Prostitution has been legal in Rhode Island for more than a decade; Liam Mulligan, an old-school investigative reporter at dying Providence newspaper, suspects the governor has been taking payoffs to keep it that way. But this isn’t the only story making headlines…a child’s severed arm is discovered in a pile of garbage at a pig farm. Then the body of an internet pornographer is found sprawled on the rocks at the base of Newport’s famous Cliff Walk. At first, the killings seem random, but as Mulligan keeps digging into the state’s thriving sex business, strange connections emerge. Promised free sex with hookers if he minds his own business—and a beating if he doesn’t—Mulligan enlists Thanks-Dad, the newspaper publisher’s son, and Attila the Nun, the state’s colorful Attorney General, in his quest for the truth. What Mulligan learns will lead him to question his beliefs about sexual morality, shake his tenuous religious faith, and leave him wondering who his real friends are. Cliff Walk is at once a hard-boiled mystery and an exploration of sex and religion in the age of pornography. Written with the unique and powerful voice that won DeSilva an Edgar Award for Best First Novel, Cliff Walk lifts Mulligan into the pantheon of great suspense heroes and is a giant leap for the career of Bruce DeSilva.
This is a work of ﬁction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this
novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used ﬁctitiously.
Cosmo Scalici hollered over the grunts and squeals
of three thousand hogs rooting in his muddy outdoor pens.
“Right here’s where I found it, poking outta this pile of garbage.
Gave me the creeps, the way the ﬁ ngers curled like it wanted me
to come closer.”
“What did you do?” I hollered back.
“Jumped the fence and tried to snatch it, but one of the sows
beat me to it.”
“Couldn’t get it away from her?”
“You shittin’ me? Ever try to wrestle lunch from a sixhundred-pound hog? I whacked her on the snout with a shovel
my guys use to muck the pens. She didn’t even blink.”
To mask the stink, we puffed on cigars, his a Royal Jamaica,
mine a Cohiba.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” he said. “The nails were painted
pink, and it was so small. The little girl that arm came from
couldn’ta been more than nine years old. The sow just wolfed it
down. You could hear the bones crunch in her teeth.”
“Where’s the hog now, Cosmo?”
“State cops shot her in the head, loaded her in a van, and
took off. Said they was gonna open her stomach, see what’s left
of the evidence. I told ’em, that’s two hundred and ﬁ fty bucks’
12 | Bruce DeSilva
worth of chops and bacon wholesale, so you damn well better
send me a check ’less you want me to sue your ass.”
“Any other body parts turn up?”
“The cops spent a couple hours raking through the garbage.
Didn’t ﬁnd nothin’. If there was any more, it’s all pig shit by now.”
We kept smoking as we slopped across his twelve acres to the
sprawling white farmhouse with green shutters where I’d left my
car. Once this was woodland and meadow, typical of the countryside in the little town of Pascoag in Rhode Island’s sleepy northwest corner. But Cosmo had bulldozed his whole place into an
ugly mess of stumps, mud, and stones.
“How do you suppose the arm got here?” I asked.
“The staties kept asking the same question, like I’m supposed
to fuckin’ know.”
He scowled as I scrawled the quote in my reporter’s notebook.
“Look, Mulligan,” he said. “My company? Scalici Recycling?
It’s a three-mil-a-year operation. My twelve trucks collect garbage from schools, jails, and restaurants all over Rhode Island.
That arm coulda been tossed in a Dumpster anywhere between
Woonsocket and Westerly.”
I knew it was true. Scalici Recycling was a fancy name for a
company that picked up garbage so pigs could reprocess it into
bacon, but there was big money in it. I’d written about the operation ﬁve years ago when the Maﬁa tried to muscle in. Cosmo
drilled one hired thug through the temple with a bolt gun used
to slaughter livestock and put another in a coma with his hamsize ﬁsts. He called it trash removal. The cops called it selfdefense.
I’d parked my heap beside his new Ford pickup. Mine had
a New England Patriots decal on the rear window. His had a
bumper sticker that said: “If You Don’t Like Manure, Move to
“Getting along any better with the folks around here?” I asked
as I jerked open my car door.
