An explosion outside his speakeasy draws Jimmy into a life-or-death chase Young Jimmy Quinn is delivering a bribe for the infamous racketeer Arnold Rothstein when a bomb goes off on Wall Street, killing thirty people and scaring every banker in the city right down to his spats. Twelve years later, Rothstein is dead, and Jimmy is doing his best to stay out of trouble, running a quiet little Manhattan speakeasy. At a particularly bad moment for him and his favorite waitress, a blast rocks the alley outside and draws him right back into the madness of a dozen years ago. That morning, a strange package came in with his liquor shipment: four plain books filled with cryptic numbers. It seems the motive behind this bombing may have been the same as that behind the explosion on Wall Street more than a decade ago: money. The incident sets Jimmy off on a mad race to stay out of the line of fire, taking him from the heights of the Chrysler Building to the depths of New York’s underworld.
About the Author
Michael Mayo (b. 1948) has written about film for the Washington Post and the Roanoke Times. He was the host of the nationally syndicated radio programs Movie Show on Radio and Max and Mike on the Movies. He is the author of American Murder: Criminals, Crime, and the Media. His first novel, Jimmy the Stick, was published in 2012. Mayo lives in North Carolina.
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Everybody Goes to Jimmy's
A Suspense Novel
By Michael W. Mayo
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 Michael W. Mayo
All rights reserved.
I'd just got Connie Nix's blouse unbuttoned when the bomb went off.
The sound was hellaciously loud and we could feel the building shake. It went off outside but so close that it seemed to echo in my office. We were stretched out on the divan. Without thinking, I reached for the back of it, but Connie grabbed at me, and we rolled off onto the carpet with me on my back and her on top. We landed hard enough to knock my breath out. She was shaking and, hell, I've got to admit that it rattled me, too. I was so surprised and confounded that I froze for a few seconds and didn't even appreciate it when she tightened her arms around my chest.
About then, I heard hubbub from the bar as my customers herded outside to see what had happened, and Connie shoved herself off me and buttoned up.
Glaring at me, she said, "You see, I told you I don't do this kind of ... this, this ... I'm a good girl," as if the blast had anything to do with us.
She kept shooting me nasty looks as she got herself tucked together and bustled back out to the bar. I stood up and decided for the hundredth time that I didn't understand women, and that night, at least, I didn't. Hell, I was young and horny, I didn't understand anything.
Peeking through the blinds down to the bar, I saw the last of the late-night crowd heading out the front door. Connie was talking to Marie Therese.
I straightened the knot of my tie, checked my cuffs, and buttoned my vest before I found my coat and hat and stick. For a moment, I considered dropping the Detective Special in my pocket but decided against it since there were likely to be extra cops about who might not know me. And besides, the weight of the pistol screwed up the drape of the jacket.
I took my time getting ready. Sure, I was curious, but I was in no hurry to see what was out there. I knew what bombs did.
Now, I guess I should explain here that Connie Nix was an adventurous young woman. She got bored with the little California town where she grew up and signed on with this agency that promised they'd find her a position in some rich guy's house, and they did just that. She went to work as a maid in New Jersey at the Pennyweight mansion—yeah, Pennyweight Petroleum—but it turned out to be not what she thought it was going to be.
For openers, old Mrs. Pennyweight was slow to pay, and she worked Connie like a Turk. Then my old friend Walter Spencer, who was married to Mrs. Pennyweight's daughter, got involved in some dicey business that resulted in several bodies that needed to be disposed of. Personally, I was only responsible for one of them, not that it mattered. Connie could see that most of the cleanup would fall on her, so she took me up on my offer of another job and came to work at my speak in the city. If she didn't like anything about the work, I'd pay for her train ticket back to California. That was the deal.
It worked out for a while. Marie Therese and her husband Frenchy found a place for Connie to live and showed her the ropes. Marie Therese and Frenchy had been with the place when I bought it and really ran most of the day-to-day work. Marie Therese was a soft touch for any stray who wandered by, and she and Connie got along swell. Too swell, if you ask me.
You see, Marie Therese decided that I, a mere lad of twenty or twenty-one, needed to be married and set about making plans for Connie to become Mrs. Jimmy Quinn.
Now, I've got to be honest and admit that I noticed how nicely put together Connie was. Her complexion was the sweet color of milky coffee, and she had thick black hair and dark eyes. Yes, I had some ideas about what might happen if she were to be spending time with me at the speak, but I hadn't counted on her being so good at the job. I mean, she took to the work like a lush to gin.
Marie Therese made sure she got involved with the important stuff, like keeping track of inventory, starting with the cigars and cigarettes we sold. Of course, our business was booze, but our take on the smokes was great, and that's what brought her up to my office around two in the morning when things were slowing down. The speak was on the ground floor of a narrow brownstone with the office in the back, up a short flight of stairs.
