New York City, 1933: King Kong is premiering at Radio City Music Hall, and Fay Wray is about to become the most famous actress on earth. So what's she doing hanging around a rundown Manhattan speakeasy? This Hollywood scream queen has come to see Jimmy Quinn, a limping tough guy who knows every gangster in New York-and does his best to steer clear of them all. A blackmailer has pictures of a Fay-lookalike engaged in conduct that would make King Kong blush, and Fay's movie studio wants the threat eliminated. Jimmy tries to settle the matter quietly, but stopping the extortion will cut just as deeply as Fay's famous scream, ringing from Broadway all the way to Chinatown.
About the Author
Qarie Marshall has narrated over 30 series for the Discovery, Learning Channels & The BBC, as well as providing the inflight programming for Virgin Atlantic Airlines & BBC radio plays. He has voiced over 80 video games for the Playstation & Xbox, and was a guest voice on Comedy Central's Drawn Together. He was made an Associate Artist of The Purple Rose Theatre in 2007.
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Jimmy and Fay
A Suspense Novel
By Michael Mayo
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 2016 Michael Mayo
All rights reserved.
I want to say that it started when Fay Wray walked into my speak, but that's not right. It was two years before — September 1931 — the day we killed Maranzano.
It was the middle of a hellishly hot Thursday afternoon. The weather was so bad people were fainting and having heart attacks on the street. It wasn't much cooler inside the Grand Central Building but I can't say that I noticed. Even if you're not going to be the one who pulls the trigger or plies the blade, you pay attention to the important things and block out everything else. You just don't want to screw up in front of the other guys.
I went up the west stairwell to the ninth floor, just like I'd done the day before, and walked down the hall past the offices of the Eagle Building Corporation. I carried two straw boaters in a brown paper bag, and had a .38 in the pocket of my suit jacket. I gimped along on my stick and timed it so I was outside the door when a guy opened it to go in. About half a dozen men and a secretary were in the outer office. The door to Maranzano's office was closed, but I knew he was in there. He ran some of the biggest rackets in the city and had proclaimed himself to be the king of the Italian mob. He thought that having a new office at a swanky address like that, a couple blocks up Park Avenue from Grand Central Terminal, gave him some kind of respectability. Other parties didn't see it that way. I'll get to the reasons for what we were doing by and by.
I went back down by the east stairwell and out to Forty-Sixth Street. Red Levine was on the other side of the street. Even at that distance, I could see his freckles. He was in charge of the actual killing. I'd been told there were four others involved, but I didn't know all of them. I gave Red a quick high sign. He nodded to the two guys with the Chicago hats and they stepped smartly toward another door. I went back up the east stairway to the ninth-floor landing and eased the door open so I could hear when things got interesting. It didn't take long.
Red and the other guys were in Maranzano's office by then. They had phony IRS credentials to get past the secretary. My job was to make sure they had a clear way out and to keep an eye out for another individual who was rumored to be involved, that individual being Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll. Word was about that Maranzano had hired Coll to kill Charlie Luciano. Meyer Lansky, who was Charlie's friend and mine, wanted to make sure that didn't happen, but I'm getting ahead of myself again and, besides, all these damn names are confusing.
You see, it was like this. Maranzano knew that IRS agents were looking into his affairs. The tax guys were doing that because Lansky's brother, Jake, had set them on Maranzano and made sure that Maranzano knew about it. So Maranzano ordered his guys not to bring their guns to the office. Wouldn't look so good, a law-abiding businessman having a bunch of armed thugs on the premises when the accountants showed up. Even though he made his money on illegal booze, dope, whores, extortion, loan sharking, and all the other things that make life worth living, he wanted to look like he belonged there with the bankers and railroads and do-good societies in the Grand Central Building.
Standing in the ninth-floor stairwell, I heard footsteps scuffing up from below. I let the door ease shut and had my .38 out when that son of a bitch Coll came into view. He stopped when he heard me cock the pistol. Even though the light was dim, he recognized me and knew what was up. Without a moment's pause, he spun around and threw himself back down, two steps at a time by the sound of it. As it happened, that was the last time I saw Coll until the night he got himself shot, but it's a story that I've told before. Then I heard something else in the stairwell, a hesitation in his step and the clatter of something hard hitting the concrete.
I followed and found the pistol that Coll had dropped, a .38 like my own, on the sixth-floor landing. I didn't touch it. Then from above came two muffled shots. I turned to go back up but stopped when the door opened right in front of me and I saw a man and a woman staring at me.
The guy had a black Vandyke beard. He wore a dark suit, a red vest, and a fez. I knew the woman. She was a well-built blonde in a classy peach-colored suit with a big floppy bow at her throat.
Surprised, she said, "Hello, Jimmy."
I said, "Hi, Daphne. Take the elevator."
They stepped away, closing the door, and I went back up to the ninth as fast as I could.
