Jack and Vanessa get out of Dodge

Mob Rule: Part 40

When Jack realizes he’s stuck between The Kennedys and his old mob buddies back in New York, he makes a bold squeeze play to abandon the Presidential campaign trail and return to the family fold

By John Armstrong

So now I was in the middle of a triple-cross, because surely the last thing Meyer and Frank expected was for me to come home having made a side deal with one of my co-conspirators.  But, like Sidney said, this was a game where the rules changed while you played.

It wouldn’t matter anyway unless I figured out how to excuse Vanessa and myself from this party without getting shot. I had to keep myself ready for any opportunity to get a small head start on them, even a few hours. They’d relaxed on watching me so far as I’d noticed and as I thought about it I realized why. They’d hamstrung me in the most efficient way possible: I had no money.

I’d gotten so used to Sydney or one of the others paying for everything or simply signing for it myself at a hotel, that I completely forgot about it. The last time I’d paid cash for anything was for a sandwich and a beer back in Boston, long ago. I checked my wallet and found the grand sum of $17, about enough to send a chatty telegram to New York. That wouldn’t help any, as I had nowhere to receive a reply that wouldn’t be scrutinized and in fact, I had no idea what the situation was back home. In all the many weeks since I’d sent it there had never been an answer to my letter, which was not too surprising, as they’d have no idea where I was from day to day. I barely did. I could only hope they’d even gotten it.

mob rules victor bonderoff illustration

Mob Rule. Victor Bonderoff Illustration

Normally when you’re broke you have a few options, almost none of which applied here. I couldn’t look for work and I couldn’t ask my friends for money, not the ones back home or the ones I was travelling with. Could I write a cheque somewhere? Not without proving my identity and how could I do that down here, in a hurry? I had nothing to pawn or sell save a wristwatch.

That left only one option I could see. I ‘d have to get it the old-fashioned way. I‘d have to steal it.

The only catch here was that I had about as much experience with robbery as I had with riding horses. Less, in fact, unless you counted stealing bottles from behind Fiorito’s 20 years ago. I ran through my options and it was a short list:

I could steal a car and rob the driver but that left me at the mercy of chance – what if he had little or no cash on him? How would I buy gas or eat? I preferred to make one score to finance the trip, not go on a petty crime spree up the East Coast. I didn’t think I could effectively rob rooms in the hotel unless someone left their door open for me. I’d never picked a lock in my life and I had no time to case the most likely guests. Picking a room at random to burgle was too much of a crapshoot.

I could rob the front desk. I had two loaded guns … and they likely had more. There was no way the desk and lobby wasn’t guarded. Any business dealing in large amounts of cash the way they did would be. No thanks — I wanted a nice clean theft, with no loud noises.

Then it came to me. There was one man I knew for sure who had a fat wallet on him at all times. His name was Lyndon Johnson.

“It’s a lovely plan,” Vanessa said, “but when do we do it? From here, tonight, or at the next stop?”

I thought about it and said, “Tonight. Bobby’s exhausted from the trip today, Sydney’s up to his ears in plotting and calculating — we’ll have maybe nine or 10 hours before we don’t come down to breakfast and they get interested.”

I looked at my watch. “ It’s just past nine p.m. We can slip out sometime after midnight and take whatever transportation we can find.”

Vanessa touched my arm. “Dear, we have a hotel room with a phone and a phonebook.”

Yes, we did. Not for the first time I wondered why anyone ever put me in charge of anything. “Okay, then. We make some calls, then we go talk to the banker.”

Twenty minutes later we had it worked out as well as I could. All we needed was Lyndon’s money and a little luck. We left a wakeup call for midnight and napped in the room until the phone rang, then grabbed the few things we were taking and closed the room door behind us. We took the stairs down to Lyndon’s room just in case and rapped quietly on his door. I should have phoned him first, but I didn’t think of it until I was standing there. I had to knock again, louder, before I got a sleepy “Wuzzzit?” from behind the door.

It took a minute and some increasingly loud stage-whispering to get us in but he finally opened the door in baggy undershorts and t-shirt, hair sticking up and eyes half-shut. He sat back on his bed to listen to us, squinting like some big animal roused from his burrow too early, until he reached for his glasses on the bedside table. He came alert quickly after that and reached again for his wallet.

“I wish’t I’d known about this. I would have got some extra out.” He flipped through the bills and pulled them out. “That’s about $160. Like you say, I haven’t been using much of my own the last while.”

It was a lot less than I’d hoped for but he said, “Wait a minute”, and went over to where his clothes were laid on a chair. He had another $200 in his pants pocket.

“That won’t get you anywhere in first class but it ought to suffice,” he said, handing the wad to me. “Now, we got to make this look good for your uncle and them, and figure out how we can stay in contact.

“Let me see …” He thought a second then wrote an address down on the telephone pad. “This is the ranch address. Send anything you want to reach me there, and mark it ‘private’ to Bird. She’ll put it in a new envelope and pass it along with my other business mail. I haven’t seen any signs of that being tampered with so far.”

