Jimmy the Stickby Michael Mayo
Four-time Edgar Award–winning author Lawrence Block’s definitive essay collection on the art of writing fiction
For ten years, crime novelist Lawrence Block funneled his wealth of writing expertise into a monthly column for Writer’s Digest. Collected here for the first time are those pieces illuminating the tricks of the authorial/i>/b>
Four-time Edgar Award–winning author Lawrence Block’s definitive essay collection on the art of writing fiction
For ten years, crime novelist Lawrence Block funneled his wealth of writing expertise into a monthly column for Writer’s Digest. Collected here for the first time are those pieces illuminating the tricks of the authorial trade, from creating vibrant characters and generating seamless plots, to conquering writer’s block and experimenting with self-publishing.
Filled with wit and insight, The Liar’s Bible is a must-read for experts, amateurs, and anyone interested in learning to craft great fiction from one of the field’s modern masters.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Lawrence Block, including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.
“Imagine an Agatha Christie country-house murder mystery soaked in booze and violence, with the detective played as a cold, pragmatic street fighter instead of some effete Belgian fop. The expected traditional shenanigans unfold (there’s even a hidden room!), albeit in a rather hardboiled and occasionally bloody fashion, but the solution is clever and fair. What really sticks, however, is the film critic and first-time novelist’s muscular way with character and plot, and particularly Jimmy’s way with words.” —Mystery Scene Magazine
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Jimmy The Stick
A Suspense Novel
By Michael Mayo
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2012 Michael Mayo
All rights reserved.
My name is Jimmy Quinn. I've been a thief, a bootlegger, a bagman, and the proprietor of one of New York's better gin mills. I helped corrupt dozens of cops and politicians, and I was in on the fix of a World Series. It's been a good life.
But there is one part of it that was so screwy I'm not sure I believe it myself, and it happened to me. I don't really know how to tell it either. It started on a Sunday in February, 1932. Actually, it was after midnight, so I guess it was Monday. You see what I mean about not knowing how to tell it.
I was standing naked at the window of my room in the Chelsea Hotel looking down at the traffic on Twenty-Third Street. Connie was still in bed. She was naked, too. The only light came from the little bedside lamp. She was flushed and sweaty with the pillows stacked up behind her back, her hair loose, the sheets kicked away from her legs as she tried to coax me back into the sack. And I was thinking that maybe I was up to a second round. It happened a lot with her, but then I glanced across the street and saw Vincent Coll, bold as brass, stepping out the front door of the Cornish Arms.
Standing next to him was Sammy Spats Spatola. There they were, the two biggest shitheads I ever knew. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
These days, not too many people remember "Mad Dog" Coll, but at that particular time, he was about as famous as anybody in New York. He'd been on the run for a month and everybody thought he'd left town. The long and the short of his story was that he'd been in a war with Dutch Schultz over who was going to control the beer business in New York. Lots of guys had been killed in their war, women, too. But everything changed when Coll gunned down a little kid. That's when he picked up the "Mad Dog" moniker. They arrested him and put him on trial but he got off.
He may have walked out of court a free man in the eyes of the law, but not with the rest of us, so he disappeared. Any sane person would have got as far away from New York as fast as he could, but that wasn't Vinnie, I guess, not even with a $50,000 price on his head, courtesy of all the top gang guys in the city. The word was out that if you saw Vinnie Coll, you got in touch with Owney Madden right away. A lot of guys had personal reasons to hate Vinnie, and Owney was at the top of the list. I was right behind him. Nobody gave a good goddamn about Sammy Spats. Not then.
So I told Connie to stay where she was, threw on some clothes, grabbed my stick, and went downstairs as fast as I could. Didn't even take time for my hat or my pistol. At the hotel's phone on the front desk, I tried to get Owney at the Cotton Club, but the line was busy, so I called Big Frenchy DeMange at the other office number.
"Frenchy," says I, "Vinnie Coll just went into the London drugstore on Twenty-Third."