CLIFF WALK | 13
“Nah. They’re still whining about the smell. Still complaining about the noise from the garbage trucks. That guy over there?”
he said, pointing at a raised ranch across the road. “He’s a real
asshole. That one down there? Total jerk. This whole area’s zoned
agricultural. They build their houses out here and want to pretend
they’re in fuckin’ Newport? Fuck them and the minivans they
rode in on.”
A prowl car slipped behind me on America’s Cup
Avenue, and when I swung onto Thames Street, it hugged my
bumper. A left turn onto Prospect Hill didn’t shake it, so when
I reached the red octagonal sign at the corner of Bellevue Avenue,
I broke with local custom and came to a complete stop. Then I
turned right, and the red ﬂashers lit me up.
I rolled down the window and watched in the side mirror as
a Newport city cop unfolded himself from the cruiser and swaggered toward me, the heels of his boots clicking on the pavement, his leather gun belt creaking. I shoved the paperwork at
him before he asked for it. He snatched it without a word,
walked back to the cruiser, and ran my license and registration.
I listened in on my police scanner and was relieved to learn that
my Rhode Island driver’s license was valid and that the heap I’d
been driving for years had not been reported stolen.
I heard the gun belt creak again, and the cop, whose name
tag identiﬁed him as Ofﬁcer Phelps, was back, handing my paperwork through the window.
“May I ask what business you have in this neighborhood tonight, Mr. Mulligan?”
Ordinarily, I don’t pick ﬁghts with lawmen packing highpowered sidearms. Anyone who’d covered cops and robbers as
CLIFF WALK | 15
long as I had could recognize the .357 SIG Sauer on Ofﬁcer
Phelps’s hip. But he’d had no legitimate reason to pull me over.
“Have you been drinking tonight, sir?”
“May I have permission to search your vehicle?”
Ofﬁcer Phelps dropped his right hand to the butt of his pistol
and gave me a hard look.
“Please step out of the car, sir.”
I did, affording him the opportunity to admire how ﬁ ne I
looked in a black Ralph Lauren tuxedo. He hesitated a moment,
wondering if I might actually be somebody; but tuxedos can
be rented, and a somebody would have had better wheels. I put
my palms against the side of the car and assumed the position.
He patted me down, sighing when he failed to turn up a crack
pipe, lock picks, or a gravity knife.
When he was done, he wrote me up for running the sign I’d
stopped at and admonished me to drive carefully. I was lucky he
didn’t shoot me. In this part of Newport, driving a car worth
less than eighty thousand dollars was a capital offense.
I ﬁ red the ignition and rolled past the marble-and-terra-cotta
dreams of nineteenth-century robber barons: The Breakers,
Marble House, Rosecliff, Kingscote, The Elms, Hunter House,
Beechwood, Ochre Court, Chepstow, Chateau-sur-Mer. And my
favorite, Clarendon Court, where Claus von Bülow either did or
did not try to murder his heiress wife by injecting her with insulin,
depending on whether you believe the ﬁ rst jury or the second.
Here, sculpted cherubs frolic in formal gardens. Greek gods cling
to gilded cornices and peer across the Atlantic Ocean. Massive
oak doors open at a touch, and vast dining rooms rise to frescoed
ceilings. A few of these shrines to hubris and bad taste have been
turned into museums, but the rest remain among the most exclusive addresses in the world, just as they have been for more than
a hundred years.
Men who ripped fortunes from the grasps of competitors
16 | Bruce DeSilva
built the Newport mansions. Cornelius Vanderbilt, who stitched
the face of America with rails and ties. Big Jim Fair, who dug silver
out of Nevada’s Comstock Lode. Edward J. Berwind, who fueled
American industry with Appalachian coal. They were doers, and
they built these forty-, sixty-, and eighty-room monstrosities as
retreats, playgrounds, and monuments to themselves.
