He was dead when I got there. Dead as a doornail, deader than a dead fish, deader than Kelsey’s nuts, dead as … well, I think you’ve figured out the message I’m trying to convey here. The son-of-a-bitch was fuckin’ dead!
The door of the hotel room was ajar, so I had entered without knocking. Someone had bashed his brains in. No, that’s not accurate. Someone had bashed his brains out! They were oozing from the wound and congealing on the floor where he lay. His name is not important, but, for the record, I’ll tell you. When he was breathing, he was known as Vinnie “Five Fingers” Diamonte. Now that he is no longer breathing, you can call him anything you want, which would have been a dangerous thing to do when he was among the living. He wasn’t called “Five Fingers” for nothing. (I’ll leave it to your imagination.)
I was sent by my boss, Tony Shivs, to pick up three hundred large from Vinnie. Now Vinnie was dead and I had thoroughly searched the room, but there was no money to be found. You know whose fault it’s gonna turn out to be, who was gonna get the blame. Yeah, that’s right: Yours Truly.
Perhaps I should back up a little so you’ll know what I’m talking about. My name is Billy Irish. That’s not really my name, but it’s what the wiseguys call me. My real name is William Michael Andrew Doyle. Andrew is my Confirmation name.
Through my girl, who was “connected,” I fell in with a crew of Italian-Americans. That’s what I called them to their face. When I was with my own kind (Irish-Americans or micks), I referred to them as wops and guineas.
Anyway, I’m getting off track here. I was an employee of Anthony “Tony Shivs” Salvintore, and I usually did as I was told. I was low man on the totem pole because I’m not a wop. But that’s cool with me. Not being of Italian descent, there’s no way that I can be “made.” To be a made man, you’ve got to off someone … you know, kill a fellow human being, and that’s just not my style. I’m a gofer, a courier. It doesn’t pay well, but it beats the hell out of working for a living. At least it did until I walked into Vinnie’s room and found him dead and the money gone.
Making sure that I did not walk in congealing brains, I stepped over the body and sat down in a nearby chair. I thought about my future, which, at the moment, did not seem very bright.
I knew that Tony, being the psychopath that he was, was going to think I killed the guy and stashed the moola. Because that’s exactly what he would have done in my place.
When he sent me there, he told me only three people knew about the pick-up and where it was to take place. And I was to, as he phrased it, “keep my big yap shut.” It was obvious that someone else was also privy to the information. But knowing that I was innocent of any wrongdoing didn’t mean shit. Yeah, eventually Tony would believe that I had not taken his money. But by then I would probably be missing a few digits (fingers mostly), and I’m sure I’d need a wheelchair to get around for the foreseeable future. So, as I sat there looking at the mortal remains of Vinnie “Five Fingers” Diamonte, the only thought going through my mind was what the hell do I do now?
If I disappeared, then there’d be no doubt as to my “guilt.” And I couldn’t go back to Tony without the money. I’d been sent to pick up a package and if I did not return with said package, then I was a fuckup. And I had heard the old bastard say on more than one occasion, “I ain’t got no room in my outfit for no fuckups.”
Sitting there staring at Vinnie wasn’t gonna help my situation any. So I figured I might as well test the water, so to speak. I got up, walked over to the phone, and started to call Tony. Then I remembered there would be a record of it, and once the body was found, the cops would be on Tony’s doorstep faster than I can write these words. Perhaps not that fast, but you know what I mean. Of course, Tony would give me up in a New York minute. Then I’d have Tony and the cops after me. So I wiped my prints off the phone and put it back down. I got out my cell phone and made the call I didn’t want to make.
I had been right. Tony was filled with sweetness and light. “That’s alright, Billy boy, as long as you’re okay. Why not come over and tell me all about it?” I knew that if he ever got his hands on me, I’d be lucky to hit the streets again with all my fingers. Hell, I’d be lucky to hit the streets again, period! No friggin’ way was I gonna walk into his lair, but I told him I was on my way and disconnected.
