New Orleans, Louisiana
A blanket of angry black clouds passed over the Crescent City,
blotting out the moon and suffusing the air with the scent of rain.
A paddle-wheeler glided upriver, making for its dock on the edge of
the French Quarter. The voices of the revelers on the deck fought a
pitched battle with the optimistic strains of the Dixieland band.
After the boat passed by, its wash slapped at the pilings under the
pier and the warehouse.
A dark Mercedes sedan was parked in the doorway of the warehouse,
its trunk open. Dylan Devlin looked up and down the pier, then
finished loading the cargo, closed the trunk gently, and removed
People usually visited New Orleans because of the fine dining, for
the atmosphere of revelry--to stroll up and down Bourbon Street
clutching a plastic cup of beer. Tourists flocked to the city to
enjoy the architecture, the history, the casinos. But Devlin had no
interest in any of that. To him, New Orleans was just another piece
of geography to be learned, streets to be navigated, and problems
to be solved or avoided. Dylan was a lucky man who had discovered
his true passion: He was paid to do something he would have done
A red-haired man of thirty-six with a youthful face, he had
light-green eyes, and his smile was as disarming as a baby's. Since
he was a child, women had wanted to coddle him and, as he matured,
to offer their bodies and hearts, although only the former held any
interest for him.
He opened the car door, climbed in, and drove out of the lot,
leaving the loading-dock door wide open--like an unblinking yellow
eye staring out over the Mississippi River.
The wall of rain moved down the river and closed like a curtain
over the departing riverboat. Dylan pressed a button and the window
purred up just as the downpour slammed into the pier.
The two boys were seventeen years old. They were in a white Lexus
400, which belonged to the driver's mother, a divorced real-estate
The teenagers had consumed two six-packs of Heineken and had
managed to smoke most of a half an ounce of marijuana in the hours
since sundown. It was raining hard and the wipers kept a beat along
with the music. The Lexus was doing sixty-six miles an hour as the
car approached the intersection of St. Charles and Napoleon
Avenues. The driver saw the light change to red, but its meaning
didn't penetrate the fog in his brain until it was too late to
apply the brakes. A black Mercedes seemed to materialize before
him, as if from nowhere.
The Lexus sent Dylan Devlin's Mercedes skidding seventy feet into
the oncoming lane. It rolled over and disgorged the trunk's
contents into the middle of St. Charles Avenue--a spare tire and
two limp bodies. The bloody sacks on the corpses' heads and their
contorted limbs made them look like a pair of discarded
Devlin shoved aside the physician's case on the passenger seat,
which held his tools--the .22 automatic and silencer, the
handcuffs. More than enough evidence to send him to death row. He
slid from the stolen Mercedes through the shattered side window,
dragging himself toward the curb like an injured dog. He gazed
across the rain-slick asphalt at the corpses and marveled at how
ridiculous they looked. He remembered shooting them, loading the
two heavy bodies into the trunk.
Cars were braking and people were running into the street,
shouting. When he saw the blue lights converging, he smiled because
he knew it was over. He knew, too, that it was only just
Two days after the newspapers and TV news teams in New Orleans
first reported that a man had been arrested with the bodies of two
warehouse workers he had murdered gangland-style, Florence Pruette
started her day without once thinking about it. She'd seen the
pictures of the bodies lying in the middle of St. Charles Avenue,
but she hadn't paid much attention to the fact that the two dead
men had worked for one of her employer's competitors.
At precisely 6:45 that morning, Florence got out of a taxicab in
front of Parker Amusement & Vending Company on Magazine Street
to open the offices for business. At five that afternoon, the
seventy-year-old woman would turn on the answering machine, lock up
the office, and go home to her one-bedroom apartment on the eighth
floor of the Versailles apartment building. Florence had kept the
same routine every weekday all her adult life. The exceptions to
the rule were Christmas day, Thanksgiving day, and Fat Tuesday. In
1971, the office had closed for Dominick Manelli's funeral. Manelli
had founded and run the company for thirty-nine years before he
There had been four mornings in the fifty-two years when Florence
had been too ill to come in, but otherwise she was as punctual as
the sunrise. Florence had worked at Parker Amusement first as a
receptionist, then secretary, office manager, and finally as
private secretary to Dominick. After his death, his son, Sam, kept
her on. In all her years with the company, she had never asked
either of her employers a non-business-related question. She was
paid generously, lived comfortably in an apartment she owned
outright, and had good medical insurance. She could eat at any of
Sam's restaurants for free as often as she chose. Because she
tipped generously, Florence was fussed over by the restaurant
staff. The taxi that chauffeured her to and from work was an
additional perk. Best of all, Sam had promised her a paycheck for
as long as she lived, and, although he had offered to let her
retire whenever she wanted, the company was her life.
