Faolan O’Connor had business to resolve before he died.
The call he’d been waiting for came around eight. “It’s on for tonight. Chophouse in Newark.” said Charlie Luciano’s rough voice.
“Well hello to you too, dear.” Faolan answered.
The chuckle on the other end of the line was as genuine as a three dollar bill. “Glad to see you ain’t lost your sense of humor,” Charlie said and Faolan heard the tension under the words. “Heard you was under the weather. Sure you feel up to this?”
“I’ll climb off my deathbed for this job. I owe Dutch.”
“That’s what I figured. Ten o’clock.” He hung up without saying goodbye. Faolan already knew that was the last conversation they’d ever have.
He dragged himself from his bed, trembling and aching, and dressed in his best olive suit. The tailored pants were baggy on him from all the weight he’d dropped this week and he had to cinch the belt up as tight as it would go. His joints ached like an old man’s and the skeleton that greeted him in the mirror was almost a stranger. He slipped on a gray topcoat and an olive fedora to match his suit then took the case he’d already packed downstairs to the front desk of the Waldorf hotel. “Faolan O’Connor, checking out.” The irony of the statement made him chuckle.
The desk clerk looked him over with uncertainty bordering on disgust and slid the printed bill across the desk toward him. Faolan pulled a wad of bills from his pocket and paid, having stashed his wallet in his case along with his new Browning. He didn’t see why Charlie’s vulture should get either.
“Hey sport, can you post this for me?” he asked and pulled a thick manila envelope from the inside pocket of his coat.
“Certainly, sir.” The clerk took the envelope, but paused as he noticed the addressee: THOMAS DEWEY, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE. CITY.
“Early Christmas present,” Faolan said with a smile that became a wince. A cramp stabbed his elbow like a knife and twisted in the bone.
“Are you … feeling poorly … sir?” The clerk looked around, but there was nobody else in sight at the moment.
Faolan gritted his teeth and willed himself to ignore the pain. He’d be damned if he was gonna fuck up this last job. Just to spite the cramp, he used that arm to lift his small suitcase onto the desktop. “Just an old war wound. I want you to check this bag for me and give it to whoever comes in looking for it.”
“I—I’m sure I don’t understand, sir.”
“I’m leaving it behind for a friend, that’s all.”
“I see. And your friend’s name?”
The clerk’s eyes narrowed. “I’m sorry, but that would be against the Waldorf’s policy.”
Faolan laid his remaining five hundred-dollar bills down on the desk. Overkill, for sure, but what the hell?
The clerk’s resistance melted like ice in August. He scooped the bills up like a casino dealer and put the bag behind the desk. “Very good, sir.”
Faolan started to turn away, but a thought made him turn back. He reached under his shirt collar, there was an inch now between it and his neck, and fished out the St. Patrick’s medal Ma had given him years ago. It was silly to even keep it, honestly, but he wasn’t quite ready to give it up. “Here,” he said, pulling it off and dropping it on the desk, “put this in the bag too.”
He walked out of the Waldorf and buttoned his coat, even though it wasn’t cold for October. A black Packard sedan sat idling at the curb half a block down. Though Faolan headed right over, the guy in the passenger seat still felt the need to lean across the driver and yell: “Put a little shake on it, would ya?”
This was Bug Workman, a curly-haired fireplug who happened to be one of Lepke Buchalter’s top hitters. The older, taller driver was Mendy Weiss, another torpedo. Faolan climbed in the back.
“How you feeling, kid?” Weiss asked, pulling back into the traffic of Fifth Avenue.
“Heard you was in a real bad way, pally,” Bug added before Faolan could answer. Christ, did somebody take out an ad? “Me, I’d say you look like five pounds of shit in a ten pound bag. Maybe you shoulda stayed home in bed.”
Faolan removed his hat to smooth his blond hair back. Fucking fever had it falling out in clumps the past few days. He caught sight of his reflection in Weiss’s side mirror and saw a boyish face with the skin drooping like melted wax. He shoved his hat back on. “You bring the drop piece?”
“You don’t got one?” Weiss asked.
