Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Business of Consequence by Ben Woestenburg

Ben Woestenburg's touching story about the rise and fall of two criminals in 1920s New York will transport you to the golden age of gangsterism.

A servant's too often a negligent elf;
If it's business of consequence, do it yourself!

Revd. R.H. Barham 1788-1845

NEW YORK

1910

"Yer not gonna welch out on us, are ya?" I said, trying my best to intimidate the geezer. I didn't feel very threatening, even though I'm a big fella; but I could see that the geezer looking up at me wasn't scared like the others we shook down earlier.

It made me want to hit him again.

So I did.

"Jee-sus Christ, Mel, how many times I gotta tell you? Are you simple, or what?" Jimmy yelled, throwing a rolled up wad of paper at me.

He was sitting on one of the restaurant's tables, swinging his leg back and forth like as if he was one of those clocks you see on a piano - back-and-forth, back-and-forth - like maybe keeping time with some tune in his head only he could hear.

"If I tol' you once, I tol' you a hundred times, it's not welch - it's welsh. You got it? Welsh? 'Yer not gonna welsh out on us, are ya?' Like that. It's American. You're saying it like the way they say it in Canada," he added, and I wondered how he knew what they said in Canada. He's never been out of New York, let alone the Points.

Jimmy looked at me, shaking his head as he leaned back on his left elbow and began swinging his leg back and forth again. I couldn't help looking at him because I knew he was trying hard not to look like he was mad at me. But I could see he was. Jimmy was never one to put up with stupid people, and when I told him I wasn't as good at reading and writing words as I was at reading music, he told me he'd do the thinking for both of us. He always said the secret to getting out of a place like the Points was to think your way out. He was always thinking up things. I just never knew what he was thinking about, and sometimes that worried me.

But one thing at a time.

He had a habit of squinting out of his left eye, and it was little more than a slit when he looked at me. He had a scar running from his dead, grey eye, down his cheek in a crimson line - his other eye was brown. It was a gift given him by Legs three years ago. His nose was broke once or twice, and his teeth were rotted so he didn't smile so much. He was always looking out for me though, saying how he knew what was best for both of us. And back then, who knows, maybe he did; I mean, I didn't know Welsh was a country, let alone where it was. It made me grateful having Jimmy on my side and watching my back for the most part.

Jimmy was sitting on the table with his back up against the wall, swinging his free leg back and forth, like I said, with his hat resting on his other knee. He was drinking out of a wine bottle, and in between swallows looking at a cut on his fuck-finger. We'd had a hard day of it, and the nights weren't going much better, but there was Jimmy swinging his leg like as if he was a kid waiting for the trolley bus. The geezer what owned the restaurant was looking at each of us like he couldn't believe what was going on. We hadn't even been inside for more than a couple of minutes, and here I'd already hit him three times and kicked him when he was down.

He was a tall, thin geezer, and spoke with the slow, stubborn, speech you might expect from a Jersey farmer. I half expected to see dirt under his nails. His moustache grew out into a pair of grey muttonchops, the kind I remember my dad having - and it made me hate him even more just seeing him - reminding me of how my dad used to beat me until I decided I had a better chance out on the streets by my lonesome. I was twelve then, and I ain't seen him since. The old geezer reminded me of a time I was trying to forget. He was more mad at me than he was scared though, I could see that just looking at him, and he refused to go all the way down.

I hit him again.

"Yer not gonna welsh out on us, are ya?" I said, looking at Jimmy as the geezer turned to look at me.

"Well? Are you?" Jimmy asked, and the geezer looked at Jimmy before turning back to look at me again. He spat out a huge gob of blood before he lifted his head and looked Jimmy square in the eye. Then he got up off the floor, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

"Get off my table!" he yelled. "I mean it! Get off! This ain't your place! You think you can plunk your ass down wherever you want?"

I looked over at Jimmy, and he was cool as a twelve bar riff, smiling that smile of his.

"This is my place!" the geezer said. "Mine! An' I don't have to pay you squat! I've got protection."

"What's he owe us?" Jimmy asked me as he jumped off the table. He brushed his hat off like as if there was dirt on it, even though the hat was old and worn out, something he'd found on a dead drunk in an alley two years ago.

"I don't owe you nothing! Not a thing! Now why don't you two punks do yourselves a favor, and walk yourselves back out of here?"

Jimmy pulled his gun out and stuck it in the man's face. The geezer went quiet, real fast.

"Why don't you do yourself a favor, and shut the fuck up!" Jimmy screamed at him, pushing the gun into the geezer's face and forcing him back into a chair.

"I don't care. Do you understand? We're taking over the neighborhood, and it's going to cost you two bucks a night for us to keep whoever's bothering you off your back. You don't like it? Good. I'd just as soon kill you than put up with the headache."

"I've got protection!" the geezer stammered.

"Protection? You mean Jack an' Frankie? That who you mean? Well, they're not here now, are they?" Jimmy asked softly, leaning in toward the man like as if he was letting him in on a secret. "They're never around when you need them. What's he owe us?" Jimmy asked me.

I opened the little book I had tucked away inside my coat pocket and flipped through the pages even though I had the page marked with a dog-eared corner. I was just trying to look professional, the way Jimmy wanted me to; it wasn't as if I didn't know we were coming here. I looked at the numbers, looked at the man, and then looked at Jimmy.

"How much?" Jimmy asked, pretending like he was interested in what I was gonna say.

"Fifty bucks."

"Fifty bucks? Hear that? Fifty bucks," Jimmy said, and looked at the geezer. "Is that what you said?" he asked me. "Fifty bucks?"

"Yeah, but it says here -"

"I don't care what it says," Jimmy said with a quiet voice, reaching out and putting his hand on the book; he patted it until I closed it. "Fifty bucks is a lot of money Mel, and I want the money he owes me."

"Yeah, but Jimmy -" I tried again.

"Tut-tut-tut - again with your second guessing me, Mel?" Jimmy said, looking up at me through his squint eye. "You're supposed to be the muscle. Remember? When I tell you to beat someone, you do it; I tell you to break an arm, or a leg, you do it. It's the easiest gig you're ever going to have - a lot easier than playing that stupid horn of yours for a living, and don't you forget it. You were made for this sort of shit - as long as you don't try thinking for yourself that is - you leave that to me. That's why we're a team."

I nodded and put the book back in my pocket; I knew he was right. As much as I might've liked blowing horn, I wasn't making a living at it. I made more money in the last two months with Jimmy than I made blowing horn for the whole of last year.

