Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo)

Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo)

by C. Joseph Greaves

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781620407851
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 11/03/2015
Pages: 448
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

C. Joseph Greaves is a former L. A. trial lawyer now living in Colorado. His first novel, Hard Twisted, was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award in Fiction and was named Best Historical Novel in the SouthWest Writers' International Writing Contest, in which Greaves was also honored with the grand prize Storyteller Award. Writing as Chuck Greaves, he is a Shamus Award finalist for his Jack MacTaggart series of legal/detective mysteries.

Read an Excerpt

Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo)

A Novel


By C. Joseph Greaves

BLOOMSBURY

Copyright © 2015 Charles J. Greaves
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62040-785-1


CHAPTER 1

Lucky


December 1914

"Six is the point. Six."

Salvatore Lucania weighs the cool dice in his hand. Small in stature, lost in the shapeless tweed of a borrowed jacket, he watches through hooded eyes as bills flutter and settle like autumn leaves on the green expanse before him, there to be sorted and matched in concordance with the shouted wagers of the sporting men who elbow and jostle, their polyglot ruckus evolving under a hazy trinity of overhead lamps into order and then, finally, into silence.

He gives the dice a slow rattle.

"Come on, kid. You jackin off or shootin crap?"

Laughter.

Lucania's eyes, cold and reptilian, search out the voice. The laughter dies.

He blows into his fist.

"Comin out."

He tosses the dice backhanded. They short-hop and carom off the far rail and tumble to their final, immutable rest.

Double threes.

Whoops, and jeers, and a rough hand slapping his back.

Lucania glances at his pal Meyer, who stands quietly by the side pocket. Their eyes meet and hold. Meyer's eyebrows lift.

"Hose him down, Frankie. This kid is hot!"

"Twenty clams."

"Covered."

"Abe's Cabe."

"Covered!"

"Sawbuck."

"You're off."

"Fade 'im!"

"Snake eyes!"

"Boxcars!"

"Baby needs a new pair of shoes!"

The process repeats, as it has throughout the night and into the bleary morning, with only the shooters changing in their rotation until the men by acclamation, their number winnowed by the inertial forces of loss and fatigue, finally call it quits.

At nearly five A.M., Lucania watches as winnings are counted, and outcomes assessed, and maledictions quietly uttered. A cigar is lit with a flourish. The croupier is tipped and bows obsequiously as he moves through the shadows toward the stairs leading up from their basement redoubt.

The men sort hats and topcoats, don mufflers and gloves. They stamp or pace like stallions in a tight and skittish cluster.

"Excellent evening," Meyer says as the two boys stand with hands in pockets, waiting for the alley door to be opened.

"Not too shabby," Lucania agrees.

They make for a curious pair, the young Sicilian and the younger Russian Jew where they stand flanked by older and larger men whose body odors and rancid breaths mingle in the dead basement air with the acrid smells of bleach and oil, coal dust and smoke.

Yawns are stifled. Coats open and flap.

"You boys done real good tonight." A fat man — Pazzano, the Calabrian baker from Mott Street — has turned and is speaking to Lucania. "Whatta you plan to do with all that money?"

"You see my friend here? He's savin up for college."

The man laughs. "Hey, you hear that? We got a couple college boys over here."

One of the redheaded brothers from Brooklyn, the one with the pink facial scar, shoulders his way through the men until he is standing beside Lucania.

"Nice night, kid. In case you was worried about gettin home safe, my brother and me'll walk you right to your doorstep. Safer than a police escort we are. Only cost you a fiver."

"No thanks."

"You sure about that? It's a dangerous world out there. Anythin's liable to happen, you ain't got the proper protection."

"You heard me the first time."

"Okay, kid, have it your way. Just tryin to be helpful is all. Don't say you wasn't warned."

And still they wait for the alley door to open. Connor, the Tammany man, resumes his rambling yarn about a whorehouse fire in Five Points.

"— and not a one of 'em wearin more than the smile she was born with. And Timulty, the station chief, with his wife off visitin her sister in Philly, he steps forward like the gentleman that he is and says he's got an empty bedroom at his apartment, see —"

"Christ, the wife is gonna skin me."

"What's takin so goddamn long?"

"Frankie! What the fuck are you doin up there?"

A door opens above. All heads turn to the staccato clatter of shoes on wooden stairs.

"What the —"

Three men have descended, each with his hat pulled low and a muffler covering his face. They move silently into position with their guns leveled and steady — one by the furnace and one at either end of the billiard table, the three guns forming a deadly triangle.

The room is suddenly silent.

"Let's go, cash on the table," a gunman orders, gesturing with his weapon. He wears a topcoat of gray herringbone and gloves of black kid.

None of the gamblers moves.

"I said —"

"Do you have any idea who you're talkin to, boyo?"

The gunman turns and raises his pistol and thumbs back the hammer. Connor's hands lift in slow surrender.

"Cash on the table, Micky! Let's go, chop-chop!"

This time all do as instructed, each man either emptying his pockets onto the hard green felt or turning them inside out for the gunmen's inspections.

Soon, over eight hundred dollars stands in a greasy, crumpled heap.

"You too, Junior."

The gun points at Lucania, who meets it with eyes as hard and black as the muzzle staring back at him.

"Go fuck yourself."

The gunman steps closer. His hand blurs as his pistol lashes, smashing Lucania's cheek.

