Dick Masterson's Blog

Thedore Roosevelt

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Skin Game

After roll call, the desk Sergeant called me over.
“Your working plain clothes tomorrow night, vice, seven o’clock, don’t be late.”
After my shift, I met Charlie, at Brannigan’s. Charlie McGuire, my best friend, he graduated the academy with me less than a year ago.
Some years back, Charlie’s father, a cop walked into a holdup in progress, he died on the way to hospital They never caught the guys. They presented Charlie, with his father’s badge when he graduated from the academy.
Pat Brannigan a retired cop owned the pub where most of the guy hung out after their tour. Patty always bought the first pint.
Charlie gave me wave. “Hey Bat, over here” he said. “Is true, I hear you’re a detective now, what gives?”
“Yeah sure,” I said, “a detective, I’m just filling in for Brady, maybe two days, that’s all, no big deal.”
“Brady huh, that means you’ll be working with Red Smith, I guess ya better go out and buy a pinky ring.”
Most of the guys downtown wore a small silver ring on their pinky finger with an opal inlaid. It’s supposed to be sign of making it.
“Not me Charlie,” I said. “Only the guys downtown wear pinky rings.”
Patty came over with two cold ones and laid them on the table.
“Well look who’s here, himself. So tell me big shot, I hear ya been promoted to the detective bureau and less than a year on the job, aye you must have some Rabbi.”
I knew Patty was ribbing me; Charlie probably put him up to it.
“No Patty, I’m just filling in for a couple days. I don’t even know what to wear, any ideas?”
“Who ya filling in for”
“Brady.” I said.
“Brady, bejessa you be working with Red. Smith.
Wear a light seer sucker suit lad.” The heat in the hole is bad enough, but the humidity is a killer. He reached under the counter and produced a shoulder holster “Ya got one of these, He said, laying it on the bar.
I shook my head.
“Here take it kid, its easier when yer chasing one of them Indians. Here take it, it’s a loan.
He pours me a pint and hollered out to the crowd “Last call for alcohol.”
“Okay Charlie,” I said, downing my beer. “I probably see ya Monday, when I’m back in uniform walking Mulberry Street.”
I started my car for home. At the red light, I thought about the guys downtown, a pinky ring, that’s all I gotta do is wear a pinky ring, the guy in the precinct would really ride me. The horn blast told me the lights green, move on idiot, stop daydreaming.
Summer in the cities, are tough, especially in the rookeries. Another name for the high risers filled with all the have nots jammed in like chickens in a coop. everything went in the ghetto. Prostitution, gambling, drugs and alcohol. The chickens had the advantage over the uniform cop. They knew us, but we didn’t know them. The badge and the gun were the only reason they let you walk their streets. You didn’t have many friends in the hole, we were the enemy.
I reported a little before seven. I didn’t stand roll, you just went into the Precinct; gave the desk Sergeant a wave and wrote you in the book.
The Vice Squad occupied the back room, next to the stables. Now I know why they kept the windows closed. I looked through the small glass opening in the door before I went in. There were three guys in civvies sitting at desks. Red Smith sat with his feet up on the desk reading the racing form. He had slight build, rusty hair, kind of wiry; the kind of guy ya didn’t want gets into a scrap with. You might win, but your going walk away hurting. Every time he looks at ya, he had that grin…ya know like the cat that ate the canary. Seem like he always knew what you were thinking. A short fat guy with pop eyes sat on the desk talking to tall tough good looking guy, he reminded me of Robert Taylor, well groomed, pinky ring and all. They were playing cards. On top of a file cabinet, a small black fan, ya know the kind, full of dust and were sending a breeze across the room. No air in those days.
I knocked, and then walked in. The tall guy spoke first.
”Hey kid, what’s with the jacket, who do you think you are, Sam Spade?” followed by a laugh.
The fat guy laughed too. “Yeah, ya forgot your fedora.”
I didn’t know what to say, my face redden. When you’re a rookie, ya kind of take a lot of heat from the older guys.
I gave a half smile, I felt like an idiot. Red put down the racing form, “Hey Bat” he said. “Tell that harp to kiss your ass, welcome aboard.”