Right as I got there, Red came through the door. He was moving fast but not hurrying. Behind him were two guys I didn't know. Bareheaded. I gave them the straw boaters and followed them down the stairs. With my stick, I was a lot slower, so they were gone by the time I got outside. I ambled back outside and found a place to have a cup of coffee while I waited for the sound of sirens.
Here's what happened.
Back when Prohibition got started, the Italians had a leg up on everybody else in the bootlegging business. Families in the tenements always had operated these alky cookers in their kitchens and basements where they made little batches of dago red. Some of it was all right, but most of the tarantula juice I tasted would gag a rat. But what do I know? They loved the stuff, and when alcohol became illegal, other people wanted it. The neighborhood bosses started buying the swill, and they leaned on the guys to make more. The most important boss was Joe Masseria. He'd been in charge of things with the Italians for as long as I could remember. Lots of people wanted to take over from him. I saw one of the first times a couple of guys shot up a dress store trying to kill him. Salvatore Maranzano came over some time in the twenties and set up an operation that put a crimp in Masseria's business. They hated each other.
Truth is, the nasty homebrew was fine for their little part of the world, but the big money was to be made selling good hooch at much higher prices to a larger well-heeled clientele. Arnold Rothstein figured that out. He brought Meyer Lansky and Charlie Luciano into the business. I helped.
Working with Benny Siegel and Frank Costello and some other guys, Meyer and Charlie built the biggest, richest booze business in the city. Masseria and Maranzano both wanted it. You've got to understand that they were old-fashioned Mustache Petes who didn't think that Italians should work with anybody else. No yids, no micks, no spics. Hell, as I heard it, they didn't even trust other wops unless they were from the same neighborhood of the same little village back in the old country. Charlie got his start working for Masseria but had been on his own for the most part. He tried to stay out of the way while the old bastards fought it out. Each of them had a couple hundred younger guys he could count on for dirty work, and for the past year or so they'd been killing each other one or two at a time. That was fine until they put the pressure on Charlie to pick a side.
I was in their office in the Barbizon Plaza Hotel one afternoon when Lansky decided to end it. Everybody else was gone. It was just Meyer, Charlie, and me. I was there because I'd made a round of payoffs to Tammany and had picked up some messages for them at the same time. Charlie looked glum. Meyer was serious. He told me to pour a drink and sit down. Then he asked me how much I knew about the business with Masseria and Maranzano and told me how they were putting the screws to Charlie.
Of course what the old guys didn't understand was that you didn't get Charlie without Meyer. Sure, they were friends, but there was a lot more to it. As far as I could tell, Meyer was closer to Charlie than he was to his own brother. Charlie was the smooth talker and glad-hander that everybody wanted to be around, but Meyer was the brains. He handled the organization and the details. Charlie never made an important decision without talking it through with the Little Man, as some people called him, and they said it with respect. Yeah, Charlie had the reputation as a tough guy who was quick with his mitts and a gun, but Meyer was always looking out for him.
When Charlie started talking that evening, I realized that he'd had a few. He said that Joe the Boss had been around since he was a kid and now this guy Maranzano wanted to be "the boss of all the goddamn greaseball dago bosses." He waved his drink around when he said it and I could tell that he was mad, too. "That's just fucking nuts. Even if he could get the rest of those fucking guys in line, they'd never stand for it for long. Boss of bosses, my ass."
"That's right," Meyer said. "There's only one way to get out of it." He paused and stared at Charlie until he was sure that Charlie was listening to him. "We've gotta get both of them."
Charlie shook his head.
Meyer went on, "If you agree to work with either one of those fucking assholes, he'll kill you. That's the truth of it. They want your business. They want our business. They'll tell you they just want a little slice of it, for you to show respect, but they'll try to take it all. You know that."
"Here's how we'll do it," Meyer said. "You tell that crazy Maranzano you'll kill Masseria for him. After we do it, things settle down. Then we'll kill Maranzano."
He turned to me. "Do you want some extra work?"
"What do you have in mind?"
Meyer said that because they'd been killing each other for so long, the Italians were deeply suspicious of other Italians. They knew that Charlie hung around with Lansky, but they didn't think much of him. And they didn't pay any attention to the guys like Benny and Red and me that worked with them. The hard part to killing the bosses was working out a place where they'd let down their guard.
With Masseria, it was pretty easy. Charlie arranged to go to a joint where the old guy liked to eat out on Coney Island. Since I didn't know the area, I just followed along in a backup car, trailing a big sedan with Benny and Vito Genovese and Albert Anastasia and Joe Adonis. We pulled up outside the place. They went in. I heard shots. The doors swung open a few seconds later. They came out with Charlie, tossed their guns into a valise I had on my lap, and we drove away. I dropped the valise in the East River that night.