"Who says I owe you?" the geezer said. "You? I told you, I got protection!" he said, pushing Jimmy's gun to the side slowly. He stood up and started walking to the door. Jimmy looked at me and looked at his gun, and then he looked at the geezer again.

"I had Eastmans on my back tryin' to leech me dry just three months back, and that got taken care of, if you know what I mean. I don't need you two coming in here trying to shake me down. Now get out!"

He opened the door for us.

"Again with that 'I've got protection' shit," Jimmy said, all quiet like. He had a bad temper when he got quiet like that, and I figured it was only a matter of time before he lost it on the geezer. I thought, good, I wasn't liking him much anyway - him with his mutton chop sideburns.

"Who's protecting you? Kelly and his gang? Or do you mean Legs and the Dutchman?" Jimmy smiled. "Fat lot of good they're doing you."

"I don't need the likes of you!"

"There're all sorts of bad people out there," Jimmy said, walking toward the door and swinging his gun around like as if it were a toy. "I hear the Rabbits come by the Chinaman's -"

"The Dead Rabbits?" the geezer laughed nervously. "They ain't been around here for years - ever since Monk an' his gang chased them out."

"They're gonna beat on you all the same, and take what you've got, just on account of you bein' an ornery ol' bastard," Jimmy said. He wasn't even listening to the geezer.

"They don't scare me none, and you don't scare me either - not even with that gun. I been working all my life trying to make this place pay off, and now that I finally got it so I can see me a decent living, you come walking in here and want to take it away from me!"

"Well, if you don't pay us, I'm telling you right now, you can be damned sure we'll come back and burn this shit hole to the ground."

"Get out!" the geezer yelled. I stepped around Jimmy and headed for the door.

Jimmy put his hand out to stop me.

"Where you going, Mel?" he asked with a tilt of his head.

"I'm leaving, Jimmy. He ain't gonna give us no fifty bucks," I started to say, but Jimmy stood in front of me shaking his head.

"He's not?" Jimmy asked.

"He's Jack's man, Jimmy," I said, looking at the man. "I can beat him up if ya want, but ya can't get blood off a stone. Remember?"

Jimmy smiled.

The man seemed to puff out his skinny chest as he crossed his arms and tried to stare Jimmy down. I suppose he was thinkin' he was gonna get out of it without having to cough up the fifty bucks, but I knew different.

"That's not how these things work," Jimmy said, looking sideways at the man.

"That's not how what works?" the geezer asked.

Jimmy turned on his heel and pushed the gun into the man's face again - shushing him as he held his other arm across the man's chest. The man stumbled back, maybe thinking for the first time that this was more than just a shake down. Jimmy backed him up against a table.

"Open up," Jimmy said, and pushed the gun into the man's mouth. I watched him piss himself as he pointed to a spot behind the counter. Jimmy looked over his shoulder and nodded at me.

"There's a loose brick beside the oven!"

That's when Jimmy pulled the trigger.



In the time since Jimmy shot the geezer in the restaurant, we never looked back - except for looking over our shoulders to see who was gunning for us. Word got out that we were making a move against Kelly and his Five Points Gang, and for a time it seemed like as if everyone was after us, from the last of the Eastmans, to the newest of Kelly's guinea gophers fresh off the boat from Palermo. We weren't nothing more than a nickel and dime crew - barely a dozen of us in total - but we made sure not to take no guff from no one. We fought hard, and we played hard; and there was never no shortage of girls we could have if we wanted. If they didn't wanna give it to us, Jimmy wasn't shy about taking what he wanted. I'd rather pay a girl her two bucks and have her pretend she liked me than have her screaming and crying under me while I tried to get my pecker in her. Jimmy was different that way.

But Monk Eastman and his crew were in a war with Paul Kelly's Five Points gang – and they'd been at it since about '08 – which was why we thought we might try muscling in on their turf. Most of the time they left us pretty much to ourselves, which was okay by me. We'd have the odd run-in with some of Kelly's boys, but were having more trouble trying to dodge the Eastmans. Monk Eastman had almost a thousand geeks in two different gangs, while Kelly's Five Points gang only numbered three hundred. Me and Jimmy used to be part of the Junior Eastmans, which was why they were chasin' us down – you don't leave the Eastmans without paying a price. So when Charlie Luciano and Frankie Costello was running with the Kelly Gang, I helped them out of a scrape one time when seven JRs jumped them. Charlie told me he'd never forget it. Charlie was always lucky like that.

When the new decade started, Jimmy said 1910 was going to be the dawn of a new era. He said people were always saying things like that at the start of a new decade. I guess he was right, because by the end of the year Monk was serving time in Sing Sing, and two of Kelly's own men tried taking him out. That didn't make the two gangs any less of a problem for us, but it was the beginning of the end for both of them because things started falling apart after that. Within two years, both gangs split up and a lot of the Monk's geeks tried forming smaller gangs, like the one Meyer Lanskey and Benny Segal started, working out of Mulberry Street. Jimmy wanted to make certain we got on their good side on account of how Benny Segal was as buggy as a shit-house rat; when people heard Jimmy say that, they took to calling Benny Bugsy.

Charlie Luciano and Frankie Costello formed up with Lanskey and Segal and things changed for everyone; we just didn't know it. Jack Diamond and the Dutchman muscled Jimmy and me out of our own crew, and most of the dinks we had took off with them. Things went from bad to worse after that.

Me and Jimmy stuck with each other though, and got back into the muscle racket again, hiring ourselves out for protection against guys like Diamond. For two bucks, I'd break an arm, or a leg; I'd bust anyone's head open for five. It cost a hunnerd bucks to whack someone, and if we did, it was usually Jimmy what did it. I was more into using my fists, working as a bouncer for whatever floating crap game we could find. There'd always be someone trying to bust a game up, but I had Jimmy backing me up.

By the time the Big War broke out in Europe, we were still doing our nickel and dime crap games, and people took to calling us the Five and Dime Crew. No one bothered with us anymore because there was just the two of us, but we still had to fight for everything we got. Most of the time we were fighting Diamond and our old crew until he moved uptown and the crew fell apart. I'd heard some of them went up to Canada so they could join in the Big War. Someone said Jimmy was the one what got Monk Eastman to join the army and fight in the Big War, but that wasn't true. Monk got picked up trying to mug some rich kid slumming in the Points a little while after he got out of Sing-Sing; it was a matter of choice for Monk: go back to Sing-Sing, or join the army and kill Germans. He came back from the war a genuine hero.