The half smile turned into a wide grin, then a laugh.
“Hey kid,” the big guy said walking over to me. “I’m Jimmie, Jimmie Donahue, I’m just breaking you cubes, glad to meet ya.”
“Right.” I said and shook his hand. “Same here.”
Jimmie turn to the fat guy, ‘This whopp is Frankie, Frankie Ruggerio, my partner.” Frankie gave me a wave, with other hand he threw his cards on the desk, “Gin” he hollered, “Ya owe me two bucks Jimmie.”
“See Bat,” Jimmie said. “They say the Irish have all the luck, don’t believe it.”
Mr. Smith, that’s what the bad guys called Red. He used to work downtown in homicide, now with a few years left before he retired, they put in vice. Red ruled the streets back then. If you were a suspects in a homicide, you better look him up or ask some one in Sidney’s, where can I find Mr. Smith. Red spoke from the side of his mouth, past the dangling cigarette. “Bat, I’m glad you’re here. I asked the Captain for a good man. He took out a handkerchief, “I heard a lot about ya on the street.” He said wiping his brow.
"You’re not going to wear that jacket?” he said. “It’s hot out there.”
“I’m wearing it to hid my piece, ya know.”
“Tell ya what, Red said getting up from the desk, take it off, also gimme the shoulder holster. Who told you wear it?”
“Brannigan.” I said.
“You mean Paddy Brannigan from the Druid? I should of known. He was so fat, he had to wear it. There wasn’t a belt long enough to go around his waste, that’s why he always wore suspenders. Yeah…Pat Brannigan broke me in the job…let’s see must be twenty years ago. I’ll stick it in the desk drawer.”
I handed Red the holster.
“Now pull out your shirt and let it hang outside; stick your gun behind your back inside your belt. See! it’s a lot better, nobody can se it. Where’s your badge?”
I reached in my pocket for my badge holder.
“No good kid, takes to long to get out. Here, let me show ya…just pin it inside your shirt, just below collar, when you need it, just flip it out.”
“Lets go Frankie.” Jimmie said, putting down his cup, “lets hit the bricks. Friday is payday; there should be a lot of John’s out there tonight. Hey Red, will be working the South Broad district, checking the dollies, will be on channel 5.”
“Don’t forget about Warren Street,” Red hollered back, I might need you two guys later…say around midnight…I’ll call yeah.” They both left.
Red finished reading racing form, swallowed the last of his coffee, crushed his cigarette and turned the lights out.
“Will use my car kid, it’s a convertible, will surprise those bastards, they’ll never make us.” He grinned.
Driving out of the lot I saw Charlie, he give me the thumbs up.
Red lit up a Lucky letting the smoke blow through his nose. I seem to recognize that kid…what’s his name?”
“McGuire.” I said, “Charlie McGuire.”
“Yeah, I thought so. I worked with his old, good cop. I remember that night. Whata say we grab a corn beef at Sidney’s, I’m buying?”
“Yeah,” I said, “sounds good.”
“Alright,” Red said, “Never saw an Irishmen yet refuse a corn beef.
We parked right in front of Sidney’s. The place was crowded. We took the booth in the rear facing the front. The quickly thinned out,
“I’ll be right back.” Red said, I’m gonna check the shit house.”
He soon came back. “Everything’s good,” he said.
“What’s good Red?”
“Remember” Red said. “Anytime your in a joint, sit with your back against the wall and always face the front, this way ya can see whose coming in or going out. And always check the shit house, ya don’t want no surprises.”
Sidney came right over, “Mr. Smith,” he says, “how is ya, looks like ya got a new partner,”
“This is Bat, he’s filling in for Barney. Bat Sidney.”
Sidney used his apron to wipe his hands. I shook fat pudgy hand. His build reminded me of a turtle, short, fat neck beady eyes.
“Sid, give us two corn beefs on rye and two cokes. I know ya like a cold beer kid to wash it down, maybe later, after we bust the skin game.”
Sidney came back with two sandwiches over flowing with steaming corn beef.
“Sidney.” Red said. Gimme a bag of your left over meat.
I put mustard on the corn beef and took a bite.
“What’s a skin game?”
