As the couple traversed the gambling hall, headed for the nightclub, Angelo and several patrons had peered at the object. Why did the babe bring that to a casino and nightclub? What purpose did it serve? The damn thing was eclipsing a flesh-and-blood goddess, the gaming executive had thought. Suddenly he had realized it was a fabulous sales gimmick.
Three hours later he had seen her again, calmly sashaying among casino tables, hoping to be picked up. But as Angelo very well knew, compulsive gamblers won’t leave a table for a dame, not even for an Ava Gardner look-alike carrying an intriguing plastic ring. The Norwegian was nowhere to be seen.
Nick Di Constanzo, Casino de Capri’s general manager, had repeatedly warned all those under him never to mix business with pleasure. You want to have a drink, sweet-talk a broad, engage in conversation with a friend, you do it after hours. But Angelo was only human. Tired of call girls, he felt like a ring girl. So, he had approached the young woman with a jaunty step and his most engaging smile, accompanied her to the bar, ordered the bartender to serve the lady whatever she pleased, and said he would be free in less than an hour.
During the short walk from Casino de Capri to the building where he had rented apartment 15-A almost a year earlier, a mere three blocks, Angelo had learned that her name was Gloria, “glory” in Spanish. He had felt sure it was going to be a glorious night indeed. The only thing that Angelo didn’t approve of in this particular broad was her perfume: Chanel No. 5. Ever since Marilyn Monroe went public on what she wore to bed, he hadn’t found a high-priced chippie who smelled different.
And finally, sitting on his living room couch, sipping his first drink of the night, Angelo discovered what purpose the ring served. Gloria took a moment to change the position of a floor lamp and the coffee table, placed the sound track of The Eddie Duchin Story on the record player, and stripped as she danced. Once buck naked, she started rotating the hula hoop with such a slow, sensual swaying of her hips that it looked as though gravity had been conquered.
As a man of the world, Angelo had seen a lot. He knew that certain moments in life merit special appreciation, and on this particular night, for some reason he couldn’t define, he suspected that he was watching a unique performance he’d never see again. Angelo wanted to prolong this very private show as long as possible, memorize everything, including its concomitants: the music, the soft lighting, the flavor of the Black Label highball. But Gloria slithered languorously across the room, getting nearer every few seconds. After three minutes, Angelo succumbed to the erotic flexibility radiating from her superb body. They rolled over the carpet kissing and touching in blind sexual frenzy as he pulled his clothes off.
Angelo Dick kissed Gloria good-bye next to the front door at 6:30 a.m., when the rising sun was purifying the greenish tint of his living room’s picture window and the charcoal gray of the nearby sea. Amazing what twenty bucks buys in this town, Casino de Capri’s hall supervisor concluded five minutes later as he flopped onto his bed. He signed off smelling Gloria’s perfume on his pillow.
Nearly five and a half hours later, the ringing phone on the bedside table awoke him. The Breitling strapped to Angelo’s left wrist read 11:58. Who can it be at this hour, for Chrissake? Angelo registered the discomfort of a full bladder and a slight hangover as he propped himself on his elbow and picked up the receiver.
“Hold the line, Angelo,” a baritone voice said.
A few seconds went by as a handset changed hands somewhere. The hall supervisor frowned in confusion.
‘did I wake you?”
Angelo swiftly swung his legs out and sat up as soon as he identified the voice on the other end. “No, sir.”
“Good. Your place is in a high building by the sea, right?”
“Is your antenna on the roof?”
Angelo didn’t get it. There had to be an agreed-upon code he had forgotten. He massaged his forehead in exasperation, trying to remember. “Excuse me, Mr. Lansky. My antenna?”
“Your TV antenna, Angelo,” Lansky repeated in a patient tone, as though talking to a kid. Angelo’s embarrassment grew.
‘my TV antenna,” the hall supervisor said, groping for understanding.
