Authors: Peter Blauner
Tags: #Hard Case Crime
But then something unbelievable happened. Old Larry DiGregorio, who’d always had the reflexes of a Valium addict, whipped his hand inside his jacket and pulled out a snub-nosed .38. Before any of us could react, he fired off a round at my father and reality began to dissolve. The bang made Richie yelp like a schoolgirl finding a roach under her chair. My heart jumped up against my lungs. But my father only looked annoyed, like he just remembered he’d left hiskeys in the car. He fell to the floor in a heap as Tony Bennett finished his song. From somewhere far away, a foghorn sounded.
Larry turned to us slowly like a high school principal about to deliver a lecture. “You know, I want to believe neither of you boys had anything to do with this,” he said in the steadiest voice I’d ever heard him use.
My breath froze. Richie farted so loudly it sounded like he was blowing his nose in his pants. Larry began to sit down. He didn’t see my father rising up behind him like a movie creature back from the grave. With one hand, Vin grabbed the nearest bar stool and came rushing at him. And the next thing Larry knew, that bar stool was crashing down on his head.
All hell broke loose. The two of them hit the floor and started wrestling like a couple of old chimps under the banana tree. Spit was flying everywhere, chairs and tables were falling. They began rolling over each other back toward the bar, gasping for air. First my father was on top. Then Larry. A pair of bifocals fell out. Then a set of false teeth. Now a hearing aid. Something furry tumbled off Larry’s head and I realized it was his toupee. It was like they were shaking parts of each other loose. Glasses tumbled off the bar and shattered next to their faces. An ice pick rolled off after them. My father grabbed it and tried to jab it in Larry’s eye. Larry grabbed his hand and bit Vin’s ear. It felt like someone had taken all the nerve endings at the back of my head and twisted them into a tourniquet.
My whole life’s dilemma was squeezed into those couple of seconds. Every fiber in my body was screaming Go, get out of there, drive a million miles away. But I knew I had to stay. Vin was more than the man who married my mother. He was my father, my protector, my sword and shield against the rest of the world.
“GIVITBACK! GIVITBACK GIVITBACK!” It was impossible to tell which of them was screaming.
I saw Richie sitting in the booth like a beached whale. My old man was on the floor making this horrible “ACK-ACK-ACK” strangling noise. He needed me. But they both had guns, which could go off any second. I forced myself to takea step forward, but then two sharp pops stopped me in my tracks ten feet away and I heard a
sound like a knife going into a pumpkin.
Peggy Lee sang “Is That All There Is?” on the radio.
Someone groaned. An ice cube cracked. In the revolving disco ball lights, I could see the outline of an arm going limp. There was another muffled
from the gun and then both of them got very still.
For a minute, I got scared that they both might be dead. That headache turned into a blinding whiteout pain right over my eyes. How could I explain what we were doing here? What would we do with their bodies? And what would I do without my father? Up until that moment, I hadn’t realized I loved him almost as much as he loved me.
There was another groan and then slowly Vin began to disentangle his arms and legs from the pileup on the floor. He stood up and looked from me to Richie and then back to me again.
“Goddamn it,” he said. “When I ask if you got something to tell him, you’re supposed to jump up and strangle that cocksucker.”
“I didn’t bring the rope,” I said numbly. I was still in shock about what had just happened.
“I said, I forgot the rope. I guess it’s still in the trunk.” That was a lie. I hadn’t wanted anything to do with killing Larry and my father knew it.
He cursed under his breath and started to wipe the prints off his gun with his shirttail.
“You all right?” I asked.
“Yeah, he just nicked me.” My father checked the shoulder of his shirt where the bullet passed through. He seemed more concerned about the rip in the material than the scab forming on his skin.
I breathed a sigh of relief and went over to take a closer look at Larry. He was lying very still with four bullet holes in his chest and the ice pick through his kidney. His wig was off, leaving his pale bare scalp exposed. He was covered with blood and half his blazer was stuck under his back. I keptthinking he would’ve wanted it closed with the brass buttons showing.