“Never heard of a skin game, I’ll tell ya in the car kid.”
“How’s the sandwich?”
“Good.” I said swallowing the last piece.
Back in the car, Red made a left on Mercer Street another left on High Street and continued North to Warren Street, made a left slowing down in the middle of the block.
“See that two story red brick tenement,” Red pointed.
“Yeah, what about it.” I said.
“That’s where the skin game is, looks quiet.” Red said. “So you never saw a skin game?”
“No Red, I never did, but I heard of em, some kind of gambling?”
“Yeah it a card alright.” He said flipping flipped his cigarette out the window.
“They play for pretty high stakes, never saw one huh? It’s like banker broker, you know, they deal a load of cards face down on the table, everybody stands around throwing money down betting on the card they picked, dealer turns them over; high card takes the pot.”
“So where’s the game and how do we bust it?” I said.
“That’s the trick the brick front? That’s where the game is; it’s on the house is owned and operated by Gutbucket they--”
“Gutbucket! Who’s Gutbucket.”? I interrupted.
“Gutbucket, ya mean ya never heard of Gutbucket…he’s a big tall shine with a fat belly… that’s why he’s called Gutbucket, he’s into everything…numbers, broads, you name it. See those two apes in the front. Their lookouts. In the rear, they have two shepherd dogs in the yard, every time ya get near the back fence, the mutts start barking, a light go on in the shit house and a lookout comes to the window, he gives a look to see what the mutts are barking at. Lets me tell ya, kid these mutts are means bastards, I think they starve em, just to make them mean.”
“So” I said. “So what’s the trick”?
With that Cheshire smile on his face, Red leaned back in the seat. “The trick? Here’s the trick.” He held up the meat from Sidney’s.
“The meat is our passport to doggieville. I don’t care how vicious those mutts are, they love raw meat.”
“And…” I said. “I still don’t know what the trick is.”
“Okay Bat, I’ll tell ya, but first, were going stay here a while and observe the action, ya know who goes in who comes out. You’ll notice when cars come down the street, they’ll park a few houses away, get out and walks back to the house. Once those two apes in front check them out, they’ll walk in the front door, up the stairs to the second floor, that’s where the action is.”
I was becoming a little frustrated, “Okay Red, but how the hell do we get in?”
“Remembering me telling ya Bat, about the back window.”
“Yeah, you mean the bathroom window, so.”
“Right.” said Red, “that’s the only way we can get in.”
“Yeah, but Red, what about the look out and not to mention the dogs?”
“Okay” he said, reaching for a cigarette. “Here’s what we got. Remember the window is always open; all the other windows are covered with a blanket. Gutbucket no dummy, he knows we have binoculars. The shit house window is their only air supply, let me tell ya Bat, its hotter than a Devil’s… well its hot, not to mention the humidity and ya can cut the cigarette smoke with a knife. Plus ya can see into the gambling room, cause they keep the bath room door open.”
Dumbfounded I asked Red, “so you going through the window.”
He nodded. “That’s right, I’m going through the shit house window.”
“The dogs.” I said.
“The dogs,” Red laughed, “they’ll be too busy eating the meat, that you’ll be feeding em.
“ Red, that’s means you’re going through the window alone”
“Sorry kid, age before beauty,”
“Wait,” I said. “How ya getting to the second floor window? Ya gonna walk right in the yard with those mongrels and climb up a ladder.”
“Ya almost got it laddie. There’s an old shed in the yard, it’s falling apart, I think it was an old shed, I think used to be a hen house years back. It’s about ten feet high. Just the frames left and a few rafters. Before I came to work tonight, I stopped by and stored a ladder in the alleyway that runs through the back yards. The ladders about 10 feet, it will reach from the top of the hen house right to the shit house window ledge… ya follow?”
I couldn’t believe what he was telling me.
“Red! You’re kidding me.”
He stretches back in the seat with his hands behind his head.
“Ya got a better idea, slick? Don’t worry, it’ll work, ya got it now?”
“Kind of I said. I mean what ya going do when ya get inside; I mean there must be a least twenty guys in there. Can ya handle all these guys, I think we need more help.”
