Mob Rule: Part 18

A spy heads into Hyannis Port

Jack packs his apartment and bids adieu to Vanessa as the plot thickens with a ruse that takes us inside the gates of the Kennedy compound

By John Armstrong

In the 15 hours since we’d left Vegas I hadn’t eaten anything but pastry and coffee on the plane; now that the adrenaline of the fighting had worn off it was a toss-up whether I could stay awake long enough to eat.

I had a flash and popped into Frank’s office and there it was in the little office fridge, wrapped in foil, the remains of the ossobuco from Rao’s. How old was it? Two days? I peeled back the foil and pried the lid up – it smelled fine. Problem solved.

“Tell Ricco bring a car around, and call this number, ask Vanessa does she want to come for dinner at my place, right now.” I scratched the number on Abby’s pad. “Tell her call my place with the answer, Ricco will come get her. Tell Frank and Meyer I went home to catch some sleep. And please call me there as soon as anyone hears from Joe.”

She already had the receiver up to her ear and was pressing buttons.


I’d just dumped the leftovers into a pan on the stove in my apartment when the phone rang. Ricco got it and said, “ten minutes. Stay in your apartment till we come up.” That gave me time for a shower and a shave and some clean clothes. This was all working out nicely. Except for Joe. I sat down to think for a moment on the edge of the bed.

I was fast asleep when she woke me, the air filled with the scent of burning osso buco. She scraped it into the can and opened my fridge.

“I’m sure there’s something you can make from anchovy paste, capers, old celery and … something brown and wet, in the vegetable tray. I mean, you could make it but I wouldn’t eat it.”

‘There should be olives in there, too, and I got tomato paste and there’s a head of fresh garlic on the sill. Pasta’s in the cupboard – we’ll make puttanesca.”

“And what’s that?
“Whore’s spaghetti. Invented for people who don’t buy groceries.”

I showed her how to shave the garlic into the hot oil in the skillet, found a few strips of good bacon hiding in a corner of the fridge, diced and added it in while the water boiled. When the spagett went in the pot I added the tomato puree and chopped olives to the sauce, then I looked around and gave it a splash from a mostly-full bottle of red wine taking up space on the counter. I poured some into glasses, turned the heat back up to burn off the alcohol in the sauce, drained the noodles, dumped them in and gave it all a toss. Some red pepper flakes and dry parsley and it was done. I brought the pan, glasses and forks and spoons to bed and lit a couple of candles.

“Welcome to Jack’s Pastaria. No reservations needed, and no pants required.” I showed her how to twirl spaghetti on to the fork with a spoon and she got a big ball of it wrapped up on the tines.

We clinked glasses and ate a bit more but hungry as I was, I was having trouble with mine. I was getting waves of panic about Joey. It should have been wrapped up long ago. He had as many men as I did and the choppers had gone straight there after we finished in Flushing. I put my plate aside and went to the door to tell Ricco to send a couple of men out to Brooklyn to find out what was going on there.

If I didn’t hear anything within the hour I’d head there myself, which I probably should have done instead of coming here. What would I do if he’d needed help while I was napping, sitting in my robe eating pasta? Then I shook my head and wondered what the hell was wrong with it. Why was I sending a couple of guns to a war zone to help my friend when I had the other half of an army sitting around in midtown?

I went back to the phone and called the office. Abby switched me to Meyer.

“There’s still no word from Joe, is there? Okay, I want all the men back in the trucks. Get them to Brooklyn as fast as you can. And tell them have someone report back as soon as they get there and see what’s what.”

I suppose this is what generals do, and what Meyer meant when he said the biggest part of the job is worrying. You make the decisions, you send people out to follow the orders and maybe die, while you stay back, waiting to see if you were right, with plenty of time to second- and third-guess yourself. A baseball player who hits safely four times out of ten over his career goes into the hall of fame. If I batted the same percentage there’d be a river of tears shed and we’d all be out of business. Now I knew why bosses got old fast.

Vanessa took my hand and led me back to the bed. We were lying there picking at the food when the phone rang. It was Meyer. Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge the cavalry had run into what they thought was a battle on the far shore of the East River, open fires and gunshots and shouting from a great mass of men on the shoreline walkway, but as they got closer they saw it was Joey and his army, having a victory party. They’d picked up a few crates of wine and Joe was on the deck of a flatbed truck, teaching them the polca dei cavalieri, the traditional dance of the mounted soldier. It’s a fine one, where the men clip-clop and prance like their horses and I was sorry to have missed seeing that. And I was also very happy he was okay because now I could kill him myself.

“Is everything okay?” Vanessa asked.

“Yeah. For now.” I lay back and she leaned over me. “But I have to go away. Not for long, I hope, but I can’t say for sure.”

She didn’t say anything. I was very conscious of the silence and found myself talking to fill it; in five minutes I’d told her the whole thing. Some spy: sleeps with a woman once and then spills the whole Secret Plan. Well, who was she going to tell, anyway, and more than that, you have to trust someone in this life. I trusted her.