But that was generations ago. Today, those who live in the
mansions are scions of the doers, living on somebody else’s money
in somebody else’s dream. They try to keep the Gilded Age alive
in a blaze of crystal chandeliers, the scent of lilies drifting over
elegantly attired dinner guests. And they keep the likes of me out
with ivy-covered walls, hand-wrought iron gates, and a vigilant
Except tonight. Tonight, I had an invitation.
Just past Beechwood, the Astors’ Italianate summer cottage,
I slid behind a shimmering silver Porsche in a line of cars drifting
toward the gilded iron gate to the grounds of Belcourt Castle.
One by one, they turned into the torch-lit, crushed-stone drive:
a Maserati, a Bentley, a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, a Maybach, another Bentley, and something sleek that may have been a Bugatti,
although I’d never seen one before. Trailing them was a povertystricken sad sack in a mere Mercedes-Benz. I wondered if Ofﬁcer
Phelps had hassled him, too.
Up ahead, liveried valets opened car doors, grasped bejeweled
hands to help ladies from their fairy-tale carriages, climbed in, and
ﬂoated away to distant parking lots. Then a nine-year-old Bronco
with rust pocks on the hood, a crushed passenger-side fender,
and a diseased mufﬂer rumbled up, and I got out.
“Be careful with it this time,” I said as I ﬂ ipped the keys to a
valet. “Look what happened the last time you parked it.”
I strolled through the courtyard to a heavy oak door where
an emperor penguin with a clipboard was checking the guest list.
He studied my engraved invitation and scowled.
“Surely you are not Mrs. Emma Shaw of the Providence Dispatch.”
CLIFF WALK | 17
“What gave me away?”
“Do this job as long as I have,” he said, “and you develop a
sixth sense about this sort of thing.” He looked me up and down.
“I can see that your eyebrows haven’t been plucked lately.” He
paused to rub his chin with his big left wing. “And your perfume
is a little off. The last dame to walk through here was wearing
Shalimar. You smell like Eau d’Cigars.”
“You don’t know any women who smoke cigars?”
“Not the kind made out of tobacco,” he said. From his snicker,
I could tell he took special pride in that one. “I’m sorry, sir, but I
can’t admit you.”
“Oh yeah? Well, this isn’t the only mansion in town, buster.”
I turned away to retrieve Secretariat, my pet name for the Bronco.
I’d drawn the assignment to cover the annual Derby Ball
after Emma, our society reporter, quit last week, taking a buyout
that trimmed thirty more jobs from a newsroom already cut to
the marrow by last year’s layoffs. Ed Lomax, the city editor, had
pretended he was doing me a favor.
“I can guarantee you the cover of the ‘Living’ section,” he said.
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “We can no longer afford
to have our baseball writer travel with the Red Sox. We don’t have
a medical writer or a religion writer anymore. Our Washington
bureau is down to one reporter. And this is a priority?”
“The ball is the ﬁnal event of the weeklong Newport Jumping
Derby,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest hoity-toity events of the
“So they say, but who gives a shit?”
“Other than the horses?”
“I’m a little busy with real stories right now, boss. I’m trolling
through the governor’s campaign contribution list to ﬁgure out
who’s buying him off this year. I’m looking into the toxic waste
dumping in Briggs Marsh. And I’m still trying to ﬁgure out how
that little girl’s arm ended up as pig food last week.”
“Look, Mulligan. Sometimes you have to do things you don’t
want to do. It’s part of being a professional.”
18 | Bruce DeSilva
“And I have to do this particular thing because . . . ?”
“Because the publisher’s seventeen-year-old niece is one of
But if I couldn’t get in, I couldn’t be blamed for not covering
it. Lomax didn’t need to hear how readily I took no for an answer. I’d almost made it out of the courtyard when I heard high
heels clicking behind me and a woman’s voice calling my name.
I quickened my pace. I was asking a valet where I could ﬁ nd my
car when the high heels clattered to a stop beside me and their
owner, a tiny middle-aged woman who’d had one face-lift too
many, took me by the arm.
“I am so sorry for the confusion, Mr. Mulligan. Your Mr.
Lomax called to say you would be taking Mrs. Shaw’s place, and
I neglected to amend the guest list.”
“And you are . . . ?”
