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AA ~ The Adventures of Henrietta Fine – Chapter Eight

The Adventures of Henrietta Fine

Chapter Eight

By Paul Levitt

Narrated by Elizabeth Mansfield

Published by LeRoy Chatfield


            After Legs traced the stolen booze to a warehouse on West 212th Street, he collected me with a truck bearing the name “Crankshaw Furniture Removal.”  In the rear of the truck sat two trigger men, Charlie Entratta and Fatty Walsh, both carrying Thompson submachine guns.  When I asked Legs why all the heavy hardware, he told me it was time I got smart about guns.  A pistol, he pointed out, forces a gunman to move in dangerously close to his target, and if the first bullet fails, the target usually shoots back.  A sawed-off shotgun, he said, has the same problem; it works best at short range.  And buckshot doesn’t always pierce heavy doors or the metal bodies of automobiles.  But a tommy gunner can make a kill—sometimes several—at a reasonable range, or from the safety and anonymity of a speeding car.  The tommy gun, he said, had an additional virtue:  It deterred fire from the victim’s bodyguards, who either went down with their employer or dove for the nearest cover. 

            When we turned into 212th Street, I saw a cat scurry across a crumbling wall and disappear.  Street lamps had never been installed in this part of town.  Clouds muted the moon.  In the dark I saw no one.  We drove slowly west toward the river, where a windowless, grubby, brick warehouse, which Legs had been told held A.R.’s liquor, loomed large and dark.  A chain link fence, with a sagging gate secured with a padlock, barred our entrance.         “Just remove the gate from the hinges,” I advised. 

            Jack climbed out of the truck and spoke to his boys.  They scampered out with a bag full of tools.  In no time, they lifted the gate from one of the posts.  We drove quietly up to a metal door, equipped with a peephole and bolted from the outside with a hasp and a combination lock.  Legs turned off the motor and the four of us took up our positions.  Entratta and Walsh stood on either side of the door with tommy guns at the ready.  Legs taped over the peephole and circled the building for a quick look-see.  When he returned, he said the only windows in the building were high up on the walls—and boarded over. 

            “I can open that thing with a tire iron,” observed Legs. 

            “A.R. said he wanted a clean job.  No marks.” 

            I forcefully pulled the shackle toward me, and slowly turned the dial, feeling for gaps in the gears.  Sure enough, I could detect the openings.  In under two minutes, I had the lock open, and to my great relief, the door was not locked from the inside.  It opened with a turn of the handle.  As I crept in, I could feel Legs’ breath next to my left ear.  He had a police revolver at the ready, a Smith and Wesson 38 Special.  Entratta remained outside and Walsh slunk in right behind Legs.  An image of three tiptoeing little piggies crossed my mind, as well as the fear that if gunplay erupted, I’d be hit first.

            Once inside, we were immediately accosted by fluff.  Rabbit fluff!  It hung in the air, coated the walls, entered our noses and throats.  I could hardly breathe.  In front of us, we saw a maze of flaking yellow cubicles—hundreds of them—each barely lit by a small bulb suspended from an overhead wire.  Every space held four ebony girls, bent over a table, picking the rabbit fur and stuffing the fluff into large burlap sacks.  Rabbit fluff was once again in fashion in poorer European circles for ladies’ collars and caps, and muffs and stoles.  I had read about thousands of young Caribbean women illegally employed in huge warehouses, isolated four to a tiny cubicle, working twelve-hour shifts, picking the fluff.  But I never myself expected to stumble upon such a scene.  All the windows were closed and no one talked.  For good reason.  The fluff was so fine that it filled the air and slowly crept into the lungs with every breath.  According to the Times, the average life expectancy of fluff pickers was six years, before they died of “consumption.”  The danger, of course, was that if one started coughing, so too would others.  It was like the effect that occurs in a theater.  Several people clear their throats; the next thing you know, everyone’s coughing.  If that happened here, and the women couldn’t make a speedy escape, they would all begin wheezing and quickly suffocate.

            We didn’t dare talk in this atmosphere, so Legs, pointing his pistol at one of the young women, led her outside to ask where the liquor was hidden.

“There no liquor here.”  From the look on her face, you could see she was telling the truth.  “Ask the boss-macoute.”

            Legs’ famous anger volcanically erupted.  “You dumb shit!” he screamed, putting his pistol to Entratta’s head.  “Your goddamn source lied to us.  I oughta put a bullet between your ears.”

            Charlie, a spiffy dresser and a dandy, came unraveled, as he pulled at his shirt collar and oozed sweat from his scalp to his shoes.  “All I did was tell you what Waxey told me.”