She didn’t say anything for minute and then, “the family that took you in when your real family shunned you is going to pretend to disown you, so you can go back to your first family and spy on them – and the first one’s going to take you back so they can get inside information on your other family. The second one, which you’re still loyal to. Have I got that straight?”

“Well, you say it like that you make it seem silly. But yes, that’s the plan.” I got up and brought the bottle over and poured the last of it into the glasses. “Meyer and Frank are the two smartest men I know. If both of them think this is the play to make, I can’t argue it even if I don’t like it much. But I never thought I’d go back there.”

I was very tired. I put my glass down and lay back on the pillow and closed my eyes. I felt her lean over me and her hair drifted across my face, then I felt her warm breath near my ear.

“How does your grandfather feel about the English?”

And then I discovered I was not so tired after all.



We were lazing in bed drinking coffee the next morning when I heard the bells ringing and realized it was Sunday. I began to panic – outside of measles and chicken pox I haven’t missed church in many, many years.

We take the ‘render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God that which is His’ part of the Bible very much literally and we still keep church and state separate, just as those legendary outlaws Madison, Jefferson and Adams intended they be – but both are indispensable to society. The Church kicks up it’s 20 per-cent same as anyone else, at least on their gambling and other moneymaking operations. They are exempt on tithes and donations from congregants ­— something that was negotiated long ago and still starts arguments; every few years someone on the Commission brings the subject up, trust me — so they have a nice, tax-free revenue stream to fund their charities. The priests in charge are already on the payroll so they cost nothing additional and the parishioners doing the work are getting paid in indulgences, so Holy Mother Church is really only funneling X-percent of its donations back to the community at no cost to themselves and still keeping whatever percent they like as an administrative fee. (In economics, we call that ‘enlightened self-interest’ and if you got the money without doing anything for it in the first place, it’s a nice little deal.)

There’s a reason the church and the families have always been able to work together – we do business the same way. You help people when they’re in trouble, feed and clothe their children, and you tie them to you that much closer. Same principle the Bosses used, when a guy got sent up and they took care of his family, and one we follow to this day. If you were to examine the books – and that’s not going to happen any more than us opening ours up to outsiders – it would be hard to find any business more profitable than the Holy Romans.

I debated throwing on a suit and making a dash for Holy Innocents, which is our regular church, just a few blocks from the office. Or I could go to St. Frank’s. I hadn’t been there in months. (In school they never tired of telling us the story of how a priest, a Father Larkin, was sent out by his superiors in 1847 with orders to build a cathedral to serve the faithful of New York City. For this they gave him 50 cents, which even then would not go quite that far.

While at mass praying over his problem, Fr. Larkin met a Frenchman, newly immigrated and distrustful of banks, who was himself praying for guidance: what to do with the $5,000 his family had entrusted him with. Seeing the hand of God at work, the good father offered to keep it safe for him, and almost immediately discovered a former Protestant church for sale for $18,000, for which the owners were willing to take $5,000 as down payment. God’s will was now perfectly clear and the good father closed the deal. Thus was the Church of St. Francis Xavier born.

The moral of this, we were told, is that God provides for his children if they place their trust in him and go forward in faith. Out of the priests’ hearing, we said the moral was that anyone arriving in New York on the morning bus with five grand in his pocket would be skinned by lunch. Also, note that the story makes no mention of whether our French friend ever got his money back.)

The more I thought about it, though, missing church was probably in keeping with the story of my bust-up with the Lucianos; if I’d been kicked out of the family I’d scarcely share a pew with them and if we were going to do this, we might as well set the stage now and get the show under way. Also, I could stay here, in bed with Vanessa.

I considered this an excellent plan.


She gave me a sad look that took me a moment to figure out. A philosopher once said that women are crazy and men are stupid, and the reason they’re crazy is because men are stupid. If he needed any more evidence, I was available.


Several hours later I phoned the office and told Meyer and Frank I’d be calling Bobby soon, and was there anything more we needed to do to get rolling? Meyer said Frank had put on a fine show in the office, shouting and swearing behind his office door, tossing lamps and small tables and people were shocked but nicely primed to swallow the idea of my excommunication. In his role, Meyer was putting it about quietly that Frank thought I was part of a conspiracy to take over the company, and that ‘this is what you get when you trust the Irish.”

(It’s funny so many people think Frank is a mick himself, based on the name. He’s Calabrian, born Francesco Castiglia. It proved too much for the clerk at Ellis Island; when he couldn’t make sense of “Cast-eel-ya”, he just wrote down something he did know how to spell.)

We were underway, then, and it was my turn now. I dialed the number and waited, showing Vanessa a finger to the lips for silence. A servant picked up.

“John F. Kennedy, in New York, calling for Robert, please.”

There was a short wait and then that strange, familiar aristocratic accent.

“Jack? This is Robert” – it sounded like he was saying ‘This is Rabbit’; give me two weeks and I’d be doing it, too.