So that you get the full picture here, I’m gonna have to give you a little background info. The crew I was associated with worked mostly out of Miami Beach. Sure, the mainland entered into a lot of what went down, but we all lived and hung out on Miami Beach. Tony lived at Collins Avenue and 50th Street, in the same building that Myer Lansky had lived in for ten years and was still living in when he died. The building was a massive structure that had been built in the 60s. A real class place if your taste ran to garish and gaudy. My girl, Terry, and I also lived on Collins Avenue, but up at 65th Street. Our place was a seedy hotel that had been built in the 40s. Threadbare carpet in the halls, the halls themselves dark and dank. But we called it home. And for those of you who are not familiar with Miami Beach, it’s a long narrow island separated from the mainland by a body of water known as Biscayne Bay. Collins Avenue runs from the art deco district at the south end of the island to Golden Beach at the north end. The whole mess is eight and a half miles long and no more than a half mile wide. So if one needed to disappear, Miami Beach was probably not the best place to do it.
Okay, now back to my shit. The first thing I needed to do was get in touch with Terry and tell her to get the hell out of our room. I knew if Tony couldn’t get his hands on me, he would have no compunction about grabbing her in my stead.
No; actually, the first thing I had to do was get out of that goddamn hotel room. Vinnie was starting to turn ripe, and how did I know some wise-ass had not already called the cops (anonymously, of course). I called Terry as I went down the back stairs. No elevators loaded with witnesses for me.
By the time I hit the street, I had Terry on the phone. I told her to ask no questions—like women love to do—and pack for the both of us for a few days out of town. “Be out of the room in ten minutes and wait for me in the bar across the street.” She asked no questions, and that is why I loved her … that and a few million other reasons.
Vinnie had been ensconced in a hotel across from the airport on the mainland. Not that there’s an airport on The Beach, but I’m trying to be precise here. It should have taken me twenty minutes to get to the bar and to Terry. However, thanks to some broken-down piece of shit car on I-95, traffic was backed up and moving at a crawl. At the time, I cursed and fulminated about the goddamn traffic, but in hindsight, it was a godsend. It had given me time to think, which is something I had not been doing since I found Vinnie.
What I thought about was something Tony had told me. He said only three people knew about the pick-up. Him, Vinnie, and me. But that wasn’t exactly true; there was a fourth, Johnny Tits. Johnny was a breast man, hence the name.
Johnny was Tony’s bodyguard, a Neanderthal masquerading as a human being. He had been in the room when Tony gave me my marching orders. So, I’m sitting there in traffic thinking maybe Johnny might know who iced Vinnie and where the money disappeared to. I made up my mind to have a little talk with him before departing for parts unknown. But before I could do anything, I had to get Terry to a safe locale.
I finally got to the bar, double-parked, ran in, grabbed Terry and our bags, threw a Hamilton on the bar to cover her tab, and got her into the car—all in less than a minute. We drove north on Collins Avenue in silence for a while before Terry turned to me and said, “Okay, when the hell are you planning on letting me know what the fuck’s goin’ on?” That’s one of the million things I loved about her. She could get right to the point with no bullshitting around.
Considering that her health, if not her life, was up for grabs, I decided to be magnanimous and answer her query. “I’m in deep shit, baby. A job Tony gave me went south. There’s three hundred thousand smack-a-roos missing and I’m the fall guy.” Of course (and I don’t blame her), she wanted to know all the details. So I told her, starting with my finding Vinnie, sans brains, and ending with my epiphany concerning Johnny Tits.
When I had finished my narrative, I told her I wanted to talk with Johnny before we left town. That’s when she hit me (figuratively speaking) SMACK! right between the eyes. “What do you mean ‘leave town’? What are you? Some kind of pussy? I’m not leaving town!” Blah, blah, fuckin’, blah.
I told you I loved her, but sometimes … Hey! Did she just call me a pussy?
The upshot was, she tried to convince me that together we could find the money, get it to Tony, and everything would be cool. That broad could talk me into anything when she looked at me with those yellow-green eyes of hers.
I may be a pussy, but I’m not so much of a pussy as to drag my girl into something that could get her killed. If I couldn’t find out who offed Vinnie and took the money, and she was running around with me, then when (not if, but when) the shit hit the fan, she’d get splattered too. You married guys can relate to this: I said yes to everything she said while thinking how and where to ditch her while I took care of business.
As we crossed the causeway to the mainland, she was going on about what we should do first, which was to run down Johnny. I loved her, but only one of us could wear the pants in the family, and it sure as hell wasn’t gonna be her! Anyway, I knew of a motor court (yeah, right out of the 40s) where I could stash her until I became either her hero or she had to make my funeral arrangements.