            “Shuttup, you moron!”

            Legs shoved the woman into the warehouse and mumbled something to the effect of not wanting to incur A.R.’s displeasure again.  “Let’s get outta here,” barked Legs, and started to climb into the truck.  “Well, what the hell you standin’ there for,” he yelled at me.  “Get in!”

            “We can’t just leave these poor women here,” I said. “They’re worse off than slaves.”

            “Who cares about darkies,” snapped Legs.  “Now, hop in!”

            “I think we should locate the owner and get him to clean up the warehouse.  Geez, at least he ought to ventilate it.”

            “Are you nuts?” asked Legs.  “In case you forgot, we ain’t reformers.  We’re the people reformers want to reform.”  Waving his pistol out the window, he again ordered me into the truck.  This time I listened.

            As Legs had predicted, A.R. seethed about the loss of the liquor and the misinformation.  His lower lip twisted with disdain and his voice grew dry and hard.  “I want to know who’s behind this—and I want to know now!”

            When I called to his attention the plight of the women in the warehouse, he shrugged and said, “I work for money, not for goodwill.  You can do whatever you want, but you’ll have to do it on your own nickel.  And by the way, you still owe me.  Our deal was you’d help me recover my liquor.  What you found was shvartzers not Scotch.”

            “I did open the lock!”

            Running his tongue across his false uppers and smacking his lips, he patted his pocket and took out his wallet.  “Okay, Coakley, here’s a C-note.  I don’t want it said that A.R.’s a welsher.  But I repeat, We ain’t even yet.”

            “I’ll take the hundred, but I still need the diamond.”

            “Believe me, they’re trying to pull a fast one.”

            “Masseria said by September first.”

            “Don’t worry, he can’t read a calendar.”

            “No, but Zucania can.”

            That evening, as usual, A.R. left Carolyn at home while he haunted the boulevard.  I found her reading a book.

            “You look worried,” said Carolyn.

            “I am.”

            Filling her in on the missing diamond and the threat to my mother and Ben, I asked if she’d heard anything on the grapevine.

“Just what I’ve read.  The Farouk diamonds are famous.  They’ll probably be sold in Europe by some fence.  Looking around as if the place were bugged, she whispered, “The person who’d know is Federico Truffa, a wheeler-dealer fence who is a familiar figure in the underworld.”

            “Never heard of him”

            “He owns the Club Baal in Harlem.  He’s eccentric.”

            The first person who came to mind was Suzie Somerset, who cared for me when Mom was sick.  Our housekeeper, cook, and my second mom had been living in Newark.  I immediately made inquiries.  Yes, she was still working for Al Siegel; yes, she could spend a day with me in black Harlem; and yes, she would help me look for Mr. Truffa.  But in the meantime, there was Rodman’s trial.


            “You tell me,” said Lily angrily, as we drove into Westchester County, headed for White Plains, “how a car parked next to Madison Square Garden just disappears?”

            “Car thieves,” I replied, “are quick as whippets.  They’ve been known to steal cars during the minute or two it takes someone to go from the curb to the box office ten feet away.” 

            “It wouldn’t surprise me if Brad gave the Avondale to her and really never reported it stolen.”

            “My guess is the car was stolen but not in the place he said it was.”

            Lily shot me a dangerous look.  “You know something, don’t you?”

            “Just what I hear.”

            “Which is?”

            “Some husbands would rather not say where the car was actually parked.”

            “I see.  In fact, I see very clearly.  Thank you,” she said curtly.

            For a few minutes, the car ran on silence.  I looked out the window at the August woods, while Lily stared straight ahead drawing a bead, I surmised, not on the road but on Brad. 

            “The Avondale was one of the few things about him I liked.  Now that’s gone.”

            White Plains, the legal center for the Hudson River area, had been in the spotlight numerous times for sensational trials. At the old courthouse on Railroad Avenue, renamed as Main Street, a number of great jurists and advocates had spoken, for example, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.  Now Bill Fallon was to spin his magic at the new courthouse on the same site.  We parked on the street.  Lily pointed out Fallon’s Cadillac.  He and Rodman had preceded us by a day, because Bill wanted to have a walk around town to sample local opinion on the issue of bootlegging.  They had been here before—when jury selection began.  But Fallon had wisely sought a delay.