“Never use your own gun on a hit,” Faolan told him.
The Bug pulled a .38 S&W from the glove box and passed it back to him. “Fucking ridiculous, us making a special trip up here just for you. We was all set to do the job just fine, but then you gotta come sticking your snout into the trough like a greedy little piggy.”
Faolan checked that the serial number had been filed off and that all the chambers were loaded. The grip was rough, so it wouldn’t hold a print, and the action seemed smooth enough. This was the 1905 model with the four-inch barrel: not quite a belly gun, but not as accurate as he preferred.
“Fallon ‘The Wolf’ O’Connor,” Bug continued.
“Fay-lan,” he said.
“Whatever. I ain’t real impressed so far. What do you say to that, Piggy?”
“I say that mouth of yours is gonna land you in trouble some day.” Faolan glanced out the window as they turned onto Canal Street and headed for the tunnel.
“How about right now?”
“How about right now what?”
“My big mouth, Piggy. You planning on giving me some trouble?”
Faolan watched the Midtown lights give way to the darker tenement streets near the tunnel and helped himself to a Camel. “You don’t need no help from me finding trouble.”
“You got that right, pally,” Bug said with no hint of irony whatsoever. “Hey, Mendy, you catch The Goldbergs last night?” The Bug blabbed all the way through the Holland Tunnel and on into Jersey City, but Faolan tuned him out. In his considerable experience, any hit was tricky; there were so many details that could fuck you up no matter how much you planned. Tonight’s hit had been thrown together in a big hurry and there was a lot riding on it, so the potential for fuck-ups was very high. Bad odds any way you figured it, but this was his only chance.
The Commission had finally ordered a hit on Dutch Schultz.
The official reason had to do with protecting Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey. Dutch planned to kill Dewey, which would bring down more heat than the select members of Charlie’s “board of directors” were comfortable with. In reality, Charlie and his partner Meyer had a good excuse to rid themselves of the troublesome Dutchman and divide up his remains.
Faolan had his own reasons.
The Dutchman would die by his hand tonight if it was his last act in this world. He would need to stay sharp for this one given his current condition.
His gums ached like a sonofabitch.
“Hey Piggy,” Bug called back, twenty minutes into their ride. “Just so’s you know, I got dibs on rolling the stiffs once the job’s done.”
They were in Newark now nearing their destination. “You wanna waste time searching the Dutchman’s pockets? Knock yourself out.”
“Hey, that’s one of our perks. Commission okayed it for—”
“Quit beating your gums, we’re here,” Faolan told him, scanning the front of the Chophouse as they pulled up. His watch read ten thirty. For the last few weeks, Schultz had been holding court in the back room of this place.
The street was deserted: brick-faced shops, cement pavement, and stone tenements glistened in the damp. Through the front windows flanking the door, Faolan couldn’t see anyone in the barroom except the bartender. He popped his door and got out as soon as the car came to a stop. Bug did the same, a Winchester pump shotgun in hand. Weiss remained in the idling car by prior agreement.
“Bartender to the left, behind the bar.”
“I got him,” Bug said, pushing past him to the front door. Faolan noticed how the reflected neon from the sign overhead turned a nearby puddle into a pool of blood. His stomach rumbled.
Opening the door, Bug stepped through with his shotgun leveled. “Don’t move. Lay down.”
Anticipation and adrenaline combined to make Faolan feel super alive and hyper-aware. He saw the individual threads that made up the weave of Bug’s overcoat and heard the tiny squeaks of leather shoes as his so-called partner walked across the linoleum floor of the bar. As Faolan moved to follow, the roar of the car’s engine outside and the smell of exhaust and ozone in the air threatened to sweep him away like the finest trumpet solo Satchmo ever played.
His long strides caught up with Bug’s as they moved down the narrow aisle between the long bar and the little tables pushed up against the right wall. Faolan heard the bartender—now face-down behind his bar—muttering prayers under his breath. He smelled the bartender’s sweat, the fear in it, and the scent excited him.
