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Live to Air

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Series: Ethan Benson Thrillers #1
Published by: River Grove Books
Release Date: April 29, 2015
Pages: 404
ISBN13: 978-1632990310

  

Synopsis

Live to Air is a fast-paced tale of murder and intrigue, deception and violence, hope and despair. Its hero, Ethan Benson, is a savvy, award-winning producer with a keen nose for news who works for The Weekly Reporter, the top-rated newsmagazine on television. Assigned to what appears to be a straight forward story about the high profile murder of an innocent young socialite, Ethan embarks on a journey to uncover the truth, surrounded by a cast of memorable characters straight out of the world of television news.

The novel begins on a sleazy side street in New York's infamous Meatpacking District, where a gang of killers tries to pull off a heroin deal in a secluded parking lot in the back of a rundown warehouse. As the scene unfolds, a hotheaded young hoodlum named Pavel Feodor loses his cool and opens fire. In the chaos that follows, our innocent young socialite, out on the town with friends, is apparently gunned down in a hail of bullets. Feodor, who's also shot during the melee, is left in a pool of blood and subsequently targeted as the killer by the police, the prosecutor, and a powerful government official who's hiding a dark secret that threatens to destroy his political future.

Fast forward a year and a half, and as Pavel is awaiting sentencing, our hero is introduced. A forty-year-old grizzled journalist with a penchant for Scotch, Ethan is instructed by management to produce a network special about the now infamous killer. At a contentious pitch meeting, he's briefed on the status of his story, given an impossible deadline, and paired with the mercurial anchorman of the broadcast. Using their sometimes confrontational relationship as the foundation for the storytelling, Ethan puts together the rest of his production team and begins the process of producing his special—carefully reading the court docket, meeting with confidential sources, questioning the detectives, the public defender, the assistant district attorney, and Pavel Feodor, himself. Then when all the facts are nailed down, he takes his production team into the field and shoots his story, ultimately revealing the truth behind the murder in a startling confrontational interview at the end of the book.

Live to Air is a classic who done it, filled with twists and turns and built against the backdrop of television news. It's peppered with car chases, gun battles, and contract hit men, and unlike other murder mysteries, it's protagonist is a television news producer who uses the tools of his trade to seek out the truth as a crime-fighting sleuth.

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Praise

"Jeff and I spent years working together at 20/20, and his novel captures the essence of storytelling and the art of the interview. The plotline is ripped straight from the headlines, and the book is sharp and fast-paced, a page turner that will hold your attention right down to the chilling climax."
-Barbara Walters, former Host at ABC's The View, 20/20, and NBC's Today Show

"Ethan Benson is a new kind of hero, cast in the role of crime-fighting sleuth. Sensitive and insecure, dogged and determined, sharp-witted and loving, he refuses to take no for an answer, as he strives to uncover the truth. A broadcast journalist who's built his reputation on hard-hitting investigative reports, he struggles in the changing world of television news, where substance has been replaced by screaming cable news pundits and corporate masters."
-Al Roker, Host and Weatherman at NBC's Today Show

"Jeffrey L. Diamond has translated his 25 years as one of television's leading investigative reporters into a twisting and turning murder mystery that will keep you riveted. You won't be able to put it down. Diamond captures the nuances of TV production as he draws on the real world of TV News crime reporting. Live to Air is the perfect read for anyone who enjoys fast-paced and very realistic storytelling out of a real network newsroom."
-Avram Westin, former Vice President at ABC News, Executive Producer at ABC News 20/20

"Diamond has crafted a murder mystery that's an absolute page turner. His characters are charasmatic, devious, and frightening—straight out of the annals of the best murder mysteries, except this one is set in the high-flying world of television news. He's captured the color and nuance of [television] production in a new and fresh way, using his vast experience as an award-winning writer and producer to take the reader on a wild ride. It's a thriller that will keep you reading, with a surprise ending that is more than shocking."
-Deborah Roberts, Correspondent at ABC News