The stench was so overwhelming it was like a cloud coming off him.
Looking back, I think I’d never felt so confused. I’d known my father had killed people, but I’d never actually seen it before. His violence sickened me. It didn’t just turn my stomach; it split my mind open. How could the same man who walked me through the schoolyard do this to another person?
But at the same time, I was secretly excited. There was something incredibly powerful about watching him just take a life. He and Larry had been locked in a mortal struggle and now he was going to walk away and Larry wasn’t. It changed me—seeing that—but I didn’t know how much at that moment. Almost immediately, I went back to being horrified and ashamed.
My father came over and nudged Larry with his foot. “You were supposed to do this, you know, not me,” he told me in a raspy voice, pocketing the .38 that had been lying at Larry’s side. “We were waiting so long he would’ve left if I hadn’t of shot him.”
“He almost left anyhow,” said Richie Amato with a smaller smirk.
“You shut up!” my father snarled at him. “You never got outa the fucking booth either.”
He picked up Larry’s beer, which had been sitting on the table the whole time, and finished it in one gulp. The ultimate macho fuck-you. Kill your enemies. Take their women. And if there are no women around, drink their beer.
What could I do? Call the police? This was my father. Besides, it was gradually beginning to dawn on me that by just standing here I was an accomplice to felony murder. I couldn’t say anything to anybody without implicating myself.
“Ah, shit.” My father started to wipe some bloody mess off his forearm with a cocktail napkin. His shirt was rank with sweat and his breathing sounded like rats running through a wind tunnel. “Well, now I got a problem.”
He took another deep breath and heaved his shoulders. Asingle green vein pulsed above his left temple. His body was still radiating all the hate it took to rise up and kill Larry.
He looked down at Larry and shook his head. “He wasn’t supposed to get shot and stabbed like that. Teddy wanted him strangled and he wanted you to do it. It was part of the plan for having you take over the union envelope.”
“So don’t look at me,” I said sharply. “I didn’t want anything to do with this. I only came tonight because I thought there was a chance we might be able to work this out peacefully ...”
But even as I was saying this I found I couldn’t stop staring at Larry’s corpse. It was terrible what had happened, but somehow I found myself adjusting to the circumstances. Larry was dead. There wasn’t a thing I could do for him.
“Well, lookit,” said my old man, pulling the ice pick out of Larry’s side. “Maybe there’s something we can do.”
He bit his lower lip. “Maybe you could just throw a rope around his neck and say you did it and I gave you a hand toward the end.”
“He’s still got all them holes in him,” said Richie, suddenly turning into a forensics expert. “They’re gonna look at ’em and say that’s what killed him, not any rope.”
My father carefully surveyed Larry’s face. “Well then we gotta figure out how we can get the tongue to come out and the eyes to bulge.”
I straightened my tie and cleared my throat. It’s amazing how quickly things can go back to seeming normal. The disco ball on the ceiling was still spinning, the music on the radio was still playing, the beers were still on ice behind the bar, waiting to be sold for three dollars a pop. The only thing different about the place was Larry lying there dead on the carpet.
“Look,” I said, “forget about saying who did what to who. What are we going to do about him lying here?”
“Hey.” My father shot me an irritated look. “I’m just trying to get you some credit with Teddy.”
“Well forget it,” I cut him off. “You tell a lie, it’ll come back to haunt you every time.”
This was the last thing I needed. I was already implicated in a murder. Now Vin wanted to put the weapon in my hand. I just wanted to get out of there, have a drink, and take some time to sort things out.
My father was glaring at me again. “You know, you fuckin’ kids kill me,” he said, turning from me to Richie. “Will one of you go get a plastic mat so I can roll up this sonovabitch?”
Richie went springing off to a back room, all gung-ho since there wasn’t any danger now. I was still looking at Larry. Just a couple of minutes ago, he’d been asking me how my business was doing.
“Officious,” said my father, taking him by the ankles and starting to drag him away. “That the word you used before?”
“Yeah, Dad. Officious.”
