by Robert Ferguson
I couldn’t believe it. I could not believe it! Billy had been banging her in that top floor apartment of the flop-house at 47th and 9th since he’d hauled her out as a hostage from the jeweller’s he’d done single handed all those years ago to make his bones. An’ now they wanted to get marr-ied? Or at least she did, I presumed. Billy marr-ied? Well, no more than the little runt deserved.
Well, I had to believe it. The word was good. Always had been, that word, from that one, inside the gang an’ turned by a couple of really big cops with ex-regulation billy-sticks who’d made it either that or his old woman got it. Whenever. Oh, that word had to be good!
So Billy an’ Hannah were coming down out of their fortress, out from behind the gang’s lines, the floors of mattresses and foot-soldiers and guns that had made winkling them out impossible for so many years. To get married in the ballroom at the Ogalala Hotel on 24th. I knew it well. Danced there regular’, when I was young enough to dance. I knew its layout, its music and its service intimately. It would be so simple. All I had to do was get the Captain onside.
I put it to the Captain in his favourite bar. He was horrified. “What are you trying to do to me?” he screamed in a whisper. “You know the Chief won’t let you get near Billy and Hannah. He’ll hate it!”
“But the Mayor will love it,” I replied, “and I know where he drinks, too. And with Billy gone, and the Chief gone…well, promotions all round, maybe?”
“Fix the Mayor and you’ve got it,” the Captain said, after a lot more whispered hisses, and a couple more scotches.
“He’ll love it,” I repeated. “He’ll be counting the thank-you votes.”
And he did - both.
So, time to go to work. I needed to find sufficient cops who could play liquorice sticks an’ horns with their left hands, while handling their pieces with their right; an’ get a dozen shotguns fixed up as working trombones, and a dozen more horns with 38’s stuck down their bells. An’ get hold of a couple of dozen more who could wait table without pouring soup down the clients’ backs, or dropping burgers into their laps.
As usual, there were no volunteers. “Ooh, Loot,” they cried, “we’re cops not nancy waiters.” “Ooh, Loot, I ain’t played in a band since high school.”
“You went to high school?” I said. “You can’t read the Captain’s standing orders, let alone the dots on a stave. But you’ve got two hands, and decent balance. You can wait table, can’t you? You’ve been in a restaurant now and then since high school, I suppose? Take your wife out Saturday and watch how its done. No, definitely not on the Department’s expenses! Ok, who’s next.”
Then there was the weapons sergeant. “Ain’t no way you can put guns in musical instruments so the instruments still play. I never heard of any such thing, Loot. Is the Captain behind this idea? Whose budget’s carrying it?”
“Look, Sarg.,” I explained patiently, “A horn’s a tube. A trombone’s just a longer tube. They both have an opening at the but end. And a gun is also a tube, but thinner and shorter. So what we need is some engineering, some imagination, an’ that’s why I came to you, Sarg.” I really larded it to him. “If anybody can do it you can. We just need a couple more holes for the triggers and magazines, shielded so the air doesn’t escape from the musical tubes. But keep them small, ‘cos nobody’s got to see ‘em under my guys hands.”
The breakthrough came, of course, with the first guy who took it on. One of the younger men in the Traffic team finally stepped up, bored out of his skull after four months of trolling round the filthy alleys of the Bronx in his squad car, and never getting out of it except to buy a hot dog and endless cups of disgusting coffee that the dispatcher never let him finish before they were cold. He actually did play in a swing band. Now! And once he signed up, and offered to rehearse any other volunteers, and I talked the Captain into paying three hours’ overtime for the operation itself, we finally began to put together a team. Waiters appeared, guys whose families ran pizza houses and spaghetti cafes in Little Italy, who had waited table from the age of eight in parts of the City that Billy had terrorised for years, and who had scores of scores to settle.
Sarg, down in the Secure Weapons Store in the basement, found an engineer friend of a friend of a friend who used to sell guns to the Mob, until going straight under the influence of his wife’s nagging and a 12-stretch up the river. Sarg. didn’t tell him the target. Just what the instruments and weapons had to do.
We had a team, and I could fix the hotel manager. He knew I knew enough about him and his family’s past to send him away for years. Also, several very nasty characters would love to hear who had told the Department about various meetings and dinners in the Ogalala that they had worked hard to keep secret, especially from the police. Oh, yes, I could fix the hotel manager! But I wasn’t going to put the arm on him ‘till Billy an’ Hannah were on their way to the ceremony.
It went well. Minutes before Billy an’ Hannah arrived at the front of the Ogalala in their great big armoured Buick, I had a quiet, short word with the hotel manager. He quickly agreed not to get involved. I’d guessed he would. The band an’ the waiters were ushered silently out of the back of the hotel into vans, an’ replaced by cops; an’ nobody in the hotel noticed a thing. In fact, the only folks who did notice anything were the layabouts and bums and wino’s who did notice – well, those who could – that there were no cops on the streets. But they weren’t going to complain, just enjoy the quietest night in years. It was a big operation, really big, but worth it to get Bad Billy an’ his dame.
Into the hotel ballroom came the happy couple, and their bodyguards took places at tables around them. We noted who was where. They’d all be carrying tonight. The band started playing, an’ the dancing began. The boys were good! They swung! I was proud of them, an’ enjoyed the sound. Foot-tappin’.
When the time came, the “band” stopped playing an’ withdrew to the edge of the dance floor, an’ so did the “waiters”, forming a circle around Billy an’ Hannah. Two more of Billy’s heavies brought in the Padre, almost carrying him, one under each of his arms, and the poor, terrified Father, sweating hard, an’ hoping’ the Monsignor never heard about it, said the words in a muttered rush. Billy kissed Hannah long an’ hard, my boys brought in the cake an’ put it centre front on the little circular table in front of Hannah, and gave her the fancy, blunt knife. An’ my boys drew their guns.
Billy an’ Hannah froze, an’ I walked forward from the kitchen. No gun. Why’d I need a piece? There were plenty in there already, and more of ours than theirs. But I was wrong. Oooh, I was wrong, cos’ the paying customers rose as I walked forward and placed the muzzles of their guns in the right ears of my boys, whose pieces clattered to the sprung, timber dance floor.
An’ even then, I wasn’t worried. I’d learned this trade mounting ambushes in ‘Nam. And my second line neutralised Billy’s back-up boys, guns cold in the backs of their necks. More clattering on the floor, an’ the bandsmen and waiters recovered both sets of weapons. “Time’s up, Billy,” I said. “Sure is, Lootenant,“ Billy said, with that sneaky grin on his chops I’d hated and dreamed of for years.
* * *
And that’s where the Lootenant’s story stopped, when I found it in the locked drawer in his desk. He’d never finished it, and for a very good reason. If somebody had to write the last lines, however, they would be these:
“Time’s up, Billy,” I said.
“Sure is, Lootenant,“ Billy said, and Chief of Police Seringato, Seringato the Sicilian, Seringato the Take, walked up behind me and shot me plumb in the back of the head.