When the Big War broke out, we stole ammo and sold it back to the army; we sold spoilt meat to the navy and broken airplane parts to the new air force. We were robbing the docks by night, and selling stolen goods the next day. Jimmy could smell a profit, and he'd do whatever it took to get a piece of it. We ran fifteen floating crap games all across the Five Points, taking a cut from all of them, making a lot of people mad. Jimmy talked about expanding the operation, like running numbers and betting on the ponies. We even considered buying one or two glue factory wannabes and running them up in Saratoga, but we didn't know nothing about horses. I was bringing in almost four hundred a month, and Jimmy more than one large. But he was the brains I needed and I wasn't going to say different.



It was in Saratoga where we crossed paths with Arnold Rothstein - Mr. Big, The Fixer, The Man Uptown, people called him - but Jimmy called him The Big Bankroll, or else The Brain. I called him Arnie because I could never remember what I was supposed to call him. We bought into his protection racket on account of him having the cops in his back pocket - and a couple of judges too. Somebody said he'd helped to bankroll a Senator and some other politicians. All I know is that it cost us sixty percent of our floating crap games, which Arnie said was fair since it was only a matter of time before word went out to take care of us. He said he'd make sure it did. I didn't mind giving it up the money as much as Jimmy did, but I didn't know how much it really meant we had to give up.

In 1919, people were saying Arnie helped fix the World Series. He didn't mastermind it, he just helped bankroll the players. People said it couldn't be done, but Arnie knew all you had to do was buy off a couple of players. I don't think he expected eight of them to want in on the scheme. Once we knew the fix was on, Jimmy put up twenty-five hunnerd to my fifteen. Arnie put two hundred grand down for one game, but Arnie had balls - and money - besides, by then people heard the fix was on, and the odds started dropping.

When the 18th Amendment became law in 1920 and Prohibition come around, Jimmy said it was time for us to play with the big boys. It was the dawn of a new era, he said, just like he said ten years earlier. It made me think how much things had changed. With the Kelly and Eastman Gangs gone, and then the Big War, we'd made a lot of money. Jimmy said we could bring whiskey down from Canada, and 'shine up from the South, without getting in anyone's way. We'd let them shoot themselves up if they wanted, and then step in and pick up the pieces. We had a few close calls with hijackers, and had to shoot our way out once or twice, but we were able to cut ourselves a nice little slice in the Five Points as long as we paid Arnie his share.



By the time 1926 rolled around, I told Jimmy that I wanted to open up my own club somewhere. I didn't want no "pig-poke," because you couldn't count on getting protection from the cops or anyone else who was thinking of muscling their way in. There were speakeasies all over town, but I didn't want one of them either. I said I wanted a Supper Club, like "Twenty-one" or "Delmonicos." It was all about the music I told him, and he knew I meant it; I'd never given up blowing the horn.

I used to sit up on the rooftops when I was younger and blow until the wee hours of the morning - watching the sun come up over the Hudson, the water all dark and gray, and slick with oil. I'd watch the lights dancing on the river like worn out stars, waiting until the sky above pinkened with the dawn. Some nights, I'd drive up to Little Africa near Harlem, where I'd blow horn with the niggers and play until my lips were sore.

Jimmy said a club sounded like a sure thing, but only if we could run girls and sell our own hootch to customers. He said we could get us something going on in the back - like set up a couple of tables for a high stakes game - a members only sort of club where they paid admission. I asked him what he meant by that, and he said that meant you had to pay us to play. Like I said, Jimmy could always smell a profit. I told him I didn't care what he did as long as I could blow horn, and he told me maybe I should go see Arnie.



Arnie usually ate lunch at Lindy's Restaurant on Broadway and 49th in Manhattan. The day was dark and overcast, the clouds the color of gunmetal. I parked my car in the back of the restaurant, checking the safety on my gun before I got out and closed the door. I looked around. The alley was deserted and I thought to myself if I was a guy like Arnie, I'd make certain I had me a man on the back door in case someone was gunning for me. The guard was inside the kitchen door standing beside the chef and spooning gobs of pasta into his mouth - he was laughing and his huge belly shook up and down effortlessly. His coat was hanging on a hook on the wall, along with his gun, his shirttail hanging out of his pants. He looked at me as soon as I opened the door, looked at his gun, and then relaxed when he recognized me.

"Arnie know this how you watch the door?" I said as I walked past him.

"If I'd've thought you was a threat, I'd've broke yer neck by now," he grinned.

I nodded as I walked past him and stepped through the kitchen doors. I knew the geek from around the neighborhood and knew he'd give as good as he got, but I was pretty sure I could take him if it came right down to it. I knew Jimmy would put his money on me, and that was reassuring.

There were two other guards sitting at a table and they stood up as soon as they saw me. One held a hand up to stop me as the other one patted me down and took my gun. The first guard stepped aside and I walked past a second table where I recognized a couple of geeks me and Jimmy used to run with when we were younger. That could only mean one thing, I told myself.

Arnie was sitting at the same table he always sat at, with Charlie Luciano and Bugsy Siegel on either side of him; Meyer Lanskey was on Bugsy's left, with Frankie Costello sitting beside Charlie. And then I saw that lousy bastard, Jack Diamond, standing behind Costello - which explained the other geeks sitting at the table across from them - and I could see that one of them was that crazy German, Dutch Schultz. They were a hard crew, willing to cut anyone down if they even looked at them wrong, but they didn't bother with me and Jimmy. We'd all known each other when we were kids coming up through different gangs in the neighborhood. That didn't mean they wouldn't turn on me if they felt threatened.

I had about as much time for Costello as I did for Jack Diamond. When we were kids, Costello was always thinking he could beat on me, and we had some pretty good rows. Jack Diamond stuck me in the leg with a knife once, and I broke his nose twice that I know of. Funny thing about Jack was that he took to running after that - until we let him be part of our crew - and me and Jimmy started calling him "Legs," which sort of stuck with him over the years.

"One hand washes the other, Mel, you know what I mean?" Diamond said through a forced laugh. I didn't. He was always calling me Mel instead of "Nickels" like everyone else, or else "Buffalo". It didn't bother me as much as it bothered him being called "Legs". He was watching Lanskey eat his pasta, looking at me as if he was letting me in on a secret, and then I looked at Charlie who was staring at me with a coldness that went right through me. I'd heard Charlie was starting a murder for hire business.