“You fuckin’ kids,” he said. “You kill me every time.”
WHAT WAS THAT
Detective Pete “The Pigfucker” Farley watched the F.B.I. man duck under the yellow crime-scene tape and approach Larry DiGregorio’s corpse. What was this fed’s name? Something that rhymed with stain. Lane. Payne. Wayne, that was it. The F.B.I. man knelt down next to the body and began pawing through the pockets like a bear looking for honey.
Beautiful, thought Pigfucker. By the time he’s done, he’ll have his fingerprints on every useful piece of evidence.
The scene was beginning to take on the ambience of a nighttime baseball game. Dozens of people streamed over from the Golden Doubloon Casino across the street, trying to get a look at Larry lying in the dim, drafty alley behind an abandoned restaurant. Four heavyset bicycle cops in plastic helmets and blue shorts attempted to cordon off the area. A German shepherd barked from the back of a K-9 unit car by the curb and two guys from the medical examiner’s office hung out nearby, leisurely smoking cigarettes.
From twenty feet outside the crime scene tape, Pigfucker watched Wayne the F.B.I. man carefully lift a key chain out of Larry’s pants pocket with a pencil and then touch each key with his fingers. Brilliant that they sent people to Quantico to learn how to do that. No wonder most local cops and hoods called the feds “feebs.”
Pigfucker, or P.F. as he was known, stood back, chewing a Tums and admiring the way the blue strobes lit up the crime scene and the light rain. At forty-three, he was already as creased and jaded as Chairman Mao just before he died. He wore a brown sports jacket with dark blotches on it, tan slacks, and a wan smile meant to convey he didn’t care that people no longer thought highly of him. An unruly mop of black hair with gray frosting fell over his forehead and a thick mustache concealed the slight twitching of his mouth.
“What’s the cause of death?” he asked when one of the medical examiner’s guys walked by, carrying a transparent plastic bag.
“Four gunshots to the body and a stab wound through the kidney.”
“I see, natural cause for a guinea.” P.F. chuckled and tapped his foot in a gathering puddle of rain.
How many homicide scenes had he been at like this? Where the victim and perpetrator were clearly part of some great larger mechanism for controlling the ebb and flow of criminal enterprise. He told himself he didn’t care anymore. All these organized crime cases were in the jurisdiction of feebs like Wayne anyway. Local cops like P.F. were only there to set the table and search the gutters for spent shells.
A young patrol sergeant named Ken Lacey brought over a potential witness: a stubby little black man wearing a torn Malcolm X T-shirt, with a black Nike Solo Flight on one foot and a low-top white Fila on the other. A beard as coarse as barnacles roughened the sides of his face and a tangerine-sized bump rose from the left side of his forehead.
“Do you know me?” P.F. looked him up and down.
“I don’t even know myself no more.”
“Didn’t I used to chase you off this corner twenty years ago?” P.F. closed one eye and squinted through the other, like a jeweler examining a precious stone. “What’s your name again?”
“Steven Ray Banks. And don’t you wear it out.”
“You found the body, right?”
“Motherfucker was sleeping in my house,” Stevie Ray mumbled. “That’s my Dumpster. I been in there every night the last three nights.”
“I thought you were living under the Boardwalk. Didn’t I see you coming out of there last year?”
Stevie Ray shook his head. “It got bad there, man. They got a lot of riffraff come into town. You know? People who aren’t right in their heads. They see Merv Griffin on TV, they get themselves a bottle of pills and a one-way bus ticket to Atlantic City.”
A white jitney bus across the street discharged a squad of doughy older women carrying pink change cups.
“Eh, you didn’t happen to see who put him there, did you?” P.F. asked. “In the Dumpster, I mean.”
Stevie Ray pushed his mouth up toward his nose. “You sound like all them other damn police officers. I told them, ‘Motherfucker came in my house unannounced, just like all you motherfuckers do.’ Why is that, man? Everywhere I go, I gotta be somewhere else. People always be telling me, move on, motherfucker, move on. Ain’t I got a right to be somewhere?” He swung his leg like he was kicking an invisible ball across the street. “Got me living like a dog, without a home, man. And that is the sad truth.”
