Mob Rule: Part 10

Mopping up after a bloodbath

The price of doing business in New York City gets pricier by the day, forcing ‘family-style’ operations to retreat behind the reinforced steel walls of a downtown fortress while the local chamber of commerce hides its anxiety behind a fake smile

By John Armstrong


When the first wave of medics had unloaded I went back down and found Meyer and Ricco then excused myself and headed for the nearest washroom, walking briskly but carefully; my bowels were sending urgent messages.

Meyer came in while I was still in the stall.

“You all right, Jackie?”

I was covered in sweat and felt like I might never eat again.

“Fine,” I answered. “Just need a minute.”

I heard Meyer strike a match and smelled cigar smoke, which was probably a wise idea on his part.

“It’s perfectly natural,” he said after a minute. “Survival mechanism. If you crap yourself you’re less attractive to predators. Saw it on a nature program. That’s what you do when you get old, you watch the animal shows.

“Anyway, I wanted to tell you, you did good. One day you’ll be running this company.”

“Uh huh. A few more like this and I might decline the honor. This isn’t what I was trained for. I’m just making it up as I go along.”

I heard the taps run for a second, then the rattle of the towel dispenser.

“That’s all anybody does, kiddo. You make your best guess and start giving orders. That’s all there is to it.” The little metal door flap of the waste can banged open and shut. “That, and about 23 hours a day of worrying.

“Also, it’s a good idea to be real lucky, too. See you outside.”


When we got to the office, there were squads of gunmen positioned along the sidewalk and in the windows above and across the street. Four of them surrounded us, scatterguns waist-high and at the ready before they recognized us and let us out of the car. They surrounded us and walked us up to the doors in the old Roman ‘turtle’ formation so that there were guns aiming out on all sides protecting us.

“Is my uncle all right,” I asked and one of them said, “Inside. He’s okay,” then I saw him in the foyer talking to someone. Only the table lamps at the visitor’s reception and a few of the desk lamps were on, to cut down sniper targeting. Ever been in a school after hours? There’s something about a big, bright, normally busy place when it’s asleep and empty of people that seems ominous and, frankly, spooky as hell. Like a funeral parlor.

Frank saw me and grabbed me in a hug. Except for some smeared soot on his face, he seemed fine. I ran down what had happened after his evacuation and he nodded approval.

“Good work.” Frank rubbed both hands through his hair and sucked in air. “Jesus, what a fucking clown show. What an embarrassment. It didn’t matter how much security we had, they were there before us and wired the goddamn room up. I got someone talking to the hotel manager right now, downstairs.”

I didn’t envy the man. I doubted there was any such thing as a right answer to those questions.

“What do we do now,” I asked, as the man Frank had been talking with came over to us. He was middle-aged, tanned and the kind of trim that only comes from money and religious exercise in a gymnasium, with a full head of shiny silver hair cut in a boyish style. He seemed to have only one expression; a smile that got bigger or smaller but never completely left his face. It ramped up several degrees when he stuck his hand out. Meyer stood off to one side, well out of range.

“Donovan Donnelly. Call me Don.” Maybe it was the glowing orange tone of his skin but when he smiled wide, as he did while pumping my hand, his teeth gleamed with a whiteness more normally found on major kitchen appliances. “You must be Jack Kennedy. I’m glad to see you weren’t injured. Terrible, terrible thing.”

I caught Frank’s eye and he said, “Don’s president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.” I knew it existed but in my five years at the firm I’d never had occasion to deal with them, or know who their president was. Don let my hand go. I was about ready to charge him rent.

“We haven’t crossed paths, have we Jack? No reason we should have, really.” The smile widened and the wattage went up a bit to show there were no hard feelings about it. “We swim at different ends of the pond, after all.

“I’m just here on a courtesy call, to offer any assistance we can give,” and now his smile dimmed considerably, down to its lowest setting and his voice deepened, like a newscaster reporting on the fire at the orphanage, “and to pass on the business community’s concerns. This violence is not good for the city. But I don’t need to tell you – we’re all businessmen.” There it was again, full blast. If a lighthouse ever failed you could just send Donnelly out to the point and aim him at the ocean.

“Everything will be back to normal in short order, Mr. Donnelly. Thank you for coming and tell your board the best thing they can do is just keep doing business as usual. But I really have to get to my desk.” I clasped his shoulder and walked past him, avoiding another handshake.

Frank came in before I’d even got my coat off, followed by Meyer who looked like he had a bad case of agita.

“It’s part of the job, Jackie, so get used to it. You have to make nice with the civilians and keep them happy, especially when things are like now. Give them their ten minutes, try to look like you’re listening and then send them back on their way.”

“It’s part of the job, Jackie, so get used to it. You have to make nice with the civilians and keep them happy, especially when things are like now. Give them their ten minutes, try to look like you’re listening and then send them back on their way.”

He stopped at the credenza and poured sizable drinks. Meyer waved his off and said, “Bullshit. Guys like that are why I prefer a benign dictatorship.”

Frank handed one to me and said, “Charley’s dead.” I took a deep drink and let the warmth spread in all directions. “I know, I saw him get it. He was covering Meyer and me.”

“He was a nice kid,” Meyer said, “from the little time I knew him. I made him try lox, the day he drove me around. He’d never eaten salmon on bagel.”

Frank raised his glass and said, “He was a good man. Brave and loyal. I’ll have Abby go up to payroll in the morning, tell them put his pension through.” He retrieved the bottle, poured again and set it down on the desk.  “So now we got more trouble than we started with. People are going to the mattresses. I never thought I’d see that again.

“The other commissioners are goddamn fuming. They’re upstairs right now, except Zerelli – he had to take a heart pill and lie down. I got to go back up and calm them down, if I can. You both come with me.”

