Fiction: Mob Rule – Part 45
Back in the arms of the armed and dangerous in New York, Jack learns the gang war that started before he left on the campaign trail has been smouldering ever since
By John Armstrong
It was clear sailing the rest of the way, straight through on the old highway past Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia. By the time we hit DC, the road was in even better shape and we made fine time, turning heads as Brown Lightning roared past shining, chrome-dripping newer cars like they were parked by the side of the road.
It was a good thing, too, because we were stone-broke. The Morrisville Bridge over the Delaware into New Jersey took the last of our money and we were still short the full price. Vanessa got us through, turning her purse upside down, shaking it to prove we really had nothing left and batting big eyes at the poor man, a hitch in her voice and a tremble in her shoulders warning of imminent tears. He offered her a Kleenex and waved us through. He never had a chance. It’s funny from the outside, watching a woman mesmerize a man like that, and not so funny when you think of how many times you’ve danced to the same tune. Fortunately, she was on my side.
Ninety minutes later we hit the George Washington Bridge and crossed the Hudson into Washington Heights and I was home, in Manhattan. There was no toll getting on the GWB but there was an armed checkpoint on the northern end and a man with a Thompson across his arm waving us over.
I stopped the car and a second came up to the window. On Vanessa’s side a third was covering us with another tommygun. I didn’t recognize any of them and something told me this was not an occasion to wave my name around.
“Bridge tax, mister.”
He’d been as emotionless as a clerk at a store but he stiffened at the question. “Since I said so, and” – he jerked his head – “these guys with the guns there agree with me. So you’re outvoted.”
“Okay,” I said. “I just never knew there was any toll here.”
“Think of it as traveller’s insurance,” he said, relaxing some. “Adjustable rate, depending on what you’ve got.”
“See, that’s the problem. We’re just coasting into town on fumes and we’re flat broke, but I’ve got family here. Can I leave something as a deposit and come back?”
He gave us both another look. We didn’t look like we had family anywhere outside of a work camp.
Then he smiled and leaned into the window. “Well, like I said, it’s a negotiable rate. That the missus, there?” He smiled though bad teeth, looking like a man who’s just seen the cook hand his steak dinner to the waitress through the kitchen’s pass-through.
I knew where this was going and while my mind raced to figure how exactly I was going to die while defending Vanessa from gang rape, she leaned past me and shot him in the face, then leaned almost into my lap, pulled her arm back and shot through her window at the one standing with his gun at port-arms on her side. He disappeared below the window but I couldn’t tell if she hit him or not. Reflex and fear took over and I dropped it into first and stood on it, not that it helped much. We slowly pulled away.
“Head down!” I yelled and put it into second too early. The car coughed and choked then picked up speed. I knew she hadn’t hit the machine gunner on her side because I could see him in the side mirror. Both Thompsons were chattering at us and I could feel bullets hitting the car. One went through the windshield, past my ear and I took my own advice, ducking my head down as far as I could and still steer.
“Where’d you get the gun,” I said, for lack of anything better to say. My ears were ringing from the shots and the air was thick with cordite, even with the window open.
“It’s one of yours. It’s not like you need two of them.” She stuck her arm around the window post and squeezed off three quick shots. “I put it in my purse while you were washing up.” I’d taken my holsters off to clean up at a gas station and never put them back on, us being so close to home and finally out of the dangerous South. I should have remembered that most fatal accidents happen near home.
“And aren’t you glad I did?”
I didn’t dignify that with an answer, being more concerned with getting as far from our trigger-happy friends as possible. I turned onto Broadway on two wheels and was about to resume the conversation when a large sedan pulled in front of us, forcing us to the curb. Another came up on the driver’s side and men got out surrounding us.
We were efficiently boxed in and there was no way to shoot it out. My only thought was, these guys are shaking down traffic on the bridge, if I can convince them who I am I can offer them a nice fee to escort us, though where exactly they might escort us to was a problem. That was supposing they were willing to let shooting their friend in the face go by as an unfortunate misunderstanding.
This time the one at the window on my side had his gun drawn and stood slightly back, ready to fire. “Hand the gun through, nicely, and any others. Don’t even think about anything stupid.”
Vanessa passed me the gun and I handed it over by the trigger guard.
“There’s another in the bag back there, behind the seat,” I told him. He motioned to the man on the other side and he opened the door and reached in for it.
“All right, now both of you get out. Put your hands behind your heads and lace the fingers.”
We did as we were told. His men searched the bags and interior of the car and one called out: “Nothing, Rocky. Just clothes and stuff.”
The leader turned to me and said, “Where we you going in such a hurry? Was that you doing the shooting?”
“Yes, but we were in the middle of being robbed and most likely my wife being raped by those guys running the bridge racket.”
His eyebrows went up and he turned to one of the men. “Take Gigi and a couple guys, go deal with them. They been warned enough.”
He turned back to us. “Sorry about that, folks. Things have been a little unsettled around here the last while and we get kinda antsy when we heard guns on the street. You just here visiting?”
I had a feeling I really needed to come up with a convincing tourist story but I just didn’t have it in me.