"Jeffrey L. Diamond has created a set of characters straight out of the world of television news. The book skillfully chronicles each phase of newsmagazine production, deftly revealing the storyline as Ethan leads the reader on a wild journey of researching, shooting, and producing his story. With its keen insights and startling conclusion, this murder mystery will keep you reading and asking for more."
-David Sloan, Executive Producer at ABC News 20/20


Excerpt

PROLOGUE

Three black Lincoln Navigators slowly made their way down Eighth Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It was two o'clock on a clear and cold Monday morning in the middle of March, the temperature hovering around twenty degrees, the air crisp and still. A layer of ice crystals shimmered as the full moon rose in the north sky, casting eerie ghostlike shadows that danced up and down well-kept brownstones sitting along narrow tree-lined streets. A dog began barking, interrupting the deathly silence, as the caravan of cars waited for a traffic light on the corner of Flatbush Avenue, then headed to the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan.

Four burly men sat shivering in each car, bundled up against the cold, wearing old leather coats and gloves and dark woolen hats pulled down over their ears. Fully loaded Beretta 9mm handguns bulged in shoulder holsters under their arms, and Uzi submachine guns rested silently at their feet carefully hidden under piles of dirty clothes and tattered blankets. Their leader, a small well-dressed man named Nikolai Stanislov, was sitting in the backseat of the lead car. He was wearing a long camelhair coat, a gray pinstripe suit, white shirt, and yellow tie. A thick jagged scar ran down the side of his face from just below his left eye to the corner of his mouth, an ugly disfigurement he proudly considered a badge of honor earned in a knife fight when he was growing up in a Brooklyn ghetto everyone called Little Russia.

The caravan continued driving, inching along the empty roads, then veered left onto Tillary Street and up the ramp to the bridge. Nikolai puffed on a Cuban cigar, choking the car with thick arid smoke. Sitting next to him was a tough-looking twenty-year-old, small and compact in build, with jet-black hair and a scowl on his face. Violent and hotheaded, Pavel Feodor did his first stint in juvenile detention when he was twelve after nearly beating a schoolmate to death. In and out of trouble ever since, he'd been arrested for armed robbery, breaking and entering, auto theft, and drug dealing, making him one of the most notorious young hoods in the city.

As the Lincolns crawled onto the FDR Drive, the two men sat in silence, the gang leader puffing away on his cigar, the young man peering blankly at the wall of skyscrapers looming above him, his right hand jammed into his pocket, slowly caressing his Beretta, feeling the touch of the cold steel.

"Relax, Pavel, you're gonna wear a hole in your coat, Nikolai said. "This job will be over soon, and then you can go back home to your warm bed with a little extra cash for that little slut—that gopnitza you call your woman.”

Pavel didn't respond. He just looked out the window and fingered his handgun, the gang leader now worrying he'd made a mistake bringing him along for the ride. As the caravan reached the tip of Manhattan, he took one last drag on his cigar and flipped it out the window. "Talk to me, Pavel. What's eating you?”

"I don't like Mexicans. I don't trust them. What if they try to rip us off?”

Nikolai touched his scar, feeling the jagged surface of the skin. "That's my problem, not yours," he said, anger burning in his voice. "I've dealt with this cartel many times. I know them. How they act. How they think." He tapped his forehead. So you do your job, and I'll do mine. Am I making myself clear?”

Pavel nodded, never changing his expression, his eyes fixed on a homeless man sleeping under a box in a doorway.

Nikolai leaned forward, the biting cold seeping into the car through the partially opened window, sending a chill up his spine. "Don't make me sorry, Pavel. I stuck my neck out for you with the Pakhan." His face became hard. "He wanted me to get rid of you. Said you were too wild. Too unpredictable. So don't disappoint me tonight. You know what I'll do to you if you do something stupid. It won't be pretty.”

He smiled and patted Pavel on the cheek.

Still there was no reaction.