“You sure I didn’t wake you up?” Lansky asked, sounding suspicious.
“Oh, no. Sure.”
“I . . . uh . . . believe it’s a multiple antenna for all residents. You plug it into a socket. And, yeah, I believe it’s on the roof.”
“Channel 6 will broadcast the first game,” Lansky said following what sounded to Angelo’s ear like a repressed chuckle. “But a friend told me the picture ain’t too sharp, “cause the signal comes from a plane flying over the Keys that fields it from Miami, then relays it. People in high buildings close to the coast will get a clearer picture. That’s why I wonder if I could watch the game at your place.”
“Of course you can, Mr. Lansky, it’ll be a real pleasure to have you.”
“Okay. Thanks. I’ll be there around two. See you.”
Angelo Dick hung up and mulled over the conversation. He knew that Meyer Lansky lived at a rented two-story mansion in Miramar, but he also had a suite for his exclusive use at the Riviera and the new hotel was . . . well, not as high as his own building, but high enough. Angelo never had heard that Number One was such a devoted baseball fan and suspected that something else was brewing. What could it be? Discussing last-quarter results? Estimates for the coming winter season? Angelo got up and shuffled in his slippers to the bathroom. A fat lifesaver vibrated over the elastic band of his boxer shorts.
Angelo Dick was a swarthy, thirty-three-year-old man so sure of himself that he considered his performance as gambling-hall supervisor at Casino de Capri impeccable. Income forecasts were consistently surpassed and the expansion into sports bets was registering amazing results. Would shacking at the Someill”n bestow on him the privilege of entertaining the boss? Angelo shook his head in disbelief and flushed the toilet. Probably Lansky would have lunch before coming, he reasoned next, but if Number One felt like having a snack during the game or once it was over, he should be able to oblige.
Returning to his bedroom extension, Angelo dialed the Capri’s switchboard and ordered from the cafeteria two pounds of sliced ham, one of cheese, twelve bottles of Miller beer, a small flask of pickled cucumbers, two quarts of milk, and two packs of Pall Mall. He hung up, remembered the prevailing disorder, sighed, and went back to the bathroom.
Within fifteen minutes Angelo had taken a shower, shaved, and brushed his teeth. Back in the bedroom, he donned fresh underwear, tan slacks, a short-sleeved black shirt, brown moccasins. Next he picked up and rinsed glasses and plates, returned the floor lamp, the coffee table, and two cushions to their proper places, emptied ashtrays, checked his liquor reserves. By the time the two humming air conditioners and an air freshener had cooled and purified the living room, a busboy arrived with the order. Angelo watched as the man placed in the refrigerator two plates covered with aluminum foil, the milk, and the beer; the cigarettes and the flask of cucumbers were left on the auxiliary kitchen table. The hall supervisor signed the check, walked the attendant to the service elevator, and tipped him a dollar.
Angelo made himself two sandwiches, poured a glass of milk, and had brunch standing up while recalling what little he knew about his visitor. The man had conceived and carried through the Cuban expansion. He had brought in Santos Trafficante, Nick Di Constanzo, Wilbur Clark, Fat Butch, and several other lesser-known wise guys. Even though he’d personally secured the fourteen million of Las Vegas dough required to build the Havana Riviera casino and hotel, now Lansky had the nerve to turn up on the payroll as kitchen manager. In fact, he was the Commission’s ambassador to Cuba and a close friend of President Batista.
According to underworld rumble, he had always been cunning, crafty, mysterious; a repository of cool and wisdom. Having cut the mustard for over thirty years in a very tough environment, Meyer Lansky had become one of the living legends hatched by the American press after being pronounced by all–including J. Edgar Hoover–the best criminal mind in the U.S. Allegedly he had convinced mobsters that crime was just business. He also made them realize that businessmen don’t resolve their differences shooting each other because . . . it’s bad for business. Angelo Dick reflected on the paradox that the guy who shunned applause, shared victories even with his enemies, and hid from notoriety had emerged as the brightest, most capable of them all.
