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Authors: Stephen Solomita

Piece of the Action

BOOK: Piece of the Action
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A Piece of the Action
A Stanley Moodrow Crime Novel
Stephen Solomita

This book is for Kathy

I would like to thank Mrs. Kathleen Roche of the Hagstrom Map Company, Inc., for supplying me with a vintage N.Y.C. 5-Boro Atlas. The Hagstrom 5-Boro has been the cab driver’s bible for as long as anyone can remember. I also have to thank my researcher, Judy Appello. Someday, back issues of publications like the Daily News, Billboard, Variety, and Vogue will be nicely stored in computers attached to laser printers. But, for now, access means hours of peering at microfilm that looks like it was printed in the nineteenth century and lost rolls of dimes poured into copiers that don’t (or
) work.

This is a work of fiction. Despite the well-documented (by the Knapp Commission) existence of the pad. Example: The pad was almost exclusively controlled by the patrol division of the NYPD. When it came to corruption, detectives, like Sal Patero, were strictly on their own. A word to the wiseguy.


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

December 26, 1957

front of the bathroom mirror, trimming his tiny mustache and cursing his eyesight. He was all of thirty-seven years old and already his eyes were going bad. Walter Winchell’s column in the
was nothing more than a gray blur. If he wanted to read, to keep up with the fast crowd, he was going to have to get glasses.

“With the Jews, it’s always the eyes,” he said to himself. “If I don’t watch it, I’ll end up with coke-bottle glasses and a gray beard.” He shook his head in disgust. “Now I’m talkin’ to myself, again.”

But he couldn’t be angry with himself. Not on the brink of a New Year’s which had the promise of ushering in a really
year. He’d been waiting a long time to get his big break, long enough to know there might not be another one coming. He intended to make the most of it.

“I got lost for a while,” he muttered, lifting the scissors to the edge of his upper lip. “But I ain’t lost now.”

The jet-black hairs of his mustache were no more than an eighth of an inch long. When he stepped far enough away to bring the mirror into focus, they melted into one another like a dark smudge on a piece of paper.

He tossed the scissors into the bathtub. “I shoulda gone to the barber this afternoon. Gotta look good for the wops.” He picked up a hairbrush and began to tear at the tight curls on his head. Jake kept his hair short, but he couldn’t keep it down. His curls, especially in wet weather, stood out in every direction. Even in a suit, he looked more like a shaggy-headed beatnik than a nice Jewish gangster. That’s why he never left his apartment without wearing a hat.

Jake loved hats the way some men love shoes, kept a dozen in his closet (his
closet, he reminded himself, mustn’t forget that little fact) and usually tried on most of them before leaving the apartment.

“I never met a hat I didn’t like,” he said, chuckling at his own joke.

soon, he’d have enough hats to fill a dozen closets. And he’d shop for his suits at Brooks Brothers instead of Robert Hall. Maybe he’d even have a tailor make one up by hand. But not a Jew tailor with glasses so thick they looked more like binoculars. He’d go to Chinatown and find a tailor from Hong Kong. Let the chink make him a gray sharkskin suit, then buy a pair of Italian shoes and a matching tie and, of course, a snap-brim fedora.

“It shoulda happened long ago, Jake,” he told himself. “If life was fair. Which it ain’t.”

The bitch about it was that you could control a lot of things in your life, but you couldn’t control everything. For instance, you couldn’t control wars. He’d been a twenty-year-old kid when the war broke out, and he’d been coming up in the world. The Depression (they called it the
Depression though he couldn’t see anything great about it) had hit the packed immigrant neighborhoods of the Lower East Side with the wallop of a Colt .45. Even the gangsters had suffered. He should know, his father had been a gangster. At least until they found him floating in the East River.

That was in ’33 and life for the Leibowitz family had been harder than hard after Poppa made the mistake of challenging the wops. The wops had a genius for organization. They based it on their families and the villages they’d come from in Sicily. Jews didn’t do that. There was no Pinsk gang, no Bialystoker mob. Jewish gangsters wanted their kids to be doctors (or, at least, to
doctors). And there were a lot more Italians than Jews in the good old U.S.A. All the Jews had come to New York (most of them to the Lower East Side which, in the 20’s and 30’s, seemed more like the Warsaw Ghetto than Manhattan) while the Italians had spread out. A wop who wanted to kill a Jew could call in a button man from Boston or Providence or Chicago. A Jew who wanted to kill a wop usually did it himself.

