Mob Rule: Part 7 – continued

We met the Goombah

The date with the lovely Vanessa continues, but after surveying a history of violence, she asks her suitor some tough questions

By John Armstrong

I’ll leave out the details of our trip to the Museum of American History. Everyone’s seen the wing devoted to the Big Takeover a thousand times anyway, either in person or onscreen. That said, I still get choked up when I stand before the towering statues of the Great Outlaws – Dillinger gleefully burning the mortgage records after emptying a bank vault, or Pretty Boy Floyd delivering Christmas dinner to a starving family on welfare – and then the massive 20-foot painting that summarizes the Second Revolution, starting with the Bank Crash and Depression and then the breadlines, the Hooverville riots, and the government troops firing into hungry, unemployed, desperate crowds.

I’m always drawn to one section that shows union busters clubbing men and women on a picket line while fat, cigar-smoking politicians watch, laughing. I’m not what you’d call a flag-waving type of patriot by any stretch, but it’s hard to look at that and not have the anger rise in you. Which is the point of that kind of painting, I suppose. It was a terrible time – a government at war against it’s own people. And they lost, thank god.

Further down the canvas are scenes showing the people rising up against them and then the Night of the Rope: lawyers, cops and politicians swinging from lampposts, lit by the orange glow of burning banks and government offices, and President Hoover’s execution. He got off easier than the other Hoover, the head of the FBI.

Finally, the painting shows the Commission taking control in the section called The Restoration of Justice, a group of strong, handsome men in the iconic double-breasted suits and big hats, some stripped to shirtsleeves, symbolically holding blueprints and gesturing as they direct the rebuilding of the nation. Or most of it; the south never really did come back into the fold.

Vanessa was fairly quiet as we wandered through it, asking a few questions but mostly silent. I thought perhaps she was as moved as I’d been by the displays. The only sound was our shoes echoing on the marble floor tiles. The praetorians had cleared everyone out ahead of us and stayed within range for safety but far enough away to give us some privacy.

When we got back to the car, I said, “It’s early yet. Let’s take Joe up on his invitation. He’d be hurt if we didn’t show up. I’m sure he went straight home and started cooking.”

“All right,” she said, without significant enthusiasm. I waited until we were moving before I asked what the matter was. She straightened her skirt and thought for a moment, then said, “Look, you all seem very nice and I don’t mean to insult anyone” – this is what people always say right before they insult you – “but these men are all criminals, murderers. How can you have their pictures up and statues of them like … statesmen?”  I had to smile at that. It’s a common misconception and she had been holding it in until she was ready to burst, torn between trying to be a good guest, her sense of moral outrage and absolute frustration at trying to figure us out.

For us growing up here, of course, that’s all answered in our school citizenship classes and that’s what I drew on to answer her.

“Well, that all depends on what you mean by criminal. What laws did they break? If they were unjust laws, was it wrong to break them? Robin Hood broke the law – was he a criminal or a hero? Jesus broke the law.”

She looked at me as if I’d grown a spare head.

“They murdered people, Jack! God knows how many of them.”

“Well, that all depends on what you mean by criminal. What laws did they break? If they were unjust laws, was it wrong to break them? Robin Hood broke the law – was he a criminal or a hero? Jesus broke the law.”

She looked at me as if I’d grown a spare head.

“They murdered people, Jack! God knows how many of them.”

“Benny Siegel used to say, ‘We’re not so bad, we only kill each other,’” I parried. “And how many of them would have been killed if the cops and government had left them alone to just do their business? How many did the cops and the G-Men kill?

“Wall Street and the bankers and politicians screwed everybody that played by the rules; people lost their jobs, their houses, kids 15, 16 years old in had to leave home and go ride the rails so there’d be enough food for their younger brothers and sisters, too. When they demonstrated, asked the government to do something, they did – they sent the army to bust up the meetings, and if a few heads and arms and legs got busted, too …” I guess I was a little bit worked up after looking at the exhibits.

“The politicians made sex, liquor and gambling illegal and everyone – working people! – who enjoyed them, criminals. The same politicians and cops who took payoffs and then turned around and ordered raids and smashed slot machines and barrels of booze. And when they busted a speakeasy, who did they arrest – their political pals who were drinking and gambling there, or just the poor saps who had the bad luck to not be anybody special? They were more crooked than any of our guys – well, most of our guys.

“It was corrupt from top to bottom and eventually people wouldn’t take it anymore. The ironic thing is, if the government hadn’t forced us to become organized in order to stay alive, there would have been no-one organized enough pick up the pieces and put the country back together again.”

Vanessa shook her head like a prizefighter after a punch. I’ll admit it was a bit of a speech, but she asked and I don’t like people running us down when they clearly don’t understand history.

