Neall Haley sat with his back against the wall, beside the swinging door to the kitchen. It was his preferred spot in the Italian restaurant, ever since he’d met the honey-blonde waitress several months ago. At eleven o’clock sharp, the lithe Lissa Renzo’s shift would end.
Nursing a beer, he glanced at the dimly lit corner booth. Dante Pio, a middle-aged Valentino type, held the red-gloved hand of a tall, showy brunette. As usual, his twin bodyguards occupied a nearby table. Occasionally they glanced Haley’s way. They knew he was the heat. He knew they were killers.
Screw them. Roosting in a place frequented by Mafiosi was not the wisest move for a cop, but pretending to ignore them had proved safe enough so far. To be near Lissa was worth the risk. The gorgeous woman owned his heart. Besides, the mobsters left her alone although they checked her out.
All men did.
His plans for tonight, Labor Day, 1962, his twenty-sixth birthday, caused his blood to rush. He anticipated bedding Lissa for the first time this evening. Happy birthday to me. That pleasurable thought bathed him in titillating warmth. It contrasted nicely with the cooling schooner of Olympia beer he held.
The French door to the rear courtyard and motel rooms swung wide. Leonardo Brunetti stepped inside, brushed off the dark blue lapels of his single-button Italian-cut coat, and glanced at his showy gold wristwatch.
Haley knew Brunetti’s routine. The prostitute in room eight had told him she serviced Brunetti nightly at nine. She also hinted that the corpse found a week ago with its head filled with slugs was the lousy meathead’s dirty work. The murder occurred south of Hollywood; Wilshire Division Homicide caught it.
Lissa had kept an eye on the Sicilian ever since he flew in a month ago from Chicago. “They call him the Beak,” she said. The moniker fit. The hood’s high-bridged nose occupied a large part of his craggy face.
To avoid eye contact with the well-dressed mobster, Haley focused on the tiny bubbles rising in the amber liquid, until a musky cologne fragrance assaulted his senses.
Sitting back slightly, elbows on the tabletop, his left hand slipped across his chest to the magnum’s rubber gun butt beneath his jacket.
Brunetti stopped beside the table.
“Hey bull, I wanna talk to you in private, tomorrow, that booth.” His left index finger pistol-pointed to the far corner where Pio sat cozily with the attractive brunette. “Three sharp!”
Haley’s left hand gripped the revolver.
He didn’t turn his head, but his peripheral vision locked on Brunetti.
“Huh, your fuckin’ future ain’t important to you, Haley?”
Brunetti spun about and sauntered across the deep-green carpeting. His agility surprised Haley; more so, that he knew his name. The chump might have heard it from Pio. Lissa would’ve told the number two mob boss if he’d asked her, like she’d told Haley the gangsters’ names.
Brunetti gave Pio a head nod before sitting with the thicknecks.
They tore apart small loaves of seeded garlic bread while devouring piles of fettuccini smothered in a thick, creamy white sauce.
Moments later, a hand softly touched Haley’s shoulder, jolting him.
“I said, I’m ready.”
He caught himself when he saw Lissa’s face.
“Uh, my mind was elsewhere, hon, sorry.”
He resisted asking her if she might know why Brunetti wanted a meet. He did not want to risk spoiling their night. Besides, if she didn’t know she might try to find out, and that might make Pio nervous. He was determined that no harm would ever come to this woman. He’d once asked her why she worked at a mob hangout and she replied, “The boss is good to me, but the tips are better.” She smiled brightly.
He didn’t push it.
He trailed Lissa’s dark blue Pontiac coupe eight blocks west to her second-floor Gardner Street apartment. Her abode had become his second home. In the months they had dated, he’d learned where she kept most everything, save the bedroom. His choice. He wanted their first time to be special.
He reached into a cupboard for two stemmed glasses. Taking out a corkscrew from a drawer, he uncorked a bottle of cabernet and set it aside, allowing it to breathe. Stepping to the hi-fi player, he selected two albums, a vocal by Ella Fitzgerald and a Duke Ellington platter.
Ella’s The Nearness of You ended as Lissa emerged through the bedroom door wearing a chiffon babydoll, her toenails a matching pink.
