Operation Underworld by Paddy Kelly

About The Book

February, 1942. Free China is lost, the Battle of Britain has been fought and Hitler dines in Paris. World War II is nearly three years old, however the United States resists involvement. With an invitation from the Imperial Japanese Navy at Pearl Harbor everything changes. In her first ten months of the war nearly 500 American ships are lost. The retooling of Her factories is estimated to take at least a year, and even before it is completed, the men who work in those factories must become Marines, sailors and soldiers. The U.S. Navy is behind the eight ball, big time. They need help. To compound their problems, the most famous luxury liner in the world, T. L. S. Normandie, has just been set alight and burned to the water-line in New York Harbor initiating wide spread hysteria in fear of German saboteurs. All originating from a misguided sense of desperation, and a well planned feign. Meanwhile, “The Boss of Bosses”, Lucky Luciano at age 45, is serving a thirty to fifty year sentence in a maximum security prison in upstate New York. In one of the most ironic decisions of the war, the Federal Government requests the founder of organized crime, Lucky Luciano, to join forces with America’s most secret service, Naval Intelligence. Luciano, has been sentenced to life in prison for a crime that warrants ten years, and is concurrently fighting deportation to an enemy nation where he will certainly be put to death, when he is asked to help the government who condemned him. In addition, he is told he must remain in prison with no chance for compensation or parole. Mike ’Doc’ McKeowen, a New York P. I., leads us through the story. Doc just wants to get his life back on track after his business partner ran off with all the top clients, and a long and painful divorce drained him of his house, his family and his dignity. Fate may have a plan for Doc, but he can’t figure out what the hell it is. Whether you believe the link between the Federal Government and organized crime is a slender thread, or as Mario Puzo wrote, ’. . . contemporary America, where law and organized crime are one and the same.’, you will learn how the foundation of the international drug cartel was laid. You will come to appreciate the saying, ‘Due Facce della stessa Medaliglia’. Crime and politics, two sides of the same coin. Titanic was an act of carelessness. Lusitania was an act of war. Normandie was an act of genius. Reviews and more information here: CLICK FOR INFO

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Grand Central Terminal
Normandie Poster

Albert Anastasia
Normandie Pier 88

Operation Underworld
(Paddy Kelly)

The serialised version of this outstanding novel

Part Three

Missed Part One - Click Here


Operation Underworld

CHAPTER SIX

 

 

Louie shook his head as he knocked firmly on the door of suite #32. The glass panel read, “We Peep While Others Sleep”. That Sammon was an asshole. Louie elicited no response from inside so he tried again.

“Come on Doc, open up, it’s not a process server.”

Pasquale Louige Mancino not only disliked the sacred sense of tradition his family tried to shackle him with, he despised it. He hated the tortuously long Sunday linguine suppers. He hated the language that Americans did not speak, and he hated that all the gangsters in the movies were Italian. But most of all he hated his name. Why couldn’t he be Wayne or Lamont or Kent? Or some other dashing name. Why was he burdened with the name of some dead uncle he never met?

Growing up he didn’t understand why the other kids called him WOP, meatball or spaghetti bender, but he knew it wasn’t complimentary. So after three or four black eyes and a twice broken nose, the kids at St. Matthew’s got the idea that he wanted to be called Louie.

He hated the gangsters. He hated the punks who acted like gangsters. He hated that everyone thought he was connected because he had an Italian name. He was careful never to actually say he was connected. Of course, he was just as careful to never deny it either. All he wanted was to be a P. I. and to be called Louie. Louie the P. I. Another month of night classes and he could take his state exam.

Louie Mancino, Private Investigator.

That’s why he liked Doc. Doc treated him as an equal and made a deal with him. As soon as he finished his courses at City College in March, he could work out of the office, on his own cases, and out of all the rotten things people said about Doc, not one of them could ever say he broke his word. Not unless they wanted to look stupid.

“Come on Doc, open up. I got some good news. I know you’re in there, I can smell you through . . . the . . . SHIT!”

The words were not yet out of Mancino’s mouth when he saw them. Three bullet holes in the hall wall to the left of the door. Not a tight little shot pattern either, but spread out as if there had been a struggle. A cold chill ran up his spine, and he banged harder on the door with no luck. Then he remembered.

Louie raced down the hall as fast as his green and orange bowling shoes would let him and slid to a halt in front of the fire hose cabinet. He ripped the door open and the glass shattered with the impact of hitting the wall. He was horrified to see the outline in dust of where the spare key used to be.

“Must be how the bastards got in!” He surmised.

Sliding back to the office door, Louie The P.I. fought down a feeling of panic as he tried to think clearly. The glass! Removing his coat to reveal his white and blue bowling shirt, he wrapped it around his fist. Closing his eyes, Louie punched through the glass panel on the office door. As the shards of glass fell to the floor, he opened his eyes one at a time to see if there was any bleeding. His sense of satisfaction at not seeing blood however seeped away as the unlocked door slowly swung open. Halfway it hit a piece of over turned furniture. He was aghast at the condition of the office.

The floor was completely covered in broken furniture and debris. Doc’s left foot peering out from under the desk re-ignited Louie’s sense of urgency and he fought his way to the corner of the room to where Doc was laying, face down.  Reaching Doc’s body, he slowly rolled the limp form over.

“Tell me you’re breathin’ buddy! Tell me you’re breathin’!”

“Come on Doc wake up . . . wake up! You can’t check out yet . . . I ain’t solved my first case!” Louie searched the body for wounds. Doc moaned, and his eyes opened gingerly as he watched the ceiling slowly come into focus.

“Where the hell . . . shit! My head! Louie? What the hell you doing here?” Doc breathed onto his friend. Louie gagged and recoiled with a wince.

“Jesus Christ Doc! You smell like the Jersey Meadowlands in July!!” Doc sat up holding his head with one hand looking around the room.

“You okay?”

You mean except for this god damned excavation crew drilling through my brain?"

"Doc I'm serious! You okay?" Doc shrugged off Louie's help.

“Of course I’m okay! Why wouldn't be okay?”

“I mean like you got any extra holes?” Doc smirked.

“Nah! I’m okay.” Righting his chair he eased himself into it, gingerly holding his head with both hands.

“Louie! Why the hell’d ja break the glass? I left the door open for ya!”

“Uhh . . . It was stuck. Doc, what the hell happened here last night?”

“Ahhh. I just had to talk things out with Mary. Sort’a get it off my chest, ya know.” Louie, noticed the bullet holes were roughly in line with Mary’s photograph and began to lose his patience.

“Jesus Christ Doc! Didn't that letter from the landlord sink in? You had a baptism last night, didn’t you?!”  

“Those courses are paying off already.” Doc said as he rose from the desk and made his way through the carnage to the sink. “How the hell can you be so thirsty the morning after the night you drank so much?” Doc asked to no one in particular.

“You got hammered last night and shot holes in the damn wall!” Louie pressed his point.

“I told you. I had to get it out of my system.” Doc maintained his patience. After the preceding week, it was reassuring to be back amongst friends. Even if they were beginning to sound like his ex-wife.

Now Louie had to get it out of his system.

“Ya know Doc, you’re not the first guy to get shit on by some broad over money. And I ain’t Nostradamus, but I think you probably ain’t gonna be the last!”

Doc, now at the sink, listened to his friend as he drank three glasses of water and ate a hand full of aspirin. Louie continued as he paced around the office.

“Life is how you want to see it, Doc. It’s either a burden or an opportunity. It’s what you make of it. Time to pick up the pieces and move on. No sense cryin’ over spilt milk. Water under the bridge, ya know? To quote Shakespeare, 'There’s other fish in the sea'.”

“LOUIE?!”

“What?”

“What’s your point?”

“Don’t be condensatin’, Doc! This ain’t funny! It's a good thing those offices across the hall are empty!”

“Thanks for caring man.” Doc continued to try and lighten the tone as he dried his face.

“I’m serious! There’s enuff local cops got it in fer you as it is, fer Christ’s sake. The only reason they keep givin’ you breaks is ‘cause’a your old man.” Louie nodded to the picture of the policeman on the shelf.

“Seriously Louie. I appreciate your friendship, I really do. Just lighten up on the bitchin' will ya?” Louie appeared to calm down, and Doc continued to wash up.

“Doc, it ain’t like I got an anterior motive or somethin’! I’m just worried about gettin’ you through this shit!” Louie’s client reports were always fun to read.

“Next thing you know you’ll be doin’ something really stupid like hoppin’ a plane to Miami and tryin’ ta get her ta’ come back to New York.” Mancino sat down at the desk and put his feet up. Doc put his towel down, and without looking at Louie went into the back to change his clothes. Louie immediately understood.

“Tell me you didn’t do something really stupid Doc!” There was no response from behind the partition. Looking down at the floor, Louie saw the pieces of torn ticket.

“You did! Didn’t you? You hopped a plane, you went to Florida and . . .” Louie was cut off in mid sentence as Doc burst through the partition door in a half buttoned shirt.

“I told you, god-damn it! I had to get it outta my system! And I did! So let’s drop it Louie! You made your god-damned point!!”

“But Doc! Shootin’ holes in the freakin’ wall . . .” He pleaded.

“I said DROP IT!! I’M OVER IT! She’s history! Yesterday’s news, a foot note in the archives! End of subject! Savvy?!” Louie was taken off guard by the intensity of Doc’s anger, and wasn't sure how to react. So he sat in silence behind the desk.

Doc continued to dress in front of the mirror. Louie continued to sit, and the awkwardness of the silence intensified. Doc finished tying his cravat and slumped over the sink holding his head in his hand in a vein attempt to reduce it to normal size. Louie spoke first.

“Hey Doc?”

“What?!” Turning to face Louie without lifting his head. Louie held up the empty whiskey bottle.

“Ya wanna go get a drink?”

“You’re a sick son-of-a-bitch Mancino! Ya know that?”

The tension gone out of the room, they both laughed.

“So is this why you came up here at the ungodly hour of noon? You felt sorry for me I didn’t have a wife any more, so you decided to take over as the pain in the ass in my life?”

Louie didn’t speak, but rose from the desk and as he made his way to the door produced a folded sheet of paper from his breast pocket and handed it to Doc. He continued across the room to the letter box on the inside of the front door.

Doc unfolded the paper and read aloud.

“Ira and Norma Birnbaum, apartment 2B, 127 East 64th. What the hell is this?”

“What the hell's it look like? It’s a client.” Louie said with a smug look on his face, knowing nothing had come into the office for over two weeks. Doc welcomed the work with guarded optimism.

“Who are they? What’s the skinny?”

“She’s Doris’ hairdresser, she’s a nice girl, you’ll get a kick out of her.”

“If she’s so nice why does she need us?”

“She thinks maybe her husband is screwin’ around on her, and she wants to know for sure.” Although he had no choice, Louie was tentative about giving this information to Doc. He knew how Doc felt about that alimony, divorce shit.

Louie was facing the door, so Doc didn’t see him mouth the words as he spoke.

“Oh Jesus Louie! You know I hate this alimony, divorce shit!”

Again Louie didn't answer. He reached into the same pocket and produced five, fifty dollar bills and laid them neatly on the desk. Doc stared, wide-eyed at the money.

“On the other hand, work is work. Where’d this come from?”

“I had her make the cheque out in my name. I didn’t know where the hell you were or when you’d be back. So I took a down payment and signed the case. I told her you’d call early next week.” Doc picked up the money.    

“Ya did good Louie.”          

“Ten per cent of that’s mine!”

Doc handed him a fifty. “Here. Go buy Doris a chocolate layer cake.”

Louie’s eyes lit up.

“Shit Doc! Thanks! You okay with this?”

“Shut up before I change my mind.”

“No problem!”

“This ain’t no gimme. You’re gonna work this case with me.”

“You serious?!” Louie was thrilled. “But I ain’t got my license!”

“You won’t need one. We follow the guy, find out who the girl is, take a few snaps, and show up for court. Clean and simple. What could happen?”

Doc was pleased to see Louie so excited. He would make a good P.I. There was an unspoken agreement that Louie would one day take over the agency.

“Louie . . . ah, sorry about flyin’ off the handle. I just want some peace and quiet, and ta get back to work.”

“Well, there you are partner. A nice simple client to ease you back into the saddle.” Louie was still holding the mail in his hand and Doc asked what was in it.

Shuffling through the four pieces, Louie recited. “A subpoena, the electric bill, another subpoena and an invite to join the Ancient Order Of Hibernians.” Louie couldn’t repress his smile as Doc shook his head.

“Give me that.”

Doc took the envelope from Louie and made his way around behind his desk. From a drawer he took a large rubber stamp and stamped the post in several places, 'Scottish! Not Irish!' Louie laughed as Doc handed him the solicitation and told him to put it back in the box.

“Louie?!” Doc flopped into his chair.

“Yeah?”

“How do you do it? I mean spend so much time away from Doris and still have such a healthy relationship after twelve years?”

“I dunno. I guess it’s . . . true love.” Louie said in a mocking voice.

“Bullshit! It’s ‘cause she’s horny all the time. That’s why you married her in the first place.”

“Yep. Body of a woman, sex drive of a man. Hell, only way it could be any better was if she was a rich mute and owned a liquor store.”

“Come on shit head! I’m tryn’ to be serious here! Emotionally what makes it work?”  

“Jesus Doc. You’re startin’ ta sound like those phoney letters in True Romance magazine.”

“Go to hell!”

“The truth?”

“Yeah, the truth.” Louie took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Than he sat down next to the desk and spoke in a serious tone.

“Doc, I love her so much that, that when I’m away from her . . . I’m so miserable I feel like she’s here.”

“I asked for it.”

 

***

 

The brass letters, '2B', were neatly polished and contrasted aesthetically against the black enamelled door of the apartment. Doc knocked, and to his surprise the door opened immediately, as far as the safety chain would allow, as if someone were standing there waiting for him. An elderly woman, maybe early seventies but spry, very short, undid the chain and opened the door. She was visibly upset. Doc rechecked the sheet of paper.

“Yes?” She inquired.

“I'm looking for Mrs. Birnbaum?”

“Yes?”

“Mrs. Norma Birnbaum?”

“Yes, that’s me.” The elderly woman held a tissue in one hand and spoke with a Jewish accent.

“I’m Mr. McKeowen. The detective.” Opening the door wider, she gestured for Doc to come in, then locked up behind him.    

The modestly decorated rooms were immaculate, and Doc thought about his office. Contributing to the feeling that he was visiting his grandmother’s house, was the fact that the air was saturated with the delicious aroma of some food which Doc did not recognise, simmering on the stove.

“Ah . . . Mrs. Birnbaum. You have a daughter, that wants to hire a private investigator?”

“No, I half no daughter.” If Louie screwed this up, I’ll brain him!

“I was told someone wishes me to investigate the possibility of . . . infidelity. That their husband may be having an extra-marital affair. Is there a woman in this building in that situation that you know of, Mrs. Birnbaum? Perhaps with another name?”

“Did your muther half a difficult delivery? I am Norma Birnbaum! I am da voman! Andt my husbant is cheatingt on me! Mit a rich, younger bimbo no less!” She spoke, making her way to the kitchen.

Doc was taken off guard. If this guy is anywhere near her age and is foolin’ around I gotta meet him!

“What makes you think Ira has been seeing someone else, Mrs. Birnbaum?”

“Dink? DINK?! I don't dink. I know! A voman knows dees dings. Since the war started! Maybe he wants to sow some vild oats, who knows? In case we’re invaded maybe! Come, sit!” They both took seats in the kitchen.

“What did you notice, since the war started? That made you suspicious, I mean?”

Mrs. Birnbaum explained as she stirred pots and made tea.

“The usual. Stayingt out late. Goink to verk at odd hours. Dinks like dat.”

“Has there been any money missing, say from his pay, or anything like that?” She shook her finger vigorously as she spoke.

“No! Dats how I know da little hussy is rich! He still gives me all his money, and den some! But he still has money to play mit da hoochie-coochie!” Norma embellished with pelvic gyrations.

“What does your husband do, Norma?”

“He is postal clerk. You know, for dee postal office.”

“So, he works at the 42nd Street Station?” Doc asked as he kept notes.

“No. Two years ago they give him promotion and easier job, down town. Soon, he retires. He is seventy-nine, you know! Andt still vorkingt! We promise each other he only vork until he is eighty. You know, that way we can spend last twenty years or so together.” Doc's eyes involuntarily widened.

“Well, it’s important to be optimistic. Your plans may still work out, Norma. How long have you and Ira been married?”

Mrs. Birnbaum stood up straight, and allowed her slight shoulders to set back ever so gently.

“Today is our anniversary! Fifty-seven years, two months, and seventeen days! Today!”

Jesus! I should live so long! Thought Doc.

“Well Norma, here’s what we’ll do. Why don’t you give me his work address. I’ll have a look around, and we’ll see if we can’t work this thing out.”

“I yust don’t vant I should lose my Ira, Mr. MackQuen.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, Norma.”

“He vas in da films you know. Da real films! Not dis talkies nonsense! He vas an actor! He vas friends mit Joelson!” She began to sob, and Doc got edgy. He was useless around crying women.

“Norma, I really need you to act as normal as possible, keep up your daily routines, and wait for me to get back to you. Okay?” He handed her a tissue from the box on the table. “Now what’s the address?”

“It’s on Church Street. Number ninety, Church Street.” He couldn't place it, but Doc recognised the address. “Here, eat some soup.”

“No thanks, Norma. I really need to . . . “

“Eat! Eat!”

Doc realised he was out gunned and gave in.


CHAPTER SEVEN

 

 

In 1936 Murray Gurfein was instrumental in the conviction of the Boss of Bosses, Charlie “Lucky” Luciano. This conviction, which resulted in a sentence roughly five times greater than any “normal” criminal would receive, was intended to put Luciano away for the rest of his life. It didn't.

Working with then D.A. Thomas Dewey, some of the tactics compelled many people to ask questions. In particular why the majority of the dozen or so witnesses they called, said nearly the same exact thing. Or why had the three key witnesses recanted their statements almost immediately after testifying and then signed sworn statements to that effect. Lastly there was the issue of perjury on the part of some of the witnesses for the prosecution, along with the D.A. threatening those very same witnesses with imprisonment if they did not testify as directed.

Of course there can be little doubt that the mobsters probably made some threats as well. But apparently Dewey’s boys threatened harder, and his political ambitions, of which he made no secret, were eventually fulfilled. He was able to buy the Governorship of New York.

Although Dewey’s shady victory was three years ago Gurfein, as head of the rackets division, had gotten nearly as much mileage out of Luciano’s conviction. And now it was time to meet another one of these hoodlums. Only this time Gurfein would not have the safety of a courtroom. He would meet him face to face, alone on his own turf. At midnight.

To complicate matters, he was going to ask this gangster for help. Even if he hadn’t been “asked” by the D.A. to do this, as head of the N. Y. C. Rackets Division it was his responsibility.

Murray had a problem. If he came back empty handed, it wouldn’t go well for his career. If he came back with something, he would probably have to make a deal. A deal he had no authorization to make.

Standing outside the City Hall, Gurfein held his watch towards a light post so the faint glow would allow him to read his watch dial in the winter darkness.

“Eleven forty-seven. Shit!” He thought to himself. Desperate to find a taxi to take him uptown, Gurfein stepped out into the street, and peered down town into the dim of the night. As if on cue, a cab pulled out from around the corner, and came to a stop in front of him.

Getting in through the back door he didn’t notice the “off duty” roof light was lit and, before he could get himself seated, he felt the cab pull away.

“103rd and Broadway.” He instructed the driver.

“I know.” Came the response. The lawyer wanted to ask questions, but thought better of it.

It was at least a twenty minute ride uptown, even without traffic, which gave Gurfein time to think. He nervously shifted his position several times before settling down and gazing out the window into the desolation of the Manhattan night.

Ah, what the hell? He reasoned to himself. If the hoods cooperate the D.A. looks good. If not, they look like what they are, a bunch of scum bags. If it all goes to shit somewhere down the line I can always say I was ordered by Hogan to do it, in spite of the fact I was repulsed by being told to do business with known criminals. He practised how to say repulsed, and make it believable.

Despite all of his self posturing, the thing he had the most difficulty dealing with was the possibility that anyone even remotely associated with the Mob may be shown, by their helping the War Department, to have any redeemable values.

As the taxi cruised up a deserted Central Park West passed the Museum of Natural History, Gurfein couldn’t help but think how the shadowy images of the park seemed appropriate for the mood. His mind drifted further, noting how the picturesque peacefulness engulfed the entire scene and how it would look in just a few hours as the morning sun broke over the tree line, soon be shattered by the brutality of rush hour traffic. 

As they passed into the nineties, one last chilling thought occurred to his active, worried imagination. Was there any chance the Navy intelligence people could have underestimated the current state of German technology? What if the U-Boats had a longer range and extended sea life than the government knew about? Unlikely, he reassured himself. America had the greatest scientific and military minds in the world. That’s how we beat them in the last war. Besides, the Krauts were essentially neutralized at Versailles.

These were the thoughts that raced through Gurfein’s mind as the cab rounded the corner and pulled to a halt at Broadway and 103rd. It was shortly after midnight, when he attempted to exit the vehicle but was blocked by two men getting in. It was Guerin and Lanza. Socks sat facing the two lawyers who in turn were sitting with their backs towards the rear of the taxi.

“Where’re we going?” Asked Gurfein nervously.

“Somewhere else.” Lanza quipped. Continuing on for another few blocks, the driver altered his northerly direction and turned west until they came to Riverside Park. Another right hand turn meant they were again heading uptown, and Guerin noticed a sign in the park as they drove by.

Grant’s Tomb Next Left.

“You’re a regular Bob Fuckin’ Hope, Lanza.” Guerin cracked. Socks smiled. Gurfein looked puzzled.

 After pulling into the park just south of the memorial, the three men got out. Lanza paid a twenty, and deliberately waited until the two lawyers were out of earshot before telling the driver to go over to Amsterdam Avenue and wait.

Lanza walked past the others and across the narrow stretch of park to the wrought iron fence overlooking the Hudson River. The lawyers followed and when they reached Lanza, Guerin stepped off to one side to allow his client and the D.A.’s representative to talk. Gurfein immediately began to paint the picture for Socks.