Sounding surprised, he answered, "The hell you say! The prick is on the phone with Owney right now. He's threatening to snatch me again if we don't cough up another thirty G's. The son of a bitch is crazy. But you're sure? It's him. The London Chemists on Twenty-Third."
"We got him then. Thanks, Jimmy."
The little drugstore was almost next door to the Chelsea. As I got there, Sammy Spats came hurrying out and almost knocked me down. To this day, I don't know if he saw me, because right about then, a big sedan pulled up to the curb and three men got out. I didn't know any of them. Two stayed with the car. The third, a guy in a big overcoat, pushed through the front door of the pharmacy. I was right behind him.
The phone booths were at the back, past the soda fountain. That late, there weren't more than four or five people in the place. From where I was, I could see everything that happened. Vinnie had jammed himself into the first narrow booth. He was kind of smiling and snarling into the mouthpiece, talking real fast. You couldn't tell if he was happy or angry. But hell, that's the way it usually was with Vinnie. He looked really bad that night—poorly shaved, red hair wild around his red face.
The guy from the car stopped in front of Vinnie's booth and pulled out a Tommy gun from under his overcoat, not rushing anything. A woman nearby yelped in surprise. I could hear other customers hurrying away. The gunman said in this calm, deep voice, "Keep cool now."
Then he pulled the bolt back to cock the piece and Vinnie noticed him and realized what was happening—just like it had happened to all the guys he had killed. But I doubt Vinnie was ever as smooth as the man who got him.
I saw Vinnie's hand come up behind the glass door, and I heard the roar of the gun filling the store, the glass exploding and the muzzle flash giving the bloody scene a white glare.
The guy knew how to use a chopper, I'll give him that. He squeezed off three fast bursts, and every bullet hit Vinnie. Fifteen shots with steel-jacketed .45s. Even that close, you've got to know to control the piece to be that accurate.
I got out of the drugstore right behind the shooter and saw him climb back into the car. Off it went. A couple of police detectives showed up, and a patrolman jumped on the running board of a cab to chase the sedan up Eighth Avenue. They arrived so quick you had to think they'd been tipped off. But I don't know anything about that. All I know is that the guys who shot Vinnie got away clean.
When Owney told the story later he'd say that he kept Vinnie on the line while he traced the call, like he was the goddamn phone company or something. He didn't mention me, and I never asked about the fifty thousand, either.
Not that it really mattered. I went back to the Chelsea and found Connie still in bed with more lights on. She'd heard the shooting and the cops and so she was worried that something might have happened to me. Maybe she was a little scared, too. I took off my clothes again, got back into bed, and explained what happened and who Coll was while she warmed me up. That night, the second round was better than the first.
After Coll got himself killed, things settled down for a couple of weeks. Then, about nine thirty or so on a nasty Tuesday night, a big cop came into my speak.
I was at a table in back with my notepad, the Daily News, the Mirror, the Times, and probably three or four others. I read all the papers in those days. At first I really didn't pay much attention to the guy except to note that he was the twenty-seventh customer of the night. He was a barrel-bellied bastard in a derby and a loud brown plaid suit. About forty, give or take, clean-shaven, a drinker's wide, rosy face. He ordered a King's Ransom, tossed it back, and ordered another. He turned around, hooked a heel on the rail, and aimed his plug at the spittoon. The second scotch went down in two drinks. Something was familiar about him.
That Tuesday was cold and gusty and wet, the kind of night when you might stop by a place for a quick belt to warm the way home but not to stay, not even in a place as inviting as mine was. That kind of night, you wanted to get where you were going and settle in, and so there had been twenty-six paying customers since sundown. When business was slow, I kept count.
My speak was in a brownstone just off Broadway on Twenty-Second Street. We had a polished mahogany bar along one side of the room. Behind it was a big painting of a coy naked young woman stretched out and peeking over her shoulder. Most women giggled and laughed the first time they saw her. Guys tended to be studious. There were six booths on the opposite wall, with tables in the middle and a dance floor that nobody used. The two main things about the joint were good booze and a quiet atmosphere. The gang guys and the cops knew that it was neutral ground, no weapons. Everybody was welcome, but if a discussion became an argument that became a fight, you went outside and around the corner. The neighbors wanted it peaceful and so did I.