“Happy Birthday, Neall.”
He spun to the counter and poured the red wine, nearly spilling it.
She pressed her body against his back, her breath warm on his neck.
He quickly forgot about the cabernet.
Bright sunlight streamed through the bedroom window and woke Haley. Lissa snuggled beside him in the crook of his arm, naked and asleep. Her rose-petal fragrance lingered in the mid-morning air. He didn’t want to disturb her but his right arm throbbed with numbness—a small price to pay for what she’d given him. Their lovemaking had been long, unceasing, lustily physical at times, and caressingly soft at others.
Oh, how I love this woman.
He brushed his lips across her high-boned cheek. She stirred and clasped an arm around his waist, a sleepy smile showing. Her flesh hot against his, her musky morning fragrance, were intoxicating. She twisted into him, he moved over her smooth body, found her moist, ready. Soon she sheathed his hardened desire, drawing him in, pushing him out, drawing him in, making his pleasure last. He kissed her, tongues probed. She moaned, she was close. He slid his tongue down her soft neck, his rhythmic undulation unceasing. He never wanted this to end. Then she squealed, her fingers fluttering on his ass. She quivered, urgently whispered Neall. He continued thrusting, slow and deep. Her fingers continued their dance, her wide eyes now intense upon his. Shared sounds, quickened breaths. Moments later, another quavering movement sent him to the threshold.
“Now Neall,” she gasped. He plunged, his explosive release mixed with her trembling one. A half-dozen jolts of electricity coursed through his body.
Totally sated, and still sucking in air and the smell of sex, he eased down beside her and said, “I love you Lissa.”
“I love you more, sweet Neallie.”
He kissed her and rolled out of the bed, insanely happy this sunny late summer morning. While taking a brisk shower, he thought of Brunetti’s blunt demand. He wanted to ignore it, but the comment left him antsy. Why did he want a sitdown? What in God’s name could possibly affect Haley’s “fuckin’ future?” Since his future involved Lissa, he couldn’t discount the seriousness of Brunetti’s comment, but it made no sense.
Well, only one way to find out.
However, he couldn’t think about it now, he had to get downtown to the Jewelry Trades Building on Hill Street. The engagement ring he’d ordered was ready. He hoped Lissa hadn’t read that secret as well as she’d read his mind last night.
Dressed, he downed a cup of coffee. At the apartment door, he kissed Lissa long and deep. Breaking away, he said, “Since you’ve got the night off, hon, I’ll buy you dinner at Hody’s before I go to work.” He thought about the four words he’d ask and her expected response, a single word that would bounce him beyond the moon.
An hour later, he stood by his Porsche in a public parking lot. He opened the tiny blue box again. Damn, if the stones weren’t perfect: a one-carat cut gem with tapered side baguettes—the diamonds’ brilliance in the sunlight dazzled his eyes. He snapped the lid closed and dropped the box into an inside jacket pocket. He adjusted his Ray-Ban sunglasses, imagining how he would drop to a knee that afternoon and propose.
Sliding on deerskin driving gloves, he brought the black sports coupe to life, unable to shake loose Brunetti’s threatening challenge. Reluctantly, he headed toward the restaurant on La Brea north of Sunset Boulevard, part of the small Hollywood Riviera del Palme complex. It was two-thirty, enough time to down a bowl of tomato bisque and crackers. He sat at his usual table and, more than once while eating, gave the foyer a surreptitious glance.
Lissa breezed in shortly before three. “Hi lover. I’m filling in. Jan’s sick.”
Her unexpected appearance threw him off, it had him about to call off the meet with Brunetti, just as the mobster strode through the front entry and went to the corner booth. Dropping his hulk onto the red-vinyl seat, he eyed Haley, sneering, his trigger-finger making a “come here” movement.
Haley didn’t budge. The idea of sitting with the big meathead from the Windy City unnerved him.
“Are you going to see what he wants?” Lissa asked, apprehensively.
Haley glanced at her, then edged off the chair, hands fisted, right arm pressed against the magnum snug under his brown bomber jacket. He moved to the booth, trying to match Brunetti’s hard-eyed stare.
Shit. He hated her being in the damn place, and now she was their waitress.
