Read Motown Online

Authors: Loren D. Estleman

Tags: #Historical

Motown (10 page)

Sweets, wearing a neat homburg square on top of his pointed head, trundled over to the booth. He had seen his employer was tiring. Patsy put some backbone into his voice. “How they treating you there?”

“Okay, I guess. I have to drink this piss-poor Scotch because you can’t get decent wine here. I should’ve stayed in Messina.”

“You can go back.” He tried not to sound eager. The calls from Sicily had been fewer and less regular.

“No, I might still get the chance to jump to Florida. Christ, I was in diapers when your grandparents took me away from the Old Country. New York and Detroit’s home.” More clinking sounds. “Have Albert get in touch with me. Tell him the usual way.”

“Brock’s my department.” He sensed Sweets looking at him.

“Talk to you day after tomorrow, same time. Remember what I said about DiJesus.” The connection broke.

Sweets pulled back the door of the booth while Patsy was cuffing his wrist to his other cane. “Back to the office, Mr. Orr?”

“The Detroit Club.”

The bodyguard helped him into the back of the black Lincoln Continental parked by the curb and climbed in next to the driver, who turned off the radio in the middle of an interview with Charles De Gaulle and started the car. It skinned out between passing cars with an inch to spare on each bumper. Patsy had hired Carlo out of a Miami hospital following his recovery from injuries received in a six-car pile-up at Daytona.

Across the street, cramped over his equipment in the back of a Michigan Bell service truck, Ed Wasylyk wondered why gang guys always rode around in black cars. He took a picture of it through the glass peephole, then rewound the tape on the big reel-to-reel Panasonic recorder a few notches and played it back. He hoped he hadn’t lost anything when he repositioned the sonic gun aimed at the booth. All this
Star Trek
shit was getting on his nerves.

“Back to the office, Mr. Orr?”

“The Detroit Club.”

Not far enough. He rewound some more.

“Brock’s my department.”

He backed the rest of the tape onto the feed reel, removed it, fixed a strip of masking tape to the hub, and wrote the date and time on the strip. Then he put the reel with the others in one of the shallow drawers built into the back of the truck.

Only Patsy Orr’s side of the telephone conversation was on tape. The other half would have required a tap, which was six kinds of legal hell if Patsy’s or Brock’s attorneys suspected the police were bugging a public telephone. What Wasylyk had recorded was inconclusive even if it were admissable in court without a judge’s signature. But Canada would want to hear it.

The headquarters of the United Civil League for Community Action was much less impressive than the name and occupied two large rooms above the Economy Printing Company in a charred two-story brick building at Twelfth and Clairmount. The League, established in the wake of stunning civil rights victories in the Deep South, was pledged to fight for equal housing and employment opportunities among Detroit’s huge Negro population. But the door to its offices at the top of a narrow blistered stairwell, steel-reinforced and equipped with a peephole that opened and shut, looked a lot like the entrance to a blind pig. Which is what it was after the legitimate bars closed at two in the morning.

But at three in the afternoon nobody was on peephole duty and the doorknob turned without resistance in Quincy Springfield’s hand. He went in followed by Lydell Lafayette. The large barroom, looking naked and indecent in the slanty sunlight coming in through the windows with tadpoles of dust swimming around in it, was deserted but for an elderly Negro reading a tip sheet at one of the tables. Wreaths of blue cigar smoke coiled around his helmet of silver hair and drifted toward the ceiling, where they were chopped to pieces by the fan.

“Meeting two guys, Henry,” Quincy told the old man. “They here yet?”

Henry turned a page and blew a ring without looking up. “White guys?”

“Yeah.”

“Stuck ’em out back. Hee-hee.”

They started that way. Henry said, “Anybody got six-two-two, Lydell?”

“Not today.”

The old man reached into his workpants, came up with two creased and stained bills, and gave them to Lydell, who pocketed them and recorded the transaction in his vinyl-bound notebook. “Somebody’s birthday?”

“Two somebodies. My daughter had twins last week.”

“Congratulations.”

He waved the cigar. “She shucks ’em out like Chrysler. I don’t hit soon, that asshole she’s with’ll dump ’em all on me and take off for California.”

“Well, good luck.”

“If I hit, I’ll buy the sumbitch a lifetime supply of Trojans.”