I reached across and wrote a number down on the pad.

“This is the number for Chase Manhattan, our bank. That’s probably better if you have to call than using the Luciano offices. Can you come up with a reason why you’d call a New York bank if you have to?”

He nodded and said, “Son, if they’re asking questions about who I call, we’re sunk to begin with. Now, how are we going to tie me up? And you better let me use the john first. It’s going to be a long night.”

I could rob the front desk. I had two loaded guns … and they likely had more. There was no way the desk and lobby wasn’t guarded. Any business dealing in large amounts of cash the way they did would be. No thanks — I wanted a nice clean theft, with no loud noises.

I hated the idea of leaving him trussed up like that but we couldn’t wait. As it was we wasted a good 15 minutes arguing about how to dress the stage.

“Goddammit, just crack me on the back of the head hard enough to raise a goose egg and get going,” Lyndon said, and I flatly refused. There was no way I could hit him, no matter the reason.

“Some mobster,” he said, shaking his head.

“He’s adopted,” Vanessa said, and clipped him solidly from behind, catching him just above the ear with the heel of her shoe. It went ‘thwock’ like someone smacking a block of wood with a mallet.

“Sweet Jesus Christ, “ Lyndon howled and grabbed at his head. There was a trickle of blood running down his neck.

“I’m sorry, Lyndon. Now hold still.” She parted his hair and examined the wound closely. “All right, that should stop bleeding soon but it’ll leave a nice bump, I should think. Anyway, they know Jack has a gun so it’s really just for show.” She wiped her hands on the bedspread and bent to put her shoe back on.

“Jack, get some neckties from the suitcase.” We tied him hand and foot on the bed with a damp towel under his injured noggin and stuffed his mouth with a hanky. Then I pulled it back out.

“I could just wet this like it was in your mouth and leave it on the bed, like you spat it out. Then you can call for help when you decide to.”

Lyndon gave me a sour look. “Maybe you could put the radio on with some soft music and dim the lights, too? Is this a robbery or a goddamned date? Put the thing in my mouth and get going.”

Vanessa stuck the hanky back in and kissed him on the forehead.

“Thank you, Lyndon. We’ll see you soon.” Then she shut the big ceiling light off and switched on a small lamp and I shut the door on him.

Lyndon gave me a sour look. “Maybe you could put the radio on with some soft music and dim the lights, too? Is this a robbery or a goddamned date? Put the thing in my mouth and get going.”

We took the stairs again, down to the lobby and stopped at the door.

“The only way to do it is just brazen it out, nonchalant. Don’t look around to see who’s watching, just stroll.” My every instinct was to slink out and I knew that was the worst thing to do. It probably didn’t even matter at all, anyway. What were the odds they had someone watching the lobby?

Surprisingly good, it turned out. We weren’t halfway across the floor when a voice called out, “Hey, Mr. Kennedy” and I turned to see one of our bodyguards getting up from a sofa. “Your uncle doesn’t want anyone to leave the hotel.” I didn’t know whether he was concerned for our safety or he had suspicions about me particularly and it didn’t matter. I was still thinking when Vanessa took the ball.

“Oh good, I didn’t think there’d be anyone still up. Do you think you could go out and find an all-night drugstore for me? I’ve got a bit of situation.” She dimpled and blushed and steered me over to him.

The gunsel reacted the way most men do when Vanessa zeros in on them. If we don’t have a cloak handy to spread over the mud, most of us would just lay down in it and let her walk over us. She opened her purse as if to show him something and she held it so he turned sidewise to look in it.

“What I need is a package of … oh shit, I gave it to you, Jack.” As he turned back to me to see whatever it was I clocked him. It was a vicious sucker punch and I felt things crunch in a sickening fashion. Some of them were my knuckles. He dropped like a bag of laundry and we ran for the door, some one shouting behind us.

There was a taxi at the stand and we jumped into it. “Get us to the airport, fast”, I yelled, waking the driver. Fast was not a word he was acquainted with, though.

The gunsel was coming through the doors of the hotel holding his dripping face in one hand and a gun in the other before our cabbie got the key in the ignition. I slapped at the door lock button and pulled Vanessa down to the seat. Either he didn’t see us or the leisurely way the driver pulled out confused him but when we sat up with the hotel a block behind us, there didn’t seem to be anyone following.

Tallahassee is a smallish place with only one airport. In less than 20 minutes we were walking through the Departures terminal towards a ticket agent. I bought two economy tickets for New York on the red eye and when she asked, the only name I could think of was McGillicuddy. Tickets in hand I headed back across the floor towards a washroom and stopped outside the door.

“Go over to the little gift store there and get a can of shoe polish, black. I need to get this silver out of my hair. If there’s anything you can find to disguise yourself, get it too.” I handed her some bills and she went off to do her business, and I opened the door and went in to do mine. I didn’t have long to wait.

