Monday, March 11, 2013

Sorry, Charlie

We rode down Sunset, and crept along Franklin Avenue. We stalked through the hills, then slid back into the city. I lost my bearings Harlan twisted us through so many alleys. He may as well have put a bag on my head.

We finally stopped at the carcass of some warehouse. Windows boarded up, graffiti – Harlan and his boys strode through the door like they were walking in from their own patios.

Up in the foreman’s office you’d have thought it was midnight. A single bulb dangled over an opened wooden crate.  It was easy to forget where Harlan had left me when he showed the firepower.

“Jesus, Harlan, this must weigh twenty pounds!” I staggered a step when he dropped the rifle into my arms. I hadn’t seen anything like it – it just looked mean in my hands.

“Our little shooters are what sent the last job down the river. We didn’t forget about you when you were in the joint, Charlie. Me and the boys have been working on getting these B.A.R.s the last six months.”

“These are the real deal. I’m almost afraid to ask, where did you get them?”

“Petey knew a guy.”

Petey. The spindly one. I looked over at him; he winked and clicked his tongue, “These were gonna be sent across the Pacific. They never made it.”

A twinge of something like shame prodded the back of my neck. I shook it off.

Harlan’s other guy tiptoed over and took off his hat, “You sure about knocking over Scapelli’s, Harlan?”

“What, you think you can’t handle a casino, Frank?”

“Don’t give me that.”

“Yeah? Well then what’s the matter with you!”

“You know what happens to guys that cross Scapelli? They don’t get away.”

“Then we’ll just not get caught.”

“No, no, no, Harlan, it aint that easy! I heard this story about a guy that tried to run – Scapelli’s men followed him all the way to London! London, Harlan! They found his body floating down the Thames!”

“Are you going soft on me, Frank? Listen, we all go in there, show them the equipment, and they give up the money easy as you please. Any one of them get wise, we put them in a wooden overcoat.”

“Yeah… easy as that, Harlan. Easy as that…”


The four of us sat in the car across the street from the casino. The air felt like a vice – it beat down on our heads. Pressure hammered my chest and my heart hammered my ribs. But we sat in silence. Like stiffs waiting at a bus stop.

Harlan opened his door without a word. We followed. It was late; the traffic was so thin that we could have lay on the road and looked up at the stars if not for the city lights.

I caught an angry rifle. Petey and Frank did the same. Harlan took a fourth for himself. Each one of them  heavy; loaded with 20 bullets longer than my index finger.

We walked through the front doors of the place like modern reapers – four horsemen in suits. For a second everything was calm – guys flipping cards, ladies putting chips on the roulette table – then it all came crashing down.

One of Scapelli’s men standing guard by the counter went for his piece and Harlan’s rifle tore the night open. A hail of bullets made him dance a macabre tango, and he hit the ground like a wet bag.

“Nobody else needs to go down like that!” Harlan barked, “You, behind the counter, put the cash in a bag.”

Our rifles stayed firm on Scappelli’s men as Harlan crossed the room and got the loot. The exchange was smooth. Backpedaling in silence, Harlan came to the entrance and we ducked out. The moment we were through, the enforcers rained lead on the doors.

I don’t know what happened, but my knee and back suddenly got real hot, then I was on the ground staring at the gutter. Sirens were revving up in the distance. Harlan looked back at me from the car with no emotion. Before slamming the door I heard him dryly call out:

“Sorry, Charlie.”