Mob Rule: Part 47
A presidential bid is about to get bloody as the bosses from the Big Apple face off against the boys from Beantown’s brassiest, classiest and gassiest family, The Kennedys
By John Armstrong
It all came together fast, fast enough to scare me. Call me cynical but I have a basic mistrust of anything that goes too smoothly. It usually means there’s a joker in the deck, ready to pop up and laugh at you when things fall apart. But I looked over my work and couldn’t see where it was, if it was there at all.
There was one thing I could see laying in the weeds and ready to bite us, but there was little I could do about it.
We were moving as quickly as we could, not least because we had no way to house and feed 2,000-plus soldiers even if we wanted to, and the plan was to sign them up and then move them out almost immediately. So with all this speed did we have the element of surprise?
Not on your life. You can’t keep the raising of an army quiet, especially when who knows how many of them are hedging bets by giving everything they know to the other side and us with no way to really watch them. Once we had them in the staging area the phones were off-limits, for what good that did, but it was still far from a secure environment. That’s why nobody knew anything they didn’t have to, and why we moved the bulk of them in my old favorite, the semi-trailer. Fast, secure, self-contained: We planned to drive them up to the scene and dump them out straight onto the battlefield. At that point they’d have no choice but to fight or die.
Those whose loyalty we were sure of, we shipped in buses commandeered for the purpose. We cleaned the Greyhound station out and sent the dispossessed passengers and their luggage to downtown hotels on our tab, then filled the belly holds to overflowing with guns and ammo and assorted dangerous, explosive items. Forty-fourth was blockaded and the streets packed with men, equipment, and trucks. I don’t think there was a single pillow or mattress left in the hotel by 6 p.m., all of them in the semis so the men would still be able to walk when they got where they were going. We commandeered coffee urns from anywhere we could find them and stripped the hotel restaurant cupboards bare just feeding them for most of a day.
Ever seen one of those displays where they let bees build their hive behind a glass wall, thousands of them busily crawling over each other this way and that, doing all their bee chores? That was the Algonquin that day and night, slightly less organized and with considerably more cursing.
I was fighting my way upstream in the lobby juggling half a dozen crises when I saw a familiar hat bobbing in the air near me.
“Joey!” He couldn’t hear me and I did a muscular version of the Australian crawl, grabbing shoulders and pulling myself through the crowd toward him. When I got to him and grabbed hold he turned fast and then his big ugly face split wide open.
“Ragazzo dolce! Loda i santi!” He knocked two gunsels aside and grabbed me in a life-threatening hug. “I heard you were back but I been running three ways at once getting this affari pazzesco sorted out.” “Crazy business” was about the best description of the whole thing I’d heard so far.
“Me too.” I held up my handful of papers, lists, and itemizations of what and who was going where and when, hopefully. “Listen, I’m glad I found you, and not just because you’re my favorite person. I got special orders for you, right up your alley.”
He gave me a cartoon grin and rubbed his hands together.
“I need you to go get some dump trucks, half a dozen or so, and see if you can get some with the pup trailer, you know, that hitches on behind? Big ones, heavy duty. Capisce?”
“Lascia fare a me”, he said. “You got it – where do you want ‘em?”
“Close to here so they can head out with the trucks and buses when we go.”
He tipped his old hat and disappeared into the crowd. While I was thinking hard about the semi-trailers and how to improve their usefulness, I’d had what I thought was a pretty smart idea. After all, what’s an army without assault vehicles?
One more item checked off, I swam back towards the elevators.
Upstairs there were less people but more frenzy. At seven p.m. we kicked everyone out and sat down to a room service meal and a final run-through of our checklist. It seemed complete but none of us felt anything approaching smug about it. In an enterprise this big, something will always be forgotten and you can only hope it doesn’t turn out to be the one that kills you. “For want of a nail”, and all that.
Frank twirled a tangle of fettuccine and clams on his spoon, then put it down.