Slouching onto the curved bench seat opposite Brunetti, he smelled the familiar cologne.
Brunetti ordered a Campari and soda.
Lissa turned to Haley with a smile.
“Just water,” he said.
When she whirled away, Brunetti didn’t mince words.
“Here ’tis. My cuz seen your pa driving a plumbing van out in Brentwood—”
“What the?” Haley, sucked in.
“Yeah, ‘Dago luck’ my cuz says. Told me he damn near ran into the van. The black ’stache is some different he says, but seeing your old man’s left mitt sticking outta the window had my cuz taking hisself a closer look. Some a your pa’s pinky finger is missing.”
What the fuck? Why was this asshole talking about Pop? Pop was working a project on the affluent west side, and he had lost part of his left pinky before Haley was born. But…. His mind spun like a gyroscope until he realized the logo on Pop’s company vans displayed the Glendale shop address and business number. Brunetti’s cousin could’ve staked out the shop, then tailed Pop home.
But connecting me…. Damn. Yesterday, the afternoon birthday barbecue at his parents’ place. Brunetti must have spotted him there.
Lissa arrived, placed Brunetti’s drink on a Palms-logo’d coaster.
Brunetti waited until she departed to unfold a dog-eared newspaper clipping. His palm smoothed out the yellowed article on the tablecloth and pointed at a half-tone photograph.
“Looky here, Neallie Baby.”
Brunetti’s choice of words brought goose bumps. Haley scanned the Detroit News article dated October 28, 1930. The faded picture depicted two men, alleged gangsters, wearing double-breasted suits and fedoras. They stood by a black sedan in front of an Italian restaurant. The stockier of the two, identified as Ari Sands, held Haley’s gaze. The man resembled how Pop might’ve looked as a much younger man, but Ari Sands didn’t have Pop’s dark, brushy mustache. Visualizing a ’30’s style pencil-thin one on Pop nearly gutted Haley.
Brunetti tapped a clear-polished fingernail over the photo caption. “Your ol’ man, he’s missing some a his pinky, just like the slick shit in that fuckin’ pix. Whattya think?”
Haley noted Ari Sands’ left hand caught in a forward movement as he reached out to a car door handle. Five fingers were visible, the little one appeared shortened.
He drew in a breath. How could it be? When that news photo was snapped, Brunetti, and probably his cousin, had to be boys. What were the odds they could recognize someone from that long ago? Hell, there were kids he had gone to high school with, kids he couldn’t name today, and he’d graduated only eight years ago.
Pop had never talked about his early childhood, nothing about mobsters, only that he’d grown up in the “Big Apple.” Apprehension flooded Haley, his mind reeled. A heavy black cloud suddenly settled over him, shoving him deeper into the fake red leather.
Putting on a tough bearing, he shoved the frayed clipping back, but Brunetti’s deep-set eyes had his full attention.
“That chump went by the name Ari Sands, a Jew name—but he’s a Guinea outta New York. Name’s Angelo Sancia. Pinky for short. He’s your ol’ man, calls hisself Lonn now. But then you know that, don’t you?”
Can’t be. Pop’s Irish. How the hell’s he know Pop’s first name!
Brunetti drank and rattled off a tale that Haley, with trepidation, didn’t want to believe.
“Five years after that photo got snapped, the hit on Dutch Schultz went down, at the Palace Chop House in Newark, back when Dutch run with Charlie ‘the Bug’ Workman. Yeah, your goombah pa was part a’ that, too,” Brunetti, sneering, belched, “before ma lui sparì, his yella ass vanished … ’til now.”
The Palace Chop House. That name rang a bell. A cold steel coil sprang up Haley’s stiffening spine.
Brunetti grunted and fingered a Dutch Master from an inside coat pocket. He slipped it from its cellophane wrapping and nipped off the leaf-wrapped end. He turned his head, spat out the tobacco piece, then licked the cigar’s length.
Mouthing the bit end, he snapped a flame to a gold-toned lighter, puffing to get it nicely started, all the while slit-eyeing Haley.
Haley didn’t smoke, but supposed he could see its merits at times like this. He pictured the flickering flame in Brunetti’s hand being put to a dried dog turd. It didn’t help, he still found himself craving a smoke.