Fat Joe Beddoes was working the door and waiting tables. Frenchy Reneau, not to be confused with Frenchy DeMange, was behind the bar. He could mix any drink you might name, but there were some that he simply refused to associate with. His wife, Marie Therese, handled the coatroom and sold cigarettes and served drinks. Connie had been in earlier. When I saw what the night was going to be like, I told her she could take the rest of the evening off. She winked at me and mouthed "See you later" and left. Don't I wish it had been so.
As the big cop went to work on his third scotch, I realized where I'd seen him before. He'd been in with a bunch of fellow cops from the Bronx and their girlfriends and wives. They sat at the eight-top table. Had a grand time, laughed a lot. Tipped poorly.
He wasn't laughing that Tuesday. Instead he checked his watch so often I got the idea something was up, something I wasn't going to like. You run a speak, you learn to recognize that kind of thing. He looked over toward my table a couple of times without meeting my eyes. As the man drank, his face flushed and his chest heaved and his breath quickened. The next time he looked over, he pushed back his hat, locked eyes with me, and let his anger show. He pulled out his shield and yelled in a loud cop voice, "Everybody out. The place is padlocked." The regulars, thinking this was a joke, didn't move.
I reached for my cane. What the hell? The guy wasn't a fed. Fat Joe knew the feds on sight and wouldn't let any of them in. I had taken care of the guys who needed to be taken care of. The beat cops, their sergeant, his captain, the boys downtown at City Hall, they'd all gotten their envelopes of cash, hand-delivered by me. It couldn't be a normal raid, then. Had to be something else.
The big cop pushed away from the bar and yelled, "Clear out. Now." He turned to me, his face clouded, eyes wide and crazy, and yelled even louder, "You first."
Knocking over tables and chairs, he bulled his way to the back. He pulled something pale and fist-sized out of his coat pocket and smacked me with it twice. I learned later that it was a sap made from the foot of a silk stocking filled with sand. He kept it in a knotted white sock. Hurt like hell, and he could slug you a lot harder with that thing than he could with a regular spring steel sap. Hit a guy that hard with a steel sap and you'll kill him, punch a hole in his skull. This way he got me across each temple. Two more blows to the back of the head laid me facedown into the newspapers. My cane clattered to the floor and he went to work on my ribs and kidneys. He wanted to hurt me bad and he didn't want it to show. The place cleared out pretty quick after that.
Frenchy reached for the hog leg under the bar but thought better of it, and stepped back without touching it. You don't shoot cops, not even crazy cops.
By the time the guy was finished, I was barely conscious and everything looked foggy. My good leg was weak, and the bad one had become useless. He grabbed me by the belt, hauled me out the door and up the steps to the street, and threw me into the backseat of his car. He tried to book me at the Forty-Seventh Street station, and even though I was still half screwy from the beating, I knew we were in the wrong precinct. So did the desk sergeant. He frequented my place, but he wasn't going to argue with the angry detective. While the big guy wrote up the arrest report, they took me to the back for fingerprints and pictures. The mug shot showed black hair, dark eyes, a thin crooked nose, and a necktie skewed to one side. I saw it later. Like most mug shots, it made me look sullen and stupid. I was neither, but a good beating can do that to a guy. They took their time, and when we were finished, the big detective had disappeared without another word to anyone. The cops who knew me were apologetic.
The desk sergeant held the messy arrest report between a finger and a thumb like he didn't want to touch the paper, and said it was too late to do anything about it. "I called the guys at Thirtieth Street, where you shoulda been brought if this was a serious beef, which I don't think it is. They don't know nothing either. Thing to do," he said, "is just wait here, if that's OK with you, Jimmy. I guess we gotta hold you for a while. Anybody you want to call?"
