Authors: Elmore Leonard
For Walter Mirisch, one of the good guys
When Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years ago they were having one of their off-and-on cold winters: thirty-four degrees the day he met Tommy Carlo for lunch at Vesuvio's on South Collins and had his leather jacket ripped off. One his wife had given him for Christmas a year ago, before they moved down here.
Chili and Tommy were both from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, old buddies now in business together. Tommy Carlo was connected to a Brooklyn crew through his uncle, a guy named Momo, Tommy keeping his books and picking up betting slips till Momo sent him to Miami, with a hundred thousand to put on the street as loan money. Chili was connected through some people on his mother's side, the Manzara brothers. He worked usually for Manzara Moving & Storage in Bensonhurst, finding high-volume customers for items such as cigarettes, TVs, VCRs, stepladders, dresses, frozen orange juice. .Â .Â . But he could never be a made guy himself because of tainted blood, some Sunset Park Puerto Rican on his father's side, even though he was raised Italian. Chili didn't care to be made anyway, get
into all that bullshit having to do with respect. It was bad enough having to treat these guys like they were your heroes, smile when they made some stupid remark they thought was funny. Though it was pretty nice, go in a restaurant on 86th or Cropsey Avenue the way they knew his name, still a young guy then, and would bust their ass to wait on him. His wife Debbie ate it up, until they were married a few years and she got pregnant. Then it was a different story. Debbie said with a child coming into their lives he had to get a regular job, quit associating with “those people” and bitched at him till he said okay, all
Jesus, and lined up the deal with Tommy Carlo in Miami. He told Debbie he'd be selling restaurant supplies to the big hotels like the Fontainebleau and she believed himâtill they were down here less than a year and he had his jacket ripped off.
This time at Vesuvio's, they finished eating, Tommy said he'd see him at the barbershopâwhere they had a phone in backâturned up the collar of his Palm Beach sport coat for whatever good it would do him and took off. Chili went in the checkroom to get his jacket and all that was in there were a couple of raincoats and a leather flight jacket must've been from World War Two. When Chili got the manager, an older Italian guy in a black suit, the manager looked around the practically empty checkroom and asked Chili, “You don't find it? Is not one of these?”
Chili said, “You see a black leather jacket, fingertip length, has lapels like a suitcoat? You don't, you owe me three seventy-nine.” The manager told him to look at the sign there on the wall. we cannot be responsible for lost articles. Chili said to him, “I bet you can if you try. I didn't come down to sunny
Florida to freeze my ass. You follow me? You get the coat back or you give me the three seventy-nine my wife paid for it at Alexander's.”
So then the manager got a waiter over and they talked to each other in Italian for a while, the waiter nervous or he was anxious to get back to folding napkins. Chili caught some of what they were saying and a name that came up a few times, Ray Barboni. He knew the name, a guy they called Bones he'd seen hanging out at the Cardozo Hotel on the beach. Ray Bones worked for a guy named Jimmy Capotorto who'd recently taken over a local operation from a deceased guy named Ed Grossiâbut that was another story. The manager said to the waiter, “Explain to him Mr. Barboni borrow the coat.”
The waiter, trying to act like an innocent bystander, said, “Somebody take his coat, you know, leave this old one. So Mr. Barboni put on this other coat that fit him pretty good. He say he gonna borrow it.”
Chili said, “Wait a minute,” and had the waiter, who didn't seem to think it was unusual for some asshole to take a jacket that didn't belong to him, explain it again.
“He didn't take it,” the waiter said, “he borrow it. See, we get his coat for him and he return the one he borrow. Or I think maybe if it's your coat,” the waiter said, “he give it to you. He was wearing it, you know, to go home. He wasn't gonna keep it.”
“My car keys are in the pocket,” Chili said.
They both looked at him now, the manager and the waiter, like they didn't understand English.
“What I'm saying,” Chili said, “how'm I suppose to go get my coat if I don't have the keys to my car?”
The manager said they'd call him a taxi.
“Lemme get it straight,” Chili said. “You aren't responsible for any lost articles like an expensive coat of mine, but you're gonna find Ray Bones' coat or get him a new one. Is that what you're telling me?”
Basically, he saw they weren't telling him shit, other than Ray Bones was a good customer who came in two three times a week and worked for Jimmy Cap. They didn't know where he lived and his phone number wasn't in the book. So Chili called Tommy Carlo at the barbershop, told him the situation, asked him a few times if he believed it and if he'd come by, pick him up.