It was furnished with a wooden desk, filing cabinet, bookcase, table and a rug that Frenchy claimed was a Caucasian from Persia. I bought it from his brother-in-law. A window gave me a view of the bar, but I normally kept the blinds closed. I also had a cabinet where I kept my private stock, a leather chair, and divan. As I remember it, I was sitting with the daily papers at the end of the divan where the good reading lamp was. Connie sat down next to me with a handful of invoices from the delivery that had come in that afternoon—crates of whiskey, gin, rum, and wine; kegs and cases of beer, juices, syrups, seltzer, and smokes—the stuff that Frenchy, Fat Joe Beddoes, and I had unloaded from the truck into the cellar.
She said, flipping through the sheets, "Something's not right with these."
I could tell that she was tired and tense, so I put down the newspapers, turned her around, and started rubbing her shoulders, right up near her neck where she always got tight.
She protested, "Now, Jimmy, don't you start with that, this is important, and we can't ... oh, yeah, right there ... that's good."
And before long, we were stretched out, and she was saying, "Jimmy, you know this is wrong. We're not going to do anything here, so you can just stop that." But she kept on kissing me for a nice long time. Things had progressed to the unmentionables when the blast shivered the building and we wound up on the floor.
I checked the bar again and saw that Connie and Marie Therese were still deep in an intense conversation. I found my keys, went out the back door, and unlocked the heavy wooden gate between our loading area and the alley. At one time, that part had been a garden behind the brownstone, but the previous owner had bricked it over and put in the seven-foot wall and gate along with the steel door and the steps to the basement, where we stored our product. As I was locking the gate behind me, a large figure stepped out of the shadow across the alley, and a voice rough with cigar smoke said, "Out for an evening stroll?"
The voice belonged to a cop. His name was Betcherman. He was a detective, and I had no use for him. That night he was puffing on an evil-smelling cheroot. He stood a shade over six-feet and had a narrow face, thin crooked nose, not much chin, and greedy eyes. He put the arm on everyone for free drinks, food, clothes, tickets, this and that. If he thought you were up to anything crooked, he was quick to offer to turn his back for a steep price, and he'd clap the cuffs on you a minute later. Then if you ever called him on it, he'd say that was just the way business was done. He wore loud suits he extorted from cheap haberdashers. Nobody, including his fellow cops, trusted or liked him. He knew he wasn't welcome in my place, so I said, "What's it to you?" and made sure the lock was tight when I shut the gate. I reached into my pocket and slipped my fingers through my knucks.
Before I could take a step, he got in front of me and said, "Hold it there. I'm not done with you."
I told him to go to hell, which was probably not smart, but I was still mad about being interrupted with Connie.
He stuck a hand on my chest and said, "You're not going anywhere until you tell me about the item that was delivered to your speak. I'm in on this deal, see. A piece of it's mine. Give."
"You're nuts. I don't know what you're talking about," I said, and tried to go around him. He grabbed my shoulder, spun me to face the gate and said that he had to find out if I was armed and reached for the pocket where the pistol would be.
He tried to get his arm around my neck, but I twisted back around so I was facing him and crouched. I was too close to use the stick. He grunted and grabbed at my head. I worked my right hand free and hit him hard with my knucks square on his knee.
He howled, spat out his cigar, and staggered back. "You're not cutting me out of this, you little shit," he said and lunged at me again. His knee folded underneath him. He struggled to his feet, cursing me.
"Hey!" a familiar voice yelled from the other end of the alley. "What's going on here?" I heard quick footsteps approaching, and Patrolman Cheeks came to a stop soon enough. Betcherman limped away toward the Broadway end of the alley.
"Oh, it's you, Jimmy. Was that Detective Betcherman? What's going on?" Cheeks was my regular beat cop and a nice young guy. He got a little extra from me every week, and he took special care of my place.
I found my hat and straightened my coat and tie. "I don't know. Betcherman was just talking a lot of screwy talk. Is he working this?"
"No, Detective Ellis is in charge." Cheeks slapped his nightstick in his hand and frowned. He didn't like Betcherman any more than I did.
Light, noise, and commotion were coming from the other end of the alley where he had been posted. We walked back there. When we reached the street, I saw that police cars had cut off traffic to the north and south, and small crowds had gathered at both barricades. There was a big patch of scorched brick on both sides of the alley there. In the dim light of a streetlamp half a block away, you couldn't see much, but that nasty smell was something I knew and hadn't forgot. It looked like whatever it was had exploded about five or ten yards into the alley and blown out windows up to the third floor.
"Anybody hurt?" I asked.
"There's a dead guy up the street," he said, nodding toward one of the barricades. It had to be twenty yards away.
"Something blows up here, and he winds up all the way up there?"
Cheeks shrugged. "I don't know nothing."
That was about all there was to see, so I said to Cheeks, "Tell Detective Ellis to drop by when he's done." And I walked back to the speak.
Cheeks found me a couple of hours later in the cellar, where I was going over the invoices Connie had brought up to the office. He said that Detective Ellis wasn't going to be finished with the bomb and the dead guy anytime soon, and then he said something that just floored me.
"I don't know what this means, but Ellis says you should meet him this evening at six at the Cloud Club. He said you'd know what it is."
