Ackerman from the kitchen and marched him over to the battered Bronco. Along the way he recited Miranda. He didn’t mention that Ackerman was about to disappear into a hole before all those hallowed rights could be exercised. But Sullivan said the legal bit like he meant it, which he mostly did.–I’d finished my coffee by then so I felt okay about switching to an aluminum tumbler filled with Absolut on the rocks, to bring over to Amanda Anselma’s house next door. I needed her to look after Eddie while I was gone and I wanted to brief her on the situation. Get it all out right from the get-go. See what it felt like to have complete trust in another human being, something we’d been working on lately. Something neither of us were very good at.She met me at the door in one of my favorite flimsy white things. Her thick auburn hair was pulled back from her face, which this time of year was tanned a deep mahogany, creating an even sharper contrast with her brilliant green eyes.“I was just about to jump into the shower,” she said. “Care to join?”I surprised her by asking for a rain check. Instead I started sharing details of the evening’s events, and as much as I dared of my plan for where it might go from there. While I talked she gripped my arm and searched around my body, staring into my eyes for signs of dire injury.My first go at candid and complete disclosure went about as well as I thought it would.“This makes me very unhappy,” she said. “You need to go to the hospital.”“I’m okay. Nothing bad happened.”Age was less an issue with an old boxer than the accumulated damage, of which I had more than my share. This meant I’d have to live the rest of my life walking along the edge of a precipice, one step away from the mental abyss. And that assumed no more shots to the head. I’d promised as much to Amanda, an easy promise to make provided the situation was entirely up to me, which I pointed out to her.“You didn’t have to go in that house,” she said. “You could have just called the police. You have your own cell phone now, just like a regular person.”I have a general rule when it comes to arguments with people I love. I don’t have them. At the first sign of genuine conflict, I do the brave thing and concede defeat, or if I’m really feeling courageous, I turn and run the other way. I decided on a combination of the two.“You’re right. I’m still a work in progress. Can I borrow your Audi?”She looked incredulous. I liked that a lot better than pissed off.“It’s only two weeks old. I’ve hardly driven it.”“That’s why it needs some highway miles. I know this for a fact. My father was a mechanic.”“Your father bought that ridiculous Pontiac. What did he know about zippy little station wagons?”“You’ve got the pickup. You look great in it.”“You still haven’t told me what you’re going to do,” she said.“Get dressed, throw some crap in the car and be on the road in ten minutes. Eddie ate at Hodges’s. Let him stay with you tonight. I want to know he’s safe. And Will Ervin will be hanging around keeping an eye on things.”I snatched the keys off a ring by the side of the door and wrapped my arm around her waist. She put both hands on my chest and pushed back, looking at me with a mix of annoyance and resignation.“Some day you might learn to trust me,” she said. “You might learn I can handle the truth.”My beat-up brain still knew enough not to tackle gigantic relationship issues when you were trying to make a fast getaway. So all I did was give her a sloppy, theatrical kiss on the lips and got the hell out of there.–As promised, I was out on Sunrise Highway heading west ten minutes later, feeling the silken surge of the torqued-out little car as I ran through all six gears. I’d have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t felt a little bad about the conversation with Amanda. Which would have been distraction enough without the hurricane of confusion and conjecture brought on by the unexpected resurrection of my dead past.“What the hell is going on?” I asked for the third time that night, with no improvement in the result. So I concentrated on the only thing I knew for certain.George Donovan had some explaining to do.From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

"Some series characters begin, after a while, to seem like old friends. . . . Sam Acquillo, the tough Long Island protagonist of Chris Knopf's excellent series, has become one of my pals."— Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail"For all his reputation as a tough guy, it's only when Sam sits down to chew the fat with bartenders, fishermen, teachers and other hard-working townies that we remember why it's such a pleasure to visit this seaside refuge the tourists never see."— The New York Times Book Review"Plot and action are delivered in top form. . . . Once you meet Sam Acquillo, you'll want more."— The Globe and MailPraise for Chris Knopf:“Whip-smart, snappy dialogue and intriguing characters, particularly smart women who handily skirt cliché. Knopf is also a dab hand at describing settings and characters.”— The Boston Globe“Knopf excels in describing the rustic underpinnings of Long Island’s east end, especially its vast array of eccentric characters. Brisk pacing and sharp dialogue carry the reader along, but it’s the endearing and deeply flawed Acquillo that’s the heart and soul of this exceptional series.”— Publishers Weekly (starred review for Head Wounds)From the Hardcover edition.