            At last I was to meet the great man, the one who defended the underworld, the one who had arranged to have the charge against me thrown out of court, the one who had never in fact lost a case.  From Carolyn and A.R., and also from Lily, I had heard how his logic mowed down lawyers and judges and even Jesuits.  Famed for producing hung juries, Fallon could read a three-hundred page brief in less than two hours and virtually recite the entire document word-for-word.  Carolyn told me to listen to him closely. 

“He tells everyone that he plays on his voice as a master plays on the strings of his harp.  And he does.”

            A.R. admired his skills but deplored his excesses.  “Fallon” he grumbled, before I left for the trial, “drinks and smokes too damn much, wears cheap shirts, never polishes his shoes, can’t save a nickel, and has a glass backside—he’s afraid it will bust if he ever sits down.” 

            When I ironically asked, “Anything else?” A.R. seriously added, “Yeah, he’s also a sucker for a pretty face.  He’ll never charge a dame who’s a looker.”

            The courthouse, constructed of artificial stone and colored light pink, had one heck of an imposing entrance:  twelve fluted Ionic columns, four stories high.  The inside was even grander.  A large central hall, much like a rotunda, rose the full height of the building to a glass skylight.  Looking up, you could see all the floors and staircases spiraling right to the top.  The walls and columns, all faced with travertine marble, gave the place a classical look. 

            We found Rodman and Fallon in a waiting room, just off the main hall.  As soon as Hank spotted Lily, he ran and embraced her with such force you would have thought someone was trying to take her away.  Fallon, dressed in a blue serge suit, with a burgundy necktie and scuffed Oxfords, smelled of liquor.  From his solemn look, I figured he expected to lose.  Only his intense blue eyes gave any indication of the fire inside.  A handsome, well-built man with a finely chiseled face, he was about A.R.’s height, a few inches under six feet.  He had shapely hands but bit his nails to the quick.  His most prominent feature, as I had been told, was his hair.  Apricot, I would call it, or reddish-blond.  Carolyn said that it shone because he used a henna rinse.  Its brilliance was dimmed only by the raggedness of his haircut.  He hated barbers and cut his own locks.  And believe me, it showed.

            The room, furnished with an oak table and chairs, had the look of a library.  We sat while Fallon paced, schooling Rodman in how to behave.  “Be ever so polite.  Answer all questions with a ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir.’  Nothing more, unless you really must.  As I’ve said from the outset, Hank, all we have to do is persuade one person, just one, that you knew nothing about the liquor haul and the stable and the booze in the books.”

            “What about Rendig?”

            “That’s my problem, not yours.”

            “You’re sure that the case is labeled ‘New York versus James Rodd’ and not Hank Rodman?”

            “It matters,” Lily said.

            “I’m absolutely certain.”

            From his breast pocket, Fallon removed a gold crucifix attached to a chain of dark beads, which he handed to Rodman.  “Remember what I told you.”

            “Right, pal.”

            Lily and I looked at each other.  We both knew that Rodman, whatever his religion, was not Roman Catholic.  But we said nothing.  As we entered the mahogany-paneled courtroom, which was divided by a center aisle, I counted ten rows of chairs.  The room was lit by four small chandeliers and three sets of windows.  A bronze railing separated the public from the legal proceedings.  At the front of the room, a cadaverous-looking judge sat on a raised bench.  The prosecution and the defense sat at separate tables.  Arrayed in two rows of seats along one wall, the jurymen were all dressed in their Sunday best.  

            As I made my way to a front-row seat, I saw the familiar face of Lieutenant Sullivan and two of his sidekicks.  Lily pointed out the infamous Charles Rendig.  From a side view, all I could see was his scraggly moustache and thinning hair.  Although replaced by another juror, he was seated beside the D.A., prepared to cry “bribe.” 

            In his opening statement, the District Attorney, wearing a lapel pin with the American flag, made Rodman’s house sound like a Babylon of booze.  Detailing the extensive cellars under the stable and the network of tunnels running down to the boathouse, he swore that it would take all of Manhattan a month to drink the store dry.  Neither the bar on the lawn nor the hollowed-out books escaped his attention.  He accused Rodman of flaunting his felonies and of defiling books in the service of drink.  Like a steamroller, he started slowly, but once he got rolling, he was unstoppable.  He touched upon maidens and mothers, virtue and vice, country and communists, religion and rum, and concluded with a question for the jury:

            “I ask you, can you imagine any decent man lending himself to such depravity knowing that drink is the demon’s delight and that archaeological records suggest that when Eve tempted Adam, it was because she was drunk?”