“Hillary Proctor, but you can call me ‘Hill.’ I’m the publicity
director for the Derby, and I am honored that you are joining
us this evening. I do hope my lapse hasn’t caused you any embarrassment.”
“Look, Hill,” I said as she escorted me past the shrugging
penguin and into the mansion’s antechamber, “I’m supposed to
write about the important people who are here and describe what
they are wearing, but I can’t tell the difference between a Vanderbilt draped in a Paris original and a trailer park queen dressed by
J. C. Penney.”
“Of course you can’t. You’re the young man who writes about
mobsters and crooked politicians. I love your work, darling.”
“So you’re the one,” I said.
“Oh, I do love a man with a sense of humor. How would you
like to be my escort for the evening? I’ll whisper the names of
the worthies and what they are wearing in your ear, and the gossips will be all atwitter about the mysterious man on my arm.”
“That’s a very gracious offer, Hill, but I like to work alone.
CLIFF WALK | 19
Do you think you could just jot everything down while I wander
around and soak up a little color?”
“Certainly,” she said, not looking the least bit disappointed.
I handed her my notebook, strolled across the antechamber,
and stepped into a huge dining room with a mosaic pink marble
ﬂoor and a wall of stained glass windows that bristled with Christian iconography. Men in tuxedos and women in ball gowns were
loading china plates with shrimp, roast beef, and several dishes I
couldn’t identify, all of it tastefully displayed on a sixteen-footlong walnut trestle table. The room was illuminated by nine crystal chandeliers. The grande dame who owned the house liked to
boast that the largest of them had once graced the parlor of an
eighteenth-century Russian count. The hunky plumber she had
impetuously married and then divorced tattled that it had actually
been scavenged from a dilapidated movie house in Worcester,
Massachusetts. I made a mental note to include that tidbit of
Newport lore in my story.
The Dispatch’s ethics policy prohibited reporters from accepting freebies, but the roast beef looked too good to pass up.
I scarfed some down and then followed the sound of music up a
winding oak staircase to the second ﬂoor. There, four chandeliers
blazed from a vaulted cream-colored ceiling that arched thirty
feet above a parquet ballroom ﬂoor. A ﬁ replace, its limestoneand-marble chimneypiece carved to resemble a French château,
commanded one end of the room. The hearth was big enough
to roast a stegosaurus or cremate the New England Patriots’ offensive line. At the other end of the room, a band I wasn’t hip enough
to recognize played hip-hop music I wasn’t tone-deaf enough to
I snatched a ﬂute of champagne from a circulating waiter and
circumnavigated the dance ﬂoor, spotting the mayors of Newport,
Providence, New Haven, and Boston; the governors of Rhode
Island, Connecticut, Vermont, Kentucky, and New Jersey; one
of Rhode Island’s U.S. senators; both of its congressmen; three
bank presidents; four Brown University deans; twelve captains of
20 | Bruce DeSilva
industry; two Kennedys; a Bush; and a herd of athletic-looking
I found a spot against the wall between a couple of suits of
armor and watched the mayor of Boston try to dance the Soulja
Boy with a teenage girl whose last name might have been Du Pont
or Firestone. When a waiter glided by, I nabbed another ﬂute, but
it just made me thirsty for a Killian’s at the White Horse Tavern.
After observing the festivities for a half hour, I ﬁgured I’d seen
I was looking for Hill so I could retrieve my notebook when
I spotted Salvatore Maniella. He was leaning against a corner of
the huge chimneypiece, as out of place as Mel Gibson at a seder.
What was a creep like him doing at a swanky event like this? I
was still lurking a few minutes later when our governor strolled
up and tapped him on the shoulder. They crossed the ballroom
together and slipped into a room behind the bandstand. I gave
them twenty seconds and then followed.
Through the half-open door I could make out red ﬂocked wallpaper, a G clef design in gold leaf on the ceiling, and a grand
piano—the mansion’s music room, which the current owner had
proudly restored to its original garishness. Maniella and the governor had the room to themselves, but they stood close, whispering conspiratorially in each other’s ears. After a moment, they
grinned and shook hands.
I slipped away as they turned toward the door.