Back in New York with the autumn leaves the international situation occupied a great deal of our time. Harold, almost always a dove, surprised us by backing Bush, in fact America didn’t seem to need a lot of convincing. It seemed that we were all reading what was written on the ancient walls in the sands of Mesopotamia. A madman was in control of the fourth largest army in the world, and had just gotten a taste of blood. If left alone, Kuwait would only head a list of what he would take before he was through.
I got two shocks on Tuesday morning. The first came from a friend and source in Singapore. Singapore had signed on with Bush’s coalition. If Japan had offered field troops the notion couldn’t be more shocking. I sat with it for a while, it wouldn’t seem like news to most Americans, but internationally it was a tidal wave. Could I write the whys of why it was? More importantly, did I want to? I was struggling with that when Jen knocked and walked in without an invitation.
“I need to get my boyfriend out of jail,” she said.
“Didn’t know you had a boyfriend.”
“We don’t advertise.”
“Where is he now?”
“She picked up the phone and said to come to you.”
“Fill me in, who is he?”
“We did Fordham, Dad didn’t approve of him, despite the fact we were both Jewish, well Jewish, Hispanic and Italian, his Mom’s Sicilian, Dad’s Leibowitz. Two Jews among the Jesuits, sort of fated I guess.”
" And he does what?”
“Rents juke boxes.”
It clicked a bit, ” Works for Brooklyn Joey.”
“Joey D, yeah. He’s been taking over some of the programming in younger hangouts. He didn’t kill anyone Uncle Nick. He couldn’t.”
Joey D was ‘Brooklyn Joey’ in my head. The team taught him and he had engineered taking out Paul Del Vecchio, on our directions. He was rewarded with the Jukebox franchise for Brooklyn. The mafia controlled the boxes and Joey loved music. Over a decade he transformed the business from extortion to marketing. He programmed the boxes in a Kiss tee shirt. It started in Brooklyn, spread south to Staten Island, up into Queens and had inroads in the city. If Jen’s boyfriend was his protégé he had a talent and a way to pursue it.
“His name?” I said.
“Giovanni, well Gio Leibowitz.”
I flipped my rolodex to Joey’s number and called.
“Joey? Nick Carlson, we have a mutual problem in Gio Liebowitz. ”
“Murder two is always a problem Nick. But you know the NYPD, clearing is often more important than proving and arresting calms the populace. What’s your interest?”
" An essential employee happens to be his girlfriend,” I said.
“So, Jen works for you? She never said. Nice kid.”
Just then Tori walked in, pointed at the phone and mouthed ‘Joey?’
When I nodded she reached out for the phone?
“All love is blind,” she said.
Joey undoubtedly answered: ‘But everything about you is tellin’ me this time.′ as I remember the lyric. Because Tori answered, “Forever, and no I haven’t been hanging out in bars listening to your boxes. You sending someone?”
“Okay,” she continued after a pause for Joey to answer. “Get ahold of him and tell him to expect David Cohen from Johnson, Cohen and Cohen. Leave it to them for a while. Nicky and I will do a little peeking.”
She handed the phone back to me and I hung it up.
“Joey is sending Ray Silvestre from Court Street, I got David on it. Between the two at least one ADA is going to have a panic attack.”
“So, what happened?′ I asked.
“Apparently Gio was loading a box in Marco’s, you know the Sinatra/oldies place in Bay Ridge, four patrons, not paying much attention, bartender sneaking a smoke. Bang, one patron shot. Gio says the shot came from the storeroom behind him, nobody really differs, but then no one is clearing him either. The gun was on the floor a few feet from Gio, wiped.”
“And the dead patron is who?”
“How did you know he was dead?”
“Joey mentioned murder two.”
“Steven Casey, recently divorced unemployed trucker.”
I looked at Jen. “Mr. Casey, conception to demise,” I said.
“On it,” said Jen and was out the door in seconds.
“We need reservations?” I asked.
“Tend to doubt it, but who knows? I’ll check,” said Tori and she too left immediately.
Marco’s was a dive, rather had been a dive, spiraling down to vacant storefront when Joey D reloaded the Jukebox. He concentrated on making a box for Brooklyn baby boomers. Sinatra, Rosselli, Dean Martin, mixed with doo wop from New York groups like Vito and the Elegants, Dion and the Belmonts, the Five Satins, stirred with Fabian, Frankie Avalon and the other golden boys of Bandstand. Marco’s became a success. Most people our age in Brooklyn had been there, they all knew it. It had been one of Joey’s first successes; it spoke reams about his regard for Jen’s boyfriend that he was even allowed near it.
It was Tuesday night, and we had a reservation, though it wasn’t really necessary as there were a couple open tables. Tori had arranged for Joey and his wife, Marlene to join us. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who were on their second Vegas showgirl, Joey married the girl next door. Marlene was Brooklyn/Bay Ridge to the core. They had a row house in the nineties and two boys. John Russo had surprised me a bit, lasting almost a decade, embarrassing the government in three trials, however he was always under investigation. Joey was a bit of an anomaly; he took an extortion racket and turned it into a growing, mostly legitimate, successful business.
Indian summer made outdoors a bit hot and sticky, Tori and I did Campari and soda to take the edge off and enjoy the bite of the air conditioning. Marlene had a spritzer and Joey a martini.