Brunetti seemed to be savoring more than the long cigar. He set it down, snatched a white-cloth napkin, honked twice into it, and rasped, “The fuck should never’ve split.”
Haley’s mind switched to his parents’ Los Feliz home, to Pop’s favorite room, the den, where a glass ashtray with the Palace Chop House logo had owned a spot on a lower bookshelf for as long as he could remember. He recalled the times Pop would be on the phone and stop talking whenever he entered.
So what? Parents did that.
Brunetti knocked down the last of his drink, followed by his thick lips drawing on the dog turd until its brown end glowed red.
“Yeah, back then your ol’ man scrambled his ass like the rest of ’em for Diamond Joe Esposito an’ Scarface Capone.”
Smoke escaped Brunetti’s twisted mouth as he spoke.
“Pinky done climbed over tons a’ bodies—politicians, Mick gang members, even some of his own kind.
“Angelo Pinky Sancia, the smart-head finger man called the Purple Hand—s’posedly ’cause he was some fierce fuckin’ enforcer for Sammy Purples. Hah. All my life I been wanting that sonofabitch. Now that I got his fuckin’ ass pinned, I’m gonna have me some fun an’ games.”
He waved to Lissa for another drink.
Why the hell did Brunetti want Sancia so badly? Haley pressed down on his knees. If he believes Pop is Sancia, why hasn’t he made his move already? Or is that part of his ‘fun an’ games’
Scowling, Brunetti leaned closer.
“Sancia split the family, that’s a fact, an’ he shouldn’t’ve done that. Uh-uh—an’ ’cause he did, you’re gonna play along wit’ me. Specially if you care about your ol’ man stayin’ reasonably healthy.”
Play? Pop staying healthy? Shit.
The bald threat made no sense, yet sounded too real. Haley itched to plug Brunetti on the spot, erase his bullcrap accusations.
He slipped out his Smith & Wesson revolver, aimed it at the Nose and pulled the trigger. Brunetti’s head silently snapped back, then bounced forward off the high-backed seat, landing on the red-and-white checkered tablecloth. Blood seeped toward Haley; the cloth turned completely red.
Lissa sat down a fresh tumbler of Campari and soda in front of Brunetti. She frowned at Haley, who snapped out of his reverie. The blood on the tablecloth evaporated. He didn’t like the way Brunetti watched her as she waltzed away. Haley clamped his teeth and eased his left hand off the gun butt.
Be cool, don’t create a problem—not where Lissa works.
Brunetti gargled an oily laugh, cut short by a series of wet sputters. Nearly choking, he snatched the soggy-tipped cigar from between his teeth.
“What’s so funny, Beak?” Haley got a satisfying get-even feeling calling him that.
“Like I told you—” Brunetti coughed up mucus and tongued it onto the cloth napkin, eyeing the brownish glob like it was rat poison. “Your fuckin’ future.”
“You’re no part of my future, only a small part of this fucking day.”
Haley didn’t feel as defiant as he’d tried to sound. He pushed out from the corner booth.
“You and your cousin are full of shit. Lots of guys are missing their little fingertips. I’m not buying any of it.”
Brunetti stood, his coal-dark eyes narrowing. He deftly stuffed the old clipping into Haley’s jacket opening.
“I want you to have this. Think about your pa, ’cause I’m gonna be speaking some serious shit next time we talk. An’ hear this, Haley. Don’t be telling your ol’ man squat. Your trap stays shut, till I say fuckin’ otherwise, or else—hai capito, you understand?”
Haley wheeled about and strode out of the Palms without a word to Lissa; his roiling gut wouldn’t allow it. He raced the Porsche three miles east to his parents’ home on Berendo, his mind filled with morbid dread. He needed to view the black-and-white snapshot that owned a spot in Pop’s den, as if it would explain things. He knew his teenage sister wouldn’t be home from high school yet. Hopefully, Mom was out grocery shopping and he’d have the place to himself.
Once inside he headed straight for the den.
There was the small photo. He sat beside it, staring tremblingly for a few moments, then drove to the closest liquor store and bought his first-ever cigarettes, a carton of Camels.