“What can I tell you, my friend?” P.F. swallowed the rest of his Tums. “It’s an imperfect world. Allow yourself to become nothing and you’ve got no place in it.”
“Don’t I know, don’t I know.”
Stevie Ray put his hands into his pockets and stared at the traffic whizzing by the open end of the alley. The
TAKE A CHANCE
sign for the Golden Doubloon casino blinked on and off as the F.B.I. man named Wayne got done looking through Larry DiGregorio’s pockets. It was just a matter of time before he’d want to talk to this witness.
“You didn’t know him by any chance, did you? The victim, I mean. Larry.” P.F. felt the antacids warring in his belly.
“No, man, I don’t have nothing to do with the Mafia.” Stevie Ray wagged his head like a dashboard ornament. “I was in the casino business. I used to work right across the street here. At the Doubloon.”
He stared off at the flashing
TAKE A CHANCE
sign across the street as if it were some distant constellation.
“Is that right?” said P.F.
“You’re damn straight! I gave them people the five best years of my life. And what’d I get for it?” He moved his hands around like he was looking for the right thing to compare it to. “What I got was .. . squat. They left me with a dog food bowl that didn’t have no food in it. It was all because of my damned shift manager, man. He say he caught me trying to steal chips out with my mouth. But that motherfucker wanted me to have sex with his sister and show it on public TV. So whenever I go over to someone’s house, they’ve got me on the TV having sex with his sister. That’s a damn shame. So now I have to live under the Boardwalk where they don’t get public TV.”
Half the time with guys like this, you couldn’t tell if they were really crazy or just faking to compensate for life’s disappointments. That’s what the casinos did for these people. They raised their expectations and let them down brutally. A couple of years ago, you might’ve found this Stevie Ray wearing a starched white shirt and gold cuff links, dealing blackjack over at the Doubloon. Talking about owning a house for the first time. But it never lasted. The casinos never delivered on all the wealth they promised. Eventually people like this Stevie would get laid off and wind up out on the street again. Amidst forty-eight blocks of drab poverty and gaudy desperation.
As they finally got done loading Larry’s body into the medical examiner’s van, Pigfucker saw Wayne the F.B.I. agent heading over his way.
“Say, man,” said Stevie Ray. “Things have been a little slow tonight. Why don’t you let me hold five dollars for you ’til tomorrow?”
“I’ll tell you what,” P.F. countered. “If you remember anything about someone unusual hanging around your Dumpster before they found the body, you got your five-spot.”
But it was too late. Wayne the F.B.I. man was already standing between him and the witness. Sadowsky, that was his last name. Wayne Sadowsky. The name flashed in P.F.’s mind like a half-screwed in light bulb. Big, pastyfaced Southern kid with huge linebacker shoulders and a brown perm that sat like a sick poodle on top of his head. He moved poorly, though, like he’d once been badly injured.
“Why don’t you-all just back off now, Officer Farley?” Sadowsky said, his accent rich with the kind of snide condescension young federal agents reserve for older local cops. “This here is going to be a legitimate investigation.”
Yes. Number 54, Wayne Sadowsky, out with a groin pull.
“Wonderful,” said P.F. “I’ve no need to engage in weenie-waggling with you anyway. You can have your grubby little case all to yourself.”
He scratched his crotch with regal indifference and started to walk away.
“Hey,” Stevie Ray called after him. “What about them five dollars? I wouldn’t forget it, man.”
“Ask your new friend with the federal government,” said P.F., glancing back at Stevie Ray and then Sadowsky. “They’re always ready to help out a man in need.”
The agent took Stevie Ray’s arm and pulled him away. The medical examiner’s guys finally slammed the van doors on Larry DiGregorio. And the strip of casinos on Pacific Avenue kept shining like a golden chain extending into the night, dividing Atlantic City into a realm of light on one side of the street and darkness on the other.