"You want I should bust your other nose, Legs?" I said, looking Diamond right in the eye. I could see Charlie smile, and Lanskey choking on his cannelloni out of the corner of my eye, but I wasn't backing down from Legs. You got to be like that with a guy like him, or else he'll come after you when you least expect it; I knew not to turn my back on him.

"Look, Arnie," I said, even though I knew he hated it when people called him that. "I want to make you an offer."

"An offer?" Costello laughed.

"An offer he can't refuse," Segal laughed.

"You wanna make me an offer?" Arnie asked, ignoring Costello and Segal.

"I wanna start me a club. Nothin' too fancy. I just want me a place where I can blow horn all night if I want."

"Are you for real, Nickels?" Lanskey asked, laughing through his cannelloni.

"You got a problem with that, Lance?" I asked.

"Buffalo ain't in it for the money, Lance, you know that," Charlie said with a grin, and Lanskey smiled, looking at me and saying how he'd always known Jimmy was the smart one.

"Nickel an' Dimes are thinkin' of movin' into the big times," Costello said.

"Jimmy's too smart for his own good," Legs said.

"You sayin' I ain't?" I said, and they all laughed.

Arnie tossed his napkin down and stood up, which brought the conversation to an end. He looked at Lansky who dropped his napkin on the table like he was surrendering and stood up to let Arnie out. Arnie stepped around Bugsy and Lanskey and stood beside me, looking up; then he put a hand on my shoulder and walked me to the door.

Arnie was a big man, solid, with wide shoulders, and stood a head taller than Charlie and Lance, but he was shorter than me. His hair was thinning, and he always kept it combed back. He used to say that his brains were so big they were pushing his hair off his head. He had dark eyes, and he never looked you straight in the eye because he was always looking around, thinking maybe someone was gonna come after him with a gun or something. He carried a walking stick with a silver knob on the end, and I knew he'd used it on a few people to set an example, and I knew he'd use it on me if things didn't work out. But he was always dressed good. He put his hat on and threw his overcoat over his shoulders just so he'd give a good impression in case anyone should see him outside talking to me.

Three of his geeks surrounded us as we stood on the sidewalk outside. I kept my eye on the door in case Diamond should think about making a play for me. It was stupid, and I knew it, but there was no love lost between us.

"You know I always conduct my business out here, Mel," Arnie said with a smile. He looked up at me and I felt a generosity in his smile that caught me off guard.

"I know ya do yer collectin' out here, Arnie," I said.

"Yeah," he said with a grin and gave a quick nod to his bodyguards. "But not really. Those are private bets. I still like a good game of cards once in a while." The geeks casually moved out of earshot. "I don't like talking in front of people when it should be something 'tween the two of us. Unnerstand? You go in there saying you wanna run a speakeasy so you can play your trumpet, that's fine by me, but they're not gonna see it like that."

"I don't just wanna speakeasy, Arnie. I wanna club, a real posh place."

"Yeah, I know. But them guys in there don't unnerstand that part of you like I do. They don't appreciate the finer things in life, like music, an' art. D'ya think Charlie knows anything that isn't Italian? He likes Caruso and that shit, but he ain't gonna be opening an opera house on the Lower East Side. But it's a business all the same, Mel, and you ain't got a head for numbers the way Jimmy does. Those guys know that. They know you."

"But Jimmy doesn't know what I got planned for it to look like," I said. "He don't see it like the way I do."

"Nobody sees things the way you do, Mel, and that's all right by me," Arnie smiled. "You want it your way, we'll do it your way, but you gotta do things my way first. I gotta business to run."

"Sure Arnie," I nodded.

"You're gonna have to run Charlie's girls as waitresses and such. You're gonna need someone to cook, and not just a cook, but a real chef, like they got at fancy restaurants."

"Jimmy ain't gonna like that you're gonna wanna run Charlie's girls; he was thinking he'd like to start runnin' his own girls."

"Is he now?" Arnie said, and I thought maybe I said something I shouldn't have. "Well, don't you worry none about Jimmy. You just take care of the entertainment, an' I'll set Jimmy to rights. I gotta different business deal I wanna cut him in on, an' I gotta feeling he ain't gonna be disappointed. You just send Jimmy out this way and we'll figure out all the details. Don't you worry yourself with the numbers end of things."

"I was kinda hoping it'd be my club," I said softly, and Arnie laughed.

"You want it to be your club? You name it whatever you like."

"Really? 'Cause I gotta couple names I was thinking of already," I said.

"You just make sure Jimmy comes up to see me, and I'll make us all rich," Arnie smiled.



Two years later, The Sarasotta Supper Club was the hottest spot in New York City. People were constantly telling me that we spelled Sarasota wrong, and I'd laugh at them saying it's not wrong if it makes you notice it. That was about the time when Lacey first came walking into the club looking like somehow she belonged there. She was tall, and thin - regal is a word I hear people use to describe her, and stately, too - with her long, dark hair pulled tight into a bun. She had a thin face with a tapered chin, high cheekbones and thick, sensuous lips - the kind made for sucking on, I thought - and gray eyes the color of a winter day. I think that was the thing about her people noticed first. And why wouldn't they?

She stood in the doorway hugging her coat around her, looking the room over like she was searching someone out with a purpose. I waited to see who'd call out to her, but there was something about the color of her eyes that drew me in, and before I knew it, she was staring at the bandstand.

I'd been jamming with King Mace and his Courtly Coronets - King and me were blowing coronet. Even though he and his Courtly Coronets wailed through most of the night and it was now well into the morning, I would've let them play as long as they wanted.

I always joined them up on the bandstand after hours, when the customers were gone. There were usually two or three waiters who stayed behind to play cards with the hatcheck girl, as well as one or two of Charlie's girls, one of the cooks, and a busboy. I could never figger out if they were there for the music, or the game. They'd sit under a cloud of cigarette smoke until they either ran out of money, smokes, or I closed the club.

Sometimes King would invite other musicians who'd come in from different clubs around town, and I'd be lucky to get me a few hours sleep before the club re-opened again. But it was the only time I had for myself and I grabbed every chance I got when it came to standing up and throwing down on my horn. I'd blow a long solo and they'd listen politely. I could blow a slow, mournful tune that seemed to come up from somewhere deep inside of me, like it was curled up around my balls, Del said. He played alto sax in King's band. I'd close my eyes and pretend the house was full, thinking how everyone in it were come to hear me play - like they went to hear that satchel-mouthed Armstrong in Harlem - but when I finished blowing, it'd just be the five of them looking at me. They'd shake their heads saying I was wasting my time with this gangster business. It's what a man likes to hear.