            I knew that Westchester County had a reputation for being fogyish, so I worried up a sweat that Fallon would lose, causing no end of trouble for Rodman.  As Fallon approached the bench, the judge, a rabid prohibitionist, tartly asked:

            “Is it possible that the court smells liquor on counsel?”

            “If Your Honor’s sense of justice is as keen as your sense of smell,” replied Fallon, “then my client need have no fear in this court.”

            With that statement, I knew Rodman had the best counsel money could buy.

            Repeating the phrases “flaunting his felonies” and “drink is the demon’s delight,” Fallon ironically observed that the D.A. was “alliteratively condemning his client without an assonance or ounce of proof.”      

            “One hundred proof!” cracked the judge.

            I sweated.  So much for impartiality.  But Fallon didn’t seem fazed in the least.  He chuckled and saluted the bench, saying:

            “Fallon,” speaking of himself in the third person, as he often did in his trials, “is again encouraged by Your Honor, for your intermingling jest with earnest shows that you are a man of just proportions.”  He immediately relinquished the floor, not wanting, I suppose, to tip his hand in his opening comments.

            The District Attorney called for Lieutenant Patrick Sullivan to take the stand, a single chair positioned next to the judge’s bench.  Sully recounted the raid on Rodman’s estate and the discovery of liquor in the stable and in the hollowed-out books.  Fallon’s cross-examination began with an exclamation directed to no one in particular.

            “Fallon finds this testimony fit for a fantasy.  It’s all sheer conjecture.”  Sharply turning to Sully, he asked, “Are you a police officer?”

            “Twenty-second precinct.”

            “A precinct well known for its honesty,” said Fallon in a tone of voice that could easily have been understood as either a question or a statement of fact.

            “I certainly hope so.”

            “Hope?  You don’t know?”

            “I know!” said Sully angrily.

            “You arrived at Mr. Rodd’s estate with an army of men.”

            “Policemen, not servicemen.”

            “Did you know that Mr. Rodd is a New York taxpayer?  He contributes to your salary.  He is also a United States citizen, protected by the laws of this country against invasion of privacy.”

            “We had a search warrant.”

            “And he is a veteran of the Great War.  Are you?”


            The D.A. objected to the question and the judge concurred, telling the jury that whether Sully served in the Great War or not was immaterial.

            “In your testimony, Lieutenant Sullivan, you said that two

Speedboats carrying an illicit cargo docked at my client’s estate.” 


Ergo, Mr. Rodd is guilty!” 

            “It’s not just the speedboats or the docking . . . it’s the stuff he had stashed in the cellar of the stable and garage.”

            “I suppose, Lieutenant Sullivan, that if a bird were to land on the lawn of my client, by dint of the same argument, you would say that the bird not only belonged to Mr. Rodd but had been summoned by him.”

            The jurors laughed.  Fallon scratched his head, walked to a nearby window, looked out, and slowly returned to face Sully.  In fact, all during Fallon’s cross-examination, he kept pacing between the window and the witness.

            “How did you know that the liquor would be landed at Mr. Rodd’s estate?” 

            “We had a tip from an informant.”


            “I can’t say.  But he wasn’t wrong.”

            “Not about the landing.  Just about the buyer.”

            “We also found a diamond in Mr. Rodd’s house.”

            With elaborate sarcasm, Fallon replied, “Oh, I see!  The presence of a bauble in a house is indisputable evidence that the owner of the house is a bootlegger.  Now, that’s good thinking, Lieutenant Sullivan.”

            “A hot diamond.”

            “Was Mr. Rodd alone in the house?”

            “There was a big bash goin’ on.”

            “Anyone, then, could have planted the jewel in the house, even, for example, your informant.”

            “Not likely.  He wasn’t there.”

            “Was Mr. Rodd there—on the dock?  Did he, as far as you know, greet the rum runners?”

            “No.  But the speedboats are registered to him.”

            “Right now, Lieutenant Sullivan, your police car—the one checked out to you—is not where you parked it.  The man who just drove it away, I trust, works for you.  Is that so?”

            Sully leaped out of the witness box, sputtering.  “My squad car—someone else driving it?”  He ran to the window and saw that his car was no longer in the space where he’d left it.  “Call the White Plains police!” 

            The courtroom was in an uproar.  The judge hammered his gavel and called for everyone to be seated.  Sully returned to the stand.

            “Continue!” ordered the judge.

            “Might I conclude from your behavior, Lieutenant Sullivan, that the driver of a vehicle, whether speedboat or auto, may be piloting it without the permission of the owner?”