“I want to get my coat. Also pull this guy's head out of his ass and nail him one.”
Tommy said, “Tomorrow, I see on the TV weather, it's gonna be nice and warm. You won't need the coat.”
Chili said, “Debbie gave me it for Christmas, for Christ sake. I go home, she's gonna want to know where it's at.”
“So tell her you lost it.”
“She's still in bed since the miscarriage. You can't talk to her. I mean in a way that makes any fuckin sense if you have to explain something.”
Tommy said, “Hey, Chil? Then don't fuckin tell her.”
Chili said, “The guy takes my coat, I can't ask for it back?”
Tommy Carlo picked him up at the restaurant and they stopped by Chili's apartment on Meridian where they were living at the time so he could run in and get something. He tried to be quiet about it, grab
a pair of gloves out of the front closet and leave, but Debbie heard him.
She said from the bedroom, “Ernie, is that you?” She never called him Chili. She called him honey in her invalid voice if she wanted something. “Honey? Would you get my pills for me from the sink in the kitchen and a glass of water, please, while you're up?” Pause. “Or, noâhoney? Gimme a glass of milk instead and some of those cookies, the ones you got at Winn-Dixie, you know the chocolate chip ones?” Dragging it out in this tired voice she used since the miscarriage, three months ago. Taking forever now to ask him what time it was, the alarm clock sitting on the bed table a foot away if she turned her head. They had known each other since high school, when he'd played basketball and she was a baton twirler with a nice ass. Chili told her it was three-thirty and he was running late for an appointment; bye. He heard her say, “Honey? Would you .Â .Â .” but he was out of there.
In the car driving the few blocks over to the Victor Hotel on Ocean Drive, Tommy Carlo said, “Get your coat, but don't piss the guy off, okay? It could get complicated and we'd have to call Momo to straighten it out. Okay? Then Momo gets pissed for wasting his time and we don't need it. Right?”
Chili was thinking that if he was always bringing Debbie her pills, how did they get back to the kitchen after? But he heard Tommy and said to him, “Don't worry about it. I won't say any more than I have to, if that.”
He put on his black leather gloves going up the stairs to the third floor, knocked on the door three times, waited, pulling the right-hand glove on tight,
and when Ray Bones opened the door Chili nailed him. One punch, not seeing any need to throw the left. He got his coat from a chair in the sitting room, looked at Ray Bones bent over holding his nose and mouth, blood all over his hands, his shirt, and walked out. Didn't say one word to him.
Ernesto Palmer got the name Chili originally because he was hot-tempered as a kid growing up. The name given to him by his dad, who worked on the docks for the Bull Line when he wasn't drinking. Now he was Chili, Tommy Carlo said, because he had chilled down and didn't need the hot temper. All he had to do was turn his eyes dead when he looked at a slow pay, not say more than three words, and the guy would sell his wife's car to make the payment. Chili said the secret was in how you prepped the loan customer.
“A guy comes to see you, it doesn't matter how much he wants or why he needs it, you say to him up front before you give him a dime, âYou sure you want to take this money? You're not gonna put up your house or sign any papers. What you're gonna give me is your word you'll pay it back so much a week at interest.' You tell him, âIf you don't think you can pay at least the vig every week when it's due, please don't take the fuckin money, it wouldn't be worth it to you.' If the guy hesitates at all, âWell, I'm pretty sure I canââ says anything like that, I tell him, âNo, I'm advising you now, don't take the fuckin money.' The guy will beg for it, take an oath on his kids he'll pay you on time. You know he's desperate or he wouldn't be borrowing shylock money in the first place. So you tell him, âOkay, but you miss even one payment
you're gonna be sorry you ever came here.' You never tell the guy what could happen to him. Let him use his imagination, he'll think of something worse. In other words, don't talk when you don't have to. What's the point?”
It was the same thing getting his coat back. What was there to say?
So now it was up to Ray Bones. If getting his nose busted and his teeth pushed in pissed him off he'd have to do something about it. Some things you couldn't prevent. Tommy Carlo told him to get lost for a while, go fishing in the Keys. But how was he going to do that with Debbie an invalid, afraid to take a leak she might see blood?