“Yeah, Bobby. It’s me. Look, were you serious last week, about me coming back? Things have gotten … untenable here.”

“Absolutely serious. This is great news, Jack. You should have never left in the first place.” It’s funny how people remember things the way they think they ought to have happened instead of the way they actually did. “But that was a long time ago. The important thing is getting you home now. Is there anything we can help you with?”

I thought for a second – what would be a good piece of set dressing to help sell this story? “You could wire me some money, for the train. They froze my bank account, I can’t get a cent. Send it to Western Union at Grand Central and I’ll take the first one out in the morning.”

I could feel Bobby’s anger even without him speaking. No-one treats a Kennedy like that.

“Jesus Christ – stay where you are and I’ll send a car right now. What the hell is wrong with these people?”

“Frank’s got it in his head I’m working with someone to take over his business. He thinks it’s an Irish conspiracy.” I decided to go all the way with it. “He’s not right in the head anymore. I think this has all been too much for him. Lansky says he’s raving, breaking up furniture in the office. I was escorted off the property last night.”

Bobby sighed. “We all get old. I had respect for Frank. I admired his way of doing things.” He waited a beat. “That’s going to be trouble, when word gets out he’s lost his marbles.” Another pause. I could picture him standing there with a faraway look, totaling up the Luciano territory and its businesses mentally. And here was the boy who knew all the details, asking for a ride home.

“But it’s not our problem, is it? Okay then, you sit tight. Expect a knock on the door in about five hours.”

I had hung up before I thought, they don’t have the address. Then I checked myself – of course they do. And they probably know my bank account number, too. I wrote a quick note for Meyer and Frank, filling them in and telling them to kill my account, so the story checked out. I sealed it and sent it back with the men outside my door. I didn’t rate bodyguards any longer, and I couldn’t be caught phoning the office, either. Everything had to hold up under scrutiny: The Kennedys didn’t get where they are by trusting anybody, not even kin.

I looked around the apartment. Apart from a few books and a painting Joey gave me on my last birthday, there was nothing I cared about particularly. I had five minutes or less of packing to do in the bathroom and about the same to deal with my closet. I filled two suitcases and a garment bag and put them by the door, then went back and got my plant. I don’t know what it is, to be honest – someone gave it to me when I moved in to ‘brighten the place up.” I put it out in the hall for someone to adopt.

And that was that. I’d tell Joey to come get my pots and pans – I had a nice copper-bottomed set I’d hate to lose. For the rest of it – let the landlord have it. It would be a mistake to keep the place or have the office pay the rent on it. Just the kind of thing the Kennedys would look for.

“You mind looking after this picture for me?” I asked Vanessa. It’s about a foot by a foot-and-a-half, just a small canvas that’s all swirls and splotches of colour. I made polite noises when Joe brought it over and only hung it because I’d feel bad if he came by and didn’t see it. But over time I found it was actually quite interesting and I got in the habit of looking at it, finding hidden patterns and fragments of faces in it. You have to be careful of it, though – I’ve had 20 minutes and more go by like nothing while I was standing there.

She said she didn’t and I wrapped it in newspaper and string, and then that really was that. I had another four hours or so before the car would get here and I asked her what she wanted to do to kill the time.

She gave me a sad look that took me a moment to figure out. A philosopher once said that women are crazy and men are stupid, and the reason they’re crazy is because men are stupid. If he needed any more evidence, I was available.


Finally the buzzer did ring and there was a big dark car at the curb out front. I untangled myself from her at the door and picked up my luggage.

“I’d have them drop you off but I have a feeling it might be better if they don’t know you or where you live. It probably doesn’t matter at all. I’m just being nervous.

“You mind?”

She smiled. “No, I can walk or take a bus. You want me to wait to leave the building, too?”

I thought about it – was I being overly cautious?  Or was over-cautious the right way to be around these people? The answer was, the appropriate level of caution when dealing with them was looking-under-the-beds-and-behind-the-curtains paranoia.

“Yeah, wait five or ten and then go. Just in case. I’ll get hold of you when I’m settled.”

“You’d better,” she said, and pulled me forward by the ears. When I was about 13 someone bet me $5 I wouldn’t jump in the water off the dock at Hyannis; this was in early May, the sun shining and the seagulls singing but still cold enough you needed a sweater out near the water. But being 13, I couldn’t refuse a bet or a dare, so I stripped down to my shorts and jumped in? What’s the worst that could happen, I said? So I get a little chilly. Just jump in and straight back out, and collect my money.

All I remember is jumping in. The rest is a hallucinatory stew of bubbles and angelic choirs singing in my ears, right up to the point when some older guy reached and hauled me out by the hair. Being kissed by Vanessa had about the same effect. I could just about talk by the time the driver met me at the outside door.

He took the bags around to the trunk and opened the back door for me. I managed to not turn and look back as we pulled away, but just barely.


Mob Rule continues regularly in The Ex-Press, to read past instalments click here.

THE EX-PRESS, November 5, 2015






No Replies to "Mob Rule: Part 18"