            A confused Lieutenant Sullivan kept looking toward the window and mixing up his answers.  “My car . . . of course it’s possible Mr. Rodd didn’t agree . . . but I didn’t either.  I mean . . . who took my car . . . his speedboats have locks . . . so does my car . . . but I didn’t give permission . . . he did.”

            “How do we know?”

            The District Attorney requested a recess, while the local police looked for Lieutenant Sullivan’s car.  In the hall, Rodman asked Bill how he knew the car would be missing. 

            “I arranged with two friends to be on hand to release the brake and push the car round the corner.”

            An hour later when the case resumed, the judge reported the car had been found a block away and wanted to know how Fallon knew it would be missing.

            “It is Fallon’s habit to pace when he talks, Your Honor.  During one of his many walks to the window, Fallon saw two gamins push the car from the curb.”

            “And you said nothing?”

            “For all Fallon knew, Your Honor, the lads were working for the local gas station and had been told to push it in to be filled because the car had run out of gas.  Fallon makes it a point, Your Honor, never to scratch when he’s feeling no itch.”

            The jury’s judgment seemed summed up in their laughter.  Knowing this boded ill for his case, the District Attorney quickly shifted the attack from Lieutenant Sullivan’s raid to Fallon’s alleged jury rigging.

            “Your Honor, one of our original jurors, Charles Rendig, claims that Mr. Fallon tried to bribe him.”

            “He might just as well claim that Fallon bribed the two lads he saw pushing Lieutenant Sullivan’s car down the street.  On what evidence, Fallon asks?”

            Rendig held up a wad and shouted that Fallon had passed it along to him at the “Andrea Jane” restaurant, in return for a not-guilty vote.  This outburst caused a sensation, as a riot of whispers swept through the courtroom.

            Fallon calmly replied, “You need only call the waitress, or the owner of the ‘Andrea Jane.’  See if they will corroborate this untruth.”

            The judge ordered a second recess to consider Rendig’s charge.  Upon his return, he declared that the allegation of bribery against Fallon constituted another trial, a different one, and directed the D.A. to continue.  After calling to the stand a dozen more flat-feet, all of whom had taken part in the bust and now testified to Lieutenant Sullivan’s veracity, the D.A. rested his case.

            Fallon called Hank to the stand. 

            “I have but a few questions to ask you, Mr. Rodd.  Do you drink?”

            “No, sir.”

            “Do you observe the Eighteenth Amendment?”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “Have you ever before been charged with breaking the law?”

            “No, sir.”

            “Are you a member of the Anti-Saloon League?”

            “Yes, sir.”

             “Do you believe in your country, its flag, and its laws?”

            “Yes, sir.”

            Fallon paced.  Stopping, he turned and emphatically gestured with his right index finger.  “It is my impression that this baseless charge brought against you for bootlegging has deeply tried your religious convictions.”

            Hank rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands, as if to wipe away tears.  For a minute, he fooled even me.  But when he reached for his handkerchief, I could see his so-called crying was staged.  As he opened the hanky, the crucifix and beads that Fallon had given him fell to the floor. 

            Some of the jurymen jumped out of their seats.  One nearly fell over the rail.  Rodman pocketed the cross and the beads.

            “Try, if you can, Mr. Rodd, not to be distraught.  I know that for a religious man, like you, the District Attorney’s questions will cause you great pain.  But please bear with him.”

            Rodman nodded, rubbed his eyes with the handkerchief, and sniffled a number of times.

            Fallon withdrew and the District Attorney took over.

            “Mr. Rodd,” the D.A. began, “I will not, like your attorney, tax you unduly with unnecessary questions.  You keep horses?”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “In a stable?”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “Did you also keep in the cellar of that stable a store of liquor?”

            “No, sir.”

            “But a store of liquor was found!”

            “Yes, sir.  That is correct.”

            “Your store!”

            “No, sir.  I knew nothing about it.”

            “How could that be?  It is, is it not, your estate?  You do live there?”

            “I am frequently gone, sir.  Any one of my numerous help could have used that space without my knowing it.  Sir.”

            “So you disclaim any knowledge of the liquor found in the stable?”

            “Yes, sir.”

            Once again, Rodman removed his handkerchief to dab his eyes.

“Was one of your hired help also responsible for the liquor found in the library, hidden in hundreds of hollowed-out books?”

            “No, sir.”

            “Ah!  Then you admit to storing it there yourself.”

            “No, sir.  I admit only to being an indifferent reader.  When I bought the estate, the library came with it.  I never opened the bookcases.  To me, I sadly confess, they were no more than part of the furnishings.  But of course there might be another explanation.”