The offices had not been renovated since the company moved into the
building on Magazine Street in 1967. The walls were stained brown
from decades of cigarette and cigar smoke issued from employees
who, like the nonsmoking employees, answered to Florence.
The office workers kept the books, taking orders for vending and
gaming machines. The warehouse workers delivered the machines.
Collectors picked up the coins and bills and stocked the machines
with candy, soft drinks, cigarettes, CDs, and condoms. One
warehouse stored the machines and was the site where necessary
maintenance was performed, while another held the stock and was a
subsidiary--MarThon Distributing Company. All of Manelli's
businesses were separate entities, grouped under the master banner
of SAMCO Holding Company. SAMCO owned bars, gas stations, adult
bookstores, a travel agency, a tobacco shop, a French Quarter art
gallery, an antique shop, a tour company, a limousine firm, parking
lots, and more. Its entire holdings were worth over 60 million
dollars, every dollar of which was squeaky clean. Every morning at
seven-thirty Sam Manelli showed up at his Parker office to preside
over his kingdom. It was unnecessary because people seldom stole
anything from Sam Manelli. The downside of stealing his money was
too frightening to contemplate. Sam was the most feared man in
Louisiana for good reason. He was a Mafia don, a monster whose
sadism was the whole cloth from which nightmares were cut.
Florence was aware of Sam's reputation as a gangster, but she had
never seen any evidence of it. She had heard that his illegal
companies generated four times what SAMCO Holding was worth in
cash, every year. A million dollars a day was the figure she had
read in the Times-Picayune. It was said that Sam owned everyone he
needed to maintain both of his empires. Books had been written
about him, documentaries filmed, movies were based on his legend.
He was famed as the last of the big-time mobsters, a tyrannosaur
that had somehow survived the evolutionary process. Everybody knew
what he did, but Sam had never once been convicted of a
Florence came in that morning, like every other, but on that
Tuesday something was different. It was so different, it almost
gave her a stroke. Minutes after Sam arrived, four FBI agents
strolled into the office. They flashed badges, passed by Florence
without answering her questions, and handcuffed Sam.
"What's this about?" Sam asked calmly.
"You're under arrest for conspiracy to commit murder. Among other
"That's a state rap."
"We're getting the first bite on the federal charges. The state can
dine on the crumbs after we've boxed you up for life."
"Whose murder?" Sam demanded.
"You hired one Dylan Devlin to come to Louisiana and kill two of
your competitors' employees: Austin Wilson and Wesley Jefferson.
You are charged with paying Devlin to murder an additional ten
"That's crazy! I don't know no Dylans, period."
Florence trembled as the four men hustled Sam out. Sam, sensing
that she was upset, stopped in his tracks, forcing the agents to do
likewise. He smiled at Florence and then winked, dropping the lid
over a bright-blue eye. Florence Pruette relaxed instantly, certain
that everything was going to be just fine.
"Miss Flo, do me a favor and call Bertran Stern. Tell him to get to
the Federal Building and straighten these birds out."
JFK Airport, New York City
Two weeks later
Since she had left Buenos Aires she had been holding on to a mental
picture. She would be in a throng of people walking down a wide
corridor and he would be standing framed in the throat of the
hallway, in the waiting area with a hundred other anxious people.
He would be wearing an Italian blazer. His red hair slightly damp
from the shower, he would have rushed to the airport, parked, and
walked in as close to the customs area as he could get. After a
year of marriage, he was still romantic. He might be holding
flowers behind his back, or he'd have a small gift in his pocket.