Lacey saw Mookie standing beside me on the bandstand and waved at him.

"My God, Mookie, who's that?" I asked. "An' how'd ya get to knowin' a white girl like her?" I added with a grin.

"Buffalo! She's my sister," Mookie laughed as he jumped off the bandstand.

I looked at him for a moment, shaking my head as he looked up at me with a grin.

"Your sister?" I laughed, and turned to look at Del who was nodding his head up and down beside me.

"Yeah, Mookie," I said as I opened the valve on my coronet to blow out the spit, "I don't know if anyone's ever told ya this before, but have ya looked in the mirror? You're not white."

"She is his sister!" Del laughed. "Hey Lacey!" he called out to her. "What you doin' shakin' your money-maker 'round this part of town?"

"You shut your pie hole, Del!" she called out across the dance floor. "Or I'll be tellin' your ol' lady what you been doin' up here ain't really what you been doin'! I'll tell her you're up here with all these ten-dollar whores spending your money 'fore you even got it!"

"Woman, what you flippin' that at me for?" Del said, pretending to be hurt. Mookie led Lacey off to the side and I could see them talking; Del was calling out at Mookie, and so were the other guys in the band.

"You can't expect me to believe she's his sister, Del," I said turning to look at him.

"Her momma was Mulatto," Del said, and dragged the word out slow. I'd never heard of it before, and Del explained it to me. "She coulda passed for white in a white man's world - her momma, I mean. Lacey's daddy was a white man, and he didn't know - he never did - he died some time back. Lacey grew up white, while Mookie grew up with relatives down south somewhere."

"So how come Mookie's not white?"

Del shrugged. "I can't rightly say I know the reason. It just happens like that sometimes. Ya hear a lot more about it down in the Big Easy. It's because the slaves used to come up through there to get sold up the big Muddy - sold up the river, get it?" he said with a grin. "Slavers, they liked their dark meat. Girls like Lacey, they can live a pretty good life in a white man's world. It's just that when they have a baby, sometimes they have little nigger babies."

"But she's white!"

"Not inside, she ain't. She's just as much a nigger as I am. Girl like that ain't gonna tell her man she's not white. Babies come out light sometimes, but there'll be a dark one comes along soon enough - like Mookie. He's what you'd call a deep, dark, family secret," he added with a laugh.

Mookie left Lacey in the shadows, slowly coming toward me on the bandstand. He seemed nervous, and I kept looking over his shoulder at Lacey where she stood waiting. The three waiters, the hatcheck girl, and the others around the tables looked up from their card game once or twice, but mostly kept playing. I could see them looking at her as much as they were watching me.

"What?" I asked Mookie and crouched down so as none of the others might hear. For some reason, I didn't want word of her getting back to Jimmy.



The Sarasotta Supper Club was one of the hottest dinner joints in Manhattan. We had fifty tables spread out over two levels, a dance floor, and live music. We had a dozen waiters and waitresses serving some of the best hootch we could get our hands on. We were pimping five whores for Charlie, and had poker tables in the back we were splitting seventy-thirty with Arnie. We even had a way for warning us if the cops were coming in, which meant we had three minutes to change the club into a recital hall. We didn't have to do it often, but it was nice to know it worked. We even got fancy cooks Arnie stole from big hotels in the city, but most of all we had Arnie's protection, which meant the fix was in, so to speak.

Arnie would come in once a week to collect his pay-off. He'd never come in alone. He'd either come in with his wife, or his mistress, as well as Legs and Dutch who were his number one bodyguards. He was in the habit of bringing Charlie, Bugsy, Lanskey, and Costello with him as well. People said he was showing them how to be proper gangsters, grooming them to take over, which was never a good thing to say considering who was running New York at the time. As much as I might have thought it was Arnie in our little corner of the world, I was beginning to see things different.

Jimmy made sure they always had the best table in the house, and whenever Arnie saw me, he'd call me over, telling me I'd done him proud, and then, looking at the boys, he'd ask them if it weren't true. Bugsy would ignore me, while Charlie always smiled and agreed, and so did Lanskey, but I think that was because they knew how much Legs and Dutch hated me. Legs was always saying how he could run a place same as this if he got half a chance. Bugsy said he'd help him soon as he could. Costello never said anything.

"We got someone new for tonight's entertainment, A.R.," Jimmy said with a note of excitement. Arnie looked up at him with something like surprise on his face, because Jimmy didn't look so good. He was all skinny from overwork, and he kept wiping his nose with a napkin because it was always running like he had a cold, even though he was sweating and his skin looked pasty. Arnie looked up at me.

"What? D'cha get Durante? Jolson? I love Durante," he laughed, and I could see Jimmy looking at me like he was expecting I'd go out and get Durante next week.

I just smiled and laughed easily as I shook my head. "No Arnie, I got me this girl what can sing like she should be in Zigfield's. She's better'n Nicky's girl - what's her name?"

"Fanny Brice," Legs said slowly.

"Why, I'm surprised you'd know that Legs," I laughed. "I mean, you being such a show person and all," I said, and Charlie and Lansky both laughed softly. "That's more like something Bugsy would know."

"The only reason he knows her is on account of how Monk stole her car a couple years back, and Legs had to tell him to bring it back," Bugsy said.

"Monk?" Jimmy asked with a sniffle. "Ain't he dead?"

"He came back a hero - decorated if you can believe it," Dutch said. "But what d'ya expects if you send a guy like him out to kill people."

Lacey came out to sing, her voice soft as honey, and I thought about Monk. It might be nice to have him at the door, I thought. I could clean him up and put him in a monkey suit like the one I have to wear, and he could greet all those old Tammany Bosses he used to work for back in the day. It might be good to see them squirm for a while.

I found out later that Monk had been dead a year now, and nobody even missed him. I wondered if the same would happen to me.



I could understand Mookie telling Lacey to stay away from me, and to be honest, I respected his wishes; that don't mean I didn't think about her. I thought about her a lot. I didn't know how to react seeing her with Jimmy. As bad as I might've been, I knew where to draw the line. Jimmy'd tell me to beat some poor sap on account of how he owed us money, and I'd do it, liking the feel of it - my fists hitting the poor bastard's face, I mean - and breaking his cheekbone, or his jaw, or crushing the poor sap's nose. That was the real me, and Jimmy knew it. But putting a gun to someone's head and pulling the trigger just to make a point? That was something I didn't do; it was something Jimmy wouldn't hesitate doing.