Within a few minutes an older man in work pants, t-shirt and a weather-beaten zippered jacket came in to empty the waste cans. A short haggle later I was wearing his clothes and shoes and he had my suit, my shoes, and my watch. He seemed satisfied with the deal. I know I was.

Vanessa was at the sales counter when I came back out.

“How’s this,” she said, and held up a tube of black Cream Shoe Dye. She also had a dark scarf and a pair of reading glasses with the lowest magnification. I added a pack of cigarettes, paid, and then asked the cashier where the lost and found was.

“Down over there, past the coffee shop,” she said, pointing to the far end of the terminal. There was no one at the desk but there was a large box underneath the counter. I pulled it out and was rummaging in it when a large woman with a towering beehive hairdo came up behind us.

“Lose something?” she asked, and I jumped a little.

“My wife lost her sweater,” I said.
“Uh-huh,” she said without much conviction. “What does it look like?”

“Like this.” I pulled a cardigan out of the pile, and spied a baseball cap with the Jax Beer logo embroidered on the peak. I picked it up and said, “And I lost my hat.”

I put it on and it was about three sizes too small. I took it back off to adjust the strap and she stared back with about as much expression as a fried fish on a plate.

One eyebrow went up the tiniest fraction and she said, “Honey, I really don’t care. Just put the box back when you’re done, and don’t leave a mess, okay?” She walked back off to wherever she’d come from and I pawed through to the bottom, adding a pair of ladies’ canvas tennis shoes to our pile.

When I put the box back I saw a heavy brown paper shopping bag with twine handles folded up in the corner of the shelf and I grabbed that, too. Then I hustled both of us out onto the tarmac, around the building and back in through the arrivals door. Outside, Vanessa leaned on me while she switched shoes and stuffed her good jacket and heels into the bag, put on the sweater and tied the scarf around her head. Once she put the glasses on she looked as close to plain as she was ever going to get short of surgery. Now we both looked like we might be able to afford airline tickets, if we gave up eating.

That was okay — we were leaving anyway.

We got into another cab and I told the driver to take us to the bus station.

“Well, I’m glad you’re not planning on going back to the airport. I thought you’d lost your mind, buying tickets. By the time the plane boards they’ll be all over that place.”

“I know, and the ticket agent will identify Mr. and Mrs. McGillicuddy and they’ll be sitting there waiting to nab us while we ride out of town on a Greyhound.” I wished I’d thought to buy some aspirin at the gift counter. My hand was swollen and throbbing from that punch. I went to strike a match and could barely hold it.

Vanessa took it away and lit a cigarette for me.

“Now what do we do?”

“We take any bus north and at the first rest stop I call home. And we cross our fingers.”

Outside, Vanessa leaned on me while she switched shoes and stuffed her good jacket and heels into the bag, put on the sweater and tied the scarf around her head. Once she put the glasses on she looked as close to plain as she was ever going to get short of surgery. Now we both looked like we might be able to afford airline tickets, if we gave up eating.

I was asleep when we pulled into Jacksonville and the driver’s “Ten minutes!” announcement on his hand mike woke me. I struggled up out of my seat and ran for a phone while Vanessa used the washroom.

I dialed for the operator and said, “Long distance, New York City, collect from Jack Kennedy.”

There was a buzz and then the operator said, “I’m sorry sir, I cannot place collect calls from pay phones.”


“Operator, when else would you need to place a collect call?”

That got me no response except, “I’m sorry, sir — please deposit $3 for three minutes.”

“All right, hang on.” Of course I didn’t have three dollars in quarters so I had to run to the counter and buy a Coke to get it, leaving the phone off the hook and swinging from its cord. I ran back and stuffed the coins in.

‘Thank you – what is your number?”

I told her and waited while it rang, then a woman’s voice answered.

“Luciano and Associates. How may I direct your call.”

That was confusing – the number I gave the operator should have gone straight to Abby’s desk.

“Frank Costello, please. Hurry.”

“I’m sorry, this is the Answering service? I never knew we had one, besides Abby. Mr. Costello is unavailable at present. May I take your number and a message?”

I wanted to beat myself to death with the receiver and tried to imagine what sins I was being punished for to merit this.

“Operator, I can’t leave a number but take this down and give it to him immediately. Jack Kennedy called — I need him to wire money to …” and I stopped dead. Where? I had no idea. I was just about to ask her to hold on again while I asked the driver when I heard, “All passengers to Savannah, Charleston, Raleigh, Richmond and points North, boarding now” over the loudspeaker and I heard the pneumatic chuff of the bus doors opening behind me.

It was a lost cause. “Tell them I’ll call back,” I said, and hung up, defeated. Then I really felt like killing myself. The driver had just announced the next stop – Savannah. I could have had them wire the money there.

I got back on the bus and sat down beside Vanessa.

“Don’t ask, please. Here, I brought you a Coke.”


Mob Rule is a work of fiction, serialized exclusively in The Ex-Press. To read past instalments, click here.

THE EX-PRESS, January 4, 2016



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