The place was lit by a row of frosted globes hanging down over the bar and Faolan caught a reflected flash off the farthest table. Bug passed it, oblivious, as he continued into the short corridor that led past the bathrooms to the small dining room in the back.
On a table near the men’s room door lay a nickel-finished 1911 model Colt .45 right next to the salt and pepper. Faolan snatched it up and dropped it into his coat pocket without breaking stride. He didn’t get why so many hoods favored Colts. Its ejector had a habit of jamming and its accuracy was a joke, but he wanted a back-up gun.
He pulled back the hammer on his revolver as they entered the back room. Ugly green walls, dingy carpets, chipped booths, and scratched tables: this little shit-hole in the wall was the best Dutch could do for a temporary headquarters? Schultz was a cheapskate to the bitter fucking end.
Faolan slides into his killing groove and time seems to slow.
His crystal blue eyes scan the room, empty except for the three men at the far corner table. Before they so much as blink, Bug’s shotgun speaks, blowing a hole in the side of fat old Abadabba Berman and setting Faolan’s sensitive ears to ringing.
Plug the accountant first. Nice thinking, shithead!
Lulu Rosencrantz—a gorilla wearing a tin Deputy Sheriff badge that allows him to carry—draws his heater as he rises. Faolan fires.
To his grooving eyes, it’s as if Lulu’s shirt blossoms with a carnation made of blood. He fires again as Abadabba settles onto the table-top, moaning.
Another carnation forms on Lulu’s chest.
Bug pumps his shotgun, ejecting the empty shell.
Faolan shifts his barrel an inch and takes aim at—
Tall, skinny, and bald: Abe Landau, another hitter. Where’s Schultz? Where the fuck’s the Dutchman?
Faolan fires anyway, punching a shot through the upper shoulder of Landau’s business arm as the hitter reaches for his piece.
Ignoring the cramp building in his shooting arm, Faolan fires again. He watches the bullet pass through Landau’s arm and hit Lulu in the right wrist as the gorilla clears his Colt from his shoulder rig.
Ignoring his shattered wrist, Lulu tips the table forward for some cover—spilling poor Abadabba onto the floor—as he and Landau both take aim.
Bug’s shotgun roars a second time, buckshot splashing across the tabletop, Lulu’s chest, and Abadabba’s back.
Forcing himself to remain steady despite the shiver traveling up from his toes, Faolan fires again.
This shot hits Lulu’s right elbow, ruining the arm but doing nothing to prevent the lefty from shooting back at them.
The first shot goes wild as Bug ejects his spent round and Faolan lines up his last shot between Lulu’s eyes.
Landau’s first shot is better, catching Faolan in the shoulder—
There’s no pain, but the bullet’s impact throws his aim and wastes his last round. Beside him, Bug turns tail and runs. Faolan drops the empty revolver and reaches in his pocket for—
The Colt … Laying right near the bathroom!
Dutch is known to carry a Colt like this one stuffed into his waistband. If he were on his way out and needed to use the john, he might set the gun down first.
Yanking out the .45, Faolan ducks back into the corridor as bullets smash into the paneling around him. As he gets to the bar side, he sees Bug behind the bar trying to open the register. Schmuck.
Even though the entire exchange of gunfire only took half a minute at most, Schultz must be on the alert. Readying the Colt, Faolan pushes open the men’s room door.
His quarry, one Arthur Flegenheimer, who is better known as Dutch Schultz, does indeed wear his white fedora and gray topcoat as if preparing to go out. A stall door is still swinging closed and he’s in the act of rushing toward the door when Faolan enters. He skids to an awkward stop, looking a bit unsteady on his feet.
They lock eyes for just a second.
Stocky and below average height, Dutch has the looks of a bank clerk and the social grace of a racetrack bookie. He’s worth millions but wears two dollar shirts and off-the-rack suits. Tonight, he reeks of beer and his fly is still open. Dutch Schultz is a man who will never have class.
A loud ding! announces Bug’s success in opening the register.
Dutch turns away.
Faolan’s finger tightens on the trigger.
A bullet slams into the door just behind his head—his shot goes low, ripping into Dutch’s abdomen rather than his heart.