That don't mean I ain't never shot anyone; it's hard to be in this sort of business and not kill someone. But there's a big difference between shooting someone because he's shooting at you, say, or putting a gun to someone's head and doing it just for the sake of doing it. That was Jimmy.

That's why me being with someone as pretty as Lacey just didn't seem right. She wasn't like we were. But it never crossed my mind that she might wanna make her own choices. The only problem I could see was that Jimmy didn't know Lacey was Mookie's sister. Jimmy told me he was gonna kill that nigger if he even so much as talked to her. I found myself standing between them and keeping the peace for all the wrong reasons. As much as I loved Jimmy, I was about to put a woman ahead of our friendship.

"You're gonna have to tell him," I told Lacey.

"Tell him what?"

I realized she didn't know I knew her secret.

"That Mookie's your brother."

"Are you crazy? He'll kill me! Uh-uh," she said, shaking her head slowly.

The three of us were sitting up on the roof of the club. It was one of those hot New York summers where the tar feels soft under your fingers, and you can form it into shapes without having to think about it. The night sky looked to be packed with stars, with a full moon hanging low over the bridge behind a light haze of smoke that cradled the city like a wet blanket. It gave the moon an orangey brown color. The days were hot, but the nights felt hotter because there was just no getting cool - except up on a rooftop somewhere.

I looked at Lacey in the pale moonlight, and thought maybe I'd have to see one of Charlie's whores tonight. Mookie lit one of his laced cigarette, and tried passing it to me, but I shook my head.

"Why you wanna smoke that?" I asked him. "You might as well just go up to Chinatown and lay in a opium den all night."

"It ain't opium. It's heroin."

"And what's that?"

"It's what the Chinks're selling. Jimmy gave it to me."

"Jimmy? What's he give you that for if he says he wants to kill you?"

"Maybe this is how he wants to kill me," Mookie said with grin. "But here's the laugh... he's doing it himself."

"What d'ya mean he's doing it himself?"

Mookie looked at me and laughed. "You didn't know? For real?"

I shook my head. And then I remembered what Arnie said to me about having a special deal for Jimmy, and it all made sense.

"Where's he gettin' it?"

"Rothstein. Well, Bugsy actually. Him and Legs. They bring it in from Shanghai -"

"Where's that?"

"The Orient."

"The Orient?" I thought, and something in my head popped and things began to make sense. I thought about the all-night poker games while we jammed, and how there were always a couple of Charlie's girls and me never asking why they weren't out trying to hustle up a couple of bucks. Who better to sell it than the whores and waiters?

"And they sell it through the club?"

"Rothstein ships it across the country. The thing is, once you start smoking this stuff, you can't stop," Mookie grinned.

"Why do it then?"

He smiled at me. "I can't stop."

"And Legs? Did he get Jimmy started?"

Mookie nodded.

I looked at Lacey. "You doin' it too?"

She shook her head. "I seen what it's doing to Jimmy."

"How long you been smokin' that?" I asked Mookie.

"Since about two months."

"Jimmy?"

He nodded. "Longer, only he's shootin' it."

"Jesus!"





Arnie got shot in November of 1928; he lingered and then died the next day. Nobody knew who'd done it, because he didn't say who it was what shot him. Thing is, a guy like him - with all he owned, and everyone he knew - leaves a big hole and someone's gotta fill it. That's when Charlie and Lansky stepped in to take over. They planned to split things up fair and square, and said me and Jimmy had to wait and see what was what for The Sarasotta Supper Club.

I wanted to go and see Charlie, just to check and see what's what, but Jimmy said he'd go instead. It was better I didn't get involved he added, looking up at me and wiping his nose on his sleeve. He looked to be in bad shape. His eyes were sunken, and red-rimmed, and there were dark circles under them. He had three ugly sores on his face like big pimples. He was always sweating, even though it was November, or else he was shivering even when he sat bundled up with the heat cranked full in the back office.

"What d'ya mean for me not to get involved?" I said, trying not to think of what was happening to him. "Arnie said it was my club! How can I not be involved?"

"There's more to it than that, Mel," he said, hugging himself, wiping his nose.

"Yeah? Like what?" I asked.

"The whores, the games, the drugs. There's a lot of money here," he said, squinting up at me before I cut him off.

"Don't you think I know that? I'm not stupid!"

"Arnie wanted you to take care of the lighter side of things because he knew you wanted to be legit. He told me to take care of things and keep you out of it for your own good. And I did. You don't think Charlie cares if you bring in Durante, or Jolson, do you? He only cares about the bottom line - and those two Jew boys, Lanskey and Siegel - you can bet Lance is counting every penny and wondering why they're coming up short."

"What d'ya mean by comin' up short?"

"You can't trust these guys Mel," he said with a quick swipe at his nose. "It's all about the loyalty they have for each other. They don't have any loyalty to us. With them, it's all about the old neighborhood - just like it was with Arnie. Lanskey, Siegel, they all came up through Eastman's gang, like Arnie. That's why he took a shine to them. Charlie and Frankie came up through the Points, but even so, Charlie and Lance owe each other."

"And Charlie owes me," I reminded him.

"Maybe. But you used to beat up Legs and the Dutchman when we were kids. Remember? They don't forget that sort of thing. Why do you think I went out of my way to get Arnie's protection? We muscled in and took over their turf the night I shot that geezer in the restaurant? Remember? Who do you think he was getting his protection from? Bugsy and Lance. I knew they were running their little racket on him, that's why I chose his place to muscle in on."

"You knew that before you shot him? And you shot him anyway?"

"I had to show them we meant business."

"So what do we do now? I mean, you're supposed to have all the answers. You're supposed to be the smart one."

"Well, I'm thinking it's time to close up shop and move on to something else."

"And they just let you walk away?"

"I don't know. I'm thinking it through."

"Thinking it through?" I laughed. "How the hell can you think anything through, when all you're worried about is when you're gonna be cranking that shit up your arm again?

"I'm going to quit."

"Mookie says you can't quit once you start."

"Well, Mookie's wrong."

"How much have we got in the safe?" I said quickly.

"You mean from what we owe Arnie?"

I nodded, thinking there couldn't be much.

He smiled. "I told you, Meyer's going to be coming up short. I've been keeping a little back every week for the last two and a half years."

"What! You been cuttin' 'em? Are you crazy!"

He smiled as he shook his head slowly. He looked like the Jimmy he used to be for a brief moment.