He would beam at the sight of her. After two weeks apart, he would
be more attentive than ever and they would end the evening in bed,
making noise. That part of the image made her smile--in fact,
She caught her reflection in a glass panel. The glove-leather
jacket, tailored to accentuate her shape, was an Argentine
purchase, as were the matching boots. Her shoulder-length dark hair
was combed back and the glasses she wore made her feel--and
look--like a model. She was young enough to be one, had been told
that she had the bone structure, the figure. She was aware that she
turned heads, but the only head she was interested in turning was
Her customs agent was a woman with stiff bleached hair. The tightly
cinched belt around her waist made her look like a wasp. Her
fingernails were an inch long and had stars painted on them. She
stared at the passport picture and back at Sean.
"Anything to declare?"
"This jacket and the boots," Sean said, handing the agent the
American Express receipt.
"Yes," Sean said.
The agent looked into her eyes, then handed Sean her passport back.
She opened Sean's briefcase. "What about this computer?" The woman
had Sean lift out the Apple laptop and turn it on.
"It's mine. I took it with me. I don't have the receipt because it
was a gift."
Satisfied, the woman nodded. A man wearing a skycap jacket strode
up and placed Sean's bags on a dolly. "Mr. Devlin asked me to
escort you outside," he said.
There were people waiting in the lobby, staring down the corridor,
checking for arriving travelers. Several livery drivers stood in a
receiving line, each holding up a sign containing the last name of
their fares. Moving rapidly, the porter stayed just ahead of
They moved through the length of the terminal, passing empty
ticketing counters for commuter airlines. They walked across an
expanse without seeing anyone except a janitor polishing the floor.
They kept going until they were at the last set of doors at the
very end of the terminal. "We're just about there," he told
The porter pushed the cart outside. The sidewalk was deserted. She
didn't see her husband's black BMW 750 or her prized 1991 Buick
Reatta convertible that had belonged to her mother. Sean looked
down the covered walk to where, some fifty yards away, vehicles
were picking up and letting off passengers.
"You'll be safe if you just do what we say, Mrs. Devlin."
When she turned, the porter was standing beside the cart. His right
hand grasped the handle of a machine gun, its barrel concealed
under his jacket.
A battered blue van raced up and stopped, its tires screeching in
protest. A back door flew open and a young woman wearing a black
jacket and jeans jumped out. Sean saw the bulge of a gun inside her
jacket. A scruffy man leaped from the front passenger's seat. The
woman grabbed Sean's right arm firmly below her shoulder as the man
seized her other arm, immobilizing her. They pushed Sean toward the
van as the "fake" porter tossed her suitcases in the rear, then
leaped into the van's front seat.
Sean's panic diminished sufficiently for her to try to break
"Help!" she yelled at the top of her lungs. The people down the
walk didn't hear her--couldn't hear over the noise of the airport.
She started kicking and flailing at her assailants, hoping at least
to get someone in a passing car to notice and help--take down the
license number, anything.
"Get in now!" the woman snarled as the pair strong-armed her into
the van and slammed the door. Sean was trapped between them. The
skycap jerked his wig off, leaned back over the seat, and snapped
Sean's lap belt.
"Who are you?" she asked. "Let me go!"
"Any tails?" the woman asked the porter.
"Didn't see any inside." The tires screamed again as the vehicle
"What's going on?" Sean demanded. "What in God's name are you
people doing? Where's my husband?"
"You'll find out soon enough," the woman beside her said.
"We're federal agents," the porter said, as he stared over Sean's
shoulder to study the traffic behind them. "We're all alone," he
told the driver.
Sean Devlin didn't believe for a second that these people were
Concord, North Carolina
Winter Massey had visited the tombstone at his feet countless times
in the past three years, most often at night. Tonight it was cold
for October, and the wind whipped the black raincoat against his
legs while icy rain stung his face. He wore a wool baseball cap and
clenched a single long-stemmed rose in his gun hand. He had bought
the rose, along with eleven others wrapped in tissue paper, from a
young couple outside the airport for ten dollars. He suspected the
pair were cult members because they wore identical, vacant
Winter twisted the gold band on his finger. The vow said until
death parted them, but he couldn't let her go even now. Maybe, he
thought, that's because the time they had lived together, only
fourteen years, was so terribly short . . . flying by like clouds
in a fast-moving thunderstorm.
Excerpted from INSIDE OUT © Copyright 2005 by John Ramsey
Miller. Reprinted with permission by Dell, a division of Random
House, Inc. All rights reserved.