Angelo Dick had climbed the gaming ladder quickly, for several reasons. Although he was intelligent, hardworking, and ambitious, what really made him stand out in Vegas, his most highly regarded trait, was his amazing numerical memory. While munching the second sandwich, Dick mentally reviewed Casino de Capri’s latest results. Income from roulette, craps, baccarat, blackjack, one-armed bandits, and the last quarter’s grand total. He was also in charge of supervising the external collection network spread across private companies, government offices, stores, and any other place of work or student body where bookies could operate, so he racked his brains on net profits from bets laid on baseball games, boxing, horse and dog races. Angelo also checked expenditures, bribes, commissions paid, and his preliminary forecast for October, November, and December. He simultaneously finished picking his brain and the milk at 1:40 p.m., five minutes before the doorbell rang.
Meyer Lansky and Jacob Shaifer nodded, removed their hats, and took in the place. Two Jews together, the gentile gets fucked, thought Angelo, but he smiled politely, accepted the hats, and led them to the living room. Decor, furniture, and temperature gave the room a nice ambience. The callers eased themselves down onto the couch, facing a 21-inch TV set. The host turned it on, then apologized for his hesitation on the phone; he thought “antenna” was a code. His visitors exchanged a swift glance and smiled–slightly forced smiles, Angelo fancied as the screen came alive with a flow of commercials.
Five foot seven inches, 160 pounds, and sixty-two years old, Lansky looked like millions of other well-groomed elderly men all over the Western world. Gray hair, sober clothing, thirty-eight-inch waist, manicured nails, the unhurried movements of retired people. His brown eyes made all the difference: They possessed the vitality inherent in the very bright, sparkled with reflections of full mental faculties. Shaifer–bodyguard, confidant, driver, and Lansky’s personal friend for twenty-five years–had just moved into his fifties with relative grace. His dull, gray irises looked across glasses in black plastic frames that leaned on a beaked nose. Few hairs survived at the top of his head and he was as talkative as a turtle. Both men wore sport jackets made of lightweight material over open-necked white dress shirts and slacks.
“What are the odds for the Series, Angelo?” Lansky asked as he took off his jacket, folded it, and let it rest on the low coffee table.
“Thirteen to ten for the Yanks.”
“And for this game?” the boss asked while crossing his ankles.
“Eleven to ten. Whitey Ford is starting and . . . you know, he’s near forty.”
“Who’s throwing for Milwaukee?” Lansky wanted to know as he lit a cigarette.
“Haney said Warren Spahn.”
The exchange dried up. Angelo was mixing a whiskey and soda for Lansky when the first takes of County Stadium appeared on the screen. Cuco Conde, a Cuban sports commentator, told viewers that Gillette’s Sports Cavalcade had the pleasure of presenting, live from Milwaukee and making use of CMQ’s “Over the Horizon” technology, the first game of the 1958 World Series between the teams that had won the American and National League pennants, the New York Yankees and the Milwaukee Braves.
‘damn, they’re speaking Spanish!” Shaifer fumed. He also had taken off his jacket, and Angelo guessed that the automatic in his shoulder holster was a .45 Colt Commando.
“What did you expect?” Lansky asked.
Having handed Lansky his drink, Angelo poured two beers in tall glasses for Shaifer and himself. They watched and listened in silence, only partially understanding the confirmation of the designated pitchers, that the weather was cooler than expected, and that 46,377 mad fans huzzahed the local players as they took the field. During the first two innings, Lansky and Angelo pooled their scant knowledge of Spanish and managed to understand most of Conde’s comments. At the top of the third, Lansky asked what the Capri man had been waiting for:
“How much did we collect for the outcome of the
Dick unfastened his gaze from the screen, placed his half-full glass on the table at a safe distance from Lansky’s jacket, and cleared his throat. His guests kept watching the game.