“Okay, here am what I going do. Once I’m inside you get on the horn and notify Jimmie and Frankie, they’ll be down at the end of the block. I go to call em before we start and put them wise. When I get in, I’m gonna run and leap over all the guys milling around the table, when I hit the table, I’m gonna spread my arms out and scope up as much money as I can along with playing cards, ya don’t need that much for evidence. Trust me kiddo, I’m going to scare the living shit out of those guys. One I make my entrance it going to look like a Chinese fire drill. They’ll be scrambling to get out the front door, only Jimmie and Frankie will be waiting for them at the bottom of the stair case, anybody try’s the back, you’ll take care of that. We all set partner?”
“Red, I got to hand to ya, I think it might work, or lets say, I hope it works.”
He lit up a cigarette, looked at his watch, okay its almost twelve, I’m gonna call Jimmie.”
After he told Jimmie, I followed him through a maze of alleyways t to the back yard fence of the red brick tenement. He knew the neighborhood like the back of his hand, later I found out he grew up on Warren St. back when the Irish ran it.
“Ya got the meat,” Red whispered.
I pointed to the bag. Red picked up a stone and threw into the yard. Quickly in response, the dogs charged the fence barking incessantly.
On went the light from the window on the second floor, a guy came to the window stuck his head out, then went back and turned off the light.
“Okay Bat, start feeding those mutts; here, take my gun, I don’t want to lose it during the scuffling.”
“ What” I said, “suppose…”
He put his finger to his lips, “Go ahead, just take it, and now start feeding those mutts.”
Every time I threw a piece of meat, they came running, barking, and gobbled up the meat. Again on went the light, same guy. Third time, two guys came,
“So what’s going on out there,” a voice from the card room shouted.
“I don’t know, Dem dogs are spooky, aint nuttin out der.”
They turned off the light, the dogs quieted down, concentrating on the meat.
Red climbed onto the roof of the shed. I handed him the ladder. He propped it on the shed roof wedged it between the rafters and slowly with a rope, lowered it onto the window ledge of the bathroom. I increased the meat for the dogs; Red slowly crawled along the ladder toward the window. Just as he got to the window, the light went on. Ah shit, I murmured, ready to press the button and call Jimmie and Frankie. Red froze; he gave me a quick look with a finger to his lips. The guy didn’t look out; he just wanted a glass of water. I realized then, you couldn’t really see out into the dark from a lighted room. Off went the light; he went back to the main room. I pressed the button on the radio.
“Okay Jimmie, lets go,” praying to God he heard me.
Then all hell broke loose. I heard crashing sounds followed by Reds loud voice. ‘Everybody’s under arrest don’t move.’
I heard a lot running, cursing, what a racket. Flashing red lights from two patrol cars pulled in front. Next thing I heard Reds voice.
“Hey Bat, come to the front, its all over”
There was Jimmie and Frankie with some uniform men. One of them was Charlie. They had everybody up against the wall. We frisked them; no guns, just the ordinary cutlery, a few with number slips.
Charlie came over, somewhat in awe.
“Hey Bat, what a job, how ya do it?”
“Charlie, I’ll tell ya later, we have to slate all this guys. It’ll take to about two in the morning.” I said.
“Yeah, he said. “Okay, I guess ya won’t be stopping at Brannigan’s?
Red over heard us talking; walked over grabbed Charlie’s hand, “How ya doing kid? Your Charlie McGuire, Red Smith, your Chuck McGuire’s kid right?
Charlie’s face lit up. “ Ya, did ya know my father?”
“Yeah, I knew em, he taught me everything I know, and he’s was one of the best.” Red put his arm on Charlie’s shoulder “Say kid, how would like to help us slate these birds, it’ll be a big help. I’ll put ya in on the arrest, what ya say? Then later we can all down neck for a few cold one.”
“Its almost two now Red,” I said. “We won’t be out of here till way after closing hours.”
“Yeah,” Charlie said. “All the bars will be closed.”
Red lit up a cigarette, leaned back in the chair and gave us his Cheshire smile.
“No problem boys, I know of an after hours joint kid.”
“After hours,” I said. “Where!”
“Brannigan’s, I have the key to the back door.

The End

1 comment:

Rizzi said...