Just in case some of you may not know what a motor court is, it’s kind of like a motel, but with individual, separate units grouped around a courtyard. At any rate, the place we went to was across from Gulfstream Race Track, a horse-racing establishment.
The place was a real dump, and I think they got all their business from guys who’d lost the kids’ college funds at the track and went there to commit suicide. But it was just what I needed. I could pay with cash and not have to show a credit card or ID. Tony’s pretty well connected; he had more than a few cops in his pocket, and I thought he might have one of them run down activity on my card when I didn’t show up.
Once we checked in and Terry got all the bitching out of her system about what a shit-hole I’d taken her to, I told her to relax. I’d go get us something to eat and we could start our Nick and Nora Charles routine in the a.m.
As Terry will readily tell you, I’m a fuckin’ liar. If she was hungry, she could order a pizza. I was going to see Johnny. Tony always sent him home at six sharp every night so he, Tony, could have a private dinner with his mother. Johnny lived on a houseboat across the street from Tony’s place. I knew that and Terry didn’t, so there was no way she could follow me. And just to make sure I was not bothered, I shut my phone off.
So it was back to The Beach for me. I parked a block away from Johnny’s boat; I didn’t want anyone who knew me to see my car because by now Tony would have the word out that I was on the lam. And the sycophants that hung around Tony would have loved to make some points with him by bashing me over the head and delivering me to him in a cardboard box.
As I approached the boat, I saw Johnny’s car, so I knew he was around. Then I hesitated. What the hell was I thinking? If Johnny was the one who took down Vinnie, what chance did I have? I wasn’t even heeled. But then I remembered Terry calling me a pussy, so I squared my shoulders, stood tall, and did the dumbest thing I’d done in a long time. I knocked on Johnny’s door. I was kind of hoping there wouldn’t be an answer, and there wasn’t. So then I did the second dumbest thing I’d done in a long time—I tested the door. It was unlocked, and I went inside.
The lights were out. Maybe he went for a walk. Yeah, right. Johnny’s not the walking-in-the moonlight type. I’d never been on his boat before and I didn’t know where the light switch was. Do houseboats even have light switches? Maybe he used a kerosene lantern. As I was pondering those weighty questions, I walked farther into the room and tripped over a large obstacle lying in the middle of the floor … or was it a deck … considering I was on a boat.
As I lay sprawled on the floor/deck, my eyes became adjusted to the dim light coming in through the door. What I had tripped over was Johnny. Great! My second dead body of the day.
This, I had to ponder, but I couldn’t do it lying on the floor (I’ve decided to call it a floor). I got my ass up and looked to my right and saw a lamp on a table. I felt for the switch, found it, and got some light in the room. I closed the door, and for the second time that day, sat in a chair and stared at a corpse.
I liked to read. I’d rather read than watch TV, and I’d been reading Raymond Chandler recently. When his hero finds himself in a predicament like the one I was in, he always searched for clues. And he always started with the body. If given my druthers, I’d like to be with Terry at a fine restaurant, swilling down martinis while waiting for the sumptuous meal we had just ordered. I was getting hungry and I sure as hell could have used a drink right about then. But no one offered me my druthers. So I bent down and gave Johnny the once-over. He was lying face down, and there was a neat little bullet hole at the base of his skull, just above the neck. There was very little blood, which meant that he had died instantly. It looked to be the work of a .22, the gun of choice for professional killers. They always go for the back of the head.
Next, I turned him over so I could go through his pockets. I found only one thing of interest: He had Vinnie’s pinkie ring in his inside coat pocket. This was significant because if you knew Vinnie, you knew there was no way in hell he’d give up that ring. I don’t think he would have done so at the point of a gun. It was his pride and joy. He was always flashing it in your face and telling you about the three-carat diamond it housed.
After searching Johnny, I did the same to the room. His gun was lying on the table next to the lamp. I picked it up and gave it a sniff. It hadn’t been fired. It was a snub-nose .38 police special—a revolver. Johnny always said he liked it because it didn’t jam the way automatics are wont to do. (Of course, Johnny did not use the word wont.) I don’t know why, but I stuck it in the waistband of my pants and pulled my shirt out to cover it. Actually I do know why. There was a sicko running around killing people I knew. I may not like them, but I knew them—and I was only one step behind him. If I kept blundering around, it would be just a matter of time before I blundered into whoever had iced Vinnie and Johnny.
