The end game and the Oval Office

Mob Rule: Part 23

Jack sits down with Bobby and Joe and a clutch of white-haired power players to discuss the prospect of a Presidential bid

By John Armstrong

I would have been less shocked if I were at an audience with the Pope and he winked and said, ‘Will you look at the knockers on that one?’ I choked on my drink and spat a mouthful up onto my jacket. When I stopped coughing they were still sitting there, waiting for me to say something. I dabbed at myself with a hanky.

No one was laughing. Neither was I.

“What the hell are you talking about,” I said. It seemed to me a very reasonable question.

Bobby looked at his father and Joe nodded at him to go on.

“Jack, we’re not saying that the old government was a good one, but it was at least a democratically elected one and this country was founded on the principle of every man having a say in how he’s governed. One man, one vote. That’s something that everyone here feels very strongly about.” He put his glass down and shifted a little, palms at his sides flat on the desktop, legs crossed in front of him. He looked like he was going to give me a fatherly talk. He was.

“The government of the United States did some terrible things. There’s no denying it, but the worst by far was Prohibition. Not because it wasn’t a noble idea but because it made almost all of the country into criminals. A man on his way home from a hard day’s work stops to have a beer and he’s breaking the law every time he lifts his arm. You put a law on the books that almost no one agrees with, and almost everyone feels justified in breaking, and it destroys faith in the rule of law. Worse than that, it made the real criminals into millionaires and heroes.

“Having a man like Hoover in office didn’t help any, either. It almost guaranteed disaster.”

Joe spoke up then. “If we had been able to hold the next election, we could have fixed the whole mess. We could have put Frank Roosevelt in the White House.

“Hell, if Al Smith had got in in ’28 none of this would have happened at all. We would have repealed Prohibition and there never would have been a revolution. But that goddamn Republican Hoover and his ‘prosperity is right around the corner …’” He was so angry he took a normal-sized drink.

I thought it very odd to hear him railing against Prohibition when he’d made untold millions from it but it quickly came to me that he was well connected enough in politics that if the government hadn’t fallen, he would have made that money one way or the other, in sweetheart deals and backroom swindles. He was such an accomplished thief it’s easy to forget his roots were in politics, not honest crime.

“But that’s not what happened, is it? The people threw them out and no-one wants them back again, that I’ve heard.”

“You’re sure of that?” The old man was looking right at me, his eyes very bright even in the lamplight. “I don’t recall anyone asking them lately. Most of them only go along with things because that’s how it is and they can’t see how it could be different. What if they had a choice?”

A choice between what, I thought, but didn’t say it.

“And you’re going to offer it to them.”

“We are,” he said. “Never doubt it.”

“Look, I’m old enough to remember what this country was like before the gangsters took it away from us, and I liked it.” It was one of the new additions, a thin fellow in a bow tie, about 60 or so and balding. The hair that should have been up top seemed to have migrated down to bushy white eyebrows above wire-rimmed glasses.

“I’m from Kansas City. We had the same political machine that you had in New York and here in Boston, ward bosses who ran the show like their own little dictatorships.

“I don’t want that back. But I do want a say in how this country’s run, the way I was supposed to have.” He looked at the others. “Ask these men here. We all run businesses, big ones, successful, and we all pay the bosses for the privilege of doing it. If we get big enough, it’s not enough for them to tax us – suddenly we’ve got ‘partners’, and then they’re the ones running what we worked so long and hard to establish.

“It just isn’t right, goddamnit.”

There were a number of ‘Damn right” and “You tell him” type comments from the others. Another said, “I’d like a chance to vote against every damned one of these greasy Mafiosos.” I let that pass, assuming he didn’t know my parentage. This was no time to take exception to racial insults.

Bobby stepped in before he could go on.

“Jim, Jim, let’s not say things we’ll regret. For the most part the Bosses have been benign and many of them are good friends of mine. This isn’t about revenge or comeuppance, it’s about restoring American liberty.”

“Now, it’s too much to reestablish the full system of parties and election instantly.” This was Joe again. “But with you and Robert leading the country, and with our help, we can restore full democracy in a fairly short span.” Yes, just long enough for me to serve my time, followed by Robert, and then, whichever of Bobby’s kids was old enough to assume the throne. I would have bet any amount on it. Joe would never give up power, ever. He never had before.

I took another drink and lit a cigarette. I was Daniel in the lion’s den, here. I had to remember to play my part. Espionage is a seriously confusing business. There’s a lot to be said for a straightforward gang war.

I took another drink and lit a cigarette. I was Daniel in the lion’s den, here. I had to remember to play my part. Espionage is a seriously confusing business. There’s a lot to be said for a straightforward gang war.

“Frank Costello has been very, very good to me. I couldn’t be part of anything that would hurt him, even now. He would never have sent me away if he were still right in his mind.”

“I know that, Jack, and I promise you that’s not what we want either,” Bobby said, and if I was really who I was pretending to be I might have believed him. I decided to get this back on track.

“Why would you offer me this, when you have Bobby right here? He’s essentially running the Kennedy family now. Why not make him President?”

Bobby smiled at that. “Thanks, Jack. They say that when you need to put a man in a position of great power, look for the one who turns it down. You just show us more evidence that you’re the right man for it.

“But it can’t be me. We need to offer the people some continuity from the old regime and you have all the credentials we could ask for, even if you are a little young, ideally – underboss to a major family, handsome, educated, –“ he paused a beat – “and you’re a Kennedy. It’s the best of both worlds.”

“Robert will be your Attorney General,” Joe said, as if it were happening while we spoke. “The great job will be restoring law and order to the country, reestablishing the court system, reopening the law schools. And once the nations of the world see we’re fit to join them, America can resume its rightful place at their head.”

I tried to look as if I were digesting all this. Law and order meant cops, prisons, and the whole crazy thing all over again. It was like running back into a burning house.

“ I still don’t see how you plan to accomplish this without bloodshed, because that’s what you seem to be planning on. You can have all the free democratic votes you like but the Families are not going to just say, ‘Oh, fine. Here you go, take the country back.’ You know that, or you should.”

Joe leaned in over the desk and the light caught the back of his skull, shining through the few hairs on it, like a corpse with a halo.

“They’ll be given every opportunity to accept a peaceful transition of power. If they refuse, it will be on their own heads.” For all this talk of law and order and the rule of law, Joe sounded as if he were looking forward to the latter. He couldn’t wait for it.

But I was getting the hang of the spy game. This was my chance to learn something important.

“Well, there’s where I think you’ll have some trouble. Where are you going to get the men you’d need to go against them, if it came down to shooting?”

“Britain,” Bobby said.

“Vanessa, would you come in now?”


Mob Rule is a work of fiction, serialized regularly in The Ex-Press. To read past instalments, click here. This was The End Game and the Oval Office, Mob Rule Part 23.

THE EX-PRESS, November 15, 2015






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