"Nah, Frenchy'll call my mouthpiece, Jacobson. He'll call the station house and work it out. I'll wait for them. Who the hell was that guy?"
"Never seen him before and I can't even read his goddamn name. Did things get out of hand at your place tonight?"
"No. One minute it's a quiet Tuesday night, the next that big son of a bitch is flashing a badge and cracking my head." Fatigue rolled over me and I couldn't think.
The sergeant shook his head. "Go figure. Look, you want a holding cell or the interrogation room? Personally, I use the interrogation room to catch my winks. It's got a bench you can sleep on and nobody'll bother you there. You want something to eat?"
The windowless room also had a wooden table, an ashtray, a goose-necked lamp, and three straight-backed chairs. The desk sergeant brought me a dry baloney sandwich and a cup of coffee. He said not to worry, they were taking care of things. I thanked him for the coffee and the sandwich and worried. None of it made any damn sense at all. But the room was warm and dark and it didn't smell too bad. So I folded my suit coat into a pillow and paid no attention to the muted buzz of activity out in the hall. As I sank into sleep, I saw the ghost of Mother Moon floating up in a sweet coil of opium fumes, and heard her sharp witch's laugh of a voice saying, "It's a crazy world, Jimmy my boy, and there's nothing to be done for it."
Hours later another cop, a younger guy I didn't know, brought me a second dry baloney sandwich and cold coffee. If I had been firing on all cylinders, I'd have noticed how preoccupied the kid was. I guess I ate the sandwich and went right back to sleep, because I don't remember anything else, and I never sleep that long at a stretch. The young cop woke me again at seven thirty Wednesday evening and said that I'd been sprung. My lawyer was waiting out front.
Trying to make myself presentable, I straightened my tie and buttoned my wrinkled double-breasted before I gimped through the busy station and down the steps to the cold, rainy street.
Outside, I expected to find my mouthpiece Ira Jacobson, but he wasn't there. Instead, Dixie Davis was standing on the sidewalk next to his car, an idling Packard with a driver at the wheel. That's when I got the first glimmer that I was involved in something bigger than a crazy cop locking down a righteous speak.
Befitting the best mob lawyer in the city, or at least the most expensive, Dixie was decked out in a gray overcoat with a white silk muffler neatly crossed beneath the velvet collar. He wore a homburg and leather gloves.
He didn't smile, but he sounded friendly enough. "Good to see you, Jimmy, given the circumstances."
Dixie showed up at my place every now and again. He and Schultz and his other clients were usually seen at flashier joints, but if he just wanted a drink of good whiskey, straight off the boat, and a place to talk in private, he came to Jimmy Quinn's.
"When Jacobson told me you'd been shut down, I called the Thirtieth Street station and they said you'd been brought here. They didn't know anything about a raid. It took most of the day to chase down the paperwork. All of the pertinent information on your arrest report was incorrect, but don't worry, it's being taken care of."
"What's his name, the cop who brought me in?"
"The signature on the report was illegible."
"This is nuts. I think he's from the Bronx. At least I'm pretty sure he was in my place before with some of the guys from the Bronx."
Dixie was unconcerned. "We'll figure it out. Don't worry."
Seemed like everybody was telling me that, not to worry.
Dixie went on. "In light of everything else that happened last night, it wasn't too difficult to get all of the charges swept under the rug. Still, might be a good idea to lay low for a day or so. Make sure there's nothing else going on before you open up again."
"Wait a minute, what do you mean 'everything else that happened last night'? You mean something besides the bust-up at my place? And what are you doing here, Dixie? Where's Jacobson?"
"I think your driver will explain everything...."
Driver? What driver?
"Walter Spencer hired me. He's been looking for you. He called Jacobson and when he learned that your place had been shut down and Jacobson couldn't contact you, he came to me."
"Spence is behind this?"
Dixie nodded and took a cigarette out of a silver case. "He wanted to find you as soon as he could."
Excerpted from Jimmy The Stick by Michael Mayo. Copyright © 2012 Michael Mayo. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet 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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