“Here’s the story Socks . . .”

“It’s Mr. Lanza.” Off to a good start, thought Guerin standing on the sidelines lighting a smoke.

“The Navy needs our help. They been losing supply ships left, right and center to the U-Boats. They don’t think the subs can stay out that long or that the Krauts have enough of them to keep rotating their Wolf Packs.”

Socks glanced at Guerin, then back at Gurfein. It was too hard to swallow. The U.S. Navy looking for Socks Lanza to come to the rescue? Even with a war on, there’s not a chance in hell they would want to get Mob guys mixed up in a legitimate operation. The D.A.’s up to something.

“So?”

“So, they think the Krauts are being supplied from here. By a network or something.”

“You try’n ta tell me you think some’a my guys are supply'n Nazi’s!?”

“No. But such an operation would take an organized network and a fair amount of logistics. These guys would need fresh water, food, fuel, medicine and god knows what else. This wouldn’t be any nickel dime operation.”

“So whatta ya want from me?”

“They can’t find any leads.”

“So why don't you guys do what you always do? Frame somebody. Or you askin’ me ta play spy?”

“Not exactly. The Navy wants to place agents on the boats, trucks and in the markets.”

“Fuck you!” Lanza backed away as he exploded with anger. Guerin was startled. “I was born durin' the fuckin' day, but it wasn't fuckin' yesterday!” He turned to a startled Guerin. “Can you believe this shit?! This prick wants to put Feds inside my operation!”

“Socks, calm down!” Guerin threw down his cigarette and walked over to his client. “Calm down, damn it!”

“This bastard wants to put cops in my market! Can you believe the cahoons on this guy?!”

“Don’t be stupid! He’s got nothing to do with it. If you agree to help you’ll deal straight with the Navy. No one else.” Guerin reasoned with Lanza. Socks looked at both of them and then again at Guerin. He began to settle down. As much as any man could, he trusted his lawyer.

“How do I know they won’t be Feds?” He asked.

“If they are, or if the D.A. tries to sneak a Fed in, anything they obtain, or try to obtain will be inadmissible. Besides, if you want I can have them checked out.” The two lawyers exchanged glances. “But I’m telling you, I met the Navy guy you’re going to be dealing with. He's on the square.”

“Is he ex-cop?” He wanted as clear a picture as possible.

“No. Strictly intelligence work.” Guerin reassured him.

Socks walked around a little in small irregular circles and lit a cigarette.

“You’d be doing your country a great service.” Prodded Gurfein.       

“Yeah, wouldn’t hurt your career either, would it councillor?” Socks was told that not only would he not be given any consideration for his help, but that it would probably not even be permitted to be brought up at his upcoming trial. There was nothing that Gurfein or Hogan were going to do to jeopardize a conviction. His lawyer made one last plea.

“Socks I’m tellin’ ya. It’s on the level.” Socks stood, hands in pockets assessing the two lawyers.

“I’ll call you in a day or so. I’ll see what I can do.” With the sparkling lights of the Jersey shoreline at his back Lanza slowly walked away . He headed in the direction of Amsterdam Avenue when he stopped and turned.

“Hey, Guerin! You comin’?”

Turning to Gurfein as he walked away, Guerin said, “Don’t worry, he’ll do it. He’s got no choice.” The lawyer caught up with Lanza.

“Look, I don’t want to call that prick. I want to deal with this Navy guy, what’s his name?”

“Haffenden, Commander Haffenden.”

“Hey!” It was Gurfein calling after the other two men who were by now across the street. “How am I supposed to get back down town?”

“Call a cab!” Socks suggested, and then continued walking.

“You know, he could lean on you pretty heavy at the trial.” Counselled Guerin.

“You think for a second he’s gonna play Mr. Nice Guy? Let me tell you somethin', when guys like that develop political ambitions, they find ways to bend the law and then go around tellin’ people it’s ta fight crime. Then, after they get away with it a’nuff times, comes the delusions of grandeur and invincibility! Then it's only a small step to ignoring the law altogether.”

“Voice of experience talking, Joey?”

“Basta conoscerne uno, per conoscerli tuti. Ya seen one, ya seen ‘em all! Capito?”

The two figures faded into the dark mist.

 

***

 

The next morning the two figures of Socks Lanza and Guerin emerged from the bright sunlight and passed through the large, revolving brass doors into the palatial lobby of the Hotel Astor. Outside the New York winter air was crisp and cold, but inside the elaborate lobby it was a warm, comfortable and lush. An atmosphere neither man was stranger to.

The immaculate detail and spaciousness of the vestibule was impeccable. Plush, intricately woven, red and gold carpet was bordered with black rope and ran snuggly into the richly stained and varnished mahogany baseboard. The walls were a combination of paper and paint, coloured in soft maroon and eggshell. The ceilings of heavily moulded plaster reliefs, were ornamented with massive, gold plated chandeliers large enough to require a crew of ten men to install. Once on the inner borders of the huge, rotating, brass plated doors, save for the attire of the guests scattered about the lobby, one would think it was still 1870.

The two men made their way to the staircase on the left and ascended to the mezzanine level. Although this was not Lanza’s first time in the Astor, he was forced to think to himself as he looked around for sentries. “If this is a set-up, they’re sure goin’ whole hog!” Owing to the sizes of the suites on the mezzanine level, there were a limited number of them.

Guerin knew the suite number, and despite the growing irritation he felt for all this cloak and dagger stuff he wasn’t making a penny on, he was curious as to how the third reel was going to play out. He gave, two short knocks, and a voice yelled to come in.        

Each room was large enough to permanently house a family of four, and was just as plushly decorated as the lobby.

“And they call us crooks!” Lanza said in a low voice to Guerin as he closed the door behind them. Straight ahead, down the long hall was some sort of sitting room, and off to either side of the hall were four other rooms, two on each side.

Socks and his lawyer walked down the hall poking their heads into each room until they found the one which was occupied.

“What the hell’s he doin’ here?!” Socks blurted out. He was standing in the doorway of the last room on the left, pointing as Guerin caught up with him.

“I’m just here to baby-sit. Socks.” Gurfein, sat in the corner, delightfully basking in Lanza’s surprise. Lanza recalled how easy it was to bait and evade the cops when they chased him as a teen and quickly composed himself.

“Your tax dollars at work, eh Murray?”

“At least we pay taxes Lanza!” Gurfein was easily goaded.

“We pay taxes too, counsellor.” Socks retorted in a matter-of-fact tone. “The taxes you haul in from the people we employ alone, more than pays the salary of everyone in City Hall, with some left over to help the war effort. Of course that’s only a rough estimate. It’s very difficult to know exactly how much is extorted from us in graft.”

“Gentlemen! We’re not here to play cops and robbers.” It was the man seated behind the broad wooden desk, an impressive figure dressed in civilian clothes. He looked to be late forties, early fifties but well built. Socks was impressed with the man’s presence and shook his hand with respect as the man introduced himself.

“Mr. Lanza, Lieutenant Commander Charles Haffenden, thanks for coming.”

Gurfein smirked silently as he thought to himself, “Mr. Lanza! Gimme a break!” Socks sat down in the chair facing the desk. Guerin stood, as there were no more chairs in the room. The lawyer, in his sixties was visibly uncomfortable.

“Mr. Lanza I’m told you can help us.”

“Please Commander, call me Socks.” Lanza said, pretending not to notice Gurfein’s glance. “What is it I can do for youse?”

Commander Haffenden had been briefed about Lanza’s legal situation, and so understood fully the relationship between Gurfein and Socks. He also knew why the D.A’s representative was there. It had very little to do with Lanza. He would no doubt be tripping over himself to report back to Hogan the instant the meeting was over.     Little did he realise he was out of his league.

Charles Haffenden had not only been in service since 1917, he was considered a founding father of Naval intelligence. He played in the same playground as Aaron Banks and “Wild Bill” Donovan. While people like Hogan and Gurfein were paying for tips and blackmailing petty criminals, men like Haffenden were spying on heads of state and collecting data as field operatives behind the lines in enemy territory.

“Well, I believe your lawyer has already filled you in on the details of the difficulties we’re having with our shipping?” Guerin had no idea what Haffenden was talking about, but kept quiet. Lanza caught on right away.

“Yeah, all the details.” He responded. Gurfein sat up straight and looked at Haffenden.

“Good. What can we do?” Continued Haffenden. Socks reached into his pocket and produced a pen. He wrote two phone numbers on a piece of note paper he took from the desk and slid them across to the Commander.

“Call me at either one of those numbers in a day or so, sir.” Lanza stood along with Haffenden, and they shook hands.

“Nice to have met you, sir.”

“Likewise, Socks.” Gurfein remained seated. Lanza left first and as Guerin was putting his hat on, he turned to Gurfein and quipped, “Told ya he’d do it.” Commander Haffenden put on his coat as well and indicated to Gurfein that it was time to leave. Gurfein tried to get a look at the piece of paper on the desk, but Haffenden scooped it up and put it in his pocket.

“Commander, I have a right to know what's on that paper!” They started down the hall towards the exit.

“Ya know Murray. I get the impression you’re the kind’a guy likes ordering secretaries around.” Haffenden stopped to open the front door to the suite. He reached in his pocket and produced a piece of paper. Outside in the hall he addressed Gurfein again.

“I’m told you’re an expert in Sicilian?”

“Yeah, So?” Haffenden handed him the piece of paper and proceeded to walk down the corridor towards the stairs.

“Get back to me with a translation on that, will ya?” Haffenden was about to set the ground rules for the N. Y. C. D. A.'s relationship with his intell network.

Gurfein stood in the middle of the hallway and unfolded the paper.

In bold, block, hand written letters, was a single word in Sicilian . . . “FANCULO!”


CHAPTER EIGHT

 

 

Louie stood against the granite wall of Central Park pretending to read the early edition of the Daily News in the morning cold, as he shelled his breakfast of salted peanuts. Columbus Circle was buzzing with activity by 8:00 a. m., and Mancino had his work cut out for him. Mrs. Birnbaum told Doc that Ira always walked to the Circle in the morning on his way to work. Louie’s assignment was to spot Birnbaum, follow him to whatever mode of transportation he would utilize to get down town, and then call Doc who was waiting in a phone booth in the Woolworth Building, around the corner from the Church Street office. Doc really didn't Louie to do this, but he needed him even less hanging around Downtown bugging him. He didn't mind teaching Louie, but he wasn't a babysitter.

Strategically positioning himself behind the line of Hanson cabs parked along Central Park South, where he was able to see the subway kitchen on the corner of Broadway and 59th, Louie's eyes darted back and forth across the pack of pedestrians.

 Louie took the photo Mrs. Birnbuam gave Doc, out of his jacket pocket and studied it for the tenth time. It was taken at a family function of some sort, and showed Ira and Norma sitting at a table alone while dozens of others around them danced and ate, almost as if the old couple weren’t there. Louie was still puzzled by the age of the subject he and Doc were to investigate. If this guy has got something going on the side it’s gotta be one for the record books!

Louie looked up with an unshelled peanut still in his mouth. Five foot two, balding, glasses, dark suit and bow tie. Bingo! As Ira was descending into the subway, Mancino had to fight his way across The Circle, leaving a trail of peanut shells and dodging traffic to reach his subject in time.

The fresh smell of ozone greeted Louie as he took the steps two at a time leading down to the subway platforms and rounded the bend, past the crowded news kiosk to the turnstiles. Reaching into his pocket, he produced a handful of change, and mixed among the hodge podge of coins were two ten cent tokens. He selected one and inserted it into the slot and pushed through the clicking ratchets of the wooden turnstile and walked onto the platform pretending to read the paper. But something was wrong.

He looked up and down the platform. No Ira!

There were less than a dozen people milling about. Jesus! Was this guy that good? How could he have known he was being tailed? The space between the edge of the platform and the wall was to narrow for him to step back and peer behind the only place to hide, the wide steel girders supporting the ceiling. To compound his problems, Louie could hear the screeching of steel wheels growing louder as the Downtown express approached the 59th Street station. Walking rapidly to one end of the platform he saw no sign of the old man. Shit! Doc won’t let this one go! Bad enough he has to pay forty-seven dollars for a new office window, now I drop the tail! Louie ran back up to the turnstiles. He heard the train squeal into the station, and had a brain-storm. He double timed back down stairs and as the passengers began to board, he ran over to the centre car, stood in front of the door and sighted straight down either side of the train, to observe who was boarding. He peered left, and as he turned to look down the other side of the train, a group of five or six commuters, pushed into him.

“Excuse me sir, you’re blocking the door.” Louie looked down, and gasped. He found Ira.

Meanwhile, around the corner from Church Street, over onn Broadway, Doc was milling about in the elaborate mosaics in the cruciform lobby of the Woolworth Building, near a bank of phones. A security guard looked up for the fourth time in the last quarter of an hour, suspicion etched a little deeper into his grizzled face. Doc did the only thing he could, he smiled, waved and cursed Louie.

The subject of Doc’s anger was now making his way to the back of the crowded car to put some distance between himself and Mr. Birnbaum. When he reached the rear of the car, he remained standing, carefully hiding behind his New York Daily News. Ira was opening a pack of Wrigley’s, and Louie tried to note the stations from the blur of signposts in the windows.

Finally the train began to slow and eventually came to a stop at the Wall Street station. Birnbaum stepped off, Louie was right behind him, and as they ascended up onto street level, Louie checked his watch.

Looking up from his watch, Doc noted Louie was twenty minutes late with his call. McKeowen made a decision to walk around the corner to Church Street and chance an intercept with Birnbaum.

Doc was annoyed, but not really angry with Louie. He had long since taught himself to control his anger where friends and family were concerned. He thought about his father telling him not to join the force, and how the discussions about medical school gradually deteriorated into shouting matches.

Turning the corner onto Church Street Doc was struck with a strong cool breeze. Glancing across the street, he shook his head and fought back a smile. There was Louie, standing in a phone booth, stamping his feet to keep warm, and dialling the phone. As Doc crossed the street, and walked up to the phone booth, he could hear Louie giving someone on the other end a physical description and asking for Mr. McKeowen.

Doc rapped on the glass and Louie half turned, covering the receiver with his hand, while yelling to the intruder.

“Sorry pal! Find another phone. This one’s . . . hi Doc.”

“Hello Mr. Tracy.” Louie slowly hung up and stumbled out of the booth. “Where’s Birnbaum?”

“He’s in there.” Louie pointed to the marble façaded Art Deco building across the street. A large double glass door served as the entrance to the multi-story structure and the lobby could be seen through the glass. The number “90” was smartly lettered in gold leaf above, on the transom.

“How long ago did he go in?”

“Exactly one minute and seventeen seconds.” Louie held his sleeve pulled up over his watch and hoped the precise time he tried to bullshit Doc with would carry some weight.

“Alright, I’ll go check on Birnbaum. You go back to the office and see what you can find out about 90 Church Street, start with who owns the property. Call down to the city engineer’s office and ask for the grid and plot number on the city plan for the Federal Building. When you get that info, cross reference the owners in the City Property Guide and the phone book. Maybe we can find this guy's department. You got all that?”

“Doc I’m sorry about mucking up the tail.”

“Don't sweat it. You remembered the first two rules of a successful tail. Find out where he’s going, and never let them see you up close.” Louie looked down at he ground. “Now go back to the shop, get that info and wait for my call.”

To be sure Birnbaum was clear of the lobby Doc took his time crossing the street. Once on the other side, he turned down the fur collar of his brown leather bomber jacket and stuffed his ball cap into his back pocket.  Approaching the entrance at an angle, he looked up and down the street, then swung through the glass doors.

He was immediately surprised by the size of the lobby and how sparsely decorated it was. However, he was more surprised to see Birnbaum being fussed over by a beautiful, well dressed auburn haired woman who easily stood eight or nine inches above the old man. Doc pretended to ring for the elevator, as he continued to keep tabs on the couple standing beside the large, marbled reception desk. The lift hit the ground floor, the doors opened and Doc stepped off to the side to tie his already tied shoelace. After about a minute of fussing over his tie and jacket, the women kissed Birnbaum on his balding head and bade him goodbye.

“Son-of-a-bitch! At least the old guy's got taste.” Doc mumbled to himself. Watching the woman walk around and take a seat behind the reception desk, he saw Birnbaum disappear through a pair of doors at the end of the hall. Doc decided to roll the dice.

Approaching the desk, he could hear the auburn haired woman, who was obviously the receptionist, having trouble with some of the plugs on the switch board, occasionally jiggling them to get a more clear connection. Shirley noticed Doc first, and nudged Nikki.

“Having trouble with your connections, Miss?” She gave him an annoyed look as she answered another call, still having to jiggle the cable and hold it to hear clearly.       When she finished, he spoke again.

“We have the same type of switchboard in my office. Usually it’s just a loose jack plug.” Doc said, eyeing the board and cables over the counter top. Shirley stopped typing, and swung around in her chair to face Doc and Nikki. With both arms Doc leaned forward on the marble top.

“Funny, I wouldn’t have pegged you for the type who knew a lot about equipment.” Nikki responded.

Leaning over the desk, Doc took one of the plugs and held it up, pretending to study it.

“You’d better be careful. Some of this equipment is pretty old.” Nikki addressed Doc in a condescending tone.

“Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it don't work good. Besides, once something's aged a bit, it usually . . . fits in better." Shirley grabbed her mouth and pinched her nose to suppress a laugh. "With it's job, I mean .” He fiddled with the end of the phone cable.

“I’m told the newer models function better.” Nikki folded her arms across her chest as she spoke. Doc continued to inspect the cable.

“Maybe, but they usually don’t stand up as long.” Twisting the brass jack plug and the cable in opposite directions, he tightened the brass jacket clamp around the cable.

“There you are Miss. Good as new.” Doc returned the cable to it’s position, purposely leaning too far over the desk, and making direct eye contact with Nikki.

“All they need is to be handled every once in a while. Like it says in the instructions.”

“You want me to buzz him?” Shirley asked, moving closer to the secret red button.

“Not yet Shirl.” She spoke to the typist without breaking eye contact with Doc. “Why do I get the feeling you’re the kind’a guy doesn’t follow instructions very well?”

“Rarely need them. Always know where all the parts go.”

"Lemme buzz hiz ass!" Shirley chomped at the bit with her finger on the button. Nikki raised a hand.

“What exactly is it I can do for you? Mr. . .”

“McKeowen, Mike McKeowen. My friends call me Doc.”

“What exactly is it I can do for you, Mr. McKeowen?”

“That little fella that just came in?”

“Ira Birnbaum?”     

“Yeah, Birnbaum. Does he work here?”       

“He’s our mail clerk. Who wants to know?”

“Just curious.”

“Yeah, and I was born during the day. But it wasn’t yesterday. What’s the story? You a cop?” Nikki was genuinely curious. Doc just became a little more interesting.

“No, I’m not a cop. Does he always work odd hours?”

“No more than the rest of us since the war started.”

Since Pearl Harbor! Doc realized.

“Well if you’re not a cop, and you’re not investigatin’ for the D. A., who are you?”

“Who says I’m not with the D. A.?”

‘‘Because if you were, first thing you would’a done was flash your badge to show me what a big man you were. Then you would’a tried pressuring me into answering your questions after I told ya ta take a flyin’ leap fer hittin’ on me. And for a grand finale, you’d threaten me with some arcane law like you were some kind’a Bey or something.”

Doc was unprepared for the barrage, but found it entertaining.

“Sorry, just thought I knew the little guy. My mistake. I was looking for the Woolworth Building.”

“So you’re a private investigator.”

“I’m impressed.” And he was.

“You’re a P. I., and you’re following Ira ta see if he’s fooling around on his wife.” This girl was a little too cocky, she knew something.                                 

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“Well is he?” Doc persisted.

“You’re pullin’ my leg!”

“No. But it would be a nice start.”

“Das it! Buzz time!” Shirley was growing more anxious to see the two Marine guards escort Doc out.

"Relax, Shirl. He's harmless. Just a little confused."

"So I can't buzz 'im?"

“Not yet. But keep your finger ready.” Shirley raised her hand and started repeating a finger exercise while glaring at Doc. Nikki leaned forward and put both arms on her desk to get a running start at Doc before she pounced.

“Go back and tell that ungrateful old bat that man was offered retirement two years before the war broke out. But because he’s the only one with a Top Secret clearance he volunteered to stay on until they could get someone else in there.”

“Easy sister! Don’t go breathing fire at me. That old bat, as you called her, sits at home all day cryin’ her eyes out wondering what the hell he’s doing. Just because these two people have been around since Christ was a corporal doesn’t mean they’re made of stone you know!” Nikki sat back in her chair. Shirley was impressed and lowered her finger.

“You got a point, I guess. I never really thought about her end of it.” Nikki was touched by Doc’s defending Ira’s wife.

“Look, I’m sure they’re both good eggs. But there’s no way they could have been prepared for this. Howz about I go back and tell Norma that he’s not foolin’ around and if you feel you know him well enough, maybe you could mention that he ought’a let the wife in on the scoop down here. Fair deal?”

“Is that her name? Norma?” Nikki was subdued as she realized in all the time she knew Ira, she never asked his wife's name.

“Yes. Fair deal, Miss . . . ?” Doc held his hand out across the counter top.

“Fair deal, Mr. McKeowen. Miss Cole, my name is Miss Cole.” She shook his hand.

“Her name is Nikki. And she’s here Monday to Friday, eight to six and Saturday till noon every other week.” Shirley blurted out as she suddenly lost her enthusiasm to buzz Doc.

“Sounds like you got a great agent there.” Doc nodded at Shirley as he backed away from the reception desk. “You’ll be playin’ Radio City before you know it.”

“Yeah! Shirley the agent.” Nikki was embarrassed and made a mental note to give Shirley a good balling out later. Someone entered through the front door as Doc was preparing to leave.

“Thank you for your help ladies. It was a pleasure to meet you Miss Cole. And you too Shirley The Agent. Careful with that finger.” Doc turned to leave. Nikki watched him turn up his collar and don his ball cap as he passed through the door.

“Girl! You should’a got his number!” Shirley said, slapping Nikki on the arm.

“I got his number when he walked in here!” Nikki held up te swear jar and Shirley dug through her purse.