“In round numbers, 223,000 for the Yanks and 63,000 for the Braves.”
“How do we stand?”
“Thirteen-to-ten odds mean a net loss of around 100 thousand if the Yankees win and a net profit of 125 thousand if they lose.”
“Bets for this game?”
“Three sixteen for the Yanks and ninety-two for the Braves.”
Shaifer whistled low and cut a sideways look at Angelo Dick, who anticipated the next question.
“We’d lose around 195 if the Mules win. If Milwaukee takes the lead, we’d make roughly 215.”
Lansky seemed to be following the plays as he sipped his highball, but his mind juggled figures and explored opportunities. Only the set’s audio and the humming air conditioners could be heard. At the bottom of the third inning, following ten minutes of silence, he made an observation.
“On the first game these people bet, only with us, almost four hundred eight thousand bucks, over forty cents for each man, woman, and child in the city.”
Angelo Dick nodded reflectively before speaking. “You consider bets controlled by natives and those among buddies, maybe the total is over a dollar per person. Just like in New York or Chicago.”
“There’s something to learn from this,” Lansky said, turning to Shaifer. “We have to redirect the Cubans’ devotion to gambling. Take them to the wheel, the bones, the bandits, anything gives us better percentages. We ought to figure out some sort of small, low-overhead joints in Havana’s downtown and middle-class districts to take in natives who will never gamble at the Riviera, Capri, or Deauville. We gotta rise to the occasion, increase the profit potential of all that sports dough from fifty to eighty, eighty-five, or ninety per cent. Now, Jacob, the biggest amusement park here has a cheap gambling parlor operated by a Cuban. I’ve been told the guy’s making a killing. Give it a look-see, willya? Talk to the guy, tell him we’d like to do business with him.”
“I’ll see to it,” Shaifer said.
In the top of the fourth, Bill Skowron, the Yankees’ first baseman, hit a home run and opened the scoring, but in the bottom the Braves scored two runs. With Hank Aaron on third base, Del Crandall singled to left field; another hit by Andy Pafko moved Crandall to second; then a sharp liner to center field by Warren Spahn allowed Crandall to score. Angelo Dick refreshed drinks, lit a Pall Mall, and reclined on his armchair for the fifth. With one out, Whitey Ford walked and Hank Bauer, the New Yorkers’ right fielder, homered into the left field bleachers to give his team a 3–2 lead.
The three men watched with the poise typical of professional gamblers. For the financial reward involved, a vague inner satisfaction settled in just after the Braves took the lead, even though none needed to be reminded that the next day’s score could offset a first-game profit. Lansky smoked placidly, sipped his drink, or drummed his fingers on the arm of the couch. Shaifer, shirt cuffs folded up under the elbows, had the inscrutability of a Siamese cat. Angelo Dick methodically reviewed figures in his mind, waiting for a new round of questions. Through the huge picture window, under a brilliant sun, the sea and the sky merged blues on the horizon.
At the start of the lucky seventh, Lansky turned a little in his seat and stared at Casino de Capri’s gambling-hall supervisor.
“How’s the other business, Angelo?”
“It’s okay, Mr. Lansky. I still haven’t got the final figures for September–you know, the accountant is working on it now, month ended yesterday–but we are hoping for a 160-grand net profit, not bad for the dead month. Nick is very pleased, especially with roulette results. We made 83,000 in it, 33,000 in baccarat, 28,000 in–”
“Not the Capri, Angelo,” interrupted Lansky.
“I mean your other business.”
‘my other business?”
“This angel factory you’ve opened up.”
Angelo Dick’s only visible reaction was a touch of paleness. To elude Lansky’s stare, he looked at the TV screen. Wiretapped was the first thing that came to his mind.
“Tell me, how’re you doing in the baby business?” Lansky insisted.
Angelo kept watching the game. “It’s no big deal,
“Is that right?”
“Yes, sir,” he said, starting to look befuddled.
