Also by Joe Corso
The Time Portal
The Old Man and the King
The Starlight Club I
The Starlight Club II
The Starlight Club III
The Revenge of John W
The Starlight Club
The Starlight Club 1
Black Horse Publishing
Copyright 2012 by Joe Corso
Cover Art by Marina Shipova
Edited by Sherry Thomas
Formatting by BZHercules.com
Black Horse Publishing
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author or publisher, except where permitted by law.
All Rights Reserved.
I want to give special thanks to my four wonderful kids, Joe, Karen, Linda & Rich who
encouraged me to write The Starlight Club, my wife Jean for putting up with my endless
hours on the
And a special thanks to my very talented editor Sherry Thomas
of Breathless Video Productions, LLC.
Visit her website www.breathlessvideo.com
The Starlight Club
A white Mercedes pulled up to the curb near the corner of a busy intersection and parked in front of thirty-nine nineteen One Hundred Eleventh St, Corona, NY. The passenger door opened and an elderly gentleman in his late seventies stepped out of the car. The blistering winter wind bit into him like a knife. Instinctively, he leaned against the car seeking refuge from the cold. He pulled his scarf tighter around his neck and lifted the collar of his heavy winter coat covering his ears from the numbing cold. It was piercing his bones causing him to shiver. For a few moments, he did nothing other than stare at the store. His daughter stepped out of the car and snuggled close beside him for warmth, wondering why her father flew up all the way from Florida to have her to drive him here. She looked at him and then at the store. As far as she could tell there was nothing unusual about the place, so why was he here? The store was owned by a young enterprising Hispanic man who catered to the predominantly Spanish population in this part of Queens, but that was all she knew.
He turned to her, “Come on. I’ll buy you lunch.
” The father-daughter pair carefully stepped up the three steps careful to avoid any remaining patches of slippery ice. They were the only customers. The menu was oddly Italian. Instead of Cuban bread, there was Italian. The sandwiches were stuffed - overflowing with salami, prosciutto, provolone and everything else Italians would traditionally fit into a sandwich. The bread was tasty, signifying the pride that the local bakers took in making it. They sat by the front window, warming their bodies by inching close to the radiator. It was comfortable in the store.
The father, looking toward the back of the small store, pointed to the wall
. In a soft voice, he said, “There was no wall there. There was an anteroom beyond the wall. And where the counter is, there was a long bar that extended from the front window past where the wall is now. Red’s office was in the back and there was a large banquet room on the right. I don’t know what they’ve done to this building but this place used to be much larger.”
My God he thought - how different everything is from when he used to deliver meat here
. He stared out of the window half expecting to see the old parking lot but it, too, was gone. An apartment house stood where it used to be.
His name was Robert Valentine but everyone called him Bobby
. In those days, everyone had a nickname and even some of their last names weren’t real. Up until about thirty years ago, Bobby followed the history of this place and an interesting history it was.
Bobby and his daughter finished their sandwiches and rushed to the car, hoping to beat the cold
. His daughter started the car, put on the heater and glided slowly into the intersection. Bobby’s eyes followed the store as the car slowly passed, fixated, until it was no longer in his field of vision.
“What’s with that store, Dad
? What was so important that you had to fly up here to see it?”
“This store wasn't just a store back then, Lynn
. It was where The Starlight Club used to be. The Starlight Club was a magical place - movie stars, politicians and yes, even gangsters came to dine. It was a place where experiences became legend. So many interesting stories were born in this place and one of those stories is mine. I never told my story to anyone so if you think you’d like to hear it, I’ll be glad to share it with you.”
He waited patiently.
“Oh Dad. I can’t believe you never mentioned The Starlight Club to me before. I’d love to hear about it.”
? Might take a while.”
. You have me so curious. Now I won’t be able to sleep tonight if you don’t tell me.”
. We’re going back to nineteen sixty-one. I had a beautiful young wife, two kids, even though I was just a kid myself, and mom was pregnant with you. I used to deliver meat to this place. I did that for many years. I was here when the cab pulled up.”
The cab stopped on the corner of a residential street in Corona Queens. The door opened and the big man stepped out of the cab into the bright, late morning sun. He wasn’t used to the sun. The way he squinted you might have thought he was some nocturnal creature who avoided it. He stretched his arms, revealing his taut muscles - someone who clearly spent time staying physically fit. He looked around. The driver opened the trunk and removed a large suitcase which he placed on the sidewalk by the curb. The big man relaxed his arms and reached into his right trouser pocket where he took out a wad of bills, the accumulation of earning pennies an hour for many years. He paid the short Pakistani or Indian guy or whatever the hell he was. He didn’t know which and he didn’t much care. All he knew was that this guy he towered over wasn’t an Italian in an Italian neighborhood. He seemed out of place here. I’ve been away too long, he thought. The big man appeared to be in his late forties or early fifties but that could be misleading. Prison has a way of aging a man so sometimes it’s impossible to tell.