“He ain’t no Alan Ladd but he got potential!” Shirley droped the nickle in through the slot cut in the cap.

The man who had entered the building was now standing at the elevators when Doc passed him. It was Treasury Agent Johnson, and after watching Doc leave, he walked over to the two girls who were once again engaged in their work, or at least tried hard to look like they were.

“Who was that?” He asked in his best casual manner, dripping with suspicion.

“A guy.” Nikki replied to Johnson, without looking up.

“What guy? What’d he want?”

“He was looking for the Woolworth Building.” Both girls, as did all of the girls before them, found Johnson repulsive. Nikki once reckoned, during a girls night out, that if John Merrick were a woman he still wouldn’t have dated agent Johnson.

“A little late for Christmas shopping, wouldn’t you say?”

“Look, agent Johnson. I ain’t baby-sitting’ the guy, just givin’ him directions. Ya know?” Nikki’s tone was clear, even to Johnson, that the conversation was over. Her switchboard buzzed and she took the call. Johnson was looking at Shirley, and continued to impose himself.

“Speaking of dating, when are we gonna get together, sweetheart?”

Shirley refused to call him by his official title. “Mr. Johnson, we’ve had this conversation before. I don’t date married men. Especially ugly married men.”

Johnson got the hint and meandered back towards the elevators. As soon he was out of earshot, Shirley spoke to Nikki.

“He’s got to be the only guy on the planet sufferin’ from penis envy!”

“Jeez Shirl, how do you really feel?”

Back around the corner, in the ornate lobby of the Woolworth Building, Doc called Louie and relayed what he had found out. Louie in turn informed Doc that the location was a Federal building, filled with civilian offices, except for a few which were Navy. Louie said he had a complete list of all the departments, but Doc didn’t have the heart to tell him that his efforts were wasted. It looked like Ira was on the level. He told Louie he would see him back at the office after lunch and that he would call Mrs. Birnbaum himself.

“Oh, and Louie one more thing.”

“What is it Doc?”

“Go downstairs to 2C, guy in there's a lawyer. They got an unabridged Webster's. Find out what the hell a ‘bey’ is, will ya?”


CHAPTER NINE

 

 

Commander Haffenden wasted no time in launching “Operation Underworld”. Lanza’s tentative consent to cooperate was more than enough to draw up plans, requisition agents and supplies, and to establish a base of operations along with a channel of covert communications. So by the time things appeared to have cleared the D. A.’s office, and Lanza gave the Navy his okay, the ball was rolling within 24 hours.

In the beginning there would be three basic areas of operations. The fishing boats, over which Lanza had virtual control, the retail and shipping, that is the life line from the boats to the markets, over which he had a large measure of control and the docks and warehouses, over which he had a little control, providing they were related to the fishing industry.

Socks would handle all the field operations on his side, Haffenden would control all his agents, and the only two who would know about the operation as a whole would be Lanza and Haffenden. At least that’s what Lanza was told. However, for the moment, both parties had a vested interest in excluding the D. A. to as great an extent as possible.

Lanza had to conceal his involvement in order to avoid exposing the extent of his operation if he were to stay in business. A valuable lesson he learned from the Boss.

One of the cornerstones of Luciano’s success was the code of silence. Not the keep your mouth shut while sitting under a hot police lamp and being slapped around code of silence, although that went without saying. Instead it was the ability to isolate information from everyone except those with the absolute need to know. Combine this with the uncanny ability to keep locations and extents of specific operations secret, and the results spoke for themselves.

For example, a quarter of a century after Luciano’s deportation in 1945 local, state and federal officials, in one investigation after another as well as in sworn testimony, continued to give vastly conflicting stories concerning him and his operations. These incongruities even exist as a matter of Congressional record.

Luciano shared a hotel suite with the Head of the Democratic Committee at the National Convention in Chicago in 1932, the year FDR won. The same FDR who, earlier as governor of New York pardoned over sixty of Luciano’s associates from Federal prison, most of whom were drug trafficking offenders.

Haffenden had as much at stake as Lanza. Although he was internationally renowned for his work in intelligence, having been the subject of numerous books and articles, he was in a new ballpark concerning domestic saboteurs. The world of international espionage had changed drastically since his first tour of duty in 1917 back when, incredibly enough, few of the Naval Staff and none of the Army Staff Officers put any credence whatsoever in the burgeoning area of military intelligence. It wasn’t even mentioned in an official capacity at the war colleges.

The prevailing attitude towards the subject was amply demonstrated by the story of a British Colonel who, in the First World War, was presented with intercepted German dispatches. The officer ordered them promptly returned, unopened commenting, “Gentlemen don’t read other gentlemen’s post.”

However, that was a quarter of a century ago, and things had changed. Virtually every major operation of the Second World War, on both sides, depended on available intelligence prior to launch. In addition, as the war dragged on, an even more valuable strategy was adopted. Namely, that of supplying the other side with false intelligence. It was a much more complicated game now, and as a consequence, Haffenden intended to isolate information from everyone except those who had an absolute need to know.

The first order of business was for Socks to meet with the Commander and get a list of his needs. This happened the next day, and the meet was brief, as initially needs were simple. Get as many eyes and ears as were available on station, as soon as possible.

The next step was for Socks to get a list of contacts together to allow him to begin placing operatives into key positions. In as much as the primary concern was to nab the enemy agents and potential saboteurs who were re-supplying the U-Boats, the docks and the fishing boats had priority.

Naval Intelligence agents were scattered around on the fishing vessels, by being passed off as a friend of a friend, or somebody’s cousin on his mother’s side. Naturally preference was given to personnel who had fishing experience and/or grew up in the local New York districts, “On account’a day could tawk da right way”.

Stationing agents with the fishing fleet had at least two unexpected side effects. One good, and one that would eventually counteract all their efforts at keeping the operation secret.

Prior to the onset of the project, it was not inconceivable for the shipping agents, civilian authorities or the U. S. Navy to have to wait weeks or even months to find out if a ship had been lost at sea. Whether lost to severe sailing conditions or, as was more often the case, the Wolf Packs, this delay in information was a serious hindrance to the flow of supplies.

With trained agents out on the water armed with radios, bad news of the loss of a vessel could be relayed much sooner. Wreckage could be identified, or in rare cases survivors rescued. In the even more remote instances, if discovered soon enough, “alert aircraft” could be launched and the offending U-Boat sought out.

The negative effect was both inevitable and unforeseen. Fishing boats, like all small sea-going craft, can only accommodate a given number of individuals. One agent goes on, one fisherman comes off.

In time of war, with money tight, rationing and the seasonal nature of fishing, being put off the boat made for some unhappy people. This combined with the bulky radio gear required on board, made it nearly impossible to keep the Top Secret operation covert. Within a couple of weeks everyone on the docks knew something was going on.

After the first month, the operation was going well, in terms of logistics. In terms of effectiveness well, that was an interesting question. Were the designers of Operation Underworld not catching any saboteurs because they were scaring them away, or were they not catching any because the secret was out?

 Haffenden and his men, for the most part, were in uncharted waters. American intelligence gathering capability lagged far behind that of the warring nations and many elements in the Federal government was very slow to understand the significance of it.

Despite Intelligence gathered in the pre-war years indicating the Japanese were amassing a hostile naval force, the American politicians still went so far as to prosecute and punish visionaries such as Billy Mitchell. To compound Haffenden’s problems, none of the allies were sharing information.

For example, later in the war, when the Allies realized that the first nation with an atomic bomb would win, heavy water became the priority. So, one moon lit night, in a French harbour, a team of O. S. S. operatives paddled their rubber boats toward a freighter anchored in a slip. On board the freighter was Hitler’s last significant supply of tritium. As they made final preparations to mine and sink the ship, it exploded, burned and sank right before their eyes. In the sullen moonlight, the O. S. S. operatives sat dumbfounded as they watched three canoes paddling away from the burning hulk. Klapper canoes, the hallmark vessels of the British S. O. E.

Whatever the reasons, the early stages of the operation were not very successful. At the same time, expanding out into the shipping branches of the fishing trade, such as the trucking industry, the project demanded more contacts and consumed more territory and resources. Socks complied and set it up by helping extend the net starting with trucking company owners, dispatchers and in some cases enlisting the help of small independents whom he would normally attempt to put out of business, promising to lay off if they helped out.

Riding trucks all day helped the operatives to learn their way around, but did little to put them in close touch with any potential enemy agents. Unknown to any of the players, involvement with the trucking unions would also initiate a development in the operation which would have an unforeseen impact.

Infiltration of the docks was a much more complicated affair. Lanza’s influence was limited to those areas where the fishing industry flourished. With such a complicated network of waterfronts as exists in New York Harbor, no one person or entity could control it all. With five boroughs on the New York side, plus Long Island and seven cities on the Jersey side, the linear area alone was mind boggling. This did not take into account the New England states or the states further south such as Delaware and Maryland, and, at the time, the Fulton Street Market shipped as far south as the Carolinas.

Agents however, were placed on the accessible piers and adjoining areas, and for a short time, a routine developed. Communication was primarily by phone, and operatives checked in with Haffenden on a rotational basis. They were assigned and reassigned as needed and information was recorded.

The primary record of the secret codes, contact locations and most importantly, the names of those involved, was Commander Haffenden’s “little black book”. This book was supposed to stay on his person at all times. At least that was the S. O. P. for classified materials at the time. It was officially known as “chain of custody”. In other words who had it last?

However, like a McGuffin in a Hitchcock film, the little black book was destined to impose a significant emotional event on the lives of more than one player in Operation Underworld. It wouldn’t turn out to be the stuff dreams were made of.

Codes for the members of Lanza’s crew were really not required. At least not new ones. They all had their passwords, known locations and contacts in place long before the war. In fact, these men had been effectively been at war since 1931. A ten year jump on the Navy.

One interesting code that did evolve, however, was the password used when one Mob member wanted another Mob member to know he was in on the operation.

“I’m working for the Commander”, became the verbal high sign between them.

Not long into the operation, the load began to show on Lanza. In addition to his indictment, and the time he was devoting to the Navy’s business instead of his own, a third factor began to compound his life which he had not banked on.

It first hit him one afternoon at Morrelli’s Restaurant on the corner of Mott and Hester Streets. He was having lunch with a couple of representatives from the Brooklyn docks, one of the locations where he had no influence. Haffenden wanted to get some men over there to snoop around the shipping piers. Lanza told the Commander he would see what he could do, and instead of contacting the Camardo brothers directly, Socks thought it wiser to use intermediaries.

The Winter air was frigid but the crystal clear Manhattan sky allowed the sun to impose a comfortable greenhouse effect on the area just inside the restaurant window. The intoxicating aromas of sauces and pastries floated gently throughout the small room, and a thin veil of cigarette smoke, highlighted by the sun’s rays, lingered in the corner to give a Hopper-esque quality to the three men sitting at the four seat table.

Under the cloud of spent tobacco, the larger of the three men ate as if it were his last meal and, increasingly agitated by the shrill scraping of the knife and fork of the big man’s plate, Lanza snubbed out his cigarette and broke the silence.

“So whata ya tellin’ me Jimmy? I’m no good no more?” Socks looked Jimmy square in the eye, who twirled his empty cup of demitasse.

“I ain’t sayin’ you’re no good Socks! It’s just that a lot a the guys are a little edgy right now, that’s all.” Jimmy’s words were compelled to escape in between mouthfuls of primavera. He hoped that Lanza would get the picture without him having to spell it out.

“This guy’s straight up, I’m tellin’ ya. You can talk to him yerself. He’s got guys all over the place. The docks, on trucks, on the boats.”

“That’s exactly the problem, Socks. Feds all over the place. A lotta people don’t think that’s such a good idea, ya know?” A waiter approached the table from the side just as Socks let go on Jimmy.

“They ain’t Feds! They’re Navy!” Lanza kept his voice down, but let his growing irritation seep through. The young boy detoured to the other side of the room.

Jimmy looked at the other man at the table who had been sitting in silence since the start of the meal. It was tradition to politely avoid talk of business until after the meal, and so up until now he only engaged in chit chat. He accepted the signal from Jimmy, and took over the conversation.

“Socks, I gotta give it to ya straight. There’s talk'a you makin’ deals.”

“Deals wit who?!” He was coming to a slow boil. Not because of the accusation, it really wasn’t an accusation. If the Camardos said they heard rumors, then there were rumors. And Lanza was pretty sure he knew the source.          

“The D. A. Some guys got it figured that you cut a deal ta let the Feds in on some of the operations, so they’d go lighter on ya.”

“They ain’t fuckin’ Feds! They’re United States fuckin’ Navy!”

“Navy, D. A., Treasury, they’re all the law Socks.” Frankie spoke in a controlled tone, and Socks began to see the futility of his argument. It was a tactic as old as the frontal assault, but a lot less risky for the accuser. Once you were put on the defensive with a simple accusation, no matter what you said, you sounded guilty by virtue of the fact you were defending yourself. No substantiation or real evidence was needed.

“Does the D. A. know about this little party?” Lanza certainly couldn’t lie about that. Frankie would never have asked if he didn’t already know the answer.

“Dem D. A.’s are only there for one thing, Socks. Ta become politicians. We got Soldiers, Lieutenants, Captains, and a Boss, they got Assistant D. A.'s, D. A.'s, Attorney Generals and Governors. Look at Roosevelt. Sure he helped us out when he was Gov’ner, but what the hell, was mostly our money got him elected.”  His partner was moved to chime in.

“Better than that little worm Dewey. Frames Lucky, buys the judge and Charlie goes up for fifty years fer a crime ain’t worth ten! Am I right Socks or am I right? Tell me. You agree or not?”

“Yeah, I get yer point. Now, you look me in the eye and tell me you think I’m a fink.” Lanza knew he risked Frankie’s friendship with this challenge, but he was too frustrated to care.

“Socks, it don’t matter what I think . . .”

“Look me in the fuckin’ eye and tell me you think I’m a fuckin’ fink!!” Lanza was leaning over the table now, only inches from Frankie’s face and staring him straight in the eyes.

Jimmy instinctively reached under the left breast of his jacket. Frankie reached over to lay his hand on Jimmy’s forearm. Frankie kept eye contact with Socks, and pointing his index finger, replied.

“I don’t think you’re sellin’ out Joey. I wouldn’t never peg you for a fink. Never. But lettin’ this D. A. in on operations is bad business.” Lanza at last felt some relief and fell back in his chair. He took a deep breath, let it out and peered across the table at Jimmy.

“What the fuck was you doin’? Scratchin’ ya tit?” He asked with half a smile.

“Socks, look here. You want the Camardos involved, you know who’s okay you gotta get? Right?” Lanza didn’t answer right away. “Are we okay? Socks! Are we okay or what?” Frankie prodded.

“Charlie would never deal with these bastards. Not after what they done ta him in court.” Socks replied, reaching for the check. “Yeah, we’re okay. But do me a favor, will ya? Frankie nodded a 'What?'

“Next time leave this big prick home will ya? He eats like a fuckin' horse!!”

 

Operation Underworld by Paddy Kelly

About The Book

February, 1942. Free China is lost, the Battle of Britain has been fought and Hitler dines in Paris. World War II is nearly three years old, however the United States resists involvement. With an invitation from the Imperial Japanese Navy at Pearl Harbor everything changes. In her first ten months of the war nearly 500 American ships are lost. The retooling of Her factories is estimated to take at least a year, and even before it is completed, the men who work in those factories must become Marines, sailors and soldiers. The U.S. Navy is behind the eight ball, big time. They need help. To compound their problems, the most famous luxury liner in the world, T. L. S. Normandie, has just been set alight and burned to the water-line in New York Harbor initiating wide spread hysteria in fear of German saboteurs. All originating from a misguided sense of desperation, and a well planned feign. Meanwhile, “The Boss of Bosses”, Lucky Luciano at age 45, is serving a thirty to fifty year sentence in a maximum security prison in upstate New York. In one of the most ironic decisions of the war, the Federal Government requests the founder of organized crime, Lucky Luciano, to join forces with America’s most secret service, Naval Intelligence. Luciano, has been sentenced to life in prison for a crime that warrants ten years, and is concurrently fighting deportation to an enemy nation where he will certainly be put to death, when he is asked to help the government who condemned him. In addition, he is told he must remain in prison with no chance for compensation or parole. Mike ’Doc’ McKeowen, a New York P. I., leads us through the story. Doc just wants to get his life back on track after his business partner ran off with all the top clients, and a long and painful divorce drained him of his house, his family and his dignity. Fate may have a plan for Doc, but he can’t figure out what the hell it is. Whether you believe the link between the Federal Government and organized crime is a slender thread, or as Mario Puzo wrote, ’. . . contemporary America, where law and organized crime are one and the same.’, you will learn how the foundation of the international drug cartel was laid. You will come to appreciate the saying, ‘Due Facce della stessa Medaliglia’. Crime and politics, two sides of the same coin. Titanic was an act of carelessness. Lusitania was an act of war. Normandie was an act of genius. Reviews and more information here: CLICK FOR INFO

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Normandie Pier 88

Operation Underworld
(Paddy Kelly)

The serialised version of this outstanding novel

Part Three

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Operation Underworld

CHAPTER SIX

 

 

Louie shook his head as he knocked firmly on the door of suite #32. The glass panel read, “We Peep While Others Sleep”. That Sammon was an asshole. Louie elicited no response from inside so he tried again.

“Come on Doc, open up, it’s not a process server.”

Pasquale Louige Mancino not only disliked the sacred sense of tradition his family tried to shackle him with, he despised it. He hated the tortuously long Sunday linguine suppers. He hated the language that Americans did not speak, and he hated that all the gangsters in the movies were Italian. But most of all he hated his name. Why couldn’t he be Wayne or Lamont or Kent? Or some other dashing name. Why was he burdened with the name of some dead uncle he never met?

Growing up he didn’t understand why the other kids called him WOP, meatball or spaghetti bender, but he knew it wasn’t complimentary. So after three or four black eyes and a twice broken nose, the kids at St. Matthew’s got the idea that he wanted to be called Louie.

He hated the gangsters. He hated the punks who acted like gangsters. He hated that everyone thought he was connected because he had an Italian name. He was careful never to actually say he was connected. Of course, he was just as careful to never deny it either. All he wanted was to be a P. I. and to be called Louie. Louie the P. I. Another month of night classes and he could take his state exam.

Louie Mancino, Private Investigator.

That’s why he liked Doc. Doc treated him as an equal and made a deal with him. As soon as he finished his courses at City College in March, he could work out of the office, on his own cases, and out of all the rotten things people said about Doc, not one of them could ever say he broke his word. Not unless they wanted to look stupid.

“Come on Doc, open up. I got some good news. I know you’re in there, I can smell you through . . . the . . . SHIT!”

The words were not yet out of Mancino’s mouth when he saw them. Three bullet holes in the hall wall to the left of the door. Not a tight little shot pattern either, but spread out as if there had been a struggle. A cold chill ran up his spine, and he banged harder on the door with no luck. Then he remembered.

Louie raced down the hall as fast as his green and orange bowling shoes would let him and slid to a halt in front of the fire hose cabinet. He ripped the door open and the glass shattered with the impact of hitting the wall. He was horrified to see the outline in dust of where the spare key used to be.

“Must be how the bastards got in!” He surmised.

Sliding back to the office door, Louie The P.I. fought down a feeling of panic as he tried to think clearly. The glass! Removing his coat to reveal his white and blue bowling shirt, he wrapped it around his fist. Closing his eyes, Louie punched through the glass panel on the office door. As the shards of glass fell to the floor, he opened his eyes one at a time to see if there was any bleeding. His sense of satisfaction at not seeing blood however seeped away as the unlocked door slowly swung open. Halfway it hit a piece of over turned furniture. He was aghast at the condition of the office.

The floor was completely covered in broken furniture and debris. Doc’s left foot peering out from under the desk re-ignited Louie’s sense of urgency and he fought his way to the corner of the room to where Doc was laying, face down.  Reaching Doc’s body, he slowly rolled the limp form over.

“Tell me you’re breathin’ buddy! Tell me you’re breathin’!”

“Come on Doc wake up . . . wake up! You can’t check out yet . . . I ain’t solved my first case!” Louie searched the body for wounds. Doc moaned, and his eyes opened gingerly as he watched the ceiling slowly come into focus.

“Where the hell . . . shit! My head! Louie? What the hell you doing here?” Doc breathed onto his friend. Louie gagged and recoiled with a wince.

“Jesus Christ Doc! You smell like the Jersey Meadowlands in July!!” Doc sat up holding his head with one hand looking around the room.

“You okay?”

You mean except for this god damned excavation crew drilling through my brain?"

"Doc I'm serious! You okay?" Doc shrugged off Louie's help.

“Of course I’m okay! Why wouldn't be okay?”

“I mean like you got any extra holes?” Doc smirked.

“Nah! I’m okay.” Righting his chair he eased himself into it, gingerly holding his head with both hands.

“Louie! Why the hell’d ja break the glass? I left the door open for ya!”

“Uhh . . . It was stuck. Doc, what the hell happened here last night?”

“Ahhh. I just had to talk things out with Mary. Sort’a get it off my chest, ya know.” Louie, noticed the bullet holes were roughly in line with Mary’s photograph and began to lose his patience.

“Jesus Christ Doc! Didn't that letter from the landlord sink in? You had a baptism last night, didn’t you?!”  

“Those courses are paying off already.” Doc said as he rose from the desk and made his way through the carnage to the sink. “How the hell can you be so thirsty the morning after the night you drank so much?” Doc asked to no one in particular.

“You got hammered last night and shot holes in the damn wall!” Louie pressed his point.

“I told you. I had to get it out of my system.” Doc maintained his patience. After the preceding week, it was reassuring to be back amongst friends. Even if they were beginning to sound like his ex-wife.

Now Louie had to get it out of his system.

“Ya know Doc, you’re not the first guy to get shit on by some broad over money. And I ain’t Nostradamus, but I think you probably ain’t gonna be the last!”

Doc, now at the sink, listened to his friend as he drank three glasses of water and ate a hand full of aspirin. Louie continued as he paced around the office.

“Life is how you want to see it, Doc. It’s either a burden or an opportunity. It’s what you make of it. Time to pick up the pieces and move on. No sense cryin’ over spilt milk. Water under the bridge, ya know? To quote Shakespeare, 'There’s other fish in the sea'.”

