Fasten your seat belt, the turbulence continues
Flying high in the night sky, Jack Kennedy feels a little lightheaded thanks to Vanessa’s skin-tight pants and leather boots, but he’s brought back to earth with a warning about Joe Kennedy — yes, that Joe Kennedy…
By John Armstrong
At Idlewild the gatekeeper waved our little motorcade through the gates, and Ricco gunned the big armored Lincoln out onto the runway and right up to the wide-bodied jumbo jet gleaming on the tarmac. The escort cars parked in a protective cordon around us and uniformed Pan Am attendants ran to collect our bags while Mickey’s bodyguard helped him out of the car.
Vanessa had taken my advice and worn stretch pants, high leather boots and a thick, loose-fitting sweater that still managed to look sprayed-on. I assume this was what she regarded as comfortable travelling clothes; I’m sure they were, but the effect was anything but comfortable for me. I couldn’t help but be acutely aware of every man in the vicinity burning holes through her with their eyes. Boarding, Mickey made a small fuss, insisting Vanessa precede him up the passenger staircase until convinced I was happy to stand there all night if I had to. He gave me a look as if to say, “Come on, make an old man happy.” Not a chance.
Inside, the stew showed us up to the first class compartment and stowed our minimal baggage, then strapped us in for takeoff before belting herself into the little jump-seat by the cockpit. The sound of the engines got much louder, rising in pitch, and then we were up, pushed back into our seat cushions as the plane climbed at a steep angle. Just as quickly it was over, the nose came back down, and we had barely leveled off before our stew unsnapped her belt and came over to take drink and food orders. I looked at my watch and did some figuring. With the change in time zones it was a three-hour trip by the clock but it would still be seven hours subjective for us and I debated a cocktail or coffee, then split the difference and ordered an Irish coffee, double. Vanessa ordered a Tom Collins and Cohen asked for ‘the usual.” They were delivered in short order with a plate of deli sandwiches; “the usual” turned out to be some milkshake-like concoction.
“You get to my age, there’s really no such thing as being healthy, it’s more like finding illnesses you can live with…”
“It’s a protein and high-fiber thing the doctor ordered, calcium, vitamins. He says I can get another twenty years if I’m careful. I tell him, when he can add them in the middle instead of at the end, let me know.” He sucked on the straw. “Ah, it’s not bad, really. Sometimes I give it a splash of vodka.” He took another pull on the straw then put it aside and lit a cigarette. “You get to my age, there’s really no such thing as being healthy, it’s more like finding illnesses you can live with.” He took a small tin out of his pocket, shook some pills free and dry swallowed them.
“But I got no kick. It’s been a good life and none of us expected to make it past 30 anyway.
“So what did Bobby want with you?” Cohen had been waiting in the elevator while we had our brief reunion. For a broken down old man he didn’t miss much.
“Not a lot. Gave me the family news. Offered me a job.”
“You didn’t take it? Wise.” He wiggled a piece of meat free from the corner of a pastrami sandwich. “I know they’re your family but I wouldn’t trust them. Joe and I, we never got along. Or Meyer or Frank or Charlie, for that matter. Joe didn’t like the Jews and he didn’t like the Italians. Christ, I don’t think he was much on the Irish, either. But he really had a dislike for us. I think he figures if it weren’t for us he would have been crowned king.” He laughed.
“Shit, I think about it, he’s probably right. ‘Scuse my language.”
Vanessa gave no indication of having noticed. She was trying to find a ladylike way to approach her own sandwich, roast beef in the traditional deli style, which is about a quarter pound of razor-shaved meat and hot mustard between thin slices of rye. The only way to tackle one is with both hands, complete commitment, and a disregard for the opinion of others.
“Like this”, I said, and showed her. I got my mouth around one end of mine, bit down, and wound up with some in my mouth, some in my hands and Russian dressing and mayo dribbling down my chin. I put the sandwich back down and mopped up with a napkin. “See? Nothing to it.”