Lansky kept his eyes fastened on Angelo Dick. ‘really? Four hundred twenty-three abortions in six months, your cut is a hundred for each little thing, and it’s no big deal? At the casino you make forty-eight grand a year; the bonus pushes you up to what, fifty-five? Sixty? At the rate you’re shipping angels to heaven you’ll make almost ninety grand a year. No big deal? Give me a break.”
“In fact–,” Dick began, taking a stab at mollifying Lansky, eyes still on the screen.
“Look at me, you sonafabitch!”
The old man read fear in Angelo’s eyes. Lansky was glad that it was out in the open at last. Life had burned out his self-control; twenty years earlier he had been capable of dancing around a punk like Angelo for months, work and party with him as if nothing had happened, and never feel anger boiling inside him. He rose from the couch and walked over to the huge picture window, hands in his pockets. Jacob Shaifer hadn’t moved an inch, but he wore a different expression now: that of a predator ready to leap over an unsuspecting antelope. The hall supervisor felt his bladder in need of relief and admitted to himself it was part beer, part panic. He now knew why the boss had invited himself to his apartment.
Lansky stared out through the window. His gaze plummeted a hundred feet down, across the wide avenue to the dog’s tooth rock beyond the seawall. Tame waves caressed it lovingly, white foam cooled it off, salt flavored it, seaweed adorned it. Lansky took a deep breath. Angelo’s greed had opened him to ridicule, and he needed to relieve his frustration with the jerk responsible for it. His cardiologist had advised him to at his last appointment. Seething is bad for you. Let the steam off; don’t repress your feelings all the time. Kick the furniture, yell at incompetent bastards–that’s the best therapy. Besides, it was part of the act, one of those rare occasions in life when what must be done perfectly matches up with what you feel like doing. He turned around and faced Angelo.
‘didn’t you know New York is trying to force its way in?” he hissed.
Angelo Dick nodded energetically.
‘didn’t you know Anastasia wanted to retire Frank?”
Second lively acceptance.
Lansky was fuming now. ‘didn’t you know I had to call a meeting here with the Commission and the dons of the Five Families and tell them all that whoever wanted to invade the fucking Cuban territory would be sleeping in a wooden pajama one day after getting off the plane?”
Third mute approval.
“Talk to me, scumbag. Did you or didn’t you know all that?”
“I did, yessir.”
“And knowing it, you go and line up with a Joe Bananas sottocapo to perform abortions here on every New York slut gets pregnant.”
Angelo looked at the floor, weathering the storm.
“You almost had to charter a fucking plane! A hundred twenty-six broads flew over in August! Three gynecologists at three different clinics, for Chrissake! This keeps growing, you’ll have to rent office space and a coupla secretaries, goddammit!”
During a fifteen-second pause, Lansky got his breath back. Jacob Shaifer was enjoying the performance enormously.
“I know everything, Angelo, everything,” Lansky went on at last. “The dame pays four hundred. Two cover medical attention. You and Joe Notaro split the other two.”
“Excuse me for interrupting, Mr. Lansky,” moaned the culprit, “but I’m not making a hundred per patient. I gotta pay the interpreter that picks them up at the airport, taxi fare, tips–”
“You are stupid. I’m discussing principles here, not nickels and dimes. Can’t you see, asshole, they’ve used you as the foot in the door?”
“Just a second, sir,” Angelo said, holding up his hands innocently, minding his choice of words. “This is a misunderstanding. Notaro has never said a word about gambling, never mentioned that Bonanno wants to open shop here. Fact is right now there’s a lot of heat against illegal abortions in New York and prices have shot up to a thou, even twelve hundred. And since it’s legit here, including airfare each patient saves between four and six hundred dollars. I give you my word, Mr. Lansky, it was just a business opportunity. Nobody asked me how are we doing or suggested I change sides.”