Clenching his teeth against the pain, Faolan sees Landau and Lulu stagger into view like a pair of monsters from a nightmare.
Bug scurries around the bar, stuffing a handful of cash into his coat pocket, and runs flat out for the door. Faolan turns back to Dutch. One shot just isn’t enough.
Another bullet strikes the floor by his right foot just as he fires—
The shot goes wide, hitting the tiles of the back wall as Dutch stumbles back into the urinal and drops to the floor. Goddamn Colts!
Landau and Lulu stumble into the corridor, raising their guns.
Fuck! Faolan runs for the door. Bug, however, makes the mistake of glancing back as he reaches the end of the bar and puts a foot wrong—
The stocky gunman flies forward, ass over tea-kettle, and kisses linoleum near the phone booth in the corner. His shotgun skids to the front door.
Up ahead, the cigarette machine takes a few rounds, but Faolan waits until he makes it to the front door to risk a glance.
The wound on Landau’s shoulder is worse than Faolan thought: the bullet severed an artery and jets of blood pulse out in a heartbeat rhythm while the thin man continues to stagger toward him. The sight is morbidly engrossing.
Behind Landau limps the bloody monstrosity that is Lulu Rosencrantz, also fighting to lift his gun and fire.
Grabbing the shotgun, Faolan gets the door open and rushes out. He dives into the cover of the idling Packard and throws the shotgun down behind the passenger seat.
“Step on it, they’re coming!”
Weiss hits the gas and the Packard speeds off. Faolan looks out the back window and sees Landau stumble out onto the sidewalk after them, still firing. One step: blood still squirting from his neck. Two steps … Landau collapses into a set of trash cans against the wall of the Chophouse.
The groove ends.
Faolan’s senses snapped back to normal. His heartbeat began to slow.
“Shit!” Weiss cried. “We left Workman!”
Faolan saw The Bug run into the street at that very moment, chasing their dust. Still wasn’t too late to stop and pick him up.
“Nah,” Faolan told Weiss, reaching into his jacket for his Camels. “He went out through the kitchen.”
Let the little fucker walk home.
* * * * *
When Weiss didn’t turn around and shoot him, Faolan knew his killer would be waiting for him in Manhattan.
They’d swapped the Packard for a Lincoln a few blocks from the Chophouse and left the shotgun to ensure that the trail ended there. Faolan held onto the .45 because he knew he wouldn’t be keeping it long.
Canal Street glistened like polished leather under the streetlamps as Weiss pulled the car to the curb. Faolan climbed out, giving Weiss a parting nod. Weiss refused to look at him as he pulled into the light traffic and disappeared.
Faolan glanced at the darkened coffee shop half a block up where an old, red Ford two-seater waited. He walked toward the car and wondered who Charlie sent. When he got within ten feet, the door opened and a broad-shouldered guy in a dark rain coat and gray hat got out. The tall, boxy shape of the car made it difficult to recognize the driver until he stepped into the light.
“Howdy, stranger,” said his childhood pal Benny Siegel, flashing the devil’s own grin. “Need a lift?”
“Benny,” Faolan said, making his surprise sound glad rather than hurt. They met at the curb, shook hands, and embraced like brothers.
When you hit somebody on your own team, you wanted them to let their guard down, so you sent somebody they trusted.
Benny held him at arm’s length for examination. “Shit, pal, you look like somebody really gave you the business. You take one in the wing, there?”
“Just grazed me. Looks worse than it feels.”
Benny nodded. “Go ahead and get in. I gotta swing by the docks and get a package before we see Charlie.”
Faolan’s fingers tightened around the Colt in his pocket as Benny turned away. Put one in the back of Benny’s head, and he could take the car before anybody saw anything. Wasn’t like him to play lamb to the slaughter and his instincts told him to take action to protect himself, but if he killed Benny, they’d never stop looking for him. He climbed into the passenger seat. “Charlie got you picking up his fucking groceries now or what?”
“Benny the errand boy, that’s me. You take care of the Dutchman?” Benny tossed his hat up on top of the dashboard and pulled into the street.