“Not really – I’m John Kennedy, of the Luciano Family, and I’m just trying to get back to my people. Can you help us”? We might need Vanessa’s eyelash-maneuver again, I thought, and she might need to bat them hard enough to achieve liftoff.
The man reached out and pushed my hair back from my forehead, tilted his head for a better angle and said: “Che cazzo! Mr. Kennedy?”
Now it was my turn to look at him, and I drew a blank.
“It’s Rocky Mastroserio, Mr. Kennedy. From Joey’s crew. We’re out here keeping the peace.
“Gesu Cristo – everybody thinks you’re dead.”
It’s funny from the outside, watching a woman mesmerize a man like that, and not so funny when you think of how many times you’ve danced to the same tune.
So we got our escort after all. We followed Rocky while the other car tailed us and they took us to The Algonquin on 44th, me peppering Mastroserio the whole way – was Frank okay, was Meyer, what was going on, why didn’t anyone answer the damn phone, what was going on?
The answers were yes, everyone is fine, he didn’t know why I couldn’t get through and, short answer, New York was a mess. The rebellion we’d put down before I left had reignited and our guys had their hands full. Some of the smaller crews had taken the current troubles as a chance to seize territory, picking up unaffiliated guns to add to their number. These were not the most stable of organizations, as you might imagine. When they weren’t killing each other in the streets beefing over who ran this racket or that corner they were killing each other in order to move up the chain of command.
It all sounded very familiar, and it ought to: The last time it happened we’d called it the ‘20s. Mastroserio said it was “like a lit cigarette in an old couch. You think you got it put out and it starts smoking somewhere else.”
Before the car in front of us had fully stopped one of the men ran out to open our door and the rest formed a phalanx around us to take us across the pavement and through the doors. I could see gunsels positioned everywhere on both sides of the street armed with the heaviest iron in our arsenal. I was so happy to see them I didn’t even ask why we were here instead of the Luciano building.
There were more guards on the door and two of them moved to search me.
“Let him pass,” Rocky said. “It’s Mr. Kennedy.” One of them jumped back and the other just stood there with his mouth open. I was used to the respect deference a ranking executive gets but if you really want respect, nothing beats being a dead Boss back from the grave. I was tempted to open my coat so they could feel my wound.
Rocky led us to the desk and told the clerk to announce me to Mr. Costello. She dialed, did so, listened briefly and made an eyeball motion to the elevators.
Frank and Meyer were waiting when the doors opened on the fifth floor. Italian, Irish, Jew, Portugese, Pygmy – I imagine the procedure is the same with anybody whenever the lost lamb comes back. There was laughing and hugging and crying and swearing and I was doing as much of it as anyone. It took awhile, and then I had to introduce Vanessa and we did it all again.
When we were done they took us down the hall to Frank and Meyer’s command suite, ordered food for us, poured drinks, handed out cigars and settled back. They both looked older and more tired than when I’d left.
We all tried to talk at once and Frank waved his hand. “Enough, enough. Let’s hear what Jack has to tell us, then we fill him on what he’s missed.” He pointed his cigar at me. “Tell.”
I could barely think of where to start.
“Did you get the letter, from Washington?”
They both nodded.
“Okay then-” and I gave them the condensed version, up to being picked up by Rocky’s squad.
In the middle of it I got to my Sisyphean attempts to phone them and Frank looked baffled.
“We got an answering service? Since when?”
As we figured it out, the service had likely been hired decades ago and then forgotten about when we moved into the new building. It was surely a piddling expense and when the bill came in, our accounting department paid it and it ended up buried in the miscellaneous office expenses column of the yearly report. A big organization drops little bits of money on the ground all the time like a tree drops leaves, and it would cost more money than you’d save to chase them all down.
When I was done Frank shook ash onto a plate and looked solemn. Meyer shrugged his shoulders.
“So, good news, really. Kennedy’s bunch has trouble with the crackers. That’s better than we hoped and we can maybe use that to our advantage. We got your list of their supporters and we’ve got plans for them.” I didn’t need to be told what those plans were; at some point nondescript cars would leave New York with one or two torpedoes in them with lists of names and an addresses, or certain button men already in the area would get a phone call, and the undertakers in those particular regions would have a little extra work. I felt a little sorry for some of them, but revolution is an all-in bet.
There was one thing I hadn’t included in my rundown and I might as well hit them with it now.
“They’ve got an iffy alliance with the Southern bosses that may or may not hold, but Joe has another ally that’s more problematic. The British.”
“Porca troia,” Meyer said softly. It shouldn’t have surprised me he was proficient in Sicilian cursing.
“That lace-curtain fica,” Meyer added. I was glad that Vanessa didn’t understand any of it.
“What do you mean ‘ally”,” Frank said.
“Old Joe’s made a deal with the British Prime Minister to support him in this rebellion, then he’ll do the same for them with some trouble they’re expecting.”
The both shook their heads, trying to comprehend this.
“But we got something that will nicely put the kibosh to all that.”
“Yeah? And that is –“ Frank said.
“That would be me,” Vanessa said, speaking for the first time.
Mob Rule is a work of fiction and continues exclusively in The Ex-Press. To read past instalments, click here.
Illustration: Victor Bonderoff
THE EX-PRESS, January 25, 2016