“Okay. The question now is, when do we go?”
Meyer laid his own fork down. “The longer we wait, the worse the odds. I say earlier is better than late. Jackie, how soon can we load them up?”
The buses were in place out front and the semi’s lined up in the service alley in back of the hotel. The men were smoking and grumbling in the lobby and on the sidewalks. Our caporegimes had been confiscating bottles all afternoon but we still ran the risk some would end up too drunk to fight if we hung around too long.
I did some quick figuring.
“Let’s say, an hour to load them. Another to get the convoy on the road and four, five hours of driving. It’s almost eight now. That’s what? If we left this minute, we get there three a.m.
“I’d like to see us in place by first light, about six. To be safe, we should leave by 10. That suit?”
They both nodded.
I shuffled though my wad and found the copies I’d drawn of the route there and of the Kennedy compound.
I turned it on the table so they could read it and said, “Here we go in, the main body of men. Here, and here, the flanks. Those semis can run right through the cinderblock fencing. We’ll have to warn the guys in the semis to expect a big bump when they do, but it’ll let them know it’s time to work.”
“Six or seven hours is a long time to be in the back of a semi-trailer”, Frank said.
Meyer said, “So they’re in a bad mood, they get there, so much the better. Pissed off soldiers are the best kind.”
It seemed complete but none of us felt anything approaching smug about it. In an enterprise this big, something will always be forgotten and you can only hope it doesn’t turn out to be the one that kills you. “For want of a nail,” and all that.
By 9 pm we’d begun the loading, with men stationed by each truck or bus armed with spray cans. As each line moved forward, they gave the soldiers a quick shot of fluorescent paint, pink or green, front, back, and on both shoulders, the same paint they use on construction sites and for road work. There wasn’t enough of either color to do the whole job but it didn’t matter, so long as it let them identify each other. The last time I’d had this problem I used flowers to solve it but there weren’t enough florists in the five boroughs to outfit this mob. I wasn‘t sure how glow-in-the-dark this stuff would really be and I feared I might be painting targets on them, but the last thing I wanted in the thick of battle was for our guys to start shooting each other.
“Hey, this stuff stinks like merda,” I heard one complain, reaching up to be hauled aboard a semi.
“Don’t worry about it,” the man who pulled him up said. “You get 150 guys in here smoking and farting, after 10 miles you won’t even notice.” Everyone laughed. They were primed for action, looking forward to the biggest gang fight in history, even if they didn’t yet know who they were going to be shooting at. None of them really cared. Just like every soldier before and after Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, the people who paid you pointed out which direction they wanted you to shoot, and that was good enough.
While the lines kept moving I had just enough time to duck back inside and look for Vanessa. I hadn’t seen her since a quick kiss over coffee hours earlier. She wasn’t in her room or in the command suite and it was impossible to find anyone in the crush of the lobby. Instead, Frank and Meyer found me at the hotel desk as I scribbled a note for her. The concierge took it and Frank pulled me away, out to the street.
It was time to go. We confirmed the rendezvous point, and the alternate, just in case, me still scanning the crowd and thinking I saw her every few seconds. Then it was too late.
“…Pissed off soldiers are the best kind.”
I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled, “Form up and move ‘em out,” and heard the order being passed down the street. I felt like I should be on horseback, waving my sword. The trucks began to pull out into a long line down 44th. I signaled the Greyhounds to move up and take the point. When I stepped back almost to the door of the hotel I could see Joey and his dump-truck division bringing up the rear. I turned to Meyer and Frank on the sidewalk and said, “Ready?”
They both looked 20 years younger. Meyer’s eyes were sparkling behind his glasses like stars in a cold night sky.
“I been ready for almost 40 years,” he said. “Let’s go kill the fucker.”
Mob Rule is a work of fiction and continues exclusively in The Ex-Press. To read past instalments, click here.
Illustrations: Victor Bonderoff
THE EX-PRESS, February 8, 2016