Faolan’s gums ached again, almost on fire, and his whole body trembled with hunger. He forced it down. He took the Colt out of his pocket and handed it to Benny, knowing he couldn’t resist the temptation if the gun was right in his reach.
“The gun that plugged Dutch Schultz. Keep it as a souvenir.”
Benny glanced at it, nodded, and slipped it into his pocket. “He’s dead? You seen it?”
“I saw him go down. Place was a fucking shooting gallery, but them goons of his weren’t no pigeons.”
“So, there’s no telling whether this guy pulls a Jack of Diamonds is what you’re saying.”
Jack of Diamonds, that was cute. Jack Diamond, Faolan’s mentor and best friend, had a little extra juice in him that had allowed him to survive five attempts on his life. Faolan used to have that little extra juice, too, but he’d traded up and now he had more than a little. For the first time, he wondered if Schultz and his guys had also had something extra in them.
“Look, I ever blow a hit before? No. I tell you what, though, if the sonofabitch pulls through this, I’ll pay him a visit in the hospital and personally stuff a pillow down his throat, okay?”
“Ain’t necessary,” Benny said in lieu of an apology. “I believe you. I’m just saying what you know Charlie’s gonna.”
Faolan lit a Camel and let Benny go on thinking he was steamed. Between that movie-star smile and those sad, Bing Crosby eyes, Benny could seem like the nicest, most unthreatening guy in the world. Women fell for it most, but skirts didn’t mean anything to Benny.
Mess with one of his friends and you’d see Benny’s famous temper, something a lot of people never lived through. Tonight, Benny was working that temper up over Faolan’s involvement in a betrayal of Charlie a few years back. On Jack Diamond’s orders, Faolan had organized a little ride for Charlie in 1929 that he wasn’t supposed to survive. But he had survived and blamed the wrong gang for the attempt … up until someone informed Charlie of Faolan’s role.
Betrayals. Faolan’s life had been a long series of them.
Him and Jack betrayed Dutch. Dutch betrayed them. Him and Jack betrayed Rothstein. Him and Jack betrayed Charlie. Dutch betrayed him. Jack betrayed him. His brother Tom betrayed him. He betrayed Jack. He betrayed Tom. He betrayed his wife Colleen. He betrayed Charlie. Charlie betrayed Dutch. Now Charlie and Benny were betraying him.
Life’s grand pageant.
It’s my own fault for trusting people, Faolan thought. Fucking stupid to ever let anyone get their hooks into you like that. It just makes it harder when the time comes to betray them.
Faolan glanced out at the dark tenements and shops along West Street and exhaled a cloud of smoke with a bitter smile. Charlie and Benny didn’t realize that, revenge or no revenge, he’d still get the last laugh. That envelope he’d mailed tonight contained a detailed description of Charlie’s operations as well as the names of some bitter old whores who’d be happy to testify against the Commission boss. Faolan figured Dewey would be eager to change his aim once the Dutchman was out of the picture.
After all, what was one more betrayal between friends?
“So where’s this dock we’re swinging by, anyhow?” he asked, just to say something.
“Couple more minutes,” Benny said. “Won’t take long. Hey, look back there—hasn’t that same car been behind us since we got on West?”
“Who the fuck would be following us? Why, for that matter?” Faolan gave a cursory glance at his side mirror. They were being followed, all right, but there was no angle in tipping Benny.
“You’re probably right.”
“Hey, you ever been back to that Lombardi’s place I took you and Charlie to, couple years back?” he asked. “You know, the one that makes them tomato pies?”
Benny chuckled. “Yeah, I remember. Pizzas, they was called. Pretty good for dago food.” He glanced over at Faolan and went cold all the sudden. “Nah, I ain’t been back there.”
People who thought Benny was a stone killer had it all wrong. Sure, he could plug a stranger without any problem, but friends were something else. Benny needed a reason to kill a friend, a reason to hate them: a betrayal. Faolan’s trip down memory lane made Benny remember the good times for a minute, messed with his effort to build up his hate.
It hurt stabbing an old friend in the back, Benny? Faolan thought, crushing out his Camel. Your own fault for being weak.