            “Please be so kind as to share it.”

            “I was in Nassau for a month, during which time a Parisian friend of mine, who fought with me at the front, stayed at my home.  His name was William Marichal, and he was a great connoisseur of fine liquors and wines.  He also had a rare sense of humor.  I suppose he could have put the contraband in the books.”

            “Where is he now?”

            “The poor fellow recently died in the jungles of Belize.”


            “Certainly not for him.  Sir.”

            With great frustration and defeat in his voice, the D.A. turned to the judge and said, “No more questions, Your Honor.”

            Rodman left the witness box and returned to his seat.  The D.A. came forward to give his summation.  Addressing the jury, he said with great conviction:

            “If you believe in democracy, as I do, then you believe in rule by law.  Prohibition is the law of the land.  Once the laws are broken, chaos and anarchy ensue.  Just look at Russia!  This case is a simple one.  A man was found with his hand in the till.  For his lawyer to say that the hand actually belonged to another man strains credulity and patience.  I would have hoped that a soldier who had fought for his country would own up to the truth.  But since Mr. Rodd seems to have forgotten his oath of honor and has chosen to misrepresent his vast involvement in the bootlegging trade, it is for you, the members of the jury, to find him guilty of breaking the law and thereby undermining our democratic form of government.  God bless America!” 

            Fallon rose in all his majesty and replied.  “Your Honor, and Gentlemen of the Jury, this has been a very difficult case not only for counsel but also for his client.  We humbly admit that Mr. Rodd was far too lax in policing his property.  But whether the presence of liquor on Mr. Rodd’s estate makes him guilty is for you to decide.  For all we know, the federal agents themselves might have planted the evidence.  What we do know, without any doubt, is that the government invaded the sacred precincts of Mr. Rodd’s own home.  Worse, the government, not content to break his belongings, has brought charges that will undoubtedly break his heart.  Mr. Rodd, I must tell you, is a teetotaler because of his religious convictions.  Unlike those who resist taking a drink for fear of the law, Mr. Rodd is a dry, owing to his respect for the Lord.  Never in all Fallon’s experience as a lawyer has he encountered such flagrant government disregard of those principles that decent, God-fearing men hold sacred.  For justice, for truth, for hearth and home, I appeal to you twelve good men to administer a stinging rebuke to the government for invading and slandering the life of this innocent man.  More is at stake in this case than apprehending a lawbreaker.  A man’s reputation hangs in the balance—a man who shouldered arms and bared his breast to alien bullets when his country called.” 

            Pausing, Fallon dabbed his eyes with his hanky.

            “Fallon can barely speak.  His eyes tear, his voice chokes.  Unable to say any more, he leaves this case in your hands, confident that as God-fearing men, sensible of your duty as patriotic American citizens, you will render a verdict that will thunder down the corridors of time as a warning to every prohibition agent who dares to conspire against the innocence and purity of heaven and home!”

            The D.A. in rebuttal asked the jury to consider the source of Rodman’s wealth.  “Surely it does not come from his prayers!” he mocked, “nor from charitable deeds!”  Continuing in this vein, the D.A. kept suggesting that Hank’s dough didn’t come from Sunday school meetings.  But he had badly misjudged the beliefs of the jury.  For in less than thirty minutes, during which time I constantly massaged my lucky silver dollar, they returned with a verdict of “Not Guilty.”  Several of the jurymen hurried forward to pump Rodman’s hand and wish him Godspeed.  One even recommended a Catholic church just down the way where Rodman could stop and give thanks.

            “I need a drink,” Fallon whispered to Hank, as we buoyantly left the courthouse.  “Under the front seat of my car . . . I have some good whiskey.”

            We followed Bill out of town and stopped at a roadhouse for lunch.  Fallon sipped from his flask through the meal, explaining that he’d gone to some trouble to learn that four Catholics had been seated on the jury.  Rodman confessed that he had opposed the idea of pulling out a crucifix to play on their sympathies. 

            “Hank says to me, ‘Bill, what are you doing?  I’m not Catholic.’  And I say, ‘Keep that to yourself.  Just remember, when I start shaking my finger, you break down and cry.  I’ll pause.  Then you pull out your handkerchief and let the cross and the beads fall to the floor.’  Hank says, ‘it’s a sacrilege.’  And I tell him, ‘so is Prohibition.'”