“LOUIE?!”

“What?”

“What’s your point?”

“Don’t be condensatin’, Doc! This ain’t funny! It's a good thing those offices across the hall are empty!”

“Thanks for caring man.” Doc continued to try and lighten the tone as he dried his face.

“I’m serious! There’s enuff local cops got it in fer you as it is, fer Christ’s sake. The only reason they keep givin’ you breaks is ‘cause’a your old man.” Louie nodded to the picture of the policeman on the shelf.

“Seriously Louie. I appreciate your friendship, I really do. Just lighten up on the bitchin' will ya?” Louie appeared to calm down, and Doc continued to wash up.

“Doc, it ain’t like I got an anterior motive or somethin’! I’m just worried about gettin’ you through this shit!” Louie’s client reports were always fun to read.

“Next thing you know you’ll be doin’ something really stupid like hoppin’ a plane to Miami and tryin’ ta get her ta’ come back to New York.” Mancino sat down at the desk and put his feet up. Doc put his towel down, and without looking at Louie went into the back to change his clothes. Louie immediately understood.

“Tell me you didn’t do something really stupid Doc!” There was no response from behind the partition. Looking down at the floor, Louie saw the pieces of torn ticket.

“You did! Didn’t you? You hopped a plane, you went to Florida and . . .” Louie was cut off in mid sentence as Doc burst through the partition door in a half buttoned shirt.

“I told you, god-damn it! I had to get it outta my system! And I did! So let’s drop it Louie! You made your god-damned point!!”

“But Doc! Shootin’ holes in the freakin’ wall . . .” He pleaded.

“I said DROP IT!! I’M OVER IT! She’s history! Yesterday’s news, a foot note in the archives! End of subject! Savvy?!” Louie was taken off guard by the intensity of Doc’s anger, and wasn't sure how to react. So he sat in silence behind the desk.

Doc continued to dress in front of the mirror. Louie continued to sit, and the awkwardness of the silence intensified. Doc finished tying his cravat and slumped over the sink holding his head in his hand in a vein attempt to reduce it to normal size. Louie spoke first.

“Hey Doc?”

“What?!” Turning to face Louie without lifting his head. Louie held up the empty whiskey bottle.

“Ya wanna go get a drink?”

“You’re a sick son-of-a-bitch Mancino! Ya know that?”

The tension gone out of the room, they both laughed.

“So is this why you came up here at the ungodly hour of noon? You felt sorry for me I didn’t have a wife any more, so you decided to take over as the pain in the ass in my life?”

Louie didn’t speak, but rose from the desk and as he made his way to the door produced a folded sheet of paper from his breast pocket and handed it to Doc. He continued across the room to the letter box on the inside of the front door.

Doc unfolded the paper and read aloud.

“Ira and Norma Birnbaum, apartment 2B, 127 East 64th. What the hell is this?”

“What the hell's it look like? It’s a client.” Louie said with a smug look on his face, knowing nothing had come into the office for over two weeks. Doc welcomed the work with guarded optimism.

“Who are they? What’s the skinny?”

“She’s Doris’ hairdresser, she’s a nice girl, you’ll get a kick out of her.”

“If she’s so nice why does she need us?”

“She thinks maybe her husband is screwin’ around on her, and she wants to know for sure.” Although he had no choice, Louie was tentative about giving this information to Doc. He knew how Doc felt about that alimony, divorce shit.

Louie was facing the door, so Doc didn’t see him mouth the words as he spoke.

“Oh Jesus Louie! You know I hate this alimony, divorce shit!”

Again Louie didn't answer. He reached into the same pocket and produced five, fifty dollar bills and laid them neatly on the desk. Doc stared, wide-eyed at the money.

“On the other hand, work is work. Where’d this come from?”

“I had her make the cheque out in my name. I didn’t know where the hell you were or when you’d be back. So I took a down payment and signed the case. I told her you’d call early next week.” Doc picked up the money.    

“Ya did good Louie.”          

“Ten per cent of that’s mine!”

Doc handed him a fifty. “Here. Go buy Doris a chocolate layer cake.”

Louie’s eyes lit up.

“Shit Doc! Thanks! You okay with this?”

“Shut up before I change my mind.”

“No problem!”

“This ain’t no gimme. You’re gonna work this case with me.”

“You serious?!” Louie was thrilled. “But I ain’t got my license!”

“You won’t need one. We follow the guy, find out who the girl is, take a few snaps, and show up for court. Clean and simple. What could happen?”

Doc was pleased to see Louie so excited. He would make a good P.I. There was an unspoken agreement that Louie would one day take over the agency.

“Louie . . . ah, sorry about flyin’ off the handle. I just want some peace and quiet, and ta get back to work.”

“Well, there you are partner. A nice simple client to ease you back into the saddle.” Louie was still holding the mail in his hand and Doc asked what was in it.

Shuffling through the four pieces, Louie recited. “A subpoena, the electric bill, another subpoena and an invite to join the Ancient Order Of Hibernians.” Louie couldn’t repress his smile as Doc shook his head.

“Give me that.”

Doc took the envelope from Louie and made his way around behind his desk. From a drawer he took a large rubber stamp and stamped the post in several places, 'Scottish! Not Irish!' Louie laughed as Doc handed him the solicitation and told him to put it back in the box.

“Louie?!” Doc flopped into his chair.

“Yeah?”

“How do you do it? I mean spend so much time away from Doris and still have such a healthy relationship after twelve years?”

“I dunno. I guess it’s . . . true love.” Louie said in a mocking voice.

“Bullshit! It’s ‘cause she’s horny all the time. That’s why you married her in the first place.”

“Yep. Body of a woman, sex drive of a man. Hell, only way it could be any better was if she was a rich mute and owned a liquor store.”

“Come on shit head! I’m tryn’ to be serious here! Emotionally what makes it work?”  

“Jesus Doc. You’re startin’ ta sound like those phoney letters in True Romance magazine.”

“Go to hell!”

“The truth?”

“Yeah, the truth.” Louie took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Than he sat down next to the desk and spoke in a serious tone.

“Doc, I love her so much that, that when I’m away from her . . . I’m so miserable I feel like she’s here.”

“I asked for it.”

 

***

 

The brass letters, '2B', were neatly polished and contrasted aesthetically against the black enamelled door of the apartment. Doc knocked, and to his surprise the door opened immediately, as far as the safety chain would allow, as if someone were standing there waiting for him. An elderly woman, maybe early seventies but spry, very short, undid the chain and opened the door. She was visibly upset. Doc rechecked the sheet of paper.

“Yes?” She inquired.

“I'm looking for Mrs. Birnbaum?”

“Yes?”

“Mrs. Norma Birnbaum?”

“Yes, that’s me.” The elderly woman held a tissue in one hand and spoke with a Jewish accent.

“I’m Mr. McKeowen. The detective.” Opening the door wider, she gestured for Doc to come in, then locked up behind him.    

The modestly decorated rooms were immaculate, and Doc thought about his office. Contributing to the feeling that he was visiting his grandmother’s house, was the fact that the air was saturated with the delicious aroma of some food which Doc did not recognise, simmering on the stove.

“Ah . . . Mrs. Birnbaum. You have a daughter, that wants to hire a private investigator?”

“No, I half no daughter.” If Louie screwed this up, I’ll brain him!

“I was told someone wishes me to investigate the possibility of . . . infidelity. That their husband may be having an extra-marital affair. Is there a woman in this building in that situation that you know of, Mrs. Birnbaum? Perhaps with another name?”

“Did your muther half a difficult delivery? I am Norma Birnbaum! I am da voman! Andt my husbant is cheatingt on me! Mit a rich, younger bimbo no less!” She spoke, making her way to the kitchen.

Doc was taken off guard. If this guy is anywhere near her age and is foolin’ around I gotta meet him!

“What makes you think Ira has been seeing someone else, Mrs. Birnbaum?”

“Dink? DINK?! I don't dink. I know! A voman knows dees dings. Since the war started! Maybe he wants to sow some vild oats, who knows? In case we’re invaded maybe! Come, sit!” They both took seats in the kitchen.

“What did you notice, since the war started? That made you suspicious, I mean?”

Mrs. Birnbaum explained as she stirred pots and made tea.

“The usual. Stayingt out late. Goink to verk at odd hours. Dinks like dat.”

“Has there been any money missing, say from his pay, or anything like that?” She shook her finger vigorously as she spoke.

“No! Dats how I know da little hussy is rich! He still gives me all his money, and den some! But he still has money to play mit da hoochie-coochie!” Norma embellished with pelvic gyrations.

“What does your husband do, Norma?”

“He is postal clerk. You know, for dee postal office.”

“So, he works at the 42nd Street Station?” Doc asked as he kept notes.

“No. Two years ago they give him promotion and easier job, down town. Soon, he retires. He is seventy-nine, you know! Andt still vorkingt! We promise each other he only vork until he is eighty. You know, that way we can spend last twenty years or so together.” Doc's eyes involuntarily widened.

“Well, it’s important to be optimistic. Your plans may still work out, Norma. How long have you and Ira been married?”

Mrs. Birnbaum stood up straight, and allowed her slight shoulders to set back ever so gently.

“Today is our anniversary! Fifty-seven years, two months, and seventeen days! Today!”

Jesus! I should live so long! Thought Doc.

“Well Norma, here’s what we’ll do. Why don’t you give me his work address. I’ll have a look around, and we’ll see if we can’t work this thing out.”

“I yust don’t vant I should lose my Ira, Mr. MackQuen.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, Norma.”

“He vas in da films you know. Da real films! Not dis talkies nonsense! He vas an actor! He vas friends mit Joelson!” She began to sob, and Doc got edgy. He was useless around crying women.

“Norma, I really need you to act as normal as possible, keep up your daily routines, and wait for me to get back to you. Okay?” He handed her a tissue from the box on the table. “Now what’s the address?”

“It’s on Church Street. Number ninety, Church Street.” He couldn't place it, but Doc recognised the address. “Here, eat some soup.”

“No thanks, Norma. I really need to . . . “

“Eat! Eat!”

Doc realised he was out gunned and gave in.


CHAPTER SEVEN

 

 

In 1936 Murray Gurfein was instrumental in the conviction of the Boss of Bosses, Charlie “Lucky” Luciano. This conviction, which resulted in a sentence roughly five times greater than any “normal” criminal would receive, was intended to put Luciano away for the rest of his life. It didn't.

Working with then D.A. Thomas Dewey, some of the tactics compelled many people to ask questions. In particular why the majority of the dozen or so witnesses they called, said nearly the same exact thing. Or why had the three key witnesses recanted their statements almost immediately after testifying and then signed sworn statements to that effect. Lastly there was the issue of perjury on the part of some of the witnesses for the prosecution, along with the D.A. threatening those very same witnesses with imprisonment if they did not testify as directed.

Of course there can be little doubt that the mobsters probably made some threats as well. But apparently Dewey’s boys threatened harder, and his political ambitions, of which he made no secret, were eventually fulfilled. He was able to buy the Governorship of New York.

Although Dewey’s shady victory was three years ago Gurfein, as head of the rackets division, had gotten nearly as much mileage out of Luciano’s conviction. And now it was time to meet another one of these hoodlums. Only this time Gurfein would not have the safety of a courtroom. He would meet him face to face, alone on his own turf. At midnight.

To complicate matters, he was going to ask this gangster for help. Even if he hadn’t been “asked” by the D.A. to do this, as head of the N. Y. C. Rackets Division it was his responsibility.

Murray had a problem. If he came back empty handed, it wouldn’t go well for his career. If he came back with something, he would probably have to make a deal. A deal he had no authorization to make.

Standing outside the City Hall, Gurfein held his watch towards a light post so the faint glow would allow him to read his watch dial in the winter darkness.

“Eleven forty-seven. Shit!” He thought to himself. Desperate to find a taxi to take him uptown, Gurfein stepped out into the street, and peered down town into the dim of the night. As if on cue, a cab pulled out from around the corner, and came to a stop in front of him.

Getting in through the back door he didn’t notice the “off duty” roof light was lit and, before he could get himself seated, he felt the cab pull away.

“103rd and Broadway.” He instructed the driver.

“I know.” Came the response. The lawyer wanted to ask questions, but thought better of it.

It was at least a twenty minute ride uptown, even without traffic, which gave Gurfein time to think. He nervously shifted his position several times before settling down and gazing out the window into the desolation of the Manhattan night.

Ah, what the hell? He reasoned to himself. If the hoods cooperate the D.A. looks good. If not, they look like what they are, a bunch of scum bags. If it all goes to shit somewhere down the line I can always say I was ordered by Hogan to do it, in spite of the fact I was repulsed by being told to do business with known criminals. He practised how to say repulsed, and make it believable.

Despite all of his self posturing, the thing he had the most difficulty dealing with was the possibility that anyone even remotely associated with the Mob may be shown, by their helping the War Department, to have any redeemable values.

As the taxi cruised up a deserted Central Park West passed the Museum of Natural History, Gurfein couldn’t help but think how the shadowy images of the park seemed appropriate for the mood. His mind drifted further, noting how the picturesque peacefulness engulfed the entire scene and how it would look in just a few hours as the morning sun broke over the tree line, soon be shattered by the brutality of rush hour traffic. 

As they passed into the nineties, one last chilling thought occurred to his active, worried imagination. Was there any chance the Navy intelligence people could have underestimated the current state of German technology? What if the U-Boats had a longer range and extended sea life than the government knew about? Unlikely, he reassured himself. America had the greatest scientific and military minds in the world. That’s how we beat them in the last war. Besides, the Krauts were essentially neutralized at Versailles.

These were the thoughts that raced through Gurfein’s mind as the cab rounded the corner and pulled to a halt at Broadway and 103rd. It was shortly after midnight, when he attempted to exit the vehicle but was blocked by two men getting in. It was Guerin and Lanza. Socks sat facing the two lawyers who in turn were sitting with their backs towards the rear of the taxi.

“Where’re we going?” Asked Gurfein nervously.

“Somewhere else.” Lanza quipped. Continuing on for another few blocks, the driver altered his northerly direction and turned west until they came to Riverside Park. Another right hand turn meant they were again heading uptown, and Guerin noticed a sign in the park as they drove by.

Grant’s Tomb Next Left.

“You’re a regular Bob Fuckin’ Hope, Lanza.” Guerin cracked. Socks smiled. Gurfein looked puzzled.

 After pulling into the park just south of the memorial, the three men got out. Lanza paid a twenty, and deliberately waited until the two lawyers were out of earshot before telling the driver to go over to Amsterdam Avenue and wait.

Lanza walked past the others and across the narrow stretch of park to the wrought iron fence overlooking the Hudson River. The lawyers followed and when they reached Lanza, Guerin stepped off to one side to allow his client and the D.A.’s representative to talk. Gurfein immediately began to paint the picture for Socks.

“Here’s the story Socks . . .”

“It’s Mr. Lanza.” Off to a good start, thought Guerin standing on the sidelines lighting a smoke.

“The Navy needs our help. They been losing supply ships left, right and center to the U-Boats. They don’t think the subs can stay out that long or that the Krauts have enough of them to keep rotating their Wolf Packs.”

Socks glanced at Guerin, then back at Gurfein. It was too hard to swallow. The U.S. Navy looking for Socks Lanza to come to the rescue? Even with a war on, there’s not a chance in hell they would want to get Mob guys mixed up in a legitimate operation. The D.A.’s up to something.

“So?”

“So, they think the Krauts are being supplied from here. By a network or something.”

“You try’n ta tell me you think some’a my guys are supply'n Nazi’s!?”

“No. But such an operation would take an organized network and a fair amount of logistics. These guys would need fresh water, food, fuel, medicine and god knows what else. This wouldn’t be any nickel dime operation.”

“So whatta ya want from me?”

“They can’t find any leads.”

“So why don't you guys do what you always do? Frame somebody. Or you askin’ me ta play spy?”

“Not exactly. The Navy wants to place agents on the boats, trucks and in the markets.”

“Fuck you!” Lanza backed away as he exploded with anger. Guerin was startled. “I was born durin' the fuckin' day, but it wasn't fuckin' yesterday!” He turned to a startled Guerin. “Can you believe this shit?! This prick wants to put Feds inside my operation!”

“Socks, calm down!” Guerin threw down his cigarette and walked over to his client. “Calm down, damn it!”

“This bastard wants to put cops in my market! Can you believe the cahoons on this guy?!”

“Don’t be stupid! He’s got nothing to do with it. If you agree to help you’ll deal straight with the Navy. No one else.” Guerin reasoned with Lanza. Socks looked at both of them and then again at Guerin. He began to settle down. As much as any man could, he trusted his lawyer.

“How do I know they won’t be Feds?” He asked.

“If they are, or if the D.A. tries to sneak a Fed in, anything they obtain, or try to obtain will be inadmissible. Besides, if you want I can have them checked out.” The two lawyers exchanged glances. “But I’m telling you, I met the Navy guy you’re going to be dealing with. He's on the square.”

“Is he ex-cop?” He wanted as clear a picture as possible.

“No. Strictly intelligence work.” Guerin reassured him.

Socks walked around a little in small irregular circles and lit a cigarette.

“You’d be doing your country a great service.” Prodded Gurfein.       

“Yeah, wouldn’t hurt your career either, would it councillor?” Socks was told that not only would he not be given any consideration for his help, but that it would probably not even be permitted to be brought up at his upcoming trial. There was nothing that Gurfein or Hogan were going to do to jeopardize a conviction. His lawyer made one last plea.

“Socks I’m tellin’ ya. It’s on the level.” Socks stood, hands in pockets assessing the two lawyers.

“I’ll call you in a day or so. I’ll see what I can do.” With the sparkling lights of the Jersey shoreline at his back Lanza slowly walked away . He headed in the direction of Amsterdam Avenue when he stopped and turned.

“Hey, Guerin! You comin’?”

Turning to Gurfein as he walked away, Guerin said, “Don’t worry, he’ll do it. He’s got no choice.” The lawyer caught up with Lanza.

“Look, I don’t want to call that prick. I want to deal with this Navy guy, what’s his name?”

“Haffenden, Commander Haffenden.”

“Hey!” It was Gurfein calling after the other two men who were by now across the street. “How am I supposed to get back down town?”

“Call a cab!” Socks suggested, and then continued walking.

“You know, he could lean on you pretty heavy at the trial.” Counselled Guerin.

“You think for a second he’s gonna play Mr. Nice Guy? Let me tell you somethin', when guys like that develop political ambitions, they find ways to bend the law and then go around tellin’ people it’s ta fight crime. Then, after they get away with it a’nuff times, comes the delusions of grandeur and invincibility! Then it's only a small step to ignoring the law altogether.”

“Voice of experience talking, Joey?”

“Basta conoscerne uno, per conoscerli tuti. Ya seen one, ya seen ‘em all! Capito?”

The two figures faded into the dark mist.

 

***

 

The next morning the two figures of Socks Lanza and Guerin emerged from the bright sunlight and passed through the large, revolving brass doors into the palatial lobby of the Hotel Astor. Outside the New York winter air was crisp and cold, but inside the elaborate lobby it was a warm, comfortable and lush. An atmosphere neither man was stranger to.

The immaculate detail and spaciousness of the vestibule was impeccable. Plush, intricately woven, red and gold carpet was bordered with black rope and ran snuggly into the richly stained and varnished mahogany baseboard. The walls were a combination of paper and paint, coloured in soft maroon and eggshell. The ceilings of heavily moulded plaster reliefs, were ornamented with massive, gold plated chandeliers large enough to require a crew of ten men to install. Once on the inner borders of the huge, rotating, brass plated doors, save for the attire of the guests scattered about the lobby, one would think it was still 1870.

The two men made their way to the staircase on the left and ascended to the mezzanine level. Although this was not Lanza’s first time in the Astor, he was forced to think to himself as he looked around for sentries. “If this is a set-up, they’re sure goin’ whole hog!” Owing to the sizes of the suites on the mezzanine level, there were a limited number of them.

Guerin knew the suite number, and despite the growing irritation he felt for all this cloak and dagger stuff he wasn’t making a penny on, he was curious as to how the third reel was going to play out. He gave, two short knocks, and a voice yelled to come in.        

Each room was large enough to permanently house a family of four, and was just as plushly decorated as the lobby.

“And they call us crooks!” Lanza said in a low voice to Guerin as he closed the door behind them. Straight ahead, down the long hall was some sort of sitting room, and off to either side of the hall were four other rooms, two on each side.

Socks and his lawyer walked down the hall poking their heads into each room until they found the one which was occupied.

“What the hell’s he doin’ here?!” Socks blurted out. He was standing in the doorway of the last room on the left, pointing as Guerin caught up with him.

“I’m just here to baby-sit. Socks.” Gurfein, sat in the corner, delightfully basking in Lanza’s surprise. Lanza recalled how easy it was to bait and evade the cops when they chased him as a teen and quickly composed himself.

“Your tax dollars at work, eh Murray?”

“At least we pay taxes Lanza!” Gurfein was easily goaded.

“We pay taxes too, counsellor.” Socks retorted in a matter-of-fact tone. “The taxes you haul in from the people we employ alone, more than pays the salary of everyone in City Hall, with some left over to help the war effort. Of course that’s only a rough estimate. It’s very difficult to know exactly how much is extorted from us in graft.”

“Gentlemen! We’re not here to play cops and robbers.” It was the man seated behind the broad wooden desk, an impressive figure dressed in civilian clothes. He looked to be late forties, early fifties but well built. Socks was impressed with the man’s presence and shook his hand with respect as the man introduced himself.

“Mr. Lanza, Lieutenant Commander Charles Haffenden, thanks for coming.”

Gurfein smirked silently as he thought to himself, “Mr. Lanza! Gimme a break!” Socks sat down in the chair facing the desk. Guerin stood, as there were no more chairs in the room. The lawyer, in his sixties was visibly uncomfortable.

“Mr. Lanza I’m told you can help us.”

“Please Commander, call me Socks.” Lanza said, pretending not to notice Gurfein’s glance. “What is it I can do for youse?”

Commander Haffenden had been briefed about Lanza’s legal situation, and so understood fully the relationship between Gurfein and Socks. He also knew why the D.A’s representative was there. It had very little to do with Lanza. He would no doubt be tripping over himself to report back to Hogan the instant the meeting was over.     Little did he realise he was out of his league.