After a minute Vanessa said, more quietly, “I have to say that when we studied your economic and political system in school, no-one could quite make sense of it. It sounds … impractical, to say the least. No laws? No police? No jails? No government or taxes? How on earth can you have a society like that?”

She stopped herself and looked embarrassed, and very cute. I liked it a lot. “I’m sorry, I really don’t mean to offend you. Obviously it works somehow …” She gestured out the window. “But if I were honest with you, it scares the living hell out of me. A country run by gangsters? What’s to stop anyone from just walking up and doing whatever they like to me? You wouldn’t believe the arguing I had to do before my parents would let me come here.”

“Well for one thing, I wouldn’t let them, “ I said, trying to sound brave, clean and reverent, like they taught us in the Junior Pinstripers. “But the truth is there’s not a much of what you’d call crime – break-ins and muggings and robberies and murders.  Much, much less than before the Takeover.”

She shook her head again and said,  “I’m afraid I just don’t get it. How could that be?”

“Simple,” I told her. I ticked it off on my hand. “First, no jail: you hurt or shoot someone and they die, or even miss work, you pay for what you cost the family in that person’s earnings over the years they should have had coming, plus the tax he would have paid to the Commission. Because everyone kicks 25 percent up to the next level, always. So we do have taxes.

“You kill someone driving drunk, same thing. You don’t want to pay it …” I made the finger and thumb sign: “Ka-pow.”

“Robbery? If you mean a bank or a store, same thing. The Commission owns all the banks, and you do not want to steal from us. As my uncle Frank would say, we take a very dim view. But housebreaking, car theft? Well, be very quiet about it, because even if the owner isn’t around you still want to be careful of the neighbors. People look out for each other. And a most of them go strapped – I mean, they have guns.

“What other kinds of crime – rape? You have to be out of your mind to do it in the first place, maybe that’s why it still happens. We catch them, we take care of them –“ She started to say something and I held my hand up. “Yeah, I know – they’re sick in the head. I agree – I said so myself. ‘U’Pazzu’ – crazy. We can’t make them better so we make sure they don’t do it twice. Court hears the details, they make a decision, it’s carried out, boom. Done. His property or estate, whatever, goes to pay compensation to the vic.”

She gave me a blank expression.

“The vi – the victim, the injured party. Only fair, but never close to enough. That’s about the only way to get whacked. That, and kill a made guy, a family member.”

“What do you mean, ‘court’ – how can you have a court without lawyers, judges, police …”

“Easy. The local caporegime, the district captain, hears disputes in his neighborhood. If it’s something he thinks needs attention from his superiors, he kicks it up. Otherwise, he hears the case and his decision is final. Lawyers? We took Shakespeare’s advice.”

I thought for a second and said, “Okay, here’s an example:

“I remember Frank hearing a case where one of our friends sold a civilian a big truck that was parked at the side of the road. Of course, it wasn’t his to sell and the buyer complained. Because it was a made guy, and someone in his crew, Frank heard the case and fined our guy half the purchase price, payable to the court. Then he ordered him to rebate 50 per-cent back to the customer. Which left him with nothing – he also hadn’t kicked up his percentage to Frank, so he got fined for that, too. A lot. Frank gives half of the money to the civilian, and then fines him the same amount for being a stugatz, an idiot, and buying the thing in the first place without checking out the ownership.”

“But they both ended up with nothing,” she said.

“Frank would say it was a very cheap and valuable lesson: don’t be a sucker and don’t be a greedy pig.” She didn’t look any more convinced.

“All right, here’s another one: Joe was drinking coffee someplace and he heard a bunch of yelling outside, so he goes to see what it is, and it’s a lady and a grocery store man arguing. He has a sign up, says ‘We Match Any Competitor’s Prices’. So she has a flyer from the paper, another store has pineapples for a buck sixty-nine. This guy’s store sells them for two-something and he’s telling her they’re a different kind of pineapples. She says, yeah – they’re a buck too much.

“Okay, Joe goes over, listens to this and says, ‘All right – you got a sign says we match prices, you’re going to match the price. You don’t like it, get a new sign that says what you mean. And here’s a smack in the head for making me leave my coffee to referee a dispute about pineapples.’”

She had been waiting impatiently to jump in and took her chance now: “But you cannot have a system of law that’s run on the arbitrary whim of whoever happens to be around. That’s … madness.” We were in front of Joe’s now, the argument heating up and the bodyguards carefully not hearing any of it. I thought I’d better defuse it a little.

“Okay then, we’re all crazy. So come on up and have some lunch with Crazy Joe and Crazy Jackie. Maybe we can even finish before the guys with the nets come to collect us.” I stepped out onto the pavement and offered my hand. She laughed and took it. I’m only about half as charming as Joey but then again, I’m only half as Italian.

Mob Rule continues in The Ex-Press…

For past instalments, click here.


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