            When I returned from the trial, A.R. had the Racing Form spread out before him at the kitchen table.  The cake, this time, was strawberry sponge with ladyfingers covered in whipped cream.  One quart of milk had already been drained, the other was half-full.  A.R.’s earlier comment about my still owing him really had rankled.  I was no deadbeat.  To prove it, I had picked five or six warehouse locks.  But the game, I said, watching him calculate the odds on the races, was becoming too risky.  Other gangs were now on the lookout for me.  He just shrugged and insisted I could handle it.  Breaking free seemed to be the one card A.R.’s deck was missing.  So I asked:

            “When can we call it quits?”

            Without looking up, he replied, “You’re part of the family.”

            “Thanks, but I have one already.”

            “Carolyn loves having you around.”

            “So does my Mom.”

            Staring blankly at the newspaper, A.R. recounted a time in his life when his mother took his sister and older brother Harry to San Francisco, leaving him and his younger brother at home.  He had felt slighted.  “Harry was everyone’s favorite.  My father was always comparing me to him.  One night, I crept into Harry’s room in order to kill him.  But I just stood there, with the knife in my hand, and the tears running down my face.”  Finally, he looked at me.  “Carolyn and I would really like you to stay.”

            My throat tightened, because I knew that he meant what he said.  But a moment later, the old A.R. returned.

            “You can’t buy food with beer caps,” he said, pushing the paper aside.  “How much will it take to convince you to stay?”

            “It’s not the money.” 

            “You got a future here, kid.  Why be in such a hurry to join the working poor?  I can see, Henny, you’ve been talking to the wrong people.  Everyone will give you their two cents worth, but that ain’t enough to live on.”           ”


I met Suzie in Times Square.  On the telephone I had already told her as much as I knew about A.R.’s fence.  She did the rest, reaching out to her Harlem contacts.  The only things I knew about black Harlem had come from the papers.  It was the largest Negro city in the world; it had the wildest nightclubs in New York; and it was short on housing and long on quacks, fortune tellers, and numbers players.  I knew that betting on numbers was a national pastime, but until that moment it had never crossed my mind to ask, which numbers?  A.R. looked at me with disbelief—and explained the game.

            “First of all, you pick three numbers and put down some dough.  The winning numbers are drawn from the day’s totals of bank exchanges and bank balances.  They’re both announced daily by the Clearing House and printed in the newspapers.  Suppose,” said A.R., grabbing a pad and unscrewing the cap from his gold fountain pen, “the exchanges were $810,824,054,” which he wrote down on the pad, “and the balances $90,444,172.  The winning numbers are the seventh and eighth numbers of the exchanges, reading right to left, and the seventh number of the balances. Most people bet pennies; but some are in for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.  Each day at least a million people around this country, maybe more, wait to learn the day’s combination.  It’s the one word they live for.

            “Why not?” A.R. said, shrugging his shoulders and reaching for some of Carolyn’s home-baked chocolate cookies.  “Look at the pay off.  A nickel gets you thirty dollars.  A quarter, $150.  Fifty cents, $300.  Sure the chances of winning are slim—which is why I don’t play, unless I know the numbers beforehand—but the stakes are 600 to one.  That ain’t hay—if you’re able to collect, ’cause most times you can’t.  Which is why before long, gangsters will be replacing the amateurs.  At least the mugs pay their bills.”

            I asked A.R. for one of his business cards, which I stuffed in my pocket book.  At Times Square I met Suzie and, after hugs and kisses and tears, we boarded a Seventh Avenue Subway express heading north.  Just as A.R. had predicted, we were stopped numerous times and asked if we wanted to bet on the numbers.  A   little girl, hopping from one foot to the other, insisted she could tell us the best way to find winning numbers.  When Suzie declined her offer, the child shook her head and advised, “You can’t hit ’em if you don’t pull ’em.”

            “All right,” said Suzie, handing her a nickel, “where can I find me a winner?”

            The child replied in rhyme:

                                    Look at someone’s address,

                                    Write down your favorite hymn,

                                    Think of your shopping bill,

                                    Then just pick on a whim.

            Suzie let out a great hoot.  She had been taken but didn’t mind in the least.

            As we approached “Jungle Alley,” the name Suzie gave a strip of joints on West 133rd Street between Lenox and Seventh Avenue, I could have sworn that I saw Salvatore Zucania, toting a briefcase, leave the alley, slide into the driver’s seat of a black sedan, and pull away.  A moment later, Suzie and I followed the alley to a door with barred smoky windows.  Suzie knocked.  A small slide opened and two eyes peered out.  But the man said nothing.  This was no ordinary nightclub, where people streamed through the front door.  It resembled a blind pig, in which the bouncer won’t open the door unless the customer says the right word.           