Charles Haffenden had not only been in service since 1917, he was considered a founding father of Naval intelligence. He played in the same playground as Aaron Banks and “Wild Bill” Donovan. While people like Hogan and Gurfein were paying for tips and blackmailing petty criminals, men like Haffenden were spying on heads of state and collecting data as field operatives behind the lines in enemy territory.

“Well, I believe your lawyer has already filled you in on the details of the difficulties we’re having with our shipping?” Guerin had no idea what Haffenden was talking about, but kept quiet. Lanza caught on right away.

“Yeah, all the details.” He responded. Gurfein sat up straight and looked at Haffenden.

“Good. What can we do?” Continued Haffenden. Socks reached into his pocket and produced a pen. He wrote two phone numbers on a piece of note paper he took from the desk and slid them across to the Commander.

“Call me at either one of those numbers in a day or so, sir.” Lanza stood along with Haffenden, and they shook hands.

“Nice to have met you, sir.”

“Likewise, Socks.” Gurfein remained seated. Lanza left first and as Guerin was putting his hat on, he turned to Gurfein and quipped, “Told ya he’d do it.” Commander Haffenden put on his coat as well and indicated to Gurfein that it was time to leave. Gurfein tried to get a look at the piece of paper on the desk, but Haffenden scooped it up and put it in his pocket.

“Commander, I have a right to know what's on that paper!” They started down the hall towards the exit.

“Ya know Murray. I get the impression you’re the kind’a guy likes ordering secretaries around.” Haffenden stopped to open the front door to the suite. He reached in his pocket and produced a piece of paper. Outside in the hall he addressed Gurfein again.

“I’m told you’re an expert in Sicilian?”

“Yeah, So?” Haffenden handed him the piece of paper and proceeded to walk down the corridor towards the stairs.

“Get back to me with a translation on that, will ya?” Haffenden was about to set the ground rules for the N. Y. C. D. A.'s relationship with his intell network.

Gurfein stood in the middle of the hallway and unfolded the paper.

In bold, block, hand written letters, was a single word in Sicilian . . . “FANCULO!”


CHAPTER EIGHT

 

 

Louie stood against the granite wall of Central Park pretending to read the early edition of the Daily News in the morning cold, as he shelled his breakfast of salted peanuts. Columbus Circle was buzzing with activity by 8:00 a. m., and Mancino had his work cut out for him. Mrs. Birnbaum told Doc that Ira always walked to the Circle in the morning on his way to work. Louie’s assignment was to spot Birnbaum, follow him to whatever mode of transportation he would utilize to get down town, and then call Doc who was waiting in a phone booth in the Woolworth Building, around the corner from the Church Street office. Doc really didn't Louie to do this, but he needed him even less hanging around Downtown bugging him. He didn't mind teaching Louie, but he wasn't a babysitter.

Strategically positioning himself behind the line of Hanson cabs parked along Central Park South, where he was able to see the subway kitchen on the corner of Broadway and 59th, Louie's eyes darted back and forth across the pack of pedestrians.

 Louie took the photo Mrs. Birnbuam gave Doc, out of his jacket pocket and studied it for the tenth time. It was taken at a family function of some sort, and showed Ira and Norma sitting at a table alone while dozens of others around them danced and ate, almost as if the old couple weren’t there. Louie was still puzzled by the age of the subject he and Doc were to investigate. If this guy has got something going on the side it’s gotta be one for the record books!

Louie looked up with an unshelled peanut still in his mouth. Five foot two, balding, glasses, dark suit and bow tie. Bingo! As Ira was descending into the subway, Mancino had to fight his way across The Circle, leaving a trail of peanut shells and dodging traffic to reach his subject in time.

The fresh smell of ozone greeted Louie as he took the steps two at a time leading down to the subway platforms and rounded the bend, past the crowded news kiosk to the turnstiles. Reaching into his pocket, he produced a handful of change, and mixed among the hodge podge of coins were two ten cent tokens. He selected one and inserted it into the slot and pushed through the clicking ratchets of the wooden turnstile and walked onto the platform pretending to read the paper. But something was wrong.

He looked up and down the platform. No Ira!

There were less than a dozen people milling about. Jesus! Was this guy that good? How could he have known he was being tailed? The space between the edge of the platform and the wall was to narrow for him to step back and peer behind the only place to hide, the wide steel girders supporting the ceiling. To compound his problems, Louie could hear the screeching of steel wheels growing louder as the Downtown express approached the 59th Street station. Walking rapidly to one end of the platform he saw no sign of the old man. Shit! Doc won’t let this one go! Bad enough he has to pay forty-seven dollars for a new office window, now I drop the tail! Louie ran back up to the turnstiles. He heard the train squeal into the station, and had a brain-storm. He double timed back down stairs and as the passengers began to board, he ran over to the centre car, stood in front of the door and sighted straight down either side of the train, to observe who was boarding. He peered left, and as he turned to look down the other side of the train, a group of five or six commuters, pushed into him.

“Excuse me sir, you’re blocking the door.” Louie looked down, and gasped. He found Ira.

Meanwhile, around the corner from Church Street, over onn Broadway, Doc was milling about in the elaborate mosaics in the cruciform lobby of the Woolworth Building, near a bank of phones. A security guard looked up for the fourth time in the last quarter of an hour, suspicion etched a little deeper into his grizzled face. Doc did the only thing he could, he smiled, waved and cursed Louie.

The subject of Doc’s anger was now making his way to the back of the crowded car to put some distance between himself and Mr. Birnbaum. When he reached the rear of the car, he remained standing, carefully hiding behind his New York Daily News. Ira was opening a pack of Wrigley’s, and Louie tried to note the stations from the blur of signposts in the windows.

Finally the train began to slow and eventually came to a stop at the Wall Street station. Birnbaum stepped off, Louie was right behind him, and as they ascended up onto street level, Louie checked his watch.

Looking up from his watch, Doc noted Louie was twenty minutes late with his call. McKeowen made a decision to walk around the corner to Church Street and chance an intercept with Birnbaum.

Doc was annoyed, but not really angry with Louie. He had long since taught himself to control his anger where friends and family were concerned. He thought about his father telling him not to join the force, and how the discussions about medical school gradually deteriorated into shouting matches.

Turning the corner onto Church Street Doc was struck with a strong cool breeze. Glancing across the street, he shook his head and fought back a smile. There was Louie, standing in a phone booth, stamping his feet to keep warm, and dialling the phone. As Doc crossed the street, and walked up to the phone booth, he could hear Louie giving someone on the other end a physical description and asking for Mr. McKeowen.

Doc rapped on the glass and Louie half turned, covering the receiver with his hand, while yelling to the intruder.

“Sorry pal! Find another phone. This one’s . . . hi Doc.”

“Hello Mr. Tracy.” Louie slowly hung up and stumbled out of the booth. “Where’s Birnbaum?”

“He’s in there.” Louie pointed to the marble façaded Art Deco building across the street. A large double glass door served as the entrance to the multi-story structure and the lobby could be seen through the glass. The number “90” was smartly lettered in gold leaf above, on the transom.

“How long ago did he go in?”

“Exactly one minute and seventeen seconds.” Louie held his sleeve pulled up over his watch and hoped the precise time he tried to bullshit Doc with would carry some weight.

“Alright, I’ll go check on Birnbaum. You go back to the office and see what you can find out about 90 Church Street, start with who owns the property. Call down to the city engineer’s office and ask for the grid and plot number on the city plan for the Federal Building. When you get that info, cross reference the owners in the City Property Guide and the phone book. Maybe we can find this guy's department. You got all that?”

“Doc I’m sorry about mucking up the tail.”

“Don't sweat it. You remembered the first two rules of a successful tail. Find out where he’s going, and never let them see you up close.” Louie looked down at he ground. “Now go back to the shop, get that info and wait for my call.”

To be sure Birnbaum was clear of the lobby Doc took his time crossing the street. Once on the other side, he turned down the fur collar of his brown leather bomber jacket and stuffed his ball cap into his back pocket.  Approaching the entrance at an angle, he looked up and down the street, then swung through the glass doors.

He was immediately surprised by the size of the lobby and how sparsely decorated it was. However, he was more surprised to see Birnbaum being fussed over by a beautiful, well dressed auburn haired woman who easily stood eight or nine inches above the old man. Doc pretended to ring for the elevator, as he continued to keep tabs on the couple standing beside the large, marbled reception desk. The lift hit the ground floor, the doors opened and Doc stepped off to the side to tie his already tied shoelace. After about a minute of fussing over his tie and jacket, the women kissed Birnbaum on his balding head and bade him goodbye.

“Son-of-a-bitch! At least the old guy's got taste.” Doc mumbled to himself. Watching the woman walk around and take a seat behind the reception desk, he saw Birnbaum disappear through a pair of doors at the end of the hall. Doc decided to roll the dice.

Approaching the desk, he could hear the auburn haired woman, who was obviously the receptionist, having trouble with some of the plugs on the switch board, occasionally jiggling them to get a more clear connection. Shirley noticed Doc first, and nudged Nikki.

“Having trouble with your connections, Miss?” She gave him an annoyed look as she answered another call, still having to jiggle the cable and hold it to hear clearly.       When she finished, he spoke again.

“We have the same type of switchboard in my office. Usually it’s just a loose jack plug.” Doc said, eyeing the board and cables over the counter top. Shirley stopped typing, and swung around in her chair to face Doc and Nikki. With both arms Doc leaned forward on the marble top.

“Funny, I wouldn’t have pegged you for the type who knew a lot about equipment.” Nikki responded.

Leaning over the desk, Doc took one of the plugs and held it up, pretending to study it.

“You’d better be careful. Some of this equipment is pretty old.” Nikki addressed Doc in a condescending tone.

“Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it don't work good. Besides, once something's aged a bit, it usually . . . fits in better." Shirley grabbed her mouth and pinched her nose to suppress a laugh. "With it's job, I mean .” He fiddled with the end of the phone cable.

“I’m told the newer models function better.” Nikki folded her arms across her chest as she spoke. Doc continued to inspect the cable.

“Maybe, but they usually don’t stand up as long.” Twisting the brass jack plug and the cable in opposite directions, he tightened the brass jacket clamp around the cable.

“There you are Miss. Good as new.” Doc returned the cable to it’s position, purposely leaning too far over the desk, and making direct eye contact with Nikki.

“All they need is to be handled every once in a while. Like it says in the instructions.”

“You want me to buzz him?” Shirley asked, moving closer to the secret red button.

“Not yet Shirl.” She spoke to the typist without breaking eye contact with Doc. “Why do I get the feeling you’re the kind’a guy doesn’t follow instructions very well?”

“Rarely need them. Always know where all the parts go.”

"Lemme buzz hiz ass!" Shirley chomped at the bit with her finger on the button. Nikki raised a hand.

“What exactly is it I can do for you? Mr. . .”

“McKeowen, Mike McKeowen. My friends call me Doc.”

“What exactly is it I can do for you, Mr. McKeowen?”

“That little fella that just came in?”

“Ira Birnbaum?”     

“Yeah, Birnbaum. Does he work here?”       

“He’s our mail clerk. Who wants to know?”

“Just curious.”

“Yeah, and I was born during the day. But it wasn’t yesterday. What’s the story? You a cop?” Nikki was genuinely curious. Doc just became a little more interesting.

“No, I’m not a cop. Does he always work odd hours?”

“No more than the rest of us since the war started.”

Since Pearl Harbor! Doc realized.

“Well if you’re not a cop, and you’re not investigatin’ for the D. A., who are you?”

“Who says I’m not with the D. A.?”

‘‘Because if you were, first thing you would’a done was flash your badge to show me what a big man you were. Then you would’a tried pressuring me into answering your questions after I told ya ta take a flyin’ leap fer hittin’ on me. And for a grand finale, you’d threaten me with some arcane law like you were some kind’a Bey or something.”

Doc was unprepared for the barrage, but found it entertaining.

“Sorry, just thought I knew the little guy. My mistake. I was looking for the Woolworth Building.”

“So you’re a private investigator.”

“I’m impressed.” And he was.

“You’re a P. I., and you’re following Ira ta see if he’s fooling around on his wife.” This girl was a little too cocky, she knew something.                                 

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“Well is he?” Doc persisted.

“You’re pullin’ my leg!”

“No. But it would be a nice start.”

“Das it! Buzz time!” Shirley was growing more anxious to see the two Marine guards escort Doc out.

"Relax, Shirl. He's harmless. Just a little confused."

"So I can't buzz 'im?"

“Not yet. But keep your finger ready.” Shirley raised her hand and started repeating a finger exercise while glaring at Doc. Nikki leaned forward and put both arms on her desk to get a running start at Doc before she pounced.

“Go back and tell that ungrateful old bat that man was offered retirement two years before the war broke out. But because he’s the only one with a Top Secret clearance he volunteered to stay on until they could get someone else in there.”

“Easy sister! Don’t go breathing fire at me. That old bat, as you called her, sits at home all day cryin’ her eyes out wondering what the hell he’s doing. Just because these two people have been around since Christ was a corporal doesn’t mean they’re made of stone you know!” Nikki sat back in her chair. Shirley was impressed and lowered her finger.

“You got a point, I guess. I never really thought about her end of it.” Nikki was touched by Doc’s defending Ira’s wife.

“Look, I’m sure they’re both good eggs. But there’s no way they could have been prepared for this. Howz about I go back and tell Norma that he’s not foolin’ around and if you feel you know him well enough, maybe you could mention that he ought’a let the wife in on the scoop down here. Fair deal?”

“Is that her name? Norma?” Nikki was subdued as she realized in all the time she knew Ira, she never asked his wife's name.

“Yes. Fair deal, Miss . . . ?” Doc held his hand out across the counter top.

“Fair deal, Mr. McKeowen. Miss Cole, my name is Miss Cole.” She shook his hand.

“Her name is Nikki. And she’s here Monday to Friday, eight to six and Saturday till noon every other week.” Shirley blurted out as she suddenly lost her enthusiasm to buzz Doc.

“Sounds like you got a great agent there.” Doc nodded at Shirley as he backed away from the reception desk. “You’ll be playin’ Radio City before you know it.”

“Yeah! Shirley the agent.” Nikki was embarrassed and made a mental note to give Shirley a good balling out later. Someone entered through the front door as Doc was preparing to leave.

“Thank you for your help ladies. It was a pleasure to meet you Miss Cole. And you too Shirley The Agent. Careful with that finger.” Doc turned to leave. Nikki watched him turn up his collar and don his ball cap as he passed through the door.

“Girl! You should’a got his number!” Shirley said, slapping Nikki on the arm.

“I got his number when he walked in here!” Nikki held up te swear jar and Shirley dug through her purse.

“He ain’t no Alan Ladd but he got potential!” Shirley droped the nickle in through the slot cut in the cap.

The man who had entered the building was now standing at the elevators when Doc passed him. It was Treasury Agent Johnson, and after watching Doc leave, he walked over to the two girls who were once again engaged in their work, or at least tried hard to look like they were.

“Who was that?” He asked in his best casual manner, dripping with suspicion.

“A guy.” Nikki replied to Johnson, without looking up.

“What guy? What’d he want?”

“He was looking for the Woolworth Building.” Both girls, as did all of the girls before them, found Johnson repulsive. Nikki once reckoned, during a girls night out, that if John Merrick were a woman he still wouldn’t have dated agent Johnson.

“A little late for Christmas shopping, wouldn’t you say?”

“Look, agent Johnson. I ain’t baby-sitting’ the guy, just givin’ him directions. Ya know?” Nikki’s tone was clear, even to Johnson, that the conversation was over. Her switchboard buzzed and she took the call. Johnson was looking at Shirley, and continued to impose himself.

“Speaking of dating, when are we gonna get together, sweetheart?”

Shirley refused to call him by his official title. “Mr. Johnson, we’ve had this conversation before. I don’t date married men. Especially ugly married men.”

Johnson got the hint and meandered back towards the elevators. As soon he was out of earshot, Shirley spoke to Nikki.

“He’s got to be the only guy on the planet sufferin’ from penis envy!”

“Jeez Shirl, how do you really feel?”

Back around the corner, in the ornate lobby of the Woolworth Building, Doc called Louie and relayed what he had found out. Louie in turn informed Doc that the location was a Federal building, filled with civilian offices, except for a few which were Navy. Louie said he had a complete list of all the departments, but Doc didn’t have the heart to tell him that his efforts were wasted. It looked like Ira was on the level. He told Louie he would see him back at the office after lunch and that he would call Mrs. Birnbaum himself.

“Oh, and Louie one more thing.”

“What is it Doc?”

“Go downstairs to 2C, guy in there's a lawyer. They got an unabridged Webster's. Find out what the hell a ‘bey’ is, will ya?”


CHAPTER NINE

 

 

Commander Haffenden wasted no time in launching “Operation Underworld”. Lanza’s tentative consent to cooperate was more than enough to draw up plans, requisition agents and supplies, and to establish a base of operations along with a channel of covert communications. So by the time things appeared to have cleared the D. A.’s office, and Lanza gave the Navy his okay, the ball was rolling within 24 hours.

In the beginning there would be three basic areas of operations. The fishing boats, over which Lanza had virtual control, the retail and shipping, that is the life line from the boats to the markets, over which he had a large measure of control and the docks and warehouses, over which he had a little control, providing they were related to the fishing industry.

Socks would handle all the field operations on his side, Haffenden would control all his agents, and the only two who would know about the operation as a whole would be Lanza and Haffenden. At least that’s what Lanza was told. However, for the moment, both parties had a vested interest in excluding the D. A. to as great an extent as possible.

Lanza had to conceal his involvement in order to avoid exposing the extent of his operation if he were to stay in business. A valuable lesson he learned from the Boss.

One of the cornerstones of Luciano’s success was the code of silence. Not the keep your mouth shut while sitting under a hot police lamp and being slapped around code of silence, although that went without saying. Instead it was the ability to isolate information from everyone except those with the absolute need to know. Combine this with the uncanny ability to keep locations and extents of specific operations secret, and the results spoke for themselves.

For example, a quarter of a century after Luciano’s deportation in 1945 local, state and federal officials, in one investigation after another as well as in sworn testimony, continued to give vastly conflicting stories concerning him and his operations. These incongruities even exist as a matter of Congressional record.

Luciano shared a hotel suite with the Head of the Democratic Committee at the National Convention in Chicago in 1932, the year FDR won. The same FDR who, earlier as governor of New York pardoned over sixty of Luciano’s associates from Federal prison, most of whom were drug trafficking offenders.

Haffenden had as much at stake as Lanza. Although he was internationally renowned for his work in intelligence, having been the subject of numerous books and articles, he was in a new ballpark concerning domestic saboteurs. The world of international espionage had changed drastically since his first tour of duty in 1917 back when, incredibly enough, few of the Naval Staff and none of the Army Staff Officers put any credence whatsoever in the burgeoning area of military intelligence. It wasn’t even mentioned in an official capacity at the war colleges.

The prevailing attitude towards the subject was amply demonstrated by the story of a British Colonel who, in the First World War, was presented with intercepted German dispatches. The officer ordered them promptly returned, unopened commenting, “Gentlemen don’t read other gentlemen’s post.”

However, that was a quarter of a century ago, and things had changed. Virtually every major operation of the Second World War, on both sides, depended on available intelligence prior to launch. In addition, as the war dragged on, an even more valuable strategy was adopted. Namely, that of supplying the other side with false intelligence. It was a much more complicated game now, and as a consequence, Haffenden intended to isolate information from everyone except those who had an absolute need to know.

The first order of business was for Socks to meet with the Commander and get a list of his needs. This happened the next day, and the meet was brief, as initially needs were simple. Get as many eyes and ears as were available on station, as soon as possible.

The next step was for Socks to get a list of contacts together to allow him to begin placing operatives into key positions. In as much as the primary concern was to nab the enemy agents and potential saboteurs who were re-supplying the U-Boats, the docks and the fishing boats had priority.

Naval Intelligence agents were scattered around on the fishing vessels, by being passed off as a friend of a friend, or somebody’s cousin on his mother’s side. Naturally preference was given to personnel who had fishing experience and/or grew up in the local New York districts, “On account’a day could tawk da right way”.

Stationing agents with the fishing fleet had at least two unexpected side effects. One good, and one that would eventually counteract all their efforts at keeping the operation secret.

Prior to the onset of the project, it was not inconceivable for the shipping agents, civilian authorities or the U. S. Navy to have to wait weeks or even months to find out if a ship had been lost at sea. Whether lost to severe sailing conditions or, as was more often the case, the Wolf Packs, this delay in information was a serious hindrance to the flow of supplies.

With trained agents out on the water armed with radios, bad news of the loss of a vessel could be relayed much sooner. Wreckage could be identified, or in rare cases survivors rescued. In the even more remote instances, if discovered soon enough, “alert aircraft” could be launched and the offending U-Boat sought out.

The negative effect was both inevitable and unforeseen. Fishing boats, like all small sea-going craft, can only accommodate a given number of individuals. One agent goes on, one fisherman comes off.

In time of war, with money tight, rationing and the seasonal nature of fishing, being put off the boat made for some unhappy people. This combined with the bulky radio gear required on board, made it nearly impossible to keep the Top Secret operation covert. Within a couple of weeks everyone on the docks knew something was going on.

After the first month, the operation was going well, in terms of logistics. In terms of effectiveness well, that was an interesting question. Were the designers of Operation Underworld not catching any saboteurs because they were scaring them away, or were they not catching any because the secret was out?

 Haffenden and his men, for the most part, were in uncharted waters. American intelligence gathering capability lagged far behind that of the warring nations and many elements in the Federal government was very slow to understand the significance of it.

Despite Intelligence gathered in the pre-war years indicating the Japanese were amassing a hostile naval force, the American politicians still went so far as to prosecute and punish visionaries such as Billy Mitchell. To compound Haffenden’s problems, none of the allies were sharing information.