The caravan inched along, reaching Battery Park on the tip of Manhattan and heading up West Street, past the new World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial, before making a left onto a dimly lighted side street called Tenth Avenue in the heart of the Meatpacking District. The neighborhood was dilapidated; piles of garbage spilling out of trash cans and rats scurrying under parked cars, avoiding traps placed every few feet on the sidewalks.

Nikolai whispered into the driver's ear, a thug with bushy eyebrows and a scraggly red goatee. "Cut the lights and make the next right. That's Little West Twelfth. Then drive down to the end of the block." They picked their way around potholes and a broken-down car or two, past a boarded-up brick building and an old-man bar, and into a narrow alley leading to a secluded parking lot hidden behind a warehouse belonging to a wholesale meat distributor.

"Everybody out," Nikolai said, checking the chamber of his Beretta.

The car doors flew open and the heavily armed men spilled out into the darkness. After checking to make sure there was nobody watching from the windows of the surrounding tenements, Nikolai walked to the back of his Lincoln, unlocked the liftgate, and pulled out two duffel bags. Then he faced his men. "Yuri, take three guys and guard the alley. Anatoly, you take everybody else and fan out around the parking lot. Make sure your guns are drawn and in plain sight. I want them to know we mean business. And for God's sake, everybody stay calm. No shooting. Unless I say so.” He spun around and pointed at Pavel. "You. Stay with me.”

Picking up the duffle bags, he walked up a short flight of stairs, pulled out a set of keys, and unlocked a door on a loading dock in the back of the warehouse. He placed the two duffel bags on the ground, turned, and peered around the parking lot.

Everybody was in position.

Now all they had to do was wait for the Mexicans.

They didn't have to wait long.

Two Cadillac Escalades pulled into the alley and stopped, six Mexicans climbing out, toting high-powered handguns and Walther HK MP5 assault rifles. Their leader, a short round man with a pencil thin mustache, motioned to his men to wait by the cars and strutted over to the loading dock, showing no fear. He was holding a .357 Magnum as he approached Nikolai, who was standing in the doorway—Pavel right behind him—his Beretta drawn and aimed at the Mexican's head.

“Marco, my friend, glad you could make it," Nikolai said, a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

“Good evening, señor. It's nice to be here, to do business with you again. It's very cold tonight, too cold for me and my men. Let's not waste time. Do you have the money?”

Nikolai pointed to the two duffel bags sitting on the platform. "It's all right here. One million in cash. In unmarked hundred-dollar bills. Just as we agreed. Do you want to count it?”

“No, that's not necessary. I trust you. We've done business before. Just open the bags so I can see the greenbacks.”

Nikolai unzipped the two duffel bags.

The Mexican looked in. The cash was stacked and bound in ten-thousand-dollar packets.

"Where's the heroin?" Nikolai said as his eyes darted to his men.

The Mexican slowly turned and opened the back of the lead Cadillac. There—stacked in four large suitcases—was two hundred pounds of pure uncut heroin, neatly packaged in gallon-size Ziploc bags. "Here's your heroin. Just as we promised. A bargain for a million dollars." He pulled out a bag from one of the suitcases and dangled it in the air.

Nikolai stared at the white powder, then studied the Mexican's face, looking for telltale signs something was wrong. "I wanna test it before I make the buy. I've been burned in the past," he said suspiciously.

“Señor, you don't trust me? I trust you. I no count your money. You told me it was all there, and I believe you. I'm telling you the heroin is pure, the best money can buy." There was outrage in the Mexican's voice. He looked like a man whose honor had been scorned.

Seconds ticked by. It felt like hours.

Then Nikolai nodded to a man standing in the shadows. "That's my chemist, Marco. Give him the bag.”

The Mexican never took his eyes off Nikolai as he tossed the package onto the ground. The chemist knelt and pulled a small test tube out of his pocket—cutting a small hole in the plastic bag and dropping a pinch of heroin into a clear liquid. After shaking it for a moment, he stared at the test tube. "This stuff is high quality, Nikolai. Just like the man says, it's close to 100 percent pure.”

“See, my friend, we don't lie," Marco said, a smirk on his face. "The cartel likes doing business with you. We wouldn't cheat you.”