"We're crooks, Mel. We're not supposed to be honest. That's why they say there's no honor among thieves."

"I'm not a thief."

"Of course you're not," he said with a sigh. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a key.

"There's a locker at the bus station - the address is on the tag. I've got a little something stashed away."

"Are you insane!"

"Five thousand a week, for the last two and a half years' worth of insanity."

"What!"

"Never mind the hurt feelings. I told you, I've been thinking this through."

"For two and a half years? How much is that?"

"You make it sound like I'm the only one who ever tried stealing from Arnie. He threw money around like it was confetti. But Lanskey's a proper Jew, and like I said, you can be sure he's been counting every penny and wondering why he's always coming up short. He'll figure it out sooner or later, and when he does, he'll come looking for me."

"You mean us."

"He knows it's not you. That doesn't mean he won't kill you just the same," he added with a grin. "That's why I have to talk to Charlie."

"And what's Charlie gonna do?"

"Him and Lance are partners."

"What am I s'posed to do in the mean time?"

"Go to my place and get Lacey."

"Lacey? What're you bringin' her into this for?"

"Why not? She's the best piece of ass I've ever had. She's worth it."

"No woman's worth what you're asking me to do."

"Just do it!" he said coldly.

"Where d'ya wanna meet then?" I asked after a moment.



"I'll call you here."






I picked the money up at the bus station - six hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars according to a ledger I found in one of the suitcases - and drove to Jimmy's apartment. The traffic was light, but the clouds were coming in fast and the sky looked dark and overcast. Rain was coming.

I circled the block once. There was a voice inside my head telling me something was wrong. If I knew Jimmy was holding out on me, I'd have a geek sitting outside every place I knew he went to. I spotted the car on my second trip around the block and watched as Legs and three other geeks stepped out. Legs pulled the brim of his hat down as he looked up and down the sidewalk. There were maybe a dozen people on the street.

I backed into an alley and looked at the suitcases in the back seat, wondering if I should just cut and run. Nobody would think any less of me for running; nobody knew about the money. Jimmy was a dead man no matter what sort of deal he cut with Charlie. He had to know that. The only deal he could cut was to throw me to the wolves. I threw my overcoat on top of the suitcases and saw my trumpet case on the floor. I wondered if I would ever play again after tonight.

No woman is worth this much trouble, I told myself, but I don't think I believe it. For some reason I knew I'd walk to the ends of the earth for Lacey. She didn't deserve any of this. She was going to end up dead because she was part of a game she didn't know she was playing.

I pulled my gun out of its holster and checked the safety, then reached into the glove box and took out a second gun. I made sure they were both loaded and then re-holstered the first gun. I stepped out into the alley. I wrapped my scarf around my hand as I walked across the street. I wanted to muffle the sound of the shot.

As I walked toward the car and looked through the back window, I could see the driver looking up at Jimmy's apartment. He was eating a sandwich. It was the same geek I saw in the kitchen at Lindy's the day I went to see Arnie. I tapped on the window and when he turned, I pointed my gun at his head and pulled the trigger. The glass shattered and he fell on the seat. I reached inside to pull him back up, putting his hat on his head and hoped no one would notice him. I only needed two minutes.

I went into the lobby, pushed the button for the elevator, and then closed the doors and ran up the stairs beside it. I waited for the elevator to stop before I peeked into the hall. I could see Jimmy's room. The door was open; it'd been kicked in. I thought someone might look into the hall when the elevator stopped, he just closed the door instead. I saw an old woman poke her head out of the door across the hall; she closed her door as soon as she saw me. I figured it was only a matter of time before she called the cops. I started counting time in my head.

I walked toward Jimmy's room and pushed the door open part way, looking through the splintered doorjamb. There was a mirror against the far wall and I could see Mookie twisted up on the floor. There was a lot of blood and I knew from the way he was laying that he was dead. I was hoping Lacey was still alive.

I was up to a ten count.

I stepped into the apartment. Couldn't remember the last time I'd been in Jimmy's apartment. It looked bigger than I remembered. A part of me was wondering the usual: what did a girl like Lacey see in a mug like Jimmy? He may have been my best friend - hell, he was probably the only friend I had - but I knew what he was like. I knew how he treated women. I might not have been the nicest guy - I mean, I beat people up for money. I've killed men - but I knew enough to show respect when I had to. I think that's why Arnie liked me. He understood guys like me and Lansky. We didn't look at women the same way Jimmy, Charlie, and the others did. Guys like Jimmy and Charlie looked at women as possessions. They couldn't help it. But Lansky, Arnie said, he knew how to keep his business life separate from his personal life, and if I could learn to do that, I'd always have a little haven of security where no one could touch me.

I didn't know what Arnie meant at the time, but I was beginning to think I wouldn't mind finding a secret place right about now so I could hide Lacey away until it was all over. I untied the bloody scarf that wrapped around my hand and wound it around my face. I didn't want Legs knowing it was me. I could hear voices coming from one of the rooms and inched my way along the wall.

I was up to a thirty count.

Suddenly the door to the bathroom opened and one of the geeks stepped out wiping his bloody hands on a towel. He was just as startled to see me as I was to see him, and then he reached inside his jacket for his gun. I pointed mine and pulled the trigger. I moved to the bedroom thinking they'd come out with guns blazing. When no one came out, I went in.

One minute gone by.

The window was open and I could hear voices outside - Legs yelling at whoever was with him to hurry up. I ran to the window and looked out. Legs looked up at me and pointed his gun at Lacey's head. I heard her scream as she slipped and tumbled down the last three steps. She looked up at me and I could see a mist of blood-splatter on her face and dress. She must have been standing beside Mookie when they shot him. One of the two other geeks took a shot at me.

I could hear sirens in the distance. I didn't know what to do, so I ran out the door and down the stairs.

I still had a minute left in my count.



I drove to the club thinking I might see Jimmy's car parked there. Instead, I saw two geeks I didn't know waiting for me in a car across the street. I supposed that things didn't work out the way Jimmy wanted and that they were there to kill me.

Well, if it's a war they want, I thought.

I parked the car a block away in a nearby garage and gave some kid a dollar to watch it for me. I took the trumpet case out of the backseat, pulled my collar up, my hat down, then walked up the street toward the stage entrance. Neither one of the geeks in the car gave me a second look. I locked the door and went to my office, looking through the window before I closed the blinds.

The phone rang and I felt my heart pounding in my chest. I took a moment to settle my nerves and then picked up the phone.