The adjoining room was slightly smaller and stacked high with whiskey cartons that blocked most of the light from the windows. A shaded bulb hanging from the ceiling illuminated a patch of plank floor occupied by a brown freckled desk and five chairs, only two of which matched. In the small hours the desk and chairs were shoved back and the patch of floor used to shoot craps. Devlin, Patsy Orr’s bullet-shaped bookkeeper, sat behind the desk with his fingers laced on his stomach like a polyester Buddha. He remained seated as the pair approached. The other man rose to face them.

“Mike Gallante,” Devlin said, “this is Quincy Springfield and—I’m not good with names. …”

“Lafayette, like the street.” Lydell offered his left hand. His right arm rested in a sling he had fashioned from a black silk scarf. A white bandage extended from under his French cuff to his fingers. The World Series ring twinkled on his third finger, symbol of a contest won at Detroit Receiving if not in a baseball stadium.

The man who had risen took the hand. “How’s the arm?”

“I’m just glad I still gots it. It was touch and go there for a while.”

Gallante’s smile was polite. He was almost as tall as Quincy, with thinning black hair combed flat to his scalp, a square jaw, and a pillar of a neck like the man in the Arrow ads. He wore a gray lightweight suit tailored to his broad shoulders and narrow waist and a blue silk tie on a blue-and-white striped shirt that made him look cool, the only man to manage that in the stuffy back room; Quincy felt adhesive in his rose-colored shirtsleeves, and globules of sweat were breaking over Devlin’s too-tight collar. The place smelled of ferment. A brown leather case containing eyeglasses rested behind the display handkerchief in Gallante’s suitcoat pocket.

“It must have been a terrifying experience,” he said.

“Man don’t think terrifying at a time like that.” Lydell preened, fanning himself with his hat. “Man takes
steps.
Or he ain’t a man.”

“What steps did Springfield take?” Devlin was looking at Quincy.

Quincy looked back. “Springfield don’t get himself killed for no money.”

“Exactly. Where’s the profit?” Gallante spread his hands. “Can we sit?”

When they were all seated, Gallante crossed his legs, showing a silk sock in a suede shoe. “It was my suggestion we meet here, in your neighborhood,” he told Quincy. “People become guarded when they’re out of their element, hard to read. I like to know the men I’m doing business with.”

“What kind of business we doing?” Quincy asked.

“The money-making kind. Next to whiskey, the policy business is the most stable one around. People play the numbers when they’re flush and have the cash to spare and they play them when things are tight and they want to get ahead. But like any other business it has to stay current. It’s still being run in this town the way it was when Joey Machine was in charge. Where would Ford be if it were still offering the same models it had for sale in nineteen thirty-five?”

“Cars change, numbers don’t,” Lydell put in. “What’s wrong with the way the business is run?”

“To begin with, you Detroiters still base the winning number on the last three digits in the daily report from the Federal Reserve.”

Quincy said, “What’s wrong with that? It can’t be fixed.”

“That’s what’s wrong with it. Back East they use the last three digits in the payout from the seventh race at Hialeagh.”

“Can’t fix that neither,” Lydell said.

“Wrong. Say it’s Saturday, the heaviest day for betting, and a lot of the bets are on the same number or close to the same number; these things happen, especially around a holiday like the Fourth of July, when everyone plays seven seventy-six. I call a bookie just before the seventh race and get the odds on every horse at the gate. I do some arithmetic and if it looks like the total will run in the seven hundred range I place some bets, changing both the odds and the payout.”

Quincy searched Gallante’s self-satisfied features. “You’d need a computer to do that.”

“Math is Mike’s specialty,” Devlin said. “He won a national contest when he was a kid. President Roosevelt shook his hand and gave him a plaque.”

“I was ten. He asked me if I cared to join his Brain Trust. I asked him what the job paid.”

Lydell said, “Shiiit.”

“Go ahead, Springfield, fire off a list of numbers, as many as you want. The boy with the sling can write them down. He’ll add, subtract, multiply, and divide them in his head and give you the right answer before your boy carries the first one. I’ve seen him do it a dozen times. He never misses.”

“My name’s Lafayette.”

“We’ll do parlor tricks when we all have more time,” Gallante said. “What do you think of the idea?”

Quincy said, “You fix the game, you lose customers.”