He was forty-three years old and just released from prison this morning, after serving ten years for manslaughter
. He served the first part of his sentence in San Quentin, soon to be the home of Charlie Manson, and the future scene of one helluva Johnny Cash concert. “The Q” was the largest prison in California, housing some of the toughest criminals in the country. After serving eight years, he got a break due to the ‘intervention’ of some friends. The friends successfully ‘petitioned’ the Governor, whereby the big Man was moved to a more relaxed country club environment. He served the last two years of his sentence at Danbury Federal Prison working in the library.
He was a tall man
standing 6’5” with dark curly hair and grey starting to feather his temples. Chiseled features carved deeply into his slightly pock marked face. Sky blue eyes peeked from underneath bushy eyebrows - all set into a hard prison face that rested on a thick neck attached to broad shoulders. Speaking of Johnny Cash, he looked a lot like him, and if you asked any of the ladies he dated ten years ago, they would tell you that they considered him ruggedly handsome in a Johnny Cash sort of way. But now, while some women might still consider him attractive, he had a look that said: I want to be left alone. His deeply etched facial lines were the etched look of pain.
He looked around the street at the houses and took a slip of paper from the breast pocket of his jacket, checking it to make sure he was at the right address
. Satisfied, he shrugged his shoulders, crumpled the paper into a wad, and threw it into a trash basket sitting in front of the entrance to the building. He gazed once more at the sign to confirm that he was at the right place. The sign read THE STARLIGHT CLUB. Thrusting his body into motion, he lumbered up three steps, through the front door and stepped into the dark bar. He had done his time, had served his full ten years and now taverns were no longer off limits. He smiled at the small freedom he was gifted. The contrasting dim light played tricks on his eyes, and it took a few moments to get his bearings. Slowly, he approached the bar to find a bartender busy cleaning last night’s glasses.
“I need to see Big Red.”
The bartender looked him up and down suspiciously and while his left hand still held the glass he was cleaning, his right hand drifted slowly underneath the bar. The big man’s eyes followed his every movement. The bartender’s hand grasped the bat.
“Trenchie. Tell him Trenchie’s here.”
The bartender relaxed, releasing his grip and returned to cleaning the glass he was holding without skipping
“Trenchie? Oh yeah. He told me to keep an eye out for you
. He said to expect you sometime today. He’s in the back room.” Pointing, he said, “Walk through that door and go to the end of the hall and you’ll see the room. Knock and just call out your name.”
Red was a big earner. He ran a well-organized and profitable part of ‘the business’ under the protection of the local don, Yip Carnevale, the boss of the family who happened to be his uncle. Big Red was the underboss and he handled numbers - loan sharking - and any swag, (stolen merchandise) that came his way, which was quite often. But what he stayed away from was drugs. Yip didn’t believe in drugs and he warned his nephew that if he ever found him venturing into that world, that there would be hell to pay. Drugs were a no-no with his crew. Yip made plenty of money in all the other rackets and Red, well, he never betrayed his trust. Red had the swag trade down to a science, with a buyer for whatever goods were on the trailer he planned to hijack. He had a buyer for meat and poultry. He had a buyer for fish. He had a buyer for electronics. He had a buyer for just about everything and the formula was simple - a driver pulled into a truck stop; the truck driver stepped inside the diner; one of Red’s men helped himself to the spare set of keys left in the ignition. The clock started ticking as soon as the door to the restaurant closed behind the driver. It stopped ticking when the driver finished his lunch, paid the tab, and walked out the door. When the driver looked for his truck, it was gone . . .
. The driver reported the theft to the authorities and answered “no” when asked if he saw anyone take it. How could he? He was having lunch and any one of a dozen customers could attest to that fact. It was like a well-orchestrated symphony.
The going rate on the market for the stolen merchandise was twenty five percent of wholesale
. The driver knew the exact value of the merchandise he was delivering and more important, the buyer knew exactly how much cash he needed when the delivery was made. It was cash on the barrelhead and if a buyer didn’t have the cash when the truck arrived, it was taken to a warehouse and stored until the merchandise could be sold. There was no rough stuff involved with the supposed buyer, but his punishment was removal from Red’s list of clients. That rarely happened.
If an unfamiliar type of product was scheduled to be hijacked and if no buyer was available, then a ten percent reward was offered to anyone who could find one. That only happened once
. A truckload of meat was coming in and there didn’t seem to be any takers, so Red asked Bobby - the kid who delivered meat to his restaurant - if he knew anyone who might be interested in a load of flank steaks. The kid said that he had a vendor in mind. Bobby came through and it resulted in some extra cash for the hard working kid supporting a family. Big Red covered every base. When the first load of meat was delivered and paid for, the following week a second trailer containing Australian lamb was delivered to the same buyer.
In most cases, Red had a cash buyer ready before a heist went down
. It all happened quickly. The men all knew the routine and the timing was perfect. Once the truck got rolling, it was driven to the waiting buyer. There, the truck was unloaded in a matter of minutes, driven to a predetermined location, and promptly abandoned. The driver and his crew all wore gloves that were discarded in a garbage receptacle far from where the truck was dumped. No fingerprints were left for the police to find. The team then hopped into the tag car following the truck and headed home. There was something else, another way Red made his living. Every Wednesday at one of the horse tracks, Big Red had a winner. There was a consortium called the combine a group of underworld investors that always had a large amount of money riding on Red’s horse and he never let them down. It was simple - his horse never lost. Red handpicked the men who were allowed to get in on the action. Many of them were patrons. One day Bobby (the young kid delivering meat) saw Red animatedly speaking into the pay phone at the end of the bar.