Five months later, we did Maranzano. That was tougher. Since we were working in Midtown and wanted to keep everything on the QT, Meyer and Red thought to do it with knives. But that was too risky even with four guys, and when you set out to kill a big boss like Maranzano, you make damn sure you kill him. So they had guns along with the knives. I looked the place over while Red kept track of the old guy. We weren't in a hurry until we learned that Coll was in the picture. Meyer knew Maranzano would attract more attention than Masseria — that's why he came up with the business about the hats. He got his hands on a couple of quality hats that were made in Chicago and said as much right there on the haberdasher's label, then told Red to have his guys wear them going in and to make sure to leave them in Maranzano's office. I had the boaters so nobody would remember two guys without hats leaving the building.
It was a Lansky touch. Simple and smart, and it worked. Straight off, the DA sent cops to Chicago. It didn't hurt that the legitimate business Maranzano conducted in the office had to do with getting alien immigrants into the country, and the cops decided that was why he'd been topped.
But sitting there with my coffee that afternoon, I couldn't stop thinking about the couple on the sixth floor. I couldn't get anywhere with the guy. All I could focus on was the beard and the fez. But Daphne, she was another story. Daphne was one of Polly Adler's most popular and expensive girls. I knew she was a favorite of Charlie's, and I thought she was a sweet kid. So what was she doing dressed like a secretary in Midtown in the middle of the day when she usually wore nothing at all and did her best work late at night? I figured the guy in the fez must have some exceptionally peculiar requirements in the sack. As it turned out, that was true, just not in the way I was thinking.
I didn't figure it out until somebody put the touch on Miss Wray.CHAPTER 2
It was Thursday, the second of March, 1933, about 7:00 in the evening when Fay Wray came into my speak. She had another woman with her. They were both wearing overcoats and they stayed close together as they handed them over at the cloakroom and looked for someone in the crowd. Being about my height, that was tough for them, but I could tell they were worried.
I got up from my table at the back and made my way toward them through a happy bunch of Roosevelt supporters. Connie reached the two women first. Her eyes opened wide, and she stammered for a moment before she said, "Oh, my gosh, are you ... Yes, of course you are. I can't believe this!"
It was the happiest I'd seen her in a week.
Miss Wray brightened and smiled right back at her. She leaned in, touching Connie's arm, and spoke so softly I couldn't hear what she said. Connie nodded, looked around, and waved me over. Nobody else in the joint recognized her. I thought it was pretty damn neat that she was there, but I didn't let that show.
Connie said, "This is Mr. Quinn."
"Miss Darrow ... I mean Miss Wray. It's an honor."
She gave a slow cool look, not letting anything show. I didn't know what to make of it. Finally, she said, "You're not what I expected."
Neither Connie nor the woman who came in with Miss Wray — an alert, pretty brunette — looked like they knew what she was talking about. I sure as hell didn't.
Before I could answer, she said, "Detective William Ellis asked that I meet him here. I believe some gentlemen from the studio will be joining us, too. We need to talk privately."
Ellis? What the hell? I asked Connie to bring a bottle of the good champagne and led the two women up the stairs in back to my office.
Now, the truth is that Miss Wray was not the first celebrity or even the first movie star who'd dipped a beak at Jimmy Quinn's. Mayor Jimmy Walker stopped in from time to time before they threw him out, and when Longy Zwillman was squiring Jean Harlow around, he brought her in. And there had been others, but it just wasn't the kind of place where anybody rushed to the phone to call Walter Winchell when a famous so-and-so showed up. Winchell dropped by from time to time, but to drink, not to find material.
And on that day, Miss Wray was not really famous. A month later she wouldn't be able to set foot on the sidewalk without somebody asking for an autograph, but not yet. You see, the movie King Kong had opened at Radio City Music Hall that morning, the world premiere. Connie and I were right at the front of the line. We sat with Freddie Hall, who wrote about movies for the Times. The three of us loved it. I thought it was maybe the best moving picture I'd ever seen, and I thought it was pretty amazing that one of the stars was in my place. Her being there somehow didn't seem to be real. But like I said, I tried to act like it happened every day.
Up in my office, the women sat next to each other on the leather divan. I cleared the newspapers from the table and sat behind my desk. Miss Wray was carefully examining everything — the bookcase, the little bar, the leaded glass lamp, the rug, the armchair. And me. There was something about the way she studied me that I did not understand. She was wearing a tweed dress and a belted jacket, the same outfit she'd had on that morning when she introduced the picture. It might have been the same clothes she was wearing in her first scene in the movie where she tried to steal the apple. She sure looked about the same as she did on-screen. Wide forehead, huge eyes, tight little mouth, but when she spoke, she didn't have that fruity, half-British accent that most people in the movies seemed to have. She sounded more normal in person. She introduced the woman with her as Hazel. Hazel still looked worried and maybe a little scared, like she was not used to being in a speak, even a respectable classy speak like mine.
Connie came in with the Dom and four glasses. I uncorked, poured, and offered a toast, "To your absent costar, the Eighth Wonder of the World."
Excerpted from Jimmy and Fay by Michael Mayo. Copyright © 2016 Michael Mayo. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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