Still, even considering all that, even considering his poppa’s big mistake, Jake Leibowitz had done okay. He’d begun by shoplifting his way through the middle of the Depression, working with several other boys, including an Italian. Then, in the natural course of things as he understood them, he’d graduated to commercial burglary, shimmying through unlocked bathroom windows until he’d outgrown his specialty. Until he was old enough to pick up a rod and take what he wanted.

It was too bad about the war. Too bad, because he’d understood the essential lesson. The wops didn’t really care what you did to put bread in your mouth as long as you took care of them, as long as you gave them a piece of your bread. What was that old saying? The only sure things are death and taxes? For Jake, the wops were the government and the tribute he paid them was the gangster version of the graduated income tax.

Jake took another step backward and the face in the mirror jumped into focus. It wasn’t a bad face, all in all. True, his eyes were set too close and his thin nose had a definite hook. But those eyes were a mild blue and the nose was small. Meanwhile, his cleft chin (as formidable as Robert Mitchum’s) dominated his beak, just as high, prominent cheekbones dominated those narrow eyes.

“A regular Tony Curtis,” he observed. “Only bigger.” He tightened his chest muscles until the individual bands of tissue criss-crossing his ribs stood out like leather straps. He’d always been strong and the war had made him stronger. Not that he’d spent any time fighting the Germans or the Japanese. Jake’s career in the regular army had ended ten minutes after he arrived in Fort Dix to begin his basic training. Sergeant T. Blair Johnson, in the manner of drill sergeants everywhere, had put his face within two inches of Jake’s, and screamed out a series of obscenities, most of which concerned Jake’s mother. Two days later, when Sergeant Johnson finally woke up, he was lying in the base hospital, recovering from a fractured skull.

“It was the war,” Jake muttered. “The war put me in a bad mood. It wasn’t fair.”

Jake had first reported to the induction center on Whitehall Street in the spring of 1939. The army had evaluated him thoroughly, then declared him 4F, which was supposed to mean
unfit for duty. So why, in 1942, even though millions of schmucks were volunteering, had they called him back, reexamined him, overlooked his extensive criminal record, and re-classified him 1A? He’d stopped asking himself the question three weeks later when he got a telegram:
it began.

What had bothered him most, as the packed bus drove through New Jersey on its way to Fort Dix, was how happy the other recruits were. They’d laughed and joked, bragging about what they would do to the Krauts and the Japs, a bunch of
eager to get their brains blown out. And for what? There was nothing in it for
Nothing but crumby food, aching bones and an early death.

“A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” Jake tossed several punches at the face in the mirror. His hands were very fast. Always had been. The redneck sergeant unlucky enough to greet the bus carrying Jake Leibowitz had been out before he knew what was happening. That was part of what Jake called “Plan B.”

Plan A had been just to disappear, stretch it out until he was caught, then do his time. But there was no way for him to operate if he was on the run. He was just getting started with the wops, doing them little favors, hoping for a piece of the gambling east of Canal Street. If he spent the rest of the war (and the damn thing could last for ten years the way it was going) in Toronto with Uncle Bernard, his career would be up shit’s creek. Permanently.

Better to step right up and take your medicine. Better to pound on some officer, do a year in the joint and get back to work. The wops were being drafted, too. If he got out before they did, there’d be plenty of action.

By the time the bus had arrived at Fort Dix, Jake was too crazy to wait for an officer. Which was just as well, because they ended up giving him eighteen months for what he’d done to the sergeant, six months more than he expected. If he’d beaten an officer, they probably would have given him five years.

But even the extra six months would have been okay. As long as he behaved himself, he’d be out in a little over a year. He was going to a joint called Leavenworth, in Kansas. How bad could a joint in

“Leeeeee-bow-witz,” Deputy Warden Blackstone had drawled. “What kind of name is that, boy? Is that a Jewish name? Are you a Jewwwww-boy?”

Standing in front of the Dep, flanked by a pair of massive, blond, crewcut sergeants, Jake finally understood that the earth did not end at the far side of the Hudson River.

“Yessir,” he answered.

“Leeeeee-bow-witz, are you from Newwww Yawk City?”


His fellow convicts had been no more accepting than Dep Blackstone. They thought all Jews were soft, flabby tailors. Hiding behind thick glasses, cringing over their prayers. Jake had had to prove himself again and again. Each time he did, a court-martial added a few years to his sentence. The end result was the opposite of what he’d intended. By the time he’d gotten out, WWII
the Korean War were over. The wops didn’t even remember him.

BOOK: Piece of the Action
2.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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