It took me a second to make sense of it, then I said, "Yeah, thanks, Cheeks."
It was true that I knew what the Cloud Club was, but I didn't have a hint in hell as to why Ellis would want to meet me there. So I went back to work and worried about Ellis and the Cloud Club, and I remembered the first bomb.
It had been twelve years before, in September, 1920.
I was working for A. R.—Arnold Rothstein—carrying messages, bribes, payoffs, and this and that. On that day, I had a thin envelope—a message, not cash—probably, meant for a captain down at the First Precinct police station. I was almost to Nassau Street, a few blocks up from Wall Street, and I meant to avoid it. There was so much construction work going on down there that even on a good day, the streets were crowded and slow. It was near noon and I was hungry—I was always hungry—when a huge flash of blue light blazed across the building in front of me. Then, before I could even blink against the light, came the sound of the explosion, louder than a summer afternoon thunderclap but sharper and close. As the ringing in my ears grew fainter, I heard something else, a loud crackle that turned out to be shattered glass falling from thousands of windows to the sidewalk. Finally a gray-brown-black cloud of dust swelled up Nassau Street, and I couldn't see anything else.
Too inexperienced to be as scared as I should've been, I turned and charged straight down Nassau to Wall Street to find out what had happened. Coughing against the dust, I ran straight into a guy whose suit was on fire. His face was black, and he bounced off me, slapping feebly at his lapels. People were yelling things like "The Stock Exchange has been destroyed" and "The Morgan Bank is exploded."
When I got down to the corner of Wall Street where Nassau turns into Broad—it was no more than four minutes after the blast, just as the dust and smoke were thinning out and you could see how terrible it was. One car was burning, and another was on its side. I remember seeing a horse with its feet sticking straight up, and there were splashes of red blood and gobs of stuff that turned out to be flesh on the sides of the buildings. The smoke had a nasty chemical smell to it that stuck in your nose and throat, and broken bits of glass were still raining down.
Some people were sitting up or trying to stand, but a lot of them weren't moving at all. The first person I really noticed was a kid, a teenager a few years older than me. He was on his back there in the middle of the street. I could tell by the cap next to his head and the call book still clutched in his hand that he was a messenger, like me, but legit. I could also tell right off that he was dead by the way his arms were thrown out and the flat misshapen mess of his face.
It scared me like nothing else had ever scared me. I realized later that he was the first real dead person I'd ever seen, and as I looked at him then, I understood for the first time that kids like me could die. That's probably when I threw up.
By then, the street was filling up. Men were moving all around, bumping into me and yelling to get the hell out of the way. I stumbled across to the sidewalk and heard an awful sobbing scream of pain and saw three guys trying to pick up a woman who was wedged against a door. When they got her almost upright, she screamed even more horribly, and the men stopped, and we all saw that her arms had been blown off.
I heaved again, and I know now that those probably weren't the most awful things that happened to the people who'd been out on Wall Street at noon, but they were awful enough for me. Even today, that nasty smoky bloody street comes back in my nightmares.
Before long, they got organized and started putting the wounded people into cabs and cars, and we heard the clangs of ambulance bells, and fire trucks showed up. A lot of people were still streaming in to see what had happened. The cops tried to keep them out, and pretty soon soldiers with rifles marched in. They kicked me out, and I remembered that I had a job to do.
When I finally got to the First Precinct police station, I found it almost empty. The captain I was supposed to see was with the rest of the cops back at Wall Street. I hung around for a while, not sure what to do, then went back uptown. I didn't find A. R. until nearly midnight at Ruben's, where he conducted his business in those days. Like everybody else, he was angry, and he said that it was the goddamn Reds who'd done it. It turned out that they put a big bomb on a horse-drawn cart, and the Red who drove it just stopped in the middle of Wall Street right at noon, when everybody was outside trying to find lunch. He ran away, and the bomb killed about thirty people.
Now, the truth is I didn't know who or what Reds were and had to ask Mother Moon. She was the old gal who owned the building in Hell's Kitchen where I lived and sent me out to work for A. R. She explained that there were Bolsheviks and communists and anarchists, and they were all Reds. That didn't help, and so she spelled it out. All of them hated J. P. Morgan and the other bankers and bosses because the bankers and bosses had all the money and ran things. The Reds thought they should have all the money and run things, but they kept fighting with each other. The communists wanted the workers to be in charge of everything, and the anarchists wanted nobody to be in charge of anything. She wasn't sure what the Bolsheviks wanted.
But how, I asked her, was blowing up a bomb going to make J. P. Morgan hand over his money? And how was killing a bunch of regular people going to get other regular people to want to become Reds?
She shook her head. "I don't know. It doesn't make any sense to me either. The only way I know to get money from rich people is to steal it. That's what we do, but we get to keep damn little of it for ourselves after we pay off our bosses, like the alderman, bless his worthless bleeding shit-stained ass. And now I'm tired of talking. Fetch my pipe."
Excerpted from Everybody Goes to Jimmy's by Michael W. Mayo. Copyright © 2014 Michael W. Mayo. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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