“They’ll never know it’s fixed. The payoff amount is published in a hundred newspapers for anyone to read. Of course there will be winners. We want winners so they can flash their rolls and strut around in their new suits and give the rest of the neighborhood a reason to play next week. By choosing
which
number wins, we’ll always be twelve lengths out in front.”

Quincy touched Lydell’s knee as the latter was struggling to open a pack of Kents one-handed. He was having enough trouble thinking in that stuffy room without smoke. “I don’t run the numbers in this town. Patsy’s the man you want to talk to.”

“I already have. He’s telling all his bosses to inform their customers of the change, beginning next month. This is your notice.”

“So why make the pitch to me?”

“It’s just a sample of the ideas I plan to bring to your operation here on Twelfth. I’m aware of the difficulties you’ve been having lately.”

“Our difficulties got ski masks and sawed-offs,” Lydell said. “You got any ideas who they was, Mr. Idea Man?”

“Patsy’s working on it. He takes care of his people.”

Devlin yawned bitterly.

Gallante went on. “Meanwhile you need security. Bouncers like your man Congo are for showing drunks the door. The man I have in mind will oversee a whole new system.” He glanced at a watch strapped to the underside of his wrist and looked at the bookkeeper. “He’s late.”

“He’ll be here.”

“My clientele spend all day taking orders from the Man,” Quincy said. “They don’t want no white gorillas breathing down their backs when they’re drinking and gambling.”

“Harry works the shadows.” The stagnant air stirred; someone had opened the door from the bar. Gallante stood. “Quincy Springfield, Lydell Lafayette, this is Harry DiJesus. Harry flew in from Vegas this morning.”

Quincy got out of his chair and pulled his shirt away from his back. The man who had just entered strode between the stacked cartons into the patch of electric light, looking straight at him. White man, a little shorter than Quincy, muscular under his green silk sport shirt and tan flannel slacks, with a gold chain around his tanned throat. Collar-length blond hair and the chilliest blue eyes Quincy had ever seen.

Chapter 12

I
N HIS SEVENTH-FLOOR
office, Lew Canada broke the seal on a gray cardboard envelope bearing the return address of the FBI’s Detroit bureau, pulled out a green-bar computer sheet twenty-two inches long and folded in the middle, and whistled.

The office was an extension of the man, scoured and free of clutter. The papers on the desk were sorted in neat stacks and the walls were naked but for a bulletin board with mug shots and newspaper clippings tacked to it and a twelve-by-twenty horizontal glass frame containing a coppertone photograph of sixteen young men in jumpsuits posed casually with their weapons in front of a C-47 transport plane.

Sergeant Esther, who had delivered the envelope to Canada’s desk, said, “Something?”

“Printout on that DiJesus name Wasylyk got from Patsy Orr yesterday. Take a hinge.” Canada held it out. The sergeant took it.

Harold DiJesus, a/k/a Harry DiJesus, Harry Jesus, Jesus H., and D. J. Harold, was born in Brooklyn, New York, 5/11/35, arrested in Manhattan 10/6/47 for aggravated assault, convicted, and sent to the New York State Reformatory at Elmira for six years. Since then he had been arrested fourteen times on charges ranging from simple assault to homicide. His last conviction in 1958, for assault with intent to commit great bodily harm, had gotten him twenty-four months in Sing-Sing. Since his release he had been picked up three times by the Clark County Sheriff’s Department in Las Vegas, Nevada, for assault with a deadly weapon and once for homicide in the commission of a felony. Charges were dropped in all four cases. A mug shot and description were on their way under separate cover.

“Nice Italian boy.” Esther laid the sheet on the desk.

“Says there he was questioned in the Anastasia homicide,” Canada said. “When the mob sends you to Vegas it means someone likes your work. What did we do to attract such an important visitor to our fair city. Anything yet on Gallante?”

“I just got off the phone with the feds. They got several Gallantes on file, all bad news. They’re sending ’em over.”

“I got a hunch our Gallante isn’t any of them. What’d Patsy say on the tape, Gallantes the anvil? Wish we had the other side of that conversation.”

“We’re kind of getting away from Albert Brock.”

“Patsy mentioned him.” The inspector sorted through the papers on his desk and pulled the transcript of the tape Wasylyk had made. “‘Brock’s my department.’”

“Hell, that’s good enough for me. Let’s run down and pick him up.”

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