He imagined different ways Ray Bones might try for him. Eating at Vesuvio's, look up, there's Bones pointing a gun. Or coming out of the barbershop on Arthur Godfrey Road where they had their office in back. Or, noâsitting on one of the chairs while he's shooting the shit with Fred and Ed, which he did sometimes when there weren't customers in the place. That would appeal to Ray Bones, with his limited mentality: the barbershop was here and it was the way guys had gotten hit before, like Albert Anastasia, that Ray Bones would know about. Chili said shit, went over to S.W. Eighth Street and bought a snub-nosed .38 off a Cuban. “The famous Smit and Wayson model
treinta y ocho.
It happened when Chili was in the backroom office making entries in the collection book. Through the wallboard he heard Fred say, “Paris? Yeah, I been there plenty of times. It's right offa Seventy-nine.” Ed saying, “Hell it is, it's on Sixty-eight. It's only seventeen miles from Lexington.”
Fred saying, “What're you talking about, Paris, Kentucky, or Paris, Tennessee?” Then a silence, no answer to the question.
Chili looked up from the collection book, listened a moment to nothing, opened the desk drawer and got out the .38. He aimed it at the open doorway. Now he saw Ray Bones appear in the back hall, Bones in the doorway to the office, his face showing surprise to see a gun aimed at him. He began firing the big Colt auto in his hand maybe before he was ready, the gun making an awful racket, when Chili pulled the trigger and shot him in the head. The .38 slug creased Ray Bones, as it turned out, from hairline to crown, put a groove in his scalp they closed up at Mt. Sinai with more than thirty stitchesâChili hearing about it later. He pried two slugs out of the wall and found another one in the file cabinet he showed Tommy Carlo.
Tommy called Momo and Momo got in touch with Jimmy Cap, taking the situation to the table, so to speak, discuss whether Ray Bones had been shown disrespect by an associate from another crew, or was it his own fault he got shot. Otherwise it could get out of hand if they let it go, didn't make a judgment. The two bosses decided this coat thing and what came out of it was bullshit, forget it. Jimmy Cap would tell Ray Bones he was lucky he wasn't dead, the guy's wife had given him the coat for Christmas for Christ sake. That was the end of the incident, twelve years ago, except for one unexpected event that came out of it right away, and something else that would happen now, in the present.
The unexpected event was Debbie walking out on Chili, going home to Bay Ridge to live with her mother over a clothing store.
It happened because during the discussion period Momo called Chili to get his sideâas a favor to Tommy Carlo, otherwise he would never have spoken to him directlyâand Debbie listened in on the extension. All Momo told Chili was to cut out the schoolyard bullshit, grow up. But that was enough for Debbie to know Chili was still connected. She went so far as to get out of bed to keep after him, wanting to know what he was doing with Momo and “those people,” becoming screechy about it until finally he told her, so he was working for Momo for Christ sake, so what? Thinking it would shut her up and he'd get the silent treatment for about a month, which he could use. But instead of that she became hysterical, telling him, “That's why I had the miscarriage, I knew it. I
you were back in that life and the baby knew it from me
and didn't want to be born
What? Because its dad was operating a quick-loan business? Helping out poor schmucks that couldn't get it from a bank? How did you talk to a woman who believed an unborn kid would know something like that? He tried. He told her she ought to see a doctor, get her fuckin brain looked at. Debbie's last words to him, she said, “You think you're so smart, let's see you get a divorce, big shot.” In other words she would pass up alimony and live with her mother over a clothing store to prevent his ever remarrying. Debbie, too dumb to realize the world had changed with rock and roll and the pill, believed it would keep him from ever getting laid again.
Chili, from then until now, went with a succession of women, some on a serious basis, some not. There
was one named Rose, a bartender, who lived with him a few years. One named Vera, a go-go dancer he fell in love with, but he couldn't stand other guys watching her and they broke up. He took out women who were waitresses, beauticians, sales clerks at Dadeland Mall, would take them to dinner and a movie, sometimes to bed. There was a singer named Nicole he liked a lot, but her whole life seemed to be rock and roll and he never knew what she was talking about. Chili liked women and was comfortable with them without putting on any kind of act. He was who he was and they seemed to go for him. What some of the women didn't go for was seeing so many movies, practically every time they went out. They would get the feeling he liked movies more than he did them.