            “We’re here to see Mr. Truffa,” said Suzie.

            “Who sent you?”

            “The Man Uptown,” I said, handing him A.R.’s business card.

            The slide was forcefully shut.  For a minute we just cooled our heels.  Finally, the door opened and a man built like a packing case ushered us through a carpeted hallway, leading to yet another door and another bouncer.  Once having cleared the sentries, we saw resplendent before us colored lights playing slowly across the dance floor and stage of The Club Baal.

            To my amazement, the club was crowded with white swells:  the high society tuxedo and evening-gown crowd.  It took a while before I got the lay of the land, but once I gauged the geometry, I could tell the Broadway types and celebrities and gangsters from the out-of-town visitors looking for excitement flavored with danger.  Seated at a stage-side table were Jimmy Walker, George Raft, and Emily Vanderbilt.  On stage a brass combo, including the rapidly rising Louis Armstrong, was playing some sizzling jazz.  The couples on the dance floor had lost all inhibitions, as they swung and shimmied and shook to the suggestive moans of the music.

            Suzie ordered a glass of white wine.  The waiter brought a tray with glasses and plates and silverware, as well as a bottle of Riesling, two plates of cold cuts, cheeses, fruits, salted pretzels, and a bottle of champagne, which he opened expertly without losing a drop. 

            “Compliments of the house,” said the waiter, and handed me an engraved card with a note scrawled on the back in longhand.

            The printed side read, “Dear Patron, Here in the world’s greatest city it might amuse you to see the real inside of Harlem.  You have heard it talked about, but few know its thrills.  We are in a position to show you.  Our guides—high yellows, tantalizing tans, and hot chocolates—will give you personal service.  Until you have visited the genuine Harlem, you have not tasted the exotic Black Race.  F. Truffa.”

            On the other side of the card, someone had written, “Any friend of A.R.’s is a friend of the house.”  When Suzie read it, she said, “Ain’t you a pip.”

            As the music played a final brassy up, down, and fadeout, the stage show began.  Two sisters tap danced to a Morse code routine.   A diner would hand a question to one dancer, who would then tap it out for her sister.  The latter would then decipher the question and answer it with her own tap dancing.  In this case, the question was, “Who killed Jesse James?”  And the answer came back through taps, “A member of his gang, one of his own.”

            During the applause, our waiter handed us a note inviting us backstage to meet the owner of the club.  Slipping between the closely placed tables, we followed the waiter to a door displaying a simple nameplate:  Federico Truffa, Odds and Ends.  The waiter gave three short taps on a buzzer, told us to enter, and disappeared.

            At the far end of the room, over a paneled door and affixed to the wall, loomed a ship’s figurehead.  The image itself took the form of a woman with long braids, curled at the end.  Her upraised right hand held a torch, the left a sapling.  On her head sat a pointed helmet with horns.  Naked from the waist up, she bared all her shapeliness.

The room looked as if a hurricane had blown through it. Furniture was upended, drawers were open, papers littered the floor; and an acrid odor permeated the air.  On the floor, beside a large roll top desk lay a dead man, horrifically mutilated and burned.


Suzie and I immediately left the office.  For a minute, we debated whether to call the cops, tell the head waiter, or just mind our own business.  We chose to scram, even though doing so would make us look like suspects.  A terrified Suzie made directly for the train to Newark, and I returned to the Rothsteins.  The next evening, Carolyn and A.R. went out to dinner.  Alone in the house, I waited for the paper delivery.  When it came, I found what I was looking for on the front page.

Mr. Federico Truffa, the owner of the Club Baal in New York City, was found dead, a grisly murder.  His wife, who had been gone for the day, reported that on her return to the club, she smelled burning flesh coming from her husband’s office.  Opening the door, she found him lying on the floor, completely naked, his arms and legs bound to spikes fastened to the boards.  The body bore the marks of knife slashes and cigarette burns.  Apparently he had been tortured, but for what reason the police are uncertain.  Most horrible, his killer or killers had applied lit coals to his stomach.  They were still smoldering when the police arrived, by which time the flesh and entrails had been burnt through.

            Almost immediately the phone started ringing, first A.R. and then Hank.  No, I knew nothing about the murder.  Yes, the doors to the house were locked.  Once I had a second to think, it occurred to me that I could hide.  Leave town.  Disappear.  Frankly, I was scared, and A.R. knew it.  He agreed that it was a good idea to get me out of “the line of fire” for a while, though I flinched when he used the word fire.

Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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