All the men flinch. All, that is, except Lucania, who tastes the blood as it trickles toward his chin.

"Let's go, tough guy. Cash on the table."

Lucania tosses a fistful of folded bills onto the felt. Meyer's eyes, alert throughout, watch as the gunmen stuff cash into their pockets.

"Thanks, boys," their leader sing-songs as he backs toward the staircase, his gun sweeping left and right. "It was nice doin business."

One by one the gunmen make their way up the narrow steps, with the leader the last to ascend, crouching as he backs until, with a whirl of gray herringbone, the door slams shut behind him.

The room erupts.

Men are shouting and swearing, and some are fumbling for pistols. The alley door is rattled and tested by heavy shoulders. Amid the heat and frenzy, Meyer offers a handkerchief to his friend, who presses it to his cheek.

"Thanks."

One of the men, his gun at the ready, has sidled to the staircase. He ducks his head for a look, then raises a hand to the others.

"Quiet!"

Above him, the door creaks open.

"Don't shoot! It's me, Frankie!"

The men crowd the staircase as the croupier descends on wobbly legs, a bloodied bar rag pressed to his head. He is swept and spun as if by a surging tide and backed against the table, where he stammers his story of how the gunmen had lain in wait and coldcocked him and left him for dead. The man who holds him by the shirt collar pulls the rag-hand free and turns him by the chin, so all can witness the bloody, purplish lump above his ear.

He is released.

"Somebody's a dead man!" bellows Connor.

"Open the fuckin door," another orders, and Frankie, his keys jingling, hurries to oblige.

Snow has fallen during the night, and the men emerge from the basement single file like hibernates smoked from a den with their greatcoats steaming and their breaths billowing frosty white in the cold light of daybreak.

They confer but briefly. Theories are advanced, and names ventured, and vengeance crudely sworn until, one by one, the men drift away, trudging heavily down the alley and into the blanketed morning.

Meyer is alongside Lucania as both boys, hurrying now, raise their collars and duck into the icy headwinds buffeting a Third Avenue whose flocked expanse is yet untracked by car or horse or man.

The boys watch over their shoulders.

"Son of a bitch, that hurt."

"Here, let me see it."

They stop, and Lucania lowers the bloody handkerchief.

"It's all right, you won't need stitches. Put some snow on it."

"Son of a fucking bitch."

They are moving again, hastening against the risen dawn.

"By the way," Meyer says, "what did I tell you about betting the four and ten?"

"Hey, I won, didn't I? And besides, what's the difference now?"

"Dumb luck is nothing to be proud of."

Lucania pauses once more to crane his neck. "Keep an eye out for that scar-faced Mick bastard."

"What for? He knows you've just been robbed. That's the beauty of it. I'll bet you nobody goes to the cops. Statistics show that crimes perpetrated against other criminals are very rarely reported."

"Whatever you say, Meyer."

"Risk management," the younger boy proclaims with a finger raised. "First you figure the odds, then you figure out how to shave 'em."

"What are the odds my old man kicks my ass when I get home?"

"Just tell him you went to the library and fell asleep in the stacks. That's what I always say."

"Yeah, right," Lucania says, examining the bloody handkerchief. "At least you been in a fuckin library."

They arrive at the corner of 12th Street, where they stop and wait, shuffling their feet and blowing warmth into their hands. Soon a figure emerges from out of the sunrise, furtive in its approach, ducking from pushcart to car, from stoop to storefront.

The boys move into a sheltering alcove and wait for the new arrival. He too is a young man, flushed and winded when he finally appears.

"Like candy from a baby," the new man says, pulling an enormous roll of bills from his herringbone topcoat and handing it off to Meyer.

"Nice work. Is everybody square?"

"You bet."

"What about you?"

"I took my cut. Count it if you want."

Meyer pockets the cash without counting it.

"Your boys are in the dark?"

"Just like you said."

"You're absolutely sure about that?"

"Sure I'm sure. I done just like you told me."

The new man turns to Lucania, eying the bloody handkerchief. "Sorry about the knock, Sallie, but I hadda make it look good."

Meyer steps between them to survey the empty street. He exhumes the roll from his pocket and peels off a pair of bills.

"Here's a little bonus," he says to the new man, "for a job well done."

Before either can react to the snik of the knife blade, Lucania has jumped onto the new man's back and is pounding at his neck, jabbing and stabbing as though chipping ice from a block. The man's shrieks turn to gargles, viscous and strangled, and then to silence as Meyer ducks to avoid the spurting blood and Lucania, still stabbing, rides the falling body all the way to the sidewalk.

The alcove is an abattoir, its walls spattered and running. Meyer grabs Lucania's arm with both hands and wrestles him off the prostrate figure whose body is sprawled on the sidewalk with its legs on bare pavement and its head, or what remains of it, a crimson flower blossoming in the snow.

"What the hell'd you do that for?"

Lucania's breath comes in heaves as he wipes his face with a sleeve.

"Risk management."

"Christ, let's get out of here."

Meyer pulls him by the arm, but Lucania shrugs free and rummages the dead man's overcoat, counting out bills as he stands.

"Sorry, pal." Lucania leans forward and spits. "But I hadda make it look good."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo) by C. Joseph Greaves. Copyright © 2015 Charles J. Greaves. Excerpted by permission of BLOOMSBURY.
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.

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