For example, later in the war, when the Allies realized that the first nation with an atomic bomb would win, heavy water became the priority. So, one moon lit night, in a French harbour, a team of O. S. S. operatives paddled their rubber boats toward a freighter anchored in a slip. On board the freighter was Hitler’s last significant supply of tritium. As they made final preparations to mine and sink the ship, it exploded, burned and sank right before their eyes. In the sullen moonlight, the O. S. S. operatives sat dumbfounded as they watched three canoes paddling away from the burning hulk. Klapper canoes, the hallmark vessels of the British S. O. E.

Whatever the reasons, the early stages of the operation were not very successful. At the same time, expanding out into the shipping branches of the fishing trade, such as the trucking industry, the project demanded more contacts and consumed more territory and resources. Socks complied and set it up by helping extend the net starting with trucking company owners, dispatchers and in some cases enlisting the help of small independents whom he would normally attempt to put out of business, promising to lay off if they helped out.

Riding trucks all day helped the operatives to learn their way around, but did little to put them in close touch with any potential enemy agents. Unknown to any of the players, involvement with the trucking unions would also initiate a development in the operation which would have an unforeseen impact.

Infiltration of the docks was a much more complicated affair. Lanza’s influence was limited to those areas where the fishing industry flourished. With such a complicated network of waterfronts as exists in New York Harbor, no one person or entity could control it all. With five boroughs on the New York side, plus Long Island and seven cities on the Jersey side, the linear area alone was mind boggling. This did not take into account the New England states or the states further south such as Delaware and Maryland, and, at the time, the Fulton Street Market shipped as far south as the Carolinas.

Agents however, were placed on the accessible piers and adjoining areas, and for a short time, a routine developed. Communication was primarily by phone, and operatives checked in with Haffenden on a rotational basis. They were assigned and reassigned as needed and information was recorded.

The primary record of the secret codes, contact locations and most importantly, the names of those involved, was Commander Haffenden’s “little black book”. This book was supposed to stay on his person at all times. At least that was the S. O. P. for classified materials at the time. It was officially known as “chain of custody”. In other words who had it last?

However, like a McGuffin in a Hitchcock film, the little black book was destined to impose a significant emotional event on the lives of more than one player in Operation Underworld. It wouldn’t turn out to be the stuff dreams were made of.

Codes for the members of Lanza’s crew were really not required. At least not new ones. They all had their passwords, known locations and contacts in place long before the war. In fact, these men had been effectively been at war since 1931. A ten year jump on the Navy.

One interesting code that did evolve, however, was the password used when one Mob member wanted another Mob member to know he was in on the operation.

“I’m working for the Commander”, became the verbal high sign between them.

Not long into the operation, the load began to show on Lanza. In addition to his indictment, and the time he was devoting to the Navy’s business instead of his own, a third factor began to compound his life which he had not banked on.

It first hit him one afternoon at Morrelli’s Restaurant on the corner of Mott and Hester Streets. He was having lunch with a couple of representatives from the Brooklyn docks, one of the locations where he had no influence. Haffenden wanted to get some men over there to snoop around the shipping piers. Lanza told the Commander he would see what he could do, and instead of contacting the Camardo brothers directly, Socks thought it wiser to use intermediaries.

The Winter air was frigid but the crystal clear Manhattan sky allowed the sun to impose a comfortable greenhouse effect on the area just inside the restaurant window. The intoxicating aromas of sauces and pastries floated gently throughout the small room, and a thin veil of cigarette smoke, highlighted by the sun’s rays, lingered in the corner to give a Hopper-esque quality to the three men sitting at the four seat table.

Under the cloud of spent tobacco, the larger of the three men ate as if it were his last meal and, increasingly agitated by the shrill scraping of the knife and fork of the big man’s plate, Lanza snubbed out his cigarette and broke the silence.

“So whata ya tellin’ me Jimmy? I’m no good no more?” Socks looked Jimmy square in the eye, who twirled his empty cup of demitasse.

“I ain’t sayin’ you’re no good Socks! It’s just that a lot a the guys are a little edgy right now, that’s all.” Jimmy’s words were compelled to escape in between mouthfuls of primavera. He hoped that Lanza would get the picture without him having to spell it out.

“This guy’s straight up, I’m tellin’ ya. You can talk to him yerself. He’s got guys all over the place. The docks, on trucks, on the boats.”

“That’s exactly the problem, Socks. Feds all over the place. A lotta people don’t think that’s such a good idea, ya know?” A waiter approached the table from the side just as Socks let go on Jimmy.

“They ain’t Feds! They’re Navy!” Lanza kept his voice down, but let his growing irritation seep through. The young boy detoured to the other side of the room.

Jimmy looked at the other man at the table who had been sitting in silence since the start of the meal. It was tradition to politely avoid talk of business until after the meal, and so up until now he only engaged in chit chat. He accepted the signal from Jimmy, and took over the conversation.

“Socks, I gotta give it to ya straight. There’s talk'a you makin’ deals.”

“Deals wit who?!” He was coming to a slow boil. Not because of the accusation, it really wasn’t an accusation. If the Camardos said they heard rumors, then there were rumors. And Lanza was pretty sure he knew the source.          

“The D. A. Some guys got it figured that you cut a deal ta let the Feds in on some of the operations, so they’d go lighter on ya.”

“They ain’t fuckin’ Feds! They’re United States fuckin’ Navy!”

“Navy, D. A., Treasury, they’re all the law Socks.” Frankie spoke in a controlled tone, and Socks began to see the futility of his argument. It was a tactic as old as the frontal assault, but a lot less risky for the accuser. Once you were put on the defensive with a simple accusation, no matter what you said, you sounded guilty by virtue of the fact you were defending yourself. No substantiation or real evidence was needed.

“Does the D. A. know about this little party?” Lanza certainly couldn’t lie about that. Frankie would never have asked if he didn’t already know the answer.

“Dem D. A.’s are only there for one thing, Socks. Ta become politicians. We got Soldiers, Lieutenants, Captains, and a Boss, they got Assistant D. A.'s, D. A.'s, Attorney Generals and Governors. Look at Roosevelt. Sure he helped us out when he was Gov’ner, but what the hell, was mostly our money got him elected.”  His partner was moved to chime in.

“Better than that little worm Dewey. Frames Lucky, buys the judge and Charlie goes up for fifty years fer a crime ain’t worth ten! Am I right Socks or am I right? Tell me. You agree or not?”

“Yeah, I get yer point. Now, you look me in the eye and tell me you think I’m a fink.” Lanza knew he risked Frankie’s friendship with this challenge, but he was too frustrated to care.

“Socks, it don’t matter what I think . . .”

“Look me in the fuckin’ eye and tell me you think I’m a fuckin’ fink!!” Lanza was leaning over the table now, only inches from Frankie’s face and staring him straight in the eyes.

Jimmy instinctively reached under the left breast of his jacket. Frankie reached over to lay his hand on Jimmy’s forearm. Frankie kept eye contact with Socks, and pointing his index finger, replied.

“I don’t think you’re sellin’ out Joey. I wouldn’t never peg you for a fink. Never. But lettin’ this D. A. in on operations is bad business.” Lanza at last felt some relief and fell back in his chair. He took a deep breath, let it out and peered across the table at Jimmy.

“What the fuck was you doin’? Scratchin’ ya tit?” He asked with half a smile.

“Socks, look here. You want the Camardos involved, you know who’s okay you gotta get? Right?” Lanza didn’t answer right away. “Are we okay? Socks! Are we okay or what?” Frankie prodded.

“Charlie would never deal with these bastards. Not after what they done ta him in court.” Socks replied, reaching for the check. “Yeah, we’re okay. But do me a favor, will ya? Frankie nodded a 'What?'

“Next time leave this big prick home will ya? He eats like a fuckin' horse!!”

 

Operation Underworld by Paddy Kelly

About The Book

February, 1942. Free China is lost, the Battle of Britain has been fought and Hitler dines in Paris. World War II is nearly three years old, however the United States resists involvement. With an invitation from the Imperial Japanese Navy at Pearl Harbor everything changes. In her first ten months of the war nearly 500 American ships are lost. The retooling of Her factories is estimated to take at least a year, and even before it is completed, the men who work in those factories must become Marines, sailors and soldiers. The U.S. Navy is behind the eight ball, big time. They need help. To compound their problems, the most famous luxury liner in the world, T. L. S. Normandie, has just been set alight and burned to the water-line in New York Harbor initiating wide spread hysteria in fear of German saboteurs. All originating from a misguided sense of desperation, and a well planned feign. Meanwhile, “The Boss of Bosses”, Lucky Luciano at age 45, is serving a thirty to fifty year sentence in a maximum security prison in upstate New York. In one of the most ironic decisions of the war, the Federal Government requests the founder of organized crime, Lucky Luciano, to join forces with America’s most secret service, Naval Intelligence. Luciano, has been sentenced to life in prison for a crime that warrants ten years, and is concurrently fighting deportation to an enemy nation where he will certainly be put to death, when he is asked to help the government who condemned him. In addition, he is told he must remain in prison with no chance for compensation or parole. Mike ’Doc’ McKeowen, a New York P. I., leads us through the story. Doc just wants to get his life back on track after his business partner ran off with all the top clients, and a long and painful divorce drained him of his house, his family and his dignity. Fate may have a plan for Doc, but he can’t figure out what the hell it is. Whether you believe the link between the Federal Government and organized crime is a slender thread, or as Mario Puzo wrote, ’. . . contemporary America, where law and organized crime are one and the same.’, you will learn how the foundation of the international drug cartel was laid. You will come to appreciate the saying, ‘Due Facce della stessa Medaliglia’. Crime and politics, two sides of the same coin. Titanic was an act of carelessness. Lusitania was an act of war. Normandie was an act of genius. Reviews and more information here: CLICK FOR INFO

Operation Underworld
(Paddy Kelly)

The serialised version of this outstanding novel

Part Three

Missed Part One - Click Here


Operation Underworld

CHAPTER SIX

 

 

Louie shook his head as he knocked firmly on the door of suite #32. The glass panel read, “We Peep While Others Sleep”. That Sammon was an asshole. Louie elicited no response from inside so he tried again.

“Come on Doc, open up, it’s not a process server.”

Pasquale Louige Mancino not only disliked the sacred sense of tradition his family tried to shackle him with, he despised it. He hated the tortuously long Sunday linguine suppers. He hated the language that Americans did not speak, and he hated that all the gangsters in the movies were Italian. But most of all he hated his name. Why couldn’t he be Wayne or Lamont or Kent? Or some other dashing name. Why was he burdened with the name of some dead uncle he never met?

Growing up he didn’t understand why the other kids called him WOP, meatball or spaghetti bender, but he knew it wasn’t complimentary. So after three or four black eyes and a twice broken nose, the kids at St. Matthew’s got the idea that he wanted to be called Louie.

He hated the gangsters. He hated the punks who acted like gangsters. He hated that everyone thought he was connected because he had an Italian name. He was careful never to actually say he was connected. Of course, he was just as careful to never deny it either. All he wanted was to be a P. I. and to be called Louie. Louie the P. I. Another month of night classes and he could take his state exam.

Louie Mancino, Private Investigator.

That’s why he liked Doc. Doc treated him as an equal and made a deal with him. As soon as he finished his courses at City College in March, he could work out of the office, on his own cases, and out of all the rotten things people said about Doc, not one of them could ever say he broke his word. Not unless they wanted to look stupid.

“Come on Doc, open up. I got some good news. I know you’re in there, I can smell you through . . . the . . . SHIT!”

The words were not yet out of Mancino’s mouth when he saw them. Three bullet holes in the hall wall to the left of the door. Not a tight little shot pattern either, but spread out as if there had been a struggle. A cold chill ran up his spine, and he banged harder on the door with no luck. Then he remembered.

Louie raced down the hall as fast as his green and orange bowling shoes would let him and slid to a halt in front of the fire hose cabinet. He ripped the door open and the glass shattered with the impact of hitting the wall. He was horrified to see the outline in dust of where the spare key used to be.

“Must be how the bastards got in!” He surmised.

Sliding back to the office door, Louie The P.I. fought down a feeling of panic as he tried to think clearly. The glass! Removing his coat to reveal his white and blue bowling shirt, he wrapped it around his fist. Closing his eyes, Louie punched through the glass panel on the office door. As the shards of glass fell to the floor, he opened his eyes one at a time to see if there was any bleeding. His sense of satisfaction at not seeing blood however seeped away as the unlocked door slowly swung open. Halfway it hit a piece of over turned furniture. He was aghast at the condition of the office.

The floor was completely covered in broken furniture and debris. Doc’s left foot peering out from under the desk re-ignited Louie’s sense of urgency and he fought his way to the corner of the room to where Doc was laying, face down.  Reaching Doc’s body, he slowly rolled the limp form over.

“Tell me you’re breathin’ buddy! Tell me you’re breathin’!”

“Come on Doc wake up . . . wake up! You can’t check out yet . . . I ain’t solved my first case!” Louie searched the body for wounds. Doc moaned, and his eyes opened gingerly as he watched the ceiling slowly come into focus.

“Where the hell . . . shit! My head! Louie? What the hell you doing here?” Doc breathed onto his friend. Louie gagged and recoiled with a wince.

“Jesus Christ Doc! You smell like the Jersey Meadowlands in July!!” Doc sat up holding his head with one hand looking around the room.

“You okay?”

You mean except for this god damned excavation crew drilling through my brain?"

"Doc I'm serious! You okay?" Doc shrugged off Louie's help.

“Of course I’m okay! Why wouldn't be okay?”

“I mean like you got any extra holes?” Doc smirked.

“Nah! I’m okay.” Righting his chair he eased himself into it, gingerly holding his head with both hands.

“Louie! Why the hell’d ja break the glass? I left the door open for ya!”

“Uhh . . . It was stuck. Doc, what the hell happened here last night?”

“Ahhh. I just had to talk things out with Mary. Sort’a get it off my chest, ya know.” Louie, noticed the bullet holes were roughly in line with Mary’s photograph and began to lose his patience.

“Jesus Christ Doc! Didn't that letter from the landlord sink in? You had a baptism last night, didn’t you?!”  

“Those courses are paying off already.” Doc said as he rose from the desk and made his way through the carnage to the sink. “How the hell can you be so thirsty the morning after the night you drank so much?” Doc asked to no one in particular.

“You got hammered last night and shot holes in the damn wall!” Louie pressed his point.

“I told you. I had to get it out of my system.” Doc maintained his patience. After the preceding week, it was reassuring to be back amongst friends. Even if they were beginning to sound like his ex-wife.

Now Louie had to get it out of his system.

“Ya know Doc, you’re not the first guy to get shit on by some broad over money. And I ain’t Nostradamus, but I think you probably ain’t gonna be the last!”

Doc, now at the sink, listened to his friend as he drank three glasses of water and ate a hand full of aspirin. Louie continued as he paced around the office.

“Life is how you want to see it, Doc. It’s either a burden or an opportunity. It’s what you make of it. Time to pick up the pieces and move on. No sense cryin’ over spilt milk. Water under the bridge, ya know? To quote Shakespeare, 'There’s other fish in the sea'.”

“LOUIE?!”

“What?”

“What’s your point?”

“Don’t be condensatin’, Doc! This ain’t funny! It's a good thing those offices across the hall are empty!”

“Thanks for caring man.” Doc continued to try and lighten the tone as he dried his face.

“I’m serious! There’s enuff local cops got it in fer you as it is, fer Christ’s sake. The only reason they keep givin’ you breaks is ‘cause’a your old man.” Louie nodded to the picture of the policeman on the shelf.

“Seriously Louie. I appreciate your friendship, I really do. Just lighten up on the bitchin' will ya?” Louie appeared to calm down, and Doc continued to wash up.

“Doc, it ain’t like I got an anterior motive or somethin’! I’m just worried about gettin’ you through this shit!” Louie’s client reports were always fun to read.

“Next thing you know you’ll be doin’ something really stupid like hoppin’ a plane to Miami and tryin’ ta get her ta’ come back to New York.” Mancino sat down at the desk and put his feet up. Doc put his towel down, and without looking at Louie went into the back to change his clothes. Louie immediately understood.

“Tell me you didn’t do something really stupid Doc!” There was no response from behind the partition. Looking down at the floor, Louie saw the pieces of torn ticket.

“You did! Didn’t you? You hopped a plane, you went to Florida and . . .” Louie was cut off in mid sentence as Doc burst through the partition door in a half buttoned shirt.

“I told you, god-damn it! I had to get it outta my system! And I did! So let’s drop it Louie! You made your god-damned point!!”

“But Doc! Shootin’ holes in the freakin’ wall . . .” He pleaded.

“I said DROP IT!! I’M OVER IT! She’s history! Yesterday’s news, a foot note in the archives! End of subject! Savvy?!” Louie was taken off guard by the intensity of Doc’s anger, and wasn't sure how to react. So he sat in silence behind the desk.

Doc continued to dress in front of the mirror. Louie continued to sit, and the awkwardness of the silence intensified. Doc finished tying his cravat and slumped over the sink holding his head in his hand in a vein attempt to reduce it to normal size. Louie spoke first.

“Hey Doc?”

“What?!” Turning to face Louie without lifting his head. Louie held up the empty whiskey bottle.

“Ya wanna go get a drink?”

“You’re a sick son-of-a-bitch Mancino! Ya know that?”

The tension gone out of the room, they both laughed.

“So is this why you came up here at the ungodly hour of noon? You felt sorry for me I didn’t have a wife any more, so you decided to take over as the pain in the ass in my life?”

Louie didn’t speak, but rose from the desk and as he made his way to the door produced a folded sheet of paper from his breast pocket and handed it to Doc. He continued across the room to the letter box on the inside of the front door.

Doc unfolded the paper and read aloud.

“Ira and Norma Birnbaum, apartment 2B, 127 East 64th. What the hell is this?”

“What the hell's it look like? It’s a client.” Louie said with a smug look on his face, knowing nothing had come into the office for over two weeks. Doc welcomed the work with guarded optimism.

“Who are they? What’s the skinny?”

“She’s Doris’ hairdresser, she’s a nice girl, you’ll get a kick out of her.”

“If she’s so nice why does she need us?”

“She thinks maybe her husband is screwin’ around on her, and she wants to know for sure.” Although he had no choice, Louie was tentative about giving this information to Doc. He knew how Doc felt about that alimony, divorce shit.

Louie was facing the door, so Doc didn’t see him mouth the words as he spoke.

“Oh Jesus Louie! You know I hate this alimony, divorce shit!”

Again Louie didn't answer. He reached into the same pocket and produced five, fifty dollar bills and laid them neatly on the desk. Doc stared, wide-eyed at the money.

“On the other hand, work is work. Where’d this come from?”

“I had her make the cheque out in my name. I didn’t know where the hell you were or when you’d be back. So I took a down payment and signed the case. I told her you’d call early next week.” Doc picked up the money.    

“Ya did good Louie.”          

“Ten per cent of that’s mine!”

Doc handed him a fifty. “Here. Go buy Doris a chocolate layer cake.”

Louie’s eyes lit up.

“Shit Doc! Thanks! You okay with this?”

“Shut up before I change my mind.”

“No problem!”

“This ain’t no gimme. You’re gonna work this case with me.”

“You serious?!” Louie was thrilled. “But I ain’t got my license!”

“You won’t need one. We follow the guy, find out who the girl is, take a few snaps, and show up for court. Clean and simple. What could happen?”

Doc was pleased to see Louie so excited. He would make a good P.I. There was an unspoken agreement that Louie would one day take over the agency.

“Louie . . . ah, sorry about flyin’ off the handle. I just want some peace and quiet, and ta get back to work.”

“Well, there you are partner. A nice simple client to ease you back into the saddle.” Louie was still holding the mail in his hand and Doc asked what was in it.

Shuffling through the four pieces, Louie recited. “A subpoena, the electric bill, another subpoena and an invite to join the Ancient Order Of Hibernians.” Louie couldn’t repress his smile as Doc shook his head.

“Give me that.”

Doc took the envelope from Louie and made his way around behind his desk. From a drawer he took a large rubber stamp and stamped the post in several places, 'Scottish! Not Irish!' Louie laughed as Doc handed him the solicitation and told him to put it back in the box.

“Louie?!” Doc flopped into his chair.

“Yeah?”

“How do you do it? I mean spend so much time away from Doris and still have such a healthy relationship after twelve years?”

“I dunno. I guess it’s . . . true love.” Louie said in a mocking voice.

“Bullshit! It’s ‘cause she’s horny all the time. That’s why you married her in the first place.”

“Yep. Body of a woman, sex drive of a man. Hell, only way it could be any better was if she was a rich mute and owned a liquor store.”

“Come on shit head! I’m tryn’ to be serious here! Emotionally what makes it work?”  

“Jesus Doc. You’re startin’ ta sound like those phoney letters in True Romance magazine.”

“Go to hell!”

“The truth?”

“Yeah, the truth.” Louie took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Than he sat down next to the desk and spoke in a serious tone.

“Doc, I love her so much that, that when I’m away from her . . . I’m so miserable I feel like she’s here.”

“I asked for it.”

 

***

 

The brass letters, '2B', were neatly polished and contrasted aesthetically against the black enamelled door of the apartment. Doc knocked, and to his surprise the door opened immediately, as far as the safety chain would allow, as if someone were standing there waiting for him. An elderly woman, maybe early seventies but spry, very short, undid the chain and opened the door. She was visibly upset. Doc rechecked the sheet of paper.

“Yes?” She inquired.

“I'm looking for Mrs. Birnbaum?”

“Yes?”

“Mrs. Norma Birnbaum?”

“Yes, that’s me.” The elderly woman held a tissue in one hand and spoke with a Jewish accent.

“I’m Mr. McKeowen. The detective.” Opening the door wider, she gestured for Doc to come in, then locked up behind him.    

The modestly decorated rooms were immaculate, and Doc thought about his office. Contributing to the feeling that he was visiting his grandmother’s house, was the fact that the air was saturated with the delicious aroma of some food which Doc did not recognise, simmering on the stove.

“Ah . . . Mrs. Birnbaum. You have a daughter, that wants to hire a private investigator?”

“No, I half no daughter.” If Louie screwed this up, I’ll brain him!

“I was told someone wishes me to investigate the possibility of . . . infidelity. That their husband may be having an extra-marital affair. Is there a woman in this building in that situation that you know of, Mrs. Birnbaum? Perhaps with another name?”