There was another long pause, Nikolai still uncertain. Something didn't feel right. The tone in the Mexican's voice too confident, too spurious, like he was hiding something. He turned to his chemist. "Take a bag from the bottom of a suitcase. Test it. I wanna make sure.”

"No. I can't let him do that, Nikolai. Nobody touches the heroin until you give me the money.”

"No money. Until we test a bag from the bottom. A bag we pick. What's the problem, Marco? Are you trying to cheat us?”

The Mexican's face hardened. He gestured to his men to close the liftgate, then made his way back to the lead Escalade, his .357 Magnum drawn and aimed at Nikolai. "No deal, señor. We trusted you when you said you had the cash. Now you don't trust us when we say the heroin is the best money can buy. This is no way to conduct business. There is no honor.”

Silence, as Marco opened the passenger door and started to climb in.

Nikolai walked to the edge of the loading dock and stopped, ordering his men to hold their fire. Nobody moved. Then Pavel, hovering in the background, all but forgotten in the heat of the moment, suddenly began to scream, hatred filling his eyes. "You fucking wetbacks. You're all the same." As he raised his gun, Nikolai lunged forward, trying to grab his arm, knowing his young protégé had snapped.

"Damn it, Pavel. Don't shoot. The deal's a bust. You're gonna bring the cops down on us.”

But Nikolai was a second too late.

Pavel pulled the trigger and a bullet ripped through Marco's shoulder.

Pandemonium broke out, the other Mexicans surrounding their leader and opening fire with their automatic weapons, spraying bullets around the parking lot, the sound echoing like blasts from a cannon. Two of Nikolai's men went down, hit in the chest, their arms twitching, their feet kicking spasmodically. As they lay dying, blood poured from their mangled bodies and pooled in large circles on the pavement.

Nikolai ducked behind one of the Navigators, cursing at Pavel as he emptied his Beretta into a Mexican, blowing off most of his head, his brains splattering on the loading dock and up against the wall of the warehouse.

Holding his bloody arm, Marco, stumbled into the backseat of his Escalade, his men continuing to hose the parking lot—rat, tat, tat—trying to protect him. Then they climbed into the two Cadillacs, gunned the engines, and roared onto the street, Pavel racing after them like a madman, squeezing off one shot after another. A Mexican leaned out the window and fired his Walther, ripping a stream of bullets through Pavel's leg, sending him crashing to the ground, his head smashing on the pavement, his eyes rolling into the back of his head.

Then there was silence.

Nikolai slowly stood and peered at the carnage. Two of his men were dead, and Pavel was lying in a heap, unconscious—blood gushing from his leg, spilling in torrents all around him. Lights began clicking on in the surrounding buildings and people began leaning out their windows and screaming. Nikolai picked up the duffel bags and raced to his Navigator, dropping the cash in the back and slamming the door. "Don't stand like idiots, he said, bellowing at his men. "The cops are gonna be here soon.”

"What about the dead guys?" the chemist said, pointing at the bodies littering the ground. “We can't just leave them.”

Nikolai walked over and kicked Pavel. "I don't care about this little shit. He's bleeding like a pig and ain't gonna make it." He kicked him again. "This is all his fault, the crazy motherfucker. I should never have brought him. Leave him for the cops. They can't link him to us.”

"What about everybody else?”

"I don't give a shit about the Mexican, but take our guys. The Pakhan won't like it if we leave them.”

Two minutes later, they tore out of the alley, one car after the other. When they reached the corner of Little West Twelfth and Washington Avenue, they pulled to a sudden stop. Sprawled on the sidewalk was another body—a pretty young woman lying on her back, twisted and broken. Nikolai rolled down his window and cursed. "Goddamn it, the bitch must've been hit in the crossfire. This is a problem. A big problem." He lit a cigar and motioned to his driver. "Get us the fuck outta here.”

Then the caravan pulled through the intersection and weaved along the empty streets as police sirens wailed in the distance. Soon they crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and left Manhattan, vanishing into the dark night.