“All right.” I swallowed what was in the glass. My first thought was that facing an angry Commission was about as enticing a prospect as walking into a ballroom full of trigger-happy gunsels. On the way up, with a little time to think, I decided it was worse.

We took the private elevator up to the boardroom. Twenty years ago when the company had outgrown the old building Luciano hired one of New York’s leading commercial architects to design a new one. When the drawings were unveiled it was stunningly beautiful and almost worthless, completely indefensible and topped by a rooftop boardroom and garden with a beautiful view of the city. It was also a long way to jump if the building were under attack or burning; having the high ground is one thing, but it’s also nice to be able to get down from it.

Luciano paid off the designer and gave the plans to an architect who’d designed fortified buildings for the old government’s War Department. He kept much of the exterior façade and designed another building to go inside the one the public would see. (He did save the roof garden, which is a lovely place to eat lunch.)

This one was built from thousands of tons of reinforced concrete, the street face of the building laced with steel beams underneath the decorative limestone slabs. A truck loaded with explosive trying to crash through it would be stopped dead in its tracks and could burn away harmlessly. All the glass is triple-thick blast-proof glazing and the boardroom is now at the center of the building, shielded by several layers of offices around it and encased in steel walls, floors and ceiling. It does look out over an atrium, also impenetrable glass, which contains one of several emergency exits, none of which are any of your business.

I can tell you that the redesign put almost as much of the new building underground as is visible above and required the company to purchase various buildings in several directions, up to two blocks away, and build tunnels large enough to carry troop trucks in. The whole thing took several years to finish and was massively expensive but like they say, what’s piece of mind worth?

We stepped through the elevator doors into the walnut-paneled boardroom prepared to take our lumps. How do you apologize to someone you’ve invited for dinner and nearly gotten blown up? I suppose I was a little flush from my performance at the hotel so I decided you couldn’t and since there was little to lose in terms of face right now, I said so.

“Gentlemen, we badly underestimated the situation. This is entirely our fault.” I looked around at them. They were tough, hard men who’d seen much worse than this, but not recently, and they were shaken. The ashtrays were overflowing and the room was stale with smoke. I turned on the air extractors and sat down at the big oval table facing them. Meyer and Frank took chairs on either side. “We’re questioning the staff at the hotel to see who had access to the room, but really, what are going to find? Anyone smart enough to rig this thing is surely smart enough to cover their tracks.

“But the brains in this room are pretty good, too. So, we need your advice. Which is why we asked you here to begin with.”

It was flattery but it was the best kind. It was true. This was a room full of men who’d earned their place in the history books. It was a good thing I was sitting down where they couldn’t see my knees shake.

Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, Boss of the Chicago Outfit and Izzy “The Kid” Bernstein, last of the Bernstein brothers who founded the all-Jewish Purple Gang and fought the Sicilians to a draw in Detroit. Now they ran it and half the Midwest.

“Dopey” Ben Fein, hero of the Union Wars and Rothstein’s right hand – he got his name because a medical condition made his eyes droop and gave the uninformed the impression he was a little less than bright. Even now, 70-some years old and white-haired, nothing could be less true.

My cousin Bobby was the first to speak. This time he wasn’t wearing his earpiece.

“For our part, there’s nothing to apologize for – outside of some dry-cleaning bills.” He gave a toothy grin. “No-one could have expected what happened. My guys checked the place out too, and they said it was kosher. Let’s consider it confirmation we’re dealing with more than just an inter-family grievance.”

McGurn stubbed a butt out and lit another. “You got to admire it – whoever is behind it has the New York families at war with each other now. The question I need answered is – is it Genovese?” He looked straight at Frank. “You should have paid him off a long time ago. It was a bad call.”

“He was a partner as much as I was. He had a legitimate gripe – I was only Charley’s consigliere. Vito was underboss –” Meyer cut him off.

“Frank should have whacked Vito – and if my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle. Let’s talk about what we do now instead of what we should have done.”

Fein held his hand up. “Enough – history is always relevant but Meyer has a point. This is a crux, here. I take it very serious. Let this get further out of hand and we have very serious problems. You – “this was directed at Frank and I – “you need to settle this, fast. Or we will have to. We’re one step from anarchy right now and this we cannot have. You agree?”

The other commissioners murmured or otherwise gestured assent. The room was very quiet now.

“You need men, we’ll send them.” It was Mickey Cohen. “You come at the others heavy, fast, no discussion. Put the boot down hard.  Mend fences later.” He looked exhausted by the end of this and reached for his hanky.

“You want us to escalate this?” Frank asked. “I don’t like it. There’s still a chance to settle this at the table, let tempers die down a few days. We all have too much to lose.”

“Benny ‘s right, Mick too – you show them what’s to lose by taking it away. You don’t know who to punish, you punish them all. But you settle your business.” This was McGurn, architect of the legendary St. Valentine’s Day hit on the Moran crew. The Bernsteins had carried it out for him, dressed as cops, cutting Moran’s unarmed men in half with tommy guns at close range. That was how they solved problems in Chicago.

Meyer said, “I agree with Jack and Mickey. You’ve already got a small fire. You don’t negotiate with it, take the chance it turns into a big one, you stamp it out and find out how it started later.”

“Exactly. Regain control over your territory. Get everybody back in line then do what you have to keep them there. It will likely solve your other problem – someone will hand you the instigator.” Fein looked around the table. “We’re agreed then? Frank and the Lucianos are authorized to do what they have to, restore order?”

There was a chorus of agreement. All we had to do was put down a civil war, us against four major crime families who all thought we’d tried to kill them under a flag of truce. I envied the mice elected to bell the cat – they had it easy.


Mob Rule continues in The Ex-Press. Read Part 11 Tuesday, to read past instalments, click here.






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