Despite looking for clues, I was clueless. So I sat back down and thought things over. I’m not the brightest bulb in the patch, to mix metaphors. But after a couple of minutes, a few things penetrated my thick skull. First of all, it must have been Johnny that did Vinnie; it’s the only way he could have gotten the ring. And second of all, the money was not on Johnny’s boat and probably never had been. The boat had not been tossed. Whoever killed Johnny came for the hit, not the money. It’s the only thing that explained why Johnny had only one hole in him. If someone wanted the money, they would have put a minimum of one into his knee to loosen him up. You don’t kill someone if they have info you want. And knowing Johnny, he’d take a lot of loosening up. He was dumb as shit, but he was one tough motherfucker. Johnny knew his killer. It’s the only way someone could get behind him with a gun. Johnny was a pro. And his gun was on the table, not in his hand. He knew his killer.
I had some more thinking to do, but I wanted to do it alone and without a dead guy with his half-closed eyes looking up at me. So I hightailed it out of there, after wiping down any surface I touched or may have touched.
I wanted to walk along the water, but of course, the goddamn monstrosities like Tony lived in impeded my ingress onto the beach. Consequently, I walked up and down the sidewalk in front of Tony’s building. After about an hour of that shit, the pieces started to fall into place. It was time to talk to Tony Shivs.
Now we come to the crux of the matter. No, not the crux, but another one. I’ve been having cruxes throughout this whole goddamn story. This particular crux was that I needed a way to get into Tony’s building without being announced by the security people. But I had a plan.
I went to my car and retrieved a baseball cap. It wasn’t much of a disguise, but it was better than nothing. I went back to Tony’s building and walked down the incline into the underground parking garage. The plan was, I would secrete myself behind a car near the door that led into the building; of course, the door was always locked. And then when an unsuspecting resident went through said door, I’d jump out before it closed. I would grab the handle and let it close almost, but not quite. I was counting on the person or persons to be too intent on getting up to their abode to notice what the door was up to. And guess what? It worked like a charm.
Okay, now I was in the building. I kept the hat pulled down low, kept my eyes on the carpet before me, and made my way to the elevator, hoping all the while I didn’t meet up with anyone. I didn’t. When I got outside Tony’s door, I took a deep breath and knocked.
“Yeah, who is it?”
“The doorman sent me up, sir. Someone left a package for you.”
I continued to keep my head down so that when he looked out of the peephole, all that he would see would be a teal baseball cap (Go Dolphins!). I did not want Tony answering the door with a gun in his hand, which he would have done if he had known it was me that had come a-calling.
I readied myself as I heard the locks being disengaged. When the door opened an inch, I pushed my way through and said, “Sorry I’m late, Mr. Salvintore, but I got tied up.”
He was startled, but quickly recovered. “It’s about goddamn time you got your mick ass here. And what is this package shit?”
“Just my little joke, Mr. Salvintore.”
“It ain’t funny.”
“No sir, I guess it ain’t.”
“It’s late. Where’s my three hundred grand?”
“As I said, I’m sorry, but things came up. I hope I’m not disturbing your mother.”
“Naw, she’s down in the card room playin’ canasta with them other old broads.”
Now that I knew his mother was out of the way, I drew the gun from beneath my shirt and pointed it at the son-of-a-bitch. “Why don’t you sit down on the couch, you fat, greasy wop. I wanna talk to you.”
You should have seen the look on his face. It was almost worth all the shit he’d put me through since I started working for him.
He was moving slow, so I reiterated my demand and told him that, because his building was so well constructed, no one would hear the pop of the gun when I put one into his fat ass. He must have seen something in my eyes because he kind of wilted and meekly sat on the couch. I availed myself of a nearby chair.
Once we were both seated and relatively comfortable, I asked him a question I’d been dying to ask. “Where did the three hundred large come from?”
“Some guys up in Tampa sent it down for me to invest for them.”
“Okay, why send me to pick it up? Vinnie worked for you, he could have just driven it in. You didn’t need me.”
“Ah … ah …”
“What’s the matter, Tony? Nothing comes to mind?”
“No! That ain’t it. I thought it would be safer if you brought it in. No one would think that you had that kind of dough on ya.”