“Did your muther half a difficult delivery? I am Norma Birnbaum! I am da voman! Andt my husbant is cheatingt on me! Mit a rich, younger bimbo no less!” She spoke, making her way to the kitchen.

Doc was taken off guard. If this guy is anywhere near her age and is foolin’ around I gotta meet him!

“What makes you think Ira has been seeing someone else, Mrs. Birnbaum?”

“Dink? DINK?! I don't dink. I know! A voman knows dees dings. Since the war started! Maybe he wants to sow some vild oats, who knows? In case we’re invaded maybe! Come, sit!” They both took seats in the kitchen.

“What did you notice, since the war started? That made you suspicious, I mean?”

Mrs. Birnbaum explained as she stirred pots and made tea.

“The usual. Stayingt out late. Goink to verk at odd hours. Dinks like dat.”

“Has there been any money missing, say from his pay, or anything like that?” She shook her finger vigorously as she spoke.

“No! Dats how I know da little hussy is rich! He still gives me all his money, and den some! But he still has money to play mit da hoochie-coochie!” Norma embellished with pelvic gyrations.

“What does your husband do, Norma?”

“He is postal clerk. You know, for dee postal office.”

“So, he works at the 42nd Street Station?” Doc asked as he kept notes.

“No. Two years ago they give him promotion and easier job, down town. Soon, he retires. He is seventy-nine, you know! Andt still vorkingt! We promise each other he only vork until he is eighty. You know, that way we can spend last twenty years or so together.” Doc's eyes involuntarily widened.

“Well, it’s important to be optimistic. Your plans may still work out, Norma. How long have you and Ira been married?”

Mrs. Birnbaum stood up straight, and allowed her slight shoulders to set back ever so gently.

“Today is our anniversary! Fifty-seven years, two months, and seventeen days! Today!”

Jesus! I should live so long! Thought Doc.

“Well Norma, here’s what we’ll do. Why don’t you give me his work address. I’ll have a look around, and we’ll see if we can’t work this thing out.”

“I yust don’t vant I should lose my Ira, Mr. MackQuen.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, Norma.”

“He vas in da films you know. Da real films! Not dis talkies nonsense! He vas an actor! He vas friends mit Joelson!” She began to sob, and Doc got edgy. He was useless around crying women.

“Norma, I really need you to act as normal as possible, keep up your daily routines, and wait for me to get back to you. Okay?” He handed her a tissue from the box on the table. “Now what’s the address?”

“It’s on Church Street. Number ninety, Church Street.” He couldn't place it, but Doc recognised the address. “Here, eat some soup.”

“No thanks, Norma. I really need to . . . “

“Eat! Eat!”

Doc realised he was out gunned and gave in.


CHAPTER SEVEN

 

 

In 1936 Murray Gurfein was instrumental in the conviction of the Boss of Bosses, Charlie “Lucky” Luciano. This conviction, which resulted in a sentence roughly five times greater than any “normal” criminal would receive, was intended to put Luciano away for the rest of his life. It didn't.

Working with then D.A. Thomas Dewey, some of the tactics compelled many people to ask questions. In particular why the majority of the dozen or so witnesses they called, said nearly the same exact thing. Or why had the three key witnesses recanted their statements almost immediately after testifying and then signed sworn statements to that effect. Lastly there was the issue of perjury on the part of some of the witnesses for the prosecution, along with the D.A. threatening those very same witnesses with imprisonment if they did not testify as directed.

Of course there can be little doubt that the mobsters probably made some threats as well. But apparently Dewey’s boys threatened harder, and his political ambitions, of which he made no secret, were eventually fulfilled. He was able to buy the Governorship of New York.

Although Dewey’s shady victory was three years ago Gurfein, as head of the rackets division, had gotten nearly as much mileage out of Luciano’s conviction. And now it was time to meet another one of these hoodlums. Only this time Gurfein would not have the safety of a courtroom. He would meet him face to face, alone on his own turf. At midnight.

To complicate matters, he was going to ask this gangster for help. Even if he hadn’t been “asked” by the D.A. to do this, as head of the N. Y. C. Rackets Division it was his responsibility.

Murray had a problem. If he came back empty handed, it wouldn’t go well for his career. If he came back with something, he would probably have to make a deal. A deal he had no authorization to make.

Standing outside the City Hall, Gurfein held his watch towards a light post so the faint glow would allow him to read his watch dial in the winter darkness.

“Eleven forty-seven. Shit!” He thought to himself. Desperate to find a taxi to take him uptown, Gurfein stepped out into the street, and peered down town into the dim of the night. As if on cue, a cab pulled out from around the corner, and came to a stop in front of him.

Getting in through the back door he didn’t notice the “off duty” roof light was lit and, before he could get himself seated, he felt the cab pull away.

“103rd and Broadway.” He instructed the driver.

“I know.” Came the response. The lawyer wanted to ask questions, but thought better of it.

It was at least a twenty minute ride uptown, even without traffic, which gave Gurfein time to think. He nervously shifted his position several times before settling down and gazing out the window into the desolation of the Manhattan night.

Ah, what the hell? He reasoned to himself. If the hoods cooperate the D.A. looks good. If not, they look like what they are, a bunch of scum bags. If it all goes to shit somewhere down the line I can always say I was ordered by Hogan to do it, in spite of the fact I was repulsed by being told to do business with known criminals. He practised how to say repulsed, and make it believable.

Despite all of his self posturing, the thing he had the most difficulty dealing with was the possibility that anyone even remotely associated with the Mob may be shown, by their helping the War Department, to have any redeemable values.

As the taxi cruised up a deserted Central Park West passed the Museum of Natural History, Gurfein couldn’t help but think how the shadowy images of the park seemed appropriate for the mood. His mind drifted further, noting how the picturesque peacefulness engulfed the entire scene and how it would look in just a few hours as the morning sun broke over the tree line, soon be shattered by the brutality of rush hour traffic. 

As they passed into the nineties, one last chilling thought occurred to his active, worried imagination. Was there any chance the Navy intelligence people could have underestimated the current state of German technology? What if the U-Boats had a longer range and extended sea life than the government knew about? Unlikely, he reassured himself. America had the greatest scientific and military minds in the world. That’s how we beat them in the last war. Besides, the Krauts were essentially neutralized at Versailles.

These were the thoughts that raced through Gurfein’s mind as the cab rounded the corner and pulled to a halt at Broadway and 103rd. It was shortly after midnight, when he attempted to exit the vehicle but was blocked by two men getting in. It was Guerin and Lanza. Socks sat facing the two lawyers who in turn were sitting with their backs towards the rear of the taxi.

“Where’re we going?” Asked Gurfein nervously.

“Somewhere else.” Lanza quipped. Continuing on for another few blocks, the driver altered his northerly direction and turned west until they came to Riverside Park. Another right hand turn meant they were again heading uptown, and Guerin noticed a sign in the park as they drove by.

Grant’s Tomb Next Left.

“You’re a regular Bob Fuckin’ Hope, Lanza.” Guerin cracked. Socks smiled. Gurfein looked puzzled.

 After pulling into the park just south of the memorial, the three men got out. Lanza paid a twenty, and deliberately waited until the two lawyers were out of earshot before telling the driver to go over to Amsterdam Avenue and wait.

Lanza walked past the others and across the narrow stretch of park to the wrought iron fence overlooking the Hudson River. The lawyers followed and when they reached Lanza, Guerin stepped off to one side to allow his client and the D.A.’s representative to talk. Gurfein immediately began to paint the picture for Socks.

“Here’s the story Socks . . .”

“It’s Mr. Lanza.” Off to a good start, thought Guerin standing on the sidelines lighting a smoke.

“The Navy needs our help. They been losing supply ships left, right and center to the U-Boats. They don’t think the subs can stay out that long or that the Krauts have enough of them to keep rotating their Wolf Packs.”

Socks glanced at Guerin, then back at Gurfein. It was too hard to swallow. The U.S. Navy looking for Socks Lanza to come to the rescue? Even with a war on, there’s not a chance in hell they would want to get Mob guys mixed up in a legitimate operation. The D.A.’s up to something.

“So?”

“So, they think the Krauts are being supplied from here. By a network or something.”

“You try’n ta tell me you think some’a my guys are supply'n Nazi’s!?”

“No. But such an operation would take an organized network and a fair amount of logistics. These guys would need fresh water, food, fuel, medicine and god knows what else. This wouldn’t be any nickel dime operation.”

“So whatta ya want from me?”

“They can’t find any leads.”

“So why don't you guys do what you always do? Frame somebody. Or you askin’ me ta play spy?”

“Not exactly. The Navy wants to place agents on the boats, trucks and in the markets.”

“Fuck you!” Lanza backed away as he exploded with anger. Guerin was startled. “I was born durin' the fuckin' day, but it wasn't fuckin' yesterday!” He turned to a startled Guerin. “Can you believe this shit?! This prick wants to put Feds inside my operation!”

“Socks, calm down!” Guerin threw down his cigarette and walked over to his client. “Calm down, damn it!”

“This bastard wants to put cops in my market! Can you believe the cahoons on this guy?!”

“Don’t be stupid! He’s got nothing to do with it. If you agree to help you’ll deal straight with the Navy. No one else.” Guerin reasoned with Lanza. Socks looked at both of them and then again at Guerin. He began to settle down. As much as any man could, he trusted his lawyer.

“How do I know they won’t be Feds?” He asked.

“If they are, or if the D.A. tries to sneak a Fed in, anything they obtain, or try to obtain will be inadmissible. Besides, if you want I can have them checked out.” The two lawyers exchanged glances. “But I’m telling you, I met the Navy guy you’re going to be dealing with. He's on the square.”

“Is he ex-cop?” He wanted as clear a picture as possible.

“No. Strictly intelligence work.” Guerin reassured him.

Socks walked around a little in small irregular circles and lit a cigarette.

“You’d be doing your country a great service.” Prodded Gurfein.       

“Yeah, wouldn’t hurt your career either, would it councillor?” Socks was told that not only would he not be given any consideration for his help, but that it would probably not even be permitted to be brought up at his upcoming trial. There was nothing that Gurfein or Hogan were going to do to jeopardize a conviction. His lawyer made one last plea.

“Socks I’m tellin’ ya. It’s on the level.” Socks stood, hands in pockets assessing the two lawyers.

“I’ll call you in a day or so. I’ll see what I can do.” With the sparkling lights of the Jersey shoreline at his back Lanza slowly walked away . He headed in the direction of Amsterdam Avenue when he stopped and turned.

“Hey, Guerin! You comin’?”

Turning to Gurfein as he walked away, Guerin said, “Don’t worry, he’ll do it. He’s got no choice.” The lawyer caught up with Lanza.

“Look, I don’t want to call that prick. I want to deal with this Navy guy, what’s his name?”

“Haffenden, Commander Haffenden.”

“Hey!” It was Gurfein calling after the other two men who were by now across the street. “How am I supposed to get back down town?”

“Call a cab!” Socks suggested, and then continued walking.

“You know, he could lean on you pretty heavy at the trial.” Counselled Guerin.

“You think for a second he’s gonna play Mr. Nice Guy? Let me tell you somethin', when guys like that develop political ambitions, they find ways to bend the law and then go around tellin’ people it’s ta fight crime. Then, after they get away with it a’nuff times, comes the delusions of grandeur and invincibility! Then it's only a small step to ignoring the law altogether.”

“Voice of experience talking, Joey?”

“Basta conoscerne uno, per conoscerli tuti. Ya seen one, ya seen ‘em all! Capito?”

The two figures faded into the dark mist.

 

***

 

The next morning the two figures of Socks Lanza and Guerin emerged from the bright sunlight and passed through the large, revolving brass doors into the palatial lobby of the Hotel Astor. Outside the New York winter air was crisp and cold, but inside the elaborate lobby it was a warm, comfortable and lush. An atmosphere neither man was stranger to.

The immaculate detail and spaciousness of the vestibule was impeccable. Plush, intricately woven, red and gold carpet was bordered with black rope and ran snuggly into the richly stained and varnished mahogany baseboard. The walls were a combination of paper and paint, coloured in soft maroon and eggshell. The ceilings of heavily moulded plaster reliefs, were ornamented with massive, gold plated chandeliers large enough to require a crew of ten men to install. Once on the inner borders of the huge, rotating, brass plated doors, save for the attire of the guests scattered about the lobby, one would think it was still 1870.

The two men made their way to the staircase on the left and ascended to the mezzanine level. Although this was not Lanza’s first time in the Astor, he was forced to think to himself as he looked around for sentries. “If this is a set-up, they’re sure goin’ whole hog!” Owing to the sizes of the suites on the mezzanine level, there were a limited number of them.

Guerin knew the suite number, and despite the growing irritation he felt for all this cloak and dagger stuff he wasn’t making a penny on, he was curious as to how the third reel was going to play out. He gave, two short knocks, and a voice yelled to come in.        

Each room was large enough to permanently house a family of four, and was just as plushly decorated as the lobby.

“And they call us crooks!” Lanza said in a low voice to Guerin as he closed the door behind them. Straight ahead, down the long hall was some sort of sitting room, and off to either side of the hall were four other rooms, two on each side.

Socks and his lawyer walked down the hall poking their heads into each room until they found the one which was occupied.

“What the hell’s he doin’ here?!” Socks blurted out. He was standing in the doorway of the last room on the left, pointing as Guerin caught up with him.

“I’m just here to baby-sit. Socks.” Gurfein, sat in the corner, delightfully basking in Lanza’s surprise. Lanza recalled how easy it was to bait and evade the cops when they chased him as a teen and quickly composed himself.

“Your tax dollars at work, eh Murray?”

“At least we pay taxes Lanza!” Gurfein was easily goaded.

“We pay taxes too, counsellor.” Socks retorted in a matter-of-fact tone. “The taxes you haul in from the people we employ alone, more than pays the salary of everyone in City Hall, with some left over to help the war effort. Of course that’s only a rough estimate. It’s very difficult to know exactly how much is extorted from us in graft.”

“Gentlemen! We’re not here to play cops and robbers.” It was the man seated behind the broad wooden desk, an impressive figure dressed in civilian clothes. He looked to be late forties, early fifties but well built. Socks was impressed with the man’s presence and shook his hand with respect as the man introduced himself.

“Mr. Lanza, Lieutenant Commander Charles Haffenden, thanks for coming.”

Gurfein smirked silently as he thought to himself, “Mr. Lanza! Gimme a break!” Socks sat down in the chair facing the desk. Guerin stood, as there were no more chairs in the room. The lawyer, in his sixties was visibly uncomfortable.

“Mr. Lanza I’m told you can help us.”

“Please Commander, call me Socks.” Lanza said, pretending not to notice Gurfein’s glance. “What is it I can do for youse?”

Commander Haffenden had been briefed about Lanza’s legal situation, and so understood fully the relationship between Gurfein and Socks. He also knew why the D.A’s representative was there. It had very little to do with Lanza. He would no doubt be tripping over himself to report back to Hogan the instant the meeting was over.     Little did he realise he was out of his league.

Charles Haffenden had not only been in service since 1917, he was considered a founding father of Naval intelligence. He played in the same playground as Aaron Banks and “Wild Bill” Donovan. While people like Hogan and Gurfein were paying for tips and blackmailing petty criminals, men like Haffenden were spying on heads of state and collecting data as field operatives behind the lines in enemy territory.

“Well, I believe your lawyer has already filled you in on the details of the difficulties we’re having with our shipping?” Guerin had no idea what Haffenden was talking about, but kept quiet. Lanza caught on right away.

“Yeah, all the details.” He responded. Gurfein sat up straight and looked at Haffenden.

“Good. What can we do?” Continued Haffenden. Socks reached into his pocket and produced a pen. He wrote two phone numbers on a piece of note paper he took from the desk and slid them across to the Commander.

“Call me at either one of those numbers in a day or so, sir.” Lanza stood along with Haffenden, and they shook hands.

“Nice to have met you, sir.”

“Likewise, Socks.” Gurfein remained seated. Lanza left first and as Guerin was putting his hat on, he turned to Gurfein and quipped, “Told ya he’d do it.” Commander Haffenden put on his coat as well and indicated to Gurfein that it was time to leave. Gurfein tried to get a look at the piece of paper on the desk, but Haffenden scooped it up and put it in his pocket.

“Commander, I have a right to know what's on that paper!” They started down the hall towards the exit.

“Ya know Murray. I get the impression you’re the kind’a guy likes ordering secretaries around.” Haffenden stopped to open the front door to the suite. He reached in his pocket and produced a piece of paper. Outside in the hall he addressed Gurfein again.

“I’m told you’re an expert in Sicilian?”

“Yeah, So?” Haffenden handed him the piece of paper and proceeded to walk down the corridor towards the stairs.

“Get back to me with a translation on that, will ya?” Haffenden was about to set the ground rules for the N. Y. C. D. A.'s relationship with his intell network.

Gurfein stood in the middle of the hallway and unfolded the paper.

In bold, block, hand written letters, was a single word in Sicilian . . . “FANCULO!”


CHAPTER EIGHT

 

 

Louie stood against the granite wall of Central Park pretending to read the early edition of the Daily News in the morning cold, as he shelled his breakfast of salted peanuts. Columbus Circle was buzzing with activity by 8:00 a. m., and Mancino had his work cut out for him. Mrs. Birnbaum told Doc that Ira always walked to the Circle in the morning on his way to work. Louie’s assignment was to spot Birnbaum, follow him to whatever mode of transportation he would utilize to get down town, and then call Doc who was waiting in a phone booth in the Woolworth Building, around the corner from the Church Street office. Doc really didn't Louie to do this, but he needed him even less hanging around Downtown bugging him. He didn't mind teaching Louie, but he wasn't a babysitter.

Strategically positioning himself behind the line of Hanson cabs parked along Central Park South, where he was able to see the subway kitchen on the corner of Broadway and 59th, Louie's eyes darted back and forth across the pack of pedestrians.

 Louie took the photo Mrs. Birnbuam gave Doc, out of his jacket pocket and studied it for the tenth time. It was taken at a family function of some sort, and showed Ira and Norma sitting at a table alone while dozens of others around them danced and ate, almost as if the old couple weren’t there. Louie was still puzzled by the age of the subject he and Doc were to investigate. If this guy has got something going on the side it’s gotta be one for the record books!

Louie looked up with an unshelled peanut still in his mouth. Five foot two, balding, glasses, dark suit and bow tie. Bingo! As Ira was descending into the subway, Mancino had to fight his way across The Circle, leaving a trail of peanut shells and dodging traffic to reach his subject in time.

The fresh smell of ozone greeted Louie as he took the steps two at a time leading down to the subway platforms and rounded the bend, past the crowded news kiosk to the turnstiles. Reaching into his pocket, he produced a handful of change, and mixed among the hodge podge of coins were two ten cent tokens. He selected one and inserted it into the slot and pushed through the clicking ratchets of the wooden turnstile and walked onto the platform pretending to read the paper. But something was wrong.

He looked up and down the platform. No Ira!

There were less than a dozen people milling about. Jesus! Was this guy that good? How could he have known he was being tailed? The space between the edge of the platform and the wall was to narrow for him to step back and peer behind the only place to hide, the wide steel girders supporting the ceiling. To compound his problems, Louie could hear the screeching of steel wheels growing louder as the Downtown express approached the 59th Street station. Walking rapidly to one end of the platform he saw no sign of the old man. Shit! Doc won’t let this one go! Bad enough he has to pay forty-seven dollars for a new office window, now I drop the tail! Louie ran back up to the turnstiles. He heard the train squeal into the station, and had a brain-storm. He double timed back down stairs and as the passengers began to board, he ran over to the centre car, stood in front of the door and sighted straight down either side of the train, to observe who was boarding. He peered left, and as he turned to look down the other side of the train, a group of five or six commuters, pushed into him.

“Excuse me sir, you’re blocking the door.” Louie looked down, and gasped. He found Ira.

Meanwhile, around the corner from Church Street, over onn Broadway, Doc was milling about in the elaborate mosaics in the cruciform lobby of the Woolworth Building, near a bank of phones. A security guard looked up for the fourth time in the last quarter of an hour, suspicion etched a little deeper into his grizzled face. Doc did the only thing he could, he smiled, waved and cursed Louie.

The subject of Doc’s anger was now making his way to the back of the crowded car to put some distance between himself and Mr. Birnbaum. When he reached the rear of the car, he remained standing, carefully hiding behind his New York Daily News. Ira was opening a pack of Wrigley’s, and Louie tried to note the stations from the blur of signposts in the windows.

Finally the train began to slow and eventually came to a stop at the Wall Street station. Birnbaum stepped off, Louie was right behind him, and as they ascended up onto street level, Louie checked his watch.

Looking up from his watch, Doc noted Louie was twenty minutes late with his call. McKeowen made a decision to walk around the corner to Church Street and chance an intercept with Birnbaum.

Doc was annoyed, but not really angry with Louie. He had long since taught himself to control his anger where friends and family were concerned. He thought about his father telling him not to join the force, and how the discussions about medical school gradually deteriorated into shouting matches.

Turning the corner onto Church Street Doc was struck with a strong cool breeze. Glancing across the street, he shook his head and fought back a smile. There was Louie, standing in a phone booth, stamping his feet to keep warm, and dialling the phone. As Doc crossed the street, and walked up to the phone booth, he could hear Louie giving someone on the other end a physical description and asking for Mr. McKeowen.

Doc rapped on the glass and Louie half turned, covering the receiver with his hand, while yelling to the intruder.

“Sorry pal! Find another phone. This one’s . . . hi Doc.”

“Hello Mr. Tracy.” Louie slowly hung up and stumbled out of the booth. “Where’s Birnbaum?”

“He’s in there.” Louie pointed to the marble façaded Art Deco building across the street. A large double glass door served as the entrance to the multi-story structure and the lobby could be seen through the glass. The number “90” was smartly lettered in gold leaf above, on the transom.

“How long ago did he go in?”

“Exactly one minute and seventeen seconds.” Louie held his sleeve pulled up over his watch and hoped the precise time he tried to bullshit Doc with would carry some weight.

“Alright, I’ll go check on Birnbaum. You go back to the office and see what you can find out about 90 Church Street, start with who owns the property. Call down to the city engineer’s office and ask for the grid and plot number on the city plan for the Federal Building. When you get that info, cross reference the owners in the City Property Guide and the phone book. Maybe we can find this guy's department. You got all that?”