“Was thinking of them tomato pies before,” Faolan continued. “On account of being sick, I ain’t had nothing to eat in almost a week. I was thinking how I could go for one of them pies.”
It wasn’t tomato pies Faolan was hungry for at the moment, but it was something he’d thought about while he lay in his room with his guts twisted up in knots, burning with fever. Shitting and puking and stuffing pillows in his mouth to keep his screams from disturbing the neighbors, all the while thinking of tomato pies, chili dogs, chop suey, Del Monico steaks, ice cream, hot pastrami, and all the other favorites he’d never eat again.
“Nothing for a week. That’s rough.” Benny kept his eyes focused on the road. He slowed down and watched the car behind them pass. He flashed a smile, but it was tight. “Hey, can you believe that fucking series? I mean, if Greenberg didn’t break his wrist in that second game, I guarantee you it never would have gone to six. Tigers act like it was no sweat when they won through by the skin of their teeth.”
Hank Greenberg being the only Jewish star player in the majors made him a natural favorite of Benny’s.
“You know me,” Faolan said as Benny turned onto one of the piers, “if Brooklyn ain’t in it, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass.”
That made Benny snicker and shake his head. “You and them God-forsaken Dodgers. That club’s got no future, mark my words.”
“Hey, bite your tongue. Them’s my bums you’re running down.”
There was a fog coming off the Hudson as Benny pulled to the front of one of the less ramshackle warehouses and set the parking brake.
“Like I said, this should only take a minute.” Benny climbed out and Faolan waited.
This was the hard part. He wanted to fight back, wanted to knock Benny’s ass to the ground and tear his throat out, but he had to take the dive.
His door jerked open and there was Benny, bared teeth and naked steel. In the half-second it took for Benny to shift position, Faolan could have had him.
Benny’s blade punctured his navel, popping him open like a can. A professional job.
“Mother-fucking traitor!” Benny hissed, yanking the blade out. “Charlie says ‘Thanks for the ride’!”
The next blows felt like weak punches in the stomach. Faolan’s vision went gray, and he knew he couldn’t fight back now if he wanted, so he let his body flop as his precious blood drizzled out of him.
Again and again Benny stabbed his stomach, cursing him, as everything went dark.
* * * * *
The sound of the foghorn stopped Benny Siegel a full minute later. He was huffing and sweating, his hand covered in blood. He’d gotten himself pretty worked up there. Got carried away. He loved the way the blood pumped in his veins when he got excited like that, the colors became more vivid and the world became more alive. Some fellas thought it was funny how he got carried away and called him “bugsy,” but he wasn’t no goddamned bughouse loony. He just got worked up.
Pushing a handful of his thick, black hair out of his face, Ben took a handkerchief out of his coat pocket and cleaned off the knife. Dipped the handkerchief in a puddle of rain water nearby and cleaned off his hand. Threw the bloody rag in the car and pocketed his knife.
He was good now, calm. Still excited, though. Doing somebody in, especially all close and personal like that, always got his blood going. He’d give some bimbo the schtupping of her life later.
Now to finish up with the body.
It was always “the body” after he was done. He had orders to make this one disappear, which was why he’d made Swiss cheese outta the belly. Kept the gasses from building up and bringing it to the surface like a balloon. Maybe he’d over-done it a little, but a wink was as good as a nod to a blind horse, eh?
Kneeling, he pulled the body forward so it flopped over his shoulder and carried it around to the driver side, laying it on the seat in a sitting position. More blood on his coat. Well, that’s what he’d worn it for, wasn’t it?
He popped the parking brake and gave the Ford a good shove from the back to get it going. He followed it, watched it roll. It veered to the right a little and went into the water a few yards short of the end, but that was close enough. The jalopy sank fast and, though he waited to be sure, he didn’t see anything bubble up from it.
Ben Siegel removed his bloody rain coat, tossed it into the Hudson wrapped around the incriminating Colt, and found the back-up car waiting in the warehouse. Just like Charlie said.
Time for a little companionship of the female variety.