Mob Rule: Part 5

Our anti-hero Jack Kennedy meets mob ruler Meyer Lansky, ‘a rodent in golf clothes’ who comes on like a Mensch, but is more like a snake on a hot rock — lightning fast and ready to bite.

By John Armstrong

Chapter Five

Remembering what he’d said at the airport, when we got to the office I took Meyer’s arm as we entered the building.

“Let me show you to the executive washroom, Mr. Lansky. You probably want to clean up a bit after the trip.”

“Thank God,’ he said. “I’m ready to plotz right here.”

Charley and I waited outside the door until he came back out, then escorted him to Frank’s office. The two men said nothing when they saw each other but Frank hurried out from behind his desk and met Meyer for a hug that went on for some time.

I once saw a documentary about the Civil War in a history class. It had some silent footage of the reenactment of a battle some 50 years later, with the original participants brought together again, the survivors anyway. They had been boys when they last met and now were old men, and halfway across the field they dropped their rifles and ran to embrace each other, crying and laughing, joined together forever by an experience no-one else could ever share.

It was like that. The rest of us just stood there there and kept quiet.

Frank’s eyes were shining when they let go. “You old goniff – it’s been too goddamn long.”

Meyer adjusted his glasses and looked around for a chair. I pulled one over to face Frank’s desk.

“And whose fault is that? You can’t find time to come down, visit me? I’m running a whole damn country. If I’d known how much work it was I’d have never started. But like the rabbi says, ‘we came from dust and back to dust we go – in the meantime, we work’. Ehhh – me krechts, me geht veyter. I complain but I keep going.

“Now, this trouble of yours – ”

Meyer let it tail off. Frank looked around the room and managed to let certain people know their presence was not required past this point. Joey was one of them, I was not. I took a seat by the wall, near Frank.

When we were alone Meyer said, “I’ll tell you one goddamn thing: I have never missed this stuff since I left. So stupid. My people say, ‘Money buys everything except brains.’ Sad but true.

“So, you don’t know how this started?

“No idea, except the kind you get when you’re laying in bed and can’t sleep,” Frank said. “Then, everybody looks like a good bet. Hell, I got my doubts about you, too, you macher.” He smiled.

Lansky snorted. “If it was me you’d know because you’d be room temperature and I’d be at the funeral, wiping my eyes with a hanky and telling everyone what a swell guy you were. That’s how it used to be in the old days.” He addressed this to me. “You could always tell who bumped off who just by going the funeral and seeing who sent the biggest wreath. And who cried the most.”

Lansky snorted. “If it was me you’d know because you’d be room temperature and I’d be at the funeral, wiping my eyes with a hanky and telling everyone what a swell guy you were. That’s how it used to be in the old days.” He addressed this to me. “You could always tell who bumped off who just by going the funeral and seeing who sent the biggest wreath. And who cried the most.”

He turned back to Frank. “Who makes the most sense for this? You don’t like Vito for it?”

“There’s no way it’s Vito. He took a couple slugs when they went after him.  No way he does that for camouflage.”

Lansky took his cap off and smoothed his white hair back. “I’d like to see the holes, myself. I’ve never trusted the bastard, even before he went to Italy and sucked up to that asshole Mussolini.

“Who saw him get hit? Anyone besides his own people?”

“That I don’t know. I should have asked that myself but … my mind doesn’t work like that anymore. I don’t think like a general,” Frank sighed. “I’m a legitimate businessman – I don’t shoot people.”

“You never did, Frank. That’s why you had Albert.” Lansky turned to me again. “You know your uncle never carried a gun again after he went to prison in – what was it – 1918? He went in for something silly, penny-ante, and they nailed him on the gun. When he came out he said, ‘There’s smarter ways to do business’ and never carried again. That’s why we always got along so well: he thinks like a Jew. He even married a nice Jewish girl.” He turned back to Frank and said, more softly, “How’s Lauretta doing?”

“The same. She has good days,” Frank said. “Some days she knows who I am.” My aunt lives in a separate wing of the house with her own staff and a full-time nurse. Up until a few years ago she was a dynamo, cooking, running the house, sending Frank back upstairs to put on a clean shirt. Then one morning she asked him why the streetcar bell kept ringing. There haven’t been streetcars in New York for 30 years.

“They say that without the bitter we wouldn’t appreciate the sweet, but I’d sure as hell like to try. My Teddy has been gone now almost as long as we were together and I still expect her to come in the door and tell me to take my shoes off the sofa.” He pushed at the armrests and sat up in the chair.

“Enough sad stories. When do we meet?”

“Tomorrow night, at the Waldorf. Everyone RSVP’d. Hasn’t been all five families in one room for at least 10 years.”

“So until then, we go about our business and make discreet inquiries. No need to rattle any cages until tomorrow.” Lansky put his cap back on. “Let me talk to a few people, casually – I’m here to do some business, why wouldn’t I look up old friends?”

“Jackie will arrange a car and driver for you. Your suite at the hotel is already booked. When you feel like dinner, call me and we’ll go eat. I’ll take you to Rao’s – just as good as ever.”

Lansky, already at the door, raised a hand in agreement as he went through and I followed.

Joe was in a tub-chair under the paintings, reading a book. Ciccio, Charley and the other guns were waiting by the doors.

“Charley – you and Jimmy are going to be with Meyer. Take good care of him, anything he needs. Take two others with you –“

Meyer cut me off. “No, no, I don’t need muscle with me. I’m an old man, come back home for maybe the last time, to straighten out some business and say goodbye to some people. I don’t want to look like anything else. Me and the driver and your man here, that’s plenty. Just enough to gratify my ego and carry my parcels from the delicatessen.” He sighed. “Ten million Jews in Miami, and still no good deli.”

“Yes sir – if there’s anything you want, Charley will call me. Anything at all.”

As they left Joe came up beside me, his book disappearing into a side pocket. My opinion of Meyer Lansky had changed remarkably in little over an hour. I was very glad he was on our side and I said so.

“Oh yeah – you don’t want to fuck with Meyer. He’s like a snake on a hot rock, sleeping in the sun. You’d be amazed how fast he wakes up and bites you.”

Mob Rule continues in The Ex-Press…

EX-PRESS.COM

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