“Tony, you are full of shit! I’ll tell you why you sent me there. I was to be your patsy. You are a greedy motherfucker. You didn’t want just your ten percent for placing their money. You wanted the whole shebang. And when they asked what happened, you were going to give them me. And then I’d be hanging from a meat hook in some freezer until I told them where their money was. Which of course, I couldn’t do. So me and the meat hook would have been closely associated until they offed me.”
At that juncture, Tony’s right hand started to migrate a little bit. I knew he had a gun stashed between the cushions, and I had been waiting for him to make his move. I let him get almost there and then said, “Touch that gun and you’re a dead man.” His hand rebounded as though his arm was made of rubber bands.
I continued: “Now that we understand one another, why did you have Johnny Tits kill Vinnie?”
“Who said I did?”
I raised the gun, pulled back the hammer, and said, “Any more bullshit and I’ll shoot you in the knee.”
“Okay! Okay! Yeah, I had Johnny take care of Vinnie. Vinnie had to go anyway. He was skimming from me and he thought I was too dumb to notice.”
“Why did you kill Johnny?”
“How the fuck …”
“Were you going to say, how the fuck did I know you killed Johnny or how the fuck did I know he was dead?”
“Alright, you seem to know everything. Man, I thought you were just some dumb mick bastard.”
“Yeah, I know, and that’s how you played me. But tell me about Johnny. There’s no way he could have been skimming from you.”
I could see the wheels turning in his head. He was trying to figure my angle. He was also trying to figure out an angle for himself.
Finally, he said, “I can use a smart operator like you. And I don’t mean as a gofer. It will mean a big raise from what I’m payin’ you now.”
“We’ll get to that in a minute. Right now tell me about Johnny.”
“You’re right. I sent him to off Vinnie and take the money. The plan was to hang it on you so the wiseguys in Tampa would leave me alone. But I’m telling you, if I had known how on-the-ball you were, I would have played it different.”
“I’m flattered, but why did you off Johnny?”
“The son-of-a-bitch wanted a cut of the three hundred large. He even hinted he’d screw the deal if he didn’t get a fair shake. I don’t take that kind of shit from nobody.”
“No, Tony, I reckon you don’t. Did you do it yourself?”
“Yeah, I just walked across the street. I always go for a walk after dinner, but this time I visited Johnny.”
It was getting late and I wanted to get out of there before his mother came back. So I thought I’d bring our little meeting to a close. “Where’s the money now?”
“Why ya wanna know?”
“I just want to see what all the fuss was about, and besides, I think you owe me a couple of grand for the aggravation you put me through today. We can talk about my new job tomorrow.”
The look on his face was priceless. He had weathered the storm. All he had to do was let me walk out of there with a few bucks and then he could pick up the phone and put a hit out on me.
“It’s on the table over there, in the shoe box.”
I went to where he indicated and took the lid off the box. There sure was a lot of money staring back at me. I turned back to Tony and said, “I’ll get the money tomorrow; you give me whatever you think is fair.” Then I looked out his sliding glass doors and said, as I walked behind the couch, “You sure got some view.” When I got behind Tony, I turned the gun around, and with the grip hit him behind his right ear as hard as I could. He fell over onto the couch, but he wasn’t knocked out, only stunned. Moving fast, I picked up a throw pillow, placed it on the back of his head, stuck the revolver into the pillow, and squeezed the trigger. The shot could not have been heard outside of the apartment.
I went to the kitchen and got a dish rag. I wiped the gun of my prints and threw it on the floor. Then I went to the box, replaced the lid, and tucked it under my arm. At the door, I used the rag to open and close it. I also used the rag for the elevator buttons and the exit door to the garage. Luck was with me because I didn’t see anyone on my way out.
When I was back in my car and on my way to Terry, I turned on my phone and called her. She had been trying to call me for a couple hours. The conversation went something like this:
Terry: Oh, Billy, are you all right? I was so worried. I thought Tony might have gotten to you.
Me: No, I’m fine. I just had something to take care of.
Terry: You mean you shut off your phone and didn’t give me the courtesy of letting me know if you were alive or dead? You son-of-a-bitch! I never want to see you again. Drop dead!”
It went on like that for a while and then she got real quiet, and I could hear her crying. It made me feel like a heel. But I’m happy to report that I have been forgiven. I think the money may have helped a little. We’re in San Francisco as I write these words. We’ve just gotten married and we’re going up to Oregon to set up housekeeping. She wants to have lots of kids.