At his Fern Dell home, a mile-and-a-half west of his parents’ place, he grabbed a half-empty bottle of Glenlivet from a kitchen cupboard and went into the living room.
Dropping onto the recliner, he smoked and coughed between slugs of Scotch, straight out of the bottle.
Whatever Brunetti had in mind for Pop, it wouldn’t be pretty. What about Lissa? The asshole knew he dated her. Would he hurt her? Haley gripped the bottle, while his mind grasped for any understanding, catching nothing concrete, only Pop’s image as darkness draped the bay window and Haley’s spirit.
He had to tell Pop. But what about his weak heart? He couldn’t forget the time Pop collapsed. He never wanted to see that again. Besides, if he told Pop, Brunetti’s “or else” might come into play. But why harm Pop over something that happened decades ago? Hell, Brunetti was a kid at the time. Whatever had happened must have been personal, in a family sort of way.
He smacked a fist into a bony knee, nearly spilling the scotch. Simply because of a shortened pinky finger, Brunetti thinks Pop is Angelo Sancia. No way. Regardless, if Pop was or was not an ex-hit man, how could he protect himself if he didn’t know Brunetti believed he was? Not alerting Pop wasn’t right. Fear and liquor were doing a number on his gut. He knew he had to identify and find the cousin who had started all this.
Beak Brunetti wanting to play a “l’il game” must mean Pop has some time. Hopefully, enough so I can permanently ace both cousin assholes and put an end to this.
He gazed about the darkened room as if the answer lurked behind a shadowy table or chair. An answer that he could simply reach out and pluck. But he saw nothing but shadows, shapes—and more questions.
Downing the last of the single-malt, he ground out his umpteenth cigarette butt. His throat felt raw, his stomach now an unsettled mess. His mind screamed, get rid of Brunetti and his cousin.
Although his best weapons were his badge and S&W magnum, in order to use them effectively required backup, someone he could both trust and rely upon to keep quiet. Unfortunately, he’d lost his previous partner to promotion, and his relief man was an unknown quantity, transferring to Vice tomorrow. It wasn’t that he hadn’t seen the guy in action before. He’d seen him take on a psychotic, vicious serial woman killer, a deadly fight that had shocked the cops who witnessed it, himself included. The young, dark-haired patrolman had damn well amazed him.
So he could fight. But can he be trusted?
Haley pressed back on the lounger, contemplating. The more he rolled his thoughts, the more convinced he became that Mike Montego would do the trick. With no clear idea how to gain his support, Haley decided he would gamble.
Slowly, he lifted himself out of the La-Z-Boy and walked to the kitchen, empty Scotch bottle in hand.
Prior to the next night’s roll call Haley approached the Felony Car Unit, FCU, supervisor. Sergeant Brad Kozier picked the officers for his plainclothes unit. Haley presented a proposal that included Montego and K. W. Deal as his new partners. “Dealer” was an unknown, but Haley knew Montego had a liking for the first and only colored cop to be assigned to the Sixth Division. Deal also would be more apt to keep his mouth shut were he to witness something he shouldn’t—rocking the boat was never a good idea for any cop, certainly if he happened to be black.
Haley had heard how the half-Mexican Montego had faced-down more than one wise-ass because of slurs against the burly black man—not that Dealer needed it. He was a big, strong-looking man, he could likely handle himself.
During the pitch to Sergeant Kozier, Haley suggested that having both Montego and Deal in the two-car, six-man special unit would fit with the changing times in Angel City.
“Especially in ‘Hollyweird’ … and sarge, please keep my name out of this partner thing.”
The three-striper agreed to move the new men to FCU the next night. As if that wasn’t enough, in clear proof there was a God and He liked cops, Kozier handed Haley an arrest warrant for none other than Mr. Brunetti, badly wanted by Chicago PD for Murder One. So much for the Beak and his threats. Best fate for that asshole would be as toe-tagged morgue meat, supine on a stainless-steel tray in a cold-storage drawer.
Haley knew he had to keep thought like this to himself. That meant walking a tightrope. But Montego and KW Deal, two straight arrows, would make the perfect backup.