“You know the victim Joey?” I asked.
“Personally? No. But the type is pretty obvious. Two types drink that early in the day. Sad retired old men looking for companions and sad sacks who are getting stepped on and giving up. Apparently, he was in the second group. ”
Apparently, we’d both checked in with the union and had a background. He’d been bagged twice hopped up on bennies and booze at a weigh station. Because both were out of state, he kept his license, but not his job, as well as being effectively blacklisted. He had about two months left on unemployment and was drinking that up.
“The kicker,” said Tori who had talked with David Cohen, “is that Gio knew him. Not well, only met him once before. Seems a friend of his, from the neighborhood was the man’s son.”
“Gio’s Dyker Heights,” said Joey. “His uncles are connected, that’s how he got to me. Neighborhood connections can run pretty deep here. I’ll see what I can find out. His uncles are pretty upset, despite the obvious connections, they don’t consider my business mob anymore, and they thought the kid was out of the game, which pleased their little sister no end. And Gio was never a wise guy. Loves the music, college degree, doesn’t carry, that’s why this makes no sense. Okay, the cops would pop him for being there. It isn’t exactly hidden that the boxes are mob owned. But they’ve got to know by now it isn’t Gio.”
“They do and don’t,” said Tori. “Silvestre will report to you, but all he’ll tell you is Gio’s getting arraigned tomorrow morning, no one will oppose bail. Basically, they know he’s connected and everyone wants to discomfort your boss. If he runs he’ll convict himself, but, frankly they don’t have much else.”
" John in on this Joey?” I asked.
“He knows, I don’t have the juice for Silvestre, so he was the first call I made. He likes Gio, one of his fireworks crew on the Fourth. I’d know if it came from John. Remember Nick you set me up with the hit on Big Paul, I get the chance on any mob hit.” Then he chuckled a bit. “Truth is I doubt I’ve shot ten times since. I carry because it’s expected, but frankly the hit is still nightmare material.”
Marlene reached over and covered his hand with hers.
“I know how that goes,” I said.
“Be thankful, if you can, that it’s only one,” and Tori reprised Marlene’s gesture with my hand.
“Can we look around?”
“Everywhere but where we need to. Crime tape covers the storeroom, Mark is making do beneath the bar and in the kitchen,” answered Joey.
“They left the body tape.”
“Mark almost couldn’t open tonight. But the crowd is big for a Tuesday. Actually, strange as it seems, a murder with overtones of a mob hit makes a restaurant a tourist attraction.”
“Right, who doesn’t go to Umberto’s? Reserving the table where Joey Gallo bought it is a C-note.
“Imagining it, with the tape where the box was, it’s amazing Gio didn’t catch the round. I’m thinking Gio might have been the target.”
“Look at it Nick. Gio was six feet from the shooter.”
“Like a shot you or Tony might have made before we hopped on you. You jerked the trigger and the guy was hit in the head. Just what might have happened if someone shot at a man filling a Jukebox if the shooter wasn’t good with a pistol.”
“Hadn’t thought of it like that. You could be right except that there was no reason to kill Gio. Me, maybe, John had to do some horse-trading both in Queens and across the gangplank when bars wanted me. The city is open, but if I moved out on the Island I’d be stepping on toes.”
“Any situations like that?”
“Not for a coupla years.”
We were seated next to the bar, of course at Marco’s half the tables were next to the bar. We knew and hadn’t said anything that wasn’t known to the NYPD, so the badge in front of me was a surprise.
“Captain Pappas told me to sit and listen, but you’re getting into waters I need to negotiate,” said the man who dropped the badge on the table.
“Detective Dennis Hogan, this is my case. May we join you? My partner is at the other end of the bar.”
“Who told George?” I asked.
“Me, Jen, David Cohen, to name a few,” said Tori.
“Any objections Joey?”
“Pleasure to talk to a cop who doesn’t have a rubber hose in his hand.”
I had dropped a napkin over his badge almost as soon as he dropped it on the table. With a waiter’s help, we seated him and his partner, Sergeant Mary Campbell, and I slipped the badge to him under the table.
“This is Bay Ridge,” I said, “and that will get you into a lot more trouble than it will get you out of.”
“I know,” he answered, “but I am not unknown to Joey and George told me you are a natural skeptic.”
“So, Mary,” said Tori, “what have you learned?”
“That this was a bad idea. We need an older officer to play an old retired guy earlier in the morning. The barflies’ go elsewhere when they set up for dinner.”
“Why Gio?” I said, “evidence doesn’t support it, and arraignment? You can’t win.”
“That’s why I stepped in. We think Gio was the target. We did the best we could; whoever is behind this will take the frame, we hope, and because he will obviously be watched, chances aren’t good he’ll be attacked again. We can guard him.”
“Why do you think this?”
“Giancarlo Capaletta, ring a bell Joey?”
“Suffolk County? Yes, I got a ring two weeks ago from a bar in the Hamptons, turned it over to John, haven’t heard.”
“I’ll talk to John tomorrow,” I said. “Unless you want to Joey.”
“John wouldn’t like me sitting here talking to Dennis and his lovely companion. You’re willing Nick?”
“What are friends for?”
We had a decent meal, but I think only Tori and I really enjoyed the music.