"Nickels?"

"Yeah, Charlie?" He sounded surprised to hear me.

"I didn't think you'd have the balls to show yourself," he said, and I could hear the laughter in his voice.

"Why not?"

"Where's Jimmy?"

"Jimmy? Last time I saw him he said he was going to see you. Said he had to talk business and that I should just mind the club, same as usual."

"Same as usual? Well, I'm sorry to say there ain't no same as usual with Arnie gone. Things have changed. You must've known this day was comin'?"

"I suppose I did," I said, trying to figure out what sort of deal Jimmy might have cut with him. I was looking through the blinds at the two geeks in the car. One of them got out to answer the phone in the small grocery store they were parked in front of, and I realized that's why they weren't in a hurry to check things out. They were waiting for the call. And if not from Charlie, then who?

"What can I do to make it right Charlie?"

The man stepped out of the store and walked to the back of the car. He pulled a sawed off shotgun out of the backseat and tucked it under his overcoat while the other geek checked his gun. They were crossing the street.

"Look, someone's at the door, Charlie. Must be one of the guys come for rehearsal. I gotta let him in."

"You wanna make it right, Mel, you take care of things," Charlie said with a coldness that made me catch my breath. I could feel my hands start to shake, and my voice catch in my throat before I was able to speak.

"What things?"

"Jimmy. You gotta take care of Jimmy."

"He didn't come see you?"

"You know he didn't, Mel."

"You want me to kill Jimmy? Why?"

"Because I'd rather not have to kill you."

"Look, Charlie, let me get the door and I'll be right back." I had to stall for time. I had to figure things out. It was starting to look like Charlie never sent my two visitors.

I took one last look out of the window and saw two pairs of shoes walking down the narrow stairwell. I put the phone on the desk and took my gun out of its holster. I ran to the front door, opened it and made my way around to the back. When I was close enough, I took my shoes off and crept up behind the two geeks. They were standing side by side and wouldn't be able to turn quick enough in the narrow stairwell.

"You want me?" I asked, and put a bullet in the back of their heads before they had a chance. I went across the street, then drove their car into the alley and dumped their bodies in the back seat. I went through their pockets and found a phone number, but no name.

I went inside to hang up the phone.

"Charlie?" I said calmly.

"Yeah?" he said a little too easily. He didn't seem surprised to hear my voice.

"I take care of Jimmy for you, we square?"

"Square with what?"

"I leave you the club, take the girl, and leave town. No strings attached."

"Girl? What girl?"

"Legs grabbed her outta Jimmy's place. She's not part of this, Charlie. She's innocent." I couldn't leave her behind. I knew that now. Charlie would have her working for him within the week; no one deserved that.

"Yeah. We're square," Charlie said and hung up the phone.

I dialed the number on the paper and waited. It was Jimmy.

"Milo?"

"Yeah." I didn't know what else to say.

"Any problems?"

I put my hand on the phone and dropped my voice.

"Naw. It's done"

"I'll be right there," he said, and hung up.




The drive out to Boston was the longest drive of my life. Once we left New York, there was little for me to say. The rain came down in heavy pellets and I felt like pulling over and letting it wash me clean. Lacey sat with her legs drawn up to her chest, her arms wrapped around herself, staring out of the window. I could see her reflection mirrored against the window, the silent tears glistening on her face matching the raindrops outside. I knew she had to be thinking about Mookie, and I thought it had to be tough for her. I tried not to think about what might've happened to her - what could've been. They hit her a few times, and were probably planning to make sport of her, but I'd spoiled it for them when I shot that geek coming out of the bathroom.

Charlie was just hanging up the phone after talking with me when Legs showed up with her, Lacey said. She said Charlie was mad, but Legs explained how Jimmy wasn't there, so taking her seemed like the next best thing. She was supposed to be bait. It was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I said. There seemed to be a lot of that going around.

She was scared, she said. More scared than she'd ever been in her life, but then Lansky showed up and he took her to his place where his wife made her something to eat and told her to have a soak in the tub. And all the while she was soaking in the tub, I thought, I was waiting to kill Jimmy.

Jimmy, the best friend a guy could have, I thought, wanting me dead so he could walk away with everything and put the blame on me. It was business, Charlie told me. I couldn't take it personally. Once you've crossed the line, you have to pay the price eventually. Jimmy knew that. He knew as soon as he saw me that I'd have to kill him; no amount of begging was gonna change that. It didn't matter that I had tears in my eyes when I pulled the trigger.




I waited a week before I phoned Charlie again. He was quiet for a long time before he said anything, and when he did, it wasn't much more than to say he was sorry about Jimmy.

Me too, I thought. Me too.

"It's for the best, Nickels," he said

"What d'ya mean, Charlie?" I asked.

"Legs is saying that you have it."

"Have what?"

"Last week's pay-off for the club."

"Did Jimmy tell him that, or is that what Legs told you, Charlie? I don't remember Legs seeing Jimmy between the time he grabbed Lacey and me seein' Jimmy."

"It's what Legs told me. But he mighta said it so we'd think it was you grabbing everything, instead of Jimmy. That guy really hates you," he laughed.

"I don't know nothing about what kind of deal Jimmy had with you and Arnie, Charlie," I said, stumbling over my words and hoping he didn't see through the lie. "I was just s'posed to get the entertainment."

"Yeah, that's what Arnie said," and I could hear the smile in his voice. "But we still had to make a show of things with you two."

"How much money we talking 'bout here, Charlie?"

"Last week's pay-off? Couple of thousand maybe. Don't worry, we'll make up for it somewhere else," Charlie laughed. "Me and Lance, we got big ideas about what we're gonna do. My suggestion to you is to take an early retirement. Besides, it wasn't us he stole the money from, but Arnie. It'll turn up sooner or later. I say, take the broad and disappear."

"We square now, Chalie?"

"We're square," he said after a moment.

"You remember that time when you and Frankie got jumped by the JRs? When me an' Jimmy stepped in and busted them up?"

"Yeah, sure. I guess you guys was out of the club by then an' feeling a little pissed. You dusted them up pretty good."

"Yeah. I guess we did," I said with a laugh. "You wanna hear the funny part of it, Charlie? That guy's nose I busted? That was Legs."

"Yeah, I know," Charlie said. "Mel?" he said to me a minute later. "Do yourself a favor, and disappear." And then he hung up the phone.

I looked at Lacey sitting on the bed.

"Charlie says we should disappear for a while. Can you think of somewhere you'd like to go?"

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