She looked back at me for a second and followed suit, then daintily put her own sandwich back on the plate, ran a finger around her lips to collect random leavings and detritus and popped it into her mouth.
“If I’d known, I would have worn a raincoat,” she said, wiping her finger dry. “One of these would feed a family for a week.”
“That’s why Jews make them like that,” Cohen said. “Too many times we ate cabbage soup, without the cabbage. Italians, too – why we all make such a big thing of eating. We remember all the times we didn’t eat.”
“But you’re not from New York, are you? Originally?”
“Nah, I’m a California boy. When the Takeover happened I was still a skinny kid, running a crew in L.A. and boxing a little, featherweight. My last fight, Tommy Paul knocked me cold in the second and when I woke up they handed me $35, which wasn’t even Greyhound fare back to California. At that point, I reconsidered my career choice. That was in Cleveland, where I knew a few people. One thing led to another and I wound up in New York, with your uncle and Meyer, then I worked for Al in Chicago a while, which was an education.”
“Do you mean Al Capone?” Vanessa looked like she was going to drop her drink in her lap. To her, someone saying they’d known Big Al was probably along the lines of an Englishman telling one of us he’d just had Merlin the Magician over for tea.
“The same. Everybody wants to know what he was like …” He leaned in to us, as if Al were still around to hear anything. “He was a putz. Stupid and mean. People say it was the disease made him that way, you know, the one that killed him, but he was just like that to start with. Anyway, I didn’t care how he got that way, I got myself out of there and went back to work for Meyer. Smartest thing I ever did.”
Cohen drank another mouthful of his milkshake. It was hard to imagine this failing old man in the boxing ring.
“When Meyer and the East Coast families wanted to invest in Vegas, they sent me to watchdog Benny Siegel while the Flamingo was being built and I been there ever since. Except for that thing in Germany for Meyer in ’38. Which I woulda paid my own way to fly there, he hadn’t asked me.”
“What was that?” Except for Cuba I had never heard of the Commission ever being involved in anything international. It was one thing they all agreed on completely.
“It was when that guy was stirring up all the hate for the Jews in Germany, that fucking Hitler. You don’t know about him? He was running for office and saying everything wrong in Germany was the Jew’s fault. Listen to him, if it rained the Jews did it. It was terrible, and the Germans were listening to this crap and buying it. So Meyer calls me in and says, get some guys, you’re going to Germany and put the zotz on this prick. So we did. He’s in the big river there, at the bottom, and he ain’t likely to come up. And good riddance.” He took a last noisy slurp on the straw and smiled like a kid in an ice cream shop. The pills were kicking in.
“I’m going to sleep a bit now. I’ll turn my hearing aid off, you talk as loud as you want. Won’t bother me at all.” The attendant brought over a blanket to cover him and gently let his seat down.
I looked out the window at the stars and the moonlight reflecting off the clouds below us. I could just see the faintest spreading of pink and gold far behind us. We were racing away from the sunrise at hundreds of miles an hour but it felt like we were floating on a silent black sea. Cohen began to snore and mutter.
“You know, this is my second time in an airplane. The first was nothing like this.” She was digging in her bag for something. “It was packed, shoulder to shoulder three-across on each side of the plane and the food was a cruel joke. I’m afraid I’m becoming spoiled.”
“Just so you know, I don’t travel like this usually myself. Not on a private plane, anyway. You want to sit over here, look out the window?”
She moved her bag out of the way and took the seat next to me. I fiddled with the controls and got them to recline a bit, so we could both look at the sky. The girl dimmed the cabin lights and I felt Vanessa’s hand slip into mine, and then her head on my shoulder. Soon she was asleep too. I sat there, happier than I had any right to be, until I drifted off, too.
Mob Rule continues regularly in The Ex-Press, to read past instalments, click here.
THE EX-PRESS, October 25, 2015