Lansky moved his eyes to the screen for a few seconds to process the new information. Probably. Joe Bananas,
Mr. Nice Guy, didn’t have the balls to go ahead on his own. Maybe Bananas’ closest ally, Joe Profaci, whose daughter married Mr. Nice Guy’s son, wasn’t sure yet. The hypocrite bastards.
“They don’t feel sure yet,” Lansky said as if muttering to himself. “They know I’m pretty powerful here.” And again addressing Angelo: “For twenty-one years I’ve done business in Cuba, you hear? Twenty-one years.”
“I’ll explain everything . . .”
“You sure will.”
“. . . but I gotta pee.”
“You already peed outta the piss pot. Keep an eye on the schmuck.”
Lansky motioned his last remark to Shaifer by jerking his head and remained alone in the living room as both men marched to the bathroom. Bottom of the eighth. The Braves’ Eddie Mathews walked; Hank Aaron lined a double into right field, sending Mathews to third. Casey Stengel emerged from the dugout and sportively trotted his sixty-eight years to the pitching mound for a talk with Whitey Ford. Fans knew that Ford and Stengel didn’t get along, but talking in front of the cameras they looked like father and son. Stengel rested his right hand on the pitcher’s shoulder and signaled for Ryne Duren. The game proceeded and Adcock fanned for the first out before Wes Covington flied out deep to center field, and Mantle’s throw couldn’t beat Mathews to home plate. Tied, 3–3.
Angelo and Shaifer returned to their seats and watched the action. The hall supervisor awaited sentencing smoking nervously and trying to sort out his predicament. He suspected that Lansky had ordered Shaifer to monitor him in the bathroom to prevent him from flushing some compromising papers–that had to be it. Treason entailed death, but that was out of the question; he hadn’t betrayed. He’d be reprimanded and that would be all. Nonetheless, the flustered Angelo envisioned his future in Havana as uncertain as the outcome of a baseball game tied at the start of the ninth.
Shaifer rose and ambled over to the pantry, opened the refrigerator, rolled up and gobbled two slices of ham and one of cheese in three bites. He came back into the living room wiping his fingers clean on his handkerchief, then arranged himself on the sofa.
“You fucked up, Angelo,” a calm Lansky said once he had concluded that the egregious blunder deserved the punishment agreed on beforehand. “You fucked up when they offered you the deal and didn’t mention it to Nick or to myself; fucked up again when operations started; and perhaps you also fucked up with something more serious nobody knows about, like blowing the gaff.”
“No. I give you my word,” Angelo averred.
“Let’s hope so. Nick and I agreed you’ll take a plane to Tampa, report to the Colonial Inn, and mop floors or wash dishes till I remember you again.”
“You sound like a fucking Marine,” Lansky quipped with a grin.
Angelo thought that joking entailed forgiveness and, relieved, smiled broadly. Shaifer shook his head in admiration. His boss was one of the greatest actors on earth.
Minutes wore on and not another word was spoken. In the bottom of the tenth Hank Aaron was called out on strikes, Adcock singled to center, and Wes Covington flied out. Then Adcock took second on Del Crandall’s single and Bill Bruton came to bat. Benched at the start of the game with knee trouble and because left-handed Whitey Ford was pitching, he took Andy Pafko’s place in center field after Duren relieved Ford. On the third pitch Bruton stroked a line drive to right field and Adcock scored the winning run for the Milwaukee Braves.
Meyer Lansky rose from the couch, turned off the set, slowly slipped into his jacket and put his hat on. Shaifer did the same after unfolding his shirt cuffs and followed his boss to the front door. Angelo Dick, right behind them, heard the lock clicking open, and believed himself home free. It was the proper moment to say good-bye with humble elegance in a diffident tone.
“Thanks for your understanding, Mr. Lansky.”
“You’re coming with us, Angelo. Get your jacket,” was Meyer Lansky’s soft-spoken indication.
Copyright ” 2003 by Jos’ Latour. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.