“Doc I’m sorry about mucking up the tail.”

“Don't sweat it. You remembered the first two rules of a successful tail. Find out where he’s going, and never let them see you up close.” Louie looked down at he ground. “Now go back to the shop, get that info and wait for my call.”

To be sure Birnbaum was clear of the lobby Doc took his time crossing the street. Once on the other side, he turned down the fur collar of his brown leather bomber jacket and stuffed his ball cap into his back pocket.  Approaching the entrance at an angle, he looked up and down the street, then swung through the glass doors.

He was immediately surprised by the size of the lobby and how sparsely decorated it was. However, he was more surprised to see Birnbaum being fussed over by a beautiful, well dressed auburn haired woman who easily stood eight or nine inches above the old man. Doc pretended to ring for the elevator, as he continued to keep tabs on the couple standing beside the large, marbled reception desk. The lift hit the ground floor, the doors opened and Doc stepped off to the side to tie his already tied shoelace. After about a minute of fussing over his tie and jacket, the women kissed Birnbaum on his balding head and bade him goodbye.

“Son-of-a-bitch! At least the old guy's got taste.” Doc mumbled to himself. Watching the woman walk around and take a seat behind the reception desk, he saw Birnbaum disappear through a pair of doors at the end of the hall. Doc decided to roll the dice.

Approaching the desk, he could hear the auburn haired woman, who was obviously the receptionist, having trouble with some of the plugs on the switch board, occasionally jiggling them to get a more clear connection. Shirley noticed Doc first, and nudged Nikki.

“Having trouble with your connections, Miss?” She gave him an annoyed look as she answered another call, still having to jiggle the cable and hold it to hear clearly.       When she finished, he spoke again.

“We have the same type of switchboard in my office. Usually it’s just a loose jack plug.” Doc said, eyeing the board and cables over the counter top. Shirley stopped typing, and swung around in her chair to face Doc and Nikki. With both arms Doc leaned forward on the marble top.

“Funny, I wouldn’t have pegged you for the type who knew a lot about equipment.” Nikki responded.

Leaning over the desk, Doc took one of the plugs and held it up, pretending to study it.

“You’d better be careful. Some of this equipment is pretty old.” Nikki addressed Doc in a condescending tone.

“Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it don't work good. Besides, once something's aged a bit, it usually . . . fits in better." Shirley grabbed her mouth and pinched her nose to suppress a laugh. "With it's job, I mean .” He fiddled with the end of the phone cable.

“I’m told the newer models function better.” Nikki folded her arms across her chest as she spoke. Doc continued to inspect the cable.

“Maybe, but they usually don’t stand up as long.” Twisting the brass jack plug and the cable in opposite directions, he tightened the brass jacket clamp around the cable.

“There you are Miss. Good as new.” Doc returned the cable to it’s position, purposely leaning too far over the desk, and making direct eye contact with Nikki.

“All they need is to be handled every once in a while. Like it says in the instructions.”

“You want me to buzz him?” Shirley asked, moving closer to the secret red button.

“Not yet Shirl.” She spoke to the typist without breaking eye contact with Doc. “Why do I get the feeling you’re the kind’a guy doesn’t follow instructions very well?”

“Rarely need them. Always know where all the parts go.”

"Lemme buzz hiz ass!" Shirley chomped at the bit with her finger on the button. Nikki raised a hand.

“What exactly is it I can do for you? Mr. . .”

“McKeowen, Mike McKeowen. My friends call me Doc.”

“What exactly is it I can do for you, Mr. McKeowen?”

“That little fella that just came in?”

“Ira Birnbaum?”     

“Yeah, Birnbaum. Does he work here?”       

“He’s our mail clerk. Who wants to know?”

“Just curious.”

“Yeah, and I was born during the day. But it wasn’t yesterday. What’s the story? You a cop?” Nikki was genuinely curious. Doc just became a little more interesting.

“No, I’m not a cop. Does he always work odd hours?”

“No more than the rest of us since the war started.”

Since Pearl Harbor! Doc realized.

“Well if you’re not a cop, and you’re not investigatin’ for the D. A., who are you?”

“Who says I’m not with the D. A.?”

‘‘Because if you were, first thing you would’a done was flash your badge to show me what a big man you were. Then you would’a tried pressuring me into answering your questions after I told ya ta take a flyin’ leap fer hittin’ on me. And for a grand finale, you’d threaten me with some arcane law like you were some kind’a Bey or something.”

Doc was unprepared for the barrage, but found it entertaining.

“Sorry, just thought I knew the little guy. My mistake. I was looking for the Woolworth Building.”

“So you’re a private investigator.”

“I’m impressed.” And he was.

“You’re a P. I., and you’re following Ira ta see if he’s fooling around on his wife.” This girl was a little too cocky, she knew something.                                 

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“Well is he?” Doc persisted.

“You’re pullin’ my leg!”

“No. But it would be a nice start.”

“Das it! Buzz time!” Shirley was growing more anxious to see the two Marine guards escort Doc out.

"Relax, Shirl. He's harmless. Just a little confused."

"So I can't buzz 'im?"

“Not yet. But keep your finger ready.” Shirley raised her hand and started repeating a finger exercise while glaring at Doc. Nikki leaned forward and put both arms on her desk to get a running start at Doc before she pounced.

“Go back and tell that ungrateful old bat that man was offered retirement two years before the war broke out. But because he’s the only one with a Top Secret clearance he volunteered to stay on until they could get someone else in there.”

“Easy sister! Don’t go breathing fire at me. That old bat, as you called her, sits at home all day cryin’ her eyes out wondering what the hell he’s doing. Just because these two people have been around since Christ was a corporal doesn’t mean they’re made of stone you know!” Nikki sat back in her chair. Shirley was impressed and lowered her finger.

“You got a point, I guess. I never really thought about her end of it.” Nikki was touched by Doc’s defending Ira’s wife.

“Look, I’m sure they’re both good eggs. But there’s no way they could have been prepared for this. Howz about I go back and tell Norma that he’s not foolin’ around and if you feel you know him well enough, maybe you could mention that he ought’a let the wife in on the scoop down here. Fair deal?”

“Is that her name? Norma?” Nikki was subdued as she realized in all the time she knew Ira, she never asked his wife's name.

“Yes. Fair deal, Miss . . . ?” Doc held his hand out across the counter top.

“Fair deal, Mr. McKeowen. Miss Cole, my name is Miss Cole.” She shook his hand.

“Her name is Nikki. And she’s here Monday to Friday, eight to six and Saturday till noon every other week.” Shirley blurted out as she suddenly lost her enthusiasm to buzz Doc.

“Sounds like you got a great agent there.” Doc nodded at Shirley as he backed away from the reception desk. “You’ll be playin’ Radio City before you know it.”

“Yeah! Shirley the agent.” Nikki was embarrassed and made a mental note to give Shirley a good balling out later. Someone entered through the front door as Doc was preparing to leave.

“Thank you for your help ladies. It was a pleasure to meet you Miss Cole. And you too Shirley The Agent. Careful with that finger.” Doc turned to leave. Nikki watched him turn up his collar and don his ball cap as he passed through the door.

“Girl! You should’a got his number!” Shirley said, slapping Nikki on the arm.

“I got his number when he walked in here!” Nikki held up te swear jar and Shirley dug through her purse.

“He ain’t no Alan Ladd but he got potential!” Shirley droped the nickle in through the slot cut in the cap.

The man who had entered the building was now standing at the elevators when Doc passed him. It was Treasury Agent Johnson, and after watching Doc leave, he walked over to the two girls who were once again engaged in their work, or at least tried hard to look like they were.

“Who was that?” He asked in his best casual manner, dripping with suspicion.

“A guy.” Nikki replied to Johnson, without looking up.

“What guy? What’d he want?”

“He was looking for the Woolworth Building.” Both girls, as did all of the girls before them, found Johnson repulsive. Nikki once reckoned, during a girls night out, that if John Merrick were a woman he still wouldn’t have dated agent Johnson.

“A little late for Christmas shopping, wouldn’t you say?”

“Look, agent Johnson. I ain’t baby-sitting’ the guy, just givin’ him directions. Ya know?” Nikki’s tone was clear, even to Johnson, that the conversation was over. Her switchboard buzzed and she took the call. Johnson was looking at Shirley, and continued to impose himself.

“Speaking of dating, when are we gonna get together, sweetheart?”

Shirley refused to call him by his official title. “Mr. Johnson, we’ve had this conversation before. I don’t date married men. Especially ugly married men.”

Johnson got the hint and meandered back towards the elevators. As soon he was out of earshot, Shirley spoke to Nikki.

“He’s got to be the only guy on the planet sufferin’ from penis envy!”

“Jeez Shirl, how do you really feel?”

Back around the corner, in the ornate lobby of the Woolworth Building, Doc called Louie and relayed what he had found out. Louie in turn informed Doc that the location was a Federal building, filled with civilian offices, except for a few which were Navy. Louie said he had a complete list of all the departments, but Doc didn’t have the heart to tell him that his efforts were wasted. It looked like Ira was on the level. He told Louie he would see him back at the office after lunch and that he would call Mrs. Birnbaum himself.

“Oh, and Louie one more thing.”

“What is it Doc?”

“Go downstairs to 2C, guy in there's a lawyer. They got an unabridged Webster's. Find out what the hell a ‘bey’ is, will ya?”


CHAPTER NINE

 

 

Commander Haffenden wasted no time in launching “Operation Underworld”. Lanza’s tentative consent to cooperate was more than enough to draw up plans, requisition agents and supplies, and to establish a base of operations along with a channel of covert communications. So by the time things appeared to have cleared the D. A.’s office, and Lanza gave the Navy his okay, the ball was rolling within 24 hours.

In the beginning there would be three basic areas of operations. The fishing boats, over which Lanza had virtual control, the retail and shipping, that is the life line from the boats to the markets, over which he had a large measure of control and the docks and warehouses, over which he had a little control, providing they were related to the fishing industry.

Socks would handle all the field operations on his side, Haffenden would control all his agents, and the only two who would know about the operation as a whole would be Lanza and Haffenden. At least that’s what Lanza was told. However, for the moment, both parties had a vested interest in excluding the D. A. to as great an extent as possible.

Lanza had to conceal his involvement in order to avoid exposing the extent of his operation if he were to stay in business. A valuable lesson he learned from the Boss.

One of the cornerstones of Luciano’s success was the code of silence. Not the keep your mouth shut while sitting under a hot police lamp and being slapped around code of silence, although that went without saying. Instead it was the ability to isolate information from everyone except those with the absolute need to know. Combine this with the uncanny ability to keep locations and extents of specific operations secret, and the results spoke for themselves.

For example, a quarter of a century after Luciano’s deportation in 1945 local, state and federal officials, in one investigation after another as well as in sworn testimony, continued to give vastly conflicting stories concerning him and his operations. These incongruities even exist as a matter of Congressional record.

Luciano shared a hotel suite with the Head of the Democratic Committee at the National Convention in Chicago in 1932, the year FDR won. The same FDR who, earlier as governor of New York pardoned over sixty of Luciano’s associates from Federal prison, most of whom were drug trafficking offenders.

Haffenden had as much at stake as Lanza. Although he was internationally renowned for his work in intelligence, having been the subject of numerous books and articles, he was in a new ballpark concerning domestic saboteurs. The world of international espionage had changed drastically since his first tour of duty in 1917 back when, incredibly enough, few of the Naval Staff and none of the Army Staff Officers put any credence whatsoever in the burgeoning area of military intelligence. It wasn’t even mentioned in an official capacity at the war colleges.

The prevailing attitude towards the subject was amply demonstrated by the story of a British Colonel who, in the First World War, was presented with intercepted German dispatches. The officer ordered them promptly returned, unopened commenting, “Gentlemen don’t read other gentlemen’s post.”

However, that was a quarter of a century ago, and things had changed. Virtually every major operation of the Second World War, on both sides, depended on available intelligence prior to launch. In addition, as the war dragged on, an even more valuable strategy was adopted. Namely, that of supplying the other side with false intelligence. It was a much more complicated game now, and as a consequence, Haffenden intended to isolate information from everyone except those who had an absolute need to know.

The first order of business was for Socks to meet with the Commander and get a list of his needs. This happened the next day, and the meet was brief, as initially needs were simple. Get as many eyes and ears as were available on station, as soon as possible.

The next step was for Socks to get a list of contacts together to allow him to begin placing operatives into key positions. In as much as the primary concern was to nab the enemy agents and potential saboteurs who were re-supplying the U-Boats, the docks and the fishing boats had priority.

Naval Intelligence agents were scattered around on the fishing vessels, by being passed off as a friend of a friend, or somebody’s cousin on his mother’s side. Naturally preference was given to personnel who had fishing experience and/or grew up in the local New York districts, “On account’a day could tawk da right way”.

Stationing agents with the fishing fleet had at least two unexpected side effects. One good, and one that would eventually counteract all their efforts at keeping the operation secret.

Prior to the onset of the project, it was not inconceivable for the shipping agents, civilian authorities or the U. S. Navy to have to wait weeks or even months to find out if a ship had been lost at sea. Whether lost to severe sailing conditions or, as was more often the case, the Wolf Packs, this delay in information was a serious hindrance to the flow of supplies.

With trained agents out on the water armed with radios, bad news of the loss of a vessel could be relayed much sooner. Wreckage could be identified, or in rare cases survivors rescued. In the even more remote instances, if discovered soon enough, “alert aircraft” could be launched and the offending U-Boat sought out.

The negative effect was both inevitable and unforeseen. Fishing boats, like all small sea-going craft, can only accommodate a given number of individuals. One agent goes on, one fisherman comes off.

In time of war, with money tight, rationing and the seasonal nature of fishing, being put off the boat made for some unhappy people. This combined with the bulky radio gear required on board, made it nearly impossible to keep the Top Secret operation covert. Within a couple of weeks everyone on the docks knew something was going on.

After the first month, the operation was going well, in terms of logistics. In terms of effectiveness well, that was an interesting question. Were the designers of Operation Underworld not catching any saboteurs because they were scaring them away, or were they not catching any because the secret was out?

 Haffenden and his men, for the most part, were in uncharted waters. American intelligence gathering capability lagged far behind that of the warring nations and many elements in the Federal government was very slow to understand the significance of it.

Despite Intelligence gathered in the pre-war years indicating the Japanese were amassing a hostile naval force, the American politicians still went so far as to prosecute and punish visionaries such as Billy Mitchell. To compound Haffenden’s problems, none of the allies were sharing information.

For example, later in the war, when the Allies realized that the first nation with an atomic bomb would win, heavy water became the priority. So, one moon lit night, in a French harbour, a team of O. S. S. operatives paddled their rubber boats toward a freighter anchored in a slip. On board the freighter was Hitler’s last significant supply of tritium. As they made final preparations to mine and sink the ship, it exploded, burned and sank right before their eyes. In the sullen moonlight, the O. S. S. operatives sat dumbfounded as they watched three canoes paddling away from the burning hulk. Klapper canoes, the hallmark vessels of the British S. O. E.

Whatever the reasons, the early stages of the operation were not very successful. At the same time, expanding out into the shipping branches of the fishing trade, such as the trucking industry, the project demanded more contacts and consumed more territory and resources. Socks complied and set it up by helping extend the net starting with trucking company owners, dispatchers and in some cases enlisting the help of small independents whom he would normally attempt to put out of business, promising to lay off if they helped out.

Riding trucks all day helped the operatives to learn their way around, but did little to put them in close touch with any potential enemy agents. Unknown to any of the players, involvement with the trucking unions would also initiate a development in the operation which would have an unforeseen impact.

Infiltration of the docks was a much more complicated affair. Lanza’s influence was limited to those areas where the fishing industry flourished. With such a complicated network of waterfronts as exists in New York Harbor, no one person or entity could control it all. With five boroughs on the New York side, plus Long Island and seven cities on the Jersey side, the linear area alone was mind boggling. This did not take into account the New England states or the states further south such as Delaware and Maryland, and, at the time, the Fulton Street Market shipped as far south as the Carolinas.

Agents however, were placed on the accessible piers and adjoining areas, and for a short time, a routine developed. Communication was primarily by phone, and operatives checked in with Haffenden on a rotational basis. They were assigned and reassigned as needed and information was recorded.

The primary record of the secret codes, contact locations and most importantly, the names of those involved, was Commander Haffenden’s “little black book”. This book was supposed to stay on his person at all times. At least that was the S. O. P. for classified materials at the time. It was officially known as “chain of custody”. In other words who had it last?

However, like a McGuffin in a Hitchcock film, the little black book was destined to impose a significant emotional event on the lives of more than one player in Operation Underworld. It wouldn’t turn out to be the stuff dreams were made of.

Codes for the members of Lanza’s crew were really not required. At least not new ones. They all had their passwords, known locations and contacts in place long before the war. In fact, these men had been effectively been at war since 1931. A ten year jump on the Navy.

One interesting code that did evolve, however, was the password used when one Mob member wanted another Mob member to know he was in on the operation.

“I’m working for the Commander”, became the verbal high sign between them.

Not long into the operation, the load began to show on Lanza. In addition to his indictment, and the time he was devoting to the Navy’s business instead of his own, a third factor began to compound his life which he had not banked on.

It first hit him one afternoon at Morrelli’s Restaurant on the corner of Mott and Hester Streets. He was having lunch with a couple of representatives from the Brooklyn docks, one of the locations where he had no influence. Haffenden wanted to get some men over there to snoop around the shipping piers. Lanza told the Commander he would see what he could do, and instead of contacting the Camardo brothers directly, Socks thought it wiser to use intermediaries.

The Winter air was frigid but the crystal clear Manhattan sky allowed the sun to impose a comfortable greenhouse effect on the area just inside the restaurant window. The intoxicating aromas of sauces and pastries floated gently throughout the small room, and a thin veil of cigarette smoke, highlighted by the sun’s rays, lingered in the corner to give a Hopper-esque quality to the three men sitting at the four seat table.

Under the cloud of spent tobacco, the larger of the three men ate as if it were his last meal and, increasingly agitated by the shrill scraping of the knife and fork of the big man’s plate, Lanza snubbed out his cigarette and broke the silence.

“So whata ya tellin’ me Jimmy? I’m no good no more?” Socks looked Jimmy square in the eye, who twirled his empty cup of demitasse.

“I ain’t sayin’ you’re no good Socks! It’s just that a lot a the guys are a little edgy right now, that’s all.” Jimmy’s words were compelled to escape in between mouthfuls of primavera. He hoped that Lanza would get the picture without him having to spell it out.

“This guy’s straight up, I’m tellin’ ya. You can talk to him yerself. He’s got guys all over the place. The docks, on trucks, on the boats.”

“That’s exactly the problem, Socks. Feds all over the place. A lotta people don’t think that’s such a good idea, ya know?” A waiter approached the table from the side just as Socks let go on Jimmy.

“They ain’t Feds! They’re Navy!” Lanza kept his voice down, but let his growing irritation seep through. The young boy detoured to the other side of the room.

Jimmy looked at the other man at the table who had been sitting in silence since the start of the meal. It was tradition to politely avoid talk of business until after the meal, and so up until now he only engaged in chit chat. He accepted the signal from Jimmy, and took over the conversation.

“Socks, I gotta give it to ya straight. There’s talk'a you makin’ deals.”

“Deals wit who?!” He was coming to a slow boil. Not because of the accusation, it really wasn’t an accusation. If the Camardos said they heard rumors, then there were rumors. And Lanza was pretty sure he knew the source.          

“The D. A. Some guys got it figured that you cut a deal ta let the Feds in on some of the operations, so they’d go lighter on ya.”

“They ain’t fuckin’ Feds! They’re United States fuckin’ Navy!”

“Navy, D. A., Treasury, they’re all the law Socks.” Frankie spoke in a controlled tone, and Socks began to see the futility of his argument. It was a tactic as old as the frontal assault, but a lot less risky for the accuser. Once you were put on the defensive with a simple accusation, no matter what you said, you sounded guilty by virtue of the fact you were defending yourself. No substantiation or real evidence was needed.

“Does the D. A. know about this little party?” Lanza certainly couldn’t lie about that. Frankie would never have asked if he didn’t already know the answer.

“Dem D. A.’s are only there for one thing, Socks. Ta become politicians. We got Soldiers, Lieutenants, Captains, and a Boss, they got Assistant D. A.'s, D. A.'s, Attorney Generals and Governors. Look at Roosevelt. Sure he helped us out when he was Gov’ner, but what the hell, was mostly our money got him elected.”  His partner was moved to chime in.

“Better than that little worm Dewey. Frames Lucky, buys the judge and Charlie goes up for fifty years fer a crime ain’t worth ten! Am I right Socks or am I right? Tell me. You agree or not?”

“Yeah, I get yer point. Now, you look me in the eye and tell me you think I’m a fink.” Lanza knew he risked Frankie’s friendship with this challenge, but he was too frustrated to care.

“Socks, it don’t matter what I think . . .”

“Look me in the fuckin’ eye and tell me you think I’m a fuckin’ fink!!” Lanza was leaning over the table now, only inches from Frankie’s face and staring him straight in the eyes.

Jimmy instinctively reached under the left breast of his jacket. Frankie reached over to lay his hand on Jimmy’s forearm. Frankie kept eye contact with Socks, and pointing his index finger, replied.

“I don’t think you’re sellin’ out Joey. I wouldn’t never peg you for a fink. Never. But lettin’ this D. A. in on operations is bad business.” Lanza at last felt some relief and fell back in his chair. He took a deep breath, let it out and peered across the table at Jimmy.

“What the fuck was you doin’? Scratchin’ ya tit?” He asked with half a smile.

“Socks, look here. You want the Camardos involved, you know who’s okay you gotta get? Right?” Lanza didn’t answer right away. “Are we okay? Socks! Are we okay or what?” Frankie prodded.

“Charlie would never deal with these bastards. Not after what they done ta him in court.” Socks replied, reaching for the check. “Yeah, we’re okay. But do me a favor, will ya? Frankie nodded a 'What?'

“Next time leave this big prick home will ya? He eats like a fuckin' horse!!”

 

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