“I want to place twenty large on the nose of Grey Beau, the fifth at Narragansett. Can you handle it
? No? What? Ok, put the ten on it.”
“Yeah, this is Big Red. I want to put 10K on the nose of Grey Beau, the fifth at Narragansett. Good. Thanks.”
And on and on it went until all the money was placed. The kid was shocked at the amounts being waged.
“Hey Red,” he asked when he stepped out of the phone booth.
“I couldn’t help overhearing you. Could I get in on some of that action?”
Red smiled. He liked this kid. “Yeah. Sure. Gimme some money and come back later today to collect.”
The kid was nervous but excited. He never allowed himself the luxury of betting, much less with any of his house payment money
. It was the only money he had . . .
he managed to find the courage to place the bet. He began to have his doubts.
“How sure is this?” he asked.
Red was a little surprised by the question, but smiled showing a perfect set of perfectly white teeth. “Relax kid. The combine has twenty-five thousand riding on this. Do you think they’d bet that much money if there was a chance they could lose it? Gimme your money and come back later.”
The kid was clearly grappling with such a big decision
. He had just been paid so he had the money for the bet, but if he lost, it would take months to make it up. Oh what the hell, he thought. Why not take a shot?
“Here’s seventy-five dollars
Red smiled again, knowing this was all the money this kid had He appreciated the fact that the kid was a young married guy with two kids, working for chump change, just trying to make an honest buck
. And more important, he minded his own business. Red liked that. He even tried to reassure him, something he rarely did. “Relax kid. Come back later.”
The kid drove around town delivering his orders, worrying the whole day about the foolish bet he placed. Surely, he rationalized, he would lose all his money. It couldn’t be as simple as Red made it out to be, could it
? Well, no matter. It was too late to worry about it now. I’ll have to work another job to make up the money I lost today, he kept thinking. Maybe I could go back to driving a cab part time, he thought to himself. Yeah, I could make back the money in a month by driving a cab. Yeah, that would work, he convinced himself. The fact that he had done the math and found a solution had a tranquil effect on him. He finished his route, resigning himself to the fact that his paycheck was lost.
After Bobby delivered his last order, he returned to the bar
. It was three pm and he had to wait a half hour before “the boys” came in. He didn’t realize how uptight he was until Frankie the cop one of Red’s men placed an attaché full of money on the bar and stacked it into neat rows on the counter. There was more money there than he had ever seen in his life. His body slumped, as he sighed with relief, realizing that his worries were over.
One by one, Red called the names of the guys who had placed their bets. One by one, they filled bags with their take until each was paid off
. Next, it was the kid’s turn. Red handed him two hundred and ninety five dollars. The kid was speechless. It was like winning the lottery. He looked at Red, eyes moist with emotion. He shook Red’s hand, held onto it, and said nothing. They held a gaze for a brief moment. Red understood and it made him feel good. Of all the payouts Red made that day, this was the one he enjoyed the most - seeing the kid’s face light up as he doled out his winnings.
The kid finally summoned the words to speak. “Red, I don’t mean to sound greedy but I never had a break like what happened today. Does this happen every week?”
“Come back next Wednesday and place another bet because yes, this does happen every week.”
Red was a strange kind of criminal. He could shoot a guy in the head while eating a salami sandwich but couldn’t drive past a woman stranded in the rain with a flat tire, without stopping to help her. He was a contradiction like with the kid
Red didn’t come across legit people very often
. He had known Bobby for two years since he started delivering meat, six days a week, to The Starlight Club. Every stitch of clothing the kid owned was all part of the swag Red sold from the back room to his friends and a few wholesalers. The kid never thought that he was doing anything illegal. It was the mindset of the neighborhood. In his mind, he never robbed nobody of anything
would he ever think of stealing anything that wasn’t his. But if you were selling something he needed, and he could afford it, he would buy it. He never felt guilty wearing it. Sometimes he’d walk in with a meat delivery and Frankie would be standing guard at the door and with a tilt of his head toward the back room would say, “Go in the back Bobby and get yourself a cashmere sweater. Five bucks.”
And so it was with suits, shirts, shoes, sweaters and other items too numerous to mention
. Red, at times, made sure he had items the kid could re-sell and make a few extra bucks. Once he offered the kid a load of brassieres, three for a dollar, which the kid bought. The kid then resold them to his female customers, for a buck each, from behind the butcher store counter. He never felt guilty doing it. He didn’t rob the bras. He just sold them - warped logic, but in his mind it was all right because in his mind, he didn’t do nothin’ wrong.
The following week the kid placed another bet and the same thing happened
. It was another happy payday for Bobby. Red’s horse won again and he couldn’t believe his luck. He had won almost three hundred twenty-five dollars this time. But when he placed his bet on the third week’s race, things didn’t go as planned. When Red returned to the club, he was in a foul mood. The kid asked, “Did something go wrong Red?”